5001: A Film Odyssey (1988-2018)

5001

1988. Carl Lewis wins the 100m Gold in Seoul Olympic after Ben Johnson is disqualified in the biggest dope scandal of the century. Guns N Roses releases Appetite For Destruction and Sweet Child O’ Mine is an instant hit. Pakistan elects their first female Prime Minister. Coca Cola is still banned in India. And on a quiet, sleepy Sunday, a VHS rental shop opens its doors right across our family home in Kolkata. Thus began my life-long affair with Cinema.

Sometimes life throws us unremarkable, everyday incidents which only become significant on retrospection. When I look back at Dabbu’s Video Parlour, I realise how deep an impression it left in my childhood and subsequently in my adult psyche. That little shop crammed with hundreds of VHS tapes made sure that cinema would run in my veins. If I have to pinpoint a life changing incident which turned my world upside down and flamed a burning desire in my heart to become a filmmaker that would be discovering the films of Andrei Tarkovsky. But Dabbu’s Video Parlour was undoubtedly the first catalyst where it all started.

So basically by 1988 I started to watch a lot of films. I have seen a couple of films on big screen by then e.g. Superman 2 and E.T. and a few more on TV. But VHS opened up a whole new world of Hollywood and I somehow felt that I must keep a journal of the films that I was watching. So I got myself a diary and started keeping a record of the film titles. The list was not impressive at all, with films like Child’s Play, Basket Case, First Blood Part 2 etc, but this was a film list of a primary school kid. And the list kept growing. Remember this was a time when there was no internet, let alone IMDb or Letterboxd. Nobody told me to do this. It was pretty much instinctive.

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2018. 30 years have passed by. In the due course I graduated from high school, from university, became a banker, quit the job, graduated film school with direction major, worked in the film industry, traveled to 12 different countries and finally wrote and directed my first feature film. Life has not come full circle yet and I have a long way to go and hopefully some more films to make. But in these 30 years quietly, almost unknowingly, a little milestone has been achieved. My tiny film list of childhood has crossed 5000 titles today.

Before I went to film school, when I was watching and studying Nouvelle Vague I read or heard somewhere that Francois Truffaut watched 10,000 films before he made his first film The 400 Blows. I didn’t know at that time that this was only an urban legend and it was impossible for him to watch those many films before 1960 in Paris. I was inspired by the tale. Around this time I was already getting tired of commercial Hollywood and mainstream Indian cinema. So I started to hunt down entire filmography of international masters from every period and remotest corners of the world, staring with Iranian, Japanese and American independent masters.

In 2004, I found a copy of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die in a book store, bought that and started using it as a film catalog. Later I bought the Oxford History Of World Cinema for a wider range of films and their history. I got myself a membership of a (now defunct) premium DVD rental service called Cinema Paradiso in Bangalore (yes, it was named after the Italian film, the owner apparently loved the film so much that he decided to open up a high end DVD chain with thousands of World Cinema titles). I also bought enormous numbers of pirated DVDs of international films and after the torrent boom, downloaded thousands of obscure and important movies. I am not ashamed of this, as it was the only way to experience these masterpieces in India. Thankfully today I have paid accounts on Netfilx, AmazonPrime and Mubi and I don’t have to use torrent anymore. Anyway, the point I am trying to make is that I am a product of the internet and internet has been my virtual film school which exposed me to the treasure trove of Cinema.

Due to this reason when I finally attended a real film school in Europe, it was seldom that a lecturer would speak of a film that I haven’t seen yet. Europe, however taught me way more than Cinema; it made me educated in arts, philosophy, music and all the good things in life and I will be forever indebted to that place. But that’s a story for another day.

My list on Letterboxd includes feature length fiction, documentary, animation, experimental films and short films only. It does not include series, miniseries, video art, music videos or pornographic films (the count would reach 10K then lol). The actual number is a little higher than 5001 in reality as many old and obscure films are not listed in Letterboxd e.g. Hanabari (1952), Deeper Naam Tiya Rong (1969) or Abhaya O Srikanta (1964). The list features films from more than 110 countries with almost every known auteur’s at least one film, covering every single genre, style and time period starting from 1878.

I live and work in Mumbai now, far away from Kolkata. There is a mobile phone shop now, where the old VHS library used to be and Dabbu’s Video Parlour is just a fond memory between me and my sister. Cinema has evolved from films to video to digital medium. Film language has changed, distribution has changed. But my love for Cinema has only grown deeper over the years. Today I feel happy to know that I do what I love, that I am too, a tiny little part of the vast and beautiful international fraternity of filmmakers.

On an average I watch around 100-120 films a year, which is significantly lower than what my annual count would be let’s say 4 or 5 years back. I reckon it would take another 10 years or so to reach the 6000 mark and frankly that number is not as attractive or grand as 5000. So today I thought, let me rejoice this beautiful, on-going journey that began in my childhood at Dabbu’s Video Parlour. If not for anything else… at least for reaching the halfway mark left by Francois Truffaut. Monsieur écoute-moi! Attendre Le Dernier Métro…I’ll be coming with you.

