Bombay Burns

Bombay by Mani Ratnam is a love story between a Hindu and a Muslim. The movie depicts the riots between Hindus and Muslims that occurred in the 1990s, specifically the Babri Masjid massacre, where Hindu nationalists destroyed a mosque in India. The movie follows Shekhar and Shaila, who fall in love with each other in their small village, and later they both move to Bombay, due to their families not being able to accept their religion. I know this may be a shock to most, but I actually have never watched this film. It’s a little odd because when the musical numbers started playing, I remember hearing these songs when I was young. Recently, the movies we have been watching in class have not reminded me of the Indian cinema I remember watching when I was kid, but this movie, fits that image I remember. I have not watched this film, but it is like I have, if that makes any sense.

What was interesting was how the film depicted the violence between the two groups. When Shekhar is interviewing the Muslim and Hindu leaders, two shots are primarily used. The first is a shot where we see Shekhar and the religious leaders in a landscape style shot, then we see an over the shoulder angle from Shekhar’s point of view. We are seeing the film and the politics between the two groups through Shekhar’s eyes. Shekhar tries his best to be objective and the camera follows. Both sides have reasonable frustrations. The Muslims say the police are mostly Hindu. The Hindus say the Muslims started it. Who do we believe? Like Shekhar, the audience is confused what to think. Shekhar and Shaila just want to live their life happily in Bombay.

The fathers of both families forgive their children for the sake of their kids. In one of the more sentimental scenes, Shekhar’s father comes home from a public prayer with one of his grandsons, while Muslim rioters interrogate if he is Hindu or Muslim. His grandson quickly tries to wipe the pottu off his head, which is a signifier that he is Hindu. Thankfully, he is saved by Basheer and his other grandson. The scene is memorable because we see both grandparents come together, and both grandchildren in their Hindu and Muslim clothing, respectively as well. However, ten minutes later they die in the fire and become sacrificial lambs for their children and their children’s happiness. I thought the scene was slightly controversial. Basheer dies because he is caught up in prayer and Naryanan dies trying to get Basheer’s Quran.

Something that I noticed was how fire was obviously used as a determinant for atrocities, while the water symbolized tranquility and happiness. For example, Shekhar and Shaila profess their love for each other near the water. They go for romantic outings and spend time with their children near the water. Basically, every time the two main characters are smiling is near the water, and this is juxtaposed with images of Bombay burning in the riots. This is a political movie, but maybe this is just me but I feel it does a good job of not putting the blame on one side. The movie places less importance on the massacre, but instead on the riots and aftermath. There is one scene where a baby walks helplessly through the fire searching for his mother. It’s a brutal scene but it makes the audience think. Lastly, the movie uses blood as a way to bring people together. In a memorable scene early on in the movie, Shekhar cuts Shaila’s arm to show they are one. Later, Basheer and Narayanan forgive their children because of the grandchildren. They both playfully argue with each other that each grandchild is half their blood.

 

Mississippi Masala

For my open blog post, I am going to discuss Mississippi Masala and the Indian diaspora. Mississippi Masala by Mira Nair, reminded in many ways of The Namesake (film). Mira Nair directed both movies, and I could not help but notice the similar aesthetical techniques she uses in both films. Madhurima Chakraborty, in her article, Adaptation and The Shifting Allegiances of the Indian Diaspora (phew) says, “Like Lahiri, Nair uses rituals as key devices in representing Diaspora” (616). Chakraborty explains that rituals are a way to show nostalgia and support for the homeland and I feel, personally, both movies employ this technique for this purpose. What I noticed in the wedding scene of Mississippi Masala was how the Indian man starts to sing Jai Jagadish Hare to signify this longing for India. The viewer also sees Hari and Mina not singing along, and they are caught up in their own romances. This was a clear divide in the Indian diaspora between generations. Also, in this scene we see an Indian woman critique Mina and her parents for owning a liquor store. She quips, “Some Indians have money and whites have more money, but Indians with no money will never get Hari”. I thought this line illustrated a theme that played a much larger role in this film, than the Namesake, which is the difference between class and the racial tensions that exist between colored people.

The movie attempts to show you the hypocrisy in Indians’ own minds with the relationship between Mina and Demetrius. When Demetrius is discovered to be sleeping with Mina, he is blackballed from work, and the Indian people in their community will not speak to him. I also found it interesting how in a flashback scene to Mina’s birthday, Ida Amin, the Ugandan dictator, says on TV how the Indian people refuse to let their daughters marry Africans. This hypocrisy is an underlying current through the movie, and it provides complexity to the Indian diaspora experience. When Demetrius and Jay argue, Demetrius says, “I know you and your daughter but are only a few shades from this right here” (1:28:00). The line is important and shows the conflict between the two races. The movie tries hard to show how blacks and Indians are similar in their struggle against oppression. For example, Mina describes Indians came to Uganda because of the British to work on the railroads, and someone says at the party that it is similar to “slavery”.

