Tanu Weds Manu Returns and a Newspaper Column

Last Friday night I watched the much applauded Bollywood movie ‘Tanu Weds Manu Returns’. The motivation was this column by Mint Lounge editor Priya Ramani. The column written from a modern day feminist point of view extols the actions of Kangana Ranaut’s character ‘Tanu’, which reminded me of the movie Queen, a brilliant film by the way, and I thought this one would be such a movie as well, but boy was I wrong. Let’s dissect the movie based on the points raised in the column point by point.

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So the movie is about Tanu, a small town Kanpur girl, who is married to a doctor from Delhi and lives in London. It is shown that she’s fed up of her husband as there is little ‘excitement’ in her married life. Her husband, called a ‘sturdy slug’ and a ‘bore’ in the column, who provides for the family and gives her a stable and comfortable life, appears to have done everything on his part to keep her happy; from moving from Southall to countryside on her insistence to opening a creche for her as she claimed to be bored of doing nothing at home all day. In return he gets to see her entitled-self complaining about her life, flirting with random men in pubs, body-shaming him in front of others, and getting him a complementary admission to a mental asylum.
But then, that’s what ‘sturdy slugs’ deserve as per the column, including infidelity.

So next, Tanu goes back to India after leaving her husband to fend for himself in a British mental asylum, and with the symbolism of open, flowing hair, goes around engaging with her exes (note that the couple are not separated yet). But the poor ‘sturdy slug’ is still not over her (despite all he had to face from an ungrateful Tanu) and bumps into her lookalike in the form of a Haryanvi athlete called ‘Datto’ on the grounds of Delhi University. Credit where it is due, the character is very well enacted by Ranaut and in the movie. Datto appears to be a genuinely nice and understanding woman, unlike Tanu, but the tone with which the article is written, it barely mentions the character once and keeps on praising the virtues of a self-centered Tanu. Anyway, the two get emotionally involved and decide to get married. Knowing this suddenly Tanu has the longing to go back to her husband and make things right. She goes around looking for him and in one scene she is shown to have knocked the doors of his parents’ house. There she threatens them that if she wants she can send them to jail, of course, without their fault as the biased matrimony laws such as Section 498A, Domestic Violence Act among others have had a rampant history of misuse against innocent families, and Tanu seems to be aware of this. Dangerous woman.

Finally Tanu gets to meet Datto, and guess what? The kind of person she is, she ridicules her and points and laughs at her for being a rustic village woman. She calls her a ‘joker’, a ‘ganwar‘ and tells her husband that ‘She’ deserved better than Datto as it would ruin her reputation that her husband left her for an evidently unsophisticated woman.
Then Datto responds to her pointing out her hypocrisy by reminding her that she has nothing in her to flaunt about, that before the wedding she lived on the financial support of her parents, and post it on her husband’s, that she has bought nothing ever with her own money, and that she travels the world, boozes etc. on her husband’s credit card. She goes on to compare herself with Tanu that she has secured admission in DU through her own efforts via the athlete quota and that she’s a state level athlete. She further reminds her that unlike her she can fend for herself. Tanu is visibly startled and later blames her husband for not standing up to her. Well, why would any human at such condescending behavior?
Not surprisingly, the column fails to mention this part. By the way, it is to be noted that the creche her husband had opened for Tanu was closed as apparently as she made the children drink alcohol. Another example of her godforsaken attitude is when in an earlier scene post coming to India she ridicules a guest at her home working in an IT firm. Wonder what she had achieved to behave with so much of entitlement.

In the end, as it is a standard Bollywood movie, Tanu and her husband get together and the column exclaims as to why? How could Tanu get back together with her ‘slug’ husband, she should have in turn been with her ex and married him as she deserved better than her husband. Well, here I partly agree, even I wonder why they got back together. Despite such attitude and behavior of Tanu, why on earth did her husband decide to get back with her? (Well, one theory I can think of is he harbored the fear of being slapped with false cases; just kidding, not really, but think about it!)

So, in a gist, Tanu has achieved nothing whatsoever in her life, lives a comfortable life in London where she has everything she can ask for and that she could never afford on her own, she contributes little to her marriage and is unhappy because her husband is a ‘bore’, is ungrateful to the extent that she’s complaining all the time notwithstanding of admitting her husband in a mental asylum. She has a serious attitude problem, is condescending towards almost everyone, and is immoral to the extent that she threatens to falsely accuse people under the laws that are in her favor.
The column ignores all of the above and keeps on praising the spirit of Tanu.

