Cinema on Cinema

I saw two movies about movies within three days. Not quite intentionally. Both were by the high priests of cinema (auteurs, maestros). One from Italy and one from Iran. The first is called ‘8 and a Half‘ and the second ‘Salam Cinema’ ([1], [2], [3], [4]). If you are a movie buff (of the serious or the artistic kind), you might have heard of them.

How to describe these two movies? Disturbing is one word. Voyeuristic is another. Redeeming can also be tried. Both of them take a good look at cinema and the making of cinema and the people involved in cinema. And they do it quite mercilessly. The risks that both the directors take clearly show their confidence: obviously their kind of courage is not due to ignorance. It is because they know they are good. Lesser mortals won’t try things like these.

In style, the two movies are very different. While the first is still a proper feature film, even if it is a film about films (and one fictional film in particular), the second one is almost a documentary, though not the usual kind. There are other differences too. The first one focuses more on the director, while the second one focuses more on the actors. Or would be actors. Actually, about the mostly would never be (or could never be) actors. As a digression, I can also mention here (shameless showoff!) another movie which focuses mainly on the viewers: Nuovo Cinema Paradiso by yet another maestro, Giuseppe Tornatore. (I will hopefully write about another one of his movies in a later post). Of course, all of them cover the world around the director and the actors too. Still, the real focus of both the movies is cinema itself.

When language is used to talk about language itself, we call it Linguistics. What should it be called when cinema is used to ‘talk’ about cinema? Should it be Cinemistics? That sounds like Cine-Mystiques.

Never mind.

Many movies have been made about cinema, but these two are surely among the best. But only the patient ones will be rewarded with the pleasure (and the good kind of pain) that can be obtained from these movies.

(To be continued…)

When the Highly Deprived Ask for a Little Bit of Privilege

This is what happens then.

More as a rule than an exception.

Don’t just read the title of this news story. Read all of it. And look at the photos. And read the captions.

This news attracted my attention even more because I had stayed for one day in this area while coming back from a seminar. That was the Durga Puja time and everything looked normal. Very peaceful. And joyous. The thought actually crossed my mind that it won’t be bad to settle in a place like this.

Just a few weeks ago.

I hope you remember (or know, if you are not an Indian) that ‘rallyists going on a rampage’ is a very very common occurrence in India and nothing much happens to most of those rampaging rallyists most of the time. Because most of them most of the time are not tribals, i.e., people without much support from any quarters.

Institutional Network Nightmares

I live in a hostel room roughly 10 by 10 (feet, of course). Perhaps the only luxury, by the Indian standards, that I have (apart from the fact that I now have a personal laptop after one and half decades of hard work) is the wireless network that became accessible to me after I bought the laptop less than an year ago. Whatever may be the bandwidth, the fact is that the network is only somewhat better than a dialup line. Even so, I have become dependent on the network because that is my main connection with the world, even the nearby world.

There are other nightmares, but one more has been added. This one is about the disconnected network. You are doing some work where you need access to the network (whether LAN or the Internet), and you find that you are out of the loop. The room, living in which is anyway not very different from (self-imposed?) solitary confinement, becomes a real prison cell.

No, nothing is connected.

Why does the (wireless) network become disconnected? Since I don’t get to talk to many people, and also because till now I have not tried to explore the technical details about wireless networking, I had a great deal of trouble in finding out what was wrong, although I did send some mails to the network administrators. Even now, I am not sure about all the reasons.

The first reason that I found out was that the UPS to which the bridge computer (or whatever it is called) was connected, was faulty and would begin to beep whenever there was a power cut. And since the bridge is placed in a large hall (originally a TV room) that has been turned into a dorm, in which a lot of students live, the students would switch off the bridge to stop that noise (which is really annoying: I mean the noise).

The second reason that I found was that some students in the hostel form a private network (some say for playing games) in such a way that the network (at least on the floor on which I live) becomes inaccessible to others. Why would they do that? I don’t know. A lot of people do a lot of things which harm others unnecessarily. When I try to find the answer, a few words repeatedly come to my mind: insincerity, insensitivity, greed. And also sadism. Sadism again and again.

Now the faulty UPS has been replaced, so the first reason is presumably gone, but the second is still there. The network continues to be unavailable to me for long periods of time. Can anything be done about this? I mean without punishing a few scapegoats and imposing some new set of Draconian rules? I am still trying to figure that out. I usually avoid writing about where, why and how I live, but this problem seems to have a great symbolic significance (TFIC: tongue firmly in cheek). So, if someone can find a solution to this, that solution may be worth studying for solving many other problems.

I have a feeling that technology may have a role to play in the solution, i.e., there may be cure for my latest cause of nightmares (actually, daymares), but it is more likely to come with some help from technology, rather than with help from psychology. Nor sociology. Nor metaphysics. Definitely not from The Law.

