Friday, December 30, 2011

Goodbye 2011

Hindsight is a good thing. It helps you look back and smile at all the golden dust you raised in your journey. And what a whirlwind journey it has been. There is a small bit that I will carry for the rest of my life labelled 2011. I am going to fish that one out every time I am down in the dumps just so that I can feel the sun on my face when everything else appears to be cold and barren.

A lot of good things happened professionally. Books and book deals, theatre, teaching, coaching, was all there for the taking. But much more than any of these what matters is all those who were present in my life to make 2011 that much more special.

So let me just grab this opportunity to thank all those who helped me mellow into ripe middle age in a year that had more delights and less disappointments.

Thank you students of Valley School, especially the Koels, Bulbuls, Mainas and my favourite Class XII. Vibhu, Malli, Arnav, Shaan, Richa, Poorvi, Ishani,Shruthi,Sree,Shanky, Maitrey, Mallika, Aish, Neel, Sanjana and the rest...thank you for all the support during the trek. Kunal, Kari, Shreem, Nikhil and Ajit- I hope you know the most meaningful thing I have done in all the volunteering last year is spend time with you guys. Thanks to all five of you I knew once again what it was to be 17 and 18.

Thank you Mahesh for mentoring me for all these years and being around whenever I approach you for any help.

Anita, Palash, Kavery, Vijay, Shinie, Abhijit, Jhanavi, Rupa, Minal, Manjul, Reema and Abhishek- Thank you for including me in the identity all of you carry. Because each one of you is a friend, I feel all the more special being a writer.

Nandita and Thomas- Thank you for all your support before and during and after the book launch.

Kausalya and Chapal- Thank you for all the good things you have had to say about my writing. Please keep them coming. Writers are greedy and I am greedier than most.

Rohin, Alka, Nina, Shatadip for your consistent support to the bile I spew on my blog. Your support has been as heartening as it has been baffling.

Thank you Sudha for reminding me creative folks can never get redundant.

Thank you Nirav and Harish for giving me my best interview ever.

Thank you Madhukar, Guru, Abhaya, Nikhil and Rishon for giving me the privilege to coach you...and all the others who have been participants in the creative writing workshop only to teach me a thing or two about writing.

I know. I know. This is so much like one of those ‘acceptance’ speeches with Mother Teresa featuring in them prominently and I didn’t win a thing last year. But rest assured when I do, I will have all of you featuring in that speech too.

Except that one will start with Dhruv and Dipti for sure because the two of you define the reason I exist. Not just for one year. But for all the years to come...

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Riveting Rockstar

I watch a lot of movies. From the ones I like, I segregate three or four and air my views on them in the same post. I am making an exception in the case of Imtiaz Ali’s Rockstar because it is an exceptional film and deserves to be analysed at length. There are multiple strands running through this film, each more delicately nuanced than the other. And for any cinema literate viewer to relish the work, it becomes important to hold on to all of them.

The first and the most obvious among them is that Rockstar is a modern day retelling of the epic love story, ‘Heer Ranjha.’ From the names of its lead protagonists to their family backgrounds, faithful tributes are paid to the original. And that the boy plays the guitar instead of the flute is only fitting in this modern adaptation, given the milieu of the film. There is also a clever subversion by the writer and director here. He knows his female protagonist pining for her lover even after being married to another man may offend the purists, so he evokes the legendary Heer through the name. We are constantly reminded that the woman from the fable who acquired sainthood because of her love for Ranjha was also married and it did nothing to dim her ardour for her lover. If our traditional society can accept her, they jolly well respect her modern day avatar.

The film also vests this love fable with a subtext that the original did not have. Why did the rich and aristocratic Heer lose her heart to a poor and uncouth Ranjha? Ali decides to debunk all that nonsense about spiritual love that is woven into immortal love stories to make them respectable. Instead his female protagonist is driven by an unusual desire, hitherto unexplored in Hindi cinema. She falls for the rustic because he makes her feel dirty. For someone who has grown up in a clean and antiseptic environment, that isn’t an unusual motivation. The need to experience sleaze first hand. The desire to explore the underbelly of existence. And yet his heroine has a strange dignity even when she is giggling and watching ‘Junglee Jawani’ in a stinking theatre or wanting to touch hookers. There is something curiously feminist about her.

As for her Rockstar lover, his ‘rites of passage’ gets beautifully documented in the film. In a particularly poignant scene, he asks his inspiration ‘Meine pehle bhi kiss kiya. Fuck kiya. Lekin ye ehsaas pehle kabhi nahin hua.’ She tells him to stop as it would only spoil things. He sums it up succulently, ‘Ab mushkil hai.’ The tragedy of the lovers in the film doesn’t have to do with societal pressures. They know even as they embark in the perilous journey of love and passion, that they are going to eventually destroy each other and Ali nails that bit brilliantly. Helped in no mean measure by his two lead actors. Both give scintillating performances.

There is something about Ranbir Kapoor, maybe just his genes, that makes him give himself unconditionally to the camera and it repays him back by making him do very little to capture our attention and imagination. In this respect he is like Kajol. The new girl, Nargis Fakhri, has been criticized a lot but she too is a natural. And looks like a million bucks. What more do you want in a Bollywood aspirant who wants to make a career in commercial cinema?

Not content with weaving a compelling love story, Ali decides to chronicle the protest of an artist who starts by reacting to the injustice done to him and soon learns to integrate greater causes into his rage. It’s a pity that the censors have been so eager not to offend China and cut out all the Tibet bits. Otherwise this strand wouldn’t have come across as being puzzling sometimes.

And finally Ali mounts his work against the backdrop of an extended rock concert. The all nighters of the college festivals we all grew up on. The backdrop and the corresponding music evocatively set to tune by A R Rahman, angry and protest driven, only highlights the vision of the film. Besides being a brilliant design, it also explains why the film is getting to be so popular with the youngsters. It has all the makings of a cult classic.

Anurag Kashyap, Dibakar Banerjee and Imtiaz Ali have redefined the grammar of Hindi cinema. That Ali has done this while remaining faithful to the song and dance cliché is a tribute to his genius.

I loved the film.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

I Too Hate Eve Teasers and Murderers

I rarely feel the need to defend anything I have put down in writing. But I think my last post has confused some readers. They have read it as a defence of the Mumbai eve teasers and murderers. How and why I have no idea. Because I don’t condone the crime and the criminals in any way in my post. I merely try to explore social and psychological processes that contribute to crimes like these.

I don’t think sexual harassment is a malaise that breeds only in slums and economically deprived neighbourhoods. It is classless. The only difference I observe is while these poor and uneducated goons will stand in street corners and harass women, the affluent aggressor will go a step further to carjack a victim and rape her in his vehicle or shoot a female bartender in the head for not serving him a drink.

I believe if crimes against women have to stop, women will have to rise and take stances when they see other women being harassed or violated be it within their own family or outside. There is no point in talking about feminist texts and how they point out to the inherently manipulative nature of a patriarchal system that forces women to co-opt in anti women processes. Those of us with basic intelligence know that. What next? Surely you don’t expect the same men who are powerful, who are beneficiaries of this rotten system to turn against the same system that gives them privileges to harass, to rape, to molest. In every war, every riot, women become one more of the wages. They are raped, they are turned into sex slaves. All kinds of things are done to them. Obviously men enjoy doing these things. Otherwise why should they have done it from the time wars were waged to more modern ones? Men are beyond hope. Women need to step in and ensure things change.

But as long as women condone men and more importantly women for acting against women, there is no hope. I refuse to join in the frenzy against the Mumbai eve teasers not because I have any sympathy for them. But they are behind bars now and will be there because they aren’t Manu Sharma or the Yadav brothers to ensure the Chief Minister or ‘senior authorities’ get them out from the back door.

In a strange way I do understand these murderers and why they did what they did. They are from backgrounds where their fathers beat their mothers daily. What respect will they have for women? One of the outraged comments to my post was respect for women is not about affordability. It is about how you are raised. That is precisely my point. How are these goons raised? What in their backgrounds can make them respect women? And sister, don’t tell me they should direct their anger and frustrations against their own lot. What do you think happens to girls and women in slums who have these goons as their neighbours?

Many years ago, when we lived in Kolkata, our domestic help used to come with her ten year old daughter to work in our house. We grew fond of the little girl. Three years later, our help told us she is getting her daughter married. My wife and I were outraged. We started giving long lectures to our help about how she shouldn’t spoil her daughter’s life. Every day we used to try and dissuade her. One day she had enough. She turned to us and told us it is all very well for you to talk like this but where I live boys have started hovering around my house. They get my husband drunk. One boy has already told my daughter, he will marry her and take her to Bombay. Do you want my daughter to be sold to a brothel? That was that little girl’s career choice. Either get married to a potentially abusive, much older man or be confined to a life of sexual slavery. We assuaged our conscience by giving her some money for the wedding. This is what these boys learn in their own context. That they can bully women into the kinds of lives they want them to have. It’s not as if these guys are nice to girls in their own neighbourhood and eve tease women from outside. Can’t you see that? Unless they are in a context where they can respect women, they will carry the same hate and aggression with them to the streets.

And yes my anger is far more against a Manu Sharma and Sheila Dixit than these Mumbai eve teasers. Dixit organizes parole for Manu Sharma because she says she was moved by his mother’s plight. Wow! And he comes out, goes to another pub and gets into another scuffle. Thankfully, there were no women around. Otherwise they would be dead too. And the whole issue fizzles out within a day. Dixit should have been made to resign over this issue and women in India should have forced her to do so. But instead we are supposed to understand Dixit’s compulsions. We are expected to buy into Manu Sharma’s mother’s grief. What nonsense is this? Why didn’t we have the same outrage then?

Also, what has happened to the Ruchika Girhotra case? Why is the media so silent on that? Why aren’t they hounding this sick man and his equally depraved wife who was defending her husband for molesting a girl as young as her daughter and driving her to suicide? Why did our feminists let her off so easily? Because of her compulsions? If this hideous couple, especially the wife, deserve our understanding, then surely the mothers of these Mumbai eve teasers and murderers do too.

If you want to get entangled in compulsions, don’t espouse causes. It’s as simple as that.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Metro Ride, The Story That Must Not Be Told, Mumbai Eve Teasers and Manmohan Singh

Yesterday I spent the day in the city, running chores, meeting a friend and taking a ride in the Metro for the first time. In all the loafing I was doing, I also read an excellent article by Jean Dreze and Amartya Sen on how the India story of the past decade is both a glowing success and a resounding failure when it comes to growth and development . Success because the growth rate we have been seeing is truly spectacular and failure because it has just meant more deprivations for the poor.

