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Tribute: George A Romero’s films about the undead were actually about America’s living

The American director, who died on July 16, infused fresh blood into the zombie film and inspired countless imitators.

American filmmaker George A Romero (February 4, 1940-July 16, 2017) has died at the age of 77, after fighting a “brief but aggressive battle with lung cancer”, according to his manager Chris Roe. Romero, a stalwart of modern horror filmmaking, directed 16 films in a career spanning four decades. His feather in the cap was the Living Dead series, which created the tropes for and defined the modern zombie film genre.

Romero’s zombie films are particularly revered for the way they commented on American society through a B-movie perspective.

The Living Dead series began with the low-budget, black-and-white, independently produced Night Of The Living Dead (1968). The movie was a marked departure from previous productions: its zombies were flesh eaters as opposed to undead souls ambling around under the spell of sorcerers or aliens.

Most importantly, the zombies were white, middle-class people who, after being reanimated, began to terrorise their neighbours. This was a turnaround from films that drew from the Haitian zombie tradition and featured black characters. Through Night Of The Living Dead, featuring a black protagonist who is shot dead by a white policeman, Romero looked at deeply embedded racism embedded in America.

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Night Of The Living Dead.

His next zombie film Dawn Of The Dead (1979) is the most well-known installment in the series. The action shifts from rural Pennsylvania to a suburban shopping mall outside Philadelphia. Since Night Of The Living Dead, almost all of Pennsylvania has been taken over by zombies. If Romero criticised race relations in Night Of The Living Dead, he took on American consumerist culture in Dawn Of The Dead. Hordes of zombies run wild in the shopping mall where they have gathered almost instinctively. Like Night Of The Living Dead, the second installment also featured wanton violence, with a generous dose of gore courtesy Tom Savini.

Romero’s subsequent Living Dead films went on to marry his critique of American society with the elements of the zombie film genre that he either devised or improved upon.

Dawn Of The Dead.
Dawn Of The Dead.

Romero’s zombie movies spawned numerous remakes and imitations. But he was displeased with modern zombie fare, which he felt lacked a satirical edge and focused on pure action or horror. He famously called the AMC series The Walking Dead a “soap opera with a zombie occasionally”.

The director also did not take kindly to fast-moving or running zombies and the fact that they departed from their undead origins and were instead a result of a viral epidemic or biological experiment, even though he had explored the very idea in one of his better non-zombie films, The Crazies (1973).

While it was not commercially successful, The Crazies was a competent horror film that extended the us versus them dynamics that were an integral part of his debut feature.

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Martin.

The 1978 film Martin (Romero’s favourite among all his films) looks at society’s reaction to the titular 17-year-old hero who believes he is a vampire. Martin (John Amplas) wants to be free while his granduncle Cuda (Lincoln Mazzel) treats him like an old-world Nosferatu and forbids him from being his age. The local disc jockey calls Martin “The Count”, and Martin becomes a sensation in his neighbourhood.

Romero departed from the horror genre in Knightriders (1981), which looks at the trials and tribulations of a travelling motorcycle troupe. The next year saw the release of his delightfully schlocky anthology film Creepshow, written by ace horror author Stephen King. In the ’90s, Romero’s biggest contribution was Two Evil Eyes, based on Edgar Allan Poe’s stories, which he co-directed with Italian giallo maestro Dario Argento.

Romero also appeared in his films in cameos. The one outside production in which he played a small role was Jonathan Demme’s Silence Of The Lambs (1991). Romero plays a Federal Bureau of Investigation officer keeping an eye on the dreaded cannibal Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins).

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Dawn of the Dead.
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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.