Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

The curious case of…
November 14, 2009

Here are a few things those came across my mind while watching ‘The curious case of Benjamin Button‘. One if not allowing the attention of the audience go anywhere else while watching the movie is a parameter of a well made movie, it scores really well on this front. One is just sucked into it beyond the first 5 minutes.

Two, a movie is one art form which given the right hands, morphs an imaginary world to such an extent that it leaves the audience – both mass and elite – with questions of what-if. What if somebody is born old, grows up reverse(grows down!) and dies being a baby.

Three, given a great script with well written dialogues and good story telling abilities, the audience actually forgives the improbability of a make-believe happening. Something, that the directors in Bollywood have not been able to replicate successfully.

So, in a week where Sachin plays a knock that reminds us of what he used to be decade back, its such a nice coincidence. Is he getting younger? 😉

Some more thought on things that were actually born perfect and gradually going backwards made me feel almost like – well – is not the United States of America the perfect example? An old habitation, created young and perfect by the founding fathers of the country, making it the best place on earth to live in, and then the gradual intellectual decay of going backwards. Are we going to see a juvenile America and then see it on the cradle? I hope not.

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Free society is not free elections and democracy
May 6, 2009

In Capitalism Magazine Michael J Hurd has written an insightful essay titled “War and Peaceful Majority“. He describes why it is irrelevant what the majority of a nation believes in, because it is the government which gets to make the decisions which affect the future of everybody.

People generally are peace loving, but history has shown repeatedly – in Russia, Germany, China and other countries – that they cannot really stop a government from making gross and immoral decisions. Democracy, it can be argued, can bring in the change for the better. But for that, the democracy has to work; the people should be able to analyze the good from the bad, the ideal from the rhetoric and make their opinion heard. After all, Hitler did not start out as a dictator but he did manage to get absolute power from within a democracy.

The following quote rings so true today for US, as it does for India.

 A free society requires much, much more than free elections and democracy.
These are necessary tools, but they are not absolutes. There’s only one absolute in a free society: The right of the individual—each and every individual—to be free from the initiation of physical force. This right makes the necessity of a strong limited government—with a police force, military and civil/criminal court system—quite obvious.

Pragmatism: The new age philosophy
January 31, 2009

Consider what President Obama had to say about the size of government in his inaugural address. It signaled the rise of pragmatism as a new-age philosophy in the world stage. Not that it did not exist before, but never before has a leader of any consequence declared it in the grandest stage as the basis for taking decisions and made to sound virtuous about it.

“The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works — whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified. Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end…”

 

Dictionary.com defines the word ‘pragmatism‘ thus:

(philosophy) the doctrine that practical consequences are the criteria of knowledge and meaning and value

 

By definition it means the absence of any principles. It means taking some ‘arbitrary actions’ having no relation with moral values. The thing that decides what actions to take, is an assumption that it might work, or it might attain the necessary goals. Because, in the absence of any principles, it is absolutely impossible to have any concrete basis to hope that it will work.

 

Rational capitalist, has two excellent posts on the topic.

 

“The desire to “compromise with anybody on anything” is the hallmark of the pragmatist and such a desire necessitates contradiction “
 

      “Pragmatism primed consists of being so disintegrated intellectually that in addition to dispensing with principles in favor of that “which works” you dismiss the possibility of being able to determine if the action does indeed “work”. “

      Lights off! Let us go back in time…
      February 19, 2008

      Not very long ago, I thought I would save and become rich. It took me not much rational thinking to conclude that saving cannot really make me rich. I need to create wealth for it, and to create wealth I need to come up with an original idea.

      It needs a creator, an innovator, to come up with an idea which solves a problem. Not some second grade, temporary and feel-good feeling which can at best suspend the problem for some time.

      Switching off the lights of the whole world for an hour can only achieve as much. Unfortunately, lots of people dont seem to realise it and fall for a collective feel-good symbolism, which is not “neither here not there”, but actually “nowhere”.

      Context: here

      One can save the candle for another night, but one needs an electric bulb to get over the problem.

      Movie review – “Aakrosh”
      November 3, 2007

       Aakrosh image

      Much is being said currently about the cinema of the 70s, thanks to the upcoming Deewali release of the Shahrukh Khan starrer ‘Om Shanti Om’. Farha Khan openly declares this as a celebration of the cinema of the 70s.

      While listening to a video on CNNIBN about the impressions the films and stars of this era made on a very young Shahrukh, I was interested. Will he make a reference to the golden period of the so called parallel cinema, I waited eagerly. He failed to do so, but it was not surprising at all. May be he was too young to be able to understand then. But so was I. While I was hardly conscious in that decade, I consider the 70s as the golden period of Indian cinema. And it is not because of the two superstars Mr Khanna and Mr Bachhan.

