Matru Ki Bijli Ka Mandola is the new Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron

Matru-Ki-Bijlee-Ka-Mandola tri
Vivek Kaul
Spoiler Alert: While I have tried to reveal as little as possible about the movie, but then its four in the morning as I write this, and I am sleepy and there might be some spoilers that may have slipped in.
When Zee Tv was launched in the early 1990s, I loved it for the fact that it ran interviews with film stars almost on a daily basis. For a generation who had grown up watching krishi darshan for entertainment, star interviews were fascinating. But the interviews soon got very boring. Most of the answers were dull, boring and repetitive, like the Hindi cinema of the 1990s.
The one answer that really got me irritated during those days was “It’s a very different kind of film.” In the annals of Hindi cinema a different movie is a movie which has already been made before. I still cringe when directors or actors say “bahut hatke picture hai,” or anything along those lines.

Directors who do make hatke pictures do not need to go around telling the world that their movie is a little hatke. Vishal Bhardwaj is one such director and his latest movie Matru ki Bijli ka Mandola (MKBKM) falls into that category. It is genuinely hatke. The only fair comparison I can make is with the 1983 comedy Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron (JBDY).

In a country which has basically two genres of film making, one being the boy finally meets girl genre, and the other being the angry young man who beats up the villain and finally gets the girl genre, it takes a lot of courage, commitment and knowledge to come up with what Bhardwaj and his team have been able to do with MKBKM. It is much easier to make a Rs 100 crore movie.
Cinema in India is not expected to tackle serious issues. And when it does it is not supposed to be entertaining. MKBKM beats that myth. The movie is full of contemporary issues that plague India. From politicians and industrialists conniving to take over the land of farmers to build special economic zones (SEZs) to farmers under debt to the agri procurement system being in a mess to bureaucrats who have sold out to honour killings and to the oft asked question of when will the revolution come?
It also has an aggressive ambitious female politician and her useless son, on whom all the hope rests. And then there is also a gulabi bhains, a real first in the history of Hindi cinema, where a pink buffalo has a pivotal role in taking the story forward. Despite its serious undertones, MKBKM is a political satire which is a two and a half hour laugh riot like Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron was before it. Released in 1983, JBDY started slow and found its audience over the years. I hope MKBKM finds it audience much more quickly. It really deserves it.
Pankaj Kapoor gives the finest performance of his life in what is first mainstream lead role. How many actors in their sixties (other than Bachchan and Naseeruddin Shan once in a while) get a lead role in the first place? Kapoor pulls off his dual faced performance with absolute panache.
The Bandra boy Imran Khan looks the rustic Haryanvi that he plays and does enough to take over the crown of the thinking woman’s sex symbol from the actor who now calls himself just Irrfan. And Anushka Sharma adds glamour to the entire equation. She also most probably becomes the first mainstream Hindi film heroine to mouth everybody’s favourite cuss word b#$&^%*od and does it several times (Okay now don’t tell me Seema Biswas did that first in Bandit Queen. I know, I saw that movie, first day first show at Welfare Cinema in Ranchi. Two days later it was banned. And I saw it once again after the ban was lifted).
Shabana Azmi stands out in a small but a pivotal role. And she also has the scene which has the crux of the film and at the same time explains in a couple of minutes all that has been wrong with India since independence. That scene on its own is a total paisa vasool for the movie.
The writing of the film is what makes it the classic that it will eventually become. To be able to deal with so many ‘serious’ issues plaguing India today and do it in a funny way, takes some doing. So take a bow Abhishek Chaubey and Vishal Bhardwaj. The dialogues by Vishal Bhardwaj are fantastic and there is a particular one in reference to a certain industrialist and his wife that you guys need to definitely watch out for (Okay sorry about this spoiler, but I just couldn’t help it).
Gulzar as always is in fine form writing the lyrics for the movie. Some of Gulzar’s best lines get written for the movies that Vishal Bhardwaj makes. The 2009 release Kaminey had the line “masoom sa kabootar naacha to mor nikla”. In MKBKM he matches that with “Jo nahi kiya, kar ke dekhna, saans rok ke, mar ke dekhna, yeh bewajah, be sabab, khamkha nahi.” And he also manages to write a song with the words 2G and 3G in it. 
On the flip side the movie has too many cuss words (which I thoroughly enjoyed) and thus is likely to keep the family audiences away. They can obviously let their sons watch Kareena Kapoor singing main to tandoori murgi hoon yaar, gatak le mujhe alcohol se. And they can let their daughters enjoy the misogynistic jokes in Khiladi 786 (or was it Rowdy Rathore, all Akshay Kumar movies look the same these days). The cuss words though are definitely not good for the children.
As for me as I leave the theatre I find myself humming “gulbai bhains jo teri dekhi…”. I see pink buffaloes everywhere. The Worli Seaface is full of them.
The article originally appeared on on January 11, 2013
(Vivek Kaul is a writer. He can be reached at [email protected])

