Monday, October 6, 2014

Jhadoo politics...

At the Pujo Baadi on Ashtami day...
Now getting set for Diwali....
To see or not to see.... that's the question. I saw!!!

                    Haider : Boycott bigotry… not movie….
The tragic hero of the desi Hamlet is Kashmir, not Shahid Kapoor.
Admission : I did not love the movie (Bhardwaj’s  weakest in the trilogy). But I still will not advocate a boycott of the film. Nor subscribe to the vicious hate campaign let loose on the actors over assorted social media platforms. “Hum hai, ki hum nahin?” sounded a bit too twee… even arrogant,  as a take- off on the immortal ‘To be or not to be…” line. And that did it for me!  Mind you, this wasn’t  even the worst line in the most talked about film of the year. But that’s not what the protests are about. Those who are urging audiences to stay away, have made their point. Their point  is this : Bhardwaj has made a lop-sided film that projects the Indian Army in the worst possible light, seems sympathetic towards militants, glorifies terrorists, and ignores the ‘other’ picture ( the pathetic plight and flight of Kashmiri pundits). Their strident views have found several takers who believe Bhardwaj pushed his luck by projecting the Indian Army in such a sadistic light.  He has. There, I said it. That’s his prerogative as a film maker -  it is his perspective. His decision. Hamlet / Haider  does not matter. Kashmir does. It is an unambiguously political film. A position has been taken. Political cinema has never been known for its ‘neutrality’ ( that defeats the purpose of making a political film) Perhaps, it is time for us to grow up and take it on the chin – however uncomfortable that makes us.
Crtics have raved about the visual poetry of the movie. But at the end of the film, it is the prose that stays. Tabu, playing the wily Ghazala ( oooof!  Imagine denying the audience the chance to dive into her dark , expressive eyes by getting her to wear hideous, tiger brown coloured lenses – Bhardwaj’s biggest sin), asks her noble surgeon husband, “ Kis taraf hai aap?” when he decides to operate on a militant. Dr.Hilal Meer ( soberly played by Narendra Jha – but I wish Bhardwaj had not blow dried his hair as fussily) relies steadily, “ Zindagi ke…” In a way, that single exchange sums up the movie and its message… and redeems the film from being what its accusers are calling it – propagandist and anti-India. Though, I have to say, it’s hard to overlook the obvious bias that drives the rest of the narrative.
In a bid to soften the bludgeoning of the Indian Army ( for some reason, most of the tough talking officers are South Indians – Ramamurthy being the harshest),  Bhardwaj has added a line or two after the film ends, about the great, humanitarian service performed by the Indian Armed Forces during the recent devastating floods in J and K. Disingenuous… an after thought ? By then audiences have pretty much made up their minds and come to a few nasty conclusions. So what? We can handle nasty! We can, right?
Yes, the film has polarized viewers, generated controversy, and is likely to be banned in Pakistan. It’s fine. Powerful cinema does that to people. Unless , of course, you believe in going to the movies in order to numb your senses. If that is so, forget ‘Haider’.  It isn’t for the weak hearted. As narratives go, it is flawed and self -indulgent to an annoying degree . While Shahid Kapoor gives it his best shot ( too much hair spray ruined it for me) , more seasoned actors like Kay Kay Menon ( superlative ), and Irrfan Khan ( effortlessly menacing), steal the show. Watch it, if only to learn a favourite Hebrew word I use a lot and  love– Chutzpah. Roughly translated, it means a certain audacity to get away with outrageous conduct. If only Bhardwaj and Co. had taken the trouble to find out how it is pronounced (‘ Hoots-pah’ – NOT  ‘ Choots-pa’ as Haider keeps repeating ), perhaps the movie itself would have  felt more authentic.
Next time, guys – get the details right! And that extends to more than just the correct way to say and demonstrate asli ‘Chutzpah’.
Asian Age....
                                             Bharatwaasis – Pick up that broom and start sweeping!
