Sunday, January 26, 2014

Film Dedh Ishqiya, a review of what it is not

Romantic humour, starring Madhuri Dixit - Nene, Naseeruddin Shah, Arshad Warsi, Huma Qureshi, fulfills its purpose in making the viewer sit up and have a good laugh at the story line.

Two crooks, having stolen a precious necklace are caught and jailed. After coming out of the jail, Khalu, (Naseeruddin Shah) discovers another opportunity that has opened up for him. Began Para ( Madhuri Dixit), the unrequited in love and marriage wife of the Nawab of a princely state Mahmudabad, who has died, leaving all his wealth to her, has called for ‘application’ of all eligible men in the state to come compete to win her hand in marriage. The Nawab had made one condition though – the Begum, who was a dance girl, winning many hearts, must marry only someone who is a poet. Hence, a motley crowd of so called poets gather to show their poetic prowess.

In the meantime, it is revealed that the Begum, much disillusioned with her shohar, the now dead Nawab, whose only passion was for young males dressed in coiffure delicate suits, had indeed, developed an intimate relationship with her hand maid, Huma Qureshi. While a show of pretense is held for the choice of the right candidate, there are two things at play – one, Naseeruddin Shah discovers that in the motley crowd, his old friend and fellow thief Arshad Warsi, is there as well. Second, and more importantly, Huma along with the Begum have hatched their own plan to fool the entire lot of hopeful men, but they require a close ally who would help them execute their plan, without knowing what was going on behind his back.

Arshad, is that ally, the emotional target in the ploy, who is befriended by Huma and fooled into believing that she is in love with him. Indeed, their desire has culminated into a one-night-stand. Huma, manages to use him, to steal the wealth from the palace and then makes off with the Begam, to start a life with each other, starting a classical dancing school for young girls. The men are left high and dry and must meet their own fate in the hands of law once again.

While the mainline of the film is a comedy of errors, the film has borrowed marginally from the story Lihaaf by Ismat Chugtai.

In the original story, a similar situation is at play – the disillusioned Begum develops itches all over the body and needs the help of the maid to constantly scratch her, while her Nawab, a lover of art and young men, entertains himself with the choicest men, leaving his wife as if she were an artifact. In the original story, the Begum and her maid are depicted to be in a close intimate relationship, when their erotic kiss is displayed on the wall as a shadow. Indeed, the narrator of the story, the young child, is a spectator to the goings on, between the two, as she sees the ‘elephant’ in movement under the quilt – Lihaaf, thus telling the reader of physical, sexual activity going on.  

The Madhuri Dixit – Nene starrer is not so bold and even though the kissing scene is imitated between her and Huma, as it appears in the original story, Dedh Ishqiya can hardly be considered a take-off from Lihaaf, although it tries to imitate it.

It is hardly a story of two women coming together, because of love. It is reflective of an escape route for the Begam, in the face of having a shohar, who is not interested in her body or emotions at all. Indeed, the storyline is comic with a twist.

Madhuri Dixit – Nene, has played a good come back role, using a dash of sensationalism but yet has not moved from the bedrock of what she stands for, the dhuk-dhuk girl of men. And there lies the Dedh Ishqiya – who is the Dedh, one and a half measure? Is he the Nawab first and the Begum half? Is it, Huma, the maid first, and the Nawab, half? Is it the loves of the Nawab, first and the Begam, half? While we think on, we can’t forget that Nasiruddin Shah and Begam Para had also gone past the first stage of love, in their past association, but had only been half fulfilled.

Dedh Ishqiya, makes a good attempt to break the cast of a story of two women, taking off with each other, in the backdrop of unrequited love from men thus remaining loyal to the hetero-normative patterns of social partnerships.

Ms Madhuri Dixit – Nene, knows which side her bread is buttered and where the money lies. Finally, it is in the hearts of men, and women, who might want to imitate/fall in love with her screen name, fame and beauty. She has already bagged one crore from Uttar Pradesh state government as a token of appreciation.  

The same appreciation was not shown to even an actress of much deeper significance, Shabana Azmi. Or for that matter Nandita Das.

Got the message, now? Deal with it.

Please note: If you don’t know Urdu, which is the language you will hear most the dialogue in the movie, don’t fear. The desi-English subtitles help you through, somehow.

You may also like to read another review:

Or read Ismat Chugtai’s Lihaaf as presented in Manushi magazine

Monday, January 20, 2014

A resting place for the P!

India, last week must be scrutinized with even-mindedness.

To begin with, let us dwell on the video below, where, three leaders from different religious bodies have spoken on same sex love. Please to note, Ramdev baba who apparently has a cure for homosexuality, is represented by the lady, who supports his magic yogic remedy. According to her, engagement in same sex activity is counter productive for future generations. After all, sexual activity, is supposed to have an end in mind, that being procreation.

Our Mulla ji, supports her views and reiterates that since, it is not allowed in the Quran, it must be banned. Not only that, all homosexuals must be stoned to death.

Most interesting however is the view of our Father, who while stating that the church certainly does not permit such acts, considers that in future it might re-look at homosexuality and consider making some changes in its rigid attitude towards it. He supports the doing away of Section 377, IPC, in India, Thank you! But then, returning to what the Bible states as God made man for women, he refers to the male sexual organ and goes on to state, ‘there is a purpose for which these organs are made. It must find its place to rest in…’ meaning the vagina.

In the light of the above, let us now deviate from homosexual expression of love to the normative, hetero-sexual one. Two incidents that marred last week, were, the gang rape of the Danish tourist lady, in broad day light, which has shocked the world once again, making India, one of the most unsafe place to visit.

The lady had lost her way to her hotel in Paharganj, very near the New Delhi Railway Station. Having asked a boy to show her the way, she was misguided to a gang of men, drunk and drugged and instead of helping her, they gang raped her over nine times, leaving her shattered and abused. The Delhi Chief Minister, blamed drugs and drinks for these heinous acts, while the Danish lady fled back to the safety to her country.

The question I am asking you, dear religious leaders, will you say that this dastardly act happened because, the penis, must find its resting place? 

Take the second instance, the very recent death of the high profile wife of the Minister of state, in government of India. (see Link below), If the accusations are to be held true, for now Twitter must first hand over the IMs that went between the minister and his beloved, the Pakistani journalist, are we to again say that whether it be a male god, a politician, a high profile journalist, or some addicts and drunkards, we are to make a special concession, for the penis must find its resting place in the vagina of a woman?

In a news item, on page 28, of The Times of India, dated Sunday, January 19, 2014, titled, ‘In 2 years, ex-pope defrocked 400 priests for abuse’, (see Link below), it is clear that sexual abuse was and is rampant in the Church as ex-pope Benedict XVI states. Let us please NOT forget that the ex-pope had renounced his position because he declared that he could no longer lie that he was gay. Are we to say, that he was excommunicated because, his, could not find its resting place, as directed by god and other religious leaders?

Indeed, to draw religious leaders, religion into bedrooms, is insane! If they must pervade in our acts in the privacy of our homes, then they have lost their place under the sun. The purpose of religion is not to address our erotic and romantic inclinations and make preposterous statements about what the organ hanging between the legs must do or not do; indeed, theirs is a limited scope, that being, addressing the ‘spirit’, the ‘atman’, the ‘rabbah’ who resides within.

Do you see any merit in voices that talk because they need to voice their ignorance and intolerance? Indeed, they must first look at their own homes, their own blood and flesh and see why they insist on voicing their thoughts around subjects for which their opinions do not matter to us. They, people joining religious bodies in order to carry out religious activities, serve only as a section of society which can best be called a minority, for only a small percentage of human population, chooses to lead a life that is not normative.

What then are the Freudian connections between religion and sex? Why are they so obsessed about talking about sex? Is it trying to address their own need to find a resting place for their P?

If you ask me, what the connection is, between religion and the P, I would undoubtedly say, it lies right there, in the scriptures itself.

R. I. P

Suggested readings:

Delhi rape: how can women travellers stay safe?

In 2 years, ex-pope defrocked 400 priests for abuse

One step forward, two backward

Sunanda Pushkar, wife of Union minister Shashi Tharoor, found dead in Delhi hotel


Thursday, January 09, 2014

Film Bariwali: Boundaries around women's body and mind

Set in rural/semi urban Bengal, just away from Kolkata, Bariwali is a film that showcases life of women in a traditional Bengali family.

