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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Kundun (1997) - Directed by Martin Scorsese, a film about the Dalai Lama

Martin Scorsese is persona non grata in China, and will never be allowed there. But I guess he would have expected that if he made a movie about the Dalai Lama. The Dalai Lama, the 14th in line, is the spiritual leader of the people of Tibet and the administrator before the Chinese invaded the region and took complete control of Tibet (declaring that Tibet was always a part of China and another province); the Dalai Lama now has a base in the northern Indian town of McLeodganj and no longer supports the concept of Tibetan and independence, instead asking for more autonomy for Tibet inside China. However, China, mindful of the position of the Dalai Lama in the minds of the people of Tibet, considers the Dalai Lama as a separatist leader and refuses to try and let him get any legitimacy. Any film maker who makes a movie on the Dalai Lama that does not position China's viewpoint will be viewed with hostility by the Government of China; and that is what Martin Scorsese has faced (in fact, the first studio that was to make the movie, Universal backed down once it became clear that China will be openly hostile; the second one, Disney refused to back down).
The movie is called Kundun (another title for the Dalai Lama, which means 'The Presence') is made very beautifully, but for a movie with drama and wonderful scenes, the movie did pretty badly at the box-office, earning only around $6 million. The movie was written by Melissa Mathison, and is based on the life and stories of the Dalai Lama.

The Dalai Lama is typically selected by a test where a young child (often as old as 2-4 years) must satisfy a group of experts that the child is the incarnation of the previous Dalai Lama,and so it was with the 14th Dalai Lama; the regent Reting Rinpoche had a vision, and based on that, senior lamas go to the location of the vision, finding a young child who is able to identify objects that belong to the previous Dalai Lama. On completion, he along with family come to the Potala Palace in Lhasa (the traditional headquarters of the Dalai Lamas); once he comes of age, then he will be enthroned.
The Dalai Lama is a young child after all, and passes through some emotional trauma including becoming homesick, but is comforted by the regent (regent Reting however loses a power struggle and is imprisoned), with the Dalai Lama becoming more active. However, this is the same time in which the Communists have taken over China and claim Tibet to be a part of China. They soon invade, and after some initial reconciliation, the Communists are recognized as oppressors. The Dalai Lama even meets Mao in Beijing, but the Dalai Lama will not fit in the overall plans of the Communists and is seen as a powerful influence against the interests of China. When he is threatened, the Dalai Lama makes his escape to India through a difficult journey ahead of the pursuing Communists.

Kundun (1997) - Directed by Martin Scorsese, a film about the Dalai Lama

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