 Trust me, I am feeling really guilty, sheepish vaghera today. I haven’t picked up a jhadoo this morning, and got to work. Not even in my own home, forget the filthy streets of Mumbai. No wonder, I didn’t make it to Narendra Modi’s elite Dirt Squad of eminent citizens who have taken the Jhadoo Pledge. To be fair, I didn’t participate in that other nonsensical pledge either ( Ice Bucket ), so I am feeling a little better. Nine seems to be the magic number these days.  The nation is going to be galvanized by nine inspiring citizens (who just happen to be be popular movie stars, industrialists and sports people). The 9x9 story of Swachch Bharat reminds me of those wretched chain letters we used to get in the mail (when mail existed). Each time I received one, I would bin it, and hold my breath for the next 12 hours. All of them came with dire warnings. If someone was reckless enough to break that chain, awful things were in store for the irresponsible person. But -  aha – if you kept the chain going, you would receive a gift within three days. My friends hated me for breaking the chain and depriving them of the promised gifts. Soon, I was taken off all lists. I have to confess I felt a little left out. This was a form of social exclusion, that made me feel unworthy. Well, that’s how I am feeling right now. The thing is, my low  self worth is still not pushing me into picking up that broom and hitting the roads. I think I need therapy. Not just for the broom lapse, though. I need therapy because I seem to be in a tiny majority that is not quite getting it , nor going gaga over the initiative!  But why? The message is strong and unambiguous. What is there not to get, you ask? Ummm. A lot.
Driving down the hazardous slopes of Mussoorie on Gandhi Jayanti, hurtling towards Dehra Dun to catch my flight home, the car I was in, was halted by a long procession clogging a narrow street. I thought it was Mussoorie’s version of  Hong Kong’s Umbrella Protests. There was a slight drizzle, and the slogan raising jhuloos wallas, were sauntering along at a leisurely pace, protected by umbrellas. I rolled down the window and asked what was going on. The person replied brightly that they were all on a massive clean up drive.  The irony of it all, was that this exchange took place right in front of a gigantic garbage dump overflowing with mounds of rotting garbage. I suggested mildly that they should start right there, with the dump, instead of raising slogans and blocking traffic. I noticed nobody was carrying a jhadoo. But everybody was quoting the Prime Minister. I  pleaded with the placard bearing marchers to let the car pass. When I looked back, one of the protestors had just thrown a paan masala sachet on the road.
Swachch Bharat is a loaded term. We need to be ‘swachch’ on several fronts. Cleaning up our neighbourhoods is a great start… but hello! why should we be doing the municipality’s work ? We pay taxes to keep our cities garbage free. Happy to help and all that, but is this really the job of citizens? Mumbai is one gigantic garbage dump. Visitors to Mumbai recognize the metropolis from its unmistakable stench – a combination of  rotting fish and the usual muck that accumulates when waste management is a low priority. Those of us who live in this kachra, have forced ourselves to ignore it. Or, we tackle the problem by paying private garbage collectors to do what the local government is obliged to do – take care of the city’s sanitation -  but doesn’t.  It is a bit unfair to send India on a guilt trip and keep invoking the name of Mahatma Gandhi.  Unless we implement stricter laws for and impose fines ( like it happens in the rest of the world) on those who blatantly ignore civic responsibilities.  The Prime Minister may be shown sweeping India Gate and other places, on a daily basis, but we will not take the hint and follow his example. You know why? The change he seeks and the awareness he hopes to generate ( both, very positive programmes, I hasten to add), may not progress beyond tokenism. It  may turn out to be yet another , short lived ‘movement’, no deeper than the Ice Bucket trend, which died a swift death once the craze was over. Even so, let’s face it, in terms of powerful symbolism, it has worked brilliantly.
Agreed, India needs to be toilet trained. We can’t go on soiling our nappies forever.  A smallish start has been made .  Abhi nahi, toh kabhi nahi! For decades we have merrily ignored that catchy slogan, “ Cleanliness is next to Godliness.” Most of our temple courtyards remain revoltingly filthy. If  we cannot keep places of worship clean, how can we possibly transform neighbourhoods?
Poor Arvind Kejriwal must be feeling really short changed right now. He no longer has the monopoly over the jhadoo - the one thing he was clinging on to, when all else had been snatched away. This is India’s Sauchalaya Moment. In more ways than one. If we get this one thing right, the rest of the crap we are dealing with, will also follow. Keep the faith, Bharatwaasis.  A solemn promise to clean the country has been made by the Prime Minister. We will hold him to it. As for me, I will take my time to give a ‘Jhadoo ki Jhappi’  to the municipal janitor. That is, if the person shows up at all!!
