Thursday, September 30, 2010

If on a Winter's Night... Meenaxi

This may sound funny, but I had this post in mind long before I even had a blog. Maybe before I even watched the movie Meenaxi?... That's not as odd as it sounds as it was reading a line somewhere comparing Italo Calvino's book If on a Winter's Night a Traveller with MF Hussain's Meenaxi that prompted me to get the movie (ok, that and the fact that Dolce thinks Kunal Kapoor is one of the most beautiful men alive). Would I have seen the similarities on my own? Probably, since Italo Calvino is one of my favourite writers, but for what it's worth, the idea of comparing the two was not mine. However, since the brilliant person who came up with it never really expanded on the topic, I shall take the time to do that in their stead.

A few words about "If on a Winter's Night..." first. Calvino gives a whole new meaning to "frustrated expectations" as he tells the story of a Reader who starts reading a novel but ends up reading 10 beginnings of novels instead, as something always snatches the book from his hands right when it starts getting interesting.

The motif of real life events interrupting a story and then giving birth to another story seems to be the thread connecting the book and the film. But there are other more subtle threads too, and they are revealed one by one as we travel inside Meenaxi's world.

Meenaxi is the story of a muse. Nawab (Raghuvir Yadav, of Lagaan and Peepli Live fame), a very successful writer, receives the visit of a mysterious woman - Meenaxi (Tabu) - who offers to help him write his next novel by dressing herself up as the main character.

Intrigued, slightly outraged and still unconvinced, Nawab finds himself nonetheless interested in Meenaxi even when he can't admit he wants to write her story. When he finally starts writing it... we step into a fairytale. A fairytale of a road, a fallen kite and a black coat flowing off the hero's shoulder.
"You can start a story with just a face... with a feeling... and sometimes with just the smell of flowers", Meenaxi says in the first scene where we (and Nawab) meet her. And so it does, to the sweet sound of Sonu Nigam's voice.  



...whimsical...
But no sooner have we started getting interested in Kameshwar's story, that we are rudely interrupted, just like Calvino's Reader. The whimsical fate that keeps interrupting the Reader's journey inside each book, is replaced in the movie by the muse herself, Meenaxi, as capricious and demanding as any goddess.


Namak: And surely she must have the stomach of a goddess because despite stuffing her face with something every time she appears, she doesn't seem to gain any weight.
Dolce: Give her a break, a woman needs her energy to do all that talking and deal with this sulky Nawab guy. 

Shut up guys, this is a serious post! Sheesh!

Meenaxi keeps complaining about the characters in Nawab's stories, about the pace of the story, about its capacity to entertain or to reflect reality. So Nawab starts story after story (we see three of them unfolding) in a series of attempts to please her. My interpretation of the movie is that he succeeds in the end, even if we are not shown the final cut. And I find confirmation for my reading in Calvino's words, in the second last paragraph of his book:
"In ancient times a story could end only in two ways: having passed all the tests, the hero and the heroine married, or else they died. The ultimate meaning to which all stories refer has two faces: the continuity of life, the inevitability of death."

In order for the story to live, the author must set it free by removing himself from it.


...mysterious...
All ten stories in the book talk about a mysterious woman (or sometimes even two). In fact, all the stories become interesting the moment the woman's secret is foreshadowed. Similarly, as is evident from the very beginning, Meenaxi is not as easy to read as she claims in the beginning, in fact the more the story progresses the more enigmatic she becomes while she gradually takes over the story.




...masculine...
They may be stories with and about women, but both the book and the movie offer a very male perspective, whether it's the fact that Calvino's novels are always narrated by a man, or the fact that Kunal Kapoor's characters are always the pivotal point of each story.

Dolce: I think we need a gratuitous shot of Kunal Kapoor right about here, eh?
Namak: What can I say? When you're right, you're right!

Heck, let's do a video too while we're at it!




