Inception was a movie that I was really looking forward to. Christopher Nolan, DiCaprio, Ken Watanabe – how could it go wrong? The Matrix references only added to my excitement.

Turns out, it’s a good film. But it’s not a great film. Perhaps I have been let down by my expectations. I have watched every film but one of Nolan’s and, while hard-pressed to point out his best, believe that this particular film is not it. It’s a very novel concept, it’s been well executed, but there’s nothing like the kick in the gut one got when one watched The Matrix. One has to admit, though, that The Matrix is a tough act to follow. Even the Wachowskis could never attain the same heights again….they never even came close.

The best thing about Inception is the idea – it’s unique, and it’s clearly been thought through. Nolan has also kept it taut, even if it runs for almost two and a half hours. It’s a good-looking film, well shot, with competent acting, and is definitely worth a watch. I just wish I could better explain this feeling – of something missing – that persisted with me long after the end of the film.

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Now to other matters. Two sets of friends are in the middle of divorces. And it just made me realise that men are very often victims as well. In one case, the wife carried on with another man for a long time, and decided to end the marriage. Ok, that happens. You find someone else and decide to move on. The husband, who had no idea, was shocked. But they decided to keep it amicable and civil, and he’s now trying to pick up the pieces of his life.

It’s the divorce of the other couple that has really disturbed me. Wonderful people, both the husband and the wife. I’ve known them for years. They decided to separate, and also figured on doing it amicably and civilly. Things were proceeding well. And suddenly, the husband was threatened with allegations of harassment and torture, and is now being arm-twisted to part with more than he should. And frankly, he was already being more than fair in the settlement. Anyone who knows the couple knows that there is not an iota of truth in those allegations. But the law, when it comes to allegations of this sort, is skewed in favour of the woman, and the man, if he decides to call the bluff here, is in for the long haul – FIR, possible arrest, harassment and possible arrest of his parents, and a long and sapping court battle. With his father having undergone a complicated bypass procedure a few months ago, he is anxious to end this with minimum fuss. Which means giving in to the wife’s extortion.

Most of us who know them are aghast, more so because the wife is also a warm and caring person. At least, she used to be. But greed can, I suppose, make people do strange things.

The unfairness of the law galls me. But it also struck me that this was part of a larger Indian phenomenon – the tendency to cover incompetence and shortcoming in implementation by making tougher laws. So, if women are being harassed and intimidated at home, instead of ensuring that the police investigate such complaints promptly and efficiently, with some degree of competence, we take the short-cut of enacting a tougher law. And as much as domestic violence targeted against women is a sad fact, it is equally true that there are many women who exploit and misuse this law to screw over their husbands.

And we don’t restrict it to that, do we? No. Terror laws, for example. The police can’t competently handle things here as well, so make it easier to pick up people and lock them up for long periods without judicial redress.

In both cases, we have tougher laws – unfair laws, in my opinion – that actually absolve the investigating authorities of the need for any competence and expertise, and instead hand our men in khaki yet another source of income.

It’s shameful – and ironic – how we keep snipping away at the thin sheets of liberty that our constitution gives us, handing over more and more power and control to an already predatory state.

And, as with my friend, it’s always the innocent who bear the brunt.

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Did I forget to mention that it’s good to be back?

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Prakash Jha is a director I like, and amongst all his films, my favourite is Mrityudand, not least for the many themes it so successfully tackled. His later films have tended to be narrower in scope. With Rajneeti, though, he’s taken a very large canvas, and you can see that he’s had trouble keeping all the elements in place. It’s a messy story to begin with, and Jha screws up with the addition of some needless complications. For instance, why is Manoj Bajpai sidelined by his father in the first place? Very unconvincing. As far as a modern-day remake of the Mahabharat goes, I would still rate Benegal’s Kalyug as better than this. Having said that, I am grateful to Jha for at least having the courage to make a somewhat intelligent film. Everytime a movie like Housefull or Wanted works, I feel we have hit rock-bottom, but along comes a movie like Rajneeti that lifts us a few precious inches above cinematic rock-bottom. I suppose we should count our blessings.

Enough has been written about Rajneeti being a sort of shabby cross between the Mahabharat and Godfather. It is. So I shall not touch upon that angle here. Instead, here are the top three reasons to watch Rajneeti:

1. Rajneeti is a ‘must watch’ film if only for the distinction of having the Most Awful Sex Scene Ever. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, ever. There’s an actress called Shruti Seth – she’s really funny, especially when she tries to be sexy – who tries to seduce Arjun Rampal’s character. The scene is hilarious. Even before Arjun touches her, Shruti’s breasts are heaving mightily and she’s biting her lower lip, and grimacing in a manner that she probably thinks is seductive. And then we have what can only be called a WhamMa’am (Arjun dispenses with the Thank You, and was there ever a Bam?), and the brief encounter is over. Shruti’s still heaving and trying to look scowlingly seductive. Hysterical. Well done, Jha.