Now I don’t care two hoots about mass Bollywood movies to devote a blog piece about them, but watching the movie after reading the said column made me ponder about the hypocrisy of the modern day feminist movement. Imagine if it were the man in the relationship doing the same because he felt the woman was a ‘bore’? Well, that movie is called Queen (again, a brilliant movie) and we have seen how similar behavior by the man was looked upon as. Even Ms. Ramani is all praises about it (rightfully) in the same column. But when it’s the other way around, the man is still the culprit. The man is always the culprit.

Think.

The Population Boom

Take a look at the graph, what do you see? It’s real.
OK, that’s a poor attempt to rhyme with Bob Sinclar, but it’s imminent. There seems to be little chance of the low growth scenario looking at our present growth rate. In any case, medium or high, the global population is expected to reach 10 billion in our lifetime despite the slowing growth rate. It was 5.2 billion when I was born, it’s 7.4 billion now.

Economically the rising population is a boon. Higher the population, wider the markets, higher the consumption, higher revenues, higher profits and hence higher growth. One of the reasons Indian and Chinese markets are a hot catch for global corporations is the high demand here because of, well, large number of people. No matter what the media and the government might make you feel about India by citing it as the next superpower of which everyone wants a piece, the core of it is the huge market we provide.
The developing countries with large population might provide a hunky dory picture of their state of existence, but it comes with its challenges as well. Large population means large swathes of people in the working age. The challenge for the government is to provide employment for the said bracket. Failure to do so can prove to be fatal for the government and for the stability of the country itself. If basic economics is to be referred, then large number of people unemployed leads to rising crime levels and dissatisfaction among the masses. If Paul Danahar is to be believed in his book The New Middle East, one of the reason for toppling of many governments in the Arab Spring was that the youth were fed up of not being able to find work. While the older generation had the cushion of government jobs along with accompanying benefits for lifetime, the younger generation, despite having education from the best of the universities in the country, had little scope of employment. Thus giving rise to the dissatisfaction towards the ruling government and the need for change, resulting in the demise of the government in power.
It is said that India has about 65% population in the working age bracket. Globalization has brought in varied opportunities for employment in India, thanks to the opening up of the borders for trade in the early 90’s. However, at the current rate it seems unlikely that India, or the world, would be able to provide jobs to everyone. Moreover there’s a threat of computer programs (read robots) taking up most of the low skilled jobs, but that’s a story for another day. The future looks like a place where there’s going to be a large demand-supply gap between the employment seekers and employment opportunities, resulting in a crazy struggle for resources and survival.

Environmentally however if we’re to believe, we have long surpassed the sustainable population levels for the planet. It’s supposed to be 2 billion (Watch), which may sound radical but that was the population of the planet mere 80 years ago. Ever growing population puts stress on limited resources such as oil, food, water etc. which is evident since many years now in many parts of the planet. And for us as a race, protectionist policies followed by many countries doesn’t ensure there will be transfer of resources from places of abundance to the places of scarcity.
Couple of centuries ago, there was a stress on our survival as the mortality rate was high because of lack of medical advances. Not all children survived to adulthood hence giving rise to the need of a higher fertility rate. But today that’s not the case, humans have ensured that almost every child that is born lives a long life, further with the advancement in the old age care, the mortality rate has also come down leading to an imbalance between the births to death ratio. In the past we needed to procreate for our survival, but today we need to not procreate so rapidly if we are to survive.

I’m not going to the solution part which is of course, birth control measures, providing education to women from the under developed and developing world etc. but I would like to raise a question here. With such a bleak picture of our future, is it wise to bring our future generation on the planet? Apart from population explosion, there is lack of equality, lack of employment opportunities, cut throat competition for everything, fight for resources, depleting oil reserves, increasingly high cost of living, climate change, protectionist trend politically and economically, religious fundamentalism, and right wing coming to power almost everywhere. Isn’t it really appalling to die knowing you left someone your own alone in this shitstorm of a world? At least I’m highly inclined towards not bringing my future generation knowingly into the world that’s going to be a hard place to live. How about you?

