Taxiing through…


The 40th Auckland International Film Festival concluded on Sunday 27 July. It was my best festival so far. Yes I did fall sick in the last week-I expected to because I was overwhelmed with work and ‘studying films’ 🙂 Every single film I saw had something to offer me. Most were exceptional. If I name one then it is doing injustice to another. A highlight was meeting Yung Chang, the super-intelligent and articulate director of UP THE YANGTZE. A well-made documentary about the human cost of the Three Gorges Dam.

For me, all films (actually everything) is political but apart from Yung’s film, there were three others I saw that stood out with their clear political content. Hana Makhmalbaf’s feature THE BUDDHA COLLAPSED OUT OF SHAME, Ari Folman’s WALTZ WITH BASHIR and Alex Gibney’s TAXI TO THE DARK SIDE. Each film was intense and made me uncomfortable and sad. But with TAXI… I was getting angrier and angrier.

Guantanamo Bay, an entire generation of mentally disturbed Americans who served in the military, more chaos in the Middle East and more ‘terrorists’ (sorry, enemy combatants ya?) are the legacy of white men who think they are superior to the rest of the world. These men are the real war criminals who carry out their actions with impunity and make a lot of money. All in the name of civilisation, democracy and religion.

Whose civilisation, democracy and religion? Maybe they forget that Jesus was an Arab, not an effeminate looking white male with blue eyes.

I find it interesting how in spite of these obvious issues governments around the world continue to pay obeisance to the Americans. Condoleezza Rice was in New Zealand over the weekend. She described New Zealand as an ally. So does that mean we are with them and not against them? That we do not and should not, in the larger scheme of things protest against the actions of war criminal George W Bush?

The same goes to the Indian government. What shenanigans to be subservient to the Americans! All for a nuclear deal that is supposed to give space to India in the elite nuclear club and allow for progress. How, when as a nation that has a trillion dollar plus GDP, India is not able to pull her people out of poverty, is this nuclear deal going to help? By lifting ‘sanctions’ that stop other nations from providing nuclear knowledge and material for civilian purposes? Or basically letting America dictate what we can and can’t do with our own nuclear expertise?

Last week a friend Skyped me to say how the political representatives were making a mockery of democracy in Parliament. I watched it live on the web. The world’s largest democracy in action. Impassioned speeches for and against the deal. Poetry, film songs, wads of cash and Hindutva ideology. (If only the great orator L.K. Advani had not built his career on the platform of hatred…how smartly he segued from talking of the Indian Constitution, Non-Aligned Movement etc to Amarnath pilgrims…) Now India is an American slave. Forget about traditional and historic ties with Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan…forget about resisting imperialism and finding her own unique path…

Now the equations in the subcontinent and the Middle East have changed forever. Maybe there is a potential Guantanamo Bay somewhere in the Andamans? Extraordinary rendition in the Rajasthan desert?

A posterchild for us ethnics once told me that my writing is too India-centric. ‘No one cares for that in New Zealand.’ What a pity. When Kevin Rudd is now planning to sell uranium to India after this deal there is not a single India expert in the current government or in the Opposition. (Unless you count doddering old community leaders and political ‘Indian’ appointees on various boards.) Even the NZ Herald has not bothered to analyse the deal or how it affects the ‘Allies’. Whether I agree with India’s subservience to America or not, it is still a deal with long term geo-political impact.

The three films I mentioned are all from or about the Middle East. WALTZ WITH BASHIR talks of a massacre from 1982, with blood on the hands of Ariel Sharon. BUDDHA…is more immediate, about a little Afghani girl who wants to go to school and TAXI…of course won the Academy Award for best documentary in 2008. Wonder what stories will come out from those affected by the nuclear deal or shall the Indian Muslim p-o-v ever be told? Of how Americans pushed for the nuclear deal and were wheeling and dealing with politicians of all hues; of criminal MPs being let out of jail just to vote; of the impact on the region; of whether the deal really alleviates poverty and brings electricity and power to poor Indians; of New Zealand floundering between not supporting the Iraq invasion to being an ally and turning into a Chinese outpost…maybe I should talk to a producer. There is a story here….of socialism, a nuclear free country that could not be bullied, of Non-Aligned Movements and subservience, of white men who are war criminals but will never be punished…..

Gorging On Films


Life is busy. Madaz busy. And the Auckland International Film Festival started on 10 July. This is my time for absolute self-indulgence in the name of audio-visual education. This is the time when I weave films into my life and work, rather weave my life and work around film sessions. It is a process I have mastered now after attending so many Auckland International Film Festivals.

Get a programme, mark all the films I want to see (about 50) and then eliminate them according to whether they will come back into theatrical release (French films, German films, Michel Gondry and assorted cult filmmakers etc always do), clash with my work or with other sessions. That brings the number down to about 30. One year I did 38 films and was completely filmed-out. So much so I could not bear to watch/update myself about Bollywood films. Its another thing that Bollywood films are quite unbearable after gorging on world class cinema and storytelling. I watch Bollywood cinema because it is what I grew up on and if fascinating in the way it includes so many ideas within a format. It is also fascinating in the way so many ‘other’ (‘non-Indian’) ideas are stolen from across the world and turned into Indian stories. I watch Bollywood cinema for cheap thrills, for the songs and to keep in touch with what is going on back in India. I still think of it as my own popular culture that goras would never understand. Oh and there is a gem or two in there that is really worth watching.

Anyway, back to the film festival…after 38 films one year I decided to be a good girl and limit myself to 25. So far I have managed. Some films I usher for, some films I buy the tickets for, some films I am invited to and some films I get tickets in lieu of ushering. All good I say. Just the way I like it aha-aha.

This year the festival opened with TAKE 3, Roseanne Liang’s very simple and very clever short. That Roseanne is talented is without any doubt and that she brings her Chinese-New Zealand sensibility to her filmmaking is amazing. The feature that followed APRON STRINGS is an indication of festival director Bill Gosden’s foresight about New Zealand filmmaking and the shape of this country. Multicultural. Another story by the immensely talented New Zealand director Sima Urale. I feel proud for the cast and crew involved with APRON STRINGS. These are my mates, my colleagues and my teacher, scriptwriter Shuchi Kothari, who has created space for the likes of me. I feel happy for Leela Patel, who brings so much depth to the role of Tara. (She plays Indian nurse Shanti’s mum on Shortland St.) A well made film with great acting. Nathan Whitaker reminded me of a young Shashi Kapoor from SHARMILEE etc. This dude would do well as the chocolate hero in Bollywood. 🙂

Of course watching these films at The Civic just adds to the experience of cinema.

I worked with Sima, Shuchi and some of the crew members on COFFEE AND ALLAH, playing in the HOMEGROWN section of the festival. I did the protagonist’s costume (the blue burkha) and played the nasty Mrs Indian for all of thirty seconds. The first time I saw myself on the big screen (cast and crew screening) I cringed. It was horribly embarrassing. The second time I saw myself on the screen (yesterday) I wanted to hide under my chair. Although I debuted as an actress in Venice dahlings I don’t think I want to be seen on a film screen. Gosh no! Not that I cannot act…just that I think I don’t look ‘good’ on screen. Prefer to be behind the camera. Absolutely!

Now it is three days into the festival and I have stopped counting how many films I am seeing/have seen. In my diary I have only marked the dates, times and theatres I have to go to. The countdown ends at the closing night film WALTZ WITH BASHIR. Until then, I shall gorge on cinema, work on auto-pilot, do some work, earn my living….and vomit at the end of it all.

Then have visions of my mother lecturing me on over-indulgence.