BLACKHAT (Dir. Michael Mann, 2015, US) – Moments, Impressions and Aesthetics

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Defining moments in films can go unnoticed since the visual expressionism of most filmmakers is relatively provincial, acquiescing to broader commercial empathies. It is not right to reduce or distil the essence of Mann’s films to mere moments, as this would make the claim his films work fleetingly and intermittently. Moments can also be interpreted as marks of distinction attributed to an auteur as formidable as Mann whose films are some of the most authentic, aesthetically striking and thematically cogent genre pieces to have emerged from the mainstream of contemporary American cinema. There are two moments in question in Mann’s latest film Blackhat that are framed outside the periphery of genre, and which would constitute as authorial slight of hand. The first is when hacker Nicholas Hathaway (Chris Hemsworth) is released from prison and pauses briefly on a runaway before boarding a jet. The second sees FBI Agent Carol Barrett (Viola Davis) gunned down by zealous paramilitary bagman Kassar on the streets of HK (Mann is one of the few directors who finds an aesthetic beauty and apotheosis from action sequences). Time and space are the two dimensions linking both moments, imbuing a transience and solemnity often affiliated with the urban universe of Mann.

The first moment framing Hathaway in a series of slow motion edits as he looks of into the distance is interspersed with a classic Mann visual trait, the asymmetrical composition, with the camera lingering slightly to the left of the urban male loner so that negative space fills the frame, creating a disruption which in this case could be viewed as Hathaway staring into the existential void or clearer still the abyss of cyberspace which is infinitesimal. Mann’s interruption of the logic of classical narrative cinema with such an authorial articulation punctuates and contorts the linearity of time so this moment becomes a defining point of reference rather than just an attempt to assert stylistic consistency. Such discontinuity is also philosophical since the very existence of Mann’s male protagonists is predicated on time: the time to think, to act, and above all, the time to live and die. What if we reframed such moments as in-between moments? Those extraneous micro details typifying realist cinema or the bits that no audience member would be interested to look at for a few fleeting seconds since it distracts from ignoble narrative pleasures. Kent Jones in his monograph (1999) on L’Argent (Money, 1983) argues the cinema of Bresson is a compendium of ‘impressions’ of life as recalled by the director and captured on film. Being impressionistic suggests something altogether deleterious these days, superficiality perhaps. Would we dare make the implication that De Sica was an impressionist, and that even the cinema of Mann is about framing impressions? Remarkably, Mann has referred to his cinema as a realist one. If authenticity, extended years of research, is proof that his films pulsate inorganically and demonstrate a noted aesthetic dexterity then it works aggressively to mask the realist argument, which inexorably gets displaced.

The second in-between moment is realised more sparingly than the first, occupying a more familiar Mann visual milieu, an urban topography, this time of late night Hong Kong. When Kassar and his men gun down Agent Barrett, Mann cuts to Barrett framed in a low angle medium close up, her body riddled with bullets and her lifeless eyes wide open. The next shot, from the POV of Barrett, is a vertiginous high angle shot of a glistening HK skyscraper reaching into the night skies. Framing Barrett’s death through the image of a tall building, Mann connects her death to that her of late husband, a victim of 9-11, and again contorts linearity so that a poetic visual metonymy surfaces. In both junctures, time is the enemy, the most ephemeral of contests in the Mann cosmos.

Blackhat is in many ways Mann’s first truly ‘global’ film, unfolding chiefly in HK and Jakarta. Both of these urban spaces are never positioned as alien environments and seem on many occasions inseparable from the American city streets of Chicago or Los Angeles. If a post-globalised urban context holds no barriers for Mann’s cops, criminals, outsiders and anti-heroes then cyberspace as a site for granting a precarious anonymity, so often craved by Mann’s urban male loners, is at stake, emerging as a contest in which Hathaway must confront his double and mirror image, the eponymous hacker. Such opposition educes Manhunter, Heat, Collateral and Public Enemies in which mirror images as an authorial preoccupation is taken to its logical conclusion, the shattering of the double and its final elimination, which in the case of Blackhat plays out with an erudite genre equivocation, hinging emotively on revenge. It could in fact be the most benign of all Mann’s endings since the world of crime is a digital one: undetectable and immeasurable unlike the tangible ‘scores’ of traditional urban crime.

