Friday, April 14, 2017
Asghar Farhadi's Salesman, an understated complex movie that fails to come to terms with its own ccomplexity
The film is a tightly scripted one, and it shows the fraught life of near-insignificance of Emad. Miller's Death of a Salesman turns out to be some kind of a sounding board for Emad's own life. It might appear to be an over-interpretation to see any kind of connection between the play in the film and the life of the film's protagonists. But to see no connection between the two makes the film merely tawdry tale.
But in spite of the connections, the character of Emad remains fairly diminutive in moral terms.
The movie could however be seen as a small episode in the life of a couple, which could have taken a serious turn. The ending is open-ended. We do now know whether the old man dies, whether Rana walks out on Emad as she threatens to do if Emad were to reveal the old man's misdemeanour to his family. What is the state of Emad's mind after he humiliates, and quite nearly kills, the old man who stalks his wife? Asghar Farhadi keeps it open.
The film tries to be a morality play, and the director beats around the bush to make, and even not to make, the point. On this score he succeeds. The matter-of-fact delineation raises expectations without fulfilling them. The director is reluctant to make the connections, to make the big point. For this viewer, the aesthetic and moral teaser is the failure of the movie because it leaves the characters in the movie hanging, except for Rana when she threatens to walk out, and the family of the old man who reveal their unquestioning faith in the goodness of Emad and Rana, and that of the old man as well.
Monday, April 10, 2017
It shows the injustice of the unequal power relationship, where the petty tyrants lord over it unhindered, and it needs an almost unhinged person -- and it needs an unhinged person to do so -- to throw down the gauntlet as it were, and that indeed frightens the powers that be. One of the supreme moments of the film is that last dance that Anaarkali/Swara Bhaskar performs, the macabre, death dance as it were, whipping up anger, wreaking vengeance. It is the cathartic moment for Anarkali, for the VC, played brilliantly by Sanjay Mishra, as the character reaps his just desserts, and for the audience.
The film could have taken a realistic and unhappy ending with Anaarkali returning to Aarah and taking her exploited place in the small town nightmare. But director Das opts for the leap of imagination that a creative channel offers and injects a moment of superior truth, which provides emotional and aesthetic satisfaction, and depicts the denouement of poetic justice. This is what films.plays/stories/poems should do and Das accepts the literary/aesthetic norm.
In many ways, Anarkali of Arra overthrows the emotional beauty of that story and of that movie in order to state the hapless position of Anarkali in the ruthless world of today. It would appear to be a conscious rejection of that imagination.
One would not call the aesthetic rebellion of Das, where the tawdriness of the small town is invested with a fleeting beauty of its own, a misplaced one. But as he goes on to make other movies, he would get back to the imaginative and aesthetic equilibrium of Teesri Kaasam.
Bhaskar's performance is true to the character, with Anaarkali's unexpressed love for Anwar (who played his role?), and with her rage against the predators.
The one line that came to mind time and again during the movie was "The state is the enemy of the people". It felt so because of the impunity of many of the right-wing governments across north India. But it should be remembered that the situation shown in Anaarkali of Aarah has nothing to with Hindutva politics. The roots of the evil lie in a decadent and impoverished society of an underdeveloped north India.
Saturday, April 08, 2017
It is 24 years since the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya was demolished by a violent mob of kar sewaks. The estimated figure ranges from a few thousands to a two hundred thousand. The leaders of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) were sitting on a dais in front of the mosque as the monument was razed to the ground by an irate crowd. Among the leaders were L.K.Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi, the now marginalised elders of the party.
There has been a change of guard in the BJP, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi leading the new brigade and comfortably ensconced in power at the centre after a historic win in the 2014 Lok Sabha election. The change in leadership was not a smooth affair. The clumsy and bitter battle of succession was fought between June and September of 2013, when Modi was named the chairman of the campaign committee and then declared the prime ministerial candidate of the party in the teeth of opposition from Advani.
The drama that unfolded in the court-room of Justices Pinaki Chandra Ghose and Rohinton Fali Nariman on Thursday was riveting because of this background of the internal and inter-generational feud inside the BJP. The differences have not been buried and peace has not been made between the warring factions. Advani, who was once the master manipulator of party affairs, is now a lonely man with no followers and very few friends in the party. Joshi has always been a non-competitive man who gained the top rung at a time when there were not enough claimants for leadership in the party.
