Trumbo: A Period Film that is highly Topical for India

Trumbo is the biopic of Hollywood Screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, who did bulk of his work between 30s and 60s. So, why should Indians watch it, apart from the fact that it stars our favourite Walt from Breaking Bad? Well, there are many reasons why not only film lovers but every contemporary Indian should watch it. Let us explore the film in a bit more detail before discussing this aspect further.

The film starts with Dalton Trumbo, played by Brian Cranston, at the peak of his career when he was one of the most successful film writers in Hollywood and friends with the biggest actors, directors and producers of the industry. He was rich and he had a happy family to live for. But his political consciousness sided with the left and supporting the communists was something suicidial as someone could do in the USA at that point of time. So, the conflict begins to develop soon as powerful rightwing entities in Hollywood, including some of Trumbo’s own colleagues step up their drive against the dreaded communists. Yes, this was the time for the now infamous House of Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) that led to the blacklisting of some of the prominent Hollywood writers including Trumbo.

Life gets difficult for Trumbo after this as he is barred from working and eventually he also serves a jail term as some of his friends such as actor Edward G Robinson also testify against him to save their own careers. Later he walks out of the jail but in the era of McCarthyism he finds it even more difficult to get going. Eventually he starts ghost writing, letting other people take credit and even win Oscars using his writing just to make a living. This continues for a while and he refuses to just give up and wither away. Eventually a silver lining appears in the form of braver artists and politicians who are willing to introspect and right the historical wrongs.

Trumbo is a pleasant surprise by director Jay Roach who is otherwise known for light comedies such as the Austin Powers series. He recreates the Hollywood of the yore faithfully, dominated by white men and driven as much by nationalistic rhetoric as by artistic flourish. But eventually it is a Cranston vehicle who finally gets a sumptuous big screen role worthy of his calibre, thus making him a front runner at the Oscars this year along with Leonardo Decaprio. Among the rest of the ensemble cast, Helen Mirren must be noted as Trumbo’s powerful and well connected nemessis, Hedda Hooper.

This film is a delight for serious fans of Hollywood’s classical age as they get to see people like John Wayne, Kirk Douglas and Otto Preminger brought back to life. But Trumbo, in a way, also shows the kind of importance given to the writers in Hollywood. So, for Bollywood fans it is also a reminder of the fact that there is more to films than the actors and musicians. After all, when was the last time you saw a Bollywood biopic based on the life of a screenwriter?

Trumbo is as much about the undying human spirit as it is about the political and ideological vigilantism. Through the life of one man, it tells us of a time when important creative personalities were hounded out of the industry for having ideologies different from yhenpredominant section and in fact it was made impossible for them to earn a living in a normal manner. This is exactly where the 21st century India can consider it as a cautionary tale because the country has never been as bitterly divided along political lines as it has been in the last decade or so. This is by no means an effort to suggest that there cannot be divergent lines of thought in a society but the paranoid suspicion and pathological hatred for conflicting ideologies lead to nothing but suffering, sorrow and remorse to everyone involved in the long run, as expressed very poignantly by Trumbo’s concluding speech at the end of the film. This is exactly why Trumbo comes across as a very topical watch that should be watched by every politically and socially conscious Indian.

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