Saturday, July 31, 2010

CUT THE CRAP! My piece in Sahara Times August 7th, 2010

We are a nation over exhausted with discussion on the censorship of content produced and then broadcast on television and we’re a nation which despite endless debates has found no solutions.

We are a nation which thrives on rhetoric which is irrelevant to the reality and the content we produce follows the norm.

Let’s get one thing straight. There are no easy answers to the mess we are in because we first have to admit that we are the ones to have created it. The first thing we have to own up to is the fact that we have never respected the medium of television and therefore never acknowledged the power it pocesses, unlike in other parts of the developed world.

We are a country ridden with issues from child to women’s rights, archaic laws which require immediate updating, poverty, religious fundamentalism and intolerance, violence, unemployment and population, health, rural and urban exploitation, water and sanitation and list goes on and on because there are also sexuality issues, caste issues and so many others. There is need to sensitize our masses about everything from environment to parenting, whatever in the world you can perceive, but ironically, the very medium which has been the only tool to have given sense to change and reform in the rest of the developed world, is a medium which, as a matter of fact, has been mishandled to the extent that it has been often accused of embedding false values, hypocrisies and regressive social behaviors in an attempt to appease the mindless politics of our times, which in itself desperately need an overhauling.

An industry born roughly thirty five years ago, which has spread like wild fire because of its growth since the last twenty five, has yet not considered what its responsibilities are, because like every other industry that comes up in modern times in India without laying out an understanding and firm foundation to it, television too is one such which has grown to its mammoth size without authorities having given it any thought.

Censorship is as defunct as India’s governance. It is as much eyewash as any other aspect of our fast changing lives which requires a system to consolidate and hold the irrational and mindless development taking place everywhere in the country. We have to reconsider each and every aspect of censorship if we want that a medium as powerful as television which has the ability to alter behaviors and attitudes becomes effective.

Like America educated its people about its law and their rights through the immensely popular program West Wing, and gently helped young people understand parenting in a frenzied world through its highly entertaining program called, The Bill Cosby Show, every other developed nation has used the entertainment wagon as a carrier of a message which has helped it to leap forward with its agenda’s of modernization and emergence in the present world. India unfortunately has failed to recognize the huge potential of the world of entertainment to propel its own growth stands defeated when it comes to empowering its people with knowledge and helping them evolve faster so to be able to adapt to the demands of the twenty first century. On the contrary television has become a lucrative business of the haves who patronize the have-nots with the relentlessly inane sagas belted out week after week endlessly. In no way has the greatest machinery of information and communication helped its people to understand the complexities of present times and deal with their conflicts with a human approach during the times of a revolution of technology.

Censorship is the third stage.

The first stage is for the Government of India to accept the Industry of Entertainment at par with all other industries and legitimize it by giving it recognition and respect as well as release it from the clutches of a taxation which aims to destroy it.

The second stage is for the industry itself to admit to its responsibilities and be therefore manned by a resource of evolved minds that are sensitive to India’s problems. Just like the airlines cannot employ a pilot with weak eyesight, the industry must cease to employ people with a lack of sensitivity to the countries status and problems and those with a weakness for voyeurism and perversion.

Once these two aspects are achieved, the third stage is censorship which would actually be a non issue because the parameters would be set by those who understand India’s demographics. Imagine unregulated pharmaceutical industry doling out poison to consumers and being allowed to advertise it as healing medicine!

The final stage then would be the TRP which the medium will achieve maybe more than what it has managed to today, because where in the world is that society which does not recognize what is good for it and in its interest?

Where in the world is pornography acceptable in the mainstream?

Isn’t regressive and sensationalized content which endorses bias, be it gender, caste, economic or social, akin to pornography?

