Udta Punjab – The Movie

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Before I start with my comments about the film, I must mention that although it may sound like one, but please don’t take it as a critical evaluation of the film. The film talks about the drug problem in Punjab and having experienced it as closely as I have, my comments may be biased.

Udta Punjab is a focus on the drug problem in Punjab in more detail than any other film I have seen recently. It is a bold attempt that deserves recognition and applause. There is so much of information pumped into the first half of the film that it starts to margin as a documentary film at times. But all said and done, the film sticks to its core idea of portraying the desperate drug problem in the region, through out,  in all truth and honesty and pulls it well. People losing their identities and becoming a mere shadow of themselves, the whole culture and prosperity of the state crumbling into ruins is portrayed symbolically by the character’s faces being covered by their own shadows and people being comfortable spending their time and hiding in the ruins of the monuments that were once magnificent, rich and strong buildings. Most of the drug related problems are delicately balanced and showed well. Although one never really feels for the characters in the film but one does feel terrible for the whole state of affairs which, I believe, was the aim of the film.

What I really liked about the film was that it didn’t only address the drug problem in Punjab but also marked a very important idea which I feel everyone working for the media must follow – the responsibility of working for the media and the entertainment industry. One can not deny that if your work is going out in the public, it will have an impact on people’s minds and you just can’t deny it. If you are promoting a corrupt idea, you are as much at fault as the person who is corrupt.

The film has a very raw treatment and true to the actual, current spirit of Punjab – things are decaying and no one is bothered; everyone is busy flaunting the shining objects they possess. Kareena Kapoor’s performance may be off a few notches and there might be some really illogical incidents and events in the film but the film still successfully depicts the terrifying drug situation in the state.

I read an essay by Neil Gaiman recently that said ‘I believe that it is difficult to kill an idea because ideas are invisible and contagious, and they move fast.’ I hope the film makers’ idea behind making this film catches on and does not die out. I hope it brings some good.

Udta Punjab?

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I am a Punjabi and I am not a drug addict – although this statement is 100% true, it does not mean that Punjab is not experiencing a massive drug addiction problem. The situation in Punjab is not bad; it is desperate! I was as oblivious about the situation as anyone else until I started teaching and interacting with the local youth about five years ago. A major part of my ‘education’ about the drugs and drug addiction happened during the first year when the students and the teacher reversed their roles. From my first hand experience, I can strongly vouch for the fact that the youth of Punjab is so lost that most of them are convinced that what they  are consuming or injecting in their veins are not drugs and they are not addicted to anything. One does not need to be Einstein or Sherlock to figure out the reason for the regular chain and bag snatching incidents in the state. Most of these crimes, even murders are committed under the influence of illegal drugs.

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Children as young as twelve have been reported as serious cases of addiction in various cities and villages in Punjab. On being questioned, many state that most of the drugs are easily available in their colleges and hostels. “The hostel sweepers from the neighboring villages bring it for us at cheap rates” they say. A study conducted by GND University, Amritsar suggested that 70% of young Punjabi men could be addicted to the drugs that are easily available, particularly in areas close to the borders. The drugs (particularly heroin) are believed to cross the Indian border along Punjab and then are spread in the rest of the country. Some report state that pure heroin costs Rs 1-2 lakh per kg beyond the Indian border and the cost doubles to Rs 3 lakh a kg after it crosses the border. From Punjab to Delhi, the cost reaches Rs 8-10 lakh a kg and further doubles to Rs 16-20 lakh a kg in Mumbai. Some cases have also been reported in which high police officials from the state are suspected to channel such drugs into India. After all, money is power in today’s world and power is what everyone seeks. The government may decide to turn a blind eye to the issue but the drug menace in Punjab had also become a key poll issue in the 2014 elections when the Opposition Congress and the SAD-BJP government openly blamed each other for the problem throughout the year.

All said and done, when a film has been made on this serious problem which wills to throw some light on the issue, the censor board first decides to ban the film and then suggest the film makers to change the name of the film and remove ‘Punjab’ from the title. They may change the name of the film, they may change the packaging, but the content will still remain  – the deadly drug problem in Punjab will still remain.

