September 1, 2013

Movie Review: Prakash Jha's Satyagraha

An epic subject, a heavy star-cast and a proven director!
Yes, these are good enough reasons to draw initial crowds to cinema theatres but to sustain or leave a mark, the complete package has to stand-out. Unfortunately, one of the most awaited films this year is not here to stay. Satyagraha is an average movie, far below our expectations & arguably one of Prakash Jha's worst made presentations.

A tight slap on the District Magistrate's face by a common man boils into a nation wide agitation. But the manner it unfolds is unconvincing & at times, even the flow of scenes doesn't look natural or realistic. To make things worse, Salim-Sulaiman's poor background score too adds to the lack of audience connection. Satyagraha is powerful in bits & pieces but irregular & weak as a whole. To me, it seemed that far more than a logical narrative, the director tries to create high-drama screen shots for its posters.

The first half is a story of a retired school principal fighting against corruption to get his son's compensation, who died on duty. But, it takes a different turn after interval and metamorphoses into a vivid copy-paste of Anna's andolan. This is where the film loses steam becoming no more than a commentary of Anna-Arvind saga, that too in a haphazard manner. The Aam Aadmi Party has requested people to watch Satyagraha, understandably for its depiction of Ajay Devgan's character, inspired by Kejriwal.

With the class of actors present, the acting had had to be Good. Arjun Rampal & Amrita Rao were the only ones who seemed out of place in their respective roles of local bahubali & a widowed housewife. Manoj Bajpai brings the much needed comic relief and as always does complete justice to the corrupt minister's character playing his role to perfection. The best part of Satyagraha is the relationship shown between Maanav (Ajay Devgan) & his friend's idealist father played by Amitabh Bachchan. Diagonally opposite ideologically, the Devgan-BigB duo has surely been able to draw some viewer's emotions through their on-screen relationship. In fact, I did find audiences wetting their tissue papers in delight!

Satyagraha is a classic example how a lack of good direction cannot be complimented by any amount of super star-cast. Being obsessed with politics is not bad but we expect the director to infuse some freshness in a new subject which he terribly fails to do. In fact, its a khichdee of Gangajal, Aarakshan & Rajneeti and sadly, even a brand new subject like the anti-corruption movement somehow lacks originality.

Far more than anything, Satyagraha is an unhappy reflection of a talented director's complacency. Its high time Prakash Jha reinvents himself lest he gets stereotyped for the lack of a fresh approach & originality. Although a well-intentioned motive, but Satyagraha would be rated 2.5 out of 5 for poor direction & a confused plot!

August 29, 2013

An Emotional Letter to the Economist, Dr Manmohan Singh..

Dr. Saab Namashkaar..!!

Hope you are okay, healthy & kicking!
The Food Security Bill has been passed in Lok Sabha, but should I congratulate you?

No! I would rather congratulate Her Highness the visionary Sonia Gandhi for her Vote Security Bill. You know it better than anyone that its the worst time to undertake such a bill but you are helpless seeing the interest Her Highness has shown in it. Passing the Food Security Bill is good politics, passing it not is good economics. And we all know who wins the unfortunate battle of Politics Vs Economics, that too when the elections are lurking round the corner.

Sir, people have known me on social networking sites as one of your most vocal adversaries. I have hammered & bludgeoned you through my writings in letter & words for most of your tenure as the PM of India. But today, am in a different mood. I'm writing this letter to exhibit a different sort of emotion. Today, I sympathise with you & understand the predicament you must be going through. I know that when the world sleeps you remain awake to self-pity & imprisonment. Every morning while having the morning tea you helplessly ponder over India's deteriorating economy. You represent a 100 billion people but deep inside you are a loner. I know you might feel embarrassed reading this letter, thinking how could a young little chap decipher your state of mind so well.

