Religious Nationalism rears its ugly head in India again

February 4, 2010

Having followed the last few days of political drama in India, I am wondering about whether India’s claim to being the largest democracy in the world can truly be  justified. When political thugs like the Shiv Sena party can phone up film distributors and threaten them  with dire consequences if they distribute Shah Rukh Khan’s latest film, just because the actor expressed an opinion about Pakistani cricket players, and an inoffensive one at that, and not face the wrath of the law, what is this saying about the rule of law in the nation? It implies that anyone can engage in hate speech, incite people to violence and get away with it.

Representatives of the Shiv Sena party are getting very possessive about Mumbai, after the terrorist attacks of 26 / 11/ 09 and are feeling very hurt about anyone who even remotely suggests that India should have anything to do with Pakistan, given that the attacks on Mumbai were perpetrated by Pakistani based terrorists. But why do these same folk not get worked up about those people who brought the culture of terrorism and political violence to the Indo-pak sub-continent in the first place, viz the British imperialists. I personally have nothing against the Brits, but the truth is that the kind of attacks on India, that are being perpetrated today are really the legacy of the deliberate Hindu Muslim divide set up by the colonialists, hence leading to the splitting of a country, which should never have happened in the first place. Anyone who then engages in any discourse around India / Pakistan, and the possibility of co-operation between the two territories,  is then subject to some kind of bizarre test of Patriotism, ie, condemn Pakistan or condemn India, or else ! Why for God’s sake, must it come down to such dichotomies, and either / or politics ? Pakistanis are effectively Indians too, who had a border forced between themselves and their original motherland. Some 60 years and several unnecessary wars later,  and the two territories are supposedly sworn enemies.

There can clearly be no justification for terrorism, and it should never be tolerated, but should people like the Shiv Sena be allowed to resort to their own form of terrorism,  try and couch it within the framework of patriotism, and not be held accountable for it? How is it patriotic to threaten fellow citizens and try to stop them from going about their daily business? And then ask them to apologise for exercising their democratic rights ?

Its a sad day when religious nationalism and chauvinsim rears its ugly head, and is then not challenged and exposed for what it is. Is this the beginning of the end for Indian democracy ?


Taare Zameen Par

October 4, 2008


I have never cried as much, as I did, when watching the outstanding film Taare Zameen Par, directed by one of my favourite actors, Aamir Khan (2007) . And so when I heard recently that it will be India’s entry for the 2009 Oscar awards for Best Foreign Film, i was thrilled. And whether it wins at the Oscars or not, is irrelevant, as it has already won the hearts of everybody that has seen it.

TZP is a film that can be understood in any language, because of its universal theme, the plight of a young eight year old boy who suffers from a disability, dyslexia, and is bewildered because everyone around him rejects him in different ways. His mother still loves him unconditionally as does his older brother, but his father has huge expectations of him, and so do his teachers. It is these huge expectations, and feelings of being a failure that forces him to become withdrawn and even give up the one thing he loves the most, painting. It is the love and understanding of an art teacher, who recognises what his real problem is, that is able to “save” him from sinking into an abyss of depression and despair.

The message of the film is really for those of us who buy into the stereotypes of what the perfect child is supposed to be, and forces us to revisit these ideas, because these stereotypes inevitably make us reject those children who are “different” from the norm. However every child is special,  and are like stars on earth, and are deserving of love and acceptance. There can be no greater sin than abandoning and rejecting a child because s/he is not what the world expects her / him to be. Sadly this is what is happening daily. Quite apart from children without disabilities, being sold, traded, abused and exploited by depraved adults, children who are different, are being abandoned, and forgotten.

The team of TZP have made an oustanding film, which actually doesn’t need any awards or box office accolades, to confirm that it is truly a magnificent example of movie making. It has already won several awards though and I do hope it wins at the Oscars, if only to ensure that it is watched throughout the globe. If there is only one Indian film watch you watch in your life, this should be it.

Review : Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na

September 30, 2008

Imran Khan …..sigh ! Ok, enough, this review is about the portrayal of young India on the big screen and whether Jaane Tu ya Jaane Na, makes the cut as an intelligent and thought provoking commentary on where 20 somethings (and younger) are located within the context of a globalising nation, and what is it that makes them tick. It stars Imran Khan and Genelia da Souza, as the leads and is co-produced by Aamir Khan, who is Imran’s uncle.

Jaane Tu, is actually first and foremost a romantic comedy, and will therefore appeal to all who have been in love, or are currently in love. Its about two best friends, Rats and Miao (their petnames for each other), who have just finished college, and are embarking on a mission to try and find love in their lives.

Miao’s parents want her to marry and think that Rats is ideal for their daughter, and broach the subject of joining the family, with him. Rats thinks that they are actually talking about offering him a job. When they all realise what was actually being discussed, Rats and Miao, are totally opposed to the idea, saying that they are actually each other’s best friend, but not in love.

The twist in the tale happens when Miao begins to miss Rats when he finds a girlfriend and no longer has much time for her. Rats gets worked up, when Miao finds someone too, to whom she gets engaged, but he turns out to be abusive and self-absorbed. Rats and Miao eventualy realise that they do love each other, after all, when they can’t bear to think of the other, with someone else. Awww….

The plot is however more nuanced though, than just being a regular love story. What is interesting is the way in which family traditions, feminist ideas and the principle of non-violence is intervowen into the story. Rat’s mom could best be described as a modern day feminist, who is totally opposed to her son hitting anyone or being violent in any way. She left the Rathore family home, after her husband died, in order to raise her son in an urban surrounding, where he is far way from traditional family expectations. Some of these expectations are somewhat tongue in cheek, such as it being a Rathore tradition that the men get arrested at least once in their lives. Rats does actually end up fulfilling all the traditions, after he gets arrested for punching Miao’s fiance for having slapped her, much to his mother’s displeasure. But all’s well that ends well. 

While the movie makes one laugh and cry, it certainly also makes one reflect on the younger generation in India. The story revolves around urban middle class families, and so doesn’t really focus on issues of poverty or other social divisions amongst the youth, but that was perhaps not its intention. It deals to some degree with sibling rivalries, and the theme of dysfunctional family relationships in contemporary India. Apart from the two main leads there is also the sub-text of what is going on with other friends in the broader social group, two of whom, have crushes on Rats and Miao respectively, but when they realise that they don’t stand a chance, end up with each other. The story is told through Rat’s and Miao’s friends, relating their tale to a new person who has joined the group. 

Jaane Tu, is perhaps not as cutting edge as Rang de Basanti, which also had a youth focused theme, or as political, it is rather a feel good story about love triumphing in the end. The title refers to the song Jaane Tu Ya Jaane na, which is the song that Rats sings to Miao, when he finally tells her he loves her, amidst countless airport security officials (you have to see this part to get it). 

In the end its a must watch movie, and if the story doesn’t grab you, then the performances by the two leads certainly will.