Monday, July 28, 2008

Symptoms and Diseases

It was a bizarre weekend, what with aikijutsu practice and building a dojo bathroom and oh yeah, bombs blowing up Bangalore and Ahmedabad. Mercifully, nothing happened to anyone I know.

I came across this excellent post today by Greatbong. It's a well articulated post on the typical dikhaawa follow-ups to terrorist attacks and subsequent inertia. It powerfully expresses the frustration of having to see our countrymen blown to bits by fundie madmen day after day. And for the record, it is extremely disturbing that we got three major attacks in the summer, when you remember Jaipur as well (I hope).

I however, feel this is a symptom of a deeper problem, one that a lot of people who discuss national security and Islamofascism miss out on. The problem, to put it simply of a deeper apathy. Something that has simply become serious, since we now have an issue that can and has hit where it hurts.

To those who grew up in Hyderabad in the 90's, the Deccan Chronicle was a major source of news (back then it was merely a bad newspaper; now it's unfit to wipe asses with). The front page of DC had a side column bringing in news from outside Hyderabad. While rallies and dharnas featured every now and then, the real news was about deaths in the countryside. And what news it was!!

Every other day a couple of ryots or farmers committed suicide. Through the week, roughly 6 - 8 farmers were reported dead (double during the summer droughts, and half during the rains). Monday was special, as three days' worth of suicides were tallied in . Add to that the fact that whole families tended to commit suicide on weekends, and you could see it was particularly bountiful for the Reaper.

Not to leave out of course, the good work of the Naxalites. Naxalites wished to kill people faster than they wanted to kill themselves, and the suicides would vie with the good people of the PWG for who took more space in the side columns. If it was pesticided-up farmers on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, then it was gunned-down cops, landowners, zamindars and what not on Tuesdays and Thursdays. All in all, the people who wrote up that news had their hands full tallying up the body count.

Why am I mentioning this? Because I read it. Not for a month, a year, or even two years. It went on. From the time I started reading papers to the time I left Hyderabad (and hence was cut off from AP news) DC could be relied upon to deliver body counts that would put Bruce Willis and Sly Stallone to shame. But was any of this acted upon? Sure, the Opposition railed about it. Sure, the TDP made the usual noises. But at the end of the day it was the flyovers in Hyderabad that mattered. It was the fact that there was a new software city being built that the paper elaborated on. And who cared about dead Naxalites or cops when Krishna Oberoi and Grand Kakatiya were fighting it out over who got to host Bill Clinton on his visit to Hyderabad? This stuff was what made it to editorial and inside page articles, not the dead cops and farmers.

That was the paper's view. The view amongst people I knew was either yeah whatever, or "Deccan Chronicle is owned by XYZ, so they have a stake in publishing this bad news all the time". Sure, the Hindu printed deaths occasionally, but they put it in a tiny column in the Nation page, where it had to contend with who got killed in Kashmir, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and the North East for space. Balanced out coverage. Constantly printing out this bad news was simply depressing. Why did they have to do it?

Now, I am at no point commenting on the AP Government's achievements or lack thereof. I am commenting, however, on people's attitudes. Within the same state, people were getting shot up or killing themselves and their families. Yet, the city of Hyderabad remained blissfully unaware, more focussed on the international attention it was getting, and something new and awesome called IT. When Cyberbabu and Cyberabad were international buzzwords. All this other stuff, was, well unpleasant. Why hear about it. When that is a regional attitude, what can you expect at the level of the Nation?

Hence the deaths of Army men and cops at the hands of jehadis, naxalites and "Liberation forces" reported steadily. Hence the killing of farmers by terrorists or themselves. Hence the high-profile urban crime. Hence the increase in bomb blasts in various cities. And to put in my environmentalist two cents, hence the emptying out of an entire tiger sanctuary in Sariska.

And when we read about this in the news, what do we do?

To paraphrase Metallica, we "Turn the Page"

There's a Lakme India Fashion Week now, do you hear?

Saturday, July 19, 2008

The Dark Knight - The Review

When "Batman Begins" burst into the scene 3 years ago, it seemed amazing and frustrating in equal parts. Amazing, as here was a Batman movie that really did its homework. Frustrating, as well, it only shows Batman beginning. What next? To answer that question, Chris Nolan brought together Christian Bale, Heath Ledger and Aaron Eckhart to make not only the best Batman movie ever, but also possibly the greatest superhero movie ever.