This narrative departure is not a complete break from Mann’s authorial traits since time still matters. Yet in the past, Mann’s urban loners who know their time is up such as Neil McCauley in Heat or Vincent in Collateral, the doomed noir trajectory, means their existence is also hinged on adherence to a moral code that advocates a no attachments policy. But Hathaway goes the furthest to reject such an ideal since his escape at the end is with Lien (Wei Tang). Imaginably Mann’s male protagonists are that much freer in a post globalised world; that they can disappear and become invisible since time and space have become that much more fragmented. In this context Blackhat is closer to the narrative finality of Manhunter (note the parallels between Jack Crawford and Captain Dawai in terms of their roles as meditators) and The Last of the Mohicans. It is in the vagaries of transience that remains an absolute veracity about Mann’s work.

1992 and the release of The Last of the Mohicans is significant in terms of determining the point at which critics started to take Mann seriously. It was one of the few occasions that critics came to a consensus on a Mann film. Perhaps Heat is the film that brought wider mainstream acclaim and recognition but the mixed critical responses to Blackhat reiterates the fate of films like Thief, Miami Vice and most recently Public Enemies, misconstrued films that have grown in stature. The commercial failure of Blackhat lies with Universal who never pushed the film, botched the marketing and subsequently dumped the film. What makes Blackhat and every Mann film so exceptional is the exacting precision of the framing, composition and combination of shots; there is alchemy to his work, a rapturous aesthetician absent from the mainstream of American genre cinema in desperate need of resuscitation.

Re-imagining Slavery in Django Unchained

Christoph Waltz and Jamie Foxx

The exponential critical discourse on Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained poses an equally difficult task for anyone who wishes to write comprehensively about the film since it is ongoing, myriad like and most significantly caught up in a tide of reactionary criticism that threatens to obfuscate debates predicated on race and violence. Whatever I am about to say about this film has to be contextualised within a discourse that is both contemporary and immediate. Sometimes, looking back at a film with some critical distance is usually one of the least problematic and most objective ways of trying to determine the cultural worth of a film. Django Unchained is currently being discussed as part of a wider filmic interest in slavery but both this and Spielberg’s Lincoln are films written and directed by white middle class film artists, thus posing important questions to do with representation. Although Tarantino has previously made films with black characters, mainly played by Samuel L Jackson, Spielberg’s experience with slavery in terms of his film career has been more direct and visible; The Colour Purple and Amistad testifies to his interests in dealing with the guilt of America’s past crimes. What follows are observations which are not necessarily debating an existing discourse but instead trying to delineate critical junctures which could prove to be valuable in separating fact from fiction.

1. Film or Mash-Up?

Jackie Brown – QT’s last film?

 

Since Jackie Brown in 1997, the films Tarantino has directed have all been tributes to exploitation cinema and while it may be snobbish to deny Django Unchained the label of a film it seems impossible to do so when the very foundations of Django Unchained are constructed on an intertextual mode of address that shows totality. Intertextuality has been present in the films of Tarantino since his debut with Reservoir Dogs but the difference between his early films including Dogs, Fiction and Brown is that the action is framed against a recognisable and contemporary real world America. Such implicit allusions to reality have gradually disappeared in his most recent films. Kill Bill, Deathproof, Inglorious Basterds and now Django Unchained take place in a ‘re-imagined’ America and Europe of the past. Whereas Dogs, Fiction and Brown uses an urban noir landscape of Los Angeles that recalls the lexicon of American crime cinema, the actions of characters are grounded in a reality associated with traditional assumptions about fictional narrative cinema. Taratino’s last four films including Django Unchained are extended homages to favourite genres and styles of filmmaking that have shaped his perceptions as both a fan and director. If anything Django Unchained is the ultimate fan mash-up made solely to indulge the nostalgic fantasies of its director at the expense of a cine-illiterate audience. If a video mash-up cannibazlises other films, music and pop culture to create a discontinuous narrative then a film like Django Unchained goes one step further, transforming past ideologies by decontextualising them so they become mere interpellative markers of a postmodern aesthetic. Tarantino speedily moves from one cinematic allusion to the next, testing the limits of cultural capital and propagating originality is nothing but another romantic myth. As a fan, Tarantino opens Django Unchained with Corbucci and ends with Leone while the middle is filled out with Ford. Here are some examples of the way Django Unchained plunders and raids film history to create the ultimate western mash-up:

 

Django (1966, Sergio Corbucci)

 

The original opening titles to Corbucci’s Italian western.

 

Note the reproduction of the exact same font style.

 

The Searchers (1956, Ford)

 

Ford’s film deals with racial politics.
The narrative of Django Unchained seems more indebted to Ford’s

The Searchers than to obvious Italian Westerns especially in the

epic search Schultz & Django make to find Hildy.

 

In The Heat of The Night (1967, Jewison)

 

Mr. Tibbs drive up to see Endicott, a wealthy plantation owner…

 

…is mirrored in the sequence which sees Django in his newly transformed

persona of the Bounty Hunter rides past the field slaves of a plantation

owned by Big Daddy.

Once Upon a Time In The West (1968, Leone)

This is a flashback device revealed later to be Frank (Henry Fonda).
Tarantino pays homage by using it as POV shot for Stephen’s character.

The Big Silence (1968, Corbucci)

Arguably Corbucci’s greatest western and the wintry backdrop finds its way…

…into the journey of Django who trains to be an ace gun slinger.

Taxi Driver (1977, Scorsese)

Bickle’s sliding gun contraption which he makes for the final bloodbath…

…is used by Schultz in the slaying of Candie.

The Good, The Bad & The Ugly (1966, Leone)

Tuco’s final contempt for Blondie is muted by Morricone’s blistering score…

…and Stephen’s outrage is interrupted by Django’s dynamiting of the mansion.

The western triptych of Leone, Corbucci and Ford is very much a personal admiration of three distinctive auteurs who helped to define the genre and the overarching narrative trajectory of his own film. It would be wrong to simply extrapolate and isolate western allusions since representations of slavery in the film are also predicated on blaxploitation cinema. Whereas the western intertextual discourse may be easier to decipher the obscurity of the references to blaxploitation cinema points to the privileging of populist, hegemonic genres over those such as blaxploitation defined more closely on grounds of ethnic identity and racial politics. The dearth of research and studies completed on blaxploitation compared to the western makes Django Unchained even more problematic to read since the intertextuality becomes locked in a wider debate concerning Eurocentric mainstream film academia. Such critical disparity between the western and blaxploitation is underlined by the mainstream critical reception to the film which has failed to fully acknowledge and discuss the more racialised intertextual referencing made by QT in his film. Such a view certainly supports the argument that black American cinema is rarely discussed in the mainstream and that when it does appear on the cultural radar no one quite knows how to write or respond about it adequately.

 

2. Black and White Heroism

 

Schultz frees Django from his shackles of bondage.

 

Entering the saloon as equals.

