RIP Om Puri Saheb

January 6, 2017 at 9:15 AMJan (Cinema, Friends, Media, Musings, Slice Of Life, Soliloquy)

In his autobiography, Girish Karnad recollects an incident from the initial days of his term as the Director of the Film and Television Institute of India.

Interviews for the fresh batches were being conducted and among the faculties a discussion was taking place regarding one particular student who was good with his performances but wasn’t good looking. “His looks doesn’t make him a hero material for films,” argued almost everyone. Girish Karnad, as he recollects in his autobiography ‘aaDaaDtaa aayushya’, as the Director of the Institute said, “If there is an eligible candidate and does well in the entrance exam it is our duty to select and train such a student. Whether he fits the roles of a hero or not is not our concern and we are not a hero producing factory for the Bombay industry.”

The boy was finally selected for the acting course at the Film and Television Institute of India, Pune.

That candidate was Om Puri.

My heart ached to hear this morning about the demise of Om Puri. In some time a friend (Ritwik) from the Institute shared a photo of the board outside the Main Theater where details of the daily screening is made known everyday. The board is also a space where the list of National Award winners is announced and congratulated every year and also the space on which the demise of an alumni is made known.

Today the board read, “6 /01/2017. RIP Om Puri Saheb.”

om-puri

The Institute, which I hold in great affection and am grateful to as an alumnus, which once was reconsidering the admission of the same person has respectfully referred to him as “Om Puri Saheb” and that shows what an artist and an artist of what caliber Om Puri Saheb has been; an artist who could make an institute revise its thought!

During my days at the Film Institute, I remember, being numb after watching the speechless performance of Om Puri in Aakrosh, which to me till date is his best performance. That day in the mess I had told my roommate Lohit that no filmmaker no screenwriter seem to have sculpted a character which would challenge Om Puri and Naseer. I still stand by my word.

Aakrosh, a film where Om Puri Saheb is wrongly accused of murder and the lawyer in his defense begins his conversation asking, “Why did you kill?” A judgement was already made in the mind of the lawyer who was supposed to defend the case of Om Puri Saheb. The film is about the lawyer, played by Naseer, revising his opinion about Om Puri Saheb and the entire case. As we watch we too, who initially believed Om Puri to be wrong, slowly discover the truth and feel ashamed of our initial judgement and revise our opinion.

Years later while watching the cunningly scripted interrogation of Om Puri Saheb on a national tv by a man who is disgrace to journalism, I was secretly wishing Om Puri Sahebwould sit silently like he did in Aakrosh. But sadly, Om Puri Saheb fell into the trap of self proclaimed nationalists and was disrespectfully and mercilessly attacked by them, first for not any valid reason and also after he apologized for a crime he never committed. Watching the show was painful, to say the least.

Now in this hour of mourning, I sincerely hope that a day will soon arrive when all the nauseating jingoists will revise their thought about Om Puri Saheb after having harassed him unnecessarily during his last days!

Though not a believer of time and history being just, today I would like to believe it to be true. Because Om Puri Saheb deserves it and he has proved it right once earlier.

Accept my salutations Om Puri Saheb. Rest in power.

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Library of Experience

December 9, 2016 at 9:15 AMDec (Cinema, Friends, Literature, Media, Music, Musings, Poetry, Slice Of Life, Soliloquy)

Photo: Hiren Patel

Photo: Hiren Patel

Last night I had a strange dream.

In my dream all of Amrit Gangar sir’s experience- reading, viewing, listening etc- was turned into a library where he would visit every now and then to access the huge archive of experience and knowledge. It was a huge huge huge library.

In that library of experience, I was the librarian. Of course I was feeling extremely happy that I have access, though second hand, to all that Sir has read, heard, viewed, experienced and understood.

On waking up I realized the trigger for this dream was my envy for all the experiences in reading, listening and viewing Sir has had and my deep felt desire to be able to access all of them through him.

This was one of the two most beautiful dreams I have ever had, the other being one where I was a line of poetry in the heart of Gulzar.

Thanks for everything Amrit Sir.

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Of Borders and Songs

October 6, 2016 at 9:15 AMOct (Activism, Media, Music, Slice Of Life, Soliloquy)

Cutting through the dusty roads and then the mist on NH-01, when we reached Patnitop it was almost 14:00 hrs.

Starting our journey from Jammu at around 8:00 in the morning we had reached Patnitop, pausing our journey at several places for temples-Dargah visits and for tea.

The driver initially played some bhajans in the car but slowly as our journey proceeded he started playing old Hindustani film songs, all stored in his pendrive. We joined our sincere though un-melodic voices with those songs. He narrated stories of his association with some songs and so did I.

When we crossed Udhampur and started getting on the hills he said, “There is a dhaba run by a friend nearby. We will have lunch there and then proceed.” I agreed. When we stopped the car by the dhaba for lunch the music also stopped and we forgot to play it again when we continued the journey after a good meal.

When we reached Patnitop I was amazed by the beauty of the place and felt the need to underline the experience with some good music. I requested him to play the music. He said, “Let us listen to radio. It catches the signal of Sialkot station.” He tuned the radio to Sialkot station which played good old Hindustani film songs from Bombay cinema. We sang along and continued the journey.

I was thrilled about the radio catching signals of a radio station across the border and the station across the border playing old HIndustani films songs of Bombay cinema.

When we stopped for a cup of chai at Patnitop the shopkeeper told us about 18 soldiers being killed at Uri that morning.

Few days into this incident it felt like a war had begun not just at the border but also everywhere. There came a demand to ban all Pakistani artists from Indian cinema. Those who defended the Pakistani artists not surprisingly got branded as anti-nationals. There was a call for boycotting the films which had Pakistani artists. As I kept reading and hearing about these I recollected the moment of the radio catching signals from across the border and the radio station across the border playing Hindustani film songs from Bombay cinema. This memory would bring a smile on my face and to this moment I cant figure out if that smile is an indication of agony or ecstasy. But everytime I remember that moment I also remember a song penned by Javed Akthar, whose opening lines are:

panchi nadiya pawan kay jhonkay,
koi sarhad na inhey rokay.

