& occasionally about other things, too...

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Hindi cinema, its impact & influence on South Asian diaspora

Guest Post 

By Meena Chopra

(Excerpts from paper presented at panel discussion on impact of popular Hindi cinema and media on South Asian diaspora in Canada. The discussion was part of the Literary Arts segment of the Festival of South Asia) 

'Mera juta hai japani, ye patloon inglistani, sar pe lal topi Rusi, phir bhi dil hai Hindustani'

My shoes are Japanese, my trousers are from England, and on my head I have a red Russian hat, and yet, at heart, I am still an Indian

I am a first generation South Asian, living in Canada. I am influenced, and I adore this spirited song of 1955 when I was not even born. I am still a diehard Raj Kapoor fan, of his grand films and melodious music that he produced with his brilliant team of Shankar Jaikishan, Shailendra, Hasrat Jaipuri and Mukesh.

Tia, my 27-year-old daughter, is immersed in the Canadian ethos and milieu, and yet she still hums this 1955 song along with many others. She enjoys Hindi film music, both of the present times and of yesteryears.

The song is an anthem to many. It is a historical reference point of ‘unity in diversity and nationalism’ which epitomizes the effect of popular Hindi cinema on the Indian diaspora. In spite being uncompromisingly commercial in nature, popular Hindi cinema has been able to sustain artistic elements and emerge as a global phenomenon that transcends time, generations and national boundaries.

Incidentally, this iconic song was introduced in recently released Deadpool starring Ryan Reynolds. It is said that the director Tim Miller simply fell in love with the song when he heard it in a pub in New Zealand, and wanted it in the film. The film begins and concludes with this song.

The impact of popular Hindi cinema is not a new phenomenon. It goes back to 1950s and 1960s. Its impact has become noticeable because globally the South Asian diaspora has grown exponentially. Filmmakers have begun to cater to this demographic by making movies that appeal to this global audience. The mainstream, as well as ethnic media in the western world, has also been instrumental in developing this market dynamic.

The marketing structure of the popular Hindi cinema has always been territory or region based, the newer seventh territory of non-resident South Asians represents a sizeable market for films whose protagonists sometimes are a reaffirmation of the Indian identity transformed by globalization. Specifically for Karan Johar, Subhash Ghai, Yash Raj Chopra this is very true. Films like Kabhi Alvida Na Kahna, Kal Ho Na Ho, Kabhi Khusi Kabhi Gham, Pardes, Dilwale Dulhania and many more revolve around a nonresident protagonist.

Quoting from Times of India, “Bollywood popular films are very wisely adapted to meet the emotional expectations of NRIs, as well as to provide Indians with guidelines to liberal modernity, are also part of the larger ambitions of India as a visible country”.  

Primarily, popular Hindi cinema follows a revenue generation model. It focuses on the emotional need of the expatriate who constantly pines for the Indian-ness in a foreign land to be connected with the self. Research says that the cinema theatre in west London is the highest earning screen in the world for Hindi films, and so is the Canadian market specifically for Punjabi films.

Whatever the reason, this dream world of entertainment is a reality of life for nonresidents. It provides an emotional substance to the nonresidents to stay connected to their country of origin. Now this heritage of the biggest entertainment industry in the world is being passed on to the second and third generations of NRIs. The new generation enjoys these films which connect them to the language, music, lyrics, dance and fashions of the subcontinent.

The popular Hindi film industry thrives because of its balanced combination of music, songs with powerful lyrics and choreographed dance sequences. These are amalgamated within the storyline. Choreographed song sequences have been the backbone of this industry which Hollywood started in 1910s and shunned in 1930s. This is what makes Hindi film industry unique and lends it an everlasting image. These songs though independently appreciated are also like cues and clues to the narrative structure of the story.

Popular music, singing, dancing and trendy fashions overpower and have made a place in the everyday life of the expatriate almost next to the religion. This unique Hindi film brand works and surprisingly without any insignia or a logo with a huge mindshare of nonresident community.  

Noticeability and recognition of Hindi cinema by the western world is opening a dialogue between the cultures of east and west. It is a dialogue of appreciating and understanding each other, a dialogue of “unity in diversity”. In turn, this is impacting the entire up and coming generations and giving an emergence to a new way of thinking and co-existence.

This cultural crossover can be observed now in the making of hybrid cinema which is a mix of Hindi film industry and Hollywood. There are many examples. Films like Leela, American Desi, Deepa Mehta’s films, Gurinder Chaddha’s films etc. Not to mention hugely successful films like Bombay Dreams the Andrew Lloyd Weber production which revolve around Bollywood film industry, was very successful with western mainstream audience as well.

American Author and scholar Jigna Desai of University of Minnesota, US, and author of Beyond Bollywood, in one of her articles on the subject states, “productions like American Desi and Bombay Dreams attest to the ways in which these texts suggest that Bollywood plays a feature role in not only constructing South Asian and diasporic identities but also significantly participate in structuring the pleasures and desires of these subjects as well.”