As gathered from the trailers, the film is set a year after Batman Begins. Batman has succeeded in capturing several high-profile gangsters and money-launderers, with the subtle aid of the police. He has cast such a shadow on Gotham crime that Mafia men do their business in the daytime, scared of the night. With a heroic new DA ready to overtly take on crime, it seems Bruce Wayne will shortly be able to abandon his Crusade. But into this mix comes a man known only as the Joker - no alias, no identity and no backstory. And then.... well, watch the film to find out.

The film belongs completely to the Joker, as played by the late Heath Ledger. How effective is his performance? The short answer is terrifying. This man makes you grateful it's only a movie you're seeing. Ledger brings to the role a kind of vicious evil that reminds you of A Clockwork Orange's Alex, Saw's Jigsaw, Fight Club's Tyler Durden and Damien from the Omen series. Even more disturbing, his acts of terror - blowing stuff up and sending out videos of tortured captives - are just that: the sort of things you'd expect from men who sleep with AK-47's in Waziristan or Baluchistan. And true to his comic roots, this Joker has no desire for money, power or influence. He exists only to create chaos, to "watch the world burn" as Alfred puts it.

It's hard to appreciate the rest of the acting talent on screen, overshadowed as everyone is by Ledger. Of the main cast, Bale is amazing as Batman. His on-screen intensity has to be seen to be believed. Aaron Eckhart is equally great as Harvey Dent, the "White Knight" of Gotham. We all know from the comics the fate he is destined to meet, the person he will become. Nolan keeps it suitably tragic, foreshadowing the arrival of Two-Face with Dent's increasing strain and his habit of (playfully) tossing a double-headed coin when making vital decisions. He is equally excellent following his gruesome transformation. I wished at the end they had given this guy his own movie to appear in. Michael Caine, Gary Oldman and Morgan Freeman all do full justice to their roles as Alfred, Gordon and Lucius Fox. Special mention must be made of Eric Roberts - he's her brother - who plays Sal Maroni, the new Boss of Gotham's Mafia.

Nolan makes use of the awesome acting talent and supports it with first class writing and directing. Gotham - as shot in Chicago - is a grim, predatory metropolis, in desperate need of hope. People respond to shootouts and explosions the way you'd expect real people to. Tension is maintained throughout the film by use of news reports. The film tackles real life issues of terrorism - the bombings and mutilation videos Ledger sends in - and the appropriate responses to it - Batman tries to track Joker by hacking into Gotham's cellular networks. As the critics have remarked, you want to compare this film to Heat, Se7en and Zodiac as much as other superhero flicks.

This movie transcends the conventional rating wisdom of stars, thumbs and adjectives. All I can really say to sum it up is - I enjoyed it even more the second time I saw it. In the theater. The next day. Watch it.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na - The Review

"The Idiot Plot: A plot that requires all the characters to be idiots. If they weren't, they'd immediately figure out everything and the movie would be over"
- Roger Ebert, film critic

It was certainly necessary for Jai "Rats" Rathode (Imran Khan) and Aditi "Meow" Mahant (Genelia D'Souza) to be idiots - make that retards - for the movie to last as long as it did. The upside is that Amir Khan and Abbas Tyrewallah id't assume the audience to be total idiots too. Hence the unique flashback narrative of the movie, the significance given to the friends of the lovey-doveys, the brilliant supporting cast of the film and the mood swings from happy to sad to laughable, which make JTYJN a decent watch, despite belonging to the genre of Hindi college romances.

The story is simple enough. Jai and Aditi have been best friends through 5 years of college, so insanely close that everybody thinks they're an item - parents, friends, the college bully and the canteen wallah. Realizing that Aditi is 20 and "izzat ka sawaal hain" (!!!!!!!!!!!!) their folks ask them to announce an engagement, to which the two laugh and say they've never been in love (Parents, friends, audience and the canteen-wallah of course know different). Upon hearing some vague parental fundebaazi about finding that special someone, the two (amazingly jobless for two people who've just graduated) decide to find significant others for each other. Through a convoluted series of events, each obtains a significant other - a very pretty girl and a muscle-bound asshole respectively - to the suprised chagrin (Duh!!!) of the other. A few introspective scenes follow, at which point each breaks up with his/her squeeze, but makes no moves towards the other, waiting for the crucial airport scene where he has to tell her his dil-ki-baat before she crosses the 7 seas to study filmmaking at NYU (There's something striking about the way they mention this Univ AND Major). Phir kya hota hain? The unromantic bitch who's hearing this story narrated by the other members of the gang, finds her heart melting for the weedy gang-member who's fida on her. Everyone lives happily ever after.

Being an IITian is undoubtedly hampering when watching films like this. Your mind wanders into odd questions, such as - What degree do they do that keeps them jobless in college for 5 years? How is it that noone's seen working after graduation, considering that Aditi alone is an industrialist's daughter? Who the hell finishes college when they're 20? Isn't it odd that his significant other is a sweet, somewhat messed up girl, while hers is a mean, womanizing SOB? Why does a guy (musclebound fiancee asshole) who knows jujitsu keep punching and not joint-locking? Do parents really want their kids engaged at 20? And why oh why was Vijaylakshmi Aiyer, the unseen-but-mentioned childhood friend of Aditi, important only because she did Aditi's homework? All tough posers.

What makes this otherwise by-the-numbers excercise enjoyable (in parts) is the supporting cast. While this film was touted as the debut of Imran Khan and Genelia, it also marks a breakthrough of sorts for Ratna Pathak Shah, who is simply brilliant as Jai's somewhat overprotective mother. When she talks with loving care to her son Jai or yells at her deceased husband's portrait, you sense for the first time a character speaking to another, as opposed to an actor in a movie speaking to another. It's a pity someone like her was languishing on Filmi Chakkar and other 90's Hindi sitcoms, when you consider how she outshines all the leads. Naseeruddin Shah, as her deceased Rajput ("Rathode from Ranjhore!!") husband, who converses from his portrait, is another delight. He hasn't been this funny since he was in Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron. A running gag through the movie is the fulfilment of the three tests of Rathode manhood, which he is sure Jai will carry out, and which Ratna Pathak abhors the very idea of. Arbaaz and Sohail Khan (as some sort of peace offering to Salman) appear as the weirdest oddballs this side of the Suez, pulling off spectacular comedy. And Rajat Kapoor is again great as a bitter alcoholic father (to Imran's girlfriend).

Verdict: Worth a watch for the supporting cast, though the lead story jumps from cliche to cliche.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

What People Won't Do

Indian Express: "An 88-year-old Nazi war criminal identified as Johann Bach (italics my own) was airlifted to Berlin after he was tracked down to the Goa-Karnataka border by German and Indian intelligence agencies on the basis of information provided by an Israeli group involved in the search for war criminals and investigations in Goa.

Though local police and intelligence agencies in Karnataka said they were “unaware” of the operation, Karnataka Additional DGP for Intelligence, Shankar Bidari, said his office had received information of the arrest on Saturday morning. He also said the alleged war criminal had been moved to Germany.

Officials at the German embassy, when contacted, said they had received no information of the arrest in Goa. The German consulate in Mumbai had also not received any information, embassy officials said.

Reports from Hubli and Goa quoting a press release issued by Perus Narkp, said to be the intelligence wing of the Berlin-based German Chancellor’s Core, said Bach had been involved in the killing of nearly 12,000 Jews at the Marsha Tikash Whanaab concentration camp in East Berlin under Adolf Hitler’s Nazi regime"

Similar news has been reported by TOI, HT, Telegraph, Dainik Jagran, Deccan Chronicle and just about every newspaper save (Thank God!!) the Hindu. Please go over the italicized information. See if any of it looks odd to you - do Germans name camps Tikash Whanaab, for instance? Can it be found on a Google search, when all camps have been well-documented and so forth? Does Perus Knarp sound odd (You've interned in Germany)? Is there a Chancellor's Core? And so forth.


If the earth should swallow me up tomorrow, I will be happy and sad. Sad, not to have done something like this myself. Happy that I got to read of (a) the stupidity of our national editors (b) people with the balls to show 'em up so.