Thursday, February 26, 2009

It’s Dog, dawg!

I saw Slumdog Millionaire on the day of Christmas with my husband and few non-Indian friends (I’ll talk about the significance of “non-Indian” a little later). In these past couple of months, I have come across innumerous blogs on the movie—mostly all emotion-laden. I wanted to wait until the Oscars, the epitome of commercial accolade, before I shared my two cents. Believe me, not expressing when I have a myriad of ideas circling my brain, is a Herculean task for me:-)

Let me preface my opinions with one unswerving sentiment: I liked the film. What I appreciated was that the movie captured the true Indian emotion. Aside from the urge to hurl my insides when the little boy swam through human excrement to get a glance at Amitabh Bachan, I liked the unfussiness and untainted outlook of the film. Actually, maybe my eyes couldn’t, but my heart could relate to the sentiment behind the “poop swim-up.” We, as a nation, are all about loving, being happy-with-the-smallest-of-things, smoking reverie, and hero-worshipping.

Talking to desis, I realized that a lot of them were humiliated and affronted by the movie. Slumdog displayed poverty, focused on the under-developed socio economic strata of Bombay’s society and the crude third world challenges it still faces. They thought the movie was another exhibit of Caucasian supremacy. To each their own, but I didn’t feel that way at all. Slumdog made me grateful for the privileged life I have had and empathize with people who don’t, but not mortified at all. Every big city in the world has its rough and “untouched’ patches--be it London, Paris, Chicago, Detroit etc. My native New Yorker friends never have and never will see certain parts of Bronx, but they do acknowledge that it exists. As one of them said, “I am proud of the entire package—be it good or bad parts of NYC.”

I wasn’t happy to see the gruesome begging-related scenes either. But, by the same token, begging isn’t an alien concept to any of us. It’s heart-wrenching, and it exists but not just in India. In fact, NYC subways and streets are full of people asking for alms. Being pretentiously oblivious doesn’t mean situations or people or things don’t exist.

My other question is that how many of us do anything about the ghastly rackets (be it bribery or prostitution or child exploitation) back home? I don’t think the movie exploited India; it hurt the Indian pride because it reminded people of the crude reality. Face it; it’s not the India a lot of Indians want the foreigners to remember. I digress, but isn’t that why the Indian media got a lot of heat after the Bombay attacks? The core coverage was of mayhem at the luxury hotels but VT, the packed commuter train station used by unrich Mumbaikars, was completely ignored. The poor lives didn’t matter because they won’t look good on a postcard.

Few of my Indian friends thought that an Indian producer/director couldn’t have made a similar movie due to lack of vision. I think over the last decade, Indian cinema has evolved to cater to every strata, tastes, and brain. Our filmmakers create intelligent movies, and we have a talented crop of actors, who are at par with their western counterparts.

Would Slumdog Millionaire have won these many awards if an Indian guy had made the movie? I don’t know, but I don’t question the talent; it’s the color that I am hinting at. But again, even though I liked the movie, I couldn’t deny that few of its contenders deserved the Oscars more than Slumdog Millionaire. Come to think of it, I feel that way every year.

End of the day, I don’t care whether Slumdog Millionaire was hyped or over-appreciated. I am on cloud nine that Indian talent won global recognition. So what if a British guy made the movie? The impressive awards were won by INDIANS. When AR Rahman graced the Kodak Theatre with his unassuming, unpretentious, super-Indian accent and desi personality, my heart swelled with pride. I loved every moment of his nonchalant confidence when he quoted the dialogue from “Deewar.” He embodied the true Indian culture. At least he was candid unlike other Bollywood celebrities who develop an American accent the minute they get their visa.

More until next time.