If the Supreme Court allows for the revival of conspiracy charges against Advani, Joshi and others in the Babri Masjid demolition case, and the judges indicated that they are inclined to return the two leaders along with 12 others to the dock, then what is of consequence is not so much the legal outcome, which would include possible conviction of Advani and Joshi at the special court in Lucknow that would come back to the Supreme Court in the form of an appeal, but what it means to the inner peace of the BJP. The internecine strife will leave the party with difference with bruised memories, and which would leave a bad taste in the mouth. It is quite evident that the faction led by Modi has undisputed advantage, and Advani and Joshi are literally down and out, defending themselves standing on the ground.
Modi has shown greater political cunning than his opponents have given him credit for. He could turn the case against Advani and Joshi to score decisive political brownie points. On the one hand, he would prove to his detractors outside BJP that he is the man bound by rule of law and he would not use his position as prime minister to bend the law and rescue his party elders from legal perdition. And he would use the opportunity to exclude the faint prospects of either Advani or Joshi for the upcoming presidential election in July this year. It will be readily argued that as an unchallenged leader of the BJP, Modi does not need a ruse to outmanoeuvre either Advani or Joshi. He can overlook their claims and choose person of his own liking.
Quite a few disagree that Modi is the monarch of all he surveys. According to sources he is not really his own man in the party, and he has to respond to pressure groups inside the party as well as in the extended Sangh Parivar. The example cited is that of the choice of Yogi Adityanath as chief minister in Uttar Pradesh. He was not Modi’s first choice. Apparently, he had to bow to pressure, especially from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), and agree to the name the mahant from Gorakhpur for the job.
This being the case, he would need a strong reason to overlook the claims of either Advani or Joshi to the office of the president, and the two facing a conspiracy charges in the demolition case would serve his purpose perfectly.
The other argument is that Modi wants the Babri Masjid demolition case to be taken to its logical, legal conclusion so that his party could with clean hands facilitate the construction of the Ram temple on the site of the mosque in Ayodhya.
There is no doubt however that both the BJP and Modi are burdened with the legacy of the Ayodhya mosque-temple dispute. It was easier for the party to inflame passions when the party was in the opposition but the temple issue is a liability for the Hindutva party when it is in power. Modi sees himself, rightly or wrongly, as the post-Ayodhya-dispute BJP leader, who wants the party to win elections and rule the country on the basis of a nationalist and developmental agenda. He sees himself as a modernist and a nationalist and not as a devout Hindu. As a matter of fact, even Advani looks upon himself as modern, rational nationalist. When BJP was in power from 1998 to 2004, Advani displayed no great enthusiasm for the construction of the temple. Modi has moulded himself in the Advani mode. And in a tragic-ironic sense, Modi has to take a call whether he would use his powers to protect his mentor-turned-rival, or leave him to the harsh blows of the legal system.
The issues of the case are based more on technicalities rather than legal subtleties and intricacies. The first issue is whether there should be trials in separate courts about the same episode – the demolition of the mosque. The judge of the special court had separated the case involving the act of demolition by “unknown karsevaks”, about a 100,000 of them, from that of the conspirators. Justices Ghose and Nariman are of the view that there should be a single trial of the conspirators as well as that of the arsonists. And they are sure that Article 139 empowers the Supreme Court to merge the separate trials and assign to a single special court.
Modi can afford at the moment to remain a passive spectator as the legal process unfolds, and weigh his political options with regard to Advani and Joshi, and with regard to the construction of the promised temple in Ayodhya.
Amit Shah, president of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) wasted no time after the party’s stupendous victory in the Uttar Pradesh assembly election early last month. He went over to Gujarat, where assembly elections are due in December this year, and told the cadres that he wants to win 150 seats for the party out of 180. This was to keep the magnitude of victory at the same level as that of UP where the party got 304 out of 405. Prime Minister Narendra Modi was a step ahead of his protégé, Shah. In his meetings with the party’s members of parliament (MPs) from various states last week, he told them to start work for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, and advised them to use social media more aggressively to reach out to the people. The Modi-Shah duo seem dedicated to fighting elections and winning them. Much like the Indian cricket team now, the BJP too is focused on winning games. Nothing else matters.
The change in temper and mood of the party is nothing less than radical. Of course, Shah’s predecessors, Rajnath Singh and Nitin Gadkari, too talked of booth management and strengthening of the team at the booth level. There has always been a strategy of deployment of the cadre, and there has always been a sense of discipline, something that the party has inherited from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s (RSS) oraganisational principles. What has changed under the Modi-Shah dispensation is that the cadres are deployed in a more efficient way, in greater numbers and in a sustained manner. While the other parties prepare for the elections a few months beforehand, at the most a year before the date, the BJP workers are preparing for the next election the day the present one ends. It is a rigorous regime of preparation and practice.
