Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Conversations With My Mom: Gandhi

Illustration by Keshav

Mom: Your dad and I want to buy you the Gandhi DVD for your birthday.
Me: Hmm....no need for that.
Mom: But we want to.
Me: That's okay, mom.
Mom: Why? Don't you like Gandhi?
Me: I love Gandhi.
Mom: [pause] Are you talking about the movie or the man?
Me: The man.
Mom: What about the movie?
Me: The movie's fine.
Mom: But you don't think it's...great?
Me: It's fine.
Mom: It's a great movie about a great man.
Me: It's a movie about a great man.
Mom: Why isn't it a great movie?
Me: I don't know...it has good intentions, but it's a bit conventional.
Mom: [pause] Do you want a movie to be unconventional, or do you want it to touch and move and inspire millions of people?
Me: [searching] Hmm....
Mom: So, it would please your father and me if you had a copy of the movie in the house. You could loan it to friends, maybe even show it to your students.
Me: [long pause] Will it make you happy to give me Gandhi, to know that I had it?
Mom: Yes.
Me: That's settled, then.


Anonymous Peter Nellhaus said...

Happy Birthday! Best regards to your parents.

August 09, 2005 7:10 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Oh thanks, Peter. The b-day is not for a couple of weeks yet but my parents were planning ahead (like parents often do)...

August 09, 2005 7:15 PM  
Blogger Flickhead said...

Good intentions, I guess. Someone actually bought me the DVD of Taylor HACKford's Ray for my birthday because that's my name...

It's the "director's cut," which means that not only is it long, but it's extra long. With untold bonus features. As if the world needed it.

The thing's never been unwrapped...

August 09, 2005 8:35 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Ray, here's someone with a tad bit more enthusiasm for the movie...

August 09, 2005 8:48 PM  
Blogger Campaspe said...

I think that's terribly sweet. Truly. It's like my extra-Baptist aunt getting everybody a copy of The Purpose-Driven Life. Her cheerfully heathen offspring all thanked her nicely and shelved it somewhere in the garage.

I saw Gandhi only when it was first released, but I do remember thinking that the early part where he's in South Africa moves well and is interesting. He's a real character at that point, trying to perfect his political methods. Later the movie becomes like an Indian Song of Bernadette, just this plodding thing about a saint.

Don't know if I would think that if I saw it again, but the movie is too long and life too short for repeat viewings.

August 10, 2005 10:31 AM  
Blogger girish said...

"The movie is too long and life too short for repeat viewings...".

Beautifully put, C.
My feelings exactly, though I didn't want to come right out and tell my mom that. She's ultra-cool though, she'd understand how I felt.

August 10, 2005 10:52 AM  
Anonymous Peter Nellhaus said...

I checked imdb to see if there were any other Gandhi bio films out there. No such luck. It's not on DVD or tape, but someone made a short called Mohandas & Bette: a Love Story, Bette being a certain Ms. Davis! On the bright side, Nine Hours to Rama starring Horst Bucholz and Robert Morley isn't available in any format either. (Although it was appropriate to have Diane Baker play someone named Sheila.) New list suggestion for Girish: worst Hollywood films about India, and best, if any.

August 10, 2005 12:30 PM  
Blogger Tuwa said...

Funny, I'd thought it was competent too but was amused how Hollywood tends to saint everyone for narrative conventions. Without fail, every single biograpy I've read has left me thinking that the person it was about was an asshole. The truth is probably somewhere between the two.

August 10, 2005 12:52 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Peter--The worst Hollywood film about India is undoubtedly Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom, which is a veritable dumpster of condescending bullshit, all in the name of "light" entertainment.

I'm not sure I can think of too many Hollywood films about India that actually get it right. I mean, most of them seem to work as exotica, from the outside looking in. e.g. Heat And Dust and other Ivory movies.

But I like a couple of Mira Nair films--Salaam Bombay, Monsoon Wedding and even Mississippi Masala, which isn't even set in India and is a flawed film but nevertheless captures a few home truths about India.

My favorite movies about India--it's so obvious that it's cliched to even say it--are those by Satyajit Ray.

August 10, 2005 2:10 PM  
Anonymous Phil said...

what, girish, india isn't just like Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom? ...i feel so...decieived by hollywood.

that conversation with your mom is so cute. and yes, i am a man who is (mostly) unafraid to use the word cute when not talking about a girl.

and also: that ghandi drawing is awesome! so very cool, and i'm so glad to see you posting images along with articles. good stuff. keep it up.

August 10, 2005 2:55 PM  
Anonymous Phil said...

ok, so i can't read and i have to ashamedly take back my compliments on the ghandi image. i'm such a dork.

August 10, 2005 2:58 PM  
Anonymous Darren said...

I've never seen Ghandi, but I remember being upset at the time when it beat out TRON for Best Costumes at the Oscars. Yeah, I was just a wee bit precocious as a child.

August 10, 2005 3:04 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Hey Phil--Feel free to not compliment me on any of the other drawings except just the one I pulled from somewhere else, okay? :-)

And guys (I mean Darren and Phil)--you've unknowingly set yourselves up for the great Indian take-down. Guess what's one of the big Indian pet peeves (kinda like arriving in San Francisco and gleefully announcing to every resident how much you love "'Frisco")?

Spelling "Gandhi" as "Ghandi", that's what! :-)

Geez, I'm not being very nice today. Must be the deathly weather.

August 10, 2005 3:34 PM  
Blogger Tuwa said...

Erm, I should clarify--just in case--that most of the biographies I've read are about musicians or writers. I haven't read any biographies of Gandhi.

August 10, 2005 4:58 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Tuwa--Not to worry. I didn't for a second think that you might have the impression that Gandhi might have been an *ahem* asshole. :-)

August 10, 2005 5:06 PM  
Blogger Campaspe said...

So happy I dodged the "Gandhi/Ghandhi" bullet. Girish, may I ask your opinion of Shakespeare Wallah? It wouldn't surprise me if it also had elements that irritate the heck out of you, but I did love the humor and the essential theme, that art speaks to everyone. It is still my favorite Merchant-Ivory, along with Room with a View.

Re: the Indiana Jones series ... Spielberg said after Schindler's List that he wasn't making any more movies with seriocomic Nazis. My immediate thought was that the depiction of the Nazis was the least of the series' problems, if he was determined to get all PC.

August 10, 2005 5:29 PM  
Blogger girish said...

I have to say--I have a great affection for Shakespeare Wallah, and it's probably my favorite Ivory as well. I've been meaning to revisit it lately, after noticing that Netflix carries it.

August 10, 2005 5:36 PM  
Anonymous Darren said...

If it's any consolation, Girish, I am a horrible, horrible speller, in general. Horrible.

August 11, 2005 10:27 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Oh don't apologize, Darren!
I was just being a jerk. :-)

August 11, 2005 10:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not a Merchant/Ivory co-production, but I always disliked the kind of exoticized "lost culture of India" that Merchant created in In Custody. It's almost like a parody of an Indian theme park complete with harem dancers, lazing, beautiful women, and inebriated people who just out of the blue break out into soulful, perfect pitch songs or lucidly recite Urdu poetry before becoming incoherent drunks again.

August 11, 2005 12:31 PM  
Anonymous acquarello said...

Sorry, that wasn't anonymous, that was me. :o

August 11, 2005 12:32 PM  
Blogger girish said...

That's hilariously put, A.

I haven't seen the film. I'm quite nervous about seeing Western films about India--they often annoy and anger me with their frequent bogus-ness and their unconscious (and sometimes, conscious) stereotyping.

This is weird but almost to a fault, every time I see a Western film about India, afterwards I'm impelled to pull a Ray film off the shelf and soak in it as an antidote, as a sort of corrective!

August 11, 2005 12:51 PM  
Anonymous Darren said...

On Saturday I saw Pather Panchali with a crowd of about 500 at the National Gallery in DC. It did my spirit good.

August 11, 2005 4:39 PM  
Blogger Brian said...

Some of us natives are actually taking back "Frisco". In my opinion, the anti-"Frisco" sticklers are revealing a form of narrowmindedness, whether they realize it or not.

Take a look

Not to imply that the "Gandhi" spelling issue is similarly fabricated. (Quite the contrary, and I'm thankful I was always taught the correct version.)

August 11, 2005 9:42 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Fascinating, Brian. I had no idea.

Thanks for the link!

August 11, 2005 10:01 PM  
Blogger Flickhead said...

A film of possible interest:


August 12, 2005 5:12 AM  
Blogger Flickhead said...

Re: My previous comment. I keep forgetting that copying and pasting has become taxing for many.

Therefore, click here

August 12, 2005 5:53 AM  
Blogger ParisLondres said...

Your Mom has the best intentions. Each time I visit India, I am now given a pile of dvds of Hindi and Bengali movies as gifts by friends and relatives that are considered to be worthwhile do not miss out! ;)

Gandhi was not bad but it was too long - they could have done with better editing but then again it was a rather long and interesting life!

One director you may want to check out is Ritupurno Ghosh who is also from Cal. Let me know what you think of his films. He is being hailed as the next Satyajit Ray which frankly I find a bit of an exaggeration.


August 12, 2005 1:38 PM  
Blogger girish said...

The only film I've seen by Rituparno Ghosh is Rabindranath Tagore's Chokher Bali. It's a technically tasteful film and I enjoyed it but (I agree) nowhere close to Ray's league.

A Bengali director I'm a huge fan of, and whose films rarely show up in the West, is Mrinal Sen. I'm baffled why even film festivals don't screen them.

August 12, 2005 1:49 PM  
Anonymous acquarello said...

