Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Satya Review

Satya is a striking story of the criminal underworld of Mumbai. The audience sees Satya, the title character, move through his life in Mumbai, in the context of two lives: one with his girlfriend, Vidya, and one with his gang, lead by Bhiku. It is important to note the intended purpose of this movie and its obvious social commentary. The movie aims to describe the cycle of gang violence, how it never stops, and how angry young men get pulled into the allure of having a group that acts as practically a second family. The cycle of poverty and violence that keeps cities like Mumbai constantly in the throes of violence are because of these gangs. Gangs encourage an atmosphere of great friendship and brotherhood – gang members look after each other and help each other, as was seen several times: when Bhiku give Satya a job and a place to live right after he gets out of jail, when Bhiku pays for the gift Satya wants to get for Vidya, the invitations to weddings, parties, and big events in each others lives. The gang is essentially Satya’s family, and probably feels more like a family because his real family is all dead. This ‘patronage’ relationship encourages people to join gangs, and makes people feel extreme loyalty to the gang that they join. Satya’s own loyalty is shown as unshakable, to the point where he revenges Bhiku’s death by killing Bhau. Because gangs make life better for angry young men like Satya, more are encouraged to join, and in that process the gangs make angry, young men out of people they victimize, or out of people whose families they kill. It is a never ending cycle of violence that just creates generations of angry, violent, young men who want to join a gang so they can be a part of something bigger than just themselves, so they can survive, or so they can make money.

At the very end of the movie, the comments show the intended purpose of the movie. The movie isn’t meant to glamorize gang life, or even tell the individual tragedy of Satya and his love, Vidya, but to possible deter gang violence from occurring in the future.

This film is an attempt on my part to reach out to all those people who took to violence as a means for their living. At the end of it, if even one of them out there looks into himself before he takes out his gun the next time, and understands that the pain he inflicts on others is exactly the same as he would suffer himself, I would consider this effort worthwhile.

The last point I want to make individually, before I delve into the other reviews, is that the characters in this movie, despite being murderers and criminals, are likeable. Satya’s obvious feeling for Vidya and friendship with Bhiku are genuine human relationships that are easily relatable and likable. Bhiku’s personality is infectious and his recklessness is almost endearing. And, let me say, watching Bhiku dance was one of the few times I actually smiled watching the movie. The point I’m trying to make is that the characters in this movie, despite being bad people, are likeable. I think the last line of the movie says it best: “My tears for Satya are as much as they are for the people whom he killed.”

Adam’s review

I thought Adam’s analysis of Satya’s and Vidya’s relationship and what they represent is important to understanding Satya. Vidya represents a force of “knowledge” whose purpose is to “discern the true…from the false.” Keeping in mind that Satya means truth, I think this has quite the implication for the concept of truth in the movie. When Vidya and Satya are together, Vidya’s presence illuminates the truth of the man Satya might have been if he had not been dragged into the gang – intelligent, thoughtful, happy. But I also think that Satya never gets the chance to experience the full truth of what he could be because he never escapes from the gang, and he never even tells Vidya the truth about him. All of Vidya and Satya’s interactions are tainted with the lie he is keeping from her: the scene at the movie theatre, meeting Bhiku and trying to disguise their job, and even the ring he gives her is bought with Bhiku’s money – money aquired from extortion and gang activity. Nothing between Vidya and Satya is genuine – except their four day vacation outside of Mumbai, the four happiest days of Satya’s life.

Ed’s Review

I thought Ed’s interpretation of Satya as the Mahabharata was quite accurate, but I did have some interesting points to make in accordance with some of the claims. I thought it was interesting how Bhiku’s group represents the Pandavas especially because in the Mahabharata the Pandavas are morally superior to the Kauravas, who are really the ‘evil aggressors.’ It seems to me that when comparing Bhiku’s gang and Guru Narayan’s gang that neither is necessarily better than the other, both are murderers, criminal factions that harm innocent people. However, I guess that Bhiku’s gang is involved in lesser crimes of extortion, rather than human trafficking that Narayan’s group is infamous for.

I also liked Ed’s point about how the he believed Satya to be a metaphor for Indian society and politics. I thought his analysis fit the article, but also think it is important to note that the corruption of government is a big part of the movie and a big part of the analysis. The abandon at which the police gathered up and murdered the criminal groups of Mumbai was surprising and horrific. I was not expecting such violence from the so-called ‘upholders of the law.’ I thought it was reminiscent of the Emergency, a time when the government abandoned all fronts of democracy vanish and the government pretty much declared martial law. The images of men in brown uniforms beating, torturing, and killing people were not only disturbing to me (an American audience), it probably resonated even more with an Indian audience because of how unstable their government system is, and the occurrence of police and government corruption.

While the police completely ignore the process of the law, it almost seemed to me that the people were more afraid of the police than they were of gangs. The news programs dubbed the police “murderers and butchers.” There were human rights protests. The media looked as if it had a heyday with the amount of violence in the name of the law. The police force claimed they were cleaning up the criminal activity, but to the outside viewer, it certainly looks as if they are becoming just as bad as the criminals themselves, if not worse. At least the criminals acknowledge that they are behaving badly.

Rachel’s review

I had a different view than Rachel’s of some of Satya’s characteristics. Although I agree that Satya’s background is ambiguous and that the director chose to portray him this way to make the character and his situation universal instead of specific, I think that once we meet Satya, it is very clear that he is a violent character. He was clearly doomed to a life of violence and killing from the very beginning, even if he had avoided getting involved in a gang.

I think there is a clear progression from Satya as violent and powerless to Satya as violent and powerful. When the movie introduces Satya’s character, we see the first conflict he gets into when a gang member demands money from him. Instead of just walking away or giving them money, Satya slashes one of them across the face with his own knife. He gets beaten up because of this, but despite being powerless to do anything about the gangs threatening him, he still reacts violently. The same event occurs when he attacks Jagga, the act that puts him in jail. He is essentially powerless within the system (he isn’t part of a gang and has noone to guard his back), but he still reacts violently and fights with any threat. By the time leaves jail, he has befriended the head of one of the city’s most powerful gang leaders and establishes himself in a place of power within the system. Now, instead of just violence, Satya also has the full man power and gun power of the Mathre gang behind him. With that assured power, he kills Jagga. Eventually, throughout the story, his actions become more and more violent: from having gun fights in the middle of the streets to kill Narayan, to killing the police commissioner, to causing the riot in which several innocents were killed. This escalation of violent acts tells me that Satya was a very violent young man to begin with and just got bolder and bolder as his gang became more powerful. Maybe I’m underestimating Satya, but I think he was always a violent person. The gang that he was a part of focused his skills and gave him power and therefore he made the change over the course of the movie from a violent, angry young man to a violent, angry mass murderer. The only time he isn’t angry, the only time he isn’t killing people is when he is with Vidya. This relationship proves to be the last thread of humanity that Satya hangs onto till the very end of the movie.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Ambiguous Satya


Satya is a movie about the violent underworld of Mumbai. Adam makes some very insightful remarks about the movie and the integral relationships of the main character, Satya. However, I think he missed the mark on some important aspects of Satya’s multifaceted character.


There is no denying the fact that Satya is a complex movie based around a complex character. Satya travels to Mumbai in hopes of a better life. A better life from what, we are never told. In fact, we learn little of Satya’s past other than the fact that he is an orphan. This ambiguity over his past is an essential aspect to the overall ambiguous Satya character. He has many instances in which he proves to be a cold blooded gangster, but also moments when he shows reserve and hesitation. The reviewer notes that in Satya’s first ethical test, he “passes” by taking the drink spat at him in stride. But is this Satya’s first test? After moving into his new place, the superintendent asks for rent from Satya, which he gives. But Satya turns around and gangster extorts Satya as a form of protection from the mafia. In response to this extortion, Satya slashes his face. Does Satya start out with a criminal mindset? If so, why later does he show such hesitation when he is given the opportunity to kill Jagga. Satya endured many provocations and slights to his honor and the behest of Jagga. If he has a criminal mindset, he would not give pause to killing Jagga. Satya constantly contradicts himself throughout the movie. In one scene he is the instigator, urging on Bhiku to kill the commissioner. Then, in others he looks appalled with violence, particularly the altercation Bhiku and his wife have, especially when it turns physical. It is hard to discern whether Satya is born of criminal mindset or if he is forced into a life of crime. It is not until the end of the movie when Vidya provides Satya with enlightenment of what life outside of crime could be that we see him really start to question his previous actions. But, then again, he turns around and seeks revenge by killing Bhau. I think the director wanted Satya’s intentions to remain ambiguous, that way more viewers can relate to Satya.


