Friday, December 12, 2008

26.11.2008: Introduction & Media's Role

NOTE: This post lays the introduction and presents PART ONE of a multi-part post.

WARNING: Long, Long post! Apologies for the length! Please be patient and read! I am sure it will be worth your while.

We all know what happened on 26 November, 2008. Each one of us saw the grisly images, the horrendous testimony of people who survived, the horrific story of victims and their families, the tragic heroism of a few brave foot-soldiers of our police and armed forces. And each one of us, I am sure, shall never forget this day. Ever.

To reiterate the facts again, armed gunmen with AK47’s and grenades, opened indiscriminate fire at innocent people across several parts of South Mumbai. Among the attack sites were a very popular café (Leopold Café), frequented by foreign tourists and Mumbai’s upper classes, the monolith heritage structure of C.S.T. and two landmark five-star hotels – The Oberoi and The Taj, both monuments to a resurgent, confident India and the site of many a high profile business deals. A small Jewish community centre ‘Chabad House’ (locally referred to as ‘Nariman House’), run by Chabad Lubavitch, an ultra-orthodox Hasidic sect of Judaism, was also made a target by the terrorists, who killed a young Rabbi and his wife among many others. For three days, they laid siege to the two hotels and the Jewish center and managed to uproot any traces of confidence that Mumbai had in its Govt. institutions. For almost 72 hours, they managed to terrorize a city to the core, a city otherwise known for its resilience and also infamously for its numbness to such shocking incidents. It began dramatically, resulting in a bloodbath in South Mumbai, and total terror throughout the city, and indeed the nation. When it all ended (which was ironically not at all dramatic), over 190 people had died, a majority of them Indians, with a sizeable number of foreigners of varied nationalities. The incident shook the city’s complacent feeling of self-contentment and false sense of security, apart from shaking confidence in India’s image as a tourist-friendly and investment-worthy nation. It also undermined India’s increasingly vocal assertions at the global stage as an emerging super-power, by exposing the evident inadequacy of security and Govt. infrastructure to tackle such calamities.

As it unfolded, the tragedy gained a level of non-stop reporting and endless critique by political and defense analysts, unprecedented in Indian Media history! Every news channel justifiably covered the story 24*7 for three consecutive days and beyond. I do not doubt that the situation merited such an exhaustive coverage - it was after all an audacious attack, meticulously planned and executed with chilling perfection. However, what I object to is the manner in which the media covered it. Many aspects of most of the NEWS reporting I saw were fundamentally flawed, dangerously jingoistic and indeed subtly (yet noticeably) biased towards the voice/opinion of the richer classes. Watching these endless news broadcasts along with judiciously reading detailed analysis/editorials and opinion pieces in a leading newspaper (Times of India) along with following it up on several web-blogs and online newspapers (Huffington Post, Indian Express, GreatBong, Hindu, Hindustan Times, etc.), I couldn't help but formulate my own views on the entire tragedy on several fronts - what went wrong, who were responsible, how to deal with the perpetrators, how to respond to Pakistan's seeming complicity in this regard, the media's coverage, the various analysts and their enlightened opinions, the Page 3 socialites who turned crusaders overnight, etc. Below, I list down my own critique of the tragedy, its representation in NEWS media, and what we ought to be doing about it (all my personal opinions of course, which anyone who disagrees is entitled not to follow!)


Some may argue that given the situation, the media performed well, doing a commendable job and performing the crucial public service of fact-dissemination. But as it turns out, the media is justifiably receiving a lot of flak for its voyeuristic approach to the tragedy and for its propensity to propagate "unsubstantiated facts” or “unconfirmed reports" (heavy euphemism for a rumor). There are, broadly speaking, three main aspects of all media reporting on the tragic attacks (especially T.V. news), which I found deeply disturbing and even unsettling.

The most striking among these is the media's complete disregard for factual accuracy & ignorance of its own self-regulated protocols of fact-checking (which in retrospect have proved to be meager, if not non-existent, and totally un-enforced), which lead to much unnecessary panic and chaos. The immediate announcement by most news channels of "breaking news" of "unconfirmed reports" or "reliable sources" suggesting some sinister shooting/bombing, without even bothering to check its veracity and authenticity, lead to much tension in a city already over the edge. Some incidents noteworthy in this respect were:

