Ashish Vaswani

The final report of investigations into Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s ‘assassination bid’ made for a really amusing read this morning. For those of you who’re not in the know, here’s a quick recapitulation. The end of last week saw a strange nation-wide drama unfold itself in front of millions of eyeballs looking for some off-beat prime time entertainment. No, it wasn’t a new sex scandal featuring a tinsel town starlet, nor was it a twist to the ever elongating saga of ex-IPL Commissioner Lalit Modi’s debauch tactics. What caught the media’s attention this time round, was a misfired bullet after one of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s public meetings (aka satsangs). What was interesting to see, was that even till after a couple of days of the ‘incident’, Sri Sri (can someone please tell me why this gentleman needs two Sris prefixed to his name?) continued to appear on most news channels explaining to saas-bahu-drama-deprived aunties and IPL hungry uncles how he escaped a bid to his life by ‘a whisker’.

Before I even begin debating, let me first inform you (if you don’t already know) that Guruji (that’s how Sri Sri’s addressed by his followers) was leaving in his vehicle after the satsang, when all he heard was a loud thud. Now, though this thud happened be a bullet gone astray, what is interesting to know is that, it was shot so far away from the Guru that it was evident right from the start that the actual target being him was highly unlikely. This can be corroborated by the fact that Guruji was actually informed of the thud being one that of bullet almost an hour after the incident. Even if what the Guru claimed hitherto were to be true, and the attack been a real threat to his life, what I can’t digest is the unnecessary limelight that was garnered over a man who already has a strong enough public relations mechanism to keep cash registers ringing in Ashrams around the world. (A 6-day basic course in ‘The Art Of Living’ could cost as much as Rs. 2000). Call me a cynic if you want to, but it’s strange to see a spiritual guru who’s under the shock of having escaped an ‘attempt to his life’, give live interviews to masala-hungry news channels back to back. At one point last Monday, there were as many as four channels showing LIVE footage of Swamiji’s reply to the attacker!

Now the twist in the tale came this morning, when newspapers carried reports of what had actually ‘conspired’. The owner of a farm located close to the Ashram was fed up with the nuisance of stray dogs who had mauled his sheep. The only problem is that the farm owner chose a really bizarre way to put an end to this menace. He used his licensed revolver to shoot three rounds at these dogs, one of which incidentally landed in the Ashram! Now that Guruji has been made aware of this, he wants Karan Johar to make a movie on the incident titled, ‘I Am Swamy, But I Am Innocent’!  

Serious questions need to be asked here- Why was such a hue and cry made about a bullet being fired ‘specifically’ at Sri Sri when it missed him by yards? With the exception of a few reports on the actual victim who was injured, (a deveotee of Ravi Shankar) why wasn’t anybody interested in getting his side of the story? Why was the media giving so much attention to an incident without gathering enough information about the real sequence of events?

It’s really nice that our country has so many spiritual gurus to lead our way in our quest for eternal peace and enlightenment- what’s with channels like Aastha, Sanskar and Jagran giving birth to new godmen every other day. And though all gurus can’t be typecast as being ‘unholy’, I personally have serious doubts over the authenticity of most, if not all of them. The recently unearthed scandals of Swami Nithyananda and Asaram Bapu are cases in point. There are acres of land all over India, and even abroad, dedicated to ashrams, yagnashalas and gurukuls. Most gurus have enough clout amongst the netalog as well. What is even more amusing is that most hi-fi gurus spend their time serving their firang devotees abroad under the pretext of global ‘uddhar’.

I don’t have a problem with Sri Sri Ravi Shankar per se. In fact, I felt hugely satisfied after attending an Art Of Living YES+ (stands for Youth Empowerment and Skills) workshop last year. The Sudarshan Kriya which is the USP of any Art Of Living (AOL) course does have scientifically proven health benefits. And the gyaan that you get on a course is, in every way, aimed at helping you strike a chord with your inner self. But that’s that. The tactics that die-hard AOL followers use to get you on the course are really annoying. If you have friends involved with the Art Of Living Foundation, may be you know what I mean. Most participants on my course agreed that they were either coerced or sweet talked into attending it by AOL friends. Same was the case for me. I understand that any kind of event does need a fair bit of publicity, but sometimes it just crosses the tipping point. The director of WAYE (World Alliance of Youth Empowerment) which introduced YES+, Khurshed Batliwala (I am in awe of his persona!) himself asks participants to try and find as many people to register for the course and persist till they give in. He does mean it in a very funny sort of a way and does so for the eventual upliftment of society, but I fail to understand why people should be ‘forced’ into joining a beautiful course like this in the first place. If the course does have the benefits that it claims to have, (which I also believe) people will register for it themselves, you don’t need the AOL brigade to go scouting for participants, catch them by the neck and then smilingly ask them to deep breathe their way out of it. I doubt if any one thing, person or incident could teach anyone the ‘Art Of Living’. It’s the daily struggles with ourselves and the world around us and worthwhile experiences over the years, that teach us small but meaningful lessons, which ultimately help us to ace this mammoth of a test called Life.

