Friday, 31 January 2014

Movie Review: Gabhricha Paus

The 2009 Marathi film, "Gabhricha Paus" has a plot that addresses simple aspirations of Indian farmers, the eternal urge in the human race to survive against all odds. The film is temporally set in the Vidarbha region of Maharashtra against the backdrop of a drought. In Marathi, the film's title would translate to "The Bastard Rain", which is mostly hurled as an abuse given the unpredictable nature of rains. 

The plot of the movie rotates around the farmer Kisna (Girish Kulkarni) and his struggle to grow cotton. Farmer suicides have become commonplace due to failed rains. Hence, his wife Alka (Sonali Kulkarni) sends her son along with him wherever he goes. The complex and tense character graph of Kisna is portrayed really well by Girish Kulkarni. Girish is effortlessly expressive, moving the audience to feel with him for the failure of the rains in an intricately woven fabric of rural India. The young son too does not over-act unlike other films. 

The film also addresses various contemporary topics such as schools in villages, the economic divide and all this without digressing from the core plot of the movie. The treatment of the film is mature and the use of such contemporary issues only make you compare the realism involved. All characters in the movie have their own roles to play and do not look out of place. 

The filmmaker exerts tremendous grip on his subject without making it depressing. Intelligently, the film uses the tone of dark humour in the film. The cinematography of the film is intriguing and Vidarbha has been captured excellently. The cinematography is quite close to the style of Navdeep Singh's Manorama: Six Feet Under with a neo-noir feel to it. Summing up, the film shows restraint and maturity in storytelling which is rarely seen in regional cinema. In this case, the director holds up a mirror to society, as films are in defined to be in principle. 

For an Indian language film, Gabhricha Paus is a film to be proud of simply for the way the plight of farmers has been addressed. For the non-Marathi speaking population, the English subtitles are more or less accurate. Hence, I would strongly advise you to watch it.  

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Developed India

On this republic day, I'd like to discuss something else. The concept has been on my mind since late last year . It's funny how we tend to think elections are a general thing but when they are not. Come to think of it, it is our one vote that goes on to decide the kind of governance we would have for five years. This elections, however, brings us to an important threshold not just in our life but also in threshold of India, a threshold that divides the best from the rest. 

While it is essential to make an informed opinion based on the predictions of economists, the opinions of leaders and also the voices of businessmen from across the world. The global investment banking and investment management firm Goldman Sachs in 2008 claimed that India will be the second global economic superpower by 2050. Does being the "second best" bring about a mood of elation and pride? Ask yourself is being the second best enough? Is this what we as Indians would want? Is being second the best we can do? Shouldn't we aim to be the first? 

At the Parliament of the World's Religions in 1893, Swami Vivekananda said that our future is built upon our past. Hence, it becomes doubly important for us to look as far as we can. We have to drink deep the eternal fountains that are behind us and after that, look and march forward to make India brighter and greater. Much higher than she ever was with a spirit of "Rashtra Devo Bhava" (My country is my responsibility). In 1930, shortly after the Dandi March, Mahatma Gandhi said that young men are the leaders of tomorrow and it is the young who have to be the salt of this nation. If salt loses its flavour, where shall it be salted? It is therefore important to find peace in the midst of turmoil, light in the midst of darkness and hope in despair. Do not underestimate the power of truth. 

The voyage to being the best is not being undertaken for the first time. Statistics say that India was the global economic leader until as recently as 1800 AD contributing nearly 38.5% of the world's GDP. Then, in just 200 years, we have fallen below 6% today. If we treat these 200 odd years as just a temporary fall in the march of prosperity through millennia, we can shake off the dirt and march ahead towards the goal of a Developed India. It is the Indian civilisation that once extended from Indonesia to Persia and influenced many other civilisations such as the Greeks, Egyptians, Romans and the Chinese. We need to draw pride from this truly global culture. We need to take responsibility for the progress of this country and also the future of this civilisation.

Today, as we fight against each other, we need to arise again thinking of the spirit of oneness. Let all states and the people come together to work towards a common vision: the vision of a developed India. Did Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj fight only for the freedom of Maharashtra from the Mughals or this country whom He revered as his Mother? Think!! 

