Stop Assigning Tasks to Everyone You Meet!

Till a few years ago, I was what could be described as ‘gregarious’. I liked stepping out, meeting new people, making friends and hanging out with said friends.

But over the last few years, I have become increasingly hesitant to step out of my house. The prospect of having to meet people seems daunting. It’s a little ironic that this coincides with the time I decided to become a writer and stand-up comedian. But the reason is a very specific one. Ladies and Gentlemen, kindly brace yourself for the kind of rants you hear from old men who reach the bars early.

Every generation has a different set of societal pressures. A hundred years ago, there was pressure to work in one’s ancestral property to provide food. A few decades ago, the pressure was to get married, have kids, and produce mediocre progeny to completely unnecessary dynasties. In today’s times, it’s a different kind of pressure.

The pressure of meeting people who randomly meet you, assign tasks to you, and vanish. That’s the reason I detest meeting people these days. Nearly every person you meet assigns some or the other task to you, whether you know them or not. It’s a rampant, vile practice that nobody speaks about. Everybody you meet is adding to a gigantic, imaginary To-do list in your head.

These task-assigners come in various shapes, sizes and categories.

THE WOKE PEOPLE

Most people assume that performing comedy in front of right-wing rogues is the toughest. Surprisingly, right-wingers do possess a sense of humour. The real problem are the left-wing, woke people. They have woken so much out of their slumber that any joke that doesn’t fit their moral text book needs to be put to sleep. In fact, apart from woke people, the only more dangerous place to tell a joke is in front of a pride of lions in the Gir forest! For a woke person, there is no perfect intellectual. The idea of a perfect woke person is a constantly shifting flagpole that is humanly impossible to adhere to.

I had the rare misfortune to host an Open Mic at a vegan restaurant in the city. The kind where rich folks wear kurtas and sit on mats in order to remain ‘grounded to their roots’. Vegans are the most intolerable among the woke-folks. Of course, people are free to make their own dietary choices, but it’s the sanctimonious ‘I’m doing it for the planet’ tone that is intolerable.

I mean, Gandhi fasted for years and he’s called a chutiya on Twitter. But Neha wants to be respected because she said ‘No’ to paneer! Give me a fucking break!

I was performing a silly joke about Shah Jahan and how he cut off the workers’ hands because the Question Mark wasn’t used in Indian languages in the 16th century. Right in the middle of a joke, I got interrupted by an audience member. I called her out for interrupting me in the middle of a joke, and we spoke after the show.
‘That joke is able-ist’, she said.
‘How?’
‘Well, it is the perspective of an able-bodied person who is mocking people without hands’.

Have you ever had a moment when as an atheist, you begin to believe that God exists? That God created somebody this stupid only to make their ancestors pay for ghastly crimes? It was one of those moments.

‘You do know that it’s a myth, right? There isn’t really enough evidence to prove that Shah Jahan actually cut off people’s hands after they built the Taj Mahal’.
She gave me the look I used to give my Maths teachers in school.
‘Even so, that joke is able-ist. You are perpetuating a violent idea through your joke’.
‘Are you telling me people are going to listen to that joke and cut off other people’s hands?’
‘…Ahem, maybe you should choose to read up on Disability Studies, and you wouldn’t be so insensitive in your jokes’.
‘Why don’t you tell me what the studies say?’
‘I’m sorry, it’s not my responsibility to educate you about the world’.

That’s the thing about woke people. They are constantly dropping names on Social Media. You should read this. Maybe watch that. For you see, I’m an educated person willing to debate my views on social media for hours, but I do not possess the skills to summarise what I have learnt in a couple of sentences.

In that sense, I like that right-wing folks do not assign any task to you. They are absolutely sure of their views. If you disagree, you can go fuck yourself. Irrespective of whether you agree with their opinions, it is hard not to be impressed by the confidence. But debate with a woke person, and you will be tasked with reading three books, a couple of essays on EPW, and four academic papers on JStor before you’re worthy of having an argument!

THE RECOMMENDERS

If the woke-walkers are an army of brain-dead people marching at you while echoing each other’s opinions, they can only be defeated by their worthy opponents – the Recommenders.

These are people who have watched a series or film and can’t stop fucking raving about it. ‘OMG!!! YOU HAVEN’T WATCHED THAT SERIES? Are you serious? You’re a critic. You SHOULD watch it. MUST. OUGHT TO. BETTER WATCH IT’.

If the recommenders are an army marching, they are commanded by seniors in their own army. The recommending generals who make recommending a competitive game of tennis.

‘Have you watched Better Call Saul?’
‘No, I haven’t. But OMG, have you watched Fargo?’
‘No, I haven’t. But I’ve watched The Wire. Have you?’
‘No. I haven’t’.
‘You MUST watch it. It’s one of those shows that will blow your mind’.

This game has no rules, and no winner. It can go on for a few minutes, hours, or the entire night. But the recommenders are also guilty of another crime. If you ask them to describe the show, they mostly refuse. ‘I can’t describe it. I’ll do a shoddy job. You MUST watch it’.

What they’re essentially saying is that they have the time and resources to watch a show that ran for an entire decade, but cannot be bothered to indulge you in a two-minute summary. Because THAT would require some skills and intelligence.
‘You just watch it. It will blow your mind’.
Everything seems to blow the minds of recommenders. It is a mind or a school in Pakistan? To get blown every Friday??

THE NUMBER SHARERS

The third in the list are those that immediately want to exchange numbers after meeting you.

I have met people at parties with whom the only commonality I shared was to belong to the same species. ‘Give me your number, I’ll give you mine’. I thought this was true only in case of pretty women, but apparently, it’s a rampant social disease.

