Jan 292013

Bites the hand that feeds him – screamed the headline on Firstpost.in on Shah Rukh Khan, reminding me of Sholay. Had discussed the film with my class this morning, and the film was kind of fresh. The introductury scene of Gabbar, he is ranting at his 3 men for losing to those two. In the most chilling part of the scene – Gabbar pulls out a gun and plays Russian Roulette with his defeated men. He asks of one of them (Kalia)
“ab tera kya hoga kalia?”

Kalia squeeks – “Huzoor meine aapka namak khaya hai”

“ab goli kha” say Gabbar, shooting him.

This entire concept of namak khana, biting the hand that feeds them – is so incredibly – how does one put this nicely ? – feudal.


The fact that the author loathes SRK is fairly evident, what is more is that this loathing seems to have overcome any half decent form of accuracy. Hey, i know opinion pieces are meant to be opinion, but even opinion is based on a modicum of fact. Some samples :

More importantly, he was embraced by a generation of Indians who were evidently so swayed by his looks (or whatever else they saw in him) that they readily overlooked his vacuous performances, blessed him with fame and fortune – and even went on to crown him ‘King Khan’.

(embraced across generations – not preteens anymore – but pretty much the rest, and especially women)

At the peak of his career, Shah Rukh was spoken of in the same breath as the Shahenshah of Bollywood, Amitabh Bachchan. That comparison may have been valid in terms of the box-office appeal that both held, but a certain indefinable element of classy refinement that Bachchan exuded even when the cameras were not whirring remained forever out of reach of SRK.

subjective – and therefore one will not comment on it. biases are allowed. I have mine, am sure the author has his. Except that in the last year – SRK was the highest earner in Bollywood, not someone past the peak of his career.

In his eternal quest to be the ageless Peter Pan of Bollywood, Shah Rukh appears not to have come to terms with the fact that while once he may have commanded a forgiving fan following, he is well past his prime. Like the Norma Desmond character that Gloria Swanson essayed in Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard, he is only clinging on to the memories of a happier day when the arclights were turned on him and the adulation of fans enveloped him in a warm, glowing embrace.

good lord, this person obviously neither watches Hindi films nor follows box office reports. Norma Desmond, incidentally, is the lead character in Sunset Boulevard,  a silent era star, and who, in the film, hasn’t been seen since the coming of sound. SRK’s last film – the unintentionally funny – Jab Tak Hai Jaan – was one of the 8 films that crossed the 100 crore mark in theatrical revenue in India & twice that in overseas territories – (that means that many tickets were sold).

So, by every verifiable metric, it’s fair to say that Shah Rukh Khan has enjoyed more success – and earned more fame and fortune and fan-love – than he arguably deserves. Which is why it’s difficult to account for the victimhood chip – rooted in his identity as a Muslim – that he bears on his shoulders.

Who decides who deserves what ? He doesn’t deserve this on what parameter ? Has the author seen other super stars – desi and hollywood and their performances ? Does a Tom Cruise deserve success ? Superstars bring people to the theaters, they create value all down the value chain.

And, the author’s grouse :

In an interview that he gave to an overseas publication, Shah Rukh Khan is quoted as saying that he “sometimes become(s) the indvertent object of political leaders who choose to make me a symbol of all that they think is wrong and unpatriotic about Muslims in India.”

Now, which part of inadvertent does the author want explained ?

this is a translated version of what was written in Samna after SRK suggested that Pakistani cricketers play in the IPL (for the record, i don’t support that or indeed them being cast in films or tv shows)

Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray on Saturday said Kolkata Knight Riders co-owner Shah Rukh Khan should be given Pakistan’s highest civilian award, the Nishaan-e-Pakistan, for supporting the inclusion of Pakistani cricketers in the IPL.

Thackeray said in his party mouthpiece Samna that the ‘Khan’ inside Shah Rukh Khan must be crushed by the ‘Har Har Mahadev’ war cry.

The author goes on

It’s true, of course, that your films have had their problems with Shiv Sena leader Bal Thackeray, who kicked up a shindig by protesting against your film My Name Is Khan on specious grounds.

