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Main Item Girl Hoon: The Commodification Of Chikni Chameli

Subhash K . Jha

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Chikni Chameli

There was a time when only the bad girl sang the bad song. Padma Khanna in Johnny Mera Naam (1971) could go heaving into ​that extra mile with Husn ke laakhon rang kaun sa rang dekhoge/ Aag hai yeh badan kaun sa ang dekhoge. It was the first acknowledged orgasmic number of Hindi cinema where post-pubescent youngsters got a free hand at eroticism.

The male gaze has been falling on women on the streets of Indian cities and villages ever since Adam spotted Eve in a crowded village mela, as she cavorted sexily with her sahelis in a skimpy ghagra-choli. The objectification of the female form began with the vamp’s voluptuous frame in the 1970s. The story of the male gaze in Hindi cinema, however, has gone horribly wrong in recent times. The gyrations of the average Hindi film heroine now threaten to shake up Parliament. One hears that the Censor Board Of Film Certification (CBFC) plans radical changes in the way women are perceived, especially in item songs.

Shabana Azmi, who has long since been vocal about the way in which women are portrayed in cinema, feels radical changes are needed in the portrayal of the female form in item songs. Says the activist-actress, “Today’s so-called ‘item numbers’ are downright crass. I am not talking about moral policing here. Cinema is about images. Fragmented images of a woman’s heaving bosom, swivelling navel and swinging hips rob her of all autonomy and make her an object of male lust. Voyeuristic camera angles and vulgar lyrics do not celebrate a woman’s sensuality, they demean her. When women are commodified and objectified in films and advertisements, they do not get empowered; they debase themselves and counter the work that the women’s movement has been doing over the decades in creating positive images of women. It’s time our heroines exercised some discretion in choices that they make in their desire for the hit item-number.” However, Shabana warns against tarnishing all specially constructed song-‘n’-dance numbers, with the same brush. “There are item numbers and item numbers and we must learn to differentiate between them. We can’t make sweeping generalisations that all item numbers are bad. Celebrating a woman’s sexuality in a robust way such as Beedi jalaye le jigar se piya (rooted in our folk tradition) in the film Omkara is liberating and has the woman in control.”

Actress-filmmaker Soni Razdan feels our films definitely play a part in the commodification of women in our society. “Women as objects of desire have been around for decades from Marlene Dietrich to Marilyn Monroe to Meena Kumari to Rekha. The celebration of sexuality is a natural impulse. To ban or suppress it would have even more damaging consequences. What is required is a more liberal attitude, better sex education, and less secrecy around the topic of sex. Sex is an essential part of life. The less hypocrisy surrounding this the more open and mature our society will eventually become.”

Ila Bedi, granddaughter of the legendary litterateur Rajinder Singh Bedi and daughter of the prolific 1970s’ director Narender Bedi (of Rafoo Chakkar and Jawani Diwani fame) feels item songs are a definite provocation. “Chikni chameli, Sheila kijawani and Ooh la la are aimed at providing cheap thrills. Gone are the days when heroines were described as chaudhvi ka chand and shabnam ka katra. They call themselves tandoori chicken, fish fry and other edibles, so why should men respect them? With their raunchy pelvic thrusts, item songs definitely commodify women.”

Internationally renowned actress Tannishtha Chatterjee feels that the crisis of feminine commodification has gone from bad to worse in recent years. “Bollywood doesn’t treat women with dignity. Having said that, I insist no moral policing should happen. But we as artistes should not carry on with the heaving and thrusting as things that audiences want.”

Filmmaker Reema Kagti who portrayed Rani Mukherjee and Kareena Kapoor as strong assertive women in Talaash, admits our films commodify women. “Songs definitely do their fair share of that, but to me, the overall misrepresentation of women in our films is a bigger problem. Writers and directors need to get more sensitive. They need to understand women better before portraying them.”
Tanuja Chandra, whose film Dushman starring Kajol deals with rape, feels cinema must take the blame for the way the country looks at women. “Art cannot really change society, but it plays a role in forming opinions, attitudes and perceptions. Even if films are just a reflection of society, they must question the prevalent perceptions in society. Entertainment can’t function in a vacuum.”

