Reading PK

1. Anger is Comedy

Bill Hicks, George Carlin.. most comedy is  disguised tension.
Raju Hirani’s brilliance is in channelling that anger seamlessly into a narrative that flows from seemingly light-hearted comedy (even when it is subversive) to empathetic realisation. In act-one of his films, you laugh. In act-two you can’t help but cry with mirth/ empathy. This is why his Munnabhai films are classics. Your reactions are not voluntary. the jokes do make you laugh, and the denouement does make you cry. With PK, Hirani got the first part very well – subversive comedy that gets laughs and nods. The second part however, seemed to lack in empathy. Anger as comedy worked, anger realised was ‘lull’.

2. To think or to feel?

Maybe it was the wooden performance by Aamir Khan who is supposed to be an alien. Maybe, it was the paternalistic tone of the film that tries to teach people a little too hard. But mostly, it was the lack of clarity in script. Who were we supposed to root for? alien PK, botox lips or the god?
This film is different from other films of his because this film aimed to make us think instead of making us feel. now the business of making people think of something is a different game altogether. The narrative needs to be tighter. The climax should come with a forceful surprise or impact to crowd-out any other thoughts. Or, the logic of the movie’s universe needs to be quickly established and then you need to be smart with that logic’s ramifications. But it wasn’t that kind of movie

3. Lazy writing/ single metaphor pony

His movies are in service of his world-view. Munnabhai 1 wanted a world where hospital care was empathetic instead of being apathetic and clinical. Munnabhai 2 wanted a world where the elders had dignified identity. PK wanted a world where false godmen don’t exist.
While Munnabhai movies proposed these worldviews with stories of intimate relationships, PK proposed its worldview in the form of a bland TV debate.And there have been just too many movies with denouements like those. eg. Nayak, Ungli and so on. The template is thus – a social concern goes viral, the virality justifies emotions/ acts, and then climax on the News channel program with the bad guy losing out the battle of entertaining glazed eye balls.
Hirani is no doubt a genius story teller. And that makes me wonder why did he use this lazy template for his film. Couldn’t he explore better ways to build the climax – perhaps PK holds the godman’s hands (alien jaadu ki jhappi), perhaps the godmen’s characters are given more depth instead of caricatures. (Good idea for a film here – exploring the making a godmen). Instead of being a reporter, what if Anoushka was a bhakt/ sadhvi of the guru whose illusions are cleared by PK? This way her liberation would have been more poignant, instead of the weak ass climax of her Belgium based relationship. (again a concern of upper middle class person) Perhaps this has to do with class of audience. Did the makers consciously chose an upper middle class godman and climax (media endorsed world view)?
Anyways, this movie is not for the under class. Apparently, the makers are arm twisting cineplex owners and single screen theatre owners to raise the ticket price so that they could quickly ascend to the ‘100 crore’ club. In effect pricing the lower middle class out of the theatres.

4. Toxic obsession about 100 crore clubs/ a movie for upper classes

This dumb tweet is apparently trending today.

“Aamir Khan: Actor’s new film, ‘PK,’ surpasses Rs 50 crore but fails to set record on opening weekend.”

It is not about the story, nor about the issue it raises. It is about how much it has earned. People do not watch movies these days. They watch the making of fantastic billionaires.
This trending topic proves that the movie has been ineffective in raising the issues it was supposed to be raising. No one is questioning godmen after this. no one is calling ‘wrong number’ on fakesters. They are simply watching the makers add another fortune to their name.

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Originally published at Reading PK.
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The puny Ungli

The trailer doesn’t do justice to the film. The film is much more entertaining… until the climax.
Well paced, right insights, right punches… and then the movie ends much before it should have. The movie has an ‘adarsh baccha’ climax. ( I can visualise ‘the system’ petting the film makers for towing the line.)
The movie makers took the insight and then stripped it off its ambition, its angst.At the end all that remains is a sense of disappointment.

The movie is about a few youngsters who show the middle finger to the system to protest against their powerlessness. Now,  I love stories of subversion –  V for Vendetta,  Fight Club or even the Dead Poets Society.  There is a certain ambition in subversion. Fight club destroys credit card companies. V blows up the symbols of power centers. Even the students in the dead poets society stand on the desk in defiance to the head master. These movies identify the power center and subvert it.

