Sunday, February 21, 2010

Peeking into 2010

It was author Bill Vaughn who said, ‘An optimist stays up until midnight to see the New Year in. A pessimist stays up to make sure the old year leaves.’ Every year gives us enough reason to be both, up until the curious phenomenon of year end list-making ensues. Most people, including yours truly, have the happy but ultimately pointless habit of taking time off to sit back for more than a few moments at the end of each year to look back at the year that was. And when after much deliberation, we get absolutely nowhere in our simultaneous search for closure and renewed vigor, we gladly let miscellaneous media persons do the exercise for us. The subsequent year then seemingly zips by in our attempts to keep our heads above water, and the inevitable cycle of wasteful year-end procrastination continues. In my experience, looking ahead has always proven to be more fruitful than looking back and in keeping with this spirit we bring you some trends and predictions for the coming year.

So do not dwell too much on the year gone by. It would suffice to mention that 2009 was undoubtedly a volatile year. The past year seemed an almost appropriate conclusion to a decade during which the world (and India) wobbled from one crisis to another. Much remains work in progress, but here’s looking at the issues that will keep 2010 in the news. One doesn’t like to prophecy, but as and when we can, we will allow for some indulgence. It’s the New Year, after all!

The Obama myth
2010 will be the year when the world will not be saved by Barrack Obama. Proclamation of his being the new ‘apostle of great hope’ will prove to be the most debunked prediction since Lord Haldane’s lofty prophecy in 1907; when he had smugly remarked, ‘The aeroplane will never fly’. If 2009 was any indication, with the twin embarrassments of the Nobel Prize and the gate-crashers at the state dinner, 2010 should be quite entertaining. His war on terror continues with no end in sight, with his popularity diving after his decision to send more troops into the evermore complicated Af-Pak region. Iraq still remains hostile and Osama Bin Laden has perhaps long given up trying to hide from the US forces. His health care reforms remain in limbo and unemployment in the US stays in double digits (and will continue to do so). His comprehensive finance reforms are just a twinkle in his eye and Iran has yet to be constructively engaged. The senate elections in November might well prove a further dampener for his administration. Things could yet be salvaged, but time is running out for Barry.

The passing of the perfect storm?

The world, and the US in particular, is still recovering from the financial cardiac arrest that it suffered in 2008, and much of the coming year will be spent recovering from that jolt. World
economies will remain sluggish and per IMF estimates, world GDP will rise by little over 2% in 2010. The US Dollar is stated to lose traction in the coming year with American deficits at record levels. Gold will continue to glitter, not needing India’s Diwali-time binge-buying. While the scenario is a tad better than what we witnessed in 2009, the danger of deflation will be well and truly real, especially in the US. All that money thrown at the economic system by world
governments will now try to find itself back into state coffers, but this will not be very easy to
execute. Hence inflation will be a serious threat in emerging economies with healthy growth rates. Already we have seen food prices in India climb 18% over the last few months. Growth will be led largely by Asian giants China and India, who will chug along nicely with expected 6%-8% growth rates. Hiring in emerging economies will resume and happily, most of us can finally look forward to that bonus in 2010!

Pocket power
If the nineties culminated in the fear of the Y2K bug and planes falling out the sky, the 'naughties' was undoubtedly the decade of the internet. If 2009 was the year of Social Networking websites, Google Wave, 3G, and Windows 7, 2010 is poised to be the year when 'mobility' becomes the new buzzword. Netbooks did provide some of the conveniences and functionalities of a full-fledged notebook, but going forward, the Netbook will most likely get junked for the soon-to-ubiquitous 'Smartphone'. Convergence will be the new mantra and the cell phone will take over our lives like never before. So if your wallet allows, your next phone could well come with a camera more powerful than the fancy DSLR you bought last year, more storage capacity than your laptop's memory and more applications you could ever amuse yourself with. Samsung, Acer, Nokia and Toshiba all have new Smartphone launches lined up during the year. Also, expect Google to take on Apple’s I-phone in a big way. Device functionalities will blur with the Smartphone being capable of doing anything and more that a house full of appliances could erstwhile assist you with, apart from perhaps washing your clothes and keeping your veggies fresh! And with the 3G auction in India set for February, net surfing speeds promise to get lightening fast. With a 500 million-strong and growing market, expect competition to heat up in this space.

The other area where the action will heat up will be 'Cloud Computing', which simply means working on and storing your files and applications online. While this is still in a nascent stage, expect more widespread acceptance. 'Google Docs' is already a reality. Back-ups will cease to be a problem and as long as you have an internet connection, you'll be fine.

On the flip side, with Web 2.0 programs like Twitter and Facebook proliferating exponentially, and with subsequently more and more personal information being available on these forums, expect your accounts to be hacked at least once during the coming year. Some things like password security, will sadly, never change!

