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In films ‘Victoria & Abdul’ and ‘American Made,’ Life is Stranger than Fiction

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Actors Ali Fazal and Judi Dench
Actors Ali Fazal and Judi Dench pose during a red carpet for the movie "Victoria and Abdul" at the 74th Venice Film Festival 2017 in Venice. voa

Stephen Frears’ heartwarming drama Victoria & Abdul is about the deep friendship between Queen Victoria and her Indian servant Abdul Karim between 1887 and 1901, and Doug Liman’s American Made about Barry Seal, a 1970s audacious American pilot, who, during the Nicaraguan Crisis worked for the CIA, the DEA and the Colombian cartel.

As different as these two films are, they are both based on true stories, proving yet again that often life is stranger than fiction. Both films feature intelligent plots and superb acting.

Victoria & Abdul

Stephen Frears’ film Victoria and Abdul, opens in 1887, with the festivities for Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee, celebrating her 50-year reign.

Abdul Karim, a young Muslim clerk from Agra, India, is sent to the banquet all the way from India to present the queen with a gift from India, a ceremonial coin. To the dismay of Queen Victoria’s courtiers, the Indian servant strikes a deep friendship with the octogenarian Queen Victoria, defying class and racial boundaries.

According to the movie, Abdul Karim impressed the British sovereign with his depth of spirit and good looks. Soon the unlikely friends became inseparable, discussing philosophy, literature, even Indian cuisine. In a span of 14 years, Abdul Karm became the queen’s confidant and munshi, her teacher, in Urdu.

But the queen’s courtesans and her family, sidelined by Abdul, questioned her sanity and considered her removal.

Historian and author Shrabani Basu based her book of the same title on the queen’s journals in Urdu and on Karim’s private diary. Basu discovered Abdul Karim’s personal diary in possession of Karim’s surviving nephew Abdul Rashid in 2010, over a century after the queen’s death.

This was the only document on the relationship between royal and servant that survived the wrath of Queen Victoria’s children. Immediately after her death in 1901, the royals evicted Queen Victoria’s munshi, burned everything he had received from the queen and swiftly shipped him and his family to India. In 1909 Abdul Karim died in Agra leaving his diary as his only testimonial of his deep friendship with the empress.

Director Frears offers captivating cinematography while Dame Judi Dench portrays a free-spirited Queen Victoria and Indian actor Ali Fazal embodies a charming and loyal Adbul Karim.

Though the film does not depict a romantic relationship between the two, it does hint to it. Dench describes the queen’s reaction to Karim:

“She had a ready eye for somebody good-looking, which he is very, so it was easy to imagine a kind of tired, poor person suddenly looking up and seeing this wonderful good-looking young man. How lovely somebody at last beautiful to look at,” Dench said.

But, author Basu says, “At the heart of this book is a story of friendship, a friendship of two different people from two different specters of this world, one is the Empress of India, one is a clerk from Agra jail, and somewhere they have a bond they find this link and a common space.”

Actor Tom Cruise
Actor Tom Cruise poses while promoting a film in Mexico City. voa

American Made

American Made, by Bourne Identity filmmaker Doug Liman, offers a satirical look at the political crisis in Nicaragua.

It shows the involvement of the United States in the revolution during the late 1970s and 1980s through the perspective of pilot Barry Seal, who, for the right price, delivers guns to Nicaragua on behalf of the CIA, and cocaine into the U.S. on behalf of the Colombian cartel. Somewhere in between, Seal also works for the DEA.

Tom Cruise offers an engaging interpretation as Barry Seal, piloting the plane and doing all the stunts throughout the film. Cruise explains what drew him to the character:

“He just couldn’t help himself,” Cruise said. “He just had to live this life. He literally when you are talking about someone living on the edge, he didn’t even realize he was on the edge. He was just living life and not really thinking of necessary ramifications and what’s going to happen.”

As in most of his action film projects, Cruise pushes his boundaries.

