Thursday, January 19, 2017

Break the Cycle



I have spent last few weeks visiting places, talking to strangers, playing with kids and meeting relatives I never knew I had. With my brother and his family in India, it was a family re-union of sorts. Missed birthdays, milestone anniversaries, ignored achievements - we celebrated them all. And you know what? Away from newspaper, TV, Facebook and Twitter, life was actually good. Vibrant, warm and mostly peaceful. 

While packing bags for our first day trip, I noticed that the kids in the group were focussed on stuffing their chargers, gadgets and wires. The rules had to be set. Contemplating trouble, I lectured, “Since family time is precious, let’s use our phones sparingly. No chatting, no Facebook and no watching movies. Minimum use of phone. Is that clear, everybody?” 

With a sly smile on his lips, the son asked, “The rules apply to all. Right mom?” 

“Yes, everybody,” I snorted. 

If I could read minds, the three teen faces were perhaps saying, ‘Oh puhleeze…these adults, I tell you, they set up rules specifically to torture us. And then they go on and on about how we will understand when we are their age….’ Thankfully there were no counter questions, just silent murmurs of protest.

As for me, what can I say? Setting a good example for children takes a toll on middle ages. Forget middle age, even Dadi Ma was anxious about missing her ladies chat.

Anyway, once we were not obliged to post comments, know who checked in where, and react to who said what, there were places to discover, people to chat with, restaurants to explore and a disregard for WiFi. It was a relaxed vacation against which a happening virtual life registered as a distraction. 

The husband, many a times, has tried to feed me with his well meaning nuggets. Read more, write less. Observe more, react less. Limit your time on Twitter. But the idea of a life away from virtual world seemed too old fashioned to be relevant. What does he know? He hasn’t checked his Facebook in a month. And Twitter is as alien to him as getting his eyebrows done.

This is not to say that temptation didn’t knock. Almost all of us cheated in between morning dumps and car sojourns. However, towards the end of the second week the virtual world had lost some of its charm. The teens were not fixated on looking at screens and the adults were not obsessed about what the world was doing.

Needless to say, I spent the happiest two weeks of 2016. But, once family members flew back to respective destinations virtual world beckoned in all its glory. The demons began raising their heads. ‘You haven’t written a blog post in 2017, what are you doing dammit? Writing defines you. What are you if not a writer? Do you even know what’s happening on Twitter? You missed reading other blog posts and now no one will read you’.

After the first week of 2017, I was back in the arms of WiFi, albeit in my new enlightened state. Limit and optimize. There was little point stressing about every opinion in the Twitterverse. Most voices, after all, shout in their ideological wells. Why engage with those who refuse to listen to diverse views. Moreover, most outrage on Twitter was over trivial stuff. Name of a celebrity baby. Dress of a cricketer’s wife. Any tweet by Barkha or Rajdeep was equally effective. Whichever side I flipped, the mirror had cracks. People were getting personal and petty over trivial issues. Those who were miffed with Aamir earlier were writing rave reviews of Dangal. Those who twisted knickers over Fawad Khan in ADHM were oblivious to the presence of Ali Zafar in Dear Zindagi. And those who batted for Fawad Khan were muted over threats to a kid from the valley. 
Almost all of us were sinning, albeit differently.

And while writing is what defines me, no one was waiting for my posts to make their life fulfilling. They were simply being nice when they said they enjoyed reading what I write.
Besides, look at the irony.  While we itch to share our pictures with 500 odd friends, we don’t even want to meet a majority of those who like them. But, but, but. All said, my Facebook friends whom I met via blogging have enhanced my life and in helped me grow as a person. I cherish them more than any ideology, political parrty or politician. 

The truth is that social media came into existence to relax, connect and express. Not to distract, addict and exhaust. Snatch a moment, go out for a lunch and say hello to the close ones in real time. As they say, there is a difference between practicing what you preach and preaching only after you have practiced. You can’t blame me for not practicing. Let's see how long I remain in my enlightened state.



Image Courtesy: Here




Friday, December 9, 2016

Mapping Thoughts






Interviews, they say, are like first dates. What you say counts, awkwardness can occur and results are unpredictable.

