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Some Ramblings - Charlie Wilson's War
By Srinivas Kanchibhotla
charlie wilsons war

In Mahabharata, as the lore goes, the mighty warrior Karna meets his demise due to a combination of events - the curse of his teacher who was duped into teaching him the tricks of the trade, the promise to the mother of Pandavas to not kill her children (except Arjuna), the curse of Goddess Earth who refuses to cooperate during a key moment in the battle, Indra who strips Karna of his congenital armor, Lord Krishna, and finally Arjuna. Here above, no one reason is less/more important than the other and it so happened that at just the right time, all the reasons colluded together, to work against the warrior. The former Soviet Republic's fate could be scripted along similar lines. Years of tyrannical rule under the Politburo, the fresh winds of capitalistic change blowing from the West, the steel and mine workers striking at the right moment, the appointment of a level-headed and a liberal minded premier in Gorbhachev, Ronald Reagan, the war of attrition in Afghanistan, the call of Pope John Paul II, and if this movie is to be taken seriously, a little known Democrat Congressman from the interiors of Texas, Charlie Wilson, were all instrumental in the fall of last known Empire in history. Depending on who holds the mouthpiece at that moment, one of the above reasons would get a better credit than the rest.

At the funeral of the Pope, some obscure historian accorded him the credit of crashing the Soviet Empire by pushing those regimes into opening the doors for religious freedom, which ultimately gave the people, hope, reason and a chance to rise against their leaders. To be fair, he was right in his own way. A few years ago, when Ronald Reagan was laid to rest, the entire media to this side of the Atlantic, hailed his "Tear down this wall (referring to the Berlin Wall), Mr.Gorbhachev" as the single-most defining moment that brought about the end of Cold War. Though the quote received more credit and more playing time than it deserved, it was not too removed from the truth either. How all this undue distribution of credit, might have felt to Gorbhachev? The poor man was only instrumental in coining terms that brought about the change - Perestroika and Glasnost - and opened the doors to the fresh breezes of change. That they ultimately turned into the kind of gales that consumed his own career, is a different issue. So, what finally ended the Cold War - a), b), c), d), or e)All of the above?

And then, there is a little country by name Afghanistan, which also clamors for its fair share. Afghanistan, as history recalls, has an uncanny way of upsetting the plans of mighty Empires. Dating back to Alexander, who finally met his match in the rugged patches of the rocky country, down to the current travails of the American troops, trying to flush out unwanted elements, Afghanistan has never shown reverence to the mighty forces of highly regarded Empires. Caught in a land-locked war with the locals, the British Empire finally accepted defeat and vowed to be never caught in such an un-winnable quagmire, during the early parts of the 20th century. Nearly, half a century later, the Russians found themselves ruing about similar fate, unable to sustain, unwilling to continue, caught in an untenable position, from where the only logical move, was a retreat, with the tail firmly between the legs. To give credit where it is due, Russians held out for the longest, about a decade, and were it not for the CIA (and the Americans, their hold would have continued much longer, in spite of the hemorrhage of men, money and morale. Third time is a charm, as the saying goes. This time, it is turn of the Americans to try their luck, pitting their vast bottomless resources, and far superior warfare technology against those same old unyielding mountains and mysterious caverns. If "history repeats itself" is the theory, then "men learn nothing" would be a fitting corollary. It is self-fulfilling prophecy, that despite the fore-knowledge and despite the advancements, men tend to commit the same mistakes over and over again, causing the wheel of history to go round and round, perpetually. The reasons may be different every time, but unfortunately, the results are always the same.

"Charlie Wilson's War" offers an interesting point of view on the most important factor that led to the defeat of the Soviets - Stinger Missiles. The hand-held (more like, shoulder-mounted) missile launchers that were primarily resposible for bringing down the many helicopters (the only birds that could traverse through the treacherous terrain), is the subject of discussion of the movie. But here is the twist - the arms get to the Afghans through the Pakistanis, collaborating with the Israelis, who work with the Egyptians, funded entirely the CIA, at the insistence of a Democrat Congressman, who was slyly arm-twisted into the job by a Texan socialite, who hobbies, among others, include bringing the word of the God to the Godless Communists. Truth is stranger than fiction, they say. Machinations as these, and alliances as these, cannot be scripted. How Pakistan can come to accept the benevolence of Israel, how Israel is forced to shake hands with its arch-enemy Egypt, how a liberal Congressman toes the line of a conservative agenda, and how a culmination of all, causes an empire to crumble and collapse, can only be termed as divine comedy. It could be absurd, it could be farcical, it is fantastic, but above all (or at the root of it), it is just funny (albeit, in a cerebral way). Stanley Kubrick, the acclaimed director of yester-years, tackled Cold War (during the Cuban Missile crisis), by confronting the doomsday scenario, when a miscommunication between the two Super Powers leads to the nuclear annihilation of the world, as a black comedy. Humans can only but laugh at themselves, thinking how close to the precipice or how thin a razor-edge, their entire stands, and how a totally unrelated incident can cause a butterfly effect and bring about a sea of devastation somewhere else. Absurd? Farce? Fantastic? - Not quite. How about the little nugget of information, that receiving the arms, training and support from the CIA, during the Afghan-Soviet war, was a mujahiddeen lieutenant, waiting in the wings, by name Bin Laden. Who's laughing now?

"Charlie Wilson's War" sparkles in the able hands of the director, Mike Nichols, and the razor-sharp pen of Aaron Sorkin ("A few good men", "American President" and the famous "West Wing"). That they both realize that this kind of an absurdist reality can only be handled with comical gloves, helps the tone of the movie, from either veering into a social commentary (for which there is ripe material) or slipping into a broad comedy. Mike Nichols was caught in a similar situation before, helming the adaptation of the famous book, "Primary Colors", a behind the scenes look into a Clinton-like (the book was not so subtle, and the comparisons to the President were quite obvious) politician's Presidential campaign bid. On one side, the flawed side of Clinton - a philanderer, an adulterer and a moral compromised candidate. On the brighter side - a brilliant orator, a compassionate human being, and an excellent strategist. What could be a middle ground for such extremes? And added to that the scheming sickening world of political campaigns. Nichols emerges triumphantly however, making it a dark comedy, finding a ground where the eccentric could co-exist with the excellence, where moral compromises go hand in hand with genuine compassion. Nichols brings the same kind of ambivalence, without taking one side versus the other, in this marriage of unholy alliances and compromised conveniences. There is a masterful directorial stroke right at the end of the movie, when champagnes are being uncorked in Washington, against the images of retreating Soviet tanks from Afghanisthan. When the main players of the game (Charlie Wilson and his CIA friend) come together to commemorate the moment, each wondering whether they let the genie out of the bottle, by simply going with the precept "enemy's enemy is a friend", a huge airplane passes them overhead, offering a subtle cue of the fatal fate that lay ahead. The cause of human existence is peppered with such subtleties and caveats, and thanks to their tendencies of overlooking the obvious, the wheel of history goes round and round.

More Ramblings on films
No Country for Old Men
Om Shanti Om
Lions for Lambs
American Gangster
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

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This article is written by Srinivas Kanchibhotla
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