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Egypt has seen days of protest, unrest, and recently, violence since January 25, 2011. The events in Egypt have certainly galvanized the people in Egypt, but perhaps more interestingly, have stirred the sentiments of Egyptians born abroad when previously, little existed to tie them to their ancestral homeland.
The story of so many first-generation Americans starts with parents who were born and raised abroad, but came to the United States to pursue greater opportunities and raise a family. While there is a vague sense of culture and heritage, their children are quick to adopt an American sense of self, that is to say, an amalgam of cultures and points of view that are distinctly American. While they know that their roots are miles, if not seas and oceans away, and while they may eat the same foods, believe in the same religion, and accept the same cultural practices as their forebears, they hold America to be their country. This is my story, and the story of many people I know who, like me, are first-generation Americans.
Yet, for me, when the Mumbai terrorist attacks occurred, I was once again Indian. These were my people, who were mercilessly gunned down. These are my people who now bear the scars, and hope for justice to be served. The story is no different for many young people of Egyptian origin, who find themselves strongly identifying with their countrymen, even if they haven’t set foot in the country, or stayed for more than a few weeks at a time. This is likely the story of any group of first-generation Americans whose country of origin was mired in war or subjected to other unspeakable conflicts and tragedies. We identify with their plight, because it could have very well been our parents or relatives who were involved (and sometimes they may have been).
As far as Egypt goes, there has been a considerable amount of violence and bloodshed over the past few days that have no doubt shaken legions of young Egyptian-Americans to their core. Yet the people of Egypt (especially the youth) are demanding change, and calling for an end to politics as usual. Despite curfews, threats, and fighting, they have continued to stand their ground, calling for democracy. For that, Egyptian American youth can certainly be proud to call themselves Egyptian. Certainly, for that, we all can be proud to ally ourselves with their cause.
Disclaimer: This will probably be useless to the 90% of all moviegoers who probably have already seen this movie.
There’s no denying that I loved this movie, and for the most part, is deserving of the accolades it has received to date. That being said, though, it wasn’t my favorite movie of all time.
Dev Patel is definitely the real star here. He was clever and funny, and was able to quickly assume more serious emotions when needed. I’m not sure why Freida Pinto has been getting more press, she’s all right herself, but doesn’t really shine. Naturally Irrfan Khan was great, in his usual, understated way. Anil Kapoor gave probably the best performance in the context of all the other ones I have seen.
Being an Indian, I guess it was natural for me to feel a strong kinship to the story, as it meandered its way through Mumbai slums and beyond. There were parts of Mumbai that felt familiar, buildings I’ve seen, streets I’ve been on, so there was a connection beyond the plot and beyond the characters. The movie incorporated a fair amount of Hindi, all with subtitles, which lent it a feeling of greater authenticity. It may have been a hair quixotic–with its story unfailing love and the clean, near-perfect ending–but that’s what draws people in. Nonetheless, it was a story to which anyone could relate. That is probably what made it such a huge phenomenon.
The movie was an emotional journey that made sharp twists and turns, but never let you fall off. Despite the fact that Salim, Latika, and Jamal were raised in a slum–a place that probably few of us really understand, let alone have encountered–they were not distant characters, but ones to whom we could wholly relate.
It is important to note, however, that it may be easy for one to generalize the state of the slums to India as a whole. Poverty is present in India, but so is industrialization (as depicted in the film as well), as well as the clean-cut, beautiful, sometimes touristy side of India. India is taking strides towards a bright new future, but of course in order to secure it, it will need to address some of the problems. Corruption and poverty probably rank near the top.
Yet to those (Amitabh Bachchan et. al.) who think the movie portrays India as a third-world nation…I thought it was a pretty honest portrayal. Of course most people will not think of India as some backwards country, given the rate at which it has been accelerating towards the top. People are very well aware of that, especially in the U.S. We’re constantly bombarded with stories tracking China and India’s ascension to the world stage, alongside the ones tracking our clumsy fall from grace.
Don’t get me wrong, Amitabh is awesome, but I think he’s jumping the gun just a little bit.
So if you haven’t seen this film yet, go see it. It’ll definitely be worth your while.
Usually when people think of foreign movies, they think of deep, insightful films, more akin to the indie film genre in the U.S. Many go on to capture such accolades as the Palm d’Or, foreign films Oscars, and headline several of the world’s major film festivals.
Then there are Indian films.
