Wednesday, 28 November 2007

On sexuality

I am sure this post will surely attract some attention-- positive or negative, with the balance towards the latter I guess! In a society that feeds itself of a daily diet of violence and controversy (keeping the present state of the country in mind, I am pretty sure this doesn't sound like an exaggeration!), what topic can be more discussed or debated upon than sexuality? Sorry, did I say 'discussed'? Should've said 'whispered about'. The whole problem is about not openly discussing sex. That's why we've got thousands of teenagers secretly watching porn, and yet shying away from talking sex among elders and members of the other sex!

The reason why I am writing this blogpost is that some classmates of mine commented that a certain Jodie Foster film named The Accused is a porno-flick. Frankly enough, I haven't watched the movie. But I've watched and observed Foster well enough to say that she doesn't need to do porn-flicks! Because, she is a two-time Oscar-winner and one of the most talented actresses around in Hollywood. Wanna know which film she won the first Oscar for? It's the same 'porno-flick'-- The Accused. I hope the Oscar commitee hasn't stooped so low that it's awarding an Oscar for a role in a 'porn-flick'!! Secondly, and more importantly, Foster was portrayed as a woman who was gangraped by a group of drunk rowdy men in a nightclub. Now that is food for thought-- why did a brutal rape-scene filmed really and painfully well (many sites rated the rape-scene as brilliantly filmed) seem titillating to a group of teenaged-students who've been born into and brought up by 'cultured' families? Have their consciences become so benumbed that something a cruel and ghastly as a rape-scene seems like 'porn' to them? Porn, as far as I can say, is a intentional portrayal of sex, not the picturisation of someone being violated! There was a lot of talk in the class about Foster being totally naked-- which, according to my dear classmates qualified The Accused as a porn movie. Now this is absolutely ridiculous-- (and to put it in a quite crude way) what else do you expect when a woman is being raped?

I won't make this post any longer, but will end stating that this episode makes me wonder again at how much we have progressed since the early days? There was that golden era of sexual liberalisation during the Hippie-infused 60's. How much has our ideas about sexuality changed since then? And when shall we accept the fact that sex is something as natural as eating or going to sleep? And why all this excited whispers about dirty jokes, and yet no frank discussion on sex in the public?

Sunday, 11 November 2007

Life is Beautiful

Roberto Benigni's Life is Beautiful, which he has both directed and acted in, is one of the most remarkable movies I have ever watched. And I shall tell you why.

It's often said that laughter is the best medicine. Benigni tells you how: even Death shies away when it hears the sound of laughter. Laughter is hope: it is the warmth that keeps the heart going on when the dementors of gloom attack us. It's immensely difficult to laugh when you are surrounded by death, darkness, disease and gloom. But if you can, you have lived your life. Fred and George Weasley did so-- and therefore they remain one of my most favourite characters in Harry Potter.

The first half of the movie is a romantic comedy: a poor Italian Jew named Guido (played by Benigni) arrives in Arezzo and sets up a bookstore. He falls in love with a woman from a noble family named Dora, who is captivated by Guido's charismatic and funny persona. Guido makes you laugh at his innocence and eccentric behaviour, and then onwards you start immensely liking him. On Dora's engagement day, Guido elopes with her on horseback from the party itself, to the bewilderment of Dora's loud and rude fiance. Guido and Dora have a wonderful little boy called Joshua years later.

The second (and darker) part of the film is what makes the film truly remarkable. Just when you think that you've seen and heard all this before, Benigni subtly begins narrating his story of heartwarming hope and bravery. The whole Jewry in Arezzo is sent to a Nazi concentration camp: including Guido, his uncle and Joshua. Like a truly brave woman, Dora pleads to join them, and her wish is granted. Guido, the master concocter of stories, convinces Joshua that the whole concentration camp thing is all a big game and all the inmates are opponents, the first one of whom to accumulate a thousand points gets a big grand military tank as a gift (A funny and beautifully shot scene is the one where Guido bravely and confidently 'translates' the German general's orders to his son and the other inmates: laying out the supposed rules of the game!). But for that grand prize Joshua must obey his father. Time and again, Joshua comes to know that there's no real game, and that all the inmates must die at one time or the other: only to be convinced later by Guido that since all the inmates and their children are opponents eager to get the prize, they are trying to fool Joshua into quitting the game. Guido's assurance that they are leading the game further convinces the innocent, wide-eyed and endearing Joshua that Papa is right (Joshua therefore agrees to hide-- all the time under the happy delusion that hiding gets him and his father more and more points-- from the guards, who actually send the children to gas-chambers under the vague pretence of delousing showers). Of course, Papa's penchant to make instant stories and his fluid acting make it almost real for anyone to believe! And for that Guido deserves all the more praise. That after a gruelling and back-breaking day's work, he has both the energy, bravery, wit and humour to convince his son makes you fall in love with him. Just to cheer Dora's spirits up, Guido plays her their favourite operetta from a stray gramophone one particular evening.

Suddenly there's news everywhere that the World War II is over. In a last attempt to eradicate Jews, the guards round up the Jewish inmates of the camp and kill them. Guido asks Joshua to hide in a sweatbox, assuring him that it shall fetch them sixty points-- just enough to get them the tank, which will be presented to them the next morning. The cheerful Guido is killed by a Nazi, but not before he manages to make Joshua laugh heartily one last time. The next morning, the Allies enter the concentration camp to save the inmates. In a final grand scene, a US tank arrives and Joshua ecstatically exclaims, "It's true", as if all the doubts in his mind about his father's assurances (on the grand prize) have been cleared in an instant. Joshua and Dora find each other, with a graver and older Joshua's voice ringing in the background as the last scene ends: "...and this was his gift to me." And at that moment you realise that laughter is life, and life is beautiful in its splendour and mystery.

Benigni as Guido is par excellence. He'll make you laugh and cry all at once: laugh at his innocence, bravery and humour; cry at his sad fate. The supporting cast of actors is also good, especially the child-artist Giorgio Cantarini (who incidentally plays Maximus' son in Gladiator): you'll love the beautiful, expressive, inquisitive and innocent eyes he has inherited from his screen-parents. Not to mention Benigni, the superb director!

Two facts about this movie: Life is Beautiful is roughly the inspiration behind the Saif Ali Khan and Rani Mukherjee starrer, Ta Ra Rum Pum (which I have already watched). Secondly, this movie was the late Pope John Paul II's favourite. Watch it if you want to find the meaning of laughter and love, and the bravery that both need to be expressed. A timeless classic of human emotion.