Delly Belly review

August 23, 2011 Leave a comment

Guest post by Aparna

[Trigger warning for rape culture, violence, misogyny, classism, fat hatred.]

So there’s this Bollywood movie, “Delhi Belly”, which is fast becoming a phenomenon all over India. It’s also playing in limited theaters in the US, where also it’s very popular: on a recent weekday, we couldn’t get tickets to two different shows at a Manhattan theater.

But, eventually, we scheduled a baby sitter and everything, and went to the AMC right in the middle of Times Square to see the movie. It was supposed to be a ‘bold’ movie, one made for the ‘youth of India’, supposedly an ‘original, edgy, hilarious’ movie, a movie that’s collecting fabulous reviews and even better revenues (maybe, pushing thirty, I’m no longer the youth of India or of anywhere else, because ‘original, edgy and hilarious’ doesn’t really seem to mean what it used to).

So anyway, the movie is about three men, one or two in committed relationships, all three miserable in their lives. They’re caught up in a typical undercover-transaction-gone-wrong situation, of which there are twenty movies made every year (so it’s very original, yes), and end up getting a shit-load (hahahahaha! Oh wait, I didn’t explain the part of the movie’s toilet humor. But it’s c-o-m-i-n-g!!) of stolen money, and they end up doing the right thing anyway with said stolen money. Along the way, the lead hero finds the woman of his dreams, and they blow through six frames a second of the most generous definition of humor that can exist.

And this is just one of about, oh, seven Hangover-inspired Bollywood movies (or virtual remakes) releasing this year. True Fact. For some reason, that pinnacle of Hollywood comedy seems to have really inspired Indian filmmakers. It must be those awesome characters in The Hangover – you know the ones – man about to be married to a hot but controlling girlfriend gets into a crazy situation that tests his manhood and he realizes and escapes the girl’s clutches just in time, moving on to a far better, hotter, more compliant prospect; man in a bad job blows off his boss and asserts control; man objectifying every woman around is just a poor Galifianakis who can hardly be blamed for his normal maleness, because he can’t get any, poor guy.

Part of what worries me about the reception of this film is it’s not about whether or not some persons found the movie funny; it is about the unanimity of opinion in the editorials and the review columns, the unquestioning acceptance that this is ‘edgy’ humor, that this is “modern” and what India’s Youth wants. Toilet jokes? It says something about our nation, but not exactly what you think it says. And even someone brought up on British sitcoms knows the toilet humor plays out in the first hour, then you need something else to keep it funny.

Not to worry, for with the main course of toilet humor, we also have rape jokes, fat jokes, lesbians-are-just-women-who-haven’t-found-the-right-man (oh, yes, they did go there. Yes. The movie’s very edgy and modern, you see!), slut-shaming, gender essentialism, any-guy-in-a-committed-and-respectful-relationship-is-a-sucker, and other such wonderful sources of Genuine HumorTM.

Since this is a ‘heist gone wrong’ genre movie, the stolen money (diamonds hidden in a Matryoshka doll. And this wasn’t a parody) ends up with the typical deserving-but-clueless character. And who is this poor, lucky sap? None other than a man who cheats on his wife (but of course, only because she is fat and because she ‘henpecks’ him). I mean, what else is the poor guy going to do — NOT go to a sex-worker? Oh, and even there he ends up with someone who incidentally is equally fat as his wife, hahaha, the poor guy is so incurably sweet even the whores take advantage of him. Of course, if he only could’ve stood up (HA!!) for himself he could’ve gotten a better deal — a thin, pretty woman for his cash. But it’s all good, because he ends up with all the thirty stolen diamonds, because he’s such a good guy and this is a feel-good movie.

The humor (for that is what I take issue with; the triteness of the story and the predictability of the plot is to be expected from a mainstream Hindi Bollywood movie, really — like any other mainstream movie) rides squarely on the backs of women and the poor. It’s so fucking edgy to joke about rape, so original and funny when a pervert operating as a photojournalist — one of the three leads, no less — takes advantage of his occupation to surreptitiously take pictures of an interviewee’s body as free porn ‘for himself’. This totally doesn’t actually happen every day.

