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.

Posted in Pictures Foreign

Review: The Reader

Watched this rare love story in tv but happened to miss the title and opening scene that I managed to find in You Tube. It was from Berg (the hero)’s bath tub scene that I watched the picture in the idiot box. Catching up with the first couple of reels on internet, I was amazed to discover how our censor board continues to edit steamy scenes for us Indian viewers!!! One would think by 2018, things must be different!

Anyway, having watched over a hundred times the debut picture of Kate Winslet the Titanic (of which I never tire), nothing prepared me for her middle-aged mature looks in ‘The Reader.’ She looks her age. The second part of hero character is played by Ralph Fiennes. I like him from his ‘Maid in Manhattan’ with Jennifer Lopez, another Hollywood romance favourite of mine. Like Richard Gere, Fiennes seems to have compassion written in his eyes… How important cast selection is, is something I learned from his role. Why do directors pick on certain actors. Why not others. Ralph Fiennes, from two of his films i have watched, seems to have an answer.

Googled Kate Winslet and found her to be born 1975. Not too young.

Powerful and bold script but totally understandable. I don’t know how I missed this one all these days. (Obvious reason: i watch most Hollywood films at home, in tv, never in cinemas. Cinemas are reserved for watching local Tamil ‘masalas’ with unruly and non-stop whistling Chennai ‘machis’ hahaha) ‘The Reader’ looks like an Academy award winner. No memory of it but I could guess right away that this one was different and well made.

We speak of unconditional love, but when you come across one it totally bowls you over. Such a rare gem to find.

As for Hanna Schmitz played by Kate Winslet, her obsession with perfection is baffling. OCD, the obsessive compulsive disorder. Could it be that? It is easy to hold her in contempt if not for her honesty and forthrightness and the false pride that convicts her for life.

In spite of the gravity (literally) of the crime she is tried for, one can deeply empathize with Hanna-Kate. The bubbly Irish tap-dancing Titanic girl has come a long way. Ralph Fiennes’s Micheal Berg character is equally crafted with care. I fell in love with this man. His sensitivity to Hanna moved me to near tears. Respect for the man who wouldn’t judge Hanna. The way Berg reads his love to Hanna is poetry. How Hanna matches his imagination teaching herself to read is a love letter by itself. The proud woman leaves a proud woman.

The Jewish daughter refusing absolution is understandable.  May be here, we Hindus can take cue. May be this is the steely Jewish resolve.

The one who has played the junior Berg is perfect.

War movies have somehow been touchy : ‘The Schindler’s List’ and ‘Life is Beautiful’ .

Looking forward to watching this beauty  a second time. Felt like reading a good book. Few films leave you with such a lingering after taste. Melancholy can be sweet.