High Museum of Art: Films

Film Festival of India: Greatest Hits by hmablogmaster
August 31, 2009, 3:28 pm
Filed under: Film Series: High, Top Picks | Tags: , , , , , , ,

If  the High’s  Treasures From India’s National Film Development Corporation has you inspired to put together your own festival courtesy of your local or online DVD outlet, consider these selections shown over the past few years in the High’s Film Festival of India. When I checked, all were available on Netflix so they shouldn’t be hard to find.

The Terrorist
Indie director Santosh Sivan (who began his career as a cinematographer) made this penetrating, visually stunning psychological drama about  a young woman in an unnamed guerrilla group who embraces the chance to sacrifice herself for a cause. As timely now as when it was made in 1999, The Terrorist was inspired by the 1991 murder of Indian prime minister Rajiv Gandhi.  It’s a movie less interested in politics than in exploring the question, “What kind of person would choose martyrdom and murder?”



Got a couple of hours? Paheli is shorter than many Bollywood extravaganzas, gorgeous to look at, full of folkloric charm, and its songs and dances seem fresh and unformulaic. Plus it features two superstars: Rani Mukherjee as a bride who’s been abandoned, and Shahrukh Khan in the double role as her workaholic husband and a love-struck ghost who assumes her spouse’s identity.

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Revisiting the Raj by Linda Dubler
August 28, 2009, 12:24 pm
Filed under: Film Series: High, Guest Blogger, Review | Tags: , , , , ,

By Eleanor Ringel Cater

There is India, as in the India true Indians know. And then there is the India according Great Britain. As in The Raj. As in, the sun never sets… Our Treasures From India’s National Film Development Corporation series, which ends September 13, looks at India as portrayed by people from India. But should you be feeling the need to consider the colonialist past, here are some suggestions:

A Passage to India

Not the crown jewel in David Lean’s filmography, but a perfectly respectable entry. Two Englishwomen, played by Judy Davis and Dame Peggy Ashcroft (best supporting actress Oscar), travel to India where Davis will decide whether to marry Ashcroft’s son. On a side-trip to discover the “real” India, something happens to the older woman. Something, in her blathering account, unspeakably ancient and evil. The film reminds you of Lean’s twin gifts for detail and scope. He’s not bad with actors, either.

Heat and Dust

Heat and Dust

Heat and Dust

Granted, there may be more dust than heat in this civilized-to-the-extreme film about two other women’s passage to India. In “modern” time (1982), Julie Christie follows in the footsteps of her great-aunt who found a certain rajah irresistible in the 1920s. The movie time warps back and forth between their reflecting stories. More than a bit languid and tasteful to a fault, the film is nonetheless quite beautiful and a fine showcase for Ms. Christie who’d been absent from the screen for a few years.

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Thoughts about Hollywood and Satyajit Ray’s The Stranger by Linda Dubler
Satyajit Ray

Satyajit Ray

In Our Films, Their Films, a collection of his essays published posthumously in 1994, India filmmaker Satyajit Ray wrote about the great French director, Jean Renoir. As part of his tribute, he asked Renoir, who had fled to California from France to escape the Nazis, what was wrong with Hollywood. Renoir named the star system, the endless codes of censorship, and the tendency to regard film as a mass produced commodity as three major factors. He then added that he felt the best movies are created in times of stress:

“Look what the war has done to Italian films. Look at Brief Encounter. I don’t think a great film like that would have been possible without all those air raids London had to suffer. I think what Hollywood needs is a really good bombing.”

Of course, in Hollywood parlance, a bomb has a totally different meaning. But I can see what Renoir is getting at. Hollywood is fat, dumb, and happy — happiest of all during the “high seasons,” summer and the holidays. What would Ray –or Renoir, for that matter– have thought of movies like G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra or Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen?

Ray’s final film, The Stranger, showing at the High tonight (August 22) in the Hill Auditorium at 8 p.m., doesn’t have a single robot or explosion. It doesn’t have the acuity and passion of his masterpiece trilogy, The World of Apu, either. But the director was ill when he made it. What it does have is Ray’s customary compassion and seemingly effortless technique.

The plot is simple — a variation on the stranger among us. A well-to-do Calcutta housewife named Anila receives a letter from a man claiming to be her uncle who disappeared 35 years ago, when she was a toddler. In it, he asks if he may come and stay with her for a few days. Her husband is immediately suspicious. Uncertain, Anila nonetheless allows Uncle Mitra into their home. He turns out to be a total charmer with extraordinary tales about his world travels. Still, he must deal with a stream of interrogators as family, friends, and neighbors try to find the truth.

What strikes me most about The Stranger is, if you didn’t know Ray was 70 when he made it, you’d mistake it for a young man’s work. The film has a kind of Sixties idealism in its plea for universal brotherhood and fascination with simpler cultures. Anila’s uncle is an exemplar of these attitudes, and they are again embodied in her young son, who is enchanted by the elderly man’s stories about America’s Indians.

That small boy was played by Vikram Bhattacharjee, who is now a 28-year-old research scientist living in Philadelphia, PA. Bhattacharjee’s family moved to the Atlanta suburbs when he was ten, and he’ll be present at the High’s screening to share him reminiscences of working with India’s most acclaimed director.

Eleanor Ringel Cater