Thoughts and other trivia...

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Into every life some rain must fall

Remember As Good As It Gets? Remember Jack Nicholson's dialogue at the end of the film, as he escorts Helen Hunt to a bakery at 4 in the morning? Remember what he tells her a little earlier in the film...that she makes him want to be a better man? In some ways that is what Majid Majidi's film Baran is all about...this and a little bit more.

In the opening titles, we're informed that owing to the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, and then because of the Taliban regime, millions of Afghans have been living as refugees in Iran for decades.

Most of the film is played out in a drab, bleak and grey construction site, whose calm and rather imposing facade conceals a world of frenetic activity. This world is inhabited by scores of tireless and industrious workers, who work noisily together, bicker and fight but who also then sit and eat together in that wonderful tradition of communal dining. Much of the amusement on the site is provided by young Lateef. He has the relatively easier job of making and serving endless rounds of black tea to the workers and buying bread for meals and cigarettes for the men. The tea he makes is often likened to dishwater and the issue, therefore, serves as fertile ground for battles between Lateef and the rest. The lord and master of this noisy universe is the building contractor, Memar, who is perhaps best described as a benevolent dictator.

Most of the workers on the site are Iranians but many of them are Afghans. Being illegal refugees, they don't have work permits and, therefore, live under the constant threat of being deported. As a result, each visit of a government official is preceded by a mad scramble among the Afghans to make themselves scarce and to hide. Memar is a willing accomplice in this because he knows that, being illegal immigrants, Afghans will work more for less.

When one Afghan worker, Najaf, falls and breaks his leg, a fellow worker brings Najaf's son, Rahmat, to the construction site and requests Memar to employ the boy in his father's place. Memar's reluctance to do so is justified because Rahmat is frail and visibly unfit for the hard labour the work calls for. However, he agrees to hire the boy on a trial basis. But, little Rahmat is not cut out for this kind of work and stumbles from one accident to another, often even disrupting work because of it. But, considering the boy's family's circumstances, Memar decides not to fire him. Instead, he switches Rahmat's job with Lateef's, giving the former a break from the tough manual labour. Naturally, this doesn't go down well with Lateef, who holds Rahmat responsible for what he views as a downturn in his own fortune. Now, suddenly, like all the other men on the site, Lateef also has to carry heavy sacks of cement, break and rebuild walls and, generally, slog much harder than he had to in his previous duties. His resentment is expressed through downright rudeness and in the one act of furious rage, when he reduces the kitchen, hitherto his domain, to a mess and completely trashes it.

The simmering resentment also causes him to keep an eye over Rahmat at all times. One day, when he peers into the kitchen, instead of Rahmat, he spies a shadowy figure combing her long hair inside. His eyes widen in amazement as he realises that his adversary, Rahmat, is actually a girl! (We find out later that her name is Baran, which also means 'rain' in Persian.) This discovery, sort of, knocks the wind out of Lateef. From this point on, he undergoes a complete transformation, always looking out for Baran, trying to make life as easy as he possibly can for her. For him, it's love at first sight. He is completely smitten by her, totally head over heels, stealing glances at her whenever he can, watching her from the corners of his eyes, from behind pillars, from the terrace...until, one day, when government officers spot Baran and try to catch her. Risking everything, Lateef puts his neck on the line and helps her escape but, in the process, is arrested himself.

As an immediate fallout of this, Memar is forced to lay-off the entire Afghan workforce, which includes Baran. In her absence, Lateef is driven to misery and, taking leave from work, goes out to look for her. He manages to trace her to her new job, where she has been employed, with other women, to clear the riverbed of heavy stones. He rushes back to the construction site and requests Memar for his back wages, saying he needs it for an emergency back home. It's a lot of money and, understandably, Memar gives it only reluctantly. Lateef entrusts the money to Soltan, another Afghan, to give it to Baran's father. Unfortunately, Soltan is also in desperate need of money and takes off with it to Afghanistan, leaving a handwritten IOU for Lateef. Unperturbed by the loss of his life's savings, Lateef now has to make an even bigger sacrifice to get the money he knows Baran's family needs so desperately to return to Afghanistan. He sells his ID and work permit to get some quick money, thereby destroying any chance of his own job security, leaving himself vulnerable to exploitation and an uncertain future. He hands over the money to Baran's father and, with heartbreaking earnestness, helps the family, particularly Baran, to load their belongings onto the truck. For his sake, one hopes for a Hindi film-like twist at this point, which would allow Lateef to be with Baran, but it never comes. What does come down is pouring rain, as watches the truck, and Baran, drive away from him. The twist would've been unreal because, as we know, there're no happy endings in life.

In some ways, Baran is reminiscent of the Sydney Pollack film Havana, particularly towards the end, where Robert Redford, a professional poker player, trades off the diamond he has had surgically embedded into his forearm to buy freedom for the woman he loves and her revolutionary Cuban husband. Like Lateef, Jack (Redford) makes a huge sacrifice, trading his own security and future to provide the smallest chance in life for the woman he loves. Their circumstances, levels of sophistication and lives couldn't be more is a poor, uneducated, teenaged construction worker trying to make a living for himself and his family back home, whereas the other, a suave card player in search of that one big game of poker that would liberate him, is a frequent visitor to Cuba, which is on the cusp of a revolution. Maybe like the Jack Nicholson character, then, both want to be better men. But, unlike the Nicholson character, these two guys don't even have a chance and that just breaks your heart.

