These are some of my views.
If you don't like them,
I have more.

Friday, September 05, 2008

'Nowhere in Africa' - A film to Remember

I believe in watching films with a clear mind, without preconceived expectations or a care for their past laurels. I believe in judging a film for its message, the perfection it attains in being the vehicle of a certain sensation that lasts with its audience beyond its run-time, like a taste which is sometimes bitter and sometimes sweet, like an impression from memory which one often loves to narrate but cannot relive. A good film could be that magical a thing.

I never looked up 'Nirgendwo in Afrika' (Nowhere in Africa) on imdb before I watched it this afternoon and now as I sit to write a review, hurriedly, almost afraid that I may lose that lingering taste in my mouth soon, I find that it won the Oscar in the Best Foreign Film category in 2002.

The film is set in the 1935 period of Nazi upsurge of influence and follows the life of a German Jewish family fractured as a result of severe Anti-Semitism. Walter Redlich(Merab Ninidze), a Jewish lawyer fervently wishes to see his wife and daughter flee Nazi Germany and join him in Kenya. Being perspicacious he is able to ascertain the imminent Jewish persecution that is to soon engulf all of Europe. Though his wife, Jettel (Juliane Kohler) and daughter, Regina (Lea Kurka) find a way to Africa he fails to convince his father and sister who still consider Deutschland as their own. The story moves on with the family trying to find its footing in an alien land amidst all its attendant inconveniences. Walter's Kenyan cook, Owuor (Sidede Onyulo) finds a friend in young Regina and life settles down to a routine at the cattle-farm for the family. The film pictures every character and their personal little battles with 'change' and 'compromise', yet it portrays a blesmishless collage which is much more than being a mere sum of the individuals. The difficulties of Jettel in settling down to a life in the wilderness amongst 'negroes' and her constant worries around Regina's education and upbringing bring out one facet of resettlement, that of angst and uncertainty in the thinking adults whereas on the other hand, the way in which Regina holds onto her new life with fumbling little fingers drips with hope and inspiration characteristic of the unsullied infant mind. Her bonding with Owuor goes beyond ties of blood and is resplendent in all its innocent glory.

Walter, driven and determined, yet a practical and pragmatic character is portrayed with elan by Ninidze. In his little battles with himself he stands as both the victor and the vanquished. He is a strong provider, a caring husband and a loving father on one hand and on the other he has his own insecurities to tend to. The family is shattered as news from Germany leaks in, that of brutality and death. The helplessness in knowing that your loved ones are dying and you cannot do a thing grips them with guilt and grief at the same time. The film is more like a fascinating journey where one is almost moved to tears of joy, as in the scene where little Regina narrates how her 'Jewish' father has asked her not to waste "their little money" and "study really hard" to the stern and visibly prejudiced British Principal and it brings a smile to his face, to the delight of the audience. Certain scenes are sheer irony in motion, one of them being Owuor telling Jettel how "white women are weak. Black women can take care of themselves."

With Kohler playing the role of a conundrum of a character to perfection and the African setting providing the ideal backdrop for the drama the film attains great cinematic heights. Heights which are quite different from the ones attained by ' 'Schindler's List' or 'The Pianist' which stay within Nazi Germany and Poland respectively to tell tales of persecution and despair as 'Nowhere in Africa' carries the viewer far from the hotbed of war and hatred and show effectively, with all its cinematic poesy the plight of people touched by war, even thousands of miles away from it. A film which accomplishes the basic objectives of inspiring human empathy and thought, I believe, it should figure in every film-lover's favourite list.

The defining moment of the film for me was when Jettel says to Regina on the topic of Jews and how different they are from others, " What I've learnt here is how valuable differences are. Differences are good."

I would say no more.

Watch the film for yourselves to know.


Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Singing The Singur Sopra'NANO'

As the 'Battle for Singur' rages a different kind of war is being fought out in all its raucous fierceness, far removed from the front lines - that inside the decorated drawing-rooms in Kolkata. The well heeled saheri babus are frothing at their mouths at the outrageous way in which Mamata Banerjee is pushing the entire state back by decades. Some suggest we may end up in the 'Ice Age of Industrialisation' if the Tatas say 'ta ta' to our offered land. Some even speculate the circumstances precipitating a tragic eventuality of another blood-bath in the image of Nandigram. In one word people are really getting worked up now. But then, every one has their reasons for the same.

A moment of thought for the farmer whose land was forcibly taken away from him- The land which he worships, the land which has nourished generations and still hold promise to provide for his children. The land that means much more than the amount stated in the compensation cheques being handed out. To those farmers the opinion of the urban elite is as alien in nature and as repulsive in content as the Octopus Meze served in some upmarket Vegas restaurant. And there can be no two ways about that.

Now for some other pointers.

Ratan Tata, the seasoned businessman that he is, will weigh his options in the light of feasibility under the circumstances. Two thousand crore rupees just cannot be allowed to flow down the drain. Add to it the tremendous promise and publicity that the 1-lac Nano has already generated and you are looking at a very ignominious exit for the first family of Indian industry from Bengal. I reckon his threat is not final. But it is also far from being hollow. The fact that his press-release was timed to perfection helps build pressure on the Trinamool to climbdown from their '400 acres' demand. And till the last reports came in the ice was thawing at places.
For the Tatas, Nano is a prestige issue. Singur isn't. They will do everything to meet their date of the first rollout of the car. A lot depends on it for them, their credibility, bankability and brand status. So, other car-plants (the one in Pantnagar is in the fray) might chip in to 'make the Nano' for them whereas the Singur land gets mired in inextricable political and legal battles in the wake of a complete pullout.

A very important point to note here is that the entire stretch of land that has been acquired( i.e 997 acres to be exact) cannot be doled back to the former holders, unwilling or otherwise according to the recent Land Acquisition Act. So a pullout will only end up being a Pyrrhic victory for the Trinamool Congress that may or may not translate into votes in the coming elections. The political edge will also get reasonably blunted in the urban fronts. Anxious parents in Kolkata have already started propounding conspiracy theories behind their wards' joining dates for TCS getting inordinately delayed. They fear the 'Singur fiasco' behind it all. Ridiculous but true.

The CPI(M) will go all out to project Mamata as 'anti-industry' and 'anti-development' and they will surely have some followers on that issue. Buddhadeb Bhattacharya's 'perestroika' though strongly contended as a policy measure in Alimuddin Street and Delhi will then gather sympathisers as does all reformist lost causes. He will be summarily sidelined and his backers will find it increasingly difficult to pursue his vision for West Bengal. As a whole we will revert back to being a regressive agri-intensive economy and feature at the end of the 'List of Highest Revenue Earning States' and pretend that its only because of the darned alphabetical order thing.

And to end what I started with. All these doesn't at all bother the average farmer. If it does, the state needs to awaken them to the fruits of industrialization first and impress upon them its advantages and gains. If there is a vision it is apparent that it is not shared and hence, this monumental fracas. We cannot afford to forget that we are still a nation of the poor majority. And the poor hardly have vision beyond their arm's stretch. We haven't yet progressed that far so that we could forget that reality.

photos: googleimages