However, lyricist Prasoon Joshi feels it’s simplistic to blame Hindi films and songs for women in society being treated as sex objects. “I wouldn’t blame film songs. Yes, there are some songs and scenes where restraint could have been exercised. It all depends on the intention of the director and the choreographer. If the intent of the filmmaker/writer isn’t titillation but a certain portrayal of the character’s motivation, then it cannot be considered wrong.”

Added Divya Dutta, “I basically blame repressed societal mindsets for looking at women in a particular way. The lyrics in popular item numbers are a big turn-on. Ideally, they could be toned down to bring down the suggestive element. But even if item songs are titillating, we must not forget they are sheer entertainment and they should be treated as such. I certainly don’t think our item songs provoke people to commit ghastly crimes against women.”

However, Kabir Bedi feels women’s sex appeal has always been a staple diet for films, fashion, television and advertising. “Why point fingers now?” he asks, adding that men too are commodified. “Handsome hunks are taking off their shirts all the time. Bollywood has its own style of entertainment. It needs to do some rethinking on the question of molestation, or else in this climate of censure the CBFC may soon demand disclaimers saying, ‘Everything You See Is Entertainment. Do Not Imitate In Real Life.’”

Kabir’s daughter Pooja Bedi agrees. “Men are commodified as much as women. There is absolutely nothing wrong with either sex or being sexy and desirable! When a woman is in charge of her sexuality, it is a sign of a woman’s strength, not her weakness. However the message to all men is, look but don’t touch.” She believes the commodification of women goes way beyond cinema. “It starts with the education and upbringing of a male child in his home where he’s taught how to treat women. He watches how his mother and sister are treated. Don’t blame films. They are mere entertainment. And the men are flaunting their bodies more than women do in our films.”

Filmmaker and industry spokesperson Ashok Pandit objects to the word commodification. “Let’s stop using that word. If a heroine exposes her body, so does the hero in this era of six-packs. Film stars are in the business of physical beauty and entertainment. We showcase it. We don’t sell it. If a working woman wears makeup to office it doesn’t mean she is commodifying herself for the men at her workplace. The same goes for actresses. They have to look good. Whether an actor or an actress, it is the era of commodification, if that’s what you want to call it,” he says. Tamil actress Khushboo who has been in the eye of moralistic storms several times says cinema shouldn’t be blamed for the objectification of women. “We need some medium to pass on our failures and shortcomings. Why blame cinema? It is a medium of entertainment. Even smoking causes cancer. How many have stopped smoking because of the health hazard?”

Yet, it cannot be denied that some radical changes would have to be implemented in our cinema’s approach to and perception of woman. As Naseeruddin Shah states bluntly, “I’m afraid our population has become desensitized to rape because of cinema. In our movies it is an act that is either foiled or avenged by the hero. So I don’t think people have a realistic view of this ghastly crime.”

Sharmila Tagore feels ‘sexy song sequences are not the only problem. “Many sexist dialogues are delivered by men in our films. Habib Faisal’s Ishaqzaade is in my opinion a highly sexist film and no one spoke about that. Most certainly, we must criticize sexism. But we must look at in wider context and not just in the sexy song sequences.Women can be commodified even in a wedding sequence. And why single out women? Even men are being commodified.And women are commodified in endorsements and advertisements even when they are clothed from head to toe. In the ads we see men selling selling motorcycles and cars while sari-clad women sell washing machines and aqua guards. I think we need to judge commodification in the given context. The problem is of individual contexts.A woman is free to say yes or no to the way she’s projected.But we don’t know what the compulsions are for what girls do on screen. Sometimes they’re too young and naïve to know where the camera is placed and how they’re captured.”

Astutely Sharmila reminds us that we have a tradition of raunchy songs . “Those ched-chad numbers are an integral part of Indian weddings where women sing naughty lines. In Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s Parineeta there was one such song.And it was fun. There was nothing vulgar about it.In Vicky Donor the idea of an Aryan baby-boy through artificial insemination is enforced.Isn’t that very sexist? So why pick at item numbers for special censure?Item numbers are part of  a larger picture.We must focus on the entire issue rather than just one part of it.Every item song is not vulgar.A conclusive consensus on what is obscene and what is to not, is not possible.The women are not volunteering to do these songs. They are an indication of the patriarchal construction.If an actress says yes to an item song she doesn’t become unworthy of respect.I think we have to forget this ‘man can do anything and women cannot’ mindset.

