Friday, August 25, 2006

Movie Subjects on the Subjective...

Its been a while since I blogged.. well..things have changed a bit.. atleast the location has.. and there have been some fruits from the change of location..have been able to borrow some really good movies from my university library....Rashomon and "12 Angry Men".. movies, quite a vignette from the past.

"Rashomon Effect": This was a phrase I heard once in a talk given by a former distinguished correspondent for the Frontline, Sukumar Muralitharan..He was trying to use this phrase to describe the spin that was provided by academicians, politicians et al about the verdict of the 2004 Lok Sabha elections. Each vested interest was providing an account of or trying to analyse an event of the past from his/her own subjective perspective. An apt term, I believe, the one used by Muralitharan.. which brings us to try to understand why indeed is the term being used?
Rashomon is a brilliant movie directed by Akira Kurosawa, the Japanese film director supposed to have been among the best in the business of his time. The story is pretty simple. A murder is being investigated in court and the people involved, the witness all give a versinn of the murder in their own terms and spheres of understanding. The truth is never revealed. Who killed the man found to be killed? What exactly transpired before his death? No one can tell for sure even after watching the movie. But what is clear is this, the human subjective element has a vital role to play and therefore any "spoken truth" is got to be prejudiced with the perspective tilted in the speaker's memory to show his/her relative 'goodness' in the whole affair of the past.

Surely the flashes from the back is lashed with details that glorify the role of the "telling" subject and therefore any jury hearing the same *must* consider this subjective element to bear upon the testimony. Kurosawa brings out this element beautifully. Even if the movie is a tad slow and has some extravagant acting by some of its actors, particularly the Kurosawa favourite Toshiro Mifune, its enjoyable purely because its a cerebral delight.

Add to the above is the fact that all the flashbacks are themselves narrated in flashback, the present itself showing characters who reveal their undersides. In essence the contours of the whole affair of murder can be reasonably ascertained by considering the present and the past including the subjects.

Yet another movie which relies deeply on the subjective element is the 1950s classic, "Twelve Angry Men". I had been itching to see this film, but never got the chance to see it in New Delhi. I had seen the Hindi remake, "Ek Ruka Hua Faisla" during a cosy channel surfing session in those lazy old days of mine in Hyderabad. The movie featured quite a few of the recognized thespians of today who owe their filming talent to the honing at the FTII, Pune. Names such as Pankaj Kapur, Suresh Raina, Anu Kapoor, etc re-enacted the original, transposed into the Indian milieu, an exercise that was done fantastically, in my opinion.

Getting to the point, "Twelve Angry Men" is a very different movie. Its wholly based in a single room, involving twelve unnamed strangers who argue about whether a person is guilty or not. Facts are reasoned out irrationally by some using the notions of identity or personal opinion. It takes a sharp interrogation by an "unconvinced till its convincing" man, played by Henry Fonda to make all others around him see reason. Reason therefore is played out inch by inch, statement by statement. Deduction and Lateral thinking prevail eventually over primordial notions and prejudices. Its almost the victory of the Enlightenment over the Dark Ages. The movie is brilliant, because it establishes without doubt that no matter how convincing it seems, anything cannot be accepted until its beyond reasonable doubt.

I had a sobering effect after watching this classic. Never again would I jump to conclusions, I tell myself, but perhaps this is just a subjective delight for the present!

I dont want to write a review of the movies, for that would involve trying to explain the story, which I think must be seen by any viewer to make out on his own, for the concern of these movies, is indeed subjectivity.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Tol Mole ke Bol! (Weigh and Tell)

Jaswant Singh always had a funny way of saying things. While the pliant media always spun it to look elegant, yours truly thought that the verbal callisthenics provided by this ex-army man was nothing short of verbal jugglery in the manner of the typical circus clown (no disrespect to the clown intended).I have never been that much enamoured of this person who has served in some of the highest ranking posts for India, ranging from Deputy Chairman, Planning Commission,to the External Affairs and Foreign Minister. Harish Khare himself comes up with an article questioning whether indeed Mr. Singh deserves the kudos that has been invariably reserved to him through a potent mixture of aura-building and spinning yarn about the BJP's honchos that was the name of the game during the NDA's regime.

Getting to the point though, "Jest"want Singh's USP is being a sophisticated version of former US Vice President Dan Quayle. I have always found his verbal gymnastics rather funny and esoteric. Sidd Varadarajan had perhaps reached his end of patience after reading Singh's "A Call to Honour" where maybe Singh went about applying his verbal pyrotechnics to written language. AG Noorani had also pointed out that this "anmol" ratan had his way of explaining things that were more tongue behind molars rather than tongue in cheek. Sample this in this book review of Strobe Talbott's book:

"However, `we explained our diplomacy in public,' he [Jaswant] said, `people will demand of me, why are you even talking to the Americans about matters that are none of their business?'" Rightly. Why indeed? Vajpayee took the easy route, which he followed throughout his term - deceive the public and the press by using flowery and opaque language. In this Jaswant was a willing accomplice. The author does not find fault with his ridiculously stilted language but with the press.

"The journalists dutifully scribbled down the oracular utterances, never asking for clarification or amplification, and then reported them to their readers as though they provided insight into what was going on in the talks." Talbott sees nothing wrong in his phrases - "Calculus of human life involved," said this famous visitor to Kandahar in his defence; "the architecture of the dialogue that had been put in place earlier will be fully implemented". Pray, how do you implement "architecture"? The sayings of Jaswant Singh would make Irish Bulls seem prosaic. Sample one - all along the untrodden paths of the future lie the footprints of an unseen hand. Jaswant Singh is more than capable of uttering such profundities.

Oratory, for the BJP, always borders upon the maverick. They have a Goebbelsian hatemonger in Narendra Modi, a dialectician in dialect, Shri Vajpayee (he always provides thesis followed by antithesis in his speeches), a clown prince orator in Venkaiah Naidu and etc. The loss of foot-in-the-saffron-mouth Uma Bharati, ultrasonic Madan Lal Khurana and Machiavellian Mahajan has reduced their acoustics quite a bit though.

Shri Jaswant, when asked to name the "mole" in his book, said that he was not in the business of "indecent exposure". After being unable to expose the "mole"cular structure of the "mole" he had in mind, his agenda seems now exposed. The mole was merely to get more of his books sold in the Mall. Sanjaya Baru of the PMOle insinuated the very same when he said there were unfortunately no "moles or malls" in his recently released book, much to the disappointment to his publishers. A mellow Jaswant now suggests that what he said has been "molested" by the media. Sample this in "The media misinterpreted me. Perhaps I did not communicate this in the din,".The key phrase is "I did not communicate.."! Maybe, he *should not* communicate.

BJP deputy leader of Parliament, Shri Vijay Kumar "Mole"hotra in the meantime takes offense to the fact that the PM had disrespected Jaswant for not acceding to Singh's request of an one-on-one meeting. I think that the PM would disrespect his office if he wasted time trying to extract information about the mole from the black hole that currently occupies Shri Jaswant's brain right now.

Getting to the issue though, its a known fact that the US has always tried to poke its nose, molars and surveillence teeth into India's or for that matter any country's affairs. Considering the fact that its the sole superpower in the world and is worried about nuclear proliferation, it is clear that there must have been US surveillance in India during the days when India had plans of going nuclear. That India succeeded in exploding bombs despite such a close watch was a success of India's camouflage powers as much as a failure in US' HUMINT (human intelligence). Yet, the Rabindra Singh episode also showed the weakness of India's security apparatus vis-a-vis American pressure and lure. Now this was one real "mole" episode that is to be well researched.