Sunday, September 27, 2009

One Big Reason for Not Rejoicing Dashami

It’s time again to go knee-deep in flood of sweets; it’s time again to don an artificial smile and wish Subho Bijaya to every Tom, Dick and Harry, whether you like them or not; it’s time again to feel customary grief for Devi Durga is retreating to her Himalayan abode for a year, even if you actually feel delighted for life will return to normal and people would, hopefully, recoup their sanity which they usually lose in these carnivalesque madness. Do I sound like Malvolio? Yes, I do. But I care a damn!

How many of us actually remember that Dashami is the fateful day on which Ravana lost it to Ram? Any ‘mythologically’ conscious Hindu remembers that quite vividly, and, in fact, draws from such memory more energy to celebrate Dashami or Dasera with all its paraphernalia. Any politically conscious ‘normal’ human being should however hesitate to participate in this euphoria. For, doesn’t this day mark the official beginning of a very long era of colonization, whereby the Dravidians, once and for all, were demonized in the popular imagination to be culturally, socially, economically, and politically ruled over by the fairer and better looking Aryans? Doesn’t this day celebrate awful racist tendencies whereby an entire tribe was constructed as sub-human or demonic in order to consolidate the hegemony of a foreign race? And, unfortunately, this racist drama that saw its climax in the killing of Ravana, never saw a dénouement. The buzzword across borders and within nations has been ‘Kill! Kill! Kill! For, they are not us.” Racism, fundamentalism, religious bigotry, nationalism, purity — the endless list of words that have now entered common parlance and are often pronounced with disgust, was always, already there.

Let’s shove aside our misti doi, rasgolla, and all that! Let’s hold hand and shed some tears, for it was on Dashami, that such fashionably ‘great’ terms as tolerance, love and brotherhood had already been immersed into the river. So all those viswa-nyaka Bengalis who dance to the beatings of the dhaak, and drape themselves in red-bordered saris to play with vermillion, turn your heads (the women are especially requested to recall that soon after the Dashami celebrations, came the notorious fire-trial or the agnipariksha that underscored the beginning of a patriarchal, anti-feminist discourse, in which women have been interpellated to accept an eternally subordinate status)…it’s high time, you actually, ‘thought’!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Ashura and the sexy six-pack

Today a blown-up picture of the Herculean Ashur in
a newspaper supplementary struck me in an odd way: hey, doesn’t he bear a resemblance to Arnold Schwarzenegger? The fiercely destructive Terminator? A minute later, he seemed to look a lot like a shirtless Salman Khan, of course, a beefier avatar of the actor. His bulging biceps, well-toned triceps, concave chest-muscles, enviably lean waistline and most importantly his six-pack were always, already there, but hitherto have gone unnoticed, until, of course, the Bollywood hero endorsed them, and made them highly desirable.

It was in the late 90s that the six-pack abs and a well-toned body won unprecedented fan-following, thanks, to the likes of Salman Khan, Akshaye Kumar, John Abraham, Hrithik Roshan and the new old man on the block, Shah Rukh Khan who went shirtless at the drop of a hat, and the sexist, homophobic camera, once and for all, changed its lens to lovingly caress the male body. The female/gay gaze was hitherto treated as sacrilegious or non-existent (for Indian women were pious asexual creatures and homosexual men did not exist), and therefore, the male body had never attracted as much limelight it did thereafter. While Shah Rukh Khan set the sets on fire by his macho Darde-disco act, a steaming hot John Abraham overshadowed a petite Priyanka Chopra, emerging half-nude from the blue oceans; a beautifully muscular Hrithik Roshan fought the elephant to the demurring yet lustful gaze of a coy Aishwarya Rai, while a tattooed Aamir Khan fixed everyone’s gaze on his awesome muscles by turning his body into a notepad.

It may be recalled that in older Hindi films (as late as the late-80s) it was the villain and his cohorts who were well-built as against the comparatively average looking hero, thoroughly unconscious of his bulging tummy and flaccid hips. Interestingly, the villain was very often shown shirtless in the vicinity of swimming pools or even in spas, locations considered as impure Western spaces invading the pure Indian space of piety, sacrifice, asceticism, and self-effacement. Consequently, the practice of going shirtless, frolicking in the swimming pool, and self-indulgent spa expeditions were associated with the corrupt and the visibly westernized, who was, therefore, the villain. And this image of the bad man was compatible with the mythological muscle-man, that is, Ashur, the anti-God, the Hindu counterpart of the abominable Satan.

But things have changed. Ganesh with his enormous tummy and Kartik with his good boy looks are no longer desirable. In fact, they appear in a poor pitiable light compared to the heavy-hipped and toned and tanned Ashura. While Martyolok has shifted its allegiances, the market economy has undergone a sea-change. Women and metrosexual men are the new customers high on the target list. Ashur would be gaining more popularity amongst both men and women, for he would become increasingly desirable. Gym-chains have spread across the country to offer the Ashur-look, while the shopping malls are ready with all the accessories that make you look good. All you need to do is to plunge in the Ashur-mania! The slogan of the biggest festival of the unassuming Bengalis is about to change: Jai Ashur ki Jai!

Monday, September 21, 2009

We Are They!

We stay on the extreme borders of South Kolkata, and all through I have friends and enemies teasing me that Garia (that’s precisely the name of the place) is barely Kolkata, and I might as well accept myself as a rustic! However, very recently, the place has shot into metropolitan stardom, thanks to the extension of the Metro Railways! Even before this metro revolution, Garia had been becoming remarkably cosmopolitan for quite sometime now, with people from various states making the place their home. However, the locality, or ‘para’ in the vernacular parlance, where we stay is particularly interesting. Though Hindu dominated, there are a considerable number of Christian families residing in the Christian ‘para’ and even larger number of Muslim families. There are no separate quarters, of course: in other words, people of all these religions are kind of spatially interspersed with one another. We have hardly felt any we/they feeling ever, and have happily co-existed, even during the unspeakable catastrophe of the Babri Masjid. We have not felt even a slight ripple of the pogrom that was tearing the nation (especially Bombay) apart, and our experience of the political cataclysm was solely contingent upon televised images of the violence.

