American Jews for A Just Peace (AJJP) stands up for ‘Miral’

MIRAL, Writer: Rula Jebreal; Director: Julian Schnabel; Cast: Hiam Abbass, Freida Pinto

We, at American Jews For A Just Peace, www.ajjp.org, stand in support of filmmaker Julian Schnabel and Harvey Weinstein in their efforts to distribute Miral, a new film based on the autobiographical novel by Palestinian journalist Rula Jebreal. Miral tells the story of three generations of Palestinian women, and in particular an orphaned Palestinian girl, as they navigate the personal and political landscapes of their times, starting with the creation of the state of Israel in 1948, through the first nonviolent Palestinian uprising against Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip in 1987, to the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993. Miral is not a documentary or a polemic; it is a window into the lives of Palestinians, whose voices have gone unheard in the United States for far too long.

We, at American Jews For Just Peace, stand in opposition to the efforts by the American Jewish Congress and the Israeli government’s efforts to block the film’s showing at the United Nations and other venues.

Censor Board denies certificate to “Flames of the Snow”

New Delhi, June 22: Indian Censor Board has refused to certify ‘Flames of the Snow’, a documentary on Nepal, for public screening. The Board feels that the film ‘tells about Maoist movement in Nepal and justifies its ideology.’ It feels that ‘keeping in view the recent Maoist violence in some parts of the country’, the permission of its public screening can not be given. Produced under the joint banner of ‘GRINSO’ and ‘Third World Media’, the 125 minute film has been produced by Anand Swaroop Verma, a senior journalist and expert on Nepalese affairs. He has also written the script for the film. The film has been directed by Ashish Srivastava.

Reacting to the decision of the Board, Mr. Verma said it is quite surprising as the film does not have any reference at all to the current Maoist movement in India. The film is only about the struggle of the people of Nepal against the despotic Monarchy and the anarchic reign of Ranas. With the formation of Nepal in the year 1770 by Prithvi Narayan Shah, the foundation was laid for Monarchy in Nepal which was finally given a burial in the year 2008 when Nepal was declared a Republic. Thus 238 years of Monarchy also included 105-year rule of Rana dynasty which is known as the black chapter in the history of Nepal.

Talking about the film, Mr. Verma further said that the film actually shows how in 1876 Lakhan Thapa, a young man from Gorkha district organized the peasants against the atrocities being unleashed by the rulers of Rana dynasty and was, later, put on gallows by these rulers. Even today, Lakhan Thapa is remembered as the first Nepali martyr. Exploring the movements led by ‘Praja Parishad’ and ‘Nepali Congress’ against the despotic system, the film focuses on the armed struggle carried on under the leadership of the Maoists for 10 years and unfolds the story of how the movement mobilized the Nepalese people by first attacking and dismantling the feudal system in the rural areas and subsequently taking the people’s movement to the urban areas bringing more urbanites into its fold.

The film begins with the establishment of monarchy in Nepal, further touching the developments like the elections for the constituent assembly, the emergence of Maoists as the largest party in the elections and finally ends by showing the decline and complete disappearance of Monarchy and Nepal being declared a Republic.

Taking note of the objections put forward by the Censor Board, it seems that the Board will never give its certification to any political film made on Nepal since no political film on Nepal can escape underlying the prominent role of Maoists. Maoist party was heading the government in Nepal till May 2009 and even today is the largest party in the Constituent Assembly and is the main opposition party. Moreover its president Pushp Kamal Dahal ‘Prachand’ as the Prime Minister of Nepal had visited India on the invitation of the Government of India.

Mr Verma is now submitting his film to Revising Committee of the Board.

Event: Occupied! Workers’ Factory Occupations North and South

Film Screening and Debate

Date: Saturday, April 17, 2010
Time: 1:30pm – 5:30pm
Location: Indian Social Institute (ISI) 10, Institutional Area, Lodi Road, New Delhi (India)

We will screen two short documentaries about workers’ occupation of Visteon car parts factory in London in April 2009 and the occupation of Hero Honda plant near Gurgaon in May 2008. Marco, who has been involved in the Visteon occupation, will share his experience. We want to debate about the potentials and difficulties of workers’ struggles in Delhi’s industrial belt and about what kind of practice a revolutionary left can develop in support.