Mr Prime Minister, I'm writing this letter to you based on some of my recent observations. In the Lok Sabha, Her Highness had to take the mantle into her own hands. She had to personally lead this initiative to get the bill passed because you, Mr Manmohan Singh, as a learned economist must not have been in its favour at this point of time. I know that you clearly understand the bearing such an act would take on the economy. Unfortunately for us, the highest moral ground you could take was to simply NOT BE IN FAVOUR because you don't have the guts to steer the government policy as per your discretion.

Today, the nation is in a fix. Investors, who once entered into the Indian market thanking your liberalisation policies of 90s, are fleeing our market. The Rupee has stooped so low that its shamelessly in position 69 with the dollar on the higher side. An economy which boasted of high Forex reserves, healthy account deficit, growth & robustness not very long ago is caught in a quagmire. You know the state of economy far better than me but you can't disagree my saying that the situation in India is of a crisis, an economic emergency.

Fortunately, the best person to sail us through these turbulent times is in the chair of the Prime Minister. You have done it earlier & most of us Indians are a fan of how you helped recover the economy in the 90s. I personally liked the manner you got the Indo-US nuclear deal done, infact that was the only time in your tenure that you looked in control of the proceedings.

Whatever the upcoming 2014 election results, there is no way you would be the next PM. And I must remind you that you'll go down in history as one of the worst Prime Ministers ever. Leave aside opposition or the media, your own party will discredit you, disown you once your term is over & every congressman will label all that was wrong with UPA rule as the PM's personal failure. This is what happened to Narasimha Rao & this is what will happen to you. History will repeat itself. I know you are not that bad a PM as the history books will project you, but you have neither acted with the dignity & style that a prime minister of the world's largest democracy should have.

This economic scenario might be a threat for India, but I see an opportunity in it for you. An opportunity to salvage what you've lost. An opportunity to establish that the countrymen's belief in you was not unfounded. Sir, doesn't your heart bleed to see people's loss of hope in you!

In a crisis like this, any country would die to have an economist at the helm of affairs. Fortunately, no Indian has a better CV than you have as an economist. This is the last ditch moment to rise above your helplessness & break the shackles that tie you. This crisis can be a saving grace & blessing in disguise to help you unburden. The Food Security Bill is through in the Lok Sabha & it might very well help the congress garner some votes but will surely take away the last bit of respect people have in you. If you show the courage to stand & speak, the country, opposition, the media will speak with you in the same tone. No Sonia or No ruling party can overrule what the PM wants & stands for. 

I really wish that the Prime Minister of my country gets a dignified exit with his head held high. And if you don't I'll continue bludgeoning you as my daily routine, you being my favourite object of ridicule!

You know, every Indian except the concerned person in power has a solution to any damn serious national problem. Giving unsolicited advice is our favourite pastime & I'm no less! So, Dr. Saab, I would conclude my emotional outbursts by advising you on how to resolve this economic crisis.

You have only two options Mr Economist..

  1st)  Stand up for what you believe in. Take your cabinet in confidence. Talk to Her Highness. Take the bull by the horn. Stall the Food Security Bill. Follow the principles of good economics, leave the rules of good politics aside. The power is with you. You are still our Prime Minister & the most able man to ride this crisis.


  2nd)   As your Commerce Minister has already suggested we might have to pledge Gold to save our economy as we did in 1991. My suggestion is why put the country’s Gold on collateral when we have so many highly qualified Gold Medallist economists in the government. Please collect your medals & we shall have enough Gold to sail us through. Furthermore, none of us would then say that your Gold medals are of no use.

So Mr Economist, take a stand or sell your Gold medals..!!

Yours critically,
Anupam Singh

June 24, 2013

Raanjhanaa: Love from the by-lanes of Benaras to Canteens of JNU

First things first. My parents were in Chandigarh this weekend & I requested them to watch a movie along with me. It was to be a historic family moment, for the last time I went to a Cinema theatre with Ma/ Papa was some 20 years ago. This time they weren't interested, but I insisted. And you know what happens when I insist!

  ...Only option before us was Raanjhanaa and glad to say, this singular option was worth it because my parents liked it!

