Tag Archives: Mumbai

My Mumbai Colleague

My Mumbai Colleague

Like you,

I am a journalist

 

Like you,

I visit many places

For work

 

Some lonely

Some crowded

Some in the evening

 

Like you

I was an intern

When I was 22

 

Tasting the new success

After a college education

Exploring my world

 

Like you

I was a professional

Doing my job

 

Like you

If my assignment was in the mills

I would have gone

 

Like you

I would have never thought

I would be violated on my job

 

Fight, my sister

Be brave

For all of us

 

Don’t listen to anyone

Who says

That you were

 

In the wrong place

At the wrong time

Or in the wrong clothes

 

It wasn’t you

My Mumbai colleague

It’s them

 

They were in the wrong place

At the wrong time

With the wrong intentions

 

It’s not your shame

It’s not your izzat

It’s not your family’s honour

 

That they took

Who hunted

In a pack

 

It’s their’s

They should be ashamed

Of being worse than animals

 

They assumed

That they were

Powerful

 

But they are wrong

You are a woman

Shakti Chandi Durga

 

Rise, my sister

In your fight

I hold your hand

 

Like the girl on

December 16

Jolt us out

 

Of apathy

Of desensitization

Of nothing-can’t-be-done attitude

 

Fight the fight

For all of us

My Mumbai Colleague

 

Work

Laugh

Live

 

Live

My Mumbai Colleague

So they know

 

They don’t have

Any power

Over you

 

Live

Because it’s your life

To live

—–

Poetry written for this fellow journalist

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Pushing Boundaries: Sexuality and Gender in Mainstream Cinema

Note: This blog post contains spoiler alerts for Bombay Talkies and reveals plotlines

As Indian cinema celebrates 100 years of existence, a tribute to its glorious past and the influence of cinema in our daily lives has been released in the form of four short stories called Bombay Talkies. Karan Johar, Dibakar Banerjee, Zoya Akhtar and Anurag Kashyap weave stories which are based in or lead to Bombay and the Hindi film industry, stories of urban couples, the working class, children and the small town people.  Of the four stories, it was interesting to see narratives of sexuality and gender becoming the backbone of Karan Johar and Zoya Akhtar’s stories.

Johar, known for making sweet syrupy romantic films and family dramas tells a compelling story which requires courage. The characters are layered and deal with complex emotions in the midst of their mundane lives. The story about a young gay man falling in love with his female boss’s husband is a story which was waiting to be told in the mainstream media.

In the multiplex where I watched the film, people squirmed in their seats as the man on-screen revealed he was gay and that he was attracted to another man. There was laughter in moments which did not warrant any, reeking of homophobia. In popular culture the gay man is meant to be a caricature, not human enough to feel emotions. The man who made this film, also made Dostana, a film which trivialized the gay man, stereotyping him. Numerous other films in the mainsteam have stuck to this narrative, propagating intolerance towards gay people and reinforcing the idea that being gay equates with sexual deviance. So there was laughter when Randeep Hooda’s character hit the openly gay man. And gasps of horror when they kissed.

Finally, Karan Johar redeems himself, offering a different narrative of homosexuality. A narrative which needs to be repeated often in the mainstream to normalize the presence of different sexual orientations. A film which makes people question their long held views, which makes them deal with oppositional meaning of the text, is a mark of a good story and direction. I hope that Johar will continue to experiment with his brand of cinema, challenging the norms.

Zoya Akhtar brings to fore a story of a young boy who wants to be a dancer when he grows up and is forced to play football instead. Though the story’s main narrative deals with the aspirations of the little boy and gender stereotyping, there is an underlying interpretative narrative of his sexuality.

Tight editing, well-etched characters and a strong script are the strength of the story. The middle class family where the boy is expected to be the man of the house when he grows up, the wife who meekly retreats when her husband bellows at the boy dressed in a girl’s outfit, makeup and shoes, the sister who can’t go on a school trip because the family budget allows only her brother to attend football coaching, is a theme many in the middle India can relate to.

The film raises pertinent questions of gender roles and the acceptable male behaviour, challenging them when the boy performs on a make-shift stage, his joy palpable as he comes alive dancing to Sheila ki Jawani. His innocent proclamation that he wants to be Sheila when he grows up is a theme which could be interpreted as gender dysphoria or being gay is left undeveloped, given this is a twenty minute film.

However, it is refreshing to see these narratives being played out in the mainstream and while an average audience member might not be able to read the sexuality of the child, he understands the textual meanings of dreams and gender stereotypes. Akhtar shows brilliance in restraint and realistic development of characters.

After hundred years of challenging what is acceptable in our society, showing a mirror to it, at times being progressive, at others regressive, our cinema continues to grow leaps and bounds, entertaining India’s masses, becoming the country’s soft power abroad and through these short stories, once again pushing the boundaries. Of telling stories of love and dreams, of broken hearts and crushed ambitions, of soaring love and triumphant success.  Of disobeying the rules of what kind of love is acceptable and what kind of dreams cannot be followed.

May Indian cinema continue to celebrate life and its stories.

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And There Shall Be Light

It is the end of the road and I get down from my car. A cool gentle wind envelopes me and with it, brings the smell of the fishes and the indication that the sea is nearby.

