Monday, February 7, 2011

Response to Gadar Review

My first impression of Gadar, rather, the first twenty minutes of it, was that it was going to be a serious movie, dark, and full of violence. The first 20 minutes of the film contained the most memorable, violent scenes in the movie, depicting situations that match exactly the article “Our People Have Gone Mad.” The first scene, where the Hindu family somewhere in Pakistan try to decide what to do illustrate several descriptions of the article. The elements of desperation, the feeling that the government had betrayed them, the panic about deciding what possessions they could bring with them, and even the contemplation of suicide rather than being raped by Muslim attackers were all significant undertones in the article that were well depicted in the movie. Their journey, on train, also fit the descriptions of the article. Muslims, crazy with fury, yelling praises of Allah, attacked the train, leaving no one alive. That scene where the train, with not a single survivor, rolled into the train station, presumably where relatives and friends were waiting, is one of the most dreadful, terrifying scenes I have ever seen and it visually gives the accurate picture of trains as ‘rolling coffins,’ as the article described them. From there, the Hindu’s retaliated. And crime built upon crime. This burgeoning trend of violence and death was very well illustrated and very realistic in the movie. The emotional depth of the actors and their ability to portray pure agony and anger was striking in the scenes that explored the separation of Sakina from her family (and later her realization that they were killed), the loss of Tara’s whole family, Sakina’s flight in terror from the Hindu mob that chased her (while people looked on, unheading), and Tara’s rabid, intense defense of Sakina’s life from other Hindus. And I would agree with the reviewer that watching Gadar was an experience akin to watching a movie like Schindler’s List.

What I noticed, besides the heartbreaking reality of the first twenty minutes, was that, as opposed to the other two Bollywood films that I have watched, the song and dance numbers were not prominent, or even that good. I didn’t find any of the songs catchy, memorable, or meaningful, and often the songs were repeated several times, making them, overall less entertaining. I also noticed that the drama that I usually find rather off-putting in Indian films wasn’t as obvious. Or perhaps it was just that it was more necessary and justified in a film like Gadar and fit with the tone of the movie. I did, however, disapprove of the sense of time within the movie, past present and future was sometimes hard to discern, just as the passing of time was difficult to track. I also noticed the transitions between scenes were sometimes abrupt and uncomfortable within the movie.

As far as discussing the more in-depth review of Gadar, I agree with the reviewer on several points. I strongly agree with his observation that, despite the overall underlying message that Muslims and Hindus and Sikhs aren’t all that different and that they should live in peace instead of violence, the film had prominent biases and even untruths about Islam. The film portrays Muslims as the ‘villains’ in the film. Sakina’s dad, representative of the Muslim population, is portrayed as abusive, uncaring about his daughter’s happiness, politically driven, and greedy. The part I dislike most is when Tara has agreed to convert to Islam to stay with Sakina. The father wants to make sure he is ‘worthy’ and uses the opportunity to insert some nationalistic views into his conversion. He asks Tara to say “Hail Pakistan” and “India be cursed.” This implies that it is part of Islamic belief to hate India. Although my observation perhaps misses the point of this plot device (and overlooks the fact that it illustrates tension between Muslims, Hindus, and Sikhs in India and Pakistan specifically), I still think that if someone with no knowledge of the religion were to watch, they would come away with a false impression of Islam, and certainly a much more positive idea of India than Pakistan. It is, if nothing else, very praising toward India, especially when Tara says something along the lines of, ‘India has forgiven Pakistan, but Pakistan hasn't forgiven India.'

The reviewer’s claim that the humor is inappropriate and inane in a movie like this was legitimate also. I think the slap-stick type humor is a little out of place within the tone, but I think the director probably thought it showed the stark contrast of India, and people’s attitudes and lives, before the partition and after. I don't, however, think that this kind of humor does its intended job, rather, I agree that it cheapens the movie.

Lastly, the biggest problem the reviewer had with the film, its lack of realistic violence in the last half of the film, didn’t bother my in the slightest. Those kinds of fighting scenes, where one guy kills like hundreds of other men and doesn’t even get hurt, is unrealistic, but that is what I have grown to expect from Bollywood films, so I didn't think the use of it was out of place. I would agree though, and this might just be because of my American perspective, that this film could move from merely ‘good’ to ‘brilliant’ if it dropped the use of unrealistic fighting, and of course, if it was shortened.

I was surprised that the motif of the ‘trains of death’ (as they were called in the article) and the insane brother haven't really been mentioned. Trains (and really traveling in general) were bad luck in this movie. I think that connection goes back to the fact that the partition was the biggest human migration in known history, and obviously transportation like trains were used a lot. The trains in the movie were usually death traps. The first train the audience sees in the movie didn’t have a single survivor. The second one was the sight at which a mob separated Sakina from her family. The third train in the movie was where the family hid to try to get out of Pakistan unsuccessfully, which has a scene ending in Sakina getting shot and almost dying. The train used in this way is a symbol harking back to the original use of trains during the partition. The main character himself was a truck driver, a symbol of transportation itself that I thought was very significant. Secondly, the mad brother, who had some sort of amnesia where he forgot that India was partitioned, was, not only sometimes a source of humor, but also ironically represented the unlikely voice of reason. He shouts Indian anthems and pride at the most inconvenient time, and his family is not only embarrassed, but ashamed of him. When his friends try to tell him that India has been partitioned, he calls them, ‘mad.’ This, I thought, was not only ironic, but poetic, and an appropriate side-plot. It may be commenting on the brief madness of the Muslims, Hindus, and Sikhs during the partition, and even after, for hating their fellow Indian brother and sisters based on their religious affiliation.

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