Monday, February 23, 2009

Cheers to optimism

Ok, almost the whole world would be talking about the Academy awards. Almost every Indian would be going gaga over the great Indian success story. Almost every person even remotely associated with the movie / India / Mumbai, would have an opinion. Granted. Then why am I writing about the same phenomenon? Well, I wrote before on the Slumdog Phenomenon, as I'd like to call it, and I write again, since I feel very happy with the results, more so, because this whole event is an example of the power of hope.

The Slumdog victory is no tiny achievement. 80% strike rate! As though working on a checklist -
X Best Picture
X Best Director – Danny Boyle
X Best Original Score – A. R. Rahman
X Best Original Song – "Jai Ho", by A. R. Rahman (music) & Gulzar (lyrics)
X Best Adapted Screenplay – Simon Beaufoy
X Best Cinematography – Anthony Dod Mantle
X Best Film Editing – Chris Dickens
X Best Sound Mixing – Resul Pookutty, Richard Pryke, Ian Tapp
OOPS! Best Sound Editing – Tom Sayers
OOPS! Best Original Song – "O... Saya", by A. R. Rahman & M.I.A. (lyrics) (cos the other song took its place!!!)

But why is the whole world talking about the Oscars? Well, it is a dream for everyone who is even remotely related to the entertainment industry to be feted at the Oscars. Kate Winslet very cutely described this alluding to her shampoo bottle that she imagined to be an Oscar all through her childhood. A R Rahman called it a dream come true, speaking of the power of love that brought him to the Kodak theater. Why? Because the Academy and the judges are all accomplished in their own right. There's a saying in Tamil that goes as 'Vasishtar Vaayaal Brahma Rishi' which means, that being feted by the pinnacle of the field is the best compliment one can get. So when the best in the art anoint you to have given the best performance of the year, it is something to feel very very proud about.

So while everyone is talking about how Slumdog swept the Oscars, and almost everyone says that India has finally found global recognition blah blah blah, here's my POV.

First, so many 'Indians' detracted the movie saying that it was a portrayal of the filth called India, about how everyone outside our country took morbid pleasure portraying an India of nightmarish proportions! Many so called 'patriots' even went on to say that one must boycott the movie, since it portrays India in poor light. Back then in my post on My take on the Slumdog Phenomenon, I had spoken about this view held by people, and how totally parochial the view was. And now, as some people who believe that creativity is border-less and knows no language or religion got together and made a movie about the power of hope and optimism, almost everyone wants a piece of that victory pie!

When the nominations were out, I rather strongly believed that Slumdog might not make the cut. My main point of contention was that Slumdog, as a movie is much too 'happy' to win an Oscar. Take the year 2005 for instance - Million Dollar Baby. Clint Eastwood is a great guy who makes great movies. But the movie left you feeling so sad! Gladiator - saaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaad. Lord of the Rings - Return of the King - Confused!!! The Departed - Shaken. Slumdog Millionaire - Smiling, happy! Doesn't seem to fit, right? And then I thought - maybe since the times are so dire with the words recession, unemployment, losses, meltdown doing the rounds in all discussions, maybe at least somewhere the feeling should be good and happy, perhaps even in a movie theater for those 3 hours. Maybe?

The movie, according to me is a tribute to the spirit of Mumbai. I know it sounds cliched, but look at some aspects. This city gives you the Bindaas attitude. A life of having to fight the traffic, the crowds and the commute distances sort of gives us Mumbaikars the 'Kya Farak Padta Hai' nature that teaches you to fight all odds to survive. Mumbai teaches you to be street smart and the way the 'Slumdog' even gets a job in a call center, shows the never-say-die spirit that eventually allows almost all Mumbaikars to survive, and the hard working, fortunate ones to even make it big! This city gives people the will to fight to reach a goal. Like how Jamal has the strong wish to find Latika, and the reason why he participates in WWTBAM was because she sees the show. And at the end, the movie leaves you with a tangy happy happy feeling - much like how a hard core Mumbaikar eventually feels about his city - No matter how much one might crib about this city, when the time comes to pit Mumbai against another city, a Mumbaikar is ferociously in love with Maximum city - the taste of the city can never turn bitter for a Mumbaikar.

Some may argue that the city has nothing to do with these attitudes. I say, what is a city without the component people???