Coconut trees gently sway and ahead of me is a small bridge, wide enough for a scooter to get by. Beyond it are the Sayhadri hills. Towards my left is a four storey building, looking slightly neglected as the paint is peeling off.

A woman wearing a salwar kameez waits for us to disembark and walk towards her. With a smile she welcomes us and informs, “It’s on the fourth floor.” I nod silently, acknowledging her. At the same time wondering, it looks too small for 20 people.

I walk with trepidation, unsure of what I will find there. Will it be emotionally hard for me? Will it make me sad? In my line of work, emotions have to be kept in check, lest they interfere with the story, the facts.

I imagine a dark, depressing unlit corridor, sad faces and emotionally scarred girls cowering as we try and talk to them. My image of an orphanage being one which I have seen in films and assume to be true.

I walk up the stairs with a silent prayer to god and even before I can finish, a group of young girls, smiling, say in unison, “Welcome to our home.”

Bewildered, I acknowledge them as I walk into the lobby. A bunch of girls are huddled in one side of the room, making crafts, bit of coloured paper, boxes of water colours, scissors, paint brushes strewn around. Some of them giggle amongst themselves as we walk in.

Shyly some of them show us the Diwali and Christmas cards, beautiful wall hangings, envelopes and paper bags. Some of them continue without as much casting us a glance. The lady informs us that it’s for a fete they are participating in. “This is the first time they are doing it. I had a crafts teacher come in and teach them how to do it.” It will also help raise some money, she adds softly.

A girl, about 4 years old, smiles at me. She is fascinated by the camera and musters courage to touch it while I take notes. Suddenly she grabs my pen. I decide to rummage for another pen in my bag when she returns it minus the bright blue cap. A little puppy wags his tail and a girl has scooped him up in her arms, showering him with kisses.

I sit in the lady’s office with her husband and we discuss about how and why these girls have ended up here. Their stories are undoubtedly sad and reflect how our fractured society functions. Meanwhile a Labrador nonchalantly enters the room and curls up underneath my chair. Seeing a slightly frightened expression on my face, the lady says, “He’s old. You can pet him if you want.” A spray of water hits me and the husband gets up to close the window. It has started to rain.

We continue talking and are interrupted when a girl comes running. “Mom, your phone is ringing.” She hands her the phone and runs away. I continue asking questions and there is a second interruption. A teenage girls asks, “Mom should I get some tea?” Mom?

After she leaves, the lady tells me, they call us Mom and Dad.

I nod faintly and continue talking. Later we want to interview some of the girls. I ask the lady if we can ask them questions about their families or life in the orphanage. She says, “They all know where they came from and why they are here. Ask them anything.”

To me it’s hard to ask a twelve year old why her family left her there or if her parents are dead and if she misses them. I can’t break their hearts further and worry if my questions will leave an emotional scar.

The twelve year old gives me an encouraging smile as I ask my questions. The first few are the easy ones – as she describes her favourite subjects in school and what she wants to be when she grows up. A pilot, she says in perfect English. The tough questions are asked gently and answered haltingly.

I feel guilty but the deed is now done.

I look up to see a silhouette of a girl perched up on a concrete plank running the length of the large windows, staring out and looking at the sea. I wonder what she is thinking about. Yearning about her family perhaps? It has stopped raining and a cool breeze enters the room.

Suddenly a cat is thrust in my arms by a girl. Before I can react it has gracefully jumped down. The girl runs after it and I follow them to the living quarters. A big room has 5 bunks beds, each painted in a different colour. Two girls are sitting in a corner and doing their science homework. I hear a woof and turn to find a Dalmatian tied to one corner. A small girl is curled up and sleeping soundly on one of the beds. A big shelf is stacked with many schoolbags and a few girls are talking to each other.

My colleague whips out his camera and we proceed to take photos with 18 girls, 2 dogs, 1 cat and 1 puppy in tow. There is laughter all around. Cups of hot tea and patties have miraculously emerged from somewhere. There is an atmosphere of bonhomie. It almost feels like I have either walked into a boarding school or a family home with lots of children. “Didi, khao naa”; “Nahi, pehle ek aur photo”; I am accepted into their world, no questions asked.

My earlier discomfiture slowly melts away.

While we partake the evening snacks, one of the girls starts to sing for us. Incredulously, it’s an American pop song I sometimes hear on the radio. Her clear soulful voice fills up the room as she sings about falling in love. How do they know English songs, asks a surprised colleague. “Oh, they listen to them on the internet and memorize the lyrics,” the lady replies. But I am just marveling at the confidence of the young girl.

I remember my last words to the lady, “I think you are doing a wonderful job of raising them.” She replies, “I treat them like I would treat my own children. What would I do for them? I would give them the best education and make sure they stand on their feet.” She adds that’s why she decided to never have her own biological children.

Soon its time to leave. My last memory of them is bright, shining eyes, quick smiles and eager faces. Their arms interlocked, the girls gather around us and drop us to our car. Goodbyes take another fifteen minutes as another round of photos is taken, silly origami roses are exchanged, a light banter is conducted. And then its time to say the final goodbye as they keep waving their arms until our car disappears around the curving road.

I don’t know what the future holds for them. What I hope is that they will be able to overcome any challenge which comes their way.

——

The essay is based on a news story I am currently doing. For more details about the orphanage, check out their website http://www.amchaghar.org

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