Posted in Pictures Foreign

Review: War For The Planet Of Apes

Can’t figure out why film channels from India are beaming pictures like ‘Shawshank Redemption’ and ‘Planet of Apes’ for our Independence day!

Anyway, as a fierce wildlife lover, I couldn’t have bargained for more.

I hate to bring the Hindu factor into everything but can’t help mentioning here.

I grew up in a home/culture where before we ate a morsel of food everyday, we offered it to Goddess Annapoorna first and then the crows in our terrace next. The crows we see as our pitrus (forefathers) waiting to be fed every morning.

Cows are everywhere in India because we think they are divine. Same for monkeys. Our temples also have snakes !

Every Hindu God (we have a galaxy of them, each for a different department) has a pet animal attached (very much like in Avatar picture – the word Avatar being the Sanskrit word for reincarnation) (reincarnation by itself is another Hindu philosophy). Every Hindu temple has a ‘thala vriksha’ – the temple tree.

All trees in India are sacred and considered divine.

I recall when we had to fell the four tall standing and overgrown Ashoka trees in our house because their roots were damaging the structure.

The day before, the crew came with their tools and machinery and performed an earnest Puja (akin to Christian service) offering the septuagenarian trees ‘Neivedyam’ (food meant for the divine) and pleading for their pardon for cutting their lives short.

The next day morning before chopping of the trees using machines and saws (for the top most branches), there were again fervent prayers for the souls of the trees. The woodcutters were labourers who routinely felled trees hindering highways. But they said, cutting old trees was like murdering wise old men.

Which other culture of earth would think the way we Hindus do. Who will even bother about the souls of trees. Some trees we Hindus believe may house ‘Muneeshwar’ for one thing, the saviour god of little children! And He is believed to be an unforgiving angry old man, not wanting to be disturbed! Better not provoke Him!

The Ashoka trees in our compound were  taller than three-four floors and home to a handful species of birds. Cutting them down was no easy task. In spite of machinery and good amount of manual sawing, the street had to be cordoned off for the day for safety purposes. The way the trees fell! Unforgettable even today. For years you assume they are one among you, they are like a family member, but then you chop them down one fine day!

If you think Ashoka trees had no branches, you are wrong. How the birds had intelligently built their nests in the crooks and nooks in the Ashoka trees was amazing.

I couldn’t help wailing out in agony as the trees were taken down one by one. As they were huge, they took two whole days. The base never yielded. Not quite possible to completely uproot them. Acid was poured on their roots to snuff out whatever life could possibly still sprout from them at a later date.

The evenings were the worst. I remember it vividly because my son was still a primary school boy then. I have fed him food pointing out the birds to him and the nests and eggs.

The birds were back for their nests at sun down and were clearly disoriented not finding their homes. Their screeches in pain and shock rented the night air – the crow families, the cuckoo families, the pigeon families and the sparrow families were all flying in circles. I wondered how much curses must have been heaped on us by the voiceless and helpless bird parents looking for their nests and nestlings. After a week of encircling our house, they stopped coming back eventually. Where in the city they took refuge was something I thought about for a long time.

Urban Chennai has no place any more for tall old trees. Every inch of space is worth in millions of rupees, sadly. I forgot the squirrels. I didn’t know until then how many squirrel families had holed up in the trees.

The trees had to go still. It was practical solution with neighbours complaining from next street about the intruding roots damaging their foundations.

But the love and respect we Hindus have for all living creatures is immense. Our temples house the cows, the snakes, the trees… In fact this is the main conflict between the majority native Hindus of the nation and the converted muslims who cull cattle and relish beef. The Middle eastern culture does not sync with the ten thousand year Hindu civilization which is too strong and deep rooted in spite of a thousand year invasion.

So as a wildlife lover and lover of nature, it gave me ample satisfaction to watch the latest ‘Planet of Apes’ picture today that saw the mutilation of Human race back to their fifth sense (of the Ape world) and the Apes ultimately ruling the world gaining an upperhand inadvertently.

Return to the Nature. That’s simply wonderful. Back to the basics.

Foreign ideologues like the Churches (on conversion spree) and the Islamists have always poked fun at the Hindu way of life for living close to nature, demeaning and disrespecting our love for birds and animals and trees, and even rivers.

Hindus are the only race in the world to have elevated the flora and fauna and the five elements of nature – the Agni (fire), the Wayu (wind), the Jal (water). Bhoomi (soil) the Akaash (sky) to divine status. All these are living Gods for us. Every christian and every muslim I have come across in my life has only ridiculed our cultural belief. The Hindu belief system has been worshiping nature for tens of thousands of years, being the oldest civilization in the world.

 

In Hindu temples, we marry the Neem tree with the Peepal tree (!). If a woman goes childless, all she is advised by the elders is to do is, to circumambulate the wedded trees every morning and evening. The reason is pretty scientific. Neem is a natural pest and infection controller. Together with the Peepal, the oxygen level in the air gets maximum purifying the environment. Who knows how, but it has been working for Hindu women.

In Mylapore, in the Kapaleeshwara temple where i literally grew up in, the ‘thala vriksha’ (the local shrine tree) was the Punnai tree. The temple bird was peacock. As it was a Shiva temple, we also had the Vilvam tree inevitably. And a cowshed where they reared a dozen high breed cows and bulls as tall as six feet. It would be a glorious sight to watch peacocks dancing with unfolded feathers before the onset of the monsoons.

