Jun 062016
 

Most mass media practitioners will tell you that classical music is elitist. that it is mean to be enjoyed in rarified atmospheres, with others in their social class. There is a general perception that mass audiences will not enjoy classical music. And, that, ‘mass’ is defined as lower socio economic classes.

54f3d7137fa52ef85622ab2adcead570Like most mass audience assumptions, this is untrue. As children, even as young adults, when we went for concerts – usually open air concerts in various grounds across Mumbai, what you would see is a sprinkling of people across classes – auto rickshawallahs to CEO’s and promoters – sitting next to each other, and just becoming part of the music.

Consistent litigation, and the banning of open air, all night concerts – i have been to one, at shivaji park,  where it began with a puriya (at 7 pm, and ended with an Aahir Bhairav at dawn), – and consistent middle class intolerance with other people enjoying themselves; as well as judicial intervention has led to the mass dissemination of classical, and mass participation, declining. Also, it has led to a decline in innovative solutions for noise pollution.  There are technical ways of limiting sound within a given perimeter. Ban is so bloody binary. solutions are so much more interesting.

But, i digress. One of the reasons why classical is considered elitist, is because we – mass media professionals – like stereotyping our audiences. If you are 16-18 you must be a cool chaser; if you are young, you must want edgy and rude; if you are a guy you must want to watch other guys talk about sex; if you are a girl, you must talk about men, kids and make up. Which tells you why there is such a rate of churn on shows, and why so many films flop. Formula work, till a point that they don’t work. And, in today’s market, most tried and tested formulae are failing.

Unfortunately, audiences are people And, people are complex. And, in a digital world, these assumptions are not just wrong, but to work with them, is suicidal stupidity 🙂

Just as a case in point, here is a video from America’s got talent. Hear the singer (from the second minute) and more importantly, watch the audience. And, note your own reactions to the song. And, tell me, you won’t mind sampling, watching or listening to stuff like this

Laura Bretan sings.

Btw – this is Pavarotti with Nessun Dorma –

i don’t understand a word of what he says, but the music my soul understands.

 

May 092016
 

I am possibly the last generation that grew up with an oral tradition. Our grandmothers, and parents, would tell us stories from the puranas, the epics, and of sages and saints, to inculcate values. I am not quite sure that we, as children, saw them as value systems, they were just good stories. As we grew up, we imbibed those values, and those became the bedrock of our lives – the theist and the atheists in the family.

Among the stories we heard, were why we observe certain days as ‘auspicious’. And, since today is akshaya Tritiya , it seems apt that i put some of my more favourite stories’ down.

The Goddess of Grains and food, Annapurna, manifested herself on this day. As kids we were told, that if we waste food, Annapurna would be sad, and go to the banks of the river and cry. And when she cried, the waters from the rains would dry up, there would be drought. The thought of a goddess crying was so traumatic, that, i don’t think any of us (siblings or cousins) wasted food.

The other story, that has stuck in mind, was that of the Akshaya Patram. The Pandavas receive it as a gift, and it gave enough food for the six exiled members. And, given it’s nature, it would give food till the point that Draupadi, after feeding her husbands, ate. Once Durvasa (the sage with anger control issues) turns up with his followers at the Pandavas doorstep, after Draupadi has eaten, and demands to be fed. Durvasa was prodded by the Kauravas to make the visit. Food is over. And, there is no possibility of food for so many being made ready, in the time taken for the the rishis to perform their ablutions before the meal. Draupadi calls out to her friend Krishna (and I use the friend specifically, because that was the nature of their relationship). Krishna appears, and tells Draupadi he is hungry, and she should bring the Akshaya Patram. He finds a single morsel of grain stuck to the vessel. He eats that left over morsel with immense satisfaction. And, the hunger of the world is sated. Durvasa and his disciples go away, without returning to the Pandavas abode, because their hunger is sated. It was another set of lessons – the first was on the importance of a single morsel of food. The second, that for God, even a single morsel of leftover food, given by those who love him, was as important as all the feast and riches that you could offer.

The story of Sudama and his offering of poha, to Krishna, is another story we heard. We were told, God does not expect great offerings. The poorest person’s offerings, with all devotion and love, is as great (if not greater) than the greatest riches on earth. Even today, while we boil milk, or make food, or eat food – we utter  ‘brahmarpanam‘  (we offer to the universe, what we take from it). I still get goosebumps when i read the story of Sudama and Krishna, and the sheer simplicity of faith and love.

