Friday, February 24, 2006

Rants 'n' Raves

Thumbs Down to:

  • The quasi-Nazi RSS proclaiming that 'all Muslims and Christians in India should accept that their ancestors were Hindus, and that 'by nationality' they are all Hindus'. So, hey all of you non-Hindus-whose-ancestors-were-Hindus, if you wanna 'proclaim' , my blog is all yours.
  • The whole Danish-cartoons controversy. Ever heard of dignified protest, folks? You don't like the cartoon, go bloody sue the newspaper and/or the cartoonist - NOT issue so-called fatwas and chop off other folk's heads, or burn down embassies.
  • Offers of Rs. 51 crores (bloody hell!) and Rs 11 lakhs for a certain M.F.Hussain's head and hands respectively. At least, he's worth something; who'd pay half an anna for your ass, losers?
  • Yet another one of those bird-flu scares. With our pumped up immune systems, I bet our kick-ass antibodies would lick the unsuspecting flu viruses. Yet, self-appointed health inspectors destroy all those chickens and eggs with barely suppressed glee. I often suspect our propensity for violence is just hidden below the surface, ever-ready to surface at the drop of a hat.
  • The Ganguly juggernaut rolls on. Give it a rest dada - retire and open a gym, or a restaurant, or some such thing. They should probably drop Kumble too - I mean, how long will you flog the old racehorse yaar?
  • Q:Why has the US not questioned AQ Khan, whose activities intersect proliferation and terrorism?
    A: Well, we were the nation that exposed the conspiracy to deal with — more than the conspiracy, the activities, let me rephrase that — we were the nation that exposed the activities of sharing technologies, sensitive technologies, nuclear weapons-related technologies. And we, of course, want to know as much about the AQ Khan network as possible. But had it not been for US intelligence, coupled with British intelligence, this network never would have been exposed. And the light of day helps understand proliferation.
    Wow! What was the guy trying to say? Siddhu-paaji, buck up; you have some serious competition here. Read the full interview, it is hilarious. Can somebody please remind Mr. George Bush that oratory is not exactly one of his prime strengths?
A Big Hurrah to!
  • Judge Abhay Thipsay, in what could end up as a landmark verdict in our judicial history, pronounces the accused in the Best Bakery (Godhra) case GUILTY. Moreover, further notices have been issued to all the witness suspected of perjury. WOW - knock'em down, buster!
  • Will Smith doing his thing. Now, I have always been partial to the guy. But hey Will, old chap, knock it off about Ash, will ya - much as I dislike her plastic acting, I am (like every other hot-blooded Indian male) rather partial to her looks !!
  • Inzamam (of the funny run-outs fame) offers no excuses for his team's loss to India. This laconic, lazy-but-elegant master batsman turns in surprisingly articulate columns, and the latest one is no exception.
  • Rang De Basanti. Weeks after seeing it, scenes and dialogues linger in the mind. And I still haven't got over listening to the music. Despite the flaws, this film works - and how!

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Partition & Gandhi-bashing

Gandhi-bashing: rather crude, don't you think ? Something like 'maligning the Mahatma' would perhaps sound much more fancy. However, irrespective of what term be used, the fact remains that being anti-Gandhi is fashionable nowadays. I mean, the poor man, ironically enough christened the father of the nation, has been accused of undermining Muslim rights as well as bending over backwards to appease Muslims ! For chrissakes, have some sense of perspective, folks - how could he have done both?

Now, one of the biggest criticisms leveled against MKG is his inability to prevent Partition. In fact, there are some vociferous critics who insist that Gandhiji fostered and indeed, abetted Partition; but to such intentionally agnostic folks, I have nothing to say.

A brief look at the events of 1947 makes it pretty clear that, after shaping the events of the previous two decades in India almost single-handedly (note that I do say 'almost'), circumstances finally overcame Gandhiji when it most counted. A note to the uninformed: before one places the blame of Partition squarely upon the shoulders of the much-reviled Jinnah, please be aware that Veer Savarkar had proposed the two-nation theory much earlier than Jinnah. Jinnah's embrace of Partition was due to tactical and political reasons, rather than due to the religion card. He feared, rightly, that in the new scheme of things being drawn out by Viceroy Mountbatten, Nehru and Gandhiji, his own role was likely to be diminutive.

