‘Turtles Can Fly’, a Kurdish Film by Bahman Ghobadi

One thing that does not make news about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq is their debilitating impact on children. ‘Turtles Can Fly‘, (2005) a film made by Kurdish director Bahman Ghobadi, brings attention to that inglorious facet of war.

After watching this movie one shudders at the realization of how a whole generation, scarred, scalded, mutilated by war, is growing up in the middle east and other parts of the world.

Continue reading “‘Turtles Can Fly’, a Kurdish Film by Bahman Ghobadi”

Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears

Moscow does not believe in tears (1980) provides a rich view into the Soviet Union circa 1980 even as it is clearly inspired by French cinema of the time. It tells the very earthly story about three girls who have just come to Moscow in 1958 and then fast forwards twenty years later. What emerges is the portrait of a people with their own problems. There are no signs of a society crashing into an abyss that it was to a mere ten years after the movie was made. At the same time,there are no pretensions of a worker’s paradise either- decrepit roads, dilapidated cars, apartments in disrepair- all attest to a not so glorious condition.

There are barely crouched references to Breznevian rule. Gosha, who comes into Katya’s life towards the end of the movie comments says that everyone need not aspire to be a manager, or a leader and recalls the Roman emperor Diocletian who first established an autocratic rule in Rome and then gave up his empire to live in the countryside and grow cabbages, though interestingly in the movie he mentions him as a good ruler.

A good emperor by the way. At the height of his empire, he gave away the crown and settled down in the country. And when he was asked to take over again, he replied- “if you looked at the cabbages in my garden, you’d stop asking me.”

There is an underlying Soviet belief in the reduction of class antagonism, of a possibility of a woman rising to be the director of a big industrial plant- and a single mother at that. At the same time, there is an acceptance of patriarchal values, the authority that a man wields and that Gosha demands. Drunkenness among men, much prevalent during the Soviet years- as it is later, is very visible- with repeated declarations to drinking being a holy act.

It may be unfair to read too much into the movie with the wisdom of hindsight after the disintegration of the former USSR. But even without that, the movie comes out as an essentially humane one, and touches one. It’s music alone is worth listening to again and again, as I did long after I had watched the movie twice. But one cannot stop being where one is situated in time, and a final point on its relevance to Soviet society and its disintegration.

Soviet Union was not a paradise. Neither was it hell- it was a society that set too high a demand for itself and placed too many demands on its people to lead mankind into the future- there are repeated references to the future. “Chemistry is the future of the world”, says Katya, while Rudolph, the father of her daughter, claims that “TV is the future, when there will be no more theater, or books or movies.”

“The future? You should be thinking about the present”, says one of Katya’s friends.

The postponement of the self- whether of the individual, or a city- Moscow in this case, or a nation, is not always a fine thing.

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The Battle of Algiers- in Iraq

World Literature’s November issue has excerpts from “My Father, The Rebel”, written by Maissa Bey., the daughter of Larbi bin M’hidi on whom was based one of the characters in the film The Battle of Algiers, a  movie as disturbing today as it was when it was released in 1966. The daughter’s memoir about her father, who was tortured, denied a trail and hanged by the French colonialists during what was termed as the ‘Battle of Algiers’, is touching. The author’s father was summarily executed by the French colonialists, along with others like Larbi bin M’hidi, the FLN head on whom was based one of the characters in the movie The Battle of Algiers, a  movie as disturbing today as it was when first released in 1966.*

Screened at the Pentagon in 2003, the film has been subsequently re- released and has often been recalled in context of the Iraqi “resistance”. In the same issue of the magazine, the book’s translator Suzanne Ruta brings out a more gory dimension of the movie.

