Tuesday, October 30, 2007

DJIA, inflation adjusted

The article speaks for itself: The Real Dow

Inflation adjusted return for Dow Jones Industrial Average is 1.64 percent compounded annually.

The following paragraphs are enough to induce humility in an irrationally exuberant investor:

"To illustrate: the Dow averaged 985.93 in 1/66, and 4746.76 in 9/95 = 4.81 times higher; the CPI-U was 31.8 in 1/66, and 153.2 in 9/95 = 4.82 times higher; thus, the Real Dow for 1/66 and 9/95 are very nearly equal at 46.4 (see plot). This plot is directly inspired by the 3/30/99 publication of such a plot, titled “Dow, Inflation Adjusted”, by The Wall Street Journal (in article “The First 10,000 Points. How It All Adds Up to 10000”, page C14); the agreeing overlay of the two plots is here with quoted text."

"Again to illustrate: the Dow averaged 985.93 in 1/66, and it was nearly the same 16.75 yr later, = 988.71 in 10/82; but the CPI-U increased from 31.8 in 1/66, to 98.2 in 10/82 = 3.09 times higher; thus, the Real Dow for 1/66 and 10/82 are very different, = 46.4 and 15.1 (see plot), a more than 2/3 decrease over the 16.75 yr."

Financial Foolishness

Came across the following article in a mainstream financial newspaper in India:

Mutual Funds Best Bet to Beat Inflation

The sheer stupidity of the article is staggering.

See, for example:

"he said even a regular investment of a small sum of Rs 200 a month through the Systematic Investment Plan (SIP) route for 6 or 7 years would fetch an investor Rs 12 lakh after 20 years subject to an annualised return of 10 per cent"

Now supposing the investor does better and invests 200x12x7 = 16800 right at the beginning. Compounding a non-inflation-adjusted return of 10% (as claimed) leads to a multiple of 1.1^20 = 6.72. 6.72 times the original principal = 112896.

Counting in inflation at 5% per annum, the multiple reduces to: 1.05^20 = 2.65, giving an inflation adjusted return at the end of 20 years = 44575.

It doesn't look as spectacular, correct?

Let's look further:

"In today’s scenario, the stock market would provide a return of 20-25 per cent annually."

Not so, that has been the historical long term performance of Sensex over 20 years (where individual years at times gave negative returns), inducing future performance from the past is completely irrational.

"When the returns are 20 per cent, the maturity value at the end of 20 years would be doubled to Rs 24 lakh. Investment of Rs 500 every month could get a return of Rs 30- Rs 35 lakh after 20 years whereas the actual investment is only for 6 or 7 years. No other savings could match the return provided by MFs."

Alright, let's calculate. Suppose the investor invests 500x12x7 = 42000 right at the beginning, and earns a non-inflation-adjusted return of 20%. Over a 20 year period, the compounding multiple of principal = 38.33. Asset value = 16 lakhs. (when it is claimed to be 30-35 lakhs).

Counting inflation of 5%, the returns are only 16 times = 672000.

Assuming, of course the following:

1. The market is not in a temporary crash after 20 years (which might take 5 more years to get out of).

2. The market behaves in the long term and the investment does not get blown up.

3. One discounts MF loads, brokerage charges and MF management charges.

Finally, the piece-de-resistance:

"Offering a personal example, he said `believe me or not, I am investing and making money only after reading the business column in the Business Line.'"


Monday, October 29, 2007

INLAND EMPIRE by David Lynch

The latest film by David Lynch is the third in his (for lack of a name) Identity-under-attack trilogy. Both the earlier films, Lost Highway and Mulholland Drive, bring a crisis of identity to an exquisitely realized vision. The crisis of identity happens at two levels in both films. Firstly the identity is humiliated by the infidelity of one's partner, and secondly it suffers confusion and a nightmarish escape from the painful reality of the consequences of one's response to that infidelity.

INLAND EMPIRE is superficially about the same theme, infidelity and the identity under attack. But in this film, Lynch considers infidelity to be not just a cause of an identity crisis, but also an effect of it.

On the surface, the film is about an aging actress, Nikki Grace, who acts in a film about infidelity and murder. In her desire to embody her character totally, she gets possessed by it to the extent that she is unable to make a meaningful distinction between her dreams, hallucinations, the film role and her actual reality.

Lynch, in one of the most rebellious acts by a mainstream director, shot and edited the film himself on a consumer grade camcorder and distributed it himself. The film has mainly played in film festivals and has only recently been released on DVD.

