Some Ramblings - The Interview (2014) by Srinivas Kanchibhotla
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Has the entire world really become more sensitive to the suffering, mistreatment and degrading of its citizens or is it the case that some people (and organizations) simply have a lot of time at their disposal and not much to do within it, that there are increased number of cry-foul campaigns against an entire spectrum of non-issues and trivial concerns nowadays? Contrast that to a few decades ago when NTR was the chief minister of the state and a section of the film industry launched a (mean) spirited campaign against him and his rule with propaganda films full of innuendoes, sly references, and obvious inferences that mocked NTR's life style, his dressing sense, his speech and behavioral patterns, his maverick decisions and administrative blunders. That men at the top are fair game for criticism and unfair pull downs is just the nature of the beast, but how far can the humiliation go before it goes too far? And so came out one silly excuse after another to bash NTR during the mid 80's, all cleared by the censors and some having a good run at the box-office, but all released at the theaters nonetheless without any hitch - and all this while NTR was in power and had entire administrative machinery at his call to crush and drown out any voice of opposition. For all his personality faults, NTR was both savvy and magnanimous enough to allow the theatrical run of these malicious movies proceed without any problems, allowing them to shine or fade away on their own quality and accord. That probably is the only way a concerted personal targeting can be dealt with effectively - willful ignorance. As any other way, direct or indirect, can only aggravate the matters further lending unnecessary credence to an avoidable argument. And here and now...where castes, religions, groups, communities, and even governments are taking great affront at even the slightest provocation or needling, throwing their entire weight behind issues that would never have garnered any attention in the first place, had it not been for the hue and cry at whatever religious/cultural/moral indignation the issue might had raked up. To sum up, the issue is never about the insult (which is indeed insulting, even in the most liberal sense), it is about the response. Choose to ignore? The insult might slip away from consciousness over a period of time (Quick, try recalling other NTR hating movies besides 'manDalAdheesuDu'). Choose to respond? It lasts for a lifetime, proving to be counter-productive to the whole point of appealing to be stricken off the records. And that way, 'The Interview' goes down into history as a cultural lightning rod that is going to forever remains in the record books for all the wrong reasons, by virtue of how the aggrieved, the North Korean government, chose to take the bait.

'The Interview' can be summarized in a few words - promising premise, adolescent humor, some funny lines and over the top acting of James Franco to a more sage-like, deadpan (read, wooden) Seth Rogen. That's it. To be fair, the movie wasn't aiming for anything high, an outlandish plot (though not as outlandish as one would think, as an Afghan leader was once taken out in this fashion by a Taliban soldier masquerading as an interviewer, a few years ago) interlaced with a few hit and miss jokes. It would have gone down as an average effort from Rogen's stable, coming off a genuinely funny 'This is the end', which would have faded away from the collective memories a few days into its run. This was not the first time a North Korean leader had been targeted and mocked by Hollywood. The South Park creators did it before a few years back with their irreverent puppet action thriller 'Team America : World Police' which is far more bawdy and far more disrespectful to the elder Kim Jong, who however had the wisdom to not make a fuss about it and let the movie flame out after a few weeks. Now it is only remember for its graphic defecation (puppet on puppet action, of course) sequence more than its mocking portrayal of a world leader. The younger Kim Jong thought otherwise, reportedly blessing a one of a kind hacking assault on Sony, the backer of the movie, leaking their confidential emails, passwords, personal data, unreleased movies, bringing all sorts of unwanted attention to a movie that never deserved all this attention to start with. It seems something out a Bond plot line that evil doers from a foreign land shut down a major corporation tunneling into its technological plumbing and exposing the skeleton hidden underneath an attractive exterior. The hackers not just satisfied with bringing the studio to its knees with this corporate vandalism, even threatened the movie chains planning to show the movie with 9/11 style attacks. It is here that it gets interesting when Sony blinked, theater chains balked and Hollywood was beaten into submission with dire warnings of mass destruction over a point of view, and the studio finally decided to release the movie online. It might appear reactionary (and cowardice) to a certain extent on that part of the movie studio cowering at the empty threats of failed state, who made such facile statements before too, like launching a nuclear strike on US' Western coast with missiles that barely left their silos during the test launches. But the decision to release it online is a strategy that might have long term implications, mostly good.

Have a movie that is instigating at best and downright incendiary at worst? Worry not, here comes internet to the rescue. Launch a shell company, route the funding through tax haven states, make the movie and distribute it online making sure all the while that there are no digital footprints left anywhere that could be traced back to the original makers. Employ the same tactics as the current hackers, but this time with institutional backing. In this current hyper-sensitive climate, where getting offended at words, statements, positions, situations and points of view seem to be the order of the day (and one could always count fringe groups that most certainly would have an objection on even the tamest of contents), the movie industry needs to retaliate with these same guerrilla tactics just to remind everyone that two can play this game of phantom menacing. The fall out of 'The Interview' might not be apparent right away, but give it a few more years and this strategy of online releases is bound to gain ground with the brave and fearless filmmakers who refuse to be cowed down by fascistic tactics. Funny, how it is a harmless funny movie that now finds itself as the unwitting torch bearer thrust at the forefront of digital distribution. This almost calls for another funny movie to be made on this very same sad state of affairs.


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