This is not sexual revolution

I am all for promiscuity. I want women to break free of the shackles of societally imposed “modesty”. I am also for easier access to pornography. But let’s please label it as such, hmm?

The most expensive painting* ever sold is one of a naked woman asleep on a couch. The painting was made in 1995 by Lucian Freud and is of not the best-looking 51 year old woman. The painting sold for £17 million.

Painting naked women isn’t new. The Old Masters of the Renaissance (which may not really be a thing) made art out of women sans clothing. When I was looking for paintings by the Old Masters, one painting that came advertised as being erotic is that of Danae by Titian:

Danae by Titian

The story goes that Danae, a princess, was imprisoned by her father the king because her son would kill her father. Danae lets Zeus, the god, seduce her, fully aware of the consequences. Zeus appears as gold dust in this painting.

Okay, I confess that I am no art critic; I only have as much of a clue about whether a picture of a naked woman is art or pornography as anybody else. But it seems to me that the test for whether a painting/picture is art or pornography is who the “subject” is. Danae, in the painting above, isn’t naked for your benefit or mine; she doesn’t know we’re watching. More importantly, she doesn’t care.

Pornography exists to titillate its audience. This, as much as the perfect bodies, the contortionist body positions and the incredible sex, is a defining characteristic of pornography. In a pornographic version of waiting for Zeus, Danae would be trying to make the viewer imagine himself in Zeus’ place.

I point out all this in preface to a shocking documentary about the portrayal of women in Hindi movies called “No Country for Women”. Apparently, while I wasn’t looking, a de facto ban on actors so much as kissing on screen has gone away and been replaced by what I can only call free licence to show pornography.

So why is this access to pornography bad? We should measure a society’s progress by its acceptance of pornography, right?

Young men in this society apparently get their ideas about social interaction with the other sex not from, you know, social interaction but from the movies. This is amply demonstrated in the documentary (‘arey, woh Rakhi Sawant jaise skirt pehen ke ayegi to hum usey chedenge nahin to aur kya karenge?). Teaching men that women who dress well, or have certain body types, or go out at night are asking for attention is a recipe for disaster. And yet we see this in scene after scene.

I am all for promiscuity. I want women to break free of the shackles of societally imposed “modesty”. I am also for easier access to pornography. But let’s please label it as such, hmm?

*Correction: This is not the most expensive painting ever sold. This is the most expensive painting of a living artist ever sold. HT: Jayavel, who tells me even this may no longer be true.

Jon Stewart on Israel

This is an American election season, which means that the war-rhetoric flows thick and fast from people running for public office in America; war-rhetoric centred around their professed hatred of the idea that Iran might build itself a nuclear bomb, and their unquestionable love for Israel.

Part of the reason for this love for Israel is rather ghoulish: about 40% of America’s voting population believes that the rapture is going to occur within their lifetime. And central to the story of how the rapture will happen is for the Jewish people to regain the promised land, Israel. This happened with the dying breath of the empire on which the sun never set, and anything that threatens the status quo must be neutralised. Oh, what happens to the Jewish people when the rapture does come, you ask? The Earth will split and swallow all of them into a lake of fire, yes sir.

Talking about a Benjamin Netanyahu speech, The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart, America’s best news source, makes the point that we might well see a nuclear(?) war in the middle east because politicians in Iran, Israel and America can’t stop out-flanking each other on the crazy talk, on account of all three nations have elections coming up. The political stance on Israel in America ranges all the way from ‘I unequivocally support them and might bomb Iran’ to ‘I unequivocally support them and will definitely bomb Iran’.

There are, however, some politicians willing to say something against this idiocy: ‘Israel is not about to be destroyed… with his crazy analogies, the Prime Minister is diverting attention from Iran to his fearmongering’, or ‘Netanyahu’s words on Iran sound like a calculated preparation for a reckless adventure’, or ‘Israel is making a mistake in its unwillingness to recognise a Palestinian state.’ All of which were said by members of the Israeli Knesset.

‘Because apparently in Israel, you are allowed to publicly criticise the Israeli government and still hold public office.’

Of stereotypes and humour.

Oh, don’t cringe! This isn’t going to be a rant about somebody stereotyping a whole group of people based on, well, on nothing. On the other hand, if you aren’t a TBBT-nerd, you might think I’m being obtuse to the point of obsession.

I watched an ‘unaired pilot’ of ‘The Big Bang Theory’ recently. I’d put up links to where you can download this episode from, but that would be superfluous. Go Google. Or something. (Yes, I bootlegged the episode. As rationalisation for my behaviour, here’s Stephen Fry’s take on bootlegging. I’d add that Amazon.com doesn’t even sell mp3s in India; so they have no reason to complain about ‘loss of revenue’.)

