Hichki

Some movies move you. Some entertain you. Some, you forget within half a minute of walking out as the conversation turns to dinner plans or trying to remember where the car was parked. But it is a rare movie that makes you wonder what if your life had gone in another direction altogether. Could it still?

When I watched Swades, I felt like moving to a village and working at the grassroots for a community’s development.

When I watched Julie and Julia, I embarked on a doomed daily-blogging challenge.

When I watch any Ranbir Kapoor movie, I feel inspired to become a hot, confused, unemployed millennial with the unexplained budget to travel around Europe in search for purpose. Somehow, purpose is always found in shiny Western European countries. Namibia and Nigeria are waiting, Ranbir.

Hichki is one of those rare movies that truly make you think, “What if?”

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If you’ve seen the trailer, you already know that Rani Mukherji plays a character who has Tourette’s syndrome in the movie.

But the movie is so much more than a story of a disorder or a disability. It is, at its core, a story of teachers who leave an indelible mark on their students. A story, also, of students’ unconditional love and loyalty towards such teachers. It is also the story of children from the two different worlds, put together in the petridish of an elite school, thanks to RTE. It is also a story set against the backdrop of the everyday struggles of children of divorce, and parents of the differently-abled. Tourette’s ultimately plays little more than a supporting role in the story of the protagonist, Naina.

Watch Hichki for the powerful return of one of my favorite actors, Rani Mukherji (let us all pretend that Dil Bole Hadippa never happened, I’m sure Ms Mukherji will be grateful if we did). Watch it for the brilliant rapper son of a vegetable vendor. Watch it for baby Naina who will break your heart when she stuffs toilet paper in her mouth to control her Tourette’s, which she believes is breaking her parents’ already broken marriage. Watch it for Khan sir, the quintessential hero of a teacher we’ve all had at least once in our lives. Watch it for Wadia sir, because every school needs an evil, scheming Science teacher to unite the backbenchers. 90s kids, we can’t all travel Europe with mysterious sources of income like these millennial fellows, but watch it for the return of our favourite Tu Tu Main Main couple, Sachin and Supriya (please tell me I’m not the only one excited about this!)

Most of all, watch it for the favourite teacher who changed your life. And for what could’ve been if you had become a teacher. Could you still?

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HIMMF: Sharp Objects

Every Gillian Flynn novel I read is like a psychological experiment I conduct on myself. Now that we are all on the same page on the fact that privacy is a myth in this age, let me share something the IT giants of this world already know about me. After reading Sharp Objects, I googled “Is Gilliam Flynn a psychopath”.

My search may have thrown up reassuring articles about how happily married she is and how she wears grey sweatpants and green socks, but I will never be entirely convinced. Green socks sounds like exactly the kind of thing a psychopath would wear to throw you off their scent.

From dead babies, to self-harm, to drug abuse, to bone-chilling murders, you name a haunting nightmare you have and this book will probably feature it. And to think it is only Flynn’s debut novel.

You probably know Flynn better as the author of Gone Girl. Full disclosure, unlike Gone Girl, Sharp Objects does not have that gasp-moment at the big reveal of the whodunnit. But what the book lacks in true mystery, it makes up for in the actual nightmares it gives you. The interview I read said that Flynn would watch Hollywood musicals after a session of writing her book to purge herself of the dark thoughts it gave her. I wish now that I had read the interview before the book because i just spent a week living under a cloud of Dark.

Years ago, I had picked up Gone Girl as a challenge as well. I remember it came out within weeks of my wedding and the marketing line was, “Don’t read this if you are a newlywed”. Naturally, that made me instantly buy it off the shelf at full price.

And while my marriage survived Gone Girl (thank you very much), my husband tells me I used to surface out of every reading session visibly shaken. He was in for an action replay this week.

I hope all my marketing of “Don’t read this if you like being sane” has worked on you. Excuse me while I go and watch a month of stand-up comedy to purge this book out of my system. Apparently, waking up one’s husband at 4am because there is an old smiling woman in a white nightgown lurking near the bed, is injurious to marriage, as I have been informed.

HIMMF: The Husband’s Secret

Yet another day, yet another #LianeMoriarty novel. I have got to lay these off for a while because, frankly, the Aussie ensemble cast has begun to melt into one another across novels at this point. 
That said, The Husband’s Secret, possibly the most famous of Moriarty’s novels after Big Little Lies, holds it’s place of pride for good reason. The aforementioned secret lies trapped in a letter, equated in the novel with Pandora’s Box, which makes its first appearance on literally the first page of the first chapter. At some point, much like Pandora’s Box, the secret’s power is unleashed. Till this point, the flow of the story is rather predictable. As always, though, the fun of a Moriarty novel is in its characters – some aspect of all of whose personalities I found myself relating to – and in its brilliant climax that leaves you turning pages helplessly.
The Husband’s Secret is also different from the other two Moriarty stories I’ve come across so far in that it’s male characters are also fairly well-etched and not just seen from that criminal female gaze, wink wink nudge nudge.

I swear I’d call this book literally unputdownable too, if I wasn’t obsessive about sorting my literallys and my figurativelys into two separate piles. I would, however, say this much – do not pick up this novel on a school night. Curl up with it on a Friday or Saturday night for whiling away the next day in a way that is not injurious to a state of full-time employment.

HIMMF: Miss Laila, Armed and Dangerous

This may give the impression that I just read two books in the span of a week. To clarify, I am often in the middle of reading five to six books at a time. It is called attention deficit disorder, it is something that most of us suffer from in this wretched age of social media, and it is definitely not something I am too proud of.
Miss Laila, Armed and Dangerous, is the third Manu Joseph book I’ve read, following Serious Men and Illicit Happiness Of Other People. Both the prior reads were hilarious, thought provoking, and, most of all, left me often open-mouthed at some mind blowing sentences that should deserve theses of their own, seemingly left carelessly strewn around each book. Like, “is a male feminist allowed to watch pole dancing?” And, “why do people say ‘a ton of bricks’ to signify ‘a great weight’, when a ton of feathers would weight exactly the same?” It is sentences like these that make me shut the book every few pages, just to soak in their glory. Somehow, to me, these sentences – that unfailingly leave me wildly amazed at their beauty and slightly afraid I’ll never write as well – will always be the major attraction of any Manu Joseph novel.

Miss Laila is a highly political novel, with thinly veiled correlations with real people and incidents, no disclaimer withstanding. And I’m going to take the cowardly (or perhaps the wise) way out and not comment on the author’s politics here. To each their own. Suffice to say that if you wish to read more of the sampling below, do check out the books. My order of preference coincides with the chronology of the books – Serious Men, Illicit Happiness, and then, Miss Laila.
” ‘I won’t wash the panties of your daughter, she is not a kid anymore.’ The maid said ‘panties’ in English. Father got upset when he heard sister wore panties. The boy agrees that there is something very vulgar and sexual about the word ‘panties’. Father ran out of his room, clenched his fists, and screamed at the maid, ‘Never ever say that my daughter wears panties!’ 

HIMMF: Three Wishes

Thank you, Big Little Lies, for the introduction to Liane Moriarty. The witty and intelligent author who seems to have “layers to characters” as a recurring undercurrent across the stories she pens. Of course I base this on my giant sample set of 2 of her stories, but it is something I found to be in common and appreciated nonetheless. 

Three wishes is the story of three Aussie triplets, Cat, Lyn and Gemma, their shared family, their diverse problems, and their unique personalities. All three are smart women in their 30s, going through very different phases of life despite having begun their lives from the same starting line. Mental health, domestic abuse, divorce, babies, miscarriages, childbirth, entrepreneurship, singlehood, marriage, career – you name it and the book seems to encapsulate the challenge of it beautifully through the stories of the triplets. If nothing else, every married man must read this to see the incredible number and variety of thoughts women have going in in their heads at a time. Apologies for feeding the stereotypes, but men, you might find it educational to figure out how many sediments of childhood experiences, moods, thinking ahead and baggage go into simple sentences your women utter. My only complaint with Ms Moriarty, if I had to find one, would be that all characters in her novels seem to be jaw-droppingly rich, naturally good-looking and rather effortlessly successful at their jobs – wouldn’t hurt to find some characters fighting battles in those departments too. The struggle is real.

Oh well, two stories down, four more Moriarty novels to go. The next few flights look promising already!

HIMMF: Big Little Lies

It is difficult to say anything new about a show that has already been written about by every Huffington Post writer worth their salt. Which is why I refrained from clicking on those articles about Big Little Lies like sexual harassment accuseds refrain from sincere apologies. It was the string of awards Big Little Lies received, that first drew my attention to the show. The fact that one of my now-favourite people in the world, Reese Witherspoon, stars in it, and was an executive producer of the show, sealed the deal for me. Thanks to Hotstar, my demand was met with HD supply.
 

 
And so I sat down, one fine night, to watch “one episode” of the show. And a short 7 hours later, I got up, hating myself and re-evaluating all my life choices, but blissfully done with the season. If we lived in a world where entertainment truly reflected reality, Big Little Lies would have been no big deal of a show at all – boring, even.
 
But we happen to inhabit a world where we are used to stories that portray female characters as unidimensional caricatures of a handful of traits, like, bitchy, or sweet, or pretty, or petty, or sexy, or ugly, or sacrificing, or temptress, or victimized. That one person – let alone one woman – could be more than one of the above is an idea that is, sadly, revolutionary for a show producer, and revelationary for a viewer. Add to that a murder mystery which is not only a whodunit, but a who-got-done, and you have yourself the wonderful thing that is Big Little Lies.
 
By the end of the first episode, you will feel like you have got the characters pegged. By the second, you will be thrown by the shades they possess, and left rather shamefaced at the judgment and pre-conceived notions you directed towards these fictional folks. By the third, you give up on judging and just start letting the layers unfold – probably a lesson we would all do well to extend to real life as well.
 
As someone who has read and watched more than my fair share of predictable whodunits (thank you, Bollywood’s telltale evil-guy eyebrows and ominous background score), I have grown all too accustomed to being able to predict the murderer (even without the cues). Happy to share that I was wrong in this case. Happy to share that you will most definitely guess wrong too.
 
Go watch Big Little Lies, I cannot recommend this enough. My only advice – Assume you will not be able to stop midway during the season. Plan ahead so that you do not get done with it at 4am on a weeknight. Sadly, Indian workplaces have not yet evolved enough to have Binge-watching Leave on the HR Manual.

HIMMF: Artemis

What a thing of beauty it is when you can pick up a book and, without reading it’s jacket or even it’s name, march confidently to the cash counter solely based on the name of the author. After The Martian – another solid entry into The Book Was Better Than The Movie Hall of Fame – Andy Weir became one such name for me. 

Artemis did not disappoint. It is often with trepidation that I approach a story with a female protagonist, written by a man. However, Jazz, the heroine of Artemis, turned out to be the coolest, smartest, cockiest, funniest, and geekiest women character since #Hermione. Much like the central character of The Martian, Jazz often thinks quickly on her feet to narrowly evade Death By Space; she always plans one step ahead of you so she keeps you guessing; and, my personal favorite trait, she comes up with comebacks you didn’t see coming. 

Read Artemis if you are a space buff, if you wonder if Mr Musk is going to make it possible for you to leave Planet Earth in this lifetime, if every flight you take gives you pause about human ingenuity and makes you wonder where it’ll all lead to, or if you just enjoy reading smart and smartalec characters. Personally, I could not have started the freezing 2018 swaddled in my quilt with a better book.

What “Me Too” means for the Few Good Men out there

I’d like to begin this post by recounting a conversation I had with some colleagues over lunch recently. The conversation began with all of us sharing our worst work travel stories. Inevitably, a female colleague eventually shared a story of feeling concerned for her safety on a tour.

She told us about the tour when, after a late night flight, she found out that the host organization had made stay arrangements for her at a shady hotel where she felt very unsafe. No electricity, low boundary walls, doors that didn’t lock very well, a singular caretaker who looked like he might be drunk. She felt unsafe to the point that she insisted on changing hotels at 2am. The story made me share what I do in situations like these – and insensitivity of corporate and government travel agents ensures that this happens every now and then. If I feel unsafe staying in a hotel and have no option to change, I latch the door from inside (because locks can always be opened from outside with the hotel master key) and I move a table or chair to block the door. It may not help much if shit happens, but it makes me feel not-uncomfortable enough to fall asleep at night. 

When I said this, there were five other people at the lunch table. Four women and one man. Four hands immediately shot up in the air when I said this, and they all said – “Me Too!” We were all fairly surprised to see that what we all thought of as our own personal paranoia, was actually a fairly prevalent practice among women travelers everywhere. Of course, no one was as shocked as the singular man at the table. I will never forget the look on his face. He was so shocked that for a while he legitimately insisted that we were all bluffing. The idea that someone will feel scared enough on a work trip to blockade their hotel room door with furniture was absolutely alien to him. 

That was a moment of truth for all of us – a reminder of the very different planets men and women inhabit. Not on Mars or Venus, but on this very Earth itself. 

Our male colleague said he couldn’t believe this happened on all those work trips he took with us. I said I couldn’t believe he didn’t already know it did. All the other women on the table said, “Me Too.”

 

What is “Me Too”?

The social media trend running all over Facebook and Twitter over the last week, in case you have been living under a rock, was that of women putting up two words on their posts: “Me Too”. Posting these two words essentially marks their attendance in the list of “women who have suffered sexual harassment in their lifetimes” – which, as the campaign proved, pretty much translates into “every woman ever”.

 

Why is “Me Too” important?

A conversation between Seth Meyers and three female writers of ‘Late Night with Seth Meyers’ – Amber, Ally and Jenny – about the Harvey Weinstein scandal best describes my views on the Me Too campaign:

Amber: Seth, how did you feel when you heard the allegations?

Seth: I was disgusted and shocked. How did you feel?

Amber: Well, I was disgusted and not shocked.

Ally: I was disgusted and shocked that it took so long to become a story.

Jenny: I was disgusted and shocked that people were shocked.

Women, everywhere, are not shocked by the numbers of women that shared that they had been sexually harassed by men at some point in their lives. Men, everywhere, were.

And that is a problem. Most men are not aware that “women who have been at the receiving end of gender based violence and discrimination” translates to “every woman ever”.

