OPINION: I saw Padmaavat and YOU SHOULD TOO!

padmaavat-social

Leaving my undying fondness, admiration, and respect for the GENIUS that is Ranveer Singh aside, Padmaavat is a cinematic marvel! Sanjay Leela Bhansali has mastered the ability to create HISTORICAL FICTION films like Bajirao Mastani (2015) and now Padmaavat with grandeur and finesse. For those who are unaware of the story: Padmaavat is an epic period drama about the 13th century Rajput Queen of Mewar (currently in south-central Rajasthan, India), Padmavati. The story – as shown in this film – revolves around the Turko-Afghan ruler of the Delhi Sultanate, Alauddin Khilji, who orchestrated the siege of Chittor Fort in Mewar in order to capture the Kingdom’s beautiful Queen. His desire was also motivated by an exiled Brahmin (originally from Mewar), who informed Khilji that his wealth and success would multiply by many-folds should he go after the Queen. Padmavati, whose not only beauty, but also astute wit and valour was unparalleled, leaves Alauddin’s desire to conqueror her a fantasy.

Over the last few months, people have taken to the streets to spawn protests – many of which have turned rabid and violent – against the content of this film without even seeing it. The debacle was brought to the forefront by the domestic and international media that highlighted the assault of creator, Sanjay Leela Bhansali, the destruction of the sets by mobs to the Karni Sena, a political party in the state of Rajasthan, inciting violence by threatening to harm the actors of the film – Deepika Padukone – last seen as Serena in Vin Diesel’s XXX: The Return of Xander Cage – who plays Queen Padmavati and Ranveer Singh, who adorns the role of Sultan Alauddin, for distorting history, playing with public sentiments and besmirching the honour and valour of the beloved Queen and Rajput community by suggesting a romance between her and Khilji, who was infatuated with her beauty, which  – mind you – was NOT the case here.

The announcement of the film also raised many questions: Was Padmavati (known as Queen Padmini in history) real or a figment of the original writer, Malik Muhammad Jayasi’s imagination? If she was not real, were the sentiments of the Indian public really hurt and by extension were the protests warranted? I cannot say, but as an ardent advocate of the Arts, I will say this: The Arts, whether it is through storytelling, theatre, art, dance, and music or mainstream cinema plays a pivotal role in our society – not only in India, but worldwide. In actuality, the Arts is that one medium that can puncture holes in walls of ignorance; it can foster empathy and understanding for the “other” by building bridges into worlds and cultures unknown or unheard of. In Aligarh (2015), I vicariously experienced the plight of members of the LGBTQ+ community in India. It got me thinking what section 377, which criminalizes sexual activities “against the order of nature”, would mean for them. In Margarita with a Straw (2014), Kalki Koechlin’s character Laila, an aspiring writer, who happens to be a teenager with cerebral palsy taught me that the way the world is oriented and the mentality of the people that live in it can make a differently-abled person feel “disabled”.

The Arts is also vexing, as it is liberating. Films like Padman (2018) and Toilet: Ek Prem Katha (2017) can be used as efficient tools to educate individuals from all walks of life about pressing social issues like the taboo on menstruation, lack of access to sanitary pads and easy access to lavatories for women, which are universal issues and not just specific to India alone. On the other hand, would this mean that every film should be regarded by the audience as a social manifesto? In my humble opinion, no. Coming back to Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Padmaavat – those who have seen the film would have hopefully noticed the disclaimer shown at the beginning of the film. One of the elements the disclaimer cites, in words big and bold, is that this film does NOT claim to be an accurate depiction of historical events. Had the makers claimed it to be and the final product failed to do so, we would be having a different conversation. The Arts also provide an escape from life’s daily grind through entertainment and, in my opinion, Padmaavat does just that – entertain. The acting by the cast – everyone from Deepika, Shahid, Ranveer, Jim, Anupriya, Aditi to the very last extra on set – was impeccable! I, as do many, thought Ranveer with his portrayal of Khilji stole the show. The cinematography and sets were picturesque and stellar – as is often the case with Sanjay’s movies in this genre. The dance and music numbers were delightful.