Cinematic art is especially prone to leading its participants towards an identity crisis. First, a real life event (an actual occurrence of infidelity, "the longest running show in history") inspires the artist to create a fictional account of it (the Polish gypsy tale). This is the first creation of another world. Secondly, in a cinematic adaptation of a fictional text, the actors are asked to play the characters and not be themselves. This is the second creation, doubly removed from reality. Thirdly, the spectators watch the enactment of this second reality on a screen, which is not real but is a projection of light, and identify with the characters on screen. Spectators feel happy, sad, fearful, angry, by identifying with the storyline and its characters.

One of the most interesting ideas explored in this film is what happens to an artist when she sees herself playing a character on the screen. She was already there, playing it for real. Now she is watching herself on the screen and as a spectator, trying to identify with what the director is trying to convey by the mood of the film, the lighting and the thousand other things which she didn't notice when she was engrossed in playing her part.

There has been a lot of discussion about the admittedly hard-to-understand narrative (or the lack of narrative) in the film. However, it is easier to enjoy and appreciate this film if one sees it as a maze in which one's identity is lost and not everything makes complete sense.

The first time there is a hint of the identity being cursed is when the actress starts embodying the role and she gets emotionally affected. Someone sees another presence in the set, and that perception is literally true, though the seeing was not of a physical being but of a new persona arriving.

Also explored are themes of feminine entanglement versus masculine distancing in a relationship. This distant-ness, or the lack of emotional depth can be considered a childish trait of an ego not fully developed. Males are repeatedly depicted as mental and emotional infants in this film.

The director is scathingly critical about the values of show business and about the commodification of a woman's body, about how the size of one's breasts determines success for a woman in almost any field (be it a nightclub, cinema, in one's career, on the street or in finding a life partner). And about how show-business is peculiarly cruel to women actresses. The sequence where Sue is bleeding on the boulevard of the stars is the one of most harrowing depictions in history of glamor versus suffering.

Some of the scene compositions are breathtaking in their originality and though it is a long film, it never feels long. As is usual with Lynch, the sound design and music in the film is superlative. The end titles are an exuberant treat in themselves.

Recommendation: Must-see.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

INLAND EMPIRE by David Lynch (pre-screening)

The Chandigarh Art Films Club is screening the latest work by David Lynch on this Sunday.

This is a film which will never run in a theater in India and most people will never hear of it, but this is a film that I have wanted to see for more than an year.

From the review by Walter Chaw:

Writing about it is perhaps, to paraphrase Frank Zappa, like dancing about architecture, but Inland Empire is a fascinating, terrifying document of the machinations of the lizard brain and even the instinct to represent it in story and image--of how all the intricate steps in the waltz of love and jealousy (and art and expression) might just be the product of millennia of biological hardwiring.

Friday, October 19, 2007

The Horror of the Progeny

Three films: Benny's Video by Michael Haneke, Rosemary's Baby by Roman Polanski and EraserHead by David Lynch are diverse approaches to the deep-rooted fear and horror at the anxiety of bringing forth an inhuman child into the world.

Benny's Video, the second film in the emotional glaciation trilogy by Michael Haneke, is about the total breakdown of the sense of the other in the "supermodern" world.

Our primary interface to the world has become technological. As more and more of what we see what is fed to us by media, a strange kind of narcissism, self-absorption and apathy colors our self. No longer knowing the difference (or perhaps the economic forces actually seek to erase this difference) between an artificial image and reality, between an advertisement and a news bulletin, between what is shown and what is happening, makes us what can be called as virtual human beings, who behave and look like humans but have become so programmable and subjectively dead (lacking any authentic perception) that we might as well be androids.

Benny, a teenager, sees the world through his video equipment. The primary experience of life for the modern man is by proxy. Through TV, cinema, newspapers, the invisible creators of the virtual world shape our self. And how can a child succeed against the polished skills of the masters of mass communication? How will the parents protect a child from the media? The media is the world for the modern man.

The day starts with the newspaper, happens at the computer, and ends with television or a film. The direct experience of life is a luxury, unachieveable even as a tourist in a village. We have come so far (and moving farther every day) from a life of genuine human contact that our clumsy efforts to regain that humanity for ourselves are invariably futile or, worse, disastrous. It is in this context that one can understand the bitter urge of Non Resident Indians to involve themselves in some way for the betterment of their motherland.

The generation gap depicted in Benny's Video is not of different values or priorities in life, it is the horror of having a child with whom there is no sense of communication or understanding. The assumption that most urban children make, that their parents can't understand them, is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Alienation is a vicious cycle in which every dose of apathy in the outer world makes one more and more apathetic oneself.

