Codename V

Vanguard of Individuality and Freedom

Delhi Gang Rape: Making sense of it

Some time back, I had been thinking about the Delhi gang-rape and constantly trying to make sense of the public reaction. It is a very difficult thing to do – trying to make sense of “why people are doing it” when it involves such an emotive issue. However, the public anger/activism has by now died its natural death. There are no longer public debates on this issue in the media or in our drawing-room conversations. Calmer, saner voices, that had got drowned in the noise, are making themselves heard now. They too are trying to figure out what exactly happened and why.

Even along the way, when the brouhaha over the issue was its max, people were airing their views trying to make sense of the situation. Be it the general public on Facebook or the politicians through the media. Everyone got a chance to put their views forward and most did. But the reactions to them were lop-sided. People demanding the culprits’ head got full support whereas public figures who suggested how rapes could be avoided got the brickbats.

I had found the xenophobic reaction of the public quite strange. This intolerance of contrarian views and a compulsive need to bracket everything as good or bad resulted in some pretty disturbing yet funny statements by the public figures and equally funny yet disturbing reactions from the public.

Throughout the month public figures across the country were asked for their views on the issue. And when they responded, they were berated for having a patriarchal mentality. ‘Patriarchy’ is a much-misunderstood term often used in the wrong places. ‘Feminism’ has got a similar mistreatment. We in India will never be able to truly understand these terms which have their origin in a Western society; and so will never be able to apply them correctly. Our society is much more complex since it is much older. It has gone through various stages of subjugation and revolution unlike the Western ones. It has been a melting pot of cultures, religions and migrations; some friendly, most not. So we should be very careful before applying the “male vs female” argument here. It is more “ying and yang”, not “ying vs yang”.

And so when politicians and godmen make statements that sound “patriarchal” or “sexist”, please stand back and look at it in a larger context, of the society and its history. None of them condoned the rape. They were just trying in their own way to figure out why it happened and how it could have been prevented. They might sound wrong but they are not wrong. And they have full right to air their views.

So when Asaram Bapu says that she should have begged for mercy and called them brothers, he is suggesting that emotional appeal rather than physical retaliation might have prevented the rape. Just like the heroines in our movies who plead the villain “bhagwan ke liye mujhe chodh do.” It is a plausible scenario and Asaram Bapu has every right to his opinion.

When some Dr. Anita Shukla says that had the girl not resisted so much she might have been spared of the violence, she is not saying that the girl should have submitted to the rape. She is suggesting how the violence could have been avoided and a life saved. It is matter of another debate that whether the violence could have been prevented at all. But Madam was definitely not supporting the act and has every right to her opinion, just like we have.

When Sushma Swaraj says that the victim’s life has become worse than death, she is not seeing rape in the patriarchal context of ‘honour’ as was stupidly alleged, but to the effect of violence on her health and the pain she would have to go through. (The girl was alive when this statement was made.)

When Mamta Banerjee calls a rape victim a whore who got raped because of a deal gone sour, she is not saying that all victims are whores. She is trying to figure why the girl was out so late in the night. After all, who else but a prostitute will be out in the streets so late in the night? Her upbringing does not allow her to think that even a prostitute is not out on the streets to get raped. That whatever happened, she did not ask to be raped. That somebody could be out just to have a good time. She is trying to make sense of the fact that a girl decided to break the rules of conduct but unfortunately paid for it.

When Abu Azmi says women should not venture into the night with males who are not kin, he was not treating women as ‘property’. He was reacting to reports that the culprits had asked the two victims what they were doing at night when they weren’t related. He probably thinks that the fact that they weren’t related led the culprits to think the girl was ‘available’. His logic might be skewed and his thinking regressive, but Azmi has a right to give his opinion, however unpopular it might be.

When the khap panchayat dude says that noodles cause sexual excitement in men leading them to rape, he is not being ignorant. He is in his own rustic way trying to figure what is wrong with the modern rural youth culture that is leading the young men to rape. Because he firmly believes that traditional rural culture with its subjugation/protection of women leaves no scope for a stranger to rape. We might have a field day taking him on this one, but he has a right to air his opinion nonetheless. Especially because he sees his role as a protector of the village culture.

When Pranab Mukherjee’s son comments on the protestors being ‘dented and painted’ women, he is not supporting the rape. He is merely suggesting in his uniquely crude way that the protestors are a representation of an urban minority (which is embarrassingly true). We can reject his opinions but not deride the person.

Maybe Gandhiji’s maxim of ‘hate the sin and love the sinner’ holds true for public debates also.

Indeed, there are many amongst us whose reaction was that the girl brought it upon herself. If you don’t believe it, read the comments to articles on blogs/news sites (not the facebook updates but the anonymous comments). Or even try it out within your own family – you will get surprised. Every time there is such an incident, people try to figure out whether some blame lay with the girl also. Was she venturing out too late in the night? Did she forget to be extra careful knowing it is Delhi? Was there something wrong with the clothes she wore? Did she talk back to the teaser thus provoking him? What else did she expect after behaving like this? What wrong did she do that, out of so many girls, she was the one who was raped/molested?  

I don’t think this represents a patriarchal mindset or that our brains have been hardwired to believe that there must be something wrong with the girl. I think the hypothesis in these cases is that molestation and teasing is common, but it doesn’t lead to rape. Many men do it and it happens all the time. What then did this girl do, or not do, to cause it. What was the nudge from her that finally pushed the man over the edge? The question is not how or why, but ‘why her?’ It is more of trying to make sense of the event, an attempt to figure out, sitting far away from the scene yet emotionally invested in it, what might have happened to trigger such a crime.

It is again not a question of who is right and who is wrong. The more important point is that every person gets a chance to air his or her opinion with no fear of being judged as a person. If we cannot create such a culture or provide a neutral platform (something which the electronic media is failing to do), then we have failed as an evolving dynamic society.

Our society is going through a complex transition. Economic compulsions are forcing families, especially in urban areas, to allow girls to work outside. And when someone brings money, they command respect. They can demand greater education and say in family matters. This brings empowerment and more public participation. Consequently, they demand their fair space – physical, social and economic – and the rights that come with it. This is a juggernaut which cannot be stopped. And there are bound to be repercussions and tension in the social fabric. This is not necessarily a bad thing even though the pioneers will be considered corrupt or automatically assumed immoral (or “available”).

Whoever was earlier controlling that space will resist the intrusion and treat it as invasion. Be it the mother-in-law or the man on the street. And there will come up people/groups on both sides championing the cause, be it the guy organizing the candle-light vigil or the khap panchayat. It is again not about right or wrong. It is about the society trying to find its equilibrium. It is only a matter of time that it finds it. Only question is; how much time? For the last thirty years, the balance has been shifting toward the equilibrium, slowly at first but at an accelerated pace now. It is like a pendulum. Now that it has picked up pace, it will keep on going with its own inertia and the pace will accelerate exponentially the closer it gets to the equilibrium. The Other side might try to stop or reverse it – and will apply increasing force – but cannot stop it. I reckon the equilibrium will be reached in another fifteen years.

Till then, be patient and keep pushing.

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Delhi Gang Rape: What’s your protest?