A woman screaming and panting in mortal fear for her life is played for the cruelest laughs, especially because the camera helps you focus on nothing but her heaving, sweaty bosom. Oh, a whimpering woman! Being toyed with! How hilarious!

But no, seriously. My message to Aamir Khan & Kiran Rao, both of whom also helped create the lovely, Academy-award nominated Lagaan (nominated ten years ago for Best Foreign Film): You can do SO much better. You’ve actually worked together to create funny, heart-warming, touching movies that don’t insult the audience, that don’t demand I leave my brains and logic behind to have fun or to be part of a ‘modern’ movie.

For instance, not only is it illogical, it is also NOT hilarious when a spurned boyfriend— another one of the leads — fantasizes about beating/humiliating his ex-girlfriend or hopes that the girl is abused and ill-treated by her family, and it’s played for audience laughs, especially when it is abundantly clear that said girl is going through an arranged marriage under pressure from the same family. And most hilarious of all (by which I mean embarrassingly out of touch) is that the main lead feels victimized and manipulated by being offered dowry. Oh, the shame of it, poor lad, being offered a free car and a free apartment by his fiancee’s parents! And he can’t say no! The villains here are the evil parents, of course, not the poor guy who’s just being generous by accepting the gifts! For that situation to be played for laughs in a country and a context where there are still hundreds of women dying dowry deaths EVERY DAY seems not just like ignorance to privilege but like willful, deliberate cruelty.

Even the random sidewalk characters, in this case an old white (presumably American) couple visiting India for their wedding anniversary, bring in their own share of sexist stereotypes — the old man clearly being a henpecked, sex starved, but lovable old creep. Awwwwwww.

The lead, a young upcoming actor called Imran Khan, plays a man so beaten down by society, so unable to stand up (joke, joke!) for himself that he actually performs oral sex on his girlfriend. Poor sap. And still the ungrateful woman complains and complains about his facial hair, his one concession to manhood; doesn’t she know how good she’s got it? So he’s such a loser, right, but by the end of the movie he’s turned into a Real ManTM, and kisses his new girl like he owns her, and punches a rival in the face! In the face! Yay! He’s so DUDEly now! And this is very, very modern, of course. Very unlike all those boring old Hindi movies where they had a macho hero punching rivals and kissing women. But this is different. Somehow.

It’s sad, because, off-screen, Imran Khan seems like a really nice person, the rare Bollywood actor who seems to respect the women in his life and has a strong personal core separate from the glamorous world of his occupation, and seems to have had a very normal, not especially privileged childhood. He’s seen his parents’ marriage break-up, and that points to a grounded family that’s dealt with issues in a realistic way, unlike Imran’s contemporaries (one of whose parents have felt compelled to stick together and are now hailed as one of India’s most romantic couples, despite very public instances of domestic abuse and battering against his mother by his father). It’s sad that such a guy like Imran feels he needs to be an assholey dude and a misogynist to make it in the Hindi film industry.

But yes, that’s what you get when a whole industry looks to The Hangover for inspiration, and the entire world is willing to pretend that age-old oppressions exploited for laughs is “cutting edge”.

Cross-posted at Shakesville (shakespearessister.blogspot.com)

Categories: Uncategorized

Battle for Bittora

May 3, 2011 2 comments

Battle for Bittora is Anuja Chauhan’s second book, another wickedly funny, light-hearted romance set in contemporary India, and it’s been very interesting to see how she’s evolved/changed as an author from The Zoya Factor. Not to mention, it’s such a great read by itself.

*Spoilers galore, mind*

UPDATE: I deleted this paragraph before posting first because it seemed too corporate & ‘pat’, but I really want to make the conclusions explicit, so I’m putting it back in…I think the big change is Chauhan’s increased confidence – in her content (#1 below and #5) and in the business (#3 & #4), and in her craft (which comes across in #6 and #2 below, where the confidence wasn’t as warranted). Content and business are maybe easier to learn than craft? Or does the learning curve for craft, as opposed to content/business take up some funny plateaus on its way? Or worse, does success lead to a flattening of the only learning curve that truly matters for a fiction writer – craft (as opposed to a technical writer for whom content is key)? Anyway, here are my thoughts…..

First, let me just state how much I love the casual feminism in Bittora:

  • The plethora of fantastic, fully realized female characters here makes this book easily pass the Bedchel Test, and I’m not sure The Zoya Factor does that.
  • She wins!!! She wins!!! They have a political battle, and she wins, fair and square. I was dreading reading the ending of the book because I was expecting it to be something like Zain winning, and Jinni totally making an unbelievably submissive cop-out at the end, like realizing at the last minute that she never had wanted the seat, and then Zain offering to make her his second-in-command, which would’ve left such, such, such a bad taste in my mouth.
  • I love how she has an internal life and a purpose throughout the book, and that the reader can believe that she has a life path ahead of her after the ending, too. Unlike Zoya, where the romance was the main story, and you were left wondering if she quit her job afterward or something.
  • The protagonist’s last name is the same as her maternal grandmother’s, and there is no explanation of this. None whatsoever. Smart writing, too, because saying anything there would’ve just sounded contrived and defensive. This is an unlikely scenario, but not all that unbelievable, especially in the anything-goes world of Indian politics (Indira Gandhi appropriated the ‘Gandhi’ name quite randomly, for instance).
  • No Disney-dead-mother syndrome here, thank you very much. And the woman character gets a cool, permissive mom, too, the likes of which usually cool male characters get. The women get cool dads and dead, or absent, or subservient moms.
  • Chauhan dismisses Rahul Mahajan categorically. I wish she also dissed Salman Khan less subtly.
  • How fantastic was Ammaji’s comment about wanting to ‘settle’ her granddaughter – i.e., her career, not her marriage. For all her religious bigotry, how very, very far-thinking and impressive.

Second, and hopefully not caused by the first point above: somehow for me, the romance isn’t that very strong. It’s still amazing, and better than most other books, but Zoya Factor wins, very slightly, here. It’s not for lack of a fantastic hero in Bittora – if anything, Zain Altaf Khan is even more ‘eligible’ than Nikhil Khoda – he is equally handsome, of royal blood, is an environmental engineer and an MIT graduate, and as a teenager, wrote a superhero series – and has compelling vulnerabilities! All of this should’ve totally made him more compelling than the sports-quota-type, back-story-missing Khoda, at least for someone like me (erm, I still swoon over liberal young handsome Indian Muslim men with the nostalgia of my own love. But, TMI). What gives, then?
Maybe it is just the fact that this is a repeat performance, and nothing beats the first, unspoiled, original version.
Maybe it is the fact that the first book was focused more on the romance and less on the Zoya Factor phenomenon, and the second book was focused equally on the political battle and the romance (actually this one is hard to say. I think both were equally split!).
Maybe because Zain never does something completely unexpected and out-of-the-blue in the romance, he’s never pushing the envelope, unlike Khoda with his ‘I’ve been wanting to kiss you all evening’ and his random intimate text messages especially in public, his popping-up-in-her-hotel-rooms-when-least-expected, etc.
Maybe it is because all the back-story of the romance is between sixteen-year-olds and thirteen-year-olds in Bittora, and that for me was borderline creepy and often boring.
Maybe because the first time they meet, they instantly jump into their make-out session, with no build-up for the reader. Anticipation is half the fun.
Maybe in said ‘first-for-the-reader-make-out-session’, Zain disregards her non-consent and kisses her. Somehow that wasn’t as hot as I think the author set it out to be. Khoda does a similar thing towards the end of the first book and that played out as playful (ha!), here I found it distasteful.
Maybe it is because I was put off by the crude ancillary references, e.g. Tawny uncle’s son The Rapist, the crowd’s groping at the mela, etc. that were all supposed to be casually laughed off (and were pretty much correct-for-context), but which totally put me in a defensive, disgusted mood, not receptive towards the actual romance. In Zoya Factor, the ancillary references are equally crude, but they refer to sex (not rape).
Maybe it is because the supporting cast in Bittora – especially Ammaji – was so solidly crafted that your attention was split, vs. in the first book where no one else apart from the main characters got to monopolize reader attention & affection.
Maybe it is the fact that in the Big Contest in the book, Khoda won his battle, but Zain lost. Did ‘loser stench’ ruin the latter’s alpha male scent?
Maybe it is that Khoda kept his hands and nose very clean and never lost the high moral ground during the book, even in times of stress with Jogpal & Sons. Zain was doing as much mud-slinging and dirt-throwing as his competitors in the electoral battle. A Bauji-type honest man would’ve called for suspension of disbelief, but wouldn’t’ve been totally impossible, would he?
Maybe it is that Khoda was shown to be a leader of men, literally, but Zain was only shown to command his friends’ loyalty, which is admirable, but less sexy.
Maybe it is because the captain of a successful Indian cricket team is unattainably desirable, but there are a hundred former-prince’s-son-types around?
Maybe, paradoxically, it is because there is a close real-life analogy to Khoda in M S Dhoni but someone like Zain isn’t really around today (no, not even Omar Sharief).
Maybe it is the face that the power and social status imbalance is so little, almost negligible, between Zain and Jinni, rather than the insurmountable gulf of celebrity between Khoda and Zoya. And obviously power imbalances are what make (straight?) women swoon with lust, or something.
(Oh, and of the four main characters, I only referred to Khoda by last name in my first draft of this post, then went to correct it, and stopped myself. Maybe my subconscious is telling me something. That I think of Khoda as more male? That the author thinks of Khoda as more male? She keeps calling Zain ‘Zain’, but called Nikhil Khoda ‘Khoda’ almost throughout. Men are usually called by their last names, especially in situations of power and authority, and women are called by their first names – through history, and for various reasons. Remember how everyone back in 2008 called Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton ‘Obama’ and ‘Hillary’ respectively?)

