Defence, Disarmament and Global Wars in the age of mecha

(Also read this here)

jaeger kaiju

The high point, quite literally, of Guillermo Del Toro’s latest, Pacific Rim, is the moment when our hero Jaeger (outdated but strong yet, thanks to its drivers) slashes off the evolved, ever more dangerous Kaiju’s wing in mid-flight. The Kaiju, a futuristic dinosaur, is now flying as it zooms in on the Jaeger for its final kill, but like the proverbial trump card, out comes a sword (please note the irony) from the Jaeger’s right hand, just in time to pierce through the monster. Dismembered, the Kaiju returns to the ocean with a resounding splash; and the narrative is back to being a rather humdrum, predictable one.

Released worldwide on the July 12-13 weekend, Pacific Rim has, on an average, garnered lukewarm critical response. This lumbering spectacle of an apocalyptic war against aliens is a delight to watch for its expertly crafted action scenes. After all, what’s not to like about humungous robots and monsters fighting each other to death?

Disappointment is inevitable — lead characters Raleigh Beckett (Charlie Hunnam), Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi) and Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba) are all given back-stories that are rushed through; and the plot, like the Jaegers of seven years later, needs a severe upgrade. But then, this movie isn’t as much a psychodrama as it is the latest offering in the mecha genre of Hollywood cinema — with a history of movies like Star Wars, the Godzilla series,Transformers, and Sucker Punch — and revives the giant robots vs. monster trope, possibly the oldest idea in Japanese anime.

Pacific Rim does inspire some thoughts on the evolving nature of weaponry and the state of warfare. The Jaegers (German for hunter) are run by two fighters, located in the head of the machine. They must meld their brains, hearts and memories with each other as well as the machine, in the process becoming a ‘maschinemensch’ or machine-human — a trope explored often enough, and first seen in Fritz Lang’s 1927 classic Metropolis.

Although this ploy isn’t quite the same thing as drone warfare (since the fighters are very much a part of the action, ‘remote’ only in the sense that there is minimal bloodshed), which in itself is more in vogue today, it does endorse the idea of ‘sanitised’ battles. In the aftermath of a fight, you as a viewer don’t see maimed and tainted bodies, blood or gore — which one can easily presume to be part of the scene — but, instead, witness broken machines, shattered buildings and, poignantly, Mori’s lost red shoe. Whatever ‘blood’ you can see on screen is glowing blue acid dripping from mutilated Kaijus, which is not nearly as disgusting or dread-inspiring. In that sense, Del Toro panders to a notion that is by now the staple of sci-fi and even action cinema — war doesn’t have to end in visible human casualty.

Man and machine have come together on various instances in cinema previously. In The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), Lock Martin played the alien robot Gort, controlled by Klaatu, with a message for earthlings; Star Wars had Anthony Daniels and Kenny Baker play ‘droids’; Bladerunner and Robocop simply assimilated man and machine to form human-like androids; and most recently, Avatar dwelled on the notion of man controlling a morphed, mechanised version of himself. Through them all runs common theme of bettering the human condition, perfecting his survival skill and instinct through ‘mechanical enhancements’.

In our real, brutal world, however, man does not inhabit the machine (yet); he is far, far away, working on his surveillance or targeted bombing from safe, often undisclosed, locations. The ‘enemy’, for the last decade, has been hiding among his ‘own’, and has had to be ferreted out and hunted down like pesky rats. In this clash of civilisations, identity marked the ‘other’ and ‘ours’, and has been the crucial factor in deciding what is worth fighting for. Pacific Rim, like other sci-fi movies in its league, locates its enemy in the predator whose roots are alien, outside the realm of this planet in this space and time. These may be like all the other unknown threats from ‘out there’ threatening our world, but the movie departs from tradition in pulling upon all of humanity’s strength to fight this war.

Unlike his predecessors, Del Toro is more inclusive — his concern is not the US Pacific coastline alone, nor are his rangers strictly American. His heroine is Japanese; Beckett’s comrades are Russian, Chinese, British and Australian. Of course, in the end, it is Beckett, the American who saves the day. But in an industry where directors are used to casting at least one race/religion/nationality in the underdog/villain/sidekick role, this movie does give the idea of a global war a different twist.

Will Pacific Rim live long in pop-culture memory? Most probably not, thanks to its forgettable, repetitive story. But as a moment in the history of mecha, overwhelming sci-fi cinema, it could still make a lasting mark, for its representation of a world in flux.

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Friends, anyone?

