Saturday, April 30, 2011

Point-Scorers

New Police Story (2004)/ Benny Chan
In New Police Story, Benny Chan constructs multiple levels of conflict and thereby, multiple levels of resolution. Each character, whether minor or major, has a bone and the narrative gives everyone a chance to pick it. As a result, there are personal grudges to resolve, professional bets to win, and a general atmosphere of corny one-upmanship (‘whoever comes  last in case-solving will kowtow in front of the winner’ says a police chief to Chan.) Dynamics between most of the characters are fueled by a spirit of competition, and everyone is trying to score a point: this quality of the film even manifests literally inside the world of the film multiple times as well – the group of villains are all video-game fanatics and score ‘points’ by gunning coppers down and the penultimate sequence of the film takes place inside a play-store. But in a grand departure from all of these conflicts, the villain is revealed as essentially being a tragic figure with a father-complex: an Antoine Doinel like victim of unhealthy parentage that seems to have ‘forced’ him into crime. Such abrupt realignment of sympathies is rampant in the larger direction of the film: Benny Chan cannot decide if he has been hired to direct a action-comedy like the earlier films in the ‘series’, or if he is to soak a film decked in an overbearing sinister atmosphere. As a result, it is none, although even by supervillain standard, the group of villains commits acts that are hard to fathom. Chan also tries to induce the film with hokey social statements (the villains are all rich kids of tycoons who ignored them), but the greatest revelation of the film is this: it is futile to engage in combat of any sort with Jackie Chan if there are props around.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

JJ, where will your soul rest?

Mystery Train (1989)/Jim Jarmusch
Throughout his first two films, Permanent Vacation and Stranger than Paradise, Jarmusch devotes most of his filmic time to following his characters around as they travel (bum) around (rooftops, terraces, by lanes, seedy theatres in Vacation; New York, Cleveland and then Florida in Paradise.). His films can thus be, in the most literal sense of the word, a relentless pursuit. But the relentlessness in a Jarmusch film is not a yield of an underlying grand conviction in the multi-dimensional human being. He starts with the standpoint of someone who is making a film about bums, losers incapable of a greater discovery – but what is so endearing about a Jarmusch film is how he asserts a belief that it is infact, completely cool to be a bum. One, his cinema believes, is not obliged to radiate a glowing virtue that bathes the audience in his light. His films are people in a constant state of voyage – journeymen who wander for the fulfillment of an unfulfilled higher goal – constantly traversing through different spaces. But at least until the end of his third feature, Down by Law (and even there, grudgingly), the journey never really condenses into any destination. The search, or whatever it is that the characters are searching for, just never seems to be consummated (“We come all the way to Cleveland, but it all looks so same.”) – as such, his films end in a state of transit, in an open space, with characters that seem to be travelling on a route with frayed ends; never-ending and devoid of any destination – a quality of his work manifest most blatantly in the vignette film Night on Earth, in which characters actually occupy a mode of transit (a taxi) as they participate in the conduct of a narrative, or even his Mystery Train, where the film ends with characters inside the eponymous train.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Two Films by Kaneto Shindo

Kuroneko (1968)/ Kaneto Shindo

Kuroneko is a work of remarkable significance. Its director, Shindo, is not interested in philosophical insinuations – in that, he looks at characters as being merely skin deep. At best, his most noble aim is to confirm the depth to which humanity will relegate itself to when confronted with a dire situation. Existence in a Shindo film is invariably a state of crisis: it’s a civil war, a nuclear holocaust, or a cast-away family. The situation becomes Shindo’s excuse to present his characters as machinery – devices of blunt survival that conduct their livelihood like one may conduct commerce. As such, the characters in his symptomatic Onibaba are involved in pursuits that are blatantly material: they are looking either to get fed, or to get laid. The latter film’s emphasis on its characters’ antediluvian animalism is so strong that when one of the characters climbs down into a pit whose bottom is populated by around forty human skeletons, it comes across as perfectly ‘normal’ – a sequence one would otherwise look at as being grotesque, or repelling.

Shindo is not interested in endearing any character to the audience; instead, presenting them as cardboard cutouts – one dimensional executioners of a single motivation. Despite this peculiar approach, however, Shindo is a humanist. His approach is of revelation, not of obscurity. In that, his direction of cinema functions in a manner completely opposite to Kubrick’s : Kubrick locates the one-note in a three-dimensional human being, Shindo locates the three-dimensionality in a one-note machine. In effect, Shindo’s cinema functions in the particular faith that even within the assigned social roles and thus, the accompanying quality-code – a ghost will be evil, a samurai will be brave, a peasant will be hungry, a young woman will be a nymph - there are flourishes of unexpected ‘humanity’. The schism where the machines tire of their pretense and divulge a human motive. 

The headiest moment in Onibaba is its final : when a demon-faced mother, who has hitherto been presented as a single-minded, battle-ram of greed, jealousy and lust, leaps and yelps at the camera : ‘I am a human being!”. Such sudden revelation of humanity happens much earlier in Kuroneko, perhaps the most ‘atmospheric’ of all Japanese films (notwithstanding Kobayashi). At around the half-way mark, the mother-daughter duo, who have until that point, devoted themselves to being cat-vampire ghouls who like to bite into samurai necks, suddenly reveal a side of them that is very ‘human’ : they fall in love (maternal and romantic, respectively) with a samurai assigned to get rid of them. The samurai is the son, and the husband they were waiting for while they were alive, but has returned only now, when they are dead. Such metaphysical distinctions, however, do not stop them from relinquishing their statuses as evil spirits and indulging in more human desires. One is punished with Hell for such violation, the other chooses to retract to her status as a vengeful spirit. The point is, however, that Kuroneko is a relevant film. Why? Because it is poignant while largely being about machinery; because it is perceptive without being philosophical.

Facial Reconstruction

Integral to any art that has its central concern the 'visual' or a thing we may 'see' - is the outline. The outline is the slight suggestion of what is contained within it; as such, this property of it manifests most potently in the silhouette. The human face is one of the most easily recognisable shapes, second perhaps, only to the human body on which it is resident. The central policy behind 'body horror' or any such engagement of the 'grotesque' is the disturbance of this easy identification - a sudden transformation in the shape of the outline, or even worse, in its contents.

Some faces, below,


I was a soldier (1970)/ Krystof Kieslowski

Irma Vep (1996)/ Olivier Assayas

Altered States (1980)/ Ken Russell

Pratidwandi (1972)/ Satyajit Ray

Pratidwandi (1972)/ Satyajit Ray

Bigger Than Life (1956)/ Nicholas Ray

Hara-Kiri (1962)/ Masaki Kobayashi

Onibaba (1964)/ Kaneto Shindo


Monday, April 18, 2011

The Compulsion of the 'Hitchcock' Movie

Ghost Writer(2010) / Roman Polanski
Roman Polanski’s new film, the Silver Berlin Bear and European Film Award Winner Ghost Writer is Polanski’s attempt to do a Hitchcock-movie, one replete with discussions over the malleable nature of individual identity, obsession with the lead’s obsession, and a general atmosphere of tom-foolery where everyone is sexually and morally promiscuous – so people screw and kill casually – both without much remorse. Evan McGregor does a very successful Cary Grant by the way of Robert Cummings, and Olivia Williams (more Hedren than Novak) assumes the role of the blonde femme-fatale with great ease. 

Polanski doesn’t let Hitchcock completely supersede him, however; because while he preserves Hitchcock’s interest in the phenomenon of the mistaken identity, he filters it through a more personal (and thus, sinister) version – that of the lead willfully assuming the mistaken identity, and in perverse circumstances, beginning to enjoy it.

