Tuesday 20 March 2012

Big City Life : The Walk Home

Kakamuchee , Galajunkja , Maha Amba , Mumba Devi, Mumba ,Mombayn , Bombain , Bombaym, Monbaym, Mombaim, Mombaym, Bambaye, Bombaiim, Bombeye, Boon Bay, Bombay and finally Mumbai. The city of many names and many more facets.

Archaeological evidence shows this city to have been inhabited since the Stone Age and to this day the rowdy crowds of Bombay display strong resemblance to their primate antecedents. One cannot blame them really. Bombay is the most populous city in India and the 6th most populous urban area in the world. If any other city tried squeezing 20.5 million people into two narrow strips of land totalling about 600sqkm, those people would be pretty mad from trying not to fall into the sea too.

Even at the Gaza Strip, despite the Molotov Cocktails and Tear Gas Shells and Civil War, the 1.6 million refugees are confined to a relatively spacious 360sqkm of land as compared to Bombay. Yet we make do the best with what we have and like the Palestinians try to find oases of peace and tranquillity in the noisy scramble for survival around us.

My first Oasis was the dead-end lane that classes were located in. An unusually leafy cobbled lane ending in an old bungalow surrounded by gulmohar and guava trees. There was also a Muslim slum, the kids of which became quite friendly. What you see below is the ‘campus’ - a ledge. It was legendary Open-mouthed smile, primarily for the endless lunches, pyro maniacal incidents, vociferous debates and camera sessions we had all on that one ledge that accommodated 3.

In different seasons the lane took on different aspects, like the presence of a LARGE goat during the month of Ramzan which disappeared on ID. The Indian flag over the slums during I- Day or swinging into the building on the gate when the lane flooded in the monsoons.

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The Walk from work was the second of the Oases. Nobody likes Bombay commute and I mean NOBODY. There was nothing I disliked more than being in a stationary rickshaw in the heavy humid evenings knowing Id be home faster walking. So I walked. The 45min walk from college to home was split into sections to add variety. In the first section were familiar people, our usual tapri, a miniscule 7ft passage called Bharat Cafe run by an old uncle, his wife and son, all migrated from Rajasthan. Further along the street was the Sandwich stall run on rotation by brothers from Bihar and a Sodalemonwater walla who once described to us how difficult it was to get ice and store it everyday.

At the end of the road I took a right and the dinginess gave way to a huge vista of the western express skyline with piles of purple and orange clouds framing the flyover and huge crossroad. Id pass the police chowky a questionable bar and a fisherwoman displaying fish by gaslight everyday. This was the second section stretching from the Cigarette factory till the Andheri flyover/station.

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I loved walking that flyover which was the third section. It was slightly cooler with the slight increase in altitude above sea level Smile with tongue out and it was fun looking below at the thundering trains, level crossings and slum patches where people played volleyball in the evenings.

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Also once the Andheri skywalk was built it added another dimension to the walk on the bridge.

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The last section was from the end of the flyover to home. There was a late night vegetable vendor and a dairy. These were saviours at 9pm when I had yet again forgotten the fresh veggies and milk for my roommate Monica Geller.

Saturday 17 March 2012

3 Hours of Solid Will Power

This is NOT a sociological analysis. For that matter I don’t think the previous review was either. Last semester we managed to avoid the pitfalls of heard mentality and pick a decent films to review. This semester, no such luck. My entire Gender Studies class voluntarily enthusiastically wanted to watch Hum Saath Saath Hai. Aaah the joys of togetherness! At this wonderful university, supposed Centre of Advanced Studies and learning, we dumb everyone down to the lowest common denominator instead of trying to raise the bar and learn more – Indian Socialism at its best.

As a result one had to sit and suffer through 3 hours of pure hell and end up with permanent cringe lines on the face resulting in the following err… ‘review’. Suffice to say- this semester.... Gender F.A.I.L.

HUM SAATH SAATH HAI:

*ing –

Ramkishen & Mamata - Alok Nath and Reema Lagoo

Vivek & Sadhana - Mohnish Behl and Tabu

Prem & Preeti - Salman Khan and Sonali Bendre

Vinod & Sapna - Saif Ali Khan and Karisma Kapoor

Anand & Sangeeta - Mahesh Thakur and Neelam

If you have watched Hum Aapke Hai Kaun, then this film hardly needs an explanation. Introduce a few new characters, change the songs and you have Hum Saath Saath Hai (HSSH) with its all star cast but without the charm of Madhuri Dixit. The dialogues are a deluge of saccharine sweet clichés. The over-the-top sets - an anathema to Plaster of Paris, actors ham it to the point of parody while the unimaginative script and screenplay put one to... Zzzzz.......!

Typical of a Sooraj Barjatya and a Rajshri productions film, it deals with the joys and sorrows of a big, affluent, joint family in India. Ramkishen and Mamata have three sons and a married daughter- Sangeeta. All share a loving and sickeningly sweet relationship with each other and much is made of Ramkishen’s ideals of ‘a family that prays together, eats together; stays together,’ inspite of the pessimism of their many friends and relatives who think it impossible to live peacefully in a joint family in these degenerate times.

Vivek, the eldest son from Alok Nath’s first wife, was handicapped in a childhood accident trying to save his younger step-brothers and is revered by his siblings. As the story proceeds, or aims to, the three sons get married or engaged. This basically constitutes the first half of the film, replete with occasion after occasion and song after song and what looks like the entire family on a permanent vacation. The vacation ends eventually when they learn that Sangeeta and her husband are done out of their share of the joint family business and home and have to start life afresh.