This year Eid comes after the official inception of Devipaksha (the period in which Durga Puja is celebrated). Today in the morning I woke up to a song commemorating Ibrahim playing from a Muslim ‘para’. What interested me is that the song was in Bengali, and not in Urdu. Many songs played all through the day, and now as I am writing this blog-entry I hear a song celebrating Durga Puja playing from the same quarters. I guess it’s from some Bengali film. Whatever it is, I suddenly feel like asking what is the real basis of all these incidents of communal violence that are jeopardizing our very existence? If the common people are mostly not so violently racist, what leads to such brutal cases of communal riots, butchering of innocent lives and cross-border terrorism? Who is the mastermind behind all these? Is it the State and its exclusivist nationalism that ignores the feelings and emotions of the common people? What is it? As I experience at this very moment how the spirit of the Durga Puja melts into the euphoria of Eid, I feel like getting into a self-trial…it’s high time we enquired ourselves of our shortcomings. What exactly is going wrong?
Eid Mubarak and Subho Durga Pujo!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Sab Choritro Kalponik: Grand Conception, Faulty Execution

The pre-release hype that made us feel Sab Choritro Kalponik was Rituparno’s artistic comeback with a bang, after such odious let-downs as The Last Lear and Khela, died into a whim, not long after the curtains went up. A worldly-wise corporate wife (Bipasha Basu as Rai), a heedless husband lost in his world of poetry (Prosenjit Chatterjee as Indranil), a surrogate mother-stereotype of a housemaid (Sohag Sen as Priyabala alias Nandor Ma), and the wife’s apparently caring male colleague (Jishu Sengupta as Sekhar) set up a familiar quadrilateral. However, I can’t recall any Bengali film that has a poet as its protagonist, and that way, Sab Choritro Kalponik had set high hopes of doing something novel. But as the narrative unfolds in leaps and jumps (there’s no story apparently; the director opts for the stream-of-consciousness technique, thereby doing away with the linearity of time — the abrupt fade-out and fade-in of short scenes gives the impression of a collage), the film seems to be more about the same-old problem: marital differences, and an eternally whining distraught wife, and a pacifying colleague acting happily as a stand-in for the husband absent in her emotional space. The only saving grace in these otherwise painful moments is a vibrant Bipasha Basu (perfectly done-up in awesome designer sarees, and perfectly complementary accessories). However, Sohini Sengupta’s voice-over irredeemably damages Bipasha’s performance which is, believe me, quite good. Prosenjit looks anything but a poet, though he tries hard. But, sorry dear! You do not have the intellectual demeanour to carry the image of a ‘frenzied’ poet with panache, no matter, how much you refrain from make-up or sport stubble. In fact, his wrinkles (in this deglamourized avatar) so conspicuously stare into your face that Bispasha with all her youthful vivacity seems to be his balika badhu (courtesy: a witty friend of mine). Jishu is awful. Sohag Sen pumps life into Priyabala, but her bangal bhasha appears a bit too contrived.
Back to the narrative: in the second half, after Indranil’s sudden demise, the film takes an unexpected turn. Though the pre-release promotional of the film constantly harps on the fact that Rai falls in love with her husband through his poetry after his death, I believe the film is more about Rai’s discovery of her own poetic self, which in turn, emotionally connects her with her husband. Clearly, the film is about journeys, as underscored by the repeated use of the train-motif. If one the one hand, it talks about the Partition and the forced migration from the other side of the border, of rootlessness, of the pain of un-belonging, on the other hand, it charts an internal journey into the soul. While Priyabala does not know where her ‘desh’ is and the mad man in the streets of Kolkata still hunts for a vehicle that will take him back to Dhaka-Bikrampur, Rai too suffers from an intense sense of un-belonging in the domestic space where the emotional distance between her and Indranil is insurmountably immense. Rai’s journey is essentially a journey into the inner most recesses of her soul whereby she discovers her poetic self, which eventually erases that distance. Reality effortlessly blends into the imaginative in the dream sequences, where Rai meets Kajari (Pauli Daam), her husband’s muse. Interestingly, however, Kajari turns out to be her second self, her alter-ego, the hidden poetry in her heart. She had once asked Indranil, “Who is Kajari? Me?” Indranil had said “No”. Since then, Rai has been wondering who this woman is who recurs in his poetry. She gets the answer towards the end: it’s her poetic self, which could translate Tagore’s “Amader chhoto nodi/ Chole anke-banke/Boishakh mashe tar haantu jal thake”, which could compose an almost ethereal poem about a woman whose husband returns to her after a long time, insane and almost unrecognizable! May be Indranil has always celebrated the poet-Rai in poem after poem, the poet who got buried under worldly pursuits.

When retold, as I have attempted to, Sab Choritro Kalponik, may appear to be a brilliant film. In fact, Rituparno had a grand conception; but the execution is faulty. It’s the same problem that destroyed Sanjay Leela Bansali’s Sawaariya. Although poetry plays a very important role in the narrative, the film is far from poetic. Emotions do overflow, but the flow isn’t spontaneous enough. Sab Choritro Kalponik, nonetheless, would not be forgotten easily; for, in spite of several shortcomings, it makes a different attempt; an attempt at reinstating the importance of poetry in an overwhelmingly consumerist world, where softer feelings often get lost in mad materialism.