That, to me, is the power of the “Me Too” campaign: To make men notice and realize the humongous percentage of women they know and care about, who have been at the receiving end of gendered violence or harassment. Men who care, but are simply not aware. Men who are aware, but simply don’t care. Men who are aware and care, but are in denial. Men who actively try to understate the all-pervading active misogyny that is like a bad debt burden or a genetic disorder modern day society has unfortunately inherited from its past.

It is a fact that most men, good men, well-meaning men, men who care – like my colleague in the story above – are simply unaware of the world women inhabit. They don’t know what it means to live with rape anxiety every moment of everyday. My male colleagues don’t realize that when we work late at the office, I hold my pee in because I am too afraid to walk down the dark deserted corridor that leads to the office ladies loo. But my female colleagues know it instinctively – because they do too. My father is going to read about the hotel story and positively freak the hell out, but my mother will likely not be surprised – because when she travels, she feels it too. My brother was enraged beyond words when I told him about a harassment incident that happened to me as a child, a full two decades after it happened. His girlfriend practically shrugged and said, “me too”.

These are all Good Men – the best men I know, in fact. They live and breathe with us day in and day out. How is it that we have still not been able to convey this very real part of our lives to them? How is it that the Good Men are still oblivious?

And this is why “Me Too” is important. Because of the Few Good Men.

There are some men who will never change, who cannot be convinced or converted. Goalpost Shifting, Strawman, Appeal to Authority, Ad Hominen, Ad Populum, Arguing by Example – the number of logical fallacies deployed by detractors to debunk the blatant fact that life is tougher for most women than it is for most men is unparalleled. By extension, these folks deny that this is a situation that needs to change. Many of these happen to be men. For people who wish to create a safer world for women, these are not the men we need to start conversations with – it is simply not a productive use of our limited energies. No, the Good Men are the ones to focus on.

 

Who are these Few Good Men?

Good Men are those who are truly touched by campaigns like “Me Too”.

Good Men are genuinely horrified by every reminder of gender-based violence faced by women around them everyday.

Good Men don’t turn a blind eye to this reality, even though it is a deeply uncomfortable one.

Good Men listen. And even though it is really hard to relate to something so alien to their everyday lives, Good Men try to empathize.

Good Men do not try to minimize the lived experience of half of humankind as “one-off instances”.

Good Men do not ask “what was she wearing” or “why was she there” or “who was she with” or “was she drinking” – they ask “what did we do as a society that gave him the audacity to do this”.

Good Men don’t see women speaking out about their experiences as “attention seeking” (yes, I saw that one too).

Some exceptionally Good Men see these posts and actually apologize on behalf of men everywhere. They pledge to do better themselves and rekindle our faith in man-kind.

Good Men don’t start with #NotAllMen, they want to do something to put an end to #YesAllWomen.

The Good Men are the ones who are going to be our partners in creating a better world for everyone. 

 

So what should the Good Men do now?

I took the liberty of making a list of some of the things I could think of that the Good Men can do to help getting out of the house a less unpleasant experience for the women around them.

These things go beyond the physical safety stuff that goes without saying. Keep doing those things anyway. Drop a lady home if it gets late in the night. Or at least make sure she gets a cab and gets home safe. If you are two people vying for the same public transport in the evening, let the lady take it – she might never reach home if she misses this one. When you see a man’s hand roving around a lady in a bus, put yourself between the man and the lady. When you spot a man lechering at a woman, tell him off. When a woman rebukes a man harassing her in public and the man answers back trying to legitimize his behaviour, don’t just stand by and enjoy the tamasha unfolding, speak up. Basically, always be the buffer between women and the creeps around them.

Since you are the Good Man – you already do all of the above. And we thank you for that.

I am writing this to bring up the subtle things that even the best of men sometimes miss out on. Things that you can do in our everyday life to help create a safer world.

Admittedly, we could use more women doing the following as well. But this post is just for the men, because it is a sad reality of our social conditioning that everything is taken more seriously when heard in the lower register of a male voice.

So here goes:

Forward with care

When you get a WhatsApp forward with a gender-based joke that paints women with stereotypes likes nagging wives, gold diggers, bitchy, catty, bossy, friend-zoners, mother-in-law haters, daughter-in-law haters, haters of all fellow women, husband dominators, irrational, over-emotional – do not forward these jokes, we beg of you. Do not award them with smileys and thumbs ups. If the sender is someone you can be frank with, tell them how the stereotype perpetuated by this jokes are used as justifications by sexual harassers. Men who rape, kill, and mutilate women feel justified in doing so because women, to their mind, are one or all of the above. At the very least, every seemingly harmless joke fuels this perception of women in our collective societal mindset. And at the very worst, it makes a man who was rejected by a woman feel justified in throwing acid at her face.

