Thursday, February 26, 2015

Mexican Oscar win: inspiration for Bollywood

Published by Gateway House

Mexican director Alejendra Inarritu’s Oscar for his work on Birdman comes after his compatriot won the same category award in 2014. This is a matter of pride for the Mexican film industry which is undergoing a renaissance in the last fifteen years. Although Indian cinema dwarfs the Mexican film industry, Mexico’s success in Hollywood should hold as inspiration for Bollywood

Mexican Oscar inspiration for Bollywood

At the 87th Academy Awards on February 23, Alejandro Inarritu of Mexico won three Oscars for the Hollywood movie, ‘BirdMan or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance’,— best director, best screen play writer and best picture. His recognition marks the high point of a comeback by Mexican cinema and should be seen as an inspiration by the Indian film industry.
Before starting out his film career, Inarritu had worked in Mexican radio stations and composed music for Mexican films. He then went on to co-found ‘Z Films’ which produced short films and commercials. He became famous in Mexico after his filmAmores Perros was nominated for an Oscar in the foreign language film category in 2000. He also directed two other Hollywood films Babel (nominated for best director and film in Oscar 2007) and 21 grams. His second Mexican film Biutiful was also nominated for an Oscar in the foreign film category in 2011.  He is directing his next Hollywood film ‘The Revenant’ to be released in December 2015.
Another Mexican, Alfonso Cuaron, won an Oscar for the best director for his filmGravity in 2014. He is also a product of  the Mexican film industry. Following his first film Tu mama tambien, he shifted to Hollywood, producing and directing films such asLittle princessHarry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and Children of Men; all of which have received critical acclaim.
Inarritu and Cuaron are usually associated with a third Mexican film director, screen writer and producer, Guillermo del Toro.  The three consult each other, work closely and are known as the “Three Amigos”. Del Toro has made movies in Mexico as well as in Hollywood and specializes in horror and science fiction themes. His Hollywood films include Hell boy ‘ Blade II and Pacific Rim.
In total eight Mexican films have received Oscar nominations since 1960 in the foreign language film category.
The recent Oscars won by  Mexican talent is exciting news for the Mexican film industry which has had a renaissance in the last fifteen years.  Its golden age was in the 1940s and 50s, when Mexico was the largest centre of Latin American films. Back then, Mexican films, actors and film talents went on to conquer Hollywood too. However, the Mexican film business went into a long decline from the sixties till the end of the 20th century. The political and economic instability in Mexico as well as the dictatorships and crisis in Latin America were important factors in the decline.
Thereafter Hollywood dominated Mexican theaters, accounting for over 90 % of ticket sales. The closed network of film distributors and theatre owners controlled by Hollywood dominated, aggressively squeezed out the Mexican films. The film industry also became one of the victims of NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) signed by US, Canada and Mexico in 1994. As a result, the Mexican government had to abolish the law which required theaters to reserve 50% of its screens for national films. This caused a drastic reduction in the production of Mexican films from about 100 per year in the first half of nineties  to 25 per year by the end of that decade.
The revival of Mexican cinema began with Alejandro Inarritu’s hit movie Amores Perros in 2000. Since then there have been a number of box-office hits. Creative Mexican directors and producers as well as talented actors have managed to win back the Mexican audience. The turning point came in 2013. The film  No se aceptan devoluciones made history by grossing close to $100 million, of which half was generated in Mexico and the other half from the rest of North America. Another 2013 film, Nosotros los Nobles, earned $26 million. The Mexican film director Amat Escalante won the best director award in 2013 in the Cannes Film festival for his filmHeli.
Mexico has the fourth largest number of movie-goers in the world after India, China and the US.  The Mexican multiplex company ‘ Cinepolis’ operates the largest number of screens in the country and has emerged as one of the top four global players with 3,400 screens in 11 countries including the US and India.
Mexico has two filmy connections to India. Cinepolis operates 193 screens in 31 cities in India— and is targeting to have 400 screens by 2017. It is the only foreign company operating in the Indian market and is the fourth largest multiplex company in India. A Mexican actress, Barbara Mori, has acted in a Bollywood film Kites as a lead cast along with Hrithik Roshan.
The Mexican film industry is tiny in comparison to its Indian counterpart which produces nearly a 1,000 films a year and possesses a large and diverse audience and talent. Indian film producers have large budgets while most Mexican films are small-budget films, many of them only survive because of government subsidies.
Yet, Indian films have received just four nominations in the Oscar foreign language category, compared to eight from Mexico so far. No Indian film director has ever won an Oscar.
Mexican films and talent have done better not only at the Oscars but also in box-office earnings. The Mexican film No se acceptant devoluciones grossed $100 million in revenue worldwide,  Indian film PK only reached the same figure ( Rs. 600 crores) in 2014.
While the Indian film industry is a giant compared to the Mexican industry both in terms of size and reach, the Oscar and box-office success of Mexican talents and films should be seen as an inspiration by Indian film industry.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Latin American lessons for AAP, Congress and BJP

