Saturday, June 30, 2012

150 protesters arrested in Chennai


(Published in Millennium Post on 29 June, 2012)

150 protesters, including women and children, were arrested at a protest demanding the implementation of the Right to Education Act, in Chennai.

The group held a demonstration in Nungambakkam area of the city, in front of the office of the Directorate of School Education.

They were demanding that 25 percent of seats in private schools be reserved for underprivileged students.

As the protesters tried to create a blockade, a posse of police personnel, headed by Assistant Commissioner Venkatachalam, broke up the gathering, and arrested 150 people, including 15 children and 45 women. 7 people who were injured while resisting arrest were admitted in Kilpauk Medical College hospital.

The issue of reservation of 25 percent of the seats in private schools is a contentious issue in the city, which many believe has enough government schools, and government-aided schools to cater to the needs of the underprivileged.

Parents are also worried that private schools may try to make up for the lower fees paid by underprivileged children by hiking the already exorbitant fees for other students, to compensate.

38 injured in Chennai bus accident


(Published in Millennium Post on 28 June, 2012)
A bus carrying more than 50 passengers overturned on Gemini Flyover in the arterial Anna Salai of Chennai, on Wednesday afternoon. The cause of the accident was not immediately clear, and witness accounts blamed it on varied reasons, including speeding, overcrowding, and the driver losing control of the bus.
38 of the passengers were injured in the accident, and were sent to nearby private and government hospitals for medical attention. Of them, 12 have already been discharged, and there are no reports of serious injuries thus far.
The bus, which was plying from Parry’s Corner to Vadapalani, is believed to have fallen off the bridge when the driver took a blind turn. However, the “sharp bend”, which some media reports have blamed the accident on, has been unchanged for the four decades that the flyover has existed.
The Metropolitan Transport Corporation says the driver was speeding. A complaint has been registered at the Pondy Bazaar police station, and the bus driver Prasad, and conductor Hemakumar have been called in for questioning.
Though police and personnel from the fire brigade were rushed to the spot, the bus was removed only two hours after the mishap. Traffic was blocked for several hours, and onlookers crowded the area, causing further confusion.
Bus breakdowns are very common in Chennai, the public transport system of which is struggling to cope with a burgeoning population. With the metro under construction, there have been traffic diversions, causing further congestion on arterial roads. Bus drivers complain that their vehicles are in poor condition, and prone to brake failures and problems in the gearbox.

Tamil fishermen attacked by Sri Lankan Navy


(Published in Millennium Post, on 27 June, 2012)

A group of Indian fishermen was attacked near Katchatheevu island in the early hours of Tuesday, by the Sri Lankan Navy.

The fishermen alleged that they were first fired upon. Then, members of the Sri Lankan Navy climbed aboard their boats and threw their catch into the sea. The fishermen claimed their nets were also cut and torn by the Lankan Navy.

More than 600 boats had left the coast of Rameswaram on Monday. The fishermen said they were fishing in Indian waters off the coast of Katchatheevu. They were turned away by the Lankan Navy from the spot. Incidentally, the island was ceded by the Government of India to Sri Lanka under the 1974 and 1976 agreements between India and Sri Lanka.

The fishermen said they were waylaid again by the Navy during their return journey. No injuries have been reported thus far.

There have been frequent reports of attacks, detention, torture and killing of Indian fishermen by the Sri Lankan Navy. However, the Lankan government categorically denies that the Navy is involved, despite the fishermen vouching that it was indeed members of the armed forces who had detained them.

As maritime boundaries cannot be marked clearly, it often happens that fishermen from one country may stray into international waters. Usually, in these cases, the norm is that the fishermen are questioned, and then returned to their own countries, along with their boats, with a warning. However, Indian fishermen have often been detained in both Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
According to some estimates, more than 500 fishermen from India have been wounded or killed in the Palk Bay in the last 30 years.

A Joint Working Group was constituted to deal with the issue of fishermen from India and Sri Lanka entering into each other’s waters, and modalities for the release of confiscated boats as well as prevention of use of force against the fishermen during questioning. This group has not met since 2006.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Sarabjit case: When the media causes heartbreak

(Published in Sify.com on 28 June, 2012, retrieved from http://www.sify.com/news/sarabjit-case-when-the-media-causes-heartbreak-news-columns-mg2pWtdjihb.html)







