Friday, January 22, 2010

My only younger cousin Arpita getting married to Sujan!!!!

Recently I went to Calcutta to attend the last wedding of our generation - my cousin sister Arpita's wedding. The Big Fat Indian Wedding is indeed a very interesting event. Starting from the motley of rituals and customs, most of which will surely go extinct from the next generation, to the non-stop pet-puja (a Bengali slang for hogging which roughly translates to stomach-worship) and the gorgeous ethnic dresses the gala event stretched across three days is just a sensual treat in all aspects. Jhumpa Lahiri & Mira Nair have made the Bengali wedding an international affair in Namesake - something similar to what the Bollywood blockbusters Hum Aapke Nain Koun, DDLJ & Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam have done to Rajasthani, Punjabi & Gujrati marriages. So many people would now know bits and pieces of the Bengali marriage.

It's a big financial burden on the parties involved in the marriage. That's good indeed for the country. Marriages are big revenue generators in any place. More than the economic aspect a marriage is perhaps one of the few occasions where the gen-next get to see some of the cultural and religious heritage of India. Just the ingredients required in the marriage rituals can drive any small kid crazy - just consider this partial list of Durba grass leaves, vermilion, turmeric, khoi (a type of puffed rice typical of Bengal), Ghee, see-through red cotton cloth known as gamchha in Bengali (used as towels after taking bath), bamboo sticks, all needful stuff for a fire alter (fire ritual or yajna is perhaps one of the oldest rituals in India in practice continuously for more than 3000 years), a huge fish (typical of Bengal) and many more. It's interesting to note that each of these items has some significance which mixes local cultures, religious beliefs and sentiments together. I don't think anyone knows precisely the origin of all the rituals, but there's no doubt that people did put enough emotions, philosophies and thoughts in creating these.

Sometimes I wonder how a non Indian would perceive this entire event which can be broken down into the following phases:
  1. Aiburo Bhat: a very stepped down version of a no-naughty bachelor's party given by the parents to both the girl and the boy at their respective houses the night before the marriage. This event also typically marks the arrival of all the relatives at both the girl's and the guy's place.
  2. Biye or the actual marriage ceremony at the girl's place. It's something which is enjoyed by everyone except the girl and the guy getting married - They are on a fast and the guy has to wear a see-through cloth for the most part of the function.
  3. Basor or the night-out immediately after the marriage where the girl and the boy are literally ragged throughout the night by family members and friends and relatives. This also turns out to be elaborate cultural programs participated by the people present. People even practice before the Basor.
  4. Kone Biday or seeing off the bride - generally in the evening on the day after the marriage. The guy has to stay in the girl's place till this time. It's quite a harassment for the guy throughout the day. The sisters-in-law keep no stones unturned to ensure that their jamai-babu (brother-in-law) thinks million times before contemplating another marriage in life. The most interesting part is the moment when the girl finally leaves her house. The entire population starts crying frantically as if their daughter is being taken to a concentration camp. But within seconds of the departure the same people are again back to the party mode. It's interesting to see people transition from the party-mode to crying mode back to part mode. The transition happens really so fast and drastic that anyone not familiar with the stuff would get seriously shocked.
  5. Boubhat or the reception at the guy's place on the 3rd day!!
  6. And finally the Ful Sojja (which translates to Bed of Flowers) - the most awaited Suhag Raat or the first night where the girl and the boy are allowed to have sex!!
Now add to it the months of preparation, planning, and the zillion talks!! For me marriages are the only occasions where I can meet most of my relatives. I think going ahead with more and more people staying away from their home towns marriages would be the only family reunion.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Friday, January 8, 2010


You all would accept that one of the most important things to make our country a superpower of the future is to make our children literate, aware and enlightened. Not all children are lucky enough to go to schools and read books and open up their minds. Today's children are the power of future. Let's all participate in enkindling the spark in today's children and sow the seeds of tomorrow's power.

The IIT alumni associations have joined hands with Hippocampus to raise some funds for their endeavour in inspiring the disadvantaged children of India to read books. For this purpose they have organized a musical show by the 11th Hour Band on 30th January, 2010 at the Taj Residency, 7pm onwards. All the proceeds from this show would go towards aiding Hippocampus.

Passes for this event can be purchased at this link. Please come forward and participate in making our country a nation with all enlightened children.

Please pass this on to all your friends and colleagues.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

What are the top issues that we'd like our government to work on?

It's again a new year and it's time to make resolutions which we'll seldom keep. Actually new year resolutions have become a farce. The news papers publish silly resolutions - like 'I want to reduce 10 kilo of weight this year' - made by celebrities. No one actually cares for whether some bimbette reduces her weight or adds up some flesh in her breasts, but still the tabloids will have long stories about that. It's not that I dislike reading those stuff. At the end of the day if Mallika Sherawat's breasts become bigger in coming years I really have no reason to feel bad about.