All that is disappearing even in India now. Every single custom, belief and tradition from Hindu culture is degraded first, then copied and looted by the followers of Abrahamic folds. Simultaneous attack from multiple sides, i do not know how we are still ticking as a nation. Both the Middle east and the West are bent on their agenda: to either make us into world’s largest terror nation or another Latin America – at any cost. Hindus today are endangered species!

Watching a picture where mankind perishes from planet Earth totally leaving the world to the wildlife (in this case the Apes) felt good really. Hopefully this turns into reality!

Barring that, the human gene in the Ape Caesar is remarkably captured by the direction as the Ape leader’s face registers a variety of conflicting emotions coming face to face with humans in extra ordinary circumstances. The humane face of the merciless general doing his duty is another case in point. It is a battle between emotions and wit. For an ape leader, Caesar is a good characterization. I remember ‘him’ from his earliest movies – from the time he is a baby.

With this film, i have watched the entire series of the Planet of Apes. Whoever conceived the idea merits the highest awards, no wonder the latest picture bagged Academy awards last year.

May be not everyone’s cup of tea, but if you are a nature lover like me, you will appreciate the Ape flicks.

In spite of ridicule, we Hindus must never give up our love and reverence for the wild life and domesticated animals and for birds, insects, trees and rivers – in general, for all that is natural. All rivers of India are goddesses going by names Ganga, Yamuna, Godavari, Kaveri… the only boy is Brahmaputra, the son of creator Brahma Himself, among the trinity of Male Hindu Gods of Creation, Nurturing and Destruction.

When visiting the Thala Kaveri in the state of Karnataka, the origin of river Kaveri, I offered a Puja to Mother Goddess Kaveri, the lifeline of south India, who nurtures life to the south of Vindhyas. Thanked Her for the rice we eat, the water we drink, for the earth we slept on. Emotional moment for us. Dozens of Hindu families offered Puja (prayers) to Mother (river) Kaveri anointing her with flowers at Her source.

I am a Hindu. I am proud we worship our rivers. I am proud the Neem trees and Banyan trees and Crows and Snakes and Rivers and even the Seas are gods for us. There is no other culture like ours. The more I see such films, the more I love my culture and the more I refuse to let India be converted.

Apes are all the more special to us Hindus because, monkeys are the family of our god Hanuman. Hanuman we believe, still lives eternally somewhere, watching out the world. No other better custodian for planet Earth than Hanuman. We have exclusive Hanuman temples, dedicated to the monkey god. He is our protector god against all things evil. He is god for sharpness, alertness of brain. He is god for godspeed success.

The Hindu Monkey God Hanuman from the Kingdom of Kishkinta, the monkey world of ancient India, as per Ramayan

Something like the planet of Apes within India is already described in our Historic epic Ramayan. It is called ‘Kishkinta’ – the kingdom of monkeys. Lord Ram helps ruler Sugriva defeat Vaali and consolidate the monkey kingdom.

After ‘Avatar’ a total lift of the Hindu philosophy of reincarnation (from one body to another), i have always felt that the Planet of Apes is another copy of Kishkinta, the ancient monkey kingdom believed to have existed in India by Hindus over tens of thousands of years ago. (At least director James Cameroon titled the picture ‘Avatar’ acknowledging its Hindu inspiration).

 

 

Posted in Pictures Foreign

Review: Queen of Katwe

It so happened that I heard about the book and real life story of ‘The boy who harnessed the wind’ from Malawi, in Toastmasters Meet just yesterday. The day before, I had watched ‘Queen of Katwe’ – based on real life story of a Ugandan girl who went on to become a legend in Chess.

The glaring and depressing squalor of the girl’s society throws light on tough life and survival conditions in African countries. Uganda is supposedly better off, I reminded myself.

The first shocker for me was something like ‘culture shock.’ I am ashamed to admit that before this picture, I hardly got to watch a full length film with cast predominantly black. Or overwhelmingly black ,with not a single exception. A fight in my mind started … whether to continue watching or stop. I clicked on the ‘info’ on my tv remote and discovered that the story was that of a chess prodigy. That helped.

I have watched of course some Will Smith pictures like ‘the Pursuit of happiness’ and some of Morgan Freeman’s but they are basically set in America. Somehow my mind classified African Americans as different species compared to native Africans. Watching a full length picture set entirely in Africa was like a challenge i set to myself.

We Indians accuse others of racism always, for the first time I found that even watching a picture totally centered in Africa was like difficult home assignment for me. Looking at the streets in screen where only black heads bobbed felt different. By no way I mean insult to anyone. Everything, everyone is God’s creation. I respect that. Until now, I am just not exposed to this kind of crowd.

I remember the first time I landed in Malaysia over 20 years back. More than the slight culture shock, what I felt immediately was my new status as ‘minority.’ It was impossible to come to terms with accepting this basic fact: that outside India, I am minority. I despised the tv adverts there where the models were either Malay or Chinese. Indian skin could/would not sell a beauty cream or soap or shampoo. Frankly, it was a humbling experience.

My days in Middle East are far better. Now I am more mature, and here there are mixed nationalities.

Europe too is increasingly a mixed society and America, a melting pot of cultures, even if both may be predominantly Caucasian. At least nobody moved away from me or stared at me. I won’t say I felt exactly at home, but I was relieved nobody paid me attention. I wasn’t a freak. Indian skin was regular.

Uganda, Kenya, Nigeria are popular tourist/work destinations with flourishing game business and oil trade. Morocco, Egypt and Tunisia may have Arab influence while South Africa, Zimbabwe may still boast of a residual white population to balance. But Katwe comes across as 100% purely ethnic African-Ugandan. It is a small rundown shanty town perhaps or some forgotten rural picket where our girl Phiona (played by Madhina), nurtures a passion for chess. Encouraged by her coach and his wife, Phiona surmounts uphill tasks both in personal and social life and carves a niche for herself in the world of chess at African summit.  She aims to become a Grand Master. The dilemma Phiona faces as she goes places (literally), with confused emotions, reflects to me somehow what every middle class Indian who climbs up the social ladder may identify with. Phiona’s family circumstances are typical African where crime and poverty go hand in hand. It is not easy to escape this vicious circle. It requires greatest courage and determination to beat out of the corrupt system and emerge a winner. Phiona makes her village proud as she reigns supreme as the Queen of Katwe, crowned the chess champion.

After I finished watching the picture, I asked myself if as a routine film buff I had had second thoughts beforehand, how film critics around the world would receive a picture filmed in Africa. It is unfair. Even a trained and educated mind like mine took a while to adjust.

Personally to me, Queen of Katwe proved to be cathartic … the experience has molded me. My cinema world has been so far limited to Hollywood, Bollywood and Tamil filmdom. The glitz and glamour of these fake film industries probably blinded me to bare essential truths.

However, I couldn’t help thinking how entire Africa is completely either christianized or islamized. The new missionaries are no more the Europeans. Now the conversion mafia are Africans themselves. The present day African native/tribal travesty is troubling. Strip them off their indigenousness , what is left of them.

Posted in Pictures Foreign

Review: The Reader

Watched this rare love story in tv but happened to miss the title and opening scene that I managed to find in You Tube. It was from Berg (the hero)’s bath tub scene that I watched the picture in the idiot box. Catching up with the first couple of reels on internet, I was amazed to discover how our censor board continues to edit steamy scenes for us Indian viewers!!! One would think by 2018, things must be different!

Anyway, having watched over a hundred times the debut picture of Kate Winslet the Titanic (of which I never tire), nothing prepared me for her middle-aged mature looks in ‘The Reader.’ She looks her age. The second part of hero character is played by Ralph Fiennes. I like him from his ‘Maid in Manhattan’ with Jennifer Lopez, another Hollywood romance favourite of mine. Like Richard Gere, Fiennes seems to have compassion written in his eyes… How important cast selection is, is something I learned from his role. Why do directors pick on certain actors. Why not others. Ralph Fiennes, from two of his films i have watched, seems to have an answer.

Googled Kate Winslet and found her to be born 1975. Not too young.

Powerful and bold script but totally understandable. I don’t know how I missed this one all these days. (Obvious reason: i watch most Hollywood films at home, in tv, never in cinemas. Cinemas are reserved for watching local Tamil ‘masalas’ with unruly and non-stop whistling Chennai ‘machis’ hahaha) ‘The Reader’ looks like an Academy award winner. No memory of it but I could guess right away that this one was different and well made.

We speak of unconditional love, but when you come across one it totally bowls you over. Such a rare gem to find.

As for Hanna Schmitz played by Kate Winslet, her obsession with perfection is baffling. OCD, the obsessive compulsive disorder. Could it be that? It is easy to hold her in contempt if not for her honesty and forthrightness and the false pride that convicts her for life.

In spite of the gravity (literally) of the crime she is tried for, one can deeply empathize with Hanna-Kate. The bubbly Irish tap-dancing Titanic girl has come a long way. Ralph Fiennes’s Micheal Berg character is equally crafted with care. I fell in love with this man. His sensitivity to Hanna moved me to near tears. Respect for the man who wouldn’t judge Hanna. The way Berg reads his love to Hanna is poetry. How Hanna matches his imagination teaching herself to read is a love letter by itself. The proud woman leaves a proud woman.

The Jewish daughter refusing absolution is understandable.  May be here, we Hindus can take cue. May be this is the steely Jewish resolve.

The one who has played the junior Berg is perfect.

War movies have somehow been touchy : ‘The Schindler’s List’ and ‘Life is Beautiful’ .

Looking forward to watching this beauty  a second time. Felt like reading a good book. Few films leave you with such a lingering after taste. Melancholy can be sweet.

Posted in Pictures Desi

Review: Aruvi (Tamil)

Watched this mindblowing Tamil picture ‘Aruvi’ (waterfall). Only this Aruvi happened to be the name of a girl of 25 years. Brand new picture to hit the silver screen only in 2017. Very apt title because, that is how the character flows: at times bouncy and bubbly, at times listless and subdued. But Aruvi does make one hell of a sound: roaring sound. And the message is heard clear.

Debutante Aditi Balan plays the lead as Aruvi. The director Arun Prabhu Purushothaman’s debut venture couldn’t have been better. A  star is born. Two stars really. Incidentally, learned of the director and heroine from Wiki. Missed the titles and the opening scene. The director has unwittingly set a very high bar for his second project.

Kudos to the director once more and the producer for daring to produce a film without a hero. Our heroine is the hero of the film.

Secondly, rare to come across such a flipping script… back and forth, back and forth, frames from the present juxtaposed against frames from memories(past) weaving an interesting and complex story. A dozen or so scattered life events captured in snatches spin a beautiful yarn of solid story of a middle-class family girl. The way it is done is what makes it different. This is a hitherto unexplored technique. The flashbacks become something you look forward to for any idea on what is about to come. The mystery lingers for a while.

