Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Movie Review - Judgement at Nuremberg (1961)


First, a little history. The Nuremberg trials were a series of trials conducted by a U.S military tribunal set up to bring war criminals to book, and were held in Nuremberg, Germany, soon after world war 2. This movie deals with one of them - the 1948 Judge's Trial - conducted to prosecute former members of the German justice system, like jurors and ministers, for aiding the Nazis in crimes like racial purification. These crimes were not straightforward but complex. The accused themselves did not kill anyone. But they supported a system that did, for the greater good of the country. Hence, their prosecution was debatable.

Why the movie is good

The movie cleverly mixes a lot of emotional layers, playing different people and relationships against each other in dramatic form, with a good script and terrific character development.

Spencer Tracy plays Chief Justice Dan Haywood, a man shown as having both an open mind as well as a curiosity about German views of Nazism. He comes into the trial unsure of how some of the accused - educated men - could he held responsible for the deaths of millions.

His transformation is wonderful to watch. His view of the trial towards the start of the film is firmly that of how the prosecution has simply got to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused are guilty. Because the movie's main issue towards the start of the film is one of complexity. Should just men be accused of following an unjust law, in the interest of their country? Towards the end of the film however, Haywood determines that justice and the value of a single human life takes precedence over political and social context, and that the onus is now to try and disprove beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused are guilty.

Maximilian Schell plays defense lawyer Hans Rolfe, a man who's agenda is to uphold the dignity of the German people, to win his case by the American's own rules, and to defend the accused by logic and to the best of his ability, playing the devil's advocate if necessary. You find yourself agreeing to a lot of his points.

Despite his confidence, his is an uphill struggle. He's defending a man who doesn't want to be defended, using arguements that can win minds but not hearts. He knows that some of his methods are wrong, but his justification, that he is doing it in the best interest of Germany, is what ends up hurting his case, as parallels are drawn between his behaviour and that of Nazi sympathisers.

Richard Widmark plays chief prosecutor Col. Tad Lawson, a man hell bent on seeing every last Nazi and their supporters dead or in jail. I wish the movie discussed his motivation for doing so, but it only hints at it.

Not to be missed is his dinner discussion about Americans as occupiers. The fact that they're not used to it; their awe at another country's history and culture leaving them with an inferiority complex, forcing them into giving the Nazis the benefit of the doubt, are all debatable but interesting points of view.

Burt Lancaster plays Ernst Janning, one of the accused. Mostly silent, he comes into his own in a stunning monologue in a statement to the court towards the end of the movie, explaining why good men supported a Nazi government, and why they were wrong to do so.

Marlene Dietrich plays Mrs Bertholt, a widow to an executed German General, cynical of the prosecution, convinced that the tribunal sanctions political murder, and that the only way to look is forward. She believes in reconciliation and tries to make Haywood believe that Germans are not monsters. He tries to understand how no one in Germany noticed the murder of millions, and is disturbed by her pleas.

This is an immensely balanced movie in terms of points of view.

Other people to watch out for are William Shatner in a small recurring role as Haywood's aide, and Judy Garland and Montgomery Clift as witnesses. Particularly Clift.

DVD extras

Interesting points to note:

- Maximilian Schell talks about a European jealousy of European actors who achieve success in the U.S.

- Writer Abby Mann remembers resistance to the film and disapproval for criticising Germany in the 60's due to the prevailing cold war situation and the U.S needing Germany as an ally, a sentiment that appears in the film itself.

- Mann also talks about the main villain of Nuremberg being patriotism and draws a parallel to McCarthyism.

- Director Stanley Kramer's wife talks about her husband visiting U.S colleges to talk about the issues behind the film and finding students sceptical that the Holocaust actually took place because the large number of victims seemed unrealistic, a sentiment that is echoed by one of the accused characters in the film, who is then quickly corrected.

Have you seen this film? Do you have any interesting thoughts about it?


Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Why We Hate Chetan Bhagat

Why do so many people love to hate Chetan Bhagat? Is it snobbery? Jealousy? Sour grapes? A case of Indians pulling their own down? His comments on Twitter? Displaced anger at ourselves? What is it about CB that makes people hate him so? 


The Twitter incidents don't count, for the very reason that people disliked CB before #Chetanblocks, and used that as an excuse to vent their feelings. Of course, Chetan's initial reaction to the instigators i.e acting like he was doing people a favour by letting them read his tweets, and arbitrary blocking, didn't help in the 'garnering sympathy' department.

We love to pull down our own

For some reason, a large section of Indian society likes holding those Indians whom we see as being gifted or intellectually or culturally superior to ourselves up on a pedestal and showing them off to the world. We love to bask in the achievements of those whom we consider to be greater to ourselves (inferiority complex?). But when it comes to mediocre stuff created by one of our own ordinary kind, we are quick to put that person down. Because for us, that person has no business achieving success.

I don't know why we feel this way. Maybe it's because of snobbery, where we feel we need to patronise only 'upper class' creations, and put down what we perceive as mediocrity? Because it invalidates our sense of fairness and we need to restore order in the universe? Because it forces us to question why we aren't as successful too, and what we might need to do to change this? Because it forces us to realise that we will never be able to do what he/she has done, no matter how seemingly ordinary, and this leads to jealousy or resentment?