Chidambaram should realise that gold is useful because it is useless

 Vivek Kaul
Gold bashing seems to have become the favourite pastime of finance minister P Chidambaram these days. He has repeatedly warned Indians to get over their fascination for gold.
But Mr Chidambaram does not know his history well enough. If he did he wouldn’t be saying the things that he has been.
Gold over the centuries became universal money and there were several reasons for the same. It is not fragile and is durable. It does not rot. It is chemically inert unlike copper, silver and iron, which means its radiance is timeless.
Given its chemically inert nature most of the gold mined since eternity is still around. Estimates suggest that the world has 1,65,000 tonnes of gold. The supply of gold rarely goes up suddenly.
A report released by Standard Chartered in 2011, expected the supply of gold to go up at the rate of 3.6% per year between 2011 and 2015, suggesting the stable supply of the yellow metal. In a bear case scenario the report said that the supply would grow at an even slower rate of 1.2% per year. The price of gold has rallied over the last 2 decades even then there has hardly been any significant growth in supply of gold, with production going up at the rate of minuscule 0.7% per year. During the period 1900 to 1990 the production of gold grew at the rate of 1.9% per year.
This has historically held good as well. Since 1492, the supply of gold has never gone up by more than 5% in any given year. In fact, during the normal course of things gold supplies have grown between 1 to 2% every year. The exception to this is when new gold discoveries happen and lead to a gold rush. These are the only occasions, as was the case with California and Australia in the 1850s or South Africa in the 1890s, when gold supplies went up faster than 4% per year. With the supply of gold being limited, what it means is that it has held its value much better than other forms of saving money over the centuries.
Gold is 20 times as dense as water and twice as dense as lead, which means a lot of it can be packed into a very small size. One cubic metre of gold would weigh around 19.3 metric tonnes (i.e. 19,300 kilograms). What this means is that very high value of money can be easily moved around if it’s in the form of gold.
When it came to rarity something like a diamond or a ruby was a better bet. But figuring out the quality of a diamond and other stones was difficult. Experts could easily haggle on it, with different experts having a different opinion. When it came to gold such problems did not exist.
As Aristotle, the Greek philosopher and teacher of Alexander the Great put it “It became necessary to think of certain commodities, easily manageable, safely transportable, and of which the uses are so general and so numerous, that they insured the certainty of always obtaining for them the articles wanted in exchange.” Gold had all these qualities.
And that’s how over the centuries gold emerged as money that everyone preferred to use. What also helped was the “uselessness” of gold. Despite the fact that it is highly malleable (can be beaten into sheets easily) and ductile(can be easily drawn into wires) and the best conductor of electricity, gold does not have many industrial uses like other metals like silver have primarily because there is very little of it going around.
Also when commodities are used as money they are taken away from their primary use. So if rice or wheat is used as money for daily transactions and to preserve wealth, it means a lesser amount of rice and wheat in the market. This in turn would mean higher prices of grains which are staple food in large parts of the world. Gold doesn’t have many practical uses. So if people hoard gold, it doesn’t hurt anyone.
As the blogger FOFOA put it, “Gold’s utility is that for thousands of years it has held its value relatively well. And because it is not used for many things other than mere hoarding, the act of hoarding gold is not an infringement on the natural rights of others to enjoy the utility value of “real world” things like BMW’s and oil and wheat… If one were to corner, say, the copper market or the chocolate market, there would likely be repercussions as those industries fought back through the power of the collective that likes to consume chocolate and copper. But with gold there is no such worry.”
Gold started giving away to simple paper money at the start of the First World War in 1914. While it did make a few comebacks as money over the years, the world moved onto a complete paper money system in the early 1970s.
What this did was that it allowed governments around the world to print as much money as they wanted to. And this has led to paper money rapidly losing its purchasing power over the years. Things have become particularly worse since the start of the financial crisis in September 2008. The government of Western nations have been printing more and more paper money and pumping it into their financial systems. This was been done in the hope that their citizens will spend that money, which will help revive their economies.
Given that the global money supply has increased dramatically over the last few years, there is a grave danger that paper money will lose value rapidly in the years to come. And this has led to people buying gold all over the world which is seen as the ultimate store of value.
People in India have bought gold because of this reason as well. The other reason has been our high rate of inflation which has led to the purchasing power of the rupee going down dramatically, motivating people to buy gold which is seen as a commodity which holds its value relatively well.
And the good part is that people in India have been buying ‘hoarding’ gold to ensure that the value of their accumulated wealth does not fall.
Imagine if they had tried to hold wealth in the form of rice or wheat. In a world where nearly 79 million people are being added to the dinner table every year (and a lot of them in India), hoarding rice and wheat could have caused food riots. Imagine if all the Indians would have actively speculated on metals used across industries. There prices would have gone through the roof. (in fact with huge demand for industrial metals from China these metals had been rallying for the last few years. Imagine what would have happened to the price if Indians had started actively speculating in them?)
So its good that people are buying gold to hoard their wealth and not something which is actually useful. As FOFOA puts it “Thankfully we have a commodity that is mostly used for hoarding, and little else. Like Warren Buffet said, we dig it up and then bury it again in a vault. And all it does is one little thing: it maintains its value over thousands of years. That’s gold’s utility.”
And Mr Chidambaram should thank his stars for that.

