PTI’s online supporter base: hypocrisy, stupidity or blindness?

A few days ago, I wrote this blog for The Express Tribune Blogs section about Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Chief Minister Parvez Khattak’s utterly misogynistic comments to women lawmakers in that province. It was based on this story: http://tribune.com.pk/story/683708/its-a-mans-world-women-lawmakers-asked-to-avoid-suggesting-development-schemes/.

Not unexpectedly at all, the PTI online machinery was set into motion and people started commenting and tweeting to me that Tribune had misreported the story here. They sent me this link which was Business Recorder’s version of the same story, as triumphant proof of Tribune’s “yellow journalism”. One person claimed the address was to both men and women lawmakers, as if somehow that made it any less offensive and derogatory. (Turns out that claim was absolutely wrong too.)

Since some of them were polite, I responded to them saying that I will get to the bottom of whether Tribune had misreported the story. I got in touch with my former colleagues at the Tribune Peshawar desk and asked them provide me with a copy of the press release. They did, but it was in English.

I thought of putting that up online, but I realized that some of the trolls might say: “But it’s in English, Tribune journalists probably included the line themselves.” Believe me, it is not beyond PTI trolls to actually say, and believe, that.

So then, I set out to find the original press release in Urdu, to make sure that it had exactly the words that Tribune had used. And voila, I found it on Parvez Khattak’s official Facebook page here. To quote: “khawateen arkan-e-assembly ka taraqiati schemon aur gali koonchon ke marammat se koi sar-o-kar nahin aur na hi woh aise kaam karein jo mard arkan-e-assembly aur mehkmom ke faraiz main aata ho”.

I then went back to the PTI people on Twitter who I had promised to figure out why Tribune’s report was so different from the Business Recorder report. I shared the link with them and asked them to retweet it, accepting that they were wrong and that Tribune hadn’t misreported (and consequently, my blog was not erroneous). In response, I got: “first you admit you’re a liberal fascist” and “if I admit I’m wrong, will you go on a date with me?” What the hell happened to rational argument?

One idiot retweeted the tweet with the false allegation right after I had tweeted my response to it – clearly, selective retweeting. When I called him out on it, I got “I can make my own judgment, I don’t need your help.” Wah, what an attitude towards learning.

And it got me thinking. Are these people hypocrites or just plain stupid? Even in the face of clear evidence, these people just cannot accept that they are wrong, that the party they so vehemently support is misogynistic and that no newspaper is out to destroy the PTI.

I wish more authors would call them out on their bullshit, but then again maybe they shouldn’t. Like all stupid people, the PTI trolls drag you down to their level and then beat you because they are experts at being stupid. It’s just not worth it. I did my job as a journalist, going back to check if the story was in fact accurate, and I expected them to do their job as responsible, politically-inclined citizens. Obviously, only I played my part.

I realize it may seem like I have some sort of a vendetta against the PTI that I’m writing and tweeting about them so much, but as a voter I feel it is my job and my responsibility to at least try to bring them to task.

I used to tell people not to judge the party by its supporters, rather base opinions on its leaders and actual policy people. Clearly, Khattak has shown that PTI’s leaders are just as bad as the supporters.

Very disappointing. Shame on PTI.

Mr. CM, that wasn’t insulting enough

If one more person tells me that Pakistan has a better record on women’s political representation than the “developed nations” (meaning the US) because we have twice had a female head of state, I will use my very female and very strong hand to slap them across the face.

The Women in Politics Maps 2014 released by the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) and UN Women recently ranked Pakistan 72nd among 189 countries in terms of female representation in the parliament. We could have been ranked even lower – there is no woman on Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s handpicked cabinet, for instance.

But one does not even need the IPU and UN Women to corroborate the claim of women’s pathetic representation in Pakistani politics. All we need to do is look north to Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa where Chief Minister Pervaiz Khattak just today told women lawmakers to refrain from suggesting development schemes and avoid doing tasks that fall under the duties of male members of parliament. Since when has development been gender-specific, Mr. CM?

Furthermore, in case his statement wasn’t patronizing and misogynistic enough, he also asked women legislators to concentrate on policies regarding women’s welfare. I mean, seriously, if women have such an itch to do something with the opportunity that’s been handed to them by their benevolent male counterparts in parliament, they can stay in their “zenankhana” and discuss their women problems. Why do they have to distract the alpha men from their noble jobs as saviors of the nation, including women?

So yes, what was it that you were saying about women’s representation in Pakistani politics?