On another note, a writer friend Kavery Nambisan wrote a brilliant novel that was published more than a year ago and recently got its due by being shortlisted for the prize in Jaipur literary festival. The book is called ‘The story that must not be told’ and Kavery wrote this book because having worked with the poor and underprivileged as a doctor in rural as well as urban areas, she is convinced that millions of poor Indians are not going to take it for too long. We drive in swanky cars, shop in swankier malls and haggle with our maids and drivers when it comes to giving them a 500 bucks raise. The dam will burst one day and we won’t have a place to hide when they come after us with knives and chains. I agree with her. And that’s the reason why I have not commented on the Mumbai tragedy that the media is playing up as an ‘Eve Teasing’ story.

I am convinced that one is not an open and shut case about harassment of women, however much it may anger feminist friends of mine. And before I get on to explaining my stance, let me make one thing clear. As a man, I try very hard to be in a space where women are truly equal. I am saying I try, because I think it is next to impossible for an Indian man however liberated he may claim to be, to truly endorse gender equality. On an odd day, we will enter the kitchen to cook in order to help the spouse. But the cleaning afterwards is always left to the women. And often women more often than not contribute to this process of inequality.

In my own family, my mother whenever she has stayed with us after I got married has been unable to accept my entering the kitchen to make a cup of coffee for my wife. She would turn sullen about something as basic as that. This despite the fact for most part of my professional life, I have worked from home as a consultant, theatre person and writer and my wife has always had a 9-5 job. I have a sister who’s always held a high pressure career and my mother always encouraged her to be independent. But not just with my wife, but with her other daughters-in-law as well, she has had different standards. I think this story plays out in most Indian middle class families.

I have a friend who walked out on her husband because he was being unfaithful to her. It doesn’t take too much for my friend to launch into tirades against men. She has a brother who got divorced a month after he got married and has never had a partner or spouse after that. The story she gave all her friends including me was that within a month the couple discovered they were incompatible and that led to the break-up of the marriage. We believed her because that’s the friendship code.

You accept your friend and what she says unconditionally. However a few months ago I met the girl through a friend in another city. I got to know from her that her first marriage with my friend’s brother broke up because he was impotent. Not only did he want her to conceal this fact but also expected her to stay with him for the rest of her life as according to him ‘sex is not the most important thing in this world.’ More than her ex husband she was bitter with my friend for conniving with her brother and trying to talk her into not walking out.

When I started doing theatre in Bangalore one of the first friends I made was this tall, well built hulk with a frail beautiful wife, the daughter of a leading politician of Karnataka. I learnt later this guy used to beat his wife. She would take it lying down and from the accounts of those who worked with her in theatre, land up for rehearsals with bruises on her body. Later they got divorced and he got married to someone else. He would beat her up also. You may ask why did the women in his life put up with the violence? His mother had killed herself and he was the person in the family to discover her body. So everyone thought he was seriously messed up and it was ok for him to bash the women in his life. As far as I know he never went behind bars for his crimes.

I have another acquaintance in Bangalore with whom I have shared the same professional space for many years. He belongs to an industrialist family. A mutual friend of ours was invited to his house for a festival feast. She was shocked to find all the women in the family standing and serving the men and their guests as that was the rule in the house. The women in the family aren’t allowed to eat until the men and their guests have finished eating. Now this guy’s wife is educated and comes from a wealthy family herself. There is no reason for her to put up with this nonsense but she does.

I was in a retreat with other writers and this lady was waxing eloquent on how she is a feminist to the core. The whole thing made me angry not because she wants to be a feminist but because two years back she had shared with me a story when a young man from her family, a NRI, had duped an Indian girl into an arranged marriage and told her afterwards he was already in a committed relationship with another girl back in the US. He confessed to the new bride he had married her because he couldn’t withstand pressure from his mother. He wanted out within a month of their marriage and left. A year later he got back again and told this girl ‘Now I am ready to accept you.’ She told him to fuck off and according to the same feminist the girl was being too rigid by not agreeing. After all he was so handsome and well educated.

The point I am trying to make here is when men and women from our own educated and enlightened context are unable to treat women as equals, why expect it from a bunch of uneducated impoverished lot who are nursing a thousand grievances against the affluent. We engage in conspicuous consumption right in front of them when they are unable to afford basic necessities. Much as I admire the two young lads from Bombay who lost their lives, I can’t help feeling after the initial scuffle, they should have left the spot, instead of waiting for another attack to happen.

Instead of four, it may have been 40 who came back with weapons and more than two lives would have been lost. For the dispossessed, women are one more possessions of the haves that they are entitled to and unless we deal with the issue of inequality between genders in our own small worlds, precious little can be done to curb shameful incidents like these.

There’s no point in blaming the cops either. I believe the ratio of policemen to citizens in India is 17: 10000. The population is rising, there are less and less law enforcers on the road and the anger and resentment of the deprived classes is hitting the roof. Add to that the fucked up mind set of us Indians who are quick to point fingers at others but will resist one small change in their own context by not protesting against the injustice they see around them. Indians are mute spectators not only when they are on the roads and witnessing the violation of strangers, they put up with all kinds of nonsense within the four walls of their own homes.

Outside our homes we have this shockingly inept Prime Minister with his lopsided view of growth that has made our nation a smoking cauldron of hate and violence. Much as I hate the BJP, I can’t wait for Singh and his cohorts to be consigned to the dustbins of history after the next elections, for doing this to us.

It’s thanks to them that our streets are more unsafe than they have ever been.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011


As I am growing older, festivals are not so much about looking forward to something as they are about looking back. Being nostalgic and turning into an uncle who’s always remembering the past. Last month I was invited to inaugurate a Durga Puja. The organizers asked me to speak a few lines. They must have been expecting me to talk about the future. All I did with that mike in my hand was to dwell on the past. I talked about how Durga Puja was the grandest festival in the town of my childhood, Jamshedpur.

Today I went shopping for crackers because my son changed his mind at the last moment and decided he will burst a few. He didn’t want to and he tried very hard to stick to his resolution. But when you are 12 and all your friends in the building are excited about the phatakas, you can’t remain moralistic unless you want to grow up to be Anna Hazare. I am glad he is showing no such sign.

As I was shopping, I suddenly found myself being overwhelmed by nostalgia. The crackers of childhood came back to haunt me. Back then, there was something called ‘taal phataka’, a cracker wrapped in dried palm leaf with a tail. You were meant to burst that one in your hand, holding it away from your face. By the time you were ten years old you had to prove to your peers that your gender was masculine by accomplishing this feat. Of course girls too soon caught on to the ritual and they too would burst it in their hands so it was even worse for someone like me who was mortally scared of fire ever since as a four year old I fell on a chulha with a pot of boiling water and burnt my arm pit.

I could hear echoes of my older brothers’ friends telling them ‘Kya yeh pataka bhi nahin phod sakta. Woh Meena saat saal ki hai aur woh bhi haath mein phodti hai.’ Something that used to freeze me in those years with a mixture of shame and humiliation brought a smile to my lips today. I asked the Kannadiga shop keeper whether he had taal phatakas’ and he looked clueless. I also looked for Krishna Double Sound bombs and they too were missing. Just as well, because I ended up buying the noise less anaars, chakris, phooljadis and those strings that shoot up to the sky and light it up in different colours.

We went down for the fireworks and the rains came. While we were getting back with the bag of crackers in my hand, I remembered my father, now dead for over twenty one years. He would get his bonus before Durga Puga and between buying all five of us, six if you count mother, new clothes for the four days of the Puja and the pocket money he would give us for pandal hopping, he used to be broke by the time Diwali came. Being the youngest and the most pampered, I used to always kick up a fuss about him not buying me enough crackers. He was a patient man and at the last moment he would gather whatever little money he had left and indulge me. Thinking about all that made me sad but that despondence also had a tinge of happiness. I was lucky to have a father like mine.

We should have festivals. They take us back to spaces we think we left behind long ago.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

My 10 favourite Movie Moments

Movies are about magical moments that linger on for years afterwards either bringing a smile on an otherwise humdrum day or suffusing you with sorrow when you are taking a walk by a seaside. Here are my ten favourite moments from ten favourite films.

1. ‘Hey Jude’ moment from ‘Coming Home’- This is an anti Vietnam film with Jane Fonda, Bruce Dern and Jon Voight. Fonda plays a young woman and Dern is her Marine husband. While he is fighting the war, Fonda volunteers in a hospital and falls in love with Voight who has come back from Vietnam a paraplegic. The most haunting moment in the film is when Dern is making love to Fonda before leaving for the front. It is a top angle shot. We see Dern’s back moving and Fonda staring expressionlessly at the whirring fan and the Beatles song ‘Hey Jude’ plays in the background. Guaranteed to give you goose pimples!

2. ‘Poetry belongs to those who need it’ moment from Il Postino- This one is about a fictional relationship between the poet Pablo Neruda and a simple postman Mario Puoppolo while Neruda is serving his exile in a small village in Italy. Mario becomes fascinated by Neruda and uses his poems to woo his sweetheart. The incensed aunt of the girl confronts Neruda who in turn takes Mario for a walk on the beach and scolds him for using his poems without his permission. Mario wants to know why and Neruda tells him because he wrote the poems. Maria retorts by saying poetry does not belong to those who write it but to those who need it leaving Neruda confounded. The simplicity of the scene makes it immortal.

3. ‘Women’s Space’ moment from ‘All about my mother’- This one by Pedro Almadovar is too complex and complicated to be packed in a single line synopsis. It has themes ranging from faith and existentialism to Aids and transvestites. A mother seeks closure after the death of her young son and travels to Barcelona to meet the transvestite who had fathered her son and who didn’t know of his existence. In Barcelona she makes friends with a pregnant nun and the female actor who indirectly caused her son’s death. On a particular day, the grieving mother, the pregnant nun, the prima donna actress and a wise cracking transvestite get together accidently to bitch and giggle, giving the otherwise sombre film one of its few light moments. Brilliant!

