Talaash: why procedural thrillers fail

Talaash_poster

 Major spoilers ahead

 -Limitless point of view

If the central character is not the eye of the audience into the world, it is difficult to maintain the intrigue. Here Surjan learns about anything important at least 5 minutes after audience knows about it. Be it the involvement of Sasi or Tehmur in the plot or what happens to Tehmur with the money bag, we are always ahead of Surjan. And we are forced to patiently wait while he figures out what has happened.

-Ineffectual central character

When I think about it, this thriller doesn’t even require Surjan for it to happen. He just happens to be in the middle of it, effectless. The decisions or fates of Sasi or Tehmur or Armaan Kapur’s friend don’t appear to be influenced by Surjan in any way that really matters.

 -Confusing your tone

Well, I know there are movies that has done the ‘genre jump’ well. But my problem is not that it starts off as a investigative thriller and ends as a supernatural thriller, but that it takes the emotional angle little too seriously without being able to really pull it off well. As a result, the movie has two centers of gravity which pull at each other. One the crime thriller and the other the father-son-wife angle.

 -Character cliches

The investigator with an unresolved conflict going into a investigation and coming out sorted out is the oldest trick in the book. The marriage in ruins- check. The all knowing, seductive femme fatale- check. The accommodating, convenient right hand man- check.

 -Single kill

In the current age, we have seen all kinds of tricks to pull a twist. A single reveal is not enough. You have to be ready with a second one. The twist in this one can be seen coming from miles ahead. As Tony Gilroy rightly said, audience now are very good in second guessing the writer. You can’t rely on a single twist. After the reveal, I just hoped that something else is coming- because the reveal was so obvious and derivative I wrongly assumed that writers are aware how obvious it is.

 -Sticking around after the final kill

Once you have pulled out your last trick, get out of there as fast as possible. Elaborate epilogues happen when the writer underestimates the audience or when he confuses the objectives he has with the story. This movie could have ended at least 4-5 minutes earlier I guess. And the longer the movie is after the reveal, the more diluted the impact of the final reveal.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy: The book and the film

Should you read the book or see the adapted film first? Well here is the problem. If you see the film first, there is not enough incentive to get into the trouble of spending 5-6 hours on a book where you know every beat, just with more beating around the bush. Unless the language of the writer absolutely captivates you. I can imagine seeing a film based on ‘Catcher on the rye’ or ‘Pedro Paramo’ and still enjoying the book afterwards. But with most plot oriented books, after watching the film it is going to be difficult to enjoy the book because there are so many details coming your way without the hook of ‘what happens next.’

And this time around, I tried it the other way. I read the book first. And what do I think? I think after reading the book, it is really tough not to be disappointed with the movie as you naturally build an allegiance with the book. So much of details, back story, nuances etc are lost on the chopping table.

Anyway, this was an interesting experience. It gave me an insight into how different the priorities of a novelist and a scriptwriter are. After I read the book, before I watched the film, I tried to make a note of all those aspects that I would pay attention to, if I am adapting this book.

 (Minor spoilers ahead)

-I thought I would take out the whole track of  Jim Prideaux working as the teacher (lot of pages are devoted to it in the novel) because it doesn’t add much to the actual story.

  • In the film even though it has not been completely taken out, it has been kept to a bare minimum.

-I thought I will resist the temptation to start the film in the middle of the action (which is the fashion nowadays). Continue reading

Agent Vinod: Why ‘more’ is not always good…

Agent Vinod is a cautionary tale for me. A warning against the tendency to weave in more and more twists and turns and story elements in the story and to get lost in one’s own cleverness. What Tony Gilroy would describe as ‘story density,’ I would describe as ‘plot density,’ because I feel both are not the same. Agent Vinod is an example why both these are different.

Many criticised Agent Vinod as having a half baked script where enough time has not been put into it. I don’t think so. I think that it is not about less time being put into the development of the script. I think the problem has been that too much has been packed into it in terms of plot. Agent Vinod is running around all the time with no time for taking a breath. But the truth is, even if you take out two or three sequences of chases or fights or whatever, it wouldn’t affect the story much. And it would have given time to concentrate on his character and give it a sense of direction.

