Tuesday, March 30, 2010

When Art Exposes Evil

When Art Exposes Evil
Saeed Naqvi
Dated: 27.03.2010

When Jose Estevez serves his customers at the first floor Bar at Sardi’s, Broadway’s renowned Restaurant, in his direct line of vision are hoardings coming up at the theatre across the street: ENRON.

Sardi’s steady clientele of actors, directors and general theatre enthusiasts have all been casting a glance at ENRON with great curiosity.

“Al Pacino dropped in for a drink yesterday” says Jose “Who knows, he may be planning a film on ENRON.”

In April, New Yorkers will be able to watch this brilliant play by 29 year old Lucy Pebble which has already been captivating full houses at Noel Coward theatre at St. Martins Lane on London’s West End, which is where I saw it.

Quite frankly, I have not seen anything so riveting since Brecht’s Rise and Fall of Artutro Ui, a spoof on Hitler.

The spectacular collapse of the Energy giant Enron on December 2, 2001, the biggest bankruptcy in corporate history which “ripped open the catastrophic fault line of unchecked economic avarice, vanity, incompetence, lies and greed which leads to Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, HBOS, Icelandic banks and all the melt downs of this young century.”

Enron was America’s seventh largest corporation. It had grown from $10 billion of assets to $70 billion in 16 years. It went bankrupt in 24 days. Among Enron supporters were George Bush senior and George W Bush who, as Governor of Texas, was always willing to call up Washington to help his friend “Kenny Boy,” Kenneth Lay, Chairman and Founder of Enron.

The CEO of Enron, Jeffrey Skilling, admired for his “incomparable” brilliance, was in October 2006, sentenced to 24 years on multiple counts of fraud and conspiracy.

Kenneth Lay, looking at a 45 years’ sentence, died of a heart attack. Bush Senior attended the funeral.

Tim Bouquet, author of cold Steel, has summed up the sickness surrounding Lucy Pebble’s theme succinctly.

“Why wasn’t the fraud spotted sooner?” asks Bouquet.

“Enron is the story of synergistic corruption. There are supposed to be no checks and balances in the system. The lawyers are supposed to say no, the accountants are supposed to say no, the bankers are supposed to say no, but nobody who was supposed to say no said no. They all took their share of the money from the fraud and put it in their pockets.”

There are two lessons for me in the remarkable play I saw in London and which will jolt New York in April:

First, the greed and avarice inherent in what Ronald Reagan described as the “magic of the marketplace”. The meltdown of 2009 continue to reverberate.

The second lesson is the enormous reservoir of intellectual honesty available in western societies to balance the excesses of “Kenny Boy”. Pebble’s masterpiece is just one example.

Remember Rumsfeld when faced with press questions” on Abu Ghraib, threw up his hands and said when war breaks out, “stuff happens”. David Hare, exceptionally gifted playwright, immediately mounted a play at the West End. “Stuff Happens” became an insightful and prophetic spoof on the war games played by George W. Bush, Dick Cheyney, Rumsfeld and Condy Rice.

Even earlier in the same vein, off Broadway was drawing full houses on “Guantanamo Bay”.

The Late Michael Foot, gentlest of Labour Leaders, made film on British inaction in Bosnia.

The Oscar winning film Hurt Locker and an equally powerful, Green Zone, both rip open aspects of the US occupation of Iraq. Charlie Wilson’s war brings this flair for critical self examination nearer home, in the Af-Pak region. It is an American film about American callousness in Afghanistan.

Who in our society is taking up a giant size mirror in blinding light so that all our warts show?

Husain in Ivy League

M.F. Hussain’s exile itself could yield a thought provoking script.

My last meeting with Hussain was at the Nehru Centre London some years ago. I was therefore quite thrilled to find an exhibition of Hussain’s early masterpieces from 1950s – 70s at the Brown University.

The exhibition is part of the year of India at Brown. The list is almost interminable. In fact it is the private collection of Brown alumna, Amrita Jhaveri.

Considering that no other Indian artist has done two complete series of paintings on the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, it hurts that his devotional exuberance, his adoration of a goddess or Radha unrobed, has been profaned by the bazaar brigade.

One such painting adorns the wall at the David Winton Bell gallery at Brown!

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