Monday, December 24, 2007

Taare Zameen Par

Tears welling up and weeping is not the easiest emotion that a man can express and when the raison d’etre for the tears is a movie, it becomes even more difficult to justify (if there was ever a need to). Aamir Khan’s directorial debut Taare Zameen Par accomplishes this rather effortlessly without too much of a melodrama but with a kind of sensitivity not seen in the recent past.

The movie takes us through the heart of a child suffering from dyslexia and succeeds where Monsieur Bhansali fails. It creates a world familiar to us, which we can relate to unlike Black which exists in its own self-indulgent vacuum. The images of a paint drop falling on Ishaan’s face, the dogs sleeping on his lap and the everyday sights of the world look so beautiful through the eyes of the young boy.

TZP deals with the life and tribulations of Ishaan Awasthi, fondly called Eno by his family. He’s a dreamer, with no sense of time, who lives in his own world inhabited by nature and its glorious manifestations. He is a regular kid who fights off bullies; bunks school and spends a great deal of his time day-dreaming.

Initially, we do not realize that anything is amiss and relate his behaviour to his age and innocence. He’s sent to a boarding school where he goes into his shell further till his disability is finally discovered by an Art teacher in his school, Ramkumar Nikumbh, played by Aamir Khan. The teacher then works to put him back on track.

The movie practically lives through the child’s eyes as he struggles to find meaning in the numbers and syllables drilled through his mind. He needs to not only satisfy his parental aspirations but also work around with his disability. Parental obsession with their children’s performance is only a symptom of this larger malice- where result is the only thing that matters. Only the exceptional ones are required, the rest of us remain people on the fringe without any voice.

The kid Darsheel Safarey is absolutely wonderful as he portrays the everyday kid we are familiar with and not the irritatingly cute kid in movies who tries his best to get on our nerves. His name appears first when the credits start rolling and his performance justifies that.

Aamir as Nikumbh Sir sports a spunky hairstyle and performs admirably, with just the right amount of restraint.(Let me concede that when I saw the Khan in the movie, I wondered how much we was being paid for such a job; shit, he can’t live so comfortably in Mumbai working only as an Arts School. Agreed that’s a cruel thought in the midst of all this but I could not stop myself!!!). The father remains a bit of a stereotype but Tisca Chopra as the mother fits the bill pleasantly well only to be ignored in the second half.

TZP sees Aamir as a very sensitive person; his tears well up just a bit too frequently in the movie. Is it because society has taught us that it’s not manliness to shed tears that many in the theatre felt disconcerting to see Aamir’s tears?

His characterization was a revelation; the protagonist is shown as a very soft-natured guy whose heart pains to see the struggles of a child and who has less control over his emotions when compared to the average hero. I always did think of Aamir as a Method Actor who thinks primarily from his brain; but this movie comes straight from the heart, not just the head and you actually feel for it.

A special mention about the music. Shankar, Ehsaan, Loy and Prasoon Joshi have done a wonderful job in delivering compositions that go along with the feel of the movie. The music has a soft, lilting presence which gives it a beautiful feel. Music has been used liberally in the movie but in no way does it manage to slow down the proceedings.

But there are areas that you wish Aamir could have plugged in, so that the movie could have been even better. The parental interactions in the second half are strangely muted. Ishaan’s mother has sacrificed her career to take care of her kids and is shown to be very sensitive to her children’s needs but even after realizing that her son has a learning disorder, all she manages to do is a Google search on dyslexia.

Was it the Actor Vs the Director clash that caused Aamir Khan to take over the role of the parents too and reduce their role to mere bystanders whose only involvement with their son is to collect his progress report?

Would it not have been better if Aamir had also tried to put in a parental point of view and not paint them in black and put all the blame squarely on them. Yes, they play a pivotal role in shaping the future of their children but trying to understand them would also have helped.

For all the pains that Aamir takes to showcase Ishaan’s difficulties, his progress takes place just a bit too fast, all in the pace of a song. Even the ending has its share of melodrama but even if it were only melodrama I would not have an issue. Instead, it requires Ishaan to take part in a competition and win the first prize to regain his esteem.

After all the bravado about parental mentality and rat-race, it is a bit unfair that Ishaan has to succeed in another rat race to redeem himself. Every child is special, so any need to actually outdo others and prove his specialty?

Most characters in TZP act as caricatures but I’m willing to buy that illustration. Maybe that’s how little Ishaan looks at the world. His perception about himself drives others to look at him similarly. At the end, Ishaan stumbles as he walks to receive the prize; does this suggest that he still is dependent on Aamir?

Nevertheless, the movie worked for me at different levels and not just the parental-child angle. It also talked about listening to one’s dreams as well as one’s inner feelings. The movie is not just for kids and carries a message for all of us.

We have forgotten to admire the small beauties that nature showers us daily with but take it for granted. The fluttering of a butterfly, the rhythm of a fish, the gentle waft of the breeze and its goose pimples are no longer important to us. What is important to us is our obsession with targets and timelines; so much so that we do not have even the time to feel happy about completing our targets.

Every child is indeed special!!! Thanks, Aamir for displaying the guts to break all conventions and make such a beautifully sensitive movie…………

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Wooing the Go Slow Movement

As I stand on the edge of a road watching the population hurtling across at an uncontrollable pace, it seems so uneasy watching the faces of people as they grimace and scream at everyone else and move ahead on the wild roads governing our country.

These small journeys can lead to a great road rage but at the same time can also be a lesson in building patience- after all, you realize after sometime that you cannot overcome this ocean of humanity and you have to give in. Both the Merc and the Maruti meet their destinies here and both are equal here.

Speed is a very relative concept and it gets so much more accentuated as you travel across destinations, each location in its own time clock. As I traverse from Mumbai to Hyderabad and swoop down to Kerala, I realize how painfully slow the passage of time can be.

Living and travelling in the din of the Mumbai metropolis acts as such a marked contrast to the lazy life of my town. As I sit in front of my house in Palakkad and watch the cattle grazing and clouds ambling by, I wonder when I last sat down and saw nature taking its own course.

Speed is not always a virtue and is primarily a function of our need to compress our lives into compartments of milliseconds which we cannot live without. Are we genetically programmed to want to do things faster than they should be? Is the Olympic motto of Citius, Altius, Fortius relevant in our lives at all junctures? Maybe no but we do find it difficult to decelerate and go along with the flow of life.

Life has a certain flow but we always want to go faster; we do not have the time or patience or slow down and enjoy its small beauties- a case of missing the woods for the forest. Trying always to look at the larger picture has numbed our sensibilities and I can no longer strive to be the God of Small things because Size Does Matter.

As you sit in a vehicle or try to cross the road, you see this urge across to push faster and faster. People glaring and screaming at each other and trying to move swiftly but there is no smile on anyone’s face and no one willing to slow down and allow the other person to go ahead.

We have been brought up to believe that the world is always trying to move ahead and conspiring against us and we must not allow that to happen. So, we trust and care for no one; the only thing that matters is what we have done or where we go.

Try this experiment one day- Stand on the edge of a busy traffic junction and observe people moving about. But observe this as an outsider with absolutely zero involvement with the proceedings. You are merely a passive observer and looking at the scene standing outside it.

You observe the flow of life; everything is perfect just as it should be, just as life has willed it to be. It can be a meditative experience to stand outside and observe the world without being a part of it.

I am told that if we were to slow down, we will not reach our destination. But what is our destination? In this race for speed, we have no permanent destinations. Every halt is a mere pit stop in our relentless urge to cross the 100m line but then we do forget that life does not stop at the 100m finish; there are scores of marathons to go and here we are obsessed with a few 100 metres. What we are doing in the process is settling down for the smaller things in life at the cost of the larger, natural and more beautiful things in life.

Our culture puts a premium on speed and the techno world that we live in actively allows and encourages us to keep buzzing 24/7. Blackberry may be a technological marvel to keep you connected every time but the end result is that you remain connected and vulnerable to office pressures more than ever.

Multi-tasking has been thrust upon us and marketed to us as a virtue but think of it and you realize that it is such a misnomer; it is the same as zero tasking. You are there everywhere but in no single place at any time. Technology has reduced barriers and ensured that there is a greater ability to interact with people but willingness to do so is not a function of technology.

“Slow” is therefore, a dirty word and we need to do things fast just because everything else around us is going fast, without even considering whether or not it makes sense. Ever thought how difficult is to sit silently in a meditative state for a few minutes; the body starts twitching uneasily because it has never known what it is to be doing nothing. Inactivity is also required at times if we think about it. You feel like you're chasing something, but you never quite catch up with that something.

This fast obsession manifests even in the food that we have – Fast Food is something we have started living in. There’s no time for proper organic living and so we need synthetic substitutes pumping higher calories in a faster amount of time. As we click and punch keys in an attempt to connect to the world faster, it seems a small mercy that the sun still rises and rises as per its nature and not by the whims and fancies of engineers trying to screw up nature in the name of breakthrough innovations.

Slowly but steadily we may just be close to reach that Tipping point after which it may just be too late to slow down and start living all over again. If we haven't already reached a breaking point, we're close.

In this hyped-up world, we need to keep an eye on our personal speedometers- it's very easy to do things fast just because everything else around you is going fast, without even considering whether or not it makes sense- courtesy

This thought primarily struck me thanks to this beautiful forward sent by Simrat; I personally would not like to do a copy-paste but I do think that this forward is quite meaningful now.

It's been 18 years since I joined Volvo, a Swedish company. Working for them has proven to be an interesting experience. Any project here takes 2 years to be finalized, even if the idea is simple and brilliant. It's a rule.

Globalized processes have caused in us (all over the world) a general sense of searching for immediate results. Therefore, we have come to possess a need to see immediate results. This contrasts greatly with the slow movements of the Swedish. They, on the other hand, debate, debate, debate, hold x number of meetings and work with a slowdown scheme. At the end, this always yields better results.

Said in other words:
1. Sweden is about the size of San Pablo, a state in Brazil.
2. Sweden has 2 million inhabitants.
3. Stockholm has 500,000 people.
4. Volvo, Escania, Ericsson, Electrolux, Nokia are some of its renowned companies. Volvo supplies the NASA.

The first time I was in Sweden, one of my colleagues picked me up at the hotel every morning. It was September, bit cold and snowy. We would arrive early at the company and he would park far away from the entrance (2000 employees drive their car to work). The first day, I didn't say anything, either the second or third. One morning I asked, "Do you have a fixed parking space? I've noticed we park far from the entrance even when there are no other cars in the lot." To which he replied, "Since we're here early we'll have time to walk, and whoever gets in late will be late and need a place closer to the door. Don't you think? Imagine my face.

Nowadays, there's a movement in Europe named Slow Food. This movement establishes that people should eat and drink slowly, with enough time to taste their food, spend time with the family, friends, without rushing. Slow Food is against its counterpart: the spirit of Fast Food and what it stands for as a lifestyle. Slow Food is the basis for a bigger movement called Slow Europe, as mentioned by Business Week.

Basically, the movement questions the sense of "hurry" and "craziness" generated by globalization, fueled by the desire of "having in quantity" (life status) versus "having with quality", "life quality" or the "quality of being". French people, even though they work 35 hours per week, are more productive than Americans or British. Germans have established 28.8 hour workweeks and have seen their productivity been driven up by 20%. This slow attitude has brought forth the US’s attention, pupils of the fast and the "do it now!".

This no-rush attitude doesn't represent doing less or having a lower productivity. It means working and doing things with greater quality, productivity, perfection, with attention to detail and less stress. It means reestablishing family values, friends, free and leisure time. Taking the "now", present and concrete, versus the "global", undefined and anonymous. It means taking humans' essential values, the simplicity of living.

It stands for a less coercive work environment, more happy, lighter and more productive where humans enjoy doing what they know best how to do. It's time to stop and think on how companies need to develop serious quality with no-rush that will increase productivity and the quality of products and services, without losing the essence of spirit.

In the movie, Scent of a Woman, there's a scene where Al Pacino asks a girl to dance and she replies, "I can't, my boyfriend will be here any minute now". To which Al responds, "A life is lived in an instant". Then they dance to a tango.

Many of us live our lives running behind time, but we only reach it when we die of a heart attack or in a car accident rushing to be on time. Others are so anxious of living the future that they forget to live the present, which is the only time that truly exists. We all have equal time. No one has more or less. The difference lies in how each one of us does with our time.

As John Lennon said, "Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans".