Monday, April 21, 2008

Rad humanist, who me?

I just came across a reference to MN Roy’s Radical Humanism in a translated-from-German book on Fearless Nadia. And I remembered my father used to read one of his books bound in maroon cloth at 233 Khetwadi Main Road a little after 1947. Around then, he was also reading a biography of Joseph Stalin. His interests were wide ranging from political theory to Sufi mystics and bhakti poets (Kabir, Tukaram, Dnyaneshwar and the rest). I guess that’s where I must have got my eclectic reading taste from. My reading as a child was fairy tales n English. But I also read a lot of social, historical and sword-and-sorcery stories in Marathi, regurgitating some of the latter in my class magazine. Later, I switched my loyalty to pulp fiction in Marathi and in English. I also flirted with the self-improvement genre at one point in my life. Literature absorbed me most of my adult life. Now, my interests are more non-fiction: geopolitics, sociology, history (particularly the subaltern stream), cinema. As I said earlier, I came across this book on Fearless Nadia, originally titled in German “Zorro’s Blonde Sister” according to a blog post I found here: It is written by Dorothee Wenner, a Berlin-based filmmaker, writer and curator for the Berlin International Film Festival, with incredible insight into Indian socio-political, cultural and film history. I don’t agree with the political and feminist subtext she “reads” into the Nadia repertoire, though. I reckon she goes a bit too overboard there, almost to the point of sounding like a hagiographer. Yet she fills in the background of the Nadia story brilliantly with appropriate vignettes of personalities at various points (MN Roy, Mridula Sarabhai the not-quite-feminist Gandhi, for instance). Here’s what Wenner says about Nadia (aka Mary Evan): “For a blonde, blue-eyed, busty white girl to capture the collective imagination of Indians in the pre-Independence era, was no mean feat! Add to that the stunts she did! She was, along with the Wadias, a pioneer in the Stunt Film Genre in India. I pride myself for being a feminist, but Nadia represented a fearlessness with a dash of sparkling wit, that’s unmatched in any actress of any era.” There’s a spiel about JBH Wadia’s desire “to make movies that touted the strength and emancipation of women” on this website.