Sacrifice for the country is not a pain but a privilege. Invoke the countless Indian Army jawans who lay down their lives for the freedom of our motherland. Now, it's our chance to rise above myopic goals and work towards a developed India. Let lions among men accomplish this task of honour. As Rabindranath Tagore in his poem said: 

"Where the mind is without fear and the head held high, 
where knowledge is free and the mind is led forward into 
ever-widening thought and action. 
Into that heaven of freedom, my father, let my country awake..." 

If the world has to be peaceful, the world has to recognise humanity as one family: Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam. Science explains that this is Brahma Vidya. Indians are known to be the custodians of this knowledge. That's the best that India has to offer to the world. Therefore, we have a much greater responsibility in shaping the future of the globe. Everyone looks up to India and the best we can offer is effectively summarised in The Bhagavad Gita, widely recognised across the globe as the most effective book on management:

यत्र योगेश्वर कृष्ण: यत्र पार्थो धनुर्धरः तत्र श्रीः विजयो भूति: ध्रुवः नीतिर मतिर मम ||

Where dynamism and efficiency that is Arjuna are empowered with the depth of spiritual values that is Krishna, there the heights of prosperity, lasting success and fulfilling progress are sure to be reached. 

We are the link between a great past and a grand future. Be proud of India's past and in the present, let us unite to work smartly with inspiration to build a glorious future of developed India. Let there be one vision and one mission of restoring India back to its original glory.  This election promises that and the privilege of casting your vote is yours. Make an informed choice!! Mrityunjaya Bhava! 

Friday, 24 January 2014

Movie Review: Chingaari

Celluloid realism makes waves. Kalpana Lajmi's "Chingaari" is one such film which pushes for socio-religious reform and the ugly nexus between sexual oppression and religion. Based on an Assamese short story titled "The Postman and The Prostitute" by the late. Bhupen Hazarika, Chingaari is filled with flaming colours such as red, green and black. The film explores rural fanaticism through the miseries of a prostitute. It further explores various facades of womanhood. 
The DVD Cover of Chingaari

Set in Rangpur village, the film revolves around a group of prostitutes with Ila Arun as the main head. The house is a feast of raunchy repartees and has terrifying sexual innuendos which reach blood-curdling proportions when the village priest Bhuvan Panda (Mithun Chakraborty) pays a visit to Basanti (Sushmita Sen). The scenes of sexual repression filmed on Sushmita Sen and Mithun Chakraborty become too repressive and graphic. 

To a point, I felt that subtlety in depicting their sexual friction would have added the lyricism and sensitivity the film needed. The romantic chemistry between the postman Chandan Mishra (Anuj Sawhney) and the prostitute (Basanti) is limited due to very few shared scenes. Secondly, Chandan is seen as the lone voice of reason in a village that it is deeply embedded in superstition, fear, bigotry and cultural terrorism propagated by Bhuvan Panda. 

Sushmita Sen has a striking screen presence and comes into her own with an intense performance that is unparalleled in her career. She pulls off the role with great dignity. Some of her best acting abilities are seen in her key confrontation scenes with her tormentor Bhuvan. Her dialogue delivery ranging from hushed whispers in a romantic moment to an spine-chilling growl in the climax, Sushmita Sen takes her character to a dimension that seems impossible.

The brutality and oppression of her life are marked with a fine performance by Sushmita Sen and Mithun Chakraborty. The storyline despite being temporally somewhere in the Bihar-West Bengal border, goes to depict a larger picture of female oppression and gender discrimination. Kalpana Lajmi's film then transcends to become a document of acute suffering in a universal sense. Chingaari undoubtedly belongs to Sushmita Sen and she imbibes the colour and tone of the film very well. 

Her striking screen presence gives this disturbing film on sexual politics a gloriously universal side. At 2 hours and 35 minutes long, the film has a racy pace and is a must see for the darker shades of humanity and the inherent hypocrisy evident through the course of the film. Another reason to watch the film is for Sushmita Sen who creates a magnificent matrix between desire and fulfillment.

Monday, 20 January 2014

Empowered Governance

In reality, our states need a new system of governance. A system that says: minimum government, maximum governance. The idea of empowered governance recognises this conflict between dreams and practice and is shaped by our vision for a developed India. The past ten years in India have seen a stagnating growth rate, policy paralysis, a complete breakdown of communication among the government, industrial slowdown and constant inflation. Thus, making it nearly a wasted decade.

