Saturday, January 30, 2010

Portrait of An Artist as a Young Drag Queen: Art as Transgendering in Natrang

Its Judith Butler meets Anand Yadav. Recently released Marathi film `Natrang’, which is based on a novel by the noted Marathi novelist Anand Yadav, is a moving account of Guna a young moustache twirling peasant who dreams of making it big in tamasha- a traditional folk multimedia comprising of erotic songs and dances. He is an aspiring artist who dreams of playing a King in tamasha and ends up as a Queen. Economic and circumstances force him to play the role of Nachya, a dancing drag queen in tamasha and thus face the social stigmatization, humiliation and sexual abuse.   The Nachya, though is socially humiliated, is crucial for commercial success of tamasha for providing double entendres and homoerotic titillation.

The film depicts the complex power play between gender, art and commerce. The film shows how patriarchy can be as cruel to men as it is to women because it traps people in their genders. His wife and children are harassed and insulted as family of phalkya or drag queen by the villagers. His mistress who loves him refuses to marry Nachya. Precisely at the moment Guna tries to negotiate his double self by narrating the mythical stories of Brihanalla (Arjun in drags) and Mohini (Vishnu as seductress) , he is raped by the Bad Guys. The icon of Nataraj- Shiva as a cosmic dancer (who, incidentally, is also Ardhanarinateshwar- The Lord as Half Woman) is evoked in many places. The film also celebrates the archetypal power of art to transgress all social demarcations and borders including those of gender.

The story goes on to show how he persists in his art even after his family and friends leave him and he ends up a successful artist. The focus of the story is on how an artist has to sacrifice and overcome almost everything. Guna sacrifices masculinity one the most prized possession in a patriarchal set up and this is his highest sacrifice. Though women have been doing it for ages, not often is man shown doing the same and that’s where the success of the film lies. Not often do you see something this serious in Marathi cinema which is almost entering its golden period with Kairee (2001), Dhyaas Parva (2001) Shwaas (2004), Devarai (2005) and recently and Natarang (2010) and self-reflexive Harishchandrachi Factory( 2009) based on Dadasaheb Phalke and his first film Raja Harishchandra to name a few ( there are more very good films too). Shwaas and Harishchandrachi Factory were India’s entries for the Academy Awards. Thankfully it is emerging out of its obsession with mindless `comedy’ and clichéd tearjerker.

Atul Kulkarni is already famous as an extremely accomplished actor and he is simply awesome. He depicts his shift from macho to `wimp’ and agonizing ambivalence of being trapped into two genders: one which he can’t leave behind and the other he cant afford to leave with sensitivity. He actually built his physique for the role of macho Guna and lost dozens of kilograms to portray the nachya. The film has excellent performances by Kishore Kadam and Vibhavari Deshpande. Vibhavari’s role as Guna’s wife is particularly well performed. She is indeed an actress to watch out for.

 Lots of credit goes to the director Ravi Jadhav for what he has succeeded in keeping out. He succeeded in keeping out melodrama and inane humor which is a bane of Marathi cinema and keeping the focus on the story and characters with their ambivalences and agonies. He has also succeeded in keeping out didacticism. The film is a simply told tale without any stylistic gimmicks.  The mythical and archetypal allusions are obliquely suggested by references to Brihannala and Mohini.  If they are going to make films like these in Marathi, I don’t think one would want to watch stupid glossy Hindi films or boring Sci-Fi Technomanic Hollywood stuff. I also loved the music by Ajay Atul.

In spite of repeated warnings of not judging the book by its film, the film has aroused my curiosity regarding the novel. I find out if the focus on gender politics is explicit in the novel or it is in Ravi Jadhav’s interpretation. I am not a great admirer of Anand Yadav, but yes I want to have a go at his book. 

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Education as Gang Rape: The Dark Tropes in 3 Idiots

You don't have to be Rancho to tell  that Aaal eez Naat Well with the Big Bad Indian education system, which boasts of being one of the biggest in the world. Some Hindi films have dealt with this monster in an interesting way : I can think of Gulzar's Parichay (1972), Aamir Khan's Taare Zameen Par (2007) and Rajkumar Hirani's Munnabhai MBBS(2003) and 3 Idiots (2009). All these films are extremely funny, sensitive and are critical of the very idea of education in India. The attack is on coercive aspects of mass education system and how it murders the student's instinctive curiosity, spontaneity, creativity and individuality.

The films are  also critical of the undue emphasis on examination which only tests information retention capacity instead of thinking skills, creative problem solving skills and knowledge.The chargesheet against education system is well known. However, the films also take into account the fact that education system is a social institution and hence it reflects the widespread social values of success and failure in life. The cut-throat competitiveness either produces cut throats or people with deep inferiority complex. A society which believes in rat race produces mice. The films also try to persuade parents against imposing their expectations on their children .All these charges, of course are well-known.  3 Idiots, too, tries to persuade people about rethinking the whole idea of success in contemporary Indian context. It argues against measuring success in terms of marks, wealth and fame and sex. The film is not intended to be profound or artistic, but deliver its message in an entertaining and contemporary way and needless to say it succeeds in its objectives.

Though very glossy and hilarious, it has its sinister undertones. It talks about suicidal tendencies among todays youth which are abetted by the educational system and society's notions of success and failure.The media is hasty in making connection between the film and a wave of suicides among students in Maharashtra. Media also accuses the film of encouraging ragging. It is like blaming Sholay for the rise in dacoity.The films like 3 Idiots are sugar-coated comedies which are really tragedies.

The education system is an integral part of society. The roots of the problems of education system lie in the social values. If society defines success as acquisition  of Fame, Fortune and Fuck (though not necessarily in that order-Freud, I think, talked about Fame-Female-Fortune as three basic motives behind man's actions) either by a crooked hook or a crook-with-a hook using all the shortcuts possible, then education is reduced to the function of ladder in the brutal game of social snakes-and-ladders. If it fails to be a ladder, it is perceived to be a snake. Education, however, is neither a snake nor a ladder.

Though lot of idealistic bullshit is parroted by the mikephiliac educationists regarding the basic purpose of education, when it comes to implementation of educational programmes,  it is seen as  more of a mass-producing factory for producing low quality skilled labourers for an underdeveloped economy. Though it is widely accepted that education is about development of ability to think and behave critically and creatively, the success in educational system is measured in a small minded way of measuring one's ability for information retention. Hence the outcome of the examination, is obviously no indicator of one's intelligence.And though there is lot of blah blah regarding `examination reforms', hardly anything is done on the front and no genuine alternative to the present system has gained wide acceptance. Consequently, what goes under the name of `education' in India is actually a monstrous machinery which has brutal impact on the child's sensitive mind. However, most of us are forced by the society to feed our children to this Rakshasa.I feel that what we do to our children is similar to marital rape in India. Just like marital rape is not seen as a rape because its done by socially accepted partner, education is not seen as a form of torture just because it is seen as `doing what everybody is doing' and hence legitimate.

Hidden beneath the banter of 3 Idiots is the dark trope of rape. In the famous Speech scene, Rancho replaces the word ` chamatkar' with `balatkar' and `dhan' with `stan' in a speech which Chatur Ramalingam- a student who wants to use education to get Lamborghini and Green Card by mindless mugging- is going to deliver in the convocation and in a language he does not know  , simply by rote learning it. Chatur delivers the speech without any knowledge of distinction between ` balatkar' ( rape) and ` chamatkar' ( miracle)  and between `dhan' (wealth) and `stan' ( breasts). What needs to be emphasized is that today's society, including students, teachers and parents have lost the ability to make the crucial distinctions between `miracle'( of becoming successful) and `rape', and between wealth and breasts. Males, the film just hints, seem to think of wealth as if it is woman's tits or mother's breasts from which they have been weaned.

Hidden underneath the hilarity is another dark trope of sodomy or anal rape. In the famous ragging scene, the juniors are supposed to undress and tell their seniors pointing to their own bottoms, `Jahapanah, Tohfa Kabool Karo' or `O Mighty Emperor, please accept this gift'. Ragging which is seen as an `initiation ceremony' is also an initiation ceremony of the novices to the Big Bad Darwinian World of Survival of Cutthroats. Initiation into the World which only worships the Winners-- Prof Viru Sahasrabuddhe or Virus ( played brilliantly as ever by Boman Irani) points out the no one knows the name of the second person on the moon--is traumatic and extremely humiliating experience. People who participate in this ragging and gang rape of the young minds are Parents, Employers,Teachers, Senior Students (PETS)- in short, the entire society. Growing up in society such as ours amounts to mental, emotional and even physical rape by the perverted societal arrangement.Education seems to be one of modes of violation and torture. The only way to change it is by EDUCATING Parents-Employers-Teachers(PETs).

It is very fashionable and so very easy to blame Our Big Bad Politicians for all the Evils of the Society from Terrorism to Tuberculosis. It is very difficult to accept our own responsibility and act with integrity. We want to impart `morals and ethics' to our kids without we ourselves having it in the first place. We feel we have to `find out' role models for youth and like everything else we expect OTHERS to be the role models. We feel that teaching moral amounts to PREACHING, when in fact, it is about ACTING honestly and responsibly. Corrupt, dishonest, inefficient, and ignorant parents, employers and teachers produce a society which is corrupt, dishonest, inefficient and ignorant. We are the serial killers of the dozens of students committing suicide.
We have become rapists by allowing ourselves to be raped -we offered it our assholes, didn't we, saying ` Tohfa Kabool Karo'. It is a vicious circle.