4. ‘Mrs Robinson, you’re trying to seduce me. Aren’t you?’ moment from ‘The Graduate.’ Dustin Hoffman in his film debut is Benjamin Braddock, a confused young man not quite sure whether he wants to join Graduate School. Mrs Robinson is the wife of his father’s partner and a shocked Benjamin doesn’t quite know how to deal with the older woman hitting on him. They are both very good in the scene...Hoffman with his astounded expression and Ann Bancroft who brings a believable pathos to her character. Captivating!

5. ‘Vaada na Tod’ moment in ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’- I am sure most people who have watched the film are confused about what I am talking about. But follow the film carefully and you will find Kate Winslet listening to this song in one of the initial scenes. I have always wondered why this song from a Kumar Gaurav- Rati Agnihotri flop and rewind to watch the scene whenever I watch the film. Intriguing!

6. ‘Promise me you will never forget this walk,’ moment from ‘Namesake’- This one owes more to the writer Jhumpa Lahiri than Mira Nair. But full marks to Nair for including this scene in the film and at such a poignant moment. Gogal goes for a holiday with his parents. While the mother waits for them at the beach, father and son go for a long walk and Gogol’s father makes this request to his young uncomprehending son. Gogol recalls this conversation after his father’s death. I always cry whenever I read this bit in the book or watch the film. And yes I have read the book and watched the movie more than once.

7.‘Kanto ko murjhane ka khauf nahin hota’ moment from Mughal- e- Azam. Prince Salim organizes a contest between the two resident courtesans of the palace- Heroine Madhubala and Vamp Nigar Sultana. After the singing is over, he rewards Nigar Sultana with a rose for her optimistic take on love while handing thorns to Madhubala for her bleak outlook only to have Madhubala throwing this immortal punch line at him. Wah!

8. ‘Mein aaj bhi phenke hue paise nahin utatha’ from ‘Deewar.’ The protagonist Vijay refuses to accept the coin gang lord Iffteqar throws at him after getting his shoes shined by him. When Vijay grows up and turns into a smuggler, the same gang lord throws a bundle of note for him and an intense Bachchan throws this line at him. Full Paisa Vasool.

9. ‘Maula Salim Chishti’ moment from Garam Hawa. The best film on Partition. The scene unfolds in Fathehpur Sikri. Even talking about the moment may spoil things so just watch the film to relish the scene with the kabutar followed by the haunting song.

10. “Keh do tum mujhse pyaaar nahin karti’ moment from ‘Dil to Pagal Hai.’ I am not ashamed to admit this remains my favourite romantic film and Shahrukh and Madhuri have such crackling chemistry between them that they burn the screen in this one.

Drop in anytime and I will watch any of these movies with you again. Just for the moments.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Creating Frankenstein's Monster

Victor Frankenstein is the name of a fictional character created by Mary Shelley. He is the progenitor of a monster. Eventually the monster becomes much larger than its creator and destroys him. For some strange reason or maybe not so strange after all, the monster is often confused with the creator and referred to by his creator’s name.

Politicians all over the world are notorious for following Victor Frankenstein’s example. They create monsters and are in turn consumed by them. Indira Gandhi created a monster Bhindaranwale in the Golden Temple to teach the Akalis a lesson and this monster in turn was responsible for felling her with bullets. The US under George Bush created Osama Bin Laden to counter forces averse to it in Afghanistan and saw its invincibility being challenged when 9/11 happened.

The team of Arvind Kejriwal, Prashant Bhushan, Kiran Bedi and Manish Sesodia are not a group of politicians but they created a monster to take on a corrupt government. And there is no doubt in my mind Anna is eventually going to consume them all.

Prashant Bhushan is the most credible among all the Team Anna members. He and his father Shanti Bhushan have taken on the establishment on multiple fronts fighting battles for the common man. If he has an independent take on the Kashmir problem, isn’t he entitled to air them in a democracy? All he said is that he favours a plebiscite in Kashmir. How does it make him into a secessionist?

Successive Governments have not been able to do anything about Kashmiri Pandits being hounded out of their homes and being forced to live in refugee camps. If the government feels so strongly that Kashmir is an integral part of India, why don’t they ensure the homeless get back their homes and are provided with security and protection?

Not only was Bhushan badly mauled by a gang of ruffians for stating a rational view, he has also faced the ignominy of being threatened by Anna that he may lose his place in the team. This after the team used his services to draft the Jana Lokpal Bill. Anna has now grown big enough to condemn Bhushan for his comments and other team members have been quick to distance themselves from the lawyer and his views on Kashmir.

As for the Marwari boys, Arvind Kejriwal and Manish Sesodia, they may be beaming right now for TV cameras for the self goal they scored in Hisar but soon Anna is going to show them their place. He has already snubbed Kejriwal for making stupid statements like ‘Anna is above the parliament.’ Anna is all set to turn them into nothing more than his glorified secretaries.

Only Kiran Bedi need not despair. Even if Anna discards the entire team and Bedi along with it, she can always audition for the role of Surpanaka for the 2012 Ramlila to be held in the same grounds where Anna fasted.

After all, she has already displayed her acting chops with her ghungat act.

Monday, September 12, 2011

neither night nor day, the bald soprano and that girl in yellow boots

I was delighted to come across the book in a school library. I didn’t know such a collection of stories written by women writers from Pakistan existed. The anthology has been edited by Rakhshanda Jalil and published by Harper Collins India. It features 13 stories from across the border, all of them reemphasizing, at least for me, how futile and unnecessary partition was. The concerns of the people living on both sides remain the same. Whether it is the harried single mother who wants the middle aged Anglo Indian matriarch to stay with her family to babysit the children during school vacations and is ready to go to any length to prevent her from migrating to Australia in ‘Plans in Pink’ or the new immigrant to London of ‘Neither Night Nor Day’ who has married an Englishman but finds it difficult to let go of her taste for Biryani and Bollywood blockbusters. She concludes a trifle sadly at the end of the story ‘I am part of a nameless mongrel humanity with nothing to claim as my own, not even the land I stand on or the roads I left behind.’ The stories are both powerful and evocative and I am exercising tremendous discipline not to devour them all at once. I want to be with these stories for a long long time.

On Saturday I went to watch a play at Rangashankara with participants from the current batch of the Creative Writing workshop. ‘The Bald Soprano’ is the creation of the genius playwright Eugene Ionesco. Critics and theatre lovers alike have been attempting to deconstruct his works for decades but they always evade cubby holing. This one is about the meaningless existence of the English Bourgeoisie and their petty concerns. Ionesco was apparently trying to learn English during the time he wrote this play. There are a number of academic interpretations of the play but I suspect the playwright was completely frustrated with his English tutor and decided to hurl insults at anything British by writing this play. Good theatre and great plays are always about protest and this one is no exception.

Kirtana Kumar’s production fell woefully short of expectations. It is always difficult to direct and act in the same play and the challenge becomes all the more daunting when you have taken up a masterpiece. I am not sure whether it was just a bad day on stage for the cast or something more permanent but the performances started to fall apart especially during the latter part. Kirtana, always a brilliant actor decided to go in for a British accent that jarred. The rest of the cast mercifully didn’t fall into the trap but that’s not saying much. The actor playing the maid was a disaster, screeching her lines and being completely indecipherable. Fizz as the Fireman was audible but as the catalyst that changes the context by making the characters in the play confront what they had tried to drown in meaningless affected conversations, his performance lacked depth. He seemed content to remember his lines and deliver them on stage. Prerna Kaul was the only saving grace among the actors, giving her role an infectious energy but she too found it tough to maintain the tempo by the end of it.

I am not sure whether Konarak Reddy’s guitar playing did not match the performance or the performance did not deserve the music, but it became too overbearing and not in a way that enhanced the production. Obviously something had happened backstage to distract Kirtana the director between scenes and she brought it to stage with her when she came back as Mrs. Smith. There were two more performances to follow on Sunday and I hope the team managed to get over the blues they suffered on Saturday. Kirtana has given Bangalore some seminal works like ‘Shakuntala’ and the expectations from whatever she takes up are always huge. It is a measure of the city audience’s generosity that three individuals in the audience stood up to give the performers a standing ovation while they were taking the curtain call. But the rest were left unimpressed including half a dozen of us who had trooped in with great enthusiasm.

Satyajit Ray had an affair with Madhabi Mukherjee while he was directing ‘Charulatha,’ a film he considered to be his best work. Both Mukherjee and Ray’s spouse have at different times admitted to the relationship after the auteur director's death. I don’t think any true lover of cinema cares too hoots about this piece of trivia even though there is a recent Bengali film on this particular episode from Ray's life. We are just happy that a film like ‘Charulatha’ got made.

Anurag Kashyap and Kalki Koechlin didn’t have to get into any clandestine tangle. They were committed to each other while ‘That Girl in Yellow Boots’ was being conceptualized and got married before the film released. But it is sad that Kashyap has announced he will not make any more films with Kalki. After the Ray- Mukherjee association, the Kashyap- Koechlin pair has done the most rewarding work for Indian cinema. The director and his muse not only gave us the best contemporary adaptation of 'Devdas,' they have come up with truly cutting edge cinema at par with best in the world in ‘That Girl in Yellow Boots.’

Kashyap’s film is as much about Bombay as Kiran Rao’s ‘Dhobhi Ghat’ was. But there is no romance in his version of the city. This is the Bombay where pre-pubescent girls are confined to cages to pursue sexual slavery. There is nothing remotely beautiful about the dingy alleys, seedy massage parlours and the hell holes as homes it offers to the less fortunate migrants. Kalki plays a British girl who is lost in in the squalid metropolis in more ways than one. She does get what she is looking for but there is no redemption in store for her. You can’t imagine this film without Kalki Koechlin just as you can’t visualise Charulatha without Madhabi Mukherjee, although the two films are as different as they could be.

It is obvious that Kashyap is a director who respects his actors. He manages to extract brilliant performances from even those playing minor characters. They are all outstanding in the film. My only quibble with the director is about the way he short changes the Bangalore theatre actor Gulshan Devaiah by giving him a role that plays to the gallery. Devaiah shows what he is capable of in one scene where he searches for the right switch to turn off an unfamiliar television set. But his character soon descends into a caricature, the only one in the film to meet such a fate.

And that’s the most unfair thing you can do to an actor who has the potential to grow into one of the greats of Indian cinema.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

'Curiouser and curiouser'

There’s trouble in Anna’s wonderland. One member of his core team has accused another of telling a lie. Of course it has been done in a very non violent way...all under the guise of we still have a lot of respect for her and she is still a very important member of our team, but the subtext of Kejriwal’s communication to the media is Bedi is a liar.

