Dec 15, 2013

Unpolished review of Ramleela

Warning: Lots of spoilers

I wanted to write a lot more about Bhansali's work, but ran out of steam. Maybe some other day.

All the critics are wrong. Ramleela is an awesome movie.

In romeo and juliet, romeo enters juliet's house on a masquerade ball-- maybe that is the reason indian films have chosen to portray this scene in holis, when you cannot really see the other person's face. But in romeo and juliet, juliet's father decides to let romeo stay on anyways, because it’s a festival time and he likes the lad. In Bhansali’s version, nobody likes Ram. Bhansali has added many of his own touches in his version of Romeo and Juliet, which are all nice. The two people killing each other, for instance, rather than succumbing to fate and illusions, is very well done. And so are the various intrigues and conspiracies.

By now, Bhansali’s visual motifs have become familiar to viewers - a woman lighting a diya. A woman with a light. A woman with blood flowing into water. A woman dragged against her will. Is it a coincidence that most of these images are of women? And a toned, shirtless man. Such a man in dhoti looks so good, or lets just say Ranbir Singh carries his dhoti off better than Ranbir Kapoor carried his towel-- which slipped  older woman dancing -- like kirron kher in devdas. By now, even Bhansali’s dances are familiar-- the dhol dance, the solo female dance--priyanka even strikes the same pose as aishwarya in hddcs. The song, btw, i think is the weakest part of the movie, even though it is a visual delight. Bhansali can do better than that, he has made so many awesome movies without item songs. But he does chase scenes very well, I could not take my eyes off of the one where a woman is being chased by a group in a jeep. And also confrontations, the pivotal scene where both parties tries to shoot at each other’s bottles is hair raising. There are many other patterns, which I forgot. Maybe will add later when I remember. The problem with these patterns is that they are all beautiful, but the second time around, they seem to lose their power, especially for viewers like me who associated a lot of meaning with the scenes we saw the first time.

Colors and sets are another pattern of bhansalis- i wanna watch the movie again just for that, and the costumes. And how strange, that even when leads run away, they find a town just as picturesque as they left-- complete with posters of goddesses in the hotel room.
All this makes you think that perhaps Bhansali gave his best, his heart and soul, to hddcs, and is just churning out pale copies since.

One flaw with the movie is that it lacks an emotional punch. Somehow, the attraction that the two leads have does not seem enough to create a life consuming passion for both. Perhaps the fact that the lead actors are good but not great has something to do with it. When Deepika recites silly shayaris even in serious situations, it makes you think of Aishwarya in hddcs, who had was similarly living in her own world not caring what happened outside. And the comparison does not favor Deepika. Also, perhaps our prejudices against sexuality have something to do with it – a relationship with sexual elements is perceived not as “deep” as a purely emotional one.

Coming to the theme, which is the most important part of a movie, And even in themes, we now know Bhansali’s patterns: a hero who is not serious even when the heroine is about to be married. A girl who is forced to be married, and is defiant. Authoritative parents. A daughter who is the parent’s guroor. But this time we must thank Bhansali for giving us more evolved female characters. An authoritative mother rather than a father, and a spirited heroine! sanjay leela bhansali's work is filled with primeval emotions-emotions you feel so deeply, you are forced to obey them, no matter what your circumstances. His movies remind you of things you cannot run away from--ghosts you cannot lay down. And for this, I always watch his movies, because they touch you somewhere at the core of how you feel, and remind you of how important romantic love is to your happiness.

Unpolished review of hunger games 2


Hunger games part 2 manages to be one of the few movies that is better than its book. While the book was laden with unnecessary details and confusing plot lines, the movie is clean. You only lose interest once, when the details of the game are too confusing.
I really like Collin's theme of what wars do to people. The yearly tribute reminds one of the ancient Greek story of Theseus and the Minotaur. However, Collins has gone one step ahead from the chest thumping victory that Theseus ends with. With any war, the cycle of violence does not stop, it goes on and on. MInos had begun the tradition of tributes because his son had been killed by Aegeans before, and this was his revenge. Theseus' story posits Theseus as the hero and Minos as the tyrant. masking the cycle of violence before it. Theseus kills Minotaur, but leaves deserts his lover Ariadne, starting another cycle, of which his father's death was merely a part. To come back to Hunger games, Katniss and her allies are again projected as heroes, and we know nothing of the history that went before it. But even after Katniss has vanquished one game, she is pushed into another. And when she vanquishes even the second attempt at her life., finally, her faction itself turns oppressor. She has thus effectively started another cycle of violence.
Collins' book is not a happy one, right from page one itself. But this pessimistic conclusion about the cycle of violence is effective because rings true.I read somewhere that Collins' aim was to portray how war affects children, and through Katniss' brittle, hardened personality, she succeeds. And she has done more than that. Katniss strikes at the "real enemy." While Theseus and his like always believed ending one evil was ending evil forever, Katniss, (in the third book, I am taking leaps here) lashes out at the entire system by targeting the one who gives orders. Her enemy is the dystopia in her society, not a person. Collins deserves the credit for taking the focus away from this narrow black and white view of war and towards the big picture.
Another important theme in this movie that touched me was Katniss' love life. She is attracted to two people at the same time, or alternately, however you like . Unlike twilight, the book that first became famous for this theme, Katniss' story does not stretch your imagination or your patience. You understand every bit of her feelings. She feels differently for both these men, and yet, both are important to her her, in different ways, at different times. She struggles with her feelings, and so do we. Why isn't it ok for her to value two different people in different ways? Why should she be forced to choose, eventually? I think her choice, when it comes in the end (in the third book, again) was only inevitable because of our social rules of monogamy. Her feelings don't end, or would not, in real life. The fact that Collins makes them end for one person is, to me, reflective of real life: we are forced to make a choice at some point, when in our hearts, all we want is for things to stay the same with everyone we value and care about.

Dec 8, 2013

Song of Ice and Fire: The Greek Connection

I may never have latched on to George RR Martin’s Greek connection, except that a child being dashed on walls paints a very vivid picture. And that picture has been made famous long before Martin’s epic A Song of Ice and Fire. In Homer’s Illiad, after the city of Troy is routed by the Greek forces, Hector’s child Astyanax is dashed on the walls. In Martin’s fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire, Prince Rhaegar’s son Aegon is killed in the same way by Robert Baratheon’s angry host. Both the Greeks and the Baratheons are avenging the abduction of a woman: In Illiad, Menelaus wife Helen, and in A Song of Ice and Fire, Lyanna, the fiancée of Robert.