That being said, Satya is an exemplar of the new type of Bollywood hero. With the coming of the Emergency and Indira Ghandi’s rule over India, India’s ideal role model became one who was tough, physical, ruthless, and inured to violence (Ahmed, 10). This change is reflected in Bollywood with the coming of a new hero, the angry young man. Amitabh Buchanan became famous as this angry young man, because of the real portrayal of his anger and disillusionment with society and its corruption. Buchanan and other actors worked to represent the crisis of the contemporary society, with issues of sex, drugs, violence, drink, the infiltration of technology. Satya embodies four main characteristics that allow his classification as an angry young man. First, Satya deals with issues of contemporary society, specifically violence. Second, Satya exhibits the same macho man attitude that many of Amitabh Buchanan’s characters portrayed. Third, Satya, and the other gangsters, wore more American clothes, echoing the impact of globalization on the new heroes (Ahmed, 300-306). Finally, Satya hints that he has a sad past. In “Dissolving the Male Child in Popular Hindi Cinema” Creekmur claims that “the ‘angry young man’ is, after all, a sad little boy” (365).


This film was made on a small budget and it’s reception surprised most of the filmmakers. While many people thought that this movie glorified the Mumbai underworld, many more people were pleased with the reality the movie portrayed. Ali Peter John, a movie critic, wrote in Screen magazine that he “will remember ‘Satya’ as long as truth lives…generations to come will be grateful for [Ramu] for having guts to tell the truth as it is, the truth about the truth” (The truth terrorises, www.witsindia.com/satya/revs_ali.html). I think this is important to note, because Satya, when translated, does mean truth. The director worked hard to portray the true life in Mumbai, the life that is often overlooked in Bollywood cinema. This idea is echoed in the tagline on IMDB for Satya is “the other side of truth” (Satya, www.imdb.com/title/tt0195231/). Satya depicts the nitty-gritty truth. The truth most people hope to ignore.


Overall, the movie was interesting to watch. The depiction of the underworld of Mumbai is hardly different then the underworld depicted in our American movies such as The Town and The Departed. I would be lying if I said I liked the ending in Satya, but I know that it had to happen that way to maintain the rasa.


References:

Ahmed, A. S. (1992). Bombay films: The cinema as a metaphor for Indian society and politics. Modern Asian Studies: 26:2,289-320.

Creekmur, C. K. (2005). Dissolving the male child in popular Hindi cinema. In: Where the boys are: Cinemas of masculinity and youth. (pp. 350-376). Detroit: Wayne State University Press.

John, A. P. (n.d.) The truth terrorsies. Retrieved March 28, 2011, from www.witsindia.com/satya/revs_ali.html

Satya (n.d.) International Movie Database. Retrieved March 26, 2011, from www.imdb.com/title/tt0195231/

Monday, March 28, 2011

Satyabharata!

As Adam has accurately summarized the movie in its entirety, I will focus on interpreting the Mahabharata within the movie and analyze the movie in reference to the readings.

Satya as the Mahabharata

I had to perform a vast amount of secondary research into the Mahabharata and the individual characters and their personalities before even attempting to juxtapose them with characters within Satya. What follows is my basic interpretation of how these mythic characters within the Mahabharata fill different roles within the movie.

To begin, the Kurushetra War is being fought within the city of Mumbai. Within Philip Lutgendorf’s Bending the Bharata, he discusses another movie based on the Mahabharata with, “the final long shots of the smoggy Bombay skyline, awash in ambivalent gray, underscore the message that the bleak kalyug is indeed our contemporary age” (Lutgendorf 27). I believe the opening shots of the movie, a montage of dull, gray skies with murder and chaos running rampant, underscore the era of the kali yuga, in which man’s virtues and noble ideas have crumbled into dissolution of right action, morality, and virtue.

To begin, I will break down the family structure of both the Mahabharata and Satya and juxtapose the characters based on personality similarities and situational similarities. As Lutgendorf states within, Bending the Bharata, “Radical reinterpretation of the Sanskrit epic story [Mahabharata], often involves the omission, invention, and transposition of events and characters” (35). Based on this explanation, I have loosely modeled my interpretation of the characters and roles they portray, with some overlapping and others being omitted entirely.

Bheeku Mhatre’s gang mirrors that of the Pandava family and Guru Naryan’s gang mirrors the Kaurava family. Within the Pandava family, the eldest brother, Yudhisthira, is portrayed within Uncle Kallu. Hints at his weakness to gambling are displayed through the fact that the Mhatre gang is involved in “extortion, film finance, and gambling dens” (Movie). Uncle Kallu is also the only member within the Mhatre gang who possesses discipline and is hesitant to perform and hasty actions. Bheeku extremely, extremely loosely portrays Arjuna; primarily due to the influence that Satya has upon his decision making and the guidance provided. Satya portrays more than one character of the Mahabharata, in my opinion. Firstly he portrays Krishna through his guidance of Bheeku and some of the comments other characters within the movie project towards him. Bheeku, early in the movie, states to Satya, “Don’t come near my wife, she will elope with you.” I believe this statement suggests Satya’s Vishnu-like personality in attracting women. In addition to Krishna, I believe Satya to firmly embody Bhima. To further explain why I believe this, I must first state that Jagga represents Dushasana, younger brother of the Kaurava family. I believe the humiliation Jagga forces upon Satya early in the movie is a metaphor for the humiliation Dushasana forces upon Draupadi within the Mahabharata, which Bhima responds with the threat to drink Dushasana’s blood. With this basic understanding, I believe the scene where Bheeku provides Satya with the means by which to enact his vengeance is the embodiment of Bhima’s retribution. I feel that Guru Naryan represents Duryodhana, eldest brother of the Kaurava family. His gang is described as being involved in “immoral trafficking” and his individual actions undermine the Mhatre gang, revealing his desire is to have all of Mumbai to himself (reflecting Duryodhana’s desires). Bhau is a loose embodiment of Bhishma, grandfather of both families. His high skills in political science and desire to reconcile the tension between the families, to prevent war, evidence this comparison. It is important to note, however, that Bhau does not embody any other characteristics of Bhishma except that he partook in the battle against the Pandava family. Within the story he is killed by Arjuna by so many arrows that he lay upon a ‘bed of nails’; however, within the movie Bhau is killed by Satya from an uncountable amount of stabs with a knife.

As the Mahabharata is enormous and not easy to explore I feel I may have missed many other interpretations/got mine wrong.

Satya as an ‘Angry Young Man’

Corey Creekmur’s Bombay Boys: Dissolving the Male Child in Popular Hindi Cinema discusses the role of angry young men within Hindi films. Satya, in my opinion, represents the angry young man for roughly 2/3 of the movie. Throughout this entire section of the film, Satya displays a neutral, if not angry, look on his face. Additionally he states that he does not fear death and consistently gets into fights with random people (Jaggabhai multiple times, Jaggabhai’s henchmen, and Bheeku in jail).

It is not until 2:26:00 into the movie that Satya begins to show remorse for the deaths of others (in response to the theatre trampling). During this conversation with Bheeku, Satya states, “I am not the same Satya for which these things made no difference. But now, the death of innocents makes a difference to me.”

