Four shades of Lust.

So far, the done-to-death Bollywood plot has revolved around one four letter world – LOVE. The kind that makes the protagonists run around trees, The one that up until the late 90s, didn’t even acknowledge that emotional attraction resulting in physical intimacy was a perfectly natural, biological process. I, for one, am reminded of days when anything with a slight hint of carnal affection was substituted rather poorly by showing two flowers brushing against each other?

Flash forward to times today. Audiences have evolved. Even though mention of sex does raise eyebrows, we’ve moved past the flowers kissing phase, showing real people. In such a scenario, what happens when LUST, another four letter world, one that has so far been socially booed and shame-shamed, gets thrown at four stalwarts of contemporary Bollywood, and each one of them is given the opportunity to interpret this in their own manner?

Boy, do they come out fantastic results. Each one different, yet very relatable. Perhaps the only thing that’s uncannily common in all four of them is that in all four cases, the protagonist happens to be a woman.

Each tiny tale, takes a life and path of its own, not shaming carnal desire, but rather accepting a normal, human need.

A free-spirited schoolteacher, who openly experiments with her sexual adventures, breaking convention, stereotype and the stigma associated with open marriages.

A household help who gives in to her employers sexual advances, only to be reminded , of her status quo in society. Confronting the harsh truth that her employer will bed her, yet will wed only someone who belongs to his own strata – socially and educationally.

A middle-aged woman, who resorts to infidelity as her only solace, her escape route out of a loveless marriage, a career she ditched in favor of domestic bliss, and a husband who prides himself on the fact that he owns her.

And finally, my personal favorite of the lot, the dilemma of a newly-wed woman, who is coming to terms with the fact that her husband treats sex as an act of one-sided pleasure, not even being able to comprehend her hints about being unsatisfied.

As a millennial, urban Indian woman myself, the takeaway I get when I watch a series like this is that none of the situations seem unfamiliar. The multiple facets of love, sex, relationships presented on screen depict slices of the huge pie that is contemporary Indian society.  One that’s realizing over time that sex and sexuality, are not physical privileges, they’re basic human needs. One that’s only still coming to accept that sexual pleasure is as much as a female prerogative as much as it is of a male. One that’s opening up the idea of sexual pleasure being prevalent in multiple colors, flavours and forms.

The feisty kind. The guilty pleasure kind. The unapologetic kind. The desirable kind.

And to each one of them, a woman has equal right as much as a man. While ironically, a land that produced the world’s encyclopedia to sex, the Kama Sutra, shouldn’t have to be emphasizing the fact that love making is a two way traffic, I’m glad we’re having that conversation. Or at least, beginning to.

Post Veere-di-Wedding thoughts

This could almost be a follow-up to a piece I’d written earlier, on the evolution of the quintessential Bollywood heroine. If you haven’t read it already, find it here.

When a film starring four female actors, hashtagged #NotaChickFlick revolves around a plot of reunion of friends on the occasion of the wedding of one, you know you want to watch it. Irrespective of what reviews and critics say. Out of enthusiasm, and curiosity.

So, for a 27-year-old, single woman, one who has made several bold decisions in life, yet is far from claiming that she’s figured it all out, a movie like this sends several thoughts down her spine.

She relates with many of the tensions that the protagonists in the film experience. The conflict of an emotional heart with a rational mind. The challenges that arise from being in the no-man’s land between following your heart, yet wanting to match up to the social pressures of a society that occasionally wants to take charge of your life narrative. Dealing with plenty of first world issues, especially when you’re a millennial Indian woman balancing on yourself on the tight rope hanging between tradition and modernity.

She realizes that in many ways, she shares a note with all four of them. Kalindi’s free spirit that struggles with emotional baggage she’s trying hard to not bring in way of her life decisions, yet get in the way anyhow. Avni’s go-getter attitude that wants to be successful from every angle –  professional, personal and social . Sakshi’s impulsive, rebellious heart that takes her places, both wrong and right. And finally, Meera’s insecurities about life and love especially when the people unintentionally causing you grief are your own.

But her takeaway, is that like her, the protagonists in the film aren’t perfect either. And that everyone’s concept of a Happily Ever After varies. And that every girl needs her own little wolf pack , one she can count on, to make life a little lesser tougher when chips are down.

The film has its flaws, though. It restricts itself to a wafer-thin crust of Indian society that lives in posh bungalows with manicured lawns, and is able to whimsically take, off to Thailand when it wants to escape life’s harsh realities for a while. Multiple forced product placements that feel anything but natural (especially Air India. I wonder if the in-trouble airline is expecting a revival simply by featuring in the film). Few moments excessively over-the-top, right from the costumes to the dialogue.

However, what VDW essentially does, is bring to light, the multiple shades and undertones of the realistic urban Indian women. One who is confident enough to make her own choices when it comes to career and marriage, yet occasionally question her own sensibilities in making those choices. One who is paradoxical, ferociously guarding her sense of independence and identity, yet craving companionship. One who hides her insecurities and fears that arise as a result of her own life experiences, or others, to make sure her life is Instagram and Snapchat ready.

If you’re seeking a film that highlights women’s issues or brings forward women empowerment as a cause, you’re much better off watching a Chak De India. This film is feminine, not feminist. Watch it with your girlfriends on a casual Sunday, and make sure you play the game of who-is-which-character. And leave the theatre without over-analyzing what you saw. Though in my own sense of optimism, I do hope the film somewhere paves the way for mainstream Bollywood films featuring women. Ones where female protagonists don’t necessarily have to  inspire women to change the world,  scream girl power, or tell stories of women changed the world. Yet canstrike a chord by propagating the message that sometimes before you save the world, you have to save yourself. That’s not called being selfish, its called being sensible.

 

 

 

Book Review : Calling Sehmat

I’d like to call Calling Sehmat, an exception to my reading repertoire. Since it’s usually the book that gets me interested in the movie. This time, it was the opposite. Also, very rarely do I feel that any movie that’s inspired by a book can do full justice to the book. Here too, while Raazi, the film thats based on the book, touches upon most of the details in the tale, it is a masterpiece in its own right. One that takes a life of its own.

A true story of a woman in her 20s, chronicled by Harinder Sikka, the story is set against the backdrop of a post-partition India. In a time where relationships between the nation and its neighbour Pakistan were only souring with each passing, with the former’s support to the erstwhile East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) being the bone of contention. In such a scenario, RAW (India’s Intelligence Agency) had established an entire network of spies who were assigned to go undercover to various places including Pakistan, and seek out invaluable information that would safeguard their country. Sadly enough, none of these people went down as heroes in the pages of history, becoming faceless silhouettes instead, whose stories we never learn about until people like Sikka go searching for them.

One such character is Sehmat Khan(name concealed to protect identity), the daughter of Kashmir based businessman Hidaayat Khan who also doubles up as a RAW undercover agent, using his regular trips to Pakistan as a means to gain information about Pakistan’s military and political actions, which he ultimately passes on to RAW. When Hidaayat learns of his terminal cancer, with a stone hearted spirit, he appoints his young daughter Sehmat as his successor. Within a jiffy, Sehmat’s nikkah (marriage in Urdu) is arranged with Iqbal Sayed, the son of Hidaayat’s old friend and a top brass military officer in Pakistan. The underlying intention behind the alliance is to use Sehmat’s position in the family as the younger daughter-in-law to gain access to top-level military information, which can only be attained by an insider.

