February 25, 2007

Deepa Mehta's 'Water' - The Eternal Equalizer?

What a shocking movie! I'm so glad this movie, 'Water', is set in India, and unfolds in the late 1930's; in the present day context it would be utterly unthinkable to imagine that anyone could perpetrate or be accomplice to a crime so heinous, on minds and bodies so young and so innocent! What's worse is that the act is committed in compliance with social norms!

I really wouldn't want to give away even the slightest bit of the plot because it would lessen the impact of the movie, but I would like to commend the three actresses who gave some evocative performances as 'Chuhiya' the bubbly nine year old, 'Kalyani' the unbelievably beautiful 19 year old, and 'Didi' the philosophic 50 year old. The three come together in the movie to spend a life of penance in an 'aashram' for widows on the holy banks of the River Ganges.

There were certain things that puzzled me when I watched this movie, and that was more because of my limited knowledge about India at the time so it is vital that the viewer know some of these facts about India:
a. India was a British colony until 1947
b. child marriage was common at the time
c. Mahatma Gandhi was instrumental in getting India its freedom and also for bringing about various social reforms in the country
d. a caste system was prevalent in India at the time and this was the heirarchy:
  • the 'brahmin, at the top of the social heirarchy, was 'the teacher' the one with the exclusive knowledge of the Hindu scriptures
  • the 'kshatriya' was second in line, and was the ruler who was responsible for guarding the kingdom
  • the 'vaishya' was third, and he was the trader within the kingdom
  • the 'shudra' was the worker who did not own property and worked for one of three higher classes
  • the 'uchoot' was the lowest class who handled the sanitary facilities and was thus the untouchable
  • inter caste marriages were forbidden
  • 'uchoots' were outcasts
  • you were born into a caste and you could never change that.

Deepa Mehta's movie 'Water' is a foreign film from India ,the last in a trilogy ; the earlier two were titled 'Earth' and 'Fire' respectively. Given those titles, obviously there is an underlying theme that Ms. Mehta had in mind; however I've yet to put my finger on why the movie is titled 'Water'. Again, this may be due to my ignorance regarding the ancient Indian scriptures, Hinduism, or perhaps my distance/disconnect with Indian values and beliefs. Regardless of this, I thoroughly enjoyed the movie; enough to have researched it later and found some interesting facts about it. For instance, Ms. Mehta encountered major resistance in India during the shooting of this film from some Hindu fundamentalist groups who believed that she was misrepresenting Indian heritage and culture. As a result she had to move her entire unit to Sri Lanka and shoot the remaining part of the movie there. Nevertheless all Indians in the US who watched the movie have high praise for it, and are excited about its nomination at the Oscar's. Finally, it'd be interesting to see whether the movie will be screened in India and how it'll be received by the audiences there.

The movie is pitted against greats like 'Pan's Labyrinth' at the Oscars and may not stand much of a chance for various reasons, none of which may have to do with the talent of the movie maker or of the artists who brought it to us, but I certainly give it an A+, and I recommend everyone watch it!

February 22, 2007

Babel - In the Aftermath of the Tower

Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu’s movie 'Babel' has been running in at least one of my neighborhood cinemas for the last so many weeks, and that in itself says something about its poularity.

The title has religious undertones, but apart from a possible underlying theme, the movie has nothing to do with religion. Shot across four different countries, the movie presents some captivating and diverse landscapes, which obviously gels well with the theme. If Pan's Labyrinth presented a dual storyline, Babel has a threesome! There are three stories unfolding, almost simultaneously, at three different places: a Moroccan desert village, the city of Tokyo, and the US Mexico border. It is to the credit of the story teller how he manages to get these stories to converge in such a lucid and cohesive way.

Brad Pitt was perhaps a major attraction for many moviegoers, but his star presence was muted in the larger frame of this story that had some riveting characters played by stellar actors like Bernal and Kikuchi. Kikuchi plays an 18 year old deaf and mute Japanese girl, who, starved of male attention due to her handicap, is now desperate to lose her virginity to the first male who will take her. Then there is the sincere Mexican nanny, played by Barraza, who almost dies while trying to save the two American children to whom she's been 'mother ever since they were born' . Barraza does a remarkable job of highlighting the plight of illegal immigrants in the US while Santiago, her nephew in the movie, played by Gael Garcia Bernal of the "Motorcycle Diaries' fame, espouses the deep felt resentment of unemployed Mexicans across the border who are but a stones throw away from the land of opportunity, and yet cannot reach it! Finally, on the third front we have the stunning Moroccan landscape inhabited by a people eking out a life in an almost uninhabitable environment, and yet they have it in them to be hospitable to foreigners who unfortunately fear them as propective or possible Islamic terrorists.

As for the title, I leave that for you to figure out along with these questions that I battled with after watching the movie and then reading certain parts of Genesis 11:1-9 :
  • Why did God " go down (to Babylon), and there confuse their (man's) language, that they may not understand one another's speech", simply because man aspired to be godlike and wanted to build a tower that'd reach the heavens?
  • Are we a fragmented world because of the curse of multiple languages that have sprouted across the world?
  • Does language, or the lack of it, isolate us from our own kind?
  • Have we failed to make cities, and like Nimrods, our settlements across the world have failed to satisfy the desires of the human body and soul?

This is a movie you'd wish you had seen if you chance to miss it.

February 19, 2007

Ayaan Hirsi Ali protests a 'living document'.