What are the protestors protesting against?
What are they really angry about?
Is it the “rape”? No. They happen all the time in India.
Is it the “gangrape”? No. Rural India is replete with such incidents where rape is resorted to as a form of revenge.
Is it a “rape in Delhi”? No. Some time back, a Manipuri girl was abducted from the Ridge Road in Delhi and gangraped but we didn’t see any outburst.
Is it the “murder”? No. Pallavi Purkayastha was murdered but we didn’t see any outburst.
It is possibly a combination of all the above factors. Truth is, the atrocities committed after the rape are what made the act sound gruesome. Until that time, the incident merited just a prominent report on the front-page – just like the girl who was gangraped in a taxi in Hinjawadi, Pune. It’s when people read about the torture that they sat up, took notice and re-read the news report. Even though Indians have become desensitized to rape reports over a period of time, they have not yet got desensitized to rape-and-torture reports.
But we have read about rape-and-torture incidents before. The Shopian rape-and-murder in Kashmir being a case in point. Or the Manipuri girl gang-rape. Or the hundreds of rape incidents in rural areas. But they don’t emotionally involve us in the way this incident has. It is because the victims are from the Other India: Rural areas, tribal regions, Kashmir, North-East, Andaman, Nicobar, etc. But this girl was ‘One of Us’. Only in this case the issue becomes personal: “Is my wife/daughter/sister no longer safe?”
This is what the protestors are really angry about: their own helplessness in reading about the torture of an urban middle-class mainland-Indian girl and not being able to do anything for the girl and against the perpetrators.
So all their angst gets directed towards the favorite bogey: The System. The government, police, courts, public transportation, etc. Inspite of the fact that all the culprits were caught soon after the incident. Somehow, the protests seemed more an opportunity to pass judgments on the culprits. To inform the government that “they should be hanged till death”. Hoping it will deter all future rapes. As if things will be all right then. As if it will be then that we will be able to face the girl. As if we will then be able to answer our conscience that we finally did something about it.
The trajectory of this ‘movement’ is similar to that for the Lokpal Bill started by Anna Hazare. There are many common threads running here: everybody has a rallying point (corruption/crime), a trigger (Lokpal bill, rape), a medium to take out angst (television/Facebook) and location to express it (Jantar Mantar/India Gate). But at their core, these are opportunities for the young urban middle class to vent out its frustration in public. Interestingly, both ‘movements’ happened in the same city – Delhi. But both ‘movements’ couldn’t elicit the same response in Bombay. This doesn’t show the apathetic attitude of Bombay-ites. They just think Bombay is safer for girls at night. In fact, living room discussions on the incident quickly turned into a Bombay vs Delhi comparison. The message seems to be: Bombay is limited to molestation and eve-teasing. Delhi is where all the rapes happen and harassment is commonplace in an open, public, aggressive way.
And it is this aggression – the scant regard for individual rights and no fear of the consequences – that is pissing people off. Because there is a lurking feeling that the criminals weren’t really interested in the rape. They were more eager to get into act of torture and the very gruesomeness of it gave them greater pleasure. And it is the same torture and its gruesomeness of it that first got you interested in this incident. Seen in isolation, getting the rapists hanged is a similar act of torture. It’s horrific nature and the power it accords is what will give people pleasure. Because subjugation through violence gives people a chance to set things right. To finally do the eye-for-an-eye that we have been secretly wishing for. A sort of desperate measure to correct what has gone wrong. An attempt to assert an individual opinion as a societal rule.
On that fateful night, the criminals weren’t venting their lust. They were setting things right – “women ought to be at home or else they will be raped or killed”. And now people seek revenge and a chance to set things right – “if you rape our women you will be castrated or hanged”. And women politicians or administrators cast aspersions on the victim’s character in their own attempt to set things right – “follow society’s rules or else you yourself are responsible for the consequences”. They are no right or wrong sides here. Simply two opposing sides asserting themselves. Like Ammu and the Inspector at the police station in Arundhati Roy’s ‘God of Small Things’.
And by now you might want to grab my collar and ask: So what are you protesting against here?
I am protesting against the xenophobia. The intolerance of The Other or the apathy towards it. Where you matter only if you are ‘One of Us’. Otherwise, you will get ignored, ridiculed or abused. Where violence is used as a quick-fix solution to set things right and to punish wrongdoings. Whether to make girls stay at home or to deter crime. To say that “Follow our norms or Die”. I am hoping differences of opinion will be respected by all. Arguments will be encouraged and not abruptly ended by “Either you are with us or against us”. In a society like ours, which is in a painful transition, women are asserting themselves in public, wanting their fair share of public space, facilities, opportunities and privileges. And men, emotionally under-developed and intellectually stunted, are confused and unsure of how to handle this change. We need platforms to bring opposing sides together so that they understand the other’s point of view.

This is not the time to demand, but to discuss.

Sri Lanka & Maldives (June 2012)

This is a very short account of our trip to Sri Lanka and Maldives from 1st June to 10th June. It is short because this is not a travelogue. Not much time and space has been spent on describing the places visited. The purpose of this article is to help in planning the trip and what points to take care of. We can discuss the beauty of the places when we meet, and to see them just google or have a look at our photographs.

The destinations were chosen because of these reasons:

  1. Wanted a break from work with not too much travelling involved
  2. Had exactly 10 days for the trip (Sanjukta was between jobs)
  3. Planning at very short notice so preferred visa-on-arrival
  4. Had to be a mix of “natural beauty” and “historical” places
  5. Budget was maximum 3lakhs all inclusive

It is always better to combine Sri Lanka and Maldives since all flights to Maldives go via Colombo.

We spent 6 days in Srilanka and 3 days in Maldives. Our itinerary:

1st June: Mumbai –> Colombo –> Kandy

2nd June: Kandy –> Sigriya

3rd June: Kandy –> Nuwara Eliya

4th June: Nuwara Eliya –> Bentota

5th June: Bentota

6th June: Bentota –> Colombo

7th June: Colombo –> Male (Maldives) –> Resort

8th June: Resort

9th June: Resort

10th June: Resort –> Male  –> Colombo –> Mumbai

The total cost of the trip was Rs.2,90,000, all inclusive. Sri Lanka’s share was Rs.94000 and rest was Maldives. This is a little on the higher side considering it was off-season at both places. However, we didn’t compromise on stay and shopping anywhere. The cost excel sheet is here Sri Lanka – Maldives (yes! An excel sheet!). Went with 2 medium-sized luggage, came back with 3. Dress code everywhere is casual and resort chic. But carry couple of formal shirts/dresses for occasional dinners. And carry lots of sun-screen.

Sri Lanka:

This country is way over-rated in terms of its natural beauty. To give a comparison, the hilly areas are like Sikkim, the beaches are like Puri and the cities are like Simla (but better to go here than Munnar or Coorg). Even a Sri Lanka – Kerala combo is good. Indians will find it “not new, but different”.

Sri Lanka

The pros are:

  1. Only about 3 hrs from Bombay
  2. Visa on arrival (almost. You have to submit an online application, that’s all. No docs required)
  3. Can hop from a city to hills to beaches and back – all at max 6hrs travel by car
  4. Favorable conversion rate: 100 LKR = 42 INR
  5. So becomes a good shopping destination
  6. Wi-fi in almost all public places and hotels
  7. Good cheap food available everywhere, even vegetarian
  8. Nice polite people and clean surroundings (very clean public toilets everywhere)
  9. Good for either purpose: relaxation or place-hopping or adventure
  10. You can go extreme budget or total luxury

The cons are:

  1. Doesn’t look very different from India (except its cleaner)
  2. At touristy places, everyone seems to be a tout or begging for money
  3. Going only to Sri Lanka and coming back is probably a waste of time and money

1st June – Kandy

Travel:

2am flight to Colombo. Reached at 5am. Took an airport shuttle bus to nearest bus stand. At 6.30am, took a normal state transport bus from there to Kandy. Reached Kandy at 10.30am. Took a tuktuk from there to hotel. Tuktuks are a good way to travel there but bargain hard. They’ll quote 250LKR for a 100LKR ride, 450LKR for a 200LKR ride and so on.

