Saturday, December 14, 2013

Adrift in Tokyo (Dir Satoshi Miki, Language - Japanese)

Adrift in Tokyo.jpg
With snowstorm Electra keeping its date with NY/NJ area,  I gradually warmed up to the idea of watching a a half decent movie on a cold December afternoon. And I was in luck.

This movie has very unusual protagonists for the theme which is series of long walks through the city. One would expect a couple's either sustained or past romance to act as sub plot to the walks. However, Adrift in Tokyo has a loan shark and a debt laden student as the leading characters. Together they trudge along lesser known parts of Tokyo - its quiet leafy streets and little Shinto and Buddhist shrines in the neighborhood. Contrary to the popular imagery as shown in movies like Lost in Translation, Tokyo has lot of leafy pathways that are full of foliage are most beautiful during the fall season. This movie uses autumn to its great advantage - and is quite in line with its bitter sweet subtext. 

Makers have also scored the bulls eye with two aspects - one the depiction of lower middle class Japanese, focusing mainly on their vanities and secondly the accentuated nothingness of their lives in general and their struggles with the same. Quirky elements like infatuation with Lacoste brand, using mayonnaise with Japanese curry and that ever present punk rocker walking-performing on the streets create several layers to the simple core plot of the movie that is an arrangement between the lead characters of the movie. One in which student has to accompany the loan shark as he walks through the streets of Tokyo and in return loan shark will write off his debt.

The first half focuses more on the physical manifestations of the walk - places, restaurants, food while the second half is more about relationships and together they build up the optimism of a miracle and leaves one on the crossroads at the end. 

A must watch in my opinion.

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Party is dead, long live the Nation

I have a confession to make.

Whenever I find following terms being used by mainstream media in India - such as unprecedented, historical, never before, apocalyptic, generational etc , I have this incorrigible habit of going back in time and testing my hypothesis - has this happened before? And further more if it has - what were the consequences and what does it tell us in terms of what will happen next.

Current hyperbole on TV and Newspapers is no different. Following is my critique on "decimation" of Indian National Congress.

The Beginnings

Ever since the exclusion crises and Glorious Revolution unfolded in Great Britain, one aspect of democracy has remained constant - that of Political Parties.Jefferson in 1798 captured this in perhaps the most articulate and almost twitter ready form:

"In every free and deliberating society, there must, from the nature of man, be opposite parties, and violent dissensions and discords; and one of these, for the most part, must prevail over the other for a longer or shorter time."

We are as a nation indebted to a motley crowd of Britisher civil servants and an enlightened group of Parsi, Bengali and Marathi though leaders who gave us our first Political Party. Early years saw it as a countervailing force in British India to Viceroy's authority in order to improve the governance and was marked by benign appeals to British Parliamentarians mostly in the areas of taxation. What happened later has been captured quite adequately in our NCERT textbooks. I do no want to attempt a revisit.

It is sufficient to say that it evolved (note that I have not used the term transformed here) into a centre left political force that tried a mix of socialism without Communist underpinnings and with its own school of nation building. Whether it worked or not is a subject of debate - one that would involve comparative data from other democracies in their first decades. Again, this is a side topic that I do not attempt to get into at this juncture.

The Spiral

Political Parties are conceived, aborted, born, mature, age and eventually die. INC is and will not be an exception to this truth. However it is important to theorize what leads to death of a political party.

One prominent reason is divergence of the national aspiration from the central thought of that party - Whig Party is a case in point. When the general mood in the US wanted state to expand - wily old foxes of this once very prominent party were against the idea. They misread the situation and paid with the demise of Whig political thought itself. INC of the day firmly believes in entitlement economy - which is a direct spawn of the socialist thought its leaders very romantically advocated in 50s. Whether mood of the nation is infact vehemently opposed to such a state is perhaps subject of another discussion. 

Another reason of demise can rampant factionalism. Unionists in commonwealth countries saw early demise owing to this. Offshoots emerge and gradually take over the mantle of the parent's political discourse. Interestingly this has happened to INC and it has been seeing departures since 1969.

Yet another reason is fall of the cult or father figure. This can be both biological and political. Regional parties are a prime example. However INC has survived and in fact thrived after deaths of tallest leaders before independence. 


From a pantheon of democracy, INC has regressed into a franchise that is now run by a Family. Note the usage of term franchise here - I dont think the term political party can be any longer used for INC in the absence of any internal democracy.  

I have drawn out few endgame scenarios for INC:
  • Continued downward spiral till the time it truly becomes a cult party that dies with the death of its leader
  • It transforms itself by aligning itself with nation's aspirations and improves it internal functioning through party democracy, dissolution of the idea of whips and institutionalizing accountability to all and exception to none 
  • Breaks into several factions - one of the factions takes the national stage and occupies INC's current center left stature
  • Thrives with its current leadership and structure. It may continue to appeal to some sections of society that truly believe in therapeutic benefits of entitlements. 
These are indeed interesting times for us.

