Kaala can be as black and successful, without blacking (out) Hinduism

Kaala-Movie-PosterA powerful movie on a topical issue of our times, dealt with passion and very little distraction – one which all right thinking people would be able to empathise and agree with. However, one only wishes Pa. Ranjith, the director, was not as easily brainwashed in his life, to turn hostile to popular Hinduism to a point that he would see everyday Hinduism indistinguishable from Brahminism and hence ripe for wholesale rejection. He artistically articulates that Periyarism (passionate anti-Hinduism of Tamilnadu kind, not dispassionate rationalism as such) – Ambedkarism (educate-unite-agitate) – Communism/Leftism (empowerment of the underprivileged) combine is the only potent weapon to thwart thuggery unleashed by fascism.

The good:
[1] Powerful story line and good contemporary direction – it’s tough to do a movie on a heavy topic such as this and yet avoid the weariness of a documentary. Credits to Pa Ranjith for his artistic and general talent as a passionate director

[2] Excellent casting of Rajnikant – he has always been a director’s actor; with no need to play to the gallery of his fans, no punch dialogues, no surfeit of physics defying stunts, no 0.5 mm thick cream to hide his dark skin tone, he is a relieved man who can just focus on the job, which he does rather well, exuding excellent screen presence and fine understated acting (his forté)

[3] Huma Qureshi, Nana Patekar, Easwari Rao, Samutharakani and all supporting actors are cast superbly, with a degree of characterisation not too common in Tamil cinema – would remind one of old K Balachander movies (he would, sometimes, make us remember a bus conductor’s face too, despite occurring in just a few frames)

[4] At least 60-70% realism in showing Dharavi shots. Mani Ratnam had set the bar high in Nayagan – the first of its kind in Tamil/Indian cinema (one needs to undergo the torture of watching Dhayavaan, its Hindi remake, to realise difference Mani Ratnam brings to the table). It’s the kind of realism only directors with pan-Indian knowledge, proficient in Hindi preferably with a stint in North India (Mani Ratnam had done MBA in Jamnalal Bajaj institute, Mumbai) could bring along; hence hardly a few Tamil directors have measured up in doing so. Pa Ranjith surpasses Mani Ratnam in many scenes but trails behind him in many others. With time, he will do it really well

[5] Excellent, innovative use of cut-out art and other powerful use of colours and visual art to convey meanings beyond what meets the eye – a refreshing change from movies laden with boringly long monolgues. Again, Mani Ratnam would bore people with unrealistically short

The not so good:
[1] Background score is atrocious on quite a few scenes – at times, interrupting dialogue audibility and at other times with irksome wailing (when old flames look at each other, in a haunted way)

[2] Tamil accent in haphazard, jarring way: some do a great job of consistent Thirunelveli diction, few others use it sparingly with amateurish effect while the main man – Kaala himself – doesn’t bother at all with such prerequisites and speaks normal Doordarshan Tamil!

[3] The Tamil Hip-Hop gang who loiter around, to reinforce the film’s non-conformity and ‘ uprooted ‘ nature, do add to the plot’s gravity in some scenes while utterly irritable in many others

[4] Where the Dharavi set lacks in realism (e.g. the huge open space in front of Kaala’s house or some houses with lavish spaces that compete with a decent flat in Andheri), it dilutes the gravity and becomes a caricature that mediocre directors churn out. One wonders why Ranjith lets his guard down. Kaala, whatever early mover advantage he may have had to the area, is shown as first among equals, in a rather unnecessary way

The troubling aspects:
Feudalism is rife in Pakistan, a self-professed Islamic Republic than in Hindu majority India. As a matter of fact, worldwide, cutting across religions (Islam, Christianity), ethnicity/race (Arab, Turk, Caucasian, Black), feudalism has been curbed or tamed by gargantuan efforts of (welfare) state than by mind numbing iconoclasm of EVR kind. Yet, Pa Ranjith, indoctrinated in the staple diet of Dravidian hate politics before picking up Dalit activism (evidently) can’t resist throwing more Black than more Blue or Red.
Even if 80% audience may miss his strong and purposeful symbolism, it will register in their subconscious, and for this huge service to EVR cause, I won’t be surprised if K Veeramani holds a function and honours Ranjith as DK’s warrior sword. A look at some salvos he fires and the dangers they pose:

[1] Hari dada, Vishnu, Perumal swamy (the traitor among them) – all Vishnu manifestations are shown foisted upon vulnerable people or in subjugation of them to misery. As a Ram (evil God’s) function is held, Raavana’s men (good, son-of-the-soil people) are slaughtered. It’s not a shown as if the person does injustice to Ram’s name (as a blot) but indeed it’s precisely because he is Ram’s devotee that he is disgusting, as a natural corollary. None in Tamil film have been as devious or pugnacious

[2] Ayub (Zareena’s father), entire Muslim skull capped people are progressive and fine – to the point that they had agreed to their daughter marrying out of faith with no qualms; the only people bothered about religion are caste Hindus while Muslims are comrades who happen to be Muslim. In a scene, Kaala, the otherwise religious recluse who has no use of normal Tamil deities’ photos (including the usually ubiquitous Murugan) or lamp, incense sticks, camphor paraphernilia would be shown offering namaz alongside brethren – Pa Ranjith, the Dravidianist reprises his credentials in the long lineage of Karunanidhi, Stalin and other DK/DMK luminaries – anti-God means anti-Hindu-God only!

[3] The unknown pastor (and perforce all Christians) are fine too – the pastor has connections to send Zareena to US for higher studies. Their kindness knows no bounds – money or geography

[4] Tamil speaking non-Christian, non-Muslim people can wear their ‘pottu’ (bindi) as it’s just a cultural heritage not Hinduism as such; they can celebrate Pongal too so long as no deities are worshipped; they can have secular names such as Selvi, Selvan, Lenin, Vengaiyan, Vaaliyappan etc. but even a brief association with Murugan, Ayyappan or Mariamman is a taboo as it would make them appear as tethered slaves of Brahminism, not worthy to include as Vishnu and other Brahmin Gods may gain legitimacy at the other end of the rope. They are however shown worshipping a Sudalai Madan art work, as if that’s their prime deity. Ranjith then, very generously, allows for Ganesha to make his rounds among Tamils; you see, it’s Mumbai, Dharavi etc. some imagery of Ganesh would just lend credibility to the soil if not augur the cause of Hindu faith. Ganesha, therefore, is also spared the misery of gracing evil doers while they unleash terror on secular people. Let’s thank Ranjith for sparing one deity.

[5] Normally, in movies made by a non-Dalit upper caste Tamil Hindus (including Brahmins such as Kamal Haasan), villainy or the sidekicks who fill in villain’s ears are shown as a Iyer or Iyengar (e.g. Madan Bob as lawyer in Thevar Magan). Pa Ranjith, given his Blue politics, has dispensed with that perfunctory need. Just when a Tamil Brahmin may sigh relief, he’d realise Ranjith has trained guns on something even more potent – the deities that (he thinks) are exclusive preserve of Brahmins and hence Brahminism. This is not even done in a subtle way, but with brazen candour.

[6] Ranjith has picked names, surnames rather scrupulously – Abhyankar is a Marathi Brahmin surname, not a Maratha surname. While it’s well known that in Maharashtra, the powered, especially political and land owning ones are typically Maratha (Manohar Joshi became the first Brahmin CM and was just about ‘tolerated’ by Maratha), Ranjith doesn’t have to go by local knowledge of how it works in Mumbai. Imported Tamil hatred for Brahmin first and Brahmin last is enough to navigate and see rest of the world with same prism. Somehow, however, he lets go of this scrutiny when a helpful police cop spells out his support for the cause as ‘Shivaji Rao Gaekwad’, the real name of Rajnikant. Perhaps he was tired of hunting for the right surnames and wanted it as a tribute to Rajni. That Gaekwads are, unfortunately, as Brahminist as Abhyankars is lost on Ranjith.