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Green Island

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Human history is bloody and violent but still we learn only little from it. If Green Island does anything to you, it punches you hard with this ugly truth.

Green Island is a sensitively written novel by Shawna Yang Ryan with optimal visual detail in its narrative. The story has beautifully underlined the thought that the price for freedom and peace never excludes bloodshed and people can fall to any degree to achieve power and dominance and how little a common man’s life means to them. The vivid portrayal of the characters hook the readers..

You must not miss this novel if world history interests you. It spotlights how the political turmoil wrecked the lives of the residents of Taiwan in the last century. The story is written in through detail, so make sure you brace yourself while reading it as parts of it are truly heart wrecking.

Shawna Yang Ryan Green Island, Knopf, Borzoi Books (Penguin Random House Imprint), 2016, pb. pp. 381, Rs. 399.

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Students Career Choice?

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Over the past, in the many years of my teaching career, one question that has always eaten me up is that why are the students in India so clueless about their career choices? A major chunk seem to be unaware of themselves and what they want to do with their lives. There must be many reasons for this ‘cluelessness’ but I think one major reason is how their parents look at the notion of a career.

I don’t really remember any kid ever telling me that he wants to become a millionaire when he grows up. Kids are imaginative and ambitious in their own ways and they seek adventure – they want to discover things! They want to become astronauts, scientists, athletes! But most parents constantly push them towards more materialistic aims and dreams. Kids are forced to desire ‘big houses’ and ‘big cars’. A kid is considered ‘highly ambitious‘ if he or she wants to own a BMW or a Porsche when he or she grows up. They are applauded for their ‘high’, ‘classy’ and ‘great’ desires. The true instincts and desires of the kids are killed over the years and soon they become ‘lost’ as they reach their teens. Most of their aims and ambitions fade away and a new one surfaces – to live a life full of riches and luxuries’in a synthetic world. The idea of what I like and what I want to do in life gets replaced by how can I earn the maximum amount of money?.And this is where everything falls apart. This is where the teenagers become a complete stranger to themselves. Getting admission in any ‘good’ college that will give them ‘good’ placements becomes the aim and later, the studies become a massive burden, a major drag because the students are forced to study what they have no curiosity for, what they have no interest in. The idea of education and studies becomes something that the students want to run away from.

I guess there is no one else who can improve this ‘lost’ state of mind of the students but their parents. They need to be less anxious about how much money their children would earn in life and more concerned about what their child enjoys doing.

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Money Monster

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I went to watch this film against all the bad reviews and the low imdb ratings because I saw a flicker of honesty in the trailer. And I am glad I did.

This film is far better than all the junk cinema we are getting bombarded with these days which go on to get great ratings and reviews in spite of their shallow scrips and fake and unconvincing characters. There are no flying, exploding cars; no superheros ‘saving the world’ in this film but the film still holds.  It’s a fairly well made film and the reason I think why it’s not getting the support that it should be getting is because the film is too honest about the ‘money world’ for the big shots to support it.

There are some logical loop holes in the story but in spite of that, the film manages to grab your attention and keeps you riveted to your seats till the end. The film is about money and I think that’s the reason why it works so well as money is something for which we have been forced and conditioned to live for.

Watch the film to understand how the media, the government and the stock exchange manipulates. To understand how people are conned, cheated with their money without crossing any legal boundaries. Watch the film to understand the hard reality that no one tells you the truth or behaves genuinely unless someone’s life hangs by a thread. Watch it to understand that everything is a joke for people these days.

There were a total of only four people in the cinema hall (including me) when I went to the film but that’s understandable – no one wants to listen when one talks about something serious that makes sense.

The film shakes you and breaks your heart. It gives the impact that the makers wanted it to and that, I believe, is a big success.

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The Success of A Game Of Thrones!

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Rumors about the new season of Game of Thrones are floating all around the circles of global entertainment news. The series is said to be one of the most popular TV shows of all time! What is really the reason for the phenomenal success of this show? What makes it different from the countless fantasy dramas that we have already seen?

