Tuesday, 24 September 2013

A parody of presidential films

For Overlooked Films at Todd Mason’s blog Sweet Freedom this Tuesday, a somewhat upside-down look at films about American presidents and how they might seem in the Indian context.

Hollywood loves to sell the American President and the rest of the world loves to lap up his films. I, for one, enjoy watching the flag-waving, jingoistic, and superpatriotic movies (I know they all mean the same thing) that Hollywood studios dish out periodically.

While I can imagine a rather youthful and charismatic American president as a pilot taking on aliens or as commander in chief fighting terrorists, I can’t imagine his Indian equivalent doing anything of the sort. This is because the average age of the last three US presidents, Obama, Bush, and Clinton, on the day they entered the Oval Office, was 45-55, while the average age of the last three Indian prime ministers was 75.


Harrison Ford as President James Marshall in Air Force One.
 
It would be a comedy of errors to visualise our head of government, attired in national costume, usually a white kurta pyjama or dhoti, fighting a rogue agent with his bare fists while clinging with one hand on to the loading ramp of Air India One. Neither can I picture the ageing prime minister delivering a knockout punch to the agent and barking, “Get off my plane!” as President James Marshall (Harrison Ford) does in Air Force One (1997). I had goose bumps.

Imagining the next scene in the Indian context would be even more preposterous. Marshall is flying through the air like a kite without a string as the crew of a rescue plane, Liberty 24, frantically tries to rein him in. The daring mid-air rescue culminates successfully with the crew welcoming their gravity-defying president with a smart salute and the words, “Liberty Two Four is changing call signs—Liberty Two Four is now Air Force One!” immediately followed by a loud whoop somewhere in the White House. More goose bumps.

Bill Pullman as President Thomas J. Whitmore in Independence Day.

I can't envision the Indian prime minister exhorting a ragtag group of pilots in the middle of an alien invasion either. President Thomas J. Whitmore (Bill Pullman) not only rasps out a 156-worded speech loaded with chauvinistic fervour in Independence Day (1996)—“We will not go quietly into the night! We will not vanish without a fight! We're going to live on! We're going to survive! Today we celebrate our Independence Day!”—but the war vet even hops into a fighter plane and leads the air assault against the aliens. Plenty of goose bumps.

Frankly, I was in two minds whether to include Mars Attacks! (1996) in this farcical post as President James Dale (Jack Nicholson) does not exactly paint himself in glory. He welcomes the Martian leader into the Oval Office and offers his hand of friendship, saying “Why can't we work out our differences? Why can't we work things out? Little people, why can't we all just get along?” Instead, the Martian’s spiderlike hand comes off and attacks the trusting president. When I heard James Dale’s peace offer I thought of the Indian prime minister and when I saw what the Martian did I thought of his Pakistani counterpart.

14 comments:

  1. I never thought of the Indian higher ups quite like that. Imagine Manmohan Singh so dignified and slow and Sonia Gandhi prim and proper behaving like this!

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    1. Mystica, you can't imagine either of them or any other Indian politician doing anything like that. I think I'd be happy if they governed the country as well as they should. If wishes were horses...

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  2. We Americans can't help but misbehave. Ha! The more rugged our President, the better we like it. Or so it seems lately. In the past we've had some old men in office, but that was then and this is now. There are already grumblings that Hillary Clinton is too doggone old. :) I will say one thing though, being President has a way of aging younger men very rapidly. Have you noticed Obama's white hair lately?

    Interesting post, Prashant. Never thought of comparing leaders in quite this same way.

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    1. Yvette, thank you. I like the way Hollywood projects the US president in films. They are not realistic but they are entertaining. I noticed Obama's white hair and one can imagine what he might look like by the end of his second term.

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  3. I thought of a couple movie Presidents while reading this: Peter Sellers in DR STRANGELOVE and not a president but a Prime Minister in LOVE ACTUALLY. Hugh Grant is wonderful dancing around No. 10 Downing Street.

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    1. Ron, I don't recall watching Peter Sellers in DR STRANGLELOVE so I'm going to have to look into that one. I used to like Sellers at one time. I have seen LOVE ACTUALLY, not that I remember Hugh Grant as the prime minister. I know the film had a lot of good actors like Colin Firth and Liam Neeson and even Rowan Atkinson, I think.

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  4. Thanks for this entertaining post :) I like the cultural comparisons. It reminded me also of a movie I haven't seen, but have heard about - Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Slayer, which came out last year and has Lincoln fighting vampires, who have allied themselves with the Confederates in the US Civil War! It sounds silly, but maybe combines the supernatural and the super-patriotic in funny ways. People already have turned Jane Austen's civilized characters into zombie-killers, and now Lincoln is fighting vampires... why not Gandhi or Nehru as the next monster fighters?

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    1. HKatz, you are welcome. Cinema is a good medium to compare different peoples and their cultures. In spite of being the world's largest film industry, Indian cinema hasn't made a global mark as it should have by now. Indian actors often bag roles in Hollywood films, as veteran actor naseeruddin Shah did in THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN but that's about it. I think the only ones watching Hindi films outside of India, for instance, is the Indian diaspora and they are everywhere. I missed ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE SLAYER on cable recently but I hope to see it soon during the first of several reruns. Gandhi and Nehru as monster fighters? Not a bad idea so long as the two Indian leaders are portrayed in a very good light. Anything short of it would be inviting serious touble.

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  5. I did enjoy Mars Attack, first time around, but when re-watching a few years later thought it quite awful and couldn't sit through it.
    Ben Kingsley was an excellent Gandhi and a tremendous psycho-crim in Sexy Beast, but I don't think the roles had too much in common with each other!

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    1. Col, frankly, I couldn't sit through MARS ATTACKS! the first time around. Since then, I have only caught snatches of it. Didn't like it much. Ben Kinglsey was perfect as GANDHI, a film I have seen many times and was true to the Mahatma's life and the struggle for independence.

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  6. Great one Prashant - this does seem to be a particularly Hollywood fantasy, doesn;t it? Let's face it, if aliens landed in Italy Berlusconi would first rip them off then try to shag anything that moved - you're beyyer off with a PMs who try to act their age!

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    1. Thank you, Sergio. It is a Hollywood fantasy and we are not likely to see the end of it. As long as it sells, who cares? Berlusconi is a more polished version of the average rustic Indian politician and I can see what he might do to the poor aliens.

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  7. Wonderful post, Prashant. Aside from the comments and comparisons of presidents, I enjoyed the two movies you mentioned, and agree that MArs Attacks was pretty bad.

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    1. Thank you, Tracy. Spoofs are fun. I love action movies—the less sense they make, the better they are. I thought MARS ATTACKS! was a silly film though I think it was meant to be. Jack Nicholson was at least convincing as Jack Nicholson if not as President James Dale.

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