Monday, December 12, 2005

Give peace a chance

I've a feeling my blog's going to turn into a site where I do little more than rave and rant and bemoan the state of the world. Oh well, I guess I'd better make the most of this time while my friends are still indulgent enough to read my ramblings - and comment!

Anyway, like many Beatles/Lennon fans, I watched the 8 December programmes Star Plus aired to commemorate John Lennon's death anniversary. While watching the first segment, 'Give Peace a Song', which was basically about the week-long bed-in that John and Yoko had done way back in 1971 to protest against the wars and violence plaguing the world and call for peace, and where the rousing 'Give Peace a Chance' was recorded, I couldn't stop thinking - how come this (hundreds of people coming together with one socially aware celebrity to record a song for peace, a song that went on to become the anthem for everyone calling for an end to war across the world) doesn't happen any more?

'You know what surprises me?' one of the people who'd been part of the recording said while being interviewed for this programme, 'the fact that this song is still as relevant now as it was 35 years ago, when John wrote it. ' I think this fact isn't just surprising, it's profoundly disturbing. Wars and violence have become endemic all over the world - they're just another way for people to make money and get powerful at the expense of less privileged sections of humanity - and no one cares enough to organise protests any more. Oh, I know there are protests all over - there are marches, demonstrations, rallies - but they don't seem to have any effect, do they? Is there anyone like John Lennon around anymore, someone who would protest social evil by simply staying in bed for a week? And if there was someone, would she/he have the same charisma and appeal that John had, to be able to fearlessly proclaim your views and influence thousands of people? I got goosebumps watching all those people - regular people, most of them - sitting around John and Yoko, singing 'All we are saying, give peace a chance' as if that was what they were always meant to do, as if their lives depended on it - and maybe they did. And later, outside the White House, thousands more protesting the Vietnam War joined Pete Seeger in singing the same song. Just that one line said so much more than a hundred speeches ever could.

Yoko and Sean had brought out this new, updated version of 'Give Peace a Chance' after 11 September along with a whole lot of other singers. But somehow, the sight of these celebrities clapping and stamping to the rhythm of 'Give Peace a Chance' on this technologically well-crafted video just did not have the same power that the sight of ordinary people taking to the streets, wearing their beliefs like an armour and singing as if all their voices raised together in a single song could make all the difference did. Violence, civil wars and every possible social ill afflicts every country in the world today. The world's most powerful superpower starts a war in another country for no good reason and is aided and abetted by other European powers - and half the people of the world no longer come forward to ask them to give peace a chance. Why? Have we become that selfish and insular, that uncaring? Surely not?

I was thinking of what John would say if he were to pay the world a visit now and see just how badly we need to give peace a chance. How would he feel to see that his protests, his messages of peace had come to naught? The continuing relevance of his song will bring him no solace, I'm sure.

Monday, December 05, 2005

What is wrong with the media?

A few nights back, I happened to catch the late night snippets that Aaj Tak (one of the news channels on television for those who've never watched it). This is not a channel I usually watch, and I caught even this bit purely by accident. But what I saw appalled me, and I thought I should write about it and share it with all my friends and family who read my blog.

To begin with, the way this channel chooses to present these news snippets is pretty awful. Sensationalising the traumatic events taking place in the lives of ordinary, often impoverished, sections of India's population, what Aaj Tak aims to do is not so much garner sympathy and support as appeal to the voyuer in people, and thus increase their TRP. Anyway, this story, which the commentator related with evident relish, was about this woman from an obviously lower-middle class (according to India's class system) background. She and her husband had divorced, but had fallen in love all over again and later remarried ('bilkul filmo ki tarah', 'just like in the movies'). Only, she didn't stop seeing the man/men she had been involved with in the interim period, and one day, after an altercation with her husband, she got her lovers to beat him up. Which they did, only so thoroughly that they killed him, and that too, before their son, who's barely 4 years old. The mother then dumped the child with her in-laws and decamped with the lovers, after telling people that her husband as away on work (or something to that effect).

