Thursday, April 06, 2006

Being Serious

The "unexpected visitor" genre of films can hardly be called under-populated. "Six Degrees of Separation" comes to mind. There is even our own "Bawarchi".

These films are always about misplaced trust and they unfold in the following manner: a stranger enters a tightly-knit family (or a group - think Yoko Ono and Long John Silver), the initial mistrust slowly dissolves (one of the characters has a weakness that the stranger "reads" well) and the stranger, who is now accepted by the family, goes on to play one member of the family against the other and this ultimately has consequences. Whether the consequence is pleasant like in "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" or tragic like in "Being Cyrus", the message is the same: never let a stranger in.

Unfortunately, the film does not fulfill the genre's expectations.

My first grouse with the film is its characterization. There are no real characters in the film, only caricatures. Granted, film-makers sometimes use broad characterizations with an end in mind. Like in animation movies, fairy tales or even straightforward murder mysteries. Directors also sometimes deploy such characters for parodic purposes.

But what to make of the characters in this film? Remember the stereotypical Parsi of bad Bollywood films? He is back, more miserly, crankier and crazier than ever before. The director clearly loves whimsical characters. He loves them so much that when the story has nowhere to go, he unleashes the "Parsi experience" on the audience for comic relief. Just because the awesome Boman Irani can curse in Parsi does not make his character interesting. It also does not push the story forward.

My second grouse is again with characterization.

A noir-drama requires clear character-motives. Noir does not exist without motive. (Noir without motive is like a cat without its meow. I said that.) For nearly 30 minutes into "Being Cyrus", I struggled to understand the characters' motives. Which is ok. Motives could be hidden from the audience to heighten the suspense (and then suddenly revealed for a stomach-churning betrayal.) But just when the motives started becoming clear, that darned comic relief started breaking out like buttercups in spring: the cop with the "disallocated shoulder", Boman Irani's encounter with the little dog. Why?

The ramblin' Cyrus (he even quotes Tolstoy at one point) is nothing better than a psychotic android, if you think about it. But what is his real motive? Revenge? Money? Sex? I can't say for sure. But I think the film-maker wants us to sympathize with him. Sympathy comes with understanding. Help me understand the character's wants and needs and then maybe I will feel sorry for him, yeah?

Maybe the film should not have been named after Cyrus, but after another key character. After all, it is this (semi-central) character's desires that set the ball into play. I will not name the character to avoid spoilers. How much tighter the focus would have been and how much more story possibility lay in that choice. It could have been a fine tale of greed, revenge and manipulation. Instead, it turned out to be a so-so, "give him an A for effort, yaar" film.

At least it's a "so-so, A for effort, yaar" 90-minute film. "Being Cyrus" tastes like chicken dhansak that was taken off the stove a little too early.
But tell you what, I am not staying back for that vasanu.

Ha ha, I got two Parsi references in there. Clever of me. Exactly.


kundalini said...

su, km? i agree, mostly :). i think the characterisation was definitely weak, particularly cyrus's, but the film flowed well, and i enjoyed it. i think one mistake the audience makes is that they go in expecting too much parsi eccentricity. and cyrus delivers poorly, at least with regard to the bollywood parsi stereotype. the eccentricities are all there, but perhaps too subtle. as we walked out someone remarked, "this film could have been called being ravi". you're right, all the surprises were blah and flat. but i thought *each* person acted brilliantly. A++ there. overall, i thought this was a very good first time attempt for homi adajania.

scout said...

I didn't much when I went to watch the movie... and I actually ended up enjoying it. However much they try, Indian film-makers end up resorting to what they think appeals to a larger audience. I've resigned myself to that fact. Why else would he cast Saif Ali Khan... not for his excellent acting skills... despite winning best actor for hum tum or salaam namaste or somesuch.

scout said...

expect much. btw.

Alok said...

Haven't seen this film yet so won't comment.

but i think well rounded "characters" and "motives" are rather old-fashioned and dare-i-say even artificial constructs invented by writers to gratify viewer's expectations. and this is where those old film-noirs went wrong. everything well defined, with a clear-cut ending leaving audience with a false sense of closure and security, and in effect nullifying the effect of all the cynicism and darkness.

yes, finally back and settling down. strange, how things change so much in so short a time!

anurag said...

There are two films in this 'unexpected visitor' category, 'Teorema' by Pasolini and Ray's 'Agantuk', that I want to see for long time. probably there is much more to discover in this genre.

I too didn't like 'Being Cyrus' but for some different reasons. The films tries a bit too hard to show that everybody is bad. There is a rather good scene where the old man tells about how he used to beat this son, but it was spoiled by Saif's explaination (how he felt after listening it) of it. I have some trouble with narration, using an adjective-adverb loaded narrative and quoting literary references seems bit weary. and you are so right about stereotyping.

neha vish said...

Still haven't seen the movie. But on an average I trust your judgment. (Respecting the elders and all! ;))

wildflower seed said...

Hmmm, I think I am going for Shaadi Ke Pehle instead. Anyone seen it yet?

km said...

Neha beti, you are proof that bharat ki nai peedhi is not all about Vanilla Ice, stone-washed jeans and Walkman. Oh wait, you wouldn't get those dated 1980s references :D

VB: Shaadi Ke Pehle? Why??

Anurag: Agantuk, of course. Not my favorite Ray film, but how much more human those characters were (but to be fair, that was RAY's film.) Another thing: the "unexpected visitor" story must unfold in the house where he is visiting. Cyrus visits the house in Panchgani and then the action happens in Bombay. Eh? And you noticed the literary reference too :)

Alok, I know what you mean, but bro, drama depends on conflict, conflict arises from motive and motive *is* character. I am not saying a simplistic resolution is a good thing (neither is it a bad thing always), but the resolution must make tie all loose ends together.

Kundalini, Scout: different strokes etc. :)

Ph said...

Haven't seen the movie. But like Neha I am willing to accept your judgement. Not for the same reasons though! I actually KNOW what your '80's references are :P

km said...

Ph, that's some vote of confidence :)

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