[7] There’s immaculate care exercised in showing Ram worshippers as those who are colour obsessed racists and as a metaphor for their worldview that regards dark as ugly, dark people as inferior so on and so forth. Ranjith obviously sidesteps fundamental knowledge/awareness of Hindu beliefs for EVR acolytes are never meant to go by facts (as much as Hindutva ones don’t need it either). It would really help if Pa Ranjith could have a change of heart, learn Hinduism for what it is and not from EVR/DK writings. Krishna = Shyam = Vishnu = Rama = Kaala. In ancient Tamil poems Karuppuswamy actually meant Krishna and Vellaiyan was for Balaram. There’s no other prime deity in Hinduism who is explicitly described and celebrated as dark God. Much of the blame lies in tenets of Hinduism not reaching all at the right age and in right way and in popular media being racist all along.

So far, DK brainwashing (ably supported by vested interests) had vilified Brahmins as a community alone. Now, the game is raised up. Popular Hinduism is directly equated as Brahminism and disentangling from that is seen as prerequisite for Dalits being set free. The origins of this disenchantment is understandable. It is unfortunate too. It needs to be remedied. But, in the current climate of Hindutva politics, those carrying the Ram baton will peddle precisely the line of thought of Hari dada and only accentuate the divide than bridging it. That is a cause of anxiety and despair.

Pa Ranjith takes recourse to three colours – Blue (Ambedkar), Red (Empowerment of needy) and Black (as an anti-dote to Hinduism, in line of EVR/DK). While the first two can be co-opted by people of all religions, castes as they are universal, the Black as Ranjith uses it, is just as divisive as the saffron he tries to shame and confront.

For now, I seek comfort from Anoop Jalota’s superb bhajan:

वो काला  एक बांसुरी वाला,
सुध बिसरा गया मोरी रे ।

Roughly translated as:
That handsome black one (Krishna), the one with flute
Is verily the cause I have lost myself in trance!

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Viswaroopam (Tamil version) – a review

Rating: 4 stars, out of 5

Verdict: A must see, once, on the big screen. Wish  it deserved repeat viewings

Best parts:
1) Empathetic portrayal of Afghan civilian plight, sandwiched between US and Taliban forces
2) Excellent capture of Afghan terrain, audacious attempt at action scenes to rival international movies
3) Thought provoking, than just drawing a black and white picture of Good Vs. Evil
4) Kamal Haasan’s superb acting and storytelling skills – especially, as a comrade warrior on Afghan soil
5) Exemplary acting of Rahul Bose, Jaideep Ahlawat – credits to them as well as Kamal for envisaging good, meaty roles for them, with superb screen presence potential.

Parts that could have been better:
1) Editing could have been lot more slicker. Either Mahesh Narayanan lost himself in appreciating parts he was enamoured with that he forgot to be objective, or perhaps out of his reverence for Kamal, didn’t antagonize ! In either case, he has let the audience down, especially the US parts of the movie.

2) Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy’s score is ok enough for songs but quite a letdown for war/vicious scenes.

3) Casting is a mixed baggage – while one set is exemplary, the other is either utterly unconvincing or unnecessarily trivialised.

As regards the Muslim protest angle in Tamilnadu and other parts of India:
1) This movie isn’t about Indian Muslims at all, at the first place. The whole setting is Taliban and the international(ised) terror spectre. In as much as an Indonesian or a South African Muslim doesn’t have to either carry the burden of ‘affairs of the region’ or have to feel overtly sensitive to even a discussion on the subject, Indian Muslims don’t have to feel a sense of outrage.

2) The overwhelming feeling any sane audience will have, as they leave cinema, WILL NOT BE one of viewing a nearby Muslim or the whole community as terrorist. Nor would they have a feeling of “Us vs. Them” reinforced. Instead, they’ll have a lot better appreciation of:

a) How savaged and ravaged hapless children, women and other gullible are, in war torn Afghanistan, who grossly outnumber those who supposedly fight on their behalf

b)The complex morality of what goes on, in either the name of religion or in the name of taming those who claim to have a ‘handle’ on this – it certainly does not trivialise the conflict as to show all as incurable radicals. It actually does present a very empathetic narration from ‘trenches’!

