Apr 182016


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

Apr 152016

I don’t wear my religion on my sleeve.

it is deeply personal, and a source of spiritual solace.

I usually don’t take offence at stuff spoken or said on Hindu Gods, simply because they are Gods, they can take care of themselves and me (and the universe, while they are at it).

But, i saw this emailer with a sense of deep disquiet. It has been bugging me for quite sometime, this entire “Buy more” messaging around festivals. I would hate for it to happen to Hindu  religous days, what has happened to Christmas. IMHO, days like this, are not about a deep display of consumerism. It is not about spending. It is not about this entire call of ‘more, more, more’ …it is not transactional.

This entire thing of targeting customers on every aspect of their lives, every religious ceremony, and having communication for the brand around it. It is not needed. IMHO

They of course, in a free country, have full right to do what they want. This is within the law. It is just that i am not sure i am going to feel fondly towards the brand, or think highly about their sense of judgement.


Apr 082016

Three months after the Pathankot terror attack forced postponement of Foreign Secretary-level talks between India and Pakistan, Islamabad’s envoy Abdul Basit Thursday said the comprehensive bilateral dialogue process has been “suspended”. He also said “cooperation” is key to the investigation, and not “reciprocity” — putting in limbo the National Investigation Agency team’s visit to Pakistan. –

Today’s Indian Express.

The last Indian Prime Minister who understood Pakistan, and knew how to deal with their duplicitous Government, was Indira Gandhi. She was also the first Prime Minister who understood those. I am possibly going to get massively trolled for this statement, but her grasp of Pakistan, and its Government, came less from political acumen, and more from gender.

Women, know instinctively, about safety, and have an early warning alarm bell system, that possibly is an outcome of 50,000 years of evolutionary biology. The warning alarm bell screams – don’t trust, don’t let your guard down, get ready for (a) fight or flight. Most of us (women) face issues, when we chose to override our most primitive instincts, feel guilty about distrusting ‘such nice people’. As a professional, at a younger age, i used to over compensate for my warning bells, by being really nice to people, whom my instinct told me to avoid. I learnt my lessons the hard way. I have discussed this with multiple women, across socio economic groupings, and they have said that they have these almost physical responses to ‘danger’. It is a very personal response. And, it works the other way too – it tells you who you can trust.

Men look at war and peace very differently from women. The fight is a different fight. They fight for a greater ‘glory’. women fight so that they never have to fight again.

The problem with Indian foreign policy vis-a-vis Pakistan is not enough women call the shots.

This belief that Pakistan will do the right thing, and expending so much energy that we look like idiots every time, has to stop. How many times will India be stabbed in the back, before decision makers decide that we don’t have to be friends. We don’t even have to be friendly. There is nothing that they have that we need, except a whole bunch of criminals. And, they can keep those.

I used to believe that part of the Indian political system’s problem with Pakistan, was that there were too many people whose ancestors were from, what is today, Pakistan. I believed that having people outside the partitioned regions would make things better. Alas, that is not to be. There is still this romantic notion that our PM has, like PM’s before him, that shared history and culture, shared stories and food, will improve relations. It won’t.

I feel for the Pakistani people. They are stuck with a system that is hocked to the militants and the secret service. And, their only raison d’être seems to be lies, deceit, and making India bleed. And, they do it not just because some people like to see the world burn, but because it makes economic sense. The day there is peace (in the true sense of the word) between the two countries, the massive military  aid that flows into Pakistan from the USA, will dry up. That is a lot of money to lose.

Mr.Modi, has done more than what he should to bring about ‘normalcy’ with Pakistan. It is time he stopped, and focused attention elsewhere. It is less about him trying to trust, and more about them, who are not worthy of trust.

indo pak


Apr 062016

Before Monday, I like most of the human beings on the planet, had not heard of Mossack Fonseca, a law firm based out of Panama, that makes the Firm in John Grisham’s novel, seem like a cuddly toy. Mossack Fonseca was very discerning when it came to clients, they had to be rich. Everyone from sports stars, to film stars, Heads of States to drug dealers; from money launderers to arms dealers – was on their client list. The Firm essentially helped the rich, the richer and the richest to create dummy companies, hide paper trails, and evade taxes.

