With the release of ‘Kaala’, here’s a quick tour of political cinema from around the world

Posted on June 11, 2018


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The release of Pa Ranjith’s Kaala, starring Rajinikanth, has brought politics back into filmmaking. The film isn’t entirely successful, but its most incendiary passages made me wonder if there is another instance, anywhere in the world, of a famous star being used to convey the director’s ideology. Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman in All the President’s Men? A political film, yes, but it’s not the director’s politics – it was based on a book. Syriana? Perhaps. But then, George Clooney wasn’t exactly the central figure. Charlie Wilson’s War, with Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts? Close, but no cigar. The Great Dictator, with Charlie Chaplin, may come closest in the sense of a huge star combined with ripped-from-the-headlines urgency, but satire – even stunning satire, like the legendary globe scene in the clip below – has a way of softening the sting.

So yes, Kaala may be unique – but let’s take a look at other political works, like Gillo Pontecorvo’s The Battle of Algiers. A flier announcing the documentary-style film, before a 2004 screening at the Pentagon, said: “Children shoot soldiers at point-blank range. Women plant bombs in cafes. Soon the entire Arab population builds to a mad fervor. Sound familiar?” Despite this cheeky reference to the modern day, The Battle of Algiers is a classical David vs. Goliath story, about the Algerian uprising against French colonists. But current-day resonances are undeniably present, especially in the following clip, set during a press conference that shows a colonel justifying “methods” used during the war. “What form of questioning must we adopt? Civil law procedures, which take months for a mere misdemeanour?” A journalist says, dryly, “Legality can be inconvenient,” but the colonel has no time for sarcasm. He asks, “Is it legal to set off bombs in public places?” The film came over five decades ago – there’s still no answer.

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