Monday, November 6, 2017

The Ipcress File [dir. Sidney Furie]

Based on a novel by Len Deighton (which I haven't read), The Ipcress File features protagonist Harry Palmer (Michael Caine - young and dashing, a far cry from the desultory valet of the Dark Knight series) is a secret service agent, but grittier and working class compared to James Bond (the comparison is valid since the film was produced by regular Bond series co-producer Harry Saltzman). While Bond's adventures have him traipsing around exotic foreign landscapes, Palmer (at least in this story) is mostly restricted to London and the nearby countryside. Bond can afford to gulp down Beluga caviar and Bollinger champagne without worrying about the expense account, but poor Harry earns only 1300 quid a year and hopes a promised raise will allow him to buy a coveted infra-red grill to satisfy his gourmet-on-a-budget whims.

The script involves the usual convolutions of intrigue, red herrings and double agents any self-respecting Cold War era spy caper would feature and they are done well. I must admit here that I am quite biased towards the old-school Brit "stiff upper lip" tone. Visually the film is quite stylish (DoP Otto Heller of Peeping Tom fame), sometimes to an extreme, with for example shots from the POV of a ceiling lamp or a outdoor fight sequence captured from inside an empty phone both. But director Sidney Furie ensures that it's all good pacy fun and never ceases to be interesting. Caine is in top form here and has strong support from a stellar British cast (including the ultra-manly Nigel Green). The film has more intrigue than action or spectacle so don't expect outrageous stunts but that's intentional - Palmer's world is designed to be an antithesis to the ultra-glamorous Bond-verse, and makes a forceful impact. The success of the film led to stardom and bigger roles for Caine (Italian Job, Get Carter), and though I suspect it will be a case of diminishing returns, I am tempted to try out the further installments of the franchise, including Guy Hamilton's Funeral in Berlin and Ken (seriously?) Russell's Billion Dollar Brain.

Recommended for gritty spy thriller fans.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

MAMI Weekend


Day 1:

On Body and Soul [Ildik├│ Enyedi] - A different kind of romance that wells up between a meat factory owner with a crippled hand and a quality control inspector with obsessive behavior from borderline Asperger Syndrome when they find that they have identical dreams in which they see themselves as animals. Like a more grounded Michel Gondry film, but very nicely done with a successful ambiguous end. People squeamish about the sight of animal flesh and abbatoir activities are warned.

The Third Murder [Hirokazu Kore-eda] - Slow-burn legal and moral exploration of a murder trial that goes beyond whodunit, to what constitutes truth and justice, and whose actions actually deliver redemption. While Kore-eda has been compared more to Yasujiro Ozu and Mikio Naruse, I find a slight influence of Akira Kurosawa's High & Low (especially the scene where the two opposing characters are reflected in the glass window that separates them). Not enough philosophical depth to fully justify the somber pace with some outright soap opera bits (and I could have done with less of plink-plonk piano to underscore the poignant moments), but a very decent watch.

The Other Side of Hope [Aki Kaurismaki] - AK's film winds the threads of Syrian Refugee Khaled seeking asylum and middle-aged Wikstrom who abandons his existing business and married life to start afresh. Through a fair portion, Other Side... exhibits a wry humor and nuanced character. But once the two threads meet, it gives way to a more unilateral sentimentality with a Chaplin-level simplistic message of charity and universal brotherhood. But it does offer a good bit of mood, especially with its use of music.

Call Me by Your Name [Luca Guadagnino] - This was one of the more hyped films of this fest (the line extended from Regal Cinema to Cafe Mondegar). Adapted from a novel by James Ivory (the other half of Ismail Merchant) the film promised a forgotten summer of romance between a young Italian boy and the American visitor at his house, set amidst lush Mediterranean surroundings, food and culture. Well that's how the theory goes, but frankly the film left me quite bored. For some reason I was never emotionally close to the protagonists, which constitutes a fatal block to one's immersion in the story. Brokeback Mountain worked because the writing and direction made you feel for their characters, this one is just too polite and breezy to make real impact.

