Thursday, September 3, 2015

Aarushi: Why one must read it

Last few days have seen an interesting murder case managing to gain a lot of headlines. Any of the news medium that one choses to follow, be it the print media, electronic media or web world, one would come across this high profile Sheena Bora murder case. The Times of India group along with its TV partner Times Now seem to have taken up this case as their moral obligation to bring the accused to justice. And in order to do so, they have been coming up with several stories, each adding multiple twists to an already twisted story. Days after days, TOI is dedicating full pages to this story with several senior journalists giving their opinions on the case and the people concerned. A kind of a media trial is on the way and soon, it appears, the murderers would be sentenced on live TV debates on the prime time.

All of this has brought back the memories of another high profile murder case involving some not-so-high profile people that occurred a few years back in Noida. The Aarushi Talwar murder case was the first instance when I saw a media trial. The twists and the turns involved in the case and the hoopla created in the media made it impossible for anybody to just ignore that. The case generated interest from the very first days of its investigation which rose to its peak with the CBI filing the closure report and again re-opening the case with the Talwar parents being accused of the murder that too after the Talwars, themselves, had filed petition against the closure report. The trial ended in the conviction of the accused leaving behind many in doubts about the final decision of the court.

Recently, Avirook Sen, a journalist who covered the story for the Mumbai Mirror, has come up with a book on the particular case named Aarushi. The interest that the case generated at that time compounded with the lingering doubts on the court's verdict didn't leave much option but to have a go at the book. I went into reading the book with a preemptive opinion on the case wherein I, somehow, agreed to the court's verdict. A week or so later, when I came out having finished the book, I must say, I have serious doubts now on the trial judge's decision.

To analyse Avirook Sen's Aarushi, one first should remember the fact that there are two aspects to be reviewed in it. The first one is the legal aspect of the case that CBI put up in the Ghaziabad trial court along with the way the police investigated the dual murders or the concerned people tried to manage the post-mortem reports and witnesses changing their statements etc. The second aspect is to review the book on its literary content, whether the author does a justice to that and whether he managed to remain impartial through the course of the book. The media handling of the story can be the third aspect to be reviewed as far as the case is concerned but for the sake of the book, lets focus on the first two only. 

As far as the first aspect is concerned, there is nothing much new to write. Already many points have been raised that invoke serious doubts in the verdict. There is no doubt that the UP police did huge mistakes from the very first days of the investigations. Probably, they got serious after media showed such huge interest in the case but it was already too late till then. The absurd press conferences of the local police with the absurds theories to explain the murders not only managed to draw attention of the media towards the case but also caused serious damages to the characters of the Talwar couple that was there never to be restored as we saw later in the course.

The case was rightly transferred to the CBI but their handling of the case remained suspicious too. Changing the investigating officer midway in his investigations raise a few doubts especially when he is replaced by somebody who is known for his love of the hook-or-crook methods to solve any case. The first part of the investigation moves in a direction where the house-helps are the suspected perpetrators of the crime but it suddenly changes on its head when in the later part of CBI investigation the parents are the accused. 

However, CBI filed a closure report failing to gather enough evidence in order to grill anybody concretely. The parents filed petition against the filing of closure report demanding further investigations and the closure report is suddenly changed into a charge sheet in which the parents are made the accused and a trial is started. The trial in itself had several points that raise several doubts regarding the affirmity of the final verdict. Some of the instances being witnesses changing their statements, typographical errors on the evidence labels, post-mortem doctor himself changing statements a several times through the full course of the case and then a witness repeating again and again in the court on being questioned, "Jo mujhe samjhaya gaya hain, wahi bayan mai yahan de rahi hoon. (Whatever was taught/explained to me, I am testifying here)."

All in all, these all points raise enough doubt in the conviction of the accused. As the basic tenet of our criminal law goes, it is better to have a hundred guilty go unpunished than punishing one innocent person. In this very case, I think now, that there are several points that raise enough doubt on the Talwars being guilty of the crime and hence they were entitled for that benefit of doubt that our law has provisions for. Plus, the onus of proof lies on the prosecution and the defence needs not to do anything if prosecution fails to prove its case conclusively. In this particular case, it seems the onus was left on the defence to prove their innocence and in lack of such concrete evidences, the final verdict came against them. The book manages to raise all these important questions clearly and hence, manages to influence the reader with some concrete facts concerned with the case. Sen has done full justice as far as the legal aspect of the case is concerned.

