Friday, 16 December 2011

Reacting to Chikini Chameli – the official Song on Youtube by Karan Johar producer/director of Agneepath [film]

Recently, I came across a link to a song sequence, Chikni Chameli, from a yet to be released film, Agneepath, by the producer/director, Karan Johar. Suspecting a rich fare of music and dance lurking in store a click of the mouse away, my fingers did the salsa. What unfolded was abhorrent and repulsive.
Firstly, the title of the song track reeks of overt sexual tones. ‘Chikni,’ a word both in Hindustani and in Urdu language, is an adjective and feminine gender. The classical meaning is greasy or slippery as in loamy soil after rain. However, the slang or vulgarised usage means appealing, attractive, desirable, sleek, sexy, shiny, showy, and slick apart from other regional variations. Nevertheless, it is not very complimentary to call a woman ‘chikini.’ It is a euphemism for carnal desirability – an object of sexual consumption. Another equally important implied reference is to women of fair or white skin. Chameli, a Hindi equivalent of Yasmin in Arabic, is a white jasmine flower known for its strong exotic fragrance in many cultures across the world. ‘Chameli,’ though not very popular, is also a name for girls in rural & suburban belts of the northern stretches or the Indo-Gangetic plains of the Indian subcontinent. The combination of ‘Chikni’ (adjective) with ‘Chameli’ (proper noun) has unambiguous negative connotation, the phrase implies a fair coloured seductress or a white skinned temptress who exists as an object of sexual gratification for the alpha male. In fact, sub-urban hoodlums while eve teasing resort to calling names like ‘Chameli,’ to passing girls. Many a work of popular culture portrays prostitutes as dramatis personae named Chameli. Therefore, the phrase ‘Chikni Chameli’ has, understandably so, negative social sanctions. 
Secondly, the visual design, the mise-en-scène of the song, has a white skinned nubile woman skimpily clad in warm (yellow, reddish pink, and orange set of costumes) tones offset against a group of dark skinned bunch of young gun and laathi (bamboo-sticks) wielding clean shaven dacoits. The evening ambience, glow from the lanterns, and the dark green bush-shirts and whitish loin clothes of the dacoits function as a foil to the projected sexuality, foxiness, and implied physical vulnerability of the fair maiden - Katrina Kaif. In an another sequence elsewhere in the same song, Katrina Kaif swings from a chandelier above a horde of dark sex starved human wolves lusting to sink their teeth into the exposed dangling meat revealed through her underskirt, as implied by the camera angle. The visual metaphor of heat & fire for lust and youth comes into play when Katrina lights a matchstick by running it across her arm before lighting a dacoit’s beedi (local Indian cigarillo made from leaf and cut tobacco). It, also, serves as a signal to the stubble sporting, youthful, muscular male protagonist who is busy playing hard to get or is unmoved by the wiles of the gustily oscillating fair sex. Another cinematic metaphor reinforces the idea of women as objects of consumption, consumption as in alcohol and perhaps a possible subsequent headache. Kaitrina Kaif is seen vibrating like tin foil with out-stretched arms holding a bottle of alcohol in each hand as she furtively issues an invitation to a binge of indulgence and drink from the ‘bottle of youthful consummation.’ If we were to map the intra & extra diegetic gaze through the available version of the music video, most visuals from the song sequence follow a predictable pattern. Choreography is crass and unsophisticated, betraying bad taste. High contrast lighting ratio attempts to play the spasmodic danseuse in limelight and compliments her limited assets. In other words, it is Sheela ki Javani all over again. Karan Johar either lacks enough visual sense to conjure up the erotic and aesthetically pleasing text or is just a crude holder of the typical male gaze.
Lastly, the lyrics, too, are crass, bizarre, and vulgar. I will try to translate keeping the spirit, mood, and intention rather than transliterate the words. The opening stanza reads as follows -

(line 01)           Bichhoo mere naina badi zehereeli ankh maare
(line 02)           Kamsin kamariya saali ik thumke se lakh maare
(line 03)           Note hazaaron ke, khulle chhutta karaane aayi
(line 04)           Husn ki teeli se beedi chillam jalaane aayi
(line 05)           Aayi chikni chameli chhup ke akeli pawwa chadha ke aayi
(line 06)           Aayi chikni chameli chhup ke akeli pawwa chadha ke aayi..