  • CNN IBN's CST gaffe [1][2] - Rajdeep Sardesai's premature announcement of fresh shooting at C.S.T., as a result of his hyperventilated enthusiasm to be the source of the sensational breaking news (to the point that he forgot the most basic tenet of journalism – fact checking), and his subsequent flushed apologies. Unfortunately, the damage had been done. Droves of train-travellers and city-dwellers were in varying degrees of cardiac arrest (courtesy: panic and chaos) and the city was thrown out of gear. Ironically, in his misplaced enthusiasm, he epitomized the tagline of IBN: "Whatever It Takes!” Whatever it takes indeed!
  • Constantly conflicting reports on NDTV, Headlines Today, CNN IBN, Times Now, etc. regarding number and status of terrorists at the attack-sites (in particular Taj, where so many volte-face were made that I have lost count!). At one point, Javed Jaffrey being interviewed by Barkha Dutt was informed by her that a conversation with NSG chief revealed that one terrorist was still alive at Taj, even though all media reports at the time were to the contrary. Within seconds, Jaffrey was interviewed by reporter from another rival channel and was being vehemently confronted by the adamant reporter who insisted that terrorists at Taj were completely neutralized (the reporter and the channel reverted to the “one terrorist alive” version within a couple of hours).

A second appalling aspect of the media coverage was the complete disregard for the sensitivity and confidentiality of information concerning counter-terror operations. I concede that the media is supposed to be the conveyor of all information pertinent and relevant to the general public. I also agree that the media’s mandate empowers it to poke its nose, scratch the surface and explore the unexplored. But there must be some sense of discretion and discernment to differentiate information that can be broadcasted without having a feedback to the way events are likely to unfold, from information whose dissemination might influence the outcome of the concerned event. Put simply, the media has to exercise appropriate self-regulated censorship to ensure that information (which may or may not be relevant) that compromises the operations of security forces and neutralizes their advantage vis-à-vis terrorists, is never let out either intentionally or otherwise. However, caution was clearly thrown out of the window by a news-hungry, breaking-news-eager media, which did the exact opposite. All kinds of information regarding positioning of armed forces in the vicinity of the scene of CTU operations were beamed across T.V. sets, along with detailed descriptions and candid visuals of the relative location of security forces, firepower, deployment strengths, etc. All this undoubtedly gave away strategic advantage and the crucial "element of surprise" that the CTU teams needed to ensure decisive victory over the terrorists. It can be argued that this only prolonged an already long-drawn battle and may have unintentionally aided the loss of NSG forces. Repeated warnings and fervent requests by police authorities for the media to keep a low profile went completely unheeded. Finally, when the exasperated authorities decided to request cable operators to switch off news feeds to their customers as a last resort, the decision was ruthlessly derided by most media channels. The extent of the self-serving and narcissistic nature of Indian T.V. news media is best illustrated by the completely misplaced hyper-accentuated sense of self-righteousness indignation of an irate Arnab Goswami of Times Now, who called the cable black-out unacceptable and a black moment in the history of the country’s democracy (or something to that effect – I have forgotten the exact words and tried searching exhaustively for it on the Internet in vain. My version may be a little exaggerated, but rest assured Arnab’s actual pearls of wisdom were something equally ridiculous and pompous!). Apparently, Mr. Goswami felt that the day was black and sad not just because terrorists were killing innocent people, but more so because the Govt. was taking draconian actions to muzzle, what he most likely contended was a ‘daring’ media (notwithstanding the media’s general excesses in context of the tragedy) Mr. Goswami, I cannot tell you how conceited and indeed strangely amusing you sounded when you spoke those words! (However, one has to give some credit to both Mr. Goswami and Times Now for being the more restrained of most T.V. channels [3]. That however, does not exculpate them from justified criticism generic enough to be directed at the general media.) RIP cool-headed, factual reporting with a premium on objectivity and neutrality. Welcome self-obsessed, super-touchy, hyper-enthusiastic and supremely voyeuristic reporting.

The third criticism I have of the media coverage was the utter disregard for basic etiquette and code of behavior. When greeting a decorated officer of the Indian Armed Forces, one would expect a basic sense of discipline and decorum. However, the media behaved anything but civil. There seemed to be constant rioting and jostling among media-persons at the attack sites, each bout of frenzy triggered by the arrival of yet another high-voltage politician/dignitary, high-wattage celebrity or distinguished serviceman of the armed forces. Some points to be highlighted in this regard were:

  • Persistent harassment of freed and traumatized hostages (idiotic questions including the likes of “aap kaise feel kar rahe hain?” or “dead bodies ko dekhkar aapko kaisa laga?” or “Were you scared?”. These questions subjected relieved hostages to more trauma and irritation, compounding their pain instead of relieving it.)
  • Insane jostling to get sound-bytes from anyone and everyone (especially the pandemonium the media-persons created near The Oberoi, when the NSG chief was completely mobbed by super-eager anchors & cut-throat cameramen, who were shoving and swearing to try to get a good shot. This kind of behavior is unacceptable in the face of such a situation and when addressing a distinguished member of the Armed forces. It is unbecoming of an otherwise aware media.)

