G C Lichtenberg: “It is as if our languages were confounded: when we want a thought, they bring us a word; when we ask for a word, they give us a dash; and when we expect a dash, there comes a piece of bawdy.”

H. P. Lovecraft: "What a man does for pay is of little significance. What he is, as a sensitive instrument responsive to the world's beauty, is everything!"

Martin Amis: “Gogol is funny, Tolstoy in his merciless clarity is funny, and Dostoyevsky, funnily enough, is very funny indeed; moreover, the final generation of Russian literature, before it was destroyed by Lenin and Stalin, remained emphatically comic — Bunin, Bely, Bulgakov, Zamyatin. The novel is comic because life is comic (until the inevitable tragedy of the fifth act);...”

Werner Herzog: “We are surrounded by worn-out, banal, useless and exhausted images, limping and dragging themselves behind the rest of our cultural evolution.”

John Gray: "Unlike Schopenhauer, who lamented the human lot, Leopardi believed that the best response to life is laughter. What fascinated Schopenhauer, along with many later writers, was Leopardi’s insistence that illusion is necessary to human happiness."

Justin E.H. Smith: “One should of course take seriously serious efforts to improve society. But when these efforts fail, in whole or in part, it is only humor that offers redemption. So far, human expectations have always been strained, and have always come, give or take a bit, to nothing. In this respect reality itself has the form of a joke, and humor the force of truth.”

विलास सारंग: "… . . 1000 नंतर ज्या प्रकारची संस्कृती रुढ झाली , त्यामध्ये साधारणत्व विश्वात्मकता हे गुण प्राय: लुप्त झाले...आपली संस्कृती अकाली विश्वात्मक साधारणतेला मुकली आहे."

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Are Historical Films Inspirational or Just Plain Nuisance?

While talking to Newsweek March 3, 2008, Israeli author Amos Oz said:"...The past doesn't just play a role; it almost dominates this region. People remember too well and too much. Both Jews and Arabs carry deep, dramatic injuries."

Historical Hindi film Jodhaa-Akbar has created a stir in India. On February 27 2008, there was chaos in the town of Sangli. (Of course, I take every report in Indian news media with a big pinch of salt because as Steve Salerno said the mainstream news business is so unaccustomed to dealing with issues at any level of complexity and nuance that they’re wont to oversimplify their story to the point of caricature.)

Supporters of the film ask us to forget the history on which purportedly it is based and just to focus on film’s cinematic values. (I then wonder why use names like Akbar & Jodhaa or Bajirao & Mastani. Why not use Zeenat-Imran or Gangubai-Balwantrao?)

They also say history is never objective and hence should be “used” to further “good causes” like Hindu-Muslim unity.

Prime Minister J L Nehru too probably would subscribe to this view.

"...All of which shows how little Nehru understood India and the communal question which tore it apart. His arrogance and ignorance contributed not a little to the tragedy. During the First World War, socialists were dismayed to find the working class as nationalistic as any other in place of the solidarity which theoreticians accepted. Sixty years after Independence we face not only the communal question but also caste divisions…"

(A.G. NOORANI “Path to Partition: A witness’ account” Frontline, October 19, 2007)

Historian T S Shejwalkar त्र्यंबक शंकर शेजवलकर (1895 - 1963) argued that even Mahatma Gandhi didn’t have much use of history. Shejwalkar also wished that Nehru and Gandhi studied Panipat 1761 in any detail instead of him!

(Preface to “Panipat 1761”, 1968)

Inspirational history excites me too. Occasionally it moves me to tears. Amartya Sen is a leading exponent of it.

But does it work and for how long?

While reviewing “GOD’S CRUCIBLE /Islam and the Making of Europe, 570 to 1215 “ By David Levering Lewis, ERIC ORMSBY observed:

“…Thus, as Lewis notes, “sumptuary laws required that non-Muslims display badges and that clothing worn by dhimmis be distinguished from that worn by Arabs.” Non-Muslims were not allowed to ride on horseback without a permit, or to bear arms. Moreover, for sound fiscal reasons, conversion to Islam was not warmly encouraged since non-Muslims who converted were no longer required to pay the head tax on which state revenues depended. Though well aware of the overly rosy picture often painted of Muslim Spain, Lewis sometimes accepts it himself. Nowadays, we know all too well that the enforced wearing of badges to signify religious affiliation is hardly a sign of tolerance. That was true in Muslim Spain too…”

So was medieval tolerance, where conversion to Islam was not encouraged, anchored to the state revenues and not to some exalted value system? Even in India?

