Browncast: Subcontinent and Movies

Another Browncast is up. You can listen on LibsynAppleSpotify, and Stitcher (and a variety of other platforms). Probably the easiest way to keep up the podcast since we don’t have a regular schedule is to subscribe to one of the links above!

Omar Ali and Maneesh Taneja have a free-flowing conversation with Gaurav about movies in the Indian subcontinent in the 20th century

Please leave your movie suggestions in comments. A few links about the movies we discussed and recommended below

Super Deluxe – Official Trailer | Yuvan | Vijay Sethupathi, Fahadh Faasil, Samantha, Ramya Krishnan – YouTube

Sairat I A Narrative of Contrast – YouTube

“Aarambh [Full Song]” | Gulaal | K K Menon & Mahi Gill – YouTube

Ashi Hi Banwa Banwi | Comedy Marathi Movie | Dhammal Entertainment Movie – YouTube

Kalyug | Shyam Benegal | 50 Films I Love | Film Companion – YouTube

Panchayat – Official Trailer | New Series 2020 | TVF | Amazon Prime Video – YouTube

Badhaai Do Official Trailer | Rajkummar R, Bhumi P | Harshavardhan Kulkarni | In Cinemas 11th Feb – YouTube

Johnny Gaddaar Official Movie Trailer | Neil Nitin Mukesh,Dharmendra – YouTube

Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron – A Kundan Shah Film – YouTube

 

 

Episode 10: North India – before and after Harsha

 

 

Another Browncast is up. You can listen on LibsynAppleSpotify, and Stitcher (and a variety of other platforms). Probably the easiest way to keep up the podcast since we don’t have a regular schedule is to subscribe to one of the links above!

The history podcast returns to North India. Gaurav and Jay are in conversation with Maneesh about the changes in the North Indian landscape before and after the times of Harsha – generally considered as the last Emperor of “Ancient India”. We touch upon political splintering that followed the fall of the imperial Guptas, the political Game of thrones that followed, the Kumbha Mela and the decline of trade. 玄奘  (Xuanzang) and Banabhatta make appearances as prolific storytellers along with the stories of contested Urban decay and decline of Buddhism in the Indian heartland.

References for the episode:

A Comprehensive History of India – Vol III
The History and Culture of the Indian People: Volume 3. The Classical Age
Imagining the Urban – Sanskrit and the City in Early India by Shonaleeka Kaul
Urban Decay in India (c. 300-c. 1000) by Ram Sharan Sharma
Upinder Singh – Ancient India.
Upinder Singh – Political violence in Ancient India
Upinder Singh – Culture of Contradictions.
Romila Thapar – Ancient History
Romila Thapar – Past before us
RS Sharma- India’s Ancient Past

Live History India (Paid + unpaid)

PODCASTS:
The History of India Podcast – Kit Patrick
Echoes of India Podcast – Aniruddha Kanasetti

https://www.youtube.com/JayVardhanSingh

 

Book Review: Shrayana Bhattacharya’s Desperately Seeking Shah Rukh-India’s Lonely Young Women and the Search for Intimacy and Independence.

India’s complexity is a perennial source of inspiration for commentary, columns and books.

Shrayana Bhattacharya, a World Bank economist, joins the list of authors who have tried to explain India with their books.

The book is about contemporary Indian women.

Ms. Bhattacharya, who trained in development economics at Delhi and Harvard university, uses her years of experience in primary research, to bring us her own, and stories of women from a cross-section of society.

The cornerstone of these stories is Shah Rukh Khan, one of India’s most famous movie stars.

In a career spanning over three decades, Mr. Khan has built, through his cinema and his off-screen presence, an image of an ‘industry outsider’ who dominates the Hindi film industry with the dint of his hard work and sincerity.

His choice of unconventional roles for a leading man, in the early part of his career, and his off-screen image of a loving husband and family man stand him apart.

This is in contrast with the usual tropes of a male Hindi movies star , the good guy who charms his way to audiences’ heart on screen and whose umpteen romantic dalliances they read in the press.

Khan’s popularity, in the Hindi heartland and amongst the diaspora, is the string Bhattacharya uses to stich tales of gender disparity and loneliness.

We get a ringside view, Bhattacharya takes us through her own and lives of five other women, as they struggle with lack of income opportunities, denial of agency and grapple with every day challenges of living in India, exaggerated by their gender.

What holds these women together is their love for Khan’s cinema and in turn Khan himself.

When they need joy, inspiration in their lives and an escape from every day struggles, the women seek Khan’s onscreen roles and his offscreen persona.

The pictures that Bhattacharya paints, are colored by facts.

The protagonists of her stories come alive, unlike in Khan’s movies, as she vividly explains their lives with a sharp eye for detail.

When giving context to their struggles, she backs her submissions with reams of hard data.

Annexures include a table that captures share of dialogues for women in some of Khan’s movies.

She gives the women who shared their stories and their unbound love for Khan with her, their own voice.

The writing is not rhetorical flourishes with clichés thrown in. That bane of most commentary on India. The book engages.

Even for those who live in India and see the every day reality, the book is thought provoking. The passage where she describes the transactional nature of relationships is worth a chapter of its own.

Where the book misses out is on exploring the other impact of Khan’s filmography.

Barring notable exceptions, Khan’s work since his seminal hit Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge, has comprised of Yash Raj school of saccharin cinema.

Movies where characters are super rich, beautiful with ‘love’ as the only thing missing in their lives.

It’s the kind of cinema that’s as far from the everyday India as cinema can get.

Khan and his cinema have done their bit in building the hegemony of ‘How much money do I make? How do I look?’ lifestyle.

The characters in her book struggle with these questions too.

Khan’s role in shaping a consumerist, trying to ‘fit in’/ ‘cool’ individual persona is left unexplored.

I found Khan’s portrayal as an all-India star an over-played hand. Khan’s as much a pan India phenomenon as Dal Makhani, the ubiquitous North Indian delicacy, is a pan India delight. The cinema crazy south Indian states have temples of their movie stars and Khan is not in one of them.

As she writes on the state of affairs, Bhattacharya skips the raging phenomenon sweeping urban India. The Dating app. Where the society has failed markets have stepped in. Technology is helping even the scales for women. The progress is slow and it does not include the majority but it’s a start.

India is a large complex place with everyday challenges being met head on by a young and an energetic populace.

Bhattacharay’s book captures some of these challenges and the forces taking them on, impeccably.

Anybody trying to get a sense of the churn going through India and its society will be well served by this book.

One hopes her fellow commentators will be inspired by her lucid writing and her love for data.






Episode 8: The Guptas and Classical Age of India

© Asitjain / Wikimedia CommonsAnother Browncast is up. You can listen on LibsynAppleSpotify, and Stitcher (and a variety of other platforms). Probably the easiest way to keep up the podcast since we don’t have a regular schedule is to subscribe to one of the links above!

In this episode of the History series, we return to North India and talk about the Age of the Guptas. We touch upon the military genius of Samudragupta and various Gupta emperors, the emergence of Classical Hinduism and various forms of Art, Music, Science which consolidated during this era. The speakers of the episode are Gaurav Lele and Jay Vardhan and the discussion is moderated by Maneesh.

@jayvtweets  @maneesht @gaurav_lele

Links to the previous podcasts: Episode 1Episode 2Episode 3 

Episode 4:  Episode 5: Episode 6 Episode 7

Supplementary blogpost : Legacy of the Gupta Age – Brown Pundits

Sources and References:
Books and Blogs
 Upinder Singh – Ancient India.
 Upinder Singh – Political violence in Ancient India.
 Upinder Singh – Culture of Contradictions.
 Romila Thapar – Ancient History
 RS Sharma- India’s Ancient Past
 Gupta Vakataka Age RC Majumdar

 Live History India (Paid + unpaid)
 Early Hinduism — the epic stratification | by Gaurav Lele | Medium

PODCASTS:
 The History of India Podcast – Kit Patrick
 Echoes of India Podcast – Aniruddha Kanasetti

https://www.youtube.com/JayVardhanSingh

Kashmir Files : Short Review

Short Review
#KashmirFiles – forgive my typos and terseness – i posted this in a hurry
 
I was pleasantly surprised by how effective the movie was in conveying what it started out doing. I had a very low bar after Tashkent files. Some would take umbrage to the Loud direction at times. Personally I think that was vivek agnihotri’s choice and overall the Loudness has the desired effect. Having seen more gory scenes in Visual medium and read more graphic details about Kashmir Pandit I did think the violence was NOT overdone though Loud at times. Rather some of the more ghastly things documented were not shown. RAPE which was common and effective tool used by Kashmiri Islamists to scare Pandits wasnt depicted in the movie. Anupam kher shines, among his finest performances. I even liked Mithun’s role. Darshan Kumar also pulled through on a tough role (though with glitches).
Overall acting is just above average – especially by actors in crucial moments in the film which somehow let me down – especially during the final monologue. It could’ve packed more punch with a flawless monologue like that of Kay Kay from Gulaal but it didn’t. 
As a result I didnt get emotional watching the movie (except maybe the Biscuit scene by Anupam Kher) while I had shed some tears while reading Pandita’s moving memoir. To the readers, I would still recommend Pandita’s book over this movie but this movie will reach places which a book could never do. Book Review: Our moon has blood clots | by Gaurav Lele | Medium
Sad that a fine mind like Pandita has not *yet talked about the impact of the film (probably due to history with the director).
 
But most importantly the movie does what only a movie can (not books or newspapers or even podcasts). So it’s a very necessary counter weight movie especially in company of Haider and Mission Kashmir. The criticism I had watching was the absence of positive Kashmiri Muslim characters who helped Pandits risking their lives (though the final monologue makes that point along with many other nuances). Personally I think that’s not fair depiction but award winner “Haider” didn’t have a single positive Pro India character – all Kashmiris who were pro India were corrupt – so maybe judging Kashmir files with that level of harshness itself isn’t fair.
In that space #KashmirFiles corrects a lot of narrative around the Kashmir in general in Pop culture and also tells the stories of the Kashmiri Hindus with focus solely on their plight.
 
There are some errors and unbelievable plot points. The characters (5 dinner table characters) appear half baked and under acted at times. In many places multiple character arcs are fused into a single character which leaves things undercooked.
I also felt the #Article370 part is overplayed and made simplistic and dumbed down. That part almost feels like propaganda for current BJP government. Ofcourse it’s part of story so that’s fine in a story. #KashmirFiles
Personally I felt the multiple Amarnath killings should have also been part of the film – whose aim was to further prevent any attempts to lay claim to Hindu legacy of Kashmir. But @vivekagnihotri can’t get it all inside the movie.
JNU is naturally shown caricaturish – but frankly I care far more about Kashmiri Muslim caricature than JNU caricature. Also don’t think the bright minds of Azadi in JNU would be seed any space in one monologue :). But maybe that was wishful thinking by director. The use of CAA protest fame song – Hum Dekhenge is at times not loud but effective nonetheless.
 
In summary the movie shifts the Pop Culture pendulum on Kashmir to its end powerfully (probably overcompensates a bit), but is no means is it a complete film – its a message meant primarily to highlight the plight of the Kashmiri Hindu community. But it does so (with exception of the final monologue) making a caricature of Kashmiri Muslims as either fanatics or cowards when there have been documented instances of Kashmiri Muslims risking their lives for India in general and Pandits in particular. But that is what you get when the only person willing to voice this issue honestly is Vivek Agnihotri – when Bollywood in 30 years came up with ZERO films on this tragedy and what they managed at last was the PC and poorly made Shikara. In that context you have to not only live with Kashmir Files but somewhat embrace its core message.
 
Kashmir files uses a lot of Hindu imagery and symbolism – sometimes subtly sometimes overtly. I felt the use of Shiv makeup Anupam Kher was deliberate – especially in the light of retrospective offense taken by newly aware(woke?) Hindus about the Shiv scene from PK. 
#KashmirFiles has started a conversation and hopefully later entries in the debate will add more nuance which is missing in the movie.

Posing as a South Asia expert: Brahminical patriarchy edition

 

This research article will be submitted in the new journal Intersectional Gender and South Asian studies. Dedicated to VisionIAS - especially Smriti Shah

Roots of divergence between Bangladesh and the rest of South Asia

 

South Asia in general has been a diverse place demographically as well as geographically. Unlike the myth of ancient civilization conjured up by well-meaning anti-colonialists in the 19th and 20th centuries, South Asia neither had a coherent identity nor a dominant mass religion. It only became a political unit after the forceful amalgamation of different polities under the Colonial British Raj. Since getting independence, Bangladesh has diverged a great deal not only from former West Pakistan but also from India. Not only in economical terms but also in terms of women empowerment. Unlike most democracies, Bangladesh has been governed by women for a significant duration of time since its independence.

What explains this divergence? Especially between North Western South Asia and North Central South Asia on one side and Eastern Central South Asia, Western Central South Asia and South Eastern South Asia on other ? Continue reading Posing as a South Asia expert: Brahminical patriarchy edition

Browncast : Karnataka hijab issue

 

Another BP Podcast is up. You can listen on LibsynAppleSpotify, and Stitcher (and a variety of other platforms). Probably the easiest way to keep up the podcast since we don’t have a regular schedule is to subscribe to one of the links above!

Karnataka hijab issue

This discussion has a lot of digressions and tangential issues but it is a discussion worth having. Leaving aside the Hijab controversy, how India is represented (or more misrepresented) in global media (arguably of both sides) is something Indians have to confront. Maybe that’s a separate podcast why India and Hindutva which is certainly moderate when compared to polities of the subcontinent get such a bad rep. I would lay the blame more on the Indian origin interlocuters than any foreign design (though that bias is undeniable).

I would even go on to add that the Western world, in general, hasn’t treated most non-Western countries as sovereign nation-states. I guess if sovereignty is treated as sacrosanct by people of Indian origin, inspite of personal biases some semblance of balance would be maintained in the “India” discourse

The Lavanya suicide and journalistic priorities

THIS IS A RANT

Just finished reading a longish piece on the suicide of the girl named Lavanya in The News Minute – Link 

Its a longish article – which doesnt try to get to the bottom of the death but makes the priorities of the author clear in ascending order

  1. Investigate how BJP/VHP/RSS have a network in TN and want to grow it using cases like Lavanya.
  2. How Christians believe in “forgiveness” virtue
  3. Periyar Ambedkar Anna statues.
  4. What really happened to Lavanya

Of course no one would deny that Sangh parivar would try to catch on to whatever it can to gain ground in the Dravidian bastion of Tamil Nadu. Isnt that what people who want power do ? Or is it just a ticket to politics for Jignesh Mevanis of the world and not for Muthuvel Ariyalur ?

Had it been simply a case of ignoring the incident – as many in TN seem to be doing it is a different thing altogether. However what is clear reading the article is the concerns of the writer are with the potential of this being used as a flank for expansion of Hindutva in the Tamil lands not the death of a poor girl (by whatever reasons).

An example of author’s words

Now, with the Madras High Court showing no confidence in the Tamil Nadu police and ordering a CBI probe into the suicide, the BJP seems to have managed to sneak one past the ruling dispensation in a state where Hindutva has traditionally been outshouted by the Dravidian ideology.

The paragraph titled “A consistent campaign against Christian evangelism” has a section that reads  follows

Aronkumar argued that “only god can dispense justice” and said he has no regrets about forgiving Muthuvel and Sekhar. “After us, they also attacked a group of young evangelists in a village. Then they attacked an elderly Christian lady who was helping terminally ill patients in the government hospital in Ariyalur,” he said. “But all of us forgave Sekhar and Muthuvel. That is the Christian way.”

While the piece ends with some absurd takes on statues, it doesn’t try to even address what may have happened to the poor girl.

Only thing missing the TNM piece is the Brahmanical Patriarchy angle.


Its not the Hindutva movement or their arguments that have worked on me bringing up my Saffron side every now and then – its the gems of journalism and opinions like these that try pushing me on the Saffron side. Krishna save the Indian journalism.

History of India Series: Episode 4 – The Vedic Age

 

The History Podcast reaches the Vedic age. Our speakers talk about its origins, its literature, its culture, and the legacy of the Vedic Age. Varna system makes an appearance as does Pythagoras Theorem. Amongother things, our speakers talk of Vedic recitation techniques and different layers of Vedic literature. Maneesh Taneja in conversation with Shrikanth Krishnamachry and Gaurav Lele. @maneesht @shrikanth_krish @gaurav_lele

You can listen on LibsynAppleSpotify, and Stitcher (and a variety of other platforms). Probably the easiest way to keep up the podcast since we don’t have a regular schedule is to subscribe to one of the links above!

Links to the previous podcasts: Episode 1Episode 2; Episode 3

Episode 4: The Vedic Age

References:

History of Ancient India – Upinder Singh

R Sharma Ancient India

Romila Thapar – Early India

Live History India – LHI Circle (Paywalled)

Frits Staal -;

1. Discovering the Vedas :
2. On the meaninglessness of ritual
Michael Witzel –

On Kuru state and Early Sanskritization 
On Vedic religion
On the localization of Vedic texts :
Manasataramgini :
Numeric analysis of certain aspects of Rig Veda
On the Vedanta – Nastika interface (relevant to the discussion we had on vegetarianism)
On guide to Vaidika svaras
On the rise of sectarianism in a Vedic context
On Mandalas of RV and authorship
On Spitzer Manuscript

Vedic Source texts: https://vedicheritage.gov.in/

On Traditional vaidIka education :
Interview with Mani Dravida Sastrigal (in Sanskrit)
Lectures in Hindi by Mani Dravida Sastrigal
Lectures in Tamil by Mani Dravida Sastrigal

List of Veda Pathashalas: https://sanskritdocuments.org/doc_veda/vedapathashala.html

GhanapAtha recitation illustration
FE Pargiter on the Puranic historical tradition

The Joy of Discovering Synchronisms-Part 1

Browncast: Both sides of the Aryan debate

Another BP Podcast is up. You can listen on LibsynAppleSpotify, and Stitcher (and a variety of other platforms). Probably the easiest way to keep up the podcast since we don’t have a regular schedule is to subscribe to one of the links above!

This episode was a spin-off of the history of India series we are creating. As we touched on the OIT/AIT debate in the IVC episode we thought maybe we should bring both sides of the debate on a common good faith platform and have a debate. In this episode, we have Kushal Mehra of the Carvaka, Kartik Mohan, Razib Khan, Mukunda, and me discussing the Aryan question. It was a good discussion though I doubt if it will be a great podcast to listen – but it is what it is.

As episode notes – I have written a blogpost putting my position on record – something which I wasn’t able to do well in the podcast due to a variety of reasons.

A big thanks to Kushal Mehra and Kartik Mohan for the podcast.

Both sides of the Aryan debate

Brown Pundits