Maximum Fugly: Nach Baliye 2

I think we can all agree that there’s enough Fugly to go around. Here’s one I spotted (and indeed, uploaded) myself:

Gotta love them back-up dancers! This clip is from Nach Baliye 2, a popular dance reality TV show on the Star One channel. The contestants aren’t actual amateurs, but professional TV actors who are taking a stab at dancing. Also, they’re all married (and most weeks, the married couples dance only with each other). Finally, every show features gratuitous brown-nosing of the star judges, including especially Saroj Khan. In short, it’s “Dancing With the Stars,” only much more conservative and twice as cheesy.

(Forgive the low quality of the video; a higher quality version can be found here, though you’ll have to sit through some introductory stuff. More recommended dance snips from this week’s show: Tanaaz, as Kali; Bakhtyaar, with kiddies; and Husain, rocking the Hrithik Roshan moves to a Daler Mehndi Sukhbir tune.) Continue reading

Posted in TV

InstaReview: SAWCC’s “In a State of Emergency?” Exhibition

sawccemergency.jpgEarlier this evening I checked out the opening of “In a State of Emergency? Women, War & the Politics of Urban Survival,” an exhibition presented by the South Asian Women’s Creative Collaborative here in New York. The show is up at the Alwan Center for the Arts in Lower Manhattan through December 9th. It features photography, video, multimedia and installation pieces by nine desi sisters: Salma Arastu, Meherunnisa Asad, Kiran Chandra, Mona Kamal, Bindu Mehra, Carol Pereira, Maryum Saifee, Tahera Seher Shah, and Vandana Sood.

I’ll go straight to the insta-review, dangerous as that is since I only just got back and the air-kissing, red-wine-in-plastic-cups opening atmosphere perhaps wasn’t the most conducive to critical contemplation (though I did stay away from the wine). So I hope other folks will chime in with their own impressions. Visually, I most enjoyed Shah’s “Jihad Pop” series of digital prints, with their stencils of desi and Islamic iconography set amid fields of sheer black and white. The most thought-provoking to me was Saifee’s series of “Postcards from the Middle East,” which she bills as self-portraits stemming from her experience as a Peace Corps volunteer in Jordan: as she explains in the catalog, “my skin color made my authenticity as an American up for debate. On the street, I would either be mistaken as a Sri Lankan maid or as a Bollywood film star.” And I found Arastu’s “New York and I” series frustrating: visually fabulous in their superimpositions of New York street and subway scenes with armies of unhinged, chattering silhouettes, but marred by the poems written into each piece, which struck me as trite and superfluous.

The show is a project of SAWCC, the estimable organization that is now in its tenth year and that sponsors, among other events, the annual literary conference that a number of Mutineering types attended last year. SAWCC (pronounced, delightfully, “saucy”) continues to do the Lord’s work for culturally minded macacas, and they deserve all our support.

A show like this one, however, also suffers from self-imposed boundaries. It is imbued with a very 1990s, hyper-theoretical approach to the politics of representation that makes the inherent whimsy and improvisation of artistic creation — and, importantly, artistic consumption — feel secondary. The catalog essay, and the shorter version handed out on flyers, are nearly illegible, and I’ve got Ivy degrees and a reasonably honed appreciation for theory. It frustrates me no end — and this is not a knock on this exhibition specifically; far from it, it’s a common problem — when art is “explained” by its sponsors and presenters using language like this:

These increasingly paranoid urban spaces harbour fears of the irrational violence equated with terrorism, inducing a society of control in which surveillance, intimidation, and the erosion of personal liberty forces forms of resistance that employ the strategies of the absurd. Increasingly aware of the machine that governs and questioning the methods and motives of the state, the artists in this exhibition rely on the absurd, irrational, and uncanny to produce counter hegemonic narratives to ideological, religious, cultural, and social modes of control.

Like the artists of Dada, these contemporary practitioners respond to the presence of war, excess, and other degenerate transgressions of contemporary urban life. Like the women of Dada, they also respond to issues of identity altered by male repression and subjugation, aware of a world in which urban social orders are based on the governance of space, each system of control based on meta-structuring agents, making each space, city, and response, culturally specific. Such disciplinary systems of control exude masculinity, often necessitating a physical, emotional, and psychological domination of women, placing them in a “state of emergency.”

Got that? Read it again: It’s not gibberish, it just feels like it is. There is plenty of meaning, and indeed, a viable argument or several in those hyper-extended, comma-laden sentences. The problem is, those arguments are being beaten into us with the implicit presumption that, ultimately, there is a right way and a wrong way to apprehend this art. And that, plainly, is bullshit. For one thing, taken as theory alone, the argument above merits unpacking; it cobbles together numerous assumptions and interpolations about the world about us with verbs like “induce,” “force,” and “necessitate,” that are dead giveaways of a lack of interest in, or openness to, the serendipitous and the unexpected. Rigidity and art make poor companions, as previous uses of the word “degenerate” in the context of art criticism have made abundantly clear; and I think it’s a disservice to a whole class of potentially interested viewers, as well as to the artists themselves, to fence a potentially interesting exhibition behind such a grim gateway. Continue reading

Who’s objecting?

I find the Misbah “Molly” Rana story to be a particularly interesting one insofar as it seems to very handily illustrate the whole “desi-but-not-desi” dialectic that many of my peers and I seem to have undergone over the years. Well, in my case the whole social misfit scenario was a little bit more complicated, what the liking of the mens and the persistent crushing on Saif Ali Khan (call me!), but leaving that aside, there were always certain cultural divides that we were constantly trapped within, both self-imposed and those brought to bear by the parental units—“go abroad to study, only speak English at school, but then come back here as soon as you graduate, because we’re alone and need you, and everyone hates Muslims in the West and don’t you dare question anything we say because we’re a good traditional family and that’s just how things are.”

My caveat, since this seems to have been cropping up just a teeny-tiny bit: I am not making any representations as to a multitude of opinions, perspectives or experiences other than my own, as a gay Pakistani male from a fairly privileged social background. I just want to put that out there so I donÂ’t have to spend another forty minutes deleting angry e-mails accusing me of trivialising the desi experience, because in case anyoneÂ’s confused, IÂ’m not Indian, IÂ’m not British, IÂ’m not American, and seriously I donÂ’t really claim to speak with any authority on issues relating to any/all of those perspectives. Continue reading

Munnabhai beats the rap, mostly

sanjay-dutt.jpg Bollywood actor Sanjay Dutt (star of the Munnabhai movies) has been acquitted on the terrorism charge that’s been on his head since 1993. The judge did find him guilty of illegal possession of arms, but it appears that charge is much less of a concern: though he may still do years of prison time, according to the New York Times, Dutt’s family and friends are celebrating.

Some background on the case is available at Wikipedia:

Mumbai was engulfed in riots as the aftermath of the destruction of the Babri Masjid complex in Ayodhya in December 1992. The resulting riots claimed hundreds of lives and it is during this time that Sanjay Dutt claims to have asked his under world friends to provide him with a fire arm for protection. He however had not conveyed to police any threats to his life.

As per the CBI case filed in a TADA court Abu Salem and his men went to Dutt’s house on January 16, 1993 and gave him three AK-56 rifles, 25 hand grenades, one 9 mm pistol and cartridges. He returned two AK-56 rifles, hand grenades and cartridges to Hanif Kadawala and Samir Hingora but kept one AK-56 rifle with himself. (link)

Admittedly, the Wikipedia article is a bit slanted towards Dutt here, as it presumes that Dutt’s purpose in buying a weapon was self-defense. But the problem with this interpretation is Dutt’s supplier, Abu Salem, a notorious terrorist seen as one of the key organizers of the terrible 1993 blasts in Bombay. While it’s fair to imagine that a half-Muslim actor might want protection following some nasty communal riots (December 1992-January 1993), it’s also fair to speculate that he knew Abu Salem was up to something unsavory by the spring of 2003. Even if Sanjay Dutt wasn’t actively involved in the bombings that took place in March of 1993, isn’t it possible he knew something about the plans given his association with Abu Salem?

I guess I lean towards Dutt a bit in this case. While I do find Abu Salem’s involvement disturbing, it’s hard to imagine that Dutt would have been actively involved in terrorism given his famous parents and his status as an actor. That said, if this were the U.S., and Sanjay Dutt had bought an AK-56 rifle from, say, Mohammed Atta, he would probably be permanently locked up in Guantanamo Bay. (Sometimes, the Indian legal system seems more rational than the current American one.)

