La La Land – Beauty on Film

La La Land is about Mia (Emma Stone) and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling).

Mia is a struggling actress turned cashier who stands in front of executives from Hollywood who would rather concentrate on their phones instead of listening to her giving her soul into her acting auditions. No one cares for her dreams and there are plenty of insecurities and fears lurking. Things are not as vibrant as her clothing. Sebastian, with Ryan Gosling goodness, is passionate for Jazz. He plays the piano like a king. In terms of achieving success he doesn’t really have anything but clearly a lot of desire. He aims to open a Jazz cafe in LA which plays “real jazz”. The story is an ode to the ‘City of Stars’ and our characters ask ‘Are you shining just for me?’ It’s a story about passion, love, jazz, colors, dreams, hopes and real life at the same time.

It’s about how we stay focused on course to find our passions and sometimes in life some person who we’d never thought we would date, comes in our life to completely derail us. The pain of gaining someone and then losing yourself. Now tell me you haven’t felt like that in real life.

The first shot of La La Land is 3–4 minute dance sequence with some brilliant and technically astounding camera/dance moves on a traffic jam on a flyover in Los Angeles. To be able to see this 35mm film shot with cinemascope lenses in IMAX was incredible. The colour palette of a beautiful dreamland of a city (LA) were an absolute delight to watch. I often love when film and film makers are confident enough to show meaningful wide shots of spaces where our characters live and breathe.

Damien Chazelle, the director of La La Land holds plenty of frames for a beautiful amount of time. The film, just because of the camera work, is able to allow us a proper window into the lives of these people. You might have heard/seen posters of Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone dancing to beautiful sunsets of LA but what perhaps what you realize when you actually see them doing this, is the hard work and commitment which must have gone into a process of making this beautiful film. This is clearly a film made with passion, with love and for the artists and the dreamers. Yes this film is for the ‘fools who dream’ ‘no matter how silly it may seem.’

Let’s talk about the music, shall we? You would imagine a modern musical to perhaps be a little distinct in terms of the singing, dancing and the dramatic scenes? No … La La Land is differently abled masterpiece. The music, the lyrics, the technical proficiency, the characters and the story are all telling the same coherent story. Like Damien’s first film Whiplash where the editing and shots are so precise that it feels like a perfect blend of quick emotional surges and slow breathing holding shots. The film makes you feel so many emotions yet gives you faith and motivation to continue dreaming.

Spoilers Ahead:

Stands out scenes for me were …

  1. Mia’s audition at the end: Emma Stone singing in this continuous take revealing what her character feels is powerful. Specially when an image of a struggling artist like that lingers on screen for a while it leaves a lasting impression. This is the scene that will probably nudge the Oscar in her favour.
  2. Epilogue at the end: Beautiful and mesmerizing musical montage storytelling. With an end so heartbreaking yet poignant and true. The writing and characters are simply magical.
  3. ‘City of stars’ sequences: My favorite soundtrack in a loooong time.
  4. Basically the whole movie is brilliant.

Make no mistake about it …

La La Land is a destined to be a classic. It’s a worthy IMAX experience.

Although I have yet to see the likes of Manchester by the Sea, Silence, Moonlight etc. I would be surprised if this one doesn’t win the 2017 Academy Awards for best soundtrack, best song, best actress (Emma Stone) and best film.

Arrival — A Retrospective

From the first frame of ‘Arrival’ you feel like you’re in for a serious and deep exploration of the mystical and philosophical implications if aliens, beyond our technological capabilities, ever visited us. But the approach is science and linguistics, to understand the what ifs and not the usual taken for granted approach of the mystical (Marvel/DC movies). This is where this feels fresh. The almost transcendental qualities of this film comes from the real time showcasing of events with hypnotic music.

One can enjoy every second of the camera work. Every second of it. The wide shots to allow us entry to the world of the character, the little time she spends in her apartment opening her door and keeping the keys or as she talks on the phone is crucial. Everyone’s heard the buzz about how good Amy Adams is in the film but I felt this was purely a three-person show. The director, cinematographer and music composer all excelled in their ways. The editing falls just a smidge. One realizes when one watches a movie like Arrival how difficult it is to hold onto one tone and be constantly engaging and simulating but it manages that in the form of excellent direction. The cinematography is the most satisfying mix of, geometric and industrial yet inspired and essentially the tool telling the story, I’ve seen this year. I bet Oscar nomination if not the win. The music is not memorable yet fits in as an experiential device.

