Dum Laga Ke Haisha (2015) – A Simple Premise Delivered with Careful Purpose (Spoilers)

When one hears Yash Raj Films, titles such as
Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, Mohabbatein, Veer-Zaara and Fanaa spring to mind. Feel-good, tragic, warmth-inducing icons of Indian cinema. So, when I read the synopsis for Dum Laga Ke Haisha, I had to double-check the production company. Here’s the trailer with English subtitles.

Dum Laga Ke Haisha couldn’t stand out more from the crowd. While couples in the films mentioned appear to overcome the odds, Prem (Ayushmann Khurrana) and Sandhya (Bhumi Pednekar) really don’t look like they have a chance at all. Firstly, they’re drawn into an arranged marriage that Sandhya appears to look forward to, at least. Secondly, and the stickiest point, is that Sandhya is “plus-sized”. Bollywood (Hollywood, too) heroines, even if they’re oddballs, are still too glamourous. There’s pressure for viewers everywhere to conform. That’s why Dum Laga Ke Haisha is an important film: it dares to be different. It may subscribe to Bollywood’s slice-of-life, feel-good style at times, yet it has an independent film feel.

The beauty of the film lies with Sandhya, which is an ironic statement to make given the film’s premise. She knows she doesn’t live up to standards looks-wise but she carries herself with confidence. A lot is asked of prospective brides: certain caste, educated, social-standing, culinary skills,
beauty, fair skin and obedience. It’s Sandhya’s prospects as a teacher that’s a large draw for Prem’s family. Notice how I said family. Practically the minute after their marriage, his family nit-pick at Sandhya, mostly behind her back but Prem’s aunt is catty enough to fling insults Sandhya’s way about her weight. Thankfully, Prem’s father counters this by highlighting his son’s less-than stellar qualities. She could be – is – a good-natured woman with her head screwed on right. Also, even with her figure, Sandhya is quite lovely – especially with her hair out. Unfortunately, her husband and his family aren’t willing to realise that. Until the climax of the film, she takes what they deliver, illustrating her inner strength.

The most heartbreaking moments of the film are in scenes involving the married couple. Not only is Prem visibly displeased during the marriage ceremony, he avoids being seen with Sandhya in public. She clearly relishes exploring local streets on the arm of her husband but he finds every opportunity to put space between them. He goes on about her weight, worst of all: he bursts out loud that he finds her physically repulsive to sleep with. Viewers feel a punch to their own stomachs, especially as she witnesses this. She smacks him (many would say right on) and he retaliates. At this point, things are spiraling leaving viewers wondering if there is any going back after this. The scene that evokes the most emotion is when Sandhya is forced to explain why she’s back at her parents’ home. She has to not only re-live the awful moment she was publicly insulted, but is forced to admit that society finds her undesirable. This once again emphasises the pressure Indian women are under, especially as carriers of their family’s honour. The delivery of this brings tears to viewers’ eyes.

With a family such as his, it is easy to understand why Prem just can’t get going. His father is overly-strict, pushing him into a box Prem doesn’t fit in, while his mother and aunt spoil him and overlook his flaws. That’s not to say he’s not responsible for his actions in the film, it just explains why he is so. It may be difficult to witness his lacklustre life, however Prem’s depressive state and his father’s treatment of it opens eyes. The message is to try to look beneath the word lazy and examine what has caused it. Prem’s family represent how not to handle mental health problems.

There are comedic moments that leave the audience either snickering or full-on cackling. Moments such as Sandhya putting on an erotic film to get her new husband in the mood, to his aunts overhearing his eventual bedroom exploits. ‘My son has become a man’ his mother declares. It’s difficult not to lose it at that point. Moreover, Sandhya’s brother is a little brat with his insensitive remarks towards his sister. Sandhya gives as good as is delivered, which adds to the humour.

A few more unsavoury actions from Prem towards Sandhya and he finally demonstrates some change. He accepts she deserves better than him and wakes her up to his family’s deceptiveness. While his transformation towards loving Sandhya during the couple’s race seems a bit sudden and out-of-the-blue, it’s definitely satisfactory to watch them both reach a level of happiness. After a struggle to adjust to marriage to each other, Prem and Sandhya are finally happy. The song and dance sequence during the end credits is an example of Bollywood conventions done right: the focus has been on the storyline, now that it’s resolved, it’s time to celebrate. Dum Laga Ke Haisha is a film to be celebrated, itself.

The Mystery of Rey: Clever Marketing from Disney

Following the revitalisation of the Star Wars franchise with Episode 7: The Force Awakens, one question emerged out of many: who is Rey?

Scores of articles appeared on Google daily, litigating Rey’s parentage. Some championed Luke Skywalker as her father, attributing similarities in character arcs, while others suggested Han Solo or even Obi-Wan Kenobi. Or some other theory entirely. The debate borders on fierceness, but one thing has gone unnoticed. The question of Rey’s background has sustained our interest in the upcoming Episode 8, and the franchise itself.