Copyright © 02.26.2009

"If I were asked under what sky the human mind has most fully developed some of its choicest gifts, has most deeply pondered on the greatest problems of life, and has found solutions, I should point to India"—Max Mueller

Saturday, February 21, 2009

An ode to memories

A few days ago, my husband and I got back from an exquisite, enjoyable, and adventurous vacation in Cancun. The color of the sky and the water were a mirror reflection of each other. From a touristic perspective, I wouldn’t categorize Cancun under “One of the places to see before I die.” It’s enjoyable, period. Spain, Greece, Italy, Tunisia and Turkey (from my perspective) fall under the “Got to see it category” and boy, are they beautiful! Nevertheless, the philosopher in me had to find out the mystique and allure behind this “Land of blue waters,” and the reason why I appreciated it more than I could ever imagine.

Let me back track a bit. A couple of weeks ago, I signed up for a workshop on, which in a nutshell is, tapping into your altered states of subconscious mind. It promises to be an enriching experience for anyone who works in the creative field. Anyways, in the first class, the professor asked us to fill out a questionnaire. One of the questions required us to share one of our fondest childhood recollections. I am a proud Indian to the core in so many ways. Sharing my personal side with strangers (sans a friend in the class) always makes me squirmy. Maybe because we (people who grew up in India) didn’t have the notion of therapy growing up (A solid foundation of family and friends were enough to solve your problems)? So, I wrote down childhood reminiscence, which was amusing but completely random.

Back to analyzing the trip: Every iota of my being felt happy and at peace in Cancun. I let the azure waters embrace me completely. That was a surprising act because I grew up swimming in the Mediterranean Sea, so I rarely value any other salt water body. “Atlantic is too cold; Pacific is too rough; rest of the water bodies are a joke” etc. etc. Nothing is ever good enough for the waterphilic in me. But that wasn’t true about Cancun. As I frolicked around in magical blue, I realized what made Cancun so special for me: it brought back fondest memories of my childhood—those days and nights of untainted bliss with our family and friends on the gorgeous Mediterranean barbequing, picnicking, dancing, chatting, and eating. There was cheerfulness everywhere along with timeless peace. So many of the friendships I formed during my growing up years are even today an inherent part of me.

Cancun exuded the same idyllic energy. A feeling we urban dwellers rarely get to cherish. What can you do; life takes over. Consider this blog post as an ode to people who created such warm, conducive, affectionate memories for me and to the people who recognize their significance for my existence.

More until next time.

Copyright © 02.21.2009

“Memory... is the diary that we all carry about with us” - Oscar Wilde

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Are South Asian gays happier than their straight counterparts?

Couple of nights ago, I was at an event/panel session, titled “Tell Me a Story,” organized by the South Asian Women’s Creative Circle (SAWCC). It was a déjà vu moment for me since a few months ago I had presented my work as a panelist. That was a momentous occasion in my ordinary life. I value the focus of SAWCC and especially these panel sessions where South Asian creative women get a platform to showcase their work.

The event on Tuesday, with a huge turnout, had a very niche focus: panel on queer South Asian art. The panelists comprised of success stories in their own right: Ashu Rai, Chitra Ganesh, D’Lo, Sonali Gulati and Gayatri Gopinath. The panelists and the organizer did a magnificent job of keeping everyone intellectually and emotionally intrigued.

The evening was an eye-opener for me. I was at the event with two of my friends. Just as the session got over, I said to one of my friends, “I had no idea there were so many South Asian gay creative women in New York City.” I was part mesmerized and part bewildered. A very close friend of mine (an advertising guru) and I always whine about how few South Asians we see in our field of communication. For some reason, most of my writer/communication professional friends (be it Indian or non-Indians) are all straight people though I have gay and bisexual acquaintances. It isn’t an intentional effort; it somehow just happened. I guess, subconsciously we all knit and live in our own cocoon where you don’t have to explain your existence.

