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Archive for the ‘Film’ Category

Revelations Inside “Inside Job”

Posted by chakrabarti on December 13, 2010

Walked into a movie theater after quite some time last night to catch a screening of “Inside Job“, a documentary about the 2008 financial crisis and its aftermath. The narration was by Matt Damon, presumably to put more people in seats (also might be a logical move given Damon’s identification with Democrats and liberals in general).

A lot of the stuff in the documentary has been out in the public domain for a long time now: deregulation of financial markets starting with Reagan, the dot-com and housing bubbles, the power exerted by a handful of investment banks on the political scene, securitization of mortgages, derivatives trading, repeal of Glass-Steagall under the Larry Summers-Robert Rubin-Alan Greenspan regime (“The Committee to Save World”, as I recall from a Time Magazine cover of that period), the collapse of Lehmann Brothers that triggered the epic financial crisis of 2008, et cetera, et cetera. Relatively little of this was new information, though presented nicely in a coherent format. The contrast with Michael Moore’s “Capitalism: A Love Story” was fascinating. Although Moore’s work is a lot more humorous and on a different level in terms of cinematic excellence, “Inside Job” avoids the question of profit-versus-welfare motive altogether, focusing instead on the role of the financial industry, legislators, the Federal Reserve and the role of the Clinton and Bush administrations in bringing about the debacle of September 2008 and the resulting worldwide recession, from which we are recovering painfully to this day.

Something new that I learned from the screening: the role of Economics professors in lending respectability and a certain legitimacy to the financial industry, be it while writing papers about the (in)stability of Iceland’s banking sector in conjunction with Goldman Sachs [Frederic Mishkin], or advocating for deregulatory legislation as Treasury Secretary and subsequently cashing in while giving speeches to Wall Street executives following a stint as President of Harvard [Larry Summer], or advocating supply-side tax policies that increase the personal wealth of the top 0.1% of the population, many of whom happen to be employed in the financial services sector [Glenn Hubbard].

Another take-away was the commentary on the kid-gloves treatment provided to the big banks by the Obama administration, that has been a major sore point for liberals who expected things to change at least slightly in the past couple of years. Notably, the movie points out that many of the players who were central to bringing about the crisis (Bernanke, Geithner, Summers, the list goes on) are still running the show. Of course, those who were paying close attention to the Obama primary campaign would have recognized that economic populism was not one of the strongpoints of the campaign [their differences were mainly in the foreign policy domain].

To sum up, “Inside Job” is a good primer on the events leading up to the financial “Armageddon”, and its lingering aftereffects. However, the documentary does make you leave the theater feeling a little pessimistic..

Posted in Film, Finance, Politics, Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

Dev. D – ***

Posted by chakrabarti on April 13, 2010

Alert!! Spoilers included in thoughts below:

Boredom on Saturday led to Netflix browsing. Spent the afternoon watching Dev. D. The instant streaming version has really taken off, especially with respect to Bollywood, er, I mean, Hindi flicks. For the lazy ones among us, it saves us a trip to the local Indian store to get it on DVD (of course, the more ingenious ones among us still download it for free using some BitTorrent black magic).

Back to the movie, Dev D is an updated take on Sarat Chandra’s classic novel Devdas, recounted a half dozen times on the silver screen by now, portrayed over the years by actors as varied as P.C. Barua in the 1930s, Dilip Kumar in the mid-50s and most famously, Shah Rukh in the 2002-vintage caper/magnum opus. Devdas, shortened here to “Dev”, is played by Abhay Deol, who has been making a name for himself in the Hindi/English crossover genre in recent years. “Paro” is played by the gorgeous Mahie Gill, while “Chandramukhi” in this case happens to be the rather exotic Kalki Koechlin.  The backdrop to the story is not colonial Calcutta, but present-day Punjab and Delhi.

First, the good news: Dev D is miles, if not light years, ahead of Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s clunker of a film, which basically had a bunch of hummable songs, extreme SRK-style hamming, and the pretty faces of Aishwarya and Madhuri somehow strung together in a plot. The editing and transitioning between scenes here is crisp, with the background score doing an excellent job at conveying the mood to the audience at any given moment. But the flaws are also pretty evident, with the whole background story on the prostitute Chandramukhi distracting from the main plot. Though well-intentioned, the whole MMS-scandal angle does not help advance the story. Would have been better served had it been shown in a movie about how women get into the call-girl business.

Abhay Deol does a pretty decent job as Dev, the spoiled brat who missed out on love and thus embarks on a path of self-destruction filled with alcohol, narcotics and rage. Deol succeeds in making us empathize with his plight through the duration of the movie, although his petulant behavior is something  that we haven’t seen portrayed in earlier versions of Devdas. Think the director here misses out on showing the melancholy side to the character that has been such an essential feature in the novel as well as previous versions onscreen. Mahie Gill fills the screen with her radiance, and justifies the director’s casting decision. She holds her own in several exchanges with Dev. Kalki Koechlin as “Leni” and later “Chanda/Chandramukhi” is a surprise package. Though the entire background of how she got initiated in the flesh trade seems to me to be a distraction, it does help demonstrate her acting chops. However, it’s not exactly clear why she falls for Dev, apart from the fact that the story dictates such an outcome. One suspects there shall be more good performances from her in times to come, especially in this genre, given her Western appearance and demeanor.

Overall, Dev D is eminently watchable, though falls short of the “Classics” category. Director Anurag Kashyap manages to take Sarat Chandra’s novel and creates a convincing narrative tailored to contemporary times,  though he gets sidetracked at times by things like the MMS-pornography shenanigans associated with Leni, and the hit-and-run incident at the end (similar to ones that have been reported over the years). Special note for the music and background score, especially Emotional Atyachaar that has pretty much caught on fire ever since the movie first released about a year ago.

Posted in Entertainment, Film, India | 6 Comments »