“I don’t make a movie just to make a movie,” he said. “It’s not what interests me. What interests me is the passion of cinema, the passion of storytelling. That’s when it gets very exciting, not just a job. I love this too much.”  (VOA)

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Was Taj Mahal Once a Shiva Temple? The Debate over the Tomb Continues

According to some historians, Taj Mahal was incipiently a Shiva Temple offered to the Mughals as a form of the gift by a Rajput king

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Taj Mahal
Taj Mahal. Wikimedia

New Delhi, August 16, 2017: The famous monument from the Mughal era, Taj Mahal is once more in contention as the Central Information Commission (CIC) has requested the Central government to clear up unequivocally whether it is a tomb or a Shiva Temple. An RTI came to the CIC regarding the same, in response to which the quasi-constitutional body solicited answers from the culture minister.

But where did this question come from and what is the source?

According to some historians, Taj Mahal was incipiently a Shiva Temple offered to the Mughals as a form of the gift by a Rajput king. The hypothesis says that the temple was later formed into the monument that dwells graves of the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan and his adored wife Mumtaz Mahal, mentioned IndiaNews.

Also Read: Firozabad Glass Industry is Declining: Is Taj Mahal to be Blamed? 

In 2015, a case was recorded in Agra by six lawyers, requesting that the tomb ought to be given over to Hindus for worship. The litigation solicited to forbid Islamic religious actions performed in the monument and remove the graves.

PN Oak, a revisionist historian also made the claim in his 1989  book “Taj Mahal” that the name Taj Mahal was procured from a Sanskrit word “Tejo Mahalay’ meaning a Shiva Temple.

The Cultural Minister Mahesh Sharma denied the claims in response to the question put forward to him that the Seventh wonder of the world was a Shiva Temple.


NewsGram is a Chicago-based non-profit media organization. We depend upon support from our readers to maintain our objective reporting. Show your support by Donating to NewsGram. Donations to NewsGram are tax-exempt. 

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Woman Medical Pioneers from India, Syria and Japan Who Traveled to Philadelphia in 1885

The picture shows a group of medical students, all women, dressed in their traditional attires belonging from Syria, Japan and India

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Women Medical Pioneer
Photograph of Anandibai Joshee, Kei Okami, and Tabat M. Islambooly, students from the Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania. Wikimedia

New Delhi, August 15, 2017:

There is a remarkable archaic picture of some extraordinary medical students in Pennsylvania in 1885, who was featured on Public Radio International’s “The World” and has been making rounds on the web.

The picture shows a group of medical students, all women, dressed in their traditional attires belonging from India, Syria, and Japan.

What’s so outlandish about the image that has stunned the internet? Nothing is too remarkable in the picture until you see the period of time indicating the image from the year 1885. Each woman was the first in their respective countries to obtain a degree in western medicine.

Why did these women trek to the United States for studies?

America was the only place in the world at that time who offered Medical education to women. It’s also a tribute to the Quakers of Pennsylvania, who believed in women’s rights sufficiently to set up the WMCP way back in 1850 in Germantown.

Woman Medical Pioneer in India
Photograph of Anandi Gopal Joshi (March 31, 1865 – February 26, 1887). Wikimedia Commons

One of the strong-minded looking women among the group is Anandibai Joshi from India. She was married off at the age of 9 to a high caste Brahmin family. Her husband motivated her to pursue her studies back then, which is commendable to acknowledge with regard to the antiquated time of the history. But what impelled her to become a doctor was the tragic story of her own. At the 14, she gave birth to a child who died right after ten days post birth due to unavailability of healthcare facilities. From that point onwards, she decided to become a doctor and overcome hurdles that came her way.

[bctt tweet=”Anandibai Joshi was the first Hindu woman to set foot in America.” username=”NewsGramdotcom”]

Hindus of ancient India considered traveling overseas as a sin that would corrupt them, regardless of which Anandibai succeeded in attaining her dreams. She was the first Hindu woman to set foot in America.

The WMCP received a letter of congratulations from Britain’s Queen Victoria, who was also Empress of India on the graduation of Anandibai.

The Pri.org mentioned an extract from her letter of application to WMCP:

“[The] determination which has brought me to your country against the combined opposition of my friends and caste ought to go a long way towards helping me to carry out the purpose for which I came, i.e. is to to render to my poor suffering country women the true medical aid they so sadly stand in need of and which they would rather die than accept at the hands of a male physician. The voice of humanity is with me and I must not fail. My soul is moved to help the many who cannot help themselves.”

