The ‘Protagoras Paradox of the Court’ Is A Non-Starter

Posted in Philosophy on August 6, 2015 by HemRaj Singh

protagoras2This little story — also called ‘Paradox of the Court’ — keeps coming up in different versions all the time and even lawyers find it baffling, which I find quite strange. After having been asked the solution over and over again, when the same problem was sent over to me by a student once again today, I decided to write my response and publish it. I am not saying that this is the ‘right answer’ or the ‘perfect solution’, but this is mine, and the so-called problem or ‘paradox’ has always sounded to me just too simple to be called a ‘logical paradox’. The problem I received today through Facebook Message is this:

This is part of ancient Greek history. The lawyer teacher was Protagoras (c.485-415 BCE) and the student was Euthalos. This is known as Protagoras’s Paradox. This case was not solved. The most interesting part – this is still debated (even today) in law schools as a logic problem!

Many years ago, a Law teacher came across a student who was willing to learn but was unable to pay the fees. The student struck a deal saying, “I will pay your fee the day I win my first case in the court”. 

Teacher agreed and proceeded with the law course. When the course was finished and the teacher started pestering the student to pay up the fee, the student reminded him of the deal and pushed days. Fed up with this, the teacher decided to sue the student in the court of law and both of them decided to argue for themselves. 

The teacher put forward his argument saying: “If I win this case, as per the court of law, the student has to pay me as the case is about his non-payment of dues. And if I lose the case, student will still pay me because he would have won his first case. So either way I will have to get the money”. 

Equally brilliant, the student argued back saying: “If I win the case, as per the court of law, I don’t have to pay anything to the teacher as the case is about my non-payment of dues. And if I lose the case, I don’t have to pay him because I haven’t won my first case yet. So either way, I am not going   pay the teacher anything”. 

This is one of the greatest paradoxes ever recorded. 

Who is right and who is the winner?

So, the teacher sued. For what? Where is the cause of action? Where is the breach of contract?

The case would not proceed to the argument stage because it would be dismissed without notice to the Defendant at the stage of admission itself because the Plaintiff has no cause of action.

The cause of action to enforce a contract arises only when there is breach of contract, which, in this case, can only happen if the Defendant has won his first case and has still not paid the teacher.

In this case the Defendant has not won his first case. Therefore, the condition precedent has not been fulfilled. The Defendant is not in breach of the agreement, and, thus, cannot be directed by the court to ‘perform’ the contract because the stage of performing the contract has not arrived, for the Defendant has not “won his first case” yet as required by the contract. So, the suit for specific performance is clearly premature. The case would, therefore, be shot down by the court for want of cause of action.

It’s not a paradox at all. It can’t even be a debatable issue in any court in the real world. It’s a non-starter so far as I see.

Porn Ban: Supreme Court Observation? Not Really.

Posted in Legal on August 5, 2015 by HemRaj Singh

Porn ban“The instant action is basically in obedience to the observation of the Supreme Court where the court asked the department to take action on the list of alleged porn sites provided by the petitioner,” telecom minister Mr. Ravi Shankar Prasad is reported to have said.

“Obedience to the Supreme Court observation”? And what were those “observations” exactly?

“The issue is definitely serious and some steps need to be taken. The Centre is expected to take a stand…let us see what stand the Centre will take,” observed the Supreme Court.

The “issue” the Supreme Court referred to was child pornography; and not pornography per se. And the “stand” referred to the stand before the Supreme Court on the next date of hearing and not the stand of going around banning the pornographic websites left, right and center.

Regarding internet pornography in general, the same learned judge of the same Supreme Court observed the same day during the same proceedings thus: “Such interim orders cannot be passed by this court. Somebody may come to the court and say look I am above 18 and how can you stop me from watching it within the four walls of my room. It is a violation of Article 21.” What happened to that “observation” of the apex court?

How is the government reading what was not said into what was expressly observed when the two are the exact opposite of each other? If a ban on pornography violated Article 21, as clearly observed by the Supreme Court in denying the interim order prayed for, how can Center take a “stand” by doing exactly what the Supreme Court said could not be done without violating Article 21? So, what was Center’s “stand”? To go ahead and violate the mandate of Article 21?

So, who are you kidding, Mr. Prasad? Right from the start of this ban, the government has been singing this song of apex court “observation” against pornography on the Internet when there was no observation to that effect.

