It may not be a classic but…

A film that clearly has a devoted following

A film that clearly has a devoted following

 

I have been a daily reader of The Guardian Newspaper for at least the past thirty years, and have become familiar with many of its excellent feature writers and journalists. The Guardian covers topical news items in depth and often with a critical perspective, but sometimes an article attracts my attention more for the quirky nature of the story than the seriousness of the content. It was one such feature that held my interest this weekend.

Under the heading “Bollywood Romance that Keeps on Giving” Sharin Bhatti from Mumbai reported how, having been shown every day since its release in 1995, the management of a cinema in that city had decided to take the film Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, (roughly translated as “The Brave-Hearted Will Take Away the Bride”) described as a Bollywood Classic, off its schedule. The film, starring the actors Kajol and Shah Rukh Khan apparently tells the story of an Indian couple who fall in love whilst on holiday in European, and recounts how the boy tries to convince the girl’s parents that she should marry him rather than the boy that her father has chosen for her. (I haven’t seen the film personally so can’t tell you more than this). The film is the longest running in the history of Indian cinema.

Almost immediately after removing the film from its schedule the cinema management found themselves with mass protests on their hands. The manager Mr Manoj Desai described how he was overwhelmed by the public outcry and felt that he had no option but to reinstate the film. The record is therefore likely to be extended well into the future.

The choice made by The Guardian to publish this article, may result from a lack of other more serious stories, though I like to think that news of this nature, is designed to raise a smile by reporting one of the more amusing incidents that whilst seemingly trivial in nature, clearly does matter to some people. My own decision to reflect on this article is influenced by a similar situation encountered whilst cycling through the magnificent countryside of Ireland a few years ago.

After several rather wet days in the saddle, pedaling through the rugged and weather beaten landscape of County Mayo and Connamara between Lough Mask and Lough Corrib, on the west coast, we arrived in a little town called Cong. Here we pitched our tent in the lee of a wall to gain some shelter from the impending storm. Having settled our place and secured our bicycles Sara and I made our way to the campsite office and were provided with the usual warm Irish welcome and furnished with information about the locality.

Cong, we were informed was famous for having been the location of a Hollywood movie, which has “put the area on the map.” The film described, directed by John Houston and called “The Quiet Man” starred the screen idol John Wayne, and Maureen O’Hara and was made in 1952. So proud of this film are the people of Cong, that throughout the summer season it is screened free of charge every evening in a small cinema located on the campsite.

The predicted storm arrived, and so it was that the evening saw us making our way to the cinema to watch this Technicolor epic. And so began one of the most bizarre evenings I can recall. Having settled down into our seats we observed that the audience comprised other members of the campsite community, alongside local people for whom this was a regular, and in some instances, nightly venture.

Throughout the film a lady sat next to us knitting a sweater, when the film was finished she informed us that she came to the cinema every evening, every summer. Two other ladies who sat near us, without a doubt had a similar record of attendance, as they knew every line of the film and managed to recite them from the opening until the final credits! Elsewhere, members of the audience unpacked sandwiches or opened picnic baskets and proceeded to share in their evening repast. In all honesty, the film is far from a masterpiece, telling the tale of a misogynistic Irish-born American from Pittsburgh, who travels to Ireland to reclaim his family farm and meets and falls in love with the fiery Mary Kate Danaher played by Maureen O’Hara. However, watching the audience served very well to keep us entertained and also provided welcome shelter from the lashing rain.

Since that visit to Cong, which has much more of interest than The Quiet Man to offer the visitor, we have often laughed as we have recalled that evening in the campsite cinema. Never before have we experienced an evening at a film that has done so much to bring a community together. This was a cinema going experience like no other. The film seemed almost peripheral to the social experience.

This weekend’s Guardian report of the emotions stirred by a Bollywood film gave me cause to recall that enjoyable visit to a beautiful town in Ireland. I would happily return and repeat the experience tomorrow.

A film that provides a social event for locals and visitors to Cong in the summer.

A film that provides a social event for locals and visitors to Cong in the summer.

When looking for solutions to national problems, consult the students

 

Vegatables of this quality can improve the health of everyone, but it takes school students to make them available to all

Vegetables of this quality can improve the health of everyone, but it takes school students to make them available to all

Whilst India has developed rapidly in recent years, and a period of relative  economic buoyancy has brought benefits to many within the population, the many daunting challenges that remain within the country are all too evident. High levels of pollution, traffic congestion, poor infrastructure and a vast number of people living in poverty all continue to blight the country and challenge progress. At times these difficulties appear overwhelming, and as is always the case, the majority of people look to those in positions of authority to bring about improvements. The ministers of successive governments of all political persuasions have made bold speeches promising to deliver radical change, but behind closed doors I suspect that many of them would admit that they have failed to find satisfactory solutions.

Perhaps the expectations surrounding politicians and their ability to manage change are too great. Whilst they look for solutions on a national and global level, this possibly means that they are too far removed from the local situations that require attention. It may also be that those in high office have become so imbued in their ways of working that they are no longer able to maintain the kind of creative thinking that can have an impact on the lives of the populous. Whilst the answers to major problems may not come easily, perhaps there are other individuals or groups who can bring progress.

This thought came to mind yesterday as I read an article in the Mumbai edition of the Hindu, under the headline Mumbai students offer solutions to global problems. This reported a competition held under the banner of Happy India, which encouraged school students to identify some of the most significant problems they thought their country faced, and invited them to come up with the means to address these. I was not really surprised that they rose to this challenge with great enthusiasm and have already put into place a number of initiatives that are improving the lives of people in their cities.

A group of students from Podar International School in Mumbai recognised that many people living in the poorest conditions in the city, were unable to provide their families with the kind of nutrition that could improve their health and lifestyles. Seeking a solution that would enable them to change this situation, they came up with a novel business initiative in which they purchased vegetables from a wholesale market, and then sold half these to affluent customers at a price that enabled them to make a profit. They then used the profit to subsidise the sale of vegetables to people living in the poorest communities in the city at half the normal market price for good quality vegetables.

Poonam, one of the students involved in this initiative commented:

“I got this idea as I used to walk past a slum while going to school. I saw that the people there were very lethargic. For them, eating was only meant to fill their stomachs. They have no concept of nutrition, because they cannot afford nutritious food. So we came up with a cross-subsidised model to provide cheap and good quality vegetables to them,”

In another example of enterprise, students from Ryan International School developed a system to use waste plastic, of which there is certainly no shortage in India, to repair potholes in roads. They have since taken this initiative forward and have gained local authority consent to experiment with the construction of a thirty metre length of experimental road using the technique they have developed.

In providing local solutions to problems that are pervasive across India, these enterprising students will have learned much. Not only have they been required to produce business plans and experiment with design and production, but they will also undoubtedly have discussed social issues, the reasons why problems such as those confronted persist, and what their responsibilities to their local communities might be.

It may also be that there is an educational opportunity to be grasped by politicians here. Whilst the impact of the initiatives taken by these students may be small in scale, and there will undoubtedly be issues surrounding sustainability, it is clear that they have both the understanding and desire to bring about change. If there are lessons to be learned from this competition on the part of the students, I suggest that there may equally be a justification for politicians to discuss how the enterprise of students such as these may be harnessed.

It has always seemed to me, that even in a democracy, the ability of politicians to bring about sustainable change is impeded by party politics and factional interests. The young people who have set an example in Mumbai, and elsewhere in India, are currently untainted by narrow minded politics, and have demonstrated how local understanding when embraced within an educational context can yield positive outcomes. I hope that if any of these young people become politicians in the future, they will remember the value of lessons learned through the Happy India competition.