It is bad enough when the Delhi government makes statements about getting infrastructure ready and giving police soft skills training in time for the Commonwealth Games, as if decent airports, public transport, clean sidewalks and polite policemen are something that comes with an international sports event and that Delhiites don’t have a right to in the normal course of things.
It is even worse when the news media suggests that basic personal security is something which assumes importance in the context of said sports event, and that it doesn’t matter at any other time.
Jet Airways has very few domestic planes equipped for inflight entertainment; but it’s inflight entertainment systems completely pwns Kingfisher’s inflight TV (which shows some shady Zee network channels, and horrors of horrors, Kambakht Ishq). You get touch screens, video and music on demand, the flight path interface is nicer; and quite a selection of movies and TV episodes. My dad, who travels Delhi-Chennai and back twice a month these days complains that they haven’t updated the selection in two months, but this was the first time I was traveling on a Jet flight with the entertainment system, so it was all new to me.
I wasn’t interested in either the Hindi or English movies they had, so I went through the TV section. They had an episode of Sarabhai vs Sarabhai, which I liked, but somehow Ravikiran‘s raving about it had led me to expect more. Perhaps it was one of the weaker episodes, or perhaps the humour only comes through with multiple episodes. Anyhow. Sarabhai v/s Sarabhai was good, but what was really brilliant was that this flight got me on to Disney Channel shows –notably Sonny With A Chance. I loved Sonny With A Chance. It sent up soap operas, has a nerd-girl who builds catapults, and despite being a kid’s show, the writers sneaked in enough innuendo for a couple of That’s What She Said moments (“Stop blowing. Start talking.”). And they also did something I’m very fond of – setting up a joke in one segment, and then delivering the punchline much later1 (the setup involves the catapult mentioned earlier). Oh, and this is for Rahul Raguram – according to Wikipedia, Demi Lovato is a fan of symphonic black metal band Dimmu Borgir. All in all, brilliant stuff, and I think I shall thulp the whole season soon.
I also saw The Suite Life on Deck, which was funny in parts (London Tipton! Bwahahhahah!), but not extraordinary; and Hannah Montana, which brings us to the second part of this post.
So… Hannah Montana. In case you don’t already know this, in Hannah Montana Billy Ray Cyrus and his daughter Miley Cyrus play the country singer Robbie Ray Stewart and his daughter Miley Stewart. And Miley Stewart’s secret identity is Hannah Montana, teen pop-star. And frankly, the whole layers and layers of self-reference (or as the darling girlfriend puts it, “self-referencing her ass like yeah“) are a pain to sort out. The only thing worse is reading the Wikipedia entries of professional wrestlers, where trying to work out what the wrestler did as part of kayfabe, what the wrestler did as a side project, and what the wrestler got up to by accident, and what the wrestler does while he (or she) is at home leaves you dizzy.
But of course, Miley Stewart self-referencing Miley Cyrus and then the whole thing becoming a recursive joke through Hannah Montana is no more self-referential than all of Bollywood, especially the Bachchan family and Shah Rukh Khan. Shah Rukh Khan plays Shah Rukh Khan in Billu and Om Shanti Om, all the My Name is Khan promos try to be cute by having them man say that his name is Khan, and so on and so forth. And the father-son in-jokes every time Abhishek and Amitabh Bachchan are in the same movie got tiresome about five minutes after they started. (Here’s an old Jabberwock post on the subject.)
Which actually makes Miley Cyrus not as bad as Bollywood. In her case, one can at least blame the self-referencing on her faceless2 corporate handlers at Disney. In Bollywood, there are no such corporate handlers, and the blame is all on the stars and the writers themselves.
The only thing that comes close is how almost every Colin Firth movie contains a reference to his Pride and Prejudice role, and even then, they’re only one off jokes and Colin Firth does not actually play Colin Firth. Except in Bridget Jones’ Diary, but every dog is allowed one bite.
Summing up: Referencing is sexy. Self-referencing is intellectual masturbation. In Bollywood’s case, though, it’s not even intellectual3.
