Wednesday, December 28, 2016

2017 AND THE AUDACITY OF HOPE

This was written in November 2016, just after the US election results were announced. 
2017 is here and hope is a good thing. So read on...
To all those who are sad, distressed and fearful about the US 2016 elections verdict, don't freak out yet—President Trump may not be such a bad idea, after all.
His presidency is not necessarily a vote in favor of racism and bigotry.
His campaign and its appeal have also lain in his talk of lowering taxes, increasing insurance premiums and on concerns on the ground about being forgotten by DC... real problems of people.
It was a vote against elitism rather than against a particular gender or a particular race.
It was an anti-establishment vote and an anti-Washington DC message.
Yes, Trump said horrible, disgusting and unforgivable things about women (and minorities, Latinos and gays). Bill Clinton did not just say, but allegedly did bad things. And allegedly, Hillary is supposed to have shut them up.
Hillary was pro-war, admitted to it and has apologized for it.
While the Democrats focused on issues like Trump's vulgarity and misogynistic statements, Trump supporters, the working and the forgotten class had other issues to be angry about. And they wanted a change.
In all this, the media, the pollsters, pundits and the Twitterati failed to recognize or highlight their concerns.
Bernie Sanders, the candidate who focused on these very issues was taken down by his own party. He could have won. Who knows? After all, Sanders won against Clinton in both the Michigan and Wisconsin primaries—the crucial states that Clinton eventually lost on 8 November.
Coming to the Hope bit now, Donald cannot afford to be at war with the world—he has businesses everywhere, including the "Muzzlum" countries, where he hobnobs with the Sheikhs.
The wall at the Mexico border is unlikely to happen. It will crumble for want of money.
And finally, Donald Trump has been a reality star, a showman. A lot of his hate rhetoric seems to be just that—rhetoric.
In his first ever victory speech at around 3.40 AM ET on 9 November, he said, "We'll seek common ground, not hostility". The most important thing for Trump would be to give a stern message to his supporters not interpret this verdict as license to hate, abuse and attack.
Hopefully, he won't play out his hate rhetoric. And hopefully, Mike Pence will be the steadying, sobering, wise voice.
Is that audacious?

Sunday, December 25, 2016

THE AUDACITY OF AMBITION

Sporting authenticity meets rich narrative in Dangal.

Mahavir Singh Phogat (Aamir Khan) flips and slams down his challenger in an office friendly and then tells him “don’t feel bad; you lost to a former national champion”.

From there, through the narrow lanes of Bhiwani in Haryana (recreated in the villages of Punjab and Haryana), the movie takes you on a journey of dreams, ambition and persistence.

Clutch your heart tightly, because Dangal tugs at many levels.

This is not just about a father’s struggle to give his daughters equal opportunity. In fact it is not. Because Phogat wanted a son to make his dreams come true.

Director Nitesh Tiwari keeps the wrestling mat firmly in the centre of his sports drama. But the core really is at its wider rims – child marriage; gender bias; superstitions; rule of patriarchy and a general apathy towards sporting excellence in India.

Phogat, a former national champion, dreams of a son who will take forward his legacy.

But his desire for “Mhara betta” gets frustrated, when all four times the mid wife announces the birth of a girl - “Chorri hui hai”.

Phogat, now a father of four girls, gives in to fate and lets go of his dream to put a son on the international wrestling arena.

A chance discovery of lurking potential in his elder two daughters re-kindles his desire. If his pre-teen girls could beat the neighbourhood boys to near pulp, then they should be able to wrestle too!

It’s a classic Carpe Diem moment.

What leaves you gasping is the audacity of Phogat’s ambition and the resoluteness with which he goes after his goal.

Arms folded over his massive chest and a blueprint in his formidable eye, he unleashes a slew of draconian measures on his young girls to make them champion wrestlers.

But they want no part of his dream.

How they scheme and resist is funny. Their helplessness in a rigidly patriarchic society is poignant.

Their mother, played by Sakshi Tanwar, is trapped. Who will marry our girls? What will society say? How can I go against my husband?

Questions that haunt almost every woman in India.

Gita’s journey from a local star, to state and national champion is scripted tightly in a lucid narrative of events, challenges, ruthless bouts and victories.

But growing up inevitably means going away.

The suppressed anger against her authoritarian father shows up when Gita leaves home to join the National Sports Academy in Patiala.

She grows her hair, paints her nails, gorges on food and enjoys the attention of male athletes at the Academy.

And she routinely loses all her international matches.

For Gita, the second realisation is more painful than the first. Her return to the old norm and affirmation of her father as mentor makes for therapeutic viewing for parents. Didn't we tell you?

With father now firmly back as coach, will his method and instruction help Gita to break her jinx at international competitions?

