Featured Posts

Wednesday, October 29

Good day for ducks...and dogs

There are two ways to react when you're subjected to a problem. One is to grab the bull by the horn and bring it down to its knees. Simple words, tackle the situation.

Another way, and the easiest one, is to walk away from the situation, so far that the heat of the issue doesn't burn your skin anymore. This is the option which seems to have attracted the Corporation of Trivandrum when it came to dealing with a perennial trouble: the floods in the city center.

Ever since Trivandrum grew out of its walls half a century back, the residents have been tormented by this menace after even the slightest drizzle. And after torrential monsoon rains the city roads morphed itself into an elaborate canal system mimicking Venice at its best. The major vessels of the city system got clogged, including the biggest market of South Kerala- Chalai, the City and long distance Bus Terminals, the Central Railhead and hundreds of offices and commercial establishments. Not to mention the poor public getting stuck in knee and chest high, murky waters, with no way of reaching dry grounds.

Trivandrum Central Bus Terminal after a rain!!

With Trivandrum being the focal point of road-rail transport in Kerala, disruption in the Central terminals meant disintegration of the whole system, statewide. The signal and control gadgets of Railways went haywire during floods, costing the system crores in repair alone. The capital city brought to a standstill just in one bout of rain was a common feature, and all this went on for decades right under the noses of the authorities. For the past 60 years, as much as 75 crores have been sacrificed at the alter of the 'flood management works', including the redesign and elevation of 2 culverts and roads, but the pest is still at loose.

Trivandrum with its undulating geography has enough natural systems for drainage, but haphazard development and brainless planning has hit our city in a bad bad way. Of late it seemed as if the situation has improved a bit, but below are the scenes from the heart of Trivandrum after the torrential downpours early this month...

pic courtesy Kerala Kaumudi

pic courtesy Malayala Manorama

The ladies and gentlemen in the above pics appear delighted and amused, may be stirred by the flash, but this is no water theme park to go on a fun ride. Those waters have washed up all the slop, sludge and sullage from the nearby canals and you wouldn't want your dog take a plunge in it.

On quizzed about this early this year, our CM Mr. V. S. Achutanandan urged that Trivandrumites should bear with the floods, and experts from outside the state will be called in for a solution. In the meantime the authorities came up with an ingenious plan to solve all the problems... Shift the Bus and Railway stations to the suburbs!

An official at the Corporation went on record saying that Kochuveli Railway station and Enchakkal Bus stand will solve the ailments caused by flooding in the city! This may just mean the end of the road for the businesses and residences around East Fort and Thampanoor...Those new developments should be planned and developed as per the needs of the neo-town sprouting along the Bypass, and not as a face saving escape from the floods in Trivandrum. The drains and canals must be cleaned and deepened, ensuring speedy drain of stromwater from the city center. The TS Canal, rather called Parvathy Puthanar, the misnomer waterbody cursed into carrying the mire of the city, must essentially be desilted and made navigable. Urgent measures be taken to prevent seepage of sewage and waste products into the Canal, which has the potential to turn Akkulam lake into a filth-swamp.

Parvathy Puthanar

All too easy to tell, but this is where our system beats us... lock, stock and barrell. To carry out the plan of action we need the assistance and co-operations from various Govt Departments like the Corporation, Water Authority, Public Works Dept (PWD), Railways, Telecommunications, Environment Ministry and all those contraptions in the system, which is almost impossible to achieve.

Each dept does things on their own, leaving big chunks of work to others... This happened during the widening of the Amayizhanjan Canal, when the PWD workers encountered a Water Authority pipe line while digging...The digging halted, and never restarts because those pipes were never realigned. A key canal crosses under the railway platforms in Trivandrum Central, but no excavations and cleaning is possible because it may harm the structural integrity of the tracks. TS Canal was desilted and all the sludge poured into the banks, turning the environmentalists and residents against the works. And the succeeding rains washed up all the deposits back into the canal..

Square one!

Monsoon in India

So the problem remains a problem... A Mumbai 2005 scenario may be far fetched to fear about, but these freak floods does make life damp in this aspiring city. All Indian cities, not just Trivandrum, are severely ill-equipped to handle such a common weather pattern. From our experience with mother nature, we must build our cities for human beings..and we are no amphibians...

As of now it is more suited for ducks if it rains...

Friday, October 17

The Celluloid & Behind- PART II

The Silverscreen woes...