1: Terry Pratchett is the master of this. In Thief of Time, he sets up the joke by describing the abbot of a monastery having re-incarnated as a fully sentient baby; and then about eighty pages later delivers a punchline about him being in touch with his inner child. And though it’s implausible that he planned it that way, you could argue that he sets up a joke in The Light Fantastic by magically transforming the Librarian into an orang-utan; and then eight books later, in Moving Pictures, he delivers the punchline of having a screaming ape being carried up a tower by a giant woman being pure cinema. Eight books between setup and punchline is hardcore wait-for-it. 2:OK, not actually faceless in the metaphorical sense since Disney has an active brand (many active brands, in fact); and not faceless in the literal sense since it’s very unlikely that people working at Disney don’t have faces. Though the thought of Disney employing an army of featureless golems to manage Miley Cyrus’s career is sort of awesome. 3: Similar to how Professor Ramnath Narayanswamy once told my batch “The majority of you have indulged in creative bullshitting, most of it not even creative.”
“I went to St. Stephens. I enjoyed it. Therefore I know that the education system is fine, and that all you philistines who did not go to St. Stephens should stop talking about how much the education system sucks, otherwise you will become a nation of idiots.”
When the poor woman has stopped hyperventilating about how appalling it is that her hard-to-obtain education is being devalued by a mere movie, can somebody please tell her that being snobbish about having gone to St. Stephen’s is so twentieth century? These days, you can be snobbish about what you buy if you’re a yuppie, what you do if you’re a hippie, or the size of your SEZ if you’re a lala. Or, given that we’re in the Great Recession, about how frugal you are. And if you must resort to education, please bring at least an Ivy League degree or a PhD to the game. St. Stephen’s just doesn’t cut it any longer – I mean, even Shashi Tharoor went there.
(Note: haven’t actually seen the movie, which is why I’ve refrained from an argument about whether it’s accurate or not.)
AIR has found fans like me — though let me confess that before I ‘discovered’ AIR, I was quite addicted to a radio spot in Mumbai called ‘Kamla ka hamla’, the random outpourings of a fast-talking transvestite — not because of a grand plan to counter the explosion of private radio but because it is a public broadcaster that is not beholden to the demands of the mass market.
Ideally, public-service radio must give voice to and reflect the needs of democracy’s silent majorities and minorities. It cannot be left entirely to the whimsical flick of a few hundred million wrists. “Broadcasting,” as Tony Benn, a British socialist politician once observed, “is really too important to be left to the broadcasters.”
An AIR with vision and verve could lead India’s radio revival. Imagine if it became a National Public Radio, the wonderful public-radio network in the US. There are many like us, waiting for lively, intelligent radio.
So because Samar Halarnkar is too cheap to buy an iPod and download podcasts (or a Worldspace receiver for that matter), the taxpayers of India must shell out their money to revamp AIR and the brightest people in government must go build a vision and verve for public radio instead of, oh I dunno, fixing the university system or conducting police reform or something.
The three of us have been taking part in the Landmark or Odyssey quizzes since 2004. We’d do our August 15/ January 26 pilgrimage to Chennai and just miss qualifying, or qualify and then come last. This year, we qualified. We didn’t get knocked out. And we were on brilliant form, cracking questions throughout the quiz and peacefully winning.
We then went into the all-India finals, and ended up losing by one question, but so it goes. No Enthu Da is now established as a quiz team. We have a reputation. Another couple of years like this, and we could start getting name recognition like QED or Mama Machaan Mapillai. Sooner or later, we’ll win the national round too.
That was dream one. The second dream got fulfilled just after the Chennai round, when the three of us were interviewed by the Chennai local news channel.
Reporter: How does it feel to win?
Kodhi: One of the things in life’s to-do list has been checked off.
Reporter: So have you been quizzing lots before this?
Wimp: Yes, we’ve been coming here and trying to win for five years now.
Reporter: So how do you feel on Independence Day? What does Independence Day mean to you?
Me: Freedom is awesome! It’s great that we have freedom and now we should help other countries with freedom too. To the north you have China being high-handed so we should support free Tibet.
Why was this fulfilling a dream? Well, the news channel is a joint venture between NDTV and The Hindu.
Abusing The Hindu in The New Indian Express is one thing. Expressing pro-Tibet opinions on a Hindu owned media outlet is one of the greatest hacks I’ve ever pulled. Now, as with the Landmark Quiz, it’s time to raise the game – the new goals are to win the national Landmark, and to somehow write an anti-China or anti-CPM oped in The Hindu itself.
