12 Years A Slave – Making people with heart bleed!

It is painful.

However old it may be, the story still pains. So, does the brilliant portrayal of the pre-civil war Americas when being ‘nigger’ can warrant you nothing better than the life of a ‘baboon’, or mostly worse than that. The question of liberty and equality, as prescribed by the nature, remains a unknown and unwanted mystery for Solomon Northup until he was kidnapped, tortured and sold as a slave. As a spirit that he was and not someone who ‘ain’t got the stomach for a fight;’ he declared “I don’t want to survive. I want to live.”

As an eloquent violin player, Solomon Northup, played by Academy Award nominee Chiwetel Ejiofor for this role, lived happily with his small family as a ‘free man’ at Saragato, New York. Soon he would be kidnapped and transported to the South where he would be sold in the market. That the men and women can be traded as goods in the market is perfectly shown by director Steve McQueen. Freeman, who is the trader of slaves, parades his slaves naked in front of potential buyers, ask them to perform, show their teeth for their perfect health or even jump and run. The cinematic excellence can be measured when you shockingly walk with the potential buyers and see them bargain.  

This is a cinema that bleeds your heart. As they bled by those whiplashes befallen upon their backs, as they are made to dance at night after a tiring day at the behest of a drunk cruel, as they sing on the death of a peer, you bleed. As a benign buyer of slave, Ford bought Platt, the new name forced upon Solomon, along with a mother, Eliza, who was to be separated from her children. As she cried aloud on the separation of her children, Platt started playing his eloquent violin. It was horror. You feel the gruesome cry of mother for her estranged children and an urgent need to play down that voice by the soothing sound of Violin played so urgently by Platt. The sequence ends when Mistress Ford seemingly empathizes with Eliza, upon her arrival at the estate, and says, ‘something to eat and some rest; your children will soon enough be forgotten.’ Eliza would soon to be drag out of the estate, for she kept weeping for her estranged children, as she cried for Platt who went deaf upon hearing her crying help.

Google ImageI don’t know if torture can have this impact. The film wrenches your soul as someone would lock a person in chains and then beat him until his bat breaks and still beat him. You don’t see ‘meat and blood flow’ but your mind screams as Platt exchanges his blood stained badly mutilated shirt for a newer one. For Edwin Epps, the ruthless ‘nigger breaker’ cotton grower ‘master,’ is caught in a dreadful situation when he cannot escape from his weakness for his slave ‘Damned Queen’, Patsey. He was so envious or possessive about owning her, that she would strip her down and tied onto a tree to be ruthlessly whipped. However, he could not. He had Platt to whip her and whip her so hard that you see the sprinkle of blood spit out of her back at every whip. You feel her agony, or may be your mind resists to it, as she cries at every whip splitting her smooth back into tatters. The torn flesh of her back, the tired sound of crying, the soul wrenching pain that Platt incurs as he beat her, these are moments when the pain that you get is resisted by your soul. Closing your fist, it refuse and wants to rebel.

Google ImageThe movie is not only seen but its felt. Not many movies can do that. When you see Platt staring at the light with not a single utterance of word for almost five minutes, you feel the ignominy and sting of his helplessness. When you see Platt remains hung with his tip of foot on a slushy muddy land, you feel death every second as an ordinary day is spent around you. He lives through the day, the afternoon and the evening hanging before he is being rescued. What is staggering is the hope that a man condemned by fate still holds! Platt steals a piece of paper, creates and sharpens a pen, and discovers his own ink with blueberry. This is hope that leads him to experience deceit once but freedom at another time.

‘12 Years A Slave’ is not just a movie but an emotional journey for anyone, with their heart and soul intact, who would not know about slavery. It is not just about a person but tragic evidence of a merciless, barbaric and inhumane blot in human civilization. The metaphoric Platt is at last reunited with his family but he is old now, a grandfather with a grandson.

The movie is metaphorically encapsulated in this dialogue of Solomon on the occasion of his reunion with his estranged family that was “I apologize for my appearance. But I have had a difficult time these past several years.”

Overhaul Education: For a better & secure Tomorrow!

Speed is everything today. We are running a mad race today to catch something. We know that because we are told to catch that thing. But the sad part of the story is that we don’t know why we catch something particular but not something else. Metaphorically, the science has made our lives so simple that we want to complicate it now. We are hard pressed for time as we fail to secure time to do the basic things in life; like breath without fear, dream without anticipation and love with conditions. As Gandhiji said, ‘there is more to life than increasing its speed.’ Do we care to listen & understand it? Ailing South African revolutionary leader, Nelson Mandela once said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” The tragedy of life is that not many of us appreciate the value of education today and the very philosophy that education tries to imbibe into a person. The philosophy of reason and logic are the ulterior objectives of any education that help to quench the natural human inquisitiveness about the unknown. As we fail to understand the power that education has to bring changes in the world, do we see cracks in our social fabric that is crafted with innumerable years of human experience? I think we do.

A typical middle class family from relatively poorer eastern part of India lives a dream to catch something. The baby enters the earth with that very urge to catch something, he’s grown up in the cocoon of competition, he’s trained hard to fight to stay ahead in the competition, and finally he catches that something. But, all his life, he has known only one thing that to catch something! Once he gets his engineering or medical degree, because it is only thing to catch as rest are mere options, he turns to catch his next something, and then to next. He gets old catching some things, growing old accumulating something without really enjoying any of his prizes because he does not know how to relish them. He was never taught to.

The Indian education system remains largely the colonial heritage of past century. The legacy of joining, for lack of a proper word, the rat race and bestowing the winner with the trophy is essentially sums up our education system. It is classically based upon the carrot and stick policy. Never a sincere attempt was made to move over from this bequest but efforts were initiated & hastened by society to perpetuate it even further. For lack of a system to relinquish such obnoxious and obsolete education system, today we are facing a system of cut off in the recent Delhi University reaching 100%. The severance from the realities of society and time has made it an elite model, rather than an ideal universal model. The incapacity of the regional universities to learn new things, explore novel ideas, deliberate and imbibe them in their education process has led to their tragic decay in importance in the present education scenario. The intelligentsia of such universities forgot the very basic of education which Albert Einstein quotes as ‘the most important thing is not to stop questioning.’

Are we asking the right questions and making the right echoes in the society? The growing vacuum of brilliant minds moving away from the state should have been regarded as a state disaster. However, the way the educational bodies are encouraging and paving the way to excel in these rat races to secure an admission in the elite university, it is far from identify it as a crisis. Having lost its teeth to mismanagement, lethargy and archaic operation, then the Universities bask in glory of the past. They effortlessly forget to improve the education, relinquish colonial educational hangover and imbibe a tradition of inquisitiveness, invention and innovation in their academic lives. Sadly, this has not been forthcoming. There has been marked improvement in the infrastructure of education institutions in Assam today. The government on its part has made a remarkable thing by introducing Teachers Eligibility Test (TET) for recruitment of teachers. Many other innovative schemes like mid day meals, bio metric card system, digital classes & libraries, setting up of newer educational institutions etc are laudable and indeed a lot has been done to improve the infrastructure of the educational institutions.

But, did we miss the brief? Do we need physical assets or do we need human assets that result from a vibrant educational environment? As the Chief Minister set 2016 as the deadline to improve educational scenario, it will be interesting to know what we are trying to achieve here. Are we trying to regain the lost glory of the state language? Or, are we trying to find confidence in the student of a vernacular medium government secondary school? Does the creation of new universities in the recent past will bring about a sea change as teachers teach a subject? Or, do we recognize the increasingly diminishing importance of the state language and initiate steps to promote it, quite like the promotion of the national language? Can we bring back glory to our state level educational institutions so that students don’t need to go outside for study? Are we bold enough today to recognize that brain drain is huge issue for the future of our society? Do we appreciate the grave danger that future possesses of an intelligentsia less society if the educational exodus from the state is not checked? Can we expect our respected intelligentsia to stand up and vouch for a system that promotes inquisitiveness rather than simply ‘hoping for betterment of education?’ Are we ready to initiate a process of believing in education and its inherent philosophy to bring light in the dark?

If the government and we are talking about these questions and many others, then I think Chief Minister is thinking in the right direction. However, to bring such a metamorphosis in next three years looks impregnable, I think it is important for the polity and society to set realistic set of terms & a meaningful pursuit to achieve logical conclusion. The society is standing today at a peculiar crossing point. We are confused. We don’t know where we are, where are we travelling to and why are we travelling that way. People, who imposed faith in their land, society, culture and customs, are afraid to hold on to their ageless traditions as they are deceived politically and historically. The economic realities are pushing the society further to abandon them so that they can adapt to a certain short term arrangement that will get them economic rewards. But as human history tells us the real wealth is customs, traditions, social practices, languages and pride. Change remains the spice of life and education brings change in the society. An overhaul of education is the need of the hour and not to think of ways and means to increase marks of the students of the state so that they can get admission into the elite universities outside. Then, I hope to see cut off for subjects in our educational institutions scroll down in the ticker of at least our regional channels.

For beloved Tapan Khura: A Tribute

“He not busy being born is busy dying”

Popular American songwriter Bob Dylan once sang this to inscribe the true meaning of being born throughout the life rather than being busy dying. Life for its innate nature has spectacular virtues. The catch is to be born throughout one’s life to experience the novelty that it has to offer. Many of us remain busy to pursue larger goals in life. There is nothing wrong in it but, at times, we may fail to rejoice at the brilliance of our lives, of the people around us, of the society that we live in, the small celebrations in our daily lives and the unknown. There are only a few amongst us, who are always busy being born, rather than busy dying. Not many of us know how we can strive to born innumerous times before we die. Arun Saharia, fondly known as Tapan, is one of them. Tapan Khura always lived to born again as he celebrated youth by remaining forever young at heart.Tapan Khura

His 72 years story in his heart was alive till the time he died on April 24, 2013. Always opened to newer shores, newer dreams, and blue skies, Khura knew how to breathe the fresh air, celebrate his experiences and make merry with memories as he stayed forever young. Born into a vibrant family and a progressive neighborhood in Laban, Shillong, he was a person with whom we lived their childhood, in a time that was devoid of materialistic bliss of today, and a time that was struggle at every turn of the day, and may be a time when people truly smiled.  And, he recounted how they celebrated the buying ofa  ticket to cinema by selling old newspapers, how they let their dreams fly sky high with their kites, how they run amock in the neighborhood with their sling shots, how they would celebrate the Durga Puja at the illustrious & historical Laban Naamghar, his stories from his days in St. Edmund’s College in Shillong or Regional Engineering College in Rourkella, his arguments as a senior technocrat & learned man or a man of his generation debating why new is better yet old is gold. I tried to live that innocence through his eyes, which lit up when they show me those lost frames from their childhood; through his engaging voice, that egged me to leap in joy with excitement like that small boy in him. His rich generation taught us this craft of busy being born and we shall continue to celebrate your life, your smile, your voice, and your memories.

A people’s man, Tapan Khura was always to be found among people: talking, sharing, experiencing. His humane touch was felt, deep and wide, when he left us recently after illness. The love that he invested among people, the care that he provided to people, the moments that he shared with people came back to comfort his beloved ones during this critical hour of his departure. For his immaculate ability to swiftly tell the day, date from a particular year, for his spick and span intelligence, for his beliefs in logic & reasoning, for his advocacy of shedding age old superstitions, he taught us how to celebrate life. A heavenly soul, a smiling face, a fruity voice, our tall & handsome Tapan Khura departed from the physical world.  But, yes, you have born again. You are inside us with your stories, with your arguments, with your experiences, with your beliefs; for your love for us, for your blessings for us. You are inside our hearts; nice and warm. We knew that you will born again even after your death in our thoughts, our memories enriched with your story. Death is the final reality but life is the truth that we live.

Tapan Khura, you are busy being born again as you never knew to die. ‘May you stay forever young!’ 

Redefining Moment with Cinema

Cinema has been an important instrument of personal growth and challenges. I always try to face a situation and interpret as how would I react to a certain peculiar situation. Life is a big teacher and cinema is a lesson that teaches us many things in life. Joy, sorrow, introspection, identity, journey are some of the most important aspects that has stirred me. The recent challenges in my life, an emotional struggle with life and within myself, have questions. The answers to these questions are easy to come by if you accept it and harder if you decide not to accept the truth and rather fight a myth.

Last fortnight, I had the privilege to watch a few beautiful movies that stirred my soul, and asked me tough questions. Osian Cine Fan Festival held recently at Siri Fort Auditorium in New Delhi provided a perfect escape sojourn from the humdrum mayhem of a mundane metro life. It exposed my inabilities, my inexperience,  my myths and truths that I decide not to embrace. I was numb as I sit back today and try to unlearn many things. Life throws whatever comes its way and we are sometimes clueless as how we would react to it. Of course, we are good in ‘celebrating’ happiness, joy and festival. But, are we really celebrating? We often lament that we are naive when it comes to sorrow, pain and myths. Are we stepping a step at a time?

Life is short and it’s full of spectacle, both dark and light. Sometimes, we know exactly what we need to do to live more and die a little less. Les Miscreant e (The Miscreants) taught me that life may have challenges and threats, if you consider death as a threat, but you never stop breathing. This movie challenged the methodology of violent protest as against the sustenance of a cultural protest. The latter method is more critical in bringing changes where it matters: within one inner self. It makes one think as why is he doing it. The sound of drums of echoes louder than the sounds of gun shots as the rhythm is closer to the heart. Its not about the cultural resistance that we face or impose, as a social entity or being part of a ‘responsible society,’ but its about seeing the rational behind a particular voice, understanding the tone and replying in a language which is lasting, impressive and heart hitting, if not changing at least.

And, as we breath, we forgets to respect it. The freshness in a breath is something going elusive. We talk about it, we write about it but we do little about it. Its how you react rather than how you want others to react. We live and we eat but we litter too. That is a tragedy that is slowly but very stealthily seeping into our daily lives.  “The Orange Suit”  is an Iranian film that wants to instill that sense of cleanliness in your lives, both internally and externally, as well as clean up the litters that makes one’s lives horrific. It questioned me: why do I not clean up myself; i.e. spiritually? How can I achieve inner peace if there is dirt in me? And, if you keep your surrounding environment clean, it helps one to enjoy positive energy and how it can help one to improve one’s solitary journey onto life. The film challenged the protagonist and showed how his unanswered, or questions which he did not face, were answered when he tried to find answers of his relation with his son and wife.

The voice may be small but cinematic expression makes sure that it is being heard in the right spirit. As the questions with regard to the identity of the feature film “As the river flows”  remains unanswered, I, as spectator, don’t have any inhibition in discovering that this is indeed an Assamese movie. The expression of an Assamese born and raised during the troubled years are said through this movie. This is what I wanted to tell and this is what any other rational and humane person from the land of Brahmaputra will tell you. The story revolves around a mysterious disappearance of a social activist and a friend’s effort, through his journalistic ethics, to find answers. His journey led him to believe in many questions rather than as many or far lesser answers. He found answers in many questions that remains unanswered. The love and hate relationship, the chicken and egg story, the beauty of nature and ugliness of society, the magic of culture and evil of distrust runs deep. And, one is never alone. Everyone is accompanied by a painful, often bloody, history with an urge to make amends that went awfully weird, wrong and wrestling between urge for change and power. This is indeed put up the question that we have been facing since a long time now and the search for an answer remains elusive.

To remain a living creature from a town by the bank of the Brahmaputra, the Local Kung Fu  is a piece of cinema that deserves a special mention. Carved out of a mere budget of INR 95 K only, this movie binds the influence of martial art comedy movies of Jackie Chan and combines it with some brilliant screenplay with awesome comic timing based on typical Guwahati city life and customs. What makes this cinema beautiful (apart from wonderfully comic scenes & timings) that it instills a sense of accomplishment by someone with limited resources and unlimited dreams. It is an effort that needs to be applauded much more than any other cinema because it gives inspiration to people who never thought that they want to do something like a cinema. It inspired critics to laud the effort put in creating such a wonderful cinema. It inspired me to try my Nikon D31oo to make a short 5 to 10 minute cinema. Experimenting with novetly! It inspired me to try a new thing in life, an unknown thing! Thanks Kenny for crafting such a wonderful cinema.

At this festival, we celebrate life, or at least its varied shadows. I saw the ruthlessness of life. The violent tragedy that may dawn upon someone, anyone. In a land where violence and terrorism goes hand in hand, the value of human life may be cheap. But, is the value of people missing high? In ‘The Repentant,’ a person deserts his terrorist group and joins back his family. He left it because of the death that loomed large following bombing in his hideout and depleted morale of the group. He deserts and come back to his home. But, “Karma” follows him and he has to fled to the town. There he experienced something that he never did. He gets attracted to the smaller beauties of life. But that was to end when his past life came back to haunt him once again. He met a pharmacist. It was a drama about how his information about his daughter would bring together three estranged characters together on a road trip right down to the heart of the disturbed land. I had goosebumps when the Mother cried and tried to wake her daughter who has been sleeping since five years. The Repentant knew where she was sleeping.

“Music makes the people come together”, Madonna once sang. This is the magic wand that would bind people who would love it together without adhering to political differences, religious differences, geographical differences or even age differences. During a brilliantly poignant musical documentary “El Gusto,” I felt why this is the biggest gift of god. Life is no more painful when you pick up your instrument of music and play it or listen to it. All your pains of yesteryear and many years, will die down and you will walk back to the time when it was just absolutely beautiful. All friends come together and sing a song for themselves, for their own selfish happiness. And, it works wonders. A beautifully shot and documented film that started with a Mirror. And, a mirror it was that would reflect the various faces of a society that was once together by the sole power of music. The music is known as “El Gusto.”

And, music that still rules this magnificent, rustic, raw cinema from Anurag Kashyap. It may have got the popular imagination but its worth its hype. For a hall that is packed with people, who were occupying anything that can be used to rest their bums and watch a non stop five and half hours of cinematic excellence from Bollywood from a long time. The dialogues, the pangs, the violence, the romance, the revenge, the gorgeous women, the superb actors, and a superb background made “Gangs of Wasseypur I & II”  just a superb experience. So much so that I was reluctant to spoil the mood of our very own “Tony Montana” of Scarface fame in this movie. The director also ensured that the red is applied gorgeously in the entire scheme of things. And, what a bloody messy affair it was! Faizal Khan (like Tony Montana in Scarface) would be drowned in marijuana but remain in perfect control about the gang politics. He remained fateful to his beloved and they remain in love as expressed by their gold rimmed aviators. The climax was expected but the angst of the revenge and gravity of the scene can only match the ferocity with which Tony Montana fought and died. Of course, Faizal did not die then and there. But, you never know! Nothing is ‘Definite!’  Does he carry on Sardar Khan’s honour forward? Well, of course, he does but life has its own plans. Avenging pride is one of them, and Faisal does that perfectly. Sardar Khan will be ‘Definite’ly be proud of Faisal.

Two movies that made me sit up and stand were Rituporno’s “Chitrangada” and Asish Shukla’s “Prague.” Both of them asked questions. As I ask myself, who am I, why am I, and why am I. These are some basic questions that we always ask and we wonder if we are doing right or wrong or are we just playing alike because others are. Are we really interested to know why we are doing something? Most of the time, we dont know. Chitrangada is inspired by the play with the same title written by Rabindranath Tagore and the director’s modern interpretation about it. It questions about complex emotional stress and how one’s own interests, desires and hopes are shaped because of some other exogenous factors. Why do we want to change for someone else when you really do not want to? Are we remain happy after going through such a change? Or, are we going to go back to listen to our own heart rather than someone’s else. Its a slow process of establishing the fact that not everything is alright when you are only listening to yourself. Or, you may be inspired by your situations. Life is complex but the basic idea is to keep walking. Talking to oneself, arguing with your alter ego and deliberate on something that you may or may not like are things that we all undergo. This cinematic expressions exposes our innate desires and how we struggle to keep pace with them. The plot of the film is based upon two persons in love but this should not essentially be locked in that premise. The idea is universal and every person with a brain that works right face these dilemmas in their life.

“Prague” is not just a wonderful city to live and breath but its also the name of the movie that enthralled both audience as well as critics alike. Its an interesting psychedelic struggle where a person wants to destroy something which he appreciates as much. Its a soul stirring and heart wrenching cinema that challenges the dark side in us and how we love to become evil even when we are in love. It tries to discover the darkest corners of one’s heart, suffocate your soul to find out who you really are, preserve your jealousy and kill your suspicion. And, you remain in romance with your dead. This is pure cinematic delight when it comes to experimental cinema in India. This is surely a notch above “No Smoking” or “Aks.” Go for it if you want to challenge yourself and want to know your darkside and be in love with your dead.

Walking away!

It is an interesting and a dangerous game. Stakes are high and fatality in the line of action cannot be ruled out. There is a fearsome jungle out their where every animal with their ghastly carnivorous instincts are waiting to unleash upon a weak & poor prey. The puzzles and confusions are even more ferocious as one may not know at first where he is stepping in. But with time one realise that everything may not be as blooming or rosy as it was before. One may smell red and rose without realizing the fact that its blood all over. There is no free lunch in this world and neither does anything goes unpaid in this ferocious and dangerous jungle. You pay and you move ahead. What lies ahead, we don’t know. Or, may be, we don’t want to know.

Do you want to move in that direction? Guess what? I think we are already on that road towards the unknown. It has been throwing its little surprises and some naughty characters has already started flirting with you. The walk through the initial steps have been good. The lovely aroma of red roses engulf the atmosphere as you walk towards an orange sky where the possibilities are infinite. The lush green grass that lay down a warm welcome to you expands until the end of the world. The occasional oak tree which have grown old and tall make the occasion even grand. The fresh whiff of air that just blew her hairs across throw him out his gear as the deadly autumn nip makes him croon for some music. The smell of lime interfere in between and they stop. As he bends and sit down on a cold, dark and big stone, sweat oozes out of his forehead. There is a terrible sensation that is running down his mind. His mind goes berserk as it runs north and south, to the Sun and the Moon, it floats in the clouds. Yes, he can smell the clouds, feel the dampness, sweat at the Sunlight. He runs and flies, swim and crawl but he runs. He escapes.

The sweet music of lullaby woke him up. He traveled the universe but he rested on that cold, dark and large monolith. A night was spent under a clear sky and amidst those dark clouds that hover in his sky of thoughts. He opens his eyes for that wind of change to come to his sky that can take the clouds with it. He feels the hunger but he never wanted to eat alone. There was a time when they had breakfast together. But not anymore! He feels hungry to keep running. From himself or from his thoughts, he needs to run today, tomorrow! He is escaping. 

A lot has been done, experienced, dreamt. But the journey never stops. He, who dreams and breathes, will walk and walk away. Towards an unknown jungle which may be a deadly paradise! Take a walk! Walk away!