Saturday, August 29, 2009

Stuck at the Y

E&Y E&Y and the Bay the Bay the Bay
the red red sedan
that she drove away
the french fries scattered on a plate

are images that won't walk out the door

get me more than Frost at this strange Y
get me a bench under a tree
tell me am I any richer today

or am I forever poor?

vestiges of my mind
neatly packed, to be taken away
are back in their appointed corners

never one less never one more

away didn't work yesterday,
a U-turn did
away works for her

as she goes away for sure.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Monday, August 10, 2009

Malthusian Disaster

In 1996 I read a long article about the Malthusian disaster, predicted by Robert Malthus, in which he said that by 2015 most third world countries will cease to function. They will be there, but there will be utter chaos reigning. As in, to take India for example, we can safely predict it will cease to function as a nation. The reasons he cited had nothing to do with stars colliding with each other or any blind astrological or religious faith. His reasons were sociological, economic, and political, and very valid ones at that. He mentioned the mass rise of the poor against the haves, he mentioned religious intolerance, various epidemics that spread faster than you can produce a cure for them, and of course floods and other natural calamities.

And then we had the earthquakes, followed by plague, the rising religious intolerance resulting in various state-sponsored terrorist activities (from the Babri masjid demolition by the kar sevaks to the Pakistan-funded attacks on India), the tragic tsunami, the epidemics that are coming, e.g. H1N1, which will affect 33 million Indians in two years, or dengue, the naxal uprising that seems uncontrollable, and the natural calamities that are ravaging Taiwan and South East Asia now.

According to his estimate, it would all settle down by around 2050. I kind of believed him. You all believe in certain things and that belief is inexplicable at times. The most rational of beings can be seen standing with their hands folded in front of symbols of strength, be it the idol of a goddess, or a monkey god, or the statue of some great leader who lived 5000 years ago. They quietly avoid any reference to their belief, which can be called irrational, beyond reason, or something sacred. Sacred means beyond the purview of reason. No questions asked. My belief in that article about Robert Malthus' theories is also sacrosanct. If The Holy Bible is true to you, that article, which appeared on the op-ed page of The Statesman way back in 1996, is true to me.
Unfortunately, I don't have a copy of that, but whatever I read that day sounded so true and possible, I didn't want to question it.

It is all coming true and am sure this is just the beginning of a lot of shit that is about to happen to us. It is only about how we prepare ourselves to face it. Some of us have kids so we have an added responsibility to ensure as much safety for them as we can. Some of us are single, so are covered. Whatever maybe the situation, we shouldn't lose hope. We shouldn't write articles about the Malthusian disaster and act as irresponsible bloggers. We shouldn't provoke people to read about him and his predictions, or about the H1N1 now. We shouldn't scare others by saying we bought the last three available masks from a nearby pharmacy. We shouldn't create panic by proclaiming to have witnessed the sale of tamiflu in the black market. I am not gonna do any of this despite knowing I can very well be one of the 33 million Indians who will be affected by the virus in the next two years.

I only hope you all are as responsible citizens as I am.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Being Nikhat Kazmi

By wielding merely a pen, one can write off a person's year-long effort with a snort.

An average Bollywood movie takes about 10 months to 1 year to complete, during which a huge amount of money changes hands, the dancers and spot boys wipe a lot of sweat and manage to earn their bread, the heroes make an ugly amount of money, the heroines make a little less, the producer keeps hoping he would get to sleep with the heroine or at least the lead dancer... the sound recordists, the studio guys, the editors, the cinematographers are kept so busy that they either grow their beards for lack of time or go sleepless for weeks. The psychiatrists make hay soon after as fresh people fill in the looney gap. The businesses of the drug peddlers, from the drug companies to our street-side vendor selling brown sugar or at least hash, can stay afloat. Not to mention that midnight pao bhaji bar or frankfurter seller. The film magazines, ad agencies, marketing consultants, web designers can be seen working overtime to meet this huge demand. Someone wants to market a film, someone wants to market a film with a scandal, someone wants just a scandal, someone wants a web site made.

