Darbar (Tamil movie, English review)

Darbar is a film that works at all levels - right from music to action blocks to costumes, et al. But the only trouble with the film is that it has come with a delay of some 4-5 years. There was a big question mark in the Superstar's career after Linga (2014). Ideally, Darbar should have been released around that time - just to prove that the Rajni magic was still as strong and as addictive as ever.  But now, as a Rajni film coming up immediately after the well written and beautifully crafted Petta (2019), Darbar is something that even Rajni could have avoided. Petta had already achieved what Darbar purportedly attempted - to celebrate the ageless Star. And it had achieved that with a great panache, and more importantly in tune with the changing times. 

Aditya Arunachalam, played by Rajnikanth is the COP, Mumbai. He gets transferred from Delhi to Mumbai by someone dressed in a bandhgala suit sitting in a huge well furnished hall. May be he is some sort of an All India Commanding Officer. Well, here we stop and tune ourselves as if we have come for a mass Rajni film like a  Rajathi Raja or a Sivaji. Fair enough. If I am to get something extra by sticking to the usual route of suppresing our logical sense while watching a Rajni film, I am more than willing to do that. Naturally, because that is what we have been doing over the decades. But, the key phrase here is - 'something extra'. 

The first half of the film is pretty good. It has been written well, and it succeeds in checking all the critical Rajnism boxes - style, stunts and comedy. The chemistry between Aditya and his daughter Valli (Nivetha Thomas) has worked out very well on screen. In fact, the father-daughter relation holds the film throughout. Yogi Babu as the COP's PA has supported Rajnikanth neatly with his funny lines and antics. Nayanthara (Lily) as the hero's love interest has justified her role, which demands only a limited range of emotions. It is a cake walk for her. May be she is doing such a role for the zillionth time. But luckily, all of us are spared a full fledged 'duet' song. And the age gap factor of Aditya-Lily too is handled in a nuanced way. Hats off!

So far, so good. On the story front, the first half revolves around certain drug-related crimes ultimately leading to a petty criminal doing 'proxy' time in prison, in place of the real master mind. Aditya rattles the plan with a lot of brain work. The script is gripping around this sequence. By the interval the COP is extraordinary. Rajni at his near best.

In the second half,  the movie takes off well but just when you are all set to see the heights the script is going to take you, it starts meandering and worse - falls back to the very old formulaic things. The very stuff that the stars are trying to put behind them. It is like beyond a point the team decides - Relax baby!  It is the auto pilot time! It is a rehash of many things old and beaten. The music too sounded pedestrian and at many places it was a rehash of Thenisai Thendarl Deva's tunes. (His name finds a place in the initial 'Thanks'.) Anirudh's golden touch is by and large missing. 

But if there is one thing (basically there is only one thing) in the film that stands out - it is Rajni's effort. He is just amazing, defying age with elan. Believe me! Be it the one liners, slo-mo style walks, dance, humour and above all the fight sequences - the Superstar has delivered superbly. The climax stunt will be talked for many months to come. There is not a single place where the actor has let his guard down, or just tried to 'manage' his performance. It is tough not to envy him. It is tougher to find a comparable star anywhere around the world. But it is also a tragic truth that even the best of the stars cannot entirely salvage a script that cries for more attention. 

Vipassana Meditation for Dummies

The last things first. For those of you who know that Vipassana meditation course has got something to do with observing ‘noble silence’ (basically, keeping quiet) for ten days straight — do not panic. At the end of the program your voice box and your capacity to generate sounds will still be in tact. For those who do not know anything about Vipassana — the next five minutes will deliver you quick enlightenment.

Vipassana is supposedly an old Indian meditation technique that was rediscovered and spread by Gautama, the Buddha, some 25 centuries ago; and more recently popularised by the superstar author Yuval Noah Harari. I had heard the term in the early years of the third millennium, in the year 2005. A friend of mine had completed a program around that time. I remembered only the very basic rule that you were not supposed to talk during the 10-day program. By the way, a 60-day course is also on the offer.

… where Harari meets Vipassana

But not speaking was the smallest of the problems I had to tackle during my course last month. In the evening of the Day-1 of the course, you had to deposit all your cellphones at the office. In the initial few minutes without the mobile you really feel like, yes, as if you have lost a little but vital part of your body. But soon you get used to it, though occasionally your old habit kicks in and you even start searching the room for your mobile. (Then you smile.)
In fact, I did not really miss talking as much as I missed the mere holding of my mobile. The cool feel of the glass back…
A typical day unfolds with a wake up call at 4 AM and ends by 9:30 PM. An earth-shattering alteration of the sleep cycle for most of us. Till then I had seen many 4 AMs in my life, but — not by waking up but by simply staying awake. Also have a look at the meal times. It has a better potential to drive you mad. Breakfast at 6:30 AM, lunch from 11:30–12 Noon, and the last things to munch (snacks and tea time) by 5:30 PM. And that is not all. You will notice there is no slot for dinner. That is because you don’t get dinner.

