A Barbie World

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Happy plastic
Its fantastic

Whenever I hear these lines from Aqua’s Barbie doll I cant help thinking about Aishwarya Rai. I just dont like her….ever since she burst on the screen singing “Thora Sa Pagla thora deewana”. Initially I didnt like her because she could not act. She still cannot act (Exhibit A: Bride and Prejudice, exhibit B: all the rest of her movies) but my disliking of her is no longer based on her lack of histrionic ability. To be objective, my disliking of Aishwarya Rai is motivated not by who she is as a person but more as to what she stands for. Which to me is a manifestation of modern society’s corporate-sponsored worship of vacuous physical beauty to the exclusion of everything else.

Let’s look at Ash. No I didnt mean at her picture——–let’s look at her achievments vis-a-vis the Indian film industry. Some of her most fanatical fans may claim she can act but anyone who is analyzing with their brain knows that her acting is extremely artificial and stilted. Acting ability has not gotten in the way of Bollywood stars producing box-office hits but even here her record is abysmal. And yet she finds herself on the Cannes jury as the representative of the Indian (Hindi) film industry when far more deserving icons (Amitabh Bachchan) stay at home. The reason? Ash looks much better than Amitabh in a back baring dress. Ergo she gets on the jury rubbing shoulders with Martin Scorcese et al. The fact that she makes a fool of herself looking like rogued-up tart is quite besides the point.

But then there she is. The face of Indian cinema. The cross-over queen who shall do for Indian movies what Crouching Tiger did for the Chinese movie industry. Backed by Miramax—she was supposedly even invited to present an Oscar ! She’s on 60 minutes giggling like a 15 year old girl on a date. She’s on David Letterman’s—–rehearsed and stilted in all her plastic glory. Which would all have been fine if she was there as Aishwarya Rai. But no she was representing India—and that’s how the publicity machine both in US and India choose to drum her into public consciousness. Which is why I want to shout out—no no she does not represent me…..oh good lord no.

The same kind of objection I have with the new darling of the Indian media—Sania Mirza. Ok I got it—she won a couple of matches in a Grand Slam……….SO ? Does that justify the media circus around her or the fact that her endorsement earnings are just below Sachin and Saurav among all Indian sportsmen ! I mean Sachin and Saurav have reached their superstar status after years of consistent performance and here comes Ms Mirza—-a couple of victories and she is there ! Leander Paes had many significant victories—-the Davis Cup miracle they pulled off in France , his total demolition job of Goran Ivanisevic…..Ramesh Krishnan took out Wilander when he was World No 1 in the Australian Open. But here comes Sania and people are asking Leander who? Sania may go on to become one of India’s legendary sportspersons but she has done nothing till today that warrants the hype surrounding her. Her status is only because she has one common characteristic with Aish—she is easy on the eyes. Ramesh Krishnan’s pot belly vs Sania’s legs—–guess which one wins !

Why has beauty replaced ability? Why? What happens to overweight, male, talented people like me? Who will look after me and Arjuna Ranatunga ? Who?

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The Real Great "Bong"

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It’s something I have observed whenever I am in a mixed group of Indians watching a cricket match involving India. As soon as Ganguly gets out cheaply wafting at one outside the off stump or fending one off his ribs (regrettably both becoming a recurrent feature) people from different parts of the country seem to hold me responsible . Some will say “Aare Arnab , Dada has failed yet again” , some will abuse Ganguly while looking at me. Somehow I am anointed as the Ganguly surrogate on whom to vent their collective spleen. The reason is obvious–I being the only Bengali most of the time (the graduate student population I have always interacted with at Stonybrook have always been South Indians—Gults and Tams predominantly and Marathis) in the group makes me responsible/answerable for Ganguly’s batting woes in the eyes of non-Bongs. However Sachin Tendulkar’s boo-boos (and I can reel off several) and Rahul Dravid’s inability to get the ball past 15 yards may bring forth a passing remark or two (never on the scale of the vitriol reserved for Dada)— however Marathis and Bangaloreans are never never pulled up for the follies of these two heroes.

