CHARLIE CHAPLIN: HIS LIFE
By Kabeer Khurana
Charlie Chaplin was supposed to be the most creative personalities of the mime era. He was ranked the 10th greatest male legend of all times, this was because during the period of depression and uprising of Adolf Hitler, he stuck to his job and provided entertainment and pleasure to the people when they needed it most.
He was an excellent director and evidently displayed his talent in his film The Great Dictator which was also an act of defiance against Nazism. He began his acting career at the tender age of fourteen, when he played the role of a pageboy, Billy, in the film Sherlock Holmes.
He showed his talent in art, music, direction, and mimicry. Chaplin wrote or co-wrote the scores and songs for many of his films too. But he was best known for his unmatched talent in comedy. In a comedy, a visual gag is anything which conveys its humor visually, often without words being used at all. He used these visual comedy techniques to convey his messages. He also used mime and slapstick techniques. Slapstick is a type of comedy using exaggerated activities. His best and most famous role was when he played the role of The Tramp, in the comedy Kid Auto Races at Venice in 1914. Chaplin’s “tramp” character is possibly the most imitated on all levels of entertainment.
His robust health began to fail after the completion of his final film A Countess from Hong Kong, and more after he received his Academy Award in 1972. By 1977, he had difficulty communicating, and was using a wheelchair. Soon, he died on Christmas Day…
Chaplin didn’t discuss his filmmaking methods, claiming such a thing would be tantamount to a magician spoiling his own illusion. Thus, his methods were studied and understood only after his death, when his rare surviving outtakes and cut sequences were carefully examined in the 1983 British documentary Unknown Chaplin.
My love for ChaplinI like Charlie Chaplin because of the unique style and content of his films. In the silent film Bond, he talks about true friendship. In a short clip that I saw, the screenplay was so good that even without words I could interpret the message the film was trying to convey. Chaplin created onscreen magic. His films, though comedy, touched ones heart. His films manage to keep us glued though they don’t have colour, sound, special effects and other frills that cinema of today possess. This speaks volumes of his story telling technique.
The Great Dictator
The Great Dictator is a comedy film that released in the year 1940. It was written, directed and produced by Charles Chaplin. Even though he was a silent film maker, this film had dialogues. The dialogues in the film made it commercially successful.
This moving film is about a megalomaniac ruler, ‘Hynkel’ (Charles Chaplin) and a young Jewish barber (Chaplin’s double role)… The barber, like the other Jews, is fighting for the Central Powers in the army of the fictional nation, Tomania. On account of the repeated attacks in the war, the Commander of the Tomanian army and the barber are forced to flee the war site in an aeroplane they do not know how to fly. They take off but soon the plane plummets onto asphalt. They crash land! The barber and the commander are rescued from the place where they had crashed.
Meanwhile, Hynkel is sending his officers to trouble and kill the Jews. They trouble people and they beat up the barber. The barber fights the troops bravely along with the support of his lover, a beautiful Jewish lady. The troops complain about the duo to their officer in charge.
Coincidentally, the officer in charge turns out to be Commander Schultz, the man who was previously fighting for the country and not against.
Soon, Hynkel as a part of a conspiracy secretly disguises as a commoner and travels across a river. He is mistaken to be the Jewish barber. Hynkel is sent to a concentration camp. The barber mistaken to be Hynkel is taken to the palace. In no time, there is peace and stability in the land of Tomania as the confused barber now understands what was happening and gives an inspiring speech about equality among all and righteousness towards the Jews.
I thoroughly enjoyed the film. It was far ahead of its times and each scene had its own message. The special-effects were also amazing in the aero plane scene. The film had many witty jokes too that increased the films’ charm. It is a film for all ages. It was a film that gave an important message to people as well as gave them the spirit to fight against dictatorship. It’s an amazing film with clean cuts and great dialogues.
