The Dark Knight Rises, but that has a lot to do with all the fluff.

To be honest, I think it’s a victim of the success of the last instalment. But whichever way I look at it, it’s a poorer film than the last one. Not just thematically, but otherwise as well.

The Dark Knight, I thought, was a fantastic film. And while I admit that it would be very difficult for a sequel to live up to that, one would have expected Nolan to have done a better job.

As is often the case, the problem starts with the script. For starters, unlike the last time, when we were confronted with the question of how to deal with Evil that exists purely for the thrill of doing evil, and with no other ambition or motive, this time we are treated to an unconvincing Revenge Drama reminiscent of dhishoom dhishoom Bollywood.

As if this weren’t bad enough, clumsily woven into the narrative from the very beginning is this angst of the 99% against the 1%, starting with Hathaway spouting her equivalent of  the “main chor paida nahin hui milord, mujhe samaj ne chor banaya”  dialogue. That strand is picked up later, culminating in the liberté, égalité, fraternité bits, complete with the storming of the Bastille and Guillotine sentencings.

The characterisations are nothing to write home about either. The whole Bane thing was another throwback to the good ol’ Hindi flicks of the 70s and 80s, where villains like Shakaal, Mugambo, Kancha Cheena and Whatsisname terrorised the local population until they had their comeuppance. That scene in the stadium was reminiscent of Evil Thakur holding sway in Village Square, with Hirsute Henchmen terrorising Helpless Villagers with their Double-Barrelled Guns before spiriting away Voluptuous Village Belle on horseback. Please, Nolan. Been there, done that.

And while it is par for the course today for a movie to have that obligatory twist in the end, must Nolan have fallen prey to that clichéd and desperate attempt of filmmakers to extract some more oohs and aaahs from the audience?  And if it had to be done, it should at least have been done well. As it happens, I guessed the twist(s) fairly early on. Yes, all of them.

Even the action was not as great as it was the last time. Remember the moments leading up to the revelation of the Batpod in The Dark Knight? Nothing close to that here. There’s an extended sequence towards the end with the Batpod, the Bat, a Truck and some other armoured car type thingies that’s good, but not great.

So – not a great script, no great action, mostly pedestrian acting. All in all, a disappointing effort. Coming from a director whom I really admire, the only rationalisation I have is that Nolan is fatigued.

He is fatigued because a franchise kills your creativity. How do you excel in your craft when you are constrained by the specifics of the franchise, hemmed in by the constructs of the initial instalments, and yet under pressure to match not only your own previous works, but also the other I-am-a-Superhero-battling-my-own-demons-and-flirting-with-the-dark-side franchises that seem to be crawling out of the woodwork?

And that’s the problem with The Dark Knight Rises. It’s a product of fatigue. Nolan’s fatigue is evident, as is Bale’s. And when the director and the star both seem to be going through the motions, what more can one expect?

It’s official. We’re now a banana republic. I had this sneaking suspicion that we were well on our way when Kapil Sibal started his machinations last year; no doubts remain now that a Professor at Jadavpur University has been arrested for “spreading” a cartoon that shows Mamta Banerjee, Dinesh Trivedi and Mukul Roy in “a poor light” (sic)

Poor light? Really? Newsflash, Didi. Idolising their subjects is not the way cartoons usually make people laugh.

Arresting somebody for expressing his views to people on his email list? Is that the kind of country we have become? First it was obscenity or “offending religious sentiments”. Now it seems you can be imprisoned for cartoons that express dissent, disapproval or just a different point of view.

The way we’re going – corruption, institutional decay, rising intolerance in both the private and public spheres, the economy down the crapper – I seriously need to contemplate emigration. Perhaps a country which, over the next couple of years, might be in a place better than where we’re headed.

Quirkynorthkorean? Has a nice ring to it, I must say.

What can you write about a movie that’s two hours too long and interminably boring? That it is verbose. That it tries too hard. And that it does have two or three moments. Finis.

One expected much more from Imtiaz Ali, even if it was pretty much par for the course for Saif. After Socha Na Tha and Jab We Met, the expectations were huge. Hell, after being terribly disappointed by both Ice Age 3 and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, I actually thought LAK would end the movie drought. Wishful thinking, as it turned out. It’s a film that tries too hard to be smart, too hard to be trendy, too hard to live up to its own hype.

The biggest takeaway is that there’s too much friggin’ talk in the film. Yap Yap Yap. Yackety Yak. Blah Blah Blah. Yada Yada Yada. And then more of the same. The interval came and I asked myself, “So what’s happened so far?” The answer was: Jai and Meera had just broken up. That’s it. The rest was all talk.