Raanjhanaa showcases the two types of love stories characteristic of our India. First kind is the small town love stories weaved in the lanes by not-so-mature desperadoes, who run behind rickshaws, cut slit their nerves, get slapped by the girl but smile, recite shayaris claiming they've written it themselves and all such similar exercises. The other type of love story is of a more mature kind, one where the intellect & ideology makes you fall for someone. Where you think you are made for each because your thought processes are on the same plane. The first type is like the medieval bhakti movement, other like the European Renaissance. From the by-lanes of Benaras to the canteens of JNU, Raanjhanaa tries to explore both these genres of Love.

Barring some rare scenes where you find the film needlessly flat, Raanjhanaa is engaging in every bits & pieces. Its able to keep the audience engrossed enough not to know when time passed & its popcorn break. A good effort by Anand Rai given this is only his second directorial venture after Tanu weds Manu. Talking of Music, A R Rahman lives up to his high standards & also shows how music can be used to fast forward the story. I had grown a liking for Irshad Kamil's poetry since the days of Rockstar. Here also, Rahman's music coupled with Irshad Kamil's lyrics has successfully weaved a melodious combo.

With all his constraints & limitations of language & looks, Dhanush has given a superlative performance. He seems real, pure & true all through. For a tamil actor to play a benarsi pandit character, that too in his first Hindi film can be a challenging task. That challenge was eased to an extent by tracing Kundan, the character of Dhanush to Tamil ancestry. Its no hyperbole to say that Raanjhanaa is a dream Bollywood début for Dhanush. The story starts with him, ends with him & it shows him as the truest character. With a guy-next-door features, whatever his dialogues are he wears his heart on his sleeves. To me, the best narration was when Kundan, the sadak-chhap pandit while breaking all ties with his love, an affluent Muslim girl Zoya, played by Sonam Kapoor says, "Tumse pyaar karna Mera talent tha, Tumhara nahi."

Zishaan Ayyub delivers his one-liner punches with aplomb. His character of Murari, the hero’s best friend has again left an impact as he did in Mere Brother ki Dulhan & Jannat. To me, the disappointment was Mr Arvind Gaur, a noted theatre personality synonymous with issues of social concern. Gaur's role of a third-rate politician, that too not performed to perfection makes him the weak link in Raanjhanaa. Sonam Kapoor has done better than her previous assignments & looks refreshingly innocent in some scenes. Abhay Deol, the fine actor that he is, plays a short cameo with a strong screen presence.

The second half is not as brilliant as the first one, neither in terms of class, nor in terms of entertainment. Talking of the humour element, the first half is a laugh riot against the serious political backdrop of second half. But, post interval Raanjhanaa does take a good dig at sarcasm. The scene where a group of left-thinking students discuss from night till morning upon what to do of a thief they had caught in their campus & why, after all he became a thief is a scathing satire on some of the pseudo-intellectuals. The night long left-oriented deliberations led them to a conclusion that the thief's poverty & unemployment were the reasons behind why he was one. Ironically, when asked earlier, this was exactly what the thief had answered the moment he was caught climbing the hostel wall furtively.

The concluding scene with Kundan on death bed, alongside a weeping Zoya beautifully summarises the story you've been watching for the last two & half hours. A Love that never sufficed is more pure than one that reached its culmination..!!

I'll rate Raanjhanaa (3.5 out of 5)..!!

June 18, 2013

Nitish Kumar to set up the Janta Institute of Advanced Secularism !

Janta Dal (United), in a high voltage meeting at Patna, has unanimously passed a resolution to set up an Institute for excellence in Research & Certification in Advanced Secularism. The proposal was tabled by none other than Nitish Kumar and consented by every member of the party amid vociferous support by Ali Anwar. Mr Shivanand Tiwari, who has had an experience of working with the two most self-proclaimed secular parties of India, i.e RJD & JDU, has been appointed the director of the Institute. It is to be noted that all permanent staff vacancies at the university is to be filled by JDU cadre. The decision saw party leaders scurrying with expectations eyeing coveted vacancies of professors at the university.