Thelma [Joachim Trier] - Solid Carrie-inspired slow-burn horror flick in the vein of Let the Right One In or The Witch. Definitely worth the watch.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Chandu the Magician [dirs. William Menzies - Marcel Varnel]

As fans of vintage radio would very well know, Chandu the Magician (CtM) originated as a radio drama series in 1931. In reference to the show's popularity - apparently at one point almost 60% of households in America tuned in - Walter Winchell cheekily revealed that 'chandu' is Indian slang for opium. Chandu was almost certainly the inspiration for Lee Falk's Mandrake the Magician. The film of Chandu was an attempt by 20th Century Fox to cash in on the show's popularity and compete with Universal's lucrative horror/adventure properties. I have not heard the 30's radio program but thanks to Archive.org I did some time ago enjoy a late 40's radio revival of the character with Tom Collins as Frank Chandler aka Chandu and Luis Van Rooten as his nemesis Roxor.

In the film Chandler / Chandu, who has just completed his training in the various arts of magic with the yogis in India, is given the mission of fighting evil on earth. The fight begins at home with the disappearance of his scientist brother-in-law Robert Regent, captured by the megalomaniac Roxor to commission a death ray machine. Chandler must use his powers to engage with Roxor and protect his loved ones including sister Dorothy Regent and her wide-eyed kids Bob and Betty, and his lady love the Egyptian princess Nadji. Much hocus-pocus and hokum ensue.

CtM was co-directed by William Cameron Menzies and Marcel Varnel. Menzies' contribution is far more notable here. He was a highly respected art director (most famous for his work on Gone with the Wind, he also directed the film of HG Wells' Things to Come) and he does a smashing job of bringing alive the world of the story. Wonderfully detailed miniature work, optical FX and what-have-you help to depict the Indian temple setting where Chandu completes his training, a fabulous (if also rather impractical so far as entrances go) lair for evil Roxor, the sandstorm-hit residence of the Regents, the visualization of Roxor's dream of world domination by the use of the death ray etc Chandu's powers are also well-served by the tricks of the camera, including his ability to astrally project himself and have a doppelganger (or conjure a mini-me for his orderly to chastise his alcoholic tendencies). The camera is helmed by James Wong Howe (Seconds, Sweet Smell of Success), and in combination with the production design serves up several audacious shots that sell the illusion of the setting.

Bela Lugosi as Roxor is a thing to behold. The film calls for no-holds-barred stylized acting and Bela, fresh from his Dracula turn, plays to the gallery with aplomb (IMO Rooten's portrayal of the character in the revived radio series owes a debt to Lugosi), giving his all to a performance that pretty much washes out everybody else in the film. Which brings us to the film's single biggest disappointment - Edmund Lowe as Chandu the Magician. Lowe may be a character actor (he does a fairly decent job with the different disguises that Chandu dons), but he has all the charisma of over-boiled mutton. The battle between Roxor and Chandu should be one of fiercely matched equals, but against Lugosi's striking visage and commanding delivery, Lowe just does not measure up. Even the romance between Chandu and Nadji is cloyingly prim and bland. Little wonder then that the film did not do well enough to inspire any 'real' sequels (there was a serial called The Return of Chandu which interestingly enough, had Bela Lugosi as Chandu).

Kino Lorber's presentation of the on their film is adequate though not stellar. There is a fair deal of damage and contrast can vary sometimes. But for a film of this vintage, which is unlikely to have a big audience, I suppose it would be impractical to expect more. Extras include a 15-min featurette on the legacy of CtM, with famous horror/fantasy historians talking about the radio series and the films, and a nice commentary track by Bela Lugosi biographer Gregory Mank. There are also trailers for other Lugosi films.

If they had only used a more charismatic actor than Lowe in the title role, this could have been an excellent film and the start of a good series, but CtM is still worth a watch for its striking visual qualities and for the magnificent Lugosi performance.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Lone Wolf and Cub

At different intervals in the past couple of weeks I made my way through the Lone Wolf and Cub Japanese film series (released on blu-ray/DVD by the Criterion label). Collating the impressions of the individual films I had posted on other forums, I give you a compiled review of the series as a whole.

