Friday, November 21, 2014

The Trial

When God asks
About the kisses that were missed
Between two lips that came so close,
Would you have an answer?
Would I?

- Veerankutty

(Translation by myself)

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Popularity of Nonsense and Possibilities of a Counter-Culture

A paper on popular culture.

The full text and pdf can be found here.

[An abstract : The first part of this paper tries to analyze the ways in which 'popular' culture becomes popular and the role that racism and hatred plays in the same, citing a few explicit instances of prejudices that have appeared in Indian media over the last few years. It includes a news report in Mail Today that dalit women appointed as cooks in schools of Uttar Pradesh divided the schoolkids on caste lines; a blurb on a Sunday Times of India story that listed reservation as a social evil along with crime and corruption; a cartoon by Jag Suraiyya and Neelabh that considers Mayawati's figure ugly; reports on wikileaks 'revelations' about Mayawati without mentioning that the source the information is journalist circles of Lucknow; instances of Malayali obsessions of making moralist judgements on women and their hatred towards migrant labourers from other states and a nursery rhyme that plays up the 'white pride'. It is followed by instances of how the subalterns internalize the Brahmanic cultural supremacy and become a part of playing to the galleries knowingly or unknowingly.

The second part first reviews some theories on the power of mass media and considers some possibilities that the popular nature of the popular culture offers to counter the underlying racism and hatred, mainly in the Indian context. What follows is an overview of some of the contemporary cultural resistances in India, both outside the mainstream and within the mainstream. Two recent events that created disturbances in the dominant cultural sphere, one a television advertisement of a soft-drink and another a batting display by West-Indian Cris Gayles, are taken note of.]

[An initial Malayalam version of the same appeared in Pachakuthira monthly, Published by DC Books, in its July 2013 issue.]

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Lunchbox? No, Thanks..

Men would be happy to have a woman cook tasty food for them, and I guess most of them would be happier if she is not his wife. Enough reason to fantasize an old-age relationship.

As for women, many women are still thriving to find a way to the man's heart through his stomach. Marriage or an 'affair', pleasing a man's taste-buds is the measure of her happiness.

'No, thanks' to 'The Lunchbox' -- somehow it gives me digestion problems.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Collective consciences of a sick society

Justice Basant is not the only person who believes that a girl who loves someone more than her parents is "deviant / abnormal" and that she can not be raped, she can only be a prostitute. He is only voicing the judgements of a sick society that almost always criticizes the woman whenever there is an assault on her.

The Supreme Court judges who decided on capital punishment for Afzal Guru wrote down in their order that "the collective conscience of the society will only be satisfied if capital punishment is awarded to [him].

Unfortunately, these collective consciences cannot be hanged to death by a law or by a court order.

The friendly matches of 'Kadal' and 'Devasuram'

Maniratnam's 'Kadal' reminded me of Malayalam 'Devasuram'. In both the films, on the surface it is a battle between two white men. However, beyond that surface we realize that it is only a friendly match between them, and it is the women who are untamed, the Muslim who has become rich and the fisherfolk who are 'uncivilized' and 'violent' -- who have to be tamed / shown their place / shown the path to god -- who are the real baddies. I think I understand why Rupesh Kumar said a Kadalakramanam would have been easier on him.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Feel good, feel good (Cheating Veating allowed)!

I watched English-Vinglish in its first week itself. It is not just a well-made movie. I felt it is awesome on the technical front. Sridevi, French artist Mehdi Nebbou and Adil Hussain do their job to perfection. The younger actors match up with their seniors if not outperform them -- especially Shivansh Kotia who plays Sridevi's son. The music and visual departments also gel well with the film. To its credit, the film also has an emotional premise that most Indians, men and women alike, could relate to. The family and the problems within.
And at the end, it is a feel-good film more than anything else. Like all feel-good films, it makes you go back home happy. With tears in your eyes if you are the soft kind.
Alas, it was a feel-good that requires you to erase from your memory almost everything that you saw till then in the film. It is a feel-good that deceives the viewer in me, just like how it deceives all the central characters in the film. Cheating, I wanted to shout.
Nobody has been complaining that they felt cheated, probably because people are happy feeling happy. Critics also gave their thumbs up for this movie, most of them giving it four stars or more out of five. Taran Adarsh of even called it an inspiring film with an overwhelming message.
So what is the message? That one should stick with one's family, no matter how humiliating it is? It is this 'inspiring message' that is packed in a feel-good speech from the protagonist Shashi (played by Sridevi) towards the climax, which masquerades as an address or an advice to a newly-wed couple.
Shashi, a very much married Indian woman who is confronting her attraction to a french guy during her short stay at New York, goes into a denial of herself and tries to defend her lack of choice with this speech. The essence of the speech is that family is the most important thing in one's life because (i) it is only in a family that two people can feel equal, (ii) your family would never let you down, and (iii) that your family members cannot be judgmental about you.
She appears to be telling that to herself and to the audience who are watching the film, than to the newly-wed couple. Because she knows that is not the case, and so do we.
Earlier in the film we have seen her family letting her down often, being judgmental about her and we know that she and her husband have never been in an equal relationship. As is the case with most of the families. But that is not what we have been telling ourselves. That is not what we want to believe.
Marriage and family are sacred institutions that we do not want to hurt. We want to make ourselves believe that our family is all that we have to fall back upon. That the family would stay with us even in the worst of times. That the family members would not let us down. So what if most of the time our family members let us down, what if they always take you for granted, what if it is never an equal relationship, what if they are almost always judgmental -- we will try to consider it all as an aberration rather than the rule. We want to force ourselves into forgetting that family is often the source of our unhappiness, and we want to feel good that we are with our family. Because there is no escape from it. (And those who are not married are considered a threat to the society.)
Through this speech, we can feel Shashi's desire for social security and familial acceptance surpass her guilt of having to reject her French lover who respects her as an individual. Her niece, who supported her 'free life' till then is also happy that she ditched that outsider (he's outside the family, outside the caste, outside the religion and outside the nationality) and chose to stay with her husband.
No wonder that it makes us all happy.
The husband who watches the film is assured that the wife would not leave him and run away, no matter how bad he treats her. He naturally feels good about it.
Children feel good that their mother will put up with all the crap they mete out to her and she would stand by them in any case. Yes, there is a chance that they are reminded how insensitive they are. (“When I was young, I used to be embarrassed by my mom's English too. The movie reminded me of how narrow-minded I used to be”, says a quote featured on English Vinglish facebook page). But that does not matter, because they can afford to be narrow-minded and can take their mom for granted. You could make it up all by taking her to this film. (“For all the times you have been rude to your mother, make up to her by taking her for English Vinglish”, goes another quote on the page).
Wives/mothers feel good that it is not only them, even a Sridevi cannot be honest to her own feelings, despite being in a city like New York. They make themselves believe that by sticking to their family despite all the humiliations, they are essentially standing for themselves. (“We all go through some or the other sort of humiliation in life. When our weaknesses become a source of mockery for everyone. A few of us succumb to such situations and others like Shashi fight and stand for themselves. Kudos to Gauri for giving us such a wonderful film”, says Roshni in another featured quote.)
I think that is where the film fails. It fails to capitalize on the potential to develop into a real path-breaking film, and it settles for a laddoo-for-all success formula instead. Yes, that is also where the film succeeds, and Gauri Shinde deserves credits for the same.