July 22, 2012

BANE of a glittering career

What is it about expectation that weighs down even the mightiest of geniuses? When Christopher Nolan announced ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ after The Dark Knight, what started was a long wait. An agonizing wait for every Nolan fan, every Bat fan, every cinema lover and also those film viewers who had finally started appreciating some intelligent cinema thanks largely to the mesmerizing performance of Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight. During the course of those 4 years, every bit of news was tracked, the slightest of information went viral, leaked set photos were devoured. Trailers, teasers, clips and interviews were digged in the hope for possible plot points. Nolan was clearly tipped to make history. Well, considering the near universal praise being showered upon him across social forums and media alike, he may well have created history. Fans don’t seem to be wasting a single moment praising the film. But alas, the film woefully shattered the expectations of a minority who don’t just watch his films but dissect them to the tiniest detail, who don’t just appreciate his films, but devour them so that not even a bit of the man’s brilliance is unaccounted for. And sadly, I am among one of them.

I had long imagined myself writing this review having gone gaga over the film, having seen it like 5 times, having prepared myself with an armor of bombastic words in praise of the film. However, it’s a shame that being an incorrigible Nolanite, I am writing this with downright dejection. A friend of mine said, “Never expect anything from films. Just watch it for the entertainment.”  And believe me, that’s all I expected. PURE ENTERTAINMENT. But what I was subjected to was a 164 minute ordeal of hypocrisy. I also write this review out of a lot of envy for you, who in all likelihood have enjoyed the film thoroughly. I so wish I were you. But if you hated it like I did, I am glad I met you.

Now before I proceed, let me warn you of potential spoilers ahead. I will be discussing a lot of plot points throughout this piece. So if you haven’t seen the film yet, I urge you to leave right now and return once you have seen it.

Alright. So you have seen the film by now I assume.  Without wasting too much time, let me come straight to the point. The problems with The Dark Knight Rises are manifold. And the biggest complaint I had towards the film was the sheer pretence that was on display. The film pretends to be so serious and claims to reflect upon so many issues but only ends up making a mockery of them. The film claims to allude to French Revolution, economic warfare, environmental sustainability etc. but reduces it to a formulaic superhero film with a nonsensically convoluted plot with weak characters and irrational scenes.

1)      Bane in the Ass - What was Nolan thinking when he cast Tom Hardy as Bane? In the name of giving Batman a physically superior nemesis, he ends up giving a beast of a man who is menacing as long as he doesn’t talk.  Even John Abraham could have done that with a nice dubbing artist. After all his mouth is never shown. All the menace and muscle just to be killed by Catwoman with the shot of a bullet? Then what were the armed police doing when he was out on the streets in public view in broad daylight?. Couldn’t anybody have shot him? Just because he is physically stronger than Batman means only he has the right to fight him is it? Okay. And also in the middle of the climactic fight he is shown punching right into a pillar! So cool. Lesson learnt. American pillars are made of thermocol.

2)      This is America boss – Now US is a country that can go to any lengths to protect its interests and citizens. By length, I mean literally. (Read Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan). A hotel in Mumbai is hijacked by a handful of terrorists, and we have the National Security Guards intervening. Do you really think when an entire city is invaded by an army of mercenaries, the US Govt. of all would just sit and watch? Once again, Nolan pretends to know that by showing a dumb footage of the President coming on air and exuding an air of assurance to the citizens. We are also shown a small team of expert army consultants or whatever the crap they were who come to the city and get killed like pawns. And to top it all, an entire police force is seen marching towards a band of mercenaries in the middle of a street and it’s war?! Give me a break. This is 21st century for God’s sake. On one side you have these really uber cool gadgets hovering around in the city.  And on the other side you have these 2 dumb sets of people running towards each other on a narrow street as though saying “Hello! Let’s make this cool and do it the way Spartans did!” How ridiculous is that!

