Autumn Number 2019

Cinema For A Cause

Anand Patwardhan and his 'Vivek-Reason'

Abhijit Ghosh-Dastidar

Cinema's transcendental style can replace empathy with awareness. Society's dormant troubles are reawakened, but they never really go away. Manipulations of film footage and burst; of montage, connect film fragments in new ways. Images gain the force of speech.

Anand Patwardhan's "Vivek-Reason" (261 mines; colour, B/W; Hindi/ Marathi/English), a detailed, epic documentary, exhaustively examines the rise of right-wing Hindu extremism in India, through politically inspired killings, over the past half decade. The fast-moving film is divided into eight episodes, and an epilogue. The film severely indicts crude and resurgent nationalism, with obvious connections to events elsewhere, across the globe. Using cinema as a means of journalism, reportage and analysis, the film narrates in a measured manner the risks India faces, abandoning secularism, and the constitutional religion and state separation. V D Savarkar originated the idea of "Hindutva" before India's independence in 1947. Hindu supremacy was a means of defining the Indian Nation. The Network of right-wing organisations range from Modi's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), to various affiliated students groups, to the shadow Sanathan Sanstha cult, founded and operated by a "secretive hypnotherapist" out of an ashram in Goa. Repealed long-lens images, reinforce the unsavoury. The film defends rationalism, against the tide of superstition and intolerance. B R Ambedkar was critical of Indian society's carefully stratified caste system. Social injustices continue to be suffered by the lowest of the low.

As editor, Patwardhan divides the film into eight episodes, ranging from the third section "Legacy" (14 mins), to nearly an hour for the sixth part, "Fighting to Learn, Learning to Fight". Caste-critical Rohit Vemula committed suicide in 2016. Testimonies of a former police inspector and an anti-terrorism prosecutor delve into the atrocities of mid-2000s in "Terror and Stories of Terror". The eighth episode "Fathering the Hindu Nation" details another politically connected killing of woman journalist, activist Gauri Lankesh in September 2017. Though riveting, the catalogue of woes have short attention spans, with overwhelming college of Newspaper headlines, talk shows and social media discourse. Baijtaj who is in the Indian Air Force, speaks of his father Mohammed Akhlaq's killing. Several young Dalit men are beaten up. In a public meeting, Dalits pledge not to clear animal carcasses or clean sewers anymore. Outrages follow in quick succession, delineating muscular Hindu Nationalism, spreading itself around India, which is the Nationalism, spreading itself around India, which is the inspiration and source of brutal attacks on views and ways of life, that question or oppose it. Simantni Dhuru and Patwardhan's camera rejects entirely the trappings of a period film, without explicitly changing the historical context of the episodes. Patwardhan's film seamlessly confines austere realism, with contemporary social and political spaces.

Anthony Maras And 'Hotel Mumbai'
Anthony Maras' "Hotel Mumbai" (122 Mins USA, English/Arabic, Hindi, Russian, Colour) revolves around the 2008 series of attacks in Mumbai, launched by the Islamist militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba [LeT], which left more than 160 people dead. The attacks began on 26 Nov, and lasted until the 29th November. Many locations were targeted around the city, including a hospital and a Jewish community centre, but the most publicised assault, though not the most lethal took place at the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel. Throughout the operation, the militants, numbering only ten remained in contact with their handlers, who were based in Pakistan. The young terrorists crouch in a rubber boat, skimming across the sea. The Taj Hotel provides a contained space in which to shoot. The hotel holds plenty of Westerners, who provide value, whether as real life hostages on as dramatis personae. The Taj remains a fount of opulence, David (Armie Hammer) an American architect comes to stay with wife Zahra (Nazanin Boniadi) their baby, and their British Nanny. A Sikh waiter, Arjun (Dev Patel), drops his daughter off, with his pregnant wife, who is at work, and steers his scooter through teeming streets to the Taj. Hemant Oberoi (Anupam Kher) the Taj's head chef, bears himself courageously during the siege. Vasili (Jason Isaacs), a rich Russisan misogynist has had Special Forces training, but has no iniative in the hour of need.

"Hotel Mumbai" does not subscribe to traditional notions of heroism. The local police squad appear clumsy. It took Indian special forces many hours to arrive at the scene. The film remains a queasy and half carthartic thriller, based on actual outrages of recent times. Sirens in the distance convey that help is on the way, and also indications of a fresh attack, somewhere else in town. The many narrative strands and the gunfire of the terror spree create a new kind of nightmare. Stunningly photographed by Nick Remy Mathews, the visuals clash with the melodrama it contains. The weirdly uneven performances, delivered in nine languages, sometimes does not fit the film's visual, striking aesthetics.

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Autumn Number 2019
Vol. 52, No. 13 - 16, Sep 29 - October 26, 2019