My column for Yahoo! India, published yesterday.
Do not hope to hope again
Brad Pitt, who has stayed impeccably diplomatic throughout his career, grew unusually opinionated while promoting Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, in which he had a starring role. Pitt said, about the movie that gave Jews fictional revenge on Hitler, "The Second World War could still deliver more stories and films, but I believe that Quentin put a cover on that pot. With Basterds, everything that can be said to this genre has been said. The film destroys every symbol. The work is done, end of story." He went on to dismiss his Interview with the Vampire co-star Tom Cruise’s Valkyrie as “a ridiculous movie”. Pitt’s agent, immediately activating damage control mode, stated the actor had not seen Valkyrie, and suggested much had been lost in translation because the interview appeared in the German magazine, Stern.
I caught Valkyrie on its release, and found it a passable, workmanlike effort hobbled by its adherence to historical fact (we knew beforehand the plot to assassinate Hitler would fail). I viewed it again, on television, after going through the Inglourious Basterds experience, and couldn’t sit through it. Every character appeared to be a parody of himself, and scenes taut with tension in the initial screening now verged on comical. Brad Pitt’s characterisation of Tarantino’s achievement, I concluded, was perfectly accurate.
It must be obvious by now that this column is about the recently completed election in the United Kingdom. Just kidding. About the obviousness, that is, not about the UK election. Few were enthused by that poll, which ended with the first hung Westminster parliament for decades, and the first coalition government since the Second World War. We had, in Gordon Brown, a candidate very difficult to like; Gordon Grey would be a more appropriate name for him. He was faced, in David Cameron, with an opponent very difficult to hate, though his privileged Eton-Oxford schooling inclined many Brits to despise him. The third party, the Liberal Democrats, were squeezed by Cameron’s move to the middle ground. Their most pressing aim remained changing the constitution to enable more Liberal Democrats to be elected in the future. The Lib Dem leader, Nick Clegg, referred to his party as, “the vanguard of the political centre-left”, a bit of an oxymoron, like calling Hrishikesh Mukherjee a revolutionary middle-of-the-road director.
Clegg and Cameron are now in a decidedly oxymoronic Conservative-Liberal alliance, their differences papered over for the time being by their uncannily similar appearance. I half-expect a scientist to announce the two were subjects of a twins-raised-apart project begun in the 1960s, which has conclusively established that ideological tendencies are not inherited traits.
India’s apathy to the election is a sign of its growing distance from the former imperial power. One cannot imagine today a scene of the sort depicted in Satyajit Ray’s masterful Charulata (itself based on Rabindranath Tagore’s semi-autobiographical novella Nastanirh), in which the Anglophile Bhupati Majumdar is so preoccupied with the tussle between Liberal Gladstone and Tory Disraeli that he fails to notice his wife Charulata’s growing romantic attachment to his younger brother Amal. I suspect, however, that the dullness of the UK election as seen from an Indian perspective was not just a function of the personalities involved, nor of India’s increasingly independent developmental trajectory, but the result of another election held eighteen months previously, the US Presidential race that ended with Barack Obama’s move to the White House. That was the Inglourious Basterds of campaigns. It put a cover on the genre of the election as spectacle. The son of a Kenyan goatherd rising to become the world’s most powerful man: who can top a narrative like that? Who can compete with those momentous speeches, that epic tussle with Hillary Clinton, the grotesque intervention of Sarah Palin, the urgent context of two wars and a financial meltdown? Most importantly, as the soaring poetry of Obama’s campaign turns into the plodding prose of administration, and as his promise of an end to partisanship gives way to the reality of a nation seemingly more divided than ever, who can once more hope to evoke hope in an electorate? Not even the most charismatic politician could possess that degree of audacity.
There is, however, a little light at the end of the tunnel. Ed Miliband shows signs of running for the leadership of the Labour party, and the man opposing him is likely to be his elder brother David. The brother-versus-brother scenario was left untouched by the American election of 2008, and promises some diverting, if meaningless, entertainment in the near future.
The column can be accessed at Yahoo! here.