...frustrating...
Calvino's book and Hussain's film can be such frustrating experiences if one doesn't know what to expect. And whoever thinks that If on a Winter's Night is about the novels, and Meenaxi is about Meenaxi's stories, hasn't really understood much... But seen with the patient eye of the post-modern art lover, they can become an experience rich in flavour and texture, with some delicacy to be sampled at every step. When instead of one book we are given eleven stories, and instead of one movie we are given four, how can we not immerse ourselves in each of them with the enthusiasm but also the fickleness of a passionate art devotee?




...innovative...
While If on a Winter's Night gave the act of reading a new face, Meenaxi gave the act of writing and making movies a whole new meaning, which may have been old news for European cinema (Otto e Mezzo being a good example of a somewhat similar theme), but was certainly innovative for Indian cinema. Perhaps even before its time, as the movie flopped and even now is not very popular with Hindi movie lovers. How that is possible, I have no idea, since Meenaxi has some of the most exquisite picturizations, some of the most intelligent symbolic imagery, some of the most melodious AR Rahman songs and, Dolce feels the need to mention again, one of the most beautiful men alive.



40 comments:

rameshram said...

your post has more passion than the entire film 9are you sure youre not better off watching a songs compilation of ..i don't know .. kunal kapoor, aamir khan ..and imran khan(or someone)?.

i loved the quwwali tho

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5TOv9ey0TPE&feature=player_embedded

Dolce and Namak said...

Ya, I know, not many people find this movie worth while. I get it, it's really not a movie to watch for what's happening, and I think in the process of being so quirky and avant-garde, it loses many people. But I love every single frame of it. And the fact that they did some contemporary choreography to a couple of the songs just left me speechless!

Noor-un-Allah was a favourite for me too, but apparently that's what started the controversy around the film, as I was told by The Bollywood Fan when I commented on his review: http://thebollywoodfan.blogspot.com/2009/01/meenaxi-tale-of-3-cities-2004-thought.html. Interesting...

rameshram said...

Oh they said that about the first couplet of dil se too. what if i told you that the song was not about using the words of the q'uran on a human(woman) but using the human(woman) as a represaentative of god. heresy? have the ignoramuses even heard of paris and djinns, which, the prophet mohammed himself admitted , were his representations from heaven(want chapter and verse?).

the reason for most people not taking this film seriously, though is, mf hussein was very famous for ...um collecting muses... in his bearded old age in a way that people smiled undersandingly about his ...er...need to start many stories without finishing them.

Dolce and Namak said...

That's a debate that I am totally not interested in starting, because I hardly have any knowledge of the Quoran, but yeah, I know there's always controversy around songs like that (Chaiyya Chaiyya happens to be one of my favourites as well, ignorant Westerner that I am :P).

And I love your take on Meenaxi and MF Hussain. That is hilarious! But it's also like saying people don't like Dali's art because it features his wife that he was in love with to the point of abnormality. Or that Michael Jackson's music is not worth listening to because of his personal life. You get the point... What happens in real life doesn't keep the artist from being brilliant, even if his/her personal life is... shady. I always try to separate the artist from the man, otherwise I would dismiss more than half of the world's greatest masterpieces. But I know a lot of people don't make the distinction. Sad for them...

rameshram said...

To quotethe song, "yeh hai mumbai meri jaan" all this cartesian objectivity in art is a foreign concept. the piece of art is either subjective as embraced by the rajini worshiping audience (in a way that even rajini is not in full control of it) or its subjective to the artist, in this case the interpretation of Mf hussein's films is entirely subject to his existential situation(and sometimes as perceived by the indian audience. Its not by accident that much literary/art crit in india is merely contextualization and classification by historical genre.

they think analysis of art is a western neologism and entirely unnecessary..except for museum curators and antique smugglers.

dont let that stop you though..carry on carrying on.

Dolce and Namak said...

