Review of Laal Kaptaan

Recently I saw the movie Laal Kaptaan (लाल कप्तान, literal translation Red Captain). Though I had seen the trailer when it was released sometime back this year, I did not see the movie. The visuals in the trailer were quite good, so I decided to finally watch it. And I was not disappointed. This is one of the few movies in recent times that I have managed to see in one shot. Or rather the movie managed to make me do it.

 

The major part of the movie is set in the region of Bundelkhand (literally the dominion of the Bundelas). This region which falls South-East of Agra and Delhi has historical places like Jhansi, Gwalior, Panna, Chhatarpur, Banda and Orchha within its folds has been historically important. The province of Awadh (Oudh) lies to the east of Bundelkhand and Ganges marks the boundary to the East, while the Rajputana lies to the West. The Yamuna divides the region into two, with the majority of the part lying to the West of Yamuna. The region between the two mighty rivers is known as a doab (marked yellow in the map below). Many of these were erstwhile princely states, which also existed until 1947, when they were merged with the Indian republic.

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The era when the Mughal empire was disintegrating post the death of Aurangazeb in 1707, was especially tumultuous for this region. With the power vacuum created by the decaying Mughal empire being filled by the Marathas, by this time the Chatrapati was only a titular head and real power rested with the Peshwas and the various great houses of the Marathas (Shinde, Holkar, Bhosle, Gaikwad). The Marathas laid waste to large tracts and levied chauth ( collection of one-fourth of income ) on these regions mercilessly. But in general, they were hated in this region for their bullishness and general havoc they perpetrated on the public and places. For example, they looted the Red Fort in Delhi with impunity, scrapping off precious and semi-precious stones from the Diwan-e-Khaas to do a vasuli. (I might make a dedicated post for this later.)

If the Battle of Plassey (1757) was the founding stone of the British in India, then the battle of Buxar (1764) was the first real fortification of this foundation, and the British really established themselves in India as a potent force. Though the Marathas were the most powerful, the British did not engage with them directly until the end of the century. The third Battle of Panipat (1761), a few years before the battle of Buxar limited the Maratha presence in the North severely and was one of the major reasons that led to its full demise as a political and military power by the start of the next century. Though, this enabled the houses of Shinde, Holkar, Bhosle and Gaikwad to establish their own semi-independence over the Peshwas. Eventually, everyone became under the British. But the time in which the movie is set, the Marathas were still a force to reckon with and the EIC has just established itself as a millitary and political power in much of the region from Bengal to North India along the Gangetic plains.

The movie starts just after the Battle of Buxar (1764) when a large number of people are hanged outside the fortress of Shergarh (most probably a fictional place, as I could not find it anywhere in the sources). after the British win the battle. One of the persons who sides with the British named Rehmat Khan is especially despised upon, with him being called a gaddar (traitor) by the hanged. The accused are hanged on a huge banyan tree, with their bodies hanging like overgrown fruits along its branches. It is raining and in this scene, a young teenage boy promises Rehmat Khan that one day he will also hang on the same tree.

Fast forward 25 years (1789), we are taken to the den of a dacoit (डकैत /डाकू ) where the Bairagi called by another generic name Gossain (this term I had not heard before this film). He comes in and asks for fire for his chillam. Mayhem ensues and the hunter takes his prey. The entire scene starts with dark of the night and ends in the early morning.

The horde of warrior ascetics (of which were the Gossain/Naga) came to prominence in the resulting political instability and shifting sands post the fall of the Mughal empire.

…these orders became politically significant only after the collapse of the Mughal Empire, and more particularly after British activities created political and economic chaos in the second half of the eighteenth century.

 

Going forward, the hunter goes on to take his reward, where the local chieftain mocks him and doesn’t want to pay. He is made to pay by the Gossain. The film then follows the Gossain on his quest to locate and kill Rehmat Khan. Though there are hints that there is a link between the Gossain and the teenage boy who is hanged in the beginning, we are not sure how they are connected. I won’t go into the plot of the film, but will instead focus on some of the characters and background of the film.

Though some of the other reviews have portrayed the character of Rehmat Khan (played by Manav Vij) as just grunting. But I think he played the role very well, perhaps these reviewers are used to seeing villains as people who yell and show a lot of emosions on their faces. He subtly played the act of a cold-blooded, calculating and cruel character quite well and was never out of character. Rehmat Khan is a Rohilla. Now, the Rohillas were of an Afghan ethnicity, and they sided against the Marathas (led by Najib ad-Dawlah) with Ahemdshah Abdali during the third battle of Panipat. The Marathas were very enraged by this and Mahadji Shinde did collect his revenge on them a few years in 1772 after Panipat by destroying Rohilkhand and scattering bones of Najib ad-Dawlah. After this defeat, the First Rohilla war happened in which the British siding with the Nawab of Oudh defeated the Rohillas and the state of Rampur of established. The second Rohilla war, in 1794, between British and the Rohillas ended their supremacy in the region. Now, the time between the two wars, there was lot of guerilla activity carried out by the Rohillas, which led them to be set as Nawabs of Rampur. Given all this chaos and uncertainty,  there were no permanent alliances or allegiances. The main part of Laal Kaptaan (c. 1789) is set in this era for the Rohillas. So, Rehmat Khan, a prominent Rohilla, defecting over to British was noteworthy, but not out of the line.

Pindaris

Pindaris were not a tribe, but a military system of bandits of all races and religions. They fluctuated in numbers, being augumented from time to timeby military adventurer from every State, and frequently amounted to as many as 30,000 men.

Pindaris present an episode in history of India, which is quite extraordinary, though skimmed upon in the history texts. Here we are witnessing a rise of a band of people whose existence was based on terrorising and looting people in distant provinces.  The Pindaris were roughly active in the last three decades of eighteenth century to the first two decades of nineteenth. Earlier they were under tutelage of Maratha cheiftains who used them as militias to wreck havoc on supply lines of the enemies and disrupt civilian peace. So them accompanying the Maratha camp is completely normal. The depiction of the Pindari lust for the loot (tum log lo khazana, mai chala lene zanana) is well done in the film. In fact, the comedy of errors that the bunch sent to hunt down Rehmat Khan is something to relish. The frustration of the little Maratha knight in being unable to  control them is well worth seeing.

But as the Maratha power came to a decline, the Pindaris in the nineteenth century became a force of their own, without masters. They would raid far, and were viscious and cruel in their tactics to make people pay. There are reports that people even committed suicides when they came to know that a Pindari raid was imminent.

Another thing worth mentioning in the film is the settings in which the film is shot. The cinematography is par excellence, set amongst fantastic fort ruins. I cannot identify the actual locations used in the film, so any information on that would be welcome.

The other character in the film worth mentioning is the Dog Walker played by Deepak Dobriyal. He has a pair of very fine Mudhol hounds (also known as Caravan hounds) named Sukhiram and Dukhiram.

Screenshot 2019-12-14 at 7.33.46 PMThe character has no name in the film, but he finds people who are wanted for a price. That is how he makes his living. He refuses a horse mount saying it interferes with  His character has many layers and he shares a special relationship with the Gossain, they respect each other. It was a treat to watch Dobriyal play this character with English hat and his greeting of:

Howde do…

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The two female characters in the film, one played by Zoya and other by Heena are in their niche. Zoya as a courtesan who is neglected, while Heena playing the wife of a chieftain carries herself well. Their characters are in emotional turmoil with maternal love and the surrounding situation.

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The clothing, the artefacts are all era-appropriate and so are the languages used. A lot of work must have gone in background research and it shows in the quality of the film. Kudos to the production team for that. Just that the look of Saif has a semblance to Depp’s Jack Sparrow, that could have been avoided.

Overall a very watchable film, if you have not, do watch it.

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PS: A special ode to Saif Ali Khan.

In my personal opinion, Saif Ali Khan has really matured as an actor over the years and has earned my respect for it. You can’t really compare his role in Yeh Dillagi and lets say his depiction of Langda Tyagi in Omkara. It is as if you are watching two completely different actors. The variety of roles he has done in recent times, and with grace is just amazing. He has done roles which many of the mainstream actors would shy away from. Hope that we see his good form in the future also.

