Bollywood movies and Rajputs

Bollywood movies and rajputs are in the news because of the recent stalling of this movie called “padmavati” thanks to threats of violence from goons who claim to represent Rajputs. This blog post is not about that, though, for there are better things to talk about, such as one Rajput movie from Bollywood that did see light of day, and become a huge hit.

I’m talking about the Imran Khan and Genelia D’Souza starrer Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na. This released back in 2008, when I used to actually watch movies, and go to theatres to watch them (this one was at Inox Lido in Bangalore, and I even wrote what now appears to be an atrocious blog post about the experience).

Most of the story doesn’t matter here, except that the protagonist (Jai, played by Imran Khan) is a Rajput. And he’s no ordinary Rajput – he’s a Ranjhor ka Rathore. If you insist, he’s an excellent review of the movie by Baradwaj Rangan, and he’s a fascinating post about the geopolitical implications of the movie by Dr. Boris Bhartiraj Pandey.

So the main character in the movie (the way I saw it) is played by Naseeruddin Shah, and he appears as a portrait. For he is dead. But he comes alive to talk to his wife Savitri (played by his real-life wife Ratna Pathak Shah) at strategic times, offering advice which she is usually dismissive of.

There’s one scene in the movie that I still remember (as I commented a few months later, Bollywood movies can indeed by thought provoking). In that, Savitri chides her husband (in portrait mode, of course) for exhibiting the kind of false bravado that got him killed.

His reply (from the portrait), in my mind, encapsulates everything that I’ve read and seen about Rajputs in life. He starts off by saying that he’s a real Ranjhor ka Rathore who died an honourable death. And then goes on to say (ok I’m paraphrasing here) that it might be true that he got killed in the fight, but that before he got killed, he managed to slap each and every one of the opponents who killed him (exact context of the fight I’m not sure of – not even sure the movie dwells over that).

So people talk about the Rajputs’ culture of honour. One great example of this is the first battle of Tarain in 1191 when Prithviraj Chauhan, in a doubtless honourable gesture, decided to let go of the captured Mohammad Ghori. Ghori duly returned a year later and in the second battle of Tarain in 1192, not only defeated Prithviraj, but also killed him. He (Ghori) was perhaps not as honourable. But this led to the establishment of what we know as the Delhi Sultanate. Prithviraj being an honourable man was in a way responsible for this. But then he was honourable, and went down fighting, so we still revere him.

It is this very kind of honour that is illustrated by Naseeruddin Shah’s character in Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na. It doesn’t matter that you get killed (going down fighting is honourable, right?). What matters more is that you manage to slap a few people before you got killed.

And in illustrating this so effectively, Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na is in my opinion one of the best Bollywood movies about an Indian ethnic group!


Outliers – Notes

Last evening I borrowed Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers from the library. Finished off reading it in one sitting this morning. I had been disappointed with his earlier book (The Tipping Point) and have been describing it as a blog post that has been written in 200 pages.

Outliers, on the other hand, is significantly better. For starters, there is a really nice narrative style which goes the book going. Having read the book, I still haven’t understood the central idea of it, but there are enough interesting sub-plots and side-fundaes that it’s worth reading. Some notes.

  • The second chapter of the book hints that you need to spend a considerable amount of time fighting it out at something before you become a stud in that. Gladwell claims there are no “natural studs” at anything, and people become studs at something only after reasonable effort. I think the key is on taking that step up to studness after you have put enough fight, and some people (pure fighters) don’t seeem to do that
  • There is tremendous non-linearity in the world, and this is a point that Nassim Taleb had also made in Fooled by Randomness. Basically, there are some discrete steps. For example, if I had applied the brakes even one second earlier, I could’ve prevented the car crash I was involved in this April. One extra mark here or there can change a candidate’s JEE rank by 500 places, and totally change his life. Etc.
  • Gladwell talks about “honor cultures” – where people tend to take offence easily. He claims that this kind of culture is more prevalent in pastoral communities where people need to be more aggressive and possessive. When I read about “honor cultures”, I was reminded of Rajasthan, and the Rajputs there going to war on one another on trivial “honour issues”, and Prithviraj Chauhan using “honour” as the excuse for supposedly pardoning Mohd Ghori in the first battle of Tarain in 1190. Was Rajasthan a traditionally pastoral society in those days?
  • The Power Distance Index that he talks about makes sense, but unfortunately India is not mentioned in the studies that he quotes. I would expect India to have a fairly high power distance index, but I’d also be interested in seeing if India’s PDI varies regionally – I would expect it to be higher in the north than in the south
  • A while back, I had written one reason as to why there doesn’t exist a strong breakfast culture in North India. Gladwell’s chapter on rice cultivation inspires an alternate reasoning. He claims that rice farming is much harder than wheat farming, and the former tends to take longer hours, and occupies a larger proportion of the year. Maybe due to the longer hours, south indians felt the need for three meals a day, while two were sufficient in the north. Also, rice digests quicker than wheat, so eating at more frequent intervals is warranted.
  • The epilogue, in which Gladwell talks about his mother’s family, gives an indcation about the “race system” in Jamaica. Compared to our caste system, which is discrete, Jamaican discrimination is on a continuous scale which has several shades of brown between black and white. Also, this continuous scale means that a child lies somewhere on the colour line between his father and his mother, and his standing in society is determined by his own colour. On the other hand, in the Indian caste system, rules dictate that the child belongs to either the father’s or the mother’s caste. Interesting to see how much of a difference this has made in general economic development.

I know a lot of this might not make sense to you if you haven’t read the book. I have just noted some headline points here. If you need more fundaes, leave a comment with your question and I’ll write about it.

And I would definitely recommend you to read the book. Nice quick read it is.