Monday, July 21, 2008

The Candidate

I was out on a walk after dinner today and found myself strolling in the National Mall. It was a hot and muggy evening - typical for DC in July. There was a huge crowd sitting on the lawn facing the US Capitol. A huge white screen was setup on the greens between 4th and 9th streets. It was getting dark and I found out that they were going to screen a movie on that giant white screen. I found a nice patch of green for myself and settled down.

The movie being showed tonight was the 1972 Robert Redford movie "The Candidate". I had not seen it and thought would stick around. There could not have been a better movie in that setting in this political climate. Here goes the plot - spoilers ahead.

The race for the Senator in California is dominated by a sixty something running Republican Senator Jarmon. There is no Democratic nominee who will run against him and his victory is almost certain. Luke, a campaign manager (played by Peter Boyle - the foul mouthed Frank Barone from Raymond) persuades a handsome, dashing, liberal activist -Bill McKay (a brilliant Redford) to join the race. McKay hates politics and politicians (he is the son of the ex-governor and has fallen out with his father for these very reasons). He is happy fighting for the issues that he believes in. Luke promises him that this race will give him an audience for his cause and he can say what he wants to say, after all he is going to loose anyway. McKay falls for it and announces his nomination. Things take a positive turn because of his outspoken and frank speeches, people see a "Change" in him and his numbers start catching up with Jarmons.

The rest of the plot is about how McKay falls prey to the media branding and his voice changes to to a political mush and hollow-speak that he despised to begin with. For example McKay brands himself with the cheesy campaign line "For a Better Way, Bill McKay"!! (it could very well have been "Change"). The movie just goes on to impress the fact that little has changed in 36 years.

The movie is a direct jab at the political machinery prior to any big election. It is all the more relevant today - there are obvious comparisons between Jarmon and Senator McCain : He is old, is experienced and is a Republican. On the other hand McKay is Obama: He is young, inexperienced, handsome, charming and a Democrat. But the movie is not about Republicans or Democrats it's about how individuals loose their individuality in this system of political campaigning. They become the puppets at the hand of the media and the campaigners that surround them.

McKay makes a brilliant inspiring speech in the movie, which has the crowd up on its feet cheering him - he is loving it...he is enjoying every bit of it...he is drunk on the adulation. The speech is played repeatedly on different occasions. On his way to one such campaign event he recites the speech in the car mocking at it...Redford is absolutely brilliant in this bit. Watch it to believe it. That one scene pretty much sums up the entire point of the movie.

In the end when Mckay is declared the winner he pulls Luke in a room and asks him bewildered - "Luke! What do we do now?".

A gibbous moon had risen behind the Capitol dome and the air was filled with the cheers from the crowd. Ironically, in the coming months on these very lawns we will probably witness a "Bill McKay" being sworn in as the Nation's first Black President. "Change" as they say is coming....or is it?

More information on the "Screen on the green" series here.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

God and Coca Cola?

(Open image in a new window)

Monday, July 07, 2008

Let’s Start Over

Caution: Long and extremely opinionated post.
I am an optimist and have always been one and not just because I have lived in the USA for most the past decad (I have noticed that most of the imports from the third world nations to the USA are infected by hopeless optimism after spending a couple of years in this land of the “Free”). Even in situations as grim and hopeless as they can get, a tiny flickering flame of hope kept burning and pulled me out of most situations. OK, before you start thinking that I have had a horrible life full of miserable situations (the kinds you see the protagonist of the 80’s alternate wave of Indian cinema), let me tell it straight – I have had quite an uneventful life: my parents have raised me with care and have provided me well, have a loving and beautiful spouse, I did fairly well in my studies and secured better and better jobs at regular intervals, I own two properties on this planet, blessed with good health and enough wealth to live a comfortable life and have plenty of good friends strewn across the globe. So what then you say this post is all about? What is it that I want all of us to “start over”?

