My Dear Americans

My Dear Americans
My Dear Americans
Happy July 4th, my dear Americans. Here is a short made by Arpita Kumar, being screened at PBS ONLINE FILM FESTIVAL.

Here is what Kumar told us about the short:

I made My Dear Americans during my Project Involve fellowship at Film Independent in Los Angeles. We were asked to pitch short film projects focused on the theme of traditions. I thought it would be interesting to focus on an American tradition but from the point-of-view of an outsider. I chose to build a narrative around the 4th of July tradition since it’s the most American and patriotic of the holidays. And, I decided on a Sikh couple as the outsiders largely because around that time there was a shooting in a Sikh Gurudwara in Wisconsin. The white supremacist perpetrator associated the Sikhs with Osama Bin Laden and it shocked me that there was such ignorance about the Sikh community still. It had been more than a decade since 9/11 and the backlash continued. I realized that we cannot do much about the ignorance of others. What we can do is change our reaction to their ignorance. And, that inspired the film and the actions of the wife, Tejpreet.

I arrived in the U.S. eleven years ago with the unbearable enthusiasm of Baldev – the husband in the film – for all things American. Over the years, the enthusiasm has not tapered but my mind has gained a more complex understanding of national identity, displacement, and the idea of home. The film is a window into that mindscape.

Additionally, every time I start a film I give myself a challenge and for this one it was to tell a story with as little dialogue as possible. Watch and let me know if I succeeded. Also, vote.

Feet First – Essays on Maula Jatt I

There is no real sense of how Maula Jatt changed Pakistan. Real as in what to quantify and how to do it. At some point, it was everywhere and then it remained. The man playing the role of Maula Jatt was named Sultan Rahi né Mohammad Sultan who was born in 1938 in Uttar Pradesh (yes, Punjabi was not his mother-tongue) and died in 1996 near Gujranwalla. He began working in Lollywood in 1956 and ended up with a career filled with over 800 appearances. At least 300 of which he played a role akin to Maula Jatt. The template for this character came from “Wahshi Jatt” (Savage Jatt) which was released in 1975 (I think?) based on Ahmed Nadeem Qasmi’s short story “Gandasa”. The opening voice-over (linked earlier) is really an amazing document of mid 70s Pakistan. Maula Jatt (1979) was a continuation of the character from Wahshi Jatt and, legend has it, it played non-stop (four shows a day/seven days a week) for nearly three years after which it was banned for excessive violence (precisely for the scene involving cutting of a human leg) and removed from public showing. When it re-appeared in cinema halls, it was already legend. My favorite bit from Maula Jattn is the song Nashay diyay Botalay (bottle of whiskey) sung by Inayat Husain Bhatti.

Below is an essay by noted writer Musharraf Ali Farooqi (author, most recently, of highly acclaimed novel Between Clay and Dust (2012) {which will receive a thorough and critical reading from me}) which he has graciously contributed to CM. It was first published in The Popcorn Essayists: What Movies do to Writers, Editor: Jai Arjun Singh Publisher: Tranquebar Press (2011).
Continue reading “Feet First – Essays on Maula Jatt I”

From the Department of Unfinished Business

Some of you may be old enough to remember a letter to an academic journal that Sepoy posted last February. Below, I furnish the piece of writing in question for those who are curious. The article, on the portrayal of terrorists in Indian cinema, was written in 2002. It was, I like to think, fresh and timely. It can no longer be described in that manner now. Many new movies have come out that would be interesting to discuss in this context. Mani Ratnam has since made a film that touches more directly on the conflict in Sri Lanka (Kannathil Muthamittal). I would no longer be caught dead writing this kind of academic article. The world has changed, etc. But in the interest of freecycling, I give it to you, below. Perhaps it can be repurposed and made into a quilt?

But before we move on, one last item of business. I must also share with you the reviewer’s comments alluded to in my original letter. The following was scrawled in heavily applied ballpoint on the review sheet:

NO– I am normally very open-minded, but I cannot be so here. I have no interest in advocating an article which is designed to elicit empathy for terrorists & terrorism. I don’t want to “appreciate” or “comprehend” the world of terrorists. I am not naive. The problem is with the terrorist– NOT my understanding of these PSYCHOPATHIC KILLERS. (and yes, I understand the intent of the essay. I am not misreading it)

Continue reading “From the Department of Unfinished Business”


A guest essay by Basanti

Mushtaq Bhai: Any last words?
Babban: How about a joke?
Mushtaq Bhai: Yes, go ahead.
Babban: (nervously) There was once this mullah who had a female parrot. This female parrot had quite a mouth on her, always saying the foulest things. The mullah was at a loss, what to do. He went to his friend, the qazi. The qazi said: look, I have a pair of male parrots, who are both very respectable. They are always singing the praises of Allah. Just have your parrot spend a few days with them, and she’ll be straightened out soon enough. The mullah was very happy by this prospect and handed over his parrot to the qazi. But as soon as the qazi’s parrots took one look at her, they started saying the most vulgar things, suddenly acquiring the most foulest of tongues themselves… the worst insults (galis)! I mean… things I cannot bring myself to repeat…you see, I am much too embarrassed. No, I just can’t say them out loud …I’m really just too shy….Are you sure you want to hear what they said?
Mushtaq Bhai: (chuckles) Of course, yes…
Babban: Ok, but I’m really too embarrassed to say it out loud. Shall I whisper it in your ear?
Mushtaq Bhai: (bending forwards) Yes, do tell…

I finally got around to watching Abhishek Chaubey’s much acclaimed debut, a marvel of a film. Ishqiya follows the interconnected stories of a femme fatale named Krishna (Vidya Balan) having just lost her hardened criminal husband, and two thieves, Khalujaan (Naseeruddin Shah) and Babban (Arshad Warsi), on the run. The film’s subtle, yet powerful critique of the Hindu right, its mockery of the rising nouveau rich middle-class; and [relatively] progressive sexual politics, makes it worth a watch. Its landscape is a north India as home through the eyes of its marginalized poor: these happen to include Muslims, (widowed/unattached) women, and lower-castes.

It is to writers’ credit that Ishqiya’s chief Muslim characters—male protagonists aptly portrayed by Naseeruddin Shah and Arshad Warsi—are for once not the Good Muslim-Bad Muslim familiar duo of Bollywood, chasing their tales in a narrative about terrorism (a la Fiza, Mission Kashmir, Dhoka, Fanaa, etc.) I will spare you the history of the much maligned figure of the Muslim in many a film from Roja (1992) onwards, which has pitted the Indian nationalist hero in opposition to the jihadi terrorist. Many recent films, when featuring Muslims, are structured around a popular narrative about a purported crisis unique to Islam—between good Muslims working for the success of the secular Indian state, and bad Muslims, taking on the state out of adherence to an aggressively blind religious ideology. Suffice to say, there is rarely a film out of Bollywood these days where the Muslim character is not the bearer of religious particularity or difference or presented as political conundrum. So when a film comes along that doesn’t fall into the usual scenario, and does well at the box office, it is noticeable.
Continue reading “Ishqiya”