View & re-view & review

It amazes me that we have received more reviews of our films in the last 4 months than ever before! The lockdown seems to have created the space for the audience to watch and rewatch films and write about them. In fact many seem to really dissect characters and films in so much detail that it will keep us filmmakers really on our toes!

It is such a contrast from the rushed reviews tweeted from the first show of the first day 🙂 Last year Apurva Asrani had written an interesting article where he explores how the process of film critique is affected by the social media hurry.  Apurva Asrani is a National Award winning filmmaker, film editor and screenwriter who has a multimedia body of work in film, television and theatre. He is best known for editing films like Satya (1998) and Shahid (2013), and for writing the acclaimed human rights drama Aligarh (2016). Sharing here an extract from his article Has Digital killed the Movie Critic? 

“Today everyone is a critic. The day a new film releases, patrons inside cinema halls play fastest finger first to ‘live tweet’ their reviews. So if the movie critic has to stay relevant, then he or she must have her review out early enough to avoid getting buried under the plethora of opinions that proliferate online. The critic must therefore clamour for an invite to a preview screening, often held just a day before the release, and then rush to the laptop to write a speedy review.

Did the critic have enough time to think about the film? Or get a chance to sleep over it, and wake up to a ‘settled’ opinion? Was the critic able to re-read and edit the piece to find a balanced view? In most cases, I would think not. And If anyone or anything suffers in this scenario—it is the film. A work of art that took years to conceive, write, shoot, edit and score becomes something that is judged within minutes of being watched.

When filmmaker Stanley Kubrick was asked if he ever learned anything about his work from film critics, he said “No. To see a film once and write a review is an absurdity. Yet very few critics ever see a film twice or write about films from a leisurely, thoughtful perspective. ” 

Such leisurely thoughtful viewing seems to have happened through the Covid-19 lockdown and I have been so surprised by some of the keen observations in these lockdown reviews. It is like that missing ingredient – the ounce of time – has really changed the recipe, making it a richer and more sensitive experience for both sides.

While directing, there are things communicated between the director and actors which are not always articulated in words. There are last minute touches by the crew which sometimes inflame the screen with feeling. These instinctive bits are often the most honest moments and when a member of the audience picks up and writes about those moments, I cant tell you how much it moves me. It feels worth all that time and faith it took to put it together. It feels worth those extra takes. So thank you for your time and observation and for reassuring that  the audience will someday find the plums we bury in our cakes.

I will be honest, when those quicksilver fingers so easily type out criticisms, that too affects us. But as Apurva has written, more than us, it affects the film. I see criticism as being part of our journey and it is such a learning to read detailed audience reviews and the animated discussions on informed forums like Cinema Paradiso.  Some being really insightful and constructive. Most recently, I have been learning about film criticism from Mdm. Udaya Tara Nayar who was the editor of Screen for over twenty years. She had reviewed films like ‘Sholay’ and ‘Bobby’ when they released, and she stresses on the importance of understanding the medium and the filmmaking process to professionally critique a film. Shall write more about that interaction in a separate post.

I once overheard a friend say “I pay my money and I need its worth, if I am disappointed I will say so and say it loud.” Years later he dropped in to visit on a working film set. He came and spent half a day and as he left I saw he was a bit disappointed at how slow and unglamorous a film shoot is. He said “I’d rather watch it onscreen.” But since then I have noticed his biting tweets have assumed a gentler tone. 🙂 (Am sure he will call me when he reads this!)

According to the Rasa Theory from the Natya Shastra, when a world is created from within the artiste’s mana through bhava and the corresponding rasa is created within the audience; that is when communication is successful. When that happens the audience/ prekshaka attains sahridayata (oneness) with the artistes. Your thoughtful feedback tells us if that happened or not. So yes, please do keep viewing, re-viewing and reviewing.  🙂 Much Love. Stay safe.

P.S.: Sharing a funny Amazon review I found online 😀

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Learning the right things

Since the lockdown, the more privileged among us are at home. Safe in our oysters and leading life from day to day with our families, within four walls of an apartment or a house. We have come back to the basic organisational unit – the family. The molecule of society.

In this world of hyper connectivity, this offers us a time to reconnect person to person and also to look at ourselves. Do we have the life-skills every person needs to have? Here is a video that lists 10 life skills and explains them beautifully.

Click here to see video – 10 Basic Life Skills

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Namely,

Do Laundry, Wake up Independently, Prepare meals, Pack bags, Commute on their own using public transport, Order at restaurants, Take care of another living being, Manage Money, Do Grocery shopping, Plan an outing.

Simple, right?

Wrong.  The children will learn easily. But what about the adults who do not know/practice these skills and are dependent on others? Any adult should practice these  but many don’t because they have been infantilised by their own families. Men and women are responsible for this bunch of adult babies spoilt in the name of love. Isn’t love supposed to help people grow rather than render them incapable?