The truth is that Pakistani women parliamentarians have almost always run second-fiddle to men, which is why the findings of the Women in Politics report and the KP CM’s comments shouldn’t come as a surprise at all. In the May 2013 election, for example, an overwhelming majority of election rallies were addressed strictly by men. In none of the mainstream political parties is a woman in charge of anything remotely important, and a large majority of the women who are now members of Pakistan’s National Assembly have made it there on the reserved seats for women, not the competitive ones that are open for contest among genders. The female head of government we talk of, Benazir Bhutto, was only able to become the prime minister because she was her father’s daughter. The reason she was nominated for prime ministership was because she was the chairperson of a national party that swept the elections, a party also inherited from her father.

Perhaps it is because of this perceived “privilege” that women parliamentarians are barely ever taken seriously, a rather laughable assumption to make if one were to spend a few minutes looking at how much Pakistani legislators have contributed. I would like to draw Mr. Khattak’s attention, and that of every man who holds the same view as him, to a report by non-profit legislative watchdog The Free and Fair Election Network, which found women parliamentarians in the outgoing National Assembly were a lot more attentive than their male counterparts. Despite being only 76 out of 350, women members asked 1,826 questions out of a total of 3,314 questions that were posed. For some clear perspective, read it like this: while women made up only 22% of the Lower House membership, they asked 55% of the total questions asked while the assembly was in session.

As the CM of the province, it is indeed Mr. Khattak’s prerogative to delegate legislative topics to his subordinates. However, I wonder if he was just as concerned about the overstepping of gender boundaries when a bunch of men decided to usurp a woman’s right to decide who represents her in the Provincial Assembly that he was himself the head of?

On May 13, 2013, I had travelled to Lahore just to be able to vote – and vote for PTI. I was then out in the street in Karachi, demanding re-election in NA-250. But the party just keeps disappointing me again and again. I know that many PTI supporters, some genuinely well-meaning and respectful men, will respond to my tweets about this statement and this blog with some sort of opaque explanations, but the message is clear: the one certain change that is coming is that women can talk, until they decide to challenge men on topics of consequence. Thank you PTI for that reminder.

Published in The Express Tribune Blogs here: http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/story/21477/pti-just-keeps-disappointing-mr-cm-that-wasnt-insulting-enough/

Malala Yousufzai and the league of extraordinary Pakistani women

There was the face of one woman in that room that could quash all the misgivings that one has about Malala Yousufzai’s “backstory”. No, it wasn’t 16-year-old Malala’s herself, it was her mother’s.

Minutes after Malala began her magnificent speech at the United Nations General Assembly this Friday, the camera cut to the face of her proud parents. Her father smiled like a man who had won a battle he had fought his entire life. Her mother, in her plain white dupatta and light green shalwar qameez, sat next to him wiping a tear that fell out of her right eye.

Since October 9, 2012, one of the many dark days in Pakistani history, we have heard as many views on Malala as we have avenues of information – newspapers, television shows, social media etc. The dominant view seems to be “she’s too confident to be doing this on her own, somebody must be supporting her.” I tried hard to understand that viewpoint, even though what matters most to me is not the agenda of those supposedly “propping” her up but the fact that that agenda is the right one.

On July 12, 2013, when a young Pakistani woman wowed the entire world by her simple yet powerful views, I let go of trying to look logically at the other view – I saw that tear that fell out of Malala’s mother’s eye and I felt what had caused it, and everything fell into place. Malala’s mother, purported to be a CIA agent, was crying because the little girl who she had carried in her womb for 9 months and nurtured for 15 years was finally able to speak with her characteristic vigour after surviving a bullet to her head. Ask a mother what that must feel like. Ask her if she would still care for a damned foreign agency when her own flesh and blood is battling for life.

Why is it so difficult for us to believe that one of our own, somebody from a small town in Swat, can be so eloquent and incredibly intelligent? Why can’t a 16-year-old, whose father trained her her entire life to be a fighter for education, be that fantastic a speaker? Why can’t a little girl who has spent her entire life under the shadow of crushing militancy have the undeterred spirit that Malala has? Why is that so impossible for us to fathom?

My question to all those conspiracy theorists is this: if not her, then who? If not the girl who was named after Malalai of Maiwand, then who? If not the little child who was deprived of an education she so dearly loved, then who?

It wouldn’t be so hard for us to believe in Malala’s magnificence if we were a nation of people who stood up when it felt the pain of being snatched of something it holds in high esteem. A nation that read national poet Iqbal’s verse beyond those that exalt Islam: “Zara namm ho yeh mitti, bari zarkhez hai saaqi”. A nation that isn’t so suspicious of its female population that it cannot process the idea of a strong woman without an “evil, western” agenda.

There is a lot to be taken away from Malala’s story – from the day she spoke out, to the day she was shot until the day she told the UNGA what a simple Pakistani woman can achieve given some confidence by her near and dear ones. Yes, a key takeaway is that Malala and her family has been maligned because she was attacked by the militants we so love to please. But here is another deeper problem that it points to: the bias against women so strongly ingrained in our heads that our nation can hardly believe in a confident woman who actually wants the best for this country. In Pakistan, you cannot be a well-wishing female citizen until you’re acquiescent and respectful of “social norms” no matter how much they pull you down.

