Tuesday, 27 December 2011

A different view on the review

With the Australians copping a couple of umpiring errors during the first day's play at Melbourne, the debate on the use of the Decision Review System (DRS) has been reignited once again. The point most commonly raised is that it should either be used in every series or else be discarded outright. As I see it, the situation really isn't quite as simple.

To be honest, I have never been a fan of the DRS in its existing form. The original intention in introducing the DRS was to eliminate rank howlers. That being the case, why not have the third umpire inform the ground umpire that there has been an obvious error? It is a pretty simple idea that could have been implemented without all the hype and hoopla sorrounding the DRS and without bringing about a situation where players can legally challenge the umpires.

More power to the third Umpire?

Besides, the idea of placing a limit on the number of reviews makes little sense to me. The temptation to use a review is always going to be there in case of a marginal decision. Should that result in a wasted review, it could well mean that a deserving batsman or bowler who gets a shocking decision might have to live with the obvious injustice meted out to him- which defeats the very purpose behind the introduction of the review system.

Why limit the number of reviews?

The argument for uniformity of conditions is a valid one. The current scenario of having the review system in some series and not having it in others is far from ideal. But having the DRS in all series is no guarantee to uniformity in playing conditions, because the technology too requires to be uniform. Broadcasters in smaller nations cannot afford expensive technology like high resolution cameras and hotspot, resulting in the absurdity where there are variations within the DRS itself. Under the circumstances, the uniformity of the playing conditions itself is debatable.

Is DRS technology consistent?

In any case, do we really need the latest technology to spot an obvious howler? Shockers like the one that Hussey copped at Melbourne or Ishant Sharma did at Sydney four seasons ago were evident even to the naked eye. They could have been avoided if the third umpire was empowered to intervene in case of blatant errors- a possibility which existed long before hot spot or hawk eye even came into existence.

Is DRS effective for marginal decisions?

Effectively, the latest technology comes into the picture only if the evidence presented to the naked eye is inconclusive. Given the fact that the technologies in question still have question marks over them, there's still no guarantee that the DRS can conclusively settle marginal calls. In any case, the review system was never intended to adjudicate marginal decisions.

While the debate over the DRS rages, its worth keeping in mind that it isn't all black and white as we are assuming it to be.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

India down under

As I write, there remain less than twenty four hours before a new chapter in the cricketing rivalry between India and Australia opens. The last six series between the two sides have produced more than their fair share of drama and excitement. Narrow margins, astonishing turnarounds, historic wins, off-field controversies and much else besides have characterised the recently emerged rivalry which could closely match the Ashes for sheer intensity. Needless to say, as the two teams prepare to face off, expectations are pretty much sky high. As the two-test series in India last year showed, its impossible to say what to expect when these two teams are pitted against each other.

Border-Gavaskar Trophy
Former Australian greats are already predicting that India's attack is likely to come a cropper without Zaheer Khan and Ishant Sharma, both of whom look unlikely to last a whole series. Their views are not entirely unfounded, as the remaining bowlers (Abhimanyu Mithun, Vinay Kumar, Umesh Yadav, R. Ashwin and Pragyan Ozha) are all inexperienced bowlers on their first or second tour abroad- hardly the kind of attack with which one takes on the Australians in their own backyard.

Ishant & Zaheer

There's also the very real fear that India's aging veterans might not find the going easy against a pacey young Australian attack on pitches that might offer bounce and seam movement. especially with both Indian openers in inconsistent form, there's the very real possibility that the middle order might find itself regularly having to face the new ball- hardly an encouraging prospect.

On the flip side, Australia too have a batting line up featuring too many men with uncertain futures. Neither opener is guaranteed to last till the end of the series. In Ricky Ponting, Australia have a once great batsman clearly past his prime. At 37, he is just one bad series away from being pensioned off. Much the same could be said of Mike Hussey (36) and Brad Haddin (34), both of whom are closer to the end than to the beginning of their careers.