Let me go back in time. Summer 1993, I am in my first year of engineering and my first year of living outside of the protective enclave of my parents’ house. It’s a time when I am quite nervous of being so far away from home, excited about the new found freedom and scared witless of the ongoing hazing (ragging). One such evening I was hanging out with SI and CK who lived in the hostel room right opposite that of mine. We got to talking about – what else - the most important topic a couple of 19 year olds talk about – the future of Our World. The discussion was where the world is heading in the next 20 years – destruction or peace. Even though I was slapped about a 30 times just an hour ago at a hazing session and my cheeks were burning as if I had live ambers placed in my mouth, I had not had a decent home-made meal in about 20 days, did not know if I am cut out for Engineering, had no idea where my life was heading - the eternal optimist in me did not hesitate or even blink once to say “Duh! PEACE, of course”. SI and CK smirked at me and said in unison - “Destruction, of course”. Well, how does one settle such a matter of supreme discord between friends? How else, but with a wager! We decided to meet after 20 years in the summer of 2013 to see who is more right. (Yeah! that’s how corny and silly youth is, but I yearn for that corniness, silliness and the arrogant ignorance of that age now - fodder for another post).

Here’s a glimpse of the state of the World in 1993:
- The first Gulf war had ended
- India and Pak were fighting in their own ways over Kashmir
- Bombay had witnessed serial bomb blasts in March 1993
- Israel and Palestine were as always were at loggerheads
- The Soviet Union had collapsed giving birth to many small nations
- The USA was bombing Eastern European nations (The Bosnian conflict)
- North Korea was, well – North Korea
- The Rwanda situation was brewing slowly
- Afghanistan was looking forward to elections in 1994
- Terrorism was not a global phenomenon
- Global warming was an elitist term and was sneered upon

The situation was overall grim. My take was, well it can only get better, right? WRONG. It’s the summer of 2008 and this is how the world looks today:
- The second Iraq war has claimed thousands of soldier’s and civilians and there is no end in sight
- Afghanistan is a nation that has been gangraped by the world and continues heading towards more despair (if that’s at all possible)
- India and Pak have fought one small war in Kargil over Kashmir and the issue is still simmering with both nations coming oh so close to a nuclear fallout
- Bombay witnessed three more serial bomb blasts, many other Indian cities were bombed (Delhi, Hyderabad, Jaipur)
- Israel and Palestine continue to fight and again no end in sight,
- Israel & Lebanon have exchanged some fireworks
- North Korea: status quo (they claim they will declare their nuclear capabilities)
- The world meekly watched one of the largest genocides since the Holocaust in Rwanda
- Terrorism is now a global phenomenon: USA, Bali, Spain, London – countries and places where terrorism was only a foreign phenomenon has experienced their share of terrorist activities. Newer avenues of bio-terrorism are being used and explored
- Global warming is NOW and HERE

These are only a few examples, I am not even getting into the counts of nuclear war-heads, the other atrocities and wars perpetrated (and continue to) by the ex-Soviet nations and China (do not mean to single only these two nations out, there are many more, these two are just convenient). There is no point mentioning the natural calamities (earthquakes, tsumanis, volcanoes, tornadoes, hurricanes) since they are not in our control to a large extent (I am not getting into the debate of if Global Warming is causing a marked increase in the number of floods, famines, food shortages, etc.)

Now, if this was your dear son’s or daughter’s report card, what is the inference you would derive? You would not be sleeping a sound sleep anytime soon, knowing what you know and where your son/daughter is heading to – Failure. The world as we know today, my dear friends is also heading towards that inevitable DISASTER and it is getting there with reckless speed. You see, there is a reason I have become a pessimist in this matter. I understand that I should be looking at the efforts that are being made towards peace and such, but honestly, just based on numbers and statistics - no emotions and no subjective analysis - what would any educated person conclude? The efforts towards healing this world of ours are not nearly even close to the colossal magnitude of destruction that’s happening every minute.

