Friday, October 12, 2012

A Tale of Two Cities

Or, more accurately, two tales of two cities.

The last two films that I have gone to see in the cinema have featured two of the cities I consider home - Dublin and Nairobi. (Sadly there has yet to be a feature film about Navan but we live in hope). A completely unintentional little quirk, it was only upon leaving the cinema after the second film that I made this connection.

Ek Tha Tiger
I have been excited about seeing this movie ever since I first learned of the fact that there was to be a Bollywood film set in Dublin. I got even more excited when I found out it was to feature my Alma Mater. And that is was to be a spy thriller. My excitement reached unparalled proportions when I saw the first music video from the movie, Banjaara.

How can you not love a movie that features dancing extras dressed in Kilkenny hurling jerseys and brandishing hurls alongside extras wearing oversized leprachaun-esque hats all dancing to a song in Hindi? It also features Katrina Kaif, whose nickname in the Indian press is KK, in a Kilkenny jersey! KK in a KK jersey!

I love Bollywood. I have loved it since my summer in Kolkata, way back in the day. I love that it doesn't take itself too seriously. I love that they weave comedy, drama, romance, music, action, suspense all into the one, albeit very long, movie. One of my lifetime ambitions is to be an extra in a Bollywood movie for those very reasons.

I enjoyed seeing its portrayal of Dublin. I went to see the film with three other Irish people and it was funny the little quirks that we all picked up on. We were probably a bit pedantic, but I think that is only to be expected.

1) All of the extras had blonde or red hair. There was barely a brunette extra to be seen. In fact, there is a lovely interaction where the main character, Tiger, played by Saif Ali Khan, remarks to a colleague upon seeing a girl with 'Wow, it's like fire'. Genius.

2) There is a fight scene in, and on top of, a Luas. The first scene lasts about 5 minutes during which time the Luas whizzes up Harcourt Street, which has suddenly becoming longer than the North Circular Road.

3)Dublin pubs are inter-changeable. There were a few scenes in which Tiger and his leading lady enter one pub, are transported into the interior of another pub, and then exit through a third pub. I am not sure I should be proud of this intimate knowledge of Dublin's watering holes. Who am I kidding? Of course I should be!

Continuity critiques aside, it very affectionately portrayed some of Dublin's treasures. The Ha'penny Bridge looked wonderful, a testament to a simpler time when the only thing that really needed to cross the Liffey were people. Stephen's Green is the venue for a beautiful midnight picnic scene (which again the pedant in me knew could never happen 'sure the park closes at dusk!'). Dublin pubs were seen at their best, hubs for live music, and chat and craic.

If you had never been to Dublin before the impression  you would be left with is that Dublin is a city of academics, actors, romantic architecture, and friendly people who like a pint. And a bit of a coordinated dance routine.

Nairobi Half Life

And so to a film featuring the city that I have called home for the past year. This movie had an entirely different tone. It definitely had its comic and light moments but the movie charts one young man's journey into a life of crime. The protagonist, Mwas, moves to the city in the hope of becoming an actor. Within moments of Nairobi he is robbed, and then promptly thrown into jail, where his path towards a life of violent crime begins.

Or half a life. Because at the same time as he is mugging people, and carrying out car-jackings, he lands a part in a play at a Nairobi playhouse. We see him struggle to balance his rehearsals, with time spent hiring guns It portrays gang life in Nairobi as I imagine it to be. Not a series of highly organised, hierarchical structures with clear chains of commands and meticulously planned crimes. But groups of young lads who improvise, rather than plan their activities, who bumble through, rather than command situations. They are opportunists, like most of the thieves that I have encountered here.

One of the things that I enjoyed most about the movie was that it was a story set in Africa, but not necessarily an African story. It was the sort of story that could easily be transported to the streets of New York or London and the essence of the story would have still made sense. A young man struggling to follow his dream, but finding that sacrifices need to be made along the way in order to survive.

It portrayed many, if not quite all, sides of life in Nairobi. It highlighted the fact that Nairobi has a growing theatre and arts scene. That Nairobi has good and bad sides. Nasty characters, and inspirational ones. Stories of success, alongside those of failure.

That said, I will not be recommending it to Mammy or Daddy Wickham any time soon, not if I want them to ever come out and visit me! If you had never been to Nairobi before you might get the impression that you will no sooner step off the plane than you will be mugged and car-jacked.

Having only spent a year in Nairobi I couldn't have been quite as nit-picky as I was with Ek Tha Tiger in terms of noticing inaccuracies or inconsistencies. Though we all had a smirk during one scene in which a rather hilarious car-jacking scene takes place in the carpark of a large shopping centre. The second we saw it all of us said, in unison and probably louder than we should have in the cinema, 'Junction!'

As mentioned earlier Nairobi, and Kenya more widely, has a growing arts, theatre and film-making scene. I attended the final evening of the Slum Film Festival recently which showcased the work of young film-makers from some of Nairobi's informal urban settlements. I also made it along to one day of the Storymoja Hay Literary festival at the Nairobi museum, a new Nairobi festival linked to the prestigious Hay Festival. This blog has talked in the past (here and here) about some of the one-dimensional portrayals of this continent. It is through the cultivation of local voices, through Storymoja, through Slum Film Festival and the many other initiatives that are springing up here and in other African cities, that some of this balance can be redressed.

On a complete aside my little sister sent this blogpost to me recently and it is just genius. Not long till I'm home in Navan now and can enjoy the Shopping Centre, the Valley and Solar in all of their glory.


  1. The thought of a movie about the city of Navan made me LOL! You should make it one day :)

  2. I think I might leave the movie-making about Navan to some of the town's more illustrious and funny sons, Hector, Tommy Tiernan etc.