Archive for the ‘Current Events’ Category

IFFI : The 2015 Indian International Film Festival

The International Film Festival in Goa was a huge success.

In India we like to criticize. Its why we are the world’s largest and most vibrant democracy. It also why it makes us some of the most cynical people in the world.

I was the Chairman of the Jury for International Films in the competitive section for the films. I was surprised how well the festival went. Not only me, but our fellow jurors were surprised too.  By the quality of films we watched.  By the quality of the sound and the projection in the theaters.  By the sheer number of audiences that attended the screenings.  Theaters were full.  Why would they not be ? Some of the latest and the best films were being shown.  Films that had not even been released anywhere in the world yet.  Films that have only just been nominated in various categories for 2016 Golden Globes.

My fellow jurors were astounded by the response of the audiences.  They had rarely seen such large number of film lovers turn up at film festivals. They were taken aback by the number of people that flocked to take autographs of Directors and by the number of people that attended the Master Classes taken by directors.  They loved Goa and were so happy with the hospitality of the people, the Festival and the ambience that is Goa.  And were appreciative of the organization of the festival.

There was criticism that there was no glitter and glamour at the festival. That the stars of Indian Cinema, the Gods and Goddesses, were not present.  I have a different point of view. A film festival is not an awards function.  Its not an event that hankers after, or is dependent upon TV coverage. World over, at the important film festivals in the world, Stars attend the festival only when their films are being shown.  They use the festival to showcase their films and to get publicity.

But then, the films in which the stars act, should be of a standard that competes with the other films being shown at the festival.

There are improvements to be made.  I know of no festival in the world that succeeds without a Curator.  One person, that creates a special relationship with the film makers from all over the world, and is constantly in touch with the films being made.  And then with his/her team, creates the strategy for selections of the films for that year.  The Curators are often associated with one festival for 10 or more years, and have a keen insight into trends of world cinema. IFFI needs a curator that becomes the individual face of the festival.

And perhaps a little more infrastructure.  If IFFI has to grow it needs more theaters and more conference areas, where people can hold discussions, or just hang out and network with other film makers, buyers, writers and film buffs and audiences generally.

 

 

We the People

While the world’s attention was held by scenes of violence in Libya and elsewhere, it completely missed one of the most significant movements in a Democratic governance any where in the world.  An experiment, if it works will be a model for the rest of the world to follow. An experiment in which Civil Society has an active say over governance above the Parliament not just once every 5 years, but continuously over the term of a government in power.

It may be an experiment that is just too complex to handle given the bureaucratic tangles of the Indian Political and Administrative system. Or it may just work.  The Jan Lokpal Bill as it is called has still to be passed by Parliament. Has a Parliament anywhere in the world voted for strong strictures on it’s own functioning?

It might just. Why ?

Because the Bill, or at least a more lenient version of it has been outstanding for over 40 years with no Government in power actually havig the gumption to push it through. But right now there is a chance of it being pushed through not because the Indian Politicians have had a sudden change of heart.  But because one 74 year old activist took up a revered method of protest in India and galvanized large populations all over India in protest s that spilled over into the streets.

He went on a hunger strike for 12 days. And while the Government thought they would solve the problem by throwing him and his core team into prison, all they were effective in doing was galvanizing even more popular support for him. For 12 days it was a ‘see who blinks first’ contest between the Government and 74 year old Anna Hazare.  And fearing large scale violence in the event of Anna Hazare’s death the Government blinked first.  And the people rejoiced.

And while hunger strikes are not an uncommon method of protest in India, ( ‘Iron’  Sharmila Chanu has been on one for 11 years, being force fed http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irom_Chanu_Sharmila ) , Anna Hazare’s tool was a simple, effective and hit the depths of almost every Indian’s consciousness. Like Gandhi’s simple message to the British of ‘Quit India’, Anna Hazare’s message was an ‘anti corruption movement’.

