who’re the three?

3 idiots is a movie that was released over christmas in an unprecedented 2126 screens across the world, multiplex screens from Cape town to Canberra carpet bombed with raj kumar hirani’s latest offering. The film has grossed over 300 crore rupees (thats about $ 70 million) in 19 days, a record in itself, and is probably on its way to settling comfortably on the summit of the largest grossers’ mountain, glitteringly studded with some other A Khan –  starrers, like “Ghajini”, or older gems like “raja hindustani”: reigning favorites till they were toppled by other, more substantial offerings like “gadar”(dir: anil sharma, whose next movie “veer” is on its way : salman leading a mercenary army in pre-handpump india- so be warned) et al.

the film was preceded by careful branding and market promotions, for this was the latest offering from a director who had provoked countrywide discussions, chatter, and more importantly, emulation from the adoring masses for his last movie, and even, to a lesser degree for his debut film: both candyfloss social commentaries with the same protagonists who stumble with brilliant comic timing through life-as-idyllic-comedy.

As I went to see it, though, my tickets placed me right next to 2 south african-indian kids, who, after watching the opening credits and Aamir’s stellar entrance, rolled to their sides, and promptly went to sleep. hmmm, not part of the adoring masses, i see.

3 idiots was also the latest movie to be graced by the great khan (henceforth known as ‘gk’), whose return to normal size after acquiring rectii, biceps and a hydra-like* deltoid in his last offering “ghajini” has been the subject of excited speculation.

so its with some degree of reserve that one approaches 3 idiots. on the one side, adulation from the masses is almost always suspicious. yet, the team making the movie seems to be adept, and the marketing seems synchronised, right down to the facetious spat over acknowledgements and titles when a legal contract was signed between all parties concerned, (whose contravention should have provoked court action, not petulant tweets and angry press conferences)

and this post is meant as a review, so I shall cut to the chase, and try to concentrate on the movie itself, and chop out the chatter.

3 idiots is a movie about 3 friends, 2 adversaries and 1 sweetheart (supported by one pregnant sister, two differently autocratic families, and a surprise jaaved jaffery appearance). The movie is set in an engineering college in Delhi, the Imperial College of Engineering, a none-too-subtle reference to the IITs in India.

Indeed, none-too-subtle is a theme that runs through the movie, as the theme of “suicide due to academic pressure” is rammed down audience throats with vigour at three separate instances in the movie. I agree that suicides are a part of professional college life in India, particularly at high pressure institutions like the IITs, and we have all lost friends or classmates to the pressures of academia: some burning out, others fading away, and a few taking the plunge towards ending it all (and successful at it).

Yet is that the dominant experience of college life? is it the dominant tragedy of our university-attending students? is the oppressive teaching system, with its over-emphasis on memorisation and academic rigour, choking creativity and innovation in our institutions?

Does 3 idiots adequately address these issues?

Does it do so without resorting to tired cliches, painful melodrama and flaccid jokes to pepper the narrative?

The answer is no. on both counts, which is sort of paradoxical, I recognise.

Right from the name of Aamir’s main adversary (Chatur Raamalingam? Why don’t you just get out the Mehmood tapes and dress up the man in a dhoti, carve out a sikha and smear him in bhasma? Why not just address him as “oye madraasi”, mister hirani?)

The geeky, no-social-skills rival does not really have to be from Madras, or Hyderabad, neither does it really behove well to pick on a person schooled in Kampala and Pondicherry (both with no hindi included in syllabus) and from a non-hindi speaking background for their poor skills in the national language. Chatur’s attempts to speak in hindi are pretty good, and he improves through the movie, achieving a passable grammar and vocabulary at the end, enough to make himself understood to movie goers without subtitles.

Yet the cliche is repeated, as always. To Hirani’s credit, at least the token muslim was not subjected to kid-gloved condescension, neither was the inventor Lobo’s dad a “God tumhe hameshaa khush rakhenge” padre in goa.

That was some relief, certainly. But the tired cliches, and the flaccid jokes, and the forced hilariousness was almost as irritating as the sight of men in their late 30’s and mid 40’s playing boys less than half that age. Admittedly, parts of the movie are funny, like the sanskrit verse at the end of Chatur’s ill-fated speech, like some of the gags with the teachers. But when this is seen in the backdrop of gk’s condescending, sanctimonious elder statesman patronage, the humour is too little compensation. 

Aamir-as-superman is a role that movie goers have come to identify since Ghulam more than 11 years ago. With the possible exception of 1947: Earth, gk has played the squeaky clean and patronising hero in all his movie: saving enslaved childhoods in “taare zameen par”, saving enslaved villages in “lagaan”, defending the nation in “sarfarosh”, defending his faith in “mangal pandey”. Its about time that the long, self obsessed biopics of himself, embellished with a million edited-to-make-aamir-look-good moments are treated with scepticism, and not unabashed admiration.

Don’t get me wrong. I would go for an gk movie far more readily than an SRK , or Salman movie, but I still think that the alaborate paeans to the man’s megalomania are getting a bit too tedious. So while gk fools around “more outside classes than inside”and “attends whichever class he wants to”, other students in the class do the boring humdrum job of sticking to the schedule. Yet gk shines in every class, does projects for other students, delivers babies using vacuum cleaners, and spends the night before the finals ferrying a friend’s invalid father to the hospital before topping the finals with the highest percentage aggregate. Any student worth his/her salt who has gone through engg / med school can tell you that at the highest level, toppers ae created by a combination of genius, obscenely long hours, application, luck and perserverance. A genius who flits airily from lecture to lecture absorbing what he can may be able to do really well in the results list, but topping? Unlikely.

But the most irritating quality of the movie is certainly its unsubtlety. And the patron saint of that is Boman Irani. If I am forced to see another of Irani’s over-the-top performances with fake lisp/beard/pagdee/wig/limp/mole, i think i shall scream. To see him as a cardboard tiger in too-high pants and tight coat, with a poisonous persona defined by peevish petulance and rather uneducated comments about “engineering”, and “machines” was tortuous, to say the least. To watch his teary-eyed capitulation to the bright side was even worse, and it is here that the movie fails to move, or even push or nudge.

All-in-all, if Hirani doesn’t change his style of aseptic cinema stories, unsubtle social messages, happily-ever-after endings, random resuscitations of paralysed patients, all embellished with dialogue that uses puerile jokes that may cause primary school teachers to blush and giggle nervously  in their classes, its going to become increasingly difficult to see his movies.

Evidently, I am in a small minority here, and along with the 2 children snoring peacefully in the seat next to me at the theatre, probably I make up the 3 eponymous heroes of this movie.

Which really answers my question, of course.

* – read: many headed.

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22 july, 2009 :Global Warming and the Democratic Paradox:

Much of my attention of late has been directed towards the monumental waste of resources that I see around everyday, in Durban, with its first world cities (and third world villages – but thats the topc for another blog altogether), correlated with images from the US and the UK on my brief visits there in the past.

The amount of waste that is perpetrated by the developed world is staggering in the enormity of scale. Paper, electricity, water, petrol, diesel, edible food, the list is endless. It seems to me that being “developed” essentially means going to an incredible amount of discomfort in order to ensure comfort to yourself.

Maybe that is not exactly true, after all. The paradigms of reference vary, certainly. So while the discomfort is relative (the trouble of having to pay for purified drinking water- purified with an immense amount of energy expenditure and cost – just so that you can wash your clothes and flush it down ure drain), the comfort is a no-brainer, designed to make life simpler, easier, hassle-free, and predictable.

this perhaps explains why traffic rules work so well in the developed world, with drivers’ absolute willingness to stand in long queues behind capricious traffic lights just so that they may be able to travel at great speeds with the promise of increased safety.

This philosophy, however, does not seem to work for global warming. And herein lies the rub. the reality of our age is that global warming and large-scale environmental degradation are realities that are projected to take place in a foreseeable future, with largely uncertain effects. Yet, the irony is that their extent and actual impact are matters of projection, at best. The effects of environmental collapse can be only appreciated by a person who has spent sufficient time imagining the future, and who is able to have a very sophisticated understanding of the “if-then-else” loop of reasoning.

Simple though this reasoning may seem, it is sadly not very common.

Again, changes, if and when they come, would happen at a gradual pace – effecting a gradual erosion in our quality of life in a way and so as to allow for enough time for civilisation to adjust to it.

What this does mean is that in the case of environmental protection, people will very often be willing to disregard the long term deleterious effects of their actions if they imagine that the short term benefits are attractive enough.