My fourth and final grouse against the media was their steady and subtle leaning towards the views and opinions of celebrities, page 3 socialites and the insecure elite. Throughout the coverage, The Taj and The Oberoi were in constant spotlight (to the point of being completely overdone), while the massacre at C.S.T. went terribly under-reported. It was as if the mayhem at C.S.T. was too unglamorous to the media, as compared to the juicy stories of the elite of Mumbai facing a terrifying ordeal and the prospect of a grisly end. Part of this bias in coverage may be attributed to the fact that these hotels are recognizable landmarks (The Taj, especially is an iconic heritage structure) and the siege there continued over multiple days and nights, in contrast to C.S.T.’s ultra-quick massacre, which was over in a few minutes. However, this still doesn’t completely & satisfactorily account for the clear bias in reporting towards the Taj & the Oberoi. As the coverage progressed, we witnessed the media chasing celebrity after celebrity (or mebbe it was the other way around). Even after the tragedy came to a bloody conclusion, we saw the media favoring to air celebrity opinions more prominently (with greater air-time on prime-time slots), as compared to views expressed by ordinary citizens. Some within the media introspected on this bias and mused whether such a huge outpouring of public anger would have emanated, had the tragedy occurred in say public transportation systems. Most such introspections concluded: probably not. I, for one, believe that the media demonstrated a systemic bias in stoking public rage more prominently in response to this attack, than say as compared to previous ones. This was done in conjunction with the city’s elite, whose sudden consternation was primarily a result of their incredulity at being made targets. [More on this theme in a subsequent PART that deals with the reaction of the elite classes and the way in which they perhaps hogged the limelight.]

Other long-time, familiar deficiencies surfaced again. This included no sense of respect for the bodies of the victims and the forensic sanctity of the attack-sites, a complete lack of empathy for grieving relatives whose wailing requests for a few somber moments of privacy were unheeded by an intrusive media, among other complaints. One last thing that came to my mind was the bastardization of the name of the tragedy (“26/11” or India’s 9/11”) to a style more suited to the Americans, etc. The media chose to portray this in context of America’s 9/11 and while the comparison was justified in essence, it somehow lacked conviction and gave the appearance of defining this tragedy in a manner digestible to international audiences. This to me came across as being somehow contrived.

While there were glaring inconsistencies in tens of versions of the same story across various news channels, while there were gross neglect of some foundational principles of journalism, one can’t deny that the media proved to be quite effective in capturing the tragedy in all its horror. It somehow rather morbidly provided the intricate details of the macabre attacks and the carnage that ensued. The entire way in which it was presented may have been tasteless, but it proved to be instrumental in evoking a very strong public outcry on the basis of its own grotesque content.


  1. Shoba De to the rescue of T.V. NEWS Channels: Rediff Blogs
  2. Rumors cause panic, prompt channel black-out: DNA Mumbai
  3. Mumbai Attacks Show Terrorism in the Digital Age: GROUNDREPORT.COM

Other Blog-posts on Media’s Handling of 26/11:

  1. Week 1 - Post 26/11 - Quo Vadis News Media ?: [Follow all the other links listed at the end of this blog-post]

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

'We got the whole moon in our hands!' :P :D

India's Technological Marvel!

This shall no doubt join the group of thousands of other blog-posts written by a sea of avid Indian bloggers, who have much reason to feel pride and a sense of achievement. Even though, I risk re-iterating what you must have no doubt gleaned via mainstream news media, I feel the simple urge to express my feelings on the issue, especially since I feel some ambivalence at this achievement and concern on its fiscal prudence given a country with a dichotomous social fabric.

No doubt, this is a historic day in this country's voyage to not only the stars, but also to a state of technological supremacy and global power. With this successful launch, India sends out a rousing message to the world, announcing (in fact asserting) its intention to be no more seen by that misinformed & jaundiced western periscope, which branded it as the 'land of the snake charmers'. That perception has been consistently proved wrong with India's booming economy and its advancements in the technological spheres of I.T., aeronautics and aerospace. But whatever residues persisted have been completely expunged today at 6.22 a.m., the moment the 320 tonne PSLV-C11 carrying the 'Chandrayaan-I' lifted off with a thunderous boom from the Satish Dhavan Space Centre (SDSC), Sriharikota. Over the course of the next 15 days, it shall encounter the moon, when its special moon impact probe would impact itself on moon's surface. In doing so, it shall provide a plethora of information on various geographic and chemical aspects of moon and its surface, which scientists say shall prove invaluable to both future moon missions, as well as on research for life on moon.

Already the congratulations are pouring in - The United States Ambassador to India, The European Space Agency (E.S.A.) all applauded India for both the cost-effectiveness of the mission (the previous Chinese & Japanese missions were relatively far more expensive) as well as for its technological drive and willingness to collaborate and share both technology and technical know-how with the world. The E.S.A. was especially vocal in its admiration, calling India "an ever increasing space power".