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References

Lorenzen, D. (1978). Warrior Ascetics in Indian History. Journal of the American Oriental Society, 98(1), 61-75.

 

Myriad Mystical Melancholic Marathon Mindless Meaningless Meetings

There are meetings and then there are more meetings. There are meetings after meetings and there are meetings before meetings. There are meetings in the office, and there are meetings in conference rooms, sometimes in the cafeteria. There are online meetings, there are face-to-face meetings. There are app-based meetings, there are audio meetings, there are video meetings. There is a plethora of meetings. Sometimes my entire working day was lost in shuffling my mind and shuttling my body between meetings. Many times I think just attending meetings is the work, perhaps the only work, that people do. Some people take meetings with almost religious fervour in both quantity and quality. For me, any meeting which lasts more than 15-20 minutes, unless meeting exceptional people or under exceptional circumstances, is just plain debauchery full of verbal diarrhea. Meetings should be precise and to the point, and should not devolve into a seemingly unending saga like a TV Soap opera.

But then, people don’t believe in short meetings. They want elaborate, longer meetings. Mind you I have nothing against longer formats, I would rather read a long-form essay than a character restricted tweet. But these meetings suck the very life out of you as they progress. I could never explain that feeling of uneasiness that crept over me whenever I have to attend the glorious meetings which go on for 2 hours and some more. Longer meetings are like their contents like a gas, nothing concrete.

meetings will expand to fill whatever time is given to them. – Prof. Hall

I would always see others attending the same meeting in the same room, for the same time but never seeing them bored even a zilch. If anything, their enthusiasm for the meeting (whatever the topic) seems to go on and on, as if they had a Duracell battery inside them, and me has just an ordinary battery which runs out of juice in between the race, with the finish line seemingly lying beyond the horizon.

duracell_bunny

Do these people drink Boost? Is that the secret of their energy? I have to know this…

But sometimes during these marathon meetings, I have managed to get some creative things done, insulating and isolating myself from the chaos and debris. The important word to note is “sometimes”. Most of the time I was bored to death, thinking about existential questions about life, the universe and everything. But instead of loaded questions like “”What is life about?”” I end up asking much mundane (and cheap) ones like “What is this meeting about?, instead of “What is my purpose in life?”, I ask “What is the update I have to give?” At times I had to give the same updates in three different meetings in a single week. And then people want to talk about optimisation and time-saving techniques and how we can become more efficient, of course in a meeting.

During such moments of philosophical delirium, I take solace in thinking about this quote from Alice in Wonderland:

“ In that direction,” the Cat said, waving its right paw round, “ lives a Hatter : and in that direction,” waving the other paw, “ lives a March Hare. Visit either you like: they’re both mad.”

“ But I don’t want to go among mad people,” Alice remarked.

“ Oh, you can’t help that,” said the Cat : “ we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”

“ How do you know I’m mad ? ” said Alice.

“ You must be,” said the Cat, “ or you wouldn’t have come here.”

Of course, why would I go to a boring meeting which gives me both suicidal and mass-murderous thoughts at the same time, unless I am mad? After every single of these myriad marathon meetings, I would comment to myself with deep melancholy “I am never going to get back these hours of my life I have spent/survived in here”.

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Detail from Melencolia I  by Albrecht Dürer

Not that I am the only one with these feelings, the shoulders are stooped, faces drained and brains faded for many fellow tortured souls. For all the knowledge of cognitive and educational psychology that many of my learned colleagues are making a living from, they just cannot ( or rather do not) want to see the problems with meetings which apparently stretch on and on. They think just sitting there will help in building the team and inspiring people and keep them updated. They are wrong. Meetings, especially the long ones, don’t help.

Motivation and concentration, cannot be kept on for long, especially in contexts in which you are passively listening to a subject of not your liking. And, as I have remarked in an earlier post, the passage of time can be very subjective. In the case of such meetings, it seems that we are moving very close to the speed to light, as time seems to mysteriously pass very very slowly. I have many times found myself saying, “It must be at least 15 minutes since they are blethering…” and to my surprise when I check the actual time it is not even 2-3 minutes.

Hai Ram! Anyay hi anyay…

हाय राम ! अन्याय ही अन्याय।।।

Another aspect of long meetings is that they are not only mentally, but also physically draining. Even if you are just sitting at one place during those two hours, somehow the entire body feels drained of its juice (remember the Duracell bunny). Physiologically perhaps this can be explained as the entire body system tuning itself to go to sleep as there isn’t much physical activity, added to lessened mental activity as well. Perhaps this is also the reason why people fall asleep during meetings.

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But about the general idea of meetings that I have is neither subjective nor unpopular opinion. People have researched and have come to the same conclusions.

Yet as valuable and energizing as good meetings can be, too many meetings are seen as a waste of time — as a source of frustration rather than enlightenment. – Rogelberg, Scott and Kelly – The Science and Fiction of Meetings (2007)

Also, the misconception that some people had (and I guess they still do) is that meeting is a type of work. It seems to them that attending a meeting itself is equivalent to doing work. Maybe they are fans of Full Metal Alchemist and inspired by law of equivalent exchange they think meeting about some work is equivalent to actually doing the meetings. So how do we end up having so many meetings anyway?

People don’t do concrete things any more,” he says.

Instead he says there has been a rise of managerial roles, which are often not very well defined, and where “the hierarchy is not that clear”.

“Many managers don’t know what to do,” he says, and when they are “unsure of their role”, they respond by generating more meetings.

“People like to talk and it helps them find a role,” says the professor.

Many of these people can spend half of their working hours in meetings, he says.

–  Pointless work meetings

What this implies is that instead of doing actual work, people want to just talk about it. Yet some people, mysteriously seem to enjoy these meetings, some even recording attendance and taking meticulous notes, as if to provide an alibi for a murder.

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Rogelberg, Scott and Kelly – The Science and Fiction of Meetings (2007)

 

That being said, I always thought who likes such meetings and why do they like it? I had a folk-psychological theory that those who enjoy such meetings actually derive their energies from such meetings. But all these were just shower-thoughts, I mean during these mindless meetings you can think of having a hot shower, and also think about something else at the same time. Your brain saves you, it automatically tunes out of the ambient noise and enables you to do what you want to. But this too has its limits and it is not always possible to do it. This is done of course with a filter and a trigger word. The trigger word is when someone calls your name. At times the image of me as Heisenberg flashes in front of my mental eyes as if I have sadistically commanded them to

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And tathastu suddenly you are centre of attention and you have to pretend that you are supremely interested in the topic of the meeting (however boring) and have to respond. I still get goosebumps thinking about this (think PTSD level), imagine the trauma I must have experienced over the years. But the people who like such meetings seem to be immune to such traumas. Rather they thrive in such troubled waters.

The other reason that I had speculated for this was that these meetings are a form of a power play. Not the cricket kind, but the human politics kind. These meetings allow people to show the pecking order, and also allow them to tell other people things which they would not want to hear otherwise. It is to give those whom you like the work that they want and rest to the work they won’t.

A colleague of mine, who has whitened (ok wait, not whitened but grayed 🙂 his hair dealing day in and day out people like these and had experienced such meetings much more than me, told me about the dichotomy of such work distribution. Work, according to him, is of two types: Monkey work and Donkey work. Now, as the name suggests, monkey work is like monkey work. Monkeys are jovial, they jump from tree top to tree top, eat fruits that they like, raid houses and steal from them, make noises and if you get too close to one they might attack you too. They are the Bandar Log of Kipling.

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In Hindi, Bandar means “monkey” and log means “people” – but can also be used for plurality hence the term simply refers to “monkeys”. The term has also since come to refer to “any body of irresponsible chatterers.”

