The terrible M-word!

I just read this article by Rashmi Bansal. The “White Tiger” reference doesn’t really interest me, but the story makes me think. The lady in question is smart, urban, well-educated, and financially independent. Yet, she chooses to let her parents make a decision on her behalf, without so much as meeting the man she eventually married. She saw him, just as he did, among a hundred other relatives. And she chose to hand over her life, her likes, her dislikes and her independence to him. All because Papa told her to. This makes me wonder if we even make the effort to speak up. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t mean that women enjoy being emotionally enslaved to another. But, we are often too resigned to our fate, because there is no other way this can be.

Then, there is the question of who is responsible for women being treated as doormats. Upbringing? Society? Parents? Family? Or the woman herself? This lady is a case in point. She worked in a college before marriage. She gave it up for marriage. Now, she wants to work but can’t seem to find a job. She will also not work in the industry because papa told her that it’s not appropriate. And no, I am not criticizing her. But, I really feel bad that other people have so much of a control over our lives. It hurts that women here cannot dare to dream, or even hope; that much of our lives is way beyond our control. This control is exercised by parents, friends, family, society and every other external factor you can think about. It’s crazy how we get so caught up in this idea of duty and obligation that we don’t even stop to think about whether this is what we really want from our life.

This lady cannot fall in love. Forget falling in love, she cannot even think of a man in that way. Because, she is not expressive, in her own words. No…scratch that! She is not allowed to be expressive. Because expressing love, wanting to express it, or wanting to see it expressed is a bad thing. This is true with most Indian families. The touch is taboo. We cannot touch to express how much we love someone, even if it’s a parent or a sibling. We cannot express it verbally either. Because of a rather deluded concept of love being silent. She cannot choose her life partner because parents know better what kind of man is required in her life. So what if he is less qualified, had a string of girlfriends, or arrogant. Parents know better! Sigh! When will this end? When will we stop treating our daughters like cattle, which needs to be sold off to the highest bidder when still saleable?

Maybe I am being emotional here, but that’s just me. Rashmi calls it the hen coop. Maybe it is. Or maybe it’s simply a gilded cage that apparently offers all kinds of comforts but still clips your wings when you wish to fly. I have wings now. I wish to fly. I wish to let my dreams take flight. And for the last 27 years, nobody or nothing has come in my way. I can only hope that it will remain that way. I can hope because unlike millions of other women in this world, I am privileged. I am privileged to have been born in an urban, progressive household; privileged to be educated; privileged to have parents who will not force me to do anything that I do not want to. No, not even get married. Unfortunately, not all women are this privileged. But, this brings me back to my original point. Being able to live your life should not be a privilege. It should be a right. When will the rest of the female half of humanity get this right? Anytime soon?

A remake…

…can never be better than the original, some say. Along with accusations of being conveniently ambivalent on Unnaipol Oruvan, I was asked repeatedly, by all and sundry to watch A Wednesday. And I did. Today. I approached the movie, almost determined to like it better than Unnaipol Oruvan, thanks to the raving I heard all around me in the past week.

I liked what I saw. But, not as much as I like Unnaipol Oruvan. Call me a die-hard Kamal fan who will digest anything he chooses to dish out, but I still like UPO way better. That said, I think there were a lot of differences between the original and the remake. A Wednesday has faster camera movements, indicating the urgency of the situation, while UPO stays rather focussed on the matter at hand. Editing is definitely slicker in the Hindi version than in Tamil, where the camera tends to linger on each of the characters longer than strictly necessary. In fact, A Wednesday gives you the feel of a classic Hollywood action thriller, at times. And that, for those who want action, is a good thing!

Anupam Kher as the Commissioner is a lot more active than Mohanlal in UPO. However, with his activity is also a certain melodrama that Mohanlal manages to avoid in UPO. Restraint is the name of the game, and Lalettan is nearly perfect in it. The CM makes no appearance in the Tamil version, but the voice and diction are more than enough to let us know who exactly is talking. Mohanlal’s clash with Lakshmi is a talking point of UPO, although Lakshmi’s acting is a bit over-the-top, especially compared to the restraint shown by Mohanlal.

