Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Some advice on Arranged Marriages

I was married eight years back. It was an arranged marriage; people think (especially abroad) that arranged marriages are very easy and that you do not have to make any effort. Let me narrate my experience and you can judge for yourself:

The very first problem I faced was managing my hair. I had it all nicely turned and everything so that I had the 50s samathu payyan (good boy) look. I spent atleast two hours before the mirror trying to adjust every individual strand of hair. I had no idea how my potential future wife would judge my looks. I knew vaguely that they did not like the Albert Einstein hairstyle.
Well, after this struggle, I got into the car and sat, stupidly, in the window seat. So my hair ended up looking, indeed, like Einstein. I hoped that the woman liked physics.

It is best, in my mind, to keep the affair as low-key as possible. I was sure that the girl would not like me. I would be lucky if she did not throw up on seeing me and hated every word that I spoke. So, I did not want one of the huge movie style episode in which a bunch of my relatives and a bunch of her relatives, plus all her neighbors show up to watch me getting rejected.
I actually wanted to meet her in a restaurant in a remote corner of the city so that only the waiters would know, but no one would leak the matter to the press. But when I asked for this specifically, I was accused by my parents of being an un-Indian brat. Her parents did not like the idea either - they thought I would kidnap their daughter. They wanted the full glory.

Thus, my ONE attempt at trying to influence the course of my own marriage and life failed. I stopped trying after that.

So, we ended up at her home. Luckily there were not too many people around. I got out of the car and ran in before the tabloids could take photographs.
I sat in a nice elevated chair and kept my head down. Her brother sat in a corner and kept looking at me with an impassive face. Let me tell you what he reminded me of: In American movies they show a secret CIA interrogation room where one inscrutable American sits silently in the corner while they try to get information from the terrorist. At the end he usually walked over and banged the terrorist's head on the table until he revealed the location of the bomb.
Her brother never took his eyes off me the whole time and never said anything. He rarely says anything to me even after 8 years of the marriage.

Her mother and sister buzzed about and we all tried to make conversation. I tried a few jokes. But I was waiting for my future wife to show up.
I had spent a lot of time (the previous day) in front of the mirror trying to see the angle in which I looked good. I was sure that there must be atleast one angle out of the 360 degrees where my face would show up handsome. So I tried each one of those angles until I found that there was one particular way, if I raised my head and bent my face to the left - I looked absolutely dashing. Turn a little bit to the right or left and the "effect" was gone. I could see myself only from a corner of my eye in the mirror, but I was sure I had hit upon the ideal way to present myself to my future wife.

Now, sitting in front of her whole family, I tried to find that angle again. I was almost there when the door opened and my future wife walked in. She did not look at me at all. She sat in a chair and studiously avoided looking at me.
So we both sat like statues while the rest of them had fun.
The one advice I would give you, the future arranged marriager, is to AVOID eating mixtures (this is a south-indian dish), while you are on a "girl-seeing" episode. It is a nasty trick played by the bride's family. They are trying to judge your mechanical competence. There is absolutely NO way to eat the mixture without a)looking uncool or b) spilling most of it on oneself. If they offer you the mixture, politely say no. If they insist, tell them you know their dirty trick.
Do not drink coffee either. They will offer a very full cup of coffee and figure out how scared you are when your hand shakes. Ask for half a cup; if they offer anymore, throw it on your brother-in-law. That will teach them.

There are several misconceptions about arranged marriages. Movies show the guy and the girl falling in love immediately; then pining for each other while the evil villain takes the girl to a mountain cave. The truth is that you don't really feel anything when you look at her. Your goal at that point is to get out of a really awkward situation. There is no place for love. It is a tough world out there.

After some time, they suggested that we talk to each other. This is the most liberal advancement in the institution of arranged marriages in the last two thousand years - they allow us people to talk.
So, me and her went to the terrace. It was evening time and the terrace was cool. It was very romantic except for the airport close by. There were flights zipping over us every five minutes.

I had prepared a long speech to her. It went something like this:
"I do not have much experience in this. I like your family. Let me say something about myself. But before that, I want you to be assured that you may say no to me without any reservations. You do not have to marry me out of compulsion. But that does not mean that your family compels you. I am just saying, if your family is of the type that comples daughters, then if they compel you to marry me, you can freely say no. This does not mean that I suspect your family of tyranny. No, no, on the other hand I like your family a lot. But it is all circumstances. Instead if you say yes to me because of compulsion, then our life may not be that happy. No, I am not saying that I will torture you. But I am just saying that if I do...."

I forgot most of the speech when I sat there. It sounded like a PhD dissertation.
Anyway, I started with "I don't have much experience in this"
My wife said, "It is not as if we are all sitting here with lots of experience."

That was it. We ended up chatting for an hour and by the end of it, I wanted to stay at their home.

PS: Apparently there is a rule as to the decent time when you can get back to the girl's family and let them know you like her. Say you see the girl on Monday evening at around 6 PM. Then the decent interval is to let their family know Tuesday afternoon at 3 PM. If you do it any sooner, they think you are too needy. If you do later, the girl may be married off to someone else. The optimum time interval is the above.
I did not know this. We got into the car and I started badgering my family about the marriage date.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Encounters in "A Wednesday"

I watched the movie "A Wednesday" very late, last week. I had heard much about the movie and Kamal Hasan had remade it in Tamil.
I did not like the movie at all. This is a belated analysis of the movie. This is just my opinion, I am not claiming to be a connoiseur of fine movies.

(By the way, if you have not seen the movie, please be aware that this is NOT a proper review. It reveals everything about the ending. I am taking this liberty because I think the movie has been out for more than six months now. Don't read further if you want to watch the movie. This analysis is more about political beliefs than anything else.)