All said and done, monkeys enjoy life, and people do remember them. They have their own charm and are the most visible and vocal people of the jungle (office?). Now I know, you must be making mental images of who are possible Bandar log in your office while reading this. But they don’t do any real work, they do pretend work. They want their names on events that are seen as glamorous and titles which pompous. But you assign them ass grinding work, they will throw a tantrum as if you have asked them their kidneys, for free. It is not that they don’t want to do quality work, in reality, they can’t get quality work done.

In most cases, the monkey working class is also of the mediocre people which I had written about in the past. It is beyond their ken and competence do get actual work done. Perhaps it is the infinite monkey theorem at work.

The infinite monkey theorem states that a monkey hitting keys at random on a typewriter keyboard for an infinite amount of time will almost surely type any given text, such as the complete works of William Shakespeare. In fact, the monkey would almost surely type every possible finite text an infinite number of times. However, the probability that monkeys filling the observable universe would type a complete work such as Shakespeare’s Hamlet is so tiny that the chance of it occurring during a period of time hundreds of thousands of orders of magnitude longer than the age of the universe is extremely low (but technically not zero).

chimpanzee_seated_at_typewriter

Since we do not have infinite time or millions of Bandar log in our office, the chances of them producing any intelligible work is extremely low (but technically not zero). So now you know why work doesn’t get done.

If at all, such work befalls on them like on the protagonist of a Greek tragedy, they insist on having an ensemble of underlings to work with under them. They will assign all work to them and only pitch in when to take the credit. They usually undertake work which does not have concrete objectives, or immediate deliverables. They like work which is vague, sounds inscrutable and is heavily jargonised. And they look and dress much well. They look and talk sophisticated but on a closer/deeper scrutiny what remains is only sophistry. Such are the monkey-work people.

On the other hand, the Donkey work people suffer similar fate to the eponymous animal. They do drudgery and actual work which is not glamorous. They work tirelessly and without much hope for recognition. Most actual work in the office is done by them. And in these meetings, this distinction is made clear.

If you work more, more work will come to you. If you work less, less work will come to you.

The offices run on the basis of the work of the Donkey-work people. Boxer the cart horse from Animal Farm can be considered as a Donkey-work person, though all of us are not that naive or ignorant. Screenshot 2019-11-20 at 11.05.58 AM.png

Animal Farm (1954)

Another aspect of such meetings is the apparent loss of time-sense some people experience when their turn to speak, Csikszentmihalyi will perhaps call it as flow state. It feels like those old people who usually don’t get to talk, and when they get someone they just keep on going. It is as if some people have to complete a quota of words in front of a captive audience in order to satiate themselves. Even if what they are saying is of no importance, or is not in the agenda of the meeting or is meaningless mindless mouthing. It is like a poison that they want to remove from their bodies and minds and in lieu inject it on the hapless captive attendees. There is no dialogue, only monologue. In doing so, they inadvertently, and purposefully they hijack the agenda of the meeting. They will go on and on about ephemeral experiences they have had, for example, elaborately explaining elegant endoscopy (or enema, choose what you will).

The cry baby gets more attention.

Initially, I used to think, it is harmless banter, excruciatingly boring at worst but then it turned out to be sinister scheming. This is true for humans as much as for animals. In birds, the more vocal and active chick gets all the food, while not so vocal ones are starved and at times kicked out of the nest by their siblings. In the case of humans, this is observed too. Babies who cry more, get more food and parents time. They know how to manipulate people around them even by faking crying.

The infants exhibited crying behavior that seemed to become more sophisticated with increasing age. This marked a proactive stance in communicating with the mother on the part of the infant. Interestingly, at 11–12 months, “fake crying” was observed during a naturalistic interaction with the mother. This implied that deceptive infant behavior could be seen at quite an early stage.

Now, I am not sure if this trait is carried to adulthood or it is learned during the intervening years, but they get the same modus operandi seems to work on adults also. In these meaningless meetings, the banter can be seen analogous to crying, and attention whoring. The hijacking of the agenda has another purpose, to eat up the time allotted to others, in case you want to say something of value, such delays will cut down your time. Such episodes remind me of an aunty who makes horrible food but insists that everyone must eat it to the full and also praise her culinary skills.

And if they can, people will put all the content of what they have to speak on slides. If you can’t read it yourself (even if you are seated in the front row), because they have put 10 bullet points at 10 point font on a single slide? Not a problem, they are just anyway going to read aloud the slides. Technology scaffolded GIGO. When I see such slides, the designer in me dies a thousand deaths. And people are This goes against good design principles of presentations. Powerless Pointless Talks (PPTs) can be indeed empowering for these people. I can go on ranting about this, but since this is not the central theme of this post, hence I will stop here.

Another category of monkey workers are sly. When they have to address such meetings or are tasked with providing some answers they work as follows. They will identify possible candidates who might have the knowledge that they require. lf Suppose fate has it, that it is you who they seek. Then they will clandestinely ask you something about some other topic and slowly, but surely drift to the subject they want. Then they will ask you detailed questions, and innocently you will answer. The episode ends there, or so you think. Next time in the meeting, you hear your own words coming out of their mouth. No, you are not controlling their minds! But this is a way of appropriating knowledge. They feel elated and intelligent by telling all others what you have told them and not at a single point giving you any credit or even hinting that they asked you anything. Such is the state of people and the purpose they use the meetings for,

Some of these were just some empirical, albeit biased speculations. Can there be a scientific explanation to this messy behavior in meetings? It turns out there is. Recently a group of psychologists from Sweden did actually study work meetings. And this study enables us to understand many things about meetings.

They say meetings provide an outlet both for people to show off their status or to express frustration. Mine is, of course, the latter case (at least I would want to identify myself as such, my residual self-image), while the monkey people show off their status. They say despite there being more meetings “few decisions are made” and people can have a low opinion of work meetings, yet their numbers keep increasing.

The Swedish study takes another take on the long meetings:

Meetings can “arouse feelings of meaninglessness”, he says. But he argues that is often missing their point.

Once in a meeting – particularly long ones – their function can become “almost therapeutic”.

Regardless of what they are meant to be discussing, they serve a purpose as an “opportunity to complain and be acknowledged by colleagues”.

But this certainly becomes a farce very quickly.

But people going to many meetings can lose patience – and can spend much of the time playing with their mobile phones, say the researchers.

A very common scene in meetings that I have had to endure, and surely you have too.

“Some people find this frustrating and question why they must endure them.”

Then he comes to the crucial insight of the study.:

But he argues that negativity towards meetings can be because their real purposes are misunderstood. (emphasis added)

But he says the real purpose of such meetings might be to assert the authority of an organisation, so that employees are reminded that they are part of it.

Such meetings are not really about making any decisions, he says. (emphasis added)

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Levels of meeting and power play.

“When you have meetings with colleagues at the same level, as a professional, you get to discuss different issues that interest you,” he says.

When the meetings are dominated by different levels of status, they become a “power struggle” and leave participants feeling frustrated.

He also says that meetings can unfairly become the focus of other dissatisfactions.

“People often feel marginalised. They feel that they have no influence or position. In these cases, the perception is that meetings do not improve anything, but actually cause even more frustration.”

–  Pointless work meetings

Anyways, now we know why the malaise of meetings is not going to go away, as it is

  • considered as a legitimate form of work by people who do not produce any concrete work;
  • a way to show off one’s status and power in the workplace among your peers;
  • a way to dominate and frustrate hapless underlings;
  • a way of attention (and implicitly resource) grabbing behavior.

So much for the seemingly myriad and mystical, yet melancholic and mindless meaningless marathon meetings, hope to see you in your next one (No, I really don’t).

Indiana Jones and The Art of Looting

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The swashbuckling hero in form of Indiana Jones fascinated me as I was growing up. I always thought why do people stop him from doing what he is doing? All that he is doing is taking the various archaeological treasures to their rightful places, namely, the museums in the West? I always thought he must be right when overcoming all the obstacles that those villainous natives and those forbidden locations place in front of him. What better places that the relics have than in museums where people can admire them and they can be cared for. But now I ask this question

Was Dr. Jones right in the first place to remove the relics from the places where the people who made them placed?