The nature of the sweeping victory of AAP and Kejriwal may be unprecedented in India but not in Latin America. In Brazil, Mexico and Colombia, there are lessons for AAP and Arvind Kejriwal as they assume power in New Delhi – and also for the Congress Party as well as the BJP.
Latin American lessons for AAP, Congress and BJP
The Aam Admi Party (AAP) swept to power in this week’s state election in Delhi, with the broom as its symbol, capturing global attention as it comprehensively defeated the BJP.
But Latin America has an interesting history of David-Goliath election battles, and some interesting comparisons are listed below.
Long before AAP it was a Brazilian political party, the National Democratic Union (UDN), which used the ‘broom’ as a campaign symbol in 1960, promising to sweep away corruption and immorality.
The centre-right UDN party’s presidential candidate, Janio Quadros, won the 1960 presidential elections with a big margin. One of his unforgettable, and rather unBrazilian, moral cleaning acts, was to prohibit the wear of bikinis on the beach. With no previous national political experience, and without a Congressional majority, he was frustrated by the obstructionism of the Congress and dissident voices from his own party.
Quadros was high-handed and inflexible in negotiations with other political leaders and parties. In August 1961, after just seven months in office, he resigned suddenly, expecting that his histrionic gesture would prompt a wave of popular demand to withdraw his resignation. There was no such public wave. The Brazilian Congress quickly accepted his resignation and elevated the vice president in his place. Quadros went into political wilderness, and it was only after many years that he re-emerged, elected as Mayor of Sao Paulo in 1985.
In the 2000 elections, Mexicans voted out Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), ending its 70-year, one-party regime as the longest ruling party in the world. The Mexicans instead elected Vicente Fox from the centre–right National Action Party (PAN) as president. This was a historic change. But in the same year, the voters of Mexico City elected Lopez Obrador, a fire-brand of the extreme-left Revolutionary Democratic Party (PRD) as the head of the government of the Federal District of Mexico—a city with a population even larger than Delhi’s.
The Fox-Obrador contrast is similar to the Modi-Kejriwal combination in New Delhi.
Obrador was considered a rebellious and unconventional but charismatic politician with radical views. He was eccentric and an anarchist, the underdog in the big business-supported PAN and PRI party fight. Obrador portrayed himself as a crusader against corruption and the collusion between corporates, media barons and political parties. He was personally honest, uncorrupt, a self described leader of the social movements who lead a simple, unostentatious life. He connected with the masses using social media.
As head of the government of Mexico City during 2000-2005, Obrador reduced corruption and implemented a number of pro-poor policies as well as improved the transportation and infrastructure in the city. Despite his anti-big business rhetoric, he collaborated with corporate houses on a project to restore and modernize the historic downtown area and actively encouraged private sector investment in housing sector.
His success as chief of the government of Mexico City did not however help him in his attempts to win the national Presidential elections, losing narrowly in 2006 and then in 2012 by a bigger margin.  After losing the Presidential elections in 2006, he paralysed Mexico City for three months with demonstrations against the election results, arguing that they were fraudulent and proclaiming himself the winner. It didn’t work. Obrador left the PRD and formed his own outfit. Alas, his chances of becoming a future president of Mexico have been eroded by his egocentric ways.
In the last four national elections, the Colombians elected Alvaro Uribe (for two terms from 2002-10) and Manuel Santos (also twice in 2010 and 2014) from the centre-right parties because of their important national agenda to end guerrilla war and bring peace to the country. However, in 2011 the residents of the capital city Bogota voted for a radical leftist and former member of the M-19 guerrilla group Gustavo Petro as Mayor.  But when Petro contested in the Presidential elections in 2010 the Colombians preferred the experienced centre-right candidate Manuel Santos.
Lessons for AAP, Congress and BJP
The broom politics of Brazil and the experience of the chiefs of the city governments of Mexico City and Bogota, particularly in their failed presidential elections, might have some useful lessons for Kejriwal as the Aam Aadmi Party prepares to go national.
Mexico’s PRI learnt its lesson after being out of power at the national level for twelve years. It reinvented itself and came back to power under the dynamic leadership of Enrique Pena Nieto who won the Presidential elections in 2012 beating the candidates of leftist PRD and conservative PAN parties.  The Congress Party may find it useful to study and learn from the resurrection model of PRI.
Nieto worked with the opposition parties and signed the ‘Mexico Pact’ in which four major national-level parties agreed to a consensus for major urgent reforms. Through the pact, the Nieto administration delivered a dozen important reforms in sectors such as energy, education and  taxation in the last two years. Mexico has achieved more reforms than any other large democracies in the world in the last two years. BJP could work with the opposition parties for a similar ‘Delhi Pact’ based on the successful model of Mexico Pact.