Friday, May 18, 2007

The Last King of Uganda!!!

Idi Amin has always been the sinister one in our mindset, the cannibal & the tyrant! So as the show started, I geared up for nothing but loads & loads of gore apart from a good dose of histrionics from Whitaker. But the film turned out to be surprisingly sober(to a certain degree of disappointment for a sadist like me) & yet powerful!
The movie starts in Scotland where Dr Nicholas Garrigan(James McAvoy) is planning a stint in some third world country after finishing his studies. He decides to select a place randomly & stumbles on Uganda.
So our Doctor reaches Uganda & starts working in remote place among the poor natives along with some other European doctors. In the meantime Amin(Forest Whitaker) seizes power in Uganda through a coup. He incidentally meets Nicholas as he met with an accident & sought for some medical assistance. He was impressed by the young doctor & made him his personal physician. So thus begins an unlikely friendship.
Amin wins over the foreign press with his sense of humour but tries hard to keep the real scene behind the scene. His jovial nature makes him a charismatic despot. So initially Nicholas refuses to hear anything about him & remains his most trusted doctor cum advisor. But as the time goes by, like most other dictators Amin also takes the path of ruthlessness to keep his reigns going. He starts throwing tantrum at everyone including Nicholas & he’s no more the jocund, friendly soul. In the meantime Nicholas develops a close relationship with one of Amin’s wives which worsens his situation further. He then also learns about the atrocities committed by Amin’s forces & soon he starts yearning to leave Uganda. So the story leads towards a bloody conclusion which I won’t disclose for the future viewers.
Now coming to various aspects of the film, it’s the two actors who stand out & overshadow everything else. I’ve always liked Whitaker in those character roles but for the first time he gets to play the lead & doesn’t disappoint at all. He looks, speaks & acts like true dictator should & yes he deserved the Oscar. McAvoy on the other hand, also continues his good work after Narnia. I felt that he also deserved at least a nomination. He’ll be an actor to watch out for in the future.
Here, one thing strikes my mind, the director Kevin Macdonald hasn’t gone overboard to show the atrocities of Amin or his alleged cannibalism while adapting Giles Foden’s novel. He’s finished off those portions in quick unrecognisable flashes. This is what makes the film more watchable for general viewers though it was a bit disappointing for darker minds like me. Anyway, to sum up, it feels like laking the punch at a few instances but is definitely watchable due to exceptional performances.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The Famished Road : Venturing into the Dark Continent

We hardly know anything about the dark continent . Africa has always been the land of lions , giraffes , gorillas , chimpanzees & zebras to us . We’ve never really bothered about the people . It’s the jungles that has caught our imagination for centuries . Barring a few good films like Hotel Rwanda & Blood Diamond we’ve never really learned anything about the people out there .

So I picked up Ben Okri’s Nigerian saga “The Famished Road” that day without a second thought as it was about an African nation by an African & also being a Booker winner it had to be something special . I must say that it is one of the milestones of magical realism . It serves as a guide to the Nigerian society & politics through some amazingly crafted fantasies .

It is the story of a “Abiku” or “Spirit Child” called Azaro . Let me clarify a bit here . In “Yaruba” tradition of Africa it is believed that some spirits keep hanging between earthy & ethereal world . They are incarnated as human beings but they never loses touch with the spirit world . They have strange powers but have short lives . Our protagonist is also one of them . He’s a young boy living with parents . He’s a problematic kid & frequently keeps escaping to the bizarre world of witches , midgets & scores of other mythical characters thanks to his spirit companions continuously trying to woo him back to their world . His father is a strong but foolish man who starts dreaming of becoming a boxer . He gives up working to pursue his dream , he also beats some famous ones including spirit of a dead boxer . But he also gets a heavy beating in one fight & then after a few days in comatose condition he starts becoming a politician with the help of beggars .

The mother works hard to earn a living for the family but rarely succeeds . They share a bittersweet relationship with Madame Koto , the local bar owner & the richest & weirdest person in the neighborhood . All these happen in the midst of political clashes between rival parties in a nation that is in turmoil . All the people live in abject poverty & struggle to make a living .

Having said all these , I’m sure the plot looks confusing & obscure . But this is what magical realism is all about . The story is full of strange creatures appearing constantly in hallucinations , the narrative is rich in vocabulary & they together transfers us to world where the lines between real & unreal is blurred . It takes a maestro to take up such a plot & emerge victorious ! Okri has proved that he is a master of words as well as imagination . Despite of the bizarre plot he has been able to give us enough insight into the present scenario of Nigeria in particular & Africa in General . So this is a must read for those who are hungry of words & wants a dose of reality garnished with fantasy .