Sarabjit Singh released right after the arrest of Abu Jundal, weeks after the release of Dr. Khalil Chisty. We thought that was significant.
A few hours later, it turned out it wasn’t Sarabjit, but Surjeet Singh, another Indian who had been serving a life-term in a Pakistan prison, who was being released. Well, anyone can slip over a few syllables, huh?
And the next day, Pakistan decided to release 311 Indian fishermen as a “goodwill gesture”.
There will be bonhomie and television cameras at the Wagah Border, and renewed angst and avowals of peace from the intelligentsia on Facebook and Twitter, and there will be columns asking for visa norms to be eased.
But none of this will be of any solace to the family of Sarabjit Singh, whose long fight for their man’s release appeared to have been over at last yesterday. Some newspapers carelessly carried reports in their inner pages, celebrating the release of Sarabjit Singh, alongside happy pictures of the family distributing sweets.
The cruellest image of the political ping pong that played out on Tuesday will be that of the victims – Sarabjit Singh’s wife and daughter hugging each other and smiling for the camera of an eager reporter, their eyes bright with anticipation. Only to be told categorically that he wouldn’t be coming home; hell, he hadn’t even been pardoned.
Whether it was a genuine mistake or a brutal manoeuvre, the question we should be asking ourselves is who had the right to break the news to Sarabjit Singh’s family.
When there was no confirmation either from Pakistan or from the Ministry of External Affairs, what right did our media houses have to flash the news, quoting from the ever-available anonymous sources?
What sort of media culture are we fostering, in believing a scoop is more important than the truth? That news should reach the people it matters to least as quickly as possible, never mind what it does to the people to whom it matters most?
This particular photograph reminds me of a chilling email I found in my inbox at 1:04 PM on October 13, 2008, minutes after a two-year-old child had been pulled out of a borewell, dead. Rescue operations had been on for four days, and were finally proven unsuccessful. The email, sent by a colleague at the media house I was then employed at, read:
“Sonu is dead: Let us quickly get bites of the medical officer, parents of Sonu, army officer heading the rescue team and a PTC. Let’s beat everyone else to it, on the double!”
Chances are that similar emails hit other inboxes when 4-year-old Mahi was pulled out of a borewell on Monday.
What competition were we in, anyway? No one knows. And no one knows how the TRPs are impacted by selling tragedy. No one even knows whether the television audience wants to watch strangers standing around a borewell, hoping to rescue a child who has been down there for days on end.
Somewhere in the process of media penetration into households, vague notions of the intrepid reporter and heroic journalism have been engendered. A woman who marches into Kargil with an army of cameramen is a hero. Reporters who telecast NSG operations during a terror attack are heroes. A young man who goes into a Maoist stronghold without medicine and mosquito nets is a hero.
People whose job it is to observe and report have begun to put themselves on pedestals, to glory in their own inconveniences, and rejoice in their foolhardiness. What matters is putting a sensational image out there, no matter what the risks, no matter how grisly it is.
Bodies crushed in a stampede? Put them out there, before anyone else scoops us. Tweet saying a prisoner will be released? Put it out there, crediting a “source”. Commando being lowered on to the Taj by a helicopter? Put it out there, never mind that the terrorists are monitoring it.
Of course, when things go horribly wrong, columnists will rant about the sensationalism in the media, and people will shudder at the ugliness of it all. And when something else with the promise of triumph or tragedy or both happens, we’ll be back doing the same thing.
Clearly, a body to monitor the press isn’t enough.
What we should perhaps be doing is pulling back from ourselves a little bit, stop seeing ourselves as warriors, and start seeing ourselves as delusional megalomaniacs.
Because that is what every man and woman who screams himself or herself hoarse at 9:00 PM everyday on television is.
Because they’re so caught up by the power and popularity of their names that they’re blind to the heartbreaks they cause.
If this is what journalists aspire to, we should be ashamed both of our own ambitions, and of the industry that created them.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

My name is Nandini Krishnan, and I’m an introvert


For those with limited time, here's the gist of this article: I give you a lot of biographical information, and then tell you how I deal with being an introvert while doing all right in my career as a journalist and performer. I'm also pretty good at making a show of modesty while preening, but more on how to acquire this annoying trait later. This does blame Indian cultural conditioning for introversion, and speaks of my only younger-man crush - in my defence,...oh, just read it.