As far as the second aspect, the literary content of the book, is concerned, Sevanti Ninan in her article about the book on her website rightly says, "Reporters in this country should write more books.They nail the system quite devastatingly when they piece together their notes after the story has run its course." The book raises a very important question on the journalism that we see in our country. The attrition rate of stories in our news media is so high that even the viewers/readers tend to forget the stories quickly. The most concerning point is a lack of follow-up of the cases by our journalists. This book is a beautiful example of how a story is followed-up even after the interest attached to the story has completely faded down.

As far as his being impartial as an author is concerned, I think Sen fails somewhat on this front. From the very first page, it seems that he has written the whole book in order to prove that the Talwars are innocent. Knowing the whole story completely himself must have made it real difficult for him not to have that preemptive opinion but then writing the book meant putting and analysing all the facts wholly and impartially. It seemed that he gave a lot of importance on how corrupt the practices of that CBI investigating officer (Kaul) were who changed the case upside down and made the parents the accused but the character of that CBI investigator (Kumar) who suspected the servants to be the murderer were put into the books just as passing remarks. Much importance was given (in fact more than few pages were dedicated) to Kaul's management of the witnesses in the cases he was involved in the past but not much importance was shown to the fact that even Kumar was found to have letting loose the rich influential people in his earlier assignments. Similarly, a lot of importance was given to what Nupur Talwar felt of Kaul but again Kaul's thoughts about Nupur were mentioned as passing remarks only.

"He would later tell Nupur that he had a bad feeling about Kaul. She told me, ‘I also felt it, in fact we talked about it. I said why is he giving us these dirty looks? He asked, what kind of bed sheet did Aarushi use? I said blue bed sheet with a Disney print on it . . . He gave me a look as if I was lying. I said ya, that is what she was using. I knew there was something wrong, immediately.’ That first meeting would define not just the relationship that Kaul and his team would have with the Talwars, but also the line of investigation. Kaul, like so many other people, may have got the impression that Nupur Talwar was cold and manipulative—and a little too assertive for his liking."
Sen questions the court proceedings also at some points. At one such instance, he questions, "prosecution never gave any indication as to which witness would appear at the next hearing and then be expected to cross-examine them the day they appeared." But nowhere does he mention whether it was according to the court proceedings or special exceptions were made for this case only. The epilogue of the book with Rajesh Talwar's diary seems to be an attempt at gathering sympathies for the Talwars. But then we must remember, there are always two sides of a story.

Who is the real murderer is a question that can be answered correctly either by the murderers themselves or the ones who where murdered. The prosecution and the defence, both, have their own sets of stories that explain the murders. Avirook Sen with his book appears to put forth the defence side of the story. A fabulously written story with complete facts is what this book is all about. He succeeds in putting forth all the points concerned from the defence point of view. Sadly, Mr. Kaul the CBI investigating officer is no more with us and we would never get a book from the prosecution point of view but what an interesting idea that would have been.

In the last, a passing remark on this article that I stumbled upon most recently relating to the book, its completely your loss if you don't chose to read the book just based on something immaterial that occurred in a panel discussion on the book. Do read this book. It would certainly force you to question the ways police handle different crime investigations and the level of forensic practices that we follow in our country. Seriously, a lot needs to be done on these aspects.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Tanu weds Manu Returns, an overhyped-overrated film

There are certain movies that you don't want to watch only because you made your mind that way in advance for some very unrelated reasons. Tanu weds Manu Returns (TWMR) was one such movie for me. Lately, I have been appalled by the idea of feminism that Indian main stream entertainment community is promoting of late. It all probably started a long ago and I don't actually seem to remember the exact point where it all began. But surely this vogue video of women empowerment featuring Deepika Padukone took this feeling of disgust of mine towards feminism to its peak. Not wanting to watch TWMR was one reaction that came to me with that same disgust that I referred to in the previous line. It was publicised and promoted and then reviewed as something that has a strong female character and that defines the feministic revolution in India. However, due to unknown reasons to me myself, I finally chose to watch the movie, just in case...

