Haider – a story review

When I went to watch Haider with Tota yesterday, I was clear that I wanted to view it from a story telling perspective. Any story, fiction or non fiction has one basic plot structure. You raise one big question, through or by a character (or few characters) and then try answering the question. For example the big question in Sholay was, would Thakur and his team be able to defeat Gabbar? The big question in DDLJ (by first half) was, how would Shahrukh get Kajol? Everything else that you show after the question has been raised, is a journey towards the answer. The importance of the question getting answered is also typically clarified. In other words, the audience should be clear about what is at stake. What will happen if the question is not answered? If Gabbar is not defeated, the village will suffer. Why should you care about the village? Because you start liking the nice people that live in the village. Also because you have been told how bad Gabbar is. And so you relate to Thakur’s cause. You want Thakur to succeed. Just like Jai & Veeru. If you remember, when they first came, they were just planning to loot and run away. But there is a scene where the ‘stake’ of Gabbar not being defeated is made clear by Jaya (at an emotional level). In DDLJ, it is clear that if SRK does not get Kajol, he is going to be unhappy for the rest of his life. His happiness is at stake. Why does the audience care about his happiness. Because the audience spent the entire first half loving SRK as a person. He is nice, romantic, funny and respects women. See how the story was built up to make sure you do care about the big question getting answered. Unless the importance of the question is highlighted, no one would care about the answer in the first place.

Another thing – the answer should not be obvious. The journey to find the answer should have challenges, confusions, fights, anything. I don’t have to give examples. Just think of the journey in both Sholay and DDLJ and you would see that for yourself. In some stories, you also might have one big question getting answered mid-way and another big question popping up right then, and then the second half of the story focuses on this second question. Ever remember seeing a movie where you thought only the first half was good (or only the second half)? Those would be good examples of movies where two different questions were raised, with stakes clearly highlighted, and then two journeys were portrayed. But for several reasons, you only liked one of those.

The above theory explains the plot for any story. But let me also share this – another element that differentiates good story-telling from a poor one, is the pace at which the story is told. If pacing gets fucked up, the audience will get bored and will simply doze off (even if it’s  good story). It is extremely difficult to get the pacing right and in my opinion, the amazing movie-makers and book writers are absolutely brilliant at that. Bottomline – it’s not just the story that matters – it’s also the story-telling.

Coming back to Haider, it raised two questions, one in each half. The first half asked – will Haider be able to find his dad? Is his dad even alive? This question was resolved around intermission. And then the movie asked, ok, so now that Haider knows the fate of his father, what would he do about it? The answer to this second question was resolved only in the last scene of the movie. Sounds like a fairly well though out plot. But I didn’t like the movie on several story / story-telling counts.

Let me begin with what I liked. I liked the DOP’s work (very similar to my own) and the music and sound (brilliant I would say). I also loved the Salmans. And the entire Salman Khan reference. Also, the acting may be (not the best, but fair enough). And now the two main things which didn’t work for me:

  1. The stake for the first question (will Haider be able to find his dad) was not too high. As an audience, I did not care about this question very badly. May be a little more time to establish a dad son relationship could have evoked me to genuinely wish and hope that Haider gets an answer to his question? The journey itself was fair enough. There was struggle, few emotional moments and some comedy as well. The unnecessary element of the journey, IMHO, was the time given to establish the nuances of the son-mother relationship. Or the boyfriend-girlfriend relationship. Those parts simply never added any motive to the journey. Nor were great sub-plots. I don’t know why those scenes where there. Just because Vishal wanted to adapt Hamlet?
  2. The journey to answer the second question (now that Haider knows the fate of his father, what would he do about it) was very nautanki types. It was neither clever or smart. It almost felt like Haider became a theatre artist in the second half. And for some reasons, the end, were the question was finally resolved, was unnecessarily dramatic. Though I must say, in this second journey, the stake was really high because after having seen Haider for over an hour, the curiosity to wait and watch what he finally does, did exist. But at several places, the pacing was screwed. When you raise a question that everyone wants an answer to, you can’t afford to bore your audience. This movie did not do a great job at this! It wasn’t bad either. Or may be I should have had more sleep before I went to watch Haider!

So that’s my technical review of Haider as a story and story-telling, more than as a cinematic movie. I know I did not much write about the mother-son sub-plot or the mother-uncle relationship plot, because though they existed and were shown, they simply never were part of, or effectively supported, the main story.

And this had to happen just when nana nani arrived in Goa!

This is the view from the bedroom in the new house.

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Yes the house is unsettled and all of that. We moved in just two days back. Neither of us had any plans of moving to a new house till 6 days back. But strange things happened. Worth narrating.