Be aware of Double Standards

Watch out for changes in your perception of the same quality when seen in men and women. E.g. is a man keeping his foot down for something he believes in being “assertive”, and a woman doing the same being “bossy”? Is a man lashing out at someone without reason “having a bad day today” and a woman doing the same “being really bitchy today”? Be mindful of these perceptions in your own head. Watch out for them in your everyday language. Speak out when you see it in other men and women. These subtle things add up and systematically encourage misogyny around us.

Don’t fund the misogyny industry

Don’t pay to watch movies that feature men harassing women in the name of love, passion, or comedy. Don’t buy tickets to movies that use the objectification of women as a selling point. Discourage others around you to drive business to such movies, and help Bollywood accelerate its long overdue process of growing the hell up.

Don’t buy products that advertise themselves by painting women as mere objects of male desire. Trust me on this – no woman out there is going to fall in love with you over your perfume or your shaving cream. And products that perpetuate this notion are adding to men’s misplaced frustration and rage against us women who happen to live outside hair gel ads.

Don’t raise rapists

Resist the urge to keep a compulsive hawk eye over all movements of the women in your family, to the point of suffocating them. We know that “hope you will not get raped” is every family member’s wish for us. But if the boys were watched instead and “hope you will not rape” became the new Indian family motto, rape would magically vanish overnight.

Teach the Children

Notice subtle cues that we give our children that train them in gender stereotypes. Don’t just gift cars and Operation sets to boys, and princesses and kitchen sets to girls on their birthdays. Take equal responsibility along with your wife for your household chores. Do traditionally female tasks like cooking, cleaning, managing the maid, changing the diapers. Do them publicly and with pride. Remember – children don’t learn to do what you say, they learn to do what you do. And everything you do is absorbed like a sponge.

Notice what happens at Every. Office. Meeting. Ever.

Your female colleagues at work are constantly struggling to get their ideas noticed, put their point of view across, and do simple things you take for granted like being heard at work meetings. Notice when this happens. Next time a woman in your team makes a point at a work meeting, notice how often it gets drowned out because someone talks over her, or a man repeats her idea and gets credit for it, or everyone simply ignores that she spoke at all. This happened at Obama’s White House, so be open to the idea that it might be happening around you as well. And when you do spot it, stop it. Make an extra effort to draw the attention of the meeting to the point made by a woman, even if you do it by expressing a disagreement. We don’t need your endorsement for all our ideas. But your help in getting them heard would mean a lot, and it would encourage a lot more women to find their voice.

Help make workplaces safer

When you see men objectifying women co-workers – whether it is a compliment for ‘the beautiful saari she wore yesterday’, or horror at ‘that bright red lipstick’ that endangered samaaj ke sanskaars, point out how male dress code is never a point of conversation in the gang. We come to work to do our jobs – help us be treated with basic respect and professionalism. In a world where even the British Prime Minister is not safe from objectification at the workplace, imagine the plight of us common women.

Help us not be reduced to objects of male entertainment, curiosity or virtuosity. Help your male colleagues keep their opinions about our attire to themselves – over time it will encourage many more women to join the workforce and discover the power of financial independence.

In conclusion

Most importantly, when you watch a woman stand up against any of the above, support her. Understand that it takes a disproportionately large amount of courage for a woman to speak for herself and her rights in a male-dominated room. It means that she has either gone through intensive internal turmoil to find her voice. Or that she has undergone some traumatic external experience that taught her to speak up. Or, in most cases, a combination of both. Don’t wait until later to tell such a woman how she was very brave, in private. Don’t think it to yourself. Don’t just rave about it with your wife later that night when you are telling her about your day.

Speak up then and there. Be vocal and loud and public with your support for a woman who showed the guts to speak out. Repeat and endorse what she just said in your lower voice register – sadly, it will make others take notice of the merits of her point.

And finally, if you are a company travel agent or hosting a work trip from a partner organization, please please please book us on better hotels.

 

Can I get a “Me Too”, ladies?

Why you should give a shit about Toilet Ek Prem Katha

I must begin with a disclaimer that this is not a totally unbiased review. But then again, which review really is. I suppose when you buy into any review you are first agreeing to buy into the reviewer’s lens of looking at life.
So let me declare upfront that I am a major toilet lover. My said love for toilets has grown to insane levels over the past 2 years, when, as part of the Swachh Bharat Mission team, I spent the better part of my waking hours working on getting toilets to everyone in our country, and getting everyone in our country into toilets. And so, my review of a movie with the word ‘toilet’ in its title is bound to be far from objective.
That said, let us dive in to this (unpaid) advertisement of a review for TEPK.
You must watch Toilet Ek Prem Katha. I won’t even pretend to do a pros and cons analysis here. Except the pros. Pandering to this age of listicles, here is a list of 5 reasons you must watch TEPK:

1. Because Potty Jokes!

When you book a ticket for a movie dealing with a social issue, you pretty much expect humour to have gone down the toilet. Thankfully, when the social issue is toilets, there is always potty humour to the rescue. And TEPK leverages this abundantly.

