Charms of the others..

The women on one of my whatsapp groups ( Schoolmates) are united in Crush-cum-lust for the hunky stars from South. Prabhas, Rana, Ram Charan, Suriya and the other muscular gents with beautiful eyes grace the group DP several times. It is perhaps the only thing I relate to with the members, but that is another post. This fandom is largely thanks to the fact that for some years now, Hindi movie channels are awash with dubbed movies from South. The realization for ‘Non-Madrasis’ that Bollywood is not synonymous with ‘ Indian cinema’, nor can claim any superiority when it comes to music, technical aspects, story-telling, acting- has never been more evident with so much primetime focus every day. In recent years, there has been a mass awakening of sorts to the killer looks and rustic charms of the South heroes. To me this appeal has been immortalised in popular imagination with the image of the drool worthy Prabhas of sweet smile and beautiful eyes, in wet dhoti carrying Shivlinga on his sculpted shoulders ( which is a erotically charged association, come to think of it.)

The women in my group always wonder why aren’t these sexy men coming in a mainstream Hindi movie. Would they ever make it big in the Bollywood. Which role would suit them. Instinctively and with my experience in media- the answer is no.

For decades, Bollywood has had female superstars who were not from the Hindi speaking areas. Bengali and Marathi stars from Sharmila to Nutan to Madhuri. In recent years, quite a few women from European/ American countries have entered the industry. Katrina Kaif being the most successful of this lot. ( She also reportedly couldn’t speak Hindi for years ).

But for the purpose of this article, lets stick to the women from hardcore ‘Non- Hindi’ areas, i.e. South. Vaijayantimala, Hema Malini, Rekha, Shridevi, Jaya Prada are some of the most successful ones of the lot. Some of them like Shridevi, was a superstar in Tamil/ Telugu before she arrived in Bollywood and couldn’t speak Hindi for a long time despite of ruling the roost. Deepika and Aishwarya have come from international modelling backgrounds and while they have South Indian background/ last names, they are perhaps closer to Hindi speaking urban metros than the women of 80s and 90s. Overall, we can safely say that the success of a female star has not been hindered by their linguistic background/ heritage ever in Bollywood.

On the contrast, I can’t think of a single male star who has made it big despite of not being from typical ‘Hindi’ background. It is usually, Punjabis and North Indian men who are mainstream successes. The Southern mega-stars like Kamal Hassan, Nagarjuna, Chirnjeevi, Rajnikanth have been, at the most, recognizable faces for Hindi moviegoers. That’s about it. ( Again, can you think of any male star from any other industry making it big here? Nope. Even Uttam Kumar couldn’t make a dent. International models like Milind Soman haven’t been able to make it like their female counterparts could) If you take all the mainstream stars, their last names/ linguistic heritage has been uniformly Hindi/ Punjabi.

And then in the last 2 decades, the Tamil/ Telugu industry have seen Non-south women making it big. Tamannah, Kajal Aggarwal, Tapsee, Nagma and a dozen more women have been on the top. But again, you don’t see any non-South men making it big there. ( Interestingly, several non-South men have made it big as Villains – which is another post )

So, to conclude- While women can transcend linguistic boundaries while onscreen, men can’t when it comes to mainstream film industries.

My theory is that this is because mainstream industries tell stories about the men and thus require authenticity from men portraying these main characters. Women are seen as transient. It is expected that they adapt to ( largely male) systems which they go into. So be it their marital home, or the movie industry whose language they can’t speak- they are forgiven, nay, welcomed, as long as they adapt to their new homes and stay happy in status quo.

It would be easy to reduce it to simplistic statement that since women are not expected to essay demanding roles in mainstream cinema, and that they function cosmetically within the movies- it doesn’t matter where they come from. ( As long as they more-or-less are racially acceptable. Because you don’t see a woman from Arunachal Pradesh or China in Hindi movies, but women from Europe/ South America are welcome). But then how to explain Shridevi who was called a female Amitabh Bachchan? Or Hema-Malini the superstar? Or Rekha? No-one can challenge that these women and their stardom was based on their proven capacity to carry their movies on their shoulders to box-office success. Or that several times they essayed roles which were breakthrough for the times – being more important than the male ones. While a Tamannah could be explained away as the Telugu industry’s obsession over fair skin tone – how can you explain Nagma or Kajal Aggarwal?