There is some kind of plot. Just barely. Boy meets girl, they hit it off, they carry on for some time, they break up, they discover that they’re still very fond of each other, and even though they each enter into a different relationship that doesn’t quite make the grade, they continue to be friends along the lines of Sally Albright and Harry Burns, and after a couple of predictable twists, they figure out they’re fated to be together.

It just doesn’t have enough meat for a two hour film. While even Jab We Met was thin on plot, it was high on moments. It was high on laughs. And the actors never overshadowed the characters, and the setting never overshadowed the film. But in this one – all that could go wrong, did.

There’s absolutely no chemistry between the lead pair. Zero. As for the actors themselves, I have never thought too highly of Saif and he did nothing to change my opinion. Deepika looked good, but her dialogue delivery was stilted. Luckily for her, most of the film seemed to be a lengthy monologue by Saif and so she didn’t get too many chances to show off her poor acting skills. But I must say that one of the three good moments in the film – for me – was a Deepika moment. More on that later. Rishi Kapoor was good.

I am not sure how the film will do. The theatre was packed, so that means it’ll probably do well. The audience laughed at all the wrong places, and that could also make the film the surprise comedy hit of the year. The music’s quite decent, and it has been well received. But given that it’s Pritam’s music, I figure one will not have to wait too long before the ‘inspiration’ behind these tunes comes to light.

For me, there were three good moments in the film. The best, by far, was when Veer Singh goes to Calcutta to ‘meet’ Harleen (extremely well-cast). A beautifully done moment, with no dialogues (phew!) and a very nice song in the background. Conveyed everything one wanted to know about the characters and their relationship.

The second was when a drunken Jai escorts a sloshed Meera to her apartment. As has been the case with all of us who have been that drunk, one always has the urge, at that point of time, to show the world one is normal. So I identified with Jai when he nonchalantly asked the watchman “Aur bhai, sab theek-thakk hai?” – or something along those lines.

The third moment – the Deepika moment – was when Jai finally seeks out Meera, and, while she pretends to be normal, casual even, she does quietly give in to her emotions for a brief moment – but when Jai can’t see her.

But three moments do not a film make, and therein lies the rub with Love Aaj Kal. As Meera says to Jai early on in the film – when he tries too hard to be hot, he doesn’t succeed.

Imtiaz should have listened to that bit of advice from his own script.

Like two male frilled lizards, India and Pakistan are at their posturing best again. So if India’s External Affairs Minister reiterates that India has kept all its options open, Pakistan’s Army Chief says they are capable of retaliating within minutes and scrambles some aircraft to fly sorties as if to say “So there!” India seems to be sounding more and more petulant, and Pakistan, like a recalcitrant child, seems intent on digging in its heels and staying defiant. So where is this heading?

There are enough people within India who are pushing for some kind of action against Pakistan. The trouble is, after 25 years or so of blaming Pakistan for everything, there is a kind of weariness now in the international community. I mean, there can only be two options – either we are right, or we got it all wrong. Now, if we have been right for a quarter of a century, what have we done about it except whine, whine and then whine some more? And as any schoolchild will tell you, constant whining and running to the teacher every time you are pushed around will not only get you bullied some more, it will also make the teacher take you less seriously.

And that’s exactly where we find ourselves. Yet again.

So what do we do? Unfortunately, the options before us are very limited. We can continue to try and bring more international pressure on Pakistan, but given Obama’s views on, and the US agenda in, Afghanistan, as well as his limited understanding of the sub-continent, that’s not going to work for too long. Ditto for any economic sanctions. It doesn’t suit US interests in the region. The US is, as any nation should be, guided by its self-interest. (China is the best example of this, in their single-minded quest for world domination. If we had even a tiny fraction of the clear-mindedness and determination of the Chinese, we would have been on a completely different plane today.)

Today, we are, not to put too fine a point on it, between a rock and a hard place.

Given that we actually have no options – Pranab Mukherjee notwithstanding – how might the scenario unfold? In an election year, the UPA government might be constrained to escalate matters beyond mere sabre-rattling. A surgical strike, or anything like that, to my mind, will precipitate war simply because the civilian government (or what passes for it in Pakistan) will, similarly, have no choice but to retaliate to survive. The Pakistan military – even if it doesn’t decide to stage a coup – will welcome a chance to go to war against India, for three reasons: one, it gives them a chance to take centre-stage in the country again. Two, it takes the pressure off them in terms of attacking and disabling ideologically similar institutions – like the Taliban – that they have created, equipped and supported. Three, they know that while a war with India is not a war they can win, they also know it’s not a war they can lose.

I know the last point will shock a good many Indians. But that’s the truth. Our conventional military edge is not what it used to be. While we have clear numerical superiority – in personnel and equipment – the difference is not enough to give us victory. A conventional war will likely be a protracted, grinding affair with no clear winner, a military stalemate. It will, however, be disastrous for our economy and set us back 20 years. Even if we assume that India’s conventional superiority brings us close to victory, here’s a likely – but entirely fictional – account of what will happen next. (This also assumes that the nuclear option will not be exercised by either party.)

The moment India secures a military advantage, Washington will be told by Islamabad that there is huge internal pressure from within Pakistan’s establishment to go in for a nuclear strike. That ensures that there is suddenly tremendous pressure on India – from all quarters – to exercise restraint, and pull back with some face-saving measures. Simultaneously with India’s upper-hand in the conflict becoming evident, China will suddenly decide to hold some exercises on their side of the border with India, and make a show of moving some troops there. Perhaps even fly some sorties of their own. They will, of course, ratchet up the rhetoric on Arunachal and Sikkim as well, forcing India to divert attention, personnel and equipment to the east. And voilà, we are right where Pakistan – and China – want us. Militarily debilitated and demoralised, politically fragile and economically devastated. And that’s the end of our dream.

Regrettably, years of crying wolf, and a reputation of timidity, have left us with only one option – that of being defensive. And that necessitates setting our own house in order.

War is not an option.

UPDATE: A well-written article on how far our excellent diplomatic skills and clear-minded foreign policy have taken us….

The three service chiefs have written to the defence minister asking that the decision to implement the Sixth Pay Commission be put on hold until their apprehensions – relating to parity of service personnel with bureaucrats – are addressed. This was apparently greeted with a great deal of consternation and Shekhar Gupta of the Indian Express wrote an editorial questioning the motives behind the service chiefs writing this letter. Lt. Gen. (Retd.) Ashok Joshi then wrote a column in defence of the armed forces, where he tries to explain things from the armed forces’ point of view.

Many see India’s Defence Establishment as an anachronism. I’m not so sure about that. We do not live in an ideal world, and while I’m all for a world that’s peaceful and where we solve our problems by talking to each other, as things stand today, we need our armed forces. Here are two reasons why:

1. The increasing presence of terrorist and fundamentalist forces in the neighbourhood and at least one militarily strong, hostile and hegemonic neighbour that from time to time lays claims to Indian territory and makes incursions to back those claims.

2. 7600 kms of coastline, 2 million sq. kms of Exclusive Economic Zone, islands over 1200 kms from the mainland, deep-sea oil, maritime interests…..the list goes on.

Ok, this is what the armed forces are for. What do they actually do? Well, apart from 1 and 2, they have been involved in Counter-Insurgency Operations in J&K, Assam, Nagaland, Manipur and Tripura for decades now. They are regularly called upon to assist (meaning do everything) during natural disasters. And they are called upon – with increasing frequency – to deal with problems the civil administration can’t handle. Which pretty much means every time 10 people or more get into a fight.

My – admittedly simplistic – thoughts on this matter are fairly clear. While the armed forces are technically supposed to tackle an act of external aggression, the fact is that over the last 20 years or more, they have been actively doing the job of the civil administration. And the consequences have not been pretty. Without condoning any excesses and violations, it is important to note that the Army has been trained to use lethal force against its enemy – in theory, a foreign aggressor – and it’s a soldier’s job (I don’t think there’s any nice way of saying this) to kill in a war. The point I’m making is this – by training and psychology, soldiers are just not equipped for internal security duties that require the use of force. And making them do it only results in the sad consequences we are only too familiar with.

Yes, the armed forces – like every other institution in India – have been the victims of decay and corruption. They have had their share of scams and scandals. But still less than any other – and I mean any other – institution in this country. And, unlike in Pakistan, our defence establishment has always been subordinate to civil authority, which is as it should be. The chiefs’ letter to their civilian boss only underscores this point. And while, as Mr. Gupta says, the uniform commands respect, I think what the chiefs meant in their letter was for the other branches of government to also show defence personnel that respect. Because respect is relative. Certainly, to my mind, they are more deserving of this respect than a politician, bureaucrat or policeperson.

That’s not the point of this post, though. The point is that it is difficult to deny the fact that the armed forces are earning their keep. India needs them, perhaps more than we need the police, who, when they’re not screwing citizens over, seem to have been relegated to either guarding houses of politicians or directing traffic. We should remember that while politicians and bureaucrats sit in air-conditioned conference rooms to debate solutions, it is the service personnel who guard our borders, protect our maritime interests, battle terrorism, rescue civilians from floods & earthquakes and restore order in civilian areas. And lose lives in doing so. And since we seem to have made a habit of asking them to do our jobs for us – and put their lives on the line for us – surely their demand for parity is not that unreasonable.