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Revisiting Hotel Rwanda

Revisiting Hotel Rwanda
For Terry Geirge who is the director as well as the co-script writer of the historical drama film ‘Hotel Rwanda’, it must have been tough to decide on how much screen space should be given to the documentation of the facts, cause and effects of the ethnic conflict of Rwanda where about a million people mostly Tutsis were massacred at the hands of the Hutus in 1994, or should the story be built up on narrative emotions? 

It becomes imperative to ask this question because he decided to make this film within 10 years of the genocide when this ugly memory was still fresh in people’s minds. Any deviation from the fact or over dramatisation would be noticed which limits the scope of fictionalisation. The director decided to build his story on the real-life subject Paul Rusesabagina, the hotel manager with his fear, determination, his frustration and vulnerability during the frightful days when 1,268 locals took refuge in his hotel. I say vulnerability because the manager himself being a Hutu, wants to hide the fact that his wife is a Tutsi.

There is no graphic violence, yet it is a thriller, and a love story.  It is about Paul who perseveres, who bribes, flatters, uses every kind of deception. He knows when a military general’s briefcase is given for safekeeping, at the time of return, it must contain bottles of good scotch. He uses his guile when he pleads with the owner sitting in the safety of Belgium, pleading with him not to shut down the hotel, because it would earn a very bad reputation for his hotel to carry on business in future.

But the real reason is that he just cannot let the people go out of the hotel to be killed. He bluffs the general when he doesn’t have any more scotch bottles to offer by saying, ‘you should help me saving these poor men in the hotel for I am the one who can tell the world that you helped lest you be tried as a criminal.’

Did Paul Rusesabagina, the real life person, know that he had so much courage to do what he did? He says in one of his interviews, ‘I really don’t know whether I had the special courage. I just take myself as someone who did what he was supposed to do.’

The film captivates as it creates some tender and harsh moments simultaneously. In the midst of mayhem when the hotel with its hordes of refugees: defenceless, its food stock low very low, Paul  finds two bottles of beer and decides to take his wife for a quiet moment on the terrace of the hotel. We the audience are soaking their well earned private tenderness, Paul says that tomorrow the Hutus come to the hotel to seek out all of the Tutsis. He will go down and talk to them.

But she with the children must come up to the terrace. ‘If I do not make it, you must take all the children by hand and you must jump…you have to…machete is no way to die. You have to promise that you will do it.’

May be these moments are a creation of fiction,  may be the director wants us to see the world in a certain way. But the real test for him was when he screened this film in this very land at Amahoro stadium before an audience of over 10,000 people both Hutus and Tutsis. The director Terry Geirge says, ‘It was the most emotional screening I have ever been at. I spent close to an hour afterwards accepting thanks and congratulations.’

20 years have passed and we know how easy it is for people to forget the horrific genocide, and for us thousands of miles away, how easy it is to ignore. A film like ‘Hotel Rwanda’ reminds people of the crisis around us lest we forget, and to draw courage from Paul the ‘quiet hero’.
Jahar Kanungo

Jahar Kanungo

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