Sunday, October 14, 2007

Cheeni Kum

I watched "Cheeni Kum" the other day. I found it refreshing. None of that melodrama where the guy or girl doesn't express his/her feelings to either their parents or the object of their affection, and mercifully, no aerobic gyrations by scantily clad gals and guys on the streets of London. A story about love that can happen at any age without being apologetic for it. A story that does not have sugary sweet parent-child emotions where the kids “obey” their parents and parents mouth philosophical dialogues straight out of Ramanand Sagar’s mythological serials.

Amitabh Bachchan plays Buddhadev Gupta – a chef with an acerbic tongue that does not even spare his own aged mother, an ego, attitude and a passion for his work all related to each other and single at 64. Yes, never been married! He owns a restaurant called "Spice6" in London, of which he is also the head chef, considering the culinary practice a work of art.
Tabu plays Nina Verma – a 34-year-old single, lovely lady, who’s visiting London and as fate would have it, walks right into Buddhadev’s restaurant and his life.
They meet when Nina sends back a plate of Hyderabadi zafrani pulav that is too sweet for her palate and Buddhadev comes to the table and unleashes his ire and ego at her. She leaves but not without sending him hand-cooked authentic zafrani pulav soon, thereby humbling the otherwise cocky restaurant owner cum head chef. Their romance unfolds slowly with Nina being classy and bold at the same time. Not for her the coy, come-hither-but-stay-away-from-me confusing signals typically sent out by our heroines. By the way, our heroines are saying out loud what is in their heart, be it a Kajol in “Fanaa”, or Rani Mukherjee in “Hum Tum”. The background score by Ilaiyaraja as well as the one or two songs are superb, understated but mellifluous and creating the mood for the romance.
Another endearing part about the movie is when Buddhadev and Nina have a small disagreement over the perennial vegetarian/non-vegetarian issue. They are sitting at this seaside cafĂ©/restaurant out in the open. Nina orders a fish dish and Buddhadev orders vegetarian pasta. When Nina asks him how he manages to eat “ghaaspoos” (grass – the term used to tease vegetarians with), he launches into an ardent speech about how the fish that she is eating are being missed by their relatives.. something that I, as a vegetarian, can identify with. They end up calling each other “ghaaspoos” and “tangdi kabab” (a meat dish).
The measure of how far our cinema has come when it comes to matters of a sexual nature is illustrated not by passionate lovemaking scenes but by cheeky, double-entendre scenes:
Nina asks Buddhadev to do a sprint towards a tree and back to check whether he has the stamina to do something beyond just holding hands. And then, there is Buddhadev, covered in awkwardness as he attempts to buy a condom at the local pharmacy owned by an Indian sardar. If I were him, I would sneak off to a local, white-manned department store, where I could pick up the said item anonymously. But, it just shows how taboo having a sex life at 60+ still is, for some Indians.
The “Meet the Father of the Bride” session is totally whacky with Paresh Rawal essaying the part of Nina’s father, a self-confessed Gandhian, who indulges in some non-Gandhian practices, such as consuming chicken and the occasional social whiskey. He launches into a “satyagraha” without food or drink when he hears from Buddhadev in the loo of a hotel, that he wishes to marry his daughter. The daughter does not bow to emotional pressure either. Some of the dialogues will be pretty hard to stomach – such as Nina asking her father when he is planning to die as he says that he would not allow Nina to marry Buddhadev as long as he is alive. But, it is not that Nina does not care about her father. She rushes to Delhi from London when her dear papa is sick and sits by his side through most of his self-imposed hunger strike, trying to win his approval. But, seriously, this part is what made the movie drag on and on.
Finally, all’s well that ends well.
Zohra Sehgal as the aged but spirited mother of Buddhadev, who revels in “Sex and the City” (gosh, she, too!) and “WWF” on the flat screen TV in Buddhadev's sprawling London home, is a delight to watch. She should get more meaty roles.
Swini Khara as the young, precocious cancer patient, who wants to watch adult DVDs before she dies as she is not going to live to see them, does a great job, too, leaving her mark even in a side role.
Amitabh and Tabu play their parts to perfection. Amitabh probably never had it this good even in his youthful heyday. He is like a bottle of wine that tastes better as it ages. As for Tabu, her long silky straight hair, radiant face and traditional salwar kameezes, kurta-and-jeans attire, add a luster and sexiness to her, even without revealing costumes.
Paresh Rawal is hilarious, as usual.
Finally, a round of applause for the debutant director,
Balakrishnan. He deserves to be commended for this work. More power to less-shrill dialogues, less loud humour.
All in all, a sweet movie, without the dripping, sickly sugary-sweetness of most of our romantic movies. Truly, “kum cheeni” (less sugar)!

Marriage and Family

This week’s U.S. News and World Report (October 15, 2007 issue) editorial column talks about how children in two-parent households have a better life than those in single-parent households, how the husband-wife traditional family is the best to raise kids who turn out to be healthy, responsible citizens.
Well, common sense suggests that if both parents are educated and if there is a constant source of income in the household, be it from one or both parents, the children are likely to receive a good education, healthcare and other benefits. This is definitely a good thing.
What about children in bad marriages or of divorced parents? The author in the said column even goes further as to say that Social Security and benefits programs should encourage marriage and not single parenthood.
But, can personal behavior really be incentivized? Maybe, in some cases, yes. For example, the Indian government did encourage smaller families to control the population, by massive public broadcasting programs and other means. But, in a democratic setup, people have to essentially believe in the principle behind the measure, to be a participant in implementing it.
The people who believe that marriage should not be a precondition for sex are going to go ahead and do it, anyway. Carelessness about contraception or the failure thereof is going to result in at least a few babies out of wedlock. Even among those who wait to get married and have babies, there is no guarantee that the couple is not going to split or that both parents will be alive till the child turns 18.
This brings us to the term – “family”. In today’s times, the family, at least in America and even in urban India, is mostly the parent/s and the kids living together. In the old days, in India, many people lived with their parents well after marriage. In fact, one sometimes had all the brothers living together under one really large roof with their wives and kids. Even today, there are quite a few such units that we call “joint families”.
In the modern or nuclear family, single parenthood is a costly thing. The single parent is the sole provider/caregiver/mentor for the children and this can be a particularly overwhelming task. In a structure where the spouses are not the sole providers/caregivers, the children are also looked after by other elders such as grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc. It is like having free daycare cum family atmosphere. I sometimes wonder, if Americans also lived in such structures, rather than moving out of their parents’ nest after 18, would the single-parent statistics be very different? Another factor working against single-parent families is the low-income individuals who undergo out-of-wedlock pregnancies and do not have much of an education or high income to support their kids with. Added to that, if these parents are already in the grip of drug/alcohol addiction, then the children would really have a rough childhood.
But, what about the educated, well-paid professionals who don’t find the “right person” to commit a lifetime to, but find that their biological clocks are going away, tick-tock, tick-tock? Will they not also just have a baby so that they don’t miss out on motherhood? I am saying “motherhood” because it is usually women who have a shorter fertile period to have babies and also motherhood is, well, physically far more demanding than fatherhood (not the raising of kids part, just the bearing them part, before all you men jump at me).
Affluent actresses such as Angelina Jolie and Sushmita Sen adopted children out of wedlock and they are greatly admired for it. Many Hollywood celebrities bear children before getting married and the father is also pretty well-known.
In my opinion, marriage was originally meant as a structure for companionship, support in old age as well as emotional, physical and financial support throughout, as well as a unit to raise children. Today, we expect romance, great sex and the world out of it besides the above-mentioned factors. We expect to commit to one person all our lives and have emotional, physical, social and financial fulfillment till death do us part. Whether this is possible for all marriages on earth is a question that yours truly cannot answer as it is too profound, too complex for any individual alone. No wonder, commitment-phobia seems to be more common.
But, was marriage always the one man-one woman sole family unit? History points out quite the contrary. While the single husband-single wife union seemed to be pretty common, polygamy and polyandry were quite rampant, too, at least among the royals and other elite people. Did the children of such structures end up as lesser human beings? We don’t know. In the Ramayana, that epitome of family values, Rama was the eldest son, his father had three wives and the step-brothers got along so fabulously that today’s blood siblings would be ashamed of their own petty rivalries. Now, don’t for a moment, think that I am endorsing polygamy/polyandry.
All I am saying is, both marriage and family, as social institutions, have changed with time, across cultures around the world.
I somehow don’t buy the argument that marriage-first-kids-later, is going to solve all the socioeconomic problems of the world. What any child needs is love, acceptance and responsible caregivers who are genuinely concerned about his/her wellbeing and who are there for him/her not only till he/she is ready to fly, but also later. A loving father and mother united in a socially-sanctioned institution is a great gift to a child. But to say that the others who make a genuine effort to raise children right in a responsible way, who have made choices that society does not approve of, are somehow doing a lesser job, makes me feel a tad little uncomfortable.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

