Oct 24, 2009

A New Mythological

The first feature length film made in India was ‘Raja Harishchandra’ in 1913. It isn’t surprising to any Indian to find out that the film was a ‘mythological’: it told stories of Hindu Gods and Goddesses, of ancient kings and curses. The medium of film provided the means, for the first time, for visual spectacles such as Gods flying in air and actors burning on funeral pyres to emerge unscathed. The mythological film was a prominent part of Indian Cinema till the 80’s, when television took over that genre. Tarsem Singh grew up in India, and while his film ‘The Fall’ bears an unmistakeable Bollywood stamp, I could not shake off the thought that its true progenitor is the bollywood mythological.

The film is a freefall into a world of fantasy. A stuntman in Los Angeles of the 1920’s breaks his legs in a fall, and then, while he is in hospital, discovers that his true love has betrayed him. After a failed suicide attempt, he befriends a little Spanish girl in the hospital. Hoping that he can trick her into getting him pills for a second suicide attempt, he begins to tell her a story. The audience now tumbles into the girl’s imagination, and the story unfolds through her eyes.

The opulent visuals are vaguely reminiscent of Sergei Paradjanov’s fantasy film ‘Ashik Kerib’: characters appear out of nowhere in outlandish locations, and the narrative continues as if nothing has changed. Thus an actor begins his dialogue in Bali, and completes it as he walks into a palace in Jaipur. Time is on hold, geography is ignored. Easily recognisable costumes and locations changed meaning for me; and transformed into new spaces. The tropes of the mythological film were all in place: here is the regenerated hero, there is the magic of the gods, here is the vision of paradise and the glimpse of the netherworld. In film, this is the closest anybody has come to the magic realism of Garcia Marquez and Salman Rushdie.

It certainly pushes the envelope far beyond the other fantasy magnum opus that released three years earlier: the last instalment of the ‘Lord of the Rings’ trilogy. The ‘Lord of the Rings’ depends on a fantasy world that is complete and sufficient in itself, that must be recreated for us in its entirety and in painstaking detail, with the best that computer generated effects can provide. Tolkein’s imagination can allow no loose ends, no inconsistencies. The world of ‘The Fall’ is loose, and it is unstructured. The floor disappeared under me in a Florentine Palace, and I found myself at an earlier point in the story, in the middle of a desert. I felt the edit, but no blue screen, no computer effects. What I saw was an enormous screen of silk soaring into the sky, fluttering in the desert breeze. This is the farthest the film goes as far as elaborate sets are concerned. And yet, the effect is thrilling.

As I joyously fell through the film (and perhaps there is no other way to watch this film), I felt that Dadasaheb Phalke (who made that first Indian mythological) would have been proud except for one thing: the hero dies in the end.
This piece was written for Ralph Caplan's class, The Critical Imperative.

1 comment:

  1. just love this film! also liked his 'cell'. Cant believe its shot partly in india.

    recommendation for you to watch
    - Immortel (ad vitam) (2004). Also go through the directors illustration work (i like!).


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