The online reviews describe the story as a socio-political drama and I guess I can borrow their words here. I can elaborate more but prefer to hold, unwilling to give away the plot. I am hardly the type to turn to the last page to read first like some do. Reviews I skim barely not to get prejudiced about a film (or even a book) before I get to watch (or read) it without a clue. It was while watching the picture, I wanted to grab some vital info that I decided to read reviews. Wanted to catch up with the opening scene.

The picture is also refreshing in that, we get to see a real Tamil girl (or probably Mallu) playing the lead instead of a light skinned north Indian star. I have no problem with a Hindi speaking dubbing artiste from Bollywood heartland cast in a Tamil picture but it is good (and probably relief) to hear free flow of Tamil from a local heroine for a change – who looks dusky or tanned like Tamil people!!! Tamannah or Samantha or whoever can hardly fit into urban Madarasi role!

Tamil cinema audience are not new to satires-sarcasms from magazines (Tuglaq of Cho’s times not now) to films, but Aruvi takes you to a whole new level. It is an unbelievable mix of satire, sarcasm, humour, despair, helplessness, compassion, inclusiveness everything. Three cheers to the director for exposing the sham that the media is. Everything revolves around TRP ratings these days. No scruples. The script does not judge characters. The forgiving and somewhat cynic attitude when it comes to the heroine is a breather. Aditi Balan has done proper justice to the character she has played, with her immaculately perfect dialogue delivery.  Tamil diction is too good. Absolutely no fancy costumes or make-up or any aggravated scene of violence or nonsense in the script. The heroine is like your girl next door. One can’t believe Aditi is a new comer. She has virtually lived the role and is reported to have shed some significant kilos before the final shoot for the closing scenes for a credible story line (with her emaciated looks).  The make-over is out of the world, scored without a foreign make-up artist (unlike our Kamal Hasan’s who may come very pricey). The supporting cast have done a remarkable job to make the picture wholesome and truly entertaining.

Rarely we get to see pictures of this genre. Every time I lose hope about Indian film industry, something like this crops up like a promise for future.

The current breed of Tamil directors is awesome. Their story-screenplay-dialogue seem to be realistic. Hopefully they don’t remain the ‘one-film-wonder’ or become the casualty of ‘early burn-out syndrome.’

Aruvi is reported to have been shot entirely in a digital camera to cut costs to bare minimum levels which is something like a world record! This is not internet news. This was snippet news in between ads in the tv. A commercial hit, which goes on to prove that good scripts will find takers any day. Aruvi is a trendsetter of sorts. A treat to watch, lagging not for a second. Not your normal range film yet with the fast pace manages to make a lasting impression on you. I wish I had watched the picture in cinemas. The effect would have been even better. Very low production costs, high entertainment value, women-centric, with NO MALE LEAD/HERO, convincing, compelling story without unnecessary ‘add-ons’  and tags … these could make Aruvi, a strong contender for both national and international film awards. The rare intriguing picture that made me double up rolling with guffaws one minute and weep quietly the next.

Highly recommended.

A class apart.

Posted in Pictures Desi

As She Was: Sri Devi

Sri Devi from my hometown Madras aka Chennai, starred in a Tamil picture for the first time when she was barely 4 years old.  From child artiste, she went on to become leading lady and superstar not only down south but also in Bollywood. Rather than remembering her for ‘Hawa hawaiii’ and ‘Chandni’ , this is what I will remember her always for:  Sri Devi from Tamil films. Can you believe this Sri Devi. Almost no make-up, no glam costumes, none of the farces like nose job… The innocence and dignity of character called Sri Devi. Unlike the diva who banished her true self into oblivion once she set foot in Bollywood. Every single picture of hers was epic. Tamil people mostly do not speak Hindi and know of only her Tamil pictures.  This list is not exhaustive. I have compiled whatever came to my mind.

This is my tribute to the legendary star who passed away last night in Dubai. Untimely death. I doubt whether even her daughters know  the other side of her the way the Tamil audience may.

However i do not underrate her tryst with Bollywood. Daughter of Chennai may be, but bahu of Mumbai. Bombay made her phenomenal, the first all India lady superstar that she was. If not for Bollywood, she would have remained a hidden jewel to the world.

This first number is from her debut picture opposite both Rajni Kanth and Kamal Hasan, directed by thespian director K Balachander. Sri Devi is 13 years in this film.

 

A crime story, Gayathri must have been a heavy subject to handle for 15 year Sri Devi with anti-hero Rajni Kanth but she managed it admirably well.

A cute Jolly Abraham song which was my pre-teen favourite.

 

Also a pre-teen favourite, this is a film where Sri plays village belle.

The landmark and award winning ’16 Vayathinile’ which went on to create 3 superheroes in Indian film industry: Sri Devi, Kamal Hasan and Rajni Kanth. Bharathi Raja became ace film director and Ilaya Raja became south India’s no.1 composer. Village story. Cannot see a classic like this until today, down to earth. A peek into rural Tamil Nad.

This song was a rare mistake of Sri Devi’s in Tamil films but it went on to become a runaway superhit with its catchy tune. I happened to watch the video only in You Tube and was relieved I only listened to this one in radio in my teenage:

Another award winning and thought provoking picture with director K Balachander who was belatedly awarded Dada Saheb Phalke award as if as an afterthought.

