Saturday, March 21, 2009

Why I don’t like the movie Sethu, anymore?

The Tamil movie Sethu was released sometime in the year 1999 or 2000. With this movie, Vikram (the protagonist) shot to instant fame. The movie was appreciated for various reasons: brilliant direction, great acting, a script that was closer to real life, and sensitive portrayal of life. At that time, I couldn’t exactly point to why the movie left me numb with pain. Perhaps, I decided that reaction could be only for a good movie. And, I had joined the bandwagon of Vikram and Bala fans and maybe even contributed in some way to the astounding success of the movie.
Now, after several years, after even having gone on record to say that it’s a ‘socially conscious’ movie because of the several anti-brahmin jokes, I wonder what has made me think differently today. But, I am assured of one thing today: my reasons for disliking the movie are crystal clear. Of course, I record here my reasons wistfully; wonder how my life would have been had I had this clarity then.
Firstly, the movie had a male protagonist, though his ‘relationship’ with a woman forms the focal point of the movie. However, the screen space the female lead had must have been just a fraction of what the protagonist had. Is this the actual reality in the southern districts of Tamil Nadu? Not that I expect a female protagonist in a mainstream Tamil movie, but I do expect equal screen space for the female lead, especially when the script requires it.
Secondly, the characterization of Sethu, the lead guy. He is a local thug, who goes around roughing up people. He clearly is from a dominant caste group, which easily gives the right to ‘ridicule’ the eating habits of the docile Brahmin girl. What is particularly arresting is the girl’s demeanor. She wears a half saree that is pinned properly and has long hair that is well-oiled and plaited. She carries herself with such grace and poise that she’s quite aware of herself every second, even in the chemistry lab. This construct of a 21st century college-going girl is very dangerous. This grace-personified dame falls head over heels in love with this street-side thug, Romeo, and casteistic guy, which is another blow to the sensibilities of any college-going girl.
Thirdly, the way caste was dealt with was problematic; it’s either outright ridicule or immense respect for the Brahmin community. It would have been better if they hadn’t brought in the caste factor at all. There was no context to place it, actually. I believe this aspect was dealt with in the most flippant manner.
Finally, Sethu kidnapping the love of his life. This simple act showed how skewed the filmmaker’s understanding had been about intimate relationships between a man and a woman. The woman was shown to be nothing more than just a thing to possessed; a thing to be brought to its senses (which is understanding his love/lust for her, which comes as an irresistible deal along a good home and a chance to bear his babies); a thing to be showcased in one’s house. Besides the problematic sociological questions, I am tempted to doubt its relevance in real life. For example, will I fall in love with a roadside thug, who’s been stalking me, when he manages to kidnap me and presents this ‘irresistible’ offer at gun point? Wouldn’t I first go to the police station and file an FIR? At least, wouldn’t I find ways to completely erase my existence for the guy? Wouldn’t I run away from the locality? Then, the guy gets beaten up and he turns mad. In such a situation, in real life, the girl will be thanking her stars that the gods finally did some justice to the women! And, not commit suicide because she couldn’t bear the thought of marrying anyone other than the thug.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Neeya Naana…give me a break!

I am really curious to know who are the producers of this really horrible program called neeya nana, which is hosted by some dim wit of a guy on Vijay TV! This program is aired on Sundays between 9:00 and 9:30 PM, perhaps with a 100 reruns of the same episode. The topics are usually provoking, well don’t expect if the discussions would be on neo-liberal policies or coalition politics or live-in relationships or domestic violence; it’s usually on something as inane as love vs. arranged marriages or something equally insulting the modest standards of human intelligence. Ok, the discussion that is happening tonight has sunk to an all-time low, which would have stirred or psyched even the traditionalists of the dark ages!

The discussion is between ‘businessman vs. wives–are they happy.’ Firstly, the title: people, business can be done by both sexes and people who do not adhere to any one sex as well. What gave you the right to assume a gender identity for a profession? Nextly, wives! Was this a place where women (well the business wives) could rant their rather indulgent anger on their business husbands? What was it? Were the producers or directors looking at the emergence of any possible domestic violence cases? Or, were they looking at alleviating the ‘misery’ of these ‘housewives?’ Or, was it a sneak, voyeuristic peek into these upper middle class homes? What was the whole point of the title? Didn’t it even strike them that there could be several thousands of business women in this progressive state of Tamil Nadu? What was really amusing was an ad in between that went on list the big women achievers! Was that a miss? Or, were you guys so out of sync with what you were doing? This one was just too obvious to miss!

Next, the panelists: most of the women wore a sindur. This is an interesting point, because this sindur thing is rather new in Tamil Nadu. Perhaps, thanks to Ekta kapoor’s serials, our women, from the land of Periyar and Bharatiyar (who openly declared war on casteism and chauvinism and called a woman who challenged the traditional mores of patriarchy a real woman), have so happily lapped up regressive practices that even their grandmoms didn’t have!

And, all the women continued to simply talk about how the husband wouldn’t pay ‘any’ attention to the household; of course, why would he, if you more than readily, perhaps gave up your career for marriage or the child, or didn’t study so that your parents may not be able to find a suitable groom for you? That’s not enough, there have been love marriages in which the women have done everything to ensure that the man becomes something ‘worthy.’ But, my question is, why didn’t the women do anything for themselves? And, you just find one vague TV program to share your rants or experiences? The men’s responses: typical! Oh yeah, we are so busy, you see; well, who are ‘we’ struggling for? It’s for the family!