I guess it’s nature’s way of telling us that we have crossed the peak in it’s cycle of creation and nearing the bottom of the arc. We have lived here long enough, long enough to have devoured every single available resource, long enough to have loved and hated each other enough, long enough to have not learnt from history and the natural cycle of creation and destruction. Its time, we will have to start over.
What then, you ask is my solution? I have none. Before you rule me out as a non-believer, a cynic and an eternal pessimist, let me stop you right there. I am an optimist when it comes to human beings and humanity and individual achievements, I just don’t trust Governments anymore. These Governments in the name of protecting the interests of its people, empower themselves and create this pseudo atmosphere of a free world while keeping its peoples even more oppressed and under the control of it’s iron fist (a not so obvious version of Big Brother from 1984?). It does not matter who makes up these Governments – Right wing or Left, Republicans or Democrats, Congress or BJP, Labor or Conservatives or Communists – they are all the same. Most of these Governments do not even acknowledge that there is a problem in the way the world functions today. The Governments of the under-developed world do not know anything about governing and hence start pillaging it’s people, the Governments of the developing world want to maintain the “developing” tag to keep filling it’s coffers with more aid money and last but not the least – the Government’s of the developed world want to keep the rest of the world from joining them. Do I need to explain why?

SI & CK – you win and I loose. Hunh! To think about it, is anyone really winning here?

Sunday, July 06, 2008

The Greatest Tennis Match in History

Rafael Nadal of Mallorca is the new Wimbledon Men's Champion. Today he defeated the five time champion and World number 1, Roger Federer in a 5 set emotionally charged roller coaster of a match. I am willing to go so far as to call this the greatest tennis match I have ever witnessed and feel extremely lucky to have seen such a great performance by tennis' two great players. The Rafa-Fed rivalry is one of Tennis' greatest rivalries (Bjorg-McEnroe, Sampras-Agassi, Evert-Navratilova, Graf-Navratilova are some others). These two champions are not only great tennis players but have deep respect and humility for each other's game. It could not have been more evident than today, amongst the million flash bulbs on a near dark Center Court of the All England Lawn Tennis Club. This is what Fed had to say after the trophy presentation:
"I tried everything, Rafa is a deserving champion. He just played fantastic. It was the worst opponent on the best court." He was emotional alright, he would have surpassed Bjorg's 5 consecutive victories today, he would have made history. His tennis coupled with his modesty is what makes him a true sporting legend and not just a statistical champion.
As for Nadal, he is truly the deserving champion, an aggressive player with nerves of steel and grounded feet. It was the longest Wimbledon Finals ever played - 4 hours 48 minutes of unscripted thriller tennis, two rain delays and all shots from the tennis book and more. Rafa had 4 Championship points before he eventually stopped the Federer Express (65 consecutive wins on grass).
He is not ready to call himself a great player yet - "He's still No. 1," Nadal said. "He's still the best. He's still five-time champion here and I only have one, so for me it is very, very important." More power to you Rafa.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Gulzar: Kuch khoye huye nagme - 6

Every Hindi film music aficionado knows about the greatness of this man named Sampooran Singh Kalra aka Gulzar. We have all heard his famous songs a thousand times now, such as: “Tere bina zindagi se” from Aandhi, “Hazaar Rahen” from Thodisi Bewafayee, “Mera kuch saaman” from Ijaazat, or “Kajra re” from Bunty aur Babli. This series is about those lesser known songs penned by this master poet.
Movie: Omkara (2006)
Music Director: Vishal Bhardwaj
Singer: Suresh Wadkar

(part of the song from 3:40 onwards)

Jag ja ri gudiya
Misri ki pudiya
Meethe lage do naina
Nainon mein tere, hum hi base the
Hum hi base hain, hain na?
O ri rani, gudiya,
jag ja, ari jag ja, mari jag ja.

Halka sa kosa,
Subhon ka bosa,
Maan jaa ri, ab jaag ja.
Naak pe tere, kaatega bicchoo
Jaag ja, tu maan ja
Jo chahe le lo, dashrath ka vaada
Nainon se kholo ji raina
O ri rani, gudiya, jag ja
Ari jag ja, mari jag ja.