For me, this movie symbolizes Mumbai and the spirit of hope and optimism. Hoping to meet the love of one's life, hoping to survive, hoping to make something of one's life. And so, I guess the best way to sign off from this rather long post would be to quote another one of my favorite movies, multiple Oscar winner again - The Shawshank Redemption. "Hope is a good thing, maybe one of the best things, and a good thing never dies." Jai Ho!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Unfaithfully yours

Saw this piece of news on the Satyam fiasco today, that some top execs at Satyam were trying to undercut the firm, by pitching their own services, or that of rival firms, which perhaps they would join in the near future. I was aghast. It just can't get any lower. I mean, whatever happened to loyalty towards a firm? OK, ethics are the last things to talk about, when Satyam is in question here. Of course a scamster is anything but ethical. Just a few days before the notorious confession, came news of massive insider trading. And now, while 53,000 - some xyz people wonder where else they can find a job, since this scam has come at a time of a global meltdown, and the loss of a job for them means the prospect of a default on a house EMI, or extended working hours for the spouse, here are some xyz people busy sabotaging any chances of Satyam's survival, for their personal gain.

I then wondered whether this was an Indian phenomenon? The gross lack of ethics, and anything ethical. Well, a hijack of ethics happens everywhere. Martha Stewart. But she was jailed for insider trading. Thain and his multi-million dollar office makeover, got him a lot of negative publicity. So he went on air to say he'd reimburse the amount in full! So does that mean that non-Indians mess up, and then somehow atone for the wrongdoing? While we Indians screw up and feel happy ever after? Maybe yes. Its usually Indians who generally believe in one's own benefit, unmindful of the consequences. If you go and ask the erring Satyam execs, they'd say that Ramalinga Raju never bothered about them while siphoning out money into his sons' firm, and so why should they now care? Touche! Maybe our corporate honchos took lessons from our politicos, for whom poll speak is all about seat numbers, irrespective of the alliances. So, forget ideology, forget common minimum programmes, its all about numbers. That's why perhaps, now, in the run up to the elections, we see alliances after alliances being inked, we see clandestine meetings which apparently mean nothing more than a back thump between old buddies! But then where do such tactics leave the image of corporate India? Certainly nowhere near pretty and rosy.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

SOS - Jai Hanuman

Obama's cabinet is struggling with the worst economy ever. Predictions say that we haven't hit rock bottom yet. And at such a time, comes news of tax evasions and ideological differences in his cabinet. People start wondering whether Obama will truly deliver and some cynics even say that the dream period is over! And Obama comes on air and says - "I screwed up." Wow! Lochas notwithstanding, my respect for this guy actually went up a notch. He took on the mantle of President, fully aware of the circumstances and built a strong team to advise him on how to proceed. And when issues from the Rod Blagojevich scandal through Tim Geithner and now Judd Gregg, his Commerce secretary who wishes to withdraw his nomination citing ideological differences, cropped up, he has the guts to say he made a mistake, when his predecessor, in his farewell speech claimed that his presidency actually was great and brought about so many good things!!!! Yeah! Right!!! But people and the media were quick to blast this claim!

What I like here , is the fact that Obama considers himself responsible and accountable to the office he has been elected to. Although not much can be claimed about Dubyaman, to a great extent, democracy in the United States is strong. How representative, or how equal, is something only the Americans who live a daily life there would know. But to an outsider, watching the media, it looks pretty rosy and powerful indeed.

India, though is lauded for its belief in democracy. But look. It's election year, and everyone is out poaching, scoring brownie points at the expense of the common man. Convicts and criminals are given tickets to fight elections. Seats are bartered between parties for power. Even election commissioners are said to be partisan. A sudden moral police with primitive ideas goes rampant with its own personal agenda, and tongues wag about which political party the said moral brigade bears allegiance to. I just wonder, are WE truly being represented there? I mean, are we murderers, rapists, corrupt, chauvinists?

We invite terrorists with open arms, on account of the gross miscarriage of our intelligence and security infrastructure. Our neighbors claim to have been eroded by the Taliban. Our own policy makers are too busy haggling with each other to make it to the corridors of power. At such a time, who does the common man turn to? Hanuman.... Like how Mumbai did today - Chant Mumbai for a Shant Mumbai. Hanuman Chaleesa chanting by common men, to invoke the Lord's protection. Since finally only He can DELIVER US FROM EVIL.... AMEN..................

Friday, February 13, 2009

Bizarre colloquy

You know this thing about weird mannerisms that you develop while speaking? A random phrase or word, finds its place in the most grammatically wrong places. And it becomes such a habit that the words just escape your mouth as you speak. The funniest thing though is that every so frequently, the 'gap words' as I'd like to call them, keep changing.

While in high school, it used to be like. You know, like, school used to be fun, like because of the gang we had. Although the subjects were like real boring, somehow, the way we used to like spend time with our friends like made life so much more fun.

Then, while I was in college, I was basically a victim of the basic usage of basically. Almost all my sentences would basically begin with basically, and perhaps even end in basically the same way. This basic habit of mine was made the basic butt of all basic jokes. Including one where I was asked why I basically used basically, instead of acidically!

One of my friends had the extraordinary habit of using 'Mhanje' - the Marathi word that means umm, well, MEANS!!! When we told him that he uses mhanje, he said, " Really? I never noticed, mhanje I can't really pay attention to what I speak, so I don't know. Anyway thanks for telling me, though, mhanje, that's the way I can perhaps change myself you know?"

My current verbal fixation happens to be 'what rubbish'. I know, it's a very weird fixation indeed, and you might wonder how it finds its applicability in my everyday conversations. Well, its like basically using the phrase to express astonishment, mhanje, surprise at a statement in a conversation. Like, when my friend remarked that the world was not in a recession, but that it just appears to be so, since everything in the world is a matter of interpretation! However, my phrase fetish sometimes goes overboard. Like the other day, one of my friends said that she had met her guy and was tying the knot in 6 months. And I said, 'What Rubbish'.... She refused to foot the tab for what was supposed to be a 'breaking the news' treat. No Rubbish

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Duplicitous protectionism

The Groundhog is supposed to be the harbinger of spring. Once the groundhog is sighted on Groundhog Day people rejoice, since spring is round the corner and the dreary winter is almost over. Likewise, in case of a forest fire, the rhino is rumored to run out of the forest as though its own tail were on fire, and this sort of gives a cue to other animals to grab their coats and run! Then again, before Mt. Vesuvius erupted incinerating Pompeii, the legend goes that dogs all over the town howled, and acted crazy. Precursors, forebears, harbingers, whatever.

You might wonder why I am saying these things. Because I feel that we should have read the signs long ago. Remember how Mumbai and Maharashtra was held to ransom a few months back on the whole North Indian v/s Maharashtrian story? Well, now, with the global economic meltdown, British are out on the streets protesting and urging the government to provide them with right of way when it comes to jobs in their own country. Now, the US House wants to ban American companies that employ people on H1B visas. The bailout has fine print that reads - 'Buy American'. Why? because they want food cooked by the family to be eaten by family first before being given to the poor. Curb internal unemployment. Encourage indigenous industry first and prevent internal enterprise from being devoured by cheaper Eastern-world substitutes. Are they right? Who knows? One may argue that American tax payers' money had better be used to encourage American industry. But this argument never surfaced when the world was busy buying American debt. People call this 'Protectionist policies' when they are the victims. But the same people call this phenomenon 'protection of self interests' while they act as the enforcers of such policies. Duplicity? Indeed..............

Parallels exist everywhere. It is up to the informed, aware individuals to decide which way to go. Why not let the market decide which way to go, since history has proven time and time again that markets are by and far the most righteous, and fair entities in the game called life. Let the markets decide whether to 'buy American'. Let 'American' be competent enough to compete on the world stage unaided. Let the market decide whether a Jha or a Jadhav gets an opportunity. Let each compete on merit. This is the only way we can achieve overall development of our core competence.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Mumbai - Paradise lost....

Once upon a time I had written about how everything is always personal. I am a very strong Mumbaiphile, in that I like and love anything and everything about my city. So, when one of my friends remarked that Mumbai no longer is what it was, I denied it, vociferously! But of late, looking at what I read in the papers, and what I see happening around me, I begin to wonder where has my city gone? Or rather what has happened to it?