Meanwhile, Lalu Yadav has claimed that this institute was his brainchild and that Nitishwa has stolen his idea. The RJD supremo said, "Nitish Kumar is a du-muhwa saanp. I had once shared this concept with Sharad Yadav & Nitish Kumar when we were together in erstwhile Janta Dal. This Nitishwa is a thug."

May 2, 2013

100 years of Indian Cinema - The Journey : Part I

It’s Friday evening. You come back from office tired of the past hectic 5-day drawn test match. You have a couple of off days ahead, which you fondly call “weekend”. This slang of a word has turned out to be one of the most adorable words of our generation. So much so that, in a poll for the most beautiful words, “Weekend” came second only to “Mother”. ;)

Now coming back to the point, what do you do to celebrate your weekend?
Yes, you've got it right! Majority of us plan a movie to relieve us of the work-stress & to have some quality time with friends & family.

Cinema has become an extension of our culture and it has taken a lot of perseverance & effort to elevate this medium to a level where it is today. In India, Cricket & Cinema have something in common. i.e, Even if you don't follow Cricket or Cinema, you cannot remain untouched by its impact. 

Today, Indian Cinema is completing 100 years of an exhilarating journey. Let us flip pages of the past to dig out the remains of history and understand the impact of those torch bearers whose untiring efforts have led Bollywood to become the biggest film industry in terms of volume.

For brevity sake, I'll discuss the article in a two part series. This is the first one dealing with initial half of our cinematic journey. From Dada Saheb Phalke's humble beginnings to the golden era where storytellers like Satyajit Ray & superstars like Raj Kapoor ensured an Intellectually vibrant as well as a financially sound film industry. Next 50 years of this journey will be covered in my column the next week. Till then, hope you like reading the first fifty years.

January 17, 2013

नागा साधुओं का रहस्य..

इलाहाबाद के संगम पर महाकुम्भ शुरू हो चुका है।  भारत के अध्यात्मिक प्रभुत्व का सबसे ज्वलंत प्रतीक, धरती पर आस्था का सबसे बड़ा मेला!  बारह साल बाद हो रहे इस वृहद् महासमागम ने पूरे विश्व का ध्यान अपनी ओर आकृष्ट किया है।  लेकिन जिस एक पहलु ने हम सबको स्तब्ध किया है,  वो है नागा साधुओं का रहस्यमयी जीवन और उनके त्याग-समर्पण का वृहद् दर्शन

मेरा मानना है कि कम जानकारी और रहस्य किसी भी चीज़ का आकर्षण बढ़ा देता है।  नागा साधु भी हमारे आकर्षण का केंद्र रहे हैं क्यूंकि सिर्फ कुम्भ के दौरान ही ये अपनी बैरागी दुनिया से निकलकर हमारी पूँजीवादी दुनिया से रू-बरु होते हैं।  ...अरे नहीं नहीं, हम इनसे रू-बरु होते हैं; इनको भला क्या मतलब हमसे!

January 12, 2013

Swami Vivekananda - the Youth Icon..!!

The moment you hear 9/11, what strikes your mind?

Yes, most of us, even today, vividly remember the imageries of dreadful terror attacks on America. 9/11 is symbolic to a brutal launch of terrorism on an international scale.

But today, I would like to sway your attention towards a positive global event - the introduction of Vedanta & Yoga to the world ignorant of India's heritage & spiritual prowess, i.e. the launch of Hinduism on an international level.

Interestingly, this historic day was 9/11, when the World Parliament of Religions of 1893 took off in Chicago and Swami Vivekananda, a young chap in his twenties, stepped onto the world stage and presented Hinduism, the mother of all religions with a tint of nationalist flavour & left the audience spellbound.

I wish we remember 9/11 for what Vivekananda offered to us, than what an act of terror & hatred gave us.

My introduction to Swami ji was through a
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