Screenwriting

Whiplash Victory Tuning

Film Analysis

Andrew VS Fletcher; a still from the film Whiplash.
[Source – denofgeek.com]

Drums can be heard in a long corridor, with several doors on both sides, that runs till the very end and opens into the last room where the drummer is playing… no, say practising, practising like Buddy Rich, practising until corrected, practising until mastered… this incredibly clever tune, ‘Whiplash’.

Damien Chazelle’s 2014 drama film Whiplash revolves around a passionate jazz drummer Andrew Neiman (played by Miles Teller) and his perfectionist jazz instructor (played by J. K Simmons); one dreams of becoming great, the other demands greatness; one is hopeful, the other is ruthless; when out-of-tune, they clash, when in sync, they dance.

At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;

Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,

But neither arrest nor movement.

T.S Eliot (Four Quartets: Burnt Norton)

Here, T.S Eliot is talking about that state of mind where not so overwhelmed by it, we make peace with it; Whiplash the film is also about Andrew Neiman’s state of mind which when at peace, allows him to create magic, to dance, to play harmoniously perfect.


Whiplash highlights the protagonist’s internal journey beautifully, in fact, that is all we see – Andrew’s internal dilemmas, struggles, failures and the shining sudden victory. The writer-director very carefully places us within Andrew’s mind.

In the opening scene of the film, Andrew is playing the drums alone in a classroom when he notices that the best teacher in the music school – Terrance Fletcher – is watching him.

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Andrew – (stops playing) I’m sorry…

Fletcher – No, stay…What’s your name?

Andrew – Andrew Neiman sir.

Fletcher – What year are you?

Andrew – I’m a… first year.

Fletcher – You know who I am.

Andrew – Yes sir.

Fletcher – So you know I’m looking for players.

Andrew – Yes sir.

Fletcher – Then why did you stop playing?

Andrew Neiman starts playing… then stops.

Fletcher – Did I ask you to start playing again?

Andrew – I am sorry…

Fletcher – I asked you why you stopped playing and your version of an answer was to turn into a wind-up monkey…

Andrew – Sir I thought…

Fletcher – Show me your rudiments.

Andrew – Yes, sir… (Starts playing… stops.)

Fletcher – Double-time swing… (Andrew starts playing) no, double-time… double it… faster… faster…

Andrew Neiman plays… in a few seconds he hears the door shut loudly. Andrew is disappointed… Right then Fletcher comes back inside.

Fletcher – Oopsy Daisy! I forgot my jacket. (Takes his jacket and leaves.)

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Watch the opening scene here –


While the Andrew VS Fletcher drama unveils, Fletcher the perfectionist starts to appear more like Andrew’s inner critic especially in those scenes where he is practising; the setting, the lighting, the mood and the music makes it look like a void where either jazz or Fletcher’s authoritative voice plays dominantly.

“Don’t be harsh on yourself”, we often tell this to ourselves as sometimes our inner critic can harm us more than an outsider. The antagonist, Fletcher, is equally harsh and critical; a student when talking about Fletcher’s reputation mentions how he is known for making or ending one’ career.

So who wins here, Fletcher the antagonist or Fletcher, Andrew’s inner critic? The answer is both.

Like a pompous self that often praises itself, there are scenes when Fletcher praises Andrew; initially friendly, Fletcher encourages him to play well and tells him how Jo Jones threw a cymbal at Charlie Parker’s head, and how that incident made Parker work insanely hard; later on, like a strict-discipline-loving-freak-self, Fletcher, during a practice session, throws a chair at Andrew, warning him not to dare spoil his bands’ image.

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Killing it!
[Source – highonfilms.com]

Fletcher personifies Andrew’s obsession to be a great drummer – he works hard, accepts Fletcher’s treatment even when he starts to resent him.

The internal journey of the protagonist overpowers the antagonist, but not in a negative way; it only boosts the antagonist’s authority over the protagonist; it feels like another side of Andrew is working hand in gloves with Fletcher.

The secondary characters too reflect the protagonist’s internal journey.

Andrew does not like his father’s mediocre mentality (Fletcher is the one to fan the flames by mentioning it repeatedly that his father is not a true “writer” and that is probably why Andrew’s mom left him), nor does he understands his girlfriend Nicole’s attitude towards life – how is it that she does not know what she wants in life – he loathes mediocrity and it is evident from his behaviour.

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Nicole and Andrew.
[Source – moviemaker.com]

In a scene where Andrew, his dad and some guests are having dinner, an argument breaks out where his father, talking about the musician Charlie Parker says –

“Andrew’s Father (Jim) – Dying broke and drunk and full of heroin at the age of 34 is not exactly my idea of success.

Andrew Neiman – I’d rather die drunk, broke at 34 and have people at a dinner table talk about me than live to be rich and sober at 90 and nobody remember who I was.”

