Full Metal Jacket

If you thought you had seen the definitive Vietnam War movie without seeing Full Metal Jacket, then think again. Stanley Kubrick’s narrative about a bunch of American marines who make the transition from boot camp to battlefield is as compelling as it is unforgiving. The transition is an allegory for a transformation of soldiers from raw youth to hardened, dehumanized killing machines.

The movie is an exploration of a contradiction: How do you reconcile the urge to recognize the enemy as a human being with the necessity of treating a human being as an enemy? After all, American soldiers were in Vietnam, or so they were told, to help the ‘gooks’ to help themselves. Or in the words of private Eightball, “I don’t understand them (he means the Vietnamese). I mean…we are here to help them out and they don’t even seem to appreciate the fact?”

Boot camp is a particularly grueling place pit bulled by a hard task master of a sergeant. He says that he “does not discriminate between niggers, punks, kikes and other forms of low life. They are all equally worthless?” He gives his ‘ladies’ hell everyday, and some fail to make the cut. In one memorable scene early on, he lines up the marines and gives them names: Joker, Gomer, Eightball, Animal Mother. Henceforth they are to call each other by their boot camp nick-names, the first step in erasing their humanity and becoming programmable zombies.

The contradiction plays itself out through the agency of private joker. In Vietnam he wears a peace button and a helmet that says, ‘born to kill.’ Does he love his country? Yes, he does, or at least that’s what he tells his superior officer. He is the leader of his group in boot camp and wants to help out private Pyle, a slow learner, but also dislikes him because he is getting the group in trouble with his moronic ways. There are hints about his ambivalent feelings towards the enemy. But he has to suppress them to preserve his own sanity. The contradiction explodes spectacularly in the climax, where joker has to make a choice. The choice he makes does not resolve the contradiction, but puts him in an easy frame of mind.

The film has all the traditional Kubrickesque elements: scenes that close with dramatic endings, slow dissolves that linger in the mind long after, music that is alternatively haunting and cheerful, brilliant frame compositions and a surreal feel. The combination of dialogue, music and visuals packs a taut left hook. Watching the film I couldn’t but help thinking about contemporary events in the Middle East. A case of history repeating itself? Just replace ‘gooks’ with ‘sand niggers’ and ‘North Vietnamese Army’ with ‘Al-Qaida’ and this could be a movie about the Iraq misadventure.

An Interview With Mani Kaul

Q. Can you tell me something about your batch at FTII?
A. I was in the 1963-66 batch. Kumar Shahni was my batch mate, John Abraham was junior while Adoor Gopalakrishnan was a year senior to me. We lived in a very different era. The 1960s was a decade of great ferment and unrest. The environment at FTII was very loosely structured, perhaps it was something to do with the times. At the institute we all believed that we could make films expressing our individual vision. John worked with me on my first film Uski Roti.

Q. What was the narrative style of your first few films?
A. One of my major influences was the French film maker Robert Bresson. Bresson’s films reflected a particular strand of Christian belief called Jansenism which manifests itself in the way leading characters are acted upon and simply surrender themselves to their fate. I believe that cinema is not so much visual as it is temporal. But most film makers concentrate on the spatio-visual aspect. This has led to certain problems. What time reflects is more contemporary than the arrangement of a set of visuals. I do not want to focus on this visual aspect in my films, but want to make the temporal aspect primary.

Q. Did you use music in your films?
A. Film expresses itself through images and sound and to that extent I don’t believe that music is that important to the narrative. I have made a few movies that incorporate Indian classical music. I am inspired by the form of Indian classical music and have used this form in my films. Hindustani music is spontaneous and has highs and lows and climaxes. I like to elaborate on the narrative, just like music.

Q. Did you want to convey a certain message to your audience?
A. No. I made films because I wanted to make films. I didn’t do it with the intention of giving the audience a message. The act of making a film is a social act.

Q. You were part of the new-wave movement of films in India. What were the concerns of the movement and how far did the message penetrate the audience?
A. The new wave movement was a parallel movement to the mainstream cinema in India. We wanted to find a form that corresponded to contemporary reality. Usually, the mainstream films used a medieval idiom. So obviously there was a discrepancy. We tried to create something new.

