Saturday, March 29, 2008

Aesthetic, cultural and ideological diversities in World cinema

World Cinema respectively portrays their country’s issues in terms of diversifying regional aesthetic styles, culture and ideology (Chaudhuri 2005, 1). This answer shall firstly explain the plot of Mira Nair’s Monsoon Wedding and Deepa Mehta’s Water representing Indian Cinema and Pedro Almodovar’s All about my mother and Carne tremula exemplifying Spanish Cinema. Secondly, will investigate and critically compare the films with respect to the earlier mentioned issues thereby comparing the two countries’ cinemas. These movies have been selected in particular because of their “high local impact” and “international resonance” (Chaudhuri 2005, 1).

Monsoon Wedding (2001)
Mira Nair, an Indian-born director, focuses on subjects such as “national and personal identity”, the process of synthesizing old tradition with shiny modernity, the ordeal of adjustment experienced by Indians who depart the country to foreign shores, mostly America (Muir 2006, 3). Most of her movies have been between India and America due to the Indian ideology of “Globalization meant Americanization” (Gurumurthy cited in Mazzarella 2003, 6). Monsoon Wedding circulates around an upper-middle class Hindu Indian family with a frail blend of Indian tradition and Western lifestyle arranging the accepted marriage of their daughter, Aditi with an Indian living in Texas. The four days wedding arrangement and celebration during the monsoon season in New Delhi fills the plot synopsis of the movie (Alessio F. Bragadini cited in 2007).

Water (2005)
Deepa Mehta’s Water rests on a prevailing issue in India – widow remarriage. The movie set in 1938 has a minor female Chuyia married to an old sickly male who dies after the marriage. Chuyia is then taken away from her parents to Banaras, a holy place and left in care at a “widow’s house” with other assorted widows in recluse. She is made aware of her options: (a) With consent of the dead man’s family, she could re-marry his younger brother, (b) “kill herself on his funeral pyre” and (c) live in solitude and discipline. Although the Hindu law prohibited the remarrying of widows, they were cloistered, fed limited diet (no meat), “frequent fasting” without water, “no sexual life” and “social segregation at marriages” (Dutta 2003, 93). Chuyia gets close to one of the widows, Kalyani who has won a Gandhian, Narayan’s heart. Mahatma Gandhi, had just returned from Africa and had begun his effort to drive the British out of India and protect Indian, especially Hindu tradition. Narayan, a follower of Gandhi, wants to marry Kalyani who when taken across the river to his home recognizes the place as she had been sent there as a prostitute for Narayan’s father. The religious law quote next to the title of the movie is quite self-explanatory – “A woman who remains chaste after her husband has died goes to heaven” explains the existence of a widow’s house (Ebert 2006, 852).

All about my mother (1999)
Pedro Almodovar’s All about my mother, a Spanish film is a revivification of Spanish culture set in the post-Franco years. Manuela, a single mother has cried her eyes to dryness after the loss of her seventeen year old son, Esteban on his birthday as he runs in attempt to get an autograph of his admired actress, Huma Rojo. Manuela then goes to Barcelona in an attempt to search for her son’s transvestic father, Lola who abandoned them once she was pregnant. She first meets her friend, a transvestite, Agrado who could lead her to Lola. She comes across an AIDS infested nun or during child-birth, Rosa. And by happenstance becomes Huma Rojo’s secretary. She also is the care-taker of pregnant Rosa who has a bad relationship with her parents. Lola is devastated after learning the death of his/her son. Manuela also plays a role in a drama reliving her life as her son who wrote scripts keeping his mother as the lead actor. She names Rosa’s son Esteban and Lola reunites with her in the end of the film (Sony Pictures Classics, 2007). Almodovar’s distinguishing movies have always been regarded “melodramatic” and “postmodern” - “Almodovarian” (Stanton 2002, 117).

Carne Tremula (Live Flesh; 1997)
Pedro Almodovar’s Live Flesh is loosely based on Ruth Rendell’s novel that illustrates the “mind of a rapist”. Victor is obsessed with Elena who was stoned when they both had sex. His obsession urges him to take her hostage as two cops corner them. Due to confusion, David, the younger cop is shot and wheel-chaired for life. Victor, who is imprisoned, is released due to good behaviour. He has transformed to a “reformed prisoner”, has an educational degree and wants to come to terms with David. In six years, David has become an Olympic champion in paraplegic basketball. Besides he is married to Elena. Victor, now reformed digests the fact and helps Elena in her volunteering work in an orphanage and gets involved with Clara, David’s former partner during the fateful night, Sancho’s wife. An extra-marital affair between David and Clara is suspected by Sancho. “Circumstances and guys with guns” shown in a melodramatic way is the theme of this story (Jaehne, 1997). Clara discloses to Victor that Sancho pulled the trigger and disabled David, as he suspected his affair with Clara and ultimately frames Victor. Later, Clara flees but Sancho tracks her down finally killing each other. Elena blames herself for Victor’s false imprisonment (Allinson 2001, 242).

Aesthetic Style Compared – Monsoon Wedding is majorly colourful, mainly golden orange and the bride in bright red with jewellery. Bellantoni (2005, 139) described the movie being “loud, joyous and boisterous” and being a “visual cacophony”. The title board has blue fonts on a mango-coloured screen depicting the uncertainty on the course of an Indian marriage ceremony (Bellantoni 2005, 139). “Multiplicity of worlds” is showcased in the movie by filming the clogged marketplace, blocked traffic jams filled with cars, bicycles and rickshaws and frequent power-cuts (Crouse 2003, 159). Also, Mira Nair engages with “small-film idea” which has adopted film production by the “advent of digital video”, less-obvious star cast and the film’s scale depicting low-budget aesthetics (Lalitha Gopalan cited in Nelmes 2007, 340). On the contrary, the acceptance of the “heart-breaking anger and passion” by the widows is displayed by scenic beauty across the Ganges and the peaceful blank scenes with a mild soundtrack in Water (Ebert 2006, 852). Unlike the colourful marriage themed Monsoon Wedding, this film makes one inescapably distinguish between the colours in life; the major star cast being widows dressed in white contrasting with the natural colour-filled scenic beauty and the colourfully dressed outer world or common people outside the widow’s house. Dancyger (2006, 65) opinionated the feminist approached storyline to be “dark” yet Almodovar like Mira Nair brightly portrays his movies All about my mother and Live Flesh buoying up the mood and allowing the acceptance of all characters irrespective of the gender and “personal transgressions”.

Framing choices in all the movies are both dialogical and visual. For instance, in All about my mother the shot of Esteban’s heart being transplanted displayed predominantly in blue and gray. This implies death being an “ongoing and tangible presence” and “life being transferred” (Sofair 2001, 40, 46). The rail-roads suggest the venous network in the body and the tunnel signifying the birth canal. The “visual and narrative fabrication” of the city in Live Flesh was done to “construct a new past” thereby redefining “social and political institutions” during Franco’s regime (Ernesto Munoz cited in Codell 2007, 39). The bright glossy surfaces and hand-held camera shots in Live Flesh depicts “sensual seductions” of modernization (Smith 2000, 189).

The soundtracks in all these movies are logical and play a vital role. For instance, the sequence in Live Flesh when both David and drunken Sancho climb up the stairs in an attempt to defuse the situation is intensified by the “quiet chordal background” with percussive piano strokes punctuating it (Burnand and Mera 2006, 54). Similarly, the songs and dances which emerge in Monsoon Wedding are in a “logical way from action”; in this case a wedding ceremony (Ebert 2002, 409).

Mira Nair chose to shoot her film in northern India due to the seriousness in following Indian customs. Deepa Mehta chose to film her movie in Varanasi as it is a holy place where Hindu laws were written. Almodovar’s
choice of filming Live Flesh in Madrid is to show the post-Franco aesthetics; dictatorship to democracy to his audience. Similarly, his choice to film All about my mother was to show modernizing Spain.

Culture Compared –Monsoon Wedding assures its ethnic audience the ever existence of cultural tradition, belonging and community. The film is based on a north Indian Punjabi family since it is believed that the Punjabis represent “Indianness” as they have managed to maintain their cultural values till date. In addition, the film also carries “traditional family structures”; all relatives despite their distance of relationship are invited for the marriage (Desai 2004, 221). In Water Gandhi’s non-violence policy to free Indians from British being considered “cultural impotence”. Most of the harsh laws ultimately looking down at women were constructed by males implying being superior. Narayan being constantly obstructed by his mother of his interest for Kalyani, a widow is the result of Indian culture by degrading a female’s position because she is a widow. A lesser known fact is the ignoring of permitting of widow remarriage anciently in India ultimately making the issue not a cultural but an ideological one (Altekar 1996, 157).

Like Water, Almodovar’s movies too are localised to controversial issues; “drugs, transvestites, terrorists” in an attempt to unmask the manufactured “national identity seen in Francoist cinema” and meanwhile proposing Spain’s cultural identity during the recent past. Almodovar believes the dominant trend in Spanish cinema like Indian cinema has articulated a false identity based on “abducted symbols of the national, for instance, la espanolada”. He through his films like Deepa Mehta reclaims those symbols to serve as a “masquerade” to the nation’s identity (Ernesto Munoz cited in Codell 2007, 39). The voice-over ending the movie Live Flesh with the last shot of the festive streets in Spain tells us that “Spain is not afraid”.
Almodovar, in this film protests against dictatorship; Francoist Cinema and emphasises on pleasures in “contemporary culture” (Smith 2000, 189). This film is a rebellion compared to the others. Likewise, Deepa Mehta too opposes the Indian laws that are unequal irrespective of gender bias but does it by only awaking the audience to the issue.

“Cuisine, music, folklore” are elements of modern Spanish culture. In Almodovar’s Live Flesh there are drugs, violence, traffic, “acoustic pollution”, high social polarization and smog. Madrid is and shown realistically as “an artificial, constructed capital” (Mazierska and Rascaroli 2003, 33). Similarly, Mira Nair too portrays a truly modernizing India with “high-minded TV talk shows” having guests who provide voice over for pornographic movies, golf carts, cell-phones and disco music. This ultimately “modulates the imperialist understandings of modernity” (Desai 2004, 222). Almodovar’s films have constantly been “marking the significant cultural symptoms” merging it with modern Spanish ideologies (Steven Marsh cited in Marsh and Nair 2004, 53).

Ideology Compared – Hindu reformists, comprising the major population in India with mass of chimerical support from Hindus desire to preserve certain legacies of Hindu culture including widow remarriage. This ultimately is believed to claim India’s “cultural superiority” that is reckoned to spiritually rectify or replace the materialistic and “harmful western world”. The widows “abandoned by their family”, living miserably, considered untouchables and used as prostitutes for a source of living in the widow’s house are exhibited in this film. In addition, Hindu activists’ merged masculine ideologies with Hindu culture (Saha 2003, 136). Mira Nair made sure that a modernizing India is showcased. “Practices of kinship”, “political economy of gender and sexuality and feminist fascination” are shown in the film (Desai 2004, 222). In India, as mentioned earlier, males have always been considered superior to female. Mira Nair exhibits that in Monsoon Wedding, when the bride confesses to the groom of her relationship; he gets furious and enquires of her having a sexual affair. But, the groom himself having an affair in Texas is not emphasized upon.

One of the major reasons behind Mira Nair making this movie was her strong will to talk about people; in this case the bride’s parents who live their “non-evolving culture” with pride and least “sense of inferiority” with their relatives hailing from America and Australia (Mira Nair cited in Gokulsing and Dissanayake 2004, 143). All about my mother was dedicated to all female actors who enact as female actors, all female actors who are mothers and everyone who aspire to become a mother (Sofair 2001, 42).

A follower of Gandhi in Water says that “one less mouth to feed, four less saris, and a free corner in the house. Disguised as religion, it’s just about the money” (Ebert 2006, 852) – the ideology of considering women as a financial burden in the Indian society. Similarly, in Monsoon Wedding, Aditi’s mother stresses on getting over with her marriage. “Social relationships, gender equality, romance before marriage and individual choice of partner” are the controversial issues that both these Indian films spotlight on (Johanna M. Lessinger quoted in Ferguson 2002, 168).
Water talks about the unfortunate females in India who were denied liberty to do as they please. Despite the new law permitting widow remarriage, there are numerous backward areas in India practicing it making the law unpopular (Rajoo cited in 2007). This film like Monsoon Wedding is targeted to a “liberal audience” who would appreciate the subvert portraying of a woman as stereotypes – “passive victim of a fiercely patriarchal culture” (Byerly and Ross 2006, 90). But, Monsoon Wedding due to the issues smudged with light comedy, modernity and dance sequences became popular.

All about my mother like the two Indian cinemas “question the concepts of national culture and identity”. It emphasizes on the quest for identity and on family and community with the absence of men. For instance,
Manuela loses her son. Manuela looks for her son’s father Lolo who has abandoned her and is dying. But the paradigm of a family is maintained in the movie. Manuela loses her son, meets pregnant Rosa and Lola. Rosa dies. Manuela is left with Lola and new-born Esteban (Hilary Radner cited in Lewis 2001, 73, 74, 75). Similarly, Aditi ends her affair to get married, Chuyia and other widows have lost their husbands but Chuyia is ultimately rescued away and Kalyani is prohibited from having an affair with Narayan but ultimately does.

The characters, transgender, “transitory bodies of fathers”, children and mothers, maternal and paternal issues are all Almodovar’s efforts to resolve the existing issues of the nation’s identity. For instance, Sister Rosa crying “adios papa” to her father who does not recognize her. This suggests Almodovar’s version to “neutralize trauma” and Spain’s past effort to reconciliation been dramatized (Ernesto Munoz cited in Codell 2007, 40). Similarly, Aditi is forgiven of her affair by her future spouse and Chuyia is saved by a widow from the widow’s house implying revolution. Almodovar’s films amplify the social conditions in democratic Spain in a creative and effective manner displaying reality like Indian cinema. But, his films unlike Water show modernity (Candyce Leonard cited in Reboll and Willis 2004, 222).
All these movies except Live Flesh are a “feminist narrative” of family, male and female roles and interrogate “gender identity and gender blurring” (Dancyger 2001, 213). On the contrary, Live Flesh a “sex-thriller” film present males more than ciphers compared to the other movies mentioned (Steven Marsh cited in Marsh and Nair 2004, 53). The influence of the importance of Spanish cine negro that existed during the transition from dictatorship to democracy is seen in this movie. Cine negro is a sub-category to thriller films in Spanish cinema.

Apparently, the Spanish where forbidden from watching any movie contrary to the “internal security of the country” which revealed the degree of police corruption in Spain; Sancho, the drunken cop (John Hopewell cited in Jordan and Tamosunas 1998, 88). Similarly, Water too made aware to the society the prevailing of anciently banned Hindu law and All about my mother showed the true Spain and not a surreal one as in Francoist cinema (Sofair 2001, 42). Ultimately, Water in India was condemned as it looked at the “historical and social position of women in Indian society” (Ross and Byerly 2006, 88). In addition, Deepa Mehta’s set for Water was vandalized since the feminist approach to the theme of widow remarriage was conceived to be degrading the Indian culture (Saha 2003, 136). Nevertheless, Almodovar repeatedly conveyed such images via his films. In addition, he showed “true love is over-rated” and that there are numerous complexities to sustain a long-term relationship especially misunderstandings (Berardinelli, 1998).

Almodovar’s portrayal of a modern Spain matches Mira Nair’s attempt in Monsoon Wedding. Live Flesh is violent compared to the other reviewed films. The extra-marital affair is something post-modern which can be seen even in Monsoon wedding. But, Aditi chooses not to continue with it. Contrarily, no such hesitance is exhibited in Live Flesh.

In conclusion, violence, drug-issues and sexually explicit scenes are forbidden by the censorship board in Indian cinema unlike Spanish cinema. All the movies break the culturally and ideologically influenced protocols and talk about social issues explained earlier; Monsoon Wedding has Aditi having an affair with a married person despite her engagement, Kalyani, a widow in Water developing fondness for Narayan who is active on shunning merciless rules on females, Sister Rosa becoming pregnant, Manuela naming Rosa’s son Esteban and taking care of him with Lola in All about my mother, extra-marital affair and misunderstandings in Live Flesh. Monsoon wedding is the only movie amongst all discussed that is light-hearted due to comedy. The rest are serious and thought-provoking. All movies except Water show the modernizing of respective countries. Precisely, Monsoon wedding talks about the ups and downs in a wedding ceremony and the tension till it finishes. Water informs people of the existence of a cruel law prohibiting widow remarriage when widowers can remarry. All about my mother emphasizes on the feelings of single mother losing her only son. Live Flesh talks about the complex relationships in life filled with misunderstandings.

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Copyright © Ajey Padival 2007 (Brisbane, Australia; +61-434360675;

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