Sampath G

Archive for the ‘Hollywood’ Category

Why I follow Mila Kunis on Twitter

In Celebs, Cinema, Culture and Society, Hollywood, Popular Culture, Uncategorized on April 22, 2013 at 2:45 pm

“You are following Mila Kunis?” An ex-colleague smirked at me last week—if, that is, it’s possible to smirk in a text message. I was used to getting annoying messages from him, so I ignored it. But he later called and wanted an answer.

“I’m curious,” he said. Apparently, he hadn’t thought of me as the kind of guy who would follow Mila Kunis on Twitter.
“I am a Mila Kunis fan,” I told him. “Isn’t that a good enough reason?”
“Dude,” he said “Mila Kunis doesn’t have a Twitter account. Go check it out yourself.”
I did. And he was right. I hadn’t paid attention. Both of her probable Twitter accounts—@RealMilaKunis with 392,422 followers and @MilaKunisOnline with 22,957 followers—distance themselves from the ‘real’ Mila Kunis, the one you might expect to fulfil the Cartesian promise offered by the famous philosophical dictum, “I tweet, therefore I am.”
I recalled that I had decided on @RealMilaKunis as the ‘real one’ because a: it had way more number of followers than all the other Kunis accounts put together; and b: (call me literal-minded) it proclaimed itself as ‘real’.
Fine, @RealMilaKunis may not be the real Mila Kunis. But what is the ‘real’ Mila Kunis anyway? Is that even a legitimate question?
Let’s go back to Rene Descartes for a minute. “I think therefore I am” is basically a way of saying: from the truth that I am thinking follows the truth that there must be a thinker in order for thinking to happen, from which follows the truth that I, the thinker of the thought, exist. But is this test of reality—clearly inapplicable to social media—relevant even in the offline world, given that we almost never have an unmediated access to reality? It is quite possible that you may not exist even though you think thoughts simply because it is not you thinking the thoughts in your head but Arnab Goswami. Take away mass media, and the ‘reality’ of Arnab Goswami disappears in a puff of TRPs, irrespective of whether or not there exists in the universe a carbon-based life form carrying a piece of paper identifying it as Arnab Goswami. Indeed, when Descartes set down his famous hypothesis, not only was there no social media, there was no media, period.
In The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America, Daniel Boorstin writes, “We risk being the first people in history to have been able to make their illusions so vivid, so persuasive, so ‘realistic’ that they can live in them. We are the most illusioned people on earth. Yet we dare not become disillusioned, because our illusions are the very house in which we live; they are our news, our heroes, our adventure, our forms of art, our very experience.”
Inundated as we are, by stories about celebs every day of our lives, and watching them perform, succeed or fail on our TV screens, we develop a relationship, and a sense of intimacy, with the image of these celebs that we carry in our heads. The Cartesian self will argue that this is a false sense of intimacy—that it is not real. But who’s to say that illusions are not ‘real’ for the one harbouring them? So we build temples for our celeb gods, turn violent when someone ‘insults’ our celeb-god (where are you, Sachin fanatics?), and follow our celeb gods on Twitter.
Social media, especially, is powerful in eliminating the existential distance between a star and an earth-bound star-gazer, and creating the illusion of a direct connection. Twitter has brought about Reformation in the Church of Celebrity: now the fan can directly talk to God, without the mediation of mass media or even Google. At least, so it seems.
A friend who worked as a journalist with me in Mumbai believed himself madly in love with Priyanka Chopra. He got on to Twitter with the singular intention of getting Ms Chopra to acknowledge his existence. The day that happened—either the diva retweeted or mentioned one of his tweets, I don’t remember which—he seemed to have discovered his inner Buddha, to put it mildly. He subsequently quit journalism to join the film industry. Would there have been any point in telling him, for instance, that Chopra doesn’t tweet, or that her social media manager does it for her?
A couple of weeks ago, Mila Kunis announced on her Facebook page that she was pregnant with Ashton Kutcher’s child. Her message read: “As you all probably know, I’m pregnant and I’ve decided to take the next nine months off with Ashton Kutcher in Hawaii. Don’t worry, my manager will be posting pictures everyday as usual so you can all see the progress and news. : ) I’m so happy. Any ideas for baby’s name? I love you all and thank you for the support. : )xx”
Reading this, as you can well imagine, I was overwhelmed by conflicting emotions: selfless joy at the fulfilment of her wish to become a mother, and selfish dismay that, of all people, it was Kutcher’s sperm that got to it first. I became so upset that I actually gave up the Internet for a couple of hours. I knew, of course, that this wasn’t Kunis’ real Facebook account, that it was maintained by her fans – but it made no difference—to my mood, or my sense of reality.
Thankfully, the whole episode ended happily when it turned out that it was just an April Fool’s joke, and Kutcher’s sperm still has a long and arduous trek ahead.
To come back to the original question, why do I follow Mila Kunis on Twitter?
Definitely not because I find her tweets funny or interesting. Here’s a random sample of tweets by @RealMIlaKunis:
“Stop waiting for the right moment, because sometimes it’s now or never.”
“The best revenge is to show them that your life is moving forward even though they left it.”
“We always ignore who adores us, adore who ignores us, love who hurts us and hurt who love us.”
“Hard times will always reveal true friends.”
“Spend your life with the people who make you happy, not the people you have to impress.”
You get the idea. This is decidedly not the Mila Kunis of Black Swan or Friends with Benefits or the Mila Kunis of my imagination. It is someone sitting on a vast treasury of platitudes, and releasing them to the world at a rate of two per day. But the miracle is that I find the tweets totally relevant to whatever I happen to be dealing with in my life when I read it. Just now, for instance, she tweeted, “Life is easier when you’re not complaining, worrying, or stressing about bullshit.” Soon as I saw it, I knew it was addressed to me, and I have to stop this piece right now.
So here you go. Why do I follow Mila Kunis on Twitter? Because she’s there.

