Tuesday, 27 December 2016

INDRAJEET And AKAYLA: Decoding Two Criminally Underrated Cult Classics From 1990s’ Bollywood

[Warning: long post]

The 1990s was not a particularly good decade for Amitabh Bachchan. His godlike public image had taken a beating when he was implicated in the Bofors controversy, which broke out in the late-1980s following the premature end to his political career, and people were not quite willing to forget and forgive easily. This was, after all, AMITABH BACHCHAN, aka God himself: how could He be a party to such a scandalous affair? (Though thankfully, a London court absolved him of all charges in 1992 and established his innocence in the Bofors case.) There was a distinct sense of bitterness towards him in the collective public mind, a sense of somehow having been betrayed by their shiny-armoured White Knight. “Arre usne to paisa khaaya hai,” was the common opinion.

This feeling of bitterness affected the outcome of quite a few of his films in the 90s – though to be fair, many of them were not worth writing home about. The overall aesthetic value of his films had been falling from 1983 onwards and during 1994-1999, it was at its lowest, at par with the mid-80s’ abominations like MAHAAN, GERAFTAAR, MARD, and GANGAA JAMUNAA SARASWATHI.

Yet surprisingly, he did some good work during 1989-1992, though most of these films earned less than the recognition they deserved at the time. The lack of credit was largely due to the mainstream media’s thorny relationship with the star (Bachchan had decided to boycott the media, a ban that lasted till 1989). The press, working in collusion with some of the actor’s colleagues in the industry (it is alleged that Anil and Boney Kapoor tried to sabotage many of Bachchan’s films, like SHAHENSHAH), ran a sustained campaign to pull down or overlook the business of his films. If a film was a hit (KHUDA GAWAH, for instance), its success was downplayed; if it failed, the failure would get magnified manifold.

Over the years, however, the general public’s retrospective reaction to most of these films has softened. Continued reruns on satellite channels leading to repeat viewings through nostalgia-tinted glasses have led to these films finding better acceptance, not only among new generations of viewers but also among the original audiences who had initially rejected them (although GJS, INSANIYAT, MRITYUDAATA, and HINDUSTAN KI KASAM are still viewed as unmitigated atrocities). And two of the best examples of this are INDRAJEET and AKAYLA.

[Picture courtesy: Google Images]

[Picture courtesy: Google Images]

Look at the films Bachchan did during the 1989-1992 period: TOOFAN, JAADUGAR, MAIN AZAAD HOON, AGNEEPATH, AAJ KA ARJUN, HUM, AJOOBA, INDRAJEET, AKAYLA, and KHUDA GAWAH. Barring the vigilante superhero flicks TOOFAN and AJOOBA, these films interestingly featured him in more or less age-commensurate roles, marking his foray into the realm of slightly complex and flawed middle-aged characters: a magician who takes on a phony godman; a gangland boss who pits himself against another, bigger criminal overlord to extract a long-due vendetta; a reformed goon whose past catches up with him and forces him to return to the dark alleyways of crime he had once roamed imperiously, but had given up for his family’s sake; a Pathan who sacrifices his freedom and youth to keep a promise he makes to a stranger. Bachchan seemed to be trying hard to resurrect the intensity of performance-oriented roles that had last been seen in SHAKTI and BEMISAL in 1982 – though maybe not consciously. But while critics for the most part were delighted, the viewers, unable to come to terms with their hero’s attempts to rediscover the Actor within – they wanted more of the Star, presumably – were not quite as enthusiastic. The Myth of the Megastar had fallen prey to the law of diminishing returns. And INDRAJEET and AKAYLA were to be the worst sufferers.

Post-1986, there was a prolonged phase when Bachchan worked almost exclusively with old friends and colleagues; he signed only those films whose producer and/or director he had previously worked with (KC Bokadia, who made AAJ KA ARJUN, was the only exception) as he wanted to focus on his political career; this, along with his desire to create a corporatized movie business set-up, gave him a valid excuse to cut down on his film assignments and decline new projects (younger stars like Anil Kapoor and Jackie Shroff greatly benefitted from this, as many of Bachchan’s rejects went to either of them: Meri Jung, Mr. India, Allah-Rakha, to name a few). However, it would have been understandably difficult for him to refuse the likes of Manmohan Desai, Prakash Mehra, Yash Johar, Tinnu Anand, Ramesh Behl, and Ramesh Sippy, people with whom he had effectively collaborated in the 70s and the 80s and to whom he owed a great part of his success. INDRAJEET, produced by Ramesh Behl, and AKAYLA, written by Salim Khan – who co-created Bachchan’s famous Angry Young Man persona with Javed Akhtar – and directed by Ramesh Sippy, were two such films. And in both the 1991 releases, the actor played a similar role: that of an ageing, disillusioned police officer.