Chen,Y and others. 2011. In Gold We Trust. Standard Chartered
Bernstein, P. 2000. 
The Power of Gold – The History of an Obsession. John Wiley and Sons.
FOFOA. 2010. 
The Value of Gold. Available at
Skousen, M. 2010. 
Economics of a Pure Gold Standard. Foundation for Economic Education
The article originally appeared on on January 10, 2013.
(Vivek Kaul is a writer. He can be reached at [email protected])

The $1 trillion coin: Krugman’s loony idea to save US

platinum_coinVivek Kaul
When the going gets tough, the ideas get absurd and bizarre. No one said that. I just happened to ‘coin’ it after coming across one of the craziest things I have heard in recent times. It all about ‘coining’ a trillion dollar platinum coin that could ‘supposedly’ solve one of the biggest financial problems of our times. But before we get to that some background information is required here.
The American government cannot print money
The budget deficit of the American government has been greater than trillion dollars for the last four years. Budget deficit is the difference between what a government earns and what it spends.
In order to finance this deficit the American treasury department (or what we call the ministry of finance in India) borrows money. But there is only so much money going around to be borrowed. And with trillion dollar deficits borrowing beyond a point is not possible.
So what does the government do? Common sense tells us that it can print dollars and finance the deficit. But the American government is not allowed to print money. Instead it borrows from the Federal Reserve of the United States (the American Central bank or what we call the Reserve Bank of India).
Now where does the Federal Reserve get money to lend to the government? It simply prints it. The Federal Reserve as the central bank is allowed to print money. As John Truman Wolfe author of Crisis by Design: The Untold Story of the Global Financial Coup puts it “How bizarre is it that instead of simply printing the money themselves, governments “chose” to borrow it from their respective central bank. The US is currently $16 trillion in debt – and the debt is growing at the rate of $49,000 a second! Last year’s interest on the debt here was $454,000,000,000 – Why borrow money from the Fed (who simply creates it out of thin air by making a book entry and clicking a mouse ) when the government could simply print its own without borrowing it and paying interest on it.”
The debt ceiling
There is a ceiling to how much the American government can borrow and it is $16.4trillion. This was breached on December 31, 2012. After this the treasury secretary Timothy Geithner put in place some “extraordinary measures” that will give a headroom of round $200 billion and help the American government avoid a default on its maturing debt as well as continue meeting its various expenditures. The American government has reached a stage where it has to take on more debt to pay off previous debt. But with the debt ceiling being hit more debt cannot be taken on. The American politicians have been unable to find a solution to this till date.
The loophole
The US Code Section 5112 states this:
“The (Treasury) Secretary may mint and issue platinum bullion coins and proof platinum coins in accordance with such specifications, designs, varieties, quantities, denominations, and inscriptions as the Secretary, in the Secretary’s discretion, may prescribe from time to time.”
