Ram Gopal Varma’s film based on “The Attacks of 26/11”

a date that will live on in infamy in India, remembered for its senseless bloodshed.  At least 164 died that day in a hail of AK gunfire, and close to 300 were injured. The terrorist attacks were minutely orchestrated and executed by members of the Pakistan-based militant organization Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), showing no mercy on men, women, children, the sick, the old, the innocent,  Hindu, Christians and even Muslims. Not even street dogs are spared.. The message is to spread terror and instill fear.

Ram Gopal Varma conveys that brutality in his movie 26/11 convincingly. The movie opens at the trial with the testimony of the Joint Police Commissioner played by Nana Patekar before it cuts to the action that we all await with pounding hearts in memory of those painful days in Mumbai in the fall of 2008.

A fishermen’s boat being is captured by a group of men with blood on their mind. Hat off to Ram Gopal Varma. The early scenes on open sea and as the determined and blood-thirsty jihadists make it to shore are foreboding, bone-chilling. Numbing. Evil taking over. That moment right there, the fishermen chatting on about their lives, simple men working hard to eke out a living. A boat approaches from far with someone waving a white flag signaling distress. A short and brutal take-over. Knowing what is to come, the audience is shrouded in helplessness. Ram Gopal Varma has us in his hands.

We get a first glimpse at Sanjeev Jaiswal as Kasab, the lone gunman brought to justice later on. Jaiswal dominates the second half of the movie with his unbelievably powerful performance.

Meanwhile the dangerous, cold blooded fire in the eyes of the jihadists is grabbing us by our throats. As we watch the first wave of slaughter taking place offshore in deep waters and almost feel in flesh the fear and helplessness of the fishing crew, all of whom will perish, it fills you with disgust and rage seeing the perpetrators change into outfits of regular tourists, who could be easily mistaken for a group of high-school friends coming to town for an innocuous sightseeing tour. Only instead of notebooks and travel guides they carry AK47s which they now start to unleash in unprecedented fashion on innocent Mumbaites, targeting at least six different locations.

The city is under siege for the next three days. But RGV is not guiding us through the whole process and exact events. He gives us an idea about the first hours and what they looked like. The Leopold Cafe, the Taj Mahal Grand Hotel, the Chhatrapati Shivaji train station, the Cama Hospital, the taxi, who is picking up the group with Mohammed the driver who gets later on blown up into pieces. No one is spared in the bloodbath that unfolds..

This is Ram Gopal Varma’s most powerful film to date. Even though I felt it stopped in its path by dedicating too little time on the whole event, which encompassed a couple of days. It would have been probably too grand of a task to film a Taj Mahal Hotel engulfed in flames, how the terrorists went from room to room through the whole building lining up hostages. So many stories of heroism and victimization untold…voices who would have had merit to be heard. Instead Varma takes a different route. He cuts short to the capture of Kasab and the second half it becomes Kasab’s story.  Sanjeev Saiswal’s intensity  reminded me of some of the most epic moments in film, the greatness of actors like Toshiro Mifune. Makeup and cinematography and his acting it all comes together in a torrent that washes you away like a tsunami. The one weakness the film has, it can’t hold the bundled up tension together, it becomes preachy and verbose as the Police Commisisoner starts philosophizing over the true meaning of the Quran and Jihad. Even though the message is well taken, and Nana Patekar delivers a fine performance here, the movie would have been much stronger without a sermon at the end. Do we need to rehabilitate jihadists on death-row? show them there are no virgins no baths in milk and honey, only scores of victims cursing them out in the afterlife? Any wannabe Jihadist will walk out of the movie or turn off the TV. Sometimes messages clouded in silence speak actually louder. The scene where Kasab is seen thrown on the corpses of his comrades was powerful enough in itself. It didn’t need any dialogue.

So I would have preferred more time dedicated to actual facts and events, which were kind of hushed over and lingered in question marks in my head as I was walking out of the movie. I felt that one third of the entire film was MIA, due to perhaps budgetary restraints or were left behind on the cutting board. Despite some of its weaknesses, this film is incredible and the most powerful moments have etched themselves already into my memory files.

and one question at the end I want to ask RGV: did he bring a vet to the set who knocked out the dog temporarily? or more permanently? I’d like to know. Usually you will see a “no animal was hurt” – maybe I missed it?

Gali Gali Chor Hai: Political reality shaping narrative (not just) in Bollywood

Lately all the movies that we are watching here in the US, from comedy to drama, have at their heart people either out of work, getting the pink slip, searching for jobs while relationships crumble or have to reinvent themselves after calamity strikes, as if filmmakers want to tell us, do not despair. There is a way to wiggle yourself out of financial doom, open your own business, learn a new skill, it may be hard for a while but don’t give up. The Company Men, Horrible Bosses, Larry Crowne, One for the Money (coming up) you can hardly escape the sense of  an economy at the verge of collapse in the movies.  Sure, you got it in Bollywood too: In Anjaana Anjaani, Ranbir Kapoor‘s character Akash wants to commit suicide after gambling away his company and coworkers’ savings, or was it the Wall Street Crash..  In general, though, you will see a new positivism transpiring in Bollywood. You will know what I mean if you watch movies like Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara,  Aisha,  Band Baaja Baarat. India’s economy is doing better than ours.  The middle class is gradually expanding, education is rising, consumerism is the new way of life. Indians who lived abroad now want to go back to their homeland which offers more opportunity.

But there are other realities in India, too. It’s not all rose-water and honey. Life can be complicated in India. Corruption permeates all facets of life, all classes, but especially the top.  Social activist Anna Hazare being  the frontrunner of a social movement fighting corruption and who wants to eradicate  the big C-demon, has been making headlines in India for quite a while now with his tireless efforts to pass the  Lokpal Bill, which is aimed at creating a more transparent system. But I am not a pro, so I don’t know exactly what the bill aims at.

I love romance and light-hearted Bollywood movies  but I find it extremely interesting to listen in on the social commentary of Indian films. It highlights the plight of the people best and sheds light on realities that get shoved under the table, politically. Everyone in India is sick and tired of corruption, only those who gain from it financially oppose all reforms.  So if joblessness is what we see represented in Hollywood, then corruption is the theme India deals with, sometimes in a humorous way, sometimes it gets rough.

For a first screening of Gali Gali Chor Hai (opening Febr 3rd), Anna Hazare was invited, so I am thinking  A) it’s about corruption and B) it must be good or else he wouldn’t show up :-) I don’t know if it will make it to the screens here in the US, though but it will be available later on DVD.





Here are a few memorable Indian movies,  laden with political discourse or satire:


Raajneeti: tt1291465

Rann: tt1451797

Sakar Raj tt0490210

Khosla Ka Ghosla  tt0466460

Bandit Queen tt0109206

Phas Gaye Re Obama

Peepli Live tt1447508



feel free to add others :-)