The day I first met the director on the set of his current film to introduce myself as a new member on his Assistant Directors’ team, he showed me a scene that he had just cut. It’s a scene where the protagonist becomes this huge hulk like figure growing into the sky, making his peers in the business meeting room look like the Lilliputians and he shouts, “I am the Monarch”. I thought It could’ve been “I am the Monarch of the Sea”, which refers to the character from a Gilbert & Sullivan’s operetta, who is in this exalted position despite the fact that he never goes to the sea and has no actual sailing skills. I do not know why the scene had evoked this feeling in me. I pretended to applaud how well the scene came out. The director was sporting a French beard that did not quite go well with his long face and thick framed dark glasses. His style looked like something borrowed and mashed up badly with little tweaks that he thought were creative. It brings to my mind one of Iris Apfel’s quotes, “You can never learn style.” You either have it or you don’t. Or you have a bad one like this director, like many of us do, who shabbily mock the latest trends and are happy or mostly ignorant of being the sheeple in the crowd.
She’s just a pretty woman like many other actresses who are imported (excuse me for using this word because that’s how I think our film industry works) from different parts of the country solely based on their looks and very rarely on talent. During my first interaction with her, I was not fascinated as may be one should have been when they’re meeting an actress for the first time on the set. She’s only a film old. She told me about how she’s a rebel and how despite her parents’ opposition she made it into this film world on her own accord. As she talked more I lost whatever little interest I had. She said to me, “My god! This director man! He’s crazy! He has a passion of an out worldly being. You’re going to breathe cinema day and night being his Assistant Director. All the very best!”.
He’s alright for an actor playing a protagonist though his diction with dialogue delivery kind of sucks and is in a monotone without caring for the variation of emotion different scenes demanded. It falls flat. Another director who made a few good cinema and has now become irrelevant due to choice of films he followed up with that were box-office disasters, compared him to be a combination of Amitabh Bachchan and Al Pacino. I wondered what he was smoking when he made this comment.
The actor gives out an impression of a nonchalant, humble and approachable attitude but I get a sense by observing him and from my interaction that may be he doesn’t have a grasp on what these attributes of personality even mean. It’s just a facade he’s putting on.
When the director introduced me to him, the actor told me, “You know though my last movie was a hit at the box office, I didn’t quite like my character who plays a second fiddle to a feminist woman protagonist character. I made a lot of changes to that character in the script the way I saw it but those didn’t make it to the final cut due to disagreements with the film’s director. But am glad this director and myself are on a same wavelength. This character is macho just the way I’d like. You’re in hands of an avant-garde director. You better make the best use of your time under him. And my advice, don’t anger him with your suggestions even if they sound intelligent to you compared to the director’s.”
The day of the premiere, as we entered the Cinema Hall, I saw a big serpentine queue that went all the way to the Cinema Hall’s entrance gates. Interestingly, most of the crowd was college-going students who seemed to have bunked the classes to be here to catch the movie first day, first show.
There was a euphoria among the crowd when they saw a line of cars with the cast, director and crew also arriving at the premiere.
There was a lot of paper torn into tiny pieces, thrown into air with jubilant shouts screaming the actor’s name! Piles and piles of paper were strewn around and empty plastic water bottles on the ground squished as people ran over them to the ticket counters, cigarette stubs were flicked into air without a care on where they landed or what they burnt. A cloud of cigarette smoke floated above the crowd, the girls in the ticketing queue covered their nose and mouth with their scarves tied into a knot at the back of their heads. A constant stream of people on bikes entered and left the Cinema Hall disappointed looking at the long queue and realizing they won’t stand a chance to get tickets.
I brought my girlfriend Claire along for the premiere. We were seated in a special seating area they called a VIP box along with other guests who were either part of an inner circle of director’s friends or his crew.
I told Claire, “I looked at the trailer that was cut for promotions of this film. It looks great,” though I have had mixed feelings.
She said, “You must be excited to be working under him for your first project”, feeling happy for me.
We got comfortable in our seats. The movie titles rolled on. Scene after scene went on without making any effort to engage us. The crowd in the cinema hall though seemed to be in a different world and were screaming joyfully at the sight of the actor. Hero-worship is a common theme among the youth in our country, especially in my home city.
The audience were whistling whenever the actor used cuss words. They perhaps thought It looked cool, fashionable on him and which now they can imitate in their day to day lives to look cool themselves. They were shouting these cuss words out loud even as they only got to hear a loud bleep due to censoring. They were being ardent followers of what their actor has asked of them to do at one of the promotional events for the film as a means to teach a lesson to the Censor board for bleeping the cuss words which he thought were appropriate given the context of the different scenes.