Martin’s work is full of such allegories and parallels to the ancient Greek myths, but he adds his own unique twists to them. For example, Helen’s abduction is debated, since many believe she fell in love with Paris, but Martin is clear that Lyanna’s abduction was forceful. Another twist is in the character of Helen’s husband. In Illiad, Menelaus, the husband of Helen, is a gentle man, not warlike at all. It is his brother Agamemnon who is the leader of the Greek host. But A Song of Ice and Fire, it is Robert Baratheon, fiancé of Lyanna himself, who resembles the aggressive Agamemnon. Agamemnon’s wife is Clytemnestra, who plots with her new lover to kill her husband. Well, Robert’s wife is Cersei, and Cersei’s lover has been with her for longer than her husband. But nonetheless, she does plot with him to kill Robert.

Another clear parallel to Greek myths lies in the story of Danaerys, the exiled Dragon princess. In Greek mythology, Danae was a princess who was persecuted by her brother. She was imprisoned, and into her imprisonment Zeus crept in the form of rain to impregnate her. When she gave birth to her child, her brother, afraid of the child’s power, set her afloat on the sea. Zeus’s jealous wife Hera sets many obstacles for Perseus, sending mercenaries to kills him, but Perseus and Danae overcome them all. Likewise, in A Song of Ice and Fire, Danaerys is first persecuted by her brother. She is not imprisoned, but since childhood her brother is her only family, which means that he controls and even abuses her until her teenage. Even her marriage is a forced one, and here she differs from Danae of Greece who loved Zeus. But again, Danaerys is persecuted by the Lannisters who are afraid that her child will rise to overthrow them, and send mercenaries to kill her and her child.

Like Zeus, Danaerys’ husband Khal Drogo disappears from her life once the child is born. Danaerys is left alone to raise her child. The Greek Danae caught the eye of a lecherous king who would have her against her wishes. Will Danaerys too be pursued by unwanted lovers? Will her children, the dragons, save her from that misery? Only time will tell (or maybe, a reading of the next four books in the series that are already out in the market, since I have read only the first part).

They key to understanding the character of Tyrion Lannister lies in his name. At first glance, it seems Tyrion is borrowed from Tyr, the Norse god of war. But once you know him better, you realize he shares more with a mythical Greek demigod. Tyrion is a joker who is not taken seriously by people around him. He is deformed, but has a great lust for women and wine. The noble values of loyalty and chivalry are nothing to him, he goes for whatever serves his interest. The mythical Greek creature Satyr was a half man-half goat renowned for his deformity, lecherousness, and baseness. I am awed by the thought that there may be many other stories and secrets hidden in the names Martin chooses, and that here I am just gnawing at the tip of the iceberg.

Maybe Martin did not mean to put these patterns in, and the old myths, in. Apart from Danaerys, which is too obvious a reference, others could have been accidents. For that is the power of myths, they tell basic stories of universal emotions that appear in each of our lives. Myths paint a character in broad strokes, which allow us to identify easily with them, and thus make it easy for us analyze and value characters, as well as the qualities of characters that we see in ourselves and the people around us. One reason (among many) that Martin’s work touches so many chords, despite being set in fantasy land, is that he works powerful recurring motifs into the story, and digs into the depths of our emotions. Again and again we hear the same stories, and again and again we derive meaning from them. Sometimes we derive a different meaning when there is a different conclusion, sometimes when the characters are viewed in new light. With two books in the series yet to go, it is yet to be seen what kind of endings Martin has in store for his characters, and what new shades of meaning he gives to them.

Game of Thrones: Book Review

One would have thought that writing one fantasy series would be enough for a lifetime. JRR Tolkien spent his life writing about Middle Earth, his work spilling over into his son’s life who completed some of his unfinished writings. No wonder, since his writings consisted of much more than just Lord of the Rings, it consisted of the entire, history, mythology, and languages of Middle Earth. JK Rowling tired after one fantasy series and turned to crime fiction. Philip Pullman, before his masterpiece His Dark Materials, wrote fantasies that he must be ashamed of today, and never wrote anything half as good after. 

But not so for George RR Martin. Not satisfied with inventing many fantasy worlds and winning every major award that exits for science fiction, Martin is now writing Songs of Ice and Fire, a medieval fantasy series that has topped the chart of both books and TV series. And this fantasy is no ordinary one. Like Tolkien, Martin has invented not just a story but an entire world with its own history and mythology. At the age of 64, Martin is just arriving at his peak form, and we don’t even know if it will be the last thing he writes.

What sets Martin’s works apart from other classical fantasies is his moral axis. Gone are the days when the two sides are rigidly divided into right and wrong, like in Lord of the Rings where Aragorn can do no wrong and Sauron is pure evil. In Martin’s world, even the most lovable characters have complexities: the perfect Catelyn Tully mistreats Jon Snow, son of her husband’s mistress. Villains have their redeeming points: cunning and ruthless Imp Lancaster nonetheless finds it in him to help a cripple. Martin knows no king can live up to his fables: his Robert is no Aragorn but a brave-heart of old gone to seed, complete with a potbelly, many bastards, and irresponsible drinking habits. He writes not about the glory of power and how peaceful the realm is under a benevolent king (think Ramrajya) but of how chaotic it is to manage the day to day events of the realm. There is nothing he will not talk about, even taboos like incest that earlier fantasies steered clear of are worked into Song of Ice and Fire. The component of sexuality marks a departure from most popular works of fantasy which focus on power roles, relegating women to the background as objects of ideal affection (like Arwen in Lord of the Rings). But even otherwise, Martin’s women are forceful characters with a will of their own.

Such a potpourri makes Martin’s work the most realistic in recent times. Bypassing modern favorites like Lord of the Rings, what Songs of Ice and Fire most resembles most is old classics like Mahabharata and Iliad, where each side has a solid array of relatable characters, and where each person has hidden depths of grey. Maybe that is because his work is grounded in medieval history. At first glance, it looks like any other fantasy where magical instruments are made up on the author’s whim. But in personal life, Martin is a collector of medieval artifacts and is known for his meticulous research into them. Song of Ice and Fire is said to be inspired by the War of Roses, a dynastic war between two powerful families and their supporters in medieval England.

