Filed under: Professional Talk | Tags: artistic films, Bergman Foundation, Dheeraj, Dheeraj Akolkar, documentary film, documentary on Liv and Ingmar, film on Liv and Ingmar, filmmaker's jounrey, filmmaking, films on films, Ingmar Bergman, Liv, Liv and Ingmar, Liv Ullmann, oorvazi irani
I met Dheeraj through his film “Liv and Ingmar” and immediately connected, and made him a friend for life. In spite of not having met him I yet feel that I know him so well. One of the few films in modern times that will remain with me for a lifetime is this film which is in the form of a documentary because of its real life dynamics but goes beyond that in its cinematic and artistic experience. The tenderness and yearning for truth is at the core of this film and moved me. The theme of Love so precious to human beings is unfolding on screen through the beautiful prism of the lover Liv Ullmann and the filmmaker Dheeraj. I invited Dheeraj to speak about his journey as a filmmaker, an artist who made this film a reality and what I share with you is an inspiring real life story of deep faith, sincerity,passion and love. …Oorvazi Irani
1. Every film has a journey for an artist and the process when reflected upon is a great self realization. Would you like to share with us some of the secrets it revealed to you about yourself and the world, before you started working on this film.
‘Liv & Ingmar’ was very important on many levels. To be able to envisage a film and then to actually make it are both things that can stay on a piece of paper or in the heart of many filmmakers. I was struggling to get the film made.
I wanted very badly to make films. Your question takes me back to those times in London when things got so difficult that for a moment I thought that this world is not going to let me put two pieces of images together with a little sound on it. It got that bad.
I developed and sent out 22 film projects in 18 months to different funding agencies. This could come off as desperation. And it was. I wanted to make films. I met with producers who played with my situation. They came on board and did nothing. Then they left me in lurch. I would write emails and make several phone calls that would all go unanswered.
Do you know this feeling inside your heart, when you have so much to say and so much to give and so much to do, but all you meet are walls… dead, cold walls, that you don’t know where to begin, what doors to knock on and if there are any doors.
But I believe in action. I believe in doing. I also have friends who yank me out when necessary by saying one or two harsh things.
So I kept trying.
I wrote the theme of ‘Liv & Ingmar’ as a poem, then my friend Christina Christensen brought for me Liv’s address from Norway and in complete naivety I wrote her a letter. Then Liv called and expressed her support. That point was a very bright point of hope. I thought to myself – “Liv has said YES, which means I can do this. So I am gonna…”
Then my friend Rocco helped me build a trailer together. We did this sitting in Goldsmiths college library where we both worked in the graveyard shift at the library reception.
Then I started taking the project out in the UK and I went to many people. Most said that this story belonged to Scandinavia and had nothing to do with the UK so I wouldn’t have any support.
Then I met Mr. Uberto Pasolini ( Producer of ‘The Full Monty’, ‘Bel Ami’ etc and Director of ‘Machan’ and ‘Still Life’ ) Uberto suggested I went to Sweden. Sitting in his office he dug out the contact details of Ms. Katinka Farago who worked as Mr. Bergman’s script girl since ‘Wild Strawberries’ and who later produced masterpieces such as ‘Fanny and Alexander’ and Andrei Tarkovsky’s ‘The Sacrifice’.
So I wrote to Katinka, who by then had retired and instead directed me to the Ingmar Bergman Foundation and The Swedish Film Institute in Stockholm.
That year I went to Cannes with my short film and walked up and down that croisette meeting different people, collecting addresses, seeking meetings and failing quite a lot
I returned to London and wrote to all the contacts I had found. 70 producers in Sweden and 10 producers in Norway and eventually they all said a big NO. In addition to saying NO, they were very keen to inform me that I was not going be able to make this film, that this film had no theatrical future and that it was not a story worth telling because “There was too much Bergman in the Market anyway..”
It kills you slowly. So many rejections. And suddenly the number people directly telling you that “you are a failure” increases rather rapidly. I had people laugh in my face and at times behind my back and that is not a pleasant thing at all.
My friend Marie Bonnel who was my guardian angel in London, used to organize dinners on Monday evenings because that used to be my day off from work, invited me over for one such lovely dinner at her place in South Kensington. There I met someone who had an invitation to the Swedish Ambassador’s house for a Book Release on Mr. Bergman. He could not go, and offered me to go instead. So I pulled out some decent clothes and took a bus to Mr. Ambassador’s residence.
It was a lovely evening and I spoke to the ambassador about my film who kindly asked his secretary to put me in touch with some important people in Stockholm, one of whom turned out to be Professor Maaret Koskinen.
So in 2009 I decided to go to Stockholm. My friend Love Kallmann offered me a place to stay in his house. I got cheap air tickets and went off.
Professor Koskinen was super supportive of the film and she introduced me to The Bergman Foundation and producers of ‘Saraband’ Mrs. Pia and Mr.Torbjorn Ehrnvall, who by then had also retired, but were encouraging.
Then in 2010 I was fired from my Library job due to recession. This whole time I was writing and filming and doing other things, but now I also needed the money.
My friend James Wallace was acting in a play called ‘The Peddler’s Tale’ at Edinburgh Fringe and his director was looking for someone to film the production, so I went to Scotland on the job and the first person James introduced to me was actress Ms. Ragnhild Lund from Oslo, Norway.
Ronnie, as she is called by her friends, offered to take my material to Norway, which she did and got a meeting with Mr. Stein-Roger Bull and Mr. Rune Trondsen of NordicStories who wanted to meet me.
They came on board as producers and the rest is history. But till the very last moment the struggle to make the film right did not end. Different forms of struggles came up…But now there were amazing collaborators on board and together we made ‘Liv & Ingmar’
To come back to your question, one of the greatest self realizations that this film gifted me was the knowledge that IT IS POSSIBLE !!!!!
