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.

Nov 302011

The DNA column, and yours truly,  got quoted in the NYT, India Ink section

Since the Mumbai attacks, India has suffered numerous terrorism-related incidents, including but not limited to: a September 2009 car bombing in Kashmir; attacks in Maoist rebel-controlled areas in May 2010 that killed dozens of security personnel, a September 2010 shooting that killed two tourists from Taiwan, a December 2010 bombing in Varanasi, and blasts at the Delhi High Court this September that killed more than a dozen.

Perhaps that’s why as the anniversary weekend ended, a common reaction from victim’s families and others was anger at how little has been done to improve security in Mumbai and elsewhere around the country.

“26/11 has become a ritual. A ritual like all others. Garlands, flowers, candles, meaningless words — but have we really learnt anything?,” asked one columnist in DNA newspaper on Monday.

“Mumbai, three years after 26/11, faces a 40 percent shortage of police personnel. There simply aren’t enough policemen to take care of law and order, let alone a terror attack,” Harini Calamur writes.

“The remaining anti-terror infrastructure promised in the aftermath of the 26/11 attacks is still in the distant horizon. There is no political party asking why jobs are not being filled — by locals or others.”


Nov 292011

And after 4 days when the terrorists terrorized, the media went ballistic and people watched a spectator sport – it ended today, 3 years ago.

This morning I tried to look for the names of the police and the NSG men who died in the terror attacks. difficult to find the names in one place. Almost nada. Nothing. Zilch… there is something to be said about a culture that doesn’t mourn its dead, doesn’t feel a sense of loss … maybe that is why we get attacked – time and again. Not just because we have inept and venal politicians, but because the people don’t care.

The dead

JCP Hemant Karkare

ACP Ashok Kamte

PI Vijay Salaskar

PI Shashank Shinde

PSI Prakash More

PSI Baburao S. Dhurgude

PC A.R. Chitte

PC Vijay Khandekar

APSI Balwant C. Bhosale

APSI Tukaram S. Ombale

PC Yogesh Patil

PC Jayant H. Patil

PC Ambadas Pawar

PHC, RPF, M.C. Chaudhari

PHC, SRPF Rahul S. Shinde

Constable, Home GuardMukesh B. Jadhav

Major Sandip Unnikrushnan, NSG

Hv. Gajendra Singh, NSG

you read the addresses of the police who died – not the officers but the men -chawl x and chawl y. Do we even think about how the police live and work … to dismiss them with the ‘sab chor hai’ is so very, very wrong …

Ask… think. Reflect …


The list of all  those who died- police, security forces, civilians  –  in the terror attacks – Mumbai 26/11 via @onlysilly on twitter

Nov 282011

My column in today’s DNA

26/11. A day three years ago, when the average Mumbaikar’s sense of relative security was ripped out.

It isn’t that Mumbai was a haven of security and peace. Quite the contrary. The last two decades had been quite traumatic for the city of dreams. First came the gang wars, followed by the riots and then by bomb blasts s in the first few years of the 1990s. This had an impact on  the fabric of the city, and its psyche went through trauma that was best associated with other places Then came the sporadic bomb blasts – targeting trains, buses, inflicting death, damage and fear  on a population that was on the move, trying to create a better life for itself and its families. Yet the city plodded on. Then came the floods – a random cloudburst that shook the city up. You still see the aftermath of that incident. A heavy downpour and half of Mumbai seems to be indoors. And, then came 26/11. Possibly, the most traumatic of the lot. Not because it happened in the elite areas of Mumbai. Not even because of the toll, but because the enemy – and let’s not mince words about who they were – were able to sneak into our city with the utmost ease, and unleash carnage, while all that we could do was wait and watch. That they were able to do this in multiple locations including trains stations, hospitals and hotels with ease makes one feel even less secure. The kind of impotence and paralysis associated with the four days of bloodbath was without parallel. An elite, highly indoctrinated, professionally trained, well-armed killer squad landed in your city, your country, and killed, and killed and killed – and there was no way to stop them.

Three years down the line, what is 26/11 signify. Like much else in this country – a ritual. A ritual where we take out old candles and light them, a ritual in which we send a file to Pakistan to ask for justice, a ritual in which television anchors, newspaper editors and intelligentsia pontificate on what was, what should be and what isn’t. 26/11 has become a ritual. A ritual like all others. Garlands, flowers, candles, meaningless words – but have we really learnt ?

The primary goal of the state is to keep its citizens secure. And, to ensure this security forces have to be well staffed, well trained, well armed, well coordinated.  Mumbai, three years after 26/11, faces a 40 per cent shortage of police personnel. There simply aren’t enough police to take care of  law and order, let alone a terror attack. The remaining anti-terror infrastructure promised in the aftermath of the 26/11 attacks is still in the distant horizon. There is no political party asking why jobs are not being filled – by locals or otherwise. There is no rath yatra highlighting the miserable state of security across the nation, and there is no activism on keeping citizens secure. While it may be impossible to prevent terror attacks 100% of the time, it shouldn’t be this easy for the enemy to get through the gates.

The response of the Americans and the Europeans to terror attacks on their territory was all party consensus on  the way forward. Can you see our politicians, our civil society, our citizens coming together on anything? If the Congress proposes something, the BJP has to oppose and vice versa. Everything is a party political issue. Everything is geared towards capturing the headlines. And, political capital is sought to be built on every little aspect of Governance – be it FDI or security. National Interest takes a back seat in this political edition of Tom and Jerry. What politicians seem to forget is that while Tom and Jerry is fun to watch, does one  really want them in charge of the Nation?

And Finally, Everyone knows where the terrorists came from. Everyone knows who funded them, trained them and deployed them. They also know that these weren’t non-state actors but a State itself. So why does India persist in this delusion of ‘we need to be friends’ with Pakistan. They aren’t our friends. They never have been. There doesn’t have to be a logical, understandable reason for their visceral hatred towards India. What there has to be is an appreciation on the Indian side, that some people just want to see your country burn. And those people are not hidden away in caves in the Hindukush mountains, but are within the Government of Pakistan.