Even though the cause, in the first place, is technology itself.

But technology might make the situation infinitely worse too.

Meanwhile, any of you who are relying on me for some work, please note that I have a good excuse (reason? explanation? protestation? apology?).

Bernard’s Bogus Fish

About an year ago I had submitted a paper to a journal. The paper had mentioned Bernard Shaw’s famous ‘ghoti’ example, which he used to illustrate (according to him) the unpredictable and illogical nature of English spelling, and therefore of the Latin script as used for English. The paper was rejected, but that is not the interesting thing here. What is interesting is that one of the reviewers tersely commented that:

– Shaw’s “ghoti” example is bogus, as even Shaw must have known.

This is just the type of comment that makes me want to write a real red hot rant about reviewers. And you can understand that from the fact that I still feel strongly about it more than six months after I received the review. And the reviewer was most probably a senior scholar working on scripts.

Just in case you don’t know, Shaw argued that ‘ghoti’ is a plausible spelling for the word ‘fish’ because ‘gh’ can stand for ‘f’ (enough), ‘o’ can stand for ‘i’ (women) and ‘ti’ can stand for ‘sh’ (nation). Of course, I wasn’t the first to quote Shaw to argue that English has quite an idiosyncratic spelling.

The question that I want to ask is this: is the ‘ghoti’ example bogus, and if it is, did Shaw know this too?

I will tell you my answer: Shaw’s “ghoti” example is definitely not bogus. It is merely an exaggeration. And, yes, Shaw must have known that it is an exaggeration. And all the sensible people who have read this quote or used it, must have known very well that it is an exaggerated example. But it is not a bogus example. Shaw was a writer with considerable wit (which the above mentioned reviewer seems to lack). Writers use exaggerated examples all the time to make a point. There is a common understanding between the writer and the reader that something is being said with slight (or may be more than slight) exaggeration, but what is being exaggerated is not “bogus”: there is some valid point that needs to be made, but has to be made in way that will not sound like a boring repetition of some fact. Leave aside writers, even common people use this literary ‘device’ just to say something in an interesting way.

So, ‘ghoti’ definitely does not represent a typical English word. But it does illustrate the idiosyncratic nature of English spelling. It definitely is a valid example: a witty exaggeration which is supposed to be taken as a witty exaggeration. If your linguistic patriotism does not allow you to think bad of English in any way, too bad. That doesn’t change the fact that English words are spelled in a very irregular way. Yes, it is not as irregular as some people would like to claim (otherwise I would be making many more spelling mistakes), but it certainly is more irregular than many other languages. Is that a necessarily bad thing? I don’t think so. Many others have explained this point, so I wouldn’t go on about this, but this nature of English is a bad thing in some ways, and is perhaps even a good thing in some other ways. There is no need to feel bad about it.

By the way, Shaw tried to ‘reform’ the English script, but he failed. He even devised a phonetic alphabet for English and published a version of his play ‘Pygmalion’ in that alphabet. I am not at all enthusiastic about ‘reforms’ in languages or scripts, simply because I don’t think they are practical in most cases. But you won’t be baffled by this fact if you knew that he was heavily interested in phonetics and knew and admired Henry Sweet, one of the greatest phoneticians after the great ancient Indian phoneticians (that is a fact: I am not being patriotic). The protagonist of ‘Pygmalion’ (‘My Fair Lady’ on the silver screen) is loosely based on Sweet.

Years ago I had read a book called ‘More than Words can Say’. The writer of that book had called Shaw a crackpot. He didn’t give any particular reason. But my guess is that he said this because he too was one of the linguistic patriots, the kind who devised English language tests for aspiring immigrants to the USA in early 20th century and decreed that those who didn’t know English were inferior human beings. I wonder where the above reviewer is situated with respect to those linguistic patriots.

Just for the record, there is a claim that the ‘ghoti’ example actually came originally from some other spelling reformer, not from Shaw. I don’t think that affects what I have said above.

हिन्दी ब्लॉगों की बढ़ती संख्या

कुछ ही साल पहले तक हालत यह थी कि इंटरनेट पर हिन्दी में पढ़ने के लिए वेबदुनिया के अलावा मुश्किल से ही कुछ मिलता था। उसके लिए भी कई जतन करने पड़ते थे। बहुत से लोगों की कोशिशों, यूनीकोड के बढ़ते चलन आदि के कारण अब इंटरनेट पर इतनी सामग्री तो हिन्दी में हो ही गई है कि आप एक हफ़्ते या महीने भर में सब कुछ पढ़ डालने की बात नहीं सोच सकते। अकेले ब्लॉगों की ही संख्या रोज़ाना बढ़ती जा रही है।*

फिर भी अभी एक कमी जो मुझे बहुत खलती है वह यह है कि हिन्दी साहित्य के बारे में बहुत कम सामग्री है। अगर इस कमी को पूरा करने की दिशा में आप कुछ करना चाहते हैं (बिना किसी धनलाभ के) तो आप मुझे संपर्क कर सकते हैं। उदाहरण के लिए, अगर आप किसी भी साहित्यिक कृति के बारे में जानते हैं जो इलैक्ट्रॉनिक रूप में उपलब्ध है, तो उसे सबके लिए इंटरनेट पर डाला जा सकता है। या और कुछ नहीं तो आप दो चार दिन या हफ़्ते या महीने में किसी बड़े लेखक की कोई कहानी या कविता या निबंध टाइप करके मुझे भेज सकते हैं। रचना के साथ आपका नाम भी शामिल किया जा सकता है। गुटनबर्ग जैसी न जाने कितने वेब स्थल अंग्रेज़ी (और अन्य भाषाओं) के लिए उपलब्ध हैं। हिन्दी में भी तो ऐसा कुछ होना चाहिए। जितना अभी है उससे कहीं ज़्यादा।

* अपना भी ज़रा सा योगदान इसमें है, यह व्यक्तिगत रूप से थोड़ी सी संतोषजनक बात है: हिन्दी ज़ेडनेट के अतिरिक्त कुछ चीजें यहाँ देखी जा सकती हैं (अधिकांश अभी प्रयोगशाला में ही हैं):

यह सेल्फ़ प्रमोशन तो हो सकता है, लेकिन तब दिल को थोड़ी तकलीफ़ होती है जब गूगल, याहू, ए ओ एल के भारतीय भाषाओं पर काम की खबरें तो बड़े शोर शराबे के साथ छपती हैं और बिना किसी मदद (वित्तीय या कोई अन्य) के अलावा काम करने वाले हम जैसे लोगों के काम को साफ नज़रअंदाज़ कर दिया जाता है।

The Work of a Responsible Genius

Here comes the rave I promised.

A few days back, in the middle of heavy workload, I happened to see Missing. It is a movie directed by Costa Gavras. For the uninitiated, he is the one who directed Z. Till now, these are his only movies that I have seen. Just like in the case of Missing, I didn’t know about Z when I saw it. And, at that time, I had not heard of Costa Gavras either. Still, I had no doubt even then that Z was the work of a responsible genius.

What does responsible genius mean? Long ago, Chomsky had written an extremely influential and important article called The Responsibility of Intellectuals. I would call a person a ‘responsible genius’ if that person fulfills the responsibilities indicated in this article and also deserves the epithet ‘genius’. Assuming that no word in this paragraph has been used lightly, especially the words ‘responsibility’ and ‘genius’. Of course, Chomsky’s is just a reference. Even if there had been no Chomsky, there would still be the idea of a ‘responsible genius’.

Note that what I said was ‘Z was the work of a responsible genius’, not that Costa Gavras is a responsible genius. He may be, but I don’t know much about him. What I do know is that both of his movies that I have seen are the works of a responsible genius. It is amazing how difficult it can be to understand (stock phrase!) the subtle differences in meaning due to slightly different phrasing. It’s not so easy to really learn to read. From my experience I have found that most people are bad readers, including those who are supposed to be scholars and intellectuals. I find that out again and again now that I am into research. Sometimes, from the reviews that I get for my papers, it’s hard to believe how badly the reviewers read. Reading is not about understanding syntax or even semantics. Reading is about understanding the meaning, including the fact that there can ambiguities and multiple interpretations, many of them intended by the writer. Good reading, like good everything, requires sincerity.

Digression! Digression!

Back to business. You may find it interesting to know that Costa Gavras is the man who refused to direct Godfather (at least that’s what I have read) because he wanted to make modifications in the script, which was not acceptable to the producers. His argument was that the script, as it was, glorified mafia. And he was offered Godfather because Z was actually quite successful commercially, even though (like Missing) it was an overtly political movie.

Both the movies are based on true events, and Missing much more so. In Z, we are shown how a judge (in Greece, with powers very different from that of a judge in India), who is a very normal non-radical person just trying to fulfill his responsibilities sincerely. And just in doing his work as he is supposed to (in theory), he brings down the government whose high ranking officials (including generals) have been involved in the assassination of a popular (really) democratic leader.

In a format which is almost that of a commercial thriller, we are shown how almost everyone in power is either involved in the assassination or in the cover up. In the process, we also get to see how fascism works at the ground level. This should not be unfamiliar to Indians, or to any other people for that matter, but it still needs to be shown effectively because no people are ready to see (and accept that they see) the true ugly face of fascism among them, until it reaches the Holocaust or pogrom level and at least thousands of people are very visibly killed and brutalized. If then.