It is quite interesting to look at Nehru and Jinnah; both of them possessed eminent but essentially similar personalities and backgrounds, but found themselves on opposite sides of the table most of the time. In fact, both of them regarded each other with considerable suspicion and mistrust. The clinching factor was, perhaps, Viceroy Mountbatten's close friendship with Nehru (I am not even veering toward Edwina Mountbatten here!) - historians even suggest that Mountbatten was not favorably disposed toward Jinnah at all. Given these circumstances, it is fairly clear that Jinnah took a decision that he felt he had to, and did all he could to make sure that his demands were met, at least partially.

Was Jinnah wrong in putting his foot down, and demanding a seperate country? IMO, It's a 50-50 answer. Undoubtedly, a lot of bloodshed on both sides would have been avoided then if the two-nation concept had not been pursued so doggedly. On the other hand, given the current strain of militant, even vitriolic, Hinduvta running through the country, it is hard not to harbor at least a sneaking admiration for Jinnah, who somehow foresaw that this could happen. I mean, if I were asked the question 'Is an average Pakistani Muslim more content than her/her Indian counterpart ?', I would find it very, very difficult to give a monosyllabic answer - let's leave it at that.

However, right or wrong, I completely fail to understand how Gandhiji could be blamed for Partition. It was he, more than anybody else, who opposed Partition. The Congress, for one of the few times in its history since its association with Gandhiji, chose to ignore Gandhiji's abject wishes and accepted the two-nation proposal. Unfortunately, at this juncture, Gandhiji did not put his foot down; instead, under Sardar Patel's persuasion he grudgingly accepted that partition seemed inevitable. Indeed, that fact that while the rest of India was celebrating independence Gandhiji was in Calcutta appealing for peace, speaks volumes of how much he hated the partition-scarred independece.

The reason for this post, seemingly out of the blue ? Ever since reading the awesome 'Freedom at Midnight' and 'The Life of Mahatma Gandhi' by Louis Fischer (which is really one of the best biographies I have ever read), I have come to admire the hell out of this frail little man who managed to capture the imagination of the entire country. I mean, just think: since independence, can you tell me the name of one person the entire country blindly believed in even for a day ? However, for the last several years, there have been quite a few instances of Gandhiji's name being sullied (in particular, Gandhiji was portrayed as a wimpish, calculating politician in Raj Kumar Santhoshi's take on Bhagat Singh). I do not understand why one needs to hate/denounce Gandhiji to admire revolutionaries like Bhagat Singh and Bose - their philosophies co-existed and non-violence has been almost as successful a tactic against tyranny as civil war, to say the least. In fact, it is almost ironical that Bhagat Singh opted for Gandhiji's favourite weapon, the fast, to protest against the inhumane stuff meted out in the jails, as Gaurav points out here.

You may not agree with the man's policies, but you sure can stop the Gandhi-bashing, folks.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

Steven Spielberg's 'Munich'

Spielberg's much-awaited 'Munich', narrating a semi-fictitious account of 'Operation:Wrath of God', does not disappoint. Eric Bana, who managed to emerge from the ruins of 'Troy' with his head held high, doesn't do badly either. With deft directorial touches, Spielberg successfully manages to blur the lines between a soldier obeying orders & fighting for his country, and a terrorist fighting for idealogy - is 'collateral damage' inflicted by a soldier any more justifiable than the murder of innocents perpetrated by a fanatic terrorist?

Flaws? Well, the pace. Painstaking detail is revealed for each and every assasination, and these parts beg editing. The cliches (Bana making love to his wife while thinking of the Munich massacre, for instance) could have been avoided too - does Spielberg really need to resort to cliches? The final minutes of the movie left me with a vague sense of dissatisfaction - should have ended better, I thought.

Book that laid the seeds for the movie: 'Vengeance' by Geroge Jonas.

P.S: The future James Bond, Daniel Craig, looks massive, and completely un-Bond-like.

Ang Lee's 'Brokeback Mountain'

What was all the hype about anyway? Was it because this was a 'gay' love-story? Execpt for some good (ok, make that pretty good) acting by Heath Ledger, Jake Gyllenhaal and Michelle Williams the movie was slower than a friggin' passenger train running upward toward a hill-station. If Ang Lee's intention was to make the audience suffer, well it sure succeeded. All of us felt the separation pangs - separation from being somewhere else.