Naseerudeen Shah was perfection personified. Nothing can be said about his acting. He was absolutely perfect for the role he was playing. But, the dialogues in the climax scene, although power-packed, somehow seemed incongruous coming from the mouth of a purported common man. Because, the common man, when angry, cries silent tears. Because, all of us are human and the last thing we do when overcome with emotion, is to deliver a ten-minute-long dialogue. We tend to clam up and shut down, both emotionally and verbally. To me, that is where UPO scores. While the dialogues are there, they do not take away from the character of the common man. They do not sound too dramatic or exaggerated. That’s why I liked UPO better.

One little thing that drew me closer to the Tamil version was the portrayal of the IIT dropout. He came across as both genuine and geeky. Indeed, I have seen many like him in real life: cousins, friends, classmates…they really exist. The portrayal was absolutely realistic and fabulously etched. The “cool dude-ness” of the Hindi version was a bit of a put off, really!

Finally, to me, the background music in A Wednesday was a trifle too loud for my taste and often came in the way of the comprehension of the dialogues. Not that Shruti Haasan did a great job in Tamil either. The soundtrack really is the only major drawback of the movie in both languages. And yes…these are my opinions. I am not an expert at cinema, nor do I claim to be one. So, if you think I am mistaken, please feel free to tell me! 🙂

Perfection…

…is not a good thing! And no, I haven’t gone mad…yet! I was just reading this post by IHM. And as usual, wondering if the perfect man exists! I know, I know. We’ve been through this before. I know perfect men do not exist, nor do perfect women for that matter. We are all human, with more than our fair share of flaws. But why do we look for this non-existent perfection in our partners?

Yes, yes. Me too. I look for perfection too sometimes. Every now and then, I stop and tell myself I am chasing a mirage and learn to chill. I have said somewhere before this that the world is not a Mills and Boon novel, where demure, pretty heroines end up with tall, dark and handsome Greek business tycoons. No way! Life would be boring if it were so easy, wouldn’t it? And how are we to know whether those tall, dark and handsome Greek business tycoons actually make good husbands. The book ends before we ever find out.

Perfection in an individual is sometimes scary. It is intimidating to see a apparently flawless person. Call me a cynic, but the first thing I wonder when I see someone ostensibly perfect is what skeletons he/she is hiding in their closet. Sigh! I really need to learn to trust don’t I? Don’t mind me…am just being…erm…difficult??

Therukoothu – spontaneous street performance?

The September 21 issue of Outlook carries an article by Shruti Ravindran titled Life’s A Proscenium. If you can read this article, and not take offense, then it means one of two things. Either you have an inordinate amount of tolerance for bullshit, or you have no clue what Therukoothu is all about. In the latter case, Shruti is even more responsible for having created an entirely wrong impression of Therukoothu. Before I go on, check out this justifiably angry piece by Sriram.

Sriram quotes a few lines from Shruti’s article that infuriate and disgust.

“Urban denizens who’ve actually heard of this art form often mistake it for its disreputable half-cousin ‘Therukuttu’ (street performance), unpractised, spontaneous roadside performances that take place during temple festivals—and indeed, the word Therukuttu has also come to mean “making a disgraceful spectacle of oneself in public.”

Several things about this sentence infuriate. First, calling an art form a disreputable half-cousin of another is entirely uncalled for. Secondly, Therukoothu, as the name suggests, is indeed played out on the road. In fact, it is at the origins of the three Tamils (Iyal, Isai, Natakam) and is performed on crossroads (naarchandi in Tamil). The fact that an art form is performed on the street does not demean its worth in any way.

