Monday, February 28, 2005

Black revisited

Ok, I saw Black a few weeks ago. I tried to write a review once and just when I thought I had nailed it, Firefox crashed and I lost all that I wrote :(
This sunday, I was reading Deccan Herald and happened by this article -
I must say that this article conveys a lot of my feelings about this movie.

Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Black is brave, passionate and well-crafted- a film that should be applauded for raising the bar for Bollywood films.
Yes, definitely it looks like a brave movie. At a time when Bollywood is still rehashing the same old stories and creating movies that are better classified as soft porn, this movie is a refreshing to see. It is good that a mainstream director whose last two movies were re-written love stories making a movie that has a different agenda than romance on the movie. It talks about the problems faced by the handicapped. The loneliness felt by the blind is their own and we could never be able to understand what it does to them. Psychologists say that sensory deprivation is very harmful to our mental health. It is for this reason that "terror" suspects are being treated like this. Anyway, back to movie, we see the struggles of Bachchan's character trying to teach the uncouth girl some manners and the relationship between words and what those words represent. It is heartening to see Bachchan in fabulous form, as he plays the character of the eccentric, devoted teacher fabulously. He is very convincing as that character.

But it is highly derivative, laden with excesses and at the core, somewhat dishonest and manipulative.
I agree with the reviewer here too. I think that the director does not hold any bars for the amount of emotions displayed on screen. While I could accept the dramatic nature of Bachchan's character, at times I felt that he was doing too much. And I felt that there was no reason for everyone in the movie to act in the same manner as Bachchan. The melodrama factor was far too great in quantity and there were scenes that seemed to have been created for the sole reason of manipulating the audience's emotions. The sibling rivalry thing looked very out of place and the entire portion of Bachchan's deteioration is added in but frankly, is needless if the movie was focussed on the problems of the deaf and blind.
The director seems to be fascinated with the colonial times. The setting of the movie is very colonial with colonial buildings and anglicanized main characters. By setting his characters in a period and setting alien to the audience, he has effectively isolated them by creating an unbridgeable gap between the audience and his central character. Thus, he has destroyed a good reason for making the movie - that of showing how the deaf and blind live amongst us and the difficulties they face due to the insentiveness of the physically normal people. Plus, the movie seems to suggest that handicapped people need to be the heirs of the wealthy to have any chance of getting a good education and that they would be dependent on their parents for a looooong time. So, in a sense, it rules out the possibility that the poor blind and deaf being able to live a life.
I also had trouble with the way he tried to depict the difficulties they face. For example, he uses the repeated failures in the exams as an example of the problems suggesting that handicapped people are so hindered by their handicaps that they could never be able to pass a BA in normal time. She takes 12 years in the movie to complete the course! wonder why he does not explore the possibility of oral exams like the interview for the admission to the college because as far as I know exams are a means of testing knowledge and not whether you can write so many words in a minute.

The scene where Michelle asks her teacher for a kiss may have been tackled with restraint but is designed ultimately to evoke pity for Michelle. Why does she have to think that no one is going to treat her like a woman and beg for a kiss?
This was something I hadn't thought of when I saw the movie. It think the reviewer is right here too. It is very sad that the depiction of the deaf and blind should be so. The movie seems to suggest that Michelle would never get the love of a man, not just in words (through her sister) but also in the duration of the movie. So, inspite of the fact that I would not have liked a stupid romantic angle, it would perhaps have been better to have shown a love interest. The scene mentioned above has been included for extracting audience pity, something that a dignified representation of the deaf and blind would have strived to avoid.

Bansali's direction is very flaky. It is sometimes exceptional but very often slips into unforgivable mediocricity. Unforgivable because it seems that he has not put enough thought process into the scene. The editing is sad but perhaps that is the best the editor could do given the shots that Bansali seems to have taken without any forethought.
The scene with the ball bouncing into the light is a great metaphor signifying the acceptance of the teacher by the child. But that is an isolated instance where Bansali does not seek to explain it. Very often, he uses a symbol and blatantly explains it to the audience in words, suggesting that the audience is incapable of understanding his "superior" ideas. It gets irritating at the very start of the movie.
Then there is the scene when Michelle's mother is told that her daughter is deaf and blind. The spartan set and the shot with the different images highlighted behind looked something out of a stage show. It was an effective shot as it was a very dramatic moment. I thought that Bansali could have used the same technique as a motif for other dramatic moments in the movie. There is a reappearance of the spartan set in the scene where Bachchan's character isolates the girl in a room so as to introduce her to a new thing everyday. But the scene is not shot in the same manner and the opportunity is lost. The spartan set again reappears in the form of the hospital room where Bachchan is chained to the bed. So, it seems that Bansali has tried to do something with these scenes (perhaps, connect them together) but the purpose is lost on me as he does not use the same technique in all the scenes. One does not get the feeling of a stage in these other scenes, so the connection is lost!

