A Potpourri of Vestiges Feature
By Nataranjan Bohidar
Luveria for the Oscar, aka Oscaritis, is back again anutan with NEWTON gravitating towards tribalia demos critias! But before we take telling pot-shots at the apple or applette authority, if you like, that the election commission carries on its head into unchortled and up-until-now ungloated territory it may be a good idea to revisit our famillionaire suburbania...in a local trainia...at a local Mumbai stationia!
SMbefore easing it down the elaborate alimentary canal of our Bollywoody consciousness is now on., first turning it into candy floss or bag of popcorn or body part clutched desperately in our sweaty palms as we watch the movie in the dark corner of a darker multiplex with a friend, boy or girl or both, trying to squeeze some juicy joy out of the excrement that some call entertainment and some others call hope! And most others care not what it is as long as it can eke out a prize for us, any prize at any price is the motto…even a Booby prize will do!
A page 3 report that Boyle finds Delhi green is a self-conscious attempt to tell readers that they mustn’t think Boyle – and by inference the Brits and therefore by extension the Americans and the rest of the world - really finds this country as obnoxious as he’s portrayed it in his Film. Mumbai may be ghastly, but in comparison Delhi is, well, all green grass (apologies Paul, no id offence meant!). But such ingratiation is only for starters. The veggies before the meat.
Obsequiousness before the Oscars! Courting obsequy? Who knows...
Then there’s Anil Kapoor. The “now you see me, now you don’t” super star has come a long way since he floated diaphanously on hawa hawai, which is Indian for cloud 9. Evicted from starry premises this do- goody-good orphanizer (that’s someone whose life is organized around orphans and vice versa), protector of the homeless from home demolishing sharks, he’s turned into cat with sharp thinly disguised claws on a hot tin slum roof, ready to pounce on any opportunity our Bollywood Khans will let slip. Over the years, as pages on pages of the filmy Calendar have flipped over for Anil, he has watched his stardom stolen from him and he’s now itching to blockbuster his way back into the spot light, willy nilly, ...so, will he Anil he? Gloating may be sin, but after participating in the immorality play that is SM he has now switched to prayaschit mode , donating all - ‘remuneration’, that is - to an NGO. That , you will agree, is progress of sorts, from Mr. India to Plan India!
And who helped him sharpen his claws ? Anchors of news channels and game shows, including the new emerging grand old man of Indian cinema, as well, but principally my pal and class mate Siddharth Basu, who set up a “dummy” for Anil. It’s an interesting choice of word, ‘dummy’, because that is precisely how Babu sized up quiz makers, quiz partakers and similar intellectual fakers when he was in college…not in a paraphrase , but in a single word! A theatre man of great talent, (you have to see his Oedipus to Lillete Keswani’s Jocasta to believe me), Babu believed quizzards were the lowest form of life, give or take a few species of spineless ectoplasm.
But that was a long time ago, long long before Peter, when he also believed he was an “anarchist”. I tried to talk him out of it, arguing that to be an anarchist you need to first have order… else, what are you going to be anarchic about ? In other words, you have to first invest in order as banks do, before you can breach the banks and flood the world with anarchy. Three and a half decades later, the meaning of that conversation has begun to sink in. Forced into quizzing – first BBC MASTERMIND, then supporting KBC never mind - by media circumstance and related expediency (a sanguine matter of at least 3 decades in developing India that we must hold back for future discussions), Babu has created the stilts, in fact invested a whole life to propping up a façade (like the precarious structure of the bog – toilets of SM) of a game show that apparently makes millionaires out of slummers, but has stolen the pleasure out of that success by the farcical nature – juvenile hope – of that victory.
This is anarchism at its finest…first you build up the expectation and then dash it to the ground! It’s the emasculating mother of all emasculating mothers; it is the emasculation of the Lady who doth protest too much, professing to know what it is to suckle a baby at her breast but assuring she is quite capable of …that’s right, you know the rest! That she in fact fails to trammel up the consequences and goes insane wondering if all the perfumes of Arabia will sweeten her foul smelling deed, is indeed the question that Danny Boyle appears to pose to us in his movie. Worded otherwise, the question SM sticks up our collective olfactories is whether any number of Oscars can sweeten the stink that is his Mumbai of our creation?
But the far more dangerous question this raises is if India is doomed to an anarchic cycle of first building up Mumbais to eventually turn them into slums! Remember Kolkata? Of Oh! Calcutta fame. Agra is surely next by SM contention. So, is Dilli reallydoorast? Or Jhansi or Kota, for instance? Sorry, Jhankfurt or Kotsingapore...& no dil-hi dallying with smart cities!
