Monday, July 27, 2015

Book Review: The Heat and Dust Project, in TNIE

I reviewed The Heat and Dust Project by Saurav Jha and Devapriya Roy for The New Indian Express. Read here or see below.


About the time blog hosts that came free leapt off the internet and seeped into the real lives of those hobbyists who had all the means to travel on weekends and expensive cameras to shoot what looked like a million photos with, there have been a profusion of travel blogs. Some are informative, some entertaining, if you happen to know the blogger and his/her quirks. Some writing transports you, like all good writing should, to that place in that time. Several, at the very least, have beautiful pictures. Most though are a tad run-of-the-mill. Devapriya Roy and Saurav Jha's The Heat and Dust Project - the broke couple's guide to Bharath flits, most times, about these assorted elements above, sans any photographs though.

Theirs is a story common enough to border on a slight stereotype of the young intellectual types who invariably develop an air of entitlement and privilege, even when fashionably roughing it. The privilege isn't necessarily that of a monetary nature, mind you, but sometimes of accessibility, of a plan B, of helpful family. So Roy and Jha are married, in well paying, but soulless jobs. They decide to leave the rat race to travel the country. The catch though is that they have to do it at a very small budget of ₹ 500 per day for travel and food.

So the couple start from a foggy Delhi, where they studied and met and lived and worked for a while, and head to Jaipur. Pushkar, Sabarmati, towns like Merta, Barmer, Palanpur, Barsana and others that are unusual on a tourist trail feature, before, for various reasons, the couple find themselves back in Paharganj. For family reasons, it is back to Kolkata then. They go elsewhere later, and there is a book two that will tell that story, hopefully one that justifies better the 'guide to Bharath' in the subtitle.

The project is ambitious, what with such a very limited budget. Situations where the five hundred rupee notes will only fetch the most basic food and rooms that leave much to be desired by way of hygiene, view and location are enough to drive travel companions up the wall. It becomes all the more so with a married couple. The book chronicles the fights the couple get into, including an epic one that lasts hours. If Roy is the more care-free one craving fancy cake in small towns, Jha is the practical yang, controlling the budget, keeping the pace up, hurtling along to the next town. There are a mélange of people they meet, the most consistent being a pair of Israeli twins with whom several coffees, meals and conversations are shared.

Roy, the narrator for the most part, sprinkles some lovely lines throughout the book. In her "yellow notebook" she jots down meticulous, minute details, whole conversations end up being reproduced. The minute details, usually employed to recreate a visual image of the scene for a reader, seem too many, too often. "D (Devapriya. Both are referred to by their initials in the book, D and S) tugs off her jacket and walks towards the toilets..." Strewn with a tad too many references to toilets and other inconveniences of cheap travel, there is only a selective step by step account of the journey. Perhaps that was the whole point of the book - over personalisation. Jha's narrative makes an appearance now and then, mostly to reel off facts and the history of the place they are at. Sadly, these end up, more often than not, reading more like Wiki entries, jarring inclusions in what would otherwise be a breezy, light book.

Scantily peppered, though, are interesting insights into a typical Indian mind, into the hustling pace of development even in the smallest of towns, into the precarious balance between 'ritual making' and modern aspirations that most middle class Indians struggle with in the everyday. It is with these passages that the book manages to redeem itself a little and not end up being just another prosaic blog of a hobby writer.

Monday, July 20, 2015

New Fortnightly Column in Kannada Prabha

So this has happened. I got talked into writing a column in Kannada for Kannada Prabha, a daily. A column in that newspaper - the many, many ironies associated with it aren't lost on me. I am not a Kannada writer, Kannada is, when it comes to writing, a language as distant to me as any other. I am way out of my comfort zone here, hence it is challenging, and so, welcome. Yet. It feels nice to be asked to write something like this.

I will write every alternate Sunday, broadly on books, cinema, nostalgia (I suppose), navigating cosmopolitanism as a woman, this and that. Do read, it will run under the name 'Binkana'. This one is about old cinema halls, best friends and the blockbuster movie Bahubali.

A slightly unedited version below. 

ಚಿತ್ರಮಂದಿರದ ಕಾಡುವ ಚಿತ್ರಗಳು 

"ಯೇಮ್ಮಂಡಿ" ಎನ್ನೋ ಒಂದು ಶಬ್ದ ಬಿಟ್ಟರೆ ತೆಲುಗು ಭಾಷೆ ನನಗೆ ಬರುವುದಿಲ್ಲ. ಕನ್ನಡ ಲಿಪಿಯ ಹಾಗೆಯೇ ಇರುವುದರಿಂದ ಆಗಾಗೆ ಫಿಲಂ ಪೋಸ್ಟರ್ ಗಳನ್ನು ರೆಡ್ ಟ್ರಾಫಿಕ್ ಲೈಟಿನಲ್ಲಿ ಕಣ್ಣಿಗೆ ಬಿದ್ದರೆ ಓದುತ್ತೇನೆ ಅಷ್ಟೆ. ಅದೇನೋ ಭರ್ಜರಿ ಕರ್ಚು ಮಾಡಿ ತೆಗೆದ ಸಿನೆಮಾ ಅಂತೆ, ಹಿಂದೆಂದೂ ಭಾರತದ ಸಿನೆಮಾ ರಂಗದಲ್ಲಿ ಕಾಣದ ಕಂಪ್ಯೂಟರ್ ಗ್ರಾಫಿಕ್ಸ್ ಅಂತೆ, ಅದ್ಭುತ ಅಂತೆ, ಅಂತೆಲ್ಲಾ ಪತ್ರಿಕೆ, ಇಂಟರ್ನೆಟ್ ನಲ್ಲಿ ನೋಡಿ, ಸರಿ ಏನೋ ಇರ್ಲಿ ಅಂತ ಹೇಳಿ ನಿನ್ನೆ ಅಲ್ಲ ಮೊನ್ನೆ 'ಬಾಹುಬಲಿ' ಚಿತ್ರಕ್ಕೆ ಹೋಗಿದ್ದೆವು. ಸಬ್ ಟೈಟಲ್ ಇರಬಹುದು ಎಂದುಕೊಂಡು. ನಾವು ಹೋದಲ್ಲಿ ಇರಲಿಲ್ಲ. ಧಾರಾಕಾರ ಮಳೆ ಇನ್ನೇನು ಶುರುವಾಗಬೇಕು ಎಂದಿರುವ ಕೆಲ ದಿನಗಳ ಹಿಂದೆ ಅದೊಂದು ಜುಮ್ ಅನ್ನೋ ಚಳಿ ಇದೆಯಲ್ಲ? ಲೇಟ್ ನೈಟ್ ಶೋಗೆ ಹೋಗುತ್ತಿರುವಾಗ ಇನ್ನು ಸ್ವಲ್ಪ ದಪ್ಪದ ಜ್ಯಾಕೆಟ್ ಹಾಕಬೇಕ್ಕಿತ್ತೇನೋ ಎಂದು ಒಂದು ಕ್ಷಣಕ್ಕೆ ಅನಿಸುತ್ತಿರಬೇಕಾದರೆ ಅದ್ಯಾವುದೋ ಕ್ವಾರ್ಟರ್ಸ್ ಗಳ ಸಾಲಿನ ಮುಂದೆ ಸಾಲಾಗಿ ಮೇ ಫ್ಲವರ್ ಮರಗಳನ್ನು ತೋರಿಸಿ ದಿ ಬೆಸ್ಟ್ ಫ್ರೆಂಡ್ ಹೂವರಲಿದಾಗ ಸಾಲಿಗೆ ಬೆಂಕಿ ಹಾಕಿದ ಹಾಗೆ ಕಾಣುತ್ತದೆ ಅಂತೆ ಹೇಳುತ್ತಿರುವುದು ಕಿವಿಗೆ ಬಿತ್ತು. ಇನ್ನೊಂದಷ್ಟು ದೂರದಲ್ಲೇ ಥೀಯೇಟರ್ ಬಂದೇಬಿಟ್ಟಿತು.