The ending of Ghost Writer, done in equally tasteful (the death is never ‘shown)' and distasteful ( you can ‘see’ the death from a mile away) portions, also is one of the two greatest endings on film that feature an enormous amounts of pieces of paper randomly flying through air. The other being Stanley Kubrick’s The Killing.

In its discussion of a person being compelled to assume an identity that is not his own, and then being forced to state that the assumed identity is actually his own, Ghost Writer thematically connects with Shutter Island, another 2010 film that is a great director (Martin Scorsese) in the final stages of his career, doing a Hitchcock-movie.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Problem of the Biopic


The Last Emperor (1987) / Bernardo Bertolucci

The major achievement of The Last Emperor is that it finally finds a way in which to deal with the most critical question of the film biopic : what happens after the ‘glory’ is over? It is not particularly tough to portray a character when he/she is winning (which is why there are so many biopics about ‘winners’), but it is a rather awful conundrum to ‘show’ them when bad times fall upon them (which is why there are so few about ‘losers’ – Raging Bull, Pollock and?). The scheme of victory is not intricate, the scheme of loss is rather messy; abridged, the Tolstoy quote may read – ‘Winners are all alike; losers lose in their own way’. The Last Emperor arrives at a solution: it smudges its lead character’s victory with his loss into an indistinguishable blot.

The past segues into the present, the present into the past. The structure of the film permits a tiny schism through which the two eras seep into one another – so the entire film is a long interspersed chain of sequences of Pu Yi’s (eponymous emperor) ‘glorious’ past in the Forbidden City, and his present as a state prisoner. By showing Pu Yi’s eventual fate – his status as a prisoner accused of siding with the enemy, before we have any personal acquaintance with the character – Bertolucci ensures that The Last Emperor is the story of an entire nation (China) funneled through one of its citizens (Pu Yi) rather than the other way around (symptomatic of the Hollywood biopic, wherein the individual cause disperses into the national or social cause). 

Of course, in the ‘present’, the prisoner Pu Yi is a conventional ‘loser’ – he is clearly a misfit in the Maoist China; a superfluous remnant of times when humans ruled over other humans. Bertolucci is perfectly relentless in condemning Pu Yi as well – he spares no sympathy for him, because unlike the Hollywood biopic that locates heroism in casual tomfoolery, he locates tomfoolery in what may seem like ‘heroics’. Pu Yi’s individual belief system (one of shrewd compromise and convenient hypocrisy as we later discover) cannot stand firm in the face of a national overhaul – he lies humbled by the forceful colossus called ‘change’. The old Pu Yi is nothing but a specter, a spirit of the past, an emblem of nostalgia. He is a ghost, because what are ghosts but symbols of a past that has accidentally overflowed into a present that has no use for it. Bertolucci literalizes it with the last shot of the film : Pu Yi, the emperor, sits on his ancient throne and slowly, his physical form dissolves into the image – essentially, the throne is a suction portal that soaks him back into time, thereby restoring him to his rightful place : a historical myth. He disappears ‘into’ the image and his ghost is finally exorcised, he integrates with history.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Lumet

Network (1976)/ Sidney Lumet

"And the film is an unremitting and unforgiving depiction of the frailty and feebleness of human greed. It is not as much a statement on humanity, as it is on its complete imperfection. It is as great a tribute to the force called circumstance as will ever be committed to film. It is a film less about failure as about how the forces conspire to bring it about. By relocating the jigsaw pieces of the traditional bank heist film, Lumet ensures that it is not a crime caper that you watch, but a tragedy. In the world of his film, no one is a criminal, but everyone is a victim; at the hands of fate."

an excerpt I contributed about 'Before the Devil Knows You're Dead' to Indian Auteur