At such a time as now, these life-skills (except those to be practiced outside the home) are essential.  Also a real awareness about one’s own skillset will help one appreciate what someone else is doing for us. For example, I wonder how many of those sharing sexist jokes about spouses on social media, are actually adults who can function at home without depending on their partners. Others who are dependent on domestic helpers may want to learn how to survive without them, and how to respect them when they are around. It’s a great time to learn the right things.

Above all, I have observed is that practising life skills has some IMMEDIATE RESULTS! Makes people smarter. Immediately reduces stupidity. Makes people happy to have you around. Lockdown or no lockdown. 🙂

 #Stay safe. #Stay at home.

By the way, I am practising mine and loving it. 🙂

 

 

BEWARE of Fraudsters

For a few years now I have been hearing about incidents of persons claiming to be associated with me contacting people through whatsapp, social media and phonecalls and attempting to exploit them for their own benefit. I am very fortunate to have the so much goodwill extended to me but please BEWARE of such fraudsters & name-droppers. Please view them with caution and do not engage with them because people who are in my circle me will NOT indulge in such behaviour.

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In the past I have issued social media posts warning people but I could not raise a Police complaint as I did not receive firsthand evidence.

A few months ago I was informed that ‘a lady from abroad’ was calling young women posing as Anjali Menon and proposing to cast them in an upcoming film starring Prithviraj / Suriya.

When these people contacted me for a clarification I requested for emails and evidence about this. I received Tru-caller screen shots  of  ‘Anjali Menon Director’ calling and phone recordings where this person was having long conversations confirming their identity as me and convincing them to act in ‘glamorous’ roles. Please note: these conversations were definitely not professional or the kind I would have with any potential actor.

Once I received these, the matter was reported to Kerala Police and the Police Cyber Cell has been very proactive in tracing the calls and identifying the source. My gratitude to them for that. Subsequently an individual has been arrested as given in the Kerala Police social media post here. The police have stated that the arrested person is a man who was based in Kerala and had allegedly used a phone app to deceive others about the identity and location of the caller.

Source: Kerala Police Facebook Page

Our casting & crewing process is professional and transparent and announced publicly. You do not have to compromise your safety or rights during the selection. So I have few precautionary steps to suggest :

  • When the person speaks to you about casting/ crewing for a film and then tells you to not inform anyone else or hide it from your family & friends or indulges in any unprofessional talk, demands or behaviour – this is definitely wrong and does not have to be accepted. Please report the matter to the nearest authorities immediately with evidence.
  • If you need a clarification whether a person is really representing me, please write to us on contact.amenon@gmail.com with the details you know. If the person is authorized by me, you will receive a confirmation email reply from our team.

Thank you to the authorities for the action taken and doing the needful. Also gratitude to  the individuals who took the effort to contact me and report the matter with evidence. You are the best examples!

It may be noted that in future too, any actions involving my name that are infringing my rights or exploitative will be reported to the Police and strict legal action will be pursued.

To be safe, the steps are the same for everyone. Recognize. Report. Prevent.

Same same? Not really.

Sharing an article I wrote for Times of India on Kerala Piravi, November 1 2018.  Because the same conversations are happening all over again. As someone said, those who understand, will and the those who don’t, wont.  Running, swimming same same. 😀

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At the time of Kerala Piravi I am wishing for a rebirth – an evolution of our society. During the floods, we saw how it is possible to think, act and do without bias. So many who have never done any humanitarian work in their life came forward and worked selflessly for the welfare of people they didn’t know. We watched with amazement as strangers got together to rescue stranded people and heave a collective sign of relief every time such a mission was successful. We saw how people mobilised vast resources for relief work in terms of money as well as in kind. The homecoming kits which were handed for the homes did not contain flavours of religion or caste or gender. It smelled of hope and a new life.

Not just hope for that particular person or family but hope for a new kind of community – one filled with humaneness beyond any bias.

Shankar Vedantam* has proposed a beautiful analogy in his writings – a comparison of how social bias works like ocean currents. Bias acts like a strong wave that moves towards one direction and against the other direction. A uni-directional force the pushes things a certain way.

Those swimming with the invisible currents move so quickly that they start believing that their strength & skill helps them swim with such speed. They rarely realise that the power of the current is what pushes them ahead and makes them reach beyond their individual capability.

Those swimming against the currents have an entirely different story. They have to swim with so much strength and dexterity to even remain, to not be swept away. And after all this effort they may reach a fraction of what they would have, without such a resistant force in the water.

In reality those swimming against the current end up becoming much better swimmers due to the constant testing of their skills but that does not mean they naturally get ahead in the race.

Bias works exactly like this. Specifically gender bias.

Ocean currents are natural. Bias is NOT. It supports and helps those favoured by it. It beats down those not favoured by it.

