Sunday, January 25, 2009

Anil Kapoor in trouble: Or should we say it's a dog's life?

The Time magazine website reports that 40 slum dwellers are protesting outside Anil Kapoor's house holding banners reading "I am not a dog". They, of course, are referring to the title of the Academy award nominated film Slumdog Millionaire in which Kapoor plays a role.

And far away in Patna, another slum dweller has sued the Indian cast and crew of the movie, for offending slum dwellers with the title. As the article reports, "He said he didn't expect any better of the British persons associated with the film because their ancestors called Indians "dogs" anyway, but the Indians should've known better."

I wish some of this delicious black comedy of life in India had percolated into Boyle's earnest film.

As another Bollywoodian Sohail Khan would say: I... Proud to be an Indian

Wednesday, January 21, 2009


Recently, Dr Monika Pater, a media studies lecturer with avowed feminist leanings, asked if anyone in class wanted to do a presentation on feminist literature on journalistic practice. Not one of the 11 women and four men readily put his/her hand up.

Forget the men, but isn't it surprising that at least 10 of the 11 smart, over-25, professional journalist women in our class show wariness of feminist studies?

Is it because the anti-feminists have won the day? Or is it because the feminist movement refused to move with time, to recognise its own success in improving the status of women - and dramatically of a certain section - in society?

For example, one of the papers that was eventually discussed, statistically showed how there were less women working in hard journalistic beats such as, crime, politics and business. Most women chose soft beats such as culture and features. Thus, it called for an examination into the structural barriers to women's growth in the media.

Superficially, I would be a perfect case for this study. I started out as a business journalist, but after a year and half, moved over to feature writing for an arts magazine. But are these facts enough to conclude that the world around me is a male-inspired conspiracy against women? How about the fact that I left business journalism because it bored me. Or the fact that the former magazine offered me a promotion to stay-on. Or that, I never regretted that decision. And that many men vied for my job at the art magazine.

How can we blame men for something that I chose to do and was happy to do?

Feminist literature doesn't enthuse a certain class of women because it doesn't resonate with their lives. That it is asks them to be angry for slights that they simply haven't experienced. And it expects them to blame men for things that they themselves choose to do.

Gloria Steinam, the queen-bee of the feminist movement, asked us in 2008 to believe that "Gender is the most restrictive force in American life". (If it is true of America, it couldn't be more true of India, right?) If only, Ms Steinam would use riders like "..force in a certain section of American life". By speaking for all classes and sections, she loses my support.

Speak for yourself, Ms Steinam. For I hate pretending to be the victim. And I think, so do 9 other women in my class.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Why we do research?

I asked Professor Uwe Hasebrink, who is supervising my master's thesis, what exactly is the role of academia in society. "We do research so that smart people can make intelligent conversation in cafes," he answered without a blink.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

AR Rahman: Or why shower singers like me detest you.

Composer AR Rahman may be raking in the international awards and accolades but he has a lot to answer to the joyful shower singers of the world like me.

Before he trotted up, the vocals (lyrics and singing) dominated the foreground, and the music accompanied from the background. Thus, the words, diction, and poetry made enough of an impression on our nuerons, for them to effortlessly come tumbling out in the shower. Then came Rahman and inversed the equation: the music overwhelmed the foreground, and the lyrics became helpful mumblings from the back.

But does he realise how incredibly difficult it is to sing his mumbles in the shower? My brain simply doesn't retain enough of them.

Besides, the lyricists have caught on to Rahman. Why bother with logical sequencing of words, give a proper subject and object to your poetry, or lend sense - when the mumbles are barely perceptible anyway.

Take for example, Roobaroo from the film Rang De Basanti (2006). Such fabulous music - my heart dived and rose with Rahman's strokes. But singing it is hell. What cues to use to remember its nonsense lyrics? Take para 2 for example:

jo gumshuda-sa khwaab tha
voh mil gaya voh khil gaya
woh loha tha pighal gaya
kichhaa kichhaa machal gaya
sitaar mein badal gaya

Now I consider myself a reasonably intelligent person, but I still can't understand how Prasoon Joshi, the lyricist, connected the gumshuda khwab (dream) in question to bloody pighla loha (melted iron) or turned it into a sitar (a kind of guitar) or what exactly is getting "khiccha khiccha" out here, and pray why. I suspect, he tacked lots of lovely sounding Urdu words - and I bet even shit sounds lovely in Urdu - together in complete faith that no one would notice. Well, guess what. Shower singers do.

Here's another one to give Lewis Carol a run for his money - Aye Udi Udi from Saathiya (2002).

(Aye Udi Udi Udi Aye Khwaaboon Kii Burii
Aye Aang Rang Khelii Aye Saarii Raat Ho Gayi )...(2)
Halkii Aye Halkii Kal Raat Jo Shabnam Girii
Har Akhiyaan Vakiyaan Bhar Gayi Kal To Haath Par Dab Dab Girii
Pahalii Pahalii Baarish Kii Chhiite Pahalii Baarish Bhiige

A hershey's kiss for anyone who can identify the subject of this stanza!

Grrr.. Mr Rahman... a big boo from all the shower singers of the world.

Correction: In an earlier version, I had written that Gulzar was the lyricist of the song Roobaroo. Sorry for the mistake. He deserves credit for the other jem - Aye Udi Udi.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Slumdog Millionaire: Or it is murder & mayhem in Mumbai?

Girish Shahane in his blog talks about the sensationalist novel Q&A (2005) - note the amount of sodomy involved - which inspired the sensationalist movie Slumdog Millionaire.

People need gritty stories to write novels and make films. But I wonder, what happens when the films and novels crossover, and people watch it without any context of the place or people.

A couple of years ago, I bumped into an Indian-American over free booze at a book festival. He had arrived in Mumbai a few months ago and was working for some global think-tank. He said he actually was hoping to write a novel. When I asked him if he had found his story, his face fell. He said he thought he wasn't living in the "right" Mumbai. Because nothing ever happened in Goregaon, he yelped.

That is what happens when you come to Mumbai armed with Shantaram under one arm and Maximum City under the other. You keep trying to find the gritty, edgy, murder and mayhem-filled Mumbai - and instead find the bucolic charms of Goregaon (East).

Here is a rather interesting trailer of Slumdog Millionaire.

Monday, January 5, 2009

German chicken or eggs?

Erik Kirschbaum, the Reuters correspondent in Berlin, wonders why the Germans are depressed. They are so depressed, the American said when we met him a few weeks ago, that they won't have children and invariably gasp in horror when told that he has four.

I, on the other hand, wonder why German sociologists are so obsessed with coming up with dire structural theories about society: of how structural forces in society control the humans who live in it. Think Weber and his theory about the extreme efficiency of bureaucratisation. Consider Habermas and his obsession with the public sphere that negotiates political communication within society. Or (gasp!) Luhmann and his systems theory: how different systems in the society interact with each other to run our world.

Could the two factors be connected? Are Germans depressed because these theories make them feel they have little control on their lives? Or do Germans come up with such theories because they are already depressed and can't accept that structures are made and destroyed by human inventiveness?

More on Weber:
and Luhmann: