Book Review: Teresa’s Man and Other Stories by Damodar Mauzo

Book Review of Teresa’s Man and Other Stories, written by Damodar Mauzo and translated by Xavier Cota now live on The Tales Pensieve 

A vibrant, yet subtle cover that matches the flavors in the book

Is it evil?

In the last few weeks, I have come across three somewhat disturbing stories. All relate to start-ups in Mumbai.

 

In the first one, someone told me that a co-founder X of a successful start-up A was involved in a car accident. He was driving. There were three other people (employees of the start-up, I think) in the car. One died on the spot. Another one died couple of days later. The driver (X) was booked by police for rash and negligent driving. He was later released on bail. The start-up otherwise receives a fair bit of media attention these days. Except that this one news item did not get as much coverage. Interestingly, the “add-on” I heard was that X was trying to flee the scene after the accident, after the car apparently hit the divider and went towards the other side of the road. It was only after some passer-by saw what had happened and reported it to the police that X was booked for rash driving. Apparently. Last heard, X was out on bail. While it is not exactly clear why the accident happened, but “fleeing the scene” bit makes you wonder.

An important thing here – Those who are in the front seat typically have their seat-belts on. That explains why 2 of 4 survived the accident. Those in the back seat were the ones who did not make it through the accident. Remember that when you’re in the back-seat the next time. Accidents don’t happen with a lot of warning.

 

In the second incident,  a young, struggling but passionate group of individuals running a start-up (Startup A) have found it difficult to hit the big league. They work in a niche space. And in that niche space, they recently came up with a great proof of concept. This idea, they knew could work well for another company, a successful and well-funded startup (Startup B). So, A went shopping for their first customer B. A knew that sooner rather than later, B would want to have such a solution in their portfolio. One of the guys at A knew a senior guy at B. After showcasing the solution, which the big boys at B liked, the big boys at B decided to ask their in-house team to make it on their own and (additionally) try to poach the team-members of this struggling start-up. Individually, all the co-founders of A were approached for a job, so that they could build this idea inside B as part of their job, and for a better “salary” than what their struggling startup was making.  And lest I forget, B had only recently gone through a phase of screaming rats on another start-up a few months back for apparently stealing their idea. A is working on the idea, but has been reasonably scarred by the experience.

 

In a third incident, the CEO of a successful and well-funded startup run by a very young team sent a rude and profane letter to a VC big-shot calling the VC unethical, inhuman, etc. The context, at least, as explained by the VC later, revealed a “perceived” poaching of an employee from the start-up by the VC. The letter/email was apparently leaked by an insider on the internet (one can keep wondering about the reasons why it was done). Several questions emerge – Irrespective of the truth behind poaching, was the CEO right in sending that email to the VC? If he indeed did send that mail to the VC, what made him copy some of the other folks in his organization? Or, was it the VC who got someone else to put that letter on the internet? The VC by the way is not invested in this particular start-up. The world at large had a field day reading the shikwaa and jawaab-e-shikwaa. But in the process, a large majority agreed on a few things – the brashness/foolishness/ arrogance of the CEO, and the potential impact this action may have on some of the outcomes around that startup being not so favourable for the CEO.

 

 

All these stories are about young guys who have hit the big time very early in their life. One of the things that I remember from a Harsha Bhogle speech at IIM-A (search for the youtube video – its a gem) is that one should never grudge anyone their success.

Are they  idiots? Are they evil?

One can not help but feel that they have not been able to handle this huge success, this fame and this over-exposure. Or, maybe, these are just growing pains/ stretch marks that come when you grow too fast. That adrenaline rush of Virat Kohli? Or, maybe, they live a life which is infinitely more stressed than mine.

However, it raises another question – do these young high performance individuals need mentoring? To be under the wings of seasoned CEOs who can tell them all about weathering the lows that eventually do happen, or about grace under fire, while enjoying the highs that life has to offer, and without losing their sanity in this joy ride. There is no doubt that these are very very high performance/ high talent individuals.

