Sunday, 23 December 2012

A Critique of the United Nations from Within

Kofi Annan, the seventh secretary-general of the United Nations, after remitting office in 2006, was the United Nations and Arab League envoy to Syria for six months until August 2012. He quit frustrated over the UNSC’s failure to come to a decision over Syria. It might seem surprising that a former secretary-general is criticising the UN, but if one were to read his Interventions, it will be clear that he has never shied from pointing out the pitfalls in the UN.
Interventions has eight chapters, each dealing with a different challenge and providing a different insight. Kofi Annan speaks about his role and growth in the UN. Interestingly, Annan gives a 360 degree view of each of the situations, tries to give a point of view of both the parties and makes it appear that though each time a peaceful solution was at reachable distance, it was not attained because of simple reasons.
The prologue is a powerful extract of what the book has to offer. A highlight is the scathing remarks he has for the ways world countries have gone about furthering ‘peace’ and is also critical of the role the UN has played in certain areas.

In statements like “For much of the global community in those days (after the 9/11 attacks)…the greatest threat to world peace came not from Saddam, but from an enraged and vengeful United States” and “Despite the singular contribution of the United States to the UN’s founding and its mission in the decades that followed, after Iraq, America was too often unwilling to listen, and the world unable to speak its true mind”, one can see the frustration Annan has towards Washington’s bulldozing ways. Kofi Annan does not mince his words when he says that the US went into Iraq hunting for WMDs on “highly circumstantial evidence” and doubts Tony Blair’s ability to “act as a credible mediator” during the Lebanon war.
The Ghanaian diplomat regrets to be the first UN secretary-general to endorse military action without the sanction of the UNSC in the 1999 Serbian campaign. He also regrets UN’s failure in Rwanda and Bosnia. A very astute statesman is seen in Annan when he says that if the UN has to achieve its primary role in today’s world, “we would have to acknowledge our past failures and set out a vision for how we would act differently in the future”.
Peacekeeping is a very important role the UN plays around the world. However, it will be hard to believe that before 1992 there were only a few hundreds of UN observers around the world deputed under the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO). By 1994, this changed. There were around 80,000 peacekeeping forces around the world. Annan, as deputy chief of the DPKO, was witness to this change—albeit for the worse. He notes how An Agenda for Peace, developed at a January 1992 meeting, changed the nature of peacekeeping missions.
Interventions by Kofi Annan is a must read for anyone who wants to know more about the United Nations from someone who has been a part of the organisation for five decades. It gives an unprecedented view into the workings within the UN. A 2001 Nobel Peace Laureate, Kofi Annan is perhaps one of the few people who have been part of the UN at a very crucial time — conflicts in Rwanda, Somalia, East Timor, Darfur, Kosovo; the global fight against HIV/AIDS; the Millennium Development Goals and the war on terror. It’s not often one gets to see such literature.
(This appeared on December 23 in the books page of The New Indian Express)

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Ente: Human Trafficking Comes to Celluloid

Every second movie that comes out on any given Friday is based on a ‘real story’. It is a tag line that has been done to death and is passed off along with the disclaimer. So when social activist Sunita Krishnan, Founder General Secretary of Prajwala, dons the hat of a film producer and when her movie has a tag line ‘a never before told true story’, eyebrows are bound to rise. “I am aware that there is a chance for a prejudice that, since I am a social activist and Rajesh Touchriver is a filmmaker whose documentary films are famous, the film is also on those lines. However, Ente is far from that. Rajesh (Touchriver), while ensuring that the scenes are true to the real events, has made sure that its entertainment quotient is not lost. The promos for Ente are slick and it’s an edge-of-the-seat thriller.”
Ente produced by M S Rajesh and Sunita Krishnan and directed by Rajesh Touchriver is a story about human trafficking and stars veteran Malayalam actor Siddique and NSD product Anjali Patil (in pic above). Ente is a movie about human trafficking. “I’ve conducted many talks and done short films to get across the message of human trafficking. I have personally rescued more than 1,500 girls and each one is a story in itself. However, there was this one incident that really shook me. It had to be told.”
Sunita Krishnan, who is also the concept adviser for the film, calls Ente a ‘family thriller’. “Ente is not your usual masala thriller with stunts by the hero and item numbers at the silliest of pretext. It’s a movie you can go and watch with your family. In fact that is how one should go and watch this film. It deals with a story that can happen to anyone; to anyone’s sister, daughter or friend. Every man watching the movie could be the father, brother, husband or friend caught in such a situation. I want the movie to linger in the minds of the audience and slowly sink into each person long after they have left the theatre. They should realise that human trafficking is an evil that is prevalent in their midst. It is not this distant vice that until recently was considered to not happen in ‘our society’.”
Ente is slated for a December 21 release and is pitted against at least four other movies that release at the same time. “The number of screens in Kerala is coming down over the years while the number of movies releasing each year is on the rise. We’ve had a lot of difficulty in going about with the release and are still on it. So it’s a great thing that we are able to release the film during the Christmas holidays. It has all the elements of a mainstream thriller and with the brilliant performances of Siddique and Anjali Patil it can’t go wrong,” says a confident Sunita. It’s the same confidence that comes across when Siddique says, “These days it’s hard to judge any movie before it hits the theatres. Gone are those days when the outcome of a movie could be predicted. The audience are changing and Ente is a good and different movie. It is something that the Malayalam industry and audience have not seen till date.”
Ente, is a bilingual (in Telugu as Na Bangarru Talli) has music by Bollywood composer Shantanu Moitra (of Parineeta fame) and features a song by Shreya Ghosal, which by now is a hit in the social networking circuit.