There is nothing unprecedented or unique about the BJP’s cadres fanning out for the election. The Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) and its other Left Front allies had done it successfully in the West Bengal for the 35 years they were in power in the state. As a matter of fact, it was common to describe the BJP and the communists as ideology-bound cadre-based parties which did not win elections. The CPI-M broke the spell of being a loser in West Bengal and managed to maintain its success strike for three decades. The BJP is looking to a long success run as well.
The question that arises, and it might seem a naïve one, is whether the BJP and the communists lose their ideology, or whether they abandon doctrine and dogma, when they taste electoral victory. There would be analysts who would argue that these parties sacrifice their ideological integrity at the podium of success. But the issue is a little more complicated than that. The Left Front in West Bengal during its long reign had systematically infiltrated the governmental system, the educational and cultural institutions where the party faithful were given the key posts and with the mandate of spreading the ideology. The BJP has done so too when it was in power last at the centre under the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-L.K. Advani dispensation. Prime Minister Modi is doing it at his own pace, placing the ideologically committed people in places of power across the system. It would be futile to cry foul at this working of the spoils system. The answer to the question is that the BJP and the communists do not sacrifice ideology, but that they use power to infuse the system with their ideology. The genuine difficulty that arises in this kind of a situation is that the ideologue who is inducted into the system has to display sufficient intelligence and an ability to adapt and to find reasonable solutions to problems that crop up in the work situation and which essentially lie outside the ideological compass. The ideology-oriented parties willy-nilly become pragmatic while continuing with the illusion of adhering to the dogma.
The other existential question that rears its head is whether the electoral success is to be attributed to the super-efficiency of the party structures and the ingenuity of the leaders who deploy the cadres in a way that defeat seems unthinkable, or is there something else that has to be reckoned as well. The feeling seeps into the party, both among the leaders as well as the rank and file, that it is the party that is winning the elections and all that needs to do is to maintain the peaks of performance. The truth is slightly different. The party wins an election because people vote for it and against others. The party is not winning because of its superior tactics. This is the rule of preference in democratic politics. It would be folly for a party to believe that it is unbeatable as long as it has its tactics right. It is the people who decide and not the party as to who the winner should be. It is crucial to remember that the BJP and the communists had been in political wilderness for decades despite ideology and cadres. Of course, communists are once again in the wilderness though this time round the cadres have disappeared.
Modi and Shah are aware of the fact that it is not sufficient to maintain the party’s electoral machinery in top order. Elections are fought on programmes and slogans. But programmes and slogans may not work at times. All that the party managers can hope for is that there is a right combination of cadres and programmes. There is a possibility that programmes might sometimes work and the cadres may not be necessary. But the converse does not hold good. Mere cadres will not help to win elections.
The BJP looks a formidable and unbeatable team today, driving all the other players into a state of despair. Modi, Shah and the rest of the BJP might be experiencing that inevitable sense of complacency which is the natural outcome of victory, and they may even be slipping into the false belief that tactics are supreme, and they may be tempted to focus on tactics alone. The people have the ace up their sleeves and they can shock political parties out of their wits.
Sunday, December 04, 2016
On Saturday (December 3, 2016) night I was at the PVR Select CityWalk/DLF mall complex. I reached the place at around 8.45 pm to meet up with Malati Mathur, her husband Sudhir and daughter Manasi Mathur-Burman. I had an early dinner at home, and joined them for dinner, which was quite light. We went to TGF in DLF. I ate chicken wings and potato skin which was part of the vegetable platter. Malati et al left around 10 pm and I stayed back to watch the 11 pm show of Arrival, starring Amy Adams and Forrest Whitaker. I was curious to watch an Amy Adams movie, and there was no particular reason to do so. Like I would want to see a Naomi Watts film, and for the same vague reason. I hoped to sit in a nearly empty hall and watch the movie. But as I waited for the movie to begin, people began to roll in, all of them young people, male and female, in their 20s and 30s, all of them casually dressed in near-crumpled wear, Google-style. And I would guess that they were all tech-junkies. The film did not start at 11 pm as it was scheduled. It started around 11.25 pm. Nowadays, it has become quite common in many of the multiplexes that the films would not start on time.And they strolled into the hall when the doors opened in the same casual manner. And they seemed the kind of folk who would go to a remote multiplex or cinema hall to see this kind film for a late night show. They were serious about this kind of science and technology films.
