government is the landlord with the largest surplus landholding. goverment is the tycoon who owns ships, planes, buses, trains, trucks and cars. government is the businessman who runs factories, mills, mines, quarries and souvenir stores. government is the investor with interests in healthcare, hospitality, travel & leisure, financial services, energy, food processing, warehousing, insurance, armaments, telecom, construction and housing, infrastructure and information technology.

would you like to do business with him ? (who wouldn't, right ?)

you can meet him at any of his offices all over the country. he is the the man with the unctuous smile and the outstretched hand. if he's not in, you might run into him at any street corner, dressed in a uniform, waving a lathi or a gun or, once again, an outstretched hand. or if you're lucky he might call on you at your home or your workplace. that'd be the hectoring stranger with a lathi or a gun or an outstretched hand. he might be waving a bill, a notice, a warrant, an order or none of the aforementioned.

you should start worrying when it's none of the aforementioned.

you'd be well advised to meet him on his own ground. say, on the piece of his land that you've occupied. he is a tough negotiator: if you don't like any of his rules, break them in his full view so that he'd respect you more. he doesn't like dishonesty and crookedness. if you plan to steal from him, tell him beforehand so that he'd know when to look the other way. he is obsessed with quality. if you build a bridge for him, and it's washed away, say, after five years, he'd expect you to build another of the same quality. he likes risktakers- if you succeed in duping him to the tune of a major fortune, he'd provide you with top class security at his own cost. the courts are his favorite playground. he'd like all his vendors to play a game or two of 'dispute' with him every once in a while.

those who refuse to play ball encounter more than a little misfortune.

he knows everyone. you'd encounter his name, and his various aliases, listed in the books, diaries and other records of a wide range of professionals - pimps, power brokers, smugglers, gunrunners, hawala operators, counterfeiters and others. you'll never find their names in his good books, because he is not a name-dropper. but he is their loyal friend - any offer they make him, he accepts.

if you'd like to know more about him, call on him tomorrow...

today is his 58th birthday and if you don't wish to encounter any stray bullet or bomb, stay away from the celebrations


the leftovers

the left holds poverty in a vice-like grip. it has long let go of the poor, but it won't release poverty from its stranglehold. it's a magnificient obsession : this fascination with an idea that, paradoxically, it wishes to exterminate. it sits quite comfortably with other diametrically opposite ideas in the left's collective consciousness. ideas like a social security net for india's babus who probably lead a more protected existence than the gold in fort knox. like protecting the public sector, whose employees collectively have more sons and daughters living abroad than any other privileged class of people in india, from foreign predators.

for a class which vehemently opposed the acceptance of product patents by the indian government, the left doesn't think twice about smiting anyone who so much as toys with the idea of cashing in politically on the product that is poverty. the left wouldn't share with anyone even the patent on their unique theory on the process of poverty alleviation ( nobody else understands the dialectics, you see).

for the left it is essential that poverty thrive in order that it be heroically challenged and killed. in other words, poverty should be protected from those others who harbour any suspicious designs on its existence or nurse any ambitions of eliminating it through any means other than the ones the left endorses.

the fig leaf of poverty, which covers nothing but itself, is the raison d'etre of what's left over of the left in india. the self-righteousness, the self-proclaimed selflessness, the theatrical austerity, the never-slipping mask of seriousness which has become an armour to protect them from being thought of as less than serious,....these are the qualities one would normally associate with the indian left......no wonder, the poor take them very seriously, and look elsewhere for answers.

like the party that stands for the rights of x left-handed caste, for instance. or to other parties that at least acknowledge their existence and don't impersonally slot them into a catchall category called 'class x'.

consider this scenario : the right-handed representative of the left-left party strikes, on his party's behalf, a strategic alliance with the aforementioned left-handed party citing the historical necessity of defeating the right-right party headed by the right-handed imperialist stooge. the left-left party's right-handed candidate wins and goes to parliament. as soon as he gets there, he starts bullying the party in power to pass the bill reserving seats for women in parliament. so what does the leader of the left-handedwallahs do? his only agenda in getting to parliament was to get there. so now, what's this? seats for women? he looks around at his own brood, his brothers-in-left arms, his other kith and kin, and then he looks at his associates from other left-handed communities. and then he realizes that his election to parliament was no less a miracle than moses crossing the red sea. and that now the chances of any of his associates from the less privileged ( than his own) left-handed communities making it to parliament are as bright as pushing toothpaste back into a tube. and they wouldn't improve much even if all the men in those communities decided to become women ( members of only 150 of the 3000 major communities have ever made it to any elected assembly or parliament in independent india) . has he been done in by the left?