From 1988 to 1991, Bachchan played The Phantom/Batman-like vigilante superheroes in SHAHENSHAH, TOOFAN, and AJOOBA (two other films, Rudra and Taalismaan, were launched in 1988 and 2009 respectively but were shelved). INDRAJEET featured him in his fourth vigilante (though not a superhero) avatar in as many years: a man out to avenge the death of a loved one by taking the law in his own hands after being failed by a twisted, easy-to-manipulate system.

Bachchan was not new to the vendetta saga sweepstakes: ZANJEER in 1973 had pioneered this theme and SHOLAY in 1975 had further strengthened it (although technically, Bachchan in SHOLAY was only a hired gun taking orders from Sanjeev Kumar, the actual vengeance-seeker). In TRISHUL, he was out to avenge a dead mother; in BE-SHARAM, AGNEEPATH, and TOOFAN, he was after the man who had driven his father to death; in AAKHREE RAASTA, he was seeking to redeem a dead wife’s honour. But INDRAJEET would turn out to be something different altogether: like AAKHREE RAASTA, it featured Bachchan as a dark, grim, The Punisher-type character who ruthlessly dispatches his enemies.

The film opens on a somber note: senior cop Indrajeet is retiring and Minister Sadachari (Kader Khan) and Police Commissioner Shyam Sundar (Sadashiv Amrapurkar) have arranged a felicitation ceremony. While the duo heap praises on Indrajeet, the man himself slow-mo-walks into the venue – with an intriguing, suspense-filled background score by the inimitable RD Burman adding to the buildup – and coolly dismisses their efforts in a few crisp, curt sentences, thus giving us a hint of the tension-filled history he shares with them. As he walks out, leaving the minister and the commissioner seething, we realize that the events that have led to the present will also dictate the path that the future takes.

As the narrative unfolds, things reach a boiling point when Sadachari’s violent son Mahesh (Mahesh Anand) and his three friends, including Indrajeet’s former girlfriend Shanti’s (Jaya Prada) younger brother Ajit (Ajit Pal Mangat), brutally rape and kill Indrajeet’s adopted daughter Neelu (Neelam Kothari) and also murder her husband Vijay (Kumar Gaurav) when the newlyweds are honeymooning. A devastated Indrajeet runs to the police for justice, but Shyam Sundar and his assistant Vishnu (Avtar Gill), acting on Sadachari’s instructions to hush up the case, thwart his efforts and viciously torture him in police custody. Rescued by his friend and former colleague Sudhir (Vijayendra Ghatge), the broken and battered father swears to visit vengeance on his tormentors.

The Vendetta saga has been a popular and recurrent theme in mainstream Indian Cinema ever since writer duo Salim-Javed popularized it with ZANJEER and Yaadon Ki Baaraat in 1973. The narrative follows a somewhat set pattern: the villain (or villains) wreaks havoc on the hero’s family by killing one or both of his parents, or by raping and killing his sister, and since the law will not help (mostly because the investigating officer is on the villain’s payroll), the aggrieved hero himself sets out to right the wrongs done to him. There are variations of this formula, but the framework generally remains the same – a testament to Bollywood’s slavish adherence to templatized storytelling. INDRAJEET proffers an interesting deviation: instead of a young man avenging his parents’ deaths, we have an old man extracting revenge for a dead child. While this is not entirely unprecedented – in SHOLAY, Thakur Baldev Singh (Sanjeev Kumar) seeks retribution for the deaths of his sons, daughter, daughter-in-law, and grandson at Gabbar Singh’s (Amjad Khan) hands – it certainly is a departure from routine.

Seeing how Bachchan commanded a phenomenal pull over family audiences – irrespective of age, gender, caste, and socio-economic station – at a pan-Indian level, writers and directors working with him tended to give a light-hearted, colourful vibe to his films; as a result, his films were by and large devoid of gratuitous sex and violence. INDRAJEET deviates from this in a big way. Along with SHOLAY and MARD, it is easily one of his most violent films.