Q. Were you disappointed that your films didn’t achieve mass appeal?
A. No, not at all. I was well aware that my films would have a limited audience. We were up against a distribution system that manufactured an audience by feeding them the same mainstream formulae. Though my films didn’t get released commercially, there were a number of film screenings.

Q. But there was a lot of debate about your films in the media.
A. Yes, at that time there were a lot of write-ups in the media about them. Journalists felt that it was important to let readers know about the parallel film movement, even though most people wouldn’t get to see my films commercially. Times are very different now. There is absolutely no debate or discussion about what kind of a world we are living in, no attempt to understand it. I was in America at the start of the Iraq war and I couldn’t find a single T.V. or radio station that spoke out in clear unambiguous terms against the war. The entire media toed the line of the American administration.

Q. Why did you stop making films?
A. For the last five years I’ve been teaching music, especially the dhrupad style, and exploring its form. I am thinking of getting back to film making now.

Q. You have also made documentaries. What difference do you see between your films and documentaries?
A. The dividing line between my films and documentaries is thin. Some of my films, like Siddheshwari, are like poetic documentaries. Another documentary, Arrival, is about labour migrating to cities.

Q. What do you have to say about Paheli?
A. The very meaning of a Paheli is that it can be solved whereas a Duvidha can’t be. In my film, the woman couldn’t choose between the material and the spiritual husband. So in that sense, for me the problem still continues. In Paheli, the woman makes a choice. I guess that’s why the film makers called it Paheli.

La Femme d’a Cote

Love is a warm feeling that makes people feel elevated. By the same token, love can also make people experience the darker side of human emotions like jealousy, anger, pain and trauma. The potential for love to go from good to sour is very real in every relationship. La Femme d’a Cote is a film about two lovers who experience this two-sided nature of love throughout their relation.

Bernard (Gerard Depardieu) lives with his wife and five year old son in a quiet little village. He is a loving husband and a caring father. The happy family life is shattered by the arrival of their new neighbours. Outwardly, everything is ok. The two sets of neighbours do the things expected of them, like invite each other over. But we learn that Bernard and Mathilde are in fact former lovers who separated due to misunderstandings. The passionate feelings they had for each other haven’t quite disappeared, though that they are married to other people. In fact, the proximity serves to reignite passions.

Throughout the film, their relationship displays a constructive and a destructive side. It is as if the ex-lovers, now reunited, are not able to decide whether to love fully or remain bitter about the past. Bernard is particularly affected by Mathilde’s re-entry into his life and shows it outwardly. Mathilde, is also equally affected, but her ardour is tempered by a conflicting feeling of wanting to move on.

The dynamics of the relationship are too much for Mathilde and she suffers a nervous breakdown. In hospital she experiences extreme mood swings and depression. Bernard meanwhile has managed to contain his emotions, barely.

Is the relationship doomed to be trapped in this conflicting mode? The only way out of it seems to be a violent catharsis. Mathilde returns home one night and makes love to Bernard. She then shoots him and then pulls the trigger on herself. At last the lovers are where they would have wanted to be; neither with anybody else, nor with each other.

But is this the only way it could have ended? I don’t believe so. In choosing a violent end for the lovers, the director (Francois Truffaut) seems to be suggesting that such conflicting emotions cannot exist without clashing and will self destruct. I don’t quite agree with this reading.

We, the people

Can you talk in images? Can you paint the colors of my land in three dimensions? Can you evoke the smells of forgotten memories? Can you differentiate the manifold tastes of an entire ethos? Swades, the film, did and does that for me. Arguably, the best film to come out of the Indian mainstream cinema in recent times.

From the beginning to the end, it is filled with profound dialogues, scintillating and soulful music, brilliant performances and vibrant cinematography. It brings to life the true India; the many inconsistencies, the innumerable inequities, the uncountable hurdles, the heartbreaking poverty, the heady feelings, the wonderful warmth, the sensual colors, and the sense of being and belonging.

Each time I see it, it is as if I’m seeing it for the first time. Each time I share the joy, sadness, love and laughter of real people in a real film. Each time I miss the many things I’ve left behind. Each time I yearn for a land that is far away yet makes my heart shed a thousand tears. Each time I remember what I gave up in search for material want and worldly knowledge.

