Monthly Archives: June 2007

Tamil film in the UK Top Ten

The Top 10 films in the UK for the weekend of June 16/17 included two Indian films. At No 6 the Hindi film Jhoom Barabar Jhoom registered a screen average of over £5,000 from 47 screens. There is nothing unusual about this as Hindi films regularly feature in the Top 10. However, at No 9 Sivaji represents what I think is the first Tamil (i.e. ‘made in Chennai’) film to register. Not only is it in the Top 10, but from only 12 screens with a screen average of over £14,000 it was easily the best earner of the weekend, beating all the Hollywood blockbusters. I rate this the most surprising result I’ve seen in many years of logging the chart.

Sivaji stars the veteran (57 year-old) superstar Rajnikanth in a story about a software engineer who returns from America to attempt to set up a hospital for the poor. IMDB lists the film as being partly shot in all four South Indian languages: Tamil, Kannada, Telegu and Malayalam. Distributor Ayngaran is the only outlet for South Indian movies in the UK and it must be delighted by its success, which as far as I can see is based on screenings in Cineworld cinemas in London. I confess that the movie sounds like it will not necessarily be attractive to UK audiences not steeped in South Indian culture and it is possibly not subtitled. Nevertheless, this is a breakthrough in revealing to UK film pundits that actually South India produces more films and sometimes has bigger audiences than the Hindi film industry based in Mumbai (i.e. ‘Bollywood’).

Sivaji opened in 15 territories worldwide and the diaspora audiences in Malaysia and elsewhere propelled to number 15 in Screen International‘s worldwide chart.

Yuva (India 2004)

Somehow, I found the time to watch one of the Mani Ratnam films I’d collected. Yuva (2004) represents something that used to happen in European Cinema in the 1920s and early 1930s quite regularly, but only rarely since – the same script made almost simultaneously in two different languages with different actors. Yuva is the Hindi version of a Tamil film produced by Ratnam’s Madras Talkies. An accident delayed shooting on one film and both versions ended up opening on the same day.

The Hindi version did make it to the UK but I missed it. I found a DVD on the Lovefilm rental site. It’s a poor quality DVD with a low resolution image, poor sound and dreadful English subtitles – not only with woeful spelling and grammar, but also out of synch with the images. It’s very difficult to work out who is saying what to whom. The fact that I still enjoyed the film very much is a tribute to the professionalism of the creative team.

Yuva is an important film for several reasons — even though it seems to have flopped at the box office. The title refers to ‘youth’, I think, though the youngest of the lead actors was about 26 in 2004. The story involves the chance meeting of three men on the Howrah Bridge in Kolkotta. As with his earlier film, Alai Payuthey (2000), the opening incident then moves into flashback to tell the stories behind the meetings before returning to the ‘present’ for the last hour (160 mins movie). The three men represent different class positions and different basic ideologies and the story focuses upon the attempts by student politicians to take a stand against a corrupt party machine. The great Om Puri, so well known in the UK, plays the politician villain to perfection.

The film is star studded, although I’ve seen comments that suggest that for Abhishek Bachchan, this film was very important since by accepting a ‘heavy’ role, he widened his range successfully. I did feel that the other actors were familiar, but it was only afterwards that I realised that three of them were in the Othello adaptation, Omkara (2006).

There is a great deal of violence in the film and the finale is rather cartoon-like. However, the violence is necessary, I think, and I thought Bachchan made an excellent villain. There are three aspects of the film I really liked. One was the political narrative and the way in which the script touched on what I take to be current political issues across India. The second was the range of songs and I loved the ‘political’ song sequence. Ratnam does seem to use song sequences differently than in mainstream Hindi films. Finally, it was just great to see a film set in Kolkotta. Several commentators have complained that only Om Puri managed a Bengali accent. I’m not equipped to spot that, but I appreciated the views of the city (although I noted that thanks went to Southern Railways, so I wondered how much footage was shot in Madras?). I realise that although over the years I have seen quite a few Bengali films, they have all been art films or ‘parallel cinema’ films. This was the first Hindi film I’d seen set in the city and it was good to see it soon after The Namesake. What a treat too to see trams and the metro as well as trains – Mani Ratnam’s films seem full of scenes on public transport of all kinds as well as motorbikes and cars.

