Upholding ‘National Culture’

It is believed that there will be a time in the near future when racial discrimination will end, as interracial breeding will lead to a ‘brown’ world that is not divided into portions of black, white, or yellow etc. Perhaps then, the world will be engulfed by a unique sense of unity intended for everything including the arts – ‘a united cultural identity of the brown world’.

It is a beautiful future to look forward to - a world congenial for all forms of art, especially Cinema, for in this world films will not have to be butchered to suit specific needs of individual nations.

Today, the ‘developed nations’ enjoy cinema reasonably without unnecessary restraints whilst the developing nations are still struggling through a prolonged period of utter confusion wherein no one knows where to draw the line or what to draw the line for in the first place. According to theorists ‘developing nations are going through a painful period of fire’ to metamorphose into developed nations, and I feel as though the same logic applies to cinema as well, and especially so in my country - India.

Whilst mulling over this I chanced upon a fantastic essay that enunciates this very confusion (of individual nations) that I am referring to, in the book Ideology of the Hindi Film by M. Madhava Prasad. In Guardians of the View: The Prohibition of the Private the author takes us through the ‘unwritten rule’ prohibiting the use of kissing scenes in films, a possible remnant rule of the ‘Raj’, but more appropriately a trend emerging from the ‘non-Indian ness’ of the act of kissing. Interestingly, there is no such ban on kissing scenes in foreign films screened in India. Giving an example from the film Sangam here, which has been shot in a foreign location, the author notes how even abroad the protagonists observe the ban whereas the amoral foreigners in the background don’t.

It is surprising to see such a stringent belief system in a land that is known to have born literatures like the Kama Sutra, whether or not this belief system is adapted from the foreign or is self-induced is a separate issue. Surprisingly, in 1996 Mira Nair’s Kama Sutra faces a ban in India because of the erotic nature of some of the scenes. Set aside the fact that the film had a different storyline than the original Kama Sutra and that it was filmed dubiously with the original title not revealed to Indian officials until the final screening; is it not hypocritical to ban a film from the land of the literature that it has adopted its name and a few other elements from and where it is based?

In mid 1969 when this informal, non-chartered ban on kissing scenes in films is lifted in India, it is still unwittingly followed until the mid eighties wherein some filmmakers include some obligatory scenes as if to merely register the lifting of the ban. An enquiry committee’s report on film censorship’s unwritten rule is quite revealing of the opinion within the film fraternity and many notable filmmakers condemn the subsequent lifting of the ban. The curtailment of such public display of affection is considered the country’s individualistic moral code and hence a duty by many in the industry and is reflected in their films wherein the actors or even the film as an entity, abide by this moral code thus upholding ‘national culture’. Notably according to Indian culture, women always have to follow a stricter moral code and the same rule very much applies to cinema as well.

However, there are ways in which certain characters are exempted from the duty of upholding ‘national culture’ to its utmost – these are characters like the cabaret dancer or even the main characters of a film in a song and dance sequence displaying pre or post coital behaviorism/symbolism. Ergo, although in the film Balidaan (1985), in a dream song sequence, Jitendra and Sri devi are together in a bath tub, which is filled with foam, when they come out of it they are wearing some kind of conservative swimming attire. From the tub, they move on to a multiple shower set up wherein they bathe together under the showers whilst singing and dancing of course. At this point when they move closer into each other and perhaps almost hug, the scene cuts to a block shot of a sculpture (backlit with mood lighting) – the sculpture is an amorous one of a man and woman embracing, about to kiss but ‘not kissing’.

Today in 2008 India, the situation isn’t much different I feel. Today, the ‘item number’ has replaced the cabaret dance and in song and dance sequences sexual innuendos are heightened further with apt histrionics and overtly provocative clothing. So, although every other actress wear hot pants and micro-mini skirts teamed with smaller than smallest tube tops and bends over at the drop of a hat to let the ‘hero’ be enamored by her posterior, she still (more than often) upholds the holier than thou status of ‘no $#@& before marriage’. In a way this ideology is epitomized in the song from the movie Love (1991) starring Salman Khan and Revathy wherein Salman sings, “Aaja aaja give me a kiss” come and give me a kiss, to which Revathy says, “Na na na na, still I am a miss” No, I can’t as we aren’t married yet, I’m still a Miss.

Maybe just maybe it’s time we shed these ‘imaginary veils’ which we feel protect our supposed individual ‘abrooh’ (honour), and we truly ‘be’ what we ‘are’.

