An Atypical Review of a Legendary Painting

Oedipus and the Sphinx. An 1864 painting by Gustave Moreau located in the New York City Metropolitan Museum of Art.

A slender man wearing nothing but a green sheet falling from his waist and a spear in his hand stares intently at a woman, her eyes penetrating his gaze while her neck, chest, and breasts curve upwards against his body. It seems a mystical force is holding her in position and he is locked in submission–his spear facing downwards.

Captured by the hypnotic aura of the painting my eyes skim the background looking for clues: a serpent slithering around a post, a vase holding something I can’t quite decipher, and a dead man’s foot lurking beneath a boulder. The colors are a mixture of blue, grey hues across the dimly lit sky and rich brown, red, and a tinge of gold saturate the latter half of the painting. But missing the most obvious of them all the woman a beautiful winged creature that I took for granted. She has the arched back of a lion. Her paws lurch onto the man’s erogenous zones.

The story goes that Oedipus, the man featured in the painting, is confronting a winged monster called a sphinx. Oedipus must solve the monster’s riddle to enter the land of Thebes and free the Thebans from her rule. Oedipus is able to solve the riddle and is then offered the hand of his widowed mother in marriage, at the time the fact unknown to him after never meeting his mother or father. Oedipus later succumbs to the tragedy of ripping his eyes out after learning he slept with his mother.

But what demanded my attention after seeing the painting was not the story but the minute of utter amazement as my eyes flicked back to the winged woman, who did not look very much like a monster to me. Her arched lioness body became visible after a second glance.

Walking down a hall of 19th Century contemporary paintings displaying women, nymphs, widows, and monsters I became fascinated with the many forms women could take. In this painting that sparked the Salon of 1864, the female monster called a sphinx wears a crown looking just as beautiful on the upper half of her body as the next ancient Greek woman.  

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Ra-One: Bollywood Transforms from Lovers to Superheros!

We’ve all seen it. That film surrounding “star-crossed” lovers, numerous plot twists, disfunctional families, and a prolonged issue. It very often includes a woman running in the fields towards her lover, a hero that has multiple lives during fight scenes, and a father that just doesn’t get it.

Through it all, Bollywood movies have captured our attention and with that also come our expectations that these films are no more than lengthy tear-jerkers capable of grabbing our next 2 and a half hours while bringing along a few family members for the ride.

This season I gathered up enough courage to watch a Bollywood film in theaters. Usually, I don’t pay for a Bollywood film ticket unless I hear rave reviews from friends or family. And even then, I just watch the film on Netflix. But this time, the film Ra-One had one of my friends excited to watch. And so I tagged along, hoping it’ll be well worth the ticket.

Ra-One starring Sharukh Khan and Kareena Kapoor

It was a thirteen dollar surprise along with the Imaginasian movie theater at 239 East 59th Street in Manhattan. I wasn’t sure what to expect of a Bollywood movie theater, but the room was fully furnished with big leather chairs that looked like I was about to take a ride in the next Transformers car.  Contrary to the funny comments I heard about Bollywood theaters, popcorn was served instead of samosas and no one whipped out their homemade chicken tikka masala while the film was showing.

The film surprised me in many ways, but also fulfilled my expectations that it was indeed a Bollywood film with a few tweaks here and there. For example, the already popular song, “Chammak Challo,” was sung by Akon, a Senegalese Amercian R&B recording artist.

Click the photo to see the music video of “Chammak Challo”

The film was described as a “science-fiction, superhero thriller” by New York Times movie critic Rachel Saltz. I thought of it more as a superhero film and the first Bollywood film that ever did the superhero genre right. It was a pleasant surprise to see that Bollywood could afford to create their own superhero. Sharukh Khan was casted as both the superhero and the lead actor. Khan plays Shekhar the nerdy father of Prateek (played by Armaan Verma), a boy who thinks his Dad is uncool and cowardly.

In the film, Shekhar is a creator of video-games. After his son challenges him to create a video-game where the villain is more powerful than the hero, Shekhar invents both Ra-One and G-One. Ra-One named after the villain Ravana in the Ramayana and G-One after the Hindi translation “Life”. The film begins with a funny, sappy portrayal of Shekhar and his triumph in creating a game that satisfies his son. Later the film takes on a new twist when the evil villain Ra-One escapes the game to kill Prateek after he manages the impossible task of defeating Ra-One in the game. The film transforms into a fight between good versus evil with G-One, played by the one and only, Sharukh Khan versus Ra-One who takes on the identity of various characters in the film.