And now I come to the horrifying part. This small, obviously traumatised child, who'd seen his father murdered in a particularly brutal way before his eyes, was the one who had informed his grandparents of the incident, who in turn had reported the matter to the police, thus setting in motion the whole chain of events that followed. Our media, in the form of Aaj Tak, did not just report the matter with great relish, they actually brought the child before the camera and made him recount the whole grisly incident in great detail, prompting him most helpfully and asking further questions whenever he faltered. A child of barely four was made to relive the horror of his father's murder for an uncaring, soulless news channel whose primary responsibility is to their ratings.

I know it's naive in these days to presume that the media has any social responsibility or even a heart. But surely this was carrying it too far? I know, too, that this is not an isolated incident. The grandparents of the little boy could obviously be browbeaten into submission - perhaps they were told that placing their vulnerable grandchild before the camera could help bring their son justice - but is there nothing anyone can or will do? In western nations the media would never have been allowed anywhere near the child. There are child support centres who would have immdiately come into play. Is there no one who could step in in our country to prevent the media - or individuals, for that matter - from pursuing their selfish agendas with such impunity?

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Delhi's disastrous roads

All of us in Delhi must've read about the pretty horrific accident filmmaker Pamela Rooks was involved in this morning. She's undergone brain surgery, the papers report, and is in a drug-induced coma at the moment. The newspapers, of course, didn't stop at just the accident: they went on to solemnly report the sorry state Delhi roads are in, and provided statistics for the past two years on just how many accidents there have been in Delhi every year, month, day; just how many are killed, and the vehicles they were driving at the time of death. What they forgot to mention, but what we all know, is that it's not so much Delhi roads as Delhi drivers who are the problem. What they also forgot to mention is a possible solution. Perhaps because there doesn't seem to be any.

Delhi roads, at any given point in time, are crammed with cars (enormous ones resembling trucks in some cases), buses (of various sizes), autorickshaws, scooters and bikes, bicycles, carts, jaywalkers, dogs and cows. Driving in this veritable menagerie is a feat in itself, and the situation is compounded by the fact that, first, everyone - cows, DTC bus drivers, yuppies in their big flashy cars, daredevil bikers and demented auto drivers - thinks they own pretty much every road in the city; and second, most people driving on Delhi roads should never have been given a licence to drive anywhere.

In my opinion, everything boils down to a lack of responsibility on the part of pretty nearly everyone in Delhi - the drivers, the pedestrians, the law and order situation, the way anyone can get a licence without knowing how to drive well enough. (Here's how my husband got his licence - he was told by this guy who was taking his test 'sau gaj aage chalaiye' ['Drive a 100 yards forward']; 'Ab reverse mein karke say gaj peche chalaiye' ['Now put the car in reverse and drive 100 yards back']. And that was it. The test was passed with flying colours, and the licence given. My husband might be responsible on the streets, but a lot of others who get their licences under similar circumstances are not.) The Alto that hit Pamela Rooks' Landcruiser was being driven by a drunk driver. The car had already careened out of control, hit the divider and flipped over by the time the Landcruiser came along. It landed on the biger car, and through no fault of hers, Pamela Rooks in in hospital in a coma.

Two points emerge from this incident. First, that it took a Pamela Rooks to make the story of yet another accident on Delhi roads newsworthy. Hundreds of people die in accidents through no fault of theirs every year, but their lives are never considered important enough to dwell upon. The parents of the young men who were travelling in the Alto (two of them died) are vehemently denying any possibility of their sons having been drunk. And in a bizarre twist (if the Hindustan Times is to be believed), an FIR has been filed against the driver of the Landcruiser. Why, pray, has that been done? What is he to blame for, other than being in the wrong place at the wrong time?

Second, what are the odds that people are going to forget about this incident in a couple of days' time and that irresponsible, rash and, yes, drunk drivers will continue to raise hell on Delhi streets? And when accidents happen, the guilty party will buy their way out of trouble with the help of money and muscle (remember the BMW case?). We as a nation - and possibly as a race - have become increasingly self-absorbed. Our social responsibility has become confined to just our immediate circle of loved ones. People in Delhi will continue to do as they please without a thought to the consequences their actions can have - they will drive with complete disregard where rules are concerned, they will take resort to physical violence at the merest hint of provocation, and they will not care less if they've had too much to drink before they get behind the wheel. And when lives are lost, they're usually of hapless people who, like Rooks, just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. As for the rest of us, we'll just shake our heads sorrowfully and get on with our lives.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

How 'Desperate' can you be?