Change is not impossible and it most certainly does not require miracles to get things back. Common sense and political will are the key points that are required now and three months is the minimum time gap to be given in order to reverse the despondency the country is in now. The idea, of course, is to ensure empowered governance. A few ideas that can be implemented to ensure that empowered governance is possible are:

* Subsidies: Our socialist leanings ensure that we cannot deviate from our welfare policies. However, studies conducted in the past have revealed that beneficiaries of subsidies are largely people who do not really require them. If a proportion of the same welfare policies are diverted towards renewable fuel projects, we would alternatives to crude and other related products which would solve India's trade deficit problems in the long run thus making it socially and environmentally viable.

* Mutual Respect: States are an indivisible limbs of the nation. Hence, it is necessary that every state should learn to emulate the success of other state. However, this is only possible if internal conflict among states is reduced and chief ministers of states are made equal stakeholders in ensuring good governance. Reaching out to chief ministers in an effective manner is of utmost important. Central agencies must ensure that they visit the states to ensure that opinions matter and key projects are approved without significant delays and prevention of cost overruns. 

* Outreach: Communication is one of the key things to ensure accountability. In the current phase, we realise that there is a complete breakdown in communication. The idea is to refrain from distancing people. Dialogue with partners, agencies, civil society, bureaucrats as well as the judiciary must be encouraged. For example, judges can be made to visit factories as an industrial visit in order to meet and understand the challenges of the real world. Engagement with agencies, the judiciary as well as the armed forces is necessary on key issues such as development, infrastructure and security in order to end the prevalent logjam.

* Laws: A constant source of worry has been India having too many laws. The point where we are unable to score is the implementation of laws. Implementation has to be done in a manner that would instill respect for laws. Having said that, there is an urgent need to ensure that we desist from passing new laws and creating new institutions. Creation of new laws or institutions does not necessarily problems being addressed. All laws are mostly open to misuse and are often full of loopholes. Loopholes and shortcomings need to be repaired which would help in strengthening existing institutions and laws.

* Chalta Hain: The national culture of unquestioned obedience to authority along with an acceptance of shoddiness through the "chalta hain" attitude must not be used as an excuse to overlook violations. It is in our culture to respect authority. We are taught from childhood to obey our elders. We grow up with the notion that our teachers, our managers, function heads and business heads within our respective organisations know more than us. Hierarchy is revered and authority is seldom questioned. However, the "chalta hain" attitude must be changed by instilling respect for institutions. A conscious effort has to be made in order to desist from mindless perversion of institutions. Having said that, misuse of institutions need to be exposed. The media must be fortresses of good work and there has to be constant pressure on them to ensure that positive news gets highlighted as well. 

The issue of corruption is a major issue in India as it has economic consequences. The causes for corruption in India include excessive regulations, complicated taxes and licencing systems, numerous government departments with opaque bureaucracies and discretionary powers. If there is strong political and legal will to solve the malaise of corruption from public life, it can be done in five simple ways:

* Adjournments: It is often observed that cases in India take several years to reach a definite conclusion. This happens due to multiple adjournments. Adjournments hamper work flow and create a backlog. Therefore, in matters of public service or importance, there must be no adjournments. Adjournments must be necessary only due to medical, mental or physical reasons.

* Proof: One of the major impediments faced by investigating agencies is the collection of evidence. It must also be acknowledged that lack of impunity results in destruction of evidence. A possible way to solve this problem is to reduce the burden of collecting evidence and reversing it back to victim. 

* Talk Less: There have been instances when leaders and lawyers in Parliament and the judiciary tend to speak for an extended period of time. A significant way to ensuring that cases do not lag is to strictly limit all arguments both for and against in the judiciary and Parliament to 30 minutes. This will ensure that cases do not lag and precious time of the Parliament is not wasted in mere speeches.

* Assets: Disproportionate assets, bribery etc. are all forms of corruption. The post 2010 years presented a new facet of corruption reaching impregnable heights. Corruption is a real phenomenon and begins due to a top-down structure. Instead, the issue can be resolved if there is confiscation of all assets owned by an individual who is active in public life, if s/he is accused. Similarly, there should be physical detainment of the accused until there is a conviction/acquittal. In order to send strong precedents, accused members can be barred from public life for the rest of their lives.  

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Cultural Slavery

A nation's ruler depends on the ambitions, aspirations and faith of individuals of a country. Rulers too are bound by the decisions that individuals of a country take. The future and progress of a nation are determined by the dreams few visionaries dare to dream. If the government is incapable of protecting the nation, then it is up to teachers to rise and awaken the nation. We must give up self-interest, pride and petty quarrels for the nation.

If we do not rise above our quarrels and pride, cultural slavery will slowly overtake our society. A nation is not defeated until it can safeguard its culture and values. Can the nation be torn into pieces in the name of caste and religion be able to safeguard its culture from invaders? If conquerors wish to spread their roots here, then they will have to attack our culture that binds our people and they will, if we are not careful. If we let go our cultural heritage, then our downfall is certain. Experience teaches us that defeated nations, minds, kingdoms often accept the culture and values of the victors. Hence, if the nation isn't awakened from its stupor soon, if this nation isn't united, then breaking away from bondage will be very difficult.

Education leads the path towards salvation. If education cannot do it, then it is useless. Will the people of India who seek emancipation from life and death accept the bondage imposed by a corrupt government? This nation must be freed from a corrupt Government and in that alone, lies India's freedom. 

Awaken this sleeping society. Bring up its latent strength! Awaken the courage that is inherent in every individual of this nation. It will demand sacrifice of our self-interest. A vision for a developed India and freedom from a corrupt government is our aim. Sacrificing of personal goals is only the means, not the goal. Do not let your vote go waste. Light the flame and vision of a developed India in every village, every city and every province. A corrupt government has to be sacrificed in this flame of freedom. Make a firm decision that the lamp of freedom must burn in every heart. Only then, can a corrupt government be vanquished. 

P.S.: This is an inspiring monologue by Chanakya, the Indian philosopher and the royal advisor to Prince Chandragupta, the founder of the Maurya dynasty in 326 BCE. This dialogue refers to the dangers of India accepting cultural slavery if it is not able to safeguard itself from its culture and values. 

Saturday, 11 January 2014

Movie Review: Digant

It is not always that one finds movies made in regional dialects. Hence, the 2012 Konkani movie "Digant" based on the Dhangar community is originally based on an adaptation by a story written by Prasad Lolayekar. 

The movie title, "Digant", translates to boundless in Konkani revolves around a man from the Dhangar or shepherd community who is content with his life. However, his seemingly ordinary life takes a turn when his son joins a school and grows to be an architect with an intent to settle down in the city. Movies with such storylines often tend to slip into a preachy mode. Issues such as identity or about the need to be in touch with one's roots are often raised through the medium of movies. Thankfully, Digant is a refreshing change and does not venture into that space. 

There is certainly no doubt that the definition for freedom for each individual is different yet the film tries to define the concept of freedom and stability at multiple levels. For the father, freedom is defined by the shepherd who is in sync with nature while for the son, it is a means to liberate himself from being a shepherd. For the builder, it is a means to hit back at his poverty. There is a dialogue in the movie in which the shepherd says that he has never really understood the meaning of freedom. The shepherds never settle at one place but still remain stable. For the shepherd, his forests mean freedom but they are also diminishing now. Philosophically, he points out that freedom survives only with the recognised and rewarded section of society. In a nutshell, the conflict between different characters lies in the difference between their value systems.

Shot over a period of 26 days with a modest budget of just Rs. 40 lakhs, the film brilliantly explores the conflict between father and son and the clash between their value systems and individual lifestyles and the growing divide between cities and villages. The Konkani movie "Digant" was Goa's official entry for the 43rd International Film Festival of India as also was an entry for the New Faces section of the Mumbai Academy of Moving Images (MAMI) Film Festival in 2012. For lovers of meaningful intellectual cinema, Digant is a must-watch movie.

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Movie Review: Amrapali

The story of the legendary dancer Amrapali, renowned for her extraordinary beauty is an immensely fascinating one. For the uninitiated, Amrapali was the royal courtesan of Vaishali, situated roughly around present day Bihar in 500 BCE. Prince Ajatshatru, the king of the Magadha empire, who falls in love with her after he attacks Vaishali. The story of Amrapali and elaborate descriptions of her extraordinary beauty find mention in old Pali and Buddhist traditions. 

The 1966 film made by Lekh Tandon featuring veteran dancer-actress Vyjayanthimala in the title role as Amrapali makes considerable impact. While the story of the film is not built on the standard tale of star-crossed lovers but a clash of ideologies. Ajatshatru (Sunil Dutt), the emperor of Magadha has been unable to get Vaishali into submission. He announces an attack on Vaishali against the wishes of his commander-in-chief Veer (Premnath) citing that the Magadhan army is not ready for full blown battles. He promptly informs the king that the soldiers of Magadha would not be able to resist the army of Vaishali. Ajatshatru pays no heed and is determined to bring Vaishali under the influence of Magadha. It is after the Magadha army is routed that he falls in love with Amrapali. 

Vyjayanthimala as Amrapali is an epitome of beauty and sensuality. Seeing her confidence, independence and beauty which has been portrayed effectively through the film, I was mentally convinced that Amrapali would resemble her. Her dancing background ensures that she holds her own in the film. Sunil Dutt as Ajatshatru is endearing despite being arrogant and yet softened by love at another. He doesn't understand her anguish until the last moment and also that love has to be selfless. For the kind of preparation a role like Ajatshatru demands, Sunil Dutt brought out the conflict beautifully. 

In addition to the main leads, the film has been ably supported by a whole host of others: Premnath, Mridula Rani, K.N. Singh and other actors such as the ones who played the son of the guru, the rajpurohit and the wounded soldier who recognises the emperor. At 1 hour 59 minutes, the film is fast-paced and brilliantly shot by Dwarka Divecha especially as the colours beginning with red and yellow to the darker colours as the story moves from the palace to the battlefield. 

The art direction especially the palaces look rich and elegant without suffering from garish colours unlike other period films. Despite a gripping plot, it is a shame that the film failed at the box office which prompted Vyjayanthimala to quit acting. The story flows in sync and there are no jumps. The music of the film was provided by Shankar-Jaikishen and with just four songs throughout the film, the music has minimal instrumentation and encourages vocals by the eternally timeless Lata Mangeshkar.

My only grudge is that the film deviates the original story. The original story believes that it was Bimbisara who was Amrapali's lover and not Ajatshatru. Hence, the deviation and the interchanging of Bimbisara's son to Ajatashatru made me feel a little discomfort. However, do not let this dampen your enthusiasm of watching the film. 

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

The Role of Teachers in Society

The teachers and the assembly will be glorified when the nation is glorified. The nation will be glorified when it is competent and successful in upholding its ancient values and traditions. The nation will be competent and successful when the teachers are successful in fulfilling their responsibility. A teacher will be called successful when s/he is successful in developing national character in every individual. If a person is devoid of nationalism or is unaware of his/her nationalism, then it is the teacher's failure. 

Our experience is witness that an absence of national character is what has resulted in the nation's glory being insulted. We lost due to lack of knowledge before we could lose to bad governance. We could not make our educators aware of our nationalism and our nationalism was shattered before our own eyes. Teachers failed to arouse nationalism and increase the competence of this nation. If a teacher accepts defeat, it will be fatal for the nation. So, the chant of India's spiritual legacy must be heard together. 

It is imperative to make the people and government realise that if people lose faith in their devotion to the nation, then other spheres of human life will not be strife-free either. Thus, uniting people to society and society to the nation is essential. Very soon, we will have to bind people in a thread and that thread can only be the thread of nationalism. Teachers must accept this challenge and help in rebuilding the nation soon. It is possible that there will be obstacles but a teacher must conquer that. S/he must not hesitate to exercise his/her mandate during elections. 

I agree that the strength of a teacher lies in the scriptures but if bad governance are blocking the way and if the nation's enemies know only one language of bad governance, then teachers too must show their strength and dissent through elections. Else, a powerless teacher will not be able to protect his/her scriptures too. To unite the nation, the teacher may have to clash with the rulers but remember that the nation is ultimately far more important than the aspirations of the rulers. Hence, if political powers need to be sacrificed in national interest then too teachers must not hesitate. 

History is witness to that politics of power and selfishness has always harmed the nation and now we only have to think about the welfare of the nation. If the government is willing to help, it is fine. Else, teachers must remember the fame and virtues of their ancestors and fulfill their responsibility and success is certain. The success of the civilisation originating from the seven rivers is certain. It is certain that ancient values of this nation will triumph. Triumph of this nation is certain. All that is needed is a call for unity. 

P.S.: This is an inspiring monologue by Chanakya, an Indian philosopher and the royal advisor to Prince Chandragupta, the founder of the Maurya dynasty. This dialogue refers to a time roughly around 326 BCE before the Greek prince Alexander attacked India.