Cyber Coolie

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Cirque d’IPL

Posted by chakrabarti on May 9, 2010

Mukul Kesavan articulated almost everything I have wanted to say about the way BCCI runs Indian cricket.  “Disneyfication” is an apt term to describe the whole process of monetization that’s been undertaken on steroids since the advent of Twenty20 and IPL, with “DLF Maximum” sixes, “Karbon Kamaal” catches and “Citi Moments of Success” (assuming that’s wickets), blonde cheerleaders, so on and so forth. Not that this is the first time money has determined how much cricket is played and in what formats. Test cricket, after all, has gotten step-motherly treatment ever since the World Cup victory of ’83 and the increased popularity of limited-overs cricket in the subcontinent since then. It is just that the degree of commercialism has skyrocketed ever since the administrators found that an even-shorter version of the game could be viably marketed to a wider audience, and greater profits could be raked in by having movie stars and glamorous business tycoons invest in such franchises.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course, to quote a certain famous sitcom line.  To my mind, there’s no contemporary sport that doesn’t need to generate profits in order to sustain itself and flourish. Yet, what’s been a pet peeve of mine, and what Kesavan captures exquisitely in his piece, is the sheer crassness with which the BCCI has gone about its business, sacrificing the international cricket calendar and the well-being of players in the quest for reaching a broader audience.

Money quote:

Can you imagine Fifa placing its biggest bets on seven-a-side football? Or the USPGA hustling the Augusta National Golf Club into scrapping the Masters and replacing it with a six hole Pro-Am tournament, which then becomes the centre-piece of America’s golfing calendar? ……….. Of course you can’t. But you don’t have to stretch your imagination in the case of cricket because that is, in fact, what the BCCI has done to the game.

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Amen! More importantly, the author is careful to not scapegoat Lalit Modi and his alleged failures at administering this T20 circus, while giving the rest of the folks who have run the board for years (Pawar, Dalmiya, Muthiah etc.) a pass. In fact, there’s a real danger that all the controversy that has been stirred following the Modi-Tharoor spat over the Kerala franchise will not lead to a bigger investigation into the opacity and shady practices that the Board has engaged in for years. That would be history repeating itself as tragedy, reminiscent of the way the match fixing crisis was handled, where there was no public inquiry into the wheelings and dealings of bookies and consorting players, simply ad-hoc bans that were handed out to players allegedly found “guilty”.
However, I am a little skeptical of having the government step in to “clean up the mess” as suggested at the end of the article. Having a government that’s influenced by many of the same characters (Pawar, Tharoor, Rajiv Shukla etc.) run a house-clearing operation is very likely to end up as a musical chairs exercise, with a few token heads rolling, while the underlying structure that has been running the show for the past several decades is left intact. A more radical solution would be to go the whole nine yards by privatizing Indian cricket, either through a transparent bidding process, or by making BCCI a publicly traded company to be regulated as a corporate entity, with a mandate of not just playing more T20s at the expense of 5-day cricket, but to look after the long-term interests of the game.

Posted in Corruption, Cricket, Sports | 2 Comments »

Dev. D – ***

Posted by chakrabarti on April 13, 2010

Alert!! Spoilers included in thoughts below:

Boredom on Saturday led to Netflix browsing. Spent the afternoon watching Dev. D. The instant streaming version has really taken off, especially with respect to Bollywood, er, I mean, Hindi flicks. For the lazy ones among us, it saves us a trip to the local Indian store to get it on DVD (of course, the more ingenious ones among us still download it for free using some BitTorrent black magic).

Back to the movie, Dev D is an updated take on Sarat Chandra’s classic novel Devdas, recounted a half dozen times on the silver screen by now, portrayed over the years by actors as varied as P.C. Barua in the 1930s, Dilip Kumar in the mid-50s and most famously, Shah Rukh in the 2002-vintage caper/magnum opus. Devdas, shortened here to “Dev”, is played by Abhay Deol, who has been making a name for himself in the Hindi/English crossover genre in recent years. “Paro” is played by the gorgeous Mahie Gill, while “Chandramukhi” in this case happens to be the rather exotic Kalki Koechlin.  The backdrop to the story is not colonial Calcutta, but present-day Punjab and Delhi.

First, the good news: Dev D is miles, if not light years, ahead of Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s clunker of a film, which basically had a bunch of hummable songs, extreme SRK-style hamming, and the pretty faces of Aishwarya and Madhuri somehow strung together in a plot. The editing and transitioning between scenes here is crisp, with the background score doing an excellent job at conveying the mood to the audience at any given moment. But the flaws are also pretty evident, with the whole background story on the prostitute Chandramukhi distracting from the main plot. Though well-intentioned, the whole MMS-scandal angle does not help advance the story. Would have been better served had it been shown in a movie about how women get into the call-girl business.

Abhay Deol does a pretty decent job as Dev, the spoiled brat who missed out on love and thus embarks on a path of self-destruction filled with alcohol, narcotics and rage. Deol succeeds in making us empathize with his plight through the duration of the movie, although his petulant behavior is something  that we haven’t seen portrayed in earlier versions of Devdas. Think the director here misses out on showing the melancholy side to the character that has been such an essential feature in the novel as well as previous versions onscreen. Mahie Gill fills the screen with her radiance, and justifies the director’s casting decision. She holds her own in several exchanges with Dev. Kalki Koechlin as “Leni” and later “Chanda/Chandramukhi” is a surprise package. Though the entire background of how she got initiated in the flesh trade seems to me to be a distraction, it does help demonstrate her acting chops. However, it’s not exactly clear why she falls for Dev, apart from the fact that the story dictates such an outcome. One suspects there shall be more good performances from her in times to come, especially in this genre, given her Western appearance and demeanor.

Overall, Dev D is eminently watchable, though falls short of the “Classics” category. Director Anurag Kashyap manages to take Sarat Chandra’s novel and creates a convincing narrative tailored to contemporary times,  though he gets sidetracked at times by things like the MMS-pornography shenanigans associated with Leni, and the hit-and-run incident at the end (similar to ones that have been reported over the years). Special note for the music and background score, especially Emotional Atyachaar that has pretty much caught on fire ever since the movie first released about a year ago.

Posted in Entertainment, Film, India | 6 Comments »

Global War on Terrorism: Cricket Edition

Posted by chakrabarti on January 25, 2010

I haven’t really cared for the carnival that is 20/20 ever since its inception (it became popular among South Asians pretty much by accident, following the 2007 edition of the World Twenty20), and haven’t really followed the shutout of Pakistani players from the next edition of IPL in any great detail. A friend posted his thoughts about the whole situation/debacle. A brief response in in order, I believe:

  • Obviously, merely facilitating cricket series between India and Pakistan is not going to untangle political disputes between the 2 countries, any more than organizing Israeli-Palestinian peace camps is going to hasten a latter-day Camp David. This is not to say that people-to-people contacts have no positive benefits at all, merely that these are long-term efforts  that have to be sustained over generations so as to reduce mistrust among both the societies, and get us to see the other as complex human beings, not just second-hand caricatures.
  • It’s pretty outlandish to scapegoat people who merely play cricket for a living, as casualties of the latest round of conflict between the two neighbors. Not the first time it’s happened, surely, but pretty silly nonetheless. Does anyone seriously believe denying Shahid Afridi and Younis Khan the ability to play in India, we are going to make radical Islamic groups and their many benefactors realize their folly and stop promoting violence against civilians across the border?
  • If the standard were banning players because of all the damage inflicted by a particular nation or government, then I don’t think the Men In Blue should ever set foot on the Premadasa Stadium, considering what the island nation to the south of India has been through for about the last 30 years, events which were in large part facilitated by successive governments of ours back in the ’80s. Nor should we even invite or ever play with English teams, given all the havoc wreaked on the entire subcontinent with colonization, de-industrialization and an assorted mix  of disastrous policies. Of course, it would be silly to hold Andrew Flintoff and Kevin Pietersen responsible for all that, so why this picking on Pakistanis? [Awkward silence]…
  • I think there is some justification in not drafting any Pakistanis because of issues related to security and profitability. Sport franchises are corporations looking to turn a quick buck and not offend anyone’s sensibilities in particular, so one can’t really blame them that much for the state of affairs, a view echoed by some. However, we would all be better off if no one pretended this to be the result of a principled decision to “not engage the enemy”. It is instead of not engaging grandstanding Shiv Sena thugs, combined with a center-left government eager to demonstrate it’s “anti-terrorism credentials” and unwilling to acknowledge the reality that inducting Pakistani players into a cricket tournament has little or no bearing on relations between the two South Asian neighbors.

Posted in India, Pakistan, Politics | Tagged: | 2 Comments »

Overhyped #TOIFail

Posted by chakrabarti on November 24, 2009

Another Manmohan Singh meeting with a US President, another in a series of meaningless TOI inferences, having little relation to or bearing on reality.

“..Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Monday threw down the gauntlet to Washington, Islamabad and perhaps even Beijing and other world capitals that India would not be budged from pursuing its interests in Afghanistan..”

Ah yes, such determination was shown by PM Singh. And what might have prompted such a “throwing of the gauntlet”? These were the words used by Singh: “The road to peace on Afghanistan will be long and hard. But given the high stakes involved, the commitment of the international community must be sustained by firm resolve and unity of purpose.” It’s about the most cliched rhetoric you are ever likely to hear about the Afghan situation, really amounting to nothing. “Firm resolve” and “unity of purpose” are meaningless buzzwords, akin to “freedom” and “democracy” and “ancient civilizations” that are thrown around in boilerplate speeches delivered all the time by politicians on the world stage.

The larger point in all this is, Singh’s cautious statement about a potential withdrawal of American troops from the region, is hardly a “challenge” that has been issued to the US, Pakistan, China or some other country. It’s highly unlikely that Obama and his national security advisers shall be swayed one way or the other by a vague statement from the Indian head of government, and India’s premier newspaper should not be overhyping it’s significance.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

A note of dissent on IBN..

