Wednesday, December 30, 2009

3 Cheers for 3 idiots

Following up the Munnabhai series on one hand and also doing justice to something like Chetan Bhagat's 'Five point Someone' on the other must have made Rajkumar Hirani evolve his 'Aal izz Well' philosophy! And it worked, just like 'Jaadu Ki Jappi' and Gandhigiri. Rajkumar Hirani, the man who resurrected Gandhi for the theatre-goers is back with a rehash of Chetan Bhagat's 'Five point Someone' and with his honesty intact. Chetan Bhagat would be proud of this take on his novel. But did he actually get the credit? I am not sure I saw his name in the opening credits!!

The novel's critical take on Indian education system and its lush portrayal of the joe de vivre spirit of the 3 friends the system takes it toll on is the perfect canvas for Hirani, who excelled the art of hammering in messages through comedy. So here he is taking the essence of the novel, especially its humor and adding the Bollywood masala and deducting the matter-of-fact tone of the novel. While the Five point graders in the novel go thru unbelievable lows to salvage something in the end and pass out, this 3 hour Aamir starrer is designed as triumph of the underdogs, as is the filmi wont. The humor is multiplied many times over.

To start with, The IIT background is shifted to some prestigious private college so as to not arouse a scandal by commenting on its education system. The Ryan character becomes Rancho, borrows Rajesh's girlfriend here as he is playing 'hero' here, again because of which he ends up a top-of-the-line scientist, not some research assistant. Ditto with other 2 friends who in the novel just manage to scrape through into software careers (man, are we so cheap!!). Here in the movie, they are made for better things. One even follows his heart to become a wildlife photographer. The novel didn't have the lofty ideals of follow-ur-heart thing and it just was a coming of age story of 3 folks, even as it enlightens the Hitleresque HoD of Mech Engg. While the HoD thread continues to be the emotional core here, the movie includes more sub-plots in its canvas to add more masala. Rancho is more altruistic here than Ryan was, there is also some drama thrown in for his background which helps the flashback narrative. And here we have a Chatur Ramalingam's character who is fully-blown out from the mugger Venkat in the novel (to elevate the 'success' of Rancho towards the end). So much blown up, he stinks all time! His on-stage Hindi performance is outrageously funny (Why do the southies suit so well for the studious characters is something to ponder! Remember the bespectacled medico Nagarajan in Munnabhai).

Aamir suits the central character to the T. In fact the project wouldn't have been possible without his dynamism. 3 idiots is the first serious take on Indian education system and that very fact keeps it in good stead to become a huge blockbuster. Madhavan and Sharman do well too. Boman Irani seems to be a resident evil in all Hirani's ventures and with a very good reason. He makes it very easy for us to loath him with his menacing. The first half of the movie just flies by in all wit. The second half slows a bit and even the dialogue at some places look laboured but the joyous mood of the movie so overwhelms that these technicalities don't matter much except to rank 3 idiots a few steps below the finesse of the Munnabhai series. But then, maybe, we don't always need Hirani's best to keep the viewers agog and the box office on fire. Hirani would have feared matching his early successes and must have said 'Aal izz Well' to keep himself going! And it works big time in all its honesty. 3 cheers to 3 idiots :)

Friday, December 25, 2009

AVATAR (IMAX 3-D): Redefining Cinematic Experience

"The last time I came out of a movie feeling that way it was the first time I saw Star Wars. The most evocative and amazing science-fiction movie since Star Wars." - Steven Spielberg about Avatar
In all its verdant 3D splendour, James Cameron's Eco-fable Avatar left me spellbound like nothing before. This
jaw-dropping visual spectacle, which shows the full potential of the 3D medium, ushers us into a whole new age of film making. Would this turn out a crush and not real love, only time and the next 3D adventures would tell! But for now, the riot of colors and the 3D alternate reality on screen with all those painstakingly done details simply overwhelms us so much we would be ready to redefine cinema as a sensory experience rather than a story-telling craft for those 160 odd magical moments. That's how hard Cameron's imagination pushed the envelope.

Many a time, we feel technology mindlessly dominates the stories and characters so much so that the human element would be crushed beneath it.
In fact, we have come to believe that good special effects are those which are hard to notice. Avatar is the case where the technology is right in-the-face in form of 12-foot tall, golden-eyed, gazelle-like blue indigenous people and other never seen before fauna on lush extraterrestrial moon called Pandora. And it engrosses and connects with us so well we don't feel we need to connect with the story. Heck, I didn't even care if there was one. At least till I left the IMAX 3D theatre. Avatar redefined cinematic experience for me.

