Monday, June 29, 2009

He came, he thrilled, he never left

Growing up in a generation where all the kids my age had access to various forms of entertainment other than just playing around my apartment complex, it wasn’t as much of a luxury to sit in my room and switch on my tv. But in a place like India, where most of the electronic media entertainment is dominated by the Indian music and film industry, its quite hard to think about anyone else who might even compare or even attempt to reach the standard that we as Indians made. Most of us desis enjoy a good spot of music, dancing to popular bollywood dance numbers, played usually at weddings, award functions, or on the radio. The arrival of MTV in India wasn’t quite at the same time as it did in the USA, and so exposure to the ‘western’ world to a normal average kid was very limited, except to those who had rich uncles settled in the states who could get them expensive music cassettes or whoa a CD!!! There were a few select places in Mumbai where one could get all this music, set up by some dedicated music connoisseurs. But cmon, as a 6 year old kid, all you care about is watching what you can on television and the local store. The Indian film industry was evolving and adapting to the television revolution, exploiting it even. The concept of the music video gathered momentum...Introducing a novel way of watching our film stars more regularly than just on the movie theatre screens. Amongst this barrage of material being pumped in, if you asked me or any of the kids my age or my generation’
‘Hey kid, apart from Hindi film stars whom do you like? (Please don’t say Mahatma Gandhi..I mean amongst entertainers)’ I can guarantee you there was probably a 99% chance that this kid wherever he came from, and I mean wherever ever, was bound to put on hand on his belt buckle with a thumb inside, one hand outstretched rising up, legs bent and head slightly tilted, and then reply in a cheeky voice’ MAAAYYYYY CULLL JAAAAKSON’ .. I admit I was one of those kids myself.
In between all the bollywood item numbers, amidst all the communal riots, the moral policing that the ‘western culture’ was trying to take over India and its culture, there was just one man who managed to penetrate all the levels, and he was the one who everyone knew, even if they had never heard his music, they knew his image, if they had no idea about this image, they knew his songs, if they dint know either, they had heard about this phenomenon from a friend, rich kids had his poster on their walls, ‘black or white’ blaring out from their expensive stereos, servants working in their homes stopped cleaning the floor to watch the strange flexible man on the television with looks of amazement ‘ Sahib, kya hilta hai ye aadmi, kya naam kya hai?’ (Master, look at the way this man moves, what is his name?). These servants went to their slums that night and told their kids who had just come back from playing on the street, who in turn went to the vendor in the city who was famous for distributing illegal ‘imported cassettes’ at throwaway prices, heard ‘Billie Jean’ or saw the man gyrating like no one else before, and instantly a new world altogether was opened up by one man to millions of people who till then believed that the universe began and ended with Amitabh Bachchan.
You remember those costume contests that are arranged just for us kids, either by the local community club or by your grade school? I can vividly see myself entering many of those (being entered by my mother, to be precise), and at every contest, seeing at least half of those kids with curly long hair, aviator shades, black leather jackets with glitter on them, and just one white glove. Eventually I realized that I should take advantage of this situation, and I never went in a famous MJ outfit instead choosing to be dressed as an Indian God, cuz honestly there HAD to be one person who had to be different right? If all the kids were gonna be influenced by the famous man, let me at least win for trying to resist his popularity! … I never realized at the time how much an effect Michael had on me, on all of us, till now. Later when I discovered the music of Elvis and loved it, I became convinced that he was the ultimate king of music and there was no one better. I went to ask my grandmother whether she knew the famous Presley…Unfortunately my hopes were shattered when she revealed that she only had ever heard of Michael Jackson.
I cannot believe the amount of excitement that was in Mumbai in the winter of 1996, when the king of pop dazzled at the Andheri Sports complex to a packed and overflowing crowd. We may have had several people who have held the world captive with their persona and energy, mostly being country leaders, military generals etc. But never before, had we seen one man see his name become synonymous with music and entertainment as much as Michael Jackson, and he certainly cemented his position on the stage every single damn time with his unmatched voice, his dance moves, and energy oozing off to the crowd, infecting everyone with the virus compelling the muscles to move along to his beats. No wonder then that he was treated like a God and all the other people felt his aura. As Jackson departed Mumbai, the staff at the Oberoi hotel where he occupied the Presidential suite decided to clean the room for the next guest. They found a pillow where Michael had left a note for India
“India, all my life I have longed to see your face. I met you and your people and fell in love with you. Now my heart is filled with sorrow and despair for I have to leave, but I promise I shall return to love you and caress you again. Your kindness has overwhelmed me, your spiritual awareness has moved me, and your children have truly touched my heart. They are the face of God. I truly love and adore you India. Forever, continue to love, heal and educate the children, the future shines on them. You are my special love, India. Forever, may God always bless you .
— Michael Jackson.”
Everyone in India was shattered when we realized that this promise was forever going to be unfulfilled. But Michael will always be remembered not only in the dirtiest slum, but also in the most palatial mansion, having touched everyone and proved that one man can indeed talk to all the people in the world through one language, music.
Don’t blame it on the sunshine
Don’t blame it on the moonlight
Don’t blame it on the bad times,
Blame it on his boogie
The world forever knows you through your music and dance and will always.

You cannot come back, because you never left us

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Jai NO?