A cold, stark, unfeeling construction site, whose political landscape is populated with illegal immigrants, is not something one usually associates with such a tender story. But, like most of Majidi's other films, Baran is a simple, maybe even common, story told fabulously well. It combines political and social commentary with a touching tale about utterly selfless but unrequited love. The camera works unobtrusively, like the sometimes-spying Lateef, to leave us with indelible images and moments from the film, perhaps none being as powerful as the imprint of Baran's shoe, which seems to be all that Lateef will be left with as the truck drives away in the end but which then starts to slowly fill up until it is submerged under the heavy rain and is forever lost. It isn't very hard to imagine the overwhelming sense of loss that Lateef feels at the time.

Yes, into every life some rain must fall but, I wonder, shouldn't there be easier ways to learn these lessons?


Anonymous Maia said...

Yeah, this film is great. So, you're a Majidi fan as well? :) Seen 'Children of Heaven'?

9:47 am  
Blogger Sonia said...


i got goose-bumps reading your post!
But i wouldn't want to watch the movie. I'm in too happy a place right now.

7:44 pm  
Blogger GhostOfTomJoad said...

MAIA: Oh, yes...a Majidi fan I am! :-) Yes, I've seen 'Children of Heaven' and, in fact, have managed to get a copy of the film as well :-)

SONIA: Oh, just watch it! You won't regret it, I assure you.

11:13 pm  
Anonymous Grafx said...

i was always a little scared of Jack Nicholson!!

12:05 am  
Blogger GhostOfTomJoad said...

GRAFXGURL: Scared? Of Jack Nicholson? Really? I thought one could always laugh at him

12:22 pm  
Anonymous grafx said...

i guess its because he looks so devilish!!

11:27 pm  
Blogger mad angles said...

hey, how are you? long long time. i've been in hibernation for a while.. and looks like you are too! blog soon, ok? :)

7:24 pm  
Blogger GhostOfTomJoad said...

MAD ANGLES: At least I show up once in a while and write before I rush back into hiding :-)

Good to see you back!

10:29 am  
Blogger mad angles said...

hey, i know! i think you're the only blogger who's patterns of blog-laziness/hibernation are vaguely similar to mine :)

good to see you too!

12:34 am  
Blogger GhostOfTomJoad said...

MAD A: Blog-laziness is about right :-) I've been meaning to write a very cynical piece after the Bombay incident but wretched laziness keeps getting in the way :-)

3:34 pm  
Blogger sattva said...

hi ghost..nice to see u still writing off and on! my hair is not orange any more. have u had your long tresses cut?

1:13 am  
Blogger GhostOfTomJoad said...

SATTVA: Funny you should ask...because, once again, I have long hair :-) Well, longish...not cut for almost six months now. But, I'm getting it chopped this weekend.

What's up with you? Why aren't you writing anymore? How's the boy doing?

As always, good to hear from you :-)

9:53 am  
Blogger Sonia said...

ok, maybe now i can watch your movie. It's raining cats and dogs in my life right now! :P

3:44 pm  
Blogger GhostOfTomJoad said...

SONIA: Can you please keep one of each for me? :-P

7:16 pm  
Blogger sattva said...

ghost - pls visit my blog for a surprise :)

8:54 pm  
Blogger GhostOfTomJoad said...

SATTVA: Going to check right now :-)

12:10 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, I loved what you wrote on Arindham Chaudhari's blog. The cheek of him, he published that blogpost in the Ahmedabad Mirror which is the most popular local newspaper. he must've done that in other cities' local papers as well. And it was an advertorial made to look like an article.

3:17 pm  
Blogger MM said...

THANK YOU for that comment on Arindam Chaudhuri's blog. Im glad to know there's at least one sane person out there. Really. What is this world coming to.

9:01 pm  
Blogger GhostOfTomJoad said...

OBERHOUSE: Hi! He did that in Delhi and, I believe, some other cities as well. Obviously, he takes himself too seriously. The ads he puts out for his MBA shops make me cringe. Always.

MM: Oh, I think there are a few other sane people around. Pity, though, not too many of them visited the man's blog to leave comments :-) But, seriously, I felt just as much shock on reading people's views as I did on his piece about the film.

Exactly my sentiment - 'What is the world coming to'!

4:18 pm  

Circle, Blackboard ...

well I though I will give u an article on climate change..

however u can read the next one that deals with Afghanistan too.


5:57 pm  
Blogger Sonia said...

eNUFFFFFF of this!!! UPDATE YOUR BLOG YOU LAZY LAZY... erm... laze-er!:P

5:57 pm  
Blogger GhostOfTomJoad said...

SONIA: You talkin’ to me? :-p

See, there are three reasons why this blog hasn’t been updated.

1. My muse is on sick leave.
2. It’s still continuing to rain in this life.
3. Er...don’t remember this one


9:33 am  
Blogger Sonia said...

you and your Taxi Driver dialogues! There ARE other movies you know! AND other actors! :P


12:45 am  
Blogger GhostOfTomJoad said...

SONIA: Oh, someone is in a foul mood!

Any-way, would you like me to say any of the following, then:

1. I’ll be back!
2. Revenge is a dish that tastes best when cold.
3. Make him an offer that he can’t refuse.
4. Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine.
5. Show me the money!
6. Go ahead, punk...make my day.

So, as you might have is horses for courses!


5:12 pm  

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