Saturday, December 31, 2016

Magical Realism meets Asian Culture in the novel " Night Prayers"

Night Prayers is the story of three Colombian characters and their encounter with four Asian cultures. The Colombian protagonists are: Manuel, the philosophy student; his adventurous sister Juana ; and  a diplomat posted in New Delhi. India, Thailand, Japan and Iran are the countries where destinies take the Colombians. The author of this novel is Colombian writer Santiago Gamboa. 

The lower middle class family of Juana and Manuel are ardent supporters of Alavaro Uribe who comes to power promising to put an end to the FARC guerrilla war. They are frustrated with the bombings, assassinations, kidnappings and drug trafficking by the guerrillas who had deviated from their original ideological agenda and become a criminal terrorist organization, pushing the country to the brink of 'a failed state'. President Uribe manages to break the back of FARC with an iron hand. But the liberals and intellectuals including Juana are critical of the excesses of government and the military as well as the paramilitary atrocities in the name of the war against the guerillas. 

Manuel, a shy philosophy student and dreamer, does not understand the challenging world around him . His sister is the only person to understand and support him. When his sister goes missing to Japan, he wants to go and find her. In order to finance the expensive trip, he agrees to carry drugs for the traffickers. He gets caught in Bangkok and put in prison there.

Juana, the rebellious and audacious sociology student, is an angry critic of Uribe's methods.  When she wants to run away from the violent Colombia to a 'civilized place like Europe' a French man settled in Bogota tells her, 'you have to give time for Colombia, a young country still looking for a language.  Europe which has peace today, cost two thousand years of war, blood, torture and cruelty. The last European war left fifty four million ( more than the entire population of Colombia at present ) dead'. Juana wants to take revenge on the Uribe government and infiltrates the secret service by becoming an escort to the officials. But when she is about to be caught, she slips away  to Japan and  joins the escort service there. Later, she escapes from the Japanese mafia by running away with an Iranian bodyguard to his country. She is rescued from the Ayatollah tyranny of Iran  by the Colombian diplomat who takes her to reunite with her brother in the Bangkok jail. But the brother commits suicide just before the meeting with the sister. 
Santiago Gamboa has given a vivid portrayal of the Colombian society which has paid a huge price in blood in the deadly feud between the revolutionaries, liberals and conservatives in the last seventy years. In the Colombian history, the ten years between 1948 and 1958 is known as the period of ' La Violencia'. It is not over yet. Uribe's supporters defeated the referendum held in october last year on the government's peace agreement with FARC. Naturally, this internal conflict and violence is the typical and inevitable theme of Colombian writers just as many writers in South and Central America cannot get over from the sufferings caused by military dictatorships. The author, a product of the Colombian culture of violence, says, ' violence and wars are always part of the history and culture of mankind. Force is the argument most often used by man in history'. It is interesting in this context that a Gujarati has set up a Gandhi Foundation in Medellin to propagate non-violence. More on this in

The Colombian diplomat in the novel finds New Delhi as 'unconventional to a Latin American, requiring a somewhat adventurous frame of mind' to survive. He lives in Jangpura Extension, unable to afford the expensive areas like Vasant Vihar. He gets used to the dust, rickshaws and fly-infested fried food stands 'that are like factories for typhoid or dysentry'. From his second floor window of the embassy in Vasant Vihar he observes women in saris carrying bricks for construction while their children play amid the rubble. He finds the Sai baba temple in Delhi as the place where the fragrance of the saffron flowers and smell of incense mix with the intolerable odor of the decomposing matter. As a consular officer, he deals with all kinds of problems and people, especially Colombian visitors who get into troubles caused by the gap between their romantic and distorted image of India and the realities on the ground. Rich ladies from Colombia who come seeking spiritual enlightenment end up offering not only their soul but some times their body also to Indian Gurus. 
The diplomat pays homage to the neem tree under which the Mexican poet diplomat Octavio Paz married Marie Jose in 1964 in the Prithvi Raj road residence where Mexican ambassadors used to stay. It was Paz who introduced the Indian culture to Latin America through Latin American eyes based on his personal experience of long stay of over six years in India. Paz's book 'Vislumbres de la India' ( in the light of India ) was an eye opener to Latin Americans.  He was also the first one to give a comparative perspective in Indo-Latin American cultural history. His poem " Tale of two gardens- poems from India 1952-1995" compares his Indian inspiration with his Mexican roots. Like Paz, the Colombian goes for walk in the Lodhi Garden ' a park that reconciles you to the city'.
The Colombian diplomat describes his travels to Thailand, Japan and Iran,  in his pursuit to reunite Juana and Manuel. In Bangkok, he is struck by the the smells of canals of stagnant water, the ubiquitous massage parlors and bordellos, traffic jams and the deafening din of the tuk-tuks in the ' land of smiles'. The Thai prosecutor gives the Colombian diplomat an outraged lecture on the evil consequences of sex tourism to the Thai society and takes pride on the fact that Thailand is one of the very few countries which has remained uncolonized by others. He gives a bit of  magical realism back to the Colombian, saying" Ten years ago, there was a traffic jam that lasted for eleven days. We had to lift the cars out by helicopters". This is like the story  of the Colombian writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez "One Hundred Years of Solitude" in which it rains continuously for five years. 

