I just read an article about how the person of the year in India is the ‘Bhakt’. You obviously know that the ‘Bhakt’ they refer to is any supporter of Narendra Modi or his policies, be it someone who casually believes PM Modi is right about a thing (eg. Demonitization) or that he is right about everything (e.g. 2002).
Now let me make it clear at the outset: I am not a political person and don’t skew either right or left, I prefer to stay centered, and measure every political decision on merit. So the reason I write this is not so much that I’m in love with Modi but that I find us to be in a tricky time in our history where somehow everything needs to be labeled either one extreme or the other… and I find that to be a dangerous trend.
So you are either a Bhakt or a Libtard.. you can’t be a person who can be both pro-Demonitization for any reason whatsoever and yet have issues with other government policies. You are either an AAPtard or a Sanghi.. you can’t be a person who both finds Arvind Kejriwal’s work admirable but has an issue with his outbursts. You are either a Patriot or Anti-National.. you can’t be a person who both loves his/her country dearly but finds it strange that he/she has to prove it in a movie theater.
And these labels aren’t exclusive to India. You can either shut up about equal rights or be called a Feminazi, you are either Islamophobic or you are a true American, you are either white or you are an immigrant.. you are either a Hilary supporter or a racist. Yes, the pendulum swings both ways.
There is just no room left in the discourse for a ‘middle’.. in fact, the truth is that there is no room left for discourse. Everyone so easily labels each other with such broad strokes today that if it weren’t so casual, it would be horrifying. There is no empathy, no reasoning, no attempt to understand the other side.. and no other side for all practical purpose. It’s my way… or the wrong way. Either you think like my friends and me, or you’re dumb, illiterate, clueless or a troll.
Why are we reducing complex human beings to labels with such knee-jerk? Why does any one opinion become greater than the sum of the entire humanity of a person? Why are we getting so emotional that we are dismissing the emotions of real human beings (and not just user IDs) who may well have the same value system but simply a different perspective?
The memes may be hilarious, the gifs may make us laugh out loud, but when we constantly put down people because we can’t fathom their humanity from the high horses we sit on.. those people are bound to react in ways we may not see coming. The Alt Right is a child of this attitude, Trump won because we didn’t even consider his supporters as real people (just ‘trolls’), and everything that’s happening in Europe suggests that if we don’t start mending our mind sets, the worst is yet to come.
I don’t mean to sound preachy but the simple solution is empathy. Here’s what I staunchly believe in: Maybe instead of labelling people, we can start understanding them. Instead of dismissing the opinions of the other side, we can start engaging with it. Instead of calling everyone with a contradictory view a ‘troll’, we can start a discourse. The truth is, people are always only just a few well-meaning conversations away from broadening their perspectives, but for that, we need to first stop judging them with labels.
Yes, it won’t be easy; yes, not everyone wants to discuss or debate; and yes, some people will never change their hard-line stances… but we have seen what labels have accomplished so far, perhaps it’s time to try out empathy.
Toilet Ek Prem Katha is entertaining, raises some important issues about sanitation & gender equality and does a good job in addressing them, and cements Akshay Kumar as the most important Bollywood star we have today. Having said that, what could’ve been a landmark film is marred by an extremely long runtime (still okay), blatant political sucking up (sigh but okay) and a huge thumbs up to stalking (so not okay!!).
But let me start by saying that I’m glad the film raises some pertinent issues:
a) Our “culture” is being toyed with by its self-proclaimed guardians and it’s high times we stop them
b) Beyond a point we can’t blame the government or anyone else for our issues: we need to first step up and stand up for ourselves and cause change within ourselves.
c) Men in our country have a huge ego and there is no harm in apologising when we are wrong; in fact, the way we will have healthy relationships is if men stop acting like superheroes and behave human.
And let me reiterate: I have immense respect for Akshay Kumar for picking the kind of scripts he has been over the past couple of years. I’m so glad that he’s now using his stardom to say something than just get more money for himself. And he acts so well in this! He’s always been on point with comedy but so good to see his dramatic chops. Bhumi is the backbone of the film and stands out in every scene, and Divyendu Sharma and the rest of the cast is hilarious and on point.
Now coming to the issue: In the film, a 37-year-old (in the film) hero wins the heart of a 20-something film by stalking her, harassing her, taking her pictures without consent, and even using her images to market his shop! And how does the girl react? By getting angry at first but then, after the guy explains to her that this is “romance”, agreeing to marry him!!! What. The. Fuck.
Given how often the film declares its feminism, it’s shocking no one found it wrong to show the hero harassing a girl in the name of “love”. This film is destined to cross a 100 Crores and do plenty of good (as it must) so then this kind of messaging is completely irresponsible. And it’s unbelievable that although, very evidently, some intelligent people worked on this film, how did they feel this was okay!? How did this pass through the entire studio without one person pointing out that THIS is a HUGE problem in this country and we CAN’T normalise this!!
I’m just disappointed that in today’s day and age social mass entertainers (who self-confessedly have the agenda of bringing about change) are not really paying any attention to what they are saying in the rest of the film outside of their main agenda. This is the third film in the span of a few months that’s had this problem. I had earlier had similar problems with Dangal too: It was such an inspiring film on the side of feminism but in which the father forced his dreams on his children and mistreated them (he even throws his 9 year old daughter in the river!). The messaging was literally at odds with 3 Idiots where Aamir said – parents should chill and let their children dream. Badrinath Ki Dulhania did this too: it had a social message about dowry and whatnot, but the jilted lover kidnaps his girlfriend and there’s this extremely jarring scene where a guy is almost raped and his friends find it funny. What?!
Bollywood can’t get away by saying “but it’s just a film” and the characters in this film “just behave this way”. They can behave this way if your film is NOT meant to be a social entertainer. If it’s a dark film or a satire, then sure, go ahead and show whatever you want. But you can’t have your country’s biggest stars normalise regressive behaviour, especially since your film is all about “soch”.