It is possible to make a film you believe in making. It is possible to make it the way you believe its aught to be made. It is possible to do it RIGHT. It takes time, but that time helps the film more than anything else.
People can always laugh at you and call you a failure and take great happiness in your pain. But ultimately you are the only one who can fail yourself. And you have a greater responsibility, if you have to make the film.
In the end you realize that It’s not about you. It’s about the film.
2. How would you define Love ? When you are tackling a very delicate yet universal subject like Love – did the process enlighten you. Did it change any ideas you had or the film reemphasized your own experiences about love.
One of the main reasons why I wanted to make this film was Love. To have experienced it myself, I recognized what Liv had written in her book ‘Changing’ but I also recognized what she had not written.
‘Liv & Ingmar’ is not ‘Romeo and Juliet’ or ‘Heer Ranjha’ but it is a story of their kind of love, their kind of friendship. I find it real and very worldly. Far from perfect, filled with personal flaws and yet, beautiful and tender and forgiving and enveloping and unrequited on many levels.
I felt that a lot was strewn around in memoirs, scripts, letters, images, sounds and songs that could be woven together to look at a story from a tender point of view.
Our film is not a journalistic, court room account of truth. Our film is a journey of reminiscence with blurred edges, rounded corners and a walk in the woods with a tune to hum.
It certainly reinforced my belief that to love, one does not have to stay under the same roof. One does not have to be in the same city, country or continent. One does not have to be married or in a relationship with the person. Love is about two energies meeting in one single, bright point of truth. The rest of it is survival
To love it is indeed not necessary to have love in return. One can love because one is capable of loving and giving. Love does not have to be a calculation depending on what you get in the process.
It frees you up, liberates you in a way you never understand. When you take responsibility for your action of love, nothing else affects it. And that is a beautiful feeling…
I don’t define love. I want to quote Gulzar saab’s song from ‘Khamoshi’ where he writes – “Pyaar ko pyaar hi rehene do, koi naam na do…”
Connections are about one point of truth, rest is destiny!
3. Do you feel Love is different for the male and female gender and how ? As a filmmaker did you feel you did justice to the two points of view ? And did the absence of Ingmar Bergman affect the film in any particular way.
I don’t think love is different according to genders. Love is human.
My idea was to touch upon the inexplicable, the unsaid. I don’t think ‘Liv & Ingmar’ defines love. But after the film, you may come out having experienced it and more.
At the end of the film that person sitting in front of the camera in a black shirt is not a superstar or a legend. To me it’s a beautiful 73 year old woman and she seems to say – “Yes, I held his hand. I loved.”
It’s that simple.
That, you cannot challenge. That, you don’t challenge.
I don’t know what would have happened if Mr. Bergman was alive and a part of the film. Perhaps he would have added stories from his side. I would have loved to meet him and in some ways, I felt I did.
Having spoken to those close to him, I do know for sure that he missed Liv in the last days of his life.
In his whole house there is not a single image from his films, except one – In front of his bed, on a bare wall, is a photograph of Liv Ullmann and Erland Josephson touching their foreheads in that immortal scene from ‘Saraband’.
That is love.
4. I feel an artist is always reflected in his work, do you agree and how do you see that manifesting itself in this film ?
I am not good at analysis of my own self and my work. In fact for many reasons I avoid it. I am sure that a lot of me is in the film. How can it not be? But I would rather leave it there.
Making art is also about not knowing everything. Making art is about not having all the control. You make it from a point in yourself that you don’t understand, simply also because its not that concrete.
I felt deeply empty when ‘Liv & Ingmar’ finished. Perhaps that is a sign. And its best to leave it at that.
5. Liv commented that your film was a gift to her ? Could you share with us how and why ?
I will never know what she exactly meant when she said at the dinner before the premier that this film was a gift to her.
But I have my own take on it.
She was always looked at as one of Ingmar’s actresses, as one of the many women in his life. She was criticised heavily for living with him and having a child out of wedlock. Many people believed that she used him and many people said nasty things about her and continue to do that.
People forget that he went back to her 12 times. What does that say? People forget that he could have made these films with any other actress – why did he keep going back to Liv? People forget her contribution to those films and how much she brought to those roles. He himself writes in his autobiography that it would have been impossible to make these films without her.
She is the only woman to have ever directed an Ingmar Bergman script for cinema and she has directed two. They have a child together. The place where he declared his love for her, he built a home for her – a home that he lived and died in. They worked together for 42 years. She is in the last frame of his last film.
This kind of association does not happen in everybody’s life.
I am sure she must have been tremendously hurt by critical remarks from people, I am sure she must have felt insulted and humiliated. To such an extent that before his funeral a priest from the church in Faro island specially called her to inform her that she was not allowed to walk behind his coffin, because she was not married to him!!!
What must she have felt?
This world builds squares and if you don’t fit in, it is very quick to point fingers at you, to inform you that you are a failure in life because you did not follow the pretty squares…
Then comes someone wanting to make a film to celebrate what you had with the man. Someone recognises your contribution. Someone puts a camera on you and listens to your side of the story. Someone finally says, that what Liv and Ingmar had together, was something beyond that this world understands.
Perhaps there is no term yet coined for every emotion we feel. Perhaps there are things we don’t fully understand. Art allows us to experience that.
May be, that is why Liv felt that this film is a gift to her, not a critical whip-loving analysis, but a tender space that allowed a story to be told.
We were showing the film in Singapore at IIFA 2012. After the film, there was a question-answer session when a reporter asked Liv as to why she agreed to do this film with an unknown, young director from India and this is what she said,
“Sometimes you are 73 and you are standing on a bridge and you meet a stranger. He is a whole new generation than yours, he comes from a different country, from a different continent. He speaks a different language even and then he offers you his hand…”
“Sometimes you should take that hand and jump…”
I am happy Liv took my hand and jumped.
