Nov 152015

After a long time, i wrote an opinion piece for the DNA. And, it essentially was on why India was not being ruled by the Hindu Taliban.

The Indian electorate makes informed and wise decisions – it may not be as literate or as sophisticated as its western counterpart; it may neither be as wealthy, nor as involved – but, the Indian voters have tended to surprise Indian politicians, political parties, and the world at large with their choices. We vote for a direction. We vote to teach rulers a lesson. We participate in the electoral process with joy and involvement. And, we vote because it is our right to do so. There are those who many not like the outcome, but that does not mean that the voters are wrong or have voted ‘fascists’ or ‘communists’ or whatever. Accepting the Indian voters’ choice is the first step of understanding and participating in Indian democracy. The political parties have to do so, in all humility. It is time supporters of those parties did so too.

Read the full piece here

Oct 272015
Tony Blair

DAVOS-KLOSTERS/SWITZERLAND, 29JAN09 – Tony Blair, UN Middle East Quartet Representative; Member of the Foundation Board of the World Economic Forum captured during the session ‘The Values behind Market Capitalism’ at the Annual Meeting 2009 of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, January 29, 2009.
Copyright by World Economic Forum by Remy Steinegger

So, Tony Blair finally figures that the invasion of Iraq was a bad idea.He thinks that they had faulty intelligence, bad planning and no clue of what would happen once Saddam was removed. (though he is not sorry for removing Saddam).  If only he had listened to what most people were saying, including the United Nations. This was Blair and Bush pretending to be Indiana Jones but turning out to be Dr.Dang instead.

The world is still counting the dead, the destroyed, and the devastated. The developmental consequences of this will take decades, if not centuries to solve.

And, then there is ISIS. Nature abhors a vacuum, and one controlled nutcase was  replaced by a hydra-like set of anarchic nutcases that are imperiling the region, but cutting a swathe dipped in terror, through the geographies that the UK, the US and their allies in the invasion, sought to ‘liberate’ and bring democracy.

A hall mark of a modern State is less Democracy – the right to choose your party to Govern, at regular elections – but also an Egalitarian Republic. A State based on the rule of law, where citizens (including women and minorities and dissenters) are treated equally and equitably in the eyes of the law and the State. This is the very least. On top of this you add layers of social security to protect the most vulnerable in society. and, you implement laws that protect the most vulnerable from exploitation. The major folly of the modern Imperial powers – who want to control without governing – was that rather than work with the nation builders – the constitutionalists, the non governmental agencies working in the area of rights, the home grown political movements – they worked with external wannabe potentates, who wanted to transplant the West to the region. And, backed by artillery, infantry and air power. With a barely literate, barely intelligent fighting force that shot first and asked questions later. An invading army that looked at shooting locals as a video game rather than actions with consequences.

Forget a set of democratic republics for now. Hope for benevolent strong men who will steer the nations to peace, and getting back to a basic standard of living. Democracy and republics grow from this. Countries ravaged by civil war, fratricidal blood letting and a all permeating aura of terror, are not going to suddenly transform into stable democratic republics. Right now they need protectors. Not elected representatives. This mess will take a few generations to sort out. And, as it gets sorted out there will be more rivers of blood that flow.

This is what Bush & Blair have sown. And, this is what the rest of the world will reap.



Jan 182015

My column in the DNA on the 29th of December,

It is that time of the year when publicity hungry groups go chasing movies they want to ban. Two years ago, it was those who wanted Vishwaroopam to be bannedbecause it affected their sensibility and hurt their sentiments, now it is another set of groups who want PK to be banned because it hurts their sensibility and sentiments. At a very fundamental level, the two sets of groups, despite their affiliations, are similar. What do they want – they want the world to be re-imagined in their own narrow, humourless, intolerant, uniform, black and white view of what is acceptable and what is not. Furthermore, there is this deep rooted arrogance that they are God’s spokespeople and God, for some unknown reason, requires their intervention. If anyone even remotely believes that this is linked to faith or devotion, they would be mistaken. This is linked to piggy backing on a more famous brand name (God, Religion, Stardom) for interested parties to make a name for themselves and establish themselves as a source of unelected power and influence.

Do people have the right to protest – indeed they do. Can people protest about a film that they dislike? Of course. But do people or groups have the right to prevent others from watching a film – a very emphatic no.  A film bothers you – don’t watch it. A book bothers you, don’t read it. A piece of music offends you, don’t hear it. There is nothing and no one forcing someone to consume any artistic product. On the other hand, the groups that protest, try and force the State to ban a film; or prevent an author from a public gathering; or prevent the performance of a play; or ask for a book ban; thereby depriving others of consumption, by threat of creating a law and order situation – do try and force the rest of the world to accede to their wishes. This is intrinsically undemocratic and also goes against a civilizational ethos of not just pluralism, but also dissent. People have the right to express their creativity and their point of view, without threat from outraged hordes.

Protest against PK in Jammu. PTI

Last year, while writing about the outrage over multiple things (including Vishwaroopam), I had written this:

Goethe, the German author, poet and dramatist, observed that the “There is nothing more frightening than active ignorance.” It is a quote that comes to mind every time there are protests about books, authors, paintings, films, music – in short ideas and concepts. Most who protest have neither read, nor seen, nor experienced the object of their outrage. They believe that the idea has profaned what they hold in great esteem. And, they think, therefore, that they have the right to silence this ‘offending’ view so that no one gets to experience it. John Stuart Mill, in his seminal work “On Liberty” (1859), termed this behaviour of wanting to silence a particular view, as evil. He said “The peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error”.