Despite the fact that it takes 2 seconds to find someone one by searching on social media. ‘Give me your number, I’ll call you’, they say. And then stare at you till you take out your phone. ‘Unlock your phone. Use the swiping pattern. Let me see it so I can theoretically know everything about your life. Unlock your phone RIGHT NOW and save my number. Or I’m going to stare at you till you drop dead’.

The number-sharers are not easily pleased though. Some of them will take out their phones and give you a call. ‘I called you’, they’ll say. ‘That’s my number. Save it’. Trapped like a teenager in Shakti Kapoor’s bedroom, you have no option but to nod.
‘Give me a call when you’re in this locality the next time’.
Sure.
‘And let me know if you have any shows coming up, man. Just ping me on WhatsApp or something’.
Sure.
‘And oh, have you watched this series…?’

THE WRITERS

As a culture, we have strange ideas of writing and writers. When I tell people that I’m a writer, the first question I get is ‘What books have you written?’. It is hard for people to wrap their heads around the fact that there are other types of writers than authors.

We have made writing so performative, so cliched – that an entire generation of youngsters is more comfortable solving complex mathematical equations to arrive at one common answer, than write a short essay that displays their uniqueness. But even though I belong to the camp of writers myself, writers are one of the worst committers of the crime of assigning tasks.

‘Hey, can you read what I’ve written? Do let me know what you thought’.
No hello, no introduction. No cursory line of courtesy asking if I would be interested to read their work. Forget niceties, there is no context to what was sent – no summary, no one-para description of the content within. I am supposed to open the document and plunge into ‘EXT. DAY. SCENE 1 – A dusty Jeep arrives outside the village. We see a child inside the Jeep, with a snake around its neck’.

I have had one dude send me his script over 5 long WhatsApp messages. Another dude met me at a party after a few years and cribbed about me not giving him feedback. That’s the thing about writers – while their wallets are thin, their egos are massive. If you do not reply to their messages, they take it as a personal insult. ‘Since you are a professional writer’, the dude would say to me in the balcony as we passed joints, ‘I expected you to respond professionally’.

I think the problem lies in the fact that writing is considered an art. And because it’s considered an art, people don’t realise that to review it is actual work.

THE FILMMAKERS

I review movies professionally, and as a reason I get sent at least 20 to 30 videos every week. Most of them have no introduction, or summary, or any sort of hint about what the video might contain. Just thrown my way with the cursory message that says, Hey, check this out.

I understand that film making is a tough business. But how do you expect to be taken seriously when you don’t even follow the basic rules of professionalism? The common message attached to the video links go something like Hey, the video is just about 5 minutes so please watch it. Sure, it might take about 5 minutes to watch your video. But it will take me about 30 minutes to analyze it. And then another 30 minutes to put it in words. And then some more time to find you on social media and reply to your message and then discuss it with you.

So in essence, you are asking me to work for 3 hours. For free. Without even the basic modicum of courtesy. People think that it is some sort of a joyful activity to review films. But it is actual work. Imagine if you were a software engineer working. And I suddenly drop in at your desk and say, Hey, can you write this code for me, please? People do not even take permission. Do not even drop in a line that says, Hey, do you mind having a look? Do you have a few minutes free?

And if you do not respond to their messages, they come back and check in a weeks time. Like it was a fucking assignment to begin with. And when you fail to respond to their unprofessional messages, they get pissed off.

Which gives rise to the question. What is the professional way to ask somebody to review your work?

I don’t know what are the industry guidelines but I personally would like it if you first asked me if I would be interested to check out your work. And be ready to accept a ‘No’ if I’m busy. The next step would be to send a short summary along with the link. And then leave it for me to decide if I want to have a look or no. Because it’s a favour I’m doing you. It’s not a contract. I’m not getting paid.

*

So that was it. That was my rant. If you belong to any of the above categories, please stop assigning tasks to everybody around you. We live in tough times as it is.

Thank you for reading. Now please go to the comment section and tell me what you thought of my article. Right now!!

Irrfan

I have always hated questions that begin with ‘What is your favourite __________’

Favourite film/band/cricketer – these questions expect you to do a quick scan of your entire life and point to ONE definitive answer. It is such a rude thing to do – to make the person undergo the unwanted hassle of scrutinizing all their memories because you want a one-word answer that you will judge them for. It is no surprise that I scored the lowest CAT score among all the human beings I know of.

When Irrfan Khan passed away, I got a number of requests from people asking me to write about him. At first, I was hesitant. I had read a number of articles, and they all sounded like eulogies. Emotional outpourings whose every paragraph reminded you that he was no more. But that’s the thing about cinema – it keeps you immortal. It’s the reason Samba is known today, it’s the reason Tuffy the Dog still resonates with people.

*

At the risk of sounding heartless, I did not feel a personal loss when Irrfan passed away. I do not feel a personal connection with people I know in real life, so I’d be lying to say I felt that connection with Irrfan the actor. In fact, I do not feel a personal connection with anybody in cinema. This works as a double-edged sword when I have to review films. On one hand, it gives me an impartial view of the film. On the other hand, I feel handicapped when I think that I will never be as moved, as touched as other viewers of cinema. But let’s talk about Irrfan.

For a lot of Indians, the journey with Irrfan began much before they knew who he was. I had watched films like Ek Doctor Ki Maut, Karamati Coat and Kasoor, without knowing of Irrfan, or the magic he would go on to create on screen. In Chandrakanta the Doordarshan show with no visible ending – he played a set of twins that were unintentionally hilarious. I first noticed him in the criminally underrated Haasil. As a teenager, I would read Kaveree Bamzai’s reviews in India Today, and that is where I saw his name mentioned for the first time. Since then, I have watched nearly every Irrfan movie that has released.