The fact is, we see Chetan Bhagat as one of us. A regular ordinary non-gifted Indian. We do not see him as a gifted writer and a contributor to what this country should be known for. His books prove this. CB is not a good writer in the literary sense. He is no Vikram Seth or Arundhati Roy. He does not write flowery beautiful prose. But he does write simple to the point short books that tell stories that millions of Indian youth enjoy reading.

We hate him for this. We hate him and are bitter at the fact that one of our own, someone destined to wallow in middle class mediocrity, has suddenly achieved so much that he doesn't (in our minds) deserve. We seethe at the realisation that other people might think he's better than us, which we feel he isn't. We feel he doesn't deserve the fame, the celebrity status, the money and everything else his writing has got him. We resent it.


Forget of course that Chetan haters can't even produce the ordinary work they accuse him of creating. That isn't the point. The point is, no matter how un-literary like we are as a large population, we still expect greatness to be bestowed only on those who seem to deserve it. One could argue that this is snobbishness (see this post), which is debatable.

CB's work is mediocre. Mediocrity is mediocrity. This is non debatable. Also, it isn't snobbishness to find a piece of work mediocre and reject it for being so. But as to the question of holding the creators and their fans in contempt for patronising mediocrity, and denying them any form of attention, that's just wrong, and could well be snobbishness.

Displaced Anger

Or our anger at Chetan could be displaced anger at ourselves. We know that his work is mediocre. And none of us are reading his books anymore. But millions of Indians are. They love his books, and it's not Chetan's fault. It's his fans' fault for liking them. Some of them read his books because they don't know any better or they don't enjoy reading good Indian fiction or contemporary international literature, or even the classics. Some of these people consider Dan Brown and Sidney Sheldon great novelists. No wonder then that they worship Chetan Bhagat. 

Is this Chetan's fault? Of course not. He didn't force all these millions of Indians to buy or read his books. He simply used his natural talent to write within his capacity, and the masses happened to love his work. Why blame Chetan for the reading habits of the masses? Our anger at Chetan Bhagat's success could actually be our displaced anger at the masses.

Dealing with it

If you're a CB lover, then you've probably not gained much from this post. But if you're a lover of good literature, and are amazed by the constant attention CB gets, my advice is to ignore it. That's right. We are an evolving society. Until we all evolve to a point we we appreciate good literature, we should realise that there will always be some people who will enjoy reading CB. What's more, no one's forcing you to read his books.

Like I said, don't begrudge CB for the doing what he loves. It's not his fault so many people enjoy his work. If you don't, just ignore it and concentrate on doing what you love, and hope that someday people will like your work as much. Do you see thousands of Americans getting together on Twitter to berate Dan Brown? No? Do you know why? Point taken, I hope.

Or you could exploit the system and write like CB i.e mediocre books written in a way that makes the average not-well-read-Indian love you.

As for making fun of him, I don't see anything wrong in the occasional quip at his expense. And I don't see why Chetan himself shouldn't be able to join in and laugh at himself, given the quality of his writing. People shouldn't take themselves or their work too seriously. Doing so only makes people hate you more.

What I don't get are the folks who waste their time twisting his tweets out of context to use as an excuse to be evil for no reason at all. A joke here or there is fine, but people who go out of their way to squeeze a rude joke or snide remark out of a celebrity's innocent tweet, when it's unwarranted, do themselves a disservice.

Comments are welcome as always.


Monday, 22 March 2010

Kala Ghoda Arts Festival 2010

And so we finally come to this year's KGAF, which I liked so much I visited on two separate occasions. Below are a few pics.

One of the first things I did on getting to KGAF '10 on the afternoon of day 1 was get up to the stage viewing area. They seemed to be setting up for something.

Things were still being moved around.

Spotted some celebrity Mumbai tweeple.

And I tagged along with them to watch this magic show. It was a bit slow.

The crowd seemed interested.

We parted and I took another pick of the crowd from the stands. It was getting to be late afternoon and pretty crowded now. It seems that KGAF gets more visitors every year.

These are a few pics of the pavement around Jehangir Art Gallery, used as a storage area.

Sometimes, it's hard to tell what's art and what's garbage.

The paintings and drawings on display had their usual audience.

These are raised drawings, for the blind. Visitors were encouraged to feel them. Very interactive, I thought. So different from the normal 'no-touching' art.

Not sure what these were. Something about the environment?

City messages. We see them every year.

More environmental messages. The props seem similar to the ones used two years ago.

On war heroes. A soldier's face made out of soldier's names. Very well done.

Frames. Read the description below.

A photography exhibition.

The black horse had some company this year.

Didn't catch the description for this one either.

KGAF tends to be a great meeting place for friends. 

This was a 3D image. Check out the photographers below taking pics.

And I had to sneak in a panorama shot.

You can also see my visits to KGAF '08 and '09. Let me know if you happen to spot yourself in any of the pics in these posts. Till next time...