By pointing these things out, I do not mean to question the sensibilities of individual filmmakers because of course they have every right to choose what and how much they would like to show in their films. I am merely trying to point out the hypocrisy of our belief system, a system that is extremely outdated in today’s day and age much like our bureaucratic set up. This very confused belief system, its portrayal in films and its subsequent warped reception by an unassuming audience trickles down to an equally confused citizenry. For instance today you can see children as young as 3 – 4 years of age wearing clothing replicated to match that worn by their favourite actors in the latest flicks and It is absolutely disturbing to see a 4-year-old strut around in 2-inch heels and synthetic shimmer-y disco clothes at a metro/tube station struggling to keep apace with her parents.

However, it is not just at my home turf that such hypocrisy breeds easily. The neighboring Chinese Administration recently reacted severely in response to the Chinese actress Tang Wei’s performance in Ang Lee’s film Lust, Caution (2007). Wei had been selected from over 10,000 actresses to portray the character of Wong Chia Chi / Mrs. Mak in the film. The graphic erotic scenes in the film are what the China’s State Administration of Radio, Film, and Television reacted to in March 08, renewing their existent prohibitions on "lewd and pornographic content". This renewed ban did not officially name Tang Wei but Chinese regulators ordered TV stations in Beijing and Shanghai to stop reporting on the actress and to pull any advertisements featuring her.

Soon after, Wei started losing her lucrative Film & Ad assignments that she had already been signed up for and eventually applied for a Hong Kong citizenship, which she successfully received. A Hong Kong News paper reported that all award shows in China were advised to exclude Wei and the producers of Lust, Caution from their guest lists, while discussions about the film and Wei on online forums were deleted.

China has also in the past for obvious but not justifiable reasons banned films that talk about Tibetan Nationalism or the Dalai Lama. The film Kundan, upon its release in the year ‘97 was banned outright along with director Martin Scorsese. Another ‘97 release, Seven Years in Tibet was banned outright upon its release for its free view on Tibet along with actors Brad Pitt and David Thewlis.

Perhaps what we need today, in order to be able to reach the ‘new brown world code’ in the coming future is a revamping of our belief systems by legitimizing the truth and portraying it in our cinema; whilst making sure that only viewers worthy of viewing the message we are tying to convey, simply by the virtue of being of an ‘appropriate age’, receive it. Whilst the former is an essential internal cleansing process that nations will need to indulge in themselves, the latter could be achieved by a unified effort by all nations towards building a new and improved * J Film Rating System, applicable worldwide and adhered to with all honesty and reverence by one and all.

Cinema as a Laboratory for intercultural harmony?

I was asked to talk about Cinema as a ‘Laboratory’ for intercultural harmony however; I do have reservations about the analogy. The word ‘laboratory’ brings to mind a rancid high school chemistry lab, which in my case always smelled like putrefying carrion when it did not smell of Sulphur of course. Ergo, I would like to use another – ‘Kitchen’ …

Cinema as a kitchen for whipping up intercultural harmony?

I do most acutely; passionately believe that if there are two things that can bring the people of the world together – they are food and movies, in any which order.

Put a plate of Peach Melba in front of any person from any part of the world and take it in writing from me you can get them to sign any release, transference, conversion etc. document right then as the person loses himself / herself in the gourmet affair. Of course, there could be exceptions of those who are allergic to peaches, raspberries, vanilla, ice cream, or all of the above but we are not talking about the exceptions.

In the same way, with exceptions ‘Moving Images’ have the ability to concoct such a beautiful world of emotions that very few can remain unaffected by and refrain from giving themselves into.

Every scene, every shot of every film is like a blossoming flower, revealing the nectar providing carpel within and when you look inside if you see a glimpse of your own world you feel warm and at home. On the other hand if you see a vision from a world other than yours, you are intrigued, hooked. As the drama unfolds you develop an admiration similar (may not be as intense), to the admiration you hold for your own world. With each blossoming flower, your knowledge and admiration grows and there just like that two worlds come together.

For me as an Indian, who has never stepped out of my country, watching movies from any other country might prove to be my window into their culture. For instance, Iran – a country although not too far from home was almost non-existent for me until recently, when I started watching Iranian films. Today, I feel such proximity to that land and such immense warmth for its people … the same can be said about Latin American Cinema or Korean films for that matter.

However … I suddenly feel that this is a very limiting example for there is a particular genre of cinema that transcends to an altogether higher level in comparison with cinema about and/or from individual lands. This uncategorized, unlabelled cinema in my belief is something that would’ve moved and transformed historical (evil) giants like Hitler, Truman, Amin and many more … (silly but noble thought, you must agree).

I am talking about documentary features about life on this planet - the likes of Baraka and the still to be released and feverishly awaited (by many) Samsara - This category according to me is of truly transcendental films that bring all the pieces of land of the world together as one whole, as it was before, recreating Pangaea.

There are many films in this category like the Qatsi trilogy Koyaanisqatsi, Powaqqatsi, Naqoyqatsi, Dogora, Ata Whenua Shadowland, Chronos and others based solely on wildlife like Anima Mundi, March of the Penguins, Blue Planet, and Planet Earth etc. However, my obvious bias towards the film Baraka and its Director Ron Fricke, which you might notice even without me mentioning it, isn’t unwarranted because for me Baraka marks the ‘coming of age’ of this genre of films. The film shot on 152 locations, in 24 countries, which took the crew around the world 3 times in 13 months, “captures the pulse of humanity as it flocks and swarms in daily life” using footage of various landscapes, churches, ruins, religious ceremonies, and cities burgeoning with life. A film without dialogue, story, or plot, it taps on themes that portray the world in a pristine atavistic yet new (to many) light, making you sit up and take notice. It makes you acutely aware of the actual El Dorado, the true Utopia that surrounds you and you leave the screening of the film with a newfound respect for the world and a resurgence of emotions for all in it.

According to Ron Fricke, “Baraka is in a lot of different cultures, it’s in a lot of different languages … it basically means the same thing ‘blessing’. This is like a journey of rediscovery, it takes you into nature, into history, into a social situation, it’s about reconnecting, it’s communicating on a level that I think is necessary”.

Mark Madigson, the Producer of the film explains better, “This is not a documentary travelogue. It’s supposed to be a moving emotional experience about life on our planet and it’s not about where is this and where is that”. Many a viewers try to label what they see in a film like Baraka, which possibly is a natural response for today’s well-educated metropolitan inhabitants. However, this act of labeling in itself destroys the purpose of the film, which in its way through it’s characters (the locations) is trying to present you with an essence of the world and life … This essence has the capability of imparting enlightenment … it depends on you whether you choose to receive it or not.

Ron Fricke also puts his message across beautifully in a featurette about the making of Baraka saying, “I really believe that we are connected to everything, that in a sense … I’ve been invited here to this planet just like you and everybody else has … and life didn’t ask anybody to approve of a guest list”.

Amongst other things, the film shot in Todd-AO (70 mm) also achieves cinematic excellence by using cutting-edge film technology to present beautiful high-resolution images.

Fricke who was a cinematographer on Koyaanisqatsi developed a (65 mm) 70 mm time-lapse camera for his film Chronos (1985). In 1992, he came up with Baraka (many times better than Chronos) for which he designed and built a more flexible and complex version of the camera he designed for Chronos. Such special camera mechanics and rigging were built to handle the unusually long and smooth time-lapse shots planned, like a 24-hour shot of a desert while perfectly-evenly panning 180 degrees. The film is highly venerated for such exquisite time-lapse photography (a technique equally, if not more beautifully used in the recent Planet Earth series). For me the film, as a scrumptious blend of amazing visuals, sounds & music, dissolves one point of the world into another in a ‘join the dots’ fashion … and in my fantasy if you saw the dots joined together by Baraka from space, it would form an image of a unicorn, ‘a unicorn in utopia’.

Such a film requires to be viewed with a particular frame of mind in congenial settings to enhance the cinematic experience. Perhaps, this is exactly why an unusual screening of Baraka was held at the ‘Film Fra Syd’ (Films from South) festival in Copenhagen, Denmark wherein an arrangement was made to screen Baraka in 70mm in a swimming pool in Aug of 2000. Orla Nielsen spearheaded the project and a 12,2 meters (40 feet) wide screen was erected along with a modified projector and lens to suit the need. In front of the screen was a huge swimming pool amidst which seats were placed on a wooden deck. The screenings were a huge success and encouraged the sponsors to continue these screenings in the coming years. Upon hearing about it, director Ron Fricke expressed pleasure and said that it was one of his original ideas with Baraka to have it shown outside regular cinemas such as was done in Copenhagen.

