Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Pied Piper Effect: Satyameva Jayate, Amir Khan, Anna Hazare etc

Sometimes I wonder who the rats were in the Pied Piper story. Maybe it was a metaphor for the stupid people who drowned by following another stupid person. 

My fundamental problem with these activist types is that they preach moral and ethical uprightness with no associated economic incentives. On the contrary an average citizen has a lot of incentives (economic and otherwise) to behave in a corrupt and unethical fashion. My strong belief is that any activism that attempts to create ethical awareness without an associated economic incentive will simply not work. The world has moved to a point where this is simply not feasible. 

What Amirgan and Anna are doing is improving their own brand value without any real use to society. The average citizen is schizophrenic. He will not do anything that is impractical for his life. But at the same time he claims to profess support for the values that Anna and Amir Khan preach. The average citizen's zeal for ethical behavior extends to meaningless and low-stake things like refusing to pay traffic police bribes or at best refusing to fudge house prices to reduce registration tax (the latter scenario is very rare). This is the average citizen's level of commitment to ethics. If you raise the stakes to a much higher level you will find that almost every single of these 'average citizen' will resort to corruption. The most vocal Anna Hazare supporter and all people who self-righteously boil over against corruption will resort to corruption if the stakes are high enough. Its just that they have poor self-awareness of this possibility.

Anna Hazare and Amir Khan are very similar beasts working for opposite teams. The strategies of both of them to find a place in people's hearts as champions of ethical behavior and social service saints. They start by pretending that they have no political affiliations. This is probably an effort to earn the trust of people. Then all they need to do is point the people to an easily identifiable political party. Identify that political party as the source of all evil. and people will not vote for that party. Anna Hazare was a little bit more open about his political affiliations and the uselessness of his campaign. A bland 'be good, do good,' type of ethical idealogy and a silly Gandhian posturing was unsustainable from the start. It was clear that he was a stealth political campaign to undermine the incumbent government. 

Amir Khan is slightly more subtle play by the incumbent government to undermine the opposition. His campaign is equally meaningless because he picks issues which have a clear black and white ethical structure,. On top of it he dumbs it down and then makes a melodrama out of it. All elements of marketing to female and elderly audience is found in his show. This is enough to bring in the whole family. Most issues are plain obvious and there is no subtlety whatsoever in his debates. No gray areas that can whip up a good debate. All his topics already have been addressed in a 15 minute black and white Films Division episode on it. Satyameva Jayate is different because Amir Khan is present and the modern yuppie has been told that its 'cool' to be an activist ("If Egyptians are cool, why shouldn't Indians be cool").   Its a marketing campaign. I suspect the first phase will market his brand and the second one will market the incumbent government. 

Question is : when will the incumbent government plan for this TV show to air an episode where they talk about Gujarat riots? When will they bring in the victims and ask them to narrate the gruesome story. In effect that would be the Narendra Modi + BJP dismantling episode. I suspect it would be closer to the Lok Sabha elections. But it may come sooner as well.

Friday, July 20, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises

I can see how the title of this movie can cause a lot of giggle-worthy jokes by teenage boys on possible bedroom one-liners. However, I wonder why Nolan chose this title. I wonder why people think 3 or 5 is a more rounded number but not 2 or 4. The need to make 3 movies on a concept must become passe at some point in time. When Godfather 3 was made, one didn't doubt the quality of the movie. But the weight of the previous two came down heavily when one assessed the movie stand-alone. I think both Nolan and Coppolla must have stopped with 2.

Just to be clear. I liked the movie. In terms of grandeur and entertainment this movie delivered. But there is a reason why Nolan's movies are diferent from that of - lets say - Michael Bay. And that reason was absent here. I couldn't see what closure this movie brought to the series. It didn't complete an aspect that the previous 2 movies left open. This movie is connected to the previous two from a character continuity perspective. But thats about it. The parts I liked about the movie was that it had it moments of exhilarating action, well-told story and Selina Kyle's character had that extra bit of dimension that had the potential to be explored a la Joker.