- The Gold Rush
- The Kid, and
- The Bond
THE VOICE OF ANGELS
Film: Children of Heaven. Director: Majid Majidi. Country: Iran
REVIEW BY PRAHNIIKA UDAY BORKAR, 17
Forced selflessness and victimized martyrdom is and has been a strong point of cinema through the ages. From soldiers of the wars, enticed to die by, perhaps, the once-revered Latin quote- ‘dulce et decorum est pro patria mori’ to Dharmendra’s “Ma” who was the eternal sacrificial being once, is now just seen as a parody of motherhood. There have been films that in my opinion have been heart-warming, entertaining and thought provoking without being too emotional, but invoking more emotion than movies that showed crying women, helpless girls, etc.
Children of Heaven will now sit in that mental shelf where others like it sit proudly on thrones of influence, from time to time beckoning a wandering thought and infusing life in it.
Writing a book or making a film from your heart will reach your audience’s heart too. An undisputed fact. I think when you make a film from or about a place, people or objects that you are familiar with, you add those nuances which work as links to make your film more believable and easier to get lost in. Creating a world when you are carving it out from a real place would mean an extensive anthropological study of the people who are to make the characters, the scaffolding on which your entire masterpiece rests. As an artist of this medium you would need knowledge of all the arts because you’re essentially assimilating a lot of non-fiction to create your fiction piece. Yet all of this more or less would fall into place if you’re creating something from your world-your home. Because, from the time you were born you have been watching listening learning from the people around you about the place you live in. from things as simple as the shoes your character would like to wear, to the traffic rules to socio-economic conditions, everything is inexorably linked to the history of your place, the culture and the thought process.
All these invisible rules of your homeland have been typed into your database forming a part of your personality. I like native films for this very reason because they aren’t trying to be anything or showcase anything. They simply bring the viewers notice to a different world in its actuality and not an adapted world to suit his/her familiarity.
When Ali loses his sister’s sandals at a local grocer’s the general trend of the film comes to mind. Quite predictable, the story starts from here and is based on this episode. Zahra is rather upset, but her brother begs her not to tell anybody and promises to find them for her.
Their family is extremely poor and in debt with the landlord and grocer, so there’s no way they can afford to buy footwear- a veritable luxury. The siblings share a single pair of shoes which shows the bond that exists between them. They are in it together. Working hard to support a virtually bedridden mom, look after their infant sister, manage the household chores, the duo’s strength comes through like a shining arrow and pierces the lounging popcorn-eating watcher making her uncomfortably aware of the relative splendor around her, taken totally for granted. The essence of life of a lower class family is maintained throughout, without giving in to any sort of titillating, or leading to an oh-so gleeful ending.
The end is hopeful; it shows the level of responsibility that an eight year old older sibling feels towards his sister. Like a cubist painting, the ending has snatches of different scenes that imply a happy one.
To me the film was like a journey into Ali’s life and inspiring to its very crux- the importance of family. There was no complaining, no tantrums yet it didn’t seem unnatural and which is why I guess people loved watching it because it surpasses that border between reel and real and becomes a model of sorts for us to learn and appreciate the wealth that we are surrounded by.
A FRIEND INDEED
The Friend – a film by Children’s Film Society of India
Review by Aarushi Majumder, 9 yrs
The movie is about how a helpful frog becomes friends with a princess. The frog wants to be friends with the princess and helps her a number of times but she never really cares about him until one day he saves her father (the King).
The Friend, directed by Narayan Shi for the CFSI, is an animated film set in a lovely palace. The colourful patterns used throughtout the movie make it interesting. The background music is very creative and uses a number of Indian instruments very effectively.. The scene where the frog goes finding the medicine braving all odds is very nice. The film gives the message that friend in need is a friend indeed.
THE ANIMALS STAND OUT IN THIS WONDERFUL TALE
Film: The Golden Horn. Filmmaker: Aleksandr Rou
Review by Malaika Mathew Chawla, 13
A story within a story, created from a Russian fairy tale by well-known Russian director of children’s films, Aleksandr Rou.
