Why I won’t mind if and when a terrorist kills me

I guess the heading of this post is as much friendly and as much attention grabbing as any other media outlet’s news heading these days. Now that that’s covered read on, if you haven’t already decided to troll me. You could still do that after reading no?

Woke up today, rather late-ish compared to my recent pre-sunrise awakenings. Morning pages revealed yet another insight into something that I needed to work on.  And just when I thought I was pretty satisfied with the insight, the news hit me. That Paris was attacked, just like Mumbai not too long ago – with coordinated terrorists brandishing guns and weapons and killing anyone randomly. BBC was its usually stoic self, CNN had too many headlines – in fact it seems to be enjoying the job a bit too much for my convenience. President of France declared a ‘state emergency’. A twitter hashtag had already appeared. #PrayForParis. I shared it too. What could anyone do except pray, especially when the shoot’s still going on even as I write this one from a safe distance of thousands of miles!

This reminded me of my awareness of terrorism via the 9/11 attacks. Even though it had no direct connection to me, the visuals of falling WTC towers brought tears to my eyes. Why tears? I could only find the answer much later – I was suddenly aware as to how silly and meaningless life can be – for those who killed, for those who were killed, for those who were related to both, for those who were related to none but tortured in the name of pre-emptive action, and for people like me whose world view changed forever suddenly. And years later as I hear of wars being fought, democracies established, people trolled for speaking out, cows made gods vehicles, men made scapegoats, women made fashion or sex or empowerment symbols, my world view gets more concrete. That somewhere our idea of terrorism and what defines terrorist is all wrong. And I think we are all terrorists in our own might. That a terrorist chooses to kill is just he/she explicitly expressing himself, while we are all terrorists for wanting to face terrorists’ reactions with more merciless reactions. Let me explain, though I think even my friends will misunderstand me for saying this:

It must be Carl Jung who said – ‘Only that which can destroy itself is truly alive’. Sad but it seems to be the truth. That as a civilization, we’ve created terrorists – probably unconsciously with our completely fear-conditioned minds – is proof enough. And even though it is extremely wrong time to say, I will never blame a terrorist if he kills me, for I know somewhere in my urge to ‘buy things’ and ‘stay in competition’ I may have affected his life so sadly that he found only one way to react. This doesn’t however mean we must pardon any terrorist, I only mean to say that we need to face the fact that we are as much a terrorist by our own limitations or inability to look into the eyes of another man/woman and to seek understanding as to why he/ she chose to kill. The very fact that we all shout for a caught criminal’s hanging, irrespective of his reasons, is probably proof enough. Perhaps some reasons are better some not, but that we haven’t cracked the code which enables living for all kinds is something that we as a civilization must ponder upon. (Or do we think hanging is one aspect of the code? My god that makes us even dangerous than terrorists).

And in the mean time, when my near and dear ones, including perhaps me, will be attacked and killed mercilessly someday, how do I respond?  I have no answer. Do I have a solution to stop this problem: No. But who said I was alive anyway. I only live in my myth of freedom and independence. In fact even this freedom is only as much as the media and conditioning seems to tell me I have. I am born because my parents wanted me (seriously they did, I mean this exact me or some other me?); I go to school because education is good (despite the current situation of the world that this very education created); I marry after comparing research notes on religion or education or economical status (I guess people really wish they were born in those countries in which parents help in sharing these notes); I work my way up through all the office and start up politics; if I succeed I buy estates, homes, furniture, fashion and what not irrespective of their use and if I don’t succeed I blame everyone else; and in the mean time I act like I care – for vegetarianism even though I drink cow or buffalo milk, buy leather wallets and shoes, collect silk and woolen wear and what not; (and even for cows – how dare they eat cows – my friends just eat chicken, mutton, lamb, venison, crabs, fish etc; and for my revered laddus – how dare ‘they’ reject my laddu when I offer it to them;) for my family which I have no reason why I created it; for a society which I often truly believe is full of morons; for a country that seems to be giving me my rights though secretly its rulers, those for whom I hypnotized myself to vote for, take the very rights away from my hands everyday, and then…and then I die.