I really do hope filmmakers and studios and even our stars understand that in social mass entertainers it’s incredibly important that the messaging is responsible OVERALL. Because these are films that will be talked about and certainly films that will have an impact on the minds of people. So then for them to take away one great message but one regressive, irresponsible message, is so unfortunate. And the only way to address such a problem is to first admit there is one.
I’m not qualified enough to write political posts so this is not going to be that. I am writing this because I believe the reasons for the upside down we have now entered, the Black Mirror that has become our reality, the fucked-up island on which that the collective airplane we seemed to be cruising on has crash landed, is *nothing* to do with politics and everything to do with who we are as the ‘swipe-right’ and ‘move on’ generation. The bubble we’ve been living in has burst, and perhaps this was the much-needed jolt that would hopefully stop us from spending our lives staring at our phones.
Here’s what’s happening right now, even as a misogynist, racist, fascist homophobe is taking over purportedly the “most powerful nation in the world” and the “land of the free and fair”: the shock wave that is rippling through every tweet, every status update and every snap-story is not just about the tragedy that Donald Trump has won, but more to do with the catastrophe that WE have lost.
How did WE let this happen? “WE” – who had shared all those 9Gag memes, all those hilarious Buzzfeed posts and Facebook gifs, who had liked loved the hell out of every (not so much pro-Hillary but) anti-Trump article, video and status, who had waited for Last Week Tonight with John Oliver to see Donald being Drumpf again, we, who had retweeted *every* celebrity and stand-up comedian tweet that represented well-reasoned sanity – how could WE be so wrong? SO WRONG?
‘WE’ may not be American, may never have stepped foot in America and may never even intend to (or get allowed to now!), we may be Indian, European, Australian, or from any other nationality that always, in our heart of hearts believed that America is stupid but didn’t know it is to THIS EXTENT, ‘we’, the progressive, liberal, educated, internet-savvy millennials who have prided ourselves in our balanced opinions and our broad-minded worldview, and have generally been the force of nature that’s showing the world the light: how did WE fail to see this coming? HOW THE HELL DID WE ALLOW THIS TO HAPPEN?
Here’s how: ‘We’, our generation at large, are less the citizens of any country with well-defined borders, but more those of the bubble that is the internet, that we log on to every morning on our devices and spend the entire day rallying behind, with all the nationalist pride that soars in the hearts of the right-wingers for all the wrong reasons, according to ‘US’.
We are to blame
We go to sleep at night at peace with ourselves after partaking in every trending topic, every popular hashtag and every viral news story of the day by jumping to the most-reasonable conclusion that the smartest people on our timelines have come to. Our knee-jerk likes, shares and comments do not wait for tonight’s television coverage, tomorrow’s newspaper, or this week’s news magazine. They are swift, immediate and final, and come from a sense of inherent duty that if we don’t do our bit RIGHT NOW to further the cause of the liberal rationale that the world so badly needs, we would have let us all down.
Except that the internet is *not* the world. Facebook doesn’t in any way represent the aspirations of the common man on the street who is suffering from issues we don’t know and can’t even fathom; Instagram is so fantastical that it does not even truly represent our own worlds with the inevitable lows that it sees outside of the highs we choose to showcase, and Twitter is so far gone that it has led itself to believe that it really does have the power to change the world through its white eggs and blue ticks.
Yes, of course, the internet can sway a certain section of public opinion, especially when it comes to entertainment, but that’s about all the influence it exerts. Because the internet comprises but a tiny, only sometimes-significant part of the world’s population that is unfortunately so loud, vocal and self-agreeable that it does not even bother to factor, in any of its conclusive pronouncements, an entire middle-class that has more critical worries in its life than a status message not getting enough likes.
We are the bubble
Our social media accounts are carefully curated by us to represent the voices we want to hear, the opinions we find compliant and the thoughts and ideas that concur with the ones we have deemed appropriate. And whenever there is dispute, disagreement or dissent, it strikes as such a false note in our utopian realms that our immediate response is to term it reactionary, dumb, illiterate or worse, trolling. We unfriend, block and report abuse, but we do not understand, we do not empathise and we do not engage (and if we ever do, it’s only to slur back).
We have been living and thriving in this self-created bubble for so long; we have been so passionately dissing anything that challenges our statuses and status quos; we have been so far removed from the reality that exists beyond our screens on either side of us that multiple tremors were only seen as aberrations. It would’ve taken a tornado to burst this bubble, and it looks like Donald Trump is that tornado.
So yes, in essence, we are fucked and it seems like we have brought this upon us. So now what? Well, the good news is: this is an end of the road, but not the end of the road. It is perhaps the end of a road where everyone (of a certain kind) was driving on the same side and was often deliberately dismissive – and sometimes ignorant – of the other side. But it is only the beginning of a two-way road, where all kinds of people from both sides are driving alongside, well in-sight of one another, co-existing peacefully at first, and maybe, one day, meeting at a crossroad to become one road again.
Can we fix it?
And what did that bullshit traffic metaphor above mean? In essence: let’s not be so self-involved within our own timelines and our own devices that are far removed from the truths around us that it becomes fashionable to ‘not give a shit’. Let’s not look down upon anyone with an offensive opinion or one that we dislike but engage with them, let’s not show snark at anyone less-informed but inform them, let’s not call out anyone with vulgar but desensitize them, let’s not be contemptuous of those unlike us but comprehend them.
It’s not going to take one person and it’s not going to take one day. But if we view this moment in time as that crucial turning point of our history that it needs to become – for all the right reasons – and come together to be less seemingly elitist, less self-absorbed, less intolerant people who can stay put and take action than swipe right and move on to the next armchair battle, there is hope yet.