My Letterboxd Page: https://letterboxd.com/Raenegade/

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The River

The Lady of Shalott 1888 by John William Waterhouse 1849-1917

My heart is a wicked river
Its perilous current carry souls of driftwood
In deathlike silence of the night
Villages vanish under its raging waters
The floods gorge entire towns
Boroughs on its banks become marshlands of doom
And when the ripe sunlight shimmers on its cold bosom
Only the waterlilies are allowed to float
For the fishes to play hide and seek

And yet the treacherous river of my heart
Awaits the fateful day
When a ship will come sailing, carrying an elfin deity
From the land beyond the black-waters
With the curse of desire…love…and grief
And the unruly river will be vanquished and slayed
Under the delicate touch of her porcelain feet
For every river dies of drought or silt
This one will die a death of love

Featured artwork: THE LADY OF SHALLOT, 1888 by John William Waterhouse

Man Is The Evil One

Decapitation

Five times I loved women
Each time they were asked
Of only two things
For the worth of my heart
Do not stray and
Do not abandon
One left
Others strayed
And yet
Among all these archipelagos of heartache
And trecherous melee
I learned
That man is the evil one

Featured artwork: DECAPITATION by Rafael Rivera
To buy the original artwork visit his website

Relapse

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I feel sadness. I feel sad about things that shattered me. I feel sad about things that have not affected me. I feel sad about things that haven’t even happened yet. I feel sad that my mom will not be around in another decade or two, even though the smell of cardamoms and bay leaf in her rice-pudding will survive in the collective memories of my family. I feel sad that I will have to carry my dog’s dead body in my own arms, just like the day I carried him home when he was a little puppy. I feel sad that I will break ‘P’s beautiful heart. That ‘V’ will never know how much I loved her. That ‘B’ will grow old soon and lose her beauty and her invincibility. That ‘H’ will forget her millionaire-husband dream and will surrender to an unremarkable life, her ethereal body ravaged every night by an unworthy man. That ‘T’ will never wake me up in the middle of the night to pacify our unborn child. I feel sad that the kitten in my staircase will die within a week due to starvation and lack of love. My little nephew will grow up to realize that the world is after all not his oyster and he too will sit down and cry in the shower. I feel sad that the Bengal tigers will not survive in the wild and the future generations will not know how majestic the single horned rhinos really were. I feel sad that Mumbai will be buried under the seas in another 100 years. My eyes well up at unassuming moments, at inanimate things, like when I wash the dishes and the water swirls into the sink-hole or when the pigeon on my window sits in the pouring rain cause it has nowhere else to go. I feel sadness in the musty smell of a cloudy morning or in the loneliness of a movie theatre; sometimes in the verses of my own poems. My desperate attempt to hide behind a mask of an outwardly macho, aggressive personality, complete with foul language and reckless behaviour only reveals how terribly, wretchedly miserable I feel. And I do not see any hope. I feel sadness. That is the truest truth. Grief is my middle name, bleak is my future. I am spiraling down the tunnel of nothingness, each day closer to the ultimate darkness. There is no end to it. It is my disease, it is my destiny. But I have learned to live with it.

The Goldfish

mistaken_identity_in_photography_by_stefanobroli-d6mgjbm

Heavy snowflakes lash on my face
My breath is heavy
It mushrooms a dense fog around my head
I trudge through the snow
Slowly dragging myself against this rogue wind;
Trails of my footsteps follow me like a ghost
No men…no mice…no moon
No signs of life.
Even the trams, the cars, the old houses
Have gone quiet in a deep slumber —
It’s a cold frosty Polish night.

At a distance
A factory chimney spews white venom in the sky,
Like a giant cigar of an ancient pagan god
Dismal, abysmal — my Polish night
Watches me as I walk alone,
Like the distant nights of Babylon watched me
When I walked the stony lanes of medieval bazaars
In silence, in defiance.
Kingdoms went by,
Wars tore the earth,
I still walk the road
In summer, in winter, in rain.
In search of love. In love.

A tiny goldfish swims inside my rib-cage
It nibbles on my heartstrings
To remind me of you.
And the last brown leaf
Floats through the blizzard
To find me.
It whispers your name in my ear
Before wilting on the ground
Sighing its dying breath.
And I know
Soon, I will see your hazel eyes and blonde curls
In the underbelly of Prague
On a speeding Metro
And you will smile back at me.

On this cold frosty Polish night
When the trams, the cars, the old houses
Have gone quiet in a deep slumber,
I walk with your image in my heart
And the goldfish nibbles on it.

Featured artwork: MISTAKEN IDENTITY IN PHOTOGRAPHY by Stefano Broli, a photographic reproduction of the painting MISTAKEN IDENTITY by Ken Wong

Political Cockiness

Well to be perfectly honest, in my humble opinion, of course without offending anyone who thinks differently from my point of view, but also by looking into this matter in a different perspective and without being condemning of one’s view’s and by trying to make it objectified, and by considering each and every one’s valid opinion, I honestly believe that I completely forgot what I was going to say.

Note: Not my original. Curated from the internet.