 

In regards to the blaxploitation era of the 1970s, Donald Bogle argues the stereotype of the buck became predominant, ‘The early years of the era might best be described as age of the buck, a period when a band of aggressive, pistol-packing, sexually-charged urban cowboys set off on a heady rampage, out to topple the system and to right past wrongs’ (Bogle, 2001: 232). Tarantino’s empowered black cowboy in the shape of the freed slave Django has its origins in such an era of the buck. However, I want to return later to the point about the political radicalism of such cinematic reconstructions and Bogle’s comments about toppling ‘the system’ needs arguing in relation to the film’s ending. In the film, black and white heroism is constructed outside of white hegemonic America since it is a white European who sets free Django. At first, the white man civilizing, cultivating and educating the illiterate oppressed black man smacks of a familiar racial rhetoric in which self determination is a near impossibility for black America but given King Schultz is a European German posits an outsider status that finds parallels in Django’s marginalised position. Both are united by their status as outsiders, articulating a visible solidarity that views white America as the real problem and social evil. Nevertheless, such European enlightenment is never complete as King Schultz’s profession as a bounty hunter complicates his status as an outsider since the unethical profit he makes from death is later questioned by Django. The relationship between Schultz and Django recalls the western genre tradition of the wise, noble gunfighter shaping the young rookie into a lethal killing machine. It is a relationship based on mutual respect and by eliminating the issue of race makes them equal. 

 

Schultz teaches Django about the ethics of bounty hunting…

 

…which results in Django’s first ‘cold blooded’ killing.

 

It is Schultz who teaches Django to kill. Such teaching is clarified in the sequence in which Django under the tutelage of Schultz kills a father in front of his son. While this is necessary in terms of transforming Django into a brutal, remorseless bounty hunter, it is a position that holds very little revolutionary political power. Django’s empowerment is through his guns but such violent retribution is personal and not universal. Towards the end of the film Django dupes the mercenaries who are taking him to a mine into setting him free. After Django kills the white mercenaries, he turns to the three black slaves in a cage and asks for the bag of dynamite. For a moment, I thought Django was going to ask them to join him but he doesn’t. He had done so, his lone vigilante status as the lover on a romantic quest would have transformed into something much more revolutionary. The longing for a posse of black men exacting revenge may have been a symbol of political radicalism that would have transgressed the limitations of the western genre but as Django rides away from the black slaves in the cage, Tarantino takes a moment to pause on the reaction of one of the slaves smiling and celebrating the empowering image of a black man with a shotgun riding on a horse determined to get revenge. This is one of the most ideologically prescient moments in the film since such a reaction from the anonymous slave hints at the way in which metonymic imagery can lead to wider revolt.

 

The three slaves also being transported to the mine are inadvertently set free…

 

…and they watch as a mythic black hero is created before their very eyes…

…inspiring one of the slaves to perhaps contemplate his own freedom.

 

3. Historical Engineering

 

Tarantino is certainly right to oppose accusations of racism by stating Django is a heroic and empowered black character who uses his newfound freedom to exact revenge on white Southern America. The slaying of the brittle brothers by Django recalls and ascertains a historical anger characteristic of the buck. Yet if Django does eventually become the main narrative interest and thereby a hero for the audience, his empowerment is compromised by the final moments in which Tarantino resorts to racial buffoonery. It’s almost as though the film cannot resist from having the black man descend back into farce by entertaining us with the dancing horse and Django’s clown like antics. One could easily interpret this final spectacle as nothing other than a victory parade and celebration but Django seems completely satisfied and closure occurs as though slavery has come to an end. Therefore, it is hard not to read this ending as mere fantasy that sadly obscures the reality of slavery which remains unchanged. In many ways, genre preoccupations of the cowboy riding into the sunset with his girl limits the possibility of a politically radical ending that would have been preferable for such a daring black male representation. 

 

Coonery and…

 

…buffoonery.

 

