Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Yet another sign of Talibanisation

Some people believe that invoking God and tradition can sanctify a vile act. That seems true of the Sri Ram Sene thugs who raided a Mangalore pub on January 24, rounded up, groped and beat up the women present. The reason: “because of the attitude of the young women” and for “consuming alcohol, dressing indecently, and mixing with youths of other faiths”. In short, it was done “in the name of God”. Almost as an echo comes a statement from Krishna Palemar, minister in charge of Dakshina Kannada, that “obscene” dances will not be allowed in the district. Such a pronouncement from a government minister implies a worrying degree of support for vigilante hooliganism. The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party has “categorically” distanced itself from this incident, but this is the same party whose chief minister B S Yeddyurappa only four months ago excused the attacks on churches in the state on the grounds that conversions were the cause. This time he has said, “It is unfortunate”, and nothing more. But the signs are ominous. Three days have passed, and the police still have not arrested the main perpetrators. As for the Sri Rama Sene, it has admitted its responsibility, and its founder Pramod Mutalik is unrepentant, dismissing the public outcry as unnecessary hype. That will be their attitude as long as the Krishna Palemars provide tacit support for their agenda, which is nothing more than a creeping Talibanisation of society, where everything that does not fit a selfserving “tradition” is suspect.
Such incidents in an election year are fodder for political parties and some have grabbed the bait gladly. Women and child development minister Renuka Chowdhury has condemned the attack and so has the National Commission for Women. Chowdhury has gone a step further, saying that if needed she would personally intervene in the case. Unfortunately, the assurance rings a bit hollow, because activists report that the rate of convictions for crimes against women is near zero. It is not just crimes against women, though. It was the Sri Ram Sene that attacked an M F Hussain exhibition in Delhi last August. It has also been mentioned by Lt Col Purohit, a prime suspect in the Malegaon blasts, in a transcript as doing a “good job”. True, judicial custody for the arrested could be extended. Remember the case where 14 youths were granted bail after two NRIs were molested on Juhu beach while celebrating New Year in 2008?
The people in the Amnesia bar were doing nothing illegal. It was the intruders who broke the law and they must be made to pay for it. We cannot allow morality to be used as a cover for barbarism.
Published version of this post can be viewed at ( or

Friday, 23 January 2009

Bollywood denies Boyle’s mirage on Mumbai

I cannot recollect when I first heard about Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire. It caught my attention after I heard Jaya Ho on MTV and saw that the film was creating ripples on the international circuit by winning four Golden Globes, three Chicago Film Critics Award, three Satellite Awards, 10 Academy Award nominations and 11 nominations for the BAFTA Awards among many other laurels. Reviews have praised the treatment of the film as unique and refreshing.
It may be an inane notion to contradict popular choice, but I refused to believe Slumdog was a good film. As though we don’t have enough of them, the promos showed Anil Kapoor as a quizmaster in a TV game show, with slum children running throughout the montage.
In a week’s time Slumdog managed to do what every Bollywood film wants: attract the attention of a billion people. This in itself is an achievement given that most promising Bollywood masala films are received with a yawn. While movie buffs were praising Allah Rakkha Rahman’s music in the film, Indian film industry insiders were trying to work out how an Oliver Twist-meets-Richie Rich film shot by a foreigner had captured the imagination of the nation.
With fame comes foes and Slumdog is no exception. The detractors focus on two aspects. First, that it is being seen as an Indian/Bollywood film. Though the definition of an ‘Indian’ film is vague, Slumdog fails on certain prerequisites such as an Indian director and production house. But the film has other kinds of ‘Indian-ness’, an Indian cast, music director, co-director, milieu, and of course, a love triangle, hero-in search-of-childhood-sweetheart, betrayal and, even a dance sequence in a railway station. In that sense it is more Bollywood than Bollywood.
The second charge is the old whinge that when foreigners make a film on India they choose poverty. A theme that not many would want to associate with, a theme that India would not want to project to an international audience and a theme not many in Bollywood could relate to. As a veteran Bollywood director noted, from Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali onwards, filmmakers have eternalised poverty on screen.
Whoever raked up the issue might be unaware that almost all international indices on health, livelihood, maternal mortality, malnutrition and, female foeticide, infanticide and mortality, place India in alarmingly dangerous categories (India’s surplus of hunger, TNIE Jan 15). We can’t deny that.
The tempo of protest and reactions may have been different if the film had been made by Nagesh Kukunoor or Madhur Bhandarkar or Vishal Bharadwaj. The fact that a Briton has highlighted slums and poverty is a bitter pill to swallow.
The chances are that Slumdog, being a foreign production, would not have been noticed if not for the international acclaim. Recall Madhur Bhandarkar’s Traffic Signal released in 2007. It exposed the underbelly of our metropolises, but the cacophony we hear over Slumdog was not heard then. Bhandarkar’s film showed the murky side of city life in greater detail. In contrast, Boyle’s treatment has an almost innocent yet refreshing touch. One sees the joys of living in a slum — an aspect none of the ‘Indian’ films have captured. In that sense, it is about hope and optimism.
In an interview, Boyle said it was not poverty that attracted him to make the film but the ‘rags to rajah’ theme — a universal theme. But what if Boyle had been attracted to poverty and its omnipresence in Indian cities? Mumbaikars know that close to 60 per cent of them live in slums or ghettos alongside 10 of the Top-100 richest in the world, in many cases both sharing the same postal index number.
Maybe Slumdog has come at the wrong time. India as a nation is in denial. We are refusing to accept that our personal security (Mumbai 26/11), economic security (financial meltdown) and much-vaunted corporate growth (Satyam fraud) are like a mirage. Films seem to be the only comfort and Slumdog has invaded even this haven. We deny that the slums and life shown in the film are real and construe them to be a figment of the director’s imagination — a mirage the director has seen.
We surround ourselves with run-of-the-mill stories of love triangles. We prefer dancing jodis, re-incarnation and separated-at-birth tales. We forget that by taking these films internationally we show the world the India we prefer to see, the India we choose to acknowledge. By making films on India, others show the India they see and understand.
And we deny it.