The Shiv Sena did not have a problem with the film “My Name is Khan”, they had a problem with SRK statement regarding IPL and wanted to take it out on My Name is Khan in retaliation (btw i have seen the film and it is mawkishly sentimental)  And this is what SRK said , that got him into trouble

“They are the champions, they are wonderful but somewhere down the line there is an issue and we can’t deny it. We are known to invite everyone. We should have. If there were any issues, they should have been put on board earlier. Everything can happen respectfully,”

And, incidentally this is what Shilpa Shetty (another team owner, whose name is not Khan) had to say about the same issue:

“If you ask an Indian whether he would like to see Shahid Afridi play in our country, he would say yes. But you must look at it pragmatically and see that we have had these people who are constantly threatening.It’s not something we hold against the Pakistani players. We completely understand the situation but as franchise owners are we willing to take that risk? If something happens to the Pakistani players, the onus lies on us and who is going to take responsibility for a situation like that,”

And this is what Preity Zinta (another team owner, whose name is also not Khan) had to say about the Pakistani Players in IPL

”We would have loved to have the T20 world champions in our teams to bring real joy to the extravaganza but what can we do if we have certain threats about not only our own safety, but the safety of the Pakistani players too, with no official quarter assuring us of foolproof security of players during the tournament,’
Therefore, given the same event IPL, to be held post 26/11, with three star owned teams – if you eliminate all other factors – the only one left is that they picked on SRK because he is a Muslim. (it could also be because he is a man, but i dont think that he SS would eliminate 50%+  of their voters)
And it continues,
So, grow up, Shah Rukh, and learn to take it on the chin like a man. Don’t bite the hand that fed you – and made  you who you are – by running off to an overseas publication and crying your heart out, thereby providing the space for low-life terrorists like Hafiz Saeed to take potshots at India.
On SRK Being resposnible for Hafeez Saeed’s comments, it would be good to read the whole piece and figure where that comment came from. I daresay it was from mangled  headlines from the MSM. In which case, i wonder who is responsible for Hafeez Saeed’s comments. Also, what is this with treating Hafeez Saeed’s statement as being important, instead of dealing with it with the contempt it deserves – what do people expect from Hafeez Saeed –  Kudos for India?

On his being inebriated and badly behaved – sure – he is human. And,a flawed one at that. Where he attacks people who cannot fight back – like the security guard in Wankhade, please take him to task. When it is with other, equally successful,  members of the film  industry, let them sort it out.

I can criticize India, the armed forces, decisions on hanging terrorists or not, Pakistani Players or actors in India, peace with Pakistan and the rest of it – and not once (mabye once) there will be calls for me to move next door. People may question my logic, my intellect, my wisdom, my credentials – but not my right to be in India and make those comments. SRK has those rights too. He is a citizen and like all citizens has the right to critcize the system without having to prove his love for the country every time he does so.

Finally this is neither about the Indian state, nor the people of India, nor the great Indian paying audience – couldn’t care who was what religion so long as they sell tickets.  It is not even about political parties, apart from those  like the Shiv Sena – whose stock in trade this is. People from across the political spectrum came out to support SRK, when the Shiv Sena went on that blistering attack on him.

“We do not consider it correct to use such terms for Khan. His contribution to Bollywood and as a cultural ambassador is immense,” Ravi Shankar Prasad of the BJP, contradicting their ally in Maharashtra to defend SRK. .

This is rather a comment on the Indian media, who takes things out of context to raise passions, then when those passions are raised – whether it was in terms of misquoting SRK on IPL or in this current case, or indeed anyone else – use those raise passions to attract more eyeballs. Am not sure that this is meant to be the role of the media – to stir the pot and wait for people to get at each others’ throat.

I am not the world’s greatest SRK fan. there are films that i have enjoyed, films i have loathed and films i have not even bothered to watch.  But, this is a hatchet job. And, a badly researched hatchet job at that. I am not sure what bothers me more.

(declaration : I have neither met SRK, nor worked with him, or have pitched to him, or likely to – we are completely in different universes) ..

This, incidentally, is the piece that firstpost had issues with. and, it is a wry, funny piece on what it means to be a Khan …

Jan 282013

“It is a fact that most of the corrupt come from the OBC and the scheduled castes and no increasingly, scheduled tribes and as long as this is the case the Indian Republic will survive”
– Ashish Nandy

I have been told i am wrong in railing against this statement (ranting would be more appropriate) – but i truly find it abhorrent. To call it irresponsible would be wrong, it would imply that the statement was correct, but someone should have held their silence for ‘political correctness’. At a very basic level it is sans data. Even if you looked at the data that comes out of the GoI, where are the positions of power. And, if there are no positions of power – what corruption are you talking about – chai pani  ?