What exactly brings me to interviews? A day after the demise of J Jayalalitha, social media was awash with several interviews of the AIADMK chief. In one interview with Karan Thapar, Jaya appears visibly cagey, reclusive and non-committal. When Thapar bids adieu and says, “It was pleasure talking to you,” Jayalalitha quips, “I must say it wasn’t a pleasure talking to you, Namaste.” She promptly folds her hands, removes the microphone and walks out. 

While Karan keeps a straight face and a half embarrassed smile, it must have been a setback for someone with an impenetrable air of being the ultimate anchor with contemptuous confidence. Given his experience of making people squirm, Karan knew where and how to tap for answers. And yet, he faltered. Perhaps, in over-trying to be a tough task master his rapid fire turned out to be as futile as a pistol without bullets. For all his direct salvos, there was one answer from Jaya – “I completely deny it.”

Then we saw another interview where Jayalalitha is singing ‘Aa Ja Sanam Madhur Chandni Me Hum’ with Ageless Garewal. What’s more, she’s talking about her teen crushes. Which is understandable because when one is answering questions coming from someone whose face is botoxed into everlasting bliss, it’s easy to drop the guard. As expected, Simi’s gentle prodding exposed Jaya’s vulnerable side, giving us a rare glimpse of her insecurities. It is endearing when Jayalalitha tells us how she used to hold her mother’s sari before going to sleep.

Given that Simi is as harmless as a kitten and Karan a Devil’s Advocate, the respective outcomes were expected. It all depends on who is interviewing whom. Journalists, moreover, are a prisoner of their image. More so, when their show is called Hard Talk or Seedhi Baat. Or Devil’s Advocate. 

Which brings me to another memorable tete-a-tete. 

Women empowerment. 
Just as ‘Tequila shots’ remind me of Priyanka Chopra's interview with Ellen Degeneres, ‘women empowerment’ reminds me of Rahul’s interview with Arnab. That RaGa has not had any sit down thereafter, says it all. 

Moving on to Modi, our PM isn’t fond of answering questions either. Monologues over dialogues. Arnab, in his interview with Modi did nothing to puncture the air of righteousness and solemnity as he does with other guests.

If Arnab had Modi, Rajdeep had Sonia. And if Arnab's interview with Modi was tame, Rajdeep’s with Sonia was lame. In a recent interview touted as the ‘Interview of the decade’ Rajdeep discussed what Sonia felt when she first met Indira Gandhi. In fact, he just stopped short of talking about their cooking escapades. If the brief was to stay away from personal and controversial, the outcome was as engrossing as watching the grass grow. 

Talking of Indian chat shows, how can we forget Aap Ki Adalat by Rajat Sharma. Looks real, grills hard, and entertains admirably. Audience claps, Rajat Sharma gets a Padma Bhushan. Everyone is happy.

Happiness brings me to another Karan who is not a Thapar. 

Away from the stench of politics, Koffee with Karan froths with filmy gossip, adult banter and feel-good bonhomie. There are moments when your eyes pop out because you haven’t heard jokes about unbuttoning, crotch gazing and gay play acting on desi television. If this piques your interest, go watch Twinkle Khanna’s episode.

I don’t know about you, but as a silly teen I used to fantasize about being a celebrity who gives interviews left, right and centre. Today, I can’t imagine myself in the hot seat. Not that anyone’s interested, but asking questions is so much easier than answering them. Imagine, for instance, Karan Thapar demanding menacingly, “Do you think demonetization is a right step?” Being a radical middle kind of a person, I’d perhaps get caught in my own ‘on-the-other-hand’ kind of long winded explanations. Give me KJo over KTha and I will be happy to rate the Khans in order of my preference.

All said, the magic of spoken word is far reaching that the mundane written word. How many of us remember a memorable print interview? The lovely Katherine Hepburn once said, ‘Death will be a great relief, no more interviews.’ I’m sure, somewhere up in the sky Jayalalitha would agree.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Dear Zindagi



The Furniture Shop

I am the kind of movie watcher who waits for Facebook updates and ‘word-of-mouth’ reviews before venturing into a cinema hall. I convince myself that the movie is worth standing in a queue to pee during interval, worth adding adipose form buttered popcorn and worth tolerating kiddo kicks on the rear of my seat.

