Dhobi Ghat – of Art enabled in a study of class distinction

This essay is not a review and hence delves headlong into discussing what a filmis and has no room for plot points. While it is best read after having seen the film, I hope you enjoy it even if you haven’t seen it. It is spoiler free as far as I can see, but please feel free to ignore this to maximize your enjoyment of the film.

Dhobi Ghat

Dhobi Ghat, or as we say it here in Chilli Crab country, Dhoby Ghaut, is many things at once, but most strongly for me it (is a love letter to Mumbai that) talks about the relationship between the upper, privileged class and the lower to lower middle class that enables them, creates the essence of Mumbai. It also is about art and our relationship with it and this straddles the first theme almost completely. It is also about loss, betrayal, loneliness, regret, and hope – likely in that order – but those are byproducts of a film that chooses to lavish a lot of detail and nuance on to each character.

The biggest strength about the filmmaking on offer here is that each story strand is complete in and of itself. Munna has a coming of age arc, a reality slap that grows him up in an instant, while Shai and Arun’s stories are about finding the art within, though Shai has a lot to find about herself, while Arun needs to come to terms with his loss of emotion. Yasmin has the most poignant arc – that of innocence robbed – and it affects all the other stories more than it lets on. (Her happiness and grimness affect Arun, whose muse she has unwittingly become, but notice how his change in mood also affects the other two protagonists in profound ways).

The reason that Kiran Rao lets that happen to an offscreen character (and the most cheesily written – with a distinct lack of visual poetry in her scenes, Rao chooses to give her actual verbally poetic lines, which are poorly thought through. No matter her strengths as a director, her command of Hindustani isn’t as strong, often resorting to clichés in her lines for Yasmin. Then again, there aren’t too many words or turns of phrases left that Bollywood hasn’t mined) is not just to develop her as a valid, fourth story. Rao is trying to create a distilled vision of her artistic world view; it’s key for her to show us through her medium of choice the different relationships that artists have with their muse and how it effects them and vice versa.

There is no doubt in my mind that Munna and Yasmin’s stories – just as their social class as depicted in the film – are here to help Shai and Arun create their art and make them realize important things about themselves. This distinction between the privileged and the ones that enable their privilege is very clear in the structure of the film. It takes a moment of genuine selflessness on Munna’s part to make Shai , a fledgling photographer, realize something about herself. Similarly Arun’s final moment of truth comes through Yasmin’s final moment of admitted emotional incapacitation. Munna and Yasmin go through their transformations independently of these; their very real and tangible problems forcing them to grow up and lose their innocence. The working class enables the art and the emotional closure in the privileged in Rao’s Mumbai, and never the other way around.

A wondrous glimpse of the sheer derring-do of this class comes in a small moment when a bai’s daughter impromptu recites Tennyson while her mum admits she is more into poetry and dance than other subjects. Rao seems to concede that dreams and dreamers in her Mumbai come from elsewhere too, just that her story seems to be about these people. Probably her Mumbai will either crush that young girl as it crushed Munna and Yasmin, or it will make her a celebrated artist moving in higher strata of society just like Shai and Arun.

To be fair, the class politics are beautifully drawn: especially with Munna as he plays different roles that satisfy different needs. He is the dhobi, the rat killer, the muse, the confidante, the guide, the drug supplier, the boy toy, and ultimately the single most enabler of emotional catharsis for Shai. Little moments that show different working class people are equally well drawn – this mumblecore film is not beyond incessant navel gazing – to a point where it seems like the anti Oye Lucky, Lucky Oye (this film is about the BoBos and the privileged, with nicely drawn details of the working class, while OLLO told a well thought working class story with well drawn bourgeois characters).

The class politics are only the text though – the film speaks on a lot of levels to a lot of people. A close friend mentioned she thought it was about unfulfilled and nonreciprocal love, and how the film refuses to love us in return too. To me the biggest subtext was the creation of art and the different ways we treat and respond to our muse to create art. Shai’s best pictures (and her most prolific photography) comes after she has been emboldened by her relationship with Munna, where she confirms herself of the reality of the person before she can tackle his life. Arun’s fractured relationships have left him unfeeling – he calls Mumbai his muse and whore, but without feeling. He likely thinks hasn’t given anything back for the privilege of taking Mumbai in completely, until he realizes he has. Moving apartments to be in the middle of lower middle class Mumbai he finds more than he bargains for, and after he has created his masterpiece, goes back to the safety of the mechanical (his next apartment overlooks factories).

Arun’s arc and his relationship with his past and his art are probably the most complex, and ultimately the most heavy-handed. That his past has stopped him from having emotional closure comes a full circle when tapes from the past spark his creativity. Very visibly – well, very obviously his moods shift as he goes through the tapes. It all comes together when he displays a genuine, visible emotion for the first time in front of a silent neighbor. The neighbor being the stand in for the audience to the creation of art – they do not share in the creative process, and yet enjoy the naked emotions of the artist laid bare in front of them. Yet silent, forever. This irked me quite a bit – Rao seems to dismiss anyone who watches her art as a silent spectator, with nothing to add, while at the same time she seems to derive inspiration from the very people who are her audience.

Despite Aamir’s bit not working wholly for me though – I cannot urge you enough to go watch this film. There is a lot going on; it is also an immigrant story about outsiders trying to find a place for themselves in Mumbai. It begins with three characters moving houses and ends with two of them moving again. A city in motion constantly making people move too seemed apt, but it is hardly anything Rao dwells on. Ultimately I think her treatise on Mumbai is a little fractured, but never less than whole. Her stories cover what it is to be Mumbai and to be in Mumbai at the same time, even if the Mumbai on screen is her Mumbai.

So totally knackered millionaire

So I just played 4 back to back albeit short games of football with the work peeps, got utterly knackered and took a cab to the airport without pausing for breath. (or pizza, tantamount to the same thing, no?)
Bali beckons, like a saucy minx.
Fun fact though, when I changed some 700 odd dollars at the airport they gave me, listen to this: FOUR and a HALF MILLION Indonesian rupiah.
Now that is what you call currency exchange.

25 random things about me

1. I was born a little early than planned on the First of April. My father didn’t come visit from his posting in the North East of India because he thought the telegram was a joke. And then he did.
I miss telegrams, they are dying a slow death. Which is okay because emails are just as urgent and quick and so are phones.

2. I have 2 nostrils and no sense of smell. It’s a condition called anosmia. It makes it sound big, but it’s just that – no sense of smell. Some people are petitioning it to be a qualified disability. I think they are idiots. A lot of people ask me if I can taste. I can. What you perceive when you eat things is a combination of taste and smell. They call this flavour. My sense of flavour is the same as my sense of taste, is all. Also, Durians are never a problem.

3. I don’t understand the stock market. I don’t. I cannot for the life of me distinguish between these three: stocks and shares and debentures. I secretly hate all people who created these things a little.

4. I had published 4 books before I left college. Now I rarely update my blog.

5. I was homeschooled till I was 5. This wasn’t because my parents were rabid Left wingers, but because the Army encampment where we lived had no schools.

6. My near obsession with comic books has led me to be a huge huge fan of serialized fiction. Comics and TV shows is what I devour on a daily basis.

7. I can play Bass. I hate that about myself. I have no musical talent.

8. Whenever I think of an apocalyptic future in my head, my first thought is – “desolate wastelands, no electricity. How will I play video games?”

9. I have an opinion about almost everything. That makes me very argumentative. However, I know when to say “I don’t know”.

10. I think the fact that Slumdog Millionaire has not utterly destroyed Bollywood is a shame unto us.

11. I have never finished a Bethesda game ever.

12. I will read anything anyone recommends. It’s a huge fault of mine – I have read trashy elves and orcs type fantasy in the past few weeks(including one with a shaman James Bond) just because someone said it was good. Not that I see that as a reason to stop. In fact I love reading so much, I love to watch movies with subtitles.

13. I used to play Tennis for some time, and was good at it. Now I own a Wii.

14. I think moist Japanese girls standing in front of you hardly qualifies as horror.

15. No one has played my favorite games. Almost no one.

16. I always entertain fantasies of being a travel writer for about 2 weeks every year.

17. I used to scared of Bombay. (and I don’t call it Mumbai because if the politicians had any sense of nationalism they’d have renamed it right after the British left) Not so much now, but I do think it has the smallest “Main Roads” in the world. That’s because it does. One day I hope for the city and me to come to an understanding.

18. I have no idea how, but I always thought working for an F1 team would be rad. I still think so.

19. As a kid I always wanted to be a Railway Engine driver. None of your diesel or electric fancy things for me either, thank you. A proper Steam Engine Locomotive like the Robert Stephenson 4-2-0 John Bull Stevens.

20. Corn flakes are my favorite breakfast, followed by bagels. Come to think of it, there are very few foods I like better than corn flakes.

21. I sometimes can’t understand how I can survive not knowing any ONE language properly.

22. I have my paranoid moments. I sometimes believe with all my conviction that my thoughts are somehow being broadcast live to some laughing people in a room, who proceed to manipulate my life.

23. I panic easy, but I am also resilient. I am afraid of falling down, but getting up after I do is usually not a problem. Everyone has a secret weapon that makes them carry on in life. Mine is plain stupidity, or naivete I suppose. But it works.

24. I miss friends and family in a city where I don’t have too many of either, but I love the city for it’s character and beauty, and I want to gather my own group here again.

25. As fools do, I have loved often and without sapience, which has led to many moments of embarrassment. The biggest love ended in the biggest embarrassment of all – me sitting on a mare wearing a crown of silver, gold and flowers.

Shut It OR What we REALLY need in the aftermath of 26/11 Mumbai attacks

How about a nice big cup of Shut the fuck up?

Edit:This is not a gamer/geek post, and anyone who still reads this should probably be turned off by just that.
This is about the aftermath of the 26/11 Mumbai Terror Attacks, so please do not expect to be entertained.

If you’re remotely clued in to what we have experienced as a nation, you know that people are baying for politico blood – everybody blames the politicians and poor governance and the government’s supine handling of the situation. The mantra of the day seems to be we need better politicians.

And to that, I say: Shut It.

We as a nation have not given any consideration to what it means to have good governance while demanding it blindly. The politicians are as much part of the system they have helped create as you are. We ask for the politicians to be forcibly removed, while we ourselves do not own up to what we have contributed to the state of the nation’s pitiful governance.

Oh, this is not a rant about your need to vote. I am sure many of you vote. A lot of you even take active part in discussions and debates. What you do not do is be a good citizen. We complain and whine and bitch, and yet we will not walk the line we preach.

You expect better roads but you will still break red lights on your way to office, over-speed, bump pedestrians, pick fights with other drivers, run over someone while drunk and not stop.

You expect better security at home, but you will still live in illegal builder floors, use tampered meters at business, and never once contribute to neighborhood watch.

You expect strong leadership, where you bribe policemen and government officials to get out of a situation or get work done. You would rather pay 500 bucks than stand in line to get your passport renewed, and you want the system to reform itself.

You expect terrorism to not affect you, but you would rather blow 10000 INR in a watch or 2000 on lunch with friends than contribute a sizable chunk to charity.

You would rather send you children to the US to study than the Army, and still expect the understaffed NSG to miraculously become the US Marines.

You will raise a huge cry about the lax security, while you will badmouth, swear and intimidate the security guards at cinema halls into letting you carry your expensive gadgets in.

You will buy a swanky sedan that give 4 kilometers to a liter while you already have 2 other cars, but you’ll hate the idea of an affordable small car because it will crowd up the roads.

You want terrorism to go away, but you won’t stop badmouthing a religion just because you happen to not belong to it.

A good society is not made up of good government alone. It is made of good citizens. If we as a society have failed at creating a sense of well-being despite all our Mrsaidee and Gucci fixation, it has everything to do with the citizens of this country, of which the politicians are a part.

Yes, what happened in Mumbai on 26/11 is heinous, and nothing we do as a society will ever prepare us for something that so unequivocally shatters our bubble of security. Yes, we need better governance, and we deserve it. Everybody does.

What I am saying is that good governance begins with you. The citizens of India, and especially the privileges citizens – the children of unlimited potential and opportunity, the ones with money, family, and education. You were the future of India, and so far you have done a great job, no doubt, but the country needs more. Not just your hard work at the multinational and your taxes. The country needs you to take an active part is building a better society.

You want better leaders? Be them. Stand for elections – the new pay commission won’t keep you affluent in your sedans and Barista fixation, but it’s comfortable nonetheless. If you can’t, and I am sure not everyone thinks he can run the country, do small things.
Follow the basic rules of conduct. Respect people. Create a gracious and courteous generation. Respect all religions. Ask questions of your government, take part in the governance. Give to charity, especially the ones that contribute to children education. Teach your next generation to respect religion. Stop rumor mongering. Stop looking at news as a piece of perverse entertainment, but take action that will help you ameliorate those ghastly things at home.
Don’t encourage grief mongering, but do help people. Don’t bribe policemen, but do respect the law.

Do what makes a good society. It takes time to create a society that has it’s problems, but can boldly solve them. Create a good society and I promise you a good leader will spring from there.

I know, it’s a naive way to think, but we thought the cynical way, and that didn’t help us much, did it? Of course it’s not as easy as saying it. Of course I am wrong that this is the solution to terrorist attacks.

What happened on 26/11 was a dastardly act of terror, and deserves nothing less that absolute punishment. We need a strong and decisive acting leader now, and we need to feel more secure before we can create this [irony on]wonderful[irony off] society of ours. We need a whole lot of things that the government and the various organizations failed to provide us. But when you bay for the politician’s blood, remember that we as a nation that is 60 years old created them too.

I pray to God we don’t see another attack like this, and if we do, we are better prepared to thwart it. I hope this does not affect our economy as much, and that we don’t have to go to war to get the job done. And I pray that all the lost lives are somehow not wasted, but remembered as a sign of missing maturity that we as a people need to show.

How the year that good things happened happened, OR how my spaghetti got ravioli OR how 2007 was good for the gamer in me OR The best games of 2007 OR how I can’t ever think of a clever title and usually quote Dylan instead

A whole lot of people like to recap their year and tell everyone what they thought of it, and I guess I am that sort of person too, but these are not borrowed thoughts like most. Though talking about 2007 does seem kinda moldy and I even thought I almost found a reason to not write about this, but hey, we’ve got free crab cakes, so we’re good. (plus I’ve been nonexistent on LJ, so not like anybody’s readin)

Last year was, among other things, a year where things shook up like a very big earthquake. I moved cities again, after about eight years in New Delhi, the city of my heart. I traveled a lot, and I mean a LOT, as far as my track record goes (thirty one flights, four rented car journeys, two bus trips, and a tractor ride). I played a lot of great videogames, got two new consoles and a PC, and well, I um, well…

Let me tell you about gamers and the women who date them.

In my experience, the girlfriend of a regular gamer, or ‘gaming widow’ to use the technical scientific classification, passes her time in the life of said gamer in four distinct levels. There is no fifth level, because the fourth level is the unbeatable boss level. Level one brings with it feelings of deep and infatuating affection and she pictures the man as a cute boy-man, who likes playing Mario on a coin op. This is a good level, as it is characterized by the generally misinformed understanding that someone who plays a lot of videogames is also very technically intelligent, and may yet become a superwhiz IT consultant, and hey, all that passion means he is passionate. It is important that a level one girlfriend never actually see the man play his videogames, staring at the TV like a monkey with no other motor skills evident than the pressing of buttons, twirling of joysticks and stuffing of face with nachos, or hear the almost primal screams of his mates who spew advice while passing the nacho bucket around, thus shattering the illusion. In level one videogames==love. Level two, which comes about very soon to fairly early, depending on the season (Christmas deluge plays weird murder games in the relationship) is marked by resigned acceptance. Go on then, she thinks, play your stupid games. At least I know where you are at all times. At least you’re not eyeing my best friend, or shagging someone on the side. Level three, better known as the stage where the trouble actually starts is when she begins to compare herself to the hobby itself. The phrase ‘You and your stupid videogames’ will be used a multitude of times. Especially if Preeti and her idiot boyfriend and some friends want to do movies and lunch at Nirula’s with the both of you, and you have got an important TF2 tourney on that damned Singapore server. “You go and have fun, honey,” the gamer says trying to squirm out of the event, trying not to let on that he secretly hates Preeti and all her friends. “I’ll join you if I can.” Yeah, at seven. Level four is the advanced, cancerous version of stage three. The phrase repeated ever so often now is ‘You and your fucking videogames.’ When it’s time for another group lunch, the gamer’s girlfriend really hits it off with Preeti’s friend Rohan, who is a banking consultant with a cherry red Honda Civic who hates videogames, and she never returns your calls again.

