Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Film Review: Love analysis in ‘Dear Zindagi’ and Shahrukh as Dr. Freud

by Ratnakar Tripathy 

Dear Zindagi: the poster
By now we have lost count of elaborate analyses of Bollywood cinema that claim the idea of ‘íshq’ to be the core stuff of most narratives and songs.  ‘Ishq’ is distinct as a variety of love characterized by the merger between the beloved and the lover, often seen in Bhakti as well as Urdu poetry as a metaphor for the merger between the mortal self and the divine. ‘Dear Zindagi’ is however an attempt to keep a distance from the old shibboleth of Bollywood cinema to coolly examine the animal called romantic love. This is done through a lens that seems largely Freudian though without some of its dark excesses that may drive the average audience away from the screens. So this is Freudian analysis without the morbid blood, mucous and various other bodily fluids that go with it, if one may use them as tropes for the Indian literary ‘rasas’. In brief, when a young nubile looking girl Kaira, who is in reality a competent professional ready to plunge into the ruthless professional arena of the entertainment industry, is distracted from her professional focus by personal issues like her inability to fall in love, she visits the analyst Shahrukh. Shahrukh plays perhaps the most understated role of his career as a quietly serious sage full of precepts and lame sounding stories with profound morals that take Kaira step by step out of her dark emotional tunnel. She slowly emerges at the other end to greet the daylight with the exclamatory phrase - ‘Dear Zindagi’! The film is thus not centred on the good old ‘Ishq’ motif of the Bollywood cinema but belongs to the modern world and the secularized lexicon of ‘relationships’. When Kaira is thus cured of her deep-seated emotional inhibitions, she does not necessarily commit herself to fiery ishq but may be content to fall in love in its simple lukewarm sense. According to Sahahrukh, her local Goan Dr. Freud, she tends to ditch her male partner even before he may consider dumping her for someone else, seemingly a safe strategic ploy for a growing boy or girl, but in reality an ensurer of endless emotional disasters and general gloom. Shahrukh helps Kaira locate her troubles to a childhood trauma that seems to have pervaded her emotional life. This is textbook Freud freed of all the complexities.
Played by Alia Bhat, this woman-centred film belongs to what is now commonly called the ‘multiplex’ cinema, namely films that wear a somewhat realistic garb, aim at looking well-made, have credible narrative twists and turns and use a lot of Hinglish, the new vocabulary of the youth in urban India. The trouble with reviewing such films is manifold – because of their likeness to Hollywood or European cinema, if we apply the same non-Indian traditional standards, they appear to be of a rather average or even below average standard. I do not even have to bother to cite Hollywood titles that give a far better and insightful treatment to the subject of emotional inhibition among a growing urban youth. On the other hand, if one applies the criteria of the Bollywood prevalent between roughly 1960s-2010, one may conclude that the film is seriously lacking in the emotional ardour associated with ishq and is too tepid as a romantic tale. In fact the film may even seem to belong to the genre commonly known as ‘self-improvement’ literature and workshop activity where a young person is encouraged to cultivate a positive attitude in life, with all the self-confidence that goes with it. The one line story of the film thus goes something like this – a girl unable to fall in love is cured by a counselor through several sessions of therapeutic talkathalon that forms the meat of the story.  

By way of winding up, I must admit that despite the dilemma reflected in the points above, I did not find the film insufferable though the poor quality of the songs did distract me. At the end of the film however I wondered if the trouble of coming all the way to the cinema was worthwhile. Maybe it was just for the sake of the marvelous performance by Alia Bhat and Shahrukh as well as the supporting cast. 
Analysis on the beach!

The catch here is we glimpse a tentative case of Freudian ‘transference’, when during their last session, Kaira nearly admits to being in love with Shahrukh but is discouraged and backs off in resignation. So the analyst knows there comes a moment when he must slip behind the curtains and refuse to be drawn to the mire of romantic love between an analysts and a patient. Clinically, the right thing to do, I suppose! But also a way to avoid a more challenging and complex narrative! I know of at least one such instance when a troubled girl in my college ended up getting married to her analyst. Professional transgressions are not uncommon at all and in this case may have saved Shahrukh’s character from being a largely opaque one with his emotional windows to the outside world firmly shut. He does come out in the film as a savior of souls, but one that may seem one-dimensional to many. Which is why maybe Shahrukh decided to shed his usual flamboyance and turn prosaic!

Sunday, December 04, 2016

Crony Capitalism - Why Not?

World Corruption Index 2010 - Source Wikipedia
When I came to this country in 1997, I started to work for a well known Indian American Technologist in Silicon Valley.[1] In 1997, as like any other technology business in USA; my employer utilized 'outsourcing'. Like most such technology companies[2]; it created jobs in USA and jobs in distant places too. Recently that same employer of mine, who had had a fairly successful career as technology entrepreneur in Valley, came out supporting Donald Trump's Carrier plant intervention. When his[3] Facebook post came out endorsing and supporting Trump Policy; it generated lot of heated discussion. Many pushed back the Trumpian crony capitalism. 

What is the explanation for seemingly intelligent people backing Trump style heavy handed "nationalistic intervention"? I cannot say generically, but in this case I can guess that the said technologist is backer of Hindu Nationalism of Narendra Modi and then he finds it very easy to make sense of Trump's interventions. Generically I am suspecting large number of Americans are essentially open for such "crony capitalism". Their response will be "why not crony capitalism if it works"?

That is the answer to Lawrence Summer's criticism of Trump style crony capitalism. Summers is right that going away from "rule based capitalism" is going to cost America eventually. But many Americans, if not majority, don't seem to mind it if it brings money in short term.[4] Unless sufficient number of "losers" are created because of such economic policy and those "losers" are spread in enough states to make difference in American Political System; Trump's "crony capitalism" is just getting started.

It is not that all of Republican Party is falling for this Trumpian policy of intervention. Surprise, surprise; you have Sarah Palin criticizing this policy. When was the last time Liberals ever felt agreeing with Sarah Palin? You have guardian of Capitalism Wall Street Journal rightfully criticizing Trump's intervention in Carrier case

But it seems like overwhelming number of Americans are ready for Trumpian Crony Capitalism. Which means, essentially America is entering into the "class of learning rule based capitalism and globalization" afresh. Global rule based Capitalism established over 7 decades after WWII - it is as if Americans want to shake things up there and relearn those lessons hard way. 

Challenges and contradictions in Trumpian Policy approach are obvious and clear as sky - only if Americans want to understand those and force Trump to change his policy direction. But Donald Trump will think - I defeated the whole Republican field in primaries, I defeated Hillary in general election when the entire Media and Establishment have been against me; so why change now? 

Tighten the belt, the ride is going to be bumpy in  Trump's America. 


[1] Yah, we are talking Steve Bannon's "too many Asians in Silicon Valley". Not that anyone cares about it, or I care or anyone can stop it constitutionally. It is obvious that for American Technology Industry dominance, Indians and Asians have contributed magnificently and there is nothing wrong in those folks enjoying fruits of their labor or fair share of this industry's success.

[2] The company I worked for was not an outsourcing firm. It was a proper technology product development company with a good chunk of serious intellectual property creation in Valley.

[3] He is a high profile management guru teaching at premium institutes globally.

[4] It is the same way substantial number of Americans did not mind Bush's unwrranted Iraq war. Consequences of that war - America's global credibility - is yet to be repaired meanwhile Donald Trump has already started to "shake the things globally too".

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Film Review: Ana Maria In Novela Land – a fantasy in more ways than one!

