Something is rotten when we aspire to be underdogs.

Something is rotten when we aspire to be underdogs.

ABCD 2 is dance movie with mediocre dance. And that tells you a lot about the film makers and what they think of their audience.
Made by celebrated choreographers with cult following, it is really disheartening to see them do a half-ass job at what they preach.The dances are not path-breaking or  original or even evocative. Most of the dancers do not give their 100% to the performance. You can see the lack of practice and energy in dances. The editor and cameraman do as much, if not more, movements as the dancers. Many Indian dance shows have better choreographed dances than this movie has. This is interesting because, the makers of this film are judges in at-least a few of those shows.
Why suck?

“Because everybody deserves a second chance.” ad infinitum..  But this is the second movie in the franchisee. One expects that they would learn story telling by now at least? or does 100cr business is a reason enough for bad film making and lazy dance choreography? (for a movie that talks about dance as worship.) (The 100cr is guaranteed due to sharp rise of stock of dance in the cultural stock exchange of frenzies. Dance shows, like landslides, are crashing down on Indian television viewer’s conscience with brutal regularity and occasional brilliance sprinkled over a bulk of drama that is extracted from the middle class’s unresolvable angsts.)

Mediocrity as virtue
The film is a template story for such movies with added regressive elements that are characteristics of a typical prabhu deva film (patriarchy, undue patriotism, questionable moral resolutions).
Its an underdog story about a bunch of dancers from humble background reaching the finals of an international dance competition.
Indian stories for the last 60 years have been about successes ‘in-spite of…’. We keep on eulogizing people who eschew strategy in favor of mindless subservience to a person. In this movie, it was a drunkard dancer, who for no good reason becomes the savior for dancers in questions. He steals from them, throws tantrums and is generally useless.. and yet they revere him. Apparently, that is somehow a good quality – to never question an authority figure and to play by his whims.

This shit is problematic because I have seen young talented people who waste their energies in singing praises for their ‘idols’ instead of strategically improving their performance. Big Dance Centre is one such place in Delhi. It is a terribly managed dance institute with teachers who have a fair bit of helium in their heads. I know of young people who have come from far off towns with great personal and material costs to learn dancing here. And in turn all they get is discouraging, discourteous behavior and middling quality of dance positioned as supreme art. This teaching is dangerous because it confuses, dispirits and weakens young individuals.

It is a cultural problem. Teacher of arts in India have mistaken idea about pedagogy. They think that their purpose is to browbeat a person into a certain other kind of person. That through brute ‘discipline’, ‘deviant’ students can be turned into pliant performers. Often these teachers are immature idiots who are high on the power they enjoy over younger individuals who come to them from a vulnerable place of trust and dream.
They get these ideas from movies like ABCD. In movies, students are always agency less empty shells. They are reacting machines whose instincts are dull. In movies, the guru shuts down the reactions and instincts altogether. He instead turns them into effective meme replicants.

Ideally, a teacher should enable agency for students – the ability to create, to decide, to see oneself more clearly. That means a teacher should be patient, she should be able to comprehend her student’s energies and motives, she should be able to give useful feedback, she should be able to see possibilities for her student that the student can’t see.

Instead in India we see glorification of ‘guru’ as a replicant manufacturer – a foreman who creates efficient cogs in the wheel. This strategy might be efficient for the purpose of making drones to be fed to the system – academia, military and such institutions. But certainly not for learning arts!

Bollywood has been needlessly glorifying the ‘tradition of gurukul’. It is a shit tradition. It cloaks insecurities of incompetent ‘gurus’ under the garb of traditional ‘respect’.

And this culture is at the root of Indians under-performing in almost all aspects of competitive performances – sports, arts, sciences… without a culture of equality, one cannot grow. Indian culture creates tiers out of thin air. It creates psychological barriers – about ‘our place in the scheme of things’.
Without a culture of equal respect and open dialogue, there is no space for feedback and no visibility of possibilities.

All that this culture enables is a never ending supply of underdog stories.. of successes ‘in spite of’.

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Rebels without a cause

Saw ‘Tanu weds Manu returns’ yesterday.
Excellent movie after a long time. 🙂 (apart from one dimensional Manu and the Haryanvi family as prop.)

I – Restless = humans
It made me think about the trend of lead characters in bollywood movies – men/ women. (Raj in countless SRK films or Kangana in most of her films). They are all spontaneous, restless, rebels (often without a cause). They are also someone who people graciously put up with for the sake of movie’s plot.
This is in contrast to lead characters from earlier days. (80s – macho, 70s – angry against system, 60s – stoic silent, graceful). The grace is gone from modern world and modern cinema.

With rise of corporate careers and desk-bound audiences, the lead characters are increasingly ‘bubbly’ (females leads), ‘spunky’ (male lead) and are infantile and narcissistic. The more inconsequential and replaceable lives become (of white collar audience), the more spunky and bubbly the characters become in films.

The office goer audience has no real purpose, have no real challenges and benefit a lot from status-quo. That reflects in the content they consume – self help books, identity anxiety soaps, mindless comedies as blockbusters (to avoid critical analysis of their own lives), support to the powerful bhai (“We can be irresponsible and successful too.”) and so on.
These office going drones face tremendous existential angst as a result of their digital and desk bound existence.
And when such drones are ripe for pairing, they desire life through their mates. They want life partners who ‘do things’, who ‘are fun’, who ‘travel’, who are ‘foodies’ and so on.

The reason a drone (Manu) chooses a rebel without a cause (Tanu) in the movie, is to ensure that he is marrying a human being. It doesn’t matter that she has some serious psychological issues. Her incongruence to societal expectations prove that at least she is a human being, not a drone like him.

People get married in search of life.

II Rebel without a cause
It is essential that there be no cause. A cause will make things too real too quick. The audience of white collar drones ‘can’t handle the truth.’
All lead characters try to show the middle finger to their immediate environment, but they are always lacking in ambition.
Indians are so scared to identify the elephants in the room that there can be no revolutionary cinema in India. Existential angst is profitable and it doesn’t point fingers. The angst is impotent. Speaking of which…

III – Threat to Masculinity 
The film subverts masculinity in a way not seen in hindi movies before.  All male characters in the film are impotent. All they can do is – ‘manage’. (Manu is a loser who never acts or reacts. His sardar friend is literally impotent. Jimmy Shergill has no agency of his own – he flexes his muscles, but all he does is to obey Kangana. The advocate who falls for Kangana, tries to make a scene but is ineffectual.)
When the traditional actors in the theatre of society (patriarchy) stops answering to new realities, new actors (anarchy) will rise to shape the new society.
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Originally published at Rebels without a cause.

Reading PK

1. Anger is Comedy

Bill Hicks, George Carlin.. most comedy is  disguised tension.
Raju Hirani’s brilliance is in channelling that anger seamlessly into a narrative that flows from seemingly light-hearted comedy (even when it is subversive) to empathetic realisation. In act-one of his films, you laugh. In act-two you can’t help but cry with mirth/ empathy. This is why his Munnabhai films are classics. Your reactions are not voluntary. the jokes do make you laugh, and the denouement does make you cry. With PK, Hirani got the first part very well – subversive comedy that gets laughs and nods. The second part however, seemed to lack in empathy. Anger as comedy worked, anger realised was ‘lull’.

2. To think or to feel?

Maybe it was the wooden performance by Aamir Khan who is supposed to be an alien. Maybe, it was the paternalistic tone of the film that tries to teach people a little too hard. But mostly, it was the lack of clarity in script. Who were we supposed to root for? alien PK, botox lips or the god?
This film is different from other films of his because this film aimed to make us think instead of making us feel. now the business of making people think of something is a different game altogether. The narrative needs to be tighter. The climax should come with a forceful surprise or impact to crowd-out any other thoughts. Or, the logic of the movie’s universe needs to be quickly established and then you need to be smart with that logic’s ramifications. But it wasn’t that kind of movie

3. Lazy writing/ single metaphor pony

His movies are in service of his world-view. Munnabhai 1 wanted a world where hospital care was empathetic instead of being apathetic and clinical. Munnabhai 2 wanted a world where the elders had dignified identity. PK wanted a world where false godmen don’t exist.
While Munnabhai movies proposed these worldviews with stories of intimate relationships, PK proposed its worldview in the form of a bland TV debate.And there have been just too many movies with denouements like those. eg. Nayak, Ungli and so on. The template is thus – a social concern goes viral, the virality justifies emotions/ acts, and then climax on the News channel program with the bad guy losing out the battle of entertaining glazed eye balls.
Hirani is no doubt a genius story teller. And that makes me wonder why did he use this lazy template for his film. Couldn’t he explore better ways to build the climax – perhaps PK holds the godman’s hands (alien jaadu ki jhappi), perhaps the godmen’s characters are given more depth instead of caricatures. (Good idea for a film here – exploring the making a godmen). Instead of being a reporter, what if Anoushka was a bhakt/ sadhvi of the guru whose illusions are cleared by PK? This way her liberation would have been more poignant, instead of the weak ass climax of her Belgium based relationship. (again a concern of upper middle class person) Perhaps this has to do with class of audience. Did the makers consciously chose an upper middle class godman and climax (media endorsed world view)?
Anyways, this movie is not for the under class. Apparently, the makers are arm twisting cineplex owners and single screen theatre owners to raise the ticket price so that they could quickly ascend to the ‘100 crore’ club. In effect pricing the lower middle class out of the theatres.

4. Toxic obsession about 100 crore clubs/ a movie for upper classes

This dumb tweet is apparently trending today.

“Aamir Khan: Actor’s new film, ‘PK,’ surpasses Rs 50 crore but fails to set record on opening weekend.”

It is not about the story, nor about the issue it raises. It is about how much it has earned. People do not watch movies these days. They watch the making of fantastic billionaires.
This trending topic proves that the movie has been ineffective in raising the issues it was supposed to be raising. No one is questioning godmen after this. no one is calling ‘wrong number’ on fakesters. They are simply watching the makers add another fortune to their name.

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Originally published at Reading PK.

The puny Ungli

The trailer doesn’t do justice to the film. The film is much more entertaining… until the climax.
Well paced, right insights, right punches… and then the movie ends much before it should have. The movie has an ‘adarsh baccha’ climax. ( I can visualise ‘the system’ petting the film makers for towing the line.)
The movie makers took the insight and then stripped it off its ambition, its angst.At the end all that remains is a sense of disappointment.

The movie is about a few youngsters who show the middle finger to the system to protest against their powerlessness. Now,  I love stories of subversion –  V for Vendetta,  Fight Club or even the Dead Poets Society.  There is a certain ambition in subversion. Fight club destroys credit card companies. V blows up the symbols of power centers. Even the students in the dead poets society stand on the desk in defiance to the head master. These movies identify the power center and subvert it.

 Ungli makers didn’t even have the gumption to identify the power centers. They merely listed out petty corruption peddlers that the middle class encounters. And then merely punish a “bad apple” in the media gaze. The effect is for the benefit of upper middle class that feels a temporary sense of being avenged. (the petty vengefools)
(Take for example the case of auto rikshaw drivers who refuse fairs that are not economically feasible to them. The movie portrayed the drivers as uni dimensional minor villains who need disciplining. why should a driver cart you around if it is not profitable for him? From the auto driver’s perspective, I imagine, the middle class is a villain that collectively bargains down unfair rates for their services keeping in check their upward mobility.)

Essentially,  the ungli gang just gives up when a supposedly non-corrupt police office takes over one of the corrupt sub systems. (the police force) The movie ends there.
They just give up.
The system prevails.
Why do Indian film makers are such wussies? Movie after movie tells the sorry story of good apples versus bad apples.  This theory is not only wrong, it is also dangerous.  Is absolves the system. It never identifies the real source of power and corrupting forces.  The under class and a few individuals are made the scapegoat.  We are sterilised to the thoughts of revolution. 
How is it that a county so fucked up doesn’t have a single decent and successful movie about true revolution?  At most we have tragedies where the first small act of subversion ends up killing the very afraid perpetrators. (Rang De Basanti)
What does this say about us?  Our generation?
Why are we so myopic in our ambition?  Do we have an utopia to fight for? Why are we so afraid that we can’t even articulate a fantasy of change,  of a utopia to fight for?
The yes men do more audacious stunts in real life than the heroes in this movie did.
Can we atleast be audacious in our imagination?
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Originally published at The puny ungli.

Watching blockbuster movies

Watched ‘Happy New Year’ and ‘Bang Bang’ recently.

Why do I do this to myself..

1. The inevitability
You begin watching such movies with a sense of inevitability. That you are bound to be disappointed and yet one must soldier on and watch these monstrosities. The inevitability is due part us and part the makers. us – because we are addicted to junk. Its the cola and chips we can’t live without.
Makers – because those assholes buy up the entirety of screen inventory. During Diwali, families do tend to go to watch movies together. Its almost a tradition in many a middle class families. and then once you reach your favourite multiplexes with their many screens, the only choice you have is the show time. the makers have put their clout to use and all screens are running the same damn film. They are 100 cr films by default. Poor (rich) junta has no option but to hope that their family does not mind the ‘mindless fun’. Just look sideways while watching film and laugh that encouraging laugh that says ‘if its not funny, we can always laugh ironically.’
Bollywood is in the business of ironical laughs.

2. Embarrassment
I wonder what SRK feels about his latest films. He is without doubt an intelligent person. And no intelligent person can watch his last few movies continuously without squirming in the seat often many times. Why build a legacy of mediocre and lazy film-making?
When he sees himself on the big screen, does he not feel embarrassed?
(One feels that he is infected with untreatable megalomania. That he would much rather ‘show’ that whatever shit he does, it will get lapped up, that it will earn ‘100 cr’. So he perhaps makes shitty movies on purpose. Because he can.)

The khan siblings (farah and that douche of her brother, whatever his name is) should be simply ostracized from the film community. They are THE rotten apples of the industry. They propagate the myth that only bad films with patriarchal tropes and silly jokes can make money in India. And it is a dangerous myth. (or a good myth. With the decline of bollywood bullshit, perhaps the local film industries will see an influx of talent.) Their movies are not successful because people like these movies, they are successful because they are the 800 pound ugly gorillas of the industry who use their network smartly – big names, smart marketing, manipulate screen presence.

3. Movie hai ke advertisement?
These days ads are more subtle in product placement than movies. Bang Bang kept on smearing our faces into feces filled Pizza hut boxes through out the movie. Their attempt of turning pizza into metaphor made me retch. Krish 3 had less story and more product placements.

4. The disrespect
The laziness of the talentless hacks who nevertheless become major actors owing to their lineage, is astounding. (lounging body language. no empathy. no intensity. just mindless barking and abs (or hips).)
The laziness of writers (if there are any). The non-existent story.
The lazy direction. the direction-less movie.
Tell me if it is not glaring disrespect towards the Indian audience. The makers are sure that the audience doesn’t have that many options and can be trusted to entrust their faith in big names. How hard is it to sit a little longer and get an actual script out of your writer (or your ass) before commencing? How hard is it to actually portray a convincing character. It is so jarring to see stars as stars instead of characters.

5. for masses ≠ patriarchal
Oh Bollywood, why must you copy those terrible patriarchal Telugu movies? why must you bring back only the worst part of bollywood of yesteryears?

oh.. fuck you. here’s to your death. All hail torrent and todaypk.com

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Originally published at Watching blockbuster movies.

The rabid dog.

The rabid dog.

Saw ‘pom poko‘. Its a story of how an able, happy community of tanukis face their extinction in the face of rapid urbanisation that causes the loss of their homeland, their lifestyle and their food.

Its really amazing how Japanese movie makers so empathetically voice dissent while fully cognizant of the futility of it all. The sense of capitulation at the climax of many such movies are scripted in a way to invoke not a sense of loss, but a sense of preservation of whatever small life, pride and identity is left. Under the mask of laughter, there is a vigorous attempt at forgetting the loss and making the most of the present. I wonder how deeply has Hiroshima affected the Japanese psyche, or does this sense of ‘interal triumph in face of imminent capitulation’ goes beyond Hiroshima, in their amazingly rich culture?
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while thinking of this, got reminded of the Japanese response to the Tsunami in march 2011. Had read about their belief of ‘wa wo mottte toutoshi to nasu.’ (regarding the importance of consensus and harmony) that was the hallmark of the amazingly dignified response to the catastrophe.
But while this consensus and harmony was exercised by Japanese in the face of a disaster, the disavowal of the same principle led to the nuclear disaster. At the heart of nuclear technology is the removal of natural effects from the equation of harmony. Without clear answers about nuclear safe disposal, its risk, the modernity bogey has been pushing the world to consume more n more of energy.

Modernity first erased nature and life of animals from the equation of ‘consensus and harmony’. While most ancient cultures through out the world appreciate the importance and relate to a life of co-existence with nature, the ‘New world’ methodically reduced the world outside of humans to nothing more than a ‘resource’.
As the resource got scarce, the second wave of reduction from the equation came in the form of negating certain sets of people from the consideration of ‘consensus and harmony’. So adivasis, minorities, eocnomies outside of the connected world… started facing the ‘othering’.
As the pace of change accelerated, there remained no place for the equation at all in the world. The world is now an anarchy of economic interests. The world does not recognise any other interest at all. Its a blind raging animal. Its like the rabid dog, that is driven to its doom.

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Originally published at The rabid dog.

On how it is ok to be ordinary

Ordinariness has such melancholic grace to it. Perhaps, its the finality of its evident fall that leads to submission, that stillness.

Just saw the movie ‘The illusionist‘. Its script was written by Jacques Tati, one of the most wonderful film makers ever. Most of his movies are keen empathetic witnesses to the effect of modernity on a simple human existence. When I saw his movie, ‘playtime’, I was spellbound with the many layers of stories woven in a comic portrayal of  a man navigating a modern city.
Watching the Illusionist, reminded me of the fragility of our identity. The movie is about a magician who is finding it more and more difficult to get work due to advent of modern entertainment of rock music and television. One scene is especially telling, when people in the cities are not at all interested in his acts, while in a village in Scotland, his acts gets appreciated. A woman tags along being awestruck with his ways. He tries to earn more to keep her happy, but she finds happiness with another young man. His fragile existence, a function of a bygone era, is erased when he puts a note to her saying ‘magicians do not exist’ and leaves. He sets free the rabbit that had been his trusted aide in magic tricks for years. One is left wondering, what is he going to do with his life now? But no such worry seems to paint his face. He has simply accepted the end of his identity as a magician.

It made me wonder about my own career too. Since I was a kid I have always known exactly what I want to do with my life, and how I want to lead it. The conception of a life was blamelessly grand and simple. It was simply a business between me and ‘the world’. Of course I was born for greatness.

But somewhere along the way came the question of money and debt. And now what must be done is to judiciously carve a route that will keep me as close to my desired life while being able to earn enough money too, without the aim of greatness. (well, towards nothingness really. more about it later.)

A few years of walking the safe path and you start appreciating the hardship that you are not compelled to do. Hence the simplicity of labor becomes all the more alluring. But great things are simple too. and though they are alluring, your safe distance keeps you away from greatness too. You know that you are not Ajinkya (Invincible). That you are quite ordinary really. And all of a sudden, life becomes so much easier. The self-imposed weight now lifted, you can aim of nothingness and be happy.

But then my chosen identity, that of a ad man, is so fragile. I was in that industry for a while, and now intend to get back into it for good, but our addiction for change will force extinction of my identity as a planner too in some time.

Well, good then. It makes my life easier really. It took a long time for me to accept career as a industry and a role. Earlier, I could only imagine career as what I would learn and how that will shape my life and experiences. I guess, the later view of career is better. I do not remain susceptible to times then. My life doesn’t remain just about my labour then.
After-all, I am more than my 10 hours of weekdays.

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Originally published at On how it is ok to be ordinary