Secy Addl. Secy Joint Secy Director
Total No. of officers 149 108 477 590
No. of SCs 2 31 17
% age of SCs 1.85 6.49 2.88
No. of STs 4 2 15 7
% age of STs 2.68 1.85 3.14 1.18

( The number of officers presently working as Secretary, Additional  Secretary, Joint Secretary and Director level posts, in the Government of India and the number of SC and ST officers on these posts and their percentage, as  on 14.3.2011, as per the information available. As regards the number of OBC officers, it is stated that data regarding OBC status of the officers was not being obtained at the time of appointment of officers prior to 1994 and is therefore not available.)

And, if you are talking about elected representatives being corrupt – what are they taking money for and from whom and to what end? corruption requires two parties – who is the other party – which caste ?

if you or I had made the ‘nuanced’ argument correlating caste & corruption, would we be out of line ? When Raj T says that a certain linguistic minority is responsible for crime, he is insulting. when Dr.Nandy says that SC, ST, OBC’s are primarily responsible for corruption – it is a nuanced argument. and this is the argument I made to my mother (who was trolling me on this post from the other room) – if a Noam Chomsky made a statement like this on African Americans & crime and said that it will save the American republic – he would have lost tenure.  I am still reeling at the defense put out on this statement.
I have heard statements like this in ‘polite’ drawing room conversations. “they’ are corrupt, ‘they’ are unruly, ‘they’ don’t follow the law, ‘they break the system, until ‘they’ came into the system, the system was good etc, etc. It is also in these conversations, I hear, questions on universal franchise – is it a bad idea. whether ‘they’ should vote – afte rall ‘they’ don’t pay taxes.

Statements like this, are bad news. In a rapidly changing India, in an aspirational India – targeting 70%+ of the population and labeling them as being corrupt. the very thought of it makes me angry. And, from someone whom i respected, whose works i have studied and whose books adorn my bookshelf- it is also more than anger, it is heart breaking.

This is almost in the same space as saying women who wear short clothes have a higher probability of being raped .. or something equally inane… and then justifying it by saying that it is a great equalizer …we would call out anyone who said that, and call people who defended that statement as regressive.
Yes, free speech is important, and i will defend Mr.Nandy’s right to free speech – but, i also have the right to say he has got it wrong.

Jan 272013

My blog for Tehelka, last week. Yes, Maachis should have been on the list


Zero Dark Thirty has hit the screens to much controversy, debate, acclaim and box office success. The film deals with the decade long hunt for master terrorist Osama Bin Laden The film is a fascinating study in looking at shades of good and evil. There is a thin line between the two, and those who fight terror have to work very hard not to slip over to the other side. This battle is not just between ideologies or good and bad, but is also the battle within. How far do you go to keep innocents safe? This is a theme that has been looked at multiple times in movies.

Bollywood films too have looked at the issue of terror and the fight against terror. Some are out and out jingoistic, others unbelievably fantastic, yet others pure entertainment. Few have looked at the contours of terror realistically. Here in no particular order are five of the most realistic Hindi films, that use the fight against terror as a backdrop

