Letter to the Editor

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I'd like to make a few comments on the article Leather; Sex and Masala (Vol. 1 No. 1 & 2), Vinita Srivastava's interview with Srinivas Krishna about his film, Masala.

I find myself in the awkward position of being the 'man at the Desh Pradesh screening [of Masala] in Toronto' who Krishna says 'mortified' him. I was the one who stood up during the question period and raised some concerns about the Sikh characters in the movie.

But I never said I was-and I never felt—'offended'. Indeed, I fully share Krishna's evaluation of those whose response is to 'take offense' at things that challenge their static view of the world. They are living in a state of 'closure' as he puts it; I would add 'complacency' for good measure.

What I did say (after pointing out that I liked the film, and could identify with it, having spent my entire childhood in Toronto) was that there is a chauvinism and a lack of trust between the different religious groups that make up the South Asian community in Toronto-not to speak of the situation in South Asia itself-and that it struck me as somewhat irresponsible to have Sikhs cast solely as political agitators (I did not say 'terrorists') who, moreover, pushed their cause through the medium of toilet paper.

By and large, I stick to these concerns. When I made the comments I was a bit shaken-I find the movie quite moving in parts-and there may have been a problem of emphasis and tone of voice here and there. I certainly felt bad for Krishna when I saw the veritable look of gloom and doom that overtook his usual and admirable air of self-confidence while he listened to my remarks and then awkwardly made his reply.

I'm not so childish as to have wanted to 'show him up' in front of the audience. And even if I was, I certainly didn't succeed-the remaining comments from the audience were highly praiseful, verging on fawning.

The really unfortunate part of the exchange came after the public questions and comments session, during a smaller discussion in the theatre. There, I had a chance to explain my concerns more fully to Krishna, once again insisting that they did not override my general appreciation of the film.

Indeed, I pointed out that one of the major strengths of the film was that it brought the Indian community in Canada to life; showing representatives from all spectrums, showing Indians watching TV, working at the post office, masturbating, having sex, getting attacked, going to school, running a business, currying favour with government ministers and so on.

In short, it gave the Indian community in Canada a real, rounded personality, and in an irreverent, unconventional way at that. We are real, working, playing Canadians after all.

But I also said that this 'Indian' community wasn't quite complete, that it was actually only the Hindu- Indian community. That is fine, Krishna is from a Hindu background, that is what he 'knows: But does it logically follow, then that Sikhs have to be portrayed-insofar as the 'Hindu' filmmaker in question feels compelled to portray them at all-as obsessive political agitators and (apart from the taxi driver "ringleader") as quaint, speechless, head-bobbing ninnies with no other role in Canada but smuggling rolls of toilet paper emblazoned with Sikh history in India?

Is it far-fetched to suggest that this may not be the best way to build communal harmony, whatever Krishna's intentions may have been? This is particularly relevant given that the subtext of the entire film is the bombing of the Air India jet-a bombing which, though unsolved, has been used by every anti-Sikh communalist fanatic to stoke hatred both here and in India.

In any event, I expressed these concerns, and Krishna's response was, "What kind of racial politics game are you trying to play?Are white filmmakers held to the same standards?" and, "Why don't you make your own movie?" He also grouped me in with the conservative elements of the Hindu community who denounced his film for 'blaspheming Lord Krishna' and other predictable fundamentalist nonsense.

Criticism is criticism, I suppose, even though mine comes from a totally different angle and is aimed at nurturing public debate, not at censoring or barring the film. Sadly, fear of the 'politically correct' bugaboo is increasingly preventing people from approaching works of art and scholarship in a critical-minded spirit.

I'll leave it to your readers to decide if my concerns are really as 'mortifying' and 'idiotic' as all that. It is really unfortunate that a filmmaker who has earned his place in the cutting edge of Canadian cinema has chosen to respond in such a hostile and dismissive fashion.

And there is something terribly distasteful about the fact that he has elected to do so in the name of combatting 'closure'.

Raghu Krishnan
Paris, France
Frieze and handprint design by Sherazad Jamal.
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Rungh Redux Winner 2022 Award of Merit Innovative Practice
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