The Hollywood-phobia

I don’t understand what it is with our intellectuals that they hate Hollywood so much so that they cook up some ridiculous claims when they talk about something. I read an interview with film editor Beena Paul that was published in the last week’s Mathrubhumi weekly. The interviewer says this in his question –

“The biggest cultural invasion in the world is from America. Hollywood movies in particular try to portray the past tortures (especially the persecution of Jews) in the markets and film festivals these days. After 9/11, they have created a logic that says ‘not just the Muslims but we also were persecuted ‘. Movies like “Usama” and “Passion of the Christ” are examples to this.”

After cunningly weaving this highly (pseudo) intellectual question, he goes on to ask, “have you noticed such global political tactics gaining ground in our film festivals?

Either this fellow, I remember his name is Sreekumar, has not seen many Hollywood movies or he is just weaving some intellectual conspiracy. One thing that is beautiful about America is that there are so many people in it’s society and intellectual/academic circles who would openly voice against any injustices of their Government in the public. People like Sean Penn or Michael Moore and some others were vocal against war in the off-reel world. So while most of our academicians and intellectuals would observe a criminal silence on sensitive issues most of the times, for a couple of awards that their political friends might fetch them, the Hollywood never hesitated to voice themselves even in the larger events like Oscars or Grammys. Against their own president or government and it’s strategies, knowing that the whole world is watching them. If it was our film industry, our patriotism would have drooled out first.

Secondly, there have been many movies from Hollywood that does not victimize themselves but take sides of the side-liners. The quick ones I can remember are Rendition (which was based on the Islamophobia post 9/11), Green Zone (which Michael Moore called the most honest film about Iraq) and not to mention a number of movies which had  been made on Vietnam war (many of them are now classics). I also heard of the recent movies like Redacted which are also based on the Iraq war.

So I have one suggestion for such kings of their small dens like Sreekumar. Try to watch some Hollywood movies before you start criticizing them. And try to learn something about producing movies that would be artistically and technically perfect (Learn from Enthiran that just spending some crores won’t fetch you quality of work). Just blabbering something and making up conspiracy theories won’t help.

Nothing Holy about Hollywood

I like Roman Polanski for his artistic talents. I think he is a great director. I loved his films like Chinatown, Bitter Moon, Death and the Maiden and The Pianist. They go straight in to the list of my all time favorite movies. I remember the first time when I went to see the movie “Bitter Moon” in Raagam theatre in Thrissur when I was in college. I didn’t know anything about Hugh Grant or Victor Bannerjee (who appeared in a guest role) but it is the Adult certificate that was displayed in the movie’s posters that caught my interest. But when I came out of the movie hall, it was not the nude scenes but the movie itself that haunted me for days. There is no doubt that Polanski is a great movie director. I would rate him to my top favorite directors at anytime.

But, he has been accused of abusing a 13 year old girl almost 31 years ago. He has reportedly drugged and had ‘unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor’. Would I not blame Polanski just because he is an artiste, a great artist at that? Would I not blame him just because he has contributed so much to the world cinema? The answer is NO. Polanski, the person is different from Polanski, the director. The person who has committed a heinous crime has to pay the price, no matter how much time has passed since. He was trying to escape after the incident, fleeing from country to country.

It is pitiful to see the directors like Woody Allen, Martin Scorsese, David Lynch etc have signed a petition calling for an “immediate release” of Polanski. The French cultural minister said “he is a wonderful man”. I don’t understand what these people are thinking about. Are celebrities above the law? If Polanski is innocent and if this case has been made to corner him, he has to prove it in the court, rather than feeling from country to country. The very fact that he was trying to escape from the case all these years make us suspicious about the man.

Many say that the girl (now a woman) has withdrawn the complaints against Polanski. Even if it is so, the law has to take it’s course. And what really prompted the woman to say that she wants this whole thing to end? “Decades of publicity as well as the prosecutor’s focus on lurid details continues to traumatize her and her family”. Now should the man be acquitted of the charges because of this? I had high regards for directors like Martin Scorsese, but now I have lost my respect for them. There is nothing really Holy about Hollywood.

Related reading: Unforgivable Roman Polanski

(Image courtesy:

Southern Slumdog

Today’s is a guest post by Sirensongs, who blogs at Feringhee: The India Diaries. In this post, she shares her opinion about the recent controversy over the movie Slumdog Millionnaire. Sirensongs moved to India in 2002 to complete her six years’ study of the ancient temple dance, Bharatanatyam. Apprenticing with a revered master in Madras, she learned a great deal; however, most of it was not about dance. Disillusionment and childhood memories of “Tintin In Tibet” have led her to adventures throughout India, Nepal & Sri Lanka. She currently works as a writer in Kathmandu where she also studies the Buddhist ritual dance, Charya Nrtya.

That Slumdawg won’t hunt

Last time, I wrote something about the widespread defensive attitude (not 100%, mind you) of Indians toward the success of Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire. I also left some rather impatient comments on another blog. In case you’ve been asleep for a few weeks, lotta folks are huffing and puffing about Slumdog‘s portrayal of Indian slum life, mostly because it’s too accurate. (Wonder what the slum dwellers themselves think, has anyone asked them? All the comments I have read are from upper crust writers.)

I can’t write with authority about what it’s like to be Indian and see a film that shows so much of the country’s dark side to the world. But I have a comparable experience. I do know what it’s like to be an American Southerner and see Hollywood films, famous ones, award-winning ones, represent my “country” (we almost were another country, fought a war over it, remember?) to the world.