Third, the Hinglish was so much more obvious here in Bittora. There was not even the perfunctory attempt as in the first to ease the way for readers who didn’t speak Hindi or know local references. This is an unapologetic “of Indians, by Indians, for Indians” book. While I’m impressed with such confidence and a little intimidated (what to do, I’m a pasty-faced NRI), a part of me does wish they would care for their overseas readers, even if it’s just so readers like me could share the book with local friends here. But yooooohooooo for no more stupid substitutions like ‘unleavened bread with clarified butter’ for roti-and-ghee, like in English books by Indians published even as late as 2002.
This means the economics of the publishing/book selling business is so sound in desh that it can sustain itself, which is more than the US publishing business can say for itself. Despite nakli books sold by eight-years olds at traffic lights. Good for you, desh.

Fourth, and related to the above, the target audience seems to be a more mainstream Indian than the SEC A, urban woman target audience of Zoya Factor. There aren’t too many highbrow riffs on people who use unnecessary plurals (‘anyways’/‘grands’/‘butts’); instead, the riffs are now on people who ask politicians for favors. The internal demon that gets defeated is not a nation’s harmless superstitions during cricket matches but the violent, all-pervasive, gut-wrenching religious bigotry.

Fifth, and this is not a change in Chauhan’s writing as much as a repeat performance. I’ve also recently read a couple of other desi chick-lit books, and wanted to gouge my eyes out. The plot is non-existent. The heroes are vapid. There is absolutely no originality to the stories or the characters or the conflict or the treatment. There is liberal lifting of entire narrative arcs from Sex and the City and Bridget Jones’ Diary, the wannabe-ness of it all is depressing. Oh, and the editing is SO disgusting, SO terrible the editors should commit hara-kiri. In Advaitha Kala’s Almost Single, the very first line has the protagonist waking up from a ‘deep dreamless REM sleep’ and I read that and threw the book across the room in disgust. Unfortunately, in a moment of weakness I picked the book off the floor a few days later and continued reading, to my eternal regret. Another book – Kkarishma’s Konfessions, was it? – has a blatant error in the first page: someone is someone’s elder sister, then suddenly becomes the younger sister in page two and goes on. And that typo is not even an ironic insight into the idiotic world of Indian soaps. If it was an insight, it was way too subtle as irony and way too obvious as a typo.
So, compared to genre, Chauhan’s books are high literature, which is not saying much. But even by themselves, her books are well researched and grounded in their industry and setting (rural India and politics for Bittora, cricket and advertising for The Zoya Factor), have lots of in-jokes about Bollywood and pop culture, and lots of really funny random insights (“like all visiting NRIs, [mother] was obviously hoping to squeeze both a funeral and a wedding into one India trip” – Bittora, or “People who knew only one language…what would they switch to if they started getting pally, or angry, or fell in love?” – Zoya Factor)