Reviewing “IDENTITY AND VIOLENCE/ The Illusion of Destiny” By Amartya Sen, Fouad Ajami said:

”… Sen works with the anecdote: His potted history is tailored for interfaith dialogues. He writes of the great Jewish philosopher Maimonides, who, when forced to emigrate from "an intolerant Europe" in the 12th century, was able to find "a tolerant refuge in the Arab world" in the court of the great Muslim ruler Saladin.

But this will not do as history.

Maimonides, born in 1135, did not flee "Europe" for the "Arab world": He fled his native Córdoba in Spain, which was then in the grip of religious-political terror, choking under the yoke of a Berber Muslim dynasty, the Almohads, that was to snuff out all that remained of the culture of convivencia and made the life of Spain's Jews (and of the free spirits among its Muslims) utter hell. Maimonides and his family fled the fire of the Muslim city-states in the Iberian Peninsula to Morocco and then to Jerusalem. There was darkness and terror in Morocco as well, and Jerusalem was equally inhospitable in the time of the Crusader Kingdom. Deliverance came only in Cairo -- the exception, not the rule, its social peace maintained by the enlightened Saladin…

… Inspirational history can go only so far; it will not bend to Sen's good cheer.”

In an earlier post, I noted how the Nizam’s army slaughtered cows in a temple complex in Maharashtra. I also mentioned how Chitpavan Brahmin chieftains of Maratha army looted Hindu shrines around the same time.

But there is a crucial difference between the two.

To say, Marathas didn’t slaughter pigs in mosques would be very simplistic. But by and large they didn’t disrespect shrines, holy books and women of other religions. Until 1857 at least.

In the eyes of most Hindu readers of Indian history this difference perhaps makes some Muslim rulers evil and their Hindu counterparts – much like today’s politicians- corrupt and incompetent but not evil.

India owes a lot to Sufism. People consider ways of Sufis parallel to the ways of Bhakti saints. Like saints, Sufis are considered other-worldly and hence neutral to the politics of their time. (I would argue that most Bhakti saints were not other worldly at all.)

William Dalrymple claimed: “…Sufis succeeded in bringing together Hindu and Muslim in a movement which spanned the apparently unbridgable gulf separating the two religions. To this day, while Muslims usually predominate at Sufi shrines, you also see huge numbers of Hindus, as well as the odd Sikh and Christian. Here for once you can see religion acting to bring people together, not to divide them. In modern India, Sufism is not something other-worldly so much as a religious force that demonstrably acts as a balm on India's festering religious wounds…”.

Historian Setu Madhavrao Pagdi सेतु माधवराव पगडी, expert in Urdu and Farsi, studied sufism and wrote a book on the subject: सूफी संप्रदाय , तत्वज्ञान आणि कार्य (Sufism – Philosophy and Work) 1953. While acknowledging the debt of great sufi saints, he argued that sufis fully co-operated with the policies of aggressive Muslim rulers. He further said that many sufi shrines- he personally visited them- were built by demolishing Hindu temples.
(Jeevansetu जीवनसेतु, 1969)

With luck inspirational history may help create good cinema like Mughal-E-Azam(1960) but I wonder if it can ever work as a social balm.

Artist: J B Handlesman The New Yorker 26 February 1972

6 comments:

Sharad said...

Dear Aniruddha,
The film Jodha-Akbar is not a flop one.the magnum opus has been made at a cost of about rs 50 crores.but from day one it has been mired in controversies.was jodhaabai really akbar's wife? the proud rajputs say no.they feel history has been distorted.according to them, akbar's son salim was married to the fiery jodhaa, daughter of king udai singh of marwar and not king bharmal of amer now known as jaipur.other rajputs believe that maharaja bharmal of amer was surrounded by the mughal army and under tremendous pressure and to prevent unnecessary bloodshed,he gave one of his daughters to akbar as part of a matrimonial alliance.but jodhaaabai was not the daughter of the queen. she was not the actual princess but the daughter of one of the king's concubines. the pride and self-respect of the rajputs,they say,has been hurt by distortion of history.

the screening of the movie has been banned in rajasthan,chattisgarh and in some other places as well.director ashutosh gowarikar is confused and hurt. after all he did painstaking research for many years before the story was finalised.he claims that he also checked with a royal family of rajasthan regarding akbar and jodhaabai. in addition to the marriage being a politically convenient one, love is supposed to have blossomed between the mughal emperor and the rajput princess. or is it allowing the imagination to fly fanciful heights? the truth is vague and therefore open to interpretations. in any case isn't it quite common in india that marriages take place first and then love blossoms? he doesn't swear that everything he has shown is recorded history.he has taken liberties with the plot but then wouldn't the movie become too staid without such deviations? we must take the movie at its face value and enjoy every bit of it. thanks to gowarikar's brilliance, the production is a masterpiece. ably supported by javed akhtar's lyrics, a.r.rahman's scintillating music,superb acting by hrithik roshan and aishwarya who enjoy a wonderful chemistry and outstanding cinematography by kiran deohan,nitin desai's beautiful sets. "jodhaa akbar" is nothing short of picture perfect.

compliments have been pouring in from everywhere and from some unexpected quarters too.hrithik said that he would treasure amitabh bachchan's reaction to his performance. in the quawali/sufi song 'khwaja mere khwaja',hrithik does a trance dance. ab remarked that not since stanley kubrick's legendary 'sci-fi 2001: a space odyssey' has there been such an apocalyptic moment on film.it was a moment of spiritual ecstacy in which hrithik got fully immersed.that was the moment when akbar connected with divinity.one hand pointing towards heaven and the other to the ground.he was transferring the gift from god to people down below.he acted as the medium of divine communication.what a marvellous performance!

an offshoot of ja has been the comeback of enamel jewellery what with aishwarya sporting these exquisite ornaments with a dash of colour.'tanishq',the official designer of the movie,has launched a 'pret' line called jodha akbar collection. it is a fusion of excellent craftsmanship of the mughals and rajputs with contemporary style.

jodhaa comes out as a very strong character. a feminist figure very zealously guarding her rights. when told about her father's decision she asks him whether the mughal king is capable of understanding the significance of 'sindoor'. she chides him; but she cannot let her father down. she relents; but with two conditions. which she conveys to akbar in privacy.one that she will follow her religion to which there shall be no interferencce and the other that she will not touch him unless he has won her over truly. akbar agrees and announces the conditions in public. also later when akbar suspects her integrity thanks to the machinations of maham anga his foster-mother, she goes back to her parents and refuses to return.when the truth is revealed,akbar is apologetic and begs her pardon.

the scene where jodhha serves akbar a rajasthani meal made for the mughal emperor sans all the meat dishes of the rajput royalty and savoured with dalbhatti churma,gatte-ke-saag,ker-sangri and many more mouthwatering items that she serves was delightful to watch. and to prepare all these items, jodhha takes charge of the bawarchikhana or bakawal as it is called.she meets the mir bakawal,the superchef,and gives him instructions. all the utensils get thoroughly washed and jodhaa and her retinue take over.when akbar's foster-mother maham anga insists that mir bakawal must taste the food first before it is offered to the emperor and that is the rule and practice and that it cannot be changed, jodhaa rettorts that it was a wife's priviledge to prepare food for her husband. then again maham anga instructs the court to say bismillah(in the name of god) and eat.this was the formula to be followed for muslims for eating food prepared by hindus.historians have recorded that akbar gradually converted himself into a vegetarian. we can surmise that jodhabai's exquisite cooking must have transformed his eating habits.

the three hours and twenty minutes duration of the movie, some would say was a tad too long.gowrikar could have done some tight editing.but the picturisation of the taming of the elephant by akbar,akbar's diligent practice of sword fighting,the sword fighting by jodhaa and akbar,the sufi song 'khwaja mer khwaja' sung in a modest masjid and the final confrontation scene on the battleground of akbar with his brother-in- law the deceitful and rebellious mirza sharifuddin hussain(nikitin dheer) who is vanquished but whose life is spared because of akbar's love for his sister is beautifully portrayed.

to sum up ja is an epic romance movie which has everything that is required. with captivating performances,soul-stirring music and brilliant cinematography what is wrong if the imagination is allowed to fly a bit. even if the love story has no historical basis,we have to appreciate the power of the cinema to make the past relevant to the present.ashutosh gowarikar deserves full kudos for adding some mirchi and masala and for creating a truly pleasurable experience for the audience.
Sharad Nayampalli

aniruddha g. kulkarni said...

Good to know Sharad. btw- I never said it's a flop.

You have taken the film in the right spirit- Entertainment because that's what is.

Trouble starts when people say it's history!

History is often complex, inconvenient and messy.

Chetan said...

Aniruddha,

I just want to alert you that the above comment by Sharad can constitute as a infringement of copyright. It is direct copy paste from this blog post, without any attribution given to the actual author, unless of course Sharad is the writer of that blog.

All of this is none of my concern, except for the fact that it is your blog, carrying the comment, that will show up as the plagiariser if the owner of the other blog looks through copyscape or copysentry and other such websites to find plagiarised pieces for your own work.

I am saying this not to sow any discord or not to pick on Sharad. It's just that many in the blogosphere take plagiarism seriously and I don't want to see an unecessary, unsavoury incident taking place just because of an inadvertent non-attribution. Thanks.

aniruddha g. kulkarni said...

Thanks Chetan for pointing it out.

I am sorry to the original blogger if his comments have been plagiarised.

Sharad, Any comments?

hindu blog said...

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aniruddha g. kulkarni said...

Thanks