Breathe in, breathe out: four films that aren’t for everyone

With their gentleness and sense of wonder, these films show the world as they could be rather than how we think it should be.

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Salman Rushdie’s fictional story of friendship in India takes on a whole new meaning in the context of last week’s mass protests against the Indian government’s “anti-conversion” policies. “Breathe in, breathe out. Say no to the Buddha,” a mysterious author advises another writer who is possessed by unbearable anxiety after watching a TV clip on a saint’s conversion ceremony. Ignoring his numerous offers to commit suicide, the first writer embarks on a journey to discover the mystery man’s history. Rushdie’s masterly portrait of literature making space for others is compelling from start to finish, and the page upon which the film was screened was decorated with countless devotees thanking God for the spiritual inspiration they received from it.

A Studio One aired film about a week before the real-life campus shooting at US University of California at Santa Barbara. This highly original documentary opens with footage of a man with a gun walking on a quiet suburban street before pausing for a musical interlude as the US Army’s heaviest drums are played. Then comes the actual shot: “Fire! Fire! Pow! Pow!” As the narrator states, “Sixty years ago, the people of these US cities headed to battle with guns and tanks. Today, they’re armed with drums”. In this short film, a guy provides two messages – one of existential violence, and the other of optimism. The former is followed by cliches about extreme violence, but the former messages in the drumming sequence are uniformly hopeful. After the gun massacre, the audience weeps, and the words are withdrawn. Then the music starts again, but for a brief moment there is a lull before we all once again bang away. This hypnotic rhythm eventually evened the odds so that we had the best of both worlds.

Writing about Anurag Kashyap’s Gangs of Wasseypur series – one of this year’s best films – Darren Hutchinson wrote: “Up until the notorious third installment, this incredibly brutal, violent, satirical, influential trilogy was notable for its sweetened approach to the normal rules of cinema storytelling, luxuriating in the moments when a filmmaker is allowed to be much more than a guy off on a date.”

In this small documentary, a picture emerges of India’s two faces: the rich, beautiful people on TV and the poor, poorly educated slum dwellers who can’t even afford to watch. The call-center employees, kids and newlyweds of a call centre earn large sums when they make high-end sales calls to overseas customers. We see the different teams making the sale calls preparing for them, then hearing them off-camera talking about the successful deals they have secured. “Hey man,” someone asks a boss, “even though you sell lots of brands, which customer do you sell the most?” “Fabric,” is the answer, with the leader joking: “Fabric means sweat.” Not only do the people of this call centre stand for everything that is good in the world, they are also ones of the main reasons that buying an overseas brand is ever more lucrative.

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