Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Paradise Lost? - and 'Paradise Now'

I passed the erstwhile site of the Twin Towers four times yesterday, as I traipsed around this teeming metropolis. And no matter how many times I go by, every single time I look at the rubble, one thought flashes in my mind: how can people be so ruthless as to fly entire planes into buildings when they know it is civilians that will be killed? People like you and me, who have done no great harm to politicians and governments (even if the reverse is not true). And at the same time, they have absolutely no value for their OWN lives either. They may have had their own reasons, but in that case go target the people who have contributed to the problems, not people who just want to go on with their daily lives, their small joys and sorrows.

Right? Wrong?

I don’t know if it was a coincidence that with all these thoughts crowded in my mind, I walked up past what is left of the WTC, to a screening of Hany Abu-Assad’s ‘Paradise Now’ by the School of Continuing and Professional Studies of New York University. A Palestinian film released in 2005, it is the story of Said, a suicide bomber whose father died when he was 10, executed for being a collaborator with the Israeli authorities. He grows up in a life that he feels is asphyxiating, humiliating and pointless – when we are introduced to him, he is a car mechanic. His friend Khaled is keen on being a martyr for ‘the cause’, and Said is confident that this will give his life some meaning as well. When the call comes for them to jump the line from Nablus to Tel Aviv to execute the so-called mission which will send them to paradise, they both walk into the plan comfortably. But (and there is always a ‘but’ isn’t there – this is where the movie picked up pace), the operation is botched and Khaled manages to get back to safety while Said walks around with a bomb plastered to his chest (only the people who put it on him can deactivate it – and they did not foresee that possibility). After a day of frantic searching, Khaled finally manages to locate him with the help of Suha, a customer at the garage that Said has a soft spot for (and vice-versa). She is the daughter of a Palestinian martyr herself, but grew up in France and Morocco and is completely against the principle of suicide bombing – ‘you are only giving the Israelis another reason to continue with their oppression’, she says, and ‘I’d rather he was alive than be proud of him’, in response to a comment by Said about her father. Said steadfastly believes, however, that suicide bombing will at least draw attention to the atrocities that the Israelis are committing against Palestine, and that at least then he will have freedom.

After he is given the green light by the group leader post his return, Said insists on completing the mission. Khaled tries to warn him against this, by now having second thoughts after his conversation with Suha. But Said is unwavering in his determination. Khaled, unwilling and unhappy but determined to stick with his friend till the end, reaches Tel Aviv with Said. At the last minute, Khaled calls the driver of the taxi who dropped them and asks him to return to pick them up. Said, after arguing with Khaled, finally agrees to go as well, but when the taxi arrives, Said packs Khaled in and mouths one word to the driver ‘Go!’.

We last see Said sitting in a packed bus in Tel Aviv with – well – people like you and me, but with a couple of soldiers for company also. A white screen fills the end - perhaps Said has reached his paradise.

The movie was submitted for the Oscars last year under the Best Foreign Film category, but the Academy rejected the nomination because it did not subscribe to the rules for films under the category – it has to be forwarded by a government, and what government, technically, does Palestine have? Finally, this year it was accepted when it was submitted again, though it did not win. It has, however, won numerous awards at the Golden Globes and film festivals in Berlin, Vancouver, Netherlands and Germany, among others.

I’m no film expert, though I love cinema – not just movies, but the art of it as well, which is why I am interested in watching smaller, independent movies like these. I think life is about expression, and everyone has a viewpoint. It only makes my life richer when I see, hear and learn about people that may or may not think like me. That’s what it’s all about isn’t it? Knowing what’s going on outside the comfort-cocoon we tend to create around ourselves.

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