Tuesday, November 09, 2010
Sunday, October 31, 2010
There’s something about Aamir Khan, isn’t there? Whatever he’s touched in the last few years has turned to gold. And given where gold prices are at these days, that’s a rich haul, at least metaphorically. Be it ‘Lagaan’s’ dream run at the Oscars in 2001, the massive critical and commercial successes of ‘Taare Zameen Par’, ‘Ghajini’ and ‘3 Idiots’, or the backing of first time director Anusha Razvi’s indie vehicle ‘Peepli Live’. Most observers are convinced he’s mastered the balance between content and commerce. It is perhaps no coincidence that his latest production, the dark yet enjoyable ‘Peepli Live’ is India’s official entry to the 83rd Academy Awards to be held in 2011, the fourth Aamir Khan film to represent India in the last nine years (including ‘Rang De Basanti’ where his contribution was only in the capacity of actor. Speaking of actors, this is Raghubir Yadav’s sixth film to be sent to the Oscars, second only to Kamal Hassan’s seven. Yadav, however has had two of his films ‘Lagaan’ and ‘Water’, make the final five). But is it a convenient choice? Or one simply made given Khan’s prior Oscar experience? India’s entry to the Oscars cannot be about pandering to certain egos or Bollywood cliques and cabals. The best film must represent the country and all other criteria must be cast aside. But given India’s failure to bag a single statuette thus far might prompt a thinking based not entirely on merit alone.
With these questions being raised, the film’s selection as India’s entry in the Best Foreign Film category has not been beyond controversy. This has once again been seen by some quarters as an attempt to play the poverty card, to showcase the worst of India to a gloating western audience. BJP’s LK Advani, no less, has expressed regret at this tendency of filmmakers to repeatedly serve up the worst kind of poverty porn for commercial and critical benefit. As if ‘Slumdog Millionaire’s insensitive dignity-denying portrayals of the poor weren’t enough, we now have a homegrown version to pander to the same exploitative and voyeuristic urban nouveau riche, who have no connect whatsoever with the devastatingly deprived and unfortunate heartlands. Perhaps a mockery was being made of the farmers’ genuine plight. Cinema is a powerful representative of country’s image and questions are being asked if a resurgent and growing India needs to continue to be represented by films such as these. Other allegations include favoritism shown to the film’s powerful and savvy producers and the consistent overlooking of regional cinema, come Oscar time.
While it is indeed true that the three Indian films that ever made the final nominations in the Best Foreign Film category (‘Mother India’, ‘Salaam Bombay!’ and ‘Lagaan’) were films that were decidedly set amongst poverty (rural and urban) and deprivation, but pronouncing judgment that similarly themed films have the best bet at getting noticed at the Oscars is perhaps too simplistic a conclusion. One must understand that the Oscars are an embodiment of an essentially a western perspective on cinema. To win there, you have to play it by their rules. One has to present cinema with universal appeal, with real stories – make believe is one thing, but singing and dancing, melodramatic monstrosities such as ‘Henna’, ‘Saagar’, ‘Jeans’ and ‘Devdas’ as entries have been a waste of time and energy. A western audience finds no connect whatsoever with this particular brand of cinema and our collective rancour at a trophy-less cabinet only finds likeness to the forlorn countenance of the sourpuss at the birthday party, stubbornly spoiling it for everyone.
‘Peepli’ is in this regard a smart and confident film, a story succinctly and poignantly told to devastating impact. It has an appeal which transcends boundaries and lack of typical Bollywood treatment will only enhance its chances. ‘Lagaan’ probably lost out due to it being at its core, a big Bollywood musical. Rizvi’s film has no such trappings. Many point to ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ as an example of the westerner’s love for all things poor in India. Indeed, while the film reaped a huge haul of statuettes, it was more because of the quirky and gimmicky screenplay and the freshness of the story rather than the supposed interest it generated on account of it laying bare Mumbai’s dark and deprived underbelly. The film also offered hope in a difficult time, and with the world reeling from the aftershocks of a depressing economic crisis, this small film’s roaring success mirroring its rags-to riches plot captured the popular imagination. It all came together nicely. As far as Mr. Advani is concerned, it is perhaps pertinent to remind him that ‘Peepli Live’ does nothing to mock the farmers' pitiable conditions; it mocks our indifferent and voyeuristic response to it. Perhaps the purpose of satire is a concept lost on him. Cinema and other forms of art, as a medium of comment, are possibly at their most penetrating when the reality is so pitiable that it defies belief. Years ago, Satyajit Ray's ‘Apu’ trilogy was widely criticised in several quarters for exploiting poverty. Nonetheless posterity has shown why his films have outlived him. They are timeless because of a certain enduring and rich human quality which is beyond an immediate setting of destitution and paucity. For if impecunity and deprivation were the only criteria then ‘Bandit Queen’ had no business losing out in 1994.