While the entire nation might be mourning his demise, the truth is that most of his films played to empty halls. In spite of all the films he made by selling his soul out, Irrfan was quickly branded as an ‘off-beat’ actor. ‘I don’t want to think in a movie hall, yaar’, a friend of mine would say when I invited her to watch The Lunchbox. She chose to watch Phata Poster Nikla Hero instead. This is probably the reason why Irrfan had to sign a number of shoddy mainstream films. So that at least a fraction of those audiences would choose to explore the films that he truly cared about.

And boy, did he sign many of those shoddy films! Yours Truly had the pleasure of watching most of them in a cinema hall, using money earned through shitty call-center jobs. Charas: A Joint Effort, where he is saddled between Jimmy Shergill and Uday Chopra. Thank You, where he is cast alongside Akshay Kumar and Sonam Kapoor. And the string of blatantly copied Hollywood films – Chocolate, Footpath, The Killer, and Rog, among many others. Unfortunately, Irrfan rose to stardom in the 2000s, a decade notorious for blatantly copying movies from the West without even an iota of dignity or acknowledgment to the original makers.

Another often ignored aspect of Irrfan’s relatability were the advertisements he chose to do. Indian advertisements are minor soap operas – with families, drama and conflicts thrown in as 30-second vignettes. It is all over the top and dramatic. And there, Irrfan knew that to stand out, he had to look the viewers in the eyes, to simply talk to them. Whether it was the Hutch ka Chhota Recharge or Syska LED, most Irrfan Khan advertisements involved him staring directly at the viewers – making a point. He also shot a spoof with AIB when the entire film industry was shunning them, perhaps acknowledging that the Internet was no more the younger brother of the large screen. While his acting was nearly flawless, Irrfan certainly knew a thing or two about relating to his audiences.

And it wasn’t all just for the camera. In a country where the biggest stars are Muslim, Irrfan was the only Khan who called out maulvis on live television for their dogmatic views of the world. Ballsy, some would say. But what can possibly deter a person after he’s signed a film involving Sonam Kapoor and Bobby Deol?

*

Every time I sit down to discuss, write, or critique acting, I am reminded of a quote by Naseeruddin Shah. Shah says that most audiences do not have opinions on cinematography, production design, or background score. But every single viewer, whether they have had any experience with the form, can tell if the acting is good or bad. There is something about the trade that connects to people directly, that they instinctively know if the acting is good or bad.

Difficult as it is to gauge the art of acting for a non-actor like me, I shall attempt it nonetheless. While much has been written about Irrfan’s acting abilities, not enough has been said about his chameleon-like ability to adapt. On the surface, the primary reason why he stood out among his peers was the realism in his portrayals. In a world where everybody was on all the time at full blast, Irrfan would slip in a subtle 67-off-83-balls sort of innings to steady the ship. He was a ray of realism in the world of hyperbole. Whether it was the modulation of his voice, or the use of his eyes, or physical mannerisms.

But scratch the surface, and you’ll find that Irrfan was also smart at another level. He knew how to adapt to the film he was working in. He knew how to amp it up in commercial cinema. Watch for example Hindi Medium, Piku, and Madari – and you’ll find him dishing out the kind of heroic acting that mainstream Bollywood needs. One can only suspect it came from a deep understanding of markets, audiences and genres. To play subtle when needed, and unabashedly amp it up at other times. It is something other actors who are usually termed ‘underrated’ (Akshaye Khanna) have failed to do over decades. That was perhaps Irrfan Khan’s biggest strength. While everybody in the industry was trying to either fit in, or stand out – he had mastered the art of standing out even while fitting in.

When I re-watch his films, it is this trait of his that distinctly stands out. For an actor trained in acting and theater, he steals the thunder from established movie stars. Watch Piku, and you will find him effortlessly slaughter Amitabh Bachchan – the biggest legend in Indian cinema, and Deepika Padukone – the biggest female actor of the time. Watch Life in a Metro, and you’ll find him overshadowing an otherwise talented cast of Kay Kay Menon, Konkona Sen Sharma and Sharman Joshi. In Haider, where Vishal Bharadwaj miraculously managed to extract a decent performance from Shahid Kapoor, it is Irrfan’s cameo that kicks ass.

Perhaps he always thought of himself as the outsider. That must be the reason why his best roles were those of outsiders. The ghost in Haider, the older bachelor in Life in a Metro, the exasperated CBI officer in Talvar, the cheating right-hand in Maqbool, the immigrant in The Namesake, or the lonely widower in The Lunchbox (read my review of the film here)

Of course, there will be a number of regrets over the coming years. That the decade that he most flourished in was the decade of massive plagiarism. That he had to act in films that were rip-offs of legendary Hollywood films. Or that he never got to work with filmmakers like Anurag Kashyap, Zoya Akthar and Dibakar Banerjee. Or that he was just beginning to come into his own, to form a legacy that would live on for decades.

When he crossed the seas to Hollywood, he brought a certain dignity to his roles. For years, actors like Naseeruddin Shah, Anupam Kher, Om Puri and Aishwarya Rai had essayed roles in Hollywood. But they seemed ill at ease. Brown faces that sat uncomfortably among the rest. But when Irrfan took up roles in Hollywood films, he upped the game. Instead of masking his hard ‘r’s and ‘t’s with a fake accent, he let them stay, to show his uniqueness.

Irrfan Khan had a way of gobbling up everybody and everything else around him. Films lit up when he arrived on screen, and dimmed out when he left. He could stand tall among legends, and reduce them to caricatures.

