Monday, September 12, 2005

Hotel Rwanda : saga of determination and compassion

My first real brush with brutal mob mentality came at the time of Mrs. Indira Gandhi’s assassination. Boarding Frontier mail at Ratlam station - to escape from burning Indore city – and coming across mercilessly beaten, brutally wounded elderly Sikh couples and families was heart-rending experience. Rampaging rioters at Mathura station lynched these innocent Sikhs whose only fault was that they were Sikh.

It is true that we are influenced only after witnessing a particular event. Although 1992 Hindu Muslim riots in Bombay and later in Gujarat may have been more gruesome, it did not have the same impact on me as that of 8-hour journey from Ratlam to Mumbai. This is also true with various ethnic riots that happen in the rest of the world. Be it Bosnia, Rwanda and now Darfur, my attention span is only to an extent to what media reports. It hardly evokes any empathy with people who are suffering. Written reports, no matter how illustrative and graphic, do not have the same telling effect as that of movies. Bhishma Sahani + Govind Nihalani in Tamas , Steven Spielberg in Schindler’s list have effectively portrayed people’s sufferings and their heroic effort to cope with the situation.

Rwanda was also no exception. In 1994, in just 3 months, members of the majority Hutu tribe went on a rampage by massacring millions of minority Tutsi tribe. World -by and large- remained mute spectator, till a movie, made after almost a decade made people realize of their shameful indifference to Rwandans.

Movie Hotel Rwanda, directed by Terry George is not about Rwandan people or the atrocities created by their tribes. It is a film for ordinary people like us, who often become bystanders in a situation of crisis and end up at best, analyzing it under safe and cozy environs. Dealing with the situation of genocide is not an easy; But Terry has done it without resorting to displaying violence in graphic details. He adroitly retains the impact of the terror and violence through human emotions of Paul Rusesabagina – Hutu Tribe with his wife Tatiana, their children, neighbors, and his hotel employees (all Tutsi Tribe)

Hotel Rwanda does not create a daredevil hero but has a real and true Paul Rusesabagina who now resides in Belgium. Paul is not a man with resources or an idealist man. He is just a hotel manager who uses every trick of his profession to get his benefits and advance his career. However, beneath all that lies a compassionate heart. This kindness makes him use all his managerial and leadership skills in terms of bribery, flattery, diplomacy, deception to overpower inhumane mindset of barbaric people. In doing so, he become a savior for more than 1,200 Tutsis. Paul Rusesabagina, played by Don Cheadle and Tatiana as his strong, committed wife, played by Sophie Okonedo delivers an Oscar- nominated performance.

Hotel Rwanda also depicts the helplessness of United Nations through Col. Oliver played by Nick Nolte. He has the war trappings of armed battalions at his disposal but is not supposed to use them. He is only expected to inform, report the situation to his far away based superiors. His plight was summed up when his men were not allowed to use their weapons against rampaging rioters because their job was that of ‘peacekeepers’ and not ‘peacemakers’.

I feel, it is better to know a bit of Rwanda and civil war before one watches this movie. Without understanding of background, it could be confusing to know who is killing whom and why? I do not know why Hotel Rwanda - as a movie – could not make it to Oscar nominations. And when it was nominated in the category of screenplay, best actor and supporting actress, it lost out to Lord of the Rings. Still this movie should be encouraged in riot prone country like India.

As the world head towards aftermath of Afghanistan, Iraq; Fear of riots, genocide shall always loom at large. I am sure Hotel Rwanda, Schindlers List and Tamas will continue to resonate loudly so that I do not need to depend on my train journey to share the empathy and grief of sufferers.


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