The above section basically allows the American Treasury Secretary to mint absolutely any kind of platinum coin. When it comes to gold and silver coins, he is not allowed such a leeway. The Code prescribes the exact dimensions as well as weights of gold and silver coins that can be minted. In case of platinum coins no such prescriptions are made.
So what is the idea?
This loophole allows the Treasury Secretary of the United States to get the US Mint to mint a platinum coin and deem it be worth $1trillion (or any big amount for that matter). The amount of platinum in the coin doesn’t really matter. It could be one gram or one troy ounce (28.31 grams). Hence the face value of the coin (i.e. $1trillion) would have no link with the amount of platinum in it.
Having minted such a platinum coin, the Treasury Secretary can then use the coin to repay the money that it has borrowed from the Federal Reserve. The Federal Reserve would have to accept the coin simply because any creditor cannot refuse what is legally deemed to be money, when it comes to the settlement of a debt. And the $1trillion coin would be a legal tender.
Once the $1 trillion coin is presented to the Federal Reserve, the total debt outstanding of the American government would come down below the debt ceiling of $16.4trillion. As on January 2, 2013, the American government had borrowed around $1.67trillion from the Federal Reserve. And that way the American government could continue to borrow more.
The Krugman push
The Nobel prize winning economist Paul Krugman gave a push to the idea by recommending it on his blog a couple of days back. Krugman feels that even though the idea is silly it makes sense simply because the US Congress has the right to approve the spending bills but then it won’t let the President to borrow money required to implement those bills.
As Krugman wrote “we have the weird and destructive institution of the debt ceiling; this lets Congress approve tax and spending bills that imply a large budget deficit — tax and spending bills the president is legally required to implement — and then lets Congress refuse to grant the president authority to borrow, preventing him from carrying out his legal duties and provoking a possibly catastrophic default.”
There are others who do not buy the idea at all. As Kevin Drum, a famous blogger, wrote recently “Is this really the road liberals want to go down? Do we really want to be on record endorsing the idea that if a president doesn’t get his way, he should simply twist the law like a pretzel and essentially do what he wants by fiat?”
The big danger in this case is that if something like this were to be implemented, the American government can easily keep getting the Federal Reserve of United States to keep printing money and keep repaying that money through issuing one trillion dollar platinum coins. That cannot be a good idea after all. A government which has the power to print unlimited amount of money, even though indirectly, is not something that world wants, specially given that the dollar continues to be the international reserve currency.
To conclude, it is ‘absurd’ ideas like these that make me remain bullish on gold despite the recent attempts to discredit the yellow metal as being useless.

