The Killing Fields of Bengal

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[*This is a long post. So please be warned. May I also request people to read the whole post if they at all choose to start reading. Update on December 3, 2007: A minorly edited version of this post has appeared in the December edition of Pragati]

Amar naam, tomar naam—-Vietnam

“My name, your name, Vietnam”. Resonating across the streets of Calcutta and the villages of Bengal, this slogan of the late 60s and early 70s was as much a cry of solidarity for the Vietcong fighting the Americans as it was emblematic of the growing popularity of the philosophy of Communism among an entire generation, a political ideology that defined itself primarily by its support for the “little guy”, the downtrodden and the oppressed, as they fought the depredations of the West, evil corporations, landlords and the oppressive rule of the Congress. Tapping into this groundswell of Bengali idealistic passion, came to power a man who had positioned himself perfectly to ride the wave, branding himself as the “Sarboharar Neta” (the leader of those who have nothing).

A man by the name of Jyoti Basu, the leader of the CPIM.

Bengal was never the same again.

After nearly thirty years of Communist dominion in West Bengal, in what can only be called poetic irony, a word that rhymes with Vietnam has come to symbolize the political ideology of a new generation, that defines itself primarily by its support for the “little guy” as they fight the same set of enemies as before but with the oppressive rule of the Congress being now replaced by the oppressive rule of the CPIM.

That word is Nandigram —a human tragedy, an indictment of the extra-Constitutional authority of the democracy-crushing CPIM, and a political dagger in the hands of both the religious right and the “actual” Left to draw blood from their common enemy, Buddhadeb Bhattacharya

Will Bengal ever be the same again?

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Saawariya—the Review

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“Good Lord, only a moment of bliss? Isn’t such a moment sufficient for the whole of a man’s life?”

–White Nights

The biggest problem with “Saawariya”, based on Dostoevsky’s famous short story about loneliness and longing, is that director Sanjay Leela Bhansali (henceforth called SLB) does not given us even one moment of bliss.

Sure he gives us plenty of shots of gondolas awash in blue-green light, sequences of gentle cotton brushing against tender male bottom as moonlight streams in from behind highlighting Ranbir Kapoor’s “kacha kacha nimbooda”s, hushed whispers that are supposed to be very profound by virtue of their softness, and histrionic performances that would be considered juvenile even in a pre-kindergarten after-school play.

Yes he gives us that and much more. What he does not give us is one moment of respite, one flash of redemption, one thunderclap of even mediocrity.

Not one cotton-pickin one.

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Om Shanti Om—the Review

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Growing up in times of government monopoly over broadcasting which meant there was almost never anything good on the telly, one of the attractions we looked forward to was the madari and his two monkey-act. This act consisted of one of the monkeys dressed as the hero (usually called Dharmendra) wearing a hat and a small dress (a tattered version of the one SRK is wearing to the left) being made to walk and dance around a second monkey, the female character (usually called Hema Malini) who was trained to take a lipstick and daub it on “her” Narasimha Rao lips.

There was no story, no coherence, the music was simple (the “dugdugi”), the script (as spoken by the madari as he simulated the wooing of the simians) as profound as “Mujse shaadi karegi Hema ” and the directorial touches as subtle as smacks to the monkey’s bottoms whenever their histrionic abilities or artistic enthusiasm was found to be less-than-Oscar worthy.

And we loved it. It was not art. But boy was it pure entertainment.

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Diwali Dhamaka

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It’s Diwali.

And that means new clothes, fireworks, gratuitous male nudity and of course controversy.

This year has been no different as families and friendships have split down the fault line of “Saawariya vs Om Shanti Om” as two of the biggest releases of the year hit the screens on the same day all across the country, competing for eyeballs in particular and balls in general. And if the battle between the two titanically iconic directors Sanjay Leela Bhansali and Farah Khan is not enough to satisfy the palate of the newshounds, this year the stakes are even higher because of THE controversy, the one that pundits are now referring to as “Towelgate”.

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The Tragedy of the Great Indian Family

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There is nothing much left to be said about the Rizwanur Rehman case that has not already found mention in all the Orkut communities, blogs, email forwards, online petitions, media coverage and government sound-bytes regarding the administrative shakeups (the removal of the Police Commissioner and transferring of concerned police officials) that the tragic case has brought in its wake. [For those of you who do not know what I am talking about, this wikipedia page gives you a brief overview of the case that has rocked West Bengal for the past month or so.]

In this day and age when we claim to have become “modern” (where modernity has sadly been defined as wearing skirts, talking in English and downloading ringtones), the fact that such a positively medieval thing can actually happen in a supposedly progressive city like Calcutta has left many of us in the educated middle-class elite angry and surprised.

Angry at the violence and the futile loss of life. Understandable. Angry at the police openly claiming to be able to bend the Constitution as they pleased. Again understandable.

But should we really be so surprised?

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Mushu Mushu Hasi

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Sari mein sari Parag Sari.

Coup mein coup Pakistan.

In a bizarre turn-of-events bordering on the farcical, “democratically elected” President Musharraf has been overthrown by “martial law enforcing army man” President Musharraf. Frustrated by what he calls “obstacles created in the face of the democratic process” our President Pinocchio, has done what any other upholder of “the rule of the people” would do when faced with a challenge to the democratic process—–he has abolished it. Totally. This is what political scientists call the “Na rahega baans na bajegi bansuri” gambit.

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Stin(k)ging Modi

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When a news agency like Tehelka uses “Free.Fair” in its description of itself, I cannot but help myself to a wry smile since Fox TV, a barely disguised propaganda machine for the Republican Party in the US, also calls itself “Fair and Balanced”. And we all know what a joke that it is.

Recently, Tehelka, whose political leanings are no secret, did yet another sting operation with the aim being to expose the “hopelessly one-sided perpetration of violence on hapless Muslims” in India in general and Gujarat in particular— noble aims that we know are the holy grail of people who want to portray “genocide of Muslims” as India’s favorite national sport.

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