Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Meghe Dhaka Thara

Director: Ritwik Ghatak
Language : Bengali
Neeta's (Supriya Choudhuri) family is one of many refugees who were displaced from Bangladesh and moved to West Bengal during the Partition. With her meagre earnings as a tuition teacher, Neeta strives to support not only her parents, but also an older brother Shankar (Anil Chatterjee) who is a struggling singer, a younger brother Montu whose passion for football she nurtures and a sister, the coquetish Gita. Neeta also financially supports her scientist fiance, Sanat, who is ultimately lured away by Gita at the behest of their mother who wants to ensure that Neeta remains unmarried to continue supporting the family.
Following her sister's deceit and mother's machinations, Neeta begins to feel suffocated by her life. Her sole source of emotional succour is her brother, Shankar whose life thereon gradually moves inverse to his sister's.
The family finally begins to thrive, but Neeta's emotional suffocation manifests at a metaphysical level as tuberculosis. Neeta is now a wasted human being and in the end, her final anguished vocalisation of her desire to live resonates in the hills that she always wanted to visit.
Ritwik Ghatak is considered one of the pathbreaking directors of Indian cinema. This movie is renowned for the way the sound and visual design communicate the emotional climate of each scene. The architecture of the scenes are also indicative of the turns that Neeta's life takes - from the vast tree-lined riverside vistas of West Bengal to the claustrophobic confines of the courtyard in the refugee village and then again, to the pinnacle of no return in the grounds of the sanitarium in the hills of Nainital.
Meghe Dhaka Tara is a tragic story, but one that highlights the Partition's socio-economic impact on immigrant families in post-Independence West Bengal.

(An edited version appeared in Culturama's September 2010 Issue)

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Rang De Basanti

Director: Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra
Language: Hindi
Rang De Basanti is a fascinating interplay between the narrative of a jailor in British-era India and that of his granddaughter in contemporary India. The movie evokes a comparison between the Indian freedom heroes of his time and the Indian youth of her time.
In his diary, McKinley (Steven Mackintosh) named five Indian freedom fighters - Bhagat Singh, Chandrashekhar Azad, Rajguru, Ashfaqulla Khan, and Ramprasad Bismil - whose fearless, unwavering commitment to the Indian freedom struggle shook his very belief system. Sue (Alice Patten) arrives in India to make a documentary based on her grandfather's diary.
With the help of Sonia (Soha Ali Khan), Sue chooses a group of happy-go-lucky friends who initially seem least likely to convincingly portray legendary heroes. They are a disaffected group with no sense of identity.
Daljeet alias DJ (Aamir Khan) has long since completed his education but chooses to remain in college. Karan Singhania (Siddharth) shares a testy equation with his rich industrialist father. Aslam (Kunal Kapoor) belongs to a lower middle-class family that disapproves of his choice of friends. Exuberant Sukhi (Sharman Joshi) is ever interested in girls. Laxman Pandey (Atul Kulkarni) is the outsider to the group, a fundamentalist whom Sue chooses, much to the consternation of the group.
The mood shifts when Sonia, loses her fiance, Flt. Lt. Ajay Rathod (Madhavan) to an air crash. The Indian defence minister, Shastri (Mohan Agashe) casts aspersions on Rathod's flying skills and disregards allegations of the purchase of faulty spare parts for MiG aircrafts.
The corruption among politicians evokes patriotic fervour among the friends, and in a poignant mirroring between past and present, they take the law into their hands, hurtling towards a resolution that eerily matches the lives of the Indian freedom fighters of yore.
With brilliant performances by the ensemble cast and music by A. R. Rahman that dovetails into the script, Rang De Basanti won the National Award in India. It is also the first Indian movie to be nominated by BAFTA in 2006 in the Best Film Not In the English Language category.
(An edited version appeared in Culturama's August 2010 Issue) 

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Ice Candy Man / Cracking India - Bapsi Sidhwa

