Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Vicky Christina Barcelona

Woody Allen is the kind of guy you see at a party and instinctively think to yourself not to get closer, but you can't help getting drawn to him as the night passes. You could be excused for your gut. Woody Allen isn't big built; he's not even average built; he's a small, puny guy who wears glasses that look funny and pants a little too high. Yet, what he lacks in size, he more than makes up for in perception. He also makes movies with very real women and men characters who fall in and out of love with each other in an entirely plausible and believable manner.

When looked at through a Hollywood lens, VCB does not have a conventionally strong storyline; in fact, at first glance, it almost seems to lack a plot and its only saving grace appears to be the fact that it was shot in breath-taking Spain. But refrain from asking for the story and watch it instead; there are numerous occasions when you will find yourself identifying with the characters - with their mood swings, their romanticism, their feelings of being trapped, their universal desire for love.

Each character has a place in the story and complex, layered relationships with each other; every character remains true to itself right through the story, always being grounded and earthy. Although it is easy to dismiss Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem looking dreamy) as the central tent-pole around which the entire film revolves, the discerning viewer will realise that the film actually revolves around 4 central characters and a couple of smaller characters. All the main women in the film (Johansson, Hall and Cruz) are extremely well-written, strong characters, and it is after watching the film that you bemoan the public cheapening of the gorgeous scene of the kiss between Christina (Johansson) and Elena (Cruz) - it is so much in the flow of things that it is extremely believable and, to some degree, inevitable.

90 minutes later, you get up feeling like you have drunk a few glasses of wine with Juan Antonio, Maria Elena, Christina and Vicky, and looking forward to a few more glasses with your new friends. You want to admire Antonio's house and his paintings in his studio, while he and Elena stand in the garden (or in the street - what a shot!) arguing in their coarsely jagged Spanish that make your ears tingle and your heart jump. You want to shake Vicky into happiness and travel with Christina in her search of 'What do I want?'. You want to watch the film again and dream.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Pune-Mumbai by train

Aug 26, 2009; 3:30 - 7:40pm

For the better part of an hour into the journey out of Pune, you think you're still in the outskirts of the city, for you never can tell when Pune ends. Greenery adorns the parallel set of muscular railway tracks - running along with the train like a fellow rider on a trip of discovery, the steel glinting steadily in the sun - from the very outset, and modern-looking buildings mark their presence at every stop.

You know for certain you are out of Pune at a station interestingly called Dehu Road, followed by Talegaon, where the delicate balance between nature and man tilts ferociously towards the former. The buildings are gone and lush greenery takes pride of place across the flat plains. The eye can see for miles; in the distance, hills and mountains rise up and interlink to form the edge of a very large crown.

However, this beauty is bested by what is to follow - the Western Ghats. First comes Lonavla, where a good percentage of the train empties out. Then comes Khandala, a favourite name with Roadside Romeos thanks to a popular Hindi film song. Immediately after these two stations, both of which are popular hill-stations and weekend getaway spots, comes the first tunnel, and it's a long one. It doesn't prepare you for the sights to follow.

You are suddenly staring down the side of a mountain as it falls away to plains, civilizations and more hills in the distance. The view is breath-taking and is continuously interspersed with tunnels. It made me jump out of my seat and run to the door, where I stayed for the next hour. Just as suddenly, the view shifts to the other side of the train, where one could see only rock-face. While one side looks onto the plains, the other side looks onto the Ghats itself; so, you are treated with a majestic, albeit short, vision of the adjacent mountain-face and the valley in between. Since this is still the monsoon period, numerous waterfalls line the mountain-face as they cut through foliage and curvily make their way down to drop splendidly a few dozen feet off a short cliff before continuing on in a similar manner to the next cliff.

Once you exit the Ghats and return to the normalcy of the plains, you begin to sense the delicate balance start to move towards man, as you see ever-increasing amounts of garbage and squalor. By the time Kalyan Junction swings around, you're convinced man has taken over and settle back a trifle dejectedly, when nature slaps you in the facewith two totally unexpected sights - a large inlet of water that looks like a river on which are parked ships (or very large boats), and a temple built half-way up a hill with a backdrop of hundereds of feet of perpendicular rock.

I was reminded of how man and nature live in harmony as I saw the healthy greenery, the squalor of the slums and the over-arching modernity of development and buildings, all peacefully co-existing with one another. It is up to oneself to choose one's view. After all, even Mumbai, a city with more people than Australia, has the splendid Arabian Sea as its wingman.