This is the same attitude that a whole line of amazing Pakistani women have had to battle, from Benazir Bhutto to Asma Jahangir to Sherry Rehman to Mukhtaran Mai to Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy to name a few. Each one of these educated, empowered and accomplished women have at one point or the other been named an agent for a random but ill-meaning cause, agents who are out to destabilize Pakistan for money. In actuality, all they were/are out to do is to destabilize the ridiculously skewed representation for men compared to women in Pakistan. They are such evil “ladies” because they refuse to silently obey and follow the patriarchy that continues to grip our society.

Dear Pakistanis, for a change, believe in one of your own. Accept her as the extraordinary Pakistani that she is. Love her and respect her. Don’t let her gender get in the way of that. Don’t translate her message of peace as “western”, it is universal.

You can hear her brilliant speech here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-23291897

This blog also appeared here: http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/story/18149/malala-yousufzai-and-the-league-of-extraordinary-pakistani-women/ and http://tribune.com.pk/story/576526/malala-and-the-league-of-extraordinary-pakistani-women/

 

The Shah Rukh Khan controversy: Hype and hypocrisy

As anything Shah Rukh Khan would, the Bollywood megastar’s recent article in an Indian magazine, where he admits to having felt discriminated against in constitutionally-secular India for his Muslim identity, has gone viral.

Everyone and their khala has read the interview, sympathising and basing their entire critique of India’s treatment of ‘minorities’ on this one man’s one statement that’s hardly any different from his previous statements on the matter.

Enter our very own Hafiz Saeed, the noble chief of UN-blacklisted charity organisation Jamaatud Dawa. Unable to bear the injustice being meted out to a Muslim brother in (horror of horrors) India, he jumped in with a hospitable suggestion to Khan: move to Pakistan where he will be secure.

As hilarious as that suggestion is, given the kind of security we provide to our own people and how we have historically treated immigrants from India, it points to deep hypocrisy and confusion among the ranks of proponents of anti-India rhetoric in Pakistan.

Before this article, if you had asked these same people about Khan’s Muslim credentials, they would have launched into a diatribe about how he is a shame to the Muslim ummah and destined for hell for his ‘irreligious actions’.

Invariably, his perfectly harmonious marriage to a Hindu woman would have been cited as un-Islamic and a “gunah-e-kabira” (the greatest sin). His children, whose safety they now care for more than that of at-risk Pakistani children, would have been christened as illegitimate progeny. His work and entire career, from which he derives his rozi, would have been termed haraam because his films have music and women in revealing clothing.

So what has changed now? Have his secular beliefs and choices suddenly become acceptable to pious people like Hafiz Saeed? If it really is all about his Muslim identity, why wasn’t Khan hailed as a hero for his work when he co-produced and acted in a film which spoke out against stereotyping of Muslims as terrorists? Didn’t the film give a voice to Muslim men and women, the world over, who are regularly seen with suspicion simply on the basis of faith?

My hope is that in the middle of all this hysteria, somebody will pay attention to the real problem that Khan was trying to point to in his article: our intolerant and jingoistic attitudes that keep us from achieving bigger and better things in life, as people, as a society and as a country.

And that is something that people like Hafiz Saeed can never, ever let nations achieve.

This blog post also appeared on The Express Tribune Blogs’ website here: http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/story/15859/shahrukh-khan-controversy-hype-and-hypocrisy/

 

Movie review: It takes more than an odd name to make a film entertaining

Just when I was convinced that there is nothing that the supremely talented Vishal Bhardwaj can’t do well, he co-writes Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola.

The film, a romantic comedy, has a trite plot with an equally trite leftist message jammed in where something fresher could have made MKBKM a much more enjoyable experience. Matru (Imran Khan) is a law graduate from Delhi University who, like his father before him, works as an all-purpose servant for the wealthy Mandola family, Harry Mandola (Pankaj Kapur) and the apple of his eye his daughter Bijlee Mandola (Anushka Sharma). Although Matru is supposed to be Harry’s driver, what he really is is Harry’s Man Friday, and Kapur and Khan are fantastic as that pair. Matru is also in love with Bijlee but she is engaged to Baadal (Arya Babbar), son of the state’s chief minister Chaudhari Devi (Shabana Azmi), who she met while studying at Oxford.