Watching Jamal struggling to identify Mahatma Gandhi's picture on an Indian currency bill, the Police Inspector-" Even my 7 year old niece can answer that’
Jamal-“ Who stole Mr. XYZ’s bike at Bandra on August 15th?’
Inspector (clearly caught off his guard)-“ you know who stole it?”
Jamal-“….everybody in Juhu knows who it is…even 7 year olds”
Sitting back at home in India watching TV comfortably on a couch after a year in a foreign country I was pretty much relaxed and glad to be home. Surely after 9 months of life changing experiences and writing about how much I missed my home country anyone would really expect me to be all happy and cheerful. That I most certainly was, there is no place like home. But wait something comes up on TV….a promo..for the world television premiere of INDIA’S crowning glory and milestone film ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ ..bear in mind the emphasis on the word. One see’s quotes coming from actors and politicians ‘ Slumdog Millionaire has crossed boundaries, truly it has displayed that INDIA can compete at the highest level. WE AS A NATION are so proud..JAI HO!” ..cue the soft ‘sniff!’ and a couple of moist eyes. Then the television is switched off and the real discussion starts.
‘ How can anyone even like this movie!?’ ‘Danny Boyle is an ignorant man who knows nothing about our culture’ ‘Is Mumbai just a ghetto?’ ‘#$!@#!@ SLUMDOGS?...WE ARE SLUMDOGS?!!!! Who gives you the right to call us desi people SLUMDOGS…India is a progressing country, not a stagnant breeding ground for poverty and slavery’ ‘ There are so many better movies than SM..not Oscar material please!’----the tirade is endless. This is when I realize that the moist tear eyed man who proclaims ‘JAI HO!’ on the TV is the same man who uses glycerine to induce tears, bribes the very umm ‘slumdogs’ for votes, spits bright red-orange tobacco on the road and then puts up hoardings for his voting campaign with the quote ‘ JAI HO! LETS WIN INDIA BACK for me (subconsciously adding ‘ illiterate slumdogs’ to the message). This very person is the one who will announce a prize of free government owned housing for the child artists of the movie for their efforts on promoting India and then give these prizes to their so-called loving parents who in turn capture possession of these apartments leaving the children – in this case Rubina and Azhar ( playing the kid Latika kid Salim respectively) with nothing except a return to their real life slum where they are from. So yes it is not just that politican who is that teary eyed man, but the parents as well. And it just doesn’t stop there, oh no. We have all of us, the Indian urban masses, who are ready crucify the film and its message with just a mention of the name. ‘The West is ignorant of us. We are cultured. We are the best’..b..l…aaa..haha. What these people, some of my very own friends, do fail to realize is that when we call ourselves the Indian urban masses we are wrong at one crucial point. This group that is refered to as ‘WE’ is not a majority..WE are not masses. India’s masses are in fact the ones who live below the poverty line, who cannot afford to sit in chic cafes and have Slumdog bashing debates over lattes. They are Jamal, Latika, Salim and every other kid who is born to a parent who cannot afford to support them and hence must make do with the utter nightmare that their lives become. These masses..have to live in the ghetto, have to swim in shit, have to beg, borrow and steal just because our so called cultured urban people have deliberately blinded themselves to them.
When Aishwarya Rai makes a cameo in Pink Panther 2 with Steve Martini, WE rave and rave and rave…television interviews, page 3 parties, and the same old glycerine teary eyed man declaring how proud he is of Rai’s contribution. This cameo might be for 2 seconds or for the entire movie, the movie might even get nominated for the All time worst movie of the century, but in our tricolor tainted eyes, it’s the best..oh my oh my! But when an American filmmaker decides to make a movie adaptation of a novel written by an INDIAN – Vikas Swarup in this case (Q & A), not even my grandfather’s buffalo in the village gives a shit (ironic since that’s her favorite hobby). Cue 2-3 months ahead, and the critics(the true ones, not the ones Im bashing here) have raved about the movie, suddenly WE come to life. The above mentioned quotes are mentioned, SM is the pride and joy of India, especially after winning the Oscars. Not that India had much to contribute for the movie, or specifically WE had no contributions, it was the cast and crew who are responsible. Hmmm, the Indian public cant take this reality can they…if WE are not given credit, lets just trash the film. Suddenly the ‘pride and joy’ turns to ‘poorly researched piece of crap by a Westerner who doesn’t know the real India’ But no one will say that in public will they?
What India fails to realize is that everyone has the right to express themselves in the way they see the world to be. And when this expression is reality, even thought it might be a bitter pill to swallow, its better to accept it and appreciate the film for its true excellence. Slumdog Millionaire deservedly has won all the prizes and accolades because of the talent of everyone involved in the film. Danny Boyle came with a vision and translated it on camera. How can our country claim to be progressive when we do the very same things that he film portrays and then deny them with all our might? This clearly just signifies that despite knowing the truth, we are living in a state of denial. I certainly do not deny that India has progressed. We are one of the world’s fastest growing economies, have the most diverse culture and lots and lots of other things that we should rightfully be proud of. But if we can make a Hindi Bollywood film which portrays an America to be an oversexed culture-less country, then it is very clearly justified that the rest of the world pick up on our negative traits and portray them. If we rage against Indian students being ill treated in Australia but fail to even suspend the many police officials and other bullies who drug and rape foreign girls, If a politician can mix religion and education and deny a Muslim or Hindu or Sikh a seat in a college and then complain about why the Indian youth studies in the US and not at home…if the constitution of India declares freedom of speech and yet the government chooses to ban this very piece of written work , then India is not progressive, it is regressive.
Sometimes just knowing who Gandhi is does not make one Indian….or even smart.