Friday, May 30, 2008

What’s wrong with people?

Today I saw the new Indiana Jones movie. Frankly speaking I am disappointed. Of course, my expectations were high. Well, you have every right to expect good things from the Spielberg-Lucas-Ford combination. They have worked before. But it seems that not all formulae are fool-proof. Watching the movie I had the same impression I have been having with quite a few movies these days. The days of good old-fashioned stunts are gone. All we have are bunches of (seamless) special effects. CGI has taken over. Yes, now effects are mind-blowing, film-makers are being able to what no one ever had imagined. But there seems to have begun a competition of fantasy. Each and every film must out-do some other in terms of sheer action. The end result is, my opinion strictly, instead of superhuman (but human nevertheless) heroes and heroines, now we have inhuman (cold, softwarish) images. With that comes a host of other problems. The old Indy movies were irreverent, funny, mysterious and above all intelligent. Spectacle without a strong plot is – even Aristotle knew – something of a disaster.

I am a big fan of the old Star Wars movies. They are sci-fi, they are a fairy-tale shifted to stars. They are full of effects. But they are warm, human. When a stunt-(wo)man is doing something, even with all the illusion, all the effects, all the precautions, it has a faint touch of reality. One can somehow associate/aspire to that. But when it is a cold computer image doing the impossible it ceases to have a soul (could not think of a better word at the moment, with due apologies to Mr Asimov). Star Wars Episode III made me sick, because 90% of the film was digital. When I saw the new Superman I was duly impressed. But when I compare it to the old one (Christopher Reeve proved that he was in life a superman) I miss the wow factor. Playing the role of old Clarke Kent was tough. They had to hang the actors with wires and do all sorts of things to them. Now a blue screen is more or less is gone. Where is the credit? Pretty soon CGI would take place of actors – forgive me, if you have seen Final Fantasy then you know they already have started to do so.

I know I am old-fashioned. Give me a romance like Casablanca any day, or give me an action-thriller like Dirty Harry, even give me a sci-fi like Outland – but give me men and women. It does not have to be mushy (or pissy) human interest story. It can be trash (the latest Die Hard struck a good balance), it can be anything. But it should have the digital as a tool, not as the USP. Thank God Indian cinema are still tech-wise a little backward. Good old Akshay Kumar (why does he steal Thums Up bottles? I thought he had a good career and was earning enough!) can jump to his heart’s content. Fans like me can actually be impressed. Incidentally, a 70 year old Harrison Ford did some stuff which, at half his age, I would be hard-pressed to do!

Bit of a spoiler so don’t read on if you are planning to watch Kingdom of the Crystal Skull – but I think it is high time that Lucas and Spielberg grow out of their obsession with those typical Lucas+Spielberg alien types. Close Encounters of the Third Kind was boring enough. E.T. was cool. Even War of the Worlds impressed more than the other disaster movies. But even there the digital rules. Christopher Nolan thankfully has the right idea. He uses CGI only when required. In his Batman Begins he actually tied a Stunt Man to the top of a building. See Ironman – Robert Downey Jr takes the whole thing to a different level. He takes nothing very seriously, not even being Ironman. That touch was there in Ford. The casual swagger, the weakness for the hat, sometimes a bit of overconfidence – here he is not given that chance. Neither is Cate Blanchett. She is probably the saving grace of the movie. But she has no counterpoint. The only point of interest could have been Henry Jones Junior Junior. In this respect Superman Returns scores better. But that is the trend now. Preparing the path for the next generation. Nothing wrong with that. But it should be done properly. It should be done entertainingly.

There is nothing wrong with people, and with people-like qualities. A human touch is always welcome. The digital should not replace the human.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Those Who Do

I don’t know her name. I have met her quite a few times, but I have never asked! There are places where you can’t really socialize beyond a point. Since the owner of the Press calls her Madam, I call her Madam too. She calls me Sir. Such mutual polite political correctness is quite rare in these days. How old is she? Around 40 would be my guess. She is small, unimpressive, not exactly a brilliant typist. But she is special.

I was working on some journal or the other. This particular Press is famous for its product quality, honesty, and unbelievable prices. The one single problem is that it is short of space, it is a two-seater, hence short of staff. So whenever there is a deadline, it becomes the client’s privilege to do much of the work in the Press sitting alongside our friend the owner or if before 5 p.m. alongside this lady. It was one such occasion.