But there was a problem. Dear Zindagi was emitting mixed signals. Some said it was a memorable movie, others said it was one boring psychotherapy session. And yet, I mustered enough courage to enter the cinema hall to revel in the sweat and farts of fellow movie watchers. Mixed bag, again. Seated in the last row, I saved myself from kiddo kicks. But the fatty next to me ensured that his wobbly bottom brushed past my nose as he trundled out of the row for a piddle.

Lights off. Fade in. The movie begins.
‘Aaa, aaa aaa…. Kya Karoon Hai Kuch Kuch Hota Hai’ ditty plays with the credits.

Far away from the perspective of a middle aged, much married Sridevi in English Vinglish, Gauri Shinde portrays the mental conflict of a young urban girl, Alia Bhatt. It’s a simple story. And simplest stories are hardest to tell. No song and dance. No highs and lows. No car chase and no villain bashing. And no life altering journeys.
So?

First up, it’s the screenplay. It's almost non-existent. The first half of the movie meanders like a river with a languorous urban rhythm. The role of Kiara, played by Alia Bhatt plays musical chairs with her love life. Like many young girls, her heart does a flip flop. It says ‘yes’ but she says ‘No’. When a vacant chair presents itself, she refuses to sit but when the chair gets occupied, she wants to sit.  Her dilemma neither engages, nor entertains. Actually, the film goes nowhere.
While Alia is muddled up, her friends appear sorted. They tell her to not mix professional with personal but our baby gets a rash every time her boyfriend tries to bare his heart and every time she receives a call from her parents.
An hour into the movie and I’m unable to grasp the enormity of Alia's problem.The director disappoints but Alia holds me back. Even in the utter craziness of her acts (hurling a stone at boy in love), Alia’s glowing freshness doesn’t let me leave the cinema hall.

Things perk up past interval. Shah Rukh as doctor Suave Rukh Khan lights up the screen with his understated charm. Dressed in linen pants and a blazer, he exudes an air of confidence in contrast to Alia’s youthful impetuosity. When he speaks you feel his honesty, his intensity. As a psychiatrist, SRK is a man of few words but what he says or does propels the movie.
Enter Ali Zafar as a new chair (read boyfriend) in Alia’s life. I never thought Ali Zafar could look so drool worthy or sing as beautifully as he does in this movie. It’s a short cameo but he makes his presence felt as a very eye catching chair.
This is when Alia Bhatt bares her heart. And yet her issues fail to moisten my eyes (believe me, I cry easily). However, I do want to cuddle the girl looking for love.
 For me the shortcomings were a limp script and the absence of witty dialogues.It appears as if the director is justifying Alia's crankiness by going into her unconvincing past. Why would any parent not reply to their daughter's letters? 
The highlight is undoubtedly, brilliant acting by sassy Alia and suave Shah Rukh Khan. That some nuggets of wisdom are presented in a subtle manner adds to the flavour.

Anyway, if you think I’m being harsh on the movie, let me tell you it has nothing to do with the fact that Alia Bhatt’s maid in the movie is called Alka. In fact, she was absolutely adorable. 


Finally, we have a Queen moment. The protagonist achieves her dreams not because of the men, erm...chair's in her life but without them.Thanks to Dr Suave Rukh Khan for gently untangling the knots. The lesson? Parents are human too. Little point placing them on a pedestal and judging them.

The verdict? Mixed bag, again. No memorable watch this - just a pleasant forgetable movie. An eye pleasing furniture shop with some catchy chairs. If you love Alia's effervescence and SRK's understated charm, go watch it. Else, wait for it to grace your television.

Image Courtesy: From here
Image courtesy: From here

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Money, Money, Money



At a time when the country was debating dinner choices, PM Modi’s announcement on demon-etization tightened the purse strings of one billion people. In a flash, a penny saved was a penny earned. Which politician, in his right senses upsets his core vote bank of traders, businessmen and the middle class? But the formidable risk taker called Modi (remember his unscheduled Pak stop?) indulged in a calculated gamble. In fifteen minutes flat, Modi did what Anil Kapoor did in 24 hours in the movie Nayak.