In an environment where all biases were suddenly lost to calamity, we saw people come forth and be their best and we witnessed an evolution of selfless spirit that was truly remarkable. We saw REAL heroes. What would life be like if we swam out of the bias that is holding us back?

Today in the midst of masks falling off, we see layers of patriarchy, misogyny and bias holding on tight to protect those they have favoured all along. Yes all along we have known that it is ugly  behind many smiling condescending masks. But rather than hide and brush any more things under the carpet, let us do some spring cleaning.

I have to say the masks are not just worn by the violators, there is another more dangerous mask. The mask of silence.

It does seems like it is time for us to evolve as a society and find a new way of being. They say there is nothing in the caterpillar that tells us if it will become a butterfly. Let us not deny ourselves the evolution we are capable of. This Kerala Piravi I turn to the hope of evolution. I hope we will shed all masks in order to grow.”


 

To read more about Shankar Vedantam’s theory : https://www.brainpickings.org/2014/04/09/the-hidden-brain-shankar-vedantam/

A better take

It’s 9:02 PM on our shooting set. The last take was okay –  just okay. I would love another take but if we go beyond 9PM the crew payments go into 3rd call sheet, dinner has to be organised on set, there is need for late night transportation which eventually affects the next morning schedule etc. Considerable price for a better take. I look at the 1st AD  who reads my face and looks at the cameraman who looks at the line producer who looks back at me. It has been a long exhausting day and everyone just wants to hear the two magic words – “Pack up”. The clapper boy arches his back and looks at me. Such moments remind me that I should never be a producer when I am a director. Yet such moments happen in every single film. 

Every shoot day we start our working day at 6am with a one hour break for lunch that gets eaten into by many small bits of work. Every day finishes earliest at 9PM so that’s a minimum of 15 hours plus the time it takes to load, unload, gather, prepare, pack, unpack all that is required for our work. We work 7 days a week on shoot often shooting whole films in single schedules. This is not just our crew – this is how most film crews work in the regional film industry in India. About a hundred people on each crew.

Abroad film crews are much smaller in number mainly because they are quite expensive to hire. Instead of a hundred there can be 20-40 crew members to do the same kind of work. Then why do we need so many people? Fact is, in India labour is the cheapest to hire so the dynamics are accordingly different.  The same reason why we have lift operators, ATM security and such personnel when most of the world doesn’t. It is supposedly cheaper to hire personnel to ensure the safety of equipment that is far more expensive in comparison. Bulk of the crew here are untrained personnel just growing through the ranks. I have heard this discussed in condescending tones by top cast & crew, especially those who have just returned from a schedule abroad.

But the other side of the coin is that the specialised crew abroad usually drops their gear when the shift is over and in the rare situation where they agree to work beyond confirmed hours, prohibitive overtime rates apply. Whereas that is not true of our homegrown local crew who still work for minimal pay and minimal work conditions. Like a friend observed, the professional crew here work like the student/ lo/no pay crew abroad.

“Madam! One more-alle?” calls out the lighting chief cheerfully interrupting my thoughts about a third call sheet. I nod without looking at my line producer. The crew swings into action preparing for a quick retake and all flows into motion – this time coming together as a magical take. My eyes light up as it unfolds before me. “Cut! Good take!” and smiling I turn to the chief and he smiles back acknowledging my silent thank you. Pack up is announced so we don’t go into another call sheet and the day ends well.

That willingness to go the extra mile irrespective of how hard the day has been  – is a specific trait found in film crews. Unlike other industries, this one calls for physical and mental work as well as undying passion that fuels the work. Every shot matters. Especially in a country that makes so much indie cinema within very limited resources, that passion is what makes it survive. The assistant directors who double up as junior artistes or sound lock up as and when the situation demands, the art assistant who carries a primitive pan of burning coal to get that misty look on screen, the costume person who up-cycles costumes to help save on budget, the DA who carries 5 heavy musical instruments himself to ensure their safety, the dancers who demonstrate a step a hundred times with the same energy, the catering staff who cheerfully serve every meal… each of them bring their own bit to make the film. Finally, the top cast and crew are lauded and appreciated for their work but could it ever be done the same way without everyone else? NO it couldn’t. While the big names may zoom off for rest and relaxation, the bulk of the film crew simply shift to other film sets and go back to work.

We have a tradition on our set. After particularly difficult days, everyone – the whole cast and crew get a lollipop treat. In an instant, everyone suddenly turns into a child, squabbling over flavours and numbers of lollipops! Those are special times when everyone is the same, going about their work with a smile on their face and a lollipop in their mouths, but they deserve so much more. My salute to the wonderful people on our crews who work so hard and yet keep alive that childlike enthusiasm for the work they do. They deserve a better take – much better work conditions and respect. I hope better will come soon. #May Day #Salute #Respect

Lollipop lowres