Dec 012016
 
dear-zindagi-wallpaper-11115

I finally got to see Dear Zindagi.

A story about a young woman – a cinematographer – who has everything going for her. She is confident, talented, good looking – and yet feeling completely out of sorts. Nightmares. Insomnia. A sense of being on the edge with everyone in her life. A sense of not belonging. we have all been there.

But, she does something, most of us don’t do – she visits a counsellor for help to take charge of her life again.

Alia’s character, Kaira, does not have any dark demons. No child abuse. No abusive parents. None of that. And, that is what make’s Gauri Shindes take on mental health so interesting. The fact that seemingly ‘normal’ people can have problems. That you can cope with your everyday activities, have fun, laugh, smile and all of that, while you are crumbling from the inside. Alia’s vulnerability and brittle strength are played well. SRK as the counsellor is outstanding. The sheer empathy, decency, and that his character does not judge situations or issues in the young woman’s life, or her choices, makes him a poster boy for popularising mental well being. I am not sure anyone else could have pulled off the role as well – there was, unlike in most of his films,  no SRK superstar in this film. There was only Jahangir Khan (Jug), and you wish you met someone like that when you were going through your own shit (without outside help). And, it is not because of the way he looks. It is because of the way he is. SRK, is infinitely better when he plays his age (or close to it).

A bit talky, maybe 15 minutes too long . But, beautifully cast. well acted, and a lovely little slice of life. I would definitely recommend it to watch in the theatres – preferably with BFF’s, an extra large box of tissues, and some pop corn.

Nov 052016
 

mohaps1

Sultan of Delhi by Arnab Ray, Aka the Great Bong, is a racy and gripping read about a boy who starts with nothing, and rises all the way to the top of his game.

The story starts with a today, and keeps going back and forth to multiple yesterdays – and, most of these yesterdays are a part and parcel of the history of the sub continent. And, in charting the story of the main character around the historical moments – Partition, the creation of Bangladesh, Emergency, the story becomes as much a story of the changing face of India post independence, as it is of Arjun Bhatia

The story is that of Arjun Bhatia, one of the millions who came across to Delhi from Western Punjab in 1947 – with nothing but a bit of gold in his pocket and the burning desire never ever to be helpless again. Arjun, in this period has not yet hit his teens, but has to grow up fast to survive. He has to be parent to his father – who is in deep shock after the events of the partition that led to his wife and other sons being killed (Arjun’s mother and brothers). As Arjun tells his father, during a meltdown

 It’s not that I don’t love you, daddy, it’s that I don’t respect you. It’s just that I don’t respect your opinions. Because I don’t respect fools. Fools are the most dangerous people in the world. They get others killed.

As Arjun makes a life in Delhi, the story charts his growth from a mechanic to a gun runner, and a gun runner to a legit businessman, who makes his way in the corridors of power. Arjun is relentless in his rise to the top. His marriage of convenience – to inherit a going concern, that later settles into companionship – is as important to him; as the love of his life Nayantara – the widow of a man he kills. He is meticulous in his plotting his path ascension – a ruthless drive that is reminiscent of Michael Corleone – the two fold desire to protect your family, and be at the top.  It is a dangerous game, and Arjun makes his fair share of enemies. In one of the best face offs in the book (and there are a few), Arjun has a line, that possibly not just defines him and his way of doing business, but also the essential tussle in Delhi – between the English speaking ‘elite’ and the Hindi speaking ‘new elite’.

Yeh madarchod-behenchod ka sheher hai, angrezi gaali se kisko darwayenge?

While it is a story of Arjun and his rise to being the Sultan of Delhi, it is also the story of the way business is conducted in modern India. It is also the story of families and how they define you. The son who judged his father as a fool, is now judging his sons as the same. You can sense his slight impatience at how long it takes for the next generation to get a point, that he has known instinctively.

The book is racy, the characters are real. They speak real. They sound real. You know about people like them. And, yet it is a story that is unique in it’s ambition. As Ray recounts the story of Arjun Bhatia over a 60 year period, the non linear narrative of jumping between time frames – each revealing a little more about Arjun – keeps you hooked.  The flashbacks move the story forward, they aren’t just there for the sake of ideal curiosity. The use of hindi is natural, as is the use of English. And, that is one of the things I really enjoyed about the Sultan of Delhi, is the way it flowed.

I also give full compliments to whoever edited this – because if i had material that spanned 60 years, i would not be able to write such a tight book.

I am hoping there is a sequel. I want to know what happens with the characters, next 🙂

Oct 112016
 

Conde Nast Traveller - Priyanka Chopra

 

It is deliciously funny. Someone, i am guessing, in the management said “we need to do something about refugees. Something classy, but shows we care. But, how do you do this without featuring  poor, ugly, people.  ” (i kid you not, this is a phrase i have heard used in media houses. We don’t want no poor, ugly, people on our shows/papers/magazines) .

Someone else said, how about Priyanka Chopra taking up the cause of refugees, immigrants, and the page 3 jet set – by wearing a men’s banyan (or whatever the posh name for it is).

Someone else said “Let us do it”. A voice piped up “but, that is Nike”.

Conde Nast Traveller, put up an explanation this morning, that is just as funny as the original cover (if not funnier)

It’s time we demand better, and stand against the building of walls, literal and otherwise. We must demand a world free of racism and bigotry and prejudice, so that we—and generations after us—may enjoy all the abundance that travel offers, the beauty of a world that is open and rich and diverse in its people and cultures and geographies. And we must, in the midst of our many differences, find and celebrate our commonalities, our oneness. We must recognise that we are all on a journey. Whether we are moving across oceans or just a few kilometres, or in our mind’s eye, into a completely different world, whether we are doing so due to free will or circumstance—we are all travellers.

