31 July 2017

'Indu Sarkar' - Review

There are two types of historical movies:
1. Non-fictional
2. Fictional
A non-fictional historical movie tells the story of actual historical events and actual historical persons. Example: Richard Attenborough's Gandhi tells the story of Gandhiji's life and India's freedom struggle. A fictional historical movie tells the fictional story of fictional characters against the backdrop of historical events. Example: Leo Tolstoy's novel War and Peace (made into several movie versions) tells the story of three characters against the backdrop of Napoleon's invasion of Russia. Non-fictional historical movies focus on the decisions and actions of rulers and leaders. Fictional historical movies focus on the lives of ordinary people and how they are impacted by historical events.

These were the two models in front of Madhur Bhandarkar when he decided to make a movie on the Emergency (1975–77). Which one did he choose? Strangely, both. His Indu Sarkar is a hybrid movie: 50% non-fiction and 50% fiction. The non-fictional part shows Sanjay Gandhi and his gang of thugs implementing the Emergency. The fictional part tells the story of a girl called Indu Sarkar (?!) whose life is impacted by the Emergency.

Madhur Bhandarkar has made two blunders here. Firstly, he should have junked the non-fictional part and kept the movie completely fictional. Secondly, the Emergency was a complex event with many different features:
1) Forced sterilisation campaign
2) Demolition of slums
3) Imprisonment of political workers
4) Censorship of press
5) Underground resistance movement
To give a complete picture of the Emergency, a movie about it must show all these different developments. But this is impossible if you tell the story of just one character – because it is impossible for one person to experience all these different developments. The solution is to have several different characters, with each character experiencing one of these different developments, and to tell the story of each of those characters. And together, those several different stories would make up the movie.

Madhur Bhandarkar is a good director who has made good movies like Chandni Bar and Page 3. He has missed a golden opportunity to make a powerful movie about the darkest chapter in post-1947 India's history . . .

29 July 2017

Hindus and Hinduism

India was born on the banks of the river Indus. The Sanskrit name of Indus is 'Sindhu'. Sanskrit was the language of knowledge in ancient India. The language of the common people was Prakrit. It used simplified Sanskrit words (just like today's regional languages Hindi, Kannada, etc). One such simplification/modification was that the 'S' sound in Sanskrit changed to the 'H' sound in Prakrit. So 'Sindhu' became 'Hindu' in Prakrit. It meant the river Sindhu. It also meant something else: the people whose civilisation was born on the banks of the river Sindhu.

'Sindhu' became 'Indus' in Greek. From 'Indus' came the English words 'India' (the land beyond the Indus) and 'Indians' (the people of that land). Thus the words 'Hindu' and 'Indian' are synonyms. The Hindus developed a Dharma or way of life (system of beliefs and practices). It was called 'Hindu Dharma' (or 'Sanatana Dharma' - 'the ancient way of life'). When the British came to India, they coined the English word 'Hinduism' for Hindu Dharma.

This is the real meaning of the word 'Hindu'. It is nothing but the synonym of the word 'Indian' (actually 'Indian' is the synonym of 'Hindu' - since the latter word came first). It is the name of a people (which comes from a river). Over time, the Hindus/Indians developed many religions (way/system of worshipping God) - like Shaivism, Vaishnavism, Shaktism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism.

Thus 'Hindu' refers to a people/nationality. It has nothing to do with religion whatsoever. Also, the people are not called 'Hindus' because they have a way of life called 'Hinduism'. It is the other way around. The way of life is called 'Hinduism' because it is the way of life of the Hindus.

22 July 2017

'Dunkirk': Review

Review of 'Dunkirk':

Q: What is war?
A) Heroism, bravery, courage, nobility, sacrifice
B) Violence, chaos, madness, insanity, meaninglessness

So there are 2 types of war movies:
1. Movies that say A
Example: Saving Private Ryan, Enemy At The Gates, Letters From Iwo Jima, etc
2. Movies that say B
Example: Apocalypse Now, Platoon, Full Metal Jacket, etc

The answer to question Q depends on the war. If the war is good/just/righteous (like World War 2) then the answer is A. If the war is bad/unjust/unrighteous (like Vietnam War) then the answer is B. It is not a coincidence that most World War 2 movies are type-A movies and most Vietnam War movies are type-B movies.

Of course, there are exceptions to this rule. For example, Thin Red Line is a type-B movie about World War 2 and We Were Soldiers is a type-A movie about Vietnam War. Even more fundamentally, there are exceptions to this crude classification itself. Black Hawk Down (Somalian War) is a type-AB movie that brilliantly combines both answers A and B. Hurt Locker (Iraq War) is a type-O movie that says neither A nor B, but simply shows war in a clinical, documentary-like style.

All this brings us to Christopher Nolan's Dunkirk. Which type of movie is it? It is a World War 2 movie – so we would expect it to be a type-A movie. But Nolan made the Dark Knight trilogy – so it could be a type-B movie. However, Nolan never plays by the rules of the game. He plays by his own rules. So to the question Q, he gives another answer:
C) Death, fear, pain, desperation, hopelessness

In 1940 the German Army rolled through Europe, crushing all the European countries one by one. By May, the British Army was trapped on the coast of France. 4 lakh soldiers were pinned between the sea and the German Army in a town called Dunkirk, facing certain annihilation. Then the British Navy – with the help of civilians – carried out a massive rescue operation. Over 10 days, around 1000 boats and ships took 3.5 lakh soldiers to Britain and safety.

Nolan tells the story with his trademark clockwork precision. Like a chess player arranging pieces on a chessboard, he shows us all the 3 scenes of the war: land, sea and air. His script combines seamlessly with Hoyte van Hoytema's camerawork and Hans Zimmer's background music. Mark Rylance, Kenneth Branagh, Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy and the other actors play their roles competently.

Dunkirk is not a conventional war movie. Firstly, (as explained above) it is neither a type-A nor type-B movie – but a type-C movie. Secondly, it is not a 'battle movie'. It is a 'retreat movie'. So there are no 'battle scenes' as such. Anyway, critics have gone gaga over it: "Nolan's greatest movie", "greatest war movie", etc. Don't listen to them. Just watch Dunkirk with an open mind – and form your own opinion about it.

PS: 2000 Indian soldiers were involved in Dunkirk. 1500 of them were rescued. The remaining 500 were captured by the Germans and died in the POW camps.

07 July 2017

Ten Greatest Economists

Ten greatest economists:

1. Adam Smith
* Wealth of Nations (1776)

2. David Ricardo
* Principles of Political Economy and Taxation (1817)

3. John Stuart Mill
* Principles of Political Economy (1848)

4. Karl Marx
* The Capital (1867)

5. Carl Menger
* Principles of Economics (1871)

6. Leon Walras
* Elements of Pure Economics (1874)

7. William Jevons
* Theory of Political Economy (1871)

8. Alfred Marshall
* Principles of Economics (1890)

9. John Maynard Keynes
* General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money (1936)

10. Paul Samuelson
* Economics (1948)