(Translation to lines 01 to 06)

My scorpion eyes sting with poison laden wink...
This be-witching slender waist kills thousand with single swing,
I have come to en-cash thousand currency bills, [no idea what it means]
I light passion with the flame of my beauty… [Ignite male passion with her wanton beauty]
The desirable Chameli has come alone and on the sly, drunk on a quart of alcohol... [Implying that she has abandoned her inhibitions]
The desirable Chameli has come alone and on the sly, drunk on a quart of alcohol...

(line 07)           Jungle mein aaj mangal karungi
(line 08)           Bhookhe sheron se khelungi main
(line 09)           Makkhan jaisi hatheli pe angaare le lungi main
(line 10)           Haaye! gehre paani ki machhli hoon Raja
(line 11)           Ghaat Ghaat dariya mein ghoomi hoon main
(line 12)           Teri nazron ki lehron se haar ke doobi hoon main

(Translation to lines 07 to 12)

I will revel in gay abandon in the jungle
I will play with [sex] hungry tigers, 
I will enslave the fiery embers [of passion & desire] on my smooth and soft palms,
Oh! I am a fish of deep waters, oh my dear,
I have swum many a river
Nevertheless, I cannot safely wade through the swirling depth of your eyes…

(line 13)           Hoye.. jaanleva jalwa hai
(line 14)           Dekhne mein halwa hai             
(line 15)           Pyaar se paros doongi toot le zaraa
(line 16)           Yeh toh trailer hai poori filam dikhane aayi
(line 17)           Husn ki teeli se beedi-chilam jalaane aayi

(Translation to lines 13 to 17)

Oh, your charisma and charm is a killer,
You look like tasty dish,
My love will consume you, a piece at a time...
this is an epilogue to the events yet to unfold, let me show you the future…
I will light passion with the flame of my beauty… [ignite male passion with her wanton beauty]

(line 18)           aayi chikni chameli chhup ke akeli pavva chadha ke aayi
(line 19)           ayi chikni chameli chhup ke akeli pauua chadha ke aayi…
(line 20)           Banjar basti mein aayi hai masti
(line 21)           Aisa namkeen chehra tera
(line 22)           Meri neeyat pe chadhke chhoote na hai rang gehra tera
(line 23)           Joban ye mera crajy hai raja
(line 24)           Saare pardo ko kaatungi main
(line 25)           Shaamein meri akeli hain aaja sang tere baatungi main
(line 26)           Haaye! baaton mein ishaara hai
(line 27)           Jisme khel saara hai
(line 28)           Tod ke tijoriyon ko loot le zara
(line 29)           Choom ke zakhmo pe thoda malham lagaane aayi
(line 30)           Husn ki teeli se beedi chillam jalaane aayi

(Translation to lines 18 to lines 30)

The desirable Chameli has come alone and on the sly, drunk on a quart of alcohol...
The desirable Chameli has come alone and on the sly, drunk on a quart of alcohol...
the dry, barren, and drab community is blessed with joy & festivity,
radiance of your face...
engulfs my body in eternal grace…
my youth is brazen, O dear, [knows no bounds]
I'll lift all the veils, for I have no fear [transcend all boundaries]
come, share my lonely evenings,
in my words, you will find certain meanings,
There is ecstasy in this game...
Break open the lock for there is something to gain [wealth of my body]
I will caress and administer balm of my kisses to your wounds [wounds of violent passion]...

(line 31)           aayi chikni.... aayi.
(line 32)           Aayi chikni chameli chhup ke akeli pawwa chadha ke aayi
(line 33)           Aayi chikni chameli chhup ke akeli pawwa chadha ke aayi..

(Translation to lines 18 to lines 30)

Here comes the desirable…here she comes
The desirable Chameli has come alone and on the sly, drunk on a quart of alcohol...
The desirable Chameli has come alone and on the sly, drunk on a quart of alcohol...

