Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Immigrant Song

I was listening to the 'Immigrant Song' by Led Zeppelin the other day, one of his better songs according to me, as I am not really a huge fan of Jimmy Page's voice. But along the long drive that had been kick started by this song, I got to thinking, about the past month. This one month alone has been witness to two bomb attacks - one in Mumbai (tell me something new) and one in Oslo (seriously, Norway? Isn't it too cold there for people to be able to think evil?)

The initial reports, soon after the attacks in Oslo pointed to Islamic fundamentalists and the authorities were quick to correct themselves once they found out that the perpetrator was a native right wing fundamentalist. The attacks in Mumbai though, were typical acts of terror - a bomb on a stolen scooter in a bustling marketplace of old Mumbai. While we don't have a definitive finger on the perpetrator yet, the story remains the same. At such times, it is quite interesting to note the 'tapri-wallah' conversations - talks between people in corner tea stalls in Mumbai. I still remember one such remark after a similar incident in 2006, where a train was bombed in Mumbai, where one gentleman remarked to another, 'I wonder why these people come from across the border, live here and kill our people, or worse still, force our own to kill their own. Why can't all like minded people just move bag and baggage to the land where they can live in peace and practise whatever it is that can lead them to salvation?'

The key issue here then is immigration. That wizened gentleman had perhaps seen so many such acts of terror that he, like most Mumbaikars, was disgusted by the meaningless loss of valuable lives in the achievement of a mythical, goal. He perhaps believed that the asylum India gave, and has been unintentionally giving to illegal immigrants was being exploited. Just as most native French citizens believed that increased terror levels were tied to immigration from Algeria. Or citizens in UK ghettoized pockets of Islamic immigrants in the wake of the 2005 London bombings. So the finger verily pointed to Islamic immigrants in Oslo, who were assumed to have retaliated to the detaining of a cleric. While they were vindicated in this one instance, usually though, rather unfortunately, before the whole of the worldwide immigrant community manages to get away with a puppy, innocent face, something like the attack in Mumbai, forces them back into the spotlight of doubt and suspicion!  

The question then is, why do native citizens not embrace immigrants willingly everywhere? It is not difficult being an immigrant in a developed society like say US or Canada. Natives of these countries themselves are some subsequent generation of immigrants. India, and most of Europe on the other hand are a bit too tight-fisted when it comes to sharing land space with those not born there. Being an Indian with a few non-Indian friends, I do know that people with a foreign skin (sorry if I sound racist), do not find it easy to settle down and work in India. People may claim that an open arm policy has resulted in the arm being blown off much too often, but perhaps it is time we stopped victimizing immigrants and started looking into what makes them huddle up under the cloak of religion or country of origin, as against country of current residence!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Dev D and Gunda - the movie spectrum!

Movies are like perfumes. They draw you into a separate realm altogether. And based on how your brain wishes to interpret the scent, it's either a feast to your senses or an assault on them! And Dior might perhaps agree with me when I say that one woman's scent is another one's poison - pure poison at that! This week I decided to treat my sensibilities to some cinematographic brilliance. And the ingredients used for this recipe were - Dev D, Delhi Belly and the icing being Gunda, altogether forming a deadly concoction to say the least. Having seen all but Delhi Belly once before, the stories were never the issue. I spent most of my time analyzing the sheer brilliance of it all!

So, on one end of the spectrum, I started with Dev D, which is a modern take on Devdas. While I am aware of every character in the novel, the beauty of the movie lies in realizing that every character in Dev D is perhaps the exact opposite in characterization to the original characters. For instance, Devdas' father is portrayed as cruel and opposed to Devdas marrying Paro. In Dev D, a sad father remarks why Dev is so stupid as to not want to marry Paro! Paro herself in the original is a simple, shy girl madly in love with Devdas. Paro in Dev D is wild, violent and pretty vindictive in places! Apart from the antithesis, the way the movie is shot, using music as an antithetical undercurrent to the events on screen is a very Kubrick-esque technique! So for talking about Leni's (Chandramukhi equivalent) story, which is based on the Delhi MMS scandal, a very sunshine bright, happy, cheerful song is used, while the events unfold telling a very dark, sad story! Abrupt camera movements, and the abrupt ending just add on to the sheer brilliance!