Jeunet's Bitter Cousin

Jan Jakub Kolski
Jan Jakub Kolski is Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s bitterer cousin. His cinema is Jeunet’s, but with its general atmosphere of upbeatness upturned. Both directors make films about compulsive eccentrics, with a whole list of accompanying quirks (real quirk, not in the American sense: where quirk is ‘cool’) that can render the characters pleasantly odd, as they seem in Jeunet’s films, but also make them appear downright repulsive, as they seem in Kolski’s films. A Jeunet film may often appear as a national contest of the eccentrics, where each character brandishes his own exclusive set of oddities, and the oddest takes home the prize – literally, because the winner takes home an attractive member of the opposite sex – thus emphatically stating the belief that eccentricity is easily translatable to accomplishment. In a Kolksi film however, characters are forced to come to terms with their quirkiness. They are made to pay for their diversions from a more ‘normal’ manner of being – therefore, while a Jeunet film rewards its eccentric’s defiance of the convention, a Kolski film punishes it. It wouldn’t be too far-fetched to look at the films of both the filmmakers as contemplative reflections of the political climates of their nations – the independence of Jeunet’s France and the repression of Kolksi’s Poland. What Jeunet’s films celebrate, Kolski’s condemn.

No more film is symptomatic of such a quality than his breakthrough 1993 film Johnny Aquarius, where an old peasant discovers powers of heroic proportions within himself – the ability to heal by using water. As news of his near-divine talent spreads, he gains immense celebrity as a healer. He gains renown as a sort of messiah – but the unfortunate accompaniments of fame (presented in a series of blatant symbols by Kolski, who obviously derides the idea of excessive fame) : an ostentatious mode of vehicle, sexy women and a immovable set of loyalists (or groupies) tempt the old peasant to relinquish his ‘normal’ old life, and he does. He leaves his wife and his newborn behind to revel in his newfound status as the ‘chosen one’ – but as with the other Kolski film playing at the festival (Pornografia, 2003), deviation such as this from the normal course of life is castigated with great immediacy. Johnny loses his powers, and thus, his celebrity – and in one of the most simultaneously obvious and slight symbolic montages in recent times – he is shown as being stationary on one bench for five years, thus being converted into a ‘monument’ or a ‘deity’, that is useless despite being monumental. He breaks away from his motionless state (predictably, its a Kolski film) and returns to peasant life, symbolized by the final scene, where he sits at the head of the dining table and consumes a modest rural lunch with his wife and his son. Such relinquishment of eccentricity and return to a pre-assigned role is what forms the central quality of a Kolski film.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Truffaut Letters - III


Truffaut wrote to the Minister of Information in France in 1963 to 'influence' the results of his consideration of a seemingly scandalous Chris Marker film, Le Joli Mai.

Truffaut the Statesman

Paris, 25 April 1963
Monsieur le Ministre,

Perhaps this letter will surprise you. We would certainly have greatly preferred to ask you to grant us an audience, but, for the present, we have chosen to write to you to let you know of our distress and our hope.

We have been informed that, in a few hours, you are to decide the fate of a film which we hold very dear and by which we were all extremely moved. Le Joli Mai impressed us as a crucial film for a period in which, as you remarked last year, 'the means of exerting pressure on the individual conscience have become so numerous'. With a degree of personal sympathy which we find profoundly touching, our friend Chris Marker has allowed dozens of alienated, bewildered, anxious, impassioned and sometimes baffled men and women to speak their minds. It was also you who said: "It is the plurality of points of view, the confrontation of different opinions, that will safeguard the fundamental liberties of our citizens.'

Your remarks, it is true, applied to the press. But we believe in a cinema of personal expression. And Chris Marker is, in our of opinion, one of its most brilliant exponents. Liberty, in the cinema, encounters certain great and formidable obstacles. Beyond the economic pressures exerted by commercial interests, it seems essential to us that a whole range of intellectual currents would find expression on the screen.

We do not regard the cinema as an underdeveloped sector of culture. What applies to the press should, we believe, apply equally to the cinema. Several years ago there emerged a new kind of film-going public. Their responses are those of individuals. They judge. They have become adult Now, when you are about to decide the future of a difficult and ambitious film, a film destined for this new breed of spectator, we wished to tell you how important we feel that decision will be since on it depends to a certain extent the future of French cinema.

We are convinced, Monsieur Le Ministre, that you will forgive the liberty we have taken of acquainting you, with confidence, of our anxiety : the fate of Le Joli Mai rests in your hands.

Yours sincerely,
Fran├žois Truffaut



As an aftermath of the letter to the Minister, Le Joli Mai was released uncut.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Good Onions, Bad Onions

 Before we start, my friend/colleague Gautam Valluri from Broken Projector and I have instituted a simple-minded, caught-in-a-time-warp film e-journal called Projectorhead.  Endorse it through your readership of it.

No One Killed Jessica (2011)/ Rajkumar Gupta

In one of the crucial scenes in the recent Hindi film release No One Killed Jessica, as the possibility of ‘justice’ in the fashionable Jessica Lall murder case that is the subject of the movie dwindles consistently, the door bell rings. The owner of the door, Meera (television journalist modeled on who else, Barkha Dutt) opens the door and discovers that someone has left a parcel in her mailbox. When she exposes the contents of the package on a center-table inside her home, it is revealed that it contains a tape. She plays it, and with a smug smirk discovers that on it is the audio recording of the supposed killer’s confession of his supposed crime. 

Now, Meera is presented in the film as the model journalist – the single embodiment of the popular Indian myth of the journalist who will ‘stand up’ against the wrong and advocate integrity and fearlessness in the face of blatant injustice. Her status in the film as the utopian journalist however, does not burden her with the basic responsibility of her vocation i.e. the verification of her information source – the credibility anonymous assistor. Instead, we discover that in the next scene, she carries the smug smirk to her news studio, gets the technician to broadcast the contents of the tape on a national platform such as her resident news channel and even goes to the extent of attributing the voice on the tape to the supposed killer (who has been granted acquittal by the court in the same case) and declaring him, in front of the millions who presumably form the audience for her ‘news’ show, the killer and then provoking them to take ‘action’ to reverse the wrong.

 It doesn’t matter to her that the basis on which she conducts her personal kangaroo court - the audio recording - is not identified as submissible evidence within the Indian Court of Law. Or that the person she so gratuitously implicates can sue her for slander or defamation, and in most probability, win easily. Sadly enough, such factual misgivings in a film ‘based on real events’ is only the least of director Rajkumar Gupta’s film’s problems. 

To desecrate fiction for foregoing logic in order to tell a good story is an exercise in futility. Gupta cannot be implicated really for moving on hastily to the meaty parts of the story – the parts in which the underdog finally starts giving it to the ostentatiously powerful opposition. But Gupta’s film is not a sports film. It is not centered around a seemingly impossible sporting conquest or at a rather literal level, a physical struggle between two ill-matched (sets of) athletes where the lesser comes out on top. It is a film about a much larger social condition. It is about vulgar power whose precise source is invisible, but whose repercussions are paradoxically, omnipresent, and how it renders the average citizen helplessness through its sheer magnitude. It is the struggle between an individual and the system which she constitutes – and that type of struggle can never really be a boxing match.

The Jessica Lall murder case is not symptomatic, as popular notion may lead us to believe, of the upheaval of the powerful elite by the middle-class citizenry, but of the sheer comic absurdity of the condition in which an average citizen conducts his life in our nation. Gradually, as the citizen trains himself in the Indian manner of existence, the initial dissent and its resulting frustration is soon replaced by a glum acceptance of his situation. Eventually, he acquires a peculiar self-awareness of his own situation; a quality that enables him to survey his own condition objectively. Enabled to perform this act of putting his own existence under surveillance, he cannot help but be amused by the wholly odd nature of his daily suffering – he cannot but locate humour in his misery. 

