Life as it ain't

"I'm not really from outer space. I'm just mentally divergent."

Archive for December 21st, 2009

Hotel Rwanda

Posted by Ronak M Soni on December 21, 2009

This post first appeared at PassionforCinema.

Still from the movieAs a race, we are more scared by human fears than atrocities to humans. The latter just disaffects us, or like a reporter in Hotel Rwanda says, “They’ll watch it, say, ‘Oh! That’s horrible,’ and continue with their dinners.” It is exactly this reaction that director Terry George is trying to keep us from, by focusing on a hotel manager (the real life Paul Rusesabagina, played by Don Cheadle) and his efforts to protect his family and over a thousand other ‘Tutsis’, who have taken refuge at his hotel.

First, a few words on the conflict (what I learnt from the movie): Rwanda was colonised by the Belgians, who for administrative purposes split the population into ‘Hutus’ and ‘Tutsis’ (interesting side-note: these two words don’t attract the ire of the spell-check on Microsoft Word). Tutsis were the minority, taller and fairer than their Hutu counterparts. Using the common method of divide and rule, Belgians gave the Tutsis power (these were the administrative purposes).  When they left, it was obviously the Hutus who usurped power. They treated the Tutsis badly. The Tutsis rebelled. The Hutus formed a militant army of their own (the ‘Interhammwe’, separate from the Rwandan army but being helped by them), and started “denying the Tutsi cockroaches volunteers”. The events in Hotel Rwanda take place at the Hotel Milles Collines when the Interhammwe have power over the capital Kigali.

Hotel Rwanda has been widely criticised on two counts: on not being ‘artistic’ enough, and for not focusing enough on the genocide the movie is situated in. But it is exactly these two facts that made the movie so hard-hitting for me, in fact more so on the second watch than on the first.

This movie does not take the form of art, and for good reason, because art, at its core, involves fakery, even of the fakery is being used to get through to some deeper truth. It is the exact form of fakery that distinguishes one artist from another. How else can we be sure that a clip we are watching is from one director or another? Once when I was in sixth class, we had four extracts from books, one by a cricketer, one by a filmmaker, one by a swimmer, and one by a writer. Even then, I could tell that that one was by a writer. Even in this piece, you can clearly see the writer, in the overuse of commas and brackets, for example. The whole idea is that we must not be aware of the person behind the camera, just the people in front of it.

The movie focuses on the efforts, through bribery and ass-kissing and other hotel manager ways, of Paul Rusesabagina to protect his wife (who’s a Tutsi herself), his kids (considered Hutus because their dad is and Rwandans don’t believe in calling people half-bloods) and over a thousand Tutsis who have taken refuge at his hotel. They have an idea of what’s happening outside, and a good part of the movie involves Paul and his wife Tatiana (pronounced Ta-ciaa-na) and their fears, during all the scenes about which I had a lump in my throat. This is what struck home; while – and because – I had an idea of the political rumblings outside the hotel, I was scared to death for these two. It is a general fact that the only way we can feel real sadness for a big set of people is by completely empathising with the feelings of some among them. Take for example The Pianist, or Githa Hariharan’s Fugitive Histories in which a girl’s guilt walking through an unsettled riot victims’ colony made me feel guilty about ever complaining, or Indra Sinha’s Animal’s People which is an almost exuberant look at the lives of the victims of the 1984 Bhopal Gas tragedy.

I understand I haven’t said much about the movie as a movie, making this more of a rebuttal than a review. But, the fact is that there isn’t all that much to say; it’s almost like a documentary in its stark realism – but has the advantage over one in its lack of impersonalness – and has to be watched. It cannot be described, at least not by me. It is a movie where there is no one we can call an ‘auteur’. It derives completely from real-life events. Though everyone is excellent in their work, no one brings a stamp of self to it, and this, I say, is what gives the movie its greatness. And a great movie it very much is. In the aftermath of this movie, you question the value of all art. And though you may come up with an intellectual justification, in your heart you really don’t feel it. Why all of it when there is Hotel Rwanda which so faithfully documents the failings and triumphs of humanity? But the real question is not that; that is just a minor question, just the art part. The real question is, how can we bear to enjoy when there is this happening? I watched this movie last night, and while this feeling has mostly dissipated, it hasn’t gone. None of the other movies I’ve watched or books I’ve read have made me ask that question. None. And certainly never on a second viewing.

