Final Thoughts

In class I mentioned that without the English Departments’s diversity requirement I likely would not have taken a class outside my British literature comfort zone. While I dearly love my old dead white dudes I can honestly say I wish I had branched out much earlier. I’ve so much enjoyed getting acquainted with another culture, and I genuinely want to continue learning about it.

In class we also mentioned the hinderances we had when it came to discussion, while I know at times I was held back by awkwardness, it was great to talk about semi-sensitive subjects and get to hear opinions and experiences far different from my own. This happens in many English courses but I think I can go as far as saying that in this class everyone was at least a bit outside their comfort zone, and it was a bit frightening at times, but it was also so much for insightful and educational than several other courses I’ve taken in my time as an English major.

Overall I really enjoyed the class, like everyone else my own complaint is that it was so short. Regardless I learned so much about a culture I knew nothing of, I fell in love with the music, and the richness of society and culture, and honestly the women’s clothes and jewelry was just stunning. But that’s neither here nor there. I’m glad I’ve been exposed to so many new films, Bhumika is a new favorite, and watching The Namesake has lead me to a new favorite book. Thanks for an awesome miniature semester, everyone, I hope we all enjoyed it.

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It started political but then I went on a rant…

I’ve never been one to look deeply into films on my own. I’m always interested in the narrative, the story rather, and the costumes and music, but the politics of non-political films have consistently alluded me. After our discussion on Thursday it’s obvious to me that nearly every film of any substance can be read as having political undertones. I knew the Lion King was basically Hamlet. And obviously the Hunger Games have blatant politics and rebellion. But in films where these are not apparent from the trailer the politics are subtle, believable, and possibly more important to everyday audiences. I suppose the question is if they are intended or if they simply seep in from the influence of the writer, director, actors, producers, and so on. I think the answer would have to be a bit of both. When you’re a writer or any sort of artist really your opinions and peculiar ideas must naturally become part of the work you’re putting your heart into. Sentimental, I know.

Beyond the idea of sneaking ones soul into a narrative, I really enjoy the idea that in films like The Hunger Games it is easier to define the enemy or the bad guy, and the strong, resilient underdog. There are obvious sides. In reality no one ever sees themselves as the ‘bad guy’. This makes it more difficult to understand, but also more realistic. As humans we, non of us, think alike. In the films we have seen it’s difficult to always put the protagonists and antagonists into neat little boxes. Especially in Bhumika. The protagonist herself is less than likable. In stead of fighting against societal politics of her world she turns into them. Believable, but not the escape from reality that we look for in a film.

Maybe it isn’t even that the political ideals of the creators gets boiled into the narrative, maybe we find it ourselves. Or maybe at this point its incredibly difficult to separate any aspect of our lives from politics so wee see that in our favorite characters. Seems like both a good, and horribly upsetting thing all at once.

 

The Namesake, Diaspora, National Hybridity

The Namesake was by far my favorite film we have seen thus far. But I suppose that is neither here nor there. From beginning to end it was a fantastic story. The music, always a vital aspect to a great film for me, was really telling and helpful in understanding the various tones. Beyond that I admired its use, and from that, our learning of diaspora. Of being uprooted to a new place isolated from everyone you know. I think we all get little glimpses of that throughout our lives. But The Namesake helped me see it through a lens of a completely foreign culture.
For the characters, especially Gogol, being in his family and stuck between two cultures is both every inclusive and exclusive. By the end, and starting with the death of his father Gogol realizes that he does not have to choose to tend toward being American, he can be most fulfilled by being both American and Indian. This seems to be a theme throughout the film, the hybridity of cultures and how people have to make a choice between the but how choosing to be both is an option. For his wife the choice is rocky, she assumes Gogol is one over the other, and she resents him for it by the end. She chooses to alienate herself from her inherited culture (after she threw herself into it for Gogol and their parents) and quickly falls fully into her adopted French culture. She doesn’t see the space where the two could meet or maybe for her they can’t.
Similarly we see this in his girlfriend Max. I think she is a great character. Unfortunately Gogol seemed to be with her in order to remove himself from his Indian culture. At the same time she is all too happy to never entirely accept this part of him, to pull him further into her lifestyle and culture, though he does cultivate these ideas in her.
My favorite examples of transnationalism are the mother and father, though. It’s easy to see Ashoke as being the most comfortably settled in his new culture. While Ashima seems the one most trying not to hold on to her Indian culture. In reality they were evenly both. Ashoke took his native culture to heart and held it there, slowly letting his children understand it for themselves and helping them, I think he also felt a need to be a confident pillar for them and his family. Ashima, on the other hand, is much more obvious in her two embraced cultures. The way she dresses herself throughout the film is an upfront symbol of her love of India, she hold on to the culture, even if that means eating rice crispy cereal with red pepper. The small ways she tries to assimilate to American culture at first seem slightly forced and awkward, the mixed Christmas cards, socks with sandals in the winter, but by the end we see that these actions are done entirely with confidence. She sees everything that happens in her family and she understands. Her actions are never out of naivety, rather a confidence in her grip on her national culture, and a strong will to be herself and keep her family inclusive, well cultured, and happy.
Maybe it is because it took place in a nation I am quite familiar with, maybe it is because the story of someone who is unsure on who they are and who they want to be is appealing to me, but The Namesake struck a chord with me, it helped me understand. And because it was clearly not written just for westerners, or Indians, it invites everyone to understand. It’s incredibly inclusive. And so far the novel is even more so.

