Sunday, December 27, 2009

Movie Review: Avatar

Avatar is Cameron's first film in 10 years, after the abysmal blockbuster "Titanic". The story was something he concieved first in 1994. So what's the result of 15 years of Cameron's genius added to enough money to bail out the US economy? Well, Avatar is a game changer, a movie that will change film making, and for this reason it deserves to be compared with epics like "Star Wars" and "Superman" and yes, "Titanic". Writing wise though, Cameron has hit a note far below the triumphs of his great action movies from the "Terminator" and "Aliens" days.

The concept centers around humans on a planet named Pandora, a gigantic wilderness. inhabited by giant pterosaurs, reptilian wild dogs and shovel-headed triceratops. The air on the planet is unbreathable by humans, but the planet carries huge deposits of 'unobtainium', which is worth a fortune for some reason. The mining colony on the planet is policed by Marines on hire, and all activities require gas masks. The people here are at a big disadvantage from Pandora's natives, the Na'vi, who can breathe the air and telepathically tame its various beasts, are 15 feet tall and super-agile and live on a gigantic tree. To facilitate negotiations and understanding (A euphemism for "get them off their land as there's a deposit on it"), a team of scientists figure out a way to project their consciousness remotely on Na'vi bodies genetically engineered for the process. These are the 'Avatars', of whom newcomer Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) and Dr. Augutine (Sigourney Weaver) are of note. Sully volunteers for the process as he's a cripple in real life, and upon waking in his Avatar, finds himself mobile and in a rush. He then has himself an accident and gets lost in the forest and runs into the daughter of the Na'vi chief.

It took about half an hour to come up with the above summary, which speaks volumes about the detail and texture of this world Cameron created. From Avatar-Sully's meeting with the daughter (why a daughter and never a son?) though, the movie proceeds on a course easily visible to anyone who's ever watched a movie. She trains him in the ways of the Force.. sorry Eywha, they fall visibly (note the use of the word) in love, he tames a giant flying beast and eventually sympathises enough with the natives to defend them against the evil corporation and eviler mercenary Marine. They have them some amazing battles, and in the end, the evil Empire (the Merchant-Military one) is defeated and Sully transitions permanently into Avatar-Sully, setting the stage for a sequel.

The 3D thing that Cameron pulled off is amazing, as is the detail put to the world of Pandora. In that respect this movie is a milestone ushering in a new style of movie making, the way Superman ushered in special effects, Star Wars brought in space opera and Titanic opened up squealing teenage girls as a viable fanbase. It's also to Cameron's credit that despite all the flaws of the second half, one is riveted to the screen till the end credits roll. But on the count of stortelling, Cameron seems to distance his present work from his previous work of the 80's and 90's, wherein explosions and special effects were only the cherry on top to well-defined character sketches and a rock-solid story.

Verdict: A Must See, but could have been far better

Thursday, December 10, 2009

What do I want as a Present?

Well, another year's passed. Continuing in the trend of two years (I have you to thank for it, lexicomaniac) I post some thoughts for the porundha naal. My porundhanaal post's later than usual. I was too busy by day, and somewhat buzzed in the evening and so didn't start on it till past midnight.

The first thing that strikes me is of the wishers. There are three categories of wishers. There is family, who call you at 7.00 am (your time) and scream out "Happy Birthday", while you wonder which dream you've suddenly woken into. I appreciate it of course, but like anyone woken up a couple of hours early I need to get back to sleep.

Then there's onliners. People who send email or orkut scraps or facebook posts, with the occasional eelctronic card or such. Something I truly love, in that I open my inbox every half an hour and there's another message wishing me. Warm and caring and yet, fleeting and illusory, like it were.... well online.

The third is of close friends nearby. And they wish you, give you a hug, buy you a present and make you blow candles at midnight. This year, one of the people who does that went home on vacation and the other had the sort of work that takes away a week's sleep before getting sleep. And this was absent.

I felt this absence. It's petty to not think of other people's lives, but I want someone to think of me even if performing brain surgery in Uganda on this day. Someone who isn't blood. Someone who will not use Facebook, Orkut, Email or anything intangible. Someone whose presence would be all I need for the day. Someone whose birthday I can make by my presence.

Cue to:

Sunday, November 29, 2009

One Year Later

The Nov 26 anniversary carried all the accouterments of the "usual" sort of tragedy that happens in India. Some people held candle-lit vigils, some people released press statements and the news channels carried interviews, doubtless with such security experts as Simi Garewal and Shobha De or prominent Mumbai-residents such as Salman Rushdie or Suketu Mehta. The importance, or lack thereof is highlighted by the absence of the PM himself, who was out on diplomatic missions.

Did we really learn enough from Nov 26 to prevent a second attack? I don't think so, considering pieces like this one by Vir Sanghvi. We are as vulnerable and likely to lose our collective shit as we were last year. But here's the thing. Is there a choice?

Consider India without the specter of Islamic terrorism. Are things quiet and peaceful? Hell, are people safe? Not in the centre and east, with the threat of Maoist insurgency. Not in the North East, with that of regional insurgency. Not in Bombay, with the threat of Raj Thackeray carrying on his Hitler-loving uncle's work. Not in Bengal, with either Mamata or Buddha sending goons to enforce party diktat. Not in Gujarat, where being Muslim can get you killed. Not in UP, where not salaaming Maya Memsahib can get you killed. Not in Chennai, where the same would apply for the Kalaignar. And forget these regional threats (if you could). There is nowhere in India where you can rely on the protection of the law if your words, expressions or actions (otherwise legal) anger someone in power. The fear of reprisals is something people have to face every single day (and I'm just talking city folk). When you're used to living with fear like that, what's the threat of someone storming your city with guns and grenades? A bolt of lightning, which you simply hope will not strike the same spot twice.