But here is the reality: After having watched the film (which is an imperative if you wish to pass an opinion or judgment), if you felt differently to what I mentioned earlier – that is okay. The Arts is a subjective medium. Reputable film critics like Anupama Chopra and Sucharita Tyagi – both a part of Film Companion Reviews – may not necessarily like the same films or novels or cuisines, for example. Anupama may be crazy behind Indian street food, while Sucharita may have an affinity for Italian and that, folks, is okay also. What you take from the film may not be what your friend or family member sitting beside you gathers from the visual because, generally, individuals are influenced differently by their shared beliefs, values, and personal experiences. What is NOT okay is inciting violence against and/or violating individuals who are just doing their jobs! What is NOT okay is passing unsubstantiated claims without watching the film!

We live in a simple, yet complex era – iPads, Samsung phones, Youtube, Social Media, SIRI at complete disposal! At the click of a button, we can connect with someone that lives over 10,000 miles away, but we may not know how our neighbour is really doing. We have access to news or rather, news has access to us 24/7, which was not the case 2 decades ago. For this reason, our minds are active around the clock, constantly under siege by information of all sorts. We are consumers. We consume media every chance we get. This can be a bit unsettling! We are passionate beings, yes! The majority of us may pride ourselves on being opinionated. We may even pride ourselves on being patriotic. Our sentiments and opinions, heavily armed by our beliefs and values, may influence our decisions, but it is important to realize that our actions (as do our words) come with a set of consequences that not only affect us at an individual level, but also a local, national and global level. Hence, we, as consumers, need to learn to consume media responsibly. We need to have difficult conversations that will explore what that even means in today’s day and age. We need to avoid being passive participants and actively filter information whether it comes from news apps, political speeches, school textbooks, mainstream blockbuster movies or even from conversations with our near and dear ones and use it wisely. The rules of this game are still vague, but I know that the vast majority of us are doing the best we can with what we know, but we, as a people, need to continue to do better.

I believe a film like Padmaavat deserves great reception from domestic and international audiences. The fiasco that happened before, during and after the release of the movie could have been (and can still be) avoided. To excessively censure films and art, in general, is akin to placing a muzzle on freedom of speech and expression. This has been happening too frequently adding films like Udta Punjab (2016) and Lipstick Under My Burka (2017) to a gradually increasing list of names. If you do not want to watch the film, you have the right not to, but to censure content to change the product or to release unsubstantiated claims may be deja vu of George Orwell’s classic 1984.

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Voices

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Picture from: curseofthecreative.files.wordpress.com

There once was a girl. There was a moment in her life when her voice went unheard. She felt bound by the pressures and prejudices of society. It tried to hold her by her feet and glue her lips. Its myriad howling voices – those that told her to dress one way and behave another – attempted to mask her own. Bewildered and weary, she stopped dead in her tracks and sought to retreat. But, she did not for she knew her message, her voice was far greater than she had consciously known.

Candid Chat 2015 (Year End Edition)

Last year was an incredibly challenging year for me. However, it also was a great year for learning. Here are some of the valuable lessons I learned last year.

  1. “To be trusted is a greater compliment than being loved.” – George MacDonald

Throughout the course of last year, I had the great pleasure of working with people from all walks of life. Through this experience, one of the things I learned about is trust. If you want people to listen to, and furthermore understand, your message likeability and trust are really important. If I don’t like or trust someone and likewise if someone doesn’t like or trust me, we won’t be able to work with each other in a cordial and efficient manner; thus, affecting not only our relationship with each other, but also our quality of work.

Trust is the foundation of all relationships. It dictates how we choose to interact with each other. One thing you should know about trust is that it is very difficult to earn and is very easily broken. Having to regain trust in any relationship is almost akin to tying a knot using the two ends of a broken rubber band. It, the rubber band and the relationship, never work the same afterwards.

  1. “If someone isn’t what others want them to be, the others become angry. Everyone seems to have a clear idea of how other people should lead their lives, but none about his or her own.” ― Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist 

My experiences and observations throughout last year made me realize that we have become a society that is very quick to judge and criticize other people. You can learn a lot about a person by the way they choose to treat others. Hurt and insecure people are going to find ways to hurt others. This, in turn, ends up becoming a self-perpetuating, vicious cycle. The best way to combat this is to treat people the way you want to be treated – with compassion, kindness and respect. I know, this is very easy to say and (depending on the situation) very hard to do, but only the brave hearted can (and will) do it.

Respect is NOT conditional. It doesn’t (or rather shouldn’t) come with one’s social stature, but should be granted to each and every individual.

I realized in the months leading up to the end of the year that a lot of the time people tend to do the best they can with what they know. The reality is: When you know better, you are supposed to do better.

  1. “Only if you give up… It’s your choice, not your fate.” – Plio, Dinosaur (2000)

Over the course of the year, I was presented with the opportunity to work on many projects. Unfortunately, a number of these projects either faded away completely or didn’t come to full fruition due to lack of funding. It was during this time that a very close friend – who knew of the finer details of my struggles behind the scenes – imparted some very valuable advice. She said, “be honest with yourself.” It is okay to feel low when things don’t work out the way you envisioned it to. But the real question is this: what are you going to do now? It is very easy to give in to defeat and difficult to keep going, especially when it feels like you have no support. Ultimately, accepting defeat/failure is a choice. Regard every challenge as an opportunity for change. I regard the Candid Chat blog posts as a testament of me putting this advice into action.

4. “Do you want to know who you are? Don’t ask. Act! Action will delineate and define you.” – Thomas Jefferson

“We can each define ambition and progress for ourselves. The goal is to work toward a world where expectations are not set by the stereotypes that hold us back, but by our personal passion, talents and interests.” – Sheryl Sandberg

“Never be bullied into silence. Never allow yourself to be made a victim. Accept no one’s definition of your life; define yourself.” – Harvey Fierstein

During this time, individuals define themselves by their successes (or lack thereof). Note: it is the effort one should laud more than the result. Sometimes an individual will put in more than a 1000% effort, but still not receive the result they wish to attain. That doesn’t mean that the individual hasn’t tried hard enough.

In times like that, especially, remember that one isn’t defined by her failures, nor is she defined by her successes. She is defined by how she chooses to be defined this current moment.

  1. Passion will move men [and women] beyond themselves, beyond their shortcomings, beyond their failures. – Joseph Campbell, American Mythologist, Writer, and Lecturer

Last year, I realized the importance of having passion for your work. It is when you love your work that every challenge will seem like an opportunity to learn and grow, which will, in turn, improve your quality of work.

I learned that with passion it is equally important to be disciplined and have a sense of direction. When you have these three things – passion, discipline, and direction – you can never go wrong.

For Candid Chat 2015 (Mid-Year Edition) click here

For Candid Chat 2014 click here

For Candid Chat 2013 click here

Facebook: The Dawn of the Technological Era

Facebook is a form of post modernistic ‘realist art,’ created originally with the intention of maintaining and celebrating relationships with family and friends that are not in immediate contact. Since its creation, Facebook has become one of the most renowned social networking sites of our generation. With over 750 million users last cited in 2011, Facebook can be considered the third most populated ‘virtual’ country after China and India. With a consistent increase in active users on Facebook, resistance by the audience towards the site itself is limited. Nonetheless, audience resistance is vaguely existent more so towards the content exhibited on the site. Facebook is presently tagged as “popular culture,” as it is eminent with today’s generation. However, there are significant limits for these arguments.

