Wednesday, July 15, 2009

A funny cure for Hangover

The Hangover skims over a territory soiled by a million B-grade comedies – bachelor parties, what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, road trip, etc. To be honest, it falters a little here and there but largely sails smoothly over the dredges of clichés and unfunny slapstick muck; and tells the same clichés in a refreshingly funny manner.

It largely owes its success to a good script and having some genuine actors for start – being totally anonymous to me, they came without any baggage – there was nothing I expected from them and, to be honest, they almost blew my socks away.

Stu, the Jew, suffers from some clichés. A Holocaust-survivor grandmother’s ring, a girlfriend made in hell, and his own denial – the bit about actors discussing how his gf cheated on him and how he tries to extenuate it every time could have been avoided as it’s a standard gag from every unfunny comedy with a henpecked character I have ever seen. Yet when not trying to do the denial gag, he brings a lot of character to an otherwise routine character. Ditto for Phil, suave yet fallible, who reminds me a lot of Church(Jack) in Sideways. There’s also a nicely-added touch to him in the end when it’s shown that despite all his marriage-phobic stunts in Vegas, he’s a happily-married dad – done pretty subtly for a goofball genre.

Alan, of course, gets the cream of the role. His is a character who can be goofy in a thousand ways, so mixed is his story, and the way Zach interprets does justice to the scriptwriter who created this character. A little more could have been done with it but I guess it would have totally taken the focus out of the rest of the story. A stretched example but during the making of the Padosan, after seeing KK’s interpretation of the character, Mahmud and Sunil Dutt had to majorly rethink their own characters lest the movie and the plot be totally hijacked by the great KK. Similarly, I read somewhere how Danny DeVito’s character’s scenes had to be shortened in Get Shorty to bring the spot back on Travolta’s Chili Palmer – in the few scenes together, you can see how Danny totally burns the screen in front of stalwarts like Gene Hackman, Rene Russo and Travolta.

But in all, Zach does a fine job in playing Alan. The scene where he confronts a nasty looking boy he just provoked some time ago facing him with a stun gun in his hand, the face frowning and puzzled, still uncomprehending the disaster coming his way bang on, is classic! That, it tells us, is what the problem with Alan is -- a thousand times better than the scene when Stu tells him he's too stupid to insult.

Doug – the white one – underplays his own role magnanimously. Compared to the three main actors his is only a minor part, even though he best fits the movie description of a leading man.

Doug – the black one – still believes he’s the black man in a B grade comedy and is unfunny and bad.

My only peeve would be that they didn’t go for the whole hog. It could have avoided some of the clichés and nudity and it would have been a classic.

The ending credits where the actual bachelor party is shown in snaps underlines the essence of why this movie scored. It did not show the bachelor party because it did not have a script for it – the slide show clearly explains all what had happened – but because the sophomoric gags which usually accompany comedies based on Bachelor parties (Tom Hank’s ‘Bachelor Party’ being one of the better examples) was not the point of this movie. It takes a script corrupted by scores of cheap unfunny comedies and weaves something more sophisticated out of the tired gags.

Watch this movie to see how those horribly executed gags should have been done. And that's it's still possible to have a good bachelor comedy if you do not let Seth Rogen within a hundred miles of it.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Interpreting judgment on decriminalization of homosexuality

I don’t accept organized religion. Especially as and when it seeks to subjugate the equal rights of women and circumscribe human freedom. When it indoctrinates children into its zombied restrictions and world-view. But I accept the right of people to practice the religion of their choice.

This is not a contradiction but a simple premise modern society rests on: the covenant of disagreement. Multiple world-views and lifestyles as long as the constitution lays down the ground rules in which these should exist – The right to privacy, the right to choice, protection against exploitation.

We might not agree with many alternative interpretations of our world but that does not negate their right to exist.

The judgment on Article 377, in my opinion, is an affirmation of this. As Pratap Bhanu Mehta points here: “What the court says is this. Under our constitutional scheme, no person ought to be targeted or discriminated against for simply being who they are.”

A lot of articles I have read are interpreting the ruling as a social acceptance of homosexuality. It is not. It only clarifies the role of the constitution in moral debates and rules that as long as lifestyles do not violate the constitutional tenets of exploitation and violation of rights and privacies of others, the state doesn’t have the right of violating the privacy of individuals. In short, it says that the state cannot be the vehicle of common morality.

This distinction is very important.

The uninformed interpretation of the ruling might push the social debate on homosexuality back to the state; whereas the ruling has pushed debates of morality back to the society where they come from, clarifying the role of the state as just an ensurer of equality of rights.

I fear the state immensely because they own the police and the army. And my morality is a condition of my context, and every time life brings me to a point where I might want to differ from the commonly-accepted morality, I do not want to look uneasily behind my back.

