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Some Ramblings - Lions for Lambs
By Srinivas Kanchibhotla
Lions for lambs

Getting a political point across in movies is done in many ways. The most common form is satire. Mock without making it obvious, poke without pushing it too far, point out without really hitting the nail on the head - satire has a way of making fun of something, without making it funny, which is when it looses its edge. Satire does this by depicting the system it mocks in a slightly skewed form, so that once the viewer figures out the underlying mechanics, when the greater the movie adds on the absurdity, the stronger would be his reaction. As an example, take the movie 'Wag the Dog'. The movie satirizes the concept of spin in political system. When the President of the country get embroiled in a sex scandal, the key operatives in his administration bring in the spin guru, who, colluding with Hollywood movie producer, concocts a faux-war on Albania, to distract the public and the media's attention from the scandal. That the movie was released at just the same time, when the Lewinsky scandal broke out and the Clinton administration lobbed a few Cruise missiles into Bin Laden's compound in Afghanistan, from the navy vessels situated in the Persian Gulf, as an act of facile retaliation to his attack on American establishments in Africa, was just the icing on the cake. The movie cannot had had a better advertisement so much so that the title 'Wag the Dog' became an idiom in American politics. No amount of explanation from the administration sufficed that it was only coincidence that the bombing happened at the same time when the scandal broke out, and that it was not a diversionary tactic. The more the administration denied, the better it served as a fitting example to Satire.

Next in line is sarcasm. Sarcasm is the louder twin of satire. Sarcasm screams for attention. Subtlety is never its forte, and consequently the message carried across is quite hard-hitting and painfully obvious. However it takes a lot of talent to walk the tight rope of sarcasm without falling flat on the face midway. Consider Charlie Chaplin's classic - The Great Dictator. It mocks the rise of leaders who whip up jingoistic feelings, appealing to the unfounded and baseless fears of the populace, by stoking the xenophobic tendencies and its feelings of mistrust and ill-will. Chaplin chose the rising popularity of Hitler as the backdrop and launches a scathing attack on the dictatorial trends that were gaining support in socialistic regimes. Portraying himself as a Hitler look-alike, and copying his trademark mannerisms, Chaplin urged the world to take Hitler and his ideas of world subjugation seriously, back in 1940, much before Hitler cast his evil shadow on the world. Chaplin chose sarcasm as his chief weapon to depict Hitler's demonics as going any other way would not had achieved the same chilling effect.

Though satire and sarcasm take the aid of fiction to sugarcoat/transport their message, the core of both of the forms is grounded in reality. Documentaries take out the sugar-coating part and present the facts as they are - plain and straightforward. That documentaries do not take a stand, is a standard misconception. Even without employing the standard devices of story-telling, a documentarian sets out with a pre-conceived agenda beforehand and carefully wades through the pieces of reality, picking and choosing items that conform to his standpoint. Case in point, Michael Moore's controversial documentaries - Fahrenheit 911, Bowling for Columbine and the recent, Sicko. While documentary format tends to fair to both sides of the equations, its sibling, Polemic, takes the extreme viewpoint and argues its case as aggressively as possible. In Polemic, the agenda is quite simple. Make the case of one side, while destroying the other. Polemic does not hide behind courtesies and civilities and neither does it care about giving the other side its fair share. Documentaries like Fahrenheit 911 are in fact more Polemic than documentaries, for the manner in which it makes false accusations, reaches out for unknown connections, skewing and fudging some facts as to prop up the case. An extreme form of Polemic is Propaganda - glorify the obscure and hide the obvious. So together with satire, sarcasm, documentary, polemic and propaganda (with irony somewhere within), political statements found loud mouthpieces on the silver screen.

'Lions for lambs' avoids all these forms while it creates a new form of communication - Appeal. There are no satires here, no sly sarcasms, no obfuscation of facts, nor does it have any hidden motive. It appeals sincerely to the viewer to merely question - question oneself and question the political machinery. The entire movie stringed together by 3 separate segments, employs frank dialogue in the way of people sitting across each other, through the length of the movie, and debating about the issue - in this case, the war on terror, specifically, the occupation of Iraq. It implicates each and every participant of the functioning society - the people, the media and the politicians, for not raising enough questions about going into the war, staying the war and supporting the war. First, the people. Apathy oozes out of every pore of the general public, attending sports events, celebrating birthday parties and merrily shopping in the local malls, while the nation is at war, and the count of the dead soldiers constantly keeps on ticking with each passing day. Lulled into a sense of false comfort by the dominance of its war machinery, the public's natural reaction of going to yet another war was one of cockiness (aptly exemplified by President Bush's victory strut on the aircraft carrier with a 'MISSION ACCOMPLISHED' banner on the background, before Al-Qaeda regrouped and struck back in Iraq). The fact that the public has little or no emotional investment in the war, except for the few families of the armed forces serving in the battleground, accounts for the apathy. With the calls for the military draft, wherein every able citizen has to pick up the arms and head into the war zone, quickly shot down by the politicians fearing public backlash, public's interest in the war pales in comparision to their following of their favorite sports teams.

Next, the media. If at all the military scandals that transpired throughout the country's bloody history taught anything, it is that, politicians in power would stop at nothing, and that includes even waging wars, to further their agenda, and the only establishment that can stop the political machinery in its tracks, is the media. However the fear of being labelled unpatriotic and anti-American, post 9/11, put the media on the defensive, as they became mute spectators to the administration antics, drumming up support for the war. To exacerbate the situation, the corporate conglomerates that own most of the major media outlets feared reprisal in the form of public boycotts, should they allow the media to question the hidden motives and the real intentions of the administration. Finally, the politicians. The fact that war plans for Iraq were drawn up by the Bush administration, even before 9/11 happened, the fact that majority in the administration had no concrete plans on how to get Iraq back on its feet once Saddam is toppled, the fact that majority of the rebuilding contracts in Iraq were awarded to Halliburton, a company on whose board of directors the current Vice President sat, before taking up the office, the fact that the administration could not even define its end goal, could not even define what victory meant, are indicative enough of how mismanaged this war has been ever since the first bomb fell on that fatal fateful night in Iraq. The movie never lets anybody off the hook, as it tries to question time and again the reason behind nobody raising thier voices, and puts the blame on everyone involved, right from the guy who is bothered more by injuries to his favorite player in the forthcoming games than showing concern to his fellow citizens spilling blood in the battlefield, down to the politicians who take the podiums at every given opportunity and play the war games for their own personal gains. And to think that all this - the carnage, the bloodshed, the lives, the ill-will, the expenditure, - could have been averted, if only the society were a little more responsive - now, that is a huge price to pay for not aking why!

More Ramblings on films
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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