My question: what was new about this whole exchange? Is this truly the reality? How come I see something very different? How come in my 7-8 years of working, I have had always had women bosses, except a couple of them? And, how come the corporate board rooms are filled with women? How come big political parties have women leaders? How do I reconcile with the fact that very soon, India might have an Obama moment: when a dalit woman becomes the prime minister? Especially, when I am assaulted with crap like this on prime time? I understand if it were these fictitious, gycerline-dependent serials, because I can just dismiss them at least on principle, especially with their disclaimer and all! Here, you have real people talking terrible stuff! Yeah, all the men are talking about how it is great to hear the child’s first word or how the child plays and the usual the home-bound nonsense! Yes men, that’s what we have always been telling! The women have had ENOUGH of hearing the babies and perfecting the art of creating new recipes, face packs (so that they are beautiful for you and your friends), pickles, home decoration, and all the prescribed stuff. Why don’t the men take over here for a change, after all, it’s the men who have been romanticizing the ‘woman’s job.’

Vijay TV’s program just left me hopping mad about this horribly antiwoman show! Somehow, it feels like the woman has no role to play in her life than just crib about her husband’s attention! Doesn’t she have anything to do? Is she just there to run the homestead for the businessman? And, mind you, the labor is unpaid, and she does not have any job security, she can get thrown out any time, she can be shortchanged, she does not any leave (PL/CL/SL), and every day she works overtime! It left a terrible taste in my mouth… where are we headed…

Friday, March 6, 2009

Some questions...

A casual conversation with an old friend spurred a myriad of thoughts in my mind. The friend went back to my good old college days when liberation and feminist theology were in and traditional mores of evangelical Christianity and patriarchal establishment were questioned. Those were the days when a small bunch of young Christians like us questioned everything that came our way—from English education to addressing god as father. Many years have rolled by ever since…with years, it seems as if the very structures that we questioned have caught up or are at least threatening to catch up, if we didn’t wake up!
Establishment that seemed too simplistic and hollow seems almost insurmountable today! No wonder they call it establishment. In no time, we have become arm chair intellectuals, earning fat salaries from a globalized economy, designing our profiles on shaadi.com, enjoying MacD dinners, attending some ‘powerful’ churches, sponsoring ‘missions’ in the ‘unreached tribal areas,’ and many things that we so furiously dismissed and swore never to do! It seems like establishment is having its final laugh! There are some of us who have joined the church to ‘serve’ and be more in touch with one’s ideals. Today, they talk the talk and walk the walk of the establishment, having become its guardians. Do we realize how we have lost the gospel of liberation and freedom for all?
Today, I hear young people praying for India, not for her millions to be fed and clothed, but to make Christianity her state religion! I don’t know what appalls me more: the ignorance of what constitutes a state religion or the sheer stupidity of such a prayer…do they even realize the actual meaning of state?
Today, what’s more appalling is the ease with which young Christian people take to patriarchal and traditional bindings like fish to water. Where is the passion to question…the life blood of rebellion and salvation? Where is the spirit of Christ in today’s youth? Doesn’t it even strike as odd when strong, educated, and intelligent young boys and girls go in for arranged, casteistic marriages within the church? There are worse practices where the girl wears the thali (mangalsutra) with her husband’s name inscribed on it! Why are we not even questioning these? If not now, when? Women, at the peak of their careers and youth, are saddled with hundreds of gynecological complications and ill health! Why don’t they question it? Just because you are biologically different and have the ‘capacity’ to bear the fetus, does that also mean that you necessarily sacrifice your health, intelligence, equality, and quality of life on the altar of marital pleasures (sic!), which infuse you with an obscure sense of security. Well, after landing up with so many health problems and house and car loans, you would definitely ‘need’ security!
Do we see how establishment is making inroads into our lives and blunting our intellects? Every day, establishment reinvents itself! If it was the dwijas (the second birth, signified by wearing of the sacred thread, for the high born within the caste hierarchy among Hindus) yesterday, it’s born-again Christians today! Didn’t Christ question this very hierarchy among people? Where is the love that Christ preached? Did we lay it by the wayside as we climbed the ladders of social hierarchy where we can ascertain our ‘rightful’ place by the very tools of the erstwhile establishment—the hierarchical order of the Hindus? Why should we have hierarchy in Christianity? Especially, when the basic tenet of the religion is: there shall be no jew, greek…male, female….etc? How did the rot of establishment make its way? Was this the sin that we were born with? Was Paul talking about this thorn in the flesh? How do we get rid of this? Do we even want to get rid of this in the first place? Do we want to root out class and caste in our churches? Do we want our women to be equal beneficiaries of the good news and salvation? Do we want to even talk about reinventing the institution of marriage, reinventing priorities for young Christians, setting priorities for the young, discuss tolerance, study and analyze the contemporary realties? How do we differentiate ourselves from the vast majority, which we conveniently term as casteistic, idol worshippers?

Destination Sikkim - Till we meet again

On the third day, we went to the Sikkim Himalayan Zoo. It was day of little rain and much mist. The walk into the zoo was surreal because o...