On Monday following the conclusion of the Fast Tamasha, Bedi was interviewed by Headlines Today. ‘It was a miracle,’ she preened. And went on to say how the miracle was penned by L K Advani, who has been licking his wounds for years that despite the rath yatra, despite his most loyal lieutenants screaming ek dhakka aur do during the Babri demolition, despite the Gujarat riots, the people of India successfully foiled his attempts to be the PM, not once but twice. She also gurgled like a little baby about the fact that when all else had failed, including her vulgar antics on stage, Advani ji had called her the night before the resolution. He reassured her by calling her ‘Beti’ for the first time and told her he will set things right. ‘Anna is India and India is Anna,’ she shouted and finally ended her interview by co-opting even critics of Anna’s movement like me into the people’s victory. ‘Every single Indian is proud today,’ she thundered. I had no choice. My citizenship was at stake. If I didn’t feel happy about her ghungat act, I was not an Indian. Just like years ago her new found Papaji and his party had tried to make me feel if I wasn’t happy about the Babri demolition, I was not a true Hindu.

But another miracle occurred the next day when her trusted colleague Kejriwal was interviewed by the same channel. ‘I don’t believe in miracles,’ he said looking rather sinister. ‘She is entitled to her views but I don’t agree with her,’ he added for good measure. And then came the clincher. ‘The phone call she is talking about happened two days before the resolution was passed. A lot of things happened in the next 48 hours she has no idea about.’ That was interesting. We know that the Delhi heat and humidity had addled Bedi’s brains during the fasting days but did she really get mixed up to such an extent that not only did she get confused about the day Papa ji called her but attributed the success of the movement to a call that never happened on a day when according to her all else had failed. What are the people of India to make of all this? Should Bedi be also admitted to a hospital to clear her head or is it Kejriwal who is lying and taking the credit away from Advani Ji, Sushma Ji and Jaitley Ji because he wants it all for himself. And yesterday the spoilsport came on another television channel and once again discredited Bedi. Yeh Kya Ho Raha Hai?

And like any other member of the People’s Movement( so what if I never wanted any part of it, this time round) I felt like saying Hai...Hai when the same channel decided to interview that ‘hysterical’ and ‘illogical’ Arundhati Roy. Always a mischief maker, she claimed on national television that Kejriwal, Bedi and Sesodia had received 400 Crores from the World Bank and Ford Foundation to design and deliver a people’s movement. Such lies I tell you. Worse than Bedi’s or is it worse than Kejriwal’s? Time we nailed her lies. We know Anna has some 60 odd thousand in his savings account and lives in a room attached to a temple. But it’s time Kejriwal, Bedi and Sesodia declared their assets as well as the assets of the NGOs they run before the nation. Even without Roy making these terrible unfounded allegations. they should do it. Because they are the new leaders of the people of India and whether or not they are fighting an election, the country should know they are one among the poor in India with assets or non assets comparable to Anna.

We the proud people are waiting.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Anna Ko Bhagao...Manmohan Wapas Aao

No one among the dozen odd friends and family I am regularly in touch with in Bangalore has been anywhere near Freedom Park or have wanted to participate in the so called victory march yesterday. Neither has our domestic help or the driver of the cab services I use after shifting out of downtown into suburbs. Among the 42 families that stay in our apartment block I am yet to spot one Anna cap or even the national flag that I see supporters waving on television channels.

Yesterday I went out to meet a couple of friends. I was warned that I will encounter plenty of traffic jams because of the procession. Surprisingly, the streets wore the usual Sunday look. The only crowds and jams I encountered were on a busy street in Basvangudi while coming back. ‘They have come to shop for tomorrow...the Gauri Ganesh festival is starting’ said the driver.

Back home I switched on the television. The news channels as usual were full of Anna. One of them had Kiran Bedi being interviewed. She was asked whether she regretted making statements like Anna is India, India is Anna, something that had not found favour with even her comrades in arm, Arvind Kejriwal and Prashant Bhushan. ‘Haven’t I been proved right?’ she countered. ‘Every single Indian is proud today,’ she preened. Looking a little like Dolores Umbridge in the Harry Potter movies gloating after punishing Harry for something he hadn’t done.

Sorry Ms. Bedi...I am an Indian and I am certainly not proud of how the democratic processes were subverted. Two wrongs don’t make a right as far as I am concerned.

The interviewer asked her what she had to say about Santosh Hegde expressing his disillusionment with the Anna movement when the fasting zeal was on. ‘He was a status quo ist,’ she waxed eloquent. ‘Now he has learnt from Anna how pushing the envelope helps.’ She went on to thank Advani and BJP before concluding the interview.

Until I followed Bedi’s interview yesterday I was all set to vote against the Congress in the next elections. I was open to giving BJP another chance. In the past few months, I have begun to despise the present government for its corruption, for its arrogance, for its double speak. I wished for mid- term polls and a defeat that was worse for Congress than its ally DMK got in Tamil Nadu.

Bedi’s interview was the ‘game changer’ for me. For the first time all the ruling party’s ‘mobocracy’ arguments started making sense. Bedi made me recall Advani’s rath yatra, the Babri demolition, the Gujarat genocide. I started feeling scared.

Manmohan Singh...I hate you for endorsing corruption on a scale never witnessed before in this country but at least you have never ordered the massacre of a have not destroyed the secular fabric of this have been more Gandhian than any of these self appointed heirs of Gandhi in your private and public life. So I have decided to cast my vote for you and your party in the next elections.

For in this great country of ours, it’s never about the greater good. It’s always about the lesser evil.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Six Questions to Anna & His Team

Now that the Anna Tamasha is over and we can all go back to work without worrying about traffic jams caused by processions of Anna supporters, are those of us who are not exactly fans allowed to ask a few questions. Thankfully I don’t live in Anna’s village and needn’t be afraid of being tied to a tree and flogged so I will go ahead and ask them anyway. Here’s my list of six questions.

1. Let’s say the Lokpal Bill is finally passed by the Parliament in a form that’s acceptable to not just Anna but to Kejriwal, Bhushan, Bedi, Patkar and all the other sideys and lackeys who hang out with them, will it put an end to corruption in this country? Do laws and those who are meant to administer them powerful enough to end social evils? In that case just having a police force in every state, every city and every village should curb crime. Why has that not happened in all these 65 years of Independent India.

2. Since this movement is all about curbing corruption, why didn’t Team Anna protest about Vilasrao Deshmukh being made the government emissary, considering his role in one of the most shameless scams has been acknowledged by even the government and he was asked to vacate the CM’s chair in Maharashtra. Is it okay for a politician to be corrupt as long as he can talk in Marathi with Anna Hazare?

3. What were all these Sadhus and Swamis doing during the fast? Why were they arrogating for themselves the role of emissaries? Sri Sri Ravishankar... Jaggi Vasudev...they call themselves spiritual leaders...what is their interest in all this? Earlier Baba Ramdev had also joined in the fray and later we learnt about the wealth he had horded. Sai Baba’s death has unearthed all kinds of hidden wealth from his ashram. With these two unholy precedents, why has Team Anna not asked these god men to stay away?

4. Why has the movement made politicians the face of corruption in this country? The politicians may horde cash in Swiss bank accounts but who bribes them with this cash? How come the corporate honchos have been left alone considering they take the lead in bribing the politicians to grab land and subvert the legal and administrative processes in this country?

5. Since the movement seems to derive its strength from the middle class, what is the position of the Anna Team on their corruption? The kind of corruption that makes them haggle over giving a two hundred rupees raise to their domestic helps and drivers but at the same time they get very strident about inflation?

6. How will Anna react if some of the people in his village decide to protest against his authoritarian ways by going on a fast and tell him they will go on fasting until he changes his way?

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Cerberus and Hydra- Anna and the Congress

Greek Mythology is a rich source of inspiration to draw metaphors from. Especially in the current context, when one monster has sprouted to fell another. The Congress after all is like Hydra, the multi headed serpent living in the swamp of deceit and double speak. You can destroy one head of corruption and another will quietly and unobtrusively take its place. Be it Rajiv Gandhi and Bofors or Suresh Kalamadi/ Sheila Dixit and CWG or Manmohan Singh and 2G. They never run short of heads to oversee the nation looting sprees. There was a time when we used to make an exception for Manmohan Singh but we are wiser now and know how misplaced our naiveté was. With everything that has tumbled out of late I am not even sure whether anyone can vouch for Singh’s personal integrity any more. Maybe he has not hoarded personal wealth but he has been willing to do just about anything under the sun to remain in power. If that’s not corruption what is?

Now we have also saddled ourselves with the Hound of Hades Cerberus, the bloodthirsty watchdog with heads ranging anything from three to 50. We may need a ferocious canine to guard this nation but surely not the one who endangers the democratic fibre of this country. There is something very sinister about Anna Hazare, Kiran Bedi and the Bhushan father-son duo. They no longer carry the halo of the pure and pristine fighting for the integrity of this country. Instead what they are doing appears to have all the trappings of a gang of individuals who may not seek personal power themselves but won’t be averse to playing king makers. Besides both Anna and Bedi look like despotic autocrats armed with able lawyers at their disposal to give them legal aid whenever they cross the line.

The nation seems to have jumped from the frying pan into the fire and if anyone has to be blamed for this state of affairs, we don’t have to look beyond the ruling coalition. If the UPA allies of the Congress had any brains, they should use this opportunity to cut big brother to size. It is clear this country is really furious and if the citizens have to be appeased, the only way to do it would be to sacrifice a number of honchos in Congress including Singh, Chidambaram and Kapil Sibal. The party should also get itself spokespersons that don’t look or sound as obnoxious and arrogant as Tewari and Sanghvi. May be it’s time for Rahul Gandhi and his young brigade to take over to revitalize the party as well as the nation.

Otherwise the Congress looks all set to meet the same fate in the next general elections as the DMK did in Chennai. It just cannot afford to go back to the country and ask for votes with the same faces leading it. Mobilized by Anna and his gang, the incensed people of this nation are all set to consign them to the trash cans. We may have the opportunity to meet Singh and his men only when we set out to dump our garbage at that time.

And who will rule over us then? The same saffron brigade that has not shied away from ordering genocide whenever they have had the opportunity to do so. All the prospects look frightening hereon.

Why fear another recession? We have worse in store for us.

