After the truly bizarre happenings in Delhi over the last few days, I feel like I am sleepwalking through a series of art films.
First, Z (He lives). Then Rashomon. And finally Battleship Potemkin, or, to be precise, the Odessa Ballet sequences in it.
Z is undoubtedly one of the greatest political thrillers of all time. It is based on true events in Greece, and in fact, its disclaimer says, “Any resemblance to real events, persons dead or living, is not accidental. It is INTENTIONAL.”
An unpopular right-wing military dictatorship rules Greece, and an election is announced. A charismatic left-wing candidate is drawing record crowds. As the candidate crosses a square after a speech, a delivery truck careens across, and a man in the open bed of the truck hits him over the head with a club. The wound turns out to be fatal.
The investigating magistrate first believes the story that the candidate had been run over by the speeding truck. But slowly he realises that it was a cold-blooded murder (the first clue is that the identical phrase ‘fierce and lithe like a tiger’ is used by too many of the accused) and that there is a conspiracy by high-ranking Government and military officers. He sentences many of them to prison terms.
However, there is a coup, and the magistrate is removed from office. One by one, the witnesses in the case die mysterious deaths (“leaped from the fifth floor of the police building”, “died in a car accident”). The murderers escape with light sentences. The officers are not jailed.
The junta bans many things: (according to the Wikipedia entry) “peace movements, strikes, labour unions, long hair on men, Sophocles, Tolstoy, Sartre, Pinter, Mark Twain, and the letter Z (he lives)”.
The equivalent today is the banning of Twitter and Facebook and the jailing of those who mock their betters.
In the long run, things do improve in Greece: the magistrate in real life eventually becomes President of Greece, but not before a lot of suffering has taken place in the lives of many.
So, did Constable Tomar die because he was hit by somebody, or did he die of a heart attack? Which autopsy do you believe? The first or the second?
Which brings me to Rashomon. There three people (one a dead man through a medium) tell different versions of a story, and each one is completely believable, and completely self-serving. Which is the objective truth? Is there such a thing as objective truth?
I wonder when I see competing versions of reality dueling in India: the ‘secular’ variety and the ‘communal’ variety, for instance. Or, in the poor constable’s case, was he injured or did he die of myocardial infarction? Either is plausible, and it depends on your subjective reality.
Finally, there is this photo of young women marching, and alongside are uniformed police (women?). They are walking down some steps. It reminds me of the classic Odessa Ballet sequence in Battleship Potemkin, where the Tsar’s troops, machinelike, march down the waterfront steps, shooting down all passersby like so many toys.
Even though these helmeted and flak-jacketed police don’t seem to have deadly weapons, their peers did the previous day — water cannons and lathis.
And, there is revolution in the air. It was the Battleship Potemkin’s sailor revolt that led directly to the Russian Revolution.