(birds, river and the blow of wind
no national borders ever stop them.)

~ Javed Akthar

But the paradox/ tragedy of our times is that someone like Javed Akthar (has been brought to a position where he) questions/ condemns the silence of Pakistani artists over Uri.

On one hand nobody, even the line of control, could stop the radio signals/ waves coming from across the border and the broadcasting of Bombay film music by a radio station across the border. On the other hand the situation has built such pressures on the likes of Javed Akthar to make statements which given an ideal, equal and fair world they wouldn’t feel compelled to make. The unhindered music makes me happy but the poet’s heart being taken over by political pressure pains me.

May the heart of the poet write again of the futility of wars. And this time, I pray, let these songs not just cross borders but also erase borders.

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Becoming Buddha

June 17, 2016 at 9:15 AMJun (Activism, Literature, Media, Musings, Slice Of Life, Soliloquy)

becoming of buddhaSiddhartha born in present times holds within him the possibility of becoming a part of the system and strengthening it and also holds within him the possibility of becoming a rebel and subvert the system, said the wise ones.

Seeing the possibilities within Siddhartha the Emperor to ensure the tragedies, miseries, poverty etc. are not seen by Siddhartha, created an illusive world of make belief ‘good days’ with the use of media, advertisements, public relations and sugary slogans.

Blinded by these Siddhartha, for long, failed to observe price rise, land grabbing from Adivasis, attack on Dalits, communal disharmony, dis-empowering of educational spaces, censure on speech and expression, market favoring governance etc.

Siddharatha of current times will, one fine day, wake up to the reality of the times. He will break away from the trap of fake good days to move out for a while in search of ways of resisting, ways of countering the miseries and tragedies of the world. He will become the Buddha and concentrate his efforts in creating a new world and thus liberate the world from the tragedies, miseries and also the make belief good days.

Every individual trapped by the illusion of fake good days is a Siddhartha, holding within himself a rebel and the possibility of becoming Buddha and creating a new world. A new dawn will arrive, good days, real ones, will arrive too.

Troubled times compel every Siddhartha to take this political-spiritual journey collectively to the new self to the new world.

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Sairaat: On Loving Passionately and Hating Dispassionately

June 4, 2016 at 9:15 PMJun (Cinema, Media, Musings, Soliloquy)

Months before the release of the film Sairaat, the Director of the film Nagraj Manjule had said, in an interview to The Hindu, “Love is such a simple thing but it has turned complicated in these times. It has become difficult to find love, to love somebody,” hinting that the film is about the difficulties in/ of love. And when asked if caste is present in the film, like it did in Fandry, Nagraj Manjule had said, “Caste is the foundation of our society, discrimination is in the air we breathe. These are our realities,” hinting that caste plays a role in the film, before saying, “I didn’t include them deliberately but could not have avoided them either.”

***

sairat

Sairaat, to simply put it, is a love story between Archie (Archana Patil), an upper class upper caste girl and Parshya (Prashanth Kale) a lower class lower caste boy.

Love between the two blossoms in their village, Bittergaon, and especially their village school, which is administered by the political family of Archie. It blossoms despite the hesitant, timid nature of Parshya and quite a strong, turning arrogant at times, personality of Archie. Their love for each other is spotted by Archie’s father and is met with the disapproval of Archie’s family. The politically influential upper caste family not just beat up Parshya but also make sure, by threatening him and his family, he does not continue to live in the same village. Archie’s family try to get her married to another boy but she elopes from home and then with Parshya.

Two of Parshya’s friends accompany the couple till the four are tracked down by the police and a false case is booked against Parshya his father and his two friends. On realizing the false case Archie rebels, at the police station, making sure Parshya and his people are freed. But on her way back home she sees that though freed by the police, goons hired by her father beat up Parshya and his friends. She runs to the rescue of Parshya and following some fight and firing the couple run away to Hyderabad.

Once Archie and Parshya reach Hyderabad they have to face the problem of shelter. A dosa cart lady, Suman, who happens to be a Maharashtrian, shelters them in their slum. Archie faces problem in adjusting to the slum life and in living without privileges. Plus, Archie also starts missing her family. The Marathi lady also helps the two get a work to sustain themselves. Slowly the man inside Parshya awakes in the form of insecurity and suspicion about Archie’s loyalty towards him. Following it the two get separated for a while to realize it is impossible to live without each other. On this realization the two get married and also have a kid. They both get better jobs too.

While all these things are happening in Hyderabad, in Bittergaon, Parshya’s family is made to leave the village, Archie’s father looses face in his political party and Parshya’s father is struggling to get Parshya’s sister married.

When the child of Archie and Parshya- Aakaash- is a year or two old, the couple goes and books an apartment which indicates their life gaining equilibrium, after all these years and all these struggles. At this stage Archie’s family members visit Archie and Parshya, with sweets, dress and ornaments sent by Archie’s mother for Archie, Parshya and Aakash.

Aakash at that point of time has been taken to the market by a neighboring lady. When Aakash returns, with the neighbor, we see through the eyes of the year old child we see Archie and Parshya having been slaughtered to death in their very house. Aakash runs out of the house crying, leaving behind footprints of blood.

