Avatar – An Afterthought

This is not a review.

Let me begin by sending out a disclaimer (read ‘shoo!’ commands) to all those enlightened souls who did not like the movie. I have nothing to say to you and if you are one of those sorry people who’d rather sit and find miniscule faults in a movie’s treatment of race, religion, camera work, story line or character sketches, then, truly, you should be banned from good cinema. You can go watch B-grade movies at run down cinema halls and do much the same thing. I realize that there is a glitch in my statement, in that who’s to decide what ‘good’ cinema is, but you know what I mean, and you know who you are and what you do. And yes, don’t read ahead.

Now, the ones who are still with me, thank you and let us hear a ‘Hell yeah!’ for this excellently magnificent piece of cinema which Cameron has sent our way. We thank you, James.

Now, with that out of the way, may I also send some really nasty unspeakable abuses (in Hindi) to those whom I previously referred to as ‘movie-whores’? I mean, seriously, do these people understand the concept of watching a movie at a theatre or has someone just forgotten to break this simple truth down for them very early? Picture this – first day, premier show of something as magnanimously awaited as Avatar, and we enter the blissfully swanky and high-tech theatre premises of Big Cinemas – Odeon at Connaught Place. But that’s as far as the pleasure-trip goes. Minutes after taking our seats, we were once again, pinchingly, made aware of the fact that we were still attempting to watch an English film, at a local CP theatre, and that too a weeknight late evening show. There was no escaping the riff-raff. I know you don’t want to be reminded of this, because chances are, you went through it yourselves. I’m sorry, but I feel it obligatory to get it out of my system. I’ve kept mum long enough. (I’ve never said anything about how my ‘I am Legend’, ‘Tare Zameen Par’ and most of all, ‘This is It’ experiences were ruined by these film-hungry, pop-corn munching, cell-phone obsessed vermin that I fondly call movie-whores.) Thus, grant me two minutes, won’t you?

This is how it was. We were lucky enough to find middle-row, middle-aisle seats – the bastard children of early bird bookers and those who came out for a walk and decided to slip in a movie on their way. These seats truly suck from both sides, literally. On my left was this group of Bengali-sounding morons (Oh, relax! It’s not a meant offense. And must I remind you of the ridicule I go through for being Dilli-ite, from Purani Dilli and for living in Mini-Pakistan Darya Ganj? Yeah, two play at that game, amigos!), who couldn’t keep their comments to themselves. One of them observed, mid-on-screen-kiss, how the film was actually racist because all the Na’vi people looked like African natives. I don’t disagree. I just don’t understand why he had to announce it during that scene. Clearly, someone isn’t getting any and is just mad that someone, even on screen, is. There was also a rather plump woman with them, who stepped on my shoes twice, never apologized, and kept giggling at altogether odd moments. One found her to be one of those über-chic city-dwellers who have seen too many English movies at once to be able to make sense of any one of them in its entirely. Avatar would have been decidedly too much for those people to handle. And this is the better lot. For the first fifteen minutes, a pair of men (because they kept holding hands and caressing each other’s shoulders, maybe for comfort, but the mind thinks a thousand things) kept standing on my brother’s right, in the aisle, blocking everyone’s way, and talking loudly to someone named Ved Prakash on the phone, trying to locate them. Whether this cellular manhunt was meant within the hall premises or without, one knows not. Actually, one cares not. As long as they did it over our heads, we were pissed off. One of the pairs, Surinder (I swear, you can’t make this shit up), kept commenting, ‘Andhera ho raha hai bhaiya. Fillum to chalu kar di par bithane ko koi hai nahi. He he, pata nahi kis baat ke paise le lete hain…he he’. I was itching to say, ‘Tujhse paise lene kaun tere ghar aaya tha, [email protected]#$#@%?’, but I don’t abuse. Out loud.

Once the couple found their seating, there were two groups of 6-7 people each, who couldn’t read letters to identify their seats. You know the letters, the ones written in bold, capital, back-lit neon, at least two inches tall, placed neatly beside the seats. They couldn’t read them. They kept going in and out of rows, pouncing on seats and giving them up with equal haphazardness. One was sadly reminded of the velociraptors who were seen searing through the tall grass and jumping on unsuspecting hunters in Jurassic Park – The Lost World. Of course, in this case, no one was defeated. Except us. Finally, the jokers also found seats. The rabble died out after 20 minutes or so. I don’t know what the script entailed before the Sky People started their expeditions into the Na’vi world. I also don’t understand why Grace didn’t approve of Jake Sully at first and what he was talking about in the voice-over before he joined the troops. I couldn’t hear!