The Gestapo rounded up the homosexuals. But so did it round up the Jews, the Gypsies, and all political dissidents. This is where the judgment comes from – state policing in a modern society has to be free of common prejudices.
Homosexuality has been de"criminalized" by the law. The battle to get it de"sinned" is rooted in social perceptions.

The constitution has done its role in defining this. Advocates of homosexuality have won a major battle – the battle of rights.
But they should win the battle of acceptance in the social arena and not extrapolate the judgment to the social space where it takes pains to dissociate itself from. Otherwise, they’ll be doing a lot of harm to their cause, and other causes.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

You're telling me about tolerance?

Coomi Kapoor here raises the same comparison of the booing of the English team by Indians at Lords and our reaction backhome when certain segments celebrate Paki wins as I did here.

She then goes on to question Indians’ attitudes towards foreigners in general.

The article is well-meant but poorly thought over. I recently came across a blog by an Aussie where he questions India’s moral authority on xenophobia when our own track record of tolerating minorities is so abysmal. A similar fallacious approach underlines Coomi’s article.

India is a unique case in its plurality – no other country can be compared to it. Even US’s claim is invalid. I’m not merely talking only about the quantitative, but a qualitative uniqueness. An Italian-, German-, Irish- American, is essentially an American – in the sense, there is a definition of an American that he will fit. He will be a Christian, he’ll wear a shirt and trousers, he’ll have cereals for breakfast, he’ll play softball with his kids, he’ll speak English and he’ll watch Lost. I mean, that there is a broad assimilation in its plurality. As Mukul Kesavan points out – ultimately the leader of the black movement for equal rights was a suit-wearing, English-speaking, Christian priest, already assimilated in the mainstream definition. Would he have made an impact if he wore what his ancestors in Africa did and spoke the same language?

The world is beginning to understand that migrants have different cultures but they still remain migrants. Their culture is never given the same recognition in the new national culture as the mainstream one, and their lack of integration in mainstream is explained away as their still fresh arrival – underlining the expectation that in another generation or two they will be more integrated with the national culture.

Again, MK brilliantly dissects the American – and increasingly European – plurality with the Indian plurality. In American plurality the right to being different is at an individual level but not so much at the community level. In India, the right to being different is at the community level and being fought for at the individual level (today’s ruling legalizing gay relationships is a landmark judgment in this regard.)

No one else can understand the plurality of our country – how deeply it runs. I share a citizenship, an identity with people I do not share a language, religion, diet, habits, culture with. The only way this is possible is – to have no single monolithic identity at all! Everyone’s culture becomes the national culture – and hence the biggest threat to this culture of plurality is the right-wing parties who seek a oneness in our identity, a monoculture.

As an example, take the case of the hijab in France. I know a lot of Indians agreed with the contention of the French authorities (a sign of the Hidutvization of our “informed” middle-class). But who defines a norm – is the wearing of hijab wrong because the white Christians don’t wear it? Then by the same logic, the not wearing of hijab is equally wrong in Islamic countries. The issue is not the hijab but – where do you define the nucleus of the monoculture?

India is, and has always been, the one true poly-culture place in India. Add the scale of this unique phenomenon (The country split on religious grounds and still more Muslims remained here than in Pak, and almost anywhere else in the world! The world has seen so many partitions and genocides on ethnic ground, and the biggest one ever failed here.) and, of course, when you allow for so much interaction of plurality the potential of conflict is a lot more.
But this conflict is a result of this integrated plurality. The rest of the countries do not face these conflicts because there is no plurality in the Indian sense. To be an American you have to be, well, American.

When there are 16-18 official national languages, the minorities are the largest of their kinds anywhere else in the world, people look different drastically – and they all have equal claim to your national identity – come to this level and then we’ll talk.

No one, no one but us Indians only, can question ourselves on our tolerance. Because no one can understand it as they do not live through it. I have shared food and rooms with people from all religions, regions, languages and cultures – and that can never happen at this scale in any other country. My school was composed half of Muslims who ate different food, followed different social habits, had different festivals, different scripts, newspapers, mother-tongue – and yet had not arrived in the country two generations ago. They were there for eight hundred years and had as much claim to India as me.

I would disregard the Aussie’s comment because he’s a fool. He’s talking about things he can’t even imagine. A country which killed all its natives in recent history and supplanted a culture from around the world and called it the native culture.

But what about you Coomi? You’re asking us to look outside for lessons on tolerance? We are the A to Z of tolerance! What next – do I look at China for lessons on constitutional freedom?

The Aussie concern you’re talking about is the MNS concern about migrants. If there is one single national character to our country is its blind tolerance; and I don’t who does it bigger disservice – Raj and his goons or opinion-makers like you who lose perspective in the flush of their righteous indignation.