Letters | Jun 04, 2007
  • Picture Perfect
    Jun 04, 2007

    Kudos to you for a beautifully compiled and well-researched issue on 60 years of patriotic cinema (May 21). Though you couldn’t entirely do away with the mandatory opinion poll (the views of a 1,000-odd in metros in a country of a billion), mercifully it died out in two pages.
    Dr Ishtyaque Ansari, Bharuch, Gujarat

    Has the world run out of compelling, current and consequential news stories that Outlook has to dedicate an entire issue to 60 years of patriotic Hindi cinema? In a country where the citizens are reluctant to even stand for the mandatory national anthem before the movie in a local theatre, the relevance of such an issue is, well, questionable at best! Gone are the days of Naya Daur and Haqeeqat, when movies were made out of an authentic, if leftover, patriotic spirit. Today’s Bollywood follows trends and fads. So, patriotism (or jingoism) makes a guest appearance only when it is in fashion, as the multitude of biopics of Bhagat Singh amply demonstrate. Perhaps it would have been fitting to call it an obituary rather than a tribute. What next? A tribute to the centenary of C-grade cinema?
    Abhishek K., on e-mail

    Sixty Years of Patriotic Cinema; 60 pages of rubbish; for whose benefit and to what earthly use?
    B.R.C. Iyengar, Secunderabad

    Patriotic films somehow never seemed to have enthralled the Indian box-office like romantic and action films have. Lagaan was about cricket, Lage Raho about Gandhi and the only film that touched our patriotic chords, in the real sense, is when Kajol’s son sings our national anthem in a London school in Kabhi Kushi Kabhie Gham.
    K.C. Kumar, Bangalore

    One more cliched look at Bollywood. And I was hoping you’d redeem yourself this time. What happened to films from eastern states like Assam, Nagaland, Sikkim? Or Rajasthan, Gujarat, Punjab?
    Divya Manian, Singapore

    I was appalled at your choice of Mukul Kesavan to write a so-called "essay" (I, The Nation). He seems completely unaware of probably the only patriotic film ever banned in this country—Sohrab Modi’s Sikandar. In fact, he makes no mention of the filmmaker or his films, a significant proportion of which were ‘patriotic’. But what else do you expect from someone who thinks Namastey London is a "patriotic" film? If his definition of a patriotic film is of an idiotic village savant showing how great the "traditional Indian way of life" is as opposed to "loose western morals", I can think of at least 5,000 other films in the genre. Secondly, barring Manoj Kumar’s Shaheed (which told the story of Bhagat Singh), there is no mention of any of the biopics made on any Indian leader of the Independence movement. Of the top of my hat, I can reel off at least five: Shyam Benegal’s Gandhi—Making of the Mahatma and Forgotten Hero (on Subhash Chandra Bose); Ketan Mehta’s Sardar; Ved Rahi’s Savarkar; and Jabbar Patel’s Ambedkar. But where Kesavan really exhibits his complete ignorance is when he refers to Mera rang de basanti chola as merely a song from Shaheed. The original poem was written by that great revolutionary bard Ramprasad Bismil. It is believed that Bismil and even Bhagat Singh himself went to the gallows singing this song. But then perhaps I blame Kesavan too much. Ignorance seems to be a bliss Outlook thrives on. How else can it classify the Kavi Pradeep classic Aye mere watan ke logon as a patriotic film song? Just which film was it in? And do not hide behind the facade of an opinion poll. Any person with basic awareness about market research techniques will tell you that when the options are so large and diverse, the only way to get a sensible response from the audience is the aided recall technique. This means someone from Cfore actually listed it as a ‘film’ song, and no one from Outlook knew better to correct them. Of course, the poll also lists Vande Mataram as a ‘film song’. Thankfully, it has at least been used in a film: Anand Math. And, by the way, can either Kesavan or Cfore please explain why Mother India is a ‘patriotic’ film. And if it is, how come Mr India isn’t?
    Raju Kane, on e-mail