  • Drohkaal – possibly one of the best films in contemporary Indian Cinema, that looks at the issue of terrorism. Directed by Govind Nihlani, the film looks at the shades of grey that come into play in dealing with terror. Set against a backdrop of an unnamed terror organization (most likely Naxal) unleashing violence against civilians. Two policemen DCP Abhay Singh (Om Puri) and DCP Abbas Lodhi (Naseeruddin Shah) plant agents in a group led by Comarade Bhadra-Ashish Vidyarthi in a National Award Winning performance. The cat and mouse story between the hunter and the hunted is a fascinating one and the end is a twist in the tail.
  • A Wednesday – written an directed by Neeraj Pandey, the film went on to become a box office superstar, purely based on word of mouth. The film tells the story of a retired cop , played by Anupam Kher, and his last big case that takes place on a Wednesday. A man, played by Naseeruddin Shah, plants bombs across the city of Mumbai and threatens to detonate them unless jailed terrorists are freed. Who is this man, what is his agenda and will he get away with it? The film is a taut thriller, and one reason why it was such a hit – apart from the brilliant writing and performances – is that Naseeruddin Shah’s character resonates with most of us.
  • Black Friday – In 1993, bombs ripped through Bombay (as it then was) destroying buses, buildings,people disintegrated, yet others were maimed and injured. . Hundreds died, many more injured and it left the city numb with rage, grief and disbelief. Anurag Kashyap’s film based on the book by Hussain Zaidi tells the story of the blasts (and its investigations) from different perspectives. Raw and gritty, the film makes for compelling viewing.
  • Sarfarosh – looked at the issue of cross border terrorism (read Pakistan sponsored terrorism) and the attempt of honest young ACP Rathod, Aamir Khan, to put together a crack team that fights terror. On the other side is Naseeruddin Shah, who has possibly acted in 80% of all films on terrorism, who plays a ghazal singer and terror conduit Gulfam Hassan. The film directed by John Matthew Mathan has just one flaw – a mawkish love story that does nothing for the film. The film has a fine cameo by Mukesh Rishi– who plays Inspector Salim
  • Roja – The film made in Tamil was dubbed into Hindi and became an all India hit. It forms the first part of Mani Ratnam’s trilogy on terror, with Bombay and Dil Se being the other two. Mani Ratnam’s greatest strengthwas the telling of the stories of ordinary people. Roja (Madhoo) is a young woman from rural Tamil Nadu whose husband is a government employee who is kidnapped in Jammu & Kashmir. The story follows a parallel track, the husband’s (Arvind Swamy) interactions with the terrorists on a daily basis, and the interactions of Roja with the government machinery in getting her husband freed. Pankaj Kapur plays the head of the terrorist cell, Liaqat, with a tremendous amount of empathy. The film also boasted a great soundtrack by A.R.Rehman.

Which films, with terror as the backdrop, are in your top 5 ?

Jan 212013

My column in today’s DNA

This is an old story that exists in many cultures in slightly varying forms. And, despite its folksy nature, it still holds lessons for today – be it in interpersonal conduct or in international relations.

Once upon a time, long, long ago, there was a little coastal village. Three sides faced the sea, and the only way out to the big town was through a forest.  In the woods lived a great many animals, and most were hunted by the village – sometimes for food, other times for sport, yet others out of fear. Most of the residents of the forest stayed far away from the village. However, the King of Snakes had no option. His wife had just laid eggs, and he needed to stay and guard his family. The villagers found him, and fearing his poison began attacking him. The King of Snakes, did not become King by being a walk over, he was a fierce fighter and strategist. He began taking the war back to the village. A few excruciating deaths by snake bite later, the villagers suddenly found their exit out of the village blocked. The few who tried to go out were prevented by the Nagaraj. Amidst this chaos, arrived a Seer, with his disciples – by boat. The villagers received the Guru with due respect, and made his stay in the village comfortable. The Sage, pleased with the villagers, asks them if he can do anything for them. The villagers complain about the Snake. The Guru tells them, he will take care of it. When he approaches the home of the Nagaraj, the King of Snakes senses the Great Teacher and accepts him as a Guru for himself and his family. The Seer asks the Snake to leave the villagers be and not bite them. The Snake agrees. The teacher leaves telling the villagers that they had nothing to fear anymore. The villagers revert to their original terrorizing behaviour –attacking the Nagaraj, destroying some Eggs, harming the wife. But, the Nagaraj and his family stick to their vow of not harming the villagers. A few months later, the Sage is passing by again.. He comes across the bruised and battered Nagaraj family. He asks them what the matter was. Mrs.Nagaraj pours her heart out. The King of Snakes looks stoically on, and tells the Guru – I stood by my word, as promised to you ‘we did not bite them’. The Guru smiled sagely and said “but, I didn’t tell you not to hiss’.

It would be advisable for the Government and Policy Makers in India, who seek peace with Pakistan, at all costs, to read the story and internalise its teachings. A hint – The story is neither about villainous villagers nor about talking snakes – nor is it all knowing seers who provide life altering solutions. Instead, it is about projecting a vibe. A vibe which says, attack and it will cost you. Attack and you will pay the price.  The story is not about attacking, not in the least. It is also not about desiring peace so much that you get bruised and battered in the bargain. The learning from the story is simple – signal the fact that you are ready to attack to defend your turf, and willing to do grievous harm to keep yourself and those you have sworn to protect safe.