Daily lives of middle-India offer such glorious instances of absurdist humor all the time, especially in a state of transit. In a state, for instance, of compressed humanity on the daily metro ride, where hundreds pack into a space meant for twenty and simulate the penultimate stage of a stampede, it is not uncommon to hear someone crack a smart one about how the people inside the compartment resemble ‘onions in a government godown’, or how the ‘poor metro will resign because of work pressure’. The wisecracks are admittedly funny, and you laugh along. The average Indian citizen learns how to. 

Faced with the endlessly mysterious object, lovingly referred to in societal circles as the ‘system’, that he does not have either the time (he has to earn his daily bread) or the prowess to comprehend, the citizen equips himself with humour to compensate for a general state of listlessness. The humour is, however, not a symbol of genuine amusement as it is of absolute helplessness. It is not as if the average citizen does not realize that there is something amiss if travel back and forth each day entails near-suffocation, but over the years, he has realized the futility of ire as a response. In order for ire to be effective, you need someone to direct it at. But in the case of Indian middle-class existence, there is a lot of wrong, but no one to blame it for – except, ofcourse, vague notions such as that of the ‘powerful politician’, ‘corrupt bureaucrat’ or in extreme cases, ‘the system’. There are no definite villains, like there are no definite heroes, and even if one may seem for a moment heroic, it is not wholly implausible that he/she may only have stumbled upon that heroism accidentally. 

In the classic American film All The President’s  Men, made three years after the event of its subject, the Watergate Scandal, the ‘villain’ is never visible. It is never manifest in a material form, or in an ontological reality i.e. recorded on film. Your foreknowledge permits you the luxury of the awareness that the investigation by Bob Woodward and Edward Bernstein brought down Richard Nixon regime, and yet, the film never implicates Nixon – infact, it does not implicate anyone at all. It does not pinpoint the centers of villainy and then setup our two leads against them, but through a simple-minded factual retelling of the events of the investigation, reveals how absurd the nature of the larger monster is. It is a film that believes that the occasion of the Watergate scandal is one of social mourning, or a tragedy, and not one of individual victory. Woodward and Bernstein are not heroes who cause the upheaval of an entire government, but typical everymen who have accidentally gotten embroiled in a nexus whose tentacles spread beyond the scope of their personal vantage points. Throughout the film, they are scared for their lives, always looking over their shoulders, and dwell in a state of eternal suspicion. They are as destructible as a package full of certain evidence. The film does not end on a celebratory note, because it is remarkably insensitive to locate celebrity in the event of a social casualty. Like there are no villains, there are no heroes.

The art of a country may or may not directly mirror its attitudes, but it must seek to summarise them. It is the responsibility of a society’s artist to comprehend the condition in which its average member conducts his existence. Such understanding of human life around him should then nurture and inform his work.

If the measure of the artistic merit inherent in a work is its relevance as posterity declares it, then the most urgent role of an artist is that of the documentarist who documents life in the era of which his work is a produce of. The artist is thus the preserver, who through his art, makes a statement on the nature of his most immediate surroundings – one that will inform the generations of the future about their ancestors in the present, and through it, perform an action of permanent preservation. It is imperative, thus, that art does not become subservient to populist tendencies that demand the establishment of an alternative reality, one that exists in vacuum – in  a mythical realm in which wishful fantasies manifest, but no authenticity does. Because alternative reality is, as its name suggests, an alternative to reality, and thus, it does not hold any real worth to posterity, because it does not preserve within itself any insight into an erstwhile existence.

No One Killed Jessica is a film that, through the prism of perhaps the most renowned legal exercise in the country’s recent existence, claims to be about a decade in the life of an enormous society – but it is, as a lot of Bollywood films are – an affirmation of the aspirational yearning of the typical middle-class viewer who constitutes the audience for these films. Like many other films of its type, its promotional material is bound to contain epithets like ‘realistic’, ‘hard-hitting’, ‘edgy’ – but its real nature is that of a fantasy. It declares its centers of heroism as easily as it does its centers of villainy, and unlike in ‘real’ life, there is no absurd ambiguity anymore. We know exactly who to point our fingers at, who to root for, who to jeer against, and which side to take in general. 

In the third scene itself, that shows the infamous murder – which in itself is shot callously like how a sleek Korean gangster film director shoots his antagonists dying, with bodies falling in slow motion and blood sprawling across the screen like calligraphic characters – the ‘villain’ is declared through strictly identifiable codes. He is surrounded by cronies who speak in a crude accent, misbehaves with women-folk, and does not blink an eyelid before passing lewd comments at them. Moreover, the director shoots him in sinister looking close-ups with distorted lenses, and provides the whole scene with a background score that seeks to enhance the intensity of the scene. As if the act of a human pointing a gun at another is not intense enough inherently. Later on in the film, the scenes featuring the politico father of the ‘murderer’ are always accompanied by a leitmotif that announces to us the generally ‘evil’ nature of the characters who inhabit the scene, and each line he mouths is sinister and ‘evil’ sounding. One of his cronies digs his nose, drills his ear with his fingers – thereby pasting even more redundant crudeness to the whole exercise of the murder, in case you didn’t already notice. The audience is bludgeoned with the awareness of who the ‘villain’ is – who the subject of their derision should be.  It is a film that is really a boxing film, but presented in the garb of a ‘realistic’ political thriller. 

This garb is the Hindi mainstream film industry’s most effective device. A film like No One Killed Jessica is really nothing but children’s fantasy, but it can pretend to be a ‘serious’ issue-based film, purely because its makers comprehend the perpetual level of gullibility in which middle-India spends its existence. The middle-class Indian is a remarkably docile, unquestioning and passive being – forever prepared to comply or compromise – he will humour himself and others around himself about the jam-packed metro compartment, but he will never raise a direct voice against it. Instead, he will patiently await someone who can take up the cudgel for him; someone who can take up his cause for him. 

So a random god-man can claim the ability to heal all our diseases and we will go along, a mediocre cricketer can tell us which brand of insurance to purchase and we will go along, a cosmetics company can tell us to our faces that we are hideous - that we need its product to look presentable and we will go along. It is because the emblematic Indian middle-classer is always looking to be told – to be informed of a greater truth by ‘reliable sources’, because as he has been led to believe, these ‘sources’ know better. Therefore, No One Killed Jessica can play directly to the gallery – it exploits its awareness of the general listlessness of the average member of its audience. 

It is a film, like many other Bollywood films, that knows how seeped in absurdist chaos the Indian existence is – how devoid of well-defined moral centers, villains or heroes - and yet, it does not seek to comment, encapsulate or in braver cases, confront this farce. Instead, it bypasses this confusion altogether and like any other artifact of bad pop-culture, compartmentalizes chaos into distinctly labeled pieces of information. Its comprehension of its subject - the Indian society - does not result in a film that is about its reality, but about a reality that it aspires to. One in which we not only know what is wrong, but also have someone to blame it for – just like in the movie, where the middle-class’s vague notions about who its criminals are – the politician, the bureaucrat, the system – get solidified into actual persons. So the audience member who spends his life in not knowing who to blame now has someone to consider his ‘villain’. If it isn’t a fantasy, what is? 

If Bollywood is to establish itself as a presence in the lives of its audience that transcends the primitive relationship of a vendor-customer, and occupy more than a mere superficial relevance in them, then it needs to be express earnest interest in them. If it must use ordinary Indian existence as its subject, then it should engage it as a prospect of art, and not a prospect of commerce. And it is not the job of art to offer an unequivocal stance on an issue or to promise a solution – art is permanently doomed to suffer in the same state of puzzlement as its subject. 

In the penultimate scene of the Hindi film classic Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron, the businessman, the journalist and the policeman rendezvous in the backstage  of a drama hall as our two ‘heroes’ celebrate their victory over injustice . We never hear what they talk about, or the nature of their exchange; what we do know is that in the last scene, it is the heroes who have been implicated and put into jail. That is how absurd daily life in India is.