Thursday, January 31, 2013

Edited version of Vishwaroopam represents a failure of Democracy

Edited Version of Vishwaroopam will represent a failure of Democracy.

Firstly I'd like to show my respect to the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister for coming forward and doing a press conference, clearing all the allegations made against her and doing so with great clarity. On hearing her press conference and the details about her predicaments and the predicament of the government, one can somewhat feel that they've done a decent job.

But what is unacceptable is these fringe groups (with seven lakh members) getting away with what they want. Even if the movie is utterly offensive and derogatory, they have no rights to say that the movie can be banned. They can peacefully protest, show their displeasure and tell the world that they are not what they are shown as in a movie, (if indeed they've been shown in a poor light.) They can even request the makers to have a text in the title card saying that the characters in the movie are not meant to represent any real, existent, individuals or groups and they are purely fictional, the movie is made without any intentions to hurt any religious groups. Such a disclaimer would have been more than sufficient.

The chief minister did state that these 24 Muslim organizations had threatened to carry out agitations and to prevent that the State had to delay the release of the movie. If an individual threatens to ban the movie, wouldn't he be arrested as a precaution? So if groups of men threaten to agitate, should they be feared and let off, instead of the leaders of the threatening groups being arrested? So if tomorrow all of Kamal Hassan fans or fans of Indian Cinema in general protest that they want to see the movie, 'un-edited' and if they threaten to agitate if they are not given the right to do so, will the State government accept their request? Technically fans of Cinema (including Muslim folks) outnumber these organizations and their members.

So in the future, if anyone with a group of few thousand men make some request and threaten to protest, will the government act according to their will in fear? If that's the case any political party in the country can do anything that they want, even pay thousands of people to join their protests and agitation, thereby control the state. This does not set a good example.

I also want one important thing to tell the Muslim people in the country and across the world. The terrorists in the Af-Pak region use the name of Islam and carry out the evil deeds, creating a bad image of Islam across the world. Then there are these parties in various parts of the country, that claim to be representatives of Muslims and do these silly and atrocious acts, thereby ruining the name of Muslim people all over the world. If Muslims themselves do not act against them, then nobody else can. Stop these people from ruining your name and the name of your religion, for the world still respects you and reveres you.

Ms. Jayalalitha is a person who is admired even by her detractors for her boldness and her brilliance in carrying out decisions in a swift manner. If anyone in this country can be expected to deal with these groups in a brave and intelligent manner, it has to be the Chief Minister. Please do the needful for your people, as the presence of these fake representatives can only cause more disharmony in the country. Vishwaroopam is just a movie, but what its banning or edited release will mean, is the failure of the state to protect democracy. This movie has to release without any edits and the protesters have to be arrested if they engage in any violent demonstrations.

Tamil people are known for their secular nature and let this incident not make the world think otherwise of us. Damage has already been done, but we can heal it if we tried enough.

(All the views expressed here are solely mine and have done so as politely as I could. Apologies to anyone who feel offended, as that is not my intention)

-A.Prashanth Narasimhan

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Night We Wished Was Just A Nightmare....

