Friday, 26 November, 2010

Mahabharata as a ripoff of Godfather

I was watching the movie Rajneeti on YouTube and looked up its Wikipedia entry. It says: "Robert Abele of the Los Angeles Times found that while it aimed 'for something trenchant about thwarted destiny and ugly ambition in modern Indian democracy', it 'mostly winds up with a convoluted and tonally awkward Godfather rehash, with nary a character worth rooting for...' Frank Lovece of Film Journal International said, 'More pulpy than political, this Godfather-ripoff Hindi electoral drama is a candidate for oblivion in U.S. theatres. ... [I]t all eventually becomes so ridiculous and over-the-top violent that there is nobody, nobody, to root for.'"

Now, the movie's director has made it quite clear that it is a modern version of the Mahabharata. This is immediately apparent to any Indian viewer. And since it'd be hard to find an Indian who doesn't know the basic story of the Mahabharata, the director doesn't have any new story to tell. Hence, the question of confusion doesn't arise, at least for the main audience of the movie, Indians and Indian diaspora.

As for not having a character to root for, the original story doesn't have any. So one can't say that's a deficiency. In fact, that's something that makes it interesting hundreds of years after it was written. Here's a story with many heroic characters but no hero.

But what made the two American reviewers search for Godfather in Rajneeti? It is about a family war, but so are many Indian movies. It must be the 'quickie' early in the film, because Godfather I had one too. It does not matter, of course, that the quickie in Godfather was used to define a character (Sonny) while the one here is central to the plot.

Well, if one similar scene makes a movie a remake of another, Godfather III is a remake of Pather Panchali. Why? Because there is a scene towards the end of former where the godfather lets out a silent scream over the body of his slain daughter, and this scene is similar to the one in Pather Panchali where the father cries uncontrollably when he comes to know of his daughter's death. In the latter scene too you don't hear his cries; instead, there is piece on the taarshenai.

What's my point? That Rajneeti is not a remake of Godfather but a retelling of Mahabharata? That's obvious. What's less obvious is why the two Western reviewers started on the wrong foot - they assumed that an Indian film must be ripoff - and ended with a completely wrong logic.

Of course, one can't blame them completely, because a great many Indian movies are ripoffs, but don't journalists have a responsibility to do a background check? Or is that unnecessary for brown people?

Wednesday, 24 November, 2010

Give North Korea a bad name and blast it

Today’s FT piece by Zbigniew Brzezinski (America and China’s first big test) is typical of what’s out there: North Korea is bombing South Korea without rhyme or reason, because its regime is insane.

But what do the North Koreans say? According to a communiqué published by their state news agency, “The south Korean puppet group perpetrated such reckless military provocation as firing dozens of shells inside the territorial waters of the DPRK side around Yonphyong Islet in the West Sea of Korea from 13:00 on Nov. 23 despite the repeated warnings of the DPRK while staging the war maneuvers for a war of aggression on it codenamed Hoguk, escalating the tension on the Korean Peninsula.

The above-said military provocation is part of its sinister attempt to defend the brigandish ‘northern limit line,’ while frequently infiltrating its naval warships into the territorial waters of the DPRK side under the pretext of ‘intercepting fishing boats.’

The revolutionary armed forces of the DPRK standing guard over the inviolable territorial waters of the country took such decisive military step as reacting to the military provocation of the puppet group with a prompt powerful physical strike…"

For all I know, the North Koreans are lying. But once one reads the communique they don’t seem half as mad as they are being made out to be. My question is why no news source finds it fit to even mention the North Korean rationale, more so because it is readily available on-line. Is there more to this than a communist dynasty gone crazy (Other reports certainly make you suspect it has. Here’s a headline: Kim Jong Il Inspects Newly Built Soy Sauce Shop at Ryongsong)  

Saturday, 6 November, 2010

They drink urine and burn widows. No wonder they are so poor

In an article Possessions and the Extended Self Russell W. Belk writes, “Another example, perhaps repugnant to Western observers, is the drinking of the urine of Vedic priests to partake of the psychogenic properties of the Amanita muscaria mushroom that these priests ritually consume (Wasson 1972).” In the same article, he writes, “Until outlawed 100 years ago in India, the wife, as ‘property’ of a deceased husband, was expected to join him in death (Bordewich 1986).”

The first sentence implies that Eastern observers may not find the drinking of urine repugnant. Anyway, a little searching shows that Wasson’s conclusion was probably based on a single line, one that merely said that if you drank much soma (And scholars are far from anonymous what soma was), you urinated a lot. The drinking of urine was Wasson’s conjecture. (I invite you to Google the topic. It’s easy.)

And while I don’t know where Bordewich got his data from, I am quite sure it wasn’t from any sane source. The burning of widows accounted for a minuscule number of deaths when it was legal; and it was outlawed in British India in 1823, not 100 years ago (Belk’s article came out in 1988). To say that sati or widow burning was ‘expected’ is to say that white Americans were expected to lynch blacks (I do not mean anything derogatory by ‘white’ or ‘black’) every time they had an unsolved rape on their hands. Neither lynching nor sati was fiction; but that did not make either routine. Anyway, Bordewich wrote in The Atlantic, which is not an academic journal. 

Academics are supposed to be looking for the truth, but when it comes to darkies, who cares? If these people are so poor, ignorant and corrupt, can they be humans like us? No, they must be absolutely irrigational and abnormal. Of course, we need not bother if they outnumber us 3:1 or 4:1 and, hence, whatever they do should to be the norm, not what we do.   

I believe open racism is easier to deal with that this sort of bigotry, which comes out routinely in mainstream media and even in academic literature. Well-meaning Westerners may not recognise the problem: one hardly expects professors, journalists and columnists to be racists, and Easterners dare not write against the pillars of society. For if they do, they show how insecure they are, how afraid of ‘losing face’.

Anyway, I would very much like to do research on this topic, to show if this racism can be objectively exposed, at least as far as academic articles and books go.