So let’s be gentle to that old relative or grandparent who believes homosexuality is a disease and explain to them why they are wrong, let’s have a one-on-one with that colleague that passes off sexist comments as banter, let’s have a dialogue with the deeply conditional house help who inadvertently champions patriarchy and let’s tell a racist friend why the world cannot – and should not – be segregated into religions or colours. Let’s have the patience and resolve to talk it out with everyone who is only just a few well-meaning conversations away from broadening their perspectives.
And let’s LISTEN. Let’s listen without judgement to the woes of the people who fear their jobs being taken away by immigrants, let’s understand without discrimination those people who believe in prejudice, let’s empathise with everyone who is unlike us, and let’s engage. Let’s engage with *everyone* who does not hold our outlook because the fact is: there is no such thing as a right or wrong views, but there is context and there is perspective. And if we understand the other’s and explain to them ours, maybe – just maybe – there is a meeting ground in the middle for both.
Yes WE can!
If WE, the generation that has had, unlike its predecessors, the opportunity, luck and benefit of being aware of the world beyond our neighbourhoods, communities, cities and borders thanks to our devices and the very same phenomenon that is the internet, come together to engage, to listen, and to be kind… WE can work together at making the best out of the trumping we’ve received today as collective denizens of an idyllic world that can hopefully someday be reality.
If we come together, this too shall pass. If we come together, we can save the world…
If we had to look back at 2016 and talk about its highlight in terms of an international pop culture phenomenon, we wouldn’t be talking of a film but instead a Netflix show – Stranger Things. This is not an anomaly. In India too, from Permanent Roommates Season 2 to Ladies Room this year, content on digital platforms has broken out among the youth in a way films haven’t managed to.
The fact is that narrative on digital across the world caters to the same audience that buys movie tickets: the young 18-30 segment, who constitute not just the target demographic but also the protagonists in most films made today. But save a few inventive movies that side step the Bollywood formula (most hits this year, from Neerja to Pink to Airlift, have little to no ‘masala’ in them), movies in India are still predominantly star-first, content-second.
As attention spans of audiences decline, and smartphone usage and internet consumption continue growing at a rapid pace, we are today on the brink of a content revolution led by internet creators and creative talent on the web. Fortunately, it’s never going to come down to an either-or choice between film and any other medium, as audiences have proven that medium is temporary, storytelling is permanent. But there’s still a lot that Bollywood can learn from the internet content revolution to stay relevant to its core audience:
Focus on stories that *must* be told: If there’s one thing that web has proven as a fact today, it is that there are no substitutes to good stories. A myopic way of looking at the internet is only through its freedom from censorship, but creators and digital studios know that while sex and SRK can get you views, the kind of cultural impact that a Pitchers or Man’s World can have stems from just one basic truth: the audience wants good stories.
‘Actors’ are the real ‘stars’: The internet has also gone against the grain by diverging form the ‘star’ system and putting its faith and backing behind good actors who may not be names, or even traditionally chiselled and sculpted. The viralability factor of the internet today comes from not how big the star is but how able the actor is and how convincingly he/she can act. From Naveen Kasturia to Angira Dhar, the internet today creates the star.
The force is with the writers: On the internet, the writer is king. Whether or not the show has scale or stars, whether it caters to the urban elite or the rural cool, unless the writing is great on paper, the audience will see through it. The internet never forgives or forgets so it is imperative that the writers take lead to give the audience content that doesn’t take them for granted.
Risktaking is the key: Fortune favours the brave and there is no better case in point for this than the success of the digital narrative. From tackling issues like abortion to sex education, the internet has shown that the riskier the content and the more it pushes boundaries in terms of cast, producer and director, the more likely it will attract good filmmakers who thrive by doing content that is off-mainstream, in that, it tries to represent the under-represented or voiceless.
There is no formula! Ultimately, digital has convincingly proven, in more cases than one – there is no formula to what works. On this medium, a massy show about two crazy families is just as big as a seemingly niche show about conversations between women in loos. Until you follow up something that has worked, with something that you have no idea will, you will never truly achieve a cult following of loyal fans on the internet who will support your brand in any form, manner or genre!
Note:This piece was written by Nikhil Taneja (@tanejamainhoon) for The Edutainment Show’s Handbook (By Invitation).
I believe we are in a time of crisis; probably the most unique crisis the youth of India has faced. Here’s what’s happening: The internet has made the world equal in carving a platform that’s given rise to the world’s largest and truest democracy, by, of, and for the young. But unfortunately, this very platform has made a few faceless, masked, trolls the power to rule it by hiding behind anonymity.
So, on the internet, people who haven’t ever had the courage to step out and do things on their own are today sitting behind a computer screen and laughing at people who do. The moment someone starts to express themselves, they are bullied or stifled by voices that say they are not good enough or that they have no right to do this. This has unfortunately resulted in a strange time in our history where young people are the most empowered that they ever have been, and at the same time, only very little real talent is shining through because those with the loudest voices – and not necessarily the best – are shaping the narrative as the ones with more to offer are too afraid to speak up, for fear of being judged.
This is why everyone, and I believe EVERYONE, needs to tell their stories, and make a film. Today, thanks to the mobile phone, 4G, and the rise of new digital platforms, all hungry for new content, there’s never been more demand for fresh, original voices. Everyone who has something new to say, will get a chance to not just be heard but to be broadcast to hundreds of thousands, but for that to be a reality, you need to step up and MAKE A FILM.
Everyone has a story to tell, everyone has their own, unique, truth, and this is the best time in our history to share that with the world. And what better way to do so than filming it? Film is the most powerful medium of art because it is the only one that can make you see, hear and feel things, at the same time. Film doesn’t need to be a two hour professionally made movie at the theater, it can be anything from a one hour documentary to a four-part web series to a thirty minute short film to a ten minute sketch to a five minute YouTube rant to a six second Vine. Film is anything that has a story told visually – and if you have a smartphone with a camera, you can be a filmmaker.