It also makes the process of educating people difficult because all that you have by way of reasoning is the vague threat that things may slide into a dystopic future where matters will be out of hand, and that responsible behaviour will help you to live a vastly less profligate lifestyle for a longer time frame.

Maybe, if you’re lucky.

This is where systems of governments come into play. And where democracy tries so valiantly. And fails: so completely, so pathetically.

Democracy has the reputation of something of a sacred cow in the world we live in today. It is seen as the best system of governance, and countries have been invaded in its name. Regimes have been toppled, rulers deposed, and the will of many people squashed because of the modern  (essentially wetsern) belief that democracy will solve most of the nation’s worries.

I do not want to go into the relative merits or demerits of the system. That is the topic of another post.

But democracy, as we know it: a system of government consisting of proportional representation of the citizens of the country, who are assisted and guided by the executive and judiciary, is not a system that is known for its long-sightedness. One of the important aspects of democracy is the fact that governments have a finite lifetime, after which they have to seek the approval of the electorate again. It follows, therefore, that to retain the favour of the electorate, a government shall have to take popular decisions that shall ensure another term in office.

It is within the dictates of electoral compulsion, and onlycorrect within the mandates of a democratic election, that a group of elected representatives should strive to take the decisions that the majority would support.

Herein lies the rub. So while elected governments will see it as morally justified, even pertinent, that they safeguard the immediate interests of their citizens, the long-term decisions (that may be uncomfortable in the short term and may have questionable effects in the long term) may be put on the back burner.

And why not? Governments do not fret about the world that they are handing down to their successors, 20 years into the future. Hell, the incumbents don’t even bother about the poor gits who’re coming in after them in a month’s time! This is is entirely different from, say, a monarchy, where the king has a vested interest in preserving and nourishing the kingdom for future generations, since succession is most often lineal.

This does not in any way mean that I am suggesting that monarchy is better or worse than democracy.

In fact, it does not even mean that I am suggesting that democratically elected governments are incapable of saving the environment.

But it certainly means that there will need to be an incredible amount of vision and concerted effort, and a will to think beyond the next general elections, if a democratic government based on popular consensus is to have a realistic chance of making long-term decisions that improve conditions and forge a new way forward.

That takes courage, and maturity, and selflessness. Because after all the considered thought and concerted action, the opposition may just win at the hustings by trumpeting the obvious current shortcomings of the government. Charges which would be impossible to disown, without scare-mongering about a nebulous future.

This is the democratic paradox, and it will be interesting to see how we shall negotiate it in the years to come.

january 5th, zero-nine : the lo-to-pha-gi :

They were not greek.  No, altho there was much insinuation made of that brand of love in the house. The dark, slightly damp corner of the room forever redolent of soft sighs, or (more often) of frantic urgings, would join in the discussions, often offering surprisingly imaginative suggestions for buggery.

There was a large game board in the middle of the room. This was the front room, the one that greeted every weary traveller who set foot in the house, greeted him before the inevitably empty bottle of water and the massively rolled joint.

The bottle was to be filled from the tap, the bong was to keep him company on his journey.

It does not matter what the game board was. Depending on which particular racial reality was being eked out in the room, or even, whichever reality was being played out that day in that common living space, the boards would change. Four heads in shared concentration would pore over the central table, their hair tousled, the skin over their foreheads thrown into deep furrows of intense thought. Sometimes it would be carrom, sometimes battleships, often a pack of cards and a flat surface

There would be assorted debris around the room, the flotsam and jetsam of the forever-itinerant-always-static life: assorted mobile chargers, crust-filled boxes of pizza, sandals, reed mats spread out against the far wall, newspapers folded neat and knife-like, pressing finely powdered cannabis in between their grimy leaves, two books by kafka, one assorted dvd of the x-men series and daredevil, and a fine sprinkling of ash coating the entire room, mingling with the dust and entering their lungs, to be wracked out a hours later, trapped in large globs of phlegm.

In an inside room, in a dank and furtive corner, someone wrapped in an oversize blanket would wave distractedly, his eyes intent on the foreign language film flickering on the screen in front of him, its eastern european heroines restricted to limited english lines of ‘yes’ and ‘harder’.  The dialogues would seem to be terse, and pithy, and the urgency of the actors evident in their insistent utterings.

Sometimes, there would be a tv in the corner, the channel forever tuned to Ftv, the cute gluteal folds of some brazilian ramp model ignored in the general interest over the evolving game.

The kitchen would be filthy, and largely unused, grease encrusted plates congealing near the sink while water dripped over the chipped white tile surface. Empty bottles would line the wall, and the fridge would be empty, save a half-empty bottle of flat pepsi and mouldy bread against the far corner.

On the counter, the cool earthern pot would store water, dark and refreshing.

The loo would be small, and often serviced by the only perrenial tap in the house, its lowly status as toilet-water-supply (kindly note the second hyphen) forgotten often when it is the only source of water in the house when the sun was high.

These are the lotus eaters, the carrom players, eternal drifters testing newton’s first law and proving it right every time, stopping only for a smoke or a roll, or reaching out for crumpled newspaper to wipe away the mess.

These are the Lotophagi.

“….How sweet it were, hearing the downward stream,
With half-shut eyes ever to seem
Falling asleep in a half-dream
To dream and dream, like yonder amber light,
Which will not leave the myrrh-bush on the height;
To hear each other’s whisper’d speech;
Eating the Lotos day by day,
To watch the crisping ripples on the beach,
And tender curving lines of creamy spray;
To lend our hearts and spirits wholly
To the influence of mild-minded melancholy;
To muse and brood and live again in memory,
With those old faces of our infancy
Heap’d over with a mound of grass,
Two handfuls of white dust, shut in an urn of brass!”

—                               From “The Lotos Eaters” Lord Alfred Tennyson, 1809-1892

ahem.

Hello, everyone!

Every once in a while when penning a blog, there is this moment of great discomfiture, this moment of insecurity, when you wonder who your audience is, and what among your random musings it is that they read. Do they skip over the details and pay attention only to the titles and the first 40-odd words? Do they read your outpourings with the reverence that you have accorded them, or do they read, permit themselves a little smile, and move on in search of more grassy pastures to roam upon and to feed?

More importantly, is there a they at all?

So it is with a sense of self-consciousness that one begins the process of addressing, clearing one’s throat and muttering the syllables to oneself first before shouting it out to the still night air, to hear its echo bounce back across the ages.

You can be sure that I deliberated for quite some time over where the comma would be in my rather unhingedly bright salutation, and certainly cringed as I put the exclamation mark at the end, so cheery and how d’you?

Ugh. Definitely contrived. I feel as if I have a plastic smile and black mouse ears glued on my face, in a horrible parody of gaiety and bonhomie, when in reality I am all sweaty palms and mashed insides, my stomach host to brightly coloured, gossamer winged insects, twitching their probosces and dreaming of life in pupo.

Still, how are you, reader, and how have you been?

I have been away for a while, and in the splendidly self-obsessed presupposition of humans, I shall assume that you have been away as well. What’s good for the goose, is for the gander, etc etc, I guess.

sometimes.

Is it always necessary to be significant? Or even to be urgent, insistent, to be incisive, to be analytical, to be sharp and piercing?

Sometimes it is fun to be frivolous, to be the person who sits in the corner and giggles vacuously at every passing joke, who says the silliest things to the most profound comments and punctuates it with a fit of corny one-liners and faux-philosophy.

Sometimes it is nice to be a buffoon.

Is it always necessary to be nice, to couch every uncharitable thought in cotton wool jackets of political correctness, to be sensitive and caring and thoughtful? To be the person who pauses at the right moment and shuts up when words will only hurt more, to be the man who addresses all sides of the squabble amicably and arbitrates, and yet comes out smelling like roses? To be the person who will not thoughtfully hurt, or maim, and whom thoughtlessness has passed by?

Sometimes it is so much easier to be an insensitive clod, causing young girls to burst into tears and men to bristle angrily, to cause irreparable harm to somebody so much more sensitive than oneself, to cause a person to feel hurt, deep down inside, and to cause the fragile edifice of their self-esteem to crumble and fall apart.

Sometimes it is easy to be a jerk.

Is it always necessary that the body be suppressed in public, hidden away behind thick woolly drapes or sack-like garments? Is it mandatory that manifestations of bodily functions, like a low rumbling burp, a loud musical fart, a sob, a sweat, an expulsive glob of phlegm ejaculated from a recalcitrant nose, be hidden away, and even if they escape into the public eye, to be paid for by furious blushing and sorrys?