    The fact that Aye mere watan ke logon topped the list of "patriotic film songs" needs to be relooked at because it is not strictly a ‘film’ song. Penned by Kavi Pradeep in the aftermath of the ’62 war, and set to lilting music by the genius composer C. Ramachandra, it was sung ever so poignantly by Lata Mangeshkar in the presence of prime minister Nehru, who was moved to tears.
    K.J. Ravinder, Delhi

    Does anyone remember the original Shaheed and its soul-stirring, tear-inducing song Watan ke rah mein watan ke naujawan shaheed ho.
    Lt Col B. Singh, New Delhi
    It was heartening to see that old is still gold, that Mother India continues to be seen as the mother of patriotic films. Films like Gadar, Rang De Basanti, Border and Mangal Pandey are known more for their technical/colour/sound effects and are no match for the patriotic/historical films of the ’50s and ’60s like Sohrab Modi’s Jhansi Ki Rani and Mirza Ghalib, K. Asif’s Mughal-e-Azam, Manoj Kumar’s Shaheed, Upkaar and Purab aur Pashchim, Chetan Anand’s Haqeeqat, Amar Singh Rathod starring Jairaj and Nirupa Roy, Abhi Bhattacharya’s Jagriti, V. Shantaram’s Do Ankhen Barah Haath and Dilip Kumar’s Naya Daur, Paigham and Leader, to name a few.
    S. Balakrishnan, Jamshedpur

    Thanks for the lengthy but interesting Aamir interview— ‘Why Muslim, Even A Hindu Can Be Cliche’. He comes across as a thinking, liberal Muslim. India seriously needs more people like him. Here is an actor who does not infest the TV screen and media, gives few interviews, but talks sensibly when he does.
    Lalitha S., Chennai

    Aamir comes across as a pseudo-intellectual in his interview. There has been plenty of hype about his acting prowess, but he is no Kamalahaasan.
    Shriprasad, Hyderabad

    Aamir is one actor who lets his films do all the talking and does not need the media to get his films noticed.
    Govind, on e-mail

    As you mention in Other Talkies, Telugu cinema went into a mythological mode in the ’50s and ’60s by adapting the epics and medieval plays to screen when ntr became God. Telugu cinema started going through a slump when Chiranjeevi came on the scene with Michael Jackson-like dance steps and Jackie Chan-like fireworks. The reason why Tamil and Malayalam films are relatively high in quality is because they are every bit localised and derive their strength from there. Kamalahaasan’s intense portrayal in Thevar Magan and other classics dealt with conflicting themes that affect Tamil society.
    Chaitanya, Chennai

    "The protagonist is coming to terms with the dual identity here. One can trace this conflict to as recent a film as Mani Ratnam’s Roja where the heroine collars an army officer in Kashmir and asks him to find her husband, but. ..in Tamil. In a manner of speaking, this says that Kashmir is not Tamil Nadu’s problem," says Raghavendra, the Tamil film historian. A bit strange to say that and yet have the affliction to shoot films with snow-capped Himalayas in the background...
    Vijay Agarwal, on e-mail

    Glorious Make-Belief Bharat! was a fun read. Another aspect worth exploring is directors and superstars turning senile. If Manoj Kumar’s Kranti was hilarious, his later films like Clerk and Kalyug aur Ramayan were outrageously shoddy. Dev Anand, after giving us Hare Rama Hare Krishna and Des Pardes, exhibited the first signs of senility with Lootmaar. He has made some 25 films since, each more pitiable than the earlier. Superstar Dharmendra churned out a string of incredibly mindless performances, exploited to the hilt by unscrupulous C-grade directors. Master directors like Manmohan Desai and Prakash Mehra plunged to the depths of their careers with films like Ganga Jamuna Saraswati and Jaadugar. Luckily Rajesh Khanna and Dilip Kumar retreated before going the same way.
    S. Chattopadhyay, Mumbai