Spoilers Ahead:

So let’s not deal with the science fiction of it. There are time paradoxes and loopholes if you go too much into the why’s of the plot. The plot’s weak but the message and the visual narration is very strong. The first contact section of the screenplay is the strongest and we connect with the character of Amy Adams immediately. The underdog, the linguistics professor in a class where the kids hardly seem to care with their gadgets and relationships to hold their attention, who’s had a kid taken away from her by death are all things we relate to somewhere with someone we’ve seen in real life. She’s called upon by the CIA to decode and ask the big question from the aliens. What is your purpose of coming to earth? She feels important and overcomes fear and in the end becomes at peace with who she is and what she wants. That’s the essence of the film. Also how language plays a part in the international trade and political scheme of things and how we as humans treat each other due to different languages and how we’re crippled by the issues of the past. These are ambitious themes that are tackled within a story following “Louise” (Amy Adams) all the way through, going further in time and backwards in a flashy/dreamy loop of things that the writer of the book wants.

“Story of Your Life” is a science fiction short story, on which the film is cased, by Ted Chiang. It was the winner of the 2000 Nebula Award for Best Novella as well as the 1999 Sturgeon award.

“So many of our conflicts and our problems stem from miscommunication.” — Screenwriter, Eric Heisserer

The dreamy, mixed with realistic nature of the film, will make its way for comparisons with 2001: A space odyssey, Contact and Interstellar but the film is not for everyone’s taste and it is its own kind of animal we’re trying to communicate with. It asks more questions than it answers and that for me a strength for films sometimes. Questions like …

“Would you change anything in your life if you knew it from start to end?”

The Only Letter — Original Short Fiction

India, 1997

An old lady enters a very old post office. She clearly has developed difficulty walking as she limps forward and asks the only visible postman to direct her towards the postal boxes. As she fumbles the key in trying to open the rickety old box her eyes light up with excitement. The way her heart pounded almost worried her and so she deliberately stops to take 4–5 deep breaths. The nasty old box finally opens and she stretches to feel for paper inside.

There it was.
The only one letter left inside read like this…

“I’m sorry, it’s been a while but you know that I always want to write to you. Sometimes you know, time flows in a way that it’s hard to tell what life’s progress has been. How have you been? Everyone at home?

The other day I was thinking about how our own minds play tricks on us. Sometimes it feels nothing could possibly be better and while at other times you feel something is definitely missing. I got a chance to visit your city at last and I couldn’t stop thinking about our countless conversations about all the places that you knew of and kept telling me about. This place has the best Poha, this place has the best sweets in town, this store has the best sarees and the widest collection in the state and whatnot. I did try everything you had so meticulously detailed in terms of the overall sensory experience. And I wish we could have been together at that time. It used to take more than a week to deliver our letters to each other, remember? Everything has become so fast now suddenly. I’ve heard in large cities like Bombay, Delhi, Calcutta
it gets delivered within 2 days. Imagine talking to each other three times in a week! That would’ve been maddening. You’d never run out of things to say I am sure.

It’s been so long since we met. Yet the time just keeps passing without ever stopping for anything, does it? You must be wondering why am I babbling about things I feel instead of giving you some actual news or maybe not,
maybe this is exactly what you need to hear. All the major life decisions I have taken have only been taken after consulting you in some way. And I felt on this occasion it’s opportune for me to thank you for all that you’ve done for me. All that you’ve been for me. How I see things is that without you things would have been hard and the hurdles of life perhaps impossible to overcome. You sat hundreds of kilometers away and clapped at all my achievements and cried when something didn’t work out. Our paths didn’t have to match but they needed encouragement and you gave me that. So thank you. Sometimes
its weird that we have to do it this way, hidden from everyone. You know what I mean. But I’ve valued our relationship quite
a lot.

Perhaps only death will do us part.
I have a photograph of us smiling during college that I got developed and I am sending it over. Remember how much we laughed when a truck splashed water all over you and fell in the mud behind from the force of it? I had a physical reaction in my stomach that time because it hurt so much.

Hope you like it.

Your friend Jeet”

This was the last letter the old lady received.

