What is it about Ayn Rand that the regular people love so much and the “professional” critics hate? When the book was released, it was severely panned by the critics, and overwhelmingly disregarded as “remarkably silly” and something that “can be called a novel only by devaluing the term.” However, it sold so many copies by word of mouth that it rivaled the Holy Bible in its sales and the impact it had on people’s lives.
Okay, I was fooled by the name “Rakesh Roshan;” I didn’t realize that he had nothing to do with the story or the film’s direction. I rarely watch Hindi movies, but I do make an exception depending on the star cast or the director involved with the project. This time, it was the director — or so I thought.
Anyway, so here’s a two-line gist of the movie: one gold digger meets another gold digger, and they both sort of screw around with a rich, criminal family in Las Vegas. The family finds out, and screws their lives over in return. End of story.
Now, take that script, throw in a Spanish-speaking hottie to lure the males, the Greek God-like body of Hritik Roshan to woo the girls, and a truckload of cheesy lines like “I don’t know what part of the world you come from, but you’ve become my whole world now,” and you’ve got a piece of Bollywood cinema, which Hritik Roshan claims is “different.”
I have absolutely no idea why we’re supposed to like or even empathize with the characters. The hero is a mediocre con artist of sorts who marries foreign women, helps them get the green card, and charges them money for it. As if that wasn’t enough to make him a total douchebag, he wants to marry a rich girl so he can live his life on her money and never have to be poor again.
Seriously? An Indian who’s a great dancer and knows magic tricks, and he can’t find a good job in the US, you’re friggin kidding me right? And I’m supposed to feel sympathy for him cause he falls in love with another woman who’s trying to marry a rich man so she can become rich and help her family out of poverty. Wow, real touching stuff.
To make things even more dramatic, there’s a friend who helps the protagonist — we really need to redefine the terms here — find clients to marry, and also gives his life up to help him procure foreign passports so the love birds can fly away to a different place and live happily ever after. Honor among thieves huh!
Finally, I guess the filmmakers really wanted to make something different, so after giving us two lovers with high aspirations and loose morals — real innovative stuff — they decided that after two hours of painful struggle (painful for the audience) the story should NOT end well. You can probably guess what happens at the end, can’t you?
Yes, I know I didn’t say “spoiler alert” at the beginning of this review… You’re welcome.
P.S.: I spent the equivalent of $7.00 to buy two tickets for this movie, and I’d like to apologize to the Indian goddess of wealth, “Laxmi,” for splurging her blessings this way.
Note: Despite what you might think after reading this review, there are barely any spoilers in it.
Whenever I pick up a new book, I go through its back cover to see if there’s an outline mentioned somewhere. When I picked up The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga, I did the same thing, and one of the reviews printed on the back cover caught my attention. It said:
‘… an excoriating piece of work, relentless in its stripping away of the veneer of “India Rising” to expose its rotting heart.’
Then I flipped a couple of pages at the start and saw a disclaimer, “This novel is entirely a work of fiction…”
Having read the book, however, I can confidently say that it is only as much a work of fiction as We The Living is not Ayn Rand’s autobiography. In fact, the kind of two Indias described in it are probably way truer than most of my fellow Indians would have the courage to admit. Regardless of whether or not the story described in it is true, the picture is much too real.
The book is in the form of a long and fictitious letter the author writes to the Chinese Premier, who’s about to visit India. The author writes this letter in order to describe the stark contrast between the real India and the India that will be presented to the Premier during his visit here.
The author accomplishes that by narrating his own story — his journey from the wretched lanes of a small town named Laxmangarh where he spent his days working on a tea stall, to Bangalore, where he currently owns a successful transportation agency.
Does anyone who’s read The Fountainhead remember Gail Wynand? Never mind, it was a rhetorical question.
The author comes across as a figure quite similar to Wynand, although not as polished or grandiose as Ayn Rand’s characters usually are. However, the basic essence is the same. He is a self-taught man who’s learned all his lessons by extremely practical means — such as eavesdropping on customers’ conversations at the tea stall, offering to drive someone’s car for free just to find himself a job, and sitting by the street in Electronic City in Bangalore trying to understand where he could be useful in the outsourcing industry to name a few.
Gail Wynand’s success in The Fountainhead begins after he writes an editorial destroying a good man. The author — named as Balraam in The White Tiger — begins his entrepreneurial stint in a similar, although more literal manner.
The White Tiger is a raw, darkly humorous, and mocking account of how the lines between a poor man and an animal can get blurred out in some parts of India. If you’ve seen Slumdog Millionaire and think that you know how things can get really bad in some places, wait till you read about the life of poor people in Laxmangarh or New Delhi in The White Tiger. Wait till you read how Socialism breaks down Capitalism’s so-called system of “rich and poor” and replaces it with something unimaginably monstrous — a master-slave relationship.