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My favorite thing about this movie is that it will go down in history as a comedy film.

It is easy to make a dark and serious film about a dark and serious issue. The makers of TEPK, especially Akshay Kumar, have done a great service to this issue, however, by choosing to tell this story through a mass entertainer. The movie has all the makings of a mainstream Bollywood hit – songs, dances, action, romance, Sunny Leone – but my favourite part is its riotous humour.

Watch TEPK for the stomach ache this movie will give you laughing!

2. Because (Bhumi Pednekar)/2

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Bhumi Pednekar, or at least what remains of her since we last saw her in Dum Laga Ke Haisha, is awesome. (And I am not just saying this because the lady is my new personal weight loss hero.) What a star she is. Only 2 films old and already lights up the screen every time she is on it. Bhumi will make you fall in love with Jaya – the girl who dared ask for the toilet.

While Jaya falling for her stalker in the first half is no-doubt an opportunity lost for an iconic character (some behavior change needed within Bollywood on that front), my favorite Jaya dialogue in the movie comes after the interval. When asked who she holds responsible for her woes, she does not blame her spineless husband, or her headstrong (and very wrong!) father-in-law, or the villagers who have rallied against toilets because of their reluctance to break old habits. She blames every woman who will step out of the house again, tomorrow morning, lota in hand, to answer nature’s call. Topper Bahu, as she is scornfully called by the villagers who cannot fathom this insane demand of hers, truly essays the role real women of rural India are playing today in the Swachh Bharat movement.

We have all seen and heard enough of the narrative that portrays women as the poor abla naaris who get molested when they go out to defecate and who have to put nature’s call on hold till its dark outside due to a lack of toilets in their homes.

Jaya, and thousands of Jayas of India, have turned that narrative on its head. They play, not silent victims, but leaders in this movement of change. Refer this physically challenged lady sarpanch who made her village ODF, and this pregnant tribal woman who got her hands dirty and built her own toilet instead of waiting for a man to rescue her, and this absolute star of a woman who went to the extent of mortgaging her gold jewelry to get herself and ladies around her a toilet. Poverty, illiteracy, lack of a man’s support – none of these things are stopping these women champions in our country today – a fact that TEPK brings beautifully to light through Jaya.

Watch it for Bhumi. And for all the women she plays.

3. Because Liquid!

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Fellow fans of Pyaar ka Punchnama (part 1) would feel my enthusiasm for this one.

Sorry, Divyendu Sharma, you are a fine fine actor, but you will always be Liquid to us. Perhaps it is not possible to pay a higher compliment to an actor, than when a character they play becomes their identity to viewers.

Liquid stars in TEPK as, well, Liquid. His name is different, of course, but his character is just as in-your-face hilarious. His comic timing is perfect as always, and his dialogues are pure gold. As a result, not one line delivered by him goes without receiving an uproarious laugh by the audience.

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Watch the movie for Liquid Returns, PKP fans, especially those who, like me, jilted PKP2 because how dare they make a sequel without Liquid!

4. Because “Duniya Chali Mars Pe

TEPK is a wonderful mirror to our increasingly sanskaari samaaj, which is turning sanskaari in all the wrong ways. A lovely dialog from the movie is, “Sanskriti ko toh aapne bas Sanskrit bana ke rakh diya hai.”

In a time where the scriptures are quoted to justify the most ridiculous of stances – whether it is open defecation or the efficacy of Hanuman Chalisa in ghost extermination – TEPK depicts hilariously how the reciters of scriptures often bend their interpretations to retrofit them to the mood of the week.

Right from Frame 1, which shows this side-splitting wedding, TEPK never really eases on the satire on our so-called values that are inflicted on an unwilling disadvantaged majority to serve the interests of a handful.

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Watch TEPK if you think double standards and sheer logic-fails in the name of sanskaars is an insult to both logic and sanskaars.

5. Because Toilets!

Okay I am probably more excited about this last one than you. So let me draw a thoroughly presumptuous character analysis of you based purely on the fact that you are reading this article right now. Which gives me 2 data points about you: You are an English speaker and you have access to an internet connection. Here goes the extrapolation from there:

  • You are a city dweller who has never really known a life without a toilet.
  • You probably think that that one time you had to poop in the open that one time on a trek was an experience of a lifetime.
  • That story is probably your best party story to tell friends over drinks.
  • You will probably be found fondly reminiscing about that experience with your grandkids in a few decades.
  • And you probably think that everyone who does not have access to a toilet is a poor downtrodden person living in abject poverty.
  • You are probably imagining a crying malnutritioned kid with a visible ribcage even as you read this.

So far so correct?

