Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Umesh Kulkarni's DEOOL-Worm's Eye View

We have long been threatening our readers with our intentions to write on something we have been telling ourselves for ages. About the ‘Element of Surprise’, which we christen the ‘Sixth Element’. So important has it always seemed to us the Scheme of Things so far as the survival of life on this planet is concerned, that we decided to put it in the same league as the five usual suspects, Fire, Water, Air, Earth and Sky. The theory has been sprinkled here and there on earlier occasions in IK, last articulation being in the post which ran as under:

Theory goes like this: Species develop in life’s quest to adapt to the changes in environment, if any. Therefore, ‘variation’ in the genetic set up or in the gene pool helps the process of adaptation. The more ‘startling’ the change, the more exciting and enduring it could be. That’s why the ear responds to a surprising taan, or an unexpectedly introduced swara, or a departure from the ‘sam’.

The element of surprise can rear its head anywhere, in music, in literature, in movies, in cuisine, it’s so basic. Take the case of this famous urdu she-r:

Humko unse hai wafa ki ummeed,
jo nahi jaante wafa kya hai!

If the horse is put before the cart in the propah fashion, see, mince hark,  how it sounds:

Humko jinse hai wafa ki ummeed,
wo nahi jaante wafa kya hai!

Goodness…I sayyyy...!...did you just hear a gaali in पारिवारिक शब्दावली,  picked up from the kuchas of Delhi 110006? That’s what Ghalib customarily utters when he turns in his grave, he, he, he…

Phlatttt beer, because the she-r has been emasculated and purged of the element of surprise inherent in the original construct.

One of our favourite humorists, Stephen Leacock (Canada, 1869-1944) wrote this in his celebrated essay ‘Humour As I See It’:

Few people realise how extremely difficult it is to tell a story so as to reproduce the real fun of it--to "get it over" as the actors say. The mere "facts" of a story seldom make it funny. It needs the right words, with every word in its proper place. Here and there, perhaps once in a hundred times, a story turns up which needs no telling. The humour of it turns so completely on a sudden twist or incongruity in the denouement of it that no narrator, however clumsy, can altogether fumble it.

Take, for example, this well-known instance--a story which, in one form or other, everybody has heard.

"George Grossmith, the famous comedian, was once badly run down and went to consult a doctor. It happened that the doctor, though, like everybody else, he had often seen Grossmith on the stage, had never seen him without his make-up and did not know him by sight. He examined his patient, looked at his tongue, felt his pulse and tapped his lungs. Then he shook his head. 'There's nothing wrong with you, sir,' he said, 'except that you're run down from overwork and worry. You need rest and amusement. Take a night off and go and see George Grossmith at the Savoy. 'Thank you,' said the patient, 'I am George Grossmith.'"

Let the reader please observe that I have purposely told this story all wrongly, just as wrongly as could be, and yet there is something left of it. Will the reader kindly look back to the beginning of it and see for himself just how it ought to be narrated and what obvious error has been made? If he has any particle of the artist in his make-up, he will see at once that the story ought to begin:

"One day a very haggard and nervous-looking patient called at the house of a fashionable doctor, etc. etc."

In other words, the chief point of the joke lies in keeping it concealed till the moment when the patient says, "Thank you, I am George Grossmith." But the story is such a good one that it cannot be completely spoiled even when told wrongly. This particular anecdote has been variously told of George Grossmith, Coquelin, Joe Jefferson, John Hare, Cyril Maude, and about sixty others. And I have noticed that there is a certain type of man who, on hearing this story about Grossmith, immediately tells it all back again, putting in the name of somebody else, and goes into new fits of laughter over it, as if the change of name made it brand new.

But few people, I repeat, realise the difficulty of reproducing a humorous or comic effect in its original spirit.

The theory we are floating is that THAT’S what happened with DEOOL, the 2011 Marathi movie, which was the recipient of many an accolade, but the ‘çlickkk’ sound never came out of the screen...granted, the idea was powerful enough to qualify for a Consolation Prize alluded to in the second set of italics above. But again it was sanitised of our ‘Sixth Element’. It was deprived of 'class'.