One, I used to once boast about how safe my city is for women. How unlike Delhi or for that matter NY. I used to speak about how comfortable it was for me, as a Mumbaikar to step out late at night and be comfortable and assured that I am at no risk. But now, everyday, I read about cases of rape in the newspapers. At places not typically associated with crime. There was once a time, when morals were intact with the poorer sections of society. A time, when people said, "It's safer to go walking around Bombay's mill district as compared to the posh parts of South Mumbai." But now, it seems that that axiom has been turned on its head! Either that, or perhaps our newspapers have found a new 'rape correspondent' to write for the highly tabloidized newspapers.

I was driving the other day, at a steady pace, when out of nowhere this guy loomed over my rear-view mirror first to the right and then to the left and finally sped at almost 300 miles an hour on a narrow one lane street. But before I could regain my composure, and veer my car to avoid hitting a tree, this guy screech braked in front of me. As if that was not enough, on the main road that forms the spine of Mumbai, taxis and two-wheelers swarm around. Driving on such roads, feels like the chase sequence of Minority Report! While driving, you need to be Cyclops and look on all sides at once, since you never know where a vehicle can come from. Sense of discipline is absolutely missing. And the worst part is, if you try to express your displeasure through signs, no one will stop a minute to think about their fault. They would instead not mind jumping out of their car and screaming expletives at you, irrespective of who you are, or what your point is. Standard dialogues include - upon being scratched by a cabbie ' If you so love your car, that you don't want a scratch on it, who asked you to take the car out?' I wonder whether such an attitude springs from the fact that the offenders generally do not own the car and hence do not care what happens to it. Employed drivers, cabbies, think about it. If this were indeed the case, then God bless Mumbai, with the Tata Nano booking commencing soon. Drive a kilometer on the perennially dug up backbone roads of Bombay, and I can guarantee the fact that you'll return with a headache. Road rage here is not the brash driving one associates with uber rich spoilt kids. Road rage in Mumbai is the continuous honking at traffic signals, the simmering anger amongst members of the driving community. And why can't people be angry? Look at the gross lack of overtaking etiquette and the massive lane indiscipline.

There was an article in the paper today of a kid who brought a lac of rupees in currency notes to school (stolen from home) and flaunted it to his classmates. If this is indeed true, can someone check the tax history of the offender kid's parents? And if this story is true, WHATEVER IS HAPPENING TO KIDS IN MY CITY? Granted, we are still far away from the University shootings seen in the US. But this is certainly not the kind of kidlife we had as kids, not so long ago.

People are up in arms against Slumdog, since it portrays poverty and slum life in Mumbai. They want all of Mumbai to be seen by the world. Hell, even I vociferously demanded a 360 degree view of Mumbai, since I wanted the world to see the Mumbai I lived in, the city I loved. But as the days go by, when seen from within, I have to quote Milton - Paradise Lost indeed.....

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

India consciousness - taking a dig in the name of patriotism

This whole India - consciousness is at an all time high. Late last year, we had the Olympic Gold, and bronze medals - firsts for India, a brilliant test series win in cricket, Vishwanathan Anand becoming the World Champion, Chandrayaan. Add to that, the fact that India has been impacted much less by the global economic downturn. Granted, there is a slowdown, but not as much a slump as is seen in the global market. At least the effect is seeping in much slowly.

And at the start of this year, came the Slumdog phenomenon. A bunch of Golden Globes, and 10 Oscar nominations. All of a sudden, everyone had an opinion. Some said Slumdog was a slight on Indianness. Some said Slumdog was a true portrayal of the Indian underbelly. Some commented on some others' opinions. Basically suddenly, everyone was getting very patriotic and very touchy about India's image.

And now, the Australian Open, has given Indians a lot more to feel proud about. Boys singles champion - Yuki Bhambri and Mixed doubles - Mahesh Bhupathi and Sania Mirza. But as is always the case, there have been rumblings about Sania Mirza, her attitudes blah blah blah. And then again, there are some who say that doubles achievements are not really all that praiseworthy. I for one, disagree vehemently on these views. One, Ms Mirza plays. All said and done, with almost no support in India, in terms of tennis infrastructure, the small time Hyderabad gal has made a mark for India in the tennis arena. Breaking into championship tennis, into the top 50 ranks is extreeeeeeeeeeeemely difficult. But she relentlessly plays, and thanks to her, and Indian woman at least has a presence in world class tennis. Second, look at doubles matches. They are full of energy and players have to be agile, alert and brilliant in team work. When Federer won the Olympic gold in doubles, no one discounted his victory. So there really isn't any reason why anyone must discount the achievements of our doubles victors.

