Tag Archives: pop culture

Amul: The butter, the raconteur: Best of ’08/09

Amul- the legendary Indian butter, has continued to churn out some amazing ads that capture the zeitgeist, from the Beijing Olympics to the US Presidential Inauguration. To see some of their earlier work and understand their brand philosophy, check out my last post on Amul.

So here we go, with the best of 08/09…

West Beirut

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Direction and Screenplay: Ziad Doueiri

Cast: Rami Doueiri, Mohamad Chamas, Rola Al Amin, Carmen Lebbos, Joseph Bou-Nassar, Liliane Nemri, Leila Karam, Mahmoud Mabsout

Language: Arabic, with English subtitles

*Warning: May contain spoilers, although I’ve attempted to make them cryptic

Synopsis (Courtesy of Rotten Tomatoes)

It is Beirut, 1975. Tarek, Omar, and May are teenagers roaming the streets, listening to pop music and making super 8 films. School has been closed, and the city has been split into the Christian-controlled East Beirut and the Muslim militia-controlled West Beirut, where the teens live. They are forced to grow up faster in ways they had not expected as violence seizes the city and their worlds become smaller as parts of their familiar surroundings are suddenly declared “off-limits.”

***

O: “May, tell me, what do you think of Beirut?”

M: “Crazy”

O: “Very Crazy”

10 years after its release, West Beirut remains the freshest and most poignant war film that I’ve seen. Gripping performances combine with fluid camerawork and stirring music to create a very real experience; yet somehow the movie is nothing short of magical. Never has a movie better characterized the Arab mindset and sense of humor; through all the madness of war the protagonists do not lose their mischief, their joie de vivre, or their belief in Beirut.

Doueiri borrows from his personal experiences during the Lebanese Civil War to showcase the teenage Tarek’s emotional metamorphosis as the war draws on; from exuberance about freedom from school to the angst-ridden delights of first love to an all-encompassing sense of grief for the destruction of his city. Doueiri’s love for Beirut resonates throughout; in the opening sequence Tarek  drowns out the French national anthem by singing the Lebanese one through a megaphone to his adoring classmates. Simple visuals such as the bike ride to Zeytuni are stunning; I felt a rush of emotion and nostalgia as Tarek, Omar and May sped across Beirut’s boulevards to develop Omar’s Super-8 film. If this scene was so powerful to a non-Lebanese such as me, I can only enviously imagine what it would mean to a paisan.

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Colorful characters abound throughout, adding the belly-laughter and roguery essential to keep a war movie honest. Two women in particular deserve special mention. The first, the old harridan who hides her pain and disappointment at being shunned by her husband by being the nightmare of the neighbourhood; she churns out some of the most creative abuses I have ever heard (“Meet your maker and perfume your mouth before you talk about the South”). Arabic speakers will be thrilled- God, hellfire, mothers, sisters and carnage are invoked in equal measure. Umm Walid, the madam of the brothel is the other, loud-mouthed and arrogant, with a huge frame and a heart to match. She proclaims that her brothel is the only place where the divisions brought about by the war matter not ( At Umm Walid’s, it is Beirut, period!). Sadly, time will prove her wrong.

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Technical finesse and theatricality aside, West Beirut is primarily about relationships. Ziad, the husband, whose love of the land overrides his rationality, has to deal with his beautiful wife Hala’s insistence that Beirut can no longer be home. You get a sense that their love will prevail through all, but the depiction of the challenges that they face as a couple is handled with panache. Hala leaves with Tarek after a heated argument with Ziad, but minutes later when she crashes the car on the way out, Ziad is there to welcome her back with a smile and hug . At the climax they share a rare cigarette and at her insistence, he strums the oud, the traditional Arab guitar. The father/son relationship is also evocative; Ziad and Tarek are always playful,  fencing and mock-fighting while discussing profound topics such as Lebanese identity and their future. However, the standout relationship is the one between Tarek and his chum Omar, an explosive yet caring imp. They are mischievous, omni-horny boys-grinning, cigarettes lit, American music blasting, exaggerated, flowery language, grandeur, public announcements, calls out to the prophet, gestural touching of the heart, head-slapping and at the core of it all, a deep mutual affection.

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Omar is portrayed by the irresistible Mohammed Chamas, whom Doueiri found in an orphanage, and he steals the show. Impulsive, foul-mouthed and street-smart, Omar initially resents May due to his fear that she will take Tarek away from him. Eventually though, they become an inseparable trio, with the battlefields of Beirut serving as the background for their compelling friendship.

Cross-cultural influences are felt throughout the movie. From the boys’ choice of phrases (“Finito, Capish?, You drive like Steve McQueen!”) to the music they choose to chill to (George McRae’s “Rock your Baby”), it all conveys Beirut’s cosmopolitan vibe. And yet the city’s soul is Arab, a point Doueiri repeatedly drives home. The magnanimity of Mo’alim Hassan, the smart-aleck humor of a man whose car has just been totaled , the handsy but completely heterosexual mischief between Tarek and Omar, it all serves to help us understand the Arab spirit. It’s a spirit that frustrates and enthralls, that cries and chuckles, and in the case of West Beirut, makes for a mesmerizing movie.

Hit-o-meter

Plot 7 Visual 8 Music 8 Acting 9.5 Direction 9 Entertainment 8.5 ‘Feel’ 10 Overall 9

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Amul: The butter, the Indian raconteur

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When Betty Botter said that a bit “of better butter will but make my butter better”, she was probably thinking Amul .  This co-operative organization was a catalyst for the Indian ‘White Revolution’ and now has a turnover of USD$1.05 bn.

Amul is one of India’s most resounding success stories, and due to its advertising, one of the most heartening. Marketing expenditure is only about 1% of total turnover. Yet the brand name is ubiquitous because it has for so long captured the Indian Zeitgest, or spirit of the age. Amul’s USP is that it is quintessentially Indian, and its 30yr+campaign focuses on issues important to the common man,  the ‘aam aadmi’: sports, politics, pop culture, religion and festivals, and the trials of daily life.

I’ve been up all night, caffeine-free, going through their entire ad archive , and I’d like to share some of my favourites.

The first few speak about Indo-Soviet relations, the next lot about America, the next few are clips from pop culture, snippets from sports, Indian life, festivals & religion, the Indo-Pak conflict, and finally newsmakers.

I love this. I am in awe of what technology can achieve, but I love this. Pencils & crayons, a mischievous mind, and an uncanny ability to tap into the mass mindset; that’s all it took to seize the public’s imagination. And we weren’t just ephemeral captives; thirty years on, my mom still talks about the Amul ‘butter baby’ ads. Amul was a pioneer in the sphere of Indian advertising; they set a precedent of wit and gentle self-mocking that still resonates today.

*Some readers may not get a few of the ads, as they deal either with uniquely subcontinental issues (such as the great load-shedding), and/or the punchlines may be a pun in Hindi/Urdu. Apologies for this, readers are welcome to shoot me questions in the comments section.

Utterly butterly yours,

Hit

Evel Knievel- Desi Style

It takes a special sort of soul to remain serene while doing this.

What’s also glorious is the conversation between the friends in the car who are taking the video. The accents and inflections are pure Indian, but all the phrases are American (“I was like WTF?!”, “he’s texting!”,”Yo, what!”), suggesting the influence of exposure to an American education and US pop culture.