In short, the song, which is a teaser to the film, primarily serves to titillate carnal instincts of the audience. It is yet another example of a pathetic display of ‘objectification of women’ in traditional Hindi films from Bollywood, India. Song sequences, in particular, have become show windows catering to the baser needs of the audience from male designers of cultural text in a largely patriarchal society. Popular films tend to present men as active, controlling subjects and treat women as passive objects of desire. Men do the looking; women are there to be looked at! The cinematic codes of popular films ‘are obsessively subordinated to the neurotic needs of the male ego,’ says Laura Mulvey[ i].Traditional films, Mulvey argues, do not allow women to be ‘desiring’ sexual subjects in their own right. Such films objectify women in relation to ‘the controlling male gaze’ (Mulvey 1992, 33), presenting ‘woman as image’ (or ‘spectacle’) and man as ‘bearer of the look’ (ibid., 27). Since, audience identifies with the male protagonist; they too are holders of this gaze. According to Mulvey, this ‘Male Gaze’ is responsible for overvaluation of the female image and to the cult of the female movie star – a logic that can help explain the recent rise in status and role of ‘item girl’ or ‘item number’ in Bollywood.

Femininity is a social construct, and thus the Lacanian statement that "Woman is a symptom of man." Some readers may argue that Katrina Kaif is not a passive player in the politics of sex. Is she not only educated and in more than one way - liberated, and a professional film artist by her free will. She [Kaif] exercised ‘choice’ by accepting a clearly defined screen role and, as well as, mutually agreeable professional fee towards the same. She by agreeing to be a catalyst in ‘manufacturing desire,’ and by her direct gaze both engages and deliberately challenges the voyeuristic audience, thereby, exercising her political power over her male audience – power that extends beyond the realm of the cinema screen into the everyday arena of life . Maybe, she draws satisfaction in this politics of power play by knowing how the spectator gaze (both voyeuristic and fetishistic) operates and that she can control and direct the erotic instinct, which focuses on the look alone. However, I have some questions of my own – how does the female audience view Katrina Kaif on screen? Do they actively gaze upon Hrithik Roshan (the male protagonist) in the film? Is there a guilt factor when women voyeuristically gaze upon the male protagonist?

The primary purpose of this uninvited splash of discursive narrative is to think critically about the powerful and prevalent cultural texts that surround us in our daily lives, and encourage working towards a better understanding of what our culture is saying to us through the cultural texts we consume. It is very important that we negotiate meaning about what our cultural texts say about us as a society. Nevertheless (on a lighter note), another tragedy ensues from the fact that Katrina Kaif is a strange spasmodic gyrator with little pretentions to dancing.


[1]Mulvey, Laura ([1975] 1992): ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema’. In Caughieet al. (Eds.), op. cit., pp. 22-34. Also published in: Mulvey 1989; Mast et al. (Eds.) (1992), op. cit., pp.746-57; abridged version in Bennett et al. (Eds.) (1981), op. cit., pp. 206-15; originally published in Screen 16(3): 6-18

Monday, 7 November 2011

Should "Radio stations should stop the music at 11am on Remembrance Day..."

War Monument in Niagara Falls, Canada.
In response to “Radio stations should stop the music at 11am on Remembrance Day out of respect for the vets

Steve Kowch, Canada's Online radio mentor to talk show hosts, anchors, reporters and tutor to radio and J-students at, recently proposed, “Radio stations should stop the music at 11am on Remembrance Day to honour our veterans.” It is difficult not to agree with what he says. All nations and societies should honour their men in uniforms, leaders, and the war dead. I am personally aware of organizations and institutions that solemnly observe a moment of silence, honouring the brave. Nevertheless, it is a little difficult to envisage a scenario where the entire ‘Commonwealth’ falls silent to honour the dead. We cannot enforce, forcibly, people to abide by such norms.

Therefore, it is a little difficult to agree with the proposal though I appreciate the sentiment! I am afraid that it may transform into a hollow ritualistic gesture meaning nothing. Remembrance Day, minus the radio issue, will always leave our eyes moist and throats lumpy. Nevertheless, should we not be doing something more concrete for the members of our armed forces and their families?

Moving on, do remember, many a time a simple, noble and well intentioned gesture may morph into a signifier of a dangerous and chauvinistic mind-set. Today we stop music on radio stations to honour the war dead; tomorrow we force clubs and bars to shut down, and the day after…only God knows!

Steve Kwoch, like any patriot with a reasonable dose of emotion, goes on to say that “it's hard to believe that an industry like the radio benefiting from a freedom of expression our veterans died to preserve can be so ungrateful on the one day of the year everyone else - including listeners - pause to remember.” Despite his well-intentioned exclamation, there lurks the danger of voicing what many media professionals do, “merely reflect the world as powerful groups wish it to be perceived.” I see an inadvertent hint of bias mobilisation and internalised preconception.

