article, free speech, life, literature and books, REALISM

The Handmaid’s Tale: Why adaptation of Atwood’s dystopia deserved the Emmy

“We lived as usual, by ignoring. Ignoring isn’t the same as ignorance, you have to work at it.” – Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale

Who could’ve predicted that a dystopian show could give online streaming portals a run for their money? The king of streaming did shake in its place when “The Handmaid’s Tale” won eight Emmys very recently.  And that is no mean feat.

What is so eerie about Handmaid’s tale is how close it is to the nightmares in the present cultural context. It instantly drives home the fear of a totalitarian state, towards which the ideological warfare in our times is pointing. To take women as pivots in a story and do it justice, all the while staying true to the essence of the novel is marvelous. The producers have contemporized Margaret Atwood’s dystopia by the same name and given us something that is beautiful yet horrific in its portrayal. The Emmy was well on its way.

Gilead (which is what the US has been named after being taken over by religious fundamentalists) is home to women who serve at the whims and fancies of their male counterparts. Fertile women serve as concubines to men, their voices muffled by power and threats. The story revolves around Offred (the very beautiful and charming Elizabeth Moss) and other women, who have been separated from their families and forced to bear children for their superiors.  The narration is in an omniscient first person, which lets us peek into the psyche of the lead and witness the raging internal conflict which is a microcosm of the external turmoil to a certain extent.

I had to pause and process different situations on more than a few occasions. I binge watched the entire season, which is breath-taking in its entirety. The show is layered- it has political overtones, and the show’s target audience is very specific. But it reaches out and connects more people in its portrayal of how sections of this community live without access to basic rights.

Without giving away the plot, the resemblance of the narrative to our world is both awesome and nerve-wracking. Religious fundamentalism with some wacko ideas about creation and women rights, the show can be read as political work on the current plight of women in the middle east. It is also conscious to the debate of pro-life vs pro-choice raging in the United States.

The scenes of power, subjugation and slavery leave you on tenterhooks; the rule of ultra-religious hypocrite bigots makes it eerily like something that is overtaking our own country. People are being killed in the name of religion and ideology. To use old religious texts as blueprints to create an ideal world now and the consequences it may bear has been realistically displayed.

Certain hard-hitting scenes – the demolition of a church, burning of old texts and the underground brothel which houses women who have a ‘little shelf life left’ – all serve to highlight the hypocrisy of their time (and ours). What would we be in a world devoid of free speech, movement, LGBTQ rights and religious order (whatever that even means anymore)?

What I loved about the show is how normal the cast is – you don’t have superbly good looking models parading as serious actors. All the characters are indeed very memorable- you have the crazy woman, the obedient wife, the rebellious lesbian and so many others who give you different perspectives on the issue. A certain hamfisted characterization could have been avoided in the black and white portrayal of individuals. That critique apart, the show spells must watch if you think this world is a circus and we are all either clowns or spectators.

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art, life, movie review, psychology, REALISM

Liar’s Dice: Stellar performances and the ugly face of Migration

If you have lived anywhere in Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra and even Delhi, chances are someone has thrown the word migration around, often as the root cause of an array of issues, be it rising violence, loss of culture, ruin of space and now even stampedes. Thousands of nameless individuals cross state borders around the world in search of food and shelter, often woven in the ambit of an occupation. Migration is a hot cake in today’s political discourse with a volley of nationalistic ambitions that threaten to close borders to nationals of other countries. But immigration and migration are not the center of my tirade. It is a gem of a movie called Liar’s dice.

You might not have heard of it- such gems are often lost in the dirt and squalor of the backyard of Indian cinema because it gets no endorsement or appraisal from celebrities. Surprisingly, this movie, written and directed by Geetu Mohandas received national awards but did not see the light of the day through a theatrical release. I wouldn’t want to spoil the movie for you, which is a journey of a woman who sets out against all odds, with her daughter (and her goat), to look for her husband, who left to work at a construction site. Starring Geetanjali Thapa and Nawazuddin Siddiqui, the cinematography blew me away. From the picturesque Shimla hills to the narrow stifling lanes of Delhi, the thematic essence is maintained throughout. The protagonist’s inner turmoil is palpable onscreen as slivers of emotions rupture your metropolis bubble of safety and bring to you the ugly face of oblivion.

Nawazuddin Siddiqui has time and again established himself as an actor beyond the narrow confines of mainstream cinema and that is his strength. The scheming crowd entertainer Nawaz is a shifty character and the movie derives its title from the game he plays to fleece the crowd. The title would obviously have several connotations – from helping Kamala (Thapa) out while lying to her, to Kamala risking everything on fate when she decides to travel with Nawaz, Liar’s Dice symbolizes a gamble for the forlorn woman. From a scheming vagabond to a considerate companion, Nawaz’s performance is a perfect complement to Thapa’s anguish and fear. Her construction worker husband’s name is a symbol – a unit which represents the mass of faceless nameless individuals who feature as mere statistics in the scheme of things.

While it is hard to portray the ugly truth behind the construction industry’s migration business wherein thousands of workers are brought in from far-flung areas and made to work in dangerous conditions, the director and the cinematographer Rajeev Ravi have managed to give us a glimpse into the characters’ lives and through them, the mystic gaping hole of namelessness, and to that end, of the importance of any one individual in this urban squalor.

article, life, music, social media

No offence Chainsmokers, but I will never attend another concert!

From spending on imaginary drinks to being sweated on by shirtless men, my first concert is also probably my last

In which miserable moment did I decide to leave the comfort of my bed and Netflix I know not. But I now know better than to leave my headphones at home, only to suffer an evening of sticky air in an overcrowded ground with people too drunk to even care. I love music, but I may never spend a dime on concerts ever again.

Let me get this straight- Chainsmokers were great. Andrew Taggart and Alex Pall took over the stage after Slushi and damn they were good! And not just because they don’t hurt the eyes but also because their music connects to a good part of the Indian audience. Concerts serve as a platform for bands to share music with an audience in person, give us a sense of involvement in an age of free downloads that render us strangers to the stars we idolise.

While I thought, I was the lone wolf in a sea of people who loved to jump around in tandem on EDM, a lot of people I know and spoke to once the euphoria died down were equally (if not more) disappointed at their experience. Our pattern of music consumption has changed so much. From memorising albums to barely memorising the lyrics of a few odd songs from a plethora of options available, our commitment to music has dwindled. We Instagram/Snapchat our way through a concert, with silly filters only to give our friends on the other end of the screen a temporary pang of jealousy. For me, I believe it is mostly because everything about concerts stands in opposition to why I turn to music in the first place. It is my happy place. I just need a warm corner and good music to make my day and I’d give up Netflix in a jiffy.

*   *   *

Enroute to the event, almost every nook and corner was swarming with people who were downing a drink or rolling up a joint. While I oppose neither, the simple fact that you need an additional kick or even liquid courage to enjoy music mars my opinion of the event even more. My headphones render me into a space so sensitive to my needs that even if only for a while, I blur out the world.

Road to Ultra brought me down to reality the minute I swam through the dense inebriated crowd, which broke down barriers and stole liquor bottles from under the counter or pinched my butt while I stood (very patiently for over an hour, but to no avail) for my drinks. The bar was shut by 7:30 (they were out of drinks apparently), yet somehow all the servers were drunk. One even had the audacity to take a swig from the glass of water that I was finally given after an hour of coaxing (all the while grinning at me sheepishly, asking me to not call him bhaiya). The card we were made to purchase to then procure drinks was a huge help. It got me the pleasure of standing in a queue and argue with a guy who waved an empty Absolut bottle in my face, telling me to put that card in my, well, pocket. The guys dispensing the cards were also a pain in the pocket, if I may. To know the money was non-refundable was I suppose not so much of a surprise anymore. To add insult to injury, what do we as Indians excel at when we don’t get a share of the pie? The crowd let itself loose on the bar counters, hurling abuses we are all well versed in. The bar finally vandalised, people went their way, maybe finally distracted by the headliners. The servers saw it coming before I did and immediately went packing. Splendid.

