Sunday, December 1, 2013

The Act of Killing - An enquiry about Human cruelty

The Act of Killing is a major achievement in documentary film-making. It shows cinema's capability as a medium of inquiry, confrontation and remembrance. Joshua Oppenheimer has extended the scope of cinema. The Act of killing is a human experiment in lines with infamous Stanford prison experiment, only much more complex. It is an ultimate film within a film.

 Two and a half million people died at the hands of the death squads in Indonesia and now the same people get to make cinematic re-enactments of their days of torturing and killing. It was one of the biggest genocides in human history, in which two and a half million Communist sympathizers were exterminated following the military takeover of Indonesia in 1965, which led to the overthrow of President Sukarno's government. This genocide was actively supported by Western governments. 

 What is so appalling is that in Indonesia, perpetrators think that they have done a good act by cleansing Indonesia from Communists. Idea of ‘Gangster’ is glorified. Politicians keep telling in there public speeches that Indonesian word for gangster is 'preman', derives from the English 'freeman'. Propaganda films are shown at schools where Communists are portrayed as cruel, amoral and degenerate. We hear men talking about the thrill of raping adolescents. We see a smiling television news anchor who works for a propagandist channel, speaking to Anwar about his heroism in killing the Communists. It feels like wandering in Germany forty years after holocaust and seeing Nazis still in power.

 The protagonist in this film is Anwar Congo, local thug who made money selling movie tickets on the black market. He was hired by the military to carry out regimented killings. Later he becomes one of the most notorious death squad leaders from the 1965 killings operating out of Medan in North Sumatra, who killed thousands of Communist sympathizers. We first see Anwar wearing bright Hawaiian-style clothes, speaking about what a good dancer he is, doing the cha-cha-cha on a rooftop which was the site of hundreds of killings he carried out in 1965. He explains how he would smash people's heads in, and how the terrace was slippery with blood. He then shows Joshua how he came up with the idea of strangling people with wire, because it was so much cleaner. He like other gangster whom we see in the film, take immense pride in telling their story of heinous crimes. 

 As the film unfolds, we start relating to Anwar as a human being because we feel his doubt. His conscious is still alive. He lies to himself to justify what he has done. He needs to dehumanize communists because it's much easier to live with yourself if the people you've killed are not fully human. We start understanding that why all the gangsters are so boastful about there crimes. If a whole society commits a mass murder and they tell lies to justify it, they do it not because they are evil, but because they are humans. They need lie to live with what they've done - that is to say, they write a victor's history in the form of propaganda.

 When the film ends we don’t feel sense of closure, we feel uncomfortable. We feel uncomfortable because unlike other films ‘The Act of Killing’ doesn’t allow us to paint the mass murders as inhuman beings, which we are not thus allowing us a sense of closure. What ‘The Act of Killing’ does is that it gives a human face to the perpetrators. It’s extremely hard to reconcile the fact that a man, who mends the wing of a baby bird, can vivisect a human baby. 

 The Act of killing is not a historical documentary about the mechanics of what happened, but it is an enquiry about human cruelty. It forces us to confront our most painful truths.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Garam Hava - Story of Muslims struggling to find their identity in post partition India

It is sad that in India we hardly see any movies [both commercial and art house] focusing on after effects of partition.  Most of our films made on partition focuses entirely on the bloodshed of 1947.Garam Hawa(1973) is one of the rare films which focuses on the hostility which Muslim faced who stayed back in India post partition. This film will convey the need for secularism in a country so full of ethnic and religious diversities. Garam Hawa pays homage to the many sufferers of Partition who faced such harsh environment and who more often than not was marginalized in their own country. This movie highlights importance of an equalitarian society. It is a very important film about a very significant period in our history which forced many Muslims post partition between 1947-1956 to leave their mother land, story of a period where even the most prominent film actors had to hide there Muslim identity behind Hindu screen names.

