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Friday, February 27, 2009

India Human Rights Record

State Department's Human Rights Report for 2008 was issued this
week. The introduction is given below. Go to the link for the full


2008 Human Rights Reports: India
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
2008 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices
February 25, 2009

India is a multiparty, federal, parliamentary democracy with a
bicameral parliament and a population of approximately 1.1 billion
with an active civil society. Manmohan Singh became prime minister
following his Congress Party-led coalition's victory in the 2004
general elections, which were considered free and fair, despite
scattered instances of violence. Serious internal conflicts affected
the states of Jammu and Kashmir, as well as several states in the
north and east. While civilian authorities generally maintained
effective control of the security forces, security forces occasionally
acted independently of government authority during incidents of
communal tensions in states such as Karnataka.

The government generally respected the rights of its citizens;
however, serious problems remained. Major problems included
extrajudicial killings of persons in custody, disappearances, and
torture and rape by police and other security forces. Investigations
into individual abuses and legal punishment for perpetrators occurred,
but for the majority of abuses, the lack of accountability created an
atmosphere of impunity. Poor prison conditions and lengthy detentions
during both pretrial and trial proceedings remained significant
problems. Officials used special antiterrorism legislation to justify
the excessive use of force. Corruption existed at all levels of
government and police. The government applied restrictions to the
travel and activities of visiting experts and scholars. Significant
restrictions remained on the funding and activities of NGOs.
Increasing attacks against religious minorities and the promulgation
of antireligious conversion laws were concerns. Violence associated
with caste-based discrimination occurred. Domestic violence, child
marriage, dowry-related deaths, honor crimes, female infanticide and
feticide remain serious problems. Trafficking in persons and
exploitation of indentured, bonded, and child labor were continuing

Separatist guerrillas and terrorists in Kashmir, the Northeast,
and the Naxalite belt committed numerous serious abuses, including
killing armed forces personnel, police, government officials, judges,
and civilians. Insurgents engaged in widespread torture, rape,
beheadings, kidnapping, and extortion; however, the number of
incidents declined compared to the previous year.


Friday, February 6, 2009

Bollywood Busts Out


Bollywood Busts Out
Richard C. Morais, 01.29.09, 05:00 PM EST
Forbes Magazine dated February 16, 2009

Indian films have long been dismissed by the West as formulaic Hindi fare. Signs are that might be changing.

Runaway hit: Dev Patel and Anil Kapoor in 'Slumdog Millionaire'.
The year's hot film, Slumdog Millionaire, tells a classic Bollywood tale of love and revenge through the postmodern storytelling frame of a TV game show. The film is fresh because it fuses Eastern and Western filmmaking techniques. But this crossover of Eastern and Western celluloid skills had been taking place in Bollywood and Hollywood boardrooms well before it ever showed up in an editing room.

Last September, for example, Steven Spielberg officially dropped his longstanding ties with Paramount for a $1.5 billion deal with Indian billionaire Anil Ambani. Disney (nyse: DIS - news - people ), meanwhile, has for the last year been systematically buying into India's UTV. Disney's recent Hindi feature film, Roadside Romeo, was about a pampered pooch released into the mean streets of Mumbai and reportedly cost $7 million to make. Low production costs are certainly one reason Hollywood is attracted to India, but tapping the nation's growing middle classes, and their voracious movie appetite, is equally part of the heady mix.

Warner Bros. wants a piece, too. It just released Chandni Chowk to China, a Hindi feature film about a roadside chef from Delhi mistakenly believed to be the reincarnation of an ancient Chinese warrior. Reviews are dire, but box office sales are curry hot. The film was the fourth-highest-grossing film ever to open in India. Warner quickly followed up with a three-film deal with an Indian production company, People Tree Films.

Budgets for Bollywood extravaganzas usually peak, according to one report, around $5 million; most cost around $150,000 to make. In contrast, it costs $107 million on average for a major Hollywood studio to make and market a film, according to the Motion Picture Association of America.

Back-alley Bollywood is further believed to make around 1,000 films a year, sell 3 billion low-cost tickets and generate an estimated $2 billion in revenue. PricewaterhouseCoopers estimates that India's film industry will grow at a 15% rate a year until 2012, when it will be a $4 billion industry.

Hollywood makes only a few hundred films a year but sells, in the U.S. domestic market alone, close to $10 billion worth of tickets. So Bollywood is still far from Hollywood, even though the latter has been struggling recently with overproduction and fallout from the credit crisis. But in this fertile environment India's famously parochial film industry, with scripts chock-full of weeping, singing and dancing, is slowly opening up to outside influences.

UTV World Cinema, NDTV and Palador Pictures recently began, for example, showing the best films of the West to India's middle-class audiences. One of the surprise hits of last year, according to India's Financial Express: Palador's Ingmar Bergman festival, which drew crowds in six cities across the country and, by popular demand, repeat shows in Mumbai.

Comment On This Story
Do Knot Disturb is a Bollywood film not yet released but filmed last October at the Filmistan Studios in Mumbai. During shooting, paparazzi clamored by the studio gate, hoping to get a shot of starlet Lara Dutta. The studios, some of the oldest in India, are crumbling warehouse edifices on a rutted lane. Young men and women with earpieces, elderly men carrying trays of tea and carpenters constructing sets for the next shot all scurry through the narrow passageways in a dusty haze of feverish activity.

Inside, director David Dhawan was shooting a dance scene with 110 Bollywood hunks and starlets. At the assistant director's order the set suddenly erupted in a blur of azure, crimson, gold, pink, yellow, mauve and mustard costumes as the 110 hotties burst into their frenetic dance moves. "Now boys and girls, listen. No circle. Just follow the actors," barked Dhawan's deputy.

