I'm really grateful to advertisers and sponsors for letting us get glimpses of movies and programmes on TV between the hours of advertising. Besides being thoroughly entertaining, brainwashing and mind-numbing, ads provide some real insights into mainstream culture. There are some ads on TV that are genuinely good, humourous and make their point. But a good amount of Indian advertising presumes people will believe anything, such as:
1) Indian roads are smooth, wide, empty surrounded by greenery, beautiful and India looks like a first world country.You can race your bike/car on them as much as you like. And super hot girls in mini skirts fill petrol at the petrol pumps.
2) It is really important that you be fair, so every company makes a 'fairness' cream. Nowadays even men need fairness creams, and smoothening face gels, so that they don't feel left in the dark, quite literally. In a country of beautiful, brown complexion, it is now extremely important to look like a super-white cartridge sheet. The 'brightness' option on Photoshop has never been misused to such effect.
3) As soon as you are born, you start ageing, so you must start using an anti-aging cream when you are around ten. Or heaven help you, you will look twenty by the time you are err.. twenty.
4) Your existing mobile phone is never good enough for you, even if you just bought it. Make sure you upgrade asap. Otherwise how will you get all those cool friends?
5) You really haven't arrived till you have a fancy new bathroom, that is probably bigger than your living room.
6) Hair colour is very important, almost as crucial as face colour. But in hair colour, darker is better, and you should really start hiding those grey strands at sixteen.
7) There is really a lot to be said about hair, and yours is not strong enough until you can tie it to the front bumper of a truck, and pull the truck along. To do that, you need to only use a Long and Strong Shampoo, because as we all know, it's so normal to be using your extra long hair to pull automobiles along the road.
8) While on the topic of our crowning glories, there are now enough shampoos. conditioners, detanglers and hair products to keep Rapunzel busy for the rest of her life. There is stuff for long hair, straight hair, curly hair, falling hair, dry hair, sticky hair, thin hair, thick hair, no hair, dandruffy hair, coloured hair, white hair, and split ends, because you're worth it.
Most important, when you don't have a real concept to sell a product or service, or you can't find its distinctive advantage, just make any member of the Indian Cricket Team endorse the thing. This will ensure that half the nation will at least blindly watch the commercial, and not flick channels. They might even purchase that product. If a cricketer is telling you that you need it, then you need it, whether it is a fancy car, cooking oil, or hair conditioner. When in doubt, always fall back on our boys in blue.
Back in the day, ads were created to let you know about the real function or advantage of the product. They were direct, simple and more honest. With increasing production, choice and consumerism, today they have to all compete with numerous others in the market. So now it's more about lifestyle, experience, brand and how important it is just to purchase it. What you already have is never good enough, famous enough, or beautiful enough. We are victims of the Ad Age. You need more, even if you really don't need more. The next time you are watching the idiot box, make sure you don't become the idiot in front of it.
Have seen some good, and some strange movies lately. A most unusual movie is The Symbol (Shinboru). This movie has very little dialogue. But it just proves that non-verbal communication is as powerful as any other. Written, directed, and starring Hitoshi Matsumoto, it starts with a man alone in a large white room. You don't know what the hell is going on, but it all comes together in the end. And what an ending it is. It is as if you have been let it on a bigger secret, which nobody knows of yet. In short, an extremely creative and dont-give-a-dam director has been able to pull this off with aplomb.
The Great Debaters, is based on a true story, and explores the struggle of black people in 1930s America. An idealistic college professor at Wiley College, inspires and trains four young black students to debate against white students, in colleges across the United States. On a deeper level, it is about their search for identity, their fight for equality, and their need to be heard. The movie is a little predictable, and not as inspiring as it could be, but still, worth a watch. It is filled with interesting quotes from literature, and allusions to Gandhi.
True Grit is by one of my favourite movie-makers, the Coen Brothers. Based on a book, it's a touching story of a young girl's search for her father's murderer. She teams up with a US Marshall, and the movie is about their adventures together. Set in old-time America, it is slow in parts, but definitely worth a watch. Yet, it is not as brilliant as the Coen Brothers' other films. A Serious Man is a brilliant one, a combination of wit, sarcasm, and just plain randomness. Centered around an American suburban character, set in the late 1960s, it involves his wife, kids, neighbours, colleagues, and his thoughts and reactions to all of these. Only Coen Brothers can take the most everyday things, and make them so interesting. Who needs fiction, when life itself is so rich in beauty?
The Coen Brothers' crowning masterpiece has to be No Country For Old Men. It's a hair-raising, excruciatingly suspenseful film. A hitman is on the lose in Texas, and the murders get increasingly cold-blooded, random and bold. It's not the actual killing that kills you, but the danger and suspense. Without too much of a show of blood or gore, the audience experiences the very real terror that a serial killer inspires. You can feel the cold hand of the murderer somewhere around you, while he silently and menacingly swings his axe. You can never actually be rid of his clammy and frightening face, with its deadpan eyes. The movie has a strange ending, but it's probably the most appropriate one.
With A Serious Man, you are going to get some laughs. With No Country For Old Men, you are going to be looking over your shoulder for a couple of days, or weeks, depending on how jittery you are. The Coen Brothers are masters of making you feel things that you can't really express later. Their movies defy description. If anyone can express movies in just words, why go through the effort of making the movie? Some may find them a tad violent, but Coen Brothers tells it like it is. As an old man says in the film, "You can't stop whats coming."
Thats it for the movie updates.