This is the big difference again between India and the US. It isn't the thought of their army that makes Americans feel safe. It's the knowledge that their police, their courts and their lawmakers are with them ever single day that makes them feel safe, which is why America lost its collective shit on 9/11. Someone slipped through all those barriers and carried out such an act of terror. Every other in India is a 9/11 or a Nov 26 in miniature, considering the reasons people get killed. So it is shameful, but we have no real instant response that can be given to events like the night of Nov 26. All we can do is change, individual by individual, bit by bit, till we are strong enough to feel fear and demand not to have to live with it everyday.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Review: London Dreams

The Cast:
  1. Ajay Devgan as Arjun. A struggling “young” musician, Arjun is a London School of Music (??) graduate who forms a band and stocks it with the first two people he meets, a dancer he’s simply got the hots for and his childhood friend from Bhatinda. He’s then surprised when these decisions bite him on his clenched-throughout-the-movie ass.
  2. Salman Khan as Mannu: The love child of every over-exuberant Surd stereotype you came across, Sallu Bhai plays his man-child character with shades of Raja Babu and Coolie No.1 to boot. This is quite apt when you notice his puffed cheeks and sagging chin, causing him to resemble his Dhawan-partner of yore. He’s Arjun’s childhood friend. He joins the bend fresh off the flight from Bhatinda, walks through the movie wearing a kurta-sweater ensemble, and steals the lime light from Arjun till the latter “hooks him on drugs”, making you wonder what the hell he was on before joining the band.
  3. Asin(gam) Thottamkal as Priya: Like every Tamil girl who’s grown up in London, Priya’s been raised in a “caaunsuruwaytiew Iyer family” as a result of which she’s an amazing Bharatnatyam dancer, has a bald father who wears vaeshttis all the time, and secretly pines to grind away on something to tune of “Smack That”, “Promiscuous Girl” or something. Upon entering movie/band, her job is to recite dialogues with varying Tamil accents (She’s just-Mylapore-returned one scene, accent-less 5 minutes later and puts on some Palakkad at one point), sway her hips sinuously every five minutes, fall in love with Sallu Bhai (shudder) and get her heart broken through the most insidious scheme ever.
  4. Two Arbit guys as players for the band: That’s all you need to know
  5. Every gora in London: Hit hard by the recession, spare cash was doubtless why this mélange of extras dance spontaneously – if surprisingly well organized, almost… choreographed – to every song that plays in this movie. They also play the news people, who amazingly speak Bob Christo-accented Hindi, the band manager who threatens to walk out of the audition just to test their desperation, some women who come onto Devgan himself after his first performance at a Trafalgar Square corner (YUCK!!) and Sallu later on (DOUBLE YUCK!!) and the huge crowds gyrating at Wembley Stadium, and Paris, Florence and Amsterdam (which curiously all look the same, as though the director took one long shot and simply slapped on titles to tell you the city)
  6. Om Puri as the sort of chacha who, upon seeing a long-lost nephew who ran way 10 years ago, comes up, smiles and pats him on the arm. He then dispenses sage advice through the film.
The plot:

Arjun’s family has a special hatred of music, as much as he loves it. Apparently his granddad was hit with stage fright when performing at Wembley, and committed suicide afterwards. He prays for some way to be able to continue learning, and gets his chance when his dad drops dead of a heart attack. Flying to London (his uncle runs a kabab stand there), he runs away from his uncle right off customs, and somehow dodging every security officer in Heathrow, finds himself in the heart of London, which we all know is right next to the airport. He then plays the flute in street corners and makes enough to enroll himself at the London School of Music, which evidently does not look for any ID amidst its pupils. He then promises God he will never lose focus till he has avenged his granddad at Wembley in exchange for success. Growing up to resemble Ajay Devgan with his hair slicked back, the guy plays one fine afternoon at Trafalgar Square, drawing spontaneous dances that look oddly choreographed, the arbit guys to play in his band and the lecherous looks of a gori raand (apologies to any women reading) who, like all women there says “Your place or mine?” first.

When they have another audition, Arjun also ropes in Tamil stereotype mentioned above. There’s a cut to her life, with her Tamil Dad walking about with lit Tamil flames on a Tamil plate as she Tamil dances and he waves the Tamil smoke towards her Tamil saris and speaks 5 Tamil words. They all do amazingly well and hang out to some song. The girl hugs Arjun at one point, upon which he gets the sort of rapturous look an Engineering student would get if Asin hugged him. He louwes her. But, seeing as he’s promised God (No distractions) he has to relieve himself by – no joke – whipping himself with his belt. One wonders if V.A. Shah is making some sort of oblique point about maaring (click link if you don’t get it). If so, he seriously beats about the bush.

Anyway, enter Mannu, fresh off the flight from Bhatinda. He’s specially gifted at making an ass of himself. Joining the band as he’s Arjun’s friend, he proceeds to steal the spotlight from him, AND come on successfully to Asin, whom he fondly calls “Chennai Express”. All this causes Arjun to clench his face tighter and tighter till you want to point out to him:
  • Mannu’s about as talented as Rakhi Sawant, in that his singing’s nothing special. He’s just a thick-skinned media-friendly moron
  • There are very good Isabgols available on the market, some Ayurvedic even
When his prayers have no effect, Arjun then plots to ruin Mannu by hooking him on “marijuana, coke and methane” and positions Priya at the correct angle so that a fan touching Mannu’s feet looks like she’s about to (gasp) perform fellatio (un-gasp) on him. All this before a grand performance at Wembley where despite Arjun doing his darndest, the audience screams for Mannu. Seeing as about two hours have passed, you’d think Vipul Shah would end the film here, with a sort of Twilight Zone twist. But no, he has Arjun describe to the audience all he has done to perform (the hook and the crook, just in case there are cops in the audience) and walks off stage. An Om Puri lecture later, he repents and goes back to Bhatinda where Mannu is. They all come back to Wembley and perform. It being midnight, we all walk out of the theater and I curse heartily the absent boyfriend of a friend of mine who recommended this movie.

Verdict: What do you think?

Oh, and if the plot seems familiar to you, it’s because you either saw Milos Forman’s 1984 classic “Amadeus” or Suneel Darshan’s 2007 desecration of the same named Shakalaka Boom Boom (!!!) featuring Bobby Deol, Upen Patel and more Himesh music than you’d care to hear. Amadeus was about devout Vienna court composer (Salieri) who realizes upon the arrival of Mozart that his skills are nothing compared to Mozart’s, who is blessed with infinitely more talent despite his boorish behavior. Distraught at God seeming to favor the irreligious and libertine Mozart, Salieri vows to destroy him. The voice over narrating, the anguished close ups, the plotting and backstabbing and even a sort of God confrontation – in the original, Salieri burns a crucifix, here Devgan stares menacingly at a church altar (you’d think he’d be Hindu) – are all ripped off Forman’s movie. Even Sallu’s behavior is ever so slightly reminiscent of Tom Hulce’s Mozart in that film. Poor Forman, Schaffer, Hulce and Abraham.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Oye Sibal-JEE!!

Kapil Sibal has a problem with the "coaching class" culture that has permeated those who take the JEE. Yes, someone has finally taken offense that people have to dress only in plain shurt-pant /salwaar-kameez and plain chappals or sandals and come to class with plain notebooks wearing a plain watch and plain pens. Not only is this distracting from JEE, but it's anti-poor apparently. Hence the new rule of 80% cutoff in school, in addition to JEE.

