October 26, 2014

Hum Indiawale

My choice for movies swings more than the Swinging Sixties. And from being a snob to being someone who is indiscriminate in his choice of movies, I do it all. And as I grow older I realize, movies serve two major purposes for me. First, it’s art. It tugs at your heartstrings, makes you think, sometimes even forces you to come to terms with your own demons. But secondly, and definitely more importantly, it’s entertainment. It allows you to leave behind all your problems, your logic too and then forget all your worries for 3 hours (yes our movies are often 3 hours long) because in the end the hero always wins.
There was a phase in my life when I looked down upon these movies, making comments about how this is not true cinema but as years have gone by; I have realized there’s a space and reason in this world for everything; even movies which will not survive in our memories beyond their opening weekend.

This year three movies were released who shared only one thing in common - the first letter of their name – H. The first was Highway. It was one of India’s most mature road movies and showcased the talent powerhouse that is Alia Bhat. You walked out of the movie, wowed by her performance, with a lump in your throat and then kept thinking about the breathtaking shots of the road that cross crossed across India. It left bare the hypocrisies of our society and left us stealing our glances from our own reflections in the mirror.

The second was Haider - Cinema at perhaps its best, but a Hamlet retelling at best an average attempt. A story retold in the midst of pain, suffering and agony. It reminded us why we missed Tabu so much. As an actress, she gave one of the most memorable performances of Indian cinema. But more importantly Haider taught us the importance of democracy and why we must always strive to fight for it. Whether you agree with the film or not, you have to feel proud that you are allowed to make movies which do not follow popular opinion. It dares to tell the other side of the story. And whether you accept its version of reality or not, you have to accept that you need to hear that story as well. But more importantly, Haider made a very important point by perhaps a quirk of fate. Released on 2nd of October, Haider was able to do what Hamlet could not. In perhaps the most telling scene of the movie, Haider remembers Gandhi’s greatest lesson to mankind – “An eye for an eye will make the world go blind”. For this one reason, Haider could have been made only in India.

 The last and perhaps the most representative of our cinema was Happy New Year. A musical blockbuster, it had exactly the same kind of drama that we want in our movies. A SRK potboiler, it perhaps made no sense, had little logic and yet it kept us laughing, singing and cheering till the end. Because while seeing the movie, we all knew our hero could not fail. The world would stand up to acknowledge him and he would go back home with the girl, with the diamonds and with our hearts. And we did not mind that he kept repeating his own dialogues.

We Indians, how much ever we want to love our Ritwik Ghatak, we end up falling in love with Uttam Kumar.

October 14, 2014


I often feel part of a large banyan tree spreading its branches out. I am one of those branches that have spread out too far and late into the nights the roots sing to me. It tells me to read more of Tagore, listen to the music that’s making waves in my homeland. It tells me literature is best enjoyed in the language you grew up with; music is best enjoyed when you don’t have to struggle to understand what’s being said.

As I look around me, I realize the banyan trees are falling all around us. Growing up in a cosmopolitan environment, we grow up today in a strange patchwork of cultures where probably our mother tongue, leave alone Sanskrit is not even uttered once during the year. The language we all speak in is English as it becomes the language of business and we want our children to know it and converse in it, even if it means they no longer know the rhymes that we grew up with as kids, no longer do they fly kites without a rhyme or reason.

A new form of linguistic imperialism seems to take over the world and it strikes hard at the roots. Maybe the future branches will remember where they came from but they may no longer be connected to their roots. The question is not one of jingoistic nationalism but rather a question of loss. Learning a new language is no longer a passion, like most things around us, it’s just good business sense.

As it happens, somewhere deep down we feel determined to not let our roots wither. Our accents remind us where we come from. We realize that our idiosyncrasies were made up by our upbringing and somehow there’s a promise that we will never let them go away; for better or for worse.

And that’s the last rebellion before winter comes and the roots wither.

October 10, 2014

The Danger of ‘Group Think’

All throughout evolution, different species have decided how their societies would be formed. Sometimes like the Tigers, they have decided to go alone, like lions in smaller groups or like wolves in packs.

The human species however carry the traits of almost all species. We have had individual thinkers – visionaries who changed the world with the light of their knowledge. We have had the world’s first democratic councils in Athens and in India where the Lichhavi council stood up to invasions and we have had clans travelling on their horsebacks plundering without a second thought – The tigers, the lions and the wolves.

Anthropologic studies have shown (For those interested in further studies, do look up Dunbar’s Number) that any human being can possibly maintain between 100 to 200 social relationships and that is the reason we lose touch with great friends from yesteryears.

But over the last few months, I have also been realizing how thought processes evolve. More and more due to structured thinking so ingrained into our education and corporate system, we are seeing a situation where otherwise intelligent individuals tend to follow ‘group think’. It’s evident in various ways that it manifests itself; we crave for leaders who show ‘direction’, leaders desire those that follow without question and a huge rung of the in-betweens try to figure out which way the wind blows. They are the ones who struggle to find, adopt and worship ‘best practice’

The biggest danger of ‘group think’ happens in a mob. Rational individuals, who can make socially acceptable decisions on their own, often change their behaviour completely in a crowd. That’s why you have bystanders who become a mob that tears down shutters, looting and plundering.

Cowardice also spreads due to this behaviour. Imagine a crowd facing one individual who for the right reason or wrong, makes the first attack. Suddenly the entire crowd forgets they have the power of numbers and slink back. While all of you would have laughed at Bollywood heroes for taking on a gang single handed, it has its basis in how humans behave.

The ubiquitous middle class of every society is the one that faces this conundrum. Years of conditioning have taught them to live in their cocoons, living in an imagined world of security. That’s why whenever there is a problem, we tend to turn our backs or try to go in as a group, but never alone. This is also the reason why most revolutions in the world are brought in by students who have not yet succumbed to the pressure of ‘group think’.

The world requires thinkers who have not been conditioned by ‘group think’ and that seems to be a challenge.