Thursday, December 20, 2012

Elephant Talkies

I miss the old days of real cinema, when computers were not part of the film making process.

I am getting a little tired of being asked to enjoy the graphics in a movie. Sure, they are amazing, what you see in 3D these days. The graphics will keep getting better. But give me old world cinema with much dialogue, the montages, the simple editing and smart camera angles any day. The more technology advances, the more I realize how much old world I am.

So the other day I had a bad mood day and went to watch Life of Pi, because everyone said I just had to watch it. One of the lenses of my 3D glasses had fallen off. Even if they hadn’t, I would still have gotten bored. I got thoroughly bored watching that movie. There, I said it. I haven’t read the book, so it isn’t my traditional dislike of movies that are based on books. Richard Parker is good, no doubt. But to me, the movie was way too artificial for it to stay on in my mind after I left the theatres. Sure, I agree that without the help of technical wizardry, the film couldn’t have been made, not with that kind of story. But there is nothing moving about computer generated shipwrecks and struggling tigers. No sir, that don’t impress me much. I am happy to be in the era of The Artist and Cinema Paradiso.

Today, being in another of those many moods, I decided I had to see mountains and animals. Having heard the Tamil film Kumki was good, I bought myself a ticket and settled in, nearly squealing with joy that there were no screaming kids in the entire row! (A whole different post on kids in public places, I must write.) There was a couple eating popcorn noisily, but that was ok. Given my jinxed histories, as long as I cannot see a kid in my immediate line of sight, I shall be happy.

So Kumki was a film I had heard the songs of and quite liked. The story is of a mahout and his elephant going to a village to deal with a lone tusker that is causing havoc in the fields and killing people. The mahout, a handsome Vikram Prabhu, falls in love with the headman’s daughter and stays on, even though his elephant isn’t trained to be the kinds that can chase away a wild lone tusker. So the story goes on.

I thought the cinematography was pretty good. But then, show me green dense forests and many shots of tall mountains and I will love the whole film. The village is planted in a valley and is surrounded by the most gorgeous mountains. The shots of the forests are picture postcard perfect, with sunbeams falling in through the trees and the water in little streams glistening like silver fish. Shots of the skies are shot in HD format, I thought. I don’t care much for those kinds of photographs, the colours are too enhanced for my taste.

Kumki is quite a good film, overall. The hero is nice eye candy and the little village love story is rather cute. Unlike most Tamil films, there is no separate comedy track, which is a relief. The pace is rather slow; but the songs are catchy. Towards the end, it falters and stumbles. SPOILER ALERT: The whole movie builds up to an event where the tame city elephant is supposed to drive away or kill the lone tusker. The fight, when it happens, last all of less than five minutes and is computer generated. Which is fine, I wouldn’t have wanted them to hurt a real elephant but the graphics aren’t exactly the best in the market. After the lush green fields and clouds kissing mountains, the fight, with swift editing and on slippery mud, provides a very jarring effect. That spoiled it for me.

I am the sort of person that bawls at the slightest hint of an animal being hurt in a film. I never watch dog movies, because the dogs always die and I weep endlessly. I like my animals alive and happy at the end of stories. Which is never the case. Which is why I never watch animal movies. With Kumki, though the animal-human bonding is shown beautifully, when the killer fight does take place, there isn’t any time to feel sorry for the hurt animal. Plus with the graphics in place, I wasn’t moved at all. SPOILER ALERT: So when the lone tusker is pushed off the edge and then Manickam, the tame one, extends a hand to the mahout before it falls on its side, shedding a few tears before it dies, I was not touched. I did not even get misty eyed.

It must have been the graphics. The movie stops short of being really good. I would watch it again for the mountains, the Jog Falls and sunbeams spilling in through the trees. But to hand it to the director, the ending didn’t have the threads neatly tied up and presented to the audience as a going away gift. I quite liked that.

Now I am thinking of mahouts and their relationship with their elephants. Sometimes, they grow up together, I hear. The Jenu Kuruba tribe in Kodagu is good at this. The last time I was home, there was a sports day for the elephants at the Dubare camp. Before every command, I saw the mahout and his helper repeatedly touch the elephant’s forehead and legs, respectively, and say a quick, silent prayer. The elephants are mild creatures, most times, but the men are always in danger. I found the mutual trust and respect heartwarming.

That leads me to another story. But that is for another day now.

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