Sure there will always be talk of other contenders. Makers of the edgy ‘LSD’, the inspiring ‘Udaan’ and the heart wrenching ‘Angadi Theru’ might feel shortchanged. But in the end it is the incredibly smart ‘Peepli Live’ that will perhaps connect best with a universal audience for its intelligence and incisiveness, for it being simultaneously entertaining and serving as a powerful human document. Poverty has nothing to do with it. India is country where extremes of wealth and deprivation coexist. Our cinema has reflected both these realities. And both kinds of films have been sent to the Oscars. For those of you who are overly sensitive about India’s image, the film does not reinforce the ‘poverty’ stereotype. It just tells a novel story well. So let’s wish Mr. Khan well; one never knows, it could well be a case of being third time lucky.
This article first appeared in the November issue of 'KINDLE'
Saturday, October 02, 2010
Monday, September 27, 2010
Saturday, September 04, 2010
In an article in February, yours truly had predicted that India’s preparedness for the Commonwealth Games (CWG) scheduled for October this year would be well behind schedule, but the famous Indian tradition of ‘jugaad’ would most likely see us through in the nick of time. While this may still prove to be an astute prophecy, one is not so sure anymore. As the games inch closer, the pandemonium exponentially increases. As charges of corruption, organizational inefficiency, delayed and shoddy construction and political muckraking savage India’s attempt to showcase her ‘arrival’ on the world stage, one can only hope and pray that an embarrassment of epic proportions is somehow circumvented.
INR 28,054 crore. That’s USD6.2 billion. That’s what’s been doled out to New Delhi and to sundry agencies to make the games a success. But apparently much of this sum seems to be just governmental largesse. Per the reports from the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC), several prima facie irregularities are evident. Completion certificates from various stadia are allegedly falsified with quality of work of the games venues being sub standard. It has inquired into more than ten infrastructure projects related to the games and has alluded to inflated prices, poor execution, bribery and manipulated tenders. In a bid to keep the ‘sarkari babus’ happy, many of the stadia have been inaugurated in advance, only to fall apart almost immediately. Part of the roof of the JLN Stadium started leaking soon after its grand opening. The story of the S.P Mukherjee Swimming Complex was also no different. In addition to following the JLN Stadium’s example, it also managed to injure a young swimmer, when loose drainage covers put paid to her test dives. Theres more. Treasurer Anil Khanna announced his resignation after reports that a firm fronted by his son had won the contract to lay the tennis court turfs at the R.K. Khanna Tennis Stadium. In addition, sponsorship deals with Australian and Swiss firms have also come under the scanner and have since been cancelled. Since the political brouhaha started, Suresh Kalmadi has stayed firm, pledging his steadfast loyalty and singing paeans about transparency. However, some of his colleagues have not been so lucky. Organizing committee (OC) members T.S. Darbari, M. Jayachandran and Sanjay Mohindroo stand suspended, accused of corruption. It is therefore no surprise, given the negativity associated with the CWG that let alone tight-fisted private corporate houses, even PSUs are unsure about providing sponsorships.
An all too familiar tale in India, this. Remember the IPL? Power concentrated in the hands of few, with practically no accountability, has led to a long list of disasters. Did we think this time was going to be any different? Add to that the miles of red tape associated with organizing an international event, and you have a potential disaster on hand. At least the IPL delivered an enjoyable product, before things went downhill for the nepotistic Lalit Modi and his coterie. But what has transpired here is just not cricket and Kalmadi may need to do more than just allow independent inquiries to prove he is aboveboard. But apportioning the entire blame at the OC chairman’s door will be folly. A variety of factors are at play here. India has limited experience in handling events of such magnitude, the last being the 1982 Asian Games. The story then was eerily similar; with the then prime minister Indira Gandhi calling on the services of Jagmohan Malhotra for some serious last minute trouble-shooting. One would have hoped for a better performance this time around. Another factor at play is the lack of any interdepartmental connectivity. With multiple government agencies roped in to organize the games, it was imperative that there be a detailed and well-integrated plan for getting New Delhi games ready, both in terms of the sporting stadia as well as the city’s general infrastructure itself, with each government agency clear about its role and involvement. The PWD and CPWD cannot seem to agree on who is responsible for clearing construction garbage, or who is to construct the pavements outside the various stadia. Therefore, equal blame should there be borne by the Delhi Development Authority. While Shanghai has appeared to have gotten a spanking new facelift with the hosting of the Expo this year, New Delhi’s light cosmetic changes leaves many unsure about the positive effects the games have had on the capital. While the new airport and the tube system are fine instances of progress, there are many examples of the glass being half empty. For example, drainage systems, which were to be upgraded, are still in a mess, with less than 20mm of rain enough to wreak havoc in and around the games village and other infrastructures, causing widespread water logging and traffic snarls. The urban poor have been hurriedly cleared away lest the city pander to the western stereotype of being infested with ‘beggars’. Genuine rehabilitation efforts have sadly, not been made. Furthermore, unclear and vague zoning of the city, coupled with the abovementioned abysmal coordination between different government agencies has also led to inordinate delays.
