Friday, February 17, 2006

Bombay troubadours


Let me please introduce myself
I’m a man of wealth and taste
And I laid traps for troubadours
Who get killed before they reached Bombay

These lines are from the legendary Rolling Stones song Sympathy for the Devil. Strange are the ways of rock lyricists. Sometimes utterly pedantic lines become cult, like Deep Purple's "Smoke on the water, fire in the sky". At times it is a tad more philosophical – “teenage wasteland” (from The Who’s song Baba o’ Reilly) became a headbanging catchphrase some time in the seventies.

Coming back to The Rolling Stones, the song Sympathy for the Devil seemed strong in its logic till it came to this line – the killing of troubadours before they reached Bombay. I can hardly recall any troubadour coming to India through the Gateway of India. Unless if it is on a metaphysical level.

Troubadours are travelling musicians. Some defend the line saying troubadours refer to The Beatles. They became mystical in their song writing after coming to India, losing touch with reality and the commom man.

Now, as “new age guru” Deepak Chopra would have us believe, The Beatles did a lot of LSD at Mahesh Yogi’s abode in India. Thanks, Deepak, for telling us that. Till now we knew that The Beatles got high only on gherkins.

So, did wide-mouth Mick mean the India trips did The Beatles in? Or did he simply mean The Beatles were killed because of the growing popularity of The Rolling Stones? Very difficult to say:

Hope you guessed my name, oh yeah
But what’s confusing you
Is just the nature of my game

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Google or Gagle?

The seemless world of Internet seems to be cracking up. The cult search engine Google, which has extended the meaning of the word “information”, is bowing to Chinese political censorship laws. Read this on CNN and here.

Try this:

Standard Google image search for “tiananmen”
China Google image search for “tiananmen”

However, if you spell Tiananmen wrong (Tiananmen/tienanmen…) you get the same results on both the Chinese and the standard Google search engines. So there.

Also, what about reverse censorship? Think of Google Bihar under Nitish Kumar. Type “fodder” and you get Laloo mugshots galore!

Friday, February 03, 2006

On Rang De Basanti

Rang De Basanti is getting flak for the way its director has handled the second half of the film. The film at one point borders on the point of incredulity. Five young students gang up to kill the defence minister because one of their friends is killed in a MiG-21 crash.

The film, however, is not about the killing as it is made out to be by “critics”.

That is why the director just glosses over it, slips it behind the veneer of the so-called “willing suspension of disbelief”. Killing, at the end, becomes a metaphor. It could have been any simple act that becomes the harbinger of a change. It could be a single man standing in front of tanks on Tiananman Square or it could be the nameless faces involved in Chipko Andolan, facing giant electric hack-saws. As one reviewer puts it, the film is more about humanity than anything else.

The film is, in fact, about the awakening of the characters, it’s about spring, and it’s about swathes of mustard field bursting into yellow. It’s about a new life. The problem is that big-city “film critics” are seeing the film through the prism of serious art-house mindset. Ironically, this is one of the successes of the film. It has got the elite talking. When was the last time they dissected a hindi film? I am sure they must have sneered when Sholay was first released. It was only after years that the film got them talking.

There seems to be too much of fluff that goes into film reviews these days.

It is easy for critics to say that the film promotes an adolescent view of political action. But have we Indians grown out of infancy when it comes to political judgment? Don’t we elect leaders like Laloo Prasad year after year…

And then there is the thin line separating sentiment and action. “Line them all up and shoot them,” is what one of the callers says on the FM broadcast towards the end. That’s a militant idea. But haven’t you heard this exact line before at coffee house addas and train compartment debates? That’s popular sentiment, not popular action. I have asked people who have seen the film whether they would like to pick up a gun and redress the ills of the society. Most said no. That’s not the absolute message of the film, they said.

Some say the film uses an absurd parallel from history to legitimise it, and at every stage superimposes the frame of history upon the action. True. We can’t pull down Babri Masjids because Mughals desecrated our temples 500 years ago. The film does send out an incendiary message through the parallel workings of the plot. But since when have started watching Bollywood films for messages and acting accordingly? If we had, we wouldn’t have waited for Rang De Basanti to bloody Parliament, lynch policemen and kill truant fathers.

Let’s see the film in a more “realistic” light. The pilot dies. All right. A candlelight vigil is organized. Not in front of the India Gate though. Media shows the pilot’s mother breaking down. Riot police arrives. Demonstrators go back to their homes peacefully. Bloggers talk about it. A Tehelka-like paper does an expose on how faulty spare parts are bought by the government. Special committee inquiry happens. Five years later, MiG 21s keep flying.

This is life. Maybe a documentary. But not cinema for sure. My question is would you like to see this after shelling out 200 bucks in a multiplex theatre. Or would you like to see Rang De Basanti? My vote goes for the latter.