PS – Yes, I’m an Inferno fan, the book, not the movie, and I wish a solution like that could exist in the world.

Excerpt from the diary…

What is the purpose of human beings in life? Nothing. Why do humans think of themselves as special? Of course we’re biologically evolved and technologically advanced but in the entire scheme of things, how different are we from, say, dogs? Just like them we’re born, we consume resources for our survival and we perish to become worm food. No reason we should think of ourselves differently, not even on an individual level.
There are more than 7 billion of us on this planet. The rate at which we’re multiplying, the reasons for us being special are declining rapidly. There have been a million species on this planet before us, there will be million even after we’re extinct. In the entire timeline of this planet, we have occupied a minuscule amount of space. That’s it. We’re just another species for this planet. If only every human realized it, we’d have a better, more emotionally evolved and mature race. Surprisingly all of it is not hard to grasp. Just look at the night sky. The light we see from the stars is not the present. For all we know the star might have become a supernova and we’ll know only after hundreds of years when the light reaches us. That’s how insignificant we are.

Now coming to an individual human being. If he realizes this, he’ll picture himself differently in his situation. He’s here for a short span of time. No matter how insignificant his life might be, why shouldn’t he live it the way he wants to? That’s individualism; and in the society that has evolved till date, it is an accepted concept in many parts of the planet. Just that I was born in the wrong one.

The Rooftop

The crescent new moon, low in the sky, was minutes from bidding adieu to this part of the planet and leaving the rest of the night in the dark to fend for itself. Passing by the mighty Pegasus, it appeared – from one of the rooftops of that cozy little town on the foothills of Himalayas – to be a flailing attempt to illuminate the stallion by its weakening strength. Ayberk loved this time of the year for its offering of clear skies to indulge in stargazing, a leisure pursuit losing its hold over mankind in urban spaces, of which he was a resident, a proud one at that; but every year he made an attempt to escape to a Himalayan sojourn in the month of January in order to revel in the chill of the air which he was denied of in the metropolis he was inhabiting. The peak of the winters and hence the absence of tourists made it the perfect time to visit Himalayan towns to experience them in their natural, indigenous glory, he believed, along with studying the night sky with minimal light pollution. It gave him the much needed solace that he sometimes craved, away from work and all the bustle of the bay by the sea, to someplace where he wouldn’t run into someone known.

The rooftop was a serene place, with the valley on one side and the snow clad Himalayan peaks on the other. The crisp January air on that cloudless night was as still as it could be. Lying on a portable recliner with his glass of neat whiskey in his hand, Ayberk’s glance was subconsciously fixated on the Gemini twins above. He was not in the moment. He had seen something that day, something he wished he hadn’t. The pictures didn’t mean to reach him but he inadvertently stumbled upon them while on his laptop that evening. He knew he had to face it someday but he didn’t know that it would still prick him to this extent. He shut his laptop, poured himself a drink and made himself comfortable on the rooftop for the rest of the night. The pictures took him to a time in the past not too long ago, to some other city, to some other rooftop, where some sweet memories were formed; but it was that one particular night that was on his mind…

Feriha was standing by the balustrade on that mildly chilly night, staring towards the lake that was supposed to be with her stole wrapped around her shoulder. Ayberk, a feet from her leaned on the balustrade smoking his cigarette. Both hadn’t spoken in a while. It wasn’t their first time on that rooftop. This rooftop was their private space, their purdah that shielded them from the world beyond. Those numerous nights, lying on the rooftop, getting intimate beneath the stars, talking for hours about things ranging from their day to the glory days of the Hippie Trail… They had many of their memories centered around that rooftop.

It was late in the night and both were in a quandary. Probably that was going to be their last time on that place, or maybe their last time ever if they didn’t work out a solution of the situation that they were in at that moment. Ayberk had his priorities defined ever since he could recall, and Feriha was aware of the same, but she was not in a position to work around them; or so she thought. He meanwhile had done his part and reluctantly accepted the circumstances. Though he wanted himself and Feriha to sort out their differences but he knew after attempts galore that it was not going to work out for them due to reasons beyond his comprehension, despite how badly he wanted to be with her.