Individually each of them can be explained. Some for their beauty, some for their dancing skills, some for their fair skin, some for their acting. But this theory falls apart when compared to male counterparts. Kamal Hassan doesn’t lack acting prowess. Rana can give any Bollywood star a run for their money in looks/ Machoness territory. And so on.

Another practical explanation could be the heredity. Many if not all today’s male stars have had benefits of their filmy families. Their fathers or uncles provide them with launch pads, sustain their initial career, they are helped by their seniors and friends in the industry. Women generally don’t have this benefit and where they do- they reap the advantages. ( The Hassan sisters, Sonakshi Sinha, The Kapoor sisters and so on.)

But again, why can’t established stars with national appeal move in industries? While the directors/ music directors/ editors/ DOPs can- why haven’t we seen any example of a successful male star moving from one industry to another with success? In fact when they do, they have to do so in secondary roles. ( Nobody will believe that Akshay Kumar will be equal to Rajnikanth in their upcoming movie together, will they?)

So coming back to the ‘authenticity’ theory. Men are expected to be ‘authentically’ representing the ‘roots’. You can’t have a non-Telugu guy representing the angst of Telugus in a Telugu movie. A woman is always expected to ‘adjust’ to the space she moves in. She is expected to forget her ‘maternal’ home and ‘ fit in’ with her new home. She can move in, while the man has to be ‘born’ in and ‘represent’ it. Her role could be bigger and better than the man’s occasionally. But the fact that she is accepted in that role, as a ‘native’ despite of her ‘other’ness is due to our collective acceptance of her ‘non-centrality’ to the representativeness of the culture.

Thoughts? Anti-theses? Arguments?

Weeks gone by..

Last few weeks have been a new high of national stupidity in the name of nationalism. The anger it generated in me is that typical brand of futile rage that consumes me and then leaves an empty feeling in its wake along with added cynicism. All it did was leading to a lot of angry debates with friends and as usual a realisation that a person is actually quite lonely when some beliefs are at stake. Husband and I agreed not to engage in these discussions with certain people- but always lost out to temptation when utterly stupid statements were made with perfect arrogance and ignorance. Anyway. Since my anger or my beliefs are wishy washy to begin with, there is no real reason for complaint as such. My university JNU thankfully has more committed and strong people who keep on fighting without any of this self-cynical-pity that I have. And I am sure it will come out flying high in the face of these dumbfucks.

I spent a week in London. It was cold, miserable. It is a testament of how much like dog I have become – happy in my territory – that I didn’t stay for a single additional evening than my official itinerary there. I like my colleagues and I like English beer! However, must say that my favourite time in the great metropolis was the one evening I had free- spent in hotel room, blissfully eating take-away, sipping Guinness and reading Harry Potter. And wishing all the evenings were like that! Add boring to anti-social. That is me now. A dear friend had this quote framed on her work-table ‘ World Is like a Book and if you haven’t travelled- you have read only one page’. I am content to have read only one word in that case. I am so over travel and new experiences- that very soon I am going to turn into a German Shepherd. Except the physical beauty and strength.

Out of Box

‘I quit my 9 to 5 job to travel.’

Given our vast young, urban population, it is reasonable that there would be few people who would be doing such things. I know one such person myself.

But the way these stories are told in media, is typical of our dishonest collective desire to appear urban cool. Nobody writes about how much money these people had saved, or whether they had family support. It is always people in cool professions- who have had enough of their corporate life and quit one fine day to travel. Or sometimes write. Or volunteer.

How, pray, they pay their Bangalore or Bombay rents? Or put petrol in their expensive bikes?

Writing about it is not cool enough for our papers. Yesterday an article I read, said that the young woman who quit her job to travel, is funding herself through blogging!! Now that is, knowing a bit about digital media, hard for me to believe.

I am not, mind you, criticising people who have quit their jobs to travel. It takes guts to do that and a readiness to throw your future in somewhat uncertainty – in a country where there are hundreds of candidates willing to take your job at one tenth of salary. Kudos to anyone who decides to take that jump.