 Ungli makers didn’t even have the gumption to identify the power centers. They merely listed out petty corruption peddlers that the middle class encounters. And then merely punish a “bad apple” in the media gaze. The effect is for the benefit of upper middle class that feels a temporary sense of being avenged. (the petty vengefools)
(Take for example the case of auto rikshaw drivers who refuse fairs that are not economically feasible to them. The movie portrayed the drivers as uni dimensional minor villains who need disciplining. why should a driver cart you around if it is not profitable for him? From the auto driver’s perspective, I imagine, the middle class is a villain that collectively bargains down unfair rates for their services keeping in check their upward mobility.)

Essentially,  the ungli gang just gives up when a supposedly non-corrupt police office takes over one of the corrupt sub systems. (the police force) The movie ends there.
They just give up.
The system prevails.
Why do Indian film makers are such wussies? Movie after movie tells the sorry story of good apples versus bad apples.  This theory is not only wrong, it is also dangerous.  Is absolves the system. It never identifies the real source of power and corrupting forces.  The under class and a few individuals are made the scapegoat.  We are sterilised to the thoughts of revolution. 
How is it that a county so fucked up doesn’t have a single decent and successful movie about true revolution?  At most we have tragedies where the first small act of subversion ends up killing the very afraid perpetrators. (Rang De Basanti)
What does this say about us?  Our generation?
Why are we so myopic in our ambition?  Do we have an utopia to fight for? Why are we so afraid that we can’t even articulate a fantasy of change,  of a utopia to fight for?
The yes men do more audacious stunts in real life than the heroes in this movie did.
Can we atleast be audacious in our imagination?
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Originally published at The puny ungli.

Unicef flushes good money on bad poo

Unicef flushes good money on bad poo
Just saw this campaign from Unicef done by JWT. It is called Poo2Loo. Apparently its been running for more than a year now with major focus on digital media.

Who is it aimed at?
It is in English. the styling in international. The setting is urban. probably Mumbai. The nearly 3 minute long video does not tell you anything new – why is it still a problem? why do people defecate in open? How can one help? All it does in those three entertaining minutes is elicit a nod from the upper class Indian who feels disgusted living in Indian cities. It reinforces disgust, without telling what is to be done about it. ‘take the poo to the loo‘ doesn’t count because it doesn’t mean anything.
It does not feature the people who defecate at all. Leave alone empathy, there is no recognition of the other class.
It is from a point of view of a class which does not see the other class of people, only their shit.

The video merely bolsters cynicism towards India. It talks to the generation and class of young people in India who want nothing to do with India that exists around them. The campaign talks to the young India that forever lives in digital bubbles of their own making. The campaign depicts the one moment of breach in bubble – the moment when they soil their feet walking on turd while busy texting.

What was the objective?
To break the taboo about talking potty among young apparently. People might share the video but that is not all. They are sharing cynicism with the video about India. And the cynicism perpetrated is not constructive either. It merely is.

Its like saying ‘Just say no‘, but worse
(worse because it is useless)

‘Just say no’ was a command to the drug user by a clueless non drug user. Just say no was  not as much about actually solving drug abuse problem as much it was about making the non-drug users feel good about themselves. “We know better and we are telling you to stop doing it.”
It was more harmful than useful.

About poo2loo… “The best way to start is to spread the word that this is not acceptable in the India we all want to live in” says a bureaucrat from Unicef

So Unicef is consolidating the view of what is not acceptable among upper class Indians through upper class channels in upper class language about lower class Indians who do not have access to toilets for whatever reasons. And it fails to communicate to those who do it about what is not acceptable. (I guess, Unicef rightly assumed that people who defecate in open aren’t necessarily poor. They have TVs, mobile phones. Many of them use internet once in a while. But do they seriously think that this video will reach them? They could have just checked out content on the mobile phones of the guards and drivers who work in Unicef office. They don’t download multimedia off net like we do. There is a whole micro economy of content that feeds into phones of the lower middle class. and this video cannot possibly find its way in there.)

Poo2Loo has a catchy song and command to be bandied about by the upper class. The fact that no solution was even hinted at in the video is not a coincidence. It was meant for the entertainment of the upper class. If even a hint of something useful were to intrude the jingle, it would have gotten too real too fast. It is like the problem animators face with the valley of uncanny. getting real spoils the broth. the video would have never received even the modest views that it has.

But then what is the point of making the video?
exactly. good money wasted. I bet there was no strategy planner involved with the project from JWT. It is a vanity project by a creative team with intentions of award in craft and a client who wanted to show something appealing to higher ups abroad.
Tell me if I guessed wrong.