Ra-One directed by Anubhav Sinha In Hindi, with English subtitles 2 hours 26 minutes; not rated.

The film directed by Anubhav Sinha had a reported 30 million dollar budget according to The Times of India making it the most expensive Bollywood film ever made. It’s interesting to note that the New York Times critic, Rachel Saltz, describes the movie as “traditional” in her review “Computer Nerd Creates Superhero Showdown.” However, I have to disagree with her. While the film fulfills the general Bollywood equation with songs, dance, and a slew of digital effects replacing Bollywood dazzle, Ra-One has created an entirely new genre for Bollywood film.

Ra-One has taken on a new realm of action-adventure. I’ve never seen a Bollywood film that was able to have believable digital effects along with a villain that changed identities and a superhero that Indians could identify with. In America the film may be judged through a different lens, but Ra-One has done much for Bollywood cinema, in terms of diversifying its themes and raising the bar for future superheros. All in all, it’s worth a watch!

The Perfection of A Swan

There was a time when looks didn’t matter as much for girls. We could run to the playground with our hair firmly intact within braid. Now it’s common to see girls looking into mirrors and watching their reflections through windows and subway doors. Eyeliner, lipstick, and powder are carefully applied. Outfits are coordinated with the latest fashions. Postures are straightened. A true transformation occurs between the times of childhood and coming of age.

There are many movies that depict coming of age and the transformation of women from the “ugly duckling” to the beautiful swan. One movie that deeply connects to many girls is the chilling Oscar-nominated Black Swan. Buddy2eyes says “I’m only 15 years old and already watched this movie, What a beautiful movie in my life! Powerful, Emotional and…PERFECT” quoted from the official youtube trailer. Another user notes the movie parallels her life. However  some don’t understand the film’s artistic nature and message. After careful observation of the film, a reflection into the pressures of being perfect, and the emotions felt after the tragic suicide of a friend, I found that Black Swan resonates with the souls of many girls and women.

If you take a look at the film’s awards, you can see it was most praised for the realistic, dramatic portrayal of the movie’s lead character Nina Sayers. Natalie Portman earned the Oscar for her astounding performance as the delicate and tempting Nina Sayers. And that award goes without saying how applicable it can be to the lives of many young women despite the film’s artistic nature.

Portman demonstrated the transformation and rite of passage with her powerful role. Black Swan characterized the transformation within the female gender through the symbols of the white swan, representing purity and fear, and the black swan, representing freedom and independence.

In the film Nina Sayers was a fragile ballet dancer. Nina desperately wanted to be casted the role as the Swan Queen. However she had to perfect both the role of the pure White Swan, which she could master to perfection, and the tempting Black Swan, which she had no idea how to perform. Nina faced the challenge of being two different women as she was simultaneously embarking on a rite of passage.

Nina Sayers played by actress Natalie Portman concludes her ballet performance in the final scene of the Oscar nominated 2010 film Black Swan.

Throughout the movie, Nina strived to reach perfection. All she wanted to do was be able to dance both roles. Even though by the end of the movie Nina reached her goal of perfecting both roles, she ended up dying as a result of pain she inflicted upon herself.There was no way Nina could have played both the roles of the White Swan and the Black Swan in the real world; they were restricted to her ballet performances. In the film, her dying words were, “I was perfect. It was perfect.”

This idea to remain a simple, pure individual while transitioning to a new independence is quite challenging for many young people. It is hard transition and grow by remaining inside the nest. Black Swan’s director, Darren Aronofsky, used a symbolic, artistic portrayal to show his viewers Nina’s struggle to transform and undergo a rite of passage. We also see many cultural overlaps with that of our own rites of passage.

Mansi played by actress Aishwarya Rai dances to the song “Kahin Aag Lage” in the 1999 Bollywood film Taal.

The 1999 Bollywood movie, Taal, directed by Subhash Ghai, shows a similar rite of passage with Mansi, played by Aishwarya Rai. In the film Taal, Mansi transforms from being the simple daughter of a folk singer to a beautiful national singing icon. Mansi, like Nina, also realizes she cannot be both a simple girl and a diva-like musician. Mansi loses the love that characterized her simple youth and decides to marry her music director, casted as Anil Kapoor. But she cannot go through with the marriage when confronted by her past love.

She later becomes so distraught she breaks a glass in her hands. During the concluding scene, Mansi goes back to her first love and becomes a part of his family. Eventually Mansi is able to develop as a young woman.

Both Nina and Mansi excelled in their careers as a ballet dancer and a singer. But they faced a tremendous pressure to be both simple and perfect. Their self infliction shows the true difficulty in transitioning from being a girl to a woman.

The idea we receive from both films is the detrimental desire to be perfect. Nina and Mansi are characters developed within two different hemispheres, by two different directors, and at two different times. Nevertheless, both characters depict the same message: Absolute perfection is difficult and nearly impossible.

The idea of perfection is something that is always seen as positive no matter how much we realize it is non-existent. There is always room for improvement but instead of trying to reach an impossible goal, we can meld the simplicity of youth and the complexity of young adulthood to bring us to new endeavors.

We all face pressures, expectations, and challenges. It is hard to go from playing tag and sports to gazing at airbrushed models on the front cover of a magazine. As many of us transform, new wings burst out of our backs in hopes that we will take advantage of a rite of passage. We may desire to emulate the beauty like that of a swan. But maybe this perfection is a little hard to exemplify. Instead we can use our wings to help us reach the possible. We can spread our wings and fly to new horizons.

I Just Can’t Wait…To Be King

“My father used to tell my brother you only get one chance to make a mark on this Earth…after that it’s almost like you never existed.”

From the founder of Falling Leaves Films and director of the 2009 award winning film Blood Line, independent movie director Steve Rahaman brings To Be King a film on the strength of family, the intensity of boxing, the horror of crime, the sweetness of love, and the beauty of renewal.  The movie was in the making since 2008, and it is set to premiere this fall at the New York International Film Festival in October 2011. The date has yet to be released, but for movie-goers, here’s a sneak preview.

To Be King channels an underlying theme of not being able to live up to one’s own father. Tyrone, the film’s lead, constantly faces both positive and negative objections from his family saying, “You’re nothing like your father.” Having to face the challenge of living up to his father, a boxing champion, Tyrone turns to an old man played by Frank Merlino, to act as his trainer. With The Karate Kid references and the old trainer’s wise character, the boxing scenes become all the more emotionally-charged. Rahaman does a good job at making the boxing scenes not only believable but intense. Each fight scene brings strong sound effects coupled with a heart-pounding reaction.

The diverse cast of actors and actresses give way to the movie’s subtle message that despite the darkness of your skin tone, you can still overcome hurdles. However the movie also portrays the sadness when one fights against their own kind. To Be King depicts a boxing scene where Tyrone is faced with fighting his fellow African-American opponent played by Roosevelt Norris. The white boxing promoter jeers on telling Tyrone to “Finish Him!” and Tyrone is faced with choosing boxing glory or saving brotherhood. The movie also suggests the use of racial profiling by police in the scene where two street cops are investigating a robbery and they insist on asking the witness to identify the robber as black.

Steve Rahaman uses biblical references to develop Tyrone’s lines. Rahaman makes an effort to show the religious aspects of the main character as he mentioned that regardless of race, class, or faith, his goal was to show that “He’s not just a robber. He’s a human being that also needs to pray.” The film strives to communicate with reality, especially to members of Brooklyn and Queens with numerous visuals of an entering J train into 104 Street and scenes from Rockaway Boulevard featuring Trade Fair. The boxing ring used to shoot most of the fighting scenes is also located at the border of Brooklyn and Queens.

The film’s plot, screenplay, special effects, music and spontaneously original performances show the true depth and technique of the movie. To Be King is not only a taste of boxing; it satisfies the romantic and comedic aspects necessary for a well-rounded film. We watch Tyrone struggle with serious isses such as crime and fighting while he also crushes over his social worker and tries to overcome his own butterflies.  Tyrone is such a real, but dynamic character who we root for from the beginning to the end. To Be King is a movie that should be on the radar of any one interested in a blend of crime, drama, action, and inspiration.

It seems like in this day and age, achieving a dream may seem impossible. But for the cast and crew of this new independent film, To Be King, this Lion King dream may help them reach their goal. Steve Rahaman explained to me that his ultimate goal is to make it all the way to Hollywood. And that just might happen with the support from the community and those at Falling Leaves Films where they continue to keep scratching until they make a permanent mark on our society

Cast and crew of To Be King

To Be King is a movie that tells a story of a man who is lost but desperately trying to pick up the pieces and make his mark on the world. The film shows us what it really means to pick up where you left off, how hard it is to change your life around, but how rewarding it could be to make the right decisions. To Be King is in simplest terms, a movie that shows what it really means… to be a King.

ADVANCED PRIVATE SCREENING:

To Be King

Directed by Steve Rahaman

Anthology Film Archives 32 Second Avenue New York, NY 10003

July 7th 2011, 9PM

Courthouse Theater

 Click here for TICKETS!

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