‘The Lady’ Review

‘The Lady’, (directed by Luc Besson) is the story of the “legendary” Aung San Suu Kyi and the story of Burma’s struggle for democratic independence.

The movie focuses on Suu Kyi taking the political reigns of her motherland after the terror of the 1988 protests.

The opening is riveting as we see how the coup of 1962 swiftly took control of the centre which culminated in the assassination of General Aung San.

Sadly, the narrative loses its bite soon after this. With the overly simplified characterisation of  the tyrant who assumes General Aung San’s power , General Ne Win is painted out as a shallow baddie, which seems really one dimensional in this day and age. The over simplification extends to the series of events highlighted throughout the film. The way Suu Kyi enters her political life shows us no growth or change in her personality. The questions that arise are numerous; what was her life like after her father’s death? How did she reach Oxford? What were her views until she landed in Myanmar, and what exactly made her turn around and start a new life- a housewife with no political experience what-so-ever?

Instead, the film narrows down on specific events in her life, like her first speech, her intial political rallies and campaigning, all of which we can easily watch on youtube or various archival pages through websites.

The pace then changes as we are made to dwell in the relationship between her and her husband (Michael Aris). Yes, this man did a lot and even made the Nobel Peace Prize a possibility for her. But was the distance between her husband and her the only struggle she went through? What happened during her house arrest-what did she do during that period? How did she stay sane and true to her cause? The movie makes her look quite apathetic, like a calm, pristine woman who’s patience was truly a virtue. If she really possesses a steely disposition, how did that develop in her?

There is no question or insight into her life as a person fighting for a cause. The writer may as well had written the screenplay by reading a feature in the Times Magazine! If there was no chance of getting any meat from Aung San Suu Kyi’s character, then it would have been no crime to focus on her children as protagonists against their mother’s parallel life , or even her supporters- or the various students who fueled protests and support for democracy.

What she is reduced to, is a woman who was torn between her cause and her man. I don’t think this is just, in fact it looks like a reinforcement of the typical treatment of women that Hollywood is obsessed with. On top of that, the film was clearly made too early-if the film makers had waited a while, they would have had more substance that related to her life as a leader of the opposition party in a freer Myanmar.

“Haye Jawaani”

Gayatri’s been a dutiful offspring, getting high grades throughout school, staying focused during college- professors love her. And now, Gayatri darling is on her way to do further studies. What’s more, is that she’s been offered a 2 year contract with one of the top 5 Consultancy Firms in the country!

Good on you Gayatri! Us ‘Aunties’ and ‘Uncles’ believe that you couldn’t have achieved anything if you were like other ”kids”-with their boyfriends and partying and all. Chhee chhee! 

In order to be successful, girls have to be asexual.

No one will talk about the probability that so-and-so’s daughter  might just be really interested in her subjects, a multi-tasker, or naturally gifted so she found tests piss easy. They will revel in the notion that she had no ‘distractions’ and a clean, studious mind that didn’t waver, or get influenced.

The ‘No-Boys’ policy gets passed down as a legacy, from parent to daughter. In most households when girls are ‘of age’ and growing up to be pretty young things they must be barb-wired, for they can fall into bad hands. Their minds should revolve around studying and ‘getting ahead’. In college, there is a situation of  freedom meshed with a fully developed exterior. But again girls will be reminded that their mental state is not at par with their physical form. They must wait, and purge themselves of such thoughts, since “Now’s not the time for all of this”. The incentive ? Well, one day when they get a top class salary, all boys will be waiting in line for them to pick and choose from.

Wowie. And when exactly will that happen?
Oh when you’re at the marriage-perfect age of 25-30 of course!

So, while our bodies are developed and , according to nature, ‘ready’ we have to train ourselves to stay away from its demands and needs, when we are at our hormonal peak, only desensitize ourselves. By the time this happens -when we have learnt to ignore our bodies’ signals and alarms, we are expected to be interested in spending our lives with a male, to basically thrive in married life and procreate, when we are so over it! Where is the sense? I don’t know!

And to top it off, while I was on my road trip across Uttar Pradesh (so awesome, I can’t wait to do it again) I was totally immersed with countless songs about women’s ‘Jawaani’ (जवानी ). According to my Oxford Hindi-English dictionary, ‘Jawaani’ means early adulthood or adolescence….Yup.
So how many songs have there been about this?

