Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Sallu bhai: The archetype

Salman Khan is not merely a criminal, a terrible actor or one of the most influential and loved people in India. He is a new archetype for the 21st century India.
He is an archetype that answers a quintessential Indian yearning.
Unfortunately the yearning reflects how pathetic and infantile humanity can be.
When infants, we believe that we are at the absolute center of the universe, where all our acts deserve recognition and appreciation. To grow up is to grow out of this belief.
The 'Salman Khan as an archetype' answers the yearning to be forever an infant. To forever enjoy consequence-less freedom.

People refuse to see the bad in him. The 'true fans' of this horrible person get readily offended and aggressive when someone speaks ill of their 'bhai'. When someone points out facts of his monstrosity - killing homeless people, making his driver a scapegoat (what a 'hero'!), killing a harmless animal, domestic abuse, intimidation.... - the fans shut their ear holes and eye holes. They rage with blindfolds on.

Heroes, CC 3.0
They see him getting away with homicide and general assholery. and they rejoice in him getting away with it. They idolise his nonchalance. They refuse to see the injustice of it all. They badly want to believe in him. His PR stunts with 'Being Human' are enough for a lot of people to rationalise his criminality. They say that he is 'dil se accha' (with good heart) as if they have spent years living with the man to know him inside out.

Why should they get so protective about a person, who already has all the protection he needs? They are not related to him nor will they benefit from him in the real world. They are more likely to die under his drunken driving next than to have a drink with him.

They want to believe that they too can get away with their infantile adventures. They want to believe that they too can be successful and fabulously rich without trying, without merit. Salman, for them, is the beacon of hope for someday achieving consequence-less power, for being the ultimate marzi ka raja (king of his will) 
This explains his appeal but not the love he enjoys.  The source of love for him is in our shitty culture. He is the anti dote to forces of modernity and liberal progress. He is the patriarchal √úbermensch. What's more, he makes patriarchy cool. He treats women like shit in real life and everyone for that matter in his films. See how he looks at (or more likely, doesn't) other characters in his films. His gaze is vacant or at best disinterested. Some say it is bad acting, I say it is his personality. People don't love bad acting. People love his personality. It is cool to not give a shit about anyone else.

 In his films, women are mere pretty props. I guess, he can't appreciate the reality of relationship and hence can't succeed in any. The time he had to deal with a real relationship, he ended up physically and mentally abusing Aishwarya.
This is something that the millions of young men identify with. People have grown up in a culture where men do not talk to women. Women forever remain alien to men. Men forever try to 'control' the women. And as women become more and more powerful in relationships, men are increasingly confused and angry. The patriarchy identifies with Salman's confusions and acts of terrorism. They see him as the unfortunate one, the one who is innocently charged of abuse, where it is a man's right to be abusive. They want to believe that patriarchy will prevail.

Hir films are patriarchal utopias; damsel in distress, macho heros. He takes off his shirt to cover bodies of objects called women. To deal with the problem of modern feminism, his characters are the wronged 'tere naam's.
Of course he is suffering. The poor misogynist.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Maggi addled brains

Context:
Out from a deep slumber, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India has gotten into a hyper active mode. It started with discovery of Maggi making us eat poison. Soon it turned out, half the products that we daily depend on for maintaining our lifestyle are fucking with us one way or another.

Aftermath:
Some people have stopped using some of these products. But the most visible and loud portion of Indian humanity - the upper middle class that is active on social media - has responded in a surprising fashion (and hence this blog). They feel cheated! They sense a rat - not in the product, but in the discovery. They have responded with a sense of loss. They see it as an an unjust act of aggression by the government. They see it as an attack on their way of life.
See this idiotic video for instance.


What does this reaction mean?
1. People trust companies more than government in India.
Edelman's trust barometer had found out that earlier. But this episode truly reflects the extent of trust that people have in India towards companies and distrust of the government machinery. Even when told about the mortal danger that these products pose, their instinctual reaction is not of running away from threat, but to question the findings. (arm chair restless souls that we are - conspiracy theories are our digestive tracts for consumption of inconvenience.)

2. Convenience is important.
 It underlines how integral 'convenience' is becoming to our lives. We will trade convenience over quality of life. Even then inconvenience is not strong enough a trigger for people to react. (People do not even react to injustices around them. People only react to threats to their own identity or to the ideas of their utopia.)

3. Identity preservation over life preservation.
Most importantly, people reacted the way they reacted because they saw the discovery as an inquisition over  their way of life. Its not just about the product or its consumption, its the sense of belonging to the world of the makers of these products. This upper middle class got into the upper middle class because their papas (and a few mamas) had a job with these companies institutions. MNCs typically paid more, paid on time, were fair enough in their dealings and maintained the supremacy of English language. MNCs were doors to the best of the west.  The English speaking children of this generation have grown up in image of the branding efforts of these companies. People chose to identify themselves and their lifestyle not with their own acts or rituals, but with acts of their consumption of MNC brands. "I love my maggi." "i poop apple."

And hence calling into question a brand is akin to calling them out as idiots, which they obviously resist. When someone says that Maggi has poison, their identity preserving part of the brain says - 'That can't be true. The poor maggi (the poor choice of mine) is being framed.' The identity preserving part of the brain deflects the darts - with conspiracy theories, with blame game, with pointing fingers, with ennui.

There very well may be many questions that need answering - quality of food safety department's work, more funding for them, vested interests..
But no matter the impetus, the fact remains: maggi has lead. lead is poison. hence say bye bye to maggi. It doesn't matter who instigated the inquiry or what lead to the finding of lead. All that should matter is that the food has lead.

Maggi's reaction by itself is disingenuous. They say that the lead in maggi is well within permissible limit. So I googled what the limit is. WHO says that 'There is no known level of lead exposure that is considered safe.'
Essentially, maggi is bullshitting us. and that is a bigger worry than this one instance. It shows that Nestle does not respect lives and would resort to lies and half truths if it helps them in feeding us dangerous junk.

The takeaway:
Why bother wasting time and thought with conspiracies?
The only relevant question here is 'will it kill me?' 
Long term or short term doesn't matter. If it intends to kill you, you run away from it or you kill it. You don't sit and ask its back story.
And once you kill it, you may work towards making the system work better or punishing the smaller culprits in conspiracies. Don't loose focus you gadfly.



What is art?

Art is what a very rich white man says art is.

A blank canvas. A urinal. A gaze.
All of these are works of art. Because someone had the balls to bluff and a rich white man thereafter decided to agree. What if the rich white man does not agree? Then the thought remains a failed though - an attempt, a shot at the game of chance.


Sunday, May 31, 2015

We are living on Mars

When man colonises Mars in movies, he/she/it wears those bulky astronaut suits and smothers our ears with the sound of it breathing. It steps heavily into vacuum sealed building. The doors shut tight behind it, a tad bit menacingly. There is a finality to that sound of door shutting. No going out any time soon now. And when it opens the helmet, a sweaty head emerges, happy with its contact to  air-conditioned air.

Back in the living again. There is death outside - One breath of outside air or exposure to harsh sun and its your end. No wonder, the astronauts spend almost all of their time inside man made buildings. They aren't out 'enjoying the nature' or exploring new things always. They are instead preserving themselves everyday. Just like us Delhites (or broadly speaking NCRites).

It is the first year in my life that I have an AC in my house. And every time I rush into the bedroom from the kitchen, I feel like I am Matthew McConaughey from Interstellar. The killer heat might catch up to me. Earlier, I would bare the heat in the summer (some weekends when I was not traveling in the hills or enjoying the air conditioned environs of office) by shutting down part of my brain and lying comatose. well, almost.

Who wants to put up with deadly weather, right?
Come summer (Or winter), some of the poorest among us die of extreme weather, and some of the richest among us burn a lot of carbon fuel to keep ACs/ heaters running.

Those who can afford it, why should we put up with this hell hole?. Lets go back to the planet earth. Bye bye Mars.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Rebels without a cause

Saw 'Tanu weds Manu returns' yesterday.
Excellent movie after a long time. :) (apart from one dimensional Manu and the Haryanvi family as prop.)



I - Restless = humans
It made me think about the trend of lead characters in bollywood movies - men/ women. (Raj in countless SRK films or Kangana in most of her films). They are all spontaneous, restless, rebels (often without a cause). They are also someone who people graciously put up with for the sake of movie's plot.
This is in contrast to lead characters from earlier days. (80s - macho, 70s - angry against system, 60s - stoic silent, graceful). The grace is gone from modern world and modern cinema.

With rise of corporate careers and desk-bound audiences, the lead characters are increasingly 'bubbly' (females leads), 'spunky' (male lead) and are infantile and narcissistic. The more inconsequential and replaceable lives become (of white collar audience), the more spunky and bubbly the characters become in films.

The office goer audience has no real purpose, have no real challenges and benefit a lot from status-quo. That reflects in the content they consume - self help books, identity anxiety soaps, mindless comedies as blockbusters (to avoid critical analysis of their own lives), support to the powerful bhai ("We can be irresponsible and successful too.") and so on.
These office going drones face tremendous existential angst as a result of their digital and desk bound existence.
And when such drones are ripe for pairing, they desire life through their mates. They want life partners who 'do things', who 'are fun', who 'travel', who are 'foodies' and so on.

The reason a drone (Manu) choses a rebel without a cause (Tanu) in the movie, is to ensure that he is marrying a human being. It doesn't matter that she has some serious psychological issues. Her incongruence to societal expectations prove that at least she is a human being, not a drone like him.

People get married in search of life.

II Rebel without a cause
It is essential that there be no cause. A cause will make things too real too quick. The audience of white collar drones 'can't handle the truth.'
All lead characters try to show the middle finger to their immediate environment, but they are always lacking in ambition.
Indians are so scared to identify the elephants in the room that there can be no revolutionary cinema in India. Existential angst is profitable and it doesn't point fingers. The angst is impotent. Speaking of which...

III - Threat to Masculinity 
The film subverts masculinity in a way not seen in hindi movies before.  All male characters in the film are impotent. All they can do is - 'manage'. (Manu is a loser who never acts or reacts. His sardar friend is literally impotent. Jimmy Shergill has no agency of his own - he flexes his muscles, but all he does is to obey Kangana. The advocate who falls for Kangana, tries to make a scene but is ineffectual.)
When the traditional actors in the theatre of society (patriarchy) stops answering to new realities, new actors (anarchy) will rise to shape the new society.