Saturday, April 19, 2014

Wanna know how elections would be a century ahead?

A day after having voted in the 2014 general elections – dubbed the world’s largest – here’s my imaginative construct of the polls 100 years into the future, a la H G Wells!

No sooner did the extra-sensory perception-based alarm chime did X wake up. This was the around the time when such clocks went off almost simultaneously in a good number of houses in the neighbourhood. Repeated appeals for a staggered schedule in setting the clocks went unheeded despite complaints of ESP interference from nearby residents. As the electro-magnetic wave activated teapot whistled, X mused, “Hard to imagine that people once complained of phenomena such as telephone interference and cross-talk.” The reason for the spring in X’s activities was that he would get to see, first-hand, the implementation of telepathic voting machines – his dream invention that secured him a Nobel prize – in the elections for the first time. A sensor would analyse what was going on in the voter’s mind and make the appropriate selection.

X became a laureate for his voting device, ahead of other revolutionary inventions that, in an era of scarce resources, championed recycling such as reusable contraceptives and the Nokia 1100 smartphone. The seed for the invention lay in media reports that one could alter the count in EVMs with the aid of powerful magnets. Television debates soon started talking of a time when a certain Union minister P Chidambaram was said to have won through suspicious means in a poll in Tamil Nadu, at a time when the EVMs were touted as tamper-proof. In no time, the demand as well as the prices of magnets went up, leading to the creation of the elite ‘magnet magnates’. Hence, he decided to design the machine entirely with non-magnetic material.

A quick glance at the news updates that appeared on the outer wall of his Wi-Fi enabled tea cup showed that he was as big a newsmaker as the electoral process itself. While the top headlines were “Sergey Brin’s family files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection” and “India’s ESP man sounds death-knell for Google Glass”, others focused on the stage being set for the conduct of India’s biggest elections. A choicer profile of his, by the Wall Street Journal, contained the blurb, in a sans-serif font that he disliked, “While one national party suggested that his research was backed by Italian sources in Delhi, another suggested that it was likely that his funds were siphoned off from those meant for a rural employee guarantee scheme.” The article encapsulated X’s torrent of trials and tribulations before the device finally saw the light of day. However, the Nobel Prize changed it all.

Suddenly political parties, including remnants of the Left that had mocked at him as the new-age AAP, were all over him. In a matter of time, conventional electronic voting machines were phased out and replaced with their ESP counterparts. The EVMs gradually made their way to places where they would raise maximum eyebrows – such as museums in Saudi Arabia, People’s Republic of China and Russia.

X made an effort to put away such thoughts as he readied himself. On the streets, the crowds had started to make their presence felt, out of fancy for the new machines. It seemed appeals by religious leaders to shun voting as they would start idolising these gadgets more than them, in the marquee show “The Nation wants to know” on the state broadcaster DD-Now, did not take effect. In fact, one such leader was said to have remarked that after many decades, such leaders could consider doing a Nityananda in order to stay relevant – that drew condemnation from the Jumma Masjid, Shankaracharya of Kanchi and the Vatican.

The general mode of public transport, teleportation stations, was witness to milling crowds early in the morning, with even pre-hour services running to maximum capacity. “Beam me up, Scotty” said X as soon as he mounted the platform at the teleportation station, but it wouldn’t budge. He remembered that the teleportation process often depended on one’s political bent. “Beam me up, Sonia, Sushma,” he cried out even louder, when it blacked out. “Shazia?” X muttered in disbelief, when in the next second, he landed with a thud at the polling booth. He stood in the queue, ignoring requests for autographs, politely returning smiles from everyone around.

As his turn came, he stood in front of the machine, awaiting a response. The ESP machine echoed: “You do not want to vote for a party that promotes sectarianism or instigates religious hatred?” X gave a curt nod. “You do not want to vote for a party that offers promises that cannot be delivered easily?” X nodded again. “You want to avoid parties that have indulged in widespread corruption and breach of ethics,” X’s smile grew to a toothy grin as he said “yes”. He was swelling with pride as the media camera bulbs flashed incessantly. “You do not want to vote for a party that places its interests above that of the nation?” X was looking up proudly, unable to control his mirth anymore.

The euphoria vapourised when the machine read out the message, “Congratulations, you have successfully voted. Your selection is highlighted in the paper trail.”

“But I never made a selection…” X’s voice trailed off.

“Changes can be new, but political parties aren’t. Haven’t you heard of the phenomenon called booth capturing?”

X swooned.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Bangalore TV channels: Trick or treat?

Households in Bangalore may have witnessed a sudden spurt in the number of Tamil cable TV channels – virtually all and sundry – that they have started receiving in their set-top boxes. There is a strong possibility that this could be linked to the upcoming general elections, by providing much-needed eyeballs to poll campaigns of TN’s political parties

Tamil TV channel viewers in Bangalore have never had it so good. Over the last couple of weeks or so, the number of these channels has nearly trebled – from around 10 to nearly 30. Viewers who would have to otherwise restrict their options to those offered by the big four -- Sun, Jaya, Kalaignar and Star Vijay -- now have a smattering of options to put the TV remote control to further use. As if this weren't enough, any talk of subscribers being charged extra has gone unmentioned, at least till now.

