MOVIE REVIEW: Killa : Poignant tale of growing up

There are many pieces of art that touch your heart, but only some of them can hit you personally, make you feel that whatever happened to you is universal – that something can be intensely personal and shared at the same time. Killa is the latter – a fine piece of art made with such loving attention to detail that hits and stings your heart.

Made by cinematographer Avinash Arun, this national award winning film is a moving tribute to parenthood and coming of age. A story about how a single parent is transferred from the bustling city of Pune to a small sleepy town Guhagar  with her 11-year old son Chinmay. A widow – she struggles to come to terms with the loss of her husband and is always questioning her parenting; a child who has just lost his father – Chinmay is grappling with his own issues of abandonment.

A new place, new school, new friends – all Chinmay wants to be is accepted. Not that he realises that. What follows is his personal discovery of friendship and himself. A tale of realising that sometimes, it seems like the world is coming to an end, but it’s not. Of realising that true friendship has its way of coming back to you. Of realising that the first big heartbreak in your life need not always be a romantic relationship, and being okay with that fact.

Killa is about that one moment that defines the end of childhood as we know it. That one moment that changes our perspective, is more often than not sad, but in all probability – makes us a better and stronger human being. Killa will resonate with anyone who has poured his heart and soul into the act of making friends and relationships; with anyone who can trace that exact moment in their life when someone broke the rose-tinted glasses they viewed the world with; with anyone who appreciates the power of silence over words that mean nothing.

Sensitive direction and gorgeous cinematography by Avinash Arun, fantastic performances by Archit Deodhar and Parth Bhalerao and images and moments that stay with you for a long long time after you’ve walked out of the theatre, Killa is an absolute gem and another gem from the new wave of Marathi cinema that continues to impress and delight.

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The cup overfloweth.

The cup overfloweth.

Today, as part of a Twitter campaign – the BCCI handle sent personalized messages with Sachin’s handwriting and his autograph to everyone who tweeted with a #thankyouSachin. Now, I don’t know why but this just hit home in so many ways. For a long time, I was unable to process the fact that an Indian cricket team without Sachin was to be the new status quo.

Neither was I any excited about the fact that Sachin was playing in his 199th test match and his second-last match in a long long time. This photograph, his handwriting – has suddenly made it all so real. And it hurts. It hurts that there will no longer be the Sachin Tendulkar constant in our equations.

Sachin, you may not figure in Indian teams anymore – but you are the gold standard. You are the end-all and be-all for fans like me. Thank you for making it come alive. Thank you for getting the cup back for the second time. Thank you – for you make the cup overflow – with emotions, happiness and eternal gratitude of a hero-starved nation 🙂

Sexuality, Gender, Being Indian and ‘Water’

Set in 1938, Water by Deepa Mehta is a brutal portrayal of the realities of that time, with the frame of reference being the plight of widows in India. The story begins with a newly-widowed 7 year old girl called Chuhiya, who is left at a ‘widhwa-ashram’ (literally meaning, widow-home) to stay with other widows, facing social ostracization.  Confused and scared, Chuhiya is unable to bring herself to accept this change in her life. That she has a hot temper, and a ever questioning mind does not help either.

The entire film delves deeper into the prevalent social issues at that time, the prevalent power structure where there was the supremacy of the male over the female, and the other big power structure in India- casteism, existing at the same time. Being Indian has always been considered to be traditional, to be respectful of the culture that has been passed down through generations,ever since Manu was born. This film showcases the crossroads that India as a country was facing, going from British rule towards Independence. At the same time, the wave of Indian reformers like Raja Ram Mohun Roy, who were challenging the regressive customs of Indian society, was getting stronger.

Being Indian has also meant being respectful of power structures in the society. While some of them explicit, some of them have been drilled into us with such dexterity that we no longer acknowledge their existence or feel them. Water looks at the trauma a widow in those times. While Chuhiya is more or less the change agent in the film, her questions and acts triggering actions both desirable and undesirable. She is a representation of the generation trying to break free from the shackles of ancient India. On the other hand, Shakuntala, who fills in the gap that Chuhiya’s mother would have done otherwise, represents a generation resigned to the customs and functioning of society. A generation who was born in the British Rule, had to keep up with economic developments and changes, while sticking to their ‘Indian’ philosophy of life, never challenging the status quo.

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It is a beautiful portrayal of a society so bound by its scriptures, its ancient texts that it is losing the ability to progress with the times, affording upliftment and success of only those classes of society that were doing well anyways. The representation of sexuality is also very interesting. A mirror to a society which at that time, thought of women as second rate citizens, whose lives were bound to the men in their lives. First the father, whose house she would live and grow in, and then her husband, who would give her his name and when he would die, her identity was more or less lost in the process. A woman, who was a widow, was no more than a burden to her husband’s family, one more mouth to feed. People of the upper classes exploited widows for sex, but at the same time, the emotions of a widow meant nothing – her sexual desires were supposed to be non-existent, her desires of getting appreciated, or appreciating the good things in life like fine food, clothes and jewelry were also considered appalling and she was denied all this.

