Machel Montano’s Bazodee (directed by Todd Kessler and written by Claire Ince) attempted to highlight the vivid colours of the natural landscape and ethnic solidarity/“real unity” between Afro and Indo Trinidadians. This solidarity is sometimes undermined by the racial stereotypes and antagonisms from the two majority ethnic groups. The film does not show the depth of these wounds instead it shows a story of something “inside ah all ah we”/essential to Trini people that looks beyond cultural differences and unites us as “one people.” What made the film interesting was not its assignment to show how ‘Trini culture’ and music have the potential to unite people; rather the film illustrates our attachment to the tendency to reproduce misleading narratives that overemphasise racial disunity and bitterness in our everyday life while championing the myth that national festivals provide a space for the pure transcendence of ethnic conflict and misunderstanding.
I watched the film in the company of five bredrin at Trincity Mall’s Cinemas 8. Leading up to day I went to the cinema, the opinions on the film were divided – “de best film eva” or “nah nah nah nah nah nah Machel.” As someone who writes and teaches on the popular culture landscape in the Caribbean, the thought of missing a film produced by and starring the premier soca artiste who has gone well beyond the title of “Mr. Fete” to “Mr. Carnival” was foolish. Machel Montano, with the exception of the famous “Wild Antz” music video, has developed a long career of excellence in live performances and he has been ahead of the curve in music video standards for performing artistes in the Caribbean. The expectations of a “Machel Movie” after years of well-produced spectacles of Machel Mondays were inevitably high. In addition, coming out of a general election, only one year ago, as the government of Trinidad and Tobago is forced to make difficult economic decisions with scare resources, race consciousness and mobilisation around being ‘Indian’ and ‘African’ are high. And maybe, just maybe, for us in Trinidad and Tobago, the success of Multisymptom’s Sonita, a reggae-chutney romance story in song, proclaiming a male Afro-Trinidadian’s unrequited love for and Indian woman, assisted in pre-conditioning the market to the Bazodee film which follows a similar portrayal.
Machel Montano. “Machel Montano HD- Wild Antz (Official Soca Music Video 2009). YouTube video, 4:24, Ayinde Olatunji. Published February 19, 2009. Accessed October 6, 2016. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G_palTY3Rb4
Bazodee is the story of the love entanglements of Anita Ponchouri (Natalie Perera), daughter of an upper class Indo-Trinidadian family. While the family appears to have a stable class position, beneath the surface, Anita’s father, the businessman, is submerged in debt. In a series of fortuitous events, soca singer Lee de Leon (Machel Montano) performs at Anita’s engagement party for her and her London-based Indian fiancé. They develop an attraction for each other, at the high point, expressing their physical desires at j’ouvert and Anita, conflicted between the marriage of her fiancé and the adventure of Lee de Leon, ultimately chooses Lee as her lover.
From the beginning of the movie, yuh start slow winin’ on your seat when you hear the j’ouvert anthem Water Flowing leading us through the well-shot visuals of Trinidad and Tobago on screen. An entire film based on the #1 songs of Machel Montano from the early 2000s all the way up to this year’s soca is enough to send the nation back on memory lane and feel good moments. However, the weak plot, predictable story line, flat characters and contrived efforts at humour for a local audience made the film’s story telling and acting difficult to defend. Perhaps the film title “Bazodee: The Story of a Ukulele in a Violin Case” would better capture the plot. From the magical Drupatee adlibs and bass line accompaniment while Machel singly performed Real Unity on his ukulele at the engagement party to his recommendation of a “desert island” for romance as Pigeon Point Tobago to the depoliticisation of No War, decrying crime and violence, set in the ghetto turned to an on-screen love song to Anita’s auto-tune rendition of One More Time in the party that gave T-Pain a sore throat to the fake handicap of Lee De Leon’s grandmother contradicted by her agility and exemption of wearing a hard hat on a construction site…The distance between scriptwriting in Westwood Park and Bazodee is not very far. The moment of truth in the film was Lee De Leon’s quick return to construction labour, mixing cement doing “an honest black man’s work” immediately after he had a leading song for the carnival season. Rell soca artistes does wake up to dis reality from as early as Ash Wednesday.
Why is the film so loved and did so well in spite of the poverty of plot? The film does not offer us historical context, it tells us there is a mystic power of carnival that heals all wounds and it tells us that these wounds haunt us everywhere we go. It is the Trinidad and Tobago (the deserted island) that we want to believe in. Anita is a young Indian woman who feels confined by the choices of her family’s expecations. The film shows the expression of a young Indo-Trinidadian woman who wants to develop her own ideas about gender ideals, career choices, types of family and more pointedly, types of attraction. Here, Lee De Leon, played by Machel Montano, represents a freedom of choice through his performance of Afro-Trinidadian masculinity. The film is centred on the pursuit of a kind of freedom by and Indo-Trinidadian female lead. At its core, she is rejecting the perception of the cultural identity she will assume as an Indian woman marrying a wealthy Indian man. What this film, like many films and literature fall short in is assuming that the identity of ‘blackness’ is purely freedom giving. It portrays a narrative of black identity, in particular black men giving freedom and set apart from race/class expectations. This perceived freedom denies the dynamism and complexities of Afro-Trinidadian life, history and identity.
Bazodee also reproduces the popular myth of excessive racial tension at the expense of complicating that notion with the micro-practices and everyday negotiations of multiculturalism in Trinidad and Tobago. In the film, Lee De Leon’s manager and best friend is of mixed ethnicity, appearing as a dougla; the business man named Vijay who phenotypically looks Afro-Trinidadian is involved in a web of relations between Anita’s family and Lee. Contrary to the harmful ways political elites manipulate racial discourses; in everyday life, ordinary Afro and Indo Trinidadians negotiate their identities in in the interest of community and harmony. More work needs to be done in the area that looks at micro-ethnic relations as seen most sharply in the classic novel Green Days by the River (1967) by Michael Anthony.
Accessed October 7, 2016. http://sanaarants.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/bazodee-2016-staz-nair-natalie-perera.png
The intended audience for the film was directed to the Indian/South Asian diaspora. The film was about Trinidad and Tobago and not necessarily for Trinidad and Tobago. The cast recruitment of Bollywood actors and actresses and the beautiful Bollywood aesthetic from beginning to end set the direction of the film for the international film circuit. Machel Montano and others while yearning for ‘quality’ local film are trapped in global frame that cast a cinematic gaze that exoticises the Caribbean, articulate racial stereotypes and produce actors and actresses with the worst possible ‘Trinidad and Tobago variant of standard English’ and ‘speaking properly accents.’ Bazodee joins a new trend in Trinidad and Tobago cinema, along with God Loves the Fighter (2013, directed by Damian Marcano), with the “international look” and “globally ready” product finish with stereotypical representations and half-baked plots. At the expense of more accurate representation and good story lines, we are seduced by the spectacle of appearing on the big screen in the way any Hollywood and Netflix star does. Examples of excellent English-speaking Caribbean film are not far, we can turn to a page from Bim (1974, directed by Hugh Robertson) and Dancehall Queen (1997, directed by Rick Elgood and Don Letts) for good advice.
The film was perfect for the ethnographer taking notes of people talking and singing back at the screen. The fact of the matter is that there was no time we believed we were watching the fictional character “Lee De Leon.” We were watching the king of soca, our beloved Machel Montano acting as Machel Montano in the Machel Movie. I encourage everyone to watch the film in the company of family and friends. Laugh and sing along, wine on de seat and big up a soca artiste for trying to blow things up for our twin island republic.
Aap jaisa koi
Meri zindagi mein aaye
Baat ban jaaye
Sanatan, Amílcar. 2016. “Film Review+: Bazodee.” Blog, Accessed [Insert Date Accessed]. https://amilcarsanatan.com/film-review-bazodee/
Accessed October 7, 2016. http://www.eurweb.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/bazodee-poster-pic.jpg
Brereton, Bridget. 2010. “ All ah we is not one: Historical and Ethnic Narratives in Pluralist Trinidad.” The Global South 4 (2): 218-238. Accessed October 7, 2016. https://muse.jhu.edu/article/424482/pdf
Kerrigan, Dylan. 2015. “Culture and Power.” Blog. Accessed October 7, 2016. http://www.dylankerrigan.com/opeds/culture-and-power
Machel Montano. “Machel Montano – I Forget (Official Music Video).” YouTube video, 3:31, machelmontanomusic. Published July 19, 2016. Accessed October 7, 2016. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hjs3Ul-o99o
Machel Montano. “Xtatik Feat. Machel Montano – Water Flowing (Flood Riddim).” YouTube video, 4:20, RiddimcrackerChunes. Published August 13, 2012. Accessed October 7, 2016. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4hUdfnn4jaw
Machel Montano. “Machel Montano feat. Drupatee – Real Unity.” YouTube video, 4:59, DJ Maco. Published September 15, 2016. Accessed October 7, 2016. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fK61XfLON90