What you notice about this unaired pilot is how much more lifelike the characters are – yes, Sheldon and Leonard are still nerds, still socially awkward, and still clueless about women, but they aren’t the caricatures that the series that eventually got made has. What I mean is this: yes, Leonard Hofstadter finds Penny (‘Katy’ in the unaired pilot) and tries to befriend her, but he only wants to help her, and isn’t thinking of ‘our kids will be beautiful and smart’ (who remembers that from the ‘aired’ pilot? Sheldon says in reply: ‘not to mention imaginary’.)

Sheldon, as in the TV series, is more sociophobic than Leonard, but goes to bars, drinks, dances, and has even slept with Gilda. He also finds women with large hindquarters attractive. The blonde stereotype is shunned as well, in the series that did not get made. Sure, Katy is no astrophysicist, but she isn’t as clueless as the Penny from the TV series.

For me, the unaired pilot was vastly more intelligent, and by inference enjoyable, than what’s on TV now. In fact, the network that airs the series may have decided that the unaired pilot was too intelligent for their audience and asked Chuck Lorre to change things. It is also possible that Chuck Lorre decided that it is easier to draw out of any number of stereotypes of socially awkward nerds and put them together than to create and maintain lifelike characters for any reasonable amount of time.

Take Epic Stupidity. Inbreed. This is inbred epic stupidity.

Over the weekend, somebody showed me this video from some Indian version of Fear Factor. Except, the only way the idiots here know how to make Fear Factor is to shout at each other a lot, and humiliate contestants who fail to complete some task. They have all this done by a female, with which I see nothing wrong (she looks like some run-of-the-mill model with a potty mouth, but that aside…), but then this happens:

You really have to watch it to believe that this kind of stupidity exists. There are two dozen men in the video who want to beat up one little-ish guy who’s dressed in what looks to me like a dress. Real macho.

[End. Fini. Kaputski. Fucking Gits!]

Inception!

I watched Inception at a reasonably good cinema last night!

First of all, Christopher Nolan, Sir, take a bow! For the most incredible, imaginative, skein-like, yet tightly-held-together story ever. EVER. This beats Lucas and his Wars with both hands and both feet tied… and a bag over the head. Heck, this beats the Wachowski brothers while being asleep. Two layers down.

I’d been apprehensive about missing something in the movie, since everybody I know seems to have watched it multiple times.  I’m starting to think people might be watching this movie multiple times to just, you know, watch the movie, and that ‘the story is too complex’ is just an excuse. Goddamn!

I’m told the film was longer than two hours. I must have been two layers above ‘awake’, because it felt like ten minutes! And not a single dull moment. Or twenty, if you’re counting in dream-time (Okay, I’ll stop doing that now).

The best written story in a long time was partnered with the most breathtaking photography since, well, since the Dark Knight; Same director, I’m guessing. And the background score! Mein Herr Zimmer, I have a bow for you too.

Amongst all this technical wizardry, one can almost be forgiven for thinking that Govinda and company could’ve pulled off the acting. Actually, no. One can’t be forgiven for thinking that. Bad, bad, Croor. The acting was good. However eclipsed DiCaprio and Ellen Page and co. may have been by the direction and the photography, they did a fine job… never overacting, never getting carried away, and yet making the viewer feel the urgency and the adrenaline.

I would’ve said I loved the editing and the screenplay and the casting, but I don’t know nearly enough about that stuff. I am willing to bet half the money in my pockets, however, that I already know what movie next year’s Oscar awards are going to go to. A dozen of them should do just fine, thanks.

The movie ended with what should have been a happily ever after, except there was a definite, and loud, gasp from the audience.

Why? Well, you’re going to have to go watch the movie to find out, haven’t you?!

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UPDATE: For a brilliant write-up about the movie, go here. Traums pulled out all the stops on this one.

TV Ads: The sublime and the ridiculous

There have been legendary ads in Indian television history. The Bajaj ad for ‘Chunnu Munnu de pappa di gaddi’ was inspired. There was also one for a super-strength (hat-tip to Jerry Seinfeld for this particular phrase!) pain relieving gel (Zandu Balm, it was, I think) that is supposedly powerful enough to relieve the headache of Ravana and his ten heads. (The actor in the film was one of the heads, which meant that the frail Ravana really looked like he might topple. Perhaps this bit was unintentional).

Contrast this creativity with what gets aired today. A hopelessly stone-faced Yuvraj endorsing a multivitamin pill, for example. He can’t even say  ‘Jiyo jee bhar ke’ without shouting.

