Monday, February 24, 2014

Monday: We're so sorry YOU'RE offended.

Highway does 13 crores opening weekend but it's not exactly blockbuster material so that's understandable.

Imtiaz Ali is happy with the mixed response because it means people are engaging.

Sounding nonchalant, the director said: "I have no problem with it. It's good that there are mixed reactions. At least there are opinions. It is actually dangerous when people just say, 'It's good'," he added.

I've got more to say about Highway but I'll save it for another post. Like Imtiaz, I do find the mixed reactions interesting, though. I mean, how often do Mihir Fadnavis and I agree on a film?

Reviews have come in a few different flavors--though Mihir's haranguing praise stands alone--but I have to admit that I'm disturbed by all the 'romance' and 'Stockholm Syndrome' talk. I don't think either tag accurately reflects what went on between the two main characters. Why must we automatically read a relationship between a man and woman as romantic love? Highway is remarkably chaste and, for my money, more closely resembles one of those Shirley Temple films where a beaten down but good hearted girl melts a cold man's heart.


Let's see what else the news holds today!


Oh, maaaaannnnnn… get ready for a tiffin full of face-palming as the American media discovers The Lunchbox and takes all of Irrfan Khan's pontificating as gospel truth.

Must we, NYT?

"Mumbai is one of cinema’s great divas."

*face palm*

Irrfan Khan, the film’s star, said in an interview that “The Lunchbox” is the most important film to emerge from Bollywood in decades, because it is the first by an Indian director to win international acclaim.

Are we forgetting Oscar-nominated Lagaan? The incredible East Asian success of 3 Idiots? Or do those not count because Irrfan wasn't in them? (BINGO!)


The reaction to Gunday in Bangladesh, meanwhile, has inspired the most passive-aggressive letter ever from Yash Raj.

However, this was and is meant to be a fictional work and does not in any way project or disrespect any particular segment of society or persons or a nation.

AKA We're not sorry and if we actually cared we would have either set the film in a fictional place and/or done some research.

Kabir Arafat at the Wall Street Journal spells it out for us.

Bangladesh was born because Bangladeshi fighters had been battling the larger and better equipped Pakistani military for months. India’s participation only quickened the war’s end. It is the people of Bangladesh who liberated themselves from Pakistan.

Unfortunately, “Gunday” did not stop there in offending countless Bangladeshis. The film suggests that swaths of Bangladeshis represented themselves as Indians who spoke Hindi. The truth is nowhere near this.

A plethora of anecdotes stand testament to the reality that Pakistan’s army did not hesitate to kill defiant Imams who refused to speak Urdu and stuck instead to their native Bangla. To suggest some Bangladeshis chose to speak Hindi during the war is enough to provoke a strong reaction to the contrary.

Well, then. Yash "We sorry you're offended" Raj?


IIFA will shine a spotlight on the growing Indian community of Tampa.


If you're in Birmingham, you can sign up for a Bollywood acting class!


Blah, blah, blah… Shahrukh and Farhan win awards. Seriously, no wonder Aamir stopped attending these things.


And there are Gulaab Gang promotions flying around but I'm still very torn on this film. Madhuri says it's not a biopic but the pink saris… like the Gunday controversy, it would have been nice to see them commit to the 'fiction' aspect completely instead of trying to have it both ways--tying to real life events (to buy legitimacy from chattering classes?) but then claiming 'fiction' when people affected by/involved with those real life events take offense at the portrayal.



Anonymous said...

Well, you were the one who introduced me to assorted soundbites that implied Imtiaz thought of Highway as a romance; even if what came out of his mouth was vaguer than that, it seems like the media narrative was already set by the time anyone saw it; and some of the song promos came off as well into Lolita territory out of context.

Filmi Girl said...

I know--and I went into the theater thinking that WAS the narrative but was pleasantly surprised by the actual film. I guess I was disappointed more people didn't watch what was actually on the screen instead of going along with their assumptions.

Moimeme said...

