Links: Madhu Kishwar, Mary Kom and more

Don’t go by her Twitter feed alone. Madhu Kishwar can make excellent, sensible arguments.  Her critique of the existing Women’s Reservation Bill is bang on target.

In stark contrast to some of the opinions Kishwar puts forward on Twitter, these are all well thought-out and sensible ideas that respond much more sensitively to the lopsided gender balance in Indian politics than the existing bill. The alternative bill is discussed in greater detail here.

As the document observes, “the participation of women in [Indian] politics has actually declined since the days of freedom movement.” It’s a statistical fact that tends to go unnoticed because there are a number of prominent Indian women politicians in play. However, this doesn’t mean that Indian women are adequately represented. India ranks 105th in the world when it comes to women’s participation in politics. That’s 53 places behind Pakistan, in case you were wondering.

However, while a bill to encourage more women candidates would be welcome, it’s worth keeping in mind that regulations are not enough to ensure the gender imbalance is fixed in actuality. According to the constitution of the Indian National Congress, 33% of seats in different committees as well as 33% of the seats for the AICC are reserved for women. In reality, only five of the 42 in the CWC are women and six of the 57 members of the AICC are women candidates. Thirty of the 35 state screening committees for elections don’t have a single women in them. The CPI(M) that has been so vocal about criticizing past governments for not pushing the women’s reservation bill has an abysmal record of its own: only one of the 12 members in its politbureau is a woman. …

In her article, Kishwar writes, “whatever the form and shape of the women’s reservation law, we cannot overlook the tragedy inherent in the fact that 67 years after Independence, women need to seek the quota route to entry in politics. This acquires more poignancy because, when the Constitution was coming into force, most prominent women leaders refused to accept the principle of reservation as a route to political power. They did so in the belief that as in the Mahatma Gandhi-led freedom movement, they would be able to carve out a respectable space for themselves without being offered crutches.”

Two quick pieces on the upcoming film biopic on Indian boxer Mary Kom’s life. Kom is being played by Priyanka Chopra, which should be a baffling choice but tragically, in India, it isn’t.

Mary_Kom_New_Poster_Priyanka_Chopra_with_her_twin_babies

In this one, I’ve tried to explain why Chopra isn’t a good choice to play Kom. This was written right after the film’s poster was unveiled. A few days later, the trailer came out, which was when I wrote this.

At one point in the trailer, Mary throws a chair at a podium and, with tears in her eyes, yells, “I am an Indian! India mera dil mein hai!” (India is in my heart.) You may wonder why she’s saying this because being Indian is not just in her heart but also quite obviously on her face too; and in her Hindi accent. Kom’s Manipuri identity was something that proved to be an obstacle for her on occasion, and given how she’s widely celebrated now as a national hero, she clearly overcame that hurdle in style. That’s a story that we won’t be hearing in Kumar’s Mary Kom.

The piece on why choosing a North Indian to play someone from the North East of India is offensive is here. The critique of the trailer is here.

Links: Prisoners, Besharam, Gravity, About Time

Gorgeous alternative poster of Gravity from here.
Gorgeous alternative poster of Gravity from here.

It’s update time again so voila the film reviews, in the order they were watched:

Prisoners:

If anything, the idea of a film about child abduction set in a depressing, non-descript American town probably sounds a little off-putting to most. Add to that a father who, with righteous zeal and desperation, takes someone prisoner and tortures him because he’s convinced the police’s politically-correct, non-violent interrogations aren’t enough to make criminals spill their guts, and it’s not a film that screams ‘general entertainment’. But barring a few shots, Prisoners is precisely that. The ideological debates and philosophical frills are secondary. It is, first and foremost, a brilliant whodunit.

It’s a superb film, particularly if you like the good ole fashioned murder mystery in which detective work is about brain work and intuition, rather than gadgetry.

Besharam:

Besharam isn’t really a film. It’s Ranbir Kapoor lip syncing and dancing to an inordinate number of terrible, forgettable songs. Kapoor is one of the more versatile actors of his generation, but Besharam is proof that he can’t do crass, no matter how little he shaves his jaw and chest. He thrusts his pelvis, pulls socks out of his crotch, overacts and in the process churns out an appallingly dull performance.

Ghastly. Just thinking about it is making my brain — or what’s left of it — whimper.

Gravity:

The film is filled with unforgettable images, like the sight of a tiny astronaut’s figure against an immense earth that is partially lit by the Northern Lights or the reflection of the earth on the shiny transparent globe of an astronaut’s globe. Every aspect of Gravity is so carefully considered and paced that you’ll find your pulse is beating to the rhythm of the astronauts’ breathing – racing when they panic, slowing down when they do, but not really settling until the film comes to an end.