And that brings me to a question I have never found a satisfying answer for:

Why is Saurav Ganguly intrinsicly associated with Bengal to an extent no other Indian cricketer is associated with his origins?

I dont really understand it. In my opinion Ganguly’s greatest contribution to Indian cricket is that he has never been guided by parochial feelings——-among all India captains in the past ten years, he has never let his judgment be affected by his roots. Look at the people he has supported —–Harbhajan and Yuvraj from Punjab, Sehwag from Delhi, Zaheer Khan from Gujarat. Many of the people he has backed despite media/selectorial opposition have vindicated their faith in him—-some like Agarkar and Parthiv Patel have not. But the point to note is that unlike Sachin or Azharuddin the people he stuck his neck out for were people he believed in only because of their ability and not because they played for the same Ranji team or spoke the same language.

In contrast Sachin, for all his greatness as a batsman, could never look beyond Mumbai. Under him, old pals like Vinod Kambli (to be fair Kambli had talent that was ultimately ruined by his own indiscipline) and Sanjay Manjrekar (his early promise mysteriously disappeared) had an extended run in the national team even when they were past their sell-by-date. At least it could be said that Kambli and Manjrekar had showed promise at some point of their careers——–what of Abey Kuruvilla, Nilesh Kulkarni and Sairaj Bahutule ? The only thing that connected them was their singular lack of talent and performance and oh yes they all played for Mumbai. Before that was Azharuddin who single-handedly destroyed the career of Subroto Banerjee to further Srinath’s in the 92 tour to South Africa. Venkatapathy Raju, Azhar’s Ranji teammate, used to come up with sporadic performances throughout the 90s, get dropped and keep on coming back like a bad penny thanks to the support he got from our “boys didn’t play well” Azhar

Yet it’s always Ganguly who has been the “Prince of Calcutta” and not Sachin “Mumbai Mawali” .

A non-Bengali friend of mine who had a few issues with Bengalis once told me that Bengalis are known to be lazy, arrogant and bossy and that Saurav Ganguly embodies that stereotype. He argued that Ganguly does not deserve to be in the team based on his batting and that his reputation as a captain is built on the performances of Dravid and Sachin. Ganguly does nothing except to simply supply sound bytes to the press and shamelessly appropriate the labours of others as achievements of his captaincy. In addition, Ganguly is a selfish batsman who cares only for his personal achievements, is a lazy sportsman who does not like to run singles or work on his fitness (his abysmal fielding is proof of that) and who captains the team like an arrogant autocratic Maharaj shouting orders at others while his own performance leaves much to be desired.

I don’t want to bring a whole lot of statistics into it but I think we all know who in the world has the greatest ODI record after Sachin. Sure that does not make Ganguly the greatest in Test matches but since World Cup 2003 Ganguly has been averaging more than 50 in both forms of the game which shows, that at the very least, he deserves to be in the team as a batsman. There is no room for doubt–Sachin and Dravid are far better batsmen that Dada but that does not make Ganguly any less valuable to the team as a batsman.

Sachin’s tenure as captain was a disaster both for his personal form as well as for the team. Dravid averages 17 in Tests when he is the captain. Both Sachin and Rahul Dravid are known to be self-absorbed cricketers——–Sachin’s failure as a captain was acknowledged to be the fact that he expected superhuman performances from everyone which led to team mates being alienated. Dravid looks outwards only when he is satisfied with his own game—the moment he gets a little bit out of form he withdraws totally within himself. Ganguly on the other hand never loses the intensity needed from a captain even when his personal form goes to pieces. He has shown time and time again——Dada does not mentally disintegrate. He sticks up for the people he believes in and in the process earns the respect of his colleagues——the mark of a true leader.

Ganguly is selfish. Well I have seen him slowing down before personal landmarks but which Indian batsman does not do so? Ok Sehwag does not but who else ?Sachin, Dravid , Laxman….everyone has done so. We Indians are intensely conscious of personal achievements and we as a nation worship statistics——–so let’s not make Saurav an example.