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The soon-to-be lawyer, Narayana who eventually turns out to be a savior for Chuhiya and in a way, Shakuntala, represents the intellectual class of the society at that time and in a sense, even now. As the Indian society still struggles to address gender issues and mistreatment of widows, Water remains a deeply relevant film.

Patriarchy, the status quo.

There was a certain question that has stuck with me ever since I first came across it almost a decade ago. A piece in a prominent magazine asked why citizens of India did not have the choice to give their mother’s name instead of their father’s name on an official form or on any form that needed consent of a parent. The author of the piece went on to ask what a widowed woman’s status were to be in such a case. It was a very pertinent question, and remains so.

Even today, official government forms usually do not have the option to give mother’s name as the middle name or as the parent’s name. The mother must be then named as the guardian instead of a parent. Personally, I find this extremely demeaning to the relationship of a woman with her child. A citizen of India should have the right to choose between using his father or his mother’s name interchangeably either as his/her middle name or his/her parent’s name. While this may seem trivial, this is actually a representation of a far bigger status quo of our society. The big giant called patriarchy, which has loomed over us for centuries and which poses a lot of societal problems when it goes on overlooked and when gender dynamics get so skewed that they cross the line of no return.

Patriarchy is expressed in multiple ways. In the ways that household activities are divided between a man and woman with minimal expectations from a man to fill in for a role that he could perform with ease at home. On the other hand, a woman is not only expected to contribute to the family income and give her husband a helping hand, but also expected to be the subservient domestic doormat who does all the household chores by her own and keeps a perfect balance between work and household activities. The same balance, however, is not sought from men in our society. I have seen examples of this in my own society, in my own city. It disturbs me immensely because the seeds of this behavior are sown when the children are young.  I have a problem with how gender roles are pre-ordained in our society. It can be something as simple as a parent telling his/her 10-year-old daughter, ”You must pay attention to household stuff. After all, you are the one who has to take care of the household.”

Why should the onus of learning the household chores and the way things are done at home be thrust only upon the daughter of the family? The same things can be taught to the girl and boy of the family with it being an inclusive process, instead of making the female feel that she has been singled out and is being made to do something which she may not want to. The feminist in me would try and delve deeper into this issue and maybe try to figure out how and why the concept of patriarchy came to exist in the first place. There have been a lot of studies on this subject but the theory I believe in is that patriarchy came into being when the human race acknowledged that the physical power of the male species ought to be given more importance than the nurturing and child-bearing aspect of the female species. As the former was more conducive to survival of a tribe, it is very probable that this moment in history lead to the elevation in status of man in society, and in the process, subjugation of a woman.

 

These are just my random thoughts about the state of the society I live in, things that bother me immensely. As a child, I had lofty dreams of the world in which I was growing up. I would proudly tell my parents that I was sure things would completely change when I grew up and that when I was getting married, women and men would be treated equal. I dreamt of situations where the man would leave his house and come to live in mine when married me.

Alas, that is not happening.

Patriarchy is the way it’s going to be for a few more generations, it seems. Unless that lofty dream is revived. And I think it is up to my generation to do that. I hope we do our bit.

The Great Indian Dream

For years, putting up a good show at the biggest sporting event in the world has been a dream for my country. Yes, the Olympics. India, a country with more than a billion people, has always dreamed in technicolor when it came to the Olympics.

This great dream started in 1928 when the indomitable Indian hockey team won its first Gold medal at the Olympics. What followed was a 6 gold medals in a row, the Indian team was undefeated until 1956! In doing so, the Indian team became the nation to win the most Golds for Hockey at the Olympics. A feat unparalleled. No team has ever come close to the dream that was the Indian Hockey team of the yesteryears. Dhyan Chand and his boys reserved a place for themselves on the golden pages of the sport.

Another phenomenal achievement happened during the Beijing 2008 Olympics. Abhinav Bindra won the Gold for the 10m Air Rifle shooting event, giving India its first individual Gold at the Olympics. What a moment that was! A billion dreams came true at the same time. India could now proudly boast of an individual achievement at the Olympics.

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While Abhinav Bindra’s win was amazing, something heartbreaking had happened at the same Olympics. It was the first time since 1928 that the Indian hockey team had failed to qualify for the Olympics. It was a terrible, disheartening moment for people associated with the sport, who had seen India virtually destroy any and every competition that it ever had. Scarred with politics and shoddy management, the players were let down horribly.

But this year, the Hockey team is back with a bang. After an amazing performance at the London Olympics qualifiers, where they stood first, and a good performance at the Azlan Shah Cup, the Indian team is going from strength. Lead by a new coach Michael Nobbs, the team has never looked better. Nobbs has blended the European style of hockey well with the crafty hockey that our players play. This year, Michael Nobbs and many many Indians expect a podium finish from the Hockey team because of the simple fact that it is possible 🙂

The Indian hockey team holds aloft their trophy at the victory podium after winning the men's field hockey match between India and France for the final position of the FIH London 2012 Olympic Hockey qualifying tournament at the Major Dhyan Chand National Stadium in New Delhi on February 26, 2012.

