Monday, May 4, 2009

'Inspired': The Anu Malik-ization of Election Ads

Back in November after the U.S. elections were over, I was leafing through an India Today with Barack Obama on the cover when one of our department's staff remarked wonderingly "Wow...look at that- Obama on the cover of India Today." Mixed with the optimism and relief we all felt in early November (remember that?) there was bemusement in her voice: indeed, the persona of the US President went almost overnight from being the object of derision and ridicule to one that people around the world celebrate and even emulate...suddenly American politics is glamorous again. Move over Carla Bruni, Michelle is here.

Of course, the election of the US President is a pretty big deal in general and not just because of the (admittedly rare) Obama factor. US politics is so damned entertaining. Think about the last elections-the drama of Hilary vs. Obama, the Palin spectacle, the showmanship of the conventions, the side characters like Ron Paul or Joe the plumber. There were holograms on election night. I rest my case!

So maybe it's only natural that some of this glitz transfers to the ongoing elections in India (insert obligatory line about worlds largest democracy and world's most powerful one). While, there are no Obama's on the horizon- I've been interested and amused to see the message of 'get the vote out' lifted almost directly from the US election discourse. In a country where 'chalta hai' (a combination of 'whatever' and 'let it be'- what do you think of that translation, fellow Hindi speakers?) is a way of life, there's a new, discernibly pious sense of duty evident amongst the 'glitterati' and upper classes (who tend to be less electorally active than poor, rural citizens). Getting 'inked' on election day is cool in a way that I don't recall it being before. I can't help thinking that the language of 'rock the vote' and 'make a difference' is familiar but somehow inorganic. My nagging intuition got confirmed when I saw this:

Lets see...

Full of hot stars? check
Slickly shot? check
well meaning? check
earnest? check

slightly holier than thou and annoying? check.

WHERE have I seen this before? Hmmm...

I KNEW it!!! There's less swearing in the Indian one, which is also mercifully shorter but there it is...continuing a fine tradition of bollywood copying stuff it likes with its own je ne sais qoui. Ah, the triumph of American packaging- they make even Indian elections sexy.

Now lets just find our Obama...

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Mega Make Up D-List

It's been a while since I did a good D-List. I have 3 months to catch up on actually which is a tall order. Instead of trying to cram in 3 months worth of favs, I'm just going to pretend that I never stopped blogging and that that little writers block never happened at all...which I think is also good advice for the stuck dissertator (something we know about all too well) is the mega make-up D List:

Best Book: Three books vie for top honours here (this is fair because it's 3 months worth of posting I'm doing here, right?) The first is the intelligent and bitterly funny 'A case of Exploding Mangoes' by Hanif Mohammed. The second is 'A supposedly fun thing I'll never do again' by David Foster Wallace. And the third is 'Sacred Games',
Vikram Chandra's epic book about Bombay. This is roughly the order I read the books in. I read the books straight through (no mean feat for 'Sacred Games' which is a 1000 pages long) and each time, felt transported to different worlds. A case of exploding mangoes gave me an insight into the ultimate 'other' for many Indians- Pakistan- at once so familiar and so different, so close and yet so far. There's something about Pakistan's politics and leaders that fascinates me- they're so charismatic and colorful (whether the Bhutto's or Musharraf)- devious but dashingly so. General Zia was in power before my time so it was hilarious and educative to read this fictional portrait of the man- what could be more compelling than the story of his mysterious death and why it might have happened in the larger context of the mysteries of Pakistani politics? Mohammed has a really unpretentious style and authentic voice- actually all of them do- they're unapologetic about their styles and do not dumb it down for lazy readers. Sacred Games is about the parallel and intertwined lives of Bombay Cops and the dons they deal with. Like 'A case of..' it also is based on real life figures - Arun Gawli (the Bombay don) amongst others. Before reading this book, I had no idea how much the 'underworld' actively runs Bombay. Reading about the symbiotic lives of these people (and so many other characters - like the rising Bollywood star (modeled on Aishwarya?), slum dwellers, prostitutes, businessmen, random criminals etc.) took me into another, incredibly tough, gritty yet ALIVE world. I love that Chandra does not make he obvious allowances for foreign readers- he writes the way he wants to write, following it is up to the reader. Finally, the middle book is a selection of essays by the late, great David Foster Wallace, who I really got into really after his death last year. I liked Infinite Jest well enough but it's his non-fiction that really moves me. His essay on being on a cruise liner is just brilliant in its observation of social manners, the language and culture of American tourism and the class hierarchies and insecurities therein. I only wish I could read him without constantly thinking of how much despair lay behind someone so talented, funny, keenly observant, full of empathy for human beings (and animals) and truly intelligent. I'm sad that I'm constantly reading with his suicide in mind and interpreting his words with that knowledge in mind, much like when I listen to Nirvana. Again, he owns his style (the extensive footnotes, the digressions into literary theory, the details) and does not reward lazy readers.

Whew....This turned into a bit of a review, huh? In a nut shell, if you're interested in any of these themes- I heartily recommend these three books. ok, moving on...

