Sridevi – A fan’s tribute

By Saswat Pattanayak

There used to be something sacred about Book Fairs.

Because I was raised without gods, books were the only things I ever worshipped. In their power alone, I believed. And so, the Book Fair had to be the biggest annual festival for someone like me; the most awaited, indescribable fortnight of joy, every year!

When I stepped into my teen years, I realized there was also something secretly romantic about the book fair. Or, sacredly romantic. Book Fairs allowed me to explore the unseen. They let me tap into the uncharted journeys. They let me romance with the fictitious characters. They let me mingle with the stars. And they made me see Sridevi. She was the first woman I fell in instant love that was adorning the cover of a book (the first edition of “Limca Book of Records”) when I stumbled upon it at the 1990 Bhubaneswar Book Fair. And she was no ordinary woman; she was the goddess of Indian cinema.

The reasons why I was so awestruck by her photo were obvious to me. Growing up, my sister and I were not allowed to watch movies in the theaters. And my family those days did not own a television set either. So my initiation to Hindi cinema was withheld until I had graduated high school. I would never know if it was because my parents genuinely believed it was immoral for children to watch movies, or simply because we could not afford the tickets. Or, a bit of both.

So, seeing Sridevi on a glossy, hardbound, laminated cover of a companion book to my quizzing days was an unforgettable moment. But what the book informed me about her left me even more impressed. According to India’s first annual reference book (a worthy spin-off of Guinness World Records), Sridevi merited the cover because of her stature. In a male-dominated film industry of India, she was the highest paid actress, who succeeded in raising the bar for women, and received higher amounts than most of her male colleagues. I had never been to a matinee show, but if there was a Matinée idol for me, it was Sridevi.

Its perhaps strange that I was in love with an actress without even seeing her films. But it had to do with my personal journey into the world of cinema.

And, the prelude to it; I remember it was around my 10th birthday. Those days we used to live in Cuttack. My father had wondered aloud if he should break his discipline and take us kids to a new movie titled, “Mr. India”, about which he had heard rave reviews. My uncle apparently tried, but failed to procure tickets for the screening, as the movie was running to packed theaters. That film was quite a rage those days, and my only brush with Mr. India was in turning over to the film posters printed on back pages of daily newspapers. The posters were in black and white. And I could care less about the guy playing Mr. India. It was however the leading woman of the film who had clearly captivated me!

So three years after my unfulfilled desire to see her on big screens, when I stole a glance at the cover of this innocent hardcover at the book fair, I did not think twice. Someday soon, I shall get to see a Sridevi movie, I told myself.

Luckily, I did not have to wait for long.

That summer, my father was invited to visit the hinterlands of Orissa as a delegate to raise awareness about environment. I accompanied him on a long bus trip to the stunning Simlipal forest. For me, the most anticipated part was the trip itself, because of the VHS tape that was played on the trip. Sridevi in, and, as “Chandni” enthralled me no end. It was an unforgettable movie in so many ways, of course. But for me personally, it was my Mr. India fantasy coming true. I could care less about Vinod Khanna or Rishi Kapoor. It was Sridevi on my mind. Her eyes, her bangles, her sarees, her smile, her dances, her emotional moments, her relationship quotient – I had no idea who Yash Chopra was. But I was sure I knew who Sridevi was, and that she was going to give life to the story. And she did.

The trip to Simlipal with my parents turned out to be the most memorable one I had made in my life. I saw my father (and his environmentalist friends) addressing large gatherings of people in the villages, to emphasize and extend support towards conservation of the biosphere. I witnessed the splendor of the precious flora and fauna that characterized Simlipal. My father had gifted me my first camera for the trip and using that, I captured the eternal beauty of the Barehipani Falls, the second highest waterfalls in of India. Almost two decades after this trip, Simlipal was finally admitted to the UNESCO World Network of Biosphere Reserves (as one of 10 such sites from India).

Like at the book fair, my secret romance with Sridevi continued during the journey to Simlipal. Following the trip, I did not feel it was necessary to mention to anyone how much I liked her, considering she was anyway the mega star everyone seemed to adore. Only during a bout of sibling rivalry with my sister and her friends, when they detailed how Madhuri Dixit (post-Tezaab) was the number one actress in films, did I feel the need to make my admiration for Sridevi public! They were the majority, and Ek Do Teen was a national anthem by then. Film magazines were quickly writing off Sridevi. So I felt like I had to defend her. And I detested Madhuri Dixit for that, for rest of her career. For me, Sridevi was Navratilova and Madhuri was Steffi Graf. And I never really liked Graf for interrupting my reason for watching Tennis.