Indian Army – Image courtesy, DNA

Peace with Pakistan is a desirable end. But like any relationship, this one too cannot be built on lies. More importantly, peace cannot be built on a foundation of resentment. It has to be built on mutual respect and understanding. Nostalgia about shared history that one province in India shared with one province in Pakistan is not good enough for the rest of India to pay the price. Breaking of peace, going back on one’s word, killing soldiers, mutilating their bodies all have their origins at a single point – the last three Indian Governments have wanted Peace at all Costs. Both Mr.Vajpayee and Dr.Singh – both of whom have sought peace, have had to signal the end of talks and a willingness to walk away from the dream of  “Peace in our Times” to get Pakistan to back down. Unfortunately, to achieve Peace you have to show that you are ready for war.

There is a via media between the calls for war and nuclear war put forth by belligerent war mongers who want to raise viewership by raising tempers, and ‘lets hug a neighbour today’ view put forward by peaceniks who live in neither country. That via media is signalling your intent to let the peace process die, if attacked – either by uniformed men or non-state actors using Pakistan as a base. Enough, really, is enough.

Jan 142013

Illustration: Zaheer Alam Kidvai

This is a story from the Mahabharata, that like many from from that epic , this too has lessons for the modern age.

Dronacharya the guru to the Kuru Princes – the 100 Kauravas and the 5 Pandavas – and assorted nobility in the region, decides to test his students in their prowess in archery. Archers, in that era, were considered the most accomplished of warriors, and he who was the best archer, was considered the best warrior. On the day of the test Drona takes the students to the forest, where across the river hangs a wooden bird from a tree.The test is two fold. First the archer has to take aim and describe what he sees; and the second is to shoot the target. And the target is the eye of the bird.

The first student describes the bird, the branch on which it is hung, the leaves surrounding the bird, the thread on which it dangles, the details of the bird and so on. He is disqualified. Seeing him flunk the test the rest of them begin to add more and more details. They take aim and describe in detail all that they see- a wide angle shot of the forest, the trees, the leaves on the trees, the blades of grass on the ground, the flowers on the shrubs, the fruits, the birds, the bees and the rest. Very involved and very detailed. To their great surprise they all fail the first part and are not allowed to go forward to second part. Finally, it is Arjun’s turn. The teacher asks him, ‘what do you see’… and Arjun answers with single minded focus- “I see the eye of the bird”. He passes the first stage of the test and allowed to shoot – and he hits the target.

The lesson from this tale is an important one for management, media and civil society, indeed for any aspect of life. If you have to succeed there has to be focus. Other things maybe more beautiful, more attention worthy -but ultimately they distract. Any successful practitioner of management (or war) will tell you – that attention needs to focused on the goal. All goals maybe equally worthy – but only one can be achieved by you. Which is your eye of the bird ?

In the last three weeks following the Delhi Gang Rape, there has been tremendous reasons for all right thinking people to outrage. Law and Order, Government response, Public Apathy, Misogyny, Status of women in society, publicity hungry souls trying to latch on to the bandwagon by making outrageous statements on the issue. The question is what do you focus on, what all do you fight? If you woke up tomorrow morning and one of the benevolent God’s had wished away all misogyny, all discrimination, all movie songs & scenes – would violence against women, including sexual violence, end?

Main Stream Media and now, unfortunately, Social Media – work on the mode of Outrage of the Day. Each tries to feed off the other, each wants to set and dominate the agenda . Every day, to get eyeballs and attention, the pitch is raised higher. The vocal chords shriller, and the outrage more raw. It is as much about the issue, as it is about seeking attention. People are crawling out of the woodwork to make outrageous statements. Those statements generate outrage. That outrage attracts defense. The defense attracts a counterpoint. And just as you think that some understanding will be reached – the focus of outrage changes. People, who were relatively localized a few weeks ago, are suddenly becoming national figures – Abhijeet Mukherjee is possibly a household name.

When outrage overwhelms focus and one jumps to the next outrage induced high , the issue at hand gets left behind, forgotten and abandoned in the quest for the next outrage fix. It is very easy to change the agenda. It is even easier to whip up mob sentiment. But, that is counter productive and damaging. To solve violence against women, indeed any problem, there needs to focus. Absolute and Total focus. It is very easy to go into butterfly mode and flit from outrage to outrage. Which is issue that makes you burn internally the most – that anger, that rage – keep it close within you and focus it to make the change that you can. Don’t dissipate that anger on every issue. There are going to be many. Focus on the eye of the bird – see that and no other.