Before you stat reading this post, please visit the link - The Hindu -Ishrat Jehan's encounter.

The Story
The Police Commissioner of Mumbai gets a call warning him about five bombs set to explode at 6 PM unless he fulfills certain demands. We are introduced to a couple of second level police men. One of them is Arif Khan, who seems to enjoy bashing up people. He is with the ATS and the police themselves call him a psycho and a problem guy.
The guy who set the bombs, Naseeruddin Shah, then proceeds to demand the shipping of four terrorism suspects to the Juhu airport. In an abandoned runway, amid lots of drama with cell phones, three of the suspects are killed by Shah's bombs. The fourth one escapes, but then the police shoot him on the request of Shah.
Why did Shah do this? He explains in a lengthy dialog with the commissioner that he is just a common man and is tired of being killed by terrorists.
In the final shot of the movie, the commissioner does find Shah, but then leaves him free after shaking his hand.

The Writer and his stand
I have seen that in India, directors create movies with dubious moral stands (such as demeaning women). Then when questioned about such stands they ask us to enjoy the movie as a story. That is, they ask us not to attach any "meaning" to the movie.
Thus, a director like Parthiban can show a movie in which a raped woman ends up seeking and marrying her own rapist. Rajinikanth or Surya or Vijay can insult women's dresses and teach women how to behave all the time. But when confronted, they claim that it is just a story.
So, the first question to ask is if writers take stands about social issues or not in movies. It is recognised throughout the world that this is, indeed, the case, most of the time. A story in a movie is a point of view. It is somewhat like an argument. The writer positions characters around the argument and shows them in a bad or good or gray lights. This is particularly true of "commercial" stories. It is certainly true that when a shrew is shown to be slapped in a movie, the writer is guiding you towards certain judgements about women.
This is NOT the case with every story. I am not saying that stories are written with bad and good people in mind. But I think we are all intelligent enough to know when a writer is trying to guide us.
In this light, who are the "heroes" in "A Wednesday" and who are the bad people? What does the writer guide us toward?
The movie is not at all subtle in this regard. Naseeruddin Shah is shown as a "common" man again and again. He calls himself as a represntative. At the end of the movie, the commissioner lets him go (in spite of him killing three people) with a proud handshake.
So, the writer expects us to identify with Shah. He wants us to sympathise with the commissioner. And he wants us to spare no thoughts to the men killed for "terrorism".
Now that we are clear about what the writer is saying, is that a moral stand? I will not ask this question of every movie, but this movie, clearly, tries to make a political statement. It is not "just" a story. The writer is writing about contemporary events and asks us to judge a consequence of that.
This is where I had a big problem with the movie (I had other, more aesthetic issues which I discuss later).
The idea that some vague "terrorist" can be encountered at any point of time, without a trial, is morally abhorrent. And in this movie there is not enough shown to "judge" these guys.
At one point, Naseeruddin Shah says that people are kept in jails for ten years without a judgement - but that happens with EVERY case in India. By that logic, why shouldn't we be killing murder suspects? Why only "terrorists"? There have been serial, mass killers who have killed more people than some terrorists. Shouldn't we be killing people in the streets?
Once you have decided that a trial is just a bureaucratic requirement, then why stop with terrorists?
In fact, the cruel arm of the Indian state punishes more innocent people, by keeping them without trial in jails for as much as seven or eight years. Why didn't anyone make a movie out of THAT?
If Shah, the common man, has to be angry with someone, anyone at all, it should be the delayed justice system. Instead focussing on a formless "terrorist" who can be killed just like that, how morally repugnant is that?
To me, it is clear that Shah is the murderer in the movie. At least he should have been showed as deranged. This is why I could like the Tamil movie "Evano Oruvan" ("Dombivli Fast" in Marathi) better than this movie.
The director is not required to give a solution - but at least do not PERVERT the original issue.
The most revolting scene in the movie was the policemen killing Ibrahim in cold blood. Do people really think encounters are fun hunting of "terrorists"?
If you have not visited the link above yet, here it is, again: The Hindu -Ishrat Jehan's encounter.

The Revenge story
Now, we all enjoy revenge movies, of course. We all like it when a single man takes revenge for his family or lover. But there is a difference between that and this movie.
You see, in a revenge movie, the director has already shown US the viewers, who is responsible for the crime. At that point there is a direct, personal line of connection between the crime, the murderers and the vigilante.
In "A Wednesday" I saw no such connection -
1. There was no personal connection between Shah and the "terrorists"
2. There is no connection between the CRIME and the terrorists either.
So what the hell?
This is why I felt that the movie was deeply dishonest. I felt they had made it to exploit the resentments of people after the Mumbai attacks while really coming up with no innovative stand.

The Aesthetics of the movie
1. I told my friend that this could have been made as a telefilm or something more appropriate for television. The big twist in the movie was just the revealing of Shah's intentions. I did not think that was so mind-blowing that they make a movie out of it.
2. There are ZERO other innovations in the story. The entire "detection" process was a cop-out with a contrived "cool" hacker solving everything.
3. What is with Hindi movies and pretentious characters? I have heard NOBODY in my entire life saying "I love you" and "I love you too" over the phone. Only American television characters talk that way.
4. The movie also shows people in very predictable wooden stereotypes - the hacker, for example. This idea of a "cool" young computer geek is so stupid. I am in the industry and I can tell you I have never seen such people.

I would actually suggest that these guys make real Indian movies instead of thinking they will make an "almost Hollywood movie" as they say in reviews.