Every bout, match and training in Dangal is recreated faithfully. The excitement and above all the patriotic fervor are palpable.

It was an emotional moment as theatre audiences jumped to their feet when the national anthem is played in the final moments of the film.

Mischief, anger, frustration, brawls and bouts will also engage your emotions and for this the credit goes to Zaira Wasim and Suhani Bhatnagar. These munchkins who play the younger Gita and Babita sisters hold their own against giant performer Aamir with aplomb.

Fatima Sana Shaikh as grown up Gita could just be the find of the year.

Every time you start gawking at her breathtaking beauty, she draws you in with her superior acting skills. Her svelte moves are poetry in motion; graceful, but never losing their athleticism.

Audiences love morals, messages and moments of truth. And Dangal presents more than one in a finely woven mosaic of sport and story.

But what they love most is to be told that great victories are savoured after conquering great challenges.

Dangal scripts that victory with a high degree of fidelity and Aamir Khan as Mahavir Singh Phogat is its most faithful protagonist.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

A non-political hyper analysis of the first US Presidential Debate, 2016




I kept the alarm, but still woke up 10 minutes late, to watch the Presidential debates from the other end of the Atlantic.

I tweeted, made some observations and here is a television viewer’s take on one of the the most watched debates in the world .

90 minutes. On stage, behind the podium, in front of the audience and the moderator. Scrutiny is an understatement.

90-minutes. Millions watching and hyper analysing every word, gesture and expression.

90 minutes. No commercial breaks. No camera cuts. Just a split screen, zoomed on to the made up faces.

The preparation and homework that must have gone in is unimaginable. After all, the stakes are tied to the most powerful job in the world.

Expression. Eye contact. Gestures. Tone. Pitch. Blink. Flicker. Cough. Sip. Sniffle.

Yeah, the briefing documents must have had notes running into pages for each item.

One almost felt sorry for them. Here we were, perched on the sofa, with tea and an array of sandwiches, looking forward to 90-minutes of undiluted entertainment.

A chance to play God. And an endless investigation of the key issues.

In addition to no commercial breaks, there were no bio breaks either. They must have been off water, at least two hours before getting on stage.

Still, Donald sipped. And the trolls went berserk with his drinking.

Then the face that needed to be arranged exactly in the manner the campaign managers had told them to.

What to show? How to hide? There’s no place to go, when you are in the limelight.

Smile! Hillary did plenty of that, poor woman, giving in to the criticism that she doesn’t.

Don’t smirk or shake your head. But Trump went ahead and did just that after 15 minutes of polished restraint. His campaign manager must have sent a text message to his colleague – smh.

He sniffled a bit too and got written about it. Wondering how that comes in the way of Presidency though…

In addition to sniffling, was there shuffling? Who could tell? The podium covered it well. Thank God! You can’t be seen shuffling if you are running for the President’s office.

Don’t cough. You're allowed to choke, preferably on a pretzel, and after you become President. But don’t cough. If you cough, you will be written off. She didn’t.

But she did her famous shoulder shimmy. Just once. And the trolls have gone to town with the now famous shimmy GIF.

What to wear? Bright? Sober? Pleasant? Feminine? Human?

Hillary pulled off the bright red jacket brilliantly, along with the expertly coiffured hair.

Just how many hours were spent selecting the colour and cut? How much analysis and psychological connections of subliminal derivations of colour must have been done!

Looks like it worked. She looked sensational. And Trump saw Red. That explains why he interrupted Hillary 25 times in 26 minutes.

The carefully selected blue silk tie stood out pretty well against Trump’s crisp white shirt. It seemed to have a calming effect on Hillary.

She won this round, in my estimate. Not hands down. Or not because she was brilliant. Mostly, because Trump was being himself. A brat.

Friday, August 12, 2016

RELIVING THE SPEECHES OF PHILADELPHIA

Also published on Huffington Post India

What an amazing week of speeches it was at the Democratic National Convention of Philadelphia in July 2016. 

As I blogger and speechwriter, I drooled and envied and applauded the speeches, their writers and the people who delivered them with such grace and sincerity.

These speeches, they weren’t mere election rhetoric.

They inspired and put faith back in people’s hearts to where it belonged.

They touched people across nations and gave them hope. For their own people and their own situations.

They were powerful messages of equality, of humanity and of togetherness; of the need for restraint and equally of being able to take a stand; of leaving something back for our children and being role models for them; of decency and generosity; of courage and grace and optimism.

These speeches were not just about America.

They did not just inspire and touch a nation.

When people saw whites and people of Anglo-Saxon and Caucasian origin cheering and crying as First Lady Michelle and President Obama spoke, you knew that people across the world are just as good.

That the human race, across nations, will go beyond race, colour, class and caste.

