Saturday, December 19, 2009

Something to 'Paa'nder on

Saw ‘Paa’ yesterday. I confess to being disappointed, not because I was expecting too much out of the film but because I did not expect so little.

Okay, I did not think the film would generate the same kind of interest around Progeria the way ‘Taare Zameen Par’ did around Dyslexia. Audience turnout was enough evidence of that. After watching the film, I understood exactly why ‘Paa’ could not and would not be classed in the same category as ‘Taare Zameen Par’.

‘Paa’ is caught up in its own compulsions. It has a sincere core but its execution is, for want of a better word, childish. Was the script sacrificed for commercial gains? What else would explain the almost tedious first half, which the director uses only to establish Amol Arte, the young Member of Parliament and the father of the unfortunate Auro, in such a manner as to make the audience forget what made them buy the ticket to this film in the first place? Balki uses up all of the first half of the film merely establishing Abhishek Bachchan’s credentials as an actor, doing little else as regards to storytelling, building up other characters and indeed, getting its own act together as regards what the message of the film really is.

Another blunder: too many sub-plots. It is all okay to develop the other side of a politician’s profile – the non-corrupt, sincerely-trying-to-help society one – but not at the expense of storytelling. Balki dwells at length on such issues as poverty, the grimy underbelly of politics, encroachment of government lands by slum dwellers, slum rehab, how the young ‘uns of the country have a lot to teach us all, single motherhood and most of all, how the media influences and shapes opinions without investigating the context of an issue. All of this, in an exercise to build up Amol Arte the Politician. Meanwhile, Auro appears in brief flashes, and so does his long-suffering mum. While I’m okay with the idea of tackling many issues at once, I’m not okay with certain biases that the director (who is also the writer of this story) inadvertently reinforces instead of dispelling through the very issues he tackles from a politician’s perspective.

Two minus points to Balki for the unwarranted media-bashing. I would expect a media personality such as Balki to successfully portray a balanced perspective on the media, and not join the circus where other storytellers (who scarcely know any better) pull out their boxing gloves on journalism in an effort to win wolf-whistles from the (largely uneducated) audience. Nishikant Kamat did it in ‘Mumbai Meri Jaan’ and in such a grossly lying fashion, I wanted to slap him. Balki would have done well to go one up and portray the truth, ie while a lot of media personalities and houses do have very corrupt elements that need to be thrashed publicly, there are a lot more journalists who are truthful, ethical and who are committed to the cause of honest journalism, no matter the cost.

Also, and this is criminal oversight, Balki does not much develop the character of Auro himself, the star of the story. Sure we get glimpses into the child’s personality, but I would credit that to superior acting and not to mature scripting. Amitabh Bachchan’s biggest victory as Auro is in making the audience forget who the actor behind the greasepaint is. Shah Rukh Khan would do well to study this character, and I’m not being sarcastic. For a man who has spent all his life literally towering over everyone else , it is no mean feat to be adorable and sharp simply as a twelve-year-old. Not once does Mr Bachchan come across as a 67-year-old playing a 12-year-old, which would have just been pathetic. I LOVED how Amitabh Bachchan invented a new personality, minus the trademark baritone, the graceful walk, the dignified expression.

Most importantly, and minus five points, the film does nothing to address Progeria. Okay, nobody wants a documentary on the subject, but how about showing us what the disease actually means for the sufferer and his family? It seems that the director forgets what he started out to show after the disclaimer on Progeria was flashed on the screen before the film began. The film only has brief moments where Auro suffers from breathlessness, collapses after exertion and even some dialogues where the child acknowledges the little life he has left. Apart from this, and when viewed in totality, the film could have had a child uniting his estranged parents under completely different circumstances – such as the child could be suffering from another disease – and I would not notice the difference.

Nope, I’m not happy. But oh, Vidya Balan, how beautiful you are! And Arundhati Naag, why do you not do more Hindi films?

Friday, December 18, 2009

Enough, already

For a city bloodied enough already, a year and a few days later, one misguided youth is still bleeding the wound.

Ajmal Amar Kasab stated in court today that he had nothing to do with the 26/11 attacks. That he had been taken into custody days before the strikes. That he had no idea which rubber dinghy or which AK-57 he was supposed to have been associated with. That he had been framed and that he had actually come to India on a visa because he wanted to try his luck in Hindi films. Read the prosecution's take on the issue here.

Which would all have made for a good defence, if it had come at the start of the trial and not before.

Kasab started the year-long trial with arrogance. Then he went from being cocky to subdued, sometimes appearing uncomfortable if a particular witness not just identified him but wished for the harshest punishments possible for him. Is this an attempt to end the saga of the world's longest and most horrific terror strike on a bang of a different kind?

I'm trying to be rational about the fact that this trial, with all its witnesses and a terrorist captured ALIVE, has taken this long even to reach its summation stages. At times I feel pride in our democracy, because it gives each person a chance to have a say in the course of justice. And then a man who came with nine others to my city to kill and kill some more shows me and everyone else just why he should probably not have been tried fairly.

Today, I felt remorse about being rational.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Water trouble

The ongoing water crisis in Mumbai city seems to have shaken the civic administration hard. The husband tells me, being a BMC reporter who's covered Asia's richest civic body for a long time now, that the lack of rains this year shook one big belief prevalent in the BMC's hydraulic department - that the rains shall not ditch us. Not now, not ever.

Of course, the city's water supply and distribution system is remarkable. I would confidently say that no other city in the country has an efficient supply network like ours. And besides, despite the hue and cry over thousands of taps already running dry in the metropolis (and what shall we do in the summer months, gulp!) you can't really blame the BMC for lesser water, can you?

Where the administration does falter is on letting water be provided illegally. On not keeping close tabs on thefts and leakages. On not monitoring the tanker lobby. On allowing restaurants to serve tall glasses of water, most of which is thrown away. On letting swimming pools pump in water when the rest of us are left wondering how to wash our clothes and store enough to drink and cook. And most importantly, the BMC is not penalising misuse.

Lady in the flat opposite mine washes her windows EVERY day using a jet of running water. She does not use a wet wipe, like a decent person with half an obligation to be more careful with her water usage, would. Those complaining about lesser water continue to wash their cars and plants with drinking water. Some bastards are bathing twice, even shaving twice a day. It is a statement on us as a society when we carefully watch our power consumption because we are billed on a pay-per-use mode, but our water usage does not meet the same considerations.

High time the BMC installed water meters for each house. The current rates for consumption are the same irrespective of the numbers of people residing in a house. Hence, a family of three gets billed Rs 130 per month or thereabouts for water usage and the flat above theirs, which has TEN people in it forever bathing, cooking and flushing, also get billed the same amount. I would pay that much whether I had one person in my house or 100, and that's laughable. Water meters would instantly check the gross misuse and the disgusting mentality that water is a rightfully-earned entity to waste and throw about with impunity.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Let us remove your shorts

That was the tagline for a company offering electricians. It may well be the temporary motto for the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), which, if The Times, UK, is to be believed, is set to shed its uniform and its staid image. Read the report by Jeremy Page here.

This comes 84 years after the RSS' inception. It also comes because the organisation (finally and rather belatedly) is seeing the logic behind catching up with changing times, and the fact that the outfit (pun intended) comprises a largely geriatric population. That the young and the upwardly mobile were not racing to sign up with this particular fundamentalist ideology has not escaped its members' notice. The big reason behind this could be the apparel (which does not look good on ANYbody, let's not kid ourselves about that) and more importantly, because its ideas and overall working remain as mysteriously off-limits to the average person looking for inspiration in the social sphere, as ever.

Another big departure in thinking comes also from the RSS' readiness to accept married couples into its fold. I should actually have ended that last sentence with an !, so here it comes: !

The new uniforms' design should be complete by March. Are we looking at trousers now? Will the Indian flag be imprinted on the shirts? We don't know and who can say? And more importantly, will these changes cause a systemic change within the ranks, or is this 'shift' to be reported on and later forgotten?

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The curious case of Daood Gilani

One year after 26/11, a few weeks into the David Headley investigations, and I frankly still don't know what to make of the man.

David Headley was Daood Gilani before he turned all terroristy in 2006, also in a bid to throw investigators off track (because who would suspect an American, right?) was produced in a Chicago court and has subsequently pleaded 'Not Guilty' to all charges. for some reason, DNA thought it necessary to mention that Headley was dressed in an orange jumpsuit when he made his court appearance. The rest of the story is quite an easy read, though.

Elsewhere, an unknown gym instructor became famous for volunteering information on Headley. Vilas Warak's marriage pictures have made it not just to his family albums but to newspapers. The Bhatts - Rahul, Pooja and dial-a-quote Mahesh - posed with the happy couple wearing boring clothes and big smiles.

I am still not getting a grip, so to speak, on the man Headley. Yes, he's an LeT operative. Yeah, he's a Pakistani-American. Further, the FBI has charged him with a staggering six counts of criminal conspiracy (a seventh one should be for wearing an orange jumpsuit to court). Despite all the press since his arrest, I still don't get a clear picture of his motivations. May be because we're seeing just the one grainy image of a man with a face like an egg, but Headley does not seem very real as of this moment.