New Reports referred:

Child pornography stays banned but govt unblocks other sites. :Hindustan Times (August 5, 2015)

Can’t stop an adult from watching porn in his room, says SC. :The Hindu (July 9, 2015)

The Website and the Official Facebook Page

Posted in General on August 1, 2015 by HemRaj Singh

Website 1I am happy to announce the humble launch of ‘hemrajsingh.com‘ and my official Facebook Page to share some of my work and my concerns. Much of the content published onhemrajsingh.comwas originally written for and published in LAWYERS UPDATE at different times. Through the website I am putting some of my published work at one place for better accessibility.

With the launch of the website, the nature of this blog would alter a little because so far I have been using this blog to republish some of my previously published work, which the above-mentioned website would do now.

FB PageTherefore, from this point onward this Blog, which has been my primary Blog for long, would turn more blog-like, by which I mean it would now be a little more informal and just a bit more personal, like a blog ideally should be.

So far as the official Facebook Page is concerned, it is basically to voice my concerns publicly on Facebook because, after all, personal Facebook profiles are meant to connect with people one knows personally, and are not supposed to be used for public communication.

My official Facebook Page is by no means a ‘Fan Page’. I am not a celebrity and I don’t really have ‘fans’ in any real sense of the term. So, the Page is simply a place where one can connect with me without having to add me as a ‘Friend’ on Facebook, and have a look at whatever I think, write and consider worth paying attention to.

Website 2The website in question was created over a period of four months beginning on March 1, 2015, when the basic idea, look and feel of the website was finalized. The design work was complete around the mid of May 2015 and the content upload was started thereafter.

The website went live on July 1, 2015 with a total of 205 articles. However, there were minor changes and adjustments to be made after the website went live, which were carried out over the course of the next month (July 2015). And today on August 1, 2015, we present to you both ‘hemrajsingh.com‘ and ‘facebook.com/hemrajsinghofficial‘. I extend my gratitude to all who lent a helping hand. Thank you. :)

THE DARK KNIGHT: Ledger-Joker All The Way!

Posted in Movie Review with tags , , , , , on April 1, 2015 by HemRaj Singh

Heath LedgerThe Dark Knight is doubtlessly a cinematic masterpiece and the Joker is by all means one of the most intriguing negative characters to have ever come to life on the silver screen. The movie is remarkable not only in terms of characterization, but also because it deals with eternal human struggles once again without looking, feeling or sounding stale.

The plot has Batman — the masked vigilante of Gotham City — called upon to reveal himself by an eccentric villain who calls himself ‘Joker’ and wears a fitting make-up. The Joker holds the city to ransom and squeezes it in order to force Batman to take the mask off and step into the light. Joker’s single-point agenda is to destroy Batman’s cover. But the plot of the movie is not as simplistic as to have Batman pitched against a formidable villain with several clashes sprinkled throughout and a major showdown arranged towards the end with sparks flying to wrap things up in a well-rounded, emotionally satisfying denouement.

The fight is not so much between Batman and the Joker as it is between the strength and vulnerability of human spirit itself. Director Christopher Nolan introduces District Attorney, Harvey Dent, who is more than willing to take the mantle from Batman in defence of Gotham, for he believes that it is high time public authorities took upon themselves to protect the citizens of Gotham and wage war against crime instead of leaving crime fighting to Batman alone. Dent surmises that even Batman himself must be looking for someone to give it over to because he could not continue battling crime forever, and Dent is not wrong there, which is clarified when Bruce Wayne (Batman) says, referring to Dent, that Gotham needs its ‘true hero’.

The cold, calculative, eccentric and reckless Joker is the dark force Dent is given to fight apart from the massive organized crime cartel. Dent represents Gotham’s common man and also the spirit of the people of Gotham to collectively stand against organized crime. The Joker, on the other hand, banks upon the selfish cowardice of the fundamentally weak people. The violent and greedy gangsters presiding over organized crime figure just a notch down from the common people of Gotham on Joker’s moral barometer.