“What?! You do theatre, you’ve been a television anchor, you sing on stage, you dance like you’re possessed at nightclubs, you emcee events, you interview celebrities, you raise your hand when interactions are thrown open to the audience, you laugh all the time, and you call yourself an introvert? Get OUT!”
I thought I’d conquered it. I’d forced myself to get out of my shell, and speak to people – I’d even chosen a career that involved interacting with strangers. But, nine years into that career, I found myself willing to brave the blistering summer heat of Madras – and helmet hair – to get to a meeting in a scooter, just so I wouldn’t have to ask our tenant to move the car that was blocking mine. And then it hit me – you can get over shyness, but the crippling tightness that paralyses introverts is not conquerable.
I’m not sure how to explain the “tightness”. Perhaps it’s unwillingness, not so much as inability, to communicate. It’s almost a mood, but with physical manifestations that clever folks may term ‘psychosomatic’. One shrinks from contact. It’s not that one can’t speak to someone else; one just would rather not.
As I analysed this particular incident, I could recall several others. There are times I pretend I haven’t seen someone I know, so I can avoid talking to him or her. These are not people I dislike; I’m even fond of many of the people I’ve evaded thus. I don’t know why it happens.
When I give myself a pep talk, and push myself to go say hi, I can feel my heart beat faster, my nerves on edge, my throat dry up. Yes, it’s pretty much what one may feel before asking someone out; only, in this case, it was before asking someone to move a car.
So, we all have our complexes. I got over fat-girl by losing weight, and unpretty-girl by getting my face on TV, but how does one get rid of shy-girl? Especially when it can’t even be diagnosed, because the only people who understand are the ones who suffer from it, and are hence unlikely to bump into you?
My teachers in school were baffled when I clammed up at extempore and elocution contests, and was squeamish about debates. People assume good writers are good speakers. They assume stagefright is the fear of appearing on stage and hearing the sound of one’s own voice. But here’s the thing: good writers can be good speakers, if they aren’t prone to stagefright, and stagefright isn’t so much the fear of the limelight as the consciousness of the presence of other people.
Introverts are not always the kids with thick glasses, ugly braces and narrow shoulders, who spend all their time in the library or science lab. They could be popular in school, take part in extracurricular activities, and have perfectly normal relationships (just as long as they don’t have to do the asking out!) But, there are things they feel they simply can’t do, things that seem to induce a stifling sense of lethargy in them.
I know my list of these things has grown shorter, but I hadn’t thought about how I got here, or how I learnt to deal with the onset of introvert tendencies, until the incident with the car.
My ‘therapy’ may have begun with theatre. I loved the idea of bringing characters alive, and I knew how each line should be spoken. But I was terribly inhibited during play readings, and hated “trust” exercises. I can’t say I’m particularly fond of them now, either. It wasn’t the corniness of it all, it was the constant contact, the idea of giving away personal thought and space. Why did people have to know me, when I was playing somebody else?
The problem was solved when I had one of those epiphanies that appear so duh in retrospect: this “someone else” was living her life, not acting it. I only had to be her. The corollary was that I could have a persona, one that would allow me to say out loud the wisecracks in my head, one that could hug people, one that could snuff out the sudden bouts of shyness that hampered my self-assurance. All it took was stepping out of myself for those instants.
Gradually, the two may have got integrated, because the persona was not different from me; the persona just did what I wanted to do. And breaking out of my introverted inclinations to do those “things” gave me the confidence to do more of them.
My second big ‘step’ was moving abroad, and that leads me to wonder whether introverted behaviour is cultural. Oh, we Indians make a garrulous nation, but we rarely communicate. That’s probably why so many of us can spout rhetoric, and so few of us make articulate public speakers.
Our natural instinct is to walk past strangers, and look away quickly if our eyes happen to meet. We don’t make conversation with people who have a functional role, like billing our purchases or filling our fuel tanks. They give us numbers, we hand them notes.
On my second day in London, a cheerful cashier at Sainsbury’s spoke to me about his girlfriend’s parents, my course of study at the university, why Chelsea FC is shite, and how my appearance was too indeterminate to reveal my ethnicity. Strangers smiled and nodded in greeting. I’d been somewhat prepped by NRI (Non-Resident Indian) relatives who’d pontificated on the subject of Western manners and Indian rudeness like only NRIs can.
It seemed rather bizarre at first not to avert my eyes and pretend it hadn’t happened when I reached for the same can as someone else. But I grew comfortable with it over time. My big moment was sharing a laugh with a woman on the South Bank, as her toddler screamed when one of the statue people moved. “Trauma when he’s under five. His brain’s warped now, you know,” I grinned, and she sighed, “Yeah, I know!” I moved on to a smile-and-wave mute-and-mutual flirtation with a tall fellow-jogger on Harrow Hill, which lasted several months – till I spotted him in a blazer, and realised he was a schoolboy.
When I moved back to India, the list of things-I’d-rather-not-approach-people-about was far shorter. But this isn’t a finite list. You never know when something will need you to pull your socks up and take a deep breath, before asking someone if s/he can, say, move a car. The good news, though, is you can learn to deal with those few moments well enough to make people roll their eyes when you say you’re an introvert.

Tamil Nadu doctors join strike, hold demonstrations

(Published in Millennium Post on 26 June, 2012)



Doctors belonging to private as well as government hospitals in Tamil Nadu went on strike on June 25, responding to the national strike called by the Indian Medical Association (IMA).
The strike has been called to protest against amendments to the Clinical Establishment Act, 2010, and National Commission for Human Resources for Health (NCHRH) Bill, 2011, proposed by the Union Health Ministry.
The Private Hospitals Board of Tamil Nadu has called the bill “anti-patient, anti-public and anti doctors.”
Dr AK Ravikumar of the IMA said the bill hampers the autonomy of professional bodies like the IMA, and vests all control of the State Medical Councils on a Central government commission, which could include non-medical professionals.
Doctors are also objecting to provisions in the Bill which suggest medical professionals registered with the State Medical Council can only practise in the state where he or she is registered.
The day-long strike, in which more than 26,000 doctors across the country are participating, is to demand the withdrawal of the Bill, and autonomy for professional bodies, without government interference. They are also against the introduction of a qualification exam at the national level for doctors.
Doctors wore black badges in protest at the Trichy Government Hospital. Demonstrations were held in Coimbatore, Madurai and the state capital Chennai.
However, all the protesting doctors said emergency cases would be attended to, though medical establishments would be closed until 6:00 PM.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Why India loves its Oprah: Aamir's Satyamev Jayate

(Published in Sify.com, on 25 June 2012, retrieved from http://www.sify.com/news/why-india-loves-aamir-s-satyamev-jayate-news-columns-mgzalJbadcc.html?scategory=Topnews)







