14 April 2009

America has certainly made me more patriotic. Patriotic about India of course (for all ye cousins of mine who are folding up thy sleeves to attack me!) In particular, its making me like Kannada a lot more than I always did. America can do this to you ... I always keep saying. The only way you realize the value of something is when its been taken away from you. So in reality, this renewed patriotic high is not really fake as its generally considered ... its a natural reaction owing to the circumstances we have been thrown into.

Obviously ... I was on an old Kannada movie watching spree. I have watched more black-and-white movies in one week here than I have ever watched in my lifetime. I just could not help notice how much the movies have changed ... the present ones don't even faintly resemble the ones our fathers and forefathers spoke about. Its believed that ... once a person starts talking about how wonderful things used to be before and how its all got screwed up now ... he is probably reaching retirement age. On the contrary, I stopped growing after I reached 16 and yet I still endorse what I said previously.

Take a Rajkumar movie for instance. It invariably began with his childhood. Beginning a story with the hero already grown up was considered ridiculous ... a hero has to start from childhood. Then there were a series of unfortunate events which led to the hero running. The hero (in his childhood ... remember) had to run because that's the only way he could grow up. Either he was chased by police constables ... or he was running in a race ... but there had to be running. The next thing you know ... the shorts which ran down just enough to expose his thighs were replaced by tailor-stitched pants and a shirt with a horrendous looking pattern on it. That followed a song. The best part about all this was ... these songs were probably shot when the hero was traveling to his village or he was just taking a stroll along the countryside. No foregin locations ... no gaudy settings ... no goras dancing for Indian numbers ... no metro trains ... no super-expensive clothing which changed after every stanza ... no superbikes or Porsches. In fact ... not only would the song be a beautiful one ... the hero would establish himself to either belong to the poor/middle class family background. He would help old women carry their pots ... help farmers with their harvesting ... give milk sweets to kids who barely have clothing to cover their bodies or maybe not even that ... and the only prop you can see is a black handbag over his shoulder which probably contained absolutely nothing.

The houses were very simple. The hero would be struck by poverty and hence lives in a tiny shack. On those rare occasions when the director feels a little rich ... the hero is given this big house with a big porch ... two sets of stairs which leads to the same part of the floor ... 2-3 sets of sofas with a table at the centre. Means of transportation? Ranges from a cycle to an ambassador car. Compare this to the SRK movie in which he lands in his private helicopter in front of his house (which is as big as 3 football fields by the way).

Enter heroine! If Jayanthi or Lakshmi or Aarthi or Kalpana emerged from the blue waters of Seychelles in a one-piece swimsuit ... brushing their wet hair backwards ... and did a catwalk with an attitude-filled smirk on their face ... that was it ... it would probably announce the shut down of Sandalwood. In reality ... heroines were the typical ... shy, always behind the curtain characters. The duet songs used to be pretty much the running-around-trees type ... but it was filled with vivid characters ... attitude ... shyness ... concern ... lust ... satisfaction ... anger ... everything shown with such subtlety that you'd smile at the simplicity of their lives. Even after item songs weren't a taboo anymore ... item girls were generally well dressed! In fact ... they wore more than what heroines wear today.

Most villains used bare hands to halt the hero's path to victory (and hence the end of the movie). Wicked ones usually hid a knife which could be flicked open at the pull of a lever. Rich ones owned a pistol ... and extremely sophisticated ones had electric chairs ... water bodies filled with crocodiles ... infrared ray chamber ... or a gigantic man who would feel tickled even when you beat him up with all your strength. And not many villains stayed as villains till the end ... few join the hero's side ... few get transformed after they get a solid punch from our hero ... and only those rare few die in the end after making sure that they have killed the 2nd heroine or a character that wasn't needed anymore.

People who watch the movie were genuinely treated as guests. Recall most of those once-upon-a-time movies ... all the main characters grouped towards the end (as if for a group photo) and the jest always had something funny to say that made everyone burst out laughing. Most Rajkumar movies end with both him and the heroine folding their hands towards the viewers ... not with the most popular item number of the movie ... or a deep smooching scene as inspired by Hollywood.