Thus, it is indeed a moment of intense national pride for every Indian citizen in the world. This signals India's willingness to be audacious in its vision and dexterity in executing it. It is a larger indicator of India's bullish brazenness on everything from industry to technology. It is also a fantastic sign that India can effectively participate in an international framework, not preferring to sit on the sidelines as it did on numerous ocassions in the past, but to seize the moment and take initiatives. The success of this project - which saw participation of scientists and technocrats from N.A.S.A. & E.S.A. among others, as also a firm politico-technological framework spun across the world - indicates of India's increasing alacrity at projects of trans-continental impact and global significance. It also in many ways is a sure sign of how red-tape and bureaucracy are slowly but surely being superseded by well-educated and influential technocrats in various arms of both conventional government and government agencies like I.S.R.O. It is this new crop of technocrats along with old stalwarts like G. Madhavan Nair, whom we owe this visionary success to. Already, there is a talk of future missions, among which a grand plan to send an Indian to set foot on the moon's pristine white surface!

Thus, as we are seemingly standing on the cusp of a technological make-over (and possibly an eventual take-over :P), one would have the tendency to wonder: "Now nothing can go wrong! India has arrived!". However, is that going to be the case? Clearly, we have astronomical levels of abject poverty in this country and this does not bode well for the social and political stability of the nation. It is estimated that a record number of the educated unemployed are post-graduates. Clearly, something is terribly amiss here. While I don't seek to be the killjoy, trying to predict a doomsday situation, I certainly feel that some objectivity should be maintained.

Now in a country of teeming billions and umpteen problems (rising inflation, absolute poverty for the majority, extreme wealth inequality, etc. to name a few), is it fiscally prudent to spend a significant amount of financial resources into an endeavor, which while it brings pride and prestige, is probably more an exercise in showmanship than a commensurate return on investments? Simply put, when the U.S., Europe and China are already onto it, why duplicate their efforts into similar projects? While it is true that this project, its predecessors and successors have proved quite invaluable to providing a space-swarjya (space self-independence), we must not try to overdo it by excessive spending on grandiose projects, which are more an ostentatious display of our newfound (and may I say quite misplaced) ego than a true scientific excursion.

But let me not spoil the merry mood with my serious talk and calls for introspection. Let us Indians indulge ourselves a little more on this magnificient success and bask in its glory. The hard-working, underpaid scientists at I.S.R.O. (and other ancilliary govt. agencies) deserve to be applauded and admired. They deserve every bit of adulation and slavish attention that they are getting from the Indian media and the Indian people. We owe them that much! However when the dust settles down, we must not forget them! We must seek to motivate such scientists by providing better financial emouluments and a better scientific framework in which they can exercise their creativity and embark on technological innovation.

But when the time eventually comes, we must have an iota of humility at the insignificance of these grandiose achievements to the millions of people, who lead desperate and abject lives in absolute poverty and no job security. And we must seek to improve their lot, so that in the future, such a moment shall be cherished by a majority of India's citizens, instead of a small, financially stable minority.

PS: For those who didn't understand, the title of the post is a reference to the late 50's spiritual song 'He's Got the Whole World in His Hands!'

N.E.W.S. Links:
'After Karva Chauth' @ Yahoo! NEWS
'A Perfect 13th successful launch for P.S.L.V.' @ Yahoo! NEWS
'With perfect launch, Chandrayaan heads for Moon' @ Yahoo! NEWS
'Chandrayaan-I successfully put into earth's orbit' @ Yahoo! NEWS
'U.S. lauds India's moon mission' @ Yahoo! NEWS
'President, P.M. congratulate Indian scientists on launch' @ Yahoo! NEWS
'Chandrayaan-I Picture Slideshow' @ Yahoo! NEWS

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Wanted: Stylish No-brainer

Rating: 2.5/5.0

To say that 'Wanted' is devoid of a meaningful, coherent script would be an under-statement. To say, however, that 'Wanted' is devoid of fun and style would be inaccurate and unjust. The movie is indeed a no-brainer and takes such fantastic and bizarre liberties and an overtly fertile imagination of the script-writers, that it rattles the mind. However, while the absence of any real, plausible plot is a cause for irritation, the stylized action sequences along with the imperturbable chutpaz of its lead characters (played by McAvoy and Jolie) lends a certain cool charm to it and manages to convert, what would have been an otherwise flimsy and frivolous misnomer, into a darkly amusing and very stylish film.

As mentioned earlier, the plot is indeed frivolous and nearly non-existent, but the gist of it deals with the transformation of a tractable, docile young man 'Wesley Gibson' (James McAvoy) with a staid, stolid life into a raging bull, a skilled marksman and a willing killer.

