You ever see those people who seem to have a perpetual scowl and furrowed brows? I usually think, "What's the problem, Dick Cheney?" Lighten up. Well, sometimes there's a reason, such as poverty, hormones, the threat of nuclear war, or, in the case of Arjun (Aniket Vishwasrao, pictured above), all three. Partho Sen-Gupta's Hava Aney Dey (Let the Wind Blow) shows us Arjun's life in May of 1998, when Bombay and the rest of India was gripped by paranoia about Pakistan's nuclear tests next door, and Indian society was undergoing a sea change. Lower-and middle class workers were heading to Dubai, while the educated elite stayed behind in preparation for the internet boom.
As a graduating high school student and the only child of a loving but penniless single mother, Arjun is urgently trying to determine his future. He keeps a nervous eye on the TV news reports about Pakistan and a flirtatious eye on his privileged classmate, Salma (Rajashree Thakur, pictured below), all while half listening to his blabbering older friend, Chabia (Nishikant Kamat). To differing extents, these three characters believe they control their own destinies, but Arjun is the only one who seems to be paying attention to the external forces that are, in fact, controlling their destinies for them. (Let the Wind Blow was one of ten films selected as part of the 2008 Global Lens series, currently making its way around the country. Find it. Support it.)
To call Let the Wind Blow a significant film about Indian culture would be a major understatement. While it's not perfect, it's still an incredibly important snapshot of a time in India's history when anything was possible (just think about how much that country has changed in the last 10 years). But it's not just that so many possibilities existed, it's that they existed in a place where the driving cultural influences are destiny and karma, not the Western ideals of hard work and self-efficacy. Partho Sen-Gupta explores that period where Western culture was creeping in and creating confusion among Indian youth, and I find the idea fascinating.
Of course, the idea has to be fully realized in order to make a good film, and it's here that Sen-Gupta stumbles just a bit, primarily because he casts too wide of a net. Arjun is a great protagonist and Vishwasrao, in his only acting role to date, cuts a striking figure that takes over every scene. I would have liked to get to know him a bit better instead of just watching him brood about between different social groups. All kinds of things are clearly eating at him, but we rarely get more than a grunt or a quick emotional outburst (of course, such is teenage life).
Let the Wind Blow is not an immediately impressive film, but in the days since seeing it I've found that its characters have stayed with me, and I feel one step closer to understanding India's dynamic recent history - and that's what the Global Film Initiative is all about.