Harry loves his drink as much as his daughter and is said to have two different personalities when intoxicated and when not. When sober, and a heartless construction contractor, Harry intends to build a Special Economic Zone in place of wheat farms tended by residents of a village nearby who are led to resistance by a man who calls himself Mao (dear lord!) and communicates with the villagers only through letters written in red (dear, dear lord!). When drunk, Harry transforms into an irreverent Sikh whose takyakalaam is a gaali that involves sisters. Not fully aware of it, he sides with the farmers, leading a movement against his own project while singing a song against capitalists at large. Matru, his faithful servant, is of course right next to him. The film is really all about which version of Harry Mandola overcomes the other and there are no points for guessing which side wins.

Kapur is an absolute delight as Harry Mandola – both of them. It is safe to say that he is the star of the show and, with some help from Babbar, pretty much shoulders the entire responsibility of entertaining the audience. Although they are very convincing in their respective roles, Khan is Khan and Sharma is Sharma from any other film. For me, that was disappointing to say the least because as an avid Vishal Bhardwaj fan, I had expected that he would have been able to help them bring out a hidden actor inside them.

Full points to Bhardwaj for maintaining his signature rustic style and for keeping the film crisp and short; a minute longer and it could have been a disaster like his last film Saat Khoon Maaf. The music, like the dialogue (both done by Bhardwaj), is fun and quirky and songs are very nicely picturised without wasting precious film time. However, it would have been nice if he had not tried to force his wife Rekha Bhardwaj’s voice on Sharma. Also, why the African Zulu tribe was needed in the film is beyond me.

Verdict: The film reminds one of Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra’s Delhi 6 with a message that is lost on the audience. Not impressed overall but Pankaj Kapur’s performance is not to be missed.

This blog also appeared on The Express Tribune Blogs here: http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/story/15686/matru-ki-bijlee-ka-mandola-im-not-impressed/

 

Why I observed Muharram this year

Ninety-three of us perished yesterday. I don’t mean Pakistanis, I mean Shias. And as much as it pains me to identify myself as something before a Pakistani, this state seems to have left little choice for us.

Since the age of 15, when my parents decided to let me be and decide for myself how far I wanted my religious identity to go, I have been attending fewer and fewer majaalis every year. In some part it has to do with the fact that I got busy building a career for myself, but in some part it was also because I started wondering if the philosophy of marking Muharram as a way of protest really was relevant today. I was always aware that Shias were held as kafirs in many households in my own city and perhaps neighborhood. I also knew that they were being target killed in this country we call home, and I have lost family to it, but I still thought that we may have moved past it.

That was the time when Musharraf was in power. In the haze of his enlightened moderation, my teenage self felt safe. So I stopped going to the juloos as regularly. I also stopped taking Muharram so seriously.

Then, in 2009, the juloos was attacked. Instead of commiserating with us, many of our friends started blaming us for the violence against us. The juloos should be moved out of the city, they suggested. While I gingerly considered the idea, my parents and many other Shias I knew were vehemently opposed to it. I thought they were clinging to tradition.

Three years later, after spending a terror-filled Muharram each year and losing thousands of more Shias to brutal targeted attacks, I realized that what I had earlier dismissed as “tradition” was as relevant as ever. So then, I questioned, why shouldn’t the protest continue? And that is why I, a latent member of the Shia community, decided to observe Muharram this year. This was my way of saying no to the terrorists, of supporting religious diversity in this country. I have no intention of ever trying to convince anyone that my belief is more pure than theirs, but I have every intention to tell everyone that my belief never has and never will let the Yazeedi armies take over.

The protest is still alive, and we are still living what we have been mourning for hundreds of years. Imam Hussain’s followers, in principle or even just in ritual, are out on the streets even today to fight against fellow Muslims the way Imam Hussain did. And they are dying for it just as Imam Hussain did.

I never really needed a reason to become sure of my belief, but now I have found one. I only wish it didn’t have to be so violent.

Save us. Save religious diversity in this country. Save your right to dissent from the majority. Save your country from soaking in the blood of genocide of its own people.

This blog also appeared on The Express Tribune Blogs here: http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/story/15595/why-i-observed-muharram-this-year/

 

How Bollywood entertained us in 2012…outside the cinema!

Here’s hoping you enjoyed this recap of a select few entertaining news stories from 2012 in Bollywood. Happy New Year – may the entertainment continue full-throttle in 2013!

What would Bollywood be without drama? And I don’t mean just the films.

The lives of former stars, current stars and even potential stars are scrutinised to death, sometimes over the most trivial of issues. Here, we compile a list of some of the more interesting, albeit inconsequential and even silly, controversies from 2012.

The Shahrukh Khan chronicles:

For the King of Bollywood, Shah Rukh Khan (SRK), this was not a good year for the most part. In the first half of the year, he was embroiled in two controversies – fist fights, no less – leading to Bollywood gossip pundits spelling the end of him. In the latter part, however, he pulled a coup – his name will go down in history as the hero of Bollywood kingmaker Yash Chopra’s last directorial venture.

