Life after Roger Ebert; The mantle passes

`I would like to begin this post by stating that I staunchly believe that critiquing is quite veritably, an art in itself. It takes,among other rare and demanding virtues, uncommon levels of objectivity, a keen sense of observation and an encyclopaediac knowledge base in the concerned area.

Roger Ebert, my all time favourite movie critic, passed away earlier this year. The film aficionado in me suppressed many a silent tear. His loss to me was profound in an extremely selfish way and was sorely personal.

I discovered him when I first started realising that Rotten Tomatoes’ tomatometer, in itself, was not a reliable indicator of a movie’s watchability/merits by my standards. I started reading individual reviews of films and over a period of time, one critic’s tastes, reviews and accuracy (again by my standards) definitely stood out. The rest is a long history of my torrent download list being a product of constant deferral to his judgement.

Why did I like his reviews so much? Firstly, his piranha grip over the English language and his effortlessly eloquent writing style resonated with me. Secondly, his overall set of cinematic ideals, in terms of aesthetics, technicalities and pretty much everything else conformed to (and sometimes, shaped) my own. In addition, his acute objectivity helped transcend philosophical and idealogical differences (he was a theistic socialist; I’m a raging libertarian atheist) that could have possibly led to a difference in perception and patronisation of certain loaded subjects. Lastly, what made him stand apart was the method of rating films as products of their relative genres, which he pioneered.

Naturally, my film-life suffered due to the existence of a palpable black hole when he died and going was tough for a few weeks. Then, in a fashion decidedly congruent with the whole “when a door closes, a window opens” school of bullshit, I stumbled upon my next favourite critic through a Roger Ebert obituary that he had published in an Indian daily; The co-incidence is definitely gasp-worthy. The new holder of the coveted mantle is Baradwaj Rangan, who writes reviews for The Hindu and also publishes his stuff on With to-die-for witticisms, uncannily overlapping personal tastes/beliefs (to an extent  unimaginable with even Ebert) and a thorough disdain for the nonsense, Rangan had me scouring his blog for reviews of my all time favourites and choking with teared joy on having found the perfect patch for the hole. It was also poetically fitting that he was tam brahm.

I believe I have started admiring him as a proper writer and not just a tool to ease my filtration process for films. Sadly, his job’s dictates mean that he reviews a lot of films that don’t usually feature in my to-watch list. I end up reading reviews for a lot of films that I know I would never watch, if only to entertain myself with his writing.

I strongly recommend his blog.

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The AAP Effect

the knight in plain white

the knight in plain white

I would like to preface this by saying that I have extremely anti-statist views when it comes to governance. I like my governments small and unobtrusive (possibly even non existent).

However, talking from more of an India-exclusive standpoint, I have always maintained that it isn’t going to be one political ideology, be it this end or the other, that is suddenly going to change the traditionally murky Indian political setup for the better. For me, the reason behind the pitfalls was hardly a function of a flawed stance/misplaced beliefs. It was a function of the maleficence and apathy that characterised the reign of many a party ,each claiming to hold dear another set of ideals. In the spectrum of political beliefs/stances, the AAP hasn’t even bothered defining itself. The propaganda had a healthy dose of the Indian political staple of populism and promise of state-handouts. Nevertheless, it isn’t political ideology, at least of the right-left-centre persuasion, that defines AAP.They have defined themselves, or seek to, in terms simple, clear and resonating: anti-corruption. While to the outsider, this may seem like a glaring redundancy, since it’s obvious no party would make corruption their motto, it is tragically common knowledge in India that the two major Central Parties that have enjoyed power for more than 5 decades are ones where corruption runs rampant and unchecked all the way down to the rotting foundations. Established on the aftermath of Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption movement that caused quite the nation-wide stir, by an active participant in the struggle no less, the party had a clear cut brand positioning, so to speak. Aided by doggedly determined and often clever propaganda that went on for the better half of a year, the party set up quite a good base for itself. This in tandem with the Delhi denizens’ disillusionment with the mostly ineffective Congress government headed by Sheila  Dixit for a decade, secured the fledgling party a historic first-poll haul.

To me, before the AAP wave swept over, there was a fair bit of skepticism. I was not convinced that honest intentions,even if they could be taken as such in the first place, are enough in themselves to run a successful government. Such misgivings were mitigated firstly by the knowledge that the AAP is headed by a person who can a. read b. write and has a degree from a premier institute to boot. That’s comedically (?) rare stuff in India. Sadly, this is a country where high school dropouts unabashedly spearhead top education portfolios and the general bulk of the key legislative bodies are often woefully undereducated. Therefore, for obvious reasons, the AAP is a welcome change in this respect. Although, a point to the counter turned out to be the sad reality of  the party on a number-rising spree, indiscriminately adding potential Lok Sabha candidates into it’s fold, with no apparent considerations of merit (some of these guys have a proven track record for misappropriating large amounts of public money.)

This brings us to the question: is the AAP really going to change things drastically? As I write this, the AAP has been in power for 9 days and I already see progress. The move is being reflected in small changes being made at the grassroots level. It seems unlikely that they have any clarity of stance on the crucial questions that divide politicians and the the science, all over the world; However, they (from the leader’s speeches) seem really keen to usher in a brand of governance that, is self-describedly anti polar to one that has prevailed in this country. They have made good on most of their short-term assurances from their manifesto and that in itself deserves some if not heaps of credit.
Nevertheless, unlike bigoted zealots who are running amok in plenty, overjoyed at having found a new idol to  blindly celebrate and worship, I insist that one can’t, at this moment, make any predictions for the party’s long term viability, steadfastness to it’s resolves or even it’s fate in the Lok Sabha which are almost upon us. These remain to be seen.

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Am I going to get raped in India?