Rather than just complain I think we as viewers should empower ourselves by giving our own names to boundaries. I propose the following names for fours and sixes for each of the teams:
A four hit by the Daredevils will be called a Rashtrapati Bhavan and a six will be called Chandni Chowk
For the Mumbai Indians, Girgaon and Malabar Hill
Royal Challengers: Basavangudi and JC Nagar
Super Kings: Luz Church Road and Cathedral
Chargers: Khairatabad and Karuwansahu
Knight Riders: Shyambazar and Beadon Street
Royals: Arjunlal Sethi Nagar and Bani Park
Tragically, the Kings XI do not have any special names under this nomenclature system
Admittedly, “What a magnificent Luz Church Road by Hayden” is a bit of a mouthful, and Chandni Chowk can be confused with chauka, but I think this is a small price to pay for sticking it to Lalit Modi (who incidentally has started reminding me of Cut-Me-Own-Throat Dibbler).
Did Kanchan Gupta even bother to visit the facebook group before he wrote this?
Does Kanchan Gupta seriously think that the Coalition of Loose etc. Women is actually promoting alcoholism and promiscuity or does he suffer from sarcasm deficiency?
Does Kanchan Gupta even know that something called sarcasm exists?
Then, there was Sagarika Ghose’s editorial in the Hindustan Times (linking to IBN site ‘cos the HT site is throwing errors). After spending a considerable amount of time trying to extract meaning from her ramble, I have concluded that she is accusing the Pink Chaddi Campaign of being frivolous,
Which is why the battle for freedom and the battle for progress must be a sensible and a rational one; it can’t be a trivial battle where we fling coloured underwear at maniacs.
the modern youth of today of flaunting their modernity and youth,
Maybe India’s young instead of trying to be like characters from Sex In The City, should try to emulate Sarojini Naidu and Jawaharlal Nehru. While the ghastly cultural hoodlums must be dealt with sternly by the law and handed out exemplary and speedy punishment, the lifestyle norms we choose, especially in public places, must be attuned somewhat at least to our surroundings.
and for good measure, suggests that everyone follow in the footsteps of the elites of the 1950s.
We must learn from the Nehruvians of the 40s and 50s who were incredibly westernised, but deeply rooted; many of whom were rich but lived modest tasteful lives. They drank, they smoked and they romanced, yet they were discreet and embodied a tradition of Indian elitism that was rooted in both excellence as well as tradition.
I suppose that as the senior editor of a channel which has popularised the SMS poll as a form of discourse, and maniacs screaming at each other as a form of debate, Sagarika Ghose is well placed to comment on the frivolity or triviality of a particular exercise.
As far as the point about flaunting modernity or being discreet is concerned, I think it’s a remarkable idea and should be followed to the hilt. If you are fortunate enough to have liberal parents, or rich enough to own your own farmhouse where your servants can tend to all your guests, you can enjoy your drink. If you’re merely aspiring middle class and need to go to public spaces for your leisure – you know, like most of Sagarika Ghose’s viewers – you should just suppress your urges or you might spark off a revolution. (Note: Ravikiran has plaigarised my blogpost and backdated it. Cheater!)
Anyway, to ward off painful arguments in the comments, let me also say:
The dichotomy of alcoholism-promiscuity / sobriety-traditionalism was started not by the Pink Chaddiers, but by the Ram Sene. In that case, if people respond to it by saying that they’d pick being drunk, promiscuous and ridiculous to being suppressed and not allowed to exercise their freedom, that’s entirely justified.
Yes, the Pink Chaddi Campaign is frivolous. So? Indian public protests are usually trivial and accomplish nothing. At least this one was amusing and creative, which got it much more footage and participation than it would have otherwise. And who’s to say that it won’t be the platform for something much more productive some time down the line? A collection of passionate people has its own value.
In case you plan to use the “how would you feel if it was your sister!” argument, please note that a) I don’t have a sister, b) what my hypothetical sister does on her time is not your concern, c) what my hypothetical sister does on her time is not my concern, either.
Shiv Viswanathan and Sadanand Menon annoy me. They both have columns/ op-eds up about the Mangalore pub incident which hint at some interesting ideas. But these guys can’t seem to realise that writing for newspapers is not the same as academic writing. There’s so academic or generally postmodern jargon in their pieces, that only the most dedicated general reader won’t flee in terror. And even when you have a reader like me who struggles through the piece anyway, there’s a sense of annoyance at the end of it – if there hadn’t been so much jargon, these guys could have spent more of their word limit exploring their genuinely interesting fundaes.
Let’s take a look at Shiv Viswanathan first:
In India, the word ‘culture’ is used in a variety of ways. Culture refers to an identity, an umbilical chord, an epidermis, a pretext for rationalising behaviour, and an everyday habit. It is a second skin. But politicised, it has a different meaning. The historical dictum that nationalism is the last refuge of scoundrels can be extended to culture, which has become the last refuge of every goon wishing to join politics.