What do you find "passive aggressive" in the YRF letter, FG?

The last sentence, which points out that Indian films are banned from being shown in Bangladesh since 1971? Don't you think that's relevant? It means that all the people who are complaining about the film's content either (a)haven't seen the film, or (b)have seen a pirated copy. In both scenarios, such people's complaints shouldn't hold a lot of value. Do you disagree?

As for the article in the WSJ, it is not incorrect, but I think some context setting is in order. Yup, the protests against Urdu being imposed in East Pakistan (as it was then) were long standing and bloody. The actual "rebellion" in 1971 started again on the language issue, over which their duly elected premier was jailed. The repression by Pakistan's government and army was so brutal that *ten million refugees* streamed into Calcutta over the period of a few months, tremendously straining that city's resources. An appeal by India to the United Nations brought no action (as the US was supporting Pakistan), and it was at this point and under these circumstances that India got actively into the war -- the "rebellion" had by this time become a full-fledged War of Independence, and the idea of a new nation of Bangladesh was fast gaining currency. Well, ultimately Pakistan lost the war and Bangladesh came into being, and, for the first few years, India was hailed as their liberator (without in any way reducing the role of the Mukti Bahini, the Bangladeshi revolutionary army, whose name means Liberating Force). After some years, though, political systems and leaders in Bangladesh changed, and for many years India was actually portrayed as the villain, and its role in the creation of Bangladesh was completely denied. More recently, with changing political situations again, India's role is once more being spoken of openly in Bangladesh. I mention all this to show that history has been rewritten several times since the birth of Bangladesh, so what Mr. Arafat says isn't the complete picture.

In particular, while in Bangladesh the war is naturally seen as a reaction to Pakistani oppression, the main impact in India, and especially Calcutta, was the pressure of the flood of refugees, and this is the main way in which people in India remember the war, as well as the atrocities committed by the Pakistani army against the Bangla population. So two orphans ending up in Calcutta with no one to look after them or any means of making a living is quite a realistic scenario. But Mr. Arafat's main objection seems to be that these Bangla orphans passed themselves off as *Hindi-speaking* Indians. Here I think he's being a little naive. Yes, given the long history of linguistic suppression and oppression in Bangladesh, his sensitivity is understandable -- but it's a freaking Bollywood movie! *All* the stories are told in Hindi, whether the characters are Gujaratis living in Gujarat during a major political event (Kai Po Che, and all the other films about the Gujarat riots), Bengalis living in Bengal (Devdas, anyone?) or Tamilians living in Chennai (Dirty Picture). So I think people need to see the language issue in this context. Of course all the actors on screen are going to speak in Hindi, regardless of what the characters would actually speak in real life. And it is true that during that time (and in fact, even now, according to some news reports), people from Bangladesh who came into India by irregular means did and do pass themselves off as being Indian, albeit Bengali-speaking Indians (as are the native population of West Bengal).

Filmi Girl said...

I don't have time to fully read/respond but your opinion is always a welcome counterweight, Moimeme! And I do think it's passive aggressive to say 'we're sorry YOU're offended' i.e. not really apologizing for anything while at the same time doubling down on the "it's fiction." If it was fiction with nothing to do with the time period/location, they really should have set the film somewhere else. That was my only point.

Moimeme said...

FilmiGirl, I'll wait till tonight when you'll have time to read my earlier post fully. But in general a film's story and characters can be completely fictional while the setting may be historically real, like all the films set in the American Civil War, or even all the World War II movies.

Anonymous said...

FG, sorry if I came off as overly gruff, I just felt that as of the point the director is on record calling a movie a "love story" or words to that effect, it's unsurprising that the film would be interpreted that way. am not qualified to speak on the Gunday controversy.

Tobi said...

I was going to comment below your fabulous review of Highway, but this seems to be where all the action is!