Award winning ‘Moondram Pirai’ which was dubbed into ‘Sadma’ in Hindi. My school screened a single film for us every year. That is how I got to watch this picture with my entire school gang in our school’s huge LV Hall, in the second floor. The dozens of lining doors were closed and the hall was darkened before the projector started running. Every time Cheenu (played by Kamal) called ‘Viji’ (Sri Devi character), my friends called me back ‘Viji’ a dozen times! It was also the first time I ever saw a picture with my school friends/friends without adult companionship/supervision. Unforgettable memories about the film. Every girl in my class remembers it even today therefore. Although we did not know then that the Balu Mahendra picture would forever take Sri Devi away from Madras, once it was dubbed into Hindi.

Beautiful melodies from Johny:

 

The cutest one and my all time favourite of Sri Devi. This was also my mother’s favourite (my mother passed away in 1982).

Vaazhve Maayam presented a stylish Sri Devi for the first time to Tamil audience. Sri Devi was changing.

 

 

Crime-Horror film like none other:

 

Priya: Sri Devi in her first foreign shoot in Singapore.

Another favourite of mine:

Posted in Pictures Desi

Review: Poorna (Hindi) and Talvar (Hindi)

 

Watched back to back two good Bollywood pictures in the 14 hour long flight from America. It is sad that good Hindi films never make it to the headlines and it is the scum (of Khans) that hogs the limelight. Both films seem to be the diagonally opposite: one was of the rural girl Poorna Malavath who made it big from small and miserable village life despite all odds; the other is the sad tale of the upper-middle class girl Aarushi Talwar whose young life was brutally snuffed out one unfortunate evening in Noida, suburban Delhi under mysterious circumstances. Rare for one to get to watch two contrasting stories like these one after another like I happened to, which made it possible for me to make a mental comparison between the two teenagers with hardly a couple of years’ age difference between them in actual life when they were catapulted into national news.  There was nothing common between them even if they’re both from India. Looks like they’re from two entirely different worlds. Each world had its own blessings and woes.

First one was, Poorna (Hindi) produced by Rahul Bose based on the real life story of Poorna Malavath from Nizamabad, Telengana who at the tender age of 13 years and 11 months became the youngest woman in the world to summit Mount Everest in the year 2014. Aditi Inamdar playing the lead as the naive village girl Poorna from Pakala, with Rahul Bose taking on the major supporting role as the Social Welfare Department official, the film is an inspiration in and out and is refreshingly original. Coming close on the heels of Aamir Khan’s Dangal (which probably was inspired by ‘Sala Khadoos”), the celluloid making of Poorna probably risked being labelled a stereotype, but the director-producer seems to have outguessed this, moving away the story line therefore from the predictable and beaten track to chart a different course altogether. Bureaucratic issues and red tape are part and parcel of Indian sports (like it is with any other arena). Untangling yourself from the muddle and raising your standard by itself is a feat, given the complexities that characterize Indian sport. Still, small town achievers have been outshining their urban counterparts in recent years led by none other than the ex skipper of Indian cricket Mahendra Singh Dhoni who hailed from Jharkhand himself.

But rural India is mired with its own socio-economic problems. Reeling under poverty and mounting debts, options are limited for the illiterate peasants who cannot afford a decent square meal a day for their families most of the times. Women of rural India are the hardest hit. Poorna’s cousin and friend Priya has child marriage and the same fate awaits Poorna herself (who is in middle school) that she escapes with determination and half-hearted consent from her dirt poor parents, but largely with the help of a very considerate social welfare officer Praveen Kumar (played by Rahul Bose) who is bent on reforming the education scene in the state. Together with Anand Kumar, another teenager, Poorna overcomes the initial hurdles and bests her own physical limitations to conquer the Everest and set a new world record. What happens however to Priya, the teenage mother who carries twins beyond her physical means is tragic. Post delivery, the minor girl develops jaundice to which she succumbs. A bright young life is wasted. A sad reflection on the state of affairs of rural India, 70 years after our independence from the British. Reality can be harsh in Indian villages where everyday life is a struggle. This an other real life story from ‘Poorna’ is an offshoot that aches your heart.

Poorna Malavath is a beacon of hope to rural girls in India who may think all doors are closed on them. She shows how you can succeed yet in adverse conditions if you are strong willed. May be all is not well with India but India is still a place you can flourish if you know how to tap resources effectively. All you may need is a little push and a bit of external help to knock on the right doors or pull the correct levers that may make things work for you. The civil services administration of India need to work in tandem with rural districts to tap the immense potential that this country has to offer.  Devoted and diligent civil services officers who can rekindle the dying hope may be the answers to our prayers, like  civil servant Praveen Kumar has shown with the success of Poorna Malavath.

Aarushi Talwar’s murder shook the Indian nation in 2008. I followed up the story like the rest of my compatriots because, if Aarushi could be alive today, she would be about my son’s age. Her parents Rajesh Talwar and Nupur Talwar were dentists and had a lucrative practice in Noida.

Both Poorna and Aarushi became recognizable names in India around the same age, for different reasons though.

Looks like Aarushi had everything going for her, given her background, unlike Poorna famished and impoverished hailing from one of India’s most backward districts. Aarushi attended the best school, had affluent parents, moved in a good social circle and was a popular and vibrant teenager unlike the shy Poorna. How could things have gone so wrong for her.

Media picked up Aarushi’s case and went for a toss for all the loopholes it presented. Over years, many theories were invented. On one hand, as a parent my heart went out to the Talwars who were demonized by the media. On the other hand, some found Nupur (Nutan played by Konkana Sen), the mother, very impassive to the camera as did seem her husband Rajesh. The grief was missing even if the distraught parents need not have to prove their love and affection for their only child to the world at large. So many pieces did not fit in the jigsaw puzzle as some questions raised about the Nepali men who were friends of the servant Hemraj remained unanswered. Why did the doctor couple have to have a male servant in their house when they had a single teenage daughter, however elderly the man could be. This was what I asked myself.

