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Bollywood’s foreign fan brigade

by ASHWIN AHMAD

SRK in Berlin

Greta Kaemmer can really grill you. Hurling questions with rapid-fire velocity, Kaemmer, who is better known as Memsaab, astounds you with her encyclopedic knowledge of Indian cinema. Sample this: How were Mehmood and Meena Kumari related in real life? Don’t know. In which Hindi film do two actresses play the same character? Duh. And in which film does Shammi Kapoor do a nautch girl number? I’m logging off…

Memsaab is part of a growing group of foreigners who love Indian cinema as much as any Indian. Accomplished in ‘Hinglish’, these men and women are passionate about all things Bollywood. Take Maria, a German blogger and diehard fan of Shah Rukh Khan who was so upset with the lack of a German release for Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna in her country that she flew to New York to watch the film: First day, first show. Or Bastet, another German blogger who writes, “Being a Bollywood fan in Germany is not easy. We undertook a 200-km-long trip to Amsterdam (to see KANK). At that moment, we didn’t mind that the film was in Dutch and not in English subtitles.” [Read more →]

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Pirating history

A few hours ago the Minister of Information and Broadcasting here in India, Ms Ambika Soni announced that on the occasion of hundred years of Indian cinema (which is next year by popular account), her ministry has assigned Rs. 500 crore  in the next five-year plan for setting up the National Heritage Mission that aims to digitize and restore all audio and video tapes of Indian films. While India faces a dire need to pay more attention to archiving its cinema history, this does seem an ambitious project. But here’s hoping it sees light of day.

Meanwhile, at a less official level, I recorded a ten-minute extract of the restored Phalke’s Raja Harishchandra, ostensibly India’s first film. With cinema entering its 100th year, I would assume this film has long entered the free-copyright zone and will not land me into trouble. The aim of the arduous exercise of putting this clip on YouTube was to contribute yet another unofficial, barely legal bit to the enormous, free and pirate archive of cinema that is floating across media, particularly on the Internet. So here it is:

Read the entire press report here: http://pib.nic.in/newsite/erelease.aspx?relid=83059

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Edison’s place in Film History

A excerpt from the letter Henri Langlois wrote to the Edison National Historic Site to request Edison’s Kinetograph for his proposed Musée    du   Cinéma in Paris:

“On    the occasion of the inauguration of  the great  Musée    du   Cinéma  in   Paris,    the Cinémathèque  Française has  assembled an exhibition on  the origins  of the cinema, to which the principal foreign museums, English, German,  Austrian,  such as the  Smithsonian, have loaned  us the  prototype cameras that recount the history of the discovery of cinema. All these will be gathered together for several weeks in this exhibition, except that of Edison.  […] This causes me great distress, since I tell myself that this absence of the Edison camera will do harm to his memory and withhold, once again, his rightful place in the chronology. […] It is of such great importance for Edison that this camera is here, even if only for a few days. […] After  all, we were able to loan  the Mona Lisa, and she  did not suffer from her voyage.”

(6 May 1972)

From: Mannoni, Laurent. ‘Henri Langlois and the Musee du Cinema’ in Film History, Volume 18, pp. 274–287, 2006.

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Queen of Versailles

Queen of Versailles and Arrested Development. Life imitating art? American television sometimes betrays the utopian visions of the country created by mainstream cinema. In particularly television comedy does a better job of poking fun at society and ourselves. Queen of Versailles appears to embody the byproduct ofthe absurd and dysfunctional underside to the American dream. Zooms, high-key lighting, voice-overs and epilogues to the next episode that never take place subsequently are some of the tactics used to manipulate audiences in Arrested Development. While Arrested Development parodied the idea of conservative America under Bush, Queen of Versailles appears to be a just-in-time parody of the good times by examining its hollowed out remains.

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My Week With Marilyn

This serves mostly as a postscript to my entry on Meryl Streep and the Oscar she won. After watching Simon Curtis’s My Week With Marilyn with Michelle Williams playing the impossible role of Ms Monroe, I feel more than ever that the award was given to the wrong individual.

The film itself is a simple tale of a young man who met the enigma that was Marilyn Monroe in 1957 when she went to England to star in Laurence Olivier’s The Prince and the Showgirl. Like most young men, heck like most women too, Colin Clark, the third assistant to the director, was awestruck by this woman. The two struck a friendship that was short-lived, but clearly served as a turning point in young Colin’s life (unlike the picture of innocence that is Eddie Redmayne who plays the role, the real Colin Clark went on to tell the tale of these little rendezvous in more than one form).