ಬಾಹುಬಲಿ ಸಿನಿಮಾದ ಬಗ್ಗೆ ಹೊಸದಾಗಿ ಯೇನನ್ನಲಿ? ಮಾಡಿದ ಭರ್ಜರಿ ಕರ್ಚು ಪ್ರತಿಯೊಂದು ಸೀನಿನಲ್ಲೂ ಕಾಣುತ್ತದೆ. ಸಾಮಾನ್ಯವಾದ ಗ್ರಾಫಿಕ್ಸ್ ಬಳಸಿದ ಇಂಡಿಯನ್ ಸಿನೆಮಾಗಳಿಂದ ಅದೆಷ್ಟೋ ಚೆನ್ನಾಗಿ ತೆಗೆದ ಸಿನೆಮಾ. ಕಮರ್ಷಿಯಲ್ ಸಿನೆಮಾ. ಅವುಗಳ್ಳನ್ನು ಹೆಚ್ಚು ನೋಡದ ನನಗೆ ಅಷ್ಟೊಂದು ಇಂಪ್ರೆಸ್ಸ್ ಆಗದಿದ್ದರು, ಅಷ್ಟೇನು ಖರಾಬಾಗಿಲ್ಲ ಅಂತೆನಿಸಿತು. ಒಳ್ಳೆ ಅದ್ಯಾವುದೋ ಸೀರಿಯಲ್ ಥರ ಇನ್ನೊಂದು ವರ್ಷ ಬಿಟ್ಟು ಇನ್ನೊಂದು ಕಂತು ಹೋಗಿ ನೋದಬೇಕಾಗುವ ಹಾಗೆ ಸಿನೆಮಾ ತೆಗೆಯುವ ಟ್ರೆಂಡ್ ಇದರಿಂದ ಶುರುವಾಗದ್ದಿದ್ದರೆ ಸಾಕಷ್ಟೇ. ನಿಜ ಹೇಳಬೇಕಾದರೆ ನನಗೆ ಇಂಪ್ರೆಸ್ಸ್ ಆದದ್ದು ಆ ಥೀಯೇಟರ್ ನೋಡಿ. ಸಿಂಗಲ್ ಸ್ಕ್ರೀನ್, ಬಂಡವಾಳಶಾಹಿತ್ವದ ಪ್ರತ್ಯಕ್ಷ ರೂಪವಾಗಿರುವ ಯಾವುದೇ ಮಾಲಿನ ಮೂರನೇ ಮಹಡಿಯಲ್ಲಿ ಇರದೇ, ಸಿಟಿಯ ಕೊಂಚ ಹೊರವಲೆಯದಲ್ಲಿರುವ ನನ್ನ ಮನೆಯಿಂದ ಸ್ವಲ್ಪ ದೂರದಲ್ಲಿ ಅದೇ, ಮೇಲೆ ಹೇಳಿದ ಬುಗ್ ಎಂದು ಬೆಂಕಿ ಹಾಕಿದಂತೆ ಕಾಣುವ ಮೇ ಫ್ಲವರ್ ಮರಗಳ ಹತ್ತಿರದ ಒಂದು ಥೀಯೇಟರ್. ಇನ್ನೇನು ಮುರಿದೇ ಹೋಯಿತು ಎಂಬುವಂತಹ ಸೀಟುಗಳು, ಎಷ್ಟೋ ವರ್ಷಗಳಿಂದ ಸೇರುತ್ತಾ ಬಂದ ಅದೆಂತ್ತದ್ದೋ ವಾಸನೆ. ಅದರದ್ದೇ ಆದ 'ಕ್ಯಾರೆಕ್ಟರ್'. ಪ್ರತಿಯೊಂದು ಶೋವಿನ ಮೊದಲು ಫಿನೈಲ್ ಹಾಕಿ ತೊಳೆದ ಫಳ ಫಳ ಎನ್ನುವ ಶೋಕಿಯಲ್ಲ ನೋಡಿ.