Garam Hawa (1973) is based on an unpublished story by famous Urdu writer Ismat Chugtai and was adapted by another famous writer Urdu writer Kaifi Azmi. This film captures with great sensitivity the struggle and anguish of the Muslim people who found themselves in strange situation where they in their own country were treated as outsiders. They had to indulge in a hopeless war against all who constantly prod them to leave for Pakistan. 

  It is story of Salim Mirza, played brilliantly by Balraj Sahani, who is one such Muslim who decides to stays back in India. He with his family has to constantly fight to find their identity and respect in this new country with changed realities. He can only watch as his world is slowly ripped by tragic aftermath of partition.  Whenever he goes to Railway station, the tonga man there simply asks, “Aaj kisko chodne aaye the?” Slowly and gradually all his relatives and friends flee to Pakistan after hearing stories of better prospects and more importantly of equitable treatment. Sikandar, played by Farooq Shaikh, is Salim Mirza's unemployed son who often on his face is told that he might have a better chance in Pakistan. His daughter Amina, commits suicide after having couple of failed relationships. Amidst all this tragedy Salim Mirza too, finally breaks and decides to leave the country. But on his way out, he sees a ray of hope for equitable society in communist protest. The final lines of the film by Kaifi Azmi[Staunch Communist himself] very poignantly express this,

Jo door se toofan ka karte hai nazara, unke liye toofan vahan bhi hai yahan bhi… Daare me jo mil jaoge ban jaoge daara, yeh waqt ka ailaan vahan bhi hai yahan bhi

 This film makes you wonder have we failed people like Salim Mirza who because of no fault of theirs, are often treated as outcastes in their own country. I recommend this film for its humane story that will surely overwhelm you. The fabulous story, great performances especially stellar performance by Balraj Sahani in his last film and the sensitivity of the content makes it a must watch.Garam Hawa was initially banned but eventually it won a national award for national integration and was even screened in Pakistan. It was also nominated for Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival. This film was recently restored and re-released.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Baraka and Samsara easily the most visually-stunning in the history of cinema

If there ever was a movie which completely explores the language of cinema then it has to be either Baraka or Samsara. Both these movies use imagery and sound so powerfully that you are left spellbound.  It gives you a kind of spiritual and meditative experience. To call this movie a travelogue would do great injustice to its creator; this movie celebrates our planet and at times hints that something has gone wrong.

Ron Fricke travelled around the globe roughly covering 25 different countries across 6 different continents to capture the great beauty of this planet. He takes us on journey to far of places which we might never visit or which might soon become things of past. He chronicles living conditions, activities, and day-to-day routines of many different people across different countries. This film leaves you in awe of this immensely beautiful planet and also with a sense of loss.
Using time lapsed technique, Ron Fricke captures mundanity of life and makes it look miraculous. He shows how mechanical our lives have become. For me the most unforgettable sequence in this film is not any of the breathtaking scenes capturing natural beauty, but is of chickens in a food-processing plant. These chickens spent their entire lives being fed enclosed in cages too small for them to even turn around. Then they are feed on a slippery stainless steel slope, from where they enter a mechanical process that in a few seconds beheads them, strips them of feathers and skin, and slices them into parts. These chickens never seem alarmed. This entire scene makes you wonder that something has gone wrong, when the life itself has become a manufacturing process.

But not everything is gloomy in this wonderful film. This film also captures people of different faith carrying out there rituals with perfection and a deep sense of contentment and joy that it left a staunch atheist like me in awe of religion. I was left mesmerized with the scene of Kabba Mecca which captured roughly 2 million people in a single shot performing prayer. This is the most number of people I have ever seen in a single frame.
Both these films are easily the most visually-stunning films in the history of cinema. Both these films speak to us in the language of imagery and sound in other words the language of cinema, a universal language.I doubt that any other medium of art would have been able to capture this emotion so beautifully. Baraka and Samsara shows the incredible power this medium of art called cinema possess.

Note :-
Baraka is a Sufi word meaning a blessing, or the breath, or the essence of life.
Samsara means continuous flow of life i.e. the repeating cycle of birth, life, death and rebirth