We've discussed about the dogfights in the backyard of Malayalam film industry in Part I. Now back to what really matters here: the movie itself...

A fortnight back I read a review about a Tamil movie "Subramaniyapuram", claiming to be finest among the new age Tamil films. The review claimed that Malayalam film makers would have to wait at least 50 more years to make a film of such class.

Well, the fact that Tamil film industry is yet to churn out something of the class of "Moonam Pakkam", "Thoovanathumbikal", "Mathilukal", "Oru Vadakkan Veeragatha" or "Sargam", altercate that statement. True, movie makers like Bharatiraja and Mani Ratnam have carved a niche for themselves in the Tamil scenario, but the 1980-1990 Malayalam movies were a class apart, IMHO.

Mohanlal and Sumalatha in Thoovanathumbikal

Biased, you may feel, but I'm confident about arguing the point.

Now I'm not an art-film quirk to go blah blah about the Adoor Gopalakrishnan or Satyajith Ray movies; on the contrary I prefer the mainstream movies, or the so-called commercial ones. I'd still watch Chithram, Sholay or An Officer and a Gentleman, even if it is the 100th time, but I may fall asleep over Piravi...No offense meant. But the trouble seems to be that I feel like a rat-in-a-trap watching the contemporary Malayalam movies...

So what has gone terribly wrong with our movie makers in such a short span of time? Movies, as a major medium of communication and entertainment are so closely knit to the culture of a nation, and a deterioration of this sorts are a matter of worry. Malayalam movie industry is still revolving around the two stars of the century; the Big Ms...When the amount of fresh talents thrown up in the Tamil or Hindi movie scenario, both in front and behind the camera is just mind boggling, Keralites are still reluctant to part with Mammootty and Mohanlal. To make things worse, they both fail to mature on the screen with age. Both of them are trying hard to do things they cant...Mammootty in dancing and Mohanlal in those super-hero roles..Oh, and I'm all mixed up with the Suresh Gopi films because he is on a never-ending chase after murderers, with a gun in his hand.

The gifted scriptwriters and imaginative directors are gone for good, and we sorely miss the magical frames of Padmarajan, bold and colourful life portrayed by Bharathan, the straight-from-the-life scripts of Lohitadas, M.T. Vasudevan Nair or even the themed 'translations' of Priyadarshan. Now-a-days, except for the occasional lone brilliance from the likes of Lal Jose or Syamaprasad the future looks bleak and blank...and bore.


Those out there are creating a generation cursed to watch, applaud and enjoy mediocrity. Some of the blockbuster flicks, especially from the dawning superstar Dileep, wouldn't have created even a ripple in the Golden 80s. Some of the stars we managed to 'find', found their oasis across the border. Vikram is an example, and going by the history, Prithviraj may soon become out of reach for our movie industry.

The dearth of talents is only one part of our miseries; lack of fresh ideas and innovations, escalating costs, frigidity in improvising and piracy are strangulating the industry. The turbulent relationships between the various associations drain the sand under their own feet. The industry hit a new low early this decade when the thunder thighs of Shakkeela ruled the celluloid with her soft porn...To crown it all, now the theater owners have jumped in to further escalate the crisis.

Our new-gen movie makers desperately need to recognize the standards of the viewing public. The reason why Keralites prefer the physics-challenging antics of Rajanikanth and the laid-down formula movies in Tamil to the Malayalam movies is because the same local movies question the appreciating and understanding qualities of the public. Ever seen Ocean's Eleven, a pucca commercial venture from the Hollywood? The simplicity and ease in which a very complex plot was filmed must be an eye opener to our movie makers. Director Stephen Soderberg didn't have to spell out each letter and syllable of the script to the audience to understand what it was all about.

There is no point in elaborating about films by Kim ki-duk, Sergio Leone or Hayayo Miyazaki who are just master craftsmen at work. I'm too inadequate myself to brief you on their movies. Adoor and Shaji.N. Karun lifted up our spirits for a while, but far in between. As of now, the party seems over, and there are no signs of a rejuvenation.

Once upon a time in the West, a Sergio Leone classic

This may just mean another couple of decades with Mammooty and Lal! Oh, in 2025 they'd still be romancing Dileep's daughter on the screen...Wonder if there'd be anyone in the Talkies to see'em..:)

Sunday, October 12

The Celluloid & behind- PART I

There is one commodity in this state which is going from bad to worse and to worst, both qualitatively and quantitatively- the Malayalam film industry.