(The Indian Hockey team after winning the London Olympic Qualifiers)

The other sport that has everyone excited is Women’s Boxing. This is the first time that this sport has been included in the Olympics lineup and what makes it even more exciting is the presence of one name on that final qualifying list, MC Mary Kom. Considered by many to be one of the finest female boxers in the world, Mary Kom is all set to win the first Olympic Gold for the 51-kg Female Boxing event.

India's boxer MC Mary Kom punches a bag during a training session at Balewadi Stadium in Pune, about 190 km (118 miles) from Mumbai, March 12, 2012. Mary Kom was the face of the campaign to get women's boxing into the Olympics and the Indian mother of two will be competing at the world championships in China in May aiming to book her spot at the London Games in the 51kg category. Picture taken March 12, 2012.

(MC Mary Kom trains for the Olympics)

The woman power at the Olympics this time is being upped seriously by the participation and qualification of Saina Nehwal, India’s top ranked female badminton player and currently ranked World No.5. After a quarterfinal defeat in her debut Olympics at Beijing last year, Saina is raring for a comeback and fulfil her dream of an Olympic medal. She faces a tough draw at the Olympics but she has trained hard and won two major titles in the last couple of months, displaying excellent form.

Saina Nehwal practices during a training session for the badminton competition of the 2012 Summer Olympics, on July 25, 2012, in London.
(Saina Nehwal practices during a training session of the London Olympics)
Apart from these three personal favorites,
there are many wonderful athletes representing India, I wish them all the best!

World Champ!

There are not many days when Indians can go ga-ga over a sportsman reaching the ultimate level of excellence in a sport other than cricket. That’s what makes this day special. The 12 match tussle for the Chess World Championship ended today. 

India's Vishwanathan Anand plays during a tie-break of FIDE World chess championship match against Israel's Boris Gelfand in State Tretyakovsky Gallery in Moscow on May 30, 2012.

World Chess champion Viswanathan Anand from India, contemplates his next move during a match against Boris Gelfand of Israel at the FIDE World Chess Championship tie break match at Moscow's Tretyakovsky State Gallery, Russia, Wednesday, May 30, 2012.

And it ended with a tie-breaker. Playing against Israel’s Boris Gelfand at the Tretyakovsky gallery in Moscow, viewers waited with bated breath : from the viewing gallery, on online forums, and all throughout India, a country which is embracing Chess and other individual sports like never before. 

World Chess champion Viswanathan Anand from India, left, and his Israeli challenger Boris Gelfand, play a FIDE World Chess Championship tie break match at Moscow's Tretyakovsky State Gallery in Moscow, Russia, Wednesday, May 30, 2012.

Vishwanathan Anand inspires me each and every time.This is his fifth World Championship title after 2000,2007,2008 and 2010 before. He is one of only six players in the history of the game to break the 2800 mark in the FIDE rating. Following a slow but steady rise through the ranks, Vishy became world no.1 in the April 2007. 

India's Vishwanathan Anand plays during a tie-break of FIDE World chess championship match against Israel's Boris Gelfand in State Tretyakovsky Gallery in Moscow on May 30, 2012.

India’s first grandmaster and an inspiration to everyone who’s become a grandmaster from India since, you make me and every Indian really proud of you Vishy! Hope the crown stays with you for years to come. The king of 64 squares.

The Mango Carrier.

It was a very different day today. I had my last MBA interview of the season in Mumbai and had a flight back in the afternoon. But before the flight, we stopped at a shop on the narrow dug up lane near the airport for the first batch of heavenly Alphonso mangoes to take home.

Now this box of mangoes, called a peti is no ordinary box. It has the choicest Alphonso mangoes stuffed between dry straw that helps the mangoes ripen. You are supposed to carry the box as it is. And it does not weigh less. Holding the box by the attached strings is essentially a painful process and you end up with sore fingers if you don’t hurry up or carry it for too long.

 

So there I was, with a box of mangoes in my hand, wincing in pain because of the strain. When we landed, luckily, Dad took the other bag that I was carrying and I held the box properly between both my hands and walked proudly. Before I knew it, almost everyone waiting for their checked-in baggage near the carousel was staring at me. I could not understand why.

 

 

Well, to be honest, it really must have been the first box of mangoes that any of them saw this season. And to think of it again, I walked on with nothing but a big box of delicious Alphonso mangoes in my hand and it appeared that I had no other baggage as Dad was at quite a distance with the other two bags.

 

The looks continued : The security guard at the gate could not believe his eyes. The policeman who was supposed to direct traffic looked at me like I had a box of gold in my hands. An old man who passed by, smiled coyly, maybe the thought of the mangoes made  him happy as well. In a mango-crazy nation, where the mango is known as the king of all fruits, it was quite an experience to carry in what was perhaps the first case of mangoes to the city.

 

And now I realize, dressed in my interview formals, I looked like a delivery-person assigned with super important mangoes intended for a VIP (Very Important Person). Aaah, mangoes! YOU ARE MINE!