May Links: Bombay Velvet, Mad Max, Salman Khan and more.

My reviews of Gabbar is Back, The Spongebob Movie, Piku, Mad Max: Fury Road, Bombay Velvet,Tomorrowland, Tanu Weds Manu Returns and San Andreas.

The music of Bombay Velvet gave me a chance to draw up a playlist of one of my favourite music composers, OP Nayyar.

When Mumbai Mirror revised its rating of Tanu Weds Manu Returns because of “reader feedback and research”, I wrote this.

“However, kowtowing to public opinion and blurring the lines between advertisement and editorial content threatens to be the way forward in contemporary journalism. As it is now, journalism is a broken business model and no one is quite sure how to fix it. Our only source of strength and encouragement: we’ve never had this many interested and eager-to-engage readers.

But in India, this enormous audience may end up to be a double-edged sword. Our viewers and readers are vocal, frustrated and yearning to outrage because it makes them feel less helpless. Unnerved by the intensity that’s been glimpsed in public surges like the anti-corruption begun by Anna Hazare and the pro-women’s rights movement that was galvanised by the Delhi gangrape of 2012, public institutions often choose to follow prevalent moods because that feels like the safer option. If you don’t, you risk drawing the ire of online trolls and offline muscle-flexers. The media has choices to make at this juncture. How will we serve our readers, our integrity as well as our paymasters?”

A look at the PR campaign that has kept Salman Khan’s image as the Bhai of the people intact.

“Either we’re so starved of role models that we can’t bear to dislodge Khan from his pedestal or we’ve lost both our ethics and our capacity to reason. Educated, upwardly mobile and urbane people, who are meant to be more discerning because of greater life experience and better opportunities, are defending Khan with the naivete that would conventionally be associated with the illiterate. There are messages pouring in, expressing dismay at Khan being sentenced to five years’ imprisonment because he’s a good man. None of them appear to be concerned with where Khan’s goodness had vanished when he pinned the blame on his driver who had nothing to do with the hit and run. It doesn’t appall any of them that Khan’s behavior led to the loss of life, presumably because a homeless man is worth much less than Bollywood’s Rs 100-crore man.

Khan’s popularity and the support that has been extended to him is perhaps the most damning indictment of the society that we’ve created in modern India. You’ve got to wonder about exactly what ‘goodness’ means to people who don’t think murder is a character flaw.”

May also saw the curious case of Kumar Vishwas and a postmodern Ramayana.

“…the point isn’t whether rumours should be taken seriously. Even in something as ostensibly silly as this case, our society’s gender imbalance is evident. A woman wants a man to deny a rumour so that her husband will not divorce her — it’s a nightmare of sexism and patriarchy-induced anxieties.

Why can’t this woman point out to her husband that her word should matter more to him than Vishwas’ public statement? A woman is not her husband’s possession that he can throw her out of the house because he doesn’t ‘want’ her. She has as much right to be in that home as he does. Also, Vishwas cannot be held responsible for what is clearly a lack trust between a married couple. Vishwas may be sexist, but that’s no justification for the husband behaving like a misogynist creep.

However, to actually consider what position the woman finds herself in would be looking at real gender issues. Not just from the perspective of how she’s treated by her husband, but especially if the complaint against Vishwas is politically-motivated, then this case could offer a very uncomfortable look at how women are seen by the Indian political establishment and what they need to do to catch the powerful people’s eye.”

Oh, and the Haridwar FDA decided Madhuri Dixit is to be blamed for Maggi not being as wholesome as its ads promise it is.


Of Mann ki Baat and respecting women

I wrote this after listening to the joint radio broadcast by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Barack Obama.

What’s ironic about Modi saying Obama’s life is inspirational is not just that it really is so, but that most of the BJP would probably gawp in horror at the idea of a single mother like Obama’s and a wife as independent as Michelle.
Consequently the Indian prime minister, deferring perhaps to BJP’s ingrained chauvinism, ignored those aspects and instead turned the spotlight on the comfortable and conventional: Obama being a proud father. In the process, Modi lost sight of the fact that valuing daughters begins long before a child is conceived. It begins with considering women to be more than childbearing vessels. If you don’t respect women, you will not value a daughter — it’s as simple as that. And therein lies the crucial contradiction that lies at the heart of the well-meaning meaning campaigns against female infanticide and promoting women’s health and education.

You can read the whole article here. Unsurprisingly, not to many right-wingers liked it, which meant a lot of abuse, threats and bile. But one of the last comments did catch my eye when I was copy-pasting from Firstpost to put it here.

“She [i.e. yours truly] is just misusing a public platform to write bullshit feminist concepts from her own imagination. She is continuing her work of irritating people with her absurd ideas. And she thinks she is bringing a revolution here. What a crap article man.”

I almost want to pat this commenter and give them a lollipop. A tart-flavoured one, that is.

Links: Garam Hava, Boyhood, Kill/Dil, Film Bazaar and banning ‘feminism’

MS Sathyu’s classic film Garam Hava was re-released and it’s a film that doesn’t seem dated or irrelevant decades after its original release in 1974. A look at how differently India’s political establishment has changed its attitude towards the indie film:

Whether it’s the shame and heartbreak of being jilted, the frustration at being qualified but unemployed or struggling with stereotypes, much of Garam Hava is still real and relatable. The difference is in the world surrounding the film — can you imagine Prime Minister Narendra Modi using his considerable powers to ensure a tiny little indie film gets released?

Read the whole piece here.

My review of Richard Linklater’s remarkable Boyhood.

My review of Kill/Dil, which is far from remarkable.  

NFDC’s Film Bazaar has a section titled Knowledge Series and here’s a glimpse of what happened there:

Tony Leung came to Goa! I didn’t meet him. But one woman did, and she ruined the rest of us brown women’s chances with him.

TIME magazine had its annual word banishment poll and this year, one of the candidates was “feminism”. Sigh.

If there’s one thing that has become increasingly evident, then it is how difficult equality is as a concept. Possibly as a result of generations of patriarchy, we can only envision one group overpowering the other, which is why there’s that curious vision of feminists toppling men from their position of power and reducing them to leashed pets. Since that’s what men did to women in so many parts of the world, it makes sense to many that women will return the favour when the power balance shifts to them. That isn’t what the feminists are saying, by the way. It’s the vision put forward by those who oppose feminists.

This is why you need feminism and feminists to appear like that ticker that TIME so dislikes – because otherwise misconceptions persist and people remain illiterate.

Read the whole piece here.


Links: Naming names, Apple Watch, Deepika Padukone vs TOI and more

If you thought bad movies are all that turn me into the wordy version of Angry Birds, think again. The police raid a hotel, discover an actress moonlights as a sex worker. They release her name to the press. Her “high profile” clients, however, remain anonymous and shielded from the public gaze.

More cheerfully, what Bollywood thought of yesterday, Apple creates today. Case in point: Mr India’s Device versus the Apple Watch.

Deepika Padukone picked a fight with The Times of India, and at least as far as the court of public opinion is concerned, Padukone won. She was helped by the fact that Bombay Times’s attempt at defending itself was way more tasteless than the original tweet against which Padukone (or her social media manager) had initially objected. 

While ISRO’s mission to Mars got off to a jubilant start, it was a good occasion to remember fondly how often the red planet has popped up in books and movies. 

The first UN report on gender and the film industry made for interesting reading. It turns out  that according to their analysis, India is the only country in which film jobs for female characters revealed only a small difference from real world statistics. Woohoo!

Is there a film in your book? Bollywood certainly hopes so. 

A new season of Satyamev Jayate began last week and it was a lovely, heartwarming episode in which Aamir Khan showed viewers the transformative powers of sport. If only he and his research team had thought of looking eastwards, beyond mainland India, while putting the episode together. 

JK Rowling put out an anagram-flavoured tweet, disclosing a little bit about the project she’s currently working on, on October 6th. It took a day or so for the Internet to react, but once it did, everyone, including Rowling, seem to have had a lot of fun. So, as marketing ploy, how does that compare to a full-page ad in The Times of India?

Links: Krrish 3, The Day After Everyday, Baazigar, Kanye West, Gori Tere Pyaar Mein

It’s update time again, so here we go.


NT Rama Rao as Superman
NT Rama Rao as Superman

On the vintage superheroes from Indian cinema, includes a Telugu Superman, Dharmendra in a hospital gown acting as Jor-El and Sridevi as one of our early superheroines, Nagina.

Running commentary of Krrish 3. Sample:

Dil tu hi bata, how to not be creeped out by Roshan’s vein-ridden upper crotch area? Ranaut deserves an award for not shuddering when she has to unbutton Krrish’s shirt in order to let us all see Roshan’s pelvis. Does he do exercises that are just for the two and a half inches below his navel? Like miniature stomach crunches, but only for for the mons pubis. Particularly creepy when blown up and in your face, on the big screen. Ew.

I’m reasonably certain at least 10% of my active brain cells died in the process of watching this film. It was very painful.

