Attention there, Ridley Scott is calling!

Ridley Scott as producer, and Kevin McDonald as director in the end-credits of a film might give out the impression of the next summer blockbuster from Hollywood. For Life in a Day the Box Office results might still go the same way, but there is a slight twist in the script.

Directors of critically acclaimed films like Gladiator and The Last King of Scotland (Scott and McDonald respectively) are all set to collaborate and make a documentary film out of videos submitted by lay-users on video sharing site YouTube. News reports reveal that “the documentary, called Life in a Day, will select footage from 20 people around the world who capture moments of their daily lives on July 24. They will be credited as co-directors on the film and flown to its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival held in January.”

Liberation of content control from big-ass studios like Fox & Universal, despite the presence of stalwarts like Scott & McDonald is a welcome change in the matrix of multi-billion $ global film industry. What we have here is two established names taking some time off from their hectic lives and doing something adventure, for what one presumes is a noble cause of unearthing new talent through the web. The method is modern, the medium is liberating and the ‘product’ (for the absence of a better word!) that will come out would most probably be fairly kick-ass. Here’s for a life-altering beginning!

To participate, YouTube users must upload their footage here.

Disco Deewane

Popular Hindi film music in the seventies was a musical mélange of Shankar Jaikishen, R.D Burman and Kalyanji – Anandji. But come the 80’s and a whole new genre exploded into the Hindi music scene – the Disco era. Cinema for Change does a bit of digging into the disco depths of Hindi cinema.

As far as music goes, Bappi Lahiri is the unquestioned leader of the Disco pack. The man with a singularly unique fashion style, Bappi Da breathed fresh energy into the music scene with his Western disco inspired beats. In 1982, Vijay Benedict crooned to Bappi’s I am a Disco Dancer giving India its first dance idol - Mithun Chakraborty. Disco dancer was India’s answer to Hollywood’s Saturday Night Fever. Needless to say, it was a humongous success, and has the record of an impossible feat – winning an award for its music in China.

Closely following on Bappi’s heels is Biddu. Responsible for introducing the Pakistani based brother-sister pop duo Nazia and Zohaib Hassan to the Indian audience. Rumour has it that swashbuckling actor/producer Feroz Khan tracked down the London based Biddu to compose a song for his 1980 movie Qurbani. The song Aap Jaisa Koi not only gave India its most legendary sex symbol in Zeenat Aman, but also a taste of what’s to come in Hindi cinema in the heroine Vs vamp dichotomy. It also paved the way for 15 year old Nazia Hassan to pursue a career beyond playback singing with her multi-selling pop album Disco Deewane in collaboration with Biddu.

Such was the appeal of disco that even Kumar Gaurav (son of popular actor Rajender Kumar) tried his hand at a full fledged disco movie Star (1982) with disastrous results. Star was a box office dud, but it had one of the hottest soundtracks of the 80’s with Nazia’s Boom Boom and Zohaib’s Oiee Oiee. The music was given by none other than Biddu thus cementing another musical combination which will go down in cinema history.

The disco trend was not limited to music; it stamped its presence on camera angles, choreography, costumes and lightning. Amitabh Bachchan’s disco inspired light bulb lit costume for the hit song Sara Zamana Haseeno Ka Deewana from Yarana (1981) put the seal of approval on disco as a genre with far reaching influence.

The best amalgamation of this genre into the Hindi filmscape was through Subhash Ghai’s Karz (1980). A typical disco era movie with a storyline revolving around a singer/entertainer’s life, coupled with reincarnation twists and revenge saga, Karz was the mother of all pot boilers. A shiny jumpsuit wearing Rishi Kapoor does his thing on a Sudhendu Roy designed giant turntable with the spinning record and stylus for the song Om Shanti Om and walks into the Indian moviegoers heart and some more. So much so that 27 years later when director Farah Khan does a Karz inspired Om Shanti Om with Shahrukh Khan, the appeal of disco still holds true. Of course, the turntable has been replaced with a six pack, but we still have the Dard-e-Disco.

Bollywood opens up to nudity

The essential hypocrisy that Bollywood & India’s censor board have shown when it comes to on-screen nudity has been quite frustrating and mostly absurd. But the scissor happy puritanical souls at the censor board too an off this week as debutante Pravesh Bharadwaj's Mr Singh Mrs Mehta was released with more than its share of scenes depicting “female nudity”, It is another thing that the film has been panned by the critics, but the fact that the censor board has accepted the fact that nudity can be part of the narrative of a film is good news for film lovers. One hopes this precedent goes a long way in empowering Indian filmmakers in translating their dreams on celluloid as they wanted it to be.

Imagine what Stanley Kubrick would have done had some censor babu asked him to cut the “objectionable scenes” from Eyes Wide Shut.

Mogambo khush hua!

Over a period of more than three decades, Amrish Puri portrayed characters of many colours and hues on the celluloid, but his most iconic performance by far has to be that of the megalomaniac Mogambo. In an industry that churns out 100s of mediocre films every year, even an above average flick gets branded as “good cinema”, hence most of them hardly have any recall value. It indeed becomes very rare for people to remember the characters, and more so the villains.
But Mogambo and Gabbar Singh are arguably the only two villains in the history of Hindi cinema who have stood the test of time and their respective catchphrases – “Mogambo khush hua” & Gabbar’s “Kitne Aaadmi the” – have become part of the public lexicon. While Amjad Khan’s cave-dwelling, horse riding Gabbar was more relatable to the Indian audience, the missile-totting Mogambo was somewhat of a novelty that the Indian audience had come across.
Now, it is not an easy task to introduce a character to the Indian viewers, but Shekhar Kapur’s excellent direction and of course Amrish Puri’s over the top, larger than life performance of the maniac, hell-bent on bombing India, enthralled the Indian viewers like never before. From 1987, when Mr India was released, till his last day, he was loved and revered by the fans as Mogambo. All of his roles, irrespective of their quality, were relegated to the corner of the mind where random memories dwell, but never surface.
On his 78th birth anniversary (June 22, 2010), his director Shekhar Kapur tweeted: “Happy Birthday Mr Amrish Puri/Mogambo wherever u r, on this earth u r irreplaceable”. This would have pleased Mogambo for sure.

Glum scenario, hit cinema

A report in today’s Times of India celebrates the fact that political cinema is back in vogue amongst the audience weaned on candyfloss cinema. But is that so?
Rajneeti, even by Bollywood standards, hardly qualifies to be counted as “political” and “realistic” cinema. In real-politic, people are more often than not likely to be bought off rather than bumped off as they are in Prakash Jha’s latest. What happens there is mob violence, and not politics. But the fact that Rajneeti indeed has become perhaps the first blockbuster of the year after collecting a staggering Rs 54,00,00,000 in its opening week and is likely to earn more than all of Prakash Jha’s past films put together. Ironies of the box office are not lost to anybody.
But the fact that crowd lapped up this masala image of political machinations in the country is a worrying trend, as at one level it points out the fact that the common man on the street considers politics to be dirty, full of sex, violence and corruption. Although one might find himself to be hugely outnumbered while trying to be an apologist for the Indian politicians, all I want to say is hold back on your cynicism for a bit.
For any democracy to flourish and function a litany of checks and balances need to be in place; these help in ensuring that the lawmakers (the politician) as well as the law enforcer (from a beat constable to the police chief) toe the line of propriety. A film like Rajneeti has portrayed the worst that the Indian polity has to offer, while the redeeming act is just too weak to register with the audience – haven’t met anyone who has seen Rajneeti and spoken about the climax, most talk about the dropping pallu and exploding cars.
The ringing bell at the cash register of the Box Office points out towards a sense of vindication that the public felt while watching an otherwise lacklustre film; people went inside the theater, saw what they thought Indian politics was and came out with a smug sense of triumph that told them, “you know it all”.
This self validation might have the producers and distributors grinning ear-to-ear but the fact that perception of Indian polity within the minds of the electorate is so glum does not bode well for a functioning democracy. In a country where calls for separatism, coupled with militant Naxalism, are growing by the day, a dejected electorate is the last thing that the country needs. For someone who expects nothing out of their leaders, someone offering two hoots might turn out to be the man who gets the vote. The TINA (There is no alternative) factor ensconced within the minds of the people needs to be fought with vengeance by the civil society and artists alike. Hopelessness can prove to be a really fertile soil for human hope to take root, but for that to happen someone needs to be around to play the part of a watchful gardener.