"A Bengali director I'm a huge fan of, and whose films rarely show up in the West, is Mrinal Sen."

Word! My next favorite Indian filmmaker after Satyajit Ray. Coincidentally, I'm currently reading John Hood's book on Mrinal Sen, Chasing the Truth: The Films of Mrinal Sen ; it's more introductory than exhaustive, but his section on Kharij is quite in-depth.

August 12, 2005 2:29 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Huge fan of Kharij. Also Khandhar and Ek Din Pratidin, which might actually be the one I'm most fond of.

A.~I'm curious: what Sen movies have you seen?

August 12, 2005 3:01 PM  
Anonymous acquarello said...

[Twilight Zone Theme...]Whoa! Very similar favorites, except I think my favorites are actually Khandahar and Calcutta 71, followed closely by Kharij and Ek Din Pratidin. I saw Kharij without subs though, so I was relying on the Absence Trilogy screenplay to figure out what was going on. I've only seen a handful of films besides those: In Search of Famine (without subs, so picked up the screenplay for that as well), Ek Din Achanak, Genesis, and World Within, World Without which are also very fine films. Still itching to see Bhuvan Shome but no such luck so far. :(

August 12, 2005 5:22 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Wow, you're amazing. You've seen more Sens than I have and I actually lived in Bengal for years!

I've never seen Calcutta 71 or Ek Din Acahanak or Bhuvan Shome. I have a weird childhood memory of my parents dropping me off at a babysitter's as they went off one afternoon to catch the most-buzzed-about-movie-in-town (Bhuvan Shome).

August 12, 2005 5:37 PM  
Anonymous HarryTuttle said...

Really interesting discussion here, ripe for viewing recommendations.
Incidentally Peter Brooks' The Mahabharata is re-released in theatre in Paris next week. What's your take on it? The sneak preview looks amazing.
Any preference on western films on India, european ones maybe?

August 13, 2005 3:13 AM  
Blogger ParisLondres said...

Girish - yes I have seen a number of Mrinal Sen's films but a long time ago in Calcutta. I need to see them again.
The other director you may admire is Ritwik Ghatak.

August 13, 2005 4:58 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Harry, I've never seen the Peter Brook, but I'm curious about it. If you do see it, do let me know what you think.

For me, the best Western film about India is hands-down Renoir's The River.

ParisLondres, yes, I'm a big Ghatak fan. I've only seen a half-dozen films by him but every single one is amazing and different and iconoclastic, both in terms of style and subject matter. Meghe Dhaka Tara is the one I love the most.

And I just realized that both of you lucky folks live in Paris--a movie paradise!

August 13, 2005 7:17 AM  
Blogger HarryTuttle said...

The Mahabharata is wonderful, I loved it! Not quite what I expected though, and difficult to follow. From a cinematic standpoint not much innovative, it's basicaly a stage play mise-en-scène. Violence, war and magic are stylized. And the cast is comicaly baroque, japanese, british, irish, french, polish, african... all dubbed in post-synch with a british accent. Only one indian girl I believe. I guess the interest is mainly textual from the source mythology that is superb I admit. These wars between gods and humans are grandiose, and the ambiguity of the moral is so refreshing from this good/evil western manichaeism. It's like a mix of greek mythology with the Bible. There is even a Moses character abandonned in a cradle on the river. And 5 brothers with the same wife. The genealogy is so incredible at times I was wondering if the scenario (adaptated by Buñuel's screenwriter) was historical or invented.
I'd like to see an indian film made on this legend. Which one do you recommend?

However simple the production can be it is very tasteful and doesn't get cheesy like Hollywood epics. This one compares with Peter Jackson's trilogy easily. Kaidan is a good approximation of the style I suppose.
The TV version is supposed to be twice as long, in fact some cuts are a little abrupt and the story speeds up at times.

August 18, 2005 5:24 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Harry--Your description sounds fascinating. The plot details don't sound made-up, they're all from the epic itself. (Did Carriere do the screenplay?). I wish I could recommend Indian films on this epic but the only one I know is a TV soap opera (it ran for hundreds of episodes!) that's not very good. I'll ask my parents if they know of any. I'm sure there are Bollywood films on the subject that I saw as a child but I can't seem to recall any specific titles.
I will try to get hold of the Peter Brook, I'm intrigued.

August 18, 2005 10:07 PM  
Blogger HarryTuttle said...

Yes Jean-Claude Carrière did the screen adapation from a british stage play I believe. Which is showing. The mise-en-scène was probably the same on stage. The only cinema special effects are some superimposition and a nice reverse footage when a creature dives under the ground (like in quick sands).
To my surprised, the end credits said it was shot in studio in Paris.
Tapa Sudana plays a great Shiva, disturbing like "mysterious man" in Lost Highway.
Here are some pics if you want

August 19, 2005 9:35 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Hey thanks Harry!

August 19, 2005 9:57 AM  
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