Sixth: I love that this one had a much more satisfying ending. This book had closure. Of the relationship, and also, for the character’s individual lives. Zoya Factor didn’t. I kept turning the page to see if I’d missed the last part. That, if nothing else, makes author confidence very clear, as I’m realizing in my own writing.

So what’s unchanged?

As before, Chauhan’s own stated real-life inspiration for the hero (Saif Ali Khan for Zain Altaf Khan) completely rings false (like Rahul Dravid for Nikhil Khoda. Ew.) Saif when younger was too dissolute and completely unlike current-time-Zain or even younger-Zain. And current Saif? Oh, please. The guy is more and more like a real-life Macbeth, with his insecurities and his younger, prettier girlfriend.
As before, I can imagine only Farhan Akhtar in today’s Bollywood doing any justice to Zain’s character. Stretch it to Imran Khan, or (ugh) Ranbir Kapoor. I actually know some people in real life who’d play this role perfectly, too. Jinni would have to be Ayesha Dharkar, I suppose, just to be able to do justice to the ‘abnormally wide smile’. Konkana & Kareena are good stretch choices.

Finally, if she were to ask me: dude, what should I change in my next book, I’d say:
Please have a genuine love triangle. I’m curious to see how you’ll write that. Oh, and please don’t have a creepy, precocious pre-teen male child with an inappropriate obsession (women’s panties/human torture). It’s too done, and done irritatingly. And get yourself a website, woman, it is 2011 already, and even fans have needs – e.g. to obsessively stalk their authors.

Oh, oh, and write more. Please.

The Zoya Factor

April 21, 2011 Leave a comment

Just finished re-reading the excellent chick-lit “The Zoya Factor“. For the record, I have no major qualms about using the word (phrase?) ‘chick-lit’ to describe the broad genre of easy-breezy reads involving contemporary-to-the-times characters, a female protagonist – a usually ditsy and often extremely insecure female protagonist – dealing with relationship issues, presented to the reader with situational, self-directed humor, and involving a happy ending. I wish we could come up with a slightly less condescending name, but I can live with ‘chick-lit’ because it captures the spirit of the books themselves – irreverent, playful, self-deprecating. It’s the covers of these chick-lits – uniformly involving red stilettos, ‘cartoon’ drawings on the cover, primary/pastel colors – that usually get my goat. And the utterly boring, predictable plots that some of them have – seriously, even if it is ‘chick-lit’, you still need to put in *some* work, Ms./Mr.Author!! Oh, and yes, the irritating stupidity of the heroines, who just can’t seem to handle the fact that they have actual brain cells in their heads.

But The Zoya Factor is not irritating. The Zoya Factor is not thoughtless. For the most. And Zoya, the protagonist, is sily, but not teeth-grinding-inducingly stupid. I love that it is set in the familiar world (for me) of advertising/marketing. I love that it involves a seriously ambitious love interest – it doesn’t get bigger than the captain of the Indian cricket team. Oh, and did I say the humor is spot-on?

I’m not going to review this one thoroughly, because there isn’t much to review – it’s a pretty straightforward story that makes fun of ‘India shining’ while also being reclaiming ‘India shining’ for itself, in the whole Luck-by-Chance/Om-Shanti-Om style. Anuja Chauhan, the author (who’s from my college!! WHEEE!!!), doesn’t waste too much space setting context or even background for Nikhil Khoda, and with good reason. Her secondary characters are excellent, the love story holds your interest, the conflict could’ve been better – it is contrived in places, but not terribly irritating, so I’ll let that go. And the romantic pay-offs are superb.