The whole idea, by implication, of the Allied forces representing the forces of everything good and noble and the Axis powers as regimes of evil, is a little difficult to digest. What does “freedom of expression” have to do with the World Wars, the Korean War, the Cambodian War, the Vietnam War, and Intervention in Nicaragua, Brazil, Chile & the Philippines. Or, what does “democracy” have to do with the support for regimes in Guatemala, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain & Israel. It is a simple case of "greed & self before the humanity" factor.

The so called ‘Great Wars’ were fought over a sharing of the pie – the colonial hegemony and accruing profits for industrial (western) societies through an overt and systematic exploitation of resources in Africa & Asia. Irrespective of the outcome of the Great Wars, the winning side would have carved a similar role for themselves, as have the present world powers. The Third World and the developing World would have continued to pay the same price, the dictatorial regimes would have plagued the poor and the oppressed aided and abetted by the winners of the Great Wars; and thirst for “the black gold” and other resources would have yielded similar results. It is time we learnt to read history without the baggage and the biases of the victor.

On a different note but on the same subject, the establishment, with the manufacturing consent of its established industrial order, uses events like Remembrance Day for a subtle drumming up of war-jingoism or whipping up of a threat perception of a hidden enemy or ‘war against terror’ or ‘the clash of civilisations’ white wash for mass consumption. A serving of a stiff swig of sentimentality through stylized night vigils carried out across the Commonwealth marks the ‘event’.

Or, is it that the Flanders poppy we wear, perhaps, is a symbol of our collective guilt for failing to do enough for ‘the brave but unsuspecting cannon fodder,’ and our failure to hold the ruling elite responsible for their greed, selfish pursuits and internecine policies that perpetuate & precipitate all conflicts & wars like they did - the Great Wars.

Ironically, our well-intentioned gestures of “lest we forget” serve a clinical cathartic device employed by the ruling few. The dominant elite (government) through the Remembrance Day not only deploys a pressure-valve technique but uses it as a diversion tactic, lest we discover that, we, the commoners, face the horrors of war and the miseries of failed free-market oriented capitalist policies because of the ruling elites’ refusal to change and mend their ways. That is why the ruling class fixes our premises of discourse and interpretation through the manipulation of the media. This process appears so natural and seamlessly smooth that most media professionals, like Steve Kwoch, despite all the integrity and good intentions find themselves convinced of the fact that it is they, who choose and interpret issues and news for the public. Further, it is used to enforce a state of collective amnesia, lest we remember that we possess the power, the power to change, and the power to undo the hegemonic exploitative structures & devices of the elites, the world over. We need no socialists or democrats to set our world in order – just common sense and insight!

The issue of ‘radio-silence,’ pun intended, is a complex multi-dimensional issue with far reaching consequences. On the surface, it is all about remembrance and honouring the war dead. On another level, it is about taking concrete steps to rehabilitate of our war veterans as socially healthy and productive members of civil society. On a different plane, it is about how governments carry out campaigns of dis-information to execute a self-serving agenda. It is about creation of myths and alternative truths to justify actions of the ruling elite. It is, also, a saga of silencing of the masses by manipulating information through media and established industrial order. It is like the Opium Wars where the governments actively encourage a state of lotus eating existence. This regulated diet, consumption of part-truth part-fabrication and often-fallacious information, is to prevent the public, the masses, from questioning the true intent or the agenda setting by the elites. The issue is about a “guided market system,” with normative guidance provided by the ruling class – i.e. the government, corporate community leaders, higher echelons of media industry, and few selected & screened individuals or/and pressure groups.

Friday, 2 September 2011

The Anna Fever

Political and bureaucratic corruption in India has always been a major concern. A 2005 study conducted by Transparency International in India found that more than 45% of Indians had first-hand experience of paying bribes or influence peddling to get jobs done in public offices successfully. Interestingly, Transparency International estimates that truckers in India pay US$5 billion in bribes annually. In 2010, India slipped three notches to the 87th rank out of 178 countries in Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index.

The tentacles of corruption are spread everywhere and not just limited to government organizations. Recent instances such as the IPL scam and the Commonwealth Games fiasco underscore how big money attracts corruption in every occupation. Corruption is not just limited to India. It is a dark all-pervasive phenomenon, a malignant cancer, destroying the benefits of globalization in many poor countries.