Sharmilaji feels it’s wrong to focus on women alone for being objectified.  “If a woman enjoys doing a certain thing on screen it’s her prerogative. You don’t have to go and see her. Why be judgemental about it?Men do a lot of vulgar dances. I recall some of Govinda’s dance movements. But they were not condemned at all. But if a woman does it she is looked down upon.This is double standards.In Subhash Ghai’s Khalnaayak when Madhuri and Neena Gupta danced to Choli ke peeche they were censured. But later in the film when Sanjay Dutt and his friends are mimicking the dance movements nobody raised an eyebrow. Sanjay Dutt even put a knife on Madhuri Dixit’s throat and said, ‘Tujhe cheer ke rakh doonga’. In my opinion  that was deeply sexist.In Vishal Bharadwaj’s Omkara no one seemed to have a problem with Saif  using expletives. But when Konkona Sen-Sharma used the same words, people were shocked.Why do we expect women’s morals to be on higher plane than the men? Women have to wear overcoats and protect themselves from the male gaze while men can wear whatever they like. These moral values do not resonate with today’s times. I am not exonerating sexism , or the the songs of Yo Yo Honey Singh.All I am saying is, we need to revisit these values applied to men and women and not just pass on  judgement  an  adhoc basis.For example Jonathan Kaplan’s The Accused had an explicit rape scene. But the film was not sexist. If  a woman is enjoying herself and her space on screen there is nothing wrong with it. There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with being an object of desire.You don’t have to live up to certain moral standards to get your right to security. To say prostitutes are not worthy of respect and can be raped is outrageous. That mindset has to be changed.Every individual has equal right to selfprojection.We must not blame media images for the way women are treated in society. There are deep socio-economic factors that are causing violence against women.We have to look not at the images but at society itself.Actually ,sexism cannot be related to sex-related crimes.”

​Shamilaji adds, “Women can be commodified even in a wedding sequence. And why single out women? Even men are being commodified.And women are commodified in endorsements and advertisements even when they are clothed from head to toe. In the ads we see men selling selling motorcyles and cars while sari-clad women sell washing machines and aqua guards. Isn’t that sexist?I think we need to judge commodification in the given context. The problem is of individual contexts.A woman is free to say yes or no to the way she’s projected.But we don’t know what the compulsions are for what girls do on screen. Sometimes they’re too young and naïve to know where the camera is placed and how they’re captured. These so-called offensive songs are in the public domain and are played openly and unabashedly  in weddings and other celebrations.Women are seen dancing to these songs. Then when the same songs are released on film then they become a problem …I think the same logistics should be applied both on and off screen.The women need not be the provocateur.

​ ​Look, we have a tradition of naughty songs.Those ched-chad numbers are an integral part of Indian weddings where women sing naughty lines. In Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s Parineeta there was one such song.And it was fun. There was nothing vulgar about it.In Vicky Donor the idea of an Aryan baby-boy through artificial insemination is enforced.Isn’t that very sexist? So why pick at item numbers for special censure?Item numbers are part of  a larger picture.We must focus on the entire issue rather than just one part of it.Every item song is not vulgar.A conclusive consensus on what is obscene and what is to not, is not possible.The women are not volunteering to do these songs. They are an indication of the patriarchal construction.If an actress says yes to an item song she doesn’t become unworthy of respect.I think we have to forget this ‘man can do anything and women cannot’ mindset.If a woman enjoys doing a certain thing on screen it’s her prerogative. You don’t have to go and see her. Why be judgmental about it?Men do a lot of vulgar dances. I recall some of Govinda’s dance movements. But they were not condemned at all. But if a woman does it she is looked down upon.This is double standards.You don’t have to live up to certain moral standards to get your right to security. To say prostitutes are not worthy of respect and can be raped is outrageous. That mindset has to be changed.Every individual has equal right to selfprojection.We must not blame media images for the way women are treated in society. There are deep socio-economic factors that are causing violence against women.We have to look not at the images but at society itself.Actually ,sexism cannot be related to sex-related crimes.I think the item song has been blown out of all proportions.It’s being unnecessarily hyped. Even if there’s nudity in a film and if it is essential to the theme, as it was in Shekhar Kapoor’s Bandit Queen then it’s permissible.Likewise if  the item songs are part of  a story then it’s okay. But I agree they’re just there for titillation most of the time.And that’s dangerous.We’ve been given the power in our hands to mould thoughts and influence mindsets. We shouldn’t become like monkeys with razorblades in our hands.