Many a curious and adventure seeking soul ventures to think of making the trip to India  and indeed many do; But, in my own experience, the level of disparity in people’s perceptions of this country is something that astounds me in it’s polarity and incongruity. One may naively extend a weak argument that this could probably be attributed to cultural/linguistic diversity and all that. Not completely unfounded, but I’ve noticed something else; Beyond the confines of linguistic, economic, socio-political and provincial divides, there exists a larger Indian divide: one that I neither claim to understand the basis of, nor seek to define in crisp and clear terms (if “crisp and clear” is your motto, twitter, in my humble opinion, would be more to your liking). This divide stems, I feel, from one factor too many. The fact that the country in discussion has 1.4 billion (the last time i checked) combinations of the previously mentioned factors in addition to factors such as predispositions/natural inclinations, belief systems, moral codes, influences (external stimuli) and many more which my myopic haste doesn’t allow me to consider, is in itself a very convincing probable reason for this phenomenon.

Many a foreigner has asked me questions about india , the answers to which, would involve me making at least a conservative generalisation. I have expressly refrained (not that I completely disagree with the whole idea of generalising/categorisation of people; It’s convenient and accurate to a large part in a lot of cases). It’s because, despite having spent the first 17 years of my life here and intermittent periods in the next three, I still find it difficult to generalise Indians in most terms: be it behaviour, beliefs, what’s appropriate/acceptable, what’s not and so forth. I, being mildly pedantic, also resent it when others don’t accept this diversity of massive proportions, as such and try inaccurately to pigeon-hole people into vague categories like “western”, “orthodox”, “hip” and so on. But, i really think that sort of thing gravely underestimates the inaccuracy of it’s placements; And I don’t even say this from a philosophical POV. I say this in pragmatic terms, on the basis of first hand experience. So , if you are a prospective traveller, with a question in your mind like “what are indians like..?” or even “what are the bulk of them like”, well the answer I would give you is that, even by the most lenient of standards, I wouldn’t be able to say.

In the light of all the rape/molestation cases that have been under the media scanner lately, it is but obvious that apprehensions are running wild amongst those who once fantasised about getting to India someday. I am not going to be the guy who dismisses these fears as baseless and Im definitely not going to be the guy who delineates the entire country as unsuitable to travel to either. It is a sad truth that a substantial number of Indian men, thanks to a social setup, that, for most part is sexually repressed, have resorted to forcibly violating women (foreign and Indian alike). the argument that “rape happens elsewhere too” is a crappy one. It does happen a lot more here. It is what it is. Coupled with a rusty legal setup and a largely obsolete, apathetic and inefficient police force, the threat is definitely a viable one. But honestly, I severely doubt that it is as likely to happen as most western media/people claim. yes, you are likely to be harangued and even borderline harassed by many a local (that applies to male tourists too). But, I really don’t think the chances of getting raped, provided one takes the most minimum of precautionary measures, amounts to anything of significance. Again, you’ve got to bear the huge population in mind.  I really do believe that if one does a probable cost-tangible benefits analysis and vows to be about one’s wits, a trip to India still is, by my standards, worth it.

I read a blog entry a few weeks ago which was written by a British woman married to an Indian man. She tried to elucidate on the many archetypal indian men whose generalised attitudes/actions go unreported/unnoticed. She said, and i paraphrase (for i tried to find the blog but to no avail…maybe i’ll put up a link on a later date if i’m successful), “Everybody is talking about the Indian man that rapes; What about the Indian man that offers me seats on buses/trains? the Indian man that cares for his family to an extent unimaginable by westerners. The man that drives his sister/daughter to school in the pouring rain and patiently waits while his wife shops” and so on. I liked it despite it’s slightly flawed premise. Especially because, these examples that she mentioned, aren’t minorities but are stereotypical of the average Indian man. That, these people seldom will feature in a tourist’s interactions whilst in the country, is a different thing altogether


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India and me

After many forays into the arena of blogging: with polarised returns/successes, I came upon the idea of writing a blog about my travels through the subcontinent (pedants to be warned: I might just write something about one of my foreign travels   too). Much as there is to be proud of the vast piece of geographical significance that I inhabit, I never subscribed to any false claims of supremacy or greatness ascribed to this land by it’s fair share of jingoists. The country, and I do not compare, has it’s lion’s share of inequities, appalling evils and cringe-worthy idiosyncrasies. Nevertheless, I do feel that the chaos and the diversity (oh the cliche!) contribute towards it being a country of immense potential in terms teaching one a thing or two about the human condition. The mind boggling multitudes of people can be cited as a primordial reason. That these multitudes don’t inhabit the same cultural framework, economic stratum (oh by a long shot) or any semblance of a collective zeitgeist only adds to the aforementioned chaos; Throw in the scores of (might I add, mutually unintelligible) languages, about half a dozen religions and about a million self imposed demarcations, and you begin to get somewhere, in understanding the scheme of things that drive this nation.

I seek to perpetrate no illusion that I have a clear idea of what divine task I set out to accomplish through this spider-web journal. The idea took it’s birth solely as a collection of pieces I wrote every now and then, in the course of my myriad escapades through the country. As I got through the logistical axioms of setting up a WordPress account and instituting this blog, the wretched mind of mine had already started seeing tangential overtures to the pre-determined purpose of this endeavour. And now, as I write this historic first piece, I still (dare I say, unabashedly?), maintain that I would like this to run it’s course. But, what I do know is that I want this to be about India, being Indian or well you get the idea. I believe this is the closest I have (also possibly, will) come to a paean to the land that bore me (i’ll really try to avoid the cliches hence. honest!)

P.S: The address Indian travel junkie was already taken, much to the chagrin of my very individualistic self. So I had to swallow my intransigent pride at the behest of WordPress and accept the present address despite it’s pluralistic connotations.

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