This paragraph is just a series of buzzwords. Sure, culture could be an epidermis and an umbilical cord, but how is that relevant to the rest of the article? If I was being charitable to Shiv Viswanathan, I’d think he was writing this in a stream of consciousness style. If I wasn’t, I’d accuse him of faffing.
The park and pub are probably the two public spaces easily available for younger people. Both get disciplined in the name of an imaginary “public” and an imagined “culture”. Let us not dub this as moral policing, a variant of the thought police made legendary by Orwell in 1984. Policing in India is a strange function. Parents, neighbours, peer groups, the crowd, all police you. In fact, policing is performed in India by everyone except police. So moral policing is misleading because it is not an act of censorship. What one witnessed is plain brutality justified in terms of half-baked politics. Beyond exclusion and negation these parties have no programme.
This bit is the genuinely interesting one – it has an idea about public spaces, and who actually owns or shares these. But it isn’t built upon. Again, to be fair, it may not have been his main point – he concentrates more on violence and dialogue towards the end – but if he didn’t spend so much time faffing and using jargon he would have more space with which to explore the good ideas.
We face a clash of two limited ideas of culture both claiming a set of virtues. If one claims “freedom” the other claims “duty” and “tradition”. Both are ersatz ideas of culture. Both need a hearing as long as they avoid violence. In fact it is violence that enfeebles the sena idea of culture. The sena idea of politics is what needs to be challenged. Whether as Ram Sene or Shiv Sena, its politics is illiterate and it sees violence as the answer to any dissenting, ethnic, marginal group asserting itself. The police, who probably share these values, watch in complicity. Only the media’s sense of outrage creates it as an event. To legislate on morals and aesthetics through such violence is futile.
Ersatz? Does anybody outside the JNU campus even know what that means? Couldn’t he just have said substitute or phony or proxy? And again, there are far too many repeated statements – he’s saying the same thing over and over again. If there had been an exploration of how the hearing of the two ideas in a non-violent environment was to be conducted, that would actually have been valuable. But no. Shyeah!
Then there’s Sadanand Menon. This is actually one of his less jargon filled pieces. I read his monthly column in Better Photography and my head spins at the language he uses there (and this is a magazine where the majority of the readership probably doesn’t even have English as a first language). But anyway – here are the interesting and the bad bits from his piece:
In Chennai, going to buy liquor from the government controlled TASMAC shops is an utterly anti-civilisational, self-demeaning act. The atmosphere around these shops is filthy beyond description. You have to gingerly manoeuvre your steps between dollops of spit and phlegm, remains of old and fresh vomit, broken bottles, remains of the plastic pouches in which vendors sell kadalai (boiled gram) and pickles, puddles of piss in the corners, drunks lying sprawled in the muck and a general air of depravity and squalor which beggars imagination.
From such a scene of apostasy, which even a Victor Hugo would have been hard put to capture in Les Miserables, to reach say Kathmandu, is a culture shock. Here you can walk into a vegetable or provision store and buy Khukhri Rum at a price that can wean you off water for ever. Or in Panjim, where everything is bright, clean, transparent, open and civilised. Mahe has some of the most stylish and well-designed wine shops.
The regime of controls, bans, prohibitions and state monopolies, besides being anti-democratic, never achieves its purpose. It only produces a sort of moral cramping, an aesthetic stunting. Alcohol consumption must be re-invested with the dignity and decency of democratic choice where the State, instead of treating alcohol merely as a source for revenue generation, also acknowledges its potential for mature socialising, conviviality and celebration.
There must also be a parallel movement to offer a peg and a toast to the moral police, which needs to recover the best of Indian civilisation. The dehumanising effects of alcohol (as well as its grotesque retailing) can be offset by the humanising power of freedom and choice and creativity. After all, as Omar Khayyam said, ‘What can a vintner buy, half as precious as what he sells’?
So yeah. The idea that the sort of way alcohol consumption is treated in TASMAC makes it even more degrading than regular alcoholism is very interesting. So is the idea that freedom and choice are humanising. That idea is also in complete opposition to the Shiv Viswanathan piece, which pretty much relegates freedom to a secondary status. But despite the interesting idea in there, the language is painful. Why say ‘choice’ when you’ve already said ‘freedom’? Why say ‘moral cramping, an aesthetic stunting’ when you can just say ‘moral and aesthetic cramping’? It’s wasting words on repetition that could be used for exploration instead.