Since it burst into screens and filled lazy Sunday mid-mornings with contemplation of social evils and remedial activism, Aamir Khan’sSatyamev Jayate and his own motives in getting it on the air have been analysed from so many angles that Khan could fill a whole show with his conversations with those critics.
Chances are that a naysayer would appear first, followed by a yea-sayer, followed by a villager whose life and perspectives changed courtesy the show, a scholar whose life was jacked because the show appeared too late for him to figure that killing his infant or sexually abusing his child wasn’t quite healthy, followed by a born-again yea-sayer, followed by a lovely song from Swanand Kirkire.
I have no intention of analysing the loftiness of Aamir Khan’s motives, or the veracity of the show. What interests me is why we want our own Oprah.
When I think of Oprah Winfrey, there are some shows that pop into my mind – one where she interviewed parents who had accidentally caused the death of their own children, one where she spoke to people with multiple-personality disorder (MPD), one where she got a woman to chop off her long tresses (which the lady hadn’t cut since she was 8 years old), one where she dragged a tub of lard on stage, one where Ellen DeGeneres came out as gay, and several where there were attempts to patch marriages up, make dreams come true, and show off the ostentation that went with being Oprah. And, of course, the celebrity interviews.
Now, how does all this go into one show?!
The answer may be most obvious in a remark made by an audience member from the Bible Belt, who spoke up during the show where Ellen DeGeneres came in as a guest. DeGeneres and Winfrey were speaking about Oprah’s decision to play a psychiatrist in DeGeneres’ show Ellen, in the episode where her character came out of the closet.
The audience member was a mother of two, and was upset at a TIME magazine cover that had a picture of DeGeneres with the caption, ‘YES, I’M GAY’. She was even more upset at Winfrey’s decision to make a guest appearance on Ellen, because “Oprah is Middle America” – if Oprah is okay with homosexuality, so is Middle America.
For decades, we’ve been trying to ape America’s soaps, often to high TRPs, largely thanks to the non-English speaking population that isn’t familiar with the originals. We’ve aped Western game shows and reality shows to sky-high TRPs. And now, we have a desi version of the quintessential talk show – Oprah. Only, in this case, the host is already a star. His show is a draw because of him, and the show is sanctimonious enough to further elevate his aura.
Satyamev Jayate isn’t the first Indian talk show structured along these lines. The Tamil actress Lakshmi hosted Kadhaiyalla, Nijam(literally ‘Not a story; the Truth’) over a decade ago. She spoke to victims of domestic abuse, rape victims, bullied children, terminally ill patients, and several other categories of the disadvantaged and victimised; she cried with most of them, and comforted all of them. The drawback was that it was a regional show, accessible only to people who spoke Tamil. She was a regional actress, and had remained so despite her foray into Bollywood through Julie. And her histrionics were lampooned in spoof shows on other television channels.
A similarly-titled talk show, in the tongue that is rapidly becoming acknowledged as the national language, hosted by a star who is also an ‘actor’, whose recent production ventures have combined box office success with intelligent plot lines, has now taken Middle India by storm.
Is Aamir Khan Middle India? Perhaps he represents what Middle India could be. His isn’t a rags-to-riches story. His entry into Bollywood was facilitated by his uncle, Nasir Hussain. His good looks ensured that he became a heart-throb. The sentimentality of the Nineties made him a star. And what he does with his stardom is now making him a hero.
In other words, his career sweeps through an entire cross-section of India – the lower and lower-middle classes that were represented by his celluloid characters, the upper middle class which is represented by his family background, the conservatives whom he can coax out of their prejudices, the minorities he represents by virtue of his religion, and the elite whose views he appears to hold. And at a time when the whole of India is trying to embrace anarchy, latching on to whatever cause holds potential to rouse a mass movement,Satyamev Jayate alerts us to everything that’s wrong with this country.
Satyamev Jayate is taking over from Anna Hazare as an entity that finds echoes and support throughout a nation that is united by little else than the nomenclature of our national identity.
And as social media, mass media and the corporatisation of India bring people of various social milieus and socioeconomic classes into contact, we’re searching for ways to relate to each other.
We’re searching for topics that transcend polite conversation and ignite our passions.
We’re searching for a Common Enemy, and Satyamev Jayate provides us with plenty.
We’re searching for hope, and Satyamev Jayate promises us that people power can undo everything that has gone wrong.
We’re searching for the delusions that we need to sew together the segments of peoples and persuasions that make up this country.
And perhaps the best person to channel us into that particular brand of escapism is someone who has been at the heart of India’s one dependable source of escapism – cinema. Perhaps that’s why we want this particular Oprah – a man who can be Everyman despite a distinct identity.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Gunfire Poetry

(Published in The Sunday Guardian on 24 June 2012, retrieved from http://www.sunday-guardian.com/masala-art/when-violence-and-cusswords-are-politically-correct)





Cast: Manoj Bajpayee, Tigmanshu Dhulia, Piyush Mishra, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Richa Chadda, Reemma Sen, Huma Qureshi
Director: Anurag Kashyap
Rating: 4.5 stars
It isn’t everyday you move from Smriti Irani to gang violence. And isn’t everyday you get to watch an Indian film where the violence is poetic, and the dons can be doofuses. After an intense five-minute opening sequence where the gunshots are only outnumbered by thema-behn genre of swearwords, we’re dragged back in time to 1940, after a brief history of the geographical identity of Wasseypur.
For the next two and a half hours, it’s a crazy ride that has all the elements Anurag Kashyap promised in his pre-release interviews – fighting, revenge, love, drama, and more than ten songs. Throw all this masala into a classily stylised gangster film, fill it in with some brilliant actors and quirky characters, and say goodbye to boredom.
The sweep of the film goes from 1940 to 2004, narrated by Nasir Ahmed. The inspired casting of Piyush Mishra as the man who witnesses three generations of a family feud bolsters the film. His casual use of cusswords, so much in contradiction with his mild manner, is the perfect foil to a storyline that’s so over-the-top it would jar without his almost bored recounting.
The inception of the feud is a communal clash from 1941 – it’s the Qureshis vs. Pathans. A legendary dacoit, Sultana Daku, has been raiding British trains carrying Indian goods, and the battle of Wasseypur begins with Shahid Khan and Sharif Qureshi clashing over who gets to be Sultana Daku. Village conventions, the industrialisation of the country, and tragic turns of events dictate the trajectory of a cycle of violence that will eventually envelope an entire district.
The Bollywood noir that Anurag Kashyap has made his own is essentially male. But there’s space for far more than izzat ka sawaal and gunbattles. The gangsters who believe in their own legends are complemented by women who have more gumption than their men. The temporal and social setting of the film makes for some tasteful political incorrectness.
The narrative is compelling, and its nuances are to be found in the delightful flavour of the local sayings, many of which are too explicit to be quoted in a family newspaper. From cracks at Bollywood stereotypes to social commentary, the dialogue aims at a fairly broad spectrum of targets.
It needs very capable actors to carry such a bulky plot, and to a large extent, Gangs succeeds. Manoj Bajpayee’s lusty execution of his role as Sardar Khan, son of Shahid, makes the character irresistible. He handles a gamut of behavioural transformations, and seems to belong in this world, where blood ties matter far less than family honour, where women would rather see their sons killed than let murders go unavenged.
Newcomer Richa Chadda excels as the motormouth who first chases after her husband with a stick for daring to bring another woman home, and then humiliates him further by asking him to eat well so he’ll be able to ‘perform’ at the brothel. Only one dimension of the characters played by Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Reemma Sen is exposed in the first part of this film; it appears that their importance will only become apparent in the sequel.
The film is not without its negatives, and does take liberties with logic – the most glaring irregularity, to me, was the bafflingly inconsistent attitude of the police to murders and dacoitry. However, those are somehow easy to forgive in a film that so painstakingly creates an alternate reality.
Sneha Khanwalkar’s almost eccentric music design aids the texture of the story, and comedy is injected into it at crucial times. These, combined with the look of the film – so beautifully faithful to the era it traverses, down to the rupee notes – may just give you the feeling you’ve been served a smörgåsbord of hallucinogens.
The Verdict: This marketplace-killings-meet-mechanised-industry storyline will grow on you. You laugh with the film, cringe at it, gawk in disbelief, and shake your head at various points –but mostly, you simply lose yourself in it.

