BARRY JENKINS’ ‘THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD’ IS A WORK OF IMMENSE BEAUTY AND PAIN - The Daily Guardian
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BARRY JENKINS’ ‘THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD’ IS A WORK OF IMMENSE BEAUTY AND PAIN

Murtaza Ali Khan

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The opening line of the Preamble of the United States Declaration of Independence emphatically reads, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Yes, it is one of the most important documents in human history, but unfortunately when it says that “all men are equal” it merely implies the White people. While referring to the contradiction between the aforementioned claim that “all men are created equal” and the existence of slavery in the United States, English abolitionist Thomas Day famously wrote, “If there be an object truly ridiculous in nature, it is an American patriot, signing resolutions of independency with the one hand, and with the other brandishing a whip over his affrighted slaves.” In the 19th century, the Declaration took on a special significance for the abolitionist movement.

The Academy Award-winning director Barry Jenkins unequivocally addresses the above contradiction in the opening episode of his 10-part Amazon Prime Video series The Underground Railroad in a chilling sequence wherein a Black slave is being mercilessly punished for trying to run away from a cotton plantation by his White master in the antebellum American South. “You’ve hardly touched your food, Mr. Churchill,” the slaver inquires his guest. “Oh, pardon me, but I don’t understand how one can eat… while a man’s flesh is being ripped from his body,” the guest hesitantly replies. “Well, Mr. Churchill, your first mistake… uh, a nigger and a man are two entirely different things. A man can think, reason and love. Niggers simply do not have the capacity for such things. As such, it is important to provide them with restrictions and directions on how to comport themselves. And when these restrictions and directions are not abided by, it is just as important to make an example of them,” the slaver avers.

As disturbing as these words may sound today, they correctly sum up the bigotry, prejudice, and sadistic cruelty with which the White Supremacists treated their Black slaves back in the day. Kudos to Barry Jenkins and his team of writers for not trying to use euphemisms as it is a piece of oft-forgotten history that needs to be told, especially today when movements like Black Lives Matter are paving the way for new conversations about racism and equality. The Underground Railroad, based on a 2016 Pulitzer winning alternative history novel of the same name by Colson Whitehead, follows two slaves, Cora and Caesar, who try and escape from a cotton plantation in the deep southern state of Georgia. They are chased by a ruthless slave catcher named Arnold Ridgeway who will stop at nothing in order to complete his task. Cora and Caesar’s only hope is the Underground Railroad—a rail transport system with safe houses and secret routes operated by a network of abolitionists to help the enslaved African-Americans escape to freedom.

The Underground Railroad is nothing like anything that you would have ever seen before. There is such blood curdling brutality on display that you would wish that you could somehow personally help these poor men and women suffering because of being caught in the throes of slavery. If you think that you have already seen the worst side of slavery in films such as 12 Years a Slave and Django Unchained, just wait till you see a horrifying execution of a Black slave at the hands of his White master in first episode of the series. The episode (as well as the series on a whole) depicts some deeply disturbing scenes that are not meant for the faint-hearted.

But, thankfully, the USP of the series is not the sadistic cruelty that’s on display. Yes, the source material is brilliant but more than anything it is Barry Jenkins who makes the series absolutely breathtaking to watch despite all the gore and brutality. He makes every frame look like a painting (credit must also go to cinematographer James Laxton, his frequent collaborator). Jenkins and Laxton employ a technique wherein they frequently show characters standing still before the camera while looking at us. Not to mention the immersive sound design by his regular composer Nicholas Britell who ingeniously blends his beautiful score with the real sounds of footsteps, cracking of the whip, rustling of the wind, crackling of the fire, churn of the steam engine, ticking of the clocks, neighing of the horses, trilling of the crickets, chirping of the birds, and buzzing of the flies to create a poignant symphony of emotions that help create a sense of heightened realism brilliantly contrasting with sparsely used moments of magic realism.

Jenkins yet again succeeds in eliciting wonderful performances from his actors. Remember, he gave us a film like Moonlight only 5 years ago. And now he brings to us a sprawling series (it’s been four years in the making) which brings us face to face with a mostly unseen side of the antebellum American South, oozing with nostalgia, revulsion, fear, and hope that’s beautifully laced with magic realism. Here is a work of immense beauty and pain that cannot just be watched, for it needs to be felt first and experienced.

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Lifestyle & Entertainment

SUNNY, AMEESHA EXPRESS GRATITUDE TO FANS AS ‘GADAR’ CLOCKS 20 YEARS

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Sunny Deol’s ‘Gadar: Ek Prem Katha’ clocked 20 years on Tuesday and the star thanked the audience for making his film ‘an event’.

The 2001 film, that also starred Ameesha Patel in the lead, became an instant hit. The Anil Sharma directorial did not just impress viewers but also registered huge numbers at the box office. The actor-politician took to Twitter to express gratitude to all his fans who made the film a ‘historic’ affair. Sunny tweeted a video song from Gadar, ‘Musafir Jaane Wale’, featuring him and Ameesha.

Sharing the video, he thanked viewers for showering the action love story with so much love. Sunny wrote, “We made a film, you made it an event! #20yearsofGadar, I express my gratitude to everyone who made our film historic.”

Taking to Instagram, Ameesha uploaded a series of posts recalling her acting stint on the project. In one of the posts, she shared a few unseen moments from the set and captioned: “Gadar…behind the scenes of the most iconic film that Bollywood has seen till date…thank you all for the love..20 years of Gadar.”

Released on 15 June, 2001, ‘Gadar’ was a romantic drama set against the background of India’s partition. The film also featured late Amrish Puri and Lillete Dubey.

On the occasion, Lillete too took to social media to remember her work in ‘Gadar’.