The " Night Prayers" reminds me of the book of short stories " Lotus flower-stories from Asia" in which another Colombian, Juan Alfredo Pinto (and another writer diplomat) in which the magical realism of Latin America meets the cultures of Asia. Each story in this book takes place in a different Asian country such as India, Indonesia, Cambodia and Kazhakstan to which the Colombian characters travel. Pinto's book has been translated into Hindi and English by the Sahitya Academy.

This the first novel of the Colombian writer Santiago Gamboa, I have read. He has joined my list of favorite Colombian authors which includes Gabriel Garcia Marquez ( whose book ' love at the time of cholera' initiated my Latin American literary journey ) Laura Restrepo and Juan Gabriel Vasquez.  

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Indian hero in Latin American movie

Prabhakar Sharan from Motihari, a sleepy small town in Bihar has become the lively hero in the Costa Rican film "Enredados: la confusion" (entangled: the confusion).  He is the first Indian to act as hero in a Latin American movie. This is also the first Latin American film made with the typical Bollywood recipe of songs and dance. 

Prabhakar is settled in Costa Rica since 1997. The heroine in the film is Nancy Dobles a popular Costa Rican TV hostess. Famous local actors Mario Chacon and José Castro also appear in the film. The film cast includes a World wrestling champion and Hollywood actor, Scott Steiner. Panamanians, Colombians and Argentines had also collaborated in this film project.The director of the movie is Ashish Mohan who has directed block buster films such as Khiladi 786. The dance, music and action have been choreographed by Bollywood experts.  Teresa Rodrigues of Costa Rica has produced the film, which has been shot entirely within the country.
The film is being released on 9 February in Costa Rica with the President of the country as chief guest. It will also be shown in the rest of Latin America. The film is being dubbed in Hindi and English for the audience in India and US. The Costa Rican and Latin American media have given a lot of exciting coverage to this pioneering film and raised the expectations. 

The film is a romantic and action-filled comedy of Bollywood stereotype. Leo, the hero carries out a big robbery. But his life changes when he meets Ana who becomes the love of his life. But it turns out later that he has to choose between money and love. He chooses love and decides to return the money. But confusion starts with an accident which is followed by a series of risky and funny situations leaving the viewer with suspense and confusion about the whereabouts of the money. 

More information on the film project in the website

The life story of Prabhakar is also like a Bollywood film script. Born in Bihar, Prabhakar did his studies in Haryana and tried Bollywood for acting but did not succeed. He then wanted to go to US but somehow ended up in Costa Rica. He fell in love with a local girl and married her. He ventured into textiles business and later shifted to trading, film distribution and Monster Truck Jam shows. His ventures failed and he lost money. He came back to India and lived in Chandigarh for two years from 2010. During this time, his marriage broke and his wife went back to Costa Rica taking back their daughter. Prabhakar was down in depression after the failures in business and marriage. But he did not give up. He went back to Costa Rica and this time fell in love with another woman and lives with her.