I am left with the conclusion that Bansali is a sloppy director who does not concentrate on all aspects of filmmaking. He would use beautiful sets but would forget that by doing so he creates a world of fantasy cut off from reality and thus, would further distance the audience from his characters. He would use lovely cinematography but would not concentrate on structuring his scenes properly.

All in all, the film is not an honest, sensitive portrayal of the handicapped. It goes further and is irresponsible! At the core, it is a commercial film. Bansali saw the subject could be milked for audience sympathy and that is what he has tried to do with this movie.

Bansali, you have lost a viewer!

Friday, February 25, 2005

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Bangalore and its traffic

Man, what a city. Well, it is more of a collection of villages. This view is given credence by the fact that there are a lot of places in bangalore that end with the suffix halli which in kanndada means village. The raods in this city remind me of the village roads of my hometown and if you get off the main roads and penetrate any area just a little bit, you will see why they are hallis.
I have been looking for a house for rent and my main concern has been connectivity by bus to the place I work, M G road. There was this one house that was beside a 4 meter wide road. I asked the fellow how far the main road was from the house. He replies that I am standing on it!! I was astonished. And despite my sceptism, it was true! The city has really grown tremendously due to the IT boom. It is overflowing with immigrants like myself who have come here for a slice of the IT cake. The city planners have been napping for so long and they are still napping. In delhi, I have seen construction of flyovers within a year. Here, there is a flyover whose construction has been goin on for several years and everyday, there is a major traffic jam there. I suppose the reason for the delay in the construction is the incredible traffic that flows though the streets. But that does not explain the fact that there is evidently little done to alleviate teh traffic condition. Yes, they have made a lot of "one ways" but that have just added to the problems than solved them. These days the IT industry seems to be headed a little out of Bangalore with ITPL in Whitefield. It is well outside the city and I suppose it will take some time for that area to be habitated.
I have had several tensions in this city so far. One of my main concerns have been the buses in this place. Unlike Delhi, where every second person owns some vehicle, the citizens of this place is heavily dependent on the bus network. There are a variety of buses, some old, some new, some standard size, and some high-capacity big-assed ones too, but they all seem somehow too little. Everyday travelling by bus is a havoc to my nervous system. I have to catch a bus to Majestic (the place where all the buses congregate for a cup of tea) and then to MG road. Both routes are heavily rushed and I have to become a lizard on the bus. It would be so cramped that I would be suffocated and tired by the time I reach my office. Plus the buses do not stop at the proper places and even when they stop, they do not halt for more than 10 seconds during which there is a mad rush to get into the bus. It is the most dangerous means of transportation here... I am getting a Scooty!!!

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Job tensions

Here I am in Bangalore! Here to begin a new phase in life, I suppose. I am a "working man" now, though I have not done any work in the past 10 days!!! All I have done is learn a lot of jargon. It is not so bad now but my first day was full of abbreviations and ideas that I had never been introduced to before. imagine that on your first day, you are given an ebook that lists these abbreviations - JMI, JAT, JTI, JSP, J2EE, JNDI, RMI-IIOP, JAXP, JCA, JAVA IDL, JavaMail, JAAS (Of course, most of these are based on fundamentals taught to me during my years at K, so it was not all that hard to pick it up). Whew! my mind was whirling that day. All of these make your life easy if you know how to use them but till then they are like monoliths standing in my path to be a software engineer. But then that is just one aspect of software engineering, isnt it? Making web applications and deploying them in a application server is not all that great! In fact, it is downright boring. :(