The crazy food-sleep cycle was also not a serious problem for me. And the other rules like no alcohol, no lies, no sexual activities, no non-veg, no smoking, etc. are incidental to ‘noble silence’ and the revamped food-sleep routine. Most of us are good at adapting to situations; and playing the roles we are handed out (Stanford prison experiment, anyone?) Also my illustrious (yes!) academic and professional exposure has made it very easy for me to follow any schedule that an ‘authority’ hands out. I have been a MBA student, management trainee, officer trainee, and above all an obedient kid during my school days.
Every day you end up meditating for some 10-11 hours. In short, the entire day (minus the time for eating, sleeping and resting) is for meditation.
Inside the meditation hall, the instructions from the teacher seem so easy. But the whole game is about following them. For me the most difficult (and amusing) task in the entire program was to fix the mind (and the body) at a place. The meditation opens your eyes too to the very basic question: ‘Who am I?’ Are you the mind? Are you the body? Are you someone/something that tries to control the body and the mind?

I am reminded of the Tamil verses of lyricist Vairamuthu: Udala? uyira? peyara nee? … Moondrum illai seyale nee! Rough English version: Who are you? Are you the body, the soul or the person(name)? None of these. You are your action.

But wait, wait! The defining feature of Vipassana is that the program is not an intellectual entertainment or a spiritual quest. It is neither a philosophical introspection (whatever it means) or a series of motivational sermons. In fact the program is far removed from any of these. The only ‘talking’ that happens daily is the video-taped one hour lecture of Mr.S.N.Goenka (1924–2013), the founder of the organisation.
The program is strictly a boot camp for the mind. You have to work hard, really hard.
Another important aspect of Vipassana program is that the meditation campus is stripped off religious motifs like idols, flags, miracles, candles, etc. Can you believe, there are no framed pictures of even swamijis!

The gates are open… only till the start of the course

The course is open to people of all religions (there were two Christian nuns in my batch), all races, and also to those who do not believe in the birth-death cycle. But the technique of Vipassana is drawn from the teachings of the Buddha. Therefore little and nice Buddhist stories find themselves ensconced in the daily discourse. These stories make you look forward to the talk at the end of a heavy day. There is also this daily dose of loud speaker chants in Pali language. Also, all the meditation sessions end with Pali shlokas. But such things are surely not enough to brand the program as chants-intensive.
Overall, the course is as secular as rain. Or the sun.
I just met a friend who has paid close to Rs.3,000/- for a three-day meditation camp run by a swamiji. And that just reminds me of this — the entire ten-day Vipassana course does not involve any kind of charges or fares for boarding. The application happens online, and right from then till the last day you are not required to pay anything. This again was based on a Buddhist concept, we were told. After the end of the course you could donate as much as you can, but only if you wished. I’ve always known spiritual sessions and cult gurus as an unfailing path to make some quick money and fan following. So to me this zero-fees policy was something just incredible, awesome.
Actually, everything is free. There are no hidden costs.
This is the golden jubilee year (1969–2019) of Vipassana teaching in India by Mr.S.N.Goenka. The first and the largest centre of Vipassana is in Igatpuri, Maharastra. The organisation (dhamma.org) has presence all over the world, and more than that they have a very simple and functional website.

The 7 Habits of Highly Defective People

Habit 1 — Don’t work. Just network. The human mind and soul are designed to follow the path of least resistance. Left to itself the body avoids work. I’m sure you can’t disagree. Self-preservation is a basic nature of all things living as we all have only a limited reserve of energy. Unless we get our daily dose of inspirational quotes or have a Martin Luther King wallpaper we just won’t be able to do anything that needs even an ounce of effort more than what is essential for our survival. Don’t blame yourself for that, it is the way we were all created (evolved?). Accept it. Throw the stuff like ‘No pain, No gain’ into the dirtiest bins and just go with the natural flow of life— don’t waste energy, spend it judiciously. Just get a smartphone and restrict your work to Whatsapp, Twitter, FB and ‘Gram.

