Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Bye World

Over the past few days, I have been beginning to appreciate a shocking lack of depth of character in myself. It's not completely my fault. I just haven't experienced enough, I haven't travelled enough, haven't felt enough.

So I am going to stop blogging till I feel I have anything new to say.

The blog will still be up, since I love it too much to take it down (see what I mean by the lack of depth?). But there will be no new posts.

Hope to see you around :)

Saturday, 16 May 2015

Initially, I was slightly disgusted that the IS was going to take over a place called Palmyra in Syria, and the only quote the newspaper reported was from the UNESCO. Then I saw the pictures.

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Very Short Review: Detective Byomkesh Bakshy!

It was easy to be excited about this one. A film about a Bengali detective set in 1940s Calcutta. A director who inspires trust about being able to do justice to it. And YRF's big bucks. Were we finally to have a big fun franchise film which was also smart (in other words, not Dhoom or Golmaal)?

Not quite.

Because Byomkesh is just the reverse. It is a smart smart film which is also loads of fun.

Sushant Singh Rajput, an awesome Byomkesh, unibrow or not

Admittedly, the film had me very early (even before the fantastic credit sequence). We meet Byomkesh while he is playing chess in his college common room. Banerjee doesn't show us his face for almost a minute. And we start expecting a proper hero-esque build-up. But when the detective's face is finally revealed, it is completely devoid of fuss. I remember while watching Sherlock, how I knew I would love the show the moment they started playing *this-is-the-hero-and-he-is-awesome* music after Sherlock introduces himself to John. The makers had respect for Holmes (and filmy traditions), it showed. Byomkesh shows how a muted entry can also work wonders.

Like most good films, Byomkesh moves at a measured pace, giving the viewer time to get to know and like the protagonist and the other lovingly etched characters (especially the brawny sidekick Ajit, and the kindly Doctor-landlord) . Yet, the scenes and the sets were crammed with so many details, it became difficult to take my eyes or mind off. Like the reference to Bata shoes. Or the ex girlfriend's husband. Or the real life temptress playing demure roles in the movies. Or the codes designed to tell whether the other person was a cop.

Also if you ever needed proof to know that an arty-looking film need not be boring-it is Byomkesh with its fantastical, crazy plot.  Some reviewers I read, were not satisfied with the whodunnit aspect of Byomkesh. Which though true, leads me to believe that they have only read Agatha Christie in classic detective fiction. Indian writers like Satyajit Ray (and presumably Saradindu who I haven't read, to be honest) were however inspired by Arthur Conan Doyle's Holmes (and there is a reference to this in the film) where the emphasis was more on action and adventure. The plots themselves were sometimes outlandish and sometimes plain mediocre. Which in cinematic adaptations at least, does not make a difference. If anything, Dibakar Banerjee's adaptation adheres fastidiously to the spirit of these traditions. Hence it is misguided to criticize the film's writers for succeeding at something they set out to do.

My only worry is that the less than spectacular commercial performance of the film is going to shelve the sequel that was so tantalizingly promised to us as a post-script to the film. If you are the kind of person who bitches about the Dhoom and the Golmaals that Bollywood produces, and still did not watch this one, I hope you are sorry.

Lessons from the Mughals (and their contemporaries)

I have been told in the past, that this blog is a waste of time, given my inclination to prattle on about things that don’t matter. That is all set to change now, as the blog turns 3, with me being committed to further our (you and me, dear reader) knowledge base with strictly fact based posts. Read on to learn more about the Mughals.