Facebook has expanded and improvised tremendously since it opened its doors to the members of the public, enabling the growth of an extensively diverse population to communicate with relations that live abroad via an online chat forum, encouraging the elimination of all geographic boundaries at no cost to the user. This has since then unlocked avenues for global communication, thus encouraging global connectivity to a large extent. Once Facebook memberships were made accessible to the public, the value of the company shot up dramatically from US$15 billion in 2007 to US$89.2 billion in 2011 becoming one of the most profitable companies, falling second to Google. With the growing number of users on Facebook around the globe, socio-economic boundaries have been blurred to a large extent. This was possible through ‘media oligopoly,’ wherein users have been made aware of global updates through ‘liking’ different society and economy related pages designed on the site by different profit and non-profit organizations. However, Marshal McLuhan espoused that even though Facebook’s improvisations aims to improve ‘global consciousness’ by allowing users to interact amongst one another, the site shall not be successful in creating or maintaining the ‘utopian idea’ of the ‘global village’ online. Contrastingly, Kirthiga Reddy, Head of Office of Facebook in India, intends to alter the Facebook culture in India to enhance social utility within the country by increasing connectivity. Reddy states, “Facebook touches lives in fundamental ways,” this as a result has allowed the site to become the richest database for people’s interests and tastes. This has had a huge impact in driving the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Reddy also argues that securing the correct culture is important, as that is what influences people’s decisions. Through Facebook, Reddy aims to ‘foster the next generation of women leaders in India; driving children’s causes, access to education; and making an impact at a national level.’ This has reinterpreted “popular culture” by creating, what Jenkins describes as, “pop cosmopolitan,” where applications on Facebook have enabled ‘transcultural flows of pop culture to inspire new forms of global consciousness.’

Today, Facebook has evolved into an online cultural industry. Active users on Facebook have transformed into, what Adorno and Horkheimer believe to be “cultural dupes.” They define cultural dupes to be ‘passive recipients’ within the cultural industry, as they are prone to consuming cultural products rather than producing their own. On the contrary, Facebook has provided a platform for its users to innovate and advertise their thoughts and ideas to a far more diverse market of 750 million users around the globe. This has, to a large extent, blurred the boundaries between the producer and the consumer, creating what Alvin Toffler claims to be a “prosumer”. The site enables its users to engage in activities that encourage “immaterial labour,” a new concept of labour that allows other users to understand the cultural history of a particular commodity or service. This style of labour fosters ‘relationships and ultimately life itself.’ It creates a dual-purpose environment, allowing users to not only enjoy the applications provided by the site, during their leisure time, but also for work purposes. However, Adorno and Horkheimer describe this type of environment as an ‘amusement under late capitalism that would simply prolong work,’ triggering an adverse affect to the creator of the product.

Consumption of material goods and services through Facebook is a significant part of human sociability, as it develops individual identity, which is heavily influenced by societal structure. Similar to an offline environment, individuals in an online environment such as Facebook, have certain behavioural patterns and habits that distinguish the way they consume particular products and services. This is a ‘bona fide expression of self in and on society.’ The way active users on Facebook tend to utilise the applications the site has to offer testifies “subcultural resistance” towards the dominant social norms that are, at times, dictated by the capitalist economy, simply suggesting that the actions displayed by users in an online environment is a mere reflection of what occurs offline. Facebook, at present, has changed the definition of consumption, ‘it is not restricted to shopping and the movement of purchase, but rather it is a result of human production.’ Douglas and Isherwood argue that such practices encourage discrimination as it is influenced primarily by the ‘vistas’ and ‘hierarchies’ within offline environments. Similarly, the Marxist Theory suggests that ‘consumption is the most obvious evidence of inequality under capitalism.’ This reiterates the idea that Facebook could not be successful in creating or maintaining the ‘utopian idea’ of the ‘global village’ online because our contemporary modern societies don’t exist in an idealistic way.

Facebook has become an eminent part of today’s generation, influencing how their identities are built and how their behaviours are controlled through various forms of “social capital.” Bourdieu and Wacquant define social capital as “the sum of the resources, actual or virtual, that accrue to an individual or a group by virtue of possessing a durable network of more or less institutionalized relationships of mutual acquaintance and recognition.” Research has shown that almost half of the American population has created an account on Facebook and that university students on average spend approximately half an hour on Facebook every day. Active users on Facebook, this predominantly applies to today’s youth, whom interact with other users, including friends, family and neighbours, on a daily basis tend to have adverse effects upon their psychological well-being, such as their self-esteem/self-worth, confidence and their satisfaction with life. Students become highly susceptible towards the content posted on the site by other users. Messages and comments announced on Facebook have the tendency to be highly persuasive as they come from within the student’s social network, thus impacting the way students behave in an online environment. Are such persuasions giving rise to subcultural frictions within an online environment? Negative racial attitudes have advanced due to ‘victim messages’ and ‘superiority-based messages.’ Although victim messages are relatively easier to digest in an online environment, they still encourage ‘viewing one’s group as victimized, which ultimately leads to feelings of anger and fear towards out-groups’ and ‘a strong desire to strengthen the in-group.’ This exhibits that resistance is more so towards the material delivered on the site by users who are unable to fathom Facebook’s diverse platform due to the restrictions contained within the social norms of their offline environments. In reality, there are imaginary divisions, such as the notion of East and West, on social networking sites like Facebook such divisions are non-existent, hence, it becomes harder to comply with offline cultural regulations. ‘Online culture has been considered as a knowledge system formed by constellations of shared practices, expectations, and structures that members choose to follow with the help of networked computer technology.’ Within a users immediate offline environment, exposure to new cultural practices is rare; this may either complement or even differ from existing practices. For example, a study conducted on the Cultural Differences between an American (Facebook) and a Chinese (Renren) social networking site showed that Renren users were more involved in benevolent in-group sharing than that if they had participated on Facebook. This exhibits that culturally strict offline communities, e.g. Chinese students, are relatively more reserved online in comparison to other offline communities, e.g. American students. However, there are exceptions. Similar to the offline culture, the online culture may influence users to ‘internalize cultural values and/or practice the shared in-group norms.’ Some questions that arise from this is ‘how do individuals adapt to different cultures online? Will experience in multiple online cultures improve individuals’ cultural competence offline?’

Picture From: under30ceo.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/mark-zuckerberg-032613.jpg

Picture From: under30ceo.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/mark-zuckerberg-032613.jpg

Mark Zuckerberg created Facebook with the intention that ‘everybody could share everything,’ however, his vision of a “transparent society” seemed to be ‘highly naïve’. The Facebook Private Policy states, “[f]or content that is covered by intellectual property rights, like photos and videos (‘IP content’), you specifically give us the following permission, subject to your privacy and application settings: you grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP content that you post on or in connection with Facebook” (Facebook, 2010). This verifies that all content posted onto Facebook by the users, such as ‘demographic data, behaviour, usage and photographs,’ becomes the property of Facebook. The Facebook Corporation may then reproduce this content for profit. However, other online users can also reproduce this content for illegitimate purposes. Most often, active Facebook users take uninformed risks; this has led commentators to believe that ‘Facebook will lead to an increasingly high number of identity thefts.’ A research conducted by Sophos (an international security company) discovered that ‘41% of Facebook users will divulge personal information – such as email, date of birth and phone number – to complete strangers.’ This can cause an increase in identity theft and black-mailing along with an increased surveillance by employers and ex-partners. As a result, active Facebook users lose their claim to a ‘reasonable expectation of privacy.’ In the 2010 documentary starred by Nev Schulman, Catfish, spoke about a woman who created a false identity, on a social networking website, in the hopes of luring other users into romantic relationships. This kind of deceit most often occurs for money. Facebook can also be thought of as a modern representation of the ‘Panopticon’ model as it can be portrayed as a ‘perfect disciplinary apparatus’ that enable people to self-regulate within the presence of some form of authority. Nevertheless, for some form of action to be taken towards crimes like identity theft, online racial attacking and online stalking, the crime has to be reported by users multiple times till it is addressed.

The purpose of Facebook has changed dramatically, since the time of its creation, causing its culture to constantly evolve. This has enabled the company to have substantial profit in a short duration of time. However, at the same time, it has reinterpreted the meaning of “popular culture” online. The idea that Facebook is a virtual ‘Panopticon’ model that enables users to self-regulate, to a large extent, is untrue as most users tend to manipulate and exploit other users for their own personal gain by exceeding the boundaries permitted by the site. These kinds of behaviors are often a sign of resistance, which is a reflection of our offline environment. Hence, it is true, that the site shall not be successful in creating or maintaining the ‘utopian idea’ of the ‘global village’ in an online environment as the social norms within our offline environment is less than ideal.

Quotes of the Day

Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?

Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into friend.

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies.

In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.

The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.

– Dr. Marin Luther King Jr.