I at the end of Padmavat

It was saturating to come by long-form reviews, blogs, microblogs and all other available formats of opinions about Padmavati – some critical, some complacent and others congratulating. For this saturation I blamed the natural felon – the digital revolution that enabled everyone to express their expert opinion – and now am taking advantage of the same platform to express some of my own. Let’s put one more voice on top of the noise.

Padmavati. Where do we begin?

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One of the reviews was from Namrata Joshi from The Hindu. She picks a few threads that did not go down well with her. She says the climactic jauhar has been carefully orchestrated and glorified; totally out of depth in these #MeToo times. And that “for the jauhar, Padmavati has to seek her husband’s permission”. It is easy to disagree with her with respect to this because:

  1. As we are shown, and as it is easy to understand, the Rajputs are ceremonial people. So there is no point expecting to see their queen and her followers announcing their death and falling to it in the next shot. And as Cinema demands, there is a mandatory need for tension in the sequence: in her decision and its acceptance; in Alauddin Khilji’s futile attempt to steal at least one glance of his dream woman. So if this orchestration, if this staging, had been missing, we would have only criticised Bhansali for the hurried, perfunctory climax.
  2. There is statement pasted before the film starts: that this film is based on a poem written around the events shown. The glorification of sati, of a practice dutifully followed in itihaas, of an event penned down in the poem, therefore can neither be Bhansali’s directorial decision, nor the endorsement of the crew. Could be that the reviewer was a few minutes late to the theatre. Also, why did #MeToo appear here? Is the filmmaker necessitated to validate his script and choices against social media hashtags?

She also writes Padmavati “deliberately lives on the extremes”, and I heartfully agree with this. The demonisation of Ranveer Singh’s character is lazy writing. He could be a man with one foot in scruples and the other in cesspool, and this choice would have lent dimension to the character, rather than having to seek it in 3D, a tool uncalled for in this picture.

To nitpick others’ reviews is difficult, both for me and the reviewer (if (s)he sees this post). To look at my own two cents, I strongly feel the narrative was facile. As we settle down to watch Alauddin Khilji’s story, we drift to important occurances in Padmavati’s life. Well, the title did warn us it is her story. So as we reorient ourselves (tough in the cushion chair allotted to me) and lean on her narrative, her husband Ratan Singh bad mannerdly intervenes, just as he comes between Khilji and the queen every time the man readies himself to realise his dream. And then there is hope lighted for the raj guru’s own villainy narrative, but he reduces to being a unexplored instrument.

How would it have been to see Khilji as a decent sultan (we can dismiss the killing of his predecessor as it might have been normal for those fellows in those times) and his hearing of Padmavati’s beauty inciting the storyline and giving him his motive. After this we could have simply followed him through his systematic investigation, learning of her, her husband, how they came to be, etc. and his own qualms of being interested in someone else’s wife could be the inner conflict, while the external conflicts could be his journey to and stay in Mewar, a potential mutiny among his soldiers, and his wife’s resistance to his motive. All along, we could just be Malik Kafur (the dedicated eunuch and confidante of the sultan) or some other fellow traveler in Khilji’s journey as he fights forces in him and others to set eyes on a promised beauty.

This way, the film would have stood up from simply being a telling of incidents, to being a powerful, emotionally packed insightful story. (This narrative would mean tilting the poem written, but it’s nothing that’s not permitted by this craft’s liberty.)

At the end of the three-hour experience, Padmavati felt fascinating and susceptible of improvement at once.

Bitterest feeling: The film’s renaming. Nothing shown to me seemed injurious to the Rajput pride nor warranting a snip at the title.

Happiest feeling: Sathyam Cinema’s parking charge is just too pocket-friendly.

Surprise feeling: This story has already been filmed in Tamil in 1963, called Chittoor Rani Padmini.

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Where is my Degree?

No V-C, no convocation. Forgotten souls wait for their hard-earned degrees.

A recent news article brought relief on a paper platter to education administrators, academicians and countless students, including me,  although it soon came close to broiling the keener section of this same audience.

It was announced that Anna University and Madras University were going ahead to conduct the long-delayed convocation for their students without the customary signature of the Vice-Chancellor, who is yet to be found in the aftermath of the political tumult now identifying Tamil Nadu (if there ever is an aftermath). Speaking for the longing undergraduates, who had, for many months, been experiencing phases of eager anticipation and sullen disappointment in a cycle, I have to say the news was a distant glimmer of sunshine. However, after only a day, reports carrying criticisms of this move surfaced, plunging me and my clan into the darkness of realisation.

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Original illustration by Swathi Venkateswaran*

Though many of my batchmates have either joined work or flown to Trumpian and European lands for their higher studies, the feeling of deficiency with respect to our degrees has always fleeted before every mind. Until recently, I have been receiving WhatsApp messages from New Jersey and Colorado asking me if there was any news concerning the awarding of degrees. Even relatives who are regular followers of local news, wanting to see me in the black robe, made an occasional enquiry, only to receive the same answer from me. My mother, top of all, used to ask me now and then, leading me to wonder how concerned she was in my academic affairs; but it turned out she wished to visit my college for one last time before the expiry of all excuses. Selfish little lady! So when the announcement was made that degrees would be awarded carrying the signature of the higher education secretary instead, the ‘At last!’ feeling is only understandable.

But as all doesn’t end well in our times, reports voicing the opinions of students and academicians, that certificates signed this way would be of no value outside of India, came the very next day. It was freshly shocking to read a senior professor claim that these certificates would not be recognised in foreign universities, and that they would have to be issued again later with the V-C’s credential. That faculty unions have warned of ‘consequences’ if the convocation is conducted this way, some hinting at protests, throws light on the negative significance of this move.

About a month ago, my college juniors joked that my batch would receive its degree certificates alongside them next year. I and my classmates simply dismissed the comment then. But now, looking at the progress of the situation, it does feel acceptable to receive my degree with my juniors and stand robed next to them, which of course is subject to the hope that the shadow cast by political clouds on our universities will clear away by then.

Anyways, I saw this morning a WhatsApp status update of my classmate holding the degree of his one-year MS course and standing in the foreground of a lush green lawn and a skyscraper not fully covered in the frame. MS before B.Tech. Funny times!

 

*You can find her other amazing artworks here.

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Co-authoring with Mr Tharoor

 

Jan 25, 2016;

The Hindu, India’s national newspaper and a reputed fourth estate, organised its annual literary fest The Hindu Lit for Life 2016. As a part of this festival was its new addition, the Tweet-a-Story contest, that used Twitter as a platform for budding writers to contribute to a short story initiated with a line by the popular author, politician and former UN under-secretary Mr. Shashi Tharoor.

I, to grab the chance to write alongside such a widely know personality, entered the contest. Many of my tweets being selected to contribute to the development of the story, at its end, after a week, I was selected by the team behind the contest as one of its four Top Contributors.

The rife word is that the story is getting published, and that the top contributors would be acknowledged as co-authors of the story.

You can read the complete story here.


May 25, 2016

The result of the contest is published, with my name under the eminent Shashi Tharoor’s. I take great pleasure, and a little pride – just a little – to present the same here: LFL_TweetAStory