usa special
hyd scene

Some Ramblings - American Gangster
By Srinivas Kanchibhotla
American gangster

Godfather - Following the failure of the talks between Solozzo and Don Corleone, an assassination attempt is made on the latter's life that infuriates his son, Sonny, so much so that he personally vows to wipe out every crime family in the city. Tom Hagen, the consigliere and the legal counsel to the family, then utters an important tent that rule (or, in his view, should rule) the crime syndicates - "It is nothing personal, Sonny, it is just business". To get rid of someone, even if he operates in highest strata simply because he in the way of getting the work done (and thereby, making some money), has been the bedrock principle of any business - be it in the seedy underworld or the cold corporate world. It is the strong will to act, without being held back by personal emotions and investments in the game, that separates the successful from the also-rans. There is also a fitting parallel to a similar sentiment that Marlon Brando speaks out in the climactic moments of "Apocalypse Now" - (to paraphrase) "the will to do even the horrific things, serving as the means to an end, is what that sets one on the path to victory, particularly, in a war situation". It is never about the morals or value judgments. It is about what is needed to survive, what is needed to win, in the end it is about sticking to a principle - good or bad. Particularly in movies, this sticking to a principle, in broad strokes, separates the hero from the villain. While hero is someone who adheres to his values from start to finish, villain is often seen as somebody who chooses convenience over principle. Now, here is an exciting twist - what if both the hero and the villain stick to their core values right until the end, without wavering from their stances just when the going gets tough. What if both of them believe quite staunchly in their respective ideals that there are willing to sacrifice their lives on adhering to them than take an easy way out, in the face of trying times?

A few years ago, Michael Mann tried to answer that question in his depiction of the the familiar cops-robbers theme in "Heat". Here the hero, a cop, is possessed with the idea of catching the bad guys in action, even when it gets to the point of destroying his personal life completely and the anti-hero, a robber, is consumed with doing the job right and getting out scott-free, even if he has to do away with relationships and personal attachments. There represent the two faces of the same coin - obsession. And both of them apply the same device for their purpose - discipline. "If you feel the heat around the corner, you have to prepared to leave everything and just walk away" claims the anti-hero as his guiding principle. It is not about how close he is at finishing the job, or how personal it is at getting the job done - it is about the discipline of walking away from the job at the slightest sense of something going awry. This blinding dedication to discipline is what makes "Heat" a very interesting character piece than a solid action one. The only time the anti-hero seems to break his own rule is when he tries to take something personally, is at the very end, when he pays his costly mistake with his life. Right until that point, both their lives run in parallel tracks, with neither giving the other the bragging rights of oneupmanship. Combining both the above traits - one of discipline and the other of treating business as it were, and not taking it personally, sets up one of the most explosive concoction that could ever be cooked up to build an anti-hero. Here is finally someone who has the self-control of pulling away from the job when it longer remains viable, at the same time maintains as much distance away from it to not affect him personally. It doesn't get any better than that, it is the distillation of the Karma theory, "Work incessantly, but never get attached to it". As if this weren't enough, what if one adds the cut-throat nature of capitalism to the mix? The result is what is rightly termed as "American Gangster".

Based on a true story of a drug kingpin, set in New York during the 70s, "American Gangster" makes a perfect case of supply and demand economics in a capitalistic market, where all that the drug lord is concerned about is getting the right product (even if it is the purest grade of cocaine) to the right customer at a fair price, that keeps his customer satisfied and his competitors, at bay. Here the demand is all market driven and the supplier doesn't mind casting a wider net to as far as South East Asia, where he could buy premium grade product directly from the farmers, cutting out all the middle men in the process, have it shipped back to the States in military planes (carrying regular cargo and coffins of the dead soldiers perished in the Vietnam war), greasing a few hands along the way. And once the product reaches the shores of the States, it is immediately cut up and repackaged in a consumable form in his processing facilities, and ready for retail distribution that are spread throughout the various outlets in the city. The drug lord guarantees customer satisfaction as he stands by his product. The supply and distribution channels' overhead are kept at a minimum as he employs predominantly from within his family, promising better returns and better lives. He also despises ostentatiousness and vows to keep and lead a low profile. If the product in question isn't cocaine, but say, cotton, the guy stands a great chance of being termed as a visionary, named person of the decade and such. for he truly embodies the spirit of capitalism - continued profits through constant innovation - during the loud and proud era of the 70s.

"American Gangster" is so little about the moralities or the cat and mouse games of drug lords and drug enforcement agency, and concentrates more on the underpinning business minutiae that eventually build empires. And it is this singular focus on the daily operations of the day to day workings of a company, "American Gangster" stands out from the hundreds of gangster movies that have been made since the 20s and the 30s. (Ram Gopal Varma tried for this perspective in his movie "Company", when he tried to equate the backhand dealings in a boardroom to the cold blooded ways in the underworld, making a statement that corporate world is as cold, calculating and backstabbing with its plastic smiles and warm handshakes as the underworld that thrives on a similar survival of the fittest philosophy). The conversation that transpires between the drug lord and the investigator who finally brings him to justice, at the end of the movie, speaks greatly about the respect that the script treats its players with, in that, neither of them talk about what is wrong and who is right; while the kingpin calls into question the cardinal market rule that if there is a demand for a product and someone is willing to pay a price for it, morals and values aside, there would always be someone to step into the void, provide the product/services and make money off it. And as long as there is someone out there peddling these products, law enforcement would have to step in as a reactionary player. In other words, illegality is as much a by-product of consumerism, as prevention/protection under law is. And one needn't look far for those hard truths cloaked in stark realities than in local supermarkets that run the little neighborhood stores out of business in the name of greater discounts to the customers (market place economics or monopolyzing bullying?). And no scripted tale would have depicted those cold facts better than the true story of the "American Gangster".

More Ramblings on films
Michael Clayton
Happy Days
Chak De India!
The Bourne Ultimatum
The Simpsons Movie
The Grindhouse
Casino Royale
The Departed
Lage Raho Munnabhai
Superman Returns
The Da Vinci Code
Sri Ramadasu
Rang De Basanti (Hindi)
Jai Chiranjeeva!
Munich (English)
Sarkar (Hindi)
Mangal Padey (Hindi)
Kaadhal (Tamil)
Anukokunda Oka Roju
Batman Begins (English)
Radha Gopalam
Mughal E Azam
Virumandi (Tamil)
Lakshya (Hindi)
Yuva (Hindi)
Kakha Kakha (Tamil)
Mr & Mrs Iyer
Nuvve Nuvve

Tell Srinivas Kanchibhotla how you liked the article


This article is written by Srinivas Kanchibhotla
emailabout usprivacy policycopy rightsidle stuff