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Kurbaan vs. New York

November 22, 2009 1 comment

After watching the Kareena-Saif movie, we totally feel “hamne apna Saturday ‘Kurbaan’ ko kurbaan kar diya”.

The movie was a bore. And way too much like New York with John Abraham and Katrina Kaif and Neil Nitin Mukesh – Islamic terrorism, a wronged desi guy out to blow up some Americans, a hapless ‘innocent wife’, a friend who’s an infiltrator into the terrorist group. But it’s fascinating how two people can treat one identical storyline in two such totally different ways. New York was nuanced, shocking, held its suspense so well, and made you intensely relate to the characters and feel their moral dilemmas. Kurbaan set out to dazzle you with the looks of the leading pair – and it succeeded with Kareena, not so much with the over-botoxed, rebonded-combovered-hair Saif – and was a movie that never made up its mind about whether it was a love story or a window into the souls of people who like killing other people. At the end of New York you walked out wondering about the pointlessness of terrorism and the senselessness of American state-sponsored violence; at the end of Kurbaan we walked out wondering about the pointlessness of the movie and the senselessness of a story that pretty much glorified terrorism.

The problem (one of the many problems, really) with Kurbaan is that it was like that episode of 24 where a liberal dude trusts the brown stranger against the fervent opposition of the all-American dude suspicious of all brown people with funny names, and then the brown stranger turns out to be a terrorist after all. It shamelessly encouraged the average viewer to go ahead and stereotype every bukha-clad Muslim woman and every young brown man with a backpack and rewarded such stereotypes.

The writing was abysmal. They couldn’t make up their minds whose perspective to pick – Kareena’s or Vivek’s or Diya’s, so they went with option (D), all of the above. Unlike New York, where everything unfolds from Neil’s p-o-v, and so even small revelations – like Katrina knowing all along that her handsome all-American husband is actually a terrorist – are discoveries that keep you engaged in the story. John’s haunted expression and sudden character twists are hugely gut-punching, even more so when you hear the back-story and see the real, very plausible torment he’s undergone. Here, you never really related to Saif or felt for him – not in the initial love story, not when he’s revealed to be a scheming, manipulative husband, not when you’re told why he became a terrorist, and not when he falls in love with his now-pregnant wife, and not when has his final melodramatic change of heart. His journey seems eminently alien and strange, and each twist is totally ‘yeah, right’. They’d’ve been better off making his a fully negative role, throwing in a couple of wife-whacking scenes and maybe having a last-second unexplained twist (was a change of heart? did he really spare her? or did he miss his target for once?).

The logic was non-existent. It’s completely frustrating how at least two of the characters – Vivek Oberoi’s and Kareena Kapoor’s – are supposed to be Amreekan educated and liberal-thinking, but in any moment of crisis, faced with any example of rule-breaking, small or large, they end up going the illogical, circituous route. When Kareena’s neighbor comes to her for help since she’s presumably being beaten up and about to be murdered, she doesn’t go to the cops or to a local NGO dealing with DV cases, or to a women’s shelter. No, she leisurely pays an in-person visit to a news reporter that the neighbor had met months ago in an internet chatroom (yes, huh?! indeed), and passively walks away when the reporter tells her she’ll call the neighbor in a few weeks after her vacation/travel. And then Kareena, professor and consummate Manhattan girl, generally wanders around in the neighbor’s basement in the dead of night. Seriously heroine, WTF?

Poor Vivek ends up having to go one better. When he gets a lead on the people who may have bombed a plane and killed ~200 people, he decides to take on the whole terrorist agency by himself, and fight for world peace singlehandedly in a severe Miss World relapse moment. When he’s in the middle of the terror plot, he still doesn’t want to tell the cops what he knows, but renders ultimatums to Kareena (who’s under house arrest) to source a f***ing subway map for him ‘definitely by tonight!!!’. He tells the FBI/cops about the plot at the last minute, because evidently just saying ‘subway system under threat’ is less helpful than giving exact station names, because the silly FBI can’t figure that out for themselves. Touching, such faith in the American legal system. And just proves my often-repeated assertion that modern journalists are, by definition, stupid. Thank you, KJo.

