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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Truth about ‘being human’

Salman Khan is not merely an alleged criminal, a terrible actor or one of the most influential and loved people in India. He is a new archetype for the 21st century India.
He is an archetype that answers a quintessential Indian yearning.
Unfortunately the yearning reflects how pathetic and infantile humanity can be.
When infants, we believe that we are at the absolute center of the universe, where all our acts deserve recognition and appreciation. To grow up is to grow out of this belief.
The ‘Salman Khan as an archetype’ answers the yearning to be forever an infant. To forever enjoy consequence-less freedom.

People refuse to see the bad in him. The ‘true fans’ of this horrible person get readily offended and aggressive when someone speaks ill of their ‘bhai’. When someone points out facts of his monstrosity – allegedly killing homeless people, making his driver a scapegoat (what a ‘hero‘!), allegedly killing a harmless animal, domestic abuse, intimidation…. – the fans shut their ear holes and eye holes.They rage with blindfolds on.

vaibhav_upadhyay_acting_

They see him getting away with alleged homicide and general assholery. And they rejoice in him getting away with it.They idolise his nonchalance. They refuse to see the injustice of it all. They badly want to believe in him. His PR stunts with ‘Being Human’ are enough for a lot of people to rationalise his criminality. They say that he is ‘dil se accha’ (with good heart) as if they have spent years living with the man to know him inside out.

Why should they get so protective about a person, who already has all the protection he needs? They are not related to him nor will they benefit from him in the real world. They are more likely to die under his drunken driving next than to have a drink with him.

They want to believe that they too can get away with their infantile adventures. They want to believe that they too can be successful and fabulously rich without trying, without merit. Salman, for them, is the beacon of hope for someday achieving consequence-less power, for being the ultimate marzi ka raja (king of his will) 
This explains his appeal but not the love he enjoys.  The source of love for him is in our shitty culture. He is the anti dote to forces of modernity and liberal progress. He is the patriarchal Übermensch. What’s more, he makes patriarchy cool. He treats women like shit in real life and everyone for that matter in his films. See how he looks at (or more likely, doesn’t) other characters in his films. His gaze is vacant or at best disinterested. Some say it is bad acting, I say it is his personality. People don’t love bad acting. People love his personality. It is cool to not give a shit about anyone else.

In his films, women are mere pretty props. I guess, he can’t appreciate the reality of relationship and hence can’t succeed in any. The time he had to deal with a real relationship, he ended up physically and mentally abusing Aishwarya.
This is something that the millions of young men identify with. People have grown up in a culture where men do not talk to women. Women forever remain alien to men. Men forever try to ‘control’ the women. And as women become more and more powerful in relationships, men are increasingly confused and angry. The patriarchy identifies with Salman’s confusions and acts of terrorism. They see him as the unfortunate one, the one who is innocently charged of abuse, where it is a man’s right to be abusive. They want to believe that patriarchy will prevail.

Hir films are patriarchal utopias; damsel in distress, macho heros. He takes off his shirt to cover bodies of objects called women. To deal with the problem of modern feminism, his characters are the wronged ‘tere naam’s.
Of course he is suffering. The poor misogynist.

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.

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

Imagination and all its sisters

 

What makes one cling to fantasies so dearly? I can understand the impulse to run away from your life. But what color is your courage that pushes you beyond the limits of truth? To suspend reality and recede in thoughts. To forget and to belong.

I just saw a docudrama ‘catfish‘. The movie chronicles online exchanges that is just about to evolve into a  relationship which takes a new turn due to uncovering of a deception. While I suspect that it might be scripted itself, it certainly strikes you with its reality. Our reality, that is only defined by the deceptions around us.

How fragile are we? To need to run away from reality so often? So your partner vice is the cigarette, his’ is grass (respect!), her’s is booze, but everyone’s hooked onto the internet the most.

Kids slip deep under the blanket to escape reality. But when someone takes away the blanket, the kid has to face the real world. Game over. Grown ups shut down the world around and populate the world inside with assumptions and make-believe stories. (Stuff fanatics are made of) Their blanket takes some work to be taken away. The blanket that is readily available these days to us, young and old, is quite alluring for its potency in anonymity and versatility in creating make-believe world – the internet.

I was wondering by giving us this individual escape towards togetherness, we are allowing us to slide to a more fragile world. Imagination has been the hallmark of human existence but it often was a collaborative act in search of strength. So the evening ritual of song and dance of our ancestors perhaps created enough noise and energy to frighten away possible predators (and more potent mythical fears) and give the group some courage.

Quick fix courage = Forgetting + imagination 
Forgetting real world; imagining a new one.

But the nature of imagination has now changed.
Imagination is no more a collaboration in real proximity in space and spirit. Digital world fragmented the act of imagination. Now the act of seeking courage is inverted. The demons of everyday boredom do not get tamed very easily. The inversion has to be fantastic. So now the courage is sought digitally not along with fellow tribesmen but tested against other men/women, and wholly supported by one’s own imagination. Cruel pressures of individuality. Its the entrance fee to enter this generation.
Its like the digital world is a tub filled with bubbles of imagination floating around, waiting to hit and hurt each other, until you find one that gets merged without question.

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Originally published at Imagination and all its sisters.