Friday, September 29, 2006

The Battle of the Bailey's

As a journalist who does not believe in slander, but does believe in justice, I do not intend to name the airline by which I flew back from London to Madras; but I will say, though, that there was a changeover at Bombay, and a stopover at Ahmedabad about which none of us knew, and that it took me twenty hours from my departure from Heathrow to land in Madras. Besides, the food was stale and possibly comprised leftovers from the previous flights flown by this airline. I'm sure this is enough information to give most people a fair chance at guessing which airline I'm referring to. And if not, this will clinch it - the Map channel did not work, so that none of us knew where we were at any given time; and we had a choice of two movie channels, and Hindustani music on the audio channel.

The changeover at Bombay was the beginning of a series of nightmares; first of all, I was to have two and a half hours to kill, and was considering meeting a friend of mine, if she could take time off from her production house (which is incidentally run by an incomplete reincarnation of Vishwamitra, without the wisdom). I dedicate this entry to you, Anjali Iyer (well, that is her name). Now, I had a half hour, and in that time, I discovered I was running through a security check as part of new regulations. Wonderful.

As I got myself X-rayed, I heard someone screaming, while flashing my bag "kiska hai yeh? Oye!!!! Kiska hai?" and I said, "excuse me, that's mine" and one guy said "come with me, please, madam!" and pulled open my laptop bag, scattering everything in it. He then nearly tore open the polythene bag which had recently been exhibited. Then he pulled out a bottle of Bailey's and demanded to know where it had been purchased. I assured him it was from a duty free shop. Once he found out it was liquor - sorry, liqueur from abroad, he insisted it could not be carried in flight due to government regulations. When I protested that I had been assured that it could be, if it were bought in a duty free shop, he asked me to speak to the customer care desk. I was shcoked as he tore the tags off and then left me to repack everything, inclusive of my needlessly opened laptop bag.

"Whole process repeat, madam!" he said, looking at me with derision.

I ran to the Customer Care desk, and they said it could be sent as cargo. As I got back to the security check, my plane's check was over and a check was on for Mumbai-Dubai, and a woman would scream out, "Please come in the line!", assuming that I had jumped the queue; I assured her that that was not the case, but she was not convinced. A well-dressed man told me, "Anyway, we're all going on the same plane, it makes no difference" and I said, "is this the Bombay-Madras plane?" and he said "no", even as someone called out, usefully, "it's called Chennai now, and this is Mumbai". Well, the security officials gave me flak again, especially the woman who was doing the beeping (I'm sorry, I don't know the formal term for it). So I went to the Customer Care desk again, and this time, an official came with me, and told the security people to try and send it as cargo. But he told me they could not give me a receipt for breakables. I mentally bade goodbye to my Bailey's, but tried my last tactic - tears.
I didn't have to put my acting skills to test too much - the idea of missing my flight, and being stuck in Bombay while my heart was crying for home (which can only mean Madras, or grudgingly, London, because of the way that city grabs you out of the air and enfolds you in its arms) and losing my Bailey's on top of that, were enough provocation for my tear glands to start warming up. A kind-looking "Sir" - things work in India when you kiss the feet of the small fry - agreed to give me a receipt...and who should start arguing with him when he was writing it out but Mrs. Please-come-in-the-queue - "Is ladki kaise ithna bada whiskey bottle lehkar jaa sakthi? Aur main khyoon lipstick meri saath nahin lehkar jaa sakhoon?" (If my Hindi is un-understandable, like it usually is, she said - How can this girl carry such a big bottle of whiskey with her while I can't take my lipstick with me?) whereupon "Sir" began to argue with her instead of writing out my receipt.

It was 2:38 p.m. when I got into my flight and 2:50 pm when it took off. Tears were pouring through from a sense of humiliation and rage; my bottle arrived safely in Madras, and the airport staff here were as friendly as ever, but I was left wondering - what is it about a woman travelling alone with a bottle of liquor that makes people think they should try to stick out a leg in her way and watch her trip over? The question arises because I saw a couple claim two bottles of whiskey at the Madras airport; they were on the same flight, and had not been harassed at all. I am not a feminist by a long shot, but there are times when it strikes one how unfair it is that liquor, drugs, cigarettes and sex are bracketed together, and one demonstrating acceptance of one thing inevitably demonstrates acceptance of all.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

"You're Too Indian for Nudity!"

I was catching up with a friend of mine at Anokhi recently, and was all excited that The Constant Gardener was still playing in Madras. Ralph Fiennes is one of my stage and screen idols, and I had been stupid enough to miss the movie in London, last October.

"Do you want to go and see it?" I asked my friend.

"Nah...," he replied, "I'll buy the DVD."

"Oh come on, the quality's so much better on the big screen!"

"It's censored...and I believe a lot of important dialogue happens when they're making out."


It took me a while to remember that everything in India is censored, having watched over a hundred movies in England, where censorship, if it exists, cannot be perceived. What is it that makes people censor every movie? What is the point of shooting a scene only to have it snipped out of the film? Most of the Indian population has seen live nudity. So what is wrong with seeing it on screen? Are we too Indian to be exposed to it?

People complain about a thriving piracy market. But what is the way out, if we are to be able to see a film as it was intended to be seen? The same friend told me that American Beauty, as sold in India, does not have the scene where the weird guy's dad kisses Kevin Spacey. Isn't it completely absurd that a moment which defines the film is cut out because it is not in keeping with Indian "morals"? Who defines these morals, anyway? Should it be left to conservative individuals in the Censor Board? It makes me think what qualifications these people have. Are they certified film aficionados? If they were, they wouldn't be slashing films just because something that would be perceived as amoral by certain sections of society appears in those clips. Sometimes, I think, if outright pornography were allowed, you probably wouldn't have this phenomenon of eve-teasing.

This obsession with censorship reminds me of the padre in Cinema Paradiso, and the beautiful rush one feels when the grown-up Salvatore watches the reel Alfredo has left behind for him as a gift - the moments of passion from each film, strung together in a sequence that evokes heightened emotions from every heart. How many of us were dry-eyed as we watched that sequence? It is the most poignant moment in the film - a gift from one true fan to another.

But we - oh, we're too Indian for thank heavens we have a piracy market that doesn't censor the best moments in a film!


Sorry for neglecting the blog for so long, people...I was busy shooting a documentary and editing it, and have literally just got back to India.
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