Oh, and Nikhil Khoda has to be the dishiest romantic hero EVER. Really. He’s in Rhett Butler/Mr.Darcy league. That is all.

Anuja does the cricket well, though I do wish she’d spent just a little more time, but that’s a personal preference. Of course, she does the cricket-and-advertising pitch perfectly (see what I did there?), she does cricket-as-national-religion and cricketers-under-pressure pretty well. She’s also incorporated the whole Greg Chappell-Saurav Ganguly-Jagmohan Dalmiya fiasco, leaked email and all. Unfortunately (for me), she takes Chappell’s side very, very unambiguously, and makes Ganguly and Dalmiya look like buffoons. During the controversy, I’d felt – along with most Indians – that the Australian-import Chappell was being totally unfair to Ganguly, so here I will need to disagree with Chauhan. But of course, she probably has loads of better information. Maybe the former Indian captain was a shoe-stealer and weight-thrower during her Pepsi shoots? And this was her way of getting the perfect revenge? And maybe Red Chillies optioned for movie rights *after* Ganguly was out of KKR? Huh? Huh?

Because the script hews closely to actual current events, it’s fun to play guess-who. Khoda is Dhoni, despite the author’s protests. Sorry, but I just.do.not.see a ‘younger, unspoilt Rahul Dravid’ there. If anything, I can see a bit of Ganguly in the arrogance. Of course, Khoda is too metrosexual, dripping sophistication, compared to M S Dhoni’s earthy-cool. But the records are similar, and there’s just too many parallels.

Harry/Hairy is very likely a mix of Harbhajan and Yuvraj Singh (‘cut surd’, juvenile antics, aggressive on-field, etc.). Zaheer Pathan is, of course, Irfan Pathan, who was looking really good in 2005-6 when she was likely writing the book. Soon after, his luck turned south: but he’s been immortalized in the book, good for him! I’m guessing the others: Monita-Rinku-Chachi-Zoravar-Papa-etc are from Chauhan’s family/friends/acquaintances circle.

And now that the movie is being made, these are my picks for casting choices:

Zoya Singh Solanki:

  1. Preity Zinta, 10 years ago, would be my top pick. And if Aamir Khan can play a 17-year old in 3 idiots, why can’t Preity Zinta play a 27-year old lead? I would totally cast her. With crazy curly hair, of course.
  2. Amrita Puri. She could do the ditzy stuff well, and of course be Karol-Bagh-Solanki to the tee. And I *think* she could pull off the advertising executive work – but that needs to be seen.
  3. Konkana Sen Sharma. I can see her do both the ad-exec and the Karol-Bagh thing well. But she’s probably a bit too self-possessed to do the ditzy stuff. Well, she’s an actor, who knows. But this would be an interesting choice.
  4. Anushka Sharma. But I’m so, so tired of her being the Punju babe.
  5. Deepika Padukone, Sonam Kapoor, etc. – too urbane. But who knows, maybe they can pull off this role.

Nikhil Khoda – oh you dreamy, dreamy man.

