Nov 22, 2007

Notes on Blood Diamond

i usually watch a film a good couple of months after the initial hype surrounding it has abated & even when i do, i almost never google it or read reviews cineastes or critics have posted before i've had a chance to watch & decide for myself. 2 of the biggest surprises in recent times were 'munich' & 'blood diamond' - the former because it received many favourable reviews & yet failed to move me at all & the latter coz it has been called everything from 'awkward', 'lukewarm', 'uninvolving' to a 'a public-service announcement masquerading as an adventure story'. for me it' neither.

agreed that the plot relies heavily on the use of typical cliches like the simple native, uncorrupted by the lure of lucre, the greedy white man & the sexy journalist who provides the much needed romantic relief as also the voice of idealism & reason. yet despite these cliches the film works for me. foremost for the brilliant acting by all 3 main actors.

through his efforts to portray the role of solomon vindy, a fisherman from sierra leone who is just another casualty in the civil war that tears the country apart as the world media obsesses whether monica lewdinsky indeed lit the fire in the white house' inner chambers, Djimon Hounsou brings to his performance that rare balance that manages to distinguish the dumb from the uncomplicated, & reflects superbly the process of personal growth that his character undergoes, without losing the intrinsic qualities that endeared him to us. the solomon who seems to exert no choice over his circumstances & is little more than a puppet in the hands of danny archer (leonardo di caprio) realises towards the end that he also holds some cards in his hands & can make archer bend to his will - if only briefly. however, this knowledge does not transform him into a scheming opportunist.

di caprio has been one of my fav actors since i saw 'whats eating gilbert grapes' & his spate of recent performances (aviator, departed) have only strengthed my belief that i possess good taste in men. his is an obsessive thirst that drives archer to seek the big diamond that solomon has buried in a war-torn enemy territory. though he claims the diamond is his passport out of the 'bloody continent', we know better. this is not so much about what the diamond can 'buy ' than about what obtaining it 'signifies' - the ultimate conqueror's dream to lay hands on unsullied, virgin spoils. even when he has revealed parts of his nice guy demeanor to us via his interactions with the journalist maddy bowen (jennifer connelly looking much better & healthier than god ever intended), he insists in his characteristic snarl that the diamond remain with him as solomon, dia (solomon's rescued son) & he trek their way across difficult territory to meet the aircraft that will transport them to safety. the look on his face as he finally unfolds the rag that holds the diamond & beholds it could be that of a serial killer who confronts his helpless victim - one of undiluted lust, power & ownership.

jennifer connelly does the best she can of a role that really doesn't have much to it. she exists more as a point of reference for archer, a person to whom he recounts the horrible facts of his early years, so that we gain some understanding of his mercenary heart. somehow, the love scenes, if we can call them that, between archer & maddy remind me of the ones between rahul bose & konkona in mr & mrs iyer. these two are just not meant to be & yet you want them to so badly. they have both met too late & yet the very fact of their meeting almost demands that it be justified by a larger, more favourable fall out.

though we have all read about terrorist camps recruiting children & arming them with guns, the scenes depicting the RUFs ruthless training of these young vulnerable village boys whom it has abducted, is profoundly moving. it is chilling to see how the boys are first indoctrinated into a convenient code of 'hate the white man', 'hate the government', 'hate ur parents for they have failed u', their minds further paralysed by alcohol & cocaine & then made to fire at human targets while they are blindfolded. for the young impressionable mind there is no going back when he sees what he has done after the blindfold is removed. similarly, for the thousands of kids like dia vindy there is no going back to a normal family life of mutual love & shared responsibilities even after he has been rescued from the terrorist camp by his father.

for me such scenes speak no less urgently, no less profoundly than those in 'hotel rwanda'.

Nov 11, 2007

What's Diwali

this seems to be the right time to write this, after all if theres one festival that means as much to us as christmas does for the west, & also arouses similar feelings of goodwill, generosity & good cheer, it is diwali. even without domestic help & the general do-everthing-urself attitude that one has to accept here, most of my friends prepared elaborate diwali snacks & sweets, cleaned & vacuumed their homes with a passion that is sure to evoke the blessings of the goddess laxmi, even if their prayers dont. no, i'm not being sarcastic. there is smthing admirable abt these women who smilingly indulge every whim & fancy their families come up with.

p, one of the women i'm talking abt, has been spending close to 5 hrs everyday in the kitchen, making stuff like laddoos, gujia, chiwada & 4-5 other items i've always relished without even bothering to know the name. she is tired beyond words but beams with a strange glow in the evenings. according to her, her hubby mustn't regret the fact that he's away frm india & miss his mom, who acc. to p is a champion when it comes to whipping up dishes in a flash. another friend's daughter requested her mom to make samosas and the poor gal (mom, not kid) spent almost a day poring over recipe books & websites to find the perfect recipe & finally made the samosas. needless to say, they were yummmmy... whenever we meet these days, conversations abound abt how tired they all are, how they're not gonna cook for the next 3 days, how all that frying & taloing induces waves of nausea, & yet there is no bitterness, no real chagrin at being at the receiving end of such extravagant demands. in fact, all i can detect is immense joy, pride & satisfaction. and yes, strangely enuf, a latent sense of competing & outdoing each other & their m-i-l's. if this isn't limitless generosity - to share oneself, ones resources & time & privacy, then i dont know what is. for sm1 who guards her private self & her time almost as ferociously as cerberus, this is worthy of emulating & learning from.

speaking of generosity brings me to another person without whom this post wud be incomplete. for all the essays & debates i've been privy to, forgiveness is a virtue i haven't fully grasped. in fact, with the exception of our mom, the rest of us r alike. retaliation, a smouldering resolve to get even at a more opportune moment, & vindictiveness r familiar emotions; to let go, forgive & move on, r distant cousins. therefore it is all the more difficult to be married to a person like A who doesn't take insults too seriously, is completely contained & doesn't harbour any desire to climb up in others' estimation & actually needs to be REMINDED when so-&-so behaved abominably with us or abused our hospitality or stole our money or took us for granted ......... this has often been grounds for serious friction in the relationship where i've mistaken his attitude for weakness or an inherent effort to avoid ugly situations & confrontations coz he's afraid. now i know nothing cud b farther from the truth.

M, a colleague of A's who's been a pain in the butt & given hazaar grief to A in office, has
inevitably run into trouble with other superiors in the comp too & has been politely asked to clear his desk. his demeanor & attitude have been such that even the corridors of the client office r abuzz with rumors of his tantrums & notorious behavior. he called A yday to ask him for recommendations which he'll require nowthat hes job hunting. A heard him out patiently & agreed to oblige, i mean, without any fuss, no attitude shoving down the throat, no gloating or attempts to extend the moment to make M squirm. call me uncharitable or mean or whatever, i know i wud have. two other ppl i'm v.close to have also been in similar situations & i know they wud have also behaved like me. the funny part is, A knows that in an honest internal appraisal, he wudnt rate M very highly. his work ethics suck & he's a poor performer. but since he's very nearly without a job, A didnt even rethink his decision to endorse a favourable letter of recommendation. i'm not going to go into the professionalism or lack thereof in what he's doing. for me, it takes tremendous reserves of love & contentment to be without malice & vindictiveness. again smthing to admire & maybe emulate.