Flavours of an idle weekend

Tthe Browsers Ecstasy

Flavours of an idle weekend

Browsing in an idle fashion last weekend, I turned up three interesting films on DVD that I had given up trying to find on video. Flavors is the most accomplished, entertaining Indian American film I’ve seen in years. For some reason it didn’t get a theatrical release here, and the video wasn’t available for a very long time, until a VCD version turned up. Written and directed by Raj Nidimoru and Krishna DK, the film shrewdly chooses to ignore the by now clichéd identity crisis slash culture clash theme, and focuses instead on a few key moments in the lives of various young Indians (FOBs and ABCDs) on the East and West Coast.

Even the visiting parents, Anjan Srivastava and Bharati Achrekar (in a welcome reprisal of their Wagle characters) aren’t suckered into culture baiting. The tone of the film is deliberately low key, restrained, un-Bollywoodish and there is, interestingly, no major crisis in the film. The film doesn’t peak emotionally. Instead, the crisis points are small and everyday in character — a newly-wed husband who has lost his job feels compelled to hide it from his wife, the wife is lonely and bored in her suburban home; three software FOBs find themselves unexpectedly thrown on the bench; two friends who are in love but too scared to acknowledge it and so on.

The narrative style of Flavors distinguishes it from other trashy and trivial Indian American films. The plot ingeniously and comically jumps back and forth between today and yesterday. The acting and the accents, unlike many Indian English films, isn’t stilted and corny but convincing. The three FOBS on the bench — both, the characters and the actors who play them — are admittedly bad and annoying. (Why are all the FOB characters in these Diaspora films portrayed as sub-moronic, humourless bores with corny accents, while the ABCDs are impeccable?). The two leads, though, stand out: Reef Karim as Kartik and Pooja Kumar as Rachna are rivetting to watch. Pooja Kumar (who went on to do Broadway’s Bombay Dreams) is a fabulous find — here is a woman who is gorgeous and can act and has undeniable screen presence. The mediocre soundtrack is the only let down.

For sheer illustrative inventiveness, few movies — animated or otherwise — can match comic book artist Sylvain Chomet’s brilliantly imagined two-dimensional anime, The Triplets of Belleville. Released some years ago, it never played in Bangalore, and the video was just as hard to find. Now, suddenly, it turns up, giving us a chance to wonder at the whole thing. A one of a kind wonder from Belgium that was overlooked by most mainstream moviegoers in favour of standard Hollywood fare. (It has since gathered a devoted following among those who like offbeat anime).

I dislike most animated movies however well they are done, but The Triplets of Belleville had me marvelling at it, right from its opening five minutes. Its animation style pays homage to the sleek design of European cartoonists like Herge and Jooste Swarte. It is also a tribute to other cinema fantasists such as Jacques Tati, Jean Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro. The film is short, surreal and wordless. It tells the zany story of a champion cyclist grandmother and her determined efforts to transform her grandson into a champion. When the boy is kidnapped to a city that is a composite of Paris, New York and Sydney all rolled into one, the grandmother sets out to rescue him.

This synopsis does no justice to the fantastic story that unfolds, and says nothing about the marvellous way accapella music is used — specially a trio of three old women who sing in a club. If you don’t like anime, you should definitely take a look at this one, and if you do, prepare to be rapturous. The best extra on this disc is a fascinating, revealing featurette called ‘The Cartoon According to Director Sylvain Chomet.’

Bernardo Bertolucci’s last film, The Dreamers, didn’t get a release here either, and the video turned up some years ago in a poor print. The one just available is a special, remastered edition. On its release, the film was dismissed by several critics as indulgent, embarrassing, decadent. But no movie buff can resist its charm: A film about three cinephiles who worship daily at the altar of cinema. The Dreamers is a beguiling love letter to cinema and a sweet, enchanting film about the “bliss of conversation.” An American exchange student (Michael Pitt) visiting Paris in the late 60s falls under the spell of two movie buffs (Eva Green, Louis Garrel) who frequent the Cinematheque Francaise.  
Soon, the three become inseparable; they discover how besotted each of them are by the same things: Movies, sex, ideas. When they aren’t having sex (and it’s some of the most candid sex put on film, most of it full-frontal) they are talking and arguing cinema all the time (Chaplin vs. Keaton) enacting scenes from their favourite movies, quoting dialogue and quizzing each other on the source. They read from Sunsan Sontag and define the genuine movie lover: One who sits in the front row of a movie theatre.

That marvellous English critic and sometimes scriptwriter, Gilbert Adair, adapts his own book, The Holy Innocents, for the screen and he has a perfect collaborator in Bertolucci. Where The Dreamers flounders is with its subplot: Student unrest in Paris and the impending riots in which our three cinephiles will be sucked into. But Adair and Bertolucci meant the film to be as much about the passion of youth as its folly. It is, of course, exquisitely shot like all his films. Presented in widescreen with a NC-17 rating (the unrated edition is awaited). Extras: A 1968 black and white docu-featurette, making of featurette and a more than usually interesting commentary by director and scriptwriter.           

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