      Naseeruddin Shah, Om Puri, Amrish Puri, Smita Patil, Vijay Tendulkar, Satyadev Dubey, Govind Nihlani. Even if these are enough evidences for good cinema, you will get much more than your expectations. I am talking about ‘Aakrosh‘ which released in 1980. One of the most underrated realistic cinema, it has all the ingredients which epitomised the real small-town India in the Seventies. And surprise surprise, it won 6 Filmfare awards in 1981. Wish the Filmfares had not gone down with time!

      It is the story of the struggle of a novice idealist lawer(no metaphor there!) Bhaskar played by Naseer, to bring justice for a tribal Lahanya(Om Puri). The people from the higher echelons of a corrupt society are involved in murdering Lahanya’s wife and oppressing Lahanya. He is the accused produced in court for the murder. Bhaskar does not get support from any quarters, not even Lahanya or his tribe are talking about it. Bhaskar is not one who is giving up, he has to know the truth but even that will not suffice. He needs proof, will he get any? Is he able to help Lahanya finally? You must watch the movie to find this out for yourself. Watch out for the dramatic ending with a metaphor.

      The movie centers around the internal and external struggles of two people, Bhaskar and Lahanya. Bhaskar has to struggle with the corrupt people at one hand (he is being attacked physically too), and he has to struggle to seek the truth from the non consenting tribe. Lahanya has lost his wife, he knows it is nearly impossible to get justice, but he has to take care of a young sister too. How does he manage a solution? The conflicts are shown very subtly without much dramatisation. Needless to say, Naseer and Om have performed brilliantly. Amrish Puri as the senior public prosecutor against Lahanya has done an efficient job. He is the current mentor for Bhaskar too. The scenes of conflict inside the court between the mentor and the mentee, and the camaraderie outside, are protrayed quite sensitively too. Smita has barely anything to do in the movie though.

      With virtually no background score, the movie is able to portray the gravity of the situation through very subtle noises. The barking of dogs, the rustle of night, the singular cycle passing through,  somebody running alone in drop-dead silence, the ring of the phone etc are quite adequate.

      A word about the climax of the movie. While it is easy to say it feels incomplete, I think it was a brilliant idea to finish the movie with a question mark best answered by the intelligence of knowledged cine-goer. No spoon feeding here.

      Did Govind Nihlani live upto the great expectations after a classic like this? Is it even relevant to ask this question? I don’t think so, I for one is not interested in the quantity. I will be happy to see one such movie rather than the the twenty five other movies from the Seventies, which Mr Khan mentioned in CNNIBN.

      Movie review – “Bhumika: The Role”
      October 28, 2007

      DVD cover from Wikimedia

      It is always a fascinating experience to watch a Shyam Benegal movie. All of his movies are works of art and need a discerning eye to appreciate the most of it. By no means I am implying that he makes ‘art’ movies, for I make no such distinction. I will take the risk of sounding cliched and say “there is only good cinema, and bad cinema”, because that is a fact. Mr Benegal makes good cinema and is one of the very few directors who have never compromised on the quality for commercial reasons. While it is debatable how far it is objective to try and sell quality to a public, for which, cinema means predictable love stories, song and dance sequences, slapstick comedy and graphic action, all manifested in one word ‘masala’. Because, in business, a product must sell, and movie making is serious business.

      Coming to the reason why I am writing this because I have just been treated to one of his movies and I am all charged up. ‘Bhumika: The role‘ was released exactly 30 years ago in the year 1977. It is the story of the central female character Usha, played by Smita Patil. It is her story from childhood in a village to being a successful film actress in Mumbai and her middle age. A quest for love, an experiment with life and a search for the meaning of existence.

      Right from the first scene where Usha comes home from work, to a mean and suspecting husband Keshav (played by Amol Palekar), one is gripped. The palpable tension in the eyes, dialogs to a minimum but sufficient, expressions fantastic. The build up of tension in the eyes, and the movements in the house immediately tells you everything, that there is nothing right in this house. Watch Smita’s sudden and frequent change of expressions while dealing alternately between the husband and the daughter. Effort, minimal, effect, maximum.

      Then the movie alternates between a flashback in black and white, and the present in color. Story is traced to a family in a village where Usha is still very young and learning singing from grandma. How she has to move from the village in search of work, to Bombay film industry, her adolescent and innocent love with Palekar, taste of early success and marriage forms the next few sequences in the movie.

      Back to present, fed up with the good for nothing and quarrelling husband, she leaves home to stay in a hotel. She is thinking about her past and we are in for some more flashbacks. Her quest for love takes her to different people, each different from the other. We meet Rajan played by Anant Nag and Sunil played by Naseeruddin Shah. Naseer’s very small role introduces us to an objective person. Look out for certain dialogs uttered by his character. He believes in reality, his dialogs rejecting all notions of sentimentalism, emotion, the belief in religion and rebirth. Fascinating stuff, but watch out for a twist 🙂 Consider the following dialog uttered in typical Naseer style. Brilliant.

      “Apne desh mein to dimaag se koi sochta nahin. Dil se sochte hain sab.”

      Back in the present, in comes Vinayak Kale(Amrish Puri). This twist takes me entirely by surprise. And believe me, having been through the masala for decades, I dont bet Hindi movies can actually surprise me. Usha makes another experiment with her life. But does she get what she is searching for? You must watch the movie for this.

      “Bhumika : The role” is a good example of minimalist and great cinema. Cinema is all about story telling, everything else comes later. A good story, and a director who remains honest to the story can be very appealing. Add a few actors who can really emote, and you have a masterpiece. Special mention must go to the background score, the use of folk drum beats, the sound of news in All India Radio indicating a probable time-frame etc. Have they stopped teaching subtlety in the Film Institutes now?

      A few words about the actors. Amol Palekar did not yet have the Golmaal success, and to watch him play this mean character from young to old so efficiently, was a revelation. Anant Nag and Kulbhusan Kharbanda are just sufficient. A very small role for Naseer, and he sparkles. Amrish Puri, how I wish he was used more efficiently by the filmmakers. To imagine he is remembered as Mogembo, describes exactly what is wrong with Hindi cinema today. And I cannot even begin to appreciate Smita Patil’s acting prowess. I guess I can not judge her yet.

      For me, the best line in the movie comes in the scene where Keshav is forcing Usha to take oath infront of God that she will not be an infidel. On being forced enough, she says “Kasam khati hun”. Keshav leaves happy thinking he made her do it. And after a pause Usha screams “..ki main jo chahungi wahi karungi”! 🙂

      Philosophy: Who needs it?
      October 27, 2007

      If you have seen the Hindi movie ‘Judai‘ you will know Hasmukhlal, played by Paresh Rawal quite efficiently. He had this habit of coming up with a barrage of questions in every conversation he made. Dramatic enough, he had a question mark on his forehead too. While the movie itself was forgettable, the character was the basis of a larger philosophical repercussion in me. I never knew I had something to thank Raj Kanwar for, given the usual mediocrity he has served till now 🙂

      Even if I will permit the cinematic license of exaggeration in the above case, it will be quite logical to say that a person who questions, is a person who thinks. Show me a person who does not question, and I will show you a person who is doing nothing! Problems arise when we dont question and take things at face value, by default. We need to question, more and more.

      All problems faced by man in his daily life requires him to question. He needs an answer based on which he will take an action. This is the most fundamental problem of life, for every human being. He can be a student working out some mathematics, an Engineer working on some complex aeronautics, a musician working on the notes or a painter on his canvas. He may have been an expert in his chosen field of study, yet he cannot escape the basic framework of a question and his struggle to reach an answer. How and on what basis he is supposed to get to an answer, is going to decide whether he reaches a correct answer or not. I am afraid, probably the engineer, doctor, painter or musician was never taught this! So on what basis everybody in this world is making decisions? The answer is tradition, custom, whim and wish. The probability of reaching a correct answer is as strong as I winning a multi million dollar lottery this month.

      The point I am trying to drive at is, everybody needs Philosophy. If you think you dont, congratulations on your lottery this month end.

      Who needs philosophy? I read the shortest and IMO the most immaculate answer to this question. It is an address given by Ayn Rand to the Graduating class of the US Military Academy at West Point New York – March 6, 1974. You can go through the whole address here. This address is also a part of her non-fiction Philosophy: Who needs it? I am yet to read this book though.

      She does a “Philosophy for dummies” and how! With an example of an Astronaut crash-landing a planet she tries to get rid of all the traditions and customs that might bias the person. She goes on to pose the questions that the astronaut can not avoid, and the answers he must come up with. Each question leads to another set of questions and Rand describes what question relates to which field of philosophy(Metaphysics, Epistemology, Ethics, Politics and aesthetics). A must read for everybody.

      The inescapable quote in this address is this: In the realm of cognition, the special sciences are the trees, but philosophy is the soil which makes the forest possible.

      Are we giving enough importance to the soil? The answer is any body’s guess.

      The beginning
      October 26, 2007

      Expansion is life, contraction is death.

      I start with the above quote, supposedly from Swami Vivekananda.

      The quote is dear to me for two reasons. One personal and another philosophical.

      Years ago, when I was still a student, my father had sent me a hand-written letter by post(Yes I am old now! ;)). This quote, he wrote at the right hand bottom of the  letter which had reached me in a slightly crumpled state. I close my eyes and the image of the blue sharp alphabets comes alive in my mind. The meaning of the quote may not have hit me instantly, but I knew this was something that will stay with me for long. I must have been right, since it has been nearly a decade. It took me the second reason to understand it more.

      It was Ayn Rand and her philosophy of objectivism. I quote her:

      An ultimate value is that final goal or end to which all lesser goals are the means—and it sets the standard by which all lesser goals are evaluated. An organism’s life is its standard of value: that which furthers its life is the good, that which threatens it is the evil.”

      This, along with the concept of reason and rational self-interest gave me a wholesome meaning of it.

      I choose expansion, and hence life. I hope this blog will further my life.