What struck me most was the simplicity of those movies. They were real. And those people were real. Rajkumar comes home for dinner in the night ... changes his dress into a white banian and a dhoti with a towel on his shoulder. Our heroes probably sleep with an Armani suit and we are expected not to question the logic behind it. Music flows with the song ... the lyrics carried most importance ... the music just uplifted the mood of the occasion. Proposing was without any complications ... lovemaking was subtle. A kissing scene would be shown metaphorically by two roses dashing each other in the wind. Stories revolved around middle class and poor people ... the richer ones being rich enough to own one car. They never painted these rosy dreams on our minds about attaining those luxuries someday. People get influenced by the movies to a large extent ... atleast for some period of time after which the effect wears off. Earlier, we wished to mimic the characters of the protagonists ... rather inculcate them in us and attain perfection. Today ... the only thing that impresses us are his/her looks ... attire ... lifestyle ... and strength.

I won't say the movies just got bad. Parallel cinema has achieved wonders these days. Previously taboo-considered issues can be thrown into the limelight with utmost ease today. Very slowly ... although not so steadily ... the 'woman' is getting stronger roles ... for a long time ... she was always under the protection of the hero. Atleast woman-oriented roles have made their mark in offbeat cinema. Music and songs still seem to be good although they have stopped working in tandem. Yet, the movies are no more about us. It has become about those people among the stars that every one of us strive to become someday not realizing that it keeps going farther and farther away as we ascend the throne of luxury. Life's not simple anymore ... rather, we don't make it simple anymore. The story of a middle-class family, today, is the surest recipe for a box-office flop!

05 April 2009

Do you think we are a diverse species? Meaning ... do you think every person is so different from the rest? Think again. Its believed that human beings are very similar to each other at the DNA level; in other words, we share 99.5% genes from other human beings. This means that, two people anywhere on this earth are more similar than two chimps from the same troop. For whatever reasons this is so, yet the fact remains that its only by 0.5% that we differ and this 0.5% pretty much makes us look like what we are - diverse!

But what is so fantastic about all this is the amount of diversity and amount of differences that 0.5% has created. Except monozygotic twins, you can NEVER find two people who look alike (except in Indian movies of course!). Every person's nose is so differently shaped ... fingerprints never match ... the orientation of teeth never match ... a combination of nature and nuture has led to an explosion of phenotypes.

Americans ... for example ... sometimes I feel are an entirely different species. They look nothing like you. Their nature ... features ... ideas ... principles ... its all SO different. They have bigger personalities ... mature very early (who can believe Hannah Montana or Miley Cyrus is just 17yrs of age) ... they have this irresistable urge to party every other night ... their accent's weird (sometimes a little fake too) ... if their hair is black, they have used dye ... they do not know any other country apart from India, Africa (which Americans think is a country), Iraq, Pakistan, Palestine and Israel ... and they know these mostly because about prevalent diseases, existing poverty (they must have watched Slumdog Millionaire) or these countries are possessing potential weapons of mass destruction. They are a different species alright ... it feels like you are an alien trespassing on their planet.

I once tried explaining to a friend about the stem cell research in NCBS, Bangalore. He gasped in surprise and almost choked on the pizza he was gobbling ... "Isn't it true that poor kids get their eyes popped out and are sent on streets for begging in India?" asked he. I'm talking about stem cells and he's more interested to know the death toll on a normal day in India. Take these species of organisms to your country and there are only 2 things they wish to see ... the Taj Mahal ... and the slums of Juhu and Dharavi.

But there are times ... times when I think ... they are NO different from us. Its on really stupid occasions ... but its on these occasions when it actually strikes me hard that we are no different after all. We are all descendants from an Adam and Eve, if you will, and hence related to each other. Mitochondrial DNA gets maternally transferred from parents to offspring. The 'Y' chromosome in males gets paternally transferred. This means that, mitochondrial DNA of Eve and Y chromosome of Adam has linearly come down through generations and is within us now. Ever seen an American coughing? He/she coughs just like you. Ever seen one eating a banana? During a tennis match, at the time-out period, Martina Hingis was gobbling up a banana. My little cousin was so surprised at this and she innocently asked me, "Do they eat banana too?" Somehow, that process sounded too Indian for her. Seen someone crying? Seen old people in the bus? Don't they resemble so much like our grandparents except for the fact that here they know English ... and they have weird looking attires. Seen anyone get hurt? Do you recall that their blood was red too? I always know that I am way too different from anybody else ... yet sometimes, at the weirdest of moments, reality strikes and I see our similar phenotypes surfacing. Its those times I feel that we are all so much the same in so many respects ... and yet we fight, bicker, quarrel, kill, and harm ... because we are so different from each other ... and because we are so much the same.