A good weekend is one where you get to relax. A great weekend is one where you finish reading two juicy books! I finally finished The Fountainhead (very late in life). It is an epic, with a really strong dose of some pretty headstrong philosophy thrown in. This was the Centennial Edition, and at the end of it were notes, reviews, and edits by the author herself. These were more illuminating than the book itself, and give us a little peek into Ayn Rand's formidable brain. Books like this are pure hard work, sweat, blood and toil as the notes confirm. Not that she was complaining about the work. She was her own most stringent critic and heartless editor.
Rand started work on the characters of the book a few years before actually starting the book. Each character has been sketched out in detail, with descriptions of the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual aspects. Some of these characters are not used in the final book. Then there is her own first review of her first chapter. The notes read 'too many adjectives', and 'don't use words for the sake of it, use them only if really needed' and many more notes to that effect. Each chapter has its own review. More than the books, I would love to get my hands on the journals of Ayn Rand, and they do exist. She also interned at an architect's office for a year prior to writing the book, as part of her in-depth research. A monumental undertaking, this book must have been. It's one thing to have a strong, unique and original philosophy. Its quite another to build a fictional world around it, that is detailed to the nth degree. And it's the ultimate, if you have the sharp reasoning to cut, trash and re-write portions and pages of your work. She designed this book, and crafted every word, thought, and blink, down to the last comma.
One minute I was on the sidewalks of New York in the last century, with Roark challenging all existence, the next minute I was crossing medival Europe and stepping into ancient Iran. In Search of Zarathustra by Paul Kriwaczek is a non-fiction work about his own journey across countries, centuries, and gods. A Polish Jew and a dentist, he had a long-time fascination with Zoroastrianism, and its beginnings and influences. He believes Zoroastrianism has influenced Christianity, Judaism and Islam, infact many world religions much more than anything else. Its just that its never been documented. And since Zoroastrianism has been in the twilight zone for 1300 years, its even harder to get evidence of anything. But it does exist, as he takes us through his long journey through Europe and finally to Iran via Turkey and many other places. Some interesting points are that Avestan, the ancient language is surprisingly close to Old Sanskrit. In fact some prayers when translated, are almost exact.
The author, and some others believe that it was one band of people from Central Asia that separated into two branches. One settled on the river Indus, and the other on the river Oxus (now the Amu Darya). The custom of shaking hands, apparently can be traced to Zoroastrian culture, as it was not originally Christian, and definitely not Islamic. It is also shown in some Iranian sculptures. Zoroastrianism also strongly influenced ancient Egypt, a fact unknown to most of the world. This is probably because history is written by the winners of the last war. One fact that comes out glaringly in this book is how present day history is dominated by Roman/Greek history, and is strongly one-sided. The Zoroastrian empire at its height, stretched from Egypt to the Indus (Kushan) and from Rome to the Gulf. It was, by all accounts, the greatest civilization of the ancient world. It was the first time in recorded history that the rulers were 'civilsed' in the true sense, being tolerant, open-minded, and just. Many other religions were allowed and encouraged to flourish within the empire too. For instance, Cyrus gave the persecuted Jews a home, and let them flourish. Yet, all this never gets mentioned in history. The world started and ended with the Roman Empire. And films like 300 don't do anything to help this. Now I understood where the two-winged symbol so common in ancient Egypt came from.
The beginning of the book is a bit tedious, but later chapters are engrossing and deeply moving (for a Parsi reader). He explores Iran, and visits sites of the great civilization. There are still Zoroastrians living in Iran, and practicing the faith. He visits the ancient sites of Cyrus and Darius, analyses and links Iranian art and sculpture to other times, cultures and places. Even in ancient days, it is astonishing to know the amount of cross-cultural exchange that happened. Finally, someone enlightened me about the beginnings and significance of the festival of Noruz, still celebrated worldwide. In spite of centuries of Islamic rule, Noruz (Navroze) is celebrated in a very Zoroastrian way in Iran, as it has been since the beginning. Infact, Muslims in Iran are extremely proud of their pre-Islamic heritage, though they might not be very well-informed about it.
The author ponders on the beginnings of Zoroastrianism, which was in the Bronze Age. We can imagine what people were like in medieval times, but its hard to imagine life in that era. What was life like then? Did the same things move people? And what was the prophet Zarathushtra himself like? These are questions that will always remain unanswered. However his teachings, thoughts and philosophies are relevant even today. Externally life changes, but internally humans remain the same, and the same issues of ethics, morals, and meaning of life plague us since the beginning of time. The author set out to find this ancient and all-but-lost culture and religion. He was looking for signs, symbols, places and events, but in the end, he is led to Zarathustra's core teachings. That is the thread that lives on inside people, that is the thread that connects us to people of the Bronze Age, and connects us to Zarathustra himself.
The Wikileaks logo is a world melting/leaking into another world. It is also an hourglass. Great symbolism on both fronts, as the world is changing fast, melting into something else, and Wikileaks might hopefully be part of that change. The tables have been turned. Since it is a veritable time bomb too, the hourglass. Strange thing is neither of the two globes show the Americas (for a change). Usually it's our part of the world that is chosen to face away from the viewer.
We don't know how long it will be before the thing explodes, something happens (God forbid) to Julian Assange, or governments get control of it (God and the Devil forbid that!). As of now it survives, or maybe even thrives. It's almost the biggest thing since Gutenberg or the Internet. There is nothing as exciting, enabling and empowering than 'secret' information suddenly being available. Are we a voyeuristic species? Probably yes, looking at the amount of 'forbidden' matter floating around the Internet, from porn to state secrets to conspiracy theories. But if Governments claim to be 'for the people', then what do they have to hide? Secrecy is the mother of suspicion.
George Orwell said, "During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act."