Where Steel Magnolias meets Brother Bear

(Published in City Express, The New Indian Express, on 23 June 2012, retrieved from http://newindianexpress.com/entertainment/reviews/article548758.ece)







Voice cast: Kelly Macdonald, Billy Connolly, Emma Thompson, Robbie Coltrane, Craid Ferguson, Kevin McKidd, Julie Walters
Directors: Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman
Rating: 2.5 stars
Pixar’s animators have mastered the art of sprinkling dreamy beauty on ethereal landscapes. And what better setting for a play of light and shadows and colours than the Scottish Highlands in mediaeval times! Production designer Steve Pilcher has plenty of scope to show off what his team can do – the glint of sunlight on a horse’s mane, the trajectory of arrows from a tomboy’s bow, the baring of teeth as bears attack. Every frame of Brave is almost heartbreakingly beautiful.
But the film offers something we’re not used to in a Pixar production – a predictable storyline, with a dollop of cloying melodrama. What begins as a subversive fairytale – a now-deleted comment posted on the YouTube trailer, “I got uninterested as soon as the hood was pulled off” received over 2000 likes and set off a debate on the portrayal of women heroes – ironically ends up becoming a “chick flick.”
First, we’re told bears aren’t welcome in the kingdom of Fergus (Billy Connolly), who’s lost his leg to a grisly, grizzly attack. So, when he gifts his daughter Merida (Kelly Macdonald) a bow, to the horror of her mother, Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson), we sort of expect her to drive out all evil bears, or fall in love with a good bear cursed by an evil bear, or something.
That’s about the only prediction that’s likely to go wrong. When Merida grows up all of a sudden, turns down three idiotic suitors, and defies a sacred custom that ticks off Lord MacGuffin (Kevin McKidd), Lord Macintosh (Craig Ferguson) and Lord Dingwall (Robbie Coltrane), we know this is a make-your-own-way story. But just in case we’re on the same plane as the suitors, we must have this message reiterated with an overdose of song and dance.
Following an admittedly enticing trail of will-o’-the-wisp, Merida runs into a bulge-eyed witch (Julie Walters), whom she instantly trusts with her deepest desire – make Mommy respect me; make Mommy see me as more-than-a-prospective-housewife; make Mommy give me a bear-hug...oh, NO! Queen Elinor turns into a bear, before going on a journey of mother-daughter-self-and-mutual discovery. The two-day deadlines translates into a hundred long minutes.
Uncharacteristically, Pixar makes a mistake that many animation features that try to cater to a universal audience do – the crass humour is too tawdry for children, and the story too dull for adults. The characters are either archetypes or stereotypes. There are some nice touches, especially involving the triplet little brothers of Princess Merida.
However, the film meanders to an end whose only credit is avoiding the saccharine fairytale finish of beauty-and-beast-turned-hot-prince living happily ever after. The absence of a handsome prince hiding in the trees, waiting to be impressed by a girl-who’s-not-any-other-girl doesn’t make this story any more original, though.
The Verdict: The tremendous potential of the concept falls prey to the insipidity of the storyline.

Law of the Lawless



(Published in City Express, The New Indian Express, on 23 June, 2012, retrieved from http://newindianexpress.com/entertainment/reviews/article548761.ece)