The most beautiful?

I had written a post long ago on the subject of beauty, Aishwarya Rai, celebrities, etc. here.
In my humble opinion, the whole idea of "the most beautiful", "the sexiest", etc. is a ridiculous notion. Consider this: a celebrity magazine decides, based on very debatable polls, that so-and-so is the most "beautiful woman" or the "sexiest man" in the world. In the WORLD!!
Their list of the top ten in 2005 may be:
1. Eena
2. Meena
3. Deeka
4. Seena
5.Xena and so on.

Those of you who have such real names, please, this doesn't refer to you and is in no way meant to offend you.
Come 2007 and their list reads as:
1. Xena
2. Meena
3. Eena
4. Seena
5. Deeka

Come again? Did Xena get transformed into the most beautiful woman in the world in the span of two years (unless and until she went under the surgeon's knife to get herself 'sculpted')? Whatever happened to Eena, the-most-beautiful-in-2005?
Now, the part about the poll. I agree that some people appear more attractive to a lot of people as compared to others. But, when it comes to the most beautiful, there are bound to be different opinions.
Secondly, what do you mean by "the most beautiful"? Among whom? Maybe, among the famous actors/models/pop artistes of that time. These people represent not even 5% of the population in a country. Even if one assumes that only 10% of the world's population is good-looking, then, too, how many people would have had the opportunity to see even a tenth of that?
Thirdly, there is no way you could compare a celebrity who takes very good care of himself/herself, wears great outfits and has the best stylists at his/her beck and call, to an average Joe/Jane. Imagine if the average good-looking non-celebrity was nicely dressed, made up, coiffed, photographed under the right lighting, from great angles and the result were converted into a glossy wallpaper. You would have a star-in-the-making. Can such a thing be accessible to the millions who toil under the sun, who don't have the resources to slather on sunscreens, anti-aging creams, the latest hair colour, etc.? Nope.
Beauty comprises of two parts - the natural, God-given looks and one's own input in the form of a healthy diet, exercise, grooming and , yes, happiness and inner peace that reflect on your face. Sometimes, we see people naturally well-endowed when young, not getting their due notice while some others, who might have been average-looking in their teens, soar to popularity later. Of course, blooming into the youth of the 20s happens. But, a lot of times, a pretty-faced woman who dresses like a rag, does not bother to maintain herself, becomes frumpy and fades into oblivion whereas a slightly-above-average looker works out, eats right, has oodles of confidence and steals the limelight.
As they say, it's not just what you got but what you do with it, that matters.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Can we compensate for this?