Now, I am no fan of coaching classes. I look back on my two years in high school and regret every day I went. Hell, I even hate my repeat coaching class in retrospect, and they're the dudes who gave me hope and got me through the damn JEE. Speaking for Hyd at least, I'd wish a thousand plagues upon the hallowed institutions of Nallakunta, Barkatpura Chaman , Narayanguda and so forth. And I do think it's disturbing that JEE requires 4 years of prepping apart from high school. Nevertheless, Sibal's proposition smacks of supreme idiocy. The wrong activist screamed hoarse at him, and he chose to listen to her/him of all people.

To begin with, how long have coaching centers been around? My cousins cleared the JEE in the late 80's and early 90's, and they didn't need to go to classes. Some subscription material (Brilliant's level stuff) was enough. This was 10 years before I wrote it, when classes were a must. My guess is, look back 10 years before my cousins wrote it, and you'll find being a cut above the rest in math, physics and chemistry was good enough.

So what changed? Put simply, the fucking population. Before IIT Guwahati, the newest IIT was Delhi, which was established in (drumroll please)..... 1961!! 4 institutes of caliber were set up for the entire goddamn nation. It took 30 years to establish a new one, and that was more for political considerations than anything else. So how surprising is it, that as the pie stayed the same and more people wanted a piece, the competition got worse? How surprising is it that professors at IIT had to design JEE so as to (this is something one of em told me) keep students out? The Institutes were around 40 years and only in 2000 did anyone do anything by way of expansion (KGP's expansion basically added a couple of schools, more cream but no base). You have to give the Insti's or the HRD Ministry credit for keeping the JEE - that's why getting in means something. But seriously, 40 years and they never sought to expand the Institutes? Or build more? Were they counting on Sanjay Gandhi to nasbandify the population?

Which brings me to the solution. Like I said, the problem is simply so few seats for so many. The solution is to have more IITs, which they're doing. But that's only the tip of the iceberg. We need more colleges whose degrees mean something. Most colleges have degrees worth a damn only because they're affiliated to some University over the hills and far away. And most of the remainder are outright fakes, one cut above the ICFAIs and IIPMs and Amitys - who by the way continue to do business for this reason. We need more autonomous Universities that carry out both teaching and research, which satisfy the requirements of someone seeking a degree., and which are numerous enough to require only high school marksheets and not quotas or entrance tests (In other news, you can't take the KCET as an instate student unless you write it in Kannada). We need more people to have access to a basic - if not premier - quality of higher education. I mean, the University of Southern Mississippi is obviously not in Purdue's league, but a degree from there in Aeronautics is good enough to get you hired. That requirement is what you need to fill, Mr. Sibal, not sit and fret about student culture.

A spot of humor in all this, though. Sibal wants to push this forward on the basis that coaching classes are both "anti poor" and elitist. Lalu Yadav on the other hand, has taken up cudgels against it, saying that this proposition is both anti poor and anti Bihar. Whatta joke I say.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Arbit Thoughts

Nobel Thoughts:

The most prominent theory emerging from the blogosphere on Obama's getting the Nobel Peace Prize (his achievements for the same listed nicely here) is that it's for all the awesome things he's going to do now to justify the prize. My own view - it's no coincidence that people have stopped talking about American healthcare since the man won the Nobel. So lost are they in "Obamaaye namaha" chants that they have forgotten their daily exploitation at the hands of Big Insurance. So how'd he get it? Through the secret cabal of Aetna, BlueCross, Humana, UnitedHealth and co., in one of their many ploys - see this and this - to keep health care reform from happening.

Censory Khed:

  1. Karan Johar apologizes for referring to Mumbai as Bombay in his new film (Better and funnier coverage here). He apologizes publicly for doing what half the people who live outside Maharashtra and all the people who live outside India do. And who does he apologize to? Raj-I'm keeping the same Anglicized name as my guerilla uncle-Thackeray.
  2. The I&B Ministry clears a film about Jawaharlal Nehru on the conditions that 4 scenes - ranging from the two going at it to Nehru saying "Edwina, I love you" be deleted, because they "show Nehru in a poor light". To be absolutely sure of high quality illumination wrt Nehru, the film must state "This is a work of fiction". Detailed here.
  3. The Censor board bans 'Postman Always Rings Twice' for portraying "life which is not healthy to Indian society" and 'Matlabi' for being full of "violent gangster incidents and lewd and obscene dances". And this is way back in the 40's. (More details here)
That goonda-parties such as the MNS, the Shiv Sena and BJP do not respect freedom of speech is clear, hell even understandable - they are medievalist morons, Talibs sans the circumcision and beard. The question is, do the people who actually form the Government?

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Then and Now

".... greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms - greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge - has marked the upward surge of mankind, and greed - you mark my words - will not only save Teldar Paper but that other malfunctioning corporation called the USA"

So said Gordon Gekko (played by Michael Douglas) in 1987 in Wall Street, a movie Stone considered an extension of Scarface.You know something's wrong with the stock market system when its portrayal has any connection to a movie about cocaine dealings, dismemberment with chainsaws and a record number of f-words per minute. Be that as it may however, Wall Street was not only an accolade winner for Stone et al, but remembered as a significant "expose" of the stock market, the sort of thing Madhur Bhandarkar keeps trying to do and failing.

The funny thing though, is that it actually inspired stock market careers. Stone mentions here how people actually wanted to become stock brokers and investors, because of the film and of Douglas' Gekko. You see some idea of its influence in Boiler Room, a film about fraudulent investors who dream of stock broker life and have prepared for it by watching Wall Street over and over again. In some weird way, Gekko's "Greed is good" mantra influenced a generation. A generation which from the look of things came into its own within the last two-three years, and made the investments that sank the market, put the world in a Recession, made life hell for H1B seekers and finally made I-banking and stock-trading similar to what Stone originally envisioned it as - dealing an addictive little powder that makes you self-destructive.

Why all this ramble? Two reasons. Firstly, Stone isn't done with Gekko. He's bringing him back for a sequel set in the present time. The story is covered in the same article above. Gekko is apparently going to try to be a better person now, maybe say "Maybe greed isn't so good after all". What resonance this story will have with the world around us is interesting to think of, specially for someone who loved the original Wall Street - watch it if you haven't already.

The other reason is this story that released around the same time. Seeing as home-owner mortgages aren't so hot to invest in, and seeing that people are locked in a major gridlock over health insurance, Wall Street execs have come up with the perfect solution. They'll buy your health insurance policy, chop it up into securities and bundle em, and sell the bundles on the market. The kicker - the sooner you die, the higher the return on the bundle from your packet. That's right folks, Wall Street now wants to bet on whether you can beat the yerumai, and is putting its money on the yerumai.

