March 16, 2020

Gormint: Relationship Status?

The Government of India is Officially in a Situationship with CAA-NRC

The CAA-NRC-NPR matrix has rattled the Indian citizenry out of a stupor against government's steady efforts to further marginalise minorities and deepen the ethnic schism within the nation. Three months since the CAA was passed, rules for its implementation have not been drafted yet. Only recently did the Home Minister stated in Rajya Sabha that the category of “doubtful citizen” will not be included in the NPR. Just six days after this statement, in response to the petitions challenging the CAA, the government filed a counter affidavit justifying its intentions for NRC. 

And what do we make of the nation-wide protests against the CAA-NRC-NPR? Have they managed to transcend into a movement? At the intersections of this state-citizen logjam lie the various women-led sit-in protests across the country, foremost being the one at Shaheen Bagh in Delhi that has completed three months. 

In that vein, Mumbai Bagh is going strong on its 50th day and some aspects are hard to miss. For a majority of the women who have actively participated in the sit-in, it has been a unique experience in transcending from the private sphere to an exceptionally public one and turning their personal into political. As I walked into the site today, what struck me was the clear lack of obstruction by police. No table parked in the narrow alleyway to generally hamper movement. No uniformed police personnel manning those tables with thick registers, coercing people into entering their personal information before entering the site.

After more than a month of struggle with the weather and police, the women finally managed to get a temporary shed on their heads. Many of them have been subjected to surreptitious queries from plain clothes personnel and some have had the unpleasant experience of having a notice from the police for “unlawful assembly” under CrPC's Sec. 149 delivered to their doorsteps. At the site, the women have found new strength in networks that have ignited their sense of pride, association and assertion of their physical and socio-cultural selves in this 100-mt stretch of a road ironically named “Thandi Sadak” (literally, cold street).

It has grown into a struggle between proudly receiving the notices on site from police, meeting elected representatives to present their case and rushing home in time for “supply” water-related chores. This is as much about claim-making on the State as it is about utilising available “official” mechanisms of asserting citizenship. As the agents of the state actively ignore or malign the protestors, especially on account of their religious and gender identity, it is an act of abjection of their very identity as “Indian” citizens. Amidst all this, our good old patriarchy keeps rearing its ugly head, causing conflicts that are sometimes public and violent but mostly private and restraining.

Young girls, especially the unmarried ones, are warned by their parents to not be “highlighted” by visibly participating through sloganeering and organising allied activities at the site. No one says that it will affect their marriage prospects but that’s going to be an interesting development to track in a few years, or months. Conversations with women across a cross-section of ages revealed their intent of staying at the dharna until CAA is revoked. The big question remains ...क्या ये महिलाएँ धरने से आंदोलन तक का सफ़र तय कर पाएँगे?
Writing on the (Wall) Barricade
Poster for visitors to sign...

"Nationalistic" Iconography

December 22, 2013

Whose Wedding Next?!

Ever had someone zealously insist you attend their wedding as if you owed them some debt from a previous birth? Or assert that you confirm your attendance right away as if their wedding ceremony would not be solemnised without your presence? Polite invitations are sweet, the zealous assertions…not so much. A couple of the latter have come my way this month. The trend of peers getting married began in 2012 for me, and people have been getting married left, right and centre since then! I suppose it will tide over by 2020 and invitations would be flying thick and fast throughout this period, depending on who does not read this post.

Confession: I have no interest in weddings or even the institution of marriage. The former is an exercise in event management and the latter brings nothing to the table in a relationship. This post is for whipping the wedding wave.

Indian wedding ceremonies involve a bunch of religious rituals. Hindu weddings tend to have a larger number of such rituals as compared to, say, Sikh or Muslim ones. Whatever the wedding formalities may be, they require only the bride, groom and a priest endorsing god’s representation in that ceremony. For example, the sacred fire plays that representative in the Hindu ones. Unlike court proceedings, which require human witnesses to register a marriage, the religious ceremonies have no need for any other physical witnesses. Since “God” is your witness, the mortals can go take a hike, if they want.

Often, that is not what they ‘want’. Our collectivistic cultural tendencies manifest themselves in wedding ceremonies which offer the perfect pretext to gather and make merry. Popular culture has influenced traditional ceremonies to spread over ‘festivities’ lasting at least 2-3 days. The actual ‘wedding ceremony’ could be a matter of few minutes or some hours, but the melee around it provides a great outing to our latent voyeur. ‘Sangeet’ and ‘Cocktail’ parties are ideal to satiate our mutual obsession with watching women dance. The bride and groom have a perpetual grin plastered on, irrespective of their backs hurting due to long hours of standing, bending to greet the elders or high-heeled footwear.

Originally meant to be a ‘celebration of union’, wedding ceremonies have ballooned into massive event management exercises. An act of unison between two private individuals is turned into a colossal shindig swarming with participants who have no imminent impact on this “union”. While being genuinely happy for the soon-to-be-marrieds, I find such ‘celebrations’ to be utterly dispensable and see no point in attending them. I despise the idea of watching the ritual of kanyadaan”, essentially an act akin to transfer of property, a.k.a the bride. It is quite inconvenient trudging over to faraway destinations and I don’t eat at weddings. Not to mention the personal costs (time, money, et al) involved in attending an impersonal event. I’d certainly drop everything and go for a wedding if my services (of any kind) were solicited by those at the heart of “the event”. But it’s really unfair expecting me to be a passive bystander in your jamboree when I have other options to utilise my costs. I’d gladly spend hours with the couple, bonding over fresh meals, laden with dollops of laughter as we discuss the good (and even the not-so-good) things in life.

I prefer nurturing a personal relationship, instead of marking my ‘attendance’ at a “wedding ceremony” so that the supremo can gloat about their event management skills. *Scurrying off to RSVP!* 

March 11, 2013

Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster Returns

Presenting a sequel inevitably lends itself to comparisons with the previous product, especially when you know that the ‘sequel’ was created only after the first instalment garnered massive accolades all over. It’s not as if the creator (director Tigmanshu Dhulia) had an idea he would like to pan out over multiple outings (ala Nolan and the Batman movies). Yes, one must always view an entity independently…blah blah… and it would be quite unfair to compare Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster Returns (SBAGR) with the preceding Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster (SBAG). Watching SBAGR made me realise how much I loved SBAG! Forgive me for hopping back and forth between these films in this post, as I never really got down to writing one exclusively on SBAG and will use this opportunity to do that.

I have only vaguely read about but not yet seen Guru Dutt’s classic Sahib Biwi Aur Ghulam, the original which Dhulia adapted for Sahib Biwi Aur Gangster. Hence SBAG for me was a fresh film not carrying any baggage from its inspiration. It was deliciously wicked, kept the audience engaged and on the edge of their seats! SBAGR, sadly, is too long, un-saucy and does not pack enough punch. The decay of the erstwhile rulers is portrayed quite well but it is stretched only to indulge the director’s sensibilities.

The writers of SBAGR must be commended for some crackling dialogues and for seamlessly weaving in references to real-life incidences (*spoiler alert!* porn-watching neta, MLAs being whisked to seclusion just like how it is done after elections to prevent horsetrading, lifestyle magazines featuring spreads on crumbling palaces and interviews that evoke the erstwhile glamour and nostalgia of the ‘royal’ way of life).

The songs of SBAGR are insipid and barely do anything to forward the narrative OR entertain the viewers. An attempt to spice up the proceedings via the customary ‘item song’ fails miserably as Mugdha Godse is a totally wrong choice for it! Not only is she a hopeless dancer but also, obviously, her cleavage does not make up for lack of expressions! What could have been a fabulous satirical number given the settings (think ‘Ranaji’ from Gulaal) ends up being a forgettable comment on our media-crazy times. On the aside, apparently the music of Dhulia’s films never really leave an imprint on us, unlike Anurag Kashyap’s! Anyone remembers any songs from Haasil? Charas? SBAG and SBAGR join the same league. That’s one thing consistent in Dhulia’s works!