Habit 2 — The best decision is no decision. It was like any other day and I was chatting with my auto rickshaw driver as he was wading through the stinking sub-lanes of Bangalore. He was in great distress. The cops were harassing him routinely, for no fault of his. The reason? Kumar (his name) was a normal man a few years ago. But certain situations motivated him to make some ‘life changing’ decisions. And from then on he has been serving the society in a unique way. With the support of a connected NGO, he has been assisting the local cops in giving a dignified funeral for unclaimed bodies in the city. A noble cause, in deed. Down the line he may even get a Magsaysay. Things were smooth and nice until the day when Kumar picked up an orphaned body that had a deep knife injury on its neck. Now his life is entangled with law, criminals and screwed up roads. All of us have the tendency to make sudden ‘life-changing’ decisions and striving to live by them. It may be as simple as deciding to wake up at 4:15 AM daily or saying no to cigarettes as a part of the annual new year celebrations. But wait. Control the urge. Whenever you have the itch to make that life-altering decision — just think of ‘Auto’ Kumar.

Habit 3 — Be safe; Be with the crowd. There was this guy who lost his skull when he tried to bungee jump in some remote area in the Southern hemisphere. He wanted to prove to the world that he was destined for something higher, a greater calling, singular challenges, perhaps. But alas! He is no more. He failed to approach his life from the perspective of evolutionary sociology. As humans, we all have an innate desire to be in groups and to do things that all others do. In fact as the super author Noah Harari has expounded in one of his best sellers, the ability to form huge and complex groups has been the single most defining feature that had set our species apart from chimpanzees, ants and the assorted others. Basically, man is a social animal. It is all for a reason. Respect it. Just imagine if all of us decide that we have superior calling in our lives and start treading our own, different paths. Simple — the human race as a whole will collapse. It may not be the machines but the cockroaches will surely take us over. So just stick with the crowd. Keep your natural instinct in tact. Don’t venture out. At the end of the day it helps to be alive.

Habit 4 — Over-promise; Under-deliver. Imagine you were on a holiday boat ride. Pleasant weather, nice music, breath-taking beauty all around. Suddenly, you hear intense, beast-like cries of a drowning man. Your natural instinct kicks in. You shout, ‘Hang on! I’m getting you a life boat!’ But without any extra effort you pick up a worn out rope lying under your feet and throw it at him. He clasps it for his life. His head above water, he is ecstatic now. He is alive! The old, dirty rope saved him. He jumps into your boat and hugs you like you were his mother. Wait, is he going yell at you, ‘Hey moron! Where is my life boat?’? No, not at all. Human mind is just unmatched in its ability to adapt. A mere promise can make a mind jump with happiness; But a semi-failed promise is not good enough to make a mind get sucked up into the spiralling quagmire of despondency. In easy words, we are better at rationalising things than getting depressed. In the easiest possible terms, it just means — words speak louder than action. Use it to your benefit.

Habit 5— Delegate everything; Claim everything. A fundamental rule in investing is to spread risks. Only an under-developed person puts all his eggs in one basket. Banking on the adage, Habit 5 also takes some strength from Habit 1. It is all inter-connected. Project your energy in as many directions, and on as many people, while actually ensuring that you don’t spend any bit of energy yourself. As a theory it sounds complex but it is easy to practice. Clear? Well, the practical utility of Habit 5 for managers needs no explaining. For the common man you just need to understand that the habit encapsulates so many things. It is like a mammoth tapestry of finely synthesised philosophies of our race. Remember the famous question? Who was the most important person in the field of psychology? Answer — Freud’s mother. Habit 5 works on these lines. It has the potential to cover the entire spectrum of human activity and achievements. Sample this — Just now the news broke that a Kenyan has accomplished the first ever sub two-hour marathon. Let us put to use Habit 5 here. Don’t forget that you too had a role in his record. You stayed away from the race. Pat yourself!

Habit 6— Share, but keep secrets. In most cases, half-baked knowledge is useless and at times, it is fatal too. Remember, how the lion-hearted boy Abhimanyu got killed in the battle of Kurukshetra? He was taught how to break into the enemy defence, but he was clueless about the techniques needed to emerge out of the enemy camp alive. But he was wise enough to know that he did not know enough. But there are millions of us who don’t even know that we don’t know enough. I remember a Japanese (was it Chinese?) proverb — there is no one who knows everything, and there is also no one who knows nothing. All of us are middling beings. Reality. So there is nothing wrong if you hold back secret pieces of learning. Don’t distribute all you know to others. Share knowledge and develop people. But in today’s world where information is no more a rare commodity, you will do good to yourselves if you hold back some vital pieces of the jigsaw. For instance, you could Tweet, ‘Without taking a single breath… Sucssflly spent 143 secs UNDERWATER!!!!’ But you need not Tweet it was in your dreams.

Darbar (Tamil movie, English review)

Darbar is a film that works at all levels - right from music to action blocks to costumes, et al. But the only trouble with the film is th...