Airtel’s (now slightly old) new ad campaign says har ek friend zaroori hota hai. Every friend is important. Or every friend holds some place in one’s life. Every friend is special, indispensable. It attempts to sell talk-time to a generation that lives in college canteens in groups on kulhads of chai; bunks classes to smoke pot in huddles or watch movies in single file rows; has survived on watching re-runs of ‘The One Where…’ episodes of F.R.I.E.N.D.S and absorbed more life lessons from those than any classroom lecture. The day it was launched, the video went viral on Youtube and Facebook and every few seconds, somebody or the other would post a new status message getting all soppy and emotional about dosti and what all their friends meant to them, as if it had JUST then occurred to them the vital wisdom of this simple statement.

Look at the ad stills at bus stops – the lazy friend, the bookish friend, the kanjoos friend, the adventurous friend…and it goes on. But here are some they totally…forgot (is the word)… to include i guess:

The Study-Notes Friend : Come February-March and I suddenly find there’s an increase in the number of people willing to buy me coffee or wanting to talk with me or simply just beaming at me from across the room. Of course, the fact that I record notes like a dictaphone has nothing with this, it’s just the spring air, yaar.

The I’m-Never-Going-To-Pay-You-Back Friend : Soo, you lent her some money one beautiful morning, when she needed it and you still thought she wasn’t one of ‘those’. But turns out….abhi toh pocket money nai aayi yar, my boyfriend dumped me yar, i lost my phone, my wallet, FIVE HUNDDDRUD bucks yaaaarrr….yaaaaarrrr, *puppy face*, kal pakka haan!

The Bottomless Void Friend : Who basically measures the amount he/she loves you by the ounces you put into him/her (oh well, you might as well say IT!). Feed them, nurture them, water them (with beer and whatnot) and IT shall be yours lovingly forever (till your resources for such fruitful enterprise run out). Even Marley knows where his loyalties lie, bones or no bones, yaar.

The Vanity-Fair Friend : She will bring you all the gossip and shine her royal light on you, at the price of at least one compliment a day. Or she will do whatever it takes to get all the boys’ attention, all the spotlight so she can radiate the sun into oblivion. Or he will crack witticisms about everything and bring to you the most bizarre, alternative information engineered to blow your mind away and make him cool. And the moment you stop the flow of admiration, he/she will begin to see in you the essence of your office’s dusty furniture. Mein bhi toh sultry hun, yaar!

The Who DAT? Friend : You’re walking down a street and you come across a face you know very well, and you stop, turn and run back to say hi! But the person is so oblivious to a world outside of their own personal haywire orbit that they cannot place you. Orrrrr, they pretend not to place you because you’re just not cool enough to be on their list of acquaintances even! Of course, this comes after they’ve ignored your calls, messages, wall texts, tweets, postcards, inland letters, pink-scented love letters…once your medium of association has expired. Out of sight, out of mind is only fair, afterall i know soo many people, yaar!

The Le Joker Friend : Sinister, like, Heath Ledger in the Dark Knight, this one’s particularly tricky because they’ve got split personalities and many faces. She will be always by your side, you will witness her ups and downs, you will an intrinsic part of her life, glass-shattering, wrist-scratching, self-loathing moments included. But the moment you go home, she will tell the world how you torment her, sabotage her, prey on her, steal from her, mooch from her and basically treat her like she’s the doormat. Sympathy milegi toh boyfriend bhi toh milega, yaar!

Of course, this list goes on. We’d all find some or other ‘friend’ who’s done this or more to us, duped us into believing this is the real thing. OR we might squirm and, if we still have a heart left, admit that we too have not been ‘holier than thou’ and done something awful to some unsuspecting soul, maybe not so wittingly ourselves. So if the bums at Airtel wish us to believe that being nonchalant about it will make it alright, they must know heartbreak and friendships don’t mend easily. And if all they’re trying to do is tell the world to get a grip and be good to your ‘hommies’ too, well, it’s a noble enterprise, but i do think it is a rather lost message in this day and age of short attention spans, shorter memories and big humongous egos blooming at terribly young ages instead. Dosti ho toh aisi yar!

Are You What You Wear?