Terry Pratchett commented upon fantasy as “Fantasy is an exercise bicycle for the mind. It might not take you anywhere, but it tones up the muscles that can.” Being a master of the craft, there must be some truth to the statement. Talking about fantasies in general, they give our most common nightmares and daydreams a space to live and breed. The reader or the viewer gets a satisfaction to see the world; it is a congratulating conformation of our active imagination.

I tried to understand what makes A Song of Ice and Fire (aka A Game of Thrones) so different and impactful from any other regular fantasy epic and came up with some observations (I hope the list does not run very long) –

  • This series gives us dazzling characters, heroes to cheer and too often to cry for. It gives us villains to hate and more than that, to understand – it makes us get in touch with our own dark side (and people of this age seem to love that!)
  • It asks more questions than the answers it gives – it teases your mind, that’s what makes it more interesting.
  • The story is a game of frustrated and angry expectations – a very common emotion for all of us.
  • The world in the books (and the show) is majorly immoral and irrational – it tallies with the image of the world we have for the world we live in. The rightfully deserved does not get what is due any more. (So when Eddard’s head rolls on the ground, Robb’s brutal murder happens, people grieve and relate the story to our current times. In my opinion, this is a major reason for the success of the series (unlike other high fantasies like Tolkien’s or C.S. Lewis’s work where the rightful king sat on the throne. George Raymond Richard Martin (yes, that’s his full name) is writing an epic fantasy but breaks all the rules and theories that define the genre.
  • Chaos in the story is another factor that the viewers relate to.
  • The world created in the series, and the stories read very real. The brutal and gritty world that comes to life from the pages of the mammoth sized books to the screen is messy and chaotic and the events transcend organically in a mind-boggling web of interrelated worlds, just like it happens in the real life.
  • The story is filled with incidents of rape, corruption, murder and inhumanity – just like the headlines of any newspaper that we pick up on a regular morning.
  • Who does not love surprises? And A Game of Thrones is known for its notable willingness to surprise and work against the expectations of its genre.

All these elements are masterfully balanced in this intricate web of politics, sex, jealousy, love and expectations with a deep understanding of human psychology and that is what gives A Game Of Thrones the status and acclaim that it has got.

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Nazia Hassan – The Queen of Pop

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Stars are meant to be seen and appreciated from a distance; for if you go too close, you will end up burning yourself as they constantly burn themselves to produce the art they do. I have always believed in this idea and after watching a documentary on the undisputed pop queen of Asia, my belief in this idea has grown even stronger. I have grown up listening to the songs by Nazia Hassan, Zobaib Hassan and Biddu. The songs are a part of my life. They don’t bring back memories; they are memories! Their music is simply timeless and more than anything else, I think it’s because Nazia and Zohaib always stuck to originality and never succumbed to plagiarism even when suggested by some of the biggest names in India film industry. I strongly feel that this is the quality that makes their music timeless, more than anything else.

I am sharing the link of this wonderful documentary made by Ahmad Haseeb from Pakistan, on Nazia Hassan that throws light on many facts about her music and her life that most of us were not aware of. If you have ever hummed to the tune of ‘Aap Jaisa Koi’ when it played on the radio, I am sure you will love watching this documentary. People may pass on but true art lives forever. She is a star and we all know, a star once, always a star.

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Nil Battey Sannata

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A few days ago, after I delivered a lecture in my ‘Film Theory and Criticism’ class, I asked the students how they would define a ‘good film’, one of my student, almost in a reflex, said that a good film was the one which gave a good message to it’s audience. The definition sounded boring. It somehow painted a picture of a film that was preachy and uninteresting, to say the least. I corrected the student and explained that more than a message, a good film should make the audience think about an idea or even better – make them think differently about something they already had an opinion on. My student asked me to give an example. At that time, I was not able to think was any such film I could exemplify my statement with but after I saw Nil Battey Sannata today, I realized that it was exactly the film of film which would be a perfect example I was looking for during the class that day.

