Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Autumn Sonata

Ingmar Bergman, 1978, 92m, Ingrid Bergman and Liv Ullman

...and all the horror of life goes on somewhere behind the scenes. Everything is quiet, peaceful, and against it all there is only the silent protest of statistics; so many go mad, so many gallons are drunk, so many children die of starvation. . .Chekhov

Storms rage beneath the placid surface of life, and hell and insanity are but a whisker away. Bergman's characters are often celebrities, just as Hamlet was a prince, and this allows him to focus on existential issues, which remain when basic human needs have been transcended.

The film is about the relationship between Charlotte (Ingrid Bergman), a renowned pianist and her two daughters. The first, Eva (Ullman), is married to a clergyman, while the second, Helena, is mentally retarded. Helena was till recently institutionalized but is presently staying with her sister. Charlotte visits her daughters after a gap of seven years. Charlotte has been a career woman who had little time for her family. Her mind was always occupied with her ambitions and the pursuit of fame and fortune. She has very little of maternal feeling.

The deep disturbance is evoked through the performance of a piece of Chopin. The mother wants the daughter to play it, which she reluctantly does to the best of her ability. The mother, who is no doubt a professional of international stature, has a lukewarm response which she follows with a highfalutin academic discourse on the qualities of the pain expressed in the musical composition. This mercilessly thread bares the amateurishness of Eva's playing. Eva in no way has concert level pretensions, nor is seeking to compete with Charlotte. The discourse bears quoting for it'sown sake (interrupted by chords of music):

Chopin was emotional, Eva, not sentimental...There is a chasm between emotion and sensibility... The prelude you played speaks of suppressed emotion, not reveries... You have to be calm, clear and austere... Take the first few bars… It hurts, but he's not showing it...Chopin was proud, sarcastic, impetuous, tormented and very manly... He was no sentimental old woman. 

The mother follows this with her own no doubt superb interpretation of the same music. The daughter is deeply hurt by the cold and derogatory response of her mother, bordering on condescension and contempt. But then, what is Charlotte to do, she just doesn't have those feelings, and we all make do with pretenses or half pretenses or acting, as the primadonna has been doing all her life.

At another point Eva confides her own outlook, in no less memorable words (which could be no less than Bergman's own vision):

To me, man is an unparalleled creation. Like an unfathomable thought. Everything exists in man, from the highest to the lowest. Man is created in God's own image, and everything exists in God. And so man is created, but also the demons and the saints, the prophets and the artists and all those who destroy. Everything coexists, grows together. Enormous patterns that constantly change. Do you know what I mean?

Charlotte responds with a barely suppressed yawn.

The film, through its powerful script, portrays the terrible psychological traumatization of Eva, made all the more purgatorial since she never once gets to express her inner desolation through the eternity of childhood and adolescence. Eva even attributes Helena's terrible suffering also to her mother. Indeed, the terrifying screams of Helena, as she calls to her mother, are reminiscent more of Psycho than an elegant Bergman chamber film. Helena is the manifestation of Eva's invisible inner world.

The mother child relationship is the most powerful of human bonds. Bergman uses it as an example of the breakdown of the inter human.  Himself a great artist who faced a difficult childhood, Bergman is teaching us about the depths of human spiritual anguish which we struggle to hide. This void of the heart is not the luxury of a certain crust of society, but a pervasive phenomenon. It is a fact of life, barely hinted in this fine film, that people confined in the same domestic walls are separated by light years, like dark lighthouses. Silver spoons of wealth, beauty and talent can and often do prove problems in themselves. (There is nothing like a dose of shared poverty to bring people together.) It's a terribly lonely world, our state of Denmark.

This is Ingrid's last movie but looking at this hard woman with rectangular shoulders and the thin quirky self conscious smile, I could glimpse the icy Scandinavian goddess who acted in Casablanca and some of Hitchcock's films. She seems to me to have always been a Mata Hari, an adventuress with more beauty and talent than heart, more legendary than real. Perhaps this was just the role for her.

Friday, August 27, 2010

The War Game

48m, B/W, 1965, Peter Watkins (UK)

The film is an enacted documentary about a nuclear attack on a suburban town in the United Kingdom. The film is thoroughly researched and attempts to be realistic rather than alarmist. Nevertheless it was banned from exhibition on TV, for which it was originally intended, because of the panic it was likely to cause. The population is found ill prepared--indeed, there can be little by way of preparation for a nuclear bomb attack. The hellish suffering unfolds in the aftermath, as lack of supplies and medical aid make the situation near hopeless.

The truth is that we have been so inured by the deluge of horrifying images that it is difficult to summon proportionate response from within. One is left staring uncomprehendingly at the vista of mutilation, burns and bodies piled on each other. This failure of feeling is perhaps the devastating heritage of our time. Whether it is the holocaust, or the partition of the subcontinent, or the events in Nanking, or the escalating depictions on-screen, we watch more in fascination than dismay. Most devastated are our hearts, in this deadening of response.

China: A Century of Revolution

Ambrica Films, 6 hours in three parts, 1989, 94, 97 

This American made and funded film gives a fascinating and quite objective account of the last hundred years of events in China, starting from the fall of the last Emperor to the recent burgeoning to world economic and military power status.

Part 1, China in Revolution (1911-49), starts from the 1911 abdication of the emperor and concludes with the communist victory in 1949, and Chiang Kai-shek's ouster into Taiwan. We see the bitter life and death triangular engagement between the Nationalists, the epic emergence of Chinese communism under the charismatic Mao, and the depredations by rapacious Japanese forces. The combination of civil war and foreign invasion scourges the countryside and cities. The international community maintains a safe distance, even as the spectre of WW2 overcasts the sky.

Part2, The Mao Years (1949-76) takes us through the turbulent birth throes of the historic experiment, with it's terrible toll. An attempt is made to recast the entire structure of human society into an unnatural mould, with even the institution of the family under threat.

Part 3, Born Under the Red Flag (1976-97), begins with the demise of Mao, Deng's assumption of power, going onto the student unrest and the experiment wherein ideology is not allowed to hinder economic progress. The important galvanizing and courageous role played by the youth and student community in particular is given prominence.

This is a splendid documentary which encapsulates a vast expanse of the past so that China does not seem a terra incognito.


Hitchcock, 1972, 114m

This late Hitchcock is atypical of the period when it is made. It is a strong brew of murder and suspense, seasoned with humor and continual wit. It is suspense not of the who-did-it type, which is clear from the outset, but what-next. It is set in the heart of London, in and around a bustling fruit and vegetable market. Hitchcock is ever innovative in his compositions of violence, which are depicted with economy and restraint, though this time he does go a little further in the gruesome bits. He caters to our love of the gory and unusual, with a very British nonchalant understatement, managing to stay within the bounds of taste and propriety, even at his most outrageous.

Particularly salacious is the sequence where the killer is at the back of a van loaded with potatoes, grappling to extract a tie pin from the hand of a body in which rigor mortis has set in. The potatoes roll out from behind, and then the body. Hitchcock scales heights of creativity in his depiction of the gruesome, achieving something akin to sublimity. This macabre sequence carries the mark of his artistic genius.

In another eery sequence, after following the murderer and his about to be murdered victim up the stairs, the camera retraces it's path down the staircase and into the busy street, hinting at the gruesome events in progress upstairs, leaving them to our imagination. It is sheer poetry, as though the camera momentarily becomes a living being and recoils from the ghastliness. His grip on the audience is unrelenting, playing it "like an organ". This is the master in his element.

Since this film is about a psychopathic serial killer, whose modus of choice is strangulation with a necktie, there is inevitably some psychology talk, but mercifully it is minimal here. Psycho and Marnie are the worst for that, but I believe Hitchcock intends the Freud stuff more as fun poking, since Hitchcock is first and last an entertainer, a showman and an artist of cinema. He does mention in the 1973 documentary about him that he doesn't believe that our personalities are determined by "the awful things that happened to us in childhood."

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Trouble with Harry

Hitchcock, 1956, 75m

Perhaps it is unfair to circumscribe Hitchcock as a specialist of horror or suspense since he is always springing surprises and has something altogether new and unexpected cooking for our pleasure even at his worst. First and foremost, he is a teller of stories, using the medium of projecting "a sequence of images on a rectangular screen". This one is pieced around a body (a dead one, of course) which refuses to stay buried and keeps jumping out of it's grave. It belongs to the late un-beloved and lustre-less husband of Shirley MacLaine, and there are many claimants to the guilt of the demise till the matter is amicably resolved, and the unfortunate corpus is prepared for it's final final repose. This is the good natured director at his breezy best. There is even a touch of Wodehouse--he is British, after all. As in Billy Wilder, you can be sure of your penny's worth.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Family Plot

Hitchcock, 120m, 1976

Hitchcock's final opus, it is befittingly a mellow suspense comedy, which keeps you pleasantly engaged. A wealthy single woman engages the services of a spiritual medium to locate her heir, illegitimate son of her deceased sister, who had been discarded to protect family honor. Another strand of narrative is about a jeweler who carries out a series of kidnappings for a ransom in diamonds. One of the hilarious sequences is about a chase sequence in a dangerous winding road where all the controls of the vehicle have been put out of function and the driver has to manage his hysterical female companion. There are memorable scenes in a graveyard and in a church and the director has enough room to exercise his macabre sense of humor in this less than terrifying parting offering.

Stars: 3.5/5

Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Birth of a Nation

D.W.Griffith, 1915, 180m

Being three hours long and silent are not big faults in this film since it manages to keep a hold on your interest for most of it's duration. For a movie to be silent is not a limitation but a genre. It has been proved time and again that a silent film can often do things a talkie cannot. For an outsider, this film provides, for all it's alleged distortions, a historical framework from which one can extrapolate and construe the painful pangs of labor that must have been the American Civil War (one of the bloodiest, with 600,000 lives lost) and the history flowing  in an unbroken series from then onwards to the present. It graphically portrays the divisions within American society which led to the conflagration. It is retrospectively startling that the rock solid edifice that is the US was not that long ago rift by a fratricidal struggle of such dimensions. Part of the power of the film derives from it's honest racialist point of view which convincingly meshes with the historical facts. It is a genuine piece in the jigsaw puzzle that is history. It may be simplistic and give a one sided picture but it does present that one side authentically and skillfully just as Riefenstahl's film about rising Hitlerism. It even seems ludicrous that in this movie of 1915 the Ku  Klux Klan should be shown as knights in shining armor. Griffith must have been a bigoted and blood thirsty Southerner with a precocious talent for film making.

Stars: 4.5/5

Thursday, August 19, 2010


Hitchcock 1941, 99m

Rake Cary Grant ensnares Joan Fontaine, daughter of a wealthy general, and it immediately surfaces that money is not the least of Grant's problems. Hitch escorts us into the web of suspicion as lies, deceptions, shady business schemes, insurance money, and of course, murder, combine and it gradually becomes clear where the needle is pointing. Hitchcock, in his own words, loves to play his audience like an organ, and when your mind is in a mood for such enthrall-dom, he is a safe bet. As cleverly constructed as a watch, it's machineries of deception innocently invisible, the movie is full of delicious surprises at every turn and corner. The sledge hammers of the fifties are yet not in sight, for, as of now, the master of mischief is but two and forty.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Wrong Man

Hitchcock, 1954, 105m

Some movies cannot escape being seen, because they are there. This CD with it's coat of dust was long due for it's turn. One knocks at Hitch's with an expectation of receiving money's worth and his movies have the momentum to ferry you across.

Chris (Henry Fonda) is a family man, working as a musician at the Stork Club, struggling with the bills of a four member family, when he is mistaken for a hold up man. The nightmare begins for the already beleaguered family. The movie is different from the usual Hitchcock, in being based on a true story and in poignantly depicting a tragic social situation of justice misfired which is probably more common than we think.

Hitchcock seems unable to resist delivering pious psychological homilies as a conclusion in many of his films, which are amusing more than irritating. Psycho is the prime example. This itch seems to have grown stronger with the passage of time. Marnie was oozing Freud.

Stars: 3/4

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

A Woman called Golda

1982, starring Ingrid Bergman(1915-82), Alan Gibson (director), 200m

Golda Meir (1898-1978) was the charismatic prime minister of Israel in the seventies. Born in Kiev, Russia, her family emigrated to the US to escape persecution when she was eight. Bought up in the US and trained as a teacher, she left for Palestine to pursue the Zionist project. Along with her American husband she joined a kibbutz, a commune, where she lived for some years, before going to Jerusalem to take care of her two children. Not a family woman by temperament, her marriage withered away, as she was sucked into the Zionist movement, emerging as a leading figure in the history of the newly carved country of Israel.

The biopic is a riveting drama in spite of it's length and provides insight into the complex history of this troubled region.The story is well told and the events unfold in a coherent series. The outstanding feature is the magnificent performance of Bergman as the older Meir. It seems incredible that this is the romantic lead of Casablanca and Spellbound. The shy beauty is here metamorphosed--by natural aging, experience and the requirements of the present role--into a mesmerizing and heroic visionary, her face furrowed and sculpted by time and age, her voice hoarse and manly. She is an individual of decisiveness and character, as are those who yield themselves to a cause at an early age, and are forged by hardship voluntarily assumed. It is indeed the performance of a prima donna and an attestation to the process of maturation of a human personality--in this case of both the film star and the character she represents. The alchemy achieved by the actress with her role is indeed extraordinary. This was to be her last film. She died of cancer (like Golda Meir), four months after the film was completed.

What kind of human being was Golda Meir? Her voice is a hoarse masculine growl: clear, forceful, often kindly, combative. We see a heavy smoking grandmother, who personally makes and serves coffee and cake to state guests in her kitchen, rides buses, cares for children, an orator, a leader who understands military hardware and can wage war when she so decides, one who inspires the love and loyalty of the commoners, not over empathic to the viewpoint of her nation's enemies. Supremely confident, she is always on stage, with hardly a private persona. She is a leader in the classic military mold, her sex notwithstanding. We see her driven through the bald sunbaked hills of sand, disguised as an Arab, to parley for peace with King Abdullah, who can hardly bear to negotiate with a woman; addressing the UN assembly or convincing her own assembly of leaders to let her go to the US to raise funds for military equipment.

The Middle East, and specifically the Arab-Israel issue, is an endlessly complex maze--an impossible knot-- and the movie is the story of a person's life rather than an attempt to dissect, analyze or clarify the rights and wrongs of a festering history. It is also a portrait of Zionism--it's impelling spirit, if not consequences.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010


If . . .
Rudyard Kipling
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!”

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a man, my son!

Spellbound 1945


Ingrid Bergman is a psychiatrist who falls in love with Gregory Peck, the new chief of the mental hospital, who soon turns out to be an impersonator who has possibly done away with the guy he is impersonating, possibly in a fit of insanity. He is heavily amnesiac, even to the extent of his own identity. The impersonation and murder is soon discovered, and the love birds are on the run, and we have a police chase with generous doses of psychology and romance.

This is a romance which tries to resemble Casablanca while inflicting psychology lectures as painfully ham handed as the concluding part of Psycho. People are interested in the workings of the mind and anyone who pretends to explain it with minimal plausibility, like the recent Inception, is likely to rake it in at the box office. It is not the gurus and babas alone that try to play on the gullibility of the public at large. The present movie cashes on the same propensity. It is romance swarded in thick layers of  plausible sounding psychoanalytic jargon mercilessly attributed to the late Freud. Dream analysis is ridiculously used as a forensic tool. We have Ingrid Bergman as a psychiatrist giving the works medically and otherwise (for example, her trademark asymmetrically pathetic smile) to a boyish Gregory Peck, as she endearingly but maladroitly dons and removes her spectacles which does not entirely succeed in giving her the requisite scholarly touch . Is this the star of Autumn Sonata and A Woman called Golda? The film starts laboriously and continues in the first gear for a good two thirds till some heat is finally generated.

There is little to redeem this movie, not even the stellar cast. It is not of the stuff of Rear Window and Lifeboat. It is bewildering that it was nominated for best movie and best direction. Old is not always gold and Hitchcock is a variable dish. He may be an expert film-maker, as he is said to be, certainly a showman, as he proves himself on many an occasion, but he is not a serious or great artist and has nothing very profound to say about the human condition. He is a good spinner of dark fairy tales with an occasional ability to tingle our nervous system. He appeals to our morbidity, and the terror he evokes, if and when he does--is spooky or booish in nature--not the kind rising out of pity and pathos. Hitchcock has nowhere in his visualization of dreams reached the macabre beauty of the opening sequences in Wild Strawberries or 8 1/2. He is a great entertainer, when he comes off. At his best, nobody can deny that he excels in suspense, .

Monday, August 9, 2010

Murder ! 1930

Hitchcock, 90m

The murdered person is a young woman and the body is discovered in the presence of her rival in love, the instrument of murder and a half empty glass of brandy. The plea of mental incompetence is taken at the trial and we have a riveting view of the discussions of the jury, since a unanimous verdict is necessary to pronounce the death sentence. The tedious whodunit has an interesting twist at the end. The future Hitchcock is scarcely perceptible even embryonically although he had already made about ten films and this was one of the first non-silent ones. Interesting academically as a piece of Hitchcock.