Satya as a metaphor for Indian Society and Politics

I believed Satya to be a metaphor for Indian society and politics based on Akbar Ahmed’s Bombay Films: The Cinema as Metaphor for Indian Society and Politics. Beyond the obvious political corruption overtones within the movie, there are other small things that display Indian society. Ahmed suggests that during the 1970’s “a new kind of role model was required: tough, physical, ruthless, one inured to violence” (298). These characteristics are the foundation for Satya’s character throughout the movie. Additionally, Ahmed suggests the dialogue to be “thick with dhanda (business – generally shady), adda (meeting place – generally for illegal transactions), lapra (problem, bother) and dada (bad character). There is no place for violins, flowers and pretty princesses” (299). All of these characteristics (dhanda, adda, lapra, dada, lack of violins, flowers and pretty princesses) can be found within Satya, further representing Indian society’s absence of hope, love, family, etc. Ahmed suggests, in reference to another movie, that through “losing the girl, he wins the audience”(304). In applying Ahmed’s suggestion to Satya, I believe it to be accurate. I could not help but feel sympathy for Satya at the end of the movie, despite the enormous amount of ‘evil’ things he performed through the movie.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Satya Review

Satya begins with a bang, as a man shoots a pistol straight into the camera and flames envelope the screen. The introduction of Satya accurately foreshadows the story to follow in this film about the Mumbai underworld. Directly after this choice of dramatic introductory scenes, director Ram Gopal Varma decides to use symbolic images of commerce coexisting in a city where criminal activity plagues the streets, broken down cars are scattered haphazardly, and dilapidated buildings are in the forefront of the audiences’ visual gaze. Discourse in the beginning narration include statements like, “police are corrupt” and “criminals rule a Mumbai underworld”. This is an excellent opening shot, that really develops a great tone and setting for the film. Satya, when translated means “Truth”, which proves to be a towering ideology, inhibited by lack of “knowledge”, and is applicable to many Mumbai underworld criminals.

Satya is played by J.D. Chakravarthi and is the main character of the movie. He is a young male who travels to Mumbai to find work and start a life on his own. There is no real introduction of Satya, we just see him meeting a friend in Mumbai to situate living arrangements, and ask for help finding a job. Satya is in luck because his landlord knows of a place he might be able to work, if he doesn’t mind a bar scene. This job begins as a positive aspect of Satya’s life and gives him money at first to get by. However, quickly after Satya’s hiring, he is barraged by a verbal assault from a bar owner and regular customer Jagga. Jagga is appalled at the quality of drink this new bartender Satya has poured. He spits and throws the drink out in a fit of anger. He curses at Satya and expels, “I will not spare the swine, I will not spare the swine!” this offensive remark hits Satya as he walks away from a restrained Jagga. This scene delivers a perfect mixture of irrationality and lawlessness, insight of two themes consistently appearing throughout this gangster epic. This relationship of Jagga and Satya will not be short-lived. I find this scene to be Satya’s first test of ethics and morality, as he fights the urge to ensue in a retaliation fueled by vengeance.

Soon after this encounter, another occurs between Jagga and Satya. Satya is humiliated by Jagga rubbing his feet on his face while he is serving him at the bar. Satya can no longer repress his actions and springs an attack. To Satya’s dismay, he is jailed on false accusations of exploiting women for prostitution, fabricated at the will of Jagga and carried out by his ties to the corrupt government.

In Jail, Satya meets Bhiku Mhatre over a scuffle that Bhiku was not initially involved with. Bhiku asks Satya to punch him, but he stands in silence. As Bhiku is walking away from the scene, Satya attempts an attack. He is then held back and overtaken by Bhiku. Bhiku threatens his life, which is then repeated by Satya threatening Bhiku’s. Representing some form of accepted equality between the two men and foreshadowing a coming relationship.

Bhiku is impressed with Satya’s enthusiastic spirit and drive. He sees a potential asset to his underworld crime gang. He explains to Mule, his attorney, the qualities he sees in Satya, and requests that he arrange for his release. Bhiku sets Satya up with his crew and a place to stay. Satya takes the offer and moves into the house and position in Bhiku’s gang.

Satya now meets Vidya, a beautiful girl who lives opposite of him, one night during a rain storm. Vidya is trying to turn the power back on in her house and Satya comes to her assistance by helping her locate the breaker box. Vidya lives with her mother and disabled father, and helps her mother tend to her father. Her real dream is to become a singer for the acclaimed film industry in Mumbai. It is obvious that Satya and Vidya have a clear connection upon first introduction. Their relationship becomes an important part of the movie.

Vidya translates into “knowledge or intelligence” and reflects the belief that “the main action of intelligence is to discern the true and real from the false and unreal.”(Swami, 11) Buddhi, an “aspect of consciousness…filled with light…reveals the Truth.”(Swami, 11) Light representing intelligence,(Vidya) required to attain enlightenment or truth (Satya). “When one’s Buddhi becomes fully developed, one becomes Buddha, or enlightened one.”(Swami, 11) It is apparent how integral and representative Vidya becomes, in particular for Satya’s own progression out of a false and unreal criminal underworld. She is fundamental in Satya’s transition to a consciousness filled with light and truth. These inclinations resonate loudly in the Bhagavad Gita and Mahabharata and their relationship is a cinematic metaphor, representative of those ancient texts and beliefs.

With the introduction of Vidya to Satya’s life, I find another sub-theme concurrent with Bhagavad Gita and Mahabharata, in the spirit of Dharma. The role of personal duty and virtue being integral in pursuit of enlightenment, becomes evident in two separate courses. Those two courses are sculpted beautifully by director Rom Gopal Varma and are portrayed by the involvement of Bhiku and Vidya in Satya’s life. Vidya represents a more spiritually oriented life Satya could lead if he were to spend more time with her then Bhiku. Bhiku represents a selfish, action filled life, where evil reigns over good and core morality. Satya realizes his dharma to be the route provided by Bhiku when he is given a gun by him and asked to kill Jagga. This choice in time proves to be fatal for Satya with much deeper implications and consequences than can be foreseen.

Now, Satya has become a part of Bhiku’s gang, and earned a reputation by murdering Jagga. He is on a face paced track to the top of the ranks in Bhiku’s gang. His smart ways earn him respect and recognition among the gang and he becomes Bhiku’s right-hand man. They develop a friendship over time and duty that is very deep and indicative of a required balance the two provide for each other. During this time of criminal activity and advancement through the gang ranks, Satya is also spending time with Vidya.

I believe the relationship director RGV builds between these two characters is genius. Satya hides his criminal side from Vidya until he realizes he is in love with her and only through the admission of the Truth can he possibly keep her. When he tells Bhiku he can no longer continue in the profession Bhiku attributes this to him being in love with Vidya. This symbolic notion asserts that by fully accepting “knowledge” into your life as being a rational form of discourse and action, you can overcome will to commit evil. It is "one's" knowledge of the “other” and their individual Dharma's and emotion that can inherently be affected by crime associated with illiteracy. That knowledge in itself is a recognizable truth. A truth that Satya discovers too late to employ effectively into his life.

During the time of the development of these relationships, Mumbai commissioner Bhau is replaced by Amod Shukla. Former Commissioner Bhau is related to Bhiku and helps maintain the gang through a corrupt government office. The new commissioner decides to enforce a radical approach that has violent implications for gangsters and organized crime. This has a subtle undertone representing a rebellion towards early non-violent Indian government. As the police begin to fight back and kill many people within Bhiku’s gang, Satya and Bhiku decide to take a more violent approach also.

While Satya and Vidya are at a movie during the new police action, a serious challenge approaches Satya. He is met with police surrounding the theater in an attempt to apprehend him. They have the doors closed off and are filing people out one-by-one. An anxious decision to fire his pistol and create a swarm of fearful moviegoers proves costly as ten perish in the riot that ensues. However, Satya manages to escape in the crowd with Vidya never realizing they were after him. These past few events strike deep on Satya’s conscience and solidify his decision to retire from the business.

I believe the last turn of events were a perfect conclusion to the film and that Ram Gopal Varma did not skimp on any part of the movie. The public re-elected Bhau out of disdain for the methods the current commissioner was employing (the responsibility of the deaths at the theater fell on the police department). As a celebration Bhau visits Bhiku and Satya, much to the surprise of the audience and Satya, Bhau shoots Bhiku ending his crime cartel. Satya has one last wish to see Vidya before he leaves Mumbai, but when he goes to see her at the house police arrive and surround him at the door. He begs for Vidya to open her door “one last time”, but she refuses. He is shot and collapses into her doorway as she finally opens it after he admitted his mistakes and love for her. This harsh, realistic ending was perfect because it offered closure to the story by ending in a way most Mumbai gangster’s go down. It really makes you question the route you take to your own enlightenment.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Review of the Review of Sholay

Sholay obviously fared quite well with Indians all over. As mentioned in one of the readings, despite the fact that much diversity exists within India, and there are movies produced regionally, certain Bollywood movies transcend that aspect because of a certain universality. Sholay can definitely be classified as one such movie.