The euphoria as thousands of people partake in the creation of music is amazing. I reiterate that Chainsmokers were great. But the concert left a bad taste because it evoked feelings opposite to what I usually feel while listening to my favourite tracks. Amidst all the pushing and pulling, pinching and cussing, I felt apart from all those with whom I shared my first concert. Plus, if you are short like me, you were probably also just crushed between sweaty shoulders and even sweatier ribs of people, for God save you if the guy behind you has no shirt on.

 

 

Picture Credit: Google/TimesofIndia.com

article, free speech, Journalism, life, politics

50-50 Democracy: India is a sinking boat for freethinkers

Ramachandra Guha very rightly characterised India as a 50-50 democracy, which upholds certain aspects of democracy with staunch rigidity like elections, while remaining uneasily lax about law and order as well as seething political corruption. India has time and again shown the extent of the culture of intolerance practised in the name of democracy. While ‘intolerance’ may be understood as someone’s democratic right, it cannot encroach another’s right to life and liberty. Taslima Nasreen is the latest (but not the first) victim of this intolerant strain.

Taslima Nasreen, who landed in Aurangabad with the intention of visiting Ajanta and Ellora caves, was barred from leaving her hotel premise by protesters, led All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul Muslimeen MLA Imtiaz Jaleel. Her act was deemed offensive to Muslims residing in the city. Taslima has been in the past hounded by Islamist radicals due to her controversial views on Islam, which had caused a flurry in Bangladesh, leading to her exile from the country in 1994. And once again, with an apparent imminent threat to her well-being, she decided to leave.

Why do we as a nation promote the culture of intolerance? Books have been banned, writers roughed up for progressive criticism. A myriad of social factors, coupled with political complexities have made the political scenario unaccepting of voices of dissent. Freedom of speech has limits which make it hard, nay, impossible to voice opinions without hurting sentiments. We, as a society on the road of economic progress (and social, I pray), must realise that ‘Hurt sentiment’ is a part of the bargain we make to exercise free speech. We already have reasonable restrictions placed on free speech – no state can concede this right without ensuring the safety of its citizens. But so long as speech does not incite or in Guha’s terms, ‘advocate’ the use of physical violence, it must be a right that our democracy must defend. You may hold opinions in opposition to those of a writer but no sole individual or group can claim authority over the movement of an individual if he/she so wishes. This is undemocratic and unlawful.

Taslima Nasreen believes herself to be a crusader against religious fundamentalism; she desires to prove that Islam is not outside the ambit of critical scrutiny. The author’s criticism, which stems from contemporary political and social scenario, may be flawed. Although Bangladesh has, in recent times, seen many intellectuals being hacked for holding dissenting opinions.  To arrive on common ground, a culture of debate is needed, not that of brute force and hooliganism. A creative confluence of ideas is the bedrock of a democracy, which we promised to ourselves in our constitution.  But a set of archaic rules give the state a lot of latitude in placing limits to freedom of speech, which often pander to religious sentiments above individual liberty. We need to free India from the grip of identity politics that work, through the lens of caste and religious, to effectively throttle freedom of expression. Let the government not cow down to political considerations and rise above to reclaim India from its descent into a dark abyss of intolerance.

article, movie review, Uncategorized

Christopher Nolan outdid himself with Dunkirk

The movie is practically immune to spoilers so you may read this without fear

Nolan’s movies have an uncanny tentacular grip in my head and I often go back to them when time permits. I never expected any less from the man who gave us the Batman Trilogy and Inception. The mastermind Anglo-American director has never believed in a linear plot as his movies transverse several timelines. He does the same with Dunkirk, where he basically throws his audience in the deep end of the pool – an intense evacuation. I was at the edge of my seat throughout the film. Hans Zimmer’s music perfectly complements the cinematography. Travelling through land sky and sea, with the divisions never too clear, Dunkirk is one of the finest films I have ever seen. Like the sea which is a constant presence in the movie, dawning both death and life, the movie bobs and weaves for 2 hours, managing to keep you on your toes.