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Man Who Won't Be Tamed

He was not exactly my generation. By the time films became an integral part of my life, the next generation of Kapoors had taken over. It was Randhir and Rishi Kapoor who were keeping alive the legacy of the first family of Hindi cinema. But the Shammi Kapoor songs lingered on and blared from loudspeakers during festive occasions in the small town of my childhood. ‘Aasman se aaya farishta’ was a perennial favourite and so was ‘Yeh chaand sa roshan chehra...there was ‘Zindagi ek safar hai suhana,’ from one of his last films as a hero, ‘Andaaz,’ but they gave that one to the rising superstar of the time Rajesh Khanna. I wish they had made Kapoor sing that one too. It epitomised the zest for life Kapoor brought to his onscreen persona.

Shammi Kapoor was truly an original. By the time I was in college, there was a Kapoor revival of sorts. We were all discovering him in the reruns of the cult films he made. Those days every town had a rundown theatre or two which specialized in old films and his yesteryear hits would run there for a week. The 80’s also had a booming parallel cinema movement with the so called serious actors. The most prominent among them Naseeruddin Shah never failed to acknowledge Kapoor as one of the influences who drove him to a career in film acting. It was a striking paradox. A legendary actor, trained in the craft from the premier theatre and film schools of the country paying a tribute to another who relied only on his instincts in front of the camera.

Shammi Kapoor never ran into the danger of turning into a serious actor. There is nothing to suggest he wanted to be known as one. Read any of the recent interviews of his before he passed away and you will discover that he was unapologetic about the films he made. They were mindless entertainers and rode on his star charisma as he wooed the pretty lasses ranging from an Asha Parekh to a Sharmila Tagore to a Rajashri with a mixture of arrogance and mischief. They may have started off by calling him a ‘Junglee’ but the supercilious air he carried with him seem to suggest that he knew they would thaw sooner than later. After all no other male of the species could dance the mating dance as well as him. Maybe like the peacock, he had ugly feet. But no one noticed. It was difficult to look away from the quirky head and hand movements he had the copyright over.

Unfortunately he belonged to an era when actors did not pay much attention to the greatest tool they possess, their body. They had personal hangers on but not personal trainers and by the time Kapoor was in his forties he looked it. He retired too early as a hero and moved into the character actor/cameo roles slot. Think about it, all our current superstar heroes ranging from the three Khans to Akshay Kumar to Ajay Devgn are perhaps older than Shammi Kapoor when he transitioned into the senior actor category.

If he was the spoilt brat as the hero, as a veteran actor he specialised as the aristocrat used to having his way, be it ‘Hero,’ ‘Vidhaata,’ ‘Betaab’ or ‘Prem Rog.’ Unlike his older brother, Raj Kapoor who Indianized the Chaplinesque tramp, it was difficult to imagine Shammi Kapoor as being poor. Even when he was projected as being deprived, there was something larger than life about him. Like in ‘Brahmachari,’ where despite all the travails, he takes on the onus of looking after an entire brood of orphans. They remade that as ‘Mr India’ later on but significantly the remake sparkled due to the chutzpah of the leading lady, Sridevi, overshadowing the hero Anil Kapoor who essayed the title role. No leading lady could do that to Shammi Kapoor. He could beat them in all departments be it the singing and dancing or the adaas and unlike his contemporaries Bishwajeet or Joy Mukherjee who specialized in a similar genre of films, he never looked effeminate even when fluttering his eye lashes.

Shammi Kapoor directed two films for an outside banner. They turned out to be duds. Unlike his two brothers Raj and Shashi, he never started a production house. Instead he discovered a life beyond films. He was among the first Indians to get on the internet. A search engine has the same name as the opening refrain of one of his most popular songs. Reportedly when Yahoo started its operations in India, they had Shammi Kapoor as the guest of honour for its launch. For a long time it led to the misconception Kapoor owned the company.

But he was that kind of a phenomenon. About whom stories would be told true and false and contradictions abound. Like how he was madly in love with his first wife, Geeta Bali, and yet wooed all his leading ladies with as much ardour off screen. Like how he had to be coaxed out of retirement for a swan song by his great grand nephew Ranbir Kapoor to do a significant cameo in Imtiaz Ali’s latest directorial venture.

Fitting that he bid adieu to show business and life by acting in a film called ‘Rockstar.’ He was one. And while he may no longer be with us, we can always meet him in one of the umpteen movie channels to sing along ‘Sar pe topi laal, haath mein resham ka rumaal, o tera kya kehna.’

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Indian Software Engineer

The Indian Software Engineer is a strange animal. The CEO of a software organization once shared with me how adaptable the Indian Software Engineer is. Apparently he acts like an American in the US, an Arab in the Middle East, a Japanese in Japan and an European in Europe. Send him anywhere and he will give up what he is to become what they are. The Head Honcho obviously meant it as a complement but I am not so sure it is such a good thing to be so flexible.

I worked in a software organization many years ago and it was enough to put me off from working full time in any organization. I discovered among all the different varieties of employees you find in different organizations the software engineer is the peskiest. All he is worried about is what kind of daily allowance he will be paid in his overseas visits. They compared notes with their friends in other software organizations and landed up on my table to crib and haggle. Their never ending refrain was if my friend is getting $ 55 in another organization for his daily expenditure, why I must get only $ 50.It was most annoying. The CEO of that particular organization complained to me that when the visiting software engineers were invited to the homes of their clients, they went empty handed. ‘Teach them some manners,’ she requested me. ‘They can at least buy some flowers.’ But all her nagging was in vain. They continued to go empty handed wherever they were invited because she never stopped whining about that one.

I met another software engineer a few years ago on a flight. He was sitting next to me. We started talking and he poured his heart out to me. I was partly responsible for it. I pose all kinds of questions to strangers to get to hear their stories. When I was a student in XLRI, a friend got very riled with me and accused ‘You are very evil. You manage to coax out all my secrets and I always regret it afterwards. I am sure you tell it to others.’ She was only partially right. I do coax out the stories from others but I never tell it to anyone. I just use fictional names for them and write it all down as a story. Then my friends tend to recognise themselves and get very upset. I always try to convince them since what they told me was in confidence, even those who know them would never associate the story with them. But by that time they are too incensed to listen to reason. Anyway this guy who sat next to me must have forgotten all about me by now so I will go ahead and share his pathos with all those who are going to read this one.

He was from a small town in Rajasthan and he was working for the biggest IT organization in India. He had over two and a half years experience and his boss was a sadist. So he hadn’t been sent on an overseas assignment even once. The poor guy was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. ‘All my friends who joined software organizations have made the down payment for a flat or a house with the daily allowance they got in their overseas trips except me,’ he cried out, so loudly that even the travellers in the seats in front turned and looked at us. 'Now he has put me on another domestic assignment and I don’t know what to do.’ I advised him to change his organization or at the very least change his boss. I also learnt that day why the employees of the software organization I worked in were always pestering me about their overseas allowance.

The funniest story came from a participant in my creative writing workshop. This guy had also joined the same organization I mentioned in the last paragraph. They sent him to Tokyo for a couple of years to develop some logistics software for an automobiles giant. He had to live in a poky hole in the wall and got mildly depressed. After he came back, he was never the same. He started doing a lot of weed, enrolled himself in the workshop and wrote some excellent poetry. His manager was really hassled with him because the employees in the organization had to pass some strange exams set by another global software giant to get promoted and this young man would flunk all of them. But at the same time they couldn’t ask him to leave as the managers in the client system loved him and didn’t want him replaced at any cost. Besides software organization are the biggest skinflints and sacking this maverick would have meant paying for the training of the replacement. So the association continued like Anna Karenina’s marriage.

Then one fine day this young man woke up on a working day and instead of going to work rolled a joint. Afterwards rather than go to work, he headed to the railway station and got into an unreserved second class compartment of a train heading to Howrah. He ignored all the calls his frantic manager made. He stayed in Kolkata for a week in some cheap lodge and ate in roadside dhaabas, got a bad stomach and almost died. After he came back he realized he was behaving strangely because of his strange organization and he needed to get rid of it. So he moved some family contacts to get a huge student’s loan to enrol in a second rate course in a second rate British university. When he announced his decision to quit all hell broke loose. The same manager who was always criticizing him gave him a cash reward for being the ‘Best Employee’ of the month. The young man had made up his mind and refused to get tempted. Now he lives happily in a British university town with his English girlfriend.

The most harrowing experience I had as a trainer was also in a software organization. This was in a Chinese organization and I was asked to facilitate a two day workshop on Performance Management. This organization was unique as the Chinese were Managers and the Indians Developers. The Indians were an interested lot and asked a lot of questions. The Chinese didn’t like this as they felt I was an authority figure and shouldn’t be questioned. Besides they were the managers and if anyone had to ask a question it should be them and not the Indians. So every time an Indian Developer asked a question, they would start talking in Chinese with each other. When this happened, the Indians would look at me and say wearily ‘ Yeh aise hi hain. Inka kuch nahin ho sakta.’

I don’t know how I got through those two days.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Great Indian Measuring Game

So the debate is no longer about whether they are corrupt or not. It’s all about who is more corrupt. No more finger pointing games then. Let’s get our measuring scales out and start a new one. If the ruling party is X on the scale of corruption, then the opposition is X+1. Or is it the other way around? The BJP is X and the Congress is X+1. No one’s less than X when it comes to corruption. They all have something to hide. We will never run short of ingredients to weigh on the scale. What fun!!!

Look at the behaviour of both parties. Raja’s indictment of Manmohan Singh and P Chidambaram is being countered by an argument that they didn’t know. Hello...we follow the parliamentary system of democracy right? We are taught in schools and colleges that this system is based on the principles of collective responsibility. One for all and all for one!

Either the Prime Minister knew or he is plain incompetent. Once again we are confronted with Hobson’s choice. Do we want a leader who is smart enough to get his kickbacks from all the underhand deals or should we be happy about one who takes a moral high ground for himself but allows others in his team to be corrupt. What a good man Manmohan Singh is...he not only provides a shining example of his integrity for the rest of us but also makes us marvel at how much shinier his integrity is compared to the evil team mates he inherited all because of Coalition ‘Dharma.’

Chalo let’s also deconstruct the word Dharma to understand how the meaning of it changes when affixed to the word Coalition. Dharma is about doing the right thing. But when it comes to Coalition politics it means just the opposite. Like the leader of the ruling party and the PM asking other parties to support them in return for turning a blind eye on the corrupt practices of the ministers they induct in the cabinet from these parties. Lesson over let’s train our guns on the Opposition now.