I agree with the reviewer's observation that Veeru and Jay are very ambiguous characters in that they are not rooted to any class or caste or even profession. As such it is hard to to put a “good” or “evil” label on them in the begin. However, through the course of the movie we see the difference between Veeru and Jay whose wrongdoings can be more or less casually brushed off as their cynicism towards social order and conforming to the norms that society presents (ie: having a proper profession), whereas Gabbar Singh's role is more clearly evil, as he a force that is threatening an evident social order. While the reviewer does note that this makes our protagonists more personable and maybe even more relatable to a degree, I wonder if there was more thought behind this particular construction of these two characters.

The “emergency” was at large during the time this movie came out. As such, this provides us with some historical context for this movie. During this time, the masses were growing more and more skeptical about their government, and uprisals were not uncommon. Moreover, close to everybody was being affected by the emergency, and the makers of this movie were no exception. They faced severe opposition with the movie censor board and had to fight tooth and nail to get this movie released the way they wanted. On top of that, they were also facing major budget cuts. I believe all of frustration and aggravation with the government definitely found a place in the characters of Jai and Veeru, especially in their cynicism towards existing social order. This can also be seen in the fact that Gabbar Singh ultimately sees his downfall not in the hands of Police Enforcement but at the hands of vigilante justice, as the reviewer mentions.

Perhaps this is was nudge at the governement's incapability to maintain social order. In the movie, it takes two semi-criminals to put an end to this threat to social order. This duo starts off disturbing this pre-existing order themselves, but perhaps to a forgiveable degree. However, when a larger than life foe that is an obvious threat to said order emerges, the duo conforms to this order by helping to maintain it. At a larger scale, Jai and Veeru might be representative of the Indian population, who are disrupting this new order that is set by a government in whom they do not trust. But by disrupting it they were only hoping to maintain the social order that once existed prior to the emergency.

Response to Sholay Review


Sholay is (though I admit I have not seen many Bollywood films) one of the more realistic Bollywood films I have seen or even one of the more realistic films in general that I have seen. One of the articles mentions how some movies have a universal quality that reaches out to almost any viewer. For Sholay, its universal aspect is based on the nature of the two protagonists Veeru and Jai. They embody the idea that no one person is completely good nor completely bad. They hail from thieving backgrounds --crimes of no great gravity-- but as they develop go on to prove that they have the capacity to change for the better and do good if they so choose.
In Khai's review, she discusses the appeal in the dual contradictory personalities of Veeru and Jai, and I would have to agree that there is some appeal in that. However, I do not think that their personalities are contradictory or ironic because I think it is just a good representation of human nature and how there is a little bit of good and a little bit of bad in all of us.
However, to juxtapose this idea of a mix, Gabbar enters the plot as a manifestation of pure evil. Khai does a pretty good film analysis of how he is shot with high angles. He is the typical villain from any movie, and he works as a good opposite for the duo Veeru and Jai. One good example of the difference between Gabbar and our protagonists is their honor. As Thakur is down, Veeru and Jai see an open route for escape. They decide with a flip of a coin to stay and help Thakur out. Gabbar also relies on chance; playing Russian Roulette to punish his disappointing henchmen. Though the henchmen luck out in this game, Gabbar does not honor their victory and takes their lives anyway.
The closing scene hits a bit close to home as Thakur's revenge is taken from him by the enforcers of the law. This movie seems to put the police in a bad light as they play a minimal role in defeating Gabbar, while heroic criminals do the dirty work. Then, at the end, they swoop in like vultures and take away the justice from a wronged man. In this sense, Sholay is a socio-political commentary.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Sholay: The Battle Striving for Social Order

At first glance, Sholay gives the impression of cheesy trigger-happy cowboys shooting at each other in a typical Western flick. The movie opens with a train entering Chandanpur station. The camera zooms in to focus on two men roaming on their horse across the rugged landscape, as the music transports the audience to the Wild West. The men, a servant and a jailer, arrive at the house of Thakur Baldev Singh, a retired police investigator and a landlord. In his flashback, he explains to the Jailer why the two crooks, Veeru and Jai, are crucial to complete his mission. For the next ten minutes, the audience becomes spectators to violent and intense action sequence as Veeru and Jai, who were arrested by Thakur for stealing, fight alongside their captor to defeat the malevolent train robbers.

As the robbers fall behind, Veeru and Jai realize that they can escape since Thakur was injured. However, after a coin toss, they decide to save Thakur’s life by taking him to hospital. The film emerges out of this flashback as Thakur expresses, “if they had so desired, they could have left me and escaped. They are scoundrels, but brave. They are considered dangerous, but know how to fight. They are bad, but human.” The dual nature of Veeru and Jav’s characters, and later on, of other characters, shapes the complex narrative of this multi-layered film. It is rich with symbolic representations and metaphors that reflect the political sentiments of the time. Sholay, a 1975 melodrama, demonstrates how vigilante justice can serve to protect and maintain social order while reinforcing the acceptance of social norms as the key to establishing a morally sound class consciousness.

In the first half of the movie, Thakur’s motive for hiring Veeru and Jai remains unclear. He wants the two friends to go capture the evil chief of the bandits, Gabbar Singh, who, as Thakur later reveals, murdered his entire family with the exception of his daughter-in-law, Radha, and took away both of his arms. Before the arrival of our heroes Veeru and Jai, Gabbar Singh and his subordinates terrorize the villagers, disrupting their everyday lives and robbing their livelihood. After several confrontations with Gabbar Singh at the village, Veeru and Jai decide to go on the offensive, attacking Gabbar at his base. In the end, Jai died trying to save his friend Veeru and his fiancĂ©, Basanti. Veeru, mourning the death of his partner, attains extraordinary accurate shooting power, kills the rest of the bandits and confronts Gabbar. Thakur appears and demands to be alone with Gabbar, seeking personal justice. As Gabbar lies there dying at the mercy of Thakur, the police arrive, saving Gabbar’s worthless life. This ending shocks the audience. Thakur is thus forever denied vengeance.

The massive popularity of Sholay can be understood through its de-mystification and de-classification of the hero figure (Sholay and the Discourse of Evil, 59). This is evident in the “near absence of any depiction of the protagonists in their place of work (Monteiro, 145).” The heroes lack a specific profession or class position. This notion diverts the hero’s productive role, closing in on “their uniquely human attributes of self-creation, self-realization, and freedom (Ibid, 145).

The small time crooks Veeru and Jai turn out to be unexpected heroes. Their appeal lies in their dual-natured, even contradictory, personalities. Veeru is depicted as a free spirited and easy-to-please young man whose life is defined by his thirst for action and excitement. Meanwhile, to balance out his high energy friend, Jai is a quiet, self-possessed, and confident man of few words. Despite their criminal past, they are reformable. Since they are the supposedly heroes, they can never be ‘evil’ (Zankar, 356). Both are just mischievous thieves who scammed the government for living. They did not rob nor murder people. Sholay, therefore, is a movie about how heroes are made and not born. The flawed past of Veeru and Jai just makes them more lovable and personable to the audience, yet they are still representative of absolute good. Like the character of Gulabo in Pyaasa, a prostitute with a heart of gold, Veeru and Jai are petty thieves with good hearts. The fact that they refuse to take the bounty money from Thakur illustrates this. Together, they are a force to be reckoned with, replacing Thakur’s missing arms and helping him seek personal justice.

Of course, a hero would not exist without a villain. The moral polarity of the movie is apparent when the character of Gabbar Singh is introduced. He is a modern villain. His tall and dark physique along with sadistic humor, “raised eyebrows, and other deliberate mannerism gave him a distinct identity (Zankar, 362).” His demeanor creates an air of authority, of an all-powerful dictator. His clothing consists of modern military shoes and leather belts. Gabbar embodies absolute evil, merciless in his anger. His character marks “the emergence of the seemingly omnipotent oppressor as the villain (Ibid, 365).” As the audience learns from the movie, Gabbar escapes jail and comes back to kill Thakur’s family. In that particular scene, each member of Thakur’s family was killed by a single bullet. A staccato shot rings out as bodies fall to the ground. The audience can feel a sense of pervading evil with the eerie presence of Gabbar during the massacre. Then, the camera zooms in to the little boy, focusing on the fear in his eyes. At a low-angle, the camera looks up at Gabbar Singh high up on his horse. It seems like the boy is staring at Death himself, the Grim Reaper. The ever presence of the gun on his back becomes Gabbar’s sickle. He possesses the power to take life away.

