The early days…hazy impressions


Baby steps

Movies in the growing up years were taboo. I remember once going to see the sick melodrama- ankhiyon ke jharokey with the neighbors…and getting grounded for 2 days by my father. Films were not good and Hindi cinema was pure evil. So even if there was a little scope in Bengali uttam-suchitra classic and the odd Ray masterpiece any mention of Hindi cinema was bad news for us.

However that does not mean that father was anti-cinema. In fact on the contrary he has taken me to see more movies in my life time than anyone else. Obviously after a point I didn’t need anyone to take me to movies…the early memories of wild life classics trickle into the memory- wilderness family, touch the sky, etc. all movies based on the wild life. Then there were the soccer movies. The name of Giants of Brazil is distinctly etched. I remember the collective joy of my father and myself at the exploits of the greats- Garincha, Pele, Taustao… Only last year we did a redux on this very laptop when we watched a downloaded version of the movie after close to 3 decades….

The first true English feature film which my dad took me to was Omar Mukhtar- the Lion of the Desert. A neighborhood “dada” whom I was an ardent follower of highly recommended the movie to me. Obviously my father was not impressed at all. All my pleadings and anger fell to deaf years as he dismissed the movie and my plea, further fanning my anger. Then in the evening in the same sarcastic way in which he was talking to me in the morning he told me to get dressed up and then non-chalantly took me to the movie theater to watch the movie.

Till date Lion of the Desert remains one of my closest to heart movies. I have seen the film later on as an adult. It is perhaps one of the best anti-colonial movies that has come out of Hollywood. Till this day Anthony Quinn for me is Omar Mukhtar. Before being zorba the Greek, or Abu Tayi in Lawrence of Arabia, or Cl Stavrov in Guns of Navarone. Quinn lived and breathed his role as the Libyan freedom fighter with a level of energy rarely seen. Then there was Oliver Reed as the Italian general torn between his admiration for the Lion and his orders to execute him. Orders from Mussolini played ruthlessly by Rod Stieger. Beside or beyond the power-house performances which etch the movie what really attracted me to it and dug deep into my conscience was the honesty with which the story was told. The honesty and simplicity. As they say, the greatest things in life are also the simplest. The greatness of the movie lay in its simplicity of narration. The film in more ways than one embodies what freedom means. To a group of thundering and wandering Bedouins who are fighting enslavement by the white man. There was one quote in the movie which I remembered. Thanks to the net I managed to dig up the exact dialogue:

[Omar Mukhtar protects two surviving Italian soldiers]
Omar Mukhtar: We do not kill *prisoners*!
Arab Warrior: *They* do it to *us*!
Omar Mukhtar: “They” are not our *teachers!*

Here in lies the simplicity of the movie. Which perhaps was critical in portraying the simple souls of the desert nomads for whom freedom was a way of life. Long after the rise and fall of Omar Mukhtar, the Second World War, Mussolini, and Gaddafi and ravaged this nation for his own psychopathic pleasures. I sincerely hope that with the killing of Gaddafi the Libyans will rediscover their souls, their simplicity and their unique ways of life which was protect by Omar Mukhtar to his death.

Needless to say the very first movie which left an impact on me was Lion of the Desert. For the movie that it was. But also for the fact that it was the first real movie which I watched with my father in the theater. Only me and my dad….

Magic of DD

The first knock on the door on everything which has happened to the lives of us who grew up in the eighties was always put by our good friend the doordarshan. the first serial(hum log), the first mega serial(buniyaad/ramayan/mahabharat), the first exposure to news as a magazine (the world this week), the first world cup- seeing maradona take on the whole world…. and yes- the 1983 win… with half the match wiped out due to link failure. “Sorry for the interruption”….the half hour of Md- Rafi concert when everyone had assumed the India would be trounced. and then the link coming back and the TV screen showing west indies 6 wickets down….those were the days of real magic…

My first exposure to world cinema also came in from DD. those were the days when DD had started screening world cinema in late nights. These movies were uncensored and had frontal nudity and sex in most of them. These were great movies made by world masters. This was my days of entry into adolescence. Days when late night movies were banned. For obvious reasons.

I had gone to visit my granny. With my elder cousin- a big influence in my life. When granny went to sleep early in the night with the small portable TV at our disposal, it was sheer bliss for us brothers. He in his late teens and me just stepping in. in days before the net, nudity was a rare commodity. Sex was extinct. One full late-night movie at our disposal with no one to snoop in was god-sent.

With bated expectation we waited.  A Russian movie came up. Before the credits it showed a shot of an old woman walking on to a deserted main road. The background audio announced in Russian which we read in the subtitles-

The old lady is waiting for his son to come back. But we know that the son will never come back as he has been killed in the war. But this is not the story of his death. This is the story of his life.

The credits came on and announced the name of the movie- the ballad of a soldier. By then both me and my brother had realized that this movie will not be what we were waiting for. But perhaps it would be something which is worth waiting for.

I saw ballad of a soldier as a kid. You will perhaps not believe, but every scene of the movie was etched in my mind when I was compelled to hunt down its DVD in a video shop in Canada more than 20 years later. It is a film which has stayed with me for the last quarter of a century.

The ballad is a simple tale. And again that’s where it got me. And millions of others who have watched it and elevated it to being one of the best movies to have come out of Russia. It is the simple story of the journey of a soldier who is coming back from the front which he has earned through his bravery. It is the simple tale of two teenagers who fall in love against circumstances. And knowing fully well that this love is momentary and without a future. A story of a young man’s journey through war ravaged country and war ravaged cities and citizens. A teenagers growing up to the harsh realities of life and the beauty of love at the same time. It is the story of an epic journey which Alyosha and Shura undertake over a period of a few days.

The ballad was a simple straight forward tale. Overly sentimental at times. But for a nation coming out of the deadliest war that civilization has seen and getting into one of the deadliest and most oppressing periods which civilization has seen this was a message, a story straight from the heart.

Released in 1959 the film till today remains as fresh as its appeal on humanism even today. In the maze of “smart” movies which has overtaken our times this movie any time provides the whiff of fresh air. See Ballad of a soldier. Ignore the sentimentalism a bit. You will not regret…

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One thought on “The early days…hazy impressions

  1. Pingback: The early days…hazy impressions « Breathe…

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