To describe the film in one word, I would only say – ‘beautiful’. Nil Battey Sannata is a simple and stunningly beautiful story about a bunch of simple characters. All of them seem very real, very life like and very life familiar. The screenplay is brilliantly written by Pranjal Choudhary, Neeraj Singh, Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari and Nitesh Tiwari. It makes you laugh, takes you back to your school days, touches your heart, moves you and makes you think about some very basic truths and realities of the world and society that we live in. It’s a film which is made with a lot of heart and like any other art, it reflects that effort. Feeling and emotions ooze out of the screen throughout the film. Ratna Pathank Shah, being the queen of her art as she is, weaves wonderful magic during as much screen time as her character allows. The children in the film have played their characters incredibly well. Apeksha’s character is written and performed so well that you love and hate her at the same time. Swara Bhaskar may not have delivered her best performance in the film and Sanjay Suri’s character may be ‘too good to be true’ but the film works and moves you just as it was intended to.

The film has been backed by Amitabh Bachchan and Amir Khan and I hope it gives this film the push it deserves.

The film is a cupful of hope brimming with optimism and is just lovely.

Some critics may argue that the film is too bright and optimistic and far from the realities of the real world but I only believe that we need more movie like this one as they give us hope and lift our spirits. Nil Battey Sannata is a very well made, tremendous film and do not miss it if it’s screening in your town.

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BFG – Big Friendly Giant

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Whenever I find the world too cruel, I pick up Roald Dahl’s books for kids to walk back to my childhood and everything feels just fine. I read this book when I was a kid but when I heard there is a movie coming out based on this book, I just had to read it again!

BFG is a fantasy-adventure tale about a little girl, Sophie, her friendship with the Big Friendly Giant who end up doing something massive to save many ‘Human beans’ who would have been eaten alive by monstrous giants. Apart from many wonderful ideas like the floating dreams, a secret land hidden from humans and so many more, what I really liked about the book was the language in which BFG speaks. It is a twisted, adorable kind of English and throughout the book he talks like – ‘What I mean and what I say is two different things’ and ‘All human beans sleep at night, right or left?’

Apart from weaving an interesting story, Roald Dahl, as he does in all his other books, makes you think that do we really need to eat animals when we can survive healthy by eating vegetables and fruits? Other morals that he throws at his young readers are that appearances can be misleading (the BFG not really a looker, had a heart of gold) and to resolve violent issues, one does not need to resort to violent solutions.

The book has won numerous awards including the Deutscher Jugendliteraturpreis award in the year 1985 for the year’s best childern’s book.

The film adaptation of BFG is slated for a summer release this year. The trailer looks stunning. The film is directed by Steven Spielberg.

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A Whole Life : Robert Seethaler

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“Over and over again he had hung his life on a thread between heaven and earth… he had never succumbed to the temptations of the world: to boozing… He had built a house… he had loved. And he had an intimation of where love could lead. He had seen a couple of men walk on the moon. …he wasn’t afraid of death. He didn’t know where he had come from, and ultimately he didn’t know where to go.” This is how the author describes Andreas Egger’s life in one clean sweep in this memorable novella.

I am happy that I picked up this book as this pleasant little treat left me thinking more than i had imagined. Appropriately titled, A Whole Life is an English translation from the German work of Robert Seethaler by Charlotte Collins, published by Picador.

I am not going to dwell into the many literary high points of the book but will only like to mention one thought that shook me after I finished reading the book.

Though the story of Andreas Egger is narrated quite simply, his life is quite eventful, starting from the strange early days of his childhood to a prisoner of war in the World War 2 and finally as a tour guide in the Austrian Alps during the later part of his life. He lives in a small village in the mountains and a lot changes around as he sees the village ‘grow’ and ‘develop’ over the years. This whole ‘development’ overwhelms him and at a certain point of time he decides to move away from the village to dwell in a small cottage above the village from where he could see the valley, now spat with patches of concrete – the landscape which was once all green and natural. Several tourists from the cities visit the region and some of them behave quite insensitively to the environment. This whole idea made me wonder that how blind humans are – they know the difference between the good and the bad but they never care as they are convinced that only the future generations would suffer, not them.

The book reads well and the range of emotions portrayed will surely touch your heart. It’s a neatly written book with not a single ounce of fat anywhere. If you enjoy this genre, this one should not be missed.

 

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