Now, I have never liked Ledger - not even in 'Casanova'. But even then, I have to admit he is very good here. However, and this may be my bias speaking, I felt Gyllenhaal did a better job. And Erica Bana in 'Munich' was better than both of them. However, I am sure Ledger is a cinch for the Oscar, being politically correct and all that.

For a change, the ending was rather good (or was that relief). I did manage to sit through it, which is more than I can say about my cousins, who kept moaning and groaning :).

Lee's breathtaking 'Crouching Tiger...' was much, much superior, IMO. Not worth a visit to the theatre, this 'gay' story.

Priyadarshan's 'Kyon Ki'

Salman Khan has learnt one of the most important facets of method-acting: the use of body language. In 'Kyon Ki, to lend authenticity to his part of a mentally delinquent inmate, Salman invents the shuffling walk (somebody ought to have told him to just be himself). Everytime someone (Kareena, most of the time) beckons, Salman shuffles up, walking as if he has hernia and has his feet painfully chained together to boot. The travails of insanity must be painful, especially on the ankles!

I loved the ending: Jackie murders Salman. In fact, he ought to have done it sooner, to spare us the agony. Mohan Lal must be ROTFL.

P.S(J): Priyan's parents displayed great foresight in naming him; his 'priy' past-time has to be the 'darsan' of old classics (One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest, anybody?).

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

God's Own Brewery

A riddle for you to rack your brains: what is common between Jesus, an elephant-tranquilizer and a bride?

I guess that is a difficult one to answer - Mallus might have a better chance, especially Mallu guys.

Well, to cut the suspense short: they are all names of brands of liquors that are locally brewed in Kerala:
  • 'Jesus' (Yeshu in Malayalam) is named so because, apparently, after drinking a bottle of the 'Yeshu' brand, the 'drinker' shall 'resurrect' only after the third day.
  • 'Anamayakki', named after the famous elephant-tranquiliser reportedly imported from Sri Lanka, is self-explanatory, I guess.
  • As for 'the bride', well, the saying is that after a couple of sips of this potent liquid, the 'drinker' becomes as shy as a bride (meaning that he is unable to lift his chin).
I am NOT making up this, folks !! Us Mallu men have a unique and life-long relationship with our alcohol - is as important to us as the chest-hair growing out from our noses, you know! I mean, where else in India can you show me scores of ferocious-looking men (with typical Mallu-ishtyle handlebar mustaches, rolled up sleeves and immodestly hoisted up bright-colored lungis intact) standing docilely in line for their turn at the alcohol counter - just compare the scene with the mad rush at our railway stations and bus-stands, I mean!

And then we have the kallu, the strong, pungent white liquor fermented from sap collected from coconut trees. In fact, in Kerala, you'd see a pot hanging on almost every coconut tree in sight, to collect the precious white liquid. Speaking from my own experience, kallu tastes great; but the pungent odor is so overwhelming that a mere mouthful leaves you gagging (Hat tip: hold your nose and take a gulpful!). Be forewarned: it is extremely strong, hence (notwithstanding the taste) consume in small quantities.

Of course, a post on kallu would be terribly incomplete without a tribute to our famous 'kallu shops' (toddy shops). In addition to the kallu, they serve amazing (and I do mean AMAZING) non-vegetarian food. One of the good things in Kerala is that you can eat pretty much anywhere without fearing for your life (which is not the case, in say Chennai, where the water scarcity is so bad that the water used to wash a buffalo is proably then re-used to make your tea). The 'kappa & meen-curry' (mashed tapioca and fish curry) at these 'joints' deserves special mention (mmmouth-watering stuff!) - it is inevitably good.

P.S: I have been only to 4 kallu-shops in my lifetime, and in all 4 cases I bought parcels (what in the USA is known as 'take-away'); the ambience did not quite agree with me, you see!

I reiterate, us Mallu men take our alcohol (and our 'kappa & meen-curry', but more about that in a later post) very, very seriously indeed.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Film Review: 15th Park Avenue

I have to say this: Konkona Sen rocks. Be it her choice of movies or her impeccable performances, she just absolutely rocks. She does it yet again in Aparna Sen's (for whom she seems to reserve her best performances) '15th Park Avenue'.

The movie narrates the tale of young Meethi, who suffers from schizophrenia, and the attempts of her family (Shabana Azmi and Waheeda Rehman) to deal with her care. It is a remarkable attempt, for the term is often misused by our directors (for instance, Bachchan was supposed to be schizophrenic in Vipul Shah's otherwise rather decent 'Aankhen') - the director deserves to be lauded for the amount of research she has put into the subject, and the way it has been deftly executed. The finale' of the movie was just grand - not too many of our movies are open-ended, and this one was remarkably so.

The performances are extremely good, but then with Shabana Azmi and Konkona Sen leading the cast, one expected no less. I have felt for some time that Shabana is repeating her characters too often for comfort - I mean, too many of her recent roles have her beginning as a stern, withdrawn and misunderstood character, only to break down eventually and show us her human frailties through the course of the movie (Fire, Tehzeeb and Morning Raaga, to name but just a few). Of course, she does it remarkably well, but shouldn't an actor of her stature and ability experiment more, I wonder (like Naseer and Om Puri do to so much success). Konkona, of course, is relatively a new face, and her performance is all the more refreshing for it. Meethi comes across as vulnerable and extremely endearing. Her delusional scenes are extremely well-rendered.

Aparna Sen is in fine nick after 'Mr and Mrs Iyer' here. A couple of scenes really stood out for me - the open-ended climax was one, of course (I mean, a possible interpretation was that it was Shabana who was delusional, for chrissakes). The another scene was a tiny one, but the dynamics between the different family members spoke volumes. It was a simple family scene, where Meethi is making a spectacle of herself (as disabled family members are wont to do often) and all of her family reacts differently. The elder sister is irriated, but tried to cover it up by being condescending to Meethi (who of course senses it and is irritated). The mother is ashamed, but has a weariness about her - as if she has seen it all before. The brother, perhaps in a bid to make the best of the situation, tries to joke about the whole thing, and his kids join in ribbing Meethi (this is a scene that is a tad too close for comfort, unfortunately). There is quite a bit of tension in the air, and the actors convey it beautifully.

I recommend this movie whole-heartedly. So far, IMO, this is the best Indian movie of 2005.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

History, Patriotism etc

German philosopher Goethe once famously remarked that 'Patriotism ruins history'. Falstaff's piece on martyrdom (and on, yeah, Rang De Basanti again) pretty much makes the same point. The piece itself is a remarkably well-written one, with a lot of insights that are hard to argue with. Consider this passage, for instance:

Was their (Bhagat Singh's and his companions') desire to kill people driven by a well-thought out game plan to achieve real change in India's political situation, or was it driven by a feverish search for self-definition? Isn't it more plausible that a group of insecure and frustrated young men, burning with a sense of personal injury to which no real source could be ascribed, chose, as an identity, the role of 'martyrs', purely to escape the realities of their own impotence (this is how terrorists are recruited btw)? Were these truly idealogues of violence, or were they merely callow youths who stumbled upon a good way to both release their natural aggression and sanctify it in the name of their 'motherland'? Patriotism may or may not be the last refuge of the scoundrel, but it is certainly the last refuge of those with nothing else to pin their self on, of those who have no other claim to make upon the world. Behind all that high-sounding ideology is simply the brute aggression of those whose only contributions to the world can be reductive.

Find a fallacy in this argument? I cannot.

For, it is indeed true that history is always dictated by the victors - in this case, us. A wild analogy, to illustrate: in Osama Bin Laden's own wierd world, the 9/11 suicide bombers are probabaly hailed as great matryrs and revolutionaries. Please note that I am NOT calling Bhagat Singh a terrorist here. But as Falstaff mentions above, all jingoism and/or patriotism aside (more about that later), it is plausible (even probable) that the 24-year old Bhagat Singh was a confused, frustrated and courageous young man whom political events seized by the scruff of the neck; not, as history claims, the other way round.

Now, about the patriotic/jingoistic bit. There is a fine line that seperates the two, and many people don't realize this. Dissent is not equal to disloyalty; disagreement with India's nuclear policy is not tantamount to treason (contrary to what the government then claimed). Refusing outside help during a national disaster/calamity amounts to jingoism, IMHO (especially as thousands of people are still waiting to be rehabiliated - read a fine account of the tsunami disaster here, at Dilip's blog). I completely agree with Mark Twain when he opines that patriotism should be 'loyalty to one's country, and not to its institutions or office-holders'.

Conclusion: invite dissent and provocation - no topic should be taboo. Non-conformity invites debate, and perhaps a better solution by consensus. Instead of banning artists who seek to break the mould and make ask us questions about ourselves (Deepa Mehta being a classic example), encourage them to break free of the so-called moral shackles. And crack down on those who choose to make protests in an unruly or even violent manner - hard. To end with yet another quote, this time by Voltaire - 'I may disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it'.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Mani Ratnam Inspired by Sanjay Gupta !

Sounds implausible? Well, Anu Malik and Deva don't quite cover the definition of 'Thief'; it takes somebody of the great foresight and wisdom of Sri Sanjay Gupta to inspire Mani Ratnam to make 'Thiruda Thiruda' (dubbed as 'Chor Chor' in Hindi).

Gupta-ji, you are no better than a common thief who steals a great black bull, whitewashes it and paints great pink udders on before selling it off as an Indian 'Jersey' cow to an unsuspecting somebody. In fact, you are worse - at least, cows sell in the market.

Great Bong and Raja Sen (of Rediff) say it better than I ever could (read here and here for the respective articles).

Monday, February 06, 2006

The More I Hear of Him,

the more I like this chap. Frankly, I wasn't overtly impressed with Siddharth in his acting debut (Shankar's half-assed venture 'Boys'). His acting was no great shakes, and he appeared too 'weepy' to be a proper hero.

However, in 'Rang De Basanti', he rocks.

Read an interview of Siddharth on Rediff today (read the interview here), where he appears to be fairly intelligent (unlike all those star sons/daughters who go 'I owe everything I have to God Almighty, my parents and my little puppy'. If anything puts me off, its fake humility):
  • Success is not a divine phenomenon; it rests firmly in your ability and ambition.
  • I don't believe in luck. I am a self-made man. I believe in my talent and hard-work.
Way to go, dude.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Anatomy of a Movie: Kaathal (Tamil)

2005 boasted of some of the biggest Tamil movies being released - Rajnikanth's 'Chandramukhi', Kamal Hassan's 'Mumbai Express', Shankar's 'Anniyan' and the usual fare from Vijay. However, it was an innocuous little film named 'Kaathal', cast and technicians replete with newcomers, that went on to become the sleeper hit of the year (it released in late 2004 though, I believe).

'Kaathal' narrates the tale of a rich schoolgirl infatuated with a young mechanic. The same old 'formula' rehashed, one might be inclined to think. But the screenplay, characterization and performances were so effective that the storyline itself was forgotten; one was too involved with the characters by then. Some of the biggest plus-points of 'Kaathal' were:

# Newcomer Sandhya was amazingly natural (she was hailed as the 'Saritha of 2006' by veteran director K.Balachander) as the exuberant schoolgirl 'Aishu' , hopelessly infatuated with the motor mechanic. Her intuition tells her to run away from the marriage her family is forcing upon her, and she succeeds in convincing her beau to 'take her away'. The consequences of her impetuousness are devastating. Her outstanding performance was the highlight of this small little movie.

# The newbie director Balaji Shaktivel (ok, he's done one movie before - but didn't 'newbie director' sound better!) displayed a great grasp over the medium (for instance, he gave a feathery, fairy-tale touch to the first half of the movie that depicted the budding romance between the protagonists while the more sombre post-interval portions were shot in harsher lights and panning camera angles).

# Bharath proved there was more to him than the pliant dancing skills he'd displayed in his earlier movies. The nuances he added to the character were just perfect - whether it be the sloppy crab-like manner in which he rode his bike (as mechanics do), or the Madhurai lingo that he adopted, they were never overdone or exagerrated. His performance in the climax - reminiscent of the classic 'Moondram Pirai' (which in itself is a huge compliment) - was especially good.

# The kid at the workshop was - for want of a better word - outstanding. I have heard that Arun Kumar was indeed a boy working at a workshop - not sure whether it is true or not. His crabby demeanor and grouchy comments were quite amusing. Deft directorial touches also displayed the kid's loyalty to his ex-guru, making the character a memorable one.

# Sukumar, the Vadivelu-lookalike, put in a subdued, un-Vadivelu-like performance as the hero's friend. His palpable anguish at his friend's discomfort was portrayed with considerable restraint and subtlety (which is not exactly a quality one associated with Tamil comedians).

The rest of the cast was more than adequate. In these days where romantic movies are overpoweringly becoming stereotyped, 'Kaathal' dared to be different (the scenes about the registrar's office were refreshingly so). One for my DVD collection.