Posted in George, Terry, Movie Reviews | Tagged: , , , , , | 7 Comments »

“What nice? Mice are nice yaar”

Posted by Ronak M Soni on December 21, 2009

Poster for 'Rocket Singh: Salesman of the Year'

Generally, I don’t bother enough to write about movies I didn’t think anything of, but I just watched a movie so hilariously bad that I have to write a short review. It’s a Hindi movie called Rocket Singh: Salesman of the Year, one of the biggest Bollywood movies this year. There are basically two problems: the writing – done by Jaideep Sahni – and the dialogue delivery.

It’s about a Sikh (Ranbir Kapoor) who becomes a salesman and screws up when … it’s clichéd, unimportant stuff, the point is that he screws up and is more or less a Pariah in his company. So, he siphons off a bit of the company’s resources and forms his own company called Rocket Sales Corporation. Because all his co-workers are throwing rockets at him.

If I caught you rolling your eyes there, I might as well make it clear that such a thing can work (think Indiana Jones’ hat). It’s in the tradition of what is known as the catch-phrase, and catch-phrases (which are rarely, if ever, phrases) do capture our imagination. “Show me the money” from Jerry Maguire, or “I’m going to make you an offer you can’t refuse” from The Godfather. The difference is, these were written as dialogue, not as catch-phrases; something about their rendition on screen and their content caught the public imagination, and they became catch-phrases. Rocket Singh, however, has a catch-phrase, or a rhyming dialogue, every five lines. No, seriously, these were written to be catch-phrases, there’s no other explanation for it.

And then, there’s the monologues: they reminded me of the long answers our teachers used to expect us to write in one of the more run-of-the mill schools (I shifted to a better school in my seventh, but the horror still hasn’t left me), containing enough points to fill five out of the requisite fifteen lines, and repetition consisting of rearranging a sentence two sentences after last using it.

The other problem is more subtle, I suspect that a lot of people didn’t like it for this reason, but have no idea about it. Let us consider of the world two parts: the West, and India. The West has a long tradition of what is known as stiff-neckedness on the part of men. This is weaker in the US, but still there. These people generally speak from their throats, the Brits from the bottom of the throat and the back of the mouth, and the Americans from somewhat higher up. And then there’s the Indians (and some ethnic groups like the Italians), who have no such tradition, and who speak from their chest. Now, with globalisation, we have Indian men who speak from their throats and Americans who speak from their chests, but we still see something: the ones who speak from their throats are the ones who aren’t showing much emotion, and the chest-speakers are (I’ve said that Hindi speakers sound more frank, and now I realise this is exactly what I meant). An example that comes to mind is the American TV series House, M.D., which consists of the two characters House and Wilson (Holmes and Watson renamed for the hospital). Wilson expresses his emotion, and House bottles it all up. Now watch the first scene in this video.

Now, back to the movie, we see Ranbir Kapoor… speaking from his throat. Admittedly, his lower throat, but his throat nonetheless. And, did I mention? The movie is a melodrama. So, we have the wrong voice speaking the wrong dialogues… big boom, big bad-a-boom.

However, despite my eye-rolling reaction to the movie, I have to admit: this is the biggest step ahead I’ve seen for Bollywood, and Ranbir Kapoor (son of Rishi Kapoor, grandson of Raj Kapoor, great-grandson of Prithviraj Kapoor, all great actors) is the best thing a star could be. Whatever you say about its merits as a movie, Rocket Singh’s set-up rings true, the characterisations are strong, and the movie is actually quite funny. I, in addition, have to admit, that if this was the meat of Bolywood, I wouldn’t look down on it half as much.

Okay, I don’t feel like ending on a good note, so let me tell you about the SloMO team saunter:

Depending on when in the movie this occurs, this sequence has two meanings. At the beginning of the movie, over the title credits, the SloMo Team Saunter is designed for us to see “The Team” as a single unit, so that later, we know who the Good Guys are. In an action/adventure movie, the SloMo Team Saunter will let us know that training has finished, and that some serious butt-kicking is about to commence. In sports, especially kid-based sports movies, the SMTS is designed to let us know that the disparite collection of misfits has come together as one, and also, serious butt-kicking is about to commence. In any movie made after “Reservoir Dogs,” with saunter will resemble the gait and placement of the characters in that movie. DAWSON RAMBO, Tucson, Ariz

Posted in Amin, Shimit, Movie Reviews, Movies | Tagged: , , , , , | 4 Comments »