So far, Bollywood has shaped our minds and our identities. If the youth growing up in the 80s were Vijay, the angry young man, in the 90s they were Rahul, who believed ‘love is friendship’, and in the last decade, they were Sid, jo ‘udna chahta hai, par rukna nahin chahta’. But it’s high time to flip the narrative and be the story that Bollywood tells by making your own film that inspires Bollywood.
If the world sucks, make a film, if you are angry, make a film, if you are inspired, make a film, if someone tries to take your ‘azaadi’ away, make a film. Remember, circumstance is temporary, but film is permanent. Periscope it, Snapchat it, Instagram it, YouTube it, but make a film so that when, hundred years down the line, when people look back at this time in our history, they don’t find one Bollywood iconic character that speaks for the generation, but an entire generation that spoke for itself, and told the stories that shaped the future.
For the second time in two years, all twenty acting nominees at the Oscars are white, and the controversy surrounding that has given consequence to the 88th Academy Awards that were set to be all but inspid
On February 28, 2016, all eyes will be on Chris Rock, as he takes the stage to host the 88th Academy Awards at the Dolby Theater in Hollywood, California, in what has, over the last month-and-a-half, turned out to be the most talked about Oscars of this side of the 21st century, but for all the wrong reasons.
African-American standup comedian Rock’s opening monologue will have to pull no punches, mostly on the ceremony itself, if the Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences, that runs the Oscars, wants the 88th edition to be remembered for the right reasons, or perhaps one: six-time Oscar-nominee Leonardo DiCaprio potentially winning a compensatory Best Actor Award after 22 years of near-misses, heartbreaks and internet memes.
The story of this year’s awards, which were touted to be the most boring Oscars in a decade since the 78th edition, when Crash inexplicably won over Brokeback Mountain among snooze-fest Best Picture nominees including Capote, Good Night and Good Luck and Munich, unexpectedly became significant, when, on January 14, it so turned out that for the second year in a row, all 20 actors announced as nominees in the four acting categories were white.
Not since 1998 had such a thing happened at the Oscars, and the fact that it has now happened two years in a row, opened the floodgates of controversy surrounding the Academy, as well as Hollywood’s, Achilles heel: its severe diversity problem. There had already been an outcry from Hollywood and beyond in 2015, when the snubs to award shoo-ins David Oyelwo, who portrayed Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Best Picture nominee Selma, and the movie’s director Ava DuVernay, gave rise to the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite, causing much embarrassment to the Academy. The hashtag trended again, immediately after this year’s announcements, compounded by a lengthy post by two-time Academy Award nominee, director Spike Lee, on Instagram.
“How is it possible for the second consecutive year all 20 contenders under the acting category are white?” Lee passionately appealed, “And let’s not even get into the other branches. Forty white actors in two years and no flava at all. We can’t act?! WTF!! (sic)” Lee has since refused to attend the ceremony this year to collect a Honorary Oscar that was presented to him for his contributions in filmmaking at the Governors Awards in November.
In a year where two of the biggest original blockbusters came in the form of F. Gary Gray’s biographical drama on the hip hop group, N.W.A., collecting $200 million at the box office on a $28 million budget, followed closely by Ryan Coogler’s Creed, that earned over $170 million on a $35 million budget, the reactions towards the nominations and Lee’s comments were swift and no-hold-barred. On last count, Jada Pinkett-Smith and husband Will Smith, David Oyelowo, Tyrese Gibson and Michael Moore were among the other prominent names who wouldn’t be going – or watching – the Oscars.
Besides them, all of Hollywood, from George Clooney, who said that the Oscars are “moving in the wrong direction”, to Best Actress nominee Charlotte Rampling, who added fire to the debate by saying that the controversy was “racist to whites”, has weighed in on the issue, with even President Barrack Obama stating, “The industry should look for talent and provide opportunity to everybody. Are we making sure that everybody is getting a fair shot?”
The controversy has put Cheryl Boone Isaacs, the first black president of the Academy, centre stage, and Isaac has already set a goal of doubling the number of women and diverse members by 2020. She also put out a statement saying, “While we celebrate their extraordinary achievements, I am both heartbroken and frustrated about the lack of inclusion. This is a difficult but important conversation, and it’s time for big changes.”
These changes, which include expungement of voting rights for inactive members of the Academy, are crucial for the 6,000-plus-member group that runs the Oscars that is, according to a 2012 Los Angeles Times Survey, 94% white and 77% male, with a median age in the mid-60s, not only because of its diversity issues, but also because it needs to stay relevant to younger audiences, who are all but tuning out of the Awards each passing year.
The audience for last year’s ceremony, which saw Neil Patrick Harris valiantly try to entertain in his underwear, dropped to 36.6 million in 2015, nearly 15 percent from 43 million viewers in 2014, a year remembered for Seth MacFarlane’s unfortunate segment, ‘We Saw Your Boobs’. It has long been time for change, and for that reason, David Hill (a former Fox executive) and Reginald Hudlin (Oscar-nominated producer of Django Unchainted) were appointed in 2015 to take over producing duties and make the show more engaging.
Their first call to action was getting Chris Rock back on as host after his 2005 Oscar-stage debut, in a pre-nominations move that has now become especially momentous, in the wake of the diversity controversy. In fact, Rock, who is said to be writing a monologue to “specifically” address the issue, responded to the #Oscarssowhite hashtag with the tweet, “The #Oscars. The White BET Awards. (sic)” referring to the Black Entertainment Awards that honour African Americans and other minorities in entertainment.
Besides Rock, Foo Fighters’ founder Dave Grohl is another veteran entertainer who may infuse some much-needed positive momentum and bring more eyeballs to the Oscars. Grohl is slated to perform at the ceremony, although the specifics of his act are being kept a secret. He’ll be a welcome addition to the other notable performances including Best Original Song nominees Lady Gaga, Sam Smith and The Weeknd, all of whom will attempt to keep audiences interested, entertained and awake through the four-hour-long Oscar night.