Move on to Delhi Belly - it's in the middle of the spectrum. A plain story, with typical people-next-door characters and supremely profane dialogues. A minor assault on the senses, when it comes to gore. And for the poor uninitiated souls who have no clue what the profane words and dialogues mean, it's just another movie, where you want to look away and maybe wrinkle up your nose each time 'shit happens' as the tagline says!

And then I topped up my weekend with Gunda. Or should I say as Bulla would, Gundaaaaaaaa?! Breaking the ice with men who've lived in hostels, or away from home 101 - Talk Gunda! I must admit that Gunda is like the sacred potion one needs to ingest as part of an initiation ritual into Indian hostels! If thou hath lived away from home, thou shalt have seen Gunda - is the eleventh commandment. I was just extolling this masterpiece to a friend this morning, and she said, "Gunda?? What the heck is that and why????" The question amounted to sacrilege! A total breach of the hostel code! Gunda is sooooo bad that it's soooooooooooo good! Simple story of simple, poor hero v/s weird villains, with weirder names, and weirdest rhyming tag lines, so terrible I can't repeat them. The hero - a coolie at an airport, who is the son of a constable, so poor, but yet can afford jackets and matching scarves! The opening sequence which moves from airports to deserts to ports, all with a pot-bellied rotund guy running with a sword stuck in his belly! Fight sequences that involve a dozen Ambassador cars and another with a zillion auto rickshaws that make sounds of an F1 car and are oblivious to hits by a rocket launcher! Humane, moving scenes with the hero, Shankar, distraught after the death of his father finding an abandoned girl infant in a dustbin and deciding to adopt her! A whorehouse where the women swing on charpoys in a supposed seductive manner, but a look at their expressions is enough to make you want to roll over in laughter! And the final sequence where Shankar faces off with the evilest of evil Bulla, where every dialogue rhymes! If this is not Pure Poison, then what is?

All in all, if you've not seen the movies at either ends of the spectrum - all movies that define the spectrum are of no use. So, go watch Gunda to see some serious, unintentional rib-tickling cinema!

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Memory lane

Nostalgia! A supremely abused concept in my opinion! We have movies, songs, poems, stories and what not revolving around this topic. Why, even Ol man Yanni has a song that goes by that name. It is an awesome song, no doubt, but the concept? Quite suspect indeed!

Now, I am not writing this piece just to prove how 'against the flow' I can be. Most people love dwelling in the past. Why, even I loved my photowalk in the random gullies of Mumbai, when I knew a separation was imminent! (spoils of the photowalk still scream out to be shared and they shall meet their due soon). But through the photowalk, I began to wonder why exactly I was getting a thrill out of that walk. Why was I feeling cosy while being engulfed in memories? Why did I see a younger me in some shop, at the ticket window of a theater, on the katta alongside the sea, at an ice cream place, and why did I feel all warm fuzzy happy?

Luckily for me, I got into a bus that took a circuitous route around town to get back and I got myself some time to think. And think I did! Only to realize that maybe I was scared and a tad apprehensive! And nostalgia was my way out of the pressures of the present and the future! This might sound bizarre but I felt it made sense! Too afraid of the imminent uncertainties that the future held, I tried my level best to hold on to the pleasures of the past! We all write in B school essays that we love and relish change and challenges. I think somewhere, we all lie! The very fact that we smile each time we walk down memory lane, perhaps shows how change-averse we are, that we prefer holding tightly to the certainties of the past!

I know I loved the clothes I bought at that shop or the movie I saw that day or the conversation I had with a friend on that katta and how I loved the fact that on that very brick wall, we had buried our differences and fortified our friendship! Those moments were truly pleasurable! I wondered whether the future would bring even a handful of such events!

But then again I thought back about the moments that preceded the memorable ones. I know I was apprehensive about going to a shop I'd never tried and I was worried about wasting toooooooo much of my time. I did not want to see 'Dhamaal'. I was too worried about hurting my own self prestige and ego to want to go and mend fences with my friend by the seaside. In short, in the moments preceding the ones that now line my memory lane, I was worried about the future.

And by the time I reached my bus stop, I decided that it was time I limited my dwelling on the comforts of the past to just a bunch of pictures and focused more on the challenges and excitements of the future!