Monday, October 29, 2007

Unwritten Scriptures

The tendency to reify the twin concepts of ‘scriptures’ and ‘race’ over-simplifies the freighted history of how both concepts are invoked as human collectives configure themselves. Substantiating the concepts with concretized objects makes for a convenient reference but, in the process, blurring the dynamics at play in the concretizing processes. For instance, to objectify ‘scripture’ as a the sacred written text of a particular faith community does make for a helpful reference point but on probing further, one is lead to the question of how the text is accepted in its decisive and normative capacity. The idea of ‘race’ again makes ‘sense’ when one refers to color or geopolitical location and yet, to collapse ‘race’ into such ‘visible’ difference is to ignore how such perceived differences were constructed through complex social and political dynamics into hierarchical positions so that ‘race’ becomes a power signifier for superiority and also inferiority. Put the two concepts together and one finds oneself faced with a whole new set of questions. How does one capture the perceived differences and make sense of it with the available knowledge bank of a particular epoch so that the differences can fit in within the known limits of the known world? With knowledge more expansive than ever before, how do scriptures inform and shape our 'others' or what new scriptures do we forge to make sense of the differences that so often overwhelm us?

While on the topic of scriptures, I came across a post that reported on a certain Mizo clergyman's writings going to be the focus of the adult sunday school for the coming year. For those not in the know, he died recently under rather dubious circumstances and thereby upping the ante on how Mizos in particular come to terms with it. ( With the posthumous valorization of his writings, one may speculate his person itself being scripturalized as an exemplar for how things should and could be. And yet beneath the smoothened projections of the church, the scripturalizing process flattens a whole lot of issues and questions that unsettle many but are left unsaid because they, the issues and questions, will have been 'canonized' in our collective memory, or literally 'cannonized.'

Friday, October 12, 2007

Chuck This...India!

A friend recently suggested I watch "ChakDe India" . The idea was tempting because we had a Mary Ralte and a Molly Zimik (Tangkhul Naga, i think) on the cast and I was curious to see how they'd be scripted alongside Shah Rukh Khan. This also would probably be the first time a Mizo has been a sustained part of the script in a Bollywood movie (there have been the odd Mizos popping up on screen).
Here's the plot: X misses a crucial penalty stroke-labelled a traitor-'exiled'-comes back to coach the women's team-teaches them a few lessons in life along the way-win the championship-restored. This was how I replied to my friend:

"First, it was a pirated screen print so the viewing wasnt a great experience. Then again, the movie just failed to capture my imagination, too many holes in the plot and as many have already noticed, too many simplistic reductions riddling the screenplay. I had read some previews and so was relishing the possibility of something commendably different. A bollywood production without song and dance sequences, a non-glamorous topos, no item-number (what!!), a cast with the majority being first-timers; elements that seemed to infuse freshness. And yet all these novel potentials got subscripted under a glamorized male narrative. The uneasy dynamics of a multi-regional team getting to live and play together is always underscored by the 'disgraced' coach's attempt to see his present in light of his past failure. That his penalty was for missing a crucial penalty stroke etches the performative angst only to be rectified decades later and vicariously by his team. Hence, even the fantastic euphoria of a championship victory is eventually a subscript of the male coach's road to redemption while his team members are back to the harsh mundanity of haggling with an autorickshaw driver. This grand narrative seems to be unable to function without the metonymic assistance of trite reductions: the Pakistani other (how else does one rouse patriotism in the subcontinent?), the easy 'chinky', the silently compliant to-be-bahu, the incomprehensibility/barbaricity of the 'tribal',--all which serve to etch out the indispensable brilliance of the coach.

I thought the text could be done without Mary, Molly and the 'others' serving as mere props...who though not running around trees were just running around on astro-turf at the command of the coach's whistle. The most problematic scene however would be when they go for lunch to McDonalds (really, which sports team goes to gorge on junk...or was it a MacDonalds, im a little confused) and again, my NE sisters are singled out for harrasment. The team gets together to thrash the eve-teasers while the coach smiles with an epiphanic nod. The women have spoken through their collaborative thrashing and yet as the scene fades, one wonders if they were heard? Like all the subscripts in the movie, one really wonders how subjectivities are contructed to perpetuate a marginalisation that eerily over time becomes 'acceptable'...Bollywood being one such pervasive media. Mary gets no lines, Molly has three forgetable ones but both immediately, and for no fault of theirs, feed the repressed fetish for gori/fair-chinky flesh!! Het Saaalaa! Sorry.

As you see, i doubt whether my views are going to be helpful for a write up cause they are so partisan. Cinematically, it just pushed my patience and then the subscripts were rather apalling. "

Postscript: Nehru's vision of 'unity in diversity,' that has become a free-for-all site, will be flattened by such reductionist projects like ChakDe India. U-i-D as a process serves us better than U-i-D as an event because differences will perpetuate and should. As a process, U-i-D would serve better in setting up negotiations across the diversity while being open to shifts as differences are nuanced and mulitplied. Sadly, Shah Rukh's moment of victory and redemption set us back a few steps; and maybe one needs to emphasize that at the completion of a game or in packaging a bollywood productions, "winning isn't everything" because the winners seemingly always need the losers.