The multi-million dollar productions of Bollywood in which most of the mysteriously raised budget is expended on elaborate song and dance sequences featuring the choreographed efforts of lead actors who may well be portraying learned professors and nuclear scientists, are studiously avoided by your editor as theatre of the absurd. Nevertheless, once in a blue moon Bollywood’s cinema factory churns out a feature with a purpose.
The 132-minute feature film Talvar directed by Meghna Gulzar and produced by Vishal Bhardwaj, both big names in mainstream Bollywood, is a refreshing departure from the staple fare of Indian cinema. Talvar re-investigates the famous Aarushi murder case that hit media headlines seven years ago and resulted in the conviction by a sessions court of her parents, Noida-based Dr. Rajesh and Nupur Talwar for the honour killing of their daughter and manservant Hemraj. By detailing sloppy investigation of the crime committed in the Talwars’ home and numerous acts of commission and omission of policemen who first arrived on the crime scene, the movie raises suspicion of a grave miscarriage of justice.
The director does a competent job of highlighting the failure of the Delhi police to prevent the crime scene being overrun by media personnel and the public. The sub-text of the movie is the poor calibre of the police, with senior officers anxious to manipulate the evidence to suit their surmises and premature conclusions.
In this connection it’s also pertinent to note that the Talwars have appealed the sessions court verdict in the Allahabad high court where at the current pace of case disposal, their appeal will be heard 25 years hence. Although Talvar doesn’t prove the Talwars’ innocence, it certainly raises enough doubts about the verdict to fast-track their appeal. Despite the director glossing over the hysteria generated by television news channels in influencing the court’s decision and condoning third degree interrogation, Talvar is an intelligent film which indicates that all is not lost in Bollywood.
The decision taken by the editors of the path-breaking American magazine Playboy, which was famously launched with a nude centrefold of Hollywood icon Marilyn Monroe in 1953, to stop publishing nude photos of women, marks the end of an era in print magazine publishing. The monthly was conceptualised by Hugh Hefner, and in typical American style Playboy mag enabled Hefner, who is still alive and kicking, to establish the Playboy empire, spanning nightclubs, garments, perfumes and holiday resorts which have earned him a personal net worth of $43 million (Rs.281 crore).
Inevitably, the Playboy success story inspired clones around the world, including in this beggared socialist republic. In 1971, the first issue of Debonair was published and intermittently thereafter until the late Vinod Mehta took over as editor in 1975.
Debonair which in Playboy style began publishing nude photos of foreign and indigenous women, found a ready market among repressed males in urban India where patriarchy and social mores prohibited pre-marital social — let alone sexual — interaction between young men and women. Although it followed the Playboy model by featuring lengthy interviews with intellectuals which under the formula provides a veneer of respectability, Debonair remained an under-the-counter magazine on the margins of the law.
To cut a long story short, your correspondent was appointed editor of Debonair in 1988. Driven by the belief that young aspirational males want to improve themselves and go beyond ogling women, your correspondent set about introducing new sections on manners and gender sensitivity backed by a strong literary section.
True, circulation fell. Advertising, however, increased as Debonair became more respectable. But when I chose a black beauty for the centrefold, it was too much for publisher Sushil Somani and I was banished into the ranks of India’s 40 million educated unemployed. The moot point is that awareness that minimally attired ladies are more attractive than fleshy nudes — which has dawned upon Playboy and Debonair editors today — was presciently practised by your correspondent several decades ago.
The fact that over 30 writers, authors and scholars have returned the awards conferred upon them by the Sahitya Akademi (estb. 1954), promoted by — although independent of — the Central government, for its failure to forthrightly condemn the murder of several scholarly rationalists including Narendra Dabholkar and Govind Pansare in Maharashtra and most recently M.M. Kalburgi in Karnataka, is a matter of utmost concern which has not received the attention it should in Indian academia.
That’s perhaps because the akademi, comfortably housed in the sprawling Rabindra Bhawan in Delhi, has always been dominated by writers and intellectuals of often doubtful credentials from the Hindi belt and its “parent organisation” is the Union ministry of culture, currently being lorded over by controversial minister Mahesh Sharma who described the mob-lynching of a citizen in UP for the crime of storing beef in his refrigerator as “an accident”.
However, after writers from all parts of the country returned their awards — and 29 of them their award money as well — on October 22, the akademi issued a statement condemning the murder of Kalburgi and requested the writers to take back their awards. But attacks on authors and intellectuals by fringe groups of the sangh parivar (‘RSS family’) continue unabated while prime minister Narendra Modi, who spends most of his time wowing foreign audiences with his vikas (development) agenda for resurgent India, maintains a studied silence on the deteriorating law and order situation back home. Somebody has to grasp the nettle and educate the prime minister, whose formal education was sacrificed in service of the RSS, that maintenance of law and order is the primary responsibility of all governments. Everything else is subsidiary.