Letters to the editor

Readers' comments: 'The depiction of women in Bollywood perpetuates their commodification'

A selection of readers' opinions.

Unsafe streets

Gauri Lankesh’s abject defence of Bangalore’s liberalism requires analysis (“How did Bengaluru become unsafe for women – and what can we do to reclaim our streets?”). Its liberalism and cosmopolitanism lay in how women wore short dresses in Brigade Road and consumed alcohol in the heyday of the seventies and the eighties. Of course there were Romeos and molesters but comparatively less than in the second decade of the twenty first century.

Lankesh does not offer us any statistics to support this claim, just her own personal experiences which can be easily contradicted by several women including myself who have lived in Bangalore for a major part of our lives. Her contention on what could have gone wrong rests on neo-liberalism anti-ethical to Bangalorean liberalism – outsiders who are new to Bangalore’s “gender friendly liberalism”, the male gaze which is an incorrect form of liberalism and that Bangalore is becoming like the rest of the country. Her status as an elite native can be seen in her assertion of linguistic chauvinism being absent in Bengaluru and the fact that she did not mention the riots after Rajkumar’s death and the Gokak agitation in the 1980s. – Geetanjali A Srikantan

***

Let us not forget how the depiction of women in Bollywood perpetuates the commodification of women. I am still shocked by the lyrics of the immensely popular “Fevicol Se” song. Most Bollywood heroines have performed in these item numbers, which makes them complicit in their own objectification. – Arnab Basak

Self-defence strategy

This move appears to be an ill-thought one where the burden of responsibility of protection seems to shift from the CISF to the women commuters (“Women commuters can carry knives on Delhi Metro trains for ‘self-protection’”).

What happens if a potential attacker is able to wrestle a knife from the woman who’s being attacked? Why not deploy beat marshals on the trains, or equip each coach with adequate surveillance and alarm-triggering mechanisms to deter potential mischief makers? Moreover, why not enforce the law by meting out harsher punishments? – Kunal Roy

Neighbourhood ties

This book is an eye-opener for Indians who may not be aware of the existence of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (“Why India cannot win wars against its neighbours (and why that doesn’t even matter”). And the book offers much pain for those wish to see India’s conflicts with its neighbours end in victory for her.

According to me, India cannot be a pivot nation, because it is a destination of power in itself. Geopolitical ambitions find their destination here. India has significant little to gain from exerting her influence over the Central Asian wastelands; her energy would be better spent on defending plains and the plateaus of India proper. And, as far as defence is concerned, the Indian Armed Forces have done a decent job. Pakistan continues to attack, but they are further from a victory, military or otherwise, than they ever were.

As for China and the CPEC, the strategic value of these will come into question over time. Shipping rates are the lowest they have ever been. Why spend billions on developing road infrastructure over wastelands and mountains when sea trade is more efficient? Of what use is the CPEC when, despite its existence, Pakistan is not able to trade with its most obvious destination market, India? It would be unwise of India to offer it this courtesy when the bloodletting tactics of Pakistan continue unabated.

Plus it does not seem China herself has much to gain from developing these corridors as the Asian Giant is already destination market – there is not one country where China is not a key supplier. – Krishnan

***

This was a nice article, but I think the author needs to carry out more research in this field. What halts India’s rise to becoming a superpower are politics played by NATO nations and their allies.

The writer says: “Let alone China, India cannot even win a war against Pakistan. And this has nothing to do with the possession of nuclear weapons – the roles of nuclear and conventional weapons are separate in the war planning of India, China and Pakistan.”

This is an exaggeration. Despite optimal use of military force, which the author stresses on, Pakistan was not able to hold off Kargil, let alone win the war.

It’s not Pakistan or NATO’s optimisation that saves them from Russia or India, it’s the values of the latter two. Else a country with NSAs like Ajit Doval can realise nightmares even to China! – Laksha Tyagi

***

Thanks for this critical analysis, which is so well written. If India wants to project herself as a world power, then it will have to go along with Bangladesh and Pakistan. A grand alliance of common interest between these three countries, and Afghanistan, will make the subcontinent a huge superpower economically as well militarily.

The only hurdles in this path are Indo-Pak armed forces. – Abrar Ahmad

Historical interpretations

This is with reference to “A visit to Pakistan’s Eimanabad, where Guru Nanak once stayed, throws new light on Babur’s legacy.”

In the article, Haroon Khalid says:

“Nanak refused to bless the Mughal king, questioning his audacity to seek his blessings after conquering the land where he lived. However,
even without the guru’s blessings, Babur succeeded in his conquests and in spreading the Mughal Empire.”

However, it is written and believed by many scholars that Babur, on learning that a very holy man was in prison, Babur visited Guru Nanak, granted him liberty and invited him to his tent for further discussions.

During these discussions, Guru Nanak asked Babur to be just with all and stop terrorising the innocent. – Shankar Das

Caste vote

Caste affiliations may be one of the factors that influence people to vote for a particular party or a candidate, but not at the cost of performance and administrative experience (“Jayalalithaa’s death gives Tamil Nadu a chance to rescue itself from politics of hate and caste”). Instead of advocating people of other fraternities on their political beliefs and choices, the immediate challenge facing the author’s party and other smaller parties is to formulate strategies and build a positive reputation so that people also have them in their mind while making a decision. But for narrow political gains, such parties have built an undesirable reputation and pass the buck for their political being on others. – Karthik G

***

A reservation for Dalits and religious minorities for posts of chief minister, state ministers, general secretary and the like should be demanded.

However, as you might have noticed, Dalits and religious minorities in top posts of the judiciary and bureaucracy are still seeking the advice of Brahmins only. This attitude needs to be changed. They should be firm about their own decisions. What suggestions does the author have for this? – Balakumar MS

Tough talk

The reviewer rightly explains the ideology of the Dangal – a mix of competitive sports and hegemonic nationalism (“Three things Dangal’s mind-boggling success taught us”). We know that the cult of militant nationalism often reproduces itself through hyper-competitive sports carnivals. And in this alliance of sports and nationalism lies everything that fulfils the need for mass entertainment and thrill. At a time when we see the assertion hyper-masculine nationalism, a film like this acquires a special meaning – it seems to be in tune with the mood of the times.

Yes, it is a well-crafted film. However, its ideological messages are immensely problematic. For instance, its discourse of feminism is self-defeating because it assumes that successful women have to be like men – tough, competitive, divorced from the softer dimensions of life; and they have to defeat men at their own game. The doctrine of aggression is not challenged; it is just in an apparently feminist package. – Avijit Pathak

***

I am a regular visitor to your site, thanks to your excellent coverage, incisive analysis, lucid writing, and most importantly, balanced approach. Therefore, this story came as an unpleasant surprise to me.

Starting with Lagaan, Aamir Khan has made a string of films that are not only entertaining and aesthetically pleasing, but also educative, and inspiring, such as Taare Zameen Par and Three Idiots.

However, the author of this article ignores these incontrovertible facts and says rather cynically: “Khan has a canny ability to mythologise his career choices.”

I think this is unfair to Aamir Khan, who practises what he preaches. He has never got into a controversy of his own making: hasn’t run over pavement dwellers driving drunk, hasn’t slapped fellow guests at a restaurant, hasn’t curried favour with gutter-level politicians to cadge agricultural land out of a government and hasn’t – I believe – lobbied for a Rajya Sabha seat.

The article then observes: “… the sub-genre (of sports biopics) has become a clichéd heap of training montages and early obstacles that are eventually surmounted for predictable victories. The biopic is in danger of becoming the new fantasy movie – a fantasy of individual achievement against a hostile and corrupt system that is designed to hold back Indians. If this system did not exist, films as varied as Bhaag Milkha Bhaag and Dangal argue, Indians would have been sitting at the top of gold medal charts.”

But this is true – Indian athletes do not sit at the top of gold medal charts precisely because of this and many other reasons, principally, the huge asymmetry of opportunities, where marginalised people like the adivasis of Central India or remote mountains do not even have access to a healthy diet, let alone scientific training.

So Dangal represents the stark reality of India today. Let’s also recall that Aamir had done an episode in Styameva Jayate with the real Phogat sisters, just to bring the author back from her fantasy world. Just imagine: had there been thousands of more Khumulwng Tribal Gymnasiums (where Dipa Karmakar trained), how many more Dipas could we have had?

Finally, Aamir Khan is an asset to India who has brought several unknown issues that hurt millions into sharp focus. I would earnestly request you not to allow your website to serve the agenda of Muslim haters by baselessly accusing him of “manipulative film-making”. – Santanu Sinha Chaudhuri

Historical claims

I agree with almost everything the writer says about the bizarre claims and the non-scientific approach in the paper published in a journal of the Indian Centre for Historical Research’s (“’Dancing Girl’ as Parvati is just one of many bizarre claims in ICHR paper on Harappan civilisation”).

However, the writer too seems to have reached her conclusion quickly, without looking at all current scientific evidence.

I recommend she read the book The Lost River: On The Trail of The River Saraswati. This has nothing to do with Shiva or Parvati, but it collates all available information and tries to connect the dots in the simplest manner possible.

Once she reads it, she will probably agree that a majority of the Western-backed scientific community has been trying to connect the dots in an extraordinarily convoluted way, when a much simpler and plausible explanation exists. – Karthik

Pride and prejudice

Smruti Koppikar’s article on the Maratha activism and the recent vandalism by Sambhaji Brigade is well written, exploring the reasons behind the phenomenon (“Maratha pride (and votes): Why the statue of a legendary Marathi playwright was vandalised in Pune”). – Sanjay Marathe

Captain cool

It seems the author of this article does not quite appreciate the role of any leader (“What made MS Dhoni one of India’s greatest captains? He just kept things simple”). The basic responsibilities of a captain that you cited are very important for how a match proceeds and which way it swings.

You seem to see a captain as a poster boy for the media. It is precisely this level of underestimation that assures me of the ignorance illustrated in the article.

