Sunday, 29 December 2013

APP (Aap) for Regeneration

Some of our most important political battles, from Kurukhestra to Panipat, have been fought on the banks of the Yamuna. The Aam Admi Party, being led and supported by debutants in politics has won the most recent one just when the monumental corruption of the Congress was making Bofors look like a toy gun and the BJP, the party which always claimed that organization came first, was promoting the personality cult of Narendra Modi.  (perhaps matched only by the slogan of the obsequious Congress President, Devkanta Baruah, “India is Indira and Indira is India”.)

The AAP has challenged several myths of our politics. Electoral politics was considered impossible without the support of big money. Not any more. Ambani and Adani may support RaGa and NaMo but the auto wallahs of Dellhi could drive somebody else’s victory.  The women who are supposed to follow the command of wise men in the family in complicated matters such as politics defied their wisdom and became a big support base for AAP. The symbol of a party need not be the Lotus of the elite; it can be the humble sweeper’s Jhadu. Big rallies sponsored by crores of rupees are not necessary – cost-effective Nukkar Sabhas could be equally effective. Family background in politics is a big help – but not always for most of the sons of big names in the BJP and the Congress lost. The middle class, which claims to be the guardian of virtue and political morality has remained cynical; the full throttle and decisive support for a party with not much money came from slum dwellers who have earlier been accused of selling their votes for liquor and cash.

It is reasonably well known that Aap’s impressive debut has three parallels in post independence history where new political formations routed the entrenched political establishment. The first is the victory of the Janata Party in the 1977 national elections. The other two are the victories of Asom Gana Parishad and Telugu Desam Party in the 1985 and 1983 state elections respectively. In terms of electoral results AAP’s performance may be less spectacular but its political significance is not. This is so because Janata Party was only technically a new political formation since its constituents were established political parties and opposition leaders with decades of political goodwill and electoral experience. The Telugu Desam Party was the political rath of N T Rama Rao who was the reigning deity of Andhra Pradesh society for decades. Asom Gana Parishad also had the benefit of an agitation running for years. By contrast, the Aam Admi Party is only a one year old party emanating from a two year old agitation which lost the support of many faces of the agitation before it became a party.

This has the potential to unleash political energy which has not been tapped positively in recent years – students, women and educated professionals coming together with the last man to take up his cause. This breath of fresh air can rejuvenate the older players or uproot them depending on how they choose to respond.  Either way society is likely to benefit. AAP has numerous challenges. Their own ideological positioning will have to become clearer and organizational structures will have to emerge. In Delhi, they did not have to face the expanse of the hinterland, its ossified caste structures and musclemen whom they will have to handle the moment they step out of Delhi. They will have to forge new tools to meet these challenges. However, it can safely be contended that this election result has strengthened one’s faith in the regenerative capacity of our society. Such complex political phenomena can be succinctly put across only by a poet who has said:

Fate Hue Chithron Me Bhi Main Ek Devta; Bhrashta Patit Hun Fhir Bhi Divya Pursuh Hun; 
Main Udagra Vijayee Jab Paddalit Parajit; Ayu Dirgh Hoti Jab Jab Mera Vadh Hota Hai.

Saturday, 4 May 2013

Bombay Talkies Movie Review

We Indians love to exaggerate. Gandhi is not only Bapu but Mahatma also. It is not enough that Patel is Sardar, he has to be called Lauh Purush too. Tagore is Guru and Dev both - together. Nehru was Chacha... Thank god he was not called Mamu also!! Even Indira Gandhi who mothered (politically also) the thuggish Sanjay Gandhi was called Durga!!!

The film Industry in India is, arguably, the most powerful expression of popular culture. Our movies amplified the unreal so much that it became an escape from reality. Our heroines knew nothing except purity, virtue and sacrifice. They fell in love with men like Sunny Deol who took on the entire Pakistani State all alone in Gadar. That love gave them so much warmth that they could gyrate in skimpy clothes on the frozen lakes of snow capped Alps.

The movies made by Benegals and Nihlanis in late seventies and eighties on real issues were called parallel cinema. Escape was the mainstream. Nineties was the Zenith of escapist Cinema. Kitsch was at its pinnacle in Karan Johar combining with Shahrukh Khan and making Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gam where Shahrukh Khan was so good at not acting. Karan Johar and Shahrukh Khan, by achieving so much success with such sloppy escapist work, epitomized the mediocrity which thrives in every other sphere in our society. No other combo has achieved such success with such shallow delivery except, possibly, the director and actor combo of Sonia and Manmohan.

The last decade though, has been a welcome change. The emergence of directors like Vishal Bhardwaj, Dibakar Banerjee, Anurag kashyap, Thigmanshu Dhulia, and the likes has given us stories of real people. They have got rare acting talents like Irfan Khan and Nawajuddin Siddiqui to give flesh and blood to these real people and not rouge and mascara of the escapist cinema.

Their movies, in their attempt to discover reality, have taken us deeper into layers of our existence which is good, bad and ugly at the same time. In our daily existence, we attempt to ignore the unpleasant or sweep our passions – good or evil - under the carpet. Their work has tried to show us the mirror. They are fascinating because they tell us about the most unpredictable story, the real Life. Watching the filth of hinterland has made us more lively. The imported beauty of Swiss locations was numbing us.

Bombay Talkies is an unique joint effort of different directorial talents. Anurag Kashyap, Zoya Akhtar, Karan Johar and Dibakar Banerjee tell us four separate stories combined by a common thread in celebration of hundred years of Indian Cinema.

Dibakar Benerjee has adapted a short story of Satyajit Ray. Nawazuddin Siddiqui is a failed actor who can not even get the job of a security guard. Telling stories would have been his vocation if he had stuck to acting. However, he looked for the safety of a job, landed nowhere and is not even able to tell a story to his daughter. He finds an opportunity to do a tiny role by accident. He gets in touch with his lost soul and finds the story of his life.

Zoya Akhtar takes up the riveting conflict of desires of a middle class father and his tiny son about the latter’s future. The father wants him to play football and be Macho. The tender hearted kid wants to dance with effeminate moves. The stage is set for a pulsating story but it splutters when the story moves to the kid’s fascination about Katrina Kaif.

Karan Johar deals with the complex topic of bisexuality of a married man in a hard hitting manner. The background of the song “Lag Ja Gale” creates artistic tension. I am still grappling, whether, the use of lovely old song was to soothe the nerves or to inflame passions! The pain of your most tender passions being in conflict with social norms is portrayed touchingly. A brush with reality can change Karan Johar. Karan, Please leave Shahrukh and Firang locations. Go to Kalahandi or Gorakhpur and tell us some beautiful stories which you seem to be capable of.

Anurag Kashyap tells the fantastical story of the obsession of a father-son duo from Allahabad about the Mega Star Amitabh Bachan. Anurag’s story is the weakest link of the battery. Is it so because he is not in his familiar territory of reality and has gotten into fantasy?

Dibakar Banerjee’s story is the true celebration of hundred years of Indian cinema. Dibakar seems to be perfecting his art in his fifth movie. He shows almost complete command over the medium and gives a flawless treatment to a beautiful story. This is expected from somebody who has made Khosla Ka Ghsola, Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye!, Love Sex & Dhokha and Sanghai.

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Talaash Movie Review

A thriller keeps us glued to the chair by constantly challenging our intelligence and engaging our curiosity. Talaash has a brilliant first half. The question, whether the accident is a mere accident or a murder, troubles the protagonist and his quest for an answer goes through the labyrinth of red-light areas with inevitable connections to the plush apartments. The story telling is raised to another level by intertwining the outer quest of the protagonist to crack the case with his inner turmoil. It is rare in a Hindi movie, where you find a protagonist, who is as vulnerable as us ordinary mortals but can still get on with the job to give his best. His quest finds more questions than answers which gives us a tense build up and anticipation for the second half. You have less time for the rest-room and getting the pop-corn in the interval because you do not want to miss the first scene of the second half.