Place:

Kandy is basically a small hill town that has seen better days during the British rule. And as with all British cities, life is concentrated around a mall road. There is nothing to do within Kandy except see the lake and visit the Temple of Tooth. The main market is Dalada Veediya. The White Buddha that you see in the map below is a huge statue atop a hill that can be seen from everywhere. But no need to visit it.

Kandy

Stay:

We stayed at Hotel Anna Shanthi Villa. Don’t be fooled by the name. It’s a house converted to a hotel with about 4 rooms. Run by an Italian-Lankan couple whose daughter is Anna. Excellent rooms with all amenities, all you can eat breakfast, excellent hosts, very peaceful, and good rates too. Only drawback is the location. It was at the bottom right-hand corner of the Lake. The Lake is longitudinal, so walking around the lake fully takes around 45mins. The Hotel is about 15mins walk to the Temple of Tooth.

Our recommendation: There are basically two stay options in Kandy. The best one is Queen’s Hotel. This 4-star hotel has the best location in Kandy, right next to the Temple of Tooth and in the middle of the main market. If you don’t want to stay in the middle of Kandy, then blindly go for Anna Shanthi Villa.

Eat:

Packaged food is costly in Sri Lanka. Food ordered in restaurants is quite cheap. What makes it better is that it is served in generous quantities. You can expect to have a hearty meal for two in 500 INR. Except at the touristy places where there is only buffet and it costs at least 900 LKR. Only thing is that they are not great on taste. Chicken is good only in curry. Mutton is non-existent. Beef, fish and sea-food are more common. But there are always good vegetarian options. There are practically only 3 restaurants in Kandy: Captain’s Table (pathetic), The Pub (excellent), Pub Royale (good). But remember, markets close by 6.30pm and restaurants by 10.30pm. There is also a bakery The Bakeshop right under The Pub which is highly recommended but I found it ok. All these eateries are within 20mts of each other near the Queen’s Hotel.

Visit:

As soon as we reached the Hotel, we freshened up and left in a tuktuk arranged by the Hotel for the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage which is about 90kms from Kandy. They basically keep and rear orphaned elephants till they reach adulthood. It was very boring. This Pinnawala area has become an elephant-based industry. The Orphanage is run by the government. But all around it are other private elephant keeps which are so similar that you would get confused. Our tuktuk-walla first took us to such a ‘shop’. There they charge exorbitant amounts for 15mins rides. Thankfully, we saw through the scam and made the driver take us to the real thing. Which wasn’t much better. It is basically interesting for foreigners who rarely see elephants in the open and love to see them bathe in the river and feed them (at a price). Plus, there will be a smooth-talking employee who will double up as a tout. They will always say “I don’t want any money.” This should be the first warning to you. Because this means that he will definitely ask you for money. Just politely say no thrice. There are also couple of shops nearby. But overall boring. Our recommendation: Yes for foreigners. No for Indians.

2nd June – Sigiriya

Visit:

Sigiriya is an ancient city around 3hrs from Kandy. At around 6AD, it used to be the capital of the major dynasty of Sri Lanka. Whimsical king Kasyapa chose to build his palace atop a 200mts high rock. Now I don’t say hill. It is on top of a huge rock.

Sigiriya

We went there by taxi. The roads are very good and the ride is comfortable. But going by bus is not a feasible option. Be sure to carry a hat else the direct sunlight will kill you. The ticket costs are high by Indian standards and in Lanka they do not accept cards. There you have to first visit the museum and understand the background. Then begins the climb up the rock which is exhausting and can take up to 1 and half hour. There is no water and food available on top so carry your own stuff. On way you can see some excellent frescoes. The actual palace is in ruins and you can see only the steps and foundation stones and a pond. But it still gives a thrill to see what might have existed once. Our recommendation: Must-visit. But not if you have babies or adults who have difficulty walking.

On our return, we stopped by Dambulla Buddhist Temple which is on the highway itself some 1hr from Sigiriya. There are caves here which we heard were worth seeing but couldn’t go in since we didn’t have cash left. We didn’t have cash left because our driver scammed us by promising to take us to a cheap place and we ended up having lunch for 1300 LKR. Never go by your driver’s recommendation which goes like “I can take you to a cheap place. Where I eat.” The places he eats will have buffet lunch for not more than 150 LKR. But he will always take you to a place from where he gets a commission. Beware.

3rd June – Nuwara Eliya

We had planned to leave for Nuwara Eliya at around 11am so that we reach the hotel there latest by 1pm. So we thought of visiting the Temple of Tooth in the morning. That’s when our plans went awry.

Temple of Tooth is a temple dedicated to Lord Buddha which we heard houses a tooth of Buddha brought by a sibling duo from India. This is not true. It houses a casket in which the tooth was supposedly brought. So you have people praying to an empty casket. Not very different from the idol-worship seen in Hinduism with all its rituals and bureaucracy. The scene inside is similar to that inside Shirdi or Vaishno Devi. Because you stand in queue for an hour but get to see the casket for just a split second. Unaware of all this, we walked down to the temple. Make sure you go there all covered (men included). The good thing is on paying the entrance fees you get an audio guide which is quite informative. The bad part was it was a Sunday and the day before full moon. So it was very crowded. We had expected it be over in an hour but it took longer. Our conclusion: Must-visit. Do it in the middle of day or late evening (open till around 8pm).

We managed to get back to the hotel by noon. Already running late, we wrapped up everything and reached the bus-stand by 1pm. We then took an air-conditioned bus to Nuwara Eliya direct at 1.30pm. Again, the roads are good and the ride is comfortable. You can make do with non-a/c also. But we made a mistake in not enquiring beforehand the location of our hotel in Nuwara Eliya.

Place:

Nuwara Eliya is basically the tea plantation area in Sri Lanka. Probably four times the size of Darjeeling’s plantation area. So the beauty there is different from other hill stations. It was originally a coffee-growing area. But a pest infestation forced the planters there to shift to tea. The planters were mainly from Scotland and they tried to recreate their homeland there. So you still have Scottish names like McWood and houses named Inverness and Lochside. The tea here is far better than Indian, the variety here is in terms of strength and not flavors and they are growing it organically.

Nuwara Eliya

There is not much else to see here except the Gregory Lake which is 15min walk from the bus-stand. It is again a big lake with promenades and cycling-tracks built alongside. It is a family favorite and good place to relax. Apart from this are the Botanical Gardens, which are an hour’s drive. Indians will be more familiar with it as the Ashok Vatika. They say the tree still stands there although I am skeptical. My vote will still go to the world’s largest Banyan tree at the Botanical Gardens in Calcutta. In any case, we couldn’t visit this place because we were short on time. Why we were short, is in the next section.

Stay:

The best place to stay in Nuwara Eliya is the Grand Hotel which is next to the Golf Course and around 10min drive to the bus-stand. It is a good 4-star property and provides easy entry and exit from the town and also if you want to visit the Ashok Vatika.