The Joker was first enlivened on cinema screen by none other than a masterly Jack Nicholson performing at the height of his craft in Tim Burton’s Batman (1989). The Dark Knight brings Heath Ledger’s interpretation of the Joker to the celluloid under Nolan’s direction. Ledger kept himself in seclusion at a hotel for over a month as he tried to get under the skin of the legendary Joker working on his personality, posture and voice. Reportedly, Ledger also kept a journal to record the random reflections and feelings of the Joker while he tried to step into the character’s shoes and try thinking and acting like the Joker would in any set of given circumstances. After all, he had the much celebrated Jack Nicholson to match, which he certainly managed to do and sometimes even outdo quite convincingly. Joker’s make-up was also Ledger’s own, and in the Gotham Hospital scene, the Joker is shown to have some of his make-up on his hands suggesting that the Joker puts on his make-up all by himself.

However, it is unfair to compare Nicholson’s performance with Ledger’s, for Nicholson did not have much to base his rendering of the Joker upon whereas Ledger had Nicholson’s to start with. However, suffice it to say that Ledger’s performance as Joker is one of the finest ever in Hollywood, for which he also received an abundantly deserved Academy Award posthumously. The sinister villainy that Ledger brings to the Joker not only puts him in the league of the world’s finest actors, but also sets a benchmark that would be hard to match for the actors essaying villainous characters for a long, long time.

The most perplexing and perhaps also the darkest aspect of the Joker is his nebulous motivations. What drives his single-minded pursuit of chaos remains an enigma. He doesn’t seem to be pursuing a cause or an objective or an ideological end, but appears to be acting out his nature. So, he is not really doing anything, but is simply being himself. There is no dichotomy, no paradox that could be the source of any self-doubt in him.

“Do I really look like a guy with a plan? I am a dog chasing cars,” says the Joker in the well-known and much admired Gotham Hospital sequence. “I just do things,” he adds. Therefore, while at one level he appears to be pursuing a certain goal, howsoever vague, at another he is simply following his instinctive drive.

However, the Joker has his own understanding of human nature, which is far from flattering. “When the chips are down… these civilized people… they’ll eat each other,” the Joker tells Batman in the Interrogation Room sequence. The Joker is not an ordinary thug looking to steal, rob and kill. He has a sophisticated belief system founded on the assumption that human beings are selfish, greedy, mean, cruel and indifferent creatures, who would do anything for their individual gain even if it results in a disproportionately severe damage to someone else.

District Attorney Harvey Dent is hope, which is well reflected in his courageous willingness to take up the cudgels for Gotham against organized crime, and his aspiration to take over from Batman in fighting crime so that Gotham has its public authorities and elected representatives fighting the evil instead of the masked vigilantes. Harvey believes, and Batman (Bruce Wayne) agrees in principle, that keeping Gotham City crime free is primarily the responsibility of the public authorities, and the existence of a crime fighter masked vigilante in Batman is indicative of the failure of the law enforcement machinery. Dent wants to reinstate the faith of the people in the rule of law, and the law enforcement machinery of the State, and Batman is more than willing to let the Gotham City take care of itself. So, Bruce Wayne as the businessman he is, and also as Batman, does his best to support Dent’s endeavours in that respect. On the other hand, to the Joker Dent is that white spark of goodness that he doesn’t believe people have. His primary project, therefore, is to take the White Knight of Gotham and “bring him down” to his level turning him into the ‘Dark Knight’ to show that “madness is like gravity; all it takes is a little push”.

Unlike Tim Burton’s Batman (1989), The Dark Knight brings to us a fully-formed Joker without any reference to his background, with nothing to hint at the reasons that went into the making of this absolute villain. Why is he after Batman and what motivates him in his pursuit of Batman’s destruction is also kept unclear giving the Joker his much admired, mysterious darkness. Pennyworth (Michael Caine) is absolutely right when he tells Bruce Wayne (Batman) that neither Wayne, nor the gangsters who took shelter with the Joker against Batman fully understand the monster. “Some men just want to watch the world burn,” Pennyworth observes. When, during the interrogation sequence, Batman asks why he wants to kill him, the Joker bursts laughing. “I don’t want to kill you. What would I do without you?!” The public authorities and the gangsters, much like the audience, do not understand the Joker simply because his motivations are not just uncommon but almost unique, his method a little too drastic and his ideas bordering on crazy. But at the bottom of it, there is the belief that human beings are a hypocritical and easily corruptible species with a phony moral code that they pretend to honour. On the other hand, Batman believes in the fundamental goodness of human beings and their ability to stand against all odds in selfless defence of others even at the cost of their own welfare. And when the innocent civilians in one ferry and the convicted criminals on the other make independent, unilateral decisions to not blow up the other ferry to save themselves without knowing if the other one would also do the same, they prove that, contrary to the beliefs of the Joker, human beings are capable of selfless sacrifice of the supreme kind. Batman wins, but the Joker does not lose either, for he does manage to turn Gotham’s white knight dark.

“This is what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object,” says the Joker hanging upside from a skyscraper. “You are truly incorruptible, aren’t you,” he adds. Except when speaking to Batman, the Joker is either pushing an agenda, entertaining himself and telling another untrue story about how he got those scars but is never really talking or telling anything substantial about himself or about his real objectives. He only reveals himself to Batman, for he understands that apart from the masked vigilante, who is his chief opponent, there is nobody who can understand any of it. Besides, he sees no point in revealing his real self and objectives to anybody else, for, to him, an absolute villain, which he certainly is, can only be understood by an absolute hero, which he understands Batman to be. He considers himself an unfailing corrupter and Batman as absolutely incorruptible. So, his fight with Batman is not aimed at killing Batman but at defeating him by breaking the spirit of the people of Gotham City and pushing them into doing monstrous acts thereby displaying the evil the Joker thinks they carry within themselves under the deceptive veneer of civility.

The regular good-versus-evil-and-the-good-wins routine gets a minor but significant spin at Nolan’s hand, and the triumph of good over evil is not quite as comprehensive as one might expect going by the past tellings of such tales. Batman and Commissioner Gordon arrange a hero’s farewell to Harvey Dent, who actually doesn’t die a hero, so that the people of Gotham continue to believe in the goodness of human beings. But this also suggests how, for the very noble purposes of preserving the good, the real tales of ‘good men’ are carefully tweaked to keep popular faith in the conventional ethical norms. But then, every now and then, there is always an absolutely incorruptible Batman. And hope lives on.

Originally published as part of my Movie Review column LEGAL SCANNER (Classics) in LAWYERS UPDATE [March, 2015 Issue; Vol. XXI, Part 3].

heath-ledger-dark-knight

NISHANT: A Tale of Violent Re-ordering

Posted in Legal, Movie Review with tags , , , , , , on April 1, 2015 by HemRaj Singh

nishantThose with means and influence tend to be adamant and oppressive apart from being almost completely indifferent to the miseries of the less-privileged. Feudal India with its notorious landlords was a society in which power and money were concentrated in those few hands that did not hesitate in brutally squeezing the poor and the weak with or without reason. The excesses were tolerated solely because individuals and even state institutions were powerless against the mighty zamindars . But then, one didn’t necessarily have to be dirt-poor to suffer at their hands. To invite violence and oppression from their side one only had to have something that they wanted, and that ‘thing’ could be someone’s wife to whom one of them took fancy, which is precisely what happens in Nishant . However, the oppressor, drunk on his might, might fail to note when and where the threshold was breached, in which case the backlash might sometimes be a little too strong to stand. Huge fires, many a time, begin with an innocuous spark. Nishant or ‘end of night’ is the story of one such spark and its blowing into an unforgiving, violent uprising.

Directed by Shyam Benegal and cinematographed by today’s much admired film director, Govind Nihalani, Nishant — released in 1975 — was the first movie featuring Naseeruddin Shah, who went on to become India’s finest actors, in a widely lauded performance alongside the equally impressive Girish Karnad, Smita Patil, Shabana Azmi and Amrish Puri. This was Smita Patil’s second movie after her debut in Benegal’s Charandas Chor , which was also released in early 1975.

The film is set in the times around Indian independence when India was taking its unsure baby-steps in the post-war world of sovereign nations. The feudal system was still well-entrenched and nobody believed that anything in terms of social structure was going to change anytime soon. A schoolteacher, in such a setting, might not be the weakest soul to shatter or the ideal human rock to test one’s raw strength against, but, with a pretty wife at home, he might be among the unluckiest. So, when Vishwam (Naseeruddin Shah), the youngest and the most gentle brother of the powerful zamindar , sets his eyes on the school teacher’s wife, his brothers make a gift of her and present it to him. Being married already, of course, doesn’t come in the way of his accepting the affectionate ‘gift’ by his caring brothers.