This write attempts to draw the attention of the reader to the choice of characters, in the background of the main story. It tries to understand, how sensitively and carefully, Rituparno Ghosh, the director of the film, chose his characters to speak of a deeper reality that lies beneath the upper layer of the story board itself.

The protagonist is nameless, just known as bariwali, the land lady. She lives alone in a massive house, on the outskirts of Kolkata, with two other human beings, Proshonno da and Maloti. Proshonno da, is single, rather elderly, with features that can be called feminine. He is the perfect aid that a woman needs for all the work which generally is managed by men. He is older than bariwali and is her paid help, and lives in the house. Maloti, is on the other hand is young, sprightly and active, both at home and romantically, since she has a boyfriend. She is also a paid help in the house.

Juxtapose, these two against the land lady, and what you will find is a woman, holding power over two workers in her house, but as the film develops, you see that actually, they are the people who have more power than her.

Carefully chosen by Rituparno Ghosh to put a point across, neither Proshonno da, nor Maloti will have any sexual, romantic intrusion into her life, because, Proshonno da, although well past his youth, is not a virile man, masculine and sex motivated. Indeed, in his quiet way, with his slight body, thin and exuding feminine gestures, the bariwali, is fuller and far stronger in appearance than him. Nor will Maloti, too young, playful and happy go lucky, be a challenge to preserving the bariwali’s sexuality, because, she may have to grow older to understand the deeper implications of this trajectory, and in any case she is engaged to her masculine, possessive boyfriend, with whom she is exploring her sexuality in the hide.

The barrenness of the life of bariwali, only comes to light though, when a film company hires the lower portion of her house to shoot their film. Dipankar, the director of the film, seems to come closest to her desires, when, interacting with him, on a daily basis; she is hounded by her own desires that have been asleep in her mind too long. It is revealed that she was at one time, about to be married, when a death in the family, caused her marriage to be cancelled, leaving her, unfulfilled. But is Dipankar going to fulfill her emotional, romantic needs? Hitched between, being desired by two women, one, the land lady herself, whose expression of her interest in him shows in subtle ways, the heroin of his the film, Rupa Ganguly is more blatant, the director is more concerned with his, film that the emotions of either women.

Bariwali is not going to benefit from the overture she has made. She will remain the nameless land lady, addressed only as Didi, elder sister. Indeed, she will have to remain in the cage of non-expression, silenced, because there is neither outlet, nor a shore where she can anchor her emotions on.

The wonderful choice of characters, in her personal life, Proshonno da and Maloti, while aiding her daily needs, accentuate the boundaries within which she lives, on the top floor of a massive house, where the light falls, only if she sits out in the verandah. Bariwali is living in the cage of her own making, as she lives the traditional life, not having seen or been with any other. Her sexuality will not be challenged by either of these, for one, is too gentle and too benign, the other, too young and exploring elsewhere.

Women’s sexuality are guarded, preserved, even if they are not productive in the normative sense, of the term, that being able to bear child. The shackles of tradition along with how they are placed in the environment in which they live, only strengthens the reality further.

Rituparno Ghosh, is known to bring out the layers of hypocrisy ailing the middle-class in the most refined and sometimes blatant way.

For those with finer taste, and a weak heart, Bariwali, will settle best in the stomach, the burps coming up gently to shake them up, for there is no getting away from the fact of the human chain of boundary, not only created by men, but preserved by women as well.

Cast: Chironjeet, Kiron Kher, Rupa Ganguly

Thursday, January 02, 2014

Book Review - Tibor Jones Nominee 2012, Tell a Thousand Lies

Tell a Thousand Lies by Rasana Atreya

On the face of it, it is the story of what almost every Indian is obsessed with, marriage and the colour of the skin.

Three girls, Malli and her twin sisters Lata and Pullamma are orphaned and brought up by their grandmother, Ammamma, with meager means until they reach the marriageable age when alliances must be made, paying dowry, bride price. This is Mallepalli Village, June 1995.

