Friday, February 24, 2006

Cesar Y Zain

Surprise! Surprise! I drop in at the ongoing Spanish Film Festival in New Delhi today and find an India-centric film being screened. Can't believe my luck.

Larry Levene's 2003 masterpiece Cesar Y Zain (Cesar and Zain) is not a feature film in the conventional sense - it has running commentary and video clips of Bush, the war on Iraq and how Islam is being perceived as a threat by the West.

But it is also a film documenting a poignant cultural and religious exchange. Two young men - Cesar from Madrid and Zain from Delhi - become internet pals thanks to a common love for chess. The two friends evince interest in each other's cultures and decide to switch families for six weeks.

The Roman Catholic (although not practising) Cesar settles in with Zain's Muslim family in the backlanes of Chandni Chowk while Zain travels to Madrid to meet Cesar's kin. Interestingly, the two young protagonists never meet in person before the exchange.

The documentary - Yes! It is one...Although never for a second as boring as conventional documentaries - goes on to record the youths' experiences in their respective milieux.

Cesar records on his camcorder a harrowing picture of life in Old Delhi - a dead cow blocking traffic, lepers at the Nizamuddin shrine, abject poverty and over- population. Director Levene, who was also present at the screening, came in for criticism from one disgruntled viewer.

"India has progressed so much. And yet you chose to depict its poverty. Why wasn't Cesar exposed to other parts of Delhi?" the lady said.

Indeed, there were pleasant images too. An insight into the Muslim way of life, of kids flying kites on rooftops, of street children breaking out into smiles on sighting the camera (prompting Cesar to comment they are the happiest people he has ever met), of Kirori Mal students waxing forth on politics and Iraq.

Meanwhile in Madrid, Zain is shocked by life in Spain. Pre-marital sex, marijuana at club parties and gay pride parades come as a huge culture shock for the 23-year-old Muslim. He is particularly disgusted by the way "loving" parents are soon relegated to old-age homes in Spain.

He questions Cesar's friends on these issues and they in turn debate the practice of arranged marriage in India. It's not as if Zain is uncomfortable - he learns to love the freedom enjoyed by young people in Spain.

Other topics discussed by Cesar and Zain - spicy food, Indian-style toilets, how Muslims can't eat certain varieties of meat, education of women, couples holding hands inside protected monuments, oil crisis in the West. Indeed, director Levene has a humourous take on every conceivable issue.

The six weeks fly by quickly and soon it's time for the two friends to return to their respective homes. It's an emotional farewell for both Cesar and Zain - who find it hard to leave their second homes.
Dealing as it did with a politically incorrect subject, the film did raise some hackles at the post-film Q and A session. Some members of the audience did not take too kindly to the fact that the "heart of India" - Old Delhi - is described as a Muslim area.

"India is a Hindu country," one vociferous woman proclaimed, only to be booed by other members of the audience.

"Why couldn't have Zain been from Pakistan instead?" one viewer - a filmmaker himself - queried. "The movie is biased."

Fat chance - considering the movie is based on real-life incidents and real-life protagonists.

Before Levene, who was clearly uncomfortable by now, could answer - the session degenerated into a debate between sections of the audience.

Guys, it's only a film. It's an interpretation - not Gospel truth. I leave. Disgusted.

P.S. But even I couldn't forgive Levene this. The narrator in Cesar Y Zane describes Bollywood films as being made in Hindustani - a mixture of Hindu and Urdu.

Librarian Liberated

Am currently reading The Giant's House by Elizabeth McCracken - the story of a spinster librarian falling in love with an eight-foot tall teenager suffering from congenital gigantism. The novel is a scintillating read on this unusual romance, as seen from the perspective of protagonist Peggy Cort.

But for some reason, it set me thinking about my visits to the library. I wonder if I have ever spoken to the person at the desk other than for paying late fines (inevitably!) or asking permission to cut out articles from the newspaper.

I am sure librarians are 'normal' people too - with similar thoughts, wishes, desires. What goes on in their minds as they go about their daily tasks - almost always with a stack of books in hand. When patrons check out with books, does the librarian form a mental picture of him depending on the kind of novels he reads. Hmmm. Interesting...

Monday, February 20, 2006

RDB finally!

Yes, I finally succumbed to everybody's wishes and watched Rang de Basanti. Or should I say, was forced to watch it. My brother bought tickets for the 10.45 pm show at PVR Saket and all four of us - Mom, Dad, bro and I - trundled down to the multiplex for a dekko at the Aamir-Khan starrer.

As it turned out, I wasn't disappointed although the film isn't the masterpiece everybody keeps swearing it is. The breezy first half, before the brouhaha over (Warning: Spoilers ahead) Madhavan's death and the Defence Minister's assassination, is like a breath of fresh air for Indian cinema. But all hell breaks loose after the interval.

Five college-going lads turning into modern-day freedom fighters by avenging their friend's death is a bit too dramatic for me. Will not elaborate.

The star of the film for me was not Aamir Khan but young Karan Singhania (aka South Indian actor Siddharth Suryanarayan) who impressed with his understated acting. Hope to see him in more Hindi films.

My favourite supporting character - Kirron Kher who was endearing as the back-slapping Punjabi mom. The music by A R Rahman grows on you as usual, especially the Rubaru number. I don't believe there's anybody else left who hasn't watched Rang de Basanti, but if you haven't, go take a look.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Accompanying Kalam on his Submarine

Actually, the title is a misnomer. Coz although I did cover the event in Vishakapatnam, I was always at least 100 metres away from the President and could only look at the submarine he was embarking on from a distance of 50 metres, let alone make an undersea sortie in it.

We(the media) flew to and fro on an AN-32 cargo transport plane with a refuelling stopover in Nagpur. It was fun at first but the experience soon became akin to travelling in a flying bus. Pretty soon, everybody dropped off to sleep except for Monica from 'Channel 7' who kept videotaping poeple in weird postures as they slept. She later showed me footage of my 10 seconds of fame - as my head drooped down in synchronised motion.

The trip was for three days and I loved every minute of it - even the part where Yoga from 'Pioneer' and myself got trapped in a veritable stampede while walking back to the hotel after the naval display at R K beach. That was one hell of a walk.

Here are some links to the reports I filed -

Naval operations a hit with the crowds

Curtain-Raiser on Kalam's Submarine Trip

Kalam does his undersea thing

Kalam impressed with Fleet Review

Crowds cheer for lone woman skydiving instructor

Kalam presents his Colours to Eastern Fleet

Kalam reviews naval fleet

Kalam turns poet

Onboard Ex-submarine INS Kursura

Friday, February 03, 2006

Ash is now seeing someone else

Apni Aishwarya is no longer with Viveik Oberoi. To find out who she's really dating, click here.

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