There is an interesting review of the film on this American university site, although I’m not sure that I totally agree with its analysis of the closing sequence of the film. It does seem odd that Ratnam chose to set the political narrative in West Bengal, although if he had to transpose it from the south, it probably makes more sense than placing it in other northern states. I suspect that I need to know much more about Bengali political parties to read the ending properly.

I’m going to try another Ratnam film soon.

British FIlm Institute writes to authors

On the same day this week, I received a copy of my new book, Understanding Audiences and the Film Industry, published by the BFI, and a copy of the ‘FAQ’ sent out by the BFI to authors. This explains the realignment policy in terms of the impact on Education Publishing. It says that internal consultation re the realignment will end on 22 June and attempts to reassure authors that their rights are ensured if the list is effectively sold/transferred to another agency.

So, I have a book, but some doubts about who might be trying to sell it. I also have six sets of teaching resources jointly published with BFI Education. Add to that, I’ve been a member of the BFI since the early 1970s. I am a trifle miffed that the first formal indication of what the BFI has in mind, should come at such a late stage. The BFI is a publicly-funded body and a national cultural agency. As far as I can see it is facing a genuine funding problem with a freeze on the monies it has received via the UK Film Council. The BFI Directorate certainly should be thinking about how to respond to this situation.

But, funding crises are nothing new and we’ve seen many before. The BFI has many partners in what it does to support film culture in the UK. Previous regimes have usually tried to explain their proposals to partners. This time around, it seems that decisions have been made without all the appropriate consultation discussions. Who knows, the BFI directorate may have learned something? Let’s hope that the flurry of responses hitting the mailboxes at Stephen St. will have some positive results.

Men of violence: This Is England

Alternating with my viewing of Away From Her and The Namesake were trips to see This is England and Zodiac. Both the latter films feature male protagonists with women largely marginal and both feature scenes of violence. On first emerging from the screenings I felt that This is England was a terrific film and entirely worthwhile as a new British film, whereas I found Zodiac much more problematic. In fact I didn’t really enjoy Zodiac as entertainment, even if I could recognise the high quality of the direction, photography, production design etc. Since the screenings I’ve read a variety of reviews and the two feature articles in the May issue of Sight and Sound (check the This is England article here).

My only other viewings of Shane Meadows were of A Room for Romeo Brass and Dead Man’s Shoes. There are obvious links between all the films, not just in the use of some of the same actors, but also in the focus on groups of young men and the emergence of a character who is seemingly primed to explode. This is England seems to me to be a more mature film. This always sounds rather patronising, but it really does feel that it is a film that is more considered. I was convinced by the gang. However unlikely the juxtaposition of characters might seem to be, it felt right. The use of music, which in Romeo Brass felt ‘tacked on’, was here an integral part of the evocation of 1983. The costumes and production design were excellent too. The decision to shoot partly in Meadows’ favourite Nottingham suburbs and in Grimsby/Cleethorpes worked as well, though this was seemingly to meet the requirements of co-funders in EM Media and Screen Yorkshire. Geographically it didn’t make sense, but the scenes of Shaun (Shane?) on the beach could be construed as fantasy. The beach represented the last holiday with Dad, soon to be killed over the sea in the Falklands. It also worked for me in invoking a little seen Channel 4 funded film from the 1980s called Shoreline, in which a black man turns up on an East Coast shingle beach in the early 1940s.

BFI to write itself out of education?

The British Film Institute in its latest review looks as though it is set to move its publishing out to another agency. The concentration of bfi activities on its London venues, alongside a withdrawal from direct involvement in education publishing and DVD distribution is a serious blow to the further development of film and media education. The institute is putting more of its resources into its online presence, but can this be a substitute for what it once did in a more concrete way? Awareness of the plans of bfi director Amanda Nevill is now beginning to seep out to a wider constituency of film and media teachers thanks to actions by leading academics, co-ordinated via Meccsa. For detailed information, go to Prof. Pam Cook’s recently launched blog, bfiwatch.