• Director - Michael Curtiz
• Starring - Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Claude Rains
• Time - 102 minutes
Seventy years after release, Casablanca offers a deep and abiding pleasure. The romance between the hard-boiled Rick, played with such panache by Humphrey Bogart, and the stunningly beautiful Ilsa, played by Ingrid Bergman, is still poignant.
The dialogue — Here’s looking at you kid, Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine, We’ll always have Paris — is still memorable. And the love triangle between a cynical saloon-owner who prides himself on not ‘sticking his neck out’ for anyone, a married woman and her husband, a famous leader of the French resistance, is still heart-breaking.
Casablanca is one of those rare films in which the stars aligned. Timing and talent connected to create a classic. It was made on a tight budget. There were last minute re-writes — in fact critic Roger Ebert writes that Bergman did the entire film without knowing which man her character would end up with and this confusion made her performance more ‘emotionally convincing’.
But this romantic noir connected with both critics and viewers. Casablanca was nominated for eight Oscars and won three, including Best Picture and Best Director. Its themes of idealism, dignity, love and the power of sacrifice, still resonate.
• Director - Terry Gilliam
• Starring - Robert De Niro, Jonathan Pryce, Katherine Helmond
• Time - 132 minutes
In a conversation with Salman Rushdie at the 2002 Telluride Film Festival, Terry Gilliam said that he never wanted to make ‘naturalistic films’. ‘I’ve always liked the idea that film is an artifice and that this is admitted right from the start. So we create a world that isn’t true to a realistic, naturalistic world but is truthful.’
One of Gilliam’s most compelling worlds is Brazil, about an Orwell–inspired, inherently insane, crushingly bureaucratic, totalitarian society, in which everything requires enough paperwork to drown a man. A mild-mannered bureaucrat escapes his daily grind through fantasy, which leads him to fall in love, which of course leads to all hell breaking loose.
Co-written by playwright Tom Stoppard, Brazil is wickedly funny — when a minister is asked why the government has been unable to stop terrorists for 13 years, the minister replies: ‘beginner’s luck’. But it’s also relentlessly bleak.
So dark in fact that Universal studio refused to release it until Gilliam changed the end. So Gilliam, much like the ‘rogue plumber’played by Robert De Niro, conducted a guerilla campaign showing the film to the Los Angeles Film Critics
Association, which voted it best film of the year. Eventually the studio was forced to buckle down. Brazil is over-wrought, psychedelic and fundamentally mad. Which is why it must be seen.
In Which Annie Gives it Those Ones (1989)
• Director - Pradip Krishen
• Starring - Arundhati Roy, Rituraj, Arjun Raina
• Time - 93 minutes
It isn’t easy to see this film. It was screened once on Doordarshan at midnight. The DVD has never been released but you can find bad copies on the internet and the National Film Archive has a print. Why should you put in so much effort?
Because In Which Annie Gives it Those Ones was path-breaking in many ways. It was the one of the earliest ‘Hinglish’ films made in the country — so a typical dialogue went like this: ‘Pata nehi yaar Annie ka kuchh. I asked him in the bogs and he started giving it those ones’. Set in the National Institute of Architecture in 1974, it is the ancestor of student films in Hindi cinema from Holi to 3 Idiots.
Its eccentric characters are unmatched — Annie is in fact a male student who has failed four years in fifth year and has a pet hen named Sangita. It is one of the few times that Roy, who would go on to win a Booker Prize, acted.
And it is also the film debut of Shah Rukh Khan. He plays a decidedly fey college gossip who appears in four scenes and speaks only in two. He is billed simply as ‘Senior’. The film has a wonderful laid-back, grunge vibe that you rarely see in Hindi cinema. Find it if you can.
• Director - Takeshi Kitano
• Starring - Beat Takeshi, Yusuke Sekiguchi
• Time - 121 minutes
Takeshi Kitano, who has written this film and played the lead, is best known for bloody, hard-boiled Yakuza dramas. In this film too, he is a former gangster.
But here, his big job is to take the nine-year-old, solemn-faced Masao to meet his mother, whom he has never seen. This road movie could have turned into a sentimental comedy but in the hands of Kitano, it has a sweet sadness and wisdom. Kikujiro is an inept, grumpy, reluctant guardian.
He can’t do anything right — he loses all their money at the race track; he can’t drive well enough to steal a car; when he tries to swim, even with a floating tube, he almost drowns.
But when Masao becomes sad, Kikujiro does everything he can to make him smile.
Kitano described Kikujiro as ‘a very strange film with my trademarks all over it’. He said, ‘I hope to continue upsetting people's expectations in a positive way.’ Kikujiro is too long and indulgent but the adventures of this unlikely duo are charming. As is the lilting soundtrack composed by Joe Hisaishi. This odd, whimsical film will make you smile.