The horrific tragedy that took place in Nithari has been reported in various news agencies such as the Times of India and and some bloggers have also presented their opinions - one of the illustrious denizens of the blogosphere is

The government is now giving each of these poor families Rs. 5 lakhs (5,00,000) as ex-gratia. Now, one can understand if compensation or ex-gratia is paid to workers of a factory who have met with an on-the-job accident or to people who have lost everything in a natural disaster. That money is meant to help the devastated families rebuild their lives and stand on their own feet. It does not certainly mean that the loss of human life has been made up for. In the former case, it is also a liability cost borne by the employer.
But, what do you do when a child has been killed? That, too, by a criminal? Will paying Rs. 5 lakhs in any way mitigate the grief and loss of those hapless parents?
If I were a poor parent whose child was a victim of a well-publicised crime and I received an amount of money that is quite an amount by my standards, would I feel guilty about using it for my own betterment or for my loved ones? Legally, a child cannot really be an earning member of a family so what does this ex-gratia mean? The parents may still continue to live but for many, that life would seem bleak and empty.
Money to a dead child's family seems like weighing the child's life and worth in terms of money, the possibilities of what he/she could have blossomed into, is reduced to an economic statistic. Another reason could be that the government is apologising for the gross negligence in handling the case due to which many preventable deaths occurred. In that case, these families should be suing the government. Even in that case, the people in charge will only feel the pinch when the mooolah comes from their own pockets. They usually get away lightly, emptying the public coffers while merrily ignoring their own incompetence. What we really need is a better law and order system with more sensitive and responsible, honest police officers, those who don't
harass family members of victims when they approach them for help.
Secondly, the Nithari case is now well-publicised as it is a shocking, unheard-of case with crime being committed on a large scale. Hundreds of children and adults are unfortumate victims of terrible crimes in our society. If this is what we do in one case, then all those families deserve ex-gratia. Police negligence, after all, cannot be unique to only this case.
Thirdly, there are some situations where you cannot blame the government or even the society for what has happened. Natural disasters are one such instance. But, the compensation given to those families is for an entirely different purpose. It is more under the category of aid. As for victims of riots, well, society and the state can prevent them or at least control them after they have broken out. But, individual crimes? Some person kills someone, out of mental disease or malice or pure accident. Neither the state nor society can always prevent that. They are not obliged to pay for it and cannot possibly do so for everyone. What they can and should do is take steps to nab and prosecute the culprits and deliver justice to the families.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Needed: A new age-bracket

Those were the times when there were only four types of people, agewise that is: children, the youth, adults and the elderly.

Recalling my school history textbooks, India's ancient forefathers had it all neatly divided:
You had the kids going to school to study. No, you weren't supposed to be checking out attractive kanyas (young girls). Knowledge was what you sought full time. This was Brahmacharyashrama, 'Brahmacharya' meaning celibate.

Next, you got married, procreated, worked, provided for your family. In those ancient days, women probably did the bulk of the housework, cooking, cleaning, taking care of the kids, etc. In short, the father and mother built a nest and provided a good environment for their offspring. This was Grihasthashrama.

The third stage was retirement. Kids are grown up, married and settled. The husband and wife now retire to the forest, probably to a hermitage. This was Vanaprasthashrama, 'vana' meaning forest.

The last stage, the evening of one's life, was to be devoted to the Divine and the spiritual. This was Sanyasashrama.

These days, a child is not just a child anymore. Well, everybody knew the difference between a 6-month-old infant and a 6-year-old child even in the pre-modern era.
But, now, there are special age groups. There was the infant in diapers, needing to be fed by the bottle or the breast. Then there is the toddler, also in diapers, who needed to be fed nutritious finger food, stimulated with learning games so that s/he grows up strong and excels in school. Next comes the preschooler. So far, so good. Then, due to the peculiarity of the English language, there is the 'teenager', between ages 13-19. But, since legal adulthood was defined at 18, well, the 13-17 year olds are a special age group called 'adolescents'.
Wait, it gets even better.
Enter the modern era with all its marketing professionals and myriad products.
11 and 12-year old girls wanted to dress up like their older sisters and friends. But, they were not yet teenagers. So what to call them? Why, 'tweens', silly! Or pre-teens.
Now, if Hindi were as widely spoken as English, then ages 11-18 would be the English equivalent of 'teen'. Why, because after dus (ten), we have 'gyaarah' (eleven), 'baarah' (twelve) and so on till 'athaarah' (eighteen).
Actually, adolescence meant the onset of puberty sans the maturity of a grown-up. But, the age of puberty itself has been going down and now, 11 year olds are in the early adolescence stage where once 14-year-olds were.