Films 1&2: Sword of Vengeance and Baby Cart at the River Styx

The series is based on a manga (that's Japanese comic-book, for those unaware). The protagonist Ogami Itto (Tomisaburo Wakayama) is an archetype ronin, who previously served as an executioner for the Shogunate. The warrior was betrayed by his masters the Yagyu clan for which he has sworn vengeance, and is currently an assassin-for-hire carting around his little son Daigoro (Akihiro Tomikawa) in a rather James Bond-ian weaponized cart. In the first two films (bot directed by Kenji Misumi, as was the third) I saw the plot has 2 main branches 1) Ogami accepting an assignment to kill someone for a fixed fee of 500 ryo 2) someone from the Yagyu clan attempting to kill him. Tomisabur├┤ Wakayama in the lead role is mainly required to look gruff and chop up enemies with his famed sword, which despite a double-chin he manages fairly well. There is a good amount of cartoony gore (mainly blood-sprays) and a bit of female nudity. The action choreography is uneven. Sometimes there are nice long takes where Wakayama pulls off multiple moves, and sometimes there are a bunch of hurriedly put together 'cuts'. While not great cinema, these films were very serviceable entertainment fodder and I look forward to further episodes in the series.

Films 3&4:  Baby Cart to Hades and Baby Cart in Peril

These are a continuation of the adventures of the swordmaster Ogami Itto and his little son Daigoro, following a similar formula as previous films, with Ogami taking on assassination missions and in turn being attacked by other killers.

BCtH has some nasty rape / attempted rape sequences. Very early in the film two women are brutally raped and killed by mercenaries before they meet their fate by Ogami's sword. A little later a young girl barely escapes rape by her pimp before she kills him and seeks protection from Ogami. The lady of the brothel she was sold to respectfully asks Ogami to release her property, but he offers instead to take her punishment by torture. In the curious logic of manga stories, the brothel madam turns out to be the daughter of a nobleman who wants Ogami to kill a corrupt governor. Some interesting plot convolutions later, we reach the climax where Ogami takes on a veritable army of soldiers with his sword and weaponized baby cart (including a firing range worth of hidden guns). Some of the plot elements in the film (mainly in the form of an skilled and honorable opponent for Ogami that he becomes forced to fight in the end) reminded me heavily of Akira Kurosawa's action romp Sanjuro.

BCiP begins with little Daigoro wandering off and getting lost. In the course of trying to find his way back to his father, Daigoro encounters a lone warrior, who is surprised at his calmness when faced with a sword. Later on, the warrior allows Daigoro to be engulfed by fire in a field, just to observe his fortitude. I was beginning to wonder how he would have justified his own inaction had the boy died in the fire, when he goes one step further by trying to kill Daigoro, again only to assess his acceptance of death (talk about not knowing what to do with your time). Of course at the crucial moment, Daddy Ogami turns up to stop his boy from being turned into sashimi.There is another sub-plot about Ogami taking on a contract to kill a female assassin Yuki, who is identified by colorful tattoos across her back and breasts, which she flashes to distract her opponents before slicing through them. After the massacre of the previous film, the production may have felt obliged to climax with another Ogami vs an army scenario. This time a batallion of Yagyu warriors led by their leader track him down to a quarry type location and for a huge scrap. Good fun. The crew for BCiP is different from the previous films with Kazuo (Rashomon, Ugetsu) Miyagawa taking over cinematography (though you won't be as impressed here as with those films) and a new director Buichi Saito. 

Films 5&6: Baby Cart in the Land of Demons and White Heaven in Hell

BCitLoD sees the return of director  Misumi who had made the first 3 films. This one at least initially has a very videogame-y sensibility with Lone Wolf Ogami Itto coming across a series of opponents who want to entrust him with a mission, but will dole out information only in their dying breaths after challenging him to a fight. Little Daigoro gets his own spotlight when he stands up to punishment to keep a secret he has promised to. The climax again underlines Ogami's ruthless dedication to keeping the order, ready to murder even children if he has to.

WHiH is the last film, and under Yoshioki Kuroda's direction has a sense of visual scale to match. I personally felt this was one of the best looking entries in the series. My favorite scene was when Ogami cuts through a squad of enemies in and around a lake-front house - the scene features an amazing long take where lead actor Wakayama shines with his swordplay moves. There is a horror element in the form of the quasi-undead warriors who come after Ogami and his son. The climax is another mass slaughter, this time set in snowscapes where the baby cart becomes a sled that can race across the white slopes. You'd think that by now the enemy would know better than to send swordsmen rushing in a straight line towards Ogami's gun-stacked wagon, but perhaps it's against their honor code to shield against gunfire. The film does not in itself conclude the LW&C story but there were no further instalments made (apparently, Wakayama refused to participate further after news of a TV series surfaced).