In fact, Bharatanatyam, the much-revered classical dance form of Tamil Nadu has its origins in what was called Sadir Attam or Dasiattam – the dance of the Devadasis. This is precisely why dance as an art form was considered demeaning for a woman from a good family to practice until its popularization by Rukmini Devi Arundale. Devadasis, for a certain period were nothing but courtesans (prostitutes to be blunt), and maintained by the Saraboji Rajas of Tanjavur. Does this mean that all Bharatanatyam dancers today are not worth respecting? Also, Therukoothu is by no means unpractised. Practice sessions for Therukoothu stretch over several days, sometimes weeks or months.

If Therukoothu were indeed the disreputable half-cousin Shruti claims it to be, why would there be organized groups, as Sriram so rightly points out, working tirelessly to promote the dying art? For those who need the stamp of “international recognition”, there is even a course on Therukoothu offered by the Singapore National Arts Council. What more do you need?

This article by Shruti Ravindran is nothing more than a piece of shoddy journalism at best. It simply proves, once again, that journalistic standards are at rock bottom today. If Outlook can allow publication of such an article without editing or verification, it makes me wonder what kind of media we have today. I suggest Shruti look for an alternative career, that has nothing to do with either journalism, art or even writing.

Unnaipol Oruvan…eminently watchable…

I watched Unnaipol Oruvan yesterday. To put it in a nutshell, here is a movie worth the money you spend on it. At the outset, let me clarify that I am not an expert at cinema, its techniques or anything else for that matter. What I am saying is my personal opinion only.

The movie lasts barely 2 hours. One hundred minutes to be precise. It has no songs, no unnecessary frills. Yet, it delivers. I haven’t watched the original, and so am in no position to comment about whether this is one is as good as A Wednesday. But I can tell you this much, watch it and you won’t regret it.

Where do I start? The screenplay perhaps? People tell me it is a meticulous remake of the original. If that is the case, then the screenplay writers have done a fantastic job. The first ten minutes of the film leave you confused and wondering what is happening. But, the action that starts in the 11th minute with the protagonist’s phone call to the Commissioner of Police doesn’t end until the last frame. The pace is steady, fast and doesn’t slacken one bit. No running around the trees, no romancing heroines half his age. In this movie Kamal is not important. Not even his character in the film is important. What is important is the plot. And that wins hands down.

Next, the characterisation of each of the persons in the film. Kamal, as an anonymous caller, threatening to blow up the city if four wanted terrorists are not handed over. He is restraint personified. There aren’t too many dialogues. The only dramatic dialogues are at the end, where he questions the role of the Tamil media and its indifference to happenings outside the state. Yet, emotions are conveyed without problems. To me, the lack of power-packed dialogues is not a drawback. In fact, it’s the film’s biggest asset. While it is true that words can convey a lot, it is equally true that not everyone can deliver a powerhouse performance despite the lack of dialogues. Kamal is one such performer.

Mohanlal is the next performer worth mentioning. His caustic humour, his sarcasm and his head-on collision with the chief secretary played by Lakshmi overshadows even Kamal. I have always thought Mohanlal was a good actor. In this film, he moves beyond merely good and is simply astounding. Much has been said about Ganesh Venkataraman as Arif Khan. True, he was good, as the impulsive but dedicated police officer. But the other guy who plays the role of Sethuraman is equally good, and matches Ganesh Venkataraman, in both screen presence and performance frame-by-frame.

My only problem with the film is the music. While it is true that the background score is decent, I honestly think they could’ve got a real singer for that Sufi rendition. It’s kind of irritating to hear a Sufi number being rendered so badly! The background score was, at best, decent. That’s the only way to describe it. Rahman, Ilayaraja or even Rajesh Vaidya (who does the background score for many Balachander films) would have done a much better job.

That said, this is a film worth watching, more than once! If you are wondering if you should spend money on a remake, I would strongly recommend it. After all, the worth of a film can’t be judged by its length alone.

Snippets of conversation…

Me: (With a sigh) All good-looking men are either married, taken, gay or not interested in me!