Having seen the first instalment of the franchise, it was much easier for me to relate to the characters and the concept. The movie starts off where it ends in the first part. Tanu is marrying Manu with Lata Mangeshkar's Sun Saahiba Sun playing in the background. The unusual couple that Tanu and Manu would make was quite evident in the exactly opposite personalities portrayed by their characters in the movie. And when the movie shifts to a chilling day in the countryside outside London four years later, it was clear enough that the inevitable has broken loose. One just gets the feeling that four years were way too many for this couple to have realised what they were telling their mental rehabilitation counsellor there. And its there where my problems with the movie starts. Why a mental rehabilitation centre? Why not a marriage counsellor! Well, maybe because Manu alleged Tanu to have a bipolar disorder they went to a mental rehabilitation centre but then the way the sequence culminated was bizarre. It didn't make even a little sense in sending Manu to the asylum and cutting loose a moronic alcoholic that Tanu is. There are some beautiful dialogues in the sequence and some over-perfect analogies that crack you up but then it was very clear that who actually was the problem in the marriage. Anyways, lets move further..

Tanu moves to India to her hometown Kanpur and informs Manu's friend Pappi (Deepak Dobriyal) and his family about his being in the asylum. Pappi reaches London and instead of getting his friend-brother out of the asylum chooses to roam about in London only because he had spent a lot of money to have come there (The money, by the way, in all probability, were Manu's father's). A charming, humourous character that Pappi was in the first movie comes in his very first scene in this one as a forced comedian and continues that way through the whole length of the movie. His witty one-liners and the presence of mind in the first movie have been reduced to repetitive, irritating gibes. A real waste of the talent.

Manu, a cardiologist, also is brought back to India and is delivering a lecture on cardio-vascualr diseases at the Biology department of the Delhi University. He happens to speak on a heart condition called arrythmia. He says that there are two kinds, Bicardia and Tricardia. He also goes on to define the two conditions and then I realised what he wanted to say was Bradycardia and Tachycardia respectively. Such a level of ignorance on the part of the director or the dialogue writer was not expected by me. To have made a whole movie with such little research on the subject, I think, is unpardonable. I lost all the interest in the movie then and there only but managed to come back and continue from there on just for the sake of it.

During that same lecture, Manu happens to have a glance at a haryanvi female athlete from the university who is a doppleganger to Tanu. Having a desire to live with Tanu for his extreme love towards her and having his realisation after the four years of marriage of the fact that he can't, he falls for Datto (Kangana 2.0). Meanwhile, Tanu is in her self mode of a careless girl that she was in the first movie. Taking the help of one typical 'Bhaiyaji from UP', a law student-turned-lawyer (Zeeshan Ayyub), she starts meeting her ex boyfriends and finally meet the real bhaiyya ji of the first movie, Raja Awasthi (Jimmy Shergill). There are some good sequences involving Shergill and Ayyub in the typical bhaiya-tone of the goon-land of UP. Shergill is as good as he was in the first movie and Zeeshan Ayyub manages to impress till comes the climax.

The movie starts to descend from here. Tanu gets to know about Manu's marriage to Datto and then feels victimised and wronged on the hands of Manu. Too many characters, concepts and sequences have been forced to move a movie that is going nowhere from there. The Bihari friend of Tanu's (Swara Bhaskar) comes in with her own problems of giving birth to a child through artificial insemination and not telling her husband about it. Pappi's one-sided affair with a punjabi girl that ends into a sort-of-kidnapping of the girl by him with the help of Manu and Datto. A garba-bhangra mix in a punjabi household. And a khap panchayat types scene in the haryanvi village of Datto's. All these sequences and the characters therein create a khichdi that starts as a confusion and goes on to become unpalatable and extremely painful for your heads.

The real problem starts with the victimisation of the character of Tanu. It was all OK when she was flirting with the english guys during her marriage in London and then roaming around the streets of Kanpur with her lawyer friend to see and meet all her ex-boyfriends. The moment she comes to know about her husband's second marriage, the feminism in her starts boiling and she ends up saying, "Hum thode bewafaa kya hue, aap badchalan ho gaye", where in reality it is she who is both bewafaa and badchalan at the same time. It was beyond my understanding, the way she was presented in the movie as someone who is facing the falsehood when in reality, she herself is the one who is false here. Geeta Dutt comes in with the background song Ja Ja Ja Bewafa. The soulful song picturised on Tanu with a bottle of whiskey in her hand roaming on road in a lonely night promises to be a great scene but with the backdrop of the story of TWMR, the whole sequence becomes meaningless. So is the referral to Pakeezah, with Tanu dancing in Manu's marriage.