Directed by Umesh Kulkarni (who earlier directed ‘Valu’) it is the story of a simple villager Kesha who dreams that the God Dattatreya has arrived in the village. The innocent belief of the villagers shapes up into a market opportunity for businesses as well as politicians. The temple Kesha helped set up takes on glam dimensions, and at the inaugural, Kesha finds himself sidelined and forgotten. Kesha steals the idol and flees....It won the 59th National Film Award for Best Feature Film 2011.

The movie got rave reviews and local Mumbai daily DNA gave it 4 out of 5 stars post haste. Only one site quarrelled with the climax, which is the point we started with.

The movie is in the so-called ‘linear’ format, that is in chronological order in this case, सुता सारखं सरळ, they say in Marathi. That is the plain and unsophisticated way of doing it. It may be okay for untrained audiences, but the seasoned and serious movie-goers, particularly those overseas, aren’t enamoured of this straight and narrow business. No, we are not discounting the content part, but the message lies in the form as well, not only in the medium. Imagine Citizen Cane starting anywhere else but in the death scene. There would have been no Citizen Cane, but for Rosebud!

If we are given the rights to the movie (don't worry, we won't gettit, the only bank clerk that gadhaod his teeth into IT is Amol Palekar), we would love to experiment with the sequence of the shots or sub-narratives. According to IK, the movie should open with the last sequence where Kesha is on the run with idol. The original Deool resembles the toothless narrative  Leacock presents as the parody. We would rather edit it into a flashback format. The changes should make the movie more gripping. If THAT appears far-fetched and sounds pretentious or plain idle, just look at the forms taken by the iconic Italian movie, “Once Upon a Time in America”, the travails and vicissitudes it went through. Sau roop bhare jeene ke liye…The characters of this movie just grow on you, and it is hard to get out those endearing mobsters from your ‘shyshtem’……

This Sergio Leone movie was originally 4 hours 29 minutes and was in the flashback format. In order to appease distributors, and to enable it to get the ‘R’ certification in USA, it was trimmed down to 3 hours and 49 minutes. Still the second version was considered too long for the American mind, and was whittled down to 2 hours 19 minutes when it was released in the USA in 1984. Alas, the complex flashback form had to be sacrificed for the chronological format, to aid comprehensibility, and so heartbroken was Sergio Leone with the American cuts, that he did not make any other movie in his life again, he died in 1989. Leading US movie critic Pauline Kael had complained about the massacre: "I don't believe I've ever seen a worse case of mutilation." In 2011, Leone’s heirs bought the American rights of the movie, and with the help of the Martin Scorsese Foundation, restored the 269 minutes flashback version. However, on account of copyright issues, it had to be pulled out of Cannes, and 18 minute footage had to be deleted again. The restoration is still under way, on last reports.

As we know, the editing maketh the movie. Every single movie after 1981 nominated for the Best Film Oscar, was also nominated for Best Editing. As Quentin Tarantino puts it, "The best collaborations are the director-editor teams, where they can finish each other's sentences," Most of the movie-making greats cut their directorial teeth in the editing room, Martin Scorsese, Robert Wise (Sound of Music), closer home, Shimit Amin, Rajkumar Hirani and Hrishikesh Mukherjee, to name a few. Even Spielberg worked as an editing intern in Universal Studios before he became an accredited Director.

But, then, why single out Deool? The बाळबोध style really is the normal unsophisticated Marathi movie the Spielberg of Marathi cinema and theatre...Jabbar Patel! Snaps from our favourite:



vidushi said...

Hello Kaka, good you are now talking about movies also. Nice one. Have you ever discussed with an authority?

sanjiv bokil said...

Thanks, how are you? Oh, I had earlier proposed tweaking some other movies also on our blog. One was: Shah Rukh should have read khutba after India's Woman hockey team victory in Chak de. That omission, possibly deliberate, stood between Chak de India and the status as a Classic. Anyone buyers...?