Maharashtra’s deradicalisation plan could just replace one kind of propaganda with another

The Daily Fix: Maharashtra's deradicalisation plan could just replace one kind of propaganda with another
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The Latest: Top stories of the day
1. A Tanzanian student in Bangalore was allegedly stripped and beaten by a mob, and her car torched, while the police looked on.
2. Union Minister Rajnath Singh says the Indian government will stand by Pakistan if it takes decisive action against terror.
3. Ten soldiers go missing after an avalanche hits the Siachen region in Kashmir.

The Big Story: Anti-radicalisation

Maharashtra is going to fight them in the textbooks, fight them in the schools. Under instructions from the Union home ministry to draw up a comprehensive strategy to counter the spread of the Islamic State, the state government has rolled out itsderadicalisation programme. It includes opening up vyayamshalas in minority areas, making the National Cadet Corps as well as the Bharat Scouts and Guides compulsory in minority schools, and having a media outlet to pour “mainstream thoughts and values” into minority youth. This is accompanied by a socio-economic strategy to bring minority communities into the mainstream.

Better opportunities might go a long way in countering the appeal of extremist ideology; material deprivations and social exclusion have been known to drive youth to terror. But the rest of the deradicalisation programme raises a question: in its aggressive mainstreaming of the minority, is the government merely replacing one kind of propaganda with another? The alternative to religious extremism seems to be a muscular nationalism. This is to be laced with some yoga – the Bharatiya Janata Party’s magic cure to all problems.

Maharashtra could take some lessons from Britain’s misadventure with counter terrorism. “Prevent”, the David Cameron government’s programme to fight radicalisation, has only alienated the country’s Muslims, who constantly feel their Britishness called into question. Researcher Aminul Hoque notes how one of the major sites of tension is the school, where the government has bullishly gone about teaching “British values”.

The Maharashtra government also seems to ignore other major causes for resentment among minorities: entrenched biases that prompt the police to indiscriminately round up and arrest Muslim youth every time there is a terror attack, the slurs and prejudices that have forced the community into ghettos of deprivation. The state government’s programme asks the Muslim community to reinvent itself, but it leaves out other communities that play a part in the process of radicalisation.

The Big Scroll: on the day’s big story
Ann Aly of the Conversation asks whether “lone wolves” are terrorists or simply gunmen.
Aminul Hoque of the Conversation on how young British Muslims are alienated by the rhetoric of counter-terrorism.
TK Devasia on how a Muslim outfit in Kerala campaigns against the IS ideology.

Politicking and policying
1. In Jammu and Kashmir, a questionnaire distributed by the police, seeking details about the sects to which citizens belong and their links to militancy or separatism, sparks widespread anger.
2. Bihar chief minister and Janata Dal (United) leader Nitish Kumar is reportedly planning a mahagatbandhan against the Bharatiya Janata Party in the Uttar Pradesh elections next year.
3. The Congress plans a Dalit meet later this month, with vice president Rahul Gandhi as one of the speakers.

1. In the Indian Express, K Satyanarayana argues that Rohith Vemula’s death should focus attention on the rites of exclusion on college campuses.
2. In the Hindu, Suhas Palshikar on how the BJP has combined middle class anxieties and media excitement to stay in power.
3. In the Business Standard, AV Rajwade on the problem with inflation targeting.

Don’t miss…

Reema Omer on how military courts in Pakistan cannot be a quick fix solution to terror:

The operation of military courts has come at great cost to human rights and the judiciary’s independence, which has been argued in detail on these pages. The promised “quick results”, however, are yet to be seen. This is not surprising, as the very rationale behind the establishment of military courts is flawed, if not deliberately deceptive.

The premise of the 21st Amendment was a hastily constructed narrative that “civilian courts have failed”. This claim was supported by assertions that civilian anti-terrorism courts have high rates of acquittal and judges deliberately let “terrorists” off the hook, either because of fear or sympathy.

Notwithstanding the fact that equating justice with the rate of convictions is abhorrent to the rule of law (only in authoritarian regimes lacking an independent judiciary are there no acquittals), curiously, none of the advocates of military courts, whether in parliament or in the media, presented any evidence to demonstrate why the civilian judiciary is incapable of bringing perpetrators of terrorism to justice.

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Film review: ‘The Finest Hours’ is a by-the-book rescue saga with bursts of drama

Film review: ‘The Finest Hours’ is a by-the-book rescue saga with bursts of drama
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In Craig Gillespie’s imagining of the true events of 1952, you feel the snowy, stormy winter day with a sea and waves so harsh that they split not one, but two oil tankers in half. The Finest Hours recreates what is considered the greatest small boat rescue mission in American Coast Guard history.

With information coming through on just one ship being split in two, most of the rescue ships go after the tanker Fort Mercer. But when it is discovered that a second tanker has also been split, one lone boat with a crew of four men goes through treacherous waters and a frightening blizzard to rescue the men stranded on the SS Pendleton.

Bernie Webber (Chris Pine) puts duty before his own life to go head on into the storm and cross a sandbar with gigantic vertical waves that threaten to overturn the boat at any time. The crew of Richard (Ben Foster), Fitzgerald (Kyle Gallner) and Maske (John Magaro) has to place their faith in Webber, that he can get them through the high waves and choppy waters.

In the middle of the sea, assistant engineer Ray Sybert (Casey Affleck) is desperately trying to keep one half of the Pendelton, with more than 20 survivors still aboard, afloat.

On shore, Webber’s feisty fiancée Miriam (Holliday Grainger) confronts the station chief (Eric Bana) and questions his prudence in letting Webber go over “the bar”. As she awaits news from the boat, Miriam encounters random townsfolk, including a woman whose husband was lost at sea. This creates a diversion from the rivetting and dramatic rescue scenes. The sequence when Webber is navigating the enormous waves at the Chatham Bar is nail-biting stuff.