There are two scenes of painful crying in the film, and if the first (the unknown girl) is horrific in its brutality, the second (the mother) is tragic in its hysterical perception of the inhumanity of what came out of oneself.

In Rosemary's Baby, Roman Polanski has brought to film the worst nightmare of an expectant mother. All the fears and phobias, that one might actually give birth to a monster, that one might be trapped into caring (because it is one's creation) for a being that is alien and vile, that one will see a propagation of one's self in the worst possible way, are brought to a genre-defying climax.

What is remarkable about the ending is not the discovery, but the effect of that discovery on the mother. The horror is not what is brought forth, the horror is the loving acceptance of it.

The film is good, but not a masterpiece. It has little to say to one on a repeat viewing.

In David Lynch's first film, Eraserhead, he points his camera gaze at the post-industrial fear of commitment. This highly stylized film, with a collection of memorable and disturbing mise-en-scene's brings into sharp b&w focus the struggle of the modern intellectual man to evade the trappings of caring for an unwanted child.

Is it heretical to question the affection and love that parents feel for their child, no matter how ugly or deformed he is? The film is symbolic in various ways. The lady in the radiator, the benevolent Goddess is symbolic of freedom and happiness. The head and the hair are symbolic of intellection, which might as well be thrown out when one tries to fit in one monstrous responsibility after another in one's life.

Also dealt with are notions of carnal guilt leading to commitment, the evaporation of personal space, the fear of being used up for something extremely trivial, and of shared responsibilities in a nuclear family.

All three films are remarkable and a film enthusiast should not miss an opportunity to see them.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Gerry by Gus van Sant

Not for the easily bored, Gerry is a homage to Bela Tarr's meditative cinema from the American director Gus van Sant.

Superficially, the film is about two friends who get lost in a desert of dreamlike proportions and changing vistas. That's all.

It is a film which can get you to tune into a different rhythm in your brain. The experience is best described as trance-like.

What does the desert mean? What do the hallucinations about the road signify? Who are the two people, or are they the masculine and feminine of humanity, the ego and the id?

Gerry is the first in the "Death Trilogy" by Gus van Sant. The second film, Elephant is equally, if not more, spellbinding.

I am yet to see the last one: Last Days.

Once one has tasted the appetizer that is this trilogy, one might be ready for the monumental seven-hour epic, Satantango by Bela Tarr.

Recommendation: Must-see.

(If there is a large number of good films in my reviews, it is because as I am starting out writing about films, I find it easier to write about the films that I have liked the best).

Old Joy by Kelly Reichardt

One of the best films of 2006, almost completely overlooked (except in art circles).

A deeply affecting tale of the effect of time on joy and youthfulness. Two friends, who have drifted in life in very different directions, meet up after many years and spend two days together.

A minimalistic masterpiece, it will appeal to men more than to women (but remarkably, the director is a woman). The film is a meditative reflection on joy, or the lack of it in our lives, on the trappings of civilization, and on the fate of evading those traps.

It is an intensely individual experience, hence I recommend seeing it on your own.

Recommendation: Must-see.

Facets of Depersonalization

Technology affects culture. An explosion of communication technologies is driving not just the form, but also the content of messaging between people today. A communication is only as deep and genuine, and as treasured, as the time, thought and effort put into it.

Ease can also lead to callousness.

Writing a letter on paper used to take at least half an hour, and many days or weeks to reach. Coupled with the physical touch of the chosen paper, the watermark, the smell and texture of the ink, the handwriting, the writing in the margins, the post-script (which is meaningless in an electronic medium), the address on the envelope, the hazy postmark, the choice of the stamp, the way the envelope was glued... Even without considering the content, there was so much that was unique to a paper letter that it was a thing to treasure, to look up after many years when the paper had yellowed and smelled different, to read again and again and recognize an affirmation of oneself as a human being who was thought of. And as the letter was an infrequent thing, it also contained tidbits of events spanning a longer time-frame: the health of the family, the evolution of one's thought, the planning of a celebration...

My aim is not to romanticize the past, but to see in which way we are blindly driven by technology to change the nature of human interactions.

Greeting cards was the next step. Eloquent messages about the particular relationship ("The best mother on earth", "Happy Birthday Dear Brother", "Friendship") made the other feel better than any hand-written letter could make them. This was the first "outsourcing" of message-content. One could just write "Dear Mom", and "Affectionately, your son xxx" and the rest of the message could be taken care of (along with sweet pictures of flowers and scenery). Yes, we could choose between say, twenty different greeting cards, but does that make it any different, or any less depersonalized?

