Sunday, April 01, 2007

Mr. Smith goes to Washington

Whenever I think a movie was the movie I've ever seen, there is something sooner or later, something even better comes and surprises me with ingenious film-making. Life is Beautiful, Schindler's List, Saving Private Ryan, Shwashank Redemption, It's a Wonderful Life... the list keeps growing. Now, here comes a movie that I believe one of the best ever I've seen. I know a lot of people might not share the same passion as me for this, as it is about democracy and America, still not as much appreciated by many people. But, Frank Capra and James Stewart will not make anything less than an extraordinary movie. And Jean Arthur caps it like a cream of the cake. And, Harry Carey who acts as the President of the Senate brings a highly respected and esteemed impression for his character, though he is not properly credited for this.

The film is about how a young, simple minded Midwesterner from Jackson city, Mississippi is selected for the American senate to be a honorable stooge of a corrupted businessman to replace a recently passed-away senator and how he fights the very own corrupt machinery that had engulfed the principles and ideals of America. The young man (our great James Stewart of "It's a Wonderful Life") loves and believes every patriotic ideal and adores his fellow senior senator and all gungho for this great job of law-making for this world's greatest democracy. When he first sets foot on Washington he loses his mind just watching the Capitol dome and loses time in the great memorials of Washington and Lincoln. His innocent mannerisms and plain patriotism is initially ridicule and mocked at by all those whos-who of Washington and even his secretary Clarrisa (the lovely Jean Arthur) is initially annoyed at baby-sitting this "cocky" new Senator.

The senator has visions of building a great boy's camp in his own state to teach and grow up boys with American ideals, but little does he understand that his bill to create this national camp is on the same land where the corrupt Mr. Taylor works up the nation to build a dam for his own interests. When the interests collide, Taylor tries to break up our man with allegations and when our hero has almost lost, he rises up extraordinarily using the Senate provisions (that allow for filibustering) and makes up his case. You have got to watch this, as I don't do justice for this great act, by explaining all this in a sentence.

We have all seen such stories where a lone man fights for a lost cause among the villains backed by politicians, their stooges and businessman with deep-pocketed connections in the press and other public media. But, this movie is extraordinary and puts America both in a positive light and also points out to its deficiencies. It points out to the concern of how the different estates of public sphere - lawmaking, business enterprises, media and the executive machinery have to be independent and impartial. It reminds people of their responsibilities of this democracy in selecting their representatives and keeping track of the various estates of the society. If people are not going to pay much attention to politics then the corrupt elements will, and instead of representing the will and ideas of the people, the government shall represent the vested interests of the few. Then politics and Presidentship will not be decided in the fields, factories and offices of the common man but at the expensive cocktails, conventions and conferences in New York, Chicago and Los Angels. What is said in 1939 is even more true today, when America is more and more becoming plutocracy far away from the dreams of its creation in 1776.

And it reminds the people of the great dream of its forefathers - the visions of Jefferson and Franklin in the declaration of independence, the Philadelphia bell and Statue of liberty standing to represent the freedom and liberty to all men and women, the words of Lincoln that urges us in protecting the sovereignty and maintaining democracy and the Washington memorials that stands tall to represent the ingenious ideas of this young nation. The singing of star spangled banner (the national anthem of US) during the senator's election and dramatic portrayal of various symbols of American entity is simply wonderful in this movie.

I hold a lot of personal emotions for this movie in that it points to what we have lost in politics. I always get emotional when I visit the great memorials of the Washington, the great Washington's pillar, the majestic statue of Lincoln, the great World war memorial and most importantly the capital dome viewed from the Union station just out of Amtrak, from the air taking off from Reagan airport, and from every road leading to it. It is the place where laws are made that governs the working or atleast affect it for most parts of the world. Seldom do people understand how important an institution it is, how much they really care to affect it.

We, the common people, have shrugged from our responsibility towards politics and treat it like a nasty art little realising that it is the thing that moves and works us. What is true for America holds true for most other democracies including Britain and India. Back home in India, we have left politics to rot. The great halls of Rashtrapati Bhavan where doyens like Sarvappalli Radhakrishnan and Abdul Kalam have grazed their presence, is just a ceremonial entity that overlooks a chaotic Sansad Bhavan where goons and criminals represent us and enact laws for us. More than the Americans, we have shrugged our responsibilities to elect responsible representatives for the nation and then just bitch about the poor state of the nation.

I wish movies like these come in India and other democratic nations, and more people get into the working of the beautiful web of democracy.