Without any warning, Feriha came close, took the cigarette from his hand and started smoking. Smoking was something she had never indulged in before, but today she had this urge to try the cigarette, just like the numerous other things she experienced for the first time with Ayberk. Her first drink, first nightclub visit, first chicken leg, first lie to her family, and her first kiss. With him, she felt liberated, felt like she was breaking the rules, like a rebel and she loved it. For the first time she had experienced freedom in her life, in a different city, away from her folks, and the person who made it memorable for her was Ayberk, her only support in the city, the only person she truly knew and someone with whom she could be truly free without a care in the world. With his leaving, all of it was going to come to an end.

She smoked and blew the smoke at his face. Taken by surprise he held her back and threw the cigarette from her hand off the rooftop. Instinctively he lightly wrapped his arms around her waist and smelt the fine fragrance of her hair. It was surreal, more surreal than anything he could imagine. She reached up and lightly brushed her lips against his while moving her fingers through his hair. At that moment it felt like nothing else mattered around them, the priorities, the compulsions, nothing; everything else was fading into oblivion… Until the phone beeped in his pocket and awoke both of them from their daze. The moment was gone.

She stepped back and looked into his eyes, looking for something, but she couldn’t seem to find it…

Ayberk was woken from his stupor by the sudden gust of chilly wind that blew by. His drink was still unfinished in his hand. He realized he couldn’t do anything about the situation now. The pictures he saw could not be unseen and in a way he felt a bit better about it, kind of glad that he finally got to see them. He had to one day. It bought him a sense of closure. He could now move on without that speck of remorse that sometimes used to encumber him.

He finished his drink, stood up by the barrier of the rooftop to look towards the valley. It was a beautiful night. He once again glanced at the starry sky above and awed at the vastness of the universe. The moon was not there in the sky anymore. Or maybe it was there, bright and high…

valley-of-flowers-24Picture Courtesy: http://www.cosurvivor.in

Coke Studio Pakistan: Man Amadeh Am, Sammi Meri Waar, Ae Dil, Tajdar-e-Haram…

With Coke Studio Pakistan Season 9 starting tonight, thought I would revisit some of my favorite numbers from the last season. The below four, in no particular order are some of the finest pieces of music and vocals that I’ve heard from the phenomenon that is Coke Studio Pakistan.
For those unaware, Coke Studio Pakistan is a live musical show with the concept of blending together two different genres of music, be it vernacular folk with pop or Sufi with contemporary music into one single number, or simply refurbishing an old Ghazal into a contemporary format, and the result, you can see is excellence extraordinaire. I personally feel that Coke Studio Pakistan is more soulful than its Indian counterpart, and rightly so as Pakistan is the land where Sufism flourished in its days and its influence is still lingering in the music. And anyway, when it comes to music, I’m an anti-national. 🙂

Man Amadeh Am – Gul Panrra and Atif Aslam
Partly in Persian partly in Urdu, Man Amadeh Am, meaning I’m coming to you is performed by Gul Pannra, a Pashto artist, and Atif Aslam. A beautiful number with equally soothing tunes is one of the finest from the previous season. Originally Man Amadeh Am was sung by an Iranian artist called Googoosh. What I like about this show is the amalgamation of different cultures and eras into one excellent masterpiece like this one.

Ae Dil – Ali Zafar and Sara Haider
Ae Dil is a refurbishment of an old Ghazal ‘Áe Dil Kisi Ki Yaad Mein’ by Saleem Raza from the 1963 film Ek Tera Sahara. With deep, meaningful lyrics adorned by the voices of Ali Zafar and Sara Haider, this version is one which makes the original one look pale in comparison. I have to mention Sara Haider who is usually seen as one of the background singers in the show, this is probably her first lead song, and boy how beautifully she sings. This is one masterpiece that I can’t get tired of listening to.

Sammi Meri Waar – Umair Jaiswal and Quratulain Balouch
Sammi Meri Waar is apparently a Punjabi folk wedding song from what I know. This medley between the Urdu by Umair Jaiswal and Punjabi by Quratulain Balouch – a popular Pakistani singer, composer and actress – is another gem from the previous season. I specially listen to this song for Balouch’s part. I don’t understand the meaning of what she sings as it is pure undiluted Punjabi, but her husky voice makes me come back to the song every single time.

