The NITK Numbskulls Page

Non-Objective Reviews – Bossypants, ChungKing Express, Saat Khoon Maaf, Blue Oranges

Posted in analysis, movies, Reading, Review by wanderlust on May 24, 2011

I’ve been exceedingly tied up with this and that and god alone knows what else, though I feel like I’ve not gotten any darn thing done. But over the past couple of months, I’ve managed to watch and read stuff.
Most of it has been random shite I wouldn’t rewatch or reread. But some stuff has penetrated my numb skull and made an impression on me. I’m a sucker for small details which I don’t explicitly notice, but which give me a glimpse of a feeling of something, somewhere I want to be. A flick of the wrist, a hint of jealousy in a voice, some microexpression, pastel colour schemes… they don’t even register, but go on to hit me like a ton of bricks, drawing the seemingly arbitrary line between “good” and “godawesome”.
So… here goes.

Blue Oranges
I hunted this one up just for the title. It sounded genuinely hatke. It’s a whodunit, with Rajit Kapoor as the detective, only it’s more Roger Akroyd and Poirot’s Last Case than his well-known Byomkesh Bakshi. It is shot very well, the white balance makes the images very sharp. And the characters apart from Rajit Kapoor and Rati Agnihotri aren’t known faces. Due to this, it genuinely feels like a whodunit… you can’t assume anything about any of the characters, you’ll be willing to go wherever the story takes you.

Saat Khoon Maaf
This movie sort of lived up to expectations, though watching a bad print sort of dilutes the experience. But what I liked the best was not Priyanka Chopra’s performance, though she does do well here. It was the characters of the servants – the butler, Usha Uthup and the dwarf jockey which gave it a real feel for me. When the butler is poisoned, it sort of hit home for me, the evilness of Naseeruddin Shah’s character. Usually the support staff in any movie are either just in the background and nothing happens to them; they are in the same state in the end as in the beginning, or their deaths are inconsequential, some sort of a sideshow. But here, it’s a turning point in the movie. Whoa.
And Vivaan Shah. The character of the narrator was so incredibly well-etched. The dark way in which he talks about each death in a casual way mirrors the sort of feel in the original Susanna’s Seven Husbands story, where the narrator is just a bystander, but the muffled irritation he has to every husband of Susanna’s (and is conveying the same to his wife) earns my empathy, makes the story personal in a way going deeper in to Susanna’s mind couldn’t have.

Bossypants:
Tina Fey’s memoir. It’s not a bodice-ripping tell-all tale or anything. It’s exactly what you expect from a comedy writer. She writes about her early life, her path to SNL, life at SNL, 30Rock, playing Sarah Palin.. and then reflecting on her life, child(ren)…. the stories aren’t spicy or edge-of-seat. But it’s the way she writes them that keeps you glued to the book. Her writing style when she is trying to be funny is reminiscent of Woody Allen. When she’s not being all WoodyAlleny, she has a very conversational, stream-of-consciousness way of writing. You can as well imagine her saying these things on some talk show or the other. Her pragmatic approach to feminism appealed to me, mainly because I haven’t heard these sorts of points of view elsewhere, and it gives my (very similar) points of view some validation.
I’ve always found Tina Fey pretty, and wondered where all those ugly-jokes came from – on 30Rock, everyone makes derisive references to her looks including herself, and she herself talks about her looks in a self-deprecating way. That, mind you, was a little unsettling… it felt like she was just playing the Geek Girl card while being Hollywood-ugly (the sort who only needs to take off her glasses to look like a leading lady), not real-ugly. But only until I saw what she looked like before she began doing Weekend Update on Saturday Night Live… overweight, badly-dressed, with a haircut that didn’t quite suit her… and realized, well, she does know what she’s going on about; it’s not just exploitation.
This gives her a self-deprecating yet mean and nasty sort of a sense of humour, that is enchantingly delightful. She disses Paris Hilton, she disses random people on the Internet who’ve left nasty comments about her… you don’t always want to agree with her, but her insults are fun to hear and file away in memory to use sometime later.

Chungking Express
This is a famous movie, apparently. It’s one of those very few Chinese movies famous outside of China which aren’t about martial arts… here, you must keep in mind that the only Chinese movies I’ve watched are Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon and those ones dubbed in Tamil that show on Vijay TV on Sundays.
This one’s made in and set in Hong Kong. It’s got two stories, told one after the other, and they pretty much don’t intersect except for one brief moment.
The stories are normal, usual, whatever you call it…. they didn’t much make an impact on me. What did was the dialogues… my favourite is where one of the protagonists is arguing with the cashier in a departmental store about the feelings of a can of pineapple. The cinematography is good too. It gives me a feeling of deja vu; I seem to have seen this movie before I came to UCI – When I was at Hong Kong airport for my transit, this was one of the first shots I took, and the movie seems to look like that, only much more ’90s-looking and with better white balance and contrast.
Yeah, the dialogues are good, but I think the poignancy in the movie comes from the heckuva lot of stuff that is left unsaid. It’s been ages since I’ve watched a movie with latent emotion portrayed in a believable way. You know that scene in Sarkar where AB senior and AB junior realize that Kay Kay Menon is the one who betrayed them or something? That whole scene passes without a single word, just ominous background score and ‘powerful’ glances exchanged between them. That’s ‘latent emotion’ alright, but I didn’t find it one bit believable…. it came off as too forced.
In the climax of Chungking Express, he asks her if they would accept a boarding pass that looks like the one she gave him a year back, and then she says a very casual ‘maybe’ after which she writes him a new boarding pass on a tissue… that scene to me was pure magic.
And, of course, the strains of California Dreaming playing throughout the second half… I liked very much.

I liked the first story much better than the second one. Maybe because like the protagonist there, my twenty-fifth birthday isn’t all that far away. Maybe because of the pineapple dialogue. Maybe because of the pithy philosophy he spouts while nursing a broken heart, same as I do even when not nursing a broken heart – “Running is good. The body loses so much fluid when you run so that there’s none left for tears”. Maybe because Takeshi Kaneishiro is way better looking than Tony Leung. Maybe because on some days, I feel like Brigette Lin, with the whole world against me and so tired that I want to just sleep, though I might not remember to wish people on their birthdays when I wake up. Maybe because I found Faye Wong’s character in the second half way too creepy and stalkerly… maybe a few years back, I’d’ve found her character as alluring and enigmatic as the director wants you to think she is, but all I feel now is she is crazy, creepy and needs a restraining order.

After watching this flick, I’ve pretty much made up my mind that I’m going to fly to India the next time transiting at Hong Kong, with a really really really long layover and a transit visa. And take pictures of the streets and neon lights downtown at night. And edit them to make them seem as psychedelic as possible without making it look like Tokyo….thinking of which city gives me the shudders; the ghost of the Ryu Murakami books I’ve read so far still refuse to stop haunting me.

I’ll leave you with a clip of Quentin Tarantino talking about Chungking Express.

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