So this whole India - consciousness, is more of India - criticism, that is very rarely, if ever, constructive.

The next bout of patriotism, hopefully, will come up when the Oscar awards are given out. But then again, there will be talks of how a western portrayal of poverty and sadness won accolades for a firangi, at India's cost. But by then, I am sure most of us would be used to such comments and views and would know better than to take such thoughts seriously.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Rock on Rafa.....

A feeling of despair generally gets to me as the US Open draws to a close in September. Granted, there are a whole slew of tiny opens - Qatar, Shanghai, and god knows where else. But big deal, almost always the draw does not contain everyone, you wanna see, since if Roger plays at Shanghai, Rafa plays elsewhere and the classic wars are absent. So, when January slinks in, and everyone starts going towards the great Australian summer, in spite of a nip in the night air in the northern hemisphere where I live, I get a thrill waking up early in the morning, or staying up late to see the big matches that draw out not just talent, but unadulterated beauty.

Ok, now, for today's match, I am left truly speechless. The match was expected to be a thriller, and it was. Look at the scores - 7-5, 3-6, 7-6, 3-6, 6-2. The first set was close. Second, and fourth seemed to look like Rafa backed down on the steam and by set 5, Federer seemed to have let his fears and insecurities get the better of him! For me, I look at this match from 2 perspectives. One, a surface that has favored no one in particular, although it has been more hostile towards Nadal than to Federer, was tamed by Nadal. Second, Nadal had a tough match in his QF and SF matches. Gilles Simon, although wrapped up in 3 sets was a tough guy. Each point was scored with a fight. Compatriot Verdasco, however, gave Nadal a run for his money, with a five setter, that lasted 5 hours 14 minutes. And then Nadal lasted (strongly) 5 sets spanning 4 hrs 23 minutes, against Federer. What does this guy have for lunch? Is he Samson? To have strength in his hair???????? His strength, stamina and speed is phenomenal. Even Martina Navaratilova, at the start of the match mentioned that the tough semi final, may actually wear Nadal down. The heat wave this year actually made matters worse. Federer had it easy in his QF against Delpo (as some refer to Juan Martin Del Porto) and even the SF was a match that had to be played just because it was part of Federer's draw. Plus all his matches were at night, as against Nadal's matches in the sweltering heat of day. So, Nadal's victory was truly a win against all odds. Federer's tears during the presentation ceremony, looked really 'un-championish' and at first, I broke into a guffaw when I saw Federer cry! Granted, a record - equalling 14th Slam win was cruelly snatched away from Federer. But in terms of strength, strategy and sheer endurance, Nadal won hands down. Sleeves included! And when a 13 time Grand Slam Champion, stands next to you and cries on account of his loss, what can you say except - "Sorry for today. I know how you're feeling right now. It's really tough. But remember you are a great champion, you are one of the best in history and you're going to improve the 14 of Sampras."

Ferrero, Safin, Hewitt, came and went as easily as they came. And suddenly, when Hewitt was dethroned by a certain Roger Federer, who they described as having the most graceful tennis technique, we thought that he too may fade away. Nadal, when he broke into the scene was feted as the clay God. Then he started playing well in other surfaces, although making rather early exits on all surfaces other than clay. And then he started giving Lord Fedex some serious competition. We saw another Agassi - Sampras era in the making, after having been deprived of some classic tennis action for so long. Then last year, with Wimbledon, Nadal conquered grass. I was ecstatic, as were a whole slew of fans worldwide. The Olympic Gold was his first major hard court win. But that time, many were quick to say that the Fedex era was far from over, and that prediction came true, since Federer was quick to win US Open 08.

And so, last year, though high for Nadal, with 2 Grand Slam wins, an Olympic Gold, and the year ending on number 1, also saw Federer win US Open, and the Olympic doubles. Mixed year indeed. So, technically, no one was a favorite in the opening season of 09. But when suddenly defending champion Novak Djokovic, as usual, pulled out and Roddick, though in sterling form was minced by Federer, the scene narrowed down again to Rafa and Roger. And I must say these 2 never disappoint.

Looking ahead, we have the French Open, and again it will be a match of wits, another dream, another duel, and no matter who else may play in the draw, we, as tennis fans, can rest assured that we will have a tennis treat for sure.