Just checking -  Is it true there are plans to rename All India Radio to All India Modi?
Mumbai Mirror...
                     Mimlu Sen : “ Born to be wild…”
The annual Lit Fest madness is upon us! Not that I am complaining. But the recently concluded Apeejay  Fest in Mussoorie stands out for more than one reason. For one, it is intended for a specific audience – strictly no outsiders, no press. And what an audience! Hosted by India’s premier training ground for all those scarily brilliant men and women who keep the wheels of bureaucracy moving ( or not!) across the country, the LBSNAA (Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration) saw a terrific mix of writers, thinkers in dynamic sessions with young India’s best and brightest brains – the Probationers! Three intense days packed with interactive seminars, interspersed with chai /coffee breaks, and ahem… disco/ dandiya raas evenings, made it a memorable experience all the way. But for me, the most fascinating participant by far was Mimlu Sen – musician-author and life partner of  legendary Baul performer Paban Das Baul. Mimlu’s life is worthy of a bio pic ! Yes, it’s that riveting. Take a look : Born into a very ‘bhadralok’ ( educated, sophisticated, ‘respectable’) family in Shillong, Mimlu, who said she was ‘born a wild child’, ran away from home at age 11. Okay, she didn’t get too far and was dragged back by concerned neighbours. Not that it stopped Mimlu from exploring her wild side at a later date. Product of the mad and wonderful 60s and 70s,  studying in Kolkata and participating in street protests demanding an end to a distant war in Viet Nam, Mimlu got drawn into radical politics and revolutionary movements that led to her being jailed for what were described as Naxalite activities ( she has written a book, aptly titled ‘Black Maria’ about that period ). Sick and tired of a bourgeois existence, she fled to Paris (where else?) where she was living happily in a ménage a trios, with two children -  Duniya and Krishna – when a powerful voice altered the course of her life forever. By chance, she happened to hear someone singing songs like no other… drawn to the music, she met nomadic Baul singer Paban… and instinctively decided to become his life partner. Today, so many years later, they are very much together, though she hastily clarifies, “ He belongs to everybody, not just to me.”
 In Mussoorie, I got the chance to meet Paban and hear him sing. I recalled listening to him more than a decade ago. He was a different Baul then. I guess, living in Paris and doing gigs across the world, from Mexico to Africa, has changed the nomad. He still prefers to speak exclusively in Bengali, his Hindi is charmingly kuchcha, and he leaves English to Mimlu, who plays the cymbals and translates his songs for international audiences. It is quite a story. Apart from being a most remarkable partnership.
 I read an earlier interview of Mimlu, where she said she was attracted to Paban, because he (like all the Bauls ) practiced Prem Sadhna ( Tantric love ). It is a profound , philosophical way of life that is deeply rooted in being in sync with the elements.Watching both of them together, was an education. Mimlu’s husky accent goes from French to Bengali, as she fluidly interprets Paban’s passionate lyrics. Along with her key role in Paban’s performances, Mimlu remains deeply political (she participated in a volatile debate “Naxalism, Then and Now -  A Continuum?’ With the likes of Sumanta Banerjee and Gautam Navlakha). But, over and above any of this, her involvement and concern remain focused on Paban – making sure he gets his sleep, eats on time and has the necessary back up on stage. Someone asked her about Paban’s habit of chewing tobacco, and she answered naturally and  lightly, “ You have to understand, Paban is a villager – he cannot do without chewing tobacco.”
The original wild child is now a subdued , wise middle aged woman. It made me think of how loosely and foolishly we throw that term ( wild child ) around to describe starlets, rock stars, painters who  take  slightly unconventional paths – perhaps colour their hair purple or shave their heads. But here’s Mimlu – a woman who had the guts to follow her own path… to listen to her heart…. to pay the price… and never look back. Mimlu can well afford to say about Paban, her frail, wooly haired ‘Boshtomi’ ( life partner), who sings about life as only a Baul can , “ Paban lives on a Planet called Mimlu.”
It is not a boast. It is fulfillment.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Bijoya Greetings!

I absolutely love this time of the year!
Forgive my absence from this space. Blame it on crazy travel schedules... I'll try and make for this, before I run away again!
 Here are a few columns you may have missed...
This appeared in Sunday Times....

           India scores big on its MOM and Pop show…
Our men are definitely from Mars. So are a few women.  Take that,Venus! India’s scientists have indeed pulled off a major feat  – on the very first attempt, at that. And it’s time for the entire country to stand up and acknowledge the stupendous success of the ISRO family, starting with our very own 007- fan, S.Arunan, Project Director, MOM. His is the remarkable story of  today’s intellectually ambitious India . A great story that is not sufficiently chronicled, much less applauded. Hand picked by ISRO Chairman, K.Radhakrishnan , S. Arunan led a team of 200 scientists, who worked round the clock at mission control for close to a year before hitting bull’s eye on 24th September. Not only did this brilliant, dedicated team achieve a spectacular first ( the other countries made it to Mars after more than one attempt), but they managed it on a shockingly modest budget of just Rs.450 crores. There are several jokes doing the rounds about that number, including one that points out the per kilometer cost of  getting Mangalyaan to traverse  46 crore kilometers. It works out to less than 10 bucks per kilometer  -  taking an auto in Mumbai is more expensive ! Trust our practical minded Prime Minister, Narendra Modi to provide an even better yardstick for comparison. Lauding the team just after the spacecraft entered the Mars’ orbit, Modi (who was perfectly colour co-ordinated for the history making photo-op, in a bright red bundi ) , joked that Hollywood movies are more expensive to make!
 For a man who started life in a middle class family (S. Arunan’s father, Subbaiah, was a school head master in Tirunelveli), the mechanical engineering graduate from Coimbatore Institute of Technology, remains perfectly grounded, even as his baby is flying high in space. In an interview, he credits “complex mathematics and simple living” to his own and the mission’s success. Of course, life will change for the 50- something scientist. Reportedly, there are foreign agencies trying hard to poach him. Ironically, some of the poachers happen to be the same ones who were earlier skeptical about MOM getting off the ground.
While the country is justifiably euphoric and going gaga over the feat (“ Mere paas MOM  hai!”), it is time to ask ourselves why we don’t celebrate our scientific community to the extent we should. S.Arunan is a huge hero right now – an international star. And that’s the whole point. Will we remember him, or reward his team, even a month from now? While he will definitely receive his share of national  awards in due course, and get his time on television channels, chances are, once our attention gets diverted by something sexier, we will go blank when someone mentions  his name – S.Arunan … who dat? Even today, most of us are in the dark about MOM and the nature of this complicated mission. Why did we want to go to Mars in the first place? To find life and methane? Some other objective? Should we not be more engaged? Why aren’t we? The indifference we display towards our major achievements ( the only one we care about is  a win in cricket ) is pretty baffling. Then again, it’s also a  reflection of poor communication. If the scientific community would step forward periodically and brief citizens about successful breakthroughs, it would generate not just national awareness but also a great deal of national pride.  God knows we could do with more of that.  It’s one thing for Narendra Modi to talk about this success being a “ gift to our rishis, who were also scientists…” but let us provide a less hoary explanation that speaks a more contemporary language, devoid of political rhetoric. One wonders whether it was appropriate for the Prime Minister to point out a regional contribution during a national moment of glory? Yes, one of the  instruments for the spacecraft was indeed manufactured in Rajkot. Did he have to single it out?
There are thousands of  brilliant scientists in India waiting for the right opportunities to shine. S.Arunan was lucky his abilities were recognized and nurtured by his mentors. But there are discouraging stories about less fortunate men and women, who are victimized by an environment that refuses to encourage and reward them. Disillusioned by the lack of support, some of them move to countries that see their potential and provide the necessary infrastructure to continue their research and progress. We have lost great brains because of our short sightedness in the past. Frustration and internal politics have taken their toll as well, with tragic suicides claiming  precious lives.
 Once the excitement over Mangalyaan dies down,it will be well worth the effort involved to take a fresh look at how we treat our scientific community.Do we do enough for them? For their families? I am afraid India’s report card in this area is not impressive at all.  If an S. Arunan has come up, it is by default… despite the odds , not because of any special sensitivities shown to him. Or perhaps, we should give most of the credit for S.Arunan’s triumph to his hero – James Bond – a character the scientist greatly admires “ for his uncanny ability to  get difficult assignments.”
In this case, it certainly couldn’t have got any more difficult for S.Arunan. Well done, Sir.  India salutes you and your exceptional team. Now on to an inter planetary mission!
 This appeared in Mumbai Mirror....

                               Why should Virat and Anoushka ‘explain’ living arrangements???
I read a ‘scoop’ in Mumbai Mirror this week, confirming that Virat Kohli was not – repeat , not – living in Anushka Sharma’s apartment this time! Absurd? You bet. But, there it is. Given that nonsensical controversy that had been triggered off in the wake of Virat Kohli’s unimpressive performance in England ( only on the field, let me hasten to clarify!), here are two young people – a hot blooded, successful cricketer ( possibly, a future captain), and a lissome Bollywood actress, engaged in a relationship they are pretty upfront about. Along comes a fuddy duddy from BCCI , ‘justifying’ Virat’s uninspiring cricket as a direct  fallout of his sharing the room with Anushka during the dismal test matches. The silly old wives’ tale was  back in circulation – and there were obviously takers for it. It used to be believed that men needed to conserve their sperm before a competing in a physically demanding sport. Why? Because all their energy ( taqat ) was concentrated in those two ( okay, three!) tablespoons of  ejaculation. Once they were sexually spent, that was it!  Zero energy left to save the honour of the country. I was beginning to worry that BCCI busybodies would declare that having sex during an arduous tour  is anti-national…. Especially if it was with a girlfriend! As if having sex with a wife involves a different set of organs!
Those chaps hastily backed off when they took notice of the public’s response to their crazy theory.  Or else, who knows, they could have included a penalty clause in the contract ( How many times? With whom? When? Why?), instructing cricketers to maintain and submit a log book.
Now comes this coy clarification from Virat’s minders that he is being a good boy in Mumbai – visiting Anushka’s apartment for a couple of hours, and  leaving – Scout’s promise! Come on! This is so humiliating – for Virat and Anushka. Why the hell should it bother anybody where the cricketer spends his nights? Did the team manager Sunil Dev, have something to do with these nocturnal arrangements… or  have the two decided to go bashful and conform? I seriously hope not. It would be such a  pity if  Virat and Anushka have been brow beaten into submission. They are young, adult, single and together. If they decide to co-habit, they are totally entitled to do so. Virat Kohli is one of  the high profile owners of  FC Goa, the Goa franchise of the football series – Indian Super League. He is going to be around… and very visible. Anushka lives in Mumbai, and I’m sure she doesn’t want to sneak around corners to be with Virat. Why should she? Since going incognito is not an option for either, they really shouldn’t give a damn and go right ahead with their lives, on their own terms . Whether or not they live together is strictly their business. Unlike several Bollywood couples currently playing pretend (“ I really respect him/ her as a close friend, but I am single….”), here are two modern individuals ready to go public with their relationship in an upfront, non-hypocritical way. Get over it, moralists!
It is pretty amusing to note how polarized young Bollywood is suddenly becoming.  Amusing, because there was a fresh breeze blowing through those cobwebs for a while, and our stars were finally letting their guards down and behaving like people their age do all over the world. Gone was the era of sly affairs, hot denials and a life spent in living a lie! Freed from those shackles, the brave new breed was out there, letting bold roles do all the talking. Now this!
Flaunting or not flaunting a relationship is the sole prerogative of the couple involved. We are all for celeb discretion and all that. But not when it is selectively employed . Celeb –media equations are at best a controlled war zone globally. What works best is a sensible approach based on trust and mutual respect.  Celebs who understand the symbiotic need that exists, get a better deal. Those who try and manipulate media by planting stories or playing ball as and when publicity is required ( before the release of a new film), will discover it’s not a one way street – respect has to be earned by both.
 Come on, Virat and Anushka – show the way.  Be yourselves! The runs and roles will come, whether or not you share a bedroom.
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