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How Georges Méliès films are still influencing cinema, more than 100 years later

The filmmaker’s spirit of adventure is the subject of a VR Google Doodle.

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Georges Méliès

If you’ve ever watched a science fiction movie, or one that uses special effects, then you owe a debt of gratitude to Georges Méliès, the subject of today’s Google Doodle and one of the few people who truly deserve to be called a “visionary.”

One of cinema’s most important pioneers, Méliès worked in an age when the medium was changing rapidly and when the whole world was obsessed with scientific discovery, explorations, and expeditions to the furthest reaches of the planet. So it’s fitting that a Doodle created in another age of fast-paced cinematic change — our current time — honors him by using some fancy technology of its own.

Méliès, born in 1861, was an innovator par excellence, experimenting with effects in his films that blew people’s minds in an era when film itself was still startling to many people. Employing things like time-lapse photography, multiple exposures, dissolves, pyrotechnics, theatrical machinery, and more, he dazzled his audiences. It looked like magic. (You can see some of these effects on the Doodle’s background page.)

Méliès was working around the turn of the 20th century, a time of burgeoning scientific exploration and big dreams about the future of mankind. The filmmaker tapped into those through his experimentation with effects, and through stories he told tales of discovery.

Méliès’s most famous film is probably Le Voyage dans la Lune (A Trip to the Moon), from 1902. It’s a work of science fiction, inspired partly by stories by people like Jules Verne. In the almost 13-minute film, a group of space explorers travel to the moon, encounter a tribe of strange beings, capture one, and return to Earth. Méliès himself played the crew’s leader, Professor Barbenfouillis.

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Analysis

Bollywood Spotlight: As ‘Padmaavat’ is targeted, recalling other films under fire

Nihalani’s “Dev”, Deepa Mehta’s “Fire”, Gulzar’s “Aandhi” and Anurag Kashyap’s “Paanch” are some of the other prominent films that have courted controversy.

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RAJPUT LEADER

When he directed “Dharmaputra”, his first film, in 1961, little did Yash Chopra know what he was getting himself into. The film, about Hindu-Muslim relations, touched on the raw history pertaining to events that were just over a dozen years old. The re-construction in “Dharamputra” of the carnage during the post-Partition riots opened up raw wounds in the audience, and sparked off riot-like situations in theatres screening the film. Yash Chopra vowed never to touch the thorny communal issue again.

“They threatened to burn down theatres, harm the actors… I was getting calls at any time of the day and night, warning me of dire consequences. I said, ‘Never again’,” Yashji told me when we met some years ago.

Cut to “Padmaavat” and Sanjay Leela Bhansali. What is that French “kahaavat”: The more things change, the more they remain the same.

As I write this column, vehicles are being torched, buses carrying school children are being stoned in Gurugram… because some fanatical elements don’t like the look of “Padmaavat”? Or maybe because Bhansali forgot to cover up Deepika Padukone’s tummy when she performed the ghoomar? Does that make sense to you?

We as a nation are a touchy people. Some may even call us intolerant. And, admit it, we are intolerant people. Over the years, there have been other controversial films, mostly to do with communal issues.

Govind Nihalani stepped into the territory bluntly and insouciantly. In “Dev” he recreated the Muslim genocide in Gujarat following the incident in Godhra where a two-train bogie full of Hindu devotees was set on fire — with chilling authenticity. As a fictional retaliation to Godhra, he sees a communal Hindu cop (Om Puri) stand mute accomplice as Hindu rioters burn a whole building full of Muslims. It was a frightening topicality dwelling on issues that pierce the facade of normalcy which we like to uphold for the sake of a peaceful and “civilised” existence.

Nihalani’s “Dev”, Deepa Mehta’s “Fire”, Gulzar’s “Aandhi” and Anurag Kashyap’s “Paanch” are some of the other prominent films that have courted controversy.

But no film has been as vehemently opposed as “Padmaavat”; none has evoked such fierce temper-tantrums from a nation on the boil. Could it be that somewhere the protesters have decided “Padmaavat” is a “feel-bad” film — as opposed to a “feel-good” film?

Nihalani rightly says, “Feel-good films will always be there. They serve a very important function in our society. But one feel-bad film every five years, which reminds us of the mistakes that we make, isn’t a bad idea.”

However, “Padmaavat” is not that feel-bad film which comes once every five years. Its depiction of Rajput valour and feminine derringdo is so broad and magnificent it just makes us happy that a filmmaker of Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s vision takes history by its horns and raps a nation steeped in escapism on its collective knuckles.

If you want to kill a film by scaring little school-going children, then surely that film deserves to be seen.

(Subhash K. Jha can be reached at [email protected])

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Rakishly good looking actor who became India’s first international star

This was still not the entirety of Shashi Kapoor’s contribution.