A majority of the book covers stresses on Sehmat’s espionage career, right from the time when she is introduced as a diligent student at a Delhi college, discovering her first taste of falling in love with a fellow classmate Aby, After which she is abruptly called home to Srinagar, where the details of her father’s impending disease, and his plans of Sehmat carrying forward his legacy are revealed to her. Despite the dangers and risk involved, the young Sehmat agrees, in a heartbeat. And overnight, from an innocent college student, she is wed to Iqbal, with whom she travels across the border to begin a new life – as a wife and spy. Throughout the book, the reader is subjected to highs and lows of what it really takes to carry out an undercover mission, where a single wrong step can mean anything from murder to heinous torture. Two specific heart-wrenching moments in the book are when Sehmat crushes Abdul, the old faithful servant of the Sayed household under the truck, and consequently her brother-in-law Mehboob, for the fear of her identity being revealed. In both these moments, the author does a phenomenal task of explaining how murdering both these people almost killed Sehmat herself, but it was the sanctity of the love for her country and the gravity of her mission that kept her sane and focused. Moments where humanity conflict with her patriotism. The reader cannot help but marvel at the various means Sehmat employs to expedite her mission of finding information. The story ends with Sehmat’s return to India on completion of her mission, pregnant and heavy-hearted. to lead a life of solitude, one where her past would stay with her for a lifetime, even haunting her occasionally.

In a nutshell, Calling Sehmat is a delightful, descriptive, even informative read. And a story well retold. While at times it might come across as a little too focused on the details, overall, it is a book that once you’ve finished reading, you cannot help but express admiration at the spirit of the protagonist, along with the writer’s prowess and conviction at ensuing that the tale is narrated in a manner that it strikes a chord with the reader, which it sure does. If you’re a curious, empathetic person with a liking for people and realistic fiction, read the book. And even better, watch the movie. It’ll be time well spent, I promise.

Star rating: 3.5/5

P.S.: You can purchase Calling Sehmat on Flipkart, or Amazon.

TED TALKS – Bite Sized Gems

If there’s one thing lifelong learners like me have in common, its a mind that thrives on curiosity, creativity, and variety. One thats always looking to expand and stretch its horizons. While there are a few subjects of passion I’m personally always scouting content for, I’m often very pleasantly surprised on how much invaluable knowledge there is the world, on topics and themes otherwise considered frivolous. Maybe that’s why I’m such a fan of watching TED Talks.

What makes the TED Talks concept a winner, at least in my opinion, is the combination of high-quality crisp content, combined with great delivery, boxed within a specific time frame.

If I had to list 5 of my favorite talks, they would be:

  1. How Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google manipulate our emotions, Scott Galloway
  2. Islamophobia killed my brother, lets end the hate, by Suzanne Barakat
  3. The genius of the London Map, by Michael Bierut
  4. We should all be feminists, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
  5. A taboo way to speak about periods, by Aditi Gupta

If you’re a TED Talks person, I’m sure you have your own list of favorites. And your own  takeaways from them. Here are mine:

  1. Powerful storytelling always triumphs: I’m probably not as interested in the topic of menstruation, as much as I am, in learning what a woman in rural India did to fight period related taboos. The human element. The personal story behind the topic. Every TED Talk is, in its own way, a personal saga of triumph. Which eventually makes the subject even more profound.
  2. No topic is too trivial to be spoken about : From the genius of the design behind the London tube map, to a heart wrenching story of how a woman’ brother was killed by a neighbor in a hate crime, they’re all tales, dying to be told. Like I once heard someone tell me, good stories always find their listeners. And not all of them must be about princesses in castles.
  3. Empathy. Empathy. Empathy : Possibly the most underrated human emotion, if you were to ask me. One that comes alive repeatedly in these videos, and convinces you, that all we need to at times is to think with our hearts. Maybe even feel with our minds. Empathy isn’t just an emption, its a strong forerunner of life decisions. One that the world can benefit significantly from.
  4. Big things come in small packages : It never fails to overwhelm me, how a 20 minute TED Talk can have a deeper impact than pages and pages of written content can.
  5. The world’s a stage: And we’re its performers. And storytellers. And artists. Despite our differences of geography, society, color, gender and class. What unites us, is way greater than what divides us. Our stories and snippets from life, our shared struggles, and the lessons we learn from them. We’re a global village here, no single being excluded.

If I still haven’t convinced you why you should be watching TED Talks, maybe you can check them out here for yourself.

 

 

 

 

 

Love – the destination or Love – the journey?

As far as my taste in films and books goes, I’ve always leaned towards ones that explore relationships. Even more so that ones that include the so-called unconventional ones. Which meant that Victoria & Abdul was one I’d always been wanting to watch. And I’m glad I finally did.

For those who haven’t seen it, this film charts the relationship between British monarch Queen Victoria, and her relationship with her slave turned teacher turned confidante, Abdul. One about a relationship that couldn’t exactly be boxed or confined by worldly definitions. More so because of the people involved. Or rather, the social differences in them. One powerful, yet lonely monarch, and her slave. A rather kaleidoscopic relationship that took on many forms as it progressed over time – friendship, advisor, confidante, and even a strange, platonic love. Depicted in a beautiful way through a combination of stellar acting performances, direction and cinematography.

And while I may forget the plot of the film, I know I’m not forgetting the core message. Not every relationship that blooms, thrives and grows must have a name.

From my experiences of life, I’ve learned that love, broadly speaking is of two types. There’s Type A love. Love by the book. By the rules. The one that sees its zenith in union. The one that takes you to the altar. The one that makes verbal, powerful promises, with the promise to live by them. This love is the destination, for it usually comes with a goal in mind.

And then there’s Type B. This love is anything but conventional. It cannot be boxed. Or defined. Or pigeonholed into a single relationship as proposed by society. Yet this love finds a way in. You discover it in the strangest of places, under the most unexpected of circumstances. This love does not conform to the rules of societal norms, or worldly expectations. Which is why it is commonly misunderstood. Or forcibly hidden. This love has no stage of culmination. It is the journey, one that typically has no zeitgeist. It evolves, as it grows.

Most films, art and love stories have coerced us into believing that Type A is the ‘right’ kind of love. Because only love that conforms to social expectations, can be, and can be understood, and can be honored. But that doesn’t mean that love that can’t be fit into a definition should b ignored. Or that it doesn’t deserve its due.  For love, is love, is love.  In my own words, Love is whenever the soul agrees to go beyond the confines of its worldly self to bring happiness to another soul, without bothering what happens to its own.

And it this world, we need both. As much we need the love that we’ve all been told to expect, even demand, we also need the love that wasn’t typically planned for, to help us grow, honor and heal – the very function of love. In this populous world, love is scarce, and hence every grain of it ought to be welcomed and relished. For every love is different. Yet in essence, they’re all the same.

And in the words of F Scott Fitzgerald himself, “There are all kinds of love in this world, but never the same love twice“.

Pad-mavati to Pad-man : flavors of Feminism

There’s something fun about watching Bollywood movies in a foreign land. Last week, I saw two movies which in very different ways, focused on women and feminism. And in many ways, they both gave me tremendous food for thought.

The first, Padmavat, based on historical folklore. Of how one king lusts for another king’s queen. A desire so deep that it makes him go to war in hopes of conquering the lady in question. Though he manages to emerge victorious, the queen foils his desire by performing Jauhar, the supposed act of self-immolation, taking a decision to die and save her honor rather than let herself be touched by the enemy.

The other, Padman, based on the story of a real-life visionary, who, pained by the sight of the dirty rags his wife uses during her period, takes it upon himself to master the technology that allows him to produce economical sanitary napkins. Of course in a country like India where sanitary napkins are wrapped in newspaper and smirked at before they’re handed to you by your neighborhood pharmacist, and women while menstruating are considered ‘impure’, this is no easy task. But our hero, a.k.a. Padman, perseveres, encountering the wrath of society, his own family to eventually succeed in his mission.

Other than the fact that they were came from the Bollywood film camp, they were worlds apart. Set in different times, circumstances and with completely different storylines. Yet, I found it fascinating how in strange ways, the two were connected. And how, in completely different ways, they propagated similar themes, which stood out as  key takeaways for the proponents of feminism.