In one scene, the actor enters into an apartment from the back door, he grabs the girl who’s sitting on the kitchen top, pulls her close with his hands spreading her legs apart, hastily pulling his pants down he forces her. She’s pleading him that her fiancée may be there anytime and he should leave. Sadly the girl was just politely pleading, no screaming for help, nothing. Should not she be kicking this *bleep* in his balls? what is the director trying to project through her character? another factor of coolness where the girl is being chill when someone is forcing her even while she’s pleading?
The crowd bursts into laughter now, they found something funny when the girl took her fiancé’s name. Claire looked at me confused with all the cheering and the fun crowd was having.
The actor budges, sweeps the kitchen top, shoving any utensils with the blade of his forearm down to the floor. Right this moment, the room goes dark due to a power cut. With the girl still pleading him in the dark, he grabs a knife lying around and puts it across the girl’s throat threatening to kill her and pulls her forward with his other hand. The power comes back on. The actor looks at the knife in his hands. Instead of an expression of shame or of intense self-loathe, he seems confused or rather looks like he’s been playing a fun video game where it all ended abruptly when the power was back on. With the bell ringing at the front door he decides to leave. He opens the front door to find the girl’s fiancée looking agape shocked. The actor treads past him with a cool swag that seems to have sent the crowd into a frenzy one more time.
This time around, I could sense Claire glaring back at me hard with shock and disgust for the scene and the crowd enjoying it.
She leaned in and shouted out loud in order to make her voice heard in that noise of dialogues and background music, “You know what the actor just did with the girl?, It’s attempted rape!”
She asked, “And why is the crowd cheering him for this act?” I could sense the agitation in her tone.
“I am sorry we’re watching this crap! do you wanna leave?”, I asked her, “We could go have some early dinner.”
She considered it for a while. I knew from the way she looked at me that she’s going to give it some more time just for the reason that I’ll be taking up an assignment as a assistant director under this director.
More scenes followed that were more of the protagonist craving for sex and his numbing his libido with a handful of ice shoved down his underpants much to the dismay of a fruit vendor from whose cart the ice was picked when the actor’s friend’s response to his call checking for any girls from their college available for sex was a no. The crowd burst into laughter at this scene one more time. There’s so much fun to be had from these scenes that we were clearly out-of whack and not in sync with anything that’s happening onscreen or off screen with the crowd.
Some more scenes with dialogues that either suggested how his girlfriend not making eye-contact with anybody but him in the college or how she offering sex as a truce after their arguments was a trait that’s praiseworthy or how a woman (playing an actress in the film) tries to plead the actor to go back to having sex with her in the backseat of her car when the actor rejects her halfway through it and walks away. what is this director’s perception of women in general? I would be curious.
I was not sure of the message these scenes were sending out to the youth the film was targeted at.
This was the scene where she simply got up and walked out not even looking at me.
I followed her out of the cinema hall and I sped up to catch up with her.
I told her as I caught up, “But I didn’t know that this was going to be such a male chauvinistic immature and a shallow snobbish film.”
“I had an inkling that may be I was not the right guy to join this team.”, but she was silent.
It’s the Murphy’s Law, Anything that could go wrong. Will. I thought.
We walked in silence for a while until I told her, “I’m quitting this position and will have to wait
for something better.” I saw a fleeting smile arise on her as I said this.
Later that night after our dinner and coming back to our apartment, as I lay in bed I thought about how life inspires art, inspires life. Cinema has a way of influencing the behavioral patterns, giving rise to a culture on how people behave and affect what their beliefs are.
The next morning, I woke up and saw on twitter how there were a deluge of tweets on the film being a cult, raw, honest film when I searched for movie’s hashtag. I was in disbelief reading these tweets not sure of what was raw or honest or cult about the film. The IT minister of my State used the choicest of words to praise the film. Several celebrities envied the actor for such a meaty role. The film reviewers of famous media houses called it a radical cinema.
And I thought, surely, All who praised the film must be morally-fuckedup and need to reevaluate their mental states. Should we become part of the dysfunctional thinking that surrounds us or Should we escape from it / shun it?
p.s: this piece is in reaction to a regional film I’ve seen recently. Confused by a ton of positive reviews, I had to put my views into words in the form of fiction.