Balraam calls this phenomenon as the Rooster Coop. He describes it as,
“the roosters in the coop [at the slaughterhouse] smell the blood from above. They see the organs of their brothers lying around them. They know they’re next. Yet they do not rebel. They do not try to get out of the coop.
“The very same thing is done with human beings in this country… A handful of men in this country have trained the remaining 99.9 per cent — as strong, as talented, as intelligent in every way — to exist in perpetual servitude; a servitude so strong that you can put the key of his emancipation in a man’s hands and he will throw it back at you with a curse.”
Later on, he says,
“that [to break out of the coop] would take no normal human being, but a freak, a pervert of nature. It would, in fact, take a White Tiger.”
Balraam’s life takes him to a number of places, and he comes to a point where he begins to realize that he has only two choices — to remain imprisoned for the rest of his life like an animal he saw at the zoo, or to do something bad, immoral, and definitely criminal to buy a new lease on his life. Guess what he does.
Oh, and I almost forgot to mention: one of Balraam’s nicknames is The White Tiger.
When you wish to prove someone wrong, what do you do? Do you try to expose the fallacies in their argument or do you target their personal life and assault their character, hoping that by doing so, you would render all their ideas useless? The latter seems to be true for Adam Kirsch, the senior editor at The New Republic.
A friend just forwarded me the recently published book review by Adam Kirsch titled, Ayn Rand’s Revenge. The editorial talks about why Ayn Rand is so popular. He says she is so because she deluded readers into believing that by admiring her work, they become part of an elite group that belongs to the world’s best. Naturally, everyone wants that, so they find her work popular.
Among the things he points out about Rand is her acceptance of a cut in her royalty in order to ensure that Galt’s speech be included in its entirety in Atlas Shrugged. He says, “Cerf offered Rand an alternative: if she gave up 7 cents per copy in royalties, she could have the extra paper needed to print Galt’s oration. That she agreed is a sign of the great contradiction that haunts her writing and especially her life… the author had no real affection for dollars themselves. Giving up her royalties to preserve her vision is something that no genuine capitalist, and few popular novelists, would have done. It is the act of an intellectual, of someone who believes that ideas matter more than lucre.”
By making this point, Kirsch inherently makes a statement of what he thinks about Capitalism — that it’s divorced from ideas, and that a person should be willing to give up his vision or ideas in order to make some more cash, if they really are true capitalists.
What he fails to realize is that Capitalism is more than just about caring to make money. Money is the capital, or the means to an end for a man, not an end in itself. Ayn Rand made this clear more than once in her philosophy. Kirsch obviously doesn’t understand this, and what he’s really referring to as Capitalism is in fact Materialism, wherein you cut a man in two halves — mind and body — or soul and body, and discard the mind as irrelevant.
What Capitalism is really about is the freedom to trade with people without anyone else’s interference — you want something, you pay for it if the other person is willing to sell. Ayn Rand wanted that speech included, and she paid for it. Kirsch calls this behavior anti capitalist and he says that she acted like an intellectual. There’s another insight into Kirsch’s mind and what he thinks about intellectuals — that they can never be capitalists. This is consistent with his view of Capitalism — where people discard the spirit for material objects — which indicates his outlook towards intellectuals — who in his view are people who would discard material objects in favor of some spiritual realm.
He further says, “Politically, Rand was committed to the idea that Capitalism is the best form of social organization invented or conceivable. This was, perhaps, an understandable reaction against her childhood experience of Communism.”
Therefore, the fact that Rand’s support of Capitalism was rooted in her experience with Communism automatically takes away a part of its legitimacy. There’s another insight into what Kirsch would approve about an intellectual — that if someone’s work is influenced by their real-life experiences, you should watch them with a wary eye. In other words, he is subtly implying that if an intellectual’s ideas are not based on their own experience, they have a better chance of being objective in his opinion.
Once Kirsch is done explaining that Rand’s support of Capitalism was not based on intellectual grounds but out of her own vendetta against the Soviet communists, he moves on to the next favorite topic of all Rand’s critics — her fallout with Nathaniel Branden.
He openly concludes that if you follow Rand’s ideas, you would end up in the kind of mess Rand allegedly did by having a romantic relationship with someone over 20 years younger than herself. That, he says, is the peril of “unjustified self esteem.”
Regardless of whether this story about Rand’s failure is true or not, what I find most intriguing is how unabashedly Kirsch contradicts himself. While on one hand Kirsch finds the “human” subject in Heller’s book with all its flaws more realistic and believable, he expects that Ayn Rand’s life be without any such flaws in order for him to respect her other ideas that had nothing to do with her relationship with Branden; and because he believes that’s not the case with her, she is not a good enough intellectual in his opinion.
In the entire editorial, there’s not one of Rand’s ideas coherently discussed or logically refuted. All you can see in the editorial is Kirsch imploring people to not give Rand’s work more thought by telling them what a failure it is. Funny enough, reading up on Objectivism never taught me to not take Communism seriously. In fact, it’s quite the contrary — the more you read about it, the better you know how crazy it is.
I guess to all those people who are worried about Rand’s popularity, the following applies even more than I thought, “What’s worse than the fear of telling the truth is the fear of uncovering it.”
When a poor little boy in nineteenth-century Jersey asked a group of upper-class Englishmen “What’s Golf?” they replied, “It’s a game played by Gentlemen, not the likes of you.”
This poor little boy was Harry Vardon, who ended up becoming one of the greatest players the game of Golf ever produced. Despite his humble upbringing, not only did he learn this game of “Gentlemen,” but also excelled in it to the point where people started saying, “all he has to do [to win a game] is show up.”
But the movie The Greatest Game Ever Played is not about how Harry Vardon overcame his challenges to become a respected figure in Golf; it’s about an American boy named Francis Ouimet who overcame similar problems of class discrimination and beat Harry Vardon in his prime.
The movie opens with a scene outside the nineteenth-century Vardon House to give the audience an idea of who Harry Vardon was. Then we move on to the present day where we see the boy Francis Ouimet working as a caddie on a Golf course.
While caddying, Francis finds a ball with the name “Harry Vardon” on it. Later on, an old neighbor who makes Golf clubs for a living gives him a club as a gift. That’s when his obsession with Golf begins.
When greatness is on display 24×7, someone notices it and gives it its due respect. It happened with Howard Roark in The Fountainhead, and it happens with Francis Ouimet. He’s invited to play for the qualifying round for an amateur Golf championship, and one of the members of the club agrees to sponsor him.
Francis’ father agrees to pay the entry fee of $50 on the condition that if Francis fails, he would give up Golf for good and go to a business school so he can earn some “honest money.”
I know what you’re thinking now — Francis wins that tournament, because if he didn’t, he would have to give up Golf, and there wouldn’t be a movie made about him. Quite the contrary. It is after all a true story and not a fairytale, which is probably the reason why it is that much more thrilling to watch.
When a fictitious story portrays people with exceptional abilities, it does serve as a great emotional fuel and reminds us of the greatness possible for us. However, imagine seeing all of this, and knowing at the back of your mind that it actually did happen a hundred years ago! That’s the kind of experience one gets when they see movies like The Aviator, A Beautiful Mind, and without a doubt, The Greatest Game Ever Played.
Coming back to the story, Francis doesn’t qualify in the tournament. But it’s not due to lack of talent. Before he makes the final shot — and loses — he is reminded of a line written by Harry Vardon, “there’s only two kinds of players — those who hold on to their nerves and go on to win championships, and those who don’t.” Turns out, Francis has a lot to learn before he can hold on to his nerves.
Shia LaBeouf plays Francis Ouimet. LaBeouf shot to fame after Transformers, and after seeing his performance in The Greatest Game Ever Played I’m convinced we’ll be seeing a lot more of this young actor in the future.
Stephen Dillane plays the calm and observant Harry Vardon, and does it with great finesse. Perhaps the most challenging part of Dillane’s role is that he is present in the movie in maximum number of scenes, perhaps second only to LaBeouf, and yet has very little dialog. In other words, his face does all the talking.
The fact that he’s able to make an impact without saying a word is something I find the most remarkable about his performance. And the one time he does speak at length, it stays with you.
In one scene, it’s the evening before the last day of the tournament, and one of the “gentlemen” tells Vardon about Ouimet, “the man’s a bloody amateur… amateurs do not win opens. Hell, the last one who won it back home was forty years ago and he was a gentleman. This one’s nothing of the kind, he’s a peasant, common clay… If he couldn’t hit the ball a country mile he’d be digging ditches.”
To this, Vardon replies “Let me tell you something, I came here to win a trophy. And on the face of it Ted Ray or I should carry it off; not for you, not for England, but for sheer bloody pride of being the best. That’s why we do this. And if Mr. Ouimet wins tomorrow, it’s because he’s the best, because of who he is. Not who is father was, not how much money he’s got; because of who he bloody is.”
In today’s world where bromides like players should play with the main aim of making their country proud, this dialog validates what Howard Roark (Ayn Rand) said about inventors and other great men — that they work only for themselves, and they succeed only because of their ego.
It’s both refreshing and reassuring at the same time.
For me to find a movie enjoyable, it needs to have — at the very least — an excellent plot, excellent performances, and decent dialog. In case of The Greatest Game Ever Played, it was check, check, and check.