And again as a nonresident Indian, I would like to quote poet Shailendra in the voice of Mukesh, visualizing Raj Kapoor with the lilting music of Shankar Jaikishan

Mera juta hai Japani, Ye patloon inglistani,  sar pe lal topi Rusi, phir bhi dil hai Hindustani.
  • Meena Chopra is an artist and author 

Saturday, July 09, 2016

The Mahatma of Pakistan

Abdul Sattar Edhi
My father Meghnad Bhatt was a socialist. For him Pakistan was never an enemy. He wrote glowingly about ZA Bhutto and received letters from the Prime Minister of Pakistan.

The first time I saw Karachi was on a map that my father showed me during the 1971 Indo-Pak war. The headlines of the newspaper (Free Press Journal) proclaimed the Indian Navy had bombed Karachi harbour.

“And to imagine,” my father dismayed, “both the cities were once part of the Bombay Presidency that stretched from Sindh to Mysore.”

The second time I saw Karachi was on television, when the India Pakistan cricket series was revived after a long gap in the mid-1970s. Bishen Bedi and his boys were beaten black and blue by the “wild Pakistanis”.

If I recall correctly, the last test was at Karachi, and Pakistan won rather handsomely, turning the last hour into a sort of a one-day match, and flaying the famed Indian spin quartet (Bedi, Chandrasekhar, Prasanna and Venkataraghavan) out of international cricket.

Pakistan won the series. We discovered Kapil Dev.

As a journalist, my most serendipitous experience was to discover Gujarati businessmen from Karachi who on the invitation of the Indian Merchants’ Chamber came to Bombay (Mumbai) in the late 1980s.

A few of them had experienced the trauma of Partition first hand. They were in tears as they happily recalled their lives in Bombay. The younger among the group were dazzled by Bombay’s buzz.

The older members of the group spoke of long standing and deep commercial relations between Karachi and Bombay that needed to be revived..

Then, years later, my student, who became a dear friend, Ehtesham Shahid, got married to Amna Khaishgi, a resident of Karachi. Both met in Dubai.

Amna wrote a scintillating piece for The Quarterly Journal of Opinion (an online magazine I edited for a year in 2002) comparing Bombay and Karachi.

She wrote, “Mumbai and Karachi reflect the diverse meanings of its disparate inhabitants. Both sit at the crossroads of aspirations and desperation, narrating numerous tales of rags to riches. Both have a thriving underworld, fast moving traffic and throbbing nightlife. Perhaps the biggest similarity is the gap between the rich and poor in both the cities. Violence on the streets of both is analogous too. Both touch the same Arabian Sea from their respective coastlines.”

Another friend, Jatin Desai, a journalist-activist, introduced me to Pakistan India Peoples' Forum for Peace and Democracy. In these cynical times, here was an organization that was at least attempting to do something genuinely good and effective.

Kumar Ketkar, both a friend and a mentor, was part of this group. He suggested I be a part of the SAFMA delegation that would be traveling to Karachi in June 2006.

I visited Karachi as part of a delegation promoting Pakistan-India people-to-people contacts. Our delegation comprised journalists. We had a wonderful time.

Two of the many memorable evenings have remained etched in my mind: one where the inimitable Tina Sani sang ghazals, and the other was when we met the Mahatma of Pakistan – Abdul Sattar Edhi.

Edhi was a simple man, who began his work by providing a decent burial to the poor, and then slowly rising to become the philanthropic face of Pakistan. He narrated his story in a straightforward, no-nonsense manner.

One of our delegates asked him, why, if he believed in humanism more than religion, he went to Pakistan during the Partition. He said Pakistan was not a different land at that time, when he went from Gujarat to Karachi. And he emphasized that he did not regret his decision.

He spoke gently for more than an hour, happy to be interacting with Indians. He spoke of the tremendous work his foundation had done during the Kashmir earthquake in 2005 (at that time it was fresh in memory); he spoke of the Indian government not giving him a visa to do disaster relief and philanthropic work in India. He spoke of his tremendous dependence on his wife.

He did not speak from any prepared text, he did not always complete his sentences, his agile and alert mind racing faster than his speech could cope with.

The organizers gave all of us a copy of his biography.

Today, when I saw my social media feed flooded with tributes to Edhi, I remembered the trip to Pakistan, Karachi, Indo-Pak cricket of the 1970s, and, of course, Edhi.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

“Jay toon bakvaas bund naa kita aseen tenun sodh diangay”

'If you do not shut up, we will straighten you out'

Separatism in Punjab was and is a complex issue, and it is impossible to contextualize it in black and white binary. The Indian state’s record of human rights violation for a prolonged period has to be juxtaposed while understanding the rise of separatism in Punjab especially from the late 1970s.

