Oct 23, 2011

Ra.One: Needle for Naysayers

First, the fact that an 'intellectual' minority is aggrieved and agitated by the thunderous promotional spree that Ra.One is currently on, ascertains that the film and its makers are moving in the right direction. Promotions, after all, are not just to woo your core target audience and the concurring lines surrounding them, but also to shock, infuriate and startle those 'select few' who would never wish you good luck, come what may. These 'critics' (the term has lost all its dignity off late) are not just pessimists, sadists and frustrated but are also driven by a biased notion that has no rational foundation. They see a film through a prism of prejudice and presumption. Presumption that they have the right to discard and disintegrate someone's hard work, devotion and dream. So, going by the kind of uneasiness film's trailers and its massive promotions has created amongst the 'cynics', Ra.One is well on its course to hop on a sky-penetrating rocket, this Diwali.

Second, charming, hard working and successful men have always aroused strong emotions of jealously and hatred amongst others. Shah Rukh Khan, apart from all the above mentioned qualities, also possesses a very sharp tongue and a brilliant mind. This makes him a thorn in flesh for those who can not withstand dazzle of a star or shine of a diamond. When the otherwise subtle Aamir Khan went into promotional overdrive for his films Ghajini and Three Idiots, it was termed as the 'stroke of a genius'. But, when SRK, the father of all promotions and marketing extravaganza, promotes Ra.One, it's being called a gimmick. Why the cynics forget that Aamir's promotional drive was inspired, if not imitated, from Shah Rukh Khan School of Economics? When an Aamir can cut hair in salon, travel across India in disguise, why can't SRK visit major cities for promotion, or launch a happy meal at McDonald's?

It is ridiculous how quickly the naysayers change their colors. I wonder, they would beat chameleons, if a 3C ('Color Changing Competition) was ever held in this world. For them, Ra.One's first teaser (April) was 'naive' and way too ambitious for someone like SRK. They stayed up whole night google-ing similarities between Ra.One and superhero flicks from West. Their response to Chammak Challo (the leaked version) was cautious. They could not quash the efforts of a well-known international singer. According to them, it was 'OK', but they again blamed Khan for leaking the music on the net!

From the first one-minute teaser to the recent post-Dusshera trailer, the reactions of naysayers have changed from 'Ra.One-is-going-to-be-biggest-disaster-ever' types to 'Special-Effects-look-good-and-anyways-its-Hindi-cinema-which-will-benefit-in-the-longer-run' . Why do cynics always jump to conclusions? Why can not they give a chance to someone who has invested his soul in some project? Every moviegoer reserves the right to love/hate Ra.One post its release. But to deride a film and efforts of an actor, well before its display, smacks of jealousy. Or lets say, it indicates how resentfully or painfully they are desirous of someone's advantages and gains.

Ok, let's not waste more words on naysayers. I will just drop some hints/identifications, that would help you recognize such creatures and beware of them. Because, cinema, after all, demands your reactions, and your reactions must be free of influences.

  • These people would, in all probability, experience orgasms while watching an Aamir Khan film.
  • Their reaction to Salman Khan's Dabangg or Bodyguard would be 'he is like this only, what else do you expect?' or 'he is a mass entertainer who makes masala films'. They would not criticize Salman's filmography, come what may. (They fear rebuttal from massive fan following of the muscular Khan)
  • Psuedo-intellectuals that they are, they would only appreciate Shah Rukh Khan's Swades or may be 'kabhi haan Kabhi Naa'.
  • They would tell you not to trust film critics. They will give you their numbers. 'Call me before going for a movie.'
  • They will comfortably shuffle between critical and commercial aspects of a film to determine its success. The shuffle is entirely their discretion, so collections are relevant for '3 Idiots' or even 'Bodyguard' but not for 'Om Shanti Om'.
  • They will have no concrete reason to hate Shah Rukh Khan, but still they will hate him. They find it 'cool'. 
  • If they will fall short of logic while debating about SRK, they will mention Karan Johar.
  • These people would watch K3G, DDLJ, RNBDJ on weekends but never admit it.
  • And lastly, if you manage to win over them and force them to admit all the above mentioned 'traits', they would switch to Hollywood. Sigh.
Films and actors are not just about fans and non-fans. There must be a line that separates criticism from cynicism , dislike from grudge and lies from truth. Ra.One may or may not be a great film. But decide only after you watch it. Be honest to those 200 odd bucks that you spend, to that 70 mm screen that you so often look up to and to that 45-year old man who has been entertaining you for the last 2 decades.

P.S.: This is neither a 'Hate Post' nor a 'Fan Post'. I call it the 'Needle Post'. Needle for the Naysayers.

Oct 18, 2011

When a Nation Churns

As children, most of us were exposed to those fantastic mythological tales in which 'good' mostly triumphed over the evil and the sanctity of the Almighty was restored. One such fascinating Pauranik story involved churning (समुद्र मंथन) of the Great Ocean of Milk (क्षीर सागर). The Great Churning was meant to consolidate the Devas and extract the 'nectar of immortality' from the ocean. The churning also symbolized the periodic 'clean-up' action undertaken by the nature, under the supervision of Almighty, to get rid of all the undesired elements and enrich itself with precious new endowments.

Now, the story may seem outlandish and way too unrealistic for us to digest. But as is the case with most of the Vedic scriptures and rituals, this story too has a very real and special connect with the current times. We need not go too far to find the churning analogy, the churn has begun, right under our nose, in our own backyard. Yes, India as a nation is tantalizingly poised to set foot into a new era. No, this is neither about our superpower obsession nor about UNSC seat fixation. This is about a nation that is getting rid of all its political, bureaucratic rust and demanding a 'change'.

Its only for the second time since independence (the first instance being the JP Movement) that the collective conscience of the nation seems to be awakened. Or at least, there are some people asking questions. There are debates over laws and bill drafts, calls are being made to amend the constitution. We have taken things lying down for most of the part of the history. After the first battle for independence in 1857, it took us almost another 100 years for becoming free. I wonder if it was not for stubbornness of a semi-naked man, India would have easily consumed some more time in getting independent. 

Even after being a 60-Year old, well-functioning democracy, we have forgotten to exercise our basic right. The right to ask questions. We have accepted the system the way it is. Our actions are routine, endorsing and always subscribing to the 'majority'. It is in this regard that the current scenario in India holds immense significance. Finally, there is a nation-wide debate over passing of a law, people are getting agitated about issues and patience seems to be running out. All these developments many appear dangerous on face value but one needs to take a closer look to examine them.

Anarchy is definitely not the best gift for a democratic country but absolute order is not good either. India was way too docile, its citizens way too passive in that regard. Hardly half of us vote in the elections, we take terror attacks in our stride, cry after loosing a cricket match and get back to work the next morning (for those who work). We had lost our volatility, zeal and had forgotten the immense potential we possess, in the process. We became used to corrupt politicians, non-functional governments, roads with potholes and electricity cuts. We stopped asking questions, seeking reforms and looking at the future. Our leaders had already set the future for us: India Superpower by 2020.

But the Windfall seems to have arrived. And a part of the credit must go to the team of social activists, led by Anna Hazare, who gave a kind of shock therapy to the nation. Suddenly, we appreciate the power our sticks wield. We want debates over issues, policies and laws. There is a will to shake-up the system, to make it more efficient, transparent and public-friendly. The churning is on its way.The battle is now not just against corruption, it transcends to issues such as electoral reforms, land acquisition, Kashmir, state reorganization and many more. Lets look at some examples:
  • A so far non-political 'team' campaigns against the ruling Congress in a Haryana by-poll and contributes to the party's candidate's drubbing. Remember those Bollywood dialogues: 'Agar system to badalna hai toh isi system mein reh ke kaam karna hoga'. The team is enthused. And I am sure this is not going to be their last political engagement.
  • For the first time in more than a decade, the country is debating over its future Prime Minister. Their seems to be a dislike for anything 'old'. Advani is being ridiculed in most quarters, praised in some for his undying energy. There seems to be a race for the 7 Race Course Road, a healthy one. Rahul Gandhi is the pin-up boy whose bottom we love to pinch. Not to forget other challengers like Narendra Modi and dark horses like Nitish Kumar. Every politician suddenly knows that politicking is no more about fooling people. They are watching their steps, tongue and all other body parts. The electorate is suddenly at the higher pedestal.
  • Over last one year, a series of corruption cases have been exposed. While the magnitude of these scams is troubling, the exposure has shocked the political class and rocked the boats of the corporates. Heavyweights are being sent to jail, this is the season of resignations. All these developments set a great precedent and will act as deterrents for those who like to play with gray shades.
  • There is intense debate over 'Right to Reject'. The Chief Election Commissioner of India has brought out some valid points against the proposed move. Those who are demanding this clause in citizen's Right to Vote will definitely respond. This is the essence of a functioning democracy. As free and aware citizens, we must know how to ask and engage. 