2. Things get better when Katrina and Arjun consummate their marriage. (The lead-up to that is quite funny too.) Instead of the staple Indian euphemisms for sex (a bright fire, birds pecking, bees on a flower) we have the radically aesthetic shot of fingers clawing their way across the sheets. Hot stuff.

3. Oh yes, there is this scene where a car blows up, killing Arjun Rampal. As Katrina cradles his body in her arms, “Mora piya mohse bolat naahi’, sounding even more mournful than usual, starts blaring…quite loudly too. I remember muttering to myself “That’s ’cause he’s dead, biatch.” Yeah, I know. I am a callous bastard.

I really don’t know why Ranbir has been praised for his acting. What acting? He’s just had to keep one blank expression all through the movie. Katrina Kaif, on the other hand, had a role that required her to be more than Ikea- type furniture. Needless to say, she blew it. Arjun Rampal, surprisingly, was the revelation. For once, he managed to make the transition from Furnitureworld to the Land of the Facially Mobile. As for the woman who plays the Kunti-equivalent – I think her name is Nikhila Trikha –  she’s hilarious. In the tearful scene where she tells Ajay Devgan that she’s his mother, that he’s a bastard, and other such mother-son stuff, many people in the audience cracked up. Not quite the reaction Jha was looking for.

And what is with all the women getting pregnant? Three of the characters in the film get pregnant, just like that. On a whim, almost. Tazeen has touched upon this in her non-review. Whatever happened to safe sex?

Now for the positive bit. Note the use of the singular. The film is accurate in its representation of Indian electoral politics. For example, time and again, we are shown how the electorate falls for the most ridiculous speeches about parivaar, balidan, qurbani, suhaag, and other such shit. And perhaps the most telling moment – and one of the film’s inadvertently-authentic scenes – comes towards the end, where the faithful family chauffeur, the historically maginalised, has to take refuge again at the feet of the dynasty, the very dynasty that put paid to all his dreams and that can still maintain the status quo because his son is now dead. Rubs home the fact that minions like us can rave, rant, blog, tweet and light all the candles we want, it don’t count for nothing in the end. So there is still that touch of authenticity, albeit a very fleeting one, that we expect from Jha.

Finally, while still on the question of authenticity, there’s been a lot of speculation in the media about whether this film is, in parts, a thinly disguised representation of India’s first dynasty. I can confirm to you that all such speculation is unfounded. How do I know? Well, in all the scenes of the party core committee, right from the beginning of the film, there’s this quiet, unremarkable and presumably loyal Sardar present. But finally Katrina Kaif is made the CM. Not the quiet, unremarkable and loyal Sardar. So how’s that real life, huh?

You know what I love about Indian movies shot abroad? The fact that the US, the UK and Australia seem to be predominantly inhabited by Indians, and everyone else seems incidental. And so it is with Kites. An Indian, by his own admission, controls the city of Las Vegas. “Yahan ki business, police, judges, senators, sab apne mutthi main hain.” It’s funny when Indians recreate the world in their own image. And that’s probably the nicest thing I can say about the film. You have been warned.

I read an article in the recent issue of India Today where the cost of Kites was pegged at 130 crores. Too bad for them that despite having shitloads of money, they still didn’t get a writer. And that’s the problem with yet another Indian film. For a movie that’s been touted as a passionate love story, I had to squint rather hard to see the passion, the love was of the “blink-and-you-will-miss-it” variety, and there was no fucking story.

Instead what you got was a terribly boring and pretentious film, where water motifs alternated with shabbily-executed car chases interspersed with some non-existent chemistry between the lead pair.

(Spoilers ahead)

There is – par for the course, again, as far as most Indian films go – the complete lack of logic. Beach house in Vegas? The whole divorce bit? Finding his mobile again? 11 marriages to enable immigration? That whole bit towards the beginning where J has to kill someone to truly bond with his in-laws, and how he gets out of it? Really? The whole escape across at least two states and into Mexico? The repetitive car chases? The cops behaving like a private army? The even-by-our-standards ridiculous escape from both the cops and the bandits at the motel? The I-can-take-a-bullet-in-the-chest-and-drive-for-a-few-hours-until-the-climax bit?

The movie has been called a tragedy. The only tragedy is that it was ever made. If the lack of logic wasn’t enough, there’s the inconsistent characterisation. Like how the bad guys always shoot first and say hello later, even shooting guys at random in Arizona (or was it California) and Mexico, but towards the end, on their own turf (remember that little speech about owning Vegas?), they turn surprisingly chatty. And then there are the moments that make you nostalgic about the spectacularly bad days of Indian cinema – especially when every car involved in a collision flips over twice in the air and then explodes in a ball of fire. And let’s not forget the moments just before the climax, when Hrithik finally gives it back. Very reminiscent of a bad ‘80s film with Mithun Da firing a Sten-gun at the villains and all the bad boys falling to the ground. Luckily it’s been shot at night, and in the rain. The fact that you can’t see much makes it less painful. But that’s essentially the thought process of Papa Roshan and Anurag Basu. “Take a bad and tacky film from the eighties, and make an even worse and tackier remake. Oh, and let’s shoot it in the US and Mexico, with Hrithik showing off his torso, and Barbara stripped down to her underwear. The gullible audience will buy it.”

(Spoilers end)

And even though they still might have the last laugh about the gullible audience bit, the following questions must be asked: What were these guys thinking? What had they been smoking? Who let them out?

Women who just want to watch Hrithik, everything else be damned – be advised, it will be much cheaper, and less masochistic, to just watch all his endorsements on TV. Not much difference. As for the men, well, Barbara Mori isn’t all that hot. What’s that you’re mumbling? The bikini shot? Sorry, dude. The movie still ain’t worth it. Trust me. This is one instance when I wish that what happened in Vegas stayed in Vegas.

This is an Indian movie that has pretensions of going international. Given the lows to which Hollywood has sunk in the recent past (Avatar, Transformers 2, Iron Man 2), one might have thought this was a good idea. But this film makes the three I have mentioned look like classics.

I hear the international version is apparently a trimmed-down one. That’s a good idea. If they trim 129 minutes of its approximately 130 minutes running time, and retain only the first shot of the kites in the sky, the film just might have a chance.

Then again, it might not.

Indyeah has resurfaced with another long (no surprises there!), well-meaning post that asks why we seem to be Punjabis, Jats, Malayalis, Yadavs, Dalits and Kannadigas, but not Indians. A post written, I suspect, more in hope, idealism and perhaps frustration than anything else.

So, who is an Indian? Ask me. I really don’t belong anywhere – including the place where my ancestors lived. At any place in India, wherever I go, my identity and acceptance –and therefore my ability to function as a normal human – seem to hinge on my speaking a particular language, or my belonging to a certain caste, a certain religion, a certain ethnicity. The boundaries of identity that we have been drawing around ourselves seem to be getting tighter and tighter, as we discover reason after reason for some new fissure, a fresh fracture. Ironically, the only place within India where I will be labelled and identified (and therefore hated) as Indian is Kashmir.

I don’t see this changing. If anything, I see these fissures getting wider and deeper. Why, you ask? Well, for one, constitutionally-guaranteed-right-to-work-anywhere-in-India or not, migration will always happen. Both from within the country and outside. We might grow from 6 cities that are economic magnets, for instance, to 12 cities that attract the bulk of the migrants. But the flow of migrants is not going to stop – at most, it might ease somewhat. Then there’s this wonderful concept of identity, honed to a fine art in this country called India. The politics of identity feeds on the concept of the ‘other’. My thesis is that migration will not stop. Ergo, the conclusion is that neither will the politics of identity. Not here, not anywhere. But here’s what’s worse – even if I am wrong, and migration does stop, the politics of identity will never go away. If there’s no ‘other’ from ‘outside’, well, a new ‘other’ will be created, from the existing, deceptively homogeneous mass. There will always be new players who will want power and a piece of the pie – and they will slice and dice identities until, quite literally, there might come a day when the politics of identity will reach ridiculous levels. You know, when we have political parties like the Mylapore Dravida Nadar Catholic Kazhagam, or the Nizamuddin East Punjabi Hindu Khatri Janata Vikas Manch.

And don’t think I’m trying to be funny here. (Well, maybe a little…). But isn’t it true that we have moved into an era of even greater fragmentation, where everyone seems to be getting violently agitated about the same things – caste, language, religion, region – but in a more granular way? Witness the rise of the sub-categories: sub-castes, dialects, sects, sub-sects and sub-ethnicities.

Of course, we will have the usual apologists who dole out the same tired clichés about how great India is notwithstanding all this…their arguments (and that’s being charitable) seem to be in the form of ‘only 60 years, so much progress, growing economy, survived global recession, hum honge kaamyab, superpower’ without looking at either our trajectory or the direction in which we are heading.

