India Insight

No consensus on sex, violence and censorship in Bollywood

(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and not necessarily of Reuters)

Getting directors, producers and activists into a room to figure out Indian cinema’s connection to violence toward women, rape and crudeness in society can be like a family gathering. People shout, get angry and fail to solve fundamental problems because they can’t agree on anything.

The Siri Fort auditorium in New Delhi recently presented the latest forum for the debate. India’s Ministry of Information and Broadcasting held a six-day festival there to celebrate 100 years of moviemaking, and there was little agreement on how much responsibility Bollywood and the film industry bear for the poor attitude toward women that many people evince. It was perhaps a more pressing discussion than usual, given the name of the three-day workshop, “Cut-Uncut,” which dealt with official censorship in India, the role of sex and violence in movies and the influence of films on society.

To be fair, it’s a question with no apparent answers. Indian films are wildly popular. Storylines and songs become part of the thread of everyday life in a way that’s different than nearly everywhere else in the world. They also reflect a strange prudishness when it comes to love scenes with dance numbers as a substitute – strange because the dance numbers can seem infinitely more erotic than any kiss on the lips or lovemaking scene that they’re supposed to be representing.

Then there is the premise, debated for years in the United States by the music and movie worlds, that these images and the attitudes behind them in cinema reinforce a mindset toward women that brought us horrific stories in the past several months such as the Delhi gang rape and the rape of a Swiss tourist in Madhya Pradesh. Verdict? No answer.

Just another rape in India. Are we becoming numb?

(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and not necessarily of Reuters)

A grim parlour game sometimes comes to mind when I read the latest story about someone raping a woman or a child in India. Is this the one that’s going to change everything? Is this the one that’s going to keep me up for days contributing to the news media’s coverage? Or is this just another rape?

There is no such thing as “just another rape” for a victim. Beyond the sexual violation, there is the torture. The physiotherapy student who was raped on a bus in New Delhi last December died as the result of injuries sustained by being penetrated with an iron rod. Everybody knows this, and everybody got angry, but anger runs out.

Book lovers in India lap up myths with a makeover

Mriganka Dadwal knows everything about the Ramayana, the ancient Hindu epic that tells the story of warrior-god Rama and the abduction of his wife Sita by the powerful demon king Ravana.

The journalist-turned-entrepreneur says she would love to read the epic from the point of view of the vanquished Ravana. And now she can.

With several mythological tales getting a modern makeover and imaginative retellings crowding bookshelves, Dadwal and millions of urban, educated Indians who prefer to read in English have more choices than ever before.

Samsung Galaxy S4 lands on Bangalore, hundreds get in line

By Sayantani Ghosh and Supantha Mukherjee

“I’m very excited. I’ve been waiting a couple of hours; I couldn’t get any sleep last night,” said Arif, an employee of UK retailer Tesco. He was near the front of the line of hundreds of people to line up at the UB City Mall in Bangalore to buy the new Galaxy S4 smartphone.

The phone went on sale at the Samsung store on Saturday, and Arif waited for about two hours for the privilege of spending 41,500 rupees, or about $763, on the new model, which comes with a 5-inch screen and 13-megapixel camera, and runs on Google’s Android platform.

Samsung is trying to increase its lead over Apple, a possibility for the South Korean company, considering the preference of many Indian shoppers for a good discount over products priced at the top of the line compared to their competitors. Both companies are now handing out discounts on some of their older models. The S4 also is competing with other phones on sale in India such as the HTC One and the BlackBerry Z10, not to mention Apple’s iPhone 5 — its primary rival.

Ponzi scheme in West Bengal flames out, embers linger

Suicides, thousands of duped investors, hundreds of laid-off journalists, bickering politicians, protests slack regulation, one suspected mastermind arrested: it’s Ponzi scheme time in West Bengal, and it looks likely that little will change after the drama ends.