The strange thing is, sometimes it takes more time to shop for a greeting card than to write a letter. But there is a reason why people still shop for them. The greeting cards lie romantically. Most of us have neither the skill to be poetically romantic nor to express hyperbolic sentiments about the relationship.

Also, the verbalizing of emotion makes the emotion superficial, and that is why we find it hard to write a letter of our love to our parents or to our siblings. The card is not authentic, and therefore its over-the-top exclamations are also curiously acceptable. The love or affection between people doesn't need to be put into descriptive words, comparing (for example) our mother to other mothers or describing the value-addition they have meant for us. Hence, writing letters is also inherently a tougher task. What creative and original words can one write, after all, since the whole "keeping in touch" is a ritual to stroke each other's egos and keep the emotional bonds tugged tight?

But the messaging in greeting cards is a great study in inter-human expectations, and to see why they appeal so much (despite them being formulaic) can be an instructive exercise.

When greeting cards were still a new thing, people were teary eyed at getting them, the colored envelope and the oh-so-heartfelt (but professionally written) message inside, without perhaps realizing that that card was printed in thousands with very careful attention to what people would like to say to (or hear from) each other.


The proliferation of computer and mobile telephone networks breaks altogether new ground. Let's briefly review the situation at present:

- We are in touch. We have hundreds of email addresses of people: our childhood friends, our classmates, our extended family, our past colleagues.

- Mobile phones flaunt their 1000-entry address books.

- It is considered a feature to be able to send a mass message via one's phone to hundreds of recipients.

- We are part of faceless online communities: multiple social networks, mailing lists, forums and newsgroups.

- We have almost unlimited storage space for our old emails, but little time to ever review them at leisure.

- Through twitter, facebook, and other such contraptions, we know exactly which song our friend is listening at present, where he hiked to last week, which news stories she finds interesting, which are his favorite films, which books he recently read, ...

- We have automated reminders of others' birthdays and anniversaries (whereas the whole purpose of wishing somebody on their birthday is to express that we care enough for them to remember it).

- We receive probably dozens of personal emails (and many times more work-related emails) every day. For the personal emails, the interesting question to ask is: how many of them are worthy of being treasured? How much time is spent on writing them, reading them, thinking about them and in replying to them?

- We are addicted to the "latest". But since it is too time consuming to keep up with the latest happenings in hundreds of online places, "Feeds" comes to the rescue. Now one can be up to date without much manual effort. (I recently came across a news article describing a feed-junkie: that person had more than 600 site feeds in his RSS reader.)

- Greeting cards have a new avatar: E-greeting cards. Choose from a dozen or so animated pictures, put in the recipient email address and off it goes. Probably it can be automatically linked with our calendars (where we store others' anniversaries etc.). On the recipient side, probably an automated email filter will file the "Happy Birthday" wishes into a special folder, to be read and replied en masse.

- Emails allow responses in which the original text can be preserved, the replies merely being in the form of an annotation to the original text. Hence messages can be sent which are almost entirely responsive in nature.

- Hyper-linked content encourage attention deficit disorder. Due to the "unknown" nature of what lies behind a link, the mind has a tendency to de-focus on the present page and click and open (perhaps in a different tab in the browser) the various links in an article.

- One can have multiple open conversations in an instant messenger, without the other realizing it.

I think there ought to be a term: "information greed". Only recently in human history has it become possible for a human being to know about the entire world, have an unlimited vista (to an astonishing level of detail) of the workings, thoughts and activities of billions of people, all the films and books ever written, all the TV shows, all the software ever made, all the philosophies, religions, cults, sects available to one at the touch of a button.

With this storm, deluge and maelstrom of information, where does one stop? Being on the internet is like being in Manhattan or Tokyo or Bombay. There is SO much to see, absorb, so many people going around, so many billboards, things crying for one's attention, and so little time.

It is not possible to be empathetic in a big metro because empathy is possible only towards a limited set of people. How many will you empathize with when driving on the Ring Road in New Delhi? Just as relentless physical crowding takes away one's capability for genuine empathy, similarly, trying to keep in touch with too many people online (just because it is possible) takes away the depth in one's communication.

Most of the personal communication that I see happening around is not original. They are second-hand, facile and in a word: consumptive. Forwarded emails, feel-good powerpoint slides about the Dalai Lama, the Ten Rules of friendship, difference between a woman and a bottle of beer, chicken-soup-for-the-soul stories about conquering the odds, the pronunciation mistakes of Bush (and not his disastrous foriegn policy), urban legends and spurious health warnings, epidemiological and post-hoc "research", dieting tips, celebrity gossip, ...

One might find the way Donald Knuth deals with his email interesting.

