My thoughts and lessons from American Gangster. These are not in any order and are more reflections than lessons for myself and my team.
I saw American Gangster the other day. The film is on Amazon Prime Video in case someone is interested. Here are the ideas and lessons that I could take away from the film. These are not in any order and are more reflections than lessons for others. And no, this is not a review.
Oh, here’s the trailer…
So here are my lessons. These are not in any order.
A/ The loudest voice in the room is often the weakest.
This is very very common and oft-used. If you are in a conflict, the person that raises their volume first would often be the weakest one. And you can find a way to exploit the weakness.
Oh, please don’t mistake this for the loudest kid getting fed the first.
B/ In business, the basics are often the most important and yet the most ignored
These are trust, loyalty, long-term thinking, brand, honour, partnerships, conduct etc. While these are very very common words and are often thrown around in conversations, you rarely meet people that live by these.
With C4E, I want each person to follow these. Lemme write a line about each.
Trust. If you trust others, and others trust you, the cost and time needed to conduct business are reduced drastically. Even if you lose money, you shouldn’t stop trusting people.
Loyalty. Nothing worth building gets built if you don’t have a set of people loyal to you (or you are loyal to). And loyalty is used very very frivolously but at a deeper level, true loyalty, the kind you can die for, is very very rare. Even though I am not loyal to anyone or anything at that level, I am close. And that is enough!
Oh, and loyalty takes you far. Really far. In the film (and I have seen it in real life with numerous people), Frank had a meteoric rise because he was loyal to Bumpy for 17 years. Over the 17 years, Bumpy taught Frank things he knew and Frank would do things that Bumpy did. I can see this happening in my life as well. I am doing things that Suvi would do, Raj would do, Rajesh Sir would do.
Long-Term Thinking. I have spilt enough pixels on this one.
Partnerships. You need to know what you ought to work on and let the other person do what they are good at. There is no way you can do everything. For 39 years of my life, I thought I could do everything but I got nothing done. In the last two years, I have started to cede control and I have got done an insane amount of work!
Conduct. You may be rich, you may be poor. You may be privileged, you may not be. You may be smart, you may not be. But at no point does your conduct ought to be of an asshole’s. When you are about to lose your shit, it’s ok to take a deep breath. If someone on purpose does things that will fuck your head up, train yourself to not give a fuck. Operate from empathy. Be polite. If you are angry, either you will get killed or you will draw a wedge in between your relationship that will never ever heal.
C/ Your wealth should never be overtly visible.
Not that I am wealthy. Not that I have a lot going for me. But I know that I am now at a place where I am responsible for a tiny contribution to 10 homes. And that means I have this really heavy responsibility on my shoulders. And I need to ensure that I provide for those. And this means that I need to keep finding avenues of making money. And these would be created if the world sees me as a person they like and who can deliver. And often people are not really kind or ambivalent towards people who are flashy, overtly obnoxious, and all that. Plus, I am not the kind to anyway flaunt what I have. Yes, I like to eat at nice places (for service and not for the food), and travel in comfort (stay at star hotels and not motels) but none of that requires me to show off.
I will not hide it per se but I will not make overt claims about easy access and availability of money. And I definitely don’t need Chinchilla coats, Rolex watches, Birkenstock, Tumi, Ray Bans, Mercedes, Prada, et al (btw apart from the first two, I have wanted to buy EACH of the things listed here).
Oh from today on, I am dumping brands. Especially luxury or mass luxury. I will buy comfortable, long-lasting, value-for-money brands like Zudio, Decathlon, Ikea et al. The only exception would be computers and gadgets (these are the things that I use on a day-to-day basis to get things done and work). Actually, anything I need to spend on to make my work better, faster, more effective, easier etc etc, I will put in the money. But that’s that. And anything that I need for health (I recently bought a refrigerator, I will buy comfortable shoes, I will get a meal subscription etc).
So, the low profile may not be a bad idea. And yes, I know there are people that want fame and all that. Good for them. I hope they get it. But low profile it is for me!
I don’t understand people who don’t understand the power of brands.
In one of the scenes, Frank says something like, I sell a product that’s twice as better than the competition and at half the price as the competition. And he has a distinct brand for the product he sells. At a point, he even gets into a tiff with one of the “distributors” when he fucks with Blue Magic.
If a gangster in America in the 70s could understand the power of the brand name, in the day and age we live in, we better do!
E/ Operating under the influence fucks you up!
One of the key reasons for Frank’s fall is the drug-induced actions of one of the flunkies. He makes a mistake that the cops capitalize on. And then all hell breaks loose. I am all for people needing intoxicants to “let loose” but it’s not for me. I am not much of a drinker anyway and starting today, I will quit whatever social consumption I engage in. Mgo-toto beverage from now on is Sparkling Water.
Oh, I am not trying to preach here. I would love to own a business that has alcohol, intoxicants, and parties at the core. But I would not engage in those. I would not partner with people that enjoy a drink or two. The ones that I am a partner with, I would try to get them to quit. And the ones I enter into new agreements with, I would ensure that they don’t give in.
The point is, like Frank believed, we don’t want to be swayed by the vices when we work.
Yeah, I am your regular uncle next door who likes to preach the importance of virtue. Sue me.
Guess this is it.
Of course, a lot of what they’ve shown in the film is fictionalized and things may not work like that in real life. But then it does not stop us from acquiring lessons. No?
If you’ve seen the film, lemme know what you think of it. What do you think are the lessons that you may share with people that work?
A short note on my love for the Aamir Khan, Ayesha Jhulka starrer, Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar. I talk about how it’s a lesson in filmmaking!
If you are an Indian and you don’t know about this film, you must have lived under a rock. It probably is among the most iconic films of all time. While people dismiss it as a school / student rivalry film, I think the right category to slot it in is that of bildungsroman (aka coming-of-age film). It was after all about a boy, Sanjay Lal Sharma (aka Sanju) that had seen just the rosy parts of life and how he was shaken into growing up and standing up for his brother, father and community.
In terms of a standalone film, JJWS had everything going for it – a compelling story that never gets old, a plot with enough ups and downs to keep you hooked, almost perfect casting (with dreamy-eyed small-town kids to the English-speaking expensive-blazer-totting flamboyant privileged kids to the simpleton, the common folks that you’d find in any small town in India to others), music that instantly becomes an earworm, characters that you want to root for (you want Sanju to do well and you want Shekhar to suffer) and a climax that literally forces you to get on your feet and clap out loud!
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Even though the film is more than 30 years old and the last I saw it would have been a few years ago, the visuals are so fresh in my mind that I can recall the narrative with scary accuracy. I can reproduce shots as if I am staring at a photo grab from the film. I can relate to (and even empathise with) each action taken by each character in the film – even if the character existed in blank, white or grey. Back then when I was younger, I may not have been able to. But today I can.
I mean look at Ram Lal – the father of Ratan and Sanjay. By the day he is at the school and then whatever time is left, he runs Ram Lal’s cafe. While he holds no ambition of his own, his salvation is in providing for his two sons (one, the picture-perfect obedient and the other, picture-perfect petulant). He wants his son to win a bicycle race and come out on top as a champion. The real desire is not the success of his son but the chase of the glory of the days gone by and the satisfaction of having taken his revenge. He wants to live his life via his son. Even with his flaws, he makes personal sacrifices in the way he lives. He’s saving as much as he can and for that, he’s literally pinching pennies. If this is not how a father ought to be, I dont know what could one be. And despite the flaws, he is perfect and commands respect.
PS: Back then, I couldn’t identify with Ram Lal with as much nuance but thanks to SoG, I have been able to appreciate the limitation of us humans (in our ability to do things) and want of living the life you’ve wanted (and are unable to get) through the life of the ones around you. I understand the need of creating winners, even at a personal cost and the sacrifices you must make to even give these kids a shot at winning!
Look at Ratan. The elder brother. His sole reason for existence is to get his school and thus his father the glory they believed they deserve. He spends all his time, his entire life chasing that one dream. And just when he is almost there, he is left injured. To see the scenes unfold from the sidelines. The injury itself is a result of a freak accident triggered by a frivolous act by his yet-to-grow-up younger brother. And no, unlike the modern-day young people, he submits to fate and moves on. Unknown to him, he plays yet another important role in the film. Probably the most important role. That of the trigger, the inspiration, the reason for young Sanju to want to grow up.
If Sanju became Sanjay Lal Sharma and lifted the trophy, it was not his hard work or dedication or anything. It was Ram Lal’s sacrifices and Ratan Lal’s inability. And no, I dont mean to take anything away from Sanjay. He has had his ups and downs but eventually delivers on his destiny.
Now Sanjay is a curious case. On one side he had his father, his brother, his sidekicks, and the never-leave-my-side love interest. On the other, he had a formidable adversary, tall odds stacked like a mountain and the weight of the monster of expectations on his back. He was bang in the middle and each time any of these moved, he was churned and polished. And oh boy, did he shine like a diamond?
What made the film even more special is those tiny moments that seem to mean nothing and yet added to the layers of the story. There is this scene when Shekhar and his flunkies are at Ram Lal’s Cafe and Ratan is forced to wait at them. There is this instance when Sanju is imagining Devika dancing on top of a car in her The-Woman-In-Red-ish dress. Anjali on the other hand is imaging herself when Sanju is air-kissing someone. Uff!
The music from the film is a tome in itself. An entire generation grew up proposing to their loved ones with Pehla Nasha. Yahan Ke Hum Sikandar made me want to be a part of a school of cool kids. Rooth Key Humse made me pine for a brother that I could be with (sorry SG2 :D). The track was used to break the monotony and showcase the growth of Sanju as a person. There were more tracks – each written, performed and shot as well as any other.
Since the film is from 30 years ago, I found the direction and camerawork dated. But the team got the art spot on. From the sets to the decor to the costume to even the side characters, everything was spot on. I mean look at this signboard for Ram Lal’s cafe.
The green background and white, serifed text, in all caps is gorgeous. The apostrophe is missing. Maybe on purpose. The RC logo looks like something done in a small town. The blue and yellow shade is in contrast to the green board.
Look at those scarves that Anjali is using to tie her hair. Look at those simple tees and shirts that have their buttons open. The fence they are leaning on looks weathered and looks like something you would imagine at a cafe from the pre-Starbucks era! Each scene of the film seems to have been made with a lot of attention to detail. Exactly the kind of work I would want to do.
Let me talk about the story. You know how a film ought to follow a three acts structure where tension rises at each point. The protagonist needs to accomplish a hero’s journey. And all the while the story must be technically sound, it needs to keep people hooked. JJWS scores on all three counts. In fact, it does it so well that each incident can be plotted on the charts even by a novice writer like me!
In fact, as an aspiring filmmaker, I think this film deserves to be made into a mandatory study. As the film celebrates its 30th anniversary, I can only congratulate the filmmakers for a job done well and invite my younger friends to go see the film!
And as I end this, what do you think of the film? What are your favourite parts? What do you recall the most about it?
Mare of Easttown – Unbiased review of the HBO hit featuring Kate Winslet. And deconstruction from the lens of a writer.
I finally saw what everyone seems to be raving about – Mare of Easttown. The hit HBO show has Kate Winslet in the lead role. She is supported by some million other characters, each pivotal for the story. And each actor seems to have delivered their roles as good as Kate has, if not better.
And in one line, Mare was a treat to watch!
Let’s get on with the review. And, spoiler alert 🙂
So what is ‘Mare of Easttown’ all about?
If I were to write the logline, it would go like…
Set in a small-town America, a middle-aged cop, troubled by her personal and professional demons is thrown into a murder case that threatens to rip the town apart.
When a young girl is found dead, the shockwaves rip the life in an American small town. Caught in the middle is this middle-aged cop that sildenafil wirkungsdauer has her own inner demons – both personal and professional.
However, the one on IMDB is, “A detective in a small Pennsylvania town investigates a local murder while trying to keep her life from falling apart”.
So, before I launch in the review, as a marketer and storyteller, lemme try and deconstruct the logline in a ‘checklist’ of sorts where I list down things that I expect from a pot-boiler. Unless some 80% of things on this list are checked, I know I wouldn’t want to binge on it. I wouldn’t enjoy seeing it and the time I spend there wouldn’t be worth it!
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A small-town in America. That means everyone knows everyone. And that by itself creates exceptional drama. We know this because of all the films and TV pieces we’ve seen about America! You want a setting, a milieu as they call it in the parlance that has potential for great drama. By the virtue of its design. I mean in The Godfather, you know that it’s going to be a story of Mafia and will have strong familiar tones. You thus already know what kind of film it would be. Mare’s story is set in an American small town and it probably would have a hyperlink story with complex relationships between various characters. In the case of Mare? Check!
A detective trying to keep her life together. We can thus expect plenty of drama in terms of relationships with her family and close friends. There would be all emotions at display – love, affection, jealously, misunderstanding, insinuations, and more. Check!
A murder of a local girl. You already know that someone from the town is involved. You can already guess that the murderer would probably be related to the lead protagonist. You know that the investigation would wedge another split in her already broken life. Wow! Immense scope for drama. Check!
Without reading more from the logline, you know that such a story would have a string of murders (and not just one). Ooooh, exciting. Check.
You can further predict that there would be a few Red Herrings thrown in there for you to you chew on and get blind-sighted by. Not sure of this before you see it!
As an intelligent audience member, you know that there would be turns and twists and the plot would be a rollercoaster in terms of ups and downs. You would be on the same ride with the protagonist. That’s what an epic piece of cinema does to you! Again, I can’t be sure unless I see the first episode or something.
So I have 4 checks out of 6. Not bad!
Now. Coming to the 7-episode, limited-edition series on HBO (and available on Hotstar in India).
Kate Winslet plays Mare Sheehan, an early 50ish (or may be in her late 40s) woman with a complicated life — Has a love-hate relationship with the place where she’s literally spent all her life; Personal life is in shambles – grandmother already, divorced (and the ex-husband living next door and getting married again soon), constantly bickering with her mother; Professionally, is righteous, mostly good and yet has a year-old kidnapping case that she’s been unable to solve.
From the opening scene of the first episode, you are sucked deep into her world. It’s very well. You have a tough time understanding the complex shades that each character seems to have. You are left wondering, even flustered. But it’s intriguing enough for you to invest your time and brains in decoding all that’s on the screen.
You know that Mare is a no-nonsense, short-fused cop. You see shades of flaw in her characters. You see her world through her lens and through the fourth wall. The husband moving in next door, with clearly a better woman alongside. The lifetime she’s spent in the town. The corner she seems to have painted herself and how she’s pushed her own family on the brink. The conflict in her life and the story is revealed – the case that she can’t seem to solve. The town, her friends, and more importantly, she herself seem to carry the burden of the unsolved case.
And when the cliffhanger for the first episode comes in, you are in for a treat.
The second episode opens with somber music. Probably the only piece of music that I thought was noteworthy. Mare knows the girl who’s died.
Lemme digress for a bit here. Pre COVID, I used death and dying loosely. The first book I wrote? It was bloodier than the whole of The Game of Thrones and had more corpses than the number of words in it. However, after COVID, I have changed a bit. Death has more meaning for me than life has ever had. It sucks that when you die, you are reduced to figments of imagination and the pile of clothes that once carried you and was part of your identity.
I loved the scene where Mare is forced to announce the death to the father of the girl. More than Mare, the actor that has played the father of the deceased has done a fabulous job! I literally welled up. This scene I thought was one of the best pieces of writing in the whole of Mare. Imagine you are woken up by a knock on the door. You are hungover and there’s the town cop and your cousins on the door. What would you imagine happened?
And of course, you expect the father to do what he would does in the cliffhanger for the second episode! And no, just because it is predictable, it does not mean that it’s not done well!
By the time you start with the third episode, you start seeing the “real” characters. Mare is transformed into an aged woman and she looks worn out. You see her mother taking her revenge on poor fruits on Fruit Ninja. Mare’s daughter is confused. The side cop asks Mare if there’s “anybody you are not related to”. Everyone in the town is torn and starts to look like a suspect!
This is exactly how hyperlink cinema should be.
Till this point, I was in awe of the writing. However, my enthusiasm dampened when they used the typically lazy device of an anonymous tip to move the story forward.
But then they redeemed when they made Mare do something unpredictable, something uncharacteristic. Something that will have dire consequences for Mare. Something that she could have avoided if only she did not take that action. It exposes the flaws in Mare as a human and by this time, I am in love with her!
The fourth episode opens with Mare’s mother asking if she was going to work late when Mare (and all of us viewers) know that she wasn’t going to! Then, she and her best friend Lor are sitting on a park bench. The bench, if you spotted it, is dedicated to Mare’s father. They even paused the camera there for a split second. Such tiny details are what appeal to the subconscious!
When Mare leans on Lor in the same scene, the dark writer in me is thinking, either Lor’s going to die a gruesome death or they would split soon thereafter. This fleeting thought moves on as you start seeing Mare as a reflection of yourself – someone harsh on self for no reason!
At this point, to be honest, I started losing interest. There are way too many Red Herrings and I found myself checking my phone a lot. I even played a few games of Chess while I waited for the story to move ahead.
PS: A little spoiler here. In case you are like and want to quit, please carry on. If you do, you will be rewarded handsomely in the end. There’s a brilliant ending that I can bet my ass on that you can’t guess what’s in store for you! At least for all the intelligence that I think I am blessed with, I couldn’t figure it out.
A large part of the fifth episode is Mare trying to cope with her past. While you see a lot of her family’s history and you tend to understand what has shaped her. You want to empathize with her but there’s way too many narrations and you feel like you are listening to an old woman rant on and on about the mistakes she’s made in her life.
I wished the writers could help the action rise in this episode but it was anything but that. The story skirts sideways for forever, into the personal lives of people that you are no longer interested in. You want to move on with it. There are more urgent matters at hand. You know, murders are happening that need solving!
Just when I decide that I’ve had enough of this and I was about to turn it off, the story takes a turn. You know how the plane crawls on the runway before it starts to run and then lift off? That. I felt that jolt towards the end of this episode. It came out of nowhere and suddenly, the story was as invigorated as it was in the first two episodes!
From the sixth episode onward, I was so involved with the story and the action and the screen in front of me that I stopped taking notes. My hyperactive mind is making scenarios where Mare’s daughter will probably get hurt. I even postulated in my head that Mare’s love interest would be revealed as the perp. Of course, I was wrong!
The case starts to crack open. While Mare remains unaware of who and why the audience is told about the secret. As a viewer, my interest is now to see Mare find her way and reach the conclusion. The curiosity is more on how than who. This shift in perspective from where both the audience and the protagonist in dark to where just the protagonist is now struggling is done really well. The transition is done so well that you don’t even realize that you have crossed the chasm and Mare is now all alone!
Of course, while you are sort of comforted by the knowledge of the crime, you continue to see Mare continue to struggle and make progress. She’s chipping away at a large boulder, trying to carve a picture out of it. One strike at a time. Like in most good cop stories, there is a lot of hard work, a lot of hustle, and of course, some luck.
As you start the seventh episode, you see Mare make connections. She seems to get closure on the case at hand. And of course, on the case that has been bugging her forever. More than just Mare, all other characters that are affected by the incidents tend to get closure.
Lemme talk about this for a bit. There is so much closure in the story that it’s unreal. I mean as a filmmaker, it’s your job to deliver closure to the characters and to the audience but this much closure? I wish they had left a few open ends, a few open windows. It would probably have made me take a little more note and invest a little more of myself into the story.
Oh, by the end of it, Mare makes a discovery that will leave you shocked, even gasping for breath for a bit. You would feel that you have redeemed the 7 hours you’ve invested in it. I wish I could write about it but I will have to let this hang in the air for you to discover and enjoy the journey with Mare! And if I may, please do go for it. You will enjoy it!
? ? What works well?
This list runs into pages! Let me try and write about the top 4 things.
1. Very very well-developed characters. Even the minor ones seem to have well-defined backstories and arcs. Most importantly, each character has a reason. There is not one character that is not needed to complete the narrative. Further, the presence of each character feels just right. You know, it’s like knowing a community intimately!
2. Acting. I could not spot one actor that has not performed well. Each actor felt natural. Each conversation felt real. To a point that at one time I forgot that I was watching a TV drama. It looked so real as if someone had planted cameras into a real small town somewhere deep in America!
3. A, B, C, … Y, Z stories. In any story that runs into such a length, you better have multiple threads and stories running in parallel. While Mare is Mare Sheehan’s story, each character has a story or two. Even in Mare’s story, there’s a B story and a C story and more! There is no way you would not get invested in it!
4. Detail. There are so many tiny things that add texture to the character and the story. In the second episode, Mare is getting ready for a date and she can’t find a lipstick that she likes! I mean this one tiny detail tells you so much about Mare that a whole book can! Then, throughout the series, the phone Mare uses has a smashed screen. I mean it’s such an insignificant detail and yet tells you so much!
? ? What could have been better?
There are very few things that I can point that damned red flag at. I think two things could’ve been better…
1. Music. Definitely. In my opinion, a great whodunnit is made legendary by the music it has. You know, how the jitters you get when you see a shocking scene are amplified by the music? I found that missing with Mare.
2. Tighter editing. The episodes in the messy middle felt dragged. Like I said, I found myself checking my phone a lot during the middle episodes. It’s like anything else. The beginning is euphoric. The end is ecstatic. The middle is, well, exhausting.
Mind you, I am not talking about the writing per se. It would make for a brilliant read. But on screen, the parts in the middle look bloated!
In the end…
Finally, when I evaluate stories and content, I ask myself two questions.
A, does it shift something in you as a human being? And B, are you haunted by it after years?
I mean I saw Nomadland recently (read my review here) and something shifted in me. Breaking Bad continues to haunt me. While I may not remember a lot, I can’t get over the characters like Walter White, Heisenberg, Saul, and more. I continue to have a soft spot for Walter and I am willing to excuse his actions. Images from Parasite are still fresh in my head. Closer home, a Joji has stayed with me. The nuances it had captured are deep and intricate. From The Godfather, even though it’s been decades, I still get the chills when I think about the wrath of the Corleones. As I write, I am thinking about what would Don Vito be like when he was still not Don.
In case of Mare, I find both these missing.
And this is why I would stop at a 3.5 on 5 for Mare. And not go up to a 4 or more.
I just hope Kate Winslet fans wouldn’t come after me for this apparent sacrilege.
With that, its the end of this post. Do let me know what you think of Mare of Easttown and if you were to review it, how would you.
Over and out!
Edits / notes / observations / comments…
Ankit is of the opinion that this piece has come out way too indulgent. I dont know what to say. Too many “I”s 😀
Akanksha points out few things. Two of those that I am taking note of are… A, this is way too long. I agree. And B, is while the crime is the subtext, the story is more about relationships – Mare’s personal life, her relationship with others around her, of other people and their interactions, and more. I agree. I missed this thread completely. To a point that I missed seeing Mare from the angle of it being a relationship-first story (and not a crime story).
Review of Nomadland (2021) by Chloé Zhao, starring Frances McDormand, Bob Wells, and others.
Lemme start this piece with a question.
When was the last time you saw a film that made you rethink the way you live your life? Or made you yearn for something so much that you were willing to drop everything you stood for all your life and start over? Or made you ponder the meaning of it all?
Take your time.
For me, I had to go all the way back to the SRK starrer Swades.
No, I don’t mean there haven’t been good movies lately. In fact, a lot of films over the recent years have been so so good that you wonder where were these filmmakers all this while. I think with the advent of OTT and D2C, the business has moved into a territory where experimental, edgier, deeper films are possible. Stories like Whiplash, Three Billboards, and more would never come to life in an era when theatres dictated the fortune of films.
Closer home, films like The Disciple (yet to see), and even Gully Boy (even though I am not a big fan of it) would never happen if we continued to look for formulaic cinema that has come to rule the box offices, production houses, and audiences. In fact, I must mention films like Irul and Joji (I recently saw these). If not for OTTs, I would not even have these in the consideration set. These were among the first few non-Hindi, non-English films I saw and I was mightily impressed with them. More on these later, before I digress too far ahead.
Coming to the film that I want to talk about today.
Nomadland. Spoilers ahead. In case you havent seen, please read with caution.
Nomadland, the film has a fairly simple story. The kinds you would dismiss if you heard it as a pitch. Fern, a widow (played by Frances McDormand) decides to skip the town (strangely called Empire) where she’s literally lived all her life. In two unrelated incidents, her husband has died and the town gets shut (and she loses her job). Instead of going to live with her sister or other relatives, she chooses van dwelling and hits the road. Along the way, she picks temporary, seasonal jobs to make ends meet. And meets others like her. The ones who have decided to remain on the move for perpetuity. Somewhere along the road she discovers herself and finds the closure that she’s seeking.
That’s it. That’s the story!
Even as a writer, I cant seem to spot the arc in the story (or the character), the three acts, the inciting incident, the conflicts, and so on and so forth. And yet the story, the narrative, the film is gripping.
Irrespective. It’s been a few days since I saw the film and it has made me rethink the choices I’ve made in my life. It made me yearn for the interplay of predictability and adventures that open roads that tend to have. After all, they have a destination per se and yet could potentially lead to nowhere. It made me question my raison d’etre. I was so moved, so inspired to let go of whatever little I have at the place I call home. And I will not lie, I have started to make an inventory and sort whatever little I have in two piles – one to be sent to storage (my parent’s home in Delhi) and the other that I will carry along.
Oh, I must also mention that often the time and the stage in life at which you see a film tends to amplify the impact it has on you. It’s poignant and uncanny and insane that I saw Nomadland at a time when I am surrounded by so many people who are forced to say untimely goodbyes. To me, it’s thus become a film about coping with grief, coming to terms with our impermanence, thinking about mortality, letting go, and on top of it all, continuing to move on.
I loved how the film starts with Fern gingerly packing all her belongings in long-term storage and heading out. And I loved how the film ends with Fern discarding all that she had (apparently) carefully stored (cos we enter that scene late). It’s so poetic that I can’t seem to get over it. The inventory I talked about above is inspired by exactly this!
So the film.
The film follows Fern’s journey as she moves around the country, taking odd jobs to pay her bills, trying to overcome obstacles that a nomadic life throws at her, and her search for herself, through the lens of others, the relationships she develops, and the community of other van-dwellers. She even calls herself “houseless” and not homeless. She’s accepted the van as her home. Along the way she makes friends with strangers and finds solace in this Sage figure of Bob Wells that’s like a savant and messiah for van dwellers and others of the ilk. There’s even a hint of a love interest with another van dweller, Dave.
At each juncture, with each person Fern encounters, the film throws at me a reason for choosing the road over what Dave calls spending “another night under a roof”. Bob is probably coming to terms with the loss of his son and what he does is his way to make amends with his inability to undo things and bring his son back. Swankie is terminal and doesn’t want to die in a hospital. There’s an even more stable, more relatable, more normal family of Fern’s sister that is picturesque and poster-child of American success. From their lens, you see that they crave the freedom that Fern has. And on this side is the contrasting reality of Fern where she’s forced to visit her sister to borrow some 2000 dollars to fix her van! Uff!
I loved how each character had a well-developed backstory that they literally narrate. The film reversed the old age “tip” of showing and not telling. I mean there’s a lot of telling, a lot of symbolism and yet it just feels right!
To me, the biggest takeaway from the film is NOT that there are people that choose a nomadic lifestyle. The takeaway is that all of us are so communal that we need shelter in a community of others, like-minded individuals who believe in the same ideology as you. This shared ideology is what often helps you tide over your battles – personal or otherwise; large or small.
In fact, all my life, I’ve wanted to build a community of people like me. People that are innately curious, people who want to live a life full of adventure, excitement, non-stop dopamine hits, and exploration. People that want to do more, help others do more, and along the way live a great life. People that push us, humans, ahead. I think this bit about community and the need to belonging is probably the most fundamental of all our needs. Something that we are willing to kill for. You know the world today is a testimony of how our attachment to our communities and ideologies has brought us to a brink!
In Nomadland, the community that Fern eventually finds is of people that seek freedom and yet of escape. It is this community, through the interplay of emotions and life and death and love and separation and more, that makes Fern reconcile with her loss and eventually helps her accept the life that she’s chosen for herself.
In terms of the visuals, the cinematography, the film seemed to have filled in the vast, empty, remote American landscapes with dense emotions and turmoil that each character seems to be going through. As an aspiring filmmaker, this is something that I need to note and work on when I make my film.
There is this scene in the film where Fern is holding a lantern and is walking across the trailer park. It is probably among the best pieces of camerawork and imagination. It’s such a great metaphor for you trying to find yourself amidst all the others around you. There is another where Fern is floating naked in a rivulet. Oh man, the bliss that she’s in! Then those tight shots of her in her van where she’s so intimate with the congested space that you almost feel guilty about deriving voyeuristic pleasures from seeing her interact with things in her “natural habitat”.
There’s so much to love about the film.
I love the writing. Even though there are few words, few dialogues in the film, each word spoken by each character is like a pearl. Each line is crafted with so much care that it shows. Each sentence is worth hanging onto.
I loved the juxtaposition of struggle fight against large businesses like Amazon and then, on the other side, reliance on such businesses to pay your bills. The neverending fence that divides capitalists and free-right advocates.
I loved how the film spoke to me at a personal level – I don’t want to be in a hospital when my time comes. I like the idea of freedom. I want need a community where I am understood.
