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Indian Magnum Opuses at Cinequest 2006
Three Movie Reviews of South Asian Produced Films
by Kim Singh/ArtsDiva

“Water”

Cinequest 2006 has seen some excellent films emerge out of the Indian Diaspora. With Deepa Mehta from Canada presenting “ Water ” and Kavi Raz out of San Jose bringing his “ The Gold Bracelet “.   “ Milk and Opium ” was another wonderful film that captured the hearts of all at the festival. A fourth Indian feature at Cinequest this year was “ It's a Mismatch ”, a Bollywood production featuring Anupam Kher.

Deepa Mehta's “ Water ” wound-down Cinequest 2006. It was a marvelous film, masterfully crafted by Ms Mehta, exposing a raw wound in the Indian social fabric, seldom acknowledged even by Indians. There were several red faces and even belligerent Indo-Americans at the Cinequest party after the closing film, who vociferously derided Deepa Mehta, for portraying India in a bad light. This was reminiscent about the derision that Satyajit Ray received throughout his career in India. Ray was lauded abroad but seldom in India, which was always embarrassed by Ray's disrobing of Mother India, exposing warts and all. Deepa seems to have assumed the uneasy mantle once worn proudly by Ray. Deepa Mehta has not yet come close to the Master's shadow, but she is a masterful filmmaker in her own right. Her starling legacy includes cinematic works such as “Fire ”, which dealt with the incendiary issue of lesbianism in India. Film theaters that screened “Fire” were torn up and literally set to fire, by the Hindu fundamentalist political group BJP and by its Hindutva wings, which sent their women's wings to protest the screening of “Fire” lest they be viewed as being the male chauvinist pigs that they indeed are.

“ Water “ is a solemn film, beautifully shot with meticulous art direction, a la Ray. It dwells on the plight of Indian widows in the 1930s. Today Indian widows may not be sequestered in the brutal manner they were back then, but the situation of the woman in India has not evolved much in the land which makes laudatory references to “ Mother India “ and yet still aborts female fetuses and refuses to educate daughters to the level that sons are. The low “market value” of Indian widows even in Silicon Valley; is a clear indication that Indian family values have yet to evolve from the 4000 year old funk they seem to be stuck in.

“Water” stars two beautiful Bollywood stars John Abraham and Lisa Ray. Deepa has managed to rein in the sheer beauty of this pair and not let that overshadow the very serious issue of widow abuse she deals with in her film.

The primary beauty of “Water” lies with the honesty that Deepa wields in dealing with an issue that a behemoth India cannot come to terms with. India has painful sores that fester on its beautiful face. Widow abuse is one of them. The other is child abuse and sexual exploitation of its children. Deepa takes on these two issues and cries along with you, as she takes you on this walk on coals. Your feet are seared and you are wincing in pain, but you need to make this journey. It is like a pilgrimage that no one took. No one has acknowledged this huge elephant in the room. Yes the land of programmers and the beautiful Taj Mahal has an ugly side to it. Indians have learnt to live with such searing contradictions, with a shrug of their collective shoulders. Deepa seeks to point out the inconstancy in this hypocrisy. She does a masterful job in creating a magnum opus on the cinematic screen and leaves us the walking wounded, as we emerge dazed from the screening of “Water”.

“The Gold Bracelet”

“The Gold Bracelet“ worked with the issue of the average American being oblivious about the difference between Sikhs and Arabs. The film was not a patch on Deepa Mehta's mastery, but a film that had to be made given the post 9/11 assaults against Sikh Americans and the murders of several Sikhs across the U.S. A film that Americans need to see, if it could be cut down from its current over 2.5 hour length.

The Gold Bracelet is a Kavi Raz film. He directs the film, acts in it, wrote the screenplay and even produced the film. However Kavi manages to not dominate the film. He has some wonderful co-stars such as Archana Puran Singh who plays his wife with a stoic maturity that was marvelous. Two young stars in the film are Mehrunissa Hassan and Arsh Singh.

The film deals with the post 9/11 scenario in the US, with a subtlety that most other films have lacked to date. The film helps reveals the world of Sikhism to the unsuspecting viewer and also talks about generational issues in a neat manner. Adults and youth would enjoy the film, as it has well written dialogue that is catchy and not stodgy.

“ Milk and Opium“

“Milk and Opium” is a charming film, which depicts the loss of innocence of Indian rural musicians and the country at large as it is raped by the onslaught of commercialism and the wonderful middle-class, which plucks a wonderful child musician from the sands of Rajasthan and appreciates his talent when playing the sidekick to a phoren returned Indian musician who plays the banjo for elite urbanities sipping cold coffee in exclusive Delhi clubs, accompanied by a quaint Indian rustic hill-billy kid artiste. It is a sad reflection but a quaint one at that.

Cinequest has come a long way from the years when its Asian American films seldom included an Indian film. It has evolved to its current offering of a wide offering of Bollywood kitsch and masterful works from the likes of Deepa Mehta.

Comments On This Movie Reviews:

Message From: Manuel Garcia (asianaids@juno.com), April 4, 2006 2:06 AM

DeBug seems be coming around and is carrying some really insightful articles. Please carry more reviews such as this one on Cinequest.

Message From: Peter DeCruz (stagecrafttravels@juno.com), April 3, 2006 2:59 AM

"Water" was a breathtaking film. Thank you Kim for this thought provoking article. We need more local film-makers showcased in Cinequest. It seems to have become too elitist and not focused on San
Jose talent.

Message From: Mary Paterson (megabyteinc@juno.com), April 3, 2006 2:55 AM

I did attend the Cinequest festival this year. This is the first decent well written review I have read on Cinequest. Mr. Singh seems to be a good critic. Lets see more of him in DeBug.

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