The people of Karnataka must be numb with shock to tolerate a chief minister like Yeddyurappa. There’s a certain category of human beings that we tend to leave well alone saying Iska kuch nahin ho sakta. When evil takes on the form of a Joker, you wince and laugh at the same time but you also understand why even the Batman finds it impossible to stop him most of the time. Yeddyurappa is that animal of Indian politics. His own party president has called him unethical but ees aadmi ke kaan mein joo bhi nahin rengi. He just continues irrespective of the accusations levelled against him. I am increasingly convinced a person called Yeddyurappa does not exist. We are living in a fictional Matrix and Yeddy is a mirror for us to comprehend how low we must have sunk to tolerate someone like him.

And that brings me to the great big dilemma. Should this measuring scale be about corruption or should it be about shame? To measure who’s X and who’s X+1 on shamelessness? Who fares better
(or is it worse?)?

Nitin Gadkari or Sonia Gandhi? Manmohan Singh or Sushma Swaraj? Arun Shourie or A Raja? Yashwant Sinha or P Chidambaram?

The difficulty with changing what the scales should weigh is that it ends up implicating all of us as well. We may not be corrupt but aren't we as a nation shameless to elect the same set of politicians year after year, term after term? How do we bail ourselves out of that one?

Tol Mol ke Bol!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Pleasures of Judicial Activism and Blogging

The cash for votes sandal is back to haunt the UPA government. Thanks to judicial activism. Based on a PIL, the Supreme Court has swung into action and the Congress brigade is scurrying for cover. Sometimes you wonder about the timing of terror attacks in this country. The blasts happen in Mumbai, lives are lost, and the next thing you know Digvijay Singh is mouthing the usual rubbish about Hindu terror to hog headlines. The BJP is always a poor second when it comes to political machinations and one of their blithering leaders called a press conference to attack Singh. Tamasha time for politicians of all hues as usual! The silver lining is, this time the media has refused to pay ball. At least not to the extent they have in the past. The spotlight continues to be on Amar Singh and his aide who’s behind bars now, saddled with bribe allegations.

None of this augurs well for Manmohan Singh and his government. You don’t need an astrologer to tell you that with all this going on, he may not survive the full term. But the soothsayers are predicting doom for Singh in any case. So is he going to blame the stars or Sonia? Only time will tell. All we can be happy about is the culture of PILs that has come to rule the roost. It has made you and me, who don’t belong to the ‘elected representative’ groups, or the police or the armed forces or the media, powerful. The government of the day has to watch out for not just the opposition but also the aam aadmi who can get it to its knees by filing a single litigation. This augurs well for a robust democracy. The more the checks and balances, the more accountable those in power are going to be. The whistle blowers are free to join the party. Their time has finally come.

Just like us bloggers. We are influencing public opinion like never before. Not only have we caused coups and revolutions in countries with totalitarian regimes, but we have also got the media worried. Seriously worried at that! I read a column last Sunday by a journalist who was sounding very distressed about what blogs and bloggers are doing. According to her, we are all irresponsible, rude, nasty and not accountable.

Is that right? Surely no blog I have come across is as obnoxious as Arnab Goswami when he gets on to someone’s case. And as for bloggers writing reviews and reports without attending an event or watching a movie /reading a book, there is many an illustrious precedence set by media professionals.

Legend has it that the brilliant English writer Ruth Rendell who writes excellent psychological thrillers and murder mysteries became a bestselling author after being sacked from her job as a journalist. She played truant on a day she was meant to cover an event. The event was cancelled at the last minute but Rendell made up a story about it and sent it to her editor. You can well imagine what happened after that. But a happy consequence of that unfortunate incident was that Rendell discovered her story telling powers.

As a professional writer, who is regularly asked to write columns, reviews and opinion pieces for leading publications, I was dubious about blogging and kept away from it for a long time. It was while holidaying with my family in Rajasthan last year that I discovered I was being an idiot. I did a lot of surfing while there and came across some extremely interesting blogs and more importantly some very well regarded writers from all over the world blogging.

We encountered racism from the Indian staff of a five star resort in one of our stops. I was livid about the incident. Imagine paying good money only to be treated like second class citizens in your own country. I knew I couldn’t write about the incident for any of the magazines and newspapers published in India. Even if they had published that piece of mine, it would have been without the name of the resort as they wouldn’t risk losing the advertising revenue. A single, tersely worded blog post had the owner of the resort sending me an apology letter. I owe that victory to blogging.

Blogs and a blogging site have played a big role in the success of my latest book. Blogadda did an in-depth interview and I consider that to be the best interview anyone has ever done with me. They also got ten bloggers to review my book and they were all really well written pieces. Much better than the reviews carried by mainstream magazines. And I am not saying this because the reviews by the bloggers were positive. Some of them were fairly critical whereas the verdict by the magazines and the newspapers on the book have been all positive.

At a time when journalistic standards all over the world are plumbing new depths because of the Murdochs and NOTWs, a well researched blog post is a treat to read, unfettered as it is by editorial and establishment pressures. Of course media professionals would get rattled by this phenomenon as it challenges their fiefdom. But that shouldn’t worry the bloggers.

I am all for judicial activism, blogs and bloggers. So should you be if you believe in freedom of speech. And also back the idea that in a democracy, the common man is the most powerful.

Keep blogging.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Murder 2, The War Zone, A Prophet, Delhi Belly, Vicco Vajradanti & the Return of the Terrorists

It’s a phase I go through. I have devoured five movies in last as many days. I wrote about ‘Amu’ on Sunday. In this one, I am going to talk about the other four.
I started with ‘Murder 2’ in the neighbourhood multiplex on Friday. It had released on that day and the late night show I went for was packed.

I watched 'Murder' in a Mumbai multiplex many years ago and liked the film. Most people are under the impression the film is plagiarised from the 2002 Adrian Lyne directed Hollywood film ‘Unfaithful.’ Few are aware Unfaithful is also adapted from the 1965 French film ‘The Unfaithful Wife’ directed by Claude Chabrol. So it’s kind of difficult to pinpoint the exact source of reference for the first film in the Vishesh franchise. But that minor quibble aside, my reasons for being fond of the film are many. I like a couple of songs from the movie very much. I thought Mallika Sherawat and Emraan Hashmi did a very good job of playing the clandestine lovers. Even Ashmit Patel was passable as the third angle. It’s a pity that Mallika Sherawat lost out on the director Anurag Basu thanks to her spat with the Bhatts. If she had done a few more films with Basu, she would have had something more to carry with her to the Hollywood casting agents apart from her stupid costumes. Basu had done an excellent job of making the scenes of physical intimacy between the lead players sexy and erotic rather than sleazy.

Murder 2 is sleazy and unimaginably bad. It has no connection with the earlier film unless you factor in the sex scenes in the film. I am deliberately referring to them as sex scenes in the sequel as opposed to scenes of physical intimacy that I used for the source film. In Murder, having the bedroom romps was essential as it is about a neglected housewife embarking on a tortuous extra marital affair with an ex-lover that gives her physical gratification but leaves her with guilt and regret. In the sequel the sex scenes are gratuitous. Worse Hashmi, the only actor retained from the original has zero chemistry with Jacqueline Fernandez, the female lead in the film. Fernandez is very tall and looks like a beautiful transvestite. Hashmi is considerably shorter than her. But since we are all along aware that Fernandez is a woman and not a man dressed up as a woman the film cannot even be clubbed homo erotic. And if you think I am being misogynist, please watch the film. It’s shockingly anti women and what completely depressed me was whenever the serial killer villain who’s castrated himself mouths offensive anti women statements, some men in the audience chuckled.

What’s wrong with the Bhatt clan? There are plenty of scenes to indicate the film has been inspired by ‘Silence of the Lambs.’ But in that one, Jodie Foster played the detective tracking the killer and when she won the Oscar for it, she described her character as a strong feminist hero. Here it is Hashmi who sets out to nab the killer while Fernandez gets sloshed and searches for Hashmi in that inebriated state in order to grovel in front of him and plead that he make a respectable woman out of her. There is a bit towards the end where Hashmi and Fernandez exchange their sad family history that should win an award for the most unintentionally funny scene in the history of Indian cinema.

I dozed off for a bit and when I woke up Fernandez was doing the drunken act and in that confused zone between sleep and being fully awake, I thought for a moment she was Amitabh Bachchan from one of those movies in the 80s when he used to pull off those drag acts with aplomb. Like I said the film is totally depressing and left me with a splitting headache. But from what I understand it is a huge success. We are really a depraved nation.

‘The War Zone,’ that I watched on DVD the next day also depressed me but for entirely different reasons. It is directed by the accomplished British actor Tim Roth who’s been in many of the Quentin Tarantino films including ‘Reservoir Dogs’ and ‘Pulp Fiction.’ The other director who favours Roth as an actor is Woody Allen. What can be a better testimony to Roth’s range as an actor?

The film is based on Alexander Stuart’s novel of the same name who also wrote the screenplay for Roth’s directorial debut. The novel came in for a fair bit of controversy when it was awarded the prestigious Whitbread prize which was later taken away due to the objections of three judges in the panel. It’s easy to understand the objections to the book, based as it is on parental abuse and incest. In the film, there is a graphic scene of a father raping his daughter that was so painful to watch that I fast forwarded the whole thing. The film has stunning performances by two first time actors and there’s the ever reliable Tilda Swinton as the mother. The father, the villain of the piece, is essayed by Ray Winstone.

A number of Indian film critics are going gaga over Prashant Narayanan’s hammy performance in Murder 2. They should watch Winstone in The War Zone to understand what real menace is all about. It’s the kind of film that leaves you sick in the stomach for days on end. Especially relevant today because we have all those shameful stories of daughters accusing their fathers of rape and forcing them into prostitution, tumbling out in Kerala. But the film is unrelentingly depressing and the powerful denouement where the villain is exposed and meets his comeuppance does little to relieve the aftertaste of disgust and anger it leaves you with.

‘A Prophet’ the French film directed by Jacques Audiard, the next one I caught on DVD is also dark but not depressing. It’s about a nineteen year old French young man of African Muslim descent who is imprisoned for six years for attacking a police officer. The young prisoner must learn to survive in the brutal context and when a Corsican gang lord who is also incarcerated in the same prison forces his patronage on the young man after making him murder another Muslim, it paves the way for a complex labyrinthine of revenge and redemption.