If you watch all the films in a go, there is likely to be some sense of sameness, especially in the last 4, where all the climaxes are Ogami vs Huge Army with a similar blend of swordplay and gunfire tactics. The fifth film's contrived mission setup was also distracting in its game-like structure. But on the whole this was a good watch and I will return to at least some of these episodes in the future.

The extras disc in Criterion's release includes Shogun Assassin, a re-purposed (read, badly mangled) edit of the first two films that was dubbed into English for US theatrical release in 1980. It also features interviews with the comic book writer Kazuo Koike (in which he talks about how actor Wakayama, whose bulky frame didn't match the lean muscular silhouette of the manga's anti-hero, turned up at his place to perform somersaults and swordplay moves to get his blessing to play the lead), and the biographer of director Kenji Misumi (who talks about his relationship with brothers Katsu and Wakayama, and his contributions to Zatoichi and LW&C), a nice 2005 documentary on the film series, an interesting featurette with a sensei of the Suio-Ryu swordsmanship that is Ogami Itto's style and an old silent docu on the making of Samurai swords (that was a little less interesting than I'd hoped). The booklet features an essay on the film series as well as synopses of all the films. It would have been nice to have a little more about the actor that played the child Daigoro, about the effect that the role and accompanying media fame had on his life, what he went on to do later and how he ended up getting caught while transporting a gun from Thailand into Japan (assuming that story is true). On the whole, an excellent package, more than worth the 40$ I shelled out.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Raising the Dead - An Interview with Shamya Dasgupta

I may have picked nits in Shamya Dasgupta's book on India's premier horror film family in my review, but it has sufficient merits in terms of providing insight into the fraternal chemistry and working methods of the Ramsays, and an affectionate examination of their contribution to the cinema of thrills, to handily recommend to fans of their legacy. After having met the author face-to-face at the book's official launch (an intimate gathering where one had the lovely chance of meeting with members of the Ramsay family, and their iconic monster-man Aniruddh 'Ajay' Agrawal), I approached him with the idea of an e-mail interview, to which he readily agreed.

Before we go talk about the book, tell us a little of your background.
Well, I’m from Kolkata, Calcutta actually. Grew up there, studied there, then moved to New Delhi where I started working, 1999 onwards. I’ve been a sports journalist all along, on the web, in newspapers, in TV for quite a few years. I wrote a couple of books. My wife, dog and I moved to Bangalore in 2012, when I joined Wisden India. My wife is an editor and a publisher.

Great, now let's talk about your interest in films (and horror films in particular). How did it all start? Were you into movies as a kid or did it develop later?
No, movies were most certainly a very, very important part of life in general from as far back as I can remember. It’s interesting – my mother is from a family of pretty eminent writers and poets and … you know the sort, ‘cultured’ Bengali family, etc. They also had some connections in the Hindi film industry. And my mother was quite obsessed with Hindi cinema, as well as Bengali cinema. Not horror, of course, because we are talking about the 1950s and 1960s in particular. My father, on the other hand, was a left-leaning liberal, an economist, a Fulbright scholar who went to the USA and Canada to study and teach, and developed a major interest in world cinema, serious cinema. While my mother developed an interest in his kind of cinema over the years, I don’t think he ever got around to understanding the magic of Hindi movies. In terms of mainstream films, I think the only one he really enjoyed was Golmaal [Hrishikesh Mukherjee, 1979].
Anyway, so I was interested in all kinds of cinema from an early age. In Calcutta, there were lots and lots of film festivals, so watching ‘good’ cinema was easy. I read a fair bit too. My father had brought back many books from the US. I guess I wasn’t old enough to really understand film theory and stuff, but I read them all. And my mother’s Filmfares and Stardusts and stuff. So, yeah, movies have always been a part of life, in a very big way. I don’t think we ever had a VCR, but there were theatres, screenings of all sorts; ‘Good’ cinema, as well as mainstream Hindi and Bengali cinema.
As for horror, I enjoy my horror all right, but I won’t say I am a horror fan. I love all cinema, horror being one of them. If that’s a disqualification when it comes to writing about the Ramsays, I don’t know. As I have always said, I approached the book as a journalist telling a story, the same way I approached the book on Indian boxing I wrote some years ago – while boxing is a sport I follow very closely, I wrote it as a reporter, not as an expert.