Amid the upheaval in Parliament, with the UPA weakly responding to the opposition’s bay for blood with the argument that much of the CWG planning had been completed in the tenure of the previous NDA government, the Prime Minister’s office has rightly taken charge and things should only improve from here. Time is short and there remains much to be done. The hosting of the CWG in New Delhi is India’s opportunity to announce herself to the world and to showcase the recent positive buzz associated with the country. The event could well end up doing just the opposite. The upwardly spiraling ‘chakra’ logo of the games supposedly depicts the growth of India into a proud, vibrant nation, with her billion people coming together to fulfill their true destinies. In its worst form, it looks like a lot of common wealth fulfilling only chosen destinies. For the rest of us, the CWG will remain a USD6.2 billion question.
A version of this article first appeared in the September issue of 'KINDLE'
Tuesday, July 13, 2010
Image via Wikipedia
Cover of Be Here Nowying to be clever and no trying to save the world. While their contemporaries like Pulp and Suede were going glam and posturing themselves as avant-garde sophisticates, Oasis were happy to be working class, a people’s band if you will, honest and direct. I wasn’t there in 1996 when they played to 250,000 screaming fans over two nights at Knebworth, but friends who were said it was like turning up to support your favorite football club - your loyalties completely firm and unyielding, in spite of the looming threat of relegation. Countless bands have been inspired by their ‘lads next door’ attitude to music – Keane, Travis, Embrace, Twisted Wheel, Jet and The Enemy have all sighted Oasis as a huge influence and that is testimony enough to the band’s lasting legacy, despite remaining more or less static in sonic approach coupled with the unwillingness to experiment. The band, contrarily, believed that experiments were best left to dedicated scientists. Frankly, I wouldn’t bother with them either, if I could churn up an album of B-sides that most bands of standing would kill to put on an album. One only needs to listen to gems like ‘Half the world away’, ‘Rocking Chair’, ‘Stay young’ and ‘Acquiesce’ off 1998’s B-sides compilation, ‘The Masterplan’, for confirmation of the band’s melody-making credentials. Following Oasis had another, more entertaining benefit. The sound bites. Never shy of having a word, the band always stayed in the media glare, thanks to the famous Oasis-speak. When the brothers weren’t bad mouthing each other, they were busy laying into other bands. And when there were no bands around to lay into, they were talking about themselves, always crossing the line separating self-confidence from arrogance. If the music was great, the talk was even better. Like the time in 1996, when their record company gifted Noel a Rolls-Royce and Liam a Rolex watch. When asked about it, Noel replied, ‘It’s true, but odd choices for gifts, coz I can’t drive a car and Liam can’t tell the time.’ Their comment about Blur’s ‘Damon (Albarn) and Alex (James) getting AIDs and dying’, at the height of their rivalry in the mid 90s is stuff of legend. Or the oft quoted, ‘We’re not arrogant; we’re just the best band in the world’, variations of which found their way onto the backs of thousands of T-shirts and bumper stickers.
Sunday, June 20, 2010
Image via WikipediaHere's something particularly interesting courtesy Freemoneyfinance.com
Arial, reigning as the most popular font, was used as the “zero” measurement, against which nine other fonts were tested. The clear winner was Century Gothic, which returned 31% savings in both printers. For the average private user, printing approximately 25 pages per week, this will easily generate a net reduction of $20 in a year. A business-user, printing approximately 250 pages per week, could save $80. If your organization uses multiple printers, you can save hundreds of dollars per year doing nothing more than picking a more economical font.
Century Gothic is a modern font that comes standard with MS Windows. Surprisingly, it even beat Ecofont which was specifically designed with efficiency and cost in mind. For those who require a more “traditional” look, Times New Roman provides a good balance between style and savings.
The fonts in order, starting with most economical, are:
- Century Gothic
- Times Roman
- Sans Serif
- Franklin Gothic Medium
Saturday, June 12, 2010
Image via WikipediaRidley Scott and his preferred partner in crime Russell Crowe team up again to bring another popular hero back from the woods, literally in this case, but intelligently, they chose not go down the 'rob from the rich and give to the poor' route. Instead they bring to life a fictional account of how the legend of Robin Hood came to being.