Pine embraces the part of a squeaky clean, insecure but steadfast coast guard. Affleck is a fine counterbalance as the methodical, thinking and calm solution finder. Both the hubs of drama – the ship and the coast guard outpost – have their share of stereotypes – the rebel, the rookie, the strongman and the outsider. Eric Bana has a small but effective part as the hard-nosed chief of station. Grainger is period perfect.

This is a by-the-book disaster-rescue saga with elevated moments of drama. The ocean scenes leave you feeling a little bit seasick, but in awe of the bravery of these men. The 3D is perfunctory.


Film review: ‘The Choice’ leaves you with two choices : bawl or yawn

Film review: ‘The Choice’ leaves you with two choices : bawl or yawn
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The world is probably divided into those readers (mostly women) who devour Nicholas Sparks’s novels and daydream about those ruggedly handsome, slightly flawed but ever-so charming men who are perfect boyfriends and husbands, and those who don’t. Full disclosure: I fall in the latter category.

In The Choice, Benjamin Walker (who could surely have made a better hairstyle choice) plays Travis, a content bachelor who hangs out with his married friends on his boat, fires up the barbeque, and sits alone on his lawn sipping beer and watching a pretty sky with his loyal dog by his side. But as soon as cute blonde medical student Gabby moves in next door, Travis is interested. Gabby (Teresa Palmer) is dating Ryan McCarthy (Tom Welling) but he is forgotten as soon as he goes on a business trip. Gabby has no qualms about cooking dinner for Travis and flirting shamelessly with him.

If you know Sparks, you know how this plays out. It’s no spoiler to mention that disaster must eventually shatter this fairy tale. The plot, based on Sparks’s 2007 novel, is unashamedly manipulative and designed to have the ladies reaching for the tissue box. Every single character leads a picture-book life in a gorgeous home with stunning sunsets and serene views. Ross Katz, who previously produced Lost in Translation and Dev Benegal’s Road, Movie, directs and shoots in some stunning locations.

The Choice is the eleventh Sparks book to be adapted to film and only the second I have seen (Message in A Bottle, 1999, was the first and last). It’s like a Mills & Boon romance, unrealistic to say the least, where, for instance, neither the protagonists nor their dogs age a day in a span of eight years or more. Sappy and corny, The Choice will either make you bawl your eyes out or dull you into a coma.


Film review: ‘Ghayal Once Again’ proves that some old wounds don’t heal well

Film review: ‘Ghayal Once Again’ proves that some old wounds don’t heal well
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Sunny Deol is back, and this time he is throwing punches from the director’s chair.

In Ghayal Once Again, Deol stars in and directs the sequel to Raj Kumar Santoshi’s vigilante drama from 1990, which featured the bulky actor as a boxer who kills a slimy businessman in full view. Ghayal’s Balwant Rai is a kind of all-encompassing embodiment of corruption and evil, and the sequel finds an appropriate replacement for him in Raj Bansal (Narendra Jha). A nasty business magnate who lives in an ugly Lego-block mansion in Mumbai and runs the city from on high, Bansal’s resemblance to a certain industrialist who has interests in just about every sector of the economy is the most daring aspect of this movie.

Deol’s Ajay Mehra, who has served out his jail term for killing Rai, is now in the more benign business of conducting sting operations through his news portal, Satyakam. Ajay leaps to the aid to a group of sincere college students who record the murder of a Right to Information activist (Om Puri) by Bansal’s spoilt son Kabir (Abhilash Kumar). The game of wits between Ajay and Bansal is a familiar one, but is enhanced by superbly staged action sequences in actual locations in Mumbai. Deol and action director Dan Bradely shut down busy thoroughfares and malls in the city, and despite some help from computer-generated imagery, the stunts look and feel real.

Less convincing is Ajay’s war against Bansal. The battle of the lone man against the system is not as effective or coherent as it was in Ghayal. The sequel’s inability to provide an extra-judicial solution to the social evil that Bansal represents could have something to do with the precarious journey of the vigilante movie genre into our consumerist times. Where pure evil was previously concentrated in Balwant Rai, the real villains in Ghayal Once Again are selfish parents who protect their wayward wards despite their crimes. The sequel correctly pinpoints the problem, but is too timid to offer the unofficial solutions that will satisfy genre fans.

The vigilante justice action drama was a popular genre in the 1980s and the early ’90s, giving fans the pleasure of seeing crooked industrialists and politicians being maimed or killed without due process on the screen. Nothing changed in real life, of course, but at least within the confines of the cinema, the movies offered the fleeting feeling that justice had been done.

Ghayal was one of the best-known entries in this genre, and the sequel labours under the shadow of the 1990 production. Flashbacks to scenes from the original do not help, nor do Ajay’s repeated nightmares about his past.

Deol is incapable of suggesting a character with an inner life, and he hasn’t aged well enough to portray an action hero who sends his opponents to meet their bonesetters. The actor-director moves slowly, and the legendary hand that weighs 2.5 kilos lands its punches weakly.

Chandan Arora’s surgical editing suggests immense momentum and tension, and the narrative moves at a fast clip before it settles into keeping pace with its lumbering leading man. Deol directs his actors competently, but he stretches out the climax and loses sight of his character’s crusade. Ghayal Once Again starts out as a takedown of Bansal and ends in a pile of mush. Even for vigilantes, it is all about loving your parents.

In the strange way in which the movie trade works these days, Anil Ambani’s Reliance Entertainment has distributed Ghayal Once Again, while Mukesh Ambani’s electronic goods store has lent one of its stores for a crucial action sequence. Who killed the vigilante movie, then? Product placement and the corporatisation of filmmaking.