Wait, don’t run away, I’m not going to plague you with economic lecturebaazi. Relax, I’m mathematically challenged. Moreover, enough opinion makers have cashed in their chips by presenting different sides of the coin.

As for me, the first thing I did was to scurry towards my drawer and check for the 500s and the 1000 rupee notes. It’s rather embarrassing, but all I had was ten 500 rupee notes. For once, I was laughing all the way to the bank.
In the aftermath of Modi’s gambit, we witnessed Pied Piper grade queues outside banks. As the tide ebbed, those who were swimming naked were exposed.
The following day, Hashim, my carpenter tells me that he had saved 15 lakhs for the marriage of his three daughters. No marriage can be performed in less than five lakhs, he says. It’s strange, how we give into societal pressures. We must be the world’s most hypocritical people. Else how does one explain the desire to curb corruption on one hand and the display of lavish weddings on the other? We condemn corruption but are in awe of its dividends.
The lack of communication from the government led Hashim to believe that all his savings were bust, barring 2.5 lakhs. I tried to tell him that the money in his account was not going anywhere but he wasn't convinced. I persisted, “They clearly said so on the television news. Don’t you listen to the news?”
“Who believes TV didi? They say one thing today, another tomorrow.”

I didn’t feel like giving up. “I write for magazines and newspapers, I know.” To which he said, “But my local MLA said all my money is gone. He also gave me cash to deposit in my account in lieu of helping me with my daughter’s marriage later.”

Suddenly, I was reminded of the ABBA song, Money Money Money. It’s a rich man’s world.

Though most daily wagers, farmers and vendors were suffering, they gave Modi a blank cheque, calling the idea a masterstroke. However, many questioned the methods and implementation.
It was telling that the common man stood patiently in serpentine queues, but a united opposition protested. ‘A penny for your thoughts Mr Modi’, they said. ‘We will not let you survive on blood money.’ Chipping in, Akhilesh Yadav said black money helps in tiding off recession and put his money where his party’s mouth was. Of course, there is no need to bet your bottom dollar on whether most of them were worried about the common man or their own political future.

The truth is that neither absolute approval nor absolute rebuttal makes for a rational debate. What is amusing however is that the taxman with hitherto doubtful credentials has been given the stick!

I hope as hell that mathematician Modi is able to solve this complex economic equation after what the nation has gone through. As they say, money doesn’t grow on trees. So the ghost of demon-etization will hover for six months to one year, but once it’s gone, the real proof of the risk taker Modi will be tested when he reforms election funding. 

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Good is Bacterial, Great is Viral






The story unfolded like a fairy tale. But with a twist. This time it was not about a princess, but a young boy. Oblivious of his looks, the boy earned his living by selling tea, fruit and vegetables at a Sunday bazaar. He had no phone and did not know how to read or write. And yet, he dreamt of helping his poor parents. One day a fairy clicked his picture and posted it on Instagram. The picture captured the imagination of the world. The hot chaiwala morphed into a cool model. He appeared on television, graced magazine covers, bagged modeling contracts and walked the ramp. Dizzying, isn’t it?

Welcome to a world where one picture holds the potential to change the story.

This is what happened to eighteen year old Arshad Ali Khan, an ethnic Pashtun in neighboring Pakistan. Neither reason nor logic applied to the mass hysteria that followed. His picture was shared more than 30, 000 times. Lucky chap, for none of his seventeen siblings had such fortune. Yes, 17. Deal with it.

Arshad, however, was unfazed. “I came to know this morning that I am very good looking,” he said. I don’t know if his charm resided in his innocence or blue eyes, but what I know is that he was a buttered toast for social media.

Don’t we just love social media? Every tweet and update is a tribute to ingenuity. Once the topic goes viral, we feverishly engage in outsmarting each other until the virus is eliminated. So, for some Arshad became Pakistan’s latest nuclear weapon and for others - a dove. If one wanted to ‘make tea, not war’, another tweeted, “A chai wala from Pakistan is now famous on Indian social media. This is truly aMan kee aasha.”

