Friday, February 19, 2010

Responsible media - a new oxymoron

ATNC, an ordeal of 40 hours is over. ATNC, the man who holed himself up in his home for over two days was a University topper in Maths. Also ATNC, he was mentally disturbed. Further, ATNC, he had 30 bullets and a gun with him.
Oh sorry, ATNC means According To News Channels.
Without getting into all the details, I will come straight to the point. Just in case you have managed to stay away from the Hindi entertainment on TV aka news channels, you can see it here.
It seems that the police thought of a smart strategy of sending this fellow's friend with a cup of tea to meet him. Now, what's so smart about that? Aha! The cup of tea was laced with a sedative. Unfortunately for the cops, the man was in no mood for a cuppa and opened fire at his friend too. Thankfully, the good samaritan escaped unhurt.
You still haven't figured out what's weird in all this? Well, the channels were screaming this story all over the news even when this drama was going on. Now it is not clear whether this fellow had access to a TV inside his home, but what if he had? Can we be sure that he wasn't listening to this piece of news about HIMSELF all the while? Its now a well-known fact that the handlers of 26/11 were conveying the movements of security forces outside to the terrorists. The media has also received enough flak for this.
This Lucknow incident may be small in comparison, but it just proves that neither our police nor our media are learning anything from the past.
Or were the cops smart enough to also cut the cable connection from outside? I just hope so. I can't be completely sure because... well, you read it for yourself. I am quoting straight from a news report of this incident. I can't decide whether this is funny or sad. You try.

The man fired five rounds. And started shouting that he would kill everyone outside.
At 10.30 am .... a drill machine was used to make a hole in the terrace to put in a light bulb so that he could be monitored. He broke the bulb.
At 11:30 am on Friday, police spoke to a team of doctors, including the Chief Medical Officer of Lucknow and decided to make him unconscious and then capture him.
At 1 pm, two more fire engines were called in to use water pressure to overpower him. He stood next to the door to avoid the water pressure.
At 2 pm, the police tried making him unconscious by using gas.
On Thursday morning too, the police had tried hard to coerce him into coming out. They sent a friend of the man's with a cup of tea laced with tranquilizers to his room. When the friend approached the locked door, the shooter opened fire. His friend escaped unhurt.
Later, the police tried to drill a small hole in one of the walls of the man's room. They hoped to throw a teargas shell into the room. Instead, the man shot bullets through the hole at the police. An officer was shot in the hand.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Variety, thy name is life!

As I look back at the last weekend, the only phrase that comes to my mind is - blinding contrast. I am searching other examples of an extreme of experiences in a single day.
The morning began with me going to the municipal garbage dump, armed with my camera. Why would I want to do this, rather than spending a Sunday morning relaxing over a coffee and solving the crossword? Because Bhaikaka is making a film, and Swati and myself are doing our little bit to help him. More about this film when it is complete.
I knew what a municipal garbage dump looks like but still its magnitude hit me. More than its sheer size and its squalor, the sight of people clamouring around the bulldozer, picking things off the garbage brought home an unpleasant truth.

These people have their individual roles defined as to what each one would pick. So one picked only footwear, while another only picked thick plastic bags. One picked only metallic objects, while yet another scoured the garbage for glass. If these pictures compel someone to start segregating dry and wet garbage (biodegradable and non-biodegradable) in their homes before throwing it out, I will be pleased. Saying that "how does only me doing it help? Nobody else in my building does it" is an excuse. Start at your end, and persist.
As the afternoon turned to evening, I looked forward to the dance concert in the night. On the way, I stopped at my customary paanwallah and got to hear about ic terror attack. So far, German Bakery always meant apple pies, butter cookies and large mugs of coffee over a languid evening. It would not mean only these things ever again. What does a terrorist seek? What change does he/she mean to achieve? Other than permanently scarring the lives of innocent families, it achieves nothing. All that we can do to stem this disease is to be more vigilant and alert. Once again, saying that - "how can just me being vigilant achieve anything, the Govt. is incompetent anyway" is again an excuse. I will start at my end, and persist.
The concert by noted Kathak exponent and Guru Maneesha Sathe and her senior disciples was unforgettable, as always. I have no words to describe it really. I am just hoping that the pictures will convey at least one percent of the impact that the performance had on me.