LOL I know people don't think that way, most of them can't be objective here either (MJ is the best example for that in N.America). Luckily for me in the case of Indian movies, more often than not I don't even have to make an effort to separate the two (not that I usually do, it sort of comes naturally for some reason), since I usually don't know much about the gossip and people's personal lives. That's why you people with local knowledge come in so handy! :D

rameshram said...

its useful to check for the local gossip with some of the "you people" before, sometimes. it would be fun to read a post about (say) silsila from someone without the amitabh rekha jaya background, but it would somehow seem like an uninformed review in some ways, no?

MinaiMinai said...

Nice review Dolce! I think yours is the first I've read that's actually tried to connect the film to something (here, a piece of literature). I'm definitely one of those people who can't quite appreciate abstract movies, but like you I adored the dances and cinematography in this film. I originally watched it because I had read that Illeana Citaristi (an Italian chick who went to India to learn Odissi classical dance) choreographed that Noor song- there used to be a video on YouTube where she explained her inspiration for the choreography (I think Kalaripayattu martial arts or something was one, and sufi dance too), but I can't find it. Perhaps it was a special feature on the DVD?

rameshram said...

it is.

Dolce and Namak said...

Hmpf... not on mine, mine doesn't have any special features :( But thank you for telling me Minai, the choreography in the whole movie is definitely a notch above the usual stuff that Bollywood does, so it's cool to know a little bit more about it.
And welcome back, where have you disappeared??

mukundh said...

I usually don't buy or rent movies. But this one am sure gonna buy (Since i can't find it online :P). Had been wanting to watch the film ever since it got banned (If a film is banned in India, it is must watch) and of course for ARR. U have helped convinced me to go all out and check the movie ASAP!!!

rameshram said...

http://www.netflix.com/Movie/Meenaxi-Tale-of-3-Cities/70008708

its rentable on netflix

Dolce and Namak said...

@ Ramesh - I don't think they'll deliver to Tamil Nadu for Mukundh ;)

@ Mukundh - ouch, well, considering we don't see eye to eye on any other movies, now I'm really afraid you'll hate this one too... :-/ And that would make me very sad... So if you hate it or it makes no sense to you (that's the most common complaint I hear about this one), please don't tell me, I'll be heartbroken... But do make an effort to see it from a modern cinema point of view, otherwise you'll be really annoyed. It's not your average Bollywood fare... Argh... I just know you'll hate it...

mukundh said...

Ya, no netflix in India..
Don't worry Dolce, i will like it for sure.. We don't see eye to eye on typical Indian movies. This one is hardly typical... And i have seen more complex films am sure.. And understood dem (sometimes after a lot of reading..) no need to be so apprehensive :D

Dolce and Namak said...

Dudes, I apologise, but I deleted those last two comments. Not to be a hypocrite :P but I try to not promote um... illegal means of watching movies (even if I cheat too sometimes with youtube :P). But I'm pretty sure you saw each other's comment, so hopefully you won't be too upset with me :D

And do tell me what you thought of the movie, Mukundh, I will try to take it like a man, good or bad opinion :D

rameshram said...

Thats ok dolce,

you dont have to explain the censorship. its your blog.

mukundh said...

:) U gotta wait till wkend i guess.. That is if i manage to "censor" good print :D

rameshram said...

Mukundh,

the quality of the print aint going to do you no good ;)

mukundh said...

huh :O Downloaded a good quality one.. will be watching it tis wkend prob..

Dawn....सेहर said...

Nice review - coming here for the first time and amazed to read this review on Meenaxi as it brought the memories back!
Nice read D&N
Cheers

Dolce and Namak said...

@ Mukundh and Ramesh - you guys crack me up! Ramesh, stop being negative, yaar, give the man a chance to like it! :)

@ Dawn - yay! Another Meenaxi fan! There are so few of us, that it feels like a brotherhood to have another one come by :) Thank you for the visit! :D

Roxanita said...

