Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Wimpy Before Psycho.

MacGuffin, as any Hitchcock buff will tell you, is a misleading device that drives the plot forward and is invariably forgotten by the end of the story. The stolen cash in Psycho, the briefcase in Pulp Fiction, the Golden Eye in GoldenEye and cricket in the IPL are classic MacGuffins.

In strict Hitchcockian sense, a working title (the decoy name of a movie prior to the release) is but a MacGuffin. Let’s examine ‘Wimpy’ to illustrate the point. If you were a curious onlooker and you happen to stroll into the shoot of a film called ‘Wimpy’, the last thing you’ll expect to see on screen is a macabre thriller named ‘Psycho’. That deception was what Alfred Hitchcock wished to achieve with his lame working title. He used the same technique once before when he deployed the very yucky ‘The Man in Lincoln’s Nose’ for ‘North by Northwest’.

Finicky directors who hate revealing even a whiff of their plot usually resort to working titles. Clint Eastwood famously chose ‘The Cut-Whore Killings’ for ‘Unforgiven’. Christopher Nolan picked ‘Rory’s First Kiss’ to keep the ‘The Dark Knight’ fan boys at bay. Woody Allen actually experimented with ‘Anhedonia’, ‘It had to be Jew’, and ‘Rollercoaster named Desire’ before settling on ‘Annie Hall’.

Some film makers like to drop a teensy hint about their story with working titles. When Garry Marshall hid ‘Pretty Woman’ from the public gaze with ‘$3000’, he was alluding to the going rate for uppity escorts. Mani Ratnam selected ‘Traffic Signal’ for ‘Yuva’ as Green, Red and Orange represented the three shades of characters in his Hindi flick. When Gautham Menon recently code named his movie as ‘Nithya’, he was actually clueing ‘Ninaivelaam Nithya’ - the romantic movie with the Illayaraja song ‘Neethaane En Ponvasantham’ - that later became the title of his Tamizh padam.

‘Snakes on a Plane’ is one of the rare movies where the working title perfectly matched the final title. In quirky India however, actual titles are consigned to the status of working titles whenever a producer finds a suitably marketable name. ‘Gyaarah Chalis ki Metro’ is a case in point. It was replaced by the very crass KLPD!