Cast: Manoj Bajpayee, Piyush Mishra, Tigmanshu Dhulia, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Richa Chadda, Reemma Sen, Huma Qureshi
Director: Anurag Kashyap
Rating: 4.5 stars
Imagine this: you’re watching Kyunki Saas Bhi Bahu Thhi one minute, and the next, you’re dodging bullets, knowing your brains could be splattered across the same wall where the mirror’s splintered. It’s a milieu most of the audience of Anurag Kashyap’s slick, stylish, sordid flick are not familiar with. It’s a brand of lawlessness that even the glorified gangster of 1940s Hollywood didn’t get to revel in.
Welcome to Dhanbad, the town that spawns the gangs of Wasseypur. In a chillingly casual narration by Nasir Ahmed (Piyush Mishra), we hear the gruesome tale of family feuds that turn into political camps, and ultimately gang wars. Spanning sixty years and three generations, this film is punctuated as much by gunfire as by expletives.
It begins with the exploits of Sultana Daku, a notorious bandit who robbed goods from the trains of British India in 1940. The authorities say he has been sent off to Andaman, but the public knows better. Things turn ugly when Shahid Khan (Jaideep Ahlawat) impersonates him, and Sharif Qureshi claims Khan is treading on Qureshi’s territory.
An agreement is reached, Khan is banished, and a tragic event leads to his elevation to chief muscleman for mine supervisor Ramadhir (Tigmanshu Dhulia). And this is where Kashyap slips in the undertones. What does power do to a man who considers himself a leader of men? What does it take for a sardar, a captain, to turn bully? What must a general do when the lieutenant is about to stage a coup?
In a brutal landscape, where a threat is neutralised in the most macabre of ways, boys are men. And nothing is taken for granted. A film that could do easily have been grisly acquires the texture of a riotous romp, thanks to some inspired sound design, intelligent casting, and burlesque narrative.
One of the most interesting aspects of Gangs of Wasseypur is that each scion of the Khan family gets consistently smaller, and somehow, scarier. There’s the terrifying pahalwan Shahid, his scheming son Sardar (Manoj Bajpayee), and his substance-abusing son Faizal (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), the runt of a litter of six. Faizal’s role is largely explored in the sequel, which is due for release later in the year.
This film belongs almost entirely to Manoj Bajpayee, who sews himself into the skin of Sardar. We see him as a fiery lad, a conniving gangster-in-waiting, an oily aspirant to political power, a timid husband, a lecherous lover, and a commanding father. He barks orders at the man who brought him up, he runs away from the nasty tongue and lusty beatings of his wife Nagma (Richa Chadda), and he cons his seemingly docile mistress Durga (Reemma Sen), without ever seeming to realise he is susceptible to manipulation too.
Gangs of Wasseypur is a layered film, and the viewer sees what he or she wants to see – the weakness of man, the hypocrisy of politics, the Damocles sword that rapid industrialisation can be, the aspirational draw of the English language, and several other issues lend themselves to subtext. But more than anything else, it’s a larger-than-life experience, a display of cinematic licence meant for the big screen.
The Verdict: Gangs of Wasseypur is not lofty cinema – but, by God, it’s a mind-blowing spectacle!

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Madras HC questions Centre about reactor

(Published in Millennium Post on 23 June, 2012, retrieved from http://millenniumpost.in/NewsContent.aspx?NID=4520)





A Madras High Court bench comprising Justices Jyotimani and Duraisamy heard seven cases in the ongoing investigation into the protests against the Koodankulam Nuclear Reactor.
The Central government filed the reports submitted by an independent committee and an expert committee. The details of the India-Russia contract were also filed. The judges directed a barrage of questions at the Central and State governments.
The judges asked the Centre to explain whether the Ministry of Environment had issued a new clearance certificate. They also wanted to know why the two expert committees had come up with conflicting reports – there have been inconsistencies in the two reports, which give different figures for data such as the temperature at which the reactor is maintained. The judges asked whether the regulations regarding radiation levels had been adhered to during the construction of the nuclear reactor.
The judges asked the State government whether it would accept the recommendations of the second expert committee’s report. They said the State must inform the Court of the arrangements that have been made to channel water to Koodankulam from the Pechiparai reservoir.
The bench asked the Pollution Control Board of Tamil Nadu whether they had spoken to the public after the tsunami, and whether they had taken into account the opinions of the locals regarding the commissioning of a nuclear reactor.
Since the Fukushima disaster in Japan, there have been protests against the construction of what will be India’s largest atomic power plant. Villagers say the plant is a threat to their lives as well as the ecology, which in turn would affect the livelihood of fishermen.
Earlier this month, a report released following a public hearing on the issue alleged that there had been human rights violations as the police subdued the protests. Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa has promised there will be an inquiry into the said violations.
The next hearing in the case has been posted for June 26.

Angry Karunanidhi wants PM to condemn SL minister’s remark

(Published in Millennium Post on 21 June 2012)



DMK chief Karunanidhi has faxed Prime Minister Manmohan Singh a letter, urging him to condemn a controversial remark by Sri Lankan Minister for Power and Energy, Champika Ranawaka.
On Monday, Ranawaka allegedly warned of “100 more massacres” if the Tamil people of the island were to follow the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), whom he accused of inciting violence.
Supporters of the minister said he was only responding to TNA leader Sampanthan’s speech in Batticaola last month, where he said the TNA would not compromise on its stance that the North-East of Sri Lanka was an “area of historical habitation of the Tamil speaking people.” Sampanthan demanded that the Tamil people be given the right to self-determination in that region.
“Does Sampanthan want to create 100 more Mullaivaikals?” Ranawaka asked, “We are ready to forgive and forget the past and think about the future. But, if Sampanthan is calling us to a fight, our nation would proudly accept the challenge. One Mullaivaikal is enough. Don’t try to get 100 more.”
Mullaivaikal is a coastal area in Sri Lanka where human rights groups estimate 40,000 Tamil civilians were killed in the last months of the Fourth Civil War in 2009. LTTE chief Prabhakaran’s body was also found at a nearby lagoon.
Karunanidhi’s letter says Ranawaka’s words must be seen as a veiled threat and duly condemned. “The speech has troubled and upset Tamilians the world over,” he has said, “India must ask the Sri Lankan government to deal with the issue with patience and humanitarianism.”
He has also asked the PM to ensure that Ranawaka’s remark is brought to the notice of the United Nations.

Parties raise voice against Siruvani dam

(Published in Millennium Post on 18 June, 2012, retrieved from http://millenniumpost.in/NewsContent.aspx?NID=4180)



The Periyar Dravida Kazhagam (PDK), Paattaali Makkal Katchi (PMK) and Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK) have all protested against the Kerala government’s plan to revive a three-decade old dam project. The proposed dam will help irrigate the drought-prone region of Attapady in Palakkad district of Kerala. They have urged the government of Tamil Nadu to take steps to stop the project immediately.
The two states, which are already at loggerheads over the rebuilding of the Mullaiperiyar Dam, could likely be involved in a fresh tussle over sharing of their limited water resources. The proposed dam will be built over an arm of the Siruvani river that flows into the Bhavani river, which supplies water to the city of Coimbatore. The decision was made at a high-level meeting in Thiruvananthapuram on Thursday, which was attended by Kerala chief minister Oommen Chandy
Media reports have since quoted the irrigation department of Kerala saying the state plans to store about 4 tmc ft (thousand million cubic feet) of water in the dam. Officials from the state claim the new project will not affect the flow into the Siruvani dam, as it will be constructed on a stream that carries spillover water from the dam.
However, residents of Coimbatore are apprehensive about the impact the dam will have on their water supply. Construction of the dam was stopped in the 1980s after opposition from Tamil Nadu. Now, various farmer unions, environmental activists and political parties have come together to protest against the revival of the project.
On Saturday, a press release from the MDMK announced that the party would hold a demonstration at Mettupalayam. Vaiko alleged that the Kerala government has embarked on the project with the aim of obstructing water supply to Coimbatore and Erode districts.
The Periyar Dravida Kazhagam (PDK), which has a strong presence in the region, has also said it would oppose the project. Saying the Bhavani originates in the Nilgiris Hills and re-enters Tamil Nadu after going to Attapady in Kerala, the party said it would engage people’s power to block the project.
The PMK has also sent out a press release, saying it will protest against the dam. A note from its chief, Ramadass, said Coimbatore, a key trading post, is dependent on water from the Siruvani River. He added that Kerala’s move flouts the water-sharing agreement between the two states by infringing on the rights of Tamil Nadu, and has condemned it. He has called upon the Tamil Nadu government to take up the issue with Kerala right away.

How SpaceX Created History

(Published in The New Indian Express, School Edition, on 21 June 2012, retrieved from http://newindianexpress.com/education/school/article547183.ece)





On May 31 this year, private company SpaceX made history, as its unmanned Dragon capsule shot into the Pacific, returning after a 9-day test flight on which its tasks included delivering supplies to the International Space Station (ISS).
This mission, the first such successful attempt by a private company, is very important, because NASA’s fleet of space shuttles retired last year, and the space agency is exploring the idea of using private companies to send cargo, and later perhaps astronauts, to the ISS.
What is SpaceX?
Space Exploration Technologies Corporation, or SpaceX, is a space transport company headquartered in Hawthorne, California.  It was founded by Elon Musk, who is now 40, in 2002. Musk had made his money at PayPal, which he co-founded. He also runs electric car company Tesla Motors.
What has it done?
Since its inception, SpaceX has often collaborated with NASA. The Falcon series of launch vehicles were designed after the company signed a Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) contract with NASA in 2006.
Soon after, the company began to develop the Dragon spacecraft, which was to be flown into orbit by the Falcon 9 launch vehicle.
On 9 December 2010, SpaceX became the first private company to successfully launch, orbit and recover a spacecraft, as the Dragon capsule returned after a two-orbit flight. The launch had been postponed several times, but was successful on the first attempt.
It was the second flight of the Dragon spacecraft, which was first tested on June 4, 2010, with a mock-up version. The operational spacecraft was launched in December. The capsule made a controlled re-entry burn, splashing into the Pacific Ocean. It was subsequently recovered – before this, only government agencies had been able to recover orbital spacecraft.
This achievement was recognised by the Space Foundation, which gave SpaceX the Space Achievement Award in 2011.
On 25 May 2012, SpaceX sent a cargo payload on the Dragon spacecraft, to the ISS, where it docked. It is hoped that this spacecraft will eventually be able to carry humans.
The Dragon spacecraft
The building of the Dragon spacecraft was preceded by a 2005 announcement from SpaceX, saying it was planning a commercial space programme that would allow humans to jet off.  The capsule was intended to carry cargo, humans, or a mixture of both, to and from the orbit of the Earth.
On 4 June, 2010, a flight of the Dragon structural test article took place from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, during the first flight of Falcon 9. The fully operational spacecraft was launched on Falcon 9 six months later, and returned after fulfilling its mission objectives.
Where does SpaceX get its funding?
From June 2002 to March 2006, Musk had invested $100 million of his own money. Other investors contributed approximately the same amount over a 10-year period.
By May 2012, the company is believed to have received funding of up to $1 billion. Most of this comes from payments on launch and development contracts.
NASA’s contribution works out to about $500 million. This includes a grant of $75 million, to develop Dragon’s integrated launch escape system, to prepare for its eventually transporting people to space – a project that may be realised in the next two or three years.
How much is SpaceX worth?
Since it was founded, the company has grown progressively larger, with about 1800 employees today, as compared to 160 employees in 2005.
Musk has recovered his investment many times over. His 70 million shares, which form two-thirds of the company, were calculated as worth roughly $875 million on private markets in February.
After the successful mission with the Dragon Spacecraft, the company’s worth shot up to $ 4.8 billion, and Musk’s to $1.6 billion.
Future projects
In collaboration with NASA, SpaceX is planning its first crewed Dragon spacecraft launch in 2015. The space agency also plans to send a robotic mission to Mars in 2018, through SpaceX. Musk has said the long-term plan of the company is to help human exploration and settlement in Mars.
Called The Red Dragon, this project is expected to be proposed for funding next year, as a NASA Discovery mission. The robotic mission, which will cost about $425 million, will seek out evidence of life, and drill underground to sample reservoirs of water ice below the surface.
SpaceX had also signed contracts with government agencies outside the US, private sector companies and the American military for its launch services. The company hopes to launch its first commercial geostationary satellite, the medium-sized SES-8, in 2013, from a Falcon 9.
Musk has also said he hopes to make space more accessible and lower the cost of travel.
TIMELINE
June, 2002: SpaceX is founded by PayPal and Tesla Motors co-founder Elon Musk.
January, 2005: SpaceX buys a 10% stake in Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd.
May 2, 2005: SpaceX announces signing of an Indefinite Delivery/Indefinite Quantity (IDIQ) contract for Responsive Small Spacelift launch services by the US Air Force.
August 18 2006: NASA signs Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) contract with SpaceX, to demonstrate cargo delivery to the ISS, with the possibility of sending crew later.
April 22, 2008:  SpaceX announces signing of IDIQ contract with NASA for launches of Falcon 1 and Falcon 9. Also says it has sold 14 contracts for flights on the Falcon vehicles.
August 4, 2008: SpaceX accepts $20 million investment from the Founders Fund.
September 28, 2008: Falcon 1 makes its first successful flight.
December 23, 2008: SpaceX announces that it has won a Commercial Resupply Services contract, for at least 12 missions to carry supplies and cargo to and from the ISS.
June 16, 2009: SpaceX opens its Astronaut Safety and Mission Assurance Department, hires former NASA astronaut Ken Bowersox to head it.
June 4, 2010: Falcon 9 successfully flies into orbit on its maiden launch.
June, 2010: SpaceX is awarded the largest-ever commercial space launch contract, worth $492 million, to launch Iridium satellites using Falcon 9 rockets.
December 9, 2010: SpaceX becomes the first privately-funded company to successfully launch, orbit and recover a spacecraft, with the launch of the COTS Demo Flight 1.
July 13, 2011: SpaceX breaks ground on its own launch site, at Vandenberg Air Force Base, as Falcon 1 carries its first successful commercial payload, RazakSAT, into orbit.
May 22, 2012: Unmanned Dragon capsule is sent into space, marking the first time a private company has sent a spacecraft to the ISS.
May 25, 2012: SpaceX becomes the first private company to send a cargo payload to the ISS.