Haunting. Perhaps that’s the ideal word to describe his screen presence. A feeling that stayed with you when you went home after watching a film. So you wanted to watch the trailer of the film once more before jacking off to sleep. In a country that sees more than 2000 releases over 365 days, Irrfan Khan had a way of creeping into the back of your mind and staying there for years.

Haunting.

How ‘Tiger King’ manipulates you

Nobody makes documentaries like them Americans.

Even for a person who grew up on David Attenborough’s brand of sober glorification of the world, I have to give it to the Americans. The age of neutral, balanced documentaries is long gone. Today, we need our documentaries to look and feel like thrillers with cliffhangers.

Tiger King – the documentary on Netflix is classic Americana. Crazy people with crazy pursuits, everybody believing they are on the right path. A fascination for the East, while being deeply entrenched in the beliefs of the West.

But that’s the thing about documentaries. On the surface, you are watching real facts. Real people, real places, real events. But the truth is merely an illusion. Sprinkle some editing and background music, and it is possible to depict Hitler as an unassuming painter. Americans make their documentaries like films. And Joe Exotic is the hero. A second generation immigrant fighting the odds against a reputed large corporation (PeTA). An underdog punching above his weight.

But for a protagonist to work, one needs an antagonist. And that is the reason the show props up Carole Baskin as his nemesis. In fact, the show spends an entire episode – Episode 3 – in convincing you that she is the embodiment of all that’s evil in the world.

Just from the point of view of the craft of documentary filmmaking, the episode is wonderful. To claim that a person killed her husband and fed him to tigers sounds like the story narrated by a grandmother on LSD. And yet, the documentary does it successfully. It shores up a number of people to buttress its claim. The ex-husband’s secretary, his former family, competitors like Doc Antle, and Joe Exotic himself. And yet, the only person whose opinion should matter – the police officer in charge of the area at the time of the crime – is slipped in innocuously, and as it turns out, without much significance. In fact, by the end of the episode, you won’t be blamed for firmly believing that Carole Baskin killer her husband and fed him to the tigers. And that is one of the documentary’s great strengths.

By the fourth episode, you are already sympathising with Joe Exotic. He is portrayed as the simple-minded buffoon. A bumbling, emotional idiot who lives in such a make-believe world that facts and repercussions are but mere clouds that can vanish on a good day.

But look closely at the things that Joe Exotic is shown to have done through the documentary. He manipulated three men into falling in love with him. One of them was admittedly straight and was driven to commit suicide on camera. He shot and killed animals and buried them in his backyard. He committed arson on his own premises and ruined the career of his producer. And paid a man to commit murder. And yet, the show’s great victory is in the sympathy it stirs up in the eyes of viewers.

Which then brings us to the topic of the tigers on the show. Here’s the thing – the show doesn’t really give a fuck about the tigers. Except for the cursory text at the end of every documentary, it really does nothing to help their cause. The show does exactly what Jeff Lowe does through the series – pimps the tigers out for attention and drama.

As we speak, there is a wave of hatred spewing against Carole Baskin. People are petitioning for him to be forgiven and the POTUS -himself the host and producer of a reality TV show and subject of a number of documentaries – has promised to ‘look into it’.

And that is how Tiger King manipulates your mind!

Fuck the Left, Fuck the Right!

I stopped blogging about politics in 2016.

As a frantic consumer of news and a student of journalism, I was disheartened by the clear political slants in news organisations. It seemed unfair and unethical to my younger self. I felt cheated; like someone had taken my deepest beliefs and turned them into a David Dhawanian farce.

But five years down the line, I have reconciled to the future of mainstream news. I understand that news organisations will no more position themselves as beacons of neutrality. It took me some time, but I have made my peace with it. Over the last few years, I steered clear of journalism and politics, choosing instead to pursue a career in comedy, satire and stand-up – a field that is more honest and neutral than actual news portals of today.

The last few years have also taught me something else. That both the Left and the Right in India are run by myopic nutjobs.

To get a better idea of my context, you need to know a little more about my life. I spent the first 15 years of my life growing up in a conservative, god-fearing environment. My school was a gurukul-ashram masquerading as a modern educational institute. Our uniform comprised of a white shirt and white trouser; no footwear or ties. The day began and ended by chanting prayers, shlokas and vedas. My childhood aims (and I am not exaggerating here) were: 

  1. Becoming a Bhajan singer 
  2. Doing an MBA and then a PhD in Mahabharata!
  3. Joining the university band and spending my entire life spreading the message of god. 

While it might seem laughable today, these were the only things I could imagine back then. My parents trusted God more than common sense, and when I was kicked out of my school, my mother left me in Whitefield, Bangalore to ‘fend for myself’. I was 15, and brought back home by a kind Odiya couple who took pity on me. That was my upbringing. One in which there was no space for logic or debate. 

It was the kind of upbringing in which watching cricket was frowned upon. My Sportstar and Cricket Talk magazines – a treasure trove worthy of documentation today – were thrown away or burnt in front of my eyes. Novels (even harmless ones like Sherlock Holmes and Hardy Boys) were frowned upon. Watching cricket was considered a waste of time. 

I hadn’t entered a cinema till 2002. 

It is perhaps an act of rebellion that I am involved in all of the above fields today. I am an aspiring novelist, a humour column writer for The New Indian Express, a standup comedian, and a film critic. Perhaps in my own way, I’m living my life defying the rules that were imposed on me as a child. But that was my upbringing till I said ‘Fuck it!’ and cut off my connection with my parents. 

I spent the next ten years in a Leftist environment. I had been working as a copywriter in an ad agency for nearly three years, and I saw no future for myself in that field. You know how you sometimes know that you’re terrible at a job, and yet can do nothing about it? 

