IN SEARCH OF BIG BROTHER

I have had this conversation so many times with so many different people. Some among them good friends whom I respect.

The premise of the topic of the conversation is quite simple. Given the state of affairs in our country , are we not better off with a dictatorship for a while? Sounds like a topic for group discussion during one of those horrid selection processes in a B school/company recruitment eh? But it is fascinating how many people seemingly agree with this. I have heard many educated , intelligent , informed people state this. There are of course variations on this theme. The dictator becomes a “strong leader” who does not brook any dissent. The dictator sometimes gets replaced by a “committee” , so it is not a dictatorship of one but dictatorship by a committee. Whatever , the variations on the theme -there are two undercurrents that seem to be common to all the themes:-

1) A wish or desire -even a sort of wistful longing for a leader with almost unbridled powers – this leader would need those powers to set everything right but he would not misuse those powers – a “benign”/”benevolent” dictator he is called. A variation on the Lee hypothesis.

2) A general disdain for the democratic process as being too slow , messy and prone to manipulation. Coupled with this a tendency to blame a lot of our ills on our slow moving democratic machinery. Politicians are blamed and democracy is blamed too for giving them too much leeway and opportunity to manipulate the system.

Let us consider the second undercurrent first. But before I begin be advised that I have libertarian tendencies and have a pathological disdain for anything remotely authoritarian. However , I shall try and restrain myself from quoting such advantages of democracies like “free speech”,”civil liberties” etc. I gather they are not too important these days as long as we are “reforming” the economy.

Is democracy bad for development?

Is there a link between democracy and development in general? Are the slow , ponderous processes that are inherent to a democracy inimical to development? There are three favorite examples of the dictator lovers . They talk of China . They talk of Singapore . And when it comes to law and order they talk of the UAE. Specifically there is talk of the huge strides China and Singapore have made in a very short period of time. There is also talk of the fear of God (God here is of course Allah – there is no God but Allah),that UAE has been able to inspire in the minds of wrongdoers. People think twice before even running a red light.

To be fair , it is difficult to argue with that.Undoubtedly , China and Singapore have done well for themselves . And UAE definitely has very low crime rates.

But are these the only countries that have done well? Let us take a larger view. Consider the top 30 developed countries in the world. And the usual measure for this is the HDI – the human development index – a sort of composite to measure how well off a country’s citizens are with respect to health,education and income.( One could have looked at GDP but that is not exactly a comprehensive indicator of development.)

Interestingly , almost all of them are democracies. In fact most countries which have done well for themselves over the past 50 years seem to be democracies. The usual refrain is that these countries are largely homogeneous with none of the pressures that a large , diverse ,hugely populous country like ours would have. Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you the United States , unless of course you think of the President of the United States as a quasi -dictator of sorts. If you ,in fact do, it is good to have known you.

On the other hand , most countries which have had dictators or authoritarian forms of government -think of most of the African countries or a few Islamic states – one sees they haven’t done too well for themselves.

Ofocurse , one needs to be careful and not read too much into this. There needs to be a statistical study that needs to be made to understand the relationship between democracy and development.

But upon a cursory examination ,it does look like democracy in itself does not seem to be inimical to development , if anything it is the democratic countries that ,on a balance, seemed to have done well.

So next time ,when we are tempted to think of China , I wish we would also think about the US ,UK or Germany and remind ourselves that among the well off countries in the world , there seems to be a preponderance of democracies.

Let us consider the first undercurrent now.

The “Benevolent” dictator:

It is an oxymoron if I have heard one. A “benevolent” dictator. One who would be hard nosed enough to use his unbridled power unhesitatingly for the good of the people , yet who would be noble enough not to misuse these powers that we trust him/her/it with. Even forgetting the ethical implications for a minute – it looks like a logical impossibility.

However , let us assume for a moment that this is indeed possible. Let us consider the ways in which this could come to be , since we seem to be on an unbridled flight of fantasy anyways.

1) The dictator/group of elite people / committee/ sentient robots grab power , through violent revolution.Having grabbed power they establish themselves firmly in it’s seat and claim to represent the will of the people. The dictator/group of elite people/committee/sentient robots then rule by fiat. Clearly , the public in general would not have a role or say in this. And a dictatorship/robot rule that has been established this way seems too risky. We do not really know , if the dictator who has come to power this way ,would be too benevolent.

2) Non violent revolution- we rally behind a leader ,who would lead us through a revolution . This revolution would overturn all the existing systems/players within the existing systems. Having done this we establish this leader in the seat of power and hand over our asses to him/her/it. This leader would have unbridled power and would use it for the good of the people. A variation on this theme is that this leader would give up his dictatorship and establish a democracy after a stipulated “n” number of years. n usually is greater than 10. Simple and elegant ,right? Except for a few problems:-

1) We assume that this leader knows best. Apart from being a great revolutionary , he would be a great administrator , a great visionary and knows exactly what needs to be done and how to get it done. And more importantly , all of us will be happy with most of what he is doing. What if a section of us do not agree with a particular step? Or steps? Who gets to decide which section’s opinion to consider on a particular matter? Running a country is an intricate , complex business and it will happen many times that there will be disagreements. Now the only way out of this seems to be trusting in the Great Leader.Which leaves us with the little problem of finding a trustworthy leader?How does one choose such a leader? Who gets to decide? A democratic process to choose a dictator?I invite you to examine the sheer absurdity of this.

2) There is a supposedly neat solution to this. Give the Great Leader a charter.This charter would lay out what the leader is supposed to do. It is kind of a road map. It would also contain solutions for possible contingencies. Neat eh? May be , except -consider this- we are a people who are capable of getting together for a total revolution , we also have the ability to write a charter that foresees all possible contingencies . Along with it , we have the ability to pick out a trustworthy leader from a population of a billion. Why the hell do we need a dictatorship? Cant we use all these wonderful abilities to make the current system work? We must be high or masochistic or both.