Ponting & Hussey

Nor is Australia's bowling attack particularly well settled. in Siddle, Pattinson, Hilfenhaus, Starc and Lyon, Australia have a pretty handy attack on paper. That, however, is no guarantee that they will give the opposition sleepless nights. Siddle and Hilfenhaus have frequently struggled for consistency and the remaining bowlers are pretty much at the beginning of their careers. Whatever they go on to achieve in their careers, they certainly aren't in the Warne-McGrath-Gillespie league at this point in time.

And so we have the prospect of a face off between two flawed teams with, two mid ranked sides with the potential to match the best on any given day, but equally, the potential to spectacularly self-destruct. Given that background, it would be foolhardy to make any predictions. The last time I attempted to make one (on this very blog by the way), I got a spectacularly huge egg in the face.

My heart is naturally with India but my mind is with Australia. True, Australia have time and again shown a tendency to collapse in recent times, but all those collapses have happened against high quality bowling and it looks doubtful whether the Indian attack can consistently produce good deliveries, unless Zaheer Khan and Ishant Sharma are both fully fit AND both are firing from all cylinders. The other bowlers are too inexperienced in my mind, to inflict regular collapses. Add to it the fact that the Indian openers Sehwag and Gambhir have hardly produced any test match innings of note in the recent past. The signs are far from encouraging for a side intending to make history.

Admittedly Australia aren't exactly in the pink of health themselves. Almost everything I've written about the Indians could equally apply to the Kangaroos. Nonetheless, they are the side better equipped to handle the conditions on offer and they are the side with the bigger contingency of spectators cheering for them- a factor whose importance can scarcely be exaggerated. In the battle between two equally flawed sides, the home advantage should give them the edge. 

And so my prediction for the series is 3-1 to Australia.

Monday, 19 December 2011

A disaster in the making

I happened to read an article a short while ago, about the Indian Government's decision to go ahead with the National Food Security Bill, which is intended to provide subsidised foodgrains for upto 75% of rural households and 50% of urban households.

On paper it sounds a pretty good idea. I would normally be the first to applaud any initiative aimed at assuring food security to India's starving millions. What got me concerned however, is the fact that the food subsidy is expected to rise by a further Rs. 27,663 crores (about US$ 5.5 billion). The question needs to be asked whether India can afford such a massive subsidy at this critical juncture.

A few billion dollars may not seem such a big deal for a trillion dollar economy, but the current state of some of India's economic indicators are far from encouraging. Economic growth has shown signs of slowing down in recent months. Even more worrying is the fact that industrial output has started shrinking, which means that companies have reduced production- which almost certainly means that jobs have been lost and fresh recruitments have been frozen. Worse still, economic growth is not resulting in higher 'real' earnings because of inflation.

Add to it the fact that Government expenditure has risen dramatically in recent months, due to the weakening of the Indian Rupee against the American Dollar. From 40 odd Rupees to the Dollar just a few months ago, the exchange rate has shot up to over 52  rupees per dollar. Given the fact that India denominates all its international transaction in American Dollars, the weakening exchange rate means that India is having to pay a lot more for its imports than it did a few months ago- which includes billions of dollars on the import of fuel from abroad. The consequent rise in fuel prices has only aggravated the inflationary situation in the economy. Mind you, fuel prices are heavily subsidised.

Given the high fiscal deficit (i.e. the gap between income and expenditure) that the Government of India is currently running, the wisdom of further burdening its finances needs to be questioned. The high debt burden will inevitably result in more borrowing by the Government which in turn results in pushing up the interest rates in the market. And higher rates of interest will result in...you guessed it right, higher inflation. Historically, the lower income earners have always been the ones most severely affected by inflation.