I would like to reflect on a few themes which are implicit in the movies. They reek of a worldview which is colonial assumes a moral, ethical and cultural high-ground for the actions shown in the movie. The zeitgeist of the era is very well reflected in the movies. We reflect on the idea of culture and its implications on ideas about other people.

First of all the movies reek of the idea of cultural superiority. The Western culture is imposed on the rest of the world, as it is due to the colonial past. The very idea or removing an artefact which might be of deep significance (religious, spiritual or otherwise) for purposes of displaying it in a museum reeks of cultural insensitivity on one hand and absolute dominance that the West has over other cultures on the other. It plainly states “We don’t care what you think.” White man’s burden is imperative in the series, in which it is upto Jones to liberate savages from their artefacts. This I think is no different than the maxim of the US: Our oil is under your land.

The movie franchise presents and justifies a completely Western view of the world where rest of the world is full of (ig/noble?) savages. This is no different from the zeitgeist of the era in which Dr Jones operates. The very idea of anthropology as a scientific discipline was taking shape during that era. European colonialism was at its peak at the beginning to mid of the twentieth century. Set in this context the film franchise does just reflect the zeitgeist of the era. But to celebrate it in a post-colonial era is a different game. Should we look at Dr Jones as a hero or a thief who specialises in vandalising places of worship and steals cultural symbols of deep spiritual significance?

 

 

Review of Annihilation: the novel and the movie

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Somewhere on my feeds, I came to know about a movie named Annihilation starring Natalie Portman. The review was good, and it mentioned that the movie was based on a book of the same name by Jeff VanderMeer. So, I was in two minds whether to read the book first and then watch the movie or vice versa. I decided that I will read the book first and then watch the movie. Now that I have done both, here is a review of them, with important differences and my reflections about them.

Warning: Spoilers Ahead

We start with the book first, this will help us create a baseline, on which to review the movie. The book starts with the biologist and three of her team members (a psychologist, an anthropologist, a surveyor) initiated into a region known as Area X. Now, apparently bizarre things have happened inside the Area X, (perhaps a tribute to the X-files). And there is a border which separates Area X from the normal world. Now according to the book, this border is invisible. The team is trained for a prolonged period for their mission in a variety of situations with the psychologist as their lead. As they enter the perimeter of Area X, the linguist backs out (hence only a team of 4). Now through the book, the characters are almost never referred by their proper names, and it is part of the design of the training that it is that way. The idea behind this it seems is to make the mission impersonal, without including their biases.

> Besides, we were always strongly discouraged from using names: We were meant to be focused on our purpose, and “anything personal should be left behind.” Names belonged to where we had come from, not to who we were while embedded in Area X.

This is an all female team, with only the surveyor having any military skill. Each one of the team members is given a weapon and basic camping equipment. They are not allowed to take any electronic or advanced technological equipments (digital cameras, for example). They say there is a reason for this, but it is never explained. Anyways, the team hikes for four days to reach the “base camp”, but none of them remembers crossing the perimeter into Area X, which they find strange. This is the camp set up by the earlier expeditions. Now, during the training, they have been trained with the map of Area X, where a lighthouse is where the team members get their bearings. One the first day at the base camp, they discover another artefact which is completely missing from the maps. This is what the biologist calls a “tower”, while others prefer to call it a “tunnel”. This structure “tower/tunnel” is a core part of the book. It appears as a round cylinder about 60 feet in diameter and 8 inches above the ground. There is an “entrance” due North of the tower. And it leads to a chamber below, the structure seems to be made of stone and the next day team ventures to explore it (descends into the spiralling staircase). When they are at a level below, the biologist discovers words on the wall of the structures which are glowing. The words read:

> Where lies the strangling fruit that came from the hand of the sinner I shall bring forth the seeds of the dead to share with the worms that…

When the biologist gets closer to see what the words are made of (What are words made of anyway? Is the medium that gives the words their physicality matter?), she discovers that it is made of “Some sort of fungi”. In the process of looking at the words closely, a nodule bursts open and she inhales the spores that emanate from it. She hides this from the surveyor who is accompanying her. Now the biologist is unaware of how the inhaling of spores might affect her. They return to the base camp and agree to proceed the next day. In the meanwhile, the biologist notices something strange about the psychologist. It turns out the psychologist has been hypnotising the team members to control them since their training began. But somehow, due to the effect of the spores she has herself become immune to her hypnosis. She plays the role as if she is getting suggested by the hypnosis, covering that she is immune. Now the next morning, the biologist and the surveyor discover that the anthropologist is missing. The psychologist tells them that the anthropologist decided to go back. The biologist knows somehow it is not true.

The remaining team goes back to the “tower”, this time with breathing gear and masks. The psychologist refuses to enter the “tower” citing that the entrance must be guarded. The surveyor and the biologist descend into the tower. Now inside the tower, due to the biologists inhaling of the spores, she perceives it differently. She now can understand and look at the tower as a living organism, breathing with a heartbeat. While the surveyor is completely oblivious to this perhaps due to the hypnotising effect of the psychologist.

> I got my shit together because we were going to go forward and the surveyor couldn’t see what I saw, couldn’t experience what I was experiencing. And I couldn’t make her see it.

They see more writings on the walls of the tower as they descend further. They find that the script is “fresh” as they descend lower. They conclude that

> Something below us is writing this script. Something below us may still be in the process of writing this script.

They continue further, till they find something. There are strange ciliated feet markings on the stairs, which the biologist calls a “Crawler”. This something is the dead body of the anthropologist, with strange feet markings. The body is in disarray with her skull split open, and variety of organisms making her body their home. She is carrying her vials, and one of the vials has a sample which the biologist promptly collects. Contemplating on the “something” that might have killed her they decide to return to the top. They also discover another set of footprints which they conclude must be of the psychologists’.

In between all these events, there are flashbacks, to the time before the expedition. Telling us about the previous life of the biologist, how she was aloof even when in a crowd. Her fascination with an overgrown swimming pool, full of life. Her strained relationship with her husband, who is part of an earlier expedition. Her husband decides to volunteer for going to Area X and leaves her. There is no news about him or from him until one day he suddenly returns. He is not himself. The biologist can tell that something is missing. The next day, the people from Southern Reach come to pick him up, and he goes with them without any confrontation. But the biologist does not feel sad about this:

> Seeing him leave I felt mostly a sense of relief, to be honest, not guilt at betrayal.

With that background, the constant connect with her husband and her past life is brought to the narrative. When the surveyor and the biologist come back to the top of the tower, the psychologist is nowhere to be found. When they return to the base camp, she is neither there. And the psychologist has taken up all the weapons with her along with most of the rations and disappeared. They then try to make sense of the photos and samples that they have collected in the tower. But the photos are a riot of colours, which the surveyor finds rather disheartening. While the biologist discovers that the vial which she collected from the dead anthropologist has cells of the human brain. In all this, the biologist decides to go to the Lighthouse which seems to be the source of all the activity. The surveyor decides that she will stay back at the camp.

The biologist starts her journey to the lighthouse, on the way she sees the abandoned village, which is mentioned in the maps. There she finds that there are human like forms of trees, which are seated on a table. In all this while she feels “brightness” within her. She is changing. Due to her exposure to the spores from the words in the tunnel. She recalls her past experiences and the current ones and tries to make sense of things around her, things happening to her, things that have happened to her. As the biologist approaches the lighthouse, the area around it is desolate, and the lighthouse is seen as a fortification. Carefully, being aware that the psychologist might be there to kill her she enters the lighthouse. Everywhere she sees blood and signs of violence all through to the top of the lighthouse. Just before the top, she looks at an old photo of a person, whom she calls the lighthouse keeper. At the top, she discovers that a lot of information was kept from her and the team members regarding Area X. There were many more expeditions, as the huge cache of personal journals from previous expedition members reveals, rather than just 11 that the team was told about. She finds the journal of her husband and then departs from the lighthouse. While going down, she notices the psychologist at the bottom of the lighthouse. When she goes to her, she is on her deathbed. A fungi kind of substance has covered her arm. The psychologist utters the words “Annihilation” in desperation many times over to the biologist. She admits that she tried to kill the biologist with a gun as she was approaching the lighthouse, but her hand would not let her do it. The psychologist tells the biologist that she has changed, she sees her like a flame. It is this brightness that the biologist is talking about. She answers some questions like she took the anthropologist back to the tunnel to take samples from the Crawler under hypnosis, but anthropologist went too close to the Crawler and got killed in the process, but refuses to answer many other questions. She also tells the biologist about entries in her husband’s journal. After she has passed, the biologist takes whatever documents that the psychologist has with her. This includes a list of suggestive hypnotic keywords to be used on the team members. Annihilation in this list means “help induce immediate suicide”.