One last TV/ pop-sociology post, and then I’m done with the topic for a long, long time.
So lala-yuppie-hippie is one framework of classification which separates different shows on TV. But then there are shows which are 100% hippie. And then they sub-classify their characters using some different framework. For example Mind Your Language and it’s Indian ripoff Zabaan Sambhal Ke differentiated characters using national/ regional stereotypes.
These days my cousin and aunt fight over the remote. This is because my aunt wants to watch the aforementioned Radha ki Betiyaan yada yada while my cousin wants to watch Miley Jab Hum Tum, which is Both are on at the same time. What follows is an attempt to use words to describe the unspeakable horror of Miley Jab Hum Tum.
The unspeakable horror arises because the six main characters (three guys and three girls, of course) are built around stereotypes. This in itself is not a bad thing, but:
There is zilch character development beyond the stereotypes
The stereotypes are incredibly old and boring.
There are two different stereotype frameworks which have been used. The characters are students in college and are doing the incredibly hippie course Media Studies. (Must… resist… temptation… to sidetrack into the fascinating recursion of characters on television studying about television.)
So the three male leads have been stereotyped into playboy-nerd-dweeb.Playboy-nerd-dweeb was of course a wonderfully fresh and useful classification back in a) the 1960s b) America, when Archie Comics was at its peak. Considering that this classification doesn’t really exist in India, and that even in America teen demographics have split into goths, emos, geeks, and suchlike, why is it being used on Indian television?
The framework stereotypes used for the female leads are as stale, but at least the framework used here is Indian and not quite as old. The female leads have been split into rich bitch, behenji-turned-mod, and behenji. The rich bitch spends all her time trying to humiliate the behenji and behenji-turned-mod, who are sisters from Morena. (By the way, the Wikipedia entry on Morena is a hilarious rant on Tomar victimhood and the wickedness of Jats. In case it’s brought to a Neutral POV by the time you’re reading this, here’s the permalink to the current revision).
But yeah. So the entire premise of the serial is that people from small towns are uncool, people who’re interested in studies can’t dance, people who dance aren’t interested in studies, and that being an idiot is funny. This could of course have worked back in the 1980s, but the stereotypes are so old by now that there’s nothing left to do with them. Naturally, this makes the serial excellent junk/ comfort food for the brain.
Right, people, that closes my pontifications about TV, pseudosociological classifcations, and the like. We now return to our regular arbit fundaes.
Even if somebody tries to make a yuppie soap, I suspect that market pressures would force it to morph into a saas-bahu saga. I remember this soap called “Sanjeevani” on Star about a hospital. Seemed to be sensible in the beginning. Slowly elements like scheming colleagues, love polygons etc. were added. I think the limit of any desi soap opera as time tends to infinity is a saas-bahu soap opera.
Axshully, the serial about singing dancing doctors I wrote about in that post is called Dill Mill Gaye (yes, yes, I know) and according to its Wikipedia page, it’s a sequel to Sanjivani. Though since there are hardly any common characters it would be more appropriate to say that the two serials take place in the same continuity/ universe.
But anyway. Coming to Rajat’s point about market pressures slowly forcing everything into saas-bahu-soap-opera-dom. There seems to be enough market demand for singing and dancing that Dill Mill Gaye has settled into an equilibrium of background Hindi film music and inter-doctor romance without any scheming and plotting (though it does have the reaction shots). There’s a clip below if you really want to see for yourself. I am not responsible for the four minutes of your life you will never get back.
But just because it’s settled into a singing-dancing-romance equilibrium, doesn’t mean the producers aren’t occasionally tempted to take the exploitation route to higher ratings.
So a week or two after the Delhi blasts, the serial moved from having doctors in louw, to having doctors in louw… and bombs! After an idyllic existence where the doctors sing and dance, and occcasionally prescribe medicines for headache; the doctors suddenly land up in the middle of a bomb blast scene. There are copious entrails and severed limbs all over the screen in a primetime slot usually associated with light fluffy romance and item numbers. The episode ends with the discovery that the female lead has actually been wired to a bomb, and it detonates if she makes any move, not matter how slight. It was bizarre. And it reverted to the normal singing-dancing-romance in two weeks, as if the characters had never been through a near-death experience at all. Even more bizarre.
So the bad news is that even decently performing serials can suddenly veer away from their premise into something completely unexpected. The good news is that it needn’t necessarily be a veer into K-ness.