Corruption has been at the heart of Indian Political, Administrative, Police and Judicial system, certainly since Independence 65 years ago, maybe before. The presence of which has been resented by those that are victims of it (almost 90% of India) , and celebrated by those that manage to benefit from it.  But its the sheer size of it that has suddenly brought it into focus, with amounts moving into Billions of Dollars and arising from a vast network of Political/ Business alliances.

Some say it is a cultural trait.  I have different reasons.

The Indian Constitution was written for a population at that time of 350 million people. For a largely middle aged, and mostly rural demographic. In a world which did not change much over the five year tenure that a Government had.  It was also written at a time where the general perception was of a populations resistant to change, that lacked mobility, and one where the Founding Fathers assumed would need to be led and nudged into modernity.

If some one had told the Founding Fathers that time that India would head towards a population of 1.3 Billion with 65% under the age of 25, aspiring to modernize, urbanize and partake of a world that was constantly changing on a dime, perhaps they would have thought differently.

Though it was not the principles laid down in India’s constitution that were wrong.  In fact it is reputed to be one of the fairest, most just and precise Constitutional document’s in any Democracy.  The problem lay in the Political, Administrative and Judicial systems that were set up to support that constitution. Systems that were reflective of the Inertia of those times. An Inertia that over time has come into increasing conflict with modern India. Overloaded, unresponsive and uwilling to change, the people responded with the only way they had to overcome the wall of Inertia they faced in their every day lives.  Bribing their way to either survive, to get justice , or to gain vast favors for themselves.

We must wait to see if Anna Hazare’s Jan Lokpal Bill manages to control corrupt practices or just adds another layer to a large inert bureaucratic machine. But even of the bill does not go through Parliament, Anna Hazare’s movement has achieved huge success. It has brought notice to the Members of the Parliament that their decisions are not just unto themselves. That however effective or ineffective the final Bill maybe it has put all members of the Political Class on notice. But more…

The movement has raised the people of India from their slumber. Not just the disenfranchised, the poor and the hungry, the hopeless.   But the vast middle classes of India who took to the streets. The educated, the students, the ones with jobs to lose, the ones with hope in their future. Who walked together with their domestic help, with the people they would normally bypass without a glance

And that woke the vast Indian Political system from it’s slumber.  Because the urban and semi urban middle classes of India that usually are the bulwark of stability in any Democracy, were screaming on the streets asking almost to overthrow the political system.  No Government, current or the future,  could be safe if that happened. Howls of protest from within the walls of the parliament shouted hoarse that to strike at the Parliament meant a strike at Democracy.  That Anna Hazare’s movement was undemocratic.  They were wrong.

The Parliament is a political  system designed to serve the principles of Democracy laid down in the Indian Constitution. It is not Democracy in itself.  And the Founding Fathers got this one completely right.  The first words in the Indian Constitution are ‘ We the People of India’, and the rest followed. Anna Hazare’s movement had used protest as a tool to make the largest Democracy in the world far far more vibrant,

And the World did not notice that this was done with not shot fired, not an ounce of violence. India’s  second coming was completely peaceful.

The Arab Renaissance :There is no partial freedom of the mind

As Libyan dictatorship falls, and the people of Yemen, Morocco, Bahrain and Jordan gather together in a quest to free themselves from dictators or dictatorial Monarchy, this article I had published before becomes more important. Especially because the West had earlier aligned themselves to so many of these Monarchies or Dictatorships that are now (hopefully) falling. What would the US do if the Saud family who rule Saudi Arabia fall ? We should view these freedom movements as potentially beneficial to all of us, as I see this as an Arab Renaissance. So I am republishing it.

“You cannot free a mind just to contain it with in boundaries. And when the collective mind gets free it multiplies the surge of new thinking, new art, new industry and new systems. It represents a surge in optimism and also therefore a surge in tolerance and secularism.

But it also entails a surge in the vulnerability as people explore a new found freedom.? As they pursue a dream that have dreamt in private and often in fear for many years. It represents a yearning and an almost impossible optimism often.? There lies the danger and vulnerability.? Any suggestion of controls of that freedom, a perceived violation of the newly discovered joys and optimism, can turn into a surge of anger and disappointment. At that time the vultures of fundamentalism, of terrorism, of extremist thought are waiting to feed quickly on the corpses of those dreams.

What the intense renaissance that is happening all over the Arab word needs therefore are new? leaders that can channel this new energy to take the once great civilizations back to the glory they knew. For if they do not, the vultures are waiting on the sidelines.? What happened in Egypt was so mature that it needs now very very mature leadership and systems to protect that maturity.

And I am afraid it needs far more maturity from the West.? There is nothing called ‘partial freedom of the mind’.? It is either free or it is not. The Tunisians are coming in their hundreds illegally to Italy. Once they came as unwelcome refugees.? Now the whole Western world has supported their fight to democracy. Encouraged their new found courage.? Now they come to Europe with same courage and expect to be treated as friends.? Did the whole world not encourage and applaud the Tunisians and hail them for their great revolutionary courage?? Now you cannot just hrow them into prisons.

As the people of Bahrain rebel against their rulers, the US must be worried about where their Third Fleet will go if the people decide NOT to have US naval bases in Bahrain.? You cannot encourage people to ask for democracy and then not bend to the will of those very people.? The West cannot then try and protect the Shia rulera against Sunni majorities, or vice versa.? The rulers of Saudi Arabia are of course now vulnerable.? Iranian people are potentially the best friends of the Egyptians and Bahraini people.? These are the new realities.

The West needs to re asses it role in the whole of the Arab world and can no longer be double sided. The Arab people are changing their destinies and are looking to shake of colonial shackles – it’s time that they did.? They were once the greatest sources of Culture, Astronomy , Mathematics , Medicine etc.? We should look forward to their re emergence and not view them any longer form one point of view-.

Oil ..”

Shekhar

An accident on London Streets

This picture has a peculiar story. I was rushing by Piccadilly in London not sure what was happening and just clicked on it. A very large man standing next to me looked at me accusingly

” what the fuck did you shoot that for”

I looked carefully and realized it was an accident. Mumbled an apology and left. I had obviously upset his sensibilities and it was understandable. As I was a bit away he shouted

” You shit head”

I thought about a confrontation. Decided I would do so, and went back to him.

” Do you watch TV ??” I said.

“what business is it of yours, but yes”

“and you watch video’s of Afghan kids dying on the streets, and Iraqi civilians with their limbs blown off, and every where else that your troops have caused death and destruction and your media has gleefully put them on your TV and you watch them. But it’s not OK for me to shoot something in the street of London that may have been an accident ? Why ?”

I wish I could send him this picture to compare mine to the ones media shows.

I was being unreasonable I knew, but was angry. I was actually angry at all the the hype being given to the new Wiki leaks about what the US and British troops did. Like the world did not know all this was going on ? What kind of naivety is that ?

Bhopal: A voice of concern from Udipi in Karnataka

This is from a very concerned citizen, Mr Balakrishnan Reddy :

Sir, I saw and heard your comments about the Bhopal tragedy. We almost have similar situation happening in the coastal Udupi district of Karnataka. The 1200mw coal based power project is being built by the rich Congress MP Mr. L. Rajagopal’s company Lanco in total violation of the Environment Protection Act. They have shifted the project from the approved site, did not conduct public hearing, the chimney is on the flight path to Mangalore Airport and seems to be vibrating when a heavy vehicle passes on the nearby roads, vandalized the properties of the project affected with goons from the underworld, no rehabilitation, and compensation at the rate they preferred.

Several explosions took place in the site and a large of number of immigrant laborers died without even registering cases by the police. The seawater is discharged into agricultural fields and streams and a large number of drinking water wells are now poisoned. The Company cleverly is bribing the BJP govt as well as some in the Congress. Justice P D Dinakaran has not heard the PIL filed in 2005 and now not posting before other benches as he does not preside over the court at the moment. We are in a very difficult situation and though we do get coverage from the local press occassionally in Kannada it is inaffective at the national level.

I wrote several letters of representations to all the concerned authorities including Jairam Ramesh but no result. The only source could be the TV channels such as CNN IBN, NDTV 24×7 and Times Now who can expose the truth behind this power project. the proejct is granted without competitive bidding as required in Electricity Act and yet govt has offered soverein guarantee, escrow cover and revolving letter of credit and have also issued NOC for further expansion. I tried my best to attract the attention of these channels but they seem to be more interested in the North. I wonder whether you could help us to expose these people.

Bhopal Gas Tragedy : The great sell out by the government of India.

25 years after the greatest industrial accident in the world. 25 years after over 25,000 perished in an agonizing death on the terrible night when the deadly gas leaked out of the Union Carbide chemical factory in Bhopal, India. Or in slow tortureous deaths in the few weeks following that night as people saw their loved ones wither away with little medical help. And as the city of Bhopal began to look like a huge mortuary.

And 25 years later after the hundreds of thousands that were affected by the gas have mostly perished to it’s long term effects, the court finally delivered their judgement today.

It’s a completely irrelavant judgement. For those on whose shoulders lie the responsibility of this avoidable, irresponsible, completely mismanaged accident, have long since made their deals with the government of India and gone. It was one of the greatest and most brutal sellout by the government of India and it’s courts of the people of India.

Union Carbide (a US corporation) that sold an outdated and unsafe technology to it’s Indian co, did a $ 470 million pay out to the Government of India and completely absolved itself of all responsibility, blaming local mishandling. Their CEO, Warren Anderson was spirited out of India, aided and abetted by the Government, within a few days of the accident – never to return despite summons by the courts. Had this accident occurred in the US and be bound by US laws even 25 years ago, the legal compensation would have wiped out the market value of Union Carbide and many Insurance Co’s with it. It would have run into 10’s (if not 100’s) of billions of dollars. And the compensation would have continued today as the people of Bhopal continue to suffer from the thousands of cases of cancer and incurable birth defects in children born to the parents of the people that inhaled the gas on the terrible night. And as toxic waste continues to seep into and through the ground water 25 years later.

But who cared about the poor people of Bhopal ? Certainly not our own Government who like cannibals preyed upon their own people. Apparently very little of the paltry $ 470 million that was paid went to helping the people that suffered, a large part being diverted to the pockets of corrupt officials. The excuse used was that you could not tell who was a victim of the gas tragedy and who was not. As if.

25 years later, are we making the same mistakes ? The law is supposed to be a deterrent to crimes being committed again. This judgement just proves that you could do anything in India and get away with it. Even kill thousands and thousands of people.

If there are people who read this blog and would like to share personal experiences in Bhopal on that tragic day, I will happily publish them, just so we do not forget, nor forgive.

Heart of Darkness, Guest Column by Sudhir Mishra

The Naxal crisis has blown up in our face because of our vanity. We have failed to see it as a valid militancy because at the heart of it is desperate poverty. Extremism is often the curse of the impecunious. While the insurgency in Kashmir can still be seen as a diplomatic tangle, or terrorism originating in the North-East as a war of identity, the Naxal crisis is naked in its despair. Unless urban India rises up to the obscenities of inequality that have underlined this militancy, it will be akin to Nero, the Roman emperor of yore, fiddling his thumbs whilst Rome was burning.

Lets start with a very simple beginning: lets pay attention to the crisis. One obvious symptom of the malaise is that the only interface between the government and the people cannot be the police. It must be development work.

One argument could be that how can development work start when extremism is so rampant. To this, I wish to say, that even in Uttar Pradesh, where I am currently, there is barely any Naxal activity, but there certainly is no developmental work happening either! We need to stop asking the question, Why is Bihar poor That is elementary. Let us instead ask ourselves, How did Bihar become poor If this crisis is about tribals losing their land because the government wants to go on a mining binge, let tribals too participant in this orgy. There must be a vision of a state, and it must be shared by all. There are some very respected names who have worked on a grassroots level with very specific areas, men with a deep knowledge of peoples grievances and unjust histories. The government should be eager to engage them. I dont see that.