 

At a personal level, the second incident bugged me the most. Accidents do happen, even when people are careful. There are moments when you fly off your handle. You can patch up some times, and some times, you can not do much move on. But nothing justifies why you should try to steal someone else’s idea. Not when you were in a similar boat a little while back. Not when you know what it means to be young and struggling. Not when you know what it means to get a fighting chance for your idea. That, to me, is evil.

 

 

 

Watch NH10 for Anushka

This scene is not in the movie. Not exactly like this, at least
This scene is not in the movie. Not exactly like this, at least

There are many things that need to happen in the right amount for a movie like NH10 to work. And history suggests that Bollywood has a knack of screwing those many things many times over in many movies.

For instance, in a thriller, should the lead actors necessarily sing and dance around the trees? Or, in a rather dark movie, should the protagonist emerge as a larger than life person taking on some 20-goons at the same time? And beating all of them to an unrecognizable color (black/blue/white/gold)? Or, should a story that can be told in 90 minutes be told in 150+, so that the audience feels that they have got their money’s worth?

 

Thankfully, NH10 manages to avoid most of these pitfalls. It’s a superbly edited edge of the seat dark thriller, elevated a few notches solely by Anushka Sharma’s performance (despite her disconcertingly gone wrong lip job).

Running at an approx. 2 hours length (probably lesser), NH10 moves at a hectic pace almost all through. And not because there are too many characters and too many sub-plots (like Gnags of Wasseypur), but because, for a change, someone hired an editor who knew what editing should do to a movie.

Anushka Sharma hits this one out of the park. Make no mistake, it’s her movie. All the way. Right from having football field size cojones to put her movie in a script like this, to acting out of her Band-Baaja-Baraat-ki-saddi-dilli-wali-bubbly-kudi skin, this is her show. Meera (Anushka) is a better symbol for gender equality than Deepika Padukone’s or Twinkle Khanna’s open letters. Definitely more than Shobha De’s columns.

In a particular scene, a police inspector remarks that “ye shehar ek badhta hua bachcha hai, koodega to hai hi”. The disgust on Meera’s (Anushka) face speaks volumes about how much she has matured as an actor.

The transformation of Meera in the second half of the movie is somewhat heroic and filmy, maybe, but it isn’t a hyperbole of Salman-ian Radhey standards. Her methods, but for the one scene where she climbs the walls of a construction quarry, are more real than Vidya Balan’s last scene transformation in Kahanii. The climax seems a minute too longer and a conclusion too exaggerated, but is probably one of the most lucid and definitive conclusions I have seen in similar bollywood fare. Remember Mardaani? And how the end seemed a little too much? Even for a cop? This one doesn’t. If at all, I expect many women to want to learn driving (really well and not just a car), and working on. You know, it might come handy some day without things really having to become that bad. By the way, let’s be real here. Bollywood finds it natural to have a male actor kick 40 bad guys in a climax. How can you expect them to find credible endings for female protagonists?

Movie has a fantastic cast overall. Neil Bhoopalam is someone I have been wanting to see in a big role. Unfortunately, in this one, he looks and acts more like Rajkumar Yadav (heard he’s changed his name?). That is not bad, but that is not the Neil Bhoopalam I have come to expect from his theatre circuit performances. The villain dudes are pretty good. The cops, better. The creepy guy in Meera’s office – fits. They even have a Deepti Naval thrown in for artistic effects.

The background score is excellent. It helps maintain the tautness of the movie.

If you remember Manorama – Six Feet Under, you can see Navdeep Singh’s imprint all over again. The movie has that shadow almost all through the movie, and you’re almost always on the edge of your seat waiting for something to happen. There’s a point in the movie where Meera stops at a water tap and is splashing her face. It’s the middle of the night, and you spend almost the entire fifteen seconds wondering if something’s about to happen. I won’t throw too many spoilers like these your way.

The music is not meant to be consumed without the movie. And there isn’t much of a distraction. No song and dance sequences to take you off the main course. The mood – continuously sombre.