The film relies heavily on the nostalgia of Marilyn Monroe, a figure drowned in aura, mystery and indeed tragedy. This is what makes the role of Marilyn Monroe nearly impossible to play. Mostly because it is too overwhelming, for too many emotions, and a lot of sympathy continues to lie with this beautiful young woman who was destroyed by this cruel world (as most weeping secretaries on Mad Men tell us upon hearing the news of Monroe’s death). [Read more →]

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Kahaani: When Bollywood left Bombay

I watched Sujoy Ghosh’s latest film Kahaani last night, and to my utter surprise, I was absolutely hooked to every second of the film. Ghosh who has previously made films like Jhankaar Beats (2003), Aladin (2009) and Home Delivery (2005) has always aimed to make a space for himself in the visibly formulaic atmosphere of Bollywood. And while his something like Jhankaar Beats was indeed genre bending, it was also a somewhat contrived effort that was hopelessly devoted to its western inspirations. This is perhaps the reason I was so pleasantly surprised with the incredible maturity of Kahaani. A film made by someone who is at home in the space that his film unfolds, and is able to take his audience through the crowded lanes of Calcutta, painting the picture of a city that is stuck in a moment with its history and its stagnation written on its surfaces. Now that we have seen an overkill of the labyrinthine lanes of Bombay, the time was right to move to another city, that has its own brand of mystery, as potent but visibly different.

I can think of a lot of things to say about Kahaani, but I think this review by Trisha Gupta will do the film much more justice. Click here to read it.

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Why I don’t want Meryl Streep to win the Oscar

To make my cinematic allegiance very clear, let me say at the outset that I think Meryl Streep is one of the finest and most versatile actresses Hollywood has seen. She is an inspiration to several actresses of following generations and few have been able to match her prowess in variety and perfection.

That said, I will add, that this fine actress does not deserve an Oscar this year for her performance as British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. [Read more →]

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Back to the dungeon

It is, without doubt, the worst of times. BTJunkie, the haven for cinephiles across the world, was not even cold (neither was Megaupload), when news of lib.nu shutting down hit academics across the world. Lib.nu, formerly gigapedia, was the online reservoir of knowledge, free knowledge to be precise, housing hundreds of thousands of PDFs of books, available to download, no questions asked. As most of us woke up to an ominously bare page that merely had the words “rip lnu”, a sense of reassurance died.

The crackdown on the grey legal area of intellectual property rights has forced us to rethink the kind access that globalization promised us. Books published by foreign publications that were not easily available even at libraries and films that the increasingly strict and not to mention ridiculously prudish Censor Board refuses to release, were accessible to those of us who wanted to watch something beyond the lazy Las-Vegasness of Kareena Kapoor’s latest outing.

Let’s face it, production houses don’t need an audience any more to break even or even to be successful. The economics of production have changed thanks to intermediary players like television rights, music rights, overseas distribution etc. A full-house is just an incidental feel-good factor, an ego massage really. And as far as books are concerned, especially academic books, students or individuals have never really bought personal copies. No profit comes from individuals, and libraries will buy books irrespective. What then is the crackdown going to achieve?

As we pledge our support to the unidentified owners of lib.nu and to the hopeful aggression of piratebay, may be it is time to rethink what freedom means any more and who it is meant for.

And as I end yet another “The end of…” piece, here’s one by Lawrence Liang who seems to hold more hope than I dare to. Click here to read.

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The end of days for Kodak

(image: The Guardian)

As Kodak files for bankruptcy following a decision not to invest in digital cameras any more, it seems like the end of an era. It is a decisive moment in the history of cinema, as this move all but seals the fate of celluloid, making way for a cinematic culture that will be dominated by the digital image. As the virtual social network is bursting with stories of people’s first cameras, the cameras they inherited from their parents and grandparents and their many Kodak moments, here are some photos uploaded by BBC and The Guardian that trace a pictorial history of Kodak.

Kodak’s Development in Pictures (by BBC): http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/in-pictures-16627900

Women in Focus: the Kodak girl:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/gallery/2012/jan/19/women-in-focus-kodak-girl-in-pictures

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Wide Screen opposes SOPA.

As a group working actively towards a promotion of freely available knowledge on the Internet, Wide Screen opposes the attempt to control the Internet by laws like Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA).

Read more about SOPA at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stop_Online_Piracy_Act

 

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