Delhi is the coolest city EVER
For close to two years, I passed the Old Fort every day while on my way to work. Without ever consciously registering that it was the same fort outside which, Hemu the military commander of the Suri Dynasty and the winner of 22 consecutive battles, was publicly hanged after the loss of the Second Battle of Panipat.
The Red Fort, which you pass every other weekend to get to the Daryaganj book bazaar is where the Mughal dynasty was brutally finished by the British.
Todar Mal road and Bhagwan Das road (near Mandi House, where you occasionally go to watch a play or eat at Triveni) are named after Akbar’s revenue officer and brother-in-law respectively. And it is not inconceivable that back in the day, they gallivanted across those very bits of land on horseback.
Of course, the Sanghis may want to interrupt at this point, abuse the Mughals and the other Muslim rulers (invaders, happy?) of medieval India, and talk about how Delhi was first Indraprastha, the seat of the Pandavas.
Any which way, in your face, you colonial upstart, Bombay!

Professional rivalries were as cutthroat then as today (maybe just more literally so)
Are you pissed at that senior who usurped all the credit for work you did? Or the junior who managed to ingratiate herself in front of the boss? Spare a thought then for Akbar’s wazir, who was back-stabbed (and I can’t stress this enough-literally so) by the Emperor’s foster brother Adham Khan, when Akbar refused to promote him. (Score for meritocracy, though.)

Their forms of capital punishment would put the Indonesians, firing squads and all, to shame
To punish Adham Khan for murdering his employee-the wazir, Akbar had Khan taken to the parapet of the Agra Fort and pushed from there. He died.
Was Akbar the dream boss (for the late wazir at least) or what?

There was no trade-off between chasing passions and having a comfortable bank balance
If you are still not convinced about Akbar’s greatness, you will be when I tell you that his civil servants (mansabdars) were the highest paid professionals in the world.
And I bet you already know about his navratnas- consisting of singers, writers and jesters who also enjoyed high mansabs (ranks) and attendant privileges.

The political leaders seem to have stellar economic sense
Sher Shah Suri imposed only two taxes on goods-one, an ‘import duty’ when the good entered his territory through Bengal or the North west, and second, at the time of the sale. Specifically, no taxes were imposed on inter-state movement of goods. To think, close to 500 years later, our leaders are still grappling with issues of establishing a common market by subsuming the entry tax, Central sales tax and octroi within the GST.

They were also as hypocritical as our present ones
Akbar (yes, him again) tried to bring in social reform by encouraging monogamy. A bit rich, coming from a man who used marriage as a tool of foreign policy, don’t you think? Then again, reminiscent of present day sons of the soil who insist on the adoption of vernacular languages as medium of instruction in government schools but send their own children to private schools, teaching in English.

Karma is a bitch You reap what you sow
Shah Jahan, who had revolted against his sick, dying father to gain power had to taste his own medicine towards his last years. In fact, his son, Aurangzeb, went one step further, imprisoning Shah Jahaan for eight years within the Agra Fort, in his quest to become the emperor.

Don’t be stoned all the time
The you-reap-what-you-sow argument cannot be used for Humayun who-bless his soul-did everything by the book. Not for him, his daddy’s decadent practices of making mountains of skulls of the defeated enemy’s soldiers, just for kicks. Not for him, his great-great-grandson’s power grab by killing his own siblings. In fact, he let his brother Kamran, take over Kabul, Kandahar, and Peshawar. He lost Gujarat and Malwa because of the idiocy of another sibling. He rushed to protect the kingdoms of others when sent Rakhis by widows of erstwhile opponents. Yet, after all this, after once losing his empire to Sher Shah, and then winning it all back, he died, not as a warrior in the battlefield or at the hands of  a scheming son/ underling, but due to a fall from the first floor of his library. I can only blame opium (since he probably didn’t have access to LSD).

Religion will always be used for furthering political ambitions
Humayun inherited his drug habit from his father Babur, who by all accounts was a party animal. Yet when it came to motivating his troops for the battle against Rana Sanga at Khanwa, he used religion. He called the battle ‘jihad’, throwing out his treasured stocks of alcohol to prove his religious fervour to his soldiers.
Guess who won the battle?

PS: Yes, the blog just turned 3!!
PPS: The Sanghis are a super-efficient force, as it turns out. See what they did on 15 May.