But if you want a wonderful experience, then stay where we did – at the Heritance Tea Factory Hotel. It is a theme hotel converted from an actual tea factory. It is amazing and worth staying for a day or two. Excellent food, great staff, there is also a mini tea factory where you get free tour seeing tea being made. In fact, the place is so good that people staying in other hotels come to have a look at it. And that’s how we bumped into an old friend there.

The only problem is the location. To reach here, we first took a bus from the main bus-stand in Nuwara Eliya to nearby town Kandapola (around 20mins). Then took a tuktuk 4kms uphill to reach the hotel. By the time we reached the hotel, it was already 5pm and we had to cancel our plan for Ashok Vatika. All who stay there come in cars or taxis. We were the only ones on foot. But the stay was memorable. We had asked for room with a good view and they obliged us with one with windows on three sides. No wonder this hotel is a favorite among honeymooners. It gets very cold in the mornings so take care.

Our recommendation: Spend at least a night in Nuwara Eliya and stay at this hotel.

4th June – Bentota

We liked the hotel so much that we decided to leave for Bentota as late as possible. There was another issue. Going from Nuwara Eliya to Bentota is more difficult than going from Bombay to Gangtok. There are no rail links and going by bus takes around 12 hours. The only option left was taxi but the hotel said it would cost 27000 LKR. So we decided to try our luck and take the taxi from Nuwara Eliya. We checked out at 11am and started walking down the road. Mid-way we took a tuktuk to Nuwara Eliya. From there we negotiated with the taxis and hired one till Bentota for 13000 LKR. We left Nuwara Eliya at 12.30pm and reached Bentota at 7pm.

The ride from Nuwara Eliya to Bentota via Hatton is very scenic. Luckily for us, it was full moon day so official holiday in Sri Lanka. This is a festive day marked for charity. So all along the roads and highways people set up stalls from which they offer free food and drinks to passers-by in unlimited quantities. Each stall serves one item, and there are such stalls after every km or so. So all along the journey people can have squashes, coffee, tea, lunch, even ice-creams. Fun part: both kids and adults take part in it and actively flag down vehicles offering them free drinks or food. The quality is good since the authorities conduct quality checks. The route is practically the same as the one to Colombo except that, 35kms before Colombo, you take a left turn on to the spanking-new expressway to Bentota. The expressway, built by the Japanese, connects Colombo to Galle (the metro in the south) and Bentota lies in between. It is the best ever we have seen – imagine motorways in UK, only wider, with more signages, more emergencies lanes, milestones every 100mts and warning signs every 200mts. Before this, the Mumbai-Pune expressway looks ancient.

Place

Bentota is a beach town with some beautiful resorts and scope for some water-sports. The beach is small but beautiful. There is nothing else to see or do so two days is more than enough for it.

Bentota

Stay

In Bentota it makes sense to stay at a beach resort. All the resorts are located side-by-side in one small half a km stretch called Resort Town. There are five resorts here in the order of ratings: Bentota Beach Resort, Avani Beach Resort, Taj Vivanta and one more which I forget. We stayed at Avani Beach Resort (earlier Hotel Serendib), which is very good. We chose it because we got a good last-minute discount on agoda.com. If you are not particular about rooms and service, then stay whichever is cheapest. Because the beach is public and same for all these resorts. We mostly spent time here on the beach or in the pool.

Eat:

Never eat at any of these resorts, except breakfast. Nobody does that. Because is the food is expensive, in small servings and not very tasty. To eat, people come out of the resort and onto the main road (there is only a railway track that separates the resort lane from the main road). There is a line of restaurants that serve good food at reasonable rates. We had dinner at Golden Grill and we couldn’t finish off a wonderful 1600 LKR meal. Compare it with buffet at 2000 LKR each at the resort. And don’t get me started on the ala-carte menu.

 5th June – Bentota

We had kept aside this day for mainly relaxing and water-sport activities. But to our mild disappointment, this is off-season for water-sports. During season (Oct-Jan), these watersports are organized in the sea but during this season in the river since it is calmer. So the options are limited by the fun doesn’t get less. The river is right next to the Bentota Beach Resort so you can walk down to the place where they do the activities. Out of the many options available, we chose Sigg’s and didn’t regret it. Our resort also has Sigg’s as its official water-sport company, but we went on our own. We demanded off-season non-hotel rates and he obliged. Next two hours was fun and I tried the jet-ski (fun), water-skiing (difficult) and doughnut-ride (absolute fun on a big lifebuoy). Para-sailing is available only during season. Even this gets very tiring and we came back in the afternoon and rested. In the evening we went to the beach and then relaxed in the pool.

6th June – Colombo

We were in no mood to do any tourist visit in Colombo so decided to leave Bentota at our convenience. We decided to take a bus from the bus-stand which is 1km from the resort. We left the resort at 11am and reached Colombo by 1pm.

Place

Colombo is like Delhi, only flatter, cleaner and better planned. Distances are not much and the main areas to visit are mostly along the Galle Face Road, which is the city’s Marine Drive. There are lots of forts and museums and other such places to visit. We weren’t at all interested in them and wanted to shop a little.

Colombo

Stay

Hotels in Colombo are slightly costlier compared with the rest of the country but still neat and clean. Since we had to stay only one night and were treating Colombo as merely a stop-over, we chose a mid-range hotel on Duplication Road, which runs parallel to the Galle Face Road. The Hotel Indra Regent was just right for spending one night and not having food there. It’s a good high-end shopping area too.

Shop

Colombo is a good for apparel-shopping because it is a manufacturing base. The shops/malls like Odel and House of Fashions are manufacturers-cum-retailers and this, combined with a favorable exchange rate, makes it a shopping destination for Indians. There are barely any malls in Colombo and mostly stand-alone shops.

Of the two recommended malls, we first went to Majestic which was a 20-min walk from our hotel. This is the older one and so was a disappointment. It is eerily similar to the Spencer mall in Chennai – an atrium surrounded by four floors of cubby-hole shops, even a pathetic food court.

We, thankfully, didn’t shop there and went to Odel at Alexandra Place. Now this place looks like a big bungalow from the outside and so is beautiful inside. My wife went berserk on seeing it and we shopped for 5 hours. You can do all the Lanka shopping here. The crowd is 50% tourists and 50% classy locals. The best sections are women’s apparels, souvenirs, Ceylon Spa’s shop and Hallmark’s gift shop. We finally stopped at 7pm and then had to buy a suitcase to stuff in all the shopping.

Eat

We met our friend Madhurim (whom we had bumped into at Nuwara Eliya) for dinner. She took us to the Cricket Club somewhere in Colombo-3. It is a cozy cricket-themed restaurant with a relaxed atmosphere and good food. Our recommendation: Definitely go if you’re a cricket fan. Don’t go if you are looking only for traditional Sri Lankan food.

Dress Code in Sri Lanka:

Even though Lankans get unnecessarily conservative in temples, outside it is much more ‘comfortable’. Skirts are the most popular wear for women, but of course they move up only till the knees. For female tourists, it is much more relaxed and tolerant. But definitely wear something loose and confortable as the humidity saps you.

 

Maldives:

Maldives is an archipelago of coral islands. Male is in the centre above which are the North atolls and below the South atolls. The atolls are a series of coral islands in circular line, each not more than 500mt in diameter. Each island has only one resort and nothing else. So each resort is luxurious, exclusive and expensive. Nobody stays in Male. They all go to these resorts. Maldives is now planning to build three 1500-room resorts near that’ll be more affordable and still have all the facilities. The last Tsunami destroyed a lot of resorts and corals, so most of the resorts will look new and contemporary.

