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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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.