Not a pretty picture

In Sri Lanka, as elsewhere, photographers can be a nuisance at public functions.

News photographers and camerapersons all over the world have the same concerns — get the best picture of the event for their organisations. It’s always been about getting the better shot than the competition, than about conveying it better to their consumers. They invariably flock the stage, and block out the event from the sight of the invited audience.

This scene in Mannar Thiruketheeswaram temple on Monday was no different. The occasion was the inauguration of renovation work at the legendary temple. It’s actually much more challenging than a simple renovation. “It’s rebuilding the temple to what we think it looked like before the invading Portugese pulled the temple down in the 16th Century,” says Gautam Sengupta, Director General, Archaeological Survey of India. The event was also momentous because India was undertaking the project in Sri Lanka, and a Sri Lankan Muslim Minister, who is also the local Member of Parliament, Rishad Bathiudeen, was on stage, and spoke about the need to renovate the temple.

Mannar is 259 km or 325 km from Colombo (depending on which road you take), and is sparsely populated. Naturally, the number of media personnel is also much fewer. But that did not prevent all those present from crowding out the line of vision of the audience. Added to this, there is also a new tribe of people with cameras, who want to record it for various purposes. They too have taken a leaf out of the media persons and have followed suit!

- R.K. RADHAKRISHNAN

Beijing unplugged

A new Chinese film goes beyond homilies to depict the city’s dark underside.

It is a rare experience to sit through a film in Beijing’s cinema halls without staring at your watch and waiting for the end-credits to appear. This isn’t an indictment of the state of Chinese cinema — it is more a reflection of the strict guidelines imposed for public screenings by State censors, who seem to be fans of predictable romantic comedies and slow-moving historical dramas. It was, hence, surprising for cinema-goers this month to be treated to The Detective Hunter (or Beijing Blues, to give it its English title) — a sharp, incisive take on the capital’s seamy side.

The film, by director Gao Qunshu, tells the real-life story of Zhang Huiling, a Beijing cop who made a name for himself by catching hundreds of swindlers and pickpockets who work the streets. With sharp dialogue — spoken in the unique tones of the slurring Beijing dialect — and well-crafted characters, it neatly lifts the veil on a side of Beijing life one rarely gets to see in Chinese cinema. Gao, the director, clearly had to walk a tightrope in getting his film past the censors. Its overly positive portrayal of Beijing police was an apparent compromise the director had to make. That it doesn’t take away from the rest of the film is credit to him. His narrative is ultimately sympathetic to the lives of the Chinese capital’s underprivileged, from the elderly swindler to the middle-aged woman who makes a passionate case for those left behind as their neighbours got rich. “I have not seen such a well-crafted Chinese film in theatres for quite some time,” wrote film critic Pang Li. “It is witty, weighty and highly watchable.” This correspondent concurs.

- ANANTH KRISHNAN

Tehran spruces up

Ahead of the NAM summit, Tehran’s museums and palaces get a make-over.

Iran is unrolling the red carpet for State guests arriving for next week’s Non-Aligned summit. Tehran’s numerous museums are especially being refurbished to create a strong impression on the visitors about Iran’s rich cultural and political heritage.

The picturesque Niavaran palace museum is one of Iran’s famous cultural icons that are being spruced up ahead of the summit. Once the abode of Iran’s last monarch, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and the royal family, it has been turned into a museum after the Revolution. On display are some of the personal effects of the monarch and his family. A pristine dining hall, lit up by a cluster of chandeliers, fine crockery and ornate crystal ware recreate a bygone era of opulence, which may have once regaled the Tehran elite and foreign guests, but which in the end became an eyesore that helped fuel a popular revolution in 1979. Surrounding the main palace are palatial lawns, built over a gentle slope — complete with water bodies that blend aesthetically with the lavish greens. The palace has a truly imposing presence as it has been built against the backdrop of the towering Damavand Mountain, whose barren peaks remain capped with a sprinkling of snow even during the deep summer months.

The other museums that are being restored to their former glory include the Reza Abbasi Museum, the Saidabad Historical Cultural Complex, and the Golestan Palace Museum. The Reza Abbasi Museum is a treasure trove of Persian calligraphy, miniatures, and artefacts from various periods of Iran’s bejewelled history. The Golestan Palace Museum is a journey into the era of the Qajar dynasty. Its main attractions are the Iranian anthropology section and Mirror Hall of the Qajar king Nasser ad-Din Shah. The Saidabad Historical Cultural Complex houses several palaces spanning the Qajar era and the Pahlavi period.

- ATUL ANEJA