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Teotwawki: the movie

I would definitely give Teotwawki (The End Of The World As We Know It) a five-star rating. It has a plot with twists and turns guaranteed to make your hair stand on end, fast action, nail-biting suspense, writes Manas Chakravarty.

india Updated: Oct 11, 2008 23:25 IST
Manas Chakravarty

I would definitely give Teotwawki (The End Of The World As We Know It) a five-star rating. It has a plot with twists and turns guaranteed to make your hair stand on end, fast action, nail-biting suspense and an international star cast. It stands head and shoulders above Armageddon and is far better than War of the Worlds.

Made in the neo-realist style, the story line describes how a bunch of powerful bankers, Lords of All They Survey, get so puffed up with self-importance that they believe they can do no wrong. That often happens when you’re getting million dollar stock options and bonuses. This part of the story has some wild party scenes unsuitable for children. But the real fun and games start later, when things begin to go badly wrong. There are some spectacular shots of exploding banks and imploding hedge funds and the special effects are even better than in the Matrix series. There’s a memorable scene of an entire country called Iceland coming apart that reminds you of the famous shot in a late nineties disaster movie called The Asian Crisis, in which they managed to show countries falling down one after another like dominoes.

The sense of impending doom builds up rapidly, as markets crumble and economies fold up. Sombre lighting and long shadows add to the brooding sense of disquiet. The background music has plenty of wailing and gnashing of teeth.

The anxiety is deepened by the realisation that nobody really knows who the enemy is: is it a phantom army of short-sellers, or the bank next door? Critics say there’s an uncanny resemblance to an old horror movie called The Great Depression made in the thirties.

Although the setting is the financial markets, some say the movie is about the old fight between greed and fear. Others say it’s actually a Western, with the bad guys busting the banks until the US cavalry arrives in the nick of time led by the Treasury Secretary, played by Hank Paulson. Critics point out, however, that it’s only the Chinese cavalry who can save anybody these days.

Thankfully, the film also has moments of great mirth. The hilarious scene in the House of Representatives, with clueless Congressmen not knowing what had hit them, could easily fit into any Three Stooges movie. There are also flashes of deep emotion, such as when Ben Bernanke, who plays the chairman of the US central bank, reads out a speech on the gathering storm. It’s plain he’s under great stress, because he talks like a robot and looks like an alien. He looks as vulnerable as ET in the Spielberg film of that name and you expect him at any moment to break his speech, point one long bony finger towards the road and pipe plaintively, “Bernanke go home.”

The performances are superb. Our own P Chidambaram has a wonderful cameo role playing a smirking, supercilious Indian finance minister, lecturing the media on how India has nothing to fear. A new extra called Sarah Palin has a peach of a role as a beauty queen turned improbable US vice-presidential candidate.

But I think Hank Paulson has been miscast. With his bald pate, stern visage and hoarse voice, Paulson is prime villain material and he would have made a great Mogambo. ‘Ten banks down, a hundred more to go? EEEYAHAHAHAHA, Mogambo khush hua’ is a line that only Paulson could do justice to. Also, the film lacks a love interest. While there’s plenty of rescuing going on, you will agree that rescuing banks instead of damsels in distress is not quite the same thing. And finally, it would have been nice if some item numbers had been included, perhaps by Rakhi Sawant.

But these are minor blemishes in this blockbuster of a thriller. What happens in the end? You really don’t expect me to give away that. All I can say is that I’m sure all of us, whether we like it or not, will get to watch this film.