And so an initiative which is intended to provide food security for the weaker sections of society is likely to end up hurting them even more. The economic slowdown caused by higher borrowing costs is likely to result in job losses anyway. And so while on the one hand the Government is proposing to subsidise the cost of foodgrains for the poor, it is, on the other hand,  creating the very circumstances that could adversely impact any opportunities for upward mobility that they have.
I would also hasten to add that I have not even touched upon the impact of a burgeoning fiscal deficit on business and consequently, the economy as a whole. Suffice it to say that a high budgetary deficit is only going to be bad news for all concerned. One can understand the deficit widening due to circumstances outside the control of the Government, but is it advisable for any Government to take a conscious decision that is going to stretch its fiscal deficit even further, at a time when it is already threatening to run out of control?

The old Hindi proverb on cutting the coat according to the cloth (जितनी लम्बी चादर हो उतने ही पैर फैलाना चाहिए) is one that India's policymakers will do well to keep in mind. The Americans, who lived on borrowed money for close to three decades are paying for it now. One only hopes that India managed to avoid going down the same path.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Religion & Politics- A Dangerous Mix

Just a few days ago, the BJP raised a demand to make the Bhagwad Gita India's national book. I was taken a little aback by the headline. Frankly, it also got me a bit worried to see religion mixing with politics. Perhaps its time India revisited the prophecies of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad.

Azad is a name that would mean little to Indians today and, God forbid, some may even mistake the name with that of the former president. Like countless prominent Congress leaders from the 30s and 40s (whose surnames were not Nehru/ Gandhi), Azad is a name long forgotten. But his is a name that ought to be remembered in a country where communal unity has frequently proved difficult to achieve.

Maulana Abul Kalam Azad

Azad was the one prominent Muslim leader who not only opposed the creation of Pakistan, but also put forward the most convincing argument in support of his stance. Read today, his words sound astonishingly prophetic. Well before the country of Pakistan was even formed, he predicted the future of that nation with an accuracy that sounds almost eerie when read today.

His first prediction was that East Pakistan would break away from the West (which it did in 1971, to form present day Bangladesh). To quote his own words: "...The other important point that has escaped Mr Jinnah’s attention is...that Bengal disdains outside leadership and rejects it sooner or later... I feel that it will not be possible for East Pakistan to stay with West Pakistan for any considerable period of time."

His remaining predictions about the future of Pakistan could well be a description of that country by a contemporary commentator. He said in 1946 that "I feel that right from its inception, Pakistan will face some very serious problems:

- The incompetent political leadership will pave the way for military dictatorship...
- The heavy burden of foreign debt.
- Absence of friendly relationship with neighbours and the possibility of armed conflict.
- Internal unrest and regional conflicts
- The loot of national wealth by the neo-rich and industrialists of Pakistan.
- The conspiracies of the international powers to control Pakistan.

George Bush & Pervez Musharraf

Azad went on to add in that interview: "In this situation, the stability of Pakistan will be under strain...assistance from other sources will not come without strings and it will force both ideological and territorial compromises". 

While that interview was admittedly addressed to Muslims in the context of the demand for Pakistan, the message is loud and clear: religion never has been and never can be the adhesive holding together the fabric of a country- even more so in a multi-cultural country like India which was never intended to be a Hindu nation. Even from a practical standpoint, its hard to see India ever becoming a purely Hindu nation, given how far non-Hindus have become an integral part of the nation.

An Oscar Award winning Muslim composer, a Sikh Prime Minister, a Muslim nuclear scientist turned president, legendary business houses headed by Parsis and a Christian defense minister of high standing- all of them stand testimony to the visionary leadership of India's founding fathers. The secular ethos that they believed in has immensely benefited the country and long may it continue that way.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Anna- the second JP?

I was a bit concerned to read yesterday that Anna Hazare announced his intention to include tribals, dalits, minorities and youths in his team to strengthen the campaign against corruption. 

