Thursday, May 31, 2007

Shootout At Lokhandwala

I will not review this one. I will simply list ten reasons why you shouldn't watch it.

1) First of all, they got the tagline wrong. There's nothing called 'true rumours'. A rumour is, by definition, a story that may or may not be true. A true rumour is then, by definition, a true story. In fact, I believe that this usage of 'based on true rumours' instead of 'based on true stories' is itself a lame way to get out of the burden of realistic portrayal that a true- story based concept imposes. It sets the tone for everything that follows.

2) When one wants to portray real-life gangsters and the cops who fight them or collude with them, with a personal touch, one tries to go inside the lives that they have lived, the causual functions that made them the way they were, the dilemmas that they may have faced, and the rationalizations that helped them overcome these dilemmas. One does not go the 'ooohh look at him - walks like that, talks like that, dangles cigarettes, makes cool statements, recites Urdu poetry' way. When one goes that way, one aims to make a stylised timepass movie, like Dhoom 1 for instance. Realism and glamour mix like sugar and gasoline, with the same sputtering results. (quote courtesy, an Oct 1998 issue of Sportstar) Let's get this straight - encounters, moral dilemmas, divorces, job frustration etc are serious issues and when handled well can lead to great cinema. When reduced to 'I wear Ray Ban and keep two buttons open' style machismo, a movie bcomes mediocre forever.

3) When one wants to portray realism in cinema, one tries to get good actors. Suniel Shetty, Rohit Roy, and Arbaaz Khan are not good actors. There's only so much that Tusshar Kapoor can do. Sanjay Dutt and Amitabh Bachchan cannot elevate a movie by simply being there.

4) Ohh did I talk about acting in point 3. Vivek Oberoi must have the dubious distinction of the only actor who could never exceed what he did in his first performance. The man who excelled as Chandu in Company is such a pain as Maya Dolas that at times it became difficult to look at the screen. Doals was, by all accounts, a flamboyant gangster. With some gravity and attempt, it can be a career defining role for most actors. One does not even need to cut down on the stylistics. However, by focusing solely on the stylistics, Mr poodle-hair has devoided Dolas of any real on-screen menace. What a shame.

5) The license-quota-permit Raj is over. We get to see phoren films. And if you lift from them directly, we will call your bluff. For heaven's sake bollywood, stop filching. One does not lift the 'bite the pavement' scene from American History X directly. In fact, one (Hollywood or Bollywood) does not lift anything from an Ed Norton movie directly, simply because 99% actors are not worth the guy's pubic hair. Please refer back to Ajay Devgan's pathetic attempts at playing a fraudulently schizoid cold-blooded murderer in Deewangi. Go watch Primal Fear after that. You'll know what I mean.

6) Any Hindi film director who believes that roping in a couple of foreign chicas for one of the song/dance routines is a must, should be jailed for lack of imagination.

7) Someone needs to tell 'realistic' action directors that TV sets cannot be lifted and smashed that easily, and that residential houses do not have neatly arranged sets of five sharp impalers that you can use as a hangar for the villain's neck to delver final poetic justice. Also, the nonchalant lighting of a cigarette after fighting crime seems like a neat uidea, but is actually quite laughable.

8) When you get everything else incorrect, atleast get the fashion right. The fancy coloured canvas shoes that people wear these days is a recent phenomenon, en vogue for the last 2-3 years. So there's no way the gangster buwa could have been wearing the blue adidas canvas pair that he wears in the movie.

9) In a movie that is supposed to provide you edge of the seat thrills, if by the end all you can do is check out the shoes of the dead gangsters, the filmmaker's vision and execution have gone seriously awry.

10) I reserve the worst for the last. Emotional sentences do not make for great courtroom defence scenes. Good courtroom dramas are some of the best movies ever made - one only needs to look at A Few Good Men to see that this statement is objectively true. A defence lawyer who chastises his clients throughout his preparation and then launches a brilliant fact and analysis based defence makes for a great character. With tight editing, such an episode can even prove to be the focal point of a movie. Unfortunately, this movie was made by Apurva Lakhia, the guy who made Mumbai Se Aaya Mera Dost. I should have kept that in mind when I went to watch this. Shootout has got a terrible climax. Fortunately, it's short.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Back to the Blogosphere

Apologies, for the rather extended break. Among other things I was away to my home state, Bihar, for 10 days. Random fundaes and insights about that will follow soon. In the short time that I've been back, I've been drawn into a rather prolonged, and now boring, blog-debate here.

