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Sriram Raghavan speaks about Alfred Hitchcock’s cinematic brilliance and his influence on filmmakers – read exclusive column

In an exclusive column for CineBlitz, Sriram Raghavan talks about Alfred Hitchcock, his cinematic brilliance, his way of film-making and its influence on Indian as well as foreign movies!

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Sriram Raghavan CineBlitz exclusive column

My earliest introduction to Alfred Hitchcock was his droll visage on the covers of short story anthologies available on the streets of Kings Circle. Grave Business, Skeletons From My Closet, Death Rides A Hearse and more. Deliciously macabre tales of murder with a twist, written by uncelebrated American pulp authors from the 40s and 50s. The first Hitchcock film I remember seeing was North by Northwest, in 16 mm, on a Wadala terrace. Some kind ‘building uncle’ had organised the projector and print. The film dealt with an innocent man on the run. I couldn’t explain what it was that made it such a fantastic viewing experience.

Much before I drank my first beer, I had tasted Hitchcock’s heady cocktail of thrill, tension, black humour, sex and graphic violence. And become an addict. I saw Psycho for the first time at the Film Institute, luckily on the big screen. I got a partial sense of what it must have been like when it was released in 1960. It broke taboos, and how. The shower sequence is still studied in film schools all over. The FTII in the 80s was going through a European cinema phase. Wajda, Bergman, Antonioni, Tarkovsky, were spoken about in awed tones as great filmmakers and poets of the cinema.

But Hitchcock was sort of disparaged. okay, he makes good thrillers. The disdain used to fill me with murderous rage. And then I came across a Steven Spielberg interview where he said, “Any filmmaker who says he is not influenced by Hitchcock is clean out of his mind.” Spielberg’s Jaws (1975) is prime proof of the Hitchcock influence. When the young director found the mechanical shark was not up to expectations, he asked himself how Hitchcock would solve the problem. Hitchcock was adept at creating violence entirely in the viewer’s mind. What you don’t see, scares you so much more.

Hitchcock has influenced filmmakers all over the world including my own favourite Vijay Anand. There is a scene in Kala Baazar which has Dev Anand as the black marketeer, selling tickets at then Bombay’s Metro cinema. The movie playing is North by Northwest. Housefull of course! I often wonder whether Goldie Saab got inspired to write Jewel Thief, (the best Hindi mainstream suspense ever) after watching N by NW. Both films are about a man mistaken for another. This is ‘inspiration’ in the best sense of the word.

In India, even esteemed reviewers confuse a whodunit for suspense. In a career spanning 55 films, the master of suspense made only one whodunit, Murder (1930). He dismissed the genre as a guessing game. Suspense is anticipation, you know everything except what happens next. Suspense is the spying wife stealing a key from her husband’s room and suddenly he emerges from the shower. He comes to her lovingly and wants to kiss her hands. And we know that one of them holds the stolen key. Will she be caught? That’s a scene from Notorious, a spy film without a single scene of violence.

There are few artistes whose names have gone into the language. Hitchcockian, according to the Macmillan dictionary means “very exciting and full of suspense (= the feeling that something bad is about to happen but you do not know what or when).” A serial killer escorts his next victim home and the camera discreetly follows them, until the villain shuts the door on the camera. The camera now pulls back as discreetly and gets back on the street. And waits, and waits, till we hear a distant scream. (FRENZY)

An apartment block where we see a whole lot of people doing their own thing and the camera pans inside the house to a broken still camera, framed photographs of famous events, to eventually reveal the protagonist on a chair, his leg in a cast. And I, the viewer, am instantly plunged into the premise of Rear Window. I watch Hitchcock films over and over again. I know the plot, I know the shots. And yet, there is always something to enjoy, anticipate, discover and learn from them. What I love about Hitchcock is his use of the camera to tell the story. He came from silent cinema and believed in visual storytelling.

Hitchcock abhorred what he called talking heads and even in his silent work, he used less title cards than the others. Hitch loved experimenting. Setting up challenges for himself. What if we do a film in a single shot? If a movie is entirely set in a lifeboat? Or we shoot a play like a play but in 3D? Hitch delighted in pleasing the crowd but he never pandered to them.

