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Hairy Indian Opener in Florence River to River

One of the nice things about this European based Festival of Indian films is that it is not limited exclusively to films from India itself, but also includes work by Indian filmmakers in the Diaspora as well as works by
Non-Indian directors dealing with Indian subjects. The most powerful film of the fest so far was "Murder Unveiled" by Canadian based director Vic Sarin, born in Kashmir but long resident in Canada with more than a hundred films to his credit. The catalog calls this a "modern day Romeo and Juliet story", but aside from the fact that it is a tale of young star-crossed lovers, it has very little in common with the Shakespearean original. The Juliet figure -- a stunning debut by intensely beautiful Anita Majumdar - will, in fact, die at the end, but rather than being poisoned by her own hand she will be kidnapped and stabbed to death at the behest of her own parents, a tyrannical Sikh businessman and his fatally deceptive wife, very wealthy traditional Sikhs living in Canada.

The film opens in India with a brutal attack on the Romeo of the film who is beaten by unknown assailants literally to within an inch of his life, and left for dead, but eventually recovers. The story then backtracks to examine the reason for this near murder and we find that this extremely handsome, athletic boy fell in love at first sight with a young Sikh beauty from Canada -- and she with him -- during a family visit to the old sod in India. Unlike her parents, raised in Canada she is fully westernised and believes in marriage for love. The parents, especially the insane tyrant of a father, will have none of this, and insist on an arranged marriage with the son of another wealthy Sikh family in Canada. The hair-raising plot gets very very thick to the point where the monstrous parents declare her "dead to them" when she not only refuses the arranged marriage, but goes back to India on her own where she legally marries her Prince Charming.
Moreover, even when given several "last chances" to annul the marriage so as not to sully the "dignity" of her high caste family, she steadfastly refuses, nor will any amount of money buy off the unwanted young husband, the father decides to take drastic action.
Turban bedecked with flowing beard, the picture of authority, he now uses his influence and money to buy off the local police chief who will in turn use his power to make the incorrigible young lady disappear. Enter a tall Sikh lawyer, also in a traditional turban and beard, but holding far more liberal views, who investigates the case methodically and finally solves the disappearance of the girl, revealing that she was actually executed at her own mother's command over the international phone line, in a breathtakingly tense scene.
(The incontrovertible evidence for this is a still functional cell phone found at the scene of the crime). So, in a sense this has become a "whodunit" and How did they do it, but the real subject matter is ancient tradition so entrenched that it can turn to murder in the family when faced down by liberal modernity. On the surface the film seems to be so anti-Sikh that one wonders if the traditional Sikh community did not put out a "Fatah" Contract to Kill on the director.
However the story is based on a best selling novel so the Indian public is forewarned, and it appears that extreme criticism of extremely backward tradition is now acceptable in a rapidly modernizing India. I did however note that there was a credit for "beard design", indicating that probably not all the actors portraying Sikhs were necessarily of that particular religious persuasion. In any case, this is an extremely powerful film with a carefully worked out plot, a spellbinding performance by Anita Majumdar, and excellence all around by the supporting cast, especially the horrendous parents! The saving grace for the Sikh community at large is the final funeral scene at the Canadian Sikh temple where the parents, who have deluded themselves into thinking that the Sikh community will approve of their filicide in the name of tradition and "family values", are studiously shunned by every single person leaving the ceremony. Knockout of a film. Hope it gets to travel beyond the festival circuit.

More directly on the subject of facial hair, and a hair-raiser of another kind, is a nineteen minute documentary entitled "The Rajput Moustaches" co-directed by Allessandro Ferrara and Gianluca Pipitone. Rajastan is the desert part of western India associated with exotic fortress cities rising from the sands and an ancient warrior tradition. The men of Rajput (the name means "son of the king") all wear thick turned up moustaches which are a sign of their manhood and military caste dignity. A man without a moustache would look like a woman, and even the rajput women agree. The film, lushly photographed, consists of a tour of the magnificent Rajastan countryside, punctuated by numerous interviews with Rajputs who put forth their views on the importance of the moustache to the men of Rajput, even today -- and it must be upturned at the ends as a distinctive feature.
Unfortunately, in the cities of the region the moustache tradition is rapidly disappearing as urban men now go in for clean shaved faces, while the young people of the university pooh-poohed it as grotesque and "icky".
Nevertheless, in the villages the moustache is still proudly cultivated although the warrior aspect is now more or less a thing of the past. The film has a certain lively good humour about it and a marvellous musical soundtrack, part traditional, part modern, with compelling percussion sequences. The version I saw was subtitled in Italian, but most of the people interviewed spoke English, so, no problem as far as comprehension is concerned. Part anthropological film, part travelogue, and thoroughly joyful, this is the kind of documentary that makes you want to grow a healthy moustache yourself and take off for a part of the world where the sun still shines on people's faces.
Hats off to the Italian filmmakers who have opened this window on the remarkable culture of Rajastan.
Alex Deleon, Florence, December 12
Pictures "Murder Unveiled" by Canadian based director Vic Sarin and from "The Rajput Moustaches" co-directed by Allessandro Ferrara and Gianluca Pipitone


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