Invasive Thoughts
Location: A little town in the Eastern part of Afghanistan…
Time: 10.00 pm on a cold Wednesday night, in the latter half of 2003
Precise details- Unnecessary…
The Incident:
 Six American soldiers armed heavily and protected from head to toe with expensive gears and armors barged in to an old, modest house, in the silence of the night, in the hopes of nagging down, whom they believed, was one of the most wanted terrorists and a prominent member of the Al Qaeda, having links with some members of the Afghan Taliban. Expecting to find heavily armed terrorists within the house, ready to strike at them, all that the soldiers managed to find was a helpless family of five…the soldiers having missed the presence of a sixth under a blanket.
A man in his early thirties, a pudgy woman in her fifties, an old man in his sixties, with just one leg, lying in a cot in a corner, a girl in her mid-twenties and a five year old girl were the ones to be seen residing in the room. A couple of soldiers pounced at the younger man, sensing that if anybody in that room was to commit any acts of terror and present any danger to the soldiers there, it was him. 
The man, as expected, tried to resist the soldiers, as any sane human would when threatened and attacked by another. The older woman, who was the mother to the struggling man, tried to stop the soldiers from hurting her son, but she was pushed aside. She was made to sit down in a corner where she kept yelling something angrily in Pashto. The soldiers were quite annoyed by her cries, but tried best to ignore her.
The younger woman in the room also let out a cry, but it wasn’t of anger or of plea, but one of panic and fear. She was literally trembling at the sudden appearance of the soldiers out of nowhere and the unwarranted attack on her husband. One soldier moved closer to the bed where she was lying on, on the floor and she hurriedly pushed him, a little further away, with all her strength. The offended soldier raised his gun with the assumption that the woman was trying to use some weapon of hers on him, but was quick to lower his own weapon, when he saw the wailing woman, moving aside a blanket and picking up a three month old baby in her arms.
Once she picked up the baby, the young woman crawled to the foot of the cot, where her mother in law had already been made to sit, still continuing with her curses and demands for her son to be let go. Along with the baby, the young woman also dragged with her a five year old girl, who was as puzzled and confused as the other members of her family and petrified beyond explanation. She too sat beside her mother, hugging her.
The old man in the cot was also letting out cries, but it seemed more threatening and authoritative than the ladies in the house. He threw a jug of water, which was next to him on a small table, onto one of the soldiers, who came towards the man with the intention to smash him with the butt of his gun, but slowed down on noticing the missing leg. He walked back knowing that the old man presented no real threat to them.
The younger man was manhandled by two soldiers, as he protested hard to protect his family, while two other soldiers moved into the other two rooms of the tiny house to investigate if any more people were hiding anywhere and if there were any weapons. They returned back with the confirmation that there was no one else in the house or any object of danger. The man kept shoving the soldiers, who were trying to hold him down and he even came close to punching one of the soldiers. But the men in armor were quick to thrust him towards the ground, drag him onto the other side of the same room and hold him against the floor with a gun pointed at his head.
One soldier came close to the man and began his enquiry mentioning the name of the terrorist they’ve come looking for. This enquiry shouldn’t have lasted long, as the man being questioned did not know English and the soldier asking the questions did not know Pashto, but it did last longer than it should have.  The wailing of the older woman from the corner, the curses and swears of the one legged old man on the cot and the confused replies of the man being questioned, along with questioning western soldier chased the silence of the night from the room. Added to that was the crying of the baby, who seemed to have been woken up by all the chaos in the room. If anyone in that room was said to have remained silent, it was the five year old girl, but her silence was not one to be admired, as it was not a silence born out of calmness, but of terror.
Ten minutes later, a couple more soldiers entered the house and along with them came another heavily armored man, but with no uniform or weapons. He was the translator, a local man, fluent in both English and Pashto, ’made’ to ‘aid’ the American army. His enquiry was much shorter and he confirmed that the man being questioned wasn’t the one they were looking for. But his words did not give enough confidence to the other soldiers there. They let go of the man, only when one of the newly arrived soldiers picked a photograph from his backpack for identification and also spoke over a satellite phone to his senior, several miles away, to make sure that they weren’t dealing with anyone dangerous there.  They understood that the house did not house any terrorists and the people there were ordinary civilians. The soldiers then shook the hand of the man, who they had just overpowered a few minutes back, said a simple sorry and walked out of the house to their next target location, leaving the members of the innocent family, both relieved and stressed…

The one of beauty…
Jameel Rahimi was named so for the beautiful features he was born with, big round eyes, dense, curly black hair, lips pinker than the summer rose, skin softer than velvet and fairer than the morning sun. But the path laid to him by fate did not allow the beauty to last, except in his name. His only fault being born to a very ambitious father, whose fortunes did not cooperate with his ambitions. The failures in his various business ventures invited great deals of debts, which brought with it tremendous pressure and a greater need for him to try a bigger business venture to quickly earn large sums of money to clear off the debts, which inadvertently failed…the vicious cycle continuing. Beyond a certain point the old man gave up on his desires, decided to do a modest yet stable job and clear as many debts as possible, before he met with an accident and lost his leg. The entire burden of taking care of the family and the clearing of the debts fell on young Jameel, twenty one years old then. His mother had great ambitions for him even when he was a child and despite them not being supremely wealthy, she did believe that some business venture of her husband would succeed and they would have enough money to send Jameel abroad to study. Success never came and the mother’s wish never got fulfilled.
Jameel had been greatly inspired by his mother’s words of sending him to a world class university in a distant new land, to study and pave way for a better life for them all. For most of his teen years, Jameel had spent much of his time dreaming on visiting faraway lands, learning new things, understanding new cultures, interacting with people from different races and backgrounds, getting admitted to a world renowned university, studying hard, getting a degree, getting a high paying job, buying a house both in that exotic land and one in his home town, taking his family on a world tour and settling down once again back in his town with a whole lot of money. He did not even worry that he did not know English and could probably not survive even for a day in the countries that he wished to visit. But that did not matter for long as his dreams got crushed with the accident that had happened to his father. Despite his father having a lot of debts, both Jameel and his mother had great confidence that he would eventually clear them all off with one of his businesses succeeding, but the day his mini truck had crashed against a tanker lorry, their hopes had crashed as well.
Not only did the family already have a lot of debts to deal with, but the accident caused them to get more loans to treat the critically injured father. The loss of their mini truck did not help their cause as well and before Jameel could even realise what his family was going through, they had debts worth eight hundred thousand Afghan Afghanis. Jameel, a twenty one year old man with no knowledge or experience in any of his father’s businesses, no influence in the society, no contacts to bank on, no rich friends for support and no clue on how to survive in the outside world, was thrust into the eye of the storm. He did not falter however…He took all the challenges in his stride and was willing to learn from it all. He wasn’t ashamed anywhere to say that he did not know anything and he never pretended to know everything either. He was a twenty one year old youngster but his parents hadn’t allowed him to do any house hold chores or hadn’ left him a lot outside either before. So Jameel wasn’t in anyway street-smart and did not really know how to survive on his own. Even common things that people his age were expected to know, weren’t known by him.
He learnt everything without any hesitation and he did not care for anyone who said that they were surprised to see such an ignorant ‘grown-up’. He knew he was still a child on the inside, but tried his best to turn into an adult. He joined as a normal clerk in one of his father’s friend’s textile shop, where he learnt not just the clerical job, but also everything about the textile industry. Towards the evenings he worked in a restaurant as an accountant. One thing that Jameel was good at was Math and he used it everywhere he could. Two jobs each day and in less than a year and a half he had enough money to pay off the loans received for his father’s treatment. His father was saved, but he had lost a leg and couldn’t move around as freely as he used to because of some severe injury to his spine. So he became, in a way, useless. Jameel did not mind having him and felt that his sheer presence provided him a great deal of moral strength. Three more years later, he had managed to earn enough money to clear off most of his father’s other debts. His family was much more relaxed and his mother was then aiming to get Jameel married.
Jameel however was not really happy with his life. This wasn’t the sort of life he had envisioned himself to be in and he wasn’t pleased about it. But he did not complain about anything on the outside. He had a lot of complexes as well. He had not gone to a college and he did not have a degree. This was a major complex he had. His parents had asked him to remain patient and at home, right after his school, so that they could arrange some money and send him abroad for studies, instead of making him join a local college. What was expected to happen in four months, did not happen even after three years till the old man’s accident had occurred and Jameel’s life took a completely unexpected turn. Whichever job he went to, he was asked for a degree and he did not have one. He still got the job, but he wasn’t paid as much as he should have been paid, just because he did not hold a degree. People with degrees, who did a poorer job than him, received almost three times more salary just because they had a piece of paper in their hands. Jameel had been displeased about this and had always felt inferior before others with degrees. He did not feel any shame to admit he did not know anything and learn from the start, but he still did have an inferiority complex due to his lack of a degree and lack of English knowledge.
Adding to this was the loss of beauty he was renowned for. As a baby, as a young kid, even as a teenager, he was always thought to be handsome looking by his parents, relatives, his friends in school and even his teachers. He had gotten into many school plays just because he had looked good, even though he couldn’t even utter a single dialogue in his own native Pashto. His memory was poor or that’s what he thought about himself, but it was more of stage fright than poor memory. However as he had gotten older and more pressure situations had begun mounting on him, he began to lose all that his mother had been so proud of. Despite seeming to not be bothered too much by the people around him and the conditions he was pushed into, he was in no way stoic. Pressure did get to him, he was just good at pretending he wasn’t. His hair on his head began to recede but his hair on the face began to increase. He was working non-stop and was travelling from one place of work to another under the hot sun, making him lose his fairness as well. A poor mental state often was cited for loss of body weight, but in Jameel’s case, he was just getting thicker faster. He did not care to maintain his health, as he had no time for that. He did not in any way work out and food was his only real pleasure in life. Whenever his stomach seemed full, he felt his heart to be too, but that vacuum in his heart could never be filled.
Along with food, he also resorted to smoking to relax his mind. He believed that smoking could help him think better and help him calm down, just because his fellow workers, who were smokers themselves, had said so and soon he was addicted to it. Nicotine stains blackened his rosy lips. Jameel at twenty five was nothing like what he had looked at age twenty one.
The mother’s constant attempts to convince Jameel to marry, forced him to reluctantly agree and just within a month from his acceptance to the idea of marriage, his mother had found the ‘perfect’ girl for him, according to her. Jameel however wasn’t sure. He did not even see her photograph and was very hesitant to meet her in person. He thought to himself that he wouldn’t have been so hesitant a few years earlier as he wasn’t the same physically then. He was no longer what his name suggested…he was not beautiful…
He said this to his mother when she wanted to know the reason for his hesitancy to meet the girl. His mother had just one thing to say to him. Real beauty in a man was not in his physical self, but in his mental strength, his ability to accept responsibility and stand up against all challenges. His mother was confident that her son was still ‘Jameel’ in that sense. He knew his mother was right and he promised himself that day that he would continue to fight any opposition that might come by his way and he would cross all obstacles for his family, for the girl he was to marry and for the children they were to bear. He would defend them and protect them in whichever way he could…When he had said that, he hadn’t expected a night like that to ever arrive in his life.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Vishwaroopam- Why the entire fiasco can't be a really staged one

