Sunday, February 14, 2016

Trumbo, a tribute to the Hollywood commies who were accused of being anti-national

Blacklisted Hollywood artists

This movie comes at a very awkward time to India. The BJP government is raring to go on a rampage against the "Communist stronghold" -- the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in New Delhi. Of course, the right-wing BJP is striking back a little too late -- that is,40 years too late. Communism is dead. But in their own quixotic fashion, the right-wing BJP-wallahs are tilting at the windmills. Of course, they found a thin pretext -- the alleged anti-India, pro-Pakistan slogans that were supposed to have been chanted by some students. There has been no investigation so far. It is all hear-say, so far. So, there is a delightfully ironic context to the viewing of Trumbo in India.
The film, Trumbo, shows that how there was an anti-communist mass hysteria whipped up by right-wing Republicans, who set up the House Un-American Activities Committee at the end of the Second World War. The Americans needed an enemy, an ideological enemy. They found one in the Soviet Union. The communists, everywhere, including America, partly played into the hands of the witch-hunters, in their naive admiration of the Soviet Union, unaware or unwilling to accept the Stalinist version of the mass hysteria when in mock trials he got rid of friends, colleagues, rivals and thousands of innocent people. Joseph McCarthy, the Republican senator from Wisconsin, who for a while dominated like an ogre and conducted the anti-communist mass hysteria. McCarthyism in America is the Stalinist version of the mass hysteria a decade later after Stalin directed his macabre drama. The hauled up many of the Hollywood writers, actors and directors for their communist sympathies. Had Charlie Chaplin not left America by then, he would have been hauled up as a communist.
There were too many anti-establishment people in Hollywood unlike in Bollywood. The Bollywood communist story is slightly different. It was the Communist Party of India (CPI) that had blacklisted its own members like Sahir Ludhianvi and many others, carrying out little purges. There was also the case that the Government of Free India banned the Communist Party of India because of the 1948 unsuccessful Telangana insurgency. And there was quite a bit of discrimination too in the official circles against the communists in the 1950s. But the Hollywood story of American communism is much too dark. It was plain evil.

Bryan Cranston as Dalton Trumbo and Helen Mirren as Hedda Hopper

The film shows how actors like John Wayne weighed in with the anti-Communist lobby, and how Hedda Hopper, the influential Hollywood Reporter columnist nearly held Hollywood producers and directors to ransom against using screenplay writers with communist affiliations. Helen Mirren gave a brilliant performance as the despicable Hedda Hopper. Actors like Edward G Robinson crumbled and ratted names. Gregory Peck spoke up against the mass hysteria. Trumbo wrote the screenplay for Roman Holiday, but he could not collect the Oscar for it because he wrote in the name of his friend. Kirk Douglas, who asked Trumbo to write the screenplay for Spartacus, feels compelled to give the credit to Trumbo after Trumbo reveals the various pseudonyms he had adopted for writing the screenplay of blockbuster Hollwyood films which went on win the Oscars. Trumbo has all the Hollywood masala of the underdog fighting back with grit and humaneness. Only this time, it is not fiction but a fact based on the life. And the underdog wins at the end.
It would be very useful if the BJP ministers in the Modi government and the many uncritical supporters of Modi, BJP and RSS were to see Trumbo as a morality play, and how ridiculous they would appear decades and centuries down the line.
Bryan Cranston has given a memorable portrayal as Trumbo, and Diane Lane as Cleo Trumbo gives a heartwarming performance.
America's anti-communist hysteria of the MacCarthy period is the most shameful period of American history, which is matched by that of the American war crime of 99 per cent innocent people and torturing them in Guantanamo. Perhaps, Hollywood would pick up the courage to make a movie on Guantanamo sometime in 2055.

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