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.

Stop bitching. Start acting.

Exhibit A

Have you seen posts like these on FB lately?

What are they about?
A person witnesses some ‘wrong’ act. He/ She promptly takes a picture of the wrong act. He/she hurries to upload it to social media in an effort to shame the person in question.
Earlier, a photograph of a car’s number plate did the rounds online. apparently, the guy driving the car had spit on the road. and so on… all misdemeanors that should ideally be sorted in ‘real world’ of flesh and bones through polite conversations.

Exhibit A-
Here, a grey haired gentleman opened a door to a cafe for two other gentlemen. The other two gentlemen supposedly did not say ‘thank you’. Were they too busy? Were they in a serious discussion, the sort where you forget the world altogether? Do we know anything about them at all? No. We don’t.
All we have is this one photo that the indignant-FB-guy (IFG) took without asking the two people in question.

and look at the reaction – It ranges from ridiculing these two strangers to turning this non-incident into a symbol of all that is wrong with India.

“whn ppl do that to me I say ‘You’re Welcome’ loudly.
.OMG ##### the man has the biggest HORNS on his head……..what did you expect…..Cattle class !!”

As an Indian, I always wondered if its the sheer number of bodies perpetually jostling around us, which make us immune to so many civil and civic sensibilities… but then I think of Japan, which is even more congested than us, bowing their butts off..”

Lovrd this. The so called educated forget basic courtesy and need to be publicly shamed

I know them. They share the same name: “Most Indians” “

What does it tell you about how these online people see themselves? 
They are ridiculing strangers for a misdemeanour that they did not know for certain if it happened or not. But one serious breach of manners and ethics went unnoticed.
No one is asking IFG, if it was right of him to take a picture of stranger without their permission. Is it good manners? Is it ethical to invade privacy like this?

Secondly, see how quick we distance ourselves.
me who knows better v/s most Indians, the cattle class. 

On social media, even I am a theorist and intellectual. So obviously, there are a few ones who dissect the incident, albeit in a congratulatory tone. 

Its like an online group of bullies, trying to bully someone who is smaller than them, not present at all!

Everybody relishes in this online distance – I can safely be a voyeur and a judge! I am omnipotent and always right!

What do you think should be a pre-digital, pre-cowardice reaction to the incident? Wouldn’t it be easier to go over and ask for that ‘thank you’ that you think was a right response?
It’s quite certain that IFG wanted to ‘teach a lesson’. Everybody online feels that way, so I don’t blame him. But why not teach a lesson there and then. Wouldn’t it be more effective?
Or was IFG too scared of a possible altercation afterward? Or did he think that he would receive more satisfaction if he posts it online.

Why am I bothering to write about this at all?
I don’t mean to disrespect IFG or commentators. But I am worried about a growing trend of voyeurism and cowardice. We are so afraid of interacting with other people, that we would rather take their picture from safe distance and post it publicly, than go and talk with them and try to understand them. We are so afraid of interacting with other people, that we are becoming less and less human-like.

Why is it a worrisome trend?
Do you remember reactions of people who were passing by naked limp bodies on the street that fateful morning in Delhi’s winter?
Do you remember the incident in UK where a person was busy taking picture while he could have saved a man’s life?
and there are so many other such stories.. it just fills me with hopelessness. and it feels even worse when I resort to blogging about it.
And there is really only one thing we need to do to change things. To react at all time. question the wrong. Talk. Help. Prod. Call someone. tap on the shoulder and say thank you/sorry. whatever.
But we must REACT as and when a reaction is due. A delayed online reaction for self-gratification will be the doom of our civilization. I am not exaggerating here.

In real life, often we have immediate costs and uncertain gain. We chose online because it gives you immediate satisfaction with seemingly no cost.
If we converse with a stranger in real life, there is a risk of having to waste hours if the stranger turns out to be a bore/ danger of a psychopath… versus the possibility of pleasure in conversation and learning new things. We are increasingly choosing to converse online since you can shut out anytime online, but if the conversation is pleasant, one can take it forward.
Similarly, even about social consciousness – India is starved of volunteers who do actual work, but there is no dearth of online campaigners.

and worse of all, in times of distress. Honestly ask yourself: The last time you saw someone in distress, what did you do? Did you help the person? or did you walk away after telling yourself some comforting fiction? (‘There might be someone else who is helping her/him’, ‘there are already people there, what is the need for me?’, ‘I really shouldn’t get involved in things like these. It might be dangerous’)

Long term scenario
Imagine our dependence on law and authority that this kind of behavior will necessitate. Imagine the sheer terror as people relinquish reactions and stop even acting in self preservation. We are becoming so fragile and wary of danger. We are increasingly less alive.

Answer to all current questions
Questions like – increasing safety concerns for women, increasing feeling of purposelessness, increasing distances in relationships and even the prevalence of bad manners…
Answer to all these question is in a shift of our behavior.
We have to consciously make an effort to react with action, thought and empathy right when it is due. 
If you see someone throwing trash where he shouldn’t. Help him be better.
If you see someone trying to harm someone else. raise an alarm/ call police/ use your brain.
If you see someone in distress. You better help him/her. If you don’t, you are just as responsible for his/her plight.
If you see someone who doesn’t appreciate your good manners, tell him what you think of it. Don’t worry, no one’s going to bite you. most of us are quite decent folks. (scared and with different world view, but decent nevertheless).

If your action is to only post about it online, it really is an exercise in narcissism. It is not a benevolent act. It is a selfish act where a person could have been helped, instead you chose to victimize him and derive pleasure out of this public shaming.

Here’s a little chant that you could memorise and tell yourself at all times – ‘React! React! React! React! React!… 108/42/786 times (depending on your religious inclination) and repeat.
If we all react when it is due, the world would surely be a much more safer, kinder, confident place.

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Originally published here.

Irresponsible brand #56: Bisleri

See these ads -> Bisleri500 Angry bride, Bisleri500 Casanova, Bisleri500 Superhero

Tell me you didn’t find them disturbing. If you did, stop drinking this irresponsible brand, and if it can be helped, bottled water altogether.


Story of the bottled water

If not, let me shepherd out the outrage.
What do you think is the brand trying to do through these ads? Its a classic advertising attack on your current behavior.
Not all behavior change objectives are bad, but they always have a big responsibility – In your quest for increased usage/ preference, you don’t want to bring harm to a culture or people. I believe Bisleri has been tremendously irresponsible in multiple ways.

The behavior shift sought here is that from shared drinking to individualistic drinking. While traveling you would often see us Indians sharing a bottle, sharing food. Sharing is a big part of how Indians define themselves.
However, sharing is perhaps a newer value that India tried to inculcate in its socialist days. Deeper in Indian psyche is the notion of ‘impurity‘ – the impurity of low caste that might pollute your food/ drinks. In marathi the word for a vessel/ plate/ food item that is eaten/ touched by someone else is ‘ushta’. In Hindi, is it ‘zootha’ (false?) All local cultures have a word for this sense of ‘pollution’ of food when it is touched by someone of lower caste.
The socialist ideal sought to change this corrupt culture. The culture of sharing was born in reaction to the divisive culture of caste. And Bisleri goes and sabotages the whole 60 year exercise in undermining the caste structure.

See the reactions of all girls in the ad film. Then see this documentary – ‘India Untouched’. (Every Indian must see this documentary.)

 India untouched

What do you think now? What is Bisleri advocating? Why the outrage? why the slap? Bisleri is asking Indians to react strongly to anyone drinking from ‘your’ bottle.
I work in an advertising firm. Ads try to propel individualism further as it is usually beneficial for brand. But the objective here is not individualism only. The objective is the reaction – a violent reaction. 

Perhaps there is a slight distinction here. The purity sought here (consciously. Though subconsciously this ad will turn the wheels of caste) is not from a caste perspective. Its from the modern phobia of ‘germs’. See any westerner in India – how obsessively they drink only mineral water. They have a valid reason for the same, India is a large dumping ground and hence dangerous to their health. If you drink from tap in Mumbai, you might as well be drinking from sewer. It would be absolutely foolish for anyone to drink from open source water in urban India.
But what has happened is, carrying a mineral water bottle (Plastic) has become a ‘class symbol’. You would see idiots buying and then throwing the plastic bottles near the pristine Himalayan streams in Uttarakhand and Kashmir. Monkey see monkey do – Indian ‘aspirers’ see westerners drinking only from plastic bottles, and then mimic them blindly. (And then restaurants (the modern arbiter of class) use this wonderfully to their advantage where if you ask for tap water, the server would look at you quizzically – as if sizing you up. )

Bisleri is not trying to instill a new culture. It is taking a small culture of fear of these aspirers and then propagating it further.
Why is it always women who get angry in the film? Its not a coincidence. The pallbearer of hygiene and traditions, women are the early adopters Bisleri is after. There’s another insight about Indian women here. You won’t find as many Indian women traveling alone as you would foreigners in India. Why do you think that is the case? Yes, India is a despicable place when it comes to Women safety and hygiene. But how do so many westerners manage it, whereas so many urban Indians cannot? Why do urban women forever live in bubbles of their own? What does it say about us? Perhaps a debate is to be had later.

Finally, I come to the ecological aspect of this brand exercise. What is the ecological cost of a individual plastic bottle used once, shared never? Undoubtedly, the brand is trying to increase its usage – frequency and units (more people more often). So this translates to quadrupling of plastic waste. How is Bisleri going to do its bit to unclog Indian waste?

I believe brands must be taxed for the cultural costs, ecological costs that they outsource to tax payers. Right now the Bisleri500 bottle is priced at Rs. 10. Which does not take into account its ecological cost to Indians. The bottle will wound up in a sewer, clogging it, causing floods. It would stay around for thousands of years polluting the atmosphere. It is undermining traditional practices of water harvesting/ water distribution and even the traditional free tap water distribution systems. (Why do you think, these days so many of the public drinking water faucets are broken or tampered with? The local Bisleri dealer had nothing to do with it?)

Lastly, see the end of all the TVCs. Everyone is as if slapped into behaving in the new 3 step way. Isn’t it time, India slapped brands like these into behaving more responsibly?

P.S. – You might like to join this community started by a friend ‘Planet trash’. and also check out the cool venture called ‘waste ventures‘.

Don’t screw Holi!/ Tradition v/s ecology

Its Holi time. 🙂 The best time (for some) to be in India. It is a global party to prepare ourselves of the terrible weather that will soon turn us into homebodies – scared of stepping out in the day time 45 degree dust bowls. One last day of being out and enjoying it – beat the heat with style.

Social media, the zeitgeist barometer, though indicates a different Holi to me this year. On the one hand, there are people talking about the HoliCow party – stripping holi to its most basic ritual, and turning it into a modern dance banality. And on the other, there’s concerned city folks who are advocating abstention from the whole thing – save water/ “Think of the poor” – droughts across India/ natural herbal colors as replacement for the more energetic color+water combination.

(Should we blame this on ACs? I have a hypothesis – Holi will be played more vigorously in towns where there is low penetration of Air-Condition machines. There is a correlation between ‘forever weather’ (AC) and demise of ‘weather/ time rituals’ (festivals such as Holi.). (note to self – death of time.))

Both attitudes indicate a basic degeneration of the festival. I would concern myself with the later for this post.

Old tradition – the sacrificial lamb on the altar of new gods
The Hindu society has no crucifixion equivalent central narrative of a knowing and willful sacrifice (not that I know of). But with the western media consumption, there is an appreciation for such a sacrifice and an implicit sense of sin, though it might manifest differently.
“Ecology is the new opium of the masses, replacing religion” says Slavoy Zizek.

So what that means in this context is – the original sin now, is towards nature – we feel that we are creating an ‘imbalance’ with our acts of excess and dereliction of our effects. While, this sense of original sin towards nature is now almost universal, the implication in India is new.
We (urban Indians) are ‘sacrificing’ our festivals and rituals at the altar of our new religion – ecology. 

The feud: modernity V/s tradition  

Yes. we must be more conscious of our consumption, but how is it that this dialogue surfaces only in the context of our traditions and rituals? It never occurs to people to switch from shower to bucket bath, or from car ride to bike ride (or even better, bicycle ride), or from wasteful quick service restaurant food to traditional foods. (served in plastic v/s metal plates. excess tissue papers/ no tissue paper.)

It seems that the modern ecological consciousness activates itself only in offense against the traditional practices. It seems that urban India can only see modernity and traditions as  dual opposites, (even as they lamely try to negotiate between two)

Sacrifice of the other
The urban thought culture sees traditions in context of the other India – poorer, backward, the one that needs to learn from the urban.
(cracker less diwali, colorless holi – Project deIndianisation. Q: ‘what did you do in Diwali?’ A: ‘saw TV’). 
(Either objectify – holi in vrindavan with firangs. or strip it of its meaning – holi in HoliCow in Delhi with EDM playing)

The operative assumptions (wrongfully) are
Traditions = non urban India, aspirations = urban India
the sacrifice must come from this other India that doesn’t know better. (would you dig a mine under marine drive if you find oil underneath?) (power outages – 0 hours in Mumbai, 15-18 hours in many villages)

 A possibility
How about exercising moderation always? don’t kill our festivities, kill the wastage.
Being able to waste is a sign of wealth, so people have incentive to waste.
Brand wasters as idiots. go ahead, next time you see someone wasting food/ water/ electricity – call him/her an ‘idiot’.
Shift the object of our offensive from our traditions to our excesses.
Stop being a spoil sport. Go play Holi.