I watched it twice. I haven’t watched a film twice in the theatre in, like, forever.

About Time:

About Time isn’t the best example of Curtis’s writing or direction, but it’s good enough to make you fall in love with Tim and his family. Tim uses his time travelling skills wisely. Which means he makes sure that his dad’s best friend, a playwright, has a good opening for his new play (rewind x 1); that he doesn’t say the wrong things to Mary, the woman of his dreams (rewind x 2); and that when he and the love of his life finally get together, their first night is fantastic (rewind x 3).

Not Richard Curtis at his finest, but this man’s version of ‘ok’ is sweeter and more charming than most rom-com writers’ best efforts.

Links: The Wolverine, film reviews, a trailer, Fox News and more

It’s update time, so here we go:

A review of The Wolverine, which was strictly ok.

A review of Bajaatey Raho, which was way more fun than I thought it would be.

A sputterance in response to that godawful interview by Fox News of Reza Aslan. (Incidentally, it’s done wonders for Aslan’s book sales. All’s well that ends well.)

A show of support for porn stars transitioning to Bollywood.

A review of — wait for it — the trailer of Besharam.

A review of B.A. Pass, which I found very disappointing.

Links: Now You See Me review and surrogacy

There is absolutely no link between these two posts beyond the fact that I wrote both of them. The reason I’m putting them in one post is because it gives you some idea of how insane a day can be for a writer like me. You begin the day writing about a perfectly enjoyable, escapist film and the next thing you know, you’re researching laws surrounding surrogacy.

Now_You_See_MeHere’s my review of Now You See Me, which incidentally is as flawed and as fun on second viewing as the first. And  according to a 10-year-old, the huge flaw in my review is that I didn’t say anything about Dave Franco (who plays Jack Wilder, one of the magicians) because “he’s the coolest one.” Fair point.

In comparison to Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige, which is still the finest film made on the world of magicians, Now You See Me is flimsy. But Leterrier’s aim seems to have been the precise opposite of what Nolan achieved with The Prestige. In contrast to Nolan’s trademark darkness, Now You See Me is light-hearted and spectacle-driven. Ironically for a script in which characters repeatedly urge you to look past the flamboyance, the film is far more fascinated by the distractions than the trick itself.

Ultimately, the loose ends of the story don’t add up convincingly and the characters are lamentably uni-dimensional, but Leterrier and his team of five writers do manage to keep the suspense going for most of Now You See Me. The final climax, however, is terribly dissatisfying. After all the technical wizardry in the build-up, the magicians and the audience land up at a merry-go-round. Seeing the magicians stare at the revolving wooden horses as though these are the eighth wonder of the world, you can’t help but wonder if this is the creative equivalent of writers sticking their tongues out at us.

On to the entirely un-fun topic of sex offenders and their surrogate children. The details of this case are few but here’s what we do know: an Israeli man found guilty of sexually abusing minors hired a surrogate mother in India to have a child. The child is now a four-year-old girl who is now legally his daughter. This is why she’s being referred to as his adopted daughter by some even though this isn’t technically an adoption because it’s not like he just adopted her. He’s probably had her for the past four years, since she was an infant. Indian regulations demand foreign parties claim the babies they’ve hired surrogate mothers for within a month of the baby’s birth. What has come to light now — four years after the surrogacy — is that he is a father of a young girl despite being a paedophile. It’s an absolutely horrifying case. My article is here. An excerpt:

According to The Jewish Chronicle, the Israeli paedophile “legally gained custody of the child through an agreement with a surrogate mother in India”. The most obvious question is how he got custody because the legal status of such children in India is extremely vague. The Registration of the Births and Deaths Act, 1969, has no provision for children born out of surrogacy. The ART (Regulation) Bill of 2008 only says, “the party seeking the surrogacy must ensure and establish to the ART clinic through proper documentation that the  party would be able to take the child / children born through surrogacy, including where the embryo was a consequence of donation of an oocyte or sperm, outside of India to the country of the party’s origin or residence as the case may be.”

Say a prayer for this little girl that she’s safe and happy. It seems that’s all we can do at present.

Link: College admissions

It’s the season of college applications in India and the minimum you need to qualify for the shortlists of most good colleges in Delhi are likely to be in the range of 98% and higher. Seems to me sarcasm is the only way to go in these circumstances, so here are a few suggestions to our esteemed colleges along with a few words to students.