Dutt served 18 months in jail immediately following his arrest, but within a few years was back and more popular than ever in Bollywood. The 2000s have been the peak of his career, with the two superhit Munnabhai movies. As I recall from the comments to one of my earlier posts on Lage Rago Munnabhai, some people at least have been aware of the irony of an actor in a movie about “Gandhi-giri” being found guilty of possessing an assault rifle. Well, at least he has one thing in common with the Mahatma — they both did lots of jail time. Continue reading

Posted in Law

Old folk can still dance

I was thinking about the fact that, as an over 30, I am now officially old. I mean, James Bond is now a 30-something, which makes this the first time in my life that I have been in the same decade as a Bond actor.

However, between popping arthritis medicine and obsessing about the fact that I have to settle down before it’s too late, I remembered something. Old folk can still dance. I don’t just mean gorgeous professional dancers like DesiDancer, I mean ordinary uncles and aunties. I’m not saying that they can grind, freak or krump (although I’ll bet DD can krump like a clown) I mean that they can dance which is to me a far more beautiful thing.

Herewith, exhibit A [via Vinod], Gurdas Maan’s Babe Bhangra Pounde Ne:

If I can dance like that, when I’m that age, I’ll be a happy man.

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Lo Tek or High Tech?

Chiraag from Pardon My Hindi recently posted a video onto YouTube of his harrowing experience flying Air Deccan (via BoingBoing). Says Chiraag:

I dug up this video I shot back in December ’04 when I was aboard an Air Deccan flight from Bangalore to Mumbai. Looked out my window and what did I see, A group of guys repairing the wing with some sort of muthafcukin’ duct tape. There’s some more repairs to the left of the one they are working on with what seems to be the same technique. Crossed my fingers, tossed back a shot of Black Label, and stayed on the flight. [Link]

Honestly, I probably would have reacted the same way, sans Black Label. It looks like a typically desi “Kam Challao” scene – equal mixtures of ingenuity and utter disregard for the principles of safety, like a bus patched together with baling wire, careening down a Himalayan road.

However, looks can be deceiving. This isn’t a 19th century desi solution, it’s a thoroughly modern one. As the comments on Turbanhead reveal, that isn’t duct tape it’s “Speed tape” – it’s specially formulated for use on airplanes (and racing cars and possibly even nuclear reactors). Those employees were actually doing what they would have in any first world airport!

“What you see is the perfectly safe and legal application of some heavy-duty aluminum bonding tape, called “speed tape” in the mechanic’s lexicon. Depending on what a plane’s maintenance manual stipulates — according to the dictates of the FAA — certain noncritical components can be temporarily patched with this material, embarrassing as it sometimes looks. It’s extremely strong, durable, and able to expand and contract through an extreme range of temperatures…” [Link]

Here’s a similar story of a passenger freaking out after watching the application of speed tape on a plane in Seattle.

Poor desi aircraft workers – even when they’re using the most expensive, cutting edge products, we still suspect them of cutting corners and endangering our lives.

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Television execs love "real" Asian men

Check out this picture. It is the cast of Beauty and the Geek 3 which debuts in January (here is a background on the series):

Is that Matisyahu with the white cap?

The CW (which I guess someone must still be watching) has decided to demonstrate that it is a network of diversity by featuring THREE Asian brothers in ONE reality show. This is unprecedented. We’ve now had a number of Asian Americans in reality shows but here three out of the eight men (competing for the mostly white women who are supposedly out-of-their-league) are Asian. What the F*ck? Can I get a “what what?” I mean, cynic that I am I always believed that the proper formula for a sexually charged reality show (The Real World being the paradigm) was to throw sex-crazed alcoholic white people together with angry black people and then add a homosexual in the mix to take the edge off. How do Asians fit in to that choreography? Oh wait…I get it. This is a show about Geeks. The guy in the middle with the glasses and red vest, that’s Sanjay from Westminster, California.

The producing team of Ashton Kutcher and Jason Goldberg (“Punk’d”) recruited an all-new group of eight gorgeous but academically impaired women and eight brilliant but socially challenged men for the third installment to test intellect and social skills. This cycle will remain true to the series’ format — pairing eight gorgeous but academically impaired women with eight brilliant but socially challenged men to test intellect and social skills — for a chance to win a $250,000 grand prize. [Link]

Sanjay, if you are listening then call up Ankur from Season 2 for some advice. And let’s all be grateful for the CW for featuring real Asian men. If I was an executive there I would have picked 8 nerdy women and 8 dumb-as-dirt but socially adept men (and three of them would be Asian). But alas, I’m not the TV exec type. I’ll just continue to pick nerdy South Asian women to blog for SM to compensate.

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Posted in Uncategorized

The cost of illness

A friend working in public health once told me that while mortality rates were highest in Africa, morbidity rates (the rate of non-fatal illness) were highest in India. If I remember correctly, she told me that this had to do with relatively high rates of innoculation – which cut all the nasty childhood diseases that lead to low life expectancy at birth – but a poor health system over all.

While I’m not sure if this is still true, what I do know is that getting sick is expensive, anywhere. Consider the impact of illness on financial health in the USA:

50 percent of all bankruptcy filings were partly the result of medical expenses… Every 30 seconds in the United States someone files for bankruptcy in the aftermath of a serious health problem. [Link]

And this is even though “68 percent of those who filed for bankruptcy had health insurance” [Link].

If illness wipes out the savings of relatively high (by world standards) earning Americans, you can imagine what it does to the poor in India. While the cost of medical care is cheaper in absolute terms in India, it is still a large share of already meager resources. Couple that with lost earnings, and the impact can be dire.

About one-fourth of hospitalized Indians fall below the poverty line as a direct result of their hospital expenses, according to a 2002 World Bank report. Many people take out steep loans or sell their homes in order to pay. And for the poor, losing even a day’s wages while waiting in the hospital can be devastating.

“A health event is a bigger risk to farmers than an unsuccessful crop. Once they sell their land or livestock, they become indentured laborers. That takes a generation to fix,”… [Link]
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Los Angeles Meetup: Friday, December 15th

Is this the last ever Los Angeles Meet-up? Hard to say. Why risk it? The date is unfortunately non-negotiable since Sepia Mutiny’s Los Angeles Bureau is closing its doors in December and relocating to our newly purchased state-of-the-art blogging facility in Houston, Texas (no state taxes in TX).

Time: After 7p.m. (and until the cops come knocking).

Place: TBD. Check this post early next week (or check our Events Tab).

Who: Last time we had like 40-50 people show up and it was a damn good time (ended at 2a.m.).

I will post another reminder on the Tuesday before the meet-up. Mark you calendars now. Last time we met at the Golden Gopher. I’m still checking out options for this one.

RSVP to me if you can come abhi [at] sepiamutiny . com Continue reading

Straight eye for the guerilla guy

Inspired by Anna and Sin, I thought that I would try my hand at fashion criticism. But where to start? I’m straight, and hardly fashion forward. I needed somebody who was in greater need of assistance than myself somebody like … Prabhakaran. While I may not be able to wage a decades long war against the government in Colombo, and I don’t have a cult of personality of my own, I can certainly dress better than him. [Yeah, I'm brave, blogging behind an anonymous handle and making fun of the head of the Tamil Tigers.]

So, ‘Tamil Eezha Desiya Thalaivar’ (how could I call him Thambi?) Velupillai, if you’re listening, here’s what I learned from reading GQ in the gym:

  1. Stocky guys should not wear horizontal stripes. And what’s with the camo tiger stripes? That was never in.
  2. Avoid mixing different kinds of stripes. For example, don’t have a sunburst coming out of your head while wearing a hat and shirt with the aforementioned camo tiger stripes.
  3. While hipster, ironic, trucker caps were in a few seasons ago, they’re not any more. And a thundercats type logo cap is only appropriate for a press conference if you’re Ashton Kutcher.
  4. If you have to have a big grimacing cat on your flag, don’t stand in such a way as to make it seem like the cat is taking a big bite out of your arm. It’s distracting, although not as distracting as the camo tiger stripes or the sunburst coming out of your head.
  5. Belts belong close to your waist level, not up above your navel. And a wide belt like that, worn so high? It makes you look fat. Also, try to match your belt with your shoes.
  6. Don’t wear a pistol under your armpit. It makes it harder to draw, and leaves the butt smelling … like armpit.
  7. Cyanide necklaces are out this season.
  8. Don’t shoot the messenger. Or blow him to smithereens.

More images of the man on the Tiger webpage.

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