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A prisoner in our parts…

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As a lover of all things wild and beautiful, it makes me bleed within when I see the price that is being paid to develop our world, the cost of progress. 

Here is my little presentation, a tribute to the most magnificent creature on earth.

Anandarup Dutta,

Still a dreamer.

(Image Credits: laafapete)

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A Writer’s Rest

 

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For a while, this space has not seen activity worth its while. That shall not happen any more. I present to you, a collection of poems, by yours truly. Please do share and repost, and spread the word!

 

Have a pleasant day, all.

Anandarup Dutta

Still a dreamer.

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Homebound. Detour.

On the banks of the Hugli lies a cluster of little hamlets. Flanked by railway lines, built initially for the transportation of goods from the port area to the godowns of Calcutta city located along the great river, these hamlets are now part of the seething metropolis. Barely a hundred metres away from the tracks, pastel ochre tram coaches trudge along on tracks trampled by belligerent buses.  One of these hamlets is Kumartuli, home to potters and masons; supplier of about 60% of the Durga idols worshiped across the world during the Hindu festive season. These narrow lanes are lined one one side by little cottages housing the poor artisans and on the other, by great zamindar baris erected by the once affluent landowners. Thousands of such houses with red oxide floors, green shutters, spacious porches with their intricate cornices, elaborate wrought-iron grills, and open terraces are being destroyed. Reminiscent of a past that has long gone and is half forgotten, they are lying in ruin now, being sold at dirt cheap rates by cash strapped descendants to developers who, in turn, are demolishing them and constructing monstrously plain apartment buildings in their stead. The few that have survived hide, in their cobwebbed arches memories of an age when staccato cries of imprisoned parrots rang across serpentine verandas; an age of tawaifs and mehfils, tongas and Ford Model Ts alike. When the diffident footsteps of housemaids were drowned by pompous claps of the Sahib’s patent leather boots. An age of extravagance and extreme poverty. An age when home constituted the majority of the journey of life and outdoors were meant to work as an aid to this institution.

A sweltering afternoon stroll through the bustling lanes in and around Kalbadevi in South Mumbai, and one can’t help but notice those very primitive forms of community dwellings in this relatively young city – the wadis. Some of them dating back to the late 1800s, they are a testament to the cosmopolitan nature of this city – a symbol of the mass migration that took place to this British port town. Cautiously winding balconies on the perimeter of every floor, high roofs and windows, and wide open doors with ample arrangements for cross ventilation, these rapidly vanishing old buildings might not be much to look at but they stand for those two tenets of Indian culture that are still extolled – family and society.

Every little sun washed street across every burdened city or ambitious town in this incredible country of ours says one story – that home is the fundamental institution that drives our lives.dey

The shimmering lights in towering glass corporate buildings at midnight tells another emerging – and jarring – story. One in which home is but a stopover meant to be visited, rather than resided in. A roadside inn for a weary traveler and not the nest for the homebound creature. A childhood of hours spent in classrooms, tuition, life skill classes followed by a young adult life of walking into office at nine a.m. with a face full of makeup and a body crying out for some rest and relaxing exercise is the trend that is increasingly becoming the norm. People now, as they did about fifty years ago, spend a good amount of their hard earned on making a house a home. The difference is, they do not live in it.

This is what a day resembles in this age – a carelessly crafted breakfast you hastily gulp down, a commute to the workplace marred by sweat, noise and pollution; a day at work which may (in a few cases) or may not (in most cases) be fulfilling; and a commute back. More often than not, just when you thought your day had been wrapped up quite satisfactorily, up comes an unscheduled assignment which your worst fears fully expected to turn up. And thus begins a thankless six hour shift. The hours pass reluctantly and finally, you are free to return home in the small hours of the morning just to climb into bed for those couple of hours that the unforgiving clock shall permit.