The ‘Cup of Life’ will overflow…
2010 will be a year of special sporting spectacle. The soccer World Cup will kick off in South Africa, with the rainbow nation hosting the event for the first time. All eyes will therefore be on the African countries, of which Cameroon and Ivory Coast (with Drogba and Toure in their ranks) probably stand a fair crack at the quarter finals. However, it will in the end most likely be a punch-up between the traditional heavyweights – Brazil, Argentina, Italy, France, Portugal and Germany. Given the track record of the country in hosting large events, a successful and enjoyable tournament is an easy prediction. This perhaps cannot be said of the Commonwealth Games scheduled to be held in our own backyard in New Delhi. With much of the infrastructure still in a mess, completing the games village in time will seem like quite an achievement, never mind the necessary trial runs. The current assurances from the establishment seem as facetious as John McEnroe pleading to let his racquet do the talking. A fiasco is predicted, but the grand old Indian tradition of ‘jugaad’ will most likely see us through a possible national embarrassment. Sports enthusiasts can also watch out for the Youth Olympics to be held in Singapore this year. Somewhere in between, ICC will milk its latest cash cow, the T20 game and the overkill will continue with the West Indies hosting the third T20 World Cup. India’s form in the shortest format has been patchy at best and will perhaps exit in the knock out stages. The Aussies will want to win the one trophy that’s missing from their cabinet, and come really hard. Sri Lanka, South Africa and the West Indies will be dark horses. In the test arena, the battle for supremacy will heat up with the No.1 position frequently changing hands between India, South Africa and Australia.

The third dimension
3D cinema will prove to be the next big draw. So get yourselves a fashionable pair of 3D glasses. James Cameron’s ‘Avatar’ has already proven to be an all time blockbuster. And there’s more where that came from. 2010 will see other big films in 3D like ‘Alice in Wonderland’, ‘Shrek Forever After’ and ‘Toy Story 3’. The coming year will also be the year of the ‘reprise’ with film-makers remaking many older classics. So prepare to revisit films like ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’, ‘The A-Team’, ‘Clash of the Titans’ and ‘Gulliver’s Travels’, all sexed-up for generation-next. One predicts a mixed year for sequels, with Oliver Stone’s ‘Wall Street -2’ hopefully doing well and ‘Saw-part infinity’ (I lost count after part 4) bombing at the box-office. The mercurial Robert Downey Jr., will clearly take over the alpha male mantle in the industry, with a hat-trick of hits in ‘Sherlock Holmes’, ‘Iron Man – 2’ and ‘Due Date’. Closer home, Bollywood will continue to churn out its usual fare, but the coming year will be more of a test for the great Indian novel. Adaptations of Chetan Bhagat’s ‘3 mistakes of my life’ and Anuja Chauhan’s ‘Zoya Factor’ have been announced. Manini Chatterjee’s ‘Do and Die’ has become Ashutosh Gowarikar’s ‘Kheley Hum Jee Jaan Se’. The significant drawback of the coming year, ostensibly, appears to be the lack of an Aamir Khan release.

The good will out, virtually

One need only look at the Obama campaign and the use of social networking websites to understand that the power to change is finally with the people… (with internet access).Thanks to the proliferation of Web 2.0, social networking and internet ubiquity, 2010 looks to be the year when social activism will explode on the web. Significant and concerted efforts will be made by motivated, but geographically dispersed people who will connect over a common cause and a
shared purpose. Messages will be spread fast and immediate awareness of issues will assist in,
hopefully, effecting meaningful change. A case in point being the website‘’. The web will also allow for more supple, personalized and precious opportunities for volunteer labor. Apart from Wikipedia, Silicon Valley-based ‘The Extraordinaries’, will allow users to accept work that matches their interests with skill sets – compute taxes, teach a language, offer medical consultancy – and complete these at leisure, through the web. While barriers between people and governments generally cause discord and conflict and take ages to breach, cheerfully, this fast contravening barrier between the virtual and real will quickly collapse, and it will help.


This article first appeared in the February 2010 issue of 'KINDLE'

Saturday, February 13, 2010

My name is Khan

Well, it could have been a lot worse. Think women sobbing while continuing to look gorgeous in perfect costumes and make-up, and Shah Rukh Khan running in slow motion, with loud temple bells ringing in the background. Karan Johar, or the all grown up KJo, in his latest attempt, thankfully, chucks out his usual film making manual, moves closer to reality and serves up a memorable, almost 'Forrest Gump'-ian character in Rizvan Khan, and well... thats about it.