Perhaps, SM’s success lies in its anarchic vision…and equivocation is its lingua franca……and who would know that language better than a citizen of the isles that taught us English. A self professed re-Porter from Hell Gate…fantasizing in a state of inebriation, spewing ominous news and swearing to all and sundry against that very inebriation for “ provoking the desire, but taking away the performance”, which may well be the effect SM is having on its Indian audience.….going by the brazen equivocation noticeably practiced by the whole lot of us.
Our slumdog ears first pricked up when we heard from the Mumbai girl Priya Ramani...that’s right , the one who professes she needs a shot of the Republic Day parade to pump up her sagging patriotism, when all we Delhi boys believed it was the other way round. She called SM a ‘British film shot in Mumbai’ as matter of factly as if it were a Jason Bourne passing through Goa (pardon me, Aradhana!) and admitted just as more matter of factly that this British film brought back to her thrilling Mumbai memories of growing up in the fear that she could some day be kidnapped as a child and made to beg on the streets with her legs chopped off to earn that extra bit. (What they would do to her between those legs was ofcourse beyond her ken...it was pre-Nirbhaya time, you see! Or don't you?). In this weird sort of way she assimilated a British film as her very own, like a blonde Saira , and immediately plunged us deep into Sanjukta Sharma’s centre spread to pore over her as keenly as Salim and Javed (interesting choice of names) and Jamal subsequently must have Latika. And what did we find there? Words, words, words on both sides of the Indo-Brit divide and an exceptional picture of Freida, too, spreading across the gutter, like a bridge over sewered waters, vouching this is as ‘Indian’ a blockbuster as any, notwithstanding the single inverted commas and despite Simon Beaufoy’s remonstrations to the contrary and Danny Boyle’s conscious admission that it is in fact quite the opposite – an unconscious western stab at Bollywood, which must come as a real surprise to the Indian director of a film about an English spinster queen of Echebar times, who finds Danny’s stab a “very light touch”, indeed! Such is the shocking Masoomiyat (sM) and confusion about SM in trying to appropriate the film’s success , its awards that is , as ‘Indian’…. actually Indo-Brit… well , at least Brit Indian… well, well, you must concede surely it has many lessons for India, such as preferring spiritually resplendent Dharavi for your next vacation over depressingly materialistic Interlaken, denominationization withstanding!
In fact, this myth about India being a tourist’s spiritual stopover has been wearing thin since the Beatnik Sixties…the world may have been at that time becoming a "whole" - all malapropuns intended - according to some guru or the other, but India has surely been growing as a spiritual hole …a man hole many would call it as does Danny on the Boyle with the courage to inspect the gutter that flows under over and all across!…It has been quite like that since the severing Seventies – Bangladesh was severed early that decade – and Steve Jobs was disappointed later in that decade despite his hurricane experience. And now we know Simon Beaufoy was not exactly spiritually illumined when she came here in the Eighties also as a teenager. So, SM is quite evidently her revenge two decades later just as some believe is the price of the iPhone in India ! Which makes me believe that all the hailing and hurrahing we are doing for SM may well be to contain any further diplomatic faux pas we may make if we don’t sound cheerful about another diplomat’s book on which SM is filmed , in the true spirit of atithi devo bhavah!
That brings me to the culture filtration department headed again by one of our own, the co-director-India designate of SM. What this means is quite beyond one’s understanding. When a film is shot in various parts of the world it is most natural to have co- or assisting directors and units, full and half fledged as the case may demand, named as such , country by country. So, what does it mean to have a co-director-India when the whole blessed thing is shot in, well , two little strips of India…Mumbai and Agra? Are we to infer that a British consciousness on one hand and a separate Indian consciousness on the other were at loggerheads in the making of SM? Co-ordination between head and hand is not such a simple matter as SM vouches… particularly when it comes to left and/or right hand.How does one know what the other is doing? Let me explain.
Affectionately gifted to me and my wife, by Samir Ji – that’s right, Mr. Samir Jain , the media maverick of India, is a story published in 1989 in about 390 pages that some consider fiction while others believe is truer than the truth itself called, “The Illustrated Ramayana”. It has a foreword by H. Daniel Smith, who was I assume the then Professor of Religion, Syracuse University (U.S.A.), but more tellingly it is, and I quote, “ILLUSTRATED WITH 101 INDIAN MINIATURE PAINTINGS COMMISSIONED BY AKBAR (ECHEBAR, TO YOU, DEAR QUEEN!) THE GREAT IN 1582 COURTESY OF THE FREER GALLERY OF ART, SMITHSONIAN INSTITUTE , WASHINGTON D.C.” And Ram’s bow, battle ready or otherwise, is always slung over his left shoulder or firmly fisted in his left …which is how it should be for a right handed warrior…who would, when in use, lift the bow with left hand, draw the arrow out of the quiver with the right hand,string it, pull and shoot with right, as the left holds the bended bow rock steady. Except for one miniature in which he stands chastising Laxman after Sita’s abduction when his bow is on his right shoulder. And in two other situations, one while targeting the demon in the form of the golden deer and the other while vanquishing the demon Ravana where ambiguity is not in Ram’s what appears to be ambidextrous capability but in the I6th Century painter’s horrible mixing up of placement and co-ordination of string, stance, hands, bow and front and back view in three dimensional perspective.(Is this the same artist who gave Hanuman incarnadine boxers?).Now, there would be practical difficulties for a right handed warrior even if he were a deity in swiftly using a bow carried on the left shoulder, such as swivelling bow or transferring string from back to chest front for right hand access, pivoted on left fist, but that would take us into complexities of wrist position and other anatomical considerations, which is not the moot point here. The real issue is what is the quiz maker’s - and by extension the culture filter’s - conclusive source that Ram, in his “many depictions” is “famously shown” holding his bow(and arrow, too?) in the right hand? So, what and where did Jamal see whatsoever he did? And if what Jamal saw was a very specific localized religious rendering of Ram and, therefore, one of many possible variations, then how can that possibly be the conclusive answer, how can it be an authentic question about Ram, and how can it be a genuine quiz contest for crorepatis to be or not to be? Babu may well have been right in his initial estimation of quizardry and Mughal Miniatures, it would seem, ought to make much better study material than Alexander Dumas – ‘s’ silent , please, Anil, because that’s how we’ve been brought up on our pronunciation, though ‘mas’ is ok for the masses, I assume, and we don’t much care what you say and do in KBC 3, if you do! And its many numb-erless variations (Derek, are you listlessing?).
But back to the freaking-us-out conversations about SM. Beyond consternation about Ram and Surdas, it has driven Salil Tripathi into a séance, exhuming kind old friend Behram, who once introduced me to Shobha De at the TIMELESS ART midnight preview at VT (now CST) before Sotheby’s auctioned off the art pieces with great panache to an elite group of bidders among whom was Shobha’s husband, though Hussain’s "Hashmi" went to a diamond merchant Millionaire for just over a Million, the first time at that price in Indian art history. It was a burun muska moment for plebs like me (the ‘s’ word had not then been invented) and the many TOI staffers who organized the event for the vicarious pleasure it gave us!
For Rajesh Ramachandran, on the other hand, SM is quite simply BT…a Bum Trip of the worst pornographic kind that transforms steamy malayali(sm) looking for celluloid gratification into short-changed malayali (sm) hurling abuses back at the movie, labelling as rootless anyone who roots for it. The TOI, of course, is Foxed, between Nikhat and Avijit , not sure if SMis a flop only in the multiplexes or in single screen cine-towns or both or neither….whether it is doing well in the Box Office or only in the Fox Office. (In fact, until yesterday morning it - ToI- was acutely conflicted for years by Ram's left-right lila-combo). Which gives the paper just the excuse to slip into a 150 year …sorry, now more than 170 year sociological history of India! A sort of escape from the reality of a film which in its denouement is itself a farcical escape from the inescapable dark reality it depicts…a kind of dog, sorry slumdog , vigorously chasing its own tail….and catching it …only to leave us thoroughly disappointed at what it has caught! Ask the Elphinstonians...
Then there is the AB household , where must be raging a hot debate between – no, not Saas Bahu, but Bahu-Sasur, the former claiming SM is only a film and the latter convinced it is a document, if not a documentary of our these slumdog times of over six decades, (Franky would be pol. scientifically pleased), and what a shame that we should make a document of it ("exporting poverty" is the nu turn of ref. ?). As for Sharon Stone we are happy she has made slapping contact with cheeky Dev Patel - it should stun him into realization that not he but little Ayush Khedekar is the really great actor in the film.(What does happen to children who act in such cruel movies, as their parents vociferously goad them on to Oscar nights? More on that, depiction of babies on Nestle CERELAC packs, now thankfully discontinued, and the discovery of Nestle LACTOGEN tins in Dharavi to uncannily coincide with a feature in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC on that bustling guttervi township later!)
As for the many who desire to indianify and thereby indemnify SM- the film- is its music. A.R. Rahman is undoubtedly in their eyes, sorry ears, a true winner but not necessarily because SM is a repository of his best, but because by his own admission he tolerated a lot to get there, “...we even got a lot of abuse from the US guys”, he says but is philosophical about it , “whenever there is too much trauma, bad pressure , it always pays off”, grotesquely Grotowski but which, if no one has noticed, is really the sm spirit of SM : abusive, traumatic and bad pressure, which may pay off in terms of winning some award or the other but it is going to …in fact , has already , left permanent scars on our subconscious …like those on Latika’s cheek and in that sense is just the anti-thesis of hope!(Is it not FOX HISTORY that suggests to us that there must have been extreme abuse, trauma and pressure behind the building of the Taj – imagine simply forgetting who the designer was and allowing the Shahensha ha ha to appropriate the credits for his keen attention to detail?! And compare that with folklore that the slaves that built this romantic wonder of the world had their hands severed for fear they may repeat the wonder elsewhere for some lustful other. Just for how long will the slave driving of cheap labour build our ‘monuments’ before it erupts on the skin of the body politic like pus filled sores? As for Jamal’s impervious implications of ‘maximum pile up’ ending maximum beautiful lady’s life at maximum childbirth, he could as well have been referring to ‘The Last Duchess”! Abuse, trauma and bad pressure, indeed! Is there a Ministry of Population Control in this country that allows the circulation of such stories pregnant with child making as a precursor to lovemaking?)
Such is the equivocation of SM , akin to liquor, which in the words of the famous soothsayer, the re-Porter @ Hell Gate, enhances the desire for lovemaking but blunts the performance. You get so high about winning the Oscars , you are not particularly sexed up about doing anything about the hell hole conditions of Mumbai. It’s a disease called Slummeria, that spreads like malaria, when you fall in love (loveria or with 'u') with your slums, in fact get sentimental about them, and publicly display the festering sores, the pimps, the goons, the rioters and widely admire the vitality of the bogs, the stench, the blinding, the violence, the corrupt and the corrupting.
Little wonder the makers of SM now see another great commercial and maudlin opportunity here…neither an antidote nor a cure for Slummeriabut further opportunity to “abuse, traumatize, badly pressurize”, and well, sentimentalize. They intend to launch a reality TV show called SSM – Secret Slumdog Millionaire. Perhaps there will be a contest , too…to choose the participants …or the winners…or both …who in Dev Patel’s words slightly rearranged , “will be put up in this hotel – really dingy – you won’t remember its name . Dressed in bright red Bruce Lee T-shirt and trainers you will be taken to the basement and you’re gonna be made to wash dishes for hours . And your masters are going to be on the cell phone ignoring your very presence, your existence …except to slave drive you to scrub these dishes all day …and the experience will be surreal and you are just going to love it!” And the winner of SSM may so traumatize one or more participants as to drive her/him to cancer, which will only bring out the charitable ‘goody’ in the winner – s/he will be morally compelled to pay for the losers’ treatment … while also buying into an IPL team, believing in Twenty-20 as the ultimate Slumdog Millionaire maker.(Since then Dev - no Anand - has indeed done a hotel film...where he expects his Mummy ji to do more than dish wash to solicit clients!)
And the pay off? More Oscars and more slums, more abuse, more trauma, more ‘lendi on the margin’ pressure. More Prahladic Bottom of the Pyramid discussions, with the bottom so bizarrely close to the top that you could look from one to the other and ….. that’s right, you know the rest ! In short, more Slummeria.
Under these awegodforsome cinematic circumstances that lead to an Oscar, our nutan effort of democratic marching into Maoist liar, sorry lair, with electronic fingering thingamajig, chicken neck slashing and feather drop silence sans canon ball acceleration, sans item number rape murder bloodshed gore and goo but merely some open forestree toiletree and cricked neck sans crush is simply mindedly too tame and much too much officialise to Oscrack it!
As a wisecrack once quipped, Attenborough's Gandhi triumphed because for a tiny moment, a wee willy moment, the Academy took its eyes off its belly button and all that comes below it.
In the case of NEWTON we can only hope it will simply be surdasblind to that nether region... for much longer than a moment...
Better to have sent in or to nominate next, "G Kutta Se". But about that exquisite form and content of perversity, in multifarious forms & content, hai Dahiya, at a suburbia near Delhi NCR - (Dharavi-getting-ominously-closer-even-as-now-you-watch-them-now-you-don't-stone-bridges-appear-and-disappear-at-elfinmagical-stampspeeds), in the next review.
Positioning India: Democracy within a Continuum
Substrate: Infrastructure in a Democracy within a Continuum
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