Sunday, 31 January, 2010


30 crores RGV spends on his film Rann and not a fraction of it could he use to hire a halfway decent cameraman? It’s been an hour since viewing the film, but my head still reels painfully from the after effects of what can only be the work of a 12 year old child’s first attempt with a handycam. Lopped off heads and chins, blurred objects, missing focus, utter lack of awareness about using the zoom and hasty, choppy movements. It's a challenge to find one perfect frame in the 3 hour ordeal.

It is a very Madhur Bhandarkar- esque (read superficial) take on the world of media and politics. The film has the right raw material for an entertainer, except, the script is predictably boring without any sense of a build up and made worse by clich├ęd unimaginative dialogues. It takes a post 2004 RGV to assembly a wonderful cast and end up with nothing. The female leads are fleshed out in unconvincingly dense roles while the men are stereotype in the portrayal of their characters.

Gul Panag who has previously given a lovely performance in Nagesh Kuknoor’s 'Dor' is wasted in her tiny bubble gum role, as is Rajat Kapoor, who has the same expression throughout the film. Ikhlaq Khan is shockingly not given even one dialogue in spite of him hovering around Paresh Rawal in every scene. Sudeep's character is fun to watch initially but loses it's charm quickly. With his intense looks and crackling voice he might just be dynamite under the guidance of a more skillful director. Rajpal Yadav cannot go wrong in any film with his formula for acting and is hilarious as always, Ritesh Deshmukh gives a better performance in this than any of his prior films but has a bland role. Paresh Rawal is mediocre, again not his fault, with creative dialogues it could have been a more impressive performance as a wily politician .

The biggest waste is Amitabh Bachchan who is used in a way he might be used for a Navratna Tel or Ambhuja Cement ads, i.e. without tapping his true potential. When a meaty chunk of his performance finally does come in the end, the powerful speech is botched up by possibly the worst camerawork in the history of filmmaking. Trying to be artistic the shots are taken through gaps between objects and blurred angles which effectively cut out the expressions on Bachchan's face.

To crown it all the film is set to music that alternates between the Pepsi Youngistan kinda jingles and Ganesh Chathurti prayer chants.It's shocking that Nikhat Kazmi has actually given Rann higher ratings than Ishqiya in her reviews! Someday TOI wills sack her, but we shouldn't hold our breath. At best RGV has diagnosed the fault in current news scenario correctly, but tell us something we didn’t know already!

Monday, 18 January, 2010

Not Just News - The Hindu, 17th January 2010

I like this piece in the Hindu on journalism in Nagaland by Sevanti Ninan. With the rash of newspapers, channels and magazines that have cropped up in the past decade, covering news has become a mechanical activity. It is often a dilemma when you are out in the field to do something different about a story that 50 other reporters are covering and yet remain relevant. Much is stressed on about the freedom of the press, which is what is responsible for the state of journalism today, but after reading this article one feels that good journalism really thrives within constraints, especially when you think of the Emergency or the post independence period when newspapers like Amrit Baazar Patrika and Statesman were at their peak. The point I make is a little flawed and biased maybe considering news from conflict zones or periods makes for more interesting stories than reading about BMC corruption scandals yet again , but the article will explain better the idea of covering local news interestingly.

Not just news

- In a close knit society like Nagaland journalism can get personal and is like a village diary...

If you want a break from sensational media you need to go to Nagaland. While everywhere else newspapers shriek about conflict, here they urge peace, and in Biblical terms, at that. In a region that has had conflict since the 1950s and a peace process currently in the works, the rules the newspapers here live by are rather different from the rest of the country. Far from probing scandals or corruption, or proactively interviewing all concerned on Naga issues, those who run newspapers here say that they have to constantly tiptoe around sensitivities in a close-knit society. Nor is there any shrieking from competitive TV reporters because the only television produced here is out of a headless Doordarshan Kendra. Cable or satellite TV does not exist.

There are four English dailies, all published from Dimapur. In sharp contrast to the rest of the country, as much as 50 per cent of the newspaper readership in urban Nagaland is in English.

Scrutinise the reporting here and you find that the reporter carefully gives one side of the story, and then the other. Inverted marks open and close, with nary a sentence in between. The correspondent's voice never surfaces. Is that because he is not skilled or because of self censorship because of the UG (Underground) you ask Geoffrey Yaden, editor of the highest circulated daily The Nagaland Post. Both, he replies.

