Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Legends Never Fade in the City of the Nizams

On traveling down south from the bustling metropolis that is Mumbai to the state of Hyderabad, it can be seen that the city of Nizam's essence is a culmination of multiple cultural offerings from all across India. Just like the myriad subtle flavorings of its internationally revered biryani, Hyderabad forms an eclectic mix of cultures and creeds from all over India while retaining,at the same time,its entity as one of India's major IT hubs.

What is Hyderabad without its thronged markets and dusty lanes that bind modernity to the antiquities and curiosities that stand testament to the eras that were once. Although the majority of the population is Hindu, there remains a significant Muslim, Christian and Buddhist presence in the city, and mosques, churches and many other such religious institutions are seen in abundance. So, I can safely assume that the city's population constitutes a healthy mixture of all communities. A local fakir is only too enthusiastic to reveal the tale behind name "Hyderabad" which has a very romantic origin. A young prince once fell in love with a girl called Bhagmati, and later, when he ascended the throne, he named the city that he built 'Bhangyanagar', to please his beloved Bhagmati. However, legend goes on to tell us that she changed her name to 'Hyder Mahal' after converting to Islam, and hence, 'Bhangyanagar' came to be known as ‘Hyderabad’.
The veracity of this and the countless other tales in circulation, however,is questionable at best and therein lies a charm of this land where its secrets are but fading whispers that resound through the corridors of time.
Another favorite of all the locals is the story of the origin of Charminar, the famous four towered mosque whose monolithic façade dominates the strrets of Hyderabad. Legend has it that the young prince Muhammad Quti Qutb, in a prayer to Allah, promised that he would erect a huge mosque in that very spot if the almighty delivered his people from the plague. To keeping his end of the bargain, the prince built what would be one of the greatest Islamic monuments of the time.

The most striking features of the Charminar are the monument's adjoining minarets which rise well above the rest of the structure, and command the landscape for miles around. There are four 'minars', one on each side, and there are many theories on their purpose , the most popular of which says that they were built as a tribute to the first four khalifs of Islam. 149 winding steps later and I find myself in a different world: the bird’s perspective, the panoramic splendor of the surrounding landscape, with the Mecca Masjid directly in front, and the busy markets around.

There is also an obscure legend in and around Hyderabad, which speaks of the existence of an underground tunnel that connects the palace at Golconda to Charminar. This tunnel was built as an escape route for the royal family, in case their palace was invaded. To this day, the exact location of this fabled place is unknown. Unsurprisingly, every local still believes in its existence, despite there being no tangible proof of it. Such is the power of popular belief.

Lunch time! All the ingredients in a biryani come together to form a pleasing combination that tastes nothing short of exquisite, and yet not quite the same had one or two of the ingredients been excluded. This forms the unique Hyderabadi experience. Nothing is better than a visit to the golconda fort complex built in the 13th century by the Kakatiya kings; it is located on a hill about 400 feet above the surrounding plain (According to a legend, the fort derives its name from Golla Konda, which is a Telugu word for Shepherd's Hill) The present structure of the Golconda Fort owes its existence to the Qutub Shahi kings. It consists of four stately forts with a 10 km long outer wall making it one of the most magnificent ruins in India renowned in the bygone times for its diamond trade.

At night, as I gaze upon the starry heavens my mind lingers to a story…. In 1591 while laying the foundation of Charminar, the prince prayed: "Oh God, bestow unto this city peace and prosperity. Let millions of men of all castes, creeds and religions make it their abode. Like fishes in the water." True to the legend, the city has blossomed into a synthesis of many cultures.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

A Folly-wood Recipe - Purveying Idiocy in India

The mainstream Indian film industry touts itself for consistently delivering a sizable number of films as its yearly output. That being said, none of the aforementioned films have managed to transcend the label ‘Bollywood’ by offering anything close to originality and substance to world cinema at large.

Why is this so? It is common knowledge that plagiarism overpowers originality and creativity in the industry (Perhaps one can expect no less from an industry that didn’t bother adopting a name for itself something that didn’t sound like Hollywood.)

One would find it virtually impossible, from memory alone, to rattle of a litany of bollywood blockbusters (as well box office bombs) and iconic scenes which have been crudely lifted off from international films.

When questioned about this, producers, directors and actors alike daftly write off the fruit of their reprehensible actions as unofficial adaptations, homages and sometimes, and audaciously enough, coincidence.

In all fairness, not every aspect of the original film is ripped off. Taking the basic storyline into consideration, it is bizarre, outlandish and superfluous elements (that supposedly relate it to the Indian experience) that are superimposed upon the Bollywood version. This includes trans-genre inclusiveness of varied comedy, romance, thriller and action elements (hence the term ‘masala movie’)

Not sure enough, bollywood? Why not throw in some clichéd linguistic references to every national community for good measure? That way you can successfully cater to the diverse denizens of UP, Punjab, Bengal and Gujarat at the same time. In the true Mumbai spirit of fusion (or whatever…) Hindi, English and a host of other tongues have been reduced to the gobbledygook known as ‘hinglish’ which happens to be the celluloid lingua franca.

This all-inclusive hotchpotch waters down the slightest semblance of intelligence and coherence in these films. Well, not entirely. There is other weirdness, also, that comes into play such as the mandatory song and dance routine, where the hero and his love interest are magically whisked away to a hilly locale of Switzerland where they will cavort mindlessly for some time. (Maybe bollywood’s dabbling with science fiction this time by throwing teleportation in to the mix!) So much for continuity…

Not all musical interludes are as family friendly, though. You know what I’m talking about… lo and behold! It’s a bevy of nubile women dancing scintillatingly for no apparent reason ……What we are witnessing, ladies and gentlemen, is that often seen affront to decency – the item number. With its evolution since the ’70s, nothing so sexist has come to exist in popular culture since – except may be pornography.
In bollywood, a man dominated industry one rarely sees female directors, producers, cinematographers etc. Male gaze, anyone? Item numbers, a desperate plea for attention, are pretty much steeped in misogyny. Not even the kids were spared from this visible debasement of womanhood (I’m looking at you, Thoda Pyar Thoda Magic!)

There must be a commandment in the handbook of Bollywood saying ‘Thou shall dumb down!” because it employs (and thereby perpetuates) age old stereotypes which consistently flattens complex characters into simplistic, two dimensional caricatures. While at the same time, it also stands guilty of its extremely unrealistic depiction of reality. Unrequited love, at least for the B-town hero, doesn’t exist – it usually comes to evolve into cringe worthy romance from where it may or may not (mostly may not) branch into laughable tragedy. What’s disturbing is how the hero gets the girl – he doesn’t stop short of berating her publicly with his loutish advances as his cronies grin on. Beside this and the obvious link to eve teasing, bollywood has also been known to enforce several regressive attitudes along with the Serials, Soap Operas and Reality TV which together comprise the popular culture cesspool of modern India.

As to why not much consideration is given to the development of original screenplays, the answer is simple: In the context of looking at the film as a commercial venture, using the tried and tested formulae or something that has been known to work internationally can be seen as a sensible means to dispel investment uncertainties. (Alas, more than 90 % films are doomed to commercial flopdom anyway) While people bellyache about the studio system in the west, the artistry of

independent cinema here (as seen in regional cinema in particular are the parallel movement in general) is overshadowed and stifled by the hegemony of the sugar coated, bigger budgeted feel-good mainstream cinema.

Why is it that the certain associations take it upon themselves to force feed the masses with their notion of the entertainment? Putting blinders on the masses, Bollywood has successfully, like the evil empire it is, suppressed all forms of independent and intellectual expression by failing, no, downright refusing, to provide a platform for the same.

Music, an element which, since the inception of Indian cinema has become symbiotic with the moving pictures on the screen, is now as ripped off as the storylines are thank to a new breed of music composers who find it more convenient to lift an obscure Korean melody rather than actually go through the trouble of creating a background score, a tool used to set the tone and subsequent moods for the film. The end result of most music endeavors in a commercial cinema is the same old tripe that’s best suited for the tone deaf. I’m not senselessly bashing bollywood; by the way, their adherence to the tried and tested formula applies to every aspect of 70-80% of the vacuous films they churn out.

Another disgusting thing bollywood had done, in partnership with the media, was create a pedestal in the minds of millions upon which a select few- the superstars- are elevated to a status that can only be called godhood. By bestowing dubious sobriquets, the media influences popular opinion. That you are called a perfectionist doesn’t change the fact that you have made millions by lifting of the distinct story of an American independent film without doing the decent thing and buying the rights. Whets even more absurd is the

In depth media coverage of the supposed rivalries and ego hassles of these dunderheads Both sides, of course, are to be reprimanded here for forgetting to do whatever the hell it is they’re supposed to be doing and prostituting themselves.
What’s even more laughable is the onslaught of rigged award shows where all the stars crawl out of the woodwork to basically pat themselves on the back and laud each others work – not like they’ll be getting any of that from the critics or the international film making community. Besides who knew that mediocrity can be outdone?
Well, Bollywood, with your kitschy gaudiness and blatant avarice you’ve proved to us all that, in you, mediocrity can be consistently outdone! Congratulations...I guess.

Monday, May 10, 2010

The Road - A book review

Author: Cormac McCarthy
Publishing house: Penguin

The road by Cormac McCarthy has garnered much attention from critics having won the Pulitzer Prize (among others) for fiction in 2007.

