Sunday, March 15, 2009

Millionaire Saga

You either love it or hate it. That’s the verdict for Slumdog Millionaire. There are no in-betweeners. The fans of the film vouch it’s a brilliant piece, but those who dislike it, claim it’s nothing but a western perception of India.
I, consider myself in the minority. I stand in the in-betweeners slot. It’s not because it's a safe place to be in, but because I don’t think the film deserved the ‘best film’ at the Oscars but it did deserve all its other awards. I wouldn’t call it a brilliant film because it's got its flaws, but I am impressed with sleek narrative.
In my defence, for all those who picked up arms against Danny Boyle for picturing India in its true elements have only one major grouch… that it took an outsider to tell our story. Not once did the Bollywood fraternity warm up to these slum kids, forget tell their story. But here was a white man, who walked in and picked a heartrending story of a small boy and his struggles. The crux of the film is not about poverty, it’s about hope. But we, Indians, suffer from a prosecution complex. We believe the entire world is out to get us. But we've no qualms about aping the West - its style, lifestyle, food and fashion. We draw a line, or claim to be extremely sensitive when the West looks into the lives of the poor as well. We’d rather sweep the poor under the carpet than have the world watch their story. Slumdog Millionaire tells a story about real kids, who we bump into on a daily basis, but who we don’t want to associate with. This is not the real India, some argue. Then what is?
Are Bollywood films an indication of our true Indian culture? For the bigwigs like Big B and Aamir Khan isn’t this a clear indication of the ‘sour-grape’ syndrome? For had their film won an Oscar they would have wanted the media to write stories of glory.
Have any of these Bollywood filmmakers ever told a story about poverty? Realism, my friend, stares at you every time you land in Mumbai. Either side of the road is cramped with huts, some even eating into the public road. Have these actors turned a blind eye? Or do they believe that these poor souls don’t have a right to find themselves into the lives of the West.
This film is not a star-studded affair, as is the case in all Bollywood flicks. And that's exactly what worked in Slumdog’s favour. The children made the film. Unknown, innocent faces came forward to tell a story. Children of the slums, who never dared to dream, walked the red carpet with Hollywood glitterati for the Oscars. We, as Indians, should actually be ashamed that it took a white man to tell the real stories about these kids.
Wake up Bollywood! You need more than sleeky costumes, six-packs, lavish sets, and made-up actors to tell a real story. And unlike in the fairytale land of Bollywood, no one breaks into a song and dance sequence at the drop of a hat. So next time your argument borders on realism. I’d like them to take a look at Indian cinema and point out which film actually portrays our true essence. It’s not the jhatkas and matkas, not the item numbers and choli acts, not revenge and baddies, not love or the lack of it, it’s something much more meaningful, a journey of fun, laughter and hope. And until they learn this lesson, they'll continue to hold ill-will against anyone who dares to tell real stories about the real people.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Tied Down

We'd be blind to believe that gender inequality ain't prevalent in one of the world's largest democracies - India. In a subtle, yet harsh way, women continue to be silenced. Women might not have to wear a veil and bow down, yet in every word, every inch of their lives, they are reminded to lie low and not threaten the men folk.

We often associate gender inequality with countries like Afghanistan or Pakistan, where women are asked to follow a certain decorum to please the society. However, even in a country like ours, which boastes of secularism, one is baffled to watch how a hidden agenda crushes women, even before she can stand up to voice her feelings.

I fail to comprehend why men are perpetually paranoid that women might take a step ahead of him. One would hope that such male chauvinistic ideas were buried in history. However, its skeletons continue to haunt us, drilling home the fact that we are still tied down despite achieving independence.

You'd think that gender discrimination maybe more prevelant in the villages, where lack of education may forced many to face the whip without letting out a cry, possibly, because they are unaware about their rights. However, it is shocking to witness similar cases in urban India as well, where educated or not, women still feel comfortable to hide behind their veils.

The last few weeks opened two cases, where the women preferred to remain mum, only to cover the evil of a man's doing.

Bharati Yadav is a brave woman no doubt, yet she was forced to succumb to the pressures of her family... to project a truth that wasn't. For aeons, she hid from reality and remained bottled up in the UK. However, when law finally got hold of her, she appeared in court, only to lie. Despite knowing good from bad, she played along not wanting to bring justice to her "friend" Nitish Katara, who was murderer by her own brother. And Katara's only sin was that he loved Bharati.

She might have had her reasons to play along, maybe she'd seen how the system could be manipulated. And maybe she feared the same fate if she'd chosen to fight her own family. Whatever the reasons, her haunting silence cost Katara's mother, her only hope for justice.

Another cursed victim in this fight for justice is Mrs Rahul Mahajan. Despite revealing her bruises from a "broken" marriage for a specific media houses, she was unable to speak up when the media came rushing to her doorstep for a glimpse of the truth.

Understandable that her in-laws are high-profile, but that doesn't give her the levy to lie. She is no different from a woman in the village, who silently faces her husband's beatings without voicing her unhappiness.

At a time, when the law has extended its hands with the Domestic Violence Act. Why are "high-profile" woman like her afraid to seek help? Does law and education not determine a woman's diginity and freedom?

Both Bharati and Shweta are brave, no doubt. They have tried hard to make the world believe a lie. They might believe that their actions saved the sanctity of their families. But no matter how many times they repeat a lie, it doesn't become the truth. And no society can survive on such blatant lies.

It's highly frustrating when educated women shy away from taking responsibilites for their actions and are scared to fight the system. If we all take the backseat and not fight for what is truly ours, then this world would never progress, and we would continue to live in shackles.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Must be the Money!

I cringe watching ex-cricket captain, Saurav Ganguly, wording reasons why we should support the Indian cricketing wonders. An advertisement that would have definitely raked in some "good" moolah for the sinking star, but has most definitely left him with little or no fans.

At a time, when he is yet to bat his way back to the Indian team, this ad clearly proves his downfall. His insipid, scripted, melodramatic lines in the ad reeks of greed and no goodwill. It only reiterates that money can buy anyone. If he was a self-respecting man, he would not have sold his "ill-timings" for a soft-drink!

It's another thing that even Saurav's prayers didn't work wonders for the Indian team at the ICC championships. In fact, the men in blue know that win or lose, they still have the fizzy drinks to fall back on.

Wonder if "dada" too will give his diminishing career a little more respect and restrain from selling himself again.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Politics of Patriotism

Ironically, the centenary celebrations of Vande Mataram, the national song that once united our country in our quest for freedom, has been scarred with controversies, creating a religiously divided India.

It looks like the national song has been reduced to a mere political trump card for the next electoral mandate. It's highly deplorable how netahs leave no stone unturned to gain political mileage. Even manipulate our patriotic sentiments.

Contrary to Islamic arguments that our national song hurts their Islamic ideology, the national song is about love for our motherland. The song (read English translation below) is written with no hidden agenda. Here, "Durga" could also mean a metaphor for the almighty and not a "Hindu" god.

Vande Mataram had faced flak from its adaptation as the national song for the same reasons. In fact, our forefathers had worked out a solution then, by adapting only the first two stanzas. However, even that hasn't solved the problem.

Today, it's about political malice and not freedom.

Interestingly, the television media unearthed this political gimmickery by showcasing BJP leaders, who have been stressing the need to make Vande Mataram mandatory, unable to sing along. With mumbbled words, their buffoonery put things in perspective. Forget explaining the meaning of the controversial lines, some didn't even recall the lines!

On another level, it's hurtful that in a secular country like ours, only Muslims seem to be targeted or offended by the song. Does it imply that Christians, Sikhs and other religious communities don't have any sentiments at all or rather don't mind singing praises of another God? Don't get me wrong, I am not propagating a mass religious battle, but only speculating why "religious battles" involve only Hindus and Muslims, and not any other communities. This, my friend is the politics of religion.

Have we become so comfortably dumb, that we are persuaded to believe that Vande Mataram was chosen as our national song, only to create a rift later on? Are we so self-absorbed that we don't question what political parties preach in the name of religion?

Amid all these controversies, I'd like to pause and rewind to my school days, when we dressed in crisp uniforms and sang Vande Mataram in all earnest. We may have been out of tune, but never out of sync with our patriotic pulse. We never questioned its religious connotations. We innocently sang the song, which instilled in us a sense of pride, a sense of unity. We rejoiced the spirit of independence.

I request my Muslim brothers and sisters to kindly refrain from taking sides in this obvious fight for power and respect our forefathers and their sacrifice for freedom.

(Translation by Shree Aurobindo)
Mother, I bow to thee! Rich with thy hurrying streams, bright with orchard gleams, Cool with thy winds of delight, Dark fields waving Mother of might, Mother free.

Glory of moonlight dreams, Over thy branches and lordly streams, Clad in thy blossoming trees, Mother, giver of ease Laughing low and sweet! Mother I kiss thy feet, Speaker sweet and low! Mother, to thee I bow.

Who hath said thou art weak in thy lands When the sword flesh out in the seventy million hands And seventy million voices roar Thy dreadful name from shore to shore? With many strengths who art mighty and stored, To thee I call Mother and Lord! Though who savest, arise and save!

To her I cry who ever her foeman drove Back from plain and Sea And shook herself free.
Thou art wisdom, thou art law, Thou art heart, our soul, our breath Though art love divine, the awe In our hearts that conquers death. Thine the strength that nervs the arm, Thine the beauty, thine the charm. Every image made divine In our temples is but thine.

Thou art Durga, Lady and Queen, With her hands that strike and her swords of sheen, Thou art Lakshmi lotus-throned, And the Muse a hundred-toned, Pure and perfect without peer, Mother lend thine ear, Rich with thy hurrying streams, Bright with thy orchard gleems, Dark of hue O candid-fair

In thy soul, with jewelled hair And thy glorious smile divine, Lovilest of all earthly lands, Showering wealth from well-stored hands! Mother, mother mine! Mother sweet, I bow to thee, Mother great and free!

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Say NO to KANK

When a "reputed" filmmaker takes a shot at extra-marital relationships, you'd wish it was treated with high doses of realism and sensitivity. Alas, this is Bollywood, so kindly avoid expecting miracles. Out here, there are no real stories. There are only teary-eyed Cinderalas who aren't happy with their lovely dresses and kind-hearted prince charmings, and would much rather give it all up for grumpy, tantrumic footballers.

KANK, listed as the "most controversial film" (for whatever reasons), is a convoluted take at "bad" marriages, leaving me with nothing but a bad after-taste.

Even though KANK didn't evoke any expectations, I was willing to endure the long, tiresome ride (with my partner-in-crime, who applauded me for my patience) just to check out Karan-who-can't-direct-Johar's take on bumpy marriages.

KANK (like most Karan Johar films) is filled with truck loads of beautifully-dressed firangs prancing around in lavish sets. But what it lacks is proper character sketches and a strong storyline. One wonders why two individuals stray out of a perfectly normal relationship, which has tonnes of peace, harmony and affection... but minues the over-rated Bollywood concept of "love".

We enter the lives of -- Dev Saran (Shah Rukh Khan as a footballer who gives up his career following an accident) & Rhea (Preity as his obedient yet successful wife); Rishi (Abhishek Bachchan in a rich man's suit) & his wife Maya (Rani as a cleanliness freak-cum-schoolteacher). They each lead very happy lives until Maya is seemingly cajoled into marrying her childhood buddy Rishi after a strange meeting with Dev. Why the bride was sitting in a park is anyone's guess!

The problem unfolds further when Dev meets with an accident following that meeting and is left with a limping football career. This leaves Dev grumpy, irritable and volatile all through. He barks at all-and-sundry, even traumatises his son and accuses his wife of a career more flourishing than his. Wonder if he would have rather starved than wear rich clothes and live in a palatial house and give his son a good life. Dev is self-obsessed and deserves a good thrashing and why anyone in their right senses would fall in love with him is psychotic. However, it's surprising that he doesn't use his wife's resources to undergo a surgery to correct his limp and re-start playing the ball. It seems, he prefers to sulk and irritate the rest of the world.

Meet Maya, another self-absorbed person. She has what most women dream of -- a loving and caring husband, a beautiful house and a seemingly good career. Yet she prefers to howl her way through the film.

Understood that domestic violence needn't be the only reason for people to look outside their marriages, but Karan forgot to provide any real reason here. Dev and Maya's vacuums are their own selfish creations and aren't reason enough to break something as concrete as a marriage. In fact, such self-centred people shouldn't get married in the first place and definitely not attempt it a second time! What Dev finds in the I'll-cry-at-the-drop-of-a-hat Maya and what she finds in the highly-irritable Dev is anyone's guess. It would have been more believable had Rishi and Rhea strayed from their marriages. In fact, they deserve an applause for sticking by their cranky spouses.

It's interesting that Rishi's super-flirtatious dad (Mr Bachchan) is heartbroken to find out about his daughter-in-law's affair even though he has no qualms about sleeping with numerous women, even bring them over to his son's place for a quicke. Is Karan implying that fathers needn't adhere to any moralistic standards? And why should such a fickle-hearted fellow take offence to his bahu's affair?

Looking at performances, Abhishek Bachchan is a rock star. He waltzes through the film with perfection. As for "Pa" Bachchan, he oscillates between the 'over-board' and 'bearable' button. It's a pity to see a talented actress like Kiron Kher being wasted in the film. Preity looks old, unkempt and lacks conviction. Rani should have gone easy on the glycerin. In fact, she's a well-kept puppy, with no ruffled hair, eye-make-up and tear in place. Would have wanted to see more of SRK's screen son , a very likable boy!

The sore point in the film is none other than the King Khan himself. He shrieks, grumbles, whines, makes silly faces and limps through the entire film. It's understandable that life played spoilt-sport with him, but it could have been portrayed in a more subtle way. An angry man need not have to screech all the time, Mr Johar!

In all, KANK is about today's selfish people, their lack of compassion or understanding of each other, their exaggerated concept of happiness and love, and their inability to make an effort to make anything, forget a marriage, work.

The moral, therefore, is - Karan Johar should quit attempting to make "real" cinema and instead drink a lot of coffee!

Friday, August 11, 2006

The Mother Tongue syndrome

Whether we are in the US, UK, Africa or in our own land... breaking into our native/mother tongue is like an obsession of sorts for Indians. No matter where we are, somehow our sense of solidarity lies in mouthing words in our native language. And even though the language could be alien for many Indians (considering there is a vast ocean of dialects in our land) or others who collect around us, we have no qualms about ignoring our etiquette.

Does it not occur to us that this is extremely rude? The scenario is not uncommon across the globe, but in our country etiquette hits rock bottom. When we find ourselves in an eclectic group, our regional bonds spring up. Irrespective of whether one's Bengali, Tamil, Kannadiga, Punjabi, Marathi, Malayalee or any other, sub-groups are quick to form and obscure-coded-conversations flow. It's funny how this regional solidarity breaks up mostly in front of other communities. Leave them alone and they will speak in English. Making it look like a premeditated effort to prove that it's tough to crack their so-called 'regionalistic' bond.

This regional circus begins with a simple: "Are you a Malayalee (replace region according to situation/people)?" And once the answer is in the affirmative, out comes bizzare-sounding words at a high decibel level (denoting exaggerated happiness!).

I am subjected to this regional jingoism day-in and day-out. Though I have voiced protests by blurting out rude remarks, kicking my table, someone else's table, and even firing killer stares at my co-workers, the language circus continues. There's never a sense of apology only a sense of who-the-hell-are-you-to-tell-us-what-to-do. Followed by excuses -- it's our mother tongue, our culture, so on and so forth.

Well, I wish I could lock these clowns in a box full of "their" own. But considering that's a highly unlikely option. I can only wish for a life minus those weird-sounding, meaningless words and maybe invest in ear plugs!

And here's a word for the annoying bunch -- Speak in a language everyone understands or else, keep your mouth shut. And if you can't control your 'regionalistic' emotions, move to a secluded corner and leave us poor souls out of this mayhem!

Sunday, August 06, 2006

I've got an Oscar too!

Last week, I was awarded (more like gifted) an "Oscar" by my partner-in-crime for what I believe is, an acknowledgment for my stupendous performance as the most perfect, loving partner!!

Meet Oscar, a blueish-reddish-blackish, fishy addition to my little home.

So goodbye to boring days, welcome to Oscar entertaintment - his colourful fins and excellent moves could put even Michael Jackson to shame.

Oscar prefers to rule his little bowl. And, this way I get to have him all to myself, no more fighting for his attention! From his fridge-top base, he keeps a close watch on me.

And whenever I am low or happy or crazy or tantrumic, I know that Oscar will always be there to listen me out!!!

Here's me signing off with a fishy kiss for my beloved OSCAR!