It took hardnosed ‘counterterrorism’ measures (led by the controversial supercop KPS Gill), resulting in further human rights violations, to force peace in the troubled state. Today, the embers of separatism may not be glowing as sharply as they did in the past, but the sense of injustice continues to linger, especially among the global Sikh population.

And there is justifiable anger over the absence of justice to the victims of the anti-Sikh carnage in Delhi following Indira Gandhi’s assassination in 1984.

The demand for justice continues to figure sporadically in Canadian public life. For instance, just last month NDP’s Member of Provincial Parliament Jagmeet Singh had introduced a private members’ motion, reading, “That, in the opinion of this House, the Government of Ontario should recognize the November 1984 state organized violence perpetrated against the Sikhs throughout India as genocide.” Despite the tacit support of the Progressive Conservatives, the Liberal government ensured the NDP motion’s defeat.

On the other end of the political spectrum is Ujjal Dosanjh. He has consistently opposed resorting to extremism and terror as a solution to the many and vexatious problem that the state of Punjab faced, and its fallout on the Sikh community globally.

Dosanjh is among the most prominent contemporary Indo-Canadian leaders, who have had a long, illustrious and chequered career in serving the people. Unafraid to voice his opinions on fighting the scourge of terrorism, he has had to face consequences.

Dosanjh has ceaselessly and strongly spoken out against the Khalistani separatists operating from Canada. He has fought them British Columbia, the province where he has had a fruitful life as a public servant and an elected representative both in the provincial legislature and as a representative in the federal parliament.

Dosanjh’s memoir Journey After Midnight India, Canada and the Road Beyond was released in Toronto this afternoon at a well-attended event organized jointly by the National Council for Indo-Canadians and the Canadian Thinkers Forum.

Dosanjh was accompanied by his wife Raminder. Speaking at the event, he said his father words “One may walk fewer steps in life, but one must always walk with dignity,” has been his personal credo that has sustained him throughout his life.

I’m reproducing an extract from the memoir that describes the attack on him that nearly killed him. There have been many more attacks on him subsequently, but this one made front-page headlines in India. 

Friday, February 8, 1985, was a morning like any other. I made lunch for the children. Rami had already fed them breakfast. She left for work earlier than I did. I dropped the boys at school, and the law office was busy as usual. Meb and I had five staff, so it was a lively place. I had a five-day personal injury trial scheduled to begin the following week in the Supreme Court of British Columbia; between seeing clients, I prepared for the trial. Sometime during the day, a man called our office and asked the receptionist what time I would be leaving. Upon being told 5:00 PM, he hung up. I thought someone had probably wanted to come and see me. That was not uncommon; some immigrants had not yet figured out that they needed to make an appointment, and many clients simply dropped by my office. I accommodated them whenever I could.

I packed two briefcases full of work for the weekend. Dave Barrett, Mike Harcourt, Wally Oppal and a couple of other friends were invited for dinner the following evening. Since my press conference in August of the previous year, I had spoken privately with them and many others. But fate would deny me the chance to welcome a former and future premier along with a future Attorney General to my house. I was about to confront its more ominous plans for me.

I left my office via the stairs at the north end of the building that led to the parking lot. From our office windows west, we could see our cars, but the stairs were poorly lit. Walking down those stairs I never felt the door would open to light.

It was dark out. Parking lots are never places that warm hearts, but this one was at least outdoors, and it rarely felt lifeless, since kids played in the alley after school. Across the alley were homes people by ordinary folks. I walked the width of the lot to my second-hand orange Renault Le Car. Unfortunately, Khalistanis had turned orange from the colour of sacrifice, of detachment from greed and fear, into a symbol of terror, fear and the intent to dismember India. I put my two briefcases on the ground and was fumbling in my pockets for the car keys when I heard footsteps running toward me. I wasn’t alarmed. I assumed it was a child playing in the alley. But then I heard the footsteps stop next to me. I turned my head and saw a tall, large, bearded man standing next to me with his hands raised over his head. In them, he clutched a thick iron bar.

The man pummelled my skull several times in quick succession. Instinctively, I put up my right hand to protect myself; it too got pummelled. I heard yelling, and then Meb was running toward us, his briefcase raised like a weapon. The man paused, tilting his head, and in that moment I picked up one of my briefcases and lunged at the man. He turned and ran into the alley, turning to look back as he escaped. I ran behind him a few steps, until Meb stopped me. There was a doctor in the same building as our law office, and Meb walked me there. As I lay on the doctor’s table, a threat from the day before, left in Punjabi on our home answering machine, flashed through my mind: “Jay toon bakvaas bund naa kita aseen tenun sodh diangay” – if you do not shut up, we will straighten you out.