The most pivotal part of the film for me is right at the end when Fern and Bob talk about Bob’s life. I was stunned when he explains the rationale of “down the road”.
My jaws literally touched the floor when I heard that.
At that point, the meaning of the film, the unknown that Fern and others were chasing, the known that Bob is after, and the reason why I do what I do, as Saurabh, became crystal clear. Like someone opened the all-knowing, all-seeing, third eye! Once you see the film, hope it’s evident to you as well.
So that’s about from me about Nomadland.
I have to say that great films not just tell you a story, but also change something in you. You shift as an individual. You empathize with the protagonists so much that you want to make changes to your life. Nomadland is one such film. Please do watch it and be ready to shift. It deserves all the accolades it’s got. Probably more. And it deserves your attention.
Over and out.
See you, down the road.
PS: I was on the fence about buying a car. Now, after I’ve seen the film, thought about it, written this piece, I think I will make an attempt to get one. Let’s see when.
A short review of an upcoming Amazon Prime film, Durgamati. The film starring Bhoomi Pednekar in the lead role is set to release on the 11th of Dec.
I normally don’t do pop-culture-y time-bound things but over at TheRedSparrow.in (one of the things I helped start), they were talking about the upcoming film Durgamati and thus I got curious and I went ahead to write it. This is a new thing. Lemme know what you think.
Every big-budget film demands the writer to pen a plotline that is so convoluted that you need a Sherlock to unravel it. And yet you want it to be so mass-y that even a 6-year-old relates to it. After all, big monies come to the producers when the film does well in the multiplexes and the single-screen cinemas. I suspect that is what the writer-director Ashok was attempting with Durgamati as he remakes his super hit Telugu movie, Bhaagamathie (2018) in Hindi.
The story of Durgamati
The story is of two political rivals that are at loggerheads over pretty much everything. The one in power wants to pin the blame on the one competing against him (Ishwar Prasad, played by Arshad Warsi). Since he has the judicial and political machinery working for him, it is easy. So Rawat (played by Jishnu Sengupta) and Mahie Gill (her character’s name is not clear in the trailer) plot against Prasad. They try to manipulate Chanchal Chauhan (played by Bhoomi Pednekar), an old accomplice of Prasad, into conspiring against him. Chanchan is in prison because she was caught murdering a man in broad daylight.
They put her in the holding at the Durgamati Haveli, which is apparently haunted. Mahie Gill coerces Chanchan by offering her freedom if she agrees to rat against Ishwar. Chanchan of course refuses.
And thus starts the story of Durgamati. And the Haveli. And the film.
What works for me? What does not?
What stands out for me, even though I first saw the trailer on the tiny screen of an iPhone X is the lavish, grand sets and impeccable CG. The cinematography by Kuldeep Mamania is brilliant. Mamania was a camera person in the critical and commercial hit Tumbaad (2018) as well. Even though the standards of visuals (a marriage of art direction, costumes, camera, and of course direction) in India have been raised to the Hollywood-ish levels in recent years, this one is still among the best I’ve seen. The shots look grand, crisp, and make me want to actually navigate the Durgamati Haveli in real life!
I have to give a special mention to the art direction. The details are, well, detailed! I mean look at this shot. What do you think those windows at the back look like to you?
Arshad Warsi, again, to me looks unconvincing as a politician. I half expect him to break into a joke with every line he delivers.
Bhoomi Pednekar as the lead has done a decent job with the acting. When I see getting dragged for the interrogation, I see her plight. When she becomes the all-powerful Durgamati, I feel her power. However, the couple of dialogues that she has in the trailer, they lack any punch.
Also, for some reason, while I was watching it, I could not stop drawing comparisons with Vidya Balan in Priyadarshan’s Bhool Bhulaiyaa (2017), which itself was a remake of a Malayalam film. The mood, the costumes, the music, the frames reminded me of the film that was released 13 years ago. But then maybe it’s just me – an old, self-confessed discerning cinephile.
I am told that the Telugu film was a phenomenon! However, I have not seen the Telugu film and thus can’t really draw parallels. What I do know is that as a standalone piece of work, I may not be too keen to watch Durgamati in the cinemas even though it promises to be a cinematic treat.
But hey, there are no cinemas and with it streaming on Amazon Prime, I might as well!