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Friday, December 28, 2007

Murder of a Hope - The Light of Larkhana goes out

Benazir Bhutto has been assassinated in cold blood.

In one of the most shocking events ever in the history of the sub-continent the former Prime Minister of Pakistan was shot in the neck a few hours back while attending an election rally in the garrison town of Rawalpindi.

As violence erupts in the streets of Karachi and Peshawar following the news of her death the future of democracy in Pakistan gets bleaker by the hour. General Musharraf, who faces probing questions as to why the security of such a high-profile politician like Benazir was not taken up with utmost priority, having already survived a suicide-attack and repeated threats being made to her life by various Islamic militant organizations, will be hard-pressed to provide acceptable answers if any. With the suspension of the January 8th elections looking imminent the ‘road to restoration of order’ in Pakistan seems beset with more unfortunate cataclysms than one had initially accounted for.

While Sindh mourns the death of a dear daughter, political analysts the world over see the attack as a consequence of the threat perception she embodied to the thriving ‘terror industry’ in provincial Punjab. She in her recent political rallies declared in no uncertain terms how she would do everything in her power to reign in terrorists operating from Pakistani soil. Given her charismatic persona and undeniable charm, coupled with the paucity of choice that an average Pakistani has while going to vote she seemed set to ensure a sizable number of seats for the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) in the coming elections. Popular sentiment could have worked in swaying the scale either in her favor or Nawaz Sharif’s. Her tragic death has unjustly precluded such an electoral eventuality. The pre-emption of her premiership in such ghastly a manner must ring alarm bells in far-off Capitol Hill right now. If the global community (read USA) is in any measure earnest in wanting to tackle the scum of Islamic extremism it needs to answer the call of the hour with immediate effect. Mere issue of official condolences will not suffice in stemming the rot that USA’s major ally in its ‘War against Terror’ is reeling under at this moment. Benazir’s shocking assassination is a macabre indicator of how desperate the militant forces are in resisting the revival of people’s rule in Pakistan. The International community must ensure the installation of a democratic government instead of a Musharraf stooge climbing to power by rigging polls only to serve his high-handed master. If a call is not taken now it might be too late for Pakistan to recover and repair for her loses. Not only will that be a colossal tragedy for the 60 million Pakistanis but a turn for the worse for the future of South-Asia and the prospects of World Peace in general.

Peace be to her soul.

photos: google images

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Return of a Hero

More than eleven years ago in the middle of an English summer a gritty youngster took the field at Lord’s when the chips were down for his country. Batting with sublime poise at the grandest of stages that the game of cricket can offer to both players and spectators alike he scored a chanceless century braided with rare class. A repeat performance in the next test under conditions considered hostile to batsmen bred on docile dust-bowls in the sub-continent and the message was loud and clear. The message was,

I have arrived.”

The very arrogance of that arrival never waned in a career which saw eleven eventful summers and is still to go some distance before coming to a natural halt, a graceful goodbye.

Sourav Chandidas Ganguly brought to Indian cricket a raw ruthlessness and an inspirational zeal hitherto unknown in these circles and galvanized a team into a formidable fighting unit. A captain known to possess an uncanny knack of spotting talent and nurturing them to the road to success, half of the present Indian team owes him his timely patronage and support. From Zaheer Khan to Harbhajan Singh, from Yuvraj Singh to Irfan Pathan every one was hand-picked during his regime. Not only did his tenure at the helm of affairs promote the blooding of ‘today’s stars’ it also lent a nonpartisan character to the much maligned ‘regional lobby’-culture which plagued Indian cricket from its inception. “Perform or Perish” was his mantra and in no time we were dreaming of new heroes emerging on the firmament of cricketing glory. The most successful captain of India, he was ousted amidst drama in the most preposterously unceremonious manner as a fallout of a bitter battle with the then-coach Greg Chappel.

We do not know to honor our heroes and it is not a tradition, here in India, to give ceremonial farewells to fatigued crusaders of past laurels. As a people inured to a system where power is preserved like private property and only parted with at death we did not even bother to issue an apology that was required of us in the wake of such crass injustice. Politics of the filthiest parochial order was unleashed and 'a leader' was made to wait on the sidelines for what seemed like an eternity to the lovers of the game.

But, time had its say. Tables turned in a manner only known to wheels in animated motion and Sourav was re-inducted into the team. What looked like an ‘impossibility’ going by the vituperative comments issued by cricketing microbes hanging onto power (like Kiran More, the then chief-of-selection-committee) were proven wrong and a rightful path to resurrection was paved for a Fallen Hero. What ensued is there for everyone to see. The cricketing field has turned to be a happy-hunting-ground for the indefatigable ‘Dada’ as he continues relishing the exploits of a ‘deep purple patch’ walking into the twilight of his long illustrious career.

Sourav Ganguly has regained his seat of eminence in cricketing discussions and this time not due to uncalled for controversies but, because of the murderous feats of his tireless willow.

Taking the field for his 100th Test match he has today become only the seventh Indian ever to attain this honor. And what better place than the MCG on the day of the Boxing-day test match.