The film, which not unlike 'Forrest Gump', uses a challenged protagonist as the eyes through which a period of time is examined, in this case the period being between 1983 and 2009. The film poses as a love story, but quite clearly has surreptitiously lofty ambitions, and it is on this account that it fails, as it indubitably takes on more than it can handle with any degree of coherence. The value of love and family, Hindu-Muslim harmony, post 9/11 paranoia, Muslim alienation and America's recent turmoil with natural disasters (read Katrina), and the country's new found hope for a better future, are all taken on here. After Rizvan Khan's step son is killed in a post 9/11 induced, racially motivated attack, his wife leaves him and in a fit of anger asks him to explain his religion to the president of the United States. Suffering from Aspergers Syndrome, Khan is wont to take this literally and sets out to meet the most powerful man in the world with his message, and in the process becomes an unlikely hero across the country. One gets the the feeling that if the film had focussed entirely on the protagonist's journey to meet the President, with his message of peace, it could have been more powerful. But instead we are fed needless back stories in flashback after flashback, through numerous vignettes of Khan's life, his love story and his family life. And in doing so, we are introduced to several competent supporting actors who deserve more than the walk on roles they get. Jimmy Shergill, Vinay Pathak, Praveen Dabbas and the divine Sonya Jehan are wasted in the parts they get (which is a real pity). Perhaps only Zarina Wahab, playing Khan's compassionate mother and the 2 young actors playing the journos who take up Khan's case after his incarceration, register any sort of lasting impact on the viewer.

This is of course entirely Shah Rukh Khan's film. And King Khan puts in a winning performance as the Aspergers afflicted Rizvan Khan. He is consistent in his portrayal and really gets stuck in to the part. Here's to more such experiments. Kajol, in another effortless turn, supports him well enough but SRK goes one better in this one. The film's music, however is a bit of let down. KJo's films generally have fine sound tracks and Shankar Ehsan Loy don't do justice to the film, apart form a couple of soothing numbers. The writing is mostly good, though inconsistent (watch out for a couple of signature KJo moments).The film, shot with an entirely international crew, is visually arresting, with Ravi K Chandran doing a bang up job with the cinematography.

This is a welcome departure for KJo and the film should be seminal in SRK's filmography. It's heart is in the right place, but is let down by execution. The film's opening sequences raise much hope, only to be belied soon after, as the viewer battles tedium. Kuch kuch hua Karan, but only just.

2.5 /5


Friday, February 05, 2010

Waiting at the ‘Red’ signal

In spite of Sino-Indian relations having turned a tad acrimonious over the last few months, China’s
seemingly most important export to India, Maoism, seems to be flourishing. India’s home grown Maoists, control more than forty thousand square kilometers of predominantly tribal dominated land, and their continuous sparing with state authorities continues. This begs the question of Maoism’s relevance in today’s markedly different economic and social framework.

To answer this, we must first look at its effects in history. Let’s see how it went in China. Clearly it’s a 50-50 there. While some Chinese historians and sections of the intelligentsia believe that the
foundations of today’s strong and resurgent China were laid in the principals of Maoism, others dispute its positive effects in nation building. The ‘Great Leap Forward’, launched in 1958, left more than 15 million rural Chinese succumbing to famine while 1966’s ‘Cultural Revolution’ left a similar number dead and even more disillusioned. Mao left China in the worst possible condition, both financially and socially, only to be rescued by Deng Xiaoping’s free-market leaning economic reforms. In Nepal, the Maoists joined the political mainstream and won the elections, but their success as a credible alternative is yet to be seen. In Peru, the Maoists, represented by the Shining Path party are a condemned lot, for the perpetration of violence against trade unions, elected officials and civilians alike, and are regarded as a brutal and violent terrorist organization. So, Maoism’s record in bringing about social change and harmony isn’t particularly shining. Should, then, its relevance to democratic India be regarded as minimal at best, and its tenets banished as a romantic idea about self sacrifice and greater good, rather than a seriously workable theory?

Not entirely. The growth of Maoism in India has actually done the country’s democracy and economic policy a rather large favor. It has clearly proven that our nation’s fundamental doctrines are still evolving and are flawed in their current identity. While it has succeeded in uplifting millions from the clutches of poverty and indignity, it has completely ignored a whole other demographic from its purview. And this non-included segment, mainly the tribal aggregations of the forest belt, has served as a laboratory of expression for the Maoists. Years of state apathy, abysmal levels of government engagement and complete lack of developmental initiatives have left these people disillusioned, wary and in need of a voice. The ‘red army’ has filled this need. Crucially though, this voice needs to be listened to. While the violence should be rightly decried, condemned and even actively suppressed by the government, the focus on the greater picture must not be lost. These areas need as much attention and engagement from the state as do other parts of the country. Development opportunities are a plenty with scores of organizations waiting to utilize these natural resource rich areas. The government’s sensitive handling of these proposals will no doubt play a huge part and getting the locals to participate in the area’s development should be the right result. This, clearly, must be supplemented by immediate attention to social infrastructure and education.

Till this is achieved, our journey to being a truly pluralistic and inclusive democracy will remain indefinitely delayed - at the 'red' signal.