While returning from there it is already nightfall, and the biologist can see the changes in her own body. The glow is visible. While coming back, she almost encounters the beast which is responsible for the moans that they have been hearing since they came in. She spends the night on a tree, with her skin glowing. Next morning, she starts her journey towards the base camp. When she is very close to the base camp, she is shot at twice by the surveyor. The surveyor is in a frenzy, to kill the biologist. The “brightness” in the biologist start to heal her and gives her super sensing ability. With these, the biologist kills the surveyor and returns to the base camp. At the base camp, she finds that the surveyor has destroyed almost all of the basecamp and laid waste any water and food that might be there. All the papers and journals are burnt.

The biologist does an analysis of the samples that she has collected and mutations of human form emerge. The brightness in her is healing the bullet wounds, and making the biologist feel better. She thinks that due to the diversion of healing her wounds, the brightness (her mutation?) has stopped growing. She reads her husband’s journal, which she finds is mostly written for her with her pet name “ghost-bird” appearing several times over. The next day she decides to go to the bottom of the tower to find the Crawler. She takes a mask with her, as she enters the tower, her skin starts to glow and responds to the walls which are also glowing. The words are getting fresher and fresher as she goes to the lower levels. Finally she comes to the place where the Crawler is still working. The encounter with the crawler

> No words can … no photographs could …

The biologist survives the encounter, due to the mutations already in her. The Crawler consumes the inner self of the biologist in a sense, which gets a hold over her inner person. She passes out several times during this:

> What can you do when your five senses are not enough? Because I still couldn’t truly see it here, any more than I had seen it under the microscope, and that’s what scared me the most. Why couldn’t I see it?

Finally when the ordeal for her is over:

> It is not that I became used to the Crawler’s presence but that I reached a point—a single infinitesimal moment—when I once again recognised that the Crawler was an organism. A complex, unique, intricate, awe-inspiring, dangerous organism. It might be inexplicable. It might be beyond the limits of my senses to capture—or my science or my intellect—but I still believed I was in the presence of some kind of living creature, one that practised mimicry using my own thoughts. For even then, I believed that it might be pulling these different impressions of itself from my mind and projecting them back at me, as a form of camouflage. To thwart the biologist in me, to frustrate the logic left in me.”

The idea of the Crawler as some sort of creature which can mutate organisms and can mimic their thoughts is interesting. After this biologist continues to go down the tower, at the end of it she sees a door of light. But she is somehow unable to continue to this door, and start the journey back dreading the draining encounter with the Crawler again. But this time, the Crawler does not show any interest in her and lets her go. While going back she takes a last look at the Crawler, and sees a glimpse of the familiar face of the lighthouse keeper in the crawler. How did this happen? Somehow did the lighthouse keeper become the Crawler? What made this change? The answers to these questions are not given.

> When you are too close to the centre of a mystery there is no way to pull back and see the shape of it entire.

Finally, she emerges out from the tower. The book is the journal entry of the biologist.

> Observing all of this has quelled the last ashes of the burning compulsion I had to know everything … anything … and in its place remains the knowledge that the brightness is not done with me. It is just beginning, and the thought of continually doing harm to myself to remain human seems somehow pathetic.

The biologist tells us that she is leaving to explore the further reaches of Area X as the last entry in the journal.

Thus we see that the entire book, no names are referred to. Overall the sense of mystery about the origin and purpose (if any) to the events are left mostly unanswered. The above quote captures it very well. Overall I found the book satisfying read.

Part 2: The Movie

Now, that I had already read the book, I turned to the movie. The first start thing that you notice in the movie is the use of names, which is in complete contrast to the book. Also, the border which is invisible in the book, is shown as a “shimmer” in the movie. The idea that the psychologist is hypnotising the team members is also missing. In the movie the biologist (Lena, played by Natalie Portman) has also had military training. The team members in the movie are a biologist, a physicist, a medic, a psychologist, and a geomorphologist. Area X is identified as an anomaly which is increasing its range with time. All the missions/expeditions to the area have failed and no one except the biologists’ husband has returned. Unlike in the book, the Southern Reach gets to the husband in a rather aggressive way and it is at the same time they take in the biologist. In the book she volunteers herself to go in.

When they reach Area X, they become self-aware only after 3-4 days have passed and none can explain how the time was lost. As they are going towards the basecamp (in the movie it is an army base not a tent camp) they are attacked by an alligator with a different morphology. In the base camp they discover that the earlier expedition members are cutting open one of their own and showing his intestine moving like a different creature. None of the team members knows that the medic in the video is the husband of Lena. They become shocked after seeing the video and take shelter in a watchtower. To keep a watch, the psychologist is at a post on the ground. I could never understand this logic. If you are already on a watchtower, why the hell do you need a watch on the ground. Due to the noise the group wakes up and a mutated bear takes away the geomorphologist. Next day, they continue their journey towards the lighthouse. They stop at the village with the human-looking forms of the trees. The physicist explains that Area X is refracting everything from radiation to the DNA and hence it is causing so much mutations. Here biologist discovers that she is mutating too and that is when the medic ties all three of them and starts asking them questions. She discovers that the video of cutting open from the previous expedition has Lena’s husband in it. She wants answers, that is when she hears the geomorphologist call for help. She rushes to help her only to be attacked by the same bear. The bear comes up, and it is revealed that the bear is responsible for the voice of help. The medic comes back to attack the bear, but bear kills her. In the meanwhile, the physicist becomes free and kills the bear. The psychologist leaves for the lighthouse immediately in the middle of the night.

In the morning the physicist wanders off, leaving Lena alone. Lena then starts the journey to the lighthouse. There are several crystal trees before the lighthouse on the beach. She discovers the body of her husband at the lighthouse, which is recorded by the doppelganger of her husband. She goes inside a hole which seems to be the origin of the event. There she discovers the psychologist being consumed by the “Crawler”. The “Crawler” makes a copy of her by drawing a drop of her blood and takes a humanoid form. She tries to go out of the lighthouse but the humanoid form stops her from doing so. The humanoid form otherwise mirrors her actions. Finally, she takes a phosphor grenade and gives it the humanoid form which one her touch changes to her doppelganger. The grenade explodes and sets the “crawler” on fire. The fire burns everything and destroys all the mutations it has cause and brings down the shimmer. The movie begins and ends with the interrogation of the biologist about how she brought down the shimmer and was still alive.

The movie has advanced technology with the expeditions ( digital recorder, memory cards). Most importantly, in the movie, there is no mention of the tower or the running glowing script in it, which I found the most annoying. In the movie, the entire action takes place at the lighthouse. Also, killing of the creature and cease of the mutations was not needed, I personally found it too anthropocentric. Also, no explanation of the title of the movie is given. Overall, after reading the book, the movie is really disappointing to watch. It neither has the depth of the plot nor the philosophical or existential questions that permeate the book. In perhaps making the movie audience-friendly, the scriptwriter annihilated the core ideas in the book which made it special.

TIL you can kill a time-space warping, an interstellar traveller with a phosphor grenade, begin stocking right now!

I am now onto the second and third part of the Southern Reach Trilogy: Authority and Acceptance. Will post reviews of them once I am done, and surely we will not be seeing movies made based on them in the time I complete my readings.

