Sunday, December 24, 2006

That top of the world feeling!

Finally, I find time to blog. :D

Sorry folks, I’d been away for a bit. Was a lil busy hovering around the stratosphere, with complimentary residency at cloud number 999. Now, I know what being on top of the world feels like. The word is ecstasy.

Yeah, I’m high. Without a drop of alcohol.

It’s that top-of-the-world feeling that fairytales are made of.

In the last 72 hours, we’ve done the rounds on Radio City, CNN-IBN, Headlines Today, Times Now (none of which I got to see yet much to my luck and crazy routine) and The Hindu. The premiere of my film THAT FOUR LETTER WORD happened at the Chennai International Film Festival on December 21 at the Film Chamber and I’ve been ballooning in space ever since.

Sheer joy. Absolute bliss. Nothing else matters.

It’s that feeling that makes you grin so much that you don’t even mind your face being temporarily disfigured. (Yes, this demonstrates how much say I had over that review or photograph: Absolutely none! He he! Lucky for me, my paper hates to promote its own employees and I'm happy they buried it on Page 9 where very few would've got to see that pic!)

We’ve had such an amazing response to a small, simple slice of life movie that we made at a budget of a small car.

Suriya, went on camera and told news channels that he wished he were a part of the film and would’ve loved to help out at least behind the scenes. “I would’ve liked to produce this film,” he said. When I told him not to bull-shit to me, he said he’ll tell me all that he liked about the film if I had the time. And he did. He spoke for nearly 20 minutes recalling each and every scene and moment he loved. “We can’t do these things in Tamil cinema,” he said and asked me why I chose Madhavan for the cameo and not him. Yeah, thanks to my own newspaper, the surprise cameo is no longer a surprise but I would hate it if people went to see the movie for him because he just appears for a few seconds.

Gautham Menon was at his candid best when he said the film took a lot of time to get to the point. (Not that there was any point in the first place!) He said he was hooked somewhere halfway and it did something to him. He particularly liked the last 25 minutes of the film and we had a discussion on the single-long shot scene that lasted six minutes where all we see is four guys sit by the beach and talk about their lives. He wished I had used close-ups. And I thought close-ups would’ve killed that scene. I did shoot close-ups and we tried them out on the editing table but realised the scene had maximum impact when it had the candid camera effect. Which is also why we didn’t use a score for it.

He also said: “After the first fifteen minutes, I forgot that I was watching a digital film. So I’m sure there was something in your characters and narrative that got me engaged. I could make out that your heart was in it and that you’ve made exactly the film you wanted to make. This is not a film that could’ve happened by accident.”

Gautham was the only person who did not like the editing style in the film and wished the scenes were clipped tighter.

Filmmaker Chetan Shah loved that six-minute scene that Gautham wanted close-ups for. “It puts you in the league of Oscar winning directors,” he said (of course, in jest). “That one scene alone is enough for you to get a producer for your next film,” Chetan believes. He sent me a couple of messages that read: “You have made an original bold intelligent and cinematically fine film. Loved the natural dialogue and acting. And vivid characterisation.” “Hope the non-linear narrative will find a mass audience that will appreciate your flair and sensitivity. In admiration and support – Chetan.”

Having said that, he also had a couple of areas of concerns: the originality of the music and the picture quality. Since I had sat with music director Asif when he made the music, I can vouch for his creativity. (At worst, he’s probably inspired and recreated some tune but he has certainly not ripped it off a foreign movie soundtrack).

The picture quality in a couple of scenes is a huge area of concern for us. But we hope Real Image helps us out with its expertise and tech support. They couldn’t finish Gamma correction before the premiere and I suspect that’s the reason for the high contrast.

Director Hariharan told me that it was a “very interesting film” because he couldn’t slot it under any one genre. (If I were to slot it, I’ll call it my brand of feel-good) and he thought it had a “non-narrative structure.” “I never got the feeling I was watching a movie. It was like watching real people with real problems. The dialogue was very natural and the lead actors were very fresh,” he said.

Both Chetan and Mr.Hariharan almost used the same words. They both felt that only when they saw Zebra, the larger than life character in the film, break down, that they were reminded they were watching a movie. I’m tempted to remove the background score from that scene now because ‘Evam’ Sunill is such a fine actor and the dramatic background score in that scene seems to jar with the otherwise realistic feel of the film.

Film analyst Sreedhar Pillai, however, thought that Sunil as Zebra was the pick of the actors. He didn’t like the technical quality of the film and shared Gautham’s view that the film took its time to make a point. He also noted that they felt that way maybe because they have been corrupted by the influence of commercial cinema and the manufactured pace and exaggerated melodrama.