I am sorry if I am wrong here, and even more sorry if, more likely, I am absolutely right and you hate me for it now. But the reason I may be right is that this was also me until I started working with the Swachh Bharat Mission a little under 2 years ago. The reality, as I have discovered now, is really surprising. Here are just some of the fascinating things I have learnt in this time:

Did you know that there is a village in India which is called the chaar choodi gaanv – meaning the four bangles village, a reference to the logo of Audi. Every family in this village owns at least one Audi. And every morning, the family sits in their air-conditioned Audi to drive to the village outskirts to take a dump.

 

Did you know that many families that have toilets use them sparingly, or not at all, out of fear of ‘who will clean it’? It is usually the women of the household who have to maintain a toilet, and often the entire family wistfully imagines the good old days of rampant casteism when certain communities would have done this job without complaint.

 

Did you know that there is a village in Rajasthan where every family owns an average of 13 cars, every house is a multi-storeyed pucca structure with lavish interiors, and yet no house has a toilet?

 

And did you know that many rural men think it is manly to go out for defecation, many women think it is their only time to gossip with their girl friends, and many people find a toilet too constricted when compared to the open air arena where they usually do their business with natural ventilation?

 

At the same time, were you aware that over 1000 children die in our country everyday due to diseases that spread due to open defecation, such as diarrhea? This is equivalent to 2 jumbo jets full of small children crashing every day. Imagine if one such accident actually happened – imagine the hue and cry, the media coverage, the demands for resignations of Ministers. And yet, this happens quietly on a daily basis and we hear nothing about it.

The two points I am trying to make here are that (1) open defecation is a problem that goes beyond just the ickiness of shitting in the open, and (2) that it is not always people who don’t have a choice that practice it. There are many in our country who choose to defecate in the open. TEPK tells us the story of one such family.

And this, to me, is the most important reason you should not only go watch TEPK, but why you should tell all your friends and family to watch it. Send you driver, your housekeeper, your cook to watch the movie with their families – fund their tickets if you have to. Drive business towards this film. Make it a commercial success, so that more mainstream actors and filmmakers start telling such stories, until there are no more stories like this left to tell in our country.

My salute to this film crew and to everyone who buys a TEPK ticket.

Watch it because you give a shit!

HIMMF: Sarah Silverman, A Speck of Dust

HIMMF is a new series of blogposts I recently started. I have been struggling with the review format for a long time, feeling torn between my (usually) strong opinions on most of the content I consume – books, movies, TV shows, plays – and the knowledge that my opinion barely qualifies as amateur whining of a passive couch potato when compared to the humbling amount of time, effort and creative genius it takes to produce the simplest form of content. And so, more for writing practice than anything, I decided to go ahead with HIMMF – How It Made Me Feel – a series where I will air to the Universe what I felt when I read a book, watched a movie, or ate a shameful amount of ice cream while spending a shameful chunk of my limited time on this planet watching a TV series on Netflix. My first post on the movie Phillauri is here.

All that out of the way, here goes nothing. HIMMF. To whomsoever it may concern.

Sarah Silverman is a stand-up comic I have somehow followed rather intermittently, over the years. But I have always loved what little of her work I have seen so far. Recently, while indulging in our staple dinner-diet of Seinfeld reruns with the husband, I screamed in delight when I noticed that she featured in one of the episodes as Kramer’s girl friend. The husband, of course, having mercifully not devoted as large a chunk of his life as me to YouTube stand-up videos, looked befuddled and started scanning the room for rats. Which only made me laugh harder, seeing as we already have a cat and dog in the house, and a rat would really have completed the family photo.

So when Sarah Silverman’s stand-up special came out on Netflix, I instantly downloaded it. And there it lay, for several months, eating up precious phone memory space, while I staunchly refused to delete it and accept defeat in the face of not being able to find a decent one hour chunk in my life to devote to it.

Enter Jet Airways, flight 9Wwho-gives-a-shit, from Delhi to Lucknow, that was supposed to fly me from Delhi to Lucknow one fine evening. Only it actually landed in Lucknow in the middle of the night after a mind-numbing 3 hour delay and a harrowing 1.5 hours spent sitting cooped up in the plane while it stood adamantly on the runway. Seriously, they did not even have the decency to taxi around and make a show of movement. I have never seen such enthusiasm for a taxing flight in my life as when the pilot turned the engines on towards the end of this wait. The passengers literally applauded. I must say the sense of sarcastic humour was downright impressive, especially when considering that half the flight was full of Delhi-types, and the other half UP-vaale. That is a typecast, yes, but, as Sarah Silverman says in the special, it is a horrible stereotype… based on facts.

Here is how binge-watching comedy has made me a better person though. Every time I feel the urge to criticize how I was treated on a flight, my brain switches to this genius video of Louis CK, and I shut up and sit down and appreciate the miracle of human flight like I was taught to by The Master.