Rami was unpacking the groceries she had brought home for dinner when the phone rang. It was Meb telling her I was hurt. She immediately called Bhaji. When she arrived, I was sitting up on the edge of the doctor’s table. She remembers me with the bloodied head, face and clothes, telling her, “I am okay.” Doctor Tam had cleaned and iced me as much as he could before the ambulance arrived to take Rami and me in Vancouver General Hospital.

I was wheeled into emergency, where a doctor stitched up my head wounds. He told me I was lucky to be alive. It took eighty-four stitches to sew my skull up. The gashes from the iron bar had formed deep Xs and Ys on my skull. If they had been any deeper, the doctor said, they would have threatened the integrity of my brain. Many of the cuts required two layers of stitches to close. 

Monday, June 20, 2016

India vs. Pakistan: Kashmir, Terrorism, N-Bomb

Guest post by 

Jatin Desai

Husain Haqqani in his new book India vs. Pakistan: Kashmir, Terrorism, N-Bomb has rightly said,” I realized the pitfalls of Pakistan’s policy on jihadi terrorism years before terrorists attacks inside Pakistan woke up my countrymen to its dangers. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told Pakistanis publicly in October 2011: ‘You can’t keep snakes in your backyard and expect them only to bite your neighbors.’ That was almost two decades after another US Secretary of State, James A Baker III, warned Pakistan about the prospect of being designated a state sponsor of terrorism.”

Haqqani was Pakistan’s ambassador in US. He has written couple of books such as Pakistan: Between Mosque & Military, Magnificent Delusions. He was involved in negotiations with US President George H W Bush’s administration in 1991-92 as he was special assistant to then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Jihadi terrorism of 1991-92 was quite different than of todays.

Pakistan’s jihadi terrorism had not yet come out in the open. Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) were not big players. Let has 200 acre sprawling compound in Murdike, near Lahore and JeM has a big Madrasa in Bahawalpur. Baker wrote a letter to Sharif in May 1992 saying that Pakistan should take ‘steps to make certain that Kashmiri and Sikh groups and individuals who have committed acts of terrorism do not receive support from Pakistani officials.’ Sharif responded saying his government is firmly opposed to terrorism in all its forms.

The March 1987 Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) assembly elections is a major turning point. The controversial elections saw defeat of Muslim United Front (MUF). They could win only eight of seventy seats. Mohammad Yusuf Shah of MUF was declared winner earlier and later in a few minutes he was declared defeated and arrested. MUF accused that the polls were rigged. Shah later became Syed Salahuddin and heading a militant outfit Hizb-ul-Mujahideen from Pakistan. The 1987 elections provided an opportunity to Pakistan to influence people of Kashmir valley.

The pertinent question author raises is why cannot India and Pakistan be friends? Mistrust of each other is a major reason.  He is concerned about “shrinking space” for both the countries to become friends. The absence of trust is an issue and it needs to be tackled. To revive trust between two governments and common people various steps have been taken but it is like one step forward and two steps back. Specific issues like Siachen, Sir Creek, people-to-people contact, WullarBarage etc. were identified and a composite dialogue was initiated.

It moved in a positive direction but not towards resolution as some blasts, attacks took place in Indian soil. The pattern of attacks clearly indicates that there are forces in both the countries who do not want to peace to prevail in the region. The policy needs to be uninterrupted and uninterruptible. In the absence of such policy, enemies of peace will always take advantage. The author says under the military’s influence, Pakistani nationalism has evolved as anti-Indianism and Indian nationalism describes Pakistani identity as inherently communal and reiterates need to dispute the two-nation theory.

The current pause in the dialogue and mistrust between two countries is surprising. Mahatma Gandhi always wanted good ties between two countries. In fact, he wanted to visit Pakistan but could not do so as Nathuram Godse and his gang assassinated him on 30th January 1948. He lived for only few months in Independent India. Similarly, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Quaid-e-Azam of Pakistan, had a special affection for Bombay. He wished India and Pakistan to have an association similar to US and Canada. Even he did not survive long after Pakistan became an independent nation. He passed away on 11th September 1948.

Both the great leaders were for enduring peace between two countries. Jinnah gave importance to the secularism in Pakistan. His speech of 11th August 1947 before the constitution assembly Indicates it truly.  He said,” You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or any other place of worship in this state of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion caste or creed – that has nothing to do with the business of the state”.

The book is written objectively. It is not easy for any Indian or Pakistani to write objectively on the issue of India and Pakistan. Objectivity on the issue is seen with suspicious in his or her country. It is essential that more and more Indian and Pakistani writers writer objectively. Such kind of objectivity can help in removing misconception about other country and it can help in building trust.  The book is a must read. It is published by Juggernaut Book and priced 299.

Jatin Desai is the General Secretary of the India chapter of the Pakistan-India People’s Forum for Peace and Democracy (PIPFPD).