The ability to select youngsters and believe in them is what makes great captains. As Wasim Akram has said time and again, what made Imran Khan one of the greatest captains was his intuition about future stars.

The Indian team was great even during the 2007 World Cup, but it had an x-factor under Dhoni’s captaincy that led to 2011 victory.

In shorter formats a captain is indispensable. Just to give you a sense of how important, Dhoni would have had a totally different batting career ( a far superior one) if he was playing under someone else. He decided to give the batting order that solidarity by batting at number 6 or 7.

It was not that Dhoni was successful because he understood that a captain does not matter that much in a chaotic world of media frenzy. He was successful because he was able to gather the sense of the game and make the surroundings and distractions irrelevant. – Archit Singhal

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Some of the worst decisions made in history

From the boardroom to the battlefield, bad decisions have been a recipe for disaster

On New Year’s Day, 1962, Dick Rowe, the official talent scout for Decca Records, went to office, little realising that this was to become one of the most notorious days in music history. He and producer Mike Smith had to audition bands and decide if any were good enough to be signed on to the record label. At 11:00 am, either Rowe or Smith, history is not sure who, listened a group of 4 boys who had driven for over 10 hours through a snowstorm from Liverpool, play 15 songs. After a long day spent listening to other bands, the Rowe-Smith duo signed on a local group that would be more cost effective. The band they rejected went on to become one of the greatest acts in musical history – The Beatles. However, in 1962, they were allegedly dismissed with the statement “Guitar groups are on the way out”.

Source: Wikimedia Commons
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Decca’s decision is a classic example of deciding based on biases and poor information. History is full of examples of poor decisions that have had far reaching and often disastrous consequences.

In the world of business, where decisions are usually made after much analysis, bad decisions have wiped out successful giants. Take the example of Kodak – a company that made a devastating wrong decision despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Everyone knows that Kodak couldn’t survive as digital photography replaced film. What is so ironic that Alanis Morissette could have sung about it, is that the digital camera was first invented by an engineer at Kodak as early as 1975. In 1981, an extensive study commissioned by Kodak showed that digital was likely to replace Kodak’s film camera business in about 10 years. Astonishingly, Kodak did not use this time to capitalise on their invention of digital cameras – rather they focused on making their film cameras even better. In 1996, they released a combined camera – the Advantix, which let users preview their shots digitally to decide which ones to print. Quite understandably, no one wanted to spend on printing when they could view, store and share photos digitally. The Advantix failed, but the company’s unwillingness to shift focus to digital technology continued. Kodak went from a 90% market share in US camera sales in 1976 to less than 10% in 2012, when it filed for bankruptcy. It sold off many of its biggest businesses and patents and is now a shell of its former self.

Source: Wikimedia Commons
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Few military blunders are as monumental as Napoleon’s decision to invade Russia. The military genius had conquered most of modern day Europe. However, Britain remained out of his grasp and so, he imposed a trade blockade against the island nation. But the Russia’s Czar Alexander I refused to comply due to its effect on Russian trade. To teach the Russians a lesson, Napolean assembled his Grand Armée – one of the largest forces to ever march on war. Estimates put it between 450,000 to 680,000 soldiers. Napoleon had been so successful because his army could live off the land i.e. forage and scavenge extensively to survive. This was successful in agriculture-rich and densely populated central Europe. The vast, barren lands of Russia were a different story altogether. The Russian army kept retreating further and further inland burning crops, cities and other resources in their wake to keep these from falling into French hands. A game of cat and mouse ensued with the French losing soldiers to disease, starvation and exhaustion. The first standoff between armies was the bloody Battle of Borodino which resulted in almost 70,000 casualties. Seven days later Napoleon marched into a Moscow that was a mere shell, burned and stripped of any supplies. No Russian delegation came to formally surrender. Faced with no provisions, diminished troops and a Russian force that refused to play by the rules, Napolean began the long retreat, back to France. His miseries hadn’t ended - his troops were attacked by fresh Russian forces and had to deal with the onset of an early winter. According to some, only 22,000 French troops made it back to France after the disastrous campaign.

Source: Wikimedia Commons
Source: Wikimedia Commons

When it comes to sports, few long time Indian cricket fans can remember the AustralAsia Cup final of 1986 without wincing. The stakes were extremely high – Pakistan had never won a major cricket tournament, the atmosphere at the Sharjah stadium was electric, the India-Pakistan rivalry at its height. Pakistan had one wicket in hand, with four runs required off one ball. And then the unthinkable happened – Chetan Sharma decided to bowl a Yorker. This is an extremely difficult ball to bowl, many of the best bowlers shy away from it especially in high pressure situations. A badly timed Yorker can morph into a full toss ball that can be easily played by the batsman. For Sharma who was then just 18 years old, this was an ambitious plan that went wrong. The ball emerged as a low full toss which Miandad smashed for a six, taking Pakistan to victory. Almost 30 years later, this ball is still the first thing Chetan Sharma is asked about when anyone meets him.

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