 Bapsi Sidhwa captures the turmoil of the Partition of India through the eyes of little Lenny Sethi belonging to a wealthy Parsi family in Lahore. We first meet her when she is four years old, and grow with her, in the discovery of a world changing rapidly around her.
Lenny is a precocious child, indulged by everyone because of her polio. She is enamoured by the many suitors who woo Shanta, her ayah or nanny who accompanies her to the park - from the Masseur to the Butcher, the ZooKeeper to the cook and the gardener, but particularly with the poetry-spouting Ice Candy Man. The group meets under the guise of exchanging news, while actually each one is attracted to the lovely Shanta. The Ice Candy Man flirts incessantly with Shanta, but she herself, is drawn to the Masseur.
When Lahore is declared part of Pakistan, there is a spate of migrations, conversions and much violence in the name of religion. The Ice Candy Man, sees a train full of Muslim passengers hacked to death by Sikhs, and in that instant, turns from poet to instigator. In one terrible night, Lenny witnesses the carnage that was Partition from the Ice Candy Man's rooftop even as he revels in the mindless violence. One day, the masseur's hacked body is found, stuffed in a gunny sack.
When marauders descend on the Sethi household looking for Hindus in hiding, Lenny is deceived by the Ice Candy Man into uttering the truth, thereby forever changing the destiny of the Ayah. Through it all, it is Lenny's godmother, Roda, who becomes her bulwark. When the missing Ayah is found to be in the red light area of Lahore, it is the Godmother who rights the wrong caused by Lenny's truth.
Bapsi Sidhwa wonderfully captures Lenny's voice, with its raw frankness, stirring sensitivity and mourning of lost innocence. 

(An edited version appeared in Culturama's August 2010 Issue) 

The Indian Tricolour

If D.N. Bhatt had his way, every Indian flag purchased in the nation would provide income to Indian villages. Having said that, he can take pride in the fact that the flags he manufactures, aid this process to a great measure.
Mr. Bhatt owns Khadi Dyers & Printers (KDP), one of the two units in India licensed to manufacture the Indian Tricolour as per the specifications of the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS).
Few are aware that the making of a good quality Indian flag is a process that adheres not only to stringent standards, but also retains the human touch at its core – the cotton cloth from which the flag is made, is hand-spun and hand-woven, also called Khadi.
Mr. Bhatt narrated a historical anecdote few would be aware of. “In the early 1950s, the Director General of the BIS, Mr. O.P. Khullar received a message from the then-President of India, Dr. Rajendra Prasad. He requested an important specification to be included in the standards for manufacturing the Indian flag – that it must be made of Khadi cotton cloth, hand-spun and hand-woven at the village level, thereby ensuring a stream of income to Indian villages.”
Every step of the manufacturing process is ruled by the quality standards as laid out by BIS. Mr. Bhatt elaborates, “Khadi cloth is sourced by the Khadi Village Industries Commission (KVIC) and it arrives at our workshop. Here, we test it for quality. Only the fabric that passes the standard will have the ISI quality stamp on the finished product. The fabric is then sent to a mill where it is dyed (saffron and green) and bleached (white) as per the standard shade card. The Ashok Chakra emblem is screen printed in dark blue on the white panels. The dyed, bleached and printed panels are then stitched. Once assembled with the rope and toggle, the completed flags are despatched to the Khadi Bhandars or outlets based on the quantities ordered.”
Mr. Bhatt details the standards maintained at KDP, “Our flags are subject to stringent tests for colour-fastness from sun and water. The corners of the flag are stitched diagonally to ensure strength when the flag flaps in the wind. Every intricate detail is ensured down to the groove that holds the rope in the toggle, the size of the rope and even the depth of hem on the flags. The most challenging process we have managed to master is the printing of the Ashok Chakra at the exact position on both sides of the flag.”
Today, although people accord respect to the Indian tricolour, they end up buying the paper and plastic flags sold at traffic signals. While those also do contribute to someone's livelihood, citizens are not aware that buying a Khadi one has such economic significance for Indian village industries.” says Mr. Bhatt.
Flags of the BIS standard sizes are manufactured at KDP - the smallest being the table-top variety at 2 inches by 3 inches and the largest at a gigantic 14 feet by 21 feet. They are available at KVIC's Khadi bhandars or sales outlets across India with the ISI quality mark clearly branded on the 'duck' – the unbleached, uncoloured stem of the flag.
  • New Delhi is the biggest market for flags with most government departments are located in Delhi.
  • The size of the state has no connection to the number of flags sold. Relative to its size, Madhya Pradesh has lower demand compared to say, Maharashtra or Rajasthan.
  • A flag, if used every day for eight hours a day as in Government Agencies, will fray in a year. If it is used only for Independence Day and Republic Day celebrations, it will last for even ten years.
  • While BIS ensures the quality of Indian flags, the Flag Code of India ensures that the Indian flag is accorded the respect befitting a national symbol. The Flag Code of India can be accessed at http://india.gov.in/knowindia/national_flag.php
  • Arundhati Virmani's book, A National Flag For India traces the evolution of thought that went behind designing the Indian Tricolour.
(An edited version appeared in Culturama's August 2010 Issue)