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Watch the dinner scene here –


Even though the secondary characters’ role is nominal, yet this does not weaken the story.

They do have a voice of their own though we do not hear it clearly and that is because the protagonist is not ready to accept their version of the life. Andrew’s obsession does not leave any choice for them but to only listen to him as the core of the film is about this very obsession; the subdued self of these secondary characters, thus, appears to be their actual state.

Andrew is obsessed with the thought of becoming the next great drummer so much so that he refuses to value the external life which consequently starts to fall apart – he has arguments with his father, he also breaks up with Nicole – and this then affects his internal life; he practices day in and out, but one single mistake and Fletcher replaces him with another drummer.

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Giving it all!
[Source – thetake.com]

Unable to thread the needle, Andrew first gets irritated with himself for not working hard enough and later on with Fletcher whom he literally attacks.

The result is that he is dismissed from the music school (the best in the country); devastated, he agrees with his dad and secretly files a complaint against Fletcher.  

When awakened in the external world, Andrew internally goes into a hiatus. The setting shifts from the dark rooms to brighter ones and to open places.

The story approaches the climax and the internal journey, after the short hiatus, takes over once again. Climax scenes are about Andrew meeting Fletcher, who has been expelled from the music school and is now forming a freelance jazz band; he offers Andrew a position.

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Approaching the climax.
[Source – basementrejects.com]

Now the internal journey resumes from the same point of tension where Andrew had left it – Fletcher hates Andrew and tells him that he knows it was he who framed him, but reveals it on the stage, just a few seconds before the performance, leaving Andrew utterly shocked.

Andrew is defeated by the antagonist, he plays the drums foolishly and finally gets up and goes backstage where his dad waits for him feeling sorry; but because Fletcher is not just an antagonist but also Andrew’s inner self, his obsession – it pulls Andrew back on the stage. He starts playing the drums not worrying about Fletcher’s threats.

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Final performance part 1 and 2, watch here –

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This transformation in Andrew may appear to be sudden but is not so; this is an internal transformation that forges gradually.

Andrew transforms in this last scene – he overpowers his fears – he plays flawlessly – so much so that Fletcher recognises his genius at this moment and joins him and together they play a fantastic jazz number (Caravan). As Fletcher reflects Andrew’s inner self, he does not object to this transformation in him and accepts Andrew’s victory quite happily.

Drumming passionately, just like he did in the first scene of the film, Andrew’s story comes to a close; this time he just doesn’t play the tune, he lives it.

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Jagte Raho – Staying Awake of the Social Realities

Film Analysis

Poster of the film Jagte Raho (Stay Awake).
[Source – Wikipedia]

Raj Kapoor, the showman of Hindi cinema, has given dozens of super hits as an actor, a director and a producer. What made it possible, other than his brilliant performing skills, is the richness of the story, good quality of screenplays and earnestly written dialogues in the majority of his films.

One such film is Jagte Raho (Stay Awake), written and directed by the legendry Sombhu Mitra, along with Amit Maitra and screenplay by Khwaja Ahmad Abbas.

A social satire, this 1956 film is about a poor villager – we meet Raj Kapoor in his famous Chaplinesque avatar, though in a dhoti this time – who comes to the city with the hope of making a better life. Jagte Raho happens in real-time i.e. in a single night’s time when the protagonist feeling thirsty enters an apartment block and is simply presumed to be a thief. Thus, begins the epic cat and mouse chase where not one but many thieves are caught apart from the protagonist, who is reminded by a little girl that if he is not the thief then he should not worry at all. The poor villager then leaves the building and the chaos behind and meets Nargis (guest appearance) in a temple who finally gives him water to drink.


Setting the Tone and Overshadowing

Without wasting a second, the tone of the film is set – it is night time in the city and the watchmen are roaming the streets shouting ‘jagte raho, jagte raho!’ Who are they asking to stay awake… themselves, the residents, the thieves or the viewers? Perhaps the message is for all.

We then meet the protagonist who is searching for some water to drink. When a watchman finds him kneeling against a fire hydrant, he rebukes and pushes him down, calling him ‘Chotta kahin ka’ (petty thief) going just by his shabby look and threatens him of dire consequences if he saw him there again. This is overshadowing i.e. what is going to happen later on in the story is subtly hinted right in the beginning – the poor villager is going to be framed as a thief.


The First Song

With roughly seven minutes into the film we are presented with the first song. A drunkard (played by Motilal), lost in his world, sings these sarcastic lines –

“Zindagi Khawab Hai, Khawab Me Jhuth Kya Aur Bhala Sach Hai Kya… Sab Sach Hai.”

Translation – Life is a dream, in a dream what is a lie and what is a truth… everything is a truth.

Songs in Hindi films are different from the Western Musicals, for it does not only elevate the emotion of the scene, but takes the story forward in every possible way – introducing new characters, hinting of what is approaching, adding to the underlying theme of the story.

