“Katti-Batti” on the treadmill!

In the innocuous lexicon of innocent children in Hindi, Katti means “We are not friends” and Batti means the opposite. I see my eight year old daughter declaring Katti and soon Batti within a few minutes to her friends and they to her, many times over in an hour and this happens every other day. As I watch the Indo-Pak relations over the years I wonder if the two neighbours have taken a leaf from children and invented a new type of diplomacy called “Katti-Batti” diplomacy and gained mastery over it.

Indo Pak,wwwpakistantodaycom

For so many years or rather decades, the happenings between India and Pakistan have fallen into a pattern. Some ceasefire violation or terrorist activity from across the border happens in India. India announces cancellation of talks or any peace initiatives. In effect declare Katti! Then in a few months the top leaders from the 2 nations meet in the sidelines of a multi-lateral summit, talk for a few minutes, pose smilingly for a photo –op, release a joint declaration of resumption of a dialogue process – in short declare Batti!

Then the cycle repeats. As it has been for decades. The result is we never seem to have a normalized relationship with Pakistan even after so many years, changes in the theatre and the lead actors in the 2 countries notwithstanding.  I am no foreign affairs expert and diplomacy isn’t everybody’s cup of chai including mine. But a cursory read of the history of relations between the two countries is enough to conclude that at the end of the day “Playing safe” rides upper most in the minds of all the stake holders involved in the discussions. As a natural progression maintaining “Status quo” emerges the safe option for both sides. This results in the Indo-Pak relations being on an eternal “tread mill” as one of the saner voices from PakistanHussain Haqqani (Ex Pakistan Ambassador to the US) puts it aptly!!!

And the other interesting aspect in the dialogue process what I have noticed is that what is discussed among the top leaders is secondary and what is more pertinent is what is dished out as the “Joint declaration”. Whether it is Shimla, Lahore, Ufa or the infamous Agra Summit more time seems to have been spent on drafting the declaration than on the talks themselves!!! And a summit is declared a success if a mutually acceptable declaration is conjured up at the end and a failure if it’s not. The Indian side is happy if the word “terrorism” appears and Pakistan side if the word “Kashmir” is part of the joint declaration. All the other aspects of the joint declaration like Trade relations, people to people contact,.. are subjects of routine.

With the kind of history attached to the Indo-Pak relations, I do feel that the politicians, diplomats and other stake holders are stuck in a time warp and hence a veritable solution is difficult to emerge. Unless the baggage of the past are left behind. And one of the most important baggage they carry for any out of box solution is if that will be acceptable to the people back home.  Has the time come to question some of the stated positions and look for alternatives?

  • Like having an uninterrupted and uninterruptible dialogue with Pakistan. So no Katti even if there is a provocation. Instead of saying “No more talks”, why not “We Talk more” and “Talk louder” if there is one? An uninterrupted dialogue gives an opportunity to review progress made in the previous talk. On the other hand, an interrupted dialogue gives only an opportunity for an excuse for not making progress in the guise of starting afresh.
  • Like we change our stance on 3rd party mediation. All along, we have maintained that Kashmir is an internal issue and there is no place for 3rd party mediation. When we are unable to find an acceptable solution among our own people regarding Kashmir and Pakistan for 50 odd years, will not a 3rd party help in getting a different perspective and solution which can be sold to the domestic constituency as well?
  • Like we go to the public and ask what they actually want through a referendum. In India we keep saying that through the elections which are part of a democratic process we take people’s opinion and hence no referendum is required. At the same time, we see that there is a public boycott in many parts of Kashmir (though the participation is increasing with every election). Why not call the bluff of the separatists by conducting a pointed referendum in both sides of Kashmir and go by the outcome. Times are changing and as we saw in the case of Scotland the cry for an Independent Scotland eventually met with a “No” in the referendum.
  • Like we ignore Pakistan and focus on our domestic economy and improving relations with other neighbours. No Katti and No Batti. Imagine what would have happened if at Ufa, our PM just said a “Hi” to Nawaz Sharif and moved on. Ignoring Pakistan while making our economy growing will be the ultimate signal to Pakistan that India has moved on and has got more important things in the plate. Ofcourse we have to be prepared to safeguard ourselves from more ceasefire violations and terrorist attacks. I thought that after breaking the ice with Pakistan by inviting Nawaz Sharif for the oath taking, our PM Modi was following this “Ignore Pakistan” route. While at the same time improving relations with all other neighbouring nations. So in that sense our move in Ufa which signaled our return to Katti-Batti diplomacy was a surprise to me.

I’m not saying that these are “the” only formulations. There could be many more. The essence of my submission is that the time has come for a change in approach from all sides. The sooner the better.

Managing relationships between neighbouring countries which have been to war a few times ofcourse is not a simple subject. (Even Bollywood thinks so – #Bajrangi Bhaijaan)Ergo, cracking a solution to the long and vexed problems may not be as simplistic as we think. But then following a staid pattern of “On-off” engagement only means we will only continue to add to the “declarations” we have among our two countries. Ruling parties may change, the leaders may change but ironically our countries may not outgrow the Katti-Batti syndrome. I am certain though my daughter in a couple of years will.

Postscript: In the meanwhile our Bhai Salman Khan has helped a Pakistani girl to return to her homeland Pakistan against all odds in Bajrangi Bhaijaan and declared Bhatti. Now awaiting Sunny Deol Paaji to announce a loud Katti and resurrect his sagging career!!

Indo Pak 2 Neelabhtoons ibnlive

Toon Courtesy: ibnlive.com, Pic Courtesy:pakistantoday.com

The “Punch”ing of Bollywood !!!