I remember my college days when I was nothing short of a movie freak. I spent more time on Theater push-backs and in front of Video players than on classroom benches. The celluloid thrilled my senses than any form of entertainment I could think of. The intellectual Trivandrum film fraternity, ubiquitous film shows, ample opportunities to understand World Cinema and a peer group consisting some agile movie critics moulded the way I saw and understood films.

And I always loved Malayalam movies, especially the ones created by Padmarajan, Bharatan, Fazil, Sibi Malayil(in his Golden times), Kamal(before he lost his plot) and even Priyadarshan, Satyan Anthicad and co. The movies made in the 80s until mid 90s had something unique and magnetic in them...the script, music, the way the story was told, the astounding feats of acting... The over whelming no of awards and accolades which cascaded into the Malayalam movie industry during the 90s is a testimony.

Ah, the Golden years bygone... for good, for good...

It hurts visualizing the pathetic, turbulent and violent screenplays unfolding in Malayalam movie industry at present. The sad part being that the scenes behind the screen are far sub-standard to the ones we see on it. There seems to be an eternal fight scene going on in the background, between producers and actors, superstars and not-so-super stars, actors and technicians, directors between themselves and finally between producers and theater owners...

At times this catfight really turns sour, with some of the individuals completely forgetting that they have the spotlight on them and what they utter is telecast to millions of family audiences. Such is the foul language and dung-flinging that the strong language used on V/U certified movies appear as benign as nursery rhymes. Eg: the recently ended Vinayan- MACTA war.

Just as the Director's drama reached anti-climax another ferocious and potentially grave conflict broke out among the Producers and the theater owners. Theater owner's strange and unreasonable demand that new releases be curtailed to just 48 centers was ridiculed and discarded by the producer's association. A movie is owned by the Producer and infiltrating into the marketing rights of a Producer made no sense. Even big injustice was the denial of viewing rights for the most undervalued, underestimated, neglected and abused section of the movie industry: the viewers.

The paying public was forced into B and C class centers of Kerala as the A-Class Talkies owners refused to screen the new releases, including the two superstar flicks. Allowing a small section of the big silverscreen community to hijack the whole industry and shake the foundations of this enterprise sums up the present condition of Malayalam Film scenario... Rockbottom...

Like the similar and anti-public associations like the Trader's Union(Vyapari Vyavasayi Ekopana Samithi) and Petrol Bunk Owner's Association, these film unions seem to be on a race to come out front in consumer harrassment...

New Theater, Trivandrum

It was reported that a newer Superstar movie grossed 25% more in half the no of days the previous no: 1 blockbuster managed. This created a new trend in Kerala: releasing maximum no: of prints to maximum no: of theaters and collect the returns in minimum time. Today movies are screened on more than 100 centers statewide as against 25-30 a few years back, maximizing the chance of a healthy return for the Producer. I don't see a flaw in this distribution tactic as all around the world this is how it is done. The Talkies Owners cried foul in this deal as they feared their individual income would be cut short.

The golden rule in any Industry is that you have to adapt to the changes and only the fittest will survive. Moreover this is a move which is beneficial even to theaters in rural areas and not just to a few big-guns in big cities. Movie distribution all around the world is transforming to digital distribution where any theater owner can download a new flick and exhibit in his center. 100 day celebrations are going to be a thing of the past.

Also the theater dadas may well be prepared for the Multiplex mania that we are going to see in our cities very soon. At least 8 new multiplexes are planned in Trivandrum alone, 5 of them being greenfield ones. Over 30 screens are going to get added to the city in 3-4 years time, almost doubling the existing capacity. I'd bet on the public discarding the existing theaters right in the middle of the city gridlocks for the sophisticated pleasures of the Multiplex-malls in the Bypass and peripheries.
PVR Multiplex in Bangalore

That was all about the backyard news in Malayalam film industry. Now back to what really matters here: the movie itself...Continue reading here in Part II

Tuesday, October 7

State No: 1...Again!

This post is inspired from Ajay Prasad's post and Mindcurry's article on the same subject.

Applause, applause, applause!
Kerala has bagged the trophy for the Best State in India, again, for the umpteenth time in history! Now I'm on cloud nine, and why shouldn't I be? Have a glance through the numbers given below...courtesy the Outlook Diamond States Awards 2008, and you'll understand my elation.