The film opens with the Amy Adams scene and a voice-over about life's beginning and related meditative/reflective stuff.Amy Adams has the strange appeal of a straight, serious unadorned woman. She speaks to her mother on the phone after news breaks out that aliens have landed at about six different places in the world. Then the tall figure of Forrest Whitaker stands at the door of Amy Adam's character's living room and it is night-time, and all is quiet everywhere. Without raising his voice he announces that Amy Adams'character is required for interpretation purposes.
There is the usual sci-fi drama, where everyone everywhere is alerted and it is made out that the fate of the world is on the hinge.She is introduced as the professor of linguistics and there is in the small group a theoretical physicist. There is a slight theoretical altercation between the man who believes that all problems can be solved through equations and she seems to believe that you need language and an unstated empathy.
Soon, they get all sorts of inoculations so that they do not catch some kind of an infection in the encounter with the aliens. They set off then in their space suits to the raised platform from where they can watch and make sense of the aliens. The aliens have come in a spaceship which is in the shape of an Anish Kapoor installation, an egg-shaped object made of uncertain material.
In a bid to communicate with the aliens, Amy Adams'character, whose name is Louise Banks, holds a placard with the word humans written on it. And it is here the film begins to teeter. It seems to boil down to the regular sci-fi pulp fiction, where you connect with the extra-terrestrials through your own lingo sort of. We watch the shadowy paw, more like that of a dinosaur, form an ideograph/hieroglyph in response, with gentle cursive forms which are not letters. The linguist has to decipher them. She measures the angles of the twists in the orthography and theoretical physicist compliments her that her approach to language is that of a physicist.
It is at this point I could not sustain my suspension of disbelief which is so necessary when you read imaginative stuff. The whole approach to the extra-terrestrials seemed to boil down to high school seriousness.At around 12.25 am, there was the interval. And I walked out because I felt that this would turn out to be silly sob story of how humanity comes face to face with the extra-terrestrials. The school-level seriousness of the film was quite disappointing. The director of the film is Canadian, Denis Villeneuve, from Quebec.And he seems to be a serious film-maker.
Perhaps, I should go back and see the second half.
Sunday, November 27, 2016
Gauri Shinde has done it again. After English Vinglish, she now brings an interesting presentation, Dear Zindagi. While EV was a homely tale with the unexpected twist, DZ is much more predictable and also much more metropolitan in its sensibility. It is a straightforward tale of repression and pain in a bourgeois household. There is not complexity. But it has to be that way. The bourgeois family has to come to face to face with its neurosis, and it has to be done in a gentle fashion. So Shinde does it gingerly. It is a muted black-and-white struggle. And it has a relatively happy ending.
What is distinctive about the film is the arrival of the dimaagh ka doctor (DD) in the Hindi film. And of course, the DD has to come in Hindi film colours and tones. Shinde manages this part very well. Shah Rukh Khan does the honours as Dr Majid Khan, who carries his own share of emotional discontent and distress. But the surface harmony is not disturbed. There is warmth and there is rapport between the physician of unhappiness and the sick, unhappy person.There is a light touch to the internal agony.There is no hint of darkness or the abyss. There is no despair that is supposed to go with cavernous psychological states. Shinde walks the tight-rope quite adroitly.
It is Alia Bhatt who spreads light and radiance in this film of grey tones, losing her shirt when has to, pursing her lips most of time as a way of coping with the emotional seismicity, and laughing her way through despite the pain in the heart. Bhatt displays amazing empathy for the role of the young girl with emotional scars. She has done this kind of a role in Highway and in the bit role in Udta Punjab as well as in Kapoor and Sons. There is the natural apprehension that Bhatt might burn herself out in doing these emotionally intense and stressful roles.
The debating point about Shinde's tale of arrival and departure is nicely Hollywoodian. The shrink like the television and the refrigerator becomes an acceptable symbol of status and modernity. Like the ubiquitous doctor in the white coat, it is possible that the cool psychoanalyst, no psychiatry please, will be a regular character in the future middle-class family dramas.
It would be take another decade or so before a Hindi film director would be able to show the spiritual mentor/guru in either saffron or white playing the role of the psychologist to the Indian middle class family of small and big town India. It would be an interesting experiment.
Sunday, October 30, 2016
There can be as many glitches, feuds, turf wars in private sector companies as there are in public sector ones. The myth that private sector companies run smoothly, on the rails of rules, has been propounded by many of us, who were irritated and angry with the public sector in India. We were infatuated with the private sector which we thought worked on the basis of a meritocratic system. But you cannot remain starry-eyed for too long. We should have known that it is people who run private companies as much as the public sector, and therefore they cannot behave radically different in one or the other. We also believed that there are no inefficiencies and no corruption in the private sector.
