Archive for February, 2007

It is perhaps a strange co-incidence that Black Friday and Parzania should be released at the same time. Both films have groups who have actively campaigned against their release. So, their performance at the box office is irrelevant. But, it is relevant that they are both courageous films and their existence is a triumph for Indian cinema.

The films have different settings. While Parzania is set during the Gujarat riots, Black Friday is set during the 1993 Mumbai blasts. But, both films deal with the theme of how religious sentiments can be subverted for political or personal gain. They both also tell us that violence unleashed cannot be restrained.

The film is told in the documentary drama style, and is a masterpiece among Indian and even international films of that genre. The impact of the documentary drama approach is further enhanced by impeccable editing.

But if Parzania is a performer’s triumph, Black Friday is a director’s triumph. Anurag Kashyap, the director, brings together powerful performances by Kay Kay Menon and Pavan Malhotra, whilst still ensuring that no actor overshadows the other.

This is matched by a good script, held together by a strong director who is always in command. The treatment is powerful, never melodramatic.

But, above all this, Black Friday is a good film because it tells the truth without pulling any punches. There were different shades/aspects to the 1993 blasts… The Babri Masjid demolition… The subsequent Mumbai riots instigated by the Shiv Sena… The retaliation in the form of the Mumbai blasts engineered by Tiger Memon… And the final manhunt for the mastermind behind the blasts.

Black Friday tells all of that as it is… It is balanced… Does not hesitate to be brutally honest… And spares nobody.

Parzania

Posted: February 17, 2007 in Cinema
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There are two critically acclaimed films that are doing the rounds of the Multiplexes these days. They are Parzania and Black Friday. It was nice to drive down to PVR and find that Black Friday was sold out on a Wednesday night. There were a few tickets left for Parzania in the front row, and we bought them.

Is Indian parallel cinema finally finding a commercial audience?

Parzania is of course based on the Gujarat riots, and it has been in the news both because it is critically acclaimed and most cinema halls in Gujarat are too scared to screen it. As a side note, the film is also being hailed as Saarika’s ‘comeback film’ (yes, Kamal Hassan’s light eyed ex-wife). Watching Parzania was an interesting experience, especially because I was in Ahmdabad soon after the riots.

There were parts of the film that did not work for me… And these are the technical parts… But, in terms of overall impact, it was a good film.

As with many Indian films, Parzania’s main shortcoming is the lack of a good script writer. The incidents depicted in the first part of the film are like snapshots. Some of them are tied into the subsequent plot, but some of them are just there. It’s a little random and could have been skillfully tied in.

It’s also a little odd to see three-quarters of Ahmedabad using English as their medium of communication. In the city as I knew it, people mainly communicate in Hindi, sometimes Gujarati. So, the film could have done with a more liberal dose of Hindi and Gujarati – if it intended to be authentic.

The American protagonist is a very cliched character. It would have helped to have a characterisation that is more real because he is very central to the film.

But these inadequacies do not detract from the fact that Parzania is a landmark film. It has an important message, and was a courageous film to in troubled times.

Central to the film is the role that governments play in maintaining law and order in riot situations. This theme is also integral to films made on human carnage from Africa to Europe to America. After all, the most violent massacres that we have seen in human history also coincide with a complete break down of law and order. But, the film also underlines that how we chose to fight injustice is an individual choice.

There are breathtaking performances from Naseeruddin Shah and Saarika. One always tends to expect a lot from Naseeruddin Shah. But, Saarika is the revelation here. This, along with a very powerful theme, hold the film together.

It must also be said that I don’t know what all the fuss in Gujarat is all about. The screening of Parzania could have only done good because the final message is not hate, but healing.

In conclusion, I would say that Parzania is not a brilliant film. But, it is a good film. Like Blood Diamond there are inadequacies in the script, but the film is held together by a powerful theme. In the Indian context, it is representative of a new age of film making, where filmmakers are ready to break from the old mould.

BTW, did you wonder why the film was called Parzania??? Well, that’s after an imaginary childhood world, something like Narnia… I thought that was beautiful.

Where is my home? Where do I belong?

Posted: February 17, 2007 in Bangalore
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This blog is inspired by Anamika’s thoughts on Belonging

My life

  • Born in Kerala.
  • Moved to Mumbai, and then Bangalore.
  • Seven years in a boarding school in Panchgani. But, my parents and my holidays were in Bangalore. Sometimes, with my grandma in Mumbai.
  • Return to school in Bangalore.
  • High School in Mussoorie, holidays in Delhi.
  • College and the working life in Bangalore.
  • Brief interludes in London and Ahmedabad

So, where do I belong? And where is home? It’s a long convoluted story…

Kerala
It was the land of my birth and the state to which my parents trace their roots as far back as the collective memory of our ancestors takes us.

The first words I spoke were in Malayalam, and it was the only language that I could speak for the first few years of my life. Then, English took over.

And yet my connection with Kerala has never broken, albeit if the connection is a subconscious one.

Words and sentences in Malayalam had a way of mysteriously forming in my mind when they were required. This was unusual as Malayalam was never spoken around me (at home or at school or in my city) after the age of four.

I thought I had a deep love for ancient European architecture and spacious courtyards lined with trees. When I visited Kerala this year, I also realized that these are very typical of the Kerala landscape.

My favourite cuisine always has a dash of coconut – very typical of Malayalee food.

I am passionate about politics and I lean to the Left. I am also a great admirer of Malayalam cinema and literature.

And then there are my hair and my eyes… very typically Malayalee.

Finally, I am married into a Malayalee family, and for my wedding I walked down the aisle in a traditional Kerala sari. Incidentally, this had nothing to do with me marrying into a Malayalee family. I had always known that if I got married in a church, this was how I wanted to do it.

And yet I know that Kerala in not home or where I belong. It could be. But, it is not.

Mumbai
I first encountered Mumbai when I was four, and it is a city to which I keep returning. Besides Bangalore, if there is a city that I see as home, it is Mumbai.

My childhood was shared between Panchgani, Bangalore and Mumbai. I made the earliest and longest friendships of my life here. And Mumbai, like Bangalore, is a city where I grew up.

Mumbai is home to my mother’s family, and we (my mother’s family) still have a house here.

It was the city where I experienced my ‘first love’, albeit as a childhood crush 🙂

As a child, I’ve played cricket in the building and lagori on the beaches of Juhu.

I know and have celebrated all the festivals of Mumbai.

I can read and write in Marathi. I can also speak Hindi (and obviously read and write).

I love the monsoons.

I know my way around the city, and I can also handle the locals at ‘rush hour’.

I know my way around the shops. I’m also comfortable with the city’s supporting infrastructure.

The slums do not revolt me and neither do the crowds. For me, Mumbai is ‘Maximum City’ and I love its vibrancy.

I always feel completely safe here.

Today, I have more friends in Mumbai than in Bangalore (lots of my friends from Bangalore have moved to others cities). And many of these Mumbaikars seem to have almost always known me.

It is most definitely home, and yet I do not perceive myself to be a Mumbaikar. It is home, and yet I do not belong.

Panchgani, Mussoorie
My association with both these hillside towns is very similar. Their names bring back a beautiful and serene memory of childhood and adolescence. They are the towns of my two boarding schools.

To wake up surrounded by splendid peaks and the clear mountain air is a special experience, and I will always be greatful for it. Idyllic, surreal.

Yet, inspite of nostalgia akin to reverence associated with these two towns, I do not perceive myself as belonging to either Panchgani or Mussoorie. For it was the two institutions where I studied that defined me, and not the towns.

And so, this is not home. This is not where I belong.

London
London is the city where I did my Masters. It was convenient, fashionable and extremely cruel. There is perhaps no worse place to be down and out. Yet, I learnt my way about the city, and by the end of my stay here, I was quite at home.

You could have placed me in any corner of London, and I could find my way home. I even knew my way around Central London on foot.

I understood the cultures and the sub-cultures that make the city.

I knew my way around the tube, and I was also at home with the bus system.

I was at ease with most UK dialects.

At most times, I felt safe.

I got comfortable with the technology of the city and learnt how to use it to my advantage.

On the downside, it must be said that I did not make too many friends here and I hated the cold. Can you imagine living in a country where it never stops raining?

It was also my first experience of living in a racist world.

I could be at home at London. But, it can never be home or the place to which I belong.

Ahmedabad
After the dreariness of London, I loved Ahmedabad.

I made friends quickly and easily here.

I found a home.

I learnt to only communicate in Hindi – at work and play.

I enjoyed the colours, the clothes and the cuisine.

I explored the institutions and I celebrated the festivals.

I completed my Master’s thesis here.

It was a joyous vibrant experience, and yet it did not last long enough for me to belong or to ever look back on it as home. By the end of it I was at home here, except for the fact that I missed Bangalore.

Bangalore
My earliest conscious memories of home link me to this city. Early school, holidays, later school, growing up, college, my first job, my later jobs and marriage… All scattered over the 26 years when we first came to Bangalore.

But, that is not the reason why I see myself to be Bangalorean. The answer really lies elsewhere.

As a child, I fell in love with the gentle pace of life and the soft beauty that was Bangalore. The great Gulmohar trees that turned orange in a particular season. The soft wind of the morning. The spacious lanes (yes, they seemed spacious then), lined with beautiful houses. The names that seemed to be drawn out of Enid Blyton.

And in all the change over the last decade, Bangalore still possesses a beauty that never fails to move me deeply. Well, as they say beauty is in the eyes of the beholder and this is a great love affair.

But, that is not the reason why I see myself to be Bangalorean. The answer really lies elsewhere.

In my later school life, my early love for the city only grew stronger. Bangalore of the late 80s and early 90s was a great place to grow up. It was young, cosmopolitan and carefree. But, there was always enough for all, and the city never tried to reign you in or control you.

I came to know the city like the palm of my hand. I discovered its cultures, sub-cultures and its history.

In these years, I also discovered that I could write and I could dance. I explored music and I learnt to cycle. I also made many great friendships that would last a lifetime.

For me the city still has a definite character… It is young, vibrant, cosmopolitan and has a rich tradition in the arts and academics. Many of India’s great research institutions have always resided here. It is of strategic significance to the Indian military programme. It is the capital of Karnataka. And yes, it is also India’s Silicon Valley.

But, that is not the reason why I see myself to be Bangalorean. The answer really lies elsewhere.

When I finished my High School in Mussoorie, I chose to return to Bangalore (the other alternatives were Delhi and Mumbai) because my best friends were here and I could identify with the culture of the city. After three glorious years in Jyoti Nivas, I moved on to the working life and the city further entwined itself into my sense of identity.

In later life, when London was cold and lonely, I did not miss India. I missed Bangalore. And so, I returned home.

Today, 26 years after I first came to Bangalore, I find that…

  • It was in Bangalore that I discovered theatre.
  • There has always been an abundance of people around me with who I could discuss Literature.
  • Bangalore nurtured my great love for cinema.
  • I explored and discovered my kind of music amongst the city’s knowledgeable music lovers.
  • I also found my passion for dancing here.
  • The biking tradition of the city ensured that I was a bike rider.
  • India’s Silicon Valley was the beginning of my interest in the Internet.
  • I discovered Photography here and many willing fellow trekkers.
  • Bangalore gave me the freedom to be an Indian in India who thinks in English. Neither was I very conscious of being Christian (as does happen in some parts of India).
  • I always felt safe here. This gave me a confidence that I carried with me to other cities.
  • My best friends are Bangaloreans, whether they live in Bangalore or have moved to other cities.
  • My first book is also inspired by my early experiences in Bangalore.

Bangalore’s definitive character has truly played a role in defining the person that I am… And so I am Bangalorean. It is an emotional bond, and it is also an intellectual choice.

It is also true that home and belonging have changed over the years. So, this could also change tomorrow. But, this is how I feel today and how I have felt over the good part of the last decade.

Bangalore is home and the city where I belong

My favourite books

Posted: February 17, 2007 in Books

I am part of the Bangalore Book Club on Orkut, where one of the members asked a very difficult question. What are your ten favourite books?

Here’s what I said…
1. Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte
2. The Outsider – Albert Camus
3. The Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad
4. Things Fall Apart – Chinhua Achebe
5. Sherlock Holmes (I read this as the collected works of Arthur Conan Doyle)
6. The Lord of the Rings (Yes, I know it is not one book. But, it is one story) – J R R Tolkein
7. The Chronicles of Narnia – C S Lewis
8. Jonathan Livingstone Seagull – Richard Bach
9. Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl
10. To Kill a Mocking Bird – Harper Lee

Of course, the list also went with the following disclaimer:
“It’s a tough choice and I may have have forgotten some classics… The list may also change tomorrow… ”

Any comments, inclusions or other lists are welcome 🙂

A weekend, a morning

Posted: February 12, 2007 in Bangalore

My friend Supriya was down from Mumbai over the weekend for a friend’s wedding. It was a time when she was going to chill out, we were going to catch up and she was going to explore a little of Bangalore.

Supriya and I were flat mates when I was in Ahmedabad, and it’s been almost two years since we met. I was looking forward to this very much.

After Friday and Saturday at the wedding, we finally met up on Sunday morning. So, inspite of the tension of the Cauvery dispute brewing in the background and badly behaved auto rickshaw drivers, we decided that we were going to have a ‘Bangalore’ afternoon.

We were handicapped because Supriya had just her leg operated. So, anything that involved too much of walking was out the question. But, I guess when you are with friends, none of that matters.

Our first stop was Alliance Francaise. After a snack and time spent under the trees, we joined their documentary film festival for a very engaging film on Rwanda. We wanted to do more of that, but it was a little heavy for a holiday. So, we wandered off to Bombay Stores and ended up with an evening of jazz at Java City. Then, after a quick stop at Forum, where Manoj bravely handled a parking space that was ‘full’, we headed back home.

Her flight was to leave at 8:30 am on Monday morning and the Karnataka bundh loomed large ahead. So, we decided that we would beat the bundh and get to the Airport before 6 am (that was when the bundh was supposed to begin).

With the lights going out only at 1, we managed to get up at 5 and groggily made our way to the Airport. I was surprised to see that the roads were pretty busy. It seemed that other travellers had gotten the same idea – there were others who had also decided that they were going to beat the 6 am deadline. There were also the call centre vehicles that were heading to work (albeit unusually carefully) and I was surprised to see more than a couple of motorists laptops et al, obviously on their way to work. A couple of shops also had their shutters up for the shoppers who wanted to beat the bundh.

As we drove down Airport Road, there was already the first sign that all was not well with the world. A tire lay in the middle of the road simmering. But, there was not a pedestrian in sight. If the idea was to create panic, they were succeeding. As I looked at the smoke rising from the tire into the night sky, it was one of the few instances where I felt fear in my heart.

We reached the Airport to find that it was already quite full. We got Supriya into the queue and then we started back. By this time, it was already 6 am. As we drove out, I noticed a girl who had ridden to the Airport on her bike to drop her friend. They got her friend’s bag off her bike and hugged to say goodbye. There was that feeling of the friendship and the spunkiness that sometimes exists between women.

Back on Airport Road, we saw our first tire in flames on the road. Again, there was not a person in sight. There was just a tire burning. I realized that it had been a good idea to leave early.

A couple of hours later when I turned on the morning news, I heard about the protestors who had landed at the Airport. Again, I felt fear as I called Supriya. Thankfully, she had completed her security check by this time and was getting ready to board the plane. She did not know about the disturbance outside, and I did not tell her because I did not want to create panic. She told me that the Airport was like a ‘fish market’.

Throughout the day, I followed the TV to know that the Airport was alright. I was aware of the fact that my friend could so easily have been among those stranded passengers, and I felt very one with them. Each of them probably had friends and relatives somewhere who were very worried.

The good part… Inspite of all the things that went wrong, Supriya really liked Bangalore and enjoyed her time here. I think that sometimes Bangaloreans gets so disturbed by the changes around them that they lose out on the fact that this is still a very beautiful city. So, this time the story ended well for me

The bad part… The city was held to ransom yet again and that was very disturbing.

Whenever one mentions the names of Shabana Azmi, Smita Patil and Shyam Benegal together, one of the first films that comes to mind is Mandi. The film that was made in 1983 is often regarded as one of the finer moments in the history of parallel cinema in India. I finally got a chance to see the film over the last weekend.

It is always a difficult thing to view a masterpiece 20 years after it was released, the flaws are more apparent. This is true of Mandi too. The production values are not on par with international productions of the same period and the script at times seem too simplistic and the story often loses dramatic tempo. Some of the twists and turns that the film takes have the touch of the Bollywood cliche.

This apart, Mandi is a remarkable film even in the contemporary world. It takes the most human look at sex workers that I have ever seen. It wanders through Mumbai’s red light areas, bringing to the screen wonderful warm characters and an experience that is almost ‘Nukkad like’.

A lot has been said about the performance of Shabana Azmi (as Rukmini Bai) and Smita Patil (as Zeenat) in the film. But, the film actually brings together a galaxy of talented performers. Neena Gupta, Soni Razdan, Anita Kanwar, Ratna Pathak, Ila Arun, Naseeruddin Shah, Kulbhushan Kharbanda, Saeed Jaffrey, Om Puri, Pankak Kapur and Harish Patel are also a part of Mandi.

Each member of the cast plays their part admirably and the film does not to belong to any single actor. Here, the director has done a tremendous balancing act. In fact, you leave the cinema hall carrying some of the smaller actors with you. For me, these were Neena Gupta and Honey Irani.

The film’s title Mandi or Market place perhaps seeks to draw an allusion to the market where women sell their bodies. Interestingly, the film also has all the vibrance of a market place. But, amidst the laughter and the sense of pain, their director weaves in scenes of wrenching pain. The laughter serves to etch the somberness in your memory.

Women of Substance

Posted: February 5, 2007 in Life and Living

Sometime ago, Anamika wrote about her Women of Substance This got me thinking of the Women of Substance in my life, and I found that there were many of them.

There was…

* The lady who was wife to one husband, mother to seven children and grandmother/great grandmother to many more. Even when the money ran out, she always kept an impeccable home. In later life, when Parkinsons had rendered her a bedridden invalid, she remained as the gracious mighty oak to which her offspring would return to find their roots.
* The lady who sailed away on her own to a foreign country on a scholarship to study Literature. She was beautiful, intelligent, 29 and still single. In the 1960s, this was unthinkable.
* The lady who chose to live her life on her own terms…whether it was to pierce her nose when it was still taboo, light a cigarette in public or love the men of her choice. She accepted the pain of her choices, and as she grew older she always spoke with courage and openness of her mistakes.
* The lady who looked back at 60 years of her life and said, “I have no regrets.”
* The girl who had lost her mother and father before she turned 10. The girl who is now taller than me, and also a very successful woman in a career of her choice.
* The ladies who recognised that to be a teacher and a friend is not contradictory.
* The girls who did not change themselves so that they could belong in high school.
* The girls from orthodox conservative families who dared to find their own way and grew into the most unorthodox thinkers that I have met.
* The girls who always knew that they were equal to the boys.
* The girl with many dreams and who dared to chase them across countries and continents.
* The women who dared to love truly and passionately, each in their own fashion. There were the women who loved, and did not wait for their man to pop the question. There were the women who loved, were hurt, and still dared to love again. There were the women who loved, but saw the wisdom in letting go. Sometimes, they traveled across continents for love, and still dared to turn back when they knew that they had been mistaken. They gave it all up for love and they didn’t.
* The women who did not shirk responsibility. They looked after their parents, educated their siblings, got their sister’s married and played single mother. In one particular case, there was one special woman who did all of that.
* The women who got down into ditches or took on ranting shop owners to protect animals (primarily dogs)
* The women who confidently led teams. Some of them even handled departments.
* The women who donned multiple hats – efficient professional, dependable wife and caring mother.
* The women who did not wait for the rich husband to make their money, travel or buy a house.
* The woman who knew she could only be a journalist and became one.
* The woman who threw up a successful career, and went to follow her calling. She made a slow and painful transition to a radio channel of her choice
* The intelligent young woman who decided that she would work for conservation. She chose to be an Environmental Biologist, when most people still hadn’t heard of the term.
* The women who knew that it was okay to be single, and who would marry only for love.
* The women of conscience who never lost a sense of gratefulness to life. They always wanted to ‘give back’ to the world around them.
* The women who have always been my phenomenal friends.