Aamir Khan's Peepli [Live]

Aamir Khan’s Peepli [Live] is now on its way to the Oscars.  Poverty porn redux.

The press is full of praise, and everyone suddenly wants to discuss the film.  This is the irony of the Indian creative and performing arts; it fails to find critical or aesthetic appreciation by the masses, but swoons over what the white man says.  It was the same with Rajneeti some months earlier.  It is almost a week since the Oscars announcement came out, so my guess is that no one is going to be interested in a review, a critique or a retelling of the plot.  If you haven’t seen it yet, go do so.  You can always come back and read this later.

We happened to watch the film maybe two weeks after it released, it was playing two screenings only at a multiplex, and it was a weekend, so we were worried that we might not get tickets.  I am not very familiar with the ways of the box office and popular cinema, so I was unable to answer a query raised by a friend later about whether there were any other big releases around when we watched it.  There were less than 20 people in the theater.  The movie begins by setting its signature style, that of dark satire borrowing heavily from nautanki interpreted by state of the art filmography and cinematic storytelling techniques.  Like Bob Fosse's All That Jazz, the film picks up its pace slowly and intensely.  As the dialog, the dialect, and the dilemma roll out, the audience in the theater starts laughing and giggling.  Was it an endorsement of the resilient Indian spirit that can live through the most sordid reality without being affected?  I am perhaps not qualified to comment, and would leave it to the authorities who felt nothing was wrong in the mismanagement of the commonwealth games arrangements.

There are several threads expertly woven together by Anusha Rizvi in this debut of her’s.  First is the issue of economic development, which instead of building lives, is snuffing them out.  The poignancy of the closing sequence of the film played out on the "land scape" of Gurgaon bears it out better than any news story.  The second is the irony of poverty which creates a perspective and a value system that most of us would be unable to identify with.  The very things we hold precious, life, respect, trust, love, and other such “sentimentalities,” lose their meaning when seen from this perspective.  The third thread is that of the media.  The film captures perfectly how “poverty struck” the media really is, and that the mediaperson with a sense of social responsibility (a brilliantly underplayed role by Nawazuddin Siddiqui) is as good as a dead man.  The sad truth that in this digital age when the power to initiate change is so easily given to the hands of media groups, instead of using it to enhance life, they are more focused on ratings, sensationalism, and being there first, even if it is a piece of turd that the viewer gets to see.  The fourth thread is that of politics as we know it in India where the idealism that one (I hope) associates with names like Lal Bahadur Shastri and Jawaharlal Nehru are reduced to tokenisms in the vote bank game.  It is pointless to dwell on the portrayal of the state of politics and politicians in India since we as a people have chosen to be governed by the corrupt and the incompetent.  We are a perfect example of what democracy does to an uncaring populace.

The film is relevant for a number of reason, and it addresses issues that are in urgent need of correction.  But will it change things?  All a poet can do is warn.  Will we heed the warning?  Time will tell us.  I have experienced with my own life that almost nobody learns by listening, and that the lessons best learned are those learned by suffering.  Have we as a people suffered enough?  Do farmer suicides bother us?  Does the wiping out of indigenous culture bother us?  Are we affected by the devious machinations of the media?  Does the fact that the candidates in fray for elections are almost always people with criminal pasts and an excellent track record in corruption stop us from getting them elected?  The truth is out there for all of us to see.

What this film also conveys is the need to assess how the morality of modern India is being forged by the changing ethos of rural India and tier 3, tier 4 cities.  Modern India, and especially the India of tomorrow is not in the metros, but in the 95% of the population that lives outside them.  With limited if any access to basic needs and without recourse to redress, they are evolving an attitude of anything goes.  Be it in the field of basic amenities, education, vocational training, healthcare, or the justice system, the larger India is shortchanged at every turn by the very system it elects and endorses.  One cringes at the thought that retribution for this is forthcoming, not just for the perpetrators of this crime, but for all of us who stand silently by.

While filmmaking is a profession for those who have made this film, it is worthy to note the effort that has gone into promoting this film worldwide, especially by Amir Khan himself, since the film is everything that a bollywood film is not meant to be, no stars, a host of new faces and names, and a theme that even Satyajit Ray got bad parliament for.  The film also showcases the brilliant work by Indian Ocean, a band that has stuck to its guns and produced world class indigenous music consistently for close to 20 years.  A popular reviewer lamented that the greatness of this band has been unrecognized and wished that they did more films. 

The truth is that they have not only scored music for several other film projects, most of which were shelved or poorly promoted or sometimes deliberately unpromoted for reasons best known to the powers that be, but they are also the first band in India to make a full length documentary on their work, called Leaving Home, a must watch for all music lovers.  The cinematography by Shankar Rehman is as vital as the story with probing pans and tilts, and a colorists fantasy, using the brightness of costumes, auto rickshaws, billboard and landscape as a perfect foil to the grimness and pointlessness of the lives of all the characters.

 Peepli [Live] (Aamir Khan Productions - New Hindi Film / Bollywood Movie / Indian Cinema DVD)KandisaBlack Friday

Like in the movie, once the story is over and the OB vans roll out and leave the village littered with urban debris, I too resumed my mundane life, the prick of conscience fleeting, and the thrill of being ahead in the rat-race momentarily much more rewarding.  A group of Kashmiri students stopped us on our way back  from the theater (we live across the road from it) asking for help for the Kashmiri victims, I patted them on the shoulder and said, not now, no time.  I spent a while justifying that I had no way of knowing what my “help” would be used for.  As I read about the CWG farce, and the Oscars list, I wonder if my taxes are worth paying any more than supporting those who stand up against this ridiculous political system of ours.

Update: You might also like my review of Kahaani, the film where Nawazuddin Siddiqui really got noticed by mainstream cinema before going on to star in Gangs of Wasseypur. It is likely that you would have already read my more popular post on Aamir Khan's TV Show, Satyameva Jayate.


(to be read before the wind turns cool and the sunlight mellow)

A Faustian pendulum a birthday gift to help us keep the prices down
Overjoyed oily housewives, oily party cadres, possessed dispossessed
Damn the goddamn damn the goddamn damn the goddamn damn
Who's mother bribing this year? Is the mother joking?

A wring of prophets spin the rape of minds the depths dark
Orphaned marshlands orphaned again faith skin party colors
Damn the goddamn damn the goddamn damn the goddamn damn
What is madam wearing, yaar? What madam says is final.

The people a buffalo august smog a broad indistinct line
Sunlit large orange swathes the beach the boulevard
Damn the goddamn damn the goddamn damn the goddamn damn
What's the mother driving this year? What's the mother smoking?


Durga Puja celebrates the victory of good over evil, and is symbolized by the Goddess. Do remember to check out Rajrupa's Durga Puja event at her blog Riot of Random.

The Searchable Gosho App

Update: Over time, I have had some feedback on this post pointing out that many of the sites hosting Nichiren's writings have a search feature built into them. Some of these sites did not have the feature at the time of my writing this app. In addition, this bookmarklet app really sits on your browser and lets you start your search without having to navigate to any site first. And finally, it allows you to search multiple sites of your choice at the same time.

Nichiren Daishonin, who is revered by nearly 20 million practitioners of Nichiren Buddhism as the Buddha of the Latter Day, spent all his life earnestly encouraging his followers (a struggling few back in the 13th century) through letters that are not just uplifting and motivating, but also contained detailed explanation and insight into the correct teaching of Shakyamuni Buddha in the Lotus Sutra.  These letters, often written under the most adverse conditions, and at times when Nichiren himself was undergoing the harshest of persecutions, are collectively known as the Gosho, or honorific writings.
The Major Writings of Nichiren Daishonin (Volume 7)The Lotus Sutra (Translations from the Asian Classics)Unlocking the Mysteries of Birth & Death: . . . And Everything in Between, A Buddhist View LifeThe Lotus Sutra and Its Opening and Closing Sutras
I wrote a small program that turns the gosho into a searchable database. My way of thinking, working, and studying has made me feel this need very strongly and i was unable to find a searchable, digitized gosho. I used a standard feature of most browsers, and an advanced search feature in google to come up with a simple prompt that stays as a bookmarklet, and lets me search all the goshos that are online. I have used only the material on the nichiren.info site, which to my understanding is strongly consistent with the gosho version we use other than some small translation issues which do not alter the meaning and are few and far apart. if you are comfortable editing the code, you can also add other sites that you may be aware of.

Here is how it can be done.

1. Right-click your bookmarks toolbar (favorites in IE)
2. Select New Bookmark
3. Name your bookmark in the name field (after some whacky ones, now
mine is named "Gosho Search")
4. Copy and paste this piece of code into the Location field:

javascript:var searchterms = escape(prompt('Search Gosho For'));var
query = searchterms + '
+ query;

5. Say ok or save.

Now it is ready to roll. just click on it from the bookmarks toolbar and enter the text you want to search for, for example "ikegami." It is not a great thing, but I found it useful, needed to share, perhaps there are others out there who will find it useful too. Do try it out, share it freely (it is uncopyright) and leave a comment if you like it.  Of course, if you click an ad and buy something from any of these pages, you will sending a few cents my way.
~~Fahrenheit 451~~

Original post Sept 9, 2010.

I am as apolitical and a-religious as one can be living in society, which is as good as saying nothing, since policy governs each and every breath we take, whether we acknowledge it or not.  Religion, patriotism, passion, beliefs are nothing but expressions of our own politics, and as we interface with the rest of existence, these give birth to a complex new animal.  Even close relationships are ultimately governed by politics, perhaps very personal ones, but politics all the same.

What happened with WTC on 9/11 is deplorable and is universally condemned by all sane people.  The why's and the wherefore's can be debated endlessly and are best left to those who have nothing better to do.  What we can do is to determine that we learn from what happened and never let it repeat.  We don't have the luxury of adding to our woes as a civilization facing the threats posed by an environment we ourselves have ravaged to the point of being dealt merciless retribution.

Men of God have repeatedly proven themselves to be more desirous of being Gods of Men rather than seeking the divine will (or whatever it is called in your neck of the woods), that of harmonious and creative coexistence.  Most Men of God who have not done so have also repeatedly refused to identify themselves as Men of God, choosing instead to do what they perceived to be their task in an intelligent design.

The movement to burn the Quran violates everything that 9/11 violated.  It is a classic instance of being compelled to repeat history if we do not learn from it.  May the God of these people show them that all of us need to heal and not hurt any one any more.  It is sad that an entire community has to carry the shame brought upon it by a few misguided members, just as the perpetrators of 9/11 did for their community.

Let us join our voices to let sanity prevail.  You can sign an online petition by clicking here.

Update, September 10, 2010, From WSJ.  Click here for the whole post.

President Barack Obama said he hopes a Gainesville, Fla., preacher “listens to…those better angels,” and drops plans to burn copies of Islam’s holiest book Saturday to mark the ninth anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
In an interview on ABC’s Good Morning America today, Obama called plans by part-time pastor Terry Jones to burn a Koran “a recruitment bonanza for al Qaeda.” It was the first time the president weighed in on the planned protest, which has caused alarm among U.S. government, military and religious leaders who worry that such an act, deeply offensive to Muslims world-wide, would jeopardize efforts at religious understanding, and would place U.S. troops and citizens at heightened risk of retaliation by extremists.
“I just hope he understands that what he’s proposing to do is completely contrary to our values of Americans…this country has been built on the notions of religious freedom and religious tolerance,” Obama told interviewer George Stephanopoulos.
My Dad's Blog

My parents are way pre-independence, and over the last several years, Mom has learned to use the computer, shoot emails back at lightening speed, chat on gtalk and skype, and browse the web to find missed episodes of her favorite (terrible) serials posted online.  The fact that we younger folk are considered 24X7 tech support, of course, bothers neither her nor us. 

My Dad on the other hand is as stubborn as a mule when it comes to anything beyond pen, paper, book, and his rusting portable Olivetti.  So it was a pleasant surprise when he called one day last month to ask whether 500 Gb would be enough to host a website for him.  We asked him what he meant by a website for him, and why he was asking.  It turned out that he had finally been conquered by a marketing executive for a webhosting service.  What convinced him?  He was a Bengali representing a Hyderabad firm, a city that he is very fond of.   All of us, including Mom, screamed at him, and asked him to stick to his "I don't know anything, ask my wife" line going forward.

Many laughs, and some de-briefing later, we came up with a blog for him so that he could post his articles, reviews of his books, and news items of his activities.  When we showed him that he had close to 50 visitors in a week's time, he was thrilled like a child, and asked, "but who are these people, and why are they visiting my page?"  That one, we couldn't answer.

You can visit his website by clicking here.  Your visit will make him very happy.  See if you can also let him know who you were, and why you were visiting by leaving a comment behind.
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