The let down in this movie is the fact that it has too many dull moments. The 'high points' that gives the adrenalin rush in an action movie are near absent. It feels long and doesn't have the deep Nolan'esque story to make it engaging. More importantly Bane is an unimpressive villain. In a super-hero movie of this scale - if the biggest clash between Batman and Bane is two 'dishoom' 'dishoom' fight scenes. There is something badly wrong. I also felt the story suffered a lot in-terms of intelligent connectivity between different plot situations and character personalities. FOr example Joker's philosophy towards life seemed to have a connection with that of Batman. Their respective childhood experiences clashed with each other. The cave Bruce Wayne is locked up in - where is it? Why does the Batman world expand beyond Gotham? Why is the president involved? The warlord scenario in the movie's second half is more than a little bit fuzzy. No one understands whether Gordon and other key characters are in hiding or not. It seems like  too many events are rushed up in a hurry in some parts of the movie and in some other parts the movie expands and lingers on rather dull moments. The low presence of Batman throughout the movie is frustrating as well. The intelligence of the plot line and situations that elevated the previous movie is completely absent. I wasn't surprised by the twist near the end. Additionally, I felt the opening Bane escape scene from an airplane was very similar to an airplane escape scene in Cliffhanger.

Criticisms aside - this movie stand alone without the crushing expectations of the previous installment was entertaining. Nolan manages to portray comic book characters in a way that makes us care about them deeply. It weaves together strong characters who are engaging at the emotional level and at an intellectual level. Christian Bale is a wonderful actor. I just love watching his movies and how he interprets characters. He is a very intense character and the best Batman I have seen till date. One of the best aspects about this movie and the whole trilogy is its near-awesome casting. The dark brooding batman and the intense undertone of the movie makes it a genre unseen in super hero movies till now. Michael Caine is another actor that is so endearing for the viewer to see. His presence automatically creates the emotional connection with the movie. While the last movie doesnt leave a bad after taste - I just wish Nolan had spent more time making the story a little bit more deep a the plot situations a bit more clever.

p.s: Watched the movie like a fan boy at 6:30AM with this M, S and this girl. Came back and read the chilling news of Colorado shooting. 

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

On Watching Movies, Vazhakku En 18/9

Not a Review of the movie. But mostly my thoughts on why a person likes a movie vs not a like a movie. I wouldn't have written about this movie if I hadn't written ( a few weeks ago) a post that involved the 3-idiots movie. I sense that there is a continuum on the levels of exaggeration a director can resort to in order to make his point. After a particular threshold (and this changes per viewer) the movie looks comical and relatively 'unreal'. Two directors may employ very similar techniques (stereotype+exaggerate, remove shades of gray to emphasize their point) but the magnitude of exaggeration and purpose for which they exaggerate (enhance story vs enhance masala) makes the difference.

Vazhakku En 18/9 was a very disturbing movie.  I actually loved the movie. I felt immersed into the characters and cared about them. The main story of the movie was deep, different and very touching. Outside of the main story - the contrast between two sections  of the society - shown in a black and white way - seemed like the underlying point the director is trying to make. And he exaggerated the relative morality of the two classes as part of telling his story. But I felt the vehicle that was used to make this point - i.e. the actual story of the movie - took control and over-whelmed me to an extent where I didn't mind the rather poorly balanced class based stereotypes portrayed in the movie. I found this interesting because in 3 Idiots, I had the complete opposite experience where the stereotypes the director uses for purposes of  making his underlying point were so annoying and misleading that they dominated the rather weak story line of the movie. I felt an invisible line was crossed.

Probably because one aspect of the "director's touch" in Vazhakku En 18/9 resonated with me. This is a subjective observation because it isn't necessarily part of the movie's central story but is an underlying voice that passes social commentary as the story progresses. Balaji Sakthivel argues against the trend of today's society. Outside of the main class-based contrasting - Balaji Sakthivel seems to be making  a secondary point as well. He shows  that economically richer parents either (a) neglect their children or (b) are the reason for children's poor ethics or (c) do try to take care of their children in the best way possibly but cannot compete with the growing moral decadence of the society that uses new technology to make the world very unsafe for school going girls/children. I agreed with this part of the secondary narrative. Bringing out this nuance in an effective way made me think that the richer class were projected in a more true-to-life sort of way compared to the poor class. In comparison to 3-idiots: while both worlds were distorted to fit the movie format, I felt the distortion of this movie's world fell within a threshold of acceptability. Probably because it enhances the central story. It felt more 'real' than the way 3-idiots portrayed the world to make its point.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

On Life, Abortion and other things

I have never been able to understand how these self-proclaimed "progressive" or "liberal" people reconcile the dichotomy of being against female foeticide but at the same time being pro-choice on abortion issues.

