The 90s opened the Hollywood floodgates to India thanks to Mr.Manmohan Singh and his policies. Major American movies were hitting local cinemas without much delay. The advent of Cable TV that followed soon ensured that you were hooked early on with the trailers that popped up on the Star Network. No, teasers weren’t a thing back then. Con Air was released in 1997 and was a personal favorite for a long time. Nicolas Cage it seemed, was done with serious Cinema and was trying to turn himself into an action hero. Wouldn’t blame him, something as intense as Leaving Las Vegas could do that to any actor. There was a slew of action films that starred Cage in his macho avatar from The Rock to Face-Off to Gone in Sixty Seconds and they remain favorites from a time when everything awed me. Cable TV back then was the internet, to put things in perspective. Con Air even had me taking upside down push ups, yeah. The movie had a lot of bad guys who said a lot of cool lines, at least it sounded cool to me back then. But I was in for a shock when I watched the film recently, two decades later. The movie reeked of racism and prejudice. I guess this is what happens when your world view changes. You don’t actually need to look for “subtexts” in Con Air to see all that’s wrong with the film, it’s been laid out blatantly, unapologetically. If Con Air was criticised for its racist content at the time of it’s release, it didn’t reach my part of the world. These days everything is scrutinised, some deservingly, some not. Irrespective of intentions, the scanner is working round the clock. If you are a serious student of Cinema and the society, you tend to look for it, at times it hits you right away. And I don’t take upside down push ups anymore either.
Now, the reason why I deliberated extensively on Con Air is because I chanced upon Dogs Of Berlin, a German Original on Nefltix the other day and was mid way into the first episode when I found myself asking if this too was biased and it bothered me because I liked what I had seen already. I didn’t want the urge to read into the subtexts to ruin this for me. More than being just a source of entertainment the most important aspect of cinema that fascinates me is the fact that it is the universal language that connects us human beings despite the geographic, genetic and cultural differences that we use to differentiate and identify eachother with, on a daily basis. I have said this aloud more than once. This is even more true in this age of unlimited exposure thanks to the internet. Netflix, Prime and other streaming portals have magnfiied this exposure by facilitating access to innumerable shows from other countries too. Dogs Of Berlin, which debuted on Netflix this month is the second German series to catch my eye, the other being Dark. Run Lola Run, The Lives Of Others and Der Baader Meinhoff Komplex are the only German films that I have watched and they were fine examples of German Cinema. Dogs Of Berlin showed promise early on and hence my apprehensions too.
Dogs Of Berlin looked different and relevant even with the minimal understanding I had of the present day German society. Cars and football are what comes to mind first when one thinks of Germany and of course it’s Nazi past. In stark contrast to that chequered past, Germany under Angela Merkel has had a different approach towards migrants and asylum seekers, especially in the wake of the Syrian crisis. Merkel’s policies were even blamed for having triggered the migrant crisis in Europe. Though it doesn’t exactly unfold against the backdrop of this migration, Dogs Of Berlin does deal with the German society that’s now a melting pot of cultures and the conflicts that are inevitable in such a scenario. The series is about an investigation into the death of a German footballer of Turkish origin on the eve of a football match between Turkey and Germany. There are multiple narratives woven into the story and they function in perfect cohesion as the series progresses, with the precision of a BMW engine. The death is discovered by a German police officer who has a gambling problem and is essentially the bad cop of the tale here. It does’nt help that he used to be a neo-nazi and that his brother who sports a moustache and a Hitler haircut and estranged mother are still very much a part of the organisation in Berlin. The good cop is another German, but of Turkish origin and is a representative of the Turkish diaspora in German, which I later found out, was substantial. The investigation is essentially a tour of the German underworld. We are introduced to the Lebanese Mafia in Berlin early on and they are the drug pushers, the Yugoslavs are not far behind with their grip on the football bookkeeping, there’s a Turkish biker gang who lament that they had to settle for the protection racket and of course there’s the Neo-Nazis who hate everything that’s not German by heritage.
The German Turk and the German German are forced to team up due to political reasons but they have no love lost for each other. The investigators have their own agendas and their share of personal problems which ultimately catch up with their professional lives as the tale progresses. The German cop’s wife has her set of demons that she is forced to deal with on her own, which doesn’t end well for him or her. The cop on the other hand is having an affair with his childhood friend. The Turk is gay and has daddy issues. His father refuses to accept him for what he is and he is an emotional wreck. His ex on the other hand is dating the Lebanese Mafia kingpin who in turn is dealing with a younger brother who wants to be top dog in the organisation. This brother also wants a piece of the betting business run by the Slavs and is tyring to turn a promising player of African origin who just debuted on the national team. Thrown in the midst of these are a couple of other characters who have a story of their own but they fit perfectly into the jigsaw that this series is. The series is highly provocative and even hints at corruption and coercion that goes up to the highest echelons of the German football administraion. Initially you cant but help notice that the makers have portrayed the outsiders as the ones on the wrong side of the law mostly or as the ones who are tempted to stray. The Neo-Nazis get a rather sympathetic portrayal I coudn’t but help notice and the series justifies their existence by the pitching them as a reaction to the menace the immigrant gangs have become. Though the series takes the Dan Brown way out of this web of deceit and deception at the end, what’s commendable is fact that despite the staggering number of parallel narratives, the series stays on course for most part. Apart from getting to know a bunch of talented German actors, thanks to the series, I did end up learning the German word for migrant workers, Gastarbeiter. One man’s Bengali is another man’s Gastarbeiter, to put things in perspective.