  1. Farhan Akhtar. Top pick, hands down. Looks like a sportsman. Can totally do the intense, brooding “leader of men” thing. And looks dishy, oh, so dishy (forgive me, I just re-watched Luck by Chance recently!). Can do the romantic/angry/sexy scenes SO WELL. And is probably one of the three ONLY actors in Bollywood who can say ‘musical soiree’ and ‘pyromaniac’ without sounding like he had to practice in front of his bathroom mirror for days (the other two being, maybe, Abhay Deol and Shah Rukh Khan).
  2. John Abraham. Needs to stand up straighter to pull off the sportsman thing. And has been playing too many wing-man roles for me to be able to picture him as Alpha Male quite as well. But he does have potential.
  3. Siddharth (the guy in Rang De Basanti). Intense, brooking, blah, blah blah. Also, looks a lot like a younger Dhoni, but pseud-er, which is what we’re looking for. I just can’t picture him being masterful enough, but you could probably compensate with camera angles or background score or something.
  4. Imran Khan. In a pinch. Can’t act for nuts – yet. Especially not the angry/intense scenes. But he looks the part.
  5. Ranbir Kapoor – NO NO NO. He’s over-exposed, and a real-life d*ck. He’ll totally make the movie about himself, instead of supporting the woman lead. Doesn’t look the part ONE bit (dark, sportsman, intense, etc.). Can act all right, but is – and looks – too entitled to be a hungry-to-prove-himself-rookie-Indian-skipper. I only added him to the list because there’re rumors doing the rounds that he’s playing Khoda. Please, SRK, NO!! Don’t destroy Nikhil Khoda for me!
  6. Hrithik Roshan – Not really. Too old, for one. And too, too good looking. But he has magic, and can probably pull off the role better than others who’re more suited for it.

So that’s my take. Can’t wait for the movie, especially since Reema Kagti is supposed to be working on the screenplay (SQUEEEEEE!!!!).

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.

Lorenz attractors

November 22, 2009 Leave a comment

The problem with picking marketing/brand management as a career is that your earning potential is definitely capped. It’s like picking supply chain management as a career option – even the absolute best experts in the field, the people right at the 90th percentile and above, only earn about twice that of someone just starting out. In brand management, the ratios are slightly better since general management is infinitely more accessible, but even the GM in my Southern company makes only ~$200K as his base pay (and add another ~$300K or so as a bonus).

This is totally different from, say, finance. Or even sales. If you’re an entry-level sales person, or someone without the best pedigree or connections, you start out as a door-to-door salesperson or someone selling sabun to kirana stores, making the equivalent of ~$50 a day. Slightly better educational qualifications, or slightly better connections, keep getting you higher in the food chain – to pharma sales, to CPG/FMCG sales, to regional sales/distributorships, to financial sales, to the investment banking sales/trading floor. In the last category, a person 5+ years in earns ~$5-10 Million per year, about 300X of the door-to-door salesperson.

I can’t think of the equivalent ‘big bang for your buck’ niche in marketing.

Women typical use considerations like work/life balance, etc. when picking a career – even us ‘high-powered alpha women’ from ultra competitive business schools. Which is why brand management is a disproportionately favorite choice for so many of us. This means we think short-term, and forget the long-term career-long implications of our decisions – we earn less than our classmates for ever, even if the (often male) classmates weren’t all that great to begin with, they quickly overtake us in earning power because of that career line advantage. Marketing therefore gets us on the mommy track before motherhood/families even get a chance to hit us.

And this is the kind of stuff one should be taught to analyze in business school – not double-entry bookkeeping. Or, you should be smart enough to figure this out before you go about picking a career. Clearly, you get the profession you deserve!

Categories: diary, management, marketing

Yeh toh kuch nahin hai, hamarein yahan toh….

November 17, 2009 Leave a comment

Then there was the Bigger family with Mr. Bigger, Mrs. Bigger, and Baby Bigger.
Q: Who was the biggest?
A: Baby Bigger, because he was a little bigger.

Remember the old popular joke about the guy who was visiting a small town and kept showing off that everything was ‘so much bigger’ in his own town? The roads, the houses, the cars – and then, when the small town guys dunk him in the pool, even the pools and the jokes were bigger in his hometown. And someone calls him an idiot, and he says there are even bigger idiots in his hometown?

That’s what AP sounds like in this farce of an article:

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Sarah Palin’s book is highly anticipated in her home state — but she’s no Harry Potter.

“I’m excited about the event,” he said. “Am I as excited as I was for Harry Potter? No. That was huge.”

At Gulliver’s Books in Fairbanks, tins of candies packaged as “Sarah’s Embarrassmints” are a hot item, far outselling Palin’s book.

Store owner David Hollingsworth said he has received 10 pre-orders out of his 100 copies. It’s nothing like the frenzy he saw for the 2,000 copies he ordered with the last installment of the Potter series.