While Django does not quite transgress many of the dominant black representations, the film can also be accused of historically engineering America’s past by normalising Mandingo fighting as fact, when in reality, no historical record exists that such brutal black on black fighting took place. If Mandingo fighting is a fictitious invention inspired by Tarantino’s love of Mandingo films which offer such outlandish fantasies why has he gone on record to defend the use of the word nigger as historically accurate? To say the repeated use of the word nigger has a historical precedence and to then incorporate something fictitious as Mandingo brawling into the narrative makes a mockery out of Tarantino’s defensive position. In truth, the film is pure cathartic fantasy with tenuous authorial claims to reality. One of the fiercest reactions to the film has come about because of the controversial use of the word nigger which Tarantino uses over 100 times. Is it justified and is it necessary? Making a film about slavery inevitably means having to deal with a language that is largely racist and Tarantino is justified in doing so. Nonetheless, since the film makes such a prolific use of the term, it trivialises racist discourse and history by rendering the word devoid of its actual power and so it becomes merely incorporated into a normal way of speaking between many of the people in the South. I feel Tarantino should have been more strategic in his deployment of the word nigger, using it at key moments in the narrative. Instead it’s overuse renders it obsolete when in fact it should be a source of revulsion. The use of the word nigger is much more troubling for me in films such as Reservoir Dogs than Django Unchained since it smacks of a casual racism masked by Tarantino’s apparent hipness as an auteur of dialogue.

 

Mandingo fighting involves fighting to the death…

 

…however history says no such fighting existed…

 

…yet films have been made specifically about the myth of Mandingo fighting.

 

4. Candyland: The House Slave, Phrenology & White Villainy

 

The final part of the film takes place in a plantation owned by Calvin Candie (Leonardo De Caprio) and develops three significant points of interest. The first and most frightening is that of Stephen (Samuel L Jackson) as an ageing house slave who has been conditioned to accept his inferiority and act solely in the interests of his white master. In terms of racial representations, Stephen is Tarantino’s most radical construction and recalls the troubling stereotype of the Mammy who usually acted as a surrogate mother to the children of the white family that she was serving. The most frightening aspect of Stephen’s character is not that he plots against his ‘brothers and sisters’ (Django & Hildy) but his unconditional loyalty to his white master openly shows the practise of a white hegemonic power structure in subjugating an entire race of people. Stephen’s inability and refusal to recognise his own black identity means he misconstrues someone like Django as the enemy but more importantly as a threat to his own empowered position within the Candie family. Stephen’s desire to humiliate and ultimately disempower Django comes from a deep sense of inferiority and self hate since he only privileges white power as a way of keeping intact the status quo. Django’s decision to exact revenge for the death of Schultz and the humiliation of Hildy may seem straightforward enough in terms of logical narrative linearity but the choice to leave Stephen ‘the last man standing’ is ideologically significant as his symbolic status as the conditioned house slave represents the greatest obstacle in Django’s metaphorical path to emancipation. In many ways, the dynamiting of the mansion and also of Stephen is a hyperbolic spectacle. Such reflexive hyperbolic destructiveness is ubiquitous in fantasising about an end to slavery by eradicating slaves like Stephen. In other words, the road to tolerance and liberalism can only come about from the absolute reconstruction of self identity as is the case with Django’s transformation from slave to hero.

 

Stephen is the loyal house slave who…

 

…exists solely for his white master.

 

Unlike the complicated representation of Stephen, white villainy in the form of Calvin Candie is delineated along more unequivocal traditional lines. Candie is the most cartoonish of the characters. This is problematic since by removing any sense of realness from the most potent figure, namely the plantation slave owner, from the racist landscape and having him ‘perform’ the role of the perfect villain works to disavow guilt. Villainy is outlined explicitly when Candie demonstrates his power by making an example of a Mandingo fighter caught trying to escape the plantation. Attack dogs ripping apart the black slave is a disturbing image that becomes ingrained on the psyche of Schultz and is later justified by Candie with his phrenological musings on black submissiveness. Unlike the other white racist constructs which are ruthless, brutal and ugly, Candie’s eloquent banter and relationship with Stephen does not make him altogether unsympathetic. In fact, Candie is charismatic, a professional and a good host but what makes him totally unappealing as a human being is an ancestral arrogance that Schultz is unable to fathom. This leads to Schultz shooting Candie and finally declaring his European political liberalism as the genuine article.

 

A Mandingo fighter is ripped apart by attack dogs on Candie’s order.

 

Candie is represented as a petulant young ruler.

 

Concluding thoughts

Aside from Schultz, Tarantino ridicules and critiques nearly all of the other white characters and it is a film predicated on the symbolic racial centrality of Django as a largely mythical figure, which is important in terms of the western genre, since Django’s singularity reiterates the romanticism of the cowboy as loner. It would be wrong to attempt to associate any kind of critique of this film with the terms historical accuracy since this is staged as a pure fantasy of violence. Tarantino cites Mandingo (1975) as a key influence on the film and interestingly Jonathan Rosenbaum (who in turns cites Robin Wood’s reclaiming of the film Mandingo) refers to Fleischer’s film as, ‘one of the most neglected and underrated Hollywood films of its era‘ yet he is none to enthusiastic about Django Unchained, ‘at best it’s Another True Life Adventure for ten-year old boys‘. I’m not so sure about Tarantino arguing that his film has triggered a wider and honest debate about slavery in the mainstream media since it is a debate narrowly contested on the use of the word nigger. Perhaps in the end it’s simply not enough to give audiences a black hero especially one who is without any real overarching ideological sentiments that would pose a real threat to the white establishment in which the era the film is set. Tarantino’s re-imagining of slavery is his best film since Kill Bill Vol. 1 but that’s not much of a complement considering how average his career has been over the last decade. However, this is also one of his most complicated works as the representations of race in particular are site of struggle and contest that echo wider hegemonic attitudes.


DELHI BELLY – (Dir. Abhinay Deo, 2011, India)

After the critical and commercial success of Dhobi Ghat, Aamir Khan returns with his second release of the year as a producer. If one was to unpack Delhi Belly and look carefully then it is plain to see the film uses many conventional elements of the multi protagonist crime comedy but adds a mischievousness that is both infectious and very funny. Abhinay Deo is a new film maker and whilst his debut film Game (released also this year) fell flat on its face Delhi Belly seems to suggest that given the right script, actors and producer he is more than capable of producing some exciting and inventive work. One could argue that Delhi Belly has all the hallmarks of another quality multiplex film and with the plethora of colourful expletives and reflexive characters it certainly seems to be the case. Aamir Khan and UTV Motion Pictures have developed a strong grip over the way their films are marketed and Delhi Belly has certainly been sold as an event film. The marketing for the film particularly the posters, trailers and accompanying music videos are mischievous and playful as the film itself. Written by LA based Akshat Verma, Delhi Belly almost seems in many ways a parody of Three Idiots, deconstructing many of the popular elements of the mainstream Indian film comedy. An interesting point to note is that Akshat Verma is credited in the opening titles as an assistant director, indicating his close involvement in the project.

Unlike the characters from Shor in the City, another multi protagonist narrative, who all seem trapped in some way in their lives, Delhi Belly gives us three wayward middle class characters who are experiencing the pains of youthful boredom whilst repeatedly coming up against a vein of traditionalism that they assumed had vanished. Much of the success of Delhi Belly lies in the script and it is well known that Aamir Khan has cultivated a reputation for taking his time to choose film projects. In many ways, recent films like Delhi Belly, Dobhi Ghat and Rocket Singh illustrate the centrality of a good, solid script. The use of swearing throughout the film was refreshing as it was delivered inventively and energetically by the cast especially comedian Kunaal Roy Kapur as Arun who really does steal many of the scenes (whilst the toilet humour may be juvenile it is also insanely funny) and much of the film with his hilarious performance as a photographer turned blackmailer. The opening titles, one of the best I have seen all year, juxtapose the wonderfully morose song Saigal Blues to a steady montage of shots detailing the dysfunctional qualities of the apartment shared by our three protagonists. What does feel like somewhat of a clique is the final denouement and I’m not sure if the film succeeds in sustaining the energy of the first half of the film. More strengths are the vivid production design and an alternate kind of soundtrack with the final number delivered by none other than Aamir Khan (tribute to Mithun) in one of the more bizarre ‘item’ numbers of recent years. New kid on the block Imran Khan definitely needed a boost to his middle of the road career and his encouraging performance as the disillusioned Tashi hints at a darker side to his acting skills. Delhi Belly holds together splendidly (no intermission folks) and comes highly recommended in terms of mainstream or should I say middle cinema from India. Like Kaminey, Delhi Belly is a very postmodern work that blends together many styles, ideas and aesthetics into a hyperkinetic cinematic whole.