When a suitable boy is found for Lata, her twin Pullamma, taller and of darker skin is all helpful to ensure that the boys family does like Lata and takes her for their daughter-in-law, even though, Lata, the smartest of all the three sisters, actually wants to study to be a doctor. Malli has been sent away, in order to ensure that she is not seen by the boy’s family, while Pullamma, serves to make them happy. Alas, the dowry asked for is too high and while the possible alliance comes to naught, Lata, does the dreadful, in the hope of escaping her lot and the village, by having the unmentionable, sex and pregnancy thereafter, with a petty worker from the city who promises to marry her, but escapes.

In the meantime, central to the story is the politician, Kondal Rao, who holds the lives of the girls, their grandmother and twists and turns around these lives to help him achieve his end, that being winning the elections and a seat in the state government. Using Pullamma for his political benefit, he turns her life from a simple dark faces girl to a goddess, who becomes, even to her own refusal to enact the part, the local goddess, who is believed to create miracles. The fantastic turn of events is intersected often and again, by Pullamma attempts to return to a normal life and escape the village to do so. This comes true when Kondal Rao’s nephew marries her and takes her away to Hyderabad, where she is far from the milieu of her ‘abnormal’ life as a goddess. But not for long; the evil hands of Kondal Rao are too long and soon she is discovered and brought back to the village to feed the indeed, blind faith of the human crowd surrounding her, who most certainly will vote for Kondal Rao, because, he supports their mass obedience to Pullamma. By now, pregnant, Pullamma, finds her life managed once again by the powerful politician when he casts her away in a remand home for women, where Pullamma is to come across a doctor, with a broken life just like hers and who then helps her to escape once again to Bangalore. It has come with a tremendous price though, as Pullamma is told that she has given birth to a still born baby girl, when actually her boy child, born, healthy has been taken away and given off to a couple, who is dearest to Pullamma’s heart, closer than her own shadow, but she is not aware of it. Full of twists and turns, surprises, betrayal, benevolence and life changing events, Rasana Atreya has managed to weave a tale that keeps you hooked to the book, till the end. It plays out common daily happenings, which go as normal in our daily lives, but can be termed as sibling jealousy, and the surprising length it can go to, to destroy lives, especially when there is an unscrupulous politician who is ready to use every opportunity to his end.

Fear not reader, the expert story teller, whose book became the nominee for The Tibor Jones Asia Prize 2012, does not leave her readers high and dry. At the end, having waded through much mucky water that life lays out, the reader finds that the author has tied up the book nicely when all question marks are erased and the heart forgives the characters who wronged each other. Except Kondal Roa, who is now a Member of Parliament (MP) for his state. And if Pullamma had lost a lot, she has also received a lot more in life and finally, she does come around to be the winner, despite the colour of her skin, which is dark.

There are a few points that leave you to think about, after you have put your Kindle down – first, has the author, tried to prove that the colour of the skin for marriageable girls does not matter, because Pullamma does get it all, despite her struggles, loss, grief and misery. In which case, it is heart warming, to know that the great Indian obsession has been dealt a blow.

Second, the fantastic turn of events making Pullamma a goddess in the village at one time and over many other times and her escape to normal life, albeit aided by her husband and his mother, happens too often and one wonders how, the protagonist was able to keep the dual life on for long durations, easily falling into and out of it, with that much ease.

One also wonders from the feminist angle, that if Pullamma, could be considered to be the epitome of what feminists hunger for, a woman who has been able to break away from the shackles of a society driven by colour of skin, bride price, narrow mindedness, traditional conservative homes, why should such a woman hunger for her husband, child, and still worry about the colour of her own skin at times. But then, you realize, she is only Indian and no matter, how far she has travelled in her own journey, the core, values, remain the same.

The nuggets of wisdom spread across the books are eternal – the smart ones don’t always shine out in life; bad days are not forever; behind every cloud, there is a silver lining; keep out of the two Ps – police and politicians. And, many more.

A book based in India, where the language, used is thick with the flavor of ‘local’ fragrance in the use of the English language. And hence, very sweet!

Buy: On Kindle Rs 99, Paperback: Rs 918

About the author Rasana Atreya: