On June 5, 1989, at Tiananmen Square, a lone man stood in the path of tanks. That unknown Tank Man changed how the world viewed government. That single image has burned indelibly in my brain. It’s not just man against machine, it’s man against a system that is so huge people begin to think it’s infallible. No one remembers for how long the man kept the tanks at bay. But he did.
With elections around the corner in India and media claiming everything from ‘Dance of Democracy’ to ‘Foregone Conclusions’, with the US President crowing, ‘No collusion!’, with Brexit almost coups and extensions, with Steve Bannon trying to establish his agenda in Europe, with Russians, the Chinese and the Saudis want to change global boundaries, it is time to step back and examine how we live our political lives. With cinema to help us navigate this process of self-scrutiny.
All cinema is political, someone has said, and the spate of faux-patriotic films making cash registers ring at the box office makes you look back to the gentleness and the raw strength of Manoj Kumar’s, ‘
Sarfaroshi Ki Tamanna’ in Shaheed with fondness.
Those of us who grew up in the 80s and the 90s can rattle off names of brilliant political films like
Aandhi, Ardh Satya, Iruvar, Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron, Kissa Kursi Ka, Nayak and Yuva rather easily. But newer films like Newton and Peepli Live make the cut in pointing out flaws in our system.
Visual images of the
Tank Man beamed across the world were so powerful, the government did what power does best. It blacked out all coverage. Aandhi was a love story. But that didn’t stop the government from banning the film. Gulzar’s dialog cuts like a knife, with an ability to score points rarely heard these days. VIDEO
In 1969, an immigrant filmmaker, Costa Gavras, created a history of sorts when he made a film called
‘Z’. A film about a police state, a political rally, coverups, and a photojournalist looking for the truth. The film won Oscars as the best film as well as the best foreign film. But it serves as a reminder that no democracy is safe. We are but a pen stroke away from political parties taking away our rights. This film still gives anyone who has but half a political bone in their body goosebumps because it is so universal. Costa Gavras is still making political films, but Z remains one of the best there is when it comes to politics. VIDEO
Never again will a car chasing a man running for his life will be the same even though a masala film called
Parinda years later made Ambassador cars look creepy. Z was shot documentary style and served as a warning to Americans during the Nixon years and, of course, you have seen All The President’s Men. VIDEO
You don’t need to be told again and again that the media plays a significant role in guiding your politics, that the net is infested with misinformation, created to topple governments in faraway places. Once governments interfered in other ways, direct ways. As you’ve seen in movies like
Wag The Dog (where the fabulous Robert De Niro and the inimitable Dustin Hoffman create a war in order to cover up a sexual scandal) or even Our Brand Is Crisis (Sandra Bullock and her PR team show up in South America to try and ‘fix’ their elections), but in 2017, the handsome Ricardo Darin starred in a film called The Summit which mixes oil and politics like a velvet glove over an iron hand VIDEO
Politics can be funny too, for those of us who can see through photo ops where politicians running for office kiss babies and smile when they pose with the knitting circle of grannies. And there have been really silly funny films made about politics like
The Campaign (Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis), as well as sharp satires that show us the absurdity of politics like The Candidate (starring Robert Redford) and Newton (starring Rajkummar Rao).
A few years ago when the Shiv Sena split, on Marathi screens a film called
Zenda (‘flag’) showed up and made a sharp commentary on what happens to best friends who have to then take sides because the political party they identify with has split.
Indian language films have always made political statements and recent mass appeal films like
Bharath Ane Nenu keep the issues burning. But my all-time favourite remains Mani Ratnam’s Iruvar, a film that saw incredible performances and told a tale of friendship and politics and everything in between.
Online streaming services like Netflix are playing host to some incredible political documentaries that will shake your belief systems and make you think several times before you let your finger choose your representative.
Nobody Speaks: Trials Of A Free Press is a 2017 documentary that seems innocuous enough (Hulk Hogan suing Gawker) but ends up warning us about how big money is invested in elections and creating laws.
I’ve been fascinated by North Korea forever. And have lapped up everything about that mysterious country and its people that live in the shadows. There are two documentaries
‘Under the Sun’ and ‘The Big Brother’ (both made in 2015) give voice to the voiceless and will make you think that there is more to your political life than rhetoric.
If you are a news junkie, then you have devoured and been repelled by stories about racism all across the world. The 13th Amendment of the American Constitution abolished slavery and involuntary servitude. Although by law, racism is abolished, but when you read stories of hate you will not be untouched. The documentary film called
13 will serve to remind you how India may not be divided by race, but we have miles to go before we can solve the caste and religion-based issues.
But what happens when one ideology is allowed to lay siege and dominate others? In 2012, a group of Neo-Nazis decided to take over a small town in North Dakota. The documentary
Welcome to Leith will make you wonder how anyone could even let that happen. Especially when the locals were so fearful and suspicious when Osho and his tribe moved to Oregon to live in love. The town of Leith may be thousands of miles away from us, but you will see the parallels here in India and you will be shocked and stunned when you see this:
Most of us choose to stay silent or step aside when everyone around us is crying hoarse, choosing sides, brandishing chest-thumping patriotism, bowing to masters. But we participate too, and that is the most important thing. We are now netizens, and some of us miss the days of
VIDEO addabazi over endless cups of chai. But as the wise ones remind you, ‘We’re not dead yet…’