"Greed is good". Except of course when it's bad.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Little Kids, Big Mistakes - II: Little Krishna and Big Animation

As I'd mentioned in my last post, children's television in India has reached an all time low. The question now is what is being done?

A key step in the right direction is "Little Krishna", a show airing on Nickelodeon India. That it was Nickelodeon that picked this show up, and not any of the zillion Hindi/regional channels tells you a lot. The show was set up by BIG Animation, a subsidiary of Reliance Entertainment. You see the BIG when you see little Krishna's animation all right. For the first time, we get animation that compares favorably with the West (or East for that matter, the Koreans animate Simpsons). I can't compare it to Pixar or Dreamworks, but it's a major improvement on such nonsense as Bal Ganesh or Little Hanuman. Compare the three:

Little Hanuman:

Bal Ganesh:

Chota Bheem:

and Little Krishna:

The difference is all too obvious. Where the first two go for "Oh it's cute enough for kids to pick up and it's mythology so that's good enough", the third does create this world where Krishna and his pals play while fending off Kamsa's continuous assaults. I could further attest to the latter after viewing several episodes. Which is where Krishna scores. Craftsmanship.

This is the first requirement for any good TV show, specially for kids. Like I said, most animation houses in India don't care what their final product even looks like. It's impossible to get them to improve corresponding content. Clearing this baseline requirement, Little Krishna and its ilk are in a position to confront the next one.

Creativity. Here is where Krishna faces a bit of a problem. Doubtless to minimize rioting and blasphemy FIRs (see this btw, it's hilarious), BIG Animation went to ISKCON for the stories. The result is the televised equivalent of those pies one got at ISKCON bakeries - gooey, dripping and hoping to make up for lack of crust with a ton of sugar.

Consider for instance, the whole blue thing. Krishna was said to have the complexion of a raincloud, and hence paintings showed him as glowing purply-blue, a motif much much repeated in any ISKCON religious text. While suitable (I suppose) for paintings, it's weird to see a blue kid running about amidst a bunch of normal complexioned people. He ends up looking like Dr. Manhattan from Watchmen. Couldn't BIG have gone with a dark skin? Similarly consider Kamsa's demons. None do more than strike an evil pose and leer at Krishna, saying something on the lines of "Ha ha ha, I will kill you because I'm an evil demon and you're only a little child". In addition, not one of the demons is shown to really pose a threat to Krishna. I know the source material dictates that Krishna triumph over them, but does it have to be so easy? A tornado demon carries him off, only to succumb to Krishna's mass altering powers. A monstrous stork and python attack him, only he has super-strength. Kaliya comes up, but is no match for his super Kathakali/Taekwondo powers. And when a living-flame type demon tries to burn the forest about him, what does Krishna do? Make an ever so slight poopy face and suck in the demon. That's right, he has flame-ingestion powers too. This of course brings up the question as to whether Krishna makes for an interesting animated series, but that's a digression again. The point is that for now, BIG is afraid to veer off the safe-and-cutesy side of Krishna tales. Hence the implied innocence in all the girls of Vrindavan dancing to his flute despite the quasi-sexual tones of the Rasa-Lila.

The requirement as I see it is for creativity. Of the type that pushes boundaries. Something like say this clip from the Ren and Stimpy show [look it up here]. And before you protest the violence in it, think Tom and Jerry. Even if that extreme is avoided, consider a show like Animaniacs. The source of the "Pinky and the Brain" cartoons, this show was famous not only for its smart slapstick but also for naughty little jabs, as recounted here. Jabs that make reference to giving people the bird and fingering amongst other things.

My point in all this is not to ask for more vulgarity in kids shows. Heaven knows they get enough of that from their song and dance shows. What is needed is the assumption that kids are smart, and write shows that nurture their sensitivities while stimulating them in some way. Because kids are smart. See shows like this one to realize what can be done with their entertainment:

This post has meandered a bit. I didn't really know of a way to end it, so I decided to call for some discussion. What shows did you watch as a kid and find entertaining without being dumb? Let's discuss readers.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Little Kids, Big Mistakes - I

Among the many things wrong with Indian TV these days, perhaps the worst is the absence of good children's programming. What are the choices available to kids (toddlers to twelve year-olds) on television?

There are game shows like this, which inculcate a filmy fifteen minutes of fame mentality. at least, and a propensity for vulgarity at worst. There are laughable shows such as "Hero: Bhakti hi Shakti Hain" (!!!!) about a Durga bhakt who is given a boon that transforms him in a poorly animated flash into a red-coloured Shaktimaan-type when he chants "Bhakti hi Shakti hain" enabling him and his hyper-cutesy children friends to engage in poorly-animated laser battles with Darth Vader's poor cousin who could only afford cardboard for his Sith helmet. And there are hyper-cutesy animated shows like "Little Bheem" (here) about which the less said the better. Among the features carefully removed from these programs are good animation and narrative imagination, lest they strike an aesthetic or intellectual chord in their viewers. Kids TV in short lobotomizes children so as to prepare them for MTV's Teen Divas and Roadies during their teenage years, the Big Boss/Rakhi ka... type reality shows during their early adulthood and Ekta Kapoors K-series when their brains are ready to call it Alzheimer's.

The thing is, it was not always like this.

People who watched Zee in the 90's will remember "Aavishkar", an engaging and criminally underrated game show that required its contestants to - believe it or not - out-science each other. They had to know stuff for a quiz round, figure out how stuff might be expected to work in a different one and most impressively had to build some sort of contraption for one of the rounds. The show was hosted by a less annoying kid than always and his 'Professor'-type uncle., who was always entertaining. That this show was made for kids goes to tell you what Zee once thought of them. Similarly engaging was "It's Wild" on StarPlus. A sort of teenage quiz show, this one was ecologically themed and had contestants who actually knew and gave a shit about wildlife. Unfortunately, Subhash Chandra decided one fine day to out-Rupert Murdoch, who in turn dumbed down his content - specially children's content - to moronic levels.

Perhaps the most consistent channel as far as good kids shows is concerned is Doordarshan. Sure, it ripped off ideas from the west (there was a ridiculous Star Trek clone named Antar Shoonya or something) and its special effects were passable at best, but its writing was something. And there was someone there with the brains to realize that people could get all their special effects from Hollywood cinema. Hence for example, the use of puppets to make a miniseries of the Arabian nights. Similarly smart were the tales of Hodja that were written by Gulzar. And does anyone remember "Indradhanush", about a bunch of kids and a supercomputer? What an idea!! Kids having adventures with a computer. Even with the silly effects and so on, it was exciting then and deserves kudos in retrospect. DD's monopoly may have caused boredom at large, but it helped it come up with programs that didn't have to dumb down for TRPs.