In January 2012, Indian news outlets were abuzz with news that Shah Rukh Khan had slapped best chum Farah Khan’s husband Shirish Kunder at a party thrown by Sanjay and Maanyata Dutt for their wedding anniversary. Reportedly, the fight was initiated by Kunder, who was extremely drunk and had been following SRK around, making provocative remarks. Earlier, he had also sent out a distasteful tweet about SRK’s brainchild Ra.One which was unable to perform to expectations.

SRK and Kunder have never had a good equation. Rumour has it that even when Kunder was working as an editor on Om Shanti Om (the most recent film that Khan and SRK produced together), SRK was not particularly convinced of Kunder’s talents. This led to a souring in the friendship between SRK and Khan, and Tees Maar Khan (TMK) then went to Akshay Kumar with no contribution from SRK at all. A month before TMK was to release, both SRK and Khan appeared on their common buddy Karan Johar’s TV show ‘Koffee With Karan’ (on separate episodes, of course) and admitted to their strained relationship.

At the end, Kunder apologised for his obnoxious behaviour, but sadly SRK and Khan’s relationship appears permanently damaged. Had Khan taken a page from Kajol’s book (discussed later in this blog) and responded a little maturely by not getting involved in the men’s fight and giving public statements about it, perhaps there would still be a door open for the two former best friends to at least repair their friendship.

SRK was back amid similar news in May, when he got involved in a brawl with officials of a cricket stadium in Mumbai, where his Indian Premier League team Kolkata Knight Riders had just won a match. Officials said he was drunk and had behaved “improperly”, while SRK maintained that the officials had manhandled children and then abused him when he went in to stop them. He was eventually banned from the stadium for five years but his team KKR is allowed to play at the stadium.

“Saifeena”

Meanwhile, in February chotay nawab (young sir) Saif Ali Khan was also part of some bad news involving a scuffle, which was surprising given his squeaky clean reputation as a gentleman. Reportedly, the fight broke out at Taj Hotel in Mumbai, when a businessman complained to the management about the noise being made by Khan and his friends who were having dinner at a table nearby. Khan, apparently drunk, punched the man in the face and was arrested by police, eventually getting bailed out.

The case hasn’t died down yet and a charge sheet was filed against Khan this month.

That wasn’t his only share in Bollywood controversies this year. His marriage to long-time girlfriend superstar Kareena Kapoor in October was the cause of all kinds of speculation. Will Kapoor convert to Islam? Will she at least change her name to Kareena Kapoor Khan? Will Khan’s children attend the wedding? Was Kapoor no longer part of director Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s film Ram Leela?

Will they marry according to the Hindu tradition or Muslim tradition? That last one got a little out of hand, with some Indian Muslim clerics, including leading seminary Darul Uloom Deoband, termed the Saifeena marriage as “anti-Islam.” The actors, of course, reacted the way they have reacted to everything else: with class.

May you have a great and long life together, Saif and Kareena!

Controversy, however, was the flavour of the month in May.

Aamir Khan is fake?

If SRK had stirred up a controversy in that month, his archrival Aamir Khan wasn’t far behind. His immensely popular and well-done television show “Satyamev Jayate”, which debuted in May and ended in August, won a whole lot of praise. But critics didn’t let go of any opportunity to malign Khan’s admirable decision to use his star power for a cause much greater than selling toothpaste (sorry SRK, I still love you!).

From allegations that the show’s emotional content was doctored to claims that this was Khan’s attempt at trying to stay relevant (oh come on!), a million attempts were made to sabotage what the real purpose of “SMJ” was. But, although, the show managed to ruffle some feathers, all was hunky dory until a man who had appeared on the show decided to speak out against khap panchayats was shot dead in November.

I wonder if this will have an impact on the decision of Star Network, which aired the first season of “SMJ”, to go ahead with a second season of the show. It will be sad and unfortunate, to say the least, if the channel chooses to back out.

Hats off, Aamir Khan!

And for those arguing he was proving his relevance, once again: come on!

The Dutt and Varma blame game:

The one controversy where I feel personally involved (because I was among the four people in the theatre who put themselves through the torture of it) is the Department debacle. The film, directed by seasoned director Ram Gopal Varma, starred Sanjay Dutt and Amitabh Bachchan. Yet it is one of the most difficult films I have ever had to sit through.

And what is most annoying is that nobody is willing to take responsibility for it with Dutt and Varma blaming each other for the film’s complete failure and refusing to ever work together again. Varma claimed that Dutt was hindering his creative process while the actor and producer says that the director insisted on using 5D cameras which led to the disaster that the film was.

While Dutt is no stranger to controversy and has earlier blamed directors for his films’ bad performance, Varma has also been losing the magic touch from his wonderful films likeRangeela and Darna Manaa Hai.

It’s difficult to decide who to pin the blame on and if the two will ever go back to working together, but given Dutt and Varma’s recent work, it won’t be much of a loss for Bollywood.

Phew! That’s a lot of stories and I am not even finished with the month yet!

Amitabh-Jaya-Rekha love triangle rekindled?

As if new ones weren’t enough, an old Bollywood controversy was rekindled when yesteryear superstar Rekha joined the Indian upper house as a member. While Rekha took an oath, television cameras zoomed in on Amitabh Bachchan’s wife Jaya Bachchan who is also a member of the house.

Why, you ask?

Well, do you remember the evergreen Yash Chopra classic Silsila?

At that time, rumours were rife that Mr Bachchan and Rekha were having an extra-marital affair and with the two women under the same roof again, the Indian media had a field day with this “replay of Silsila”. Mrs Bachchan was very unhappy with the media focus on her, but clearly the Indian public was not!

Two months later, in July, Mr Bachchan himself was in the news. As he carried the torch at the London Olympics, a group of Sikhs gathered outside the venue to protest Bachchan’s alleged incitement of murders of Sikhs in 1984, following the assassination of former Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi that year. However, none of the mainstream news outlets of Britain or India reported this event.

Oh my God, Akshay Kumar!

Talking about protests, we move on to September when a film named OMG! Oh My Godcreated headlines because of it’s, shall we say bold, plot.

The film, produced by superstar Akshay Kumar and Paresh Rawal, shows Rawal as an atheist whose shop of moortis is destroyed during an earthquake. When he tries to file a claim with his insurance company, they tell him that they do not cover damages caused by “acts of God”.

The man then sues God in court, making representatives of Hinduism, Christianity and Islam respondents in the case. Hindu groups, including the fundamentalist Shiv Sena and semi-militant Bajrang Dal, led protests across Punjab and even managed to have the film’s screenings cancelled throughout the state.

The producers, however, have refused to apologise for the film that they say is only “anti-ritualistic” not “anti-religion”. Despite the brouhaha, the film managed to do well enough and that’s because of the strength of the research that has gone into making the film. It is a must watch, and do see it if you haven’t already.

On a side note, I must congratulate India on their thorough secularism, which allowed such a film to be thought of, made and presented in cinemas across the country.

There was a similar reaction in November to the song “Radha” in the film Student of the YearFIRs were reportedly lodged against the film’s producers Karan Johar and Gauri Khan, but the matter is still pending.

Barfi! sweet and sue-able?

Back in September, Ranbir Kapoor starred Barfi! It was officially nominated as India’s entry to the Oscars. But the decision was widely criticised and the film called “copied” down to its soundtrack. The director Anurag Basu, of course, defended his plagiarism as “inspiration” from other films; at one point even citing Martin Scorsese’s Hugo as a similar attempt to pay homage to cinema. But good thing that Barfi! did not make it to the Oscars’ short list because watching the film was really like sitting through an amalgamation of Charlie Chaplin films!

SRK and Devgan troubles, poor Kajol!

SRK is clearly controversy’s favourite child because the year started with something about him and it ended the same way. This time, it was the release date in November of his film Jab Tak Hai Jaan. While I continue to wonder why this useless film was even made, I would give it some respect because it was the last film that the great Yash Chopra made himself.

This is why it was in such bad taste when Ajay Devgan, the producer of Son of Sardaar, claimed that Yash Raj Films was using its “dominant position” to push his film out of screen options and served YRF a legal notice.

The Competition Commission of India, however, rejected Devgn’s plea. Here’s a lesson for Farah Khan: Kajol, Devgn’s wife and SRK’s oldest best friend, reacted very maturely to the issue.

Here’s hoping you enjoyed this recap of a select few entertaining news stories from 2012 in Bollywood.

Happy New Year – may the entertainment continue full-throttle in 2013!

Thank you for inviting us, India!

I want to thank India for taking that first step, that most difficult decision, to tell the terrorists to their face that they refuse to let them hold billions of people hostage to their ideology of hate. PHOTO: AFP

It’s official: the most exciting cricket series of the year will kick off on December 25, when arch-rivals Pakistan and India meet in a Twenty20 International match in Bangalore.

Promptly, and almost expectedly, chief of Shiv Sena, India’s equivalent of Pakistan’s assorted anti-India groups, Bal Thackeray came out with an asinine statement calling the Board of Control for Cricket in India’s invitation to the Pakistan cricket team a matter of “national shame”.

For me, his statement has done little more than set the stage for a series I have craved sincePak-India ties came to an abrupt halt in 2007.

But my worry extends beyond Shiv Sena. Following the Mumbai attack of November 2008, it’s not just the crazies on both sides of the border who have opposed a resumption of Pak-India ties – cricketing and otherwise.

