From smack-bang in the middle of the bell curve

Archive for December, 2008|Monthly archive page

Sometimes the truth is not enough

In blah, Superhero, top 10 on December 25, 2008 at 5:04 pm

I’ve always been used to fairly simplistic super-hero movies. The ‘typical’ superhero has a standard set of abilities, which usually mean above average physical strength, one unique power and a monk-like righteousness. The story revolves around these as a given with a cute love-interest, a quickly-passing moral dilemma and yes, the villain, with powers that just about match those of the hero.

Its not like we don’t know how the story is going to pan out, I’ve always found they’re fun to watch nevertheless, because of the always improving special effects and the no fuss victory of good over evil that end with the superhero kissing his love interest, lots of applause all around and a burning city in the background. Makes you wonder whether only tourists form the cheering crowds given I wouldn’t be jumping around waving wildly if my home or office or both had just been leveled by marauding alien robots (Transformers), blown away by a flying man dressed in bright red (Superman) or simply punched aside by a huge pissed off green dude in pants that seem to have torn around the calves (The Incredible Hulk). More likely taking pictures for the insurance claim.

I’d done my top 4 list of superheroes way back when not all of them had been turned into moderately successful movie franchises. And since everyone loves a superhero, I didn’t pay much attention to the brouhaha over the latest DC comics offering ‘The Dark Knight’. I’d even seen it, since I and the missus have an unsaid rule about watching any superhero flick that comes out (and I do mean ‘any’, since we’ve even watched ‘The Fantastic Four’! Invisibility, biceps made of rocks and spontaneous combustibility might be very practical powers, but what self-respecting hero acts like a rubber band!). Memories of batman limited to an evidently gay side-kick exclaiming “Holy utility belt Batman!”, a long week and a 11.15pm show meant that I didn’t catch much more than the opening credits, closing credits and some exploding buildings and yet felt I’d got the gist of it.

I finally actually watched it on dvd and woah! The batmobile and the bike must be the best looking modes of transport used by any superhero. Come to think of it, most superheroes don’t rely on mechanical modes of transport so there’s not much to compare. The supporting characters are not as one-dimensional as I usually like them. The villain describes himself as “a dog chasing cars”, sets fire to a mountain of cash and extols the virtues of chaos. He oozes menace in the way he makes clear that he wants to gain nothing and had nothing to lose. But it’s the last sequence that erased all memories of brightly silly exclamations and anatomically correct outfits (remember Alicia Silverstone?). There are no wildly cheering crowds. Only the body of Harvey Dent, activist District Attorney reduced to Two-Face. Commissioner Gordon saying

“He’s the hero Gotham deserves…but not the one it needs right now. So we’ll hunt him, because he can take it. Because he’s not our hero…he’s a silent guardian…a watchful protector…A dark knight”

Brilliant!

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Its a free country, isn’t it

In blah, opinion, rant on December 2, 2008 at 6:11 am

It’s a cacophony of strident voices calling for action. The course is not very important, that there be one, is, very. Depending on what proportion of the words being expressed get the benefit of some cerebral horsepower, the courses vary from lighting a bunch of candles to giving the law enforcers tank armour for vests to installing battletanks outside hotel entrances to exercising our nuclear options against the neighbour, all accompanied with varying levels of reasoning underlined with “Take action!” then of course there are the opinions that aren’t saddled with the baggage of logic. These mostly involve rescinding the “secular” sections in our constitution as a fitting riposte to those who believe that making ones point involves plastic explosive and Kalashnikov rifles.

There is one underlying assumption in most of those lines of thought, that the root cause of our vulnerability to terror attacks is incompetence. The picture in everyone’s mind is a bunch of bungling bureaucrats and officials who can’t tell an approaching group of terrorists from the local group of party workers (actually, who can). Sure, it probably does not help that the average years of education imbibed by each of the elite members of parliament or legislature could be counted on one hand, but I believe, the root cause is beyond incompetence.

What do the Rs 100 payoff to the traffic cop at the signal for overlooking the slight infraction and the Rs 200,000 paid to the local corporator to ensure uninterrupted water supply have in common? Zoom out a little, and you have going rates for any kind of permission or right. Building contractors haggle over how much they need to pay the local representative to garner the plum contract. There is a line of work that involves getting agricultural land classified as commercial, thus multiplying its price literally overnight. In the nation’s capital, every confrontation resulting from a fender bender begins with reeling off the names of politicians that each participant has on his cell phone and can therefore the extent to which they can defy the law. Corruption. It’s a way of life, so deeply embedded in the Indian psyche that we look at it as fair cost of conducting the daily business of living. Sure, but what does it have to do with machine-gun toting maniacs?

Simple really. Does power corrupt or does it attract the corrupt? The latter, I believe. Just look at the profiles of each of the respected MPs or MLAs that govern this nation. Toss a stone and you’re more likely to hit one charged with multiple homicides than a novice who was just booked for disturbing the peace. These are the people who decide everything from expenditure on infrastructure, education, defense, law enforcement. Everything. A look at the income tax returns filed by these individuals does not require the paranoia of conspiracy theorists to guess that the only function of governance is to bleed the country dry for personal gain. The wealth amassed is then used to defend the fortress of power by making sure corruption reaches the grass-roots, in the form of television sets or bags of rice. In the midst of all this, they make some mundane decisions about whether India should sign the nuclear 1-2-3 agreement. Definition of a soft target anyone?

This august group is now responsible for developing the capabilities to evaluate and identify threats to India’s national security. To fund the right programs that enable building capabilities to erode the capabilities of terrorist groups to launch attacks, to develop early-warning systems to consider scenarios and ever-increasing means of attack, to address the root of the causes that precipitate local support to the outsiders. Is it not so much easier to reshuffle cabinet and post a truck full of soldiers within shouting distance of the gateway? Unless, someone tells them the contract sizes involved in installing a closed-circuit network across the city…

A lot of what I’ve said was under the premise that educated and driven leadership would de facto see beyond their personal gains but a slew of saber-rattling emails on a forum for supposedly measured and insightful discussion suggest that maybe the latter group might be afflicted with whatever leads a drunk to look for his lost keys under the lamp post and also punch the lamp post in the process. But hey, isn’t that one of the perks of democracy.

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