I have the highest respect for Anna and believe beyond doubt that he is not in the least motivated by personal gain. Nevertheless, I am deeply concerned at the direction in which Anna's movement is heading. While I rejoiced at the politicians being finally forced to bow to the will of the people, I was never in favour of holding a legitimate, democratically elected Government to ransom- a point which I made in an earlier article on this very blog. If that wasn't alarming enough, team Anna's anti-Congress campaign in the Haryana bypolls sent the alarm bells ringing in my mind.

Anna Hazare

My apprehension is that Anna Hazare's campaign, which started off as a crusade against corruption, is beginning to assume political overtones. Anna's intentions are beyond question, but he also gives the impression of a man who has little understanding of politics. Knowingly or unknowingly, he has become a live banner for all opposition parties to rally around in their bid to unseat the Congress.

Many might argue that a non-Congress government at the centre would do a world of good for India. I for one am a lot less sanguine. The more I see of Anna's movement, the more I see shades of the JP Movement. 

Jayprakash Narayan

For the uninitiated: Jayprakash Narayan was the leader who spearheaded the student movement in Bihar in 1974, when the combination of recession, high unemployment and runaway inflation saw the rise of anti-congress movements in Gujarat and Bihar. It was his irresponsible appeal to the armed forces to disobey unconstitutional and immoral orders, which brought things to a head for the increasingly embattled Indira Gandhi, who persuaded then President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed to declare a state of internal emergency- a period unequalled in notoriety by any other in the history of Independent India.

The elections in 1977 saw opponents of pretty much ever shade of political orientation rally around JP. The unprincipled coalition they formed- the Janata Government- proved a farce that was doomed even before it started. It says something of the mess they created, that the Congress was back in power within three years after the Janata Government took power- when the excesses of the emergency were still fresh in collective memory.

Janata Party

It remains to be seen, which way Anna Hazare's movement goes from here. For sure, the horrors of the emergency will never ever happen again in this age or RTI, social networking and youtube. There's little doubt that any new movement that Anna launches might have the urban middle rallying around him. That little man without a political party, without an army, without any weapons, has forced the Government to listen. Long may the spirit of Anna live.

However, Anna is treading on a path on which others before have tread. He will need to be cautious, lest he becomes the second J.P. Narayan.

Monday, 19 September 2011

An unmitigated disaster

The dust has not yet settled on India's tour of England- an outing that one can only describe as a disaster without parallel in the recent past. England proved the superior side in every department of the game, just walking all over the hapless Indians.

Admittedly injuries only contributed to the mayhem that ensued. The list of injured players (Zaheer Khan, Harbhajan Singh, Virender Sehwag, Gautham Gambhir, Munaf Patel, Ishant Sharma, Sachin Tendulkar, Praveen Kumar, Yuvraj Singh) threatened to become sufficient to constitute a whole eleven. That one single fact, if not the result, is itself a damning indictment of the manner in which the tour was (mis)managed.

Now England is one of the toughest places in the world to tour. England have consistently been a force to reckon with at home over the last decade, losing only 2 series. Those defeats since came against the Indians in 2007 (a 0-1 loss) and the Proteas in 2008 (a 1-2 loss in a hard fought series)- both of them sides with strong/ powerful attacks. Under the circumstances, it did not need a genius to know that a very tough challenge lay ahead.

So what did the BCCI do to get their players ready for the tour? They arranged one solitary warm up game for the team to acclimatise itself to conditions far removed from those in any other test playing country. That game itself came just 5 days after a tour of the west Indies. In other words, the BCCI arranged seven weeks of meaningless IPL games, coming close in the heels of an emotionally and physically draining world cup, followed that up with a tour of the West Indies and then left all of 5 days for the players to prepare themselves for one of the toughest tours in the contemporary game.

Was it any wonder that the players who took the field in the series were physically and mentally exhausted? The situation could have been salvaged had there been fresh replacements ready to take their place. What we got instead was the spectacle of an overweight, unfit R.P. Singh delivering a wide that symbolised India's surrender. Picking up a man who was in the middle of a vacation in Miami ahead of one who was in the reserves (Munaf Patel) is a decision that defies all sane logic. If Patel did not enjoy the confidence of his captain or the selectors, then why was he in the squad in the first place?

