Monday, July 14, 2014


All through my childhood, I waited to grow up. I can't explain how or why, but I knew exactly what the taste of adulthood freedom would be. I knew exactly. This conviction only deepened in my teenage years, when the claustrophobia of inhabiting my current life made me more breathless than ever. I held on to the certainty that growing up would solve it all.

And it did. Through my twenties, I knew I had to spend my time becoming somebody. Not a famous or rich person but a person of definite character and values. Not necessarily someone who looked or spoke or thought like others but someone who would leave others in no doubt of what she was like, how far she would or wouldn't go for love, money, friends, family or herself. I read books, had experiences and very gravely followed the procedure for becoming this person.

At thirty, I knew what kind of professional I wanted to be. I was a diligent worker, who understood the value of work-life balance. When conflicted, I always leaned towards fulfilling personal obligations and pursuing personal passions. I tried to make my work an extension of those passions. I enjoyed my job and used it to travel and learn new things. I always stopped to be grateful and tried to be a good person. I tried to manage my anger. I tried to stay hopeful in the face of deep loneliness. I told myself that no matter what, I knew how to love another person selflessly. That it was like swimming - once you learned it you never quite forgot how to do it. I built myself a solid personality with which I proceeded to live in the world.

Today, at thirty five, I have decided to change again. I have decided that money is important and that it isn't evil to want material happiness for oneself or one's family. My parents are growing older and I am becoming a responsible adult - someone who needs to think not just about shaping her self but shaping her future (with it the realization that the two are not the same). I have decided to swing my work-life balance in the other direction - maybe spend more time developing myself as a professional, even if it means coming home later each evening and spending a little less time with those I love. Maybe I want to make investments that will carry me into old age, that will make my parents feel a little less afraid of retiring.

I see my friends from the old days of school and college and I observe their lives closely. There are those that, like me, used their twenties to become someone. They worked so very hard and built themselves from ground up. It was so difficult, this journey, that they were relieved to reach their thirties & forties. There, they stopped. 'I know how to make money. I will always make money'. 'I know how to do art. I will always do art'.

But I feel, once again, like I did as a child. Like I can't wait to be free again. I've enjoyed being the somebody I was for the last fifteen years. Now I want to be a different kind of somebody - a somebody I once made fun of for being boring. I want to see what it would be like to live that kind of life. I want to see if I am set in stone because 'now I am too old yaar' or if I am an ever-changing human, who is capable of surprising herself. 
It's the only way I know how to keep things interesting. It's the only way I can think of to enjoy being alive from here on out.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

You People Work On Commission, Right?

If you wish to picture where I am in the food chain of my profession, think of an earthworm. 
The underground, slightly slimy (or sexy depending on what your preference is), creature that does all the work of aerating the soil so that plants can grow happily and bear fruits that bastard birds can get fat on. All the while, dodging the bastard birds, who might fancy a bit o' 'worm for breakfast.
I am said earthworm, making documentary films. The TV Channels are big bastard birds.

Senior earthworm & I went for a pitch-presentation this past week (which is basically earthworms groveling for Bastard Bird jobs using 15 Power Point slides or less). The Executive Producer (representative of Bastard Bird) was a young lady half my age (which comes to 17, so no, she wasn't half my age), who had just smoked a fat doobie of pure corporate power before stepping into the meeting. 
She told us to go get comfortable in a conference room. Once we did, she told us to get out of the conference room, since she hadn't booked it and in fact had forgotten to book one altogether (which is why I say that working from a one-room, airless hovel is so much more convenient. You don't have to book anything. It's all yours, down to the roaches). 
We disconnected our laptops from the projector and wondered where we would journey to next. 
It was the cafeteria, where instead of a projector, was a noisy table of people high on Red Bull. Executive Producer seemed to think they were one and the same thing, so we were told to begin. As soon as we began presenting the idea we'd laboured on for a week and had hoped to pitch in proper style, she developed an urgent need to check and answer every email sent to her since 2005. 
Undeterred, we continued, naively hoping to impress both her and her smartphone.

When we were done, she said some token patronizing things before informing us that hers was a fancy channel unlike the folks we usually work for (government-run national broadcasters) so we would have to step up accordingly. 
At which point, senior earthworm lost his cool and informed her that we'd been in the business since the time she first lost her milk teeth and that we knew what we were doing.
Having suitably annoyed us, the EP left the table. She had succeeded in reminding us that no matter how many awards our films had received, we were still earthworms, while she worked for Bastard Bird.
We would've stormed out immediately but decided to hang around in the fancy office a bit longer because the furniture was so nice and the air-conditioning worked so damn well.

All of it sort of reminded me of Pretty Woman. One day I too hope to be a hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold-who-gets-what's-rightfully-hers:

Shop assistant: “Hello, can I help you?”
Vivian: “I was in here yesterday, you wouldn’t wait on me.”
Shop assistant: “Oh.”
Vivian: “You people work on commission, right?”
Shop assistant: “Yeah.”
Vivian: “Big mistake. Big. Huge. I have to go shopping now.”

Sunday, May 18, 2014


You know what?
We need to take more selfies.

I've been in the dumps lately. Thinking I have no life, no friends, no social calender, no 'these-are-the-days-of-our-lives' moments anymore. And then I look at selfies of people in restaurants, eating a burger and I'm like: I go to restaurants. I eat burgers. Why, I did it last week. With friends, too.
I look at photos of people with pets, babies & boyfriends and feel sad for myself. Till I realize: I don't want pets, I don't want babies and I have a boyfriend, who is very nice.

The key then is, take selfies. Take lots of fucking selfies.  

Friday, May 16, 2014

An Optimist's Take on Election 2014

First off: Amit Shah, if you're surveilling, HI! Love what you've done with India. Totally amazeballs. Keep in touch, yeah?

It's the frenetic morning of election results in India and it's pretty clear that Gujarati Santa Claus is going to be our next PM, with the RSS finally in power (they tried with Vajpayee but he just wasn't that into them). 
It's going to be good for the oppressed Hindu right wing. Question is, will it be as good for us?
[By 'us', I mean people like me - with lady bits (or respect for people with lady bits), liberal views, sympathies for minorities & the marginalized and expectations of social reform along with economic development. In short: People who may not live the Hindu way.]

Here's my optimistic take on the matter: India is not the same apathetic country it was in the '90s or early 2000s and while the BJP/RSS may enjoy routing every other party, there are large sections of society that aren't going to sit quietly as they push their Big Balls patriarchal ideology on to us - however surreptitiously. The fact that the AAP has emerged in the last 2 years and that women are not as accepting of their second-class status as they once were, are two trends that suggest that this will not be smooth sailing for the right wing.

Let me get even more optimistic: There are going to be hairy moments in the next few years, where besides economic bonhomie, the RSS and its bretheren may be challenged to update themselves and their narrow world view. I would love to see how that unfolds and just for that reason, I might even be glad that Mr. Modi is now in power.

Inshallah, all will be well.

Or the government will succeed in numbing the vocal middle-classes with goodies and such, in which case: Hey Amit Shah, you're looking good. Have you lost weight?

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

In Wonderment of Jose Mujica

Sometimes the robotic clicking of a remote can lead you to fantastic things.
Like this Christiane Amanpour interview of Uruguay's president Jose Mujica.
Read the CNN article here:

It's so refreshing to see someone in political life, let alone a president, who doesn't talk like a slick car salesman.

On relations with the US:
What is it like for a former Marxist guerrilla to enter the White House, that most potent of Western’s symbols?
“I cannot deny reality,” he told Amanpour. “I don't know whether I like this planet or not, but I have to accept it.”
There is not just one “United States,” he said. Yes, the country wields tremendous – “scary” – influence in Latin America, and the relationship between the region and America has a troubled history full of attempted coups and CIA operatives.
“However,” he said, “there's also a big debate in the States. There's human progress. There's a technological and scientific development that helps the whole of humanity. So we cannot just put everything in one bag and just say one word to describe the U.S.”
“I know that the U.S. is a bit of a global policeman, but I also recognize something really positive about the U.S. which has helped humanity.”

On Uruguay legalizing marijuana: 
“It is a measure against trafficking, drug dealing. We are trying to snatch the market away from them, because it's 80 years now that we are repressing drug use.”

“So like everywhere in the world, repression by itself doesn't do the job. We are trying to find another way.”
Regulating use of the drug, he suggested, could even lead to a decrease in usage.
“When you surround that with this forbidden aura, you are actually calling the younger to take it up. However, if you place it as a controlled product that you can purchase at the chemist – like some other drugs like morphine, which is used for certain prescriptions – then we are taking the mystery out of marijuana and we hit the drug dealers.”

On his past life as a political prisoner:
“If you catch a black ant, a normal common ant, you grab her with two fingers, you put her right inside your ear, and you hear it scream,” he told Amanpour. “But of course you need time to do that. And you have to be really lonely.”
“When you spend a long time by yourself in solitary confinement, a frog, a rat that comes to eat because you leave some crumbs there – it's life. It's the life you have there.”

On being the 'poorest president in the world':
He donates 97% of his salary, drives a 1987 Volkwagen Beetle – the original “peoples’ car” – and sells flowers with his wife at their home.
Mujica, a former Marxist guerrilla, lives in the same modest Montevideo house he always has, forgoing the presidential palace.
“I do not need much to live. I live in the same way I used to live when I wasn’t a president and in the same neighborhood, in my same house, and in the same way. And I am a republican” – small ‘r.’
“I live like the majority in my country lives. It was a majority who voted for me. And that's why I identify with them. Morally, I do not have the right to live like a minority in my country.”