On behalf of everyone who made the film, I want to say that making ‘Liv & Ingmar’ was a gift to US
Here is the official film website
Filed under: Professional Talk | Tags: Farrukh Dhondy, From Aan to Lagaan, indian cinema, Indian cinema book, Indian film studies, Moti Gokulsingh, oorvazi irani, Trentham Books, Wimal Dissanayake
“From Aan to Lagaan is a unique critical guide to one of the greatest dream-factories in the world. It is the first time that a compilation has avoided the shame of hagiography and the obscurity of pretentious academia.” – Farrukh Dhondy
“From Aan to Lagaan and Beyond : a guide to the study of Indian cinema “ by K. Moti Gokulsing and Wimal Dissanayake
Published by Trentham Books
Exclusive Email interview with Moti Gokulsing, Author of the recently published book.
About the Author
K. Moti Gokulsing is Senior Visiting Research Fellow at the University of East London. He co- edits the journal South Asian Popular Culture and is the author of the acclaimed Indian Popular Cinema, also published by Trentham.
Wimal Dissanayake is Adjunct Fellow at the East-West Centre, Hawaii and founding editor of the East-West Film Journal.
It is an honour and pleasure to be part of this book in my humble efforts involving in the research and my extensive interview with Govind Nihalini which is an integral part of the book – Chapter One ‘From Vision to Screen Reality’
1) What is the need for such a book ?
This is a study guide and is aimed at helping the increasing number of students many of whom are of non-Indian origins understand the complex relationship between Indian culture and Indian cinema
2) What are the concerns the book addresses ?
While Indian cinema is taught in many institutions as part of Media Studies/ World cinema/ South Asian studies, the Study Guide makes a case for it to be taught as part of a Film Studies approach. As such, it introduces students to the variety of concepts andtheories relevant to a Film Studies approach. One its strengths is the interview which Oorvazi Irani conducted with the internationally known filmmaker Govind Nihalani . Having done both Popular and Parallel cinema , he identified some of the reasons why theyare different and why the vast majority of popular films fail at the box office-an issue which has been rarely addressed
3) Could you share with us your beginnings and background as a writer and academic ?
As an academic teaching in a Department of Teacher Training and Education , my publications focused on teaching and university issues. At a conference at SOAS some years ago, I met Professor Wimal Dissanayake. At that time I wanted to introduce my 2 daughters to Indian cinema and as there was scant literature available , Wimal and I decided to write a book-Indian Popular Cinema-A narrative of cultural change which became a bestseller
4) What have been the challenges and Joy of writing this book
Coming as I do from Mauritius where success in education was measured by how much French you knew, I had very little knowledge of Indian history and culture. This was a formidable challenge and I still have much to learn
5) Which are your favourite Indian films ?
My favourite films relate mainly to early ones such as Garam Hawa andSholay and Rang De Basanti of recent ones
6) Is there a memory of the first Indian film you saw ?
The first Indian film I saw was Bandhan with Ashok Kumar and Leela Chitnis
7) Who is your favorite Bollywood actor and actress
Favourite actor-the early Amitabh Bachchan and actress Nargis
8) Where do you think Indian cinema stands today ?
The much maligned Indian Popular cinema has moved from the periphery to the centre of world cinema. Its choreography and technical innovations are outstanding.
9) What is the role that Indian cinema plays in the International cinema market today ?
Indian cinema is trying to meet a variety of goals: catering for the indigenous population, the increasing young population as well as the increasing middle classes
10) What is the impact of Indian cinema ?
Internationally, the diasporic Indian film makers and the diasporic audience will continue to boost post Bollywood
Indian cinema opens up a window onto the wider world . By watching Indian films and exploring them sensitively, we can attain a deeper understanding of Indian culture and values.
For me one of the most endearing aspects of Indian cinema is its captivating music.
The Book Details:
“From Aan to Lagaan and Beyond : a guide to the study of Indian cinema “
This authoritative and accessible guide is written especially to help students understand the complexities and intricacies of Indian cinema. It covers the vast range of the cinemas of India plus the meteoric rise of Bollywood, and discusses the key theoretical approaches to the analysis of films, the cinema audience and audience segmentation.
The book describes how an Indian movie is made and explains the technology entailed. All the major issues are discussed: the relationship between cast and crew, the contributions of playback singers, designers and choreographers. It offers original information on the impact of the corporatisation of the film industry and on censorship, taxation, insurance and advertising.
The fascinating case studies of filmic analysis illuminate the different theoretical approaches and concepts students need for analysing Indian film appropriately. And teachers will find that the comprehensive coverage, extensive bibliography and suggestions for further reading, the discussion of pedagogical issues about the teaching of Indian cinema and the sample questions make it an indispensible resource for teaching Indian cinema.
1. From Vision to Screen Reality
– The film making process
– The role of technology
– How an Indian movie is made
– Cast and crew
2. Theoretical approaches to the study of Indian cinema and its audience
– An introduction to some of the major theoretical approaches to the study of Indian cinema
– Audience/spectator studies and audience segmentation
3. When Bollywood goes to war – Bollywood’s contribution to nation building
– The contributions of Indian cinema to nation building
– An introduction to some of the most important nationalist and patriotic themes in Indian cinema
4. A Passage out of India
– Diasporic Indian filmmakers’ contributions to Indian Cinema
5. Iconic directors, composers, lyricists, playback singers, choreographers and designers
– From Aan to Lagaan and Beyond
6. From Theory to Practice
– Case studies of filmic analysis using some of the theoretical approaches discussed in Chapter 2
– How to study Indian cinema – some pedagogical considerations
7. Exporting filmic culture
– The corporatisation of the film industry/Insurance/the role of advertising and marketing
8. The Price of Globalisation
– The government strikes back: taxation, censorship and film classification
Filed under: Professional Talk | Tags: Ashvin Kumar, Bollywood, film appreciation, film education, filmmaking, independent filmmaker, independent filmmaking, Indian film director, little terrorist, oorvazi irani, The Forest
THE JOURNEY OF AN INDEPENDENT FILMMAKER by Ashvin Kumar
(watch his latest film “The Forest” on 4th May)
I would love o share with you Ashvin’s article on his journey as a filmmaker I think its inspiring to young independent filmmakers
Getting an Oscar nod is quite an overwhelming experience; particularly when it comes to you on your first film. Well, nearly first film.
The film I made before ‘Little Terrorist’ was ‘Road To Ladakh’. It starred Irrfan and Koel Purie. It almost didn’t get made; which is why the making-of is called ‘The Near Un-making of Road To Ladakh‘ take a look, it’s a hoot.
RTL is what I call my film-school, or what others would call ‘student-film’. Suffice to say, I had no clue what to do at the beginning of that experience. A few ideas, yes. Plus, hundreds of films watched and books read, sure and an oversupply of confidence absolutely. But in terms of making films, the seat-of-my-pants was the main mode of transport. Fortune favours the brave, they say, I think it favours the foolhardy.
Dragging a crew of forty people from various parts of the world to 15,000 feet, convincing them to fund their own air-fare (forget about fee), using tents for accommodation in the blistering cold and rain, disasters striking so often that it becomes normal. Small example: Irrfan Khan saying yes to the part, then agreeing to forgo his fee, then breaking his arm, then agreeing to come along regardless and then being attacked by altitude sickness that knocks him out cold. And yet, somehow, with dedication so rare in Bollywood, doing all that was expected of him without a fuss and turning in a brilliant performance. He deserves every award and commendation that has come his way since 2004, the year I made ‘Road To Ladakh’.
As I recall these snap-shots, the hair on the back of my neck stands up. So many things could have gone seriously wrong, how did anyone ever let me do that? I was so green, so raw. That film was funded on fumes, infectious enthusiasm and passion.
So, hard on the heels of a recognition like the nomination, comes the expectation of a repeat performance. That causes anxiety and pressure that have little or nothing to do with making films and telling stories. It has everything to do with an inflated perception of oneself and the fallacy that one has “arrived” so to speak.
The story of my debut feature film ‘The Forest‘ is as much a story of arrival at no-destination-in-particular, as it is about a remarkable collaboration of some seriously well-meaning, skilled and talented individuals drawn from around the world.
More than that, it taught me about life. It grew me up.
So, here I am, post-nomination. Do I decide to make my debut feature film about a couple in Delhi going through marital difficulty? One apartment, maybe a few car shots, maybe some second unit shots of Delhi night life – all very contained, focusing energies directing the actors, small budget. Performance driven human story about love and loss?
Instead, a remote, damp and freezing jungle location, a main character that is mostly hidden. When spotted its shown to have four legs and very large teeth. A convincing suspense thriller with what is intriguingly called a ‘love triangle’ in Bollywood. A movie that would teach me all about special effects, make up, prosthetics. All about computer graphics, compositing, visual effects, blue and green screens and how to direct an animal wrangler who in turn is trying to get a performance out of two very fierce and determined leopards.
I had no experience of a big film, I had never stepped onto a set of a crew of more than twenty people. Here we had close to two hundred. All I knew for sure is what I wanted to see on the screen. And I spent my energies on creating a team of people who would help me achieve that.
Everything the gurus will tell you to avoid, I did while making ‘The Forest‘.
I hope you enjoy watching it.
May the 4th be with you.
Filed under: Professional Talk | Tags: acting, acting appreciation, acting techniques, cinema magazine, film appreciation. Amitava Nag, film education, Michael Chekhov, oorvazi, oorvazi irani, Silhouette
WHAT IS ACTING my article published in the cinema magazine Silhouette
What is Acting
A process of discovery !
A yearning to look within oneself and an opportunity to experience the world within your own being.
If acting as a profession, as an art form can offer you the opportunity to self discovery and knowledge what better place to be in then here. But the history of acting has not been so fortunate and it still continues till the present times. Many actors are not true artists and are not being enriched but are suffering due to a wrong approach or a limited point of view.
Tracing the history of acting , the old style of acting training laid a heavy emphasis on codified pantomime and a set of gestures which if perfected created the replication of the emotional state and it was only geniuses who in these parameters went beyond the framework and reached the soul in inspired moments of truth. Aristotle defined acting as “the right management of the voice to express the various emotions.” And Romans were famous for their oratory skills and it is from the practice of these actors ancient orators borrowed the principles governing voice and gesture in public delivery. On the other hand the power of an oratory like Hitler can be seen who controlled the masses like an actor holds sway over his audience.
A major breakthrough in the history of modern acting is the “The System” introduced into the world with the great Russian actor teacher Constantan Stanislavsky in the early 20th century. He defined acting as “Living truthfully in imaginary circumstances”. What was radically different here was the shift to the focus now on the inner truthfulness of an actor and that the body would follow, it was an ‘Inside Out’ approach. However it was Lee Strasberg who was a key figure in introducing to America the Stanislavski System which he redesigned as “The Method” which emphasizes the ‘internal process’ and the use of the personal emotions of an actor to act. This method became very famous in Hollywood (and all over the world) and was popularized by the use of it by stars like Marlon Brando among others. This technique is used till date but it puts to question the inner state of an actor as a human being and is acting being used an art form in its true sense. Many actors have suffered from this method and face mental trauma when playing characters that have shades of negativity in them.
The challenges an actor faces are the demands to transform himself into other characters, to bring them to life by emoting truthfully. The point remains – Can an actor emotionally participate and remain detached? Can an actor immerse himself emotionally into playing several different characters and yet not lose his own identity? Can this process be fun instead of being painful?