Q: (Equally pensive) True…what to do? (Suddenly waking up to the fact that I mentioned a good-looking guy) But wait! Who are you talking about?

Me: (Eyes twinkling) Why? Are you interested?

Q: (Nose turned up) Uh? Me? No way! Just asking who you are thinking about while saying this.

Me: Nobody in particular. And mind you, there aren’t many good-looking men in my office.

Q: (Not willing to let go) Not many? Aha! That means there are a few… (Sitting up on the bed and folding her legs below her…indications that she is getting too comfortable) So, tell me! Who is it?

Me: (By now exasperated) Arrey! I am telling you na? Koi nahin hai! This is just a general observation of certain facts of life!

Q: (Still not taking no for an answer) No. I don’t believe that! Abhi bolo…is it A? or B? or C at least?

Me: (Tired of this conversation) Kya ABCD laga rakha hai? Main bol rahi hoon na? Nobody in particular. This is a general observation! How difficult is it to get that point?

Q: (Still looking rather skeptical) Oh. Ok. If you insist!

Two weeks later, she still sneaks in a question about the good-looking man in question, hoping I’ll be caught off-guard and mention someone by name. Unfortunately for her, (or must I say, fortunately for me?) this really was only a general observation inspired by nobody in particular.

Beauty is skin deep…

…they say. But, sometimes I wonder what beauty really means? Tall? Slim? Fair? Big eyes? What exactly? Everywhere, I am treated to the same bullshit. Fair is beautiful. Slim is beautiful. But, how do we know what someone else would consider beautiful?

As a teen, I was never confident about my physical appearance. I was always too tall and too fat to be considered beautiful, in the conventional sense. Privately, I wished I could become 2 inches shorter, lose a few inches around my waist and acquire that perfect, toned and clear skin. It was only much later that I realized that perfection was not always desirable. In college, I realized that I was better off than at least 90% of Indian women. I realized that people did not always judge others by their looks, unlike what I had experienced in school. I realized I could still make friends, no matter how I looked and that what was inside was more important than external beauty.

That said, even today, I sometimes feel insecure. Insecure about my physical appearance. This insecurity goes away very soon. Sometimes in 10 minutes, but never lasts more than a day. But then, it sets me thinking. Thinking about why we, as human beings have such rigid and inflexible notions of beauty. In India, fair is beautiful. In Europe, tanned is beautiful. Everywhere in the world, being reed thin is beautiful, never mind if you are anorexic or bulimic. Why are we, as human beings, willing to go to such extreme lengths to acquire that elusive beauty? Cosmetic surgery, skin treatments, botox…name it and we have tried it. Why? Why can’t we accept that we are imperfect and that is why we are human? Why can’t we accept the other’s imperfections as endearing? I wonder if I will ever get an answer to that!

I learnt from…?

IHM’s latest post makes me wonder what made me what I am today. Where did I learn my ethics and values from? Who taught me my traditions and practices? Where do my beliefs and preferences come from? Let me think…

From school, I learnt to pray. I learnt to pray when things go wrong. I learnt to believe that tomorrow will be better because God is always there for you.

From dad, I learnt that God is in your conscience. That he is not a person sitting somewhere up there observing everything. I learnt that God is most probably a creature of the nth dimension that we three-dimensional creatures cannot comprehend.

From mom, I learnt to believe in that omnipresent force that we choose to call God. I learnt to repose unquestioning faith in that force, whether I understand it or not.

From my experiences, I learnt not to try to understand. I learnt that some things cannot be understood because we, as humans, are just not capable of understanding.

I also learnt that this world is full of injustices and inequality. I learnt that if we needed to survive, we needed to either fight, or ignore what is obviously wrong with the world. I chose to fight, rather than ignore.

From Nandini, I learnt to believe that tomorrow will be a better day, because this too will pass. I learnt to live life to the fullest because you never know what will happen next. I learnt to seize the day because tomorrow, you might be in hospital, with broken ribs…or worse, dead. I learnt that lost time will never come back. I learnt to say sorry because tomorrow might be too late. I learnt never to wait to tell a person how much you care for them because otherwise you may never get a chance to do it.

