Monday, September 14, 2009

whoever said old films were slow?

Bimal Roy's "Parakh" (1960) opens thus:

A postman is limping down a dusty road, from a great distance, with a heavy bag. He enters a yard. A little boy runs across him. He asks the little boy to call his sister.

The postman goes in, and puts down the bag. The postmaster says - You have a lot of mail today. The postman says - Yes, it is because people write too much. Job requests, love letters, letters of complaint.

A girl comes in. The postman asks her if he can have a cup of tea. She says yes, but there is no sugar.

He says, he will go get it. She is hesitant, how often can he get it? He says not to embarrass him, for it is God who gives, who is he? He goes out.

The postmaster asks the girl to take over for some time while he goes in to look at his ill wife. The girl starts stamping letters.

Outside at the counter, a man appears. He wants to make a money order.

When she replies, he is surprised, Oh it's you. She asks him to come in.

He comes in behind her, she keeps stamping the letters, not looking at him.

He asks her what she is doing there. She asks him why she cannot work. She is the postmaster's daughter. He says if she was the postmaster, he would make a money order everyday. She says with a schoolmaster's pay of 7 rupees, how would he manage to make a money order everyday. He is quiet. He looks at her from behind, and mutters, "That is why.."

She is apologetic for hurting him. She asks him where he has been.

He says he is so busy, there is so much to do. Since the elders of the village won't listen, the school boys and him have decided to clean the village on their own. She says why bother about doing good for others, when one is in such a bad shape one self. He says that if the country does well, all of us will do as well. And aren't you a part of the country too?

Someone calls from outside. Both shuffle guiltily.

Pandit enters. School master leaves hurriedly with an excuse.

Pandit asks for girl's father. Postman enters. Girl leaves to make tea. Postmaster enters.

Postman and Pandit get into verbal spat. Postmaster intervenes. Pandit leaves, insulting Postman as low-caste.

Postmaster scolds Postman for being rude.

Postman says Pandit is horrid. The other day when he entered his house with a letter, Pandit made a big show of cleaning the house with fresh cow dung. When he went the next day with a money order and asked Pandit if money would be acceptable from his lowcaste hands, Pandit threw him a shloka which justified his taking the money.

Postmaster says whatever it is, Postman is new here, and must respect elders. Now quieten down, and get to work.

So, in virtually one scene set in the post office, within the first 6-7 minutes of the film, we meet 6 characters and one off-screen character. We learn a little bit about each character, what they are like, what they believe in, and what their problems could be. We also get a glimpse of the village where the post office is, and the country where the village is, and the problems that beset it - unemployment, poverty, caste. Not only that, but the premise of the film is set down as well - money, and the greed for it.

Contrast this with what most Hindi films do these days. The exposition is reduced to a verbal introduction of each character, this is Bunty, he is blah blah blah. The voice-over has the air of being slapped on after the film is edited, and it's amply clear that the who? where? why? what? of the story are not clear to the audience.


Violet said...

Nice observation Banno.. I never feel that old movies are slow, I mostly find them more interesting and absorbing minus the crap and noise.

Space Bar said...

Love the header pic - so appropriate in the context also!

Banno said...

Violet, yes, I find the good ones take me in immediately.

Space Bar, isn't it? Teja shot a series called 'the morning after the shoot'.

Anonymous said...

Which is just why I love old films so much. And Parakh is such an especially beautiful film.

Thank you for that. A nice way to start the week, with a little reinforcement of what all those old films mean to those of us who like them...

Unknown said...

There is plenty of evidence in cinema to believe that voiceover is a technique (in fiction at least) used by lazy filmmakers. I'd say most of the films I've seen with a voiceover could do without it after a few script tweaks and a little creativity.

memsaab said...

I just watched Pukar and Sikandar (Sohrab Modi) and have never been so riveted to my seat in my life...even without subtitles (Sikandar)! Just so beautifully made, with such interesting characters and such attention to detail---and such ripping good stories.

Banno said...

Thanks, dustedoff. Watching an old film any time of the week is a good way to start the rest of your life. Right?

Aspi, totally agree.

Memsaab, Loved your review of 'Pukar'. Yes, the detail, the detail. Filmmakers these days, add a few expletives to their dialogue and get commended for detail. :-)

bollyviewer said...

So many reasons to love old films... But then they had great writers writing for films, back then. However, Parakh is an unfair example to hold up against films of today. It was so perfect a film that I dont think even other Bimal Roy films (let alone other films of those times) compare to it!

Anonymous said...

"Watching an old film any time of the week is a good way to start the rest of your life. Right?"

Very right. Watching an old film is my equivalent of comfort food.

ajnabi said...

You're right; showing, not telling, is practically a lost art nowadays, on both sides of the Pacific. :-( I only prefer those freeze-frame voice over intros when the cast is huge, like 12 characters or something. The scene you described, though, sounds great.

Shweta said...

hear hear!

and this is why old bollywood movies have so many more talking points than most newer movies- when there is lack of subtance, the discussion, I feel, can only go so far.

Banno said...

Bollyviewer, I think there is no dearth of writers even now. What kills the stories are the marketing gurus who are in charge of the money these days. And a misplaced sense of style. Usually nothing disguised as something.

Dustedoff, yes!

Ajnabi, as is the movie.

Shweta, I agree.

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