The story is set in a beautiful village with woods surrounding it. In the woods lives widow Yevdokya with her twin daughters Mashenka and Dashenka. Things are all fine till a witch called Baba Yaga kidnaps the two girls. Baba Yaga, by the way, is a popular witch in Russian folk tales – you will find this character in a lot of stories. Baba Yaga turns the girls into does.
The twin’s mother sets out on a search mission helped by a magic bun, the Sun, the Moon, and the Wind, a dog, a cat, a bear and a deer named Golden Horns.
The wonderful deer with golden antlers is grateful to Yevdokya‘s help in keeping the hunters away from him, so he gives her a magical ring. A ring which will later on help her from danger in the last fight sequence with the witch Baba Yaga. The entire village wishes Yevdokay well. This gives her strength. In fact, when the mother is despairing, even the pet dog gives the mother courage by informing her that her children are alive. This film brings out the difficulty of animals tied up or hunted by humans very well.
I found the English translation a bit rusty and the camera movements jerky, but overall, every character whether animal, human or inanimate is handled with creativity and humor. There is a message for little children to keep themselves safe.
This story is filled with interesting forest dwellers casting spells, a cook who gets fed up of Baba Yoga’s demands , magical moments, animals coming to the rescue of humans, the valiant mother, the brave brother who loves his mother and sisters. The family pets a fluffy dog Polkan and a clever cat Vaska work selflessly. It is the animals who stand out in this wonderful fairy tale. As for the house with chicken legs and whether the witch Baba Yaga gets her just desserts….watch the film to find out what happens.
By Shagorika Ghosh, 17
Before all the crime procedurals that flood TV today, before the sharply written witty detective novels, before Castle and Bones and CSI, before Kinsey Millhone and Eve Dallas, there was Feluda. Pradosh Mitter, better known as Feluda, was a private investigator, created by Satyajit Ray. When I think of Feluda, I always think of the Bhoolbhulaiya. Indeed, this goes back to the first Feluda story I read – The Emperor’s Ring. It was after that that my interest was sufficiently piqued for me to read all the Feluda stories I could lay my hands upon.
I read Feluda as a kid, I was barely 11 or 12. But the sense of wonder that Feluda inspired in me all those many years ago remains even now when I read it as a just-adult. The clever deductions, the seemingly trivial details that proves most important in the end, the loose end that would unravel the whole mystery.
There were more than thirty Feluda stories written by Ray, featuring Feluda and his cousin Topshe who doubled up as his Dr Watson-like sidekick. Soon, from the story The Golden Fortress (Shonar Kella), another character, Lalmohan Ganguly, a writer of thriller novels with the pseudonym ‘Jatayu’ was introduced. Added by Ray as a foil to Feluda, and to use the oft-repeated phrase, to add dollops of humour, Lalmohan Babu became one of the ‘Three Musketeers’ with Feluda and Topshe. He appeared in practically every Feluda story after The Golden Fortress, and was often used by Ray to add a comic element to any situation. The intensity brought to the pages by Feluda’s seriousness was often dispelled by this bumbling, lovable writer of action thrillers; and he played the clown where Topshe played the adoring and admiring satellite.
Feluda seemed to me a man of many talents. He remains one of the most interesting and fascinating characters I had ever read about. He wrote his personal journal in Greek, was a voracious reader, knew karate, had a photographic memory and astonishing powers of observation, knew martial arts, and so many other things that made him seem practically heroic. At the same time, Feluda never seemed an impossible character. He also loved sweets, teased his brother mercilessly and scolded him all the time, making every young reader easily see him as a big brother.