Even in adulthood, there are different segments - 18-24 and then, 25-34 and 35-49. After 49, well, it does not matter whether you are 50 or 80, at least to some of the marketing people, never mind the fact that a 50-year-old is usually in much better shape physically and mentally than an 80-year-old. To others, it matters a lot. Because if you are 50, you might be aiming at retirement options whereas if you are 80, you may have certain health concerns and needs.
Now, the real reason why I wrote all this. The comments on this rediff piece are astounding.
The said item talks about the supposedly upcoming wedding of Abhishek Bachchan and Aishwarya Rai, two of India's popular film stars. Many of the commenters think that Aishwarya, 33, is too old for Abhishek, who is also somewhere around 30. 33 is old/ middle-aged aunty??!!!
You mean, there is no difference between a 33-year-old fit and fine beauty and a 55-year-old post-menopausal middle-aged woman, even if the 55-year-old is also a beauty? So, according to some of these people, once you reach that age 30, you are officially crossing over into the middle age bracket, which extends on till you are 60! Phew! So, if the average life span is around 75-80 years, only 12 years or so are called 'youth' as in the adult 'youth', namely, the ages between 18-30. The first eighteen are childhood and adolescence and the years from 30 onwards are middle or old age!
In the olden days, a woman who was not married till she was 25, risked being called an 'old maid'. But, with the need to pursue higher education and establish a career, both men and women 'settle' much later in life.
I feel that after 25, there sets in a new maturity. But, with a proper diet and some getting-yourself-off-the-couch, coupled with exercising those calves and joints, one can be reasonably fit and attractive at least till the forties. In fact, 25-40 can be one of the most rewarding periods of your life. You've got your degree, you may study for more, acquire new knowledge and experience and contribute immensely to the society and the economy, not to mention the pockets of marketers. This need not even stop at 40. This age bracket is the peak of Grishasthashrama, family and career swallowing a huge dollop of one's daily time.
This is the mature adult who is certainly not middle-aged.
I would call a perky 31-year-old Preity Zinta a mature young woman, not a middle-aged aunty, definitely not.
Anyway, the exact period of youth can be different, based on different parameters. And it may well be slightly different for different individuals.
(This does not mean that one can be twenty forever. After all, a 40-year-old woman may not be able to conceive as easily as a twenty-year-old.)
So, if are in your thirties and someone told you you are 'not young', tell them, you are in an age bracket called 'mature young':)!

Farewell, 2006!

You came and went. Suddenly, there will be no trace of you on our calendars, in our chequebooks, notebooks, computers, emails, documents, nothing. You will be a timestamp on old documents.
Things that happened when you were here will now be referred to as 'last year'. You will now be a memory, a pang in the heart, a longing for the good times, for the company of someone dear and perhaps no longer there, or maybe a joyful exuberance of delightful moments spent with someone who mattered.
Quietly, the sun set on a day called 31st December and took with it a year - you.
The next day, there was someone new called 2007 to look forward to. It was welcomed with gusto, with cheery greetings, holidays, wild parties, gifts and laughter. You were forgotten, although discussed in news channels. Those were your final moments of glory.
After 364 days, 2007 will say adieu, too.
My mother always believed that rather than just celebrating birthdays, we should also ponder over the fact that one more year in our life has gone by.
The same applies to a new year, too.
Why don't we pause and reflect on the time gone by, never to be ours again? Why don't we stop and think about how closer we are getting to our end, inch by inch, day by day, year by year?
No, we celebrate and look forward to something new, hopefully exciting.
Hope the New Year does bring something new to rejoice about. Hope we discover something new about ourselves, the world, gain more wisdom and live life better and, as they say, more fully. More importantly, may those of us lost somewhere find a peaceful home.
Welcome, 2007! Goodbye, alvida, adieu, sayonara, ta-ta, 2006!
You shall be wistfully remembered.