that's the feeling the poor get whenever they trust the left. like they did after the mills started closing down in mumbai and the seths never returned.

that's a feeling a lot of other unfortunate people get whenever they make the mistake of thinking that the left has their interests at heart.

poverty is the left's agenda, not the poor. for them it has crumbs of sympathy. to preempt the poverty that might strike the babus in the government and the public sector, it has plans.


the suave swordsmen

(swordplay part 5)
why were many of the first films ever made in india, hollywood and elsewhere, swashbucklers?
because they were already there : in storytelling traditions and in literature. Swashbucklers were ready to go as soon as there was film, says mathew foster, because the makers didn't have to wait till the mood was right and the techniques were developed. the mood had already been prepared by the original storytellers and the technique had to be only slightly altered to suit film. according to foster, a swashbuckler has three essential elements : movement, a period, and speed. the story moves : from one dramatic scene to another and hence the swings, up and down, in the main character's fortunes. it is set in a period different from ours : 'the morals, heroics, and witticisms are of a different world than ours, and it needs to look that way'. it is fast : the plot doesn't wait to linger and record such subtle details as what's going on in the characters' minds.
the requirements of the crisp recipe outlined above makes the casting director's job easy. what he would obviously look for in a lead actor is energy, and oodles of it. and apart from that, good looks, and not much else. because 'the hero is often less important than the adventures themselves'. is that the reason why popular swashbuckler stars, once stripped of their tights and swords, slip so very fast into oblivion?
one can think of a long list of these suave swordsmen, in all indian and other languages, whose popularity faded faster than the artificial moonlight they serenaded their heroines in, as soon as they attempted to try their hand at more serious cinema. they weren't equipped for it and, quite often, it was too late to start training for it. there were exceptions of course.
jairaj was the first telangani to make a mark in hindi cinema and he did it when it was still in its infancy. and he was one of the first to define the swahbuckler hero in indian cinema. from 'jagmugti jawani' in 1929 to 'hatim tai' almost two decades later, he proved to be an enduring star in this genre. he was able to make a smooth transition from lead roles to character parts only because of the discipline and tenacity he had acquired during his early years as a struggler. many others weren't so lucky.


the unseeing eye

on a mountain pass
i saw this man on an ass
simple he was
simpler his aims -
he wanted
to blow up the buddha's ass.
why, i asked
there is no god but god,
he explained,
and we do his little chores
like branding barefaced women whores,
containing music, stopping sports
(and no chin should bear bare spots!)
but why the buddha - a statue rare?
i repeated my question.
like hillary he said, because it's there
an abomination
that's blocking my nation
from true salvation,
and going down on his knees
he prayed to god, please
my people
from temptations powerful :
letters are fetters,
culture is a conspiracy,
a woman's every footfall,
echoes the devil's call,
and the infidels all
lurk behind every football,
so saying, he picked up his gun
and fired one
into the sky,
and before god could reply
off rode the man with one eye.


alam era

(swordplay part 4).
'Under the category of adventure films, we can include traditional swashbucklers, serialized films, and historical spectacles (similar to the epics film genre), searches or expeditions for lost continents, "jungle" and "desert" epics, treasure hunts and quests, disaster films,and heroic journeys or searches for the unknown. Adventure films are often set in an historical period, and may include adapted stories of historical or literary adventure heroes (Robin Hood, Tarzan, and Zorro for example), kings, battles, rebellion, or piracy.' the pundit again.

that's a comprehensive categorization of the swashbuckler-action-adventure genre of movies made in hollywood in the fairbanks-flynn era. well almost - disaster films were a category which evolved much later, unless you consider 'the last days of pompeii' to be one. which, strictly speaking, it wasn't.

in india, the first talkie 'alam ara' was based on a persian tale, suitably indianised by a veteran parsi theatre-wallah and directed by a parsi, ardeshir irani. the producer, the director, the cast, the crew, the trade, the cinemas, the critics and the audiences- none of them was ready for it. working with the most rudimentary kind of knowledge of sound and its processing, with equally unprepared actors, ardeshir irani had embarked on an adventure as spectacular as the subject of the film he was making. in an era when the producer, director and the lead actor(quite often, one idealist performed all the three functions!) took the prints and the projecting equipment and the crew providing the live musical support and the promotional material, on bullock carts to the audiences in villages and towns, it, probably, didn't seem such a foolhardy enterprise to him. because there were others,equally obsessed, who were undertaking similar ventures in bombay itself, in calcutta, in nasik, in kolhapur, in vizagapatnam, in madras, in mysore and in lahore. looking back, one might conclude that it was sheer good fortune that 'alam ara' hit the screen first. because it was followed by a series of talkies in several indian languages the very same year(1931). and this was just three years after 'the jazz singer', the first hollywood talkie. can we produce that kind of a competitive performance now? in any field? that was the spirit of the era.