If you’ve scored less than 90 percent, the Indian education system would have you believe you’re an idiot and have no future, which is not true. Even if you are an idiot, low marks don’t mean you have no future. (Look at Indian politics and Bollywood, for heaven’s sake.) If you belong to the lot that has scored 98.75 percent and above, then you’re encouraged to think you are Einstein reincarnated and pretty much invincible. This is definitely not true. Even if you have a brain as sparkly as the shiniest disco ball, the chances of 99 percent or 100 percent being an actual reflection of your understanding and potential are low. Especially if you’ve got the percentage to qualify for the country’s top colleges, chances are real life is going to bring with it some brutal shocks. There’s no syllabus here and absolutely no one scores 100 percent; not even George Clooney (as most elderly women in your family will point out, he’s single and must therefore be sad. More critically, he will forever be the one Batman whose suit had nipples. Insert snicker here).

… Since the exam boards are doling out 90-plus percentages with the kind of generosity that makes Missionaries of Charity seem like a hedge fund and the applicant to seat ratio is disproportionate, I think it’s time to take college admissions to the next level. With percentages increasingly becoming meaningless, it’s time to adopt evaluating systems that will not only screen students more effectively, but will also be better indicators of whether an 18-year-old has what it takes to make it big.

To read the details of The Hunger Games Test, The Student of the Year Test, The Russian Roulette Test, The Man Versus Food Test, The Game of Thrones Test and The Three Idiots Make the Three Mistakes of Their Life Test, read the whole piece. 

 

RIP, Rituparno Ghosh and Nafisa ‘Jiah’ Khan

Dear Next Week, please feel free to keep more people alive than This Week and Last Week did.

I don’t have much to add beyond what I’ve written already about actor-director Rituparno Ghosh and actor-singer Nafisa Khan who was better known as Jiah Khan. So here are the two pieces I wrote about these two, both of whom passed away too soon. May they rest in peace.

“But, my city, I know, can neither handle me nor ignore me,” filmmaker Rituparno Ghosh had said in a recent interview. There’s no doubt Ghosh was something of an agent provocateur in both Kolkata and Indian cinema. From the subjects he chose to explore in his films to the way he dressed, Ghosh was always urging us to reconsider the stereotypes that we take for granted as normal.

But from the grief and shock that’s evident in the reactions to his passing this morning, it’s obvious that for all the thorn that Ghosh may have been in convention’s side, the filmmaker was also much admired and beloved.

You can read the rest of the obituary here.

jiahkhan
Jiah Khan, photographed by Aparna Jayakumar* on one of her last photoshoots.

Does this make Bollywood responsible for Khan’s decision to commit suicide? Not directly, no. In any profession in the world, there are more heartbreaks than there are successes. Different people deal with the knocks in different ways. Most aspiring actors who come to Mumbai don’t make it, even though many of them are fair, good-looking, slim and talented. Few get the exposure that Khan did. But you can tell from the Twitter responses from Bollywood that there is a sense of guilt. Everyone seems to trying to be make up for having forgotten about the young girl who just five years ago was hailed as the starlet to watch.

It’s easier for most people to understand a young woman would kill herself because she was disappointed in love. But to commit suicide because your career was following a disappointing trail? That too when you’re 25 and youth — the most important qualification in the world of acting — is on your side? That doesn’t make sense to most and it emphasises how none of her colleagues had realised how seriously depressed Khan was. Worse, the only way to stand by her now seems to be with something as fleeting as a tweet.

The first wave of industry reactions came from those grappling with the truth that Khan was so deeply unhappy. The second wave will claim they knew she was depressed — Varma has already said on Twitter that she had confided to him that “everyone around her makes her feel like a failure” — but no one will acknowledge how depression isn’t regarded as a serious issue in India. People who are ‘strong’ will ‘get over it’ on their own, we think. Depression needs to be ignored, rather than discussed. Will Khan’s untimely death make her a little less forgettable? Perhaps. Will it make anyone in show business look at the next newcomer or depressed person with a little more empathy? Probably not.

You can read the full piece on Nafisa Khan’s suicide here.

*I love this photo that Aparna took of the actress. You can see more from that shoot on Aparna’s blog, which has many fabulous non-Jiah photos too. 

Links: Mannequins, Muslima and Mallika

What do a virtual art exhibition and real-life mannequins have in common? Prejudice arising from preconceived notions. What do those two and Mallika Sherawat have in common? Not much, in all honesty. But they all start with M and there’s some screwed up thinking surrounding all of them.   