And then there were angry birds who love rivalry. Hand on heart I’ve never heard such comparisons. “My Chaiwala is more handsome than your Shah Rukh Khan,” chirped a pretty little thing. Really? Okay kiddo. We will talk when your Khan wins the ‘Koffee with Karan’ hamper for a fourth straight time.

Another abiding feature of social media is the ‘like mentality’ - an unsaid social media compulsion. You like what your friends do. Dosti ki khatir. Obliged by social media, smitten girls flocked ARK’s tea stall to click pictures. With full make-up and blow dried hair, they pouted and posed. It was a matter of ‘like and death’. Oh, common, be fair. Who clicks selfies with a chaiwala unless he was a PM or a social media sensation? 
Thereafter, all the chatter segued into some talk about reverse objectification. For once it was the girls who were lusting after a good looking boy. Thank heavens for the fact that women refrain from specifics, even if it’s locker room talk. Girls went as far as becoming a chai addict and dreaming of being served some ‘kadak’ chai. That’s it.

Just when I thought that the storm in the tea cup had subsided, I saw a tweet from a cute little sparrow in heat. ‘Arshad, will you marry me?’ Dear girls from Islamabad to Moradabad, sorry to burst your steaming hot bubble. The Chaiwala may be your cupcake but how long can you look at him? What if you want to discuss demonetization and carbon emission?

Regardless, the objectification charge was silly. Meaningless actually. After all, the camera was simply a catalyst in a win-win situation.

But wait. Let’s get serious. Arshad Ali Khan is not the only viral sensation. The stupefied picture of a Syrian child, Omran sitting alone in an ambulance comes to mind. Likewise, the haunting picture of Aylan Kurdi, a drowned toddler. Far away from Instagram and way before Twitter, the 1984 portrait of Sharbat Gula, the Afghan Girl’s piercing eyes had shaken our soul. Perhaps it was those intense eyes - a tapestry of tragedy and pools of grief. Come to think of it, her image was etched in our memory without the clutches of social media - no re-tweets, no likes and no shares.

For positive tales like Arshad, social media can be a fairy Godmother. But the only thing shorter than public memory is public attention. Overnight fame can provide a fillip to a muse or a cause, but it does little to change stories. What exactly are we doing for other Omrans being rescued from the rubble? Is our heart bleeding for the Afghan Girl  who was arrested in Pakistan for forging national identity card? 

Yes, we love the Chaiwala’s rags to riches story. In fact we love fairy tales - not because they tell us about monsters but because they tell us that monsters can be overcome. That there is hope. Compassion. But social media is fickle and news ephemeral. And yet, if viral images help a cause or a muse, it is a welcome part of digital times. We are ready with our likes, shares and re-tweets. 

Image Courtesy: Image from here
Also in Diplomacy& Beyond

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Intellectual Big Boss




I was in the midst of Diwali festivities when the fireworks about Arnab Goswami’s quitting Times Now lit up social media. After the initial disbelief there were a series of crackling tributes from  viewers. Someone said, “This is the best Diwali ever. It signals the end of the worst phase of television journalism.” To which another said, “Enjoy the quiet while it lasts. He will start his new venture.” Yet another added, “Thank God the noisiest bomb has been diffused.”
Amidst all the speculation, there was a studied silence from his peers who had witnessed Newshour sit at the top for eight straight years. The bespectacled enfant terrible had emerged to unsettle the smug club. After all, don’t we die a little when a friend succeeds? Moreover, the reality of a cut throat media is that your success is not as important as the failure of others. 

Anyway, paeans have been written about Arnab and his style of journalism. The question is, what exactly drives this sort of noisy tele-tyranny? 
While I’m a news junkie, I don’t like shouting. And I don’t like being shouted at. And yet, I have to admit that I am tempted to catch glimpses of Newshour. Note that ‘glimpses’ is the key word, okay? Those who watch the entire show have nerves of steel. Erm, rather ears of steel.  So why do I watch a raucous show? Perhaps, because Arnab asks questions that no other news anchor dares to. Perhaps because watching Newshour is like watching an intellectual Big Boss. In fact there are multiple drivers.