I had gotten into Advertising because I was smitten by the glossy papers of Brand Equity in The Economic Times. I liked reading articles by Santhosh Desai, and was fascinated by the ad campaigns initiated by Prasoon Joshi. My boss at the agency – the greatest boss I’ve worked under – remains a friend to this day, and continues to advise me on matters of life. 

But it took me a year to realise that I was miserable at the job. I realised I could come up with witty lines when there was no demand (or need) for them. But when it came to actual brands and real targets, my mind froze! I spoke to a friend of mine and he offered me his place to stay for a few days. One thing led to the other, and I joined the Journalism course in a Central University. 

In the beginning, it was Utopia. Suddenly, all the skills I’d considered to be of no value actually turned out to be productive. My ability to write, to convey my deepest feelings, to speak freely on topics, to take a stance on things that felt unfair – these were all credit points in my course. 

It took me but a few months to develop a God Complex. I graduated from the course with a specialisation in Print Journalism and New Media. Around that time, my blog took off in a big way, and I gained the confidence to pursue a career in writing. I spent a year and a half working as a teacher in Kurnool, and then joined the University again to pursue an MPhil. 

Unbeknownst to me, I was getting sucked into a Leftist environment. 

It is easy to notice the telltale signs of a Right-wing environment. There is brazen devotion to the country, to God, and an overt pride in one’s beliefs and practices. It is much harder to discern recognise the signs of being drowned in a Leftist environment. 

For one, there is more self-awareness. On the surface, you’re doing it under the garb of enlightenment. Look at the posts of any Leftist, and the first thing that strikes you is the sanctimonious tone. Every post, every message is coated in humility, a sense of humour, a self-aware recognition of one’s privilege. 

But scratch the surface, and you’ll find it is the same shit. A myopic view of the world. A hatred that has seeped so deep into their soul that anything pertaining to the nation, or religion has to be met with stiff opposition. 

Dig deeper, and you’ll find a deep-rooted bias towards Islam. A patronising bias that stems from the need to protect the seemingly ‘voiceless’ and ‘downtrodden’. A bias that has shut them up to any criticism. You’ll also find a condescending outlook towards anybody that practices religion. A seemingly neutral, polite voice that is too blind to see its own bias. 

I spent 10 years amidst University folks, pandering to their world-view. Agreeing to their opinions because I wanted to fit in. It was then that I noticed a few cracks in this seemingly perfect marble palace. 

When I would crack a joke at the Right-wingers, I was met with applause. But when I cracked a joke on left-wingers, I was met with a frozen silence. A jab at Hindutva would get me action on the top of a terrace. But a joke on Islam would get me blocked across all platforms by the same girl. 

Thankfully, Stand-up Comedy entered my life to rescue me from this condition. Around 2016, I began to perform professionally. Standup comedy was a much more democratic field. It consisted of engineers, journalists, poets, social outcasts, retired professionals, NRIs, teenagers who refused to fit in at their schools – in spite of a small number, the diversity in stand-up was fascinating. 

Stand-up Comedy is democratic in another way. There is no clear political slant. The emphasis is on making a point, on delivering a laugh. In the beginning, I was shocked to find comedians have a Right-Wing slant one day, and a Left-wing slant the next day. Indoctrinated as I was in steel-cage ideologies, my mind’s first response was ‘Ha! Hypocrite!!’. It took me a while to understand that Standup Comedy was more journalistic than the journalism followed in our country. There was an emphasis on facts, and an audience that could laugh at themselves. 

The last few years have also taught me something more important. 

That the Left-wing and Right-wing actually have more in common than you think. While they may seem to occupy opposite ends of the spectrum, they share more in common than they differ. 

They both depend on 100% loyalty to their ideology. You cannot flirt with the other side, for you stand to lose your friends and peers on this side. While the tone, grammar and subtlety might differ, they are both toxic schools of thought that thrive on trolling – the cheapest of all human behaviour in the modern, digital world. 

Take recent instances for example. Right Wingers bay for the blood of Muslims on Twitter on a daily basis. And if you thought the Left was more graceful, you should check out how they celebrated Boris Johnson contracted the Coronavirus. Hundreds of tweets wished he’d die of the disease that is killing thousands of people around the world. 

And you know what’s the fucked up part? There really isn’t any Right or Left wing in the truest sense. The most common perception of the difference between the two is on ideological grounds. But in India, every party doles out subsidies and benefits to people. If you go purely by economic policies over the last 20 years, it’ll be hard to tell the UPA governments from the NDA governments. 

Which means that in India, the only line of difference is Religion. In their own way, the two sides have legitimised Religion in our everyday consciousness. And yet they are both too stupid to recognise that they’re both idiots. 

This is something that has rankled me for long. How come there hasn’t been a truly Centrist voice in India? And by Centrist, I don’t mean the hollow, spineless political model of the Indian National Congress. I mean an ideology that gives you the freedom to choose what you want from either the Right or the Left. 

An ideology that allows you to appreciate the other side, and criticise your own side. Is it too Utopian an idea to imagine in 2020? I think not. 

And that, Dear Reader, shall be the pursuit of this blog going forward. And my rally cry shall remain the headline of this article. One that needs to be ingrained into your consciousness if you wish to remain sane in the world of social media and 24/7 news channels – Fuck the Left, Fuck the Right! 

How did we reach here?

Something about hometowns makes you want to write.

It isn’t the same with cities we choose to settle in. It takes months, often years or decades – to belong. And the reason for our moving wasn’t always to create great art, or document our priceless thoughts. It was to earn organic brown bread.