The film- released in 1966- could only speculate about the death of M’Hidi. Now we know that General Paul Ausssaresses, one of the commanding officers in Algiers that year, had him hanged at a farm outside the city a month after he was arrested. Ben M’Hidi died surrounded by his jailers, who denied him his last request, that he be allowed to die with his eyes open. They blindfolded him and then told the world that he had committed suicide in his jail cell with his necktie….. Protected by amnesties concluded in the 1960s, Aussaresses could not be persecuted for war crimes. But he was prosecuted successfully for ‘complicity in apology for war crimes’, along with his publisher, then stripped of his rank and the right to wear his uniform in public.

And yet, in the aftermath of 9/11 and in the run-up to the Iraq war, Aussaresses’s shocking book, in English translation, was studied by our (i.e. US) military as a contribution to the new debate on the uses of torture. “To cause sufferring is not the same as torture, no matter how intense or sustained the pain- as long as there is no other alternative and the pain is in proportion to the desired outcome”. This sounds like Rumsfield or Gonsalves. In fact, it is taken from instructions given his troops in Algiers in 1957 by Aussaresse’s colleague and mentor in the Battle of Algiers, Colonel Roger Trinquier. The resemblance is probably not accidental.

A note about the online World Literature site: limited pages available online, and whatever is there is in barely readable font color and the pages appear as image files! Apparently this is a further regression from the pdf files that used to appear earlier.

If you have not seen the movie, it is very highly recommended. It was much discussed when its director Gillo Pontecorvo passed away a year ago, on 22 Oct 2006.

In the trailer below, M’Hidi appears briefly 1:21s from the end (the bespectacled man speaking the sentence: “It is difficult to start a revolution, even more to sustain one and still more to win one.”)

youtube link

*Note: This blogger’s (imaginative!) deduction that Marissa Bey is Larbi bin M’hidi’s daughter, stands corrected by Suzanne Ruta who has commented:

Bey is NOT the daughter of Larbi Ben M’Hidi…the French tortured and summarily executed thousands of Algerian rebels, her father and Ben M’Hidi met the same fate, but M’Hidi was the head of the FLN in Algiers, Bey’s father was a school- teacher in el Boghari…I took a round about way into the subject, sorry if it wasn’t clear. Part I is about Algeria and the ways its history has been used lately by the Pentagon, part II is about Bey.

Also the essay stands by itself, Bey hasnt written a book length memoir about her father, but she has written a number of novels, all marked by early trauma.

glad to see people are reading WLT. best wishes, S Ruta

Thanks for the correction, Suzanne! And thanks, of course, for the translation and the essay.

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Gulzar as a Poet and Lyricist

“Tum shayar nahin hotey, toh bahut hi ordinary aadmi hotey”(Had you not been a poet, you would have been a very ordinary man”

These are the words of Aarti Devi, the ambitious, Indira Gandhi- like character in the movie Aandhi, directed towards her husband. The dialogues for this movie were written by Gulzar, and apparently this dialogue is inspired from the actual words that his wife once made in real life to him.

I personally do not have a very high opinion of Gulzar as a poet. In my opinion, Gulzar is far better as a dialogue writer than as a poet. As a poet, he is awkward, plays around with words that sound very well but have little or no poetic embellishment, sometimes making simple things sound more complex.

It still makes him a very fine lyricist, though, because music works as a distraction from the words, and then there are those flashes of brilliance. Take for example, one of the otherwise very fine songs: Humne dekhi hain in aankhon se mehakti khushboo”- eyes that smell like flowers? I find this one difficult to swallow. One can pull out many other examples, and probably this will be the subject of another post.

This post, however, brings out some discussions on his lyrics from deep down the internet archives- I first read them in the mid- 1990s, and this thread pertained to comparisons between Sahir Ludhianvi and Gulzar. The internet browsing community then was dominated by the fans of Sahir, I have a feeling that the tables have now turned and Sahir is less popular than Gulzar. A whole generation has grown up without listening to Sahir as much as it has  listened to Gulzar. The fact that Sahir died nearly three decades ago, and his best work was in the 1950s and 60s, makes sound him far less contemporary than Gulzar.