3)      India to Gotham, Gone in 60 seconds! – The whole prison sequence was the most, for the lack of a better word, frustrating experience of the entire film. The most frustrating being an old man decaying in the adjacent prison cell but admant at showing off his bilingual skills. We first see him muttering in some eastern mumbo jumbo which we and Bruce understand thanks to the interpreter. And then we see the same man switching to an English mode in the interpreter’s absence. Heck of a skill no? Aur haan..how the hell did Bruce reach Gotham all the way from India? Wayne Enterprises was broke no? He didn’t have a penny no? Who booked the filghts? Alfred had left him no? I slap myself and say, “Oye Renjith! Stop breaking your head on that! That hardly matters.” What matters is Bruce got his vertebrae back in place, did a couple of push ups, climbed a tunnel by himself and became stronger than Bane. Alright. Is there anything more I am expected to digest?

4)      Cry cry itna cry karte hai kaiko? – The man who is often touted as the emotional and the witty core of Nolan’s Batfilms, Alfred is reduced to a weepy Bollywood papa whose sole aim in life is to see a bahu step inside his house. Sir Michael Caine is a fabulous actor and I am a big admirer myself. But why did he have to play Uncle Weepy here? Ek scene mein theek hai. But repeatedly when a seasoned actor is made to ham to death, what are we supposed to do? Join him in a tear shedding orgy? Well, I did. But for a different reason. Aamir Khan must have shuddered watching him for the fear of being replaced in Satyamev Jayate season 2.

5)      Love, sex aur dhoka – Trust me! Nolan couldn’t have stooped any lower. One reason why his Batman films stood out from the rest was how subtly he showed romance. Bruce’s sole love in life was Rachel Dawes - a girl who grew with him right from his childhood, a girl he had waited for despite the fact both knew there would never be a world without batman.   But here, we are shown a billionaire Bruce Wayne who showed exemplary restraint in living 8 years away from the outside world (which in itself I find outrageously bull crap.). But the same restraint goes for a toss as soon as he sees a sultry babe all wet in the rain. Whatever was the need for that scene? Oho. Did Nolan expect the sex scene to be the ultimate symbol of love blossoming between the two? “Arey yaar..every man needs a move on” you may say. That’s quite a move on I say! Brood for 8 years for the loss of your beloved but bang a wet babe you met just 8 seconds before! Please. For a moment it looked all planned. And evicting Alfred was one step in that direction. "Phew. Got rid of the old man. Finally, some privacy!"  You know...And not just that did I really see Catwoman kiss Batman at the end?! Oh Nolan! Tell me you didn’t shoot that scene! What a cheap thrill to please fanboys. Is this why I came to see your film?

6)      Uncommon Sense - Doctor says no cartilage in his legs no? Then how does Bruce make that sexy jump in the hospital? I am no science expert. Barely passed biology in fact. But common sense says in the absence of cartilage in your legs, you can’t walk properly. Right? Which is why, I assume he was shown carrying a stick in the first place. But all of a sudden he throws himself out of a window. And joining him is rationality.

Also, remember the ice that cracks open when an ordinary citizen walks over it post Scarecrow’s judgement. But Gordon ain’t no ordinary citizen is he? At least not in Nolan’s self important universe. We are shown Batman slicing the entire ice bed with a flame that goes on to become a gorgeously constructed bat insignia. Wow. Deafening applause in the theatre. How the hell did that bat symbol come up there? Was Batman busy making it to announce his arrival when the city was reeling under the terror? Must be a darn egotist fellow. And worst of all, a 7 year old kid sitting next to me asks me, “Bhaiiyaa, wont the fire melt the ice, crack it open and drown Gordon?” and I give him the kinda look Rock gives in those facebook memes.

7)      Die-alogues - Long laboriously written dialogues which sound preachy. Yes some of the lines work. But they are also the ones which are the shortest or the wittiest. None of them has the depth that we find in the man’s other films. Bane’s endless monologue outside the so called ‘Bastille prison’ sequence reminded me of my kindergarten teacher reciting a nursery rhyme to the whole class.

8)      Commissioner or Constable? - Gordon became a commissioner right? In which metropolis does the Commissioner of Police spend more time on the field doing menial constable work? His job is to give orders, guide his forces, direct his troops and have a constant bird’s eye view of the whole problem. Here he is not only seen scourging through the sewage canals while the younger and fresher blood keeps watch aimlessly on the ground. But we also see him doing all sorts of aerobics over a moving truck. Too much for a 50 year old commissioner no?

