Friday, December 21, 2012

Arbitrage: My movie of the year

In a year where I am hard pressed to pick worthy Oscar contenders and where Ben Affleck 'Argo'is a shoo in for an award, I nominate 'Arbitrage' for movie of the year.

Give Richard Gere, the Oscar for best Actor already.

Who knew Richard Gere had stuff still in him for a movie turn like that he has put out  in for 'Arbitrage'?.

I will make it simple. The movie is about a hedge fund investor, who is adored by the American public and is on the cover of Forbes. However this is all a facade.

Trouble is he has made one major bad judgement by betting on a Russian copper mine and as search has stretched himself thin  financially enough to need a friend to pitch in $400 million to plug the hole in the books till he can sell his firm to a bank and pay back the loan.

That seems the least of his worries when his mistress is accidentally killed in an accident in which he is the driver. He desperately toils to keep the strings that bind his life together from unraveling. Eager to keep this news from flowing out as he is on the eve of a multi-million dollar sale of his company. He treads the path of a financial philanderer,criminal fugitive and family outcast. Its utterly amazing how the Richard Gere character manages to keep all the  various parts of his world together under the most intense pressures.

Given the enduring global financial crisis and the 2008 meltdown, the movie clearly takes a dig at Wall street excesses, financial impropriety, 'cooking the books' in the investment world and the facade that is the public image of ultra success. This is  clearly a morality tale in the frame of 'Changing Lanes',and 'Wallstreet'.

Without torturing you with financial and investment- world jargon, 'Arbitrage' is very accessible to the ordinary viewer.

It is hard to believe the movie is directed by a first-time director.

For me, 'Arbitrage' is the best movie I have seen this year and I have seen a couple of them this year.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Francis Imbuga is dead

I met him when I was hardly 15.  The man was a genius.
He really could tell the story of the disillusionment of post-independence Africa like no dramatist I knew.
And I was a young, skinny secondary school student but could still read into his play 'Betrayal in the City' way beyond my years.
I only learnt later that Francis Imbuga was Kenyan.
The fictionalized country of Kafira seemed more akin to  1960s Nigeria or some other hard-knock African tragedy. Kenya seemed a little more distant from his world of Kafira.
And the soliloquies of his protagonist (Mulili) were steeped in high-grade philosophy.
I actually didnt meet Francis Imbuga in real life. I met him through his works.
'Betrayal in the City' was a set play in O' level literature in English but I fell in love instantly.
We memorized those lines long after we had to pass O' level literature.
The year was 1990 and I was an impressionable student of literature in English at Mbarara High School.
It is these kinds of works of literature that set me on the path to liberal arts even when I vaguely wanted to be an engineer- a childhood answer to 'what do you be when you grow up?'.
As a student of literature, our task was clear in making a 'literary appreciation' of a play such as 'Betrayal in the City'.
Oh I still remember, the themes and ideas, dramatization, character and characterization,  use of language and choice of words...
I could very well do a damn national exam in that play if I was required to like I was in those grey days in 1992.
'Betrayal in the City' is a play set in a fictional country of Kafira but it could well be post independent Uganda, Kenya, Nigeria, Zambia.. name it.
It is a story of dashed hopes of post independence Africa. The British Colonialists are replaced by African elite who actually  end up being 'an enemy of the people'to paraphrase another illustrious work of literature.
I still recall a line in the play 'the fruits of Independence, we get them second hand'.
Some say we were better off under the British. A little extreme there but look at all the corruption, mal administration, political thuggery, mass poverty, dilapidated hospitals and Schools and yet look at the top of the range Mercedes Benzes,Swiss bank accounts, the latest private jets..the sheer opulence of African elite amidst the crushing poverty and hopelessness of the African people.
'When the troubles of an entire nation disturbs a solitary mind, it is not enough to say the man is mad'.
Fare thee well, Francis Imbuga. I was blind and you began to open my eyes.