Saturday, July 24, 2010

ITA - A History in the making :)

Anu Ranjan, Shotgun Sinha and Shashi Ranjan at the
of 10 years of ITA.
How far back I have to go to come to this place?
With Shashi and Anu Ranjan, the beautiful couple who announce the 10th anniversary of ITA with the release of a coffee table book celebrating all the talent of the television industry of India like never before in a 200 page journey from the beginning to now, this moment, it is really a long time ago, from even much before I had written my first word for Indian Television.
Way back in the late '80's there was an obscure suburb of Mumbai taking shape called Yari Road which was filling up with people from the world of theatre and films. Everyone who lived there at the time was a new comer to Mumbai and so were we.
I used to live in an appartment on the 6th floor with three of my girl friends, Ashoo, Ritoo and Nootan. We were friends from school and college who had landed up in the city of dreams in search for one. We were a wild bunch who had tasted freedom for the first time, and the four of us had an open house which was filled with friends from day till night.
Shashi Ranjan, an established young good looking actor was the only neighbor we had on the same floor.
We hardly knew him.
If we met him in the elevator, he was polite and charming and once in a while when we either ran out of ice or our old doddering refridgerator had konked off, we would ring his doorbell and request him to give us some.
One fine day, he dissapeared for a long spell. His housekeeper informed us when we next rang his doorbell that he was due to return soon with bhabhi. I swear that two of the four hearts broke so hard that we could hear the glass shattering.
The next thing we knew was that he was back with his wife and then one day, as we were piling into the elevator to go downstairs what do you know? Shashi's wife peeps out of her door and yells out our names. We were shell shocked.
She turned out to be a childhood buddy who all of not only loved but also admired.
She was Anu.
Then there was no looking back. Anu and Shashi had the comforts and we used to live like gareebs, desperately waiting for our lives to take off. Anu was a dream come true who gave us great food left over from her late night parties to eat, chilled beer to drink and would often allow us to watch video movies in her house when Shashi and she were out.
Soon their lovely daughter Anushka was born and we would baby sit her for which Shashi and Anu would pay back with a free access to their bar while they were out. One or two of us would hang out in the luxury of their warm home watching over a sleeping baby Anushka while they partied, drinking their beers and watching movies and TV shows which were a part of their abundant collection.
Life went on and we moved on.
First Nootan got married, then Ritoo and finally Ashoo.
I had moved into my own digs and was writing my first series Tara. I would often bump into Anu and Shashi Ranjan and Anu who was a regular viewer of my serial would laugh and tease me because she was one person who knew how close the story of the serial was to the lives of us four friends who are still, 20 years later, such good buddies.
A sequel to Tara is ready to be written and produced.
In the year 2000, at the end of the last millenium and the beginning of the 21st century, Anu and Shashi Ranjan launched the Indian Television Academy (ITA).
It was the first such institution in extremely scattered times of the Industry, established to hold it together and give it some sense. For Anu and Shashi Ranjan it has never been difficult, nor ever shall be, to gather the support of the entire fraternity. They attract the community with their involvement with the industry and their participation in the process of a constantly changing world which is evolving as we go along.
From the ITA awards, which was the first thing to be floated which gave recognition to the talent in the industry, to Gr8, the only Television Journal in the country, from Beti, a pro social enterprise to communicate about the issue of the girl child to all the seminars, conferences and workshops to discuss concerns of the industry, ITA has come a long way in the last 10 years and ITA is what binds the family together.
The evening at the Marriotte which was to celebrate the completion of ITA's 10 years and to launch the Coffee Table Book edited by the couple, was a dive into the past, a brush with the present and a peep into the future of Indian Television. The book is in limited edition and traces the world of Indian Television from where it first began to this day. It celebrates success and acknowledges the contribution of each and everyone who matters. A must have, if you can lay your hands on it, although I believe it is available only on order with the ITA for the next month or so. If you are a part of the industry and you don't have it in your collection, you will miss it.
Meeting the Sinha's, the Sagars, the Bedi's, Satish Shah and his wife, Raman Kumar, Anand Mahendroo and his wife, Neena Gupta with her husband Vivek and lovely daughter Masaba, Sanjay and Binaifer Kohli, Ajai Sinha and his wife, Ashoke Pandit, Manmohan Shetty, Shekhar Kapur, Dheeraj Kumar, Rohit Roy, Divya Dutta and oh so many of those people who also grace the pages of the book made a lifting evening and also rang in a new era.
Hats off to this wonderful couple Shashi and Anu Ranjan to have pulled it off till here....
ITA is an institution which is here to stay way beyond all of us.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Artiste and the Abyss

There are days on end she spent in an incredible fear that she may write no more.
Fear of being left in a condition unable to write, through mind or through physical self, fear of a loss.
Its extremely difficult to write when it requires an effort.
So soon after days of malaise and days of a draining boredom, she sat in front of a blank screen with her fingers on a keyboard, terrified of the fact that she may have nothing to say and in realization that this is a state of mind of a writer in a chaos of thoughts who either doesn't know where to start, or is afraid to speak her mind.
Yet she dared to challenge fear and give it a shot because she knew no better.