Enfield, England
“Visteon Occupation – they fight for us all” (20min)

After the crisis blow of autumn 2008 the global car industry started an attack on its work-force. The Ford subsidiary Visteon decided to shut down three plants in the UK – the workers responded by spontaneous occupation. The documentary shows the self-activity of workers and the role of state and unions. We will have the possibility to discuss with a comrade who was actively involved in the occupation.

More about Visteon Struggle

Gurgaon, India

“Interview with Hero Honda Workers” (20min)

In the last years there have been several ‘wild’ occupations of factories in Gurgaon. The occupations were organised mainly by workers hired through contractors and they remained largely unknown to the wider public: five days occupation at Hero Honda and Delphi in Gurgaon in 2006, at Medikit and Honda HMSI in 2007, at Hero Honda in Dharuhera in 2008. These struggles ask us – a revolutionary left – about our potentials of practical support. Comrades of Faridabad Majdoor Talmel will present some ideas.

More about Hero Honda and other struggles in Gurgaon

A Discussion with the Producer of “Inside the Revolution”, Roberto Navarrete

A discussion with the Producer of “Inside the Revolution: A Journey into the Heart of Venezuela”, Roberto Navarrete, preceded by the screening of the film.
Date: Monday, 12/04/2010. Time: 2:00-5:00 pm
Location: Indian Social Institute 10, Institutional Area, Lodi Road, New Delhi (India)

Inside the Revolution: A Journey into the Heart of Venezuela
(Director Pablo Navarrete, 65mins, Alborada Films, 2009)

February 2009 marked 10 years since Hugo Chavez took office, following a landslide election victory, and launched his revolution to bring radical change to Venezuela. While wildly popular with many in the country, Chavez’s policies and his strongly-worded criticisms of the U.S. government have also made him powerful enemies, both at home and abroad, especially in the media.

Filmed in Caracas in November 2008, on the eve of the 10th anniversary of Chavez’s controversial presidency, this feature-length documentary takes a journey into the heart of Venezuela’s revolution to listen to the voices of the people driving the process forward.

The film traces the recent history of Venezuela, before and after the election of Hugo Chavez to the presidency, using archive material and interviews with Venezuelans living in the barrios of Caracas who are involved in community and social movements. The achievements and challenges facing the Bolivarian process are put into context by means of interviews with leading Venezuelan social scientists Edgardo Lander and Javier Biardeau, as well as the Canadian economist Michael Lebowitz, who currently lives in Venezuela.

“This is a rare film about Venezuela, a country in extraordinary transition. Watch this film because it is honest and fair and respectful of those who want to be told the truth about an epic attempt, flaws and all, to claim back the humanity of ordinary people.”

– John Pilger (Journalist, author and documentary filmmaker)

“A lively, well-researched documentary which pulls off that most difficult of tasks – an honest account of the achievements and the weaknesses of the Chavez government.”

– Sue Branford (Journalist, former Latin American analyst for the BBC World Service)

On ‘Inglorious Basterds’, its reviews and its reviewers

Paresh Chandra

Author: Ubaldo Martinez from United States
A fun, engrossing, beautifully crafted piece of nonsense, the likes of which we hadn’t seen in a long, long time. The silliness of the story is marvellously camouflaged with great dialogue and some superb performances….What is already one of Tarantino’s trademarks is his sure step along the most immediately recognizable bits of pop culture. He’s clearly not a cultured man but a pop expert, king in a world where people get their news from TV, don’t read, other than magazines and comics, etc. That’s how it happens, to be in the right place at the right time. For better or worse these are Tarantino times.