So, Z doesn’t show anything very new. Nor does it boast of fancy, brand new stylistic effects. That’s why a lot of people don’t even notice that it is an artistic movie. Nor is it so easy to dismiss it as the work a loony-toony leftist.

But the movie doesn’t leave much scope for denial, provided you at least see it. And are prepared to see what it shows. At the same time, it is entertaining too. Without making many compromises or diluting the commitment. This is not so easy to achieve.

More to come. Next time about Missing.

A Joycean Blasphemy

I wrote:

I am buried, right now. Under deadlines.

That was just a bit Joycean.

This one is more Joycean:

I am buried. Right. Now. And-er dead. Lines.

(Actually, there is also a touch of Arundhati Roy here.)

I can’t help imagining how a sub-ed would react to this: coming from a nobody. Not even a native speaker of the Global Language.


(The rant and the rave are yet to follow. They will come. I promise.)

(प्राण जाएं पर वचन न जाए)

Postponing One Promise and Making Another

I promised a fresh rant in the last post. Well, I am postponing that. Instead, I am making another promise.

A fresh rave to follow, inspired by the work of a responsible genius.

Do you also do that?! Oh yes, the manic phase!

I said to ‘to follow’. I am not going to rave now. Try depressive.

I have a very valid reason (excuse!) for these promises and postponements: I am buried, right now. Under deadlines.

God! there are so many of them! You can’t meet them all.

Dirty Work, No Money, No Status and Plenty of Flak

That’s a fairly accurate description of what I have been doing for a living.

A fresh rant to follow (provoked by the reviews I got for one of my papers) …

Most probably I will continue to do the same because I have my own reasons. But that doesn’t take away my right to complain against injustice or unfairness, does it?

So Now, that’s How it Goes

So a ‘state of emergency’ has just been declared in our enemy-friend-enemy-friend-enemy-… country. The reasons given by the president, who is a semi-westernized upper-middle-class-type reformer president (an admirer and follower of Kemal Ataturk Pasha) are:

  1. That the judiciary was interfering with the government
  2. That Islamic militancy posed a grave threat

Sounds familiar? What about our beloved country? Can we expect a similar news, which will surely gladden the hearts of numerous admirers (including those in the Sangh Parivar) of the first woman Prime Minister of India and her no-nonsense son, according to whom the only way to make the Indians behave is by the dandaa: the policeman’s (or the svayamsevak’s) lathi. Those who still have nostalgia for (to some) the infamous era of Emergency when everyone stood in a queue to get on a public transport bus and when some serious measures were taken to get rid of the biggest curse of our glorious nation, viz., the ever increasing population of human beings: if only a lot of them could be exterminated! But which ones?

Extermination may be politically incorrect and it may not be financially feasible, but we can at least hide them under the carpet? Don’t we have our own Château d’Ifs? Why not do that on a war footing, if we want India to become developed by 20[0-9]{2}. And the only way to do so is by declaring… We should then be able to adapt and continue. That’s what the Germans did in the late thirties and early forties. That’s what the Indians did in the mid-seventies. That’s what the Pakistanis will do now. That’s what the Iraqis are trying to do (not quite succeeding). Keep your face down and keep on doing your work.

Things are already moving in that direction. Nothing will make it quicker than, well, you know what (from the reasons given above). Many must be waiting for that to happen. They are doing their bit.

Oh yes, India is the largest democracy in the world with one of the most independent and vibrant media in the world. So I have said myself. And I still do. But India had these characteristics in 1975, perhaps more so, what with that spirit of the 70s and the still somewhat strong legacy of the freedom movement. And the human manifestation of Durga had recently won a war against our arch enemy(-friend-enemy-friend-enemy-…).

And what about the role of the reformer president in so many things having a close connection with Islamic militancy? You are not authorized to ask such questions (at least in his country). Don’t you see there is threat to the country from abc and xyz? Oops! these abc and xyz aren’t the same as those mentioned in an earlier post. What about कखग and क्षत्रज्ञ?

There were reasons why emergency was declared then:

  1. That the judiciary was interfering with the government
  2. That Islamic people’s militancy* posed a grave threat

* Partly led by Jayaprakash Narayan, the great freedom fighter against the British.

If your ears are tuned to the ground and if you have been observing things happening at the micro level, you won’t be surprised if a similar news comes from our land.

Will you swallow it, or you won’t? That will decide whether all your talk about democracy and fair play and making India a developed nation has any sincerity or not, let alone substance.

It is impossible that there will be emergency in India again? Perhaps you are right. Some powerful people do learn something from History. Such as the fact that you can have a state of emergency without actually declaring it.