Six days back, I was in Chennai. It was a Sunday and I was mostly sleeping because I was pretty tired of working over the previous three days that included a day’s shoot in Kochi. So it was a Sunday and my Goa house owner (let’s call him Duryodhan) called me to tell that electricity might be disconnected by discom officials, any time in the next few days! WTF? Duryodhan said he got to know about this only 2 days ago and he was neither able to reach out to me on phone or find me in my house over the past two days. Yes, I was traveling but biwi was home.

Anyway, so what is the solution?, I asked Duryodhan. He didn’t have any solution to propose! Why would the electricity go off, I wanted to know! ‘Because there is some old unsettled dispute between the previous owner (let’s called him Ravan) and the electricity department, regarding an allegedly unpaid bill of about forty thousand bucks’. At this point, let me share a bit of background. Which involves both the present house owner Duryodhan and the previous one – Ravan.

When we had moved to this sea-facing flat eight months ago, there was no Duryodhan in the scene. We found this flat through a broker, entered into an Agreement with Ravan – the then owner, paid him 75k as security and the first month’s rent and moved in. We had been living for few months when one day Ravan introduced us to Duryodhan and said he had sold the house to him. Duryodhan assured us there was nothing to worry about. ‘Do you plan to live here?’, I had asked Duryodhan. ‘No I have bought it only for investment purpose’, he had clarified. All that we were supposed to do was, instead of passing on monthly rentals to Ravan, start transfering it Duryodhan from next month onwards. Which was fine. Duryodhan did talk about entering into a fresh Agreement between him and us, but for some reasons that never happened. I myself didn’t bother about it too much. At least not until I realized there were only four more months to go before the 11 month lease expired.

Who would be returning to us the 75k security deposit? I had an Agreement with Ravan who was no more the owner. So I checked with Duryodhan and he said he would pay back the deposit to us when we leave. But what if he didn’t pay? Afterall, I didn’t have any contract with Duryodhan right? So I told him that we could either sign an Agreement with him (which clearly mentioned that Duryodhan would return to us the deposit that we had paid to Ravan), or alternatively, Duryodhan could simply deduce the last three months of rent from our security deposit (both amounts – three months of rent & security deposit, being the same). He agreed to the second option. And that friends, was the background. And so let’s go back to the call where Duryodhan tells me, electricity at my place might get disconnected!

I thanked Duryodhan for letting me know about this issue that had randomly popped up! If the electricity was going to go off, then we had to move to another house. I called up biwi in Goa, explained the problem to her and she cancelled her dance classes the next day to find a backup accommodation in case electricity actually did go off! Also, my nana-nani (grand-parents) arrived the same day. Bad timing for a problem like this – I know! I just hoped they didn’t have to face any problems because of this random problem thrown at us simply because Ravan had electricity bill problems!

To biwi’s great luck, by Tuesday, she found out that another flat in the same complex (where we lived) had become vacant only ten days ago! She managed to get contact of the owner (let’s call him Krishna) and he was okay with us moving to his flat. He was also fine with us first moving in and then paying him the security deposit / rent. I was still not in Goa. From Chennai I had moved to Vellore (for work). I would return only a day after. Biwi had been coordinating all of this.

Now that we had found a backup flat just next to where we already lived, I asked biwi to take her own sweet time in moving out to Krishna’s place. I was to return to Goa the next day and until electricity actually went off, there was no need for us to hurry. But things changed when Duryodhan showed up to help biwi move few things to the new house (as a favour) and biwi realized he actually expected her to fully vacate the flat the same day! In fact he showed up with another couple who had been told that they were to move in to our house the same day! WTF! What was happening here?? This is when biwi totally lost it. So Duryodhan had been throwing random shit about electricity to us all this while!

I spoke on phone and said whatever I could understand about the chaos, sitting miles way. Eventually, because of biwis’ persistence, Duryodhan left with the couple. All his lie aside, we had a simple logic – how could we move out when it was not clear to us that who would pay back the 75k security? Duryodhan promised he would get back with our money the next day. The couple came back later that evening to have a word with biwi and that’s when this weird scam of Duryodhan got exposed. The couple told biwi that they had bought the flat from Duryodhan few months ago! They were the owners! WTF again!

So Duryodhan had bougth the flat from Ravan and soon thereafter sold it off to this couple. I don’t know what this couple were told about how much rent we had been paying to Duryodhan all this while! Why would any owner let the ex-owner take away a hefty rent like ours? In any case, the couple had been told a week back that house would be ready for possession to them the day they finally showed up! And absolutely nothing like this was ever told to us! What a cheater and lier this Duryoadhan dude was! I still could not figure out why didn’t he simply give me a month’s notice to vacate instead of creating this false panic around electricity cut-off issue (this remains a mystery till date).