Author: borromeot from United States
Very entertaining, that’s for sure. Great little moments “inspired” by other movies. “The Guns Of Navarone”, “Operation Crossbow” and a myriad of 70’s B exploitation Italian movies. Tarantino is certainly clever and knows how to use the camera but then, I have to say it, nothing. The childish “divertimento” dressed in smart ass dialog remains there. The entertainment value is, perhaps, the most one should expect from a movie but it seems a damn shame that such a talent should be put at the service of something so one dimensional.

Author: namashi_1 from India
Quentin Tarantino is according to me, the finest Filmmaker of this generation. and if there’s any doubt in you about that fact, watch ‘Inglorious Basterds’ and you’ll understand what I am talking about…This film is a work of fiction, over here Hitler is brutally killed. The biggest plus point of this film is that ‘The Basterds’ win, ‘The Audience’ win. Over here, our revenge-full heroes bash up the baddies brutally, leaving us satisfied.
Source: IMDB

Jonathan Swift (on infectivity of satire) in ‘A Tale of a Tub’
…there is not, through all Nature, another so callous and insensible a Member as the World’s Posterior, whether you apply to it the Toe or the Birch.

On whom is the joke? Nazis being the ultimate bad guys of history, any film that is based around World War II is usually ‘figured out’ with black and white categories rather uncharacteristic of criticism/theory these days. In Tarantino’s film the Nazis are portrayed unequivocally as comic, stupid, and inhuman. The only exception is Landa, who is comic, clever and inhuman. Since the film is named after them, it can be assumed that ‘The Basterds’ are the ‘heroes.’

It is the ill luck of all good parody that most mistake it for what it parodies. What happens in the film? The US plays saviour again. This is, in fact, a retelling of the origins of Saviour US. The first time it took what has now become its most characteristic avatar, was in World War II. The tale of how the US entered the War, or of how US citizens kept flying in to fight in battles even when the US had not officially entered, has been told way to many times to keep track. The same happens this time – here Saviour US also manages to keep its politically correct ‘multicultural’ identity; the Basterds are black-haired Jews (the anachronism is a nice indication of how the past is retold in terms that suit the present). So, these American heroes go into Nazi occupied territory and ostensibly ‘scare the shit out of’ the Nazis.

All the Nazi big-shots are going to attend the first screening of a film (made especially on Hitler’s orders) about a Nazi sniper who killed over a hundred Allied soldiers all alone. The film is to raise the spirits of the Nazi troops. The Basterds, with some help from ‘Command,’ plan to burn down the theatre in which the film is being screened. The theatre is owned by a French Jew (Shosanna) who is undercover and whose parents were killed by Landa (the Jew Hunter). The film is being screened here because Shosanna is the crush of the German sniper-hero, who persuades those in charge to screen the movie in her theatre. Shosanna too, with her black boyfriend, hatches a plot to kill the Nazi leadership.

This assumption that the Basterds are the protagonists is punctured easily by observation of the amount of actual screen time they get. This aside, their plan, and each improvisation they make fails. The original plan fails because an American disguised as a German officer is caught because of his accent, the improvisations because of Landa’s detective work. Landa kills Bridget (the German actress who was in the plan with the Americans) and arrests Aldo (Brad Pitt), the leader of the Basterds. Landa, gives Aldo a choice – either Aldo gets for him, from the American state, a house in Hawaii and lots of money to go with it, in which case Landa would let the plan proceed, or Landa would arrest the remaining Basterds who are at this point in the theatre, plotting. Aldo agrees, the American state agrees, the plan is allowed to go on. However, neither Landa nor Aldo have taken Shoshanna into account, and it is she who locks the doors and sets the theatre on fire. It was her plan that actually worked.

