Indian culture and the protectors

January 29, 2009 - Leave a Response

So we have new self-proclaimed protectors of Indian culture coming up everyday. At this rate, soon Indian culture will have more protectors than followers. Cheers!

    “Rajasthan CM for ending pub and mall culture

Yes Mr Minister, we in India believe anything that is done in closed rooms is correct. Be it holding hands, sex, or just politics!


Update 1: At last, I found a connection between Indian culture and ‘men from Sri Ram Sena beating up women’.

Legend has it that Laxmana, the brother of Sri Ram, did cut the nose of Surpanakha for having the temerity to propose him. Obviously, that was not Indian culture and she did deserve a punishment.

So the guys from Sri Ram sena are only following tradition of attacking women who dont follow Indian culture.  QED.


Update 2: The Karnataka CM follows the tradition too.

    “We won’t allow pub culture: K’taka CM

IMO, the only culture we are good at is microbial which made us 1.3 billion and growing.


Update 3:  Oh, oh see who sees nothing wrong in boys and girls holding hands openly!

    “Sheila Dixit joins in”

Thanks a lot madam, for that. But not long ago you thought women were being adventurous if they moved around alone in Delhi post midnight.


Rich ‘must’ help poor?

January 28, 2009 - One Response

Rediff reports Bill Gates saying:

    “Bill Gates: The rich must help the poor”

If I were poor, and I really am if I compare with him, I would take offence.

However, it turned out to be another case of putting the words in somebody’s mouth to create a cool headline by one of India’s premier websites.

He actually ‘urged’ the rich to help poor, which on the face of it, is not as terrible a statement.

But so it goes!

Lights off! Let us go back in time…

February 19, 2008 - Leave a Response

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.

(Are)we, the living?

February 7, 2008 - Leave a Response

Just some quotes as I read the first novel written by Ayn Rand, last.  Kira the central character, Russia the place.

“How beautiful!” Said Lydia looking at a stage setting. “It’s almost real” . “How beautiful!”, Said Kira looking at a landscape.”It’s almost artificial” .

“There were novels by foreign authors, in which a poor honest worker was always sent to jail for stealing a loaf of bread to feel the starving mother of this pretty young wife who had been raped by a capitalist and committed suicide thereafter, for which the all powerful capitalist fired her husband from the factory, so that their child had to beg on the streets and was run over by the capitalist’s limousine with sparkling fenders and a cheuffeur in uniform.”

Kira:“I think that when in doubt about the truth of an issue, it’s safer and in better taste to select the least numerous of the adversaries.” 

Leo: “Well I dislike womens’ questions, but I dont know whether I like a woman who won’t let me have the satisfaction of refusing to answer”. 

Kira: “Do you believe in God, Andrei? No. Neither do I. But that’s a favorite question of mine. An upside-down question, you know. What do you mean? Well, if I asked people whether they believed in life, they’d never understand what I meant. It’s a bad question. It can mean so much that it really means nothing. So I ask them if they believe in God. And if they say they do — then, I know they don’t believe in life. Why? Because, you see, God — whatever anyone chooses to call God — is one’s highest conception of the highest possible. And whoever places his highest conception above his own possibility thinks very little of himself and his life. It’s a rare gift, you know, to feel reverence for your own life and to want the best, the greatest, the highest possible, here, now, for your very own. “

Well, well!

Movie Review – “Children of heaven”

November 16, 2007 - 7 Responses

Hmm.. umm.. what do you mean?

M replied totally out of character, confused. In our office usually he has the best one-liners to most complex of questions. Incorrect replies, but funny nonetheless.

I had just asked him whether he loves his sister. Personal yes, but not a complex question by any standards.
He took the longest pause I remember him taking, and mumbled out something like this.
Yeah I like meeting her..mmm..but thats it you know..hmm.. I guess we were never very fond of each other…I like to see her once in a while. As for love, I would not associate the word for a sister“.

I knew what he meant and I did not intend to stretch the conversation more. We both looked deep into our coffee mugs and sipped.But the question remained to be answered was this: how else do you describe your fondness for a relation other than your spouse, say for a sister?

Coincidentally I watched the the movie the same evening. “Children of heaven” an Iranian movie released in 1997. It was nominated for the Academy award for best foreign language film in 1998 and eventually lost to Italian movie “Life is beautiful”. The movie was released as Bacheha-Ye Aasmaan in Persian, written and directed by Majid Majidi.

It is the story of a brother and sister (Ali and Zahra) from a poor family in Iran. Ali has managed to lose his sister’s only pair of shoes on the way home from the shoe-repair shop. They cannot tell this at home, because their father cannot afford a new pair of shoes, and also it may mean punishment. This must remain a secret, but how will Zahra go to school now?

What unfold are a lot of funny situations, and a lot of running around. Then there comes a school selection for an upcoming marathon race for children. Ali learns, that the person who comes third in the race, gets a pair of shoes as the prize. He finds a prospective solution to their problem. What happens next is for you to find out.

There are a lot of points going in favour of this movie. For once it gives a sneak peak into the lives of ordinary Iranians(presumably in Teheran), which was really good to see. The children are portrayed as they should be, innocent yet full of life. It is a known fact how the children in Indian movies are portrayed, either an undefined character in the script, or, most of the times, too smart. What is lost is the innocence which is the only word true to children. Hightime Indian directors took notice of this fact and I am eagerly looking forward to Aamir Khan’s Taare Zameen Par.

Above all, the simple story-telling makes this movie a winner. The soul of the story deals with the spirit of life which essentially means taking setbacks in life, finding ways how to get over them, and winning. Its a toast to life. Kudos to the director for not deviating from the story for even a second and presenting it at the right pace.

It almost made me want to stretch my imagination to be able to bring a smile to a non-existent little sister of mine. No matter how they describe the feeling in the west, I would call it love.

Bazaar(1982) and the Meer Ghazal

November 11, 2007 - 5 Responses

“Kis kambakth ko pata hai ki woh yahaan kya kar raha hai!”

So asks Smita Patil in one of the emotional sequences of the Hindi movie Bazaar, profoundly referring to the purposeless existence of everybody around. And in return I felt like asking her the same question, “What were you doing in this film?”

This movie was written and directed by Mr Sagar Sarhadi, the only one he has directed till now(thankfully!). For the uninitiated, he has an impressive resume having written either the dialogs or stories of many Yash Chopra movies (Kabhi kabhie, Silsila, Faasle and Chandni). It was released in 1982.

I would assume Mr Sarhadi understood his limitations as a director early enough and stuck to what he does better, writing. Because the movie has a good story for sure, and may have a social relevence during the late seventies or early eighties. The film has a great cast too, Naseeruddin Shah, Farooq Sheikh, Supriya Pathak and Bharat Kapoor. (Ms Pathak went on to win a Filmfare for best supporting actress for this movie.) But the movie is one dimensional, and fails to create any sympathy for the characters, purely because life is portrayed as so depressing, characters so helpless, the tone of the movie so pitiful that one almost cannot sit through the movie. The story is based on poor muslim women of Hyderabad who were being sold off to rich and old Arab businessmen.

So why am I still writing about this movie? It is because it boasts of a magnificent and haunting soundtrack from Khayyam. Whoever says the Eighties did not have quality music must listen to this soundtrack.

While so many great Ghazals are part of this movie and became so popular, it is a pity that the movie almost does not deserve them. “Phir Chhidi Raat baat phoolon ki” sung by Talat Aziz along with Lata is a Ghazal by Maqdoom Mohiuddin. It is also picturised quite beautifully on Supriya Pathak and Farook Sheikh. “Karoge baat to” by Bhupinder has heart touching melody and music.

And this brings me to write about my personal favourite ghazal from this movie.I always wanted to see what kind of setting and picturization Meer Taqi Meer’s ‘Deekhayi diye yun’ might have. In my opinion it is one of the most haunting songs sung by Lata Mangeshkar. Such a great composition did deserve something more than the usual party farmayish song setting presented in the movie.

Not many Ghazals have found place in the mainstream music, even less from Meer. But this particular ghazhal was re-used (with two different shers) by Roop Kumar Rathod, in the movie Viruddh(2005). (Incidentally Viruddh has another Meer Ghazal “Ghum raha, jabtak ke dum mein dum raha” sung by Sonali Rathod.)

For those who like this Ghazal from Meer, it will be interesting to know that it has 14 shers in it. And ‘Deekhayi diye yun’ is not even the matla(the first sher). It is the following:

faqeeraana aa’ye sadaa kar chale
miyaaN Khush raho hum du’aa kar chale

It is debatable how many shers were from Meer originally, because some shers(from others, along the way) just get along so nicely with the Ghazal that it eventually becomes a part of it. You can find the whole Ghazal and a nice discussion about it here.

The maqta(last sher with signature of the shayar) has very simple words and a profound meaning, uniquely Meer!

kaheN kyaa jo poochhe ko’yee ham se Mir
jahaaN meN tum aa’ye the kyaa kar chale!

Movie review – “Aakrosh”

November 3, 2007 - 2 Responses

 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 - 2 Responses

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 “ main jo chahungi wahi karungi”! 🙂

Philosophy: Who needs it?

October 27, 2007 - Leave a Response

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 - Leave a Response

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.