Audiard is a genius. Given the violent background of prison life, his greatest achievement is that he manages to give his work a lyrical flavour. Much of the film is about how the Corsican played by Niels Arestrup makes the young recruit (Tahar Rahim) run criminal errands for him on the days Rahim is allowed to go out of the prison after serving half his sentence. There is an extremely poignant scene where the young man gives up an offer of sex on such an outing to walk on the beach and feel the waves. It helps that both Arestrup and Rahim are on top of their form and deliver such nuanced performances that A Prophet is worth watching just for them.

It must have been the stress caused by the Bombay terror attacks last evening. I started laughing even before ‘Dehi Belly’ started. They showed that antiquated Vicco Vajradanti ad that goes ‘Vicco turmeric, nahin cosmetic’ with models who were young in the 80s but are likely to be grandmothers now, dancing to the ditty. That started the chuckles for me. I was imagining how flattering it must be for them that this ad that’s likely to have been shot more than two decades ago is still being shown in cinemas.

I wasn’t disappointed by Delhi Belly. Yes, it did gross me out and the wimp that I am I shut my eyes in all the toilet scenes rather than puke my dinner out. That saved the film for me. It’s not a film that we are meant to take seriously and yet it does make a point about the emancipation of women. It’s unusual for a superstar in waiting to perform cunnilingus on his nagging girlfriend and also for the woman he eventually settles for in the climax, talking about doing girls once in a while. Kunal Roy Kapoor who directed another laugh riot ‘The President is coming’ some years back is excellent and so is the stand up comedian Vir Das. And the feisty Poorna Jaganathan is a treat to watch. Imran Khan tries to match these performers but fails, showing all too clearly what the difference between actors who know their craft and a star banking on family charisma is. And the last song by Aamir Khan was totally unnecessary. Like an uncle trying to fit into a party meant for youngsters. All in all Delhi Belly is good fun and the purists who hated the film can take a walk.

On the way back from the cinema last night, I grew pensive thinking about all those who lost their lives in the terror attacks and their families in Mumbai. Before Arnab Goswami gets into the Pakistan bashing mode on his channel, we may do well to remember it’s far more important to hang the politicians and policemen who continue to fraternise with Dawood Ibrahim.

But it’s useless to bank on a weak Prime Minister and an equally weak Home minister to do anything to facilitate this.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Amu- The story that must not be told and the film that must not be shown

I had noticed the DVD of ‘Amu’ displayed at Habitat, the Mecca for the lovers of good cinema and music in Bangalore. But I gave it a miss every time, thinking sooner or later, I’ll catch it on television. It seemed to belong to a genre that is telecast repeatedly on film channels. I have watched Deepa Mehta’s ‘Earth’ twice on television in the past one year. Amu appeared to be similar.

Yesterday, while walking on Church Street I found myself in that DVD rental shop after months. I was looking for a particular Swedish movie they didn’t have and ended up borrowing four DVDs impulsively. One of them was Amu, the film on the Sikh massacre of 1984, following Indira Gandhi’s assassination. The film is directed by Shonali Bose who was 19 and studying in Delhi when the horror unfolded. She was living in a college hostel and went through the trauma of knowing that hundreds were being butchered in her neighbourhood and she was helpless to do anything about it.

I have never really understood why we term these shameful acts of violence riots. For me the connotations of a riot are that two equally powerful groups of individuals attack and destroy each other. This is not true in our country. Typically it is the majority that singles out the minority in a city to rape, murder and plnder with the active connivance of police and politicians. In some pockets the minorities retaliate but the scale of that is miniscule compared to what is happening to them elsewhere in the city.

Amu is a political film. It has Brinda Karat playing a crucial part in the film as a woman who adopts a little girl from a Sikh refugee camp. I am no fan of the Karats. They look too well heeled to be leftists to me. And Brinda Karat always gets my goat when she is on television talking in that shrill uppity voice of hers. But she endeared herself to me in this film. She is the director’s aunt and may have bagged the role solely on grounds of nepotism but she has justified her niece’s faith in her as an actor. Her care and concern for her adopted daughter is evident even in the scenes where she doesn’t have any lines.

Amu is played by Konkana Sen Sharma, an actor I am ambivalent about. I liked her very much in ‘Wake up Sid’ but disliked her interpretation of the south Indian wife in ‘Mr and Mrs Iyer.’ That Tamil accent she affected was extremely off putting although Konkana seems to be rather proud of the fact that she sounded exactly like a Mylapore housewife, whatever that means.

In Amu too, Konkana does this ABCD accent initially but decides to give it up somewhere in the middle. Apart from that jarring note, she’s very good in this one. She even underplays the confrontations and that is brilliant. It makes it that much more powerful. When she asks another actor in the film in a confused, matter of fact manner ‘Come on, you are saying 5000 people were killed in three days. That’s more than the 9/11 count and you mean to say the police didn’t do anything about it,’ it makes for one of the most compelling moments in an Indian film.

The massacre of the Sikhs in Delhi in 1984 is as shameful a chapter in the history of independent India as is the genocide of Muslims in Gujarat after the Godhra incident. In both cases, an entire community had to pay the price of a crime committed by one or two or a handful of miscreants. For the massacre of the Sikhs in 1984, the Congress politicians drew their daring from their leader Rajiv Gandhi whose reaction to the violence that followed his mother’s assassination was ‘If you chop off a giant tree, there are bound to be tremors.’ The rogue politicians of Delhi took that statement to be a battle cry against all Sikhs and engaged in the kind of senseless bloody orgy only politicians understand and unleash with the connivance of the uniformed men who are meant to protect the citizens of this country.

A film that depicts this reality was never in any danger of finding favour with the establishment and the predictable happened. Despite winning accolades in film festivals across the world, the censor board in India found a lot of faults with the work. The primary one being that the film depicted a shameful chapter from our history that all of us would much rather forget.

Is that correct? We may not want these wounds to fester but forgetting them or wiping them out, sounds like a very Nazi response to me. Like saying we will own and showcase everything that’s grand and beautiful in our country like the Taj Mahal or the 11% growth, but not these shameful episodes as we don’t want anyone to stop us from having another bloody orgy in our backyard the next time we feel like it.

What is interesting is the film was made in 2004 and was released in 2005 when Sharmila Tagore was the chairperson of the censor board. Three years later, Nandita Das’s ‘Firaaq’ came out, an equally powerful indictment of the Gujarat genocide and no one saw that as an unacceptable depiction of modern India. This whole mess has one message for me and it is that the Congress is as communal as the BJP and Sharmila Tagore who’s always trying to talk like an intellectual is a big fraud.

Next the Censor Board made the telecast of the film in India impossible by demanding that the film chop off any reference to the 1984 violence to get a U/A certification that’s mandatory for a film to be shown on television. Apparently films with an A certificate cannot be telecast. How can a film that’s all about a young woman coming of age in the context of her discovery that she was adopted not because her parents died in an epidemic but because they were victims of a state backed massacre not have any reference to the violence? The film makers gave up at this point of time and released the film on DVD. If you haven’t watched the film as yet, please head to the nearest store and borrow it...better still buy it. The film is by no means perfect and has the excessive earnestness many films by first timers have but it appeals to the heart. It’s the sort of film first timers should be encouraged to make. The funny thing is they also gave two national awards to the film but made sure it didn't reach too many people.

Shonali Bose also turned her screenplay into a novel and I plan to read it. However what surprises me that the media largely ignored the film and the book. But then the Indian media, especially the ones who work in English publications and channels have not grown up as yet. They only value the big brands or those who come hyped from the west. Since Amu adhered to neither of these types, they didn’t have much to say about it.

Bose didn’t have an easy time making the film either. The Indian production house that backed her initially, deserted her at the last minute. When she approached the American studios, they wanted it to be a story about an American girl. None of Bose’s reasoning that the film was about an American girl with Indian origins cut any ice with them. Maybe they felt if Anne Hathaway can’t be cast as the protagonist, the film wasn’t worth it. Finally she made the film from the money her husband who is a scientist at Nasa, had earned by getting a patent on the smallest camera he had invented.

Bedabrata Pain, Bose’s scientist husband has also made a film ‘Chittagong’ based on the Chittagong uprising. He had approached Jaya Bachchan and Abhishek Bachchan with the script and apparently Jaya Bachchan loved the script. The next thing we knew is that Ashutosh Gowariker, who had earlier made the historical ‘Jodha Akbar’ with Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, swung into action and made a film on the same subject with Abhishek Bachchan . He claimed he had based it on Manini Chatterjee’s book. Anurag Kashyap left a disgusted note on FB about how the Bachchans were influencing the distributors not to release Chittagong before Gowariker’s film, even though it had been completed earlier. I am sure you can put two and two together like I did and figure out what really happened behind scenes in this sorry mess.

Not that Gowariker’s film helped anyone including him. I can’t recall the film’s name but I know it sank like the Titanic and doomed the Junior Bachchan’s career forever. It flopped so badly that it has had a reverberating impact on every film Bachchan has come out with subsequently. They have all bombed. Now no producer is likely to invest money on either Bachchan or Gowariker unless Amitabh and Jaya Bachchan decide to fund the film from their personal wealth.

But all this must be of small consolation to Pain whose film is still stuck in the cans.

Friday, July 8, 2011

The Doped Athletes, the 2G Scam and the Band of Singh and his Men

It has unfolded like a Greek tragedy. This whole scandal of the gold medals turning into dust. And for the first time the UPA government has me frightened. Narendra Modi and the NDA government used to spook me at one time especially after Godhra and what happened in Gujarat subsequently. Now I feel like that about Manmohan Singh, Sonia Gandhi and the heir in waiting, Rahul Gandhi. The violence they have unleashed in the system is far more dangerous and potent than a riot engineered by the Hindu right wing fundamentalists.

The BJP brand of violence is explicit and we can easily condemn it...take out protest rallies, slam the party in our writings and in our films but the Congress brand of manoeuvring is far more lethal, more dangerous and when the sorry spectacle of their manipulations unfold we feel we can’t do anything about it, because unwittingly we have been party to it. Like we too cheered the athletes who won the medals in the commonwealth games last year and now it is like what right do we have to ask any of the sports officials how did the timings of the athletes improve so dramatically for the games? They can always turn around and tell us like you did, we also got carried away, and never asked them this question. See how implicit they have made us in their crime.