That they were unable to get hold of Hitler must have really pissed the Saviours off. They tried to make up by getting Saddam (in addition to many, many others). With Hitler, his distinction automatically implied that the Americans were on the side of right. By the time Saddam came along, everybody knew that the Americans were decidedly on the side of right, and so the former was automatically all wrong. This movie offers a Freudian wish-fulfilment to the Saviour’s consciousness. The Americans in the theatre, make sure that they shoot Hitler (who would have died in any case), and as many other Nazis as possible (who would have died in any case as well). Of course, unlike the wish fulfilments of the culture industry, this one is not subliminal. In being only too manifest, it signifies that it is not the latent thought underlying the film. As often in Tarantino movies, art’s subject is art itself. He offers us that, which is offered to us by many American war movies, and many more ‘Westerns,’ but the tonality of the offer is markedly different. The matter of fact way in which heroism is posited in the original genres, makes the message too obvious to question. In Tarantino’s parody, the comical side of that heroism is shown to us. Because of the change of tone, one is allowed space to think, and question, and reject.

The Nazis die because of Shoshanna, and Aldo lives because of Landa. Of course, the Americans don’t know about Shoshanna, so for them Landa was also responsible for the end of the Nazi leadership, and the War in Europe. Typically, Aldo, the drawling American must have the last word, and so carves the Swastika on Landa’s forehead before the latter gets his rewards from the American government. It’s a very solid last word, as last words go, and Aldo is able to regain his lost cockiness. Usually, however, it is an icing on the cake after the hero wins (“Hasta la vista, baby!”). This time, its only virtue is that it’s funny and seems like a grand thing to do. But it has nothing grand to back it up. Of course, then it makes one wonder if there is anything really grand about any of these gestures. Viewers often recognise pop culture references in Tarantino movies but don’t see what these do. By parodying them Tarantino’s reveals the lie of a lot of pop culture, and manages to do it even as he seems to be placed inside it.

While talking of this film, it occurs to me, that the transition from talking about it in relation to politics, in the narrow sense, to talking about it as a film, is quite smooth. It could, of course, be that these are my private preoccupations that allow this seemingly smooth transition. But I would argue that this is not a matter of idiosyncratic hermeneutics, but is the reflection of an important quality of the film. In parodying earlier films, Tarantino is taking on the meta-narrative of American imperialism, and the sugar-coated justifications for a US led unipolar world, that Hollywood has fed, and continues to feed the world on. In his famous essay, ‘The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism’, Jameson argued: 1) with postmodernism the distinction between pop culture and high art begins to vanish, and 2) the link between art and the market becomes more direct than ever. This, however, does not imply that Adorno’s observations about pop culture cease to be relevant. They are as relevant as ever – pop culture continues to lie. A work that takes on pop culture takes on the lie. When Conrad had parodied the adventure novel, and put forth an extremely powerful critique of colonialism, he was still producing ‘high art’ (there were times when he failed, and it became impossible to extricate his work from the larger mass of adventure novels). Tarantino manages to be indisputably popular and yet deconstructs popular myths that constitute the biggest confidence tricks.

Slumdog Millionaire: Do Slumdogs Make a Nation Proud?

Gilbert Sebastian

The film, Slumdog Millionaire depicts the sorry state-of-affairs in our country: extreme poverty, communal carnages, ‘children left to moral and material abandonment’, gangs operating forced beggary, mafia underworld, torture in police custody, arrogance of the elite, insensitivity of the middle class …. In short, it paints the horrendous reality and the ugly face of the Other India and also the dreams, aspirations and heroic struggles of those inhabiting therein. Plausibly, the depiction of the day-to-day heroic struggles of the underdogs in our country looks exotic for the audience from affluent countries (quite like the thrill of an adventurous trekking!) which might explain the reason why the film was a greater success in those countries than in our own country. It depicts the underbelly of the fast-growing economy leaping forward with 8-9 per cent growth even in the midst of the global financial meltdown – the only country, other than China, with impressive growth rates today. For all the criticisms of portraying the gloomy side of the Indian reality, hardly anyone contests the veracity of such a depiction. The film, of course, ends giving illusions of a millionaire’s life even to the slumdogs, an illusion of social mobility that characterises the liberal democratic social order. In other words, a way-out is shown within the bounds of the system itself.

