Archive for July, 2012

July 25, 2012

Review: Harud, a film by Aamir Bashir

A loud siren penetrates the heavy air at exactly 3.10 in the morning.

My heart skips a beat. Muscles at the back of my leg twitch with fearful surprise. My eyes open, then close like a dreamy interval. I am not in Kashmir. And this is no ID parade line-up call. It is a simple wake up bugle that the community mosque alerts it’s faithfuls with during the month of Ramazan, in Delhi, the capital of the Indian state. But this slight jolt in my deep slumber is effective enough to introduce an after taste of the film I watched last evening, Harud.

And it is not a pretty flavour. I feel ashamed.

Harud is the season that we all know as autumn. It is the season of decay that comes before winter. Leaves shed themselves from their branches, the sun becomes pale and the wind dry. Degeneration is the order of the day. The film too, true to its title, feels like a constant movement towards darkness. The film opens with passionate calls for Azaadi. The story is of a Kashmiri family whose elder son has gone ‘missing’. The mother is trying to keep alive an elusive hope by attending meetings of the Association of Parents of Disappeared People. The father (played by the iconic Iranian actor Reza Naji), a traffic cop, goes about his daily routine of tea with some bread, getting dressed in his uniform only to stand in the middle of a square and see the traffic go by. The younger brother Rafiq is the one that interests the director. The camera travels with him to the border where he, along with two comrades, are about to cross the line of civility into violence. But Rafiq is taken back by his father to their home, somewhere in Kashmir. Rafiq is a young man who is angry but unsure. He delivers newspapers, sleeps, plays football as an inert goalie, has fights, saves a man’s life, suffers the collateral damage of a bomb blast and also eyes a young girl of the neighbourhood, ostensibly to give her some photographs. All these episodes are interwoven through some beautiful and meaningful camera work. Each frame is punctuated with objects of repression, be it barbwires, guns or military check posts. The sound design reminds me of the many Iranian films that have used 360 degree sound as a prominent character of the film rather than letting it remain in the background.

The story unfolds and the film culminates in an impending tragedy. In the midst of all these happenings, Rafiq’s relationship with extremism is kept delightfully ambiguous, if only to ensure that the larger picture remains. And the larger picture is that of a lost hope for a beautiful people who were once free.

Sub scenes and sub plots make Harud politically relevant and artistically rich; almost like a new kind of cinema that demands critical appreciation.

Rafiq’s friends are a charm when they discuss who independent Kashmir’s biggest competition will be in football; it can’t be cricket crazy India, Pakistan is busy fighting and Afghanistan won’t be able to put together a team. China seems the only real threat.

The only real usefulness of Delhi seems to be that it is a centre for talent hunt shows.

The mobile revolution is a necessity to warn families and friends about a bomb blast here or a shoot out there. The journalist, reporting the euphoria of mobile connectivity in the valley, stumbles in her speech just enough to give the entire event the feel of a shenanigan.

I am ashamed of being a citizen of a state that demands obedience in the name of shallow development. We are like ostriches, hiding our faces in the sand, not seeing the obvious, and harping on false beliefs like India shining and world cup victories. A paradise of beautiful people is being torn to shreds daily while the army men adorn their dorms with crass posters of bollywood heroines. It is high time the seasons change, from long and dark winter to hopeful spring and finally to a free summer.

All Indians must see Harud. It is a masterfully made example of cinema that has the capacity to put its point across without being patronizing. It is great that PVR is releasing this throughout the nation but it would be heartening to see it reach the real people through national television. And for cinema’s sake, I hope Aamir Bashir does not stop with just one film.


July 24, 2012

Review: Saving Face

ImageSaving Face, the Oscar award winning short documentary by Daniel Junge and Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy is a film that touches the heart and leaves a deep seated helplessness in the soul. The film appeals to the logical, educated and ‘civilized’ human conscious for a sound reason as to why a hundred odd men in Pakistan, and many more across the world, think it acceptable to shower their female partners with acid, every year. Is it a mere act of patriarchal violence or is it something far more brutal? To be absolutely honest and blunt, a rape victim is violated both physically and emotionally, and it must be an arduous task to overcome the fear and inner emptiness. But having watched snippets of the lives of a few acid attack survivors through the film, how are these women to redeem their lives? They are not even given a chance to forget about their fates. The tragedy that their lives have become, stare at them daily. Zakia is strong willed and is ready to wring the courts of justice till she gets one up on her husband. Her willingness to file for divorce is in itself an act of bravado of a variety that only desperation can conjure. She supports her two kids, juggles the courts and the lawyers and is also hopeful of getting her face restored through surgery. Amidst all these sub plots of tremendous optimism there lays the truth; Zakia is fearful, and ashamed, of stepping out in public without covering her burnt face. On the other end of the spectrum is Rukhsana, a young woman in her mid-twenties who was not only subjected to an acid attack by the husband but was also slated to be burnt alive by a pint of gasoline and a few matchsticks. Her story is not one of courage but of cowardice. Rukhsana goes to a safe house, only to return back to her husband. For the sake of the kids, is the reason shared with us, but the real reason is a sense of defeat and an acceptance of life that is imprisoned by circumstances. To watch her cry is almost obscene. She has been cordoned off in her own house by a brick wall, so that she cannot even see her daughter. And the husband wants to conjugate as well, which leaves Rukhsana pregnant in the middle of her impending face reconstruction surgery. She is sincere in praying that her next born will be a boy who, by the grace of Allah, will bring back happiness in her world. All the fiction films of this world could not have managed to create such an ironic tale of suffering and hope.

In the midst of these two heroes, is the knight who goes by the name of Dr. Jawad. He is a loud mouthed, rich and professional UK-Pakistani plastic surgeon who, by his own admission, has become famous because he can make them bigger or smaller. The film bounces off him and creates an easy access for the viewers to get engaged with it. It is the doctor who cries on hearing the stories of pain, who calls the operation a party and who gives Zakia a high five on hearing that her husband has been awarded with a double life imprisonment. If he was an actor, he would have won an Oscar himself. But Allah definitely will have a few Oscars of His own lined up for him in the afterlife.

Saving Face has been lucky to have serendipity on its side. Many instances in the film could have been left out of the final edit if not for them being turning out so positively:

The Pakistani parliament passed the bill to increase the punishment of acid attack offenders to life imprisonment, unanimously; a rarity in politics of the region.

After a delay in the verdict, the court finally returns with one that favours Zakia.

And the most important one of all, Rukhsana actually delivers a healthy baby boy to keep her hopes of a happy life intact.

Tragedies that end on a happy note are rare but it feels tremendously good to see it happening on screen. If people are not moved by anything else in the film, they must surely be moved by these instances of fortune. If for nothing else, the film deserves an Oscar for celebrating life!

When I watch a documentary, it is a difficult task to critique the film, the art form. The most obvious reason for this is the fact that the subject of the film is real, its protagonists are real people and its settings are out of real towns and cities. In a sense, a documentary is the closest that a film can get to life itself; life in its most horrendous, beautiful, charming or sadistic avatar. And because the film is so real, the story takes over and I get totally engaged, absorbed, and even sympathetic at times. The film making and its paraphernalia are sidelined for a bit as the mood of the story takes over. Saving Face is no exception. Reality strikes right at the beginning, the opening shot of Zakia’s photograph taken before the attack sets the tone of the film, making it a story of longing of the days gone by. In some shots there is an obvious attempt to underline the grotesqueness of the faces that are to be saved. The camera angles highlight the scars by being oblique, moving from a mid-shot to a close up rather unannounced, almost voyeuristic. True, such acts of violence can never be completely undone. True, the faces were not appetising to look at. But sympathy victimizes the victim further and pushes them aside into a different group, othering them, to speak academically. The self conscious doctor gives the film a character that infuses jovialness and takes away from the pain ever so slightly. His caricature is the keyhole through which the audience (who are mostly of the same class and social background as him) peep into the lives of these scarred women. On occasions, the camera tries really hard to get inside the psyche of Zakia and Rukhsana, prompting the former to ask her daughter to recite a joke, and the latter to make decorative bangles. But these frames look made up, unreal. Maybe such films demand a different level of empathy from the film maker, one where the protagonists are not just subjects but a raison d’etre of the film. But the task of a film or any art really, is to initiate dialogue, and Saving Face has been successful in doing that, more so because of the Oscar win. Congratulations for that.

July 7, 2012

It was yet another hot, dusty and humid day. The drudgery of my job was making it seem more horrible than it was. I was just waiting for the hands of the clock to strike the right pose and indicate that it was time for me leave behind this world of slavery and head home.

Eventually they did.

I picked my things up and left. Just as I stepped out of the building, I noticed that the sky had turned an odd shade of orange with a few dark clouds in the background, I guessed that it was a dust storm building up. Perfect! just what I needed to make my day better; a sand bath on my way home, I thought to myself. Surely enough, the wind began to howl and coat me with fine dust. I cursed under my breath.

Thankfully though this was only a momentary hindrance, the season’s first showers wanted to toy with the citizens of this city a bit more before granting relief. The weather in a matter of minutes turned pleasant and the heavens started to open up. By the time I got home it had begun to rain quite steadily.

While commuting, I was reminded of the monsoons back when I was kid, those late evening showers on the way back from school, would have us scampering under trees and ledges of buildings, lest our bags and books get drenched. We’d kick and splash water and muck on each other, get home soaking wet only to be admonished and ushered into the bathrooms for a hot shower. On emerging I’d find a plate or bowl of a hot snack waiting for me.

While climbing up the stairs to my floor, I began to hum a cheesy “rain song” and was hoping against hope that a cup of hot tea would magically present itself. Much to my surprise the cup wasn’t there to welcome me.

I didn’t let it disappoint me too much, the scene outside was far to cheerful to let small things dampen my spirit. I changed as quickly as I could and put on a pan to make tea. As the water boiled, I felt that some pakoras would go great with this tea. So I set out to make the batter, chop/slice the onions and the potatoes. The tea was ready and as fate would have it, there was enough to make to two cups, so I poured one for now and kept the rest aside for later, to be had with the crispy, goldenpakoras.

Frying, drying, tossing of spices all took place and the promised feast was finally ready. I reheated the leftover tea, poured it in to a cup, carried the pakoras in a bowl and made my way to the door, so that I could sip my tea and eat my snack listening to the symphony of the rain and feel the cool breeze. As I sat there sipping on my tea, I thought I’d call my mom and tell her of son’s achievement. I couldn’t get through, just as I was about to put the phone back, I noticed the time on the phone and realised that this culinary feat took me close to 2 hours. I immediately sent mom a sms, “it’s raining here today. was remind of home and your snacks, decided to make tea and pakoras. It took me 2 hours though. wonder how you instantly produced stuff? “.

I put my phone down and slowly forgot all about it. I had finished my tea and my snack and was now enjoying the much needed break from the oppressive heat and grime.

Almost an hour later, my phone buzzed, it was a reply from mom. I read and let out a little chuckle.

It read ” Beta, it’s just like how it takes me 15 minutes to type this message. Hope you enjoyed your snack. Love, ma”

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