A friend who happened to read the book on Talwars was already a big champion for their cause. She argued, no parent could murder his/her own child however wayward the daughter/son might turn out to be. I couldn’t disagree with her.  In fact, the picture is based on the book. The best and logical step would be to disown the child. The Talwars did look rather composed given the nature of the tragedy that had befallen on their beloved angelic daughter. Still, honour killing is not for urban India. Probably the parents’ composure went with their profession and their elite social status. But their cool attitude also could have worked against them and turned the public conscience unfavourable. News hour debates were about the Talwars for weeks. The couple were indicted in the case a few years after the murder.

Finally in 2017, the parents of Aarushi, Rajesh and Nupur have been acquitted by the courts for lack of evidence. The picture ‘Talvar’ (sword) is a convenient pun where the Aarushi character goes by the name Shruti. Shruti Tandon. Daughter of Nutan and Ramesh Tandon. Talvar or sword, says the character of the outgoing CBI officer in the film, is held on the left hand of the blindfolded Lady Justice representing the Police department even as the right hand holds the scale of balance.  The investigation of a civil or criminal case therefore is as important in dispensation of justice as the neutrality of the legal counsels be it the prosecution or defense. In fact the tool of investigation (the cops) is vital and imperative to dispense accurate and impartial justice based on which even the legal counsels may build on their cases (in defense or against). So when the investigation is not thorough, it may lead to injustice or partial justice as the film Talvar powerfully and sequentially portrays.

Directed by Meghna Gulzar, the film is the real life story of Aarushi. Yes, it cannot be real life story of Aarushi because the story begins with her murder. The investigation takes its course in various angles played by Ashwin Kumar, a special officer on the case, played by Irfan Khan. Good research (by the scripted character) shows how sloppy the police department in India can be and how laggard we are when it comes to scientific theories and proofs. How carelessly the evidences are destroyed and how callous the public servants (cops in this case) could be that put the tragic parents even more into trauma. It doesn’t stop for the Talwars (Tandons) with finding their precious daughter bloody murdered. Not allowed to mourn their loss, they are dragged into relentless and cruel controversies by the media for TRP ratings and painted as vicious enough to kill their own daughter in cold blood.

The Aarushi case reminds one of the many John Grisham novels that dwell upon wrongful implications and unjust verdicts based on circumstantial evidences where the guilty go free and the guiltless get framed.

Hats off to the director for the convincing and scene-by-scene construction of the plot with strong and substantiated narratives. Grave slip by the cops. All it takes is common sense to see the truth. How easy it is to jump to conclusions carried away by jingoism and populism. The Talwars were accused only for the lack of evidence and any other angle. Honour Killing sounded sensational. The girl was not violated at least, thank god, but that heightened the mystery. The prime suspect Hemraj (Hempal in the picture) was also found murdered which complicated matters. Too many links were missing. The media never zeroed in on the other suspects in the case with the same gusto that they unleashed when it came to villainization of the Talwars.

All the time the character assassination of Aarushi as well as her parents was actively propagated by media cashing in on the sad episode. The nightmare the parents must have gone through. What right do the media have to pass judgement on a criminal case that was still in courts. How much prejudiced that may make out of the prosecutors, legal counsels and witnesses in the case. The harm done to Aarushi’s case by the media is awful. It preempted investigation into many potential and crucial leads that could have led to the murderer(s).

The film ‘Talvar’ was released in 2015 whereas the Talwars were cleared with acquittal only in 2017. The picture closed with the Talwars (Tandons) convicted. I hope the Talwars finally find peace. And I do hope the real killers of Aarushi are brought to justice (though of this I suppose there is least chance. Krishna (Kanhaiya in the film) must have fled India long ago).  Carelessness on part of responsible public servants can lead to gross miscarriage of justice. After what happened to their dear daughter Aarushi, it is a miracle that the Talwars are even sane. It is time to leave them alone finally to mourn their irreparable loss.  Still, thanks to the media, a section of Indians will continue to hold the Talwars guilty of murdering their daughter Aarushi. The damage the media does.

The pictures could be classic case studies on Indian girls/women from village and city since the turn of the century. The films offer a rare insight into rural India and urban India alternatively in different dimensions. One can’t help comparing even the poor peasant parents with the elites at the same time. One world is steeped in ignorance. Another brims with over-confidence. The unmistakable bold streak in the peasant woman contrasts quietly with masked naivety of the urban woman. After a long time, I had the satisfaction of watching meaningful Bollywood films that are brushed under the carpet by the big banner productions. It is sad, these good stories told are hardly commercially viable.

Posted in Books

Review: ‘Gandhi Before India’ by Ramachandra Guha

Making of the ‘Mahatma’

Took me a solid 45 days to 2 months to read up Ramachandra Guha’s ‘Gandhi Before India.’  The author has taught at Yale, Stanford, Oslo and also the London School of Economics. Winner of Sahitya Academy and Bharat Bhushan awards in India among others, featured in Prospect magazine’s list of world’s most influential thinkers, it is a tad too much for me to even attempt reviewing the outstanding work the book is.  If at all I am doing it, it is because I want to spread the word, make more people read the class writing of the author that befits the matchless and inimical social life and works of Mahatma Gandhi.  I am trying my hand at non-fictions only from very recently. They are kind of difficult to hold your interest – so the author has a huge responsibility of sustaining the flow in readers (like me who are bred on staple diet of English fictions).