A curious detail about Martin’s work is the way he writes about clothes. Almost lovingly he describes the luxurious doublets worn by knights, the flowing capes of the kings. With intricate details found only in Jane Austen’s work, he describes the silk-soft gowns of princesses, their colors, patterns, cuts, and even their lace trimmings. Maybe the visual part comes easily to him because he has worked in television for long. Anyhow, Martin is a milestone in the trend of more approachable, realistic, and sensual fantasy writing. Independently of him (because her first book was published barely a year after Martin’s A Game of Thrones), JK Rowling had given similar details of food and clothes in the Harry Potter series, and the descriptions of food in Hunger Games was so sumptuous that there is now a separate book of Hunger Games Recipes.  But it is notable that Martin is the first male to do so in modern times, such sensuality is lacking in prominent fantasies like Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time.
No matter how sophisticated a writer is, in fantasy they never fail to include some tried and tested formulas. Tolkien borrowed heavily from Norse mythology, and Pullman did a modern take on the time-tested Bible. Even a writer as innovative as Martin has used the number seven indiscriminately. Seven has always been a staple of Indo-European fantasy and folklore, remember Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs? Even in Nepali folklore, there are plenty of stories with one sister and seven brothers, or of seventh time lucky. The roots of seven’s popularity go deep, as it is believed to be a mysterious and magical number in many Indo-European cultures.  In Martin’s world, seven is the number of gods, the number of kingdoms, and also the number of hells, patterns which are repeated many times in the series.

Like in many epic fantasies, the language is as Old English-y as possible, to lend it an air of mystery. The use of “is” for “has” is an example, as in “The kingslayer is fled.” Names draw from old mythologies: Baratheon where Theo makes a reference to God, Khal Drogo where Drogo itself means dragon, Rhaegar meaning king, and many more. Referring to ancient spelling, Martin uses the letter “y” where the common practice is to use “i”: Lysa, and the house of Targaryn. The compound syllable “ae” is another such element, used in names like Rhaegar, Aemon, and Maegor.

Martin’s world, like any other work of fantasy, is not free from racial stereotyping: the concept that people of a certain blood have a certain characteristics. Tolkien had characterized Sauron’s army as being “full of vile men of low races with evil, mean faces”, as if a face can tell a character. Similarly, Martin’s heroes, the Starks, are proud that “the blood of the first men” flows in their veins, which apparently makes them better than everyone else. The Lannisters, in contrast, seem to be vilified just for their last names.

Martin’s work brings to mind the curious effects of primogeniture in literature. The technique in Martin’s writing is so far advanced than that in Tolkien’s, the characters so much better developed. And yet, Martin’s work will never have as much impact on readers as Tolkien’s. Fans of the old classics will find any number of faults in Martin’s work to justify this, but the truth is that impact can be made only by the first in the field. Those that come after cannot even hope for a fraction of its fame, no matter the quality. With a head full of the details of one fantasy world, it is very difficult for readers to understand and cram the details of another, at least not with as much passion as the first time around. The new book competes not just with the quality of the old book’s writing, but also with its attachment and nostalgia. We, the generation that grew up with Harry Potter, will never have the time to spend another ten years fixated on a book, which is why nothing else will appeal to us as much. Only on the young generation that grew up on Game of Thrones can it have its greatest impact.

Also, the impacts of early works on succeeding literature is so far reaching that it is just not possible for more recent works to compete. This may be because today fantasy books are only read by fans of the genre which limits their reach, while Lord of the Rings was read by all lovers of literature. Taking these factors into account, we as should be careful to judge new books on their merit, and not on how their impact compares to that of older classics. Here’s to hoping that the most talented fantasy writer of our generation gets his due from readers and critics alike.

Nov 30, 2013

Samples from seven sisters

I remember reading an article by Nepali writer Saurabh, where he cautioned the haphazard use of the word “Khas.” The word Khas derives from Kashgarh, an area to the north of Kashmir, he said, and peoples who had wandered through this area in their history took their name from it. Brahmin and Chhetris did, but so did groups as far apart as Rais and Limbus, who divided their Gotras into “Kashi” and “Lhasa.” Saurabh’s point was that the word “Khas” must be used with a proper understanding of what it means, because it does not exclusively denote elite Aryans of Nepal as we believe. So when I encountered a race called Khasi in Meghalaya of India, a people with chinky eyes, glamorous high cheekbones, and dark complexion, I assumed they were one of the numerous groups that had wandered through Kashgarh.
However, my assumption was soon proven wrong. “The Khasi people have come in from the east, probably from Cambodia, though their origins have not been explained satisfactorily” said Mitra Phukan, an Assamese writer. That would mean that they had never been as far west as Kashmir. As I contemplated this coincidence of the same name across incongruent places (a mystery that I am yet to unravel, by the way), Mitra told me more about the multicultural salad bowl that was northeast India. We have grown up with stories of western invasions on India. From Alexander who reached Kashmir, to Prithviraj who defended the region, and from Mughals to the British, all have caught popular imagination. But we have no idea of the Ahoms who invaded (possibly from Thailand) the east and actually ruled for 600 years, making significant difference to the area’s history as well as subsequent demography. And that is just the most visible race, there were many more that emigrated quietly as peoples often do. I had never even heard of the existence of ethnic groups like Assamese, Khasis, Mizos, Boros, Garos, and many others who inhabited vast swathes of these parts. It’s like the entire history of the northeast is somehow overshadowed because India’s cultural and political center is in its western parts.
The resultant diversity was evident in their dresses. As elsewhere, it was the women who were the bearers of culture, and men went around in ubiquitous trousers and shirts. In Guwahati, Assamese women wore Mekhla-chador, which consisted of a lungi-like wraparound skirt with a couple pleats and a matching shawl. When the shawl was wrapped around the skirt, it gave the impression of a sari. And in Shillong the Khasi women were resplendent in their Jainsem: a dress which consisted of two pieces worn on each shoulder. For lack of better comparison (and I am sure the Khasi people would not like the description) it looked one toga worn over another. They seemed very attached to their dress, they wore the one-shoulder outer shawl even with kurtha-salwars, skirts, and pants.For photo shoots, their silver crowns and bracelets could be found on hire, though nobody wore these in real life. 
me in khasi dress