Almost every frame is a study in perfection. The film is full of iconic images, the boy selling water at the train station, the lead character traveling in a boat, the language of love spoken solely through the eyes of the actor and actress, the electric bulb lighting up the face of a half-blind woman, the nostalgia for one’s own country told through one heart wrenchingly beautiful and powerful song, and how can one forget the sheer beauty of the music lending an extra dimension to all the scenes mentioned and more.

Every Indian should, no, must see this film. And not just an Indian, anyone wanting to experience what it is to be an Indian and what she is at the core needs to see it. Don’t give in to the clichés of cows, beggars and poverty. India is justly more than the sum of these parts. India is indeed the crucible of all civilization as someone rightly said.

This film is worthy of a hundred awards. I bow to the courage of the director to make such a film, a film which did not appeal to an audience deadened into accepting overacted melodramas, disconnected dramas and unrealistic love stories. I salute the near genius of the music director and I congratulate the visual poetry of the cinematographer and production designer. I hope this will bring in a revolution in mainstream films and mark the beginning of an alternate approach to film making. A style of film making that revels in telling a story and yet does not shirk from pointing out the truth, disguising hard reality or including a message.

We need more people like Mohan Bhargava. We need more dreamers like him who have the courage to fashion a new India, an India worthy of admiration, an India leading the world again, taking her rightful space at civilization’s forefront. To paraphrase Rabindranath Tagore, let her become a teardrop on the cheek of eternity.


The film ‘Matrubhoomi – A nation without women’ is an exceptionally powerful one by new comer Manish Jha. The theme dealt with is female infanticide in rural India. It is a fictionalised description of a village where there are NO women left because whenever a girl child is born she is disposed of. The director tries to imagine what life would be in such a setting. How would the absence of women affect life? What would the nature of interpersonal relations between the men be? The setting is eastern UP or Bihar.

The film is extremely well crafted. Cinematography by Venugopal is excellent. The ambience is authentically recreated and the lighting is marvellous. The background music is amazing. You can feel an undercurrent of tension running through the film which hits you with the force of a sledgehammer later on.

I found some flaws in the film. One of the criticisms is that the lone female protagonist is depicted as a helpless persone and the director has not given her any agency. I would argue that that is the reality in villages, particularly in North India, so whats wrong with depicting it? And I thought that the way he depicted the caste violence was a little amateurish. And ‘kalki’s(thats the name of the female protagonist – newcomer Tulip Joshi) hindi sounds a little out of place. The others in the film are obviously theatre people and authenically manage to carry off the dialect prevelant in the area.

Apart from these flaws, I think the film is a genuine attempt at exploring one of the burning issues in ‘Bharat’, unfortunately one that not many people in ‘India’ care about. But I would be interested in getting a feminist perspective on the film. I want to know what women think about it. So please watch this movie.


The rain fell like warm feelings, wetting my heart with the tears of yesterday. I wandered down the street moving in and out of the long shadows. The street was mostly empty reflecting the state of my mind. My eyes stared at the way the raindrops rolled off the edge of my fingertips, drop by drop, and one after the other in slow motion. I like rain and the manifold forms it takes. The late summer evening shower is the best, washing away the heat and grime of the day with a gentle whisper. Lo! The sun peeked out of the corner of a cloud like a shy child. I bathed myself in this sudden radiance, cleansing my emotions with the weightless photons.

The sky opened its arms for me. I covered myself in the warmth of its blue embrace. Eyes closed, hand folded over my chest I fell into an ocean of dreams. Seldom does one find such a perfect stillness, a stillness which can be sliced with the edge of a sword. I traveled far, as far away as possible to a land where deserts wrote poetry with sand and rocks radiated wisdom with their silence.

I touched red water with my feet and kissed blooming flowers with the edge of my tongue. I held warm flesh in my arms and caressed the sinuous curves of beautiful bodies. I fought ugly moods and played with splendid emotions.

Green memories tumbled over each other in my head in an effort to gain the gift of permanence, each one a box of feelings and hidden insights, each one a window into time distorted by the play of light and thought. I moved on, counting the cobblestones receding under my feet like milestones of the mind. In the distance, I could see my destination appear out of the wet haze.

Nothing mattered anymore. The days may roll and the nights may flow but my memories will still be secure in their niche. I can listen to their mellow voices whenever nostalgia shoots its melancholic arrows again.

I opened the door and entered the white room.

(a personal ode to the utter visual splendor of the Chinese film ‘Hero’)