23rd March 1931. The Day every Indian remembers as 'Shaheed Diwas' i.e 'Martyr's Day' because on that day 3 of the Indian revolutionaries, Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev, were hanged at the tender age of 24. Along with around 25 other revolutionaries, they were being tried for the case that is known as 'Lahore Conspiracy Case'. While the case was being tried in court, Bhagat Singh and his fellow revolutionaries went on Hunger strike. Their demand was to be treated like 'Political Prisoners', on equal terms as other European prisoners. By Law, they were needed to be treated equal. So, Indian revolutionaries were asking for Clean clothes, Separate cells, Books and Newspapers just like any other political prisoners. This hunger strike went on for 116 days before the British Government, then ruling India, relented and agreed to give them what they were asking for and claimed life of 1, Jatindra Nath Das on his 63rd Day of Fast. Legend has it, he died saying 'Not a Single Drop, Bhagat' as he died of a beating he took while Police were force-feeding them to break their fast. And when I watched Hunger(2008) today, I could not help but draw some parallels here.
Hunger(2008) here, is about the strikingly similar event that happened against the same government, some 50 years after in Ireland. It focuses on Second Hunger Strikes in 1981 by Bobby Sands and other IRA members. 9 of them died before Margaret Thatcher relented. Bobby Sands himsel died after 66 days of Strike. It opens up with prison guard Raymond Lohan leaving for work, making sure that he is not getting killed by IRA(which he eventually does, in a horrible fashion). He checks the road is empty before leaving, bends down to see if someone has planted a bomb in his car, and still hesitates before turning the ignition On, all the time with his wife watching him from the window, as if praying to keep him alive. Tension is palpable here. In Prison, IRA members are on Blanket Protests which are escalated into Dirty Protests against the cancellation of 'Special Category Status'. Story moves forward with concentrating on two prisoners, Davey Gillen and Gerry Campbell, who are in a cell together with just a blanket on them. Part of Blanket Protests and Dirty Protests is told as their story. We see the brutalities they suffer at the hands of Guards as they refuse to leave their cells and themselves to be cleaned up. And we also get introduced to Bobby Sands, who is also part of these protests. Third part of the story concentrates on Bobby Sands and his Hunger Strike and is by far most disturbing segment I have seen.
What this movie is best known for is 16 and half minute conversation between Bobby Sands and his Priest. Though whole film is about the political intentions and rights, this scene is the only occasion where they actually discuss about it aloud. The reason why this scene is so special is not only because it was shot in one single long take(and I thought Inglourious Basterds(2009) had longest single take scene. Looks like Michael Fassbender has some fascination for them), but also because you will hardly find anything so explosive with the dialogues like 'Jesus Christ had a backbone but them disciples, every disciple since... you’re just jumping in and out of the rhetoric and dead-end semantics.' and he is talking to a priest who makes his leaving giving sermons to everyone. Conversation that takes place between them here is extremely well constructed. Initially they take friendly digs at each other, eventually it turns to more serious matters at hand when Sands mentions about the Hunger strikes. Our Priest is troubled by the fact that previous Hunger strikes have failed to achieve anything out of it. He questions his integrity, his motives, his commitment(According to Wikipedia, Liam Cunningham, who plays Priest moved in with Fassbender and they use to rehearse this scene almost 12 times everyday. How is that for a commitment?). However, Sands is not going back - 'I will ACT. I will not stand by and do nothing'.
Main reason why I wanted to watch this movie was because of all the buzz around director Steve McQueen with the release of Shame(2011) - THE Movie I am looking forward to. This is his debut movie. And what a debut it is !! Even though I was very much interested in all the politics in the background, it is evident that he had a different direction in mind and he takes it forward in that direction like a master controller. He is not interested in making it a political propaganda taking either of the sides. He very casually skips by everything that is happening outside, even a fact that Sands gets elected to the House of Commons is only mentioned in the ending slides. He has named his movie Hunger for a reason and he focuses on that. In many ways, it is a debut movie for Michael Fassbender and he is equally devastating as well. He embodies Bobby Sands - his resolve, his determination to perfection. He works wonders in the 16 and half minute scene with his dialogue delivery but he is equally effective even when he is not even talking e.g a look on his face when UDA orderly who refuses to help him or him pushing his protruding ribs in a desperate attempt to stand up. And it is your worst nightmare to see him die slowly and slowly. Fassbender does all this with such a finesse that makes you wonder where was he all these years? I knew about Christian Bell loosing 28 Kg for The Machinist(2004). But, I did not have the faintest idea of Michael Fassbender undergoing similar regime.
Hunger can make you feel nauseated, it can very easily kill your appetite. It makes you uncomfortable almost the whole time. But even then you know that you are watching something great, something you never have and probably will not experience again. With the kind of buzz around Shame(2011), we can only expect more greatness is to follow. While in College, I always wanted to know more about 3 things - IRA, Stalin and Napolean. Not a start I imagined !
Rating(out of 5):