Thursday, February 26, 2009

Movie Review: Gangs of New York

The United States of America, perceived as the land of unlimited opportunities, heaven on earth, land of ultimate freedom, a place where wealth can be made, the world's most powerful nation, etc... But like every other nation in the world, it has its own share of slums, underworld gangs, thugs, crooks and prostitutes. This murky underbelly is carefully hidden away under the towering sky scrapers and grandiose buildings.

What was it to live in this land of freedom and opportunity a century and half ago? This is what the film Gangs of New York attempts to re-create and it does very successfully. Set in 1846 the movie stars Cameron Diaz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Daniel Day-Lewis and others. The story is pretty historical as it is a movie and there is a substantial amount of reality in this according to a National Geographic study.

The movie starts off in the year 1846 with the protagonist Leonardo DiCaprio getting released from the prison and returning to the neighborhood in Manhattan where he was born and grew up. As he approaches the five points neighborhood, DiCaprio is witness to hordes of Irish immigrants landing into the US, in a bid to escape sure starvation due to the Potato Famine and of course persecution from the British Crown and nobility. But the original settlers (who call themselves "Natives") don't want new immigrants and they are standing at the docks yelling humiliating abuses at the immigrants.

DiCaprio, himself an Irish immigrant-settler and has seen his father being murdered in cold blood by Bill the Butcher, the undisputed king of underworld in New York. Young DiCaprio is thirsting for revenge and his target is Bill the Butcher. DiCaprio starts off being a small time thief and gets into the Butcher's brotherhood of thugs. In his life of crime he tangles with Cameron Diaz who is another petty thief and pick pocket in the same gang. Love blossoms between the two much to the angst of DiCaprio's best friend, who reveals the former's true identity to Bill the Butcher.

DiCaprio's first attempt to kill Bill the Butcher fails and he is thoroughly beaten up and knifed. In retaliation DiCaprio decides to start his own gang of Irish settlers and wrest control of Five Points from the original English settlers (Natives). This coincides with the American civil war era when Irish immigrants were ordered to get drafted into the army to fight the southern states against slavery. In frustration the immigrants rebel and riot and of course there is the clash of gangs in which Irish emerge victorious.

The Gangs of New York is a brilliantly made movie and performances of all the stars are captivating and cinematography is hypnotic. It has a few subtle lessons about American history, social equations and immigration. The original British settlers who landed in the US and started killing native Americans and taking over their lands were intolerant towards Irish immigrants in the 19th century, now a substantial section of the white population of the US hates increased influx of Indian technology workers. Things are pretty much the same: American's hate immigrants, especially those whom they think are taking their jobs.

Another subtle reinforcement that the White people try to make is that America belongs to them and not to the native Americans who were here thousands of years before the settlers came in. It is common for people of color in the US to be referred to as "Asian Americans", "African Americans", "Indian Americans" but to themselves they say "Americans" implying that the country belongs to them. This movie in which the original settlers call themselves "Natives" is one such attempt. To understand these messages one must watch The Gangs of New York.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Inspired-in-India movies win Oscars

The entire world... 20% of the world definitely... billion plus people in India and millions of people of Indian origin across the world are in a daze of jubilation after last night's Oscars. Slumdog Millionaire a film set in India and based on a fantastical rags-to-riches story of perseverance, determination, optimism and positive thought won not one but eight Oscars and two were given to music maestro A.R. Rehman.

I have watched the movie Slumdog Millionaire and my personal opinion is that when I see it as a movie, it is a brilliant work of art. But when I watch it as an Indian and Hindu I simply feel that this movie is subtly targeted at tarnishing the image of India and Hindus particularly. All the protagonists in the movie, the hero, heroine, his brother and family are Muslims and poor. The villains in the movie; corrupt cops, malicious reality-show host, taxi drivers, etc are Hindus. Then the tourists who show lots of sympathy are Americans.

Anyway about the other movie, a documentary about how a girl with cleft lip was ostracised by the village and this foreigner comes to her rescue and funds her surgery and makes her beautiful and accepted again. Once again this documentary also makes a hard hitting story of India's poverty and that despite its economic growth the country still can't afford to take care of its people.

I wonder why it is only this kind of movies get to Oscars and receive awards. The music in Slumdog Millionaire was nothing so great in my opinion... I am no music expert but with my limited understanding of Music I believe that several of Rehman's past scores were far far better than the Music of Slumdog Millionaire.

Another small bit of news that I read related to this legendary movie which won two oscars for Indian and eight for a movie set in India is about the singer of the Oscar-winning song. Sukhwinder the singer of the song Jai Ho which won Rahman the Oscar attributes the success to Lord Shiva. In an exclusive interview to NDTV Sukhwinder said:

"Today is Mahashivratri and it s lord Shiva who blessed me and the whole team of A R Rahman to get this international honour. Jai ho is not just a song. It connects me spiritually to the Almighty. It has spiritual
connection. I was confident that the song will win Oscar because you know the Oscar award ceremony has taken place on this spiritual day of Mahashivratri."

But this will never become global news... I wonder why???