Starting out

Journalism is young in Nagaland. It did not have a seven-days-a-week daily ( Nagaland Page) till 1999. For several years before the Postcame in 1991 there were only political party affiliated periodicals. Nagas have an oral tradition, Nagamese has no script, so newspaper narratives are still an underdeveloped skill. The regional language press uses the Roman script. And from decades before the 1997 ceasefire there has been a powerful censor around — the Underground, or UG. The fact that reporters are inexperienced and unskilled also accounts for the timid reporting.

Today the more effective determinant of what should constitute journalism is Naga society, replete with its own tribal etiquette. Clan, range — all the social institutions come into play. It's not just about news, editors tell you. Here the way people perceive a newspaper is like a village diary. After every function the organiser sends a note saying we appreciate his coming (about the chief guest.). Or we congratulate so and so. He has brought good name to our village. Village communities are quick to take offence if you do not print their handouts. “There are 30 to 40 a day and if you don't use one the village will send its representatives to ask, are you angry with our village?” says Akum Longchar who founded the Morung Express.

He also describes why you cannot risk experimenting with exposes. “We carried a news item related to an officer. Accusations against him. A few days later the village representatives came and said you have insulted our village. ‘When you write about him you write about the village.' There is a very fine line between the individual and the collective here. And once it's out in print you cannot retract. You have to solve it culturally.” So in this case Longchar and his bureau chief, accompanied by their respective fathers and an intermediary, had to negotiate with the village's representatives to make peace.

Similarly Monalisa Changkija, the feisty editor of the Nagaland Page has had tribal elders approach her father-in-law in an effort to get her to reveal the name of an anonymous writer in her newspaper. Reporters and sub-editors in the papers have their own take on what inhibits journalism here. “We cannot write anything against anybody, Dimapur is a small world. And Kohima is a very small world,” says N. Jagoi who works at the Eastern Mirror, owned by Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio.

Naga newspapers have several distinctive features, one of which is the space they give to Naga society. From Naga students at distant Jawaharlal Nehru University, to members of the underground, retired bureaucrats and church pastors, everybody sends their views to the press, and every paper carries them. We are giving the space for people to tell their stories,” says Longchar. “A special feature of Naga papers is these articles by people,” says Yaden. “They think it is their right to have this space. But Naga society has to get over this business of being proud of being Naga, etc,” he adds in a reference to the agonising over Naga identity that appears almost daily in the press.

Changkija says this space was created in the days when different factions of the underground wanted their versions carried. “We call it your page, the space created where people's statements are carried. Specially those of different groups. It is safe, it is convenient, it is a protective measure for us. Whoever wants to read it reads it.” The same piece is often carried by all the newspapers.

Distinct flavour

Part of Nagaland's rather original approach to journalism is that people who “give” news also urge its early and frequent use. Says Changkija, they ring up and say, I kindly request you to publish it on page one, and three or four times, okay. This man was a doctor. So I said, will you repeat an operation three or four times on a person?”

And finally there is the Christian framing of issues in a state where the church is a powerful social institution. About the ongoing Naga Reconciliation movement attempting to bring together factions of the NSCN (National Socialist Council of Nagaland) an editorial in the Nagaland Postdeclares that the first step towards reconciliation is repentance before God, seeking forgiveness from those who have been wronged and willingness to forgive by those who have been wronged. “There is a Biblical requisite for reconciliation with God and therefore, the willingness of all factions to meet and talk with each other inspires hope,” it adds.

Wednesday, 13 January, 2010

A Bureaucratic Cesspool

Built in the 12th century, the Banganga Tank is a part of the complex of temples at Walkeshwar. It is not only a heritage site but a place of deep mythological and religious significance, a cultural hub for dancers and musicians and above all a source of fresh water to a city already plagued with water shortages. None of these reasons however seem important enough for government authorities to ensure it's speedy restoration.

Environmental NGO SOCLEEN ( Society for Clean Environment) in collaboration with NEERI has conducted the assessment of the Banganga water tank for the past two years after recurring complaints of the dying fish population. Activities like washing clothes, bathing, immersion of food material and pooja items and unchecked sewage waste is slowly destroying the tank ironically known for it's medicinal and purifying properties.

"We had provided the BMC with remedial measures for maintenance of the tank in 2007. As there was no implementation of these measures provided by SOCLEEN, therefore there was no gross improvement in water quality and maintenance of the tank observed in 2008," says researcher Avick Sil , who assessed the water quality and restoration of the Tank.