***

What on the outset looks like the popular Romeo-Juliet trope reminding cine-buffs of Alaipaayuthey, Kaadhal, Qayaamat Sey Qayaamat Tak etc. in its heart is not just a love story modeled in the same mold.

sairaat coupleThe shyness of Parshya and the confidence of Archie, at times turning into arrogance, doesn’t stop love from flowering. The affection they feel for each other sails them through. The economic disability of Parshya is not allowed to become a hurdle. With the help of a friend’s phone the two build on the essential intimacy. The violence of political-police nexus in a semi-feudal set up is answered by the use of counter-violence and thus love is taken to another coast. The couple with the help of a Suman, who earlier had eloped with her lover, finds shelter in the urban space after the two find it impossible to find a roof without the required ID proof. Archie manages to adjust to the new setting- unclean toilets, cooking etc- for love. The two also find job and thus achieve the economic independence. The suspicion of Parshya, at one point, stemming from insecurity and immaturity which is aggravated by technology, also gets resolved. All the hurdles are crossed.

When Nagraj Manjule says it is difficult to find love and to and to love somebody, probably, these are the kind of difficulties he is mentioning of. But none of these difficulties kill the couple nor kills their love for each other. These difficulties when crossed just enhance the love the two have for each other.

The class difference, economics, the cruelty of urban space, feudal set up, political-police nexus, linguistic barrier, omnipresent gaze of the society causing humiliation, inability to adjust to a new setting, letting comforts go off, suspicion and insecurity; which, though not correct, is quite natural to humans, misunderstanding triggered by technology etc., all problems get resolved and the two get evolved.

Yet in the end they can’t survive caste. Caste kills them.

Caste kills them when the two have come far away from the village and have travelled much in time and after a lot of water has flowed in the river. Even after those long years the ghost of caste is still angry and blood thirsty!

The film is not just about the will of the heart to celebrate love and live it but also the will of the caste system to ensure that love doesn’t flower. It is about loving passionately and hating dispassionately.

The cane fields which is responding to the beauty of love during the initiation of love and also helps the lovers and friends to hide is turned into a trap by the caste mentality which sets fire to the cane fields. The birds which dance in unison and in rhythm cry and lose their rhythm when caste tries to separate the lovers.

In spite of the support of friends in the rural space and strangers in the urban space and the participation of entire nature in love’s breathing, love can’t escape the violence of caste. To that extent the poison of caste is stronger than the coming together of hearts which is supported by friendship, camaraderie and nature too.

***

sairaat chappalThe film, some seem to be of the opinion, is full of clichés. But Nagraj’s politics is to underline, in an almost casual manner caste in between the cliché.

Caste like it is in our daily lives is almost invisible yet omnipresent in Sairaat.

In the title song sairaat zhaala ji we see Archie coming out of temple and finding roses being placed on her footwear. She knows it has been placed by Parshya and looks around for him. She spots Parshya sitting quite far and Parshya when sees Archie looking in his direction bends and enacts like touching her feet.

What looks like a simple innocent expression of love here has a strong undercurrent of caste. Parshya, who earlier has gone and jumped into the well to catch a glimpse of Archie in spite of knowing he will be kicked out, does not enter the temple while Archie does.

But it is not just that because we see Parshya’s expression of love, being similar to the expression of devotion by upper caste. We see how hierarchy works and those on the lower ranks imbibe upper caste ways and methods.

Mangya, cousin of Archie, who is said to be a street bully, is dominated by Parshya and others on the sports field and even in other mundane things. Parshya and others are shown as much stronger people in terms of their personality and also in their game. But when Mangya comes to beat up Parshya all he does and his friends do is to stop Mangya, when it wouldn’t have been difficult for them to beat Mangya up together. What stops them? What makes all others in the school premises just be a silent spectator? Why is it that only Archie can stop him?

Parshya and his friends know that to assault Mohit Patil alias Mangya means to invite trouble because he belongs to an upper caste. Let us not forget that he is not taken seriously by Archie’s extended family for Parshya to fear his political connections. It is purely caste which is making Parshya and his friends stop from attacking Mangya even as self defense since the consequences of beating up an upper caste boy can cost them a lot.

When Archie comes on a tractor near Parshya’s house his mother is taken aback when Archie asks for water. When Mangya comes to meet Parshya in Karmala the granny there asks Salya to ask if he (Mangya) wants water and Salya says, “He is a Patil,” indicating he might not take water given by them. Archie’s friend Aani, who is also on the tractor, refuses to drink water at Parshya’s house. In a passing moment when Archie, in the song sairaat zhaala ji, goes to Parshya’s mother’s fish fry shop, her friend Aani who is in the corner of the frame is shown to be closing her nose and squeezing her face in disgust.

Archie’s confidence, inclusive of arrogance, comes partially because of her caste. It is that which gives her the courage to pick a fight with the police in the police station. And that was the reason for her to be unshaken when the police spot them at the bus stop. In contrast to her unshaken behavior is the reaction of the boys on seeing the police, scared and nervous. Their response is coloured by their caste identity!

When Archie and Parshya run away the family of Parshya has to leave the village and it becomes difficult to find a groom for Parshya’s sister. On the other hand Archie’s father looses face in the party and sidelined. These are direct consequences of Parshya and Archie’s inter-caste love and eloping.

Interestingly while showing both parents as victims of society’s caste consciousness which makes them also pay for the transgression of their children Nagraj Manjule shows that it is not the same for people from different stratum in the caste hierarchy. While Archie’s father expresses his anger by pulling down and breaking the photos of Archie, Parshya’s father expresses his disappointment and anger by slapping himself.

Parshya’s father falling at Prince’s (Archie’s brother) feet and later slapping Parshya, even when he is already wounded because of Prince’s beating, for “messing up with the upper caste people,” also underline how caste operates.

Caste is not just an inhumane force, in Sairaat, which kills love and attacks innocents. It is also a force which makes the victims blame themselves for the attack on them and see themselves as undignified beings.

Equally important is Sairaat saying that caste is a dehumanizing force. Lokhande, the teacher who has been humiliated by the caste people turns insensitive and is seeking revenge, even if it is through another person from his caste!

All of this happens in a space where boys and girls of all caste swim in the same well, go to the same school, which can come across as a symbol of caste being non-existent!