On a totally whacked-out tangent, the only other politician who seems to be (relatively speaking) a straight-talker and someone who doesn't beat about the bush (too much) when answering journalists' questions is the mega-creepy Amit Shah.
Watch his interview with CNN-IBN's Rajdeep Sardesai and tell me if I've lost it:

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Art Is Confusing

He made a brilliant film, but he tortured his artists.
He tortured his artists, but he made a brilliant film.
Blue Is The Warmest Colour  

Friday, March 14, 2014


In a scene nearing the end of ‘Queen’, the camera homes in on Rani (Kangana Ranaut) as she says goodbye (probably forever) to friends she’s made on a life-altering European ‘honeymoon’. As viewers we’ve accompanied her on this journey of self-discovery and we’ve come to invest in her friendships – short and sweet as they’ve been. It’s as difficult for us to say goodbye to them as it might be for her. For a second, one hopes they’ll return because we worry for Rani, you know? But they don’t. Rani looks shaky for a moment and we hold our breath - Please be ok, Rani.

And then her face changes. Lightens. Something has shifted in her, not for a bit, not for a fleeting moment, but indelibly. She won’t just be okay, she will fly. The euphoria that comes from having made contact with her own power extends beyond her, permeating through the screen to reach us. We feel euphoric too because we know that with this film, something has shifted for mainstream Hindi cinema too.


Some reviews of the movie have called Rajkummar Rao’s character, Vijay, a ‘villain’, which is the saddest thing I’ve read in a while because this superbly-crafted obnoxious man is so bloody…normal. Who amongst us doesn’t know a Vijay? Some of us are dating him; some of us have him as a brother, a father, friend or boss. The guy, who needs to feel superior to you in order to feel good about himself. The guy, who really doesn’t care who you are as long as you serve his agenda. The guy, who struts around with such a sense of entitlement about his ‘property’ (and yes, you are his property, whether you like it or not) that he can’t fathom you’re an equal stakeholder in the relationship. The guy, who feels so small that he needs to make you feel smaller. The guy, who will fall apart, either grovelling or losing his shit if you ever realize your power. Vijay is not the villain. He struggles as much as Rani does – but unlike her, he hasn’t lost enough to put up a fight. In Vijay, I see the tragedy of so many men I’ve known and loved – men, who are as confused by their privilege as women are trapped by the lack of it.


‘Queen’ is extraordinary because of the male-female & female-female relationships it showcases. In Paris, Rani meets the free-spirited Vijaylakshmi, whose name shortens delightfully to Vijay, same as Rani’s ditching fiancĂ©. This Vijay, unlike the other, likes Rani just the way she is. She helps her loosen up but doesn’t inspire Rani to change overnight (nor does Rani convert her or show her the ‘error of her ways’ like in that other horrendous movie on female friendship: Cocktail) but teaches her that women can be all kinds of different shades. In Amsterdam, Rani’s character begins to understand how fun and liberating it can be to get to know men. Men are humans. And some of them think women are humans too! Ergo, men can be friends with women! These are touching friendships, based on affection and mutual respect (and yes, even a twinge of sexual tension).

In spite of this, I’m ashamed to admit that till the very end I kept expecting Rani to find a man. As though the thrill of self-discovery would be incomplete unless witnessed & validated by a man (like that other film about an Indian woman losing & finding her self in the Western world: ‘English Vinglish’). In that light, what a masterstroke by the writers/ director to leave Rani walking away in the last frame, alone & more joyful than any Hindi movie heroine’s ever looked at the end of a film (even Konkona Sen in ‘Luck By Chance’ looked underwhelmed about her future, as the film ended on her charting her path alone). Rani may find a man, she may not. Whatever the outcome, she now has the skills to create value for herself (like that other recently released film ‘Highway’ that ends on a mid shot of the lone & unexpectedly not-tragic heroine, clutching a copy of ‘Women Who Run With The Wolves’, looking hopefully into the horizon).


I don’t know if this happens to other Indian women who’ve travelled – particularly to the West. A pall of gloom descends on me whenever I have to return home. Even if the trip hasn’t been long enough to grow attached to the foreign country, even if my entire life is culturally rooted and thriving in India and even if love waits for me at home. It feels like I have to put back into a box, this version of ‘me’ that had momentarily roamed free – going where she wanted, at whichever time of night or day, in whichever mode of transport was convenient, talking to pretty much anyone she wished to, learning to smile at strangers and not spending an unnatural amount of time worrying if her shirt’s neckline is ‘too low’. And even though coming back to India means coming back home, it also feels like the loss of a person I really, really enjoy being.

‘Queen’ allowed me to relive the thrill of being free in ways I didn’t even realize I craved and the sweet relief of not having to constantly be ‘proper’ or 'careful' or 'watchful' (or 'disappointing', 'unsafe' or ‘stupid’ if you choose to act differently). Like Rani, I too have had catalytic adventures (some of which terrified me, forcing me to recognize my strengths). Like her, travel helped me relax into myself, without apologies. Like her, I carried this transformative new energy back to India with me.

The biggest gift ‘Queen’ has given its viewers, is a story about an Indian woman on an adventure alone. Of course, travel changes everyone. But Rani & ‘Queen’ show us how a fearless journey to foreign shores can lead the Indian woman back to herself.