World War II

The Dunkirk evacuation on film before Christopher Nolan landed there

The historic British operation finally gets the big-budget Hollywood treatment.

Hollywood has explored the American experience of World War II numerous times. Key events involving the US armed forces have been immortalised on celluloid with much fervour. However, 77 years ago, it was an extraordinary British operation described as a “miracle” that decided the course of events during the war.

If Operation Dynamo had failed, Germany would have beaten the British and the US would have probably never joined the war. This iconic event has never been given the big-budget Hollywood treatment until Christopher Nolan decided to enshrine its memory. Nolan’s Dunkirk, starring Tom Hardy, Mary Rylance, Cillian Murphy, Harry Styles and Kenneth Branagh, will be released on July 21.

In May 1940, the German troops advanced into Belgium after conquering Poland and the Netherlands. The British and French troops, cornered from from all sides, huddled at the beaches of Dunkirk in France. Behind them was the German forces with their Panzer tanks; overhead were their air force. What saved 3,38,000 men from slaughter was the remarkable collaboration of soldiers and civilians in a concerted effort to bring their boys back home.

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An animated history of Dunkirk.

The two major cinematic depictions of the Dunkirk evacuation have been British productions: a 1958 film and a 2004 BBC docudrama, both named after the operation.

Common between, and, perhaps, ailing both the productions is the time devoted to the behind-the-scene politics and manoeuvring that led to British Prime Minister Winston Churchill initiating Operation Dynamo. In the 1958 film, directed by Leslie Norman, the narrative is two-fold. On the one hand, journalist Foreman (Bernard Lee) and his friend, businessman Holden (Richard Attenborough), join forces along with other locals to take their boats and vessels from England to Dunkirk to rescue the soldiers.

Back in France, a company of soldiers led by Corporal Binns (John Mills) fight and escape German forces to finally reach Dunkirk and wait for divine intervention. Clocking in at 134 minutes, Norman’s Dunkirk tries to cover a lot of ground – the local mood in England, British government officials squabbling with each other, the war in France, and, of course, the evacuation.

Dunkirk (1958).
Dunkirk (1958).

The earnest performances by the actors makes the sum work despite the parts. The best scene comes near the end, where the troops take some time out on the beach to pray en masse. The sudden shelling by the Luftwaffe traps some of the soldiers into wondering whether they should run in the middle of Holy Communion.

The 2004 BBC docudrama examines the evacuation in exhausting detail. Divided into three episodes and running over three hours, the series shows the events of the 10 days (May 26 to June 4, 1940) during which Operation Dynamo was executed. The star of the show is Simon Russell Beale, who is fantastic as Churchill. Beale not only looks the part but also turns in an authoritative and often sympathetic performance as a man under tremendous pressure to save his country from absolute defeat. Without Beale, the docudrama is a humdrum affair that can barely keep a history nut’s attention from wavering.

Dunkirk (2004).
Dunkirk (2004).

A lesser-known French take on the event, Week-end à Zuydcoote (Weekend at Dunkirk), depicts the ordeal through the eyes of young French sergeant Maillat (Jean-Paul Belmondo, fresh from Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless) as the French troops appear torn between evacuating with the British and holding ground for a final face-off with the Germans. The film never moves away from the war and is focused on the troops at the beach, particularly, Maillat’s conversations with several soldiers that often take a philosophical turn.

Most recently, the battle on the Dunkirk beach was captured in a five-minute continuous tracking shot in Joe Wright’s Atonement (2007). Here, the hero Robbie Turner (James McAvoy), a British soldier, escapes the German forces and reaches the beach at Dunkirk. The non-stop shot takes a panoramic view of the war-ravaged beach as Turner walks around, absorbing everything. Wright adds a touch of fancy to the scene (a distant Ferris wheel with a man hanging from it, children playing, soldiers enjoying a merry-go-round) that makes it stand apart from the earlier, gritty representations of Dunkirk. It’s a sequence too beautiful for war, and, simultaneously, one that features top-notch choreography and technical finesse.

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Dunkirk (2017).
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From catching Goan dances in Lisbon to sampling langar in Munich

A guide to the surprising Indian connect in Lisbon and Munich.

For several decades, a trip to Europe simply meant a visit to London, Paris and the Alps of Switzerland. Indians today, though, are looking beyond the tried and tested destinations and making an attempt to explore the rest of Europe as well. A more integrated global economy, moreover, has resulted in a more widespread Indian diaspora. Indeed, if you know where to look, you’ll find traces of Indian culture even in some unlikely cities. Lisbon and Munich are good cities to include in your European sojourn as they both offer compelling reasons to visit, thanks to a vibrant cultural life. Here’s a guide to everything Indian at Lisbon and Munich, when you wish to take a break from all the sight-seeing and bar crawling you’re likely to indulge in.

