Friday, March 30, 2007

Cricketing blues

The World Cup coverage in the regional media during the past week was, not surprisingly, dominated by India’s unexpected exit from the contention. This World Cup has already had its fair share of surprises, what with Pakistan coach Bob Woolmer’s murder and the exit of past winners India and Pakistan. Dainik Bhaskar caught the nation’s mood in an illustration depicting a cricket ball inside a giant cactus, the headline reading, “Murderous first round”.

On the day after India’s fate was sealed, Bhaskar ran a table of how the frontliners had failed to deliver in the match against Sri Lanka. With Sachin Tendulkar and M S Dhoni out for a duck, the paper’s headline read, “And so broke a hundred crore hearts!” The paper also dwelt on the impact that the loss would have on the corporate sector, especially American and South Korean companies such as Pepsi, Coke, Samsung and LG. This, the paper said, was ironical because the US and South Korea aren’t even cricket-playing nations.

Rajasthan Patrika reported Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray’s impassioned appeal to the public to not get swayed by emotion and desist from causing any harm to the properties of Indian cricketers. In a rare display of verbal restraint, Thackeray was reported to have said that victory and loss were part of any sport and should be taken in the right spirit.

This was also the week when Bob Woolmer’s death was certified as murder by strangulation. Dainik Bhaskar gave prominent coverage to the news, saying members of the Pakistani team were now suspects. Punjab Kesari reported that Woolmer’s corpse would undergo another post-mortem in light of the new developments. Apart from his mobile phone and computer, Woolmer’s other belongings would be handed over to his wife, the paper added.

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For Business Standard's Regional Roundup, a compilation of how the regional media looked at events during the week gone by.

Monday, March 26, 2007

This Tower reaches high

Babel is Alejandro González Iñárritu's most recent directorial venture after 21 grams. For those who saw the earlier film and were impressed by the non-linear narration, Babel takes the technique forward, and with greater technical finesse. Babel is a dark tale that looks into three separate stories which are interconnected by very slender threads.

Richard (Brad Pitt) and Susan (Cate Blanchett) are an American couple traveling Morocco in a rickety bus to get over a past trauma in their relationship (the death of their little son). As the bus meanders its way through the parched terrain, a stray bullet, seemingly appearing from nowhere, hits Susan below the neck. This sets in motion a trail of events, involving international governments and conspiracies of terrorist plots. Turns out the bullet was fired by two local boys, sons of a goatskin trader, to check the efficacy of a newly bought rifle. It is the mundaneness of personal tragedy which is wonderfully captured by Iñárritu. As Richard and Susan's private grief threatens to drown in the din of media and diplomacy, they are able to reconnect in a remote Moroccan village, aided by a man who has no relation to them.

The second strand in Babel is about Amelia (Adriana Barraza), a caretaker to Richard and Susan's kids, Debbie and Mike. On the day of Susan's accident, Amelia is to attend her son's wedding in Mexico, but is put in a spot by Richard's frantic call asking her to stay longer. Finding no other recourse for the children, she decides to hop them in for the wedding. The wedding is the only duration of the film when nothing untoward happens, yet the dramatic intensity of the other sequences is so high that one watches with dread as Iñárritu takes slow motion shots of the dancing party. That, however, is where the revelry ends, and what follows is a nightmarish montage of events that ends with Amelia's deportation to Mexico for good.

The third sequence is about Chieko (Rinko Kikuchi), a Japanese deaf-mute teenager trying to make sense of a life swarming with vacuous friends and the memory of a dead mother. Chieko's father, a former hunter, was the owner of the gun that shoots Susan, but this detail has no relevance to Chieko's story. Filled with self-loathing over her handicap, Chieko tries desperately to find a partner with whom she can share physical intimacy, only to be shortchanged every time. Until a police official comes calling about her father's gun and Chieko propositions him--stark naked, a bereft look filling her eyes. What happens next is a study in the power of great stories to redeem not just their characters but those on the fringes, yet not--the viewers.

Babel is a cry for cross-cultural understanding. Like the original Biblical tale in which God confounds the makers of the Tower by mixing up their dialects so they would not understand one another, Iñárritu's film is a cautionary look at where our world is headed. Asking for sympathy and cross-cultural bonding, Babel forces one to rethink their assumptions about weapons and terror and the otherness of the other, without getting preachy. An unsurpassable achievement, it is a must-watch for lovers of cinema. Also for those who are willing to be converted by it!

Friday, March 23, 2007

The atheist's dilemma

I am reading James Robertson's The Testament of Gideon Mack and there is this passage in which the atheist minister of Church gives himself the following reasoning. While I do not subscribe to the God-as-school master view, the passage itself is strangely endearing, especially towards the end:

For a long time, I explained this away as God saying, 'Gideon, my man, you may be on my team but don't think I don't know your heart, don't think I can't see right through to the oily slick of your soul. I am tolerating you, because the Kirk needs to keep all the ministers it has, and on the surface you put in a pretty good performance, but don't get above yourself, my friend, because if you do I can deliver a blow so stunning, so devastating, that you'll wish you'd been on the bench for Satan from the opening whistle...' This was when I was in my early thirties, a newly called minister who, unknown to everybody except my wife, did not believe in God. I didn't believe in him and yet he was still there, a hovering doubt in the background of every move I made: somebody out there may be watching you. I thought I'd got it all out of my system as a boy, but I hadn't. You don't, not if it's in you in the first place. Anyway, the point was, he was there or he was not there, whether you believed in him or not. I happened not to believe in him, but he was still there. And that was the twist: even if he didn't exist, he would still get you sooner or later...

I think atheists need to understand that the debate is not just about proving a presence. Re-read the part marked bold.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Busting stereotypes


Another best foreign film Oscar winner, The Lives of Others, was the offering today. It details the situation of an artist, Georg Dreyman, under the communist dictatorship of the erstwhile state of East Germany. Dreyman is a writer of “subversive” plays and is dubbed a right-winger by the government. The movie portrays a hopeless situation in which Dreyman’s actor wife, the beautiful Christa-Maria, is forced to partake in a sexual relationship with the Minister of Arts—so that her family is not ruined. At the other end of the spectrum is Hauptmann who listens in to everything that goes on in the Dreyman household, thanks to a technique that was much in use in communist regimes—wiretapping. In spite of knowing that Dreyman is the writer of a strongly critical article against the DDR, he does not let it out and in the process, compromises his career. Hauptmann (played by Ulrich Mühe, in the pic) is drawn out as a left-wing fanatic, who would let nothing come in the way of his service to the National Security. But why he decides to overturn his faith is a question worth pondering. Did he fall for Christa-Maria’s charms? Was he seduced by the couple’s love? Did the hopelessness of their situation change him? You decide. Elegant, understated, powerful: that’s Das Leben der Anderen.

No Gangsta rap this


We watched Tsotsi, the Oscar winning story of a South African teenaged gangster who is transformed by his love for a kidnapped infant. The film charts a few days in the life of Tsotsi (an assumed gangster name) — from his mindless acts of violence to the one act of rather innocent crime which is about to change his life. Presley Chweneyagae stars in the lead role, and carries himself well for a first timer. There is a penetrating look in his eyes, which lends menace to his method, and contributes greatly towards developing his character.
I am not much into gangster movies, so when I found out that Tsotsi was one, I was disappointed. But it’s nothing of the sort. A day after kidnapping a tiny infant mistakenly while driving away a stolen car, Tsotsi must find a way to take care of the baby. In one endearing scene, he is shown leaving the baby after keeping a can of condensed milk next to it. When he returns in the evening, the can and the baby’s face are swarmed with black ants. Tsotsi’s guilt and anguish come alive on the screen. He then decides to break into Miriam’s house. She is the other central character in the story, a single mother bringing up her child in one of the shacks. Tsotsi demands a terrified Miriam to feed the little one. This scene is a show-stealer. Holding Tsotsi with her hard gaze, the woman gently offers her milk to the baby. The contrast in her body language— to the two disparate figures —is performed exceedingly naturally by Terry Pheto. The photograph given here, with Nelson Mandela, cannot capture how wonderfully native she looks in the movie.
Some of the movies coming up for nomination at the Oscars are nothing short of masterpieces. Movies from across the world jostle it out among themselves and truly, the world’s best cinematic interpretations make it to the best five. Tsotsi is a memorable addition to this list.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Delightful sojourn

Our family took a weekend sojourn to the Garhwal hills this past week. We drove down to Rishikesh, which is some 350 km from Delhi and onward to Kaudiyala, a tiny hamlet nestled in the hills. The path to Kaudiyala is a long and winding one, reminiscent of the meandering pathways to hill stations. Along the course runs the river Ganga, all green in its shimmering beauty and relentless flow. Dappled by tall tress on both sides, the river criss-crosses its way through the hills. On the way up, we stopped at the Glass House on the Ganges, a Neemrana hotel, which offers five-star facilities in the wilderness. Unfortunately, they had no vacancy, so we drove further. The road wasn’t too good in parts, but the thrill of the journey made up for it. Despite starting early, we reached our resort at 6:30 in the evening. It had gotten dark, and the hills, looking glorious in the pale moonlight were an emblem of soothing magnificence. The Ganga flowed right next to our resort, and all through the night, we could hear the river bed gulping its charge. Rafter camps could be seen on the other bank, with their curiously constructed toilets and bathing spaces. Rafting is a big sport on the Ganga, and on one’s way down the hills, one routinely comes across a bevy of jeeps carrying the rafts back after a day of high excursion.
The next morning, we went down to the bank, via a cemented staircase next to an ancient Shiva temple. The first sign was the soft sandgrains, smooth as silk, that my sister and I walked on barefoot. Next, we sat at the bank with our feet splashing in the water. It’s funny how just the touch of the freezing water can give you the high normally associated with adventure sports. Well, for me anyway, that is where the fun started and that is where it stopped. No rafting, thank you very much!
We halted for lunch at a roadside dhaba, which served delicious mixed vegetables and dal fry. Satiated with our little tour atop the Himalayas, which involved little more than taking in the fresh mountain air, we headed down to the plains. When one is there, it’s easy to forget that one has this other life which involves doing daily chores, running errands — it’s easy to think that one can spend the rest of one’s life in these parts, in the company of gorgeous hills and tardy slopes. Looking at one of the attendants in our resort, I wondered how he could have lived in this place — this place of solitude — for five whole years without flinching; without wishing to go back and live with the living. But there was also a sense of envy at his state — to know that it is possible to survive without the trappings of civilization, to spend one’s time in the quiet, with the woods, in nature’s womb. It’s a delightful sensation, and a spot of nostalgia tangled my heart as we departed.