What use is it, in that case, of going back home at all? I believe a new world order is soon going to take shape in which there is no difference between the place of work and the place of rest. that way, perhaps, the ravaged body and gasping mind might just get some much needed repose. Gone are the days when home was where a man or a woman would spent the bulk of the day, as does every animal in this world. But then again, humanity would lose its purpose if it didn’t defy. A refusal to conform to rules set by nature or, for that matter, ourselves, is what makes us the dominant destructive race in this world.

That the increase in the pressures of work are inevitable with the progress of economy and the rise of the salaried middle class is something that cannot be argued against. But certain institutions are losing their intrinsic value with this so called progress. I have written about the loss of work life balance. And I am writing this while constantly glancing at my phone for work that might crop up at any moment. I am a slave to this new system too. But perhaps, these things should be mentioned in the offing, for the sake of some sanity.

For, a hundred years from now, when the streets of Mumbai seem deserted and venturing out becomes a rarity rather than a norm, I want the earthlings to say, that blundering old fellow said it first.

When the thin line between the cubicle and the lounge gets blurry.

The Counterweight for Balance.

Stare not at the ripe morning shine,

Look ‘neath the sole.

And you shall find the ones trodden upon.

A television news channel appointed by another television news channel as a worthy representative of the elitist “Lutyens Delhi media” holds a live television conference on India and the opportunity for innovation. The consensus reached at this very non elitist television show is that we need to innovate as Indians, peeking above and perhaps leaping beyond barriers of social stigma and personal shackles. On the very same day, a worthy representative of the progeny of the erstwhile baby boomers  recounts an experience which boggles the conditioned mind of this writer. Said progeny speaks of the predicament of a friend who, having had the privilege of getting access to a first class city life, flush with the goods and an education many in the hinterland of India may only dream of having, is now faced with the prospect of getting hitched.

This educated middle class lady has been “persuaded” to have her wagon hitched to a boy who does justice to the image of Delhi, and grave injustice to the idea of Delhi. She is all of 22. Alas, too old. To get her wagon hitched is now a matter of utter urgency. Hence the worthy boy. And his worthy parents. Complimented by the girl’s worthy parents who have persuaded her to look beyond mundane elements that impair human judgement like a masters degree, put a Pallu over her head and settle down. Dare she step out of this path well laid out by her ever so sacrificing parents, she would be politely let go of. From the home she was born in but never truly belonged to. Much like conglomerates who cut down upon its unwarranted workforce.

She shall make the difficult choice. She is grateful for this life. And the privilege of this education that enables her.

 

“No time to see, in broad daylight,

Streams full of stars, like skies at night.”

—–William Henry Davies

10:00 a.m.

A weekday. Lower Parel. Electronic City. Hi-Tec City. Cyber Hub.

Four locations in four dynamically opposite locations across the country that rises and soars and yet fails to deceive see cars screeching to halt, badges being slung with utter fury across strained necks. Neck ties are tightened and coats and blazers buttoned up with carefully cultivated disregard for a weather that warrants loose kurtas as laid down by ancestors who definitely did not see the dot com boom and the economic liberation of India coming when they decided to come up with this “ethnic” or “ethno chic” form of clothing. Within the spacious confines of business that makes businesses conduct their business easily, the coffee machine is abuzz with morning excitement.

The senior manager in the product team of a company that makes life simpler, tells his junior  of the agenda set for the day. The plan is to devote an extra couple of hours in the evening for the next four months devising a device that would simplify life for a customer who has less time every evening because he works those extra couple of hours every day.

In the office neighbouring this one, a smaller, relatively less promiscuous player on the battlefield of the services market holds a seminar for its employees on the importance of work life balance and managing the increasing pressures at the workplace. The lecturer, swathed with a layer of sweat discreetly covered by a suit he had gotten tailored in the lovely breezy London, talks of measuring deliverables in personal as well professional life. After the rather fruitful and soporific four hour long seminar, the highly motivated employees are asked to stay back three more hours as an urgency has arisen which the client sitting twenty-five hundred miles away halfway across the globe needs to be addressed at this very instant. HE expects results within the next four hours. As soon as he wakes up, of course. Hence, the office is the bedroom now.