For the first time in her experiences she saw herself changing while life held still, whereas it's had always been the other way around.
There has never been an agitation in her heart greater than the turmoil outside of it before, which is why she'd gone on and on without either hesitating or ever wanting to know what it is that drove her.
She was suddenly faced with circumstances where she felt wronged while everyone she should've been accusing felt justified in doing what has been done to her bringing life around her to a screeching halt and turning up speed on her mind and soul to start searching for a truth she had always skirted, or is it one which has evaded her?

'Adventurous' is what he'd said to her, she had been, 'which you have to admit to if you want to survive hereafter', he had gone on to say at the time when everything in her world had turned on its head and time had frozen around her.
In him, her mentor, she had always believed.

She's like the lost in a forest who saw a familiar mark on a tree which gave her to believe that there had been life here, even if it was but an illusion only.
From the mark on the tree she'd followed the foot prints on the ground of what seemed like those of a dangerous beast who would tear her to shreds, yet feeling comforted she went on.
It made sense to be ripped apart by hungry teeth and devoured by a starving animal than to be lost in an abyss.
She also knew while on her way to her end that she had hope that the vicious cat might spare her and show her the way if he was satiated.
Because man, vicious or not, could not be trusted.
Man is never satiated.
The more he is fed, the more ruthless he gets, which to accept and digest as fact is the greatest learning for the ambitious, the adventurous.

The rules of the game are written by the ones who have it
The rules of the game are written only for those who have it.
Not at this juncture, like any other before this, was she willing to accept that she doesn't have it, because in all the paucity of material and kind, she now knew the game and like a gambler who starts with a bluff in a confidence of winning the first hand to be able to play the next, she could start again.

Adventure, they may call it, but left with no choice is the arguement of the artiste.
Because had she pulled off the bluff, would she be called an adventurer?
Had she escaped a satiated lion, you would've called her courageous?
The ace was never in her hands and the secret was never in theirs.

Art is a business and the artiste playing his role to perfection knows it better than the dream merchant.
She is humbled yet again to the lord almighty that yes, she is still able to write, so she ends this piece with a smile because she knows now that she hasn't lost everything in one more failure, but only gained the confidence of having learnt a little more.
And she will continue to write the book which has been completed so many times over in the last two years.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

AMEN - A Cinema born

Amen - A short film written and directed by Ranadeep Bhattacharya and Judhajit Bhagchi, Presented by Valentina Erath and Harish Iyer, Featuring Karan Mehra and Jitin Gulati, Cinematography Varun Sud and Music Composed by Jonathan Fessenden.

"The worldwide web gets two protagonists, Andy and Harry, to come together on a nonchalant afternoon. Andy, the suave and rich urban banker stands in a place he shouldn't ideally be, while his counterpart, the soft spoken, overtly humble Harry, stands tall and firm and is completely rooted where he is today. Both have different hopes from the destined meeting. Their interactions bring out questions that need to be answered, truths that need to be accepted and a life that stands to be reckoned.
Amen makes two characters meet, experience hope amidst confusion, explore truths about sexuality and the self and delves into the profound meaning of life in the continuum of its trifles."

I have known Harish Iyer for a long time now, but have become a good friend of his in the age of Facebook and Twitter. I have followed him as much as he has followed me for over 3 years now and he has never ceased to surprise me with the gift he has of coming out with an honesty about himself, which is so rare in present times. When he came out with facts about abuse when he was a young child in the Mumbai Mirror sometime ago and it spread like a viral on the net I reached out to him because at one point after he had unleashed the most private secret of his heart in public domain, I had felt through his updates on his wall, that he feared he might have done the wrong thing. I think it is in that instant when Harish and I became really close friends, without ever having met. I know how important it is for those who have been wronged when innocent, to come out with it publicly at some point or the other in their lives, because however unforgiving it may be for the person speaking out, it surely releases him from the stranglehold of pain he has lived with for so many years. I have been through it myself, and I understand what Harish was going through it at the time.

