Kabul Transit

Thanks to Moacir, I watched the documentary Kabul Transit. Eschewing the usual talking heads approach – or even much of a linear narrative at all – it allows us to follow some people in Kabul for short periods of time. An entrepreneur, some government officials, some Canadian force members of NATO-ISAF, a yunani physician, some Kabul University students, either tell us directly what they think, what they remember and what they see in Kabul or we learn it from their conversation with others. 

It is a powerful work, though it takes a while before you sink into that world and I am undecided on whether the lack of narration and the lack of some explicit structure hurts or help. As someone who knows a little bit more about the history and languages of Afghanistan, I was soon immersed but the people I was viewing with had a harder time contextualizing what was on the screen. 

In the Director’s Statement, David Edwards concludes: “Kabul is an ancient city in which one is continually made aware of how the past shapes the present and intimates the future. History in the film had to seem to emerge out of psyche and experience, as it does when one lives in a place. We vowed not to impose a history upon the place as is done so often in many documentaries…Our goal was to allow insight to emerge out of experience, to reveal rather than describe, and to listen rather than speak.”

Well, sure. I agree. But, there are happy mediums. Since the documentary is indeed geared towards US audience, I don’t see any good reason not to, at least, locate their audience. Tell them what year it is, or why we only see Canadians giving out shovels and building sewage, or how much history lies buried in the rubbles of Kabul. As it is, the people remain nameless even – we only learn their names in the credits – and their personal histories unknown, except for those that share them. The camera obscures far more than it ever reveals.

In any event, it is something that you should try and catch. You can buy the DVD at their site. There are some clips that didn’t make the cut, and best of all, here is Alexandr Rozenbaum’s amazing Monolog Pilota – set to the best sequence in the whole documentary.

Tarsem

I highly recommend that you go out and watch Tarsem Singh Dhabdwar’s The Fall. Think of it as a companion piece to del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth – obsessed with stories, story-tellers and the corrosive realities that surround them both. I was hesitant to go see it, until I read Ebert’s interview with Tarsem (worth reading every line) and the details of the amazing on-location filming and the commitment to his vision. Also worth reading is another interview with ion-cinema (as well as these tid-bits about the framing device). It is not a film upon which you can hang too heavy an analytic curtain – the story and the sub-text is simple enough but it does contains some traces of a quixotic endeavor that is endearing. So, yeah. Oh, the visuals are amazing (especially of Jodhpur and the Jaipur observatory). Go Tarsem and the power of a broken heart.

Jodhaa Akbar

Jodhaa Akbar Poster courtesy of Raver“Gowarikar came before the media with half a dozen history books and said that he researched the subject thoroughly before making the film.” You will just have to imagine my cheshire cat grin upon reading that sentence in an otherwise eye-rolling reportage on the “controversy” surrounding Ashutosh Gowariker’s bollywood spectacular Jodhaa Akbar. I want every director of every historical movie to come with such arsenal to press conferences.

The movie, which I had the pleasure of seeing, along with two dear friends, at a run-down, mob-front, theater on the north side of Chicago, is underwhelming. Purportedly, it is the story of the Mughal emperor, Jalaluddin Muhammad Akbar (1556-1605) and his “romance” with the Rajput princess Jodhaa. The controversy seems to be in the realm of that pesky popular memory and history. Apparently, the offending parties claim that Jodha Bai is the Rajput wife of Jahangir – Akbar’s successor – rather than Akbar’s wife. And that brings some dishonor to some one. I really stopped reading after a while.

The movie doesn’t deserve any controversy. Irfan Habib and Muhammad Amin have the right attitude as historians: “… nothing to get worked up about”. Because if historians are indeed to huff and puff, the one-on-one combat sequences for all of Hindoostan are far more an egregious crime against history than whether Jodha Bai was Akbar’s wife or daughter in law. Man Singh, Pleez. Akbar did have (a number of) Rajput wives, and other wives, and not every one’s name is recorded. The one from the movie is named only by her given title, Maryam-e Zaman (Mary of the Times), in the medieval sources. A title that gave 19th century popular colonial narrators all kinds of wrong ideas about Christian influences on Akbar.

What I did find more troublesome than Jodha Bai, was the particular brand of Hindu-secularism at display in the movie. Wherein the open-ness of Akbar is needed only to give triumphal space for the Hindu dieties. And while Outlook India notes that this movie is the most noted example of an intercommunal romance where the man is muslim, I simply noted that every villain in the movie is a devout Muslim. Jodhaa Akbar, is a story about contemporary India and the world we live in, not about Akbar the Mughal King.

As teaching tool, I appreciated the bits of social and court historical display available in some scenes – the Diwan-i Aam, the Parcheesi, the night camps – but the rest would have to be avoided outside of a class on popular history and memory. My favorite scene was the “throw him over head first”. I dug.

For those who care, I have put the account made famous by British Orientalist about Jodhaa and Akbar, below the fold.
Continue reading “Jodhaa Akbar”

Little Terrorist

Ashvin Kumar’s Little Terrorist is a wonderful short that I accidently caught on the Sundance channel. The title is a bit misleading – I would have called it “The Wicket” – but it is heartfelt and a nice introduction to some issues of difference and sameness around the partitioned homistan.