Anyway, coming to the point. This year I thought instead of we making resolutions (that we anyway will not keep), let me find out what our government should resolve to achieve in this year and also in this decade. In any case I don't expect them to keep up to their promises, but at least I feel good that it's not only me, but my government also doesn't keep new year resolutions!!

What are the biggest issues that will present the most challenges and opportunities for India?
  • Control over Food prices
  • Better Infrastructure
  • Better Legal System - Middle class people really want good justice and our legal system really needs serious reforms.
  • Check on corruption

Which ideas/issues would resonate most with the youth in this decade -- those issues which will fire them up to actively work towards their own and India's development?
  • Drive for education and 100% literacy
  • Drive for making governments corruption free
  • Drive for better infrastructure every where
  • Drive for rural employment and reduction in BPL people

Which matters should we focus on in the next 10 years? These should b achievable and must be important for India's development.
  • All the above 4 points in the previous bullet

Saturday, January 2, 2010

3 Idiots - some thoughts

by Kanishka Lahiri

Most of the bytes that are being expended on Bollywood's latest money spinner is either gushing praise for the bold portrayal of "the way it is" in India's education system, or fawn-like admirations for the film's ability to be "socially relevant", yet entertaining. A pleased-as-punch media is now indulgently gloating over the spat between Chetan Bhagat (on who's novel "Five
Point Someone" the film is based) and the producers of the film. The latter buried Chetan's name credit between the janitor and the tea-boy at the end of the movie, and are claiming that they did it only for contractual reasons, and that the story is an essentially original. But I digress. Reading a sample of reviews, I find it interesting that like the naked Emperor, no one seems to be talking about some of the big problems with the movie.

There is a scene in 3 Idiots that depicts the family of one of the protagonists: his father is a postman with an income, we are told, of Rs 2500 a month. He is bed ridden with illness, and the entire family believes the only hope for their survival is for the son to complete his engineering degree. This is not an uncommon scenario in India, where it's elite institutions are for the most part, accessible to students of poor backgrounds who have demonstrated sufficient academic merit. In fact, one can argue that this facet is among the most creditable attributes of these institutions.

Interestingly, the film's makers chose to portray this scene comically, claiming that entering the student's house was like a flashback into the 1950s, a seemingly bygone era that was characterized by perpetual shortages and misery. Bygone era? The Tendulkar Committee report published a few weeks ago places 42% of rural India and 26% of urban India below poverty line. That's only 407 million people.

The troubling aspects of this scene are numerous, and form the heart of a flippancy with which complex issues are depicted by 3 Idiots. This scene suggests that poverty, where it exists, is an abberation from the norm, an exception, something to be looked upon from an outsider's perspective, and when the viewing angle is just right, one can even laugh at it. What's shocking is
that the scene works. The audience follows the lead of the makers of the film, and bursts into peals of laughter at the sight of the poor household. When they are uncertain if the ploy will work, the screenplay stoops to levels that transcend all sense of reality (and decency) to guarantee the giggles (and the rupees). The poor mother scratches the old man's chest with the same rolling pin she is using to make rotis for her guests. Then, notwithstanding the body hairs stuck to the pin (which the camera cunningly zooms in on), she continues to make new ones. Our protagonists wisely refuse, and the audience erupts into laughter.

It's very clear in this scene who the audience is supposed to identify with. Or is it? What if you really are a postal service service employee? What if you do have shortages at home? Or even if you are rich - are you so insulated from the poverty that surrounds you, that this scene does not offend? Would this scene have generated the same guffaws 20 years ago? If not, you start wondering what has changed. Last week the Prime Minister categorically stated that the
reforms that he spearheaded in 1991 have so far failed to accelerate poverty reduction rates. We have more poor people in India today than ever before. How is it that such scenes are suddenly considered acceptable, let alone entertaining? What does it say about sensibilities of modern audiences?

I suspect the filmmakers know fully well this scene will elicit fewer laughs in the universal "Galaxy Theater" in small-town India than in upscale Koramangala's PVR multiplex. Fundamentally, it's a business decision: they know their audience, and have devised a successful strategy for entrapping it by taking advantage of its increasing insularity from the masses and its apathy towards the country's real problems.

