Sunday, November 14, 2004

From the Statesman--Rage Worship

by Shoma A. Chatterji

I took the following statement from Chatterji's article "Rage Worship":

"the random use, abuse and misuse of violence by the average hero of the average mainstream film have reduced him to a marketable commodity devoid of human values. He mirrors the terrorist in Punjab and Kashmir, the fascist in Gujarat, the regional facist of Assam, the legitimised army killer and rapist in Manipur much more than he is in any way close to our mythological heroes Ram, Ravana, or Yudisthira..."

to heart as I watch the increase in the acceptance of violence as a means of governing world-wide.

There is no more perfect slave culture than a population that had been oppressed by fear, violence, and poverty.

Chatterji's statement applies to Western films and culture, too, and to my mind, as a westerner, much more so, because Western films have reduced violence to an entertainment value without any social context. Western films portray acceptance of violence as a way of life. Just as Bollywood and India have fought corruption in their industry and in their culture, the United States seems to be run by the mafia. Our government and our industries are run by thugs and thieves who enjoy robbing and killing their own people. They are destroying their own economic engine--the middle class--for short-term personal gain. Our government has a history of genocide starting with the Native Americans, African Americans, and Mexicans. We took their land, we enslaved their people, we throw their governments into turmoil by supporting civil war, and it seems that our government wants to continue this policy in the Midddle East.

If the United States was instrumental in saving Europe from Nazi domination, who will save the world now from the United States?

Saturday, November 13, 2004

Ram Jaane

1995, Hindustani, color, 172 minutes, Eagle Films
Director: Rajiv Mehra; Producer: Parvesh Mehra; Cinematography: S. Pappu; Story/Screenplay/Dialogue: Vinay Shukla; Audiography: Karnall Singh
Lyrics: Anand Bakshi; Art Direction: Nitish Roy; Music: Anu Malik; Action: Mohan Baggad; Choregraphy: Nimesh Bhatt; Playback Singers: Udit Narayan, Abhijett, Alka Yagnik, Sadhana Sargam, Anuradha Shriram

Cast: Shah Rukh Khan, Vivek Mushran, Juhi Chawla, Pankaj Kapoor, Punit Issar, Tinnu Anand, Deven Varma, Gulshan Grover

I thought I’d seen most of the film highlights of SRK’s career to date. On a visit to a local Indian video store, I picked up Ram Jaane, a film made early in SRK’s career that I hadn’t seen.

I watch Bollywood films more than once because there is so much to take in. The first time I watched Ram Jaane, I found little to like.

Coincidently, the gangster motif in the film juxtaposed in my mind with a recent interview I heard on NPR about the influence of the underworld on Bollywood films. It was like a visual presentation of the underworld lifestyle.

But when I watched it again, I saw much more to like. I was able to get past the violent nature of many of the characters and scenes.

Ram Jaane is a story that questions society. Two boys are orphans and friends. One, Ram Jaane (Shah Rukh Khan), is street smart and fearless, the other, Murli (Vivek Mushran), is gentle and kind. The first becomes an accomplished underworld operative, the other grows up to run a home for orphans. As adults their paths cross again when a childhood friend, a girl, Bela (Juhi Chawla), returns to the neighborhood. Both have a romantic interest in her but Murli does not express his desires because he knows Ram Janne is interested in Bela, too. Murli feels he owes Ram Jaane his life because when they were young and running the streets together, Ram Janne had saved his life.

But Bela loves Murli and tells him so. All of this occurs against a background of criminal and political corruption. Ram Jaane has scores to settle and in the process kills several people. To catch Ram Jaane, the police and thugs clash with Murli and his orphans. By threatening Murli’s home for orphans Ram Jaane attempts to intervene and is caught.

In an eloquent courtroom presentation, Ram Jaane points to society and the legal system as participants in his crimes, the crimes of the underworld, and corruption of public officials like the police. By turning a blind eye to corruption, the legal system has created an environment where orphans turn to crime.

Beautiful Juhi Chawla is wonderful as Bela. She has many moving scenes and also quite a few energetic dance numbers that show off her talents as an actress and dancer.

Vivek Mushran as Murli gave an understated, muted performance, perfect for his role as a quiet, gentle man whose mission was to help orphans.

One surprise in this film was SRK’s acting style. While I caught glimpses of his trademark style, in this film his style has not been perfected. His style is rough in places but consistent with his character. SRK’s character is often crude, fearless, loyal, violent, honest, and naive.

Elements of the storyline overrode any objections I had about SRK’s acting style, as with many Bollywood films, the social statements are an important part of the story.

Postscript--After watching Ram Jaane again, I felt SRK's final prison scene is one of his best.