​”​​Amitabh  Bachchan  feels  we  must stop blaming the item song for sex crimes  in  society. “​

 If   as you say ,item songs incite and encourage hooliganism, eve teasing and rape, then we must all know that such horrific acts shall also incite sentences behind bars for years and at times for life. Which film has not depicted that ? You know and I know, that in reality and in life and everyday existence, not always has the process succeeded, or been exercised in its entirety !! But in cinema it does !!Sensuality does not only hibernate in ‘ film item numbers ‘  … Nature, climate, music, flowers, the classics in poetry and writing have the power to be sensuous too .. How will that be prevented or cured – if such a cure is being sought !!??I find the very act of social analysis, sensuous. Dare anyone stop me from feeling so !!Society, social and moral norms were and are made by humans. They did not fall from the skies. They went through centuries of change and are undergoing change as we talk and I pray that they do for our betterment !

​”​

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Aamir Shelves His Mahabharat?

Subhash K . Jha

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Aamir Khan

Some epic experiences are  never  meant  to be on the large screen. Jhansi Ki Rani has  never yet made  it to the large screen. And while the Ramayana has been rendered innumerable times  on  the large  screen the Mahabharat has never been a popular reference-point for the movie experience.

 This is why  we were  thrilled  to the core when we  heard  of  Aamir Khan’s plans to set  aside five years  of his life and career  to make the Mahabharat  in several parts for the big screen.  Soon one heard  that  the plans of  doing the mythological epic  on the large screen with A-list stars was dropped and  Aamir had decided to make the Mahabharat as a  web series.

 But  now even that’s  been relegated to a no-no status,  if reliable sources are  to be believed.

Says a source  in the know, “After weighing all pros and cons Aamir Khan has  decided not to make the Mahabharat. For one it would  willy-nilly become controversial . More importantly  the scale on which he planned  the project was commercially not  viable. Also, setting aside five years  of his precious time for the Mahabharat meant losing out on doing at least three feature films.So no.  No  Mahabharat.”

May I  remind Aamir of the golden words in the Bhagavat Gita:

Karmanye vadhikaraste Ma Phaleshu Kadachana,Ma Karmaphalaheturbhurma Te Sangostvakarmani. Do not bother with the results. Just do your karma.

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 Cinema After 9/11

Subhash K . Jha

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Every historic catastrophe, man made or otherwise, spawns its own cult of creative art. I am sure the Parisian attack will bring in its wake  a slew of cinematic interpretations.

The 9/11 terror attack was no exception. Bollywood and Hollywood latched on to the dramatic potential of the terror deluge. There were notable films like Mira Nair’s The Reluctant Fundamentlist  Karan Johar’s My Name Is Khan  Rensil d’Silva’s Kurbaan, Kabir Khan’s New York and Neeraj Pandey’s A Wednesday.

Rensil began shooting his treatise on Islamic terrorism before 9/11. How far did the terror attack change Rensil’s film?

At that time he had said to me, “I’m shooting the film exactly the way I wrote it initially. What has happened doesn’t alter the worldview on terrorism. It only strengthens it.I’ve been warned that there has been a saturation as far as films on terrorism are concerned. But I believe every filmmaker has his own take on terrorism. Unfortunately the alignment of terrorism with Islam remains unchanged.”
That’s where Rensil sees a problem. “People objected to some of my film’s ideas and my characters’ ideology. But we can’t turn away from the truth. At least I can’t.My film was not grim. It was about a serious global issue. But it wasn’t a documentary on terrorism. It was designed as a fast-paced thriller.”

Kabir Khan whose film on terrorism New York was a success says, “ I’ve been fortunate that my documentaries have allowed me to travel to 60 countries. I’ve seen first-hand what the state of the world is. I think more of our mainstream cinema needs to gets the geo-politics in place. Where do these characters in our films come from, and where are they going?  I need to make a cinema about what’s happening to our world. Unfortunately, films on terrorism in our country are often high-pitched and jingoistic. And that’s counter-productive. My film, I’d like to believe, was a very balanced view of terrorism.Post 9/11 I don’t think 26/11 changed my perception on terrorism or on my film. Though the attack on the Taj and Oberoi were the most audacious in Mumbai, what about the foiled attack on our parliament? And more people died in the train explosions of Mumbai. At the end of the day what do terrorists want? A splash. I’d say a film on terrorism would be exploitative if a filmmaker made a bad film on terrorism. I am aware 36 titles were registered for films on 26/11. No harm in that as long as they are sincere. My film, I’d like to believe, is a very balanced view of terrorism.”

Kabir Khan agrees 9/11 became a kind of cinematic formula. “It definitely became a formula in Hollywood ,yes. Though there were no real 9/11 films in Bollywood. Only a lot of 26/11 films.”

Nishikant  Kamat agrees that films on the theme of global terrorism somewhere lost their cause and sensitivity.

Rensil d’Silva disagrees. “I don’t think films after 9/11 were formulistic. I think films on subjects like 9/11 are rarely made in an industry concerned mostly with delivering entertainment which is where the formula exists.The majority of the film on 9/11 were delicately handled.”

Three films and three different perspectives on the same theme in 2008 Kunal Shivdasani’s  Hijack, Neeraj Pandey’s A Wednesday and  Santosh Sivan’s Tahaan, were portraits in contrasting shades of identical themes. All three dealt with different facets of terrorism, and had a slick spin to offer.Of course the spin got more sick than slick in Hijack, a tacky take on Hollywood terrorists with Shiney Ahuja playing the larger-than-life, pilot-turned-ground-engineer who sneaks into a hijacked plane and rescues the hapless passengers.

Neeraj Pandey’s A Wednesday was very American in format and style of storytelling, while Santosh Sivan’s Tahaan was more Iranian in tone and texture.

One aspect of Hindi cinema’s  tryst with terrorism that invites attention is the sheer volume of “action” that underlines the drama. Characters somersault nimbly into the horizon to beat the baddies. And you wonder if terrorists are the latest villains inmasala kingdom after smugglers, rapists and politicians.
Let’s not get carried away. No need to reduce terrorism to a formula specially when the films on the theme are not doing well. What we get finally in these films is a fine gallery of performances.
The main reason why these films on terrorism don’t appeal to as wide audiences as they should is their masculine vision.None of these films has room for fleshed-out women characters. Hijack somehow squeezed in Esha Deol and Kaveri Jha , both of whom came and went in a rustle of delicacy during times of explosive exuberance.

Said Nishikant Kamath: “I see these films as a sign of the times. We’re going through very troubled times. Cinema is meant to be reflect contemporary reality. All these films on terrorism coming together was just a bizarre not a bazaar coincidence.My idea behind making Mumbai Meri Jaan was to show how people survive a personal tragedy. I was more interested in the characters than the tragedy of the train blasts.I recreated the blasts rather than using news footage. It took me 15 days to shoot the blast scenes. That the blasts happened in trains was a grim fact I had to incorporate in my film. I did a lot of technical research about the locations and timings of the blast. Beyond that everything in Mumbai Meri Jaan was fictional.Eventhough the characters are made up I’m sure a lot of people went through the same emotions after the blasts. I haven’t experienced any of the things shown in my film. But I’m sure they’ve happened to people. I lived with my characters for two years. They drained me emotionally. I came very close to the 1993 Mumbai blasts. I passed close by to where one of the blasts occurred. That traumatized me and I  poured my heart out into Madhavan’s character. He expressed the fears that I felt when the blasts happened. I feel any act of extremism over a city causes the anthill effect. A stone hits the anthill, the ants are traumatized. But they immediately get to rebuilding their anthill.”
Neeraj Pandey who has directed  A Wednesday says when we talk of the resilience of the Mumbayites after every attack we’re only looking for another word for acceptance out of compulsion.
Tanuja Chandra’s who made the delicate sensitive but little-seen film about a Sikh family in the US after 9/11 called Hope & A Little Sugar says, “What prompted me to make this film?The idea that something that happens  thousands of miles away can come from the same emotions that we in India have experienced, then the impossible yet possible idea that even after such deep-rooted hatred, forgiveness is possible.That human beings do have the capacity to love one another.The subject of 9/11 is a deeply complex issue and movies necessarily need to take sides in order to be effective.That makes this a difficult subject to tackle.More than being formulistic stories about 9/11 have over the years caused a kind of emotional fatigue in people because its images are among the most visible in recent history.And yet I think we’ve barely begun to understand the kind of  seismic effect it has had on the world. The only way to touch upon the issue in any significant manner is to make movies with some complexity and that doesn’t always work with audiences.”

