Saturday, August 23, 2008

Maya Memsaab

I am scared, extremely scared, and I'm not saying this in James Bond's style. Read on to find out why.

The Background

Since mid-January this year, India has been in a turmoil of sorts. It started with the markets crashing, fuel price soaring, dollar weakening, IT slowing, manufacturing stalling, GDP growth declining, and inflation touching double digits.

The budget brought euphoria to the working class as taxes were reduced. It brought relief to farmers as loans to the tune of Rs.71,000 crores were waived. The Pay Commission recommended a 40% hike in government employees' wages. But all these were fast forgotten in the face of soaring prices and high fuel costs.

The turmoil has not just been economic. With India's proposed growth in infrastructure, a secure energy supply is imperative. The UPA government, nay, the Congress, nay, Manmohan Singh rightly pressed ahead with the Nuclear deal but met with bitter opposition from not only the opposition (whose job it is to oppose) but also from the Left. The trust vote was thankfully in Manmohan's favour, and a major political crisis was averted. In his final speech to the Parliament before the trust vote (which was never delivered thanks to the cash-for-votes hungama), Manmohan Singh rebuked Advani for calling him a weak PM. In particular, he stressed on Advani's incompetence in dealing with terrorist attacks. By a cruel twist of fate, 24 bombs exploded days after those measured words, seriously hampering the image of the UPA.

What this politico-economic instability has done is give other political parties ample room for rhetoric. We saw the old guard, Advani, almost ready to take oath as the next PM. We saw Karat and gang hurling innuendo after unwarranted innuendo at the Congress. We saw small state parties like SP and BSP in a position to make or break the Government. Of all these arrows flying and nullifying each other in Mahabharatha style, one arrow steered clear and now threatens to rip the Indian political fabric to shreds.

The Darr

I don't remember the first time Mayawati made her desire to become Prime Minister public. But I remember seeing a mammoth cut-out of a waving, 32-teeth baring Maya not in Banaras (which is my second hometown), but in Bangalore sometime last year. That's when I first heard about her Prime Ministerial ambitions, and I laughed it off carelessly (in the classic Pan Pasand style- Mayawati aur Pradhaanmantri? Hmph! Kabhi Nahi). She has since been on a relentless nationwide campaign, fraternizing with leaders of various states. With her BSP, the Left, and the UNPA joining hands just days before the trust vote, the third front looks a lot more menacing. There was never reason to believe that we would have a non-Congress, non-BJP government at the centre in the forthcoming general elections. We knew BSP, SP, AIADMK, DMK, CPI(M) would just be the little shoves on the ass the Congress or BJP woluld need to scale the wall. Even the formation of the UNPA (an ideologyless medley of state parties aiming to use their respective regional clouts to conquer Delhi) was taken seriously by only the UNPA. It's not a bad idea, in principle, to have a strong third front. In practice, however, the present third front aims only to overthrow the present government. The UNPA-BSP-Left third front is a highly opportunistic alliance of ideologically incompatible political outfits with supremely egotistic leaders that believes it can provide a stable government at the centre. How is it possible to have a Chandrababu Naidu -who refused to allow reservations to creep into ISB admissions- and a Mayawati -who would reserve seats in a restaurant if she had a chance- in the same government? How is it possible to make any kind of lasting alliance with someone like Jayalalithaa? The very fact that they have made public their sole motive as being the overthrow of UPA shows very poorly on their general intellect and their perception of the electorate.It reeks of acute politiciosis.