Manipuri women wore tube-like skirts with distinct parallel stripes. Pictures showed exotic headdresses with multicolored feathers, though again, nobody was wearing them. A lady from Arunachal Pradesh wore a dress I could neither classify nor figure out how to wear, though I saw that it was filled with distinctive geometrical patterns. It was a treat to watch this wide variety, each with their unique ethnic weaving patterns. It made me think of the latest television sensation Game of Thrones, which has been garnering quite a lot of praise for its varied costume and jewelry. Art seemed to fade in comparison to real life, a feeling I have had many times in Nepal’s multicultural environment as well. Game of Thrones guys need to get over here for inspirations.  
Shillong was multicultural in many other ways. It was the first time I saw the pig and cow carcasses displayed openly. Place names were in local languages, like Hangne Die Ja. And in the middle of one such place was a Muslim eatery with "beaf" on the menu. The old bazaar was an interesting place, with different sections like Bhutia section, Punjabi section, etc clearly differentiable. 
And among this diversity were many permutations of our very own Nepalis. I met one gentleman with a Muslim name who surprised me by saying "ma ghar ma nepali bolchhu." Later he revealed that he had a Nepali mother and a father from UP, but identified as Assamese. Sadly, we never got around to hearing the story of how he got his Muslim name. There were Nepalis from Darjeeling and Sikkim who spoke with the sweetest eastern accents. A lady who gave a presentation on Mizo culture later spoke to me in fluent Nepali, revealing that she was half Nepali. One Nepali gentleman’s family had settled in India in the 1860s. It made me reflect on how flimsy our political borders are. The “roti-beti” relationship of Madhesh is famous because it is so immediate and visible. But what about these Nepalis who are scattered all over northeast India? They speak Nepali and identify as Indian Nepali. But the question again is, as one scholar put it, “which comes first, Indian or Nepali?” What if we did not have to worry about this? People migrate for various reasons, and then some lines drawn on a piece of paper alienate them from those closest to them. Especially in South Asia, these lines dividing us from our kin seem much imposed. I also got the chance to meet Lil Bahadur Chhetri, writer of Basai. To me he was a spiritual link to many other Indian writers like Parijat and Indra Bahadur Rai who made significant contributions to Nepali literature. What if we did not have to worry about beloved artists being from a different country?

I envied these Nepalis who grew up in such multicultural environment. When I was in the US, people were impressed when I said I knew three and a half languages. “That’s two and a half more than I know” said one lady. I don’t know what she would say to Khagen Sharma, who knows half a dozen more languages, from Assamese, Boro, and Bengali to Baganiya, a language spoken by some groups that worked in tea plantations. And his two daughters could sing and dance in all these languages.
Being in Assam during Tihar was a happy coincidence, a chance to learn about the interesting local variations of Hindu festivals. Assamese people do not celebrate Laxmi Pooja in Tihar, but celebrate Kali Pooja instead. As for Laxmi, they worship her during the last day of Dashain, on Kojagrat Purnima. 

Kamakhya temple in Guwahati, believed to be the most powerful of Shakti Peethas, was another point of interest. Strangely, this temple is supposed to be the place where Sati Devi's genitals fell when Shiva was carrying her body around. Strange because we claim the same of Guhyeshwari here. Now, the same body part cannot fall at two different places. I googled for a bit, but could find no reconciliation (though the Indian sites will try to circumvent the problem by saying that it is Sati Devi’s groin that fell in Guhyeshwari). Maybe the information is available in local languages and with local experts than online in English. Another mystery I am yet to unravel.

            One of the interesting people I met was Mesbah kamal, a scholar from Bangladesh. He informed me that following the example of Nepal, the Bangladeshi parliament had created a caucus to give constitutional recognition to its ethnic minorities. That made me think that perhaps we Nepalis are too hard on ourselves. We only look at the negatives of our political situation: how unstable it is, how unreliable the leaders are. But we do not register the fact the despite these problems, in the last decade or so awareness has increased by leaps and bounds in Nepali society. The issues of identity have entered all strata, and though federalism may or not solve the problem, the consciousness is here to stay. Every street urchin can speak knowledgeably on identity and federalism today, and demand their rights.
ranga ride across mechi

This may have given rise to conflicts (in our return journey, we were cornered by a Purvanchal banda called by Limbuwan. We were forced to cross the Mechi is buffalo cart, and from then on to the airport in a rickshaw.) But even as the buffalo cart threw my already exhausted body here and there in a bumpy ride, I mused that conflict is the way to growth, while the peaceful parts of the world stagnate. We are discussing subjects that are still taboo for a large part of the world, and though we may not be anywhere near the conclusion, we are making progress with each step. Our steps have already inspired a neighboring country, and set a model for the rest of the world, and yet our inborn inferiority complex does not allow us to even acknowledge this as an achievement. It’s about time we took pride in our achievements, and looked upon our sudden but unique consciousness more positively.  

Note: The Seven Sisters are the seven north-eastern states of India: Assam, Manipur, Mizoram, Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland and Tripura.

Oct 11, 2013

To kill or not to kill

Most of the religions that we know today are rooted in the worship of power. Supernatural beings who control the forces of nature and/or fulfil human wishes are the early deities of most religions. And offerings to please the deities and ask for something in return are often central to such beliefs. The story of Noah is found in the Bible. When God decided to flood the world and end mankind, he saved Noah and his family. After a flood of 150 days, when Noah disembarked safely from the boat, he sacrificed birds and animals of every kind to the God to thank him for saving his life. And God in turn, pleased by his offering, promised never to deluge humankind again.

Hinduism is no different. Our earliest hymns, the Vedas, are replete with offerings to the gods. Pleasing and appeasing beings of power is a recurring theme in early Hindu literature.  “Please accept this offering, O Indra, and bless us with health, prosperity, and protect us from our enemies” is a frequent refrain in the Rig Veda.

These sacrifices, consisting of cereal grains, Somaras, ghee, and other substances were poured into the fire. It was believed that such sacrifices helped retain the balance of nature, because sacrifice would reach the sun, and from the sun comes rain. A part of the food also goes to our ancestors, most often through the ritual of Shraddha. Today, our Shraddhas and most Brahmin rituals are known to be free of meat. But Manusmriti, a book which set the laws that turned into practice for many groups of Hindus, has a different story to tell. “Meat prepared without any spices” is a fit sacrificial food according to Manu.  So much so that Manu feels that our ancestors are not satisfied with ordinary food like sesame, barley, beans or fruits. Such foods will only serve them for a day or two. But if we offer them fish, they will survive for two months. Deer, three months, black antelope, eight months. Surprisingly, buffalo meat which is shunned by most highborn people of Nepal, is supposed to provide nutrition for ten months straight.

Manu does hold cow milk in higher esteem than most meat, and deems that an offering of milk or kheer will last them a year. No wonder kheer is so popular in Shraddhas, but it is hard to understand why the meat of red goat, which Manu thinks will provide “everlasting” food for the ancestors, is not popular.
Many other scriptures corroborate that meat should be eaten for the nutrition it provides, and that the purpose of sacrifice is for the humans to partake of it. In the Mahabharata, after the Ashwamedha (where the word itself means horse sacrifice) the priests cook the horse meat, and all assembled smell “the marrow that was highly beneficial to the body.” Elsewhere, the Mahabharata expounds the virtues of eating meat for its nutritional benefits.