Going back to the roots of ancient art forms provides the wisdom and a modern framework provides the way. Ancient artforms ranging from Japan to India (Natyashstra) view art to be treated and not naturalistic but the actor as an artist along with other artists involved in the process treat the raw emotions in their final work and elevate it to a state of being higher and above the mundane where even a negative emotion enriches the actor and audience. The personal ego is lost and the actor is operating from a universal higher self which is creative and enriching.
Michael Chekhov in the 20th century a great Russian actor, teacher, director, the nephew of Anton Chekhov the famous playwright and a student of Stanislavsky, seemed to have an interesting approach to these challenges and emphasized the art in acting. Chekhov being a student of Stanislavsky when he joined the Moscow Art Theatre owed a great deal to him but slowly developed his own theories and techniques of acting . Michael Chekhov devoted his whole life to developing and perfecting a revolutionary acting technique that did not rely on memory recall for creating emotions. At the core of the technique were the use of the actor’s ‘Imagination’ and the actor’s ‘Body’. Michael Chekhov believes that the approach to acting should be as a creative artist, that the actor’s identity is distinct from the character’s identity, and that the actor’s emotions are not to be used or confused in the creation of the character’ emotions. Chekhov used the psycho-physical approach to acting and put to powerful use the power of imagination rather logic and rationality to create artists of the true kind. Chekhov developed tools like the Psychological Gesture, The Imaginary Body, Imaginary Centre, Sensations to equip the actor to set himself free and expand his consciousness.
The actor creates an imaginary body in his imagination which is different from his own body. He collaborates with the imaginary body and then incorporates that in his own body.
The actor for the character selects a centre and determines its quality and then places that imaginary center in his own body and transforms from his limited personality to the character.
Every character has a Center. This is an area inside or outside the body where the character’s impulses for all movement originate. The impulse from this centre initiates all gestures and leads the body forward or backward, and to sit, walk, and stand etc. A proud character for instance can have his Centre in his chin or neck. The centre may be any shape or size, colour or consistency. A single character can have even more than one centre.
The Psychological Gesture can be understood as a movement that embodies the essence of a character. It gives the actor the basic structure of the character and can put the actor into the various moods required by the script.
The actor recreates the body sensation of balancing, falling and floating to effect his feelings and transform to a character.
By 1928, as head of the Second Moscow Art Theater, Chekhov’s innovative directing and teaching had provoked such severe criticism by the Communist government, he was forced to flee the country for safety. There followed ten years of wandering through Europe, with sojourns in Germany, France, Latvia, Lithuania and finally England. There, with the support of Beatrice Straight and the Elmhirst Family, Chekhov established his first acting school in English. The onset of World War II inspired the Elmhirsts to move the school to Ridgefield, Connecticut in 1938. Here and in New York, Chekhov trained numerous actors from the Group Theater and the Actors Studio before moving to Los Angeles in 1942.
In 1942 he was invited to Hollywood, where he became an acting coach to the stars, acted in many films, published his book, “To the Actor”. Prominent actors in Hollywood who studied with him were: Gary Cooper, Marilyn Monroe, Gregory Peck, Clint Eastwood, Anthony Quinn, Ingrid Bergman, Yul Brynner and many more. Michael Chekhov died in Hollywood, California in 1955, before his work became widely known.
“As Michael’s pupil. I learned more than acting…Every time he spoke, the world seemed to become bigger and more exciting…Acting became important…an art that increased your life and mind. Acting became more than a profession to me. It became sort of a religion.”
– Marilyn Monroe
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About the Author:
Oorvazi Irani is a freelance film educationalist, acting trainer, filmmaker and director of her home production company SBI Impresario Pvt. Ltd., (incorporated in 1975). She has introduced the Michael Chekhov Acting Technique to India, she conducts courses on the technique and has created and produced the Michael Chekhov Acting Technique dvd, the first of its kind in India which is a step by step guide to the technique.
Filed under: Professional Talk | Tags: Film and Television Institute of India, Film Appreciation Course, ftii, indian cinema, Indranil Bhattacharya, National Film Archives of India, NFAI, NFAI and FTII Film Appreciation course, oorvazi, oorvazi irani
1.Would you like to share with the readers how did the NFAI and FTII film appreciation course come to be born
The Film Appreciation Course (FAC), in its present form, was initiated by the National Film Archive of India (NFAI), Pune in 1975, as a part of its mandate to disseminate film culture and awareness among general public. The Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) was already educating filmmakers with a mission to promote ‘good cinema’, artists or ‘authors’ who will create their own unique idiom. Good cinema requires a good audience; evolved cine-goers who will appreciate and relate to the cinematic experience of New Indian Cinema and great cinema from all around the world that was increasingly available to audiences through film clubs and film festivals in the 1970s. The idea was filmmaking and film viewing cross-fertilizing each other.
The then Director of NFAI, P K Nair, sought collaboration with FTII, especially with the first teacher of Film Appreciation Prof Satish Bahadur.The idea was to form a team who will take care of the teaching and academic requirements. Moreover, FTII with its academic infrastructure was the natural choice as the partner. This was the beginning of the collaborative course which has now run for 36 years.
2. What is the difference between a film appreciation course and a filmmaking course
Filmmaking courses in FTII are comprehensive courses that not only teach hands-on filmmaking, but also aesthetics, theory and history of Cinema with a view to produce ‘rounded’ filmmakers. The pedagogy and academic philosophy of the FAC is stated in my response to your previous query. The accent in FAC is on understanding Cinema and the language of Cinema, its artistic, social and cultural contexts. Participants of FA course are not given instructions in any practical aspect of films eg. how to structure a script, how to design a shot or how to put images together in the most effective way (editing).