Posted by chakrabarti on October 27, 2009

Transcript of IBN interview with Arundhati Roy (conducted by Karan Thapar). As expected, Roy gets badgered as “crazy” and “nuts” by a lot of people I know. Nothing new about that, since epithets are thrown around every time it’s hard to argue on substantive grounds (similar to how creating a milquetoast public health insurance option in the US gets you labeled simultaneously “socialist” and “Nazi”).

Notice the lame questions the interview directs at her anyway (E.g. “Sixty years after Indian democracy came into being, do you believe that India’s poor and dispossessed have benefited?”) Most of them fall back on the unquestioned premise of India being  the largest democracy in the world, a tiresome phrase that has lost much of its luster with its invocations ad nauseam. The point that she and dissenters like her are trying to get across, namely that there is a lot wrong with our curious mix of democratic politics and partially “free-market” economy systems and we should be willing to admit the failures, is pretty much lost on Thapar. His fallback on Sonia Gandhi & Manmohan Singh apologizing for the Sikh riots was pretty pathetic, I thought.

Posted in Civil Liberties, India, Politics | Leave a Comment »

This music is supposed to make me shop?

Posted by chakrabarti on December 24, 2008

It’s some sort of conspiracy, I tell you… Come Thanksgiving week (Thanksgiving! Last Thursday of November!)… and all merchandise stores hit upon a brilliant idea to lure customers in for the shopping season… Let’s play a bunch of Christmas-themed songs on constant loop for the next six weeks! That’ll surely work wonders for our bottom line!

Go into any Men’s Wearhouse, and you’ll hear “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” in the background. Ninety seconds in, and it’ll be stuck in your head for the rest of the afternoon! Not to be left behind, Best Buy brings out it’s own collection of “Frosty the Snowman”. There’s the obligatory “We Wish You a Merry Christmas”, and of course, Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas”, immortalized, of course, through Tony Curtis’ “Love Actually”.

One wonders how many have been alienated by this constant drumbeat of good feelings propagated through boom boxes over the years. How many have stopped buying at shops, even avoided malls altogether, relying on Amazon and eBay for the season’s needs. Thankfully, those two sites don’t have carols playing when the page loads, or Flash animation of reindeer pulling a sleigh (something I hope their product managers never even think about).

All I want for Christmas… is some peace and quiet, so I can get on with my checklist!

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: | 1 Comment »

Credit is Addiction…

Posted by chakrabarti on December 4, 2008

This may not be news to others, but I now have a better understanding of how people get hooked on credit. Especially with those year-long (sometimes longer) 0% interest-free schemes. That’s what was offered to me when I went to get a flat-screen last Friday at Best Buy. A quick credit check, and voila! I was signed up for a $ 2000+ credit line in no time. It seemed almost a miracle. That feeling of emptiness when the money is debited from my bank account, was absent this time. It felt like I had just had a free meal, only a very expensive one at a top-notch restaurant (given the price tag on the LCD, was probably a whole day’s worth of food in a posh Manhattan restaurant).

Of course, nothing in this world (or very little, at the most) is for free. The credit card statement will be mailed to my home soon enough. So will begin the slow drip, drip, drip of monthly payments. A kind of Chinese water-torture, if you will, directed at my humble bank balance. Weird. That big emptiness whenever I make a big purchase is absent this time. But a kind of guilt has surfaced instead, on the sly. A guilt about having joined the materialist side of life, of hankering after disposable goods, of having borrowed for short-term pleasures (HDTV!). Don’t know if everyone has that same feeling, or if it’s the natural order of things now to not feel guilty about borrowing and spending.

Posted in Finance, Life | Leave a Comment »

De-friending and Rejection

Posted by chakrabarti on November 18, 2008

Having a long list of friends on Facebook and other social networks, there definitely are people who I do not want to keep track of. Removing friends thus seems to be a sensible feature. However, being anonymous (as in, you don’t get to know if someone has you removed from their list until you search for them), the moment when you find that out, smacks of rejection (case in point, some date you might have gone out with a few times, who removes you later on from her list).

Still, the problem of too many status updates on your live-feed is a real one, so for those who are wondering if it’s legit, I would say go ahead and trim…

Posted in Social Networking, Technology | Leave a Comment »

A useful reminder..

Posted by chakrabarti on August 16, 2008

We have the distinction of being placed 128 on the UNDP Human Development Report (proudly sandwiched between Equatorial Guinea and Solomon Islands).

These are some of our neighbors’ rankings:
Sri Lanka – 99

Maldives – 100

Pakistan – 136

Bangladesh -140

Bhutan – 133

Burma – 132

Posted in Independence, India | Leave a Comment »

Great Moments in International Relations

Posted by chakrabarti on August 14, 2008

Earth to McCain: were you listening to yourself when you said this (at 1:12)?

Correct: In the 21st century, nations don’t invade other nations. Some just bomb others into the stone age, let loose hundreds of thousands of troops and generally contribute to civil war, ethnic cleansing and general disorder.

Thank God there are no invasions any more…

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