Centred around the historical rescue of stranded British and French soldiers at Dunkirk during the second world war as they are incessantly pounded by the Nazi forces, you may realise that you know the story before its even begun. But you don’t. The characters, adrift in time and experience are what make this story multi-dimensional – the soldiers barely surviving on the beach at Dunkirk, grasping their helmets and lives; the brave requisitioned civilian rescue boats that fight their way through treacherous seas and the pilots who circle the skies, taking down enemies.  Nolan pursues larger questions about life, time, memory and identity, deliberately stripping off all specifics of all character, their beginnings and ends like loose strings that can be tied at will. The experience is ethereal – the lost soldiers, dealing with personal identity amid a crisis that is manifested both internally and externally. These experiences on screen – Nolan-esque in portrayal – are metaphors of our daily life experiences anchored in great screenplay and outstanding cinematography. The different storylines run parallel yet overlap and it is heartening to see all of them come together in the end after a diligent struggle in space and time.

Unlike war genre movies that I have seen so far, Dunkirk doesn’t shove over-sentimentality down your throat nor does it rove on about struggle and some moral enigma. This film is less about war and more about survival – it brought to my mind GB Shaw’s ‘Arms and the Man’ which deviated from the norm of showing buck swaggering valiant soldiers to show the grim reality, the fear of death even in the bravest of men. Dunkirk is nothing but cinematic perfection and is yet another feather in the Nolan’s cap.

 

Picture: YouTube/Warner Bros

 

airlines, food, traveling, Uncategorized

Passing the baton? Air India’s public image takes a nose-dive with its ban on non-veg in the economy class

Airlines have come up with innovative ways to cut costs. Delta Airlines purchased its own fuel processing refinery to cut corners in the long run.  In 1994, Southwest Airlines removed the company’s logo from rubbish bags, saving the carrier $300,000 a year in printing costs. How else would any carrier in such a competitive industry survive? Such parsimony has often paid off – lighter chairs, lesser in-flight magazines, female attendants because they are lighter (ingenious, GoAir) – companies have approached this issue with crazier ideas that we’d expect.

But Air India seems to have rubbed its passengers the wrong way in its efforts to stay afloat.

Ironically the decision comes at a time when the Supreme court has stayed the ban on Centre’s controversial cattle ban. You might think that a sinking ship will try to find safe harbour somewhere. At least that’s the predictable rationale. Not true for a government-owned neck deep in debt-quagmire airline called Air India. Amidst the uproar around beef ban and liquor ban, Air India has tightened the noose around its neck by what could be termed as poor decision-making skills. Or maybe their PR person is busy flying Vistara.

The decision to ban non-veg menu for the economy class seems straight out a government memo which has called for a look from a political/nationalistic narrative practised by majority. And people were quick to point out that this was a stupid way to deal with debt evidenced by the fact that chicken is cheaper than paneer. But really? Anyone flying Air India would ideally have the budget to afford BOTH chicken and paneer. But it all boils down to a liberal question of choice, which we have very high regards for, followed by little understanding. The decision has elicited strong criticisms from all corners. Air India had moved to an all-veg meal model on sub-90 minute flights last year. What’s worse, they also nicked tea and coffee from their lunch and dinner menu.

Air India has justified their decision claiming that most of the people did not specify their preferences at the time of booking; that the passenger ratio of vegetarians to non- vegetarians has tilted greatly in the favour of the former. These justifications, on the face of it, seem palatable. But denying the choice to individuals altogether seems to veer close to the situation on land in India. To top it off, the move is discriminatory to say the least considering how the airline will still be offering the exclusive non-veg menu to those flying business class.

Air India could have come up with a better way to stop seeing red- making food specifications mandatory, paving way for allocation of responsibility in event of negligence in terms of catering. But the only solution it advocates is an extreme method, and without providing a thorough exposition on how this method came to be chosen. Transparency is the key to any public decision. As for many who have chosen to get riled up against the decision- have you ever run a debt-laden national carrier? Air India may prove to be correct. Their total debt is estimated to be around 52000 crores. With this cost-cutting endeavour they are poised to save around 8 crores each year. That gives them the recovery window of about, say, around 6500 years (I haven’t considered the disinvestment that the government announced last month, so that may shake the numbers). The math doesn’t add up. But hey, that’s the case with most of the decisions of this government.

We won’t be around to see them recover; and at this rate, the government wont, either.

Holy cows, politics, religion, Uncategorized

A tale of two identities: Whats your beef?