A thriller, generally, lacks depth which has to be compensated by speed. This can be done by a tight plot developed with fast narration. The first half has both, second half none. The second half, which loses pace under a meandering plot is full of emotionalism which grows into supernatural. The director forgets that, the genre of thriller, by its very nature seldom touches the heart but cannot succeed without capturing the mind. The movie is like watching a fifty over match, where, after watching a scintillating start @9 per over by Tendulakar and Sehwag you saw VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid struggling to score @4.5 per over. The curious mind eager to find the answers is confronted with supernatural.  A kind of anti-climax. 
However the movie has many attractions. It is mostly shot in the dark in beautiful frames. The scores move the story forward, hauntingly. There are cops, pimps and sex-workers in the movie yet no item number. Such a relief.  Aamir Khan does a good job of a police officer who is facing a tough case without and a tougher conflict within. However, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, as the side-kick of a pimp, steals the show. Kareena gives us the same plastic smiles as a sex-worker which she could have given as a college student. Her street walking is more like a cat walk on the ramp. Without the overly glitzy clothes and some good dialogues given to her by Farhan Akthar and Anurag Kashyap, it would have been difficult to establish that she was a sex-worker. Rani Mukherjee has a no make-up role of a troubled house-wife which she performs with some ordinary acting. The women in minor roles in the red-light areas are far more convincing than these leading ladies. Overall the Aam Actor does far better in the movie than the stars like Khan and Kapoor. Nawazuddin Siddiqui has had a super year as an actor with Kahani and Gangs of Wassepur also under his belt. The movie is more than watchable for the performances of Nawazuddin Siddiqui and other Aam Actors directed by a talented young women director who deserves the kudos for giving us the brilliant first half. If you are a believer in supernatural then for you the second half may not be as lame as it was for me. 

PS: The movie explores the reasons of death of a big star Aarman Kapoor!!! We can not imagine Hindi movies without Khans and Kapoors and Congress without three Gandhis and one Vadra. 

Sunday, 11 March 2012


Pushkar is seventeen kilometers from Ajmer in distance but in time it travels way back to Puran, Ramayan, Mahabharat and beyond. Its genesis is associated with Brahma. It has more temples and tourist lodges than perhaps homes.

My day in Pushkar started with one hour pre-dawn trek to Savitri Temple which sits on the highest hill around Pushkar. First wife Savitri was not around and Brahma married his second wife Gayatri because he was in a hurry to perform a Yagna whose auspicious time was expiring and which could not have been performed in the absence of his wife. Savitri was furious and gave a Shrap (curse) to Brahma that he would not be worshipped anywhere else and left him and went and sat on top of the hill.

The view before sunrise from Savitri Temple was awesome. Barren hills form a ring around Pushkar. Then fifty two Ghats of white buildings with yellowish domes form a bowl around famous Pushkar Lake. Sun rises and with one splash of a brush, paints everything with totally different colours.

Unfortunately for me some Lake restoration work was under progress and there was hardly any water in what could have been a beautiful Pushkar Lake. The hills around also were barren and not mighty as if they had been stunted by  the internecine wars Rajasthan had seen. I could see my own life in a huge mirror which lay before me. I felt like those hills a bit stunted by my own numerous struggles. The moisture and the greenery was not to be seen around me. Brahma - Savitri, water less Pushkar Lake, barren hills presented my own picture and the picture of my society before me. The man stunted. The woman struggling to make her presence felt.

I longed to see and become the mighty hills of Garhwal. Those hills have the magnificence, expanse and ambition of the best of the men. They have the greenery, unceasing creativity, beauty and grace of the women. Suddenly I realised why, since the time immemorial, some of the best of our talents, when they wanted to find themselves went to Himalaya. I do not know whether they realised god there or not. However in the magnificence and beauty of Himalaya they must have realised what the best of men and women could become when they became magnificent, complete and one.


Paan Singh is the true story of a champion Jawan who wins laurels for the army in the steeplechase events.  His life has none of the obstacles which he crosses with √©lan on the track. It is like a smooth flight of a bird. He is happy and contented in his professional success and is loved by his dusky wife. The story is beautiful – made more so by the flawless narration.

However this much of happiness does not last for long. Be it screen or real life. His land in the village is encroached by the powerful neighbors. He takes early retirement and goes back home in an attempt to retain the ancestral land. This effort endangers his life and his family’s who are brutally attacked by the encroachers. He runs to the organs of the state for protection only to know that protection of his life and property is none of their concerns. When faced with this barrier he jumps towards a ditch. Like steeplechase. Only this ditch does not have mud and water. It is a one way journey of revenge, murder and a following career of a dacoit run on the money earned from abductions. (Paan Singh would object saying he is a BAAGI(rebel) and dacoits are only found in Parliament.)