From friendships, I learnt that ultimately, very few people deserve the loyalty and love you are willing to offer. I learnt never to let go of those who are worth it.

From life, I learnt to live it to the hilt.

Ram – the perfect man?

Mahabharata from a woman’s perspective…the conversation with S yesterday set me thinking. I am not familiar enough with the Mahabharata to comment, but the Ramayana? When I first read the Ramayana at the age of 8, I was quite impressed. A dutiful son, a benevolent king, a handsome prince. A perfect man. I was probably way too young to wonder what kind of a man he really was. But, even at that age, I found myself wondering why a prince should give up creature comfort and go to the forest just because his senile and invertebrate old father wanted him to. Obedience is not a virtue for me. It has never been. Discretion however, is a different matter altogether.

When I re-read the epic ten years later, I was less impressed. But unsullied as I was with feminist ideals and ideas of equality, I still did not question the logic behind the epic. But, at 27, it is a different question altogether. Ram, to me, is no longer the dutiful son. He just obeyed his father without bothering to question the logic behind the order. A lack of discretion on his part. How will a man, incapable of analyzing the whys and wherefores of a decision, prove himself capable of ruling a country?

Later in the epic, Ram chases a mirage, the deceptively beautiful deer. He comes back to find his wife missing. She is abducted. Like any other husband, he sets out to get her back. He hunts Ravan down, kills him and liberates his wife. But wait! Something is wrong. Hasn’t the woman spent a good 12 years (Edit: 12 months, not years…) away from him? How does he know she is still chaste and untouched? Sita, like Caesar’s wife, must be above suspicion, mustn’t she? Ram makes her undergo a trial by fire. If she is consumed by the flames, she is impure. If she gets out unscathed, she is chaste and virginal. Like most Indian women, Sita does it. For her chauvinist of a husband! But, let me ask you something. Did Ram not spend 12 years away from his wife too? (Edit: Dad says it’s 12 months…) Does chastity and purity mean nothing for a man? Or is promiscuity and infidelity excused because Ram is a man. What is sauce for the goose is most definitely not sauce for the gander.

To add insult to the injury, Ram is portrayed as asking for a trial by fire for the people of his country. Just who are the people of the country to ask a queen to prove her chastity? A husband is supposed to protect and cherish. A king is supposed to listen, explain and convince. Ram fails as both. He brings Sita back to Ayodhya, after the trial by fire. Again, questions are raised about her chastity. Is she pure? Is she chaste? Untouched? By now, she is pregnant. Ram, being the perfect king, exiles his wife, pregnant with twins, to the forest. After all, what is more important for a king that the wish of his people? Here, Ram fails again. As a husband.

It really gets my goat when people call Ram the perfect man. He is an average man. An average Indian male, who neither respects nor particularly cares for the woman in his life. An average Indian male who has been pampered all his life by grandmothers, aunts, his mother, his wife and other assorted female relatives. An average Indian man who will never understand, or even try to understand what a woman goes through at the various stages of her life. To me, Ram is not perfect.

Deceptively innocent?

D, going through my photos of Onam, shrugs nonchalantly and says, “You are not as innocent as you look.”

I look up, confused. Me? Innocent? Did I actually hear someone saying I look innocent? Exasperated, I turn around to face him and say, “D, how dare you even think of calling me innocent?”

In case you are wondering why I took so much offense, it’s because innocent is the worst possible way to describe me. I am not innocent and will never be! D looks at me, and starts laughing. “You are only person I know who actually hates being called innocent,” he says, still laughing uncontrollably. “Most people would kill to get that compliment.”

Raising one eyebrow, I look at him, “Well…I am not most people…”

D decides he has had enough. “You most definitely are not!”

I love having the last word in conversations. But this is one conversation in which I’ll give that a pass.