Thursday, 5 May 2011

Crossed Wires: The Conversation

The 1974 English film "The Conversation" directed by Francis Ford Coppola is an atmospheric gem of a movie, which for some strange reason is not as well-known or widely seen as it should be. Between directing the cult classic The Godfather-I and The Godfather-II, filmmaker Francis Coppola filmed this movie. Although the film was released shortly after Woodward and Bernstein broke their legendary Watergate story, it wasn't inspired by that scandal involving wire-tapping. The filmmaker had written the script well before the story that brought President Nixon down hit The Washington Post's front page.

The film tells the tale story of an experienced and skilled private detective, Harry Caul, who bugs rooms, taps, phones and eavesdrops to earn his daily bread. Played persuasively by Gene Hackman, he is a taciturn loner obsessed, ironically, about his own privacy, perhaps because he knows how easily it can be breached.

While on a seemingly routine assignment to tape the conversation of a couple wandering about in a public square in San Francisco, where the film is set, Harry and his team overhear them saying something that suggests that their lives might be in danger. The assignment, then, turns out to be not only technically difficult but also sinister. So, besides feeling the usual thrill of having pulled it off, Harry, after a lifetime of trying to remain aloof from all his assignments, begins to feel he should find out more and warn the couple.

It gradually becomes clear that the woman whose conversation he taped is the wife of the corporate boss who gave him the assignment that she is having an affair with the man she was talking to in the public square. It also gradually becomes clear that Harry Caul is harbouring some guilt from a previous assignment in which the information he uncovered led to several deaths. But as he gets sucked into the lives of the characters in the assignment, he also realizes that, shorn of context, snatches of conversations are misleading and things are not what they are made out to be.

The film must be watched in today's time particularly because India's biggest scam in recent times, the 2G Spectrum scam involving Rs. 170,000 crores came to light largely through tapped phone conversations. Earlier in April 2011, another such conversation threatened to discredit lawyer and India-Against-Corruption crusader Shanti Bhushan. The lawyer said it was fabricated. Behind all those conversations lies that anonymous wire-tapper. Watch this movie told in the format of a taut thriller.

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