Plot Summary: Wesley Gibson is the quintessential average modern-day employee at a huge accounting firm. His daily routine is both monotonous and boring and he has little to look forward to in his life - with a non-existing family, a disastrous love-life and an impecunious existence. He has to silently bear the torments of his menacing office boss (quite the bitch), as well as by the braggadocio of a colleague. He also suffers from acute anxiety and panic attacks, by virtue of which he loses his cool at the most minor of perturbances. His chance encounter with a mysterious woman named only as "Fox" (Angelina Jolie) leads him down a path that includes oodles of kick-ass action and some insane killing-gore that de-sensitizes him and leaves him completely detached from his previous docile life. As it turns out, Fox is working for a secret society of assasins that seems to have been existing for thousands of years. Fox rescues him from a hitman 'Cross' and takes Gibson to the clan's citadel - a textile mill, where Gibson has an encounter with Sloan (Morgan Freeman), the leader of the clan. Sloan informs Gibson that his father, an elite member of the assasin squad died on an operation and that it is his duty and fate to avenge him. This leads him to undertake intensive training that involves severe violence and physical training. He discovers that his anxiety attacks are actually a unique ability to pump astronomical levels of adrenaline into his system, that leaves him with insanely high percerptibility and dexterity. At the end of it emerges a man who just faintly resembles his past in appearance, but whose character has now undergone a kick-ass transformation.

The effectiveness of the movie lies in its ability to create stunning action sequences and the coolness of its central characters. The movie succeeds in creating a glamorized, stylistic world that the previously docile Gibson can play around in. In this sense, it seeks to give us, the audience, an impossible world in which we are coolness personified. We secretly root for and admire Mr. Gibson, as we watch his transformation and we secretly aspire for the debonair style of the film's setting. Thus, the movie creates a bond with the audience, that we are able to relate to. However, where the movie begins to falter is its willingness to take itself seriously.

Wanted, tries in many ways to be a debonair version of Fight Club and it fails miserably. While we are amused and entertained by the antics of the newly empowered 'assassin' Mr. Gibson, we are also irritated by the narcissistic nature of the secret group of assassins. The movie falls into a self-created chasm of narcissism by trying to pass itself off as a serious piece of drama, where critical decisions must be made. Movies such as these, known for its macabre and fantastic content, often shock and please us, but never do they allow self-indulgence. This movie's plot isn't half as allegorical/metaphorical as say a "Fight Club" or a "Pulp Fiction", yet it tries hard to be considered as a serious film. And alas, it fails miserably. The later half of the movie constitutes this feeble and pointless attempt at trying to masquerade as some of the classic noir dramas.

The movie does redeem itself by its last scene, which is again as tongue-in-cheek and unapologetically brutal as most of the movie. Overall, the movie is definitely worth a watch at the theatres, if only to badly yearn for a more interesting and eventful life, quite like the new Mr. Gibson. Like Mr. Gibson says: "What the f*** have you done lately?"

Wanted Links:
Wanted @ Wikipedia
Wanted @ IMDB
Wanted @ Rotten Tomatoes
Wanted @ Box Office Mojo

Sunday, July 20, 2008

"The Dark Knight" is a shining and moving piece of cinema!

The Dark Knight - The Review

Rating: 4.5/5 – Simply Superlative

Note: Apologies for the lengthy review – this movie is too phenomenal for a small, mundane review. It simply deserves a thorough dissertation to do justice to it. Please be patient and persevere through the review – I assure you that your time will be worth it! ;)

Let me begin by saying that what I expected to see was another super-hero movie with a clichéd storyline containing all the usual elements – the good vs. evil thread, the proverbial love-interest in distress, the megalomaniac who turns evil with excessive power, the humble common-man who rises above the mundane to become the hero, etc. All done and redone rather thoroughly by a dozen film-makers in twice as many films in the past decade itself. In short, I expected to see the quintessential masala super-hero movie with oodles of feel-good patriotism and boisterous bravado, none of which I thought would justify the 200 bucks I spent on the ticket.

What I saw instead was a gravely serious and supremely grim tale of a city going through dark times – besieged by violent crime and corruption – which is further exacerbated by a maniacal madman whose primary objective is the spread of absolute anarchy. What I saw was a movie which transcended the level of all other super-hero movies by providing not only a scintillating visual spectacle, but more importantly also a character driven analysis and a deep psychological treatise on the best and the worst amongst us and the factors that motivate us to be either supremely good or maniacally bad. And let me say that it was worth the 200 bucks!