On the mobile phones, SMS witticisms and jokes present a laugh in ten seconds and in two lines. Some claim that the messages are coined by specialists in mobile phone companies and are then sent out into the world, to rake in millions from clueless customers who have a chuckle, and then blindly forward them to all they know. Personal SMS messages, since they are so difficult to type, are short and abbreviated. Since the day is so tight, one of the prime uses of SMS is to touch base, to agree on an eatery or on the time to meet up or that one is getting late.

One can understand the abbreviation and the lack of pronunciation in an SMS, but this is now spreading to email and instant messaging, stressing that this a symptom of one's restlessness rather than a restriction of the medium. Dis instead of This, 2gud instead of "too good", "tc" (short for "take care") as the final remark in an online conversation, and of course the opening line in online dating: a/s/l (Age/Sex/Location)...

At any moment during the day, there are hundreds of known people online, holding a mobile phone in their hands or having a computer in front of them. Communication is so inexpensive so as to be almost free. In this milieu, "keeping in touch" becomes a tiresome and ultimately undo-able exercise, unless one starts using canonical mass forwarded messages. But then, what does that "keeping in touch" mean if one is only forwarding depersonalized information?

And if one does not keep in touch, is one therefore guilty of disloyalty to one's friends and relatives?

This is a very recent and real phenomenon, and one which is going to get more pronounced as time goes on. One will feel less and less at leisure, the days and months and years will pass as if in a flurry and yet nothing will be there to talk about.

One will be up-to-date at the time of one's death, knowing the stock prices and the discount telephone calling plans and the availability of a torrent of the latest chart busters, having thousands of emoticon laden unread messages in one's inbox, and hundreds of unread feeds. Up-to-date, in touch, and ... fondly remembered for the nice forwards and SMSes.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Day Night Day Night by Julia Loktev

A masterful debut by Julia Loktev, a Russian filmmaker, this film is a silent journey into the void of a heart which is without any glimmer of joy.

The review by Jim Hemphill recommends this film with more eloquence than I can.

But I will add that the final sequence is the closest any filmmaker in my knowledge has come to portraying the nihilism of a world without God. And though the film uses a few tricks, the effect achieved in the second half is nothing less than electrifying. Pathbreaking cinema.

Recommendation: Must-see.

Friday, October 05, 2007

The Bourne Ultimatum by Paul Greengrass

Lights! Camera! Action!!

Films dealing with violence and destruction fall into some broad genres:

Westerns: Wide open vistas, sparsely populated towns, primitive weapons, horses, stereotypes of valor and chivalry.

War: Organized violence, heavy machinery and planning, grime, the brotherhood of fighters, memories of home.

Action: Urban (typically metropolitan) setting, suave, witty, modern handguns and peripherals, car chases, destruction of civic property, breaking of traffic rules, high-tech.

There was a time in Hollywood, when urban violence between man and man became so predictable and trite that the studios had to go in for aliens, robots and machines fighting against each other (the Robocop series, the Terminator series, Independance Day, the Men in Black series). After all, a man can only do so much. And one is relieved of the need for compassion when watching machines fight each other, or when watching ugly aliens die. One can just revel in the spectacle of destruction.

That period is still continuing (The Transformers is a recent example).

But the old "between man and man" action film is not dead, yet. Some of the biggest recent hits in Hollywood have been either sequels or remakes of classic action films. It is back to cops and gangsters (The Departed), the civic-sense hero versus the shut-them-down-villain (Die Hard 4.0) and now the man on the run versus the state: The Bourne Ultimatum.

Paul Greengrass is very well known for his last film, United 93. The handheld camera techniques he so effectively used in that film to portray the immediacy of doom is carried over to this film, and it is quite effective, at times.

After watching the latest action film, I used to ask myself: What will they do next? What novelty will there be in the next action film regarding the pyrotechnics, the gun battles and the chases?

In Die Hard 4.0, the novelty was in the speeding up of the action scenes, unbelievably (and laughably) bold acts of the hero, and in the (at times clumsy) editing where jump cuts were utilized to show a fast paced movement from various angles.

This is an action film in the true sense of the word. See the poster, for example. The hero is in motion, "in action", and that is true not just of the poster, it is true for the entire length of the film. It is not a stationary shot, it is a shot of movement.

In this film, the novelties (or the tricks) are many, and most of them work.

- The scenes are shot using handheld cameras with the shakiness adding to the realism and the tension.

- The scenes are very "happening" and fast and are edited using hundreds of jump cuts. Some of the scenes are hard to follow, but it works most of the time.

- The accompanying score is relentless and very well-paced.