I am assuming not all pro-choice people are idiots and so know that not all pro-choice abortions happens as a result of someone getting gang-raped. In fact one can safely bet that less than 1% of abortions happen under post-rape circumstances. So with that assumption I wonder -  how does nuking out a foetus regardless of gender become a 'non-murder' and expression of women's freedom? And why is it better than selectively nuking out a foetus of a specific gender?

Note: My opinion on pro-choice is that the entire debate has nothing do with whether a post-gestated embryo can be considered 'life' or not. Such trivial arguments are put forth by people who don't understand where the source of the argument is coming from. 

It seems to me that a group of people have a ulterior motive to ban pre-marital sex, eliminate teenage pregnancies and ensure that sex between man and women happens only within a loose construct of marriage. However, if they are unable to state this directly for some reason they would try and attack the problem in a two-pronged way. First they would try and ban contraceptives or limit it to married couples. This means that any two teenagers or college couples will have to copulate without a contraceptive protection. This is a good deterrent to achieve the objective that sex should be limited within marriage. However, there is always a possibility that the said the couple will try and copulate in 'safe days' and rely on their ability to abort a foetus in case it ever gets to that. Banning abortion would take away even that safety net. This means that any two people who are casually seeing each other will have terrible reservations about engaging in sex. This is because now the chances of them ending up with a baby is extremely high.

I will not state where I stand on this issue. But with someone who is interested in social commentary - I find it extremely strange that this angle is almost never spoken about in the debates that happen around the topic. A bunch of self-righteous people on both sides simply seem to harp on some sad definition/jokes about 'when life begins' etc.  I agree with the some of the negative effects that the ban on contraceptives cause. But the noise on this topic seems awfully silent about the ulterior aspect. It almost looks as if they key players on both sides know the game they are playing and continue to allow the stupid layman to indulge in meaningless 'definition of life' debates using arguments that are irrelevant to the central theme.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Education System, 3 Idiots etc

(In my blogging heydays, I tagged posts such as this as the anti-post in my drafts. With an intent to provoke the reader.)

I often hear people say that they liked the Amir Khan movie - 3 Idiots. Many claim to espouse a view that is similar to the one that forms part of the movie's central theme. If you are such a reader, I have the following observations to make.

1. You are the target audience:  This move was about clever marketing more than anything else. In a school/college classroom of hundred people, there is only one first ranker. Probably 2-3 people who fall under the category of people who are focused on marks and end up getting a lot of it.  The rest of people are sort of also-rans from a pure numbers perspective. In the long run the people who weren't in the top 3 ranks  may make it big in life. They may not make it big. But that is besides the point. This movie very conveniently makes a guy who is focused on marks look like an idiot. It makes a person who works well within the rules of the system look like a fool. The very purpose of doing so is to make the other 97 people look good. Most viewers of this movie probably fall in the "other 97%" category. This movie makes a lot of people feel good about their relatively average academic performance. It gives them a feeling that they got less marks - not because they didn't study well or because of any incompetence on their part- but because of some other profound reason. It allows them to blame the system. In effect it gives them an excuse - a hugely popular excuse - to justify why they didn't get a lot of marks. To put it more bluntly, the movie makes losers in the education evaluation system look good. Most of the general population are such losers and so they tend to like it. In reality,  I suspect that not all first rankers cram the syllabus. The ones who do are exceptions not the example. It is actually hard to mug up and ace one exam after the other without understanding what one is mugging up. These narratives are put-forth and exaggerated by losers who couldn't score as high as their classmates.

2. The path not taken always seems full of great possibilities: There are times when I suck at my job, I think I would have done great as an SBI officer.or in a state government job. The reason for this perception is that the aforementioned green-grass-on-other-side looks trivial and an easy-job in my eyes. But you ask a  person who works there, they'll say how difficult that job is. In India - there is intense competition and lengthy queues for everything. Even a B.A. History admission for an evening college. Blaming a unfulfilling career/education on "It is not my passion" is one thing. Assuming you will be good in your passion and would always trade-off a average career in software field for a try-and-fail scenario in the field of your passion is totally something else. Most software engineering I have talked to claim that they should have been something else in their lives. Many instinctively assume that trying and failing in a career of their choice is a better alternative to trying and somewhat succeeding in s/w engineering. And they are the most risk averse people I have seen.  They wont risk Rs 1 in their lives. But in theory they have wet dreams about a failed career in some sexy field. And they wont appreciate the 2000 Sq ft 4 bedroom house in which they are living such regretful unfulfilled lives. If someone is considering blaming their poor academic performance on not being allowed to have a non-existent career as a photographer or a cinematographer, that means they've never talked to a real-life photographer. A debate on this topic that does not consider the fact that a person's self-perceived talents in an non-mainstream field field might very well be insufficient or delusional is a half-baked debate.

3. Biting the hand that feeds you: In the 70s and 80s many people didn't have what we now call as a career. They had a cycle carrier. That is the closest they came. Some managed a bank job. A minuscule few managed to be a doctor or an engineer.  Survival was such a high priority. It is not as if the people who lived in those times were less talented or less aware of life's mundane nature. One couldn't afford to make an error in choosing a career. A slight slip here and there and you become what your relatives would refer to as "thanda soru" or a "tharudhalai". This means you were an arts college student in an era where an NIIT diploma or an MCA will not bail you out into financial prosperity.  If you thought you'd be a great painter or had some talent in taking close-up photographs of random flowers and animals you better be really sure of the pay-off of that talent. Such people ended up a Thasildhar office peone doing something unrelated to their talents. Its all awesome to appreciate Varumayin Niram Sivappu. Never easy to live it. There is a very good reason why parents force their kids into an economically safe career zone. They are playing the percentages. They have been there. Seen some dead bodies along the way and so want to make sure their children  arent one of them. Any movie or a debate on this topic that does not appreciate this forethought of parents is immature.

4. Blunting the knife.  Given the country's population, the potential she had to create a large number of people below poverty line was remarkable. That it managed instead to be a booming economy where people sat in A/C offices and criticized their careers is actually a great thing. The primary reason we weren't the biggest Somalia in the world was because of the laser focused investment in education. An education system that allegedly prepared you to "mug up", "cram", do anything to somehow get over the line. Products of this system are now average trundlers in the software engineering field without even trying very hard. These are people who may have ended up jobless in the 70s and 80s. Today they probably have 2 houses and a car. This education system has created millionaires, world's industry leaders and a sustainable reputation in the world market. That it has managed to keep such a vast population employed and luxurious is an outstanding achievement. It was made possible by shutting out a few talents and many dreams. It was made possible because parents prioritized survival over idealism. An intensely competitive education system that brutally focused on math, phy, chem and worshipped marks/aggregates and centums has ensured that even the people who come out as below average in this system are extremely employable and very much wanted in western countries. Movies like 3-idiots trivialize and dismisses this profound context. It treats parents as mindless bimbos forcing children into a sausage machine. It ridicules an education system that has kept the country in the economic race. It is an education system that has prepared us well for the harsh realities of life. Instead of appreciating the system - the movie panders to the immature interests of the audience and propounds an alternative blunted education system. The kind of system that western countries have. And these are the countries who don't have a lot of employable skilled labor.

To sum up, I empathize with people whose dreams and talents have been shut down. I used to be among those who thought I shouldn't have been a IT guy but something more profound. And I have less talent than the guy who complains less than 1/10th of what I do. The point of this post is not to shoot down anyone who dreams of an alternate career or anyone who thinks of putting their talents to use. I still have complaints about the educational system and do have regrets about my career. But I don't think my class first ranker is a idiot who mugs up stuff and reads the wrong speech without knowing what he is reading. It is that half-baked criticisms of education system and immature criticism of parent's attitude towards children's career is getting increasingly annoying. Every fool who can count up to 3 is calling himself a rebel. This Amir Khan character who studies purely for passion, who is so puristic that he doesn't even earn a degree for himself but goes on to have billion dollar patents that feed mountain/tribal kids is as immature and unreal as it gets. These things don't exist in the real world. We want less liberal arts dummies and more employable people in the future.