The job as such is ok, I suppose. It pays well for a relatively easy task. Everyone (read, my relatives) say that I have done something great and I should be happy. Particularly my sister's mother-in-law said that there are some things that are very hard in life - getting a good education, a good job, and a good wife. "Good" is a relative term and what is good for me may not be good for you. But she was using this term in a generic, society-defined way and I felt that there is some truth to that. After all, illiteracy and unemployment are some of the major problems in India. So, I suppose I am better off than quite a lot of people my age (though I dont feel like that; because "good" IS a relative term).
I do not know about doing something great but I definitely feel that there is more to life than being happy with a software job. I have done some things that have helped me reach this state. Getting that "IIT" chaap has helped many of us get high-paying jobs so easily. We were discussing this in IIT and we had felt that IIT had become a much-hyped polytechnic institute that churned out software engineers. People get into the IITs because it is very easy to get a job after getting a degree there and the purpose of higher education is lost when that happens. But thats a different discussion.
After a long time, I am having black coffee regularly mainly because it is available to me in the cafeteria! Nothing like unadulterated caffiene to perk up your concentration. My father warns me of its harmful effects but today I read an article about how caffiene could prevent the occurence of a very common varient of liver cancer! "Everything has its pluses and minuses."

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Why I am excited about Black!

Let me start by saying that I loathe the Bollywood fare; particularly, the Shah Rukh Khan films. That man has made it his agenda to create crap in the name of entertainment. Sad, considering that he showed considerable promise in Circus. I had the misfortune of watching some of his recent movies – Kal Ho Na Ho and one other whose name I have forgotten.
Sanjay Leela Bansali has created three movies so far - Khamoshi, Hum Dil..., and Devdas. Of these, I thought Khamoshi had promise and was an indicator of better films ahead. But it bombed at the box-office, which seems to be the fate all good movies in India. I think the failure of the film made him re-think his movie-making style and then he produced one of the worst films created. It was bad because of its script, actors, the stereotypes and all that stupidity that Salman Khan is capable of producing. But it did have good songs and was beautifully cinematographed. Interestingly and predictably, this movie was a huge success. He continued the same style when he created Devdas, which had in its lead role the actor that I have come to despise. I avoided the film like the plague and even when everybody praised it and was nominated to be the Indian entry to the Oscars, I did not watch it. But I could not avoid catching glimpses of it on TV. I had to admit that it looked technically brilliant.
So why am I excited about Black??? Because of three things –
1. It has two genuine actors, Rani Mukerjeee and Amitabh Bachchan, who have the potential to give a good performance.
2. The trailers suggest exceptional cinematography. It also seems to be a bleak movie, devoid of the gaudy multi-color imagery of his last two movies and thus, closer to his first movie which I liked. Plus, the name suggests something dark.
3. Well, he has established himself, hasn't he? Now he does not need to make formula movies for box-office success. So, he might make a movie that does not jar my sensibilities.
4. It does not have any songs, which is an essential part of a Bollywood movie. So, this movie might just be zara hatke (different).

But it just might turn to be a modern version of a V.Shantaram movie (well, you could his movies once but you should be a real masochist if you see them again). I certainly do not want to endure that but it is a risk that I am willing to take. After all, I will definitely enjoy the technical aspects of the movie. If the script takes that kind of a turn, I will just stop paying attention to the story and start thinking about the camerawork.

I think I will see it in Bangalore. I keep my fingers crossed...

Violence and man

Every day we hear about murders, bombing, beating, etc in the news but it is still only a very small percentage of the amount of violence that occurs all over the world daily. Whether it is a street fight, or a terrorist bombing, or a Falluja, violence stares right into eyes out of newspapers and TV. Violence rocks our world there is hardly any society in the world which is completely devoid of violence.
Is violence inherent in us? Well, it looks like it, doesn't it? If you believe in the theory of evolution given by Darwin, then violence is the struggle for existence which is the basic requirement for the struggle for existence. Herbivores eat plants, carnivores eat herbivores and scavengers feed on dead plants and animals. The acting of eating is an unavoidable requirement and is therefore not considered violent. But the act of procuring the food can be violent. For example, a lion hunts down a deer and eats it. It commits a murder so as to feed itself. Human beings eat animals too but killing them in an act of violence. Thus, violence is unavoidable!
So why do we talk about non-violence and peace? Well, though we have to kill other living beings to survive, there is a lot of violence in this world that is unnecessary. Like the Iraq war which was lobbied for with blatant lies and deception for the sole purpose of procuring the "black gold" and to make certain American companies richer. Why do we have to kill animals for their fur or leather in the name of fashion or for their tusks of ivory? Why are we compelled to kill each other in the name of God and moral justice? Why do we create boundaries and protect them with men armed with guns? Why do we have to deplete the earth of its resources for our own insatiable comfort requirements?
Sometimes I think that we need violence to sustain ourselves and we would die if we did not get our daily quota of violence. We have been brought up not to be violent but isn't it true that children in general are very cruel? Don't they catch fireflies and keep them bottles, cut off the wings of butterflies because it catches their fancy, or roast ants alive using a magnifying lens? As kids, we would get into fights and enjoy professional wrestling. Yes, violence entertains us. Don't we watch action movies for the thrills of the action sequences? In fact there is a channel dedicated to action! An indication of the popularity of violence is the number of shows that are aired on cable tv that show graphic footage of violent behaviour. Cops, Extreme Exposure, police chases, The most shocking moments caught on tape... the list is endless.
A nice discussion...