Playing a vigilante deliverer of justice, Bachchan is at his feral best, shooting, punching, kicking, slicing, chopping, knifing, and bombing through human bodies, furniture, and brick walls like an elemental, unstoppable force of nature. Few other films have him stacking up such a high body count. Once the action starts, he is in superlative form (check out the last 54 minutes of the film – he navigates through the scenario like an actual, hardcore killer).

Trying to pinpoint the exact reasons behind a film’s success or failure can often be a frustrating exercise and INDRAJEET’s commercial underperformance is not easy to explain. As a concept, it would have looked quite good on paper. Its lead actor, despite advancing age and health problems, was still in pretty great form (fact: many of Bachchan’s so-called ‘flops’ in the 80s and 90s made more money than other actors’ hits), the story was decent (if a little clichéd), and the action sequences choreographed by Raam Shetty were terrific. Even the script did not leave too many loose ends hanging around – except, perhaps, providing a back story to the Indrajeet-Sadachari animosity that is hinted at early on – and distractive romantic subplots were kept at a minimum.

So what happened to this potential winner? One surmises. The dark and tragic atmosphere, heightened by the relentless tension, and the gruesome violence were possibly difficult for family audiences to digest (about an hour and 40 minutes into the movie, there is a torture scene that was somewhat graphic, going by then-prevalent standards). The revenge plot, already in use for the past two decades, was looking more than a little frayed at the edges (though it would continue to be used till the turn of the century, thanks to young ‘action specialist’ heroes like Akshay Kumar, Ajay Devgan, and Sunil Shetty). Even RD Burman’s music was pedestrian. The Pancham-Ramesh Behl combo had yielded a series of fabulous soundtracks throughout the 70s and the 80s: The Train, Jawani Diwani, Dil Diwana, KASME VAADE, Baseraa, Harjaee, Yeh Vaada Raha, PUKAR, Jaane Jaan (initially titled Nikamma), Jawaani, etc. INDRAJEET’s lackluster music was most likely due to Pancham’s ill health in 1988-89. This too was a significant factor.

Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak (1988), Maine Pyar Kiya (1989), and Aashiqui (1990) had brought back the age of good, melodious music in Hindi Cinema after more than half a decade of severe mediocrity. A close look at Hindi Cinema of the 90s reveals that the decade’s biggest hits also had highly successful soundtracks. Audiences would have compared INDRAJEET’s music with that of HUM, Phool Aur Kaante, Saajan, Dil Hai Ke Manta Nahin, and Sadak – the biggest hits of 1991 – and the KV Raju-directed film would have come up wanting.

The film is a hard watch, mounted differently from many of Bachchan’s other, more successful commercial ventures of that period. In spite of its less-than-satisfactory showing at the box office, there is much to recommend the film, the prime factor being Amitabh Bachchan’s amazing performance, which sadly went unnoticed by all film award committees. Also, Neelam playing a tough girl who fights back hard when surrounded by Mahesh and his friends was a welcome change from her usual rona-dhona avatar. While contemporary audiences found the film less than adequate, latter-day viewers have been a lot kinder, with some reviewers on IMDb calling it “underrated” and “overlooked masterpiece”. Either way, the film certainly presents a strong case for itself and is one of the best Vendetta sagas ever to have come out of mainstream Bollywood.

He fights best…when he fights alone” – thus read the tagline of AKAYLA, director Ramesh Sippy’s fourth and last film with Amitabh Bachchan. The duo had previously collaborated on SHOLAY, SHAAN, and SHAKTI with great success. In all three films, Bachchan had played a man on the wrong side of the law. This time, he would be on the right side of it.

After their split in June 1981, Salim Khan and Javed Akhtar went their own separate ways. Post-breakup, Javed’s first solo venture was Betaab (1983), while Salim started running with Naam (1986). Both were huge hits and so were some of the other films the writers wrote in their individual capacity. Javed found his admirers in Rahul Rawail, Yash Chopra, and Boney (and Anil) Kapoor, among others, while Salim had his takers in Manmohan Desai and Mahesh Bhatt, to name a few. Ramesh Sippy, who had worked with the duo in all his films from Andaz (1971) to SHAKTI and then with Javed in Saagar (1985), commissioned Salim’s services for AKAYLA, the story of Vijay Verma, a lonely, alcoholic, and somewhat embittered senior cop with something of a death wish, who does not think twice about stepping outside the law in order to enforce and uphold it.

