Live and LeT die

Following on from yesterday’s post, doesn’t it gladden your heart that the war on terror continues to be fought with such vim?

Indian and Pakistani dossiers on the Mumbai investigations, copies of which were obtained by The New York Times, offer a detailed picture of the operations of a Lashkar network that spans Pakistan. It included four houses and two training camps here in this sprawling southern port city that were used to prepare the attacks.

One highly placed Lashkar militant said the Mumbai attackers were part of groups trained by former Pakistani military and intelligence officials at Lashkar camps. Others had direct knowledge that retired army and ISI officials trained Lashkar recruits as late as last year.

“Some people of the ISI knew about the plan and closed their eyes,” said one senior Lashkar operative in Karachi who said he had met some of the gunmen before they left for the Mumbai assault, though he did not know what their mission would be.

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Back when I was effing around with not much by way of employment, I used to spend a heck of a lot of time on Tamil and Malayalam movie sets. A friend I made then was producer-director Thampi Kannanthanam, a master of mindless pulp who, after a disastrous beginning that rendered him near bankrupt, turned things around with two Mohanlal-starring underworld actioners, Rajavinte Makan and Bhoomiyile Rajakanmaar.

Great character, Thampi. He once had an itinerant magician teach him basic tricks, so he could keep his stars amused during lulls in the shooting. One day, in course of a random chat, he told me the solution to my employment problem was to turn script-writer. I don’t know how, I protested. What is to know, he shrugged, and then initiated me into the formula. His words, as I remember them:

“The first decision to make is whether to make the boy rich or the girl rich. The solution is simple — pick the girl. After all, even the richest of boys can only wear pants and shirts anyway, but you can dress up a rich girl in a dozen different ways.

“So you have a rich girl and a poor boy, and you have your set for a nominal amount — any college, during the summer holidays. When does college reopen in Kerala? In May. What else happens in May? It rains. So that’s your opening sequence — rich girl drives to work, splashes poor boy dressed in his best clothes.

“What else happens during the rains? Roads are flooded, the lights go off. So there you go: rich girl’s car is stuck. Goons harass her. Poor boy comes running to the rescue. At this point, you just write ‘Fight’, and the stunt director will take care of the next 5 minutes of screen time.

“Then what happens? Rich girl goes home, has shower [four minutes]. She dressed in flimsy nightgown and goes to bed [3 minutes]. Then she thinks of the heroic boy. Now write ‘Song’, and that’s another five minutes of run time courtesy the music director, playback singers and dance master.

“That’s all there is to it — calculate the length of your film, write Song… Fight… Song… Song… Fight, and then write the little bits that move the hero and heroine from song to fight and vice versa. At the end, write Climax, 12 minutes, and there you go.”

Prabhu Deva, I thought while watching Wanted yesterday, must have graduated summa cum laude from the Kannanthanam school of film-making. And I don’t mean that in a sneery, superior kind of way. Some of Thampi’s films were fun; I’ll even admit to having seen a couple of them more than once, and not just because the director was a friend and so I could get free tickets. Similarly, Wanted [where Prabhu Deva mercifully cleans up the ridiculous Vadivelu-driven comedy track from the Tamil version Pokkiri but, barring a couple of minor tweaks and an additional fight sequence, stays true to the original storyboard] was fun, in a bizarre, retro kind of way that takes you back to the no-frills storytelling of the late seventies and early to mid eighties.

Great Bong saved me the trouble of doing a review. A choice clip:

Its DNA contains the nucleotides of Action, Song and Random Act of Villainy arranged in a repeating pattern. There is no ambiguity, no non-linearity, no homo-erotic friendships and absolutely no attempt at character or narrative development. …

Did I say Neanderthal? I think I did. If you believe that women should be characterized  as well-rounded independent people in a movie then maybe “Wanted” is not for you. Well let me qualify that.  Women are represented as “well rounded” but that’s about it.In a throw-back to the 80s, there is nothing size-zero (except perhaps the magnitude of her histrionic abilities) about the heroine Ayesha Takia (the hero calls her a “zyada charbi-wala gosht” in one scene and in another sparklingly classy sequence tells her “Aisa dhakka naheen maarne ka..hum log mens log hain na…delicate delicate jagga main taqleef pohunchta hai”) and the only reason she is in the movie is because there are two reasons she is in the movie. And the camera spends a lot of time highlighting those facts.

WTF is “rape rape”?

Barring the cursory link in yesterday’s edition of Eye Browse, I had meant to avoid the Roman Polanski affair altogether. In any case, I thought Amit Varma had said all that needed to be said on the subject in his post of yesterday: Polanski made some great movies, which we watched and admired; Polanski raped an underage girl, and needs to pay a price for it. The two are not connected, a capacity to produce great art does not inoculate you from the consequences of your illegal actions.