First and foremost all the points expressed here are my own view and they might not necessarily be correct (Well there goes my credibility). This is just my understanding of the situation (or misunderstanding) and they are not intended to hurt anyone or any religion (Why did I have to say that? Oh yeah..don't wanna be banned). Also smoking is injurious to health (ugh...doofus!)

Vishwaroopam- The legendary actor, Mr. Kamal Hassan's latest movie is creating great waves in the country...So much so that there are more tweets about the movie, than for more pressing issues like the refusal of the Americans to extradite David Coleman Headley (the man who was crucial for the staging of the Mumbai terror attacks in 2008) to India, a country where the terror attack had occurred and the nation that had lost close to one fifty odd sons and daughters to the incident. (That's a tale for another day)

However Vishwaroopam is not being spoken for the hard work having been done my Mr. Kamal Hassan the director, the actor, the screenwriter, the dancer, the singer and the producer (under his brother Chandra Hassan's name) or the ensemble cast (Which includes names of high repute, including Shekhar Kapur, Nasser, Rahul Bose, Andrea and Pooja Kumar) or the various multinational technicians involved. It is being spoken for the apprehensions it has created in the minds of some Muslim groups in Tamil Nadu.

Now it is not fair to take sides on such an important issue, but the point made by the Muslim groups is that the movie seems to have certain scenes where the terrorists are depicted as Muslims wearing attires associated with our Islamic brothers, for doing Namaz and chanting 'Allah Hu Akbar' before committing brutal killings. They believe that such depictions would make people in the future to think that all Muslims are terrorists. Now that does seem like a fair point.

I haven't seen the movie personally so I can't say that such scenes are present there in the movie. But I'll take the words of my dear Muslim brothers. Now let us analyse these scenes a little. First and foremost let us be honest and agree to the fact that the terrorists in the Af-Pak region under the name of Taliban are indeed Muslims or people who have portrayed themselves to be staunch muslims, fighting a holy war (Jihad) in the name of God. This is a known fact, no arguments on this whatsoever. Islam in truth is a religion of peace and brotherhood, nobody can deny this as well, which makes it clear that Taliban is misunderstanding their own religion and fighting the world believing themselves to be doing good.

