Friday, December 24, 2010

Life is Beautiful

We all set limits to our imagination but then once in a while someone manages to overstep that boundary, comes up with a hypothesis that seems plausible not just to the creator but holds an appeal to a wider audience. Adolf Hitler came up with one such premise, one of the superiority of the Aryan race, an idea that bludgeoned into history’s most atrocious massacre, not just because of the stupendous numbers of people killed but because of the cold-blooded, calculated way in which it was done. Sometimes we do transgress limits and come up with a story that will simply take over its listeners. 50 years after the holocaust Roberto Beningi made Life is Beautiful, a movie, the first of its kind, that tried to wrap the holocaust in humour.

The story is set in Italy before the German occupation where Benigni’s Guido, a Jewish waiter meets Nicolletta Braschi’s Dora that sparks off an uncanny courtship and ends with their union and then a son, Guise played by the adorable Giorgio Cantarini.

Things seem to be going on fine till the inescapable predicament for all Jews catches up with them and Guido and Guise are arrested by the SS. Braschi joins them of her own will and they all end up in a Nazi concentration camp. The father faced with the task of not only protecting his child from harm but also telling him about the inexplicable cruelty, decides to invent a story, that they are playing a game,with rules made up to fit the camp schedule. There couldn’t have been a more bleak setting for the movie which could pass for a chilren’s movie and actually sprung from the stories that Benigni’s father told his children. Roberto’s father returned from a concentration camp but his mother was worried about the effect his stories might have on the children. Senior Benigni decided to make the stories sound funny and that is the gift that Roberto said his father left him, that of a story that had been told over and over again but this time in a different light.

There is history and then there is the history through cinema, the latter more interesting and popular than the former. Holocaust has always been a recurring theme in Hollywood from the Schindler’s list to The reader. But there has never been a movie that has attempted to laugh at and ridicule the whole idea of racism and been so successful. I mean I can think of Chaplin’s The Great Dictator but that was in different vein altogether.

Benigni’s Chaplinesque impersonation of the school inspector and his hilarious demonstration of the supremacy of the Aryan race, specifically the superiority of the Aryan bellybutton is amusing but school syllabi in German schools were actually changed to fit the bill. When his son tells him that other prisoners are being burnt in furnaces, and are being turned into buttons and soap, Guido scoffs and ridicules the outrageousness of the rumour. What is disturbing is that the museum in Aushwichtz still houses these human artefacts, soaps and buttons made out of human bones.

Life is Beautiful is in a way a scathing satire and a gentle reminder of the surprising things, both cruel and kind, that the left part of the human brain is capable of. A compelling story about the audacity of hope, the power of love, the triumph of faith and a cue that no matter what the circumstance might be... Life is Beautiful.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Cinematic Circumstance

I have always started writing blogs…started and then I find that I run out of ideas sooner than I forget the passwords to my multiple online personas. It won’t work this way I guess. I need to find a firm footage; my midlife crisis is the lack of a constant crush, a meticulous muse, an instant inspiration. I need to stop sleeping around, find my soul mate rumination and get married to it…the till death do us part thing…and so it shall be. So, what is it that interests me…so good that it sticks long enough? What is it that I love doing that I love to remember and remember not to forget? Who would I like to come back at the end of the day to find solace and comfort?

Well, coming straight to the point, what can inspire an idiot more than the idiot box? My first memories of the tube is when I was five years old and my father had to pull me away from my newly wed neighbour’s television set because the jingle before the evening news was much too captivating for me to look away. People have more interesting things to do than watch a wide mouthed kid gaping at rolling credits of the 9o’clock news, my dad had to say. They sure did, the result of their particularly interesting escapades was a toddler, before the end of the year, with an unusually powerful larynx which would break the dead silence of many a peaceful night. Oh, but moving on from how if my father had let me be, I could have saved his ear drums a few thrashes (because timing is everything really;). I never let any major dampening of spirits when television was concerned; I always came back to its arms and charms. We were like star crossed lovers. Fate had destined us to meet. And at the end of every story we had to come together.

There was more of the pulling away …my mom pulling me away on Sundays for the classical dance class, in which I turned out to be quite the classic failure. But I had my eyes stuck on TV in the room next to the class with Chaplin sashaying down with his lady love, her impossible to forge pout, with black lipstick that looked so thanks to the gray scale pictures. We now know it’s also a 62 bit colour possibility thanks to Lady Gaga who does it all the time. Then came school and exams and the whole rigmarole, that weighed most others down, it doubled my determination to dedicate the same old routine for the box.

Of course giving credit where it’s due, it’s impossible to take the early first steps without a supportive family. Dad quite became the role model for the trivia spitting sequence. There was nothing like watching the Godfather series with him with the Italians spewing slurs and bullets, the point of both which quite escaped me. Then all major inflictions that we incurred and gave us the well deserved respite from school, were turned into reasons for vacationing into the unreal world that the reel unfolded before us.

And then when we came down so did other greats. When my sister had her bout of diarrhoea the legendary showman of Hindi cinema Raj Kapoor passed away and Indian television dedicated a whole week to his movies and we quite proactively participated in the tribute, of course with my sis taking the much needed bathroom breaks. And when I was down with chicken pox, Satyajit Ray took leave of the scene and the legacy he left came up everyday on the screen. While during the day, I would scratch like a dog with a serious flea attack, in the evening I’d turn into a content puppy quite taken in with Apu’s miseries to pay attention to my own. If I have any less pox scars I have the cinematic genius of Ray to thank.

We all have cinematic histories that are different, it’s like a culture. Sometimes it’s like coming from another country, sometimes another planet. Ours was very much what my dad gave us. We watched Brando, Scorsese, Ray, Hopkins and Naseeruddin Shah, all a part of the growing up collective. Then we watched a whole lot of run of the mill things with friends and trends and enjoyed every bit of that. Aamir Khan was the favourite drop dead gorgeous and so when I was 18 and the tour guide pointed out the bush where Pehla Nasha was shot I gave the bush the bear hug I’d been saving all the years for the cute Khan. Then in college was this great roulette called the film festival. The long list of schedules, films watched religiously ticked off the list, determined not to miss anything but classes, that the tiring seven week day would have some of us dozing in the dark. Even that was good, sleeping to the flicker from the screen and the sweet lull of the background music of a Spanish movie coming from far off.

Our cinematic experience was like that, oddball, unusual and offbeat. This is the only way I would have had it, if we had to grow up all over again this is one thing I am positive I would not want to change. I mean my family too...first..gosh my sister is going to read this!

So what was the point of all that? In case you’re still on the boat and not bored. The point is the blog, the motion pictures, the music, and the things we all might have laughed at together even when far apart. That we might have nothing else in common except, the movies we saw, the songs we loved, the sitcoms we laughed with, our cinematic circumstance.