    It is this environment of engagement, involvement and debate that Indian democracy always needed. It needed activism on part of its citizens, concern on part of its politicians. All of this churning will keep the government on its toes and the opposition on its mark. Change, Reform and other such loaded words are not so loaded after all. All we need is a bit of urgency and sensibility. India awaits its transformation from a sluggish, promising, developing country into a brisk, developed and awakened nation.

    Each one must do his/her bit. Know more, ask more, do more. Are you in?

    Oct 10, 2011

    Advani’s Last Throw of the Dice

    Political Commentary

    India’s eternal Prime Minister-in-waiting, BJP’s old warhorse L.K. Advani, is all set to embark on yet another Rath Yatra. His latest Yatra bandwagon aspires to ride on the popular public resentment against corruption. Taking a leaf out of veteran social activist Anna Hazare’s book, Advani will travel across the country to express his solidarity with the anti-corruption sentiment that is sweeping the nation.

    Advani’s desire to reside in 7, Race Course Road is an open secret. After being snubbed by Indian voters in 2009, most pundits expected him to silently walk into the sunset. However, despite relinquishing the post of Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha, Advani could not really keep himself away from active politics. Hence, the proposed Yatra seems to be an effort on Advani’s part to assert his ‘leadership’ in the party, specially when BJP is struggling to find a credible leader out of a host of ‘wannabes’.

    Advani’s sudden announcement of the anti-corruption Rath Yatra has surprised political experts, his own party and the ruling congress. The move is also being seen as a last-ditch effort by the octogenarian leader to stake his claim to BJP Prime Ministerial Candidature in the 2014 General Elections. Advani’s decision to embark on a Yatra has reportedly not gone down well with BJP’s Gen Next leaders. Officially though BJP has voiced full support to the veteran’s Yatra, calling him party’s ‘tallest’ leader. However, Advani, being a seasoned politician, has kept his cards close to the chest by not ruling himself out of the PM race so far.

    It will also be interesting to see how Advani justifies this Yatra specially after some BJP leaders themselves are reeling under allegation of corruption of great magnitudes. From Ramesh Pokhriyal in North to Yedduirappa in South, BJP woes seem to compounding with each passing day. The motives behind the Yatra will surely be intriguing for the common man, who seems to have developed a bitter taste for anything political these days.

    The Congress Party has expectedly slammed Advani’s proposed Yatra, reminding him that the nation is yet to come out of the repercussions of his first Yatra. However, at this stage of his political career, Advani is not really expected to arouse sentiments similar to Rath Yatra on Ayodhya Issue.

    Whatever be the eventual outcome of his Yatra, Adavni has at least managed to hog limelight in this ongoing anti-corruption campaign. The BJP will both keep an eye on Advani’s moves and expect to reap dividends out of this latest crusade against corruption. Party feels that its own anti-corruption movement against the government has lost steam after Anna Hazare and his team took over the stage. Hence, Advani’s Yatra may revive BJP’s own anti-corruption agenda and give it a much-needed ‘face’ to take on the government. After all, Advani’s personal integrity is untainted and he still commands lot of respect among the BJP cadres.

    However, despite the prospects of gaining some political mileage out of the Yatra, BJP is worried about an impending ‘leadership’ struggle within the party. Now after Narendra Modi has been given a breather by the Supreme Court in the Riots Case, the race for BJP’s Prime Ministerial Candidate has gained further momentum. So, BJP’s immediate goal is to piggyback on Advani’s Yatra politics, wrest back the anti-corruption campaign from Team Anna and put forward a united face in front of the nation.

    Advani finds himself at crossroads of a long-cherished dream, political realities and fortunes of a party that he meticulously built along with others like Vajpayee. His true motive behind taking up yet another Yatra may never be known but India will be keenly watching the outcome of what seems to be the Veteran Leader’s last throw of the dice. 

    Oct 7, 2011

    Jobs' Demise Bares the Digital Divide

    Steve Jobs is no more. 56 is definitely not the age to head heavenwards, but even the supposed 'Greatest Inventor' since Thomas Edison, could not really persuade God to listen to some more music on iPod before descending down on earth to take him away. Technology, after all, can not alter the inevitable.

    The global mourning over the death of Apple co-founder has highlighted some very interesting facts. The event has divided the global population in three distinct chunks or bites (we may say so with reference to 'Apple'). The much talked about Digital Divide was on full display yesterday as the news of Steve's death trickled across various media.

    One, most aggrieved people are those who are the beneficiaries of Jobs' revolutionary vision on technology. They belong to the 'elite' class, the tech-obsessed generation, the ones who sleep with their iPods on. Two, close on the heels of this section is an even larger pool of people, which aspires to make it to the first category. They are quintessential 'middle-class' with their eyes set on the 'elite'. This section might not have used any Apple product till date or may not know much about Jobs but would behave as if his death is their personal loss. These people would wail and whine, mostly online, pay glowing tributes to the erstwhile Apple CEO, using creative expressions such as iMiss and iSad. Before you, as a reader make any wrong impression about me and think I am belittling Jobs' contribution or making fun of people who paid tribute to him, let me make two things clear. I, myself, belong to the second category and I have greatest respect for the man who was the best CEO of our times, to put it in the best possible way.

    Lets talk about the third category of people now. This is the largest chunk of human civilization that knows only one apple and that is red in color (sometimes green). They do not know who Steve Jobs is, they do not have access to the internet, they do not know whats 'trending'. As netizens churned out one creative status updates and tweets after the other, this section was busy in its own world. After all, most celebrations, mourning, revolutions and war are, now a days, formulated and fought online. The 'elite' takes up the subject, the 'middle class' cashes on it and the media generalizes it as thumb rule or 'pulse' of the nation. Take up today's leading Hindi and English Dailies, the glaring Digital Divide, that the genius Jobs so wanted to bridge, would stare you in face. A TOI would dedicate two full pages to Jobs' death other than the front page, a 'Nayi Duniya' would sum up Jobs in a box.

    Yes, Jobs was a great entrepreneur, an unparalleled CEO and an extremely talented technocrat. But saying that he was the greatest inventor since Edison, is taking things too far. All that Jobs invented in his lifetime was a touch-enabled music pad, a phone and a tab. All these three Apple products are more of innovations than inventions. Do we pay similar tributes to those who invented phones or music systems for that matter? Do we know who invented the Walkman? Apple, after all, is a billion-dollar firm that makes consumer products. iPod, iPad and iPhones are consumer products, may be better than their contemporaries, but certainly do not qualify as inventions that revolutionized the world. Having a thousand songs in your pocket is cool but nothing changes if you have say just 80 songs! Apple makes luxury products, products that make our lives easier. But, these products do not change our lives. It's understandable when Obama pays tribute to his nation's leading innovator or Zuckerberg and Gates say good things about their rival, but that online frenzy over Jobs' death is, well, a little baffling.

    Steve Jobs was a visionary, a hard taskmaster and an able CEO. With a life & career full of ingredients of a Hollywood Potboiler, Jobs was and will be part of the popular culture. His ultimate goal was to bridge that huge Digital Divide in which he succeeded to an extent. But he is no way near the Edisons and the Newtons. Bulb and gravity are far more deeply embedded in our lives than Apple products. 

    Kudos Steve for making a difference, taking that first step. Hopefully, one day our sorrows and joys would not be divided. The world would be unanimous in identifying and hailing the genius.