DiCaprio: The modern mystique remains unrewarded

Last week Martin Scorsese’s psychological thriller ‘Shutter Island’ was released in India without any fanfare. The critics praised it, mainstream audience (by and large) thought about purchasing a ticket to watch the master and his favourite actor (Leonardo DiCaprio) come together before deciding on catching Rajneeti, again.
Leonardo DiCaprio’s story beyond the celluloid has been something on the same lines. The boy who caught everybody’s eye as Johnny Depp’s autistic younger brother in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape before touching superstardom as the doomed lover in James Cameroon’s Titanic has surprisingly never found favour with any major award jury.
Be it the role of an Irish thug returning to America to avenge his father’s murder [Gangs of New York - Scorsese] or the young fraud who baffled the FBI for decades before joining the ‘feds’ [Catch me if you can – Steven Spielberg], Leo just could not get the jury to nod in his favour. These two were films where young Leo was an understudy to seasoned thespians like Daniel Day Lewis (GONY) and Tom Hanks (CMIYC), and understandably despite Leo’s eye catching performance, it were the senior pros who made the headlines.
Next in line was The Aviator (Scorsese again!) where Leo played the role of eccentric and delusional millionaire Howard Hughes with absolute conviction and panache, also getting nominated for the Best Actor Oscar in 2004. Jamie Foxx trumped him that year, while unfazed Leo went on to join forces with his favourite director Scorsese to come up with a scorching performance in The Departed.
Sharing screen space with heavyweights such as Jack Nicholson, Matt Damon and Mark Whalberg, Leonardo’s portrayal of Billy Costigan, a smart undercover cop who is in tatters psychologically while he risks his neck every time he comes out of his apartment to play the double game won accolades all over. With Blood Diamond also coming out that year, 2006 was destined to be his year. The Golden Globes and Broadcast Film Critics Association nominated him in the Best Actor category for both Blood Diamond and The Departed. More importantly he also earned an Oscar nomination for lead actor in Blood Diamond and a BAFTA nod for lead actor for The Departed. Needless to say, he won none of them. Judging fine arts, more often than not, is based on parameters which are mostly abstract which you can feel but can’t gauge. Leo, I guess, has suffered by strutting in the gray zone unapologetically.

Salman Khan to be Ambassador of Change for IIFA 2010

The dust around International Indian Film Academy (IIFA) 2010 seems to be settling down. Amid protest march and boycott threats, there were some doubts as to whether the awards will be held in Colombo. But all that seems to be over now with the recent announcement of actor Salman Khan as the brand ambassador of the International Indian Film Academy (IIFA) Charity Initiative. As a symbol of solidarity with the Sri Lankan people, IIFA has spearheaded the Charity Initiative, in conjunction with the Sri Lanka Cricket Board, Habitat for Humanity and UNICEF. The Charity Initiative is to include housing, literacy and rehabilitation measures for the people in the Northern and Eastern regions of Sri Lanka.

Unfazed by the recent controversy regarding the Tamilian protests against the choice of venue for IIFA 2010, CNNIBN quoted Khan as saying “I will perform at IIFA... I'm there with IIFA and Being Human". In a recent press conference, the actor supporting IIFA’s initiative to positively impact those afflicted in the war, added, “I am happy to be an ‘Ambassador of Change’ and believe that it is crucial to make a difference and contribute to this worthy cause. IIFA has successfully built bridges between countries over the last decade, and I hope this initiative will do the same for Sri Lanka.”

IIFA 2010 will be held from 3rd to 5th June in Colombo. Apart from the awards, an IIFA weekend of charities and events are being planned. This includes a charity match between Sri Lankan cricketers and Bollywood celebrities called “Cricket for Change”, the proceeds for which will go into building 100 houses for the refugees in Jaffna, and adoption and rehabilitation measures of child soldiers.

Mrinal Sen's "Khandhar' to shine at Cannes

Indian presence at the Cannes International Film Festival is increasing in a good way this year. Besides Vikramaditya Motwane’s Udaan which is up for the “Un Certain Regard” category, the festival authorities have decided to screen Mrinal Sen’s “Khandhar” (The Ruins) in their “Cannes Classic” section.

Released in 1983, “Khandhar” features stalwart actors like Naseeruddin Shah, Shabana Azmi and Pankaj Kapur in lead roles. The movie was favourably received by critics and public alike on its release and even got the special jury prize at the Montreal Film Fest in 1984.

This is not the first time that Cannes has expressed interest in Sen’s films. A Cannes jury prize winner in 1983 for “Kharij”, Sen’s Calcutta trilogy films - 'Interview', 'Calcutta 71' and 'Padatik'- were to be showcased at the 2009 Cannes International Film Festival. But the screening fell through due to poor quality of the negatives.

Following media reports about the decrepit condition of Sen's films, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had asked the Information and broadcasting ministry to restore the classics and 17 of the films are now being restored at the Pune archives. Sounding pleased about the restoration work done by Reliance Mediaworks, the Dadasaheb Phalke winning filmmaker says “"They had undertaken a pristine restoration process removing dust, dirt and scratches frame by frame making it fit for screening at the section". Heath permitting, the 86 year old filmmaker intends to make it for the “Khandhar” screening in Cannes.

The Flight of the Independent Indian Film Makers

Cannes 2010 may well be the year for independent filmmakers in India. For the first time in seven years, an Indian film – Udaan - has been selected as an official entry at Cannes International Film Festival. Directed by Vikramaditya Motwane, Udaan is the story of a young boy’s (Rohan) return to his home in Jamshedpur, after being abandoned for eight years in a boarding school. Against his wishes, Rohan is forced to study engineering and work at his father’s steel factory whereas he dreams of being a writer. How young Rohan tries to forge a way out of his circumstances and follow his passion is what the film is all about. Udaan will be screened under the “Un Certain Regard” category in the Cannes International Film Festival. This is the first time in sixteen years that an Indian film is being featured in this category.

A man of many trades, Vikramaditya Motwane has served time as a Song Director (Anurag Kashyap’s Paanch, Deepa Mehta’s Water), an Assistant Director (Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam), an Associate Director and Sound Designer (Bhansali’s ‘Devdas), and Screenplay Writer (Goal and DevD). Motwane finished the script for Udaan in 2003 but had to wait for six long years before it became a finished cinematic product. Motwane says, “In late 2003, I gave my out-of-work director friend Anurag Kashyap the first draft of my new screenplay to read. He read it in an hour, gave it back to me, went back to what he was doing and told me that one day he will produce this film that nobody else will.” Prophetic words indeed for the film is jointly produced by Anurag Kashyap, his friend Sanjay Singh and Ronnie Screwvala.

Udaan is to be screened on 19th and 20th May at the Cannes International Film Festival.

The life and legend of Chandu: How radical would Bhatt's cinematic story be?

Mahesh Bhatt is in news once again. Professing his need to go back to making meaningful cinema, he has picked up on the sensational case of student leader and political activist from Jawahar Lal Nehru University (JNU), Chandrashekhar Prasad. Back in the 90’s the name Chandrashekhar Prasad fired the imagination of the country’s youth. His brutal death at the hand of political rival Shahabuddin of Janata Dal led to a string of protests that we have become so familiar with post Rang De Basanti.

The film is to be produced by a Dubai based alumnus of Aligarh Muslim University, Irfan Izhar. Mahesh Bhatt is the creative consultant behind this project and Imran Zahid, an ex-Delhi University student is to reprise the role of Chandrashekhar Prasad or Chandu. The news has initiated mixed reaction from the JNU students and their concerns were voiced in a leading national daily.

Making a movie on a real life character is always fraught with danger, especially on one whose life and death is still fresh in the collective memories of his friends and contemporaries. Add to this the vested interest of political parties and campus politics, and it becomes a veritable minefield. CPI (ML) will not want their party image to be tarnished. Shahabuddin might be the killer of Chandu, but the lack of collective responsibility on the part of CPI (ML) harks back to the idea of politics being just that: Politics.

Chandraprakash’s mother has been quite vocal against CPI (ML) “The party made full use of me during the two-three years after my son’s murder. The CPI (ML) has been thriving on the politics of dead bodies.” Kaushalaya Devi (Chandu’s mother) had to complain to the party general secretary Dipankar Bhattacharya to install the statue of Chandu for which she was forced to “donate” Rs. 40,000. She says “The statue was installed by the people who didn’t even pay for a funeral shroud when his body was brought for the cremation.”

JNU student politics has been in a slum after the Lyngdoh Commission. The current scenario is a far cry from the campus politics meets real life politics reminiscent of Chandraprakash’s days as student leader. This movie is a chance to reinforce the essence of radical student’s movements which is unique to JNU.

The director’s portrayal of Chandraprakash is crucial. Without the human element, this will become a propaganda movie and to hold the attention of a diverse movie going crowd, Mahesh Bhatt has to bring something extra to this movie as a creative consultant. From a small town in Bihar, this is the story of an exceptional young man. For people like us, grinding in a 9-6 existence, Chandu’s life seems even more radical. Very few people will opt out of NDA and to become a fulltime activist.

Controversy and Mahesh Bhatt have always gone hand in hand. Taking into account the recent Maoist attacks, excessive glorification of the Leftist-Marxist movement might lead to political roadblocks. But the Hindi film industry is no stranger to political umbrage (read fracas about the release of My Name is Khan, promotional posters for Kurbaan showing Kareena’s bareback, reference to Mumbai as Bombay in Wake up Sid... the publicity stunts are endless!).

But Mahesh Bhatt is a shrewd filmmaker and knows very well that he can’t please everybody. If he can successfully navigate the political concerns and make a movie out of this amazing slice of life, then it will certainly be worth a dekko.

The Scope of ChangeScope

We have inherited a world that has been fractured and fragmented by war, violence and conflicts. Distrust, Discord, Dubiety seem to be the  ruling deities of this god-forsaken planet. The rhetoric and discourse of humanity and a shared universe has been completely over-written by shallow and narrow narratives of language, nation, religion and a multitude of ‘us & them’ doctrines.

  How do we change this overwhelming sense of bleakness? How do we alter the scheme of things? As individuals in isolation we might not even create a dent. But as a movement in unison we surely can spread the message of peace, of love, of prosperity.

We choose to follow the avenues that lead to creative dialogues and cultural exchange. Music & Cinema are our patron Gods: they are also the only remnant language that is truly universal and above and beyond all fissures and frictions.

ChangeScope is a platform, a network, a common ground to hear and be heard, to see and be seen.
We invite all fellow music and cinema enthusiasts, practitioners, participants and lovers to come together and be a part of the celebration: of a common humanity and a shared universe.