9)      Bomb again? Not again! As if bringing a city at the mercy of a nuclear threat wasn’t clichéd enough, carrying a weapon of mass destruction far away from the civilians is probably the least innovative stuff I have seen coming from Nolan in his career. Remember what Iron Man does at the end of Avengers? No? Remember what the Camerlengo does to protect the Vatican in Angels and Demons? No? Okay let me bring you closer home..If you committed the grave mistake of watching Agent Vinod , remember how the silly Saif saves the city?  No? Hell then.. Go figure!

10)   Where's the common man? . The film tries to factor in Ra’s Al Ghul’s idea of using economics as a weapon to destroy Gotham. But where is the downtrodden? “You and your friends better batten down the hatches. Coz when it hits, you’re all gonna wonder how you ever thought you could live so large.. and leave so little for the rest of us.”, purrs Selina Kyle in Bruce’s ears. And I ask who are the “rest of us”? The Dark Knight Rises ends up assuming so much of self importance that the entire battle ends up being too institutionalized where only the police and Batman take to streets. But what about the stupid common man? The spirit of the civilians in the city that was so beautifully demonstrated in The Dark Knight is not even touched upon at a stage when the city faces its worse crisis ever. We see Gotham Stock Exchange being robbed. We see a football stadium being blown up. And also a jail breakout. But what about the common men? What happened to them? Their plight is never focussed upon. Gotham is never shown to be rotting at its economic roots as Selina Kyle mentions in her statement. And even Officer Blake seems to be conveniently concerned only about the orphanage he grew up in. A true revolution is one where even the common man picks up arms and revolts against the establishment. Read Egyptian Spring or Indian freedom movement itself.

11)   Twist hai par mast nahi.. Marion Cotillard has been stereotyped by Chris Nolan as a Jill in the Box in every film. When she makes an unexpectedly eerie appearance at the climax of Inception in the gas chamber, the impact was just phenomenal. My heart literally skipped a beat. But here, the scene where she reveals her true identity was also the one where I gave the longest yawn in my memory. “Main Talia Al Ghul hoon!”..... “Accha? Main Taali nahi maroonga. Sorry.”

The Dark Knight Rises has to be the laziest work from Christopher Nolan. The priority was to make it an epic. Not to tell a story. The man wanted to explore a lot of themes but ends up doing justice to none. Ever since I expressed my dissatisfaction people have been playing daddy to me. Saying I shouldn’t compare this film with Heath Ledger’s Joker. But shocked as they may be after reading so far, I never once rued the absence of Joker.  Did I? But that doesn’t mean there is nothing good in the film. Anne Hathaway’s take on a naughty Selina Kyle appealed to me the most in the film. In a world full of characters who ham it  to the point of exasperation, her mischievous and deliciously vicious take on the character was a breath of fresh air. It’s startling to even imagine she is the same girl who played the sweet intern in the Devil Wears Prada. Even Joseph Gordon Levitt was heartwarming as an earnest Officer Blake. Action and the score were top class as well. But that is something that is given in a Nolan film or a superhero film – what we call in marketing, a ‘hygiene factor’. The Dark Knight Rises when rated against an average superhero movie may still be miles ahead. But the reason why I still enjoy those films is because they are proud of their silliness. But when a film claims to be a serious  reflection on our contemporary society, it better stick to it.

It’s like we don’t admire an iPhone because it is a phone. We admire it for the experience. But imagine an iPhone that has a weak battery, a faulty case and a dysfunctional chip. Well, it’s an iPhone for sure but not one that you’ll ever consider. That is exactly why The Dark Knight Rises fails. With a half baked plot, poorly developed characters, not a single dialogue that deserves to be discussed and forced twists and analogies, The Dark Knight Rises is undoubtedly the best comic book film in the trilogy. Yes you read it right. Coz unfortunately, it is also the only one. Because the other two don’t even deserve to be categorized under that genre. They were works of art. If you loved The Dark Knight more than Batman Begins, then you may not like The Dark Knight Rises as much. But if you genuinely appreciate Batman Begins more than The Dark Knight (which I did), then you will just hate The Dark Knight Rises. Coz it defies everything that Begins stood for. The first 2 films were made to tell a story but in case of Rises, the story was written to make a film.

