Mukti

A Song of Chaos and Power 3

Posted in 1971, action, books, Drama, TV by jrahman on April 25, 2019

From Bollywood to Hogwarts, plot twists involving separated, long lost families, mistaken or concealed identities, new revelations, or much less satisfactorily, some deus ex machina are common.  Sometime they genuinely come as a shock, and profoundly alter our understanding of the story.  I don’t remember a time when I did not know Darth Vader’s true identity, and yet get goosebumps watching Luke Skywalker hearing I am your father.  Typically, these plot twists hone in on the key individuals, protagonists and antagonists of the tale, even if there are larger, macro consequences.  For example, rise, fall, and apotheosis of the Skywalkers may matter for the entire far, far away galaxy, but the fate of the galaxy is not our primary focus, is it?

Game of Thrones has plenty of plot twists, relying on all the common tropes, and more.  Things are not what they seem like.  Royal children turn out to be not so.  Men of honour turn out to be not so dissimilar to men without honour.  Even death might not be the finality in this story.  The interesting thing about this saga, both in the show and the books, is that not only is there a focus on the relevant characters — you had a knife through your heart, you died, and now you’re back — but that there is no shying away from the fact that these twists are integral to the fate of the entire Seven Kingdoms.

The wars for the Iron Throne are also, as is the case in Bangladeshi politics, history wars.

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A Song of Chaos and Power 2

Posted in action, books, Drama, TV by jrahman on April 19, 2019

A friend quipped when I pointed out the parallels between Game of Thrones and Bangladesh — Wait, you telling me Hasina is Khaleesi and Khaleda is Cersei? Bhai ki deshe ferot jaben?

To anyone familiar with the show, the punchline of the ribbing is obvious.  But the joke is completely lost if one has never seen an episode.  Khaleesi is widely seen as the heroine of the show, and at least in the earlier seasons a veritable sex symbol.  Cersei, on the other hand, is the main antagonist, a bitter, manipulative woman with no regards for anyone other than herself.

You get the point my friend was making?  Good.  But — and as Ned Stark used to say, nothing before the word ‘but’ counts — this story is much more complicated than a fight between a good queen and a bad one, just as the battling begums is a sexist and inaccurate caricature of Bangladesh’s politics.  I will leave Bangladeshi politics for another time, and try to sketch out the story instead.

In the process, of course, there will be spoilers.  But to the uninitiated, this should not be a problem.  After all, we all know how the story of star-crossed lovers from feuding families end, but that does not stop us from enjoying adaptations set in Californian ganglands to the one starring Salman Shah.  I will, however, abstain from linking to the gazillion bytes of videos and blogs and discussion on the show and the books — do, or do not, indulge on your own.

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A Song of Chaos and Power

Posted in action, Drama, TV, Uncategorized by jrahman on April 14, 2019

Only a few more hours to go before the final season of Game of Thrones begins, and over the following six weeks life will be quite annoying for people who do not partake. A fellow Deshi political junkie friend who had never watched the show once asked me why I would recommend it — I know it’s got dragons and stuff. But that’s not my thing. Doubt you watch it for that. So, what’s the deal?

I replied that it’s a show about Bangladesh.

No really, I am not kidding. Think about it.

Once upon a time there was a legitimate, but inept, king whose misrule brought the realm to ruins. The king was killed by his own guard, and the rebels massacred most of his family. The usurper, however, proved just as unfit to rule, and before long he too was gone, triggering a vicious power struggle. Behind the scene, a shrewd, master strategist consolidated power, forging alliances of convenience. But he too was killed, along with most of the contenders for the throne. His capricious heir ascended to power, while a challenger emerged from beyond the border — the old king’s surviving daughter had assembled, in exile, a coalition of discontents and foreigners that was about to capture the throne.

Wait, you telling me Hasina is Khaleesi and Khaleda is Cersei? Bhai ki deshe ferot jaben?

What about he White Walkers?  They are the mullahs?

And who’s Jon Snow?

Questions followed from friends who clearly had watched the show.

Of course, I was being facetious.  But only just.  No, the show is not about Bangladesh, even though the parallels are quite uncanny.  More profound, however, is the fact that I couldn’t think of any Jon Snow, or Tyrion for that matter, parallel. None of this makes sense to anyone who hasn’t watched the show, or read the books.  Therefore, if I were to convince my friend to watch the show, or make any political points about Bangladesh, I would need to elaborate a bit more.

Ultimately, Game of Thrones, and the book series whence it’s based — A Song of Ice and Fire — is a meditation on political philosophy, political economy, and moral philosophy.  And there is sex, violence, and yes, dragons, and ice zombies.  Over the next few weeks, as winter comes to my town and the show ends, I plan to elaborate on these themes, posting here and in Facebook.

Oh, I will end the series well before the show is over.  How do I think it will end?  To quote one of the characters — If you think this has a happy ending, you haven’t been paying attention.

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You say you want a revolution….

