Friday, 24 November 2017

If Malayalam classic Chemmeen were made today, it would be banned for glorifying ‘love jihad’

The 1965 film would cause the Sangh Parivar to take major umbrage at its inter-faith romance.

Chemmeen, the 1965 Malayalam-language movie needs no introduction to any Keralite. This movie-adaptation of Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai’s eponymous novel is a Malayalam cinema classic that weaves the story of the tragic romance between Karuthamma (the daughter of a Dalit Hindu) and Pareekkutty (a Muslim trader), set in a tiny fishing village in coastal Kerala.

An article in The Hindu, published on Chemmeen’s 50th anniversary in 2015, describes the eternal and ethereal beauty of this jewel in Malayalam cinema’s crown. An excerpt:

“Set against the vast expanse of the sea, the narrative of Chemmeen offered immense visual possibilities, which the cinematographer and editor exploited creatively. In the film, the seascapes – its various moods, turbulences, ebbs and tides, and also its bounties – punctuate the narrative, virtually turning the sea into a character, raging and roaring, cheering and embracing the human drama unfolding on and before it. The legends and beliefs among the fisher-folk community are evoked time and again, through songs and dialogues, to paint the story in darker, dramatic hues.”

What if Chemmeen were to be first released in the present day?

If the recent “review” of Angamaly Diaries aired by Janam TV – a pro-Sangh Parivar Malayalam TV channel – were any indication, then Chemmeen would have been in for a rough ride. Angamaly Diaries was one of the biggest box-office successes of 2017, apart from the immense critical acclaim it received from even outside Kerala.

However, Janam TV’s film critic chose to trash the movie – and he is well within his rights to do this as a film critic. However, the review ended up being cannon-fodder for the famed Malayali social media satire, due to its blatantly communal colour.

The review, for example, criticised the movie for “showing too many visuals of churches” and even went on to ask whether there aren’t any temples in Angamaly, the real-world town the story is set in. It appeared to be lost on the reviewer that the movie IS about a group of Christian youth in Angamaly who set out to float their own pork-meat trading business.

Or perhaps it was not lost on him at all.

Kerala in 2017 stands tall like the little Gaul village of Asterix and Obelix – a perpetual thorn in the side for the rampaging legions of Caesar Amit Shah. Be it the state’s chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan or Congress politicians like Shashi Tharoor (the sitting Lok Sabha MP for Thiruvananthapuram) or Malayalam social media’s top political satirists like International Chalu Union – nobody misses an opportunity to push back and lampoon the Sangh’s attempts to impose their version of religiosity and “sanskar” on Kerala.

What would a young Sangh-supporting intellectual do in Kerala? Nothing much, other than cheer wildly about election results from faraway places like Bundelkhand and Kota. As far as career ambitions go, their best bet would be to butter up BJP’s North Indian bosses and hope to land a job in Prasar Bharati. Or maybe in CBFC, if Pahlaj Nihlani’s successor too manages to get himself fired.

If Chemmeen were to make its first appearance now, how would Janam TV see it? By the looks of it, they might jump at the opportunity to trash it, and perhaps even get it banned.

And why not? It has every ingredient that rubs a Sangh supporter the wrong way: a Hindu-Muslim love angle (“love jihad”), extra-marital love, glorification of local fables, and worst of all, fish-eating (the movie’s name itself translates to “Prawn”).

This is what they might come up with:

World cinema is dotted with works that tell the stories associated with the sea. Jaws, Titanic, Sharknado 1, Sharknado 2, Sharknado 3 are some of the most renowned in this category. None of these are merely sea yarns shouted from the rooftops; instead, they narrated global issues in a sea-setting. Titanic, for example, told the story of post-colonial Anglo-Irish immigration to America, couched as a love story on board an ocean liner. Jaws and all the Sharknado movies were stellar advertisements for ocean conservation and beach tourism, apart from being great action-thrillers.

However, when it comes to Chemmeen, things turn upside down. All that the Sathyan and Sheela starrer does is to glorify the lives of a bunch of fisherfolk in a tiny fishing village called Purakkad in Kerala, as if they were great seafarers from the Vedic era. Does the village of Purakkad have any historical, cultural or political significance in Kerala? One wonders whether the producer Babu Ismail Sait had any role in deciding to ignore the more historically, culturally and politically significant fishing villages in Kerala, such as Marad (communal rioting in 2003) or Poonthura (communal rioting in 1992).

What Chemmeen does is to portray such an insignificant village and its people in the mould of glorious ancient seaside towns like Rameshwaram. A small fishing community, of the kind one would find in most seaside villages, their day to day trials and tribulations, songs, dances, moral decadence — this is the gist of Chemmeen.

The movie’s technicians have succeeded in giving a colourful facade to an inherently weak story using professional editing and decent outdoor shoots. The author Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai should give serious thought to his future as a novelist.

Chemmeen continues the un-Indian trend in Malayalam cinema of glorifying meat- and fish-eating. The last decade has seen a deluge of Malayalam movies that glamourise meat eating. Angamaly Diaries glorified pork eating to such an extent that opportunistic restaurateurs have started pairing even pure indic food items such as idly and dosha with pork varattiyathu — an abomination that was otherwise paired only with deracinated and un-indic food items like appam and pathiri.

A meat sub-culture is growing in Kerala and the prime culprit is cinema. Chemmeen is director Ramu Kariat’s contribution to this carnivore-isation of Malayali youth. The movie is littered with seafood symbology from the beginning to the very end. There is even an elaborate sequence where Karuthamma (the female lead played by Sheela) serves rice and copious quantities of fish curry to Palani (played by Sathyan). Hasn’t Thakazhi heard of more traditional Kerala food such as rice, sambar, aviyal and puzhukku?

Are there no vegetables in Purakkad?

Even the songs — couched as folk songs — are actually nothing but inane glorification of seafood. The lyrics are replete with words “karimeen”, “chakara” etc and that too set to close up visuals of fresh fish. The highly impressionable youth of the communist-ruled state cannot be blamed for flocking to seafood joints after every screening of the movie. Paragon Restaurant in Kozhikode for example, has reported a 300 per cent increase in their number of fish-mango-curry orders ever since the movie released. By the time the movie ends one begins to get alarmed, wondering if Kerala is some kind of Republic of Fish Eaters, totally disconnected from vegetarian India.

The only bit where Thakazhi and Ramu Kariat deserve praise is for their willingness to expose the menace of “love jihad” that is spreading all over Kerala. Pareekkutty’s (has to be short for Fareed Kutabbudin) character, played by Madhu, demonstrates the depth to which jihadis go to infiltrate our communities to cause wide-ranging issues ranging from marital discord to economic downturn. This is the only saving grace amongst all the cacophony about “sea”, “karimeen”, “chakara” and immorality that make up the glorified sea-trash called Chemmeen.

Source: Daily O)

Indian schools are using WhatsApp to enslave mothers and crush children’s independence

My child’s school WhatsApp group registers up to 40 messages an hour. If this were a national security warning system, we’d always be on Red, writes Karishma Attari, the author of I See You and Don’t Look Down, in Scroll. Read on: 

The internet came into my drawing room when I was 17 and it set me free. Once online, I let it all hang out. I typed questions into that I wouldn’t dare ask out loud to the family doctor. I had no curfew and went where the feeling took me. I chatted up strangers with foreign names and forgot about them just as easily the next morning. The experiences I had online felt like an adventure not a community-wide scandal-in-the-making.

Outside roamed nosy neighbours, vigilant uncles and aunties. Outside, I was a demure superhero cursed with protecting, through sheer, visible blamelessness the never-sleeping beacon of the family name. On the internet, though, I could roam wild and free of scrutiny in a way that I had outgrown with pig tails and bloomers. I could be anonymous, independent, alone.

The internet was an infinite grassland of possibilities, limited only by my own limitations. I published my first set of poems in an online journal, befriended editors of a print magazine through email. I was on my way to being heard, and to sharing my voice.

Then, almost before I knew it, the smartphone was here, and the long form of communication had an alternative which was new and exciting. Unlikely relationships bloomed and ebbed in privacy and over once-insurmountable distances. Instant messaging changed boardroom into bedroom and flipped it the other way around too. Everyone was accessible and everything was within reach.

Two decades and two children later, everything is different, because my smartphone has been taken over in a way that makes me feel not so smart.

Always on call
There’s such a thing as too much communication, conversations I can’t simply put a polite end to and leave. My WhatsApp, for instance, stays on silent, because each of my children’s school chat groups registers up to 40 messages an hour – and that’s on a good day. One could argue that the tool is only as sophisticated as the user. By that measure, my gripe ought to be redirected to that peculiar form of obsessive compulsive disorder that many mothers operate with. What are we doing, 30 women between the ages of 25 and 45, discussing how to paint a paper cup black? (Thirty-five messages, seven pictures exchanged.) Why aren’t our children – future fund managers, teachers, doctors, artists, and lawyers (or so we hope) – figuring it out for themselves? Why request a picture of today’s grammar assessment, after it’s already been administered? Why ask questions about what the portion for tomorrow’s biology test is, when at 1am, our kids are in bed, and we should, potentially, be thinking of other things?

Why has being a school mom turned into a relentless, 24/7 activity? The “mom chats” are the first set of messages I see in the morning. The last thing I see before I switch the phone off for the night. If this were a national security warning system, I’d say we were always on Red, perpetually on High Alert.

I know why. Or at least I can make a good guess, and like with all blame games, I’ll pin this on a conspiracy theory. It’s because schools have exceeded their boundaries, and think nothing of seeding hysteria in parents, on the grounds that constant, heightened vigilance improves the child’s performance at school. Schools are no longer places to park your children, for half a day, while you work at home or in an office.

Schools expect your participation, rather than your child’s. The logic is simple: you are far easier to discipline and far easier to shame or scare. What’s more, there has been such little protest from mothers, that schools have come to expect all our attention and all our time. Again, arguably, it has much to do with our inability to just say no.

Right to privacy
How do schools maintain control over mothers? They use the internet to keep us permanently connected to the mainframe. School apps know how to put you in your place – after all, this is a partnership, as the school authorities keep reminding us. I sign in to an app, because, well, my 10- and seven-year-olds don’t own smartphones (yet). And then the fun begins – I start monitoring and checking everything that’s up there, like a good mother must.

Passport photographs of the children in school uniform required, at an evening’s notice? No problem. Can do. Size two, four, eight, and fourteen paint brushes in both round and flat bristles? Sure, I can find them. Science assessment tomorrow? Got it. No need for the English prose notebook, but carry English grammar next Monday? All right, I’ll pack my child’s bag accordingly. Four lines about the monuments of India? Okay, done. Five potatoes with a black marker to be brought in? Sure. Hindi poem recitation tomorrow? On it.

We are on it. We are so on it that we put home-schoolers to shame. We give our children no real space in which to mature, no real sense of responsibility, no real shot at failing, and learning from failure – because, as mothers, we seem to have internalised that their business is our business. We are raising sons who are used to throwing up their hands, sons with moms who sort out every detail of their lives. We are raising daughters who learn a woman’s domestic role is being the scheduler of other people’s lives.

We put our lives on hold for theirs. Schools encourage this by shrugging off their responsibility, their part in the “partnership”.

Attend a parent-teacher meeting, and chances are, you will be told to go through and sign your child’s books every day, checking to see if the day’s work is complete. In my case, that is roughly seven books a day, every day, for two children each. If I have a query, there’s always a WhatsApp group with 30 mothers. They’re always on call, like me. Who wants to be a mom in a WhatsApp group of supermoms?

I dared, at the last PTA meet, to raise my hand and ask politely about my child’s right to privacy. Shouldn’t he have a right to manage his own affairs, and learn from his errors?

I confess I didn’t dare to ask about my own right to some space and time.

Have schools used technology to target mothers specifically? In principle, either parent can download the app, or check on the website. Yet, curiously, in a decade of parenting, I have yet to see a father post a query on the WhatsApp chat group.

The internet which once set me free is now a leash that keeps me eternally tethered to my duty as a child-raiser. There are days I look at my phone with such loathing that I think its monitor heats up in embarrassment. But then, I give in. After all, how can my daughter go to school tomorrow without carrying two pink foolscap sheets, which it was never her responsibility to remember? What else am I doing with my time that’s so important, anyway?

Love is not algorithmic

Online-dating platforms can tell us a lot about potential partners, but people are not made of steady data points, and love is not just about matching interests, writes Jim Kozubek in the Atlantic. Read on: 

There is no higher praise these days than being data-driven. A person who is data-driven is free of bias, and cuts through arguments with a sword of truth. No longer do we need to fumble through life. The answers will come. We will know how to respond, just what to do. We will let the data tell us!

And so it goes with Christian Rudder’s new book Dataclysm: Who We Are (When We Think No One’s Looking), a synopsis of insights he gleaned from analytics while working at the company he co-founded, OKCupid. His company, he tells us, could easily sport the tagline “Making the Ineffable Totally Effable.” Indeed, his book sets out to do this, yielding some gainful insights on dating expectations, along with other, more unsurprising findings: Men like younger women (no duh). These data are amusing, even charming.

But something more is at risk. What is troubling here, as we enter the Age of Big Data, the Age of the Internet, and the like, is that we are also entering an Age of the Axiomatic.

To be axiomatic, at its best, is to be deductive, but at its worst, it is to assume that a system is consistent and complete. For instance, in the field of genetics, we can look at aggregate data from 100,000 patients to deduce a mutation that is apt to cause a disease in any single patient. That is the power of deductive logic. But in assuming the system of logic is complete, we may fail to anticipate alternate causes, in this case “epigenetic” or biological mechanisms beyond DNA. Axioms work well in the realm of pure numbers and physics, but they are often superficially applied to biology, and especially so when applied to the social sciences.

Exactly the point we assume the data of a system to be both consistent and complete. This is when axiomatic logic at its most naïve and dangerous.

This dangerous kind of axiomatic logic is pronounced when we assume that a user is a collection of “data points” with a consistent or complete identity. In fact, online-dating services are notoriously complicated by users’ own impossible burden of fully representing themselves in a two-dimensional personality. Social media has struggled to contemplate the self-contradiction and inconsistency of its own users—to see them as more than flat profiles that can be targeted for advertising. Speaking of users who have multiple profiles, Mark Zuckerberg famously said “having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity.” Writer Curtis Sittenfeld quipped in The New York Times: “To which my only response is, 'You’ve got to be kidding.' I mean, I’m not even the same person with all the members of my immediate family.”

Cultural critics have been raising questions about the intrinsic value of such shallow data for years. Jonathan Franzen’s 2011 commencement address at Kenyon College was the most famous but not the only rebuttal. He suggested that “technology provides an alternative to love,” a pleasant distraction that derails our train of thought and drains our empathy. David Brooks’ 2013 column in The New York Times on “What Data Can’t Do” suggested that “network scientists can map your interactions with the six co-workers you see during 76 percent of your days, but they can’t capture your devotion to the childhood friends you see twice a year, let alone Dante’s love for Beatrice, whom he met twice.” The French philosopher Alain Badiou provided the most direct challenge to social networking in his 2012 book “In Praise of Love.” He suggested online dating was a form of “safety first” love, in which love becomes a commodity or a consumer product. He went so far as to suggest that the premise of the user experience is an affront to the spirit of love. According to Badiou, to enter a relationship is not to compliment your “likes,” but to undergo a confrontation to identity, to enter a process: “Personally, I have always been interested in issues of duration and process, and not only starting points.”

Indeed, writers have long described love through its challenge to identity, its contradiction and its process. They defy readers to embrace what philosophers call “alterity,” or otherness—the possibility of being totally blindsided by new facts, to achieve an experience that was before entirely foreign. They impose a stance to reading that embraces antagonism, and incompleteness, and is sunken in process. I admit, I equate books with love. The only way to approach a book as a serious reader is to approach it as a relationship, as something dense and partially submerged. One does not go into reading with an assumption of knowledge or completeness, but with humility, with a willingness to enter into a confrontation that may change you in the process. As the writer Junot Diaz has said, “Every serious reader knows that they don’t understand half of what they read; it’s true, that’s not a joke—because that’s how real life is really like. People you love say shit and you have no idea what they mean.”

In The Space of Literature, philosopher Maurice Blanchot wrote: “What threatens reading is this: the reader’s reality, his personality, his immodesty, his stubborn resistance upon remaining himself in the face of what he reads—a man who knows in general how to read.” Likewise, do we sell ourselves short by applying a scientific approach to love, one in which we become “prisoners of allusion,” reduced to our web profiles, cliches and guided by trite axioms? In his book, Rudder suggests the importance of a prominent tattoo; he says if you don’t know what to ask your date, the data suggests asking if they like scary movies; it may be a good indicator of your success. That sounds, to me, like someone grasping for straws. In truth, it is probably all a data-driven approach to love can ever do for us.

The data from online-dating platforms will never answer the toughest and most important questions. It cannot tell us why some people never recover from heartbreak, why we mimic some people and give short shrift to others, why some people fall in love too quickly, or why people who should care walk out on us. Part of us will never be “totally effable.” To feel safely assessed and under the control of numbers, you might read Dataclysm. As for me, I will read Badiou.

What’s the real history of Black Friday?

It makes sense that the term “Black Friday” might refer to the single day of the year when retail companies finally go “into the black” (i.e. make a profit). The day after Thanksgiving is, of course, when crowds of turkey-stuffed shoppers descend on stores all over the country to take advantage of the season’s biggest holiday bargains. But the real story behind Black Friday is a bit more complicated—and darker—than that.

The first recorded use of the term “Black Friday” was applied not to holiday shopping but to financial crisis: specifically, the crash of the U.S. gold market on September 24, 1869. Two notoriously ruthless Wall Street financiers, Jay Gould and Jim Fisk, worked together to buy up as much as they could of the nation’s gold, hoping to drive the price sky-high and sell it for astonishing profits. On that Friday in September, the conspiracy finally unraveled, sending the stock market into free-fall and bankrupting everyone from Wall Street barons to farmers.

The most commonly repeated story behind the post-Thanksgiving shopping-related Black Friday tradition links it to retailers. As the story goes, after an entire year of operating at a loss (“in the red”) stores would supposedly earn a profit (“went into the black”) on the day after Thanksgiving, because holiday shoppers blew so much money on discounted merchandise. Though it’s true that retail companies used to record losses in red and profits in black when doing their accounting, this version of Black Friday’s origin is the officially sanctioned—but inaccurate—story behind the tradition.

In recent years, another myth has surfaced that gives a particularly ugly twist to the tradition, claiming that back in the 1800s Southern plantation owners could buy slaves at a discount on the day after Thanksgiving. Though this version of Black Friday’s roots has understandably led some to call for a boycott of the retail holiday, it has no basis in fact.

The true story behind Black Friday, however, is not as sunny as retailers might have you believe. Back in the 1950s, police in the city of Philadelphia used the term to describe the chaos that ensued on the day after Thanksgiving, when hordes of suburban shoppers and tourists flooded into the city in advance of the big Army-Navy football game held on that Saturday every year. Not only would Philly cops not be able to take the day off, but they would have to work extra-long shifts dealing with the additional crowds and traffic. Shoplifters would also take advantage of the bedlam in stores to make off with merchandise, adding to the law enforcement headache.

By 1961, “Black Friday” had caught on in Philadelphia, to the extent that the city’s merchants and boosters tried unsuccessfully to change it to “Big Friday” in order to remove the negative connotations. The term didn’t spread to the rest of the country until much later, however, and as recently as 1985 it wasn’t in common use nationwide. Sometime in the late 1980s, however, retailers found a way to reinvent Black Friday and turn it into something that reflected positively, rather than negatively, on them and their customers. The result was the “red to black” concept of the holiday mentioned earlier, and the notion that the day after Thanksgiving marked the occasion when America’s stores finally turned a profit. (In fact, stores traditionally see bigger sales on the Saturday before Christmas.)

The Black Friday story stuck, and pretty soon the term’s darker roots in Philadelphia were largely forgotten. Since then, the one-day sales bonanza has morphed into a four-day event, and spawned other “retail holidays” such as Small Business Saturday/Sunday and Cyber Monday. Stores started opening earlier and earlier on that Friday, and now the most dedicated shoppers can head out right after their Thanksgiving meal. According to a pre-holiday survey this year by the National Retail Federation, an estimated 135.8 million Americans definitely plan to shop over the Thanksgiving weekend (58.7 percent of those surveyed), though even more (183.8 million, or 79.6 percent) said they would or might take advantage of the online deals offered on Cyber Monday.

(Source: History)

Thursday, 23 November 2017

Padmavati has been a part of Indian theatre & cinema for 111 years, and nobody protested

Since 1906, the Rani Padmini-Alauddin Khalji story has been told and retold multiple times in various forms, without people going up in arms, writes Mahrukh Inayet in The Print. Read on: 

Former Central Board of Film Certification chairman Pahlaj Nihalani, not known for a reasonable approach till recently, has perhaps made the most pertinent comment on the controversy over Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s film Padmavati. He asked: “Why is it that earlier versions of Rani Padmini’s life invited no wrath from any Rajput groups?”

Indeed, many versions of Rani Padmini’s epic story have been part of Indian theatre, film and television for about 111 years, and none invited strictures.

Bengali poet and playwright Kshirode Prasad Vidyavinode’s play Padmini in 1906 revolved around the same story – Alauddin Khalji capturing the Rana of Chittor using deceit, Rani Padmini managing to rescue her husband, and later, as the battle ensued, all Rajput women including Padmini self-immolated.

Three years later, in 1909, Abanindranath Tagore’s Raj Kahini was published. This children’s literature collection told a similar tale of Padmini-Ratan Singh-Khalji, adding a part where the Rajput king offered to surrender his wife to Alauddin to protect Chittor, but his fellow Rajputs refused the offer.

Cinema history is also littered with retellings of the Padmini story. In 1963, Tamil film Chittoor Rani Padmini had actor Vyjayanthimala playing the lead role. Tamil superstar Sivaji Ganesan played Rana Ratan Singh and M.N. Nambiar played Khalji. The film didn’t create any protest before release, nor any buzz at the box office.

A year later came the Hindi version Maharani Padmini, starring Anita Guha as the queen, Jairaj as her husband, and Sajjan as Khalji. The film was a damp squib at the box office, but the songs, featuring Mohammad Rafi, Asha Bhosle, Suman Kalyanpur, and Usha Mangeshkar were hits. This film saw no protests either.

Apart from these two 70 mm versions, the story of Rani Padmini also found its way to the smaller screen. Shyam Benegal’s epic show Bharat Ek Khoj had one episode on Padmini, with Om Puri playing Khilji, Seema Kelkar playing Padmini, and Rajendra Gupta playing Ratan Singh.

In 2009, Sony Entertainment Televsion began broadcasting Chittod ki Rani Padmini Ka Johur, a show directed by National Award-winning art director Nitin Chandrakant Desai, featuring Tejaswani Lonari as Padmini.

The show didn’t complete its six-month run due to low TRPs and high costs. And while it was in the news for its opulent sets and costumes, it never witnessed protests for its historical content or context.

Bhansali’s Padmavati is clearly not the first time the story of Rani Padmini has been the inspiration for a creative piece. Khalji’s infatuation with her has also been used as a significant part of the narrative.

So is the film just an easy target for fringe groups and right-wing elements to force their beliefs on one man’s freedom of expression? History certainly seems to show that.