Jonathan Rosenbaum

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Lifeboat 1944

Hitchcock, 95m, script by John Steinbeck

The pre-1950 Hitchcock is perhaps better than the more acclaimed director of the 50s. The sixties show a clear decline of power. The later movies, notably Vertigo, seem to have layers of complexity and meaning in their exploration of the psychic darklands, but the earlier films show us the man doing what after all he is best at--dramas which grip us from end to end, with meticulously constructed yarns of fear, adventure, crime and mystery. This one is arguably the best of them all, and gained recognition with a number of academy awards.

The movie opens with a dramatic shot of a sinking ship, as the smoke-stack tilts and is swallowed up by the sea. Both the allied ship and the German submarine which torpedoed it have gone down and a lifeboat drifts away with a sole occupant, American journalist Constance Porter. One by one the boat is populated as other survivors clamber in from the sea to complete the cast of characters. They include a wealthy industrialist, a nurse, a mother with a sick child, a man with a seriously injured leg which requires amputation, and a German who turns out to be the captain of the sunk submarine. Rations are running low and apparently there is no compass to find the way to Bermuda.

This is certainly material for a gripping drama with the background of the surging sea and Hitchcock fully exploits the possibilities. The story steps up the ladder of events with the unexpected at every turn of its short duration and the behavior of the characters is logically consistent with the perilous situation--death in the form of the ocean all to eager to swallow up friend and foe, equalizing differences of rank, education, color and status. And another angry sea in the shape of a war rages beyond the horizon.

This gripping drama on a rocking watery stage made right in the middle of the war is courageously free of the jingoism which one might have expected in 1944.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Marnie 1964

(Alfred Hitchcock, 1899-1980)

Marnie's modus operandi is to gain the trust of her employees through her efficiency and then make off with considerable sums of money. But she does it once to often and lands in the arms of who but Sean Connery. And she cannot stand two things--storms and the color red, both of which trigger of hysteric reactions, for reasons to tortuously unfold. The mystery or whatever there is of it is very thin and the much anticipated moments of suspense are few and far between. At 130 minutes, it is a trial. The mixture of romance, psychodrama and lukewarm thrills meanders aimlessly and endlessly and one can only console oneself with some directorial flourishes and cinematography, not to speak of the satisfaction that for better or worse, one has done another Hitchcock. Among his last films, it would appear the connoisseur of horror was on the ebb.

Ten 2002

Kiarostami, 78m, Farsi

We are taken on several rides around an Iranian town in a car driven by a beautiful divorcee. Our co-passengers in the ten sections into which the film is divided are her son, a woman stoically disappointed when her lover leaves her, another heartbroken to have lost her husband after seven years, an old lady visiting the mosque who is given a lift and a prostitute, some of these figuring in more than one of the ten episodes. There is much conversation and we have glimpses of life in Iran and the problem of being a woman and a human being in general. It is a little tedious (it's not Hitchcock, after all) considering it's short duration but the effort is worthwhile because we take with us a better understanding of how that part of the globe is constituted. Kiarostami's films are are distinguished by naturalness and authenticity and the ability to see the drama of the mundane.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Rope 1948

Yet another sizzling dish of suspense from Hitchcock. The earlier films do not reach the pitch of terror we see in the likes of Psycho. (This one does start with a throttled scream). However I found this quite unputdownable and although the much awaited plot twist at the end failed to materialize, which is perhaps all the better for the film, which can do well enough without it. James Stewart with his enigmatic persona as the highly deductive ex-tutor of the murderers adds salt and spice. The movie is about a party of socialites in which a wooden chest containing the newly murdered body serves as a dining table and the parents, girl friend,  former teacher and the girl friend's ex boy friend  are guests. Atypically the movie ends with a sermon on the wrongness of killing. Some Nietzchean jargon about inferior and superior human beings is also unnecessarily appended. But certainly an hour and a half worth of of gripping entertainment, which is what we visit Hitchcock for, and which he has never failed to deliver.

Shadow of a Doubt

Hitchcock, 1943, 102m

This is vintage Hitchcock and it is clear that the master of suspense has reached his peak as early as this. The suspense starts from the opening scene in a money strewn room, and builds up like a slow poison or wine till the crescendo in the moving train. The violence in Hitchcock is never on screen just as most of the unpleasant things in life happen behind a veneer of propriety. The word riveting is not wasted on a film like this since one literally does not notice the passage of time and, as in any good yarn, it leaves us unsatisfied and asking for more.Supreme craftsman that he is, he panders perhaps to our lower nature in his choice of subject, that in us which is drawn to violence and gore, while at the same time being repulsed by it. Alfred Hitchcock's movies are a gentlemanly version of the gladiator shows. This is surely among the best.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

I Want to Live ! (1958)

Dug out from the vault of the sixties, this is a film as haunting and powerful as I remember it to have been. It narrates the story of Barbara Graham (Susan Hayward) a woman of easy virtues living on the fringes of the law who is wrongfully indicted for murder. The process of the trial is widely orchestrated in the press and TV. Having no proof for her genuine alibi, she tries to cook up a false one and in the process she is caught in a legal jam leading to the death sentence. The movie takes us through her incarcerations and series of appeals and temporary reprieves right up to the chilling climax.

The message of the film (it certainly has one) is heavily accentuated by the youth and beauty of the condemned woman. If life is precious it certainly seems obscene that the system which supposedly represents the collective wisdom and will of society should culminate in an act so barbarous as the slaughter of a human being. But such is the way of the world, in peace as in war. The fallibility, deviousness and chicanery of the legal system is also laid bare.

The film is riveting till the end credits. It has a jazzy, noirish, melancholy, texture and Susan Hayward plays her role with power, confidence and applomb. One may fault the movie with excess of sentimentality, and the final bravado seems somewhat overdone belying the gravity of incipient death and human response to this cataclysmic event. On the other hand we are lead through the drills and routines of death row and we experience things from the outside if not inside. Most harrowing is the hope of a reprieve that is kept alive and repeatedly renewed and the wall clock marking the dwindling hours.

A good companion piece to Dead Man Walking, and well worth watching.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Peter Brook's Mahabharata

1989, 5 1/2 hours

It may seem odd to be re-familiarising oneself on a sacred epic through a European trans-creation in a foreign language when one is born into the language of the original. This is the stuff of one's upbringing mingled with the anglican sprinklings which is the educational fare of many of us here. One of the reasons would be length and availability since the alternative is B.R.Chopra's TV series which adds up to seventy hours. Brook's film has come in for indignant disapproval from Pradip Bhattacharya for it's compression, a few deviations from the text and most of all a failure to treat it as a larger than life epic--for not treating it as reverentially as he would have liked. To quote:

Brook's film is not a portrayal of a titanic clash between the forces of good and evil, which is the stuff of the epic. Nor is it even the depiction of the fratricidal struggle for Empire that sucks into its vortex armies from outside India's borders, spanning far more than the land between the two rivers Ganga and Yamuna. It is not even a picture of a battle of princes. The crores of Indians do not hold dear to their hearts the story of the warring progeny of some rustic landlord, which is that we see in Brook's celluloid version.

Brook's version may not be as titanic as the reviewer would like but it is titanic enough. After all, isn't Mahabharata meant to depict the war which goes on in our souls and it to portray it on the lines of say Oliver Stone's Alexander would reduce it to a juvenile and noisy spectacle? On the other hand he does portray it as a powerful human drama of good and evil and one can relate to the conflicts in the hearts of the characters. Brook has been sensitive and respectful and aware that the epic touches on the religious sensibilities of a subcontinent and it's diaspora. As Bhattacharya says, it is a scripture rich in philosophical and ethical insights and the director has projected much of it understandably and without distortion. Brook's movie may be lacking in length and breadth, or costly expansive sets on the lines of Holly or Bollywood blockbusters, but it is not lacking in depth or maturity. The battle scenes, for example, have been of necessity been shown symbolically. But haven't we had more than enough of special effects and fake grandiosity? Surely the essence lies beyond sound and fury? Literature, philosophy and faith are not bound by linguistic, political or racial boundaries.

The international and multiracial cast speaking in a multitude of accents is one of the attractions which lifts it far above a costume drama, enabling it to focus on the universal human truths which this great masterpiece (if one may be allowed to use the word for something which is beyond the literary) reveals. All the players seem to be seasoned stage actors and they make up for whatever lack of props or stage effects there might be. A Cecil de Mille or Cameron type of film might have been more titanic but I believe Peter Brook has created a leaner and more meaningful movie which comes close to the guts of the original, more than the B R Chopra serial which scores in pomp and show and theatricality. After all., great books are a universal resource, and the movie has an international flavour.

He has certainly brought the Mahabharata alive for me again.