A bunch of businessmen getting richer and entering the global list of billionaires is great. The emergence of a middle class more prosperous than the previous generation is wonderful. A million or so bloggers having collective orgasms about India’s place in the world is fantastic. But we seem to forget that timelines have been seriously crunched in this age we live in. Each generation demands faster and quicker change. All this optimism – we shall overcome, we are the best and other such infantile fantasies – does not seem to have much basis in reality, unless of course the reality is that these optimists live in a mythical India far, far way from the dust, grime and poverty of the real one. The real India in which – depending on which definition you use – around a third of the population lives in poverty. The real India in which a great part of the country is wracked by a deeply-entrenched and violent Maoist insurgency. The real India where half the children are underweight. The real India where the forgotten millions live, struggling to make ends meet, without access to water or basic health care. Did I mention primary education? This cheery list could go on.

But Indyeah’s article was more an attempt to find solutions. Well, to be proud of being Indians, we first need to be proud of India. And we can be proud of a better India. So there we go. That’s the ultimate question, as far as we are concerned. Do you want Better India? Yes. Can we expect anything good from Our Great Rulers? No. So now it’s down to us.

I believe small things can make a difference. While Indians don’t give back to society and are not philanthropists in any sense of the word, we could – and should – guide the next generation in that direction. We can just start by behaving like good citizens. Let’s be courteous to our fellow citizens – in small ways, in the way that we dispose off our trash, in the way we drive, in the way we stand in queues and generally in the way we behave, especially in public areas. Let’s teach our children these small things. Perhaps they’ll be better people than us. Better People.

Pay for an underprivileged child’s education – fees, books, the works. Any child in your immediate vicinity. Ideally, as far as resources and time permit, do more than that – take an interest in her education. Monitor her progress. Interact with her. Hopefully, that child will learn something other than what is in books, and perhaps the India of 2030 might be a slightly better place than the one of today – and that’s not really a big ask!

I truly believe this is something small enough to easily do, but big enough to matter.

(The Original Cynical QI Will Be Back In The Next Post)

So the media circus around Kasab is hopefully about to get over. I, for one, might be accused of being callous for not understanding what the enormous fuss was all about. The man deserved a fair trial; our judicial system – aided, no doubt, by the fact that the accused was captured on camera – outdid itself in turning in a verdict in a little over a year’s time. Hallelujah!

Many people have already picked up the pieces of their broken lives and moved on, some will probably find some closure with this verdict, and some will never be able to move on. And that’s that. Still doesn’t explain the circus, but then, I’m slow.

But does the matter end here? Fuck no!

There’s the small matter of there being no hangman available. So here’s how things might pan out in the next few years, according to Quirky Indian’s Crystal Ball.

Q4 2011: Various appeals by Kasab for commutation of the sentence are rejected. Finally, the sentence stands.

Q1 2012: Ooops, no hangman.

Q4 2012: Still no hangman

Q2 2013: Government decides to fill the vacant hangman positions. Raj wants only locals to even think of applying. “Others who even think of applying will face action, MNS style.”

Q4 2013: 3 candidates have been selected from amongst the 1673489 applicants (including engineers, lawyers and MBAs). But some disgruntled applicant who was not selected filed a lawsuit alleging irregularity in the selection procedure.

Q2 2016: The courts finally throw out the lawsuit and lift the stay on the appointment of 3 selected candidates. But now there are only 2, as the 3rd candidate has become a ward boy in a BMC hospital.

Q3 2016: Another lawsuit filed by an NGO demanding that the hangings take place in the chronological order of sentencing.

Q4 2016: The government agrees that the sanctity of the queue on death row be maintained.

Q4 2020: The backlog is finally over, Afzal is still ignored, but Kasab’s turn is here.

Q1 2021: A leading TV channel exposes a scam in the procurement of the hangman’s noose and prisoner’s hood. Opposition demands the PM resign, stalls parliament for 6th day in succession, and the talking heads slug it out on TV. Couple of officials transferred. JPC constituted to look into this. Opposition is now desperate – tones down its demand – now wants somebody, anybody to resign. Nobody obliges.

Q4 2025: JPC submits its report. No concrete proof of irregularities found. The hangings can continue.

Q1 2026: Human right groups make a concerted effort to abolish the death penalty. Endless chatter on TV news convinces the government to dither on this issue.

Q1 2030: Government still undecided on death penalty.