Bollywood is on 24/7 and can beat any outsourcing unit hollow with its constant flow of business and services. Now when a person, let's say someone like Rajat Kapoor, who has always had a dream of making his script into a movie gets a chance to make one eventually, he/she spends an average of 12 months to get everything going. Can be more. Put yourself in that person's shoes: the dream, the script, the arranging funds, the actors, the tantrums, the heartbreaks, the scandals, the paparazzi, and finally the big day of release.

What happens next? You have the critic waiting outside to pounce on you. I don't know what the typical critic looks like, but I would put her as a hormonal, middle-aged spinster or a constipated, sex-starved wannabe of a man. Both of them are veterans. Digging into their pasts you will see that the woman was the assistant to a director but could never make it big and the man was so much of a failure that he could gather only vitriol so far. They are bitter, frowning, and have mastered sarcasm to such an extent that the pen spews acid and the keyboard is rickety with violent abuse.

The critic rips apart the film and if you are stoic about it, you can ignore it and move on. If you are Sajid Nadiadwala, you can laugh at them and keep producing the trashiest stuff. If you are a filmgoer, relying on the critic's appraisal of a movie, you end up reading books instead.

Why Nikhat Kazmi? This person (of whose gender I am unaware...will assume Nikhat, which means pure, is a woman) has made a harsh critic like me sit up and take notice of Hindi movies. She has, with constant practice, mastered the art of willing suspension of disbelief. When she enters a screening, she enters with a free mind, ready to enjoy, ready to be entertained... almost like, "hey, lemme see if you can please me tonight." And she has been generous with some movies, showering praise where it deserved and being critical where she needed to point out a flaw. She never went to a screening with any baggage like huh, this is no Fellini, this is no Ray, so lemme write it off. She is like the perfect kindergarten teacher happily encouraging Indian commercial cinema as it takes its first baby steps toward maturity. We get to see an unconvetional Vinay Pathak steal our hearts in Dasvidanya, Bheja Fry, or Straight. We also get feel-good romantic movies like Jab We Met from the stable of Imtiaz Ali. We do have Akki too, but then someone has to entertain the braindead as well.

She enjoyed Dev-D like any of us and was so kicked, she even gave it a 5-star. I mean, WHY NOT, Nikhat! We love you for being one of the first critics ever to hit the theater with a normal filmgoer's mind. A discerning one too. She knew that New York has a lot of basic flaws in the script and also lacks any locus standi per se, but she gave it a 4-star because she enjoyed it like we all did. New York has unrealistic characters that don't get any time to blossom under the pressure of glam. So we gloss over that bit and try to see if there's any message in the film. Someone asked why this movie had to be set abroad. Why not! Why not abroad? And the message, in fact the messages, can be sieved from the glam and held up to dry ... they will eventually seep in.

  • One was that post 9/11 the US govt went into merciless ethnic profiling and held almost 1200 people for just being Muslims. This in turn created a new breed of terrorists.
  • A second message, coming from the lips of powerful Irrfan Khan was that only Muslims can work toward repairing the image of the Muslims in the minds of the world.
  • The third was, in the last scene, where young kids playing baseball have the son of a terrorist on their shoulders, celebrating their victory... and as Irrfan Khan puts it... it is possible only in the US of A.

Being Nikhat Kazmi is not easy. She caters to normal audiences like us. And we love her for that. She doesn't expect a Bollywood movie to be at par with Crash or The Departed. She does not have any intellectual hangovers. She does not draw unnecessary parallels but treats Bollywood as unique and evolving. Am sure she can choose to be the hormonal spinster and suddenly rip everything apart by comparing Barah Anna with Ray's Protidwondi (late 1960s classic also available as The Adversary) because both are primarily about survival. But she hasn't lost her marbles yet. When she writes for the readers of The Times of India, she writes for the Indian filmgoer who doesn't mind commercial cinema along with a late night dekko of Into the Wild. For the Indian who can listen to the brass band version of "Emotional Attyachar" and also "Kind of Blue" off vintage vinyl, one after the other, and enjoy both.

She has successfully stepped into the shoes of Shobha de and Santosh Desai, who probably first started the trend of calling a spade a spade and not denouncing it for not being a sceptre.

P.S. If Nikhat is a he, replace all the "she"s with "he"s...

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