And most certainly I have not read up the ‘Collected Works’ of Gandhi which is a compilation from various archives in India, South Africa and England. Neither have I read Raj Mohan Gandhi,  one of Gandhi’s well known biographers and his grandson. Yet I can imagine the extent to which Mr. Guha pushed  himself with research to dig up archives ranging from as far as Haifa in Israel unearthing evidences that eluded other resourceful eyes, I bow to his brilliant professionalism first over even Gandhi!

Such an accurate recording of history is of great relevance in today’s world of Donald Trumps, in the light of Paris and Brussels from recent times. Another category that must not miss the detailed study is the widespread Indian diaspora that has made every nook and corner of the globe their home. The NRIs need to know how they came to earn their respect in their adopted  homelands on fair and equal footing with the white races and how and where and why the story began. Last but not the least is India’s younger generation who have lost touch with anything concerning Independence movement. The trails have turned cold now and there is nothing by way of inspiration to motivate them ahead. Highschoolers get to learn bare outlines in history text books which is insufficient in my opinion. This hardly does any proper justice. I for once until now never knew Gandhi the way I do now. I have come to know what we are missing.

Schools can stock Mr. Guha’s book in library. Or if I am the Education minister, I would like to make it a part of the curriculum – the Non-detailed English subject.

The book traces Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi’s early life in South Africa which constitutes the part I of his social life nonetheless. The India part is clearly like an after-thought. Gandhi was already an established social activist in South Africa before he returned to India for good in 1914. A barrister by profession who graduated at the Inner Circle of London, his first broad based association is with the Vegetarian Society in London where he pursues a degree to become attorney-at-law. A chance offer to represent a Gujarati Muslim client in South Africa in a court battle takes him to the African nation where he spends a good 20 years of his life, his 30s and 40s, starting his profession as the first qualified lawyer representing the Indian community in the continent.

As the book unravels, it is impossible to dismiss the conclusion how South Africa shapes the Mahatma like India could never have. From Porbandur to Rajkot and Mumbai and London to Durban and Johannesburg, Gandhi turns out to be a well-traveled and enlightened man, not confined to the narrow spectrum of castes and regional prejudices of India of a bygone era. The peculiar circumstances Gandhi is thrown in, the expat Indian melodrama which is fairly new in foreign soil, friendship with foreigners of varied hue from different backgrounds, his firsthand experiences with the proletariat classes, the trader community and others alike, his correspondence with Tolstoy who sufficiently influences his thought process…  all chisel a young lawyer intent on building a lucrative legal practice on alien soil into one of world’s foremost social reformers of the century. The books he reads, the health practices he preaches, the strict code and ethics of life he adheres to, the editor he is of a press over a 100 years back, the quiet but persistent rebel  yet just and fair he metamorphoses into, Gandhi rides many horses as the author rightly words.

Gandhi’s published book(s) in English and Gujarathi ‘The Home Rule’ and ‘Hind Swaraj’ make him one of India’s foremost established and well-read writers. His editing and publishing of ‘Indian Opinion’ from late 1800s in South Africa again makes him a pioneer in print-media, for ahead of his contemporaries easily. His writing style (as evidenced from his published letters quote unquote Mr. Guha) is fluent and classy and flawless.  There is a slight subordination which irritates the 21st century Indian Me when Gandhi addresses his British administrators. May be the deference has to do with protocol he couldn’t do without but it could also be because Gandhi strikes you basically as a very earnest man who wants to solve issues rather than complicate them. As the book flows, we can summarize how Gandhi wants to avoid controversies, make peace, is willing to go submissive and yield, is averse to treading confrontational paths.

It is in South Africa Gandhi spearheads the ‘Satyagraha’ or ‘Passive Resistance’ movement for the first time in 1907 as the local government gets tough with immigrant population like Indians and coloureds. When Gandhi coins the word, he is still unaware of the Passive Resistance spoken of by Henry Thoreau. The Transvaal Indians unwittingly become the first Satyagrahis in south African/Indian/world history.

Thereafter Gandhi carries forward the nonviolent struggle with the help of a host of Indians of all castes and creed as well some Europeans especially Jewish friends like Henry Polak and family, Kallenbach, Sonja Shlesin, Doke and others. Among Indians he interacts with Tamils, Gujarathis, Parsis, Muslims, Christians and others in the same wavelength. The exposure educates him on the plurality and melting pot that India is which is a reason for his pan-India approach to things (to come later).

The South African odyssey is not easy in that the Satyagrahis who are plantation workers to traders and housewives, all Indians come together irrespective of their ethnic background, to seek voluntary arrest and throw themselves into gaols to shame their cruel administrators into submission.

Gandhi is an exceptional leader in that he practices what he preaches. The way his sons court arrest and difficult times he gives his family and his wife in particular sheds light into the kind of selfless man who is born to lead.

I have always wondered about his ‘brahmacharya’ and the books seems to dwell on a few points for me to dispel certain doubts. In fact the book enables me to even understand WHY MODI?

After prolonged struggle that stretches the Indian community’s mental strength and economic ability, Gandhi is able to successfully secure a repeal of the draconic Asiatic Law by General Smuts that which enforced a $3 tax on Indians and made the Asian weddings null and void.