The Emperor’s Ring, Feluda in London, The Mysterious Case are few of my favourite stories. These are stories I can read over and over again, although they are all rather different, in plot and even setting; one is set in Lucknow, another in Kolkata, and the other in London. One thing about all the Feluda stories that always appealed to me is the fact that they managed to give information about the most random things and yet never seemed to be stuffing you with information. Also, having never lived in Kolkata, which is my native place, I am highly intrigued by this city, and love visiting it. Thus, I relish any insight into old Kolkata, or rather Calcutta.
Ray did not limit Feluda to only print. Soon, the movie Shonaar Kella, based on The Golden Fortress released, and Feluda was immortalized on the silver screen. Shortly after, Ray made the movie Joi Baba Felunath, based on The Mystery of the Elephant God. I had only the vague recollections of these movies, until I recently saw them again. And now I think I could not get it out of mind.
Ray’s excellent translation of the stories into the movies worked its magic. As a bibliophile, and quite frankly as a book snob, I have always been extremely irritated by how stories or books lose their magic when made into movies. Parts cut, descriptions changed, all these frustrated me no end. But I could not fault the two movies by this parameter at all! This is certainly helped by the fact that the writer of the story, screenplay writer, director, cameraperson were all the same! Ray’s painstaking attention to details, and his adherence to the story made watching the movies an amazing experience. Is there a way for anything to seem the same and yet better? Ray certainly found a way to achieve that! The movies seem to me an accurate visual representation of Feluda. So you have Lalmohan Babu who was silly and bumbling and infinitely likeable without seeming ridiculous and stupid, Topshe a perfect combination of an irrepressible teenager both in awe of his brother, and yet not sycophantic, and best of all, Feluda, who had the very air I always imagined Feluda would have!
Sharp witted and aware, intelligent, always knowing something about everything without being irritatingly know-it-all-ish! There are some scenes that will always stay with me, for example, the knife throwing scene in Maganlal Meghraj’s house. Those among the audience who’d read the story would know that Lalmohan Babu wouldn’t be hurt, but Ray managed to make them hold their breath even as they knew that the old, wheezy Arjun would not hurl a knife into the lovable Jatayu! And what about the introduction of Jatayu himself? How he painstakingly spoke in Hindi, introducing himself in obvious guidebook Hindi! Even the scene where Feluda, Topshe and Lalmohan Babu travel by camels is imprinted on my mind. The part where Lalmohan Babu gets onto his camel, and his hilarious expressions reminded me of when I once got onto a camel, and just for one minute there, I could totally identify with the hapless Jatayu! The very next scene, when they have (successfully with all limbs intact) gotten onto the camels and are making their way across the desert is indeed iconic. The dramatic music, the camels ambling along against the vast expanse of blue sky, all will remain in my mind for a long time indeed.
Perhaps the magic, as I keep referring to it as, was possible only when Ray was at the helm of affairs. Or perhaps the actors, Soumitra Chatterjee as Feluda, Santosh Dutta as Lalmohan Babu and Siddhartha Chatterjee as Topshe were the ones who spun the magic. A few months ago, I watched Gorosthaaney Shaabdhaan, based on The Secret of the Cemetery, made by Satyajit Ray’s son, Sandip Ray.
Made several years after the ones made by his father, Sandip Ray obviously employed other actors, who in my opinion fell short. Sabyasachi Chakraborty as Feluda was fair enough, if quite older than the 27 years or hereabouts that Feluda’s age was. Saheb Bhattacharya as Topshe struck me rather too urban than what I had envisioned Topshe to be. And Bibhu Bhattacharya just ruined Lalmohan Babu for me. Throughout the movie, his attempts to capture the childlike quality that Lalmohan Babu possessed fell flat, and he only made Lalmohan Babu seem ridiculous and as though he was trying too hard to be funny.
The Feluda stories and the first two movies are set almost four to five decades, the latest movie puts it right in urban, 2009 Kolkata. With Zens zooming around, Internet cyber cafes replacing the libraries the storybook Feluda favoured etc, the movie, in my opinion, failed to capture the charm and essence of the earlier movies. So when I got home, I dove into my copy of The Complete Adventures of Feluda. And read and reread the story until Ray’s story drowned out his son’s screenplay. And it was then that finally, all was well with the world.
MORE ON RAY AND FELUDA ….
1. Have you come across the Feluda comics series? They are available at all bookstores in the city. If you have, tell us if you liked them at email@example.com
2. Radio Mirchi has been dramatising some of Ray’s suspense/ horror stories every Sunday. Called Sunday Suspense, you can now get a 2 CD- pack audio book at book stores of the same.
3. This site has some great links to photographs of Ray on the sets of his films and of his illustrations. Check it out: http://raylifeandwork.blogspot.com/
DRUMS, GHOSTS AND WARS
By Ayesha Sultana Mohiuddin
One of the most popular Bengali children’s films, directed by the late Satyajit Ray, Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne is a musical that has continued to bewitch one and all for ages with its charm and naivette. Winner of three National Film Awards and nominated for the Golden Bear Award at the 19th Berlin Film Festival, Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne is the story of a foolish young man, Gopinath Kyne (brilliantly performed by Tapen Chatterjee), the son of a poor grocer, who lives in the village of Amloki.
Gopinath nicknamed as Goopy, wants to be a singer, but was never gifted the voice. When he discovers a tanpura at his master’s house, his love for singing erupts again and he decides to make an audience of a group of Brahmin elders. Persuaded by the village elders to sing for the king, he does so and is driven out of Amloki on a donkey for waking the king with his terrible singing. Thus exiled into the forests, he meets Bagha, played by Rabi Ghosh. Bagha is another exile from the nearby village of Hortuki –he has been thrown out for playing the drums badly.
The film makes quite a few subtle comments on the rigorous caste system that was very much in practice those days. The best instance of this can be found at the beginning of the film when Goopy sits apart from the village elders, who are a group of card-playing, treacherous and good-for-nothing lot. Ray also tries to show the audience how the village elders take advantage of the more servile breed of humans like Goopy, giving them false information.
Goopy gets attracted to the sleeping Bagha by the sound of water falling on his drum, a very clever way of showing Goopy’s love for music. On encountering a tiger, the camera freezes on their scared reaction. Bagha begins to play the drum after the tiger disappears from the scene, which in turn fascinates a group of ghosts.
The next fifteen minutes of the film showcases the various dance performances put by the ghosts. Ray’s dance scenes have been most carefully and most beautifully shot. The king of ghosts, who looks like Dracula right out of a Bollywood movie, grants them three wishes.
They ask for food and clothes whenever needed, a pair of magic slippers to travel anywhere they want and the ability to hold people in thrall (the beauty and simplicity of their music renders people motionless literally) with their music. They travel to Shundi for a music festival, where they are appointed as court musicians for their magical singing prowess. The courtiers of the King of Shundi whose voices were taken away in a plague, were never able to talk. The king alone was not affected by the plague. When the two find out that Shundi is in trouble because their neighbouring city Halla, wants to make war on them, they try to bring the lost brother back to Halla. The king of Halla plans the attack after being poisoned with an evil magic potion, given to him by his self-centered prime minister. But with the help of their songs, Goopy and Bagha manage to stop the war, and also manage to help the people of Shundi by giving them back their voices. They are married off to the daughters of the kings and, like a fairytale, everything comes to an end and they live happily ever after.
A film that gladdens many a heart, this simple story that portrays two very simple men and their fight against a greedy world, is one of Ray’s most well-known films in India and the least known elsewhere in the world. Written and created by Ray’s grandfather, Upendra Kishore Roychowdhury, the story became a full-fledged film only after Ray’s son requested the filmmaker to make a film for his younger audience. Released in English as The Adventures of Goopy and Bagha, the film was followed by Hirak Rajar Deshe, which was released eleven years later and Goopy Bagha Phire Elo after almost twenty-two years.
A must-watch for all age groups, the story of Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne will leave you humming its capricious tunes.