Recently, I was presented with a Twitter poll - do you watch news because you want to know what’s happening or do you watch news for entertainment? An overwhelming number voted for news as infotainment. Is it any surprise then that Wrestlemania trumps all?

Rewind to 1998 when Arnab Goswami presented Newshour on NDTV, he was a pale shadow of his current thundering typhoon persona. His popularity grew when he joined Times Now in 2006. So I’m not sure if his power comes from the Times Group or his verbal pyrotechnics, or both, but what I know is that power does different things to different people. In case of Arnab, it brought out the love for his own voice. And the masses loved it. Much like Chetan Bhagat’s novels, Arnab’s Newshour catered to a new demographic that sneered at the privileged. Given that the product had become bigger than the brand, the wise had seen his resignation coming.

This brings me to what Vinod Mehta wrote, “When I began my career, our mandate was to bring sunlight to the wrongdoing. Once that was done, other democratic institutions would take over the baton. ‘Activism’ was a dirty word in our lexicon. Now it is a virtue, indeed a necessity. Ironically, some of our anchors who hurl fire and brimstone from Monday to Friday are the gentlest creatures off the screen. They shed their pugnacity and become normal immediately after the show." 

So this fire breathing dragon-esque demeanor is all a pretense. Moreover, unlike his NDTV colleagues who belong to an erstwhile privileged club but were scarred by controversies (Radia tapes and cash for vote scam) Arnab continues to wear a nationalistic halo. So when  he plays dinner time orchestra, pulls the harps, bangs the drums and blows his trumpet, it sounds like symphony to his viewers. Whether it is the bashing of Pakistani guests, sneering at Bollywood’s cocktail circuit or milking the common man’s outrage, the fireworks ensure spectacular viewing. While the elite criticize his jingoist pounding and narrow identity journalism, his contemptuous questioning of the powerful empowers the common man.



As for me, the one thing that unnerves me about Arnab is that he comes with a notion that he is always right. So where is the scope for debate? Anyway, given the political agenda of news channels, television debates complicate issues instead of resolving them. And it’s not that the future of democracy depends on the outcome of these debates, right? 
The truth is that viewers get what they want and not what Arnab wants. He knows that infotainment is a shared joy because there is no Arnab without the viewer and, of course, there is no viewer without Arnab. Since TRP is the only moral, inherent drama and riveting action make for compulsive viewing. 

But hang on. While I contemplate peaceful dinner nights here on, I see Arnab judging wrestle mania, jerking his gelled hair and nudging the two politicians to gorge out each other’s eyes. Was the ‘I quit’ bomb a damp squib? All bluster? After all, our man from Assam, the son of a retired Colonel is known to have the last word, right? Even if he moves on, he will ensure that he has the last word. That is a given. 

In his farewell speech, Arnab is seen as saying, “The game has just begun.” Well, bring it on.
It is not Arnab who loves infotainment. It is the viewer.

Image Courtesy: From here

Saturday, October 22, 2016

A Merry Wink and a Warm Smile




An idle pastime of mine is to watch old movies and reflect on the current mood of the nation. It may seem like a silly indulgence because I’m not even sure if movies imitate life or otherwise. But the idea is to observe gentle winds of change. 

Look around and what do we see? Acid attacks, groping, stalking, harassment and molestation. Given that the world is not a friendly place for women, it is somehow comforting to observe any silver lining that beams through ominous clouds of reality. 

There are many ways to go about it. One of them is to observe the characterization of women against diverse social backdrops. How and what characters say is equally effective. As is the theme of the movie.

Long ago and far away, Nasir Hussain, the quintessential filmy dad of the sixties and Aamir Khan's uncle used to admonish his salwar kameez clad daughter, “Raat ke nau baj rahe hai, ye koi time hai ghar aane ka?” The guilt ridden heroine would hang her head in shame and rush upstairs. We have come a long way to Amitabh Bachchan in Pink where he says, “Hamare yahan ghadi ki sui character decide karti hai.” As an aging father figure, Amitabh goes on to rip several bogeys in his signature stealth style. “If the girl is at a rock show, it’s a hint but if she’s at a temple or a library, it’s not a hint? Will the venue decide the girl’s character?” 