It is difficult not to talk especially if you are sitting two feet away from another person for an hour or so. She casually said that she will leave early. I nodded. Not my problem – that probably was my reaction. I was deeply pressed for time. A lot was to be done. After an interval she told me that she has to go home early because she has brought a small one home. Very unsure of what she meant I managed to look interested. Words in such situations are more of an embarrassment than help. I have Mr. Pinter to thank for this little bit of insight. I think she was looking for approval, perhaps even applause. I don’t blame her. What she had done was worth it. Encouraged by my fascinated face she told me that she had named the child something. So it was a child. Now my problem was what “brought a child home” meant! Was it her’s or was it brought? She answered me without being questioned.

Apparently the child was born of a woman of very low financial stature. Her husband had died after she had conceived and was in a period when abortion is not advisable. She had no standing of any kind, and did not know what to do. It was not a difficult choice for Madam. She went there and legally adopted the baby. No hesitation. Not that she was in a much more comfortable position moneywise. What was even more surprising was her mother-in-law’s out and out support. Apparently she had said that their blood was of no royal stock, so who cares if the baby is born of her son or of her daughter-in-law! There were some more pearls of wisdom, in the nature of fraternity of mankind, but they are the ones you would expect. Madam frankly told me that they might have been able to afford treatment; her problem was not so great. But why waste so much money! That money will now come in handy, the baby can now be properly educated.

How many people spend how much money on similar problems? I am not for once saying that they should not. Motherhood is a right that I firmly believe in. Fatherhood, of course, is a whole different affair. As a wise friend often says that children may or may not be Mama’s Babies, but they are always Papa’s Maybes! I have a very good friend (and a very good writer) to thank for this bit of angst.

I actually did not know what to say to Madam. This left me silent. I suppose this is how we learn everyday, from every surprising corner.

No morals. Just life.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Kyunki Cricket Bhi Kabhi Sports Tha
Because Cricket was Once a Sport

The soapy situation of a crooked sister-in-law or a vicious mother-in-law slapping the (proto?)typical daughter-in-law might reflect a not-so-bloated social state, but it never has had anything to do with cricket. Cricket has always been hailed as the game of the gentleman. But recent trends, of course, show otherwise. Not only in the non-gendered way. Aunts weren't gentlemen, but cricketers were! It has become a game of violence, even worse, it has become an Indian reality show.

Once upon a time there was a sport called Professional Wrestling. Not only the WWF or TNA or such stuff, history says that even India had its ‘pro’ version. Anyone who has seen the modern version of this so-called sport with eyes open would know how unreal the entire thing is. It has become the great American show, with ‘show-men’ and ‘show-women’. It is all about spectacle, skin, sex and violence, emotion and words – not much time or skill left for wrestling, is there? I must apologize here. Wrestling is very much there, even if it is just an excuse to do all the other things and bring in the money. There are peculiar and apparently death-giving blows exchanged. Reaction-time for these fellows is remarkably slow as the whole thing depends a lot on live audience. Why take the unnecessary 'replay' hazards when the performers can slow down a bit for the spectators’ advantage!

My question was what was/is wrong with cricket itself? Wasn’t tickets selling, wasn’t media rights being viciously fought over? Why is it that in order to draw the crowd there has to be busty cleavages? Excuse me, thanks to morally conscious ministers, you get to see only lusty hippages – sorry, hip-shakings or should I say hip-hoppings (I still think busty cleavages and lusty hippages go rather well together). Not that I have anything against such entertainment. Freedom of (s)expression and stuff has always been my favourite cause.

Shah Rukh Khan said that he wanted to give the crowd the multiplex experience. If you want the multiplex experience go to the multiple multiplexes there are, why come to the cricket ground! People who are entertained by such things can have such things elsewhere. They can have celluloid versions of teasing dance ‘item’ numbers. Nobody seems to be bothered by them, but the culture-vultures will take up arms whenever there is a mini-skirt or tight t-shirt (perhaps with multiple windows) on a real live woman! In all the protests everywhere all the focus is on the cheer-leaders, nobody is bothered about the game. Strangely enough, this is one occasion where a section of the crowd needs the cheerers, not the game!