Here, the drunkard returns in the story, not able to distinguish between a man and a container, between his wife and the poor villager. Thus, touching the theme of the story – the elite ‘dressed in silk’ are either busy drinking or hoarding money, while the poor ‘a tramp’ is crushed even if he asks just for some water.

Jagte Raho’s hit music is given by Salil Choudhary and the lyrics are written by Shailendra and Prem Dhawan.


The Conflict

The main conflict in Jagte Raho is between the honest and the fraudster, between the poor villager and the hypocritical lot. The protagonist stumbles upon the secret world of the civilized city men complexing the conflicting situation further.

His first few encounters occur with the young lovers, the gambler who tries to steal his own wife’s jewellery and the drunkard; these situations are comic as wells as sensitive, highlighting the predicaments of the so-called upper class.

The movie then takes a dramatic turn as the Police are called for an investigation. A journalist, disappointed on finding that the information about the dacoits is false, has to make do with a resident’s photograph who is arrested for brewing liquor illegally in his apartment. This causes a silent alarm bell to ring for many residents; a Punjabi song highlights this beautifully –

“Oye aiwe duniya dewe duhai/ jhootha pondi shor/ te apne dil to pooch ke vekho/ kaun nahi hai chor/ te ki mein jhooth bolya, koi na…”

Translation – The world appeals for no reason, the liar makes a hue and cry. Why don’t you ask your heart, who is not a thief! Hey, have I lied? No!

The poor villager finally meets the biggest thug of all, a foreign return business man who mints fake money with help of a few others; when the thug finds out that the villager knows all about him, he first tries to kill him, but with the residents knocking on his door, he quickly fills the villager’s pockets with all the fake money and pushes him out through the window.

Hanging to a pipe, the poor villager is attacked by the entire society with stones until he empties his pockets and showers the crowd with the fake money; the residents immediately forget the poor villager and fight amongst themselves to collect the notes.


Culmination

The climax holds its intensity till the last scene, though the verbose speech by the poor villager on the terrace mars the impact of the silence he maintained until then. Scenes like juxtaposing the image of Christ to the bleeding poor villager adds to the melodrama.

A little girl is rightly chosen by the writer for speaking the truth as children rarely hesitate from doing so. The poor villager realises the truth and then looking fearless, he walks out; neither the Police nor the residents notice him; the situation is frantic as all the criminals in the building are getting arrested one by one.

It is early morning now and he finds a lady singing in a temple –

“Jaago Mohan Pyaare Jaago/ Navyuga chumein nain thare…”

Translation – Wake up dear Mohan, a new day is here to welcome you.

The film ends here as the lady gives the poor villager water to drink.


Writing Style

Jagte Raho is not a hard core mystery or a thriller yet it endeavors to keep the viewer throughout on the edge. Following the linear structure, each scene has a micro story that is disrupted by the protagonist for he unknowingly strips the ones who are masked.

Though an off-beat topic was selected by the RK Productions, it was made sure that this film is liked by the masses; hence, the script is full of slapstick comedy, songs and dramatic visuals.


Theme

The theme of Jagte Raho is jagte raho; the makers are warning all to stay awake for the real criminal lurks within every individual, who waits just for an opportunity to overpower you. In the film, the poor villager tries to steal the counterfeit money, but his consciousness jolts him and he does not take the money. His consciousness is in contrast to the collective consciousness of the public.


Conclusion

While a satire, Jagte Raho chooses only partially the realistic approach to narrate its story. In fact, the majority of the characters, including the protagonist, are clichéd and some even come across as frivolous and yet, as a whole, the film engages and entertains. And so, keeping in mind the era in which it was made, this film stays to be a good study for a screenplay writer.


[Originally written for the Screenwriters Association (SWA), you can check the same here.]


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Mrinal Sen’s Aakaler Shandhane (In Search of Famine)

Film Analysis

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is drought-1745153_1920-1024x683.jpg
Famine.
Image by Carabo Spain from Pixabay

A voice narrates – “7th September 1980, a party from Calcutta, a film troupe is going to a village for shooting. The name of the village is Hatui. The name of the film is Aakaler Shandhane.”

The opening credits roll as we, along with the film troupe in cars, enter the village lane noticing the green fields, blue sky, rough road, dirt and poor villagers who are in full contrast to the vivacity of the song sung by the troupe. This is highlighted by the very first dialogue of the film by a character, a random villager standing on the roadside –

“The gentlemen are here for taking snaps of the famine… but the famine has enveloped us all.”

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A story within a story, Aakaler Shandhane (1982), is a poignant portrayal of reality and our perception of it. The director (played by Dhritiman Chatterjee) knows and believes in his story, he is determined, his research is complete, he has photographs of the Bengal famine of 1943, of a mini famine in 1959, of 1971 – he says, “remember the Bangladesh war”; he thinks that is what one needs to make a film on Bengal famine.