This isn’t just because they can’t cram everything into one film, this is because they want to hook us and keep us hooked. And it’s worked. Not only do we look forward to finding out what culminates following the drama of the Solo family, we itch to receive more hints (because we know the writers wouldn’t just have a character blurt out that they’re someone’s Father – oh wait…hehe) about Rey’s backstory. They have fed us tidbits in the form of the lightsabre discovery scene, which tells us that Rey was left with Unkar Plutt for her own safety. That entire montage has inspired countless minds to go into thinking overdrive.

In this way, Disney can be rest assured that this unrelenting ‘Who is Rey?’ question carries most of the marketing weight. All they need is a tantalising teaser and an exciting official trailer, and they’ve ensured that the Disney coffers will always be filled up. Conventions also provide the opportunity for fans to present their questions and theories: those end up making news.

Still don’t believe that story-crafting is more than just creativity? I present Exhibit-I’ve-forgotten-which-number: J.J. Abrams’ Mystery Box. In Abrams’ view, the mystery box symbolises opportunity; it’s imperative to keep it closed until the right time. Think delayed gratification. Whether you think the mystery box is gimmicky or lazy, in the case of Star Wars, it has worked. The number of articles, blog posts and youtube videos attests to that.

So, don’t have much money for promoting your film? Hold back on key details and promise to unveil them at the right moment. Then the reveal pays off. That applies to novels, too. Don’t worry about boring your readers and stuffing exposition all at the beginning. Toss a meat drumstick with the promise of a massive feast.

1st Person POV in Writing – Remove “I”s and Eyes

I came across this gem: http://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com/most-common-mistakes-series-is-your-2/ and my perspective on 1st Person point-of-view changed for the better. 

As we know, 1st Person involves heavy use of the word “I”, as well as a deeper understanding into the main character. Many people dislike 1st Person narrative, because it can feel like the reader is being bogged down with description rather than action. The temptation to explain everything results in readers knowing practically everything and not being given the chance to solve some mysteries, which is a point K.M. Weiland makes in her post.

Personally, I feel that, when done correctly, 1st Person can swallow the reader whole. We can immerse ourselves in the story.

Writing in 1st Person inevitably produces commentary, because you’re putting yourself in the character’s shoes. Sure, you have private thoughts, but you don’t mentally narrate backstory or exposition; you’re experiencing the moment. This doesn’t make you a bad writer if you recognise this during your drafts. Instead of being the centre of scenes, 1st person narrators should be the witnesses. The purpose of 1st Person is to become the character, whereas with 3rd Person it is to follow them. 

A way to do that is to remove the eyes. Your character is already “seeing”, so there’s no need to emphasise that the character has eyes. Imagine a line where the reader is standing at the back, next is the point-of-view character, then the eyes, and finally the action. For example: instead of saying ‘I could see the sun dipping below the horizon’ (or a better example than that!), use ‘The sun dipped below the horizon’ and just leave it at that. Highlighting that the character has vision is just surplus and bogs the writing down. We already know the character is spectating this, because they’re relating it to us: the reader.

 

Featured Image by George Hodan

We Need to Talk About The Keeping Room (2014)

Racking up just 2 1/2 stars on Netflix (as of 10th January 2016), The Keeping Room‘s quiet, unappreciated presence is puzzling given its hook. Three young Southern women left to defend their land against, well, anything, during the American Civil War. Two sisters and their slave. That in itself should prove a draw for some positivity as American Civil War films tend to focus more on the men going to war and the effects on their families, rather than isolating the story on female survival. To be fair, Gone With the Wind does feature Southern women coping while the men are at war, however it is overshadowed by the tempestuous relationship between Rhett and Scarlett. The fact that Augusta (Brit Marling), Louise (Hailee Steinfeld) and Mad (Muna Otaru) are the sole focus of the film, allows us to hone in on their situation without distraction.

Thankfully, their dynamic isn’t rosy; it’s raw. Augusta is the elder daughter who has taken charge and is calmly dominant, Louise is a teenager who wants to be Lady of the Manor rather than get her elbows dirty, and is bigoted towards their slave Mad, who carries out her tasks as she has always done. Mad always appears as if she wants to spit some truths out, but is unsure despite the somewhat equal status the three are beginning to share. An heiress (by lack of men), her demanding teenage sister and their slave sounds almost like “they walk into a bar”. It’s rather fascinating that without the backdrop of the Civil War, there’s little possibility of the trio being so united despite their positions in society.

The film, being independent, is in no hurry to press on with the plot, savouring everything going on in the scene: the pace matches the slow, hostile surroundings. This shouldn’t put anyone off from viewing, as  For such a barren land, danger hangs over them like a promise. It’s almost apocalyptic. The region is tense and the viewer becomes absorbed in that the-keeping-room-1tension. Uneasiness settles into the audience when they await the masculine violence on the horizon. On the hunt for medicine for Louise’s raccoon bite, Augusta is warned by a tavern owner that it’s not safe for her to be there, cut to two Union soldiers in the corner drinking and eyeing her up. With hardly any men present (the tavern owner seems to be the only man in the area), any woman is fair game. Any traditional gender conventions are non-existent at this point.

In the opening credits, William Tecumseh Sherman is quoted: ‘War is cruelty. There is no use trying to reform it; the crueler it is, the sooner it will be over.’ There’s a hardened statement if ever spoken; a justification for all-out violence. Moses, one of the Union soldiers, parrots this in a stand-off with Augusta to explain his thirst for pain and destruction. They’re both right: war is cruelty, yet I can’t agree with the level of cruelty dictating its status. The heavier the atrocity, the more likely the retaliation. Retaliation doesn’t necessarily result in finality. Well, in order to survive the three women have to resort to delving into violence.

The Keeping Room itself provides warmth, food and domestic cohesion (which ends up being cathartic), however it’s not immediately considered as a place to arm and guard themselves. Despite being associated with female domesticity, it doesn’t serve as protection against masculine violence, therefore they can only seek sanctuary by barricading themselves in the house once belonging to men, and arming themselves with the guns of their menfolk as well. Additionally, the women don men’s clothes knowing full well that they will be able to carry out their subversive duties with little harassment.

Could the film benefit from a little more backstory? Of course. I also felt that, despite voicing their reasons for committing their appalling acts, Moses (Sam Worthington) and Henry (Kyle Soller) are never fleshed out. Villains are villains, and yes, their actions speak for their thought processes, but even villains need some backstory. Although we know the-keeping-room-2they’ve broken off from the impending Union Army to forge their own path, we never really get a sense of who they are. The subtle difference: Henry is a drunkard who enjoys the company of women (whether they like it or not), but is also unpredictable. As for Moses: he’s composed and more controlled. He has the ability to mess with your head in the way that you don’t know whether you’re safe or in danger in his presence.

Thankfully, The Keeping Room has received positive ratings on Rotten Tomatoes,  as it deserves. Its indie status shouldn’t deter lovers of fast-paced, action thrillers (guns, cars, international gangs and the like): this can invoke the same thrills felt watching the latter. At (reaching) 1 hour 50, a further 10 minutes could’ve been better spent with the villains in order to increase our fear of them even more, thus making their presence more devastating on the viewer. A 2 hour film would undoubtedly not be taxing for audiences.

Writing the Dream

Don’t be disgusted with, or despise abandoned or rejected stories. They are your training wheels: they are educational tools. That piece of fiction you wrote off as rubbish will push you to conceive something stronger. That novel that was rejected by an agent for not having an exciting opening will encourage you to create punchier first chapters until someone says “yes”.

Keep on writing. Keep on polishing. Keep on dreaming.

 

 

 

Featured Image by Rostislav Kralik.

 

RebelCaptain a.k.a. Why I’m Emotionally Ruined by Star Wars Rogue One (Spoilers)

[Re the featured image: don’t they look like a couple there?]

Almost a week after viewing Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and I still haven’t gotten over the ending of the standalone film in the Star Wars franchise. RebelCaptain is the explosive ship name for Jyn Erso and Captain Cassian Andor, that is steadily accumulating libations in the name through fanfiction and fanvids. In changing the ending, Disney has snatched away a happy (for once) ending and has chosen to devastate us – it’s not enough that we were forced to watch Alderaan blow up in A New Hope – with the death of the ship.

Jyn and Cassian’s scenes together are so intriguing. One is impulsive, the other is methodical. One is a girl of action, the other observes until the opportune moment. When they clash, not only are their scenes emotionally-charged, there’s also another sort of heat. Even K2-SO picks up on it when he comments on Cassian allowing Jyn to have a blaster. Jyn and Cassian’s lingering looks morph into giddy excitement for the sh**-bomb they’re about to drop on the Empire, and we joined in on the anticipation. Why wouldn’t we? Both have been screwed over by The Man and want justice; now that they’re over the adjustment period, they’re ready to do it as a team.

Alas, the fans have spoken, and RebelCaptain lives once more in our minds and on our screens. Like Hell we’re going to accept that the two are dead. Nope. Absolutely not. Why should we? You can’t make them all cute and adorable and fighting alongside each other like a true power couple to then have them meet their end before they’ve even had a chance to be a couple!

rogue-one Doesn’t this look like a family to you?? Papa, Mama, sassy teenager.

I don’t buy this: they couldn’t survive because they would have to have their absence explained in the Original Trilogy. Firstly: it was decided last minute that Leia would be Luke’s twin sister. Not a lot used to make sense in Star Wars; things just happened. Secondly: Jyn’s father retired (hid) as a farmer when he was done being Empire Scientist. Jyn and Cassian could’ve decided that their purpose was complete: plans were delivered to kick start the end of the Empire and Jyn had reconciled with her father in a way. I could see them retired somewhere. That’s not being a dreamy, stupid fan. That’s a reasonable conclusion. Thus, fanfiction to the rescue.

Don’t tell me to let go I’LL NEVER LET GO.