I don't really get carried away by high sounding rhetoric, especially from people who have some strong and controversial agendas. However, in the case of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, even though hers is a controversial stance and her agenda unclear, but her words, and her articulation of them, cannot be called empty rhetoric, and it doesn't sound inflammatory either. It is this characteristic of Ayaan Hirsi Ali that made me listen to her recent interview on NPR which then lead me to wonder and ponder; the findings of which will not be penned in this post because they may be biased and that may generate controversies, of which we have too many to begin with. However, I urge anyone who is bipartisan, open minded, and believes in equal justice for all to listen to what Ms. Ali has to say; give a thought to what she's been through, to what she has done in the past, and to what she is currently working on, and then decide whether her stance is viable, valid or otherwise.

I had written about Ms Ali in an earlier post last year. She is a Somalian born woman who has lived in Kenya, Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia, and the Netherlands, and very recently was given political asylum in the USA. She is currently working for The American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank based in Washington DC. Ms Ali is often the center of many a heated debates and interviews, both within and outside of the USA.

February 11, 2007

Black Heritage Month

We celebrate Black Heritage this month in schools and colleges all over the country, and yet there is A Girl Like Me . Watch this 7 minute documentary to get a feel of what it means to grow up 'black' in this country.

The documentary confirms that no amount of media propaganda, or the classroom readings about famous African Americans can really make a significant difference in the lives of young black males and females who grow up, still perceiving themselves as victims, or as being inferior to another. Why does that continue to happen, and how does one change that? How do you develop a 'self esteem'? What does it take to feel better, to feel comfortable with who you are? Is it even possible to grow and then nurture a 'self esteem'? Why do some groups have this 'self esteem', and others don't, or if they do, why is it such a fragile commodity?

The answers to these questions would also justify the overusage of the word 'heritage' in this very young nation. Why are we so obsessed with peoples past, their 'heritage'; defined in the dictionary as "something that comes or belongs to one by reason of birth; an inherited lot or portion". The past is important in only so far as it lends meaning and purpose to our present. To get fixated on a past that only serves to fragment the present and does not in any way strengthen a people, is a past worth letting go of. This may sound harsh and extreme, but it may still be something worth trying. To lend weight to my argument I'd like to quote Maya Angelou, an African American of respected and proven mettle, who also believes that 'beauty' in a person is directly related to taking accountability for ones present:

February 05, 2007

'My Favorite Things' about Aging By Julie Andrews

This is yet another perspective on age and aging!

To commemorate her 69th birthday on October 1, actress/vocalist Julie Andrews made a special appearance at Manhattan's Radio City Music Hall for the benefit of the AARP. One of the musical numbers she performed was "My Favorite Things" from the legendary movie "Sound Of Music." However, the lyrics of the song were deliberately changed for the entertainment of her "blue hair" audience. Here are the lyrics she recited:

Maalox and nose drops and needles for knitting,
Walkers and handrails and new dental fittings,
Bundles of magazines tied up in string,
These are a few of my favorite things..

Cadillacs and cataracts and hearing aids and glasses,
Polident and Fixodent and false teeth in glasses,
Pacemakers, golf carts and porches with swings,
These are a few of my favorite things.

When the pipes leak,
When the bones creak,
When the knees go bad
I simply remember my favorite things,
And then I don't feel so bad.

Hot tea and crumpets, and corn pads for bunions,
No spicy hot food or food cooked with onions,
Bathrobes and heat pads and hot meals they bring,
These are a few of my favorite things.

Back pains, confused brains, and no fear of sinnin',
Thin bones and fractures and hair that is thinnin',
And we won't mention our short shrunken frames,
When we remember our favorite things.

When the joints ache,
when the hips break,
When the eyes grow dim,
Then I remember the great life I've had,
And then I don't feel so bad.

Ms. Andrews received a standing ovation from the crowd that lasted over four minutes and
with an encore.

February 01, 2007

Pan's Labyrinth

I had a choice to see either 'Babel' or 'Pan's Labyrinth', and I chose the latter for two reasons: it was a new release, and because I wanted to see if I could follow a movie in Spanish without reading the English sub titles. The movie was rather captivating in a curious way. For at least half way through the movie I was trying to configure whether I was watching a socio historic piece or a fairytale, not that I minded watching either since both story lines were gripping.

Guillermo Del Toro's movie Pan's Labyrinth progresses simultaneously at two levels with Ofelia, the eleven year old protagonist, being the only one to partake in the plot on both sides of the divide. The dual canvases that Guillermo Del Toro paints are fascinating; on one he paints a pastoral landscape marred by the violence of war, and on the other he paints a world bereft of light, but one that holds the promise of hope. At one level that is Ofelia's very own, she is an Alice in Grimms fairyland, with goblins, satyrs, monsters, spells, magical chalks etall, trying to get back to her magical kingdom where she is an immortal Princess. Then there's the other level, a 'grimmer' one, that is set in Spain during the fascist regimes of the 1940s where Ofelia is but one of the many victims of a cruel captain, also her step father, the ultimate monster who savours brutality. He unleashes unimaginable violence and torture, without qualms, on local partisans who are hiding in the forests beyond Ofelia's magical labyrinth.

The connection, if at all, between the reality of the Spanish Civil War and the fantasy world of Ofelia, is for the audience to fathom.

Due to the naked violence and gore, I would not recommend this movie to the fragile, but anyone interested in seeing a 'different' movie, this is it!