But it’s okay. Even Sachin gets out on a duck sometimes. Rahman too comes up with an occasional CWG anthem. And in Harvey Dent’s world of fairness, even Nolan is entitled to his ‘The Dark Knight Rises’. As for me, will that stop me from looking forward to his next? No way! ;-) The wait resumes and with that, a new world of expectation....

February 18, 2012

Down with Autocracy

When you say ‘auto’ in the west and when u say ‘auto’ in India, there is a ‘wheel’ of a difference. If it stands for the 4 wheeled wonder called automobile there, here it stands for our very own Autorickshaw – short of a wheel, yet nothing short of a wonder . No matter who you are or which part of India you hail from, you have been a part of it. An orthodox Mallu may call it ‘Oto’ while a typical Tamilian may say, ‘Aato’. A quintessential Mumbaikar may simply refer to it as ‘rickshaa’ only to be told by a Delhite that ‘auto’ and ‘rickshaa’ are 2 different things! (auto is the mechanized one while rickshaa is the cycle version. Lol!). Even the colors vary from place to place. Yet, India is the living embodiment of a cliché called Unity in Diversity. So no matter how differently we call it or paint it, we are all united by the fact that we are at the mercy of the animals who drive them. The fact that we have become victims of what I like to call an ‘Autocracy within a democracy.’

The prospect of travelling in an autorickshaw scares the hell out of me today. My BP goes up. I freak out. I get paranoid. Even delusional sometimes. And ever since I’ve set foot in Delhi, my condition has just got worse. Personally, I have no problems with the vehicle per se. I am okay with its engineering which allows it to wade through the thickest of traffic almost seamlessly. But what I do have a problem with is the cunning foxes who drive them.

And boy..They come in all kinds, don’t they?! 

First of all, there are those who wouldn’t give a shit about your urgency and just zoom past you irrespective of how long you stretch your hand from the roadside. Even if your hand was as long as a check post you wouldn’t be able to stop them. They would race through the roads as if they are racing against time to answer an emergency call. Whose call? Wife’s or nature’s? I don’t know. But certainly not yours.

Let’s say after several failed attempts at stopping these Michael (Rick) Shawmachers, you happen to be lucky and God answers your fervent prayers. I doubt if prayer is the right word. Coz though it starts off like one, it usually ends with the unspeakables. (Something like, “Oh God..please send me an auto..(vroooom!)..f***! son of a *****! ). So God has answered your ahem..’prayers’ and sent you a man with the basic courtesy of slowing down his auto at the sight of a desperately stretched hand. You look at him all tired and say, ”Green Park” expecting an approval. This is where I introduce you to the 2nd  kind of the lot. 

This guy would scan you from head to toe and give you this look. As though you are some sort of a fly that accidentally went fishing in his rice plate! (Gosh..I’ve seen it. Even the meanest of my professors never gave me that look .) You then try to put up your signature face (you know, the one with pity written all over it) But doesn’t work. He would just look away with cold disdain and buzz off never to come back again. Waah! Kya style hai. He could be the next Kancha Cheema.

Now you are battered and bruised and have given up hope. Your arms are aching from being stretched and are crying to be left alone. But still, you muster some courage to stretch a weak hand although strong enough to make an (apparently) interested auto driver to stop by you. The man greets you with a smile lighting up your expectation all the more. And you tell him, “Bhaiyyaa, Green Park chalo” And then.. the smile starts fading away. Before it fades away further, you tell him, “It’s nearby only bhaiyya”..Still fading…Now you panic ”Par bhaiyya, You will get return fare from there too easily”..all the more fading..”Arey yaar! It’s in Delhi only damn it!”…aaand.. the smile’s gone!.. He nods, pulls the stick up with a flourish kicking the engine to life and puff! Off he vanishes. into thin air .And you stand there.. having just faced an invisible yet the most agonizing middle finger of your life!