Tell us about your interest in the films of the Ramsay brothers. How did the idea of writing a book on them occur to you? What was the process of bagging a publishing deal for this book?
I had watched a couple of Ramsay films when still in my teens (Which means I was not supposed to watch them, I guess). This was in the 1980s. They used to have these travelling video shows in tents and I saw them there – Purana Mandir, Veerana and one other film, which I can’t remember the name of any more. I saw their other prominent films later, on TV, and then all of them multiple times more recently. As for writing about them…there are many ideas about journalism; the one I subscribe to is that the job of a journalist is to tell an interesting story, a story that will interest people, using the words ‘interest’ and ‘interesting’ in the broadest sense possible. Whether it’s an investigative story, a report about the launch of a film or a political story, when you report, you report a story that will interest people in some way or the other. I have always felt the story of the Ramsay brothers – seven brothers making low-budget horror films and becoming incredibly successful – was going to be an interesting one. To everyone, not just fans of their films. The details about them obviously emerged later as I did my research and interviews, but it was always going to be an interesting story. One thing led to another, I met Amit Ramsay, got an 'in' into the family, and then on…
And ‘bagging’ the publishing deal was incredibly easy. Shantanu Ray Chaudhuri of HarperCollins India is the premier publisher of film books in India, in English at least, and is a film obsessive. I think it took just one email to him. I can’t imagine any publisher not being interested in a story like that of the Ramsays.


 What sort of research did you do for the book?
Well, fortunately or unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of relevant information about the Ramsays. Unfortunately, for obvious reasons. Fortunately because it meant that not many people knew too much about them, which meant that most of what I was going to write would be new to people. So yeah, I dug out what I could; old magazines, some academic writings, a little stuff off the internet; and then it was all to do with the interviews. I had very few starting points, outside of the obvious questions. But it seemed to all mostly fall in place eventually.
As for the time and the effort – well, I will never say this is the definitive, most exhaustive and ultimate book on the Ramsays. It isn’t. I have a full-time job and limited means in terms of money and time and access. Within that, well, I did what I could. Would I have liked to speak to more people? Certainly. Satish Shah, for example. Gulshan Grover, Deepak Parashar and others..and so on. Didn’t happen, for various reasons. So those were misses. Within the family too, there were people I spoke to but found nothing usable. But that’s par for the course, I guess. I made a few trips to Mumbai, spent time with whoever I could, and Don’t Disturb the Dead is what I managed to come up with. I don’t think I’ve done a bad job. 

Much more than that. In fact all things considered, it's a damn fine job. Who were the most helpful sources of material (conversely, who were the least)?
All the people quoted in the book [were helpful]. Honestly. The brothers, of course. Kumar, the oldest, doesn’t keep well, and Keshu and Kiran have passed away. I had spoken to Kiran, in fact, when he was in Dubai and he had promised to chat once he returned, but it never happened. The other four brothers – Gangu, Tulsi, Arjun and Shyam – were all wonderful, as were their children. Aarti Gupta-Surendranath gave me all her time, as did Anirudh ‘Ajay’ Agarwal. Komal Nahta, Jerry Pinto, Sriram Raghavan, Sridhar Raghavan, Rajesh Devraj, Beth Watkins, Bappi Lahiri...They all had stories and opinions to share, I just collected them. There were people I tried to speak to who didn’t want to speak to me, they must have had their reasons. There were also a couple of people that I didn’t want to speak to, whatever the reasons might be. It’s not fair to take names, so we’ll leave it at that.


Fair enough. What impact did the effort of writing this book have on your life and routine?
Nothing at all. It was fun all the way. I do work on books pretty regularly, so no … no problems there at all. No story like I didn’t meet my wife and dog for days on end…

[Heh] If time and resources were not a constraint, would you have done anything different / better with the book?
Certainly. As I mentioned earlier, I would have spent much more time in Mumbai. I would have met the Ramsays and other people (their collaborators) more. Face to face, I mean. I met them a few times, and I did speak to everyone that I needed to on the phone multiple times, but that’s not the same thing. If I had more money, I would have had greater access to the archives of, say, Filmfare, Stardust, Film Information, all of those. There’s also the fact that I am not a film journalist but a sports journalist. So I didn’t have contacts in the industry in quite the same way. I might not have written the book differently, but I might have managed to make it richer in terms of detail. It’s fine the way it is, I think. No gaping holes. Some gaps, yes, but none that are major.