Sunday, May 23, 2010
1. Abbey and Iruppu falls
3. Ajanta and Ellora caves
4. Alappuzha - Nehru Trophy boat race, Punnamada Lake near Alappuzha, Kerala
5. Amritsar - Early morning at the Golden Temple, Amritsar
7. Araku Valley - Borra caves near Araku valley of Vizag
8. Auli, Uttaranchal
9. Auroville - Enjoying the tranquil, French cuisine at Auroville
10. Backwaters of Kerala
11. Badami, Pattadkal, Aihole - Chalukya style temples
12. Bandhavgarh tiger reserve
13. Belur Halebidu circuit
14. Bhalukpong - Enjoying a lunch with the Meshing tribe right in the midst of the river Jia Bhareli on the Assam Arunachal border.
15. Bhimbetka - Rock Shelters of Bhimbetka, Madhya Pradesh
16. Bird watching at Ranganathittu, Bharatpur
17. Bodh Gaya - Mahabodhi Temple Complex
18. Brindavan - Playing holi in Brindavan
20.Barapani near Shillong.
21. Chilka Lake - Trying to see the horizon during a boat ride in Lake Chilka, Orissa
22. Chopta - Tungnath - Chandrashila trek
23. Coorg - The buddhist monastery at Bylakuppe;
24. Darjeeling to Gangtok - hairpin bends with the river Teesta below
26. Qutub Minar and its monuments, Delhi
27. Devkund - 30 kms from Chandipur Beach, Orissa, forest with 7 waterfalls
29. Dilwara Temple, Mount Abu
31. Dodital - Trek to Dodital in Uttarkashi. Dodital is also considered the birth place of Lord Ganesha.
32. Dubare, The Elephant Camp
33. Dudhsagar waterfalls - Goa
34. Fatehpur Sikri
35. Goa on bike
36. Hampi - Ruins of Hampi, requires multiple trips
37. Homestay at a coffee plantation;
38. Hyderabad - Salar Jung Museum, Golconda Fort
39. Hyderabad - The breaking of fast during the Holy month of Ramzan in Hyderabad
40. Jaipur - Elephant ride at Amber Fort, Jaipur
41. Jog Falls in Shimoga (during / after the monsoons)
42. Kaziranga National Park - One horn rhino grazing in the secured environment of KNP
44. Kolkata in the pujas - The Indian Museum, Kalighat temple, Eden Gardens and the Howrah Bridge
45. Kumbakonam -
46. Kumbh - Joining the millions to take a dip in Haridwar during the Kumbh
47. Ladakh - Changing colors of water at Lake Pangong Tso in Ladakh
48. Ladakh - Clouds chasing you on the banks of Lake Tso Morori in Ladakh during the monsoon season
49. Lalabgh, Bangalore
50. Lahaul and Spiti valley
52. Lansdowne (Near Pauri, Uttaranchal)
54. Lonawala in Monsoon, esp Bushi Dam and drive to Amby Valley
55. Mahabalipuram - Vishnu's penance at Mahabalipuram
57. McLeodgunj - Watch the monks do the Buddhist rituals in the monasteries of Mcleodgunj
58. Mountain passes - Spending some solitary time with nature at any of the high passes. Khardung La, Taglang La, Lachulung La
61. Mysore - Dushera Festival, Tipu Sultan Palace
62. Nagarhole national park;
63. Peling near Gangtok, Sikkim
64. Pink City - Walking through the old city section (Pink City) of Jaipur
65. Pondicherry - Sunrise in Pondicherry (while sipping coffee), Paradise Island
66. Ranakpur - 1444 unique marble pillars of Ranakpur Jain temple complex near Udaipur
67. Rann of Kutch
68. Renukaji in Himachal Pradesh
69. Rishikesh - White water rafting
70. Road Trip - Manali to Leh and Leh to Srinagar
71. Roopkund, Bedini Bugyal
72. Sand dunes of Jaisalmer
74. Shravanabelagola - Climbing 500 steps up a hill to get a glimpse of Bahubali at Shravanabelagola
75. Shungaster Lake, Tawang, Arunachal Pradesh
76. Sikkim - another must see
77. Sun Temple, Konark
78. Sunderbans - Boat cruise in the Sunderban delta
79. Taj Mahal - Sun rise in Taj Mahal at Agra
80. Thanjavur - Great living Chola Temples at Thanjavur, Gangikonda Cholapuram and Darasuram, Tamil Nadu
81. Tiger Watch - Corbett, Bandipur, Kanha, Ranthambore, KNP, Sunderban
82. Tirthan Valley, Himachal Pradesh
83. Tranquebar - tiny seaside place... the only Danish settlement in the country...
84. Valley of Flowers in Uttaranchal - go there while the plants are still there
85. Varanasi - Watching the Thursday evening Maha-aarati on the banks of Ganga at Varanasi from a boat