Has anyone been watching that much-hailed soap, Desperate Housewives? It's pretty unmissable - Star World repeats the same episode about thrice every week, such is its popularity (
Desperate Housewives', that is, not Star World's). I've been watching it more or less regularly, actually, since the day, around 3 months or so back, when Simi Garewal stared me soulfully in the eye during a commercial break and asked me which one of these women was me (or should that be I?). I had to find out- as also figure out why this show is so popular.

So. Am I the wimpy, weepy Susan, whose only role seems to be running after a particular murderer-turned-plumber in the belief that said man was just a very hot plumber and then calling the relationship off when his murdering tendencies became known, going all to pieces and having to be looked after by her extremely sensible 14-year-old daughter, all with this save-me-I'm-vulnerable expression on her face? Or am I the obssessive compulsive Bree, who is so immersed in religion, patriarchy, motherhood, and all things known as 'traditional values' that she (however unwillingly) agrees to participate in her husband's s/m fantasies even after husband has been caught cheating on her and treating her pretty shabbily? Or perhaps the harried Lynette, who decided to give up her career and life so she could look after her husband's home and give birth to his four children, and then live to regret that decision? Or maybe Gabrielle, the rich, spoilt, materialistic, fairly slutty
(forgive me for using this term) ex-model, who ostensibly hankers for her husband's love and attention, but is actually far more distraught when faced with the prospect of losing his fortune?

The answer is: none of the above.

So why do I keep watching this show, then? Partly because there's quite an intriguing mystery happening in the periphery of the show - there's this evil, evil man who's a cold-blooded murderer and is messing with his son's head, and I do want to know how things turn out for him. And partly - I don't know. Maybe I'm sticking around to see if I can find some meaning somewhere, though I doubt it. I mean - by exposing the very hollow and shallow life of middle-class American suburbia, and questioning the notion that marriage and motherhood are the greatest achievements any woman can aspire for if she needs to feel 'fulfilled', the show could be called a critique of the middle-class values that most people take so much for granted. But is it, really? Susan was dumped by her husband who traded her for that cliche, his young blonde secretary, but all she can do once she decides to move on, is chase the first available man so she can repeat her history.

Lynette bitches and complains, but does nothing to improve her situation, Gabrielle's answer to every problem is sleeping with an underaged boy, and Bree would rather stay in her dysfunctional family than live what would definitely be a far healthier life on her own. They all return to the same trap that makes them so unhappy - and, at least according to the creators of the show, there apparently is no alternative in this cosy heterosexual paradise. And why the hell do none of these women work? Why is 'career' such a dirty word?

And why do I keep watching this show that I just trashed? (Actually, a lot about it bewilders me, so be warned - there will be more on Desperate Housewives in later blogs.)

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Yesterday I finally watched the movie a lot of us had been waiting for - Mike Newell-directed Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. After the huge disappointment the third film proved to be - and Azkaban is, according to me, easily the best book in the series - I must confess to having been a bit apprehensive as to what the fourth film would have to offer. And Goblet of Fire, mind you, is pivotal in various respects, not least because this is where Harry - and we - get to finally meet Lord Voldemort himself in the flesh. And I'm delighted to say I wasn't disappointed.

Mike Newell did what neither of his predecessors had managed so far - stick closely to Rowling's storyline and plot details, and yet do so imaginatively enough to stamp the film with his own mark. Chris Columbus adhered so faithfully to the books that the first two films became nothing more than mere celluloid versions of Rowling's imagination; and Alfonso Cuaron was so busy getting creative with the third film that he robbed the story of its soul. Goblet of Fire, though, has not one superfluous moment - the film, replete with dragons, mer-people, dangerous mazes and Death Eaters, also has its lighter moments in the form of classes, tricks, romances and friends falling out with each other, which go a long way in making the characters more human, and endearing.