But what the story writers always hide , is the fact that these activities are almost always done by people who have safety nets. Parental support 9 out of 10 times. A privileged position and network in powerful society which allows them a possibility to return to their jobs once they want to ( because just take it from me no-one can afford even a room in Bombay on their own with their writing in the biggest of travel journals alone).

Having this doesn’t make their choices any less awesome. Not at all.

But subtly, not writing about the privilege inherent in these choices, we are making ‘out of the box’ choices a classless thing. Since these choices are aspirational for vast majority who don’t have these choices- by not pointing out the very economic basis for ‘out of box’ choices- we make the majority ‘uncool in the box people’. It makes the very basic struggles of modern life as something ‘crass’ and ‘ conformist’ – when it appears that it is only your inner voice which can dictate your choices. If you continue with 9 to 5, you are not brave enough, cool enough, modern enough.

It is like how film people still talk about sleeping on the footpaths when they were strugglers and hide the fact that they in fact went to India’s top rated boarding schools and have at least five relations in the film industry. ( Let us not even talk about star kids who insist that they had to struggle just as much as any outsider- and that their success is down to their talent alone and not dear producer papa.)

Recently at a prestigious literary event, I disappointed a few Goodearth wearing, out-of-box people in expensive haircuts, by going in details about how I quit my job only once I had paid off my loans and got my ESOPS. They were longing for a story of a spontaneous inspiration and a writing bug. I could see from their reactions. I finally gave in to a kind man who kept on insisting about my inner voice and how it had NOTHING to do with money and all that. As I looked at his Timberland shoes, I couldn’t help but nod in conformity.

Selfish as a nature

I am. Not at all proud of it. Add privileged, small-hearted, insincere to it.

Yesterday, at a friends place for brunch, we indulged in the ‘ intelligent’ debate about the recent suicide of a Dalit student. Some people flat out denied that him being a Dalit had anything to do with his suicide. Most of them had an opinion that being Dalit is not a modern handicap anymore in modern India. These same people had, a couple of months ago, debated furiously with me, husband and a friend about reservations in India. As we three again went on- and an hour later- everyone including us three agreed that this noon shouldn’t be spent getting in fights- but enjoying the food- and went on to discuss a recent celebrity divorce, it struck me for the first time how vehemently self centred my life has become. And then it struck me that not that it ‘has become’, but that it was always that way, leading slowly to the ultimate privileged and small hearted insincerity.

What actually disturbed me was that this sharp realisation, which I had voiced several times before, chiefly to self , husband and brother- didn’t hurt me anymore. A few years ago, I still felt guilty about many things. I reasoned that since I am not in the league of people who refuse the necessity of reservations- this moral conviction must be proof of some small goodness in me. I thought, quite honestly, that I was a liberal, progressive person who cared about social injustice.

But yesterday, I embraced the fact that my life has been and most likely will be small and mediocre even in intent. That the goodness in me was limited to an extremely small circle of my life- most of which has seen little to no challenges to this goodness.

It might sound delusional to a more committed and sincere person- she might point out that I should have realised this long time ago. After all , haven’t I made these choices which have shaped my life?

And she is right. This liberal delusion is nothing, but my own squashed pride at thinking of myself better than others, thinking of myself as more evolved simply because I thought on the right track without ever choosing anything that doesn’t immediately benefit my small world.

What I am unable to figure out, and again this is extremely self-centred and passive- is what am I going to do with this realisation?

I very much doubt that I am going to change. So what is this realisation worth? Yet another pat on the back for self?

I don’t know.

New year resolution and my toenails

My friend rattled a long list of new year resolutions and in the flow of conversation I was dumbfounded about the only resolution which came to my mind.

Not mutilating my toenails.

I have picked up this really bad and occasionally painful habit couple years ago.

When I am reading or watching something, always lying down with a bolster, I put one leg on my knee, and systematically pick at cuticle, dead skin, not-so- dead skin, and nails themselves on my toes. My nails look like they are part of the skin now. Even a nano-milli-meter of growth doesn’t escape my obsessive attention. The skin around looks raw and as if some tiny creature with not so sharp teeth has bitten the toes.