Using the incident, scheming relatives and friends lead Mamata to throw her eldest son and his family out of the house to ensure the security of her two younger sons. At this time of crisis the brothers and daughter-in-laws stand united and refuse to support such an action, which comes as a slap in the face of every K- serial ever made. In the end Mamata sees the error of her ways, Ramkishen’s ideals prevail and the whole big fat Indian family lives happily ever after, adding a new grandson to their ranks.

THE EXTENDED PERSPECTIVE OR MORE OF THE SAME.

Like many of the films of the 90’s, HSSH highlights the North Indian brand of Hinduism that is synonymous with the image of India and more significantly its implications on gender roles in society. It is infused with religiosity right from the first scene beginning with the family praying together in their oversized indoor temple to the ‘bhajan’ like quality of the songs throughout the film and ending with Reema Lagoo asking Ram’s idol for forgiveness for being less than a perfect mother and wife. The rites and rituals, the wedding finery and food, which also is omnipresent in every scene, are all things preferred or practiced in North India, typically UP and Rajasthan. Although there is the overtly portrayed Hindu-Muslim unity that feel good family films tend to have, in the form of the Muslim secretary Rehana, Vivek’s Man Friday - Anwar (Shakti Kapoor) and a turbaned secretary, conspicuously placed to represent diversity, nowhere in this ideal representation of Indian society is there any mention of ‘Payasam’ amongst the ‘Motichoor Ke Ladoos’ or any character from the southern states. The representation of a typical Indian family in the film is much like the common perceived notion of Indian culture - symbolic only of the 6 states in the north, excluding J&K.

The overarching theme of the film is blatantly picked up from the Ramayan. Ram, Laxman and Bharat are reflected in Vivek, Vinod and Prem respectively- all three are men of flawless character and integrity (Though in mythology, from a feminist perspective Ram is much criticized as being far from perfect and bordering on cruel and petty). In the search for their brides we see that the identity of a woman is completely overpowered by her role as a daughter-in-law. Sadhana may have been born and raised in the West but is an embodiment of demure Indian household values. Preeti may be a doctor; a degree we all know takes guts and character to pursue. But Preeti is painfully shy and timid, lacking in confidence and ultimately deriving it from the ‘gajar ka halwa’ she cooks to satisfaction for her fiancé. Sapna is supposed to be a popular college topper who is praised for being efficient in housework as well. She is married off quickly without even a hint to the audience as to what she was studying or a glimpse into her college life.

The whole emphasize on modern yet traditional woman has the superwoman construct built into it. Yet any aspect of all the women’s identities before or outside their roles as wives, mothers and daughters is quite forgotten. It is widely understood that for most women in Indian society a standalone identity does not exist but the women in the film do not even have a strong enough identity as wives and mothers. It is the ideal daughter-in-law or ‘bahu’ role that cuts through the various stages of life that the women in HSSH portray. Be it college going Sapna, the professional Preeti, cultured Sadhana or even in the end Mamata -the matriarch of the whole family - all are viewed through the lens of the perfect ‘Bahu’ – one responsible for keeping the family and its honour together.

Correspondingly, dishonour then is an unmarried woman. This is garishly brought across through Mamata’s three unmarried friends whose portrayal is rife with vamp-ish make –up, cigarette toting fingers, loose morals and late nights. They are the rummy playing, rum drinking schemers and manipulators, trying to wreck the happiness of the perfect Indian home since they themselves do not have the ‘ideal’ family life, so to speak.

Under their influence, Reema Lagoo does a Kaykei and demands her that her husband banish Vivek from his industrial empire. It should be noted that this does not necessarily mean women have that much participation in any decision making process. Mamata derives her power from being the mother of three sons and moreover the mother-in-law of the two brides to be. Her unhappy husband can do little to stop her and therefore Vivek leaves for the fringes of the family business at Rampur with Tabu as Sita in tow and even more symbolically the younger brother Vinod, emulating Laxman and tagging along. Mamata thinks all is taken care of till Prem the middle child comes home and like Bharat refuses to take Vivek’s place as Managing Director or the young head of the household or even get married to Preeti, who willingly goes along with his honourable sentiment of ditching his fiancé and long-time sweetheart. Symbolically he will not sit in Vivek’s chair at work or occupy his bedroom. He merely awaits his elder brother’s return at the end of this industrial age ‘vanvas’.

Thus the whole Ramayan is played out, reinforcing not just society’s notions of family values and female stereotypes but also the internalization of these roles by the women themselves who are giddily happy in every scene, decked from top to toe and willingly sacrificing their own dreams and aspirations to follow their husbands into oblivion. It all seems natural. Except in mainstream cinema this is a dangerous trend, one that we can see has been taken to even greater heights by the Karan Joharization of Indian Cinema where the role of the typical Indian woman with her endless fasting and sacrificing as a mother or wife is so wrapped up in the glitz and glamour of Bollywood that many fail to see the gender subtext which is being not only glorified but preached to the masses and instilled and institutionalized ever Friday at the Box Office. Why is this accepted? Because unlike life, Hindi films have a happy ending, where Ram comes back and Dashrath doesn’t even die.

When you wish you had written it….

"Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence you know. So finally I would write one true sentence, and then go on from there. It was easy then because there was always one true sentence that I knew or had seen or had heard someone say. If I started to write elaborately, or like someone introducing or presenting something, I found that I could cut the scrollwork or ornament out and throw it away and start with the first true simple declarative sentence I had written."
- Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast.