Thoughts and other trivia...

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Oh, for a cigarette!

My Bombay trip has been stalled, as is work on the TV series, till almost the end of the month. Because, in their innate wisdom, the channel folks have now decided to find buyers for the showing the prospective sponsors our rough cut, which is, essentially, an unfinished film. Whatever! It's not very often that I use that term but, unfortunately, it seems to be the only appropriate reaction under the circumstances. I mean...why is it that every time they decide to let off monkeys from the zoo, they let them loose near my house?

Anyway, one unfortunate outcome of this is that I'm missing out on the MAMI Film Festival in Bombay. Completely missing out! Nothing can make up for a loss of that magnitude, of course, but what has softened the blow...just a wee the sudden appearance of a film club on my horizon and, therefore, the promise of one good film a week. It was one such film that made me venture out last Sunday.

Digression. Depending on one's perspective, working independently has its benefits. Or, not.

Unlike most folks, who have respectable jobs, work out of fancy offices and get paid at the end of each month, Sunday is just another day for far as I'm concerned, there's nothing special about it. I don't have to wait till Sunday to rest my weary bones, stretch my tired back, give my overworked mind a break, catch up on my sleep...or to do anything else. As a result, over time, the day has ceased to mean as much to me as it does to a lot of people.

Yet, psychologically, I treat it as my day off as off from what is hard to say. But, that's how it is and, if I can help it, I don't do much on Sundays. Resistance to plans for Sundays comes quite easily to me. But, I went out this Sunday. To watch a film. Alone. End digression.

I'm quite a sucker for most things Iranian, especially their wonderful films. What drew me out last Sunday was one such film from Iran, Dayereh (The Circle), by Jafar Panahi. And, I'm so glad I went because, apart from the fact that it is a bloody good film, I think, it found some resonance in my life.

Now, 'circle' may be a literal translation of the word in Persian but, to my mind, and in the context it is normally used in, dayereh should mean limits or boundaries...even confinement, of sorts. And, in the context of the film, I think, all of these meanings, including 'circle', work. Anyway, the film doesn't have a regular story or protagonist/s but it traces small parts of the lives of a few women, with each story being interconnected in some way, directly or otherwise. Each of these ladies, each, has either been to jail, has just been let out or will be heading there very soon. None of them, however, is a criminal and their misdemeanours are often nothing more than travelling alone, without a male companion and/or without their requisite IDs. Funnily, through the film, almost all of these ladies want to smoke but are mindful of the consequences of lighting up in public. Or, are reminded of the consequences by people around them.

Each portrayed situation is, obviously, character-specific as also a comment on the status of women in the Iranian society. Much like India, and I don't care if anyone insists otherwise, it's a male-dominated society in Iran although, clearly, Indian women have far greater freedom than their Iranian counterparts. At least the educated and urban ones do...for most part.

The film begins in the maternity ward of a hospital where, much like it happens in India, the birth of a girl is greeted with a scowl rather than a smile. That pretty much sets the tone for the rest of the film, with the grandmother of the newborn refusing, at first, to believe that her daughter had given birth to a girl and then running away to avoid her son-in-law and his sure-to-be disgruntled family. Next, we meet two girls, Arezou (I just love the way this name sounds...imagine it being called out in that soft, lovely Persian accent. It's a killer!) and Nargess, both convicts, who're trying to put together some money so that they can travel to Rozili (not sure about the name), which, apparently, is Nargess' hometown. They're also looking for Pari, their friend from jail.

What is funny and extremely poignant is the time when Nargess forces Arezou to stop in front of a painting on the street and claims that that is her hometown, where they're trying to get to. We get to see only one corner of the painting, a landscape, which is why I'm not so sure about this but it seems to be a copy of Poplars On A Hill by Vincent Van Gogh! Either way, this is extremely touching because, obviously, what Nargess sees is not so much her village but hope...or the security that she is seeking so desperately. Arezou doesn't respond and, you think, it's perhaps because she is preoccupied with the more immediate task of arranging for the money. But, later, when they have the money, Arezou hands it all to Nargess and tells her to go on, alone, to her Promised Land because, if it turns out to be anything less, she (Arezou) won't be able to handle it. It is then that you realise that she can see Nargess' fantasy for what it is. This also connects beautifully with my most favourite story of all time, Ha'penny by Alan Paton. In it, Ha'penny, an orphan and a juvenile delinquent, creates this entirely imaginary and fictional world around himself, complete with a loving family...but, I'm digressing again. There's something to be said about this actress who plays Nargess, and the look she carries through the film. For someone so young to be able to portray the pain and anguish that usually come with experience and, generally, life, is quite incredible.