***

sairaat boat

Caste in the world of Sairaat is not just impacting the lower caste. We see caste dehumanizing even the upper caste people also.

The striking difference between Parshya’s sister, who is in favour of Archie and Parshya’s affair, and Archie’s brother Prince’s response to Archie-Parshya love story makes it clear that when smitten by caste one only turns inhumane.

Similarly when Parshay’s friends dance with him in his romantic high and otherwise (while train passes) Archie’s friends feel embarrassed when she dances and refuse to join her in the dance. The upper caste codes do not let the upper caste to live freely, express freely thus tightening the noose around their neck, adding pressure of social grace on them.

But here it is not just caste operating but also gender.

Though caste is the main undercurrent, Sairaat doesn’t focus only on caste identity. The writer director knows that individuals are an intersection of identities.

It is not just in friends of Parshya and Archie, we see it also when Archie who overpowers her brother Prince when he questions her about the bike, the same Archie who brushes aside her mother’s suggestion to cut short her talks with friends loses her strength and power when she is spotted with Parshya.

We see Salya’s religious identity forming a connection with Shahid in a different town and we also see the Marathi linguistic identity becoming the reason for bonding between the Suman aunty and Archie-Parshya.

Interestingly the religious identity does not become a shelter or a shield for lovers but linguistic identity does, in Sairaat, which is probably because language is more natural to human society formation than religion and caste.

But still the linguistic identity can cause friction and a kind of rupture which we see when Archie is watching Television, a Marathi channel, at Suman aunty’s house and the boy changing it to Telugu channel. A similar thing happens in the end when Archie’s relatives come to their house. When they switch on the TV what they see is a Telugu channel playing, indicating the house members were watching it before switching it off. The relatives immediately change the channel to watch DD-Sahyadri, a Marathi channel.

***

sairaat archi.In the rural space Archie who orders boys to get out of the well and who just through gesture asks her teacher to mind his business is a very strong person while Parshya, in the rural space is quite a weak and vulnerable character, though good at sports and academics.

In the urban space Archie becomes vulnerable and Parshya’s caste and class makes it a bit easy for him to adjust to the urban space. While Parshya can easily drink the water from the drum Archie needs mineral water. While Parshya can cook Archie has to learn. While Parshya doesn’t find the toilet and bath facilities in the slum problematic for Archie it takes time to get accustomed to them and also the dust and bad odor in the air. The English flaunting Archie goes almost silent when met with the roughness and toughness of an urban life, a slum life devoid of privileges.

Both rural and urban space has its own strengths and limitations in the world of Sairaat each strengthening and dis-empowering its characters in various ways. While rural space pins them to their identity (Parshya’s maternal uncle spotting him in the bus-stand) the urban space gives them a certain kind of anonymity, making living a bit easy. But the same urban space steals away from them the luxuries and comforts of life. The urban space though has different codes, the codes like asking ID proof for staying in lodges, are equally anti-love and humiliating.

These spaces hold within themselves the strength to nurture and also kill, like the cane fields which helps them hide can turn into a trap and technology which makes the two connect also sows the seeds of disconnect. To say every character, human, space, nature, technology, is round in nature holding opposite energies within itself and hence lively adding life and also posing challenges but never killing.

The only flat characters in the film are those high on sperm (boys in Hyderabad), those high on power and those high on caste. Not surprisingly all the three; caste, sperm and power are interconnected. It is these forces, specifically caste, which poses only killing powers and also kills.

***

sairaat parshyaCaste is omnipresent and is what drives the story to its end to make it an anti-caste film. But interestingly the protagonists of the film; Archie and Parshya, are not anti caste. They have not waged a war against caste system; annihilating caste is not their concern or preoccupation at all. They are just in love and their fight is for their right to love. But unknowingly and unconsciously their love breaks the caste barrier.

This shows the intolerance of caste towards anything which bends the system even if by an inch. One need not challenge the caste system and wage a war against the entire system or pledge to annihilate the caste system. Just breaking it, even if unknowingly, is enough for the caste system to take offence and punish one for the transgression or even wage a war against those who cause a crack in the system.

Caste punishes even if you fall into the same system after bending the system slightly. Archie, at the time when she is assassinated, is more domestic like an upper caste lady; she puts rangoli in front of the house which is quite an upper caste practice. Yet, the transgression which shook the system by an inch will not be tolerated by the caste system. It will punish without hesitation.

***

The cosmos that Nagraj Manjule creates in Sairaat is full of life in various colurs and various shades. The barren trees, the flock of birds dancing in the wind, crippled humans, minorities (Muslim), Lilliput (though just passing by the road while Archie dances) all find a natural place and have a respectable place too.

Details like these enrich Sairaat throughout.

The college Principal who should be taking action against Prince for slapping a teacher dances in the birthday party of Prince, Archie’s house is named Archana but the name written on the house is removed when she elopes, when Archie fights in the police station and later when Archie and Parshya fight on the streets of Hyderabad there is an omnipresent gaze of a strangers, the influence of urban/ corporate world on the rural world and the latter’s desire to imitate the earlier in form of having Bittergaon Premier League on the lines of Indian Premier League, the impact of Urban sense of fashion and beauty making way in to the rural dream (Alia Bhat’s dress) are some details in passing which not just enrich the film but also add to the larger theme of the film.

Other interesting details that Nagraj Manjule knits into his narrative are the ways in which Archie gets emotional about having left her family behind, which in a way could be a certain kind of guilt which one develops because of conditioning. She giving blank calls to her house and later asking about her father to her mother and her brother are reflections of the love she has for home and father and also her inability to leave them behind and not to miss a kind of guilt which she tries to cleanse by speaking good about her father to a colleague of hers, though it is because of her father that she had to elope in order to save the life of her lover and her love.

While Archie realizes her powerlessness in the urban space slowly she kind of regains her power when she starts working and becomes economically independent. We see her restoring her power when in the end she is seen riding a scooter again.

But then something has changed. She, while driving back home, along with Parshya sees couple being beaten up by the Hindutva goons and the police, a reference to innumerable immoral attacks and operation majnu, which is similar to the way in which Parshya and his friends were being beaten up after being released from the jail. Back then she had risked her life to save Parshya but now though she and Parshya both are shaken by the attack they witness, do not intervene. Struggles of life can bring a certain kind of fatigue.

Such details uplift the film making the narrative have a worldview and not just ideology.

***

sairaat couple..

Though caste seems to be so prevalent, Sairaat is a love story. In a broader sense we can understand Love as the protagonist of Sairaat and caste as the antagonist.

Love, in Sairaat, is innocent which includes silliness of sending letters through a child and mentioning about letters- letter writing being taught in class, kings using letter as a medium of communication- while Archie is around. To love, Sairaat says, is to have the liberty to be silly.

In the title track Parshya is seen holding a stone to guard himself from the Holi colour. But when he sees Archie passing by he throws the stone away. Archie throws colour at him and his friends follow it up with more colors. Now it is Parshya’s turn to coloir Archie and he does. To love, in Sairaat, is let go off all guard and become playful.

Parshya throwing away the stone is similar to Pradeep throwing away the ghutka when Archie asks if Parshya eats ghutka. Love, Sairaat says, is a humanizing process. It makes Prashya call his friend Pradeep by his name on Archie’s insistence after years of calling and referring to him as a cripple.

Archie, when they elope to Hyderabad and start living together, slowly learns to cook. The girl who did not know the rates of vegetables in the end is discussing with her mother about savings and buying a new apartment. Love, Sairaat says, is about being in tune with the mundane and dailiness of life.

When Archie leaves Parshya and takes a train Suman tells Parshya that she too had eloped for love’s sake and that her husband abandoned her when she was three month pregnant. With this parallel track Sairaat says love is about taking up responsibility and growing up to being a responsible person and attaining a maturity level which can sustain life.

When all the class students in the playground are doing exercise Archie and Parshya miss the steps purposefully and do their own steps. Love, Sairaat says, is about finding your own rhythm in the crowd. It is to find your own self and your own tune and your own steps!

***

In constructing his narrative Nagraj Manjule subverts quite a few stereotypes. His subversion begins with the way he constructs his central characters Archie and Parshya.

Archie is not the stereotypical heroine but a very strong girl who orders boys of her age to get out of the well and it is the courageous she who plans eloping and executes it. She makes the police release Parshya and his friends and also saves their lives later by taking gun in her hand.

On the other hand we see that it is Parshya who is blushing, as Archie stares at him in the class and runs away from the classroom. In the end when the two are going back home after booking an apartment we see Parshya taking care of the child while Archie is driving the scooter.

***

sairat director

The beauty of Sairaat, to me, in the end, is the way Nagraj Manjule carries a large portion of the film in such a ‘normal’ way. Archie, while playing khoko, sees Parshya staring at her and goes on to question him why he is looking at her. But in the same conversation she says she doesn’t mind being watched. The scene which is the first hint about Archie’s love for Parshya is presented without any underlining in a matter of fact way. Archie in the cane field saying she loves Parshya too is presented like a matter of fact.

There is so much dailiness to everything in the film (falling in love, crossing all sorts of hurdle for the sake of love and in the process of being with the beloved) that in the end we are forced to ask as to what is the ‘motivation’ for the violence? In normalizing love and the struggles of love Nagraj Manjule makes the audience think what is the ’cause’ for the violence in the end of the film.

The answer is not in the film, actually. It is outside the film from where the film emerges. The answer is within us. In more than one ways, we are also a part of the ’cause’.

The effect of it is not just a cold-blooded murder of love, through the murder of lovers, but also a new life being orphaned and being orphaned in a way that every step of his will be coloured with the blood of love’s assassination.

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Invoking Water

May 30, 2016 at 9:15 AMMay (Activism, Literature, Media, Musings)

A very brahminical ritual among the upper caste Hindus is of chanting a shloka while taking bath before going to the temple and also in the beginning of the process of performing the daily prayer service. The shloka goes thus:

Gange cha yamune chaiva godhawari saraswathi
Narmade sindhu kaveri jalesmin sannidhim kuru.

The sholka broadly means: “In this water I invoke the presence of holy waters from the rivers Ganga, Yamuna, Godhawari, Saraswathi, Narmada, Sindhu and Kaveri.”

riversSimilarly prior to the entering of the Masjid and before the performance of namaaz one is expected to perform the ritual of wuzoon which is to purify oneself with water.

Metaphorically looking at this ritual of purification one realizes that without being purified through water and invoking holy rivers in the water one cannot access the divine.

Water and religious/ spiritual experiences are closely connected through rituals.

***

Interestingly the rivers invoked in the sholka carry the name of goddesses, women to be more specific. In a quite imperceptible way the divine, woman and river/ water are interwoven in the sholka and a close look at it, again metaphorically, we realize that the divine, woman and water/ river are creators and also source of life!

So it is not surprising, with a basic understanding of history makes one realize, that all civilizations took birth by the river coast! To put it in another way, for civilizations to take birth, to sustain them water body has been very necessary. It is the river/ water which have nurtured human civilization.

Where rivers have dried civilizations have died.

***

Rahul Sakritaayana the scholar-writer constructs his fiction spanning from 6000 BC to 1942 AD around the river coast and calls it Volga-Ganga. Though a fiction in the work it is the rivers which provide the setting for the stories to unfold. The twenty fictional short stories in a metaphorical way narrate the history of human civilization. History, we realize, is built around river/ water body.

It is also a reference to how water body is central to epic storytelling and an inseparable part from the creative energy.

Shantanu’s children are drowned in the river, Karna is left afloat in the river, Shakuntala’s ring gets lost in the river—these are few examples of how river has been a very integral part of our mythology and our narratives.

***

While we can agree that water is the source of life, we must never forget that water has also been a tool of dehumanizing. While it is the water route which lead to colonization it was denial of water and refusal to share water which has been the cruelest way in which untouchability is practiced.

Kabir when says ‘ekai pawan ek hee paani ekai jyothi samaana, ekai khaak gaDey sab bhaandai ekai kumhaar saana’ (same air same water same fire, God the potter made all in the same mould by the same clay) it is also to be understood that it is in sharing all the basic resources, nature broadly, inclusive of water, that equality is established and refusal to share any of these and denying some to share/ use them is to not just dehumanize oneself by treating the other lesser human but is also a disrespect shown to divinity!

Water being one for all is a kind of spiritual experience for divinity and thus a propagation of equality for Kabir. But it, in social reality, is divided and denied turning the world inhumane which makes it necessity for social and political battles for equal and egalitarian society.

Reclaiming the water source was an essential part of the fight against untouchability in India. If Dalits under the leadership of Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar drink the water from Chavdar Tale on 20 March 1927 then it is not just a fight against untouchability and oppression but also for dignity and for life.

Recently in Maharashtra’s Kalambeshwar village a man named Bapurao Tajne, belonging to an untouchable caste, dug a well after his wife being denied by the upper caste people to draw water from the well belonging to the upper caste.

Water, we see here, is at the heart of life, love, liberty, equality, fraternity and denial of it is in the centre of hatred, oppression, discrimination and humiliation.

***

water as life sourceThe great Kannada writer Kuvempu in his autobiography speaks of his visit to Dakshineshwar in Calcutta to Ramakrishna ashram and Kali ghat. He explains in great detail how dirty the Hoogly River, a distributary of the holy Ganga, was.

He then goes on to say that on that very night he had written a poem which has remained unpublished and shares that poem with the readers. In that poem he write about a ‘pure’ Ganga which cleanses all sins.

This though looks ironic is essentially quite insightful because we realize that the mythic Ganga and the physical Ganga are different. At the same time we realize that Ganga, in specific and river/ water broadly, has been having not just physical existence in the collective consciousness but also mythical and thus an essential for the inner life too and not just physical life.

What I have tried to map in this article is also how water body has been the life source for the multiple dimensions of human life, essential for religious, narrative, historical, spiritual, physical, social, political life and has occupied space in out myths, metaphors and memories.

***

I would like to close this article by recollecting an overheard conversation. During my stay in Delhi I was a regular customer, in Pathpadganj, of Verma, who was affectionately called Verma ji by all, who owned a small tea stall. Verma ji hardly spoke but whenever he spoke one would realize that he was a master of words and hence did not waste much of words. Many auto drivers and cycle rickshaw riders came to him for tea.

One day as I kept sipping tea a rickshaw driver came to Verma ji and asked for water. Verma ji just pointed at the water can kept to his left. As the driver bent the can to take a glass of water Verma ji told him, “main do cheezein kabhi nahi bechta. Roti aur paani. Zindagi banti hai inn do cheezon sey,” to mean, “I do not sell two things- bread and water for they are the source of life.”

I had my jaws dropped. To actually think of it, tea is luxury so are biscuits. But bread and water aren’t. They are source of life. To realize that they are source of life and hence are not to be sold is great wisdom.

[Originally written for the Neervana campaign, for water conservation, by the web news portal News Karnataka. Published on 20 May 2016]

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Poverty of Heart

May 7, 2016 at 9:15 PMMay (Friends, Media, Musings, Slice Of Life, Soliloquy)

Couple of weeks ago a friend and I met at a bar in the heart of the educational town Manipal. We had long conversations about our lives, politics, cinema and a good amount of nonsensical talks too. As we spoke and spoke and spoke my friend had downed a whole bottle of whisky and I had had four glasses of lime soda.

When we were about to leave my friend initiated a conversation with the waiter who told us that he worked 8:00 to 17:00 hours in a factory in the industrial area and from 18:00 to 23:00 hours at the bar. His son goes to an private English medium school, though the fee structure is quite high. He also said that he aspired to be a writer and has several story ideas in his mind but doesn’t have the time to write. He told us that even after doing two jobs a day, every day, it was difficult to run the house.

Couple of weeks before this my friend and I had met in a small and quite shady bar. While walking out of the bar we saw the man, who was next to us inside the bar and had left some time ago, return to the bar. He was finding it difficult to walk because of over-drinking. When my friend spoke to him we realized that the man, a daily wage labourer, comes from a small village in North Karnataka and has his wife and 6 children there. He said every night he had to find a different place to sleep in Manipal since he did not have a shelter. “I want to drink so much that I can die,” he said and justified him returning to the bar again the very same night, since he still hadnt figured out where to spend the night.

Interestingly, my friend and I have been almost jobless from a long time. We do have some projects in hand at times but most of the times we, who refer to ourselves as freelance writers, and crib and laugh about how writers are either unpaid or underpaid always, are jobless and penniless too. Yet, not a single time, forget single day, we haven’t gone hungry. We can also afford, once in a while, to go to a decent bar, drink and have good food.

Though jobless we aren’t poor. With two jobs, the waiter, is poor. With daily wages, the migrant labourer is poor.

As I see so many people say, “Its me,” and “Its my life” sharing, on social media and endorse, an article by Gayatri Jayaraman which speaks of the ‘Urban Poor’ I am reminded of the waiter and the daily wage labourer.

The kind of pressure a capitalist, corporate world bring on the lives of urban youngsters leaving them ‘broke’ is a matter of concern. The world is designed in a way where the gap between the aspiration and reality becomes vast. But that state of being broke and divorced from the ‘ideal self’ is not a state of poverty.

To believe one is poor, while sleeping on one’s own car, though not in one’s own house, to believe one is poor while having a cold coffee at Starbucks, though forced by corporate circumstances, is to mock at the real poor who doesnt know where the next food is coming from, where the night is spent.

I must admit that once we make a choice of lifestyle it is not easy to get back to lifestyle which is considered lesser than the one adopted. Plus there is always a pressure of the corporate capitalist society which widens the gap between aspiration and reality only to increase its own profit. But to not recognize what has caused the so called poverty among the employed urban youths and to cut a sorry figure of oneself saying, “Look at us the miserable beings who even sociologists, media etc havent recognized,” and thus ignoring the existence of real poverty and by underlining ones own life and thus pushing the real poor to invisibility, is to be a bit insensitive, it appears to me.

It requires some amount of poverty of heart to call oneself poor because one has to walk home without realizing that there also exist people who do not have a home to go to.

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Memories of a strike covered

March 15, 2016 at 9:15 PMMar (Activism, Friends, Media, Musings, Slice Of Life, Soliloquy)

Year: 2009.

Month: January-February

Place: Mangalore, Karnataka.

Couple of days had passed after the infamous pub attack in Mangalore by Sri Ram Sene which caught national attention. National media descended to Mangalore and gave special coverage to the issue of immoral policing.

Political leaders, activists, common men everyone were being asked for their opinion and the prominent activist Pattabhirama Somayaji who has been battling communalism from a long time was interviewed by one channel where he said, “It is Ravana sena not Rama sena.” This statement of his “hurt the religious sentiments” of his students at the University College in the heart of Mangalore making them call for a strike in the college campus asking Mr. Somayaji to apologize.

Then I was a reporter with The Hindu and went to the University College on getting to know about the strike. As I entered the campus my eyes fell on the students who were crying slogans against Mr. Somayaji. There was so much anger in them that I felt scared to go near them to talk to them. I silently went to the other side where other students were standing silently in the corridor and witnessing the strike. I spoke to some of the students there, collected basic information and then walked towards the students crying slogans. As I neared them their aggressiveness made me stop at a distance. As I stood there one among the ABVP students saw me and came to me. Coming near me in an aggressive voice asked, “Who are you?” I said, “Reporter,” listening to which he asked again in an angry tone, “Which media?” I hesitantly said, “The Hindu” and suddenly, to my shock, his tone changed as he said, to his other friends, “He is our man form the media, come come.”

The name of the newspaper The Hindu had given the ABVP boy an impression that it was a pro-Hindutva paper and I was one among them in solidarity with them. I let it be and went with him to meet the other members of ABVP who were on strike and the college president from ABVP. They spoke to me on how Mr. Somayaji is “anti-Hindu” and how he has “hurt the religious sentiments of the Hindu people,” and demanded an “apology” from him and “strict action” against him by the administration. I made note of all that they said.

I interacted with them in a quite friendly manner which, I guess, made them feel more like I am one among them.

When I, as a part of my job, asked them if they had seen the TV interview where Mr. Somayaji had made the statement against which they were protesting and explained, “I havent seen. I dont know what time it was aired so I am asking you.” To this they said, “Even we havent seen. But it seems he has said. Any ways, he says all anti-Hindu things in class.” They also spoke about how VHP had instructed them to go on strike and how they were in contact with the political leaders. I just made note of that and playing an innocent journalist asked how did an English teacher speak anti-Hindu matters in class when nothing in the subject makes space for the same. The students smiled and said, “We only probe him,” to which I had to laugh and I did.

Some of them took my phone number saying they will inform me whenever there is news from the college and will keep me updated about the strike. They said, “we need your support,” to which I just smiled.

Coming back to the office I wrote not just about the strike but also about how the strike was instigated by the VHP and how students admitted to not having seen the interview and probing Mr. Somayaji to make his political stands vocal and thus “frame” him. All of it got reported in the newspaper next day.

I clearly avoided, out of fear, going near the University College, the next day. But a day after the news got published, the students went on strike once again for the same issue saying the administration is not taking any action against Mr. Somayaji. My boss called me to say that the students were on strike again and asked me to go cover the issue. I said, “Sir, may be its wise that I dont go,” because I feared. I was scared because I had reported all that was against the ABVP students which I am sure the students did not expect. But my boss was like, “You did such a fine job the other day. Just go.” He did not know how the “fine job” the other day had taken place and what my fears were.  I had to go.

I entered the campus once again where the ABVP students were aggressively crying slogans against Mr. Somayaji and demanding strict action against him. I stood quite far from the students calculating what to do. By then a student who was crying slogans saw me. I thought now everyone would come and beat me up and I took my phone out of my pocket to be able to call some friend. But the boy, to my utter shock, smiled and told his friends, “Our friend is here,” and welcomed me saying, “Come come…”

I couldnt believe what had happened. But yes, I realized in that moment that the ABVP members did not read the newspaper and especially The Hindu which they assumed to be their mouth-piece.

They came to me, one of them put their hand on my shoulder, and they said, “We need more coverage so that the administration takes strict action against Mr. Somayaji.” They also explained why they were on a strike again after a day’s break. The instructions were coming from the VHP office members. They told me about the details of the phone conversation they had with the VHP, RSS members who had instructed them to go on strike and why Mr. Somayaji was the prime target. “Teachers like him spoil the minds of students with anti-Hindu matters. To get rid of such teachers from institutions is necessary else the entire nation will become anti-Hindu. Protecting young minds from such teachers is our agenda,” they said parroting what probably was told to them by their seniors.

I filed my report again. My boss was happy again.

The strike did not continue the following day. But I kind of fearlessly walked around the University College.

After a few days the students were on strike again for the same matter. This time I informed my boss and said, “I will go cover the strike.”

When I entered the campus the ABVP President was washing his face under the college garden tap. Some ABVP members who saw me took to him saying, “Our friend is here again.” The ABVP President was uncomfortable seeing me. He slowly walked away telling the other members of ABVP, “He is not our friend,” and while walking away he said, “Nobody will speak to him anymore. Its an instruction we have got.” I walked fast towards the President and put my hand around his shoulder asking, “What happened? What is the matter?” to which he said, “I have been told that you are not with us and have reported against us.” I asked him, pretending to be shocked, if he had read the newspaper to say so. He said, “No. But those who read told me. So I cant speak to you. Its an instruction we have got.”

I reported saying the ABVP had strict instruction from higher ups to not to speak to The Hindu. The strike did not continue after that. But ABVP continued creating problems in the College about which my other sources told me and I did report about them.

Everytime anywhere in the country ABVP makes some noise I cant help but recollect these incidents from 2009 from my experience where the ABVP’s unintelligence came across so well.

But now it is not that funny since the political powers, with whom they were in touch even then, have started acting more than before. But amidst all the terror they have unleashed recollecting this episode gives me a laughter break!

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Remembering Nair Sahab

March 4, 2016 at 9:15 AMMar (Cinema, Friends, Media, Music, Musings, Slice Of Life, Soliloquy)

P.K. Nair is no more.

Language is inadequate to speak of his contribution and also of the vacuum his death has left behind.
When I got into the Film and Television Institute of India, Pune in the year 2012 one of the things I was eagerly looking forward to, in Pune, was seeing P.K. Nair the man whose effort gave us the National Film Archives of India and through it all the films that we have watched and learned from. But never could I gather the courage to call him take an appointment and go meet him.

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But slightly over a month after I joined the course my teacher Rahamat Tarikere, who was then writing a book on Amirbai Karnataki came to Pune researching on his subject. One day while walking with Sir to the NFAI library I said, “May be you should also speak to P.K. Nair,” to which Sir said, “Yes, I do intend to.” Without waiting for further instruction I had pulled out my phone from my pocket saying, “Let me take an appointment,” and rang Nair sahab who on knowing someone was writing on Amirbai and wanted to meet him said, “Come now,” and said that he was in his office (PK Nair committee) at the Institute. Rahmat Sir and I took an above turn and walked to the Institute.

As Rahamat Sir and I entered his room he shook hands with us and asked whereabouts. When Rahamat Sir explained to him about the book he is writing on Amirbai Karnataki and immediately Nair sahab started recollecting the songs of Amirbai and also started humming some of them. He also spoke about the voice culture and also the shift that the voice culture took in the 50s. As I sat there listening to him I realized that Nair sahab, who effortlessly recollected songs and would quote the year of its release and other details about the song, was not someone who just built the film archives in India but is/was also an archive in himself.

Later in that year a film made on him Celluloid Man was released which we had the fortune of watching with Nair sahab himself during the occasion of 100 years of Indian cinema. While watching the film Celluloid Man I realized that my Masters’ thesis wouldnt have been possible if not for Nair sahab. In the film Girish Kasaravalli says how his first film Ghatashraddha was lying in some studio in the then Bombay which Nair sahab got hold of and preserved if not for which a copy of the film wouldnt have been available now. My post-graduation dissertation was on the film Ghatashraddha.

That day when the screening got over and I was about to walk out of the NFAI I got a call from B.M. Basheer, a senior friend, who is also the editor of the Kannada daily Vaartha Bhaarathi. He asked me to do a special article for their annual issue and I immediately asked him if I could interview Nair sahab to which he said, “Ok.” As he said “Ok” I turned back and went into NFAI again where Nair sahab was still sitting. I went to him and asked him if I could interview him for the annual issue of a Kannada daily and all he said was, “Sunday morning.”

After quite a long interview that day my friends Rahul and Pooraj along with me sat for a while with Nair sahab without wanting to leave immediately after the interview. He asked us how the course was running and if the recommendations made by him were taken seriously. Even in the informal conversation that followed the interview he kept repeating something which he kept uttering during the interview: “There is a lot more to be done,” which seemed to be his preoccupation and to that he would add, “Someone should take it forward.”

Yes, there is a lot more to be done and someone should take it forward. Nair sahab did what he could do which was more than the share of a single person in the history of a nation.

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The Unknown Girl from Pakistan

December 1, 2015 at 9:15 AMDec (Activism, Cinema, Friends, Media, Musings, Slice Of Life)

A year ago my friend Chintan Girish Modi as a part of Friendships Across Borders, an initiative of  Chintan, wrote an article aiming to contribute to a peaceful and harmonious relationship between the people of two countries, for which he interviewed people from across borders asking them who, from the other side of border, they admire the most. Here is what I had to say to Chintan and to FAB.

pakistan school girl

“In Anand Patwardhan’s film War and Peace there is a sequence at the Lahore Grammar School. A debate competition is taking place, the topic of debate being the nuclear tests done by India and Pakistan.

The competition begins with this girl who very passionately supports and defends the nuclear test by Pakistan. She is followed by few other debators who argue for and against the bomb.

Once the debate is over Anand begins a conversation with all the girls in the room. In this conversation all the girls speak against the bomb and the girl who spoke first in the debate speaking for the bomb, invoking religious identities etc. also speaks the opposite of what she said in the debate.

When Anand questions the shift in her arguments the girl says, “usually in debate hum wahi baat kartey hai jis mein zyada josh ho zyada dam ho. Majority jis mein hogi usee taraf lengey,” to which very calmly, Anand responds saying, “gaur se sochiye iss baarey mein. hamaare leaders bhi aise hee kartey hai. Wahi josh waali baat kartey hai aur wahi baat kartey hai jis mein zyaada dam ho.”

Feeling ashamed, the girl with great guilt says, “hum galat tey. humein aisa nahi kahna chaahiye tha, aisa nahi bolna tha. hum maafi chaahtein hai.

In my entire cinema viewing experience, this was the most humbling experience. It is that unknown girl from Pakistan in Anand’s film who I admire immensely.”

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