In FAC the stress is more on why a film script is structured, shot and edited in a certain way, the historical and cultural context in which the film was produced and received. A rudimentary history of cinema and how it evolved over the years is an important component without which a deeper understanding of Cinema is not possible. Although some participants do find these lectures ‘too academic and factual’ in nature, they are extremely important to connect Cinema to its ontological roots, both in terms of the other arts like painting, theatre, literature, while emphasizing the Cinema uniqueness as an independent art form. It is only in retrospect many participants realize how important these lectures were to their understanding of Cinema.
2. The film appreciation course has been there for many years now and is like an institution in itself, after taking charge as the Professor of Film Appreciation and current coordinator of the Film appreciation course what would you say is the special feature of the course. Have you brought any specific changes to its structure and emphasis.
I have just coordinated one course where I have followed the pattern followed by my eminent predecessors. While there is nothing essentially wrong with the basic pattern, I intend to make the course more interactive. This implies that in the future participants have to make individual presentations on films/directors, participate equally in group discussions, do a short mise-en-scene analysis of a short fiction film as a course end project etc. Those applying for the course in the future should be ready for more activities and stop taking it as a picnic at FTII as a few participants every year tend to do. You will be eligible for certificate from FTII/NFAI if you participate in all the activities. There are some basic pedagogic issues I am also thinking about but it is too early to talk about it.
3. Who is the film appreciation course designed for, could you kindly elaborate
The FAC is designed for people with a serious engagement with Cinema, it is not for people who are only looking for FTII tag. We expect them to be good communicators, so that they can take the knowledge acquired in FTII to others; through either conceiving and teaching FA courses themselves, organizing film societies or film clubs in their areas/Institutions, or if they are journalists or film reviewers we expect them to go beyond the prosaic and commonplace newspaper reviews. For practicing filmmakers without a formal training in films, this course serves to strengthen the theoretical understanding of Cinema.
An individual participant should be able to take the cause and philosophy of FAC/Cinema forward in some form or format. If the participant does not have a previous track record of ‘communicating’, he or she should be able to convey his or her conviction through the ‘statement of purpose’ in the application form. The important issue here is what do you want to do with the course – for yourself and for film culture in general.
4. What is the qualifications required to enroll for the course and how does it work
The only important qualification (apart from being 21 years of age), I can think of is the ability to understand lectures in English. We still have not found any alternative, as many people from South of India or from South Asian neighbours like Sri Lanka do not understand Hindi, which is our national language.
5. Would you like to share any information about the next course, the dates, the faculty, the duration, the timing , special guest lectures ( or is it too early to mention)
It is too early for the next course details, the timings etc are a function of FTIIs internal calendar. The course has to coincide with lean periods or vacations in FTII regular courses, now that we are almost doing away with vacations at FTII, the course timings may shift a little bit.
My final words about the course
There are now Film Appreciation Courses organized at various parts of the country by local bodies, sometimes in collaboration with FTII and NFAI. The admission in most of these courses are on ‘first-come-first-serve’ basis … there are no screening of application forms. These courses , usually week-long, are pitched at a more popular level and are really meant for general public. The summer course at FTII is more academic (FTII is after all an academic Institution) and we have our methodology of teaching Cinema. There is a certain rigour in this course , which cannot be diluted as this our strength. So it is advised that people applying for the Summer Course are not complete novices and lacking in patience and discipline necessary for a month course. It may be better if they apply for the shorter courses and then, if necessary, apply for the month-long course later.
Filed under: Professional Talk | Tags: cinema, Farrukh Dhondy, film, film appreciation, film education, film workshop, oorvazi irani, screenplay, script
Interview: Farrukh Dhondy, Author, Screenwriter
By Oorvazi Irani • Apr 18th, 2009
Oorvazi Irani speaks with noted author and screenwriter Farrukh Dhondy as part of Understanding Cinema series first published for the web portal Dear Cinema.
Oorvazi Irani: As you are a short story writer, novelist, journalist, playwright and a screenplay writer when you embark on your work and more particularly on a screenplay do you frame and keep one central premise?
Farrukh Dhondy: I don’t think I ever start with an abstract premise — like ‘love conquers all’. I usually start with a story that someone wants to commission — remember that film is an industry and not merely an art form so a lot of the work doesn’t come from the mind of writers but from producers and commercial investors with dreams and plans — OR with a story I feel has to be written. A novel is completely different. Very often a film stats with a character whose journey through a phase one wants to explore — Bandit Queen, Billy Eliot, Schindler’s List….Gladiator…
How do you go about creating and building a character?
Characters are always based on observation. This doesn’t restrict you to mimicking one person in your prose, but using your observation of the inner life of people, sometimes several people, to arrive at a character who will act and speak in a particular way. Particularity is all. Some writers lapse into ‘invention’ rather than observation and then you get fable rather than a novel — think of Salman Rushdie’s ‘people’. Contrast the inventions of Dickens or Rudyard Kipling!
When contrasted and compared the novel and play with the screenplay – movies are stories told in pictures, and while the action and dialogues are integral parts of the screenplay, the storyline unfolds through the visual images ..
A film is never a novel. It’s a short story which takes one character through a series of events which results in a revelation that all of us need. the character learns something about life, sometimes the hard way. Slumdog is an example of a child growing up and learning right from wrong and keeping alive with the idea of a single love. Schindler’s list is a cynic turned into a human through his contact with human suffering. The idea that cinema tells a story through images is wrong! The silent movies used exaggerated stage expressions to tell the story and even then had captions for speech. The captions couldn’t contain the complexity of human thought and nuance and therefore the plots had to be simple. Cinema came of age when sound became integral — speech is the avatar of thought, the child of the mind and the leading component of film. A good film maker will see that the visuals are both what we expect and startling. only ‘art’ film-makers’ will use visuals as symbols, sometimes ones that a public will not grasp and that’s why some art film directors end up as a joke or are seen as pretentious!