 

  1. All men’s issue are women’s issues. All women’s issues are men’s issues

We may be two separate sexes, but we’re not islands. What men do impacts women. A  man desires another’s women. The two fight. And the woman decides that she’d rather protect her dead husband’s honor than walk into the other’s arms. A man sees his wife falling prey to unhygienic menstrual practice, which he realizes that if not tackled immediately, could lead to his wife dying. And he decides to take matters into his own hands.

As a society geared towards inclusion, it takes everybody to stand up for everybody.

2. It takes one woman to start a revolution

Rani Padmavati decides to defend the honor of her Rajput clan (one which according the movie, is known for valuing their ideals and self-respect above everything else). A bold move (which I’m not labelling as either right or wrong), which went down in the pages of history.

In Padman, our hero is alone until one woman driven out of desperation to escape a drunk husband, decides to be his first ad-hoc sales rep, sparking a chain reaction in the process.

3. But other women must follow

One women can take a stand, but to make a movement, it takes all the others. Women need to stand up for women, not the other way around.

4. No issue is big or small

From a big war involving kings and queens and forts and horses, to the war that millions of women fight against safe periods, no issue is too small or menial to be not talked about, or fought for/against.

5. Tradition should ground, not bind. And nothing is ever set in stone.

While the scene where an entire village of women  rush to jump into the flames of fire is indeed a visual treat, it did make me sad. I wonder if it in way, almost glorified the practice of self-immolation.  Why a woman was punished was no fault of hers, except that she was beautiful enough to elicit another man’s attention. Some might argue that it’s not relevant since it was set in the Stone Age, yet to this date, I continue to hear stories of honor killing, women having to undergo ‘virginity’ tests, and even being ostracized from society when they are raped. The Rani might have chosen to burn to death out of her own wish, but I do hope that she was the last one to do so.

Similarly, I’ve listened to old wives’ tales about women almost taking a 5 day break from life when they’re on their period. And other women seeing nothing wrong with a woman having to eat and sleep separately from rest of the household when she’s menstruating. But the same men label the man who’s trying to help womankind, a pervert, when he tries to ‘interfere’ in ‘womanly matters’. Only because something has been practiced since time immemorial doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be questioned, or changed if the need arises.

In conclusion, I’d say both movies are definitely a must watch, yet they must be taken with a pinch of salt. One because it narrates a story of lust, honor and pride which ended with everyone losing in the end. And one that depicts a harsh reality of the times we live in, where women say that they would much rather die of shame than let their so-called personal matters out in the open.

 

 

 

To Post or not To Post

In hindsight, if there’s one thing I could’ve changed about my life, it would have been to study journalism. In any case, that hasn’t taken away my love for everything for that screams media. And I enjoy watching movies, especially ones marked by a strong script and great character performances. It’s probably no surprise that The Post had been on my watchlist for a while. (Anything Meryl Streep always does).

And I wasn’t disappointed. At all. Because in my opinion, the movie was phenomenal. While the story was based on a real incident (the Washington Post disclosing information about the United States’ involvement in the Vietnamese war), it does take a Spielberg-esque prowess to make a dated movie with every inch of authenticity intact, not let the storyline loose and bring out such powerful performances from its crew.

Above everything else, two things in the movie intrigued me. As a 21st century, always-on millennial, I found it rather fascinating to see how a few decades back, information was almost a property of the press. How else would someone sitting in a remote corner of the United States know what was going on in Vietnam? There was no internet, remember? The only organizations that had the resources to send journalists to far-flung destinations across the globe were journalists.  And for someone (like pretty much most millennials), who carries the world on her mobile phone, this was almost surreal. We didn’t grow up in an era where information was guarded. Or there were only a few channels that had the ability to broadcast information, real-time. Which makes even more sense why legacy media institutions commanded such positions of power, particularly in powerful democracies. I wonder if that is a boon or a bane though, especially compared to the times when there’s almost an information overload of sorts. But on second thoughts, I do think information monopoly is a bane. Information should never be a guarded property. And the focus of any media company should be on high quality journalism, not to withhold information.