- The sound effects are very loud, hyper-real and create an immediacy of destruction (e.g. in the destruction of the police car).

- The protagonist is very ruthless and skilled, and takes split second decisions. The action sequences are therefore whirlwind.

Director Greengrass realizes that this is an action film of the Twenty First century, exploiting the large metropolitan environments and the polished textures they provide for an action hero.

He drives this home by the numerous "eye in the sky" shots of the metro areas, the imagery of the vast concrete structures and the extreme density of a modern city.

The level of surveillance capability that today's governments have is probably exaggerated in this film, but the day is not far where the tracking of an individual or the analysis of a word spoken anywhere in the world on a wire will be available at the push of a button.

This film is the state of the art in the action genre.

Recommendation: Very Good.

300 by Zack Snyder

In The Battle of Thermopylae, circa 480 BC, three hundred Spartans, under the leadership of King Leonidas, and a few hundred Greek allies valiantly held back the invading Persian armies (with a combined strength of more than half a million people) for 3 days. Their superhuman herosim inspired the Greek army to rise and defeat the Persian invasion of King Xerxes and his armies.

This film is based on the graphic novel by Frank Miller. The dialogue and the composition of several scenes is taken directly from the novel.

Visually stunning, with state of the art audio-visual effects, the film is a masterful choreography of war. Seen on a purely sensate level, the artists have created some of the most awe-inspring frames in cinema history. There are a few scenes which stand out as truly remarkable, including the last of King Leonidas, in which his teary but valiant eyes look up to his fate.

The story, though an actual historical event, is the stuff of mythic hero-worship and legend, and the director doesn't hold back in any way. This film is a rendition of hyperbole, and should be enjoyed as such (at least on a first viewing), as children who hear about an ancient battle from a grandfather.


The criticism that the film is racist is indeed valid, and in the current world-stage, such a depiction of white supremacy may fuel an already heightened sense of one's communal and racial identities.

But some say that this is after all a comic book adaptation, and it is perhaps to be enjoyed as such. The response to that is: Even comic books are a part of one's culture, and deconstruction must happen where the audience will be hypnotized by the scale and felicity of the narrative. Because something can be enjoyed at such a visceral level and provoke such a strong adrenaline response, therefore must a critic be extremely calm, balanced and clinical when talking about it. It is no use recommending a film to someone just after one has had a cathartic or heartfelt response to it in the theater. One must wait, let the rush pass, and then reflect on the artistry and the message.

I enjoyed the film immensely, but I also thought about it later. Just as in most films of modern wars, this film also individuates the occidental man, and creates a crowd of the oriental ones. The occidental man is man in the image of God, such art proclaims, whereas the oriental herds are no better than cattle driven by a master. This worldview is partly driven by the fact that the films are primarily for a western audience, most of who have little motivation, or capability, to empathise or understand the mystic and hazy East. Almost all the films made in Hollywood related to the Vietnam war fall in the same trap.

There have been a few films which have depicted the German experience of the First or Second World War, and strangely, one is led to conclude that racial identities are stronger than national ones. Germans are usually not depicted as part of a herd, but as opaque, brave and empathize-able victims of a megalomaniac.

Only recently, a director (Clint Eastwood) has tried to do something different. He has crafted two films about the Battle of Iwo Jima in the second world war. Flags of Our Fathers sees the battle from American eyes, and Letters from Iwo Jima see it from the Japanese ones. I am yet to see both the films, but just the conception of this theme deserves commendation.

The war affects both the invaders and the invaded. And in the Kings' lust for power and revenge, the soldiers on both sides are unwitting pawns, maimed and murdered in the belief that one is serving one's destiny.

Bravery, heroism against insurmountable odds and testosterone-driven aggression appeal at an instinctual level, but is killing, without mercy, something that we, as humans, were "born to do" (as Dilios says in the voice-over)?

Haven't we come far from that primitive stage?

Probably not.

Recommendation: Must-see.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Dekalog 5 by Krzysztof Kieślowski

The Dekalog is a series of ten 1-hour films, each dealing with one of the ten commandments of Christianity as reflected in the modern world.

Dekalog 5 is about the commandment "Thou Shalt Not Kill" and is the most polemical of the ten films, giving expression to a personal, strongly held belief of the director.

The film raises a great many questions about modern society and the alienation it can cause.

There are three principal characters in the film: The Defense Counsel, The Taxi Driver and The Young Man.

The defense counsel is a lawyer, fresh out of the academy. He defends his heartfelt thesis opposing capital punishment during his bar exam.

The taxi driver is a mean, sadistic boor but one who also has his moments of kindness.

