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Some Ramblings - W.
By Srinivas Kanchibhotla

It was sometime during the run up to the Presidential election in 1999, that the then Governor of Texas, George W. Bush, was asked a rather innocuous question by a Boston Globe reporter about his credentials when it came to the foreign policy. And George in all his honesty answered that he really didn't need to shore up on his bookish knowledge about the subject, as long as he surrounded himself with stalwarts in that field who could guide and advise him into making and taking the right choices. Now, eight years after he has assumed the office, which is on the last legs of his controversial administration, one would wonder if George would like to answer that question any differently this time around. The key to understanding the man doesn't lie in his policy decisions, his speeches, his position or his flubs. The man is guided by his singular devotion to his simplicity. There are no facets here, no complexities or no hidden agendas. He speaks, and has always spoken, his mind, even if they defied logic or ran contrary to the public opinion. In his own words, he went more with his gut, than with his head. His world was either black or white, no grays in between. ("Either the world was with us, or against us") Nuances escaped him and subtlety was never his strongest suit. In every which way, he is the antithesis to the definition of a politician. If the world hadn't turned out the way that it had after his disastrous decision of waging the war against the wrong country, if he hadn't presided over the calamitous collapse of his country's economy, if he hadn't been the catalyst to the greatest polarization of the populace (both in his country and around the world) with his controversial and stubborn stances.....if he hadn't collided with his misfortune head on, he would have been the very definition and personification of an ideal man in power, one who was good at heart, simple minded, steadfast and unwavering in his positions and opinions. But then again, since real world is not a Disney movie, simplicity is a trait that hurt a leader (and his subjects) more than it helped. And Oliver Stone's "W." is a sincere attempt at examining that simplicity.

In Indian folklore, there is another story that resembles W's accidental and unintentional rise to fame. Kalidasa, the greatest poet in Indian literature, was a village idiot in his early years, who was plucked out of no where by a disgruntled evil minister who wanted to get him wedded to the king's daughter, as a way of getting back at the king. And to project him as a great poet in the eyes of the king, the minister turns Kalidasa's idiocy to his advantage, and hails him as one with a great command over the crass common colloquy. The ploy works and before soon the village idiot becomes the prince of the kingdom. That it turned out well in the end for Kalidasa and for everyone else is a different matter altogether. The point here is about the political ploys and plays of the ones surrounding the village idiot and their evil schemes to prop him up for a job that was well above and beyond the idiot's faculties. Before George W ran into the Washington crowd, one man saw the gullibility in W's stubbornness and tuned it perfectly. Karl Rove, the erstwhile chief political strategist of W's campaigns right from his days in Texas all the way to the White House, remained W's head, eyes, and importantly, gut, throughout W's entire political career. It would have made an even more interesting movie had it focussed on Rove's prime motivation behind seeing W in the White House. What had seen Rove seen in Bush that made his decided that he was one he, Rove, had been looking for all along? And the strategy that he devised to instate W in the highest office is the age old classic - divide and conquer. Since Bush wasn't so much as a reader, talker or a leader, Rove had to prey on the opponent's weakness more than his own candidate's strengths. And the best way to do it was to bring the subject of morality from people personal lives into the town squares and on to the ballot papers. Religion, abortion and gay bashing became W's campaign center pieces and in a time rife with Clinton's marital indiscretions and infidelities in the White House, those three issues were enough to carry his candidate all the way through, trumping even strong ecnomy and stability in the process. A simple man from Texas was entrusted with probably the most important job in the free world, on the promise of restoring dignity and respect in the institution.

If Rove took W till the White house, Dick Cheney, the Vice President, took over from there, playing rightly to W's simplistic world's view of good and evil and shaping the world in his, Cheney's, idea of right and wrong. Like Caesar who was felled by his own men during his last days in Rome, Bush's downfall was brought about by similar strong men who formed his core coterie - Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and Rice - who bent and twisted W every which way they liked. And W was content calling himself the 'decider', using the pronoun 'I' more than any previous president did, at all the public fora, while announcing the key policies of his administration, when it was quite apparent that it was everyone else, expect him, involved in policy design. W's misery start to pile upon with his very first choice of Cheney as his running mate. Cheney, an old paranoid politician, who was kept in check in the elder Bush's administration, found a free reign in the younger one's cabinet, as he set upon on redrawing the battle lines in the Middle East, with Iraq being the first order of business, much before 9/11 even happened. And to convince W, all that he (and his trusted lieutenant, Paul Wolfowitz, the Deputy Secretary of Defense) had to do was simplify his master plan into a traditional good vs evil, democracy vs dictatorship, freedom vs oppression arguments, that fitted quite nicely into W's view of the world as seen through a faith-based lens. In the public addresses in the days leading up the Iraq invasion, when W started to invoke the words "God" and "duty" and phrases "freedom and democracy are God's gift to mankind" more and more, it became quite clear, he viewed himself as a crusader in white shining armor than an political leader heading a public office. If a man is known by the company he keeps, W would probably be known as the weakest leader that the country has ever known, who was arm-twisted into making some of the worst mistakes in the modern era. Simply put, the man was one undone by his simplicity.

Oliver Stone, who once helmed these presidential affairs before, offering a searing portrait of another troubled president "Nixon", a decade ago, had a much easier job this time around, as he just had to present the facts, most of which are public knowledge, as they were, without having to read too much between the lines. His choice of wanting to make a movie about a sitting president still in office needs to be commended, instead of waiting a few years or decades, by which time history would have already started building a halo around that time and regime, by erasing, distorting, and rewriting the facts. In effect, Stone wanted the present to make its case than the revisionist history years later. And the approach that he took by painting W as a sorry figure, deserving the audience's sympathy more than their ire, would sit well with people on both sides of the fence. And the technical wizardry he employed in 'Nixon' - high contrasts in lighting, jumping narrative and furious editing - were kept to an absolute minimum, as the material was presented straight forward and straight faced. While making these biopics, makers usually center the narrative around a key trait and build the case around that trait eventually showing that the key figure either succeeded or failed because of that one ingredient that defined that man. For "Gandhi", it was truth and honesty that trumped the rest. "Nixon" centered around guilt, how he felt he disappointed his mother during his early years and how he let down an entire generation towards the end of his presidency. With "W." it is the lack of guile and tact, things that the audiences had cheered for before, as great ideals for a politician, in Capra's classics like "Mr. Smith goes to Washington". However in this increasingly complex world, people would rather their leaders be cunning and smart, who are quick on their feet, than just good and simple people, who are caught reading "My Pet Goat" for a full 8 minutes after the news of the collapse of the twin towers broke.

More Ramblings on films
The Dark Knight
Wall - E
The incredible Hulk
Indiana Jones and the kingdom of crystal skull
Speed Racer
Iron Man
Jodha Akbar
There will be blood
Chrlie Wilson's War
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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