Change. It’s inevitable. I’m fairly certain that even Amitabh cannot identify with his Mohabattein lecture of ‘Parampara, Pratishtha and Anushasan’ delivered sixteen years ago. 


Growing up in the late seventies and eighties, the leading lady used to be ‘paraya dhan’ and not a kudi who would insist on ‘Saturday-Saturday’. It was a time when the widowed sister and the blind mother were captured for final negotiation (Karz). Cinema that revolved around women was either so called ‘parallel cinema’ (MirchMasala, Arth) or directed by the likes of Basu Chatterjee and Gulzar. In Naram Garam (1981) directed by Hrishikesh Mukherjee, AK Hangal keeps repeating, "Ladki kya hai, gale ka kanta hai. Na andar jata hai, na bahar aata hai." And the girl in question was Swaroop Sampat, a Miss India. Imagine Priyanka Chopra playing that role?
It was also a time when the heroine’s character remained untouched by any ambition to walk up the corporate ladder or desire for sexual fulfillment. And if the leading lady ventured into grey areas (Tabu in Astitva), the immorality of her act was painstakingly justified.

It is telling that the song belted by Kangana in the recent movie Queen (Maine hothon se lagayi to hungama ho gaya) was picturised on Helen – the bar dancer in Anhonee. Because the monsters of drinking, smoking and dancing in pubs used to claim the evil women, not the sanskari girl. 
Why, even two decades ago in ‘Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge’ when Shah Rukh opens a bottle of Cognac, ostensibly to beat the cold, a dazed Kajol says, “Sharm nahi aati ladki ke samne sharaab peete hue?” This was 1995 when Gurgaon had not heard of fresh breweries, when pub hopping was restricted to Brigade Road in Bangalore and when Deepika Padukone had not had her moments of cinematic tipsiness.

Change. It’s inevitable. Today we have Pink where Amitabh says, “Sharab ko yahan kharab character ki nishani mana jata hai, ladkiyon ke liye. Ladko ke liye nahin. Ladkon ke liye ye sirf health hazard hai.” But wait. Wait. This is not to say that young girls should drink but to underline a social shift of sensibilities. 


While most leading ladies continued to be decorative items in the nineties, there were intermittent sparks of Rajkumar Santoshi’s Damini and Prakash Jha’s Mrityudand. Later, with the success of diverse stories like Chak De India, Fashion and Kahani, directors realized that women-centric movies were commercially viable. As for me, the landmark movie where a woman was unapologetically ambitious and unabashedly vocal about her sexual urge was Aitraaz, followed by Dirty Picture.

As India began celebrating women characters, a slew of movies like Queen, Mardaani, Piku, Pink and Parched became mirrors of a new world. This is a world where characters point towards changes that define new boundaries. Even as I write, glimpses of Aamir Khan’s upcoming Dangal indicate that women in his sport based movie are fierce protagonists unlike pretty cheerleaders of Jo Jeeta Wahi Sikander (1992).

Another minor, yet significant change that has unobtrusively seeped after the Nirbhaya incident is the gradual demise of the customary ‘item song’. While rapes and murders continue unabated, the public anger against Nirbhaya incident ensured that film makers tone down the objectification of women. The bust heaving item song like ‘Shiela ki Jawani’ or the pelvic thrusting ‘Munni Badnam’ have paved way for foot thumping party songs like ‘Ladki Beautiful’ and ‘Kala Chashma’.

To say that women have broken all ceilings would be presumptuous. Because eventually it’s the story that clinches the deal. Nonetheless, the audiences have evolved. And so have the directors and script writers. That they are brave enough to emphasize on a woman’s freedom of choice indicates that the concept echoes with the audience. No wonder the iconic Pink dialogue 'No....means no’ blazed into history, right?
Amidst all the gloom and doom, these sparks do leave a merry wink and a bright smile. And for this reason alone it’s fun to indulge in my pastime. It gives me hope that like all Bollywood movies – end mein sab theek ho jayega

Image courtesy : From here