One World Night (Part-2)- Original Short Fiction

As the fireplace crackled with fire. There stood two men in a beautiful balcony overseeing the cityscape late at night, holding a glass each of scotch in their hands. One of the two was drinking it calmly while the other seemed to have lost the floor beneath him. Rohan Garg seemed unable to move but after two long minutes he mustered up the courage to ask him the burning question.

“So what happens now?”, he asked.

“I don’t know. I guess I want to go back.” replied Roland while his younger self from an alternate universe stood there as if someone had handed him a hallucinogenic potion.

“You guess?” said Rohan surprised. He could feel his reality shifting dramatically.

“Yes, I mean, I wish to go back but I don’t know how? I don’t think the technology exists here that’ll be able to send me back.” said Roland, now even he seemed to ponder the ramifications of the situation.

“This is just a fucking joke.” said Rohan who threw his glass towards Roland who ducked just in time to avoid the flying scotch.

“Listen you seemed to have lost your cool and that’s understandable.” said Roland.

“I would have done the same perhaps. This doesn’t happen everyday to everybody.” he added further still trying to be calm.

“I do not believe you. This is nonsensical. How, why and… how? I have so many questions. You don’t… even seem different. It’s like just someone normal… and with a raincoat and… behaving all stupid. Maybe you’re on drugs. Yes that’s what it probably is…” stammered Rohan struggling to put words out of his mouth his body shaking.

And then suddenly something triggered Roland to stay absolutely still. There were flashes of lightning and thunder and Rohan could swear that he’d seen his old self go transparent for one full second and then become opaque again. The curtains in the hall were dancing all over the place and the flashes of lightning continued. That really took the lights out of Rohan and he started running towards the outside of the house.

He didn’t even care to look back as he grabbed his front door and headed for the road that lead to the city from the hilltop. After he almost ran about a hundred meters away from his house he turned back. The ground beneath him started shaking uncontrollably and about 70–80 bolts of lightning hit his house all at once and they seemed to be not ending.

He didn’t know what to do or who to call at this late hour. There was nobody else on the streets. And then suddenly he heard someone right in his ear.

“I am going back Rohan. Come back inside. I only have a few minutes left.” said Roland’s voice.

Things had already been past weird for Rohan so this didn’t shake him as much as the ground did a few moments back. He knew he had no choice. He thought that if that man wanted to hurt him, he already would have. He started believing that this man wasn’t really from this place. So walked back inside to find Roland standing there transparently but just as calm from before.

“The programme must have sensed an anomaly and change of mass and auto-started to reverse the process. I will soon be back in my pod in my world. You don’t have to worry. I am not going to bother you for long. I kinda was excited to meet you actually but you were…” before Roland could finishing saying Rohan interjected.

“I’m sorry. But …”

“It’s okay. I wasn’t very confident and optimistic either when I was your age. I don’t have much time maybe 2 minutes more.”, finished Roland this time.

“Okay so how did I turn out? I mean how did you turn out? What does the future hold for me? I mean did I find the right girl? How are my Mom and Dad?”, fumbled Rohan trying to speak fast.

“You mean my Mom and Dad? They’re dead. But in my world they were alive 50 years ago. and Yes I did find the right girl. She’s nice. unfortunately she went away too but we had a good time. I have kids too now. You see we’re not the same because we won’t make the same choices as we go along. Our worlds won’t make the same choices. My world is a consequence of what decisions were made in my world. And trust me, my world isn’t perfect either.”, said Roland.

“That’s very optimistic.”, said Rohan sarcastically.

“I know, it isn’t but that’s what it is. All you have is hope. And that’s all I have too. Maybe we have different circumstances and a different environment but there is always hope. I know because I had lost hope when I was young. We all make mistakes. Choose the wrong friends, the wrong profession, the wrong partner and wrong environment and so on. I am saying this because I know you must have made some wrong choices. I read some of your text messages on your phone while you were gone. Your girlfriend doesn’t look too happy, does she? She’s quite demanding I feel. I didn’t meet anyone named Payal in my time so there you go. You must have made the choice to meet this girl and maybe it’s right, maybe it’s wrong. Who knows? But what I’ve learned is that you can’t lose hope. Ever.”, finished Roland as he was almost fully transparent now.

Rohan could not say anything but just stared at the fading man in wonder.

“That doesn’t sound cheerful”, smirked Rohan.

Just then Roland gestured Rohan to come up to him which he did. He tried slapping him with all his power but all he felt was a breeze across his face.

