New Film

Happy to share with you the latest film I made for WWF-India called ‘From Pobitora to Manas’. You can see the film here:

http://anilcherukupalli.com/pobitora-manas/

The film follows the journey of the 10 rhinos that were translocated from Pobitora to Manas National Park in Assam and the immense efforts that went into making the whole exercise successful.

This is the longest film I have made to date so your feedback will be most appreciated!

dvd1

Hotel Taj : icon of whose India ?

Watching at least four English news channels surfing from one another
during the last 60 hours of terror strike made me feel a terror of
another kind. The terror of assaulting one’s mind and sensitivity with
cameras, sound bites and non-stop blabbers. All these channels have
been trying to manufacture my consent for a big lie called – Hotel Taj
the icon of India.

Whose India, Whose Icon ?

It is a matter of great shame that these channels simply did not
bother about the other icon that faced the first attack from
terrorists – the Chatrapathi Shivaji Terminus (CST) railway station.
CST is the true icon of Mumbai. It is through this railway station
hundreds of Indians from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan, West Bengal
and Tamilnadu have poured into Mumbai over the years, transforming
themselves into Mumbaikars and built the Mumbai of today along with
the Marathis and Kolis

But the channels would not recognise this. Nor would they recognise
the thirty odd dead bodies strewn all over the platform of CST. No
Barkha dutt went there to tell us who they were. But she was at Taj to
show us the damaged furniture and reception lobby braving the guards.
And the TV cameras did not go to the government run JJ hospital to
find out who those 26 unidentified bodies were. Instead they were
again invading the battered Taj to try in vain for a scoop shot of the
dead bodies of the page 3 celebrities.

In all probability, the unidentified bodies could be those of workers
from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh migrating to Mumbai, arriving by train at
CST without cell phones and pan cards to identify them. Even after 60
hours after the CST massacre, no channel has bothered to cover in
detail what transpired there.

The channels conveniently failed to acknowledge that the Aam Aadmis of
India surviving in Mumbai were not affected by Taj, Oberoi and Trident
closing down for a couple of weeks or months. What mattered to them
was the stoppage of BEST buses and suburban trains even for one hour.
But the channels were not covering that aspect of the terror attack.
Such information at best merited a scroll line, while the cameras have
to be dedicated for real time thriller unfolding at Taj or Nariman
bhavan.

The so called justification for the hype the channels built around
heritage site Taj falling down (CST is also a heritage site), is that
Hotel Taj is where the rich and the powerful of India and the globe
congregate. It is a symbol or icon of power of money and politics, not
India. It is the icon of the financiers and swindlers of India. The
Mumbai and India were built by the Aam Aadmis who passed through CST
and Taj was the oasis of peace and privacy for those who wielded power
over these mass of labouring classes. Leopold club and Taj were the
haunts of rich spoilt kids who would drive their vehicles over
sleeping Aam Aadmis on the pavement, the Mafiosi of Mumbai forever
financing the glitterati of Bollywood (and also the terrorists) ,
Political brokers and industrialists.

It is precisely because Taj is the icon of power and not people, that
the terrorists chose to strike.

The terrorists have understood after several efforts that the Aam
Aadmi will never break down even if you bomb her markets and trains.
He/she was resilient because that is the only way he/she can even
survive.

Resilience was another word that annoyed the pundits of news channels
and their patrons this time. What resilience, enough is enough, said
Pranoy Roy\\\’s channel on the left side of the channel spectrum. Same
sentiments were echoed by Arnab Goswami representing the right wing of
the broadcast media whose time is now. Can Rajdeep be far behind in
this game of one upmanship over TRPs ? They all attacked resilience
this time. They wanted firm action from the government in tackling
terror.

Mumbai

The guns have finally fallen silent. The staccato bursts of gunfire have died down. The intermittent explosions have stopped. The pigeons which flew away after every explosion have settled down. But something does not feel right. This was not like one of those bomb blasts we have been seeing with such regularity in India over the past few years. The blasts, even though extremely tragic, had a neat closure to them. But this siege was not neat. It was brutal, ugly, bloody and drawn out. To think that a dozen terrorists made the city, the country, nay even the world stand still speaks volumes both of their meticulous planning as well as of the utter failure of our security apparatus.

I’ve never liked Mumbai as a city. I’ve never lived there but while I was in college I visited it every year for four years. And every time I came away irritated by its insane (to me) rush to get somewhere, its ugly contrasts, mixed with a little envy too perhaps that Mumbai was so much more cosmopolitan than Hyderabad. I’ve always thought people made a lot of unnecessary fuss about Mumbai, its so called spirit, character and every other clich├ęd adjective you can think of. But this time, unlike the many tragic events before, my heart went out to Mumbai and its people. As I followed the breathless TV reporters fall over themselves to bring the rest of the world as many live images as possible of the ‘unfolding situation’ I was filled with a curious mixture of emotions. There was sadness at the needless and immense loss of life. There was multi-directional rage too, at the politicians who seem to mumble the same platitudes every time something like this happens but are soon back to their ways, of dividing this beautifully complex country to suit their narrow needs.

There was rage too at the terrorists, a helpless and hopeless sort of rage mixed with some despair. I’ve tried but I still cannot understand how someone of roughly my age can take a machine gun, walk into a hotel, into a railway station and start shooting indiscriminately. How can he look into the eyes of a woman trying to go home after visiting her relatives and shoot her in the throat? How can he separate people based on their nationality and gun them down? Try as I might I just cannot comprehend this inhumanity, this utter, deep dark hate that someone has inculcated in him. After all, he was not born with it. He was somebody’s son. He must have experienced some love. How do you go from being a human being to someone who does not blink twice before pressing the trigger and pumping bullets into fellow human beings, irrespective of whether that human being is an old man, a woman or a child? This hatred is beyond me.

And that fills me with a certain hopelessness. How do you guard against such unfathomable hatred? How do you tackle it? Will a more proactive intelligence help? Will upgrading our archaic police force into something more modern and efficient help? Perhaps those measures will help in the short term. But in the long run we have to reach out to the source of such hatred and wipe it out. Not with guns or smart bombs as so many have now begun to advocate, the ‘Israeli way’ they call it. For that will only lead to a never ending cycle of violence. But by understanding the roots of such terror and turning people away from this futile murderous orgy; through education, through alleviation of poverty, through better job prospects and through respect. For nothing blunts hatred more than happiness and peace.

Third sex gets official status in Tamil Nadu

Continuing with the theme of alternative sexualities…today’s front page lead story in the Bombay edition of the Sunday Times of India is interesting, to say the least.

Transgendered people in Tamil Nadu can now mark their sex as T in official documents instead of M and F. This is a real step forward in recognising the fact that there are people who define themselves outside the sexual binaries of ‘male’ and ‘female’.

Follow this link for the story, though I am afraid the full story is in the print edition.
Now, how long will it take for the next barrier to be breached? I am talking about article 377 of the Indian Penal Code which criminalises homosexuality. When will this relic from the raj era be struck down?

Private Treaties for Public Consumption

The Times of India is the largest selling English broadsheet in the world with a circulation of 2.4 million. This makes the holding company, Bennet Coleman & Co. Ltd. the richest media empire in India. However, this is not just due of the reputation of its media assets.

The Times of India has had the distinction of being considered the newspaper of record in India since it was founded in 1838. Many distinguished journalists in India served in the editorial ranks of ToI. In fact, as the saying goes, ‘if you haven’t done time with the old lady of Boribunder you haven’t done anything’. That was till the 1980’s, the last of the glory days of Indian journalism. Since then ToI has morphed transformer-like from an autobot into the journalistic version of a decepticon.

ToI’s entire approach to journalism started changing from the late 80’s onwards. It is a cardinal principle in journalism that news and advertising should be kept apart. Publications like NYT and WSJ in fact go a step further and separate fact and opinion. It is well known that the WSJ has separate management structures for its edit and city reporting pages, who cannot stand each other. Indian newspapers followed the principle of keeping news and advertising separate till B, C&C ltd changed the media scape in India.

This they did by blurring the distinction between editorial content and advertising, giving short shrift to serious stories, focusing more on celebrities and page 3 and tremendous brand building exercises. Now, the latest step in that direction is through ‘Private Treaties’.

Simply put, Private Treaties are agreements between B,C&C and corporates where the former picks up equity in a company in return for advertising rates at concessional rates to free and positive coverage in B, C&C’s many media outlets. Although Private Treaties has been in existence since 2004 it attracted some media coverage only recently.

Its not as if newspapers and magazines have not carried advertorials before. But these are clearly marked as paid for with a disclaimer that the newspaper does not endorse the views therein. However, that distinction doesn’t exist in private treaties. As the website puts it, “As a treaty partner, your company can also avail of a bouquet of professional expertise within the Private Treaties Department. Our three pronged solution encompasses: Advertising Support, Branding Support, Corporate image development.”

Advertising, branding, corporate image development: the life-blood of any mid-size company dreaming of joining the big league. And what better way of doing it than positive coverage in the world’s largest selling English broadsheet and India’s largest selling economic daily (Economic Times). But what about larger questions of journalistic ethics? Suppose a reporter pursues a negative story about a comapany with is B,C&C’s partner, would s/he feel obliged to go soft, assuming the editor does not kill the story. Or, suppose a reporter goes on a junket paid for by a company, will s/he be obliged to write positively about the company or its products.

The Shame of the Indian Male

It is as if India is losing her humanity part by part. Coming close on the heels of the recent spate of reports on women molested in various parts of India is this horrific and tragic report from Surat about a brave man named Keshav Vishwakarma who tried to prevent a woman from being heckled. For being a good Samaritan, four hours later, he was doused with kerosene and put on fire. Incredibly, with 75% burn injuries he walked two kilometers to a police station to report the incident. Unfortunately, he later succumbed to his injuries at the hospital.

It is nothing new that women in India have a torrid time in public spaces. Even as a child I could not help but notice how careful my mother would be when she had to go out alone or with me to any public space, be it to the market or to the cinema or to drop me off at school. She would carefully wrap her pallu around herself completely so that no bare skin was visible anywhere between her face and feet. In the bus she always made sure that she sat as much in the front as possible, away from the men’s seats and on the road she would ask me to walk on the outer side so that I’d be shielding her from passing traffic (meaning the sundry Indian male who would not think twice about grabbing or groping a woman in public).

Later, when I was older, I’d listen in horror as my female friends recounted incident after incident about how disgusting and desperate the average Indian male is in public. I was ashamed and embarrassed that the freedom I took for granted came with so many reservations for them. To think that every time they were out in public they had to deal with innumerable snide comments which would range from ‘kya potti hai re’ to men in cars slowing down to ask ‘ati kya?’ showed me how different a world it is for an Indian woman compared to her male counterpart. They had to be on constant guard to not let men get too close in public spaces. For if men got too close more often than not their body parts would be groped, grabbed or pawed in the most obscene way. My friends often would not take it lying down if they were in a group and always tried to fight back. But they also knew that it was safer to keep quiet especially if they were alone. They knew from practical experience how unsafe it is for an Indian woman to walk on the street alone even in a big city like Hyderabad. And these were the so called elite upper middle class women who were confident, educated and unapologetic about what they wore or how they behaved and who therefore, according to some, are asking for such abuse by dressing or behaving unlike a ‘traditional Indian woman’. A male friend, upon listening to such incidents from my female friends, even had the gall to say that if they stopped wearing dresses befitting a whore they would be given more respect! If only the truth is so simple. Even women who wear ‘traditional’ Indian dresses are not spared such abuse. I recall a nonsensical dress code directive by Anna University along the very lines of such an argument about which I had blogged here.

So why do we Indian men behave like this? Many men would object perhaps saying that men are the same everywhere in the world. To a certain extent that is true. But I’ve observed how big a difference there is between the average European male and his Indian counterpart when it comes to women. Men defer to women here in public spaces. Although men do eye good looking women here it is limited to just that. There are no snide or obscene comments passed and in my four years here I’ve never ever seen a man behave obscenely towards a woman in public. Yes, there are occasionally teenagers who seem to tease women but they are more the exception than the rule.

Aamir Khan on the Indian Media

At last, one actor from the Indian mainstream film industry who has the guts and the brains to speak out against the current state of the Indian media. Read the interview where he rips Indian media to shreds here.

Reading it felt like as if he was speaking some of the words in my head. I wonder why more people do not talk about this or is that a stupid question in itself as which mainstream media will permit such a frank criticism of itself?