But as I was surfing through my hometown on a white Activa, my bloodstream flush with bhang and bhog and the last remaining assets of Vijay Mallya, I noticed something peculiar. The Odisha government had put up a huge hoarding of large, willful defaulters. Names along with their organisation and the amount defaulted. For some reason, it brought a smile to my face. These willful defaulters had done me no harm. And yet, I seemed to gloat in their public humiliation.

Won’t it be wonderful if this was done all over the country, I thought. When I reached home, I found that the Yogi government in UP has put up names of anti-CAA protesters on large hoardings in Lucknow.

Those who had protested against the CAA have their names, photograph and addresses in large, bold letters for everybody to read. Not after a court ruling or arrest warrant, but because they protested. I mean, what the fuck? Why not just go full Taliban, then? Come in blue robes and execute people on open streets already.

What is even more shocking is that nearly 40 people died in the riots that took place last week. And yet, it doesn’t seem to affect us. Other news items that have taken over – India playing Australia in the Women’s World Cup finals, Yes Bank putting the ‘No’ in nosediving. The annual hollow celebration of Women’s Day so brands and business conglomerates can make more money. And Coronavirus.

The death of 40 people a little over a week ago seems to have vanished from our memories.

But how did we reach here? A decade ago, as a Journalism student, we were asked to track and collate news items. I remember if there was a riot or a death caused by mob violence, it would remain in the news cycles for at least a week. Rewind the clock further back to 20 years as a school student. When the Gujarat riots occurred, news and opinions ran for nearly two weeks. The photograph of the tailor who’d lost his shop troubled me at night. And yet, the death of 40 people doesn’t seem to bother us anymore.

How did we reach here?

I remember when Yogi Adityanath was appointed as the Chief Minister. I found it absurd and shocking. This was a person who had openly instigated violence and riots. Someone who had promised to install statues of gods and goddesses in mosques. Someone who dressed in saffron robes and was the head-priest in a temple. Imagine if a bearded, topi-wearing mullah asshole became the Chief Minister of one of India’s states. We would all collectively lose our minds. But nobody batted an eyelid when Yogi was made the Chief Minister. ‘‘Yogi’ is just a name, man’, one of my friends said. Sure! And diarrhea is just over-processed food! But we didn’t reach here due to Yogi Adityanath.

The journey began years ago, when terms like ‘Anti-national’ and ‘Presstitude’ were formed. Back then, the words seemed like idiotic creations of Twitter trolls. But what we failed to notice was that these were ways to undermine any criticism against the government. How do you ridicule the credibility of criticism? Completely rob the critic of any ethics first. These terms slowly became mainstream, spreading into the country’s veins like slow-acting heroin.

The journey began years ago when we realised we needed a Prime Minister with good oratory skills. Look at the US, man! Have you seen their Presidential debates? It looks professional, man. Not like our sad, fucking debates. We lost the plot when we as a nation decided that oratory skills featured among the key skills required by the most powerful man in our country. It’s another matter that the same man stopped giving Press Conferences or interviews shortly after coming to power. It also didn’t matter to us that there wasn’t anybody of significance in the Cabinet. With Arun Jaitley and Sushma Swaraj gone, the government is a throwback to 90s cricket when an entire team of nobodys worked around Sachin Tendulkar.

The journey began when we stopped digging deeper; when we stopped expecting more from our leaders. What option do we have, yaar? Would you rather want Congress in power? Rahul Gandhi? That clowning glory of embarassment? When instead of looking for higher and more, we started comparing our future with the most hollow, shallow, ass-licking dementor of our past – the Congress party.

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But it is foolish to only blame the Right-wing for this mess. Like they say in hinterlands, ek wing se taali nahi bajti. The Left in India is also responsible for the mess that we are in.

The Indian Left is the most obtuse, idiotic assortment of half-ass intellectuals there is in the world. The group of people who go by the generic tag of the ‘Indian Left’ have no ideology or common ground. While some are staunch atheists, the others openly wear their Muslim identity on their sleeves. That the two stances are at odds with each other doesn’t seem to bother anyone. It is celebrated as ‘diversity’.

The Indian Left is so bereft of ideas and leadership that Swara Bhaskar is now the face of the Left. Really? Swara Bhaskar?? Of all the people you could have chosen to represent you – you chose this actress whom nobody knows. Whose body of work – Ranjhana and Veere di Wedding – is an embarrassment to cinema and taste?

The Indian Left is so bereft of ideas that there is practically no difference between a Congress politician and a Leftist public intellectual. That you could be forgiven for confusing a Congress political scion with a Leftist journalist who spent their entire careers with their tongues on the rectums of politicians.

But the biggest blow by the Indian Left to Indian citizenry is to blow away their credibility. To weaken their own words by crying wolf over stupid issues, by indulging in hyperbole and reducing the impact of their own words. When liberals use words like ‘fascist’ loosely, they are doing two very important things.

  1. They are insulting the memory and lives of people who went through actual fascism. By randomly throwing comparisons between Modi and Hitler, you are selfishly using the death of millions of people to make a political point on Twitter. No matter what Modi does, it will never be the same as putting millions of Jews in Auschwitz.

2. The second and far bigger danger is that of desensitisation. When you use words like ‘Dictator’ and ‘mass-murderer’ loosely, you’re essentially reducing the impact of the words. Gradually, people become immune and desensitised to the words. To a point where nothing seems scary or dystopian enough. It is something even a kid playing Trump cards will tell you – don’t use up your Trump cards in the beginning, for you’ll have nothing else to show later.

It is something that can be seen in public political discourse today. When liberals use terms like ‘Hitler’ or ‘Fascist’ – the words don’t mean anything anymore. The words have been de-fanged, the public have become numb to such statements. Today, no matter what Indian Liberals say, they will never be taken seriously. For all its intellectual heft, the Indian Left has a brain with a cleft.