- By Uday Oak

Fantasy has been quite a popular genre in art, especially performing art. The children’s theater, and quite a bit of adult (not ‘adult’ adult; here ‘adult’ is an antonym of ‘children’s’) theater is full of it. The folk arts thrive on it.
And the art of the last century, cinema, has of course given it almost unlimited freedom – freedom in terms of audio, visual and time.
Most of the fantasies go in the sci-fi direction, or the king-queen-witch-demon way. Very few are ‘contemporary’, with a (near) believable storyline, enough layers in the script and sober visual presentation. In absence of all these, the fantasy films mostly focus on some character that is invisible, or someone who garners some equally such impossible power, and the resultant antics. Coolie to CEO or Maid to Millionaire. Yes, it is humor, although of juvenile/infantile nature.
There are very few films that one comes across, which do NOT fall in this trap.
Ana Maria In Novela Land is certainly one such. The storyline is simple, interesting and layered. The casting is as perfect as it could get. And visually, it’s a treat.
Tele-Novelas (Spanish tele-serials) have everything that any popular Hindi/Marathi tele-serials have – implausible situations, characters with infinite libido and zero regard for familial morals/ethics, zero reference to the outside ‘real’ world…
Ana Maria is a twenty-something young girl, staying with her parents, and like the hippies of the sixties, busy in ‘trying to find herself’. Getting and losing jobs is quite a natural phenomenon according to her. She is more keen on posting her learned comments about a Novela “Pasión Sin Limites” (Passion Without Limits), because she has a lot of ‘followers’ on the net. Her parents are worried about her, but they also enthusiastically watch that Novela.
And at a moment when the ‘tension’ is quite palpable in the Novela as well as in the household, Ann Maria is transported to replace Ariana, the leading lady of the Novela. Ariana replaces Ana in the family.
And the fun begins. Revealing any more of the story would be idiotic and sadistic. Let me just give you a pointer – the last half an hour is so full of twists and turns, that in comparison, the roads in Konkan would be ‘straight, frictionless surface’ so often referred to in Newtonian physics.
What sets this movie apart from countless other ‘fantasies’?
Firstly and most importantly, the script is not written pegging the audience with IQ lower than room temperature in Alaska. That script is ‘written’ and is not ‘assembled’ is itself an achievement these days. And this script is not just written, it is well-written. The story progresses through revealing layers and layers of perceptions and events. It is not “A hits B, so B retaliates by hitting A’s daughter C” kind of dumbed down version of a story. What would be the ‘differences’ perceived by characters in a Novela when in ‘real’ world and vice-versa is suggested beautifully, not given in ‘step-by-step do-it-yourself-guide’ manner.
Sample this – X, a character from Novela comes out in the real world, finds that she has a sister who is getting married. Her dialogue to sis – “I will be a good sister, and won’t sleep with your husband, though that is what normally all sisters do”. Or when X is diagnosed with amnesia, she says innocently “that is quite prevalent from where I come”. Or Y, a character from outside ‘real’ world goes in a Novela, is talking to a character from there, suddenly looks up and shouts “stop that, I can’t think while you are playing that”. And we realize that the background music is the usual mindless idiotic abortion of a background score, perennially used in serials.
The camera is unobtrusive, yet communicates almost effortlessly. No fancy angles, super-zoom lenses, weird lighting… The temptation to employ these technics must have been enormous – after all, half the story deals with a ‘Novela’, where such technics are the foundation stones and the whole building.
The actors really shine. Edy Ganem as the leading lady is fantastic. She was active mostly in television, barring a few minor/uncredited roles in films. Her ‘fresh’ness is absolutely delicious. The way she portrays two different characters is almost unbelievable. It would have been tempting to say “she carries the whole film on her shoulders”, but the other actors are equally good.
Nestor Serrano, who plays Ana’s father has delivered a gem of a performance. His acting can be used as a demonstration of how an actor should be.
Michael Steger is another find from the TV world. He portrays Tony with more élan than Armando, but that is because Armando, being a Novela character, is a flat, mono-dimensional one.
And Luis Guzman, who so far portrayed small-time lackeys, really shines here. His acting shows the shades of differences between characters in Novelas and in ‘real’ life.

Do you remember ‘Jackie Chan’s Rush Hour’? Chris Tucker’s Asian looking lady detective ‘girlfriend’ Tania Johnson? Here Elizabeth Pena has given a marvelous performance as Ana’s mother, matching Nestor Serrano in sensible (and believable) portrayal of a character from ‘real’ world. Sadly, Elizabeth died soon after this film was completed.
A couple of decades ago, ‘Pleasantville’ opened a window to the idea of real and ‘virtual’ characters mingling and the subsequent dizzying potpourri. ‘Ana Maria In Novela Land’ has taken it further, several levels up.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Making sense of Nitish’s obsession with prohibition