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Sad case of Jacintha Saldanha: Why media sensitivity is still important

Today, screening of Mel Brooks’ highly irreverent  History of the World: Part I  in the vicinity of Vatican is more feasible without any fuss than it would be to even attempt doing it (even after 3 decades since its release) in a theatre near Velankanni Church of Tamilnadu, India. The reasons are not far to seek. While Christians of all denominations in the West have either learnt to live with iconoclasm or genuinely don’t bother about God or religion in a major way, other than perfunctory rites on birth, wedding and death, Christian devout galore in developing countries like India, Philippines and many other Asian countries sharing common thread of religiosity of native faiths such as Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism etc.

Has this got to do anything with the tragic case of  Jacintha Saldanha ? Yes – there are reasons why it’s quite important for countries steeped in Western/Modern civilisations to acknowledge that even in this globalised world with ubiquitous MNCs, similar burgers and same iOS/ Android powering new age gadgets on palms across the world, there are still fundamental differences in what can cause (in a person) a sense of indignation or shame and what could pass for as innocuous trifle to shrug off.

In pre-WW II Britain, a person being caught stealing or worse still being named and shamed on even page 5 of a local newspaper would have been sufficient cause to be socially ostracised for life. Fast forward 70 yrs and what we have is a situation where a bunch of people who wouldn’t even mind posing for national television cameras, with unconcealed glee and a show of guiltless entitlement, on subverting a wrecked ship’s cargo to personal garages. What could possibly have changed in a span of only so many decades ?

Conditioning by media  is invisible but truly a potent force in shaping how a society ends up regarding itself. It’s the same conditioning effect which has also resulted in West abandoning its age old prejudices, one after the other,  to the point where, in a country such as USA, for instance, ravaged by race riots only in 1960s, could embrace and show an excellent black actor as God himself, in a 2003 release (Morgan Freeman in Bruce Almighty) ! Things obviously don’t happen overnight. It must have taken 40 odd years of conscious effort on the part of some samaritans, to drive home these thoughts into public acceptance. However, such conditioning has also brought with it, certain debatable certitudes. Insulation from recognising shame let alone feel the pangs of it is one such bye-product. Increasingly, everything seems sellable to media, in exchange for cash. That doesn’t have to be feats, accomplishments anymore. It may as well be about misdeeds, misgivings or misfortune. It’s an age where alpha males that presided over financial meltdown don’t lose any sleep at all in their plush villas or sun-kissed chateaus, regardless of whatever ‘earned’ slur media or social media heaps on them.

The two Aussies involved in this aren’t expected to know that it could be a non-native English speaker attending the phone or that even if he/she spoke good English, it’s  likely that the person in her, though working in a cosmopolitan city like London, could still have a heightened sense of self-consciousness that may seem more apt for Victorian times than Danny Boyle’s melting pot Britain beamed across the world, only recently. Tragically, it’s this ignorance that has cost us an innocent life. Coming, as it does, on the year of Leveson report, it’s a damning way to remember 2012 as the year of media excesses.

When Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand made that infamous and highly chastised prank call, they were at least sure of one thing – Andrew Sachs won’t complain of chest pain or heart attack. Thankfully, despite that call’s deplorable banality,  it didn’t cause any  unmitigatable grief. In some cultures, an old man can still develop real chest pain.

Posted in General/ Current Affairs | 2 Comments

Firefox Mobile OS on the horizon now – A news I’ve been waiting to hear

Last year, I expressed my unconcealed joy to my colleagues when Mozilla announced their Mobile OS was on its way. Many felt I must be mad at revelling on the news and questioned if it’s such a good news for the market to see yet another OS in Mobile space, as if Android, iOS, along with RIM’s and Microsoft’s not being enough variety.

I am a heavy user of Mozilla’s Firefox browser and besides performance being superb, I quite like the fact that here’s an organisation that has made this possible without any ‘shareholder’s wealth’, ‘quarterly profits’ and other pressing demands to address !

Like Oxygen, Water, a terra firma to prod on etc some of life’s essentials (of course, this keeps changing!) should be either freely available or at a reasonable cost with no further strings attached. One pays water bill without having to worry about whether or not my water consumption is being measured hour by hour and if some unknown party sat in another part of the globe would be betting on whether I flushed it twice every morning at 06:58 or 07:02 🙂  Things like Internet, Mobile being smart to get many things done on the move are indeed so essential that they be regarded as ‘utilities’ such as gas, electricity OR be available for free such as tap water in a pub. The idea that it will be clandestinely free while holding perilous amount of user data in some server and regard each user as a pawn in a Matrix like make-believe reality should scare the sh*t out of us all.

I long for the day when devices are available to buy for their HW specs in any given PC/Electronic shop, varying by the potential user requirements – AMOLED based, LCD based, single/dual/quad-core, 1/2 GB RAM, Screen size 2.7 – 4.8″ and all the other paraphernalia. People should buy any device as per their preference or budget and then  download/install Firefox OS, Android, Microsoft or whatever OS (webOS from HP led open source movement). Of course, this isn’t such a bad idea other than for device manufacturers since their differentiation will purely be down to HW specs and how well they have managed to perform with those OS in question.

Apple will of course, stand grandly isolated, making hay while the sun shines and till such time their doggedly loyal fan base dishes out premia they demand.

Despite the brouhaha about Apps, and the boringly masculine conversations on size of Marketplace, fact remains that most users – in developed or developing countries alike -benefit from handful of core functions in a smartphone. Good email client, a fast browser, a dependable voice guided GPS, good speakers, quality camera, open/latest connectivity options (Bluetooth 4.0, DLNA, WiFi hotspot) etc. Then, of course, some basic Apps for the usual high volume social Apps such as Facebook, Twitter etc. Games will follow where money is.

I, for one, will happily attempt porting Firefox Mobile OS on to my Android flagship phone if that’s allowed for and am quite happy to compromise on certain functionality being compromised than let my buttery, silky OS experience channel all info into some character analysing servers, whether or not I have anything to hide !

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How Texas Inflicts Bad Textbooks on Us by Gail Collins | The New York Review of Books


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Samsung Galaxy S3

Well, the much awaited phone is out in public domain, for dissection of specs, reviews, arguments, bragging, counter views, mudslinging or whatever !

Love it or loathe it, but Samsung has pretty much upped the ante with its much awaited sequel to the rabidly popular S2. For one, Samsung has at least avoided the Apple style (iPad instead of iPad 3) confusion by calling it as, well.. rather straightforwardly, S3 !

I haven’t had the good fortune to touch it as yet. Perhaps only a countable few have, so far ! But, instead of regurgitating what most tech sites will shred to pieces, let me offer, in my limited way, a few points I feel excited about.

[1]  AMOLED vs LCD – Those who have fallen in love with the charm of AMOLED displays since the days of Nexus One/ HTC Desire, for their higher colour saturation, deeper blacks etc will always have a soft corner for that as opposed to the LCD blandness of initial round of iPhones or HTC Desire HD or myriad other Androids that came to use LCD due to short supply of AMOLED panels in the hardware market. Well, Apple tends to focus on other niceties (such as more pixels per inch) to make theirs attractive and anyway they would rather want a iPhone lover to also be an owner of iPad to consume content such as Videos, rich PDF reading etc. on tablet. For Android aficionados, given that a lot of content is viewed on phone itself, AMOLED makes a huge difference, in my view. One of the early days’ disadvantages of AMOLED – of being washed out under direct sunlight – was overcome by Samsung successfully with its ‘Super’ AMOLED technology, innovated directly by Samsung engineers. Ever since, it’s been advancing one step per model, to put in a simplistic way. Galaxy Nexus was great but did so with Pen Tile display than the so-called RGB. S3 raises the bar with HD AMOLED technology – bringing the natural benefits of AMOLED without losing on crisp display.

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Here’s the expected news… Apple Profits Less To Maintain iPad Price – Hardware – Handhelds/PDAs – Informationweek


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