'I have no Image'

Among the kaleidoscope of roles he has portrayed, we’ve seen Siddique as a comedian and we’ve seen him as a menacing villain. However, to quote the actor, in Ente he is doing a “life changing role”. “As an actor every role is challenging and different…but what stood out in Ente is a story. It’s the story of a father and daughter; a very caring father who in a moments time loses his daughter.”
A highlight of the movie is that scenes have been shot in locations where the real incident took place. “We went to real locations for shooting this film. There is a scene in a brothel and a lot of women there hurl abuses at the protagonist. Rajesh (Touchriver) has focused on small things and has shown them as real as possible. It was an entirely different experience.”

Sunita Krishnan, while agreeing that the role of the protagonist was initially offered to a senior actor, has no regrets now. “Things happen for a purpose. While the actor we approached was concerned about his ‘image’, I now can’t think of anyone other than Siddique for the role of the father. He has done a brilliant job and has done absolute justice to the character.”
When asked if he had apprehensions about the role and whether it would affect his image, Siddique was quick to reply: “I don’t have an image. I do all kinds of roles — both negative and positive. It’s superstars who are worried about their ‘image’.”
(An edited version of this appeared in The New Indian Express on December 12)

Sunday, 2 December 2012

This Talaash Gives Mixed Results

A poster of the movie belonging to the maker of Talaash

Talaash starts with a bang — there is an uncanny eeriness to Mumbai that almost makes one feel that it is too good to be true. From here the movie builds pace and just when the script is getting you to the edge of the seat with the twists and turns (gripping ones I should say) the director brings in the side track (or second track) focusing on the personal life of the protagonist cop. This shift — and it is an agonising one — robs the film of its momentum. Imagine you’re in a night club where the mood is picking up and suddenly the dance floor changes into a classroom — and you find yourself listening to a lecture on the agrarian practises in 16th Century India.
This lull is lifted towards the interval only to fall back into the ravine in the second half. There is a scene in the film where Inspector Shekhawat (the character Khan plays) manages to catch some sound sleep — it’s a good scene. Just make sure you wake up when he does the next morning. Things pick up towards the end but by then there’s little left for even a mind on sleep mode to fathom.
The central plot or the main thread of the film is in itself a very good, engaging and sumptuous story with all vital elements required. Director Reema Kagti, I feel, by bringing in the side track has not been able to do justice to either part in the film.
Having said that, the movie stands on its own thanks to the good performances by the actors. Aamir Khan lives up to all the sound surrounding the film. Rani Mukherji is pleasant as always — never mind her character is stuck in perpetual pathos. Kareena Kapoor as Rosy is the brilliance of the director (casting director) because there is a lethal beauty in Rosy’s helpless which (I guess) only Kareena could do justice to. Nawazuddin Siddiqui is effortlessly eloquent.
One very good thing the director has ensured is that the Inspector Shekhawat (with all the emotional swings) is just a cop — nothing more, nothing less. Khan, to his credit, has managed to bring a very everyday and simple gravitas to a character that could have easily been overdone. This police inspector has nothing special about him, he is no Jack Bauer who gets a whiff of who is behind the crime by standing next to the body, nor is he the muscle-ripping filmi police who solves cases using the Hulk in him. He rattles his subordinates and is told to get his act right by his senior (interesting played by a young actor — usually big stars are not seen getting a dressing down from younger actors).
Blame it on the hype surrounding the film or the expectations from the team behind the film, Reema Kagti’s Talaash is a letdown. One feels that the director tried to fit in too many things, give a laborious and painful side track, into a primary story that could have been a great story on its own. However, Talaash has got good music and is worth the money you spend on the ticket... though I’m not sure about the popcorn.