by Ratnakar Tripathy

Cashew apples being squashed in Chorao, Goa
It is indeed a sign of the times that these days a leader of Nitish Kumar’s maturity and political skill is spending most of his valuable time lecturing the people of Bihar on the ill effects of alcohol and sending thousands of citizens to the jail for having a drink. He recently declared that ‘those who cannot live without liquor may leave the state’, a horrendous statement from a leader who professes commitment to democratic values. There is not much difference between those who talk of ban on certain food items or clothing threatening to ‘send someone to Pakistan’ since the whole issue here is the freedom of the palate and the body in general. Even within the framework of democracy what we now increasingly have is the eroded vestiges with stalwarts of democracy like Nitish defecting to the authoritarian side. All this seems ominous when the leader spends a great deal of his valuable political and administrative time over the regimentation of alcohol as the prime target of the state rather than the growth and development and security related issues plaguing Bihar. Indeed, Nitish sounds a bit touched in the head these days when with utter lack of self-consciousness, he advocates prohibition for the entire country as a matter of utter priority. As if booze was the main enemy of the Indian democracy and civilization. Nitish may even decide one day to eliminate the embarrassing word ‘Somras’, definitely an intoxicant from the Vedas themselves or even try to prove that Soma was in fact just a sort of milkshake or even just the syrup soaking the Vedic Rasgullas!  There are so many theories on what Soma really was anyway!

With our best leaders getting increasingly incoherent and muddled in their talk, Indian democracy faces days of extreme peril at least in the short run.  The daily dosage from Nitish on prohibition however provides a valuable chance to discuss two profound issues – first the fate of a leader like Nitish who despite his years in power and despite the great acceptance among the Bihari voter has not been able to build a cadre for the party, a party loyal to its chosen principles, a set of leaders at work with a robust sense of team spirit, or even a mass base like Laloo Yadav’s that would guarantee him a significantly minimum number of assembly and parliamentary seats at the worst of times. The reason may be Nitish’s bureaucratic attitude towards development that makes him look more like a deft manager than a man of the people constantly in conversation with the colleagues and the common folk. This alone makes him basically a politician unable to handle with full responsibility the mandate given to him by the Bihar voter. Nitish is currently under siege from Laloo who in turn is quite helpless in the face of pressures from the criminally inclined politicians of Bihar. Given Nitish’s heavy dependence on Laloo’s support to continue in power, the only card in Nitish’s hand is a threat, subtle or overt to join hands with the BJP in Bihar. This is a weapon with limited use. The fate of Bihar currently dangles by this slender thread.  

The second profound issue raised by the prohibition talk is a long term one and concerns the liquor policy followed by the central and the state governments right since the colonial times. The fact is that over the decades and centuries, the governments in India have managed to wipe out nearly all the local brewing traditions – the only significant remnant may indeed be the Cashew Pheni of Goa. Mahua, arrack, various palms, rice, and other natural products that had created a whole variety of liquors have been abolished in the favour of what are now known as ‘country liquor’ as well as the less poisonous Indian Made Foreign Liquor [IMFL]’, which is just as barbaric and low in taste. The sole reason why this was done is to of course eradicate the local traditions, wipe out the livelihoods of communities that produced drinks that would be the dream of the connoisseurs and collect the hefty taxes from the consumer. If you want a good analogy, here is one - it is a bit like a ban on the local weaving and textile traditions just to extract taxes from a regime of synthetic salwar/kurta – shirt trousers uniform for the whole nation. To create a monopoly of a jeans market, all you have to do is ban the Sari. The ban has had a radical impact on the drinking culture in India as a whole – people now often drink in order to seek a shortcut to oblivion or even worse to get oneself ready for the use of violence, rather than for enjoyment and conviviality. Anyone who has witnessed a tribal festival with dance and drinks can easily see the value in enjoyment when it is shared and created in states of togetherness.  

Fermented cashew fruit juice being transferred into pots for distillation
But who is to reason with a man completely bewildered by his predicament and no more capable of leading except through tirades against imaginary enemies of the society? Nitish is not alone in this – our national leaders these days are busy inventing enemies within or outside the borders and if you do not want to be declared a traitor by them you must join them in their crusade against the windmills. If only Nitish would make a U-turn and go back to his earlier concerns – security, development and justice! As for alcohol, let him put in place a committee of competent researchers who document the traditional liquors of Bihar produced and valued by the Biharis. And then perhaps he should roll a few sips over his tongue long enough to determine their real quality as against the toxic brews circulating among our rich and the poor. Those who value their scotch and champagne or the great wines developed originally by the priests in Christian monasteries must now follow the ‘patriotic path’ in according due respect to the glorious liquors from our own soil and remedy the long-drawn neglect.

Any takers here?