Maldives

Pros:

  1. Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful
  2. Exclusive and not touristy like Bali, Mauritius or Thailand
  3. Some good diving sites, if interested

Cons:

  1. Expensive. Unsettles your whole vacation budget
  2. Reaching there and getting out is a pain
  3. Gets boring after a while – 3 days is max
  4. Will get tanned

7th June – Maldives

Travel

We had an early morning flight, so took the hotel-arranged taxi at 4.30pm. The Colombo airport is 60kms from the city. The Sri Lankan Airlines is a perfect counterpart of Air India – old planes, flight around 30mins late, jaded air-hostesses, just a sandwich for breakfast, and no tea/coffee. We landed in Male at around 8.30pm. If your flight is reaching after around 2pm, then you might have to stay in Male for the night.

Now there are two ways to reach any resort. The nearby resort islands can be reached by a high-speed water-boat. The islands further away can be reached only by a sea-plane. Whatever be the case, it gets arranged by the resort itself and the cost included as part of the package. Most of the travel agencies will book you in a resort that can be reached by a water-boat (eg Taj Vivanta) to keep the costs down. But this doesn’t mean that the resorts closer to Male are in any way inferior. The good and bad resorts are spread all across.

Ours was a sea-plane transfer which was an enjoyable 40-min ride and gives a good aerial view of the atolls. As the plane landed near the resort, a boat was ready to take us to the resort. We finally set foot on the resort at 12 noon.

Stay

At the outset, I’d like to state that there are no bad resorts in Maldives. And there are some 100 of them. We did extensive research on them and chose the best as per our requirements. All have great beaches, good facilities, excellent staff and service and okay food. So what’s left?

  1. Budget: Choose resorts that have rooms from range Rs.30000 to Rs.100000. Ours was somewhere in the middle.
  2. Location: Near the better diving sites, if interested. We weren’t.
  3. Rooms: All resorts have two kinds of rooms – one on the beach and other on the water (on stilts). Asians prefer water-villas; foreigners prefer beach-villas (easier to sun-bathe, closer to bar, cheaper because they stay for average two weeks). Also, travel agents usually book the water-villas.
  4. Size of rooms: We purposely chose one with huge rooms to get more bang for our buck.

We stayed at Vakarufalhi Resort. It is frequented mainly by Europeans. We were the only Indians on the island. But the resort is excellent and the rooms awesome. In Maldives, we would 100% recommend staying there.

Vakarufalhi Resort

Eat

We had a full board plan which is advisable since it includes all meals including complimentary wine/coke by the glass and evening tea. There is only one restaurant so there is not much to think and choose. Water-villa and Beach-villa people are seated separately. On the first day itself you are assigned a waiter for your whole visit. This is because he gets to know your plan and your food preferences. Also because, in case you order something that is not included in your plan, he can charge you more if you are water-villa (there are different menu cards). But we never felt the need for it. Food is largely for the European-palate. Every night has a different theme for the buffet and activities planned so that the guests don’t get bored. Fine with us except on the International Cuisine night. We shared our disappointment with our waiter who took it to heart. He got us special vegetarian/chicken/fish meals each day. Very kind of him.

8th Jun – Maldives

Apart from lazing around, the only other things to do are water activities. Snorkeling is free and you can get the equipment on the first day and return it on the last day. Since we were in the water-villa, we could just step down in the water anytime and start snorkeling. The diving centre also organizes excursion everyday: one-day whale shark spotting, second day manta rays, third day deep diving, etc.

We chose to go for whale shark spotting and left at 9am and came back at 1pm. In between was disaster. Now this is almost professional snorkeling. You spot a shark, everybody jumps in the water, snorkels and swims alongside the shark. This is safe but only for expert swimmers. Both of us know swimming and have done snorkeling before. But were still no match for this kind. The sea was rough and you have to swim really hard to keep up with the shark. Besides, you cannot slow the group down. There are few life-jackets and the guide will not help you unless you start drowning. The Europeans are expert swimmers (many are even trained divers) and strong. So don’t do it unless you are absolutely sure that you can manage it. We did see a shark fin above the water though.

In the evening, there is a free snorkeling session in the house-reef. We tried again but failed because it gets chaotic in a big group. And that’s our big grudge. There is absolutely no support for the less-experienced swimmers like us. It was better in Lakshadweep. We didn’t know swimming then. But there were two guides with us and we had life-jackets on. They took us by hand and showed us underwater for a full half hour. Our recommendation: If you are like us, don’t go to Maldives for snorkeling, etc. Go to Lakshadweep instead.

9th June – Maldives

Having renounced snorkeling with the big guys, we decided to do something on our own. We snorkeled in the water right below our cabin. It was still very enjoyable and we got to see whole lot of fishes. And in the morning the depth wasn’t more than 5 feet anywhere. And the missus loved it.

We then booked an evening spa session which wasn’t great but still relaxing. The 2hr morning snorkeling had been tiring and we were totally tanned.

Rest of the time, we rested, watched tv, read books or took a walk around the island.

10th June – Return

The last day was all travel. We woke up at 5.30am to be ready for breakfast by 6.30am. We left the resort by boat at 7.15am and the plane arrived at 8am. We reached Male sea-plane airport at 8.30am. Then a bus transferred us to Male airport. We took a 9.30am flight and reached Colombo at around 11am. We had a 4hr stopover and had lunch at the airport itself. Our next flight was at 4.30pm and we reached Chennai at 6pm. Then a long queue at immigration and liquor-shopping at duty-free shop. Then again a flight to Mumbai at 8pm and we reached around 10.30pm. Then taxi from airport to hotel and reached home at 12 am.

Now there are better ways to come back. But there were two constraints. First, if your flight from Male is before 9.30am, then you have to leave the resort the previous day and stay overnight in Male. Second, proper flight from Colombo to Mumbai reach Mumbai at around 2am. Then it would have been very late for us since we wanted to rejoin office the next day properly (it was going to be Sanjukta’s first day in her new job).

Final thoughts:

It was an excellent 10-day getaway. Like our friend Madhurim said, you’ll enjoy Sri Lanka if you lower your expectations a bit. Maldives exceeded our expectations. it was the ideal duration except the Sri Lanka leg which can do with some modifications. Overall, well within our budget also.

That’s all, folks!

Movie Review: The Avengers

The Avengers

Assembly Line Superheroes

The best thing about movies like Avengers is that they do not take up much time. Neither during conceptualization or filming, nor while writing the review. They are mind-numbing and so devoid of intelligence that they do not deserve much time.

How difficult is it to make a movie like Avengers? Here’s how it all started:

Disney: Guys, we have taken over Marvel now. How do we squeeze the juices out of it?

Marvel: Ummm…. we’ve already done that ourselves. We had a series of Spiderman, two Iron-Mans, even the Hulk. Not much we can do now.

Disney: Oh kids! Whenever we used to face this problem, we just smash the characters all together! You know, sort of a Mickey & Donald Show.

Marvel: Ummm…So what you are suggesting is we take our best characters in an all-in-one movie? Like the Avengers???

Disney: Hmmm…Not a Disney-like name. But, at least, the comic geeks would come and see it.

Marvel: Yes! Yes!

Disney: The first one will be in America. Has to be. All aliens in all movies first attack America. Make it New York, so that people in Third World countries also understand the movie. And if it works, we’ll have the sequel in Asia, the third in Eastern Europe, and so on.

Marvel: Yes! Yes!

Disney: And we shall have them doing a whole lot things… smashing cars, blowing up buildings, fighting aliens, fighting each other, pulling each other’s leg, having major anger-management issues, and still saving the world.

Marvel: Yes! Yes!

Disney: So do it then!

Disgruntled Marvel executive who really knows his comics: Why not then call it The Aristocrats!

Disney and Marvel (in unison): You’re fired!

Disney buys Marvel

Now all superheroes will wear two-button shorts

And that’s how the film came about on our screen. It would have taken not more than two months to film it. I don’t suppose they would have bothered to come down to Calcutta to film the leper colony. But the post-production CGI definitely would have taken more. There are few scenes in which two characters are together. And when they are, they don’t touch each other. The makers probably shot everyone separately, then merged the scenes and put in CG in the background.

I mostly don’t like superhero movies. Very few qualify as movies anyway. They are mostly commercial ventures with no regard for the comic ecosystem in which they exist. My favorite superhero franchise reboot is Spiderman. Just the idea of Spiderman being a troubled teen with emotional issues is awesome. And the idea has the elasticity: it can be stretched over many sequels and yet come back to the original state whenever required. The rest, including Superman, IronMan, Batman, etc offered nothing new. I probably enjoyed Hancock more. Probably I like reluctant superheroes more than the cocky confident types. And when they are not self-made but created by circumstances. This gives a suitable context to the superhero. (Is that why I liked The Matrix and V for Vendetta?).

Back to The Avengers. The story is simple. Before seeing it, many had recommended that I go and see it because it had a story to offer. So even if I don’t like the action part, I can still enjoy the story. But as British kids say, “Bollocks!” The story is simply this: a Holy Grail is lost to the Enemy and Crusaders have to recover before the Enemy destroys the World. The plot by itself is interesting and has been used countless times with minor denting and plumbing. Let me give a top-of-the-mind list: The Matrix, Mr India, Mission: Impossible, Lord of the Rings (Frodo doing protection instead of snatching), Waqt Hamaara Hai, James Bond movies, etc etc.

The Holy Grail itself is unimaginative. A cubical element that is an infinite power source. When put in an apparatus, it opens up a channel in the sky from which aliens can enter and destroy the Earth. The element falls in the hands of the main villain within the first 20 minutes.  The Avengers fight to recover it in the last 30 minutes. But not before there is an unnecessary angle of the Government firing a nuclear missile at Manhattan not bothering about collateral damage and Iron Man has to divert it. So the major part of the movie gets spent in assembling the Avengers team and them trying to overcome their personality clashes. This too gets boring after a while.

But an oft-used storyline should not come in the way of a good entertaining movie. The treatment can be the entertaining factor. Here too the film falters. Scene after scene, we are subjected to assembly-line CGI seen in hundreds of movies now. There is no imagination in the fights, no sense of drama, anticipation, novelty, nothing. This wouldn’t have taken time. Any good CGI company would have an inventory of buildings crumbling, windows smashing, planes crashing, cars flying. You have to just buy them off the shelf. There are practically no twists and turns, no nail-biting falls, just a big yawn. There is no proper background story, no internal conflict, no depth. It’s a shallow story where the focus is solely on the action.

But the focus is also on being absolutely politically correct. So the Avengers team is led by a Black American. The male-female ratio in the Avengers space-ship is a healthy HR-acceptable 60:40. Women are even in supervisory roles. In fact, the second-in-command is a female. But, of course, don’t stretch it. The ladies are also lithe beauties who can do a mean fight of their own. Yawn!

I was about to close the review but suddenly remembered that I saw the film in 3D. Yuck! It was bad 3D effect. Patchy in parts. If the 3D trend dies soon it will be only because of movies like Avengers and Tintin. 3D has been reduced to a promotional gimmick. What makes it worse are the cheap 3D glasses that make the screen look darker. I’m off 3D unless they improve the quality.

Verdict: Typical Superhero. All brawn no brain.

Do Say: I can’t wait for Mr. India in 3D!

Don’t Say: This is 5 times better than one superhero movie!

Stars:     * *

Mickey Man

The Disney-fication of Marvel

The Last Inch

It does not matter who you are. But what you are.

Every inch of me will perish. Every inch but one. An inch… It is small, and fragile, and it is the only thing in the world worth having. We must never lose it or give it away. We must never let them take it from us. They will always try to snatch it. To break it. Tempt us to lose it. But to not give it away will be our greatest victory.

Because within that inch is all that I hold dear. It contains the possessions most personal and private. Dignity, Integrity and Individuality. It is only when I have all three with me can I consider myself truly free. Freedom will have no meaning without these three. Freedom will be lost when I lose that inch.

I can keep running all my life to race ahead of the others. I can keep craving for money and still be always poorer. Or even achieve fame and then remain at the mercy of others to keep it with me. It is very easy to gain these. And they can be measured, so are easily understood. But these are things that can fill up the whole world, keep me busy all my life and yet be not mine.

But only one thing is truly mine. That inch. Because it is my Spirit. I was born with it. And my whole life shall be a fight to not lose it. To die like the way I was born.

—————————————————————————————————————–

The above post is an expansion of a dialogue in ‘V for Vendetta’ (novel,movie). The first five sentences are the ones from the letter by Valerie Page.

Movie Review: Kahaani

Kahaani Poster

Bengalis got all excited by Kolkata and Durga Puja!

It is only now that Kahaani seems a case of perfect timing. But when it would have been conceptualized, the timing might have seemed most inopportune.

Vidya Balan was then seen as a Bengali­-looking actress who wasn’t heroine material. No One Killed Jessica hadn’t happened and Dirty Picture was far far away. She was oscillating between arty roles like Paa and out-and-out commercial like Kismet Konnection and Heyy Babyy. In between there were even more confused roles like in Guru where there was no character and all arc. Sujoy Ghosh was the master-director of films like Alladin. If you haven’t seen this film, please do. It is one of the few I have seen where the actual film is more interesting than the songs. The film was boring, the songs were hideous. So expectations would have been at an all-time low with a director who, while being considered one of the promising new hopes in Bengali Cinema, could actually turn Arabian Nights upside down into a lullaby.

Sujoy and Vidya

One swallow does not make a summer

But what a turnaround it has been. Since then Vidya Balan has made rapid strides in films as different as chalk and cheese, from Jessica to Dirty Picture. 2011 has been her year and she is being rightly considered the hero of her films. So it suddenly makes good sense to have signed on the current flavor of the season. We have heard such laudatory remarks for others also – from Nargis to Sridevi to Madhuri Dixit to Manisha Koirala to etcetera. Each was at one time hailed not just as a top heroine but a ‘hero’ in conventional Bollywood sense. History tells us that none survived on that perched for more than a couple of years. The height turns out to be the peak. And it is a continuous downfall after that. Be it Mother India to Chandni to Hum Aapke Hain Kaun to 1942..A Love Story. Mark my words, Vidya Balan will only go downhill from here. Kahaani just might be her most famous swan song as a ‘hero’. In the movie’s poster, she almost seems like a pregnant Durga on the run. Is Kahaani Vidya’s best work yet? No, it was Ishqiya.

Kahaani's promotion

Vidya spends two months shooting a movie and then four months promoting it.

But let’s get down to the task at hand. The review of Kahaani. This review has been deliberately delayed. So that the initial euphoria and skepticism settles down and sanity prevails. So that what comes out is a balanced judgment. I have thought about the film long and hard. Day and Night. Unfortunately, my original views have only got stronger.