Posted in Bangladesh, history, politics, TV, uprisings by jrahman on June 6, 2018

During the 1972 Sino-American summit, Premier Zhou Enlai told President Richard Nixon that it was ‘too early to say’ what the impacts of the French Revolution were.  Deep and poignant?  Apparently not! It turns out, the Premier was not talking about the July 1789 storming of the Bastille, but the protests that brought France to a standstill fifty years ago this month.  Of course, it wasn’t just Paris where one heard the sound of marching, charging feet.  Protests against the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement had been raging in the United States for a while, there was the Prague Spring east of the Iron Curtain, and the global south — from Mexico to Pakistan — were rocked by upheavals.

Channelling the Stones in his 1960s memoir, Tariq Ali lamented the failure of the street fighters to usher in revolution anywhere.  Reviewing his work for my first published article (in a student magazine — it was the 1990s, and I don’t even have a copy, let alone a link) ahead of his visit to our campus, I wondered as a Gen-Xer whether the fascination with 1968 reflected the Baby Boomers’ demographic plurality.  Of course, they are still reminiscing about the glory days, but there is a lot in the reflections of the ultimate soixante-huitard that resonates with me, for example: pseudo-revolutionary violence would change nothing, but peaceful reforms might.

What are the Deshi equivalents of Baby Boomers and Gen-X, and for the sake of completeness, Millenials?  Following the Pew Research, let’s roughly divide these generations as those born between: mid-1940s and the mid-1960s; mid-1960s and 1980; and after 1980.  I guess we can channel Rushdie and call the oldest generation the Midnight’s Children.  The middle generation can be called the Liberation generation — for the older part of this group, events of 1971 and aftermath form the first memory though they would have been too young to recognise their significance in real time, while the aftermath of the war shaped the childhood of the younger ones.

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Dadagiri redux

Posted in action, adventure, Bollywood, books, classics, desi fiction, Drama, movies, thriller, TV by jrahman on May 21, 2018

When Shashi Kapoor passed away late last year, my facebook was abuzz (or should I say alight?) with clips of mere paas maa hai.  I wanted to post my favourite Kapoor as my childhood favourite hero.  I was sad to find no clip of Kissa Kathmandu ki — Satyajit Ray’s small screen adaptation of his Feluda caper in Nepal.  Granted it wasn’t Ray’s finest, but all sorts of weird and improbable stuff can be found online, why not this, I wondered.

My mind then wandered to why Ray cast Kapoor and not Amitabh Bachchan, the only tall man in India, for the role of the towering Bengali detective?  Perhaps it was because Bachchan was by then too busy with politics.  But that leads one to wonder why Ray hadn’t made a Hindi Feluda earlier?

For that matter, why did Ray not make more Hindi movies?  It’s not like he was oblivious to Bollywood trends.  He even set one of the Feluda adventures in mid-1970s Bombay, when Bachchan was smashing box office records and the bones of villains.  In the novel, Lalmohan Ganguly is advised by Feluda about the masala that would make a blockbuster:

…. instead of one double role have a pair of double roles.  The first hero is paired against the first villain, and the hero number two and the villain number two make the second pair.  That this second pair exists isn’t revealed at the beginning…..

… need smuggling — gold, iamond, cannabis, opium, whatever; need five musical sequence, one of which should be religious; need two dance numbers; two or three chase sequences are needed, and it would be great if in at least one of which an expensive car is driven off a cliff; need a scene of inferno; need heroines against the heroes and vamps against the villains; need a police officer with integrity; need flashback of the heroes’ backstories; …. need quick changes of scenes…. ; at least couple of times the story need to be on the hills or the seaside…..

…. at the end — and this is a must — need happy ending.  But the ending would work best if it can be preceded by several tearjerkers.

Of course, this is tongue-in-cheek.  Ray wasn’t into making blockbusters.  And he explained in a number of places that he was most comfortable in his mother tongue.  But Ray was so in tune with the zeitgeist that even Enter the Dragon is channeled in that story, and I can’t help but wish he would have made the movie that would have been rishte mein toh baap to Sholay, Don, Qurbani, Tridev or Mohra.

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Memoirs of a wimpy kid

Posted in Drama, family, gender, movies, society, TV by jrahman on April 28, 2018

Not only has my pre-tween boy read all 12 Wimpy Kid books, watched various movie versions, played the board game, and been through various activity books, he has convinced me to read (by which I mean listen on audibles) a few.  They are fun.  It’s not hard for me to see a bit of my own wonder years in these stories.

Of course, my tweens were in the 1980s Dhaka, not modern American suburbia.  My teen years were in international schools in the tropics, owing to my father’s job.  I was in high school (in the American sense) at the same time as the gang from 90210.  A quarter century before social media, our social lives were shaped by and mirrored what we watched on the tele.  It was appropriate years before Rage Against the Machine penned — Cinema simulated life in trauma / Forthright culture, Americana / Chained to the dream they got you searchin’ for……

Imagine then how old I felt when watching Dylan McKay grounding his teenage son in Riverdale.

Now, here was an idea — take the key characters from a comic book set in the happy days and set them in a town that must be the twin of Twin Peaks, this was stuff of inspired imagination.  I found the first few episodes of Riverdale riveting, but then somehow lost track.  I guess these days, if it is not binge-watched, it’s hard to watch at all.