One reason why Modi-wave gripped India in 2014 was the idealist/economist lens with which he viewed the nation. He ‘seemingly’ rose above petty communal rhetoric that had been his cross since Gujarat, and spoke about development, growth and the rise of a super-power. We were under the impression that he wanted to establish an expansionist pro-capitalist identity of our nation on a scale unimaginable to us. He has been sloughing day in and out to retain that I presume, continuously on tour for bilateral talks, erecting a new identity abroad. But our own identity politics has taken a backseat, or rather is going back to crude basics. The secular nation that was promised to all and sundry, has turned into a hollow premise on which lies the now unsteady foundation of India.

The majoritarian govt that has been elected by such a massive popular vote has taken to blatantly infringing on rights of the citizens. The latest assault has been the restrictions imposed on sale of cattle for slaughter, sounded through an amendment issued under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act. Cattle brought to the markets would have to be sold for agricultural purposes, a tab on which would be kept by the Animal Market Committee. The rules define ‘cattle’ to mean “cow, calf, bull, bullock, buffalo, heifer, steer and camel”.

While the subtleties of the ban are lost in the political humdrum, the move does seem to reek of majoritarian bliss. Well my mother advocates what our government has implemented; I am a non-vegetarian and she has never restricted consumption of meat in our Hindu household, despite being a vegetarian herself. Though we have our own holy cows. Her behaviour, could be diabolical or hypocritical to an extent. To put into perspective rhetoric of religious sentiments, would anyone eat pork in an Islamic nation, where its consumption is banned? Well, the only logical answer I could come up with was the fact that these nations are Islamic- they have a religion with which their nation’s identity is inextricably linked and therefore that religion may well dictate rule of the land. Do not confuse my acceptance with assent, but only an explanation. India however has no national religious identity. What we have is one religion which dominates in number. Hindu beliefs are not the beliefs of all those who live in the nation and cannot be enforced. Nehru writes in Discovery of India- “A Buddhist or a Jain in India is a hundred percent product of Indian thought and culture, yet neither is a Hindu by faith. It is, therefore, entirely misleading to refer to Indian culture as Hindu culture.” We must pay heed to these words.

One of my mother’s pet arguments (and of many others I’ve met) – if people have a right to decide what they eat, why would anyone deny someone who has an appetite for Tiger meat? Or why raise such a hue and cry over killing of dogs in China? So, for the former- Tigers are Endangered. There aren’t a whole lot left in the world to make steak out of. She does not relent but I do feel like a hypocrite when I am all for beef consumption but would gladly sign a petition condemning Yulin festival in China. What I condemn is the brutality with which those dogs are tortured and killed. But the right to their consumption remains with the citizens. The gruesome reality does not feed the fodder of my argument. If I stick to my own canon, all animals must then be equal.

What NDA is doing is not based on sound economics either, if they plan to squeeze all the profits out of this nation. India ranks 97th out of 118 in the Global Hunger Index. People are starving across the country, with southern states reeling under the worst drought in decades. In such a situation, selling unproductive cattle earns them extra bucks that are the difference between a full and an empty stomach. Also, the fact that Centre has not banned cattle slaughter but only ‘banned sale of cattle for slaughter through animal markets’ is walking a thin line. This has supposedly been done to counter illegal slaughter houses and ensure hygienic conditions but all this ban would effectively do is drive the industry underground, pushing thousands out from the ambit of cattle sale in the markets amidst excessive legalities. Unproductive cattle are an economic burden, one which farmers, who are strapped for cash, cannot afford. The irony of India being the world’s largest beef meat (buffalo though) exporter isn’t lost on me. Since the order now includes buffalo, the economic scene may waver a bit. We also have a flourishing leather industry which may face tough times, and the consequences may not bode well for the economic super-power dream that has been fed to us. Regulating the conditions under which slaughter takes place is necessary but eliminating cattle trade from animal markets for now seems very restrictive.

A new order may be passed after certain petitions post which buffaloes may be removed from the ambit of the ban. The economic dream may well thrive. But we still have our holy cows.

Maybe in Modi’s world, much like Orwell’s, some animals are more equal than others.