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A Tale of Two Cities

Posted by RB Kollannur on September 11, 2008


The Battle of Iwo Jima was one of the hardest fought battles in the Second World War. Lying between US controlled Saipan and Japan, Iwo Jima was a lookout point for air raids by US on Japan. For the Americans, Iwo Jima could be a staging area to launch their attack on the island nation. After military setbacks in other spheres, Iwo Jima was left with 21,000 men to defend the island from an onslaught of over 100,000 strong American force, well supported by air and sea.

“Letter from Iwo Jima” brings you the story of the Battle from the Japanese side. It follows the letters of Saigo, a baker conscripted to the Army, and General Kuribayashi, rallying his forces against the American attack. Saigo, disappointed in being taken away from his wife, begrudges the system and is not happy about the conditions he has to face. In General Kuribayashi he finds a sympathetic commander, who is concerned about the welfare of his soldiers. The General, on the other hand, is left with the task of defending the island with a vastly outnumbered army. Seeing the inevitability of defeat, he starts off with a strategy to delay the defeat and give time for Japan to prepare, rather than go down fighting and die an honorable death as seen by the Japanese customs. His subordinates are not pleased with his actions, but he finds support in few like Saigo and Olympic Gold Medalist Colonel Nishi, who captains the tanks.

The movie provides a touching drama about patriotism and human will. The inevitability of defeat was evident in the early days of fighting, when the Japanese force finds they have only a fraction of the resources as of their enemy. However, they fought with valor and courage for their homeland and all but 200 die in the battle, with most either dying in the line of fire or committing seppuku (ritual suicide).

“Mumbai Meri Jaan” is a drama about five lives in the aftermath of the July 11, 2006 Mumbai train bombings. Madhavan, an idealistic Indian, advocating on improving his nation and its people, receives a jolt of realism when the train he was travelling becomes prey to the bombs. Fortunately for him, he escapes the massacre purely by chance, when a salesman persuades him to travel in a normal compartment instead of his usual first class one, which blew up. The incident leaves him petrified about the trains and makes him question his faith in a society that betrayed him by almost killing him. Soha Ali Khan is a TV reporter, who loses her fiancé in the blast and ends up becoming a subject of a apathetic and annoying news program. Irfan Khan is a coffee vendor from the South, who seeing the edginess of the mass after the bomb, chooses to have fun by making prank bomb calls. His glee in making people flee, meets a seemingly unfortunate end and he realizes the damage he could cause. Kay Kay Menon is a semi-employed Islamphobic person who spends his days languishing in a tea shop (ironically owned by a Muslim) with his friends. His hatred for Muslims increases after the blasts, especially after a Muslim, who is a usual at the tea shop disappears after the blast. Finally, Paresh Rawal, in the most captivating of the characters, is a policeman nearing his retirement and is mentoring an idealistic rookie cop who wants to correct the world. In the end, the spirit of Mumbai comes through. The ending summation by Paresh Rawal, his farewell speech, after his long service where he failed to correct the society, is both enigmatic and charismatic. It showcases the spirit of the movie and provides an excellent finale for the story.

The storylines for Madhavan and Soha are weak and both of them spend most of the movie stuck in a sob story. Soha’s character is a unwanted addition to the movie, since it does not really portray the spirit of Mumbai. Irfan Khan and Kay Kay Menon was good and one could understand and sympathize with their antagonistic emotions, before they finally see the light. Paresh Rawal was the stand out performer, bringing in humor and points to ponder. His character, ably supported by Vijay Maurya as the conscious novice, provides the highlight for the movie.

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