Sunday, November 20, 2016


Movie Review : Ventilator
Language : Marathi
Director : Rajesh Mapuskar
Genre : Comedy/Drama
Starring : Ashutosh Gowarikar, Jitendra Joshi, Sukanya Kulkarni, Satish Alekar, Viju Khote, Priyanka Chopra, Boman Irani and many many others
Release : November 2016
My Rating : 7 out of 10

Marathi movies are getting successful at generating good buzz to entice us for a trip to the theaters. Just in last couple of years, movies like Elizabeth Ekadashi , Katyar Kaljat Ghusli, Natsamrat generated enough interest in me to go watch them in the theater. All the trips have been very worthwhile.

The buzz around Ventilator came from the association of big names with the movie. Director Rajesh Mapuskar (part of Rajkumar Hirani’s team), Ashutosh Gowarikar (Oscar nominated Director), Priyanka Chopra, Boman Irani and so on. The promos were hilarious. The Marathi song sung by Priyanka Chopra was being shared on social networks. I had to go and watch the movie in the theater.

The script revolves around events of only a few hours and still has a very large ensemble to deal with. Prasanna (Jitendra Joshi) is a novice politician. His father, known to the extended family as Gaji Kaka, is admitted to the hospital just before Ganesh Chaturthi, and is kept on a ventilator. As patriarch of a very large family, Gaji Kaka was going to announce the distribution of the ancestral property during the festival. His illness has put that and the festivities in jeopardy. 

The fallout is presented in two acts. At the start of the first act, Raja (Ashutosh Gowarikar) gets a phone call about this while he is arranging a preview of his upcoming film. Then one by one, all relatives, from Konkan to Kolhapur, get the news, and start pouring in. Their reactions, their motivations, their real and petty grievances, their relationships with each other - these all simultaneously are at the core of the movie in the first act, and the movie is firmly in the comedy genre. The second act shifts more into the drama genre with the father-son relationship at its heart. 

Both the acts have their strengths and weaknesses. The comedy is based on acute observation and is just spot on. I can bet, you have met all these characters in real life, just with different names. It will make you chuckle, make you laugh and make you nod your head, going, “Yeah, I can relate to that”. It is a bit repetitive though in places where everyone wants to treat Raja Kaka differently because of his fame. Minor issue. It’s a very enjoyable first act. Second act manages to touch you a bit more deeply. It has its melodrama, which is both effective and cliched. It’s definitely not a manipulative tear-jerker.

It’s an amazing feat to develop so many characters, admittedly a caricature but still, the sheer number makes me applaud the effort. This would not have been possible without the exceptional cast. There is no way to overstate this. Everyone, every single one, is perfect. 

The writing is exemplary. It’s no easy task to mix humor and a serious situation without showing disrespect. It succeeds because it uses comedy that is more of a commentary on human nature than any silliness.

The teamwork of actors and writers make this a very good movie, although it could have been a bit shorter. It’s also family friendly. I definitely recommend it.

Friday, November 11, 2016

The ugly, the bad, and the (maybe) good

Four years ago I wrote about why President Obama's reelection made me happy. I hoped the Republican Party learnt a lesson from that defeat, and focuses more on issues than on hatred. I was hopeful. But exactly opposite happened. Hatred was very much alive in this election.

A lot has been written on why Trump has won, and many excellent articles are worth reading. Michael Moore wrote a prophetic article.  A fantastic blog post that went viral explained a lot. Now Matt Taibbi has written something very similar. 

I had read those first two links before election and I was still shell shocked at the result. I still am very sad about it. It’s not the sadness of the loss. Hillary Clinton was never really “my” candidate. It was Donald Trump who made me passionately wish for Hillary’s win. The sadness is from someone like Donald Trump actually winning it.

Elections are not just political events. They are social events too. In a way, they are the best survey of what the society really is. It’s very easy for me to accept that the majority did not agree with my political views. It’s a small tiny little price to pay for the privilege of living in a democracy. What is hard for me to accept is that half the society chose to elect a candidate that I think is morally unfit to be our President. His statements against minorities, immigrants, Muslims, women - everything has disgusted me. His crazy conspiracy theories, his Tweets, his campaigning style against the Republican candidates made me dislike him to the core. There is simply nothing about him that I find as a redeeming quality. Never had I despised a candidate so much.

I find this as the ugly side of this election result. As a society we chose to overlook some serious flaws in a person while handing over tremendous power to him. Not voting for Hillary is understandable, but voting for Trump is immoral. This is not a political statement. Disliking Trump is not same as liking Hillary. You can denounce both of them, but supporting Trump is self defeating. There has to be a minimum standard of decency a person has to clear before becoming the President. There has to be something that’s a deal-breaker. Not finding a single deal-breaker in Trump, when there were plenty, is the ugly ugly side of this election. This has given an insight into the society as no other single event has. I am saddened by the message we have given to ourselves, our kids and the entire world that - We simply have lost our moral compass. 

The danger is this ugly side surfacing itself in public behavior. Trump is not dumb. He might go back on anything and everything he has said, now that he has won. But his win is likely to embolden the dark side of human nature in our society.

Now the real bad side. The social damage this can do, potentially, is scary. The legislative and executive branch is in the control of one single party who will use that now to push a social agenda that’s not progressive. The supreme court will be nominated with judges who will very likely undo the work done so far. A section of population will rejoice, another section will weep.

Trump has promised to “drain the swamp”. If his ego-maniacal nature results into overlooking competent people in the Republican party and surrounding himself with novice sycophants and crackpots like Ben Carson, we will have a huge problem on hand. Will racial profiling come back? What happens to health and environmental regulations?

The other type of bad can happen even with right intentions. Repealing Obama Care is a done deal. But there are parts that are almost universally loved, for example, not denying coverage due to pre-existing conditions. It will be a tricky balance but may be achievable. Other promises are not at all easy to keep. The jobs that have been lost due to technological automation and globalization are not coming back. Putting tariffs will be counter-productive. Even with incentives for businesses, it’s hard to see how they can be competitive in a global marketplace. If these promises are broken, the whole negative voting cycle will repeat. 

It’s not all bleak. And it’s more than just the silver lining on the cloud.

First, I do not agree with the interpretation of the election, as some silent majority has spoken. The Trump supporters were not silent. Second, the majority did NOT vote for Trump. The majority voted for Hillary. Trump’s victory is anti-establishment, but the congress was still won by the establishment. Nothing much changed there.

Next, I do not think this was a victory of racism or xenophobia or misogyny or hatred. Yes the person elected has all those bad qualities, but the electorate doesn’t. Yes, some may have voted for those reasons. Just like in previous elections, some may have voted for Obama because he is black, and some against him because he is black. Both are wrong reasons. But it’s a small section for sure. The red states have always been red, the blue states have always been blue. The surprise came from MI, WI and PA. The rural white counties in these states voted for Trump this time, but had voted for Obama in previous elections. That’s not racism. They voted out of their economic frustration. I think they made a mistake, and Trump will make their bad situation worse. But they want to give him a chance, and it’s their choice to make, and it’s their democratic right. They voted for him, in spite of his bigotry, not because of it.

This vote for Trump, in my opinion, is more of a vote against Hillary. The democrats and liberals have to accept this fact, that their candidate was deeply flawed. Hillary knew for at least ten years that she was going to run for President. She should have made every effort to be above suspicion. She made bad decisions about her emails and her foundation. She paid the price. I do think she was a better candidate than Trump, but there is no reason to be blind to her flaws.

The real hope is the way next generation voted. I often feel that when it comes to social policy, the future generation is way better than my generation. They are far more inclusive. That’s the hope for progressive minded people. There is going to be another election in four years. Start the work. Find a better candidate. I know I am going to be far more politically aware of what’s going on from now. This election result has energized me, not made me feel hopeless. Hopefully those who didn’t vote are kicking themselves, and will participate next time.

And now for some good, maybe good. Trump is not going to make only bad decisions. There will be some policy changes that I am going to agree with. If the tax loopholes are actually closed, I will support that. If the trade deals are really negotiated more favorably to US, I will support that. If US stops getting involved militarily in Europe and elsewhere, I will support him, in spite of my deep disgust for him. Trump is neither a Democrat, nor a Republican. He hasn’t taken money from lobbyists. It’s possible that his decisions are done without any regard for the military-industrial complex, wall street, big pharma etc. Who knows what he will do, but it’s within the realm of possibility that some decisions would be very good for the common people.

And it could have been worse. It could have been Ted Cruz, who is a typical warmonger, in control of lobbyists and a champion of stone age thinking.

It’s still going to be bad, but it’s not the end of the world. If you are a progressive minded person, start working right now. Be prepared to oppose the regressive policies. Be prepared to protest. Be prepared to let your voice be heard by your representatives. It's our democracy too.

The four year clock has started.

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