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?

What happens in Rediff, stays in Rediff

This is the image Krishnan uses as the profile pic on her public Facebook page.
This is the image Krishnan uses as the profile pic on her public Facebook page.

On her way to a demonstration this morning, activist Kavita Krishnan kindly made time to talk about the offensive messages directed at her while she was doing a live chat session for Rediff. The messages she had to field were extremely crude and it’s appalling that they got past a moderator. Krishnan is remarkably sanguine in face of verbal abuse. “You get called things like ‘commie’, ‘Muslim lover’ all the time,” she said blithely to me and pointed out that comments like that say more about the people making the comments. That’s a basic truth that trolls don’t seem to appreciate. Most of the time, when you’re being offensive to someone, you’re the one who sounds like a bigoted idiot. A few months ago, Nilanjana Roy and I were talking about the hateful comments she’d received for something she’d written. I remember her saying that the ones who spew random abuse don’t really bother her. They don’t make any impression. Then there are those who know how to wield language, who know when and how to punctuate menace into their messages. Those are the ones that become disturbing.

Krishnan’s troll wasn’t a wordsmith. He’s crude and brutal. The reason he lingers in memory is that he was allowed to engage with her in a chat that had been organised by Rediff. You’d think moderators wouldn’t allow someone who shows up with the handle “RAPIST”, but Rediff did and they let him stay even when he threatened Krishnan. She was the one who left the chat, rattled and disgusted. She then went online and recounted what she’d experienced on Twitter and Facebook. Rediff started pouting at this point. Initially, its representatives had promised they would send Krishnan a screen shot of the offensive section of the chat and file an FIR. After Krishnan spoke out online, they stopped responding to her.

Rediff published the transcript of the chat with Kavita Krishnan this evening, a few hours after I had posted this long piece on what happened during and directly after the chat.

Despite the ugly trolling she’s faced, Krishnan is unequivocally against any kind of increased Internet regulation that could be manipulated to curb free speech. “There’s many kinds of hate speech and it exists in the real and the virtual world, but that’s no reason to impose any kind of government regulation of the internet,” she said. “Whatever someone says, I believe they’re free to say it. The difference on the Internet is that anonymity offers security to the victimiser rather than the victim, which is the concern. It falls upon all of us, individually and collectively, to uphold the norms that will ensure security and encourage debate, rather than intimidation. That’s why all I’m asking for from Rediff is a public, formal apology. It’s just churlish to invite me to a chat, to do nothing when I’m exposed to this kind of intimidation and to not even enquire after my wellbeing afterwards.”

(That’s a bit from my post.)

When I was writing and even when my post was put online, Rediff was maintaining its silence. Krishnan knew nothing of what was going on. All she knew was that certain Rediff people were unhappy she’d criticised them on Twitter and put the editor’s official email online. Her stand was very clear: she wanted no regulation of comments, no curbs upon the internet. If people want to say hateful things, then the answer isn’t to restrain them, as far as Krishnan is concerned. It falls upon all of us, as a society, to uphold the norms that we believe are worth upholding.

I’m glad the Rediff transcript is online because Krishnan’s deftly makes her way through a number of thorny topics, including pornography, honour killings and, of course, rape. However, as far as Rediff’s behaviour towards Krishnan remains dodgy. The apology they’ve written into the introduction to the live chat is, at best, cagey. They say,

Unfortunately, a chatter from Denmark brought down the level of discussion — and there were hundreds of serious questions — by making a few offensive posts, for which we apologise to Ms Krishnan.

It’s as though the nationality of the chatter — them foreigners with their immoral looseness — somehow absolves Rediff of its moderating responsibilities. It’s also curious that Rediff is willing to edit the transcript for offensive content, fix the typos in its introduction (they’d referred to Kavita Krishnan as “Mr. Krishnan” at one point), but they won’t fix the typos in Krishnan’s answers. To see them in a virtual huddle, ready to point fingers at Krishnan, isn’t reassuring.

Cover drive: Filmfare and Cine Blitz

You know how they say you shouldn’t say anything at the moment you get angry and give yourself some time before you react? Well, in my case, waiting doesn’t seem to help much. It just makes me write columns like the one below. This is the unedited version. The edited version — complete with a super headline provided by Firstpost’s Sandip Roy, bless him — is here.

Centennial flop

It’s possibly because I’m abysmally bad at maths, but when I saw the “collector’s edition” of Filmfare on the newsstand — with Amitabh Bachchan, Shah Rukh Khan and Dilip Kumar on the cover — my first reaction to seeing “100 years” printed in one corner was to assume there is someone in the world with worse addition skills than mine. Because Bachchan’s 70 years plus Khan’s 47 and Kumar’s 90 definitely don’t add up to 100. If it hadn’t been for Vidya Balan, I’d never have figured out what the magazine was trying to commemorate. Because right next to the Filmfare was a Cine Blitz and on its cover, Balan had struck Nargis’s famous pose from Mother India. She too had the words “100 years” printed near her armpit, but thanks to placement, I could read the entire phrase: “100 years of Hindi Cinema”.