James George Frazier writes in his book The Golden Bough, a seminal study of ethnic practices around the world, that the reason most people ate meat was to imbibe the qualities of the animal they ate. This is one reason the meats of strong animals like tigers and rhinoceros were highly sought after. The horse was just being domesticated in the early days of Hinduism, and its immense power had mankind enthralled. No wonder horsemeat was so prized by the Pandavas.

The description of our bloodthirsty goddesses, the deities of Dashain, also fit Frazer’s analysis. The Durga Shaptashadi praises goddess Chandi for killing the enemy and drinking his blood. Such cannibalism was not unknown in earlier societies. In a famous episode in Mahabharata, Bhimsen vowed to slit Dushasan’s throat and drink his blood. A vow he fulfilled, to the shock of his family.

Such horrors are not unique to Hinduism. Greek tales are replete with stories of cruel gods who demand the life of a mortal to appease them. Before the Trojan war, Artemis demanded that king Agamemnon sacrifice his daughter Iphigenia to her in exchange for a safe journey. Similarly, Andromeda, a princess, was almost sacrificed to the vengeful sea god Poseidon before Perseus rescued her. Christ sacrificed himself to pay for the sins of mankind. The idea of a bargain is fundamental to such stories, as in the (relatively) modern concept of bhaakal. We offer a god something precious in return for a favour, and what can be more precious than a beloved human? The concept makes sense only in view of a belief in the god’s power to realize wishes.

Such stories of human sacrifice do not survive in Hinduism except in the form of folktales that do not mandate belief. However, the story of human sacrifices giving way to animal sacrifices does. King Harishchandra (the one of the truth fame) was asked by god Varun to sacrifice his only son to him. Harishchandra avoided the sacrifice for many years. When he could no longer do so, his son Rohit found an impoverished Brahmin willing to part with his middle son Sunahshepa to substitute for him in the sacrifice. The young boy was bound to a post by his own father. Many priests refused to make the sacrifice, indicating that human sacrifice had gone out of fashion even then. Finally, when a willing participant was found, Sunahshepa turned to the Gods and started praying. Varun then had a change of heart and loosened his bonds. The sacrifice was completed made with plant offerings.

For unknown reasons, this story that potentially means the end of human sacrifice in mainstream Hinduism is not very famous. But its parallel stories in Abrahmic religions and Greek myths are quite famous. In fact, the story of Abraham, the patriarch of the Abrahmic religions, is central to Judaism, Christianity and Islam. He was asked by the God to sacrifice his only son Isaac. At the last moment, God replaced the boy with a sheep (or a goat, depending on which version you read.) Athamas of Greek myths was asked by a fake oracle to sacrifice his son, Phrixus. But Hercules stopped the sacrifice in time, and replaced it with a goat. “The gods abhor human sacrifice,” said Hercules, and scholars believe this statement represents the end of a culture. Even Iphigenia was replaced by a deer in later versions of the Iliad.

Every Dashain spotlights animal sacrifice and the debate of what Hinduism says about it. But we forget that “Hinduism”, the original melting pot, does not have a single definitive voice. Instead of being threatened by differing schools of thought and defining itself in contrast to them, it amalgamated everything it found on its way. While the values of compassion and renunciation of material life are very influential in Hinduism, Hinduism would be incomplete without its roots in sacrifices. We do not even follow a single book, unlike many other organized religions. Christians in doubt can consult the Bible, but we rely more on traditions and word of mouth to guide us. And even if we did refer to a book, our books are molded through hundreds of years, and contain the traces of contradictory influences. So while Manu believes rhinoceros meat is the longest lasting, he also insists that only sacrificial meat should be consumed. And while Vyasa expands at length on the nutritional value of meat, Bhishma tells Yudhisthir to “abstain from acts of injury.”

The ahimsa aspect of Hinduism is more popular, maybe because of the diet of Brahmins who claim to abstain from meat in accordance to religious teachings. But there is no doubt that our scriptures also promote a two-fold reason for sacrifice: one to appease powerful beings, and one for consumption. Though I point it out, by no means am I promoting the consumption of meat. I am vegetarian, and I would be happy if everyone else stopped eating meat as well. But that is not going to happen anytime soon, and I don’t understand what the hue and cry over sacrifice is all about. Even without the sacrifice, more or less the same number of animals are killed and consumed in festivities. As long as there is no torture of the animal, and as long as the food is consumed, there is very little difference (to the animal) in killing it in a slaughterhouse or sacrificing it at the altar. This Dashain, whether we sacrifice animals or abstain from it, let us stop blaming our faith for our choices. Our religion is a multifarious one that offers all kinds of viewpoints, and we choose the one that suits our needs. 

Oct 5, 2013

Life in a small town

Like every other youngster going to the Wild West, I had imagined an America full of tall buildings, bright lights, and whizzing fast cars. My first sight of America, from the city of Chicago, even confirmed my image. But sadly, it did not last forever. As we were being driven from the airport to our university, I stared outside the windows with wide eyes. There were only miles and miles of bare forests, and then fields and fields of maize stumps. Far, far, from my image of cities chock-a-block with skyscrapers. Being winter, the trees had no leaves and the maize had already been harvested. In spring and summer, when we drove out from our town, for miles we could see only corn fields.
It was only much later did I come to know that skyscrapers were only to be found in a few big cities, and that most of America was farmland. Corns, potatoes, and soyabeans were to be found aplenty, especially in the state where I lived. Farms full of pigs and horses were a common sight. That was about the time I found that there was only one public transportation that could take me outside of my small university town—a train from Chicago that came in twice a day. If I had to fly to any other state, I would first have to take the three hour ride to Chicago. This meant that getting from one end of America to another could take as much as three days, depending on the schedule of planes and trains.
Every time I went to the train station to get the train, at first I was surprised at the coincidence of getting the same taxi driver every time. Later I found that like one horse towns in olden days, my town had only one taxi service. Gone was my image of the developed world with whizzing fast cars and easy public transportation.
And then there were the cockroaches. Even small villages in America had electricity, water, and good roads, so that fit my image of “development” pretty well. However, I had not expected to live in a wooden house, which is what most houses in small towns seemed to be made of. And especially not expected it to be full of cockroaches. My roommate’s parents, who were visiting for her graduation, exclaimed as much! “Cockroaches in America! Who would have thought?” And we roommates smiled knowingly at each other, thankful that they had not arrived in the season of bedbugs. The entire previous summer we had spent being terrified of bedbugs after we found the first nest under one of our beds. We had frantically turned over every bed, and swept out every corner. But a few days later, my roommate let out a terrified yell, when she saw a new group creeping out from the bookcase. We realized that we were not doing enough to fight them, and called our landlord. No, I had not expected to spend whole weeks covering my nose from the awful smell of insecticides, nor had I expected to throw out mattresses and cushions bought with hard earned money, all in a bid to get rid of anything that bedbugs might like.
Once I got over the idea of skyscrapers and sleek passenger trains though, I found that life in a small town had its own perks. First of all was the friendliness. Everyone, and I mean everyone, walking on the roads, said hello or good morning with a friendly smile. I found that was not the case at all in big cities like Chicago and New York, where people barely acknowledged you. Like in villages, houses had no fences or walls. I was surprised at first that there were just houses next to each other with lawns between them, nothing to mark any boundaries. But it was good to find that we were free to walk and run across any lawn as long as did not damage anything. A classmate’s friend, who was a farmer, brought over vegetables every so often, and we enjoyed fresh onions and garlic. In summer, some people’s pastime was to go to the jungles and look for edible mushrooms. In fact, some of these small university towns were so relaxed that a friend of mine had taken to growing tomatoes and herbs in his backyard.
Being a small town, everyone knew everyone. We ran across our bank teller at a grocery store, who asked if we were safe. We ran across our landlord at our favourite clothing store, and found that the landlord was engaged to the store owner. My classmate turned out to be a friend of my boss’ son, and another classmate’s daughter worked with the doctor that I went to see.
I loved how people knew and kept track of my preferences. The night bus drivers knew every passenger because there were so few of them, and would go out of the way to stop near a passenger’s house. A friend of mine, who lived in an even smaller town, told me that all the local restaurants knew her preferences, and anytime they made something they thought she would like, they would call her.
I loved how the small town feel meant that there were more facilities for everyone. The buses and trains were rarely packed. We could get a tale at any restaurant in town, with barely any waiting. My bank and Laundromat both had coffee jugs at a counter where we could relax and drink coffee, and the bank even had cookies on Fridays. Most people had chocolates on their desk in holiday season, like in Christmas or Easter, and I had a field day visiting people and tasting their chocolates. The local video store gave free videos to students with a 4.0 report card. And yes, that also applied to college students.
The four years I spent in America taught me a lot, but nothing came close to the first lesson. That preconceived ideas about a place are rarely true. It is best to keep your eyes and mind open, and let the place teach you what it is all about, that way, you learn a lot more than you expected. 

Sep 7, 2013

I wish you knew

  • A woman can be beautiful and brainy. They are not mutually exclusive.
  • Our careers are as important to us as yours are to you. We want someone, too, who buoys us up and tells us that it is worth our struggle.
  • Same is the case with our passions. Just as we do not mock your cricket fanaticism or your dried flowers collection, you have no right to roll your eyes at our pleasures. Whether they be melodramatic soaps, month-old kittens, or zumba classes.
  • We need to talk about dresses and shoes. And that does NOT make us perform any worse at work, or mother our kids less.
  • We may cry at the drop of a hat, but do not be deceived by appearances. We are sensitive, but also strong. Do not make the mistake, especially, of thinking that the worth of our lives would diminish without you.
  • Everyone talks, we don’t understand why only women’s talk is labelled gossip. We like to bond. Too bad if you don’t.
  • Not every woman is jealous. Supportive women are each other’s strengths. Get over the medieval notion of green eyed monsters.
  • Having said that, do not compare us unfavourably to another woman. If you want to actively bait the green eyed monster, we are not responsible for what happens next.
  • No jokes about how much we spend on our makeup, please. The currently male-centred business of sports ($600 billion revenue per year) is far bigger than the cosmetic industry ($400 billion/year). At sales exceeding $1 trillion every year, the liquor industry, also male-centred, dwarfs both by miles.
  • Not every woman is a “natural” cook. Kitchen is everyone’s heaven, but some like to go there to eat, and some just to socialize. Just like men. No gender bias there.
  • Just because you saw a video of a woman crashing into a tree does not mean all women are bad drivers. You need to check statistics (women get into fewer driving accidents than men) before giving a blanket statement on women’s driving skills.
  • There is no such thing as “innate” mothering skills. No woman is born knowing how to handle a baby waking up every ten minutes. If you sleep through it, do not make it worse by saying it is easy for women.
  • Do not talk about our weight. A woman expects security from those close to her, and telling her she looks fat is not the best way of going about it.
  • When you want to ask us out, do so. Do not tell us when the show starts and expect us to get the hint.
  • Do not complain of being friendzoned. Either move on or move away. It is not our fault if you want to keep to our side even when we have made our intentions clear.
  • If we pick your phone calls, meet you, and have a good time with you, it does not mean we are flirting. We are just being nice to you and ourselves.
  • But of course, we are all adults, and flirting is perfectly fine. But even when we flirt, it might not mean we like you, it’s ungallant to go around town saying so and so is crazy about you.
  • We are constantly amazed by the number of men who presume we will ask them to commit as soon as we meet. Please, we are as much of commitment phobes as you are! We really, really do not want you to go down on one knee after the first date.
  • It’s true. Women need to be reassured of your love, every day. If you think some things are understood without words, you better think again. This is not because we are women, but merely because we are human.
  • Listening does not mean nodding as you play temple run. Relationships needs active communication, and we seek true understanding of our feelings.
  • Helping with housework will get you where no amount of roses will.
  • If your sister asks you to share household chores, it does not make her a feminist. Let her define herself.
  • It’s nice when you offer to pay. But please do it without lame jokes about how women like to live off of men. Keep your resentment about your ex-who-fleeced-you to yourself. If we offer to pay, or split, do not insist.
  • When a girl finds something you say or do offensive, take her word for it. Do not try to convince her that you meant no harm. The best thing for you to do is apologize and never do it again.
  • What applies to you may not apply to a woman. You may be delighted if a woman touches your face, complementing you on your soft skin. But do not expect the lady to be thrilled if you return the favour.
  • Do not say that men are the truly oppressed gender, because your wife yelled at you for leaving a wet towel around. Making light of it upsets those who feel the true weight of oppression.
  • Do not make fun of periods, pregnancy, or childbirth. Do not make childish jokes about PMS, especially, and blame our mood swings on them. More blood flows out of us in three days than you will see in your lifetime.
  • Most feminists do not think the answer to their problems lies in defeating men. In fact, most of them like men. A lot. We just want better lives for ourselves, not worse lives for others.

Aug 31, 2013

The recurring motif

A powerful, tyrannical king hears a forecast that a certain baby will grow up to usurp his kingdom. The king sends out mercenaries to kill the child, but the child survives all odds. He grows into a healthy young man, comes back and kills the king, and takes over the kingdom.

krishna fights kamsa

This is the story of Krishna, a popular Hindu god. But it is also the story of Christ: it was forecasted to Herod that a child would come to usurp him, after which he sent mercenaries to kill all newborn males. Many people have wondered why the story of Krishna and Christ are similar, or, even, if Christ’s story was copied from Krishna’s, since Krishna is dated 4,000 years older than Christ. But is that all there is to the story?

In fact, the roots of this motif go far, far deeper in Indo-European cultures. In the earliest of Greek myths, Ouranos, the king of the world, is told that his son will overthrow him. His son Chronus castrates his father and becomes King. 

chronus eats his child
Chronus is again told that his son will supersede him. He swallows five of his children but his wife hides the sixth one (like Kamsa who kills seven of his sister’s children but cannot kill the eighth). Zeus grows up to rescue his siblings from his father’s belly and imprison his father.

In fact, the exact motif of Krishna’s story is found in another Greek story. Acrisius is told that his sister’s son will kill him, and imprisons his sister (his daughter in some accounts). Unlike Kamsa, this man had the sense not to imprison a couple together, but Zeus outsmarts him by creeping into the girl’s room as rain. Once Danae is pregnant, Acrisius releases her into the ocean, hoping she will die. Zeus’s jealous wife Hera (like Kamsa) sends mercenary after mercenary to kill the little one, but he survives and goes on to kill his uncle.

danae and perseus left t o die

The Bible itself has many precedents from which Christ’s story has a better chance of being inspired than Krishna’s story. The most famous of them is of Moses. He was born to a Jewish servant, at a time when the Egyptian king ordered all newborn Jews killed.  His mother floats him down a river, where he is found and raised by an Egyptian princess. He grows up to kill the Egyptian king and rescue fellow Jews from slavery.

princess finds moses

Merlin Stone writes in her book When God was a Woman, that these stories are remnants of an even older tradition of ritual regicide. Before the advent of patriarchy, Stone writes, when men were hunters and women controlled the homes, offices, and religious institutions, kingdoms were passed down along matriarchal lines. It was normal for younger kings to kill older ones and marry the reigning queen. Such was the tale of Ouranos, who killed his father Chaos to marry his mother Gaia. Such also was the tale of Chronus, who castrated his father to marry the next queen, his sister Rhea. It was also normal for queens, afraid of a king’s growing hold on power, to end it through the popular ritual of regicide, and marry younger men, usually their sons. Such was the story of the Near Eastern Goddess Ishtar and her boy lover Tammuz, who she killed and took new lovers.

cronus castrates ouranos

Due to developments such as agriculture, men no longer needed to hunt, and started staying home. That was when the next generation of stories began: those that depict the foundations of patriarchy. Zeus, after killing his father, defended his position. The prophecies were made even for him, but he overcame them. When he hears that the son of Thetis will grow up conquer his father, he gets Thetis married off to a mortal instead of fathering a child on her as he intended to. He ended the cycle of regicide, and patriarchy supplanted matriarchy. What better way to represent it than by the story of Metis. When Zeus hears the same prophecy about Metis, who was already pregnant with his children, he simply swallows her.

zeus swallowed metis, forever subduing her son, her daughter was born form his head

Then came the stories like Oedipus, where the pre-patriarchal practices were explicitly banned. Oedipus’s marriage with his mother is depicted as a sin, and the regicide, his father’s murder, an even bigger sin. This value system was a wide departure from the stories of Egyptian Goddess Isis, who, though famously depicted as nursing her son Horus, was eventually depicted as his beloved consort. This relationship was portrayed as normal and positive, a viewpoint found in many dead Indo-European religions. In Hinduism, the relentless march of patriarchy for several centuries has destroyed the stories of such practices. (Although it is notable that Aphrodite is considered to be derived from matriarchal goddesses like Ishtar and Isis. Aphrodite had many boy lovers. Her Hindu parallel, Rati, is perhaps the only Hindu goddess to love a boy she nursed. Pradhyumna grew up to marry her.) However, vestiges of these practices remain, in stories that warn against them.

oedipus, shamed for sinning

The stories parallel Oedipus’, and explicitly forbid relationships with mothers and mother figures. Many folktales exist of estranged sons falling in love with their mothers and impregnating them. The story that follows is about expiating such a sin. Also in this category are tales that warn us of the consequences of frequent regicide. In Shishir Basanta ko Katha, Shishir ends up in a town where every day the queen’s new bridegroom is killed, and there are no young men left. So desperate are the townspeople for a king that they will crown any young man, which happens to be Shishir. The same folktale also exists in Newar community. Bisket Jatra tells the story of a hero who beheads the snake responsible for killing previous kings to become permanent king.

death of adonis, sometimes thought to be a remnant of the tradition of ritual regicide

In some versions of the Nepali folktale, a son is standing guard over his mother when snakes climb out of her nose. He kills the snakes, but spatters blood on his mother. Afraid to wipe it with his hands, he stoops to lick the blood off her breast, remembering that he suckled at it as a baby. In the older stories, this is the moment when the son deposes the father and marries his mother. But in the new story, the king is on the verge of executing his son for incest, but stops when the son explains that a mother’s breast is sacred to sons. This version establishes that a mother is a just a nurturing figure and not a sexual object for sons.

Coming back to Krishna and Jesus, they are among a myriad stories, leftovers of the old motif, which have everything but the offending incest and patricide, offering a socially acceptable alternative to the old mechanisms of succession. Among them are folktales of a king who hears a forecast through chhaiti ko bhabhi or something like that, and orders the killing of a child. But the child survives, eventually coming to destroy the king and marry his daughter. Krishna’s story is no different. Interestingly, Mahabharata, the oldest source of Krishna’s story, gives very sketchy details of Krishna’s early life. It only mentions in passing the murder of Kamsa and some other enemies. The background story (of the forecast, the mercenaries sent to kill him, etc) was built from folktales over generations, before finally being compiled in Bhagwat Puran and other Puranas.

Did he ever claim this?
Perhaps it is not surprising that a tried and tested pattern was used to furnish his background. The motif was so powerful that it was even squeezed into the story of Jesus Christ willy-nilly. Scholars trace the image of Mary nursing Jesus to the images of Isis and Horus. Even though Christ, with his death, effectively gave up any claim to kingship, his followers still see him as the rightful king, though of heaven. Like Horus who was reassembled from pieces of flesh, Jesus is believed to have risen from the dead. As new kings were celebrated every year after a regicide, Jesus is resurrected from death every year.

isis and horus?

