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The Observer (UK)
November 18, 2001
India's Left rails against 'perverse' movie on Lenin
By Burhan Wazir

A new film about Vladimir Ilyich Lenin by the controversial Russian director Alexander Sokurov has provoked anger from a coalition of Indian writers and politicians who last week denounced the work as 'a perversion' after it was shown at a film festival.

Sokurov's Taurus, screened at Cannes this year to favourable reviews, has yet to find a worldwide distributor. The film, named after Lenin's star sign, is the second in the director's four-part 'Great Leaders' sequence - the first of which, 1999's Moloch, depicted Hitler's relationship with Eva Braun.

Taurus is set in Gorky in 1923, one year before Lenin's death and six years after the Bolshevik Revolution. Incapacitated after an operation to remove a bullet from his neck - Lenin was the target of an assassination attempt in August 1918 - Sokurov's Lenin battles against the effects of several strokes. He is allowed no telephone calls, no post and no contact with the outside world. And kept under guard by the Politburo's secret police, he contemplates suicide, rants against Jews, visits prostitutes and is treated as an insignificant figure by Stalin.

In India, portraits of Lenin are often found hanging from walls and draped in garlands of flowers.

The controversy over the screening at the Calcutta Film Festival was sparked last Wednesday when the Communist Party of India (Marxist) leaders, Jyoti Basu and Biman Bose, asserted that the movie shouldn't have been shown. Bose said: 'The film is not based on historic facts. It is highly improper to distort such personalities without ascertaining the facts.'

Added Basu, 86-year-old former Chief Minister of West Bengal who retired earlier this year: 'From where has Sokurov found that Lenin was anti-Semitic? There is no such reference in the Russian archives.'

Sokurov, 50, who lives and works in St Petersburg, yesterday defended his depiction of Lenin. 'I never have been to India,' he said, simply. 'We speak about a human person who came to a certain age, who lived a difficult life and who fell gravely ill. The development of action shows him struggling hard with his illness, struggling for his independence, his not accepting his actual 'self' of the time being, his trying to return into his past, where he was younger and healthier. Still, he is a strong, proud and clever man. Only, perhaps, a not very kind one.'

Leonid Mozgovi -the actor who plays Lenin - said at the festival: 'Lenin is not such a hero in Russia. He made errors too.'

Mozgovi said he studied newly discovered archive material during his research for the role that showed him Lenin was paralysed before his death. 'Lenin's private life was a secret before perestroika,' he said.

Sokurov says he feels unable to comment on the criticism in India until he has completed his tetralogy. 'The two last parts are not yet filmed,' he says. 'I believe I will be able to explain why I made Taurus, with full responsibility for it, only after the last film is finished, and all the chapters come together in this sad story.'

A coalition of Communists and leftist writers has vowed to stop another screening on Tuesday, but according to latest reports, the film is still scheduled for another performance.

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