(click on the links to listen)

Sheila Ki Jawani  Ye Jawani Hai Diwani Jawani Zindabad Jawani Jan E Man Jawani Diwani  Meri Jawani Pyar Ko Tarse  Meri Jawani Teri Diwani Meri Jawani  Chardi Jawani Teri Jawani Badi Mast Mast Hai   Ek Jawani Teri Ek Jawani  Jawani Tera Bol Bala  Mohabbat Ka Haath Jawani Ka Palla Jawani O Diwani Tu Zindabad  Baba Meri Yeh Jawani  Teri Yeh Jawani  Jawani Jawani Jalti Hai Jawani   Yeh Jawani Yeh Haseen Raat Jawani Ki Rail Kahin Chhoot Na Jaye  Nachdi Jawani  Teri Mast Jawani  Rabba De De Jawani   Chamki Jawaani Yeh Jawani Hadh Kar De Nachdi Jawani  Do Din Ki Jawani  Jawani Se Ab Jung Jale Jale Jawani Meri Channa Jawani  second hand jawaani
That’s not the end of the list! There is more, so much more. Why can’t we all just stop obsessing about this, and leave people alone to do what they want. People, especially girls, are capable of making decisions, becoming successful even if they date or have relationships. 

Can’t Be Real….

After you’ve fought with the stripey uniform guy at the popcorn counter, and coveted a cold bottle of water with a hot samosa, you manage to sit yourself down with your buddies (in my case-parents) and wait for the theatre to darken , and the people to quieten down (which never happens, so wait for an eternity folks!).

What then is expected to bedazzle you is an enjoyable masala movie, with lots of colours and jatka matka music. It’s all okay until ”OH NO HERE WE GO AGAIN”, the entire thing starts to bubble and crack like cheap chocolate! The heroine loves the dude, even though he’s a sleazy thief (because he’s an honest man), the dude jumps down from the top level of a building, lands on his feet and punches the baddie (because he’s an incarnation of Vishnu) and finally, after getting stabbed he lives on (because you cannot close a movie without the ‘hero’s’ final dialogue scene) , okay?

And why do we have to subject ourselves to this? Because the motto of Indian cinema has been made to be : ‘Watch to Escape’.

The moment we accept the notion that people watch movies to escape their real lives, we imbibe our stories with this sort of escapist mentality. In Indian cinema, every movie churned out feeds into the unrealistic/fantasy-driven need of viewers, who end up leaving theatres feeling cheated for having to face the real world outside. And look at our society. It’s a little messed up no? Realistic movies should just be the law for a while. All films should cause people to ask themselves questions which they wouldn’t otherwise do. Would this in turn create a sense of apathy when it comes to dealing with others in real life? Maybe.

Cinema should be about plucking the emotions of viewers, testing their ability to see two sides of everything. What we have (and are trying to get away from, although it’s pretty hard) is a flat, safe canvas of a story line, where a person is good and strives to fight against a baddie , and whose point of view of the plot is the only peep hole we get into the story. This in itself is unrealistic. Because any account of an event or a person’s life, is highly subjective.

This reminds me of what a  philosopher stated once; ‘We are all minor characters in the lives of others and lead actors in our own’.
I mean getting choked with unrealistic representations of what’s real and ordinary can’t be too good for the system.

I don’t mind embarrassing myself a little for the sake of this post; but I remember how I felt at the age of 11, after walking out of Dil Chahta Hai. I had to go to a strict convent like school the next morning, pondering over when my trip to Goa would take place ever in my life, or when I’d be granted the freedom to rev my car up to drive to a friend’s house in the middle of the night. Obviously this hasn’t happened yet, and I’m 22……Time to gorge on halwa to feel normal again.

So to make my point more clear I say that, ‘When society repeatedly experiences glossy, hollowed out, pseudo stories, it degenerates’.  (Robert McKee)

Let’s pinch ourselves.

Visiting My All Time Favourite

“One must always work. When you stop working there’s nothing left of life, nothing to do, nothing to put your mind to, no purpose. You just waste away.”

My Dada-ji (paternal grandfather) has always been a man of action. He’s a retired brigadier (now 84years of age), who served India during the wars with Pakistan and China in the 60’s, and retired from the army as a much sought after pathologist. I remember when I was a child, my sister and I would have a sort of game, where we would sit beside him while he studied, and the first person who gagged at the sight of horrifically damaged tissue or grotesquely bloodied organs, would essentially lose. We would be at awe at this man, with his wiry spectacles, peering poker-faced at purpled livers, or bubbling pancreas. Sometimes we would ask him the details of (then) mysterious objects, and he would shut his eyes, give a soft grunt and call out to our mom to get us out of the room. When we would laugh, knowing that we had approached something embarrassing to him,  he would feign a stern expression and tell us not to ‘lof’ (laugh) or to be ‘estupid’ with his Rajasthani accented English.

It’s extremely difficult to get to know his secrets. Whenever I spend time with him, I feel like I’m on a mission to get to know his intricate past, and I successfully fail, of course. You can talk to him about anything in the world, but ask a  question about how he was as a rebellious teen, and the subject is changed with an impish smile. He used to love quizzing kids about general knowledge-mostly concerned with names of the capitals of countries. He’s knows everything about politics and geography, history and entertainment. The last time I was with him, I was reading a novel and was suddenly taken by surprise; “This girl is finished now. Her career is over-look at what she’s become” , he said while Vidya Balan was jerking her flabby shoulder blades at the camera, in her latest ‘Item Number’. I agreed with him and we began to talk about upcoming films and directors and actors. It was really intriguing.

There’s so much of my Dada-ji in me. I hate spending money excessively, I love being in my room, reading and contemplating, and I love studying. No joke. I just picked up a book about Indian history to flip through, and I suddenly found myself with a pencil in hand, and a notebook on the side! It’s all in  my genetic coding- can’t help it I guess!

Childhood, Boyhood and Youth

With what felt like endless time to spend by myself, I scraped for the spine of this book from the corner of my bookshelf, in the dusty, sweaty store room of where I live. Yes, Tolstoy, the most talked about person in 70% of Bengali households-  far better known for his ‘War and Peace’ and of course ‘Anna Karenina’. This book is practically his first attempt at writing. The story behind the book is that at the age of 22, Tolstoy was fraught with a critical case of gonorrhea and believed that his fate of surviving the ordeal was terribly bleak. He at once sought to write an account of his life, from as far as he could remember-and divided his memories according to 3 parts (as the title of the book states). The funny thing about this book, is that later on in life when the aged and wised up Tolstoy revisited his creation, he was aghast at the fact that most of the memories penned down, weren’t actually his own, but of his friends’!  That’s funny in an adorable way.
Leaving that point aside, when you read the book you find the character of the young Tolstoy even more lovable. From the anecdote of how he felt when he lost his mother (he describes the inevitable way in which one finds it hard to recollect memories of lost ones, in the most touching manner), his sentimental disposition, and his lack of self esteem while growing up; obsessing about his ‘ugly’ looks (in fact there’s a funny story about how he wanted to imitate the dashing looks of heroes in french novels, by having thicker eyebrows- for which he shaved his off, and in order to cover up his deed, he singed his forehead just to make it look like he had been through a fatal accident!) and the detailed, intimate observations of people around him, not to forget his little notes on the different types of ‘love’ that one sees in life. It was amazing reading this book, as I swear the characters resemble people I know. In fact towards the end, there is a young lady known as ‘Advotia’ who I un/fortunately found to be quite like myself. Another startling facet of the book is his account of college life and how he couldn’t fit in with anyone and his little comments on the behaviour of students and professors,again characteristics of which I’ve seen in my own life! And it’s the 21st century for heaven’s sake! Tolstoy also has a lovely way of speaking to the reader throughout the book, he asks questions, if you feel like he did, if you agree with  what he did, creating a highly conversational tone which is really nice.

This book is truly timeless, and will always be a memorable one for anyone who manages to get their hands on it, because quite frankly, I haven’t seen a copy of this in any store. I got mine during a library sale 5 years ago….

I just don’t know which passage or bit to pick for this post, because I underlined so many in the book…Here are a few though:

On family:

‘Sometimes to strike one’s head violently against a ceiling hurts one less than just to graze some spot which has been hurt and bruised before: and in almost every family there exists some such raw and tender spot’

‘How often it happens that for years one sees a family cover themselves over with a conventional cloak of decorum, and preserve the real relations of its members a secret from every eye! How often, too, have I remarked that, the more impenetrable (and therefore the more decorous) is the cloak, the harsher are the relations which it conceals!’

On renunciatory love:

‘People who thus love never look for reciprocity of affection, since it is a finer thing to sacrifice yourself for one who does not comprehend you’

On ‘Practical Love’:

‘People of this kind love even the faults of their adored one, for the reason that those faults afford them the power of constantly satisfying new desires. They look for their affection to be returned, and even deceive themselves into believing that it is returned, and are happy accordingly; yet in the reverse case they will still continue to desire happiness for their beloved one, and try by every means in their power-whether moral or material, great or small-to provide it’

On friendship:

‘Kerr has said that every attachment has two sides:one loves, and the other allows himself to be loved; one kisses, and the other surrenders his cheek’

So get your hands on this one!