Celebrating Rio

Reel adventure

Celebrating Rio
I chose to start with Rio. I am glad I did. The Copacabana is literally the heart of Latin America. The free spirit. The music. The rhythm. It’s all there. The sea is the blue, azure Atlantic, not the murky waters around Atlantic City. And wispy white sands. Where in the world will one find more beautiful women than in Brazil? Particularly Copacabana, where they wear next to nothing, practically nothing, viewed from the back. And they have style!

Sun & surf

I saw a gorgeous dark woman with a cougar on leash walking past! And there are also beach boys who race past you neatly slicing through pants to pick your pocket! But old town Rio is in complete contrast, once having been the capital, with huge buildings abandoned like Banco de Brazil which is now a cultural centre. And that’s where I met Carlos, the man who runs the unique centre.

And he told me of the tragedy of cinema in Brazil. All cinema houses are owned by American movie moguls and they feed them mostly with sophisticated porn. In an attempt to foster a film culture, EMBRAFILME was formed on the lines of NFDC in India. But films they could make with great difficulty had nowhere to go except for films that could make the International Film Festival circuit like Dora Flor and Her Two Husbands made in 1976, one of the most hilarious films I have seen, winning several awards. But such films perforce were rare.

So the EMBRAFILME folded up in 1989. And what a country to shoot films in! While Rio itself is a riot, hovering over is the giant statute of the open armed Christ who stands at the edge of a primeval forest, as I discovered when I spent a couple of days exploring it strangely with a Saudi Arabian. He had come with a monied friend whose only desire was to sleep with women, but with many gorgeous ones being in actual fact transvestites, had to eat many a bitter pill. Hedonism unlimited.

Probably aversion to sexual excess may be one of the reasons I noticed many in Rio walking around with a copy of An Autobiography of a Yogi. Carlos too. He had just led a group of adherents to Calcutta!

Rare cinemascape

Right now, Rio is busy getting spruced up for Olympics, unfortunately by all signs fouling up Copacabana. In the words of Carlos, “We are busy dressing up our drawing room and not fixed our kitchen.” Brazil is different from the rest in Latin America. It is the only country that speaks Portuguese while the rest speak Spanish. And more importantly, it is the only ethnic mix which includes Africans where negroid features do not dominate.

This melting pot of black from Africa and white from Portugal and Spain has produced some of the best looking people in the world. And they are pleasure loving. In an airport departing from Lima in Peru, with Aero Peru predictably delayed for hours, there were several groups from various countries in Latin America as tourism here is mainly intra-continental, while the rest spent time impatient and irritated.

The fun came only from the Brazilians who improvised a band and revelled in group songs. Flying out, I look down on Rio the city nestling between the primeval forest in the mountains and the golden beach with the sugar loaf rising in the sea I can only commiserate with Carlos; what a beautifully filmable country!

The plane flew over the South American continent close enough for me to gape at the vast expanse of land, land and land. All of Uruguay is like a table of earth well washed by rivers hardly utilised. That is till you fly over Rio de la Plata, a confluence of two huge rivers between Uruguay and Paranas, which looks like the sea itself as it empties out in the sea. The Argentinean next to me called it the ‘sweet sea’. And then Buenos Aires which begins on the sea side and stretches and stretches.

Buenos Aires is Argentina as the bulk of the population live there. Walking the broad avenues, suddenly you feel as though you are back in time with a touch of timelessness like Paris. It has stayed firmly and romantically in the past. Watching men and women just holding hands without the display of passion like in Brazil, walking in the broad untroubled roads you could as well be in another century. Avenues of opera houses built in the ornate style of the 19th century, streets of music shops where the waltzes and arias pour out. And of course, tango, which virtually dominates the audio-visual world.

Surely, with this wonderful heritage, cinema must thrive. I went in search of the Film Institute near the university area and found a door marked Cinematica Argentine. No one opened. It looked as if it hadn’t opened in years. Like Brazil, I had been introduced to Argentina by the wonderful film The Hour of the Furnaces — an account of the abattoirs. It is allegorical of the Argentinean Film Industry. Nothing is made, nothing is shown — except the soft porns from the US. Like the rest of South America, the Americans exercise exclusive hold on cinema.

Such a beautiful country and no cinema. I took a boat ride on the Rio de la Plata between Paranas and Uruguay, visiting the Igassus Falls. At a point the river is an ocean. And the canals go twisting into the most romantically alluring ways. At a point the whole boat burst into laughter and applause sighting a couple kissing in a small boat in a side creek. This would never happen in Brazil. They kissed everywhere!

The Indian connection

Next, the choice was between the grave of Eva Peron or La Baca. Having met several Peronistas, many of whom were Satya Sai Baba and Nityananda devotees, I had no interest in the grave. So it had to be La Boca. And, fortunately, I met Raul there.

La Boca is the artists’ quarter. Though lying amidst slums, it is a riot of colour contributed by cafeterias, streetside exhibitions and tango everywhere. The streets come alive with music and dance as it is vehicle-free. Sitting out in the wayside of the bistro, I saw Raul with his young wife and a small child who was fiddling with a movie camera. “Do you speak English?” Thus began an hour of emotional outpouring of a frustrated filmmaker. He even offered to take me round the locales in his mind for the film he will never get to make. Raul epitomised the frustration of filmmakers all around the continent.

As I left Argentina, I left with no hope, amply justified in my next stop in Chile where cinema had died under the military coup in 1973. Peru had no cinema movement worth speaking about. And Mexico, the extraordinarily colourful country, still talks of the ‘golden age’ of cinema some half a century ago. All over, screening time is in the stronghold of the American tycoons like the Jenkins group in Mexico. They feed the continent with what they produce, thus asphyxiating the local filmmaker clueless.It is a pity. By choking the creative spirit of the affable amigos, the world has lost an ocean of creative energy.

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