Alright, writers, you want to use rape to make a point? Fine. Make your point. Make your point mean something. Make your point mean something through that horrendous act that you could not have expressed in any other way. Make it fit with what has been happening, with how your characters are and what they experience. Contextualize it. Make that cruel, power-laden, and violent act really worth the shock. Do not have your rape victim marry her attacker and do not deny her any kind of further development. In Striker, the rapist seems to truly regret what he did and suffer emotionally for it - albeit briefly, because with only 15 minutes left in the film and a bad-ass don to take down, there's no time left for mere domestic abuse - but he also got exactly what he seemed to want from his relationship with her. Worse yet, we learn very little about how it affected her. I liked how blunt she was with him after it happened, but I was appalled that she seemed to be pleased (relatively, anyway) to be marrying him and wanted to throw something at the screen when I realized she had no more lines after that. The film's math that goes something like "rape her -> realize that's bad -> marry her to make it all better = wife + bonus mute woman!" made me ill.
I don't know what exactly this scene was supposed to demonstrate. Feeling out of control? General lashing out and she happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time? Destruction of relationships so that he can't be manipulated or hurt by them in the future? I'm pretty sure I could think of some other Very Bad or Dramatic Thing for that character to do that would speak to these or any other point that wouldn't be quite so vile, wildly out of character, and, frankly, misogynist. This was a horrifying skid off the rails for a film that until this point was fascinating and rich with detail and complexity. The last 15 minutes went 70s masala in a bad way, [one more bit spoiler ahead! seriously! mega-spoiler] and when someone drops what is basically a super-ironic concrete carrom piece on the villain's head and you can hear the squish and see the feet twitch in death throes, I had to laugh. That's how bad it was, how out of the tone of the rest of the movie. That could have been Ranjeet or Amjad Khan under there, with Shotgun or Big B doing the squishing. WHAT THE HELL, MOVIE?
Other reviewers - namely Indie Quill and Paisa Vasool - have said plenty about the good parts of Striker, and I completely agree with their descriptions of its strengths. It has an engagingly realistic, accessible feel but still conjured up grand odes to Bombay like Maximum City and Sacred Games. There was plenty of grit and filth of many kinds but still plenty of love and smiles. We get a thorough sense of the people and lives in Malvani without having to keep track of a zillion different little characters - so much is communicated with the lightest passing phrase or slightest linger of the camera. Surya's relationships with his family (most notably his sister Devi) were so dear, and and he and Zaid were such a fabulous pair, rough and ragged with each other but always full of love and devotion, a pair of contrasts as emotionally satisfying as - but a little more recognizable in the urban worlds we know and fear from the news - any Vijay and Ravi. With the exception of a few seconds of capital-letter Rage or Anger or Grief by Siddharth that went a little overboard, the acting was excellent and fit so well with the story and the way it was being told. I loved Vidya Malvade as tough, devoted Devi, and I cannot wait to see more of Ankur Vikal, who was so poignant as struggling, optimistic, but incompetent Zaid that I could barely look at him - you just knew his bad decisions were going to catch up with him in a horrifying way but couldn't quite tell when or how. (Speaking of, that sword thing really threw me too - I didn't see that coming at all and wasn't sure what to make of it as a symbol.) The analogies with carrom glide and bump around throughout the story as we watch Surya move from being a mere carrom man to a striker to wondering what he'll do when given the opportunity to become the rani. And who was the hand controlling all the action? I also loved the music, unable to let "Haq Se" go by without several repeats each time I pull up the soundtrack.
The other fully successful aspect of Striker for me was its distribution. Anyone reading this probably knows that it was the first Indian film to be released on youtube worldwide the same day as it opened in cinemas in India. As I told Rhod Sharp on BBC Radio 5's Up All Night, what a thrill it was to know with certainty that thousands of fans around the world and I would have access to a brand-new Bollywood film! Digital access means that we could even recreate the social aspect of cinema-going - from about ten countries, it turns out! What a great concept for beating the pirates: make a really good version of the film easy to get quickly and conveniently. I'd like to know more about how Studio 18 decided to charge only US viewers - I'm not complaining, but it seems like fillum fans in other countries might also be willing to pay around $5 for such a great product (for example, other areas where English is the dominant language, since English subtitles were available in the original online release) - and whether this is proving to be financially viable so far or whether they would consider a different model next time (maybe charging a lower price in more countries). In case readers in India (the only country not able to access the film on youtube) are curious, Striker looked gorgeous online, even on my not-brand-new Macbook with a so-so connection speed, the subtitles were sensible and timely, and playback was no problem. I cannot say enough good things about this youtube release idea, and I hope other filmmakers will consider it - and not only the standard candyfloss players but projects that might be considered too risky for theatrical release. The amount of goodwill generated by Striker's model is astounding (granted my sample is skewed). It will be so interesting to watch over the next few years to see what else happens with this idea and who will experiment with it. As someone who grew up in a small town with only a few movie screens and remembers waiting and waiting for new films if a big hit stayed in town for awhile (and yes, Ghost, I still resent you for hogging one of our four screens for the entire summer of 1990), the idea of being able to get even mainstream films made in my own country sounds really, really cool.
On the subject of digital, is anyone else amazed at what twitter has done to the distance between those who make and those who consume films? (And other media too, of course, but I need to try to stay on topic.) While first organizing our global Striker watchalong on twitter, it became clear that Siddharth, or someone on his behalf, was keeping tabs on mentions of the film, and he mentioned the project in one of his tweets. He also responded* to tweets by some of the watchalong participants who were trying to express their issues with the rape scene discussed above. Of course, it is not his job to defend the film all the time - the trouble with being on twitter is that you become too visible in some ways, I guess, being assigned more responsibility for something than you really had. The person who should answer all of this is the director/writer Chandan Arora, but since he apparently isn't on twitter, Siddharth is all we have. And he did a fantastic job at promoting the film, to be sure - he is how I found out about the youtube release in the first place. And even though I don't think some of his answers to negative (but thoughtful) comments about his film were substantive, it stuns me that anyone can address a thought about the film to one of the people highly involved with it - and, apparently, there's a fair chance said person will read it and answer! What a fantastic opportunity for dialogue, even if it is in short bits and does not always flow as we might wish a real conversation to do! And for full disclosure, I should add that he sent me a very sweet direct message thanking me for for my role in the international support for the film and the youtube venture. It will take a lot for anything to dislodge Rahul Khanna's discussion of his favorite of his father's films from the slot of "Beth's favorite celebrity direct message,"** but recognizing the labor of love of all of us non-professional film writers is definitely the way to my dil.
* Not very satisfactorily, it must be noted - he doesn't seem to get what we're upset with and why. I wonder if maybe he's not really allowed to go into his opinions very much, which is a shame, especially because he has been involved with writing films before and probably has interesting insight into why that scene was included and what it was supposed to do in the film and mean for the character.
** Rahul Khanna is easily my favorite celebrity twitter-er. He writes in complete sentences using normal spelling and grammar - and, more importantly, he clearly thinks before he writes and expresses whole, interesting thoughts. Talk about squee! And yes, Rahul's choice for his favorite of Vinod's films will be revealed in Khanna-O-Rama Week in April. Stay tuned. And no, he did not mention his favorite of Akshaye's (or of his own, for that matter). Clearly I'll have to try again. He also said he wants a t-shirt that says My Name Is Khanna. Heehee! I would so wear one of those.
Thursday, February 11, 2010