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Magnum Oppie

Updated on: 30 July,2023 06:59 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Rahul da Cunha |

Frankly, no one here is offended really, but hey, outrage defines the politics of modern intolerant India

Magnum Oppie

Illustration/Uday Mohite

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Rahul Da CunhaDear Mr Nolan,


Hello from India, the land of sadhus, snake charmers and uhm, yes Sanskrit. I’d hate for you to think that our only response to your latest masterpiece is demands to ‘snip’ out the sex scene. 


(The scene, dear reader, features the protagonist reciting a verse from the Bhagavad Gita, just before sexual intercourse—“Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds,” the quote which Oppenheimer reportedly recalled when the first nuclear bomb was detonated).


Frankly, no one here is offended really, but hey, outrage defines the politics of modern intolerant India.

Plus some of our audiences simply wanted shots of Japan devastated. “Yaar, what’s the point of watching the picture in 2D Imax if there’s no massive explosion?”

But by and large, we’ve been pretty blown away by Oppenheimer, excuse the pun.

I’m writing this letter, for several reasons—my passion for the cinema is wedged somewhere between watcher and writer, storyteller and student. Your work over the years has intrigued me. The choices have been unique, the themes, far ranging, from superheroes and science, to space and subjective experience. Your take has mostly been over the top, and yet very specific.

There’s a joke in Mumbai city, some amount of study has to happen before watching one of your films, and much reading after, to fully understand your movies.

I don’t “get” Andrei Tarkovsky’s work, but I always get the feeling, he never really cared if he was understood or not, his esoteric approach, his journeys into space, and time, was for an audience of one—himself.

You do care. You do create for audiences. The marvel is you make the cash registers ring inspite of your “intellectual” subjects.

I have two more screenings planned—the second to get all the history stuff I missed in round 1. Then the following week, I’ll have my notebook and pocket torch poised, as a student, to study. (I’ve embarked on my first feature film, and “Oppenheimer” is as good as any film to dissect). 

I do think when it comes to the “masters”, the purpose of film isn’t just about ‘good ol’ entertainment—but the multi-layering that you offer.

I’m hoping 20 years from now, like they study, Ray and Godard and Renoir, it’ll be Nolan (and Tarantino—an aside, I’d pay good money to one day hear you two in conversation). 

I do think this is your finest work. I’ve had a complicated relationship with your movies in the past. I didn’t get Inception to be honest, I drifted off into my own space in parts of Interstellar, I’m not a huge Batman guy, though Heath Ledger was fab.

But make no mistake, my respect for your process has been overwhelming, the skill of the non-linear Memento,  the evacuation of WW2, from the perspective of land, sea and air in “Dunkirk”.

We are required to embark on a journey with you, and your characters… both Matt Damon and Cillian Murphy  said in interviews, that you wrote the screenplay from a first person perspective, instead of ‘Oppenheimer crosses the room’ you wrote, ‘I cross the room’.

Dude, how do you sell your stories to the suits in the studios? How do you get them to buy into your vision… if audiences struggle to fully comprehend the fully finished film, how do the executives punt millions of dollars for what are still words on a page?

Every movie you add one element, to the lexicon of movie-making, in this one you pit Oppenehimer vs Robert Downey jr’s Lewis Strauss as a protagonist vs antagonist, a Mozart-Salieri like battle, playing all Oppenheimer’s scenes in colour and Strauss’s in black and white, to show the contrast of lightness and darkness of intent and ambition.

I did a lot of reading about Oppenheimer. About fission and protons and hydrogen bombs and Nagasaki and Hiroshima and atoms and isotopes.

I studied the intricate layering of your work, the genius insanity of your timelines criss-crossing …

But you have produced a wonderful human interest drama to go with the history.

On that note, I’ll take your leave, Mr Nolan.

Happy 53rd birthday, by the way. 

Have a blast, excuse the pun.

Rahul daCunha is an adman, theatre director/playwright, photographer and traveller. Reach him at rahul.dacunha@mid-day.com

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