The reason these special editions are out is that in 1913, Dadasaheb Phalke made Raja Harishchandra, the first Indian film and the one we can blame for being starting a tradition of weepy, melodramatic stories in the industry now known as Bollywood. Contrary to what the Filmfare cover suggests, it isn’t 100 years of Bollywood. In fact, the term Bollywood is just about 40-odd years old. It was coined in the Seventies, mimicking Bengali films’ Tollywood (most of the studios producing Bengali films were in the neighbourhood of Tollygunge in Kolkata), which in turn was a play upon Hollywood. Some could argue that the fact that “Bollywood” as a word is a copy of a copy is rather telling as far as the industry’s output is concerned.

But whatever anyone thinks of the quality of Bollywood films, it’s become as distinctively Indian as butter chicken and like butter chicken, it’s also one of our most popular exports. The impact of Bollywood’s chorus dances and its habit of punctuating a plot with unnecessary songs has found takers all over the world. Audiences love it and it’s steadily infiltrating Western culture. Recently, I saw This House at London’s National Theatre. It’s about how the Labour government clung to power in Westminster between 1974 and 1979. From time to time, in the middle of parliamentary politics and without warning, there were explosions of singing and dancing that would have made Saroj Khan proud. Bollywood’s irrefutable popularity makes magazines like Filmfare think they’re justified when they only mention commercial Hindi cinema while celebrating 100 years of Indian cinema. Forget the thriving film industries in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. Never mind the films of Bengal, Karnataka and Kerala. Who cares about anything that isn’t mainstream and Hindi-speaking?

FIlmfare

Though even if you think only about Bollywood, the arrangement of the Filmfare and Cine Blitz covers at my neighbourhood newsstand was, unwittingly, a rather poetic portrait of Indian journalistic misogyny and narrow-mindedness. On one hand, you have the Filmfare cover that has three men and no babe. It claims 2013 marks “100 years of cinema”, implying commercial Hindi cinema is all there is to Indian cinema and that glossy heroes define the industry. Look to your right, and there’s the Cine Blitz cover with toil and misery etched on Balan who, despite the strategically placed splodges of dirt and humble sari, manages to look beautiful. To my mind, Balan inadvertently becomes a symbol of everyone whom the Filmfare cover has chosen to ignore: the women, the people who do the heavy lifting in the film industry, the technicians, the unglossy ones.

It’s an irrefutable fact that actors can (and do) sell us everything from potato chips to an entire state. Consequently, it’s inevitable that film magazines would choose to focus on stars rather than the subalterns of the film industry. My inner Leftist may roar in protest, but there’s no denying that star actors have become the most important aspect of Bollywood. Get a star on board for your film and producers will back your project, whether or not you have other minor details like a script or an editor or cinematographer. So a starry cover is not just predictable; one could argue it’s perhaps an accurate reflection of priorities in Bollywood.

What’s unfathomable to me is that Filmfare didn’t find anything odd about the absence of women in the edition of the magazine that’s supposed to celebrate Bollywood. Hindi commercial cinema boasts of some outstandingly beautiful and talented women, both on screen and behind the scenes. Let us assume that the women behind the scenes are ‘unmarketable’. It doesn’t explain the absence of actresses in the magazine. If Bollywood has an international profile today, the ladies have played a significant part in this exposure. After all, the only Indian film stars who have managed to break into Hollywood are actresses. Irrfan Khan wasn’t a star until The Namesake. Anupam Kher and Anil Kapoor play mostly bit parts in American film and TV while Aishwarya Rai has played the lead heroine in five foreign films. Yes, they’re godawful, but she is the lead. In contrast, the biggest Bollywood heroes only do stage shows for South Asian diaspora audiences.

We often complain about how terribly male-dominated Bollywood is and how it treats women and women characters shoddily — all true — but the machismo of the Filmfare cover is particularly laughable because you can’t have a Bollywood film without at least one woman in it. Hers may be an irrelevant role with little dialogue and even less clothing, but the oh-so-awesome hero must have a woman on their arm. How do you know a man is a good character? He cares for his mother and his sister. It doesn’t matter what the genre may be, if it’s Bollywood, a romantic sub-plot is a must. No one dares to make a film that doesn’t have a love scene or two. So how did Filmfare imagine they’d devote an entire issue on this industry without mentioning any of the women who make sure the Bollywood show goes on?

In comparison to Filmfare, Cine Blitz does a decent job of celebrating Bollywood’s leading ladies. From Fearless Nadia to Rekha, the magazine is full of admiration and gossip-fuelled awe at the commercial Hindi cinema’s unforgettable actresses. I ended up fondly YouTube-ing old songs by actresses like Suraiya, Meena Kumari, Waheeda Rehman, Dimple and Rekha after flipping through the magazine. These women, however, get no nods of recognition from Filmfare.