Everyone is aware that not all Muslims are terrorists. If we are to brand all muslims as terrorists based on the acts of few individuals who killed and bombed places all over the world, then we should also take into account the millions of Muslims who work in the army, as firefighters, as doctors, rescue workers, policemen all over the world, who give their everything to help the people around. How is it fair to forget the goodness of these millions and take the actions of few 'misled' men to brand all muslims as terrorists? Now we are all aware of this and we as citizens of India respect muslims all around. We are not fools to be misled by a movie. Trust your fellow countrymen a little more.

As for the movie, Kamal Hassan has portrayed this particular group of individuals who kill people having misunderstood their religion. This is a reality. Just because it might be misinterpreted to be offensive, the director cannot portray a terrorist from that region to be a Jew, Christian, Hindu or a Buddhist. Then one can question the logic of it all. If we are to make a movie about the British Raj in India, some Englishmen will be portrayed badly. What would we do, if everyone from England started getting offended and say that it will destabilize relations between India and England?

So I would request my Muslim brothers who are protesting to allow the release of the movie. We all know there are good men and bad men in all religions and communities and only the bad men are being portrayed here. Some have argued that they are protesting to stop communal harmony from being destroyed. But look what has happened now. By depriving the right for us commoners to watch the movie, they have also invoked many people to question as to how these individuals belonging to these parties and particular communities can decide that the movie is not watchable to the rest of the public. These protests can actually cause rifts and disharmony between Muslims and non-Muslims. So the attempts to stop chaos, must not lead to its birth.

Some have even questioned as to why Mr. Kamal Hassan had made a special screening for the members of these Muslim groups, if he had not intended to hurt them. Well they had shown discomfort regarding the film, based on it's trailer well before the announcement of the date of release and Kamal Hassan obliged out of respect for these groups and screened them the movie, hoping they would understand the content. But it had backfired and I would not blame Kamal Hassan for that. He had done what needed to be done.

Now I also hear people saying that it might all be a publicity stunt by Mr. Kamal Hassan. I would lie if I say that I hadn't thought the same. But some more analysis will tell how this can't be all staged by the legend himself. Firstly, the movie has been postponed quite a lot and just a day before it's release the movie has been banned on the request of some groups. The first three days are the most crucial period for any movie. This is no ordinary movie and it has been made using Crores and crores of rupees. A large number of audiences from across the world, have to see this movie for a longer period of time for Kamal to even retrieve the invested money. By putting the ban on the movie, I am quite sure that Kamal would endure Crores of loses every single day of postponement. Now that is a big blow.

Added to this is the problem of number of screens that he can acquire to show this movie. This week had no big releases and he had (as some say) close to five hundred screens in Tamil Nadu alone. Now in the coming weeks, he can't be expected to have as many screens to show his movie, as he will have competition from other highly anticipated movies like Mani Ratnam's Kadal (Tamil and Telugu versions), David (Tamil and Hindi versions) and Race 2. Definitely Vishwaroopam will have the number of screes showing it reduced by at least a couple hundreds than what it was this weekend (if the movie had released). Now that is a another big blow.

The later the theatrical release happens, the later the DTH release will happen (or else the rift between the distributors and DTH companies would once again emerge if released on the same day). Since the movie is being released in a scrambled manner across different parts of the world, we can also expect pirated versions of the movie to appear online. If that happens, the number of people who would go to the theatres to watch the movie will get reduced. There aren't many people who would prefer to enjoy the movie in all it's glory on a large screen, with fellow fans with the new Auro 3d sound technology. (Their loss). They just want to watch the movie and they would do so on a pirated version too, not knowing that the hard work of a whole lot of people will go down the drain and they need the people's support to give more quality movies.