Someone with a conscience, and with access to the firm’s data, turned whistle blower and handed over 2.6 TB of data made up of 11.5 million files – includes more than 4.8 million emails, 3 million database files, and 2.1 million PDFs- to a journalist with the German paper Süddeutsche Zeitung. Süddeutsche Zeitung worked with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) to sift through the mountain of paperwork. Journalists from across the world, collaborated on following through and verifying what was in the paperwork.

Around 400 journalists from more than 100 media organizations in over 80 countries have taken part in researching the documents.

And, remarkably, in an operation with so many journalists working across so many countries, and with so much at stake, there wasn’t a single leak. Had one journalist in this group had leaked information, it is likely that the accounts and companies would have miraculously shut down, and all incriminating data erased.

On Monday, the #PanamaPapers investigation broke on select media outlets across the world. It seems that the corporations, and High Net-worth Individuals (HNI’s) have been scamming their government’s of billions of dollars in tax revenue, ably aided by lawyers, bankers, accountants and others in position of power. The system that is supposed to be the check and the balance, hopelessly subverted by greed.

One of the things that strikes one, as you go through the various investigative articles from various sources, is the level of complexity in this entire operation. This is data that goes back 40 years, and a fairly established way of hiding ill gotten gains.  This kind of massive evasion could not be possible without a certain kind of nod nod wink wink, by those who make and implement laws. In many countries those who make the laws, are the one’s who have been named. The biggest amongst those names Vladamir Putin, 2 billion dollars . David Cameron’s father was the client of the Firm,  The Icelandic PM (who has since resigned) had set up a company in the British Virgin Islands, that was transacting in Icelandic Debt, while he was negotiating with the banks on the debt, in his capacity as head of government; Nawaz Sharif has been named, as has the King of Saudi Arabia. Mossack Fonseca has helped all of them, and many more, in setting up companies in 22 jurisdictions across the world. This is the opening of the proverbial Pandora’s box.

One of  the most telling comments i read on this

that a whole massive amount of the world’s financial and political corruption got dumped onto the Intertoobz, certainly enough to give more weight to the possibility that every political system in the world—even the nakedly authoritarian ones—is hopelessly rigged, and that the marvelous new world of the miraculous global economy is an even bigger thieves’ paradise than you, me, or even Jamie Dimon thought it was.

Most people, in most parts of the world, do not trust their Government. That is also because they don’t trust the politicians who run their governments. And, they most likely, trust corporations even less. In a world, where the elite are already facing a massive trust deficit with the remaining 99%, this could not have come at a worse time. Anger at the ‘fat cats’ living off the hard work and taxes of the average citizen, is already on the rise. We have been seeing manifestations of this across the world in the last 6-7 years. This is going to make it worse.

Finally, Two points.

  • Not too many Indian names on that list so far. But, a) it is early days; b) Mauritius is nearer
  • Mossack Fonseca is the 4th largest firm in this space. Which means there are 3 more with even more data (and clients)

I hope the whistleblower is safe, secure and remains completely anonymous, forever



Image source – here.


Follow my flipboard magazine Panama Papers, where I curate some of the more interesting reads on the topic.

Apr 062016

Whenever i feel slightly lost, and tossed about by the stormy winds of life, i listen to this. As much a song as a plea. get my boat back to safety … sort of.

more on the Benaras boatman series here

Somehow i saw fishermen as being more spiritual than, maybe, the rest of us, who were firmly tethered to land. Casting off into the sea, or a rather big river. Navigating into the unknown, based on the stars (pre GPS), encountering storms and waves, and the rest. While you can take the song in it’s literal sense (get my boat home), it is also metaphorical – be my guide.