Goblet of Fire takes off from where Azkaban left off. Wormtail (brilliantly played by Timothy Spall) has returned to his master, and the two, along with a third unknown Death Eater, are plotting something new, something that can only be detrimental to Harry. Harry himself, now 14, returns to Hogwarts for his fourth year after the excitement of the Quidditch World Cup to find that his school would be hosting one of the greatest wizarding events, the Triwizard Tournament. The Hogwarts students are joined by those from two other schools - Beauxbatons Academy and Durmstrang. One student from each school would be chosen as Triwizard champions by the Goblet of Fire , and they would have to undertake several perilous tasks before one could win the trophy. An unwilling Harry finds himself chosen as one of the champions, and the story hurtles on from there to its gripping finale, the face-off between Harry and Voldemort that everyone's been waiting for.

Daniel Radcliffe once again does a decent enough job as Harry - he's particularly endearing in those moments when he realises just how big a problem girls can be - 'I'd rather taken on a dragon right now', as he says. Emma Watson is, as always, brilliant in the role of Hermione, and the usually wooden Rupert Grint, who for once has more to do than hang around Harry and Hermione and say 'Huh?' at regular intervals, proves that given a good enough role and a capable director at the helm, he can act. The crowning moments of the film are easily the Triwizard tasks - and this is where Newell imbues the film with a creative imagination that's all his own. The cinematography in the first task where Harry meets the Hungarian Horntail is superb, the underwater sequence with the mer-people is everything the depths of the Black Lake purported to be, and the maze was positively frightening. And throughout you had an undercurrent of menace - of a dark force gathering more power and becoming more threatening with each day.

Ralph Fiennes, of course, steals the show. He doesn't just bring Voldemort to life, he is Voldemort. (And here I must confess to having been a little doubtful about the wisdom of casting Fiennes as the Dark Lord - I thought he was pretty ineffectual in Red Dragon - he was way too goodlooking to play the Tooth Fairy!) Fiennes' Voldemort is supremely evil, though in the subtlest manner possible. With his floating robes, soft voice and languid gestures, Voldemort appears graceful, effete even, yet none the less menacing for all that. Just watch the Death Eaters cowering before his barely controlled anger, the almost casual flick of his wand as he duels, and the gleam in his eyes as he prepares to kill Harry, and you'll understand what makes him the most powerful and evil wizard in all time, and what makes Ralph Fiennes such a marvellous actor.

Tempering the dark moments with scenes from the everyday life at Hogwarts and Harry and his classmates' adolescent pangs was a stroke of genuis on Newell's part. The absolutely ridiculous pranks played by Fred and George (and it was so wonderful to get more than just a passing glimpse of these two characters!), Hermione's first brush with romance and Ron's jealous outburst when confronted with it, the dazzling Yule Ball, Neville Longbottom's delight at having partied all night, all took the edge off from an otherwise dark, complex story. Brendan Gleeson played Mad-Eye Moody quite admirably, and Miranda Richardson was perfect as the obnoxious Rita Skeeter. And while Stanislav Ianevski (Viktor Krum) and Clemence Poesy (Fleur Delacour) were just about all right, Robert Pattinson was good enough as Cedric Diggory for there to be a few misty-eyed moments at the end of the film. Mention has to be made of David Tennant, who was great as Barty Crouch Jr in the few moments he came on screen.

I have to say, though, that I'm more than a bit surprised at the way Draco Malfoy keeps getting sidelined. For an important (and faithful readers who have read all six books will know just how important) character, his appearance is limited to just a few minutes, and then all he has to do is adopt a sneering expression and toss out taunting remarks in the general direction of Harry, Ron and/or Hermione. Surely Tom Felton, an adequate actor, needs to be given an opportunity to explore Draco's quite complicated character? Also, Newell's treatment of the Quidditch World Cup was rather shoddy - the match seems to be over before it even begins, and suddenly there are people screaming, tents on fire, and hooded people (reminiscent of the Ku Klux Klan, as I'd stated in an earlier article on wandering about. Unless you'd read the book, you'd have been left rather lost at this juncture. And for at least a few of us dedicated ones, the absence of Winky (and Dobby) was a big disappointment.

These glitches notwithstanding, Goblet of Fire is easily the best among all the Potter films. Enthralling and entertaining, it effortlesly moves into a world darker than any that the protagonists have ever found themselves in. It paves the way for a world in which 'everything's going to change now, isn't it', as Hermione so prophetically remarks. And most of the reasons for this success can be laid at Mike Newell's door.