ಚೀಪ್ ಕಾಗದದ ಮೇಲೆ ಅರ್ಜೆಂಟಿನಲ್ಲಿ ಚಾಪಿಸಿದ ಟಿಕೆಟ್ ಹಿಡಿದು ಮುಖ್ಯ ಬಾಗಿಲಿನ ಒಳ ಹೋದಷ್ಟರಲ್ಲಿ ಕಣ್ಣಿಗೆ ಬಿದ್ದ ಉದ್ದ ತಿಂಡಿ, ಪಾಪ್ ಕಾರ್ನ್, ಪೆಪ್ಸಿ ಕೌಂಟರ್ ನೋಡಿದಾಕ್ಷಣ ನೆನಪಾದುದ್ದು ನನ್ನೂರು. ಮಡಿಕೇರಿ. ಆ ಕಾಲದಲ್ಲಿ ಇದ್ದುದು ಎರಡು ಥೀಯೇಟರುಗಳು, ಕಾವೇರಿ ಥೀಯೇಟರ್, ಬಸಪ್ಪ ಥೀಯೇಟರ್. ಕಾವೇರಿ ಕಟ್ಟುತ್ತಿರುವಾಗ ಕಟ್ಟಡದ ಮಾಲೀಕರು ಊರವರಿಗೆಂದು ಒಂದು ಸ್ಪರ್ದೆ ಇಟ್ಟಿದ್ದರಂತೆ, ಥಿಯೇಟರಿಗೆ ಹೆಸರಿಡಲು. ಕೊಡಗಿನಲ್ಲಿ ಸೃಜನಾತ್ಮಕವಾಗಿ 'ಕಾವೇರಿ' ಹೆಸರನ್ನು ಆಯ್ಕೆ ಮಾಡಿದ ಮಾಲೀಕರಿಗೆ ಅದೇನು ಸ್ಪರ್ದೆಯಿಡುವ ಅನಿವಾರ್ಯ ಕಂಡಿತೋ ಏನೋ.

ಎರಡರಲ್ಲಿ ಒಂದರಲ್ಲಿ ಮಾರ್ನಿಂಗ್ ಶೋವಿನಲ್ಲಿ ಇಂಗ್ಲಿಷ್ ಸಿನಿಮಾ, ಹೆಚ್ಚಾಗಿ ಹೆಸರೇ ಕೇಳದ್ದು, ನಡಿಸಿದರೆ, ಎರಡರಲ್ಲೂ ಮ್ಯಾತ್ನೀ, ಫಸ್ಟ್ ಮತ್ತು ಸೆಕೆಂಡ್ ಶೋ ಕನ್ನಡವೋ, ಅಪರೂಪಕ್ಕೆ ಹಿಂದಿಯೋ, ಹೆಚ್ಚಾಗಿ ತಮಿಳು ಸಿನಿಮಾ ನಡೆಯುತ್ತಿತ್ತು. ಒಳಗೆಯೇ ಸಿಗರೇಟು, ಬೀಡಿ ಸೇದುತ್ತಿದವರಿಗೆ ಅಮ್ಮ ಅವರಿಗೆ ಬೈದು ಸೀಟಿನ ಕೆಳಗೆ ಆರಿಸಿ ಬಿಸಾಡುವಂತೆ ಮಾಡುತ್ತಿದಳು. ಎಡ, ಬಲದ ಎರಡು ಗೋಡೆಗಳಲ್ಲಿ ತರ ತರ ಬಣ್ಣದ, ಸೈಜಿನ ಬಬ್ಬಲ್ ಗಂ ಅಂಟಿಸಿರುತ್ತಿದ್ದವು. ಹೌಸ್ ಫುಲ್ ಆದರು ನಮ್ಮದೊಂದು ಹಾಜರಾತಿ ಇರಲಿ ಎನ್ನುವ ಒಂದೆರಡು ಹೆಗ್ಗಣಗಳು. ಊರಿನ ಬಟ್ಟೆ ಅಂಗಡಿ, ಅದು ಇದು ಜಾಹಿರಾತುಗಳ ಸ್ಲೈಡ್ ಗಳು ಹಾಕುತ್ತಿರಬೇಕಾದರೆ ಶುರುವಾಗುತ್ತಿದ್ದುದು 'ಕೊಡಗಿನ ಕಾವೇರಿ...ಕಾವೇರಿ... ನೀ...ಬೆಡಗಿನ ವಯ್ಯಾರಿ', ಶರಪಂಜರ ಚಿತ್ರದ ಹಾಡು. ಥಿಯೇಟರಿನ ಹೊರಗೆ ಊರವರ ಜೊತೆ ಹರಟೆ ಹೊಡೆಯುತ್ತಿದವರು 'ಪಿಕ್ಚರ್ ಶುರುವಾಯಿತು' ಎಂದು ರಬಸದಲ್ಲಿ ಒಳ ಬಂದು ತಮ್ಮತಮ್ಮ ಸೀಟು ಹಿಡಿಯಲು ಅದೇ ಸೂಚನೆ. ಎರಡು ಕಡೆ ಹಾಕುತ್ತಿದ ವರ್ಶನಿನಲ್ಲಿ ಮಧ್ಯದಲ್ಲೆಲ್ಲೋ ಟೇಪ್ ಹಳೆಯದಾಗಿ, ಸವೆದ ಕರ ಕರ ಶಬ್ದವಿರುತ್ತಿತ್ತು. ಮೊನ್ನೆ ಬಾಹುಬಲಿ ಶುರುವಾಗುವ ಮುಂಚೆ ಇದನ್ನೆಲ್ಲಾ ದಿ ಬೆಸ್ಟ್ ಫ್ರೆಂಡ್ ಹತ್ತರೆ ಹೇಳುತ್ತಿರಬೇಕಾದರೆ, ನೆನಪಾಗಿ, ಮನೆಗೆ ಬಂದು ಅದೇ ಹಾಡನ್ನು ಡೌನ್ಲೋಡ್ ಮಾಡಿದಾಗ ಅದ್ಹೇಗೋ ಗೊತ್ತಿಲ್ಲ, ಸಿಕ್ಕಿದ್ದು ಕಾವೇರಿ ಬಸಪ್ಪ ಥಿಯೇಟರಿನ ಕರ ಕರ ವರ್ಶನ್.

ಬೆಂಗಳೂರಿನ ನಾವು ಹೋದ ಸಿಂಗಲ್ ಸ್ಕ್ರೀನ್ ಥಿಯೇಟರಿನ ಒಳ ಇದ್ದ ಉದ್ದನೆಯ ತಿಂಡಿ ಕೌಂಟರಿನ ಹಾಗೆಯೇ ಕಾವೇರಿಯಲ್ಲೂ ಒಂದಿತ್ತು. ಒಬ್ಬ ವಯಸ್ಸು ಸರಿಯಾಗಿ ಅದೆಷ್ಟಿರಬಹುದು ಎಂದು ಊಹಿಸಲಾಗದಿರುವ ಮುದುಕ. ಅಪ್ಪನ ಕೈಯಿಂದ ಇಳಿದು, ಬೆರಳು ಹಿಡಿಯುತ್ತ ದೊಡ್ಡವಳಾಗಿ ಫ್ರೆಂಡ್ಸ್ ಒಟ್ಟಿಗೆ ಹೋಗಲು ಶುರುಮಾಡಿ, ಮಹಾನಗರ ಸೇರಿ ಮತ್ತಷ್ಟು ವರ್ಷಗಳು ಕಳೆದು ಅಂದೊಮ್ಮೆ ಹಿಂತಿರುಗಿ ಹೋಗಿ ನೋಡಿದರೂ ಆ ಮುದುಕನ ಮುಖ ಒಂದಿಷ್ಟು ಬದಲಾಗಿರಲಿಲ್ಲ. ಗೋಲ್ಡ್ ಸ್ಪಾಟ್, ಹಸಿರು ಕಡಲೆ, ಕಡಲೆ ಮಿಟಾಯಿ, ಹುಳಿ ಪೆಪ್ಪಿ, ನಂತರ ಪಾಪ್ ಕಾರ್ನ್, ಡೈರಿ ಮಿಲ್ಕ್ ಖರೀದಿಸಿದ ಕೌಂಟರ್ ಅದು.

ಕಳೆದ ಬಾರಿ ಹೋದಾಗ ಬಸಪ್ಪ ಥೀಯೇಟರ್ ಒಡೆದ್ದಿದ್ದರು, ಕಾವೇರಿಯಲ್ಲಿ ಡಾಲ್ಬಿ ಸೌಂಡ್ ಸಿಸ್ಟಮ್ ಬಂದಿತ್ತು. ಹರೆದು ಹೋದ ಟೇಪಿನಿಂದ ಕೊಡಗಿನ ಕಾವೇರಿ ಇರಲಿಲ್ಲ. ಆ ಮುದುಕ ಆ ಡಿಂ ಬೆಳಕು ಹಾಕಿರುವ ಕೌಂಟರಿನ ಹಿಂದೆ ಕಾಲುಗಳನ್ನು ಎಳೆಯುತ್ತಾ ನಿದ್ಧಾನವಾಗಿ ಅಚೆಂದೀಚೆ ನಡೆಯುತ್ತಿದ್ದ. ಒಂದೊಂದರಿ ಎಲ್ಲಾ ಬದಲಾದರು ಏನೋ ಒಂದು ಬದಲಾಗುವುದಿಲ್ಲ. ಆ ಬದಲಾಗದಿರುವುದರಲ್ಲಿ ಎಂದೋ ಬಿಟ್ಟು ಬಂದ ಊರಿನ ಒಂದು ಸ್ತಿರತೆ. ನಾವೆಂದೂ ಹಿಂತಿರುಗಿ ಮನೆಗೆ ಹೋಗಲು ಸಾದ್ಯವಿಲ್ಲ ಎಂದೆನ್ನುತ್ತಾರೆ, ಬುದ್ದಿಜೀವಿಗಳು. ನಿಜ. ಆದರೆ ಎಲ್ಲಿದ್ದರು ಅಲಲ್ಲಿ ಬದಲಾದ, ಬದಲಾಗದ ಊರಿನ, ಮನೆಯ ಚಿನ್ನೆಗಳು ಕಾಣುತ್ತಿರುತ್ತವೆ.
ಸಾಂಕೇತಿಕತ್ವ. 'ಸಿನೆಮಾ ಪ್ಯಾರಡಿಸೊ' ಅಂತಹ ಅದ್ಭುತ ಚಿತ್ರಗಳನ್ನು ನೋಡುವಾಗ. ಹರಿದ ಹಾಡುಗಳನ್ನು ಕೇಳುವಾಗ. ಅದೆಲ್ಲೋ, ಹೇಗೋ...

ಹಿಂತಿರುಗಿ ಹೋದಾಗ ಕಾವೇರಿಯಲ್ಲಿ ಪಾಪ್ ಕಾರ್ನ್ ಕೊಳ್ಳಲಿಲ್ಲ, ಮೊನ್ನೆ ಬಾಹುಬಲಿ ಚಿತ್ರಕ್ಕೂ ಖರೀದಿಸಲಿಲ್ಲ. ಅದರ ಅಗತ್ಯವಿಲ್ಲ ಎಂದೆನಿಸಿತ್ತು.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Sandalwood and the Reinforcing of Regressive Gender Roles: Filter Coffee Column This Month

Read it on the Kindle magazine website here or see below.


Whether it is Radhika Pandit or Sonakshi Sinha, the “good girls” of Indian cinema only reinforce our society's regressive gender roles.

It seems Radhika Pandit is a star, one of those top heroine types in the Kannada film industry, tackily called Sandalwood. (Karnataka, née Mysore State, has sandalwood trees in abundance, an excuse enough to lend itself to an industry that is, well, long past its golden years.) I vaguely remembered Pandit’s name, from my brief years of working with a certain newspaper. Working for the paper meant I was obliged to subscribe to it, though I would read only the colourful supplement, for it was entertaining with morning coffee.

This girl cannot act and is only mildly good looking, the thin, tall, fair sorts that we Southies seem to find exotic, hence attractive. She plays the damsel in distress most times, and I suppose the perplexed look, as if she doesn’t quite know why she was where she is, suits her. By that measure, I suppose she is a top heroine.

But then, this is not about her. Though I cannot help reflect on the part that she, and the other deliberate bimbos, play in reiterating gender roles.

Radhika Pandit cannot act and is only mildly good looking, the thin, tall, fair sorts that we Southies seem to find exotic, hence attractive. She plays the damsel in distress most times, and I suppose the perplexed look suits her.

The other day I happened to be travelling in a nice air-conditioned bus from the state’s central regions back to the capital. The monsoon had crept in, finally, after a particularly brutal summer. The grass was green, the wind so generous and at intervals, it rained. When it stopped, hints of the sun’s rays gleamed from atop buildings and rice fields. I even saw a giant rainbow, my first in many, many years and I wondered if, like they said, there would be a pot of gold at one end of it. It was all nice and worthy of a pretty passage in words, except that there was also a TV mounted on to the front of the bus. Keeping with the spirit of “Siri-Kannadam Gelge [long live Kannada]”, the bus conductor chose to play a relatively new Kannada film featuring Radhika Pandit. The bus journey was about six hours long. We were forced to watch nearly two movies. Both, her’s.

Now, I haven’t owned a TV in many years, for reasons that go beyond the scope of this column. I treat a TV like a fragile piece of Belgian glass, not quite knowing how to handle it and, at the same time, a tad apprehensive about setting it down on a rough surface. Here on the bus, with no chance of escaping the crass dialogues and the terrible songs and the sad, sad acting chops, I remained glued to the screen, the only thing to do. Every other scene seemed to give me cause for outrage.

As I write this, the two films get mixed up in my head. The heroes were different and I remember noting in passing that the first one was better than the second, which isn’t saying a lot. But of course the two were love stories, right versus wrong, right triumphing over wrong, tradition and respecting elders and the rest of the same old rehashed drivel. But what kept raising my hackles was the way regressive gender roles kept getting reiterated and shoved down the audience’s throats. Subtlety abandoned, the direction of the films was clear—this is how a “good” girl ought to be.

There is a scene in one of the films where the heroine is required to be in a police station. Her work done, the macho hero, who she has wronged, tells her that a good girl ought not to be in a police station for long. Then there is another where he, in college for the first time after many weeks—he’s too cool for school—spies on her from a distance and remarks that this is what a good Kannada girl looks like. She lights a cigarette just then and devastated, he launches into a rant of how “modern” girls behave like boys, that “modern” girls are not “good” girls, and so on. (It turns out that the poor girl was only being ragged, forced to smoke a cigarette by the bad boys from a senior class.)

The heroine has promised her widower father that she will never ever fall in love, that she will marry the boy he chooses for her. That’s the only way he will let her go to the city to study journalism. After spending the first act being surrounded by a band of loyal female friends and stalked in full Raanjhanaa style—followed, harassed, tortured and teased into falling in love—by the hero, she has to go attend a friend’s wedding.

Father says no, but a benevolent uncle gets him to relent, saying once she is married she will anyway have to ask her husband permission for every little thing, so he might as well grant her this one freedom. Father gives permission. Heroine goes, is followed and harassed further by the hero, but only because he is madly in love with her, mind you. Oh, he is also the heir of a grand royal family, whose kings have been brave and brilliant for the last several hundred years. He masquerades as an irritating good-for-nothing because…oh well, never mind.

But what kept raising my hackles was the way regressive gender roles kept getting reiterated and shoved down the audience’s throats. Subtlety abandoned, the direction of the films was clear—this is how a “good” girl ought to be.

Strewn with such examples of morality, films—not restricted to Kannada or Hindi or any other language, for that matter—go a very long way in reinforcing an old society’s diktats for girls of various ages. I always want to gasp when I think of how powerful a medium cinema is. Think Iranian cinema and the influence it has had on society and the larger cinema fraternity. The fact that a popular Bollywood song is heard and repeated in every corner of this linguistically heterogeneous, multi-cultured country is but a small measure for how much cinema is and remains a part of our lives. Films mirror society, just as society picks up cues from what is advised on screen.

And that is what makes these seemingly minor references to good girl versus bad girl so dangerous. So if I am at a police station to register a complaint against sexual harassment and am made to sit there for hours (real story), the man on the street will make me the bad girl? Likely. Remember theburi ladki poster?

It is tiring sometimes, these relentless rants against how stupid some people who misuse their power to influence and some sections of the society are. But moving on to write about other issues is giving up, wouldn’t you say? I wish we could preach to the masses not to watch these films, to get more high-cultured and watch films and read books that make them reflect and opine and judge and be sensitive. But then, cinema is also the greatest escape strategy ever invented. Who then are we to tell those desperate to escape the mundane soul crushing drudgery of their lives to not watch these mindless films? Could the directors, scriptwriters, actors be more responsible? But then, they need to play to the audience because a lot rides on the box office’s verdict.

This is like two highly individualistic friends trying to forge a next-level relationship. Neither will relent on anything; they already know each other so well. Yet they must somewhere relent to move ahead. Perhaps a bridge right in the middle somewhere is the only solution.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Re-published in The Moscow Times

An article on the books I grew up reading, the ones published by Raduga, Progress, Mir Publishers and others appeared some weeks ago in The Calvert Journal here

These books have been so much a part of my growing up years and were among the first books I read. They shaped so much of my thoughts and, I like to think, were a connection to my grandfather who passed away before I was born and left behind these books.

The article was re-published in The Moscow Times some time ago. Here is the link.