Friday, 16 March 2012

Merde alors! The London Olympics

Some reasons for opposing the London Olympics:

i) It is a vast waste of public money. If we really have to have this quadrennial circus then it should be held at its purpose-built site in Athens every four years.

ii) The security operation alone is a monstrous feeding frenzy for the “security industry” and its allies: parts of east London are effectively no go areas and London itself will be subject to massive disruption.

iii) The seventeen-day athletics event is really an elaborate cover for a speculative bonanza on the back of publicly funded land remediation.

iv) The Olympics site has eliminated hundreds of homes, businesses, green spaces, and allotments, amid specious claims about local benefits.

v) The continuing sponsorship deal with Dow Chemicals responsible for the world's worst industrial accident in Bhopal reveals a deep cynicism surrounding the use of terms such as sustainability, the "green games", and other epithets of corporate responsibility.

vi) This part of east London had extensive “wild nature” that is far more beautiful and interesting than the vapid spaces now being created.


Trishna (played by Freida Pinto)

Michael Winterbottom is an erratic and prolific British film director but Trishna (2011) must surely rank amongst his best works to date. In this striking adaptation of the Thomas Hardy novel, Tess of the d’Urbervilles, the setting is transposed from late nineteenth-century rural England to contemporary India. The story moves from the rural poverty of Rajasthan to the bustling hi-rise metropolis of Mumbai and then back to Rajasthan for its tragic denouement. The doomed love affair emerging from a chance encounter between Trishna (played by Freida Pinto) and Jay Singh (played by Riz Ahmed) serves as a poignant metaphor for the devastating effects of gender inequality, poverty, and cultural oppression amid the glitz of Mumbai, luxury hotels and the superficial allure of the tourist gaze. The unhurried cinema verité style lends weight to the unfolding drama. The everyday scenes of agricultural labour and factory work, for example, are reminiscent of the video art of Harun Farocki. A sense of fatalism and dusty monotony is powerfully evoked.

By moving Hardy’s novel to a different setting Winterbottom succeeds in drawing out broader themes concerning the tension between modernity and tradition. The striking cinematography, along with very effective use of music, also poses interesting questions about vantage points for cinematic representation. To use a nineteenth-century British novel as a means to depict contemporary India is fraught with potential difficulties in terms of the blurring of period, place and perspective. What is clear, however, is that Trishna is a far more effective, and in many ways honest, portrayal of contemporary India — albeit from a very specific viewpoint — than other less interesting works that struggle to combine “slumdog” realism with narrative convention.