Looking at the strong women in Krrish 3 and The Day After Everyday:

Kashyap’s depiction of urban India is undoubtedly simplistic, with its insistence that mental strength is more important than muscle power, strong women who smoke and don’t wear make-up, warrior women who can overpower decidedly heftier men and misogynists who see the light when they witness their wives can pack a punch. However, at least Kashyap let his women fight and win. It’s a fantasy, yes, and fans of Kashyap understandably expect him to be more insightful and rooted in reality. However, considering what passes for fantasy in the terribly chauvinist world of Bollywood, perhaps Kashyap’s simplistic pipe dream deserves a little indulgence.
The latest Bollywood release to enter the Rs 100-crore club is Krrish 3. It’s an obvious fantasy flick, in which people fly and rays of sunlight look like glowing straws. The only rule from reality that applies unfailingly in the Krrish universe is that women can’t be heroes.

Read the whole piece here.

Remembering Baazigar

On Kanye West’s ‘Bound 2’, featuring Kim Kardashian. I have not heard anything more cloying and intensely annoying than that “uh-huh honey” refrain in that song. Grrr. 

A review of Gori Tere Pyaar Mein, which really should have been named ‘Gori Tere Pyaar Meh’. 


On Politics, Politicians and Graphic Novels

didi-chairman meow
One of the books I mentioned in the post was Chairman Meow and the Protectors of the Proletariat. This is Didi the pug, chief villain in that comic. I imagine this is what Lavi thinks “professional feminists” look like.

Having spent many long hours listening to Narendra Modi speechify and Mamata Banerjee froth at the mouth because she was ‘attacked’, I wrote this post on politicians trying to write stories for themselves that will lend them a certain kind of persona and graphic novels that tell readers tales from modern Indian history. The comics and graphic novels include Delhi Calm, Bhimayana and Chairman Meow and the Protectors of the Proletariat and the comic titled Kashmir Ki Kahani that’s up on News Laundry. They’re all highly recommended, if you haven’t read them.

The post got me a superb comment. Someone called Lavi wrote:

The author is a professional feminist. So, every effort to find reason, logic, impartiality or brilliance, is a futile and redundant one, since then.

I think I need to make me a T-shirt that says “Professional Feminist”.

Interview: Kim Longinotto

Reposting this from Genderlog.

A lot of people in India first heard of Kim Longinotto when she made Pink Saris, a documentary on Sampat Pal who has since become something of a celebrity. Longinotto, however, has been making feminist films about intriguing women — cross-dressers, divorcées in Iran, girls who are faced with FGM, women wrestlers, social workers — who resist convention and conservatism since the 1970s. Her heroines are remarkable women   who have not let their circumstances or socialisation numb them to injustice and wrongdoing. Often, they’re not able to prevent atrocities from taking place, but what gives the viewer hope is that these women have survived all they’ve faced.

Longinotto’s most recent film is titled Salma, about the Tamil poet Salma who was, as per the custom in her village, forced to leave school when she began to menstruate. For about 20 years, Salma’s life was like someone living under house arrest. The documentary is Salma’s story and offers a poignant look at the emotional and socio-political complexities that allow oppressive systems to persist. You can read more about Salma here.

I had wonderful chat with Longinotto on Skype about her work and here are excerpts. Predictably, I’m DP and she’s KL. The emphases are all mine.

‘Why would they build windows that you can’t see out of?’~ A Chat with Kim Longinotto

DP: The unconventional sense of what makes a woman comes up in a lot of the stories that you pick. Do you think the idea of a woman has shifted in this century?

KL: I love your question because it’s something that’s really close to my heart. … If you think what women are meant to be, they’re meant to be sensitive, nurturing, intuitive, sensitive and caring. Men are meant to be adventurous, they’re meant to be practical, they’re meant to be strong, they’re meant to be adaptable. …what I think we’ve started to do in the 21st century – and I think men are starting to realise this – is show that when you’re trapped in one half of the equation of what it is to be human, you actually most miss out. I think men miss out as well. Men are trapped as such as women are trapped. I think for women, it’s a much more painful trap and they really suffer for it. … If you look at what the attributes are meant to be of men and women, it becomes so ridiculous. So men aren’t meant to be nurturing? They’re not meant to love their kids? They’re not meant to show emotion? And women aren’t meant to be adventurous? Or resilient? Or all the things that men are meant to be? Once we can start shifting and start borrowing from each other, we can have much nicer lives. 


DP: Have you heard about the gang rape that happened in Delhi last year?

KL: I’m gripped by that one, and the hundreds of cases coming to light now after the Delhi gang rape.

DP: I’m not sure what it is about this particular case that has caught everyone’s attention. Not that I’m complaining.

