Film Education


The Blue Umbrella

A film by Vishal Bhardwaj

Based on the novella by Ruskin Bond

The highlight of the film for me is the beginning credit sequence and the end scene which creates with its magic a special place in my heart. Those are the few moments which live up to my lyrical poetic quality of imagination of the simple yet touching novella of Ruskin Bond by the same name. It is after seeing the end do you realize the special significance of the beginning which adds to the experience.

It is always a challenge to adapt a great literary work onto screen as the reader’s imagination is set free and the filmmaker has to live up to that expectation.

Vishal Bharadwaj has been quite dedicated to his source that is the novella and has been honest to the soul of the work and is an effective film. But there are certain scenes or character emphasis that are different in the film. For one the film seems to be more about

Nandkishore Khatri, a miserly old man who owns a tea stall in a village who is envious of  the blue umbrella that Biniya possesses. The credit sequence and the actual film start by introducing Khatri to the audience while the novella starts with Biniya. In the film you identity more with Khatri and less with Biniya. The performance of Pankaj Kapoor is also a key factor which draws you to his character rather than the actress Shreya Sharma who did not touch a chord with me personally.

What was missing for me was the film did not exploit the poetic quality and cinematic tools to present the beautiful object of the blue umbrella. As it is not a mere object but much more, it symbolizes desire and temptation and at the same time also symbolizes pure beauty which is touched upon in the lines of  Khatri when he is told by Nandu his helper that its not very valuable and why want it, I quote from the novella

“Of what use is a poppy in a cornfield? Of what use is a rainbow? Of what use are you numbskull? Wretch! I, too, have a soul. I want the umbrella, because – because I want its beauty to be mine.” This also brings in the dimension of the human need to want more than material objects at the same time the material desire to possess beauty for power.

The novella and the film take the two protagonists on a journey of self discovery where they share the object of beauty ‘the blue umbrella’ and let go of the need to possess it. However inspite of not cinematically being able to project the blue umbrella as a special object the film does remain true to its message which is special.

Another difference in the novella is that Nandu, Khatri’s helper steals the umbrella but is caught by Biniya’s brother but in the film we see that Nandu gets away and we see now the red/pink umbrella which Khatri claims to have bought for himself to prove that he is wrongly accused by Biniya and is not a thief but has enough money to buy one himself. This is not a big offtrack but is a slight variation to the structure which introduces another red umbrella in the film but is not such a bad choice but does add another shade to the story.

There is one small scene where Binya runs behind her umbrella when its blown away by the wind which I felt had good cinematic lyrical possibilities but I did not find the scene in the film.

I quite like the way the film ends inspite of it not being like the novella and that brings me to my closing scene with a beautiful winter landscape which serves as a poetic backdrop as beautiful as the realization that the action conveys and adding a symbolic  visual metaphor and mood to complete the experience. These are small liberties a filmmaker could take to make the film cinematically strong. The novella ‘s closing scene is when Khatri (in the novella  named ‘Ram Bharosa’) as a thankyou gesture presents Biniya with her lucky charm as she had given it up in exchange to picnickers from whom she got the blue umbrella.

Both the novella and the film are lovely in their own right but I did expect the songs and visual treatment of the film to have more of a visual poetic quality as the subject I feel requires that.

My last words would be ‘it was an inspiring tale of hope and beauty’ and happy to have experienced it in literature and film’. The novella gave you something to build your imagination and make it true and the film made you live with the characters and spaces which made it real. Will the blue umbrella and Biniya of my imagination be more truthful or the living portrayal of Nandkishore Khatri  and the winter landscape make the experience more truthful, only time will tell, but both will live in different ways in my subconscious  and probably meet to form a third existence.

Please note this is not a detailed study of the comparison between the novella and the film but some highlights that remain with me as an experience in the two mediums


Moviemakers’s Master Class By Laurent Tirard

Film Book Review by Oorvazi Irani

Film Book Review

Reading the book is like having the privilege of being in the company of some great filmmakers and being part of understanding their world of filmmaking. It’s a beautiful glimpse into insights, thoughts and techniques of the art and craft of filmmaking featuring a master class with Woody Allen, Wong Kar-Wai, Oliver Stone, Jean –Luc Godard, Wim Wenders, Sydney Pollack, Bertolucci and many more. In the words of one of the interviewees John Boorman “Wait a minute. You just stole all my little secrets here!”

A flavour of the book  follows:

What strikes you as a reader is that sometimes there are recurring thoughts and ideas which emphases their importance like what Martin Scorsese says “…you may find that the biggest problem of young filmmakers is that they have nothing to say. And invariably their films will be either very unclear or very conventional and geared towards a rather commercial marketplace. So I think the first thing you need to ask yourself if you want to make a film is “Do I have anything to say”. And it doesn’t necessarily have to be something literal that can be expressed through words. Sometimes you just want to communicate a feeling, an emotion. That’s sufficient. And believe me that’s hard enough.”

And another often repeated simple yet profound truth is as I quote Sydney Pollack

“I think there are basically two kinds of filmmakers: those who know and understand a truth which they want to communicate to the world, and those who are not quite sure what the answer to something is and who make the film as a way to try and find out. That’s what I do.”

Wong Kar Wai besides being a director of the second kind like Pollack, always searching and discovering more so while shooting, editing, sometimes three months after the first screening, also reveals a very significant yet often less understood aspect of filmmaking by young filmmakers. Wong Kar Wai says and I quote “ I have a rather unusual approach to screen writing (as he writes his own scripts). You see, I write as a director, not as a writer. So I write with images. And to me, the most important thing about the script is to know the space it takes place in. Because if you know that, then you can decide what the characters do in that space. The space even tells you who the characters are, why they’re there, and so on….So I have to scout locations even before I start writing. ..”

Takeshi Kitano speaks about his unique approach to filmmaking which is as follows

“…..At my level, I am happy if I can find only two or three images, maybe not perfect but in any case very powerful, to form the foundations of the film. For eg. In Kikujiro’s Summer, I knew even before writing the screenplay that I wanted to include the moment when the character I play walks off alone along the beach and the child runs after him to take his hand. This image, as well as a few others, was my reason for making that particular film. With that in mind, I invented a plot and wrote scenes to create a link between the images. But in the end, the story is almost an excuse. My cinema is much more a cinema of images than a cinema of ideas.”

There is a separate chapter dedicated to Jean-Luc Godard exploring the following:

Loving cinema is already learning to make films

You want to make a film? Pick up a camera

Making a film out of desire – or out of need

Duties of the director

The importance of the exchange

Directing actors is like training athletes

Moving the camera for the sake of it is a mistake

The danger of wanting to be an auteur

I would  like to end by quoting Claude Sautet as a film auteur and would want the reader  to ponder on this thought.

“The sets change, the characters too, but the same underlying themes return. Infact,  inspite the energy that I have put into each new project to make it different, in the end I have been making the same film all my life.”