Political Film Society - Newsletter #282 - July 1, 2007

July 1, 2007


In 1984, Indira Gandhi was assassinated by two of her bodyguards. Both were Sikhs. Immediately, afterward, a three-day riot in New Delhi was responsible for the deaths of at least 5,000 innocent Sikhs. An orphan of that riot, three-year-old Amu (played in a flashback by Ekta Sood), was adopted, thanks to an international aid agency, under the name Kaju (played by Konkona Sen Sharma), but she is not told about her family tragedy subsequent to her adoption; instead, she has been told by her adoptive mother, Keya Roy (played by Brinda Karat), that her family died in a malaria epidemic in a small village somewhere. When the film begins, eighteen years after her adoption, Kaju has just graduated from UCLA. Before getting her first job, she decides to go to India with a videocamera to discover her roots. She is greeted by relatives of her adopted parents, tours the city a bit, but is drawn to the slums of the city and a particular railroad yard, images that present a mystery to her. She seems drawn to solve the mystery. Accompanying her on the visits is a Delhi college student, Kabir (played by played by Ankur Khanna), a politician’s son, who is writing a term paper on the 1984 riot. According to Kabir’s father, there is no record of any malaria epidemic. Kaju tries to get more information from her adoptive mother, who knows the truth but does not want Kaju to become depressed over the disquieting circumstances of the loss of her parents, both Sikhs. The film, thus, is a kind of detective story that exposes the complicity of at least one government minister in inciting the anti-Sikh riot as well as the fact that police stood idly by while the violence was in progress. Clearly, there has been an official cover-up of the perpetrators of the riot, and Kaju’s adoptive family members in India are not eager to talk about the matter, associated as it is with negative karma. Director Shonali Bose, who was a nineteen-year-old student at Miranda College in Delhi during the 1984 riots and subsequently worked in Sikh refugee camps, dedicates the film to “Mamma” and gives the years of her lifespan (1943-1986). The message of the film is that nothing has been done by the Indian government to bring anyone to justice for the deaths of so many innocent persons. Within India, references to the government’s role in the riots are censored. Toward the end of the film, anti-Muslim riots in Gujarat during 2002 are described in a brief television broadcast, thereby pointing out that India’s sectarian violence will continue to haunt the world’s largest democracy until someone with political courage acts to quell the madness. The Political Film Society’s response is to nominate Amu as best film exposé of 2007. MH

A Mighty Heart On January 23, 2002, Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl (played by Dan Futterman) and his journalist wife Mariane (played by Angelina Jolie) arrive in Karachi, Pakistan. Although scores of reporters descended on Pakistan to cover the war in Afghanistan, by early 2002 most had left the country. Pearl, however, stays because someone whom he interviewed in Islamabad has offered to set up an interview with Sheik Gilani (played by Ikram Bhatti) in Karachi. As the film unfolds, filmviewers see a chaotic city teeming with people and motor traffic. Pearl, as planned, goes to a restaurant to meet the Sheik, but he finds no such person there. Then mysteriously he boards a taxicab and is not seen alive again. Pregnant Mariane, who remains in almost constant touch with her husband, discovers to her horror that his cellphone is not answering and that he is missing from their residence that night. The next morning, she calls the American embassy, which mobilizes upon the Pakistan police to begin an investigation, though the Interior Minister is coldly indifferent. Soon, the FBI and Pearl’s Wall Street Journal boss arrive in Karachi to assist. After five weeks, a videotape of his beheading arrives. Mariane returns to Paris and writes the book on which the film is based. Titles at the end inform filmviewers of later developments; for example, a suspected ringleader in the kidnapping is arrested and shipped to Guantánamo. The movie features the extraordinarily thorough manner in which Pakistani police try to track down Pearl’s whereabouts, including a scene where one prisoner is forced, presumably by torture, to confess a lead. Gilani, it turns out, knew nothing of the kidnap plot. Directed by Michael Winterbottom, A Mighty Heart implies that the decision to rough up Pearl was in retaliation for the mass arrest of Afghans and Pakistanis and their well-publicized mistreatment upon reaching Guantánamo, since a photograph of Pearl shows him in a stress position similar to televised images of the Guantánamo detainees. Downplayed also are demands made by the kidnappers, though there is film footage of a refusal by Secretary of State Colin Powell to negotiate with the kidnappers because they are terrorists. The Political Film Society has nominated A Mighty Heart as best film exposé of 2007. MH