Over the next several years, I went on to watch Chaalbaaz, Khuda Gawah, Roop Ki Raani Choron Ka Raja, Gumrah, Chandramukhi, Laadla, and Judaai, most of which were at my friend’s house using video rentals. I also managed to finally watch Mr. India as I did Guru, Lamhe, Sadma, Himmatwala, Inquilab, Nagina, Aakhree Raasta, Janbaaz, Karma, Waqt ki Awaz, etc. One peculiar thing about these movies was I did not see them for the performances of the male superstars who were paired with Sridevi. For me, Amitabh Bachchan, Anil Kapoor, Mithun Chakraborty, and Govinda were insignificant. Although I did find Mithun to be the most suitable leading man for Sridevi, so much so I wanted both of them to stay happily ever after, like they did in their movies.

Sridevi was the star of the 80’s and the 90’s. And those were also my decades. I rarely relate to the present times. So when Sridevi made a comeback a few years ago, I was not really excited about it. During the 80’s/90’s, even as the leading actors of her movies were phenomenally popular, I used to conveniently overlook them entirely. It was only Sridevi that I was focusing on. By contrst, in her comeback years, Sridevi finally got the kind of roles she deserved as protagonist and she excelled in both English Vinglish and Mom. And yet, owing to my bias of locating her as one of the forces behind my life’s best decades, I somehow managed to overlook her in these movies, this time around.

So when I received a text message on WhatsApp last night indicating Sridevi’s demise, I did not know how to react. What is an appropriate response to such a news? Amrita asked me in the morning if I was crying last night. Strangely I was not. But as I am writing this, I am full of tears. I am not an expert on the life and career of the great Bollywood actress Sridevi. I am an expert on my own life. And so far as I could recall, Sridevi featured majorly in it. I was immediately transported to my school days. The days of innocence, of anticipation, of dreams. Sridevi was possibly the first woman in my life I fantasized about. And strangely, it was not at a sexual level. As a matter of fact, I was not even attracted towards her. I did not find her sexy or glamorous. I did not objectify her at any point in life.

But I was just in awe of her. I was simply amazed by her. I was just so in admiration of her talents, her capacities, her ability to rule over the entire film industry as a woman who deserved only the best of recognition. She was a trendsetter in everything she did. When she danced in the rain, when she enacted double roles, when she wore the white saree, or when she changed into record number of outfits, when she defined mischief through her smiles, described anticipation through her eyes, depicted grief through her actions, shattered stereotypes through the roles developed only for her (as Yash Chopra attested to time and again), when she essayed a village girl as effortlessly she did the modern working woman… Nothing seemed impossible for Sridevi when it came to portrayals – the range of emotions, expressions and actions that she displayed remain unmatched to this day.

She was the top seeded actress not only in Hindi film industry, but also in Tamil, Malayalam, and Telugu cinemas. No actor – male or female – anywhere in the world, had as much reach across multiple major languages, as she had. If she had over 70 Hindi films to her credit, she also had over 70 Tamil films, and over 80 Telugu films to her credit. She was not a crossover actor. She was reigning over cinema industries of four major languages – all at the same time. She was the only superstar of cinema, the only superwoman among celebrities. There was, and is only one Sridevi. And she shall continue to shine like a star on the sky.

While I shall happily continue to remain, her fan.

A Closer Look At “The Enemy of the People”

Foreword by Prof. Jared Ball
With so much recent mainstream press evocation of Joseph Stalin and claims of “enemy of the people” comparisons to Donald Trump we thought it timely to share some recent thoughts on the subject from journalist, professor and writer Saswat Pattanayak. As an additional side note, and given what Pattanayak exposes about the nature and history of the association of a phrase, rather than with Stalin some of us would be more familiar with the play by Henrik Ibsen and further note that this is also where the late Dr. John Henrik Clarke got the inspiration for the spelling of his own middle name.

By Saswat Pattanayak
American liberals love to compare Donald Trump to Joseph Stalin because liberals are generationally brainwashed, historically ignorant, and repugnantly clueless. They outdo the conservatives in their irrational belief in American exceptionalism and in their irrevocable faith in their corporate media which they grandiosely exhibit as some sort of a “free press”.

It does not have to take a Stalin to characterize corporate press of the USA as an “enemy of the people” (which he never did anyway). The warmongering media like CNN, Fox, New York Times and Washington Post – all of which accord significant space to, and act as conduits for racist, xenophobic views of Trump at present, and for militarist war cries of Obama and Clinton in the past – indeed, are the enemy of the people – if, by people, we mean human beings with capacities to revolt against an unjust racist capitalist status quo.

Every time the peace-loving American people have organized themselves against any war, it is the corporate media led by CNN which has twisted the narrative and projected a need for the war. Only the most grotesque form of journalism could have successfully normalized war cries even during the tenure of a president who was already awarded Nobel Prize for Peace.

After rejoicing Libya’s fall and Syria’s, CNN and New York Times have been rabidly crying for North Korea’s blood and for Iran to be attacked. It is almost as if they are losing patience at how slow is Trump in declaring wars against one country or another. Because these media empires have nothing but profits on sight, for them, nothing sells like war stories emanating from xenophobic rants. Till now Trump has been more a man of words and less of action, and the liberal press simply cannot wait any longer. The corporate greed that funds these channels must continue to provoke Trump and caricature his lack of a concrete war plan. Trump had no courage to wage a war with Russia and so he had to be depicted as a puppet of Vladimir Putin. And now he has still not bombed the heck out of North Korea and so his fingers are too little for the nuclear buttons. Trump is not being presidential enough for the American people vying for some red blood, believes the liberal press. And certainly, he is not anti-communist enough. In fact, Trump is a communist himself. He is the Stalin of America. This is the kind of utter garbage being published by the likes of Washington Post.

The ghost of Stalin continues to haunt the American liberals, some of whom are even Trotskyists. They are desperately twisting the statements of Stalin and at times entirely manufacturing words never uttered by him, in an attempt to discredit Trump. Since Stalin is the epitome of evil for decades in American textbooks, it is quite effective to portray Trump as an incarnation of Stalin. Trump must demand war with Russia and North Korea, because that is what Stalin would have wanted with America anyway, goes their pitch.

The reality is, the average American is hopelessly misinformed about Stalin’s contributions and efforts towards restoring global peace, let alone about Stalin’s assessment of the United States and its people. Ignorance unfortunately is the ground for propagandists, and it is the corporate media outlets which use this ignorance to their benefit. And the reality is, Stalin never wanted a war with the USA. Nikita Khrushchev (who is now being glorified by liberal media for banning “enemy of the people” phrase they are readily but inaccurately crediting to Stalin) was at the center of the cold war crisis. Stalin was not. Not even before the Second World War before the alliance was formed. In fact, when in 1932, Stalin was asked by Ralph B. Barnes if possible armed clashes could occur between the USSR and the USA, Stalin had this to say to the American people –

There can be nothing easier than to convince the peoples of both countries of the harm and criminal character of mutual extermination. But, unfortunately, questions of war and peace are not always decided by the peoples. I have no doubt that the masses of the people of the USA did not want war with the peoples of the USSR in 1918-19. This, however, did not prevent the USA Government from attacking the USSR in 1918 (in conjunction with Japan, Britain and France) and from continuing its military intervention against the USSR right up to 1919. As for the USSR, proof is hardly required to show that what its peoples as well as its government want is that “no armed clash between the two countries should ever under any circumstances” be able to occur.

What Washington Post’s Foreign Assignment Editor Will Englund described as “Stalin’s savage rule” today in order to unfavorably compare him with Trump, is a reflection of the pathetic state of the propaganda press of this country, which is yet to get out of its Red Scare tactics. If the journalists must aspire to represent the people and be their sincere friends, and not enemies, they need to take a cue from this present crisis, and indeed spend time researching and revisiting cold war rhetorics, and fix their understanding of history in order to locate who was on the side of the so-called “savages”, and who was on the side of the peace. They need to get out of their war fetish zone and support any president who can delay any war to any extent possible. Because no working people of any society wants a war. If American journalists truly aspire to be friends of those people, and not only of the wealthy parasites, it is imperative that they recognized their will and what is in their best interests.

(Published in iMixWhatILike!)

Brahminism, Patriarchy, Supreme Court And The Justice

By Saswat Pattanayak

(Published in CounterCurrents)

It is the patriarchal fixation with fathers and husbands as feudal heads of indian households where sanctities are attached to family units, that leads to normalization of corruption in a judicial system that is unsurprisingly spearheaded by the brahminical chiefs. No matter what the chief of the family does, it has to be a hush-hush affair and not be made public. Family becomes sacrosanct and the head of family remains above reproach. Brahminism which governs Indian society is founded upon the philosophy of unquestioned belief in the supreme authority, the highest caste, the sacred book. No one messes with the head of the family. If there is child sexual abuse, the child must have provoked it. If there is a marital rape, it is the fault of the wife. Under no circumstances are the patriarchs responsible for anything wrong. They simply need the credits for the (inevitably evolutionary) progresses that are made.

Indian judiciary is not outside Brahminism’s sphere of influence. On the contrary, it is a byproduct of that. The court system is oppressively hierarchical. It is infused with archaic and feudal laws that routinely punishes dissenters and serves the ruling classes. It is a system that awards nepotism (the longest serving Supreme Court Chief Justice’s son will become the CJI in a few years), and instead sentences Dr. Binayak Sen for his association with “banned activities”, and sends a paraplegic Prof. Saibaba to life imprisonment on grounds of “waging war against India.”

