Making History

Posted by Himali Kothari
February 19, 2018

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“Thanks to you, I know the life story of Raja Rammohan Roy,” my cousin narrows her eyes at me as she dips a piece of khakhra into the glass of milk.
“Huh?”
“You were reciting it in your sleep last night,” she snips as a piece of soggy khakhra breaks away and sinks to the bottom of the glass.
“Oops. Sorry.”

In grade 10, we were required to learn the biographies of some Indian leaders for our Board exams. I scored 90 in my History exam, so I must have learnt them well. But, I am sure it was wiped clear from my head, as soon as the exam bell went off.

In recent years, I have learnt much about various Indian and global historical events through books and films. And I can’t help rue the fact that history was taught through drab textbooks in school.
This week’s history lesson is delivered through the film The Darkest Hour. The time period is the early years of World War II and Winston Churchill has been chosen as Prime Minister. It is a difficult time for the Allies. As the Nazi forces troop across Western Europe, the invasion of Great Britain seems imminent. Should Churchill negotiate terms of a treaty with Hitler as advised by his War Committee or should be continue to resist, thus potentially sacrificing thousands of British troops trapped in Dunkirk? The movie focusses on Churchill’s thought process as he navigates this crucial decision.
Gary Oldman as Churchill is brilliant. His drooping jowls and grunts for dialogue are on point and there is not one moment where he slips out of Churchill’s skin. And, the strong support cast makes it an inspired ensemble performance. The film Dunkirk in 2017 showed the on-field angle of the same event as experienced by the troops. The Darkest Hour takes us to the inner sanctum, the minds of the policymakers and the circumstances that govern those decisions.
The best bit about art’s portrayal of history is that it brings out details which have no place in fact sheets in history textbooks. Through the interactions between Churchill and his wife and the scenes with his young secretary Ms Leyton, the viewer gets acquainted with a different, lesser-known side of Churchill. The writer and director do twist the facts a little and drama overrides the adherence to facts. For instance Churchill’s ride in the underground which never happened. But, they don’t irk as they are meant to dramatize and not mislead. And, for that the creators may be forgiven.
***
It is a busy week at the movies. Next in the week is the screening of Young Marx, a play from London’s West End brought to Mumbai’s NCPA through National Theatre Live (NTL).
Young Marx is a snippet of Karl Marx’s life, of the days just before he wrote Das Kapital. The play introduces the viewer to the carefree (or rather careless?) Young Marx who mouths the laws of economy yes but is also a drunk, a womanizer and a wastrel. The play’s premise helps the viewer understand the genesis of Marx’s most most famous work.
I must taken a moment here to gush over NTL. It is an initiative by London’s Royal National Theatre to take their plays across the globe through screenings. In the last two years, I have enjoyed over two dozen of West End’s best productions at the NCPA’s Godrej Theatre.
The last watch of the week is Padmaavat. So much was said before the release of the movie and so much continues to be said after that I don’t think I can add anything to it. Two points stand out. One, the character of Khilji, created with abandon by Bhansali and played with equal abandon by Ranveer Singh. A character with a single-minded obsession for power right to his last moment, he has me riveted. The second is the relationship between Khilji and Malik Kafur, all is said through body language without using language to overstate. And it works. I am happy that Khilji has Kafur, his one true love who stands by him even as his thirst for power destroys everything else. Khilji is the life of the film, the Rajput king and queen, and Deepika’s digitally covered torso as she Ghoomars are rendered inconsequential.
During the movie, three cops enter the cinema and take the vacant seats next to me and there are more cops patrolling the entrance and other areas of the multiplex. It is the first weekend and the protesting army has not yet woken up to the ridiculousness of its protests.
I wonder though why there has been no protest from a group in Afghanistan or Turkey for portraying Khilji, who they share a bloodline with, as a bisexual megalomaniac? Perhaps they have more pressing matters taking up their time, like what should be cooked for dinner?

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