The trouble I guess started when all these people began competing, and big time. Hindi /Regional content of course is logical. What wasn't was the decision to either dumb down en masse, or rip off Western ideas en masse.

I doubt people remember any original Indian kids shows from the mid 90's or so. The reason was simple: dubbing was in. DD began with Disney's Hindi-dubbed Talespin and Duck Tales and Zee brought in Japanese stuff. Star in the meantime stuck with its original line-up, slowly replacing all kids programs with adult stuff. Cartoon Network took a lead at this time, with its line of entirely foreign-made shows. By the way, Hindi dubbing could not destroy the greatness of Batman: The Animated Series on DD. But I digress.

Dubbing has become rather passe, as now there are hajaar regional channels doing it - hence Batman in Tamil. Cutesy is the new buzzword, hence shows such as "Hero:BHSH", "Chota Bheem" (shudder) and "Ghost Bana Dost" (just read the title, no way I'm ever watching this even by accident). Another buzzword/paradigm is "15 min of fame", which is seen in all the dance shows kids do now, in place of quizzes or science shows. It ain't Carnatic or Kathakali they do on these shows. And it ain't MS or Aruna Sairam they dance to.

Kids TV in short is abysmal. Is there hope? Well yes. What and how? Next post.

Monday, August 10, 2009

And I'm Back Again

Well, what do I say about my prolonged absence?

I could claim lack of time, but I was on holiday for two goddamn months.

I could blame the absence of something to write on, but I was in India for two goddamn months.

What then do I say about not blogging?

I dunno, just didn't happen [Shrug].

Till I read this here. Greatbong started off so (a link from his post) and can now boast of an upcoming book.

And all thanks to persistence and a lot of time.

Cliched, but it's a sign. A light illuminating the path ahead.

Something new coming up shortly. Till then, know that I persist.

I took 50 words (linking to another's writing) to say so.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Another Awesome One-Liner I Have No Use for Yet

From some sort of conservative chastity-belt-purdah type guy:

"Broken hearts can heal. Not broken hymens"

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Musings of the Machaan from the Midwest

In the vein of all US-returned types from the movies, I have seen things that I didn't expect to see. Here are a few that particularly stick out in the memory:

  1. 6 tigers and 1 leopard: It goes to show you what parks like Kanha are capable of. 1 tiger and the leopard were actually witnessed making a kill, which is like a one-in-a-million thing. I expected to see tigers at Kanha, and hoped to see a leopard. This went beyond all hopes and dreams
  2. Fields of plastic: The most disturbing thing about the new market economy is that rural India gets products without the means to safely dispose of them. Jabalpur was horrific in this respect, with plastic bags clogging and filling the city's drains. Equally disturbing was the sight of plastic filling every pit and basti by the rails on the train back to Delhi - there was a pool saturated with polythene which looked deceptively stable till you noticed an embankment and the water plants by it. Most disturbing of all: Plastic waste lining the highway towards Kanha, and slowly but surely entering the farmers' fields on either ends. If Kanha was the stuff of dreams, the trip back was the stuff of nightmares.
  3. Baichung Bhutia on Jhalak Dikhla Ja: A man who was once regarded a crusader amidst the fatcats, a footballer in a cricket-frenzied nation, a man whom you never saw on TV and had to know from quizzes, is now in the news more than ever because of his dancing skills. What has reality TV done to our kalaacharam?
  4. Nymphets on a Krishna devotional: I dunno who came up with the music to this video I saw on B4U. I can't find the video itself, [Update: here it is. Artist is named Tulsi Kumar] to show you. But the thing goes thus: Three schoolgirls (one of whom has an I-card saying she's sixteen) modify their I-cards to sneak into an adults only concert featuring the artist (if one may use the term). They then land up on stage as well with said artist and a dozen topless men. The ensemble then pull off the usual thumkas and jhatkas from "Kaanta laga" to "Mirchi", breaking ever so often to chant "Radhe Shyam" which is also the song title. I wish I could meet the artist. I could tell her Lolita Sahasranamam was a better title for her tripe.
  5. Mahesh Bhatt making a documentary on GM foods: Yes. Tired of repeatedly discussing his marital difficulties and DVD-itis, the great man has now made "Poison on the Platter" a documentary on GM foods, taking input from such fellow biotech luminaries as Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and Baba Ramdev. That this is scientific is clear from the fact that a whole scientist - the director of CCMB - also had 2 cents to put in. The discussion that followed the screening of this effort was remarkable for inputs from two people. One said, why progress? What's progress? Why live in the city? What great advantage has any technology brought? The other spoke somewhat like Gautam Emani on speed (no offense intened if you're reading this my friend), trashing science, economics, media and the fact that I, as a graduate student with some technical qualification was so mired in it. He did not, amazingly offer me a red pill.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Jai Ho!!

It's rather apt that the Congress bought the rights to use "Jai Ho" as their slogan, considering that as little as a year ago they were considered underdogs, if not slumdogs. That they managed to go from being dependent on Amar Singh to being free of Laloo Yadav shows some good sense on theri part as well as that of the Indian voter. Their win of 200+ seats ensures that for a while at least, India will have a stable government not beholden to regional satraps and kingmakers. Journos, pundits and bloggers are already at pains to explain this reversal of fortune for the UPA. Here's my own two cents:
  • If there was one thing that the debacle of Sarah Palin made clear, it was that obvious pandering to a base isn't very well recieved, especially when said pander-candidate is otherwise an out and out trainwreck. The BJP should have realised this with Varun Gandhi. To give the devil his due, he's won his Pilibhit seat. But in failing to put a leash on this obnoxious little Rottweiler, the BJP of Atal Behari Vajpayee, Jaswant Singh and Yashwant Sinha has lost its way.
  • If there was another thing that the 2008 US Presidential Elections made clear, it was that people do not appreciate a one-cure-fits-all slogan, least of all during a financial crisis. As with "Cut taxes" and "Bomb Iran", "Restore POTA", "Build a Ram Mandir" and "Fuck Muslims in general" pretty much wrecked it for the BJP with just about anyone who thought before voting. They had one good idea (National I-cards) on their one good issue (National security). But neither idea nor issue were given much voice, screwing it big time for the party.
  • Nearly 50 years after Nehru and 30 years after Indira, the blessed Gandhi name still carries weight with the Indian janata, especially in UP. Varun Gandhi was tolerated because of his last name and won his Pilibhit seat too. Rahul Gandhi managed to manuoeuvre his last name so as to keep his Amethi seat and up the number of Congress seats in UP to 20. He and Mayawati were two people expected to come into their own at this point. He managed to exceed expectations, unlike Mayawati whose party took a major hit
  • Against all odds, writer, UN diplomat and all-round pompous ass Shashi Tharoor has won his seat in Thiruvananthapuram. There's hope for the over educated English-speaking people of India yet.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Hail the Motherland, Down with the Fatherstate

An election season winds to a close. A new Government will come into being. And its first action will be to dole out largess to the various vote banks it went about wooing. The UPA has already mentioned reservations for minorities - what the FUCK does that mean at this point? - and a national food subsidy for every poor individual in the country. They also mean to expand the NREGA and the standard free power packages. Other parties are also busy promising people things that will drop into their lap as gifts, should they come into power.