 

The movie has its share of flaws and generalizations. The good people (Meera and Arjun) are educated, drive a Fortuner, speak English, and go to swanky parties. Interestingly, they have a licensed gun. The bad people, however, are the rural folks/ honor killing kinds, drive around in a trademark Mahindra (Scorpio) vehicle, speak in  colloquial Haryanvi, and watch Ramleela/Nautanki equivalents in their village for entertainment. Oh, and they kill with sickles and iron rods. Fifty Shades of Grey, not! Almost every thing is black and white. Much as the police inspector tries to explain to Meera, the obviousness of certain things is unmistakable.

Deepti Naval is a forced distortion in a movie of this genre. It’s a hat tip to our habit of trying to include every possible dimension. It would not have made any difference if Deepti Naval was replaced by an unknown person of any gender.

Anushka-NH10Some of the page 3 discussions early on in the movie seem forced. But they help establish the characters Meera and Arjun. And thankfully, not a lot of screen time is wasted on that. If I could, on hindsight, I would take out about 10 more minutes from the movie.

 

Overall, highly recommended movie for the week. Watch it to encourage more such movies. Watch it for Anushka.

 

 

(image courtesy – ibnlive and filmibeat)

Cricket Times They Are A-Changin’

Cricket, the game of glorious uncertainties. World Cup, the biggest stage the game has to offer. And how the stage has changed!

kapil1983In 1983, Kapil Dev played one of the most breath-taking innings (apparently) to help steer India out of tight corner. At 18/5, Kapil and Kirmani carefully constructed a partnership to take India to a winning total. Against the perpetual minnows – Zimbabwe. Kapil, that day, scored 175 not out. Out of a total of 166. Kirmani scored 22. Unfortunately for the world, there are no tapes or archives of that day because of a BBC strike. No one was recording it on a TiVo or HD+ or their high def cell phones. India went on to win the World Cup in 1983.

dyanora-tv-oldFor 28 years, Indian cricket fan reminisced about the 1983 Prudential Cup win, the catch that Kapil took to dismiss Viv Richards, the greatest ODI cricketer of all times, the 175 not out, the military medium of Madan Lal, Mohinder Amarnath, Roger Binny, and the guile of Bedi, that spell of Sandhu, and many such things. In 1983, many Indian families bought the black and white TV sets from companies like Salora, Uptron, Beltron. Many of those companies do not compete in the television market, or any market for that matter, any more. Some of those TV sets came with wooden cabinets that people would close to protect them from dust and unwanted access. The channels had to be changed by twisting a hard knob that made the sound of cricket ball hitting the bat (almost). And the memories are distinctly black and white – a beaming Kapil Dev wearing an Indian Cricket Team jacket/ sports-coat (logo on the breast pocket) holding that cup at the Lords’ balcony – etched on an Indian cricket lovers’ mind for almost three decades.

Back then, they sold post-cards. In the absence of desktop wallpapers or Facebook walls, people collected bingo cards and post-cards of players. K Srikanth hitting a lofted square cut, Sunny Gavaskar smiling in a close up, Ravi Shastri in that blue and yellow jersey with a white helmet at the Benson & Hedges series down under, Kapil Dev’s signature bowling pose. There was Big Fun, a chewing gum company, which must have made a fortune by somehow convincing a generation of cricket watchers to collect bingo cards of cricket and football players.

In the coming three decades, we tried hard to repeat that feat. In 1987, the first world cup outside England, in India, we lost the semi-finals of Reliance World Cup. Shortly thereafter, we pinned our hopes on a short fellow named Tendulkar. 1992 wasn’t ours (we won 2 of 8 matches). 1996 took us to the semi-finals again, where a Sri Lankan demon (the first one after Ravana) took us apart.  Tendulkar fought back valiantly, but once he left the golden rectangle (like Jataayu), even the pitch turned on us. In 1999 (horrible super six performance), 2003 (a Bazooka Ponting vs Zaheer Satkela in Final), 2007 (knocked out in round robin with one win against Bermuda!), we hit a here and there, a reasonable high and an embarrassing low.

During this time, the whites were replaced by colourful dresses and multiple brand endorsements. And the black and whites were replaced by color TVs. The CTVs were replaced by a myriad of varieties – Plasma, LCD, LTV, Flat screen, curved LED, 3D, Smart TV. Internet streaming is the new thing. The broadcasting evolved. From 1-3-5 cameras per match, suddenly, there are more than 20-30 cameras per game. There are cranes and javelins and quadcopters. There are moving boundary cameras. There is stump-vision. Oh, how I loved the Sky-network’s boundary camera vision which moved from right to left as the bowlers ran in to bowl!

By 2015, the few commentators that used to be have given way to an army of commentators. Sometimes, the line up of commentators is like a team that could take on any of the current world-cup contenders with aplomb, despite their age. The time spent on technicalities by ex-greats have made a successful commentator out of Ravi Shastri (for the sheer variety he introduces in the commentary box with phrases like ‘tracer bullets’) and Harsha Bhogle (the common man’s commentator).

From two umpires, we moved to three. From three, we have moved to 3+ technology. We have seen Hawk-eye, spin vision, snicko meters, hot-spots, stump mics that record sound, and multiple cameras whose job is to just watch your bat and the crease. We have learnt all about “it’s the on field umpire’s call”. We have learnt about marginal errors. And we have noted with great relief that Steve Bucknor’s faulty version could be replaced by an android. Finally!

The equipments evolved too. From the culture of heavy bats for heavy ground strokes, we moved to long handles, light bats, custom bats, curved edges, heavy bottoms. Somewhere, we learnt about Tennis elbow too. Leather balls became white. No longer a shining red cherry, yeah? And now, one ball has given way to two. To be used from different ends of the stadium. The softer kookaburras to the harder SGs, the realization that SG was Sanspareills Greenlands, and not Sunil Gavaskar, also became all pervasive. Thigh pads and helmets became lighter and sturdier. The LED lights of stumps and bales – who’d have thought! Reviewing umpire decisions rather than getting fined for showing dissent is almost as strong a deviation from the gentlemen’s game as an Indian bowler clocking speeds of 145+ consistently. Umesh Yadav – you have my vote for now!

The discussions evolved. From quoting shots and moments, the cricket debaters have started quoting statistics – averages, home and away records, fastest 100s, strike rates, no of dots in a double century, game impact index. The visualizations now show multi-coloured lines to show the singles and the boundaries and the wickets. There is an accurate capturing of short and good length deliveries. There are dossiers that players carry on their iPad. About their competition. Joel Garner probably believed in small things. Like bowling at fiery pace and making the bowl land in the right areas. And playing mind games. Most teams in the last world cup were probably spending 6 hours discussing how to get Sachin Tendulkar or Virendar Sehwag out by reviewing various batting tapes.

And then 2011 happened. Yuvraj happened. Sachin happened. Mahendra Singh Dhoni happened. The bowlers tendulkar2011showed up. The fielders did. And Wankhede erupted. And a new memory got etched in the new generation’s sub-conscious – that glorious six to win the world cup, Mahindra Singh Dhoni holding the pose after hitting that six and then completing a gladiatorial 360-degree swing of the bat, a team carrying Sachin Tendulkar around the ground, and sending the cup to the background. The color across the stadium – Blue. And yes, the tricolor. And Sunil Gavaskar making the remark – “when I die, the last thing I want to see is the six that Dhoni hit in the 2011 world cup final”. Now when I think of winning the world cup, my memories are not Black and White. They are, 32-bit-high-definition-high-resolution-high blah blah, full of colors. Oh, how the game has changed!

 

There is a small thing that hasn’t changed. Commentary on radio used to be a visual narration filled with excitement. It could not depend on visual aids or the colors. It has stayed Black and White.

“Amarnath is bowling from the pavilion end to right arm batsman Ian Botham.

Bowl thoda andar ki taraf aayee aur ballebaaz ne kalai ko ghumate hue square leg ki taraf bhej diya hai. Umpire chusti se hatTe hue. Bahut hi aakarshak stroke tha Narottam (Puri), aur bahut hi khoobsurti se is se pehle ki fielder Bishan Bedi gend tak pahunche, Botham ne ek run poora kar liya hai. Bahut hi sadhaa hua shot tha aur aise shots se hi aapko pata chalta hai ki Botham jitney ache gendbaaj hain, utne hi ache ballebaaj bhi.”