@rameshram netlix doesn't have that movie available yet so i'll have to rely on my indian movie store in town and cross my fingers and toes for good subs :))

Roxanita said...

ops I was hungry.. netflix hehehe

rameshram said...

i don't mind netlix! truly! ;)

what you need to see meenaxi is some oldfashioned chin guards for each time your chin drops to the floor and hits it. hehe

oops sorry dolce. :D

Roxanita said...

hahahahah come on don't do this to me... it's not gonna happen until next week but you just make me so curious i don't know if i'll survive till then

rameshram said...

with all these expectations, i hope you'll be...uhh..let down ..gently.
0
;

Roxanita said...

i'll live... i wouldn't be the first time.. on the other hand i really enjoyed a number of movies everybody would say are not good so.. to each his own, right?

Dolce and Namak said...

Whoa! What just happened here? Ok, I'm not even going to touch that conversation! I'll pretend I never saw it la-la-la-la-la... LOLS

You know, I was worried about how my blog would survive a long weekend if I'm away, but you guys seem to be entertaining each other copiously, so I have nothing to worry about! :D
Looking forward to your opinions after the weekend, and Roxanita, don't mind Ramesh, he just likes to have the last word on everything :D

Good one about the chinguards though! And I agree: they will definitely be needed since this movie is so jaw-droppingly beautiful :P

Toodles!

rameshram said...

bet dolce has never been let down..gently or not ;)

but lest i be accused of trying to have the last word, dolce, have a fun game filled long weekend.please return and have the last word (its long weekend in canada? don't you slackers never tire of taking time off?!)

and you, roxanita, have fun. dont let anything hit the floor.

its a jaw droppingly wtf-y film, but to be fair to it its not as wtf-y as meenaxi

mukundh said...

It would be interesting to see you give the blog to ramesh for a few days :)Just wondering......

rameshram said...

mukundh,

it would look like my blog ( rameshram.wordpress.com ) IOW awesome ;(

Roxanita said...

i'm lost... rameshram, i was talking about Meenaxi so which movie is not as wtf-y as Meenaxi? :)

rameshram said...

The result of one too many on a thursday nacht.

I meant madhuri's superb(if wtffy) butt shake that was Gaja Gamini.

Roxanita said...

sorry i have no comeback to that lol.. maybe i should have a few before i see the butt shake ;p

Dolce and Namak said...

Dolce has handled it :D

Surely that must have been predictable, I have this reflex to delete comments that border on... what's the word... bad manners. Um... perhaps too light a word, but I'm feeling generous tonight. :)

Roxanita, have you managed to get a hold of the movie? Curious what you will think (despite Ramesh's badmouthing campaign here). Though reminding me of Gaja Gamini is certainly a good thing, since I had forgotten I was hunting for it desperately at one point. Time to resume the search!

Roxanita said...

I actually had a really exhausting weekend, dedicated to the other culture i love, peruvian. i was at a concert saturday night and worked the whole day sunday, so by the time i got off, the indian store was closed.
Today i watched one of SRK movies, Kal Ho Naa Ho.... i wasn't that impressed with it, but i'll keep im mind to rent the 2 movies i picked up in the last conversation and i'll give you my opinion... i promise it will be soon :)
Till then.. Good night :)

rameshram said...

bad mouthing campaign = namak oro?

just wondering.

ive never been accused of bad manners by the anarchs before. must be age catching up wit me.

roxanita, circumstances beyond my cntrol have put me in La or surely i would have looked you up more..

dolce hasn't seen gaja gamini? i await that post with not a little trepidation.

Roxanita said...

:))) well whenever you're on the East Coast give me a shout :)

maxqnz said...

Yep, one I'll have to see, but only when I'm relaxed and alert enough to at least TRY to wrap my head around it. Or just wallow in the prettiness that is Tabu and the OTT gorgeousness that is Kunal Kapoort

Dolce and Namak said...

LOL It's really not that complicated, just an interesting ending, that's all :) And yes, plenty of pretty to rest your eyes on, even if tired! :D

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