Does wearing a Gandhi topi make you more of a rebel? Or, does it at least make you feel more rebellious? ( revolting? 😀 )

One much too long ago evening, a friend and i were wondering if this was true – does what you wear affect the way you behave? Based on a few empirical observations, we came to the conclusion that it, in fact, did : He posited that I’d be more playful and well…fritty….if i were wearing a pair of shorts and a tee, act more composed and lady-like if i was wearing a patiala suit. I observed that he seemed more academic and business-like if he wore a collared shirt, and tremendously more flippant if he was wearing shorts and floaters. We mutually agreed that a common friend was much better behaved (like a good little church girl) on days she styled her long beautiful hair into a plait, a bit flirtatious on days she left it open, and sort of aggressive (“i’m going to beat them boys up!”) on days she wore her Converse shoes. Another one’s entire presence varied according to what she had on – skirts would make her all shy and girly, suits would make her matronly, shorts would make her downright naughty. Yet another would unknowingly behave as jazzy as Elvis when he wore his blue suede shoes ( i swear, he owned a pair! ) and would be transformed into the most eligible bachelor, dignified and mature, when he wore his white kurta-pyjama. I’d even observed changes in the way people walked, and their posture – chest out, back straight, one-foot-in-front-of-the-other if they thought they had something flattering on, like a crisp shirt and pleated steel-grey trousers and shiny leather boots; or monkey-like, climbing trees and falling all over the place if they were wearing something casual / unwashed / old….so yeah, this went on for a while because it was just so funny…As an aside, boys can be such bitches, but anyway…..

So, to be honest, I guess how we present ourselves does affect the mood – buoyant, confident, nervous, indifferent – and it lasts for as long as it’s on us. In a sense, what i wear wears me too, molds itself around and into me. But this really isn’t an argument for what’s-on-you being a definitive part of one’s character in the long-term. I don’t know about that. But on an everyday basis, does it work because most of us do look at ourselves through the eyes of those in front of us too? Or does demeanor have something to do with how expensive or fancy your clothes are?

Any which way, how you dress seems to me an important part of our lives. Our lives, specifically, although you might call it elitist, hegemonising or something to that effect. To pretend that you just don’t care about how you look could mean one of two things: you’re either tremendously under-confident or you’re trying to set that casual-i’m-too-cool-for-my-shirt attitude. Because, frankly, if you believe in the dictum ‘first impressions last forever’, you cannot not believe in being what you’re wearing. Or wearing what you’re being.

Split-personalities in order, you say? No, just ruffling things up!

PS – my latest addiction : The Sartorialist. For regular endless hours of gauze-steeped self-indulgence. Scott Schuman is IT! 😀

Burrrrp!

First off, to the maybe five readers of this blog (i’m being optimistic), apologies for the last post. Rambles aside, it was general frustration and an empty mind that cooked up such burnt broth.

Now, to the point of this one. All those who remotely identify themselves with the young urban Indian who is slightly frustrated, slightly scruffy, because he has no time left after work, play and dealing with affairs of the heart, must watch Delhi Belly. Not only because it is about people like us, but because it is a relief to see what is not. The hyperbole that the lives of Tashi, Nitin and Arup go into in the space of 24 hours is out of the ordinary, but peppered with all the gutter language and the sentiment of being ’21st century men’, it strikes the right chords – you know you’re a Delhiite (or almost there) if you are stricken with mirth everytime they say the C word.

And then again, every time one of them is hanging off a noose or is rampaging around Delhi-6 in a burqa or has a gun pointed at their crotch, you think, “not in a zillion years can that happen to me!” But you love every bit of it, every bit of the madness, and you laugh your guts out because this comedy of errors is the most hilarious Bollywood has come up with in the longest time. Honestly, i thought not even Hangover was this funny.

Nitin’s grotesque diarrhoea-cal dilemma is only topped by Arup’s hysterical imagined rage at being so cruelly dumped. The misgivings after the no-trailer warning in the beginning are soon drowned in gales of laughter as you rock back and forth in your seat, delighted at the unapologetic incorrectness of it all. Yes, shit does happen, but retrospect is very important because it turns the coin onto the hilarity of it all.

But, on second thoughts, i do remember a few constipated looking faces, belonging to those unfortunate who thought of this as a weekend family venture. Mummy-Deddy, Bahu-Beta and Chunnu Munnu this movie is not for, at least not all together.

Such is the fire this one’s created: My aunt calls my mother from Calcutta and muses, “…but they can’t all really be talking like that? our children? our GIRLS??” So, i guess POP! go a few hearts (neon, bulb-suit or just glittery red) and then…wait…our secret’s out! Does that mean i don’t have to wince and immediately apologise everytime i yell ‘FUCK!’ at some wayward idiot while driving with my mother anymore? Far-out that seems, but one can always hope!

And if Aamir Khan does come out with Return of the Disco Fighter, I’m booked and hooked already. Waiting for it!