In Vertigo, he gives away the crucial plot twist to the viewer much before the climax, because he wants the viewer to invest in the tragic love story. Hitchcock directed the audience as much as he directed the film. Most filmmakers of the time told their stories in third person. The camera is a neutral observer as the film unfolds. Hitchcock shot in first person. We see what characters are seeing. We are in their heads, almost. This Point-of-View technique instantly connected the character to the viewer.

The viewer was a vital part of Hitchcock’s creative process. It is this total involvement and identification with the protagonist that makes every viewer of Psycho shift from being Marion Crane to Norman Bates in the span of a single scene. Psycho is the mother of all slasher films, pardon the pun. As a viewer, I used to delight in spotting Hitchcock’s playful cameos in his films. He died in 1980, and there have been many great films and filmmakers since then. But I see the rotund visage pop up every now and then in the best of films made the world over, scenes that make me want to scream aloud, that’s Hitchcock!

– Sriram Raghavan

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The Crown, Killing Eve, Big Little Lies: 6 webseries that you cannot miss if you are a woman

Abhishek Srivastava picks six webseries that proves women have taken lead in the OTT space!

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The world of OTT content is a different beast altogether. It does not differentiate between content based on gender, as one normally witnesses in the world of cinema. To put it plainly, it’s a fair ground. In fact, 2018 will be remembered as the year when female-led content superseded its male counterparts. With powerhouse performers like Meryl Streep and Frances McDormand expected to join the party, 2019 is surely going to be one helluva ride. Abhishek Srivastava picks six series which clearly show that women have successfully taken the lead.

# The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel

the marvelous mrs maisel

Set in New York of 1958, this series is about a housewife who takes the unconventional decision of becoming a stand-up comedian. With a performance devoid of any false note, Rachel Brosnahan as Miriam Maisel left competition far behind. Two back-to-back Golden Globe awards in 2018 and 2019 are testimony to the appeal of the series. Apart from a story which keeps one invested, it, in a subtle manner, also talked about women’s emancipation. The crisp, witty dialogues of Amy Sherman Palladino (of Gilmore Girls fame), and the charm of Rachel Brosnahan proved to be a winning combination for this Amazon drama. This is also one of the few series which maintained a constant momentum in both its seasons. It never dipped for a moment, a miracle indeed!

# The Crown

the crown

The mega success of The Crown, the biographical story of Queen Elizabeth II, rests largely on the histrionics of Claire Foy. In the role of young Elizabeth, she delivered a performance that took the world by storm. It also made her an instant star for sinking her teeth into the character. John Lithgow as Winston Churchill and Matt Smith as Prince Philip occupied magazine space for their riveting performances. But none could match the euphoria which Claire Foy generated. With Olivia Colman, Helena Bonham Carter, and Gillian Anderson slated to join season three and four of the most talked about series, one can only expect sparks from The Crown in the future. It is a classic example of what women are capable of achieving with their combined might.

# The Handmaid’s Tale

the handmaid’s tale

This dystopian drama, based on the 1985 novel of Margaret Atwood, was an instant sensation. It single-handedly changed the fortunes of Hulu network, the home of The Handmaid’s Tale. Elisabeth Moss as June Osborne, a handmaid to a commander and his wife, gave a tour de force performance. With some great performances in Mad Men and The West Wing in the past, Elisabeth Moss was always considered a bonafide actress. But the success of The Handmaid’s Tale put her on a pedestal, which even the actress had never imagined. The success of the series and Elisabeth Moss’ performance became synonymous with each other.

# Killing Eve

killing eve

BBC’s Killing Eve became an overnight sensation. And the credit for the same goes to three women – Phoebe Waller-Bridge for her screenplay, actresses Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer. The cat-and-mouse game, played between MI 5 officer Eve Polastri (Sandra Oh) and assassin Villanelle (Jodie Comer) for 10 episodes, made the series a binge affair. The two protagonists remain at the core throughout the story. And helped bring out all the possible emotions that humans can emote. The ‘tough woman with a heart’ act of Sandra Oh, besides fetching her a Golden Globe, also helped her garner immense love.

#Insecure

insecure hbo

Insecure came out of nowhere and proved to be a revelation. The series, from the viewpoint of two black women, deals with modern America’s contemporary issues. It show issues that most black women have to deal with namely relationships, racism, sex-lives and cultural conflicts. It was instant fame and success for Issa Rae and Yvonne Orji, the two protagonists of the show. Through comic situations and raunchy affairs, they together poked fun at themselves and society. For twenty-something black women, Insecure proved to be revolutionary and also added another feather in the crowded cap of HBO.