 

“Agli gend karne ko gendbaaz mohammad shami pavilion end se hawa ke virudh daudte hue, aur off stump se thoda bahar tappa kha ke, halke se bahar ki taraf gayee aur ye jordaar appeal. Aur ye umpire in Ian Bell ko out karaar diya. Mahindra Singh Dhoni ka ye is match mein teesra catch, aur Shami ka pehla wicket.

Absolutely Shekhar. This was a beautiful outswinger. You could say that it did not swing much. It just held its line and from the wide angle of the crease from where Shami bowled it, that was good enough to flummox a well set batsman like Ian Bell. Kudos to Shami for having persisted with that line and invite Ian Bell to play that shot. Bell played inside the line and was beaten all hands up. With that we will take a short advertisement break and we will back shortly to celebrate this wicket.”

Oh! Sorry. There’s one thing that has really changed about radio commentary – There are no boundaries hit on air anymore. They are “shandaar BSNL chauka. Connecting India.”

 

 

 

 <This post is my entry for the Blogmint – Harsha – Blogger Dream Team Contest>

Book Review: Shattered Dreams – Book 2 | Ramayana – The Game of Life by Shubha Vilas

Title:  Shattered Dreams, Book 2

Series: Ramayana: The Game of Life

Author: Shubha Vilas

Publisher: Jaico Publishing House

Publication Year: 2014

ISBN 13: 9788184955316

Binding: Paperback

Number of pages: 387

Price: Rs 350

 

Shattered Dreams is the second book in Shubha Vilas’ Ramayana Series.  In this book, the story begins just before Dasharatha’s decision to pass on the reins of Ayodhya to Rama, and ends after the famous Rama-Bharata Dharma-Dharma dialogue at Panchvati. Deftly peppered along the way are the author’s footnotes and philosophical discourses to make the book relevant to modern life.

 

How many Ramayana does it take to tell it all?

The last few years has seen a surge in Indian literary works that revolve around the twin epics of Ramayana and Mahabharata. There are, then, tales that revolve around the diversion and mini-stories that both these epics have embedded. And somehow, there is always something more. Something that you might not have known already.

What’s more important is to remember the relevance of the book to the believers. Ramayana, or the tale of Rama, the finest among men (Maryada Purushottam), in the Indian mythos-ethos, is often the book of reference. It’s the book that tells you right and wrong. I have known too many people who in times of deep distress or difficulty, close their eyes and open a random page of Ramayana or Ramacharitmas, read a few verses, and find peace. For it is their pathway into righteousness. I am not one of them.

That, however, also makes you wonder whether or why you’d pick one more such book without knowing if there is any new and interesting titbit in this version.

 

In that space, does this version of Ramayana, which is just a translation and a philosophical discourse, fit?

 

Shubha Vilas’ Ramayana – The Game of Life – Shattered Dreams (Book 2) is one that did not excite me at the outset. The context and the title don’t give me enough push to pick the book. The blurb also suggests that it’s as much a retelling as it is a philosophical discourse around Ramayana’s relevance to everyday life. That part? Neither. So, in reality, I picked it up because of Blogadda.

 

So, let’s first talk about what works and what’s good.

There are newer touches. For example, the tale of Kaikeyi’s mother, or of Dasharatha’s promise to King Ashwapati, Kaikeyi’s father. Or, the story about Guha and Lakshmana trusting but never fully trusting each other.

The narration stays close to being a literal translation, a well researched literal translation. The frequent reference to the actual Sanskrit words/ verses and their contextual interpretation is a nice addition to aid one’s understanding of the epic.

For those who are interested in debates around a whole set of events that place in Ramayana, even though Ramayana is often considered to be the blander of the two mega-epics because of its morally upright viewpoint all the time, the frequent footnotes often provide explanations that will fuel some thoughts and introspection.

 

What doesn’t work?

The book is sluggish in pace, and has few new elements to offer.  There are very few incidents and stories that are new or unheard of in the translated Ramayana world.

The simplicity of Kaikeyi has always unnerved me. For someone who has the wits to manoeuvre a battlefield, Kaikeyi continues to be a simpleton in most versions of Ramayana, who so easily gives up his love of Rama and is manipulated by Manthara. I would love someone to research this aspect and tell a more interesting tale.

I noticed some linguistic inconsistencies too. Rama, for instance, never addresses Kaikeyi as just Kaikeyi. There should always be the “Mother” prefix/suffix associated with it. To address her otherwise would be a blemish on his personality, for he never lets down his guards and has never really blamed Kaikeyi for anything. For instance – “The boons he had given Kaikeyi” can not be a Rama statement. Also, his tone and explanation at quite a few points suggests a level of resentment towards Kaikeyi. Example – “His greatest worry was mother Kaushalya’s safety from the tortures of Kaikeyi”. In the truest form of Ramayana, that does not seem right.

The language is too dramatic and hence, in a different time and space than the audience that is reading it. For instance, the continuously fainting and rolling on the floor in agony kind of Rama and Bharata somehow seem out of place.

While the philosophical notes are good, the interruptions happen a little too often. The debates happening at the end of a complete sub-section would be my preference. And unfortunately, the interruptions are less reflective, more pedantic. Like the one on Rama’s management sutra. On a positive note, probably, they are meant to make you pause more often and reflect on what the text means to the reader.

Lastly, the Kaikeyi episode/ Ayodhya kaand is one of the ripest sections of Ramayana for a moral conflict and ideological debate. There are multiple conflicts here – Dasa-Kaikeyi, Kaikeyi-Rama, Rama-Sita, Rama-Kaushalya, Rama-Sita, Rama-Lakshman, Lakshman-Urmila, Lakshman-Sumitra, Rama-Ayodhya, Rama-Bharata, and so on. And each of these conversations is an opportunity in itself. Unfortunately, it does not come across as enough justice has been done to most of these conversations.

 

The book at an overall did not quite work for me. But it may work for many others with a deeper faith in the epic and who are looking for a debate on the epic. If I had to read another retelling of Ramayana, I would probably go back to Ashok Banker’s Ramayana series.

 

I would go with a 2 on 5 stars for this book.

 

 

This review is a part of the biggest Book Review Program for Indian Bloggers. Participate now to get free books!

India’s Daughter: Leslee Udwin’s Documentary on BBC

I SAW the video. Not in totality. Skipped and rushed through parts. Watched 59 minutes long video in about 20 minutes. Why did I not watch the whole thing? Two reasons – Usual dearth of time to watch a one hour long video which restates most of what I already know (shallow, but true), and it was a deeply disturbing video (deep, and equally true).

Putting my gripes with the documentary aside, it is disturbing to relive the case, to try and understand how the perpetrators of that crime think about their actions, to understand that they are not alone in thinking so, to realize that the lawyers defending them (people who value an explicitly taken weak argument) have no qualms going on record saying things like Indian culture has no place for a woman, to realize that an entire mass of educated bureaucracy, empowered legislative body, elected political system, and the similarly effected population of this country – failed Nirbhaya.

We fail the women of our country every day. Every time we step out on the street. Over and over again. By not standing up for them. By believing that standing up for them is like extending a favour. Or an act of heroism or bravado. And by “we”, I am including the women around me as well. But then, we don’t just fail the women. We fail the entire bloody community that we are a part of.

The documentary spends an inordinate amount of time projecting Nirbhaya as a good person, and the criminals as rotten to the core. A documentary about the subject need not have spent as much time profiling one woman. It needed to stand up for all women. Irrespective of them being virtuous, noble, humble or otherwise. Not all women who are raped and killed are Nirbhaya. They don’t need to be. They have their own identities. And their own freedom to protect. In this documentary of Nirbhaya vs. the society, somewhere, the brutality of the incident and the shamelessness of these criminals is all that is left. The issue, though, is much bigger. Nirbhaya is not India’s only daughter.