At the end of the day, this is a story of transfer of power, of social rules for how inheritance should work (perhaps it is no coincidence that Oedipus and his father fought over the “right” to the road). Depending on the ending, one method is legitimized and another outlawed. The violent matriarchal system sought to limit male power and lineage through murder. The patriarchy that followed has been quite limiting for women. Any system where one sex seeks to kill or confine the other is ultimately self destructive. This series of stories seems to be still evolving, having still not arrived at an ending satisfactory to everyone. However, in passing this series does show that our values are not set in stone. Even the ones we hold as sacred and dear as the purity of mother-child relationship, are arbitrary, and subject to change with the vagaries of time. 

Note: The idea for this post came from a suggestion by fellow blogger Subodh :)

Aug 23, 2013

In the middle of nowhere

Once upon a time, a Martini used to be James Bond’s favourite drink. His instructions on how to make it: “Shaken, not stirred” was iconic, synonymous to Bond himself. It was used in several other movies and books to identify Bond. But not anymore. Since the past two movies, James Bond’s drink of choice has been Heineken Beer. Why did the movie producers decided to change such an iconic element of James Bond’s lifestyle? Because Heineken paid them to do so. The days when stars advertise their brands in commercials is passé, these are the days of product placement, where products are advertised within the movies. The scene may look like an innocent part of the movie, but the truth goes far deeper.

If you watched the much hyped Chennai Express (which I fervently hope you did not, for your own good), you must remember Shahrukh Khan rattling off at breakneck speed the benefits of his phone. You might think he is being just annoying when he lists everything that a Nokia Lumia 920 can do, and finishes off with the price. But this is another case of product placement. And it is no coincidence that when the phone was thrown off the train, we got a close up of it twinkling amidst pebbles, not a scratch on it. When we walk out the theatre, they want us to say “remember, the phone did not break even when it was thrown off a train.”

The scene channelized a tried and tested advertising formula: whether the advertisement creates good buzz or bad does not matter, what matters is the brand recall. In other words, whether or not consumers remember a product is all that matters. The formula is used successfully in products like Bingo or close-up that make fun of themselves, but use striking ideas to do so. It was also used in the Zindagi Na MIlegi Dobara, where BPL was called bum pe laat. Sure, it makes fun of BPL, but the joke ensured that BPL the brand remained with viewers for long after the movie. The same was the case with Chennai Express. Yes, Shahrukh Khan was annoying, and Deepika made fun of his phone. But also, now all unsuspecting viewers remember the phone and its qualities by heart.

At least, this advertisement makes sense in the story. If anyone had watched the insipid movie Chashme Baddoor (which, again, I wish no one ever did) you probably remember the irritating scene where two characters sing a certain washing powder’s entire advertorial song, twice over. You might be forgiven if you thought the characters are so awkward at bonding that they have to resort to such unusual means. But surely it is possible to show an awkward bonding without any help from washing powders? In fact, the entire ten minutes that precedes the song, of one character dirtying his shirt, and the other washing it to perfection, is nothing but one big long advertisement, if you think about it.

No brand that appears in a movie is innocuous, though it may look so. Especially if it appears for more than two seconds. The air hostess academy that Katrina Kaif went to in Welcome paid for its name to appear in the movie, and Singapore Tourism Board heavily sponsored Krish. Shahrukh Khan may have got misty eyed at the sight of an Enfield motorcycle in Jab Tak Hei Jaan, and Ali Zafar may talk about his Mahindra Scooter with as much affection as for his girlfriend in Chashme Baddoor, but at the end of the day, those emotions are fake. (I mean, of course all emotions are faked in a movie, but this a different level of fake. I am sure you know what I mean by now.) 

Remember how Akshay Khanna and Aishwarya Rai drank from the same soft drink bottle in Taal? They could have fallen in love over a glass of homemade lassi or a local sugarcane juice, but no, it was Coke, because the multinational giant sponsored the scenes. And remember how Hrithik drinks only Bournvita in Koi Mil Gaya? Yes, it fits his childish character, but it fits the producers’ pockets even better. Ghanchakkar, after all that hype, turned out to be a forgettable film, but watchers will be loath to forget Vidya Balan dangling a packet of Manforce to Emraan Hashmi. Even period movies are not left alone. The jewellery brand Tanishq had designed an entire bridal line for Aishwarya Rai in Jodha Akbar, and a lighter everyday line for Paheli. Of course, modern brands cannot be named in a period movie, but it can be talked about extensively, which was done under their agreement.

Movie watchers have loved to copy the trends their favourites stars sport, and most fashion trends in modern times have come from the entertainment industry. If movies can make fashions popular, why not brands? Hollywood movies, especially action movies, advertise many gadgets and vehicles this way. And research says that this is fast becoming the most reliable type of advertising.

On one hand, innovative ways of advertising are good for everyone: the marketing industry, the products. Movie producers are happy to have a reliable source of finance. And if people buy these products, it boosts the economy. But on the other hand, what about creativity and storytelling? What if, in future movies, every five minutes is peppered with a corporate reference? Yes, it may fit perfectly in the story, like the three protagonists’ trip to Spain in Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, but would the story have been different if it had been set somewhere else? Was the story compromised for the sake of advertising the Tomatina festival, for instance? 

What if we start altering our storylines just so that we can accommodate a few more brands? What if we compromise even on the central theme of our story, like James Bond did? And what if, like the washing powder ad in Chashme Baddoor, the ads just get clumsier and clumsier? Will we be forced to sit through boring advertorial collage for our money, instead of watching a story that touches our hearts? Maybe, at one point, having “Coca-Cola” in a song, was cool and funny (remember Latka from Hindustani, way way back? That was much before brands paid their way into movies). But today, the “set wet smell” in the middle of a song just reeks of money (Charlie in Matru ki Bijli ka Mandola).

Thankfully, product placement has not gained so much traction in Nepali movies yet. The last movie I watched, Loot, was still free of conspicuous advertising. Maybe because our market is so small that big brands have not found it worth investing in yet. As a result, we retain our creativity and freedom, whatever small measure we have of it. But the day is not far behind when the eagle eyes of multinational companies spot smaller markets. It goes without saying that their financing is desperately needed in Nepali films, where our limited market makes investment on a bollywood scale risky for individuals. However, corporate financing does come with a heavy cost, and our entertainers will have to fight to retain the integrity of their stories. We, the viewers must remember that whenever we see a brand in a movie, it’s not there because our favourite star likes it, or even that the scriptwriter thinks it is cool. Anytime we see a hero drinking Sprite and the heroine eating Lays, we must remember that it is no coincidence.
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