Plot-Summary: The story begins with a violent bank robbery orchestrated by a masked man who calls himself the “Joker”, (played previously by the legendary Jack Nicholson, who pales in comparison to the portrayal here by the Late Heath Ledger). We are given an indication of his ruthlessness and his anarchist methods, when he double-crosses his accomplices, killing them mercilessly and takes all the loot away. Right away, we know that this is a man who has a very black heart and whose mind leans towards the maniacal. Then, we are introduced to members of “The Mob”, whose wings have been clipped by Batman’s heroics (Batman being played by Christian Bale). The Mob’s operations are shut-down and its members indicted by the legal acumen of Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), the newly appointed crime-intolerant District Attorney (D.A.), with the help of a beautiful assistant Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal). “The Mob” have an interest in seeing Batman dead/disbanded. The Joker suggests that in return for half their financial assets, he neutralizes Batman, to which the Mob reluctantly complies. The rest of the movie chronicles the war (and its many casualties) between The Batman and the D.A. Harvey Dent on one side and the Joker on the other. As the war progresses, we see the balance constantly tilt in favour of the evil, helping to maintain the tension and the overpowering sense of gloom that serves as a harbinger of a dark future. We witness the transformation of good men, by circumstance and tragedy, into evil beings, consumed by the blind-anger of revenge.

One question that may come up in your mind – “So What?! This doesn’t seem new at all.” I beg to differ – it might not be completely “new” and it is very much the story of good vs. evil at its core. But, it is the manner the story unfolds that leaves you spellbound and deeply unsettled and disturbed. Beyond the evident storyline is a careful examination of the psychological and moral conundrum that Batman and Harvey Dent face as they go about dealing with crime in the city. Harvey Dent is the kind of hero that Gotham City deserves – fighting crime with legal recourse, but the vigilante Batman is the one that it needs currently. The Batman feels that Dent’s methodologies are indeed more suitable for a civilized society, but is forced to don the mantle of an outlawed vigilante. Both of these men face tough choices when they are confronted by an evil madman who is not motivated by money or self-advancement, but by the pure black desire for absolute chaos. The Joker threatens the city with increasing violence as a bait for Batman to reveal his true identity. This is when the troubling conundrum comes up – should Batman give himself up to prevent bloodshed and cause a moral victory for the anarchist ideology or should he risk bloodshed in order to subdue the Joker?

On the performances/casting front: Christian Bale as the Batman/Bruce Wayne manages to switch rather effortlessly in the two personas – being the persistent but placid Batman, while also being the flamboyant millionaire. Aaron Eckhart as Harvey Dent, the crime-tough D.A. gives a moving performance as a good, earnest man who when befallen by tragedy, transforms into an extremely violent vigilante. Gary Oldman plays Commissioner Gordon with all the marks/nuances of a seasoned top policeman. Maggie Gyllenhaal plays Rachel Dawes as a mixture of toughness and tenderness – portraying her confusion of feelings towards two great men (Bruce and Harvey) who play a central figure in her daily life.

But the one that beats ‘em all, is the portrayal of the Joker by the Late Heath Ledger, whose performance is stellar and superlative. It is not everyday that one gets to experience evil in its purest form. Throughout the movie, I found myself spell-bound by this Joker, grudgingly admiring his capacity to transcend mundane criminals into the stratosphere of evil. I couldn’t help finding him more humanistic and dynamic than the “good” but rather rigid Batman, whom I found rather placid. This ambivalence of feelings is a testament of Ledger’s portrayal of the Joker – Ledger manages to make a character whom you should despise into a character whom you are mildly amused with and whom you begin to even unintentionally admire! His is truly a spine-chilling performance that just sustains the movie with constant climatic tension throughout.

At 2hours 45mins, this movie is indeed unusually long for hollywood’s standards, but never did it feel long. There was never a dull moment in the movie and the screenplay kept things tight and ensured plenty of action. The direction and cinematography is spot on, managing to capture a range of emotions on different characters, all from the most strategic angles. The special effects were spectacular and complemented the stylish action on screen.

There are a lot of moments in this movie that gives you goose-bumps and spine-chills. Most of them have the Joker and Harvey featured prominently. These two characters – brought excellently to life by Eckhart and Ledger – completely steal the show from the Batman. Particularly memorable is the moment when the Joker tells Batman that “when the chips fall down, these so-called ‘civilized’ people will become wolves and chaos would ensue”. Later on, when such a ‘chip-falling’ situation occurs (not revealed because it would be a plot-spoiler), in a spine-chilling moment, we realize that the Joker’s prediction might come true – that chaos would indeed ensue. It is in these moments that you come to grudgingly agree with the Joker, as he reveals the hypocrisy and the self-advancement of each individual even in a civilized society to the point that it threatens to become barbaric. In that moment of epiphany, you realize that The Joker is simply a doppelganger of the Batman – the evil complementary alter-ego which completes the whole.