Apropos, Hariharan Rahul in course of an email discussion among friends posted a link to this essay by George Orwell, in course of which he makes this point:

In an age like our own, when the artist is an altogether exceptional person, he must be allowed a certain amount of irresponsibility, just as a pregnant woman is. Still, no one would say that a pregnant woman should be allowed to commit murder, nor would anyone make such a claim for the artist, however gifted. If Shakespeare returned to the earth to-morrow, and if it were found that his favourite recreation was raping little girls in railway carriages, we should not tell him to go ahead with it on the ground that he might write another King Lear.

Spiked editor Brendan O’Neill underlines the ridiculousness of the ongoing furor over Polanski’s arrest:

But the miles of newspaper commentary and feverish diplomatic activity that greeted his arrest in Switzerland have not really been concerned with the facts of the case, the question of legal precedents, or the issue of justice. Instead, Polanski has been turned into a symbol. For conservatives, still convinced that the Sixties are the root of all evil, he is symbolic of the perversions allegedly unleashed by the naked, hippyish, free-love liberations of the countercultural period, with his rape of a 13-year-old girl seen virtually as the logical end product of legalising drug use and encouraging people to be sexually experimental. For liberals he is a symbol of tortured European artistry, who is now being victimised by an ‘ugly’ and ‘prudish’ America which doesn’t appreciate great art (1). For American officials, Polanski is symbolic of European degeneracy and they fantasise that returning him to an American jail will be a victory for Reaganite decency over French moral turpitude. For French officials, meanwhile, Polanski is a symbol of Europe’s gallant recovery from its dark past (Polanski and his family, Polish Jews, were persecuted during the Holocaust), who is now being tortured anew by ‘the darker side of America, the side that scares us all’ (2). Just as Mia Farrow’s Rosemary was a vessel for the devil in Rosemary’s Baby, so Polanski has been turned into a vessel for all sorts of political jibber jabber today.

It is striking how quickly the discussion of what Polanski, one man, did to Samantha Gailey, one girl, in a bedroom in 1977 twists and turns into a discussion about competing moral values and even clashing national standards.

Salon’s Kate Harding put it with the brutal force it deserves at a time when the core issues are being hidden under a cloud of obfuscatory commentary:

Roman Polanski raped a child. Let’s just start right there, because that’s the detail that tends to get neglected when we start discussing whether it was fair for the bail-jumping director to be arrested at age 76, after 32 years in “exile” (which in this case means owning multiple homes in Europe, continuing to work as a director, marrying and fathering two children, even winning an Oscar, but never — poor baby — being able to return to the U.S.). Let’s keep in mind that Roman Polanski gave a 13-year-old girl a Quaalude and champagne, then raped her, before we start discussing whether the victim looked older than her 13 years, or that she now says she’d rather not see him prosecuted because she can’t stand the media attention. Before we discuss how awesome his movies are or what the now-deceased judge did wrong at his trial, let’s take a moment to recall that according to the victim’s grand jury testimony, Roman Polanski instructed her to get into a jacuzzi naked, refused to take her home when she begged to go, began kissing her even though she said no and asked him to stop; performed cunnilingus on her as she said no and asked him to stop; put his penis in her vagina as she said no and asked him to stop; asked if he could penetrate her anally, to which she replied, “No,” then went ahead and did it anyway, until he had an orgasm.

Can we do that? Can we take a moment to think about all that, and about the fact that Polanski pled guilty to unlawful sex with a minor, before we start talking about what a victim he is? Because that would be great, and not nearly enough people seem to be doing it.

A simple call to make, you would think if you read the victim’s testimony at the time of the original trial. ‘Liberal’ Hollywood apparently has other ideas. Exemplar in chief of the ‘alternate view’ is Whoopi Goldberg, who on The View says what Polanski did was not actually “rape rape” – a supreme WTF moment if ever there was one. Here, watch:

That is a scary, alternate moral universe Goldberg inhabits, where rape goes from being an absolute to being parsed into several shadings, with the question of criminal culpability dependent on questions such as whether the victim was ‘aware’ it was taking place.

What, rape is not rape if the victim is aware that she is getting fucked front and back despite her constant cries of ‘No’?

Goldberg, too, advances the bizarre argument that it is perfectly valid for a criminal to skip the country if he figures the penal consequences of his crime are more than he wants to accept — which is if anything even worse than her “rape rape” rant.