The plot is the first consideration, and as it were, the soul of the tragedy.
Character holds the second place. – Aristotle wrote in his Poetics. What is the significance of plot and character to you and which of the two according to you takes the narrative forward in a screenplay.
I don’t think one can separate the two in modern film. Greek theatre was a form through which the actions and the will of Gods and people were made manifest. They followed the old stories, already formulated. Aeschylus and Euripides took stories of Oedipus and Electra which were already known so the plot became supreme. Our films descend not from legend but from the tradition of observation and novel-writing and from our contemporary myth-making. An example of the latter is the cowboy myth. Nowhere except in the early settlement of America could an agricultural operative who cleaned up bullshit and watered the cattle become the hero who brings righteousness to the land. These myth were invented and then stories and characters fitted in to make different ‘Westerns’. we then have the myth of machine-men Superman, Batman, people capable of doing things which only machines can– like flying and having the strength to smash buildings etc.
But other films (not Bollywood, which is based on debased myths) are based on character suggesting plot.
Do you believe in a Post Modern structure for a screenplay which is being said to have started with the films of Pulp Fiction, English Patient…. Syd Field says “there might be something larger going on, a new consciousness and awareness in approaching the craft of screenwriting” . What is your personal take.
I don’t think Syd Field knows what he is talking about. The Post-Modernists are confidence tricksters who make money out of the ignorance of their readers and subscribers. Pulp fiction was Tarantino’s continuing fascination with violence which he knew a modern audience would share. English Patient is a classical story of an illegitimate love defeated by history — is it all that different from Dr. Zhivago?
According to Akira Kurosawa “A good structure for a screenplay is that of a symphony, with its 3 or 4 movements and differing tempos. Or one can use the noh play with its three-part structure: jo (introduction), ha (destruction) and kyu (haste)”. Do you agree with this statement and how would you incorporate it in your screenplay.
I wouldn’t follow these fanciful formulae. Kurosawa is thinking of Tchaikovsky or Beethoven or the classic and romantic symphonies. It sounds good but it doesn’t work because very often the movements of these symphonies are self-sufficient in their themes and melodies.
I would rather follow the play structure set out by Shakespeare or Chekhov or Bernard Shaw. A story should tell itself. The film should make you want to watch it from the first minute — so it should introduce a dilemma in which we want to participate. The first act then gives us the characters and ramifications of the dilemma — we are setting he character on the journey in search of love or revenge or redemption or whatever. The second act usually incorporates an event which precipitates a choice. Then in the third we see the consequences of that choice and undergo an epiphany which tells us something we knew, but didn’t quite know we knew!.
Filed under: Professional Talk | Tags: feminist film theory, film appreciation, film critic, film education, indian cinema, oorvazi irani, portrayal of women in indian cinema, Shoma Chatterji
Dr. Shoma A. Chatterji is a freelance journalist, film scholar and author based in Kolkata, India. She has won the National Award for the Best Writing on Cinema in 1991 (Best Film Critic) and 2003 (Best Book on Cinema). She has singly authored 17 published books of which eight are on cinema. She has won around four more awards and three fellowships for research on cinema. She is currently, Post-doctoral Senior Research Fellow of the Indian Council of Social Science Research, Delhi.
What is the role that women play in Hindi cinema and has it changed over the years.
Women have mainly played decorative objects in Hindi cinema for a long time. Or, even in films where they had important roles, they are more victims and martyrs or victimizers of other women. Rarely have films like Kunku presented women as strong women who can raise their voice against injustice, who can rebel in their own way and make their own political statement.
Each decade has presented its own brand of women in Hindi cinema. Mother India is a strong political statement on a woman who can do anything to establish that justice has been done even while remaining within the framework of marriage and motherhood. She defies the micro state of being a biological mother in order to fit into the framework of becoming the mother of the nation when she shoots down her own son to save the honour of a woman of the village.
The ordinary woman has hardly been visible in Hindi cinema. During the time of Meena Kumari, Madhubala and their peers, the camera focussed more on the face of the leading lady than on the body. This changed radically from the 1990s when the body of the heroine became as or more important than the face. The sati-savitri image underwent a radical make-over probably with Nutan, who, without showing skin, made a powerful presentation in strong roles such as Seema and Bandini. Geeta Bali promoted the image of a mischievous tomboy, also a positive deviation from the sati-savitri image.
One thing noticed in Hindi cinema is that like Hollywood, the actresses have often indirectly dictated the terms of these portrayals such as Meena Kumari as the tragedienne, Vyjayantimala as largely decorative but a very good dancer, Madhubala for her beauty, and so on. Waheeda Rehman was a powerful actress who blended her dancing beautifully with roles where she could rise above the decorative quality of the characters.
Sharmila Tagore, Asha Parekh and Sadhana defined a change in fashion and style more than change in characterization. They played stereotypical roles in mainstream Hindi cinema wearing big bouffant hairdos, short, skin-tight salwar kameezes and did little more than flutter their false eyelashes at the hero and dance around trees with him.
Jaya Bachchan, Smita Patil and Shabana Azmi stripped glamour off the female lead’s character and played roles that were as important as that of the hero. They were not commercially successful but did very good roles in whichever commercial film they acted in such as Kora Kagaz, Jawani Diwani, Guddi, Rampur Ka Laxman, Sholay (Jaya Bachchan), or Namak Halal, Arth and Shakti (Smita Patil), Karm, Arth, (Shabana Azmi).
Hema Malini defined her own space and dominated the scene with one film after another just through the power of her beauty, her graceful dancing talents and her ability to bring off a hit with any hero ranging from Jeetendra to Rajesh Khanna to Sanjeev Kumar through Dharmenda to Dev Anand. But she could hardly act and it needed a very good director like Ramesh Sippy to bring good performances out of her such as she did I Seeta aur Geeta and Sholay and again, as Meera under the directorial baton of Gulzar. She ruled the heroine batch for nearly two decades. Zeenat Aman who was pulled in by her beauty queen image, could do nothing to change the portrayal of the Hindi heroine in any way and there were many like her such a Reena Roy, Farah, Neelam, and others.
From Rekha followed by Madhuri Dixit and Karisma Kapoor, the woman in Hindi films became louder in every sense – voice, articulation and delivery of dialogue, sexual aggressiveness and terms of character. This trend continues in a much more aggressive way carried forward in its well-packaged globalized image by the present crop comprised of Aishwarya Rai, Preity Zinta, Priyanka Chopra, Kareena Kapoor, Rani Mukherjee, Kajol and so on. They just do not agree to play complacent sugar syrupy characters who are expected to flutter their eyelashes and turn into glycerine factories at the wave of the director’s hand. Madhuri was decorative to begin with but changed over slowly and steadily with Tezaab followed by films like Beta, Dil, Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge culminating in Mrityudand.
Actresses like Vidya Balan, Tabu have struck a balance between glamour and convention helped by their looks and the image they present. The woman is stronger, almost equal to a man in current films such as Dhoom, Dhoom II, Shaurya, Aitraaz where there is almost no difference between the heroine and the vamp because all the female stars are willing to step into negative roles if they are strong and can make a lasting impression on the audience.
Into the 2000 however, one is constrained to point out that most of the high-budget Hindi films that rely greatly on direct marketing by the stars, are either blatant or clever remakes of Hollywood films, both hits and flops. Thus the portrayal of the woman is also a ‘borrowed’ portrayal that is greatly distanced from the Indian woman on the street, urban or rural, educated or not educated, working or non-working and so on. Ethical values have changed to a large extent too because premarital sex, adultery, sexual overtures where the woman takes the initiative are quite common and have also got audience acceptance. Otherwise films like Astitva and Gangster and Jism and actresses like Bipasha Basu and Kangna Ranaut would never have clicked the way they have.
From the point of view of the Feminist Film Theory how would you analyze a female actor in Hindi cinema today?
Please refer to the introductory chapter of my book SUBJECT:CINEMA, OBJECT: WOMAN – A STUDY OF THE PORTRAYAL OF WOMEN IN INDIAN CINEMA which contains a detailed analysis of which of the two Feminist schools – the American school of sociological analysis, or the British School based on psycho-analytical theory fits into the scheme of the portrayal of women in Hindi cinema. My argument is that since much of Hindi cinema is influenced by Hollywood from the mid-1950s, the feminist analysis of female characters in Hindi films would fit more into the American School than the British School of Feminist film theory. Looking back on Hindi cinema however, I feel that as an Indian critic and film analysis, we should give up the tendency to rely on Western constructs of feminist film criticism. I might add also that they are fine for (a) offering choices of alternative schools of thought, (b) guiding the process of feminist film research, (c) forming frames of reference for specific issues that are global in character such as cinematic depiction of rape, and, perhaps, (d) providing a platform for interesting and exciting comparisons between a Hollywood film and a mainstream Hindi film on the same subject.
I have realised over my years of research into the portrayal of women in Hindi cinema that these constructs, theories and perspectives can neither be directly applied to nor superimposed on Indian mainstream cinema’s treatment and portrayal of women. One has to develop a mode of analysis that is culture-specific and situation-specific. Feminist film theories that draw mainly upon psycho-analysis, semiology and structuralism do not have much bearing on an analysis of portrayals of women in Hindi cinema. So, one has to develop a new theory of such analysis against the backdrop of the Indian socio-economic backdrop within which the real woman lives and works and study the intersections of these with celluloid women in Indian cinema. How distanced are the real women from the celluloid women? Does distancing help nurture better images of the celluloid women or does it hinder the image more and thus distance the audience from these films? Globalization has changed it all and one needs to look at the woman portrayals in Hindi cinema in 2010 with new eyes and through a new pair of glasses tinted with the razzmatazz of Western packaging, sophisticated marketing strategies, the launching of music and stars taking part in reality shows to plug their about-to-be-released films.
Who is a female actor today in Bollywood that you admire and why?
I admire most of them for their commitment, their approach to their career and their roles, their readiness to learn new skills such as fighting, riding, karate, climbing mountains and so on and their readiness to shed clothes according to the demands of the character, the film, the director, their flexibility and the power they exude by their mere presence on and off screen. They are articulate, intelligent and dynamic and hold themselves extremely well in public space and even on screen. Among the choice select, I would pick Aishwarya Rai, Kajol, Kareena Kapoor, Priyanka Chopra, Kangana Ranaut, Konkona Sharma, Bipasha Basu, Rani Mukherjee, Katrina Kaif and Preity Zinta. Sadly, the new crop of young leading ladies who make their debut opposite heroes like Amir and Shahrukh cannot make it afterwards for some mysterious reason.
Is there any specific difference between the role that women play in Hindi cinema vs other regional Indian cinema
I can only speak in relation to Bengali mainstream which does not stand any comparison at all because most Bengali mainstream films are cut-and-paste jobs from Southern films and Hindi films.
Could you kindly speak about any specific contemporary Indian director who is sensitive to the portrayal of women in Indian cinema and how does that reflect in his work and cinematic choices.
Shyam Benegal, Madhur Bhandarkar, Vishal Bharadwaj, Anurag Kashyap, Anurag Basu, Rituparno Ghosh, Sanjay Leela Bhansali, and Mahesh Manjrekar who directed Astitva. Even when they do not make films that are involved in basic gender issues and are gender-neutral in treatment and storyline and approach, they are very sensitive in their projections of the female characters in their films. Madhur Bhandarkar would come on top of this list after Benegal.
Email Interview conducted on Friday, October 08, 2010