As for last week’s bullet firing drama, all I can say is that maybe Guruji’s ardent bhakts advised him to cash in on some media attention and make hay while the sun was still shining. With Guruji’s security now being beefed up a few notches higher than before, it is the taxpayer who will pay dearly to protect a public figure- who preaches the ‘Art Of Living’ to the world, from fellow Living Beings!
Ashish Vaswani

To be really honest, I hate movie reviews. Be it the overrated Nikhat Kazmi and Mayank Shekhar articles that make or break the fate of the biggest masterpieces by trying to scale them on their ‘star’ meters, or the paid-for TV reviews that news channels like Aaj Tak usually air in the weeks preceeding the hype of a big release, they mostly if not always, are a mirror of what I feel about a movie. Latest in this league are internet sites like indiafm (aka bollywoodhungama) where people who call themselves trade analysts (a new epithet given to the same old movie critic) give you indepth analysis of why YOU should or should not watch a movie which THEY may or may not like. And I thought we lived in a democracy!

But I’m going to make an exception here. Today I want to tell you about my first day first show experience of watching Raajneeti. But before I begin to tell you about it, first a note of caution- I’ve liked the biggest of ‘flops’ (personally I don’t like this word, I’m using it only for the lack of a better one). I loved Kites that I saw last week and I thought Rann (hope you’ve heard of it- it stars Amitabh Bachchan and Ritiesh Deshmukh) was pretty okay too. The last film I really hated (and I can’t say that for more than a handful of them) was DevD. So if you’re the kind who’s looking for authentic star-meter dependent material, this piece is not for you to swear by, but you can still read it anyway, you’re most welcome!

Throughout this piece, I’ll try and not give you the plot away, but one thing I’d like to do is mention a few dialogues or scenes I liked in the movie, so that you can look out for them if you happen to watch it. I think that’s fair enough.

First things first, with a starcast like this, you’ve seriously got to have a pretty strong reason to avoid Raajneeti. Though Naseeruddin Shah is the only one who has an itsy-bitsy appearance in the beginning, more or less all others have a considerable screen presence. It was a pleasant surprise to see Arjun Rampal act, which can be taken as a fitting reply to silence critics who thought he didn’t deserve the National Award for Rock On. Nana Patekar’s role in the movie made me stand up and take notice of his acting prowess, something that I’d overlooked in the past. Even, Manoj Bajpai is sure to get a fresh lease of life after this one. Latest import Sarah Thompson also does a convincing job in the tiny role that she’s landed.

The promos do a great job of keeping the storyline hard to guess, since Katrina’s role is not entirely centred around what’s being highlighted. The flow of ideas is sewn well together and is capable of gripping the average movie-goer’s attention, making him/her wonder what new twist the next scene will bring. Raajneeti is the story of a family, it’s about power and politics and how these take a lead over everything else in life for that family. I personally liked a lesson which Nana gives Ranbir when he asks “गढ़े मुर्दों को खोदने  से क्या फायदा?”, the reply being, “राजनीति में मुर्दों को गाढ़ा नहीं जाता, उन्हें संभालकर रखा जाता है ताकि समय आने पर उनका मूह  खुलवाकर उनका इस्तमाल किया जा सके!"

A couple of really funny lines that I can’t stop myself from mentioning-

The driver is gifted an expensive watch by his sahib and is really elated to know that he’s so special to him. That’s when Ajay Devgn (it’s not a typo, that’s how he spells his name now!) comes up to him and retorts, “घड़ी दी है ताकि समय पर उनकी गाडी पहुंचा सको!" to spoil his party!

In a really serious scene, the depiction of Arjun Rampal singing Ankhiyan Churayun kabhi ankhiyaan milaaon kabhi….(from the 90’s Madhuri starrer Raja) is sure to evoke a chuckle.

Some events in the movie are highly dramaticized, as is the case with all Hindi movies. For example, there’s somebody getting murdered every few scenes and a few dramatic turns become slightly difficult to believe. Though after watching this movie, I didn’t feel it’s inspired by any individual or family in particular, chances are that you may find a few of the characters being based on a combination of real life personalities.

Prakash Jha has done a flawless job of narrating a kind of story that has always been his forte. Once again, he has succeeded in depicting the goonda raaj based politics of central India with perfection. The rustic UPwaala ‘hum’ instead of ‘main’, the execution of the huge crowd scenes and even the tiniest of nitty-gritties have been taken care of really well. Again, there are a few dialogues that I’d like to draw reference to, to make a point:

In one scene, Manoj Bajpai reminds his detractors, “आसमान पर थूंकने वाला यह भूल जाता है कि मूह तो उसी का गन्दा होने वाला है!  "

In another one, when the pesky paparazzi reminds Ranbir that the freedom of press obligates him to reply to their questions, his impressive reply is “हाँ, लेकिन आपकी आज़ादी को आप हमारा आतंक नहीं बना सकते!"

You’ll surely like this movie if you even remotely liked the Sarkar dilogy. And to those numbered few who happened to watch Rann like me, Jha has done exactly what Ram Gopal Verma tried to do in his movie, though this time, it’s with the perfection of a skilled craftsman who does an awesome job of storytelling with finesse and élan.

To sum it up, I’ll just say, be prepared for a heavy dose of action and drama and a full-too three hour paisa vasool blockbuster. After all, for me being a Sindhi, it feels much better spending three hours in an air-conditioned theatre watching a stretched out sensible movie for the same price that I pay for a one and a half hour no brainer!
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Ashish Vaswani
Recently, I happened to have eavesdropped on a conversation between a couple.

Wife: “Aji suniye, yeh rat race kis bala ka naam hai bhala?”
Husband: “Bhaagwaan, tere aur tere bachhon ke pet mein jo choohein duadte hain, woh naa daudein is liye jo race main har din daudta hoon, use rat race kehte hain!”

Clearly, one couldn’t have asked for a better definition of the rat race in today’s dog-eat-dog world. Right from the day we’re born, we’re (or at least most of us are) knowingly or unknowingly enslaved by this race to be better than the best. You know what I mean by the rat race if you can even remotely relate the reel life example of Prof. Viru Sahastrabuddhe in 3 Idiots to someone you know personally or worst still, meet every morning when you face the mirror. Come on, how many of us can cross our hearts and claim to have never acted ‘under the influence’ to outdo the closest competitor, not because we wanted to, but because we feared that if we didn’t, someone else would beat us to the finish line?

In this day and age of sky-rocketing cut-offs and ever increasing cut throat competition, our daily life has been reduced to a mere rat race- a race which has turned us all into lifeless maniacs striving hard to achieve the unachievable. In our efforts to do so, we may sometimes even
end up getting what we were yearning for, but the hunger to be
the best just keeps multiplying like a parasitic virus.

‘Sky is the limit’, I was taught in school. But, for our generation that thrives on plastic money and highly priced technological marvels, even sky does not seem to be the limit. In our so called ‘pursuit for excellence’, we start compromising and adjusting with stuff we’re least comfortable doing. Be it the average school classroom or the boardroom of a multinational corporation, everyone just has one aim in mind- to lead the rest. Never do we even think twice before stooping to cheap tactics to achieve this mindless goal. And after all the corner cutting and ego thwarting, we begin to forego the basic pleasures of life. Forecasting the losses in business due to the weather becomes more important than getting drenched in the season’s first showers and smelling the aroma of the freshly quenched earth. Googling your competitor’s new business strategy takes the lead over sipping a cup of piping hot coffee with friends.

Our daily lives are nothing short of a ruthless melee, getting in and out of trains and buses to try and shave off those precious seconds, that we think could make the difference between the next appraisal and the next round of lay-offs. What we unintentionally begin doing, is sacrificing personal happiness to stay ‘IN THE RACE’. And we’re paying a really heavy price to be a part of it. Every other day, we hear of young ambitious professionals falling prey to the stress, thereby inviting heath complications like hypertension and heart trouble. It’s high time we slowed down a bit to pause and ponder over our priorities and set them straight before the race gets the better of us.

Want to end with this beautiful piece that I came across:

When I was born, I was dying to go to school
In school, I was dying to experience college life
Once in college, I was dying to graduate and find a job
At work, I was dying to retire
And then, when I was dying, I realized I’d forgotten something
Maybe I’d forgotten to live.
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