Saturday, September 24, 2016

To see and to be seen

Being a filmmaker must be the most boring as well as the most exciting profession in the world. 

Boring, because you've already seen the film you wish to make in your mind. That's like the greater spoiler crisis. In fact, the very fact that you already know everything about the film even before it's made makes your reality a downer. For what it's worth, the filmmaker takes the onus of making life interesting for the audience at least by persisting with what's in his head and working towards translating the mental picture into a physical reel. 

Exciting, because the filmmaker gets to create an alternate reality; a world that is controlled by none other than him. He moves things around like a chess-master who is basically playing against himself as there are no opponents in the field of cinema. It's only you and the time. So many things can go against you. The sun may not shine when the camera wants it to. Anything can happen. And anything does happen on a movie set. 

PS. During my interview of Ang Lee for Life of Pi (2012), i couldn't help but ask what inspired him to become a filmmaker. His reply was as enlightening as his aura: he has always been a curious person, looking for answers and he found out early in his life that you can't always get them too conveniently. 

PSS. A (great) filmmaker bounces the questions off the canvas of cinema while the audience often seeks the easy way out by paying closer attention to the answers derived instead of the questions posed.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Ingrate's Syndrome

"Gandhi is overrated."
"Gandhi's contributions are grossly exaggerated."
"Gandhiji didn't win us freedom. It was a natural outcome."

Statements like these are overrated, grossly exaggerated and often blurted out by individuals who don't get the price of freedom but somehow seem to enjoy it way too naturally. For several reasons, actually. The most pertinent being the truth that somebody didn't read up a lot. But that didn't stop them from cultivating absurd opinion about a person who accomplished far more than humanly possible. We are talking about someone who created the idea of a nation-state in us. Before he happened, people were happy looking out for themselves. There was nothing Indian about us. Bombaywallahs cared for Bombay while Madrasis were happy worrying only about Madras and the Punjabis about Punjab... The script pretty much remains the same for other provinces and presidencies as well. (The Revolt of 1857 wasn't India's First War of Independence; it was merely a series of underplanned revolts. Period.) What Gandhi managed to do, over the decades, was inculcate the idea that we too can have a nation of our own. A nation where people could be together under one umbrella. It was a massive project and he was our first national leader and so far, our last national leader. No one since his death could call himself a national leader. Nope, not even Nehru, whose shortsightedness in lingual matters made him a figure of mistrust in the South. It's been almost seven decades and we are yet to find Gandhi's replacement. Going by the standards of politicians our society offers, that pedestal is going to stay vacant for a while. Discrediting others is a common desi trait but the plot gets thicker when people who are benefiting from the seeds sown about a century ago do it. Seeds that were sown by a man who could peek into the future. A man who travelled far and wide to grasp what kind of people we really are. A man who didn't care for taking the credit for a job well done. No wonder you don't see him releasing pigeons into the sky in the pictures celebrating our independence. He had bigger things to do: mitigate the effects of riots at the border. 

The next time people around you spew historic crap, try to remind them that they are being ungrateful. It's like saying Dhoni didn't win us the World Cup (or Messi can't win Argentina the World Cup in the future) because we clearly know how important a captain is to the team. Similarly, freedom is not a candy to be bought from a store. It's a long, strenuous process which takes enormous fortitude and patience. The journey only gets wilder without a leader because keeping people together is a headache-y task. (If you're a manager who is responsible for even 10 people, you'd understand the analogy here.) Fortunately, we had a great leader in Mr. Gandhi whether we take it upon ourselves to give credit where it's due or become a nation of ingrates that is too commitment-phobic to stick to the facts.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

The decline of the decline of Indian television

We got our first television set when i was in second grade. It was a B&W TV by a company called CROWN. I couldn't have been happier. It barely mattered that my school friends had colour TV and watched several channels while we were stuck at the mercy of a rooftop antenna. This was years before we got access to cable. Many things changed between these two phases of entertainment except one: the TV shows (or programmes, like we called them) were predominantly women-centric with strong female protagonists. Be it Swabhimaan (co-written by Shobhaa De, when she used to be more responsible with words) on DD or Hasratein on Zee. The 90s was the season of women empowerment for television. It was subtle and there was no chest-beating about it. Very matter-of-factly. There were shows (not just on the two aforementioned channels) that featured women who could think for themselves and weren't afraid to express what they felt. Unlike the goody-goody-good halfwit characters paraded nowadays, these women were remarkably believable. Tara. Shanti. Sailaab. Heena. Dastaan...the list goes on and on.

So, what really went wrong? 

I believe the laws of economics came into picture. The aforementioned shows were screened once a week. One episode, half an hour long, with two to three mini-breaks in between. Things changed drastically with Kaun Banega Crorepati (KBC) when it piloted in the July of 2000 on STAR Plus. Now, you'd wonder how a quiz show managed to help change the course of soap opera in our country. Well, when Amitabh Bachchan asked us "9 baj gaye kya?" in the ads leading up to KBC's debut, he was basically summoning India's attention the way Ramanand Sagar and BR Chopra did (sans any ads, of course) with their Ramayan and Mahabharat in the late 80s. Once STAR Plus had people's attention, with the 9pm-10pm slot, it was easier for the production house to keep the audience entertained around—before as well as after KBC. The resulting shows (read: Kyun Ki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi (KKSBKBT), Kahaani Ghar Ghar Ki (KGGK), Kasauti Zindagi Kay, etc) were slightly different from predecessors as they boasted 3-4 episodes a week. Each episode, half an hour long, with 3 not-so-mini-breaks in between. Instead of waiting for a week for the next episode, the audience were being fed wholesomely by Ekta Kapoors of the world. The only problem being, an assembly production line approach to screenwriting made sure that the quality of the show suffered. No wonder they (the writers) introduced the painfully cringe-worthy exercise of shots focusing on the face of all the 3847592 characters in a given show with blaring metal music in the background that would put even WWE to shame and a person with BP to premature death. This gimmick was for the writers to buy time; in other words, stretch the episode as much as possible. Anand Gandhi, who went on to direct the gorgeous Ship of Theseus (2013), was one of the writers for KKSBKBT before having an epiphany! 

Speaking of filmmakers, the likes of Anurag Kashyap and Imtiaz Ali used to make short films (one-hour specials) for Star Bestsellers. Epic stories, touching chords the way Netflix and HBO is currently doing, were portrayed in these weekly episodes. This was before the K-fever took over the television. The worst part is, the imitation game is so strong in India that any trend becomes endemic after a while. Something similar happened to TV as well. Like India blindly apes the West, the regional TV apes the Hindi TV opera. The regressive show plots were fondly copied by vernacular mediums as well. And even today, in 2016, the paradigm shift that took place at the turn of the century has the same repercussions on television where it's almost impossible to come across shows wisely written for the society. The thirst for TRP is so high that it's beyond ridicule now. Dumbing down comedy is one thing but isn't dumbing down drama next level idiocy? Exactly what has happened with Indian television throughout. Instead of enlightening the housewives (the primary targets) and other family members of the country, the ongoing shows—barring a few notable exceptions—are degrading the collective intelligence with their heavy reliance on petty characters who have nothing to offer. It's worth wondering when are we going to pull ourselves out of this nauseatingly lame swamp of sub-mediocrity. Especially when the disease has reached a point where even news channels are gladly sounding like Hindi TV opera.

PS. If there was one genre that remained uncontaminated by this wave, it has to be horror. There's no doubt that Zee Horror Show inspired the writers of the TV horror series that eventually followed, be it Aahat or Mano Ya Na Mano or Ssshhhh...Koi Hai. These shows managed to do what Hindi horror films STILL can't: scare you instead of making you laugh. And they did so primarily because of two reasons: they hired good writers who cared about the genre and they weren't asked to churn out four insipid episodes per week!

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Ballot that happen?

Some reports suggest that Donald Trump would become the POTUS tomorrow if elections were to be held. If anything, this election—or should we say these two candidates—effectively reminded us how hollow democracy can get. Democracy, for all its gifts, doesn't always leave us with the best of choice at times. On one hand, you've got a candidate whose records are blemished thanks to several avoidable events and on another hand, you have a guy who doesn't care about anything. Literally anything. Except himself, of course. His records, both entrepreneurial and otherwise, don't make you swoon. If words are what it takes to identify a person's character, Trump's draw a picture of a man who doesn't really believe in anything. He'll utter whatever is required to capture attention. He's a performer; a jester without a court. A dreamer who firmly believes White House is within his grasp and he may not be mistaken either. Compared to him, Hillary appears like a saint but whoever has followed her (at least through reportage) would attest that she's a crooked personality with a preference to sweep things under the rug. It's a clear pick between the devil and the sea. We just don't know yet which is which. 

The only good thing that has come out of this trumpeted election campaign is the levels to which democracy can seem overrated. If there are three fools in a group of four, there is no hope left for the unfool. In any case, it doesn't really matter whether Trump wins or lose. By all measures of probability, he has already won by making it THIS far.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Unidimensional bullshit

The fastest way to turn a correct statement into a dubious one is to introduce politics to it. This is so because politics isn't only about slimy old corrupt men ripping the society off for personal gains. There are anthropological and etymological repercussions to the Big P. Being politically correct is perhaps the way to go. It's 2016 and the world has finally come to terms with what happened on 9/11. There's no denying that if we are to reevaluate (human) history, the chronology can be bisected into pre-9/11 and post-9/11. On that fateful day, lot of things came down real hard along with those two tall buildings. The way we speak today, especially online, has a lot to do with the political correctness unintentionally instituted by that day. All of a sudden—15 years is not sudden, to be accurate—sentiments are back in fashion. Which is ironic given how our species is fast losing its collective moral compass. In our quest to be forward and cautious, we seem to be moving in the opposite direction by being overcautious. It's a practical sin to NOT take a side. Almost reminiscent of what Dear Dubya said to the international community right after 9/11: "You're either with us or against us!" Remember that bullshit? This rigidity is so nauseous that if you like something about someone who is perceived as a bad guy, you'd be questioned. In other words, you can't laugh at a joke cracked by Putin. He's a bad guy so if you are laughing at his joke, you are encouraging him. If that sounds crazy, you should read the backlash Jimmy Fallon got for having Donald Trump on his show. Apparently, the so-called liberals couldn't bear to see their tangerine villain 'being humanized' for TRP. Seriously? That's what it has come down to; the repercussion, i mentioned earlier, of political correctness. First thing first, Trump, no matter how stupid his thoughts are—and they are beyond stupid, they are atrocious—he has every right to showcase his light side. All candidates do so. And Fallon, in his defense, is a host whose favourite word happens to be fun. If he made the presidential candidate comfortable as he does to his other guests, he didn't do anything wrong. Besides, if the American people are going to ignore what Trump says and rather be swayed by the sway of his breezy air, maybe they deserve him as the POTUS. Similarly, heaps of verbal dirt were poured on Tim Cook and Jack Dorsey yesterday for tweeting birthday wishes to PM Modi. Apparently, they aren't supposed to do that because by doing so, they are encouraging an anti-LGBT politician and a mass murderer who—for the record—also happens to be the prime minister of the world's largest democracy. There are no dimensions to personalities anymore; only one of your choosing.

Saturday, September 17, 2016


Ever felt like you are the supporting cast of a biopic on you? Like you are always in the shadow lurking around like a crestfallen butthurt that won't heal? As if the universe is against your moments in the limelight? Because you are always in the background instead of the proscenium where you think you belong? Here's a theory that would soothe you, if nothing else: Looks like even cinema follow this trick of making us assume that so and so is the protagonist of the show when they are not. The storytelling is tailored in such a manner that you build up your curiosity for ABC but it later turns out that XYZ was the protagonist. For instance, in The Night Of (2016), you are made to believe that the script is centered around a Pakistani-American who is arrested for an alleged murder. By the end of the show, your opinion has evolved too: the protagonist is his eczema-ridden lawyer who seems to have found a purpose in life thanks to this hopeless case. The same is true for House of Cards (2013-) where we presume everything displayed is about the thirst for power and an otherwise failing marriage but in hindsight, the show is primarily about White House. Similarly, The Sixth Sense (1999) is more about Bruce Willis' character than about that boy who can see dead people. This shimmy is not restricted to movies and TV series. Sometimes, you can notice it even in documentaries and songs. For instance, Room 237 (2012) ain't about Stanley Kubrick and neither is Citizenfour (2014) about Edward Snowden. Or for that matter, Coldplay's Yellow isn't about jaundice and Rihanna's Cake isn't about cake; at least not the one that leaves you with a sweet taste. It'd be safe to conclude that nothing is what it seems whether you are at the front or in the back photobombing a picture that was supposed to focus on you.

Friday, September 16, 2016

What's in the name? Everything!

Do you know the name of your maid? If you don't, chances are you'll be the first to accuse her of theft if you misplaced your earphones (only to find it in your car two weeks later). When you don't familiarise with people, the communication and emotional barrier is always present. And what is the first step towards building a relationship? Bingo! Knowing each other's name. Something we tend to ignore mainly because of laziness than anything else. The immediate excuse is, why include one more contact to your phone? There's already more than enough on your contact list whom you haven't met or heard from in over a year now. Fair enough. But the people i'm talking about here happen to belong to the lower rung. People who are perennially overlooked for some reason best explained by the fast emerging middle-middle class. These are the very folks who serve you in the cafeteria on a daily basis; the guy who salutes you (as if you won PoK for the country) while opening the colony gate; even your office boy whose job is to clean the mess your leave on your desk. They are everywhere and yet nowhere. They remain nameless. The most basic tenets of civilization is not accorded to them. And then we wonder why some restaurant didn't let a driver have a meal. Chances are racism might go out of fashion someday soon. But classism? Can't say.