Posted in Pictures Foreign

Review: Queen of Katwe

It so happened that I heard about the book and real life story of ‘The boy who harnessed the wind’ from Malawi, in Toastmasters Meet just yesterday. The day before, I had watched ‘Queen of Katwe’ – based on real life story of a Ugandan girl who went on to become a legend in Chess.

The glaring and depressing squalor of the girl’s society throws light on tough life and survival conditions in African countries. Uganda is supposedly better off, I reminded myself.

The first shocker for me was something like ‘culture shock.’ I am ashamed to admit that before this picture, I hardly got to watch a full length film with cast predominantly black. Or overwhelmingly black ,with not a single exception. A fight in my mind started … whether to continue watching or stop. I clicked on the ‘info’ on my tv remote and discovered that the story was that of a chess prodigy. That helped.

I have watched of course some Will Smith pictures like ‘the Pursuit of happiness’ and some of Morgan Freeman’s but they are basically set in America. Somehow my mind classified African Americans as different species compared to native Africans. Watching a full length picture set entirely in Africa was like a challenge i set to myself.

We Indians accuse others of racism always, for the first time I found that even watching a picture totally centered in Africa was like difficult home assignment for me. Looking at the streets in screen where only black heads bobbed felt different. By no way I mean insult to anyone. Everything, everyone is God’s creation. I respect that. Until now, I am just not exposed to this kind of crowd.

I remember the first time I landed in Malaysia over 20 years back. More than the slight culture shock, what I felt immediately was my new status as ‘minority.’ It was impossible to come to terms with accepting this basic fact: that outside India, I am minority. I despised the tv adverts there where the models were either Malay or Chinese. Indian skin could/would not sell a beauty cream or soap or shampoo. Frankly, it was a humbling experience.

My days in Middle East are far better. Now I am more mature, and here there are mixed nationalities.

Europe too is increasingly a mixed society and America, a melting pot of cultures, even if both may be predominantly Caucasian. At least nobody moved away from me or stared at me. I won’t say I felt exactly at home, but I was relieved nobody paid me attention. I wasn’t a freak. Indian skin was regular.

Uganda, Kenya, Nigeria are popular tourist/work destinations with flourishing game business and oil trade. Morocco, Egypt and Tunisia may have Arab influence while South Africa, Zimbabwe may still boast of a residual white population to balance. But Katwe comes across as 100% purely ethnic African-Ugandan. It is a small rundown shanty town perhaps or some forgotten rural picket where our girl Phiona (played by Madhina), nurtures a passion for chess. Encouraged by her coach and his wife, Phiona surmounts uphill tasks both in personal and social life and carves a niche for herself in the world of chess at African summit.  She aims to become a Grand Master. The dilemma Phiona faces as she goes places (literally), with confused emotions, reflects to me somehow what every middle class Indian who climbs up the social ladder may identify with. Phiona’s family circumstances are typical African where crime and poverty go hand in hand. It is not easy to escape this vicious circle. It requires greatest courage and determination to beat out of the corrupt system and emerge a winner. Phiona makes her village proud as she reigns supreme as the Queen of Katwe, crowned the chess champion.

After I finished watching the picture, I asked myself if as a routine film buff I had had second thoughts beforehand, how film critics around the world would receive a picture filmed in Africa. It is unfair. Even a trained and educated mind like mine took a while to adjust.

Personally to me, Queen of Katwe proved to be cathartic … the experience has molded me. My cinema world has been so far limited to Hollywood, Bollywood and Tamil filmdom. The glitz and glamour of these fake film industries probably blinded me to bare essential truths.

However, I couldn’t help thinking how entire Africa is completely either christianized or islamized. The new missionaries are no more the Europeans. Now the conversion mafia are Africans themselves. The present day African native/tribal travesty is troubling. Strip them off their indigenousness , what is left of them.

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