Way more disturbing, and probably a subject that needs a bigger debate, is the set of statements made by the lawyers. Is a “man” whose explicit biases include considering women as flower, precious gemstones, or fruit on the street, fit enough to be a lawyer? Was this a lawyer provided to the criminals by the state? Or, did these lawyers come to the fore on their own, given the popularity the case would’ve got them? Or, could these criminals really afford a lawyer on their own? There is a point in “Better Call Saul” (a TV Series) where a person, who while being guilty doesn’t really consider herself guilty of anything”, tells Saul that “you look like a lawyer that guilty people would have”. If these are state provided lawyers who have such “beliefs”, what chance do women approaching the state machinery for justice and fairness have? There is another one who is willing to put petrol on her daughter and burn her alive if she is found out and about with a boy. Now here is a thought – lets see if we can convince his daughter(s) or wife or mother to take this challenge head on. And then file a case of domestic violence and rape against these lawyers. And lets see if the judiciary will be able to stand up for what is right.

More often than not, and its my belief, a society at large behaves well out of fear. Not because of education or awareness or culture or something like that. Over a period of time, fear is forgotten and conditioning takes over. The conditioned behavior then becomes the benchmark behavior that differentiates right and wrong civil societies. Like eating beef. Or, drinking. India does not fear its law. It can be bought and sold for a 50 rupee note at times. On the other hand, people don’t jump lights in US because they are afraid of the law. Now, assuming that there were no penalties for jumping lights, would the average American still be standing at the traffic light, waiting for it to turn green?  My hypotheses, after witnessing NYC traffic, is that s/he won’t.

What do I want? Decisive, fast action. If established, a rape convict gets death sentence. If established, a dude jumping lights more than twice gets his license revoked. Hit and Run (like the Housing.com story (not sure if it’s true) or the Ambani story) – definitely license revoked, significant financial penalty, and a jail term. Why, after so many years, are we still debating about the punishments for these people? Why after so many years do people still have a doubt about Mr. Lalu Prasad Yadav’s corruption and subsequent punishment/ debarment from Indian politics? The failure of the judiciary, law and order and politics cannot be the reason why the whole Indian society can be called “sick” by someone who’s spent a couple of years in India. That it might actually be sick is another and a very important issue.

And this is where my problems with the documentary begin – If I were to evaluate the video purely on the merits of a documentary, I don’t think it’s the smartest or even that its one of the better documentaries that I have seen. Its research is shallow, the narrative manipulative, and there is a level of continuous unrest at the back of your head because it doesn’t seem real quite often. A lot of the footage seems a little too edited and doctored (and not just in a documentary-ish way). There seems to be a little too much of prepping the people for their dialogues. Like when Jyoti’s tutor narrates events from the past, it does not come naturally. Sometimes, the anguish comes through, but often, it seems scripted. It capitalizes on strong emotions, not the quality of probing and gruesome research I was expecting to come across. It is so high on emotions that you cannot follow the logical train. I am not doubting the intentions, but when you’re putting a documentary on BBC, I believe the research also needs to be more comprehensive.

Of the 6 convicts, there is only who’s interviewed (probably an issue with the permissions, though it does make you wonder what the other 5 inherently believed in) – Mukesh Singh. Mukesh was the driver of that bus. The one expert on India is someone who’s brought from outside – Maria. There is but one psychoanalyst who gets airteime, and two defence lawyers get a lot of airtime because of their controversial statements. Amod Kanth of Prayas (NGO) is roped in to provide some input on juvenile cases.

There isn’t much in the story that is new. There aren’t conflicting viewpoints from a legal or psychoanalytical point of view. What leads to this? How are people so comfortable with themselves after doing something as heinous as this? Even after realizing that there life has come to a premature end because of this extremely inhuman act of theirs?

Did you, like me, at some point feel that the “rapists will kill rape victims from now on” is more an argument that is fed to the convict? Considering that this research would have been done through several conversations and interviews, do you think prompting has a role to play in how people respond to questions? Like – “people outside are saying that a your being sentenced to death will lead to more… “.