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So, where was I all along?

For the last four years, I was wearing noise-cancellation earphones. I didn’t bother putting my opinion out. On one hand, I was unsure if it would make any difference. On the other hand, I constantly wondered which side of the debate I was feeding into.

Both the Left and the Right in India comprise of fuckwits who cannot see beyond their own bigotry and ideological myopia. To truly stay sane in India, one must realise that Buddha was right all those hundreds of years ago – Follow the Middle Path. Fuck the Right, Fuck the Left.

It took me all this time to realise that there is no real difference between the Left and the Right in India. They are both petty, ideologically hollow echo-chambers that consider themselves superior than the other.

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And that is how, dear friends, we reached this point in our nation’s history. When the Right is too complacent to care. And members of the Left are bumping into each while sleepwalking.

Realistic, achievable New Year Resolutions for all

(A saner, sober version of this blog appeared in The New Indian Express Jan 1st, 2020 in my column ‘Urban Bourbon’. If you live in Bangalore, do remember to pick up the Tuesday edition of the paper. This is the blog version, and is meant to be cruder. Thank you!)

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Viewed objectively, a New Year is just another revolution by Dharti Mata around Surya Devta. It is a run-of-the-mill (or a circle-around-the-sun) matter. But if you looked at the celebrations, you’d assume humans discovered another planet to fuck over.

New Years is a day when everybody makes money. Expensive restaurants, liquor shops, Babas who promise salvation while the rest of the world is engaging in carnal karma. Personally, New Years has always been a bit of a mixed bag.

It is also true that everybody spends money on the day. I have been to those New Year Bashes, where people fight for alcohol like the world is ending. Food is ‘unlimited’, and there’s always that one asshole who decides to show everybody what he’s consumed all night. As sense dawned on me, I chose to spend the night with a wide vista of substances inside me.

But it is only when we wake up the next day that we realise that the happiness and joy were temporary. That social media is still annoying as fuck; that life is still a long struggle against colleagues, children and parents.

And resolutions are responsible for this disillusionment.

The concept of New Year resolutions began with Babylonians who kept promises to please the gods. While priests in our lands were cursing each other and everybody else in sight, the priests in Babylon followed a peculiar custom. On the day the new year began, the king stood in front of the gods without jewelry and clothes. The priest would then slap the king till he shed tears, to prove the gods’ superiority. Clearly, the need to participate in a social custom on New Years existed even back then!

But somewhere down the line, resolutions stopped being about promises to god but to oneself. And that is where things begin to get murky. It is easier to expect things from gods, but to expect things from ourselves is taxing on the soul.

Apparently the most common resolution is to lose weight, followed by saving money and eating healthy. I have no idea how the survey was conducted, but it turns out that only 8% of Americans who made resolutions went on to achieve them. This is clearly a crisis and Yours Truly has found a solution.

The trick to achieving New Year resolutions is to set a really low bar. To set realistic, achievable resolutions that appeal to the mind and body, without being taxing on the soul.

And this is where I speak from personal experience. Every year, my top resolution is not to kill anybody. I know it sounds easy, but it requires some resolve and patience.

Haven’t you ever been watching a film only to find a kid howl like a feral wolf? Didn’t you fantasize about stuffing popcorn into the evil child’s mouth? Or how about the guy who jumps the line while you’re waiting for a ticket for your train? Didn’t you ever consider jabbing the nibs of the three Pilot Hitecpoints that you carry with you, into the guy’s posterior?

But with this resolution, you exercise restraint throughout the year. And at the end of the year, when you find yourself hunting for places to party, and not a space in the jail to lie down at night – you’ll find that it was all worth it.

The other resolution is a combination of eating healthy and saving money by uninstalling Swiggy and Zomato.

I do not believe in Christ, the Holy Father, or the Holy Principal – but I’m sure the two apps are the work of the devil. With their hourly notifications nudging you to eat the trash that’s being produced around the city. Offering discounts that get you further addicted to their products. At the risk of sounding like a spaced-out conspiracy theorist, I firmly believe the two apps are evil.

Also, fast food costs money and causes anxiety. One must choose one’s food, and then track the little scooter on the app till it reaches one’s house. And then accept the food (hoping it is untouched), and then give the delivery person 5 stars and a tip (‘Concentrate on your studies’ doesn’t count, apparently).

The trick is to only consume slow food. Food that takes time to cook, to eat, and to get rid of. Not only will you lose weight, dear reader, but you will also achieve a double-whammy of saving money.

I know what you’re thinking – these hacks, not resolutions. A perfect new year resolution must make you work every day, and involve coordination between body, mind and soul. It must give you a sense of overall happiness and satisfaction. Allow me to reveal my final resolution – to kill as many mosquitoes as possible this year.

Mosquitoes are the largest killers on earth, killing more living beings than even human beings. Killing mosquitoes will not incur the wrath of animal rights activists; even Maneka Gandhi has no sympathy for mosquitoes! And thanks to capitalism, one can choose from mats, creams, gels, liquids, badminton racquets and ultrasonic devices – to get rid of the evil creatures.

Life is frustrating, and every once in a while, you’ll feel an urge to smash somebody to pulp. Climate Change is real, and World Peace sounds like something grandmothers will narrate to little kids when they sleep under the stars in dystopian times. And while life does not allow us to express our truest desires, it gives us the freedom to kill mosquitoes.

So there you have it. A new year resolution that will keep you working all year, and will also give you and your family a sense of purpose. On that note, dear reader, I wish you a Happy Mosquito and murder-free New year. Please avoid getting confused between the first and second resolutions – the trick is to be nice to human beings, and evil towards mosquitoes – achieving nirvana in the process! Happy New Year.

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The Legacy of Shah Rukh Khan

Every week on social media is a new life-lesson, and last week witnessed the outpouring of love and admiration for Shah Rukh Khan across my wall, my feed, my neighbourhood and my soul.

Every year, Indians rise up in admiration for a celebrity. Till a few years ago, it was Sachin Tendulkar’s birthday that littered my wall. Now, it is Shah Rukh Khan. I suspect this is a digital carrying-forward of Gandhi Jayanti and Buddha Jayanti and Hanuman Jayanti and all the other Jayantis that we observe in our country.

I also got to watch the David Letterman interview that was very smartly plugged in by Netflix. The interview was hardly a surprise, as was David Letterman. The entire episode seemed to be shot through the lens of exotic Asian superstardom. There were no questions about films or acting – and the only time Letterman mentioned a film (DDLJ), he got it wrong. Of course, Shah Rukh Khan bossed the interview. He is probably the only celebrity who doesn’t wear that insufferable mask of Indian humility.

The outpouring of Birthday messages made me realise something else about Shah Rukh Khan’s celebrity. There was no mention of his films or acting – it was sheer love, across ages and regions. Teenagers who were born after Shah Rukh Khan made his last great movie. Older people who were born before Shah Rukh Khan himself was. Even in my shows, when I ask people what movies they watch – I invariably get a few Shah Rukh Khan fans.

But there was something sad about it all too.

The tributes that were flowing in weren’t really about his craft or body of work. They were about his origin story – of a Delhi boy breaking into and ruling the big, bad world of Bollywood. They were about his wit and charm, with an almost resigned tone about the future of his films.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t watch Shah Rukh Khan’s films at the peak of his popularity. And yet, I had a personal relationship with Shah Rukh Khan’s films. I started watching films the year Shah Rukh Khan debuted on the screen. The first two films I ever watched were Hatim Tai – starring Jeetendra and bad VFX, and Maine Pyar Kiya – on a small, black-and-white television set. My family believed films were harmful for children and I was banned from watching films or humming their songs.

Which was all fine, till puberty perturbedly knocked on the door. Our class had a Narada-muni of sorts. A guy whose parents were cool with him watching movies at home. This guy would watch all the latest movies and come back to narrate minute-by-minute descriptions of the films.

Sometimes, the descriptions were more detailed than the films – ‘And then Rani Mukherjee comes to the college in a see-through pearl dress…

‘Just pearls?’

‘Just pearls’. 

The descriptions were also generally longer than the actual movie’s duration, which helped during long meditation and bhajan sessions.

Meditation sessions which were supposed to be about getting rid of thoughts, were filled with images of Shah Rukh Khan running in slow motion towards Anjali or Pooja or Neha. During vacations when I heard songs at shops or at weddings, I knew the exact situations the songs popped up in.

These were the years when Shah Rukh Khan was on a roll. Every year brought along a few hits by the man, and I would ask my friend to narrate and re-narrate the stories and imagine them all playing out in my head. Which is why, even though I find the word ‘fan’ rather cringey, I have a special relationship with his movies, and have probably cracked what he needs to do get back on track!

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The last three decades in Hindi Cinema will be known as the era of the three Khans. Three non-brawny men who rewrote the rules of a 50-year old game that required the heroes to bash up goons and change society with one sweep of the hand.

Among the three, it is not hard to see that Shah Rukh Khan is clearly the better actor. There are films that nobody else could have pulled off. Using a blend of charm and vulnerability, the man changed the grammar of the Hero. It is difficult to imagine the current brand of Bollywood stars ruling the roost without the grammatical changes that Shah Rukh Khan made to the mould of the Bollywood hero. Shah Rukh Khan is also blessed with spontaneity, something that is rare in our superstars.

Unfortunately, after a point, the longevity of a star depends on the films that the actor produces. It is no surprise that the biggest Hollywood superstars – Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio produce their own films. And that is where Shah Rukh Khan has struggled.

Films produced by Shah Rukh Khan all have one common factor. On paper, they all seem game-changing and genre-bending. But when they finally materialise, they bring along all the excitement of semiya upma.

From Asoka to Ra.One to Zero, the films have done so badly, I’m surprised Bejan Daruwalla hasn’t asked the production house to be rechristened Lemon and Green Chillies Entertainment.

And at the other end of the spectrum is Aamir Khan. Mostly a template of stock expressions being played out over 30 years. His dialogue delivery from Andaz Apna Apna to Secret Superstar is honestly much the same. There are stock expressions for anger, sorrow and resolve. But Aamir Khan is a great producer, and that is half the battle won.

The role of a producer, the visionary behind the project – is enticing. But many great actors have burnt their fingers in trying to be the visionary. Sprawling film empires have been reduced to rented studios because of the unbending vision of its leader.

And here, I shall become Bejan Daruwalla. Aamir Khan should produce a film for Shah Rukh Khan. A film where he is required to only act.

For that is what he finally is. An actor. And maybe that is what people should remember him for. Nobody remembers Marlon Brando for his drunken outbursts. Or Sachin Tendulkar for his table tennis matches.

Shah Rukh Khan’s best performances have all been in films where he was just the actor. Where his only task was to emote in front of a camera, and play a different shade of vulnerable.

Aamir Khan should produce the film, and Shah Rukh Khan should act in it, and Salman Khan should provide outside support.

May be then the actor will be remembered for his acting, and not his wit, charm or other complimentary qualities.

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If you’re a fan of Shah Rukh Khan, you should read my other blogs on him:
1. Yeh Jo Bhes Hai Tera

2. How I knew Jab Tak Hai Jaan would be crap.

3. The World of South Indians according to Shah Rukh Khan.