Goldberg is not the only Hollywood celeb lured into loony territory – the list includes Debra Winger, Monica Belluci, Wong Kar Wai and others [Jazz Shaw in The Moderate Voice underlines the ridiculousness of Goldberg and Winger on the one hand championing the cause of women, and on the other suggesting that maybe Polanski raping and sodomizing a 13-year-old girl was a minor peccadillo not worth fussing over]. And then there’s Harvey Weinstein, first person, in the Independent:

Roman Polanski is a man who cares deeply about his art and its place in this world. What happened to him on his incredible path is filled with tragedy, and most men would have collapsed. Instead, he became a great artist and continues to make great films.

Harvey Weinstein [who incidentally produced the is presumably a man who cares deeply about the art and craft of film-making, and has produced some great films. So? How does that translate into immunity for rape — or even, to use Goldberg’s new formulation, “rape rape”? Weinstein further says:

It is a shocking way to treat such a man. Polanski went through the Holocaust and the murder of his wife, Sharon Tate, by the Manson family. How do you go from the Holocaust to the Manson family with any sort of dignity? In those circumstances, most people could not contribute to art and make the kind of beautiful movies he continues to make.

Everyone from Nietzsche to Kanye West say tragedy produces great art — but to stretch that into ‘tragedy produces great art and therefore excuses great crimes’ is a reach that requires an extremely elastic moral code to make.

Weinstein, incidentally, produced the 2008 documentary Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired, that purports to investigate the 1978 case and inter alia, raises questions about consent laws and century-specific sexual mores [which IMHO is a whole other and possibly valid argument, but one that does not apply to the case in point — what part of ‘no means no’ is so hard to get? Polanski would have been equally guilty had the victim been 18, or 28, or 48]:

The apologists harp on how the legal system treated Polanski unfairly, and why therefore he was right to flee as he did — an argument that, carried to its logical extreme, could as easily be used by a Dawood Ibrahim to justify hiding out in Pakistan, or indeed by any bail jumper who skips out rather than pay the prescribed price for his actions.

Hey, if you think the case was mishandled, or the judge got it wrong, isn’t that what the appellate process is for?

The Calculus of Hype

“Millions of Indians will lustily cheer every wicket taken by the Men in Green and go into raptures of delight whenever a Pakistani batsman hits a boundary.”

Yeah, right.

That’s Partho Bhaduri on the front page, no less, of the Times of India. And reading that made me realize, not for the first time, what suckers we in the media are for the obvious narrative. India’s fate depends on Pakistan!! Ooo — the delicious irony of it all, happening just days after India had played its first cricket match with the Land of Lashkar after 26/11.

Shashi Tharoor, the Twitter-minister, posted about this last evening; Partho and his mates have peppered the print media with riffs on this theme; the TV channels are getting nicely warmed up as I write this… and yet, have we done full justice to the tremendous potential [Excuse the emphatic itals in this post, please — too much Dan Brown lately] of this story?

And then there’s the conspiracy angle. Will Pakistan want India in the final? Younis Khan says so, but can we trust him, can we take his word for it and hope that Pakistan will pull out all the stops? Isn’t it more likely that Pakistan — who, as we all know, we can never really trust — will play just below par in order to do the dirty on India? Imagine what a laugh they will have in the dressing room after they’ve contrived to lose to Australia, knowing that the old enemy, still engaged in its own game against  the West Indies, now has to go through the motions knowing that its last remaining hope has been scuppered!

Oh for a Subhash Ghai, a Sunny Deol, to do full justice to such a compelling storyline. What drama! What conflict!

What crap.

Item one, the outcome of the Pakistan-Australia game does not hinge entirely — or even remotely — on whether Pakistan wants India to progress or no. The Aussies under Ponting have, thanks largely to England, rediscovered a large part of their mojo; there are signs that the arrogant self-belief that characterized the team in its pomp is gradually coming back. More to the point, the Aussies are playing very good one day cricket just now; the skipper is back in form and that fact alone makes a tremendous difference to a team that only lacked for its one surviving member of the fabled world champion outfit to lead the way.

Around him, the various bits and pieces are slotting nicely into place to a point where they are not missing Michael Clarke all that much; Mitchell Johnson cementing his place as a high quality all-rounder gives them that additional edge;  and if Nathan Bracken’s absence hurts the bowling lineup, Brett Lee is getting more into the groove with each outing. Plus, Australia is at its most dangerous when it is winning consistently.

Whether it fiddles with its lineup or not, Pakistan will have its hands full with the opposition in the game slated to begin early this afternoon — to suggest that the outcome merely hinges on whether Younis and his men want to do India down is ridiculous. The team is playing more than decent cricket, but the catch with Pakistan is that spectacular explosion and sudden implosion are two sides of a very thin coin [while on which, what fun if Pakistan actually implodes today — television talking heads can live off that for the remainder of the tournament].