The original “Khiladi” of Bollywood, Akshay Kumar plays the role of an honest cop and as a lookalike – a petty thief in his latest Hindi venture Rowdy Rathore”. This movie I hear is among the Rs 100 Cr (US$20mn) grosser club.  The highlight of the film they say are the dialogues particularly the one liner variety, one of which goes like this: “Jo mein bolta hoon woh mein karta hoon, joh mein nahi bolta.. woh main definitely karta hoon!”   Hearing this, I couldn’t help feeling that the Hindi cinema or Bollywood as it is called affectionately has been hit by a Tsunami from South.

There was a time may be in the 60s and 70s when Hindi Cinema was setting the trends in film making in India whether it was storytelling, filming techniques or for that matter music.  The stories of siblings separated at birth, Cop and thief under the same roof, Robin Hood type heroes,.. and many more of that ilk which all originated in Hindi made its way to South Indian cinema as well.  I guess then came a time in the 80s where there was a flow of ideas in reverse with quite a few Tamil / Telugu movies being re-made in Hindi.  For some reason, Anil Kapoor was a fixed ingredient in this type of rehashes.  However a point to be noted is when these movies were re-made they were done by popular Hindi film makers and they re-packaged the movies with Hindi sensibilities in mind. Brilliant film makers from the South still considered Bollywood as an alien turf and were happy to just be in their own space – whether it was Tamil/ Malayalam or Telugu .

But slowly and steadily film makers like Maniratnam, Priyadarshan, Kamalhaasan and their types started breaking the doors of Hindi cinema by themselves and started getting noticed.  While Mani and Kamal would try to straddle both the Tamil and Hindi worlds with a fine balance, Priyan would just re-cook popular south hits in Hindi with North India spices.    This trend opened the doors for technicians (cinematographers, Music directors, Editors, Sound engineers,..  ) from the south to step into Bollywood and earn their place under the Mumbai sun.  Thereby, north of the Vindyas got to hear a A.R Rahman, see the world through a Santosh Sivan and dance to the beats of a Prabhu Deva.  And Prabhu Deva would soon turn a director and make himself a most “Wanted” commodity in Bollywood.  The difference between other makers from the south who made an impact in Hindi and Prabhu Deva I reckon is that his movies are no doubt Hindi movies but made with the south sensibilities intact. Now defining these so-called south sensibilities is a bit tough one for me but I would presume most people understand where I come from and let us call it the “South way” of film making.   And one of the key elements of this South way is the “Punch” dialogue.

In the 90s, when Rajnikant was just a Tamil or at the most a South phenomenon (unlike today where even a reigning Bollywood Badshah like SRK has to co-opt the now Superstar Rajnikant for a cameo in his Sci-fi Superhero film Ra-One to spread its market beyond the Hindi belt) he started the trend of what is now called the “Punch” dialogues” in Tamil/Telugu film industry.  In a movie named “Baasha” released as early as 1995, in which Rajni plays the role of a Mumbai Don partially and an Auto rickshaw driver partially – one of his dialogues “Naan oru dhadavai sonna, nooru dhadavai sonna madhiri” (When I tell once it is same as telling 100 times) attained iconic status and in an industry which just is happy to follow trends rather than setting one, the “Punch dialogue” as an essential part of the South way arrived.   The delivery of a punch dialogue happens like this. The villain or some such people provokes our hero, our hero pauses, lifts his right hand and his 1st finger ( with a swoosh), camera gets into tight close-up of the hero’s face and the hero delivers that dialogue which packs a 100 punches!  Soon after he turns and walks away (in slow motion of course) followed by his troopers!!!   And this dialogue gets repeated few times in the movie to add to the punch! Post this movie “Baasha”, Rajni would later follow it up with similar one liners which became a rage among his fans so much so that Director Shankar had to explain why he did away with punch dialogues for Rajni in his last movie Robot!!.  Emulating the Super star, his contemporaries like Vijayakanth and much younger heroes like Vijay are continuing the trend of these dialogues to this date.   It was not too late for the trend to catch up in other southern language movies like Telugu or Malayalam.

So when Prabhu Deva got the opportunity to make a Hindi film that too with the original Hindi brawn hero Salman Khan, he got into the act with a fully blown South type masala pot boiler with “Punch Dialogues” thrown in good measure.  It went on to become a top grosser at the Box office re-writing records and along the side making writers re-write their lines for future action films in Hindi!!!  So while PD earned the distinction of bringing the “PD” into Hindi movie, what came as a surprise was Rohit Shetty an acclaimed “Copy and Paste” film maker took the punch dialogue and the South way into another level with his action flick “Singham” with Ajay Devgn and with this ensured that South way is here to stay in Bollywood.   After Salman and Ajay, when Akshay turned towards Prabhu Deva for a desperate hit and when a sensitive film maker like Sanjay Leela Bhansali puts his money on the same, well I cannot help but conclude that the South Tsunami has hit Bollywood !!!  And if I tell you that the punch dialogue which I had referred in the opening paragraph was part of Rajni’s super hit movie “Annamalai” of 1992, you will agree with me that the “Punch”ing of Bollywood is complete!!!! And now imagine what will happen if Prabhu Deva gets a chance to make a Hollywood film and makes a Will Smith deliver that Punch Dialogue !!!

 Post punch oops script : As I was just writing this blog, I realized that the original punch dialogue was actually from a Hindi movie called “Don” made in the year 1978 which has transcended generations, actors, directors and still continues to pack a lot of punch!

Don ko pakadna mushkil hi nahin, namumkin hai.”