Few months ago, I got myself a five-star pedicure- hoping that at least the fact that I have spent so much money on what I always thought as a useless and ultimately fruitless ( because feet get dirty and polish chips no matter what!!) expenditure will deter me.

After a week I was back to my mutilating activity. This time added advantage of slowly chipping at the polish like Michelangelo sculpting his masterpieces with precision.

My feet are quite cute. Husband, while not exactly a foot fetishist, hates this obsessive activity and my now tortured looking toes. My mother literally slapped my hand off my feet when I was doing this compulsively for 2 hours of movie. Once a corner of the nail started bleeding when I couldn’t get a stray particle of cuticle out for hours and husband held my hands while we watched the movie.

So much for a world-class problem like toe nails mutilation of mine. Somewhere in the world, millions of people are forced to leave their country. And here I am going on and on about my toenails.

But I am embarrassed to admit that this is the only improvement I can think of in 2016. It says more about my brain than the toes themselves, I am aware. But I will be mighty proud of myself if I achieve this in 2016!

Karmanye Vaadhikaraste.. maa faleshu kadachanam..

Every year, every hour, even every nano second brings change. Some changes are profound. Some are incidental. Some shake you out violently while some slowly drip in your future and you realize quite later the change that happened oh so slowly that you didn’t realize while you were going through it.

I THINK ( read : HOPE) I have finally, truly accepted that things , well, they tend to change . And unlike earlier times when I spouted Zen-ness everywhere but in my own life, 2015 has been actually Zenified. And this has happened gradually and without me actually planning it. So much for the will and self motivation and all that.

Life is full of accidents. Good and bad. Small and big.

But to accept it without grudge, truly in your heart/head and for it to be a continuous organic process- is something which doesn’t come out of ‘knowing’ alone.

IT happens. Like shit happens, IT also happens.

It has been more than 12 months that I have, more or less been largely accepting . Of the fact that things will change. That most of them are outside of my control.

Even when there were some pretty unique experiences which changed my perspective. Even when after there have been significant changes in my work profile. Even when husband went through a rough professional patch of his own.

So far – It is more or less calm acceptance.

For example. Recently when there were regular redundancies at work and half of the people I knew were laid off, the very fact that I wasn’t bothered for my security just brought home the point as to how seriously accepting I have become.

This job had literally fallen out of nowhere exactly a year ago. Just when I had prepared myself to branch into something else- out of my long frustration with corporate life- a honcho who knew me ten years ago called and made this fabulous work-from-home happen with the same role and money that I would have made had I stuck around in the asshole ridden place I worked for. Even when there were a couple of weeks of uncertainty about whether I will get this job or not- husband got a bit edgy- but- pat on the back- I was epitome of cool. I really didn’t worry whether I would get this or not.

When I did, I worked my ass off. But I could have easily been redundant- especially with the new structure across our corporate behemoth. I know it is my work, which without false modesty has been best of the lot. But it would be stupid to assume that it was other people’s work which made them lose their jobs.

It does take experience to bring home the humbleness that it is chance, quite often blind and almost always out of your control which changes your life.

And maybe it is time, it is experiences, it is slow knowledge that life beats you into- but I have stopped bothering about changes, especially the ones which are not in your control.

And an organic apathy is developed to what the changes mean for me.

Of course it means further changes just might be around the corner. It could be me sending the ‘It has been great working with you bleh bleh’ email a few months down the line, who knows.

But can I do something? In this case, nope. So I am content to work hard- something which I have accepted is in my blood. Accept that I do have a year more at least, or it could be a few more months of this wonderful earn a lot while you spend your working day in shorts thingie. It is quite possible that some high level strategic plan might upset this utopia. Who knows. Who cares. Not me.

What it means is that for the new few months at least I can work in conditions which I love. And that is more than enough.

Karmanye Vadhikaraste and all that.

Homeland Season 5

So I actually managed to watch season 5. Hurrah for 2016!!

Homeland, my guilty pleasure is as Islamophobic, pro-American as ever, sigh.

And still the most thrilling series I have seen in a while.