And just when you thought that they could not make a bigger hash of it, the selectors produced one last ace in the sleeve in Varun Aaron. When you pick a young man who is supposed to be the fastest bowler in the country for a series in which your side is struggling, you expect that the young man is going to be unleased on the opponents. But the selectors in their infinite widsom decided to have one of the most promising young fast bowlers in the country carry the drinks, even as his seniors were being belted to every corner of the park.

Then there was the small matter of Ravindra Jadeja. Personally I have nothing against Jadeja. Nevertheless, the brain freeze that cost 4 precious runs in a tied game was by no means the first instance of his temperament proving suspect in a pressure situation. Quite how a consistent matchloser (to coin a new term) like him gets to be a regular member of the team is a puzzle that could perhaps merit an episode in CID.

God forbid, this tour brought back memories from the 90s. As anyone who has followed Indian cricket long enough would tell you, the 1990s were by far the worst decade in India's cricketing history. Thanks to the gentlemen at the BCCI, India is now back to the mid table mediocrity that was its lot back then. Only, now they have a lot more money than their counterparts in those bad old days. India is now the new Upper Volta with rockets.

Footnote: As I wrote this article, the new Chairman of the BCCI announced the setting up of a committee to look into the causes of the debacle. Hopefully this could be the beginning of a return to sanity.

Friday, 2 September 2011

Popular movies I hated- Pardes

Pardes (1997) was an immensely popular movie in its time, directed by Subhash Ghai and staring Shah Rukh Khan and the debutant Mahima Chaudhary. Let me make an honest confession: I loved this movie as a teenager back then in the late 90s. I still love it, if only for the unintended laughs it provides when viewed today.

To summarise the plot of this movie: Kishorilal (Amrish Puri) is an NRI who has been living in the USA since gawd knows when who still remains determinedly Indian. When on a visit to his friend Suraj Dev (Alok Nath), he decides that his friend's daughter Ganga (Mahima Chaudhary) is the ideal wife for his son Rajiv (Apoorva Agnihotri). Unsure that Rajiv will be amenable to the idea, he asks his adopted son Arjun (Shah Rukh Khan) to play cupid. Like a dutiful young man, Arjun does his best to oblige his mentor but finds himself increasingly drawn towards Ganga.

Chicken soup for the Indo-American soul

What you have just read is but a very brief outline and let me tell you friends, like the scorecard of a cricket match, it captures not an iota of the sheer legend that's Pardes. Now the point this movie is trying to make is a pretty relevant one. At a time when Indians were increasingly obsessed with the west- as they still are- this is intended to be a warning that we, the people of India, should not forget our own values. Sadly, between intention and execution, there usually exists a massive chasm.

Its a world in which a young lady successfully persuades a snake that enters the bedroom of her guest to retreat by prostrating and praying to it in a deeply touching scene  and by touching, I mean to say that the scene touches your funny bone. After that profoundly touching gesture, she follows up with an equally epic dialogue: "hamaare desh mein saanp ko jaanwar nahi, devta mante hain..."

Its a world in which men who have lived in the USA all their lives speak fluent Hindi without a trace of accent, which includes Rajiv, a totally Amercanised NRI who hates India and everything to do with it. Its a world in which a man who has lived pretty much all his life in the USA all his life is an expert player of Kabaddi (recommendations for the presidency of the American Kabaddi Association, anyone?).

Hamaari maange sindoor se bharo

Which brings us to my favourite scene in the movie: the game of Kabaddi which could only be described as a moment without parallel in the history of all cinema. Such is the Genius of this scene, that it is beyond the powers of ordinary mortals like me to describe it. Sample some of the dialogues from that scene:

"pehle sagaai todi ab mere bete ko tod rahe hain..."

"...Sitaji ko paane ke liye, Ramchandraji ko bhi dhanushya uthana pada. Toh aaj khel ke maidan mein jo jitega, wahi Ganga ka var hoga."

"Bataao, kaunsa dhanush hai tumhare paas? Main bhi dekhoonga tumhare bete ne kitna ghee piya hai..."

As you might have guessed, the young lady's future hangs by the outcome of that game. The people who decide to put her fate in her balance are respectively her suitors, her could-be fathers in law, the village head and a stranger who is not even related to the family. I may add that the enlightened gentlemen do not even bother to consult the girl or her father (doormats anyone?).  I kid you not dearies, when I say that you have never scene anything like this before. The epic scene culminates with Arjun predictably clinching the game for his mentor's side.

Mirroring the viewers expression

After that epic win, the young lady's family proceeds to send her to her would be sasural in the other end of the world. I use the word 'would-be' since Ganga is is not yet married to Rajiv. And so in a movie that is supposed to be a celebration of Indian values, we have the not so Indian practice of a young lady going abroad with a man who is not yet her husband,

Having flown to the other end of the world, Ganga soon discovers that Rajiv is a drunkard and a womaniser with few moral values. Apparently, that's how Americans are supposed to be and apparently, Indians neither drink nor womanise. Arjun, on the other hand, is the very epitome of Indian values. Before long (but not before one of Kishorilal's relatives refers to the young lady as gobar in another awesome scene) Ganga and Arjun are in love with each other.

What the **** am I doing in this movie?

And so Ganga, who did not even protest her fate being decided by the outcome of a game of kabaddi- by people who aren't even from her family- establishes her credentials beyond doubt as a doormat by falling in love with the guy who lied to her about her to be husband and did nothing to prevent her from being molested, knowing Rajiv's nature fully well. After the inevitable molestation, our protagonist heroically springs to action, taking the young doormat home and proceeding to sleep in the same room as her.

The next morning, Suraj Dev, who is infuriated at Arjun's betrayal attacks him with a sword. Ask not what he did the previous day, when his daughter turned up without a word of warning with this man in tow or for that matter, what he did when this man went into her bedroom at night to sleep. Ask not what caused him to suddenly feel concerned about the maan-maryaada of the daughter he sent to the other end of the world with a man she wasn't even married to. Ask not what the other family members too did my friends, for none of these are ever made clear.
Like Suraj Dev, Rajiv too is infuriated at the betrayal. The anger awakens the Indian within and Rajiv with his fist-happy friends decides to take revenge on Arjun for ruining his izzat. You might wonder why he should spend time and money to fly down to India merely to bash Arjun when he could have done in the USA itself upon his return. Come on folks, how else do you bring all the characters together in the  climax scene? 

And so after yet another cringeworthy scene of epic proportions, Kishorilal finally realises what was obvious all along: that his son represents the west and Ganga the East and the twain shall never meet. Needless to say, Arjun and Ganga lived together happily ever after. In short, after three hours of tomfoolerly, which could have been cut short to just one hour had someone bothered to ask Ganga what she wanted, aal iz well.

That's for watching the movie

Two things stand apart from the rest of this movie: the music of Nadeem Shravan and the understated brilliance of Shah Rukh Khan. I am no fan of SRK, but there's no denying that Pardes must count among his finest performances. As for Nadeem Shravan, this must count among their best works. They and they alone redeem this movie. 

Well, admittedly some of the songs were indeed terrible, but the composers cannot be held responsible for lyrics like sim sim pola or oh bloody/ oh blooda can they? After all, lyrics like that are pretty much in keeping with the flavour of the movie. By the way, let me give you one useful piece of advice to enhance the entertainment value of this movie: watch the song 'yeh duniya ek dulhan' with the volume off. It appears twice and its best viewed both occasions without sound- its an experiment you sure won't regret.

Incidentally, Apoorva Agnihotri (more accurately, his hair stylist) deserves special praise here. If he cleverly conceals his wooden acting, it is largely on account of that wierd hairstyle which successfully distracts you from his acting. Perhaps the script too could have done with some such hair rising stuff.

One last fact folks: the screenplay of this movie won a Filmfare Award. Perhaps someday we could make a mystery film on the subject.

Rotten Eggs Rating: 3/5.

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Unintentional comedies- Mard

How many times have you watched a movie that was so bad that it was good, the 'serious' movies which were so hilarious that you laughed till your stomach hurt? Bollywood has produced several movies which, depending on your perpective ought to have been nominated for the razzies or mark milestones in the development of comedy as a genre. This series of articles is dedicated such gems from the annals of Bollywood.

We flag off the series with Mard (1985), a movie directed by Manmohan Desai, starring Amitabh Bachchan and Amrita Singh.

The difficulty with a movie like Mard is that its hard to figure out where to start. Nearly every single scene of this movie is cringeworthy in a way that makes you laugh your head off and so this writer has absolutely no illusion of having done any sort of justice to the epic (unintended) comedy that is Mard.

Imagine a movie in which a man riding on a horse manages to evade bullets fired from a stationary machine gun and shoots a dozen enemies with a rifle in one hand even as he rides. Imagine a movie in which a man stops an aeroplane from taking off by throwing a rope over the aircraft wing and holding it with his bare hands. Imagine a movie in which characters spout gems like "Haraam zaado, nikalo khoon baahar jo tumne hamari praja ka kiya hai" or (sample this) "Yeh bol nahi sakti, lekin inke chehre ki jhurriyon mein dukh ke hazaar daastaanon ke saath likha hai ki jao beti tujhe maaf kiya." And on top of all that, imagine a movie in which all that happens within the first 10 minutes.

That's Mard for you. Its a movie in which you have Englishmen with names like Curzon, Dyer and Simon who speak among themselves only in Hindi (and pronouncing promotion as par-mo-sun by the way). Its a movie in which a horse is intelligent enough to know that the doctor who is about to administer an injection has dubious intentions, but its master doesn't. Its a movie in which a woman overcome by grief loses her voice in a touching scene that will make you laugh your head off.

Welcome to the world of Manmohan Desai. Its a world where a king who resides in a palace with over 100 rooms and has the wealth to gift away an invaluable pearl necklace takes on his opponents all alone, without his soldiers. Its a world where the king uses a horse as his only means of transportation eventhough the era of automobiles has already arrived. Its a world where a father's conception of a naming ceremony consists of scratching the word 'mard' on his new born infant's chest with a knife, leaving an eternal engraving that remains there several years later. Its a world in which a horse has the ESP to anticipate exactly what is going to happen next.

Its also a world where logic is non-existent. How did the British enter the Raja's kingdom with their troops and loot a fort without his consent? Where were the king's troops when his fort was being ransacked? Would the British imprison and torture a local ruler, given the fact that those local rulers were the bulwarks of their empire? Incidentally, given the fact that civil aviation did not appear until the 30s, it naturally follows that the events of the first five minutes (where Curzon is about to fly off to Britain with invaluable treasures) unfold sometime in the 30s. That being the case, the newborn cannot have attained maturity until the late 40s or 50s, when the British had long since quit India. To be sure, the script (assuming there was one) has holes big enough to drive a truck through.

Nevertheless, such analysis would be sheer nitpicking on what must rank as a landmark in filmmaking. The entire analysis that you have read so far is from the first ten minutes of a movie that runs into 3 hours. If you are thinking that it gets better from thereon, perish the thought my friends. This movie is an embodiment of the idea of starting as you mean to go. As far as unintended comedies go, Mard is right up there among the very best.

If you want to have a manual on how not to make a movie, go watch Mard. Its a touching, family drama that will make you laugh till you fall off your seat.

Rotten eggs rating: 4.5/5.

P.S: Please save your money and watch it on youtube. The producer of this movie does not deserve any more revenue from the DVD sales.

Saturday, 13 August 2011

A different approach to film making

United Six, Patiala House, Masti Express, Game, Faltu, ThankYou, Love U Mr. Kalakaar, Naughty @ 40, Ready, Double Dhamaal, Chillar Party, Singham.

These are the titles of some of the Hindi movies released in 2011. Not one of these movies were founded on anything resembling a good script and its doubtful whether even one of them was based on an original idea. That, in short, sums up all that's wrong with Hindi cinema.

Indian viewers have long been aware of the lack of originality in Bollywood. There are far too many 'DVD' directors who simply rip off movies scene for scene, or borrow scenes from different movies to make a potpourri of a film. Few filmmakers until now have had the decency to give credit to the source of the original idea. The vast majority of filmmakers in the industry prefer reusing an idea that has already worked somewhere, rather than risk experimenting with an unproven idea- a fact which accounts for the number of formulaic movies currently reigning at the box office, which are but remakes of blockbusters from the South.

Even where there is an original idea involved, films usually fall short on the treatment- not least because filmmakers pander to commercial requirements and end up inserting passages or songs which are totally irrelevant to the script. Far too often, one gets the impression that directors had excellent ideas but most probably neglected to develop a good script and ended up making a mess of what was a pretty good idea. Movies like Khiladi 420, Jhoom Barabar Jhoom, Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi and Darjeeling Express, to name but a few, are striking examples of excellent ideas that translated into average or plain terrible movies. Perhaps there simply isn't enough importance given to the scripting.

Too often, industrywallahs bemoan the lack of good scriptwriters in the film industry. In a country of 1.2 billion, its impossible to accept the very possibility of a dearth of good writers. Clearly, the film industry is still unwilling to invest in its writers. Bollywood remains a star-obsessed place, with many leading lights having their own 'camps', a remarkable fact given the fact that even the biggest of stars have delivered far many more flops than hits in the course of their careers. 

It boggles the mind that despite so many movies sinking at the box office- that at a time when filmgoers are enjoying unprecedented purchasing power- filmmakers are still content to follow the beaten path. Based on data taken from www.boxofficeindia.com, 69 out of 150 movies released between 2006 and 2010, a staggering 46% of the movies released, were below average or flops. It may be added that the list is by no means extensive and as such, there might be many more flops slipping under the radar. Given how little innovation there is, the vast majority of those movies are run-of-the-mill products.

One only has to run a google search for 'raining flops in Bollywood' to know how this headline keeps coming back year after year, like a recurring nightmare. Given that background, it is only too obvious that the present, risk-averse approach is not working. Whatever filmmakers might claim in support of the present way of doing things, it is painfully evident that a new approach is needed.

For starters, Hindi filmmakers could start respecting the intelligence of their audiences and refrain from dumbing down their movies. Is it asking too much to demand some substance over form? Yes, glitzy locales and special effects add to the production values, but embellishments can only add to a product and not substitute it, just as excellent packing does not compensate for a poor product. Hindi filmmakers would do themselves and their audience a favour by cutting out the gimmickry and diverting some of the budget to the foundation of the movie: the script.

And yes, we the people, who love watching those movies would also request Hindi filmmakers not to embarass us by ripping off movies from other countries scene by scene. Is it unreasonable in asking for a bit of originality? Surely, that should not be a problem in a country overflowing with talent, if someone took the trouble to identify and nurture that talent. Right now, its only too evident that shiploads of talent are just being ignored.

Cinema is indeed an industry where the returns need to justify the investment that goes into the making of the movie. Nonetheless, profit motive and customer satisfaction are by no means incompatible. For all the talk of Indian viewers not being discerning enough, the number of disasters at the box office tells a different tale.

Clearly, Bollywood needs to adopt a fresh approach.