Next, we meet their friend Pari. She is pregnant, wants an abortion and, like the other two, she is also on the run. That her husband/boyfriend was executed a few months ago complicates her situation even more because, without his physical presence or, at least, written permission, she can hardly hope to find a doctor who'll do the needful. Through her we meet another lady on the street, who is trying to abandon her little daughter in front of a popular club, in the fond hope that someone more privileged than herself will adopt her daughter. She tells Pari that, although it kills her to do so, this is her third attempt to find a home for her daughter. As Pari tries to dissuade her, the irony and, again, the poignancy of the situation are apparent: a woman who cannot have her baby is trying to convince another to keep hers.

There was something quite haunting about that mother...her face...either she is a brilliant actress or simply gifted with a face that lends itself so easily to a tragic demeanour. (Incidentally, she was one of only two professional actresses in the film. The rest are all amateurs.) After she has parted with her daughter, there's this track shot of her walking through the street at night, passing shadows and islands of light. There's something about the shot, which goes on for a bit, about the way she walks, about the look on her face...that feeling of, perhaps, having lost everything that had any meaning...that just completely breaks your heart. As she walks down that street, she is propositioned by unseen men in unseen cars. Finally, perhaps aware of her circumstances, or maybe because she is tried of fighting all the time, she sits in the next car that stops for her. Her luck, the driver turns out to be a policeman, who is out to nab prostitutes. As this car pulls into the police station, we meet the next character, a sex worker, someone who has clearly accepted her lot in life. As she is being led away to jail in the police van, she is finally able to achieve what many others had wanted to do and attempted before her...she takes out a cigarette and smokes. Then, as she enters the jail cell, we find that all the characters that we've seen up to now have also landed up inside.

As the last scene of the film unfolds, you suddenly realise that this is precisely where the film had begun...that that maternity ward is actually a part of the prison. So, even in that respect, the film has come a full circle.

There are many stories in the film but none are resolved. There are many questions too that pop up in your head but no are answers are provided. For instance, why does Nargess have that ugly scar on her face? Is her boyfriend, for whom she buys a shirt, real or imaginary? How did Arezou get the money that she gave to Nargess to travel? Was Pari married to the father of her child? Why was he executed?

Smoking is clearly used as a metaphor in the film...for freedom, for the freedom to make choices. And, if you think about it, the film is not just about the Iranian applies to all of us. If you think about it, the prison in the film is really a metaphor for the world and the many small private prisons in it, which limit many of us. I know because I have mine and, somehow, this seemingly simple act of going to watch this film meant that I had broken out of one of mine...or, at least, expanded the limits of my dayereh.

Next Sunday I'll be going back to the film club to watch Mohsen Makhmalbaf's Sokout (The Silence)...and I can hardly wait!

And, oh, guess what was the first thing I did at the end of the Dayereh screening? Yup, I went out and smoked a cigarette :-)


Blogger Ricercar said...

sounds nice
saw in the mood for love at the china festival at the film house here. nice
regular jobs are boring :)

3:04 pm  
Blogger Cocaine Jesus said...

so then, ater films is a bit like after sex for you?
you need to have a smoke!!!

ricerar is right...regular jobs suck.

3:34 pm  
Blogger km said...

Berry, berry good review...I must add this film to my DVD queue.

Now to find some free time from my mostly non-regular job to actually watch this film :(

3:16 am  
Blogger Tabula Rasa said...

hey - you should take time off in the middle of the week -- just because you can! it feels GOOD!

7:10 am  
Blogger GhostOfTomJoad said...

RICERCAR: Haven't seen In the Mood for it nice?

You're lucky you can go and watch these films at the theatre.

COCAINE JESUS: Hmm, hadn't thought of it from that perspective :-)

KM: And, just how long is your DVD queue? I stopped adding to mine a few years last count, there were over 600 :-\

TR: Oh, but I do! Sometimes :-)

5:53 pm  
Anonymous Livin said...

Thanks for the comments on my blog. Hope you enjoy your cigarette as much as you enjoy watching movies.

3:36 pm  
Blogger GhostOfTomJoad said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

10:03 am  
Blogger Livin said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

12:08 pm  
Anonymous Livin said...

Sorry being the kind of person I am, just had to ask - why was it a gloomy Saturday for you? Ouch! And could I ask a favour? Please delete my previous comment. Unfortunately, the moron that I am, I've gone ahead and published it with my blog link (dammit!). Thanks.

12:15 pm  
Blogger GhostOfTomJoad said...

Done...the link has been deleted. But, looks like I'm a bigger moron because, along with your comment, I've deleted mine mistake :-)

12:22 pm  
Blogger ruta said...

u sound like an interesting banda :)
normally i stay away from delhi-ites :)but u sound interesting...
ghosh how do u manage to write such long posts ???
articulate i must say...must be ur screenplay writing exercises has rubbed off on u too hard

have u seen zorba the greek..let me know what u think of the movie..i think the screenplay and cinematograpphy.. both are mind blowing..never seen a better movie than that..
wud love to know of all the movie fest in mumbai..plz keep posted :)

8:13 pm  
Anonymous chandni said...

please tell me its a film club in delhi and i will join!!!

2:43 pm  
Blogger GhostOfTomJoad said...

RUTA: Maybe I am "interesting" because I consider myself a Bombay person ;-) I've lived and worked there for many years and think of that city as my real home :-)

Zorba the Greek, yup, nice film. I liked it too. Anthony Quinn was great in it. I used to have the screenplay, which, for some strange reason, has now simply vanished!

About film festivals in Bombay...I don't know if one is starting soon but I can tell you that a bloody good one just got over - the MAMI. While you wait for the next one to start, maybe you can join a film club. If you're anywhere in the Western suburbs, you may want to go to the Prithvi Theatre, where they organise film shows on one day of the week...a Saturday, I think. Or, perhaps, you can go to the Mocha film club.

CHANDNI: Yes the fim club is in Deli. Will mail you the details.

3:41 pm  
Blogger J said...

And, oh, guess what was the first thing I did after reading the post? Yup, I went out and smoked a cigarette.

2:32 pm  
Blogger GhostOfTomJoad said...

J: Oh, did you? Good, join the gang :-)

5:05 pm  
Blogger sattva said...

aloha stranger...thanks for yr msg over at mine. the baby is smiling and the mommy is beaming :)

and all u smokers of the world should be transferred onto a separate planet where u can all enjoy yr 'freedom' and kill yourselves, the others and the planet itself :)

1:12 am  
Blogger GhostOfTomJoad said...

SATTVA: Ah, the Mommy Returns! :-) Good to see you again!

I think all the smokers of the world are going to unite and launch a counter attack. :-)

8:21 am  
Anonymous Szerelem said...

Sigh....I want to watch Iranian movies also!!
And I Love Makhmalbaf!
Btw, thought you might find this article on Panahis new movie in todays NY Times

3:11 pm  
Blogger GhostOfTomJoad said...

SZERELEM: Oh, I really wat to watch this 'Offside'! Thanks for the NYT lead.

11:12 pm  
Blogger austere said...

Beautiful. That shot about walking into the darkness was a bit like the pyaasa last frame?
Daayra in gujju is to sit and talk or discuss, maybe like a circle in a way.

Didnt get the part about "prisons of the mind" too profound for me, I guess. :)

11:41 am  
Blogger GhostOfTomJoad said...

AUSTERE: No, not like the Pyaasa this the camera just tracks along with the mother.

I've told by a friend that, in Persian, 'dayereh' does translate literally as 'circle' but, I guess, the word that I was looking for while writing the post was framework.

Right, sure...and we believe you when you say that :-)

5:10 pm  
Blogger austere said...

a frame of reference kind of framework?

4:41 pm  
Blogger GhostOfTomJoad said...

AUSTERE: I think I'm going to tie myself up in knots trying to explain this :-) but, then, what's new about that!

It's like a defined area of operation, if you know what I mean... somethig limiting in nature, perhaps.

6:16 pm  
Blogger austere said...

Ok, circle of influence-ish, perhaps. in the mind, morelike.huh.

10:43 pm  
Blogger wise donkey said...


4:01 pm  
Blogger GhostOfTomJoad said...


9:53 am  
Blogger wise donkey said...

after thinking about it, cant accept cig as a metaphor for freedom and choices.. after all the CSW probably didnt have a choice..
maybe its just a quest for a break or..

2:03 pm  
Blogger GhostOfTomJoad said...

WISE DONKEY: Why do you say the CSW didn't have a choice? In fact, in the end, she's the only one who goes ahead and smokes even though a policeman explicitly tells her not to.

I don't know if you're linking it with the health aspect but smoking has been used as a metaphor for freedom in the film. It is one among many choices that Iranian cannot make for themselves, not in public at least.

The point really is that even if it's wrong, one has to have the freedom to make that choice.

10:25 pm  
Blogger wise donkey said...

agree re freedom of choices.

no, its not the health perspective..(it could have been about drinking coffee.. or fresh juice:)
but its just that i wondered from the situation to the symbol..

and its not about moral judgements either..i think emotionally it would be tough for csw the most..

will continue to wonder about it..

5:43 pm  
Blogger Pappaya Pie said...

Mentioning an Arabic film , when the whole conv is about Iranian, is another digression...but going by the way you observed the subtle nuances and the way it affected you, i guess you'll like this one too...'Paradise Now'.

4:31 pm  
Anonymous Roseanne said...

Keep up the good work.

6:07 am  

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