First up, mannequins. It’s a bit odd to think this piece got me on the BBC World Service — albeit for a mere second or two — but hey, it’s “This is the BBC. And you’re listening to BBC World Service”. If anyone had told me when I heard the World Service on the radio as a kid that I’d be on it one day, I’d have told them to go find a Barbie to decapitate.

Out of concern for her fellow women, Tawade has suggested that mannequins wearing “two-piece clothes that barely cover the body” be banned from public display. It isn’t a total ban on dressing mannequins in lingerie. Inside a shop, they’re acceptable as marketing tools.

Outside, they could cause crimes against women. Tawade’s proposal is awaiting final clearance from BMC chief, Sitaram Kunte.

Tawade has wasted no time though. She has reportedly forced some shopkeepers in her ward in Ghatkopar to change their display. “One must think of the awkwardness a woman will feel standing in front of such a mannequin,” Tawade told Indian Express. She also believes seeing these scantily-clad mannequins are indecent and therefore are “likely to deprave, corrupt or injure the public morality or morals”. You’ve got to wonder how dumb she thinks Indian men are. Because if they’re confusing real women with the distinctly un-human mannequins, then they’re either idiots or suffering from serious psychological issues.

This is an oddly gender-specific problem because Tawade has said nothing about the effect of male mannequins that bare their chests wearing nothing but pants or swimming trunks or underwear. For instance, there’s that nude male mannequin that’s been perched on a balcony near Kemps Corner flyover for years. I’ve seen it hundreds of times and maybe I’m just not hormonal enough, but the sight of it has never led to a tsunami of lust in me. All men in the vicinity were as they usually are in my presence: safe from any advances.

From my column, the rest of which you can read here.

Then there’s this piece I wrote on Mallika Sherawat, in which I was decidedly pedantic. But well. 

LallaEssaydi
By Lalla Essaydi.

Next, an interview with author and curator Samina Ali, who has curated Muslima, an evolving exhibition that is exclusively online and explores both the reality and the fiction involved in being a Muslim woman. Ali plans to keep adding pieces and contributions over the next few months, so keep visiting the website. You’ll find some fascinating work in there. Ali took the time to do a little interview about Muslima and her long-standing campaign to ensure Muslim women are not misrepresented.

Here’s the unedited interview:

DP: Would you tell me a little bit about your own journey?
SAMINA ALI: I’ve been working on Muslim women’s issues for over a decade. I began with writing my novel, Madras on Rainy Days, which won both U.S. and international literary prizes. It’s published around the world, including in India. Through this story, I wanted to show how Islam is misinterpreted by some Muslims and then misapplied to such a way that it limits women’s lives and contributions. There’s nothing in the faith itself that diminishes women — it’s power, politics, and sometimes a purposeful misapplication of Islamic law. I took that message to the streets when I cofounded Daughters of Hajar, a Muslim American feminist organization. Our first act was to walk into a mosque in Morgantown W. Virginia to protest the custom of asking women to enter mosques through back doors and to pray in back rooms. The group went on to organize the first woman-led prayer in NY. I’ve also been a Muslim ambassador for the State Dept. in Europe. All of this led to me curating this global exhibition on Muslim women.

DP: Have there been experiences that you have had that made you feel the need for Muslima?
SAMINA ALI: In post 9/11 society, Islamophobia remains one of the few acceptable prejudices. All to often, media, leaders, and communities project an image of Muslim women that is far from the truth. It’s a one-dimentional image that shows Muslim women as being weak, subjugated victims. That distorted, limiting image of Muslim women began soon after 9/11 and seems to have become cemented in people’s minds over the past decade. This exhibition is not only timely, it’s necessary to help reverse those stereotypes and create dialogue between different communities and peoples. At the same time, the exhibition doesn’t shy away from confronting the ways in which some Muslim-majority countries have implemented laws that directly limit women’s contributions. So the exhibition is speak to both communities.

DP: How did the idea of Muslima come about?
SAMINA ALI: This exhibition was inspired by the deeply entrenched fears and misunderstandings people have about Muslims generally, and women specifically. All too often, Muslim women are seen as weak, powerless, subjugated. And there are many misinterpretations about the veil and what it means to individual Muslim women to wear, or not wear, the veil.

We wanted to help reverse those stereotypes and the best way to do that seemed to be to present Muslim women speaking to the complex realities of their own lives-through interviews and art. In the process, they would help dispel stereotypes, curb Islamophobia and build understanding.

