Kaala Paani

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The story of an infamous British-run prison in the Andaman Islands in India, where political prisoners were sent and badly treated.

And how did we end up watching this movie? it all started with The Moth.

I love podcasts. I listen to them in the car, while I’m hiking, whenever I can actually. And my two favorites are NPR’s Wait! Wait! Don’t Tell Me! and The Moth Podcast.

The Moth is a project that’s been going on for ten or more years, since it started on someone’s porch in Georgia. I download them and listen to five or six or more in a row, and love them. Because what The Moth is, is true stories told in front of a live audience without notes. True meaning people telling stories from their own lives. Sometimes they’re funny, sometimes they’re sad, sometimes they’re just…amazing. But they are all true, and they are all good.

And one day, I was listening to some of these, and I heard Alex Draper’s story, You are a great king. This was a story about a time when he was working as both an actor and a caterer, and got a phone call from an Indian friend who was making a movie and wanted Draper to be in it. And the podcast was about making this movie. And it was so cool and so funny, I played it for Mr. Otter when I got home.

And then we looked at each other and said, we gotta see this movie.

So I went to Netflix and rented Kala Pani.

And it came, and we found the time and started watching it…and it was THE WRONG MOVIE. It was a movie from 1958, and evidently very famous…but it wasn’t the one we wanted to see. Which seemed not to exist.

So I pulled out my reference librarian skills and went looking. And after about half an hour, I found out that it had about four different names depending on which version it was (it’s been released in several language/subtitle combinations) and found a copy on eBay. Cheap. And ordered it.

And it arrived, and a couple of nights ago we watched it.

And we were not disappointed!

As I said, it’s the story of an infamous prison and four years in the life of a doctor who is sent there. There are the obligatory Bollywood musical scenes (when he’s thinking of his life before prison), and the soundtrack often got kind of frivolous, considering the seriousness of the movie.

But the characters (and actors) were good, the context mostly made sense to us, and it was a piece of history that I, for one, know very little about- the beginning of the serious nationalist movement in India. It takes place mostly between 1915-19, and shows how political prisoners were locked up, silenced, and killed by the British, especially the vicious warden in charge of the prison (Draper’s role, which he plays to the hilt) and his sidekick, Mirzakhan (played by the bad guy from the really bad Indiana Jones movie, Temple of Doom (which you will never see reviewed here because I’ll never watch it again, it was unbelievably awful.))

It’s Indian cinema. There were some context I’m sure we were missing, some odd interludes, like the whole ‘deserted island’ thing, some of which I think was meant for comic relief until things got really ugly…and some of the lighthearted flashbacks in the middle of awful stuff happening were kind of jarring.

But overall, it was really good. You can listen to the podcast, which is about 15 minutes long, and we’ll be glad to loan you the movie. It’s worth going out of your way for. Visit The Moth! Subscribe to the Moth Podcast!

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