# Big Little Lies

big little lies

The success of season one of Big Little Lies can be gauged by the fact that Meryl Streep will appear in the second season of the show. Needless to say, expectations have simply sky-rocketed. The series is based on the book of the same name by Australian author Liane Moriarty. The first season was fronted by the joint might of Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon and Shailene Woodley. And it dealt with their emotionally troubled lives. The eight Emmy Awards it won out of its 16 nominations say a lot about the series.

Which is your favourite of the lot? Share with us your thoughts in the comments section below! Also stay tuned to CineBlitz for more Bollywood news, updates and gossip.

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Game of Thrones, Sex Education, Insecure, You: 11 love, lust and passion-themed webseries to watch

Abhishek Srivastava picks 11 love, lust and passion-themed webseries to watch including the likes of Sex Education, Game of Thrones, Insecure, You, Better Call Saul, etc.

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11 love lust passion themed webseries

The OTT world is currently inundated with content which includes all shades of love. And it surely makes for great binge-watching. Since cutting edge content is confined mostly to web series these days, themes related to lust and passion abound in the world of OTT platforms. The variety that’s being offered is capable of making anyone spoilt for choice. With Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Hotstar Premium offering such content in plenty, it might just be an exercise to pick those nuggets. Abhishek Srivastava picks up some of these gems which warrant viewing.

# Love

It might sound strange, but most of the content available on OTT platforms don’t deal with the portrayal of love in its purest form. For that, one has to dial back to good ol’ feature films. The myriad shades of love one often encounters on such platforms offer the twisted variety. The 2016 series Love comes closest to the theme of love. With a rating of 94 per cent on Rotten Tomatoes, and master of comedy Judd Apatow helming the series, it’s an honest take on modern relationships. There are many moments in the series where you will relate with the characters’ failures and successes.

love netflix webseries

Insecure, an instant hit from HBO is another series that made Issa Rae a household name. Insecure closely follows its two main characters – Issa and Molly – two modern-day African women. It deals with their relationship troubles and the challenges that adulthood throws. It might be a task catching up with the three seasons of the series (the fourth is on its way), but the 30-minute format of the show is worth every penny.

# Lust

OTT platforms offer a bounty in lust. While HBO and Showtime series’ are synonymous with their nudity content, Netflix is not far behind. The latest to hit Indian viewers is Sex Education. The Netflix sensation, apart from
being a comedy, is also an apt portrayal of how students deal with sex today. Needless to say, the journey is peppered
with dollops of nudity and sexual content. With a rating of 8.6 on IMDB and Gillian Anderson’s starry presence, it is an excellent amalgamation of a great horny plot.

sex education netflix series

The Deuce, available on Hotstar Premium, was launched only last year and is currently in its second season. The
series deals with the porn industry based out of New York in the 70s. The nudity and lust of the content of Luis Miguel is enough to remind people of Californication. The time-travel Scottish drama, Outlander, has been referred to by many, as the most ‘sensual sex on TV’ currently. The female driven ‘sex’ part is definitely something which makes it stand apart from the regular stuff that we see on various platforms.

outlander webseries

Sticking to period pieces, Versailles and Game of Thrones, besides offering sex and nudity in ample doses, also
offer great riveting plots. The ongoing #MeToo movement did take a toll when Jeffrey Tambor, the lifeline of the
series, Transparent, was asked to leave the show. But the messy and weird show incorporates lust in all its natural
forms. The same holds true for Masters of Sex. The nudity by Lizzy Kaplan is guaranteed to make men out of boys.

# Passion

you netflix series

If it pertains to passion, guess the release of You has been timed on Netflix very aptly. The well-made, one-sided love story with stalking as its theme, has all the elements to arrest your interest. On the other hand, Better Call Saul can’t be termed as a passionate drama. But the love story between Jimmy McGill and Kim Wexler comes pretty close to it. Despite the odds and uneven circumstances, the two decide to be with each other through thick and thin. And that’s bonus in a plot which deals more with the transformation of Jimmy McGill to Saul Goodman.