All this is quite beside the point. Which if you remember was why Ganguly is linked to his linguistic heritage like no other player? Lets look at an article about Laloo Yadav published in the Rediff (and titled as a “must read) and read the gross generalizations made about Bengalis.

The zamindars began to exploit the farmers for more and more and also, they themselves did nothing to develop the land’s productivity. In fact, zamindari lifestyle meant doing nothing. Any kind of physical activity was looked down upon, and this can still be seen in Bengal.

Bihar was created because of the supercilious superiority attitude of the Bengalis and because some of the Kayasthas (one of Bihar’s smallest forward castes) resented the Bengalis domination of the British Raj administration.

Can you imagine such gross generalizations being made against any other linguistic, social or religious group in mainstream Indian media ? I cannot.

Such a negative mindset against Bengalis can be seen all throughout India and nowhere more so than in the cricketing fraternity. Zonal selection boards and the Mumbai lobby kept out many deserving Bengali players throughout the 50s to 80s. When Ganguly was first selected in 91, he was the victim of a vicious conspiracy by the then-manager of the India team Ranbir Singh (the BCCI president). In his report about Ganguly, Mr Singh did the easiest thing to do to a Bong—paint him as a lazy work-shirking individual who asked Kapil Dev to carry his bag (a version denied by Kapil but something that found its way into Ganguly’s assessment by the manager).

This damning report about Dada combined with selectorial myopia kept him out for another 6 years till the tour to England where his selection was dubbed as a “case of blatant selectorial regional bias”. This charge was put to rest when Ganguly whacked back-to-back centuries against England in Lords and Leeds. Yet soon Wadekar had him dropped for the Toronto cup in order to make way for state-mate Hiphop Kambli………again a tour de force performance from Ganguly with bat and ball enabled him to make his spot permanent. In short, contrary to the image painted by his detractors of Ganguly being born with a golden spoon who has had it easy all through his life, the real situation is that fewer cricketers in the Indian team has had it as tough as him.

Which brings me to the point……finally. I am proud when people associate me with Ganguly because of my being a Bengali. That is because , ironically, Ganguly is the antithesis of the Bengali stereotype. He is a fighter and a trier. Despite being not as naturally talented as Sachin or Dravid and having well-documented weaknesses, his ODI record is the second best in the world. He has relentlessly battled prejudices coming up through India’s cricketing structure. He has witnessed , first hand, the way administrators destroy careers and in turn has worked to ensure that what almost happened to him does not happen to the new generation of cricketers ———–regardless of which state they are from.

On paper he is the most successful Indian captain ever and that is reason enough to guarantee him his place in history. But his greatest legacy will remain the fact that he has taught Indian cricketers to look the opposition in the eye and to “act with confidence”———an attitude that symbolizes not only the cricket team but also the new resurgent India.

I am not a parochial person. I do not think that linguistic/social/religious groups have defining characteristics nor do I subscribe to the jingoistic exclusivism predominant among much of the Bengali elite. However once I am painted with the “Bengali brush” I fight back. Just like Dada. I proclaim loudly for all to hear——-

Listen all ye haters, I am proud to be a Dada-fan and to come from the same state as him. He is the true “Bengal Tiger”…. and if you think thats a manifestation of the “supercilious superiority attitude of the Bengalis” I hope that you stand in silly mid off the next time Ganguly launches into his off-side glide.

Ma-ma-mama mia Mafia………

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Gore gore mukhre pe
Kala kala chashma……….

Thus went the song from a Nagma movie….yes the same Nagma who has now been revealed to be the keep of Anees Ibrahim, the brother of Dawood Ibrahim. I love anything to do with organized crime and this week has been good for me with the Gutkhka scandal exploding onto the front pages. I am sure this mafia scandal will follow the template of all such high profile scandals—a few days of hectic activity, cops and CBI sleuths belching out sound bytes, a couple of editorials bemoaning the criminalization of life, some “deep” articles on the lines of why women are attracted to mafia dons and then ………total, absolute silence.

