Friday, December 04, 2015

The Permanent Visa

This news item today about a youth who, unable to get his money back from a services firm, is heart-rending:
He said to his colleague that ‘mera pakka visa lag gya hai, main hamesha lyi jaa reha haan’ (I got permanent visa and was going forever). After that we could not contact him again”, claimed the uncle.
The lack of contract enforcement has chilling effects on society.  Add to this the brutal economic conditions for the youth of Punjab which makes them desperate to go abroad.

To add insult to injury, he was robbed of his possessions after he consumed poison.

Are the policy makers and politicians who have looted the land and  stalled economic and judicial reforms not responsible for this senseless, tragic death?

Thursday, December 03, 2015

Some Notes on Tourist Photography

I recently returned from a world tour, having traveled to Turkey, Greece, Italy, India and Japan.

Especially in Italy (in the museums) and in Japan (at the temples and shrines), I couldn't help but notice the hordes of tourists with their cameras trying to capture everything.  I recognize I was a tourist too, but I did notice a curious fact: most tourists seemed more interested in capturing a picture of where they were than in experiencing the place and the feelings it evoked.

Say, we are at the Golden Temple in Kyoto (the Kinkau-ji).  It is a breathtaking and ethereal place, with the reflection of the temple in the small lake creating a dreamlike atmosphere.  One could keep watching the scene for hours.  But many a tourist would click a picture, and then immediately stop looking at what had been captured.  It was as if they were saying to themselves: Now that I have it in my camera, I can move on and capture something else.

It baffled me.  What's the point of clicking pictures instead of experiencing the place?  Are there not enough pictures available on the internet of that place already for one to enjoy and show others?  Why is it important to capture the picture in one's own camera?

I can still understand the narcissistic urge to capture a selfie or to ask someone to take a pic of oneself with the scene as the background (to show others that "I was there"), but to simply take a picture of a place seemed very irrational to me.

I felt it was very disrespectful to take a picture of something and then lose interest in the subject.  Is it better to enjoy something through one's camera than through one's own eyes?

In one of the outstanding museums in Rome (the Villa Borghese Gallery), I was happy to note that photography was prohibited, but I was quickly dismayed to learn later that only flash photography was disallowed. 

(As an aside, the Villa Borghese Gallery, apart from the marvelous scultptures by Bernini, was showcasing a great collection of fashion art by Azzedine Alaïa.)

I don't think it is realisitc to expect that in our lifetime, major tourist destinations will disallow photography.  In fact, as tourism is a major source of revenue for governments and private sector, any tourist-unfriendly rule will likely not see the light of day.  I am an aberration in the mass of tourists and I have no hope that my preferences will ever become normative.

If someone is a photographer and it is a unique scenery, by all means take a photo and showcase the scenery to the rest of the world.  But otherwise, why not just select one of the thousands of photos of that scene already available on the internet?

It is also more of a problem now that taking pictures is free of cost.  In earlier days, the cost of film and of developing the film gave some pause to photographers to be more discriminating in their activity.  Now, with digital photography that is supremely affordable, it is open season!

Class and Love in Bollywood

Indian mainstream films have come of age when it comes to portraying romance between a man and a woman from different social classes. 

In general, a higher-status man finds no problem marrying a lower-status woman because that is a "dream come true" for the woman (ref the story/fantasy of Cinderella).  The problem arises when a lower-status man falls in love with a higher-status woman.

Due to socialized hypergamy, it is considered a grave affront by the man.  If not the woman herself, her family ensures that the union does not happen.

The factor of class in love was brilliantly handled in Suraj Ka Satvan Ghoda  (Shyam Benegal, 1993), but that film was more about how the lower classes can only dream of love talked about in poems, while the reality is more brutal.

One of the earliest films I remember seeing is Hero (Subhash Ghai, 1983), in which the hero wins the girl only by protecting her from a big bad evil man and his gang.  Typical of the era, but still the middle portion of the film is quite entertaining.  The ending is a happy one, of course.

In all of the following films, the ending is tragic.

Let us consider four recent films which tackle this kind of a romance:

Love, Sex and Dhokha (Dibakar Banerjee, 2010)

In the first segment of this film (Love), a lower-class man falls in love with a middle-class woman in North India, and the atmosphere quickly turns dark and tragic.

I found the juxtaposition of love (as a fantasy) and brutality (as a reality) remarkable.  I am still haunted by the final sequence.

Rockstar (Imtiaz Ali, 2011)

A talented young man, curiously named Janardhan Jakhar (Indian heroes in mainstream films almost always have upper class surnames), falls in love with an upper class college-mate.  Once again, the turn of events is not a happy one.  Though the acting of the female lead is atrocious, the films has an outstanding soundtrack and I enjoyed the depiction of the male lead's social background.

Raanjhanaa (Aanand Rai, 2013)

The best of the lot, this film contains a stand-out performance by the south Indian actor Dhanush, and not only does it tackle the class divide between the man and the woman, it defies convention and political correctness by showing the female lead as unapologetically and brutally hypergamous.

Highway (Imtiaz Ali, 2014)

Hackneyed in many ways, the worst of the lot.  But still, the fact that the ending is again tragic is a sign of the times. 

Indian films are becoming more realistic and the bombastic wish-fulfillment of the 70s and 80s is a thing clearly of the past.