The last scene of the movie when Jay remarks, “home is where the heart is” reminded me of Ashima’s speech at the end of the Namesake. Nair seems to make this connection between home and the heart. Other small things I noticed were when Tyrone asks Mina where she is from. He mistakes her for being Mexican, and then proceeds to describe his experience interacting with Hispanics. Chakraborty, in her article, explains in the Namesake, Ashoke is placed in a similar circumstance with Gogol’s teacher. What I like about Mississippi Masala is how it complicates the home and diaspora narrative by Jay and his love for Uganda. He remarks several times in the movie, “Uganda is his home”. He is a Ugandan, first and an Indian, second. So, the Indian longing for their homeland does not only have to mean where your people had originally dispersed from.Furthermore, white people take up a very small amount of screen time in the movie and are usually shown partying. I interpreted this to mean they are just fixtures and not a part of these character’s immediate experience, but I know that can be argued. All in all, there are many other aesthetics I could point to, but I will stop there. The movie focuses on the similarities and struggles between the oppressed, instead of cultural competence, and that stood out.

The Namesake

I have read some of Jhumpa Lahiri’s work, but I have never got a chance to read her book, the Namesake. I heard a great deal about this movie, so I was curious going into it. The Namesake was a much different movie than Slumdog Millionaire in the way it treated globalization. At first, I found myself understanding Gogol’s insecurities as he grew up. As a second generation Indian American, I also was made of fun when I was a kid because of my name. When I was young, this did bother me too, but as I grew up, I started to understand the significance of my name and culture. It was odd because I felt like I should have related more to Gogol, but as the movie progressed, I felt more and more like Gogol was just plain stubborn. I started to envy the relationship between Ashima and Ashoke. I found this really weird.

I thought the Namesake was much more complex in its view of globalization. For example, Gogol talks back to his mother, smokes weed, and ignores his parents. I thought this was an obvious allusion to the negative influences of western culture. Personally, I believe this idea is a little overplayed in my culture, but that’s just me. Yet, Ashoke believes in America “anything is possible”, and he repeats this line a couple of times. What I found interesting is the tone of his voice when he says the phrase. When Ashima has Sonia, he reasons with her that their children can do anything here, unlike in India. Later in the movie, he says the phrase again when his son wants to change his name, but this time, he says it in a more somber way. I think the movie, unlike Slumdog Millionaire, makes you question the melting of cultures much more. Even Ashima at the end of the movie tells the people gathered that this is where she grew to love her husband, and U.S. is also her home. The message I gathered was this country gives us freedom, but that also means, we have to live with the consequences. I also noticed this because Maxine, Gogol’s first girlfriend, never seems like she is forcing Gogol to spend time with her family. Instead, its Gogol’s choice and this is one of the many themes the movie is addressing.

I have never watched a Mira Nair film before, but I noticed there were a lot of aesthetical elements to the movie that I found interesting. There were many scenes in the movie where the view of the bridge, a metaphor for connection, was juxtaposed with isolation. Also, when Ashoke dies everyone is white, while Maxine is in black, and this is also referenced in the article. I thought this meant there was clear distinction between east and west. Furthermore, some of the humor I enjoyed, like when Gogol says if you forget anyone’s name, all you have to do is call them “aunty”. Another comical scene was when Ashima puts the chili powder into the rice crispy treats. Or when Ashima and Ashoke touch hands at the Taj Mahal, but when the see their son, they slowly move them away awkwardly. In their culture, they are not suppose to be seen touching in public, especially in front of their children. The movie plays with this idea because when they see Maxine and Gogol touching later in the film, they make a judgment themselves. At the end of the day, although I have some issues with the movie, I enjoyed it. What bothered me the most was the lack of subtitles when they were speaking Bengali, and the lack of explanation of the flashback train scene with Ashoke.

Stylized Corruption in Gangs of Wasseypur

I have never experienced a TV series/movie like Gangs of Wasseypur. What immediately stood out for me, besides the explicit language, was how corruption was portrayed in the movie. In previous movies we have watched for our class, like Namak Halaal and Slumdog Millionaire, corruption is portrayed as evil. Both these movies show a clear distinction between good and evil. In Namak Halaal, we see this play out between Ranjit and Arjun. The audience is supposed to side with the country bumpkin Arjun, and fight the corruption that is playing out in the new cities. In Slumdog Millionaire, Jamal has to combat the corruption with Maman, and then later, Javed. The movie is a little more complex in its view of corruption, due to Salim, but I still think there is a clear line between good and evil.