When speculations first surfaced that Pakistan may be touring India, veteran cricketer Sunil Gavaskar – who has always expressed open appreciation for Pakistani talent – had opposed the decision. As a Mumbaiker, he said, he was hurt by the BCCI’s decision to revive India-Pakistan cricket ties despite what he called Pakistan’s non-cooperation in the probe into the Mumbai attacks, which killed 166 people, most of them Indians. Pakistani national Ajmal Kasab has been sentenced to death for his involvement in the attack and is waiting on the Indian president’s decision on his appeal for clemency.

I remember that statement vividly, because as a Pakistani and a cricket fan, it had hurt me. But as a supporter of peace and non-expansionist foreign policy, I agreed with him. And with every Indian citizen who feels that way.

I hang my head in shame.

In such a situation, I wouldn’t be surprised if Pakistani players feel a little more thanunwelcome on Indian soil. As a citizen of a country where terrorists from various nationalities seem to feel at home and where they violate territorial sovereignty at will, I can feel the Indians’ pain perhaps with more clarity than they think many Pakistanis can. It is never a good feeling to see the piece of earth from where you derive your identity soaked in the blood of its own people.

This is why, I want to thank India. I want to thank the BCCI and I want to thank every single Indian government official who was involved in making this tour possible. I want to thank them for at least trying to overcome their absolutely legitimate anger over the Mumbai atrocity and their disappointment with Pakistan. I want to thank the Indian cricket team for finally upholding the spirit of cricket.

And, most of all, I want to thank India for taking that first step, that most difficult decision, to tell the terrorists to their face that they refuse to let them hold billions of people hostage to their ideology of hate.

As the newly-appointed Indian external affairs minister Salman Khurshid put it,

“It is a conflict (deadlock over the Mumbai attack) on which there must be delivery of expectations that we have but we don’t want the clock to come to a standstill, clock does move forward…”

I have never been one to buy into the ‘it’s a South Asian victory’ view, but in this series, the victor will truly be the two nations who have remained estranged for way too long.

Let the games begin!

Student of the Year: A trip down memory lane

If you’ve missed the quintessential KJo/Yashraj films style, you will definitely walk out happy after watching STOY. PHOTO: PUBLICITY

It is the mash up of the year but still somehow manages to be its own film.

 Karan Johar’s Student of the Year (SOTY) will remind you of at least four films: Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham, Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikander, Main Hoon Na and Aisha. There’s also a bit of Rang De Basanti somewhere (rich father constantly putting down his eccentric son) and Dostana (gay principal; gay editor).

However, that’s not necessarily a bad thing when a film is as entertaining as SOTY and has the vintage KJo feel to it without being a tear-jerker.

Contrary to popular perception before the film’s release, SOTY is not a souped-up version of Kuch Kuch Hota Hai. In fact, it did not remind me of KKHH at all, probably because the short-skirt-wearing, bag-toting girl from KKHH (played by Rani Mukerji) had a lot more brains than the equivalent character in SOTY (played by Alia Bhatt). It may be a traditional love triangle like KKHH but it carries a message and herein lays the difference: there is a point to SOTY.

The film is set in a high school in Dehradun, known for its cold climate – a fact you can only tell by the clothes worn by the men but, in memory of Yash Chopra who started the trend of heroines dressing up in summer clothes regardless, I shall let that go. Every year, the school organises a competition titled Student of the Year, instituted by its principal (the super-talented Rishi Kapoor), which earns the winner an admission to an Ivy League college with a full scholarship awarded by the school. Although, in the 25th year of its institution, the competition ends up taking a life of its own and that is what the film is about.

The central characters are Rohan Nanda (Varun Dhawan, son of film-maker David Dhawan who is known for his ‘No.1’ film series) and Abhimanyu Singh (Siddharth Malhotra). Rohan is the son of business tycoon Ashok Nanda (played very well by Ram Kapoor) and tries to appear shallow in an effort to hide his pain over the fact that his father considers his dreams of becoming a rock star absurd. Abhimanyu is a hardworking, middle-class guy who earns a sports scholarship to an elite school, where he meets Rohan and Shanaya (Alia Bhatt, daughter of veteran film-maker Mahesh Bhatt) who are the school’s most popular couple.

I was always a fan of KJo’s business acumen and after SOTY and his selection of these three new, completely fresh faces, I have become a believer. Siddharth is hot, hot, hot, but also really, really talented. Varun I found to be even better than Siddharth, given his superior dancing skills and earthier feel that should open him up to a variety of roles. Alia has also not done a bad job at all. Given the fact that her character is quite reminiscent of Kareena Kapoor Khan’s from K3G and Sonam Kapoor’s from Aisha, Alia comes off as effortlessly classy although, she still has to develop the oomph that Kareena had even back then.

Rishi Kapoor is absolutely fantastic, and in this latter part of his career, he is shown how versatile he really is. The last film that I saw of him was Agneepath in which he played the character of a despicable drug-peddler Rauf Lala. In SOTY, he goes all the way back to his usual adorable and cuddly self.

The production value, as expected, is high and makes the viewers’ experience pleasant. Most jokes are actually funny, the chemistry between the two male leads is great and the film does not drag at any point. Without being preachy, SOTY has a clear message which is relevant to whatever point you are in life.

It is also obvious that the production team has paid a lot of attention to characterisation as each supporting character behaves in a way that can be expected of it at any given situation. Even the female characters, despite completely useless personalities, are useful in the context of the film.

One of the things that I found particularly annoying is the fact that none of the good songs are original. From Nazia Hasan’s “Disco Deewane” to Indian classic “Gulabi aankhein jo teri dekheen”, songs that are the most enjoyable are “inspired” from somewhere else. I wish Vishal-Shekhar had gone ahead and performed their magic like they did in Dostana, Anjaana Anjaani and Kurbaan. However credit should be given where it is due, the songs are very well designed and choreographed.

Do go watch SOTY and if you’ve missed the quintessential KJo/Yashraj films style, you will definitely walk out happy. If you take my advice to go see it, then do leave a comment in the section below and tell me which film it reminded you of!

Movie Review: Why Heroine is a let-down

Heroine fails to match the glamour and grandeur Kareena naturally brings to the film. PHOTO: PUBLICITY

I must begin by lamenting the fact that I blew off most of the Pakistan versus Bangladesh World T20 match to go watch Madhur Bhandarkar’s Heroine.

Yes, the emphasis is on Bhandarkar, not lady lovable Kareena Kapoor. I have been a Bhandarkar fan since Page 3 and, with Fashion, he demonstrated to an extent that he was capable of working with bigger names like Priyanka Chopra. However, the director is really just a star of multiplex cinemas and disappoints with Heroine.

When you make a film with a super-duper star like Kareena Kapoor, everything else must also match the glamour and grandeur she naturally brings to the film. Heroine fails to do so. The production value – considering a front face of perhaps Bollywood’s most celebrated female actor of the time – is pretty low. The writing is terrible and the script leaves a lot to be desired, including a real climax.

The film’s aura (thanks to some skillful publicity) was bigger than the film itself ─  something that doesn’t suit Bhandarkar whose previous films have not relied on publicity to become the hits that they are.

Mahi Arora (Kareena) is shown to be a superstar – though I found her only a struggling starlet, not a superstar – who keeps making one after another wrong decision. The pill-popping and alcoholism do nothing to establish her character as a reigning queen, because that is not the way any of the top-tier Bollywood heroines live. Mahi’s heart is in the right place but her mind, of which she doesn’t seem to have enough, is not.

The audiences should thank God that miss straight face Aishwarya Rai Bachchan was replaced by Kareena, who is absolutely fantastic in the film. I can say with certainty that no other female actor could have fit the role and done it as brilliantly as she has. With her harrowing eyes and ghostly white complexion, Kareena is every bit the lost soul in a cruel world that refuses to wait until she finds her feet.

While Kareena was supposed to bring the sex quotient in the film, it is Arjun Rampal who does. He doesn’t do much in terms of acting, but then again when has he ever? However, that’s never bad news for us women. Divya Dutta is great in her role as a shrewd public relations executive and, together with Kareena, adds a lot of colour to an otherwise bland film.

In the film’s defence, it is not a rip-off of Fashion as so many commentators have said pre- and post-film. There may be some glimpses but the films are actually quite different.

For one, Fashion was a lot bolder than Heroine.

In Fashion, Bhandarkar bared it all, but in Heroine, he seems a little more careful about not crossing certain lines. The film, for instance, has a character designed along the lines of cricketer Yuvraj Singh (played well by Randeep Hooda) but has no characters to portray the roles that the three Khans and Karan Johar play in the Indian film industry. A Bollywood film can never be complete without mentioning them as they are undoubtedly the most influential people in the industry.

There are also some great shots as Bhandarkar is very good with symbolism. My favourite part was when Mahi goes to attend the funeral of a senior female actor Shagufta Rizvi (played by Helen), whom she often goes to for solace, and media-men and women descend on her like bloodthirsty hawks. Her white scarf is snatched away and journalists think nothing of walking over it in trying to get a sound bite out of Mahi.

In the end, I will say only this: if you are going to employ the sort of publicity for your film that Karan Johar or Yash Chopra do, you must make sure that your film also has the look and feel of the grand dreamland that they create in their films. Otherwise, it feels like something is amiss and that’s what I felt as I walked out from the cinema after watching Heroine.

PHOTOS: PUBLICITY