I am not proposing Gandhism, even though some great Gandhians have done radical work in the worst-affected zones in the Naxal heartland, districts that have seen generations of negligence. What I am saying is that given the problems of a pluralist society such as India, if there can be a Special Economic Zone (SEZ), there is always scope for a Special Government Zone (SGZ).

That said, Naxals will have to give up violence. There is a deep irony at the heart of this bloodshed: a poor policeman posted in the middle of nowhere (nowhere for us on the fringes, geographically at least) is also choosing such a job out of desperation. He must be poor. Killing him is not the way to win a war. The war can only be won by consensus. And our urban classes, that can celebrate a Fashion Week with exotic variations of fabric, but fail to see the irony of a cotton farmer killing himself a hundred kilometres away, will have to see the grotesque injustices that still exist at the heart of their beloved nation. We should lose our vanity and come to terms with the fact that there is a desperately impecunious nation at the centre of all this. The economic liberalization has hugely benefitted the urban middle-class. Let us begin to share the spoils, as they say.

The answer to the Naxal crisis is dependent on urban Indians reaching out. They owe a great responsibility to the disadvantaged, because if a nation is to progress, it must take all people along with it. I want to be optimistic and believe that this may be possible. But as Desmond Tutu of South Africa once said, Of course there will be forgiveness. But first let there be justice.

(Published in the Mumbai Mirror on May 30th 2010)

Sudhir Mishra has been blogging on cinema at PassionForCinema, and has now begun a new blog on cinema as well as life beyond just cinema, at <a href=”http://sudhirmishra.wordpress.com”>http://sudhirmishra.wordpress.com</a>

IPL: greed caught up with everyone,

IPL was an easy target for the power hungry to swoop down on. It was perfect. There was no land laws or farmer’s lands to forcibly acquire, no licenses for factories, no labour laws. Nothing but an escalating brand at a hyped values that seemed to have no limits. Hyped because the team owners are still in negative cash flow unless they cash in on the brand itself.

Perfect. So perfect that it seemed almost impossible. And so everyone that had power, either in cash or in political clout (often both) swooped down desperately to jump on a train that was fast leaving the tracks.

Except in that desperation they forgot to cover their own tracks. And in the mad crazy tussle that ensued for control and ownership, the contenders forgot an unwritten law in the nexus that has always existed between money, big business and political power. That you do not wash your dirty linen in public.

They did not contend with twitter either. A simple technology that was transferring power to individual voices. Even if those voices were from within the players.

So now the pandora’s box is open. It’s nothing that we did not already know, but for the first time the players are out battling in full public view. Like another game happening outside the stadium that the nation and media is also transfixed by. A nation that should pay more attention to other matters. Like poverty and hunger. Like the fast disappearing fresh water resources. Like terrorism. Like the rebellion from within the country in the form of a Maoist revolt.

I have no doubt that when the fun and games are over, when the media attention has died down, the warring opponents will find a way to resolve the issues and settle down in the same club as if this never happened.

I have no doubt that we will continue to enjoy the pretty fabulous and entertaining game that T20 is, barring those insufferable commercials that take up far more time than the cricket itself. And I have no doubt that other competitors will come in and break the stranglehold that the BCCI has over the Indian players. That will happen as young new players will rebel against the IPL team owners too, and would be willing to join another club. For IPL will gradually erode loyalties to the national team. Which is the real power base of the BCCI

And Lalit Modi will enjoy a quite retirement overseas with his yachts and jets. Shashi Tharoor will continue to win more elections, but will eventually give up and go back to New York and write more books.

And the political opponents will divide the spoils amongst themselves, and the media will divert our attention to some other great melodrama.

After all, does anyone remember the names of the young people that died in the Pune bomb blasts ?