A big shout out and hugs to Nirbhaya’s parents for being able to not let rage take them over completely. The fact that they still are able to have a sane conversation about all this tells you what strength they have. If only people could learn some of that.

The documentary starts narrow, stays narrow, but generalizes everything to “India”. There isn’t much that is new. Nirbhaya case was one that brought a large populace to the streets demanding justice. Before and after that, there have been many more rape cases, maybe none so brutal (I don’t agree that an outright murder of a raped woman is any less of an eventuality than what happened with Jyoti). Those cases have not been talked about. And hence, while in spirit, you may want to take a stand that Nirbhaya Case = India, there isn’t enough evidence in this documentary that supports it.

It is a decent containerization of an event that shook the nation and some of the socio-cultural aspects around that particular incident. The fact that it shook the nation at large should tell you that India is not “sick”. That there is no need to give up hope. There will be moments of despair. Bad things happen. They happen everywhere. What is shameful is the way we act and the way some agencies try to sweep it under the carpet.

And that brings me to the ban. I am somewhat speechless. To debate this ban in parliament seems such a pointless waste of state time. I am sure the government concerns are not about the glorification of criminals (apparently). Rather, they must be worried about the poor portrayal of India. Sir! Humble request Sir! There are other bigger problems to worry about. Like bringing this damn bloody case to its conclusion. One of my managers used to tell me – if you have time to complain about something, you have time to go do it. The inaction of years and decades cannot be shoved under the carpet by imposing bans on documentaries, even if you think they are one sided. Something that is not true here. Acknowledge your damn failures and fix them. Put safety measures in place, and not just for women. Do an overhaul of the legal system. Work towards creating opportunities for everyone. Ensure high quality public transport that does not stop working because its 11 in the night. Come down upon police that won’t take a case because “bekaar ke lafde mein kya padoge saab”.

Stop wasting precious parliament time on debating stupid bans for heaven’s sake. You’re not a twitter celebrity looking for attention and retweets. You are the bloody government. Stop acting like a teenager who can’t take criticism. Stop acting like a gully ka goonda shouting “mera bat hai, mere rules honge”. Maybe you don’t realize this. But a big change that has happened in the last few years – there is a new country called Internet and its identity is very similar to that mythical demon Raktabeej. For every voice that you suppress, a hundred new pop up. And you are neither its prime minister, nor its constitution. Stop sulking and suit up.

 

Should you watch it? Your choice. Do you want to? Would you have watched it otherwise? But don’t watch it just because it has been banned. Don’t watch it to find your moral high ground. There is nothing sensational and path-breaking about watching this documentary. Its not a thriller, edge of the seat variety. Neither is it boring. It’s only 60 minutes. It ticks off all the check-boxes. Its a reminder of one of the most often discussed events in the recent Indian history. At the end of it, it is a given that you will come out feeling extremely disturbed, that much is a guarantee. But still, it is like any other and many other documentaries. The subject it touches is a raw nerve. Unlike education, poverty, juvenile crimes, state of infrastructure, mafia control, etc. Banning it was idiotic though.

Just by banning it, government is telling you to go find ways of watching it. So, Leslee Udwin can thank Indian Government for popularizing a documentary which would have been otherwise watched by a few thousand people.

Book Review: The Legend of Amrapali – Birth of the Bastard Prince by Anurag Anand

My latest review is up on The Tales Pensieve

Anurag Anand’s retelling of this important story from Buddhism’s evolution around 5th Centure BC is gripping, fluid and has the right elements of intrigue, politics, romance and history. Though it does not necessarily stay parallel to the historical version all the time, it’s a fictional retelling that makes the original way more interesting.

What really works for the book is the narrative pace and the strong grounding in history. Where the book falters a bit is the lack of characterization. While that of Amrapali is done over almost a book and a half, Bimbisar, Bindusen, Yudhveer, Chetak, etc. are not detailed.

Overall, the book makes for a good weekend read.

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