Tuesday, March 08, 2005

1947 And All That

Having failed to find love this week, I resorted to the next best thing - plastic love aux Bollywood. My first choice was the star studded Veer Zara, this years winner of the Filmfare Best Film award-Bollywood's answer to the Oscars. It tells a remarkably dull (for Bollywood) story of an Indian Hindu (played by the irritatingly amiable Shahrukh Khan) and a Pakistani (Preity "Peroxide" Zinta). What intrigued me about the film was how "they" (the Indians) perceive "us" (the Pakistanis). What emerges from the film was a skewed guess at life Chez Pakistan. The star crossed lovers meet in India, and then in Pakistan (they are never shown queueing for visas- but that's willing suspension of disbelief for you). For some unfathomable reason, Zara's entire family speaks Punjabi, but she manages to get by in flawless Urdu. The affair begins promisingly enough- they both seem to be sharing the same tube of hair dye. It is, however, destined to end tragically (with Veer being imprisoned while returning from Pakistan) until (22 years later) a young radical Pakistani lawyer (ta da!) succeeds in defying the odds and reuniting the pair.

What intrigued me about Veer Zara ultimately was the virtual absence (apart from a few jocular references) to the two things that keep India and Pakistan apart- politics and religion. Political national tensions are studiously avoided.("So do you guys really want Kashmir?") Religion (which is what keeps the couple apart) is swept under the rug. Come on. Surely one of the several inlaws could have pointed it out ..."Honey, he's a hindu and you're a good muslim girl" Perish the thought. The rationale is implicit, but never articulated.
Curiously, neither V nor Z is particularly interested in the culture of the other. This is in stark contrast to my trips to India, where the curiousity levels are intense once I've been "outed" as a Pakistani. I rather suspect that the director (the legendary Yash Chopra) was trying to highlight the similarities (as expressed in never ending Punjabi songs from both sides of the border) rather than the differences. The fact is that there are differences (in the way we dress, to the way we speak, the food we eat and so on ) which could have made for good frothy comedy. But these too are airbrushed.

As with all good Hindi films, there are good guys and bad guys. The bad guys in this case are the Pakistani establishment. The Pakistan police system, the intelligence services and (i think) some unidentified men in khaki are all responsible for Veer's incarceration and the keeping apart of the couple. This can be easily by translated (even by the hard of understanding) in nationalistic terms. The good guys are the Pakistani judiciary (for letting Veer off, albeit two decades later) and the young lawyer (the husky voiced, doe eyed Rani Mukherjee) who represents the new, improved, younger Pakistani generation, which is willing to let the past go. Someone should have told her that radical young female Pakistani lawyers don't go around with dupattas on their heads Someone did, because by the time she gets to the court finale, it has been suitably dispensed with.

Is this film really a CBM (Confidence Building Measure) or a CBM (Celluloid Brainless Movie) ? I'm pretty sure its the former. I am not the target audience for this film. If the film does hit its intended audience, they will come away with a warm fuzzy feeling that the Indians aren't half bad. And that ain't half bad either.


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