It was inspirational to see how these women had effectively defied the banal, regimented doctrine. South Asian societies can be very conventional and stereotypical in their expectations--especially of their women. Get married, be happy with your in-laws, bear children, write off your life etc. Plus, there is that pressure of pursuing careers that PAY well instead of ones that make you content. Pragmatism overrides happiness. Notice how most Indians are into IT, medicine, and finance. Unless you studied these professional courses, you were labeled as an under-achiever! How many of us, who grew up in India, live our own dreams? Our life is indebted to the society in the form of emotional blackmail. Our passions got buried along with the responsibility of being “the ideal child” and eventually, the “successful adult.”Success is such a loaded word.

Before the activist-types jump down my throat, I am not condemning or condoning lifestyle choices—be it heterosexual or homosexual. To each their own. However, I can’t help but wonder if our South Asian straight world is more pseudo with our appearances. Are South Asian gays, on some level, happier than straight folks? Perhaps the unwarranted ostracizing by the society works as their strength and muse? It gives them the opportunity to follow and live their dreams while we still dream about our dreams and follow our family’s aspirations for us. Sadly, life is too short to carry someone else’s desires on your shoulders.

I can't imagine the journey was easy for them (be it professional or personal), but they did it and are blissful. That counts towards a lot. I can't say that for most South Asian straight people I know. We all succumbed to the societal pressure in some form or the other. Why else do so many of us go to bed saying, “In my next life….”

More until next time.

Copyright © 02.12.2009

“I don't want to earn my living; I want to live.”

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Do better brands make you better?

We live in a branded world and sadly but truly, even death doesn’t do us part. I have heard that even funeral homes rely on branding to generate interest in prospective clients, aka-- future cadavers. Fascinating! Now you can lie in peace for eternity in a brand name of your choice. We humans can be such conscious planners.:-)

Think about it; brand names are applicable to every aspect of our daily existence. Sometimes consciously; there are a few times, subconsciously. For instance, the brand of radio station you tune into or the clothes you wear or the cereal you eat. What about the shoes or coat or every accessory you adorn yourself with or the bed sheet you sleep on? What about when it comes to purchasing a car or buying even your child’s diaper or food? How about the brand of the company you work for and the school you studied from? The mantra is “brand and branding.” I should know; I make a living out of them.

The relevance of a brand name is relative. A person might be discerning about the brand of handbags they strut or the cosmetics they buy but might be apathetic towards branding when it comes to the shoes they wear or the brand of car they drive or the grocery they purchase. Also, each brand holds a contrasting or disparate meaning for different people. For instance, Whole foods and Trader Joe’s are food haven for a health fanatic for me, but I know people who think of those two stores as incongruous - insolence to frugality and sensibility. I might feel differently, but they have the right to their opinion.

I have heard fathomless, unlikable, trite, coated-in-insecurity debates about whether or not working for a big brand name means you are professionally more gifted OR studying from an Ivy-League or the other top schools indicates you are a prodigy roaming the streets of Intelligenceville. Sure. The logic of networking with crème la crème, if you work or studied from a big brand name, is totally pertinent, but that doesn’t mean that folks who studied from an average school or work for a “not-so-well- heard of” company are any less gifted. I have friends who didn’t go to school in the US and career-wise, they are equally (if not more) successful. What big name companies and schools do, is make you feel good because they are recognized brands, and you don’t need to ever explain to people the details because they have heard of it.

Here is what I think: I believe that brand names matter; just not the way most people think. Brands names don’t make you a better person; they help you feel better. It’s about mental positioning. What a good brand does (again, good is a relative word from the spenders’ viewpoint) is gives you the “feel good” factor. Like Ivanka Trump once said, “I've never lived in a building without my name on it.” Wearing a Burberry coat doesn’t turn a person into a chic model; it’s the feeling that the coat brings about (vs. a woolen from Marshalls) that stands out. Like driving a Volvo minivan makes a mother feel confident about the security and safety of her children. Once you feel good, you feel positive. When you feel positive, you feel secure and that’s what you exude through your mannerisms. That’s when the world is yours.

More until next time.

Copyright © 02.05.2009

"What"s a brand? A singular idea or concept that you own inside the mind of the prospect." - Al Ries