In Filmfare, less than a handful of the industry’s women get a half-hearted wave at the back of the magazine, where the popular choice winners are listed. Among the woman mentioned is Lata Mangeshkar, hailed as “Most Popular Playback Singer (Female)”, which is a bit of a joke because Mangeshkar must be the most popular of all Bollywood’s playback singers, male or female. I’m quite certain that if there was a fan face-off between her and, say, Sonu Nigam (no. 2 on Filmfare’s popularity charts for male playback singers), Mangeshkar would win. She’s sung thousands of songs in 20-odd Indian languages in the course of a career spanning approximately seven decades. With her trademark white sari and neatly-plaited hair, she’s instantly recognizable at sight and no one who has listened to Hindi film music can confuse her melodious falsetto with anyone else’s voice. If there’s one living personality who would be the perfect cover model for an edition celebrating Indian cinema, Mangeshkar is it.

As far as Filmfare is concerned, however, she is only good enough for a mention at the back of the magazine.

The Big Bong Theory: Homo Disappointus

This was published in today’s DNA. Warning: Contains generalisations, exaggeration and humour. Read at your own risk. Feel free to roar in the comments, but don’t expect replies.

The Tragedy of the Homo Disappointus

Screen Shot 2013-01-19 at 11.57.15 AM
Illustration by Ravi Jadhav, DNA.

There are many questions that I have pondered for years. For some, like “How is maths useful in everyday life?”, I’ve eventually found answers. (Ans: It isn’t.) A few remain. Like, why aren’t all Indian women lesbians? OK, so for centuries, we haven’t really had a choice, courtesy the charming social system of patriarchy that strives to make oppression as normal a practice as eating breakfast. Homophobic men ruling the roost in public arenas and private spaces for generations haven’t helped. But have we been held hostage by patriarchy for so long that we don’t realise that frequently, it’s just ridiculous that we choose an Indian man as a partner? Is this just a variation of the Stockholm syndrome?

Note, I didn’t say all men, but Indian men. The fact of the matter is that, broadly speaking, if we consider the criteria usually applied during the process of mate selection, the scientific name for the Indian male should be homo disappointus. It is true that our genetic mix occasionally throws up a few specimens that are easy on the eye, but let’s face it — most Indian men are not precisely eye-candy.

The aesthetics of beauty may vary, but the chances of the average Indian man’s looks making a woman’s hormones swirl with longing are slim. Add to that the near-complete absence of grooming — gentlemen, deodorants are your friend. And no, deodorant and aftershave are not the same thing. The first prevents sweaty odour; the other, when applied too liberally, can asphyxiate those around you — and it’s a miracle most heterosexual Indian men get laid.

Internationally, there are men who are considered relationship-worthy because they’re handy to have around. When you need the bed moved, the wiring fixed, the painting hung, the suitcase carried, the roadside lecher punched, these men with their muscles appear like mythical heroes. This breed is yet to be spotted in India. At best, an Indian gent may have the phone number of a carpenter or electrician. Actually lifting a finger, particularly around the house, is against his dharma (unless it’s to beat up his wife, molest the maid and/or threaten a woman in the household).

The most disappointing quality of the Indian male, however, is his conviction that he has all the answers. Mr India knows it all and every conversation must end with Mr India establishing himself as the top dog. If he hasn’t heard of something, it doesn’t exist. If he isn’t convinced by an argument, then it’s rubbish. It’s as though every Indian man harbours the vague delusion that deep inside, he’s the hero in a Rajinikanth film. So mind it, express your admiration and agreement with whatever he says. Now.

This know-it-all-ness is one of the biggest stumbling blocks in the efforts to chip away at the misogyny that is so deeply-entrenched in Indian society. It’s shown up repeatedly during the recent debates on the topic of violence against women. Some refuse to believe the alarming statistics, others point out that statistics are unreliable, and most would prefer to point the finger at anyone but their own brethren.

The problem is always caused by someone else and therefore not the average Indian man’s headache. For male Mumbaikars, it’s a Delhi or north Indian problem. For those who belong to a privileged demographic, it’s the result of lower middle class mindset. Then there are the conservatives who feel “Bharat” doesn’t have such problems and violence against women is an urban affair. There’s always an “other” upon whom the blame can be pinned so that our attention shifts from the real issue — women are being raped, molested and traumatised. Is it an Indian problem? No. But is it a problem in India? Yes, and the average male behaviour makes it worse.

There are bad guys everywhere in the world, but ours lurk within and among the good guys. Which means, as a woman, depending upon a man usually means setting oneself up for disappointment. Some of us resign ourselves to this. Others argue and rant about it, hoping this will make at least some of the homo disappointus evolve. Gentlemen, it’s your move.