The picture is also a reminder of just how exceptional America was in the 19th century. America was the inspirational beacon of freedom and equality for the entire world back then.

Another woman from Japan, Keiko Okami, returned to Tokyo and was recognized as a doctor and appointed as the head of gynecology at one of the main hospitals. However, she resigned a couple of years later when the Emperor forbade to receive her during a visit to the hospital because she was a woman.

Sabat Islambouli from Syria also headed back to Damascus and later moved to  Egypt in 1919 according to the alumnae list of that year. It is not known what happened to her ultimately as the college lost contact with her.

Joshi was respectfully appointed to a position as physician-in-charge of the female ward at the hospital in the princely state of Kolhapur. At the age of 21, she was afflicted with tuberculosis and died within the year.

ALSO READ: ‘That’s What They Said’- 15 Quotes by Influential Women around the world 

Anandibai is still revered not lesser than a hero among Indian feminists

Again breaking away with custom, Joshi’s husband sent her burial remains to one of her American friends, who laid them to rest in Poughkeepsie, New York.

Besides the international students, the college also produced the nation’s first Native American woman doctor, Susan LeFlesche. Many American graduates traveled overseas as medical missionaries, particularly to China, Korea, India and elsewhere.

It’s living alumnae number about a 1,000, and are found in almost every part of the American republic and in many foreign countries namely, Egypt, India, China, Japan, Persia, and Korea.

As the heterogeneity has waxed and waned throughout the years, it is interesting to perceive that it was still strong at a time when it was not a popular stance. Even in the crisis of the Second World War, WMC admitted students from Japanese internment camps. However, not everyone was happy about their presence.


NewsGram is a Chicago-based non-profit media organization. We depend upon support from our readers to maintain our objective reporting. Show your support by Donating to NewsGram. Donations to NewsGram are tax-exempt. 

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Old Cinemas: Abandoned Picture Houses Become Cultural Centers in Lebanon

Qassem Istanbouli, an art and cinema enthusiast from Lebanon, shows films by directors such as Woody Allen, Pedro Almodovar, David Lynch and Lars Von Trier in his picture houses

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Qassem Istanbouli
Qassem Istanbouli holds a film negative, in Tripoli, Lebanon, July 5, 2017. Istanbouli is restoring old cinemas into cultural centers. VOA
  • An abandoned picture house and its renovation in the northern Lebanese town of Tripoli is more than a dream for Qassem Istanbouli
  • The 31-year-old has reopened three such cinemas, two in his home city of Tyre in southern Lebanon, and another in Nabatiyeh, and has transformed them into hubs for film, art and theatre
  • Istanbouli, who was born in Tyre and studied fine arts and directing at the Lebanese University, initially relied on a bank loan and donations from the public for his projects

Tripoli, Lebanon, July 14, 2017: With peeling paint and crumbling plasterwork, an abandoned picture house and its renovation in the northern Lebanese town of Tripoli is more than a dream for Qassem Istanbouli.

The 31-year-old has reopened three such cinemas, two in his home city of Tyre in southern Lebanon, and another in Nabatiyeh, and has transformed them into hubs for film, art and theater.

“When I embarked on this journey, I felt I shared this dream with people in my city who are eager to have a cultural life restored,” said Istanbouli, who shows films by directors such as Woody Allen, Pedro Almodovar, David Lynch and Lars Von Trier.

ALSO READ: Indian Cinema has gone beyond song-dance saga, for International Audience it is still about Cultural Reflection of larger than Life characters

Istanbouli, who was born in Tyre and studied fine arts and directing at the Lebanese University, initially relied on a bank loan and donations from the public for his projects but now gets financial support from the Lebanese ministry of culture, a Dutch NGO and the United Nations force in Lebanon.

Istanbouli’s dream is also driven by a family connection, his father used to repair cinema projectors, while his grandfather screened movies from Greece and the Palestinian territories, projecting them on a wall.

“This is a way to achieve my father’s dream,” he said. (VOA)