Bollywood represents the biggest share of the Indian films that are produced every year, and they are almost always produced in Hindi, the national language of India. There are, of course, other films that are produced in other Indian languages; their respective film industries usually have nicknames closely resembling Bollywood (Tollywood, Kollywood, Mollywood, etc.). Most are loud, with loose plots, weak acting (but gorgeous actors) and plenty of musical numbers replete with hundreds of extras and questionable choreography.
And that is why so many people love them.
While I haven’t watched that many Malayalam films (I’m such a bad Malayalee), I’ve watched enough to notice a definite trend from good to embarrassing. Gone are the films that were hailed by the world community as intricate exercises in storytelling and acting. Vaanaprastham is still one of my favorite films to date. The problem with films after that is that they have begun to veer too closely to the Bollywood model. Dancing does not work when half of your actors wear shirts and lungis.
P.S. When your male leads are currently 40, some knocking on 50, you may need to find new actors. Sorry Mohanlal, Mammooty, et. al.
Bollywood, at least from my perspective, seems wholly incapable of producing a film that would be universally well-received outside of India. That is to say, a film with a strong plot, strong acting, and (alas) no music (or at least not the gaudy musical numbers endemic in Bollywood). In essence (as a friend of mine put it) they resemble movies from the Golden Age of Hollywood, though not quite as good. At least as late as a few years ago, I could watch a Hindi film with some mild appreciation of the plot. Now, I don’t even have that. Even the songs are getting unbearably bad, with rare exception (Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na comes to mind as one such exception from this year’s batch of films). The last good film that I can think of is probably Omkara. Everything since then has been abysmal.
If I had to name the best actor in Bollywood, I’d have to go with Amir Khan, possibly even Saif Ali Khan (based especially on his performance in Omkara). I’m not even sure I can name the best female actress, most are awful. Aishwarya Rai does sometimes shine, as does Rani Mukherjee, but neither are particularly good.
There are only a few films that have come out of India that are deserving of any merit, in the context of the world community as a whole. Most seem to be coming out of the Bengali film industry, though I have yet to see a Bengali film. Many people have lauded the films of Satyajit Ray, his films are first on my list. The same is true for Deepa Mehta and Mira Nair, though the latter I wouldn’t really categorize as an Indian filmmaker, as much as a filmmaker of Indian origin. Her films don’t necessarily incorporate Indian culture all the time.
I can’t help but turn to Indian films as a sort of source of comfort, because of how over the top they tend to be. Sometimes I just need to completely lose myself in a silly romance with lots of singing to forget how crazy life really is, most of the time. Maybe that’s why that film model is still so widely used; in a country where poverty and hardship is still present in large numbers, sometimes people just need to lose themselves in lighthearted movies. Yet if India wants to gain any respect in film circles, it will need to slowly begin the shift away from these movies towards deeper plots and better acting.
That being said, I’m going to go watch a Bollywood movie.
These were the words spoken by one of the captured terrorists implicated in the carnage that rocked Mumbai the last few days. His name is Azam Amir Kasab, a 21-year old from Pakistan. More importantly, he’s a 21-year old. What was I doing at 21? Studying, hanging out with friends, enjoying Ithaca, and planning my future, among other things. Kasab, at 21, had planned to die as he killed hundreds of people. Kasab narrated the whole story, with almost chilling nonchalance, according to an article by the Daily Mail.
“I was told to kill to my last breath,” he says, upon being asked about the details leading up to the massacre. Someone instructed him to take lives, as many lives as possible (the original goal was 5,000 in total), and take those lives until you have no life to live yourself. Someone, who presumably Kasab got to know pretty well if he and his fellow terrorists were “highly trained in marine assault,” something that requires presumably, a lot of time to do. That someone told him and the others to kill. That in itself is despicable. Yet to be told to kill to your last breath takes it to a whole new level. That someone knew these people were totally vested in the cause, and knew they would lay down their lives if need be. These people also happen to be young men, barely into their twenties, men who had barely started to live their own lives before being told to lay them down. That someone could see these men gleefully and passionately take lives as their own life left their lungs. That someone, or someones, are the real monsters here, not the ones who were cast out to kill and die. They are killers, but they are also victims.
