Sunday, September 15, 2013

JOHN DAY: MOVIE REVIEW






Cast: Naseeruddin Shah, Randeep Hooda, Sharat Saxena, Shernaz Patel, Elena Kazan
Director: Ahishor Solomon
Runtime: 137 min.
Verdict: Although its images are a little bogged down by the narrative, I find myself excited about this filmmaker.
Genre: Thriller, Drama

                The word, it seems, is that Mr. Solomon has borrowed generously from La Caja 507, and it might even be a little discourteous on his part to claim to be the writer of this picture. It makes me a little sad, this kind of reading and this kind of watching, and the observations caused which could only be a result of a need for plot, for plot is all we seem to seek and understand. Mr. Solomon does indeed borrow the narrative from the Spanish film, but while Mr. Urbizu was concerned primarily with the mechanics of a materialistic system, how individual lives function as unassuming nuts and bolts, and how one of those individual lives ends up making that system work for him, Mr. Solomon is largely concerned with how morals start pretending to be ethics. While one might claim Mr. Urbizu’s film to be almost cynical in its world-view in the manner in which it finds corruptibility in a man fantastically outsmarting a system, Mr. Solomon seems to be grieving over the irrationality that drives our actions. And actions are what he constructs his film upon, almost rethinking La Caja 507 in terms of images, and focusing on the historicity that drives those actions. I mean, the actions seem to make considerably more sense, emotional sense if you will, than the narrative, which I believe is a barely functional causative agent. I am even beginning to feel that the plot is a constraint for Mr. Solomon, and I would want to look forward to his next picture where he lets his images spread their wings rather than bogged down by conformity.
                So yes, I wouldn’t want to waste our time discussing the plot. John is the film’s subject, at least on paper, and not merely because of the title, but because one of the unwritten rules of narration might be that the subject is always the one to whom events happen in the film’s first act, and who then starts to cause the events in the subsequently. Highlighting this would be necessary because one of John Day’s more interesting aspects is a little tussle within it, that of whom the narrative considers as its subject (the eponymous John Day), as opposed to whom Mr. Solomon believes as his. This aspect could only be caused in a borrowed narrative, and it might be very fruitful for us to contrast how Mr. Solomon presents a couple of encounters, one involving the eponymous John Day (Mr. Shah) and one involving Gautam (Mr. Hooda), who essentially becomes the narrative’s counterpoint to John.
                The prelude presents the death of John Day’s daughter. The film’s first act presents a bank robbery where his wife is literally hammered in the head. The narrative, through a file in the bank lockers, neatly aligns both the causes for John to pursue, which brings him to the house of an African drug-dealer. Now, we’ve never met this guy before, and to us he’s merely the next bread-crumb for John to follow. So when John, a religious bank manager now turned vigilante, shoots him dead, we don’t feel a thing. This is not how vigilante/revenge movies work. They are expertly designed to establish the perpetrators and their individual roles, before the protagonist metes out justice, by killing or torturing, and thus providing us closure through that balancing act. When John unloads multiple rounds into the drug-dealer, there’s no sense of balance, no sense of historicity and hence no emotion. The act is all in the present, drawing all our attention only to itself, thus becoming a meaningless and ultimately gratuitous display of power and control by a man who seems to have had enough with God leaving him with the short end of the stick.
                Now Gautam, an ACP, is apparently corrupt and mostly cold. Much is made of how cruel a beast he might be, and early in the film we’re made witness to a violent act which is just as ahistorical as John’s. Yet, even here, with the amount of time Mr. Solomon spends gazing at the abyss Gautam apparently is, and with how the narrative pans out, the moment becomes an establishing of sorts of the gaze empathizing with the abyss. Thus, almost out of compulsion, the abyss, or Gautam, is lent a history. A history, which almost doubles as a transformation during Gautam’s encounter with a machinist, an aide of the bank robbers. There’re two halves to it, and the first one has a cold and ruthless Gautam slapping his way to cause the machinist revealing information. As if to draw parallels to the slotter (or whatever the machinist’s working on), Gautam’s slaps are dispassionately periodic. And then, something else happens, something that is not related to the chain of events until then, except for Gautam’s history, and what follows is a moment seething with emotion and anger. Gautam bludgeons the machinist’s head, and it is a moment that is as much an exercise in historicity and closure masquerading as justice as Marcus’ bludgeoning was one in complete de-contextualization in Irreversible.      
                But while Mr. NoĆ© achieved that by tinkering with narrative order doubling as cause, Mr. Solomon is trying to achieve it without altering the structure of the game. The man who hammered his wife is shot, and Mr. Solomon choreographs and composes it without any sense of justice or revenge or closure. It is via a reflection in a mirror, with the frame so cluttered the act seems to be only a part of it. It is a momentary action, with John deriving neither pleasure nor closure, as if killing the perpetrators is just about as mechanical as a waiter providing room service.
                So, what do we have here? Mr. Solomon isn’t exactly bothered about the mechanics of the system, and the idea of cleaning the system doesn’t seem to exactly inspire him all that much. He outright ejects any notion of any cleansing from the narrative, and more than the corruptibility of a man, it is the fallibility of the soul he’s concerned about. The men around John Day are sad and guilt-ridden, victims of themselves and their vices. I might be wrong here, but it seems greed is pretty low on his list of sins, and one might make a case about John Day being about John Day climbing that list. When we meet him first, a few years after his daughter’s death, it is near the garden of his house, a simple content man. By the end of the film, he seems to have travelled through spaces that seem to be essentially graveyards. He runs through one such space, with huge crosses lingering about, before he seems to draw some kind of power clinging onto one while getting beaten. And then he bites one of the men. Finally he orchestrates a mass murder, and by then Mr. Solomon has completely contrasted John Day from the men around him. As I said, he seems to think in terms of images rather than plot, and there are several elements to the film that do not make much sense except for in the symbolic sense. Like for instance, the Bible with the gun, and I believe Mr. Solomon considers his John Day some kind of religious self-righteous fundamentalist. The gun is not replacing the Bible, but the gun is being protected and maybe even guided by the Bible. One might wonder if John Day commits all of this through some kind of resigned intellectual rationalization, or through passion, and although Mr. Solomon’s choices lead me towards the latter, Mr. Shah’s often studied performance kind of makes me a little unsure. So yeah, I find myself quite incapable of making much about an image of a man walking through the graveyard, and what it tells me about the nature of his beliefs.