If India's industry continues to absorb some of the best ideas of Western cinema traditions--song-and-dance routines that move the plot forward, for example, a technique established by American musicals in the early 20th century--it's hard to predict what will happen to this lively local industry.

In the late 1950s a small group of French directors and actors drew inspiration from Hollywood B films. Adapting film techniques established by Hollywood directors, they unleashed a flowering in French films eventually known as La Nouvelle Vague (New Wave). Perhaps a similar movement is in the making in India: films that are both innovative and popular with global audiences.

La Naya Vague, perhaps?

Slumdogs and Millionaires


Slumdogs and Millionaires

By Partha Banerjee


Slumdogs will always be slumdogs, and millionaires will always be millionaires. An Indian slumdog will never be a millionaire. At least not the fantastic way the movie flaunted it.

Oscar-coaxing producer Christian Colson, director Danny Boyle, and the now-famed storytellers Simon Beaufoy and Vikas Swarup together create a violent, obnoxious, and even not-so-artistically-sound celluloid big-frame that’s likely to be showered with more profits and trophies. Talking about art, of course, in this day and age of in-your-face, obese entertainment, who’s afraid of Satyajit Ray, or even Ronny Howard or Spike Lee?

Slumdog Millionaire is completely in line with the new-trend, part-documentary, part-fiction, part-narrative, part-activist, West-glorified exploitation of Third World’s poor and vulnerable: Born Into Brothels, City of Joy, or Lagaan would come to mind as immediate examples. There’s no sense of history, peoples’ grassroots struggle, and in case of Slumdog, dignity; the big, loud screen shuffles fast in a vacuum. At least, Lagaan was fun.

I feel sorry for the young performers who poured their hearts out on and off camera (even though Westernized Dev Patel or Freida Pinto is too cool and sophisticated to be slum bastards; Freida’s Latika would quickly contract HIV from her years of Pila Street prostitution); I feel even sorrier for the young-generation Bollywood patriots who crave to see some Indian honor on a real international scene (as opposed to the 10-nation-only cricket gold rush). If I were their age, I’d be charged up too and pump my fist. After all, it’s all make-believe; after all, it’s all for the big green bucks. The axiomatic, end-of-the-day message is: “Don’t think too much into it.” Or plainly, don’t think.

But I’m older and wiser, and can still think. I’ve seen quite a bit of slum, poverty and destitution in my life; I’ve even seen how an open-air, wood-platform, makeshift toilet seat actually works. I have a feeling none of the millionaire moviemakers experienced the thick of it. Their deliberate attempt to desensitize the younger audience thus doesn’t work, not because it’s grotesque, but it’s violent with its horror, lies and distortions.

And would Amitabh Bachchan off his helicopter really sign an autograph for a feces-smeared rat who somehow rubbed past throngs of star-crazed crowd? No way -- it’s a lie. And that’s why it’s really horrible. Show poverty, show disparity – it’s fine, it’s even more than fine: show it the Ritwik Ghatak, Satyajit Ray, Mrinal Sen, Govind Nihalani, Shyam Benegal way. But don’t raise false optimism, don’t create false hope.

That “yellow” situation sets up the grimy, slimy, slithery and smelly theme early on; we quickly get to sense how the rest of the melodrama will unfold. In a disjunct, average-made way, Slumdog entertains us, with all the prescribed elements right off the Hollywood-Bollywood book, including the Devdas-type sacrifice of Salim and his Godfather-style death. In its fervent zeal to show a “real” India, the movie steals poverty, kiddy sex, hunger, shooting guns, and even attempted comedy from Salam Bombay, Born Into, and that fresh line of products.

The laundry list of essential elements was complete even with a communal riot scene; of course, Hindu fascists in Mumbai have slaughtered Muslim slum dwellers in the 1992 post-Babri-Mosque demolition era. But even the dumbest Shiv Sena or BJP goon knows that mob lynching is never a smart thing to do without provocation; and Jamal-Salim’s mom and washerwoman neighbors were suddenly rounded up and butchered without a provocation. Heck, even Aparna Sen in Mr. and Mrs. Iyer had set a believable stage for Hindu-Muslim violence.

The overarching, majorly ludicrous thread is the game itself. It appeared as if Who Wants to Be a Millionaire the Indian variety was tailored into Jamal’s opportune and handy slum experiences: an American tourist couple to display their American generosity put a 100-dollar bill (!) in suffering Jamal’s hand, and the blinded singer boy – whom Jamal rediscovers years later – touches it, knows it’s a dollar bill, and helps him to learn the name of Ben Franklin printed on the money. Talk about preposterous!

Oh yes, blinding of the poor is not unheard-of in India: we remember the Bhagalpur atrocities during Indira Gandhi’s regime, and similar grotesque human rights abuse in Narendra Modi’s Gujarat.

But in the movie, it was too imposed, too far-fetched, and tear-jerking. Such was the array of meaningless police torture situations; I’m yet to figure out what it was really all about, and what Irrfan Khan – the good-bad-good cop was trying to do in the first place! Then again, today’s it’s not the time to reason; it’s only time to accept whatever is thrown at your face, especially if it comes from the millionaire movie powerhouses, and especially if it’s blessed by corporate media, Hollywood, and AMPAS-Oscar.

A slumdog will always be a slumdog; a millionaire will always be a millionaire, especially if you can deprive the poor shanty actors and their parents of their dues, and profit more. The Indian slumdog will never be a millionaire, however hard Hollywood-Bollywood wants us to believe it.