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Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Sydney Film Festival (18) - Anurag Kashyup's PSYCHO RAMAN

(We may know about the future for Psycho Raman when the outsized movie mania of Neil Foley and  his beloved Monster Pictures  goes on public display at an AFTRS Event in Melbourne this week.)

Until a Cannes deal mentioned on the link above, I assumed that Anurag Kashyup's new film would have been slotted in to a release via the exhibition set up developed by the premier distributor of Hindi movies, Mind Blowing Films. Not this time, after the local niche distributor acquired some rights to it in a spending spree. So we will have, according to Neil Foley, the great Indian/Australian distributor Mind Blowing handling the theatrical, Monster the home ent and festival screenings etc. It starts this week in fact - 24th June. Monster will be doing some additional screenings and a physical release a little later in the year.  

This is an interesting move and one that has been tried before in various situations going back decades. Attempting to break out of the ethnic chains of localism into art houses or even multiplexes has always been fraught with difficulty. But good luck to that endeavour for if there is a Hindi film-maker who could benefit from such a breakout its Kashyup. He has the smarts to work inside the  industry and the skills to make films that lift him out of the ruck of Bollywood and into serious company among the entrants of this year's Cannes Quinzaine and the near equally prestigious Sydney Film Festival's $63,000 2016 Sydney Film Prize.

Kashyup was distracted from attending the SFF by a row he is having with India's film censorship authorities. The row has become increasingly nasty and among the vindictiveness on display is the action of someone at the censor's office uploading the film onto Youtube, a telltale watermark clearly on display. The threat to the film's future commercial success by such a move is terrifying to behold. It may well have been wiped out completely, at least in India.

I don't know what elements of the film are problematic for the authorities. Censorship of artistic activity remains a very arcane trade wherever it is practised and I imagine that the Indians who are responsible are likely as unmoved and determined by logic and commonsense as their confreres everywhere when threatened with a question of their judgement.

Have to leave that there for the moment...

Psycho Raman is a portrait of a serial killer. The name chosen is that of India's most notorious such assassin who was active some forty odd years ago and killed 41 people. Kashyup's representation is not that guy but a put upon and abused young man with a strong sense of street smarts. His pursuer is a cop with a drug problem and a girl friend who can see through his bullshit. The cop's personal life causes him to blunder about and notwithstanding his ripped six pack body and supercool sunglasses, he's usually a step behind the naive but brutally vicious killer. Kashyup jacks up the violence quite a bit including additional emphasis with his music track.

Drenched in this violence and with a wandering narrative that takes a lot of time to tell the twisty parallel tales, the film is clearly intended as n homage to modern noir and crime. in his video intro Kashyup made reference to David Fincher and Seven. Stop for a moment and its logical that for a modern cinephiliac director all of his influences probably take back through the likes of Fincher to Scorsese and his Mean Streets  and Taxi Driver among others. Kashyup has absorbed the lessons of edginess and fragmentation in the narrative as well as the colour saturation.

Going up against the likes of art house movies like Aquarius  and Certain Women in the State Theatre may not have been the best placement for the SFF program. Still its where the distributor gets the best return no matter whether there are empty seats the next morning.

Good luck to those experimenting with the prospect of a Hindi film breaking the ethnic shackles. Whether it can break the genre shackles and cross over into a niche popularity will be an intriguing thing to observe.

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