Having sacrificed love at the altar of friendship, Vijay, a self-confessed extremist by nature, had turned to the bottle; alcohol, which he consumes in copious quantities (often on duty as well), and his service are the two sustaining factors of his lonesome, friendless existence. The one great love of Vijay’s life is his younger brother Ajay (Aditya Pancholi), a college professor. Vijay saves Sapna (Amrita Singh), a dancer girl, from the predatory advances of Ranjeet (Mahesh Anand), a thug, and becomes friends with her. The two find a comfortable companionship in each other’s company, though there is no romance…yet.

Vijay foils a bomb scare at the airport and then a daring robbery attempt at a departmental store in broad daylight. In both cases, the accused is Anthony ‘Tony’ Braganza (Keith Stevenson), a criminal mastermind who escapes punishment when his lawyer proves that on both occasions, Tony was elsewhere when the crime was taking place. With his reputation on the line, a puzzled Vijay becomes obsessed with bringing Tony to justice; while watching Seeta Aur Geeta with Sapna (a meta reference to Ramesh Sippy and Salim-Javed’s super-successful 1972 romp), he realizes that Tony has a twin, who is his main accomplice! Jojo Braganza (Stevenson in a dual role) is a retarded but sadistic killer who helps Tony by appearing in full public view and drawing attention to himself in one place while Tony commits a crime in another.

The bad blood between Vijay and Tony steadily worsens; when the latter breaks out of prison with Jojo’s help, gunning down several prisoners and jail guards in the process, Vijay starts hunting them. The bloodthirsty duo kills Vijay’s friends Shekhar (Jackie Shroff) and Seema (Meenakshi Sheshadri); blinded with rage, Vijay mows down Jojo in retaliation. As the blood feud hurtles towards an explosive showdown between cop and criminal, Vijay gives up his alcohol dependency and allows his relationship with Sapna to reach a satisfactory resolution. But when Tony kills Ajay and his wife Neetu (Kiran Juneja Sippy) a day after their marriage, Vijay quits his job and swears to destroy Tony for good.

Like AGNEEPATH, AAJ KA ARJUN, HUM, and later INSANIYAT, AKAYLA featured Bachchan as an Angry Middle-aged Man, which was in keeping with the actor’s real age (Bachchan was 49 when AKAYLA released). Barring INSANIYAT, an irredeemable disaster, these roles were fairly well-written and juicy, giving the actor ample scope to perform by providing a healthy mix of action and drama. And he sunk his teeth into each of them with great relish.

SHAKTI was the last Salim-Javed film in which Bachchan worked (Mr. India had been written with him in mind, but he had refused it as he was apprehensive about playing an invisible character; a wise decision, as the blitzkrieg called Sridevi eclipsed pretty much everyone else in the film – including Anil Kapoor in the title role! – except Amrish Puri as the villain Mogambo). After the writers split up, Bachchan often complained about the lack of good, strong stories coming his way; MAIN AZAAD HOON (by Javed), TOOFAN, and AKAYLA (both by Salim) gave him the opportunity to work with his favourite writers, now operating separately, again. Interestingly, all these films reinterpreted the Angry Young Man character with some newer shades and different flavours.

AKAYLA was essentially a mix of two iconic ‘rogue, lone-wolf cop’ characters of Hollywood: Steve McQueen’s Bullitt (1968) and Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry (1971; the first in a five-film series that ran till 1988), both highly popular classics about a headstrong policeman bucking the system to bring criminals to justice. Salim Khan gave many of Bullitt’s and Harry’s professional qualities and personal traits to Vijay Verma and came up with an intriguing character. Sadly, the script was compromised by some sloppy writing and diffident direction, leaving it to Bachchan to shoulder the responsibility of seeing the film through.

Bachchan is very much in his element here, playing another dark character who finds it easier to hide behind a haze of alcohol fumes rather than make the run to emotional safety. As the glum, scowling cop who believes the best way to eliminate crime is by eliminating criminals, he is in great nick. His scenes with Shashi Kapoor, Aditya Pancholi, and Amrita Singh are very well etched out, bringing out different shades of Vijay’s character, his thoughts on various aspects of his professional and personal lives. The scene at Sapna’s house (when she invites Vijay to drink from her late father’s unfinished bottle), when Vijay sits down and then immediately gets up, inviting the lady to take her seat first, deserves special mention. Such subtle, nuanced touches are reminiscent of the best of Salim-Javed. In many ways, the entire scene is a throwback to the early exchanges between Vijay (Bachchan) and Roma (Smita Patil) in SHAKTI. This sequence is important: it shows two sensitive souls who might develop great empathy for each other as their relationship progresses.