First, I’ll say the good things and be done with. It is a wonderfully crafted movie. It excels in all technical departments. End.

Now the bitter part. This film is made for two kinds of people – Bengalis and those who like to see some kind of a mystery. For a film like Kahaani hasn’t been made in years.

When was the last time you saw Bengal on Hindi film screen? Please don’t mention Parineeta (pathetic movie, bad acting, poor casting, unauthentic sets, ridiculous adaptation, was presented as Devdas-first half). Inside their hearts, Bengalis wept when they saw Kahaani. It was like NRIs watching DDLJ.

The camerawork is lovely and captures Calcutta in all its Durga-Puja glory. All the clichés were thrown in Kahaani – Calcutta (check), Metro (check), Kalighat (half-check), Howrah Bridge (check), Durga Puja (double check), yellow cabs (check). Plus, a few tackily endearing ones like Bidya and nick-names. Movies on Calcutta have mostly been based in zamindar period. The one contemporary account was City of Joy which was unjustly derided as Slum Tourism. But is Kahaani the definitive movie that captures the spirit of Calcutta? No. Definitely no. Just the other day I saw The Namesake a second time and, I must say, its montage of Calcutta is the definitive one. You should see that movie for only its Calcutta scenes and how wonderfully they act as a counterfoil to the America ones. And as the missus wonderfully pointed out, Kahaani’s attempt to capture the spirit of Calcutta is similar to the effort in Shor In The City. In SITC, the city is also a character and shapes the proceedings. In Kahaani, it is a feeble supporting act. This comparison cannot be explained nor can it be understood unless you see all three movies and unless you have seen Calcutta and Bombay at close quarters without being part of them. Watch SITC for the shot of the woman in Ganpati procession dancing with a note between her lips.

Shor In The City

All have two faces - the Good and the Bad

And when was the last time you saw a mystery movie. Johnny Gaddar had anticipation but not mystery. And no talk of Aamir please. That was a bad exploitative movie – ekdum Slum Tourism. It raised no questions and gave no answers. Bollywood has never explored mystery as a genre. There have been thrillers but no mystery. But Bengal has a history of mystery in both literature and cinema. India’s greatest detectives, Feluda and Byomkesh Bakshi were Bengalis. Tintin is actually a Banerjee. Heck, Satyajit Ray’s son is still making a living out of Feluda mysteries. So it is a refreshing change to see a mystery Hindi movie. And double refreshing that it has no songs. If you need any reason to watch Kahaani (and there still are people who haven’t), then this is it.

The two things, however, that hold the film together are the editing and the background score. The editor is the director. The background score is the story. Without the editor, there would have been no mystery. Without the background score, there would have been no thrill. Whoever is making their next movie, please sign on these two. They can make a mediocre film like Kahaani seem so good.

(The editor is Namrata Rao who has previously worked on Dibakar Banerjee’s Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye! (his best) and Love, Sex, Dhokha (his worst). The background score is credited to Clinton Cerejo who is famous primarily as a singer but has worked as a music producer on Oye Lucky! and Vishal Bharadwaj’s films like Omkara, Kaminey and Blue Umbrella.)

Why is Kahaani mediocre? Because the most important criteria for me is the story. And it is a tame thriller. If you remove the editing and background score effect. It is a mystery which can be very easily guessed. Very very easily. To put it in perspective, it is nowhere near the Feluda and Byomkesh mysteries. Agatha Christie’s detectives would be laughing t it over dinner. Holmes would keep this DVD in his collection marked as ‘it’s so bad that it’s good’.

A mystery story is like the pyramid of Tutankhamen. When you start off, you are bombarded with information; you can start from practically any side. Then as you dig deeper you discover a whole lot of treasures, and curses, and booby-traps. But if you are able to successfully see through all of this, you reach the sanctum sanctorum. The Hamunaptra. That comes in the end. The mega-punch.

But wasn’t Kahaani’s ending unexpected? Yes it was. But why isn’t it a good mystery? Because the key here is that the ending should be unexpected but not unpredictable. There are enough clues strewn along the way but you ignore them. It’s only at the end that you realize that you should have paid attention to them. The ending is always predictable. The author makes no attempt to hide any clue or mislead you. You know as much as the detective does. But still he is able to figure out the mystery while you can’t. And that brings a smile to your face, you recollect the whole story from start to end and then doff your hat at both the author and his detective. That’s what makes Holmes the best.

(Warning: Spoilers ahead.)

Had I been a film critic, I would have given Kahaani four stars. And then taken back two stars because of the ending. Because the ending doesn’t reveal the mystery. It reveals that we, the audience, had been fooled all along and misled all along. This is fine had the story been told from the Calcutta point of view and Vidya Bagchi was a character that enters into it. But throughout the film, we are made to see the story from Vidya’s point of view. We go along with her. And so what Vidya says and hears is what we say and hear. We are not the policemen. We are Vidya.

Many people have drawn comparison here with Khoj which had a similar storyline of a man searching for his missing wife, and all the while everyone he knows claim another woman to be his real wife. There it’s the hero Rishi Kapoor who enters the stage. That’s why, in Khoj, the ending comes with a bang. As a mystery, I consider Khoj better. It’s so good that I have a suspicion that it is copied. This might seem fussing over a minor issue, but as a cinematic tool it is extremely powerful. Because it decides who you are journeying with.

Kahaani is a fairly simple story. A woman arrives in Calcutta in search of her missing husband. She seems to have all proof of his existence and stay but no one else believes her. What complicates the matter is that there are no records of her husband anywhere. So far so good. The mystery ending is a series of binary questions: Does her husband actually exist or not? If yes, then why are others lying? If no, then is Vidya lying? If Vidya is lying, then is it on purpose? If yes, then what’s her hidden agenda? If no, then she must be mad or schizophrenic.

Kahaani clip

Click on image to read another like-minded review

 With this premise established in the first 30 minutes, there are complications thrown in to keep the viewer distracted or interested. You first wonder why someone gets killed when a clue is about to be discovered. Or why did the director delete Arnab Bagchi’s employee records in soft copy only to have them discovered as hard copy. Or why a contract killer keeps following Vidya but doesn’t kill her and get it over with? We realize it towards the end that this was because Vidya arrived on the first day of Durga Puja celebrations. The ending was so intricately linked to the visarjan and the red sari that he had to drag the film till the 10th day. The film would have been shorter and smarter had Vidya landed on the fifth day. But our bad luck. So we have a romantic angle. A couple of killings. Durga Puja scenes. A couple of comedy scenes. Calcutta scenes. London scenes. This goes on and on tirelessly. And I thought these guys worshipped Hitchcock.

Bob Biswas

Bob Lives!

Now comes my topmost grudge with the movie. The ‘London Scenes’. How can a director mislead his audience so shamelessly? They seem so innocuous and capture so little screen time that it is easy to ignore their effect. But for me the whole movie stands on these scenes. Chances are you have forgotten. Vidya is explaining to another woman how she only convinced her husband to come to India for work. We are shown in flashback Vidya and her husband in their London home discussing the matter. We clearly see who her husband is and remember his face. Over. Later, after the ending is revealed, we are shown a lot of flashbacks to explain the story. One of them is again the scene in London with the same conversation that Vidya had recalled, now with the real husband. This is the point we realize that Vidya had fooled the audience also all along. Which is brilliant. Many movies do that. But the director is not allowed to do that. And therein lays the difference. I shall explain this in different ways.