Well, I wouldn’t at all recommend binge-watching the other Netflix teen drama from 2017.  Then again, I found the show quite padded, and just-not-good-TV, so I wouldn’t really recommend it at all.

But even a bad show, sometime, makes you think.   (more…)

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Dadagiri

Posted in adventure, books, movies, thriller, Uncategorized by jrahman on December 20, 2017

When Shashi Kapoor passed away a few days ago, my facebook was abuzz (or should I say alight?) with clips of mere paas maa hai.  I wanted to post my favourite Kapoor as my childhood favourite hero.  I was sad to find no clip of Kissa Kathmandu ki — Satyajit Ray’s small screen adaptation of his Feluda caper in Nepal.  Granted it wasn’t Ray’s finest, but all sorts of weird and improbable stuff can be found online, why not this, I wondered.  My mind then wandered to why Ray cast Kapoor and not Amitabh Bachchan, the only tall man in India, for the role of the towering Bengali detective?  Perhaps because Bachchan was by then too busy with politics.  But that leads one to wonder why Ray hadn’t made a Hindi Feluda earlier?  For that matter, why did Ray not make more Hindi movies?

The latest on-screen adaptation puts Ray’s sleuth in the modern day — check out the trailer:

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Wonder years

Posted in action, Bangladesh, Drama, history, movies, sci-fi, thriller, TV by jrahman on November 10, 2017

Thirty years ago today, Dhaka was shut down as the opposition parties — all of them, Awami League, BNP, leftists, Jamaat — demanded the resignation of President HM Ershad.  There were meetings and rallies around the city, many turning violent.  A working class man in his mid-20s was killed around the General Post Office near Gulistan.  He had the words shoirachar nipat jak (down with autocracy) painted in his chest.  Written on his back was ganatantra mukti pak (free democracy).

Of course, there was no school that bright crispy early winter morning.  Our impromptu game of neighbourhood cricket was ended abruptly by an auntie whose window was smashed by a square cut, or perhaps it was a cover drive, or an overthrow — I don’t quite remember after all these years.  I do remember what happened next.  We rode our bikes.  We didn’t care about politics, but coming from a heavily politicised family, I knew enough to avoid going towards the city.  Instead, we gathered on the new road that was being built near our neighbourhood, and then hit the runway of the old airport.  I don’t think any of us had a watch, but even if we did, who checks the time when so much fun is being had!  Before we knew it, we were in the heart of the Cantonment, and it was around the time of the Asr prayer that we returned home.

I was reminded of the adventures of that day, and the parental wrath thus incurred, while bingeing on the latest episodes of Stranger Things.  I am told it’s not bingeing if I am watching only one season.  But I feel five hour-long episodes straight in a weeknight, starting after the day’s chores are done, counts as binge watching.  Bingeing or not, the second season of Stranger Things is even better than the first one.  And that’s quite a feat considering the hype.  Like everyone else, I had no idea about the first season before watching it, liking it instantly, even if it was, to use the show’s self-deprecation, a bit derivative.  I feared disappointment with the new season, fears that proved unjustified.  This must be how it would have felt to watch Godfather 2 or The Empire Strikes Back back then, unfiltered by the accumulated weight of pop culture now-memory.

Now-memory?  From the show.  This post will have spoilers.  Read at own risk.

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Joy (the other) Bangla?

Posted in Bengal, comedy, Drama, history, movies by jrahman on October 11, 2017

Interesting things maybe happening in the Indian Bengal, and not just with films, though a film is a pretty good place to start.  Aparna Sen’s Goynar Baksho — a family dramedy about changing role of women in the mid-20th century bhadralok society — garners two wholehearted cheers.  Moushumi Chatterjee puts on perhaps the best performance of her career, and Konkona Sen Sharma is in her exquisite elements.  That’s two cheers, not quite a third for Srabanti Chatterjee though, who pales before the two veterans.  More importantly, the first two-thirds of the movie is astute social commentary that is simply fun to watch.  Depiction of the partition-induced transformation of a landed gentry East Bengali caste Hindu family into trade-dependent petit bourgeois is up there with the best of partition-related art.  Indian Bengalis tend to have a hard time pulling off East Bengali accent — this is a rare and pleasant exception.  For all that, however, the movie is far from being a great one because of its last third.  And yet, it’s the ending that made me think.

The story ends with this:

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When fact is fiction

Posted in fantasy, movies, music, thriller by jrahman on July 15, 2017

I live in a country that Lyndon Johnson once called the ‘ass end of the world’ — whichever direction you travel, there is no short flight from this southern land.  One good thing about the long haul flight, however, is the chance to watch stuff that you otherwise might not have, provided you’re flying a decent carrier, of course.  My usual guilty pleasures are sitcoms — I think I watched more HIMYM and Big Bang Theory episodes airborne than on my couch.

I made an exception recently.  The Emirates have a reasonable collection of Bangla (or given they are from the Indian Bengal, should I say Bengali?) movies.  I was curious, and wasn’t left disappointed.  It appears that a number of noir films have come out of Kolkata recently.  How exciting, right?

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