Watching Mama with Papa

In Cinema, Hollywood, Humour, Relationships, Uncategorized on April 22, 2013 at 2:20 pm

If you’re a resident of India, you don’t actually have to pay money to get terrified. All you need to do is pick up the newspaper, turn on the TV, or just take a walk down the road outside your gated community. This, in brief, is Father’s position on horror movies. As for going to the movies in general, there can ever be only one reason to do so: the opportunity to nap peacefully in a darkened, air-conditioned room in a snug, cushiony seat.

Though I follow some directors in the horror genre, I’m not a big fan of ‘ghost movies’ per se. But Wife is. And every new horror movie that releases, has to be ‘seen’.

I’ve put ‘seen’ within quotes because, as will soon become clear, there is a big difference between going to see a film and actually seeing it when you’re in front of a giant screen in a darkened theatre.

So last week when she began badgering me about going for Mama, Guillermo del Toro’s latest offering, I knew what was coming. But there was one complication: we were visiting my parents in Chennai after a long time, and as a model daughter-in-law, she wasn’t comfortable leaving her parents-in-law out of the ‘outing’. Mama, of course, wouldn’t be caught dead watching a film called Mama. But Father was persuaded to come along “for the experience”.

When it comes to movie reviews, Wife swears by the NYT critic Manohla Dargis, and this is what Dargis had to say about Mama: “Horror … rarely gets more enjoyable than Mama.”

Less than 10 minutes into the film, she was finding the film so enjoyable she couldn’t take it anymore and wanted to leave. “This is too scary, let’s go now,” the inevitable litany had started.

Father, on the other hand, was snoring so nicely in sync with the film’s scare moments that some in the front rows were turning around in wondrous confusion, trying to figure out the mechanics of the exceptionally good 3-D surround sound.

As always, I was the only one genuinely interested in getting my money’s worth of scares. But this time, over and above my usual challenge of paying attention to the film while keeping Wife in her seat, I had the additional one of not letting Father’s snores – which were gradually rising in volume, and establishing their own identity as a composition distinct from those approved by Mama’s sound designer – distract me.

I am not sure about the physiological rationale behind this, but I was amazed at how he slept through all the loudest scenes in the film – the sudden crashes, screams and clangs – but would wake up in the quietest moments, look around in surprise, and then gently close his eyes again.

Father’s longest and most lucid phase of wakefulness came just before the interval, by which time Wife was concentrating hard on her Blackberry. She had switched to her old tactic of screening out any sensory input from the film by clearing important official mail that would require her full attention.

In what I’m sure was the defining scene of the film, when the ghost seemed like winning, Father woke up. He woke up because his cell was playing Carnatic music at a decibel level higher than that of his snores. He then did something nobody – neither me nor Wife – expected: he took the call. And started saying things like, “I told that idiot not to get involved with that woman …no, no, I am in a cinema hall….HELLO….can you hear me? HELLO…HELLO?”

I tried to snatch the phone from him. But he turned away, signaling to me that it was an important call, and he kept talking, and wouldn’t go out of the hall. What was most bizarre — nobody objected. Even as I sank deeper into my seat in shame and mortification, our neighbours gave him indulgent glances. Perhaps they were shit scared by the movie and welcomed the intrusion of reality into the world of make-believe. Wife, who usually lost no time pouncing on any ‘cell phone loonies’ couldn’t stop grinning.