Viewers on the other side of the Cauvery have now started confronting hitherto unknown channels such as Sathiyam TV, Moon TV (why not, when there can be a Sun), Imayam TV and many other 'cable' channels, a euphemism for one in which the operators screen the latest movies, days after their release. And hold on to the sentiment that cable TV/ dish operators have decided to turn Santa. Set-top box subscribers who were until recently receiving Star Sports’ four channels discovered that they no longer received them, and had to tune in to the dreary DD Sports to watch the India-Sri Lanka World Cup T-20 final on Sunday, as yours truly had to.

So who has decided to play benefactor? A plausible explanation could be the political parties of Tamil Nadu themselves, keeping in mind the upcoming general elections.

With polls hardly a week away, it is natural that parties reach out to as many people as possible. Now is the time for every channel to offer maximum, nay saturation, coverage to their political masters (after all, the concept of an apolitical TV channel is alien to the state). Further, political allegiance or not, elections would be THE agenda in any media house worth its salt.

But why Bangalore? The answer lies in its demographics – at least 20-25 per cent of its 96 lakh-odd population speaks Tamil. Now those are numbers any political party would keep their eyes peeled on. That this has not escaped the attention of TN's politicos can be gauged from the fact that candidates of the DMK and AIADMK regularly contest elections at all levels from Kolar and Bangalore, where the Tamil population is in large numbers.

Assuming that even a fraction of this number turns back home to vote, then the cost of airing of the channels for free becomes negligible; broadcasts of campaigns, even if they are sparsely attended, turn invaluable. Every candidate has now a recall value among the Tamil ‘diaspora’, just like a bar of soap or toothpaste, which could determine the poll verdict.

The million-dollar question would, however, be: would this channel treat be for eternity? Let us bear in mind that disappearance of power cuts and water supply shortages in the days leading to the election, and its subsequent emergence, is a pan-Indian phenomenon. Or would the cable operator turn up with an inflated bill?

Blame it on the ballot.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Maan Karate -- boxing away to half-baked glory

Sivakarthikeyan's now the latest Tamil 'mass-hero'

For Sivakarthikeyan, this is it. He has become the latest entrant to Kollywood’s ever-burgeoning “mass-hero” club. His latest movie, Maan Karate offers several pointers to the same: a shroud of invincibility to the lead character, irreverence to factors such as logic, the mandatory David vs Goliath setting, and an “intro” song (yes, you read it right). So much for an actor who shone in “very much like us” roles in Ethirneechal, Marina or Varuthapadatha Vaalibar Sangam.

As in any other “mass” movie, Peter (Sivakarthikeyan) has his way with everything: Maan Karate is all about the man who is out to claim his space, be it by right or by serendipity. He hails from the “low-class” locality Royapuram, but manages to impress and woo Yazhini (Hansika Motwani) the daughter of a college professor (Sayaji Shinde, who surprisingly does not play the corrupt politician/ police officer). He can’t tell apart cricket from boxing, but participates in a boxing tourney and gets to knock-out an eleven-time champ hands down. Why? Because, according to an ascetic, he was destined to.

Undoubtedly, the movie’s biggest weakness has to be the routine involving Peter participating in the boxing tournament, which generates the impression that it has been dealt with as an afterthought. He is there to win, after all, so where is the need for scenes showing him preparing for the same? The same applies to the evil streak in the antagonist, which gets hastily added towards the closing scenes when you begin doubting whether he is actually the villain.

And then there is the list of ‘wasted’ characters whom we get to see for just a few scenes, especially those involving the parents of the lead pair. We’d never know whether their sequences were chopped at the editor’s block, but this makes for an incongruous phenomenon. Add to this list the character of the boxing coach -- remember the smart Malayalam-speaking cop from the taut thriller Onaayum Aatukuttiyum? – who springs the biggest surprise by delivering a pep talk to the hero despite not being shown as having tutored him, when you wonder whether filmmakers ever lose sleep over such details.

Quoting the Tirukkural to fall in love
Humour is Maan Karate’s bedrock, over which its inconsistencies have been smoothened; the morphine for viewers to endure a painful narrative. For most of the first half and even in the latter half – when it enters somber territory -- viewers are subjected to a barrage of lines that induce laughter. As the hero, Sivakarthikeyan delivers some of the cheesiest lines that bring the roof down (“Why do I need a nightie?” he says when his ladylove presents him with a boxing gown). The routines involving his learning and reciting verses from the Tirukkural – including one related to a Jayam Ravi movie! – in order to impress Yazhini’s father evoke heavy doses of laughter.

Sivakarthikeyan manages to deliver an impressive performance. With a near-flawless dialogue delivery, he waltzes his through the humorous sequences. In fact, whenever he utters a serious line, you wonder whether it is a spoof. Hansika may be eye-candy alright, but her acting has improved several notches; her trademark wooden expressions seem to have disappeared. Anirudh’s peppy soundtrack and BGM is among Maan Karate's positives.
The Indian fascination for fair skin --
Will it ever end?

Shamefully though, Maan Karate makes no bones about the fact that it propagates the hideous Indian spectacle called white-skin fascination. Of all her attributes, it is her fair and ‘clear ghee-like’ skin that entices Peter to Yazhini, making even the crudest of advertisments for Fair and Lovely seem palatable. It sounds jarring when the hero says he sees no wrong in girls with ordinary complexions having boyfriends. And let us not even get started on the ‘fair’ preference even for the extras in song sequences. At the very least, can't filmmakers keep their prejudices to themselves?

If only "mass-hero" movies learn to be a little more politically correct, at the very least?