Alright. By this time, it’s understandable if you have lost faith in your luck, your institution, your system. You have even started questioning the very reason for your existence. But being an Indian, you still haven’t reached that level of desperation yet. The kinda desperation where you just take out your cell phone and dial out to the local call taxi number. Coz, Miserliness, you know, is in our blood . And you still want to gamble. So this time you pass the previous stage and actually start discussing fares. Enter the 4th kind.

“Bhaiyaa, Green Park chalo”. The man then quotes a price. You fire back, “We are not making a deal here man. Turn on the meter (yes they exist in this part of the world, that too, digital!)”  He expresses his hesitation to use a meter in different ways although the underlying message is loud and clear . ”I am not leaving until I take you for a ride mate.” Now if only he meant ‘ride’ in the literal sense and not figurative. But you are just as adamant as him. All the bargaining goes in vain and the deal falls flat leaving you to wait for the 5th kind.

Now these guys are the so called good guys. They would stop by you, smile at you, politely ask for your destination and obediently turn on the meter and start driving. But the fun starts after that. You’ve had a long day at work, your boss has been screaming at you, you haven’t been able to call up your girlfriend, you have just put up with 4 different kinds of scumbags. How you wish you could just sit back quietly on the rickety cushions of the auto and relax for a few moments. That’s when the ‘dhikchik dhikchik’ radio nearly throws you off your mental cliff! All pissed, you ask your driver to turn it off for once. And he does. But the ‘good’ man that he is, ain’t likely to give up on his goodness yet. He’d look at you through the mirror and start narrating stories of his escapades as an autodriver. He would start bitching about the grueling traffic, honking horns and lack of discipline among the young autodrivers of today even as your own auto narrowly misses a truck coming your way! And you are left with no choice but to continue to look at the mirror and nod at the load of crap he is throwing at you with a sheapish smile. You are actually saying, “Could you please shut the f*** up?” But it unwillingly comes out of your mouth in the form of “Haan ji..sahi hai bhaiyaa..jee bilkul..”

Finally you do reach Green Park. However this guy isn’t done yet. Now starts the real deal. You look at the meter and it says Rs. 42. Fine. You doff him a 50 rupee note and stand there. But then all you get in return is a blank stare. “Give me 2 rupees change” he says. Which you obviously don’t have. Only to realize that it’s time for the dreaded DADS to come into play. By the way, DADS is just a term I coined for a system which exists in this city. Not in theory but in practice. It stands for Delhi Auto Decimal System. The auto drivers resort to it to settle disputes such as these. To give you an example of the norms of DADS, if your fare is Rs.42, it will be rounded off to the nearest multiple of 5 greater than or equal to your fare. Slow at Math? Okay. It means 42 becomes 45. Plain and simple. And an unspoken rule of DADS is, as a passenger you have no right to even wonder why 42 can’t be rounded off to 40 instead! Howzatt for a system?! Cricket fans would call it ‘Duckworth Lewis ka Baap’. No? J

The next day, things have gone well in your life. You’ve had a good day at work. Your girlfriend is happy with you. And to top it all, God has promised to send you the 6th and the last kind of auto drivers. The noble kind. You hop into the auto, the meter is turned on..The radio’s off..the driver’s not saying a word. Total silence. All good? No No. How could it be? After all you are in India and even worse, travelling in an auto!

Slowly, fear creeps in. You start looking at the meter. Your auto is rushing past gorgeous girls, your favorite SUV. But you have no time for all that. All through the journey, your eyes are transfixed on the meter. tracking its movement and thinking, “What if it’s tampered!” However, you reach Green Park   with no fuss and gladly get the 8 rupees back in return for the 50 rupee note. And that is when you sigh and regret wasting what could have been your first truly memorable auto ride in Delhi. But the very next minute you consider yourself blessed. Coz even if the meter was rigged, you'd only have to pay 10 more bucks. While in Chennai, (where they've heard of meters only in fairy tales), your friend would be paying 10 times the amount for the same distance!  Aal izz well. ;-)