Best Article: I want to say David Foster Wallace (especially "Consider the Lobster and of course the Cruise ship article "A Supposedly fun...") but it's a bit of a cop out. So I'll say I really enjoyed two articles on Iceland: the first in a book about happiness that looked at why Icelanders (?) are so happy despite the odds nature has dealt them which made an interesting and ironic foil to the article in Vanity Fair about how and why they bankrupted themselves so spectacularly last year. Both articles chalk it up to something peculiar about the Icelandic people and their isolated geographical space. Very interesting.

Best Academic article: For this category I will look to the past and to the future- to the past because I had the distinct pleasure of meeting and talking to a scholar whose work deeply informs my research: Jennifer Mitzen is not only whip smart but also very nice. So I enjoyed revisiting her excellent, thought provoking 2006 article on 'Ontological Security' (a fact that should please my dad since he liked the word 'ontology'!) - I really should revisit that work every few weeks...As for the future, part of my job allows me to look at the work of a lot of doctoral students around the country (and outside). Most of this work is not really up my alley but some projects really make me think 'wow, wish I'd thought of that.' Won't give those away but it's cool to be able to get a sense of the larger themes in the field right now. Biggest themes: post-conflict reconstruction, counter-insurgency, NGO's and women and lots of IPE. Also lots of Latin America related studies, perhaps natural?

Best Blog: Seth's Blog (which I link to on here)- and I'm not just saying that because he's my friend. Only complaint - he doesn't post nearly as much as he should. (Yes: Pot. Kettle. Black)

Best New Discovery: 1. Mail merge- I can never believe when the whole thing just comes together 2. Kamikazes (the drink not the pilots) 3. 20 bucks hidden away in one of my purses.

Best Meal: God sooo many...from ribs at Dinosaur BBQ, to the banana pudding (a meal in itself), to Turkish everythings- breakfasts, Bluebelle's Borek and Hunkar Begendi (my fav Turkish dish)- this is hard to pick. If I HAD to pick one I would say the Saravana Bhawan meal in NYC (which was also one of my top 5 NYC highlights (a blogging idea that fizzled out, in case you didn't notice)). There's nothing like a good dosa! And this was a good dosa- it immediately made me think of Bangalore and Neelgiris and many happy memories- like a good meal should.

Here is a very large Bhatura...

But apart from the wonderful dosas..the best meal should go to the Iron Chef competition that I had with Dolly. It was great fun- Dolly is a fierce competitor and we both took the fight very seriously, as did our great panel of judges (including blog favs chanbong and machete). They engineered it so that neither of us lost (very sweetly) but it was a win-win situation because of the delicious food and great laughs...Here is the eggplant part of the challenge - mine on top, Dolly's on the bottom (by the time cheese rolled around we were too stuffed to even take a picture)

Best Song: March was all about Just Dance by Lady Gaga. I'm sure I will hate everything else this person (what kind of name is lady gaga?) does but this song is hopelessly addictive and catchy. This month (as a reaction to Gaga I'm sure) I've been cleansing my palate with some classic melodies and classical music... Finally, John Mayer gave us fans a sneak peek at a couple of songs that he's working on for the new album- it's been cool to tag along for the process of making an album (via the tweets, videos and pics etc.) but songs are a different and generous matter- I liked 'Heartbreak Warfare' - it's going to be killer when it's done...

Best Moments: New York, Opening a package to find my dad's (very witty and erudite) book in it, getting a summer grant, spending a lazy afternoon eating ice cream, arguing heatedly and then giggling helplessly with con-verse and kultur vulture: truly, there is nothing as special as a lovely afternoon with good friends. The great eggplant/cheese iron chef challenge and Kultur Vulture's birthday with special friends- a night to remember and finally, watching spring unfold in all its glory. The cherry blossoms are lovely all over campus- that white tree is currently my fav tree...

Best Movie: I haven't seen too many movies but I have an (unlikely) pick. I saw an old Hindi movie (a few years old) called 'Mixed Doubles'. On the face of it this had all the ingredients for a disaster - Hindi comedy (read slapstick, over-acted hamming), about 'wife swapping' (potentially crude beyond belief), low budget (not always good in the bollywood scenario) and a lead actor who was a VJ of all things! But the actors intrigued me (Konkona Sen, Naseeruddin Shah and Rajat Kapoor?) and so I gave it a go...and whaddya know? It wasn't half bad!! Konkona can ACT and Rajat Kapoor is becoming my ISI mark (what's the US equivalent?) of a decent movie- he doesn't seem to do bad ones, as far as I know.

Lessons Learned: 1. Academic snobbery is rampant. And academic snobs are really kind of pathetic. 2. Money is not funny, even in a rich man's world. 3. sometimes if you fry onions and garlic together -it turns a bright, metallic, toxic looking green (this freaked me out when it happened on the day of the iron chef challenge).

Challenges of the Months: Time change, Time itself and, as of the last few days- feeling alarmed every time I sneeze.