Of course, the five stations targeted by Saif and Om Puri & co. to ‘teach the goras a lesson’ are the ones with the highest possible concentrations of desi people – Jackson Heights, Lexington Ave – somehow suicide bombing takes on layer 2 meanings here, or maybe they thought desi/NRI audiences wouldn’t be horrified enough if it was 57th avenue or Harlem. After all that analysis, Rensil couldn’t even be bothered to keep his stations straight, because the back-ups bombers who were to target Times Square and Grand Central and 5th ave end up somehow, in a twist, at three of the originally planned locations, having been magically swapped for the dead guys with backpacks.

More logic issues – not only do the incompetent FBI not examine voicemails and evidence – (what happened to all the wiretapped evidence courtesy FISA and the Patriot Act, huh? huh? HUH??!!), they wait around for hours in churches for tip-offs from random people, in touching displays of patience and loyalty to anonymous informers. And then reinforce their good-guy status by exclaiming ‘Jesus Christ!!!’ at regular intervals, since of course this is all a war about Christianity vs. Islam, in which Hinduism mysteriously proves victorious.

Finally, possibly the brightest spark of talent in the movie belongs to Kiron Kher’s uninhibited Afghani character – she somehow assimilates Iranian/Syrian hijabi sartorialism (maybe the real Afghan hijab was way too scary) and diction from villains in 1970s Amitabh-starrers to come up with a pretty good composite character, not too unlovable or too far from her usual Punju mom roles, but also crazy enough so you’re a tad afraid of/for her. She was definitely better than Om Puri, whom one barely noticed – except when he sulked off in a huff when his authority was easily challenged by upstart Saif. And Saif! Saif, that nawabi bad-child looking for his lost youth just continues to embarrass himself and us by trying to be all-in-one: cool-dude and action-superhero and chocolate-boy-lover in every movie. He unfortunately seems to have upped his ambition and jock-style pecs (and steroidal intake) at the exact time that his talent – and jowls, and hair volume – are moving downwards. This when he’s not terrorizing and manipulating Kareena in reel life and in real (watch their interviews where usually confident Kareena turns to him constantly for affirmation, very unlike the Poo-ing brat of Shahid’s time).

Kareena is as luminously pretty as ever, and came good in the last scene with snot freely running down her face, but somehow she leaves you with utter despair for Indian women – if psychology professors are this dumb, there’s not much hope for the rest of us. She’s completely unresourceful, can’t be bothered to do basic checks on the men she falls for, ends up accepting invites to boring sex-segregated parties, is trapped into house arrest in her own house and promptly packs a head scarf when she realizes her husband is a terrorist. And of yes, when tasked to do a difficult (!) chore, she turns to the only tool at her disposal – no, not Google, not her brains or her education, but her body and sexuality. It’s possibly not just Saif here who’s missing the 80’s.

So, yeah, John Abraham still has my heart.

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The hands that count the votes rule the world?

August 6, 2009 Leave a comment

This may be just a silly joke, and a statement that plays into stereotypes about India and is condescending to her audience – but it sure does warm my cockles to hear a US politician acknowledge, for once, that they may not always be the Best at Everything:

Clinton Pitches India As Model For Africa

NAIROBI (AFP)–U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton .[….]… was speaking to students in Kenya, where politics remain tense after a hotly disputed election triggered street violence until a power-sharing deal was reached in February 2008.

Clinton told the students that India’s billion plus people also had strong political differences.

“But they have figured out how to run an election where the results can be surprising and unpredicted but accepted,” she said at the University of Nairobi.

“I said only half-jokingly after our problems with our 2000 election, and then our 2004 elections in some of our constituencies, that we should outsource our elections to India,” she said


Categories: India vs US, politics, pride

Shame, power and nudity

July 29, 2009 Leave a comment

huh. Who knew?

Naked girls plow fields for rain

PATNA, India (Reuters) – Farmers in an eastern Indian state have asked their unmarried daughters to plow parched fields naked in a bid to embarrass the weather gods to bring some badly needed monsoon rain, officials said on Thursday.

Witnesses said the naked girls in Bihar state plowed the fields and chanted ancient hymns after sunset to invoke the gods. They said elderly village women helped the girls drag the plows.

“They (villagers) believe their acts would get the weather gods badly embarrassed, who in turn would ensure bumper crops by sending rains,” Upendra Kumar, a village council official, said from Bihar’s remote Banke Bazaar town.

“This is the most trusted social custom in the area and the villagers have vowed to continue this practice until it rains very heavily.”

India this year suffered its worst start to the vital monsoon rains in eight decades, causing drought in some states.

(link via Confluence)

This is like that scene I remember from the TV show in the 90’s based on quaint South Indian stories set in the last century (NOT Malgudi Days, though this starred Girish Karnad, of course) . There was a Malayalee woman who was going to be beaten up by a man (her father-in-law, I think), and as he was menancingly advancing toward her she dropped her sari. The father-in-law, being a ‘respectable society man’ with ‘concern for ladies’ dignity’ (though not TOO much concern, since he meant to beat her up after all) instantly cursed her, and with a very disgusted expression, turned around and stormed away (thinking, no doubt, “how dare she defend herself in this reprehensible way from my beatings. Shameless women!“).

Female nudity has always been a powerful means of communication, of manipulation, and it was especially powerful when it was so rare. It’s just that in the Indian context, female nudity has taken on so many non-sexual or asexual connotations – remember Akka Mahadevi ?- that it bestows oblique power on the woman. Even though that power is derived from the basic premise that nudity = shame, at least there’s some karmic recompense for women who pay the price of that shame.

As opposed to, of course, the female form today and in the West always, which has nothing but sexual connotations (whether or not the woman is nude), and removes every stitch of power or control from the woman and bestows it to the viewer.

Privacy, pizza and politics

July 7, 2009 Leave a comment

So I ran into this the other day on the ACLU website, an old joke about how, a few years down the line, you’ll want to do something tiny and supposedly inconspicuous like, order a pizza, and the person on the other end will have access to everything about you, including your favorite types of pizza, your love life, your credit history, your tax filing status, your health records, etc. etc. If you haven’t already seen/read this, go read.

But the fun part is, the last timeI’d seen this I’d seen it in a right-wing site (don’t remember which). Funny how one person’s poison is everyone’s poison, too.

ACLU likes this because it effectively paints a doomsday scenario for when ‘Government controls and records everything’.
The right wing loves this because it shows what could happen if the ‘Government controls and records everything’.
My problem here, and that, I imagine, of the average immigrant, legal or not, is that the ‘(US) Government controls and records everything.

Of course, if this were to be shown to the average Indian college kid, I’m sure (s)he would wonder how soon (s)he could get a job in that call center.
The smart Indian college kid would start writing the scripts to link the databases and make this a reality.
The smarter Indian college kid would wonder how to get the contract from pizza companies/the US government to implement this software.
And the smartest Indian college kid immediately would get into regional Indian politics, start a party and loudly decry ‘Evil Western Culture’ that limits such great technology to pizzas and doesnt open it up to roti-subzi in dhabhas, win the election and make sure hir own records were off-limits to the database.

Friday night musings and how far ahead India is sometimes – take that, Simone de Beauvoir!

April 18, 2009 Leave a comment

I was watching TV last night – it’s unusual, but was a typical Friday decompression session where I don’t move my big butt for eight hours on end and get P to fetch and carry for me – and caught NDTV’s ‘Left Right & Center’, a political round table discussion mostly about the on-going elections.

