Brown Paper Bag

>> December 9, 2010

When I called up S, an old friend from school who has been in touch over the years, and told him about the exciting new job I had been offered at a law firm in a wonderful city  with an enviable pay package, he was eager to know when I would start. When he realised that I didn't intend to start at all, he was progressively shocked, surprised, and then, resigned. He did, however, try to persuade me with an oft-heard refrain that I can help "poor people"- as he called them, by donating half my salary to charities, and that I do not need to get my hands dirty for what I hoped to do.
I tried to explain to him, but he didn't understand that while I did want to help the "poor people", I wanted to be right there when it happens. I want to live amongst them, and experience their poverty. I want to sink my feet in the freshly turned field in a  village snuggled somewhere deep in the country and speak to a poor person who comes along.
He didn't understand, and hung up the phone. 
In retrospect, I don't understand it myself. In my head, I think, the "poor people" are romanticized.

Read this.



To become a writer is a glorious dream. 
To be able to have your words - your very thoughts as they found voice in your mind- immortalised forever and ever, for generations to read and mull over; to influence thought and possibly action in an infinite number of ways; and most importantly, to leave that seemingly ordinary bit of reflection that emerged from your mind as testimony to your life, and the time and place that you occupied in this world.
To become a writer, it seems to me to be, is a blindingly bright but frightening dream.



I think I'm the one they make trashy television for. I'm the target audience they produce show after show for, with various distorted versions of reality featuring the Indian youth (most often, the spoiled  idiot youth from the cowbelt). I'm the girl who'll end up watching season after season and be incredibly bored, only to hope for a more entertaining episode the next day. I'm  the president of that demographic.

It's not like I follow these shows. I just happen to follow them, if you know what I mean. Among my favourite activities in the world is laughing at people, mostly when under the influence. Now, given that I live in a godforsaken little spot in the world with all of 400 people, there are only so many times you can laugh at the same people. The easiest way out, then, is to laugh at the many millions who wish to grace the world of glamour, glitz and stardom and have identified Indian reality television as the messiah that will lead them towards the ultimate goal. Now, take note that I'm not referring to the Indian Idol sorts, because, come on, that's hardly reality. Reality television is dirty, bitchy, nasty and of course, tasteless.  It also occupies prime time slots in premium Indian channels today. Exactly the sort of reality that makes my own mundane reality seem like a class on environmental law.

Take Splitsvilla, for instance. I realised, only yesterday, that Splitsvilla has reached its THIRD season. Sigh. Can you believe that? Now they have a new format. They even have a new ugly host and ugly Nikhil Chinappa is still around. He's actually not all that ugly, in all fairness, but he is still reasonably ugly. Of course, the show that takes the cake with no competition whatsoever on the ugly scale is that extremely hilarious show called Dare to Date. The show format basically revolves around setting two people (both, necessarily ugly)  who wouldn't be found next to each other, even in death, on a blind date. Recent episodes included a girl who had her hair coloured blonde and liked to pretend to be an American with a punjabi accent. The host of the show had decided that it would be hilarious to set her up on a date with an ABCD who had come to India to marry the bhartatiya naari his sub-conscious desperately yearned for. I was watching the show when my mother came in, and the singular valid enquiry she had to make was, "Don't these stupid kids have parents at home?".

The overwhelmingly mind numbing stupidity of these shows is hardly moot. The question which interests me, however, is why they continue to be aired on television. And a question I need to especially consider, since I find myself watching them, however irregularly, despite my own admission of their stupidity. I can safely assume that television producers would never sponsor a show they didn't think had some chance of success, and proving them right, these shows crop up again, and yet again, with several reruns between seasons.

Perhaps, I think, I watch these shows to feel good about myself. When I watch young boys and girls my age making fools of themselves on national T.V., I must feel reassured about my own notions of sense and sensibilities.When I see girls scantily dressed having cat fights over pimple faced boys parading as models,I  probably feel safe and secure in my own healthily plump figure. Maybe, when Indian audiences see their so-called values, traditions, and culture being chewed and spat out at the hands of producers and actors dizzied by the thought of fame, fortune and camera-time, they feel safe about their middle class pursuits sitting in their two bedroom apartments with attached loos. It is a terrible world we must live in, then, if we need reality television to overcome our mundane insecurities.

Man cannot live by bread alone. He must have some reality TV.


Scandalous Stories

>> November 30, 2010

It has been a great year for scandals in India. Over the past year, the Commonwealth Games, the Adarsh and 3G Spectrum scams have shown us that we have voted in a Government for a second innings which has repeatedly demonstrated its increasing propensity to emerge battered and bruised out of inquiries and probes; with the same being glamorously splashed everywhere in the media to sit judgment upon. It is, perhaps, then poetic justice that the latest scandal deal involves none other than those who had been hitherto hailed as the brightest stars in Indian journalism.
The Nira Radia tapes, released amidst much aplomb and fanfare by Open and Outlook, seemed to be the sort of issue that the media would have a field day with. Interestingly, and in retrospect, not surprisingly, with the sole exception of The Hindu – not a single large media house has come out with a focussed critique and analysis of the tapes and the issues it necessarily suggests. Of course, they must be wary to comment on the journalistic behaviour of some of their own, especially when they must know themselves having indulged in comparable conduct in the past.
Objectively, and without conjecture, the tapes with Barkha’s conversation demonstrate nothing but the fact that she worked as a conduit for the Congress, and that her reporting on some issues was, to a considerable extent, dictated by what Radiia believed was favourable to her clients. It must, however, logically follow that she has been doing this for some time, and has used her public status and post to actively endorse the opinions of these lobbies.
It is only an incredulous public that can believe that information we are barraged with under the label of news is entirely true and reported with integrity. While the facts that we are led to believe may be true to an extent, news channels and the written media always find it necessary to follow bare news up with analysis and consideration pronouncing a final judgment upon the same. To believe that this analysis is free of political and financial considerations, and even personal biases is, in my opinion, ridiculous. A historiography course taught me that there is no such thing as true history, as every historian’s thought process is necessarily coloured by who he is. To believe that either Barkha Dutt or Vir Sanghvi are free of this necessarily human foible would be to place our faith and formulate our decisions entirely on the basis of what the media finds it appropriate to feed us. Media houses, and particularly large media houses, have in their very content and style repeatedly endorsed certain political inclinations and corporate policies.
The Radia tapes, then, are not demonstrating anything that we didn’t already know.


