Saturday, January 29, 2011

Dhobi Ghat--(Mumbai Diaries)

Dhobi Ghat--a well known place in Mumbai. The Dhobis--washers--work in the open washing the clothes of their customers in Mumbai--hotels, hospitals, and others. There are over 700 ghats(washing stations)--I think I read somewhere that it was build during the mid-, late 19th century for the English military officers. The ghats are rented, and these folks launder, with out electricity, everything from undergarments to saris.

Why am I giving you a history of the Dhobi Ghat, and not a review of Kiran Rao's new movie?
Well, knowing about the Ghat is helpful for the movie--as well as much of the story revolve around Munna--the dhobi that ties all the main characters together.

Kiran Rao--who is married to Aamir Khan(though the New York Times review called him Mr. Kiran Rao!)--directed this, her first movie. I am sure having as powerful a husband as Aamir, made her job a bit easier--though I have seen/read an interview with her that she did not originally want her husband in the film. Well, even though he is the biggest star in the film, I feel he is not the biggest character--he pulls together 3 very different people.

Munna-the dhobi--also ties many of the characters together as well--he is the invisible person in Mumbai as well as the movie. Munna is one of the many millions of 'serving' people in this huge city--they bring laundry, lunch, cooking gas, milk, and many other necessities of of modern life to those living in Mumbai. I have also been reading Maximum City, Bombay Lost and Found by Suketu Mehtu. This tale of a man returning to Mumbai with his wife and family from New York City, somehow mirrors this movie by Kiran Rao--you see the underbelly of Mumbai; the dirty streets, the trash dumps, the slums, the dhobi, the falling down buildings built so close to each other that you can peer into your neighbor's kitchen!

Rao brings you into the more real Mumbai--she films not the sparkly studios, but the streets--the beach, the festivals (she filmed the Ganesha Chaturthi when millions of worshipers bring large and small images of Ganesha to the ocean to be cast into the sea-my dream is to one day be in Mumbai for this festival).

This movie may not be for everyone--but it is a very wonderful look at the city that weaves dreams for millions of people all over the world. As I sat their in the theatre with my friend, we marveled at the wonder of Mumbai--but also commented on how dirty it was.

I had hoped that the video diary that Arun had found would have brought us to finding the maker of these tapes--these tapes, filled first with hope, and then with despair--made me weep for the new bride whose dreams were soon dashed.

I encourage you to see this movie--it is a very different film, the background music is melancholy and brooding--but so is the movie. This film gives you a realistic, hopeful view of the Bollywood city of dreams---Mumbai.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Pinjar-another tale of partition

I have had this DVD from Netflix for some time--and needed a quiet bit to watch it. I knew it would be a wrenching story-it dealt with the horrors of partition. It begins as a story of two Hindu families living in the Punjabi region of northern India--the time is 1946--and we who know what is about to happen are struck with apprehension. Puro-a lively young daughter of a well off family is betrothed to a young lawyer-Ramchand. As preparations are made, a young Muslim, Rashid, man sees Puro and immediately falls in love with her--we later learn of the horrible deed he is to do in the name of revenge.
Puro is coming from the fields with her sister, and Rashid gallops up to Puro on his horse and he snatches her from the 'arms of her family'. Puro is held by Rashid--who treats her with deference and love--not taking advantage of her (or does he). Rashid finally tells Puro why he took her-and the family legacy of hatred and fear. Puro escapes one evening and goes back to her family--yet to them she is dead, since she has been taken by a Muslim and her virtue is in question--they put her from her home, and she returns in tears to Rashid-the only one who will have her.
The life she has with Rashid is peaceful and somewhat calm--until the time of partition nears. Rashid and Puro had taken in the infant of a dead Hindu woman who was crazy--yet the officials demand that this Hindu baby be given back to his own people. Rashid shows his love for his wife, he fights for them to keep the infant--yet is forced to comply. Many times you see the love and devotion Rashid has for Puro(now named Hamida--which is tattooed on her arm).
As the Indian military tries to calm the mayhem of partition--Muslims attack and kill Hindus, and kidnap women to be used sexually. One day in the cane fields, Hamida finds a young Hindu girl who has escaped her captors--and brings her home to recover.
As a caravan of refugees from Hamida's home village pass by--Hamida asks her husband to let her help the young girl--he agrees. Hamida brings food and water to the refugees and comes upon her former betrothed--she asks him to help her with the young girl, he tells her of his sister's capture by the Muslims and also asks for her help finding them.

The story then follows Rashid and Hamida as they track down the missing sister, Lajjo, and return her to her family. Hamida has a chance to meet with her brother--as well as to see once more her former fiancee. Both her brother and her former fiancee encourage her to come with them over the border--but she finds that she feels that this now Muslim land is really her home. Her husband, hoping to repent for his earlier crime, leaves her side, thinking that she will wish to return to her family--as she looks around for him, she realizes that he is her life and that she does love him.

This movie may seem to be a bit of a 'downer', but it does show the compassion and strength that people have when times are horrible. I am drawn to the voting now taking place in the Sudan to separate the Christian and Muslim parts of that war-torn country and wonder if the horrors of war there will lead to horrors of partition?