Monday, 5 September 2011

Hindi Film Review-Aarakshan

Let go of your (ticket) reservations

The Mandal Commission’s Reservation Policy had created a furore at its announcement. Students and job seekers of the backward classes were to get preferential treatment in the government selection process, leaving the others (even the meritorious) feeling short changed.  In this backdrop we have Amitabh Bachan, an upright, principled, head of a college, with no bias or casteism. But a proclaimed soft corner for socially and economically challenged students and his mentoring of Saif Ali Khan, a dalit, keeps him out of favour of the upper echelons of the college hierarchy. Where his principles will be questioned and how they will hold him in good stead forms the crux of the film.

There is no lull to herald this storm. The jibes, the confrontations, and proclamations on contentious issues like reservation and caste, from the word go, all move towards the epicentre of a squall. The inclement weather till the midpoint break warns you of the worst. If this was rough, you believe, it would surely blow your roof off further on. You are now prepared, closeted in your respective strong rooms. It’s from here on that the storm peters down to deceptively cloudy weather and all that greets your anxiety is a strong wind that doesn’t even threaten to break into a drizzle. The publicity cries hoarse that it is a film on the Mandal Commission’s Reservation quota for OBC`s and its aftermath.  It eventually turns out to be a commentary on the commercialisation of education vis-à-vis heavy capitation fees and a burgeoning parallel education via expensive tutorials.

Amitabh Bachan, it appears, considers all his co-artistes edible that too with an expiry date. Why else would he gobble them raw, and in quick time, with almost every performance of his? His confrontations with Manoj Bajpai (a stellar performer in his own right who does manage to hold his own) and Saif (in the few scenes where he is allowed to) reiterate Mr.Bachan`s command over the medium, more so with the dialogues using more of Hindi than Urdu (A trait of Prakash Jha`s films). The performances are the film’s mainstay but it is a weak plot that lets them down. Deepika Padukone`s repertoire as a decent performer gets a fillip with her turn here. Her pleasant screen presence is also welcome. Pratiek`s name in the credits sure added a lot of weight. Pity, that was on paper only.  Though one cannot grudge him this performance, it is the role, which didn’t require his expertise. The project probably got him some stars for his CV. Wayne Sharpe (Background score), too, gets neither the subject (Gangaajal) nor the canvas (Rajneeti) to show his mettle.      

Clichéd friendships and betrayals, the expected volte face of characters at different intervals, an uninspired music score and a tedious post interval session do take away from the strength of the performances. Prakash Jha, unlike his earlier films is not in his element here, though his ability to highlight and intent to tackle varied social issues is appreciable.
(Word Count-489)

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Old Students` Day

Good or Great?

That very gate. Those very corridors. Those portals, classrooms, Ah! Even the winding staircase! You wistfully amble across the school compound into your alma-mater. “This used to be my playground …” that melancholic strain, seems to play around you with a surround sound effect. You gear yourself up for more such songs from this playlist, because you are here for the Annual School Alumni Association Day.

Hundreds of ex-students come back to school on this day meant exclusively for them. The most recent pass outs obviously outnumber all the other batches. There is a septuagenarian representing the school’s inaugural batch. Then there is the NRI, now an affluent entrepreneur, who has aligned his schedule to enable him to attend this event and there are scores of other batch-mates with less dramatic introductions but displaying the same pep and verve. The thought of reprising their juvenile antics, yelling out nicknames of their friends and old teachers in harmless banter, the fear of being reprimanded giving way to gay abandon, seems to trigger methamphetaminic enzymes of ecstasy. And then comes that feeling of being ever thankful. Thankful for making you less of a lesser mortal. From the 20 times you were made to repeatedly sing the National Anthem to correct the pronunciation of that one wrong syllable, to the one instance of being lauded for speaking a small truth in spite of its little consequences, all those memories come in a flood, making you climb a mind-tree and wait happily, in no hurry for it to recede.

It is these feelings of joy, ecstasy and more so gratitude that prompt people to want to give something back to their Alma-mater. To aid this in a systematic manner, Alumni associations are formed. The Oldest Alumni Association in India is that of the Madras Christian College formed in 1891. Its membership list boasts of greats like S. Radhakrishnan, Raja Ramanna and many more eminent achievers including Indira Nooyi, holding place of pride in society. Apart from catching up with old class-mates and meeting your favourite teachers, these associations help create corpus funds. Ex-Students of the institution donate into the corpus, helping fund scholarships for meritorious or poor students, felicitating faculty members or other staff who have dedicated probably decades of their life shaping or helping shape lives of students. Even ex-students, who have excelled in some field or the other, bringing honour to the school, are given citations through the Alumni Association. Active Alumni Associations in collaboration with those of other schools help create competitive camaraderie among the schools by organising inter school events and competitions which can even double up as fundraisers for any project in the school. It does seem that nostalgia is a wonderful accompaniment to the need to payback because there are many instances of philanthropists even bequeathing large portions of their wealth for the betterment of their institution that taught them so much.

The Old Students Day is clearly meant to relive memories of the best days of our life and help keep a connect with the institution that gave them to us. Being privy to one such day after an exceedingly long gap recently, there was the obvious expectation of being flooded with feelings of nostalgia, probably even getting an overdose of it. But that was not to be. It had been such a long gap now, more than 15 years, that there was a vague sense of detachment from school. Very few faces from those hundreds present were recognisable. Teachers you revered, apart from those who had left the school, could only try their best to give you that fond recognition.  Hundreds of students pass out of their classes every year. Expecting them to place you immediately after such a long time was just fool hardy. The school`s old façade was tampered with and new blocks with more classrooms had come up. This was a strange feeling of nostalgia coupled with feeling lost in a surrounding you knew so well. Would it have felt the same if the gap had not been so long?