Midnight.

Dinner sits cold at home.

The destined eater has changed the course of his dinnertime fate. The child has retired for the night, only to be woken up to rise and shine like his father would have wanted to, eager without the necessity of the morning caffeinated stimulus. He searches for the crisp shirt which his legally married spouse (last seen at 2.00 p.m.) puts out for his daily use every morning. He finds the crisp shirt neatly moistened in the refrigerator. The closet has been completely missed. The spouse is fast asleep with a bacterial infestation brought on by excessive zeal at the workplace. Medical attention might be warranted.

But worry may wait. Hospitals are open twenty-four seven, as they pronounce on glitzy billboards. The spouse shall be tended to after work today. The agenda for the day is set.

Today is the second day of the seminar on work life balance.  

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The Epics – fresh once again!

India's leading mythologist Dr Devdutt Pattanaik is also one of its most intriguing illustrators. Above is one of his best works in "Sita - An Illustrated retelling of the Ramayana"

India’s leading mythologist Dr Devdutt Pattanaik is also one of its most intriguing illustrators. Above is one of his best works in “Sita – An Illustrated retelling of the Ramayana”

The trend has been emerging, albeit very subtly. The area under discussion, however, has nothing subtle about it. The internet has become the driving force behind much of the world’s innovations, with a lot of what we call “necessary” being derived from, or for the virtual space and its 3 billion minions worldwide. Close to 250 million of those reside in our nation. Taking certain assumptions which suit my whimsical fancy in hand, about four million (and counting) members of this community of aspirational yet frustrated minds have viewed a pretty clever interpretation of the myth of Ahalya. Incidentally, (if the very redoubtable patrons to the editorial column of India’s highest selling English daily are to be believed), the numbers rival the viewership of the latest Salman Khan potboiler. And this gives the necessary mixture of sun soil and water to an idea which has taken a firm toot in my mind, that Indian mythology as an inspiration, is not lost upon the new generation of Indian filmmakers, the youth and the educated. In fact, if the sudden spikes in sales of the works of a certain Mr.Devdutt Pattnaik are any indication, it might just be on the rise. Speaking of which, I might have become a believer myself.

For many like me, having been educated in an English medium school with easy access to all that is British in the library and all that’s American on TV, this sudden revelation that there exists a part within us which feels something skin to what Max Mueller might have felt when he first heard a recitation of the Mahabharata, might come as a bit of a surprise. Nevertheless, that part does exist. It is that part which made me reopen e commerce websites after a long day at work and place multiple orders for modern interpretations and English translations of the great epics and other pieces of Indian, (predominantly Hindu) mythology. It needed a bit of self cajoling, I agree. Soon, though, I was lost in worlds that existed millennia ago, or might have not existed at all. The stories kept me on my seat, the characters and all their complexities made me search for answers – a quest that has, till date not yielded fruitful results. And with a foray into the worlds of Vyas, Valmiki and Manu, folklore handed down over generations of midnight tales and ascetic wanderings, I found myself humbled. This was literature, in the true sense of the word.

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Ahalya was released from her curse by a benevolent Krishna.

To see the myth of Ahalya woven gently into a canvas of a fourteen minute by 720p motion by Sujoy Ghosh was nothing short of delightful. The powerfully simplistic play on the names of the major characters, Inspector Indra Sen (the lord), the artist Gautam Sadhu (the Maharishi Gautama) and his wife Ahalya (the source of story, one might call her the temptress, according to certain versions of her myth) brought a sense of freshness to the tale. Add to that the fact that I worship Soumitra Chatterjee as one of the greatest actors of all time, and you have the premise behind this piece. The fact that this film is based partially on a very similar Pixar short film does not, wuite contrary to opinion, take anything away from the credit due. It is high time the art of short film making is recognised and given the stature it deserves and not be set apart only for projects and competitions meant for college kids and amateurs.