Of course, the upwardly mobile classes in India detest projecting a grim face of India to the world outside because it is thought of as a slur on the image of an India globalising. It took Danny Boyle, a foreigner to paint this ugly face of ‘India shining’. The film reminds us of the statement by B.R. Ambedkar, “Democracy in India is only a top-dressing on the Indian soil, which is essentially undemocratic.” The age-old Indian system of multi-layered oppression ensured that most individuals and groups find themselves more privileged with respect to some others, leaving their moral bases for challenging oppression weak. Is it simply that we, the Indian middle and upper classes have ourselves, become too complacent or indifferent towards the day-to-day existential struggles of our ‘long suffering people’, struggles, probably much more severe than in any other Third World country? Or is this cunning of silence to be explained with reference to the fact that the existence of a vast population of have-nots ensures the comfort of the elite. After all, do not the elite of the affluent countries have to take care of their young, cook, wash and do other mundane things by themselves when the elite in India do not have to do any of these? However, the sustainability of this level of comfort is suspect since the existence of a vast population of the underdogs can lead to social upheavals and increased levels of violence in society, an aspect not left untouched by this film. Or is it that we are trapped in the snare of our own patriotism, guided by the mindset that we shouldn’t wash our dirty linen in public?

President Pratibha Patil congratulated the artists of Slumdog Millionaire for “making India proud”. Congress President Sonia Gandhi felt that the team of this film “have done India proud”. Shall we, indeed, become proud of the achievements of these individual artists or put our heads down in shame on the sorry state-of-affairs in our country on the 62nd year of ‘independence’? With the Oscar recognition to the film, “Jai ho” is the new fashion of greeting that is going rounds among the so-called patriotic Indians. But just a minute, please. Jai ho what? Jai ho this sorry state-of-affairs? Jai ho our country, excluding its luckless millions? Let us face it: If only this film leads to serious efforts especially by those in positions of ‘doability’ to undo the evil of unprotected childhoods – a condition of children being left to ‘moral and material abandonment’ could the yells of Jai ho have any meaning or relevance. Can the State, the policy makers and all in positions of ‘doability’ initiate sincere efforts to remove this curse? It is the election year, after all. Let us have serious efforts for the implementation of at least one of the Directive Principles in our Constitution, Article 39(f): “The State shall, in particular, direct its policy towards securing that children are given opportunities and facilities to develop in a healthy manner and in conditions of freedom and dignity and that childhood and youth are protected against exploitation and against moral and material abandonment.” Along with the infamous horrors of Nithari near NOIDA, 7,912 children, mostly from very poor backgrounds, gone missing in Delhi during the one and half years from Jan. 2007 to June 2008 and 2210 children gone missing in Delhi during 1 June 2008 to 12 Jan. 2009 (Indian Express, ‘ExpressNewsline’, 3 March 2009, New Delhi) is no mean context for initiating these efforts. Listening to the unthinking yells of Jai ho, one is reminded of two lines from the Telugu poet, N.K.:

Even to this day, the shackles of my country are not broken …
Who has composed a tune for ungotten freedom?

Gilbert Sebastian works as an Associate Fellow at Council for Social Development, New Delhi. Contact: gilbert_sebs@yahoo.co.in

‘Mine’ – A film on the Dongria Kondh’s fight against Vedanta

With stunning footage from the mountain forests of Orissa state, India, Survival‘s new short film, Mine: Story of a Sacred Mountain tells the current situation of the Dongria Kondh tribe as they face and fight their own destruction. Right now, UK-based, FTSE100 firm Vedanta Resources is pushing ahead with a bauxite mine which will devastate their livelihoods and sacred sites. In this film, their voice is heard. The film is narrated by Indian-born actress Joanna Lumley and features music by Skin.

