Monday, 26 August 2013

Madras Cafe: good filmmaking ensures no bullet wasted

The movie business is evolving with every passing day and the rules of the games are changing. Lately, there seems to be a talk of only how much a movie earns (Rs100 cr….Rs200 cr…..), of the ensemble of stars or some trivial fact that is not worth remembering. The subject and story of the movie is that missing bit, something like fruit pulp in an aerated drink. And at a time when going to a theatre means removing your grey matter or smelling some nitrous oxide just to remain sane, Shoojit Sircar’s Madras Cafe is a welcome relief. At the outset let me make it clear that this movie is not going to the film archives for being a ‘path breaking cinema’. And yet this is a movie worth watching, if not for anything, for the simple fact that the makers of this movie have stayed true to their job. Rather than going over the top with jingoistic dialogues or cacophonic screams of patriotism, Sircar keeps the whole tenor at a mellow, on-the-ground pace giving the whole experience more credibility.
John Abraham is the main protagonist, but as you would have read by now, the script is the hero of the movie. Madras Cafe, by far, is the most rewarding performance by John Abraham. For an actor, whom I have always thought, was getting typecast as a macho-man of Bollywood, John pushes the bar high. He, probably, had the freedom of doing such an intense film because he is a part producer of the film. That however does not take anything from his performance in the movie.
Credit should be given to Shoojit Sircar. After Vicky Donor, not many would have betted on him to pull through a good movie in an entirely different genre. Casting in the film has also been commendable. Sircar seems to have got the right actors to do even small bits, be it Siddharth Basu as the R&AW head or Prakash Belawadi as the Jaffna Indian official.
Contrary to what has been seen with movies of this genre in India Sircar does not include a song in the movie. An item number (that petty excuse to get people talking about a movie) could have easily been put to show how the Tamil rebel leader enjoys his evenings, of course with a bonfire!
Rather than using John for his muscles and Nargis Fakhri for her looks, Sircar gives the characters they portray respectability and credibility, which is very essential for a movie that, though is claimed to be fictitious, has an uncanny resemblance to an event in history that is still a political hot potato for India and Sri Lanka.
Digressing from the movie, the timing of the release of Madras Cafe and its importance is interesting. It is quite understandable that the politicians in Tamil Nadu have seen red over the film. For the Congress this is a sure morale booster and I’m wondering why they have not gone about distributing free copies of the film. After all, it revisits the assassination of our former PM who was stressing for peace in the neighbourhood. What better message to give in an election year. I still can’t understand why the BJP is opposing the film.
All said, Madras Cafe is a movie worth watching and you will not have to keep your brains back home. In fact do brush you history and Tamil a bit.
This latte tastes better than an Express blend.

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Mumbai gangrape: Little hope for women in India

                                                                                                                 AP photo
The August 22 Mumbai gangrape was shocking. What were more shocking were the reactions that poured in.
If anyone thought that women were safe in India after the massive protests following the December 16 gangrape in Delhi last year, I’ll blame the prince charming who kissed back to life these Snow Whites (they were better off sleeping). For various reasons, our public spaces are not going to be any safer for women in the near future, unless there is some drastic change — and frankly, nothing is in sight.
The administration has reacted in an almost textbook fashion. Maharashtra home minister RR Patil’s suggestion to send the police with every woman journalist working alone or in isolated places betrays an agonising lethargy shown towards an application of mind. Why can’t the home minister ensure that ‘isolated places’ are not the dens for anti-social elements? Why wasn’t the mills and surrounding area, notorious for its drug pushers, etc, not better policed?
The suspects are being pursued and in all likelihood they will be caught. What after that? Jayanto’s Tooingin in the August 24 Hindustan Times very succinctly conveys at least two things: One, the arrogance of the culprits who care two hoots for the ‘tough’ laws and know that the speed limit for ‘fast-track courts’ are not-above-20kms/hr. Second, the helplessness the reader seeing the cartoon.
The media also needs to get its act right. Reactions of horror, almost presuming that until then everything was hunky-dory, is being unfair to the many women who have to face various forms of abuse, perhaps on a daily basis, but do not reach the media’s ‘horror’ scale qualifying to be ‘news’.
Unfortunately, there is no magic pill or a spell that can get things bright starting tomorrow. But there are things that can be done, small steps that can lead to a greater change. The average politician who cries that things should change should lead from the front. For starters, let them come together and pass the Women’s Reservation Bill. This might not stop rapes or make public spaces safer for women but it will sure be a big step towards reaching that goal. There are more steps that can be taken: women’s safety is appallingly low not because for want of ideas, but for want of a will to do so.
Until then, it’s not a sunny day for women in India’s cities, towns and villages. To borrow from John Lennon (and tamper with a beautiful line): ‘You may say I'm a pessimist / But I'm not the only one’.