But my death was already done – when in the coincidental moments of clarity I could have acted more courageously, unconditioned myself and found meaning and joy in little things I did – but alas, I was too busy for all of it. But please don’t blame me for this, I was busy making someone else responsible for all the things that I didn’t have in my life, just like a terrorist does. I blame the TV for the anger it creates in me; I blame the hospitals for the health issues it can’t solve; I blame the cinema for rapes (though I’m up for every chance that I can get with women); I blame the politicians for corruption (even though I won’t mind getting away without a traffic challan with minimal tea-biscuit charges). And so instead of some bacteria / virus / cancer inside me killing me, why should it be any more tragic and criminal when the cancer of this civilization kills me. In fact I can argue with gods, saying probably I could have controlled virus in me, but how can I control cancer in society! Probably I will blame them and I will blame god too.

Because they, the ones I call terrorists, were bestowed with the ability and had the choice to do things differently; because like me they were humans who could change their world view? Seriously, then what am I doing with my ability to find that change in me? If I’m not up for that change – what does that make me then? Can I be someone who accepts responsibility with all that is extraordinarily wrong with this world? May be there in lies my clue to the answer as to how I can resolve this issue . In the mean time, I will live with this fear, make peace with it until I find the answer. What if I’m killed in the mean while? I don’t know. Why should I care about my life, when even terrorists, the so called scum of our society, don’t seem to care about it. And when did I actually care about it – except when I had to troll or spit venom on someone who questioned my conditioning. And by the way didn’t I already mention this, I was dead anyway. And that’s why I won’t mind being killed by a terrorist. May be I will even tell a sorry to him for making him kill me, as I die dramatically as they show in movies. But I won’t think of what I can do to change now.

I’m sure I will find time to think of it another life time. Who was it said who said “We meet ourselves time and time again, in a thousand disguises on the path of life?” You see am leaving the answer to the mercy of time, because my understanding of time is wrong too – else why would time move fast when I’m enjoying life, and why it stands still when a terrorist with a gun attacks me, as I wait… imagining what news channel will my loved ones watch after I’m dead.  Perhaps as a soul (I mean if I ever really had one), I will realize that real-like framing of time (also like in movies) where in one frame I see all politicians, media people, and the so called real terrorists think – “now that we have their attention, lets spin this further for our benefit” and my loved ones agreeing with them – consciously or otherwise.

Disclaimer (wish I could write this piece without this): Perhaps this is a very wrong time to write such a post. But it is this very situation that prompted to think of writing this and no not when someone killed someone else some time ago…but today. Please note that this is not to offend anyone…dead or alive or their relatives, but to make all who have the ability to read and comprehend this fully to ponder on the monstrous meaninglessness of life and the great misconception in our minds that we all are innocent bystanders who get shot for no reason. I write with the belief that we all are responsible for the current fearful, sad and angry state of our lives and probably we will start finding road to the answers when we acknowledge this.

Bombay Velvet – The Machismo of an Ordinary Man’s Naive Dreams (or the Many Themes Of a Potentially Great Film Which The So Called Indian Film Critics Regularly Miss in Their Reviews)

Spoilers Ahead. BombayVelvet-poster-3

 

The thing about ordinary men is that given a chance they can have whatever they wanted, but not what they dreamed. And within those two confusing phrases and fight for understanding the difference lies a certain machismo, an innocence and probably even a sense of masochism. Anurag Kashyap’s Bombay Velvet, apparently inspired from Gyan Prakash’s Mumbai Fables, is the journey of one such man – with dreams of making it as a big shot and his fight to understand the difference mentioned above.

Balraj (a terrific Ranbir Kapoor) arrives as a kid to post Indian independence Mumbai, where survival kills conscience, money made via corruption and crime, dreams built on celluloid and tabloids, and life enjoyed in luxury restaurants with jazz music and whatever is in between is easily passable, forgotten or rotten. When Balraj sees Rosie (charmingly done by Anushka Sharma), a struggling singer trying to make it big in Mumbai, he immediately connects to her – both are frightened but spirited. And for the first time in his life Balraj’s dreams begin to get the best of him, especially when he sees that Rosie is what even a self-righteous and rich communist Jimi Mistry (Manish Chaudhary) desires.

It is from here that Bombay Velvet evokes themes that only few Indian films like Sudhir Mishra’s Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi (I can’t remember any other movie) could dare to. And Anurag Kashyap is up to his job not just in amazingly raising the lowly Indian film’s VFX standards by recreating a retro Mumbai, but also as a master story-teller who knows exactly when and where to work on his themes, and when to mix them into the story. (He definitely faces problems as to when to leave the story reveal itself. Mostly, my doubt is because he gives the reigns of editing to a non-Hindi speaking editor, she kind-of undoes the film, despite her genius, fame and resume.)

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It is no surprise then that Balraj tries to force himself through the ranks with plain masochism for life’s severe blows on him with loyal support from his friend Chiman (Satyadeep Misra). It is his this ability that gets the eye of a crony capitalist Kaizaad Khambatta (Karan Johar) who takes him under his wing exactly for that purpose – to serve as a shield and a punching bag. The issue of why Khambatta baptizes Balraj as Johnny and which exact body part of Balraj he looks at when he gives the new name isn’t off many of the film’s sub-themes either.

While it becomes the job of Balraj to beat what the communist stands for and supports, Khambatta gifts a plush restaurant Bombay Velvet to Johnny Balraj. And it is here that Jonny finds Rosie again. (Now will leave it up to your brains to find more themes and what each character stands for from here on. Of course if you are careful enough not to be mesmerized Amit Trivedi’s exceptionally well done songs, each of them will tell you more about the story. It just takes first few stanzas of the first song to tell us which direction the film’s going.)

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However, as the war between communism and capitalism takes a new high, Balraj’s request for his share of his capitalist dreams makes things take a down turn for him. And that is when you begin to see the fight – the fight for what he dreams (but not what he wanted). Strangely for him even his love for Rosie, nor his friendship with Chiman, will enable them to understand him, and it is probably only Kay Kay Menon as the relentless police officer who pursues the real villain in each of these characters is finally the one who really cares. The ending then isn’t surprising, because the themes play themselves out rather too well for Anurag Kashyap. But the real ending is when Kay Kay Menon throws his hat off, for he knows life could have been simpler for all – without the political power and police nexus, without the communist solutions for problems only, without the crony capitalists, without the naivety of all ordinary men who have only guts but very little conscience and believe that that’s how things ought to be done.

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What works for Bombay Velvet is the machismo and masochism that runs through the frames of the film, great music, amazing sound and it’s awesome visual texture. What may not work for it is that it could be too brainy and intellectual for the minds that are easily pleased by Sunny Leones or Nathalia Kaurs. (And for those who would want to check their braininess despite their obvious partiality to Leones or Kaurs, Anurag does have a simple test in the film – why at a certain point in the film when Khambatta and Johnny have a phone conversation none of them speaks a word throughout this call! Crack that well, and you will see the many themes and subthemes that Anurag Kashyap touches, delves and dives in throughout the film. Personally this alone could be the scene of the century for me – enlighten me if it is copied from somewhere else.)

Bombay Velvet could be the best of Anurag Kashyap as yet, may be even better than Black Friday or Gangs of Wasseypur. Ironically, the movie itself starts mostly with ‘Aam Hindustani Teri Kismat Kharaab Hai’ – aptly speaking about Anurag Kashyap. If Bombay Velvet was made by anyone else from India or by anyone else, it would have been called the film of the decade already!

Denouement:

In a world of lies and liars, an honest work of art is always an act of social responsibility – Robert McKee.

Anurag grows out of his visual rants, from brave and borderline impolite independent films to this extremely heavy budgeted film paying homage to ordinary men’s dreams which – even though I stay too far from him – makes me believe that his growth as a filmmaker, if not as an individual, has been phenomenal. The film may or may not get back all the money it had needed to be made, but it will definitely pave way for more such and this is no less a social act!

On a personal note, no matter who says what about Ram Gopal Varma’s Aag, or recounts great many inspirations made by Martin Scorsese, Brian De Palma, John Hillcoat or whoever, or relates this film to even awful ones such as Once Upon A Time In Mumbai, Anurag Kashyap becomes all the more relevant and all the more present, and all the more is than he ever was. For those who are not bothered by the spoilers here, please do watch Bombay Velvet and definitely on big screen, because this is something you wouldn’t want to miss simply because some reviewer or trade analyst or half-crack filmmaker talks less of it.

 

 

Catharsis

A violent thought taking shape loses its spark,
vanishes into the infinite synapses; the brain notices

A fist of anger that never fully forms
flexes the limited muscles; the body holds

A loud shout that doesn’t escape mouth
dissolves into ever flowing blood; runs deep down into the soul

A voice whimpers “Towards the end, not so easily, not now, not yet.”

Then a sunset, then a flower, then a butterfly
then a smile, then a song, then a dream, then an idea, then an expression

“Cleansed, purified, silenced right now.”

The Imitation Game – In which the ordinary ones imitate the God

There is a thing about Genius. They are always probably the first of the human kind who can see how things are not just wrong in the world but can also be bettered. That is their win and their romance. Strangely it is their romantic win that makes them the ultimate losers. And that’s the tragedy they will have to deal with, something even the future generations after them will have to deal with, because geniuses have always been too bloody good for their times to be easily understood.

Alan Turing of The Imitation Game is that genius. He is an older version of Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory, lacking the indifferent sense of humor of the British running into World War II. Wronged because he has a separate way to look at things, the problem of being Alan is that he completely understands the mindset of those who wrong him – time and again. His weakness however is that he never has been gifted with the ways of winning them over, except through his work and single minded dedication to it. And so he has to find his own way of cracking the Enigma code of the German’s indigenous information decrypting machine that was beating the Allies black and blue. Break the code and the Allied Powers had the war in their kitty.

For the normal world, the Second World War was killing thousands of Jews and more number of soldiers from across the world. The war for Alan Turing was with the limitations of human mind, of those who seem to understand him, but are out to get him at their first chance. Because you see he is no different from Herr Hitler. In fact he even utters the dialogue “…because we can” ditto like the German Dictator did. But unlike Hitler he was not trying to win over countries or spread a specific flag across the earth, he wanted to celebrate the possibility of having created an alternative brain. His intellect already had derived that the human mind is incapable of making a valid judgment without bias developed with the necessity to live in a saner society, and that human morals create wars, while the morals of his kind create pieces that can imitate God’s greatest invention. (Oh by the way if he created something that could imitate humans, what would that make Alan?)

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Yet despite his follies, he finds friends, men who are ready to invest in his genius and a woman, Joan Clarke, who wants to be someone on her own. You could call her a genius too – for the times she was living in. They all help him get over the limitations of the war mongers, the so-called peace keepers. Yet every time he found a solution he has had to face a new opposition, and every time it is bigger than the previous one. So Alan’s friends come up with something, holding him away from their biased judgements as much as they could. Together, from being unnecessary expenditure of a war to playing Gods with the lives of millions – they win. But even they too can’t help him for a secret that he holds deep down in his heart. And there is only one bigger tragedy that being a genius, it is being born a genius with a secret. Alan Turing was a homosexual in a country that couldn’t accept his ‘indecency’.

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Production design, the editing, the visual effects and whatever those popular films from Hollywood are made of are absolutely top notch in The Imitation Game, but there are three great winners who stand out. 1. The ensemble cast – Mark Strong, Charles Dance, Matt Goode and every one else along with the lead pair. 2. The Lead Pair. Benedict Cumberbatch, the Sherlock from BBC’s Sherlock. He is as good here. Oh no he is better. He holds the self-defeating secret in his eyes through out the film like it has been killing him for ages. Keira Knightley shows how terrific actors can reshape everything about the story they tell just with one scene towards the end. 3. The screenplay. An adaptation of Alan Turing: The Enigma, Graham Moore’s story of Alan Turing jumps time at the most unexpected moments. There is the code, and the genius of course has to break it. Alan Turing broke it. Else his story wouldn’t have been told in the first place. But that’s just how the story works at a physical level. At what cost? That’s the intellectual part of it. What did this loss cause him – the secret that ruined his lust for life and his lust to make a difference? That’s the emotional part of it. And what does his story say about human condition? – Ah! There in lies the beauty – the spirit of The Imitation Game. It warns us, though sparsely with cliched dialogue.