Time Lapse Film Using Scanner

In this post we will see how to make  a time-lapse animation of something which changes over time, with a scanner. Most probably you have seen some amazing time -lapse photography of different objects. Common examples include the ever changing skyscape, blooming flowers, metamorphosing insects etc. I wanted to do a similar stuff, but due to my lethargy and other reasons I did not. Though the cameras have intervelometer, and I have used it once to take photos of a lunar eclipse, (moon changing position which I was supposed to merge later, but never did), and wanted to do the same with a blooming of a flower. But as Ghalib has said, they were one of those हज़ारों ख्वाहिशें…

The roots of the idea what follows are germinated long back, when I had a scanner. It was a basic HP 3200 scanner. That time I did not have a digital camera, (c. 2002-2003), but then I used the scanner as a camera. I had this project lined up for making collages of different cereals. Though I got a few good images from botanical samples (a dried fern below) as well and also fractals from a sheet of rusting iron. Then, I sort of forget about it.

white-fern-00

Coming to now, I saw some amazing works of art done by scanning flowers. I remembered what had been done a few years back and combined this with the amazing time-lapse sequences that I had seen , the germ began can we combine the two?

http://vimeo.com/22439234

Can we make the scanner, make scans at regular intervals, and make a animation from the resulting images. Scanning images with a scanner would solve problem of uniform lighting, for which you may require an artificial light setup. So began the task to make this possible. One obvious and most easy way to do this is to scan the images manually, lets say every 15 minutes. In this case you setup the scanner, and just press the scan button. Though this is possible, but its not how the computers should be used. In this case we are working for the computer, let us think of making the computer do work for us. In comes shell scripting to our rescue. The support for scanners in GNU/Linux is due to the SANE (Scanner Access Now Easy) Project. the GUI for the SANE is the xsane, which we have talked about in a previous post on scanning books and scanimage is the terminal option for the sane project.

The rough idea for the project is this :

1. Use scanimage to acquire images

2. Use some script to make this done at regular time intervals.

3. Once the images are with use, combine them to make a time-lapse movie

For the script part, crontab is what is mostly used for scheduling tasks, which you want to be repeated at regular intervals. So the project then became of combining crontab and scanimage. Scanimage has a mode called --batch in which you can specify the number of images that you want to scan and also provides you with renaming options. Some people have already made bash scripts for ADF (Automatic Document Feeders), you can see the example here. But there seems to be no option for delay between the scans, which is precisely what we wanted. To approach it in another way is to introduce the the scanimage command in a shell script, which would be in a loop for the required number of images and you use the sleep command for the desired time intervals, this approach does not need the crontab for its operation. But with I decided to proceed with the crontab approach.

The first thing that was needed was to get a hang of the scanimage options. So if your scanner is already supported by SANE, then you are good to go.

$scanimage -L

This will list out the devices available for scanning. In my case the scanner is Canon Lide 110, which took some efforts to get detected. For knowing how to install this scanner, if it is not automatically supported on your GNU/Linux system, please see here.

In my case it lists out something like this:

device `genesys:libusb:002:007' is a Canon LiDE 110 flatbed scanner

If there are more than one devices attached to the system the -L option will show you that. Now coming to the scan, in the scanimage programme, we have many options which control various parameters of the scanned picture. For example we can set the size, dpi, colour mode, output type, contrast etc. For a complete set of options you can go here or just type man scanimage at the terminal. We will be using very limited options for this project, namely the x, y size, mode, format, and the resolution in dpi.

Lets see what the following command does:

$scanimage -d genesys:libusb:002:006 -x 216 -y 300 --resolution 600dpi --mode Color --format=tiff>output.tiff

-d option specifies the device to be used, if there is nothing specified, scanimage takes the first device in the list which you get with -L option.

-x 216 and -y 300 options specify the size of the final image. If for example you give 500 for both x and y, scanimage will tell us that maximum x and y are these and will use those values. Adjusting these two values you will be able to ‘select’ the area to be scanned. In the above example the entire scan area is used.

--resolution option is straight forward , it sets the resolution of the image, here we have set it to 600dpi.

--mode option specifies the colour space of the output, it can be Color, Gray or Lineart

--format option chooses the output of the format, here we have chosen tiff, by default it is .pnm .

The > character tells scanimage that the scan should be output to a file called “output.tiff”, by default this will in the directory from where the command is run. For example if your command is run from the /home/user/ directory, the output.tiff will be placed there.

With these commands we are almost done with the scanimage part of the project. With this much code, we can manually scan the images every 15 minutes. But in this case it will rewrite the existing image. So what we need to do is to make sure that the filename for each scan is different. In the --batch mode scanimage takes care of this by itself, but since we are not using the batch mode we need to do something about it.

What we basically need is a counter, which should be appended to the final line of the above code.

For example let us have a variable n, we start with n=1, and each time a scan happens this variable should increment by 1. And in the output, we use this variable in the file name.

For example, filename = out$n.tiff:

n =1 | filename = out1.tiff

n = n + 1

n = 2 | filename = out2.tiff

n = n + 1

n = 3 and so on…

We can have this variable within the script only, but since we are planning to use crontab, each time the script gets called, the variable will be initialized, and it will not do the function we intend it to do. For this we need to store variable outside the script, from where it will be called and will be written into. Some googling and landed on this site, which was very helpful to attain what I wanted to. Author says that he hasn’t found any use for the script, but I have 🙂 As explained in the site above this script is basically a counter, which creates a file nvalue. starting from n=0, values are written in this file, and each time the script is executed, this file with n=n+1 is updated.

So what I did is appended the above scanimage code to the ncounter script and the result looks something like this:

#!/bin/bash
nfilename="./nvalue"
n=0
touch $nfilename
. $nfilename
n=$(expr $n + 1)
echo "n=$n" > $nfilename
scanimage -x 80 -y 60 --resolution 600dpi --mode Color --format=tiff>out"$n".tiff

What this will attain is that every time this script is run, it will create a separate output file, depending on the value of n. We put these lines of code  in a file and call it time-lapse.sh

Now to run this file we need to make it executable, for this use:

$chmod +x time-lapse.sh

and to run the script:

$./time-lapse.sh

If  everything is right, you will get a file named out1.tiff as output, running the script again you will have out2.tiff as the output. Thus we have attained what we had wanted. Now everytime the script runs we get a new file, which was desired. With this the scanimage part is done, and now we come to the part where we are scheduling the scans. For this we use the crontab, which is a powerful tool for scheduling jobs. Some good and basic tutorials for crontab can be found here and here.

To edit your crontab use:

$crontab -e

If you are using crontab for the first time, it will ask for editor of choice which has nano, vi and emacs. For me emacs is the editor of choice.

So to run scans every 15 minutes my crontab looks like this:

# m h  dom mon dow   command
*/15 * * * * /home/yourusername/time-lapse.sh

And I had tough time when nothing was happenning with crontab. Though the script was running correctly in the terminal. So finally the tip of adding in the cronfile

SHELL=/bin/bash

solved the problem. But it took me some effort to land up on exact cause of the problem and in many places there were sermons on setting PATH and other things in the script but, I did not understand what they meant.

Okay, so far so good. Once you put this script in the crontab and keep the scanner connected, it will produce scans every 15 minutes. If you are scanning in colour at high resolution, make sure you have enough free disk space.

Once the scans have run for the time that you want them , lets say 3 days. You will have a bunch of files which are the time lapse images.  For this we use the ffmpeg and ImageMagick to help us out.

Déjà vu of déjà vu

I was introduced to the term déjà vu from The Matrix. This is how the scene unfolds:

matrix-deja-vu-black-cat

[Neo sees a black cat walk by them, and then a similar black cat walk by them just like the first one]
Neo: Whoa. Déjà vu.
[Everyone freezes right in their tracks]
Trinity: What did you just say?
Neo: Nothing. Just had a little déjà vu.
Trinity: What did you see?
Cypher: What happened?
Neo: A black cat went past us, and then another that looked just like it.
Trinity: How much like it? Was it the same cat?
Neo: It might have been. I’m not sure.
Morpheus: Switch! Apoc!
Neo: What is it?
Trinity: A déjà vu is usually a glitch in the Matrix. It happens when they change something.

matrix-deja-vu-neo

Now let us leave The Matrix for now and enter the real world. I mean our world, and I am not Morpheus. We had a lot of issues with the quandrangular cat recently at my working place. Now don’t ask what a quandrangular cat is? If you don’t know already, you don’t need to know. Remember, in the first approximation the cow is a spherical object.