During the entire course of time, the original and majority inhabitants of South Africa, the blacks, seem to have been brushed under the carpet not merely by the British-Boers but also by expat Indian community including their leader Gandhi. The leader of the Indian masses in South Africa belatedly gives them the due recognition which the author smartly records into his writing (fair enough). John Dube and other African leaders do not seem to be chummy with Gandhi like the way some Europeans seem to have managed to.

Indian history makes a mention of Dadabai Naoroji, Gopal Krishna Gokhale and his mentor Ranade along with V D Savarkar, but we never knew who to place where. Thanks for the clarifications, Mr. Guha! There is a Ranade library in Luz, Mylapore and I was aware Ranade was a freedom fighter but never pushed myself to learn  who he was.

The other real life characters like Raichand Bhai, Pranjeevan Metha, Parsee Rustomjee, Thambi Naidoo etc., have also been suitably highlighted by the author. You bet this is the first time I have heard of them.

Interesting to find a mention of Dr. Annie Besant of Home Rule movement in India after whom Besant Nagar is named in Chennai with its beautiful beach stretch. J. Krishnamurthy is also a thinker and philosopher many of us follow until today. Thanks for shedding some light on the Theosophical Society of Madras, Mr. Guha.

India owes a lot to the Tata name but it comes as a surprise that (the senior) Ratan Tata was already a great contributing figure to India’s glory and a philanthropist   The story continues to date. The Ambanis and Adanis of today can draw a lesson or two from the Tata values.

Most of us Tamils grow up underrating ourselves for not doing enough for the nation – be it during the independence struggle or even in securing and safeguarding the Indian nation in present times by way of impressive enrollment in our armed forces. For the first time, I feel better on learning of the Tamil involvement in south African struggles even if we are generally aware of the Tamil interest in African soil.

Tamil diaspora is spread around the world thanks to the British who took the able-bodied Tamils of South India along with the Chinese and planted them as indentured labour in not just South Africa but also in Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Fiji, Mauritius etc. Today’s ethnic issue in Sri Lanka is a direct result of this thoughtless act. While granting independence to the island nation of Sri Lanka, the British discounted the Tamils who had made Sri Lanka their home for over 2 centuries as ‘minorities’ who were reduced to fighting for their voting rights on the departure of the whitemen.

The circumstances are similar in Malaysia with the exception that Malaysian Indians (predominantly Tamil) have a healthy company in (mainland) Chinese who were brought to the south east Asian nation to work in tin mines when the Indian labourers were working the rubber plantations. The British administered the same ‘divide and rule’ policy as in India and Sri Lanka and Malaysia is simmering even today thanks to the mischief. Leong Quinn of China is the Chinese face of the south African Asiatic struggle. After Gandhi returns to India, the nation and China take to two different paths to affirming their political and social status in emerging world scenario.

Neither of the two have it easy though.

Fortunately it is not India or China or Malaysia or Sri Lanka that the occupiers wanted to make their home. It’s unfortunately Africa that was geographically in the temperate zone and not in hot and sultry tropics like Asia did. For the same reason, the Americas became their next home where (native) Indians turned out to be lame ducks like African tribes in the Dark continent.

What bothers is, Gandhi never seeks equal footing for Indians with Europeans in anything in South Africa. Given the point of time, probably this was a pragmatic approach by him that satisfied every quarter and let peace prevail. But the infinite patience he suggests for waiver of $3 tax on Indians following protocols via councils and cabinets makes us wonder whether the same virtue is also Gandhi’s Achille’s Heel. To those of us Gandhi critics who grew up skeptical of his ways, it sounds so not without a justifiable reason.

The self-interest of the British is amazing. What a greed. They have had a jumpstart in a visa-free era but were still shrewd enough to put one into practice when it came to immigration to their own native lands. What we see in France or Belgium today is not even 1% of what the Europeans did to the natives of Asia and Africa and even Americas over centuries when we had no wifi internet to telecast the ethnic cleansings live 24 hours.

Being a Hindu thus places you in a neutral position – of not belonging to either of the Abrahamic faiths that are both anathema to the ancient Bharatiya culture of India spanning over 10,000 years.  Gandhi was blessed with the rare ability of seeing only the good thing in others but the doctrine of his won’t see us through 21st century if we are to close our eyes to injustices and imbalances of the present day.

The book is an exceptional read that not merely Indians but also scholars worldwide must make a point to assimilate and meditate upon, it is also a treasure-house of information on the Father of the Nation that even his ‘Collected Works’ is reported  to have missed (by way of some important mails, etc).

Good research Mr. Guha. Like Gandhi, you are also a skillful writer though I cannot say the same about your speeches that I have listened to in You Tube ! Excellent indexing of the proofs (mails), newspaper clippings and other correspondence, hats off to you for the depths you have plunged to extract valuable information. There is not an extra word and every claim of yours is appropriately validated with a documentary evidence thereof. There is virtually no page turning without citations here or there, referenced by books, quotes, newspapers, photos pertaining to the era.

I shall be passing on the book to my son Mr. Guha – although I am not sure if he will have the ‘housewife’s patience’ that I so freely and readily nurture!

As a concluding note I can say, there is no statesmanship without personal suffering and sacrifice, without the gift of patience and perseverance. In times of one-man-up-ship with regards to armaments and defence strategies and technological feat and material well-being, the book on Mahatma Gandhi reiterates and reserves the primitive rights of natives to scoff at the so-called civilization which does not measure more than westernization.  Unlearning certain modern day methods will go a long way in restoring long lost peace in the world. 200 years later and 100 years after Gandhi preached simple and basal way of life, things have changed to beyond redemption levels but there are checks we can introduce in places to make the world a better place to live in.