"Violence And Disruption In Society: A Study Of The Early Buddhist Texts"
Paticca samuppada opposes the human tendency to generalize and encourages analysis on the basis of empirical data and moral values applied to these. [27] It criticizes standpoints which use inappropriate categories through insufficient observation and dogmatic statements about right and wrong which do not take empirically observed facts into account.
To understand Early Buddhism's analysis of violence, this conditionality is important. When the Buddha speaks about the causes and the remedies of violence, his approach is dependent on the conditions prevalent in a particular situation.

I really like this page which discusses Buddha's teachings. It makes me want to research more on Buddhism. I love the fact that he understood the discrepancies in society. For example, "In another sermon handed down to us, two men are pointed out while the Buddha is talking to a headman, Pataliya. One of them is garlanded and well-groomed; the other is tightly bound, about to lose his head. We are told that the same deed has been committed by both. The difference is that the former has killed the foe of the king and has been rewarded for it, whilst the latter was the king's enemy. [8] Hence it is stressed that the laws of the state are not impartial: they can mete out punishment or patronage according to the wish of the king and his cravings for revenge or security."
He was definitely light years ahead of his time.
The real "causal" question here then is not why so many young males act so violently. This is digestion; it just happens as long as the appropriate stimuli (the analogs of food) are fed in (females, other males, resources).
My only final words of advice – not probably very helpful to this audience – are to treat violent episodes as natural events: not to seek their elimination, but to observe carefully the escalation sequences that seem natural to them, and learn to control these by effective de-escalation through the sequence, or the circuit breakers.

I think the conclusion of this article is important because it is something that is true. Violence is not abnormal behaviour but quite normal going by the nature of things. Buddha recommends cleansing the mind of violence while the writer of this article says that what is really necessary is knowledge of de-escalation techniques as it is natural for violent incidents to happen.

Now the article makes another important observation. It is young males who act violently and that it is natural for them, almost suggesting that it is genetic. More support for this -
... Demonic Male Hypothesis, and it suggests that human and chimpanzee males share a capacity for violence because our common ancestor also had a genetic predisposition for violence.

Interestingly, there is a certain sect of feminists who believe that the world would be a peaceful place if it was handed over to them. Perhaps, it is true...

Friday, February 04, 2005

Haloscan commenting and trackback have been added to this blog.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Why I hate dogs...

Dogs are universally acclaimed to be 'man's best friend'. They are loyal and friendly, and are always there for your company. You provide them food, shelter and love, and they love you back, isn’t that true? They are great with children and are their best playmates. They are great watchdogs and keep your house safe from intruders. They can be trained to do a lot of tricks, much to the amusements of their owners and their friends. Overall, they can be a great pet and almost every 'ideal' family needs to have one! Who would not love these creatures?

I hate them. It is not so much as a hated towards an animal but it is a hatred of what they represent. They represent something that was abolished by Abraham Lincoln. Slavery is not a very difficult concept. You "rope in" some people, give them the barest of necessities, exploit them by making them work harder than they physically can, under-pay them, and kill them off when they protest because those ungrateful bastards deserve to be punished for their insolence. Isn’t that simple? The "white man's burden" was a very "noble" concept indeed. In Victorian novels, the ideal slave was very grateful to be in the service of the white man and yearned to be civilized by learning the language, manners, customs, clothing, religion, etc of the white man. Perhaps, one of the best example of this picture is in the book (and also in the movie) Gone with the Wind. The book and the movie have been criticized for this aspect for a long time.