  • Pervert is the Policing
    Jun 04, 2007

    Amidst the furore about "freedom of artistic expression" around the scandalous episode at Baroda’s MS University, we need to take note of the wider, more worrying aspects of the case. The episode is disturbing at several levels: (1) At a basic level, every citizen of India, whether an artist or not, is guaranteed freedom of expression. (2) In this case, the self-expression was not made in public but in the private domain. (3) The student was creating a work as part of his academic course. Only his teacher had the right to decide whether it was acceptable. In any teaching institute, the freedom of the teachers and students to take up for exploration controversial, even unpleasant, topics has to be safeguarded. This is precisely why universities are guaranteed autonomy. (4) Most important, it is the duty of the vice-chancellor to protect his staff and students, and to ensure their right to undisturbed work. The V-C should have stopped the police from entering the campus. If he was unaware of their plan, his first response, once he knew what was happening, should have been to throw the police out and seek the immediate release of his student. Instead, he suspended the dean and closed down the exhibition. This is no minor episode. It threatens the very principles that are basic to our civilisation. If we do not act to prevent a possible repetition of such an episode, only deluge will follow.
    Girish Karnad, Bangalore

  • Jun 04, 2007

    The media may portray his stay in Dubai as ‘life in exile’, but M.F. Husain doesn’t look like he is complaining (Why Husain Quit India...Or Has India Quit Him?, May 21). The Arab hospitality is legendary and he has no dearth of money, given that each of his paintings fetches him upwards of a crore; why should he care about the furore in faraway India? There is nary a trace of repentance on his face for having deliberately provoked the sentiments of a community, cloaked in the garb of high art. His painting of Sita—whom Hindus revere as a symbol of chastity—sitting naked on the tail of Hanuman is nothing short of blasphemy. Atheist Hindus might ignore this slight and defend his act in the name of liberal art but a few Muslims have recognised Husain’s action for what it is—a deliberate mischief—and condemned him for it.
    P.N. Razdan, Gurgaon

    The sad part is M.F. Husain could never graduate either spiritually or intellectually from his billboard painting days. Our country’s liberal cultural atmosphere provided him with a fertile ground to flourish, but he assumed the role of a self-proclaimed creator, without having any knowledge or background about Hinduism or Indian culture.
    S. Lakshmi, on e-mail

  • Tarnished Gold
    Jun 04, 2007

    Karunanidhi may have completed 50 years as legislator but he hardly deserves any honour (Kalaignar’s Craft, May 21). While in the Opposition in the last 15 years, he wouldn’t attend proceedings in the House and showed up only when his prolonged absence threatened his membership of the assembly. To get a measure of the man Karunanidhi is, especially during his years as dialogue-writer and as leader of the dmk, one should read some of the writings of the late Tamil poet Kannadasan, an active member of the dmk. Karunanidhi comes across as a cunning fox who never missed an opportunity to project himself as second to none and who even before his mentor Annadurai’s body turned cold, usurped the reins of the dmk with his own machinations and mgr’s help.
    T. Sathyamurthi, Folsom, US

    Karunanidhi is shameless, but how insensitive could PM Manmohan and Sonia Gandhi get to attend what was essentially an excess of self-propaganda three days after innocent deaths in Madurai? Politicians, at the end of the day, bake their bread on the funeral pyres of the aam admi.
    Srinivas, Lucknow

    What happened at Madurai is shocking. The attack on the newspaper amounts to an attack on the freedom of the press. The government cannot get away by announcing a paltry compensation to the families concerned. It should do everything possible to ensure that every person involved in the violence and its instigators, even if they include the CM’s son, are brought to book. Rationalism is not necessarily a virtue in mass politics. But irrationality seems to have a special place in TN’s politics.
    K.S. Jayatheertha, on e-mail