Recent years have seen the rise of authors like Amish, Ashwin Sanghi and Pattanaik who deliver material right from the ancient scrolls to our kindles. I see my peers delving into such lore and enjoying it. It is very important that such writing and film making continues to thrive. It has been said that every institution needs repackaging, freshening and re-positioning to woo audiences. Some of these authors have managed to do so. Indian writing has evolved with time. Unfortunately, it has not managed to rise up into bestselling columns. The Arundhati Roys and Jhumpa Lahiris are a rare exception. Mostly, we survive on a fare of the print and bound versions of potential Bollywood flicks, which do, eventually end up becoming Bollywood flicks. This new generation of Mythology writers however, are taking the market by storm. They are providing fantasy and escape into lands and characters which we have all heard of in passing at puja mandaps or Dadiji’s daily recitations. The characters are fraught, as we are, with problems.  Suddenly, they don’t look and sound imposing anymore.

For those in the mood for something fresh, pick up a dose of the old. And get ready to be lost in a world as unfamiliar and its problems as familiar, as our own.

One of the bestselling trilogies in Indian literary history, the Shiva Trilogy seems to fly off shelves even after quite a bit of time post publication.

One of the bestselling trilogies in Indian literary history, the Shiva Trilogy seems to fly off shelves even after quite a bit of time post publication.

Millions were driven away from what they called their own. We can only imagine, and promise to never let it happen again.

To Keep a Home

They say every generation is defined by the wars that it faces. For my great grandfather, the two world wars and the fledgling fights for a sovereign state would have constituted a majority of his memories. For his progeny, it would be the partition of India and the ensuing homelessness. My father, on the other hand saw the winds of democracy in the subcontinent change with the imposition of the Emergency, the riots of 1984 and the onset of cross-border terrorism. I have spent a better part of the past few days looking across a barbed wire fence at a man sowing his field. He is a few metres away but all I am allowed to do is look into his eyes and watch him stare back, nonchalant and unfazed. I have spent a few anxious hours in Lahore, Islamabad and Karachi; in Dhaka and Chittagong, dreading what the next hour might bring. And all of this has been through the eyes of those who grapple with lines drawn by men a mere seven decades ago in the attempt to build “welfare” states. I have travelled as far as imagination would allow – this trespassing on foreign territory aided and abetted by some truly assiduous chroniclers of an age gone by and memories that scar still, but are easily forgotten.

And as I read “City of Spies” (Sorayya Khan) and “Footprints of Partition”(Anam Zakharia), as I followed Mohammed Rauf on a tour of his native Amritsar from which he had been torn apart when the Radcliffe Line cut across ethnicities, a parallel line of thought triggered by a sudden epiphany develops and takes control of me. I remember when, as a child I used to listen with rapt attention to the tales narrated by my grandparents. And I watched as they drifted into a reverie soon into the tale and wistful eyes looked back to a time which our generation would never understand. I used to listen to tales of my maternal grandfather crossing over with nothing but an iron trunk to his name (an artefact which remains till this day as a gentle reminder of our roots). I used to imagine his slight but sturdy frame heaving a trunk, a full head of hair and dreams in his eyes as the nation crumbled about him. He would talk of things which I may never understand – the loss of a home. Shelter is the most fundamental of all human instincts, the greatest of all human urges. Our previous generations belonged to a time when this very rudimentary human demand was eliminated by politics.

Punjab. 1947. Sights of unimaginable misery, not too long back. Yet it seems like a memory from centuries ago.

Punjab. 1947. Sights of unimaginable misery, not too long back. Yet it seems like a memory from centuries ago.

Gen Y. We have seen a very different “war”. Ours has been a generation driven by marches towards needs and wants dictated and guided by technology. And that’s been coupled with the aspirations of a generation which consolidated homes from the rubble their fathers decided to lay claim upon after the partition. We have graduated from the CRT television, to LCDs, LEDs and now, to SUHDs. We have watched monopolies fall (take for instance, Cadbury and its monopoly on the chocolate market) and competition rise. We are perhaps the last generation that has – living in cities – played on open fields and scraped knees more often than lose lives on a computer screen running a game on an endless loop.

With the advent of terrorism as a very real phenomenon here to stay and thrive, we hear of more than forty million people living homeless across the world – in Africa and the Middle East, places which are, quite literally, the cradles of human civilisation. And although set in motion by different forces, it is quite jarring to realise our grandparents faced a pretty similar situation. We might not be able to connect with tales of men and women separated from their siblings, cousins and children by diplomatic passports and visas, but we do connect with images of children running with bloody arms and the wizened carrying corpses of those who have seen either too many summers or too few. We might look upon the issue of the 16th of August, Hindustan Times carrying dreams and aspirations of forty million torn yet hopeful people as mere artifact, but we do get driven to outrage when we see BBC World News and scores of clueless people who have nothing to look forward to. And perhaps that’s why it is more important than ever, to understand our past and what our nation faced as an aftermath of the Mountbatten Plan.

With this, I would urge everyone who has any interest in the machinations of human behaviour and the deep rooted senses of love and hate, compassion and cruelty, to read literature related to the partition. I may have never seen an abandoned home or felt the crippling fear of not having a corner to curl up in at the end of a particularly long day, but I have seen the love and longing in the eyes of those who have seen life and yearned for the harder days which seemed sweeter notwithstanding the constant struggle for livelihood. I have watched their eyes moisten when they gazed upon temples and mosques where they bought kulfis for half a paisa and shared it among their friends. I have heard tremors in their otherwise steadfast voices as their hearts sang of days gone past and the dust from places long washed away by the waves of time. I have experienced a tiny portion of what they went through. And I have realized that never again, should such a punishment be awarded to any human being in my land.

A family driven homeless in Syria. The UN estimates close to 40 million people across the world are homeless, more than 10% higher than last year.

A family driven homeless in Syria by constant strife. The UN estimates close to 40 million people across the world are homeless, more than 10% higher than last year.

The purest story ever told - The Altamira Bison.

The “Comfort” Of Storytelling – Altamira to Altamount Road

About twenty thousand years ago, a certain number of the more erudite amongst the cave dwellers in Altamira, Spain came upon a crossroad. Rife with misunderstandings, the local community of fellow cavemen had degenerated into mere savages. It is at such times that the human mind chances upon ideas which, if not for more uninspired influences, change the course of history leaving posterity to grapple with the repercussions of such a move. The time had come – ideas needed preservation and documentation to avoid confusion. And to this effect, with a bowl of animal fat infused with blood, the world’s very first document was born. Little did he know that more than twenty millennia later, the great Utpal Dutta would recount this to an incredulous Dhritiman (Satyajit Ray’s Agantuk, 1991).

The purest story ever told - The Altamira Bison.

The purest story ever told – The Altamira Bison.

At about the same time across about four thousand kilometers of land and an ocean, in Bhimbetka, India, similar ideas were being put into practice. The French cavemen in Lascaux, not to be left too far behind pitched in as well, soon after.

Posterity has, since then invented the wheel and wings, learnt how to make fire and burn what it creates; learnt how to hunt – animals first, and soon afterwards, its own kin; to invent religion and destroy god. And after all of that, in a comfortable cubicle surrounded by personal memorabilia, a certain engineer rocked in felt chair, frowning. Hamlet would have understood his plight – suffering, as has been well documented, from recurring doubts as to the purpose of his existence. in this case, the well placed engineer – with a plum packet at the end of every month, an assured five year progress plan, a free for all pantry and last but not the least, the very comfortable felt chair – was disgruntled. With everything at his disposal, he wanted more. He wanted satisfaction from what he had made his profession.

Of course you know where this is leading to. “Follow your dreams and be fearless” – a cliché that is as hard to live up to, as it is to not follow at a certain point in life. Does the phrase “Midlife Crisis” ring any bells? Well, the option for the well placed engineer is thus simple – run after the dream of a wish fulfilled or regret, only to run after it later. The well placed engineer, choosing to be foolhardy (Or rather, reckless, immature, and completely shameless as society would have him believe) decides to give it all up. The decision which is only a mere thought, comes without a hiccup. And then gives way to fear. Suddenly, the world which had until then professed the importance of passion for an art, a science, a profession as the single most potent driving force in a human’s life, seems to be in a mood to discourage him; the ones with the “best intentions” are often prone to come close to the man and question his decision and prove, with Machiavellian dexterity, the fault in his best laid plans.

Yesterday, the very same well placed engineer chanced upon a piece on one of those sites that provide unsolicited advice and unsought entertainment. It pointed out the need to distinguish among those who dream and those who live it. Most importantly, it stressed upon the need for both types of people for the world to function. It urged the well placed engineer to look around at overworked colleagues who were satisfied with their harrowing jobs, stressing the need to distinguish between them and himself. They are satisfied with their professions, he is not. so, he needs to make a change. And nothing could be closer to the truth. A person who has gained everything and faces the possibility of losing all, has everything to lose. Human beings live for comfort. And passion does not provide comfort. Well, at least not at the very outset.

The well placed engineer wanted, like the academics-among-cavemen at Lascaux, to tell stories, being completely aware of the results of such a step. And now, as he sits in a classroom staring out, he looks back, not without any misgivings. The well placed days are now long gone. The early morning rush into the seething mass of motorised rodents has been replaced by a later, yet similar circumstance. Grey clouds still do throw a spanner into the works. The streets are just as crowded, the air just as unclean, the people just as obstinate. The Municipal department still boasts an unparalleled track record of failure. The city, remains an oven. But for perhaps the first time in his life, the well placed engineer stares out of the window only to turn his eyes inside. For the first time in his life, does the story of his life share the same fiery blood as that lone bison on the walls of Altamira.

With the fear of the unknown, he gets closure. Now, all he can do, is tell stories.

Leaving comfort is not easy. It’s impossible. Making yourself comfortable. Well, that’s not too hard!

Man finds escape, and reality in stories. The storyteller has to only keep his eyes and ears open; his heart forgiving, and speak on behalf of the ones that need to be spoken of - the characters.

Man finds escape, and reality in stories. The storyteller has to only keep his eyes and ears open; his heart forgiving, and speak on behalf of the ones that need to be spoken of – the characters.

The coming of age of an actress with herculean talent.

The Queen, and her subjects.

“…I am a state level athlete Sharma Ji! I can either win or lose…a consolation prize does nothing for me…”

Telling stories is probably the most fulfilling, exhilarating feeling there is. Every performer tells a story – some use notes and lyrics, some use the stage, and others do it on screen. And to do it over a span of two hours is nothing short of daunting. Mind you, it is easy – if you compromise with layers you’ve built up for yourself, or the veracity of the character you are portraying. But to hold your own and not waver, especially in a double role, is quite a feat. Bollywood has seen the coming of age of a number of actresses, the vast majority of whom are former supermodels – ones who made their debut by looking good first, and learning how to act later. There are probably just a couple who did the reverse, and Kangana Ranaut happens to be one of them. Put her in a million dollar gown and ask her to sashay down a ramp for a fundraiser and she will pull it off, but with not as much panache as a Deepika would. But tell her to do the same, this time for the camera, and she will put the Claudia Schiffers and Sara Jane Dias-es of this world to shame. Such is the prowess this artist had displayed a while back in “Fashion”. With “Queen”, she established herself as a leading lady that Bollywood had been craving for a long time, one who commands the screen with her soul and not her face and figure. With “Tanu Weds Manu Returns”, she slips into the category of “potential greats”, with seemingly effortless ease.

Meanwhile, before we focus on her, the film deserves a few words of praise. Anand L Rai has proven his knack for portraying simplistic detail with his previous films, and with a cast boasting of Deepak Dobriyal, Madhavan and Rajesh Sharma, he could scarcely have gone wrong once equipped with a good screenplay. For starters, the sequel is an improvement upon the first instalment, which is usually a rare occurrence in any series. Unlike the prequel, this one hits the ground running, with Manu Sharma’s incarceration at a mental asylum in London, a diffident man driven to extreme anger by the vicissitudes of married life. From then on, the film paces up and maintains the pace. There are barely any dull moments, the dialogue is crisp and compact, the dialect staying very true to the Kanpur-Lucknow gharana of Hindi. Deepak Dobriyal is an instant hit, with commendable comic timing and dialogue delivery, though the temptation to overdo does get the better of him very often. Rajesh Sharma, Eijaz Khan and the rest of the predominantly theatre trained supporting cast blend seamlessly into the roles assigned to them. After an exhilarating, (never mind a little too dramatic!), first half, the audience is left craving for a second half and satisfactory denouement. This, however, turns out to be a bit of a dampener as the film drags and drifts into the territory of melodrama. Which brings us to Kangana yet again.

She shines like a thousand splendid suns. She flits between roles as easily as a chameleon changing colour between branch and leaf. She leaves us mesmerised at the selfless innocence of the young Kusum and blows us away with her Haryanavi Jat accent. Never (and I can’t repeat the word with more frequency or vehemence) is the audience shown even a slight passing hint of the two characters being played by the same person. She carries the film on her able shoulders, making up for a slightly lacklustre Madhavan, and decks it up with her immeasurable talent. She is one of the very few actresses who can bare their souls for the camera and pose utterly naked without shame. Her eyes speak volumes, her tears ream open audiences’ hearts and her smile brings something akin to relief. As Kusum, even the dances she features in are drastically different than the ones featuring Tanuja Trivedi.

I left the hall with a content heart, my weekly need of cinematic entertainment had been satisfied. But a part of me was left with the unfortunate Kusum, a part of me wanted to sit with her and talk to her, be a friend after the celebrations had been over and done with. That part of me tells me she is real. And that’s how you know she is the reigning Queen of Indian cinema, a legend in making.

The coming of age of an actress with herculean talent.

The coming of age of an actress with herculean talent.

The degradation of news media is taking its toll on the sanctity of democracy.

Breaking News! There is none!

The degradation of news media is taking its toll on the sanctity of democracy.

The degradation of news media is taking its toll on the sanctity of democracy.

One of the basic concepts of media literacy is that all forma of media are biassed. There is not a single message floating around in print, on television or on the proverbial internet cloud that has no underlying pathos and intent. It is, however, the responsibility of the constructor of each such message to make it apparent to the audience said underlying bias. Unfortunately, the Indian media (and one may safely assume that I am speaking about the TV media in particular) has taken this necessity to such a create extent that it is blatantly visible and frankly, jarring.

Media houses are corporates searching for profits from higher TRPs and it so a game run by ratings, much like the conundrum portrayed ably in Aaron Sorkin’s tele series. But what the Newsroom had was a man who found Don Quixote fascinating and made his newsroom into a quixotic world. This, is not possible. But to reach as far out and down into the dregs of journalism and draw down erstwhile respectable Indian journalists with it is a feat the devil would be jealous of. Disgust is what should fill the masses nowadays. And I fear, I a petrified that we are watching the complete extinction of responsible journalism.

Scams do get exposed even now, and outcry is generated by self styled vigilantes in the media but unfortunately journalists these days have crossed the thin line between reporting and misreporting that MJ Akbar kept talking about throughout his life. Columnists have a right to express opinion, but not front page reporters! Not news readers who seem to assume a bias the moment they don their crisp tailored suits and head towards their swivel chairs in front of the camera!

It is because of this, and a thirst for money rivalled only by a thirst for fame and ratings that makes our “Super Prime Time” reporter call a disgraced singer and a bunch of non achievers to express their opinions about a case which has lingered on for thirteen years in the the Indian Judicial system. It is the same lust that made Indian channels have a day long breaking news broadcast on the “Bhai” of Indian cinema while three bills with enough potential to change our lives for years to come were being chaired in the Parliament. It is this infatuation that has made “Breaking News” as mundane as regular news. Don’t you miss the days when “breaking news” made shivers shoot down your spine while your ears pricked up in attention?

They say it is the responsibility of the media to keep the population informed. And it has made it its duty to keep us on our toes, wallowing in grief or festering in anger. News has become sensational, and justice has become a marketing campaign. Responsibility does not exist any more and while all this goes on, we stay misinformed and revel on the news that does not matter. Voices of anger are many, and I’m sure this too shall be stamped out. As they scream their way to millions on prime time television.

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Fall in love with the Banerjis

The filmmaker needs to be one of three things (as a very dear friend opined a few days back) he should either be able to – make an ordinary concept great; make a great concept simple; or make an extravagant concept even larger. I had thought then, albeit quietly, that there is one more form of filmmaker, one who pulls at your heartstrings more often than the other three. This fourth variety of filmmaker is an unobtrusive observer, he spends his time watching commonplace objects and situations, he sees stories where the rest of us say none exists and he tells us a story, often with no immediate foreseeable end or conclusion. Satyajit Ray belonged to that category. More recently, Dibakar Banerjee earned his way into the club. And now, Shoojit Sircar has proved his credentials with “Piku” – a story of an impassioned, short tempered Bengali girl residing in Delhi with a septuagenarian father obsessed with his bowels.

“The raw material for cinema is life itself. The filmmaker has to keep his eyes and ears open, let him do so.” The formidable intellect of the great Satyajit Ray could not have been closer to the point. A screenwriter in Hollywood, when faced with the dilemma of complying with his director’s wish – that of making the script larger than life, failing which, the audience would not accept it, replied, “…But you’ve got to realise people don’t go to the movies to escape life, they go to rediscover it!”

We did not see Anupam Kher in Khosla ka Ghosla, we watched the struggles of an about to retire salaried old Delhi resident vying for a place in South Delhi and finding himself at war with a potbellied builder. In Piku, we do not see Amitabh Bachchan, nor do we watch Deepika Padukone on screen; we watch high decibel scenes between a scrappy, ill-tempered daughter squabbling with a father who expresses “emotion through motion”. There is a refreshing lack of destination and a focus on a long, rambling journey. Constipation is funny, and it remains so. People have sex for fun, and it remains so. People have impossible parents who they love but lose hair on whose account, and it remains so. It’s life on screen, and the Hrishikesh Mukherjee-esque plotline and storytelling melts your heart and moistens your eye. Why does Piku work? Because it makes no apology, and makes us fools complaining about monotony about the extraordinariness of our “mundane” lives.

The film isn’t perfect – some may argue against the slight dip in pace during the drawn out road trip; one may find the premise for Irrfan Khan’s sudden self assignation to the seemingly insurmountable task of ferrying the daughter-father duo halfway across the country a little unconvincing. But it would be a sin of no small order to criticise a film which dazzles with a lack of dance and glamour. And a complete lack of dialogue delivery – the actors speak in robust common tones – brings a sense of realism to the film which would have made the old masters proud. Credits of course must be give to the entire cast, which accounts for about seventy percent of this movie’s success. A simple story needs strong storytellers to keep it riveting, and the trio of Amitabh, Irrfan and Deepika keep it tight. Bhaskor Banerji is infuriating and endearing, Rana Chaudhari is affable and funny, but Piku Banerji is simply spectacular. It is easy to fade away when in the same frame as Bachchan or Khan, but she managed not only to hold her own, but shine with a bright, yet pleasing light. I am a Bengali, and being so, I am (As Bhaskor puts it) a “critical” person. But, to her credit, the Bangalorean in Deepika disappears completely and we see the epitome of that-Bong-girl-you’d-be-mad-to-piss-off. Of course, this would not be possible if not for Shoojit Sircar’s direction. He has shown immense love for the characters, and a firm belief in the story progress. He has treated the characters as celebrities and not the actors. And the mvie has come alive as refreshingly as Kolkata on a rain drenched March evening.

You watched and loved the Khoslas. It’s time to fall in love with the Banerjis.

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