And for whiners who want to look at deep into his dark side – stop being a voyeur and think about this: we rarely get a glimpse of Alan Turing without him being with someone else or something else – but of course that’s how any screenplay externalizes a conflict. But the decision to not to go further into his homosexuality works in the film’s favor irrespective of whether it was well planned out for an effect or if it was pure safe play to get a PG13+ rating. As a result we only see a tortured genius from the eyes of those who could only guess and judge what he could be inside, almost like Citizen Kane. But the real rosebud is that The Imitation Game is not just about him but also about how when we as a civilization are faced with an enigma – what we do with it, what gives us the power to do something or anything about it and who suffers in the end.

Boyhood – A Kind of a Review

boyhood3There is a scene in Boyhood when Olivia (Patricia Arquette) suddenly cries out “my life is just gonna go like that… this series of milestones…” We all would want to agree with her. After all what’s a 60 years or more or less of it in this eternal cosmos. And yet what director Richard Linklater (of Before Sunrise/Sunset/Midnight series and Waking Life) says is far beyond those lines.

Boyhood is predominantly the story of Mason (Ellar Coltrane) as he grows from a dreamy six year old into an 18 year old – literally. In a life controlled, limited, conditioned and ‘what not‘ed by parents (even step ones too), Mason is as much an out of the place kid as we all have been during that age. Mason’s world is as dull or as happy it can be – cycle rides, school, friendly neighborhoods, an annoying sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater), along with a yearning for a father who happens to be their mother’s divorced husband. And when Olivia moves out of home in hope of making it better for her kids, their world gets as complicated as it can get. And so begins a child’s biggest and a necessary nightmare – ‘loss of innocence’ and dealing with it.

It is sometimes tough to realize when in the film Mason and Samantha have grown older and we take cues from their changed hair styles or tooth braces or such physical clues. But it is their underlying emotions expressed subtly that tell us about their growth. Richard Linklater ponders on – how quickly these kids grow and yet they are kids, who look at the world with different viewing lenses, coming into their own sooner than later. Linklater delves into the kids innocence and growth as easily as he mixes the talk about pop culture and existentialism ala all his previous films.

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It seems for all the major characters within the story life seems event less – even as the kids’ father Mason Sr. (Ethan Hawke) continues to visit them and tries to be as much a limited father he can be within his visiting hours; and even as Olivia continues her education and also marries a second time. The second husband, for reasons never known (how can any child know) turns out to be a good but disciplinarian and an alcoholic father. So the big events in the life of these kids are those when their seemingly working arrangements, for which they might have struggled – at least emotionally, fall out as both their parents make more and more mistakes – probably teaching Mason a lesson or two about life.

The camera is set in places as if we were sitting with Mason, his glass eyes absorbing everything, and we think we have an answer as to why he seems withdrawn. In these withdrawn worlds of these characters come the moments like when – Mason Sr. tries to educate his daughter (in her mid teens) about being ‘protected’, else he gently warns her about mistakes like he and his once wife did. There is no guilt there, just a feeble feeling that life could have been different and better if it were so possible, which disguises a father’s heart-felt confession about not being a better parent. Or when Olivia asks her son if he had had a joint and he replies yes innocently, and she can only smile about it. Or that Samantha and Mason have very little to say to each other as they grow up but connect to each other as silent witnesses of being the kids of their parents. Of course it’s Linklater – he never takes sentimentality take over on what he intends to document. He paints a rare canvas that is real, living and continues to make us wonder bout what is the meaning of everything.