One viewing may be hopelessly inadequate fo
r us to take in all of Avatar in its 3D glory. The lush flora complete with filtered sunlight in middle of wild forests to the most imaginatively created wildlife to the floating mountains all scenes one after the other look like paintings of Van Gough. Cameron showed everything that can be imagined can now be realised on screen without making anything look like gimmickry. How much of this groundbreaking experience is due to skilled color composition and how much due to real hardware developments - like in camera would determine what this new generation 3D cinema would throw up. But for now, Avatar shows the future of 3D action movies. When the Na'vis speaks and the subtitles float in a wonderful 3D layer, we realise 3D is no more about some odd thrill but that it is as real as it can get. The range of subtle emotions Na’vi warrioress Neytiri's character displays and our emotions it elicits speaks volumes of how real the 3D and VFX technologies elevated the experience into.

Once I descended from the highs back at home, the more I think, the more I get to realize that Cameron indeed got away with a simplistic bland story - corporate greed destroying mother earth, and cliches political - "we will fight terror with terror", “When people are sitting on stuff you want, you make them your enemy” (an allegory to Iraq and Afghanistan and the premise for the wars there) and business - “One thing stockholders hate worse than bad press, is a bad quarterly statement”. But then with something around $500 mn at stake, Cameron must have felt it safe to stick with his tried and tested simple storyline method. As is his wont, he comes out with all guns blazing in the climax to steady Avatar as the next big popcorn blockbuster. A dream of 12 years, ironically, would have a predictable climax, albeit an all-enveloping visual experience. This is precisely what stops us from calling this a masterpiece. But then making one may not be Cameron's priority as is his ambition to be re crown himself the king of the world. He may well be re crowned next year, Avatar may well sweep the Oscars in all technical departments. Till then, we can all give him a collective WOW.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Rocket Singh doesn't quite hit the target!

Shimit Amin's Rocket Singh is an ambitious venture content-wise and that is in itself commendable. On the lines of Munnabhai series, it tries to unravel the humane angle, this in the murkiness of the cut-throat businesses like Munnabhai did in the medical profession and like its sequel did in the context of day-to-day life.

The Movie has all honesty and heart, an endearing protagonist, real characters. We relate to the Rocket Singh who, with rose-tinted glasses, comes to the big bad dog-eat-dog world straight from college. He gets insulted, abused by the roughshods to mend himself as one of them - corrupt, street-smart liers. Rocket does not relent and insists on having his way -business with a human touch!

While Rocket Singh gets our sympathy for his ordeals, the movie looses our sympathy when it starts dragging for too long over the nitty-gritties of computer selling/servicing business. The dialogues too are found wanting for such a powerful theme and most importantly the entertainment quotient, which is the reason for the tremendous success of Munnabhai series, is low. So we do get to yawn now and then. From someone like Jaideep Sahni and Shmit Amin who dished out 'Ab Tak Chappan' and 'Chak De', we could have expected something a tad better in script and screenplay. The plot has the holes. We wonder how would a business honcho who is in a service-centric business for so long does not know buying a brand without the brains and service behind it would mean nothing! Rocket Singh's character graph does not quite peak from an underdog to that of a victor. While Ranbir does quite well, his characterization is flawed and that that is why this despite being such a morality tale, he does not quite elicit an elation when the end credits roll. YashRaj's Rocket Singh with all its good intentions does not hit the target.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

TELANGANA II: Statehood at midnight

“The process of forming the state of Telangana will be initiated. An appropriate resolution will be moved in the Assembly.” “We are concerned about Rao’s health. We request him to withdraw his fast immediately. We also appeal to all concerned, especially students, to withdraw their agitation and help restore normalcy” - Chidambaram

OU, my Alma mater is brimming with pride. For, it provided the rigorous democratic voices that stomped the streets and formed a deadly cocktail with KCR's righteous challenge of fast-unto-death. The cocktail had to be detoxified before it boiled over today at the massive rally towards the assembly. Chidambaram, the boss of home affairs did just that. He announced the initiation of the process to create Telangana. For someone who is hell-bent to extend the rule of state deep inside the Maoist bastions of dandakaranya, to appeal to the students especially means an acknowledgement of the purposeful agitation they spearheaded. Just for once, everyone felt the country is still alive to democratic voices. Its invigorating to see a 5 decade just struggle achieve its rightful end in a 10 day spontaneous outburst of restrained righteous anger. For a country that is a starved of civil movements, this is a tonic, coming as it is to fruition on the Human Rights Day.

"Slept in Andhra, Woke up in Telangana". Thus went an SMS doing the rounds today. This is more true in case of Chandrababu who seem to be startled to wake up in a state, he thought, would exist forever, only in parties' manifestos. Ever since he trucked up with TRS in elections earlier this year, he maintained his party is all for Telangana but he also took pains at times to explain that TDP itself as a party would not participate in any movement to campaign for the new state. That is a stand which clearly exposed whether the alliance was for votes or to address the genuine concerns of Telangana. He thought he made sure he would get the TRS vote-bank even while absolving himself from any responsibility to keep the issue alive, leave aside sustaining or taking the movement forward. Showing his credibility, he didn't budge from his stand and did nothing for the cause. So much so that he and his party sat like mute spectators watching the Govt's 11 day emergency-type rule to suppress KCR's fast and the student agitation. It was almost as if Chandrababu announced with his indifferent attitude that Telangana is not just a different state but a foreign country! So for anyone to expect him to accept Telangana as a reality is a bit too much. Now he says he only supported starting consultations on the issue, not the creation of the state itself. The fact that his party in an all-party meeting with the CM reaffirmed support for the Telangana resolution, whenever it is placed in the house, as recently as on 07 December makes a national laughing stock out of Chandrababu. This duplicity on his part stands in contrast to the clear-cut agenda the students agitated with. And it is this incompatible outlook towards issues and resolutions that is now making Andhra and Telangana break apart, with absolutely no effort made to talk away the discrimination concerns. It is this dubious attitude on the part of Andhra political leadership that confined, one after the other all agreements and accords made to do justice to Telangana, to the dustbin. While for 11 days the students struggled and KCR fasted forces in all parties that have reservations against the new state maintained a deafening silence on Telangana trusting their lobbying to succeed over the democratic campus/street/hospital agitation and suicides. In fact, for 2 days TRS insisted on discussing the Telangana issue in the assembly while both the Congress and TDP avoided it and made it a low priority issue to be discussed later in day. While the advocates of Telangana insisted on discussion, the TDP and the Congress did everything to silence them and when the parties woke up in Telangana, they all whined in unison that they were not consulted!

The opposition for Telangana is spearheaded by the plutocrats who built business empires worth thousands of crores leveraging their power in this vast state. For them to succumb to the new state would mean the risk of dishonouring commitments to made businesses to barter away Govt land, resources and lucrative contracts in lieu of investments made in their own companies. Even while the whole mining mafia is unravelling, Telangana serves as a double whammy. To see the many big ticket industrialist MPs trying even today to gain favour with her highness in Delhi just vindicates that it is the interests of these plutocrats that were and are stopping Telangana in its tracks. Its natural all these forces across party lines trust in the same lobbying which in the first place merged by force Telangana into this state in 1956. But this time, the uprising has been so severe no lobbying worked its way into Race Course Road thanks to the reckless use of force by the state. The disproportionate use of force without leaving any scope for dialogue left only 2 options as possible results in the end - Yes or No for the new state. The National security adviser was supposed to have told our state MPs that he has reports of an apolitical 'civil uprising' in Telangana and that it is worrying Delhi. Hence the use of force has been counterproductive for the plutocrats. Left with no middle ground, the creation of Telangana has been fast-tracked last midnight. The plutocrats lost the plot. KCR rose from the phoenix, albeit looking over his shoulders, the students behind him.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

TELANGANA I: People's Movement and the Plutocracy: The Gathering Storm

56 years after Jawaharlal Nehru shot down the proposal to merge Telangana and Andhra into one state as a “tint of expansionist imperialism” planned by the coterie with power and pelf in the then Andhra state, Telangana now finds entangled in the same capitalist games Nehru feared. As KCR's fast-unto-death enters its 8th day today and all associations worth their name in Telangana lent their support and quite visibly so, the men in power and in opposition maintain a deafening silence. The apolitical movement led by students and supported by government employees, lawyers, teachers, journalists, artistes, peasants and others as disparate as barbers and washermen gained unheard of support across castes, religions and much to its credit stayed peaceful unlike the previous agitation in 1969. Formulations ranging from the extreme left to the extreme right of the political spectrum are supporting the demand for a separate state. But nothing seems to move the political parties despite such an overwhelming advocacy for the new state. It is almost as if the much boasted democracy does not even exist. If the numbers are so overwhelmingly in favour of Telangana then why is that the parties don't jump on to the bandwagon and spearhead the movement politically? Why is that political parties and political leaders are failing to protect the interests of the people whom they claim to represent even when the people concerned are openly threatening to close their political careers? Therein lies all that is wrong not just with Telangana's backwardness but with Indian democracy.