Sami Mohammad satirized Gulzar’s style in this interesting re- write of some of Sahir’s popular lyrics in the style of Gulzar. The thread was called “Gulzar becomes Sahir”. The style that Sami has chosen is more like the Gulzar of the 1970s and 1980s, I’d wager that the Gulzar post 1990s is more mature as a lyricist.

Enjoy!

PART I: Gulzar’s extraordinary vocabulary! (Words such as bartan, chappal, taxi,
bus, train, etc)

S. Sahir
G. Gulzar

1S. Haseen champaee pairon ko jabse dekha hai
Nadi ki mast sadaen bula rahi hain tumhe

1G. Haseen champaee pairon ko jabse dekha hai
Bata ki Hawaai chappal bula rahi hai tumhe

2S. Dil ki bechaen umangon pe karam farmaao
Itna ruk ruk ke chalogi to quayaamat hogi

2G. Tum aaoge to noor aa jaega
Itna ruk ruk ke chalogi to local train chooT jaegi

4S. Aap jo phool bichae unhe hum THukraaen
Humko Dar hai ke ye tauheen-e-mohabbat hogi

4G. Tumne to aakaash bichaaya
Mere nange paaon me zamin ki gard hai
Mohabbat maili ho jaegi

5S. Pyaar par bas to nahin hai mera lekin phir bhi
Tu bataade main tujhe pyaar karun ya na karun

5G. In pyaar ki lambi sadkon par, public bus to chalti nahin phir bhi
Jo ghoomti phirti rehti hain, main woh taxi hire karun ya na karun

PART II: The complex Gulzar. Simple things expressed in an unnecessarily
complex manner. “Ghoomake dena” !

6S. Lo aaj humne toR diya rishta-e-ummeed
Lo ab gila karenge na kisi se hum

6G. Neele aakaash ke ghoonsle par jo ummeed ke boodhe baba thhe unhe humne
alvida keh diya
Duniya ke samandar ko gile-shikwon ki boondh se na chheRenge hum

7S. Tum mujhe bhool bhi jaao to ye haq hai tumko
Meri baat aur hai maine to mohabbat ki hai

7G. Sust raste aur tez quadam raahen tumhe meri yaad nahin dilaae to kya
Pathhar ki haweli se sheeshe ke gharondon tak meri rooh tumhaare ehsaas ko
mehsoos karegi

8S. GHam aur KHushi me farq na mehsoos ho jahan
Main dil ko us muquaam pe laata chala gaya

8G. GHam ka kinara jahan KHushi ke kinare se bachkar kinare se milta hai
Usi kinare par maine apne dil ke kinare ko kinare laga diya

9S. Tum agar mujhko na chaaho to koi baat nahin
Tum kisi aur ko chahogi to mushkil hogi

9G. Tere bina zindagi se koi shikwa to nahin lekin
Barfili sardion me kisi bhi pahaad par
Bhool bhulayyan galion me kisi ajnabi ke saath
Tumhe uRte hue dekhunga to mushkil hogi

10S. M: Hum aapko KHwaabon me la la ke sataenge
F: Hum aapki aankhon se neenden hi uRaden to ?

10G. M: Hum aapko KHwaabon me la la ke sataenge

F: Aankhon me neend na hogi, aansu hi tairte honge
Aansu ke samandar me neend ki naaov (boat) nahin aa paaegi

PART III: The ultra-complex Gulzar. Jab kuchh samajhme na aae, then use
contradictory lines to make things look profound.

11S. Hum intezaar karenge tera quayamat tak
KHuda kare ke quayamat ho aur tu aae

11G. Koi waada nahin kiya lekin, kyun tera intezaar rehta hai
Tere aa jaane ke baad bhi, hume tera intezaar rehta hai

12S. Main pal do pal ka shaer hun
Pal do pal meri kahani hai
Pal do pal meri hasti hai
Pal do pal meri jawani hai

13G. Main pal do pal ka shaer hun
Woh pal, jo aanewaala thha, lekin jaanewaala bhi hai
Jab main isme zindagi bitane ki sonchta hun
To duniya mujhpe hansti hai

More on the Sahir vs Gulzar discussions.