  • To Air an Opinion
    Jun 04, 2007

    The privatisation of the existing two airports is a good sign, but it cannot handle the amount of explosive growth in volume of passengers flying (S.O.S. Airport, May 21). Building upon the fragile, unstable and small existing infrastructure will do no good for the fastest growing industry in the country. All major six metros should have a brand-new airport outside the city limits like the future airport in Bangalore. aai has lots of cash reserves to take this gigantic leap towards the future.
    Narayan S., Amsterdam

  • Laws of Inequality
    Jun 04, 2007

    What does a poor man have to give a hungry politician—only his vote. A rich industrialist, on the other hand, can give him a tank full of notes. The choice for our politicians is very clear. Their first priority is money, their second is their family, the third is their friends, the fourth is their caste, then their religion, party, its workers...the nation, wonder if it even figures last on this list. Bhagat Singh was right when he said that after the departure of the white sahibs, we’d have brown ones. Yes, indeed, 2007: We are Still Colonial (May 21) as Amit Bhaduri and Medha Patkar put it.
    Naveen K. Singhal, Rohtak

  • Smell The Copy?
    Jun 04, 2007

    Maulik Parikh’s Finger Off the Paper (May 21) was interesting. It just seemed too similar to the chapter on "one, two, three... Infinity", from George Gamow’s ’50s book. Since I do not have the book, I’ll refrain from making allegations.
    Hemant Shah, Arcadia, US

  • Read, Only Then Write
    Jun 04, 2007

    I read Amitava Kumar’s review of my book Bollywood—a History (May 21) not knowing whether to laugh or cry. Kumar is perfectly entitled not to like my book which has received very good notices both in India and Britain. But in 30 years as a writer I’ve never come across such a malicious review. Why Kumar decided to have a rant about the book I do not know. I’ve never met him and have done him no personal harm. He says: "History should have a point, no?" History with a point is called propaganda. And people who write such histories are known as pamphleteers. Kumar also says that Hindi films don’t lend themselves easily to generalisation. But as Satyajit Ray said: "The ingredients of the average Hindi film are well known; colour (Eastman preferred); songs (six or seven) in voices one knows and trusts, dance—solo and ensemble—the more frenzied the better; bad girl, good girl, bad guy, good guy, romance (but no kisses); tears, guffaws, fights, chases, melodrama; characters who exist in a social vacuum; dwellings which do not exist outside the studio floor; exotic locations... See any three Hindi films, and two will have the ingredients listed above." Whose view would you accept? Kumar further alleges: "You’d be hard pressed to find a single coherent or cogent argument about Hindi cinema in Bose’s book." The book has 19 chapters and almost every one discusses various themes.

    Kumar’s most extraordinary comments concern my research. He says I’ve borrowed from books, making it sound as if it is some sort of sin to quote from published books. That is what writers of non-fiction do all the time. This is even more necessary in India where there is a dearth of primary sources. Of the 1,000 films made before the talkies arrived, only 19 survive. No copy of Alam Ara, the first talkie, exists.

    My research took me to many countries and included a search of many archives and libraries. I also consulted printed sources, including contemporary newspapers and published books. Where possible I supplemented this research with many first-hand interviews. My bibliography runs to 10 printed pages.

    Kumar says I have "exploited" Shyam Benegal. Knowing Shyam as I do I know he’ll find this very amusing. I had written a biography of Bose entitled The Lost Hero. Benegal’s film was called The Last Hero and he had read my book as part of his research for his film. I interviewed him at length, on tape. He knew what I was doing and generously gave me his time. I am grateful to Shyam and have acknowledged his help.

    Kumar says my book is a collection of trivia. Well, is not film a trivial pursuit, one that Mahatma Gandhi did not care for? Kumar’s website has this description of Patna..."famous for its corruption, crushing poverty and delicious mangoes". Isn’t juxtaposing crushing poverty with delicious mangoes the most offensive kind of trivia?
    Mihir Bose, London

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