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Racism and Tom & Jerry: It's humans who are racist stupid!

Who would have thought that a popular cartoon show like Tom and Jerry would one day be accused of portraying racism? Generations of children have fell off the chair laughing to the crazy cat and mouse games. So popular is the cartoon that it has a loyal fan following even among the grownups. However, the Warner Brothers’ recent decision to drop two episodes that it deemed ‘inappropriate’ from its ‘Tom & Jerry Golden Collection Volume Two’ because both Tom and Jerry get ‘blacked up’ in the episodes, has stirred the debate on whether are we getting too weak kneed about out past.
 Tom and Jerry is not the first popular cartoon series to be accused of being racist. Tintin in Congo, from The Adventures of Tintin series, and the comic book series Archie has been accused of being racist. Enid Blyton, the famous author of the Famous Five and Secret Seven series, has been accused of being a racist and many instances from her works have been cited as examples. While critics may have a point, they overlook the fact that most of these works were produced at a time when racism was not an ‘offense’. Racism, in its myriad forms, is present even today. The constant reminders by cosmetic companies through their advertisements that to be successful one has to be fair are an everyday reality. Recently, Oprah Winfrey, the celebrity talk show host, claimed that she was racially profiled at a boutique in Zurich where the sales woman refused to show her an expensive handbag. Blackfacing, the act of darkening one’s face to stereotypically portray a black person — Robert Downey Jr’s Kirk Lazarus in Tropic Thunder — is popular among actors, stage show hosts and comedians.
Robert Downey Jr as Kirk Lazarus in Tropical Thunder
 Racism is a truth and there was a time in history when it was not an offense. Informed opinion and equal rights have shown upon us how wrong and ashamed we have to be of certain aspects of our past. Rather than shying away from past mistakes, we should ensure that this will not be repeated in the future. As 20th century philosopher George Santayana said in Reason in Common Sense: ‘Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it’. Meanwhile, the next time you see the slapstick frying pan violence in Tom and Jerry don’t think about violence against animals, just enjoy the humour and the wonderful orchestra playing in the background.

Monday, 12 August 2013

Learn to respect our soldiers

Bhim Singh

On Thursday, four of the five jawans killed in the Poonch attack on August 6 were cremated with state honours in Bihar. To see the pain in the eyes of the widows of the jawans and the blankness in the eyes in their children was enough to move even the staunchest of critics of the Indian Army. However, Bihar’s rural works and panchayati raj minister Bhim Singh was not moved and even went to the extent of ridiculing the sombreness over the killings by suggesting that they were doing what they were paid for. Singh’s statement that “Jawans are meant to be martyred” is abominable, to say the least. After Singh’s statement backfired, Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar apologised. Singh also apologised and latched on to that favourite excuse used by politicians whenever they are caught on the wrong foot — that he was misquoted.
This callousness, or rather crude apathy, shown by our political class is a reflection of a general indifference towards the armed forces. The ‘it’s-their-job’ attitude belittles the sacrifice of our armed forces to ensure that our country is safe. Guarding our borders is not an easy task. With Pakistan relentlessly sending militants, and even its own troops as in the recent attack, across the border and with Chinese incursions on the rise, the job of guarding our borders is getting tougher with every passing day. The armed forces also endure harsh weather conditions, be it the biting cold in the Himalayas or the scorching Sun in the deserts, and this is lost to the political class and public who think that ‘that’s-what-they’re-paid-for’. The Siachen Glacier, at a height of about 5,400 metres, is a strategically important post for India and is one of the harshest border posts in the world to patrol, and it is our troops who guard this front.
The Centre, after the initial flip-flop by the defence minister, has pinned the blame on the Pakistan army. This was an avoidable mishap, especially at a time when the armed forces are in need of more personnel. Statements, like the one give by Bhim Singh, will have a detrimental effect on the youth who aim to join the forces to serve the nation. The government should also look at ways in which the families of our slain armed forces personnel are taken care of. Though no monetary benefit will be a substitute for the lives lost, it is imperative that the families are not forgotten. Politicians should also refrain from politicising the martyrdom of our soldiers and the public should be more sensitive towards the service they render towards making life better for many of us.