I’m grateful to have been offered an opportunity to write about the international Indian hit film RRR for Contingent Magazine, whose mission statement is “history is for everyone.” They purposely waited until 15th August (India time), India’s Independence Day, to publish the article as their lead story today. What does RRR have to do with my Kolkata theatre research as a Fulbright-Nehru Scholar? You’ll see. And be sure to read those footnotes.
The article begins below:
Sure, George Washington was a good war strategist, but could he pick up a motorcycle by one wheel and swing it around in battle? Or how about if Martin Luther King Jr. had busted Malcolm X out of prison by carrying him on his shoulders and dodging gunfire while hopping across rooftops, and together they took out J. Edgar Hoover? These events could not, and never did happen, but would be pretty cool to see in a big-budget historical fantasy action flick.
This family docudrama TV series from China warmed my heart
Meet Mr.Bai, the headmaster of a one-room school in an impoverished, experimental farming community in China’s vast Gobi Desert. His school needs many material improvements but he’s a devoted teacher, so he makes do with what little they’ve got. One thing he’d love to see is a new playground. He keeps applying for funds from the local district government, but his requests go ignored.
Impassioned and frustrated, he finally takes the drastic step of going over the local politicians’ heads and complaining in person to the regional government. Before he knows it, he’s thrown into the shark tank of local politics. How much is he willing to compromise his ideals just to get a playground?
Yikes. All of this drama for a village playground could be the comedic makings of a wry satire a la Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s Servant of the People, but this story is set a lot further east, and treats its subject matter with a dignity and respect I found refreshing in our age of cynicism.
Mr. Bai’s passion for a playground is but one subplot among many in the 2021 Chinese TV series Minning (a close pronunciation in English would be Ming-Ning) Town, produced by Daylight Entertainment (Nirvana in Fire, Ode to Joy, Like a Flowing River, The Story of Ming Lan). The trials of the beleaguered Mr. Bai
Please join the Independent Film Circle on Zoom next Saturday, June 11th at 10:30am EST for a screening of the 30-minute film “Midnight Blues” followed by a Q&A with the filmmaker Bipuljit Basu.
“Midnight Blues” is about the director’s work with the children of sex workers growing up in one of Kolkata’s red light districts. Bipuljit Basu is an impact filmmaker, author, and producer of Indian hybrid cinema and documentaries. His goal is to bring less known South Asian marginal stories into mainstream film and media.
As always, this live, online event is free but pregregistration is required. Message me if you’d like to join.