Kirnon ka sona,
Os ke moti,
Motiyon sa mogra.
Tera bicchauna, bhar bhar ke daroon,
Gulmohar ka tokra.
Aur jo bhi chaho, maango ji maango,
Bolo ji, meri maina.
O ri raani, gudiyaaaa,
Jag ja, ari jag ja, oye jag ja.

Jag ja ri gudiya
Misri ki pudiya
Meethe lage do naina
Nainon mein tere, hum hi base the
Hum hi base hain, hain na?

Vishal’s Omkara was an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Othello. For those who do not know the plot of Othello, here’s a brief background because it is essential in understanding the subtle possessiveness, anger and jealousy in the words of this song. Omkara (Othello), who is a dark skinned average looking guy, is deeply, madly and intensely in love with Dolly (Desdemona) who is a fair and a beautiful maiden. She loves him back equally, but Omkara is not quite sure about her love. His close aide Langda Tyagi (Iago) pollutes his mind further by hinting that she might have feelings for Kesu (Cassio). This leads to Omkara constantly questioning Dolly's love for him.

Now equipped with this background, go back and read the lyrics one more time. You will notice the insecurity in - “nainon mein tere hum hi base the, hum hi base hain, hain na?” – “I was the only one for you, I still am the only one, Am I?”

His intense possesiveness and desperation in owning her by every which way possible (despite the fact that she belongs to him already) is evident in –
“jo chahe le lo, Dashrath ka waada” – take what you want from me, I promise you just like the promise made by Dashrath.
Here, Gulzar has weaved in an analogy by measuring the integrity of Omkara’s promise with that of Dashrath’s – the king of Ayodhya who sent his dear sons to exile just to honor his promise that he made to his wife Kaikeyi. Many a poets have used different ways of comparing lover’s promises in their songs – my promise stands till the end of time, till the end of the universe, till the day I die - on and on and on. The Dashrath’s promise analogy however trumps all of the above - it feels more real, more understandable and more achievable.

Gulzar has a fascniation with the “gulmohar” flowers. These trees are found in the tropical countries and bloom in late spring/early summer. They bear non-fragrant,deep red colored flowers. Another song with the mention of these flowers is “Gulmohar gar tumhara naam hotaa” from “Devata”. Here, once again he mentions these flowers in the following line:

tera bichona bhar bhar ke daloo, gulmohar ka tokra
Aur jo bhi chaho, maango ji maango bolo ji meri maina

- I will spread basket full of gulmohar flowers on your bed.
More about this line later in the post.

Outside of the poetry, the music and the singing of this song is completely in sync with the mood. Suresh Wadkar makes a rare appearance and his delicate rendition elevates Vishal’s composition. Minimal use of instruments and the tune of the song give it an easy hummable quality. Suresh Wadkar infuses a child-like innocence and a suggestion of violence at the same time in certain lines - “naak pe tere kaatega bichoo” - a scorpion will bite your nose - and “ari jag jaa…mari jag jaa..” - please wake up, wake up you dead one. A part of this song makes another appearance later in the movie and this one line takes a whole new meaning in that scene.

(Second version of the song from 3:20 onwards. Could not find better quality video links)
Rememeber the "Gulmohar" line that I mentioned above and said I will revisit it? Watch the video, Dolly is wearing red, Gulmohars are red. Get it? Bravo Vishal. (A very well-written review of Omkara here)


OUTRAGED.....The Wimbledon men's semi-final between Safin and Federer is not being telecast live on any American TV channel. Shame on you ESPN, shame on you NBC. Some ridiculous contract arrangements has prevented ESPN to broadcast the match live and NBC cannot do without their Today's show. So here we are, following the match on when there are 14,000 channels dedicated to sports in this country. Give me my State controlled Doordarshan any day, they would telecast even the Davis Cup matches live.