This was also illustrated in the scene where Gabbar is playing Russian roulette with his three subordinates who have failed to complete a mission. They survive the game. To Gabbar’s surprise, he falls into uncontrollable laughter as the camera pans to his other subordinates who also laugh out loud with him. The camera zooms back out again. The scale of the imagery changes from spotlighting the individual to encompassing all of them in one frame. This scene is filled with Gabbar’s godlike laughter. In an instant, he stops laughing abruptly and shots dead the survivors.

In the battle between good and evil, it is crucial for good to defeat evil in order to achieve social order. At one particular point, the movie shows how the evil presence of Gabbar is disrupting the harmony of village life. The camera carefully picks and frames the images of the men shaping copper, another man separating the cotton, and a women doing laundry. These images convey the quintessential peaceful and quiet village. Everyone seems to have his or her own function that keeps it running. They are supposed to be content with their occupations. Suddenly, ominous music plays. From a bird’s eye view, Gabbar and his men rapidly advance toward the village altering the atmosphere from calm and collective to urgent and imminent danger. This scene implies that evil is what disrupts the social order, and it needs to be purged. Veeru and Jai are heroes because they are reformed. Gabbar Singh is evil incarnate because he does not follow the rules. Like Gabbar Singh, our heroic vigilantes operate in a more flexible system than the state could. They are individuals who chose not to be bound by legal rules and regulations. The state, limited by its own nature, encourages vigilante justice to root out the out-of-the-ordinary and non-conformist individuals who wish to commit societal harms. Even though “the state and vigilantes legally and formally opposed to each other,” they complement one another in the effort to restore law and order (Kazmi, 155).” In the final struggle, Veeru brings Gabbar to his knees. As the police take Gabbar away, the village is saved from falling into evil’s hand. The villagers, then, can resume and go back to their normal everyday activities.

On the surface, Sholay uses the humble beginnings of its heroes to connect with its audience. It puts strong emphasis on the capable and exceptional nature of individuals, only and only if it serves the welfare of society and the state. Again, Veeru and Jai are former criminals. “Its vilification and criminalization of the abnormal, the deviant, and the unusual” manipulates the vigilante individual into believing that his action is morally justified; instead, the reality is that the individual is just an extension of the state in enforcing conformity (Kazmi, 151).

The movie contains other overarching themes as well. Other characters such as Basanti, Radha, and Thakur represent important social commentaries that contribute to the coherence of the movie as a whole. At first, Basanti and Radha serve as love interests for our heroes, Veeru and Jai, respectively. However, as the movie progress, they are not just supporting characters. Each of them has a complete past, present, and future, which in turn, provides the audience with a holistic picture rather than partial acknowledgement. In another one of Thakur’s flashbacks, old Radha bares a striking resemblance to modern Basanti in her personality—talkative and life-loving. After becoming a widow, she barely talks (note to parents not to ever name their daughters Radha). She becomes physically and metaphorically imprisoned by her white sari. She has to restrict herself while others enjoy the festival of Holi. Throughout the movie, Radha is constantly denied love as both of the men she fell in love with were murdered by either Gabbar or his men. This helps to reinforce Radha as a tragic figure just like the goddess who she was named after and Gabbar as the destroyer of life. As for Basanti, she gets to be her free-spirited self whose lover lives to see another day. Ironically, Basanti is the old Radha reincarnated while Radha is a potential foreshadower of Basanti if Veeru one day died. In Sholay, and Indian culture in general, a married woman can only achieve happiness once, never again.

As for Thakur, he serves as the narrator. He sets up the social situations and controls the pace of the movie. He brings Veeru and Jai to the village, linking them with other characters in the movie (i.e. Basanti, Radha, and Gabbar). His flashbacks help to create a wider understanding the other main characters while his own character remains elusive. Thakur’s persona is defined by self-blame and his goal of vengeance. His current existence is therefore idealized and never fully human (not to mention that fact that he is missing two arms).

Overall, Sholay is special. Despite its reputation of being a “spaghetti Western,” it is complex and multi-layered, full of both overt and hidden social meanings and metaphors. With well developed characters and exciting action sequences, it is a must-see (twice or more would be better).

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Rang de Basanti Review of Review

Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra’s Rang de Basanti uses modern day Indian university students to illustrate the struggles of past Indian independence fighters, and vice versa. Mehra’s film uses diary entries from the protagonist’s grandfather, who was a British colonial officer in the 1930s, to detail the struggles of Indian independence. The film compares these struggles to the lives of apathetic and “westernized” students and their eventual decision to murder a corrupt governmental official. I think Aida’s description and analysis of the film is excellent.

The description in Aida’s review of how the film unfolds is accurate. The audience first sees a connection between the two groups at the start of the film, and gradually realizes how intertwined the two time periods and characters are. Like she says, the roles of the characters have been explicitly spelled out for them, and the knowledge they have gained in making the film leads them to realize they must follow through with their destinies. I like how Aida pointed out that the boys’ decision to kill the Minister is considered fate to us, but dharma to an Indian audience. We view the boys’ lives linearly, with the filming of Sue’s film leading to their murder of the Minister. However, if we view the world as a cycle, the modern day revolutionaries are as instrumental to the actions of the 1930s revolutionaries as the actions of the 1930s are important to today.

I also agree with Aida’s point that the film folds upon itself throughout the story - the two sets of characters complement each other, rather than one being used to further the story of the other. Like the “Bhagat Singh Topless and in Jeans” article asserts, the characters of the two settings are not juxtaposed, but rather coalesce into one representation of Indian revolutionaries. This article and Aida also discuss the transformation in the characters - from apathetic students to passionate revolutionaries. The wrongful death of their friend spurs the characters into action, and their protest scene is clearly analogous to Jallianwala Bagh.

One thing I noticed in this film as a result of our readings so far in this class is the differing perspectives western audiences versus non-westerners have on how a story should develop. The “MTV Culture” is present in the film and is shown throughout, mostly in the scenes of late-night driving and other revelry. To western audiences, or me anyway, this was at first as an obstacle to the boys ultimate goal. I wondered why it was included when it didn’t seem relevant. Based on previous films and class discussions, I think this is an example of the meandering story line that is so ubiquitous to Indian cinema and is considered necessary for character development.

I think its interesting to consider the significance of a British filmmaker both assigning the characters and creating the entire documentary. How legitimate is a film solely guided by a director who may unknowingly be working under the influence of “white man’s guilt,” as Aida mentioned? To answer Aida’s question, I think the only way to truly counteract the effects of subconscious, preconceived notions is to include those of all backgrounds in the creation of the film, with as much input as possible given to all groups.

I also think we should consider that the boys probably would not have undertaken the actions that they did without the influence of Sue. Does this take away from the force of their actions? If so, would it also take away from their actions had Sue been Indian?


Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Rang de Basanti Response

Rang de Basanti follows the “awakening” of a younger generation to the realities of a corrupt Indian government. It showcases a dual plot -- of modern day kids filming a movie and of the story of the actual Baghat Singh revolution they are attempting to film -- that merges to become one at the climax of the movie. This illustrates the "time-folding" that Aida mentioned in her review. This movie has many themes including generational reconciliation, patriotism, and unresolved social-political issues. To do so it follows Sue McKinley as she travels to India and collaborates on a documentary project with a friend named Sonia, who helps to recruit DJ, Sukhi, Karan, Aslam, and later on Laxman as actors for the film.

I agree with Aida's analysis that each character discovers and strives to fulfill his or her dharma. Their designated roles are foreshadowed when DJ's mother says, “Every Indian family sacrifices a son to the country.” This phrase suggests such a strong patriotism for and relationship to the mother country which dictates what each person must do. However, this movie also does a great job developing and illustrating relationships between each and every character: showing Laxman accepting Aslam's religion, showing Karan's distance from his father, and showing the blossoming romance between Sue and DJ. This brings up the point from Mooij's article "The New Bollywood: No Heroine, No Villains" in which he discusses the desire for the Indian audience to completely get to know a character: in his home environment, in his interactions with his peers and family, etc. In this way, the audience really connects to the characters and feels the immense loss as they all pass on.