Tajdar-e-Haram – Atif Aslam
Tajdar-e-Haram is an old Qawwali by the famous Sabri brothers. I have honestly loved Qawwalis, specially the old ones by the likes of Aziz Nazan, Sabri Brothers, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Sajeeda Bano etc. and also make a point to attend the sessions involving Qawwalis by UrduhWallas at Prithvi Theatre here in Bombay. This particular one redone by Atif Aslam is another one that is on my playlist now. The lyrics are deep as with all qawwalis and this is one of the finest offering among all seasons by Coke Studio. The 35 million views corroborate this.

PS – The new season of Coke Studio is special, because it brings to you the last performance by Amjad Sabri who was assassinated in a targeted killing in Pakistan recently. And it also brings back Rachel Viccaji from the 5th season. 🙂

شناخت

مستقبل کی فکر تھی اسے
شہرت كے خواب دیکھے تھے اس نے
خدا نہیں تھا اسکا کوئی
خود کا ہی خدا تھا وہ

جدوجہد جتنی بھی کی
کافی نا تھی وہ اسکے لیے
جذبہ ے  جنون تھا اس میں
خود کی اک شناخت بنانا چاہتا تھا وہ

صبر کیا ہوتا ہے
خبر نا تھی یہ اسے
زندگی کی بلندیوں کو
چھونا چاہتا تھا وہ

پہچان رکھنی تھی اسے
ممتاز  شخصیتوں سے
مالی دنیا کے بادشاہوں میں
شامل ہونا چاہتا تھا وہ

انتظار تھا بس اس روز کا اسے
جس روز نام چھپنا تھا مالی رسالوں میں
صرف ملک میں نہیں، باہر بھی نام کمانا تھا اسے
بس اپنی ایک شناخت بنانی تھی اسے، اپنی ایک شناخت بنانی تھی اسے

Notes on Chai

“Two Passport Size photo, electric bill copy, drivers’ licence copy, 75 Rs. stamp paper”

…repeated one of the many characters personified by Jyoti Dogra in her monologue ‘Notes on Chai’. Depicted as an enactment of various conversations with ordinary people one might encounter in their routine lives in urban India, this splendid piece of experimental theatre portrays them with finesse with the central theme of the characters’ liking of Chai, and along with it comes the use of varied extended vocal techniques – melodious to say – inspired by Tibetan incantations. The sounds, oh so brilliantly conveyed, sounded even better with the amazing acoustics of Prithvi Theatre.

The characters portrayed in this prop-less solo act  range from a frail woman born in Lahore reminiscing about her days at the tea stall outside of her college amid her immense liking for Chai devoid of water as it makes it thin and gives her acidity, to a groin scratching old man who wanted to go to London in his days but who later got caught on with the middle class Indian life and is now working at the family shop.
All of this is intermittently dispersed via Dogra’s performance of her supposed alter ego – Mathura hailing, ingenuous Hindi speaking, Indian Idol watching, middle class LIC agent living in Jogeshwari who sips her early morning Chai (about which she is too passionate and which she meticulously prepares by using adrak and elaichi) in the balcony  during the only lone time she gets in the bustling city of Bombay. The character seems to be on the verge of a breakdown and talks about being fed up of the hardships in the big city and wanting to go away somewhere far. At the same time the quirkier side of the character is portrayed who wants to experiment with her sexuality after getting drunk but her husband finishes too soon leaving her wanting for more, hence making her turn on the radio and slow-dance in the night.

The impact of the raw emotions on display was magnified by the sounds, expressions and the flexible body movements enacted exceptionally by Dogra. The sounds of sipping a chai, sexual moans, singing with the radio etc. keep lingering in your head for quite sometime. The act terminates with the characters trying to comprehend happiness. A woman who doesn’t understand her daughter getting divorced in the pursuit of happiness portrays her version of the same; ‘happiness is important’ says Dogra’s simpleton alter ego, suggesting to start again tomorrow, all the things that couldn’t be done today.

The act is about the mundane, presented crisply in a monologue, via a range of voices and sounds inspired by Tibetan chants, making you ponder over the routine discussions, some innocuous, some contentious, but all over cups of piping hot Chai.

Please do yourself a favor, next time this contemporary piece of excellence is on the charts, go watch it. Jyoti Dogra is one brilliant performer; a master vocalist and visualizer; I can’t imagine how extraordinary her next act would be, but whatever it may be, I am going to lap it up all. 🙂

Notes on Chai