Monday, June 18, 2012

This tribute turns into elegy

(Published in City Express, The New Indian Express, on 16 June, 2012, retrieved from http://newindianexpress.com/entertainment/reviews/article543612.ece)





Cast: Tom Cruise, Alec Baldwin, Russell Brand, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Bryan Cranston, Diego Boneta, Julianne Hough, Malin Akerman, Mary J. Blige
Director: Adam Shankman
Rating: 1 star
Spoof and sap don’t go together. Rock of Ages tries to mix the two, with hamming and crooning for catalysts, and the experiment backfires. When the girl from Tulsa, Oklahoma, takes a Greyhound bus to Hollywood, and meets a boy with big dreams and a guitar, you know the storyline is predictable. The problem is when the punch lines are, too.
The film opens with Van Halen’s Just Like Paradise, which Julianne Hough, who plays Sherie, somehow contrives to sing like a pop song. You know she’s a bad actor, further exposed by a poor script, when she reacts to her first mishap. Of course, Drew (Diego Boneta) lands up just in time to get her a job.
When the owners of a club, The Bourbon Room, Dennis Dupree (Alec Baldwin) and Lonny (Russell Brand) enter the picture, one begins to hope. But before we’ve got our second laugh, the story forces us to follow the syrupy romance that’s already making us sick. So, the first kiss is behind the Hollywood sign. You know then that there will be a misunderstanding, and a sentimental reunion, both possibly at the same site.
We meet the other characters – Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise), former frontman of rock band Arsenal, who’s now going solo; Mayor Mike Whitmore (Bryan Cranston) and his wife Patricia (Catherine Zeta-Jones), who are on a mission to clean up the Sunset Strip, and will start with The Bourbon Room; Paul (Paul Giamatti), Stacee Jaxx’s oily manager.
Everyone breaks into song at the slightest excuse, but the duets are the worst; they’re set off by resolutions as mundane as, “If I couldn’t see Stacee Jaxx, I was gonna be Stacee Jaxx.” That brings me to the songs. Now, this film is set in 1987. Remember the songs of that period? The rockers wrote about life and chicks; the pop bands wrote about girls and love. The songs in this film sound, at best, like they should be in Disney fairy tales, and, at worst, in a Britney Spears album. When someone declares, an hour and a half into the film that rock is dead, and pop is the new thing, you hope the film will take on a genre it can handle; but no, everyone must prove rock is alive by slaughtering it.
In a movie where the leads don’t have the attitude to pull off a rock ‘n’ roll pairing, the flimsy plot could only have been saved by witty screenplay. Sadly, the timing is off, the puns are infantile, and the humour homophobic.
The best things about this film are Tom Cruise and Alec Baldwin – Cruise plays Rocker Stacee Jaxx like Scientologist Tom Cruise, and the results are two hilarious tirades, involving “the fire phoenix” and existentialism, and a phone conversation involving Cinderella.
The Verdict: What may have been intended as an expensive tribute to rock ‘n’ roll ends up like a bad night at the karaoke.
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