And I am not even getting into things like , how do we know this Great Leader will not become a tyrant or how do we know he will give up power when he is supposed to etc. I am assuming if we are able to deal with the above mentioned problems , these smaller problems will take care of themselves.

Philosopher Kings 

Plato started it all with his vision of Philosopher Kings. He was disillusioned with the democratic process existing in Athens during that time and was also a little too enamored of militaristic Sparta. His Republic is, at some points ,evocative of an Orwellian nightmare. However , there is one significant argument that he makes . When for the execution of a job , for example carpentry or let us say gardening , we tend to look for people who are skilled at that particular job -why is it that we do not demand that the people who govern us be skilled at governance. During that time , public offices were decided by lot. So , anybody , actually anybody could hold any office. And that is the context in which we should see his point. He then goes on to expound on his idea of an ideal society , a school for future leaders , the modus operandi of selecting such leaders etc. He gets fairly nutty at some points -suggesting communal living and censorship of music and poetry. He has grand ideas on engineering the perfect society. One sees echoes of this in the Ubermench of Nietzsche , whose philosophy is said to have inspired Nazism.

The appeal of the philosopher -king ,remains. “Philosophers should become Kings and those who are now Kings must start to philosophize” . And over the ages we have seen ,people attributing to themselves these qualities. Adolf Hitler saw himself as a visionary. So did Stalin. But to be fair to Plato , he did lay stringent rules for who could be this philosopher king and how one would go about earning the right to be called one. And while many dictators naturally skip the stringent procedures , they see themselves in their mind’s eye as philosopher kings. As great visionaries on whom this huge responsibility is thrust upon and which they will fulfill for the sake of their countrymen. Hitler, at least , was brimming with such thoughts. And that is how their countrymen also see them ,when these dictators first ascend to power- as saviors. The Germans saw strength in Hitler. But eventually ,their hollowness is exposed and we realize it was a bubble all along puffed up with megalomania.

Democracy has come a long way from Athens. Public office is no longer decided by lot. There is an entire machinery in place for governance. Every philosopher’s philosophy must also be seen in the context of his life and times. I am not sure how relevant Plato is to us today. But surely our longing for the equivalent of a philosopher king remains. We want a leader who is a visionary ,who is a great administrator and knows how to get things done. There is nothing wrong per se with that desire. But in a democracy ,the citizens typically end up getting the leaders that they deserve -not the leaders that they desire.

Consider the state of affairs in our country today. There are many who feel that , now that Modi has been elected all our troubles are at an end. He is going to find the perfect solutions to all our problems. This optimism was an at all high time high a year or so back. While it has abated a bit now , it is also surprising how lenient the media has been with him and how in general too , the refrain has been that we need to give him more time. Again nothing wrong with that. In some ways it also shows a certain level of maturity on the part of the electorate. However , Modi and adequate time seem to be our only answers to the problems at hand. He is a “strong” leader , people say. And that seems to be enough. There is even a sneaking and many times an open admiration for his authoritarian tendencies. Allow me to point out that having a “strong” leader has never been a problem -except for the years under Manmohan Singh. Indira Gandhi was a strong ,authoritarian leader. She was equally lauded and adulated during her time. She was “Durga Maa” ,after the war with Pakistan was won on the Eastern Front. Her Garibi Hatao had in many ways captured the imagination of the electorate. Modi is also charismatic , has captured our imagination like few leaders in the recent past have been able to. But the only qualitative difference that I see is it was Socialism then -it is Capitalism now. There is a different economic coin. And that seems to be it.

No, I am not a Modi baiter. I am not necessarily a fan of his style of functioning ,or the ideology of his party. But I must say , that he has taken some delightful if unexpected agendas. And that is commendable. I am talking here about , this tendency on our part to see this single person as a savior of sorts. This amounts to an abdication of our own responsibilities as citizens. It is almost reminiscent of the monarchies of old, where the King would make all the difference. The citizens in general are helpless and powerless. We have replaced monarchies with electoral democracy. But the way we idolize our leaders still reflects the old spirit. We have had a long history in this country of personality cults and perhaps this reflects the fact that while we are a democracy in the letter , we are not really a democracy in spirit. True , we have voted out certain leaders in the past , but the phenomenon of personality cult remains strong , and seems to have come back with a vengeance with Modi.

There are obvious dangers to a culture of leader worship and personality cults. Sooner or later it leads to authoritarian tendencies and an acquiescence on the part of the general public , further emboldening the leader and so forth like a vicious cycle. And then when the breaking point comes we would vote this leader out. For a while , such a “strong” leader would not emerge. The citizens start feeling direction less.A need again is felt for a strong leader and another would emerge and the cycle would repeat itself. The leader gets adulated , the leader turns megalomaniacal and then he is discredited. And nothing would change in real terms.

All the while we miss the real problem. A successful democracy demands from it’s citizens far more civil vibrancy than has existed in our country for long. True , it is changing now. And that is a good thing. But for us to be a successful democracy we need to operate at far higher levels of awareness and at much lower levels of apathy. Unless and until we are more informed ,more active as citizens , much more demanding of our representatives ,I do not see much hope for change. We are our biggest hope but we do not see it that way. We see hope in our leaders and express disappointment in them. We tend to blame politicians and democracy for all our ills. But then , we are getting the leaders that we deserve. We blame our politicians for playing caste based politics – yet in a lot of places in the country for a lot of people caste plays a very important role in their lives. We bemoan the communalization of politics , yet we need only to look at the prejudices of an average Indian to guess as to it’s source. We don’t want people to run red lights , yet we do that at every opportunity when we know we can get away with it.