Given the scenario, Anna Hazare is a breath of fresh air that has fired up the soul and imagination of a nation plagued by corrupt polity. Being anti-Anna would imply being corrupt, against the very aspirations of a commoner, and archenemy of the great architects of a young independent India! Yet, this holistic dictum of 'either you are with us or against us,' is reminiscent of rhetoric used by then-President George W. Bush in the run-up to the Iraq war. Yet, the more one reads about the Jan Lokpal Bill as espoused by Anna Hazare and his alleged supporters the more one doubts the true intent and purpose of this so-called mass movement.

The ever hungry for anything that can make as headline, Media made much ado about Anna’s tirade. Further, its usage of terms like ‘Team-Anna’ and making it sound synonymous with Team-India has gone a long way in firing up the moral fibre of a very decadent society.

In fact, Anna Hazare and his supporters were able to capitalize on the federal government's inept handling of the issue. The bumbling congress party leaders made sure that world saw Anna Hazare as a 'noble crusader' rather than a politically naïve activist who is using 'fasting' as a tool of blackmail to push an agenda, no matter how noble, which is likely to destroy the democratic fabric of our polity.

No one can dispute Anna Hazare's principal assertion that corruption is harming India. However, his demand to give the proposed watchdog, The Jan Lokpal, authority to investigate and prosecute Supreme Court judges and the prime minister is bothersome. In a typical democracy, judges and top elected officials have immunity. The idea is to protect these people, while in office, from politically motivated prosecutions. Moreover, the present constitutional checks and balances are adequate to impeach any erring political entity. Anna Hazare’s argument that the present system allows government to shield the corrupt officials & elected representatives holds little water. In fact, any supreme council or supreme watchdog agency, like the Lokpal, is always in danger of assuming the authoritarian role of providing a safe haven to the corrupt & the criminal elements.

His ideologue seems to go against the very tenets of democracy that he professes to be upholding. He seems to be an unwitting instrument to usher in chaos and destabilise the present form of polity. He is either an unwitting sleeping partner or an activist wedded to usher in an era of right-wing Presidential Autocracy advised by an elite panel of Dharam Gurus & Nagpur based Chanakyas. There has been a deliberate and concerted effort to brand Anna Hazare as modern day Mahatama Gandhi and Lal Bahadur Shastri.

However, before we jump to conclusions and my motive let us deliberate on the questions and issues raised below:

01.) Is Anna Hazare a naive activist marshalling the cause of anti-corruption forces or a messiah of truthfulness, justice, equality, and a new socio-economic order?

02.) Is Anna Hazare really the face of a resurgent young India or yet another front chosen by the ultra-right wing parties and other opportunist political entities?

03.) Are we that naïve that we would fail to notice the organized forces that are behind Anna Hazare's campaign?

04.) Why is Anna Hazare incessant on creating a divide based on dangerous politics of ‘Us & Them’?

05.) Why is Anna Hazare so convinced of his own virtuosity? Watching him on a certain TV channel (in a highly politicised game show, which was supposed to show case the talents of kids singing par excellence) he came across as desperately trying to portray himself as the modern day ‘Gandhi.’ He (in words and body language) did not betray a single sign of Humility, Selfless dedication to a cause, and Humbleness. He came across as a person desperate to go down as a martyr. He did not speak like a social reformer but like a political aspirant!

06.) If the entire nation has become so intolerant of ‘corruption’, then why is every elected government corrupt?

07.) Why is every official corrupt? Is it because we allow them to be corrupt? Or, because deep inside we are equally corrupt?

08.) In addition, why is every businessman/entrepreneur busy cheating, peddling, lying, and defrauding the Federal Exchequer?

09.) Why do we sell our votes at the political hustings?

10.) Why do we elect such corrupt governments?

11.) Why are known anti-social elements shouting themselves hoarse chanting ‘Vande Mataram’? The very hoodlums who only till yesterday were busy black-marketing, drug peddling, bribing, over-charging, cheating on taxes, perjury – in fact, the list is endless.

12.) Why are we busy selling our consciousness at the drop of a hat?

An interesting observation that is worth leaving the readers with is that the so called mass movement appears to be an upper-caste, middle-class movement as it seems to address their issues – such as bribes paid to the police or at passport offices. Peasants, vulnerable sections, do not fall in their purview.