There will also be a noticeable change in format this year with Hill and Hudlin introducing a ‘Thank You Scroll’ at the bottom of the screen for home viewers, aimed at keeping the winner speeches shorter and more emotional, by taking off the pressure of having to say lengthy ‘Thank Yous’. All this may end up making the ceremony memorable, at the very least, or a game-changer, at best, especially if the #OscarsSoWhite drama carries out on stage through its diverse presenters including Quincy Jones, Kevin Hart and Kerry Washington. This is all very well, since the awards themselves are nothing exciting to speak about.
For one, besides Mad Max: Fury Road, none of the eight Best Picture nominees have managed to accumulate any sort of feverish fan following or emotional connect with the audiences, as opposed to last year, when Birdman, Boyhood, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Selma as well as Whiplash, each had its own cult following, or the year before, where 12 Years a Slave, American Hustle, Gravity, Her and The Wolf of Wall Street were all popular choices for Best Picture.
This year, if you don’t count The Martian’s $609 Million worldwide gross, the collective gross of five other nominees, Bridge of Spies, Brooklyn, Room, Spotlight and The Big Short, stacks up to $370 Million Dollars, the amount nearly grossed by two other nominees, Mad Max: Fury Road and The Revenant, themselves. The numbers are but an indication of how many people have watched these films or for that matter, really care about them, and they paint a sorry picture.
Adding to this dreary trend, is the fact that the acting winners are all but set in stone. Leonardo DiCaprio and Brie Larson have swept the Best Actor and Actress Awards respectively at the Golden Globes, The Screen Actors Guild Awards, The Critics Choice Awards and the BAFTAs, so it would take some doing for them to be left empty-handed (here’s looking at you, Leo!).
There are two favourites in both Supporting categories – Sylvester Stallone (Creed) and Mark Rylance (Bride of Spies) among actors and Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl) and Kate Winslet (Steve Jobs) among actresses, as all four have won two awards each so far. But seeing how the Academy favours experience over craft, it is likely that Stallone and Winslet may win, but the only ones getting robbed here would be Idris Elba (Beasts of No Nation) and Charlize Theron (Mad Max: Fury Road), who didn’t score a nomination at all.
Inside Out is certain to win Best Animated Film while Spotlight and The Big Short are likely to win Best Screenplay and Best Adapted Screenplay respectively, as both The Hateful Eight and Steve Jobs were shut out of the nominations.
It all eventually boils down to Best Picture and Best Director, which would be interesting only if Mad Max: Fury Road and its director George Miller stood any chance of winning, but given the Academy’s penchant for being blind to what or who has really wowed audiences, Alejandro G. Inarritu is probably going to win Best Director for the second year in a row, whereas Best Picture will be a close call between Spotlight and The Revenant, both award-season favourites, although no one would really bother if either of them or any of the rest won, as long as DiCaprio took his trophy home.
And if your heart is made of stone and you aren’t excited about seeing DiCaprio finally take the Oscar stage to receive a trophy, even as animators elsewhere in the world are creating arcade-style video games called ‘Red Carpet Rampage’ in tribute (check it out), there is still something for you to watch out for: Indian-origin director Asif Kapadia, is, in all likelihood, winning the Best Documentary Feature Award for his film, Amy, on the life and death of late singer, Amy Winehouse. Plus, Priyanka Chopra will be presenting on stage, and as long as she doesn’t give a shout out to Mother Teresa, at least India will have something to write home about.
So here’s the background: I was invited to give a TEDx Talk at TEDxSRCC in October at Delhi. It was one of the coolest things that ever happened to me so I wanted to speak on a topic that… matters. Conventional wisdom meant speaking on ‘the road not taken’, ‘following your passion’, or ‘stay hungry and stay foolish’, but I thought of it this way: If this was the only time I ever got a chance to speak on any platform as prestigious as the TEDx stage, what thought, theory, or idea, would I want to leave people with? Given the fact that the theme of TEDxSRCC was ‘Food for Thought’, I decided to speak upon a topic that I believe is more basic, more human and more important than success, hard work, passion or anything else: KINDNESS. For the distinct purposes of sounding cool, I named the talk ‘Don’t be an A**hole’. The talk is online now, but I’ve put out the full text below too:
(Including some points I missed in the video)
Please note two things:
1. It was an 18 minute talk so this is a LOOOOOOOONG Read. Like WTFHOWLONGISTHIS read.
2. This is not an article, it was a talk, so some of the humour written was specifically meant to be funny to the audience watching me speak and it may come across as lame. It probably came across as lame to them as well, but hey, don’t say I didn’t warn you!
So there we go:
DON’T BE AN ASSHOLE!
I want to start by clarifying one thing – for those who saw the description these guys had put about me on the Tedx page, there was this thing where it said that I’m a blogger for MTV Roadies. I promise you – that is not true anymore. I promise. If it was, the title of my speech today? It would make NO SENSE. This would then be a talk at TedxIRONY.
Having said that, I want to tell you guys a story. A few years ago, I travelled to Egypt on work. On the last night there, I went to a souvenir shop to buy a bunch of stuff for my family. The shop-owner of that place was a guy called Ahmed and Ahmed, for some reason, really LIKED the fact that I was buying stuff for my family. So much so that he offered to take me to his nightclub and show me belly dancing. Not HIS belly. And then just before I left he said – DON’T TRUST ANYONE IN EGYPT.
That should have been strike one right? But here’s the thing. I was incredibly boring back then. The wildest thing I had ever done was spike my hair – and that was because my mother has requested me to start being cool. So I called up Ahmed and told him that I’m ready to be wild. And then I left a note in my room saying ‘I’m going out with an unknown man named Ahmed. His shop is this his number is this, if I don’t come back please tell my mom I loved her.’
Strike two was Ahmed’s shady car. Strike three was him getting lost and not being able to find his own nightclub. I mean by this point I had basically realized that I was going to die tonight and that could be the BEST case scenario of what would happen to me. But when we eventually did reach the nightclub, I didn’t escape. That could probably be because I had nowhere to go to – but it was also because I really wanted to see how this would play out. WHAT DID AHMED WANT! I stayed as Ahmed got drunk, got loud, got emotional. And on the way back he almost started crying about how poor he was and how he was working hard to get his family money. That’s when I realized – he wanted money for me. This was going to be awkward. So I paid no attention to him and started figuring what’s the right amount to give him. I waited for him to ask the whole way back. He didn’t. We reached. As I awkwardly tried opening my wallet when he dropped me SAFE and SOUND – he said, thank you so much, I just thought you looked like a kind person and I hope we have more guys like you. Please stay friends.
I couldn’t sleep that night – I was not kind that day. He was the kind one. I was, in fact, an asshole. Someone who had been so ingrained to not trusting ANYONE being kind that I just naturally assumed anyone showing empathy was a liar. One of the great American writers, George Saunders, recently gave a keynote address where he spoke of how the only thing he regrets are “failures of kindness”. I failed to be kind that day too, and I tell this story today because while I talk about assholes, what I really want to tell you guys about is kindness.
THE THEORY OF KINDNESS
But before that – I want to tell you guys some statistics. That’s because I’ve seen a lot of TED Talks to prepare for this – yesterday night, basically, because after all, I’m still an engineer at heart – and I realized that the best TED talks have some amazing statistic that makes the audience go WOAH. So I’ll be kind and give you TWO:
There is something called the World Giving Index, that measures 130 countries on how kind they are. It’s basically about how kind we are. India ranks 93. Behind – I kid you not – IRAQ, PAKISTAN, BANGLADESH, AFGHANISTAN. I mean – these countries have NOTHING to give, how are they still giving more than us!?
The second statistic is my favourite: It has been scientifically proved that if you are kind – if you are not an asshole – the chance of you getting rich, famous and getting laid are basically a 100%. Yes, of course, I’m the one who proved that through my life. Well, not the getting laid part. And not the.. rich part.. and well, not the famous part either.. but that’s not the point.
Okay, so let’s not call what I just said a scientific fact but a theory – but this is a theory that I truly believe in with all my heart and soul and I’m going to spend the next.. 12 minutes.. in trying to convince you on why it works and why you should believe in it too. The theory is simple: The universe works in your favour if you are kind.
I genuinely, wholeheartedly believe that if you are kind to people
you know, to people you don’t know, to yourself, to the environment, to your body – okay I shouldn’t be talking about that – but if you are kind in general, you are going to be happy and successful. When I say kindness, I don’t mean a vague concept of politeness… or being ‘nice’. Gulab Jamun is ‘nice’. This spotlight is ‘nice’. Naveen Kasturia’s hair is ‘nice’. But I’m talking about ‘kind’, not ‘nice’. Kindness is about caring. It’s about compassion. It’s about empathy. It’s about giving a shit.
GEN D (DOESN’T GIVE A SHIT)
I mean I really don’t understand how it became cool to NOT GIVE A SHIT? I mean, I’m appalled – yes that’s how strongly I feel about it to use a word like appalled – I’m appalled that I come across so many people who ‘don’t give a shit’? You must have met them too. ‘Hey there was an earthquake the other day’. ‘I don’t give a shit bro’. ‘Hey people are dying of hunger and poverty’ ‘Talk to the hand’ ‘Hey you are an ASSHOLE’ ‘LOLZ WHAT A FUNNY WHATSAPP FORWARD HAHA’.
So when did this become cool? To not care?When did it become cool to wear earphones on purpose so no one would try and talk to us? When did it become alright fake texting people when going in elevators instead of smiling and saying hello? When did it become ok to be so self-involved and self-obsessed that we can’t even comprehend the pain and suffering around us, much less share it or be of help?
Let me put this in perspective. Let’s go back in time and imagine if Thomas Edison didn’t give a shit? ‘Kya yaar, who’s going to put in all this effort in making a light bulb… waise bhi I’m scared of the dark.’ Or if Alexander Graham Bell didn’t give a shit? ‘Ugh connecting people? Ugh why would anyone ever want to do that? People are stupid and I don’t give a shit.’ What if – and here’s an idea that will horrify you – what if Mark Zuckerberg didn’t give a shit? What would we LIKE then huh? How would we ever show our support to poor hungry children in Africa by liking their pictures and sharing their memes? But in all seriousness – if the guy who invented fire and the girl who invented the wheel was just like this generation and didn’t give a shit, we wouldn’t HAVE this generation. We’d still be half apes – which, when you think of it, may just be better than who we are today.
WE ARE ASSHOLES!
Because let’s be honest, we are assholes. We are people who quickly close an elevator quickly even when we see another person just about to enter it. We are people who walk in the middle of the road showing their hands to stop cars like we’re Ironman or something – that if YOU hit me it’s on YOU. And when we drive, oh man… we would honk and honk and honk in a traffic jam as if the guy in the car ahead is PURPOSELY not moving the car.. and when it’s our turn, we never EVER let another car overtake us because… tu jaanta hai mera baap kaun hai? We litter in public when no one is watching – and sometimes when everyone is – we pee on the road, we spit on the road, we park our vehicles wherever the hell we want, we are the people who will KILL one another to get into a Metro train!! I mean what kind of a species jumps queues – queues make us HUMAN!
These are just a few quick examples – but raise your hand if you have been one of these people. Hey, it’s okay, for the longest time, I was an asshole too, you should check out my twitter feed from 3 years ago. And to be honest, on certain days every month when I’m stuck on Western Express Highway between Kandivali and Andheri in traffic, I still am! Because it’s really hard to be kind – but just like all things hard, kindness is WORTH IT.