One of the issues ignored by the media and by the opposition parties, including the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), was to gloss over the role of the private sector corporations in the bribery scandals of spectrum allocation or that of the coal blocks during the tenure of United Progressive Alliance (UPA) in its second time in office. The Congress and its allies which were in power were targeted and rightly so, but everyone, the opposition as well as the media, turned a blind eye to the sins of private sector players, many of whom were only too willing to bribe the politicians to get their out-of-turn favours.
This could be seen even in the oil-for-food scam in Iraq uncovered by the Paul Volcker committee in 2005, and then minister for external affairs Natwar Singh was hounded and hooted for writing letters to then Iraq president Saddam Hussein for favours for his son and his associates. But the righteous indignation of the media did not go beyond Singh. As a matter of fact, it was the private companies-turned-buccaneers that exploited the United Nations managed sanctions system against Iraq.
So, when the boardroom shenanigans of Tata Sons, where group chairman Cyrus Mistry was guillotined without prior warning and predecessor, Ratan Tata, who had stepped down and who was responsible in zeroing in on Mistry, is brought back with the caveat that there would be a new search team to find out a new group chairman. And Tata promptly informed Prime Minister Narendra Modi about the goings-on and the future plan of action.
Mistry hit back with a quietly angry email to the board members, telling them that they took part in a shameful act. He had also argued his case against his predecessor and laid bare the wrong turns and wrong decisions that were made with regard to Nano, with the joint venture with Singapore Airlines and in the new venture of Air Asia, decisions which were presented to him as fait accompli. The Ratan Tata-Cyrus Mistry clash would make for great theatre if someone has the imagination to turn it into a play, with the Tata Sons boardroom members standing as a Greek chorus in a part of the stage.
Apart from the potential of this being turned into good theatre, there is the compelling need for the media to introspect. The Tatas have over the years projected an image that they follow processes and that they keep their hands clean in all their transactions. When the Tatas refused to surrender the land which they had been allotted for the Nano factory in Singur after they were forced to shift the project to Gujarat, no eyebrows were raised and no questions were asked. The reputation of the Tatas with their rule-based corporate culture blinded media from asking any questions which they would have readily asked of lesser mortals in the private sector and in the political dress circle. Compare this with media outrage when it came to light that Hindi film actress and BJP vice-president Hema Malini was given land for a dance institute in Mumbai at a concessional price.
Ratan Tata himself gave clear hints of the Pharisaic righteousness in a high-profile television interview with former editor of The Indian Express, Shekhar Gupta, that the Tatas did not cosy up to politicians and that is not their way of doing things. When they chose Neera Radia and her PR agency to represent them, the Tatas remained silent, and there were murmurs in the media that the intercepted private telephone conversations between Ratan Tata and Radia should not have been made public because they did not pertain to any public matter of importance.
Mistry's email shows up that Ratan Tata did not always play it straight, and the accusation is not emerging from his business rivals but from the man who he had picked up and then discarded. It will be said that Mistry's revelations are motivated because he is speaking out after he has been sacked. That is a fair point but it would not invalidate the truth of the issues he has raised. Here are the observations of an insider who was in the know more than anyone else in the set up.
There is no need to put the Tatas on the rack for their clumsy business culture which was not really as sagacious as they made it out to be. If Mistry was tactless in getting rid of the Tata’s British steel because of the continuous losses, it has to be asked whether Ratan Tata was right in acquiring the Anglo-Dutch Corus at a higher price to outwit the Brazil steelmaker CSN’s bid. It is true that Ratan Tata spread the international footprint of India's blue-blooded conglomerate, but there certainly arose the need to review it, and even reverse the decision.
It is for the Tata honchos to sort out the issues among themselves about what was wrong and what right. But the general inference that is to be drawn for the media and the naive advocate of free market who believe that privatisation is the panacea for all of India's economic challenges and ills, is that private sector in no angel and it does not enjoy robotic perfection. The Tatas' boardroom coup de grace is a sober reminder that India's private sector companies have their own demons to fight. It does not mean that the private sector is doomed. It is just that the private sector is not immune and that all its decisions are not always right. This should provide a sober criterion when criticising the performance of either a public or a private sector company.
Asghar Farhadi's Salesman, an understated complex movie that fails to come to terms with its own ccomplexity
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