For me, the concept of the dog as a pet has the same implications. In fact, a pet dog has an 'owner' to whom it is supposed to be loyal to. It is a 'dependant' much like the slave. Well, some might argue they are not human and therefore they cannot be equated to slave system of the 18th century (in the US, the discrimination did not end till the late 1960s). But then that was the beauty of the slave system, the black people were not regarded and hence, not treated as equals but as something sub-human and who could never be equals. A dog's relationship with a human being is never on the same level, no matter how well that person treats the dog as there is an inherent misbalance in the relationship between them as one of them is the "master" and the other is the "slave". They might be your "best friend" but they are unlike any other human best friends you might have had. It is quite interesting if you look at how dogs are treated. They are put on a leash when taken for a walk or to be tied to a post. They have extremely small dog houses/beds that are barely sufficient and sometimes all they get is a doormat to sleep on. They are castrated to prevent them from becoming aggressive due to high testosterone levels (I wonder what the dog's opinion on this would be).

In spite of all this hatred towards dogs in general, one of my pleasant childhood memories was that of a street dog named 'Johnny' by the neighbourhood. He was a free-spirited guy who roamed the streets of the place where I lived. He would be the first to notice a stranger in the area and would create a ruckus on spotting such a person. A watchdog who was loved by all. It was tragic the way he died though. He was hunted by a group of gypsies one day and it pained all who heard that our dear Johnny was dead. Of course, these are memories of a very young me and are highly likely to be exaggerated.

Do I hate all animals that are man's slaves? No. That is because most enslaved animals are represented as indifferent, mute labourers who do not show any loyalty to their owners. It is only the dog that is extremely glad to have an owner. It seems to conform to the perspective that man is the master of the world and all other beings should be grateful if man is nice to them! I think it is the Bible that says that God created man as the head of the planet. Noah, the guy who saved all those animals in his ark as ordained by God, is looked at as a great man.

The cat is a pet I like as it is its won master. A cat might have several names given to it by different people who live under the delusion that they "own" it. It is quite capable of foraging for itself - how many times have our moms cursed the stray cat that stealthily entered the kitchen to get a drink. And it is one animal that is a living proof of the fact that you do not have to big and strong to survive in this world nor do you have to be someone's slave just because you are weak. An apt example of the cat as a pet is the cartoon strip Garfield.

So, what are you? A cat lover or a dog lover?

Another one of the unanswerables

In our ancestral home, they have servants who do most of the work. Cooking, cleaning, washing and all other chores are done by a few pairs of hands. Most of them have their own homes and come thrice a week to earn their pay. But there is one who stays in the house permanently. She does most of the daily work including cooking the food for the residents. She was hired a few years when my grandfather became very sick and had great difficulty moving around the house. She comes from a small village near the town where my grandfather used to live and where he is buried now. She works hard and does most of her job quite well albeit a bit slowly. She is taciturn and rarely displays any emotion. Seems like a normal maid servant, doesn’t she? Well, not actually. She is mentally retarded. Now that doesn’t mean that she is crazy or anything. She behaves perfectly normally but has the mental capacity of a child and a well-mannered child at that too.
I always wondered about her life. What must it be like? She does not get paid, at least not in kind. For her services, she is given a home to live in and food to eat. She is not over-worked and she is treated humanely. She has a perfectly comfortable life. But is she really treated or perceived to be a human? I thought that she was. But I was wrong. The last time I visited the place, I happened to eavesdrop on a conversation about her between two of my elderly relatives. I heard them repeatedly refer to her as 'it'. That made me realize that she was may not be mistreated but she was being looked as something sub-human, like a pet dog at best. She does not deserve to be treated like that. She might be ok now but what about tomorrow when she gets older and unable to handle the job that she is given. Would they treat her like an old dog that is past its prime? People generally dismiss servants from their jobs once they have outlived their utility. People can be very cruel when they deal with their servants. Most servants are over-worked and under-paid. Most of them are abused and quite a few are beaten, especially children. It pains me to see old people working in dabaas or begging for their living. But what would she do if she is forced onto the streets in her old age?
She does not have any savings nor has she ever handled any money. If someone gives her money, she is sure to lose them to some fraud. There would be no one to look after her as she comes from a poor family and nobody would want her to be a dependent. Can there be anything done for her? When the time comes, I hope I would be able to help her.
Sometimes I think that there is a different aspect to her. Perhaps she is very intelligent and observant but prefers to keep everything to herself. Maybe she lives in a whole different world and does not really need anybody's help to live in this world as she is smart enough to do anything she wants. But who am I kidding...

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