If there are pirated versions of the movie coming online for free or for fifty rupees in road side illegal shops, who would pay thousands of rupees to watch it in DTH? More losses for Kamal. Then there is the problem of apprehension from the audiences. Even the die hard Kamal fans would be frustrated by now with the movie getting postponed week after week after week. I've already done at least three countdowns only to start an agonising fourth one again. Not everyone would book right away once they come to find out that the bookings are open. They would want to wait to see if the movie goes through any further drama and if everything gets settled, meaning once again fewer people would watch the movie in theatre right away. Losses for Kamal again. Not to forget the fear of some unruly group threatening to disrupt the movie through violence, if the High Court does approve of the movie. This fear will trouble a lot of audiences, theatre owners and distributors alike. So to stage it all for pure publicity, Mr. Kamal Hassan must be a really foolish man, which I believe he is not.

Now for the act of the government. The government fears that there might be communal problems because of the misinterpretation of the movie and the Republic day being a particularly vulnerable period for our country, one can understand their action to a certain extent. But the correct term for the action should have been temporary postponement and not absolute ban. The government did declare that the movie will be delayed by fifteen days, but we also saw the term 'ban' in so many channels, which sent a wrong message. Freedom of speech can never be taken away from any individual and it is true that the right to express oneself must be exercised cautiously. We call ourselves a democracy and banning a movie deprives us of the reason to call ourselves a democratic country. You can't have the title till you do what is necessary to keep that title.

If the government does fear disharmony then their focus should not be on banning the movie, but on stopping these groups that threaten to protest. Despite some Muslim groups claiming that they are acting peacefully and legally, we do hear news of some problems occurring in some theatres. Such law breakers must be arrested and made an example of no doubt. That reminds of me another important issue that needs to be addressed. These certain groups have filed petitions and have made the government ban the movie. I have already explained the consequences of the postponement of the movie. Losses for the filmmakers, fears and apprehension for distributors, theatre owners and audiences and the makers of other films waiting to be released in the coming weeks, also being affected in some way, so many people have to endure so many problems. All these have happened because of the misunderstanding of certain individuals. I saw some people in some forums raising this very important question. They asked if the High Court does approve the movie and say there is nothing offensive or derogatory to any community, will the ones who raised the issue in the first place, be made to compensate for the losses of so many people? That is for you readers to decide.

Finally I like to make one important point. Despite our country been given such talents, such diversity, such traditions, culture, which can act as inspiration for great stories, our various film industries have been churning out pretty ordinary flicks that we might even get ashamed to show to the outside world. I can understand the situation of the filmmakers. They try to make good movies, but they do not run well and they have to make a movie with silly stunts, irrelevant dance sequences, absurd illogical plots just for the people to see it as plain entertainment. Films are not just about entertainment, there is more to it. How many films that have been made in the past fifty or sixty years can we proudly show to the outside world? I can give out five or six names in the Tamil film industry, who have produced world class movies that have flopped financially, but have been considered classics. Why does this happen? Because a majority of the people who go to theatres to watch the movies, are the ones who see it as plain entertainment and they don't care for logic. They demand dance, fights, romance scenes and they feel cheated if they do not see these on screen. I do not mean all, but a majority of regular theatre goers. While people who demand world class cinema stay at home, watch movies in the television much later or see it online through pirated versions, leaving good filmmakers with no money.

Naturally filmmakers, who want to make money, would have to make such mediocre masala type movies. But despite all odds, there are a group of filmmakers who have constantly made good movies, despite failing time and time again in the box office. These names are very few in number, but they exist and they become the inspiration for hundreds of other aspiring film makers. Many of these legends have retired or make a movie once in two or three years. Kamal Hassan is one of the last remaining fighters who makes good movies. Support him and show the other filmmakers that good movie of international standards will be received well and made profitable. Enough are the days where our film industries have been mocked by international film fraternity. Watch in theatres, appreciate good films and avoid piracy. May the worthy get all the praise, reputation and financial success...

(P.S) Try to not bash a movie just because it has a star, who is considered rival to your own favourite star. Appreciate good movies no matter who makes it. That is my humble request. At the end of it all, it's not just the stars, there are hundreds of people working on individual movie projects behind the camera and the star is the least affected of them all, mind you.

 - A.Prashanth Narasimhan (a proud Chennaite and Indian)

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