Tuesday, August 04, 2009

World Movie Series - 27 - Che part 1: The Argentine

Ernesto Guevara. A name which is otherwise known as ‘Che’ to the millions of people who live with the fire of revolution in t heir hearts. A very important personality of the twentieth century. A name which can never be erased from the history of the world’s revolutions. A godly figure to the Cubans worldwide. A devil to the American citizens.

We see these days many people wearing T shirts which carry the image of Che. But I wonder how many of them know the role he played to liberate Cuba from a dictator named Batista (Nope. Not the one who features in WWE’s wrestling shows, but a real dictator) and the charisma he had among the Cuban people who considered him as a liberator and the role he later played towards the Bolivian revolution (which, of course failed). I’ll advice these people to try seeing the movie ‘Che’ first.

Well, before we review the film, let’s take a look at the details of how the movie was made. Talented actor Benicio Del Toro bought the movie rights of Jon Lee Anderson's 1997 biography Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life. But, while he and producer Laura Bickford were trying to get a suitable writer for the movie, the rights expired in two years. But, Benicio Del Toro had begun researching the role, while they were searching for a writer. He did his research for seven long years, in which he read every possible book on Che Guevara, met most of the people who were associated with his life (including Fidel Castro), touring all over Cuba to see the places where Che lived and studying Che’s body language and mannerisms. After a certain period of time, when Del Toro felt he is ready to carry the role of Che on his shoulders, asked Terrence Malick to pen the script, as he had been to Bolivia as a journalist during 1966. But, due to shortage in funds, Malick moved out. It was then decided to ask Steven Soderbergh to direct the film, and to ask Peter Buchman to pen the screenplay, due to Buchman’s interest in researching historical personalities. Thus, the movie began to take shape.

Initially, the decision was to film a movie on Che’s unsuccessful attempts to thwart the government of Bolivia, but then the stakeholders realized that there was no reason or a context which made Che to go to Bolivia, and so, they decided it would be better if the movie talks about the Cuban revolution first and then Che’s decision to go to Bolivia. But, after finishing the script, it was so huge that Del Toro and Soderbergh decided to cut the script in to two parts. The first part must be about the Cuban revolution and the second part about Che’s days in Bolivia.

This is how the movie was made.

The First part is titled as ‘Che – The Argentine’. The film begins with an interview of Che by a female reporter, Lisa Howard, after the Cuban revolution, and through the interview, the flashback of the Cuban revolution is shown in intercuts. The scenes of how Che and Castro meet for the first ever time, how Che joined Castro’s ‘July 26th’ movement, how they travel to Cuba in a boat, how the revolution started, how they gradually started to launch guerilla attacks on the Cuban army, how they successfully attacked the Cuban army barracks, how they were able to move in to the city of Las Villas, the battle of Santa Clara and how the dictator Batista finally fled out of Cuba, there by ending the Cuban revolution, and how Fidel Castro became the Cuban Prime Minister. We also get to see the fierce speech Che delivered in the UN during 1964 and his American visit.
The revolution is shown in rich color, where as Che’s post revolution scenes are shown in black and white, giving the movie a documentary feel.

Although the movie can be summarized in a small paragraph, the realistic scenes add an advantage to the film. The transformation of a young Argentinean doctor in to a fierce revolutionist is excellently portrayed in the film. Although the film starts with the meeting of a young Che with Castro, it has to be taken in to consideration that it was Che Guevara’s Latin American motorcycle journey for six long months which changed his entire attitude and made him in to a revolutionist. Read the review of the movie ‘The motorcycle diaries’ here.

After joining the army of Castro, soon Che gets promoted to the role of a Comandante. He served in the July 26th movement as an inspirational leader throughout the revolution. In the movie, we see Che’s various traits, from being a very compassionate doctor and an inspirational leader, to being a ruthless executor of traitors, a masterful Comandante, a political leader and an author, a disciplined military officer who doesn’t want his troops to travel in stolen cars and instead prefers them to walk all the way to the country.

The movie ends with the battle of Santa Clara and how Fidel Castro became the Prime Minister of Cuba.

The movie was made in spanish and released in the year 2008 in May at the Cannes film festival and Benicio del Toro won the best actor award fro his brilliant performance.

The second part of the movie is called ‘Che – the Guerilla’ which is entirely about Che’s Bolivian struggle which will be posted in a day or two in this blog.

See the trailer here.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Thiruvannamalai & Usmaan Bhai . . .

It all started when I suddenly decided about going to Thiruvannamalai, a sacred place for the Hindus and the worshippers of Lord Shiva. I have never been there so far, and all of a sudden, during a telephonic conversation with my girlfriend, while answering to her question about going somewhere to relax, I said ‘I’ll go to Thiruvannamalai’. I didn’t know what prompted me to say so, and so it all started when I suddenly decided about going to Thiruvannamalai.

I started from Chennai on Saturday night around 8:30 PM, and reached the place at Sunday early morning around 3:30 AM. Throughout the journey, it was irritating to the core by the idiotic movie clips shown with full sound, and to my surprise, the people found it very interesting, and on top of it, they were sleeping peacefully in spite of the deafening sound! I thought of telling the driver about the sound, which I usually do, but this time, decided against it, as there were a lot of people sitting on the floor and it’s impossible to cross all of them from my last seat. I thought, ‘Okay. This is a nice beginning’.

But, while nearing Thiruvannamalai, all the irritation slowly disappeared, and I became a sort of curious. I dunno why, but I also felt in peace. Got down the bus around 3:30 AM, and started walking towards the mountain. There were no one on the road, and it was very windy. While walking towards the temple, I saw some beautiful illustrations of Sri Ramana Maharshi and Sri YogiramsurathKumar (Visiri Swami) on the wall towards my left.

After a while, reached the temple, and the gopuram was magnanimous. It was then I thought about a very young Venkataraman, reaching the temple and prostrating before the lord, saying ‘O father! I have reached you’ and immediately attained the holy state of Samadhi, and began showering millions of people with his grace, Sri Ramana maharshi. I slowly walked around the temple, and reached the other side.

While walking, in a particular spot along the road, I saw a name board called ‘Sri Sai mess’. I immediately decided to begin my journey around the mountain from there, and after switching on Sri Rudhram in my mobile, started my journey.

The total distance to be covered is 14 Kilo Meters. It is said that one has to walk all the fourteen kilometers, barefooted, to complete the mountain pradhakshana. It was a wonderful experience, hearing the manthras from Sri Rudhram and to walk in utter silence on the deserted road, thinking about the holy mountain and the temple and the various sages and great souls who had lived there.

Along the route, there are temples of the astha lingas - the eight lingas, and while crossing them, I offered my salutations. A young saint was also walking along with me, on the other side of the road, and throughout most of the journey, he was walking just ahead of me. Even in the darkest parts of the journey, he was there walking just ahead, non stop, and by keeping an eye on him, I was able to walk freely. He stopped near a temple, near the end, and stayed there.

I began my walk at 4:15 AM and completed it at 7 AM. I entered the temple. It was huge, to say the least. I saw the temple elephant, and there were a few monkeys as well. The following is taken from the authentic temple history, which is called Arunachala Purana.

‘'All stones in that place [Arunachala] are lingams. It is indeed the Abode of
Lord Siva. All trees are the wish-granting trees of Indra's heaven. Its rippling
waters are the Ganges, flowing through our Lord's matted locks. The food eaten
there is the ambrosia of the Gods. When men move about in that place it is the
earth performing pradakshina around it. Words spoken there are holy scripture,
and to fall asleep there is to be absorbed in samadhi, beyond the mind's
delusion. Could there be any other place which is its equal? “

I went straight to the temple of the main deity there, Sri Arunachaleswara (Lord Shiva), and to my surprise, I saw the lingam as it is, without any ornaments or garlands. The Lingam appeared very old, with a lot of cuts on the surface, and it was a bit smaller in size too. The darshan lasted for about ten seconds, when the priest pulled my hand and asked me to leave. It was a wonderful darshan.

After getting the darshan of Shiva, I went and visited all the remaining gods and goddesses, and then with a satisfaction, came out of the temple.

I had to meet one another person there. I called and confirmed his presence, and off I went to a small village called ‘Manaloorppettai’ which is about 30 kilo meters from Thiruvannamalai to meet the person, named ‘Usmaan Bhai’.

I went to his home, and he greeted me in. When we sat, he started to talk about the mountain, and the god, and general philosophy of Hinduism. He then spoke about Ramalinga Adigalar, who is popularly called as ‘Vallalar’, whom this man is a staunch devotee.

Usmaan Bhai casually asked me to bring a small amount of sand, from outside. When I brought him the sand, he picked some of it in his fingers, and keeping it between his forefinger and thumb, asked me my mother’s name. Then, he offered his closed fist to me, and when it opened, there was a Rudraksha! The sand had disappeared !

He again did this, and it was a lemon this time. He asked me to wear the Rudraksha and keep the lemon in my home. Guessing the kind of respect in my mind towards him, he suddenly dismissed these miracles as frauds, and started to engage me in casual conversation.

Yes. This man is called ‘Usmaan Bhai’ and is a famous siddha. He can bring anything from his hand, and is a very famous doctor too. He specializes in giving medicine to people who don’t have children, and it works for them all the time. He also cures people of various disorders by giving ayurvedha medicines. Overall, he has many supernatural powers, but is a very humble, down to earth person.

After spending nearly 2 hours with the great man, I bid my farewell. He insisted on coming with me to the bus stand, in spite of my protests, and took me to one temple also. After me getting in to the bus, he left for his home.

For further details about Usmaan Bhai, read the following link, by Charu Nivedita.


It is true that Usmaan Bhai can cure any illness. But, above everything, he successfully cultivates the thoughts about the all pervading lord in to our minds, and turns it towards the lord. A great soul indeed!

My eventful Thiruvannamalai trip concluded with meeting the powerful Siddha. This is the first ever time I went to the holy mountain, and it was indeed a great experience.

PS:- The image courtesy – imagezone.in

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