Vantage point

Monday, October 26, 2009

Gabhricha Paus in New York

Got this email -

Hi Gaurav,
Had read a couple of days ago on your blog that 'Gabhricha Paus' would be playing in a couple of cities across the US.

We are also screening it at the South Asian International Film Festival in New York on the 1st of November at the SVA theater (333, 23rd St, NYC).

Will be great if you could give us a plug on your blog :)

P.S. The movie will play at 5 pm on Nov 1. Many other desi movies will be screened too. Full schedule here -

On Raj Thackeray

I just read Shobbbhaaa Daey's (or however she is spelling her name now) open letter to Raj Thackeray.

And it spurred me to write something I have been thinking about for a while. As a marathi-speaking Maharashtrian who disagrees with almost everything Raj Thackeray says and stands for, I am surprised to find myself sympathizing with him for being misrepresented by the national media. Not that Raj minds it. I am pretty sure he does not. In fact, I am sure he relishes in how the national media is playing into his hands by demonizing him. It has given him the attention and mindshare he was struggling to gain in the first couple of years after leaving the Shiv Sena. The problem with the national media is that they just focus on a few sound bytes and twitter-length talking points, and often tend to talk past Raj. Like Shobha De has done above, they raise and ask questions that he has already addressed. Read or watch his interviews after the election, and he has addressed quite a few points raised by her.

It's not that Raj is not wrong. Of course he is. But the media never goes down to the granularity of the points he raises and instead goes after him with a hammer, when a scalpel would be much more appropriate. They don't exactly build a strawman, but take a legitimate target and dump so much straw over it gratuitously that the original point gets lost. What that does is, gives him lots and lots of material (and watch any rally or speech by him and you'll see how he comes equipped with printouts and citations) to go to his base and say - see, these national media people are misrepresenting me and demonizing me and are anti-marathi-manoos.

Take for instance the whole "anti-outsider" thing. Listen to his speeches in marathi, and you will realize, he is not explicitly anti-outsider or even anti-North-Indian. He is anti-UP-Bihar. And there too, he is opposed to the hordes of uneducated homeless people that supposedly pour into the city, adding to the competition for jobs and burdening the infrastructure of the state. Not a position I agree with. But slightly more nuanced than the broad-brush way in which it has been painted by the national media. And that gives Raj fodder to complain. In one rally, he said to his supporters, he is not anti-North-Indian. North India also has Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Himachal, all states that have built their own economies and infrastructures. So he has no problem with people from those states coming to Maharashtra, because when they do, he says it is because of their unique skill or competence that helps Maharashtra. Those states don't send hordes of unqualified homeless people to Bombay. He said his problem is specifically with UP and Bihar. And then he said, let's see if a single national news media organization reports this. He claimed that they will still describe his speech as anti-outsider or anti-north-indian.

Raj Thackeray and the MNS is not good for Maharashtra politics. His divisive agenda is dangerous. And the election results show his appeal among voters is growing at an alarming pace. Which is why he must be tackled in the right way. Not in the sophomoric college-debate-ish way it is being done.

And the media's biggest fault has been to treat him like another Bal Thackeray. Sure, he wants to occupy the place Bal holds. And he wants that image. But believe you me, he is a lot more intelligent and articulate than Bal which makes him so much more dangerous. Much more dangerous because his appeal is spreading to marathi-speaking college-educated youths. Shiv Sena has always been a, well "subaltern" party. The MNS is going one step forward. And it is able to do so, because in his marathi speeches, between his explosive and provocative soundbytes that the national media focuses on, he talks a lot of substance. He crafts his arguments reasonably well, unlike Bal whose speeches were and are downright stupid. Raj's substance and arguments are still wrong, but they need to be addressed directly and intelligently by his opponents and critics, instead of calling him a frog, Hitler and so on.

An example of how he is way smarter than his uncle is how he chooses to speak only in marathi in interviews with the national media. Raj is no uneducated bumpkin. I have heard him speak english as well as hindi very fluently. But he knows that he can have maximum impact with rhetorical flourish in marathi. And even if he is being seen on a national channel, his core audience is marathi. So unlike Bal and Uddhav, who have given interviews in english and hindi in the past, and coming off looking like stuttering mumbling fools or nutcases, Raj has managed to hold his own against people like Rajdeep Sardesai. Just watch IBN's Thackeray-vs-Thackeray show on youtube, and the contrast between Raj and Uddhav can not be clearer.

Which is why Raj needs to be combated a lot more thoughtfully and substantively than his uncle or cousin. Sadly, I don't see that happening. The national media is happy focusing on a concise caricature of the man. Raj, fully aware of it, keeps pulling stunts and instances of gundagiri, to keep the national media distracted. And meanwhile, he speaks to his base in a different, more nuanced language. And his support grows.

We all thought that when Bal dies, the Shiv Sena and its divisive ideology will wither away soon. Not likely. In Raj's success I see the ominous portents of a political entity in Maharashtra that will make us pine for the Shiv Sena. Unless people start taking Raj well and truly "seriously".

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Get rid of the bling, orders Raj

Hilarious. Just hilarious. This video speaks for itself. Be it Wanjle or the Star journalist or the voice-over and the graphics. It's all just...well, precious.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Diwali - The Festival of Lights....and Forts??

Diwali is almost over. Yet another Diwali in a foreign land, to be filed away marked by nothing but emails and calls from friends and relatives with wishes. No firecrackers, no lights, no sweets. In fact lots and lots of snow!

But being in a foreign land has little to do with the low key Diwali observation. Even the last few years when I was in India, I didn't really celebrate Diwali too lavishly. It was mainly a day spent with family, doing my best to minimize my involvement in the poojas and such, wincing at the cacophony of the fire crackers, and focusing my energies on the snacks. A far cry from childhood, when diwali was a really big deal. A festival of snacks, but also the elaborate lamps, lighting, fire crackers and my favorite part - the forts.

Only someone who grew up in Maharashtra can understand the natural connection between diwali and forts. Because it is one tradition I have seen observed only in my home state. A few days before diwali, kids start building "forts" in their backyards or apartment compounds. Specifically, Shivaji's forts. The "fort" is usually just a miniature hill made by piling rocks and bricks and covering them with wet mud. A few, very few forts actually have something fortlike on top - makeshift walls or ramparts made from cardboard. Most forts only have on top a figurine of Shivaji Maharaj sitting on a throne.

But that does not mean the fort was just a mound of mud and stones. A lot of effort and imagination went into making it "realistic". We'd sprinkle mustard seeds all over the fort, and within a couple of days, there would be greenery on it. The ground around the fort was also painstakingly made to resemble a village, with farms, wells, temples and so on.

And the figurines. Ah, the figurines. The Shivaji figurine at the top was a no-brainer. But we also got a lot of other figurines. Guards with handlebar moustaches guarding the Maharaj. A couple of sword-wielding maratha warriors slugging it out with bearded mughal invaders at one corner. Villagers, vegetable sellers, cows, dogs, priests, and so on also dotted the whole region. And for a few eyars after the Ajinkya Dev starrer 'Sarja' was a big hit, it was mandatory to have a Sarja figurine perched on a particularly tricky cliff, making his way up as his wife stood below hammering a dholak.

Every year, during the dussehra holiday, we would sit down for meetings to decide how the fort would be that particular year. How much money could each of us cajole out of our parents to make sure that our fort was hand down the best one in the neighborhood. We'd brainstorm about the basic design, architecture and the features. The most popular fort to emulate was always Pratapgad, which is visually awe-inspiring and also the site of arguably the coolest story featuring Shivaji - killing Afzal Khan. But we did fashion our own designs over the years too.

The fort required regular maintenance. Since it was after all made with mud dug up from the yard and mixed with water, in a couple of days, the fort would develop big crack. We then meticulously had to fill every crack with wet mud. The figurines were not exactly high quality, so an arm would fall off. We'd have to go buy new ones.