However, in Gangs of Wasseypur, corruption seems almost glamorized at occasions. For example, the intro credits are in black and white, and a gunshot sound effect is heard in the background. The opening credits of each episode have a film noir feel to them. Then, in the very first scene of the movie, where JP Singh’s henchmen shoot up the house, violence is glamorized, and there is a certain style to it. This stylized approach to violence is shown at many instances in the movie, like when Sardar tries to find and kill the men who kidnap the women on the street. The series at times reminded of a Tarentino flick. As we see Shahid khan become Ramadhir Singh’s crony in the first episode, there is always this thirst for violence. When Shahid Khan is not able to see his wife in labor, he kills the coal miner manager (24:43). The scene occurs in slow motion, and Shahid’s bloody face takes up the screen. The scene is brutal and unsettling, but it is also stylized in a certain way where we, the audience, relate to Shahid’s frustration.

In the next episode, his son, Sardar Khan, almost becomes this Tony Soprano-like figure. He cheats on his wife and does not care about the consequences. Yet, I still wanted Sardar to get his vengeance. Sardar Khan is a complex character. Furthermore, the film does a great job showing the horrible side effects of corruption, not only killing but adultery. Nagma and Durga are helpless to the men that surround them. A scene that grabbed my attention was when Sardar blames his wife for having too many babies. The scene in many ways seems trivial, but it shows how women just cannot catch a break in this toxic patriarchal environment. Women are constantly mistreated in the movie.

Lastly, I like how the movie makes a correlation between the land, the mines, and corruption. After the British leave India, the movie explains, big tycoons like, Ramidir Singh, take control. I thought this was interesting because it showed how the idea of corruption and greed is universal. Possibly, the movie, even with geography was alluding to this. Wasseypur had been redistricted many times, as the movies shows, and I thought this may be an allusion to corruption. Yes, Wasseypur has been redistricted from the Bengal region to Jharkhand, but it is still essentially the same place. It can be redistricted a thousand times, but the land and the people, stay the same. I am unsure if I am explaining this clearly, but I saw a correlation. Also, coal is dirty, grimy, and it pollutes the environment. However, it also fuels society to keep going. I saw coal as an allegory for the corruption that surrounds Wasseypur and Jharkhand. To conclude, this is a great movie that highlights corruption in India.

“The Real India” Globalization in Slumdog Millionaire

This is my second time watching Slumdog Millionaire. In class last week, we discussed the different reactions Indians have had to this film. My step mom believes this movie portrays India in a negative light. Her argument is, if this is the first thing the west watches about India, well then, we are giving into white expectations. In her view, the movie depicts India as impoverished, and the scene where the child tries to get the Amitabh Bachan’s picture, does not sit well with her (13:00). She just cannot see anyone doing this, but I argue with her that she did not grow up in that socioeconomic background. Personally, I enjoy this movie greatly. I believe it touches on themes of Bollywood, like love romance, and dance, but the movie never tries to make fun of the culture. It also addresses political pitfalls in India, like the overwhelming corruption, and it does well balancing Bollywood with India’s politics. For example, in the beginning, we see a police officer “interrogating” Dev, I saw this as an allusion to the rampant corruption in India’s political and legal hierarchy. Another example comes in the flashback scene when Jamal and Salim ask the police for help in the Muslim riots. The police tell them to “get lost” (19:23).

From the beginning of the movie, when we see the introduction of Anil Kapoor, Dev Patel, and the game show, Who wants to be Millionaire?, the movie evokes the globalization that is rapidly occurring in the 21st century. The game is a British show that became popular in the U.S. Later, the game show becomes a hit in India. In a way, it is ironic that a show that is, inherently British, has become popular in India. I remember when I was young, Amitabh Bachan, the godfather of Indian cinema, hosted the show. I would watch the show and be mesmerized. It is addicting, easy to understand, and grew like wildfire in India. Due to globalization, shows like these spread throughout the world, and Dev Patel is a globalized product. I like the scene, where Irrfan Khan switches on the TV in the police station. The camera, at first, shows Dev and the police officers, and then, the TV being switched on. The camera slowly starts to focus on the TV moving closer and closer to it until we are literally inside the TV and scene with Anil and Dev (10:09). I thought this was important to show how TV has connected the world around us. In the movie, Dev works at a call center, which is also an allusion to the globalized economy. When the west thinks of call centers, we imagine, Indians like Dev in a far way land trying to give us help with our phones or gadgets. Call centers are way that the world has become increasingly connected, yet they also bring fodder. We see this in the scene where Jamal briefly attends the phone line.