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shashi-kapoor

The youngest of the famous Kapoor brothers of Bollywood, he did not have their one defining and enduring cinematic image — Raj’s simple, honest ‘tramp’ in the Charlie Chaplin tradition or Shammi’s Elvis-like jiving, rebellious ‘playboy’ persona.

Shashi Kapoor, however, surpassed both in sheer variety of acting. Be it romantic heroes, ‘common man’ roles, decadent princes, aging poets and even angels, he brought the same charm and intensity to all of them.

Though among his first appearances onscreen were as a young Raj Kapoor in his elder borther’s directorial debut “Aag” and the more acclaimed “Awara”, his first lead role was a Hindu fanatic in Yash Chopra’s bold “Dharmputra” (1961).

Image result for shashi kapoor Dharmputra

This happened to be one-off as Shashi, with his copybook good looks, rakish smile, infectious charm, toothy grin and languid drawl, was more suitable as a lover-boy who always got the girl. In this avatar, he once even pipped Amitabh Bachchan — in “Kabhie Kabhie”.

He was also famous as a reasonable foil to the smoldering angry man in a number of films and it was in one of these roles where he once spoke the four most iconic and immortal words in Bollywood’s history – “Mere paas Ma hai” in “Deewar”.

Image result for shashi kapoor mere paas maa hai

Born on March 18, 1938 in the then Calcutta to Prithviraj Kapoor and Ramsarn ‘Rama’ Devi, Balbir Raj ‘Shashi’ Kapoor not only straddled commercial and ‘art’ cinema, but also became India’s first international star, starring in several acclaimed Ivory-Merchant films among others.

In these he was not only cast in predictable roles — a decadent nawab (“Heat and Dust”), a prince-turned-ascetic (“Siddhartha”) or a devious local notable (in “The Deceivers”, opposite Pierce Brosnan) — but also in more realistic, nuanced ones — a lower middle-class teacher (“The Householder”), a flamboyant Bollywood star (“Bombay Talkies”), a narrator to Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s life (“Jinnah”) and a poet in the twilight of life and reputation (“Muhafiz”/”In Custody”).

But Shashi Kapoor, for all his international prowess, was also a major player in Bollywood with appearances in 148 films between 1945 and 1998, in which he was the sole hero in 61 and a lead hero in 53 multi starrers, supporting actor in 21, did 7 guest appearances and did four roles as a child artiste (including the two RK films).

Image result for shashi kapoor

These included such evergreen hits such as B.R. Chopra’s “Waqt” (where he again happened to be the youngest brother to flamboyant elder siblings Raj Kumar and Sunil Dutt), “Jab Jab Phool Khile” opposite Nanda, the madcap “Pyar Kiya Jaa” — which happend to be among the funniest movies made in Bollywood, “Haseena Maan Jayegi” opposite Babita, who later became his sister-in-law and mother of Karishma and Kareena, “Fakira”, “Kaala Patthar” — where he held his own against Amitabh and Shatrughan Sinha, “Do Aur Do Paanch”, “Silsila”, “Shaan”, “Namak Halaal” and “New Delhi Times”, where he played a crusading newspaper editor.

Then, there were some grey roles in films like “Roti Kapada Aur Makaan”, “Satyam Shivam Sundaram”, “Kalyug” — a contemporary retelling of the Mahabharata in which his character is named Karan, and is totally like his mythological namesake, including in the manner of death.

This was still not the entirety of Shashi Kapoor’s contribution.

In 1980, he started his own film company, using his Bollywood earnings into making films with the likes of Shyam Bengal and Aparna Sen. These included gems like “36 Chowringee Lane”, which saw his wife, veteran theatre actor Jennifer Kendall as an aging teacher in a changing, oblivious world, “Junoon”, “Vijeta” — a paean to the Indian Air Force — “Utsav” and “Kalyug”.

He also had acclaimed performances in some of them, particularly the 1857 revolt drama “Junoon” where it takes a stern Naseeruddin Shah to remind him of his duty.

His contribution was recognised with the Filmfare Lifetime Achievement award in 2010 and the highest accolade — the Dadasahab Phalke Award in 2015.

Related image

In his life too, he played several roles — a member of an already famous film clan, marrying into another performance-inclined family — the Kendalls, but after difficult romance with Jennifer Kendall — India’s first international star, arguably, the most handsome Hindi film actor of that period, a producer who backed some of the best independent movies in India in the 1970s and 1980s, a theatre enthusiast, the family man who did all he could to support his household, even if it meant acting in a few rather terrible (but well-paying) movies, as recent biographer Aseem Chabbra maintains.

A star definitely, he was above all he was an eminently likeable star as all his contemporaries and co-stars attest willingly. And that is ultimately what’s important.

(Vikas Datta can be contacted at [email protected])

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