It is so sad, how young people are being so readily recruited to kill in the name of some vague, greater good. It’s so sad how the angst and uncertainty of young adulthood is being exploited to turn them into killing machines. Blame, again, can’t be placed on Pakistan or on Muslims as a whole. For those of you who are placing the blame on their shoulders, you don’t really understand the issue. Yes, it seems that Pakistani Muslims were behind the attacks, but this is more the actions of a few, disillusioned fundamentalists, not the whole population. Unfortunately, fundamentalists get more air-time than the more moderate majority, and the media carries unbelievable influence. This is true not just for Muslims, but Hindus, and other groups.
Maybe it’s easier for me to say “lets just all be friends,” when many of my closest friends are Muslim and/or Pakistani. I have been to Eid services, and I have bowed my head as Arabic prayers were recited. They have attended pujas and bowed their heads when Sanskrit prayers were recited. We confide in each other, laugh together, cry together, dance together, sing together, and pretty much do everything together. Maybe it is easier because we are one generation removed from the conflicts of the motherland. Yet, even in spite of these attacks, have come together and become closer, united against senseless violence. We are people first, our allegiances should never make us forget that.
Rather than war against those who have hurt us, perhaps it is time to improve relations between India and Pakistan. Maybe then, kids on either side would be less likely to take up arms against their supposed enemies, especially if their supposed enemies were now their friends.
Granted I just woke up and I just checked the news briefly, thankfully I haven’t seen anything of the sort. I just worry, given the trend with the other terrorist attacks that have occurred in India. The train bombings in Gujarat, the bombing in Delhi, all the attacks that have happened in Mumbai in years prior. All were followed swiftly either by Hindu fundamentalist attacks, or attack by some other group (depending on which group was the offending group). Last I checked, all religions were founded on some premise of peace, and forgiveness. While it takes some conviction to raise the sword against your tormentor, it takes even greater conviction to forgive him for what he has done.
I’m of the opinion that the eye-for-an-eye approach never works, so why do people have to react to tragedy by bringing more tragedy? It’s an unfortunate quirk in our collective thinking. I hope it ends here.
I’m thankful that this year has been going well for me, and I’m glad my family is healthy and happy. I’m glad my grandparents did not go anywhere near Colaba/Nariman Point today or yesterday, and that all my relatives in Mumbai are safe.
This Thanksgiving, give thanks for what you have, but pray for those who have lost, and those whose future is still uncertain. Pray that they may have a reason to give thanks soon.
Somehow, killing just doesn’t seem to equate into any sort of act of retribution. I don’t see how taking a life, or taking several lives, justifies any valid philosophy. Since when does storming a crowded place, taking out your rifle, machine gun, or pistol and firing bullet after bullet into people achieve any sort of good? What good does it do to target people and take hostages, and watch as they bleed and sweat fear for their lives and shame for being somehow, culpable for some vague and uncertain deed in the eyes of their captors.
Who are we to judge who is worthy of life and worthy of death?
This is the credo of terrorist organizations today, or so it seems, that in taking life and striking fear, something good is achieved. Most recently, several gunmen opened fire in coordinated attacks across several of Mumbai, India’s hotels, restaurants, and hospitals. It was clear that these gunmen were targeting foreign nationals. In most of the terrorist attacks in recent years, the sites tended to be those frequented by foreigners. Why?
I am not even going to try to interpret their actions, it’s not my place. I am not going to talk about God, and I’m not going to talk about religion. They have been unfairly dragged through the mud and I am not going to continue with it.
So where does one start to dissect a mind, a mind of a person so caught up in their own mission that the mind is indistinguishable from the mission? Have you ever tried to convince someone they are wrong about something they strongly believe in? It’s about as effective as talking to a wall, except the wall is sticking their fingers in their ears and trying to talk over you.
No one ever goes out wanting to do something “evil.” Everyone is convinced that they are the good guys. Can doing good be so relative? How can one begin to standardized “good deeds” and “evil deeds?” Won’t terrorists see that they have inflicted unbelievable pain on their fellow man, won’t that (in theory) make them realize that their view of supposed “goodness” is fundamentally flawed, when death and suffering are imperative to achieve any “good?”
Then again, maybe they won’t. Goodness and evil at this point in time are still (unbelievably) relative. One can only hope that this changes.
I pray for the people who were lost today in Mumbai, as well as for the people who have been lost and will continue to be lost if good and evil remain concepts that are open to interpretation. May their souls rest in peace.
EDIT: For up to date pictures/information about what’s going on in/around the Taj Hotel, please refer to my friend Arun’s blog: http://arunshanbhag.com/2008/11/26/mumbai-blasts-taj-is-burning/