And, the final story is from the life of Adi Shankara (and we are followers of this tradition in Hinduism). The story goes that Adi Shankara is out begging for food (as mendicants did). Bhavati bhiksham dehi,  he would say before each house, and the lady of the house would give alms (food) that would sustain him for one more day. One day, he goes to the door of a really poor woman, who has nothing, except old nellika (amla). Cringing with embarrassment she offers that to him. He is so awed by her generosity, legend has it, that he composed the Kanakadhara stotram, right there. The roof opens up and showers riches in the form of golden nellis (amlas)  on the woman.

This is MS singing the Kanakadhara stotram

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i wonder what kind of stories we will tell to generations that come, about Akshaya Tritiya . Will we tell them about conservation, not wasting, sharing, and thanks giving, or will it become associated for ever with marketeers and sales.

In the Hindu tradition that i was brought up in, Akshaya Tritiya is about sharing, about giving, about thanking the universe for it’s bounty. Somewhere, that has gotten lost in the ‘buy gold’ and consume. I think, as a matter of principle (and just to be cussed), i will not buy anything today 🙂

btw, this post was brought about by this

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May 082016
 

The communication from banks, for just about generations, is save today ‘bete ki padai, beti ki shaadi’. I am not even getting into the implicit sexism of this, simply because stereotypes work in advertising, and this is how India (and much of the world) was structured. Girls got married. The bride’s side paid for the wedding, and the gifts. And, that was that. There is enough and more literature on the financial and peer pressure on the bride’s family to meet up with ‘standards of weddings’, and I am not even talking about dowry.

It impacts all socio-economic groups, and while the amount may vary, the financial load is there. And, this is not an Indian problem alone.  Across most of the world, the bride’s side has picked up the tab for weddings, though that is changing slowly. I know of enough and more instances, where families on both sides have split expenses.

But, saving for a wedding and borrowing for a wedding are two very different things. We have heard of people borrowing so that ‘ apni beti ki shaadi dhoom dhaam se karenge’ and most of those stories have come to a bitter end. Some of those farmers debts that we read about, are also for these kind of expenses (not just crop related) – as, i said earlier – the amounts may be relative, but it is a steep financial commitment.

Therefore when a leading bank puts out communication like this, it makes me see kind of red (to match their logo colours)

 

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In a country, where the pressure on the bride’s family to conform to ‘spending traditions’ is huge – this is a terribly irresponsible advertisement. Even, if there were no pressure, what is the bank suggesting – that the newly married couple start their life in debt for a single day event ?

Far more sensible would have been – we had a simple wedding, and icici helped us use the saved money (at a better rate) to buy a house. #justsaying

May 042016
 

star-wars-1

(image source : here)

Facebook tells me, it is Star Wars day.

This is how mythology begins. Wait a thousand years, and see it being transformed into a religion, replete with a ‘God’, good and evil, heroes and villains, and most importantly, an organised clergy that helps perpetuate it.

 

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And, it has already begun.

There is a Temple of the Jedi Order that is the main stay of the ‘religious’ movement. it defines itself as follows,

Jediism is a religion based on the observance of the Force, a ubiquitous and metaphysical power that a Jedi (a follower of Jediism) believes to be the underlying, fundamental nature of the universe. Jediism finds its roots in philosophies similar to those presented in an epic space opera called “Star Wars”. It is a religion in and of itself.

The Jedi religion is an inspiration and a way of life for many people throughout the world who take on the mantle of Jedi. Jedi apply the principles, ideals, philosophies and teachings of Jediism in a practical manner within their lives. Real Jedi do not worship George Lucas or Star Wars or anything of the sort. Jediism is not based in fiction, but we accept myth as a sometimes more practical mean of conveying philosophies applicable to real life.

There are, of course,  the 21 maxims of Jediism.

All in all, it has aims that are quite noble, and it doesn’t ask too much of its followers. Which possibly explains why people are choosing it in many countries. New Zealand, Great Britain, Australia, Canada to start with. In Turkey, students are demanding that the Jedi Temple be allowed on University Campus’, along with Mosques.

Any religion that has Han Solo as a defender, and possibly a future icon to whom believers offer prayers, cannot be too bad. I am not quite sure how future followers will deal with Jar Jar Binks, or with the Ewoks; but, i can see Chewie having a pride of place, as would R2D2 and 3PO.

In centuries to come the Great War between the Sith and the Jedi will go into mythology as a religious war.  The Battle for Endor will have ballads written for it, and Darth Vadar would possible be part of the holy pantheon (as opposed to the unholy one). There will be a cult of the Emperor, and other Sith Lords; and I can see  orders devoted to both, and religious wars will continue. It is human nature to fight. People will fight about this too. But, for now the religion remains mostly harmless, and kind of goofy.

My favorite story on this comes from Wikipedia,

In 2008, 23-year-old Daniel Jones founded the Church of Jediism with his brother Barney, believing that the 2001 UK census recognised Jediism as a religion, and that there were “more Jedi than Scientologists in Britain”.[10] In 2009, Jones was removed from a Tesco supermarket in Bangor, North Wales, for refusing to remove his hood on a religious basis. The owner justified Jones’s ejection by saying, “He hasn’t been banned. Jedis are very welcome to shop in our stores although we would ask them to remove their hoods.Obi-Wan Kenobi, Yoda and Luke Skywalker all appeared hoodless without ever going over to the Dark Side and we are only aware of the Emperor as one who never removed his hood.

All in all, it sounds like good fun, and a joke gone wrong (or right, depending on your point of view).

Apr 182016
 

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I can’t remember if I saw, the original Jungle Book on television, or in the cinema hall. But, i remember watching it the first time, with complete delight. I loved the characters – Bagheera, the panther who is Mowgli‘s guardian angel in the jungle, Baloo – the sloth bear who had nary a care in the world; the vultures like the Beatles, and of course, the George Sanders voiced Sher Khan – who was as menacing as a Disney film would let him be. Since the first viewing, i have seen the film many, many times – along with the other Disney favorite, Dumbo – and cried buckets of tears each single time, when Mowgli approaches the prone form of Baloo.

The 2016 adaptation of Jungle Book is not a fun and frolic run through the jungles, like the earlier avtaar. It is a film for a grittier, more violent world – where nothing is what it seems.

The story remains the same. Mowgli (Neel Sethi) , human cub, brought up by a pack of wolves, has to be returned to the ‘man village’ before Sher Khan (the man-eating tiger)  kills him. Bagheera volunteers to do the needful.  Along, the way there are many adventures and old favorites return in a new avtaar.

Scarlet Johansen as the python Kaa is quite fantastic

Christopher Walken plays King Louie, with the kind of manic psychoticness that only he can bring to a role. The sheer insanity of the character reminded me of Marlon Brando’s outing in Apocalypse Now‘my ears have ears’ he tells a stunned Mowgli, as he asks the man cub to share the secret o the red flower (fire) with the monkeys.

But, as with the original film – it is Bagheera (ably voiced by Ben Kingsley), Baloo (Bill Murray, thankfully toned down) as the stern dad and mad uncle figures, who provide the contrasts in ‘good’, the boy’s role models. Hopefully Mowgli will grow up with Bagheera’s moral compass and Baloo’s sense of fun.  The interplay between them, is a flavour carried forward from the older film (and the book)

Sher Khan (Idris Elba, as the menacing predator/stalker), is chillingly focused. His pathological hatred towards humans in general, and Mowgli in particular, have driven him over the edge. It is from this precipice of insanity that you see the character unraveling. In his mind, he is fighting the righteous war. Killing humans before humans kill him (and all of them). And, his rage at being thwarted is chillingly brutal.

Neel Sethi as Mowlgi is entirely believable. There were parts you think – God how did his parents allow him to run around with wild animals, till the rational part of the brain tell you – CGI. Given that a child of his age was in a green screen environment, his performance is quite superlative.

The real star of the show is the breath taking CGI. The jungle looks real. The water buffaloes, the hedgehogs, the python skin, the python, look real. The tiger is all together real. The bit where Kaa is trying to hypnotise Mowgli, and you have a shot from Mowgli’s eye level, the python in full glory – you find yourself retreating into your seat.

As entertaining as it was, it was also educational. I got more on understanding wildlife from this film, than through a series of animal world features.  You appreciate how strong a tiger’s legs are, in the sequence where you see Sher Khan’s legs in fully muscular, sinewy glory,  you understand, how they can kill.   the minute observation about animal movements, have been well researched and recreated by the CGI team. This is possibly as close to a real world experience of a jungle and animal life that most kids are going to get (most adults too).

It is not just that, it is also the simple appreciation of the natural habitat and weather patterns.
There is a scene, almost at the beginning, where they show the impact of lack of rain, on the forest. The simulated ‘time lapse’  CGI in describing this is awe inspiring. I think that any school going child, watching that scene, would have learnt more from the 1 minute or so sequence, on drought and it’s impact on forests, than the way it is taught in schools today. The sequence where the monsoons begin, in full glory, and it’s impact on the forest – it is seeing it in a 30 second scene, that makes the power of nature seem all the more real.  The sequence of the water buffaloes stampeding through the countryside, in their quest for water, while Mowgli makes his escape from Sher khan (possibly the best sequence in the film). It would be so cool to teach kids about migratory patterns of animals looking for water,  through a sequence like this. I seriously think it is a must watch for children, it works on multiple levels.

Is it violent? About, As violent as a discovery channel film on how tigers hunt for prey.

I am going to end this one, with an absolutely fabulous rendition of “Wanna be just like you”, by a rasping Christopher Walken