And now that it's out, what do you hope the book will achieve, both for its author and its subject?
For the author – I don’t know and genuinely am genuinely not bothered beyond a point. I don’t think I write to get anywhere. I don’t make a living from my books. It’s got mostly positive reviews, which is good. I hope it sells well. That’s all. For the subject – this is more important: We have seen a renewed interest in the cinema of the Ramsays in recent times; they have always had a cult following, but little recognition from the industry itself. I do hope people who read the book appreciate their contribution to Indian cinema: It’s huge. I don’t expect people to start loving their films after reading the book, but I hope people appreciate them for who they were and what they did, and achieved. And not just the Ramsays, even someone like Ajay Agarwal. He was outstanding, wasn’t he?

Couldn't agree more. Thanks a ton Shamya, for taking time out to do this. Here's hoping the book finds its audience and does some 'monstrous' business.
Thanks, Suresh.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Don't Disturb the Dead [Shamya Dasgupta]

While there are flaws in Shamya Dasgupta's Don't Disturb the Dead (DDtD), a book on the Ramsay Brothers and their films, I am on the whole pleased because it was a volume that needed to be written. Most times, in the name of books related to the history of Indian cinema, we only get biographies, or rather hagiographies, of famous film stars. Also audiences, especially those born after the 80's, are unaware of the significant contribution, warts and all, made by the Ramsays towards acceptance of horror in the Indian context (Some young 'uns even think Indian horror initiated with Ram Gopal Varma's Bhoot).

DDtD is thorough in its portrayal of the Ramsay heritage, starting with patriarch FU Ramsay (the family was originally called Ramsinghani and came from pre-partition Lahore. The surname was shortened to Ramsay for the convenience of the British clients at FU's radio store, and has stuck ever since). It chronicles how FU and later his children (Kumar, Tulsi, Shyam, Keshu, Gangu , Arjun and Kiran) got into film-making and how they hit upon their patented horror film formula. The making of a Ramsay film was literally a family affair, with the sons working together in various aspects and even the women of the house pitching in with the hospitality arrangements (Keshu's wife Kavita later did costume design for some films). Tulsi and Shyam were joint directors on most Ramsay flicks; from what we read here, Shyam was the more horror-focused, while Tulsi concerned himself with ensuring the right mix of other ingredients - song & dance, comedy, sexual frisson - that would make their films commercially viable. Keshu Ramsay after a point left the family and started his own production, dropping the Ramsay surname for the films he made, including several Khiladi ventures with Akshay Kumar and then the blockbuster Khakee (which he produced).

DDtD covers the making of several Ramsay features with special attention going to their landmark presentations including Do Gaz Zameen Ke Neeche, Purana Mandir (PM) and Veerana, and later their hugely popular tele-serial Zee Horror Show. There are enlightening interviews with Ramsay stars like Mohnish Bahl, Aarti Gupta-Surendranath and of course Aniruddha (Ajay) Agarwal, the iconic monster-man of several Ramsay features like PM, Saamri and Bandh Darwaza. All of them are very complimentary towards the Ramsay family, about the atmosphere in which those films were shot, how even under the conditions of low budget and short shooting schedules, they did the best they could. It was especially heartening to see input from Aarti Gupta. With Ramsay films like PM, Saamri and Tahkhana she was, for a short spell, the Scream Queen of Indian horror, but soon after, she quit acting, married ad-man Kailash Surendranath, and became a producer and well-known Mumbai socialite. One feared she would be dismissive of these links to her low-brow horror past, but she fondly recalls the warm convival spirit of the shoots, and even though she regrets the negative impact of doing low-budget horror on her acting career, she never has anything bad to say about her experience (unlike beefcake Hemant Tarzan Birje, who blames the Ramsays for his career decline - he did Tahkhana and Veerana with them - and refused to provide any input for the book).