(Love, Sex Education, Outlander, Versailles, Masters of Sex, You and Better Call Saul are on Netflix; Insecure, The Deuce and Game of Thrones are on Hotstar Premium; Transparent is on Amazon Prime Video)

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Deepika Padukone and Sonam K Ahuja broke the tradition; proved white is the new red for modern brides – read Sheetal Mafatlal’s exclusive column

In an exclusive column for CineBlitz, Sheetal Mafatlal recalls how she broke the tradition and chose to wear a white Versace lehenga for her wedding. She further adds how Sonam K Ahuja and Deepika Padukone have followed suit and proved white is the new red for modern brides!

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deepika padukone sonam k ahuja modern day bride sheetal mafatlal

The classic and pure hue of white has often been equated with a sense of austerity and grief in Indian culture and sartorial history. There was a time when even the most daring bride and her entourage of bridesmaids wouldn’t pick whites, off-whites, creams and ivories for their wedding functions. The festive reds, pinks, bordeau, and ‘haldi’ (turmeric) yellow enjoyed the spotlight in the bridal galaxy. I wanted something exquisite, unique, and a never-been-done before creation for my wedding reception, from an international couture house. Being a Versace addict for years, I got in touch with Donatella Versace to custom create an Indian ensemble, which was a synonym for modernity, and reflected the undiluted purity and precision of the hallowed atelier’s petite mains.

At the outset, the haute couture house was taken aback with my unusual request as they had never before been approached to design an Indian wedding lehenga. My brief was clear that it had to be something which was a tribute to the late iconic Gianni Versace (my childhood hero), reflecting his mantra ‘one must always dazzle.’ As Donatella explained during our numerous interactions, the motivation to take on this challenge was based on Gianni’s ideology to break barriers and never be afraid of taking a risk.  The incredible Donatella and her dynamic team conceived a first-of-its-kind lehenga for me, which was edged with old Indian antique borders.

The museum-worthy piece is an off kilter combination of their signature chain-mail and embroidered fabric. To complement the sheer dramatic appeal of the lehenga, the choli was artfully encrusted with Swarovski crystals and accented with embroidered gold motifs. The atelier Versace’s magical savoir-faire was evident in the way both, the lehenga and dupatta were kissed with 3-D embroidered, gleaming gold flowers. All in all a stunningly realized artisan-al marriage between Indian/western aesthetic, and the ethos of the couture house. The first Indian lehenga in the history of haute couture to be made by any international luxury house inspired intrigue and attention among the glamourati with international magazines like Point de Vue, Park Avenue and Vogue Italia among other international publications, toasting it in their editorials.

Being a firm believer in haute couture, it was my dream to walk the aisle in a unique ensemble from a heritage house like Versace. And it was finally happening, I couldn’t be happier. I offset the divine white of the ensemble with statement diamond and emerald jewellery. The renowned hair stylist Errol Douglas created an Audrey Hepburn-inspired chignon with a tiara to complete my look. The beautiful memory of that epochal look brings a smile to my face even now. And when I look at the stunningly styled images of Bollywood actresses now, I feel elated that the style stand I took back in the day, is vindicated by the style arbiters of today. White is no longer a taboo tone, but a vibrant wedding colour, and looks magical when accented with metallic tassels, fringes, sequins, kalis and beads.

The New-Age Brides: Sonam K Ahuja and Deepika Padukone

This wedding season, the ‘It’ girls of the moment, Sonam K Ahuja and Deepika Padukone picked classic chikankari creations for their wedding functions, something which was unheard of at one point in time. While Sonam had opted for a multipanelled, multi-hued chikankari lehenga, Ranveer Singh’s better half picked an ensemble, which had tone-on-tone chikankari embroidery, accented with gold, which matched his exquisite Rohit Bal gold/ivory sherwani. I’m of the belief that nothing comes close to the allure of creams, off-whites and beige, which remain relevant and season-less.

The global superstar Priyanka Chopra too broke the cocoons of the tried-and-tested bridal traditional palettes and picked a white Falguni and Shane Peacock ensemble for her reception. Besides the Indian chikankari, designers have toyed with zardozi, resham silk thread and mirror work on fabrics that range from georgette to khadi, all marvellously realised in pristine whites and soothing ivories. The divinity of the visually-arresting white highlighted with gold, silver and bronze accents, injects gravitas to the brides’ personal style on their big day. It’ll be interesting to see how brides in the coming seasons custom-create their own unique looks and reinterpret white and other off the- wall shades in their own handwriting.

– Sheetal Mafatlal

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