Revathy told my friends that it was a “good start” and “interesting attempt” which makes me believe that she probably means “It sucked big-time, dude.” I haven’t got to talk to her personally but apparently she also told people that we don’t get to see films made like this and that this was a story relevant to young people around the country. Once I get to talk to her, I promise to share with you guys all the nasty things she has to say. ☺

Lensman Venket Ram said he loved the cinematography and the amateur feel actually contributed a lot of energy to the frames.

Vijay TV’s critic and cartoonist, Mr. Madhan said that it was an auteur film that was candid and natural, with very well etched out characters. He said that the film’s problem, if any, was that it was too natural. “It could’ve done with a little exaggeration,” he said. He noted that the overall technical output was better than Mumbai Express (we used the same camera as the one Kamal Hassan used for his digital movie).

He also made a critical observation that he would’ve liked it more if each scene ended with a punchline, like a stand-alone mini-movie. When we wrote the film, we did write it that way. But at the editing table, my editor Vijay Prabakaran came up with a really inventive style to boost up the pace of the slow film. We actually ended up sacrificing a lot of humour for pace but we have absolutely no regrets.

Some of my other critic friends noted that the film did not have depth. I would agree. Because we are only telling the audience as much as they will ever find out about that colourful gang of friends they find at their coffee shop or canteen. They will know who’s seeing who, what they do, what they aspire for, what they wear, how they talk, who’s the opinion leader, who’s the clown and what they ended up as. Telling a story about four friends with different dreams at the same time was a challenging task for us as first-time scriptwriters. We didn’t want to mess up trying to get overtly sentimental. As Chetan also pointed out later, “it was emotional without being sentimental.”

Also we are used to watching cinema where characters hit the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. Here in my film, the highest high is getting admission in medical school and the lowest low is not getting in. The maximum conflict and dramatic tension between friends in my film involves them saying “Screw you” to each other and then starting afresh the very next day.

Since the three important characters in the film are not the types who would sit and cry, I had to extract emotional depth from the most unlikeliest of characters: the perceived clown of the pack. As ‘Evam’ Karthik notes, Zebra only becomes “momentarily real” when he breaks down.

For the first time in the movie during that scene, we see him as human, as just one of us. We thought it was important to explore that aspect of Zebra to illustrate the only editorial point of the film: That no matter how low you feel one night, the next morning is a different day. Who knows what it has in store for you.

What Mr.Hariharan also liked about the film is that it does not take sides or preach or tell you what to do with your life. “The best part of the film is that it does not try to tell you anything. It is such a casual fun film that just breezes on, without conforming to any genre.”

A lot of my friends are proud of me, they say I can hold my head high. One of them who didn’t see the whole film because she had to leave after an hour told me she was sorry she didn’t find it exciting. Yeah, because it is not film that will excite you. It will just introduce you to people you so very well know: Yourselves. And, your friends.

‘That Four Letter Word’ won’t change your life but it will surely make you smile, every little while, as long as you are in the mood to watch without any preset notions about how cinema ought to be.

If you are looking to find faults, don’t bother coming. It’s a waste of your money. Let me tell you as it is: There are many flaws. It’s not a great film. It might be a good film if you’re in the right mood to watch some light-hearted fare. But hey, it’s not a bad film either.

One more thing. It’s NOT a comedy in the classical sense of the word. It might evoke a few chuckles here and there. But the laugh out loud variety: Nope!

Suderman rating: Five on ten.

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Starting first weekend of January, we’ll have weekly community screenings at different hangouts in the city. So all of you who have wanted to watch it free, here’s your chance. Watch out for updates. We’re planning these screenings for six weeks till the film releases mid-February.
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Vinod, Sandhya, Harish, Praveen and Kiruba are five bloggers I know who were at the premiere. (I'm not sure if Chandrachoodan showed up.) They all told me they've liked the movie. I'm still waiting to read what they officially have to say.

Blog about it, people, spread the word. I don't have to say: Write the good things and the bad things. Criticism is one thing I, or any of us for that matter, take only from friends and people we respect.

Want to criticise me? Earn your chance.

Finally, a word to those waiting to rip my film apart:

"Thank you very much for your opinion but I've already got the only thing I always wanted. I made my movie, no matter what!

It's taken me seven years to be able to write this but what the hell... I still made my movie.

Now, how many of you can ever say that?"

Now you know why I'm on top of the world.

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