And the last and final straw in the roof of my mouth was this portly man in the seat in my front, with some out-of-towners, obviously trying to have a nice time before they go back to their sad little lives of drinking, phoning and deal-making. Little did they know that this privilege is reserved for those who are open to a cinematic experience and not those who already think they know everything worth knowing. This guy finds it just ordinary to light up his phone every ten minutes, check it for calls and then put it back. Never mind that the glare is blinding through these powerful 3-D glasses. He just wants to remain connected. Someone tell such people to go sit on Hutch towers and not in cinema halls, for God’s sake! And he had the gall to say that he was disappointed in the movie. Yeah. His dad was the true expert in making 3-D stuff. Look how well dimensioned his offspring turned out! All through the film, there were random tunes by Kenny G, George Michael, T-pain and Jatin-Lalit compositions floating through the air at key moments, and kids crying to their parents for popcorn, pee and home, in no particular order. Not that an order would’ve made me want to hit the kids any less, but anyway. You see, my problem is not the fact that so many people came to watch the movie. I don’t care about numbers. The reason I keep calling them movie-whores is because they seem to care even less about being there themselves. The metaphor is a motivation from the profession, elitist as it may be in its bluntness. Who are they kidding with the never switching off of cell phones (if people can’t go one without talking to you every 6 minutes then, pray, don’t come to watch movies and stay with those people!) and the constant chatter, and the bringing their girls to make out noisily, while kicking the chair in front of them, and the mindless commentary about what’s on the screen. Wouldn’t it be simpler to just admit that they aren’t cut out for this cultural indulgence? Has Govinda stopped making movies? We don’t go to their movies, sit and laugh loudly and make rude noises while they’re trying to appreciate the tasteless puns and nautanki-like acts that they and Bollywood often like to call cinema, do we now? I would just appreciate a bit of respect for the person sitting beside you, concentrating on the screen and the speakers, and trying to understand why it is essential that the Na’vi trust Sully as their own, but they can’t let that happen. I am just heartbroken at the treatment serious movie-goers are doled out constantly, and already so afraid of the day I go to watch Sherlock Holmes.

This is the review. (For what it is worth)

Y’know, I have always been a firm believer in the power of imagination. I am happy to report that time and again, this faith has paid off in both reel and real. Avatar was yet another stamp of affirmation on the thought that if you can imagine it, you can see it. The film is a serious attempt at creating an alternate, co-existent world called Pandora, where the Na’vi live, and which has found a way to survive in an otherwise hostile environment. Everything in that forest is surreal and sublime. The trees seem to live and breathe as much as the humans do, and wildlife is captivating in all its grandeur. And grand they are! Huge hybrid creatures roam the greens along with their human inhabitants. There are doggish skeletal animals who growl at frumpy hippo-like creatures that have something like a flat log with nostrils at either end affixed to their snouts, and they scurry when they see the pteranodon-like Akinas  who soar, squawk and act as the perfect warrior birds carrying their Na’vi hunters with pluck and such masterful accuracy that it even makes Buckbeak look a bit oafish at times. (Sorry, Rowling). And then there is the whole range of fauna, almost conscious of their existence vis-à-vis the people, and more complex in their network (I do hate to use this word here, but it is that) than the human brain, even if I have to borrow the film’s own analogy here.

Moving on to the plot, perhaps I am not the right person to comment from a purely objective perspective, because one, I have not seen all the films made on similar themes, and two, I have seen this film from an audience’s point of view and not from that of a critic or an informed observer. It might sound like I am too much in awe of the story and the film, if I were to talk about the plot; nevertheless, I must give it a shot. The most interesting and thought-provoking element of the entire plot was the intensity with which it binds itself to the pagan cultural moorings. There were spirits, connections, souls and old trees that acted as a pilgrimage for those souls. The entire imagery constantly announces itself, as an undercurrent to all the action that is inevitable, as a foundation of ageless wisdom that keeps the Na’vi that much more connected to their generations. It is quite peace-inducing, to think that there is still a possibility of a future where we could find the ties that we have left behind long ago with the natural, uninhibited world. I liked the whole floating mountain concept and how it was depicted. Somewhere between the Hometree and the Sky People’s big motherships, there was a special aesthetic justice in what those mountains stood for – a sovereign, dauntless body of insurmountable strength and impregnable depths. Speaking of which, I must salute Cameron for achieving the exact juxtaposition between technological advances and the wondrous domain of terra firma. When one sees those big metal birds arrive and thunderously hover over the serenity that is so synonymous with Pandora, one can just about touch the repulsion that one feels for those mechanical monsters, it is so thick.

The intricacy of the plotline and the story itself is revealed through many hints and inspirations that are borrowed from pagan discourses. The obvious ones would be the title of the film itself, the notion of trees being the symbols of generations of life of a people, and the chanting that is supposed to evoke the holy spirit of Aewa, their Deity. Of course, just the fact that they have a ‘deity’ and not a ‘God’ says a lot too. The more subtle moorings, which range from tribal to cannibal, can be found in those peculiar sounds of ‘Oowoo’ that the Na’vi emit when communicating with their riding companions.

I can keep going but there are some friends of mine who haven’t seen the film yet (I know, shocking!) so I don’t want to be a rounded-up spoiler for them. Suffice to say, this is one film I would keep in my video library at all times. For so many reasons.

Karishma Gaur

Image Source: [http://www.flickr.com/photos/centralasian/4288773046/]