singin’ in the sun

Fair warning – i am going to use the word ‘magic’ a lot in this post. Not going to apologise for it.

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Damien Chazelle’s La La Land (2016) is such a bundle of joy, glamour and heartbreak, that you can’t help but soak in every moment of the sheer magic that is transpiring on the big screen. There are fireworks, there is tap dancing, a riveting jazz score, a Technicolor palette that brightens up every frame, the sparkling chemistry between its gorgeous leads, and their tussle with their hopes and ambitions. Heck, at one point, the two leads are gliding and dancing in the air, dancing perfectly like two figurines in those old music boxes. Only in the movies, huh?

The first half is all about the heady charm of falling in Love (not just ‘love’, mind you.). Mia, a struggling actress, bumps into Seb, a struggling jazz pianist, and they live the romance that Hollywood has sold us in the movies of Cary Grant and Humphrey Bogart. So much of the film is left to the mellow music by Justin Hurwitz and the painted sunsets of LA, that not much dialogue is needed. Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling sing and dance in various pretty spots around Los Angeles, and you sit there, with a goofy smile on your face, and you feel like singing and dancing along with them.

But as their love collides with their dreams, reality kicks in. Seb, a pianist whose music is firmly rooted in the past, struggles with his successful new band, whose music he doesn’t identify with. Mia is trying to still hit her big break. The two must confront the possibility that their relationship may not be able to coexist with their personal ambitions. Success comes at a price – and that price is not spending the rest of their lives together. The montage at the end of the film, with the alternate ending to Seb and Mia’s story, is rendered in a gorgeous montage, that is a treat to the eyes and ears.

Visually, the film is a stunning achievement. Chazelle goes all out to depict the magic of the movies, and you stare in wide-eyed wonder, because it has been a very long time since you saw something like this. The limelight falls on the lead when he or she is singing, while the lights dim in the rest of the room, because in that moment, it is only that lead who exists, pouring his or her heart out in song. The dances are choreographed beautifully, not a step out of line. You step out of the hall, gliding, like Gene Kelly in Singin’ in the Rain, a big smile on your face. The music is soothing, a great relief from the repetitive hooks in today’s pop music. All you want to do when you get home, is put on Sidney Bechet, and melt your Sunday blues away.

My only gripe with the film, was the abrupt difference in the mood between the first half and the second half. At some points, you do feel that the dialogue walks a predictable path, and you wish that the writing could have offered something newer. The story of two beautiful people falling in love and fighting with their true desires, is not exactly a new story.

Again, that may be because, La La Land is supposed to be seen as a homage to the great old musicals and love stories of yesterday. In a cold, cynical present, we look to the past for comfort, for in our memories, the past is always tinged with a little sunshine, a little more colour, a little more sparkle. La La Land is escapism at its best, and that is what makes it a film that should not be missed.

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What is a trip to Bombay without a surreal moviegoing experience?


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Ever since i heard about Deepak Talkies in Bombay, a colonial-era theatre renovated by Matterden Center for Films and Creation and bringing back the charm of black-and-white cinema to present-day audiences, i was quite set on catching a movie there. The dream actually, was to watch Casablanca or Roman Holiday. Nevertheless, when the opportunity to watch Alfred Hitchcock’s Best Picture Oscar-nominated Foreign Correspondent (1940) presented itself, i decided to seize it (despite waking up from my customary Saturday sleep-in barely an hour before the show was due to start.) Although i was fifteen minutes late for the movie, the whole experience of watching an ‘old movie’ was worth it.

Foreign Correspondent, one of the first two films the inimitable Master of Suspense made after crossing the pond, was one of his two films to be nominated in the same year for an Academy Award in the Best Picture category, the other being the classic Rebecca. As one of Hitchcock’s first films, his predominant theme (and fear) of a man being accused of a crime he didn’t commit, certain scenes which would inspire Vertigo‘s climactic scenes, and the sexual innuendo in every dialogue exchanged between the romantic leads, all find their origins in this film. Notably, his trademark personal appearance in the film is missing here. While i didn’t find the film too satisfying plot-wise, Hitchcock’s dry yet delicious sense of humour keeps your attention riveted. George Sanders, whose face i remembered from All About Eve, surpasses all his colleagues in his turn as Scott ffolliott (i have not misspelled the name). As you watch Joel McCrea in the lead as a rookie journalist caught in an international conspiracy, you can’t help but wonder the kind of horsepower Humphrey Bogart would’ve brought to the role. The film is littered with the auteur’s typical visual touches, and is interesting if one wishes to trace and identify Hitchcock’s influences.

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What completely mesmerised me, was watching a matinée show, sitting farthest from the screen, feet propped up on the seat in front, right under the projector’s beam, away from the hustle and bustle of the city. For ceremony’s sake, i even put my hand in the projector’s beam, to see its shadow on the screen. My shadow on the big screen! In that sea of humanity, to find an island of peace, to forget your pressing troubles if only for two hours, to feel one with ‘all those wonderful people out there in the dark’, maybe even with those people who must have watched films like this decades ago, is quite something. That is the magic and the charm of a black-and-white film. While watching a film, the entire audience unites in one emotion, together. If that is not a connection, what is?

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Blame this on my tendency to attach overarching, transcendental meaning to superfluous, inconsequential instances, but for some reason, i felt that i could connect this with my overall impression of Bombay. Due to its roots as a major port, the capital of trade, a hub of power, and its colonial roots as a Presidency town, the city is dotted with regal-looking British architecture. With exposed brick, antique balcony grilles and peeling paint, these quaint buildings lend a vintage feel to the city. (Despite our hatred of the Britishers, i think that we Indians really do admire and emulate our pukka sahib rulers, even today.) ‘Retro-hip’ is probably one way i could try to describe the general vibe of the city.

As someone from a small town, in the four short weeks that i spent here, Bombay has been a roller-coaster ride. This is a city that swallows you up ruthlessly, takes you in, and leaves you to figure it out and fend for yourself. Bombay is heady, potent, strange, bewildering, untameable, unyielding and, at least for me, one like none another. Here, extremes coexist, the richest and the poorest man walk together, the old melds seamlessly with the new. An air of desperation, of things moving fast, oh-so-fast, is omnipresent. Big cities have a way of making you feel so grown-up one moment, and so small, so lost in the crowd the next. You are all alone, yet you don’t escape the specie for a single moment.

For me, Bombay is a trippy blur of speeding cars, the tranquil waves of the Arabian Sea flanking a sleepless city, the distinct spit-stained, rusted old metal of the local trains, the skin-permeating stink of fish, the constant honking of vehicles, people jogging with their dogs along Marine Drive on Sunday evenings, the sweet smell of alcohol and tobacco wafting out from one of the many establishments, hawkers selling and yelling their wares, the glitter of trinkets along Colaba Causeway, crowds constantly rushing somewhere, the solo strolls along the cobbled streets of Fort; all seen through black-tinted Lennon glasses.

Just like in a movie theatre, Bombay lets you find yourself in the anonymity of a crowd.

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