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Some Ramblings - Magadheera
By Srinivas Kanchibhotla

'Hollywood standards' is a phrase that has been in currency in the last few years, unfortunately, for all the wrong reasons, particularly in the context of telugu movies. It is a misnomer of sorts, a term that is used either in the wrong context on in an incorrect sense. 'Hollywood technique' is probably what they mean. Eye catching photography, slick editing, great production design and others have seen a vast improvement in the overall technical aspects of movie making, when compared to a decade or so ago wherein mounting the camera on a tripod and parading all the action in front of that stationary setup accounted for majority of framing in the movie. Nowadays, even a television drama can be transformed into a eye popping spectacle, given enough budget. But the phrase 'Hollywood standards' is not reserved to technical aspects alone, which are mere bridesmaids and best men (toDa peLLi koDuku, tODa peLLi kooturu), who have to take a step back to the script. Without a good script, the rest is just a lifeless parade and a soulless procession. There are two prominent film makers in Hollywood who primary rely on technique and technology more than the rest - James Cameron and Michael Bay. Both of them have a penchant for scripting around the available (or not yet invented) gadgetry, both of them provide great grand spectacles, yet only one of them is regarded as a genuine film maker. In all his movies, Cameron made sure that the script could 'afford' the technique, not just 'accommodate' it. When a new piece of technology is brought into the mix, like morphing in Terminator 2 (a liquid crystal shifting shapes), or the blue screen technique for all aero- fights and feats in 'True Lies', his thoughts (script) preceded the action, than the other way around. Unfortunately the same thing cannot be said of the second film maker, Michael Bay. He is more a film stylist, than a film maker. Technology, to him, is a toy and the script is only a pedestal to showcase the eye candy effects. The visual imagery may be good/great to look at, but the effect lasts only as long as the fizz in a carbonated soda. When record keepers eventually open the history books on these two film makers, one would go down as a very creative and an imaginative story teller, while Bay would only find his place in the Appendix section, and the difference between them remain, not the technology, but the writing. Film styling has a half life period that is only proportional to the advancement in technology - the rapid the strides, the sooner the film would become outdated. On that scale 'Magadheera' may be the first movie entirely styled (not stylized) in telugu industry, that can remain current and trendy only until the next software update or hardware upgrade.

It would be amusing to guess the 'creative' process behind the scripting to understand what might have gone through the writers' mind before they pitched the idea to the producer. There is absolutely no doubt that '300' is the foundation for the movie, together with the design (stunt choreography, set design, costume design (including the face masks)), execution, and (yes,) even the rousing dialogues. But since it would amount to copyright infringement to lift the material in totality, particularly when all the major Hollywood studios have setup shop in India and watching the local scene eye with hawk eyes, borrow the main action sequences from the 'Battle of Thermopylae' in '300' and translate it to a more native 'Bhairava Kona'. And to ease into '300', how about throwing in a little 'Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon' in the way the lead pair fall from the mountains to death (again, with the necessary background pathos music).

Q.But then, the story writer might have been confounded with the important question - how to get to '300'?
A.That's ok, devote the entire first half to set it up

Q.1.25 hours to set it up? with what?
A.Well, with a couple of (not so funny) comedy sequences, with a couple of (unnecessary fights), and with a couple of songs (of which one is really melodious, and the other...wait for it...borrowed again from another movie)

Q.But all these wouldn't amount to more than 10-20 pages. How to account for the other 50 pages to build up the first half?
A.Welcome to the 'Michael Bay school' of film making. No story? no worries. No script? no problem. Absolutely nothing to point the camera to/on? Piece of cake. This where the computers take over to fill the blanks (voids) for plot and performances. Stretch out even a normal bike vaulting sequence into an effects extravaganza.

Q. But what about the believability?
A. Believability? Who cares? This is a CGI sequence with wire techniques.

Q.But didn't James Cameron make similar bike jumping sequence off a bridge in T-2 believable?
A.Now..Now...the comparison to Hollywood is unwarranted. They have bigger budgets, better equipment, and good expertise.

Q. But this movie is already based off a Hollywood, having similar luxury of huge budget and excellent technical personnel. So why can't there be an expectation or a comparision?

Moving on...

At this stage, when the writers have threw their hands and minds in the air and resigned to the fact that the script alone cannot sustain the movie, and special effects have to shoulder a greater burden, Michael Bay rule book weighs in once again and calls for lengthy pans, forward zooms, backward pulls, and every director's delight, zoom in on a trolley pull out, whether shot needed it or not at regular intervals. And to showcase the artwork (courtesy: Gladiator, Lord of the Rings), the computer eye furiously speeds forward, backward, downward and upward, like it is nobody's business. And finally, the '300' sequence...Phew... It has been one painful, arduous and a time wasting task to get till here. And there is not much to talk about this sequence either (like the side kick to Brahmanandam character in 'King' says, when asked how a certain lifted tune sounds, "as it is, alaagae undi saar"). Enough to say, the makers have done a good job 'tracing' over the '300' sequence.

What after it? The rest of the script should be about rushing to the conclusion. Since only 4 songs could be sneaked in till then, how about an ill-placed item song that is supposed to titillate the audience while evoking sympathy for the hero at the same time? A couple of functional dialogues here and there about the hero trying to make the heroine remember the past, and then the climax fight, followed by a (supposed to be) funny banter between the hero and the sympathizer/rescuer to finish the movie. But wait... there is still one more song recorded for the purpose. But where to squeeze it in? Fear not, the makers of 'Om Shanti Om' have shown the way. Why unnecessarily reinvent the wheel?

The actual written script might have read awfully similar to the above and it doesn't take a great scripting mind to reverse engineer the movie. If as an industry, telugu movies were to take the next leap into the next generation of story telling, they have to put in a more concerted ORIGINAL effort than the above 'spot the original movie' mish-mash concoction of world cinema. And the less said about the performances, the better. It is unfair to expect the young lad to carry the movie entirely on his own, when the rest of the scripting staff failed so miserably. He certainly is easy on eyes and not so much on the ears. Secondary skills - dances and fights - he has in plenty, but he has a lot to improve on his primary ones - expressions, dialogue delivery, diction and modulation. There is certainly no shame to employ coaches to each of the above disciplines as it becomes tough to sail entirely on single line dialogues and exceptional abilities of the directors in the long run. The two technical aspects that deserve sound applause are the art work and the CGI team, which rightfully demand to ask the final question, why does a movie that looks so good and sounds so great (technically) be anything but?

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This article is written by Srinivas Kanchibhotla
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