Leela-1

Circa, a few months back we had a sorry looking undomesticated cat, who was domesticated, nursed back to health, and attained zen (if you don’t believe me see the picture above (Picture Credits: Rafikh)). This was only possible by the warmth of many people’s affections and efforts. But unfortunately the cat overstayed, unwelcomed by some, on GoI property (without paying any taxes!) which wrecked havoc and created a red alert. To further complicate the matters, we could not for sure determine if the cat was a he or a she! The presence of cat in the campus was as good as an extinction event, extinction of one’s peace of mind and good vibes. that is. This called for extreme measures to show cat (and the ailurophiles ) their respective places. The entire drama was just short of executing the cat (and the ailurophiles ) in public. The cat was sent into exile, and if the reports coming in believed to be true, even there it is creating extinction events!

Now. Yesterday, déjà vu ! I see a similar cat in the same place approaching me similarly, well not almost as same as Neo’s black cat but quite similar. And I almost said as Neo does, (but I am neither Neo) “déjà vu!” First thing I thought was the déjà vu  in The Matrix. But then this is a déjà vu of déjà vu, and cats are involved in both of them. What is it with cats and déjà vu? Déjà vu  recursive, nothing more groovier than that! Four cats in all. The newer cat, which caused the current déjà vu , was smaller and in sorrier state and also approached me on the same table as earlier one. Unfortunately, I do not have a picture of the newer cat for comparison. Will this create another leela (pun intended), which would be another déjà vu for both ailurophiles and ailurophobes? Actually if semantics of earlier sentence are seen, then we come to conclusion that leela  and déjà vu are same 😛

Trouble with a kitten

Now it remains to be seen what has changed in The Matrix.

PS: This new cat seems to have set the ball rolling, it is already making people uncomfortable, causing extinction events!

Slumdog Oscarpati!!!!!!!!

Slumdog Oscarpati!!!!!!!! 

Slumdog Oscarpati!!!!!!!!And the Oscar goes to ….. Slumdog Millionaire!!!

Well finally it happened. A Oscar to a film made in India with all Indian actors. An when it rains here, it pours, literally. So when Uncle Oscar came to India, he did not come alone, but bought an entire gang with him.

Now with the number of Oscars that have been awarded to the movie, I think it should be rather called Slumdog Oscarpati!!

Well, we Indians have a snobbish way of putting things. We do not appreciate the work done by our fellow people, unless it is appreciated by the West. In this case it went the other way round. Since the people in the West appreciated Slumdog, people in India are smelling rats and fishes. Here are some of them:

How can a movie as ordinary as Slumdog Millionaire win 8 Oscars?

Why was Rahman given Oscar for this movie, he has done much better job elsewhere?

If it was presented as movie made by Indians, [formally for the Oscars Slumdog was a British Production] we would not have won the Oscars?

We are selling our poverty to get the world attention.

The film makers exploited the child actors. Did not pay them lot of money, but made loads of money themselves.

The film is anti-Hindu।

The film portrays India in a bad light.

The movie did not deserve the Oscars.

The Oscars are a ploy to enter into the lucrative Indian movie market by the Western people.

etc. etc. etc.
[No matter how long a list I make, there will be always some objection/criticism that will not be included in this list. Is this is a consequence of the Godel’s incompleteness theorem?]

Given all the objections that are raised, I think the movie should have not have been made. It would have been better, remained as the book Q & A which it was written by Vikas Swarup. The criticisms fall into three categories as I see them

1. Actors and media people, who did not get a part in the Slumdog M.
2. People who smell conspiracy in everything that they hear/see.
3. Indian people who have an inferiority complex, who think that Indians are not good at anything.

I do not have any grudges against any of these people, but I will be presenting my point of view over all these objections. After all, this is my blog.

There is a tirade of media people criticizing the content of Slumdog, as it glorifies the poverty in India. But is this not true? Are there no people who are living in India, with exactly the conditions or even worse that are shown in the movie? Just visit to a nearby slum, and see for yourself. So what is so wrong in depicting what is actually present there? Its not as if all of India lives above poverty line and the movie is falsely depicting the people living in poverty. It is no fiction.

Have no films been made in India which depict the poor? If that had been the case, one might have agreed to the criticisms. But then this theme is not at all alien to Indian cinema, a poor protagonist is a goringly boring theme, is it not? What hurts us is the fact that some firang and not a desi has done this. Shame. Shame. Shame.

Of all the actors that are criticizing the movie, including Amitabh, Preity Zinta and Shilpa Shetty amongst others, would they have dared the same if they thenselves had acted in that movie. Do they ever dare to criticize the movies that they work in? I can smell something burning. Given a chance most of them would have jump at offers from overseas, and it would be considered prestigious for them too, then why this farce?

As for Rahman, yes I know he has done much better work elsewhere. But, then, good music also needs other good things in the movie to make an impact. Personally if you ask me Dil Se is one of the best works he has done.

Cinematography wise the film is brilliant. Period. Though while watching the movie, sometimes I felt faint traces of the Cidade de Deus [The City of God] running among the sequences and camera shots.

Also lets not forget another thing, that there is no point in comparing the movie with the movies which were made before and won the awards. The movie needs to be compared with the movies that it was competing with now, not with all the great movies that were produced world over before. How many times does it happen that a movie certainly deserving an oscar, did not get one. When there is more than one movie which is good, certainly there are hits and misses. Definitely we have much better movies made before Slumdog M, but then it did not compete with them before the award. So we have to compare Slumdog M with the movies that it was competing with now, not all of the movies made before it. And maybe it was the best of the lot, for this year.

Also if we are taking the film apart as we have done, we are not doing any justice to the actors in the film, who gave their efforts for the characters that they were playing. Was that all part of the bigger conspiracy?

Has not this production brought some deserving youngsters to the fame in international cinema? What about them are they not happy for that? Ask them and you will know the answer…

Now the second group. There are two types of people in this world, one who find conspiracies in everything and others who find conspiracies only in somethings. I think I myself fall in the later category.

Some people think this is a propaganda by the Western people to proliferate the Indian production houses and reap the profits from Indian audiences. But why do they need to come to India for that? I mean lot of english movies made without any reference to India or Indians involved in the production have done quite well in India. Remember Titanic?

The others especially, the Sangh Pariwar people see this as a conspiracy to defame hindus. Well, where is that they do not see a conspiracy to defame hindus? All the media [national and international] is against them, well except what they themselves publish [I think sometime later even that might go against them ;)]. So it is no surprise to me that they see this as conspiracy. O
The following quotes from here summarizes the sentiments of the Sang Pariwar.

Every art whether it be the mad jehadi painter Hussain portraying hindu godesses in the nude and obscene posters or the slum dog film portraying hindu gods and hindu customs and blackening the image of hindus and hindu gods or the novels of Arundhtai Roy and Arvind Adiga maligning hindus, their culture and traditions and their parents, become instant hits since enemies of hindus are national and international and sadly national media exaggerate every bit of it.

And another one from the same source:

The film is a plot made by the Americans to despise the Hindus. This is also one type of war. The film should be banned in India. just like De vinci was banned in India. The film is seriously affecting the sentiments of Hindus before International flora. Alas! there is nobody to protect the sentiments of Hindus.Srirama and srikrishna were shown as villains.Godhra riots were shown unnecessarily. The hero , a slum dog could identify the figure on the dollar but not Mahatma Gandhi on Indian currency.

Well Americans? AFAIK the Brits would not like to call themselves Americans. War? Where is that you people not see war? If war is against all Hindus [who technically speaking I am], I don’t quite agree to it.

The film is seriously affecting the sentiments of Hindus before International flora.

Which Hindus I may ask? Those who are already a part of the Global/International brigade of the Sangh Pariwar?