Mayawati doesn't want India to be a progressive and prosperous country. She doesn't want advances in science and technology. She does not want to beef up India's infrastructure. She does not want to rapidly industrialize the country. At least, she doesn't say all this. I might be wrong but she has said nothing to prove me wrong. All she has been saying is "Why can't I be PM", "UPA and NDA are conspiring against me", "They are scared a daughter of a Dalit will become a PM" etc. The only thing she has made clear is that more reservations are coming- for Dalit Muslims and Christians, and for all the XCs in the private sector. She's also handing out a bone to the poor in the upper castes. Does she say one thing about educating the lot of XCs so that they needn't depend on reduced cut-offs all their lives? She's misleading the Dalits into believing that their lot will be less discriminated against as a result of 'one of them', an 'untouchable' being elevated to the post of Prime Minister. That's as inane a conclusion to make as was made when Pratibha Patil's appointment as President was supposed to be a morale bosster for women. If people of generation X-2 hated dalits and considered them untouchable, are they going to kiss them on the forehead now that 'one of them' is the PM? It's as difficult for that generation to start loving dalits as it is for mine to hate them for their caste. Dr.Ambedkar suggested reservations for the downtrodden because that is exactly what they were. Indians, in a wave of nationalistic feeling, were willing to sacrifice a little to integrate their historically downtrodden brothers into free India. My generation is largely more tolerant, except when parents and grandparents inculcate those shitty use-chhoona-mat values in their kids (my parents and more importantly grandparents never did so). The only way you know someone is an SC or an ST is when they tick that tiny square in all their forms. I don't blame them for doing so- heck, if someone reserves 50% of the seats for Palakkad Iyers born in Barrackpore and living in Hyderabad I would jump with joy. The blame rests, obviously, on the parties that keep the caste system alive in their incendiary speeches. Party A panders to the lower castes, because if it doesn't, Party B or C will. There's no way we can get a broad political consensus of phasing out reservations instead of squeezing in more. The only option is having the Supreme Court somehow fitting it into the fundamental rights as a right against reverse discrimination or something. Nobody is against upliftment of the underprivileged- but disguising a political weapon as an olive branch; letting the 'underprivileged' sniff it and stuffing it down our throats; is the kind of politics India can do without but one it is most likely sinking into.

Here's a woman who is busy erecting statues of ahem, hmmm, let's see...herself. Here's a woman who's proud of being elected the Chief Minister of India's most populous state not one time but four. Anybody who can be proud of being Chief Minister just by virtue of being one, and that too of a state that is as underdeveloped now as it was at the start of the tenure, is probably going to make the rest of India like UP. That is what I'm scared about, and what hamaari junta should fear too. It's so irritating to hear her say "If i can be the Chief Minister of India's most populated state, why can't I be the PM of India?" Well Kumari Mayawati, the rest of India has one billion people, which is approximately 600% of the population of UP. You might have charisma and appeal, but we're not looking for a model. We want an erudite leader who can cleverly market India to the rest of the world.

I could go on and on. You just have to enter "Mayawati Prime Minister" in Google to see all these scarily amusing reports and interviews about Mayawati. We welcome a Dalit woman Prime Minister if she's worth the post; not a woman who gets a kick out of becoming Prime Minister because she's a Dalit. Mere desh ki junta, please don't vote for her. The ones at the top now might not be very good, but not-very-good is better than disastrous.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Mission Istanbullshit

I know this film's 2-3 weeks old, but read it- there's no harm reliving past horrors.

When a good director uses good actors for a good script, you generally get a good movie; when a good director gets a bad script, you get a disappointing movie; when a bad director gets good actors, you call it a Yashraj film; and when a bad director gets worse actors for an awful script you get Mission Istanbul. You can't help but think why Apoorva Lakhia made this movie. He seems to have taken a lot of pains to make a pathetic movie. Right till the end, you can't figure out whether it was a spoof on terrorism or an attempt to address it. Well, it turns out Lakhia didn't have the brains for either. When people like Priyadarshan and Anees Bazmee direct a movie, they say balls to the discerning audience and make empty-headed pot-boilers. The audience knows what to expect. But Lakhia picks up a subject of international concern and flogs it so badly that at the end you feel the film had nothing to do with terrorism. In many ways, it's like a Tandoori Paneer Pizza. It's an international concept Indianized to suit our taste buds. Lakhia does the same to this movie, making international terrorism look no more serious than roadside goondagardi.

When the director and producer pick actors of the calibre of Viveik Oberoi, Zayed Khan, and Suniel Shetty, you know they're not serious about making a film. I still can't figure out why people cast Suniel Shetty. As a solo hero, he can be a nightmare; in a multistarrer like Main Hoon Na or Border, he's generally the recipe for disaster; in multistarrers like Mission Istanbul where's he's the most experienced actor, he still manages to act worse than everybody else. Lakhia must've realised this, which is probably why he finished him off before he could do more damage.

Ok, here's the story, or whatever little there is of it. Zayed Khan is an 'IIT topper' with a Computer Engg degree who chooses to work for Aaj Tak (that's stretching creative freedom to its limit). He's India's best 'TV journo'. He is sent to Istanbul to work with Al Johara (psst psst, it's Al Jazeera; this is where I start thinking it's a spoof)- the channel wants to set up base in India. As events unfold, we find out that Al Johara is not what it seems- it acts as a mouthpiece for the terrorists who, in the name of Abu Nazir (an obvious attempt at recreating Osama, down to the last strand of the beard), orchestrate terrorist attacks all over the world. The head of this terrorist organization is an actor from Ekta Kapoor's glycerine factory, and couldn't look less menacing. You can make out he played an aadarshwadi beta or pati five minutes before every shot.

Anyway, Viveik Oberoi is some kind of crusader against terrorism and convinces Zayed that Abu Nazir is dead and Al Johara is keeping him alive using 'computer graphics'. Zayed also finds out that anybody who tries to leave Al Johara is bumped off, and that there's a mysterious 13th floor where all the phoney Abu Nazir messages are fabricated. Does this sound familiar? Those of you who've read, or watched the adaption of John Grisham's The Firm can't miss the connection- the idea of a reputed company acting as a cover for a notorious gang, the idea of the company killing employees who want to leave the company, the idea of having one floor dedicated to the underhand activities- yeah baby, it's all there. You can't blame Lakhia though; especially when you compare it to more shameless adaptations of the Abbas-Mustan variety.

The rest of the movie is about Zayed and Viveik trying to 'save the world'. They steal all of Al Johara's information on a pen drive and have the security guards hot on their heels. The highlight of the movie was Al Johara's security guards surrounding Zayed, Viveik, and a woman (it's not worth describing the woman's role in the movie), brandishing hockey sticks and clubs! This scene also features the most ill-timed and annoying product placement shot I've ever seen in cinema. It goes thus. Viveik and Zayed have a Mountain Dew each in hand. Viveik asks Zayed "Darr lag raha hai?" to which the latter replies "Nahi. Darr ke aage jeet hai." The plot and screenplay were so bad, that I'll actually recommend people to watch the film. For the climax, Lakhia seems to have roped in Salman to direct the shot- Zayed and the head of Al Johara shed their shirts and start beating each other up. Obviously, Zayed won.

The USP of this movie is that every scene is an eyesore and a brainsore. The movie was alternating between spoofy (the ludicrous George Bush sequence, the poor imitation of Osama) and silly (the rest of the film) with not one scene that gives you an idea of Lakhia's take on terrorism. All it says is, if only terrorists were as emasculated as the ones in this film, even hollow-headed brawnies like Zayed and Viveik can save the world. The movie was extremely poorly researched and shockingly insincere; it was almost insulting to the terrorists. The first thing a director must do after writing the story, is incorporate the local accent in the dialogues (Gangaajal, Omkara, Mr. & Mrs. Iyer). This is even more important when your actors are shown to be natives of that place. Lakhia was so way off the mark, it looked deliberate. Viveik and the head of the terrorist network speaking good Indian Hindi was a testament to both their command over our national language and Lakhia's general obtuseness. Viveik was particularly irritating as he's been carrying that suave, confident smirk which was pleasant when he entered the industry, but makes my bile boil now.

All said, Mission Istanbul is a remarkable achievement. Eliciting incompetent performances from all involved is no mean feat. You always have a but-that-chap-was-good actor whose spoils an otherwise delightfully bad film. Lakhia has transcended this and made a genuinely bad film that fails to deliver on all fronts- for this he deserves praise. But if you insist, I'll give you a silver lining- the movie did not have Tusshar Kapoor, which is a pleasant surprise considering who the producer is.