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HindustanTimes Thu,30 Oct 2014

A Face to the Picture

Shreevatsa Nevatia, Hindustan Times   February 22, 2013
First Published: 23:24 IST(22/2/2013) | Last Updated: 02:35 IST(23/2/2013)

If you did want to find some faithful U-S-of-A postcards, you'd best start by booking yourself shows of three Oscar-nominated films Argo, Lincoln and Zero Dark Thirty.

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Best picture favourite Argo uses the infamous Iran hostage crisis as its backdrop. Set in the late seventies and early eighties, Ben Affleck's directorial venture feels like a poignant history lesson on speed. And while Argo gives you a context for the age-old mistrust between Washington and Tehran, the gritty Zero Dark Thirty could have well been a 'Capturing Osama' documentary on National Geographic. It really is that real.

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As real as, say, Daniel Day Lewis' method acting on the sets of  Lincoln The actor, by the way, is bound to win. Logic dictates that. He has essayed the role of the 16th president in his second term, the term that saw him abolish slavery, just as the country's first black president starts on his next four years.

Lincoln always did have impeccable timing. It certainly wouldn't take a hard-nosed film critic to draw parallels between America's cinematic and contemporary lives.

If we do give into the seduction of movies, however, we find that the only things separating India from Hollywood are often those six degrees. This piece assumes you like making such leaps of faith.

In Argo, for instance, the Iranian demonstrators surrounding the American embassy appear to have much in common with protesters demanding a review of the Kolkata Book Fair's guest list. Salman Rushdie and his

Satanic Verses are both the wrong kind of crowd-pullers in Tehran, as he and Ashis Nandy are in, say, Jaipur.

Argo's plot is simple. Six Americans escape their embassy in Tehran while another 52 are taken hostage. They take refuge in the house of the Canadian ambassador. CIA agent Ben Affleck predictably saves the day. Interestingly, when the ex-president of Maldives Mohamed Nasheed wants to avoid arrest, for instance, he takes refuge in the Indian embassy. So in the Argo scheme of things, India does not take a typically get-the-job-done view of its affairs. We are more the non-confrontational Canada, home to refugees and fugitives alike.

India's likeness to that gentle, peace-loving nation seems only exaggerated after watching Zero Dark Thirty. As you see the 'stealth' version of US' Black Hawk helicopters, you are forced to wonder if those AgustaWestland choppers were even worth the hue and cry. If the same Black Hawks were to fly over Lahore today, they would find two compounds in Pakistan that are just as conspicuous as Osama's Abbottabad lair. Bilawal Bhutto's 14-acre multi-million dollar bachelor pad is just as protected as Hafiz Saeed's fortified residence. Given that the Lashkar chief is, for all practical purposes, our Osama, we often seem to take a rather Canadian approach to the knowledge of his whereabouts. Afzal Guru's hanging notwithstanding, the catch-torture-eliminate policy has really never been our style.

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\There is, however, one America to which any Indian can relate. The only trouble is that it existed way back in the nineteenth century. In Lincoln, all roles are reversed. Republicans talk like liberal Democrats, while most American congressmen are seen sporting beards that are now best associated with erstwhile members of Al Qaeda. Pejorative remarks abound in the US House of Representatives. Lincoln himself has to lure (sometimes bribe) unwilling Democrats to vote for the abolishment of slavery. The wheeling-dealing would make any Amar Singh proud. But more importantly, there is a little scene in the film that has Lincoln handing out pardons to 16-year-olds, just because hanging them wouldn't do any good. When debating juvenile justice in the wake of the December 16 gang rape, it might help if we took inspiration from the former US president's warnings.

In the end, resemblances are best when coincidental.

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