Sometimes it is pleasurable to scratch your balls in front of a crowd.

Is it always necessary to have a form, a proper sequence, to be logical and calculated? Is it essential that there be an introduction, a body and a conclusion, the flow of ideas leading to a logical conclusion at the end of a series of well-thought out and considered arguments? To have an issue, then its counter point, then supporting statements and a final incontrovertible truth?

Can we not take pleasure sometimes in randomness, and in the haphazard whizzing of ideas past our heads at breakneck speeds? Can we not be happy that we are leading entropy toward its rightful direction, that we are moving forward into further chaos; where the only predictable consequence is unpredictability, and where the carefully ordered minds of Gujarati businessmen and Swiss bankers have been thrown out of gear by errata?

Sometimes it is wiser to break the flow, to stop. And to move sideways

Hello world!

well, this is it i guess. the big gazoo. the final bigaloo. the real kapish, the asli cheez, no cheating-sheating, no hanky panky… and definitely no ISI mark.

well, i find myself today sitting in front of the lighted blue terminal, my throat parched, my fingears tired, my hands weary from a day of travel in the blistering marathwada heat…

my limbs are weary and weak, and there are small islands behind my heavy lids that still feel as if they are on fire, their dull throb offset by the light smarting that comes when my lids flash down, and cover them with blessed lacryma

let me just begin this with my favourite piece of short fiction, by swinburne, its called the garden of proserpine:

Here, where the world is quiet;
Here, where all trouble seems
Dead winds' and spent waves' riot
In doubtful dreams of dreams;
I watch the green field growing
For reaping folk and sowing
For harvest-time and mowing,
A sleepy world of streams.
 
I am tired of tears and laughter,
And men that laugh and weep;
Of what may come hereafter
For men that sow to reap:
I am weary of days and hours,
Blown buds of barren flowers,
Desires and dreams and powers
And everything but sleep.
 
Here life has death for neighbor,
And far from eye or ear
Wan waves and wet winds labor,
Weak ships and spirits steer;
They drive adrift, and whither
They wot not who make thither;
But no such winds blow hither,
And no such things grow here.
No growth of moor or coppice,
No heather-flower or vine,
 
But bloomless buds of poppies,
Green grapes of Proserpine,
Pale beds of blowing rushes,
Where no leaf blooms or blushes
 
Save this whereout she crushes
For dead men deadly wine.
Pale, without name or number,
In fruitless fields of corn,
They bow themselves and slumber   
All night till light is born;
 
And like a soul belated,
In hell and heaven unmated,
By cloud and mist abated
Comes out of darkness morn.
 
Though one were strong as seven,
He too with death shall dwell,
Nor wake with wings in heaven,
Nor weep for pains in hell;
Though one were fair as roses,
His beauty clouds and closes;
And well though love reposes,
In the end it is not well.
 
Pale, beyond porch and portal,
Crowned with calm leaves she stands
Who gathers all things mortal
With cold immortal hands;
Her languid lips are sweeter
Than love's who fears to greet her,
To men that mix and meet her
From many times and lands.
She waits for each and other,   S
he waits for all men born;
Forgets the earth her mother,
The life of fruits and corn;
 
And spring and seed and swallow
Take wing for her and follow
Where summer song rings hollow
And flowers are put to scorn.
There go the loves that wither,
The old loves with wearier wings;
And all dead years draw thither,
And all disastrous things;
 
Dead dreams of days forsaken,
Blind buds that snows have shaken,
Wild leaves that winds have taken,
Red strays of ruined springs.
 
We are not sure of sorrow;
And joy was never sure;
To-day will die to-morrow;
Time stoops to no man's lure;
And love, grown faint and fretful,
With lips but half regretful
Sighs, and with eyes forgetful
Weeps that no loves endure.
 
From too much love of living,
From hope and fear set free,
We thank with brief thanksgiving
Whatever gods may be
That no life lives for ever;
That dead men rise up never;
That even the weariest river
Winds somewhere safe to sea.
 
Then star nor sun shall waken,
Nor any change of light:
Nor sound of waters shaken,
Nor any sound or sight:
Nor wintry leaves nor vernal,
Nor days nor things diurnal;
Only the sleep eternal
In an eternal night.
 
 
next time: the gere-shilpa kiss.