October 30, 2006

"Tsotsie" and "The Little Terrorist"

Tsotsie, the movie, reinforces faith in man's goodness. The worst of us and the worst within us can always be negated and wiped out by the good that's inherent within all of us, if only we'd let it surface. Tsotsie, the protagonist in the movie, is a confirmed 'thug' of Johannesburg who whips out knives and guns at the batting of an eye. However, toward the middle of the movie he is a transformed being; thanks to a surprise guest who lets flow 'the milk of human kindness' in Tsotsie and establishes a lifelong relationship between them, with no strings attached. Joseph Conrad's Kurt bared every man's Heart of Darkness and made humanity shudder. Athol Fugard's Tsotsie rekindles every man's faith in his innate goodness and makes humanity proud and worthy.

The film won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 2006 with brilliant acting by the South African actor Presley Chweneyagae as Tsotsi. It is based on Athol Fugard's novel of the same title that was written a few decades ago. What is interesting is that both the writer Athol Fugard, who created the character Tsotsi, and the director Gavin Hood, who read and presented Tsotsi, are white Afrikaans. With no racially divisive agenda in mind, and with an admittedly limited knowledge of the current racial dynamics in South Africa, I find myself speculating on how and if Tsotsie, the movie, would have been different if it were a black African's creation and presentation.

Coincidentally, I also happened to have watched another foreign film "The Little Terrorist" (watch it here) made by an Indian film maker, Ashvin Kumar. A ten minute film based on a true incident that happened on the India-Pakistan border, The Little Terrorist was nominated for the Oscar in the Best Short Film, Live Action category in 2005. Though different from Tsotsie in many ways, The Little Terrorist has a similar theme that reaffirms and reinforces the good in man; and holds the promise of a fledgling hope for humanity.

Both films are definitely worth viewing.

October 29, 2006


Is ‘the Fall’
'a fall'?
a fiery falling blanket
enveloping the tired greens
a carrier of crisper winds
rustling the fallen leaves
a harbinger of felling logs
preparing for the winter
a getaway for fallen leaders
electioning in a change.

'The Fall', a changer of seasons,
from summer to December.
A temperer of spirits
that dampen to winter.

Is ‘the Fall’ ‘a fall’?
Not really after all.
It lays to rest
a lonely nest.
Till it’s time again,
at nature’s behest,
for birds to listen
and leaves to glisten’
for streams to flow
and daffodils to show.

A gentle intermediary;
'The Fall’s' but a step between.
For man’s hope and nature’s repose
A see-through kindred screen.

Mitch Albom's "For One More Day"

'Father-bashing over two generations', pretty much sums up Mitch Albom's most recent tear-jerker "For One More Day".

One of those 'let-me-be-your-counsellor' kind of novel, "For One More Day" starts off really well where Charley the main protagonist decides he wants an out of his lack-lustre life where he's failed as a son, as a husband, and as a father. However, he's unable to do even that; his suicide attempt fails! What happens next is an out-of-the-world experience where a comatose Charley establishes communication with his long dead mother; a mother he 'didn't ever stand up for'. From this point on the novel is all downhill. A set of contrived situations to showcase the sheer selflessness of motherhood against an apathetic father figure telling a young Charley "You can be a mama's boy or a daddy's boy, but you can't be both."

It took me a long time to figure out my response to the novel; primarily due to a sense of guilt for not liking what Albom presented; perhaps because at some level it did pertain to me, and to Everyman. All of us have some cleansing to do; to rid ourselves of those ghosts from our past that seem to haunt us; and here was this novel doing just that, and yet I could not readily say that I liked it. The cloying sentimentality and the not-so-surreal situations made it distant, and I could not lose myself in it; I could not suspend my disbelief.

If "Tuesdays with Morrie" is what made you pick up this novel, you are bound to be disappointed.

October 17, 2006

'The War Within'

Ayad Akhtar's movie 'The War Within' is a sensitive portrayal of Pakistanis living abroad in a post 9/11 world. The story revolves around a young Pakistani engineer studying in France whose life of normalcy comes to a screeching halt the day he's picked up as a suspect by American Intelligence and taken back to his native country, Pakistan, for interrogation. What follows is a heart rending, at times excruciatingly violent and graphic, depiction of how this normal protagonist is driven to near-lunacy and fanaticism.

A thought provoking film no doubt, but oftentimes logic-defying. For instance, how does a person just disappear off the radar for an extended period of time without anyone, not even his family, making inquiries about him? Akhtar, while trying to project the plight of ordinary immigrant Pakistanis, does get a little carried away in that he demonizes various American organizations that are but doing their duty. The USA Police is one such victim; they are presented as a bunch of non-thinking individuals who are blatantly racist. However, while dealing with the 9 year old Pakistani boy Akhtar has excelled. He's done a splendid job of capturing the impact of terrorism and its aftermath on this young mind. The viewer, regardless of his affiliations, is affronted at the quick and cruel end, almost a snatching away, of the boy's childhood.

It is said that an artistic creation usually carries a message, and I wondered about the message in "The War Within". Does it transcend the barriers of color, religion, and race, or is the message relegated to the perpetrators and the victims of 9/11? Does Akhtar's movie condone what the protagonist did? Is a terrorist born, or is he made? Who or what facilitates the making of one? I have not been able to find any clear-cut answers to any of these questions, but watching the movie I got the impression that Akhtar had.