I reached Goa the next day. Duryodhan gave out 50k cash to biwi before I reached with the promise to hand over the balance 25k once I met him in the evening after the shifting was almost done. And that he did. And even before I could grill him on the lies he had told, he blamed it all on Ravan. ‘Ravan is a very bad person, now I know. He lied to me about this electricity thing. There was never an issue like that’, he lied some more. I had my money back and a house with a slightly better view (especially from the bedroom) without anymore brokerage involved. So I didn’t bother to point logical flaws in his deceitful stories.

I can only pray to God that he minimizes the need to ever transact with the likes of Duryodhans and Ravans again. The Krishna fellow seems like a nice chap though!

So that was the story about us moving to a new house. I am glad it happened swiftly. Especially because my nana nani were here when this happened. And I am glad biwi took care of most of the things. I also wish I were here when this happened. I took nana nani out in and around Panjim yesterday. And clicked few pictures!

‘Only when I look at myself in photographs do I realize I have grown old’, said nanaji. As he looked at himself in photographs. And chuckled.

 

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Viva Sao Jao 2014 and other things…

Yesterday was June 24th. Yesterday was Sao Joao. Time flies by so fast. Last year, same time, Tota & Maina were in Goa, with Biwi and I. We went to a Sao Joao pool party in Dona Paula and our pictures came in the ToI supplement. It seems that happened only a few months back. Definitely not a year. Time flies by so fast. Tota & Maina are in Africa these days. Just when Tota was planning to quit his job, be jobless for a while and take up some traveling trips, he was given this new African opportunity by his Indian company. And he said, why not. So he is still working.

A few weeks back, an old acquaintance of mine on Facebook tagged me in a comment to a post. It was a post by someone looking for someone in Goa who could use his GoPro during the upcoming Sao Joao. I said, sure why not, I can do it. I am in Goa and I have a GoPro. That someone told me that he worked for a PR firm and Goa Tourism was one of their clients. The tourism department could make use of an individual’s video-documentation of the festival to promote it. But there is no money in it, I was cautioned. ‘But do you guys have a paid contract with Goa Tourism?’, I questioned back. I think he said yes. ‘Then why do you want to get a free job done?’, I shared my amusement. The department does not have any budget for this, I was told! I didn’t laugh on the phone when he told me this. But I could have as well laughed. Except that it would have been rude. But then I am not the politest person around anyway! May be I was in a good mood that day! So the tourism department has the budget to pay a PR firm but no budget for someone who can provide real content that can be used by the PR guys? So nice!

Anyhow, so I agreed to the shoot nevertheless. I had time. I was anyway shooting something or the other. Plus if the department did post my video on their site, I could ask for a link to ShaadiGraPher.com and that could increase it’s page rank in the future. So Sao Joao it was today. I went to Siolim. It’s about 30 Kms from where I live, up north. I went there because I had found out that a lot of people gather there to see some sort of a boat exhibition. I wondered what would the story of my video be? To answer that, I had to be sure what this Sao Joao festival was about at the first place.

Many many years ago, an angel told an old lady named Elizabeth that she would become pregnant and give rise to a great child. I guess the same angel also told something similar to Mary (who would give birth to Jesus later) at a later date. Now Mary and Elizabeth were neighbours. So Mary went to Elizabeth to share what she had been told (not realizing that Elizabeth herself was going to be a mother soon). So the story is, the unborn child inside Elizabeth’s womb sensed the arrival of the unborn child of Mary, and ‘jumped’ inside the womb. He would later take birth and get known as St. John the baptist (Sao Jao in Portugese). And it is his birthday that is celebrated on 24th June. He is probably the only saint whose birthday is celebrated! But history aside, in the present form of the festival, what people are supposed to do is, jump in water (I hope the ‘jumping’ connection is clear now that you know the story behind this). Textbook tradition is that the elders hide gifts inside water. I guess that would be to encourage youngsters to dive in! And because it basically is a festival of celebration, everyone drinks either before or after the jump. Last year, all I knew was that on this day, almost every swimming pool worth anything had hosted a party with DJ and music and beer where people could generally go and have fun. I never knew what it really was. This time, as I was driving to Siolim, I knew a little more. I wondered how much of the traditional celebrations I was going to enjoy.

I reached by 3 pm. That’s when the boats were supposed to come out. And they did come out shortly. A small stage had been erected on the banks of the Siolim river (or it could be a creek as one of the anchors referred to it). The river water was brown. I was sure I did not want to go inside water. Boats started coming in one by one. Some had mermaid mannequins sitting in  them, others had huge flowers. I flew my quad-copter all over the place and more than anyone else, those on the boats loved it. They would wave hands and scream Sao Joao every time the quadcopter would fly pass them. Lara Dutta showed up for a short while on the stage. She has a house in Siolim where she often lives. Overall a fun evening. Hope you like the video that I made.

I wonder how long a life like this will go on…

[from few days ago…]

I hear the sound of the fan rotating above my head. I hear sounds of water dripping outside. Rains have picked up vigour since last couple of days. And when fans are on after a heavy rainfall, the air feels cold and pleasant.

I look at the sea outside. And I wonder how long will a life like this go on. A life in Goa with a sea-view and no office to go to. The last post where I had talked about fearful dreams, was written in Bangalore. I was there for a shoot. The same client had needed me in Mumbai a few days later (Bangalore me shaadi, Mumbai me reception – and that’s why). And then I returned to Goa. And since then, I have been in Goa. With no office to go to. With just the sea to watch. And biwi. I did take up two very small time shoots in Goa itself, but other than that, I really didn’t have much to do. I am not making as much money as I should be. We had been to NZ in Feb end and I am yet to clear off the credit card bills.

[present…]

I picked up a 2X3 white board yesterday (or may be day before). I am not sure why but since last few days I have been craving to have one with me. Where I can write down things that I feel like. No, not just to-do lists. But anything, you know… The kind of things one writes on whiteboards. Or draws on whiteboards. Now that I have it, it feels great. I can let part of my energy pass on to the board. Especially ideas. Ideas about how to position ShaadiGraPher better. Ideas about new documentaries. And things like that. I mean I have done it on computer. And I am sure I will be doing it on computer (noting down ideas). But a whiteboard is so on your face type of thing that it’s so much more charming than opening up a text file on your laptop.

It’s almost one in the night. It’s not raining. It’s kind of humid and chip-chip. And I am writing about whiteboards. Funny! But I was so much more funnier at a point of time! What has happened to me, I wonder! Not always, but sometimes! And I also wonder how long a life like this will go on… Not always. But sometimes.

These fearful dreams…

It doesn’t happen all the time but I do partly remember what I was dreaming about about an hour ago when I woke up. I saw all my colleagues in my last consulting company becoming managers and partners and being happy about it. I on the other hand, was well still trying to figure out what was to become of me. It didn’t feel great. I know what I lost when I left my job. But I don’t know what I am going to get now in life. I didn’t like the certainty of the future that my corporate life offered. But I also don’t like the uncertainty of the future that the now jobless life offers.

The business that I am in at present – wedding photography – is wildly competitive. That doesn’t mean I doubt my survival. But the moment you start working towards surviving, what you do becomes ‘yet another job’. :) And I definitely don’t want myself to turn into a wedding photographer for life. Or even photographer for life. That never was the idea. Wedding photography was a simple means to buy myself more time than my corporate life offered. Without significantly losing up on money. And it has served the purpose so far. I might be good at photography (and since a while, cinematography), but photography is definitely not my sole passion in life. In fact, I am not a ‘passionate’ photographer as some tend to believe.

The idea behind buying more time for myself was to use that time to discover that one thing about which I could care more about, than I cared for consulting. And as far as photography goes, well, I am not very sure if I care more about it than I did about consulting. I mean only if consulting could pay me as much as photography does with just a week’s work every month, I would happily go back to it. But that will never happen. Not even if I become a partner. And that’s why I will never go back to consulting. Or any other full time corporate job. But that doesn’t mean I have to keep doing photography. And that means, my quest to settle down with something I really care about, is a long long road. Full of uncertainties. And these fearful dreams. And I guess it’s still worth it.

So is there anything at all, that I think I would settle down with? Where I don’t feel what I am doing is just for the money (consulting) or time (wedding photography)? I guess, making movies sounds pretty cool at the moment. Pretty inspiring. And very very challenging. I have no clue how to get started in that direction and it is this vagueness that makes some of my nights sleepless. I want to make movies and yet I have not idea how to do that. I am glad that I have at least started to work on short documentaries. But it has its own challenge. No, the problem is not in finding people to make documentary movies on (thanks to the IIT network – I know a bunch of pretty cool people with interesting stories / ideas and companies). The real challenge is in creating anything that is as “interesting” as I would like it to be. Something which you simply can’t stop once you hit that play button. Creating a non-boring story does not come naturally to me, that I have realized. And so I wonder sometimes, will I ever succeed as a documentary film-maker and then as a movie-maker (when I am able to do that)? At this point of time, I only hope that the story-telling skill is something that one can develop over the period of time. And that is the only plan I have for my immediate future. Crazy life! What’s up with you guys? Your jobs keeping you happy? :)