Related posts

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Watching Parzania

I have to admit that the first time I tried to watch Parzania a month or so back, I had to switch off the movie after less than midway- as saffron flags wave and Hindutva mobs start attacking the building where little Parzan lives with his parents and sister.

Today, I did not have the heart to watch from the beginning and began from where I had left off- the scene where Asif’s 75- year old father is butchered to death by the mob.

One cannot but feel utterly helpless while watching the movie- and realizing that it tells of an event that has occurred in so recent memory makes one shudder.

The scenes showing the mobs going on rampage, and the one later when the National Human Rights Commission team listens to one person after the other narrate how “helpful” and “active” the police had been are particularly nauseating and make one lose faith in the reality around us. Only the middle section where the parents frenziedly search for their son are, surprisingly, less tension ridden, at least for the viewer.

It is ironical that the first person who speaks up against the inaction of the police during the proceedings of the Commission is a bootlegger in Gandhi’s dry state.

Earlier there is a shot where Naseeruddin Shah’s face is juxtaposed against Gandhi’s picture on the wall of the police station where he goes for help in finding Parzan.

The picture in the police station of Gandhi with his toothless smile looked out of place.

Gandhi could not have been born in Gujarat.

A review of the movie

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In Lieu of Reading

What does a compulsive reader do on a 14 hour flight without a working reading light?

He first wrings his hand, then switches on the movie channel in exasperation, watches two flicks, Salaam e Ishk and Vivah, thanks the Lord for having kept away from Bollywood cinema for long, wrings his hands again, changes channels and ends up watching two movies that morph the whole travail into a godsend gift.

Here is a trailer of the movie Pan’s Labyrinth (El Laberinto del fauno, in original Castilian Spanish)- the fantastical, if nightmarish story of a modern day Alice in the ‘wonderland’ of fascist Spain, and following it, that of The Painted Veil, based on Somerset Maugham’s novel and set in Shangai 1925 and, IMHO, should have been called Love in the Time of Cholera.


Youtube Link


Youtube Link

The Sancho Panza of Hindi Cinema: Johnny Walker

One of the actors whom one has not ceased to admire since childhood is Johnny Walker.

What I admire about him is his natural impishness, and despite not so handsome looks, a felicity to bring a certain effusiveness on the screen whenever he made an appearance. In an age when the hero of the film was more often than not a tragic one like Dilip Kumar, or the disillusioned one like Guru Dutt, generally wallowing in unrequited love or unrequited idealism, if not not both, he provided the more earthly, and sometimes hedonistic, perspective on life, and an always disarming laughter.

If the heroes bore the mantle, as they did in my view, of Don Quixote, Johnny Walker was the eternal plebian, the Sancho Panza- helping out the hero when he was in trouble because of some damsel, the one who managed to hoodwink the villain (generally Pran) and bring in police or reinforcements, not caring about principles when trying to help his friend, the hero- and always playing the archetypal true friend who more often than not managed to find his own love of life in the end, in case he was already not a hen- pecked husband to Tun Tun.

It is not out of place either when his biting sense of humour could provide an insightful look into contemporary society. Balraj Sahni quotes Johnny Walker in this 1972 speech addressed to the students of the Jawaharlal Nehru University and re- printed recently:

“They should not announce ‘Ab Hindi main samachar suniye’, the announcers on the radio should say ‘Ab samachar main Hindi suniye'”

This one comment on the news bulletins on government of India owned radio of those days says a lot on the language politics in India.

Incidentally, Johnny Walker’s whose real name was Badruddin Jamaluddin Kazi had been discovered by Balraj Sahni.

I was reminded of Johnny Walker after reading Rama’s post on Pyaasa.

A few clips of some of the well known songs, in the very mellifluous voice of Mohammad Rafi.

Update: I just found this one. Were it not for Johnny Walker, this would be a very sad song indeed. Just his presence turns the mood of the song upside down.

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