The article originally appeared on on January 9, 2013
(Vivek Kaul is a writer. He can be reached at [email protected])

There are Yo Yo Honey Singhs everywhere

Vivek Kaul
(Warning: The piece contains graphic language)
So Yo Yo Honey Singh is in trouble. And women and men are up in arms against him for writing a song that talks about a certain body part and have accused him of being a misogynist. Anyone who has heard his songs objectively will tell you just that. He is a misogynist.
As the lines from his controversial song go:
Aaja teri ch**t maroon
Tere sir se chu***y ka bhoot utaroon
Cho***ey key baad tujhe jutey maroon
Tere mooh main apna lo** dey key mo** maroon (yeah)
This when loosely translated into English means:
Come let me f**k you,
Let me get lust off your head
Let me beat you up with my shoes after f**king u
Let me come in your mouth

If Yo Yo Honey Singh is not a misogynist I don’t know who is? But then there are Yo Yo Honey Singhs everywhere. It’s just that there language is not as grotesque and direct as Honey Singh’s is, but they have equally obscene things to say about women.
Take this
song sung by Amar Singh Chamkila (one of the biggest Punjabi singers who was killed by terrorists in the late 1980s) and Amarjot. The lyrics of the song go “chakh lo drivero purje nu”. The Hindi word purza normally refers to any sort of tool. In this context though it refers to a woman. When translated the song means “hey driver taste the woman”. And given that Chamkila was killed in 1988, the song must have been written and sung at least 24 years back. Hence there have always been songs in Punjabi of the kind Yo Yo Honey Singh sings now. So he is not the only one to be blamed.
Before I get accused of Punjabi bashing let me move onto Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, where most of the audience for Bhojpuri movies and songs lives. As Avijit Ghosh writes in
Cinema BhojpurIn Pyaar Ka Bandhan, singer Rekha Rao croons to the lyrics of Vinay Bihari, ‘Tani lahe lahe dheere dheere dala kamsin ba dukhala raja ji(Put it in slowly, darling, I am very young, it hurts’), while on screen Sambhavna Seth dances to the tune and as she gyrates, a launda (a man dressed as a woman) tries to slip bangles into her arms.” In fact anyone who has heard Bhojpuri music will tell you its loaded with sexual innuendo which goes against women all the time. Sample this song which goes with the lines bahiya main leke dela khacha kach (This is not translatable).
And this has been a tradition in Bhojpuri cinema for sometime now. As Ghosh writes “In the family drama Ganga Se Nata Ba Hamaar (1991) well-known music director Ravindra Jain not only provided the score, but also penned the lyrics for a couple of songs. In one of them he wrote, ‘kahin nimbua to kahin be anaar sajni, nimbua bechari kisi ginti main na aaye, yeh zamana hai anaron ka beemar sajni’(‘There is a lemon at one place and a pomegranate in other. Nobody spares a second thought for the poor lemon, this is the age where everybody is mad about pomegranates’). It is obvious the composer-lyricist is not talking about the different sizes of fruit.”
Tamil film songs also do that and talk about mangoes. Or take this relatively recent song
kattipudi kattipudi da which essentially means hug me hug me. Throughout the song there are background sounds which suggest some lovemaking leading to a female orgasm. While I am really not an expert on Tamil cinema I am sure that there are many such songs which essentially demean the sexuality of a woman and her body. Anybody who has watched Midnight Masala on Sun TV will tell you that.
Now that brings me to songs from Hindi cinema. Sample
this song from Vijaypath sung by Alisha Chinoi in the early 1990s which never made it past the censor board. “Kal saiyyan ne aisi bowling karri, ek over bhi main khel payi nahi. Chauthe gend main out hui paanchva gend main jhel payi nahi. (yesterday my lover bowled so well that I couldn’t even play one over. I got out on the fourth ball, couldn’t last long enough to play the fifth one.)”
A line in this song goes “dheere dheere se bowling karo sajna, main sajni hoon teri lugai nahi. (Please bowl a little slower oh my lover, I am not your wife but your lover.)
Then there was David Dhawan’s Andaz which had songs like main maal gaadi tu dhakka laga dhakka laga bhai dhakka laga and khada hai khada hai khada hai, dar pe tere aashik khada hai khol khol khol, darwaza khol (again I don’t think I can translate this).
The movie Lakshman Rekha based on O Henry’s short story After Twenty Years had this song “Kya number hai, kya gaadi hai, kya bumper hai kya body hai, aage se dekho, peeche se dekho, upar se dekho, neeche se dekho, kahin se dekho ji…hai kya baat hai…uff kya baat hai…” If all that wasn’t enough Mithun Chakraborthy once sang in one of his movies “Mirchi re mirchi kamal kar gayee, dhoti ko phadke rumaal kar gayee.”
And we are all familiar with Madhuri Dixit asking us “Choli ke peeche kya hai?”in Khalnayak. Once that question was answered we had Vasha Usgaonkar asking us “Choli ke andar kya hai?” in Khalnayika.
Lest you start getting the impression dear reader that such songs only happened twenty years back, sample these lines from the latest hit Fevicol from Dabanng 2 which has Kareena Kapoor singing, “Main to tandoori murgi hoon yaar gatak le saiyyan alcohol se. (I am tandoori chicken you can swallow with alcohol).”Or take the recent hit Rowdy Rathore which had the song “pallu ke neeche daba ke rakha hai utha doon to hungama ho”. (Again I can’t translate this)” Both these movies made over a Rs 100 crore.
Let me broaden my argument here and look at a few more things in the Hindi language. One of the more popular forms of blessings was and still isdoodho nahao pooto phalo. Literally this means that may you bathe in milk (i.e. become very wealthy) and may you have many sons (who can then take care of you and your wealth).
Let me go a step further. A lot of mantras recited at the time of a Hindu wedding basically ask the woman to be ready to give up anything and everything for the husband. Isn’t this misogynistic also?
And let me go even further. There is a saying in Hindi which goes “Dhol, ganwar, shudra, pashu aur naari, sab hain taadan ke adhikari (The music instrument dhol, a stupid man, a person belonging to a low caste, an animal and a woman, are all entitled to a good beating).”
In fact there is a similar saying in English. “A woman, a cocker spaniel and a redwood tree, the more you beat them the better they be.”
So if we ban Honey Singh we can’t stop at just banning him. There are a spate of other bans that will have to follow. So where will the bans stop? And who will decide what is to be banned and what is not? The government, which is anyway looking for ways to put curbs on free speech?
Also if listening to Yo Yo Honey Singh leads to men raping women then what is to say that women wearing short skirts doesn’t? ( I find this argument entirely facetious and have debunked it here). 
Yo Yo Honey Singh did not become what he has on his own (unlike lets say Rahul Gandhi). He has a fan following. There are men (and women) out there who like to hear what he sings. His songs are not on the edges where only a small segment of the population follows him. His songs are there everywhere. They can be heard blaring out at celebrations, and on mobile phones, mp3 players and car stereos in Delhi and parts of Northern India. Hence in a way his success is also a reflection of the way we are.
So what is the solution? The solution is that we vote with our wallets. If Yo Yo Honey Singh is so offensive, lets not go to his concerts. Lets not listen to his songs and so on. Lets also not listen to all the double meaning item numbers that films across India churn out and that helps them earn Rs 100 crore or more. Lets not have them as ringtones. Lets also in the years to come treat our sons and daughters equally.
Also if the Hindi film industry and other film industries across India feel strongly about the entire issue as they claim to, they need to start portraying women better, instead of always looking to make a quick buck.

A slightly sanitized version of this article appeared on on January 2, 2012
(Vivek Kaul is a writer. He can be reached at [email protected])