Well, it all seems so predictable now — but my eloquent appeals to reason and the logic of paisa vasool didn’t work. Wife didn’t want to go back after the interval: “Let’s watch it at home – you can mute it when it gets too much.” Father clearly saw no reason to go back. “Not a bad film,” he said, “but how can anyone sleep with all that noise?”

Why the book is always better than the movie

In Hollywood, Literature, Popular Culture, Uncategorized on March 30, 2012 at 10:25 am

G Sampath | Saturday, October 29, 2011

First published in DNA
Last week, after a long time, I read a novel that I’d seen as a film already — Cormac McCarthy’s No Country For Old Men.
One problem with this is that your experience of the novel is pre-filtered through the cinematic rendition.
So I imagined the main characters, Llewelyn Moss, Sheriff Bell, and Anton Chigurh as Josh Brolin, Tommy Lee Jones and Javier Bardem respectively. But you also find that the novel evokes a far richer experience of the story than a film ever could. I guess you can put it down to the limitations of the medium. When made into a film, a novel gains in terms of spectacle and reach, but loses out on depth and complexity. This is partly also due to the nature of the reading process, which is not as linear, and passive, as watching a film.
For those not familiar with the story, here’s the plot summary: one day Moss, a welder, while hunting antelope in Texas, stumbles on the scene of a drug deal gone bad: dead bodies, guns, a stash of heroin, and a satchel with $2.4 million in cash. He could either walk away, or grab the money and run. Moss chooses the latter, setting off a chain of events where Chigurh, a killer, is hired by one of the drug bosses to track Moss down and recover the money, while Sheriff Bell tries ineffectually to investigate the drug-related killings and protect Moss and his wife.
Unlike the film, the book resonates with multiple layers of meaning. For instance, it explores the endlessly fascinating question of whether a human being can take what is not his, and expect to live without consequences — his life unstained by that crime. Moss only attempts to take what is anyway illegal money, and it does not belong to him. Is this then, an allegory about the American nation itself — which stole the continent from native Indians, and yet has always believed itself to be destined by god to be a leader of the Free World (the doctrine of manifest destiny, American exceptionalism, etc)?
Will the theft and genocide on which America was born, and continues to live off — the theft of land from the Indian peoples, the theft of the lives of millions of slaves trafficked from Africa, and today, the theft of oil from the Middle East, not to mention innumerable other thefts of lives and resources from different parts of the world — catch up with it someday, as Moss’s theft catches up with him?
Moss knows there is little chance of his getting away with $2.4 million of drug money, but he thinks maybe he can because he is special. Perhaps, in this dilemma, and in this choice, McCarthy, often hailed as the true heir of Hemingway and Faulkner, has managed to capture the existential history of America, and the radioactive nature of the American dream.
In the book, Chigurh’s character, who the film depicts as the purest incarnation of evil, doesn’t see himself as evil. He believes himself to be the instrument of fate. Hence his use of the coin toss. When a victim begs him for mercy, he flips a coin and asks him to call it. Invariably, the ones he knows he’ll have to kill call it wrong, and those who call it right are people he knows he can spare.
In a brilliant scene, Chigurh has a chat with Moss’s wife, Carla Jean, who knows he has come to kill her. When she begs him not to kill her, he offers her a glimmer of hope: a coin toss.
She calls ‘tails’, but it is ‘heads’.
Chigurh says, “I’m sorry.”
A terrified Carla tells him, “You make it like it was the coin. But you’re the one.”
In a revealing comment, Chigurh tells her, “I had no belief in your ability to move a coin to your bidding. How could you? A person’s path through the world seldom changes and even more seldom will it change abruptly. And the shape of your path was visible from the beginning.”
Here was a bad guy, so to speak, who killed seemingly good people — not out of greed or jealousy or hatred, but almost from a sense of duty, as a matter of principle. In the film, you are either terrified of Chigurh or you hate him. But as you read McCarthy’s novel, you find the evil of Chigurh refracted through the prism of your own self — the evil things we do, and justify, as a duty we have to perform. The patriotic killings of a soldier comes to mind, as do the lay-offs a CEO perpetrates as part of his professional duty, or the peculiar logic that justifies the evil and forcible displacement of adivasis from their land in the name of economic development and progress (a logic apparently as inexorable as fate and Chigurh).
While watching the film, you’re rooting for Moss, but it is not until you read the novel that you understand that in real life, our allegiance, whether we like it or not, is with Chigurh.