Despite being the brother of a landlord who wields unlimited raw power and crushing control over the lives of the people of the village, Vishwam, unlike his brothers, is not overbearing or drunk on power. He is an ordinary man in an extraordinary family. And for the most part he is quite happy with his wife and whatever else he has. He never comes across as ambitious on any front whatsoever. The only thing he does that falls in the league of the everyday misdeeds committed by his kind is covet another man’s wife. He never really asks his brothers to do anything to get the woman in his arms; neither does he look inclined to try anything adventurous on that front. But when begotten for him, Vishwam does not hesitate in taking the schoolteacher’s wife, Sushila, as his mistress. However, he is still not the kind of animalistic rapist that his brothers are perfectly capable of being at any hour of any day. On the contrary, he displays a certain amount of care and emotions for Sushila, which gives the impression that he either genuinely loves her or feels something for her that very closely resembles romantic sentiments. Benegal spends a good amount of run time on building Vishwam’s character as a good guy trying hard to fit into the accepted mould of bad, and Benegal makes it very probable that in part Vishwam accepts Sushila as his mistress just to prove that he was also just as bad as his brothers.

The helpless schoolteacher is left with his insufferable agony, barren rage and a deep sense of injustice apart from his motherless little child much in need of the mother. He runs to everyone from the villagers to the police seeking assistance against the powerful landlord, but nobody is willing to risk inviting the displeasure of the zamindar . Even the police looks the other way for the same reason. They try being helpful by gently advising him to reconcile to the fact that his wife was never coming back to him, for she now belonged to the zamindar family. Her grand elevation from being the wife of a schoolteacher to the mistress-hood of the landlord’s youngest brother is somehow tolerable, if not perfectly alright, with the villagers. They quickly get into the what-happened-happened mode of consolation that people generally reserve for untimely deaths, and the typical ‘wish-of-god’ part stands conveniently modified to ‘wish-of-the- zamindar ‘.

The zamindar family ignores, to their own detriment, that the discontent born of injustice does not die an easy death, and a helpless acceptance is not the same thing as approval or endorsement. It remains in public memory like a deep, burning scar, and no matter how weak, timid and poor the people be, the sense of injustice is a hugely uniting force. The bonds of hatred are sometimes stronger than ties of blood. So, while the injustice is not overtly resisted despite passionate appeals from the schoolteacher, the outrage remains simmering under the surface, which eventually boils over and produces a violent backlash.

Although Nishant is primarily a story of a schoolteacher’s struggle against the tyranny of a powerful landlord, it is also a tale of class divide and a comment on the nature of all revolutions. Longstanding discontent has always been the most effective fuel for an uprising. Benegal does not shy away from recognizing the unforgiving nature of such backlash. This is not a fire of justice, for it exercises no discretion. It does not right the wrongs, but cleans the slate for a fresh start. So, all that is good about the bad is also wiped out, which is why when the villagers set out to kill, they do not spare the wife of the schoolteacher either. She is part of the household that invited the ire. She must suffer the onslaught just as much as any other belonging to the same household.

At personal level, the schoolteacher is thrown in the situation where his wife has been abducted and he is helpless. He can do nothing except come to terms with his humiliating circumstances and accept brutal injustice as a way of the world, as an undeniable, inescapable reality. His wife’s position is even more difficult because she has to adjust not only with the absence of her husband and the child but also with her new surroundings, which are innately oppressive on account of having been forced upon her. Ironically, she finds solace in the wife of the person whose mistress she ends up becoming. Eventually, hopelessness sets in to make her accept her fate, and she becomes an unwilling part of the zamindar family. In giving up and giving in she is very unlike her husband, who never really gives up on the fight and never accepts the feudal oppression he faces as his unavoidable fate. In presenting this contrast Benegal brings to us these two ways in which people respond to the tragedies they face at the hands of other human beings.

Benegal’s Nishant carries a message that needs no re-affirmation and yet it needs to be re-affirmed over and over again simply because we tend to overlook the obvious for short-term gains. Perception of injustice is the greatest and the most viable threat to established order, and much of the large scale unrest anywhere is caused by the sense of oppression. The principle of Rule of Law is fundamentally aimed at preventing arbitrariness so as to prevent discontent from taking roots.

The movie ends with the lynching of Sushila and Vishwam by the mob after they try to run away and hide, but are spotted. Sushila thinks of her son in the last moments of her life. The final scene shows the son of Sushila and the schoolteacher waiting in a classroom with other students for his schoolteacher father to step in and begin teaching. Clean slate. New beginning.

Originally published as part of my Movie Review column LEGAL SCANNER (Classics) in LAWYERS UPDATE [February, 2015 Issue; Vol. XXI, Part 2].

SPARSH: Paranjpye’s Deft Touch

Posted in Movie Review with tags , , , , , , on April 1, 2015 by HemRaj Singh

sparsh1907In the dark world of the blind, touch is the only true guide — Sparsh (Hindi for ‘touch’). But whether the blindness shuts the world out and makes the blind incapable of engaging with the world visually, or makes the blind stay in touch with their own alternative world running parallel to the world of the sighted without losing touch with either of the two, or whether they have a combination of the two worlds to savour are certainly not the easiest questions to answer.

Sparsh deals with all the issues that a blind person encounters while interacting with the people in the world of light and sight. But, interestingly and ironically, in addressing a person of sight, it is the blind who shoots the question or the statement in the dark, and not the other way round. If light opens the world of colours for the sighted, what makes us think that darkness does not hold just as rich an alternative world for the blind? However, Sparshbrushes past but does not grapple with the creative side of blindness as much as it does with the finer aspects of the rather delicate bridge between the sighted and the blind, and the realities of their lived world that sometimes run into real or imagined conflicts with each other.

In a speech for the American Foundation for the Blind delivered at Washington, D.C. in 1925, the famous blind writer Helen Keller said, “The chief handicap of the blind is not blindness, but the attitude of seeing people towards them.” Sparsh deals with the same issue, but brings new insight into it from the perspective of the individual characters because blindness is not a dry idea, it’s the lived truth of the blind, and the blind have more ways of ‘seeing’ their blindness than the sighted can ever even imagine. To some very self-respecting blind people, nothing is as hurtfully demeaning as the display of sympathy. Anirudh Parmar (played brilliantly by Naseeruddin Shah) is one such person.

Released on January 30, 1980, Sai Paranjpye’s Sparsh is not only among her best but is also one of the finest movies to emerge from the Hindi film industry. The movie won three Filmfare Awards in 1985 in the categories of ‘Best Movie’ (Basu Bhattacharya), ‘Best Director’ (Sai Paranjpye) and ‘Best Dialogue’ (Sai Paranjpaye), and also won three National Film Awards in 1980 in the categories of ‘Best Feature Film in Hindi’, ‘Best Actor’ (Naseeruddin Shah) and ‘Best Screenplay’ (Sai Paranjpye).

When Anirudh Parmar, led by the melodious voice of Kavita Prasad (Shabana Azmi), lands at her doorsteps instead of his doctor’s, where he had started out to be, the two meet for the first time, and Anirudh does not fail to compliment Kavita on her singing before taking her leave. Kavita, a recent widow after a three-year long marriage, lives a secluded life and has just one friend, Manju (Sudha Chopra), and it is at a party thrown by Manju that the two meet once again.

Anirudh tells her that he runs a school for the blind children and the one thing that they need more than the donations is the time of the people, which most of the people are a little too stingy about. He requests Kavita to come over to his school to spend some time with the blind children teaching them to sing, to which she remains non-committal initially, but eventually turns up at Anirudh’s school to lend a helping hand. Anirudh makes it clear right at the outset that he and the children were looking for help and not pity when Kavita inadvertently uses the term ‘ bechaara ‘ (Hindi for ‘pitiable’) in connection with the blind children. The reaction to being treated with sympathy evolves into the central theme of the movie as the story unfolds.

Kavita finds meaning in contributing towards making the world of the blind kids richer while Anirudh finds an able and willing associate in Kavita. But somehow Anirudh cannot help seeing Kavita’s doing so much for the children as a major favour to him and them, which he appreciates but is also uncomfortable with at the same time, particularly when Kavita starts taking care of him as well. Kavita proposes a simple solution to Anirudh’s discomfort – that they combine their respective darknesses to create a world full of light together. In short, tie the knot. Anirudh gives it a serious thought but he has his own fears, the foremost of which is the fear of her becoming a habit and his losing his hard-gained ability to survive and live independently with and despite his blindness. Anirudh’s obsessive rejection of pity makes his world and the people in it more full of pity than anything else. He manages to read the same in Kavita’s affectionate overtures, too.