Because that’s the thing about kindness – kindness not only makes others happy, it makes YOU feel happy. And since happiness is really what we are all trying for, why would anyone be anything but kind? I believe *everything* and I really mean it when I say that – *everything* that makes the world a better place – or at least OUR world a better place – can be tied back to kindness.
EVERYTHING IS KINDNESS
Think about it: Why do we love our parents so much? Really THINK about it. It’s not just biology or their money that we love them for – well, at least most of us – it’s because they are kind to us. Their hearts beat for us. And we love that!! We love them because they CARE. Take the example of your BFF – why do you love him or her so much? Because when everything and everyone sucks, they say something kind and cheer us up! ‘Don’t worry it’s okay’ – that’s all you want to hear. A kind word. What do we love the love of our lives? Our better halves? Because they know EVERYTHING about us and YET they are kind to us!! So think about it – it’s actually kindness that we seek in everyone and it’s kindness that we really thrive on.
Think of the person who instantly puts a smile on your face – the most warm person in your life. Are they kind? Of course they are! Why would you smile thinking about someone who kills ants for pleasure? Even thinking of someone kind can put a smile on your face. I’ll give you a Bollywood example. Who is the most successful director in Bollywood today? Raju Hirani, who’s collectively made over 1000 crores from his movies. You know why his movies are so successful? Because they are about kindness! Jadoo ki jhappi is about kindness, gandhigiri is about kindness, ‘All is well’ is indirectly about kindness. This reminds me – I just saw Shandaar and they have this dialogue, ‘Everyone is sindhi’ – and I feel like I’m saying something similar in ‘Everyone is kind’. But hey, my message is better, right?
Because think again – religion! What do all our individual gods and religions really preach – at the core… at their deepest core… at their core core… Everyone really talks about kindness. Dalai Lama has said that kindness is his religion. Imagine a world like that – if kindness was the only religion and where *everyone* would be kind? There would be no left wing vs right wing – because we’d be kind enough to let everyone have their own opinion. They would be no straight vs homosexual – because we’d be kind enough to let everyone make their own decisions. Heck, there would be no BANS – because we’d be kind enough to let everyone live their own lives.
I truly believe that we can alter the course of the world, of someone’s life or even our own, if we are kind. Because Kindness begets kindness! I believe in the spiritual aspect of kindness. I believe in energy – I believe that if you are kind, and you spread that kindness, good things will happen to you. And I will tell you another story to prove that.
ONE MORE STORY & THE HELPER’S HIGH
I was in Turkey. Yes, somehow, all my stories today have international destinations in them…travelling is nice (not kind). So I had gone to turkey – well I was stuck in turkey on a layover. It was the start of a Eurotrip me and my brother took. We decided to kill time so we booked a cab to the nearest tourist spot. My father told me that he’s heard that Turkey cab drivers are scamsters so when it was time to pay the driver, I was very careful in calculating the exchange rate since I had to pay him in dollars. Turns out that this guy actually was charging less, so I decided to be kind and gave him more instead. He was a nice guy! On a completely different yet connected note, just before we had got into the car, I had told my younger brother that it was I who would keep both our passports because a) He was younger so pffft, obviously he was irresponsible, and b) I had bought a cool pouch for passports and I wanted to keep the passports in it with me.
So you know where this story is going right? Yup, I forgot my ‘cool pouch’ in the cab after getting off, along with my iPhone, my iPad, and miStuff. It’s a really long and funny story but in the interest of time I’m going to get straight to the end. After two hours involving Turkish police, a VERY angry sibling and more, I got a call from the place where the cab driver had dropped me off. The driver was back with my pouch and wanted me to come there to collect it. I profusely thanked him and asked him why he returned – he said because I was kind. Maybe older Arab gentlemen and I have some strange cosmic connection or perhaps the truth is – kindness is awesome.
Kindness is so infectious and that’s been scientifically proved. Not by me this time but by actual research, that says that there’s a phenomenon called Helper’s High, where every time you help someone or are kind, feel-good chemicals or endorphins are released in your body. Look it up –I have researched this before coming because, as I mentioned before, this is Tedx, so I wouldn’t come unprepared, right? So it turns out that recipients of kindness always pay it forward. It could be something as simple as – you know my mother travels alone sometimes and like all mothers has these HUGE suitcases and bags that she carries with her because she’s Indian. And it’s a fact that tells me that all is not lost in the world that each time she’s travelling there’s always someone who is kind to her and picks her bag. And because it happens to her, I ensure I do the same each time I travel and see someone older. In fact, I actively look for older people to help!!
Kindness can be cultivated like this. If people are kind other people see them and want to be kind too. I’ve been teaching college students for five years now, and every year, at the end of my semester I have this one class where I ask my students to be honest. I tell them to let their guards down and just talk about something that you really truly care about. That you feel for. That’s my favourite class of every year. These 20 year old kids have said some of the nicest, most beautiful, bravest things in those classes – from why praying is important to why homosexuality is not a sin. The reason I do this class is because in today’s age, we know everyone through their Facebook pages more than ever trying to get to know them. And this class is about showing people that there’s so much more to us than our names. If you *know* people you are going to be kind. It’s an exercise in compassion. You know how many people have come back to me and said – the other student used this private information against me? NONE. You know how many people have come back to me and said kindness is awesome? TONNE(S). ..Hey, that rhymed!
THE CULTURE OF DISCONNECTED TROLLS
I mean that’s really the thing that’s turning us into assholes isn’t it? The fact that because of the internet and technology and all these buttons we can hide behind, we don’t ever get to really know people – or think of them as real human beings with feelings. It’s amazing how the more the world gets connected, the more disconnected we get with each other. I mean if it was only indifference that would be one thing, but it disturbs me how we have moved towards being a culture of mean-spirited bullies.
Social media, instant messaging where the meanest comment gets liked, the loudest troll gets retweeted and the biggest asshole has the most fans, has turned us into assholes too. On the internet, we only see words, and not people. People who haven’t ever had the courage to step out and do things on their own are today sitting behind a computer screen and laughing at people who do, however good or bad they might be is besides the point. ‘Hey you SUCK’. ‘You can’t sing’. ‘You can’t act’. ‘You are ugly’. Who are we to judge someone’s talent? Who are we to judge? Social media gives us the power to be judge and jury but strangely, we don’t need facts to give any sort of verdict.
Take the very recent example of the picture of the drunk police officer in a Delhi metro that was being shared on Facebook with everyone calling him all sorts of names. I’m not saying here that he was a good person or that a police officer in duty clothes should be let go scot free. But my question is – how many of us knew ANYTHING more than the fact that this was a drunk officer in a metro? What if he had lost someone that evening and he was getting drunk to grieve? I’m giving an extreme scenario because the fact is, if we don’t know this to be true, how could we assume the other to be true – that he was, in fact, a drunk, alcoholic, asshole cop? There are so many times that we don’t know anything, then why are we unkind? Who are we to say someone’s way of living life or someone’s right to an opinion or someone’s way of expressing themselves is any better or any worse than someone else? We are now a culture that is quick to pull others down because they don’t meet *our* expectations of how *they* should lead their lives.
THE SCARY THING ABOUT BEING AN ASSHOLE The problem gets more grave and has a socio economic angle too. Yes, I went there. I now have the distinction of using the word ‘Roadies’ and the phrase ‘socio economic angle’ in the same talk. When we are not kind to people we become apathetic towards them and as a consequence, we are disrespectful or impolite or rude and sometimes contemptuous too. And this first comes out especially to those who are considered ‘weaker’ be us because of caste, creed, colour or class. Think about it – we would never go into an Armani store or a Zara story and haggle for discounts right, even when we are buying thousands of rupees worth of stuff? But we are ready to insult the poor hawker on the road for Rs 5 less on vegetables worth Rs 50 or the rickshawwala who doesn’t have change? We get SO UNKIND when the auto rickshaw driver doesn’t have change but we are ready to pay Rs 500 as service charges on food worth Rs 600 in expensive restaurants. We are unkind to beggars, to eunuchs, to anybody providing service to us like a watchman or a driver or a sales clerk, because they are considered ‘weaker’. Heck, we don’t even know their names! No one likes to be called ‘waiter’ or ‘driver’ or ‘watchman’ but that’s exactly how we address them! Do we genuinely believe that our lives are so tough so we don’t have time to be kind?
What a shitty excuse that is! How much time could it possibly take to be kind!? To say ‘thank you’ to someone or even smile back? If we think our lives are hard IMAGINE how hard the lives of people lesser privileged than us must be. And you know what the socio economic consequence of this is? When auto rickshaw drivers refuse to ply to us. The carpenter you called to your house takes more time than necessary to get things done. The house help steals something every now and then. It’s not on them – WE are to blame. The larger picture is that some of the horrible crimes that happen in our country – and especially in cities like this where the class divide is very obvious – those crimes are violent crimes. They are crimes that stem from anger. Because WE have created a circumstance where a lesser privileged person feels humiliated and ashamed that they are lesser privileged because WE are unkind and we selectively choose to be nice to people who come from money.
I mean, what a shame. We’d rather be assholes and see the world around us descend into chaos than just be kind. And I have also noticed how it’s become unfashionable to be kind. Kind people are boring – unexciting. ‘Oh he’s ‘nice’. What an idiot!’ We are scared to be kind because it’s looked down upon!!! If anything, it takes courage to be kind in today’s uncynical world. It takes bravery and a certain kind of heart to GIVE a shit when no one else around you really seems to care. It takes a certain kind of good crazy to NOT ‘move on’. And it’s not uncool at all – because kind people are always more successful than unkind ones. Because people WANT to be around people who make them feel good about themselves. People are generous to those who have shown them generosity.
KINDNESS IS AWESOME
Take it from me: I’ve been standing here in front of you for the past 17 minutes and doling out LONG gyaan, because I’m probably considered successful by the organizers of this event because my ‘CV’ has ticked off certain check boxes that add up to ‘Tedx speaker’. And I can tell you first hand, while many others in my field strongly believe in ‘networking’, I believe in being kind to people and being actual friends with them – and hey, I’m both happy and I guess, ‘successful’ in the conventional way. A lot of this success has to do with the fact that I’ve worked my ass off, sure, but the secret is: that the other part of it is because I’ve been a kind person… and hence, the universe has worked in my favour.
The fact is, life is not about what you do as much as it is about how you go about doing it. People will forget your work, your degree, your bank balance, but they will always, always remember how you made them feel. Especially if you were kind.
So I’m going to go back again and implore you all: be kind. Believe me, when I say that, I don’t mean I want you all to go donate your kidneys. It can be little things you do, that will go a long way in making you happy and in making this world a better place. Little things! For eg. Say ‘Thank you’, when you are given a service by anyone – the rickshawala, the waiter, the bai. Say ‘Thank You’ anyway. Thank yous are nice. I send a thank you mail at the end of every year to everyone who was kind to me – you know why? Because acknowledging those who are kind is ALSO kind. Give someone a compliment. Tell people who are awesome that they are awesome. Ask your sabziwala to keep the change. Hold the door for the person who’s coming behind you. Open a door for someone else! Keep the lift open if someone wants to enter. Give 20 bucks to the guy who’s come to deliver a 1000 Rs order. Smile at a stranger. Smile anyway. Smiling is awesome. Treat a kid begging on the street to some junk food. Find out the names of all the people who are giving you a service! LIKE a happy post, SHARE a kind post and RETWEET those who ask you to care. Be respectful, be polite, and really, start giving a shit. Don’t be an asshole – there are already too many of them in the world.