The onus of responsibility for the restoration project shifted from the BMC to the State Archeological Department in February 2008. ' We have received no such remedial reports from the BMC, says R.D.Nipane, junior engineer for the project at the Archaeological Department, " the BMC work was shabby, we have at least repaired the steps and the stone flooring leading to the tank."

A budget of Rs.1.81 crore was allocated by the government for the restoration of the Banganga, but the project has run out of steam and money with only 50% of the work done and an approximate 2 crores and 2 years more needed for the restoration to be complete. Nipane lists out various reasons for the delays "The budget was allocated 3 years back, since then rates have increased by 30 to 40 percent, it takes time till the money is actually received by the department, the materials are ordered from distant places like Ahmednagar, Kolhapur and Nandev and construction projects always come to a halt during the monsoons."

Merely concentrating on temporary beautification instead of taking long term conservation steps, a visit to the tank now in 2010 shows a classic case of the casual approach of the government towards maintaining heritage sites. While the authorities drag their feet ,those who bear the brunt of the delay are the residents living with this squalor amidst them, the once thriving fish, tortoise and ducks of the tank ecosystem and the regular visitors of the Banganga Music Festival.

The Festival started in 1992 is an annual 2 day event in January organized by the MTDC (Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation), to boost travel and tourism in the state. Sine the restoration project though, the festival has taken a back seat. Reflecting on the mismanagement of tourism across the country, the Banganga Tank is an example of lucrative, environmentally sound business opportunities botched up by bureaucracy.

Monday, 4 January, 2010

New year and all that...

The thing with New Year is that most think that it revolves around conversions. Not in the religious sense but a more Tolstoyan concept of new birth. People have epiphanies, make resolutions and even those who don't, secretly hope that things will change. But is conversion really possible? So reads the title of a lesser known paper by British philosopher G.E.Moore. Will we really undergo that mystic transformation of spirit that we experience regularly in childhood and lesser and lesser as we grow older? Every new year, month, week and even day I keep thinking, this is it, this is where things will change, resolves will be made and what’s more , kept. But do we really ever change?

It's been a while and then some. A friend who loyally visits the blog, let's face it, it's gotta be only loyalty that keeps you coming here, is urging to get back to blogging. I am convinced otherwise. Many dusty pieces lie half finished, unedited and uninspired in the drafts section, photographs un uploaded, loosing relevance. By the time I have decided what to say it is not worth saying anymore. Like this New Year post which is already 2 days old and is going to sound even older.

Having passed into a deep, unshakable ( so those who tried say ) slumber at 12.30am on 31st, I missed out on ushering the New Year party and woke up cramped, cold and inexplicably on a terrace early on 1st morning, cut off by a half an hour ride over hilly terrain to civilization and more than an hour for home. Once home it was a new year and the same old shit.

Life in Bombay will continue till divine inspiration intervenes and lights up a path leading to a career/education/ or considering the situation these days, martial harmony. Either of the three options being very welcome.

Television and newspapers will bore me to tears while blogs and alternative non profit media outlets will seduce me from forming rational, sustainable career decisions.

Friends will continue to become chartered accountants with nontaxable salaries, teachers with published research papers, MBA graduates with pay packages, engineers headed to the white lands, government employees with free housing, scholars with fellowships or horror of horrors, journalists happy with their jobs, while I swing from insanity to indifference without unfortunately sticking to any one side.

The swinging both ways will prompt continuing substance abuse that will finally catch up this year, I can feel it in my bones, literally.

The ensuing health hazards will ensure I am still caught between adolescence and being a responsible adult. Family and friends will still have touching faith in the supposed brilliance once displayed as a child, long lost somewhere in the transition from school to college. Continuing anti-social behavior to convince them otherwise will, in turn, nullify the third life changing path open in 2010.. martial harmony. Hence back to career, education and square one.

Travel and Living, National Geographic, random road trips, short lived projects, dabbling in photography, music, writing and other forms of simulated stimulation will continue to help living vicariously.

To misquote the Wreckers -

Only crazy people will still Fall in love with me Will come from all over To be with me Bank robbers and killers Drunks and drug dealers Only crazy people will Fall in love with me and vice- versa

Blog formatting will continue to be a bitch and malfunction and switching to a new blog will continue not being an option, because, whose blogging anyway?

So in spite years of enthusiastic faith in the possibilities of change, things never really change intrinsically. Monday mornings cannot be made to feel like Saturday nights.

For those for whom it is a New and Happy year, Happy New Year.