Needless to say that Anirudh fails to see that seeing everyone as pitying him is by itself a reflection of self-pity. He accuses Kavita of seeking a sense of sacrifice and martyrdom in marrying him when Kavita’s only friend Manju comes over to make him understand that in doing all that Kavita did for him she was motivated by love alone. She further adds that he doesn’t need her as much as she needs him. Seeing a blind boy read out to his sighted friend from a book trascripted into Braille by Kavita, Anirudh is touched by the role reversal and realizes that all bonds between the sighted and the blind are not founded on pity; some of them are steeped in genuine affection, too. The movie closes with Anirudh walking towards the house of Kavita as her singing voice fills the air.

Sparsh is the story of a self-respecting blind man’s struggle to gather the courage to drop his aggressive defenses. He acknowledges the deficiency, but does not want people to help him out of pity under the mistaken assumption that pity arises out of a sense of superiority, which his pride does not allow him to accept. This is also why Anirudh sounds jarringly egoistic at certain places and tries to prevent his rough and sharp edges from hurting someone. Of course, he doesn’t succeed all that often. One would see the reflection of an angry Anirudh of Sparsh in the Jindal of the typical Bollywoodian Mohra some 14 years later in 1994, where Naseeruddin Shah plays, in part, the same kind of self-respecting, sharp-tongued, easy-to-provoke blind man once again, except that this time the man is neither good, nor blind with no inner battles to fight and no internal conflicts to resolve, unlike Anirudh.

The most important aspect of Sparsh is that while it is the story of a blind man, it deals with the struggles of all human beings to come to terms with their realities and to not be scared of falling. Anirudh’s greatest fear is the fear of not being able to live independently once he starts sharing his life with Kavita, which is just another version of anybody’s fear of opening up for the fear of not being able to walk away when the time comes, if it does. The fear of not being able to live on one’s own is not a fear unique to the blind, in general or to Anirudh, in particular. All human beings are prone to such fears. In Anirudh’s case, it is more pronounced just because he is very aware of his physical limitations. The fear of not being able to deal with somebody’s absence is not his fear alone. We all experience the same fear at different points of time. His blindness is not unique to him or to the blind either. We all are blind to something or the other in our own sighted ways.

Originally published as part of my Movie Review column LEGAL SCANNER (Classics) in LAWYERS UPDATE [November, 2014 Issue; Vol. XX, Part 11].

BHUMIKA: A Woman’s Quest for Home

Posted in Movie Review with tags , , , , , on April 1, 2015 by HemRaj Singh

bumikaThe roles that human beings play in their lives are not too different from the way an actor essays a character in a movie or a play. One might argue that the difference lies in the ‘reality’ of life and the ‘make believe’ nature of plays and movies. That perhaps is a major perceptual mistake. Most of our real life is founded on the conceptual constructs of our own making. And it is by adjusting into the mould provided by the world that we spend our lives. At many levels our lived life is founded on the ‘make believe’. The question of ‘reality’ is too complex to be discussed at length here, but Benegal’s ‘Bhumika’ puts the real life side by side with the make-believe life of the movies. And in the background Benegal tells the story of an exploited actress, the actress turns out to be only a little more of a victim than the others around her, including her exploiters. That happens not because people are fair or less unfair to her. It happens because the only role that she refuses to play is that of the victim despite being the victim of her circumstance, but being a victim of one’s circumstances is nothing unique. We all are such victims, and the same set of circumstances that turn us into victims also present the opportunities for us to live a satisfying life. The same is true for the protagonist, Usha (Smita Patil), as well. She gets to make her choices, and it is primarily the choices that turn things in her favour and also against, much the same way as it works for the rest of us.

Usha’s husband, Keshav (Amol Palekar), is much older than her, and had lusted after her since she was a little girl. Taking advantage of the family’s circumstances, and in the garb of supporting the family, he manipulates things, gets her into films and then marries her. She has no real feelings for her husband, to start with, but she takes the role of the wife and wants to play it in the conventional fashion. She has no personal ambitions. All that she wants after marriage is to be a homemaker. What surprises her is her husband’s insistence on her continuing her career in films, which is fundamentally because he is not working, and prefers being a parasite. He keeps managing her career by getting her films with stars, and she becomes a star herself, but that is completely unfulfilling for her. Her reluctance and his ambitions with her come in constant clash, especially after she becomes a mother.