It is convenient to blame our problems on the lack of leadership. But when this leadership emerges from amongst us and when we have a chance to select who our leaders should be , we have little excuse. Our longing for a leader who would lead us out of this mess is only a reflection of how little responsibility that we as citizens want to take for our conditions. True , leadership is important, there is no denying that but leadership is not the only or even the biggest solution to our problems. Can we be more informed ? Can we be less apathetic? Can we take up certain responsibilities in whatever little way each of us can? Only when we are able to answer these questions in the affirmative , will the solutions to our problems begin to emerge.

We can continue to blame democracy. We can continue to see our savior in one single person. However , till the time we become worthy of the progress that we want our leaders to magically deliver to us ,I dont see real change happening.

The day is not far when we will be disillusioned with Modi too. And it wont be his fault. Democracy is not the problem. A strong leader who brooks no dissent is not the solution. We can provide solutions ourselves by being more demanding , by changing the discourse , by being informed .Hard work? Yes. Worth it? We all need to answer that for ourselves.

Successful democracies seem to have worked this way. I guess we can too. Denying that we can make this work is almost tantamount to saying we are not fit for self rule. If that’s the case , somebody should have alerted our freedom fighters to that fact. We seem to have wasted our time winning our freedom. After all , could there be a “stronger” leader than the Monarch?

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I AM…

I am a pale shadow. I am a poor excuse. I am a bad joke.
I am what I am , what could have been and what perhaps could never be.
I am somone else’ idea. I am nobody’s creation.
I am the living ,waking , walking lie that I tell everybody. I am the eternal truth about existence.
I live everyday longing to die some day. I die everyday hoping to live one day.
I am childishly naïve. I am obtusely cynical.
I worship false Gods. I drink putrefaction for holy water without flinching.
I hearken to false Prophets and get coached in convenient values.
I scale false peaks and wonder why I feel emptiness and not exhilaration when I reach the top.
I am the abyss that could never be filled. I am the full cup that is afraid to empty itself.
I am the happiness that is not my own. I am the accomplishment that I do not care about.
I am a virus trying to infect the world. I am the safe haven in a zombie infested world.
I am a pitiful platitude. I am putrid pain.
I am the vulgar opulence of illusory success. I am the miserable poverty of shattered dreams.
I am Gollum’s obsession. I am Smeagol’s longing.
I am half forgotten dreams. I am half remembered lore. I am half whispered ideas.
I am foolish farsightedness. I am frustrating tunnel vision.
I am half blind , half dead and fully awake.
I am schizophernic and we attend my funeral everyday.

HAIDER :CINEMATIC CHUTZPAH

Chutzpah(noun):-  the quality of audacity , for either good or bad

The word chutzpah has a very special place in this movie. It gets mentioned atleast a couple of times . The word is explained with examples and it is pointed out that ,ironically , it rhymes with AFSPA. And no , it is not a good word in the movie. It represents all that was wrong with Kashmir and the milieu that the characters found themselves peopling.

But , of course , there is another kind of Chutzpah. The good kind. The kind that only a few can exhibit.  It is the word that you use ,when you find that words like brilliance  and élan just don’t cut it. When you see an undertaking that is as audacious in conception as it is brilliant in execution.  When you know the near impossibility of what is being attempted and you see that not only has the impossible become real but that it is alive. The kind of word you would use for this movie.

Undertaking  to retell Shakespeare’s most popular tragedy is audacious in itself. To retell it in the way that this movie has done  is exhibiting chutzpah.

Shakespeare’s most existential hero finds expression in what is perhaps independent India’s most existential milieu – Kashmir. “To be or not be” takes on a different meaning altogether in the slogan “Hum hai ki nahin hain”.   In many ways , Kashmir becomes the real Hamlet , with existential dilemmas worthy of the tragic hero.  Caught between India and Pakistan , between AFSPA and militancy from across the border – the voice of it’s people muted , their protests relegated to the background – Kashmir embodies the dilemma of the tragic hero very well and  “Hum hai ki nahin hain” is indeed apt.

In contrast , the supposed Hamlet , Haider exhibits very few dilemmas. “To be or not to be” is not a question for him. He decides to be. To search for his “disappeared” father. He does exhibit a glimmer of doubt every now and then about the guilt of his uncle , but by and large he is  a man of conviction.

Haider has been extremely ably and poignantly played by Shahid Kapoor.  Brooding most of the time  and  breaking into almost violent emotional outbursts when called for. The character’s love for his father  and  his despising for his uncle have both been brought to life very well. But what stands out is the character’s relationship with his mother. The hatred combined with a vaguely incestuous longing have been portrayed brilliantly by Shahid Kapoor. Truly , a gem of a performance.

Tabu , as Gertrude . excels. Neglected by her husband , falling for her brother in law , worrying sick  for her son’s welfare – the character has many facets and it is , indeed a very complicated character. And perhaps , in lesser hands , the portrayal would have floundered. It is only a fine actor like Tabu ,who could have done justice to the role. And she has. And without doubt , she is the best of the lot in the movie.

Kay Kay , as Caludius is adequate. He is shifty . He is selfish . But he also loves Tabu. While , not a standout performance , he makes the cut. All the other characters deliver too , giving what is expected out of them.

The director has mostly stayed true to the plot of the original play. And while doing so has managed to weave together a story of his own ,which has a meaning far beyond the original tragedy. A superb and brilliant retelling. Chutzpah indeed!!!!