  1. Flashback scenes are always true. This is a cinematic rule that cannot be flouted. Because flashback scenes are possible only in cinema and no other medium. And so you cannot misuse them to mislead the audience. You can have people telling stories and lying through their teeth. But with no visuals. Because a flashback is a memory. When Vidya is recalling the conversation, the flashback visuals mean that she is recollecting the memories from her mind. And that can never be false. Try imagining your childhood friend or a cherished memory. Can you replace anybody’s face? No you can’t. The faces might seem blurred but not false.
  2. Flashbacks have been used in a lot of films. The most famous example is The Usual Suspects. If you have seen the movie, then Kahaani seems a lot familiar to it. Even in it, the flashback scene is used to show how fearsome the villain is. But the face is never shown in the flashback. Because flashbacks can’t lie. It’s only at the end of the movie we realize why we weren’t shown the face in the flashback. And then bang our heads thinking why we didn’t realize it before.
  3. Like I said above, flashbacks are a luxury only cinema can afford. What if Kahaani was in a written form. Say, a novel. Then there would have been no flashback scene shown. Only the kahaani told.
  4. But why then the flashback visuals? This was to throw the viewer totally off-track. Uptil then, we suspected that Vidya was lying and actually there is no such person as Arnab Bagchi. When we see these visuals, our mind automatically assumes it to be true since it was a flashback and we never go back to the line that Vidya might be lying.
  5. What if we were shown the flashback visuals but not the husband’s face? This would have left an iota of doubt in our mind – Why didn’t we see the face? Is it because this face is different from the one in the marriage photograph?
  6. But why show the flashback visuals at all? They were actually unnecessary to the story. Flashbacks are usually shown in movies to tell a series of events taking place over a number of days. Saying them in dialogue form would be tedious and might confuse the viewer. This where flashbacks are introduced. But in Kahaani, we were shown only couple of dialogues which Vidya was as it is narrating. If the flashbacks weren’t shown, then again we would have an iota of doubt in our mind.

But why blame the flashback scenes alone? The mystery in Kahaani is so shallow that we didn’t even need to dip our foot in to feel the depth. But the audience was never allowed anywhere near the waters. What could have been a straight-forward investigation was marred by murders and Durga Puja the moment we felt we were on to something.

So what’s my recommended list of mysteries that have become benchmarks? If you are interested – Any Holmes, Poirot or Feluda. Goldie’s Jewel Thief or Teesri Manzil. Rajesh Khanna’s Ittefaq. Rebecca. And if unimpressed by all, then 12 Angry Men to learn how to write a good mystery screenplay.

12 Angry Men

Verdict: Must-watch because such a movie hasn’t come in a long time 

Do Say: I’m falling in love with Kolkata all over again!

Don’t Say: I hope they send it to the Oscars. 

Stars:     * *

Star, Spectacle and Public

Sachin scores his 100th 100

Now the Bharat Ratna!

You would probably expect a day that begins with the anticipation of a landmark Budget and Sachin Tendulkar’s 100th century to end as one of the most memorable of the year. But when both the politicians bat it out for more than 2 hours just to kill our excitement and save their skin, at the end of the day, you are left with no feeling except exhaustion and relief that at least it ended. After speculating for months as to what would happen you are too tired now to even protest. It’s only the next day when you wake up at 10am after a tiring workweek that you start formulating your views and expressing your disappointment.

If your immediate reaction on Tendulkar completing his century was “Thank God!” (just like Sachin who must have thanked his God and Papa up in the Sky), then read on, you’ll enjoy it. But if your immediate and morning-after reaction still is “Yes! Yes! Oh my God! Now the Bharat Ratna! (just like Sachin and his faithful fans), then stop right now, I don’t wish to hurt your feelings and spoil my relationship with you.

Stardom is Cocaine. It’s Gutkha. It’s like winning a video game against the computer and that too with a “highest score”. It’s the heady cocktail served by the bartender named Public to the guest named Star at the pub named Spectacle.

The Spectacle is the game-field which can be sports, cinema, politics or even your workplace. It is the context to this whole Stardom game – that brings the player, the public and the action together.

The Star is made by the Public, and don’t you ever forget that. All Stars are self-made. They are the ones who got Talent, Opportunity and Luck together at the right moment AND then made full use of it. There might be things which give a head start. You might start with a Gandhi surname. But you finally make it on your own with sheer hard work. So full credit goes to whoever makes it in life. But becoming a Star is different from being famous or respected. Sreesanth is famous. Dravid is respected. But Sachin is a true Star.

But when a person holds the country’s cricketing fortunes at ransom just to play out his 100th century, that’s arrogance. The arrogance that “If India loses but I still make 100, then I shall be forgiven”. That “I have got the absolute majority in the Assembly, so the Public will automatically agree with whatever I do next 5 years”.

Everything follows a life-cycle of Birth, Adolescence, Adulthood, Maturity, Old Age, and finally Death. So with Stardom. It is very important for the Star to realise which stage he is in. But it is very very difficult. And the withdrawal symptoms are painful.

Stars like Sachin make and break their stardom themselves. The Public does go to see the Star. But the Star shouldn’t make the mistake of starting to think that the Public is coming to see him only. Then the Star overshadows the Spectacle. And the Public eventually loses interest. Happened with Dev Anand, Rajesh Khanna, Amitabh, Shahrukh, Sania Mirza, Indira Gandhi and now Sachin. Soon to be followed by Salman. There is no Star without a Spectacle. And respect for the Public is paramount.

Indian fans celebrate Tendulkar's 100th 100

Fans. Innocent Fans. Bunking school and work to watch Sachin score.

The most important sign of a Star is the applause he gets. And only the Public can applaud. Sachin wouldn’t have liked to hit his 100th century in an empty stadium in an untelevised match, would he? The Public goes for the Spectacle and they want to see their Star perform in this Spectacle. Outside the stadium, Star Sachin is nothing. Would the Public stare at Sachin for two hours at a shopping mall? They would certainly for more when he is playing.

Rajnikanth has forever remained a bigger star than Shahrukh or Amitabh simply because of the applause he gets. And the only reason the Public willingly cheers for a sexagenarian under heavy make-up dancing, fighting and generally doing super-human stuff is that he gives them the due respect. He doesn’t say, “See I’m here to score my 100th century so let me take my time” or “You want to see Shahrukh, so watch me in the films I make”. He gives them what they want. Not I’m sure you’ll like what I give you.

The Stars will come and go. They’ll walk in and walk out of the bar. If they get drunk and make a ruckus, they’ll be thrown out. The Public can even refuse them the next drink. The Public and the Spectacle were always together. And will be. One day you too will be a Star. And don’t you ever forget that.

Why you should be here.

Why you should be here.

1. This is not a pipe.

2. Discuss, Debate, Argue, Question. Don’t be Silent.

3. Every inch of me shall perish. Every inch, but one. An inch. It is small and it is fragile and it is the only thing in the world worth having.

4. People should not be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people.

5. There is no right or wrong. Just points of view.

6. Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive.

7. Carpe Diem.

8. It’s the context that matters.

9. What goes up, must come down.

10. Remember, Remember, the Fifth of November.

Now decide.

Why you shouldn’t be here.

Why you shouldn't be here.

!. This is not a “Dear Diary”.

@. This is not “My musings on life”.

#. This is not “My creative side”.

$. This is not “Let’s see what’s this blogging-shlogging”.

%. This is not “My stepping stone to becoming a writer”.

Now decide.

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