Friday, August 25, 2006

Movie Subjects on the Subjective...

Its been a while since I blogged.. well..things have changed a bit.. atleast the location has.. and there have been some fruits from the change of location..have been able to borrow some really good movies from my university library....Rashomon and "12 Angry Men".. movies, quite a vignette from the past.

"Rashomon Effect": This was a phrase I heard once in a talk given by a former distinguished correspondent for the Frontline, Sukumar Muralitharan..He was trying to use this phrase to describe the spin that was provided by academicians, politicians et al about the verdict of the 2004 Lok Sabha elections. Each vested interest was providing an account of or trying to analyse an event of the past from his/her own subjective perspective. An apt term, I believe, the one used by Muralitharan.. which brings us to try to understand why indeed is the term being used?
Rashomon is a brilliant movie directed by Akira Kurosawa, the Japanese film director supposed to have been among the best in the business of his time. The story is pretty simple. A murder is being investigated in court and the people involved, the witness all give a versinn of the murder in their own terms and spheres of understanding. The truth is never revealed. Who killed the man found to be killed? What exactly transpired before his death? No one can tell for sure even after watching the movie. But what is clear is this, the human subjective element has a vital role to play and therefore any "spoken truth" is got to be prejudiced with the perspective tilted in the speaker's memory to show his/her relative 'goodness' in the whole affair of the past.

Surely the flashes from the back is lashed with details that glorify the role of the "telling" subject and therefore any jury hearing the same *must* consider this subjective element to bear upon the testimony. Kurosawa brings out this element beautifully. Even if the movie is a tad slow and has some extravagant acting by some of its actors, particularly the Kurosawa favourite Toshiro Mifune, its enjoyable purely because its a cerebral delight.

Add to the above is the fact that all the flashbacks are themselves narrated in flashback, the present itself showing characters who reveal their undersides. In essence the contours of the whole affair of murder can be reasonably ascertained by considering the present and the past including the subjects.

Yet another movie which relies deeply on the subjective element is the 1950s classic, "Twelve Angry Men". I had been itching to see this film, but never got the chance to see it in New Delhi. I had seen the Hindi remake, "Ek Ruka Hua Faisla" during a cosy channel surfing session in those lazy old days of mine in Hyderabad. The movie featured quite a few of the recognized thespians of today who owe their filming talent to the honing at the FTII, Pune. Names such as Pankaj Kapur, Suresh Raina, Anu Kapoor, etc re-enacted the original, transposed into the Indian milieu, an exercise that was done fantastically, in my opinion.

Getting to the point, "Twelve Angry Men" is a very different movie. Its wholly based in a single room, involving twelve unnamed strangers who argue about whether a person is guilty or not. Facts are reasoned out irrationally by some using the notions of identity or personal opinion. It takes a sharp interrogation by an "unconvinced till its convincing" man, played by Henry Fonda to make all others around him see reason. Reason therefore is played out inch by inch, statement by statement. Deduction and Lateral thinking prevail eventually over primordial notions and prejudices. Its almost the victory of the Enlightenment over the Dark Ages. The movie is brilliant, because it establishes without doubt that no matter how convincing it seems, anything cannot be accepted until its beyond reasonable doubt.

I had a sobering effect after watching this classic. Never again would I jump to conclusions, I tell myself, but perhaps this is just a subjective delight for the present!

I dont want to write a review of the movies, for that would involve trying to explain the story, which I think must be seen by any viewer to make out on his own, for the concern of these movies, is indeed subjectivity.


Dust-Biter said...

Kamal Haasan's Virumaandi has Rashomon style narration in the lives of 2 violent prisoners...I think that it was the first Tam movie to try it out...


Srini said...

Thanks for reminding.. I saw Virumaandi quite a while ago, and the movie was a delight in itself... more than Kamal's direction, I was enthralled by Pasupathy's acting. I thought Pasupathy did a splendid job in Mumbai Express too..

sanchapanzo said...

but, isn't "antha naal" by sivaji somewhat similar to the style discussed here?