This is the same feudal patriarchal court system which does not consider marital rape a cognizable offense so long as the wife is above 18 years of age. This is the same court system which spends time and resources to prohibit reservations/affirmative action for oppressed social classes in the private sector. This is the same court system which allows gay marriage to remain illegal. This is the same court system which upholds death penalty verdicts as acceptable form of punishment. This is the same court system which rejects a plea that questions clean chits given to communal and criminal politicians like Modi and Shah. This is the same court system which permits judicial killing of Afzal Guru without the due process in the middle of the night, without informing his families. This is the same judiciary which is more concerned about its own sacrosanct nature than the rights of farmers, dalits, muslims, women to seek justice in a country where 27 million court cases are still awaiting verdicts.

Chief Justice Misra as the patriarch of this same judicial system predictably had in the past sentenced Yakub Memon to death in an unprecedented middle-of-night hearing. The move was very similar to Afzal Guru killing which was critiqued by AG Noorani who invoked the words of Judge Tendulkar (referring to Morarji Desai misrule), “One would have thought that the dark hours of the night are reserved for the perpetration of dark deeds, not for the execution of lawful orders.” Noorani rightfully remarked “Secrecy is antithetical to the rule of law as it is to decency.” And Justice Misra has been an epitome of secrecy, unsurprisingly, considering his rulings have consistently claimed to have protected “reputation” more than “freedom”. In Indian context, reputation is synonymous with wealthy people, and freedom is the cry of the oppressed.

It was Justice Misra who delivered the judgment in Devkidas Ramchandra Tuljapurkar vs State of Maharashtra case where he outlawed and criminalized the freedom of speech of citizens, whereby “historically respected personalities” could not be written about in a way that may offend their followers.

Similarly he upheld the archaic 499 to 502 of IPC whereby “criminal defamation” would ensure that freedom of speech could not be extended to cause disrepute of anyone. Such emphasis of “reputation” and “respect” are cornerstone of conservative figureheads of any society. In his words that are strikingly similar to actions of Pahalaj Nihalani’s: “Reputations cannot be allowed to be sullied on the anvils of free speech as free speech is not absolute.”

This is the same man who decided for the entire country what constituted patriotism. In a bizarre ruling (which is now under scrutiny) Misra and Roy bench decided “to instill committed patriotism and nationalism” by mandating that “all the cinema halls in India shall play the national anthem before the feature film starts and all present in the hall are obliged to stand up to show respect to the national anthem (as a part of their) sacred obligation.” While dismissing “any different notion or the perception of individual rights”, the bench of Misra and Roy declared that the movie screens shall have the image of the national flag when the anthem is being played and that doors of the halls will remain shut during the anthem so that no disturbance is caused.

Not only is enforcement of such mindless patriotism strictures against the spirit of Indian Constitution, even the brazen manner in which Justice Misra has in the past ruled against reservations in employment (across private and public sectors alike), is. Misra contends that there should not be reservations in promotions, and not even in jobs when there is a single vacancy. In fact, Misra and Pant went on to call affirmative action itself a privilege and almost mocked the spirit of the constitution which included reservations for the oppressed, with the following words, “The fond hope has remained in the sphere of hope… The said privilege remains unchanged, as if (it is) to compete with eternity.” So that the “national interest can become paramount”, they said “there should really be no reservation” in higher education.

Such judgements that dismiss the social realities in the name of so-called “national interest”, where people are oppressed precisely because they belong to certain caste/religions/communities, should be the reasons not for immediate removal of reservations from society (ironically following the observations of a person who is brahmin himself), but it calls for immediate and elaborate judicial reforms, so the judges are constantly exposed to troubling realities of a caste society and learn from anti-caste activists.

The case of corruption against Justice Misra in the land allotment matter in Odisha should have been reason enough for condemnation. His brother demanding huge amount money from Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister Kalikho Pul whose suicide note mentions of the fact, should have resulted in further action against the judge. And yet in the name of protecting the “honor” and “respect” and “repute” of national flag, anthem, and of chief justice himself – our Indian patriarchy continues protecting the male figureheads without a pause. And instead of treating the dissenters and activists and whistleblowers as heroes, many of us now attack the four judges as antinationals.

This is not just about Dipak Misra or Amit Shah or Narendra Modi. This fixation with complete submission to authority is a problem fostered within our places of worship where we are indoctrinated to believe that our gods can do no evil, within our own schools where our teachers can tell no lies, within our law and order system where our police and military and judges can do nothing wrong, and within own families where our elders cannot even be talked back to. This refusal to dissent and this inability to support those who do, constitute the terminal disease we are afflicted by, and the one we refuse to treat. It did not begin yesterday when the TV channels went berserk with breaking news over how many experts are now so sad that a press conference had made our supreme court so vulnerable. It is necessary, instead, to acknowledge the disease in order to cure it. Not to mention, the treatment is long overdue.

(Discussion on Facebook)