I think the review of Rang de Basanti could have focused a little more on the caste system since it seems that the striation of social levels cause these issues of corruption and “adjustment” that allows for this corruption. The people in the higher castes such as Karan’s father and other government officials feel separate from the lower castes who feel that they are helpless and can do nothing about the corruption. But in the end, Karan points out to the listeners of the radio station an important fact: individuals can band together to fight this corruption because the government is a reflection of themselves.

Folds of Time, Youth Culture and The Camera as an Eye in Rang de Basanti


Rang de Basanti is a film about cycles. Time folds in upon itself and we encounter the modern generation of Delhi University Students suddenly living out the narrative of young revolutionaries of colonial times. When looking at Rang de Basanti, it’s important to consider the mechanisms instrumenting this folding of time, the role of youth culture today and it’s relationship to respective histories and politics, and the role of Sue and her camera.
The first image we see of Sukhi and DJ, as the camera rises up their bodies leaning backwards over perhaps a dam, is graphically similar to the images of the colonial revolutionaries that we just before saw being hung. The epic introduction suggests the revelation of Sue’s new revolutionaries until we realize they are chugging beers until one finally falls back, drunk, into the body of water below. Here the tension is revealed: our modern-day revolutionaries are too busy getting drunk. These “folds” or direct parallels of the past and present occur throughout the movie on different scales. In a sense, the movie is a guided dialogue with the past (through which the film inadvertently leads a dialogue on “what is the connection here?”)
The most apparent fold of time occurs when DJ and Chandrashekhar Azad both speak, yet now we are not simply dealing with flashbacks. The action is taking place in present day time. In response to Ajay’s death, which resulted from cheap airplane parts bought to save money for the corrupt government, DJ says “we must take drastic measures,” to which Sonia responds “Kill him.” The audience immediately knows her response. We’ve seen the conversation played out before, and we now realize the group’s fate. But I realize this notion of ‘fate’ is a western one, and the more appropriate understanding of this parallel is that the boys, and Sonia, begin to live out their dharma-- to succumb to their role in this incarnation of a ‘revolutionary cycle’ and to their duty to their country.
The realization of their dharma, however, does not occur immediately. The youth culture of the Delhi University is characterized by the typical night driving, rock ‘n roll and raging hormones that are characteristic of what the “Indian Popular Cinema, Nation, and Diaspora” article referred to as “MTV” culture. What’s more definitive about the generation though is their apathy towards politics, their loss of hope in the government and their loss of hope in themselves. Kshama Kumar’s article “‘Baghat Singh Topless, Waving in Jeans” discusses this disillusionment in therms of Freud’s “melancholia”-- defined by a loss of an ideal, and the loss of hope.
However, a transformation occurs. After watching a reenactment of Jallianwala Bagh, the students are in aw of their own history. They are learning and internalizing the words of revolutionaries, they are reliving the terror of their nation’s past. These activities are punctuated with Ajay’s death as a result of a corrupt government and the fuse is lit. The MiG airplane part protest turns into a parallel of Jallianwala Bagh and they have no other choice. Their ‘roles’, cinematically and realistically, have already been set out for them.
Also important though is to consider who designated these roles. Sue appointed them upon first seeing the boys. It is worth questioning what her authority is traveling to a foreign country with her grandfather’s diary and a nice camera with an assumed narrative already in place. It is possible, even likely, that this derives from a “white man’s guilt” complex. However, I’d like to pose the question of how should individuals deal with a guilt derived from the actions of their ancestors. We are living in a globalized, power-kegged society where many of our forefathers have offended other’s forefathers. Is reaching out to tell a story (even for the purpose of redemption) really that bad of a thing?
What is more problematic is that the narrative she sets up is absolutely crucial to the outcome of the story. The boys probably would not have shot the Minister of Defense had she not pointed out to them their own history. But we are proud of them because they are proud of themselves, they have found their identity and they feel complete in that. That is why the story does have a happy ending despite their passing. Sue introduces a camera, which in itself is a figurative eye. This eye is a representation of mindfulness-- mindfulness of the nation’s history and of their present actions. Perhaps the power in creating change is really just a matter of knowing someone is watching.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Aakrosh Response

Aakrosh contrasts the different power relations that exist within the caste system. It is set in a small village in Bihar, a state where the hierarchical structure of caste is highly enforced. Three students from Delhi go missing, and the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) are there to investigate. The local police refuse to corporate, hiring thugs and gangs to kill and intimidate any witnesses. The people in the village are powerless and voiceless against the abuses of their local policemen, who are supposed to protect, not prey, on the weak. The movie illustrates different kinds of power struggles: rural versus urban, local versus national and lower versus higher caste.

Even through this movie was about inter-caste violence, I felt like caste took a back seat. Most of the movie was focused on how the local police force committed crimes against the villagers with such impunity that any attempt to stop them would mean blood. Nicholas Dirk, in his book Castes of the Mind, talks about how caste no longer conveys a sense of community but an expression of local identity. That is the reason why the residents of the village, both the poor and the policemen, responded negatively to the presence of the CBI officers. They felt threatened by modernity and its potential for change. For the villagers, cooperation with outsiders meant danger. For the local police force, interference from the national government can potentially weaken their influence over the region. It’s true that the whole murder investigation revolved around honor-killing and caste differentiation, but the locals desire to maintain their way of life was more about protecting their identity than about caste itself.

The complexity of the caste system in India cannot be encapsulated in a Bollywood action movie. Aakrosh is overshadowed by over the top action sequences. This remake of Mississippi Burning shared more resemblance to Lethal Weapon and Rush Hour. It was directed in the style of a buddy-cop movie (good cop, crazy cop) with plenty of outrageous chase scenes (bicycles, really?). The movie lacks the gravity to depict the power clash between the privileged and the disadvantaged in a serious way, rendering it entertaining yet forgettable.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Aakrosh Review of Review

Three thoughts came to mind when I first heard that Aakrosh was an adaptation of Mississippi Burning. First, was that most adaptations, reboots, remakes, whatever you want to call them, are usually disappointing. My second thought was that the idea of replacing race with caste was an intriguing idea, and this gave me a sense of excitement about the movie. Finally, no one can outperform Gene Hackman. By the time the ending credits hit the screen, Aakrosh was already in mind as being one of the best adaptations I have seen. It is a social film that can be watched anywhere in the world, and should strike the audience with a perturbing sense of social disparity that they can relate to.

Compared to most adaptations of movies, Aakrosh was successful because it kept true to the heart of Mississippi Burning as well as the social concern, and it stared Indian actors who shared a likeness to Mississippi Burning’s Gene Hackman and Willem Dafoe. It seems that most adaptations replace powerful acting with sub-par actors/actress whose greatest attribute is a handsome/pretty face. Vince Vaughn’s horrible performance as Norman Bates (originally played by Anthony Perkins) in Psycho, or Sarah Michelle Gellar’s “Buffy” persona in The Grudge….enough said! I realize that Aakrosh’s Pratap Kumar (Ajay Devgn) is a well-built supermodel compared to Hackman, and Siddhant Chaturvedi (Akshaye Khanna) is not nearly as ugly as Dafoe (only Steve Buscemi holds that title); however, they had a powerful cinematic presence like their American counterparts. Their conflict with the situation in hand, each other’s ego, as well as their own internal struggle was superb. My favorite scene is when Pratap is throwing the local police officer, Ajatshatru Singh (Paresh Rawal), around the barbershop while Siddhant waits outside. With the exception of few angle shots, this scene was amazingly identical to the scene in Mississippi Burning in which Hackman is doing the same to Brad Dourif. It had a feeling of raw anger, and it was great.