As a testament to the movie’s resonating power among movie-goers, the I.M.D.B. already features this movie on its Top 250 movie list at the 1st position – the top of the pedestal (as of July 20th, 2008, 8 p.m. I.S.T.). It has managed to secure a cumulative rating of 9.7 (higher than movies such as The Godfather & The Shawshank Redemption). Whether it is worthy of being christened as THE Best movie of all times, is not as relevant as the troubling questions it raises (which have tremendously profound parallels to real world situations including world politics). This movie truly deserves to be in the league of the best movies ever made as an unusual entrant – a super-hero movie which crosses its genre and becomes a poetically grim dissertation on the dilemma that we all face – whether it is prudent to become evil in order to fight evil. And yes, Heath Ledger deserves to be at least nominated (if not win) for the Oscars for his haunting performance – it was his parting shot which deserves to be honoured.

Bottom-line: An absolute jewel – this is indeed on my top movies list, amongst other gems and cult-classics. It is a definite must-watch, worth each and every cent!

The Dark Knight @ Wikipedia: Exhaustive Plot Details and Production Notes, etc.
The Dark Knight @ I.M.D.B.: User Comments, Facts and Trivia (IMDB Rating: 9.7)
The Dark Knight @ Rotten Tomatoes: Aggregation of Critic’s reviews (Tomato-meter: 94%)

Friday, June 06, 2008

Random Thoughts 1

This is the first of hopefully a long series of short PJ's and amused musings, most of which have originated from the depths of an idle, devious mind. This series is "inspired" from the series of posts of the same name on Crucifire's Blog. So credit to him for "inspiring" me :P

Also, I just want to mention the fact that brevity is not my cup of tea - my skill and my interest lies in the complicating the simple, restating the obvious, expanding the brief and inflating the smallest into one humongous blog post - my archives will bear testimony to this!! That and the fact that 8 semesters, 45 exams later, I have mastered the art of putting random words together!! So, this series is all the more challenging for a person devoid of any succinctness. Here's to brevity!!

Oh! And please do gimme
feedback (positive or negative)!

Here goes ....

Q. "What do Shahrukh Khan and Adam Sandler have in common??"

A. They are both wedding singers!!

The Wedding Singer (1998 movie) @ Wikipedia
Deccan Herald Report of SRK paid as a wedding guest

Sunday, March 23, 2008

P.G. Wodehouse - the comical genius of 20th Century

Sir P.G. Wodehouse - the literary comic genius - in 1904 (aged 23)

The other day I was feeling a little morose at how static life is and in general about the apparent futility of life (a topic thoroughly dissected in infinite detail by me and umpteen philosophers, yet completely unanswered). I just happened to pick up the book "Uncle Fred in the Springtime - A Blandings Story" and started perusing through it.

No sooner had I started reading, I found myself chuckling to my heart's delight, completely forgetting the woes/boredom of life. The mood instantly lightened by the amusing and highly entertaining antics of these completely lunatic caricatures. I paused a second to offer my silent salute to the late Sir Pelham Greenville Woodhouse, whose fertile imaginations and idiotic ruminations produced such wondrous literary comics, that even after a century, still remain one of the most ticklish sources of upper society mirth.

There are just so many of his novels to choose from - each an absolutely rib-tickling account of some idiotic, downright silly episode in the lives of extremely unrealistic city-slickers turned village-idiots! There are dozens of Jeeves adventures and tens of Blandings Castle stories and many more assorted loony tales.

Yes, his plots are extremely silly, requiring a degree of naivety from the lead characters, that is completely unrealistic in a matter-of-fact world such as this. Add to this the regurgitation of the formulaic narrative and we get a series that is naive, idealistic and repetitive. Yet, even though Wodehouse can be accused of repeating several plot elements throughout his novels, his deft mastery of the English word and prose lets him get away with it! Each of his novels seem so refreshingly new (even though a close scrutiny would prove the similarities) and do not fail to evoke peals of laughter from avid readers.

I remember my initial reluctance at picking up a Wodehouse - I was very much a cynic at the time (and I still am) and I used to find the naivety & exuberance of the novels extremely irritating. Over time, as I read more, I loosened up and began enjoying (even relishing) Wodehouse novels. I realized that though the novels are naive, it is exactly the romanticized notion of love, life and work that makes Wodehouse's crazy world an Utopian getaway from a cynical, dystopian reality. It offers for its readers, who are willing to overlook its pitfalls, a tool of rejuvenation for the tired mind, previously brainwashed into cynicism by the chores and mundaneness of everyday life. It at least makes me realize the umpteen good things in life I take for granted!

Of course, the "Wodehouse effect" requires certain pre-requisites:

· A reasonably strong command over the English language (this does not mean that you have to be a linguistic maestro to relish his novels)

· An ability to follow/comprehend large sentences & paragraphs (and believe me, his novels are full of insanely long descriptions - each extremely funny)

· Finally, a certain indulgence from you of becoming naive, at least temporarily.

These pre-requisites may seem a little demanding, but believe me, the catch is worth the bait! The resulting mirth and enjoyment derived from his works will cast a spell of exuberance & optimism on you, albeit, as long as the novel lasts at least!

The reason why I write this post is to enlighten avid bookworms and readers, who are as yet uniformed of Wodehouse and his ingenious work, about both the quantum and the quality of his work, which is the stuff of legends among novelists/authors. I hope that after reading this post, you pick up a Wodehouse and read it the way I (and millions of other Wodehouse followers) read - with absolutely no care in this world!

Here's to Wodehouse - he has given us a reason to laugh and celebrate the idiosyncrasies of human nature!

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Taare Zameen Par - The Review

The Disciple and his Guru

Rating: 4.0/5.0

Few movies evoke the kind of emotional upheaval that clean-sweeps you, that achieves the all-elusive emotional null that is very difficult to achieve. Taare Zameen Par is easily one such movie. It sweeps you off your feet and creates the kind of innocent, pure emotional ache that you must have experienced only as a child. Its a movie that is bound to leave your tear glands more than a little dry.

The premise is indeed very simple and completely believable. The story follows Ishan Avasthi (Darsheel Safary), a dyslexic boy whose inability to read and write and other behavourial anamolies is interpreted as a purposeful disobedience and non-conformance to societal strictures and school discipline. Thus, in school he is considered a nuisance and admonished regularly by unsympathetic teachers and is usually otherwise victimized by the system, which rewards conformers and castigates non-conformers. At home, he draws unflattering comparisons with his elder brother Yohaan, who is the quintessential mugger/topper of the class. His parents are routinely irritated by the vast chasm in academic performance between Ishan and Yohaan and tend to blame it as Ishan's incorrect attitude. They keep failing to understand all along that Ishan is unable to comprehend the written word and is hence unable to perform simple mathematics & grammar. His father decides to pack him off to a boarding school. Though Maya Avasthi (Tisca Chopra) is a loving mother, she chooses not to over-rule her husband - perhaps because, deep down she too believes that Ishan's problems are a result of indiscipline. At the boarding school, he suffers initially at the hands of stricter teachers, who do not take kindly to his lapses of attention and his inability to comprehend instructions. But his luck changes as a new art teacher 'Ram Shankar Nikumbh' (Aamir Khan) takes over. Ram notices the boy's reticence and his patters of behaviour and finds it disturbingly consistent with dyslexia. Ram, then informs Ishan's parents and sets him off on a course to improvement and recovery. The rest of the movie chronicles this process, which culminates in a much quieter Ishan.

Vipin Chopra as Nandkishore Avasthi (Ishan's father) plays the role of the typical male patriarch perfectly - he rises early, does his work hurriedly as he eats his breakfast, goes out on business tours and in whatever little way he can cares for his kids, often loading his ambitions & cumbersome expectations on his kids. Tisca Chopra as Maya Avasthi (Ishan's mother) gives a sublime performance as the doting mother, who can't bear to be separated from her child and yet chooses exactly that - her tearful reminiscences and subdued performance is proof of her proficiency as an actor. Sachet Engineer as Yohaan Avasthi (Ishan's brother) plays the rather bitter-sweet role of a caring brother, who unknowingly is the cause of much pain to Ishan. Aamir Khan as Ram Nikumbh gives another subdued yet solid performance as the art-teacher that transforms Ishan from a timid, reticent boy to a happy child. Finally, Darsheel Safary as Ishan is one of those rare occurences in the casting world - an actor that fits the bill perfectly. Darsheel doesn't act Ishan - he IS Ishan. As Ishan, he makes us an eye-witness to his life - making us laugh, making us cry. All along, we get to see the emotional vulnerability of this boy, who at first glance appears indisciplined and disobedient.

Aamir Khan has perhaps discovered his calling - he is an astute director, who captures the innocence and vulnerability of Ishan, along with his mischevious exploits. This creates for the audience a great sense of a 'conspirator' and a 'sufferer' - we are tickled by his mischiefs while emotionally touched at how society and family treats his genuine disability.

There are moments in the movie, when the triumph of the human spirit is beautifully captured - without pretense, melodrama and emotional manipulation. However, the movie does veer of in the end, a little towards the manipulative and cliche. The manner in which the results of a painting competition is announced reeks of saccharine and melodrama - a contrived, manipulative device to elicit tears from the audience. Save that scene, everything else is done tastefully and subtly.

Bottom-Line: This movie is an opportunity to let go. To rediscover the pure, naive insecurities that all of us must have had as kids or even as adults. Some of us still may have these insecurities and to such people, this movie would be a tool of rejuvenation. As CNN IBN critic Rajeev Masand said during his review, "Go watch TZP. You might just discover a little bit of you and your problems in Ishan and his"