Kallakaduthum Kolapathakavum

>> October 19, 2010

On an ordinary day, Aakrosh is not the sort of movie I would pay money to watch at a multiplex. Despite my unconditional affection for all things Bollywood, my prudence has always insisted that the surround sound extravaganza with buttered caramel pop-corn is to be entirely restricted to big budget, high drama and star studded movies. On this occasion, however, J insisted on watching the movie. He had his reasons – an interesting and recently apparent social issue, Ajay Devgan playing a cop and of course, one of his favourite directors, Priyadarshan.
Even though I am a proud fan of Malayalam cinema and particularly of Priyadarshan’s style of movie making, I have never really seen him demonstrate his ability in Hindi cinema. Restricted largely to remaking his Malayalam movies after contextualizing them for a Hindi audience, he has, to my knowledge, hardly ever forayed beyond the realm of comedy as was the case in Hera Pheri, which eventually spiraled down to mere slapstick in his later sequels of the same movie. In fact, tracing his career graph in Hindi cinema, I find it difficult to reconcile his film making with the extraordinary scripts and performances which necessarily characterize Priyadarshan in Malayalam cinema. This is the man who, having met Mohanlal while they were at college, went on to cast the latter in some of the best Malayalam movies ever - Thalavattam, Midhunam, and Chithram.
Priyadarshan’s brand of films came of age in the late eighties and early nineties, contributing in no small measure to the glory that Malayalam cinema relished in the period. His favourite subject was the story of the young lower middle class educated young man struggling to make a life and shackled down by bureaucracy and social obligations, drawing upon issues that plagued Kerala – like poverty and unemployment. This was why, perhaps, long before I recognized the merits of Hindi cinema, I enjoyed and appreciated the stories and lives featured in Malayalam films. I am, admittedly, a fan of formulaic Hindi movies – but what set the film makers in Malayalam apart was that there was no formula to begin with, or even if there was, nobody followed it. Some of Priyadarshan’s biggest box office successes have had the leading man eventually die at the end of the movie. His movies essentially took after the Shakespearean tradition of tragic-comedies, with the pathetic and tragic lives lead by the hero always being studded with comic interludes.
In any case, the point I was making is that when going in to watch Aakrosh, I had lowered my expectations to an all time low since Priyadarshan in Hindi only reminds me of some laughable attempts at humour along the lines of Hungama and Garam Masala. Taken aback at finding the cinema hall almost entirely filled up did nothing to make me change my mind either. In all fairness, however, after the movie I found myself pleasantly surprised.
Aakrosh is, without doubt, a movie that will find itself in the range between decent to good. The opening shot is vintage Priyadarshan, reminiscent of some of the beautiful cinematography that made Thenmavil Kombathu win the National Award for Aesthetic Appeal and Art Direction in 1995. No surprises, for Priyadarshan signed up none other than the master Sabu Cyril for production design. The movies also displays bullet sharp editing and excellent shots – but then again technical finesse has always been one of Priyadarshan’s strongest assets – having been among the first Indian directors to introduce rich colour grading, sound clarity and quality dubbing.
The treatment of the subject definitely merits some consideration. The issue of honour killings at the hand of khap panchayats has been particularly rampant in the media lately, although what political steps have been taken to combat the issue is anybody’s guess. The movie begins with a series of unexplained disappearances from the village of Jhanjhar, and the deployment of a Special Committee by the Central Government to investigate the issues. Ajay Devgan and Akshaye Khanna, arrive at Jhanjhar suited and booted, and eventually get down to the bottom of the crimes in the village. Communal differentiation and politics, and perpetual fear that silences people are the overarching theme of the movie. The issue, I thought, was dealt with more lightly that it deserved to be. After a slow first half, however, the second half of the movie takes off from nowhere and rapidly gains momentum to culminate in the climax.

… be continued…if at all....


Independence In

>> January 28, 2010

I cannot believe, that of all the tv shows in the world, I am now addicted to GILMORE GIRLS.


Do Go Gentle

>> January 13, 2010

".....I feel that I should (that it is an Augean duty, pushed on to me against my will) do my best, with a still hot shovel of overloaded feeling and a lot of windily winding words, to vindicate first Dylan, then me, then both of us together. And hope that the truth that I am trying blindly to say, to find out for myself, will come out through all the literary muddles and faultily not detached attitude. And I hope it is a better truth than Brinnin's."
-- Caitlin Thomas, defending her memory of DylanThomas  
in John Malcolm Brinnin, Dylan Thomas in America.

Why didn't she, then? Such wonderful words.

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