We shall never know what happens to “Jumbo” or to the Guthka magnates. All their stories and scandals shall be lost in time like tears in the rain. Remember the Telgi scandal—the mother of all scandals that led to heads rolling at the Mumbai Crime Branch when everyone in the chain of command right to the very top were implicated for having their snouts in the trough. What happened to them? What happened to Telgi ? Noone knows. The media just seems to lose interest in the topics we deserve to know about. The reason is obvious—they do not consider it in their best interest to bring out the true story……….the story that emerges once the hype and hoopla has died down. Because the last thing that corporate media wants to do is to rock the boat and shake up the system of which they are a part of.

Coming back to the Gutkha scandal, the hypocritical Mumbai film fraternity has reacted in its typical knee-jerk manner——–it kicked out Manikchand Gutkha as the sponsor of Filmfare Awards (our dumbed-down version of the Oscars). Remember Bharat Shah, diamond merchant and film financier, who was in cahoots with the Dubai mafia———-at the first sign of trouble the film community kicked him out only to readmit him with full honors once the heat died down. Pyar Ishq aur Mohabbat director Rajiv Rai gave an interview to Stardust once (which I read in a barber’s shop in Kolkata) that Abu Salem and his gang had threatened to assassinate him but that he would not buckle down to their strong arm tactics——no sir. But that things had become so hot for him and his wife Sonam that they were having to shift base to UK . What he declined to mention was that he had “bought” his life by casting Monica Bedi, Abu Salem’s moll as one of the heroines. ( If you have ever watched the disastrous “Pyar Ishq Aur Mohabbat” you may argue that by casting Monica Bedi in this mess, Rajiv Rai got the revenge to end all revenges on the mafia cause it effectively finished her movie career) The point I am trying to make is that the entire Mumbai film fraternity is in bed with the Dubai mafia and when the cops discover stuff which everyone knows anyways Bollywood quickly detaches itself from the fallen only to come crawling through the back door once the spotlight shifts.

Another thing I love about Bollywood is the total disconnect between the themes of their movies and the guiding ideology of the people who make them. Sanjay Gupta and Mahesh Manjrekar make gritty mafia movies with the moral “crime does not pay” but in reality are found to grovel in front of real mafia dons and take money from them to make movies decrying “goonda-raj.” Shubhas Ghai makes movies about the ethereal quality of love and is known to have attempted to molest Monisha Koirala during the making of Saudagar. Madhur Bhandrakar makes the biting, no-holds-barred “Page 3″ where he rips open the glittering facade of the Mumbai glitterati—one of the stories he shows is of a “socially conscious” filmmaker who mandates that his heroine sleep with him for the part. Only fly in the ointment—-he himself was accused of doing the same thing by an upcoming starlet during the making of this movie itself !

And concluding my rant for today………..poor Nagma. After being mauled by her affair with our own crouching Bengal tiger Saurav Dada Ganguly she gets hit for a towering six and lands up in the lap of Anees Ibrahim. Now that the cops have caught this buxom star from the South, they shall really give her a hard time because she is a soft target, pun fully intended. As she herself sung in a Hindi-dubbed Tamil movie whose name I think was “Super Police”…

Khakee wardi chasma wala
Patthar dil hain policewala
Phir bhi maine dil de dala
Oooooooooh yeah

I am lustful and I took a test to prove it

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Following Urmi-di’s test I was also intrigued into taking the Dante’s Circle of Hell test. This is how I fared:

The Dante’s Inferno Test has banished you to the Second Level of Hell!
Here is how you matched up against all the levels:

Level Score
Purgatory (Repenting Believers) Very Low
Level 1 – Limbo (Virtuous Non-Believers) Very Low
Level 2 (Lustful) Very High
Level 3 (Gluttonous) High
Level 4 (Prodigal and Avaricious) Moderate
Level 5 (Wrathful and Gloomy) Very High
Level 6 – The City of Dis (Heretics) Very High
Level 7 (Violent) High
Level 8- the Malebolge (Fraudulent, Malicious, Panderers) Very High
Level 9 – Cocytus (Treacherous) Moderate

Take the Dante Inferno Hell Test

And my wife got a Level 7 on the same test—-ie she was banished to the violent circle of Hell.

She—violent. Me—lustful. Kind of sums up my married life.