Back to me on the stationary aircraft. Trying to appreciate the miracle of human flight like a good girl. And admiring the even greater miracle of my co-passenger’ atypical behaviour. Mind you, at this point, we are surrounded by Delhi-boys with their steroid-pumped biceps bursting out of their tight t-shirts and tiny brains floating in pools of testosterone in their bloated heads. And there they were, defying laws of physics, sitting good-naturedly in their seats, spectacularly managing to not have indicated even once so far that the pilot or crew members engaged in sexual relations with their family members. (The ‘good-natured’ bar is really low for Delhi-boys, yeah.)

I suppose it certainly helped that they were distracted by the arduous task of flirting with the air hostesses. Or, at least, their version of flirting. Which largely involves making Netflix-worthy jokes such as “Madam, aaj Lucknow pahucha toh doge na?” while their unibrow dances suggestively. And which I might have considered harassment, if the air hostesses were not Delhi girls themselves, laughing their heads off at said non-jokes of said flirters. To give them the benefit of doubt, may be it is in their training for emergency situations. Here is how that training manual goes in my mind:

“When faced with an inconvenienced Delhi-boy – hereafter referred to as The Subject – always act like he is the most hilarious man on-board. Laugh at The Subject’s jokes, however hard you have to grit your teeth for it. Incentives will be offered on a per-bad-joke basis.

Keep The Subject calm with assurances that you can’t wait to listen to Honey Singh in his Audi and impress Mummyji with your round rotis.

There are two doors to your front and two doors behind you in the aircraft. Upon landing, when The Subject tries to take you up on that offer, smile and tell him to not let any of them hit him on his way out.”

The whole ridiculous display had me tittering to myself, which, I am sure, the Delhi-boys took as further certification of their undeniable charm. And since all of this was keeping them from throwing punches and asking people if they knew who their fathers were like little angry lost orphans, I wasn’t complaining either.

Hilarious as the non-flirting and its undue reciprocation was, it reminded me of that 250MB space of actual entertainment lying on my phone. I thank Sarah Silverman deeply for providing me with an alternative source of humourous entertainment in these extenuating circumstances. Bonus points to the Special for providing a worthy escape from the non-food the airline seemed to be serving as compensation for the delay.

And so, I kid you not, I watched the entire special right there on the runway. Time well spent.

SarahSilverman_Netflix

There are no two ways about it: Sarah Silverman is a comic genius. For starters, it somehow felt humbling to see her walk on stage with her cues written on a notepad. This is the first stand-up I have ever seen where the comedienne came with notes written on a paper. And the fact that such a senior and experienced stand-up comic did that made me feel really warmed up to her somehow.

Over the Special, she covers a wide range of topics, from abortion laws in the US to her experiences at camp, from sex to fun facts about squirrels, from a near-death personal experience to religion. All of it is intelligent humour, and all of it is super funny. A lots of segues through the whole thing, with her asking the audience repeatedly to put a pin in a topic she’s talking about to circle back to another related story they need to hear first. While the segues felt a bit disconcerting at times, they give the whole thing the feeling of a friend telling you a funny story, and realizing midway through the story that they haven’t told you another story from the past that you need to know to understand why this one is funny. It would seem that the notes ultimately didn’t help her keep track too well, after all. Or that the segues were actually flowcharted in those notes, in which case it would seem that she is an even greater comic genius that I originally estimated.)

My favourite part, ironically, was not actually a part of the Special at all. It was a cellphone video shot by her friend right before a life-saving surgery she had, which plays during the end credits. In the video, she is drugged for the surgery, and explains Brexit beautifully to prove to the doctors that she “isn’t high enough”. If half the people in the world understood political issues half as lucidly when sober, as she did when legitimately “high enough” on anasthesia, we would have much less suffering around us. And, borrowing a joke from her set, America would not be becoming great again right now.

All in all, an hour very well spent. Highly recommended if you are on a humungously delayed flight and trying hard to not be thankless by complaining about… you know what, Louis CK, screw that. I appreciate the miracle of human flight. But, God dammit, I will not let you take away from me my right to crib about human taxing on the runway. And as for you, Jet Airways, on my flight before this one, a guy’s seat was wet with the pee of the last passenger’s kid. And it is a little tough appreciating the miracle of human flight when flying in the wetness of human urination.

Let me end with an open letter to Jet Airways.

 

Dear Jet Airways,

I like you. I am a frequent flyer, which is basically fancy-speak for frequent air-polluter. But I am hoping that that is a good thing in your books anyway. I am writing to draw your attention to a quote by Ms Silverman, who puts it so beautifully in her Netflix Special when she says that we are all specks of dust sitting on a speck of dust hurtling through the Universe. To which I would like to beautifully add that I prefer to do my hurtling sitting on a pee-free speck, if that is all the same to you.

Unless you would like to offer me some extra frequent flyer miles and an upgrade to compensate for my troubles (and to pull this post down). In which case, we can probably work something out. Because while we may all be flying specks of dust and all that, the speck flying Business Class is definitely the more comfortable one.

Wink Wink Nudge Nudge,

A Non-Contributing Zero