And second thing. I thought the movie had several takeaways for leadership. I learned that nepotism isn’t always planned. Some times, it just happens, given life circumstances. And even then, while nepotism may give you the opportunity, the decisions and choices you make in that position of power are uniquely yours. And so is the responsibility for them. As someone who finds themselves in positions of power simply because they were born into it, there comes a time when you have to free yourself from the burden of the legacy you’re carrying, and carve your own niche. Challenging but critical. I learned that strong leaders are ones who ask for advice, but in the end, follow their own gut instinct. And do not feel the need to justify them to every one, even those who they might have held as close confidantes and even mentors all their lives. Strong leaders are decisive, agile, and brave. And more than anything else, powerful leaders execute, delegate, and take one for the team. Always. Because while every success may have a singular face, it almost always takes a village.

The funny coincidence is how timely the movie was. In a time where the last few years have been witness to institutions of power falling part, The Post highlights how critical it is to in the end, to always stay true to your purpose, no matter what. And the importance of letting that always be the guiding star, especially in turbulent times. For at least in context of the film, both the past and future has belonged to people who took courageous decisions, and stood by them.

Book Review – The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell

Its been a while I read a book that elucidated human behavior in a manner that’s lucid and relatable.

As a marketer, its critical we understand human behavior, which isn’t just complicated and heterogeneous across demographics, societies and communities, but also anything but rational. And Gladwell, in his Tipping Point, takes the readers through a journey, where through citing specific real-life stories, he explains why certain groups of people behave the way they do. And how that impacts other people. He tries to insert logic into why certain incidents tend to leave more of an impact on you than others, and a marketing student, I found it interesting how this explanation of human behavior, and the people, environments and situations that have a long-lasting effect on them, shape their own thoughts and experiences, and how these insights can be understood from a business perspective.

Key takeaways from the book:

  1. Mavens, Connectors, Salesmen – The three groups of people, who mostly subconsciously, end up affecting masses.  And who can be very useful, particularly from a marketing context, for the purpose of effective communication. The mavens, the people who tend to be extraordinarily passionate about topics and subjects which to others may appear quite random (Coffee art, 3-D Printing, Stamp collection, anyone?), and aren’t unafraid to share their extensive, handpicked knowledge with anyone who’s willing to listen, making them thought leaders, or what in marketing jargon could be described as ‘influencers’. The connectors, exceptionally socially well-connected beings, who tend to know more people than most of us, and whose connections could be leveraged upon quite effectively, when you wish to reach masses quickly. And finally the salesmen, people whose superior communicative abilities make people sit up and notice when they try to convince you about something. And what’s incredible is how while you’re reading, you can think of several real-life examples from your own social circle of family and friends.

2. Power of Context – We normally tend to think of incidents and specific examples of people’s behavior as happening in isolation. But what Gladwell highlights here, is the criticality of the context in which it happens, which you cannot ignore, particularly in the event that you’re trying to analyze the reasons behind why it occurred. The one example that stands out in the mind, is one of the crime rate in the New York subway receding over time, correlating to removal of graffiti from the walls of the subway. Context is critical.

3. Law of the Few – Remember Pareto’s principle? Big changes happen due to small changes. And quite analogically, it takes few people, within the masses, to create big changes.

4. The ‘stickiness’ factor – Stickiness occurs when a message tends to resonate with people, and stay in their minds for a longer time than the multitude of  thoughts that affects them otherwise. And you know you’ve achieved communication nirvana when that happens. While at first glance, stickiness may come across as something that is accidental, or that only has a creative motivation, Gladwell argues that it’s equally strategic  with factors such as frequency and method of delivery having a crucial role to play.

Yay or Nay? If you’re looking for an insight into human, maybe specifically consumer behavior, from someone who explains it from a casual, personal, yet relatable perspective with examples that may not necessarily be universal and current, this is a great read. However, if you’d like something that has a more scientific, figure backed explanation, particularly touching more on how human behavior has evolved with the digitization of the globe, you could give this a pass.