Friday, July 03, 2009

Danton's Vigil

The romance of revolution is nothing but a camouflage for the fear of great turmoil and the beginning of tyranny in another name. The history of revolutions taught us at least as much. French, Russian and countless other revolutions - big and small trampled on humanity in general in their sway. Some say what’s happening in Iran is nothing short of a revolution. But you can feel the apprehensions of mutineers palpable in the million tweets and blogs as they go wave after wave against the children of Islamic revolution that overthrew the Shah.

Watching Danton (Andrej Wajda, 1983) once again convinced me of the power of cinema - how it lends clarity to viewers' vague apprehensions and insights into the shifting sands of human frailty and lessons in history. I watched it late at night fighting sleepy eyes and thunderous rain drumming away on the roof. I remember power going off before and after Danton's ominous speech on how revolution devours its own children.

It wasn't that difficult to lay doubt on the evil lurking behind best of the goodwill in even among the finest of political systems. When I watched the movie in late 1989, Indian political arena too was undergoing unprecedented upheavals with the right wing BJP making strides in the electorate, V.P Singh introducing caste inspired identity politics and a more than jaded congress delved in open communal politics throwing the country into greater turmoil.

The world too was in the throes of change. Berlin wall was torn down. Soviet Union abandoned Afghanistan. Pakistan cashed in on its mercenary bounty as it kicked the aggro on India by several notches. East Europe unwound from the communist dictators. Prague spring culminated in the winter of Moscow.

Danton was still laughing - pulling down the delectable dinner from the table which he arranged so carefully for Robespierre. Yet you could see the earnestness in his eyes, almost pleading with his friend for justice with whom he wrote the cornerstone of French revolution - Liberté, égalité, fraternité.

Danton arrived in Paris to convince Robespierre of the perilous path he had set the country into. Liberator has turned into another dictator in the name of humanity. Having recognized the monster, Danton allowed himself to be caught and tried in the tribunal in order to address the people of France on the nemesis of modern times - dictatorships and the tyranny of the "righteous".

Gerard Depardieu, who played Danton leaves a long shadow over everyone in the movie including the viewers who are caught up in the drama - just like the desperate Desmoulins raging at his own ideals, scared of the guillotine and longing for a life with his newborn baby and distraught wife. He forewarned each one of us to be on constant vigil for our own sake - so that you and I may not become a tyrant or a victim of our own devices.

Saving the World!

It came about in this way. During the children's revolt of the sixties and the seventies, I was just old enough to understand what t...