A palpable change today is that in the attitudes of children in schools and the schools themselves. That pride and sense of belonging towards their Alma Mater, that adoration and respect towards their teachers does seem much lesser than that of students of years gone by. As students more than a decade ago, swelling with as much pride singing our school song as singing the National Anthem, upholding the values of our school with no less help from our School Motto and the School Prayer, addressing ourselves as Germainites, Josephites or Cottonians instilled that loyalty and created a bond. This bond seems amiss now.  Most schools today have a very common motto with barely any emphasis on its adherence; no school song exclusively meant for the school and small other details like these which were inherently meant to inculcate this sense of belonging. This is one of the primary reasons why Alumni Associations no longer seem to attract students. 

The Old Students Association is the one way to bond with your institution and any effort, monetary or a contribution with service, to pay back to it only helps in forging a relationship of loyalty and joy for years to come. Schools that don’t encourage this and students who are not a part of their alumni associations are bereft of the benefits and joys of this strong bond of loyalty and reminiscence.

Some luck,lots of wife-Vacation Ahoy!

What’s in a Number?
What’s a number got to do with your vacation plan? A vacation is sure to ramp up production of endorphins of joy and ecstasy in your body. And what if it is your first vacation abroad, in exotic Thailand? Your body’s endorphin production is going to race into overdrive!

Now, there are no prizes for guessing how you are going to feel if this holiday is courtesy a complimentary voucher including free stay and, believe it or faint, free air travel. But, you remind yourself this voucher is for two. Two. The wife, the voucher is in her name, sir, and you, the add-on. This reminder drops endorphin production from overdrive by at least thirty percent. This is 2011. The digits add up to four. Four must be HER lucky number.

Anyway, you light the regular two incense sticks and pray. The Lord has been kind after all.

Voucher in hand, the need now is only to confirm the date of departure within a few days, collect the flight tickets from the local airline head office and travel. Oh, the joys of travel! But just like all complimentary offers, this too is a teaser of just three days and four nights, leaving you wanting. The missus declares that this is just not enough. An extension of, at least, a week to this stay and that too at Phuket, in Thailand, is what will mollify her. She then magnanimously hands you that prize voucher which she won at the anniversary party of your vacation time-share company. So resourceful. Just that this voucher was won so long back, Jesus Christ was probably current affairs then. And pray how on earth can it still be valid, you wonder? That voucher was marked only for Australia and Spain, or, any planet of your choice. This, sweet heart is for Phuket, Thailand. Women…give them an inch and be damned if you don’t start believing they’re the rulers.

You obviously follow wise counsel, head to the vacation time-sharers office and hand over the voucher with a request for revalidation and approval for Thailand. Quite unlikely to happen, you are told, unless the zonal manager, currently on tour, gives his nod.  Years ago the missus ensnared me for life, you reminisce. That’s as lucky as she can get. There’s no way that voucher is going to get validated. You get back home and pray with four instead of the usual two incense sticks. The Lord needs to be appeased for madam to pleased.

The very next morning you receive a call from the vacation time-sharers office with this air of pre-conceived confidence. Minutes later there’s some hectic mental maths going on. Is four actually her lucky number or was it the extra two incense sticks? THAT voucher just got revalidated.

Have you ever felt you could have asked for something more, when something you prayed for has been granted? Well it’s the same even when something more than you wished for has been granted.

You have now confirmed the dates, booked the tickets, and, the visa for Bangkok is on arrival. The wait is on for D-Day just a couple of days away and everything is set, save for a small endorsement on the passports. The teller at the window in the passport office examines the passports and says that your passport could be collected on the morrow. As regards missus` passport, well there’s good news and there’s bad news. The endorsement is already done, but she will not be able to travel with this passport as it is damaged. So…what’s the bad news, you enquire? Jokes apart (shouldn’t they always be ‘a part’), you are told this passport needs replacement. You nonchalantly tell him to have it done and he replies nonchalantly that it will take a minimum of four working days and with the weekend approaching, you could make that six. Two days to leave, four days for a replacement. And four was supposed to be her lucky number! Guess she’s four light years away from luck. Back it is to the prayer room. The four incense sticks have become eight and now it is the missus is praying. Lord God, the great leveller.

In desperation to complete the passport requirements, a chance enquiry with the passport photographer by the missus (she is even checking with vegetable vendor) leads to a meeting with an insider at the passport office. Grabbing at the opportunity like it was a god sent chance for redemption for some past sins, he assures her he will try his best. But of course, provided his boss at the passport office agrees. Pronto-the prayer room-the eight incense sticks are now sixteen in number. The smoke sensor may well activate the fire alarm.

The duplicate passport is applied for via the insiders` channel in an emergency quota and with a hefty fee, and the mandatory interview is also arranged with his boss.  The missus, now full of remorse, she was careless with her PASSPORT for Lord’s sake, goes in and pleads her case. She had dropped some milk on the passport eons ago, and assumed it wouldn’t matter. The boss, a lady, empathises (who else would) and grants the delivery immediately, within four hours. FOUR hours? 2 0 11, four days, four hours, what’s it with four and the missus you wonder?

Passports collected, you rush back home with the wife and head straight to the prayer room. The Lord couldn’t have been kinder. The sixteen incense sticks turn to thirty two and you both pray fervently thanking Him. He seems to acknowledge, but with a strangely familiar sound ….

The smoke sensor has just activated the fire alarm.