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Newsletter 323

Published February 3, 2020
Welcome to New Delhi. Even less inhalable than Sydney!

After four days in New Delhi I’m revising my opinion that Sydney’s appalling air quality, due to the bushfires, is anything like the grey haze one inhales in the Indian capital. The pollution in Delhi is really dreadful, although people are telling me it’s much better than it was last year! True or false, it doesn’t suggest that Mr. Modi’s dynamic leadership is doing much to alleviate the problem. All the energies currently being stirred up in Indian politics are getting channelled into that age-old issue of ethnic and religious animosity.

When a primary school class in Karnataka is charged with sedition for putting on a play critical of the Prime Minister, one gets the feeling that things are getting a little out-of-hand. Not even Scummo has tried that one yet, even though he sees every difficult question asked by journalists as a personal affront to his dignity.

Despite the pollution, India is one of the most exhilarating places on earth. There’s such a buzz of constant activity it’s no wonder the holy men see stillness and inertia as the way to Heaven. There’s precious little stillness at the Art Fair, where I’ve been spending my time, but I’ll save my impressions until next week.

This week’s art column comes from the far more sedate atmosphere of Canberra, where the National Gallery of Australia is hosting a retrospective for Hugh Ramsay, who died in 1906, at the age of 28, leaving behind a huge, rather romantic reputation. Ramsay is the major what-might-have-been story in Australian art, and it’s great to see his work examined in a comprehensive show and a good catalogue. What’s even better is that he lives up to expectations. If you manage to brave the smoky conditions to go see the NGA’s Matisse & Picasso exhibition, the Ramsay is a necessary addition to the visit.

The movie being reviewed is Marielle Heller’s A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood – a very peculiar production in which Tom Hanks plays Mr. Rogers, a wellknown American children’s TV host. I went along expecting to dislike this film but found it compelling and strangely unsettling. Although Mr. Rogers is all surface one imagines there are some very dark depths involved.

Last week’s diatribe about the state of the Australian film industry drew a long angry riposte from Screen Australia, and a number of “Hoorays” from others involved in the business. When I’m not travelling I’ll try to expand this discussion, including criticism and response. The danger is that these things can become unruly, navel-gazing exercises, but a certain amount of argument can’t hurt. Fortunately, Screen Australia has no power to charge its critics with sedition.