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<%-- Volume Number --%> Vol 1 Num 142 <%-- End Volume Number --%>

February 21, 2004

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The Far Side of the Screen

Neeman A Sobhan

The other evening, in Roma, we went to the cinema with friends who always trust me to choose the film we are going to see on these outings. We were going to watch that highly publicised sea-faring film with Russell Crowe and a long and complicated title---- you know the one I'm talking about. "What are we watching tonight?" asked my husband as we all got up from a satisfying dinner at the restaurant table in Trastevere and started walking towards the Pasquino theatre. "It's that swashbuckling Russell Crowe period film about the sea, with the long title…." I mumbled gathering my overcoat around me. "What's the film we are watching?" I heard my friend's husband ask mine, and he promptly replied: "It's that naval film with the gladiator guy and the long title.." At the ticket counter the girl asked us which film we were buying tickets for, since there were three halls. Everybody looked at me for enlightenment. I stuttered: "Oh! It's that sea film with Russell Crowe… Captain or Admiral of the fleet…. or something." I flushed; this had never happened to me before, not knowing what film we were watching. The girl smiled "Ah! 'MASTER AND COMMANDER: THE FAR SIDE OF THE WORLD'." I rest my case.

Whatever happened to short, memorable film titles? Is it because the makers of wildly expensive extravaganzas know the spectators will forget their product that they amuse themselves with these mind-numbing hyphenated hyper-titles? I mean, I have no problem grinning through 'Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl,' or 'Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life,' or 'Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle'; I can even doze through 'The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring' (never having been a Tolkien fan) and snore through 'The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King' (because son is Tolkien fan) but please don't ask me to repeat the titles after emerging from the theatre.

Even if you discount the hyphens you still have films with mile-long titles like, 'The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen,' or 'Once upon a time in Mexico.' I am still able to remember these films but not the ones with sequels, the Star Wars, The Mummy and the Matrix ones, reloaded, revolutionised and yet just as inane.

The great aping industry Bollywood, has followed a similar track to Hollywood when it comes to titles. Some actually are so long that algebraic methods are employed in trade magazines to mention them: K3G (Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham, silly) or HAHK (Hum Apkay Hain Kaun) or the older QSQT which started the abbreviation game (Qayamat Say Qayamat Tak). First lines of popular hit film songs are still being reheated to provide forgettable names for forgettable films like 'Kuch na Kaho' which could spawn a sequel called 'Kuch Bhi Na Kaho', followed by 'Kya Kehna hay, Kya Sunna Hay' (K2HKSH?) and subsequently, perhaps a thriller 'Mujh Ko Pata Hay, Tum Ko Pata Hay' (easily based on 'I know what you did last Summer'?) and if we are unlucky, other small films can be endlessly generated and titled from the rest of the song, ending maybe with a romantic tear-jerker 'Bas Eik May Hoon, Bas Eik Tum Ho' (Shahrukh Khan are you listening?).

The other day, before leaving Dhaka for Rome, someone took us to the top floor of Eastern Plaza to buy cheap DVD's. While others looked at English film titles I looked desultorily at the Hindi ones. The shopkeeper enthusiastically approached me. I thought he was getting fresh: 'Aap ko pehley bhi kaheen dekha hai' (Who me?) 'Hum tum pay martay hain' (WHAT?) 'Kaisey kahoon kay pyar hay?' (Be-addob, khobordar!) 'Humein tumsay pyar ho gaya' (How dare you!) 'Aaja meri baahon mein' (Okay, you creep, that's it!) and just as I spat into my good hand, ready to administer the resounding slap worthy of a (middle aged) film heroine, the situation cleared up and the young man grinned and said, 'Waisa bhi hota hay,' I smiled bleakly and said 'No, its okay', but he shook his head and said 'Na, apa, eta 'Wais bhi hota hayPART 2.' I hrrrumphed and asked for some other titles. He reeled off rhyming film names like 'Mein Madhuri Dixit banna chahti hoon' and 'Main prem ki diwani hoon,' but by the time we got to 'Kaash aap humarey hotay' and 'Ishq hay tumsay' and 'Dil chahta hay' and 'Hum aap kay hain'(without the 'kaun' thus HAH and not to be mistaken with HAHK) my head was reeling. Just to prove that I was up on things I muttered that I might have seen 'Humara dil aap kay paas hay' and wasn't that with Aishwariya, I hazarded. He smiled pityingly and said I was thinking of the old 'Hum dil day chukay sanam.' I had to be helped out of the store, my dil and dimagh considerably debilitated.

The other evening, too, when we went to see 'Master and ..er…Captain, I mean, Commander..' I had to be helped out of the movie theatre for other reasons but with similar symptoms of a reeling head. It took me a good ten minutes to find my tottering land legs; the floor of the lobby rolled and swayed like the deck of the 'Surprise' in the tumultuous ocean.

I liked most of the earlier works of this film's talented Australian director Peter Weir, specially his 'Dead Poet's Society' and 'The Truman Show' and the earliest 'Picnic at Hanging Rock.' He has compressed 20 volumes of Patrick O'Brien's novels about the brave Captain Jack Aubrey into one film, for which he did meticulous research of sea battles and ships from the Napoleonic times. Seen on big screen, the visual impact of every detail (which means the gory bits are reportedly very up-close, but I had my eyes clenched and cannot verify) imparts to this film the larger than life quality of old fashioned epics, and though it is a long voyage and a lengthy film, it is certainly entertaining.

'The Last Samurai' was another such well-researched adventure-entertainment of the season with plenty of gore but which was also lyrically beautiful (over-consciously so), and in spite of its clichés and formula, it left you with a real feeling of having visited the far side of the world. 'Master and Commander: The far side of the world' in spite of its promising title and its splendid, storm tossed, battle ravaged vessel, never quite leaves the shores of the ordinary film experience, and is like a painted ship upon a painted ocean. Worth a see if you don't mind getting seasick into the bargain.

(And now: Calling Bollywood! Any takers for a Hindi naval film script to be hyper-titled…perhaps… 'Nakhuda aur Behri Kaptaan: Lehron kay aagey Jahan aur bhi hain'? Too short and not romantic enough? Okay, how about, 'Nakhuda aur Bahadur Behri Kaptaaney-Azam: Toofani lehron key Sarhad say aagey Dil ki Duniya aur bhi hain'? Sharukh Khan, are you listening?)



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