Recall WH Auden's 1 Sept 1939

" I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return. "

In fact, this has been going on in India since ages- think of caste-system, feudalism (the Palace Paradigm in Prof Handoo's words), dowry related violence, the convention of Sati ( both literal and symbolic),colonialism and what not. All these things were systems of rape. No doubt our education system is as bad as our society: it is casteist ( Rancho says that marking is creation of new caste system, but it is casteist in many more ways), feudal, patriarchal, and colonial. It will be modernized only if the society is truly modernized ( not in superficial sense of modernity as fashion, but in terms of critical and creative thinking).

Here in lies our Paradox for Today: education will be modernized only if society will be modernized and society will be modernized only if education is modernized.We have to go in circles to break this vicious circle. But we HAVE to break it, if we want to save our children and grandchildren from abuse. There is very little choice in this matter.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

मराठी असणे म्हणजे नेमके काय असणे ह्या गुंतागुंतीच्या विषयावर संध्याकाळी केलेले काही विसखळीत विचार- सचिन केतकर

मराठी असंणे म्हणजे
मराठीत असणे

मराठी असणे म्हणजे शेतावर मराठी बुजगावणे लावणे
मराठी असणे म्हणजे बुजगावण्यांचीच शेती करणे
मराठी असणे म्हणजे मराठीत आत्मह्त्या करणे

मराठी असणे म्हणजे सातशे वर्ष जुन्या 
अनार्य गर्भाशयातून खडकाळ दरीत जन्मणे  

मराठी असणे म्हणजे मराठीत जगणे मराठीत हगणे 
मराठीत मुतणे 
मराठीत पिणे मराठी अश्रु काढणे
मराठीत रोगी होणे मराठीत भोगी होणे 
मराठीत उपभोगी होणे मराठीत योगी होणे
मराठीत उपयोगी होणे मराठीत खेळणे मराठीत चोळणे
मराठीत खुळे होणे
मराठीत लुळे होणे
मराठीत चरणे मराठीत हरणे 
मराठीत ऊठणे मराठीत मुठळ्या मारणे
मराठीत धरणे मराठीत करणे मराठीत मरणे
मराठीत धावणे मराठीत लावणे मराठीत चावणे
मराठीत हसणे मराठीत बसणे मराठीत डसणे
मराठी वेश करणे 
शुद्ध मराठी द्वेष करणे 
मराठीत माया लावणे 
मराठीत काया लावणे
मराठीत जीभेच्या भवानीला धार काढणे
मराठीत ऊडणे मराठीत बुडणे 
मराठीत पडणे मराठीत लंगडणे

मराठी असणे म्हणजे खांद्यावर शुद्ध मराठी ओझे वाहणे
मराठी असणे म्हणजे शुद्ध मराठी सुळ्यावर लटकणे
मराठी असणे म्हणजे शास्वत काळापासून
कपाळावर मराठी जखम घेउन हिंडणे

मराठी असंणे म्हणजे
मराठीत असणे

म्हणजेच मराठीत नसणे

मराठी असणे म्हणजे अमृताशी पैजा जिंकणाऱ्या 
आयसीयूत व्हेंटीलेटवर टिकलेल्या भाषेत

दुख:स्वप्न पाहणे

(१२ जानेवारी २०१०)

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

मी भाषेला बोलताना ऎकतो: सचिन केतकरची एक कविता

मी भाषेला बोलताना ऎकतो
सचिन केतकर

भाषा बोलतीय
मी ऎकतोय

सगळ्यांच्या पलीकडून ती बोलतीय
शेकडो वर्षांपासून
भाषा बोलतीय मी ऎकतोय
लोकं तोंड फ़क्त हलवतायत
लोकाना वाटतय ते स्वत: बोलतायत
पण भाषाच बोलतीय
भाषेच्या उगमा पलिकडून

मी ऎकतोय
कित्येक नद्यांना पूर आले अन गेले
नद्यांनी कित्येकदा वाटा बदलल्या
भाषा थांबतच नाहीये
तिच्या सादेतूनच उभं होतं जग
हे घर हे झाड ही माणसं
भाषा बोलतीये

पण ती माझ्याशी बोलतीय का?
भाषा कोणाशीही बोलत नाहीये
म्हणून ती सगळ्यांशीच बोलतीये
पण भाषा स्वत:शीच बोलतीये फ़क्त
भाषेला बोलताना मी ऎकत नाहीये
मला बोलताना भाषा ऎकतीये

कारण अनादी काळा पासून
फ़क्त भाषाच बोलतीये
आणि भाषाच ऎकतीये

१४ ओक्टोबर २००९ सकळ्चे १२:१५