Q2 2035: Kasab chokes to death on a piece of his mutton biryani. He was also high on drugs, which is why he could not call for medical assistance on his cell phone. Turned out he called a stripper by mistake. Her services were not needed – he was quite stiff by the time she got to his cell.

Q4 2040: Afzal’s still waiting…..

(QI consults by appointment only)

It’s been a commonly held – and cherished – belief of those of us who live in an India far removed from reality that much of the rot in Indian politics stems from the predominance of uneducated, uncouth and ‘unlike-us’ politicians, and that the entry of more ‘people-like-us’ into politics would – almost magically – change everything.

News flash, people…..there ain’t no magic, though it seems there’s been considerable sleight of hand.

Take the good diplomat-turned-conjurer, Shashi Tharoor. He was everything we hoped for in this new breed of saviour-politician that we so desperately craved. Educated, erudite, intelligent, cultured, professional, progressive, independent (in the sense of not belonging to a political dynasty)…..the adjectives could go on and on. We gave him a long rope and looked on with amused indulgence when he used Twitter almost like a policy forum…..at least he could spell twitter correctly, we thought to ourselves. Finally, we tittered, someone of class amongst the cattle.

And then the man goes and does something stupid. He lobbies for a team on the grounds that it represents his home state, and does not disclose that his girlfriend gets a free equity stake worth a very substantial amount of money in the same team. It reeks of quid pro quo, and when this point was raised – albeit by a man who has quite a few skeletons in the closet himself – it seemed the easiest thing in the world to resort to an ad hominem argument. So we had some smarmy aide of Tharoor implying that all allegations made by Modi were false, because – get this – the accuser was charged with drug possession while a student in the USA, and entered into a plea bargain later. Well, we know that. He may be all that you say he is, and more. But there’s a difference between discrediting the man (an easy enough job, when you consider whom we’re talking about) and discrediting the argument. And the fact is, the allegation has not been refuted. It has been denied and then it has been ignored.

Shashi Tharoor denies any impropriety, but has not bothered to explain how his girlfriend –also referred to as his fiancée – coincidentally, some would say almost magically, happened to get free equity in the very team he lobbied for. And why was this very relevant detail not disclosed in the initial protests of innocence? The lady in question claims that the payment was made in lieu of her ‘marketing expertise’, and that she had also been approached by KKR for similar services – something SRK promptly denied. So if it all seems murky, underhand and tiresomely déjà vu-ish, there’s good reason to believe it probably is. And I’m sorry Shashi, but calling your accuser names and questioning his admittedly ambivalent integrity do not make his accusations false. Though one has to admire the neat side-stepping and evasiveness on your part. One can see why you were such a successful UN employee.

Of course, the Congress spin doctors, aided by the usual suspects in the media, have very competently swung this around. By bringing The Other Modi in, they have ensured the debate about Shashi’s impropriety and possible misuse of power and position gets completely sidelined. Because, as we all know, the moment The Other Modi is brought into the picture, it’s all his fault, blah blah blah, from Dantewada to the Iceland volcano, yada yada yada. And so Shashi Tharoor, like so many before him, and undoubtedly like so many more to follow, survives and lives to lobby another day.

Speaking only for myself, though I have no doubt that others share similar sentiments, I think the ‘who’ is more galling in this case than the betrayal itself. Hell, the ‘betrayal’ itself is so commonplace and pedestrian in post-independence India that we would be surprised if a politician did not take advantage of such opportunities. Only in this case, we were hoping to be surprised. I think what we are most upset about is that our fondest hope – the idea that the ‘right kind’ of person in politics would make a difference – has died a very public death. We were hoping that our fantasies of politicians with integrity would be validated by Shashi’s performance. For wasn’t he almost like our own Clean-Sweep Ignatius? And which is why this incident really rankles. Because it tells us that educated or drop-out, social worker or criminal, professional wrestler or professional diplomat, our politicians are all the same. They are well and truly taking this country down the tubes, and there’s bugger all we can do to stop it.

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Let’s also take a minute to examine our own biases – whether based on caste, gender or class. Many people panned Mayawati for accepting a garland of currency notes. But are we looking the other way now because this time it is a well-groomed, well-spoken man from the right caste and the right political party who is involved?

My sister sent me the link to this the other day. It’s been around for a while now, but this is the first time I saw it. And I just had to share it.

It’s an outstanding piece of work. I thoroughly enjoyed watching the video – mainly because he makes me feel a lot better about my dancing skills.

By the way, he really starts to rock after 1:44…….. 🙂

If this is actually part of a film, could someone please let me know which one? I just have to watch it. It can’t be as bad as the current crop of crap we have in the theatres.