SBAGR wraps up with a scope/ hint for the third installation to be attempted in future. Best wishes to Dhulia and team for hopefully making a film that will redeem this second movie. SBAG had everyone involved bringing something interesting to the board which is kind of missing from SBAGR. The former had menace that truly entertained but the latter fails to make an impact of any kind. I’m craving to watch SBAG now!

SBAGR is not a bad film, it’s just not good enough!

Images courtesy: and,_Biwi_Aur_Gangster

January 22, 2013

Mandola Revisited

Weapons of the Weak

The blogger went for a second viewing of Vishal Bharadwaj’s Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola, two weeks after the first viewing. While previous opinions still stand true  ( ) here are some additions to it.

Mandola (yes, I absolutely refuse to call it MKBKM!) provides a crisp opportunity to observe emotionally-wrenching depth conveyed with subtlety. When Bijlee goes looking for Matru in the rain-washed, deserted village, she only shows him, from a distance, her freshly hennaed palms . Not a single word is uttered. The sad-but-blank face of Anushka doesn’t even flinch. All the pathos of an unhappy present and doomed future are spared their conversion to words and we are left with just that one sight. That’s all.

Later on, when Matru is packing his stuff to leave, Bijlee simply says, “I have started brushing in the night”. No sentimental, mushy “I love you”-types expressing of love there. Just a simple dialogue, hinting at the depth of attachment, belief and hope, binding these characters in an unconventional yet romantic way. Economy of words has always been the forte of the brains behind this film!

Finally, the thought that did not leave my side since the very first viewing! Dialogues and actions of the movie constantly reminded me of J C Scott’s “Weapons of The Weak”! This movie is an exercise in the display of not just the arm-twisting tactics of the strong but also of the small stings that are weapons of the weak. Here the haves do not have it all. The have nots do not believe that what they have is insignificant in denting the haves, even if minimally so.

An obvious example of this was the usage of dung as cannonballs to disrupt ‘Operation Mao Mao/ Mow’. The villagers may not be laced with technologically advanced options to counter the chemically-armed, menacing son of the manipulating politician, but that did not prevent them from devising a smart (even if stinky) plan to protect their lush crops from being destroyed in the wake of midnight’s darkness. This was maximisng the usage of resources at their disposal, no matter how crude!

In their discussion with the politician (representing the state that wants the land), Mandola (who owns this land) and other officials (of the bureaucracy that will process this deal), tillers indulge in ‘coercive bargaining’ (Guha 1987:2001) to get a better price for their sacrifice (of land). Scott’s book demonstrates how…
In Malaysia the state has become the main provider of valuable public goods but has not succeeded in replacing the rural elites as patron at the village level. Many of the material benefits distributed by the state are mediated by the official party machine, which is controlled locally by landowning families (Esmon 1987:311).

Similarly in Mandola, when Matru circumvents the village patronage and attempts get a fair selling price for their wheat at the mandi (wholesale market), Mandola’s henchmen actively intrude to prevent the sale from taking place. Strains of ‘coercive bargaining’ can also be identified in other (crisp) exchanges between Jalebi Devi and Mandola, Mandola and Bijlee, Mandola and Matru, among others! In each of these scenarios the ‘weak’ character plays his/her asset to their advantage while bargaining for their personal benefits. The outcome of it may not always be entirely in their favour, but that small foot in the door is not an insignificant gain either!

This has been a stellar comeback for VB who was showered with widespread criticism for his previous directorial venture, a movie both the Lady ( and me immensely enjoyed. In Mandola there shines the characteristic wicked wit and sarcasm that comes from an evolved understanding of our evils. The ability to communicate it with simplicity and deadpan humour is the forte of VB and Gulzaar Sa’ab! Blessed are we to be living in the times that they are too!


Scott, J.C. 1986. Weapons of the Weak: Everyday Forms of Peasant Resistance. Connecticut:Yale University Press.

Guha, R. 1987. Presentation of Class in Everyday Life Weapons of the Weak: Everyday Forms of Peasant Resistance by James C. Scott. Economic and Political Weekly. 22:47. pp. 2000-2002.

Esman, M.J. 1987. Weapons of the Weak: Everyday Forms of Peasant Resistance by James C. Scott. The American Political Science Review. 81:1. pp. 310-313.