Note the use of that term. Gifts. None of these actions are in any sense directed towards mitigating India's issues of poverty, inequality etc. None of them, even the ones that aim to "uplift" the poor, do something that directly enables the underprivileged. Bounty must needs drop from the sky - or rather the public Exchequer - onto people in exchange for their vote. The standard responses to these promises are cynical statements like "It's an excuse for corruption" or "These politicians are only out for their vote banks". What a lot of people miss however, is the cultural history behind these actions.

Consider pre-British India, specially in the waning days of the Mughal Empire. A territory could belong to one ruler today, and another tomorrow. Today you might have to report to the Peshwa of XYZ, and tomorrow to the Nizam of ABC. That Peshwa/Sultan/Nizam/Raja moreover would delegate all responsibility over the land to some local jagirdar/zamindar. Within this feudal and often fractured system, consistent bootlicking was the only way to get anything you wanted from those in power, who were essentially men with swords/guns/artillery. You can call this an opinion, but think of this - How many of our old tales involve crises that were in the end resolved by a wave of the ruler's hand, whether a crisis of poverty or crime? The ruler is traditionally held as a dispenser of all state functions - largesse is his/her generosity and justice his/her righteousness. The idea of an independent functionary who dispenses the duties of the state because it is his/her function wasn't there (Although there were rare exceptions such as Akbar, who established a Quazi system for legal disputes and so forth).

The British could have fixed this if they wanted. But they didn't care to. It suited them to take the places at the very top, and worry only about getting theirs. Hence, with marginal improvements, the bureaucracy that Macaulay established in India pretty much took the place of the original system, with babus and Governer-sahibs being the ones whose boots had to be licked.

The real sin Nehru committed was in not removing this mental baggage, IMO. In establishing his Socialist state, Nehru essentially told the people "We'll take care of everything for you. You need do nothing. Not be entrepreneurs, not think competitively, not take the offensive when it comes to your betterment, not even pay taxes" He moreover expanded the role of the State, giving it soft power over all socioeconomic aspects, and nationalized just about everything under the Sun, assuring people the Gornament would do all and provide all, be the maa-baap of the people. His babus however, made it abundantly clear that their services had a price. Glory of the nation and advancement of the people was all fine, but sarkaari salaries after all were sarkaari salaries.

The result? More bootlicking. Except now it's to a whole bunch of people. It's to IAS officers. It's to IPS officers. It's to MLAs and MPs. It's to Secretaries and Clerks and Commisioners. It's to way more people than our medieval ancestors had to lick the boots off. And it reached a stage wherein bootlicking to strangers produced no result. Hence the development of regional/caste-based/linguistic/religious parties and candidates. Apne aadmi par to hum bharosa kar sakthe hain.

The way forward? Well, to some extent the market has shown the way but there's only so much it can do. The real task, if you see is for people to realize their rights, and collectively put the apparatchiks of the State in their place. This, sadly is hard to explain to a Jhumritalaiyya farmer. Till such time someone can do that, he must continue his daily supplications.

Monday, April 20, 2009

What to do?

I didn't hear what she was originally saying. I was hurrying home with dinner on my mind, she was sitting in a corner facing away from me and the wind and rain and street made whatever she was saying unintelligible. Hell, all I can tell you about her is that she had dark hair and wore a green or blue shirt (It's already fading away).

It was when I reached the road ten paces in front of where she was seated that her voice rose. "You did not ....(it was still garbled)...Are you a decent guy? What the fuck....supposed to...How am I.... How the fuck..."

All this I could hear as I was crossing over to the other side, which speaks both for the volume of said subject's voice and my desire to get away from a fellow human being in distress. Years of living in India, after all, have not gone to waste.

I looked back when I had reached the other side. She was saying something I could not hear. I couldn't see if she was speaking. What I could see was her head sunken and shoulders shaking.

She might have been talking to her father. Her brother. Her friend. Her boyfriend, fiancee or husband. Hell, for all I know, her pimp or drug dealer (this is unlikely btw, seeing as she looked like a college student). But to hear her speak and see her break down made me sympathetic.

What should I have done? Gone back across and admitted I heard her conversation? Come off as a voyeur? A possible creep? What would I have said to make the thing better? What COULD I have done? Tell me if something occurs to you.

It's a question we ask ourselves every now and then. And it's never pleasant when we do.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

One Small Step....

I am a writer. So says Agni, the literary magazine:

"Dear Akasuna no Sasori (I used my real name but..),

Thank you for sending "Security Check." Your work received careful consideration here.

We've decided this manuscript isn't right for us, but we wish you luck placing it elsewhere.

Kind regards,

The Editors"

Now, if I could only become a published writer.

Monday, March 30, 2009


Back in class V, one of the fun ways to spend Civics class was to play "United Nations". One dude would be India, one China, one Pakistan and so on. I got the chance to play some sort of mediator, the Sec. Gen. or whatever. Growing up, as one read of the role the UN played in recent history (mediating US-Soviet Conflict, Indo-Pak '49, Indo-China '62, Afghanistan, Rwanda and so on), it became clear that the actual UN wasn't much different from the game. Indeed, one wonders how they would fare on "Are You Smarter than a Fifth Grader?".

But recently the UN did something that flies so magnificently in the face of logic and reason as to leave you awestruck. On the 27th of March, a resolution was passed that criticized, sorry condemned criticism of religion. Why? According to the august body, "defamation of religion" was a human rights violation. And what august body was this? The UN Council for Human Rights, in response to a proposition put forward by that eternal champion of human rights, Pakistan. Seeing this bold and noble step, various other nations, that were also members of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) in Africa and the Middle East, each havens for human rights and dignity, backed this resolution giving it the full support it needed. Their point was that a "delicate balance" had to be struck between respect for religion and freedom of expression (full story here).

For the human rights watchdog of a body formed to promote human rights and development to propose curbs on freedom of expression is the sort of thing George Orwell would have loved to satirize, something so patently ridiculous you do not know whether to laugh or cry at it. The good news though is that this resolution is "non-binding" as is. The UN moreover in recent years has (mercifully) had just enough power to blow its nose and sneeze if the President of the United States okays.

A quick note on India's role in this. Along with Canada, India criticized the resolution as vague and easily malleable to fundie interpretation. On these noble grounds however, it did not vote on the issue. Nehru must be smiling somewhere.

Dante Alighieri wrote - The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who, in a time of moral crisis, remain neutral" The UN's very role was to promote such neutrality to begin with. It seems finally close to generating some heat on Earth itself.

Monday, March 16, 2009

More Awesome Bits and Pieces

In the vein of the one-liners, here we have more ideas that unfortunately lack a body of work to be attached to. Take for instance:

"Know, O Prince, that between the years when the oceans drank Anna Nagar and the gleaming cities, and the years of the rise of the sons of Seri-yaas, there was an age undreamed of, when shining kingdoms lay spread across like blue mantles beneath the stars--Nengambakkam, Ompet, Besantia, Peramburea, Zaidapet with its dark-haired women and towers of spider-haunted mystery, Zingamani with its chivalry, Thatth that bordered on the pastoral lands of Shetput, Stygiapet with its shadow-guarded tombs, Triplikania whose rickshaw-kaarans wore steel and silk and gold. But the proudest kingdom in the world was Thiruvanmiyonia, reigning supreme in the dreaming West(?). Hither came, black-haired, sullen-eyed, sword in hand, to tread the thrones of the Earth under his chappaled feet.........Kannan the Barbarian"

[See this for reference, though you should've got the joke by now]

Similarly, take the title for my memoirs, wherein I discuss everything from martial arts to the Hindi I learnt at IIT Guwahati:

"From Arae Maki To Teri Maa Ki"

Now if I could only get around to writing these things

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Jai Ho!!!

Owing to the lack of spam guards at Guwahati till third year, a number of junk mails would make it to everybody's inboxes, from the Director down.The most annoying of these mails was this proclamation which went something like this:

India has world's greatest brainpower

India invented the zero

Indian scientists are leaders at MIT and Silicon Valley

Bill Gates loves India

Third richest man in the world is an Indian (!!!!)
(etc. etc.)
Therefore, be proud to be an Indian!!! Jai Hind!!

I recieved this mail something like 10 times, each time sent by some idiot who clearly felt our patriotism could use a boost.

What kind of moron must keep preaching "be proud to be an Indian?". I'm not ashamed to be an Indian and I dare you to denigrate my country before me yes, but whatever achievements the country has made are split amidst a billion-plus people. Pride is something that should arise from individual achievement. What these mails preach is a blatant jingoism that smacks of some pretty deep insecurity on part of sender and creator alike. This same insecurity is seen when we jump for joy at Sunita Williams' achievement. An INDIAN in space, we say. Uh, and what of the fact that she was raised in America, is half-American and married an American? No no, she ate dhoklas in orbit!! There's deshbhakti for you. Similarly, we like to claim Rushdie, Desai, Lahiri and hajaar other such foreign citizens as our own, despite their not having been near the subcontinent in God knows how long. People who garn Western attention must be held close to the Indian bosom, no matter how tenuous the connection.

The reason for this rather lengthy intro is the news of Slumdog Millionaire winning 8 Oscars, including Best Picture. Or rather, the news of what happened after it. Readers here know my opinion of this film (go here for a quick refresher). A large section of the Indian populace found it similarly cliched and denigrating (see here), and the movie did not really sell in India.

But Sunday night changed everything. Monday (the corresponding day in India) became "India's day, a time to beam with pride as the world's largest democracy gathered up Oscar gold" to quote the LA Times.

"“What a day it has been for India!” gushed a television news anchor midmorning." to quote the New York Times.

And not to be left behind, our Param Pujya Pradhaan Mantri issued a statement saying that the people who worked on the film have done India proud, the Arthavyavastha Mantri said "the country of a billion people adopted Briton Danny Boyle's film as its own though it may not be an Indian film" and that said film marked the rise of Indian soft power and the Sansad "hailed the success saying the ‘historic achievement’ of three Indians winning Academy Awards is a global acknowledgment of the excellence of Indian artiste"

And India celebrated, apparently by going for a collective haircut if one is to believe the L A Times again.

Jai Ho!! Jai Ho!! Yet another reason to be proud to be an Indian. I can see the next mail coming.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

The Valentine Monologues

Aa gaya Aa gaya, Valentine's day aa gaya,
Aa gaya Aa gaya, something something aa gaya

(arbit song from the 80's, the rest of which I can't remember)

My weekly call home took place earlier than usual, during which, when discussing Mangalore, my Dad brought up an interesting point. A point that can be summarized as:

"Indha Valentine day-allaan yedhukku? Namba tyethla idhallan yilliyae"

His tone added to the question, conveying the bemusement that older generations feel with this muhurtam for cho-chweet lovey-dovey shit. This in turn leads me to muse a good deal and post my thoughts on V-day.

At least in the Indian context, Valentine's day is not older than a decade, twelve at best. It began to make its presence felt about 6-7 years following the opening of the free market, which, when you think about it, is the time Hallmark took to build up a presence in India and Archie's to penetrate the market beyond Delhi and Bombay. About '97 is when we began to hear of this, of couples going to dances for V-day, of cafes and whatnot holding couple specials and of course of all the stuff you could buy for your significant other at "gift stores". Because as we all know, nothing says pure romantic love like a 70 Rupees card and a 200 Rupees pack of chocolate. Woh tab tha jab Chocolate hi gift ke liye de sakte the. Ab dete hain iPod, cell phone, deluxe Bouquet, dinner at Fleury's, Night-out at Fever etc. etc. and of course Archies or Hallmark gifts. V-day is essentially a fallout of the Great Opening Up of the Indian economy, with every goddamn retailer and restaurateur hoping to con someone into spending cash, and every dude in the media brainwashing people into considering this acceptable and even essential to love, chweet, icky lowwwwwwwve.


Now, I had a middle-class upbringing. I had wayyy less cash or time to spend on these days than a lot of my schoolmates, who bought into this a good deal more. We nevertheless were a sort of starter generation, in the we-can-take-it-or-leave-it stage. It is worrisome, to me and I guess to the older generations of today, that so many youngsters are hooked into what is essentially a spending addiction, for no reason than that CCD and Fever have special couples' discounts and VJs Mini, Malaika, Shenaaz, Piya, Nikki and so forth (notice any Sharanyas, Priyas or even Poojas there) strut their stuff on TV and tell you to go do spend. Is this romantic? Not by a long shot? Is it worth the attention it gets? Not by an even longer shot. Does it polarize society even further, separating salwar-kameez-thayir saadam with ooruga tiffin wallahs from jeans-miniskirt-CCD-types? Absolutely. So I do sympathize with the Pink Condom campaign, who abhor violence and hope for Ram Sene-types to be locked up, but dislike V-day as a whole. Because when you get down to it, this is peer pressure akin to "take a drag yaar". There is no one muhurtam to lowwwve someone and then forget about said person for the other 364 days.

With that being said, I have to say celebration of V-day makes some sense for neophytes at dil-vil-pyaar-vyaar. When you're a boy (not a man) and you like a girl (not a woman, not a wife) and the two of you hit it off to the point of awkward, sitcom-style dating, it ought to mark an achievement of sorts for you to make it to one of these, like surviving a tournament to a quarter final. So for those who can derive some sort of enjoyment out of this, I say go knock yourself out before the realization sets in that you've been manipulated by the Man and his Machine. And as before, freedom, even to engage in activities as silly as this, is essential. Let Ram/Shiv Senas take this away today and you don't know what they'll find offensive tomorrow.

But for myself though, single, frustrated and quite devoid of the syrupy chweet lowwvey sentiment this day's supposed to drown you in, I just say "Valentine's day? Bah! Humbug!!"

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Now That We've Reaped....

You'd think, after all the trouble we went through in November - to put it mildly - cops would take tougher stances against large violent gatherings in entertainment spots such as pubs and restaurants.

You'd think, after all the trouble about the live channels interfering with police action, they'd know better than to just sit and cover a mob attacking women.

You'd think, having done something that callous, the newspeople would condemn it outright as an assault on freedom and not start debates on "pub culture", calling the very person who instigated the violence to debate it on television, thus getting his message across to fellow saffro-Talibs.

You'd think the internal security apparatus would realize letting people get away with violence now tantamounts to letting them get away with murder later on. You'd really think they would arrest a man who brags about training Hindu suicide bombers to take on "the Islamic menace".

You'd think the Karnataka State Government would take strong action against perpetrators who openly threaten our freedom instead of mumbling some stuff about "pub culture" and how it is offensive.

You'd think people would realize that if you give up little freedoms today, you will lose greater ones tomorrow.

You'd think these terrorists, who use violence against hapless victims and openly discuss their agenda to take us to some Ram-Rajya out of B. R. Chopra and Ramanand Sagar, would be dealt with by the Government, the media and the people.

You'd think.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Slumdog Millionaire: Why So Serious

Like The White Tiger is a great serious book, Slumdog Millionaire is a great serious film. By great, I mean raved about by just about every film critic in the West (see here). By serious, I mean you do not just go to this film hoping to be entertained for a couple of hours - go see "Harold and Kumar" or "Singh is King" for that. You go see this film so as to uplift yourself and be lost in a masterpiece that captures the real India in a Dickensian fairytale of life and love. Having seen this oh-so-awesome film I wanted, as the title suggests, to ask Danny Boyle, Vikas Swarup and Co. "Why so goddamned serious?".

The movie, we are told, takes a Dickensian approach to depicting the real India. What it does is present the West with every known stereotype of the Third World - swap India for Congo, Afghanistan, Burkina Faso or Papua New Guinea and the movie would be unchanged save for some Hindi at the beginning. The real [Insert country here] is found in slums, amidst filth unimaginable that the camera sort of luxuriates in. Slum children are shooed away by teachers, other parents, policemen (in the middle of a riot) and beaten mercilessly at every turn (Something else the camera will focus on). Any stranger who shows kindness inevitably turns out to be some sort of pervert. All policemen are corrupt props for the eevull rich. Placed in this hell, the hero fulfils the most pressing concern a struggling slumdweller can have - he tracks down his one true love, a girl he has met perhaps twice since he and she were pre-teens. Gangsters, cops, a condescending quiz show host and his own evil brother stand in the way, but true love must triumph in the end.

Well, films are supposed to be fantastic and heaven knows you can find plot holes in "The Dark Knight". The problem with this film is its tone. If this film were meant to be a masala romance in the vein of "Kuch Kuch Hota Hain", "Taal" or "Only You", not to be taken seriously, where was the need for throwing in the slums of Bombay as a backdrop? And if we are to take "Slumdog Millionaire" as great serious filmmaking, well, here are a few problems:

(1) The usage of English in the film is inexplicable, especially given that the protagonist and his brother did not go to school – something the movie repeatedly reminds them and the audience. Nevertheless, they speak fluent English with British accents. English in India is used amongst the educated, its usage often a class distinction. For an otherwise illiterate boy to speak English, confidently addressing Westerners when posing as tour guides and using phrases such as “don’t give a shit” and “plenty of pussy for XYZ” is absurd.

(2) The host of “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” is repeatedly shown to mock the protagonist’s profession and background, calling him a chaiwalla (tea-bringer) and marveling at his luck. Mocking people for being poor on live television in India is as big a faux pas as using racial slurs on live television in the US, something no game show host wishing to keep his job would do. Equally unrealistic and distasteful are the repeated reminders by the news channels that the protagonist is illiterate. No mention is made of where he lives or works, simply that he is an illiterate slum-dweller.

(3) The police are shown to arrest the protagonist on the word of the game show host alone, who is never seen to so much as sign a First Information Report. They beat and electrocute him on the basis that an illiterate “slumdog” could not know what he did. Nevertheless, they suspect a smuggled microchip as a possible modus operandi. How could an illiterate slumdog use a microchip? The scenes serve no purpose than to show people how inhumane foreign police forces are.

(4) Whether it is in Bombay or Agra (location of the Taj Mahal), the protagonist remains surrounded by filth unimaginable. Especially cringe-worthy was the scene where the protagonist leaps into a pool of excreta to get to the movie star. Slum-dwellers are as concerned about hygiene and cleanliness as everyone else and for a person to do that is absurd. While much of India lacks development, it is offensive that a director repeatedly present such stereotypical images.

(5) Similarly cringe-worthy were the scenes where a passenger attempts to yank the two children off a moving train, and where a chauffeur mercilessly stomps the fallen child on the head. Again, the lot of street children in India is not a pleasant one. They are regarded with suspicion and hatred by a lot of people. It is absurd however that every member of the middle or servant class treat them with utter disregard for their lives.

We all have this yearning for India to be looked upon as great by the West, and SM has been

hailed as the best thing since bread came sliced by such greats as Shashi Tharoor, Chidanand

Rajghatta and Raja Sen. Like White Tiger, it is simply an attempt to pigeon hole us under

poverty, misery and call centers.