The young man is a homeless vagabond, full of bitterness and hatred. He encounters many people in the film. Each encounter says something about his relationship to the world.

His first encounter is with a sketch maker and a young girl in a red dress.
(He also sees the red girl later, outside the window of the cafe).

His second encounter is with an old woman feeding pigeons in the square.

His third encounter is with an unknown man in a public restroom.
(He sees the unknown man again on the road when instructing the taxi driver to go left).

What these three encounters mean is for viewers to subjectively interpret.


Using hundreds of filters to render a dark, brooding atmosphere as the film progresses, Kieslowski presents a chilling view of man's violence to man, whether it be born of emotion, or of reason.

It is easy to present a case against death penalty by pointing to the unjustness of it in cases the defendant is innocent or is unable to defend himself with able lawyers, but in this case the lawyer is an outstanding one, the crime is premeditated, without a doubt horrendous and the culpability certain.

In this way, stacking the odds against himself, the director proceeds to show why, still, we must feel what he wants us to feel.

It is easier to jail and take away someone's life than to reform an environment in which man cannot find a reason to be kind. Much easier.

The final sequence in the jail is a masterful tour de force, and it moves me deeply every time I see it. The fore-knowledge of one's end lends a strange poignancy to one's thoughts, words and acts. Never did the smoking of a cigarette on the screen burn so deep a hole in one's heart.

Recommendation: Must-see

Three Revolutionaries

Bhagat Singh's birth centenary has just passed. In India and elsewhere, there has been renewed interest in his life and message. It is pertinent to enquire whether revolutionary tactics work in the modern world, and what is the fate of people who, driven by ideology, embrace violence and opposition to the state in pursuing change.

In this essay, I briefly discuss three prominent revolutionaries of Punjab of the last century: the Marxist-Anarchist Bhagat Singh, the well-known Naxalite poet Avtar Singh Sandhu (also known as Paash) and the little known Naxalite poet Lal Singh Dil.

Bhagat Singh was born in 1907 in a family of Jats who were actively opposing the British rule in India. Due to the influence of his father and other relatives, he also, at a very early age, became convinced that he would dedicate his life to bringing about freedom for India. He became disillusioned with Gandhi's insistence on non-violence, formed his own group of radical communists who tried to irritate the British rule in various ways. To avenge the death of Lala Lajpat Rai, another freedom fighter, who succumbed to his injuries after being thrashed by the police while he was leading a protest rally, Bhagat Singh and some of his accomplices decided to kill the police chief. However, they mistakenly killed some other officer, J P Saunders.

He went into hiding and started publishing leaflets and underground papers.

To protest a new law giving more powers to the British rules to deal with the rising insurgents, Bhagat Singh and his accomplice threw bombs in the Assembly to grab attention (the bombs were not thrown in the direction of anyone present) and shouted slogans. He was duly arrested, found to be also guilty of the murder of Saunders and sentenced to death by hanging. He, and two others, were hanged to death in 1931.

His revolutionary ideas and death did little to catalyse the masses in Punjab. In the blind devotion to his cause of a violent revolution leading to the "dictatorship of the proletariat" and in his eagerness to achieve martyrdom (he declined to enter a plea of clemency), he failed to achieve any change of lasting value. There were a few riots in Punjab after his hanging but the party that he was a leader of dissolved soon after and Gandhi's non-violent protests took center stage.

He was a staunch Marxist, had an almost religious belief in the ideas of Marx and Engels (and later, Bakunin as well). He looked at the Bolshevik revolution as worthy of emulation and considered Lenin a great hero.

So the question is: Did he squander away his life in vain? (The vanity of being a martyr in the image that Marx had created.)

Avtar Singh Sandhu, or Pash, was born in 1950 and in his youth, became immersed in the revolutionary Naxalite movement in Punjab as a poet. He wrote fiery poems to rouse people from their slumber. He was falsely implicated in a murder case, was jailed for two years, came out, got married, and became burdened with financial difficulties. He went to the US for a while and tried to earn some money (thus violating his visa terms), became entangled in some petty disputes with other radicals in US who reported him to the immigration authorities. He came back to India. While he was planning to go back to the US via Mexico etc., he and a friend were killed by Sikh separatists in his village in 1988.

His legacy is a few books of his poems, bubbling with rage and refusal. In his time, he must have managed to enthuse a few young men to enter the Naxalite movement. Today, the Naxalite movement is completely finished in Northern India, while it continues in other parts where it is engaged in extremely violent attacks on police and the government machinery. The government is planning involving the armed forces to root it out.
Most treacherous is not the robbery
of hard earned wages
Most horrible is not the torture by the police.
Most dangerous is not the graft for the treason and greed.