Quotes

There is no question of any placement of any person or persons. The Dongria Kondh tribe does not reside in this area. Vedanta Resources letter to Survival, 2008

We are used to the Indian government here. But the Vedanta government has come and devastated so many people. They won’t let us live in peace. They want to take these rocks from the mountain. But if they take away these rocks, how will we survive? Because of these the rain comes. The winter comes, the wind blows, the mountain brings all the water. If they take away these rocks, we’ll all die. We’ll lose our soul. Niyamgiri is our soul. Sikaka Lodu, Dongria Kondh man, November 2008

You should go to Lanjigarh and find out how the refinery came to be there. Life is so hard there. Now that people there have realised what is happening they are speaking out against it. Initially they welcomed the company but now they realise their mistake because they live like dogs. Now they realise they’ve lost their land and their homes forever. Vedanta has stolen everything from them. Go to Lanjigarh and see it for yourself. Sikaka Lodu, Dongria Kondh man, November 2008

Listen to me, dear brothers and sisters, did you hear everything? We need people from outside to stand with us. Then we have to fight. Then we can survive. We can save our land. And we can be in charge of our territory. Pidikaka Bari, Dongria Kondh man, November 2008

Courtesy: Survival International

Gunga Din: Creating an Illusion of Permanence

Priyanka Srivastava

The 1939 Hollywood film, Gunga Din, is based on a short poem by Rudyard Kipling, which was published in 1892. This poem narrates the story of a low-caste bhishti (water career), Gunga Din, who lost his life while fulfilling his duty of quenching the thirst of wounded soldiers in the British Indian Army. Producer RKO and director George Stevens of Hollywood made a swashbuckler, cinematic version of the poem. This high-adventure drama is located in the rugged region of the North-West Frontier Provinces (NWFP) of the late nineteenth century colonial India. The screen adaptation of Kipling’s poem illustrates a breathtaking tale of three adventurous British Sergeants and their ‘low witted’ Indian water bearer’s fight against a vicious gang of thugs, a supposedly religious cult of ritualistic stranglers in colonial India who worshiped the ferocious Hindu goddess, Kali. These three confident British officers are assigned the task of eliminating thugee in NWFP.

Apart from being a brave protector of the Raj, one of these officers, Sergeant Cutter is also a gold digger. Gunga Din convinces him to make the dangerous journey to a mysterious temple and claim its hidden treasures. However, upon reaching this temple, Sergeant Cutter discovers that it is actually a hiding place for thugs. Rest of the film is a tale of the three Sergeants’ determination, shrewdness and bravery in fighting the ‘savage’ thugs. The developed cinematic representation of Kipling’s short verse was remarkable for its magnitude, sophisticated cinematography, engaging performances, and a tight, suspense-filled script. This cinematic text, however, is equally important for its specific portrayal of British and Indian characters as well as its emphasis on the ‘civilizing’ role of the empire.

Although it was produced in Hollywood, Gunga Din represented a dominant British discourse regarding the empire and Indian society. In view of the nineteenth century liberal, utilitarian and Evangelical reformers, India was a land of stationary and superstitious religions and cultures. In this context, the primitive practices of sutee and thugee were often cited to underline the characteristics of a ‘bloodthirsty’ and ‘irrational’ people. Such constructions created a hierarchy of the civilizations, situating Britain at top while India was placed at the bottom. British imperial ideology thus deployed its superior position to legitimize its colonization of India as a moral mission, which would civilize and modernize India. In this sense, Gunga Din’s most striking twist to Kipling’s poem is the depiction of a resurrection of the thugee cult. This addition to the main narrative not only gave a sensational angle to the film but also confirmed India’s supposed insularity to forces of progress. Along with the cinematic shots of snakes, elephants, and the references to buried treasures, this emphasis on thugee conjures an exotic and inherently ‘different’ image of the orient.