Even I thought that the ‘develop your characters well’ has become a sort of cliché for the screenwriters after all the repetition. But the truth is, Vinod is still a very uni-dimensional character and you don’t feel anything emotionally about him or the story. Bourne had his angst and remorse. Bond had his playboy charm and humor. Dirty Harry had his bad boy arrogance. What is it about the personality and preoccupation of Vinod that defines him? Nothing. He is just like any other action hero. Not only Vinod, but none of the villains (except to some extent, the Colonel) or the girls or the bosses stand apart from the typical action film characters. Development of these aspects requires some screen time. If you use that screen time to add more twists and action and running around, in the end, it is going to get monotonous because the audience doesn’t FEEL anything for what is happening on screen.

Francis Itty Cora

An ex-private from American military  (also an ardent cannibal) who lost his potency during his sex crimes in Iraq war is searching for his roots in India aided by 3 women in a posh prostitution ring called ‘The school.’ Through their investigations, the historical fact versus fiction story of a cult which originated from the mysterious 15th century Indo-Italian merchant called Francis Itty Cora gradually unfolds.

This is in the vein of an Umberto Eco. Or to quote a more mainstream example, in the vein of Dan Brown. But some times it does get boring when the writer starts indiscriminately dumping all those facts he got from the net. As some one commented, it is not Itty Cora, but Wiki Cora.

To say the least, the it is spicy and a well sold book in recent times. I don’t want to imply that the book sold well because of that. But I didn’t find anything special about this novel either in terms of language or the content except a desperate attempt to shock and impress. There is no grace about it.

Our Game

Tim Cranmer is a self retired British civil servant (and a covert intelligence operative) living in the country with his young mistress Emma, tending to his vine orchard, trying hard to believe that world will allow him to have the middle class existence that he desperately want to sink to. But the nemesis for his escapist life comes in the form of Larry, his idealistic protégé who refuses to share his cynicism about the world. Larry sets into motion a chain of events which consumes Tim and his girl friend and  propels him from the sterile suburbs of England to the conflict torn regions of Russia.

I like the world of espionage that appears in the novels of John Le Carre. You get whif fof a brutual ground reality in there. There are no heroes here. It is all about cynicism or greed or hot headed idealism. Spying is not about beautiful beaches, sexy girls,   preposterous gadgets or one to one physical engagement with adversaries. But it is something that happens during the meaningful pauses of diplomatic conversations or empty chitchats in the corridors of beaurocracy. After John Le Carre, it is very difficult to ignore the juvenile nature of the world of James Bond.

Shaitan

Shaitan is more like a Ferrari that tries to run on water. After seeing the originality in narration and the visual flair, couldn’t help wondering what some ingenuity in the plot couldn’t have added to the mix. And it made me think about the usual pitfalls that  thrillers usually fall into.

Major spoilers ahead-

1)It is a no-brainer that once the kidnap plot goes awry, they are going to turn against each other. The crux of the writing is about how this is going to unwind. There are numerous permutations and combinations that could be used in any multi-character piece but the trick is to make it appear that whatever happened is somehow inevitable. Now instead of Tanya getting almost killed in the hands of KC and KC getting killed by Dash, would it have really mattered if it was otherwise? Would something be amiss if instead of Zubi, KC finally falls into the hands of the cop? What I am trying to say is that all the plot choices appear to be arbitrary and doesn’t fulfill any poetic justice (and it doesn’t mean that they couldn’t be absolute random events). For that, characters and events need to be set up to make it appear that everyone succumb to their own eccentricities, strengths and flaws.  In ‘No country for old men’, murder of Josh Brolin’s character and his wife’s character may appear random meaningless events but we cant say it doesn’t make sense from the frame work and perspective of that film. At the same time, those events surprise us as plot twists.

2)Coming up with back stories for characters is easy. But it is difficult to resist the temptation to add them. Amy’s mother angle and the cop’s marital woes didn’t add anything to the story but did cut down the pace. Especially Amy’s back story needed tighter editing.

3)To make the characters appear real, there is something extra required in writing. Okay, you are writing about upper-class youth of today. Okay, so you need to put in some dysfunctional families, some uninhibited sex talk, some cocaine snorting, some goofiness, expensive houses and automobiles- but until this point, the writing is autopilot. Now there is something extra that needs to go in to make these characters real. Some quirky details, usually ignored personal tidbits, mundane personally relevant conundrums- that is what would make this characters really real. And that is tough to write, even if you are aware that they need to be written.