Some Ramblings - Saving Mr. Banks (2013) by Srinivas Kanchibhotla
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Oscar Bait
Fall...trees start turning their colored coats inside out and eventually shed their old wear and gear clearing out their warehouses in what becomes their final blowout season... Coincidentally, it is also time when movie studios bring their artsy features out of the closet, ones that they have held out until the hoarse-y summer's din died down. So snuggle up in the fall jackets and settle down for the Oscar fare where the sensitive battle it out with the subtle, where strong stories stake their ground out in the fertile land of varied imaginations....

The collaboration of Stanley Kubrick and Stephen King for ‘The Shining’ garnered a great buzz around it, what with the both of them coming off hugely successful ventures and the combination promising nothing but the best. As it turned out, it was anything but…The way the author and the auteur looked at the story of an alcoholic father taking up the job of a winter caretaker, joined by his wife and his little kid, of a resort hotel high up in the snow clad mountains in Colorado, and his slow descent into murderous madness during a frightful winter, couldn’t be more diametrically opposite. While King’s take was an introspective one, where the ghosts, the murders, the wife and child abuse were on some level the devastating effects of a decaying brain on a staple diet of alcohol, Kubrick’s vision was a much larger one, where the atrocities committed by the patriarchal head of the family on his hapless subjects were mirrored in the systematic purge of the indigenous native Indian population at the hands of the superiorly equipped and organized white settlers. As seen, there was no middle ground there where both the versions could be reconciled and the best selling novel in the hands of probably the most influential director of all time ended up as something that the author washed his hands off of, thereby disowning his own material. (That King himself helmed a TV series based on the novel much later turning it into a damp squib, is a different matter). It happens more times than not when already published material (novels, stories and articles) become the fodder for the silver screen, that the eventual output bares only passing resemblance to the original intentions of the author, who eventually end up publicly expressing outrage at the travesty that his hard work was turned into. The problem lies in the fact that director considers himself (in fact, he is) as the editor/co-author to the material, who has the responsibility of reshaping and rearranging the original contents in a way he sees as best fit for the big screen. And when the director picks up a different angle in the same story that the author hitherto had paid scant attention to, face-offs as ones during ‘The Shining’ occur. The postscript of that bitterness remains that both the book and movie are considered to be one of the best in the horror genre, in the publishing and and movie worlds. Same material, two authors, two points of views, both equally valid and horrifying. A rare feat in Hollywood that is yet to be repeated.

‘Saving Mr.Banks’ is however a delightful real life account of the making of the beloved children’s book ‘Mary Poppins’ by Pamela Travers into a family movie by Walt Disney. While the author (portrayed with just the right British eccentricity by the wonderful Emma Thompson) holds on to her beloved creation, resisting and hating its disfigurement at the hands of movie studio known for manufacturing and toying with emotions, here is the studio head, Walt Disney (played with great charm, wit, and dignity by the ever dependable Tom Hanks) trying to wriggle to book out of her hands and give it the silver screen treatment that it so richly deserved, making the audience fall in love with the material that Disney himself fell hard for. And the movie is all about that dance - how far does the author move and how far was Walt willing to accede and concede. Even though ‘Mr. Banks’ is pretty much a ‘Hollywood insider’ fare (usually appreciated by a selected few who are drawn to the inner working of the studio system, like in ‘The Player’, ‘Swimming with sharks’), what gives it a universal appeal is the backstory of the author’s toil and turmoil behind the writing of ‘Mary Poppins’. Of all literature - past and present - children’s literature is usually considered to sacred and sacrosanct, not to be trifled with and never to be altered, and any changes to it, in letter and spirit, would be met with great outrage. That explains why the authors (and the fans) cling on to the source material like dear life vehemently opposing any changes, however minor, in their adaptations to the big screens. The movie works primarily on the charm on the lead pair - Hanks and Thompson - as much as the performances of the great supporting cast - Paul Giamatti, Colin Ferrell and Bradley Whitford. And the perfect tone that the (writer and) the director found, not too saccharine or too cynical, not too emotional or too aloof, balancing both the stories (the backstory and the Hollywood dance), makes ‘Saving Mr. Banks’ a perfect followup to the movie ‘Marry Poppins’ itself.

A recent divorcee, with no money or prospects, and a mother of an infant, sets upon putting on paper an idea that long lingered in her head. With bills and pressure mounting with each passing day, she found comfort in the world she was creating, mostly on scraps of paper and cheap napkins in the tiny diners that were playing host to her writing sessions. Surviving on the benevolence of government and battling clinical depression on the side, she finally presented her story to the world of a near orphan boy, who has the rest of the world gunning for his life, while he takes refuge in a magical world, in a work of art that closely imitated her life.A few books, followed by a few movies, together with a handful of millions of dollars later, J K Rowling’s ‘Harry Potter’ remains the most beloved child lit till date. And the first condition she set, when Hollywood came knocking her door was to have final say on the locked script. As she knows the blood, tears and sweat that went into the making of it, merchandising of that emotion should be the last item on the totem pole. And she took her lead from the one who got there first - Pamela Travers.

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