The government must send out a stern message to all those who are protesting against the film (or any other work of expression). You have the right to protest and the government will defend it. But break the law, and you will go to jail. Vandalism, threats, and trying to shout down the rest of the population will not be tolerated. The message needs to go out loud and clear, for the more these groups are emboldened by inaction, the more they will thrive.

Apr 042013

My Tehelka Blog on the calls to pardon Sanjay Dutt

Ajmal Kasab had just turned 21 when he and his fellow band of terrorists attacked India on 26 November 2008. He was 18, when he began his descent into crime and terror.

The youngest unnamed accused in the horrific Delhi gangrape case was just a shade under 18, when he participated, willingly, in the rape and murder of a young physiotherapist. He was supposedly the most brutal of all the rapists on the bus, that fateful night. While the system calls him a ‘juvenile’ and in all likelihood will set him free, there is general revulsion at the thought of someone like him being free to walk around to commit the same crime again.

Both Kasab and the unnamed juvenile were born in poor families, grew up in a world where others took to petty and not-so-petty crimes, and were exposed to influences that could lead them astray – yet most people do not use their age, their background or reduced circumstances as an excuse for their horrific behavior.

Sanjay Dutt was 33 years old when the Mumbai Police discovered that “the actor had acquired AK-56s from Dawood Ibrahim’s brother Anees Ibrahim, and had even had one destroyed after the serial blasts in Bombay that left 257 people dead.”

Yet it seems like a large part of the film and political fraternity are calling for him to be pardoned. Here is a man who willingly took possession of arms that would be used against his fellow citizens. He tried to cover this up, and yet people are calling for his pardon. There is a very sophisticated publicity exercise in place that wants to make Dutt seem like a poor little lost boy, entrapped by circumstances and an unwilling participant in an escapade that went wrong. The truth is different. He was a grown up, who knew what he was doing, and kept quiet when a single phone call (even an anonymous one) could have saved over 250 lives.

So, what makes Sanjay Dutt special?

Born to Bollywood nobility – his mother was Nargis, father Sunil Dutt – brought up in the lap of privilege and wealth, Sanjay Dutt could have been anyone. He was given a dream film debut by his father in the film Rocky, he worked with the biggest directors in Bollywood, his friends were the A-list in tinsel town, fans loved him, the box office welcomed him and he had the world at his feet. You would think that a man born into such a background and who achieved success would do something useful and meaningful with his life. He didn’t. His early career in Bollywood was marked by absences, late coming and general bad behavior. So much so that he began losing out roles to relatively unknown actors (Sanjay Dutt was the first choice for the film Hero, that later propelled Jackie Shroff to stardom. The story goes that Subhash Ghai was so put off with the unprofessional behavior of Sanjay Dutt that he had him replaced). All this changed with the 1993 Mumbai blasts and the subsequent arrest of Sanjay Dutt under TADA.

Unlike the West where people, even stars, are penalised for their bad behavior, India seems to love its bad boys. Robert Downie Jr, Mel Gibson, and a host of others have lost roles, lost endorsements when they got embroiled in controversy. Mel Gibson for being a drunk racist, Downie Jr for a drug habit that led him to serve jail time – there was punishment beyond what the legal system mandated. There was ostracisation and a loss in earnings. But over here, the moment a star gets into trouble, he becomes more salable. Sanjay Dutt got better roles after his arrest,  and he is not the only one. It is almost as though advertisers and film financiers believe that sleaze will sell.

Today, when people who should know better are appealing the Governor to pardon Sanjay Dutt, they need to understand that they are giving their blessing to delinquency, to irresponsibility, to acting in an anti-social manner and a support of terror.

“He is a nice man” goes the refrain. How many nice people do you know who store automatic weapons and grenades capable of causing carnage? Then there is the refrain that says he was too young. At 33? When leaders like Digvijaya Singh put out statements that say, “Sanjay Dutt is not a criminal, he is not a terrorist. Sanjay Dutt, at a young age, in the atmosphere of that time, thought that perhaps the way Sunil Dutt had been raising his voice against communalism and favoured the minorities, then perhaps he could be attacked,” they are making excuses for terror.

What do you say to all those people who are minorities, or favour minority rights and would never think of going down the path of violence or terror? Indeed, what do you tell people whose family members have been arrested and convicted for terror – that it is excusable because they thought they were in danger? Is this the same approach to dealing with Maoists who believe that the only way they can get heard by the State is by committing acts of terror?

The last excuse is that Nargis and Sunil Dutt were patriots and deserve better. The head of the Press Council of India and former Supreme Court judge Markanday Katju says, on why Sanjay Dutt deserves a pardon: “His parents Sunil Dutt and Nargis worked for the good of society and the nation. Sunil Dutt and Nargis often went to border areas to give moral support to our brave jawans and did other social work for the society.”

This is an easy statement to agree with. Sunil Dutt and Nargis Dutt did deserve better, and their son let them down. Not the system. It is because he is their son that he is only facing just 5 years in prison, not a lifetime. Imagine if an ordinary boy named Sanjay Dutt, whose parents were not popular film stars, had been found with the weapons cache. Would the outcry be the same?

Jan 292013

Bites the hand that feeds him – screamed the headline on 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 …