I can still recollect the India Today survey in the mid 90s and multitude of similar studies over the decade complementing the one result: Kerala on top! So the Outlook '08 result wont raise many eyebrows, apart from a few green eyed souls here 'n there and another bunch of wary cynics who would like to see sunrise in the west.

Because numbers cant lie, can they? I'll believe they won't, for the time being, :chuckle:

Kerala stands head and shoulders above the rest in Healthcare, Education, Women's Empowerment and Basic Infrastructure. I couldn't believe the Basic Infrastructure part of it at first, but it just meant the no of Post Offices, Hospital beds, surfaced roads, schools, telephone density and other social amenities for every 100,000 population...and for a 100% wired state the numero uno position comes naturally. No arguments.

No one could raise a point against the Healthcare and Education parameters of the survey as well; there is no better place than Kerala here. Education is a very sensitive and primary necessity in every mallu household, and there is one biggest factor behind Kerala's superior social indices: high female literacy.

Sociologists will tell you that female literacy is the determining factor behind all developed societies. Kerala scoring nearly cent percent in the Women's Empowerment part of it sums up the survey for Kerala.

So does that mean Kerala is the best state in India for the fairer sex? I'm not answering this question for you here, because it may just spoil the party...

Not surprisingly, Kerala has once again managed to mess up the figures when it comes to pointers directly related to employment and industrialisation. The chart has made it crystal clear that Kerala has not yet managed to chain its worst menace: the unemployment. Figures have sort-of doubled in the past decade and the sweat and blood of the labourers and professionals across the sea is what keeps the Kerala bogey rolling. But for how long?

How long will we survive by producing people and exporting them?

How far will we go by depending on the neighbouring states for even the basic consumer products?

And how are we going to compete in this scenario where petty politics, mindless factionalism, rusty ideologies and unnecessary controversies are drying up the trickle of investments we are getting?

Kerala has always been the land of firsts...First in all surveys...first fully literate state...first technopark...first container terminal...and now first mother port...the list rolls on. But from then on other states have taken over and we have allowed them to sideswipe us off the road. 25% of Kerala's Economy is from NRI remittance. Can Keralites imagine the situation if the oil wells run dry in the middle east or the "native population" policy is implemented. We know what will happen if a 1990 scenario(Gulf War) happens again. Kuwait is on its way to implement public taxation to counter the revenue loss from fossil fuels. Saudi Arabia is drawing up plans to phase out the foreign nationals working in the country and many other middle east countries are following suit. In the West, UK already has a law in place making it mandatory for the immigrant workers to spend at least 40% of their non-taxable income in that country. The looming recession is forcing other nations to adopt similar enforcements. The end result: A major cut down on Kerala's income from its expatriates; devastating the Real Estate and banking sector in Kerala. This could well spell doom for the India's No#1 state!

There should be a way out for Kerala from this, you can't expect things to remain as it is now. Agricultural and Marine sector, providing employment to millions, has been contributing lesser and lesser to the State GDP over the years. Service Industry is on the rise in the state with Tourism generating a much needed boost for the state economy.The state bets big on Information Technology, with ambitious plans to spread the blue chip magic to even the smaller towns. Lastly, the Govt hopes to shrug off the "consumer state" tag by serious efforts to industrialization through the development of major ports in Cochin and Vizhinjam(Trivandrum). So there seems to be light at the end of the tunnel, and hopefully we wont be overtaken before reaching there.

Even then the road ahead wont be like Hema Malini's cheeks for Kerala. The attitude against changes is the characteristic feature of the Kerala society, which inadvertently chokes any development proposals. It has resulted in the cash stripped Govt finding it tough even to pay its employees. Many social & infrastructural proposals get rejected in the Finance Ministry for want of funds. The biggest and crucial change should come from the politicians, media and a bigger section of the bureaucracy who always tend to see only the thorns in a rose.

So as of now, I will sleep with the survey report under my pillow, if it solves our problems. A good sportsman analyzes his failures, but the best scrutinizes his victories. Kerala knows that we are walking pretty on the ramp now, but is well aware that the shoe is pinching, and badly. So if we know what's hurting us, why don't we stitch it right away?

Have your say in the discussions on the Uniform Civil Code by Domestic Avalanche in Kenny Jacob's blog. Make sure you read the Part III of the series coming up this weekend!