Explains the prolific filmmaker Ananth Mahadevan, “Any big incident evokes a cinematic reaction,and 9/11 was most tempting. But Hollywood films that followed like United  93 only dealt with a portion of the catastrophe. Unlike films on the Vietnam war, 9/11 has not been dealt with in depth in the movies. Loose Change was a stunning documentary that implicated the White House in the tragedy…In India Naseeruddin Shah’s Yun Hota To Kya Hota was a sensitive film that climaxed at the Twin Towers. Many films, however,latched on to the tragedy merely to sensationalize it. These collapsed like the Towers.”

Abhishek Sharma who gave a hilariously satirical spin to 9/11 in Tere Bin Laden thinks such films  acquired their own legitimacy. “It became a genre of its own specially in the George Bush era. In fact Hollywood used it as a western propaganda tool rather than as tool of creative expression. Indian films on the theme of global terrorism have been much more balanced and unbiased. I think it was the follow up on 9/11 by the Bush administration that angered me and propelled me to make TereBin Laden  a satirical film based on issues such as Islamophobia, the American Dream, and war on terror. No doubt that 9/11 was a terrible act of violence and it impacted all of us, but somewhere all of this is a result of a reckless American foreign policy that has divided the world.Even a large chunk of Americans believe so as reported by papers today.”

Mira Nair’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist  was  volatile in theme .It dealt with the sensitive issue of Indo-Pak relations and Islamic fundamentalism after the 9/11 attacks on  the US. While the film questioned a young US based Pakistani stock-broker’s relationship with his religion and culture it also depicted a relationship between the Pakstani hero and an American woman,played by Kate Hudson.

The mix of fundamentalism and cross-cultural Pakistan-American romance was not quite the recipe for world peace that the White House has recommended.

Mira Nair raved over Mohsin Hamid’s novel’s elegance. “It was essentially a dialogue between two characters , the PakistaniChangez and the American Bobby.I was stuck by the elegance of the theme.”

The film under-performed at the boxoffice.Would it have worked better if  Mira chose Ranbir Kapoor or  Imran Khan for the main role?

Mira chortles, “That’s a very sharaarati question. I’m sure those guys would’ve gotten in their own interpretation of Changez’s character. But what Riz Ahmed gave to the film is invaluable. Just as I can’t imagine anyone but Tabu in that role in TheNamesake(though we had tried other actresses) likewise Reluctant Fundamentalist without Riz seems impossible now. He had the Karachi background of  the protagonist Changez  .So he could speak fluent Urdu.And though he’s Britain-based he had the perfect American accent required for the role.”

Kamal Haasan’s Vishwaroop is another very important film on the post-9/11 scenario. Personal interests, we are told, are easy to put aside if you can define heroism from a context far greater than your own good. The deeper thrusts of Kamal Haasanand Atul Tiwari’s devious screenplay leap out of this compact epic drama which takes off into the Taliban terror outfit in Afghanistan and thence to the New York suburbia where domestic normalcy is replaced by a kind of ceaselessly renewable violence that has gripped working-class  lives  ever since  the 26/11 attack on the US made it clear that international terrorismis here to stay.Deal with it.Just about the only desirable  thing that emerges from the horrific folds of global militancy are some great adventure sagas .

While Irrfan has dropped his ‘Khan’ to avoid cultural identification  Kamal Hassan who is often mistaken for a Muslim in America is in a seriously defiant mood. He is thinking of changing his distinctly Muslim-sounding name to a  more pronounced Islamic-sounding ‘Qamal Haasan’.

“Just to show a sense of solidarity with my Muslim brothers,including Shah Rukh whom I am very fond of.”

If Irrfan thinks it’s a liability to be called a Khan, Kamal thinks it’s equally incriminating to be named a  Haasan.

“It doesn’t matter whether I am really Muslim or not. If I have to suffer for my name I’m willing to do so,” says Kamal.

It’s not just Shah Rukh with his ‘Khan’ surname that gets him special treatment at the American treatment. You could  get  the US immigration guys into a budge over a Hindi name simply because it sounds Muslim.This, Kamal Haasan discovered recently at an airport in Canada   when he was on the way to the US for a makeover  for a role. He was detained and questioned because both his names sounded distinctly Muslim.

Says Kamal Haasan, “My father did a very mischievous thing, maybe because I was born when he was 50, and by then he had developed a sense of humour about human quirks and contradictions. He gave me  a Muslim-sounding name.And the ambiguity of my name does confuse the Americans. I enjoy that. My father too enjoyed the the ambivalence. In fact he was keen that I spell my name ‘Kamal’ with ‘Q’ in  a  very Islamic way.I had almost listened to him. Then I backtracked. But I feel I should go for it.While he was alive he would often ask  me if  I was mistaken me for a  Muslim.”

Kamal Haasan frequently gets into the ‘suspicious’ segment of the US immigration department. “Sometimes they take me aside and ask me questions.Just because we do business with America they think we are questionable. If we’re so touchy about immigration rules in American, we shouldn’t be doing business with them.”

Kamal Haasan feels racial and cultural suspicion exist in every society. “Talk to an Afghani who comes to visit India . Afghanistudents can’t get  rooms to stay in India .There’s resistance to Afghani passports in India.And why are we so touchy about American treatment? They’ve a 9/11 to caution them. With 9/11 Australia is hostile to Indians. India should stop acting paranoid about racial profiling.”

Shah Rukh Khan whom Kamal Haasan is very fond of, would be pleased to know he has undivided support from the senior actor.

However Kamal cautions, “We don’t need to over-react just because this Khan is a Shah Rukh. I don’t think Shah Rukhhimself  minded the detention. I know the gentlemen. He would never say, ‘I am Shah Rukh Khan, so I should be treated differently from other Khans’.I think he said, each time he wants to feel normal he visits the US . His fans might feel injured on his behalf. But it can’t be helped. The Americans are an injured nation.They’re being just be careful. It happened to me and I had to miss my flight.There was no great apology or anything.It’s rules they’re following.”

Kamal Haasan doesn’t recommend a separate treatment by the US immigration to Shah Rukh. “I’d recommend that they be kind to all Khans. They can’t generalize about all Khans. It’s as awful as saying all Americans are stupid.”

As for Irrfan dropping his Khan surname Kamal Haasan is willing to go the opposite way. “I’m ready to change my name fromKamal to Qamal.I’m often mistaken for a Muslim and I don’t correct the misconception. My brothers Charu Haasan and Chandra Haasan don’t have to  face this. Please remember the fabric of our nation is woven with saffron, white and green. We can’t pull out any of the colours.We have to co-exist. The crusades are over.”

 

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Tapsee Pannu: “Now I Know Where I Am Going With My Career”

Subhash K . Jha

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Tapsee Pannu is on Cloud Nine. She  has just returned from the Toronto Film Festival where her new film Manmarziyan was received with  warm appreciation.

 “This was  my first  international film  festival .And  it was overwhelming. I  guess my director Anurag Kashyap is a regular at film festivals. But for me  it was  a novel experience,” says Tapsee happily.

Playing the  mercurial self-obsessed Rumi  was  also a novel experienced  for Tapsee.  “She is so into herself. So convinced about everything in life that she  doesn’t realize how she affects  the  lives of those around her.”

Tapsee wasn’t sure how this impulsive  self-obsessed  girl would be  received  by  the audience. “But the  response has been amazing. People have wondered about  the  physical attraction between  my character and Vicky Kaushal’s. But you see,  our cinema  tends to  overlook how important  physical compatibility  is in a relationship.She shares a great  physical  rapport with her  boyfriend and she celebrates it  at every given opportunity.”

This  is a  new kind of heroine for Hindi cinema. Tapsee says  she  is all for it. “For some time now I’ve been trying to figure what where I belong in our cinema. With films  like Pink,Naam ShabanaMulk and Manmarziyan I know  the route that I need  to take.And I’m happily taking  it.In fact Mulk is  still in theatres and has become a  talking point  when nowManmarziyan has come  along to claim  people’s attentions. I guess I  am just lucky to be where I am.”

Luck also seems  to play  a part  in Tapsee being naturally skinny. “I am by nature sporty. I don’t have  to go to  the  gym every day to  look the way I do.”

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