Beyond all of that is the fact that India has not, in this tournament, had the look of champions — or even of a team deserving to be in the top four. The batting has been patchy, the bowling has oscillated between the good and the wild, the fielding standards are a disgrace, and MS Dhoni is gradually finding out that an ability to keep his cool is a virtue that cannot paper over every crack.

It had to happen — this after all is the Indian cricket team, and it is therefore axiomatic that any rise in fortunes will be swiftly followed by a precipitous decline. Thanks either to a beneficial alignment of the planets or a fortuitous alignment of various talents and form or both, Dhoni hasn’t felt real pressure since taking over the captaincy — but that time had to come. He is still the best bet for captain, and not merely in the short term — and if you take a long term view, it is good that his thinking is being tested now, rather than a lot closer to the next World Cup.

Mercifully, there is about Dhoni a touch of ‘if you can keep your head while all about you are losing theirs’, as exemplified by this media interaction where the bulk of the questions appear to be about Pakistan. The money quote:

“Pakistan will not play their XI thinking if they win, India will qualify,” he said. “Whatever they need to experiment they will do because they have qualified, they will look at the future. They might try out their reserves. It depends on them, what they want to get out of the game. I don’t think they will consider that if they win and if we win comfortably against the West Indies, India will qualify. I don’t think that will be an issue.”

‘Pragmatic’ is the best way to be for the Indian captain today — focus on the game, use it as an opportunity to begin treating the symptoms of decline, and the heck with whether you make the last four or no.

Given the players that form part of the squad, there are no tweaks India can make to its lineup that can substantially alter its fortunes — the best possible XI seems to be the one that took the field against Australia. Change, hopefully, will be in the attitude — there has been more than a touch of the defensive about the side in these last two games, and that is not a mental makeup guaranteed to get you very far.

Of the many things Dhoni said in his press conference, there is one bit I disagree with:

The likes of Ishant and RP Singh were also well down on pace, but according to Dhoni, that wasn’t as much of a concern as their erratic line and length. “It’s not about bowling 140 or 145-plus,” he said. “At the end of the day, you have to bowl the right line and length to the batsman. If you see the South African bowlers, they were among the quickest in the tournament but they were also fetched for runs. That means it is not about the pace, it is about where you are bowling and what field you have got. So I don’t think pace is the only criteria, it is line and length, the swing and the movement that you can get.”

I seriously hope that is not what he is telling Ishant [and yes, I believe he is a serious talent, and hope he gets his game back on track soon] — because the two things are not mutually exclusive. It is about bowling the right length and line, yes, but if you can bring pace to the package, so much the better. The South African example is not well taken, because it largely is about Wayne Parnell who, not to put too fine a point on it, bowled crap. Crap at some pace yes, but still crap.

The antidote to that is not to drop the pace down by 10-15 ticks, because all that does is make you a medium paced trundler. A fast bowler’s rhythm is different from a medium pacer’s — things fall into place when he is running in fluidly with the intent to bowl as quick as he is capable of. Tell him to slow down, and the natural rhythm is automatically disrupted, control is lost, and rubbish results.

For all the hype, India has nothing really to lose in this game — so I’d seriously hope Dhoni goes into the Wanderers and slips the leash on not just Ishant, but the team as a whole. If there is one change I would make in the unit that has played thus far in this tournament, it is to do away with its defensive, almost apologetic, mindset and to get out there buzzing with testosterone that might have come from last night’s nookie, but which I hope comes more from a realization that even absent Viru, Zak and Yuvi, the team still has enough skill to play good cricket.

A good game today likely won’t get India into the semis — that is miracle territory. But a great game at the Wanderers will reverse a collective mindset that is increasingly unsure, tentative, and if that is the only outcome of today’s game, I’ll still take it, and smile.

PS: Anyone watched the New Zealand-England game yesterday? There was for me one moment worth noting, and it came at 66/0 at the end of the first ten overs of the Kiwi chase. England, battered into submission by McCullum and Guptill, was clearly looking forward to the end of the mandatory power play overs so Strauss could spread the field and give his bowlers a bit of elbow room to try and rein things in. Kiwi vice-captain McCullum promptly called for the batting PP — brilliant, I thought. Too many captains in too many games use the power plays by rote where, ideally, it should be used as an unexpected weapon to disrupt the opposition’s game plan.

One of these days, someone will hopefully look at a sizeable sample of the last ten overs of matches in the pre-powerplay era, and contrast that with a similar sized sample of games where the PP was taken in the last ten overs, and tell me why it makes sense to hold the batting power play for the death, when teams with wickets in hand go hell for leather in any case.

PPS: Besides two games to follow, I’m trying to get the edition done a day earlier than schedule. Busy, hence, and likely to be largely absent from here. Random match thoughts, as always, here.