Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The other side of Hollywood - Part1 - Honoring Teachers

What is it about the teacher-student or mentor-fledgling relationship that so fascinates Hollywood? So many of Hollywood is shamelessly pilfered under the "inspired by.." canard in India but there is one wonderful side of Hollywood that has never been imitated, sadly and that is the genre of "inspirational mentor" movie type.

One could go as far as "To Sir with Love" starring Sidney Poitier and list out numerous movies that portray, many times real-life stories, teachers who sought to make a difference in a student's life or a school. Sometime back I was arguing with a School principal from Tanjore about teachers inflicting sadistic punishments, not just corporal caning but plainly sadistic stuff like asking students to kneel in hot sand with temperatures touching 80-90 deg F. Impositions, insults, crude remarks all abound in Indian schools. The principal defended it saying "how else can we deal with unruly kids from slums". I told him go watch "Dangerous minds" a true story based movie starring Michelle Pfeiffer about a teacher who made a difference in a school situated in crime prone low income area. Watching Hillary Swank starring "Freedom writers" is a moving experience. Again, same theme, teacher who goes way beyond to make a difference in a down-trodden neighborhood.

Even a fictional movie like "Akeelah and the bee" has a wonderful touching story about a girl trying to rise beyond her poverty stricken life to win the spelling bee contest. Laurence Fishburne turns out a nice performance as the tutor. The tutoring sessions are portrayed realistically.

Richard Dreyfus as the music teacher in "Holland's Opus" is career highlight performance. He was nominated for the Oscar but lost to Mel Gibson's epic "Braveheart". One of the key dialogues in the movie is when a stern principal pulls up Dreyfus for being a clock watcher, she tells him "you (as teacher) must be a compass to the students". When she retires she gifts Dreyfus a compass. Finally due to cost cutting Dreyfus himself loses his job as music program is cut. The climax is one of the most moving scenes. A despondent Dreyfus leaves the school but comes upon a surprise gathering in his honor, his old student and now governor gives a welcome "Glenn Holland wanted to be rich and famous (referring to his dream of being a composer) but he i s neither. He is not rich and is not known beyond our small community. However there is not a single soul in this audience that he has not touched". That movie, its side story of Rowena, deserves a blog by itself.

Robin Williams excels as teacher in "Good Will Hunting" and "Dead Poets society". If only we were taught poetry like he does in "Dead poets society". Even "The School of Rock" has its nice warm turn with Jack Black as music teacher instilling in school kids a love for Rock and "Led Zeppelin".

For a nation that honors its teachers with "Teacher's day" we have done nothing but then as I often say "I can count on one hand the teachers I can remember with respect out of the many in my 16 year academic stream".

Well mentoring does not have to be only in the confines of classrooms. "In search of Bobby Fisher" with its quasi-historical narrative portrays mentoring of a chess prodigy. The mentor is Ben Kingsley (he is of Indian origin with real name as Krishna Bhanji). There are few others like "Hoosiers", "Coach Carter" are good ones too.

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