In one of the opening sequences, a British Colonel tells his subordinates that thugee was a murderous, Hindu religious cult that had spread throughout India and Ceylon whereas historically it was limited mainly to central India. These factual errors apart, the existence of thugee as a coherent and specifically religious cult, different from other bands of dacoits, is still a debatable question among historians. In the early nineteenth century, its members included landless peasants and unemployed people who were forced to adopt criminal methods as a survival strategy. However, in colonial records, thugee was defined as a specific cult whose presence was another example of natives’ ‘barbarity’. Its supposed elimination by a British soldier and administrator Sir W H Sleeman illustrated the British empire’s enlightening role in India. In this context, the film’s central narrative around thugee has certain important implications. The fictitious reincarnation of thugee in Gunga Din frames colonial India as a timeless and stagnant society. One of the scenes shows a group of thugs damaging telegraph wires and forcefully driving away the inhabitants of a village, which depicts them as a threat to modernity and colonial order. In contrast, the discipline, shrewdness and concerns of British army men show their determination to protect the colony against such retrogressive forces. In many ways thus, this film could be compared with American journalist Katherine Mayo’s 1927 book, Mother India, which provided graphic details of Indian ‘savagery’ and ‘backwardness.’ While this highly circulated book stimulated waves of angry rejoinders from Indian nationalist leaders in both Britain and the US it reestablished the Raj as a necessary evil and a ‘civilizing mission’. Both Gunga Din and Mother India emphasized colonial people’s backwardness and thus held them responsible for their own political subjugation.

Moreover, it is not accidental that the thugs and their leader, Guru, are shown using the nationalist and revolutionary jargons of the early twentieth century anti-imperialist struggles. The film deliberately superimposes nationalist consciousness onto a criminal group to undermine the growing mass appeal of both Gandhian nationalist and socialist revolutionary organizations of the 1920s and 30s. For example, the leader of the thugs is a replica of Gandhi. Although actor Eduardo Ciannelli’s muscular frame makes him unfit to play a look alike of Gandhi, his loin cloth, shaved head, bamboo staff, slightly bended body as well as the language of sacrifice and nationalism consistently remind viewers of the Congress leader. Moreover, many militant nationalist leaders, particularly those coming from Bengal and Maharashtra, were followers of Hindu goddess Kali and Bhawani. Gunga Din’s depiction of Kali’s followers as a sinister lot effectively ridicules such revolutionary movements as nothing but primitive and diabolical designs against western forces of progress and modernity.

Since the beginning of the nationalist opposition of its rule in India, the empire had frequently projected itself as a champion of the interests of the Muslims and lower castes. The images of Hindu thugs’ attack on Muslim villages reinforced minorities’ anxieties about a hegemonic Hindu nationalism. Although the Hindu nationalist underpinnings of the Indian National Congress are undeniable, in the particular context of the NWFP, Gunga Din undermined the efforts of the Red Shirts and the Indian National Congress for building a common front against British Imperialism. The portrayal of dalit water career, Gunga Din reflects a same patronizing attitude. Although the sergeants frequently use verbal violence against the “untouchable” and lower-ranked bhishti, their condescending behavior to him simultaneously shows the white man’s greater capability to accommodate the outcasts of Indian society. In reality, the post 1857 British policies consciously aimed at forming alliances with the upper castes and aristocratic sections of Indian society. The non-ranked, lower position of dalit Gunga Din is a reflection of this upper caste bias in imperial institutions including the army. Apparently Gunga Din aspired to become a soldier in the army, an ambition which merely creates comic situations in the film. Therefore, despite a positive depiction of the raj, the film clearly shows that the caste biases of ‘civilized’ British officers were hardly different from the views of ‘uncivilized’, upper caste/class Indians.

Cinema studies scholars frequently point out that a strong and successful cinematic history takes artistic liberties to produce a less academic and more marketable narrative. However, such creative adjustments should be balanced, tolerant, and thoughtful. Gunga Din could be judged as an authentic film in its depiction of imperial army and attitudes of some British officers about India and Indians. However, it thoroughly ignores Indian people’s anti-imperialist struggles and represents an apologetic perspective on the Raj. The emphasis on Hindu nationalism and the overwhelming shots of Indian army men killing and chasing away the thugs (rebels) show the division among Indians. In the late 1930s a worldwide economic depression and Indian nationalist demands had substantially weakened the British Empire. In this backdrop empire films such as Gunga Din emphasized the military aspect of the empire, creating a false consciousness of imperial control over the colony, an illusion of permanence.

Priyanka Srivastava is a graduate student at the Department of History, University of Cincinnati. Her doctoral research focuses on labor and gender history of South Asia.