I am going to post every week!

So much for having no new year resolutions! 😀 WordPress has efficiently motivated me, along with so many others, to resolve to go strong on the constructing this time. ( of course, the de-constructing is always part of the constructing. or otherwise? ) And so, here’s my first big change of the year: quitting being a lazy bum and getting more in touch with the universe! Of course, the stronger challenge would be to post more than once a week, and that challenge too, is, Accepted ( Barney Stinson style ) !

Here we go! All gung-ho! 😀

So I say, Thank you for making frandship with me… :D

So, it is August 1, Frandship Day in the Archies World. Half a decade ago, the day entailed a race for popularity, counted on the number of bands people have on their wrists. Mine still reside in a polythene bag in my nostalgia locker. I’d be a hypocrite if i pretended it didn’t seem just the pits at the time, but now, friendship has a whole other meaning. Gone are the days when dad would have to yell and ma would have to fuss to get me off the phone. Now they just have to do it to get me off Facebook! The pleasures of voyeurism and distance social networking affords….but that’s another story 😀

Meanwhile, I’ve subconsciously worked on this script of a great big thank you speech all my life, hoping it might come in use someday, maybe some big finish to something. Seeing as i see myself as this pitcher, appropriating whatever i like about whoever i meet, there are certain people i am grateful to for being a defining factor in my life ( god i sound so full of myself! ) but anyhow, as it is always good to thank and love people for anything and everything, here goes!

Mummy-Daddy, for making me; Akash-Sagar, for being the joy and fight club of my life; Shishir, for being love, life and always there; Kavya, for the decade she’s given me, for her sense of humor, green eyes, unconditional love; Garima di, for the spice, the gyan and being the stable-headed sister i never did have (happy birthday to you too! ); Anand, for being there, for being so kind, so wise and so loving; Ankita, for being so scintillating, happy and a gem; Riddhi, for being so big hearted, and such a flubber; Vineet, for being ‘sick’ and just never giving up on me; Prateek, for being so much laughter; Baharul, for being himself without any airs; Subhojit, for being SO Bong; Shao, for being the most vibrant person i’ve met and the awesome parties; Lisa, for being just perfect; Naheed, for being eccentric to the hilt, being so open and loving and just the right bit of a snob; Sve, for being all the madness incarnate in the world and yet being all the sanity too; Nalini, for talking in her sleep and having the bestest smile in the world; Priya, for being honest and straightforward; Ruhi, for knowing so much and for being all the Punjabi goodness, and for wanting so badly to be really Kandahari; Sarah, for all her love and cuteness; Shobha, for being the biggest source of rofl’s; Megha, for being so stable; Blossom, for being a sweet gorgeous witch, for the love of her home and the kids and the food; Chanduji, for having a fab sense of humor, for the long rants and the patient ear, for the missed calls; Arpita, for being so bright and beautiful; Preetha, for being such a madcap; Zoya, for being happiness, for the best hugs in the world; Jalil, for being The Phiplosopher and being a compulsive, meaningless flirt; Divyank, for Grooveshark, all the stand-up comedy, all the comedy standing up and sitting down, the honesty and the beer times; Astik, for being the most understanding person i’ve known; Sanjay, Blossom and Sonal for teaching me the moves and the way to be i love the best…and so many many more, who mean more than their little presences might imply.

Phew, so that is long. Bound to ( and i sincerely hope it does ) grow longer. If it weren’t for the people around, one would be nothing but an underdeveloped, undernourished version of what they are. Thank you my peeps, looking forward to many more many good times.

The music of Hope

This four and a half minute piece, that i first heard in the movie Mary and Max , has since become four and a half minutes of some of the purest joy i have known. Any time it comes on on my playlist, the breathing slows, the heart pulsates just that much slowly to keep time with the crescendos of violins. I cannot pretend to be any sort of expert on music ( like my dear Maggie Curls ), but i do know what moves my soul, at the very least.

It gives me hope every morning, every time i listen to it. “And that’s all i have to say about that.” 🙂

Raise Your Glasses to Speedy Obsolescence :|

Sooo…i got my new N97 yesterday. And, suddenly, my 9-month old Samsung Star, which i loved and venerated, worshipped and admired every single day, was a thing of the past! I was suddenly upgraded from my beautiful little touch-screen dream into a Nokia superstar, complete with 32 GB of memory. And all my overflowing emotions and attentions are now zipped into this slideable milky white box of new-age wonder.

So much for fidelity in this age of express speed technology upgrades! 😀