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  • Many of us have fond memories of the so-called "Middle Cinema" of the 1970s and 80s — the relatively low-budget films made by such directors as Basu Chatterji, Sai Paranjpye and Gulzar. Their virtues — the understatement, the clean humour, the "realism" — are often used as a pretext to decry the excesses of mainstream movies, to yearn for the "simple old days" (which were probably never as simple as we'd like to think), and occasionally to romanticise middle-class lives.

    But many of those simple, grounded narratives also contain their own inside jokes about the different worlds that coexisted under the umbrella marked "Hindi Cinema". And this was often achieved through cameo appearances by big stars - the biggest of whom, needless to say, was Amitabh Bachchan.

    As a mainstream superstar, Bachchan got plenty of flak for staying within the confines of his established vigilante image and not attempting "different" roles. For reasons that belong in another column, I don't think this is a

    Read More »from Bada star, chhota frame: the Amitabh cameos
  • Spooked By The RBI

    On May 3, the Reserve Bank of India announced the annual monetary policy and soon after, stock markets dipped 2.5%, with some stocks falling as much as 10%. Our monetary policy is one of those things no one really cares about until it gets to a point where it hurts them — and this is such a time. It sometimes isn't entirely clear why the RBI's actions should impact the stock market, so let's take a look.

    A few things in the policy were specifically geared towards arresting inflation, which, after being out of hand for over a year, is now officially out of hand. It has not been about onion prices; the general price index at the "Primary Articles" level has been over 12% for nearly one-and-a -half years now. The US Fed, which has been countering inflation by pretending it doesn't exist, has recently mentioned that price rises are "transitory"; you just pay more on the way to a place where, by sheer luck, you pay even more. India is already there.

    To curb inflation, the only tool that the

    Read More »from Spooked By The RBI
  • You might remember a Shekhar Suman gag on Zee TV's Movers and Shakers several years ago: An angry George W Bush announces that the United States will bomb the place where Osama bin Laden is found to be hiding.

    Hearing this, Vajpayee looks under his bed, pauses, and with a characteristic flick of his wrist says: "Thank God! He isn't here!"

    Over in Rawalpindi, General Musharraf looks under his bed, sighs in relief, and says: "Thank God! He is still here!"

    Shekhar Suman, more than most Western analysts, got the plot right. Keeping Osama bin Laden out of Washington's hands was vital in order to prevent having to publicly deal with revelations of how the Pakistani military-jihadi complex not only was connected with al-Qaeda, but might also have been involved in the conspiracy behind the 9/11 attacks.

    Moreover, when the Pakistani military leadership was getting paid hundreds of millions of dollars per year to hunt bin Laden down, it made little sense to give him up quickly. As early as

    Read More »from Why They Killed Osama bin Laden Now
  • Last week, the Andhra Pradesh government took a fresh step towards encouraging its citizens to violate their contracts en masse. Claiming to be speaking on behalf of self-help groups in his state, the principal secretary, AP Department of Rural Development, told microfinance institutions (MFIs) that borrowers would resume paying loans if interest amounts paid were now treated as principal, if interest rates were halved -- from 24% to 12% -- and if repayment was now on a monthly rather than a weekly basis.

    With over Rs 10,000 crores of loans outstanding, and no fresh funds available, at least some MFIs operating in AP will accede to the new conditions, just as some parents will pay ransom charges to kidnappers. The question, though, is whether the role of the state is to hold a gun to business, or to reinforce the sanctity of contracts.

    Andhra Pradesh has been at the forefront of the Indian microfinance initiative to take credit to rural areas, while the formal banking sector has made

    Read More »from Andhra Pradesh’s Microfinance Muddle
  • I think we all agree that there are few things more respectable and legitimate than that great pillar of Indian society — the arranged marriage. While the acceptance of love marriages (known as lou marriages in some parts of the country) is certainly more widespread today than it was even a couple of decades ago, it is far from universal. The arranged marriage still holds pride of place as the preferred method of getting our sons and daughters hitched with the finest specimens from amongst the youth of our great nation.  Such is the greatness of this institution, even Apache Indian, the musical legend, sang about it in the early nineties.

    In fact, young people today are far more accepting, and even desirous, of arranged marriages than those of the eighties and nineties. This cultural shift could be due to any one of numerous reasons. Perhaps they are too sensible, or simply too lazy, to bother with rebellion. Perhaps they believe, quite correctly, that their parents are more likely to

    Read More »from Lessons to be learned from arranged marriages
  • Abandoned children, scorned suitors, valiant women and men struggling against fate, shape-shifting tricksters, Pyrrhic victories and rites of passage. All this and more, one would imagine, is rich fodder for the novelist. However, mythology and its tropes -- "public dreams", as Joseph Campbell once called them -- seem to be all but absent from the contemporary novel.

    Exceptions do exist, of course, the most famous being Joyce's Ulysses, patterned on the events of The Odyssey. More recently, Salman Rushdie used the Greek legend of Orpheus and Eurydice to underpin his "rock'n'roll novel", The Ground Beneath Her Feet. His earlier Midnight's Children, too, played with Indian myth, especially when it came to the characters of Major Shiva and Parvati-the-witch. Magic realism as a genre is especially suited to the recreation and subversion of myth, but it's not the only way to do it: see Zachary Mason's The Lost Books of the Odyssey, full of delicious re-imaginings and inversions of Odysseus'

    Read More »from Where Have All the Myths Gone?

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