The latest fleecing of poor and middle-class investors brought in an estimated $730 million, according to media reports, though public interest litigation filed in the Calcutta High Court by one lawyer says the amount is as high as Rs. 300 billion. ($5.5 billion) The head of the Saradha Group and accused mastermind of the scheme, Sudipta Sen, was arrested in Kashmir on April 23 after two weeks as a fugitive. He has maintained his innocence, and reportedly threatened suicide, saying he might not be able to repay investors.

Sen started out as a small-time property dealer in the late 1990′s in Kolkata. His Saradha Group in the past decade had interests in real estate, tours groups and newspapers and television stations, and eventually owned nearly 100 companies.

Shamshad Begum: A tribute to a voice long gone

(Hindi translations by Ankush Arora, with help from Havovi Cooper and Uzra Khan. Punjabi translation by Vineet Sharma.)

How do you pay tribute to a singer who faded from public memory, only to revisit the headlines when she died? I was wondering this today after learning that playback singer Shamshad Begum died in Mumbai on Tuesday, just 10 days after her 94th birthday.

I heard her voice for the first time not too long ago: her duet with Lata Mangeshkar in “Mughal-E-Azam” (“Greatest of the Mughals”) – Teri mehfil mein qismat (“My destiny in your court”) — is my favourite song of hers. In this song from the 1960 blockbuster movie, the two greats lent their voices to Anarkali (played by Madhubala) and Bahar (Nigar Sultana), who are vying for Prince Salim’s (Dilip Kumar) affections. The tension between the two characters is almost palpable, accentuated by Mangeshkar’s softness and Begum’s unorthodox, mature voice.

Zubeen Garg: not Assamese enough for separatist group

(Note: paragraph six contains graphic language)

When in Assam, sing like the Assamese do. That was the message from the separatist group United Liberation Front of Assam to singer Zubeen Garg. The 40-year-old singer, born in Jorhat in Assam, irked ULFA last week when he sang Hindi songs at a Bihu festival.

That’s a poke in the eye for the rebel group. Bihu is a major cultural festival in Assam, taking place three times a year. It’s a big deal for the most populous largest state in northeast India, and ULFA didn’t like Garg’s decision to sing in Hindi (check his song “Ya Ali” here) because its leaders consider doing that an erosion of Assamese culture.

“Zubeen is a talented singer but that does not mean he should consider himself an ambassador of Hindi and go all out to promote it. If he continues to do so, we shall not be responsible for any consequences,” the group wrote in a letter to the Press Trust of India wire service.

Delhi rape case reignites police reform debate

(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and not necessarily of Reuters)

I live in India’s rape capital where rape cases are as common as power cuts used to be a few years ago. Even reports of police misbehaviour have become routine.

While all rape cases do not get media attention, the recent rape of a five-year-old girl is in the limelight, especially because of the way the police handled the case.

Journalist Sardesai sours on Twitter: “Had hoped to interact; failed.”

(The following post contains some essential Hindi translation help from my colleagues Arnika Thakur, Suraj Balakrishnan and Havovi Cooper. Any remaining errors or lack of precision are my fault as I reviewed and participated in all translations. Additionally, any opinions here are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Thomson Reuters Corp.)

From the desk of Rajdeep Sardesai, editor in chief of Indian news network IBN Live (I stitched these sentences together from his Twitter account):

My timeline suggests little space for healthy debate/discussion on twitter. So will no longer raise any political issues on the medium. Will continue writing/talking on issues of natl interest in print/tv, but not on twitter. Will continue to write in print/speak on tv. But will no longer seek twitter as a medium for public debate. Had hoped to interact; failed. A journalist has only his integrity/credibility. That has been abused on this medium for too long by unknown people. Time to switch off.

Thirty-three percent of world’s poorest live in India

(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and not necessarily of Reuters)

India has 33 percent of the world’s poorest 1.2 billion people, even though the country’s poverty rate is half as high as it was three decades ago, according to a new World Bank report.

India reduced the number of its poor from 429 million in 1981 to 400 million in 2010, and the extreme poverty rate dropped from 60 percent of the population to 33 percent during the same period. Despite the good news, India accounts for a higher proportion of the world’s poor than it used to. In 1981, it was home to 22 percent of the world’s poorest people.

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