WE KNOW NOTHING… AND WE HAVE LEARNT GHANTA

Whatever , one may say about “ Go ..Goa..Gone” ,  after all is said and done , the two hours that you would  have spent watching this movie are non boring , pleasant and enjoyable.  Yes , you do get a certain feeling of missing something. I know I had it. But I could not quite lay my finger on what it was. Then my wife told me. It is called a ‘plot’ she said.  That is when it dawned on me too.  The movie has absolutely no plot or storyline to speak of. It’s premise is absurd and the story it tries to tell is pointless.  Yet , you have fun watching this movie. 

        There is a scene in this movie. It is one of the last scenes.  Hardik (,played by Kunal Khemu) , stops , Boris , (played by Saif Ali Khan) , from shooting the zombie turned Arianne.  Hardik then goes to her and lures her out of the boat. What follows next is in perhaps  every sense, what the movie is all about. Hardik is chased by the Zombie , along the beach , into the forest . Then they play some hide and seek among the trees.  All this is set to a romantic background score . it is as if , the two are lovers frolicking around , where in reality , the zombie wants to devour Hardik , and Hardik wants to escape the zombie.  Kunal Khemu’s expressions are priceless in this scene.

        It’s  funny – this scene. It is also fun to watch. You are laughing all the time. It is also absurd. And yes it is all pointless, with neither any bearing on or relevance to  the plot , whatever excuse for a plot there is .

        And that’s what with the movie too. It is a very fun movie to watch. You are laughing all the time, well most of the time. The conversations are clever , the repartee quick and the dialogues witty. The pace is decent . And the acting is good, particularly from the three protagonists. It is also absurd , has no plot to speak of and seems all pointless , despite , the forced messages about saying no to drugs.  And, the entire package manages to end up being entertaining and enjoyable.

        Witty , clever conversations peppered with hindi gaalies , seem to be the stuff , that a lot of movies are made of today. This movie is no exception. The first half is particularly good. Smartass comments fly back and forth  and there is a generous sprinkling of beep words. In fact , at one point in time , one wonders if the movie is incidental to the dialogues.  It almost does not make any sense at one point , but by that point , you are having fun and are looking forward to the next dialogue.  

       And again , as with many movies this one also celebrates fukragiri and loserdom.   It centers itself around two girl chasing , joint smoking , beer guzzling , work shirking young men .  They may not have many merits , but they definitely are very interesting.  And they have been played well by Kunal Khemu and Vir Das. Kunal Khemu , particulary stands out , with his comic timings and his near priceless expressions in a few scenes. Vir Das and  Anand Tiwary , play second fiddle well and manage to do a convincing job.  Saif Ali Khan is adequate while Pooja Gupta is not. But then , she looks good and we all know  that there has to be a good looking female lead (?) in a zombie movie. So , we are prepared to overlook that.

    The directors have managed to handle the zombie angle pretty decently.  They have paid homage to a host of zombie movies . They have managed a good balance between retaining several cinematic clichés while at the same time making light of some of them. While , at times , the overall zombie thing , does get a bit gross to watch , it has been a decent job overall.

     All , in all. Fun movie. Enjoyable.  If you are fine with not having a plot in the movie that you watch , you will love this one. 3.5/5 

It is a Dog Eat Cow World….

  These seem to be times of disdain for politics and the political class in general.  As a country , we seem to hate our politicians.

   It got me thinking. So , why do we hate our politicians so much? There are a lot of reasons – they are corrupt , all they care about is power , they are generally apathetic towards the plight of the people ..the list goes on.  

    But , put in the simplest of terms , it is perhaps because , they definitely have the power to get things done for the good of the country and they do not seem to possess the desire to do so.

   We , the people , on the other hand , would love to get things done , yet , we do not possess the power to do so. 

   Something like the graphic below. 

Image

 

So , the politicians , are like , well ..canines and we are like the cows that keep getting milked.

But , then wait a minute . Power in a democracy , is not merely the ability to make or change laws. It is also about the ability to make or change the law makers , i.e the politicians.

So , in a democracy , if you are aware of your rights , and how things work , then you do have power . While , it is not the same as the power to make laws , it is power nevertheless.

But then , in order to be able to understand and exercise this power , you need  awareness and you need a certain amount of education , not the formal kind , but the kind that tells you what your rights are and so forth. Most of us , the urban educated middle class , perhaps fall into this category. We certainly are aware and we are educated. And hence , actually speaking , we do have power.

But then again , there are people , who  are neither aware nor educated. Yeah , those guys do not realize their power. But they do wish , their life got better. So , perhaps , we need to revisit the graphic. 

Image

 

But , then again , we have power and desire. Politicians have power alone. Granted , we have a different kind of power , but it is power nevertheless. So , why do we not  make our politicians do our bidding. By us , I mean , the “urban” , “aware” , “progressive”  middle class.

Well , the truth is , only some amongst us are trying to do that. They realize their power , and they are manifesting their desire to change stuff. They are not succeeding yet. The RTI activists , the anti-corruption crusaders , some good politicos and civil servants , a few good men and women basically. The stars amongst us. 

The rest of us well , we are not doing anything about our desire. Which , perhaps , is the same thing as having no desire at all. Something like this. 

Image

 

So , what is happening? Look who we have for company , in the lower right quadrant. We are aware , we are informed , we have desire , yet we do not manifest it into something concrete. Are we any different then , from the politicians?

               All of us need not be activists. No , all of us cannot be. But am sure , all of us can , at some level try to find an expression for the desire to change stuff that is within us.  Honestly , am as much a dog as the other person ,and hopefully I shall soon find my expression.

                Why? May be because , in a democracy , more often than not , the people end up getting the politicians they deserve. 

A RACE TOO???

For whatever you may accuse Race 2 of lacking.., you cannot accuse it of lacking two things-.one – a certain clarity of vision and two- an almost anxious ambition. The movie is very clear ,of what it wants to be and is eager , earnest and at times desperate in it’s pursuit of this goal. It starts out ambitious , trying to be better than it’s ideal ..then as time goes on, starts falling behind in the race…and by the finish line , it becomes a distant also ran. It somehow reminded me of one of those races between Saif Ali Khan and Akshay Khanna in the earlier Race. The younger brother loses here too. But then unlike Akshay , full marks for earnestness . And yes , this younger brother is  much more stylish and much better looking. So what if he has lost the race , he still looks cool.

                The director duo , man , do they love themselves some Race!!!  They were very clear throughout as to what they were making. They were going to make another Race. So , they decide to retain many of the elements of the earlier movie , that seemed to have worked for it. A convoluted plot , a bearded Saif Ali Khan , a “trying hard to be funny” Anil Kapoor . Some elements , while retained look different – the bimbo – Amisha Patel for Sameera Reddy .. a “lat lag gayi” for “touch me touch me”. Some elements they seek to add – models masquerading as actors- guess who. But note that no elements have been replaced or removed.  We still have bomb blasts  stunning locales and gyrating hot bodies. But somehow , the overall effect is , well , kind of a let-down. The movie tries to ape the earlier movie so much , that it ends up botching it up. All that happens is you are constantly reminded of the earlier Race. So , it is like a younger sibling , failing to meet up to the expectations of their parents like the elder one did.

               But then , the younger one looks more handsome and dresses much better. That needs to be said of the movie. Except for Anil Kapoor and Amisha Patel , the main four actors , look good. The leading ladies are hot. The men look good. Bodies are either chiselled or toned. The locales are even better than the earlier Race. If one were to watch the movie frame by individual frame , one could be forgiven for thinking that , they were shoots for  some magazine cover or a shoot for some ad. Because the actors , behave less like actors and more like models. The women don’t walk , they sashay. The men don’t walk either , they swagger. Everybody wears expensive clothes , drives expensive cars and lives in expensive houses and ofcourse throw expensive parties. Except for the fact that , they are criminals , this I guess , is high society.

             There is a plot , ofcourse. It is convoluted. And unnecessarily so. The directors try so hard to surprise us with the “twists” in the plot , that you get annoyed at times. And they don’t exactly turn out to be twists either.

               The characters are dull. Each character in the earlier movie , was interesting , had a part of their own to play in the story and played it well. Here somehow the treatment of the characters makes you feel , that there is a lot that is missing.

Saif Ali Khan , “Is race ka sabse purana khiladi” ,  is bearded yet again and is decent and adequate.

John “Stone” Abraham , looks like a model and acts like a moron.

Anil Kapoor , has nothing else in life going on for him. In Race , he had entertained , here – he annoys.

And the ladies – Oo La La …not Amisha Patel ..the other two. They are hot , they dance well and they don’t act. And I am not complaining.

All in all , not as good and as interesting as the earlier Race. But , to be fair, a decent watch.

So , if you don’t mind watching good looking people on screen in some stunning locales , set amidst a lukewarm plot , go ahead – it is not bad a way to pass the evening.

3 out of 5.

 

 

ONE ARTY FARTY GUZAARISH

Before I start commenting on the movie at all , indulge me and allow me an aside. This has been gnawing at me , from like 5 minutes into the movie , and I don’t know how important it is in the overall scheme of things , but I need to get it out.  So here goes. This entire film looked as if – and I am talking about the actual visual effect here , there are no other metaphorical underpinnings J – it was shot through a tinted glass. There seems to be an everpresent darkness , that just seems to refuse to leave the sets. Let me not use the word gloom here , as it wont be literal , and I promised no metaphors.  It was as though the entire movie was filmed , after the sets were covered in a huge shroud and the lights were dimmed. Even what were supposed to be real bright , sunny and cheerful days , seemed to have been darkened a little. For instance , the scene where Hrithik Roshan and the others are driving down to the courthouse , and then there is ofcourse the clichéd breeze and the even more clichéd children playing in the fields , that I thought was your usual clichéd bright and sunny morning. But , even that was darkened a little , so that one could not really see the brightness for what it really was.

Now , I don’t get it. May be I am not good with the metaphorical stuff , like what the genius of a director is trying to tell us , like the darkness is indicative of the gloom that is integral to the life of the character that Hrithik Roshan tried so hard to portray in the movie. Yeah , am not good with directorial touches like this one. But I still don’t get it. And what’s with the sets ? And the characters that seem to people these sets? Where exactly do they live? Which era are they from ? And the décor ? SLB (short for Sanjya Leela Bhansali) , somehow always tries very hard ,to transport us into a parallel universe , where we are left  gasping and trying to get our bearings .And after a while , we give up , because we understand there is no use , and the parallel universe , whatever it lacks in , does not lack in grandiosity and a certain magnificent bleakness. So it is with this movie . The sets are huge . The sets are gloomy. The sets are unreal. The sets are magnificent. And the sets are pointless. And after a point the sets come in the way , of making the characters real and relatable. And once you get bored of gawking at the sets and try to look around at the characters that people them , and the story that threads these characters together , you unfortunately have very little to go on. Imagine a magnificent castle with absolutely no history . Once you are done gawking at it , what do you do? And perhaps that’s the whole problem with the movie.

Once you move on from the sets , you realize that the sets were the only thing the director was sure about. The rest seems to be a confused tangle. The director wants to tell us something , but you are not sure what. Is it about magicians and their trade? Well , there are asides to it , but no its not completely about that. Is it about quadriplegics and their plight and their struggle , their hope and its loss? Well , then again , there are asides but not quite that too. Is it about Euthanasia , and a social commentary on it. ? Well , it was handled too trivially , to qualify as that too. Is it about the dedication and love of the nurse to this patient , or that of friend to a friend , or that of a doctor to such a patient? Well then again , not quite. It looks as if , SLB tried everything , was not sure what to do , and brought all of these samples together. And , somewhere , after two thirds of the film is over , the director doesn’t know what to do , and these samples get revisited , one by one. The director’s inability to get the story going is almost palpable here , and I think this where I fell asleep for a full five minutes. When I woke up , to my horror , I realized I hadn’t missed much.

Unfortunately , such trivial handling , makes none of the things touched upon in the movie , relatable. You don’t feel for the character that is Roshan , you don’t share his frustration , you don’t find yourself riled this way or that about mercy killing , your heart doesn’t go out for the dedication of the nurse , nor do you get to admire the magician’s trade. You are just left empty and bored . In the end ,  if anyone needs mercy killing , it is the audience . The movie becomes an unspeakable and never ending ordeal.

Howz this for  trivial handling.- The Roshan chap , tries to get support for his mercy killing , through his radio station. All he gets are negative responses. There is one TV show , where Prahlad Kakkar , , seems to be the only person supporting it . And that’s when the lawyer decides it’s time to move the court again!!!! And suddenly , there is a welter of support for the Roshan chap. How did this turnaround happen ? We are not told. Also , why did mother die all of a sudden? If not for that protracted scene , of the raindrops , which is ofcourse SLB’s way of showing us the plight of the Roshan chap. Too convenient eh?

The performances are equally forgettable. To Roshan’s credit , he seems to have tried. He does have a unhealthy look about him. It does seem as though , he did put in some work , however little in preparation for this character. Apart from that , that perhaps , is the best thing that can be said about him. He tried. And by the way , am not sure , if quadriplegics , talk wheezily , so I will let it go at that.

Aishwarya Rai , well , she never tries. She is as plastic as she always was , and will always remain. She cant act .Luckily for her , no director seems to have caught on to that fact yet. Her every movement , every gesture , every dialogue delivery is affected and fake. So she has stayed completely true to form in this movie. And the lesser said about her attire and makeup the better.

There is ofcourse this other guy , whose name I don’t know. He comes to learn magic from the Roshan chap.  He tries to act all cheerful and breezy and sunny . He is supposed to be the comic relief. He ends up being very irritating.

Lets not even talk about the other characters.

I guess , this is what happens , when the director’s expertise lies not in the art of telling a story , but in erecting huge , pointless sets and when pretensions replace real story telling.

1.5/5

 

 

THE TERRIBLE STRANGERS

Anjaana …Anjaani  is a movie about two people , Ranbir Kapoor and Priyanka Chopra  and their endless attempts at killing themselves off. When they fail to succeed in these attempts , they get bored and decide to fall in love. Ofcourse, Priyanka does not realize it till the end -that she is in love -and needs a host of cinematic cliches thrown at her face , including a supportive ex-boyfriend , who of course , according to the prevalent rules of Cinema , takes it surprisingly well. There are also the ever present small coincidences , that remind her of Ranbir Kapoor . Then only does she realize the strength of her passion.  Ranbir Kapoor proposes in the end, needless to say , Priyanka agrees. Also , the scene is set in apparently freezing water, which somehow is supposed to be funny . I cant remember how,though.

Ever watched a movie , that starts out interesting and seems to have some potential? And then have you watched in dismay , as slowly the movie deteriorates to the point , where it is just a puddle of  shameless cliches from  many movies past? And also have you watched , two perfectly good looking and talented actors , who seem to occupy almost 95% of the screen time , wasted away? It is quite sad , I must say. And  if you want to witness it , go watch this movie. Because thats what this movie is , a waste – a waste of talent , and a waste of what perhaps could have been developed into an interesting story.    To make it worse , given the deterioration mentioned earlier , the movie comes off as pretentious.

Ranbir Kapoor is a ..well ..enterprenuer , in the film. It is not clear what he does , except that it has got something to do with the stock market. He is supposedly aggressive , too aggressive for his own good. He mouths stuff like “Higher share price means more profit” and “Us company ko khareed lete hain”.  Having established his business credentials thus , he proceeds to take a business loan from a bank. The stock market crashes , and he promptly decides to die. It is not exactly clear why , because , his other partners , do not seem to be doing the same thing. Anyways , he decides to jump off a bridge , and that is where he meets a much drunk Priyanka Chopra.  Apparently she also wants to die , andfor some inexplicable reason ,  she keeps distracting Ranbir , as he tries to jump off the bridge. They fail in the attempt , and land up at the hospital.

They , then escape from the hospital , go to Priyanka’s home , and try to die again. They , fail again, because , otherwise , it would have been a very short movie. That is when , they decide , that they would try again after 20 days , because , apparently all these failed attempts at suicide , warrant such a waiting period. Why could not it be interpreted as a sign to live instead of trying suicide in another 20 days , one cannot understand. Directors ofcourse , have poetic license , and not questioning , their conclusion , lets move on. And , ofcourse , they decide to spend these 20 days together . For a while , we are not clear why Priyanka wanted to die in the first place. Just when , you are about to decide , that she is generally of a suicidal tendency , her story is told. By that time , you dont really care. Anyways, Ranbir first falls in love with Priyanka. Priyanka , ofcourse being a girl , retains the prerogative to be confused about her feelings. She thinks she is still in love with the jerk of an ex boyfriend , when she is with Ranbir. And when with the ex -bf , she thinks she is in love with Ranbir. And luckily for her , both are  so  understanding, that one cannot help suspect if they really like her.  And ,then finally on the same bridge , they met first , they ofcourse also decide to get married. Then , the movie ends with the cliched’ joke that marriage is as good as suicide.

Frankly , I thought the movie started off on an interesting note. And I thought , that perhaps , it would turn out even more interesting. While it was quite predictable , that these two would fall in love , may be they could have without using so many cliches. At one point in time , you feel that the director is bored with the movie. Why else , does he keep throwing all the cinematic cliches , that were ever in existence at us? And so what you get as an end product , is a terrible mish mash of , pretentious , cliched , head ache inducing cinema, which seems to have too many songs.

Both Priyanka and Ranbir , have acted quite well in the movie. Both of them seem to have a certain ease to their acting , a sort of fluidity , and would have been a treat to watch , if the story had been better told. Ranbir particularly , is a find . He has shown  that he can act and the spark shown in Rocket Singh , continues. And in comparision , with the very wooden Imran Khan , he scores any day ,in the acting department. This man has potential , clearly ,for much bigger things. Priyanka , has also done well . Both of them also seem to be easy and relaxed around each other. I wouldnt call it chemistry , but yeah , they looked good together. Unfortunately , the characters are not very well developed. And it is surprising , if one considers the fact that , there are hardly any other roles , with a combined screen time more than 5 minutes . So much time on the screen , and yet , the character development ,somehow doesnt seem quite well.

There are also too many songs in the movie. As I said , the director was bored and clueless , towards the end , and he decided to fill the movie with cliches and songs.

So , thats the sad tale of the terrible strangers . Watch it if you have nothing else to do. Avoid it , if you can. I give it a 1.5 out of 5 .

FAITH AND JUSTICE

There are some words that have dominated the verbal lexicon of TV channels over the last few days , after the Ayodhya Verdict was delivered. Atleast the ones I have been watching , namely NDTV and CNN IBN. “Peace” is one of them. “Compromise” another. “Reconciliation” of course takes the cake. There are other words or phrases that also keep coming up , for instance “India Stands United” , which I suppose was like the tagline  of the program ,which was following the Ayodhya Developments on the 30th on NDTV , and hosted by , who else , but , Ms. Barkha “I –love –the –sound-of-my-own- voice- a little –too-much” Dutt. And then ofcourse , catch phrases like “It is not about Mandir or Masjid” , were also thrown in for good measure.  And ofcourse “India has moved on “ , is my favorite one of all. Ms. “I love my voice” ‘s program was the most interesting to watch of all. And to my good fortune , I watched it for about 6 hours straight. Yes , it was an off day , and yes , I had nothing else to do , and yes , I don’t have a life.. But since , we already know that , allow me to talk about a few things that I observed and have reflected upon.

It was quite interesting as I said . Ms Dutt , had appointed herself , the keeper of peace and  goodwill between the two communities . Peace , she wanted , and Peace she would keep . So no dissenting voices were allowed much airtime. People who were using words of the day , were only allowed any decent airtime. And ofcourse the words of the day , were , “Compromise” , “Beauty” , “Aman” , and ofcourse “Moving on” . And all of the people who were using these phrases were also cooing about , how mature the common man had become . “Lookey here “, they said , “ How kids grow up . They are not fighting anymore” . The most happy of all was Ms. Dutt . She was sooo happy , that the common man was showing restraint . All through , she suffered from the delusion that , one slip of phrase from her , or any one of the panel members , or one strong dissenting voice , and that’s it ,- there would be riots all over again , and oh my God , Indian would burn and how!!! So , she told herself , I shall be for ,like , peace , today , and make sure everyone in the panel , is of course also saying “ All izz well” , and then there wont be any riots. Responsible journalism , you see.  And she was as happy as a mother would be , when she sees her kids grow up and do adult things , when the common man was not rioting. That this attitude , was elitist , and that ensuring people only say , “All izz well” , is not the complete job description of a journalist , somehow escaped her. And also , that , even to riot or not to riot , people don’t watch her program and decide.

Now to the verdict itself. It has ofcourse , been hailed by many , as showing judicial courage and imagination. Some have , ofcourse , called it a Panchayati style settlement, but in general it has been welcomed. I suppose , it appeals to a certain romantic notion of India , Mandir and Masjid together.  Look at us , we can all say , Hindus and Muslims , praying together , side by side. United , multi cultural India , you see. We smuggle idols into mosques when we want , we demolish mosques , when the passion takes us , but then , hey , we also give one third of the land  to the party , whose land it originally was , to pray on. Get on with the program will you , India has moved on. I fail to understand , how it is the judiciary’s business to strike this compromise. But , anyways , the compromise , is the least of the problems in this verdict, and perhaps even a wise thing to do. There are other problems with the verdict, and some of them , I believe , have some long standing implications for the future.

, The court deciding , that this was the place Ram was born , or in other words , deciding that this land indeed was RamJanmaBhoomi. And this was done based solely on the “Faith” of the Hindus. In fact , one of the judges says so. There were ruins of a temple that were found beneath the mosque yes. But to decide , that this under the dome , where the idols are placed ,  was the exact place , where Ram was born , I suppose , calls for a mind boggling and categorical  evidence. And to my knowledge , there is non such . And if it had been the ruling would have unequivocally stated that. But then hey, who cares about evidence , as long as there is faith to lean upon , right.  So , the courts now have started deciding on questions of faith . So essentially , it is like saying , that the majority has a certain faith . Since , they are the majority , they must be right . Hence , the faith of the majority is right . And hence , we rule , in favor of the majority. And ofcourse , we are generous , and hence , we shall also ensure , the minority gets something. Pat us on the back , anyone?

It is a strange atmosphere that has been created after the verdict. Any body who dissents is a hawk and does not want peace. That he/she might genuinely disagree with verdict is somehow not seen. And if anybody disagrees , it is like , “Oh my God , you don’t want to move on? No compromise ? You bloody hawk” . There are questions being asked like , “What wrong with Mandir and Masjid together?” . And if you try to point out the flaws in the verdict , you do not want to move on , you are still “old India” .   The BJP is the happiest of all. It can tell it’s constituents , “See, we got you the mandir we promised . Even the courts said so.” , yet be all peace loving , just to show they have moved on.  They can , ofcourse afford to be , after all one third of the land that was never yours to begin with is not a bad bargain. One should see some of the party’s proponents on TV.  “Why cant we move on and let the past be past ?” , they ask. Yet it is quite ironic , that these men and women , who now are , talking about forgetting the past , were avenging an alleged grievance , done 500 years ago , when they demolished the mosque. And this judgment , has in a way , legitimized that movement. Way to  go judges.

I think I shall establish a religion. My God will be a guy , who has a bladder disorder. I ardently believe that , all the rivers in the country , are due to him .No wonder they stink eh? I shall find followers , and if I manage to get the majority as  followers of my God , we shall file a case asking to be given rights over all the rivers of the country. After all , being in a majority group , and “believing” in something seems to be enough in this country , even for the courts.

YENNA RASCALAA ..MIND ITTT…

Every once in a long long while , along come some unforgettable cultural icons. They stretch the limits of what we think is possible , change our perspective towards life in particular and reality in general , overwhelm us and leave us drained and panting with their awesomeness. You are left with no choice , but to surrender all your senses to the phenomenon that is the icon , suspend all thought , and in general allow yourself to be overpowered by the experience. Mithun Chakaraborthy in Gunda is one such icon. Rajnikanth yet another. Us South Indians , ofcourse , will argue that , Rajnikanth is in a totally different league altogether and that , the two cannot really be compared or even that their names cannot be uttered in the same breath. I would not want to take this argument further , because it is said that , in a typcial room there are around 3056 items , using which Rajnikanth can kill you , including the room itself , and frankly am a little scared and dont want to die. And I can already hear Mithun Chakraborthy yelling at me  and that too scares me. So suffice to say that , I have been overwhelmed by both these icons , other arguments notwithstanding.

But this post is not about these icons. The biggest mistake Rahul Dravid made , was to play in the same period as Sachin Tendulkar did. Sometimes , a bigger icon can outshine the smaller ones . If these said smaller icons , were born in another period , then they would have been big icons in their own right. So this post ,is dedicated to bring these smaller icons to light. Specifically , to bring any such deeds as they might have done , which deserve jawdropping awe to light. And in watching some of these , if you catch yourself ,thinking -“Woww..even Rajni couldnt do that.” , dont panic. It is natural. Too long have icons like Rajnikanth occupied our collective imagination. So ladies and gentlemen , we present to you -“The Captain”.

Watch this one:-

Yes , that what I am talking about. Apart from the general rule that ,  heroes  should be  old and plump and  heroines young and plumper , there are certain  other ,more stringent rules , before we bestow the status of a cultural phenomenon on someone. They are:-

1) A general defiance for the laws of physics , because , well …fuck physics.

2) An ability to stretch , challenge , distort , change and demolish your perceptions of the fabric that is reality , because , well ..fuck reality too.

Also observe , in the video that , The Captain , not only emerges unhurt , he also manages to hurt ,another man with the same bullet. And that is ofcourse another quality that we want in our Cultural Icons. Old fashioned , simple and sweet-efficiency. “Hey the bullet does not hurt me …so why waste it …lets kill that bastard  , standing there with it. I dont even need to move. I will just look at him . And the bullet will travel in the desired direction. ” Yes , bullets are afraid of the captain too. Ofcourse , if it is between the captain and Rajni , Rajni would anyday take precedence, but as I said , we are not talking about Rajni here.

So that brings us to the next  rule:-

3) If a bullet does not hurt you , make sure it hurts someone. Efficiency , is not only a desired but a necessary quality, because , well….fuck bullets.

Observe the confused , expression of the policeman in the end. That brings us to our next rule.

4) Mere mortals should not understand what you are upto , because , well….fuck mere mortals.

I am a South Indian , and specifically from the state of Andhra Pradesh . And for a long while , I had bemoaned the lack of such icons , from my state. At one point in time , I was afraid , I would die , without seeing the emergence of atleast one such icon , from my state. Not any more . Ladies and Gentlemen , presenting to you – Balakrishna .

Did you see that..did you see that.? Now let us see , how many of the rules , that we discussed earlier , did this deed of his satisfy.

1) Defiance for the laws of physics and fucking physics – check

2) Distortion of perceptions about reality – check

3) Efficiency – ofcourse check. He did not do any hard labor , to move that train , he just politely asked it to move back. Ofcourse , some might say that pointing your index finger , is not exactly polite , but then , well…fuck trains.

4) Mere mortals not understanding you – did you not see how flabbergasted Sonali Bendre was?

Also observe , that he is very devout. And God is on his side. Now some might say , this is cheating. I mean you cant invoke God and get stuff done , and be called a cultural icon. Well , allow me  to humbly submit that just because , The Captain was not seen to be praying in the bullet scene , does not mean that , he was not actually doing it. May be he was secretly. So I think Balakrishna deserves extra credit for his humility. So this brings us to the next rule.

5) Invoke God whenever you can – it helps , particularly when you need to push tonnes of metal out of the way.

I had in fact , for a long time suspected that , he was just pretending to invoke God . I mean I was pretty much sure , that he was God. And then , I watched this video , and realized , he has a long long way to go , before being called God.

God already walks this earth . Presenting the Captain again..

He meant to say , God not Narasimha.

And I am scared of even mentioning the checklist now.

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