The gulf between the couple widens and results in her leaving the matrimonial household, which aggravates her sense of loneliness and isolation. She tries to fight her loneliness by entering into a relationship with a nihilistic director, Sunil Verma (Naseeruddin Shah), who has intense fascination with death, and then with a patriarch, Vinayak Kale (Amrish Puri), who has everything for her except freedom. And she carefully avoids getting into a similar relationship with her longstanding co-star and a constant source of support, Rajan (Anant Nag). Rajan remains romantically interested in Usha right from the time she starts working with him in the movies, but she keeps her distance from him for both professional and personal reasons. As the relationship between her and her husband bitters further, she still does not let the romantic overtures from Rajan drive her into a relationship with him and even turns down a marriage proposal from Rajan saying that she does not want to lose him, like she lost everybody else, because he had been the only person who had given her without asking for anything in return.

Usha is not a submissive woman. She is assertive, and does not like being forced into anything. What she demands is a right to make her own choices, right and wrong, good and bad. Much of what happens to her is indeed on account of the choices she makes, but most of her choices are made as reactions to force. Even her decision to marry Keshav is driven by her mother’s insistence on her not seeing Keshav any more, which is unacceptable to her, not because she wants to meet Keshav so much, but because she dislikes being forced. She reacts by not just agreeing to marry Keshav, but actually insisting with Keshav to tie the knot. But her desire to be a housewife and abandon her career in films does not meet the approval of her husband, who cajoles her into continuing, and then keeps suspecting her fidelity, which becomes the cause of frequent fights between the couple.

To conclude that it is her revolt against the emotional manipulations of a possessive, needlessly suspicious and utterly selfish husband that drives her into the arms of other men would be a little too simplistic. What complicates life for her is her reaction against her being made to function against her wish combined with her will to fight for a perfect life with a man pitched against her relentless fight to protect the interests of her daughter. At different times different things take precedence in her life, which makes her a normal, vulnerable human being instead of a steely crusader for a cause.

Keshav, her husband, forces her to abort her second child stating plainly and simply that he has no place in his house for the child fathered by someone else. She tries her best to convince him that the child is his, but to no avail. And from the omniscient perspective of the audience we know that she is not lying. On his side there is no fight, no rage. This is not an angry, possessive, insecure and jealous husband angry over his wife’s infidelity. This is an opportunist man living with a woman under the institutional cover of marriage, which he considers an arrangement for mutual benefit. He has already given up on his marriage and his wife. He is interested only in getting the best out of the bargain.

Right after her second child is aborted, she hastily enters into a relationship with one of her directors, Sunil Verma. Of unconventional and unorthodox mindset, the man seems intellectually stimulating, but the relationship flashes in and dies out in a jiffy. There is not enough depth and commitment in Sunil to sustain the relationship that Usha had been looking for. After the flash-in-the-pan fling with Sunil that comes to nothing, Usha moves quickly to Vinayak Kale in search of a stable relationship, and with Kale she pretty much finds one. She gets a stable, resourceful household with a kid in it and for a while she is happy enough being the de facto second wife of Kale to forget her own daughter, Sushma. But there is a price to be paid, as she realizes later. She does not have the freedom she has been so used to. She can’t even step out of Kale’s palatial estate. She is a prisoner, who rules the insides of the prison, but is condemned to spend her life confined in her palace-prison. Usha is not ready to pay a price that high. She sends a distress letter to Keshav, who brings the police along and Usha is freed. But in the meanwhile a lot has changed, and almost nothing is the same. Keshav’s business is now set; Usha’s daughter, Sushma, is now married, and she and her husband want Usha to live with them. Usha declines. Rajan calls and wants to meet Usha, but she doesn’t respond. Benegal leaves the audience to draw their own conclusions. But it’s not very hard to gather Benegal’s unmistakable suggestion that Usha’s quest for a ‘home’ with a man has resulted in the realization that a perfect home is hard – if not impossible – to find because it is very hard to find a perfect ‘husband’. Benegal seems to have summed it up when the paralyzed first wife of Kale tells Usha that masks change, beds change, but men do not. Finally, Usha decides to look beyond men and find a fulfilling life without them. That’s where Benegal sends the curtains down.

Originally published as part of my Movie Review column LEGAL SCANNER (Classics) in LAWYERS UPDATE [August, 2014 Issue; Vol. XX, Part 8].

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