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Hitting Where it Hurts
- Matt Daniels
Hitting where it hurts!

A friend and I went to see Chandni Bar. It depicts the real-life anguish of a woman who dances in a bar in to support herself and her uncle while attempting to raise two children on the fringes of Bombay's criminal underworld. It is a compelling story beautifully shot, portrayed with quiet dignity by Hyderabad export and sometime beauty queen Tabu.

My friend instructed me to tell his parents we were going to see Ajnabee, a film about partner swapping. It reminded me of the joke (you can attribute it to William Safire) where the guy wants to conceal the fact he's looking through the Victoria's Secret catalog so he covers it with a copy of Hustler.

The reason I couldn't tell his parents what we were watching is because the CBFC has branded Chandni Bar with an 'A' rating. 'A' is India's equivalent of the American 'R', meaning that children are not admitted without adult supervision. Quite unlike the 'R' rating, which often increases box office appeal, the scarlet 'A' next to a movie's title relegates it to commercial and cultural insignificance. In the Deccan Chronicle, meanwhile, Man Two Woman and Bed Timing (from bed to worse) carry no rating at all and are listed proudly alongside Jurassic Park III.

Nudity, violence, drug use, foul language, even Taboo Number One, the kiss-Chandni Bar contains none of these. (I'm afraid most of you just lost interest.) What undoubtedly earned it this dubious distinction were two rape scenes (one homosexual) depicted with great restraint, and soliciting of prostitution. It is, to repeat, a true story.

Several parents nonetheless opted to take their children, all of whom looked younger than ten-possibly old enough to be scarred but not to derive any kind of lesson. My friend agreed it would be salutary for broader audiences to be exposed to these sorts of stories but felt that some of the scenes (you can guess) should be banned outright. Baby steps.

Nuvvu Nenu is the worst film I have seen in years, often senselessly violent even while masquerading as a tender love story. In fact, there's no love story at all: one minute they're antagonists and the next they're inseparable. Since some kids belong to families who still consider a schoolyard crush tantamount to a marriage proposal-as with Naipaul's Mr Biswas, so with Mr Reddy-implanting this model of love in teenagers' heads could result in lifelong suffering.

The frequency and nonchalance of violence throughout Nuvvu Nenu seems more dangerous, because more likely to be emulated, than anything kids could pick up from Chandni Bar. While the latter gazes steadily at the pain haunting its subjects, the former keeps busy unrelentingly inflicting more. With a singleminded determination, the parents of Nuvvu Nenu's star-crossed pair pummel, bludgeon, scald, bitch-slap, and dispatch scythe-wielding maniacs in an effort matched only by Doc Hopper's pursuit of Kermit the Frog. Rarely has a film been more adept at traversing the narrow line between brutality and parody. Most awfully earnest was the bloodied and bruised final love song, a larger-than-life reminder of which assaults southbound travelers at Lakdi-ka-pul.

So the rating system colludes with prevailing mores to purvey violence for popular consumption even as it suppresses the stories of those who actually suffer. Stateside, where views are so much more enlightened (as we witness daily on CNN), we take some of each, kabhi kabhi. While the industry worries that song sequences will mar Asoka's reception by international audiences, I can think of a few other hurdles that need getting over before serious films get their due here at home.

About the author: Matt Daniels, 23, holds an A.B. in Philosophy from Harvard University. His long-awaited return to Hyderabad was sponsored by Let's Go Publications, whose India 2002 guide hits shelves everywhere this Diwali. You can email him at [email protected].

Other article by Matt: Daddy review

End of 'Hitting where it hurts''
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