Going back to the thought I didn’t complete, I finally figured out how to beat level four. Having struck out at all my relationships at Levels one, two, three and four in varying circumstances, I was determined to win this time. I decided I would cheat.

Turns out, the cheat code on level four is, “Will you marry me?” and it is not really one of those God-mode cheat codes, but kind of like that stupid small mushroom in Mario that turns you tiny, which whatever you say about it, only is good enough to make you excitable and jump really high, but does bugger all against Bowser, not to mention takes away whatever power up you were on at the time. Yep, 2007 was also the year when I beat Level four by getting married.

I know, I know. But at this time, it’s like telling a person that he can’t make a grilled tuna sandwich with a hosepipe, when he has invested not only in the pipe, but drilled a hole in an underground water reservoir, created a fence around the hole for leakages, laid out a picnic table with the fancy tablecloth and nice china and bought a big bottle of Maggi Hot and Sweet Tomato Chilly Sauce (It’s different). I would have probably made a more direct analogy and enlightened all of you on the inner arguments about marriage, but I DON’T HAVE PERMISSION.

Surprisingly, though, it has turned out to be very good for my gaming, because first of all, everyone in the whole world, including the wife, now understands and empathizes that I need a consolation prize. Games are my lollipop after the tetanus shot. Second of all, hey, you need someone to pummel at DoA at 3 in the morning. Am I right, or am I right? Plus, after I got the Wii, Nintendo saw fit to reward me with the single most effective advantage of being married – Super Mario Galaxy. While I am playing the game, I need someone to collect all the star bits for me, and the universe has literally conspired for me to make the most of my situation. Plus when you get married and someone (these two fine people) gifts you an X-Box 360, not to mention games to play it with and bean bags to play it on, you start to think maybe this wasn’t such a bad idea after all.

Digressi-mon, I choose you!

(I really need to tell you about the great year in gaming I have had, especially with all the console love and a new PC, and I create segues like hosepipes create grilled tuna sandwiches.) Here, then, are the videogames that made the most impact in a mad mad year, and while I know your favorite is probably not here, remember that I may possibly hate you personally.

10. God Of War 2 (OR The most fun pressing buttons in the order someone tells you to)
God of War 2
It is surprising that I remembered this game at all, having played it in bouts and fits all through the year on my choking little PS2. But playing the middling to horrid Heavenly Sword made me realize how much I love the impeccable design decisions in this game. As much as I love David Jaffe, this sequel topped his creation many times over.
Why your game isn’t here: Because if you show me a game and claim it as a more polished example of a gameplay balance and carnage I will think you are wrong.

9. Eternal Sonata(Or Best game about hallucinations)
Eternal Sonata You are a character inside the dream of a sick and fevered Frederic Chopin, and you must battle monsters in turn based musical combat with musically named party members. Do you need another reason? It seems unlikely that Chopin dreamt of wide eyed Manga characters and turn based combat, yes. Still, you never know.
Why your game isn’t here: I haven’t played Mass Effect, and I think The Witcher had terrible voice acting. I think Persona 3 deserved to be on this list, and I think it still is. You JUST CAN”T SEE IT. Freaky.

8. Supreme Commander (OR Best game that made you feel like Mogambo)
Supreme Commander
World in Conflict has prettier explosions, and the battles are more intimate. But I can play Sup Com on dual monitors, keeping my eye on different parts of the epic battle at all times. That makes me feel all sorts of awesome, and dammit, games are supposed to do just that.
Why your game isn’t here: Muhuhahaha, watch as I obliterate you and build a frigate while keeping an eye on both things.

7. Team Fortress 2(OR The best game to wrest the crown from Counter Strike, never mind CoD)
The Orange Box - Team Fortress 2
It is the single most fun experience online I have had all year, despite the MMO trappings of CoD 4 or the trappings of the actual MMO expansion of the year, or even the fact that it ships with less maps than any other online shooter.
Why your game isn’t here: I hate Halo 3 multiplayer and the douchebaggery that it encourages in normal people on Live, I do.

6. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (OR The best case for scripted gameplay, sandboxes be damned)
Call of Duty 4:Modern Warfare
I like its multiplayer almost as much as I like TF2, or maybe a little less, but it is the relentless single player campaign with its cinematic gameplay, orchestral score, and finally, AI smart enough to immerse you completely in the game make me love this game. I have played this twice in different difficulty settings, and I plan to replay certain missions. Pure fun out of a tap.

5. The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass (OR The best game to buy if you travel a lot)
The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass
Don’t be fooled by what I just said. Even if you sit rooted to your desk playing Phantom Hourglass, it is pound for pound one of the best adventure game this year, and another solid achievement on the DS. I am surprised at how much I love my little DS every year more and more due to the absolutely fantastic games that keep coming on it.
Why your game isn’t here: I absolutely loved Crush, loved it. I am the man who will defend Jeanne de’Arc and FF Tactics to death. But there is something about the mad load times and the eldritch murderous refresh rates on the PSP that make me not pick it up. Something clearly needs to be done here.

4. Bioshock (OR The best game about Ayn Rand, and I know Chris Kohler said it first)
As a game that can be classified as a first person shooter, the game only about treads similar grounds as System Shock 2, so that can’t ever be bad, but not terribly new. But it the compelling story that makes it a gem. More importantly, the back story is told through what comes as a slap on the face to the cut scenes of FF and the briefing sequences in the Medal of Honor series. It is told through the game. YOU piece together the narrative by looking at an exquisitely detailed world and make sense of the narrative ion a world gone awry. This is not a novel or a movie as some people like to think. Bioshock is pure game.
Why your game isn’t here: Crysis is gorgeous, and the trying to find ways to kill the next set of bad guys is intact from Far Cry, but it bores me no end. HL2 Ep2 is pretty good, I admit. But you’ll know in a bit. And oh, Halo 3? Well, the 10 minutes of fun is intact. Unfortunately, so are the uninspired levels.

3. Rock Band (OR The best way to make you feel like a rock star)
Rock Band
3 minutes into this awesome game, and I already had creative differences with the drummer and the soloist. No one paid attention to the bassist, because, he is the bassist, and I fucked their song up. Bring it on bitches. Pure genius then, that the default controllers are broken as well. You can SMASH THEM and play with the GH controllers.
Why your game isn’t here: Because I can’t play with you anymore man, you are stifling my creativity.

2. Super Mario Galaxy (OR The best science fiction game)
Super Mario Galaxy
If you need reasons to play Super Mario Galaxy, you are clearly a dead husk of a human being, and your decaying body needs no more nourishment. Go eat human brains, and don’t bother me. I’ve got a chainsaw tied to my arm.
Why your game isn’t here: Because if I had to remove this for Ratchet and Clank Tools of Destruction, it would make me evil. Oh, and the princess is another castle.

1. Portal (OR The best cake and the best lie and the best lie about the cake)
The Orange Box - Portal
Funniest game of the year, the best song of the year, the game with most character, and the most innovative gameplay mechanism. It took me about 4 hours to finish it, but is very quietly changed the way game design is looked at in that time. I doff my hat at the game everyone should play because your life is incomplete without it.
Why your game isn’t here: The cake is a lie.

I have played these and more this year, making 2007 an absolutely fantastic year for gaming. That I have now a wife who plays and loves these games as much as me makes it bloody brilliant. Since 2008 has no hope I hell of beating it, I proceeded straight to the getting drunk on the 1st. One thing that wasn’t brilliant in 2007 was however, the fact that I blogged (read mental masturbation) fairly less. Maybe this will be the same, but at least I have fucked your friends page/RSS feed/iPhone browser once this year. Let’s a go!
Year 2007 was also the year when The Sopranos ended. Not that I cared about the show one way or the other, but I hear the ending was so limp and vague, it left people talking for months. That is exactly how I am going to leave this post, so’s it leaves people talking. I like comments because it proves to the intarwubs that I have friends.

(Thanks to Harry Thompson’s views which colored mine completely, and on which the most amusing bits are completely based on.)