I am sure everyone in the system knew what was going on including the Prime Minister. We live in times when one minister is tapping the office of another so it would be foolish to believe that the PM comes to work just to read files. I am sure he is briefed on a daily basis about what is going on with his cabinet mates and he has clearly instructed his colleagues to adhere to three basic norms.

1. So long as they are contributing to his one point agenda of ‘growth’ he doesn’t care what they are doing to get there. Much like a CEO who barks ‘Get me results. I don’t care how you get them.’

2. The individual citizens are unimportant in the larger scheme of things as long as our cities look like Singapore or Hongkong with plush malls and roads that seem they will burst with all the traffic on them.

3. He wants history to record that he is the one who laid the foundation of this new affluent India and Rahul Gandhi can take off from where he left. Nothing should be allowed to taint his personal ‘brand’ or the brand of the government he heads.

No wonder Suresh Kalmadi looked so smug during the Commonwealth Games despite one scandal after another tumbling out against him. He had adhered to the brief...pumped all the athletes with steroids and uppers so that they ran, jumped and did cartwheels like they were possessed and scored more than a century when it came to the medals. He had delivered in the end, never mind the means and the only time the PM had sounded annoyed was when the venues looked as if they couldn’t be completed on time. But he had more than made up with the Indian victory laps. He was expecting to be hugged by the PM. But unfortunately for him and Singh, the Supreme Court decided to play party pooper.

Now we are given to understand that Kapil Sibal has behaved just like Kalmadi. He should have known that with all the media glare on the 2G scam, anyone who took over the telecom portfolio would be under constant scrutiny but that did not stop him from doling out all that largesse on Anil Ambani. Everyone else in the system was screaming, teach the man a lesson no Ambani will ever forget but Sibal did not listen. He must have thought he didn’t need to, as long as he was on Singh’s good books. After all Sibal took care to dress the part of the suave politician who’s equally at home air kissing in a socialite party as he is reciting bad poetry to Barkha Dutt. But once again the courts have turned into kabab mein haddi.

As for Dayanidhi Maran, I feel sorry for him. His rotund frame and a rounder face make him look like a character from a Charles Dickens novel but that may be only be for the well read Singh. For the rest of us he looks like a man who loves his thair sadam. From what we have read and heard, Tihar serves only North Indian food like roti and dal. How will our man survive there? Besides with Raja also present in Tihar, Maran will have to constantly watch his back.

With all this going on, a friend has found time to share a morphed picture of Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi on FB with the caption ‘Hep Couple.’ Singh is in a psychedelic T Shirt and jeans and Gandhi is wearing a mini-skirt. He may have meant it as a joke but like every piece of fiction this too may have its roots in reality. They say Nero fiddled while Rome burnt. So what’s wrong if Singh and Gandhi party while all this havoc is being wrecked on the nation? I have only one question. What does Rahul Baba throw a tantrum about when he joins the party?

Does he demand they dance only to the songs of Justin Bieber?

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Caravan and Arindam Chaudhuri- Pot and the Kettle

Last one month has been exhausting. I feel I have taken on too much. Twice a week, I volunteer in my son’s school, teaching theatre to little children, there were daily rehearsals for Lucky Lobster; one day of the weekend goes in the creative writing workshop... I am doing the first edit of my second novel due in December, there is the usual corporate stuff and the unfortunate consequence of all this is that my reading time has been cut down drastically...I have to do something about that.

I missed out on the Caravan -Arindam Chaudhuri fracas for a long time. Managed to read the magazine’s fiery defence against Chaudhuri’s law suit that was on their website yesterday because of a link a friend had mailed sometime back. This morning when I checked before sitting down to write this piece, the angry rebuttal by the magazine, that among other things reproduced an excerpt from the judgement by an Assam court, presumably to highlight and make fun of the wrong English used, seems to have disappeared much like the cover story on Chaudhuri that was withdrawn following the injunction.

What stayed with me after reading that enraged defence is that the counter threats issued by Caravan are as daunting, cleverly cloaked as they are behind the freedom of speech argument. One of the threats was that they would publish all the court proceedings in their sister magazines that collectively have a formidable circulation. I couldn’t stop laughing when I discovered the sister publications were Sarita, Mukta and Grihashobha. More about these magazines later. Let me first share my views on Arindam Chaudhuri and also Siddharth Deb’s ‘researched’ piece on Chaudhuri.

I went to a Business school that is ranked to be in the same league as the IIMs and share the misplaced disdain of my institute mates towards Chaudhuri and IIPM. I have more in common with a Bansal or a Sabnis and deride and hector Chaudhuri and IIPM whenever they crop up in conversations with friends. But while I may laugh with my peers at the pony tailed self styled management guru, I don’t see him as a huge social malaise.

Yes, IIPM charges fat fees but as Deb’s essay points out, only from those who can afford it and the students pay the seven lakhs willingly. Many who enrol in IIPM may be doing so because they write the CAT and the entrance exams of other premier management institutes like XLRI, Bajaj, S P Jain and don’t make the grade. They are desperate to acquire the management diploma label and settle for a second or a third rung institute. Chaudhuri uses that desperation to his advantage. But this is not something he pioneered. Much before IIPM came into the picture, we had numerous engineering and medical institutions in India that were charging hefty capitation fees and were certainly not in the same league as the IITs or the NITS or AIIMS. Many corrupt politicians are involved in this education racket and no one writes about them. How about schools that were making a killing by using the desperation of middle class parents by taking donations until Kapil Sibal intervened?

At worst, Chaudhuri can be accused of not paying his taxes if what Deb implies is true. But Deb is being naive if he thinks Chaudhuri is the only business man who is evading taxes. If he cares to do his research more thoroughly he would discover that many of the respectable organizations that employ alumni from premier institutes don’t lag behind in this respect, and their marketing line is always about how they are contributing to the growth and development of the nation. We don't need to go beyond the fraud perpetuated by Rajat Gupta with his insider trading while he was at Mckinsey to understand this.

Because Chaudhuri is so in your face and tackily so, we find it easy to ridicule him. But those of us who live in Bangalore know the poster boy of Indian IT industry is as tacky. If you come across him in the Bangalore airport while taking an early morning flight, you will invariably find him making himself as conspicuous as possible, talking loudly and relishing the fact that he is getting attention from all those gawking at him. His writer wife is embarrassingly loud. Once she walked into a bookshop while I was browsing. Suddenly she screeched startling the rest of us ‘Don’t you have that book on Lagaan? I am having dinner with Aamir Khan tonight.’

But maybe Deb does get it. Because he mentions in the piece he is baffled by the fact that despite acquiring all the trappings of wealth including a plush Bentley, the respectability that comes along with financial success continues to elude his subject. But the claim by Caravan that Deb’s piece is well researched is nonsense. The essay is extremely malicious and quite readable. There are some very intriguing bits in it. However Deb didn’t write the piece for Caravan. The magazine has reproduced an entire chapter on Chaudhuri from a book that Deb has written for Penguin. I am not sure but I think it’s a commissioned work.

Deb manages to drag Chaudhuri’s father in the piece and paints him as a trickster and fraud too. After reading that bit it made perfect sense to me that Chaudhuri has taken legal action. We Indians have this big thing about Mujhe jo bolna hi bolo. Lekin ma-behen, baap ki gaali di to phod ke rak doonga. That's what Chaudhuri is doing and you can't blame him. This essay is too personal to pass off as an objective piece of ‘researched’ reporting. And the funny thing is, this research on Chaudhuri by the author seems to happen only in restaurants and in the conferences where his subject is invited to speak and where Deb appears to have spent an inordinately long time staring at Chaudhuri’s ‘smooth hairless chest’ because he leaves his top shirt buttons open. I am mentioning this because open shirt buttons always seem to catch Deb’s fancy whether he is interacting with Chaudhuri or his managers.

For all the time Deb spent in shadowing his subject, he seems to have not read any of the books Chaudhuri has written and neither has he watched any of the films his company has produced barring Mithya that is dismissed as a film that had actors who are paid poorly. Rajat Kapoor , Ranvir Shorey, Suhasini Mulay are among the most committed and serious theatre and film actors we have in the business today and this is Deb’s enlightened take on them. Also it becomes imperative for Deb to add that he watched the film on a flight from Delhi to Chicago. That’s very wannabe and the narrator and the subject seem to blend into the same persona at such moments in the narrative.

In an essay that is full of nasty and snide comments on Chaudhuri, ‘his English was uncertain and pronouncedly Delhi middle class in its inflection,’ (Really? What’s Deb’s in its inflection, Chicago?), ‘but little cultural or intellectual capital’, Deb finally redeems himself in the last paragraph where he narrates his experience of having lunch with one of the managers his subject employs and the scuffle that ensues about who will pay the bill.

‘As I cornered the waiter again and forced him to bring the bill, I found myself wondering why I didn’t have a suit, designer sun glasses and car keys, I wondered why I wasn’t making money at a time in India when money making opportunities seemed everywhere for the asking. Like Arindam’s students, I was an aspirer...’

Thankfully after writing most of the essay in the arrogant style that’s typical of most of the self styled Indian literary writers Caravan patronises, Deb concludes by hitting the right note of self awareness.

Not so Caravan and those who work there. If Chaudhuri’s claims of equating IIPM to a Harvard is ludicrous so is Caravan’s attempt to position itself as India’s New Yorker, considering their sister publications are Sarita, Mukta and Grihashobha. I am not deriding these magazines because they are in Hindi or because they are meant for women. Having grown up in the north I am familiar with these rags and I have to say they cater to the lowest common denominator. I won’t be surprised if some of the script writers Ekta Kapoor hires for her soaps had their first works published in Sarita and Mukta. If Deb can scoff at Chaudhuri’s attempts at producing meaningful cinema because of the allure of low budgets, are we not right in concluding the foray of a publishing house that’s been in the business of trashy pulp for decades into serious journalism in another language is also motivated by considerations of ROI.

I can’t get over it. An Indian New Yorker with the marketing strategy of Sarita Pakshik- Sugud grihaniyon ka pasindida patrika. This is so funny. No wonder every time they have a selling crisis they need a Chetan Bhagat or an Arindam Chaudhuri on their cover to peddle ‘India’s first narrative journalism magazine.’ And we are meant to swallow that their stance is all about freedom of speech.

Let the pot and kettle have their thing on the side. Why try and drag the rest of us in the mess by mailing us links as though it is the great social cause of the year. Do they think we are that cuss word in Hindi that starts with a C?

Sorry Caravan...that’s you!