I saw Highway yesterday and like many others had expected the relationship to become romantic/sexual. I was cringing slightly as it seemed to be heading towards this conclusion, then was both relieved and flummoxed by the fact that it didn't quite go there. I even super-scrutinised the scene after they spend the night in the mountain hut for proof of sex: and my very analytical conclusion was no sex occurred, cos Randeep had his boots on when he woke up, and everyone knows you can't fuck in boots! (except kinky).

So I was really interested on your take on the relationship as platonic, more familial love.

I'm not sure that I entirely agree with the Shirley Temple comparison, because I think Veera did see the relationship evolving into a sexual one, given the chance. At least that's how I interpreted the scene where she is preparing the little hut: making the big bed, applying her eyeliner, etc.

I really like that the movie didn't see them consummate the relationship, and that it does leave it open to individual interpretation and no right/wrong conclusion.

Filmi Girl said...

So many comments today!! I love it!!

@odadune No worries! I totally understand what you're saying and I do understand the reaction but… I guess I wish more of the 'critics' had mentioned it since it seems like a key point to me if one is going to 'review' the film. Selling a film as a love story when it's not really was one of the problems with Raanjhanna, too. It's a disservice to the audiences and the films. And one wonders if it's the publicity team, the studios, who is pushing this?

@moimeme I appreciate the context and the history lesson! :) My issue with the YRF/Gunday controversy isn't the history/language issue since I can't speak to that but more that I think that YRF is trying to have their cake and eat it, too.

Corporate Bollywood has been pushing more and more to be the 'face' of Indian film internationally or at the very least to the global South Asian diaspora. Therefore, it would make sense that some Bangladeshis and/or people of Bangladeshi heritage probably did see Gunday in London or Singapore or somewhere and were able to form opinions of their own. And I'm sure some percentage large or small felt the same as the people making the complaints.

So it does seem disingenuous of YRF to claim this national identity and then act all shocked when people don't particularly like having a silly Hindi film set during a historical moment with a lot of tension behind it still.

I thought about this all day and I can't quite put my finger on whether YRF was essentially treating Calcutta like it would Paris or London or Singapore--as an 'exotic' location--or if they were trying to be 'national' in a way that would appeal to the diaspora but doing so in a really ham-fisted way.

Either way, I'm certainly NOT saying the film shouldn't have been made (except perhaps on artistic grounds) or should be censored or something but I do think YRF needs to own this mess instead of giving the old 'we're sorry YOU were offended' nonsense and maybe think harder about context before setting their next film in Bangalore or something.

@Tobi I'm glad you enjoyed the film!! Wasn't it a chaste ending? I do agree no sex took place. To me, the sharing the bed read more like the two able to take physical comfort in each other than a sexual interest thing. And… I think if they had more time together maybe it would have ended up as a romantic relationship but (to me) the final scene was more like Veera play-acting as a housewife than in actually trying to seduce him.

There was that one scene where he breaks down and she holds Mahabir and strokes his hair and he cries for his mother that really sealed it for me… in the end, she took the place of his mother, where he stood in for her father.

At least that was my reading. :)

And you're right that one of the wonderful things about Highway was that there are so many ways to look at it! I suppose if one was set on a sexual relationship between the two of them, one could imagine it during the fade-to-black. :P

Moimeme said...

FilmiGirl, thanks for reading through my long winded comment (sorry, I just got carried away).

So your objection is that YRF is being ... YRF? :) I don't think that's going to change any time soon.

But it's true that there's been a conscious effort under Aditya Chopra's management to take their films outside the Mumbai/Punjab rut and out into more of the "real India." How "real" those portrayals are is a different matter. I do think they approach these locations as "exotic" ones, rather than truly "representational" ones.

Filmi Girl said...

@Moimeme It was a good comment! I like getting context; I'm always learning something new. :)

But re: YRF… when you put it like that… it's probably not going to change any time soon. LOL! So, maybe the use of 'real' India is a mix of both--using locations that are exotic for Aditya & co. and/also a ham-fisted attempt to go full national.

It just goes to show how rare a director like Sujoy Ghosh is, who can really engage with a location like Calcutta and bring it to life for Hindi audiences...

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