It is about the Baroda art controversy, and because of its inherent nature, the debate easily metamorphosised into one on freedom of speech and the validity of 'giving offence' as a yardstick of jurisprudence. There has been tremedous back and forth, and quite often the debate has descended into nothing more than name-calling, with me being guilty of the same. The basic positions are -

The Proposition : Freedom of speech cannot be absolute. Such derogatory portrayals with obvious malafide intent to offend cannot be left unprosecuted. Not everything is art - a judiciary guided by community standards should decide what is art and what isn't. Laws cannot be independent of the prevalent social mores - hence if something is offensive to most members of the community, it should be banned. There has to be deterrant, civil or criminal, against such abuses of freedom of expression.

The Opposition (represented in part by yours truly) : Offence is subjective, and hence cannot (should not) be a valid plank of jurisprudence. Wherever possible, laws should proceed from axiomatic definitions of morality - otherwise all we'll be left with is tyranny of the majority, which is unacceptable in a liberal democracy. It doesn't matter whether you or I think of something as art or not, or whethere we are offended by a particular portrayal - the artist in question cannot be jailed for this. The current social standards in India would mean that all nudes would have to be banned, something that even the proposition does not agree with. India's FoS laws are too vague - something like the First Amendment to the US constitution is required.

As an aside, I have now decided that whenever I wish to discover new things about my identity and personality, I should post a comment on something controversial on that blog. This time, among other things I have been told, or it has been insinuated, that I am -

1) A communist woman in her 30s.

2) A pseudo-secular IT professional with too much time to kill.

3) A 45 year old man who pretends to be a student about to start grad school and also likes posting under the pseudonym Spartacus.

4) Someone whose knowledge of Hinduism is extremely weak.

5) A pseudo-liberal who fears that opposing Muslim bigotry will lead to loss of life or limb.

If you feel you need to ponder over the freedom of expression deal a little more yourself, do think about a couple of questions that I posed over there which did not get consistent or satisfactory replies.

1) I often wear a T-shirt of a metal band called Venom (the band that gave the Black metal genre its name through a song of theirs, though in my opinion most of their music was proto-thrash metal, not black metal). This T-shirt has an upturned cross with the number 666 written across it, signifying the loss of sanctity of the cross and the overpowering of god by the devil. (As a digression, the art-work is quite cool and subtle, not the in your face 'hell yeah, motherf****** metal rulezzzz satan rulezzzz' kinds.) This depiction would be blasphemous by orthodox christian standards. Technically, under section 295 of the IPC, I can be arrested for wearing this T-shirt. To quote from Arun jaitley's article in the Indian Express

Section 295 of the Indian Penal Code penalises any person who destroys, damages or defiles any object held sacred by any class of persons, with the intention of thereby insulting the sentiments of such class, or with the intention of such defilement being regarded as an insult to religion.

Do you think that I should be arrested for wearing that T-shirt? Do you think a legal system should have provisions under which I could be prosecuted for wearing it?

2) Given that the average Indian is likley to find ANY nude offensive, should we ban all nudes?

If your answer to both questions is yes, you would be consistent, but clearly in your society there would be zero artistic freedom. If you answer yes to one and no to the other, your stand is rather inconsistent and you need to check if by 'offensive to the average person' you simply mean 'offensive to me'. If you answer no to both, welcome to my side of the divide.

Now, blogger no. 1 and I were on the same side of the divide, with our man Amit coming under considerable fire for his ostensible hypocrisy. Now, anyone who reads his blog would know that this isn't true. However, today Amit linked to what he called an 'excellent' piece by some dude called Salil Tripathi. That piece contained this one mind-numbing paragraph

Indeed, Husain has painted several goddesses from the Hindu pantheon in the nude, including Saraswati, the goddess of learning, Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, and Durga, a martial goddess who slays demons. These are bold works that reshape our thinking about Hindu myths, revealing them in new light; they are not lewd drawings meant to titillate. His nudes delineate the body in sharp lines, elevating it to an abstract realm, suggesting the formlessness of divinity

Excuse me, but what? This paragraph, ladies and gentlemen, defines the term pseudo-secular. Look, I believe in nearly absolute freedom of expression. In my legal system, Hussain's works will not be banned, he will not be legally prosecuted, and those who vandalized his works will be behind the bars. That does not however mean that Hussain is not a bigot. The man did not take down any of the nude paintings of the Hindu godesses, yet took down Meenaxi from theatres simply because some Muslim groups made some noise about how Allah being referred to as the-divine-light in some song or sequence of the movie was against Islamic beliefs. A friend recently informed me that when MFH was asked by Shekhar Gupta in Walk the Talk if he would ever be able to draw an offensive portrayal of the Prophet Mohammad, the old man had to nearly be physically restrained from reacting violently.

Also, Mr Tripathi, "they are not lewd drawings meant to titillate" is a subjective judgement, as subjective as the judgement of those who claim that the portrayal is malicious and offensive to Hindus. If Mr Tripathi was a true FoS believer, he would have said that EVEN if Mr hussain's paintings titilate or offend some pople, they should not be banned. In that piece, he(Salil Tripathi) comes out sounding like nothing but an apologist for M F Hussain who claims to understand Hindu culture better than anybody else. The deal is very simple - I have no doubt in my mind that Maqbool Fida Hussain, whtever his artistic merit may be, is a bigoted man. His works should still not be liable for criminal (or civil) prosecution.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Of conspiracy theories & two rupee coins

Surely you've heard about the controversy surrounding the two rupee coin. No, I don't mean the controversy that since it resembles the 1 rupee coin so much in shape, the blind may not be able to figure out the difference. Such details are piffling - we must concern ourselves with something of far greater impoartance, namely the communal agenda that the Congress is apparently pursuing. Yes, a communal agenda through a goddamn metal coin. As the great philosopher of Bollywood, Anand Raj Anand, once sang - "It happens only in India".

So, one gentleman found that the new coin resembles the coin issued by St Louis the Pious in the Ninth century - cross with four dots et al. He wrote an article expressing his views. The article included this little gem

It’s the ruling Congress which is pursuing communal agenda in virtually every sphere, from social, political, economic, military to now in national currency.

Our blogger no. 1 posted something about the silliness of such claims. He was taken to task by another blogger, who accused him of being politically correct, and a heated discussion ensued in the comments section. So when I stumbled upon this controversy, I decided to finally take a closer look at the damn coin.

I could see no cross. I saw two parallel lines close by, intersected at a 90 degree angle by two other close parallel lines. Sure, the cross looks something like that too. However, I know of only two crosses that are exactly the same on all four sides (i.e., they do not have an extended leg section) - the Maltese cross, and the aforementioned St Louis the Pious cross. Both of these crosses, like other crosses, have closed ends on the four sides, and the ends bulge a little. The motif on our coin has no such ends. My engineer mind saw a figure that was symmetrical with an angle of symmetry as 90 degrees. My I've-been-reading-too-much-postmodernist-feminist-crap-these-days-and-I-want-to-be-funny-about-it mind saw four phalluses about to penetrate a centre. (You do know that any linear/cylindrical structure is a phallus right? If you don't, shame on you. You are a stooge of the patriarchy) My Hindu mind saw four dots and was reminded of the Swastika.

Now, as I see it, the opposition to the "communal nature" of the coin has only two arguments.

1. The coin is indeed communal - For this to be true, one would have to assume that the RBI has absolutely sold out to the government, the government has absolutely sold out to Sonia Gandhi, and Sonia Gandhi is a fanatically zealot christian. One would also have to assume that such a motif could actually enable conversions or truly offend another religion. In my book, that's one assumption too many.

2. The coin may not be part of a communal agenda, but a secular country has no business involving itself with a religious motif. To which I say, I see no damn religious motifs. I was not even aware of a cross with four dots before this but I was aware of the Swastika. Hence, I saw the dots as the Swastika dots. I could see pure geometrical figures. With some imagination I could also see four roads and a cross-road, and like I've mentioned before, four penises. But a christian cross, not really. Not unless we assume that every figure with a line intersected at the centre by another perpendicular line is a christian cross.

I could have tried to explain points 1 and 2 above to those worthies debating the communal agenda of the cross. I could have explained how perceptions colour observations, how motifs and symbols are largely in the mind, how one sees what one wants to see. But that seemed too boring, not to mention futile. Hence, I wrote this -

The four dots on the four sides of the cross suggest something else to me - I see the Shubh-Labh swastika dots. I also see four phallic structures, all heading towards a common centre that is about to be penetrated against its own will. Clearly, this cross is the evil design of the Hindu patriarchy.

The responses were brilliant. The only guy who seemed to get the joke replied with a brilliant post about how it was the evil design of patriarchy, but the Muslim one and not the Hindu one. Others concluded that I was a "typical wannabe contrarian bong" and someone who has 'learnt Hinduism from American Indologists" and hence "holds his penis when he crosses a temple". One sentence revealed more about the prejudices of these guys than hours of debating would have, and how much they actually knew about India and Hinduism was unnravelled beautifully. I was mighty pleased.

And so, in the spirit of conspiracy theories, I decided to do a little more pattern finding. I had another epiphany. Dear readers, I hereby announce that mathematics is a christian conspiracy. As Nilu would say - think deeply.

Random Wow : Speaking of foreign Indologists, there's only one I would recommend. Anyone with the least bit of interest in ancient Indian history as told from an unbiased, non-patronising, wonder-eyed, yet rational, objective and scientific perspective would get hold of A L Basham's magnum opus 'The Wonder That Was India' and read every word of it.