Sunday, April 27, 2008

El Nido vacio - Argentine film

I was there at the premiere of the film El Nido vacio - empty nest- yesterday at Village Cinema. It is a film about a couple, who find the house empty after their grown-up children leave home to be independent. The couple try to make sense of their togetherness trying to find a new meaning and bond to sustain the relationship. The man, Leonardo, who is a successful playwright, gets more introspective and gets into the usual midlife crisis. The hyperactive wife, Martha, restarts her life by resuming her university studies and having fun with social get-togethers. She also resumes compensate for the days when she could not do so in the presence of children. Leonardo is uncomfortable among the friends of his wife and in social occasions. But his eyes follow the skirts and legs filling up his mind with fantasies. The fantasy at the clinic of a young female dentist takes the form of reality. He lets himself go after her. He is successful in getting her to reciprocate a bit and to take her to bed. But it is a one-shot affair. He feels guilty and does not proceed further.

The director and producer Daniel Burman has handled the theme very well. He has done it in an Argentine way making the story happen in the cafes. bars and restaurants through long but lively conversations. Fortunately, he has not made the film too heavy and complicated as the Argentine writers tend to do in the case of such themes. He has let the characters express their emotions and feelings in words, gestures and unspoken silences. He has let the story flow smoothly in a leisurely pace without any twists or complications.

Oscr Martinez has done justice to his role as Leonardo and so does Cecilia Roth as Martha in a realistic and credible manner.

For me, what the movie shows is what happens in the corner and sidewalk cafes of Buenos Aires every day. Couples and friends sit there for hours sipping cafe and talking..talking..and talking. It is part of the Porteno ( residents of the port city of Buenos Aires are called as portenos) culture.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Paraguay elects a Leftist ex-Bishop as President

Fernando Lugo was elected in the elections held on 20 April. It was not surprising, since he had been leading in the opinion polls for the last one year. I had been predicting and talking about this to the surprise and consternation of my Paraguayan friends.

It is a historic election for Paraguay. The Colorado party which was continuously ruling the country for the last 61 years was defeated for the first time. On the contrary, Lugo is a newcomer to politics. He took to politics only in 2006. He was one of those believers and practioners of Liberation Theology and was known as the Bishop of the poor. He formed a coalition with an assortment of political parties and indigenous groups and won the elections against formidable obstacles put in his way.

Lugo is the first Leftist President of the country. He wants to change the conditions of the poor. He wants to carry out land reforms and rid the society of corruption. Paraguay is the second most poor country in South America after Bolivia and one of the most corrupt and mismanaged.

But credit must be given to Colorado party candidate and the current President who quickly conceded defeat gracefully and committed to peaceful transfer of power due on 15 August. This shows the maturity of the leaders in contrast to what happened in Mexico. Credit is also due to the government which organised free and fair elections even after knowing that they risked losing power.

The election was colourful in a latino way ! The three main candidates were a bishop, woman ( queen) and a general ( knight).

Lugo´s election completes the Circle of the Left in south america where all the countries except Colombia ( where leftist ideology has been kidnapped and held hostage by FARC) have elected leftist governments. I prefer to call this development as empowerment of the masses , rather than an ideological shift. The masses who were marginalised and excluded in the past have exercised their power to elect those who have an agenda for them...simple !

Lugo is moderate, balanced and mature. He proposes to follow the model of Tabare Vasquez of Uruguay, who is respected in his country and in the region for his pragmatic approach. The opposition had accused Lugo as a Chavista and of receiving funds from Chavez. But Lugo is independent and nationalistic. Lugo did not indulge in any anti-American rhetoric. His language is not confrontational or polarising like in the case of some south american presidents.

Lugo will face many challenges to implement his agenda for change. he does not have a cohesive majority in the congress. His coalition parners, which include communists, liberals and indigenous groups have divergent agenda. The traditional political parties have control of the Congress and many provinces.

In foreign policy, he is going to make some changes. He is going to open diplomatic relations with China. Paraguay remains as the only country in south america to have recognised Taiwan. Lugo is asking for a better deal from Mercosur, which is run by the big boys, Brazil and Argentina. He has asked for a fair price for the electricity being supplied to Brazil from the 12000 MW Itaipu dam. Although President Lula ruled out renegoiations, his foreign minister Celso Amorim has hinted that discussions were possible. Lugo has demanded a simliar fair deal from a joint hydro power project with Argentina too.