The Novel’s narrative, set around the time of the end of civilization, follows in a straightforward manner a father and son embarking upon a journey across the countryside towards the sea in an America ravaged by an unexplained and unforeseen natural calamity. As the two trudge on with nothing more than a shopping cart, it can be seen that most life has been drained out of a world turned to ice and cinders with all natural light of the sun blotted out. They must also survive on whatever provisions they chance upon they have while stealthily evade those remnants of humanity who have descended into cannibalism, traveling in bands killing the surviving men and taking the womenfolk for slaves. In the midst of such soul grating circumstances, the sole factor that drives the characters forward to the semi-mythical coast is the father’s flickering faith that there surely must be some good people out left who are pulling through all this bleakness together.

The intensity of McCarthy’s trademark realism is not ferreted away by the fact that basic elements such as the names are not mentioned and conventions such as punctuation are avoided as far as possible. In fact it seems that he deliberately is eschewing these details so as to avoid the dilution of the sense of “the here and the now” at the same time, the book can also be interpreted as an allegory with the father and son representing two natures of an individual. Experience and despair balanced by innocence and hope and driven by faith which is,by nature,irrational and intangible.

McCarthy’s writing displays a deceptively simple style (akin to that of the great Hemingway) yet the profoundest emotions are successfully evoked. In fact, at times the writing seems to occupy a liminal space between prose and poetry owing to McCarthy’s knack for conjuring brilliant similes. There is beauty in McCarthy’s portrait of desolation. There are horrifying images to stark and crude to mention and when our protagonists are forced to countenance them
In many instances in can be seen that the boy’s moral compass that arises solely from his innocence is his father’s sole anchor that forms the basis for his faith in humanity. When circumstances prevent the father from complying with his son is when it becomes particularly heart wrenching.

Though the book will appear to be something of an acquired taste to some, it constitutes required reading for all …every word in this book, which seems to echo vast silences, is to be savored. One can not rush into the book expecting everything to unfold but with a little patience and reflection one will not only learn about the human spirit but gain insight into the nature of their being. I would shun the conventional label ‘post apocalyptic novel’ since there is a certain maturity to the writing that accompanies its overwhelmingly gritty realism and humanistic message.
The book is highly recommended. The story has recently undergone a cinematic adaptation (starring viggo Mortenson as the dad) though one can't be too certain how the pacing translates onto celluloid while keeping the heavy themes in mind...If sped up, somehow i feel everything the book labors to convey won't get acroos to viewers.I haven't caught it yet but with the exception of The Godfather few film surpass their books.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Post-Crisis Rage

'I'M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I'M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!' I want you to get up right now, sit up, go to your windows, open them and stick your head out and yell - 'I'm as mad as hell and I'm not going to take this anymore!' Things have got to change. But first, you've gotta get mad!... You've got to say, 'I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!'
-Howard Beale (Network,Dir.Sidney Lumet)

There's a tidal wave of rage and disillusionment that's sweeping over the popular consciousness here in Mumbai now that the crises has been resolved. As for myself I was shocked shocked to see the city - and that too it's most iconic (and therefore presumed secure) areas reduced to scenes one would expect from a Michael Mann film. The terrible incident I'm referring to is when terrorism reared its ugly head on November 26, 2008.
Self-serving, incompetence - concealing politicians who, besides fueling petty parochial loyalties and relentlessly demonising certain communities have, like religion, emotionally hijacked a small oft-quoted phrase "The Spirit of Mumbai" and reduced it to an another word on the endless list of worn out buzzwords which are currently falling on deaf years.
In this anger I sense an awakening from years of indifference and the civic indolence of the public so that that they do not fall prey to political insensitivity in the times of personal crises again.
It's not that the people in their anger refuse to be resilient. Such a thing cannot be - Resilience is inevitable. It's in our blood as humans. Nature has proved time and again. and the netas in their ivory towers cannot hammer false hopes into the people.In this context,however, peoples resilience demands a firm base at least Unity, sensitivity trust, transparency,and reassurance on the part of the various parties if not immediate pro activeness in the time of crises. The common folk are convinced now that this does not exist outside of political promises and rhetoric. The least they need is callous marketing and pompous self promotion in their time of grief. Accountability is the keyword. A simple apology for failure of prevention and a promise for a better tomorrow in the spirit of unity would be nice for once.

Monday, November 17, 2008

College again...

The day was dreading has finally arrived.Judging from the sights which greeted me I understand that there is little to look forward to in the coming semester. Thecurrent state of affairs at my college leaves much to be desired in terms of education.
I must elaborate later.I'm far too tired.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

It’s a start!

This web log is a small step which figures in a large decision made by myself to utilize the ever-miraculous World Wide Web. I harbor no secret fancy of emerging as an opinion influencer due to this exercise (But who knows?) From this moment, however, I vow to pen my every musing in order to improve the quality of my writing.

As I write this the illegible devanagiri scrawls in the margins taunt my peripheral vision. My attention is ultimately drawn back on this message which will be transmuted from ink in my torn ninth grade Hindi notebook to electronic text. Somehow I've never felt comfortable hunching over the sickly glow of the computer monitor

No.its the refuge of oldfashioned pen &paper I’ve been seeking. At least in this process spares me the amputation McLuhan spoke of.