The interviews with the Ramsay family members and their collaborators form the highlight of the book, for which the author must be commended. There is a good amount of anecdotal information presented with a refreshing absence of condescension towards the subject. It is also worthwhile to pick up the paperback for the several memorable stills collated from the shooting and publicity events, which will surely thrill Ramsay fans. However, repetitiveness and padding are an issue. Too many times we are made to hear that the Ramsay policy was to "make them cheap and fast", how their audience was restricted to adult males or young couples, their essential criteria for selecting lead actors being solely "how smart or sexy they looked". The other caveat is the stupendously boring extended exploration of the life and career of all the current generation Ramsay kids (of whom only Shyam's daughter Saasha is currently into horror).

A few things I would have liked to see here: a better critical appraisal of the films themselves. Some of the Ramsay films (like Dahshat and PM) are arguably superior to the others in terms of their construction and impact, and needed to be discussed in that context. Interviews with regular Ramsay stable actors like Deepak Parashar and Anil Dhawan would have been nice. While there is chapter devoted to how the Ramsays got their masks and latex props fabricated by a Mr. Chris Tucker (no relation to the Rush Hour actor, I presume) I wish more had been explored about the make-up work in their films (for instance, what was the semen-like goo covering evil guy Nevla when he emerges from his coffin in Bandh Darwaza?). It's great that Shamya could get quotes about the influence of Ramsay movies from famous film buffs like Sriram Raghavan, Ram Gopal Varma and Sajid Khan, but his repeated reliance on the opinion of blogger Beth Watkins is puzzling, considering she has no specific interest in Indian horror. It would have been more relevant to talk to Omar Ali Khan, who has reviewed a lot of Indian horror on his website, or to the people at Mondo Macabro who licensed several Ramsay films for their Bollywood Horror DVD sets.

Mr. Dasgupta also sometimes displays a degree of naive extrapolation that borders on ludicrous. While Aarti Gupta was apt for her parts in the Ramsay films, suggesting that she could otherwise have fitted into a pantheon of female Indian megastars including Sridevi and Madhuri Dixit is outright laughable. His speculations on the fate of the Ramsay family heritage and the future of their offspring should have also been left on the editing table.

Its misses notwithstanding, DDtD serves as a frequently entertaining and informative look at India's pioneers of the horror film and should definitely picked up by people interested in the topic.

A word of warning: Please skip the introduction written by a dolt called Jai Arjun Singh - it's rambling and pretentious, and more interested in flaunting the writer's knowledge of films than having anything relevant to say about the book that follows.


Thursday, June 8, 2017

Marriage of Maria Braun [dir. Reiner Werner Fassbinder]

I am ashamed to say I only recently cracked open my Reiner Werner Fassbinder blu-ray boxset released in Mar 2016 (In my defence I received it only around a year late, since I'd originally had it shipped to a friend living overseas to avoid it getting nicked or exorbitantly taxed at customs). This too was after a fellow member on a forum put me a query about the framing/AR of Marriage of Maria Braun. Anyhoo, I ended up watching the film and oh wow, it was terrific.

At the beginning of the film Maria (the amazing Hanna Schygulla), a gutsy and self-reliant gal, is getting married to Hermann Braun in the midst of an Allied bombing raid. Immediately after, Hermann goes off to fight and is reported killed. Maria, who is very clear about doing whatever is needed to survive and maintain her family, takes up with an American soldier who is good to her. But Hermann returns, and in the altercation that follows, the American is killed by Maria. Hermann takes the rap and goes to jail. Maria then takes up with a businessman Oswald, becoming both his hard-headed business adviser and sensual mistress, and doing a sterling job of both. But her heart remains with Hermann and she plans to be with him when he is released. A pivotal moment between Oswald and Hermann leads to Hermann scooting off to Canada after his release, and it is only later that he returns to Maria. When Maria learns the circumstances of his going away and return, it leads to a veritable explosive climax.

FB has said that in the later phase of his prolific film-making career (40 features and 2 TV series in 15 years, his shorts and theater work aside) he was less interested in promoting ideologies and more interested in the story-telling, and MoMB is a fine example of story-telling. Maria is a fascinating character, cold and iron-willed from one perspective, passionate and faithful from another, and on both fronts utterly honest. She never lies about her actions or intentions, but her personal magnetism is so strong, men are attracted like moths to her flame. It's a fantastically written and portrayed role, the sort I would love to see in an Indian movie. Technically MoMB is well done, with some arresting lengthy takes and the look of a ravaged Germany, but the story and performances are what grab the most.