The July 2007 release of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” prompted two young sisters to wait in line outside his store for 11 days, living out in their parents’ camper. Hollingsworth also had a midnight release for Potter fans but didn’t plan to repeat those hours for “Going Rogue.”

“Yes, it’s a big deal, but we’ve had bigger deals,” he said.

So they’re comparing a political book by a supposed (they wish!) non-entity to the last Harry Potter book? Umm, why not compare this to the two Obama books – wouldn’t that be a more equitable comparison? Or to a McCain book, or a Clinton book? Or to any autobiography/life story/non-fiction/roman e clef by any famous woman, since they only think women should be compared to women? It’s a truly telling sign when your detractors need to compare your book to the series that is supposed to have sold more copies than the Bible internationally in order to come up with negatives and then say ‘ohh, it’s no big deal’ while crowing about it falling short.

I’m no Palin supporter, but when a global news organization reprints press releases from one side of a battle verbatim as news and claims zero bias, one needs to call b***shit. Proof:

Coinciding with Palin’s national book tour, the Alaska Democratic Party announced Monday it was launching a Web site to hold Palin accountable on some issues. It’s called “Say nO to Sarah,” or SOS…..

And that’s the sign-off on the article – not the AP reporter’s sign-off, but that of the party issuing the press release. Rachel D’Oro didn’t even bother to wash hir hands and wipe the blood off the knife.

These [pirates’] rules, they’re more like guidelines anyway

November 17, 2009 Leave a comment

Cap’n Barbosa from the Dead Man’s Chest speaketh:

The Indian Air Force on Tuesday said it was planning to have women fighter pilots in future, but they will be inducted with a pre-condition of not bearing children till a certain age.

“In a few years time, we might see this change (women getting inducted as fighter pilots) coming in with certain pre-conditions that till this age we request you to be happy, be married, but no offsprings,” IAF Vice Chief Air Marshal P K Barbora told reporters here.

After 13-14 years of service, investments made on fighter pilots are actually recovered by the government,” he said in an indication that women fighter pilots will be allowed to have kids only after putting in 13-14 years in IAF.
The IAF Vice-Chief said if a woman pilot has to take pregnancy leave, she will be off-flying for around 10 months, which will not be fruitful for both her and the Service.

Citing reasons for Services not inducting women into combat arms, Barbora said, the armed forces “feel that it is not right to have a lady or a woman exposed to a conflict where she can be a prisoner of war.”

Secondly, psychologically, are we fit? another factor,” he added.

This is when I stop being proud of the Indian military that ‘keeps us safe’ (wev), and start wondering about eligibility & selection criteria that allowed Barbora and his ilk to come up through the ranks. First, psychologically, is he fit? Second, mathematically, is he sound? Third, how robust are his faculties of logic?

If 13-14 years are all that are required to break-even on training costs, then what’s preventing them from directly saying that they require 14 full years of service – get initiates to sign a bond to deliver 168 full months of committed service or pay back training costs and suffer penalties? If someone takes 10 months off to deliver it’s not like they are never fit to do anything after that – ask Kim Clijsters, who won the US Open 18 months after delivery. And why the exception for pregnancy – what if someone (a male candidate maybe?) falls ill with a debilitating heart disease at 30, and needs to take six months off to recoup?It’s not like large emergencies never happen to fighter pilots, or that employees of the IAF are exceptionally protected from all such unexpected events .

Do Barbora and others that helped make this decision think they’re fooling anyone when they say “Now, women in the age group of 21-23 years are inducted into the flying branch and may be allowed to start family after crossing the 35-37 years age bracket.”? Is that condition likely to allow for any woman’s priorities at 21? Or, for that matter, any man’s priorities? What about changing priorities? And what if someone gets pregnant by accident? Is the IAF going to demand and force abortions? Sheesh, people, do you even think these things through before you call press conferences to shoot off yer mouths?

Maybe Barbora and ilk need to recieve printed copies of the story of Major Stephanie Nelson (her story here), the US Air Force fighter pilot (she flies F-16s) who got pregnant and was still treated with respect and equality.