The International Museum of Women has always been a virtual museum and it’s a museum with a special focus on women’s issues. So this exhibition is a perfect fit. The beauty of a virtual exhibition means that anyone anywhere in the world has access, no matter language, location, culture, or economics. Someone in Mumbai can visit the online exhibition and become involved in the global dialgue as easily as someone sitting here in San Francisco where the museum is located.

DP: How do you respond to those who see a difference between a Muslim woman and a modern woman?
SAMINA ALI: I think anyone who doesn’t realize that a Muslim women is a modern woman needs to visit the exhibition and read the interviews I’ve conducted with leading women reformers from around the world. These women will challenge any last remaining ideas that anyone continues to believe: the constant media distortion that Muslim women are backward. Getting rid of these negative beliefs is the first step toward real understanding.

DP: Do you think Islamophobia is a global phenomenon? Do you find the prejudice against and misconceptions about Muslims in South Asia different from what you’ve experienced in North America?
SAMINA ALI: I was born in Hyderabad, India and I was half raised there. The tension between Hindus and Muslims is an unfortunate reality of India, with its communal riots. However, that tension has roots in India’s more recent history (since independence) and in India’s political environment that stirs up those religious tensions. Culturally, Muslims and Hindus are basically the same — we have the same 5-day long wedding, speak the same language, watch the same Bollywood movies. What’s happening in the U.S., where Muslims are immigrants to the country and where not much is known about Muslims and Islam, is very different.

DP: Muslima shows so many shades of opinion, from traditional to militant, but without succumbing to cliches. What did you look for in the works that you selected?
SAMINA ALI: I don’t think I would use the word “militant.” I don’t think any of our contributors can be described as such. I did make sure to show a diversity of voices and opinions as well as range of artistic expressions because that’s the reality of life. The Muslim community is diverse, just as the Indian community is diverse. There are so many languages and dialects in India, so many different sub-cultures and so many different ways to practice faith. My husband is from the north and his language is Punjabi. We don’t even share the same language but we’re both Indian. Like that, Muslims are so incredibly diverse. To eliminate that diversity does them a great disservice.

The reason the exhibition is called Muslima is because it’s open to everyone and that’s extremely important to me. I want to be as inclusive as possible in order to show the great diversity of Muslim women; their thoughts, attitudes, expressions, values and realities.

In the exhibition, we have voices from women who are deeply religious and those who are no longer practicing, women who cover and women who are comfortable in bikinis. We are even open to including voices from women who are not Muslim, like Helen Zughaib who speaks as a Christian about our commonalities. She’s a “muslima”. I’d love to include more like her. I’ve had a truly extraordinary experience bringing together leading women artists and reformers from around the world — from the first Muslim women to win to Nobel Peace Prize to the first American woman to translate the Qur’an into English.

DP: What was the brief that you set for yourself as a curator?
SAMINA ALI: I have been working on Muslim women’s issues for over a decade. My influence can be most clearly seen in the many interviews I’ve done for the exhibition with leading reformers from around the world: Dr Shirin Ebadi, the first Muslim woman to win a Nobel peace prize; Fahima Hashim, a leading women’s rights advocate in Sudan; Maria Bashir, the first female prosecutor general in Afghanistan; and I’ve just finished an interview with Fawzia Koofi, who will be running for president of Afghanistan in 2014.

All of these women are leading the movement toward justice, equality and women’s rights in their communities, systematically fighting the legal and political structures to promote lasting change. And all of them believe that this change should come about from within the Islamic framework, because Islam grants women rights that are then taken from them by politics, or power, or patriarchy, or tradition.

DP: How long did it take to put Muslima together?
SAMINA ALI: We began working on the exhibition two years ago, searching for funding. When funding came in, we began actively working on the exhibition last August. The exhibition launched in March 2013. It will remain live until the end of Dec. 2013. During this time, each day we will add new material to the exhibition. What you see today will be added to tomorrow, and so forth. Over the next few months, the exhibition will continue to grow wider, richer, deeper, and more complex. It’s exciting to have so many different voices, so many leading women on one platform.

DP: What would you like a viewer to take from the exhibition?
SAMINA ALI: I’d like everyone to be involved — no matter their faith! Come and visit. Join the dialogue. If you are an artist or writer whose work falls under one of our topics, please consider submitting your work. We just ended a global call for submission but will announce a second one in Sept. If you happen to be a Muslim woman, please submit a Muslima Story! We have incredibly diverse ones from around the world. And everyone please sign the pledge to end discrimination of women worldwide. Our Speak Up! Listen Up! campaign requires no money or commitment other than to pledge that you’ll support women worldwide who are helping to bring about a just, equitable world.