Impression on Gangs of Wasseypur, Class, Urbanization

My first impression of Gangs of Wasseypur was that it was an ultraviolet mix of The Godfather and Green Street Hooligans (just a feeling, not a precise judgement, alright?) My second was that it is ultra long. My third, and this one is fairly important, was that we got to see a fair amount of both urbanization (how a city affects the characters and vice versa) and movements between classes. Also it is seriously massively long.

The vulgarity and the violence are both aspects that I would not expect to see on American television. They edit half of Gordon Ramsay’s dialogue, and SVU is really good at beating around the bush, that being said we are still not strangers to violence portrayed on the screen. Gangs of Wasseypur, however, was a bit of a shock to the system. The violence was not just in innuendos, we saw it. And though I can happily distance myself from Italian mobsters (they’re only in Robert Di Nero movies, right?), I had a difficult time not being deeply affected by the active, and frequent violence in Gangs of Wasseypur. On some level I found understanding in knowing that even this brutality could never live up to the real thing, but it must be able to represent the events in the lives of very real people. I think the Gangs of Wasseypur did that in the most semi-dramatic, but still striking and realistic way possible.

It was definitely a saga of theatrical proportions, but seeing the issues among and between the classes was a new aspect to my western eyes. Seeing the way a city far from any I have ever seen gave me a sense of the scale in which these people conducted their daily lives. And beginning in 1941 I could really get a full grasp on how long issues like these have been stewing, and affecting the lives of real people that I can hardly imagine.

Slumdog Millionaire

When I saw that we would be watching Slumdog Millionaire I was initially excited. I’ve heard the great reviews for years, I can name several friends who adore the movie, and I’ve come to know bits of the soundtrack, but I had never actually seen it. Now that I have, and can honestly say that while I see the draw it was a bit of a let down. I’m going to unapologetically lay the brunt of the blame on my friends for overhyping it, and give a lesser amount of blame to myself for being a snob and instinctively shying away from films that ‘everyone’ likes. Also I just really enjoy the previous films so I’m biased.

Regardless, it was a good film. I see the attraction to the characters, except for the police inspector, he will forever be the guy from the new Jurassic Park movie who flew a helicopter into the pterodactyl cage, but i digress. And as with all the previous films the music is extremely telling and energizing for the audience.The portrayal of the lowest classes was incredibly striking to me. From when we first see the wide shot of Jamal’s city, to moments later when we see his commitment to braving their deplorable social and environmental conditions to see a personal hero, the audience can tell this movie is not one to brush the lower class under the rug. I did enjoy the turmoil between Jamal and his brother and how it flowed continuously throughout the movie. Perhaps this conflict was just the most believable to me, especially when compared to being tortured for assumed game show fraud.

I greatly enjoyed the progression of the plot, and how it was done so in necessary flashbacks. These flashbacks were not used in a familiar way to explain the character, like in Bhumika, but rather they are used by a protagonist to explain himself and his life to an antagonist. I found that incredibly clever. Unfortunately Jamal’s tendency to simultaneously be in the wrong place at the wrong time and still always manage to scrape out of dire situations and come out on top seemed wildly unbelievable. The police officer’s belief of Jamal’s stories is shocking to me as well. I love a good underdog story but, come on, what did winning the gameshow prove other than luck?

Over all it was a good movie, and I will most likely watch it again and come to enjoy it more. But for now I just feel silly for being surprised that in a movie with a title like “Slumdog Millionaire” an underdog find extreme luck in life and dodges every bullet to end up on top with the beautiful unobtainable girl.

