Mar 27, 2017

Movie Review: Take Off

I don't really like conflict films or war movies - give me a choice and I will always opt for a soppy, syrupy love story any day. I hate watching the aftermath of armed conflicts in terms of loss of limbs and lives. I especially hate watching medical dramas in conflict zones and the endless parade of bloody and maimed bodies.

Then why did I go to watch Take Off? For one, it based on the real story of the rescue of a group of  Malayali nurses stranded in Iraq during the first onslaught of ISIS attacks there. I still remember praying for the safe deliverance of those women. It is also a tribute to the director who gave us that perfect movie called Traffic - Rajesh Pillai. Which is why perhaps I choked up when the titles of his three movies blossomed on the screen before the movie. That I was not the only one so affected was proved by the heartfelt applause in the house-full movie hall.

The movie drew me in with the title scenes themselves - the montage of nurses across history prompted our inquisitive Ani to ask me several questions. And we were thrown directly into the life of Sameera - played by, no, lived by Parvathy Thiruvothu - the woman for whom her career and life are a series of battles in which she must stay strong or risk being swamped. Her struggle to travel to Iraq for the sole sake of a livelihood to support her family is interleaved with glimpses of the tortuous past she has had to lead so far. We become convinced that this is a woman who will not surrender meekly before anything that life throws at her. 

The rest of the story is very well known. The makers of this movie have worked their magic in interweaving enough suspense and unpredictable incidents that leave the audience gasping and worrying and flinching at the right moments. The supporting cast of Fahadh Fasil, Kunchacko Boban and Asif Ali have performed extremely well. I call them the supporting cast because the movie rides on the very capable shoulders of Parvathy - just one shot of Sameera walking away with her pregnant waddle from the Indian Embassy is enough to convey the courage and the tragedy embodied in that one character. I was too emotionally overcome at that moment to give her a standing ovation on the spot.

But we did give a standing ovation at the end of the movie and once again when the montage of videos and pictures of the forty-six nurses who made it back safely to their homes rolled across the screen. I doubt if there was a dry eye in the hall at that moment. I don't know much about the technical aspects of film making to evaluate them one by one. What I do know that this movie is a seamless, world-standard thriller which moved to me to tears at the end of it. 

The movie addresses several issues from international politics and diplomatic relations to the underpaid drudgery of nurses in India, touching on several other on the way including a woman's reproductive rights. I am still dealing with the emotional aftermath of the movie to be able to analyze all those issues. But one thing I can say for sure:

Definite must-watch!

Mar 24, 2017

Why I Quit from Whatsapp groups

I have always been wary of social networking platforms. One of my friends had to bug me for six months before I joined Orkut. And when Facebook turned up, I was one of the last among my friends to join. I haven't gone anywhere near Twitter or Instagram, which would make me a dinosaur, I think. It was not until 2014 and my second android phone that I finally gave in to peer pressure to install Whatsapp.

As in any relationship, the honeymoon period was fabulous! There was a lot of catching up to do in the five groups I was added. Friends all over the world, in different time zones, came together in shared waking times and chatted, sharing tidbits from their daily lives. Some chats continued for days. There was a lot of good-natured teasing and reminiscing.

Whatsapp helped a lot with dealing with tough times too. When a dear friend was in trouble, one group chipped in and helped out. It helped in organizing 3 reunions in the past 3 years. Most of the time, the news enthusiasts kept me up-to-date on the latest breaking news. When I needed to find a reliable computer hardware specialist for my sis-in-law in her home town, it was my group I turned to and got prompt results. And when my mother passed, it was easier to just pass the news to one friend in each group who got the news out and had the calls and messages coming in.

It was not all love and hugs either! I got slammed in one group for choosing to be a homemaker. In another I got slammed for being a bad mother (because of a joke in which I said I would slap my kids' hands if they tried to take my food from me - after they got their own portions of course)! There were animated and occasionally acrimonious discussions about faith and sometimes even politics. But I enjoyed those discussions because they were fun and rousing and because it was with my friends that I was sharing my convictions and beliefs.

Then what, you ask, prompted me to quit Whatsapp groups?

The endless stream of forwarded pictures, videos, gifs and jokes that came to stand in for REAL conversation. Since there had been warnings about the evils of Whatsapp media message auto downloading,  I had disabled the feature from the very beginning. And I ignored almost all media messages unless someone added a line to it that it was worth watching for some reason. I thought I was being very clever and selective.

But as time went on, any real chatting in the groups died down. But my phone still vibrated several times during the day and they all seemed to be for what I will call "media vomit".  Soon, I too was downloading all media as soon as they came and being the sociable creature that I am, commenting or reacting to whatever was in them. And I even started forwarding them to other groups as well. I enjoyed the funny, thanked the senders for the instructive, shared the inspirational AND (here is where I went wrong) objected to things that seemed inappropriate to me.

