Saturday, October 20, 2007

Costner's JFK

[This article is copied from my old blog. This was written a couple of years back]

I don't take my knowledge of Hollywood movies too seriously. I am at best a casual watcher and at worst a nominal self appointed analyst/critic.

There isn't a particular genre of movies that i have an affinity for. Yes i love comedies and spoofs. Action thrillers are great. Sometimes dramas are fine.Sci-Fis are great if made well. Can't say that about all Sci-Fis though.Romantics ... mmm.. not sure.

But four Hollywood movies which shook me from my core and which affected me for some time were 1] Pulp Fiction 2]Godfather I and II 3] Shwashank's Redemption and 4] JFK. And not necessarily in that order.

Pulp Fiction for its "casual" violence and style, Godfather off course for its grand setting and almost intoxicating story line, Shwashank's.. for its brilliant ending and JFK for its absolute commitment to details.I have not seen a movie script more glued to details than JFK. It was an epic made to depict a monumental event in the American history. That Oliver Stone would have walked a very tight rope making that movie shouldn't be a surprise to anyone.

I am not sure if many republicans would have hated that movie. If you make efforts to separate the movie's political overtones, you get , what i should call a Master-Piece.The story is based on Kennedy's murder and follow up on its investigation. Its a period movie based in the 60s.The film is an essay on how the vigour and dedication of one man and his team of associates can rise above the highest powers. For me nothing symbolizes this film's excellence more than Kevin Costner's closing speech to the Jury. It was spotless. Almost impeccable work of fine acting. You just stop and listen to this man speak, endlessly.

Apart from Costner's acting, the Director's brilliance in gradually building up the story and along with that the emotion, is an education in film-making itself.Writes a critic."The subject matter is incredibly controversial and subjective but Stone's delivers it with such emotion and raw power that his alternate myth to the Warren Report seems factual."

The movie is also a salute to this nation's true democracy. A democracy where a politically uncomfortable film is allowed to not only be produced but released without hiccups even during the rule of the government which is at odds with the movie's views. In India especially, politically incorrect movies have little or no place at all.
(A point in case, "Aandhi"-which was banned)

When Americans talk of liberty and freedom of speech they mean it. But in some ways the movie's story tells a paradoxical situation regarding exactly that. That is , freedom of views.

Kennedy was a liberal at heart. He had already made enemies within the CIA because of his diametrically opposite views apart from others,on Cuban Missile issue and racial tolerance. His views were not in synch with the higher ups in the most feared Intelligence office of the world.

As the movie shows at the start, Kennedy had it coming.

Kennedy had snatched an improbable victory in elections. He with his wife had grown into iconic figures in a very short span of time. The Kennedy's symbolized power,glamour and style for the 60s America which was flushed with money and power.The Kennedy's lifestyle, their hollywood connections, their good looks was what would qualify as the "talk of the country".

The conservatives surely were'nt impressed. And Kennedy might have 'crossed the line' a few times on a few issues for CIA to take the extreme step of eliminating him. (The movie without naming CIA, makes it more than obvious that CIA was behind his murder).

The best part of the movie is that it is very subtle in its presentation. There's an understated aggression but the blame is not squarely pushed in CIA's direction. A lot of questions are kept hanging intentionally, i feel, to keep the viewer in state of perennial intrigue.

But as i mentioned earlier, Costner's closing speech is a class act. An act of a helpless lawyer who is too small to fight a huge system by himself. Costner looses the case, but makes the point. He does not loose without a fight and thats what the movie is all about. That Costner is going to loose the case is known all along, but his effectual verbal advocacy of what he stands for and case itself is the movie's highlight.

JFK for me remains a collector's item. I have seen this movie a couple of times and may watch it some more times (probably when it flashes back on the cable). I haven't seen Kevin Costner's other movies except for "Bull Durham". But doesn't matter. JFK proves his acting credentials way beyond anybody's doubt.

All in all, JFK takes the cake for story-telling and presentation. If you got 5 hours to spare on a week-end, one of the ways to use it would be to get this DVD. You won't be sorry.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Fun Unlimited

Ramdaspeth was a revelation. Home to my childhood days, it was also one of the plush areas of Nagpur. Mind you Nagpur did not have many areas that can be considered "plush". But Ramdaspeth stood out in a few ways. The plots were bigger and all the independent bungalows were lined majestically along the small streets. Considering what Nagpur was, Ramdaspeth had it's fair share of high points.

It was a colony of the business community of Nagpur to some extent. And one house stood smack in the middle of the cross road of Ramdaspeth. It was Shanti Sadan; my maternal Grandfather's house.

For us kid's, it was simply "Ba's House". Ba - my maternal Granny.

Ba's house had a special aura to it. Till early 80s it was a villa with plenty of rooms and restrooms, plenty of open space and ventilation, plenty of vegetation including tall and handsome coconut and chickoo trees and plenty of playing area for kids. In fact half the colony kids would descend on my granny's place to play something or the other. Either it was hide and seek or cricket or something else. The house was so big that "Hide and Seek" became the natural sport of that house owing to potentially large number of areas to hide.

Nobody would call it Shanti Sadan. Even for my friends it was always "Ba's house". Ba or my maternal granny, was the symbolic mother figure for all. She had certain strict rules to be followed, specially the post restroom-usage ritual; yet every one of my friends just assumed it as their birth right to play in Shanti Sadan's premises without inhibition or guilt.

One thing i strongly associate Ba's house is with the vacation period. Whether it was summer or Diwali, each vacation spent at Ba's house simply was a Fun-Nirvana. My cousins would descend from Bombay for a few weeks each year and gather at Ba's house and what followed was pure mayhem. Chaos and festivities ruled over these weeks. The more the people, the more laugh riot it ensured. 100%, pure unadulterated fun was what it was.

There was more fun packed per unit of time than during any period of the year. If it was not watching movies in afternoon on a VCR, it was either playing carom or Monopoly endlessly, if it was not playing box cricket in the front yard, it was flying kites on the terrace; if it was not going to the picnic at local gardens of Nagpur, it was the alfresco meals in the backyard. The amount of cacophony and level of decibel was proportionate to number of people per square yard residing in the premise. And during the vacation it was very high.

People say they don't get time for fun. At "Ba's house" during those few weeks of vacation the situation was reversed - THERE WAS NO TIME *FROM* FUN. It was as if we were doing nothing but enjoying. Enjoyment was not giving us enough time to do anything else. It was one big party sans alcohol and music but that which ran 24 X 7 non stop.

Every year i would wait for these holidays and wait for my cousins to come because every year promised to be funnier than the previous one. Ba's house was the quintessential vacation home. It had all the trappings of a great vacation home, including a wide backyard, a large swing, large open terrace that towered over the neighbors and large rooms to accommodate many people. We never felt cramped even with 40 odd people at times.

Last year i traveled for the first time in a Business class in Air. It was a trip from Chicago to New Delhi. I could not help but compare business class seats with the economic class one's which i usually take. Besides good service, business class seats have a lot of leg room and easy maneuverability. It is not cramped.

Vacation at "Ba's house" was like one big business class flight for all of us kids. Individually we stayed in smaller one or two bedroom apartments. But Ba's house was OUR Business class ticket. It had lot of leg room and there was no question of cramping. And more importantly we were looked upon well at Ba's house. When there, we cousins were like a herd of sheep who are let loose in an open lush green field.

In some sense i think we were the last lucky generation to witness such grand vacations. Today's kids don't have big and large families to go to with the nucleus-ization of families and they most certainly don't get to see Granny's hosting such big parties on such a large scale. That pure and unadulterated fun, that ran not into days but weeks together is hard to imagine now. Just a change in time may be; but whatever may be the case, we were lucky to be part of those glorious vacations for many years.

My granny and grandpa would usually keep themselves uninvolved in the details of the vacation plans. They would simply enjoy as by standers. May be they were very matured and understood that control freaking on kids and grand kids can only spoil the fun. They enjoyed seeing others enjoy from the sidelines. That was their nirvana - Enjoying from the sides. They let kids be kids and grand kids be grand kids. They were the enablers and not the producers of fun. And therein lied their maturity.

Obviously this is not to say that the kids today don't have fun. The avenues are different and the means are different.

As humans we have memories to fall back upon. And if the memories are great, the roots are only stronger. "Ba's house" symbolized grandiose but it also underlined the significance of simple happiness - Happiness in simple normal things. You don't need a rocking band of DJ and high volume music to have a party. Ba's house was fun in simpler things. It packed more fun than 12 hour dance-till-you-last party pub. Jokes abound there; laughter was boundless and loud. There was no controlled and measured happiness. Fun was what it was - just Fun. There was simple food prepared deliciously with simplicity, no exorbitant gourmet meals - yet it was divine and tasteful.

Many great summers and Diwalis were spent in that house. It is home to some great memories.Sans extravagance and "over the top" festivities, the enjoyment and fun were based on simple and regular underpinnings. There was enjoyment in playing an under arm cricket match with tough box cricket rules. There was enjoyment in eating a nicely prepared meal out in the open. There was fun in playing cards over and over again. There was pleasure in walking to Maharaj bag and having a bhel on the lawn. There was fun riding the two wheeler and basking in the glory of youth. It was fun to hide on the remote parapet wall of the terrace and look out to get the seeker out.
More importantly it was fun to be yourself.

This tribute is as much for a place and people who at some point in time redefined simple pleasures of life, as also to simple,clean fun in general. If for nothing else we all owed Ba and Ba's house a salute for providing all of us those simple pleasures.