And this is why Priyanka Chopra—a star at home and abroad, who has experienced firsthand the opportunities that travel offers—is the perfect ambassador. It’s not about her being a refugee or immigrant or outsider; it’s about her, like us, recognising the power of travel, and joining us in asking everyone to do better for each other. 

We can start this journey by ensuring that gated communities, where most of Conde Nast Traveller audience lives, welcome the poor, hungry and dispossessed (within their own city and country) into their limits. I am looking forward to Conde Nast’s support on this campaign 🙂

Oct 092016
 

Bhimsen Joshi

A lovely little documentary (about an hour), on Pandit Bhimsen Joshi, by Gulzar.

One lovely bit, where Panditji says, just call me Bhimsen. Mujhe Pandit se nafrat hai, aaj koi bhi pandit ban jaata hai. He is referring to the tradition, where a master singer /musician earned the title Panditji (if Hindu) or Ustad (if Muslims). That tradition had been diluted, when new comers are given the title almost after the first concert.

Another lovely moment in the documentary, refers to his jugalbandi with Manna De, in ketaki gulab juhi. Both men, shot at different times and spaces, recollect. And, Gulzar puts together a great edit (including them singing this together in differnet spaces). Bhimsen Joshi ends the piece by saying — Manna de ne mujhe hara diya (Manna De defeated me).

Favorite ragas: Todi (in the morning) , Multani in the afternoon. Yaman /Darbari/Puriya at night. No wonder these are my favourites too, i ended up hearing him sing his best ragas, at his best – all through the time i have been listening to music.

And, the origins of the Kirana Gharana – near Gurgaon, the village where Karna settled . It denotes purpose, do or die, he says. and, it shows in his journey. His favourite students – lots of names, he says with a smile, but only three who can sing. Featured is a little clip with him singing Todi – langarka kariya jin maaro – with a student (a young Anand Bhate). Watch out for him, he says. And, Anand Bhate is one of my favorite new singers. He sang extensively for the Marathi Film Balgandharva 

And, my favorite piece – when do you figure which song you will perform? when i get the tanpura in my hand.

If you have an hour to spare, watch it.

 

For those interested, My Bhimsen Joshi playlist on youtube.

Sep 152016
 

I wrote this for She the People, earlier this week

Many years ago, I read Margaret Atwood’s, dystopian novel, Handmaid’s Tale. Set around a plausible tomorrow, it looks at a world where fertility has plummeted, and there are a special category of women   who are kept especially for reproductive purposes. As I read the “Politics of the Womb” by Pinki Virani a frightening today began to emerge. Where there are women, whose only value to the world seems to be the eggs that she produces, the uterus that she has, and the womb that she rents.

A riot, in very slow motion, is being engineered on the woman inside her body; to take her apart, part by profitable part.

The slow rampage is in the name of God – for hers is the womb and she shall conceive.

In the name of science – for hers is the hostile uterus and medical evaluation must arbitrate. ……The world over, the combined might of religion and science has converged to martial many a uterus with a child. At any cost; to the woman, to her baby.

The opening lines of Pinki Virani’s long hard look at the surrogacy industry, hits you in the gut, and pulls you into a narrative structure that takes you into the universe of uterus pimp; the woman (who is the walking uterus; IVF clinics that charge, and charge, and charge;  the desperate, would be,  parents who want to have a biological child; and the mad rush for designer babies. Politics of the Womb – The Perils of IVF, Surrogacy and Modified Babies is both a behind the scenes look at the new industry that seems to have grown without regulation;  the ethics of such work; and a normative framework for regulation. It is also a manifesto of the rights of the unborn child. Someone has to speak for the child, and Ms Virani makes a very strong case for children born of IVF.

 

The books looks at how expensive  IVF (In Vitro Fertilization) treatment  is being pushed as the first option, on desperate parents, when there are a gamut of other options, that could spare the prospective parents both an expensive bill, as well as physical and mental trauma. There is between 72-80% failure rate per IVF cycle. Less than a third of people who start the IVF treatment, come away with a baby. The costs-  financial, physical and emotional – are seldom publicized or discussed. And, all this in the backdrop of an  industry that sells a myth of fertility, and downplays the medical risks both to the mother and those that may occur to the child. Virani  looks at the data surrounding IVF and birth defects, that leads to children being born autistic, and  with mental retardation. The risk of babies conceived through Ivf or Icsi (intracytoplasmic sperm injection) is 37% higher than babies conceived naturally. “Collateral damage” says a doctor, on the side effects, and birth defects.

Virani’s anger against the commoditization of the uterus, and its commercialization, is palpable. When she quotes doctors, involved in the baby making business,  she lets their callousness and utter disregard for the woman’s body, and the reproductive process , stay there unvarnished. “What is a uterus, it is like a room. Repaint, redecorate any number of times”’, Virani quotes a doctor saying.

Surrogacy is in the news of late, because of the bill being discussed in Parliament, as well as the Government’s banning of commercial surrogacy. In light of the high pitched conversations around this topic, it might be worthwhile to read the “Politics of the Womb” to look at the issue in a holistic manner.

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(Politics of the Womb; The Perils of IVF, Surrogacy & Modified Babies; by Pinki Virani; Viking; Rs 599; Pages 304)