I wish him luck in his imperious march to more conquests on the cricket field.


Sunday, December 23, 2007

Taare Zameen Par - A Review

‘It’s easy to point out problems in this world. It’s difficult to offer solutions.’

The maiden directorial venture by Aamir Khan does ‘that’ difficult part with aplomb.

‘Taare Zameen Par’ revolves around the stifling pressures that a dyslexic child faces in our society, in our times. Ishaan Avasti ( Darsheel Safery) is like any fun loving kid who enjoys catching the odd fish from the gutters, keeps gawking at the mother-bird feeding her fledglings and pick up fights with the domineering bully of the pack when things become too unbearable. Yet, something makes him special. He sees the world through the colourful window of his mind. A fertile imagination gifts him with a creative edge he manifests through the interplay of colours in his paintings. Yet, something ails his progress in academics. Curiously, he mixes up all his spellings, can’t say a ‘d’ from a ‘b’ and ‘9 * 3’ is somehow 3 owing to some cosmic collision only his mind can conjure in its full imaginative inflation. Failure in exams ensues and parents get anxious. The apparent ploy to shirk studies seems to be the only plausible reason to them. Frustrated with umpteen attempts at correcting his ‘flaws’ and his habitual relapses he is sent to a boarding school. The sequence where his mother (Tisca Chopra) turns back to leave him at the mercy of the unfamiliar premises of the boarding school is so beautifully picturised, with the

heart rending delivery of “ kya itna buraa hoon main maa....” (by Shankar Mahadevan) playing in the background that I am sure there are few, if any, people who did not have a tear-drop gracing their eyes at that moment.

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Expectedly, boarding school only makes Ishaan a prisoner of the ‘conventional treatment’ that is meted out to non-performers in our education system. He blots out the cruel world and locks himself in a shell of desolation and pain. The portrayal of helplessness in a child on ‘not being understood’ by people around him is dispensed with a nuanced perfection found only in past masters of cinema. Aamir (along with Amole Gupte) donning the director’s hat for the first time has charmed with his exquisite timing and sensitivity in dealing with the subject which demanded a perceptive depiction along with artistic finesse.

Aamir enters the scene as an art-teacher in the dying moments of the first-half (albeit with a

clowning act with much fanfare which seemed tad redundant) and hopes of resurrection are ignited. Being a victim of dyslexia in his childhood, Aamir identifies the problem in Ishaan. He fights with the principal, and later convinces him that it is only a matter of time before Ishaan can compete with others with a little help and understanding. He devotes his time and energies to address the difficulties that Ishaan is facing and soon the boy shows marked improvement. An ‘Open to All Painting Competition’ becomes the culmination of the mutual success of the teacher-student pairing as Ishaan beats his teacher to bag the first-prize in the competition.

The whirlpool of emotions ranging from despair to joy, from rejection to relief attains a magical crescendo at the prize distribution ceremony. A tearful hug replete with unsaid words of gratitude and affection are so touching that one cannot help but give vent to one’s emotions, hiding in the darkness of the tiers to shed a few tears of empathy.

Repentant and reformed, Ishaan’s father takes him back to his home on a vacation wherefrom a happy ending starts. Both for Ishaan and his family, and Aamir, the teacher.

The smell of success and hope is palpable even when the credits roll.

Prasoon Joshi, take a bow. The ad-man has penned lyrics laden with pathos and a deep understanding of children’s psyche (he says he owes it to his little girl) that has an evocative appeal written all over it.

Shankar is breathtaking with his poignant renditions of songs like, “ tu sab jaanti hai.....hai na maa...” (MP3 provided above), “Mera jahaan...” and the title track.

The trio of Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy has again proved what good quality jamming can produce as the music of the film is a sure highlight which is poised to make a mark of it’s own in the coming days.

Aamir as a director has shown the class expected out of an outright perfectionist like him. The sensitive interpretation of the story is so seamlessly accomplished till the end that one cannot really put a finger on a flaw that glares in its nonconformity with the script. The occasional inclusion of a few ‘symbolic scenes’ (as when Aamir watches a mother and child on a bus) and the comic (but of doubtful necessity) entry of himself as the art-teacher were noticeably deletable. Otherwise, “Taare Zameen Par” is a winner.

Aamir has delivered a success.

Darsheel has outdone Aamir

The child artist has not only done justice to the troubled character he portrays with √©lan but also etched a niche of special recall within the deep recesses of our minds where childhood memories and their attendant anxieties recline in blissful languor of forgetfulness, almost untouched by the mechanically motivated lives we live. After watching the film every person sitting in the stands who has ever faced a similar problem in his childhood will come to associate Darsheel’s gawky features, his wide expressive eyes and that ear-to-ear grin with his memories and rejoice at his victory at the end of the film, though not his own. That is exactly where the film succeeds, in drawing the audience to think sympathetically on a socially relevant issue.

“Taare Zameen Par” lets everyone take something back to their homes from the theater. A sensitive heart receptive to other’s problems, responsive to a child’s troubles, understanding of a passing disability and most importantly, throbbing with a lasting sensation of triumph.

And to me, that’s cinema.

Good Cinema.