In a later scene, the same lower middle-class houselhold doesn't have the creative or financial resources to transport the dying postman to the hospital. However, our upper-class imaginative hero steps in with the solution of using his girlfriend's scooter to move the patient when the ambulances fail to show up. The audience rapturously swallows this up as well, thanks to the comedy. The thin veil works astonishingly well. The audience fails to notice that the film
has shamelessly made Aamir "save the savages from themselves", just like the numerous European imperial protagonists who executed the "white man's burden" in racist depictions of their nobilty in lending a helping hand to the so-called third world. The isolation of India's suave urban rich from the reality of India's poor and lower middle classes appears to be complete, and condescension is taken for granted. The former sits back in air conditioned multiplexes with
reclining seats, pays Rs 300 for a movie ticket and finds it acceptable that urban poverty is justified material for comedy. It's self-gratifying that that one of their own is stepping up to save the poor from the clutches of the "system". Not suprising in a movie where the opening credits pay homage to shining India's new royalty such as "Mukesh Ambani, Chairman". The credits do
not say of what - simply chairman. Why not take the obsequiousness the full length and crown him Emperor of Shining India?

With intentional, intelligent but in the end purely commercial strategy, the film succeeds in creating yet another bubble (alongside gated communities, multiplex theaters, special economic zones) in which the well-endowed urban India can have a good laugh and "enjoy life jingalala" explkoiting, but not unerstanding the real issues out there. The film's makers should be credited for being able to pull this off while at the same time have the audience leave the theaters with a feel-good hypocrisy of having watched a film with a "message". They on the other hand will laugh their way to the box office, thanks to the gullibility and naivety of the modern multiplex audience.

The shameful hypocrisy of the film stands out when it is pitched by its multi-million dollar publicity machine as social commentary: a so-called indictment of the system of education in India's premier institutions. In truth, the movie's depiction of the problems associated with this country's elite institutions is one-dimensional, callous, and disgustingly shallow. This would
be perfectly acceptable if this was pitched a caper movie: (think Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Matthew Broderick's high school caper classic). 3 Idiots tries to have it both ways: dish out cheap jokes in order to rake in the moolah, while garlanding itself with the honour of serving a public purpose. Even that might be excusable, if it were done subtely, with due respect shown for the thousands of people who work within the system, but do not embody the problems
associated with it. But no, that would have hurt the movie's profit margin. Also, it is convenient (and profitable) to just "blame the system". If the film is sincere in its attempt at social commentary, how come it doesn't waste any reel time on the problems created and perpetrated by the student body itself?

No, in fact, it endorses the exact types of student behaviors that have contributed to academic rot that we see in many of our best institutes today. The audience applauds when Aamir and his friends trick the professor into accepting their answer scripts 30 minutes beyond the stipulated writing time (forget about the glaring plot hole in their use of that technique), and never
questions the rampant brazenness or drunkeness on display by the protagonists. When on occasion it does, it does so through the Hitler-like Director of the institute, which as a indictment is less than half hearted, and fundamentally dead-on-arrival, since his character is a comic personification of all that is supposedly wrong with the faculty body. So again there are no surprises for guessing how audience sentiment will align.

While it is undeniable that "all is *not* well" in our academic institutions, this film is hardly the the kind of testimony that will help improve the system. Once you dispel that illusion (one created by the publicity machine and lapped up by the media and audiences nationwide), you're left with an above average comedy (by Bollywood standards), with some scenes that are guilty of shockingly poor taste. The real tragedy is that urban society is so divided today, that it would be wrong to say that the filmmakers have failed to judge people's sensitivities. They have judged things to a nicety: they are spot on in assessing that the crowd at PVR is insensitive, and that they are likely to hoot and scream at anything as long as the packaging is right. And sadly, in their scheme of things, the crowd at Galaxy simply doesn't matter any more.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Mother of all Plagiarization

People who have seen 3 Idiots and have seen the name of Chetan Bhagat and his '5 Point Someone' at the very end among the names of the spot boys and the hair dresser and many other people involved with the film would very well understand that it's no doubt the mother of all plagiarization. The producers of the movie have claimed it's barely related to 5 points someone. It's true that there are lots of new things in the movie but anyone, who even barely remembers the book (not because the book is bad but because he/she might have read it long time back), can also tell you that the most of the story line, turn of events (stealing the question paper, suicide attempt of one of the trio, the suicide of the son of the principal and the very fact that the principal always believed that his son dies in accident and many more), and characterizations (the principal, the over serious south Indian student) follow the book hubahu. Still not putting Chetan's name as the writer of the story is really disgusting. Just imagine, Chetan is the highest selling English writer in India. Still Bollywood dares to not give him his due credit. What would be the fate of the much lesser known writers? More disgusting is Amir Khan's comment: "I think he is trying to get publicity to sell more copies of ‘Five Point Someone’. In fact, I told Vinod that he should take him to court as he is maligning both Vinod and Raju" - he may not know that 5 Point Someone has already sold more copies than any other English novel written by an Indians till date. The book was already a best seller for long time even before the movie came into being.

I wish Chetan goes to court. What Taiwan does in the areas of semiconductors Bollywood does the same in the filed of art and culture!! It's high time that some big shot in Bollywood is ripped in public!!