And it’s not always the fault of celebrities who can’t act to save their lives. Take this ad, for example. A remarkably silly premise stretched into a minute-long ad, I had to watch this damn ad three times before I understood what the heck the makers were trying to say.

Did you get that? [With any other cable service, you might have thought Saif Ali Khan was faithful to his partner, but with our high-def cable, you’ll know that he was just being watchful while hitting on other women]. The two scenarios are played one after the other, and if you blink when the changeover’s happening, you’ll miss the solitary frame that says ‘The Beach in HD’, and ask yourself why the heck the stupid ad is being aired a second time. The product isn’t even mentioned until the last 3 seconds in a 50 second ad.

I’d like to know how much the PR firm that made this ad got paid for it, and if I can get some of the moolah for not doing anything… you know, I’ll be making Airtel more money by sitting at home and not sabotaging their marketing with such tripe.

It’s not all ridiculous, though. Here’s some sublime wit, something to cheer you up for the next two hours:

After explaining to his visitors the features and achievements of Juno, the inter-planetary exploratory vehicle, the scientist, who has to remind one of the visitors not to click photographs (this bit is genius!), points out that Juno will make it all the way to Jupiter in only one year. Without missing a heartbeat, an Indian in the crowd asks the scientist ‘kitna deti hai?’. The ad then goes on to say that Maruti makes the most fuel-efficient cars in economy-obsessed India.

News from the box

When you’re at home, like I currently am, your primary source of information become the embarrassingly many 24 hour news channels. Some of these stories registered, which means that they were especially worrisome.

1)  Times Now has run a story about some taped telephonic conversation between leaders of the Hurriyat and some other Kashmiri separatist faction in which these people are allegedly discussing how to make the stone-pelter riots bigger. Times Now claims that this is evidence that the recent riots in Kashmir were engineered by separatist elements. (a) What these conversations prove is that two weeks after the riots began, some leaders of some political parties want the riots to intensify, and not that the sentiments themselves are made up.  (b) Are we surprised that they see an opportunity in the groundswell that is currently present in Kashmir? Would one have said something about some march that Gandhi undertook because he sensed that the people of India were restless?

2) There have been an ever-growing number of  ‘honour-killings’ in North India, sanctioned by Khap Panchayats and supported, if not also carried out, by the family of the victims themselves. What honour these fuckers find in killing their own family members evades my understanding. What I find especially troubling about this pattern is the kind of people who are carrying out these murders. They aren’t old dyed in the wool patriarchs from two generations ago, imposing their ideology on a younger generation. The people committing these atrocities are urban-looking, articulate, probably college-educated motherfuckers. An interview with two of these idiots (aired on CNN-IBN’s Y-Not — as in ‘NOT gen-Y’) was especially scary.

It is a maxim of social thought that the vanguards of social freedom in one century are usually surpassed even by the laggards of the next. Thomas Jefferson may have been a great prime-mover for democracy, but his writings are also unbelievably racist, IF judged by today’s standards; nobody, of course, would do something like that and expect to be taken seriously. It seems, however, that we in India haven’t moved ahead at all. Raja Ram Mohan Roy was preaching women’s equality and widow remarriage in the first half of the 19th century. And here we are in the 21st century, with people having to live in fear of their own families because they married someone from the wrong caste, sect, religion, or whatever else the frikkin’ crazy assholes think brings them ‘honour’.

3) I saw some report about a school in Vadodara suspending students because somebody in the administration found that the students had badmouthed the school on their  facebook pages. Granted, this isn’t nearly as troubling as people killing family members for ‘honour’, but it is a transgression of the students’ right of free speech, and a grave one at that. The students, it seems, later apologized and were reinstated.

4) There was also the story of the boy who was killed because he couldn’t be brought to the hospital on time as the PM’s convoy happened to be somewhere in the astronomical vicinity of where the father happened to be driving. Yes, this is a problem, and it is well known to be a problem. Might I ask the TV channels running this, however, not to run the incoherent  rambling of a presumably grieving mother over and over again? Surely the people of this country can appreciate that this is a tragedy without also being shown pictures of a lady seemingly too choked to string together four sentences?

5) I envy people who have things other than watching TV most of the day to do, because I’m quite irked about the number of mentions of Paul the Octopus on national TV. I mean, it’s OK when it’s done for fun the first one hundred times, but these people mention that damn thing every time they talk about the world cup or football! So much so that I fully expect to be pointed to one of these stories the next time someone I happen to be having an argument with wants to ‘prove’ god to me.

6) The third-place play-off should be starting about now. Loew, Oezil, Podolski and some others are down with influenza, I hear. Hmm…