Feminism in Bhumika: ideas from an unreliable feminist student

Film outside of Hollywood and British or French cinema have always been what I tend toward. Obviously I’ve had encounters with others but it’s these that have always been my favorites. That being said, Bhumika: The Role is now one of the better films I have seen in the last few years. The protagonist was likable but deeply flawed, all encompassing but realistic, passionate but disconnected. The filming showed exactly what the director wanted his audience to see but still left enough negative space for us to draw our own conclusions and decide for ourselves what the film is trying to achieve in regards to feminism and mid-nineteenth century Hindi culture.

Feminism is another topic that I unfortunately do not have great familiarity with. Great blog post choices on my part, right? But, and that’s a big, resounding, and hopeful but, Mazumdar’s article gave me some great insight on both Bhumika and feminism and how the two work together in the film. Most importantly Mazumdar explained the protagonists specific cast, which shed some light on her life as an artist, and on her mothers reluctance to get married. Usha was never expected to be married, which surprised me as both a westerner, and as someone who has stereotypical views toward life in the 50s. Another aspect that the article brought to my attention, and this is the idea that most stuck with me (dear lord, she finally gets to the point) is that for the whole movie Usha is desperately trying to define herself, to herself, and as her own, singular human being. What’s ironic about this is that, of course, she always seems to define herself by her relationships as men. More than once Usha iterates her desire for a family life, she’s leaps at the opportunity to marry Keshav siting her pregnancy, and she almost childishly forgets their past problems when she find out she is pregnant again. To me this is important because it shows that perhaps her independence was not meant to be her career, or her casual relationships, maybe it was her pursuit of what she saw as a perfect family, even though it was unobtainable. This theory is turned upside down by Usha’s neglect of her daughter, which is terrible but also shows how truly unhappy in herself and her life she was, and how out of control. The redeeming factor for me is the ending. She is clearly so proud of her daughter for finding a happiness she has never known, but she maintains that she needs to finally find her own happiness. She also blows off Rajan which is just awesome.

I still don’t have a solid grasp on feminism, especially when it is set in a culture I know I don’t fully understand. But through Usha I feel as if it is about pursuing happiness despite your gender or your social class, and it most certainly is about having to do so on your own terms (as hard as that may be) rather than the terms of a husband, mother, or lover.

It’s entirely possibly that I’ve just completely missed the point, as usual, but the film definitely resonated with me. I plan on watching it again, through the lens this article has given me, and getting even more out of it.

Nationalism: Imagined Reality, Inclusive Exclusion

One of my favorite parts of film, literature, and even culture is the consistent need of contradictions. Without  Hyde, Jekyll would not exist as we know him and so in. In Anderson’s article we were introduced to the idea of a nation being imagined rather than truly concrete. Anderson’s article poses many useful points, especially when watching this week’s film, Lagaan. It shows that while a nation is somewhat figurative, to the people who identify as being a part of the nation it is a very real and powerful entity. Similarly we know the film is just that, a film, and an article is just an article. But by seeing them as windows to the lives the the people they focus on, the audience can imagine them as real. Without our reality we cannot imagine, and without imagination we cannot see the realities of others.

The contradictions between reality and imagination are fascinating in this way because they are so difficult to fully separate. I am aware that Great Britain heavy-handedly colonized India, but until I can see a semi-stylized imagined representation of these events in a film or book, I cannot see it as a reality compared to my world. I can’t fully grasp it in my mind. Though semi-historical films such as Lagaan cater to an audience in terms of entertainment there must be a certain level of truth to the fallacy. One without the other would first off prove to be a less entertaining experience, but also miss the point of demonstrating the emotion of the story.

Two other themes to Lagaan, and the culture of the period as well as the Anderson’s article, are the opposing actions of inclusion and exclusion. Throughout all of Lagaan we see groups of people come together who couldn’t have been more at odds. Bhuvan invites muslims, hindus, a Sikh, and even an untouchable to come together for a shared purpose. Elizabeth uses her influence as an english woman to aid the local villagers against her own family. The entire movie is based on the joining of hands, or cricket bats I suppose, in oder to defeat a shared enemy. But, and this is a big but, at the very end we see the one person we most wanted (I most wanted) to be included in the jubilant ending very blatantly excluded. There is a line that Elizabeth cannot cross despite the fact that she has been flirting with it the entire film. She is welcomed most happily into the underdog circle but is quickly, and easily excluded because of her nationality. While a line between the two cultures does not truly exist, in this circumstance, and this moment in history this invisible, divisive line does become a reality.

It’s these contradictions that make literature and film so fascinating to me. Real life is absolutely brimming over with contradictions, and as such these representations of our lives must act accordingly.