As Dr. Dujovny said in his review, the movie revolves around an honour killing and inter-class violence in Jhanjhar, Bihar. One of three victims was from Jhanjar and a member of the lower class (I assume Dalit). With the help of his university friends, he attempted to bring his love out of Jhanjhar, a daughter of one of the higher caste leaders, but was caught in the act and thus murdered. Upon the arrival of Pratap and Siddhant, the lower castes villagers were reluctant to assist in the investigation, but eventually they began to stand-up against the higher caste (police / local government). Unfortunately, this led to a series of brutal attacks by the higher caste just as the KKK did in Mississippi Burning. Instead of using a burning cross, the attackers used a burning trident to spread the fear. The trident is called Trishula, and it is carried by Shiva and Durga. The three points symbolize a number of variations, but they are more commonly associated with creation, maintenance, and destruction. It seems that movie was implying that the destruction of caste atrocities/inequalities will lead to the creation of a more unified India. Another way to look at it is that the mother who shot down the upper caste murderers in the end destroyed evil out of her love for her people. I do not know verbatim, but the ending quote stated that India’s freedom will prevail over caste. I thought this was interesting because “freedom” seems to be a common theme in Indian cinema over the last decade. To the best of my memory, in Gadar: Ek Prem Katha, it was freedom from the evils of Partition; in Mangal Peday: The Rising, it was freedom from the British; finally, freedom from castes’ injustices in Aakrosh.

As much as I enjoyed the movie, I thought it did have a few scratches. As I always mention, I am not fan of over the top action sequences. I appreciate their choreography and the achievements in cinematography, but I feel that they get in the way of a great story. I was easily able to overlook the action scenes in Aakrosh compared to those in Gadar: Ek Prem Katha. The Rama Leela is probably the best music scene I have seen in Indian cinema (short and sweet), but I did not see the significance of the love affair between Pratap and Geeta (Bipasha Basu). Even from the perspective of an Indian moviegoer, I did not see their love affair develop into anything that was real. I think the mother who lost her husband and son while keeping her will beautifully told the story of love in the movie.

After watching this movie, I see very few differences between casteism and racism. In The Ethnicity of Caste, Deepa S. Reddy mentions that there is less international recognition on caste-based injustices compared to race, gender, or religion based injustices. The article attributes the inadequate recognition of caste due to the lack of Western understanding, and that caste is overlooked as being an Indian phenomenon. I am a little skeptical about how this movie possibly exaggerated honour killings and inter-class violence, so I attempted to do a little a Google research. I typed in “Indian honour killings” under the news section. The first article that came up was posted within the hour, and was about a twenty-one year old woman and her four-month-old child who were murdered by her parents, because she was marrying a member of a lower caste (click HERE). Although the movie is probably an exaggerated, these are real life issues going on today in India.

As I mentioned in my opening paragraph, Aakrosh is my favorite Indian movie by far, and one of my favorite adaptations of another movie by all standards. In fact, only three others come to mind. With that said, I admit that I prejudged Indian cinema based on my viewing of Gadar: Ek Prem Katha. The only two regrets I have about the movie are not having it front of me now, and not being able to find Mississippi Burning anywhere in Athens. Finally, Ajay Devgn was great, but he was no Gene Hackman

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Alaipayuthey

The film that I watched was not about the caste system, but an example of class in India. I watched Alaipayuthey. A love story as well as a commentary about class in Indian society, focused on Karthik and Shakti as they fell in love and married. The movie’s surprisingly realistic portrayal of married life, displaying the struggles, petty fights, and arguments all couples go through, is made all the more poignant by the building suspense of the other part of the narrative, two years in the future, when Karthik can’t find his wife anywhere.

I thought the way this movie was laid out was masterful. In previous Bollywood movies, the timelines of the story have been very confusing and ill conceived, sometimes it is impossible to know when the storyline has regressed to an earlier time period. In this movie, however, it is much clearer when the story goes back in time, and the storyline is laid out in such a way that it is understandable and, at the same time, interesting to watch. By the end of the movie, the two storylines merge and the audience finally realizes what has happened to Shakti.

The main storyline beings two years before the opening scene of Karthik waiting for his wife at the train station. It shows the pair meeting at a local wedding, a common motif throughout the film, and shows the progression of love for the two main characters. Shakti and Karthik see each other every day at the train station (also a common element throughout the movie) and eventually Karthik decides that he is in love with her.

Most of the commentary about class in Indian society came into play when the film was dealing with marriage. Shakti, an aspiring doctor, comes from a middle class family working in a sales booth of some kind, struggling to pay off medical school bills and send their daughter to school. It is clear from the beginning that Shakti is not as privileged as Karthik whose house and clothes are more modern and nicer. Karthik’s family is upper class, clear from his father’s distinction as a lawyer, his big house, modern clothes, and behavior. Their class, and their parents’ class, is initially the thing that keeps them apart. Karthik’s decision that he wants to marry Shakti, once discovered by their parents, is discussed over a meeting (something which I assume is common in Indian culture based on the scenes in this movie). When the two parents meet, there is obviously tension in the room between the two older men.

The meeting takes place in Shakti’s house, a place clearly in a worse neighborhood than Karthik’s family’s estate. His father starts the conversation by saying that they “thought [they] have come to the wrong house – in quarters all houses look the same.” The other man, Shakti’s father responds that they live like “the standard of the middle class family.” This is where the classes come up. Karthik’s father acknowledges that he has no control over his son wanting to marry Shakti, and even implies that Skakti has somehow tricked Karthik into loving her so she can have the benefits of marrying rich.

Shakti’s father takes great offense and asks, “Are you pointing out that you are rich and we are beggars?!” and goes father to say that they have “come to our hose and he is saying that our girl and a girl on the street are the same.” Obviously, the talk went badly. Shakti later says “it was like a talk between India and Pakistan.” This is where the class difference between the two characters is outright mentioned. Before this scene it was obvious that Karthik was wealthy, he wore sunglasses and nice western clothes constantly, his house was large and expensive looking, and he went to school to become a computer engineer. This, however, is the first confirmation that Shakti and Karthik are from two different worlds.

Throughout the movie, there is an obvious difference between the two characters, Shakti representing the middle class and Karthik, the upper class. I also noticed that in Aliapayuthey, upper class people wear westernized clothes (a lot like the observation the reviewer made about upper castes in Aakrosh). Karthik seems to have a lot more freedom in his actions, who he is friends with, and what he does. Even the female friends of Karthik are different than the lower class Shakti and her friends. They wear western clothes and work with men. Because they are American educated, modernized, and upper class, they have the freedom and the liberty to wear whatever they want, do whatever they want, and be friends with whomever they want. Shakti and her sister, Poorni, however, are from a lower class with obviously less money, and therefore less freedom to do whatever they want. Their family is more traditional, wearing traditional clothing, and setting up their daughters in arranged marriages.

Rasa theory was also displayed in this movie. The 2nd or 3rd song that the characters sing is highly dependent on colors, and even the transitions sometimes show a still scene washed out with color in order to change to the next scene. The movie, although mostly about love, also features more violent emotions – anger, annoyance, sadness, and even despair. The variance of color in the song that they sing and the outfits throughout the movie seem to show this range of emotion that the movie displays. Desire (green), anger (red), happiness (yellow), sadness (blue) are all expressed in the song that also states that “in love we have many colors,” a concept that points directly to rasa theory.

In the second part of the movie, the focus is less on class, and more on the difficulty of marriage. I think that the director portrayed the petty arguments and fighting very realistically. The concentration on marriage doesn’t make class any less of an issue here. Obviously, a big part of marriage in Indian culture is the fact that usually, they are arranged, not everyone has the ability (or even wants the ability) of falling in love and picking their husband/wife. Class restricts the ability to marry whomever you want, and even sometimes makes it harder when people of different classes do marry.

Shakti and Karthik’s married life is under constant pressure because of the nature of their marriage. Their parents have disowned and stopped talking to them because of their marriage, and that is a constant source of resentment and fighting. In addition, they are from two different classes, and sometimes their expectations differ. After they move in together, the director spends most of his time focused on their petty fights, their long lasting arguments and conflicts that grow to a point where they stop talking to each other. This struck me as genuine and realistic. Eventually, the audience finally realizes what happens to Shakti when they see her hit by a car – ironically the same car crash that Karthik encounters within the first five minutes of the film. The two different storylines merge, and the audience returns to the present, where Karthik panics over the Shakti’s absence. When Karthik finally finds Shakti in the hospital, the tragedy reunites her family, broken up by this disagreement over class.

At the very end, when Karthik sees a man forgive his wife even though she almost kills someone, he realizes the depth of love and forgiveness married people are supposed to have for each other, and finally he realizes how much he loves Shakti and how their arguments are completely trivial.