“15 June 2001…. 20 years since ‘Gadar’ opened on this day. And what a storm it created.Remembering the making of the film and especially my wonderful co-star who also came from theatre — the man with the deepest baritone Amrish Puri,” she wrote.

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DECIDED TO PRODUCE ‘LAGAAN’ AS NO ONE WAS READY TO DO IT, REVEALS AAMIR

Uday Pratap Singh

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Superstar Aamir Khan is celebrating 20 years since the release of his iconic film ‘Lagaan’. The movie, helmed by Ashutosh Gowariker, was nominated for the Oscars and appreciated by critics and audiences alike. Reminiscing about the journey of making the film, Aamir recalled that no one was ready to back it. Ashutosh narrated him the film’s script a few times and he enjoyed it but was not ready to produce it initially as he did not want to dive into film production. Every time Aamir would meet Ashutosh he would bring up the film but was told that no one was ready to produce it. He finally took the plunge to produce it and act in it after listening to the script again in the company of his parents and ex-wife Reena who enjoyed the story.

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A DOCUMENTARY ON SALIM, JAVED IN WORKS

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NEW DELHI: A documentary titled ‘Angry Young Men’ based on the lives of legendary screenwriters Salim Khan and Javed Akhtar is in the works with superstar Salman Khan’s production banner SKF (Salman Khan Films) teaming up with Farhan Akhtar’s Excel Entertainment and Zoya Akhtar’s Tiger Baby Films. Indian film critic and trade analyst Taran Adarsh shared the news on his Twitter handle. “Salman Khan – Excel – Tiger Baby join hands… Salim-Javed Documentary… #SalmanKhan, Excel Entertainment (#FarhanAkhtar, #RiteshSidhwani) and Tiger Baby Films (#ZoyaAkhtar, #ReemaKagti) to make documentary on #SalimKhan and #JavedAkhtar… Titled #AngryYoungMen,” he tweeted. The collaborative project that will capture the magic of the era that Salim-Javed created together will be helmed by Namrata Rao. Famously called as Salim-Javed, the duo has scripted many commercially and critically accepted films ‘Patthar’, ‘Dostana’, ‘Seeta Aur Geeta’, ‘Sholay, Mr India’, ‘Don’, and many more.

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AKSHAY’S ‘BELL BOTTOM’ GETS A RELEASE DATE

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MUMBAI : As lockdown restrictions are gradually easing in several parts of India amid the decline in Covid-19 cases, the ‘Bell Bottom’ team has decided to release the film in cinemas. Taking to Instagram, Akshay Kumar on Tuesday shared that ‘Bell Bottom’ is scheduled to release on 27 July theatrically. “I know you have patiently waited for the release of ‘Bell Bottom’. Could not be happier to finally announce the release of our film. Arriving on the big screens worldwide. ‘Bellbottom’ on 27 July,” he wrote. The movie was earlier slated to release on 2 April 2021. However, it got delayed due to the second wave of Coronavirus. 

Directed by Ranjit M. Tewari, ‘Bell Bottom’ has been touted as a spy thriller. Vashu Bhagnani, Jackky Bhagnani, Deepshikha Deshmukh, Monisha Advani, Madhu Bhojwani, and Nikkhil Advani have produced the project, that also features actors Vaani Kapoor, Huma Qureshi, and Lara Dutta Bhupathi.

‘Bell Bottom’ has always managed to lead the change from the beginning. Even last year, it hit the headlines for being the first Hindi film to be shot and completed during the pandemic with exemplary on-set Covid management.  Akshay has several projects in his kitty including ‘Atrangi Re’, ‘Raksha Bandhan’, ‘Bachchan Pandey’, ‘Sooryavanshi’, ‘Prithviraj’, and ‘Mission Lion’. 

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ADITI GETS NOSTALGIC ABOUT HER TELUGU DEBUT FILM

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NEW DELHI: Three years ago on Tuesday Aditi Rao Hydari made her big Telugu debut with ‘Sammohanam’ and left everyone amazed with her performance. An Indian Telugu-language romantic drama, ‘Sammohanam’ once again established Aditi has one of the most bankable and versatile Pan Indian actresses in the country.  Hailed as a strong debut in Telugu cinema, Aditi was heartwarming in the film. Aditi exclaimed, “Firsts are always special. I heard this story over a phone call with (director) Mohan Krishna Indraganti. I loved the story and said yes immediately. There were lots of well-meaning people who told me to do a more typical big-ticket film as my first Telugu film. I loved ‘Sammohanam’ and I went with my gut and I’m so happy that I did.” 

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I WAS REJECTED FROM 250 AUDITIONS BEFORE ‘MARDAANI’: TAHIR

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MUMBAI: Tahir Raj Bhasin recently revealed that he was rejected 250 times before he was signed on by Aditya Chopra for ‘Mardaani’.

Tahir said, “Anything that’s worthwhile takes time and this is something I understood when I first came to Mumbai. I was rejected from some 250 auditions over 3 years before Mardaani but I used this as positive fuel and feedback. It meant I needed to grow and growth came from workshops and hours of practice.” He added, “The improvements that came as a result of obstacles prepared me to be propelled when the time was right. Strength lay in getting hit and in the will to keep moving forward. Today’s world is all about that simple message. We have all been affected directly or indirectly by an unforeseen time and courage is to make ourselves better, fitter and stronger for the test of time to come.”

Despite the overwhelming number of rejections, Tahir never lost hope and believed he was destined to shine in Bollywood. He said, “To be honest, I never saw my initial time in Mumbai as a struggling phase. It was an aspiring phase. I was visualising a dream and aspiring to make it real and it’s the hardship and journey that make the successes worth celebrating.”

Tahir’s upcoming projects include ‘Looop Lapeta’, ‘Bulbul Tarang’, ‘Yeh Kaali Kaali Ankhein’, and ‘83’.

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