what fuelled that widespread drive to pioneer? or, to be more exact, to be the first? ask microsoft. it is the power that every new watershed technology promises the earliest convert. the power to colonise the largest territory, negotiate the best of terms with the trade, capture the widest market, preempt the toughest competition. the power to dominate.

and the pioneers had readymade content, in the form of the vast repository of indian mythology, folklore and legend and literature. it was a time when everyone, whether in the field of cinema or literature or politics or industry, seemed undaunted by the challenges that a hopelessly underdeveloped india posed- they were ready to make the best use of whatever resources they had. and for the cinema folks, the mother lode of indian lore provided the richest source of quality material.

so the swashbucklers and other movies of the 'folk' genre they made had a defined context, a certain recognizable source and an identifiable time-age frame. do the later movies, made after independence, reveal a growing tendency to deny heritage, roots and ideals? specially, the telugu folk movies made in the sixties appear to do so. their indifference to time- isn't that a sure sign of regression? of a people slowly going back to a time of fantasy - when millennia were callously bunched together as vaguely classified 'yugs'? isn't that a sign of denial of the immediate past, specially the eventful battles waged for freedom? of history and of aspirations of redemption and development?

take the taj mahal out of agra and it ceases to tell a story. the filmmakers of the sixties, it would seem, were breaking one of the cardinal rules of storytelling: one that no grandmother ever forgets. to begin every story with a reference to time...long, long ago.

this violation was indicative of the denial of not just the past but, more importantly, the present ( the time the films were made). it was a pointer towards the growing disillusionment in the country, the disappointment with the state and its performance, the slow descent into pessimism & resignation. the lost wars, the famines, the shortages and the queues, the growing corruption and joblessness were taking their toll. india had changed three prime ministers- but the people had very little say in this regard. were they slowly realizing that they were not in charge- just as they weren't all through history?

young india was growing too old, too early.


an odyssey

an odyssey
is a journey
that begins in a hurry
and ends as a story
told and retold
printed and sold
praised and admired
filmed and criticized
as all the while
you grow old
your teeth gold
and your sons pray
that you start
on another odyssey
and this time,
stay away.
sounds neat, right? javed akhtar does too. just as all cleverly packaged nonsense does.

the swashbucklers !

(swordplay part 3) douglas fairbanks sr., 'the king of hollywood', was the first real star of this genre- call it costume epics, adventure movies, period dramas or as in telugu cinema- folk movies. from 1916 till the end of the 1920s, his meticulously crafted image of the dashing, sword-wielding do-gooder held american and other audiences' unstinted attention. a few years into the thirties and his name steadily slipped off the marquee. when he rose, his climb was swift, and when he fell, no one really missed him. you could find a few parallels in indian cinema too: particularly in the careers of stars of this genre.
in the thirties, errol flynn became the reigning sabre-rattler. douglas fairbanks jr. too tried his hand- but tasted little success. but the genre hung on and never really died. it changed, shifted shapes and wormed its way into various other forms.
'Adventure Films are exciting stories, with new experiences or exotic locales. Adventure films are very similar to the action film genre, in that they are designed to provide an action-filled, energetic experience for the film viewer. Rather than the predominant emphasis on violence and fighting that is found in action films, however, the viewer of adventure films can live vicariously through the travels, conquests, explorations, creation of empires, struggles and situations that confront the main characters, actual historical figures or protagonists.' this from a pundit.
i'll pick on the last line- ' actual historical figures or protagonists'. folk movies in telugu never attempted to situate their plots in any particular age or period of history. as i said earlier, the time element never really bothered the makers- delivering vicarious pleasure to the audiences did. this is the point where hollywood and desi cinema part company and go their separate ways. most hollywood period adventures were set in some actual periods or based on works of fiction of authors of those periods. in telugu, the film that comes closest to being classified as a period drama set in a particular age was 'malleswari' and it can hardly be called an adventure flick. 'ekaveera' was based on a work of fiction set in a particular age, but that was the rare exception. the earliest telugu folk movies drew their themes from folk tales which had been passed down through generations and generally revolved around metamorphosing legends loosely connected with various village deities. the later films mimicked the format but generally evolved their own content. and the content, in my view, reflected the time they were made in more than the time they were supposedly set in.
(the picture shows c.h.narayan rao, one of the earliest telugu stars.)
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