Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Jaipur misses out on making history in the Indian film industry

Jaipur could have been part of a revolution in the Indian film industry this Friday but has instead laid its hands off from the opportunity. As multiplexes in Mumbai, Pune and New Delhi go on to make a history of sorts this Friday by screening a 15-minute film, those in this city have backed out from this first-ever experiment in the Indian film industry citing apprehension about its viability.

The Little Terrorist, which has been nominated for an Academy Award in the Live Action and Animated Short Films category, is going to be the first commercially released short film in the country.

The irony couldn’t have been greater for this city as the film was shot in Rajasthani at Boraj, a village near Jaipur last year, and has a storyline that is deeply linked with this state. Directed by Ashvin Kumar, the short focuses on the plight of Munir, the 13-year-old boy who strayed across from Pakistan to Rajasthan in 2003. After having generated considerable attention from the media, Atal Behari Vajpayee, who the PM then, intervened and had him sent home.

Shringar Films Private Limited (SFPL) is releasing eight prints of the film in Mumbai and three each in New Delhi and Pune this week. “Because something like this has never been done before, it has been harder to convince the multiplex owners in Jaipur. They are waiting to see how the film fares in the other cities before they latch onto it,” said Aditya Shroff, the SFPL Director. However, he was hopeful of the film making it next week to the local mutliplexes.

The firm is lending out each print for a fixed rate of Rs 14,000 and leaves it to the exhibitor to decide the way the film is screened. The film may be shown independently, as Fame Adlabs is doing in Mumbai, or it could even be tagged along with a mainstream film, with or without a surcharge. Most of the multiplexes elsewhere have decided to club it with ongoing films such as Page 3, Black and The Aviator.

Sunil Bansal, a city-based film distributor, said that information about the film has been very sketchy and that it would be too early to say when the film could be released in Jaipur. “We may decide to club it with Hum Dum that is also a SFPL offering. But it will be released definitely, maybe on February 25,” he added. On the other hand, Komal Nahta, a film critic of Rajasthani origin, said that audiences across the country have not developed a taste for short films and the decision not to screen The Little Terrorist in the first week reflects that. “I don’t see it changing at least for the next 10 years in places like Jaipur,” he added.

One of my reports for Hindustan Times

Monday, February 14, 2005

Valentine's Day for the poor!

Wondering how light your pocket will feel at the end of this day? Pondering how heavy your heart will be despite a day’s orgy of commercialised love? Moaning that you did not buy that darn red rose a day earlier to have saved some more money? Or, are you worried that your Valentine – did we hear you say damn – will be cross even if you choose to empty your wallet or, as some instances suggest, your purse?

Fret not – here are some ideas on how to buck the trend where you don’t spend a penny and still claim to be in love. As Achala Sagar, an English teacher at Maheshwari Girls Public School, says, “Valentine’s Day is all about being with a person with whom you share a certain vibe, certain thoughts and emotions.” “Where does the question of money arise from,” she asks. For the greatest and, at times, boring minds would say – it’s the thought that counts!

You could perhaps even try the cliché response and claim not to believe in any one day being marked out for “expressing love”. But then, that would expose you to the threat of proclaiming love every other day of the year. You wouldn’t want that, would you? A safer bet might be to tell your dumb (ok, let’s make it your not-so-aware) date why February 14 has come to symbolise the marketing world’s greatest field day.

Or cook up a fantastic one-liner, like, “I am so madly in love with you that I entirely forgot to buy you a gift!” The literary minds could even turn cupid-cum-bards for the day and the religious could seek solace in a temple, for a change, away from each other’s arms.

Even if these tips fail, you can rest assured not to be embarrassed or let down by those too-bad-to-be-true gifts! For who would want to unwrap a packet to reveal stuffed lips in them with corny messages painted on them? Maybe a prodigiously furry heart? Or, worse, a deodorant or a perfume spray to purge that body odour of yours! Let the vandals have the cafes and galleries to themselves today. They can ransack and burn down those imports of “western culture”. Look east today!

One of my reports for Hindustan Times

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Does Israel represent all the Jews of the world?

An intriguing argument by Joseph Massad, who teaches Modern Arab Politics and Intellectual History at Columbia University...

The major strategy that these pro-Israel groups use is one that equates criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism. But the claim that criticism of Israel is an expression of anti-Semitism presupposes that Israeli actions are “Jewish” actions and that all Jews, whether Israelis or non-Israelis (and the majority of world Jews are not Israelis), are responsible for all Israeli actions and that they all have the same opinion of Israel. But this is utter anti-Semitic nonsense.

Jews, whether in America, Europe, Israel, Russia, or Argentina, are, like all other groups, not uniform in their political or social opinions. There are many Israeli Jews who are critical of Israel just as there are American Jews who criticize Israeli policy. I have always made a distinction between Jews, Israelis, and Zionists in my writings and my lectures. It is those who want to claim that Jews, Israelis, and Zionists are one group (and that they think exactly alike) who are the anti-Semites.

Israel in fact has no legal, moral, or political basis to represent world Jews (ten million strong) who never elected it to that position and who refuse to move to that country. Unlike the pro-Israel groups, I do not think that Israeli actions are “Jewish” actions or that they reflect the will of the Jewish people worldwide! All those pro-Israeli propagandists who want to reduce the Jewish people to the State of Israel are the anti-Semites who want to eliminate the existing pluralism among Jews...

Neocons and Geo-Greens - Friedman

From The New York Times

By adamantly refusing to do anything to improve energy conservation in America, or to phase in a $1-a-gallon gasoline tax on American drivers, or to demand increased mileage from Detroit's automakers, or to develop a crash program for renewable sources of energy, the Bush team is - as others have noted - financing both sides of the war on terrorism. We are financing the U.S. armed forces with our tax dollars, and, through our profligate use of energy, we are generating huge windfall profits for Saudi Arabia, Iran and Sudan, where the cash is used to insulate the regimes from any pressure to open up their economies, liberate their women or modernize their schools, and where it ends up instead financing madrassas, mosques and militants fundamentally opposed to the progressive, pluralistic agenda America is trying to promote. Now how smart is that?

Pico Iyer on de Bellaigue's book

From The New York Times

In the prosperous northern Tehran suburb of Elahiyeh, ladies who lunch visit a French-trained psychologist downtown (to talk of their adulteries, no doubt), while their teenage daughters (''matchsticks marinated in Chanel,'' in Christopher de Bellaigue's pungent words) get nose jobs, hang around the pizza parlor and perform oral sex on their boyfriends so they'll still technically be virgins when married off to their first cousins. Occasionally the ''morals police'' stop by in Land Cruisers to check handbags for condoms, but Elahiyeh honors the age-old Iranian principle of veiled surfaces and highly embroidered interiors. Indeed, when de Bellaigue and his Iranian wife invite one of the Ayatollah Khomeini's former hoodlums to lunch -- an Indian meal -- the man and his wife marvel over the apartment's interior design.

This is the Iran of only a very, very few, of course, and de Bellaigue devotes only two dashing pages to it in his impenitently stylish and arresting debut book, ''In the Rose Garden of the Martyrs.'' Yet it speaks for his method of pitching us into the very heart and streets of the Iranian revolution today, its troubled consciences, and giving us so jolting a sense of ordinary lives and human losses that we can no longer see the country in simplistic, public-policy terms of ''conservatives versus reformists.'' A young British journalist who writes for The Economist, de Bellaigue aims to complicate from within a world that too many of us associate only with turbaned ayatollahs and slogans of ''Death to America.'' That former hoodlum, for example, introduced to us as Mr. Zarif, laid mines in the war against Iraq at 15, joined a seminary at 17 and now, playing around with screenwriting, can barely recognize the places where he sent people to their deaths. Civil wars, de Bellaigue is agile enough to see, often take place invisibly.

The guiding method of ''In the Rose Garden of the Martyrs'' is to zoom in on a handful of individuals whose cases, unraveled in detail, can give us, you could say, the people's version of (and a sequel to) Ryszard Kapuscinski's classic portrait of pre-Revolutionary Iran, ''Shah of Shahs'' (1982)...

Friday, February 11, 2005

A pretty Palestinian face...

Isn't she pretty... Manel Khader (right) with Elia Suleiman at Cannes

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

The Indian let's-all-go-and-pee-on-the-wall urge

The Wall

I was defiled when I was a few weeks old. This burly man, his palms grappling at his crotch and his face contorted with anxiety and pressure, walked up to me. He took a look around, shuffled his feet a little to position himself comfortably and then unzipped. Wait a moment, he was… he was pissing on me. The ordeal had begun and my vision was being watered down.

He even bent backwards and arched his widdle stream higher, as if asserting his virility. “This feel’s like heaven,” I heard him whisper to himself. “Oh, hell,” I said to myself. Till then, I had only heard other walls speak about this but, here, it was actually happening to me. The bricks in me hissed in anguish. If there is one section of the society that is the most suppressed and voiceless, it is us – mute spectators to the great Indian let’s-all-go-and-pee-on-the-wall urge.

I mean, the government has made public “conveniences” for people to pee and shit in. Is it all that inconvenient to use them? Why deface us? And if you want more of them, for god’s sake, ask for them. India is a democracy – make the lack of toilets an election issue. George Bush won the last US election on the basis of something as vague and debatable as moral values. Toilets, by far, is a more concrete and valuable political agenda.

Come to think of it, who doesn’t need to take a leak? The men, the women, the children, the adults, the rich, the poor, the leftists, the rightists, the seculars, the religious… all need to unload themselves. Add to that the estimated 40 million diabetics in India and you have a bladder full of voters!

For a change, we wouldn’t even mind offering space to paste banners and posters heralding the popular uprising – the Toilet Revolution. From the very sound of it, it’s historical. That reminds me – can someone please let it be known to the Rajasthan University students that the standard of the glue they use to paste election posters all over the town is actually worse than the reprehensible and acerbic liquid we have to face each day.

But I dread a more loathsome and frightening prospect – what if the stray animals, hundreds of them, pick up the trick, especially the raging bulls on the roads with their colossal bladders? Already, the dogs, smarter than the rest, have picked up the zeitgeist of peeing on us from the humans. Or, has it been the other way round? Please stop pissing us off before we start crumbling with rage and, yes, shame.

As told to Debarshi Dasgupta