Thereafter we communicated with each other regularly in connection with each other in a strange sort of a way because we had still never met. Then I got invited by him last weekend to see Amen, a film made by Ranadeep and Judhajit, two young and driven directors who took a line from one of the pages of Harish's life and converted it to the art which I witnessed the other day.
Harish had been struck with surprise when he was once told by somebody that he is gay because he had been sexually abused when he was a child. There are many people in this world who believe that. He wanted to clarify to the world that you don't become gay because of some reason or another.
That you are either born gay, or born straight.

When Judhajit and Ranadeep were in search of a story, they chanced upon this incident Harish narrated to them and decided to make their debut with a short film on the same.
It was to cost Rs. 30000 only.
They, along with Harish, went on a hunt for actors to play the parts of Andy and Harry, which in itself is a whole story for another film, and after much anguish managed to find actors Karan Mehra and Jitin Gulati, who had the courage to say yes to their roles.
The production began and stalled as soon as they had started making the film because they had run out of the funds which they had raised.
They were lost and didn't know what to do next. Harish, in his usual style of declaring his anguish on twitter and facebook, screamed aloud and wished there was someone out there who could help them out.
Valentina Erath, a young Austrian, who was randomly following Harish and didn't know him from adam's called him up and asked him what his film was about. When Harish told her what it was about, Valentina took his bank account number and sent him another 30000 bucks which vanished in no time while the unit wasn't half way through production.
But Valentina, who is a single working girl in Austria believed in Harish and by now Ranadeep and Judhajit as well, and continued to cut costs at her end by avoiding to buy say an extra outfit she needed, or a pair of shoes she fell in love with while window shopping, but didn't give up on sending them funds piecemeal, for them to complete the film which eventually cost them Rs. 3 lakhs.

How they achieved the brilliant background score by Jonathan Fessenden over interaction with him online and free of cost is another story in itself.
How the sets were put up with two walls and props were got borrowed from friends is another tale and the list of interesting trivia goes on and on which the director, actors, presenters and the rest of the team tell you at the end of the screening while you sit glued to your seat because you are unable to rise from it after the film ends.

Amen, which starts with Andy and Harry meeting for the first time physically after a brief interaction online, moves into an expression of sexual angst from Andy, who is in denial, and a display of sexual comfort from Harry, who is free from fear of any disclosure about himself, both who have dared to share a few moments of pleasure with each other without ever having met before.
The scene of their love making is in your face, which is perhaps, why, so many actors refused to play their parts, despite ironically both being parts actors would rarely ever get the chance to play.

How Harry heals Andy physically and emotionally and sets him free literally and figuratively is what the rest of the 15 minutes of the film achieves seamlessly through the most sensitive storytelling by the directors that I have seen coming from any Indian film maker in the recent past.
As a matter of fact, it wouldn't be fair to compare Ranadeep and Judhajit with anybody other than their own peers, because there is nobody on the scene I have seen who has had the guts and the courage to tear forward with a narrative as they have done with Amen.

Both Karan and Jitin have portrayed their parts with conviction and understanding. As actors, they have set themselves free with confidence and faith in the script. I can see both Karan and Jitin go a long way from here and believe they are the talent for the future of our works.
Both actors in their performances as lusting partners at first and lovers at the end, cut past the gender divide and make you feel the power of love above everything else through their chemistry. I for one, forgot I was a woman watching a film about the currents that flowed between two men, because what the two actors felt, resonated with me irrespective.

With Amen you can see the emergence of an Indian cinema to which the scale of the making is irrelevant while exploring depths and which cannot be stopped because it is impressionistic and does not require a whole industry to hold it up as technology had provided it with a freedom to explore itself without dependence on anybody else but a bunch of guys on the same page.
With the stories behind the scenes of Amen, you know that there are people in this world who will back art for its own sake because they believe in the intention and realize its potential to change this world which is so lacking in sensitive content because it is so hugely trapped in a business run by those who only seek returns.

My advice to the makers: Hold paid for screenings in different parts of Mumbai every weekend and you will recover your costs in no time.
My advice to the audience: Go see Amen and keep the art alive by paying for tickets at a venue near you.
My plea to the industry: Support films like Amen because it is the future of our cinema.