The film is the dream project of Sharan who has struggled and worked hard. His biggest challenge was to convince the Big Bollywood to take seriously the little Costa Rica with a tiny population of just five million and insignificant film industry. 

Many Indians do not know that the chiquitica (little in spanish) Costa Rica has got a big place in the history of Latin America and the world. It had abolished the armed forces in December 1948 and has been peacefully and democratically governed in the last seventy years while many countries of Latin America had suffered military dictatorships. This is even more remarkable in view of the fact that Costa Rica is right in the middle of Central America which has gone through devastating civil wars even upto the eighties. The Costa Ricans are not just content with passive peace within the frontiers of their country. Oscar Arias, the president of Costa Rica successfully mediated to end the Central American wars with the signature of a peace agreement in 1987. In his Nobel Prize acceptance speech he said ¨ We are a people without arms and we are fighting to continue to be a people without hunger. Our children walk with books under their arms rather than guns on their shoulders. We are a symbol of peace for America.¨ Not a rhetoric. Preaching based on practice. Costa Rica has established a University for Peace (UPEACE) in 1980 which has attracted students from around the world.
In 1869, the country became one of the first in the world to make education both free and obligatory, funded by the state’s share of the great coffee wealth. The literacy rate of Costa Rica is one of the highest in Latin America. With this, Costa Rica has positioned itself as the silicon valley of Latin America, attracting investment by American and even six IT Indian companies. Infosys, the biggest, employs about 300 Costa Ricans. 

Costa Rica is one of the first in the world which combined its ministries of energy and the environment back in the 1970s and generates an impressive 99 per cent of its energy from renewable sources. In 1997, it introduced a carbon tax on emissions and used the funds to pay indigenous communities for their protection of forests. The country is a global pioneer in ecotourism. The Muthoot Group from Kerala has invested in the Xandari resort hotel in Costa Rica. In this resort, they invite the guests to plant native trees in the hotel's botanical garden.

The Costa Ricans, known as Ticos, have a distinct  spirit too. They do not say " bien" (well)  when asked, Como esta ( how are you ). They say "Pura vida" which literally means pure life. But what the Ticos mean is ¨full of life¨ and "great". No wonder, Costa Ricans come on top of the Happy Planet Index with the the highest life satisfaction in the world. The title song of the film is about this " Pura Vida" philosophy of the country.
In recent years, Bollywood has reached out to Latin America for location shooting, inclusion of Latinas in Indian films and coproductions. Pablo Cesar, the famous Argentine director, is currently making a film on Tagore's romantic encounter with Victoria Ocampo, his muse from Buenos Aires. Mathew Kodath from Kerala, settled in Honduras, has produced two films in Spanish. Bollywood music and dance are the latest craze in dance clubs and gyms across Latin America. The staff of the Indian IT company Cognizant in Buenos Aires have formed a 'Chak De India Ballet Group' which performs Bollywood dance shows.
Prabhakar's film will be shown in the Costa Rican multiplexes of Cinepolis, the Mexican company which is one of the leading owners of film screens globally. It is the fourth largest largest in India with 280 screens and is targeting 400 with an investment of 150 million dollars. 

The Bollywood crew which stayed in Costa Rica for the shooting did not miss Indian food thanks to the three authentic and popular Indian restaurants 'Tajmahal' and 'Naan and Curry' owned by Kapil Gulati from Gurgaon who is settled there, bitten by the Pura Vida bug. The favorite dishes of Ticos, according to Gulati are: Garlic Naan, Rohan Josh, Samosa and Gulab Jamun. The Ticos enjoy the Bollywood music and the Henna Tattoo evenings in the restaurant. Costa Rica has a small Indian community of about two hundred.  

For Prabhakar, this venture is only the beginning of his Latino movie 'entanglement'. He plans to produce more films and include in his next one Barbara Mori, the Mexican actress who was the heroine to Hritik Roshan in the Bollywood film "Kites". His next film might have a story connecting Indian and Latin American characters with shooting in India as well as in Latin America. Prabhakar's film initiative, which has taken the Bollywood formula to Latin America, will also contribute to enrichment of the Indian cinema with the 'Pura Vida' spirit of Costa Rica and the 'Celebra la Vida' (celebrate life) spirit of Latin America.