That the whites will take a stand for blacks; and the blacks will fight for the whites; that Christians will support the Moslems; and Moslems will be friends with Hindus; that Hindus will help Christians and Moslems will weep for the Sikhs and that the Sikhs will always support a noble cause.

And that everyone will help and pray and take a stand for everyone who is down.

Acrimony and terror and the hate mongering may have made people cringe and withdraw and be in doubt.

And the wolves may have cashed in on fear, to divide people on race, colour, class and caste.

But the speeches of Philadelphia helped to remind and reinforce that good will prevail over bad. Not just in America, but across continents and countries.

And for that reminder, speechwriters, go on, take a bow!

Watch the speeches here:





Friday, July 22, 2016

Manne Picture Achchi Lagi

SULTAN
3.5/5

A script without substance and loud songs with frivolous lyrics, make the first one-hour of Sultan silly to the point of being embarrassing. 

But if you manage not to walk out, the remaining 1 hour and 50 minutes will be absolutely mesmerising.

This is a touching coming of age movie that grows on you scene after scene, fight after fight, line after line.

Director Ali Abbas Zafar weaves moral and message with terrific sporting entertainment.

‘Wrestling is not a sport. It is about fighting what lies within’ – the opening line sets the tone for what is to come.

When Salman Khan as Sultan slaps his shoulder and thigh and moves with lightning speed towards his opponent, you know this is as good as the real thing. The intensive training that he underwent with international action director Larnell Stovall comes alive in every fight scene.

The power, the technique and the raw force of the sport has been recreated with such thumping authenticity that one could well be watching a real wrestling championship tournament.

The brutal training, the simmering anger, the pain and finally the redemption make for a gripping viewing.

Sultan Ali Khan, a Haryanvi village lad is smitten by local wrestling champion Aarfa Hussain, played by Anushka Sharma. Stung by her rejection and to prove himself, he learns the sport with dogged determination.

Through winning tournaments, Aarfa’s heart, and eventually the Olympic gold, Sultan is now the poster boy of India’s wrestling sport.

Until arrogance takes over, leading to a fall from grace and tragedy.

Ten years later, when Sultan slaps his chest and thigh once again, it is for redemption, but of a different kind. And this time he must learn a new fight – Mixed Martial Arts.

The opponents are global superstars; the rules are alien and the ring is not his traditional Akhara.

The battle for vindication is not just Sultan’s. Akash Oberoi (Amit Sadh) must prove himself to the Board by salvaging the pro wrestling league that has incurred heavy losses in the first two years. He brings Sultan to Delhi for a do or die final league tournament.

Then there is former freestyle martial arts champion Fateh Singh, played by Randeep Hooda who agrees to coach him for the pro wrestling tournament. He has his own ghosts to be laid to rest.

As Sultan moves from anonymity to stardom, his wife Aarfa’s life crumbles from happiness to tragedy.

Through loss, pain and anger, Sultan and Aarfa must now struggle against their souls to give life another chance, to forgive each other and ultimately forgive themselves. This is the essence of Sultan.

Anushka Sharma as Aarfa is outstanding. She puts up a restrained and mature performance bringing out the different shades of her character – a feisty Haryanvi girl, a focused champion, a supportive wife and a deeply pained woman. Without hysteria or contorted expressions, she delivers a character that you can relate to. That she looks absolutely stunning minus the make up is a bonus.

Sultan’s Akhara coach (and Aarfa’s father) Barkat Husain, Govind his friend and Akash Oberoi underline the lesson that when people believe in you, you can move mountains. Kumud Mishra (Barkat) and Anant Vidhat Sharma (Govind) put up solid performances. Amit Sadh as Akash Oberoi has tremendous potential.

Randeep makes his entry in the second half. Intense, brooding and unrelenting, he plays his role to the hilt. Forgive the completely silly scene that introduces him as Fateh eating pudding off little bowls with his finger.

It’s great to watch Salman once again in a rustic role. The brawn and body this time are showcased strictly for the sport. Everything else is conveyed through his eyes. With Bajrangi Bhaijaan and now Sultan, this is in a way Salman's coming of age too.

If you can overlook the typical Bollywood excesses and liberties of Sultan, the film is one good entertainer.

‘Jag Ghoomeya Thaare Jaisa Na Koi’ by Rahat Fateh Ali Khan will be counted among some of the most beautiful songs of recent times.

Old houses, tiny railway stations with steam engines, buffaloes lumbering about, cow dung on the walls for the kiln and kite flying – all captured in the rustic locales of Rewari (Haryana), Ludhiana (Punjab), Muzzafarnagar (UP) and old Delhi, come alive and lend a raw earthiness to the film.

What leaves you smiling throughout however, is the delightful Haryanvi accent.

Manne picture achchi lagi.