For those who have an open mind should re - read this note after "find and replace" of the term INC with BJP with few exceptions. And for those who are interested - my political affiliation is to that mythical party that advocates centre right libertarian rule. I would have voted for Swantantra Party had I been alive in 50s.


Monday, September 23, 2013

Why I think we do not make meaningful Cinema.

Indian Cinema- Hindi to be more precise since I have not watched much of regional films dishes out several hundred movies in a year. Some of them do get recognition that they deserve and win some awards in the festival circuit. A few others make decent money at the box office. Within that construct, Hindi Cinema seems normal, complete and solvent enough to be reckoned as one of the major cinemas of the world.

However there is always a lament among some of us - we are often heard saying that "we dont make meaningful cinema" or that "average story with song and dance" or "I like Korean movies more". One of the simpler reason for the same is that entire categories of genre are missing in Hindi Cinema, a fact which perhaps make it one dimensional in appeal.
  1. Not enough biographies - No not about Gandhis or Nehrus. But about some extraordinary people in other walks of life whose life would make a fascinating story to tell. Stories of personal courage are often quite satisfying and uplifting. But film makers should refrain from economizing on truth or trying to put a commercial cinema packaging around a real life story. If told honestly, a biography can be a gem just Paan Singh Tomar turn out to be and Bhaag Milkha Bhaag did not.
  2. Not enough stories about immigrants - Yes we are not America and Delhi or Mumbai are far from being called Global Melting Pots but look around you. In Delhi, you can easily spot a Sikh from Jalalabad speaking in strange accent of Punjabi in Ghaffar Market or a West African  who is by the a Nigerian trying to get into a Metro in CP or that stranger with a suspicious satchel in a University Special from East Delhi to North Campus. Often theirs are poignant stories, of exploitation, loneliness, rare friendships and rarer still of triumphs. I can not recall any movie apart from Kabuliwala that was made ages ago.
  3. Not enough violence - Violence shown in contemporary movies is not violence. It is either well choreographed sequence that is enacted by action heroes ably supported by wires or dozens of Scorpio cars defying gravity in the background while our hero emerges from nowhere. It is unnatural at its worst and funny at the best. The raw appeal of violence is missing from such scenes. The one scene that used no wires or stunts or graphics is that of Ed Norton's Neo Nazi character in American History X forcing a black man to keep his mouth open on the sides of the kerb while he brings a ferocious blow of a baseball bat at the back of his victim's head. Another good example that I can recall is violence that Kevin Spacey's character unleashes on his victims, particularly that prostitute who is bled to death in the most macabre way. Jack the Ripper would have been proud of Spacey's character.
  4. There are others as well - Espionage, Political thrillers etc that are completely missing from the wardrobe. And Agent Vinods and Rajneeti are not exactly exemplary pieces of art. 

(To be continued)

What do I write about?

Should I write about my favorite topic - geopolitics and make a case of hyper realism in Indian strategic outlook. But alas I can not because I do not have any training in political science or international relations. All I have is knowledge that I have gathered by reading up few of the policy experts and therefore would not be able to write more than 100 words without quoting a published work.

Should I write about that dark story that I have thought about during one of many bouts of depression. The one in which all the four members of an otherwise normal family kills their respective nemesis during day only to return to the normalcy of their dinner table. I have not quite got the motives and method of murder chalked out. So there goes this thread as well.

Should I write about a raging topic - rapes, girl child, khaap, middle class hypocrisy and self righteousness . I do get urge to write on these topics every now and then but the words fail me and all I am left with are angry ripostes that I put on facebook status updates.

Should I write about Cinema? Should I write movie reviews? I would like to call myself a film buff and over last few years also tried to enjoy world cinema - Iranian in particular. But the lack of vocabulary when it comes to technicalities is the elephant in the room that I can not ignore.

Should I again try my hand at conjuring some silly story like I did with this blog - which was part biographical but mostly silly.

Where does that leave me? Should I talk about my childhood memories - try to make up some stories that have deeper meanings? May be I can, but till then I am busy with this “making up business”.

All in vain

Several aeons ago, a man came down to my neighborhood in West Delhi and set up a tent in a plot of land next to local grocery stores. Then he put on a strange show for the residents of that low middle class locality. He rode his bicycle in circles non stop for 4 or 5 days. The numbers of onlookers would swell during evenings, with knicker clad kids like myself making the most numbers. To this day, I could not quite understand in terms of how the strange cyclist made money for his 72 hour of motion sickness defying spectacle. To me, it remained a pointless exercise - going through extreme discomfort, pain and to top it all, misery of being called and looked as a freak.