I think this is a good portrayal of modern Indian class. Caste itself wasn’t mentioned once, but class clearly is still an issue (just like in similar western stories about someone from a poor family falling in love with someone else from a rich one). It is not as loaded of an issue as the caste system, but it still has the potential to break families apart and cause conflict within relationships. I think it is also worth noting that this movie is fairly modern, what with the existence of computer engineers, portable music players, and motorcycles, and that this movie is a good representation of how class is just as much a part of modern Indian culture as caste is.

Aakrosh Review

If you are looking for a film with some of the most interesting action scenes that you will see for a long time, look no further. Aakrosh is a film where our protagonist (at least, one of them) accomplishes such superhuman feats as surfing on the roof of a car, free-running across the roofs of the city in pursuit, and escaping from a sword-wielding bike gang by sliding under the low-lying boughs of a tree sideways on one the aforementioned bikes of his own. Further, it is a film about the evils of the caste system in India as they apply to a small town Jhanjhar.

As the story goes, there are evils occurring in Jhanjhar as caused by an evil police chief in the town, who just so happen to be involved with caste-based violence occurring in the lower-income sector of the village. The film concerns, as its main subject, the disappearance of three Delhi University students who came to Jhanjhan in celebration of Dussehra, Their disappearance is not investigated for over two months, and due to pressure by the students of the University, the government finally sends in some CBI investigators to find out just what happened. This is where Pratap Kumar and Siddhant Chaturvedi come in. Pratap comes from the Bihar region, and knows well how the small towns work, whilst Siddhant is a hard-hitting, no-nonsense officer who works by the book. They investigate the occurrences of the small town, and discover that the local police force is nothing more than a contingent of violent, caste-ist men who do nothing more than heartlessly establish their own authority. As the plot unfolds, it turns out that there is much more going on than just the disappearance of the university students.

The main subject of the film as the story comes to a conclusion, is a story of honour killing and inter-caste violence that is still occurring to this date in India. Priyadarshan makes this the obvious premise of the film by opening with the performance of the Rama Leela. At this performance, there are lower-caste individuals are being given water from casks, with the holders of the casks pouring into the drinker’s to avoid contact with them, as well as the quite literal newspaper snapshots referencing honour killing. From this outset, Priyadarshan continues to make a commentary on the caste system by reflecting the lack of touch between castes, and the concept of impurity. In the first interaction between the CBI agents and the policemen, a man in pure white lungis is pulled into the office and convicted of letting his goat eat someone’s roses. The man never says a word, but it instantly struck down with considerable force by one of the officers without giving him a moment to speak for himself.

When trying to talk to the lower caste villagers about the kidnappings, the CBI agents are unable to get any information because no one will cooperate with them for fear of being kidnapped themselves. In the town, Siddanth asks an old man in the huts of the village why it is that none of the disappearances are ever reported, to which he responds with “We are alive... because we are blind.” This is a declaration of the violence in the town, that any small evidence of uprising results in death, and that any opposition to the police force should not be voiced for fear of this fact. Further, when Siddanth and Pratap are going over the villager’s reactions to the kidnapping of a villager who was related to Dinu, one of the University students who disappeared, Pratap says that it is an ‘old fear’, that the villagers are fearful and will not report any events to the police because any sort of report usually ends in further violence for those of a lower caste.

Pratap’s history is an interesting feature in the concept of caste violence in Bihar region, as he tells of how his entire family was killed as a result of a comment by his father, a Dalit, to a Thankar, a man of a higher caste than the Dalit. This draws attention to the fact that Pratap has first-hand experience with caste violence, that he knows just how bad all the violence between castes can get.

Siddanth, the no-nonsense, by-the-book CBI agent, comes from a different world than that that composes the Bihar region. By his word, there shouldn’t be disparity between the castes, and he makes this clear in many scenes, but notably when he refers to the composition of a cricket team that the policemen are watching. He says that the team is composed of people from all different castes, and laments: “If only we could learn something from cricket.” I found this interesting because this seemed like Priyadarshan’s description of the big versus the small world of India. Siddanth was a man of the integrated world, where there is less violence based on caste, and believes in unity of the people. Despite this mindset from the integrated world, he doesn’t seem to understand that it’s just not how it works in the Bihar region, that he unfortunately does have to work within the caste system and accept that it is in place. Pratap tells him that yes, he may have considerable swell as an investigative agent of the CBI, but that he doesn’t know how the region works, that his prior knowledge will cause more trouble than harm because working authoritatively from his integrated viewpoint doesn’t work for Bihar and that he must work within the system that is of the region. Pratap says that “the law is different here than that of the other countries.” The law of the region is caste law, and because of this Siddanth’s investigative mechanisms will not work.

In this I saw Priyadarshan describing the mutability of the caste system over time and space. It is a preconceived notion that caste is a long-standing element of Indian society, but as Deepa Reddy’s article told us, caste, just like every other element of culture, is in a constant state of flux. This movie well describes it. The most interconnected regions of India, like Dehli, have a less stratified society, whilst regional caste violence still exists in the less connected regions. Many times in the film the police officers of Jhanjhar talk about how the CBI agents are not from the region and shouldn’t be meddling in local affairs because they come from a place that is not there, that doesn’t have the same rules. The caste system is obviously very much still in place in Jhanjhar though it may not be somewhere else, and the CBI officers need to take this into account. Priyadarshan was describing the evil that caste violence creates by narrowing in on this town’s issues, and showing that interpersonal violence based on your birth can very much be detrimental to the function of a society.

There are many religious references that are made within the film that reference the film’s story. When staying at their lodge, a firebomb is thrown into the CBI agents’ room, and a flaming trident is left outside as a warning to them that they should not continue meddling about in affairs. When they go to the police to report this, the chief officer asks Siddanth why he is ‘walking about with a trident in [his] hand like Shiva.” Shiva is a god of destruction, which foreshadows as well as declares that the CBI investigation is going to inevitably cause more destruction than it will good, which it does. Another example of allusion is a conversation between Siddanth and Pratap over the existence of God. Pratap does not believe in god, but Siddanth says that God has come their aide by making the water level recede through the local dam engineer’s refusal to open the floodgates, revealing the car that the four university students were driving when they disappeared.

The Rama Leela performance at the beginning of the movie is another religious description of the film’s features, that Pratap is like Ram, the perfect (badass) man who is capable of doing all the good that must be done, whilst Geeta is our Sita character, the unfortunate wife of the man who treats her cruelly and may or may not be purveying all the problems of Jahnjhar, not to mention that Geeta’s name is oddly close-sounding to Sita in the first place.

Priyadarshan shoots his scenes in an interestingly particular manner, making frequent use of through-shots, wherein there is a particular landscape feature between the camera and the actors in the scene. This creates an obstacle between the viewer and the subject at hand, that the scene is somewhat covered up, adding to the mysterious element of the film by putting a sort of shroud over the scene.

Another interesting feature of the film was that as a bollywood, there was actually very little dancing and/or singing going on. The full two-and-a-half hours, there are a handful of songs, only one of which is not directly a part of the film and describes Geeta and Ram’s (oops, sorry, I mean Pratap’s) love once upon a great age. Further, the dances are not nearly as elaborate as those of Mangal Pandey or Alaipayuthey. As someone who is a neophyte to the world of Bollywood, I’m not certain whether or not this a necessary feature of a Bollywood, but I certainly did miss the dancing, at some level. (I was almost tempted to watch some of Alaipayuthey on youtube)

One last feature that I found interesting was the Priyadarshan’s definition between the upper-caste and the lower-caste. For the most part, the obvious feature was the use of clothing. All the lower-caste were either wearing either pure white lungis or very little clothing at all, whilst those in the upper caste were wearing mostly suits and pants or uniforms. I saw an element of particular description here, as the upper-caste looked as though they were part of a system, whilst the lower-caste looked either totally pure in their lungis or well defined as individuals wearing clothing that was not the same as everyone else.

I found this film to be very enjoyable in its mystery-crime utility. The action scenes, in particular, are phenomenal. It would not be a difficult argument make that there are few films with such fluid and remarkable, not to mention realistic action scenes. There is one scene in particular, where Pratap chases a man across the rooftops of Jhanjhar, where you see some of the most phenomenal feature-traversing that can be had in film. There are several times in this scene where Pratap effortlessly hops between buildings and wallhops around cars. I’d recommend this movie to anyone in a heartbeat. I’m actually watching it a second time right now.