To be caught while asleep is surely bad
surely bad is to be buried in silence
But it is not most dangerous.
To remain dumb and silent in the face of trickery
Even when just, is definitely bad
Surely bad is reading in the light of a firefly
But it is not most dangerous.

Most dangerous is
To be filled with dead peace
Not to feel agony and bear it all,
Leaving home for work
And from work return home

Most dangerous is the death of our dreams.
Most dangerous is that watch
Which run on your wrist
But stands still for your eyes.

Most dangerous is that eye
Which sees all but remains frostlike,
The eye that forgets to kiss the world with love,
The eye lost in the blinding mist of the material world.

That sinks the simple meaning of visible things
And is lost in the meaning return of useless games.

Most dangerous is the moon
Which rises in the numb yard
After each murder,
But does not pierce your eyes like hot chilies.

Most dangerous is the song
Which climbs the mourning wail
In order to reach your ears
And repeats the cough of an evil man
At the door of the frightened people.
Most dangerous is the night
Falling in the sky of living souls,
Extinguishing them all

In which only owls shriek and jackals growl,
And eternal darkness covers all the windows.

Most heinous is the direction
In which the sun of the soul light
Pierces the east of your body.

Most treacherous is not the
robbery of hard earned wages
Most horrible is not the torture of police
Most dangerous is not graft taken for greed and treason.
Again, the question is: Did he squander away his life in vain, unmindful of the reality of a post-colonial democracy where radical violent revolutionary tactics have no chance of succeeding?

Lal Singh Dil was born in 1944. He went to school and college despite extreme financial hardship at home. Started writing poems. Became a daily wager while continuing to be a poet.

Despite his poverty and hardship, he was extremely sensitive. While in college, he went into deep psychological trauma because of the way he, a sensitive poet, was treated as less than human because of his caste. He joined the Naxalite movement but there also he was treated as a low-level errands-boy by the upper-caste Naxalites.

He was arrested by the police on a false charge and was brought before the the DSP, a senior officer of the police who belonged to the Jat caste. Seeing a Naxalite from the lower strata of the society, the DSP flew into a rage and started beating him, while exclaiming "Ab chammar kranti layenge is desh mein? (Now you untouchables will bring revolution to this country?)" Lal Singh dared the DSP to torture him enough to get him to say his name. After beating him mercilessly and seriously injuring him (leading to a lifelong mental imbalance), the DSP left tired and disgusted.

After he was released from jail, he became mentally sick, never married and stayed with his mother till his death. Many of his friends and other writers tried to make him self-reliant, but he had started drinking and could not hold a job. Towards the end of his life, he was running a roadside tea vend (on the right in the photograph below).

He died in a hospital on August 15, 2007. It was ironic that August 15 is India's independance day.

His poetry was never widely known. Some of his friends collected his poems and published them in book form but he never knew it.

I quote a poem by him here:
Does love have any reason to be?
Does the fragrance of flowers have any roots?
Truth may, or may not have an intent
But falsity is not without one

It is not because of your azure skies
Nor because of the blue waters
Even if these were deep gray
Like the color of my old mom’s hair
Even then I would have loved you

These treasure trove of riches
Are not meant for me
Surely not.

Love has no reason to be
Falsity is not without intent

The snakes that slither
Around the treasure trove of your riches
Sing paeans
And proclaim you
"The Golden Bird"
(The reference is to ancient India termed as a Golden Bird because of its perceived riches.)

Monday, October 01, 2007

Sadhguru's lineage?

Found this at one of rickross.com forums:
A significant number of people (including me) were drawn to dubious gurus for seemingly innocuous things like yoga and meditation. Before we realize what is happening we are drawn deep into their practices and we begin to lose our logic and rationality. I wish I had known to do background checks into sadhgurus and gurus. The first 'guru' we got involved in the United States is 'Sadhguru' Jaggi Vasudev. Calls himself self Enlightened and teaches pranayam and meditation. Anyone attending his 'free' intro class would be struck by his logic, eloquence and seemingly friendly way in which he conducts his into class. All the other stuff comes later by which time it might be too late. Anyone encountering altered states of consciousness, hysterical laughing, crying etc., on the first day would flee the place. But the progressive way in which you are exposed to this makes every one of these appear natural and normal. Too late did I come to know that this Enlightened yogi was trained by Rishi Prabhakar, founder of SSY, who himself was a disciple of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and Werner Erhard.
For more information, one can refer to Rishi Prabhakar, Cult Information on Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Werner Erhard and his legacy The Landmark Forum (wikipedia article on the Landmark Forum).