The movie focuses on globalization but also the divide between classes. When the audience is introduced to the first flashback with Jamal, we see a plane soar overhead while the kids play cricket in the airfield (6:32). The scene not only shows globalization, but the divide between rich and poor. Symbolically, the people in the plane are off to a new destination, leaving Jamal in the slums surrounded by poverty. The overhead views of the slums clearly show this imbalance. Another example comes when Salim and Jamal meet after the split in the killing of Maman, this scene stuck out to me. Salim says to his brother, “India is at the center of the world”. The scene signifies how the middle class has grown in India, but Salim and Jamal look down at the slums leaving it behind. The slums still exist, and there is still poverty! Furthermore,  Jamal is constantly referred to by his occupation and his job becomes his identity. It becomes a way of disparaging him as a person.

In conclusion, I think this movie is great. It shows an ambiguity toward western encroachment at times, but I believe, it wholeheartedly advocates global participation is vital.

My Beef with Mazumdar

“Bhumika” was an interesting movie about feminism in the 1970s. What I found captivating about the film was for a movie made in 1977, the movie seemed ahead of its time, especially for Indian cinema. The conflicts and relationships that are shown in the movie with Usha and her male counterparts highlight that. For example, her scenes with Amrish Puri and Naseeruddin Shah in the bedroom display this theme of sexuality. Although the director fast-forwards over the sex scenes to the aftermath, the viewer is clearly aware Usha is having sexual relations with these men. When I think of Indian movies, I think of the idyllic 90s and early 2000s of Indian cinema, where SRK always comes and saves the day. Movies like Kuch Kuch Hota Hai and Lagaan signify that happy “cookie cutter” ending that I see prevalent in a great deal of Indian cinema. However in “Bhumika” , the viewer is left with something totally different when Usha answers the phone at the end. This ominous and ambiguous ending struck me as quite unique for Indian cinema.

Also, I think the movie did well to show how women are objectified. The scene that is repeated many times from the beginning, which is the opening scene with Usha where the male actor is lusting over her from afar, encapsulates this. In Mazumdar’s article he argues, it is because Benegal has a weakness for women as objects. Is that what the scene is showing us? No. The scene is bringing the viewer into the world of objectification of Usha. If the director was just concerned with her body, there would be no cut away to the gentlemen looking at her. It is important that we view the scene from his eyes then we see him gawking at her. The scene is continuously repeated to show the objectification of women and gives a sense from the very beginning where the movie is going.

When I read the Mazumdar article for this week, I totally disagreed with the argument put forth in it. The article argues that Bhumika is less effective in its portrayal of feminism because it is liberal feminism, instead of social, but I thought it succeeds in portraying its message. We talked about this in class, but Usha’s plight is a broader message for women as a whole. The movie conveys that moving castes, and money are not solutions.  I recall towards the end of the film there is a scene where Amrish Puri’s grandmother says to Usha that Kale has all this money but no happiness. When I heard this I thought, well here is why Kale and Usha are similar. More broadly, this theme of isolation becomes prevalent in the movie. Yes, many women do not become actors or breadwinners in Indian or patriarchal culture, but the film gives some sense of hope for women to not be isolated in the fight for freedom. In a way, the movie takes feminism and turns it on its head. What is Usha fighting for in the end? She does not want to act anymore, and she wants to be a housewife. This goes against the conventional wisdom of feminism, but the theme is still there. Usha just wants the freedom to choose.

Disability in Lagaan

I will say this is my second time watching this movie. I first watched this movie when I was quite young with my family.I remember I recalled it was good, and it was nice to watch after all this time. The message of cricket and nationalism is inspiring. My favorite scene in Lagaan is the introduction of Kachra onto the team. What I find interesting is the way the scene is set up. The  villagers look downward from the hill. At that moment we, the audience, relate to Bhuvan and see Kachra’s spin as instrumental to India’s success in the match. Yet, the onlookers look at Kachra in disgust. What I like about the scene is I remember when I initially saw this movie my family member, who was watching the movie with me,grunted  in recognition. I initially saw this movie when I was young so watching this years later, it resonated in different ways. This scene especially showed how the caste system is always a  challenge in India then and now. Bhuvan’s speech to convince his people to employ Kachra is inspiring, but it sticks.

The last thing I like about the scene and the movie, in general, is how it treats disability. The drummer and Kachra are never made fun of but instead, they are seen as important tools in India’s freedom. For example, when the drummer is introduced into the film he is seen from the temple steps. He looks at the clouds giving his people hope, which shows how much faith the village put in the disabled.