Lugo seeks partnership with new powers such as India. Of course, the outgoing government had also attached importance to India and opened embassy in newdelhi. Lugo can be expected to be more friendly. Paraguay is the fourth largest exporter of soya in the world and this is important for India. There are opportunities for investment by Indian companies in agribusiness.

Friday, April 11, 2008

"India: from misery to power" - book by Patricia Campos Mello

I have just received a copy of this book in Portuguese ( India: da miseria a potencia") , which was launched on 25 March in Sao Paulo. Patricia is a journalist, curently based in Washington DC as the correspondent of Estado de Sao Paulo daily. She had visited India for three weeks in 2006 to interview people and collect materials for the book. India Brand Equity Foundation had financed and organised her visit.

Patricia has given an overview of the emergence of India as an important market, IT power and rising power. She has quoted the usual sources such as Thomas Friedman and businessmen like Nandan Nilekhani. She has quoted me too...

She contrasts India's IT skills and business boom with the poverty, caste system and problems faced by India. The photos she has put in the book are those which describe the misery and problems. She has forgotten to put the pictures which could have reflected the potencia! India seems to have given her a cultural shock from which she did not succeed in gaining her balance.

She has made the predictable comparison with China. She has earlier written a book on China called as " o mundo tem medo de china".

She has compared Brazil with India , the countries of the future. She says that while Brazil has been waiting eternally as the country of future, India has taken off. She has referred to the term "Belindia" which is used in Brazil to describe the inequality; the developed part of Brazil is compared to Belgium and the rest to India. She says while Brazil continues to be Belindia, India is no longer what India meant in the past. She has mentioned in passing the growing partnership between the two countries.

Patricia's book is a timely fill-in for the Brazilians who are puzzled and amazed by the sudden and rapid rise of India. Brazilian government and the business are curious and serious about India.There are no contemporary books on India in portuguese. Books on India available in Brazil are about culture and spiritualism. Although Patricia has not gone into the details of what has caused the paradigm shift in India and and in the mindset of Indians, the book serves its purpose by making the Brazilians to search for answers within themselves. I guess the three week stay was too short for her to understand the complexities of India.

My feeling is that the Brazilians have also reached a take off stage with a new confidence, energy and optimism. Brazilian companies are on a buying spree in neighbouring countries and outside. In 2007, Brazilian outward investment was more than the inward Foreign Direct Investment. The discovery of new oil fields, the commodity boom, leadership in fuel ethanol... are some of the factors which have strengthened the confidence of the Brazilian business. This has been complemented by the political equilibrium achieved by the government with its pragmatic policies friendly to both the Wall Street and Favelas. The government has successfully raised its profile in the region as well in the world by careful and astute diplomatic initiatives. This business- government synergy and putting their act together with a new vision and determination has made Brazil unstoppable....

Viva Brasil !

Saturday, April 05, 2008

"Black Novel" book by Luisa Valenzuela

Luisa Valenzuela, the Argentine writer has used the setting of Manhattan for her Argentine hero to roam around, get lost and confuse himself. Augustin, the hero of the novel takes refuge in Newyork, after the military dictators smoke out free thought in Argentina. He gets a grant for the stay and write a book. One day he goes to a theatre, meets an actress in the play, goes with her to her house and kills her with a gun, for no reason and without any provocation. He runs away from the scene. He takes refuge in the house of a writer-friend Roberta and confesses to her. She cannot understand how he could have commited murder and tries to analyse how it could have happened. Both of them come to a convoluted conclusion that may be it was part of a make-believe theatre. In a sub-plot, Roberta visits her friend Lara who runs a sadomachist centre where men and women live their fantasies, sexual perversions and let themselves be tortured and punished. Lara tells the writer that her centre should give abundant materials and themes for the writers. Later Augustin also visits Lara's den and lets himslef subjected to a milder version. The book ends with a confusion in the same way it starts.

The title of the novel is self explanatory. It was all black ... after going through the dark alleys one ends up against a black wall.

There are, of course, some interesting parts in which Valenzuela gives clear and vivid touch of Argentina contrasting it with the new world of NewYork.

After having tried the other books of Luisa Valenzuela and failed to appreciate except one book, I did not want to give up. I finished this book.. but it left me with a sense of vacuum at the end of it.

Now I understand why there are so many psychologists in Argentina. Luisa Valenzuela, Luis Borges, Julio Cortazar and the other writers should be confusing the Argentines thoroughly and making them to seek psychic help.