Lisbon

Lisbon is known as one of the most vibrant cities in Western Europe. On its streets, the ancient and the modern co-exist in effortless harmony. This shows in the fact that the patron saint day festivities every June make way for a summer that celebrates the arts with rock, jazz and fado concerts, theatre performances and art exhibitions taking place around the city. Every two years, Lisbon also hosts the largest Rock festival in the world, Rock in Rio Lisboa, that sees a staggering footfall.

The cultural life of the city has seen a revival of sorts under the current Prime Minister, Antonio Costa. Costa is of Indian origin, and like many other Indian-origin citizens prominent in Portugal’s political, business and entertainment scenes, he exemplifies Lisbon’s deep Indian connect. Starting from Vasco Da Gama’s voyage to India, Lisbon’s historic connection to Goa is well-documented. Its traces can be still be seen on the streets of both to this day.

While the Indian population in Lisbon is largely integrated with the local population, a few diaspora groups are trying to keep their cultural roots alive. Casa de Goa, formed in the ‘90s, is an association of people of Goans, Damanese and Diuese origins residing in Lisbon. Ekvat (literally meaning ‘roots’ in Konkani) is their art and culture arm that aims to preserve Goan heritage in Portugal. Through all of its almost 30-year-long existence, Ekvat has been presenting traditional Goan dance and music performances in Portugal and internationally.

Be sure to visit the Champlimaud Centre for the Unknown, hailed a masterpiece of contemporary architecture, which was designed by the critically-acclaimed Goan architect Charles Correa. If you pay attention, you can find ancient Indian influences, like cut-out windows and stand-alone pillars. The National Museum of Ancient Art also has on display a collection of intricately-crafted traditional Goan jewellery. At LOSTIn - Esplanada Bar, half of the people can be found lounging about in kurtas and Indian shawls. There’s also a mural of Bal Krishna and a traditional Rajasthani-style door to complete the desi picture. But it’s not just the cultural landmarks that reflect this connection. The integration of Goans in Lisbon is so deep that most households tend to have Goa-inspired textiles and furniture as a part of their home decor, and most families have adapted Goan curries in their cuisine. In the past two decades, the city has seen a surge in the number of non-Goan Indians as well. North Indian delicacies, for example, are readily available and can be found on Zomato, which has a presence in the city.

If you wish to avoid the crowds of the peak tourist season, you can even consider a visit to Lisbon during winter. To plan your trip, check out your travel options here.

Munich

Munich’s biggest draw remains the Oktoberfest – the world’s largest beer festival for which millions of people from around the world converge in this historic city. Apart from the flowing Oktoberfest beer, it also offers a great way to get acquainted with the Bavarian folk culture and sample their traditional foods such as Sauerkraut (red cabbage) and Weißwurst (a white sausage).

If you plan to make the most of the Oktoberfest, along with the Bavarian hospitality you also have access to the services of the Indian diaspora settled in Munich. Though the Indian community in Munich is smaller than in other major European destinations, it does offer enough of a desi connect to satisfy your needs. The ISKCON temple at Munich observes all major rituals and welcomes everyone to their Sunday feasts. It’s not unusual to find Germans, dressed in saris and dhotis, engrossed in the bhajans. The Art of Living centre offers yoga and meditation programmes and discourses on various spiritual topics. The atmosphere at the Gurdwara Sri Guru Nanak Sabha is similarly said to be peaceful and accommodating of people of all faiths. They even organise guided tours for the benefit of the non-Sikhs who are curious to learn more about the religion. Their langar is not to be missed.

There are more options that’ll help make your stay more comfortable. Some Indian grocery stores in the city stock all kinds of Indian spices and condiments. In some, like Asien Bazar, you can even bargain in Hindi! Once or twice a month, Indian film screenings do take place in the cinema halls, but the best way to catch up on developments in Indian cinema is to rent video cassettes and VCDs. Kohinoor sells a wide range of Bollywood VCDs, whereas Kumaras Asean Trades sells Tamil cassettes. The local population of Munich, and indeed most Germans too, are largely enamoured by Bollywood. Workshops on Bollywood dance are quite popular, as are Bollywood-themed events like DJ nights and dance parties.

The most attractive time to visit is during the Oktoberfest, but if you can brave the weather, Munich during Christmas is also a sight to behold. You can book your tickets here.

Thanks to the efforts of the Indian diaspora abroad, even lesser-known European destinations offer a satisfying desi connect to the proud Indian traveller. Lufthansa, which offers connectivity to Lisbon and Munich, caters to its Indian flyers’ priorities and understands how proud they are of their culture. In all its India-bound flights and flights departing from India, flyers can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options, making the airline More Indian than You Think. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalised by Lufthansa to the extent that they now offer a definitive Indian flying experience.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.