So quick points full of spoilers:

1. It is still the intricate, beautifully written thriller which manages to hook you no matter what is the ideology ( fucked up I know). The twists, turns, the way it is edited, shot, the conflicting interests, the compulsive characters all make this into a heady cocktail which is impossible not to like. The way plot thickens is unexpected even for a homeland hardened cynic. The pace is very Homeland- shockingly fast only to be followed by mellowness. Works for me. Episode 11 when Carrie discovers the real plot, while the villain soothes CIA into thinking otherwise, Carrie doing Carrie thing by following her gut and half dozen terrorists nonetheless, the drama in the terrorist group, Villain escaping with mindblowingly clever trick.. and some 5 other massively tense things happening – chop chop edited, pace heightening, beautiful action choreography, characters whirling in intense showdown- aaaaaahhhhh… Homeland does this on the edge of the chair like nobody can.

2. Strong female characters of all shades ( arr… all white of course). From chest thumping human rights activists to shadowy vamps to smart spies. And of course Carrie Mathison, who in this season has sobered down- literally and metaphorically- without losing her mojo. Watching strong female characters moving the narrative plot is a rare pleasure in a show of this scale. When Carrie learns that she has achieved safe passage to Lebanon and looks around to see her daughter/ boyfriend sleeping peacefully- I was pleased with the re-gendering of a classic scene. 99% of the times it is the male characters wistfully looking at the peace and stability- symbolised by his family. Women hardly get to choose dark, unstable decisions over the mature, wise ones expected of them, because duh. But Carrie literally gets to make tough decisions, be imperfect even in the context of motherhood and family, be a supportive lover, save her kickass assassin friend Quinn ( Eye candy numero uno), negotiate with the Hizbullah about values of respect and what not. I am constantly amazed at how her character transcends the boundaries of gender which I haven’t seen in any other spy show. I did find Allison’s character problematic in its fame fatale hints. Although she is not someone who gets to be a villain because she is a woman exploiting her femininity as such- it is rather strange that from the director of CIA to an Iraqi mole to a Russian super spy – all these wickedly twisted spooks are somewhat in love with her. It takes away some of her evilness. There was no particular need for that and it shows a bit of lazy stereotyping. Astrid is another find- she is cooler than Carrie, empathetic, kickass bright and could shoulder more narrative on her shoulders. The token leftie bleeding heart character Laura is a great character utterly ruined by a smirking actress who makes me want to slap her every time she spouts something sarcastically.

3. Islamophobia without shame. All muslims are either angelically good – reminding you of token Muslim chachas of 1970s Bollywood, or mad about ruining west. Be it Imams, scientists, young techies, poor people, rich people, men, women, kids, Hizbullah, army generals, Isis wannabes- all are reduced to their religion. There are hardly any human complexities written for Muslim characters. If they are good- it is because they follow their religion like good people. If they are bad, it is because they are following the wrong version. Hello, don’t people have life other than religion? Like white people do in the show? White people get to have all cool psychological traumas, affairs, lusts, ambitions, grey zones..and Muslims are there only because they are Muslims. Considering the fact that the show spends so much time on conflict with Muslim world- couldn’t they come up with one memorable character with interesting shades? ( And no, Abu Nazir wasn’t that- he was just played by an excellent actor, that’s all). The death of token angelic Muslim character is given 30 secs in this season- 20 of which are spent worrying about his ( white) Human rights activist. Isn’t his death supposed to say something about the man himself? Nope. He has served his function of good Muslim and now his death can only serve as the next cliff-hanger. This is not just racist and morally wrong the way Homeland ploughs through its ideological errors. But it is absolutely lazy. And it just goes on to show that smart people who create brilliant characters and write some of the best thrilling narratives are just not bothered about the major elephant in the room because they don’t care.

4. There are no super charming Middle eastern villains in this season- the honour goes to a blonde American woman this time ( she is lured by Russians you see. So you can rest easy lest America is dishonoured). There are no massively overarching characters driving the central plot as well. Quin is lame here, although he manages to look good even after being in a Sarin gas chamber. Otto – played by the ever brilliant Koch is ineffectively positioned as ‘ could he be behind all this sinister plot?’ suspicion since he is cute and rich and eminently suitable to play the modern James Mason. Saul Berenson has slimmed down and other than that there is no change in his character.

Well there it is. My belated analysis of Homeland- a show I love with shame!