It is not as if the game was money-starved. Cricket is the richest game in India. There are so many economically and politically (never sportingly) lesser games which could have used the extra attention and would have been enriched financially and popularity-wise. But money draws money, and money also draws some other creatures too. We all know the golden rule – he who has the gold rules. Manoj Kumar had sung (rather lip-sync-ed) about how his country soil is a giver of gold. His agricultural idea has been taken up by the current minister. He of course is not interested in the soil, only in the gold.

The advertisements for the Kolkata Knight Riders are the slickest. They are also the sickest. They show no respect for the game, no respect to the ideals of sportsperson spirit. Aggression added to vulgar boorishness with a handsome sprinkling of money is the ingredient for destruction of all things civilized. These ads promise exactly that. Sense of humour is one thing, being cool is another, but being abusively distasteful is completely beyond boundaries. However, the fact that advertisements do not promote performance, thankfully, is proved!

When I saw a certain Southern Bowler playing for a Northern city crying in the field, all I could say was Change the Channel please. Thank God for remote controls!

Friday, May 23, 2008

The Indian Race

With the Punjab XI cheerleaders allegedly called niggers, an issue has come up which is not only uncomfortable, but one that infrequently surfaces. We Indians are the first to jump in whenever there are racial issues concerned, but my experience shows that we are the biggest racial minds wherever/whenever. I am not even referring to the obvious Harijan, Dalit or such deliberate bracketings. Everyone with an iota of sense can appreciate how segments of the populace, through a simple nomenclature, have been re-turned into what they always were! Perhaps a bit more. Untouchables are very much a fact of India still; those who sit in Ivory Towers (less than 5% of the masses) may have misconceptions, but we the 95% know it well. We the 100% practice it anyway – the exceptions are exceptional and constitute some 0.03% which statistically does not count anyway. So whether you read a novel called The Untouchables or The God of Small Things or see movies like Sadgati or Bhavni Bhabai does not really matter. You are in the racial thick of things.

Our response to black skin is curious. When thinking of an American how many of us would visualize someone with “coloured” skin? How many of us fantasize about black women? I am talking about normal (value-added term of course) non-SM or such erratic (again value loaded) erotic workings of the mind. The glamorous term ‘Foreigner’ connotes white skin. Of the many failed foreign actresses flooding Bollywood – can you imagine one with a slightly darker skin? Would the noble savage of Lagaan have such chemistry with the white lady if she was not white? Would we be so glad when she was refused? That, of course, is because it smelt of sweet revenge – the anger/attraction at lack of melanin!

When I was in England I came across many Indians. (As a matter of fact in London every third person only is British!) Actually I was forced to come across many Indians. I was not overtly willing because I get to come across Indians all the time in India, so I wanted to come across more of English people who are not that frequent here at home for obvious reasons. The only Englishman I know from Kolkata and am very fond of – the poet Joe Winter – has left. He lives in London now. The only India I was fond of in Norwich has also left, he is in Australia now! Anyway, these Indians, living in England for the last 20 odd years (or should I say living off England?) all bask in the glory of India. Though they would not life a finger to do anything constructive – forget the generous NRI investor, they invest for profits, not patriotism – yet they would endlessly discuss India. Of course, you can say the same about Indians in India do the same thing. I guess so. But at least they do not hold British Passports, they do not earn money in £s, they do not pay tax to the Brit government! Forgive me for this is digression. What was so striking about them was their racialism – they hate everything but themselves. “The Brits are degenerate. The Pakis are a menace. The blacks are less than human. The Muslims are despicable. The other Indians without money are of no consequence.” These are the ideas that most of these people carry (again statistics would show the 99.07 : 0.03 ratio).

Coming back to the cheerleaders, is it so surprising that these two were insulted? I was surprised to see them in the first place. Happily, of course (I must add hastily). I am among those who drool over Beyonce or Gabriel Union or Jennifer Freeman. Again I must hastily add that I drool because they probably want me to do so – why else should they do what they do! Having said all of this, considering our mindset, when the comparison is between cheerleaders of the Bangalore team and these girls, albeit unfairly, who will win?
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