There were, and still are, lots of negative stereotypes about my country (the South). When I moved to New York in 1981, I was asked derogatory questions like “Do you even wear shoes down there?” and “where do you live, a trailer park?”

And even,

“Did your ancestors own slaves??”

“Everyone down there belongs to the Klan, right?”

…and from an Indian girl, “If you wear your bindi down there you’ll get shot at.” (There actually were, in fact, at least 2 “dot-head” murders…I think they were both in Canada.)

The vast majority of Hollywood films about the south – which is where people get these ideas – were made by either Yankees or Californians (same thing, ha). Outsiders. Carpet-baggers. Some were romanticized epics (Gone with the Wind). Later, some consciously tried to redress such romanticism by showing an uglier side (Cold Mountain). Others retold true stories in a condensed, dramatized and only partially “true” way so that important but largely unknown eras in American history would not go unknown by a new generation (ie, Mississippi Burning).

There’s loooots more (Glory, Matewan, Birth of a Nation, To Kill a Mockingbird, Sling Blade, Deliverance, Mandingo, Roots, O Brother Where Art Thou?, Streetcar Named Desire, Forrest Gump… ). Most of the above are full of slow-witted, slow talking hicks and obligatory Klan meeting scenes. Don’t forget television like Andy Griffith Show, Beverly Hillbillies, Green Acres, Petticoat Junction, Alice, Designing Women, Hee Haw and so on.

My point is this: the vast majority of this media was made by “outsiders.” Some of it (especially the romantic stuff) Southerners appreciated; most of it, they did not. Some of it I personally enjoy; a lot I have mixed feelings about. But even when I didn’t think they got it right, I usually felt the topics (mostly concerning poverty and race history) needed to be discussed.

Usually they didn’t cast Southerners in the parts; since pretty much anyone can “do” a southern accent, right? Just sound real dumb. (Marlon Brando’s accent was dreadful in Streetcar and he was nominated for the Oscar.) And – did you ever notice? – Black Americans are all sort of considered by casting directors to somehow be Southern by default. Seeing your homeland represented worldwide, by an outsider, is a sensitive thing. My point is, no one ever, ever questioned the outsider’s right to make such films or shows, whether we liked them or not.

Why do Indians think that they and they alone can give “permission” to someone to discuss or represent their country in media? Besides which, the book on which Slumdog is based was written by an Indian (as Streetcar and Mockingbird were based on books written by Southerners).

I certainly hope no one ever questions the “right” of an NRI or Indian visitor to make a film about the America they perceive, however negative or one-sided the result may be.

You have no idea, Sir ji!

Namaskar Sir ji

This letter is in response to your recent blog post where you have expressed your anger on the film Slumdog Millionaire getting Golden Globe awards.

I haven’t seen the movie Slumdog Millionaire. But I know that the slums featured in that movie is a reality. Life is not a K-Jo film Sir ji. When you get time, just take a walk around Mumbai. Yes, through the very same slums which have been portrayed in the movie Slumdog Millionaire.

And if you haven’t noticed, Sir ji, Hollywood has time and again featured the bad and sad elements of their society in their movies. Going by your argument, after watching Hollywood movies the world should be thinking that America is a country that consists only of criminals, racists, rapists, pregnant teenagers, drug-peddlers, pedophiles etc etc. But is that the case? They used this wonderful medium of Cinema to fight against those evils, Sir ji. And you become angry when the same is done here. Oh, in the process, you were also angry at the legendary filmmaker Satyajit Ray too!

Like the commentator #6 rightly pointed out in your blog post,

“being ‘Western’ in any sense (by way of the production and the director and so on) has anything to do with the appreciation Slumdog has got. People loved Monsoon Wedding all over the world. This film was basically a Yashraj ‘wedding’ film with ‘intelligence’ added to the mix. There is nothing that the two films have in common except for the fact that these are both ‘compelling’ works.”

Filmmaker Micheal Moore keeps making movies like Sicko, Sir ji, and they keep giving him Oscars. Going by your argument, they shouldn’t have done so, don’t you think?

And what is it that you are angry about Hollywood not honoring commercial movies of Bollywood, Sir ji? Are you sad that you didn’t get an Oscar for your NRI flick KANK? Or your son did not win the best comedian award for his ‘excellent’ performance in Jhoom Baraabar Jhoom? Why do you need the honor of Hollywood after all, Sir ji? That you’re not proud of the recognition within your own country? Or do you think that no matter what crappy movies Bollywood churns out in the name of mainstream masala movies, you should be recognized internationally?

And when you talk about recognition, what do you think about all those film awards which have the “Indian” tag attached to it, Sir ji? You and your folks at Bollywood conveniently ignore the great movies, actors and directors down in the south and it’s film industry and sell Bollywood as the “Indian” cinema in the international market. And now you’re worried that your mainstream masala movies don’t get international recognition?

Poverty in India is a reality Sir ji. And even more real is the class-difference in our society, because we have the richest people in the world and the poorest. It is also a reality that you (and the section of people whom you represent) have the privilege of running into the luxurious hospitals, but hundreds and thousands of Indians lie and die everyday in the untidy general government hospitals, without having proper diagnosis or medication and where the docs treat them like dogs. Yes Sir ji, in the very same India where you and I exist.

Sir ji, as our father of the nation Mahatma Gandhi used to say, walk into the villages to know India. Or you don’t even have to go that further. Just walk into the suburbs of our metro cities. I’ve seen Bangalore’s for example. Just go past the 30 KMs of the city. And rather than ranting, try to do something about it. Lord Balaji of Tirupathi would love that than your million dollar worth of gift to him.

Yours truly.