SHOR IN THE CITY / NOISE IN THE CITY – (Dir. Raj Nidimoru & Krishna D K, 2010, India)

The multi protagonist narrative film has emerged as a favourite amongst the multiplex crowd in India and with Shor in the City we find a continuation of the familiar cocktail of crime, gangsters and expletives witnessed before in contemporary films such as Sankat City, Johnny Gaddaar and Kaminey. (See The Guardian Newspapers article on the Multiplex Indian film published last week) Collectively these films constitute a new genre of Indian cinema that one could argue extends from the Mumbai Noir lexicon. However, Mumbai Noir has mutated somewhat aesthetically (not thematically though) into the stylised multi protagonist urban crime film that adopts a portmanteau narrative structure involving chapters, colourful characters, kinetic editing, visceral camera style and a self reflexive edginess. With the rise of the Multiplex film and niche cinema the Bombay film industry has seen a flowering of new production companies who are supposedly willing to take a risk on more edgier, daring and controversial subject matter. In this instance Balaji Motion Pictures (run by Ekta Kapoor and Shobha Kapoor) backed Shor in the City and has already proven itself commercially as a multiplex player with recent films such as Once Upon a Time in Mumbai and Love, Sex Aur Dhokha. I’m not sure to what extent this claim holds any validity when one looks closely at films such as Shor in the City. Essentially the appeal of these films is constructed around a level of dark humour that is filtered through a discourse of intertexuality. Such a postmodern approach not only underlines the technical sophistication of directors who have been trained abroad (mainly in American film schools) but confirms a similar and growing cine literate appreciation in the middle class urban youth audience. Of course we have been here before in the 1970s and early 80s when Shyam Benegal referred to his films as part of a new middle cinema and it is easy to position Shor in the City and respective films in such a category that negotiates between the commercial and art cinemas of India in such a way that offers an attractive artistic compromise for film makers, producers and audiences.

Shor in the City revolves around five stories in the city of Mumbai. They are urban stories that attempt to meditate on familiar aspects of the city including power, poverty, class and conflict. Structurally directors Raj Nidimoru and Krishna D K are largely successful at weaving together the different narrative strands into a satisfying, if not far fetched, conclusion. The title card at the end claims every one of the events in the film was based on newspaper stories and this certainly holds true when one considers that micro details are emphasised as a way of validating an authentic reality. Admittedly songs do creep into the film but they are not signposted in anyway whilst melodramatic histrionics are equally restrained by the sympathetic characterisation. A fundamental point of thematic unity for many urban based multi protagonist films is the visibility of the city of Mumbai. Shor in the City gives us characters rarely seen indoors but instead shows us people constantly on the move and carried along by the flow of daily life. It is a perpetual flow of bodies, vehicles and buildings that overwhelm our powerless and fragmented protagonists in search of an anchor on to which they can fix their dreams, fears and hopes. Whilst the Ganpati celebrations seem to bring Mumbai together as a secular and collective community, the disparate lives of our struggling protagonists caught up in the euphoric religious celebrations points to the way in which most urban cities are home to an invisible underclass trying desperately to prove their worth. Like Abhay in the film who has returned from America to set up a small business in Mumbai, the city swallows him up until he gradually becomes another part of the unidentifiable mass of humanity. Shor in the City was critically lauded on its release and certainly serves to illustrate the creative vitality of the middle cinema multiplex film. What is somewhat dispiriting is the unwillingness of UK distributors to back these films as many recent independent multiplex films have simply been rejected. It doesn’t make commercial sense as they would find an audience in the UK especially amongst the youthful Diaspora.