The theme sounds familiar but is narrated with originality. Each frame of the movie is a work of art. Irfan Khan’s performance is as breathtaking as the murderous beauty of the ravines of Chambal. He metamorphoses from a Forrest Gump like awkward runner to a Gabbar Singh like dacoit with such ease which can come to him only. The depiction of his relationships with his wife, brother, son, coach and so on is enchanting. But what makes the movie a masterpiece is his relationship with the state. He is a jawan raring to lay down his life for the country in 1965 war. He is not allowed to do so because his life as a champion sportsperson is a national treasure and needs to be preserved. However when in village, the threat to his life and property would not bother the state. He does not exist when he is threatened or as long as he murders a few. The state becomes interested in him only when his criminality scales up across the districts and states and the number of abductions and murders committed by him are far too many and far too frequent making him a threat to the state. That is where the movie rises from being an individual’s story to the story of Indian State in relation with the multitudes.

Modern democratic state exists in an eternal tension between the individuals basic rights of freedom and equality and the control of the state on the individual. The individual is an end in itself and parts of his liberty and freedom are ceded to the state only to ensure that those inalienable rights of the individual are protected. Indian State exists on the same theoretical foundations. 

However the practice is inverted. Indian State is an end in itself. It has to be preserved for its own sake. Its law and order machinery is effective only to that extent. Otherwise what happens to the individual in the hinterland depends on his own luck. State would have nothing to do with it expect when the individual is to be used as a source of revenue generation for the state or for its officers. The precise reason for the existence of the British Raj or its collaborator Indian feudal elite was revenue generation. Its successor Indian State, as far as it concerns the ordinary multitudes, has not travelled much from those objectives.   

Paan Singh is far too simple to understand this and has too much energy. He has to be done in by the state.

3 Idiots

The name Ranchoddas for Aamir in the movie is intended for humour or has some deeper meaning is difficult to say. Ranchod is a popular name for Shrikrishna in western India. 

Shrikrishna is one of the biggest revolutionaries. Given wisdom is always questioned by him in the face of the truth as it unfolds from moment to moment. Ram obeys the old father in grip of his youngest wife and goes to the forest though that order is wrong. Shrikrishna kills, without demur, his Mama and cousin Shishupal because they have deviated from the correct path and ensures that Pandav do the same when their turn comes. He advises the Gwalas and Gopis to take care of their cattle, farm and environment and ignore Indra. Mathura is attacked because of Shrikrishna being there. Shrikrishna, an accomplished warrior, does not follow the age old Dharma of warriors to fight and win or to become a martyr but not show ones back to the enemy. He shows his back to save Mathura and Gwalas from unnecessary violence and runs away to Dwarka where he establishes his Kingdom. That is why he is Ran-chod.

Aamir Khan has shown the courage to question the rules of the game. He refuses to go to Mela of mediocrity, the fraudulent award ceremonies where same actresses dance the same numbers which they have already danced I don’t know how many times. Takhres got Amitabh waging his tail but Modi could not do the same to Aamir after Fana.

He started the trend of doing one movie at a time in the Nineties (though there are exceptions) when top stars of Eighties, Jitendra and Amitabh used to act in twenty craps at a time. The result is some really solid movies. Much more, than any other actor, in the last thirty years. He must be one of the rare actors to turn director when he was at the peak of his acting career and give the lead role to a ten year old.

Tare Zamin Par and 3 Idiots are well made movies. Good story full of tension and drama, tight script and editing (with few exceptions) and refreshing humour. These two movies also make a statement about individuals being different in their ordinariness and thus being beautifully unique. One should be one's own self and do what he wants to. Express yourself and not others. They challenge the rut of trying to be on top of the rat race. The product is good but not breathtaking. The movies make compromises on their most fundamental premise. They end up being about competition and the protagonists being on the top. They have two fundamental flaws. First, they end up in the rat race they seek to challenge at the start. Second, and more silly is the statement that if you do your own thing you will be on top of the race.

Chasing ones dreams is beautiful but dangerous. Failure is as probable as success. Dreamer in most cases is utterly alone.  But you don’t give yourself to your dreams because you want to be on the top. You do so because you know that you have got this life to go after your dreams which is your truth and for nothing else. If you don’t live your dreams the life is not worth living. Success and failure cease to matter and more pain gives you more depth.

Possibly that is the limit of Aamir. To explore the deeper joys and pathos of pursuing the dreams we will have to wait for some one else. Someone, who has more of the real Ranchod who inspires us to live our dreams.