Miss Lovely (Ahluwalia, 2012), and Joi Baba Felunath: The Elephant God (Ray, 1979)

Ashim Ahluwalia’s Miss Lovely is a fractured, beautifully raw drama. Sonu (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) and his older brother Vicky (Anil George) are low-level porn film producers. Sonu is the dreamer – he fancies himself more than the sleaze; Vicky is the hustler – he gets them into trouble. When Sonu meets Pinky (Niharika Singh) he falls head-over-heels and naively turns down a dark path.

One of my favorite parts of Ahluwalia’s film is the confident use of time. We frequently move from scene to scene with large temporal jumps. Or maybe better said: it’s the rare two consecutive scenes that are also immediately continuous time. It yields a ruptured style that I really liked. I often feel like this kind of an approach has something to do with the main character and I think that’s true here: Sonu’s not as invested in the film world like Vicky is. His head is elsewhere. His experience of the industry is a bit of a second or third-hand whirlwind.

I’m pretty sure there’s both 16 and 35mm in here, and the images are gorgeous. Ahluwalia and DoP K.U.Mohanan revel in some dingy colors and textures, and have a lot of fun with these B-films:

There are amazing locations and production design from Tabasheer Zutshi. I love these greenish tones, the foggy windows, the empty hallways, the pops of red:

There’s a reel eeriness to the film. In part because of all the ogling going on, but also the use of different formats gives it the feel of something seedy. That and the frames (see below) where’s there’s a kind of lonely madness happening:

Joi Baba Felunath: The Elephant God

Ray’s The Elephant God is his second Feluda (Soumitra Chatterjee) film and it’s quite a bit of fun. It features an amazing turn from Utpal Dutt as Maganlal, and uses the hypnotic location of Kaashi so well.

My favorite scene is one where Feluda follows a suspect. It’s so precise and uses the location perfectly. Feluda spots his guy who then walks up a staircase. Ray tracks Feluda right to left, landing at that same staircase in a wider frame:

To Feluda peeking around the corner. His POV (the third low angle of the stairs). Then a high angle as Feluda climbs, and a new wide as he loses his man:

Cut to our man in a courtyard. The camera pans off of him, finding Feluda. Feluda walks past the camera, bringing us back to our guy, who walks the way Feluda just came:

Feluda sees him and stops. He turns back. The suspect turns right, walks right to left and opens a door. Feluda tracks him in that wide OTS and then his reverse:

To Feluda’s POV. Then back to nearly the same frame where the suspect walked in. Feluda heads to the door. The fourth shot below is his POV, which he enters. Then to his tight single as he looks, and into a wide as he enters:

Feluda darts off frame right just behind that doorway (see the last image above) as he hears something and we get a cut out to this beautiful wide (first below) as he hides. Our man goes back. Feluda peeks in (a common rhythm). Then behind him. We dolly around the pillar, and cut in as he approaches a new door. When we he peeks out, we can imagine where he is given the layout of the space thus far.

He locks that one. The camera pans off of him and he enters, barring a second door. Back to a familiar wide. Feluda reenters and this time, he makes it through the doorway and he heads left. We haven’t been in this direction yet. That leads to a different courtyard. He looks up–

–and we see the next level. He walks off to his right (frame left, not depicted here), down a hallway and up a set of stairs, both towards camera. He reaches the landing and we dolly with him as he continues his walk:

So why is this so good? Well for one, Ray lays out the space so precisely and in a variety of ways. Some of it is good old fashioned screen direction. Some of it is POV. Some of it is just logical shot progression. And some of it is is mise-en-scène. Look at these last few beats. Feluda looks up and we see the top level and a blanket hanging. He walks to his right, so we understand that to get to where that blanket is he’ll have to take two lefts and go up a level walk up. That’s all accomplished in that POV. Ray takes care of both of those things easily: by having Feluda enter the second and third shots above from right to left (his two turns), and then up the stairs (to the second level). And perhaps most importantly, he then stages it so that Feluda walks past that same blanket (which wasn’t put there by accident). It’s such a correct way to give the viewer an exact idea of where Feluda is.

And why does that matter? Well, for one, we know the general direction where the suspect went. We know the path Feluda took to get where he is. So we have an idea of their proximity, and how they’d like have to cross paths, should Feluda try to leave as the suspect comes back. It ramps up suspense.

Secondly, this place is a maze. It could be confusing, but Ray gets the best of both worlds: the labyrinth, the corners, the dead ends and a clear map. Speaking of which: I bet you can draw a map of Feluda’s path from these stills. That’s a testament to the filmmaking.

But this scene is also great for its rhythm. Ray lets shots linger. It’s a slow stalk and, though the camera moves, it’s usually rather deliberate. The only time it moves quickly is that pan back and forth (third set of images) – and that’s where Feluda thinks he’s lost his man, so it makes sense (frantic emotion, frantic camera). Many shots have clean entrances and exits, and frequently we see a character walk the length of the frame. It’s calculated and thoughtful, matching the mind of Feluda, who only makes measured decisions. There’s also a rhythm in a few types of repeat shots: there’s the pan off the character to find something else (seen twice in here), the track right to left to a perpendicular (seen three times in here), and the classic POV three-shot sequence (seen three times in here). These repetitions form their own kind of dance and familiarity and each serve a different purpose: up the urgency, make a discovery, and observe with care, respectively.

Does Ray time-cut in here? I’m not sure. If he does, it’s subtle and slick. He actually gets away with not time-cutting (meaning: no temporal ellipses; meaning: keeping it real-time) by his clever staging. He manages to keep these guys close together believably. Look at how many of these images feature them in the same frame or shot. I count seven. It’s a close-proximity “chase,” but one that is staged so cleverly as to not have those bumps where we don’t buy that our suspect wouldn’t see Feluda. If Ray doesn’t do this, he’s probably got to cut ahead in time to keep our interest going or just to move the thing along. But instead he uses enough dead ends (there are several) and sudden turns to keep them near to one-another, thus allowing him to block the entire sequence in real-time.

There’s also such care with different framing. Look at those first three low angles of the stairs, copied again below. They’re all slightly different. The first is totally objective. The second is also, but we are carried there by Feluda. The third is subjective; it’s Feluda’s POV. There’s an evolution in these where the second one – the track that turns into the low angle – bridges the objective and the subjective, thereby thrusting us into the following sequence, which itself is made up of several POV shots.

Or look at the fifth block of shots with the door to the new location. Ray is careful to not have Feluda walk into his own point-of-view. Here they are again, below. The first is Feluda’s true POV – it’s preceded by a single of Feluda looking. The second is probably just a dolly in with the dolly cut out. But the important thing is that it’s a different shot:

That matters because Feluda’s POV is a solid thing. It’s only that. You can’t walk into your own POV, so why should Feluda be able to (as a side-note: this idea of POVs, walking into and reserving, are concepts that I’m really interested in!)?

About dcpfilm

Shooting, teaching, writing and watching the Phillies.
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