Srirama and srikrishna were shown as villains.

Well Sri Rama did play a part in the film, but Sri Krishna ? Well I think director forgot to portray him and I am sorry on his behalf. But then we have millions and millions of Hindu gods, why did you not depict them all? And as villains, I doubt it.

Godhra riots were shown unnecessarily.

Well, where the hell is Godhra shown in the film? The riots portrayed are the Mumbai riots, which happened at least 10 years before, please do watch the movie before you comment on it.

Why was the dude a Muslim and the dame a Hindu. Both should be Hindus! This is a [film about] Hindu nation!!

So far so good. Apart from religious zealots there are people who also smell fish in Slumdog M. But this is a different kind of conspiracy. The overall structure of this is like a communist propoganda. Financial gains. For the producers of the film. Well don’t the producers want the financial gains from the films that they make? It is a business for them, is it not?

This is a British ploy to enter in to Indian film industry. So be it. If the result is going to be better movies, I am all for it. So where does exploitation of the poor child actors come? If at all Slumdog M did not became a hit, will such a hype be made about this? How many struggling actors are present in Mumbai, who would go to extremes for just landing a small role in the films, let alone getting being underpaid? Success has a lot of enemies. If at all directors and producers knew what film would be always a hit, why would anybody make a movie which would eventually be a flop? Are there no flop movies in the world?

Anyways these are my views about this whole Slumdog Business, lets see what happens next…

Khuda Ke Liye [In the Name of God]

Much I had heard about the movie Khuda Ke Liye [खुदा के लिए] by Shohaib Mansoor, before I went to see it. The chance I had to see it in the month before did not materialise. I was all set to see the movie when I got the chance this time. When everyone who has seen the movie, gives you good reports about it, your own expectations from the movies are a bit elevated. So was my case, and IMHO, the movie did not fail my expectations. But in seeing the movie I could not keep my Indian bias away, and I could see and relate to it only through that. The movie has three focal themes, formation of a fundamentalist, women rights, American view towards Muslims post 9/11. 

The movie starts with a rehearsal of a music concert for the new years eve, which is targeted by right wing fundamentalists. The scene is reminiscent of so many things that happen here. The lead singers are brothers Mansoor [played by Shan, if Salmaan Khan gets too fat he will probably resemble him] and  Sarmad [played by Fawad]. They are from an elite family. The family is progressive in its outlook towards life. What is emphasised in portraying this family is that you don’t have to be staunch fundamentalist to live by one’s religion. The location of the family could have been very well set in India or anywhere, without much difference. The two brothers who have more or less a shared life and ideals till now, which diverge as the younger one is influenced by some Islamic fundamentalists. The character of the Maulana Tahiri [played by Rasheed Naz] is one of the most impressive characters in the film. The power and control that he displays while delivering the dialogues is great. 

The entire process of conversion of Sarmad from a pop singer to almost becoming a fundamentalist is perfectly shown. Slowly but surely Maulana Tahiri changes Sarmad’s outlook in a very convincing way. The Maulana seems to have justification for every act that is considered pro-liberal. With such convincing attitude he manages to convert Sarmad from a pop singer, who does not even do namaaz, to a dedicated follower of Islam. The change in Sarmad’s outlook is very visible, as now he considers the music which has been his soul as blasphemous. When he asks his mother to have a hijaab, removes the photos from his home, the family realizes that the things are just about to go out of hand. Just change the characters and the process is equally applicable to any fundamentalist group. Is this not reminiscent of how all the fundamentalists find their new cadres? When reasoned in a biased way, even the most idiotic things appear to be correct and justified. Just consider the politics of hate that is being perpetrated in India.

The other major theme in the movie is with respect to women’s rights. Mary [played by Iman Ali] is a British Muslim girl, born to a Pakistani father. The father has himself married and is living with a British women, but takes a complete U turn when it comes to his only daughter. Thus he is ready to sacrifice the life of his daughter, in order not to become “a laughing stock of the entire Pakistani community.” By deception he takes his daughter to Pakistan to get her married. This is because otherwise her offsprings would be out of Islam, which is a crime. When his brother [Sarmad and Mansoor’s father] refuses to take part in this act of forcible marrying Mary to one of his son’s, the desperate father approaches Sarmad. Sarmad who is assured by Maulana that this would be a noble deed indeed, takes the father and daughter to the remote tribal area on the Afghan-Pak border. In this remote area Mary is forcibly married off to Sarmad, who does this in order to save the religion. Is this not a common story? Heard not only in tribal and rural areas of Pakistan, but also in urban areas of India?

Meanwhile Mansoor is off to America for musical training. In America he finds a mate and enjoys the learning of music there. As the time passes the two become close and finally decide to get married. Just as they get married 9/11 takes place. And Mansoor is taken into custody for being a “terrorist”. Meanwhile Sarmad has changed almost into a fully fundamentalist, makes Mary pregnant forcibly so that she cannot flee from the village, which she has tried once before. The situation of the women in the remote area of Pakistan is not different from that of many women in urban parts of India. Only maybe a freedom of clothes is there, otherwise the fact remains that most of the women are powerless, inspite of the fact that they are educated. 

The liberation that is provided to the women is a psuedo one I believe in most of the cases. The choices that a woman can make are already limited by men, but they may not be explicit. The story of Mary is also that of innumerable other women who are forced into marriage by their family. This is story which is also repeated in India in all the states, in all the religions, and classes. This aspect has more to do with gender than with religion. Had Mary being a male, things would have been entirely different, her relationship with a white would have gone unnoticed.

During the film the main characters don’t loose their Pakistani character and identity. When Mansoor is being tortured in America, the dilemma of progressive muslims is perfectly portrayed. Back in Pakistan they are targeted as being, “liberal” in America they are seen as the face of terrorism, with which they themselves do not identify with. Also the dumbness of the American agencies, just in order to get some leads is exposed. This is true for numerous cases which happened post 9/11. 

All muslims are not terrorists, but all terrorists are muslims.

So all the three focal themes of the film are derived from real experiences of people, which makes them feel real and appealing. 

 

Just as things get worse for Mansoor, Sarmad goes for war, things get a bit better for Mary. She is finally able to call for help, and the help does come. She is taken back to Lahore, where she decides to take to court, her husband Sarmad. In what follows in court the intense dialogs try to evoke the logic behind all this matter. Each side is presented in a balanced way, with their own perspectives and logic. To say that Maulana Tahiri is completely wrong is to miss the point of what is being told. Every character has a world view, the point is to understand that from our perspective. Here the guest appearance of Naseer-ud-din Shah as Moulana Wali, is simple superb.What is being portrayed that the interpretation that most people have about any fundamental thing can be multifaceted. One chooses the examples in such a way so as to fit one’s world view, whereas simply and conveniently disregarding the rest of them which do not fit in. When Moulana Wali is called by the court as a religious expert to present the Islamic views on forced marriage, music and other things the view presented are that of a thinker who puts Islam in an entirely new perspective. The views expressed appeal also to the mind, and not only to heart. But people like Moulana Wali are a few, and mostly unheard. Finally at the end of the film, Mary choses to stay back in Pakistan to start a school, Mansoor is deported to Pakistan in a paraplegic state, and Sarmad realizes his mistakes.

As for the music of the film, it is well merged with the visuals. The chants of Allah, Allah … during some of the tense sequels do fit in well. The characters and the story of the film though set in Pakistan, and has a distinct Pakistani touch to it, is equally applicable to many situations. The characters of the film can be set in any situation, where there are fundamentalists forces at play, and so is the story. The dilemma of progressive Muslims is perfectly captured by the director. How the situation changed for many post 9/11 is also effectively shown. The last letter of Mansoor touches ones heart, by telling that you don’t have to punish an entire community for the wrongs of few. This being the directoral debut of Shoaib Mansoor, kudos to him for showing such boldness on screen and capturing what most people knew, but could not show to others. And doing this in Pakistani industry deserves another credit, may he continue making good films, and may more follow him.

So my final rating: 4.7/5 [Must See]