The answer lies in understanding how our 'democracy' works now. The present situation in AP makes us believe that somehow the CM and his ilk believe the agitation will subside as days go by and then all those agitators' votes can be bought by money thrown in by all those big businessmen who get to benefit with the status-quo - the undivided state. After all, that is the confidence our political elite got over the years in absence of any meaningful people's movement. Welcome to our Plutocracy. Irrespective of the party in power, this is how our beloved democracy works now. Masquerading as a democracy, the plutocracy thrives with a 21 gun salute.

The history of Telangana's negligence is testimony to the fact that power and pelf overrules all agreements, safeguards, even those provided by the supreme court. The plutocrats in AP have grown from strength to strength playing mostly playing the caste politics. They have acquired a vice-like grip on administration machinery, government policy and the media. The same is continuing now. Just look at the media coverage of the mass moment in AP. NDTV's Hyderabad correspondent literally makes fun of the agitating students as if they are some uneducated thugs. He makes absolutely no mention of the cause of the agitation. And of course there is no debate on how the government broke all laws during and after the arrest of KCR. Same with how the police baton-charged the students when they are in a peaceful rally. Times of India does the same. It laughs at KCR, the agitators, calls them all hooligans. Among the vernacular media, it is to be noted that the two major media houses EENADU and SAKSHI continues to ignore the movement, when they are not showing it in bad light. This is not a surprise considering the stakes these media house' owners have in the present political setup which would be disrupted in case Telangana becomes a reality. Most of the national media like NDTV, IBN seems to have taken the ruling party's membership! Their coverage on any event/issue reflects what is whetted by the madam's aides in Delhi's Race course road, if not their correspondents' own narrow-minded views.The media example is but one aspect of the present opposition to the movement. The more important part is that the YSR regime spawned a whole political and administrative system closely linked with Mafia. A mafia that operates on the realty business in and around Greater Hyderabad and which made a successful business out of the huge 'welfare' and 'development' programmes in irrigation and health. The MLAs, MPs presently representing AP, including Telangana, are but products of this system. The money spent in the last election in AP is estimated to be the highest in the country, thanks to this Mafia's sponsorship. So how would we expect these representatives to break the tentacles of money-driven politics and reflect people's aspirations? That explains why not all the MPs, MLAs representing Telangana are forthcoming about what they are doing to attain statehood despite their parties' manifestos supporting the creation of Telangana.

While all stakeholders who get to loose with a separate state are already united across party lines, the forces for the new state are grouping together right from grassroots level. The spark that ignited this voluntary mobilisation is the governments' atrocious actions against KCR and the students. What KCR could not do in his lifetime has been achieved by the brutal use of force by the rulers. It triggered unprecedented solidarity among the Telangana advocates. Despite the fact that the matter determines the destiny of 35 million people, the CM and Chandrababu Naidu planned their Delhi visit during KCR's planned fast and stayed put there for few days. They must have hoped KCR issue would be settled by the time they return. But it is not to be. Even after they returned, they are feigning indifference and are avoiding even media and public appearances. These two who are otherwise at each others throats on every other issue have adapted a common approach towards the Telangana movement. Not just them, Loksatta Jayaprakash Narayan indeed was a shock when he compared Telangana demand with that of Ayodhya Ramjanmabhoomi issue! JP who incessantly talks about rights of citizens maybe considers Telanganites to be second-class citizens and so he sees no issue in the continuous diversion of Telangana's resources and open discrimination of government policies against Telangana. The fact that all possible alternatives for the statehood have already been experimented with in the shape of The Gentlemen’s Agreement, The All Party Accord, The Eight Point Formula, The Five Point Formula, The Six Point Formula etc and that they all failed does not even merit a discussion for JP. JP 'the objective and the intellectual' has been a revelation. So much for his fight to empower the common man.

It is clear Telangana and its people continue to be low on the priority list in the existing setup. Whether the building up civilian movement for Telangana would sustain itself and challenge the might of the political setup is to be seen. If this indeed upturns the plutocracy, it would be a milestone not just for Telangana but for the spirit of democracy in this country and goes a long way in inspiring other grassroots movements that are fighting the reckless destruction caused by the plutocrats in the Indian state. Nehru, in whichever world he is, would find solace. If this movement is suppressed as per the plans of the plutocrats in Congress and TDP, I would hate to imagine what it would mean for the fabric of democracy in general and the self-respect of Telanganites in particular. Though I have a lingering feeling this would not be another Irom Sharmila case.