KL: What I’ve been feeling all along, and not just in India but in my country as well, I’ve been wondering, why haven’t they happened before? We are half the world, and they are our fathers and brothers and so on. Why are we putting up with it? When we were with Sampat and none of these girls had been to school and they’d been married off and the mothers were the ones selling them off, I thought, what does it take for the mothers to all get together and say we’re not going to do this? Because it’s only going on because we’re doing it. So I would turn that around and say why has it taken so long. Thank god it’s happening. It’s got to keep happening. Why did it take so long is one of the questions we’ve got to ask. …

In my country, we’ve got this thing – one in ten rapes gets conviction. It might even be one in a 100. We’ve got this child abuse thing that’s gone on and on. And I think, why don’t they have an assembly in school in which they’ll ask if anyone’s been abused? “No, no, we can’t upset the kids.” “We don’t want to talk about such things to kids, the innocence of childhood.” But it’s happening all around us.


DP: Do you get asked if you’re a feminist?

KL: You know what I do when someone asks me that? If a man asks me that, it’s usually because they want to label you and they know that their audience, because of the media, has this very crude idea of what a feminist is. So then, I think the best thing is to turn it around and say to the person, “When you say, ‘Are you a feminist?’, do you mean that men and women shouldn’t be equally respected and have equal education?” Then that question goes, because that’s what it comes down to.


DP: With Salma, did you know what you were going into and did it pan out the way you expected it to?

KL: With Salma I knew that here was somebody that I would meet and hopefully there wouldn’t be a dark undercurrent and I wouldn’t be disappointed in her. …But also, I wanted to tell all this backstory. I thought the one responsibility I have is to tell this story because it links her to millions of women, not just now but through generations and all over the world. It links her to women in Yemen, in Pakistan, in Turkey, in UK. It’s a story of having dreams and being adventurous, being talented and wanting so much from life. She says it so beautifully herself: “I wanted a life and suddenly I only had time. And I had these dreams and they were taken away from me and I said, ‘Mum, mum, why can’t I go out? This is crazy.’” I love it when she says, “This is crazy”. Why would they build windows that you can’t see out of? Nobody else thought that it was crazy. That’s what I wanted to show, that feeling.


DP: It’s tough to talk about misogyny responsibly.

KL: It’s very complicated and it’s also to do with our own fears. When you talk to men [WHO ARE MISOGYNIST], you realise they’re complete children. There’s this fear, like, “If my wife becomes more powerful…”, then what? These are ridiculous fears. I hear women say things like, “I always make sure he feels important.” And I think, why be with a man like that, with whom you have to play all these games? You’re with a child! I’d rather live on my own than be with someone you don’t respect and have to make feel more powerful than they are.

But it’s so complicated. If it was as simple as men against women, like some sort of war, it wouldn’t have survived. It’s because there’s all these layers of meaning. It’s because the daughters love their mothers and don’t want to displease the mothers. It’s because the mothers love the fathers or are frightened of the father, or whatever. It’s all negotiation. … We’re only going to have change when we’re all willing to shift and it’s frightening for men because they feel they need this power. Because they feel weak and confused. And it’s frightening for women because they’re going to have to go out into the world.

How Salma is like she is, I don’t know. What I want people to feel in Tamil Nadu is not, “This woman’s shameless”, but that, “Here we have, living amongst us, in our generation, a hero. This is a Nelson Mandela.” Do you know, when she was in her little prison, she said all her girlfriends had photos of Bollywood stars and cricketers up on the walls in their rooms. She had Mandela and Che Guevara.

DP: That’s not normal.

KL: She’s not normal. But I don’t think you or I are any more normal.


DP: In Rough Aunties, when they find that poor boy who’s been sodomised and you think it’s a horrible situation, but the women exult that he’s not HIV positive.

KL: Yeah, it’s like “Good news!”

DP: It’s this determination to find a silver lining that you seem to have too. To find silver linings in some of the stories you tell, it’s quite incredible.

KL: But you have to, don’t you? I wouldn’t want to make a film that’s just sad. I wouldn’t want to make The Hunt, for example. I wouldn’t want to make a film that’s just depressing and negative. That’s why I search out these people. That’s why when I heard about Salma from Urvashi (Butalia), I thought, “I’ve got to do this. This is the woman I’ve got to film.” Just the fact of Salma, just the fact of Rough Aunties, that to me is so uplifting and inspiring. What I learnt from them is that they refuse to call themselves victims, they call themselves survivors and that’s what I want the UK to learn from them. We shouldn’t make them feel ashamed, we should make them feel proud that they’re speaking out. They completely changed how I felt. …

When I was making Rough Aunties, because I’d been raped once not that long ago, Mildred told me her rape and I told her mine and I felt so great. I felt differently about it. I felt it was something that we’d both come through and it just sat differently in my life history. It just changed it. That’s why I love making these films about these women.