“Baraka is a journey of rediscovery that plunges into nature, into history, into the human spirit and finally into the realm of the infinite". For me this film has been a cinematic experience that cannot be surpassed. I know, a single film like Baraka along with my fanciful appreciation of it cannot perhaps make the world an actual El Dorado/ a Utopia, for it will always exist with an awful amount of ‘vices’ (which the Latin American poet Joaquin Marta Sosa calls heridas or wounds albeit in the Latin American context) but just for a short while if you let go of these unyielding ideas about the world, this film will take you on a journey you will never forget.



My life is

the colour of urgency,
to grow, to be,
somewhere its,
not supposed to

the colour of joy,
to feel, that I,
too someday,
could ‘be’

the colour of fear,
to think, to see,
hurdles en,
route to ‘be’

the colour of freedom,
to know, to be,
able to,
choose to ‘be’

someone with
a colourful life …


Our Twilight

Did you ever think it strange,
how we met at dawn one day,
we were lovers for the entirety of a day,
and then by nightfall we went our own ways.

You poured your charm over my heart,
I sang a song - beautiful, to win yours,
The day slipped like sand through our fingers,
By twilight we were like lovers of years.

Its that twilight that I remember most,
and I twist and turn in my bed almost,
feeling the touch of that twilight,
of you, of our love, one day, years ago.

Sometimes I make friends with misery,
caged in the twilight of you and me!
and I begin to feel the blood in my veins,
become ripe with the intoxicant of our day.

Lift me out o'harm's way,
out of the twilight of our day,
where I've been stuck for years,
help me leave,
so I can find myself all over again



In the Spring of my childhood,
I watched that girl,
surrender to love
She floated by my house,
balloons in hand she blushed,
as I waved her goodbye

Growing up I wished in my heart,
when her age, I would be,
Just as her
She looked like someone from heaven,
and I was just a common,
girl of Earth

Her name was Kara
She walked over the hearts of many boys,
First time I saw her,
was mesmerized by her lovely twinkle eyes,
she smelt of blossoms,
like a spray of perfume on the river side,
she was an angel,
riding clouds above miles and miles high ...

Many years down the line,
I know by now, that love
just means to hurt
Still spend time in its pursuit
for without love,
life doesn't measure up

I may not smell as lovely as her,
or have her hair
my eyes don't twinkle but
I do know in my heart somewhere,
I'm just as she was,
The spring she fell in love ...

Her name was Kara
She walked over the hearts of many boys,
First time I saw her,
was mesmerized by her lovely twinkle eyes,
she smelt of blossoms,
like a spray of perfume on the river side,
she was an angel,
riding clouds above miles and miles high ...


clouds and angels make toothpaste in my head !

Stumbling across the song of the receptionist !!!

Some days I wake up
and I take a check of reality
put on my make up
o'er signs of anxiety
step into your world
I fix everything so properly
then I keep waiting
for approval so eagerly

and then I see you walk around
without a care about
what I do
and what I say
to you
will you ever really care?

Just the other day
Saw you look at me tenderly
Stomach in knots
In my head I heard me fumbling
Could you be naïve?
Refuse to think that you are really
One day you’ll wake up
And learn to love me fiercely

I wish I didn’t see you walk around
without a care about
what I do
and what I say
to you
will you ever really care?


by shruts - inspired by 'trouble sleeping', corinne bailey rae

some days I wake in my sleep,
and if you saw me,
you'd say,
'you've been dreaming'

not all those dreams, I know
are remnants of joy,
can be,
so excruciating

at times I just walk in my sleep,
looking for him everywhere,
and I know, I've fallen in love
other times I weep as I sleep,
tired of seeking his love,
I wish I didn't know, he isn't for me

i even dream when awake
oh! i'm so in love,
the pain,
as I keep waiting,

taking a stroll, a leafy road,
makes it seem I am free,
I know,
that I am faking

at times I just walk in my sleep,
looking for him everywhere,
and I know, I've fallen in love
other times I weep as I sleep,
tired of seeking his love,
I wish I didn't know, he isn't for me


clouds and angels make toothpaste in my head!


He is my relationship - with every man!

When he was alive, he was an idea,
With his death, he became flesh,

I don't know how, but I love him more,
in death than ever in life!

I go over and over,
the life of him and I,

and all I find are dashes,
of something like love,

In death though, our life,
is all love coloured bright,

in life play sad violins,
in death glad accordian,

so, today i send this,
into a void,

with a prayer for reversal,
for love in death and life ...

Dear void,