And every year at the end of diwali, we had just one goal. Try and blow up the fort with leftover diwali bombs. Never happened. At the most, a couple of rocks would roll off, but the overall structure stayed largely intact with remarkable tenacity. The dream of watching the whole fort blow up remained unfulfilled.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Gabhricha Paus in Los Angeles

Last month I made a post about Gabhricha Paus (The Damned Rain), the first marathi film to get an arthouse release in the US and posted its screening schedule here.

The US distributor of the movie came across it and has asked me to post the following information about the screenings in Los Angeles -

The film is being released in LA at Big Cinemas on Friday Oct. 9 at Big Cinemas 13917 Pioneer Blvd. Norwalk, CA 90650 Phone: (562) 804-5615. Showtimes: 1:00pm, 4:00pm, 7:00pm, 10:00pm. The film will run there for a limited engagement of one week.

So those of you in LA, go, watch!

Nobels (plural) for Obama?

Almost everyone is shocked and amused that President Obama will be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize this year, less than 9 months into his first term. People think it's a mistake and very premature to give him an award before he has done anything meaningful. I vehemently disagree. The Nobel committees' mistake has been to give him only that one prize. This should have been a year of a total Obama sweep.

This horrendous mistake can be at least partially atoned for by announcing him the winner of the Economics prize next week. The Swedish bank should take note. He rolled out the biggest stimulus package in history and managed to stimulate the economy by spending just a fraction of it! He caused a shocking (although temporary) upswing in GM's year-on-year sales figures for a couple of months! And he has managed to convince the smartest man in the world (himself) that he can spend trillions on everything and yet reduce the deficit, a miracle that defies the laws of math. How can some bald, bearded, bespectacled professors whose achievements are limited to academic journals, ever compare to such achievements in Economics?

The Literature prize should also have gone to him. He has written two books, both bestsellers. Books that served as launchpads for the most remarkably historic election win in human history. Anyone can write books that launch revolutions. But books that launch campaigns? How could the committee have overlooked that? Herta Muller's writings depict the "landscape of the dispossessed", they say? Obama's books have made most of the country act like they are possessed!

Now we come to Medicine. Obviously! Like duh! Healthcare reform! Winners of the Medicine prize are usually recognized for one idea that. Obama has had so many ideas on healthcare in the last 2 years. He went from talking about a single payer system, to talking about a Congress-like plan for America, to supporting a public option, to spurning a public option, to whatever he thinks should be done now. If the Peace prize is meant as encouragement or impetus for what he is trying to do, the same logic could have worked for healthcare reform. I don't see how anyone other than the President deserved this prize.

Physics is next. This might seem like a bit of a stretch, but bear with me here. You the reader might not agree, but I am sure the Nobel Peace Prize committee will back the soundness of my argument. Think about the laws of motion. The first one. In the absence of force, a body maintains its state of rest or motion in straight line at constant speed. Obama, not through his research, but through his behavior, has debunked this so-called law. Without anyone applying any force or pressure whatsoever, he has seamlessly changed the direction of so many of his policies. Don't-ask-don't-tell was, he said as a candidate, something that is not just morally wrong, but practically wrong, and should be repealed right away. Nine months later, he seems to be traveling in the opposite direction. The same story with torture, rendition, personal privacy, limits on executive power, and so on. A remarkable 180-degree shift without any force being applied. Screw you, Newton! Physics Nobel for Obama!

Chemistry is, admittedly the hardest. And after contriving phony reasons for all these prizes, I am as mentally exhausted as the Peace prize committee must have been after crafting their press release. So I am just going to say..... he catalyzed the whole nation and indeed the whole world with his election. Catalysis - chemistry - give him the effing prize already.

And don't think I have forgotten about the Fields Medal. By not getting anything meaningful done after having huge majorities in both chambers of Congress, he has dealt a telling blow to the universally accepted mathematical canard of "Majority". But that can wait until he gives 2 full years worth of empirical evidence of being able to do anything even with those huge numbers.

Written with inputs from Aadisht G. Khanna.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009


I feel bad for Michael Moore and his fanboys. The fanboys have to fork out 10 or so dollars, a big chunk of which goes to evil corporations that own multiplexes and distribute films (AMC, Viacom, Harvey "Polanski is innocent" Weinstein etc), to watch a stupid utterly wrong screed against capitalism. Just imagine! Being forced to reply on evil corporations while decrying them. So sad.

If only there existed some sort of a technology....some sort of a world wide web of media that would have enabled Michael Moore to selflessly release this earth-shatteringly important and noble movie for free, so everyone could watch it. Without paying a cent, in a "democratic" way. So Moore wouldn't be forced to help the corporations make money....and wouldn't be forced to make millions himself. If only such a technology existed!

Monday, October 05, 2009

The Seinfeld Reunion

The only reason I subscribed to HBO recently was the announcement that the new Curb Your Enthusiasm would have a story arc centering around a fictitious Seinfeld Reunion. The first episode from that story arc aired last night. And boy, did it live up to its ultra-hyped expectations!

The thing about reunion episodes is, they always suck. There is an odd forced feel about them, and although they started off promising fans nostalgia, they end up tarnishing the legacy of the once great show. Which is why Seinfeld, a show that arguably never jumped the shark, and ended with people clamoring for more rather than wishing for a speedy wrap-up, could never have a proper reunion. So what we have on Curb is NOT a proper reunion. Instead, it is a parody of the very concept of reunions.

For those of you living under a rock, Curb Your Enthusiasm is a show with a unique premise. It pretends to document the real life of Larry David, the sociopath co-creator of Seinfeld, living in Los Angeles. His friends and many other showbiz bigwigs make frequent appearances - Richard Lewis, Ben Stiller, Ted Danson, Wanda Sykes etc playing exaggerated and comically obnoxious versions of themselves. The show does not have a script, but instead has a 3-4 page outline of the story and the scenes. Based on these brief outlines, actors improvise the dialog and their reactions, giving the show a very realistic feel.

The Seinfeld story arc promises to be hilarious. Last night's episode had him meeting one-on-one with the "Seinfeld Four" to convince them for a reunion show. I loved the scene between Larry and Jason Alexander. George has always been my favorite character on the show, based on Larry's personality and played by Jason. The scene between the two of them, which featured an argument about the series finale and about co-ordinating the tip for the meal, was TV gold - it felt like there were two Georges going against each other.

The scenes with Jerry and Julia were great too, both of them displaying traits similar to the characters they played on the show. And of course, Michael Richards, who was very Kramer-esque in getting so distracted by erotica in the restaurant that he does not even realize what he is agreeing to when he agrees to the reunion show.

The rest of the season will show us ostensibly behind the scenes action of the four of them and Larry working on the reunion show. The teaser on HBO shows that some other favorites like Newman, Estelle, Bania among others will also be involved. I can't wait for the coming episodes when the whole gang will return to the old sets and slug it out while putting the show together. And of course, there will be the eventual reunion episode, which I am guessing they will show large portions of in the season finale. American TV in the 21st century can't get any better than that.

There is however bound to be a sad side-effect of the Seinfeld and Curb "worlds colliding". Many actors who played memorable but small roles on Seinfeld also played different small roles on Curb in previous seasons. So they can not possibly be brought back in the reunion. For example, Philip Baker Hall, who played the gruff library cop Mr. Bookman in The Library episode of Seinfeld, plays a salivating doctor in Curb. And of course, the ravishing Brenda Strong who played Sue Allen Mishky, the candy heiress on Seinfeld will have to be omitted too, because she played a doctor who dates Larry in the sixth season.

Regardless, this season of Curb is sure to be a classic. Totally worth the 7 dollars a month extra I have to pay for HBO.