“Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (theft) will be authentic. Authenticity is invaluable; originality is non-existent. And don’t bother concealing your thievery – celebrate it. Remember what Jean-Luc Godard said: “It’s not where you take things from, its where you take them to” – Jim Jarmusch”
This was the status update that Shyamaprasad Rajagopal, well known Malayalam film director had put up a long time ago on his Facebook page. And most certainly, he is one of those who celebrates that “thievery” with a great deal of authenticity. Most of his films take off from works of literature and he has always acknowledged the fact with a great deal of comfort, that I guess comes from the confidence that he can present it convincingly in his own style. His film , “Artist”(2013) too, is based on the book “Dreams in Prussian Blue “ by Paritosh Uttam. .
Creative people indeed can spark off a strange chemistry in others who appreciate the finer things of life. There is a certain awe that they inspire because they are able to evoke something in us that allows us to rise above the mundane, even if fleetingly. There is something remarkable about sentences strung together that help you forget the dreariness of one’s own routine and help you get into the skins of other people and places. There is something magical about the way composers can translate your emotions with accentuated emphasis, into melodies and about singers who can make you feel that their voices come straight from the chords of your own heart. Strokes of the paintbrush across the canvas depicting varied aspects of our lives, both external and internal, makes the artist a charismatic person. Somewhere , somehow, we begin to believe that our lives would be richer, our existences would be more interesting, our personalities and our emotions would be better understood by such differently endowed people, that their sensibilities and empathy would be greater than the “normal” man or woman , you meet on the street.
People do talk of and assess art and writing and the individuals who create them in “objective” terms. May be that IS the right and sensible approach. And yet…and yet…..and yet….I’ve never admired Picasso. “Guernica” doesn’t move me , not since I read about his life and the self-centred way he dispensed with the relationships in his life. Does genius absolve a person with skewed sensibilities? Can abstract ideas put forward by someone still move you, when you come to know that there is a dichotomy in the way that person has lived his life and the philosophy he professed. It doesn’t work for me .
“Artist” is a very sensitively made film, that traces the journey of two artists, Gayatri(Ann Augustine) and Michael(Fahad Faasil). All of Shyam Sir’s films explore the light and shadows of relationships. His canvasses never depict images only in black or white, but are always splashed with all the hues in between. That “authenticity “ which he quoted is clearly evident in all of his characters. They are never “larger than life”. They come to you with all their flaws and weaknesses and their vulnerabilities and endearing qualities, so that you can decide whether you can relate to them or not , like them or not.
I did not like Fahad Faasil’s character in this film( Oh how it breaks my heart to say this. I remain a die-hard fan ) and yet, if I was really, really honest, I would have been just the kind of young girl at seventeen or eighteen that Anne Augustine was in the film, playing the character Gayatri and I would have gladly perhaps been bewitched by Michael, the crazy, handsome, utterly confident artist. Rebels who dare to break away from the beaten track are strangely exciting , one must admit. Even their self-centredness appeals to your senses. One is made to feel that it is the self -awareness of their potential that makes them shy away from false modesty and indeed that if they did not indulge in self appreciation, then that would be dishonesty. But then may be it is just as well that one doesn’t have to live with them, not the Michael kinds.
Fahad is an excellent actor. One has to say that again and again. I had watched some of his interviews. The guy admits very humbly many times that he trusts his directors implicitly and just goes about doing what he is asked to do. That may be so…and Shyamaprasad Sir has taken care not to let the scenes become melodramatic or garrulous; but it takes a really good actor too, to understand what the director intends to convey and how to convey it, to internalize the emotions involved in the situation being captured on the screen and carry the spectator along with it. Fahad carries off the negative shades with such aplomb and make the characters come alive…you know they are real…22 Female Kottayam, Chaappa Kurishu, Anju Sundarikal, Thondi muthalum Driksaakshaiyum, to name a few. I loved all those roles. I can’t put my finger on how he does it…but those glimpses that he allows into the tender, lovable part of all those characters keeps the female hearts palpitating , I guess. And I am over sixty, mind you. Fahad does it beautifully in "Artist" too and most remarkably in the scenes immediately after his accident when he is slipping into total darkness. The stillness on his face spoke volumes.
And there was this scene, where one teeny-weeny teardrop, peeps out from under the closed eyelids of Michael, as he lies down in complete stillness on the hospital bed. My heart missed many beats there.
Ann Augustine too is very promising. In the opening scene , when she is waiting for Michael in the cafeteria , for the meeting she had arranged for him with the curator of the Arts Museum, her impatience and nervousness did appear a trifle too overt. I still can’t get used to verbalizations of ones’ thoughts on the screen and when she mutters to herself quite loudly, Michael..pick up the phone and the way she kept fidgeting …I thought …oh no!! But I was wrong. She went on improving on herself. Not many actors can cry convincingly on screen. Ann Augustine can do that just as heart warmingly as she can smile. Her helplessness , torn as she is between the love and admiration for Michael and the growing realization that she and her dreams would always have to play second fiddle, the frustration that she occasionally allows herself to reveal, all are well emoted.
I was awfully glad that Gayatri could walk away, her head high on her shoulders and with calm acceptance of the fact that some relationships do run out their course and that even the deepest and strongest of them are better given up when they become debilitating nightmares instead of being the dream that was supposed to be dreamt and lived together. Success may have knocked on Michael’s door of blindness, with splashes of Prussian blue.. One tiny part of you feels happy for him , but the empathy disappears when he answers the only question he agrees to respond to. Why Prussian blue? , asks a reporter at the exhibition held of the paintings he had done after he became blind. “Because, it is the colour of betrayal and that is what you see all around you” , says he.
The way Michael and Gayatri’s friend, Abhi gradually transforms his character from an apparently trustworthy ,well-meaning guy to an almost cruel manipulator as the circumstances change, rubs in the fact that the potential for treachery and betrayal is there in all of us and that there all kinds of betrayal. You come out of theatre asking yourself….who betrayed who ? Are dreams the monopoly of a chosen few? Do dreams have to have the same textures and hues? Can one dream be allowed to accord itself higher priority because its fulfilment will have greater visibility and greater reach? Isn’t happiness the right of every human being? Can a person’s selfishness be justified on the basis of his or her talent? What is the purpose of art? Is all art and are all artists worthy of admiration just because it is art and they are artists?
The background scores were really nice too and were not patchworked on to the scenes and the two songs were quite melodious .
I was so glad to see my friend Sakhi Elsa on the screen in that concluding scene. She is the one who has done the costume designing for the film. Costumes shouldn’t intrude on the scene. Unfortunately, in our films, instances where the colours and designs of the dresses impinge quite disadvantageously, are galore. Elsa’s dresses mould itself into the scenes and sits on the characters with unobtrusive comfort.
It has been some years now since this was released, but it is one you can watch whenever you get a chance to do so.
Nadira Cotticollan , is a Joint Director from the Ministry of Railways, film enthusiast, blogger and novelist. She is the author of "The Winnowing Waves". Nadira is based in Bangalore.