Aarushi Talwar and the myth of common sense


I saw the movie Talvar on the day it was released. The movie is based on the Aarushi Talwar murder case. The names of the lead characters in the movie have been changed, with Aarushi Talwar becoming Shruti Tandon.

But as the movie unfolds, anyone who has followed the murder case closely would know that there is nothing fictional about it. Vishal Bhardwaj’s script is based on solid research. The movie tries to show two sides of the story, with a portrayal which suggests that Aarushi’s parents, Nupur and Rajesh Talwar, got a raw deal, and they got caught up in the rigmarole of the Indian police and justice system.

Along with Talvar if you have happened to read journalist Avirook Sen’s book Aarushi, you will come to the same conclusion.

Given this, the question here is why almost everyone was convinced for a long time (and some still are) that the parents killed Aarushi, and it was a case of honour killing. In fact, while coming out of the cinema theatre, I overheard two women talking and one of them was telling the other, that the filmmaker must have taken money to show a sympathetic portrayal of Aarushi’s parents. This logic has also been offered to me by a few journalist friends.

Why are people so convinced that the parents murdered Aarushi? I think their common sense is at work. One reason offered is that Nupur Talwar did not cry when she was interviewed by NDTV. Which mother would not have cried if she was giving an interview after her daughter’s murder? This question is often put forward as a reason to explain that the parents murdered Aarushi.

Nevertheless, as TV journalist Sonia Singh, who interviewed Nupur Talwar, recently wrote in a column: “I want to shout this from the rooftops. Nupur Talwar cried; in fact, she cried copiously! Her mistake – she did it off camera; my mistake – I didn’t keep the cameras rolling to record what I felt was a private moment of heartbreak.”

So Nupur Talwar did cry. It’s just that people never came to know about it.

While trying to explain things to themselves most people tend to use what they call “common sense”. Nevertheless there are problems with this approach. As Duncan J. Watts writes in Everything is Obvious—Once You Know the Answer: “Because we only try to explain things that strike us as sufficiently interesting, our explanations account for a tiny fraction even of the things that do happen. The result is that what appear to us to be causal explanations are in fact just stories…Nevertheless, because these stories have the form of causal explanations, we treat them as if they have predictive power.”

A similar phenomenon has been at play in the Aarushi murder case. Another reason offered in favour of why parents killed Aarushi is that how could the parents not hear anything while their daughter was being murdered in the next room. The parents said that the AC in their room was making too much noise and hence, they could not hear anything. This was later tested and found to be true (there is a long scene in the movie as well).

But this sort of reasoning is beyond our common sense. As Duncan writes: “The basic problem is that whenever people get together in groups…they interact with one another, sharing information, spreading rumours, passing along recommendations…learning from each other’s perspectives and generally influencing each other about what is good and bad, cheap and expensive, right and wrong.”

So people were convinced that the Talwars were guilty and the story spread. As Duncan writes: “The net result is that common sense is wonderful at making sense of the world, but not necessarily understanding it.”

And that is something worth thinking about.

The column originally appeared in the Bangalore Mirror on Oct 14, 2015

(Vivek Kaul is the author of the Easy Money trilogy. He tweets @kaul_vivek)