“Shit. Too late now.”, said Roland with a rise smile. He had almost disappeared.

“At least I know one thing about you. You will always do the thing that you love. You’ll work as a coder to save the world. And you’ll always love your work. Even if there are problems around it.” he added.

“Thank you.” said Rohan finally breaking into a rise smile.

“Thank you for the scotch. It’s better over here.”, said no one in particular.

The young tall boy from Narsinghma was hugging thin air in his apartment at 5:45 am as his eyes saw the first hint of dawn. The End.

One World Night. (Part-1)- Original Short Fiction

Rohan Garg was walking back to his house late at night. It had been a chilly winter in northern India that season and the tall young boy used to live in the city of Narsinghma. It was a city with a fitting and serene backdrop of the mountain range of the Himalayas. That night in particular was considerably cold than any of the previous nights that month. Rohan rubbed his hands frantically in a desperate attempt to take control of his numb fingers. As he reached his house which was on a hilltop, he went straight to his bathroom to take a hot water shower. He seemed to have cried that night as his eyes were swollen red and his body language suggested that he wasn’t quite sober.

He wrapped himself in thick layers of woolen clothing and meandered towards his balcony to admire the view of the entire city. Just then, suddenly there was a loud bang on the door which jolted him into action. He rushed to open his front door as he feared that the door to break down if he didn’t open it soon enough. There was an old bald man with an umbrella wearing a thick rain coat. It wasn’t raining. It hadn’t been raining for months!

“Hello?”, said Rohan looking confused and alarmed.

“Hello Rohan”, said the man calmly

“Can I come inside?”, asked the old man gently

“Um, Who are you sir? And how do you know my name?”, asked Rohan slightly taken aback by the stranger who seemed to know his name.

“My name is Roland.”, said the man patiently waiting at the half open door.

“How can I help you?” asked Rohan thinking hard about how he must have known his name.

“Did I order something? Or does he know someone who knows me?”, he thought to himself.

“Well it’s cold in here, isn’t it?”, said the old man trying to wear a smile which he only managed half heartedly.

“ Sir I’m sorry but I don’t know you and… Forgive me but I don’t see why I should be entertaining this meeting at this late hour?

“I’ll tell you all about it when I come inside. You see I am not from around here. And I need your help in particular. I know your father. His name is Paresh, isn’t it? Now can I?”, said the old man showing signs of impatience now as he held the door and almost forced to open it.

“ His name is Paresh, Yes. And you mean you knew my father. He’s no more.”, said Rohan as he opened the door and walked towards his hallway turning away from the old man.

“Oh I’m sorry” said the old man seemingly taken aback.

He took a minute as clearly he wasn’t ready for this piece of information. He seemed to have lost purpose and didn’t know how to proceed so he took his time, looked around and admired the wooden flooring and high ceiling of the neatly arranged house.

“How did you know him?” Asked Rohan after a long pause as he stared on towards the dark horizon visible from his giant windows.

“Oh I thought I did. But it’s so silly of me. Of course there will be some differences here from there.” Rumbled the old man more to himself than to answer the question.

“Can I have some of that scotch?”, he added pointing to the bottle of Johnny Walker kept on the table near the fireplace.

“ And can we light it up?”, he added further slightly shivering.

“Alright that’s enough. Tell me who are you and what do you want?”, asked Rohan angrily as he closely observed the old man now.

“ I’m you Rohan. From an alternate universe. Existing at a different time. In my world I still have my father. In my world it was raining just minutes ago from when I left. In fact I don’t quite understand how I ended up here but I was running a large scale quantum algorithm in my office since many days and something happened. I’ve been struggling to comprehend where my office had suddenly vanished and I was in a 21st century of sorts. Feels like the stone age to be honest. The cars were back on the roads and people still had fresh water to drink. Freely available at most places at least. I’ve been able to track some things down and finally found some connection. You’re a software developer as well aren’t you?”, finished the old man while he grabbed the bottle of scotch and poured himself a drink.

Rohan was dumbstruck and couldn’t move a muscle. At the same moment he had thoughts of hitting the old man with something heavy, running away, pinching himself awake, jumping from his window, calling the cops and hugging the old man and crying till dawn all at once.

“I know how it must be. How you must be feeling I mean. It would have sounded like magic. But it’s just science.” Said the old man calmly taking another sip from the scotch.

To be continued …