Sunday Long Reads: the success of South Indian films, learning to feel good about yourself, Abhay K’s ode to nature, etc.

Does the success of recent films from the south teach Bollywood a lesson or two in positioning and storytelling?

“Southern films are box office gold”. “Bollywood forgot how to make movies.” Both of these statements have been thrown around so frequently over the past six months that even the most hardened skeptics have suspended their disbelief. Just what’s going on?

Most industry experts say that only two Bollywood films made their 2021 list: Rohit Shetty’s Cop Sooryavanshi and the sports saga of Kabir Khan 83; the others were all from the south, and at the top of the list was Pushpa: the ascent, the story of an underdog who strikes the ungodly hip and thigh and emerges victorious. Right now, almost halfway through 2022, the biggest movies are SS Rajamouli’s epic adventure saga RRR and the unstoppable by Prashanth Neel KGF: Chapter 2 (KGF2)in which Yash dominates the vast gold fields of Kolar and a phalanx of enemies, which includes an Indian Prime Minister, no less.

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In memory of my Aunt Asha, who taught me to feel good about myself

True to her artistic nature, Asha Bua was the elder presence, who was free from questions or requests, and was just happy to connect and create. (Suvir Saran)

The past week has dealt another blow to my family and me, but with it came rich life and life lessons. I lost my Asha Bua, a longtime resident of Bombay (now Mumbai), to old age, to Bangalore. Nearing 90, she possessed an energy and enthusiasm that could not be matched by a nine-year-old at the best of times. Her fiery way of living and loving, nurturing and caring, discovering and sharing will be deeply missed, and her passing leaves a gaping hole in my heart with which I will have to learn to live, to make peace and to reflect, when I am not in good shape and when I am not generous towards myself and towards others.

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When Inder Bhan Madan’s cartoons attack Indian government and society

inder bhan mohan The late artist Inder Bhan Madan. (Courtesy Foundation for Contemporary Indian Art)

We live in an age of fabricated confessions. In writing, this has meant the explosion of the first person singular – most pieces are imbued with the “I” perspective. For the young and the “connected”, this self-obsession is illustrated by the selfie. Every passing thought, every opinion, and every trauma so often seems to have meaning only in its execution, insofar as it can elicit applause or insults.

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Does an ornithologist make a good spy? Stephen Alter explores the answer in his thrilling new historical crime novel

ornithologist, spy, spy thriller Birdwatching: A Novel, Stephen Alter's Birdwatching: A Novel, birdwatching, book review, eye 2022, sunday eye, indian express news Bird Watching – A Novel; Stephen Alter; Aleph Book Company, 2022; 353 pages; ₹799 (Photo: Amazon.co.uk)

As any true blue James Bond fan will tell you, the 007 character was named after an ornithologist. The truth james bond (1900-1989) was an American, and authority on Caribbean birds; his definitive book, Birds of the West Indies (1936), was much loved by Ian Fleming, an avid ornithologist and a resident of Jamaica. Fleming adopted the name Bond for his suave spy because he thought it was the perfect example of an ordinary name: a name for a man who could disappear into a crowd, so to speak.

James Bond, the real one, didn’t like Bond books and didn’t read them; but one wonders what might have been had he tried to follow the path of his fictional namesake. Would an ornithologist have made a good spy? The qualities of a good ornithologist – patience, sense of observation, analytical mind, ability to blend into the background – would they also be used to make a good spy?

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Written in the tradition of Kalidasa’s Meghaduta, poet-diplomat Abhay K’s new book of poetry is an ode to nature

‘Monsoon: A Poem of Love and Longing’ by Abhay K; Sahitya Akademi; 54 pages; Rs 100 (Source: Amazon.in)

In a country plagued by extreme heat and high temperatures, the onset of the monsoon is both magical and transformative. Once the monsoon arrived, the changing landscape and spirits inspired music and poetry for centuries. The songs associated with the monsoon belong to the family, Raag Malhar, which literally means mala (dirt) being hari (removed). Consider the following lines from the Raag Mian ki Malhar (attributed to Tansen, the court musician of the 16th century Mughal Emperor Akbar):

Saavana ghana garajey ghooma ghooma/ barasata s(h)ettala jala jhooma jhooma/ Hamsa chakora chahoo(n) disa doley/ caataka keera kokila boley/ naachata vara ati karata kikola/ mora morani jhooma jhooma. Roughly translated, it announces the arrival of heavy clouds in the month of shravana; and how does it do birds of all shades, including the most mythical, dance in abandon.

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A new book on the RTI Act by former Information Commissioner M. L. Sharma provides insider insight as well as legal know-how on what was meant to be enabling legislation

right to information and case law Right to information and to jurisprudence; M. L. Sharma; Vitasta; 892 pages; Rs 1995

The RTI law, implemented on October 12, 2005, is very easy to use. One can file an application on plain paper, writing down the details of the information required. With few exceptions under Article 8(1), it is provided that “information which may not be withheld from Parliament or a State Legislature shall not be withheld from any person” and that “notwithstanding any provision of the Official Secrets Act 1923 nor any of the exceptions permitted under subsection (1), a public authority may authorize access to the information, if the public interest in disclosure outweighs the prejudice to the interests protected.

Yet, over time, information officers have learned not to divulge information. And while the first appeal authorities – the senior managers of these information officers – mostly agree with the position taken by the information officers, the second appeal authorities, the information commissions, have not often not helpful to RTI users. This defeats the purpose of ease of use RTI Lawand users must be better equipped with legal knowledge.

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A new collection of essays, edited by K Raju, on anti-caste themes blends scholarly scholarship with practice

ambedkar A file photo of the statue of Babasaheb Ambedkar being renovated ahead of his April 14 birthday in Mumbai’s Thane (Express Archives)

This book of essays edited by K Raju is an eclectic mix of erudite scholarship stemming from a theorist’s insight into anti-caste themes with its mix of vicissitudes and conformism. Recalling the writings of BR Ambedkareach of these essays has helped me to embrace “the emotional in the intellectual”, to borrow a phrase I picked up from a thought-provoking article by the Round Table in India – an anti-caste owned and led by Ambedkarites.

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The monkeys and us

gorilla Gorilla (Wikimedia Commons)

When Charles Darwin finally announced to the world that our closest living relatives were the great apes, civilized society was outraged and severely pilloried. I dare say that when the great apes heard about this, they must have been equally appalled. But when there’s an almost 99% genetic match between us and them (like those outrageous CBSE scores), you really have no argument. The evidence is overwhelming: a few genetic tweaks and, hallelujah, hello gorilla.

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