At the end, I wondered - would there ever be another instance where such variety of life experiences will meet me in a single day? Persisting with life is what I can continue doing.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Cadbury's girl dances on...

I ate a chocolate today. Cadbury's obviously. Plain and simple Milk chocolate, no fuss. As I savoured it, I recalled the associated old TV commercials and all those childhood memories flooded me.
An old man and his wife walk down the road as a football comes bounding their way. Suddenly the man, not quite fitting his demeanour and stature, performs a little jig and finally gives a ball a solid kick. As the ball disappears skywards, he looks back at his wife admiring him. Or the one where a well-dressed corporate-looking manager drops a piece of chocolate on the road. Then he picks it up, hopes that nobody is looking, and proceeds to eat it.
Or the
young girl desperately wanting to eat a chocolate but is hampered by mehndi on both hands. We all know what happens after that.
And maybe the best of all. A sprightly girl throws all protocol aside and rushes out to the cricket field, breaking out into a celebration of dance; even as the batsman blushes and hides his face... What moments!
Compare these with the series of flops that we have encountered in the later years. Pappu paas ho gaya,
Palanpur ki Radha and all that. Not to mention the one where Bacchan's 'ghost' enters a girls body.
Cadbury's ads have just kept
going from bad to worse after those initial years.
So I sat thinking as to what made those ads so memorable? The chocolate was over, so there was little else to do. Plus, as Wikipedia tells me, chocolate has theobromine, a mood enhancer. So what was it? Was it the jingle, the visuals, or the actual words? Yes, I think their core lay in the copy..
Remember the words? They said "कुछ ख़ास है
हम सभी में, कुछ बात है हम सभी में. ख़ास है, बात है, स्वाद है. क्या स्वाद है ज़िन्दगी का." Wow. So the words exactly mirrored how we felt when eating a chocolate? I mean, we did feel special and pampered. I surely felt so when I got to eat one FULL chocolate without having to share it with my brothers or the neighbour। (This was when I earned my first salary।)
So they
said to us, "kuchh baat hai hum sabhi mein." There is something special, something nice in everyone. Prince or a Pauper, but there is always something special in each one of us. Yesssss! The ad appealed to our sense of identity and probably ignited some deep existential questions. Who am I? What is the meaning of life?
You know what. I am just kidding, really. I just made this all up. All that I have written by way of analysis is pure nonsense. Poppycock. Cock and bull. Bull-whatever. And anything else you might want to call it.
Those old ads were simply good. Rather, simple AND good. Which brings me to a point, and now I am serious. No kidding, no existential psycho-babble here. Without exception, everytime the topic between friends veers towards old ads, this is ALWAYS the opinion. Cadbury's old ads were better than the later ones. Now if EVERYONE has no doubt about this, then have Cadbury's (along with their ad agency) gone deaf and blind?
Thank your stars that the chocolates have remained the same. Except the price.
So be it. Go eat one today. And answer the existential question. As the chocolate melts in your mouth, do you feel like the dancing girl or like the one who acquired Bacchan's voice?
And just in case you are still in doubt, here are some old memories. Enjoy!

Girl dancing - cricket ad

Girl with mehndi

Kya swaad hai!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Complex vs Simple - Two movies

I saw Harishchandrachi Factory and Ishqiya on successive days. For those unfortunate readers who may have remained ignorant about the former, it's a Marathi movie and was the official Indian entry to the Oscars to the Foreign Film Category. The irony lies in the fact that I didn't feel compelled to explain likewise for Ishqiya. After all, it is made by a well known Director (Vishal Bharadwaj) and boasts of an impressive star cast (Naseeruddin Shah, Arshad Warsi and Vidya Balan).
Harishchandrachi Factory is delightful - to say the least. It gives a lighthearted peep into the trials of tribulations of Dadasaheb Phalke (aka Father of Indian Cinema) as he struggled with adversaries of all kinds in his quest to achieve his dream - to produce the first Indian feature film. It takes a fresh look at a character well known to anyone who is even remotely interested in Indian movies. The film had an apparent handicap of having a debutant director, a lesser known clutch of regional actors, 'seemingly' a simple plot - but they are all weaved together into a worthwhile experience for the viewer. It was a delight to watch the audience not just chuckle and laugh but also spontaneously applaud at some sequences. At the end, I was left wondering whom to admire more - Phalke himself or the team that made this film happen. Take a bow, Paresh Mokashi and the whole team.
I had high hopes from Ishqiya. (We also paid eight times more to watch it in a multiplex compared to the simple theater where H Factory happened to us. Not joking. Just in case you don't believe me, here's proof. Don't get me wrong. I am not comparing Alaka and Inox. I am comparing our state of minds during the two movies.)

Disappointed is the only way I can describe my state of mind as I walked out after Ishqiya.
It was a let down, coming from a director who has given us gems like Maqbool and Omkara. He had both the right raw materials - good actors and a solid germ of a story. Its not a Freudian Slip. I didn't mean to say gem of a story. I mean a germ that could have led to a good story. In spite of Naseeruddin Shah and Arshad Warsi doing what they were supposed to do, the movie totally lacks in the overall impact, mainly because the story goes haywire. So you are only left admiring the art direction (Nitin Desai) and rather captivating use of lighting. The best part of the movie are surely the two SUPERB songs by, who else, Rekha Bharadwaj.
I missed watching Kaminey and am not regretting it now. I heard from friends who saw it that Vishal Bharadwaj got himself entangled into a complicated plot and couldn't resolve it in the end. Looks like by the time he made Ishqiya, this affliction had become more acute!
So my friendly advise (albeit unsolicited) to Vishal Bharadwaj is - take a walk in the nearby park and look at some simple things. Just let the grass grow under your feet for some time.
Or, go and watch Harishchandrachi Factory.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Is Rahul Gandhi relevant to the context?

Rahul Gandhi tour to Mumbai has started a new chapter in Indian politics. It is clear that his 'surprise' train ride and all that followed must have all been scripted carefully. Be that as it may, it was a well-made script - no doubt about that.
Cynics will argue (they have already started, in fact) that it was nothing but a political stunt. But they won't see the fact that a stunt also has to be timed very well otherwise it can quickly turn into a disaster. One can argue that Mahatma Gandhi's charkha-spinning and fasting were also gimmicks (undoubtedly there must have been people then who thought this way) but it had the necessary impact.
Politicians of that era formed an elite class of their own. They were far removed from the realities of the population. So the rhetoric of 'Aam aadmi' of Congress is not really new. It is over hundred years old! Gandhi acquired an image that people could relate to. If it meant going for 'padyatras' and spinning a charkha in prayer meetings, then he did that very well.

Here is a description of the Congress as it was then. In the words of none other than Jawaharlal Nehru himself.
It was very much an English-knowing upper-class affair where morning coats and well-pressed trousers were greatly in evidence. Essentially it was a social gathering with no political excitement or tension.
The situation is uncannily similar today, although politicians have not remained elite really. Far from it. But they have definitely alienated themselves from the masses. Majority of college students in Mumbai couldn't care less for what most leaders say or do. But watching Rahul Gandhi walk into the local train would have touched more than just a few chords. I hasten to add that I am not immediately comparing the two Gandhis - Rahul and Mahatma. All I am saying is that the person (or team) who is writing the script for Rahul is doing a good job at making him relevant to the times.
On the other hand, Shiv Sena's scriptwriter is producing one miserable flop after the other. That's another story....