First off, the oval table has four participants and one moderator – five people in all. Take a guess on the composition of the panel: FOUR women out of the five! On a f***ing political panel! I know this shouldn’t be such a big deal, I’ve grown up watching panels such as these, but after last year’s disgusting spectacle of US misogyny and lack of self-awareness or self-regulation in the Western media to their utter, complete bigotry – this was like a huge gulp of fresh air.

The moderator was a woman (in a brilliant mauve cotton sari), there was Jayanthi Natarajan representing the Congress (I), a woman from the CPI(M) and a woman journalist from Tehelka. There was also a lone guy from the BJP who was seated in a great position to create impact but ended up making some hilarious – and basic – debate missteps. Not that the others were great debaters, but they all at least succeeded in getting their points across without spewing endless non-sequitors. I re-realized how different the Indian debating style is to the antiseptic, colorless and totally fake ‘debates’ we see on TV here in the US. I suspect J.Jacques may actually be onto something here.

Anyway, back to the panel composition. Compare this with any political talk-show in the US, on television or on radio – including on NPR or Air America. Even, apparently, on the panels debating feminism, men are the majority. And you realize how remarkable this is that in India this panel was un-remarkable and why our rare inclusiveness and gender-blindness must be treasured (maybe we ought not speak too loudly about it or around it, or it’ll just go away?).

Say what you will about Barkha Dutt – her visibility and fame (infamy?) has helped carry forward the tradition of vocal and recognized women journalists, women newsreaders, women news presenters in India. Usha Alberquerque, Geethanjali Ayer, Neeti Ravindran, Minu, Komal GB Singh and all those awesome women – helped ensure India was never on the US track where a woman finally getting to read out the news from a teleprompter was a historic milestone that needed ‘achieving’.

I’m very impressed by Sajjan Lone, too, who made a brief appearance on the show. He evidently plays by the Oriental family playbook, not the more familiar Occidental one – i.e., the one with brother against brother for money, sister rivalling sister for a man’s affection, or parent vs. child for political power. Sajjan made sure to scuttle the chances of his sister Shabnam Lone, when she was running in the Kashmiri Assembly elections. But today in the show, the guy was articulate, incredibly humble and sans frands – sans pretensions. I cannot and do not agree with his policies or what he stands for, but the guy sounded like exactly the kind of politician who would not garner political victories simply because he’s too honest and openly intelligent.

Importing not just fruits of business, but also business models

April 3, 2009 Leave a comment

Papers in Michigan cut home delivery to only thrice a week starting this week, in order to save costs. But why are European newspapers doing better?

But there are signs of journalistic life in Europe. Circulation is falling more slowly than in the United States. Most papers have been less affected by the recession than their American counterparts because they rely on readers more than on advertisers, who tend to be more fickle.

Would explain not just financial health but also journalism quality in the US, wouldn’t it?

Sadly, Indian papers seem to be doing things the Yankee way. Duh.

How badly do we need the 33% solution in India?

March 25, 2009 Leave a comment

An alien – heck, an American – hearing all the talk, reading all the headlines about the Indian Lok Sabha elections in April would read so much about Sonia Gandhi, Mayawati, Jayalalita, Sheila Dixit and Mamta Banerjee. I bet (s)he would think India is close to the Nordic nations in terms of women in politics.

Out of 188 countries in the world where this representation is measured, where do you think we stand?

A measly 105 out of 188 countries. In terms of representation of women in the National parliament, we’re behind Afghanistan. Iraq. Sierra Leone. Bosnia and Herzegovina. UAE. Kazakhstan. Burkina Faso. Djibouti. Swaziland. And Pakistan.

We’re just above a handful of nations like Saudi Arabia, where the laws do not allow women to contest.

Just in case this is still contested: India is NOT a representative democracy when 50% of our population has no voice. We’re pretending at a democracy.

We may be sixty-two years old, but we’re just playing.