But the director is absolutely ignorant about 1980, the present time, his time, and so when the Hatui village reveals the crippling similarities between the famine year and the present, the director feels at his wits’ end. He does then what is suggested to him – to leave and complete the film in a studio – for the ‘famine-stricken’ village could no longer entertain any of them.

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A still from the film; Smita Patil as a village woman.
[Source – mrinalsen.org]

Smita Patil plays the role of a village woman, a wife married to a stubborn husband, who will die, but not bow down; this wife, for the sake of her little baby, accepts the famine, accepts exploitation, accepts filth and brings home a handful of rice and oil to prepare a meal in her dusty kitchen.

The husband goes mad with anger and picks up the little baby, ready to kill his own child for it unknowingly became the cause of bringing blasphemy to their household; Smita shouts and so does Durga. The director says “CUT”. Durga, a villager, standing in the crowd could not bear the pain, afraid for the child she shouted unaware of the camera and the art of acting. Every eye then stares at her, she hides her moist eyes and leaves.

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Durga lives in the 80s, but finds a resemblance with Smita Patil’s character of the 40s – and why would not she, their lives resonate with gloom, caused by famine and its aftermath. Both are suffering, both have a child to feed, a husband to serve, a famine that torments and a society that reminds of it forever.

Quiet like a candle, Durga becomes a flambeau in the end; burning with rage she asks her incompetent husband what is wrong if the director offered her a role in the film, what is wrong if the role is of a prostitute. She tells him that when a lady, in those ugly famine days, can step out the confines of her house, why cannot she?

The old village schoolmaster asks the same question from all the respectable men of the village, reminding them about their ancestors who were as opportunistic as the film’s womanising contractor.

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It becomes clear that the famine of 1943 was not just about starvation or five million deaths, it was also about what humans are and what humans can become in trying situations; and that hunger alone did not kill, corrupt minds and hollow traditions killed too… are still killing.

And the most affected were the poor, the weak… the females – they lost their children, their families, their lands and themselves. The director’s attempt to cast a villager for the role of a girl, who is forced to become a prostitute, creates chaos so profound that in no time the whole village starts detesting the entire troupe, no one comes to help, no fans, nothing. What else will a film dealing with the topic of famine bring, but cursed memories of the past? The villager who spoke the first dialogue of the film now comments –

“The gentlemen have created a famine after coming to make a film on famine.”

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But what about the elite… they are now long extinct. The palace in which the film troupe settles is almost in ruins. There lives a couple – a lady and her bedridden husband – the relatives of the king. While the rest of the inhabitants have left the luxuries of this palace and shifted to the cities, the presence of this couple is also but a mere illusion of the past. When the bed-ridden husband dies, the lady aptly says that everything is over.

Twice there are talks about the photographs of the famine, on one occasion a game is played – one is to guess by looking at the pictures to which period it belongs. When Smita Patil shows a picture that is completely dark, a character says it is the photo of ‘load shedding… power crises’ and everyone laughs, then another gives it a poetic touch and calls it ‘darkness at noon’ and then finally Smita Patil gives it the title ‘past, present and future’; none of them thought that this darkness will eventually force them to abandon the film shoot and leave.

Into this darkness we see Durga fading away at the very end; the narrator tells us that her frail little child died after some time, her husband fled away and Durga was left all alone.   

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The story structure, which is subtly linear, seamlessly integrates the characters with the plot highlighting the contrast between the film troupe’s “idea of famine” and the actual impact of the many famines still reverberating in the village.

The First Plot Point and the Second Plot Point appear visually the same i.e. both are the scenes where the photographs of the famine are shown and talked about; the former is where the director, confident about his research, is showing his actors the photographs of 1943 famine and telling how while the World War II struck the rest of the world, in their land “people just starved and dropped dead”, in the latter scene, they play a guessing game – “to which famine does the photograph belong”. In both the scenes, the horridness of the famine photographs is seen in stark contrast to the amusement of the film troupe.

The story takes a turn, naturally so, after both these plot points, taking the troupe and the audience closer to the seriousness that the reality of famine holds. In the climax we see that the entire village opposes and loathes the film troupe, the main characters find themselves completely defeated, and neither the modern nor the rural people are able to do anything about the famine that stared at them.

The original brochure of the film.
[Source – mrinalsen.org]

This masterpiece by Mirnal Sen won National Awards for Best Feature Film, Best Direction, Best Screenplay and Best Editing; it also won Silver Bear, Special Jury Award at 31st Berlin International Film Festival.   

Aakaler Shandhane (In Search of Famine), searched for an answer, an answer that is still due.


[Originally written for the Screenwriters Association (SWA), you can check the same here.]


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