In a world where kids fights for growth have to be dramatized to be understood (Harry Potter), Boyhood is the exact opposite of it. (May be the director knew what he was doing and that’s why he covered the Harry Potter mania here.) In a world where teachers, media and anyone who can boss you will offer advice about making it big in life Boyhood looks at things that are generally considered small.

Linklater’s biggest achievement in the movie is to capture the growth of not just a boy but of what is generally called family – despite it not working the way it is expected to. Life seems to offer them a second chance every time and sometimes they make the best of it, sometime they don’t. It’s all acceptable here. For those who can’t – life’s events are memories. For those who can make the best of these chances – there seem to be more chances. And in a life where chances come and go by the toughest thing is – to not to give up on what doesn’t necessarily make sense but connects us all, to continue to dream of something beyond what is visible, to feel the moment take over you – like how you felt looking at the sky as a kid or when you got really high, and if possible find a partner who can share that dream and make meaning out of it.

No Linklater’s Boyhood isn’t just about Mason. It is about everyone and what makes life tick and how one retains it – despite the odds.

The Purpose of Relationships In Our Lives

 

 

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I think the purpose of all or any relationship in our life is self – revelation, helping us understand ourselves better as we go on about our lives. Even Jiddu Krishnamurthy seems to say the same thing here and he delves into it deeper than anyone else I’ve known or read.

A relationship, whether it is between two people or a human and just an object, or whether it is an old one or a newly formed one, is like the one between you and the mirror. You see a mirror, you see a clean reflection – it means that both you and mirror are okay, but if you see a disturbed reflection you first check if you have spots on your face, not on your mirror. But in a relationship we generally tend to do otherwise, don’t we?

If a relationship doesn’t tell us anything new about ourselves in a way we can’t probably tell ourselves sooner or later that relationship crumbles. That is probably why we fill a relationship with a gifts or dinners or travels or surprises  – so that we see ourselves in a newer and setting, and find newness in ourselves through our responses to these new things. Of course to have a companion who can tell us if we are fooling ourselves with this newness or if there is something left in us to be discovered is a big bonus.

Yet, strangely, it is also probably why a person needs some alone time too, to find newness in himself (or herself), that doesn’t have anything to do with others in the world – just that individual and the universe for some great lone moments! It is in these moments one realizes that while mirrors are great reflections to what one is, life isn’t lived in mirrors or life’s purpose is not only to see ourselves in the mirrors, and this is probably just the beginning of our self revelation.

 

Tradition, Logic and Limitations!

I believe that any tradition is a practice, the originating logic of which has been forgotten, but is repeated foolishly in the belief that this belief will replace the wisdom of logic. Funny thing is there is no reason why the belief shouldn’t work. So is following a tradition a good thing or a bad? Depends, on how happy you feel doing it.

I have seen a so called ‘well-educated’ Indian woman, who was glad to rush home in the evenings, to light an evening lamp near the Tulasi (Holy Basil) tree at her home. I have often wondered, if she ever cared for the reason why Tualsi was supposed to be prayed to- her belief (then) was that Tulasi would bless her husband with long life, and happiness at home.

I wonder how this practice must have come out. I think women rushing home from work(if ever they worked at all), more so during the torrid Indian summers, is to reach home (before sunset), prepare well for the night (before the ‘bulb’ was invented) and of course water all the plants that needed care. I’m no expert at this – but I often wonder if my friend did any of these. While there is no point questioning her intention of praying for a happy and long life for her husband, I wonder how many times she had cared to pluck Tulasi leaves and use them in tea she made for her husband on a daily basis – Tulasi would have definitely given longish life to her husband (which apparently has been proven empirically and scientifically).

So what was the question again?
Tradition or Logic? – My say – any practice without inherently understanding the logic behind it is useless. But we can’t hold the same logic with life and living – can we – after all, it will take more than few life times to understand the logic of life ( if it ever can be understood) and then trying to ‘live’ would be foolish.

What I basically mean is that logic has ‘applicability issues’ in practice, but that doesn’t and shouldn’t mean that ‘only practice without logic’ is better. Oh my my… this agnosticism is damn cunning and never seems to leave me…!!!