Dear Kamal Haasan: Here’s how to make a 100% ban-proof film

mashallah-song-ek-tha-tigerAs imagined by Vivek Kaul
I am a closet film script writer.
The one thing I really want to do is a write masala film script which is different. Recently I ran into a film maker friend of mine and since he was in the mood to listen, I told him my story.
Acha hai,” he said, down two drinks of whisky.
“I am glad you liked it so much,” I replied, hoping that he would take it on and choose to direct it.
Par thoda change karna padega!”
I asked.
“We will have to change the religion of the villain.”
“Yes. We will have to make him a Parsi.”
“Oh why?” I asked, not having heard of a bawa villain in Hindi cinema for a very long time.
“Well. One they are too small in number and most of them barely watch Hindi cinema.”
“So?” I asked.
“So, some of there so called leaders won’t bother to protest that we have a shown a Parsi character in negative light.”
“I don’t get it.”
“And even if they do, their protests will fall on deaf ears because there are only around 70,000 of them. So they are not a vote bank.”
“Oh. But when was the last time you heard of a Parsi terrorist?” I asked rather humbly trying to drive home what I thought was an important point.
Arre yaar Vivek! It doesn’t matter. This is Hindi cinema. The absurd will just become absurder,” he said. “Chal, let me order a drink. Tu tamatar soup theek se pee!
Whatever you think is right,”I replied.
“Also, that side character of a cobbler. We will have to change that a little as well.”
“Hmmm!” I replied, wondering if my series of compromises had just started?
“We can’t call him a Raju mochi as you do in the script,” he explained patiently.
“But why?” I asked. “What do you call a mochi if not a mochi?”
Using the word mochi is insulting. You cannot call a cobbler a mochi. He needs to be called a charmakar. Accordingly you should call your character Raju Charmakar.”
But why? He is not a cobbler. He is just a spy pretending to be a cobbler,” I persisted.
Arre, you don’t remember. A few years back a movie called Aaja Nachle had a line in a song which went like this “Bazaar Mein Machi Hai Mara Maar, Bole Mochi Bhi Khud Ko Sunar.””
“So there were protests and they had to remove that word. And I don’t want my film to be stopped because of one word!”
The words “my film” were music to my ears. “As you say boss!” I agreed.
“Also, the side hero seems to be wearing saffron colour throughout the movie.”
“Yes. That’s how his character is na. It is a political thriller after all. I had to build in characters from across the spectrum.”
Wo to theek hai. But I don’t like too much saffron on the screen. You know my movies have a red theme. So lets make him wear red. We will also give him a song with a lot of red in it. I have a nice set in mind. Karjat main set banayenge.
Arre, that will change the entire meaning. How can red replace saffron?” I asked him, totally perplexed.
“Well if Vishal Bhardwaj’s bhains can be a pink gulabo instead of a red laali, I am sure the side hero can wear red instead of saffron. Samjha karo. It can have a big impact in the biggest territory.”
“As you wish,” I replied totally giving in to his demands.
And lets put in a song by Yo Yo Honey Singh,” he further suggested.
And I sunk into my chair.
Thoda daaru shaaru, weed-sheed, kudiyon shudiyon ke baare main gayega. And that will ensure that the movie will go housefull in the Delhi, Western UP and Punjab territory,” he continued.
“But what if it gets banned because of his song? Also the women have been rallying against him,” I asked.
Na na. The protesting women were the few dainted painted types.We will ensure that he doesn’t go to the same extent like he often does. Kuch hulka phulka, you know what I mean.”
“Hmmm,” I just nodded.
Aur yaar. Your heroine is too dry.”
“Yes. She is from a small town. But she is a total deshbhakt. That is why she helps the hero in his mission against the terrorists.”
Wo to theek hai. But lets spice her up!”
“As in?”
Arre thoda item number-wumber daalo!
“But she is a humble small town girl? It doesn’t sound right!” I pleaded.
“Let’s put in a dream sequence yaar.”
Dream sequence?”
“Yes. You know what I have a brilliant idea. We will also shoot the heroine under a waterfall. The same one where Raj ji shot Mandakini in Ram Teri Ganga Maili.”
Yeah. Your script says she is a village girl na.”
Small town girl,” I clarified.
Arre ek hi baat hai. And while she is bathing under the waterfall, the hero will see her for the first time. Wo scene poore single screen theatres ko loot lega!”
But who will do the heroine’s role? Katrina?”
She will be too expensive. Utne main to hero aa jayega. Arre we will take a new girl. She won’t have any inhibitions about shedding clothes if the scene demands so.”
“You think very differently,” I replied.
“Right now it is important to ensure that the film does not get banned. And no film ever gets banned because of its heroine! So heroine koi bhi ho sakti hai!” 
What about the lead role?” I asked. “Let’s take Shah Rukh.”
Na na. Bolta bahut hai wo! Ab to likhne bhi laga hai.
He might say something reasonably intelligent before the film’s release and there will be a huge controversy aur film dabbe main pad jayegi.”
But wouldn’t that be good publicity for the movie? I mean, My Name is Khan got a lot of publicity that way.”
Yes it did. But I don’t want to take that risk.”
So? Lets take Aamir then?”
Na na he is too much of an activist and intellectual type. And if you remember Gujarat had banned his movie Fanaa. Gujarat territory main Aamir risky hai.”
Let’s take Salman,” he replied confidently.
He barely speaks and when he does it sounds like Italian,” he replied. “So Rs 150 crore guaranteed.”
I had nothing to say. Money talks loudest.
The article originally appeared on www.firstpost.com on January 31, 2013

(Vivek Kaul is a writer. He can be reached at
[email protected]

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 www.firstpost.com on January 11, 2013
(Vivek Kaul is a writer. He can be reached at [email protected])