Opening this week

Film review: ‘Irada’ is a well-intended expose of pollution and graft

A superb cast and some smart writing paper over the flaws in Aparnaa Singh’s debut movie.

Debutant director Aparnaa Singh’s Irada deftly mixes fiction and fantasy. The plot is said to have been drawn from real events – the pollution of ground water by a chemical manufacturer with the blessings of a state’s ruling party. The fictional response to these events, however, hews closer to Hollywood films about righteous citizens turning detectives and vigilantes against powerful corporations, among them Erin Brockovich, A Class Action and Edge of Darkness.

Set in Punjab, Irada advocates solutions that ordinary viewers will be hard-pressed to replicate, but its concerns are timely, its character sketches memorable, and its empathy unmistakable.

Topping the sparkling cast is Naseeruddin Shah in one of his most relaxed recent performances. Shah plays Parabjeet, a decorated retired soldier who wants his daughter to become a fighter pilot. Parabjeet puts Riya (Rumana Molla) through a punishing schedule of morning runs and long swims, but tragedy strikes in the form of a cancer diagnosis. The water that Riya has been gulping day after day is killing her, and her repentant father sets out to investigate.

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Irada.

Parabjeet eventually runs into Arjun (Arshad Warsi), a National Investigation Agency officer who has arrived in town to investigate a massive blast that has destroyed the polluting chemical factory run by the malevolent Paddy (Sharad Kelkar). Paddy and the state’s chief minister Ramandeep (Divya Dutta) are twinned by rapacity. One flushes out his factory’s toxins into the ground water, while the other ignores the problem in return for political funds. An activist who tried to blow the whistle has been killed, and his girlfriend Maya (Sagarika Ghatge) is getting nowhere with her campaign to expose Paddy.

The blast at Paddy’s plant holds out the promise of a promotion and a possible stint at the Prime Minister’s Office for Arjun. All he has to do is follow Ramandeep’s tart orders – file a report that exonerates Paddy and hang the blame on an employee who has killed himself. Arjun’s curiosity eventually leads him to Parabjeet, and a friendship develops between the two men.

Singh’s fondness for her characters cuts both ways. Irada is an old-fashioned conspiracy thriller in which the righteous are justified in their actions, however unlawful they may be, and the evildoers are just the right shade of black. Sharad Kelkar is perfectly cast as the dapper businessman whose empire is built on corpses, while Divya Dutta is a doozy as the imperious head of state whose wickedness is more far-reaching than Paddy’s corruption.

Warsi turns out a charming and relaxed performance even when Arjun is up to no good. As the 109-minute narrative wears on and the need to add contrivances to reach for an uplifting solution to depressingly real-world problems kicks in, Arjun’s moral compass starts behaving like Jack Sparrow’s apparatus from the Pirates of the Caribbean movies – it points most to what he wants, rather than what the law permits.

Like Arjun, Singh and co-writer Anushka Rajan dredge up problems that cannot be tackled through official channels. Yet, the director’s conviction bulldozes through the most indulgent and ragged moments. A flashback to a holiday taken by Parabjeet and Riya is little more than an excuse to showcase Rumana Molla’s histrionic talents. Parabjeet’s questionable actions, and the movie’s endorsement of them, also indicate that Singh’s resolve to tackle the economic roots of pollution and its relationship with cancer is weakening. Even though the resolution beggars belief, the high-powered cast and the director’s clear-eyed rage against the machine are convincing enough.

Sagarika Ghatge and Arshad Warsi in Irada.
Sagarika Ghatge and Arshad Warsi in Irada.
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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.

So, what leads to bad decisions? While these examples show the role of personal biases, inertia, imperfect information and overconfidence, bad advice can also lead to bad decisions. One of the worst things you can do when making an important decision is to make it on instinct or merely on someone’s suggestion, without arming yourself with the right information. That’s why Aegon Life puts the power in your hands, so you have all you need when choosing something as important as life insurance. The Aegon Life portal has enough information to help someone unfamiliar with insurance become an expert. So empower yourself with information today and avoid decisions based on bad advice. For more information on the iDecide campaign, see here.

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This article was produced on behalf of Aegon Life by the Scroll.in marketing team and not by the Scroll.in editorial staff.