Shashi Tharoor and the politics of Disruption

Whenever change is coming, the people on top of the pile suddenly let go their own differences and unite against the forces of change. Does not matter where you are. People that have spent their life struggling to the top by fair or unfair means have such a strong investment in the existing system, that change can only be brought about by disruption.

Be it in Technology, in Governments, in Corporations and particularly in Politics,

What is emerging clearly is that Shashi Tharoor was such a disruption. One after another I listened to Politicians, experienced TV media personalities, editors of Magazines and Newspapers gloating over his resignation. In fact the whole gamut of an elite club of Politics, Business and Media that are often seemingly on opposite sides, but fundamentlly would not survive without each other. There was a fundamental fear of the type of politician Shashi Tharoor is. One after another they gave themselves away by saying he is not experienced, or mature, or does not respect existing norms and “it takes time to get into and understand the system”. They should have said manipulate.

Time to understand how to work in a manner where you are networked into the undercurrents of handshakes and whispers which have led to one of the most corrupt governance on the Planet ?

Shashi on Twitter also made him a darling of those that were able to adapt to the new technology. If New Media goes the way it is, it would take a away the power of the Gatekeepers of Indian Media, and then who would the Government or Corporations deal with ? Who do you secretly shake hands with when a technology is out there where people talk to each other completely ignoring or disbelieving the Old Media. After all without Twitter the whole IPL scam would not have been exposed.

Shashi recognized the power of the new medium and used it as a very effectively to force attention on himself at his own terms. Without compromise. That was not acceptable to the Old Boys Club. he had to be destroyed. What if all the members of parliament twittered their true opinions from parliament to the public at large ? It would be chaos for the Club, but it would herald the truest form of fluid democracy.

Shashi Tharoor is the first soldier of disruption and like front soldiers they are all shot down. I hope he survives. I hope he is able to explain to the Indian people what really went on in his dealing with the IPL in Kochi and remove all doubt about his integrity.

But mostly I hope there are many more disruptive foot soldiers that are willing to face the bullets of an antiquated corrupt and bloated system that feeds upon the incredible resilience, enterprise and fortitude of the Indian people.

For if there is not, change is coming from outside the political system that is already threatening us more than terrorism. While we all celebrate IPL, there is a revolt brewing in India that is threatening to break us out into civil war. For when a government is forced to send out it’s troops again and against it’s own citizens, what is it but a civil war ?

And I do not buy the argument of elitism. Remember Rajiv Gandhi ? There was a such a groundswell of support for him from every class and caste in India. Why ? Because he was young, fresh, and promised change, he represented hope for the people of India, to somehow change to a better, cleaner and fairer system of governance,

Change, I am afraid in the air, and if not from within the system, it will happen from outside it with dire consequences

MF Hussein again

After I criticized Shree Shree Ravi Shankar’s remarks on MF Hussein, I was perhaps not surprised by the how many aggressive responses I got back. What confused me though is many people responded with the painting being both anti Hindu and anti Nationalist. Are are they now the same thing for many people ?
I think Shree Shree Ravi Shankar’s force does amazing work. Which is why I was surprised at his remarks. For I thought Universal Compassion was at the centre of Hinduism and the Art of Living. If this was a remark from an ordinary person I would not have given it a second thought.
So the question does arise, is “what is Hinduism” and does it need protection from what people are terming as ‘obscene’ art ? (Which I will say again, I do not believe it is).
What is the Hinduism that needs protection ? How do we see Hinduism now. It seems it now has become an ‘identity’ which it was never supposed to be. Not in the Hinduism that I have understood. Hinduism is about the concept of experiencing the ultimate unity of all that is space, time and matter. It is about experiencing the illusion of the ‘Self’.
If anything Hinduism is about the loss of Identity. And yet more and more people are calling these ideas ‘liberal and therefore “pseudo- intellectual’. Is there a new Hinduism that is emerging that has tones of Nationalism in them ?
I wonder how many people who wrote to me would have supported the Islamic Fatwa against Salman Rushdie for writing Satanic Verses ?