The sequence leading to the second marriage reveals Tanu realising her love for Manu and her stubbornness to be the part of that marriage. Everybody starts to root for her and her pathetic condition is visible to every-single-body. It goes beyond senses for me that these people couldn't see what she managed to do with her husband during her marriage. A seriously loving and caring person, Datto, has to pay the price and sacrifices her love for someone who doesn't even know what its all about being married and being a loveable couple. The movie ends with Tanu reconciling with Manu and that's where the whole idea of TWMR comes out to be flawed and the viewer comes out to be cheated. It teaches you that you don't need to push hard enough to be in a marriage happily and you can roam around your exes and still your husband will take you back whole-heartedly, beacuase afterall Its her choice!

A passing remark for the director. He didn't even care to work that much hard on his characters that a mole on the neck of Datto's character continue to come and go through the whole length of the movie. Such lazy piece of crap that's not well researched is what the director Anand L Rai has managed to get away with. Sad!

Thursday, June 4, 2015

The Possessed...

There have been too many posts on my blog about starting some novel and then not going on to finish them. Well, this one is about starting something. A novel by Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Possessed. The english translations have come in different names such as Devils, Demons etc. I got a hand at the oldest translation of the russian story, the one by Constance Garnett in 1916.

This is not the first time that I have put my hands on Dostoevsky. Ever since, I was told of him by my elder brother and in a way recommended by him, I never left an opportunity to get a possession of his novels whenever and wherever it was available. Crime and Punishment and The House of Dead are with me for long times but still unread. The first time I read Dostoevsky was his short story White Nights. The movie Saawariya was based on the story. I was told about this fact by my brother who also asked me to go through the story. I must admit, it was a great experience.

Since then, Dostoevsky's persona has intrigued me. I've got to read few articles on him and all of them have posed so different an identity for him that it has really been difficult for me to create a clear idea in my mind as to what he actually was. It is simply not possible to characterise a varied talent such as him by reading just one of his short stories. Maybe, in future, when I have read a few more of him, I would be able to have a better idea about him.

Lately, as I already told, I have started The Possessed. It is a long novel and hence, for a person like me who is so irregular with reading, I don't know whether I would be able to finish this one. Still in the very early parts of the book where still the character building is going on, there have been some instances where in one can have an idea of the author's opinion on issues like nationalism, rebellion etc. One such instance of his opinion on nationalism is being shared here. An excerpt...

“...It all springs from the charming, cultured, whimsical idleness of our gentry! I'm ready to repeat it for thirty thousand years. We don't know how to live by our own labour. And as for the fuss they're making now about the 'dawn' of some sort of public opinion, has it so suddenly dropped from heaven without any warning? How is it they don't understand that before we can have an opinion of our own we must have work, our own work, our own initiative in things, our own experience. Nothing is to be gained for nothing. If we work we shall have an opinion of our own. But as we never shall work, our opinions will be formed for us by those who have hitherto done the work instead of us,...
...For the last twenty years I've been sounding the alarm, and the summons to work. I've given up my life to that appeal, and, in my folly I put faith in it. Now I have lost faith in it, but I sound the alarm still, and shall sound it to the tomb. I will pull at the bell-ropes until they toll for my own requiem!...”
These lines written for Russia in the 18th century still hold true for any other country in the modern world. Everybody is running behind someone with some ideas. So what they are unrealistic and only rhetorical, everybody just celebrate the ideas. Nobody is ever going to perform their part of the duties and think that everything will come to them served in the platters. They tend to forget that the ideas will remain only ideas till someone starts to work on them. It is not the ideas that are important but the thought of the hard labour that should go behind the execution of ideas is what makes the difference. Nothing is to be gained for nothing.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Two videos, the truth of common man!

In the midst of the preparation of one of the toughest examinations of my career so far, in search of some break from the long study hours, I happened to stumble upon two videos yesterday. Both of them are clippings from news bulletins of different channels. And sadly, this is the only similarity between the two videos. Apart from it, they are both completely different.

This first video imparted in me a riot of laughter so hard that I think I have not laughed so much in recent times. At the same time, I must confess, when I look back onto it, it fills in me an anger so brutal that I just can't explain in words. I have never been a fan of the party he belongs to or, for that matter, of the man himself. Rather, as far as this fellow is concerned, I had always had a sense of despisal for him right from the time when he was a practicing journalist on television. I don't have any strong reason for this feeling but still, I never had no respect for him and this incident in the video has affirmed my feelings of hatred for him more strongly.

And then there is this second video. It comes from one of my favourite programmes on any TV news channel. Another story of the emotions, the emotions of a real common man, the asli aam aadmi. This story leaves me disturbed and thinking. I would be lying if I say that I didn't feel like losing tears while watching the video. Watch for the first 14 minutes of the video piece and try for yourself. I am sure you will feel for it too.