My friends being very kind, did not ask me who the hell I was to judge what was inappropriate or wrong.  When I found rumors, I immediately searched to check if it was true and posted that link right beneath the rumor-mongering messages. I slammed sexist jokes. I took up issue with the kind of videos that glorify old Indian customs with spurious scientific explanations. And then I realized, I don't like the ME in Whatsapp groups - I was becoming a sort of information-Nazi. A liberal-feminist-non-left-wing-non-denominational Nazi perhaps, but a Nazi nonetheless.

I took a small step back and really thought about where I was vis-a-vis this problem. DH and I had gradually developed a nighttime ritual of showing each other the Whatsapp videos and jokes that we enjoyed during the day. One day he was on leave due to a cold and asked me to read out an abridged version of the classic Rama Raja Bahadur to him. We enjoyed the first two chapters so much that we continued the practice till we finished the book. It became the best bedtime ritual there could be. You can be sure I did the 'voices' in the dialogues! Each night's installment was followed by a light discussion and speculation of what would happen. It was such an improvement on sharing media vomit!

And then came the straw that broke the camel's back. There is a new song video out now - it goes... "A for anderwear, B for bhegitables" I got the SAME video forwarded to me by 6 different people in just 3 groups - which only goes to show that most people DO NOT check what they are already receiving in the first place! 

I  looked around at my carefully curated collection of books, then at the long and ever-growing list of books that I want to read. I remembered an article I read a while back which concluded that "You are what you read/watch everyday". So what was I doing to my level of consciousness by admitting all this media vomit into my mind for almost one or two hours a day? (Oh yes, those 5-minute videos add up!!!) And here I pride myself on being someone who doesn't watch brain-eating soap-operas!

In Facebook, if somebody regularly posts things that annoy you, you can just quietly unsubscribe from their stream. There is no such option in Whatsapp groups. And I seemed to be unable to stop myself from downloading media. So I took the leap, I quit all my groups. It was like surgery, pretty painful, but necessary.

It's been two days now. I still sporadically search the status bar of my phone for the icon. But so far I have not gone crawling to the group admins and begged to be taken back :)

And my friends? The ones who really matter are always at hand, ready for some real conversation either through Whatsapp or otherwise. But hey, they are the ones who have been there since before this part of the information revolution and they are likely to be there always. One of the greatest blessings of my life for which I am extremely grateful.

Mar 2, 2017

The Aftermath

The moment I hit 'Publish' on my last post, I began to have second thoughts. "Was it okay to have written that?" "Will people perceive me as a lecher/disaster  magnet?", "Was it alright to have mentioned the proper name for a part of my anatomy?" - all these raced through my mind. Couldn't help the effect of several centuries worth of conditioning that has been handed down among women across generations. I have seen the sort of inane comments that appear below completely innocent posts of female celebrities and felt relieved that I am not a celebrity and hoped that the few friends who read my posts would not take it wrong. It just felt good to have poured out the rant I had been harboring for a weekend. 

After the day was done, I came back to Facebook where I share my posts and saw the first few comments - all of them encouraging and I even saw a few shares. Intrigued, I went to check the stats on the post and was flabbergasted... 5000 hits, in one day!!! To put it in perspective, the largest number of hits I have got so far is around 3000 on one post that I wrote about 5 years ago - ahem! 

From then on, each day I checked the stats and it grew and grew till it has reached 15,000 as of today. But more heartening were the comments a few brave souls posted on my blog as well as on Facebook. All the women who commented said that they had to face the same and worse. Only one, ONE among my Malayali friends said that she has never had to face a harassing situation in Kerala even once - which reminds me, I must ask her to buy me a lottery ticket the next time I see her! 

Was I saddened by the responses? Yes. Here, being a coddled homemaker who uses public transport perhaps once or twice a month and gets out of the house once a week, I have had to face this menace. To think of all the sisters and mothers who have to travel to work everyday, stay in rickety houses, in unsavory neighborhoods... it saddened me a lot.

Was I heartened by the responses? YES. Despite this menace, women do not hole themselves up in secure homes and don't go about with armed black cats bristling around them. Malayali women are so brave!!! I am proud of you all!

Yes, it is imperative that we go out. Yes, it is imperative that we do not suffer in silence, but at least roar out a protest when molested. Many molesters adopt the notorious mindset given utterance by the veteran actor Soman in Hitler, "If only she had screamed loudly at least once..." - that typically chauvinistic comment for not having had the self-control to not rape a woman. We shouldn't let lechers have that excuse any more. Because if one woman keeps quiet about being harassed in public today, it might lead the perpetrator to wilder/ more aggressive excesses tomorrow. 

This post is dedicated to all the wonderful, decent men - Dads, brothers, husbands, sons and friends, who support and let the women in their lives live free. Please don't feel bad if women treat you with wariness and suspicion, because you see, the devils incarnate do not go around with the mark of Cain on their foreheads. They happen to look just like you...

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