Apart from Bachchan, Amrita Singh as Sapna gets the only other well-written role. Like Roma in SHAKTI, she is a strong and independent-minded woman who is gradually able to exercise a mellowing influence on her self-destructive and headstrong guy. When Vijay lashes out at her for being “too friendly with other men”, she rebukes him, and when he hits her, she shows him her place without being rude or losing her temper – there is great dignity in her character. After years of playing a “rich papa’s bratty daughter” in film after film, here was a meaty role that gave Singh a lot of performing space by allowing her to play to her strengths, and she seems to thoroughly relish it; this is arguably her finest performance, even better than the ‘strong woman’ roles she played with great aplomb in Raju Ban Gaya Gentleman (1992) and Aaina (1993).

Some of the scenes show Salim at his vintage best: Vijay putting a robber (funnily called Kaalia) on panic mode with his calm demeanour during the departmental store robbery, Vijay’s many run-ins with Ranjeet, and especially Vijay mock-killing a cop posing as a rapist-killer to force Ranjeet in revealing his boss Tony’s hideout – all these scenes add depth to the narrative and to the lead character.

In commercial masala films, characters often behave uncharacteristically. A man mourning a loved one’s death in one scene could well be gallivanting to the tunes of an item number in the next. Salim-Javed’s scripts – especially the best of them – were known for characters who stayed in, well, character throughout. Vijay’s brooding, gloomy disposition in DEEWAAR or KAALA PATTHAR had a valid justification and stayed in place throughout. This is one area where INDRAJEET had scored, but where AKAYLA suffers miserably. While the other characters are more or less consistent, Vijay is alternately serious, angry, depressed, glum, over-the-top (note the ‘Ram Piyari’ song sequence), or garrulous – in fact, his mood seems to change in every scene, and not just because of his alcohol addiction. He probably had a hard time in his early youth, when his parents died and he had to fend not only for himself, but also for his younger brother, and giving up Seema’s love for Shekhar would obviously have been a tough blow, but none of these quite justify his permanently-grim disposition.

Laxmikant-Pyarelal’s music is a letdown, serving no purpose other than adding to the film’s runtime. None of the songs make an impact and are, on the whole, quite unnecessary as they do nothing to carry the narrative forward (barring the 'Kehti hai duniya' number that introduces Sapna's character): a common ailment of commercial cinema. Many of Salim-Javed’s classics – ZANJEER, DEEWAAR, and SHAKTI, for example – were initially conceived as songless thrillers; the song situations were added later at the behest of the respective filmmakers, owing to commercial considerations. AKAYLA too would probably have worked better without the songs – and the laborious flashback sequence.

The action sequences, choreographed by Sippy regular Mohammed Ali, are done pretty well, but Bachchan’s scenes with the police van (in which Tony is fleeing) during the extended climax leave much to be desired and could have been much better executed, going by the track record of the Sippy-Ali duo. The climactic action sequence was inspired by the climax of the James Bond film Licence To Kill (1989), which had released when AKAYLA was under production. Unfortunately, the flair of the action scenes in SHOLAY, SHAAN, and SHAKTI was sadly missing here, greatly reducing the impact.

Special mention must be made of Keith Stevenson for almost singlehandedly killing – I mean literally destroying – the film. Sippy no doubt wanted to repeat the ‘surprise factor’ of having a virtually unknown actor play the chief villain, something that he had achieved to great effect in SHOLAY and SHAAN. But Stevenson, hamming it up like there’s no tomorrow and speaking in a thick and weirdly mangled accent (presumably to accentuate the ‘Bandra Boy’ or Goan Catholic origins of his character), utterly ruins it, making it a nerve-grating experience for the viewers to sit through his scenes.

The underperformance of Saagar, despite its phenomenal music, would have weighed in Ramesh Sippy’s mind heavily enough to make him gravitate towards action films again. But when Bhrashtachar (1989) crashed and burned at the box office, he was compelled to make changes to AKAYLA’s script, packing in more stars and crowd-pleasing elements than what the original, more intense storyline merited. This resulted in a delayed, neither-here-nor-there mishmash that the critics and the paying public considered to be excessive. Still, there is something to be said for the combined forces of Salim Khan, Ramesh Sippy, and Bachchan that despite not being at the peak of their powers, they still managed to make the film engaging enough to merit repeat viewings.

In hindsight, while INDRAJEET and AKAYLA certainly do not count among the best of Bachchan, they are at least compelling watches, mostly because despite their numerous flaws and shortcomings, the actor renders them so. Together, they present a fascinating study of the progression of the Angry Young Man to an Angry Middle-aged Man, as well as of Bachchan’s own evolution as the greatest star-actor of our times. The fact that both films managed to turn general public reaction to a more favourable position over time, despite performing below expectations at the box office upon initial release, is indeed commendable.

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

From 'vikalang' To 'Divyang': A Pleasant Change Of Terms

I spotted this notice at the ticket booking counter of the Ghatkopar station recently. Apparently similar notices have been put up at many other stations.

For those who are wondering what the highlighted word (in the picture above) is: it's 'Divyang'. 'Divyang' means someone who has a blessed (divya) limb or body part (ang). In this case, it is used to imply "someone with special needs".

Why did I like this notice enough to click a picture? Simple: because the earlier notice, which this one replaced, stated 'vikalang', a somewhat unpalatable term for people who are constantly fighting to overcome hardships caused by a less-than-perfectly-functioning limb. The idea to replace 'vikalang' with 'Divyang' came from the #PM, and will gradually be implemented everywhere. I had been wondering about why #NaMo and #AmitabhBachchan were using 'Divyang' in their talks and tweets for some time; now I know. This is indeed a nice gesture. Impressed.

P.S.: small complaint - can "orthopedically handicapped" also be replaced everywhere with "people with special needs"? That would be great (and of course, an upgrade of facilities to go with it, not just a change in phraseology).

Monday, 12 December 2016

A Roadmap For The Government – What It Should Do To Provide 24X7 Power To Entire India By 2019

We forget just how painfully dim the world was before electricity. A candle, a good candle, provides barely a hundredth of the illumination of a single 100-watt light bulb.”  Bill Bryson

In 1974, a Hindi film that was tellingly titled Roti Kapada Aur Makaan, literally meaning ‘Food, Clothing, and a Dwelling of One’s Own’, found strong resonance with the masses. It advocated the idea – albeit in a simplistic manner – that in a successful socialism, those were the three preconditions of the people that the government must fulfill as the first step to ‘good governance’.

One can say with a certain amount of confidence that if the filmmaker were to make the film today, he would, in all likelihood, include a fourth element in his titular list of necessities: Electricity.

In mid-2014, shortly after “the election that changed India”, the newly-elected central government declared its intention of providing affordable, reliable, and round-the-clock power supply to all by 2019 under the Power for All scheme.

However, this was easier said than done, mostly because despite India being a global leader in power production, more than a third of all Indian households is as yet without access to electricity. The twin problems of shortage of supply and intervallic supply that still plague a number of states – for example, Maharashtra and Karnataka – are not restricted to domestic consumption alone: commercial and industrial consumers are equal sufferers.

Although India is capable of producing over 250 gigawatt of electricity annually, the peak demand that the power sector is able to meet is only about 50-55% of this. The prime reason behind this is that our coal and gas power plants, which are forced to operate below their optimal capacity due to various factors, such as fuel supply constraints and transmission constraints, among others, are unable to meet the power sector’s demands.

Obstacles there are aplenty in the way of development, in the form of some fundamental problems that our power sector has been grappling with for long. To begin with, there is a vast disconnect between producers and distributors. The existing transmission infrastructure is not robust enough to transfer excess power between states, making it difficult for non-power-producing states to buy low-priced power. The gap between cost of delivery of power and the consumers’ ability to pay for it is yet to be bridged. Domestic production of coal needs to be increased by approximately 50%. Theft of coal during delivery is a serious issue that has been plaguing the power sector and the manufacturing industry for a long time.

Despite these obstacles, the union government in its two-and-a-half years has shown a laudable sense of commitment towards its declared objective of bringing about a transformative change in India’s power outreach and consumption scenario. For starters, over 7,500 villages – out of a targeted 18,000+ – have been electrified under the Deendayal Upadhyay Gram Jyoti Yojana (DDUGJY). India has added over 2,300 MW to its wind power generation capacity. The drive for clean energy has received a boost with India getting over $1 billion in international investment in clean energy, while adding nearly 2 GW of solar power in the first half of the current financial year. At the behest of the central government, state-run enterprises have pledged to invest over Rs. 55,000 crores for improving grid connectivity. But there is still a long way to go.

If the Ministry of Power wants to successfully complete its mission of bringing about the change in the power scenario it has often spoken of, here are some recommendations for it to mull over:
  • Boost the country’s capacity for generating and storing power (generation capacity needs to be increased by at least 50%) and pare the losses incurred during the transmission and distribution phases.
  • Allow the power-distributing agencies to contract long-term power supply in their respective supply areas and ensure the recovery of debt-ridden distributors so they can set up tariffs that reflect the real cost of power.
  • Establish a renewable energy management system capable of monitoring and managing generation of renewable energy on a real-time basis, especially in those states where the gulf between demand and supply – for both domestic and industrial consumption – is wider than the average difference. Renewable energy must be driven as the life-force of the future of the power scenario. As Jill Stein has put it so remarkably, “We can, and must, shift to an economy in which 100% of our electricity is generated renewably.
  • Adopt and implement energy efficiency measures to moderate the peak demand and consumption in the power-starved states, such as Maharashtra, Gujarat, Karnataka, and Andhra Pradesh, to name a few.
  • Increase the supply of coal and gas to the power sector and ensure there is no break in their transportation to the power generation plants.
  • Coal being a limited resource, set up alternate sources of electricity generation – gas-based, hydro-based, solar-based, and wind-based – to meet the projected demand.
  • Improve the infrastructure for power transmission to meet the ever-increasing energy needs of the country. Presently, India’s transmission capacity is woefully short of the generation capacity and market requirements. Various factors constrain the flow of excess energy from power-surplus areas of one state to power-deficit areas of another, thereby impacting the manufacturing sector and other areas of requirement greatly.
  • Scale up the country’s distribution networks so they can withstand the extra load required to ensure electrification of the un-electrified households and bump up the coal-carrying capacity of Indian Railways by at least 50%.
The funding requirement is massive. However, it is expected that appropriate mobilization of investments through both public and private sectors will help to attain the desired goals.

Can The PM Really Prevent Black Money-holders From Laundering Via Jan Dhan Accounts?

(Another of those posts that deserve to be detailed out in the form of a longer article.)

In a recent speech, PM Narendra Modi thus addressed all the Jan Dhan account-holders in the country: "If someone has forced you to deposit his or her black money in your account, then do not return it. Inform me instead and I will ensure that the person is suitably punished and you are protected." (Gist)

Truly commendable. However, it would be interesting to know if the PM, despite his best intentions, has the proper infrastructure in place to carry out this promise.

A Jan Dhan account-holder invariably belongs to the lower strata of society, one who is not Internet-conversant and far removed from social media platforms such as Twitter, where it has become quite easy to reach out to ministers of late, even the PM. Such a person would be almost entirely dependent on the representatives of law in his immediate environment. Despite its efficiency at many levels, it cannot be disputed that our country's police is also among the most corrupt among its brethren globally. Can the PM promise that a complainant will not be betrayed by the lawman he approaches for action?

Here are some articles related to this:

Thursday, 8 December 2016

Rest In Peace, Amma

"It is very strange and saddening to see that when such acts are perpetrated against minorities, all political leaders rush to issue statements of condemnation. But when persons belonging to the majority are subjected to similar perpetration of heinous crimes, not a single political leader has so far issued a statement condemning this barbaric crime. Such acts of senseless violence should be condemned no matter who is responsible for them and no matter who the victims are. It is not as though a crime is a crime only if it is committed against the minorities and not so if it is committed against the majority community. This should be viewed as a crime committed against humanity. It is not only the minorities who enjoy rights under the Constitution. The majority has rights too."

~~~ J. Jayalalithaa (1948-2016) speaking on the Godhra incident...and very boldly reminding everyone that it was the Sabarmati Express Massacre that led to Godhra  the only prominent non-BJP leader to do so.

Respect for this, Amma. And also for the compassionate side of yours described in this article. Rest in peace.


Why The Indian Media's Wolf-crying Tactics Aren't Working Anymore

(This is too brief a piece; someday I would like to expand upon this.)

Portraying itself as "the innocent sheep trying to run from the hounds of fascism" is no longer working for India's mainstream media. The diatribes against Narendra Modi and Donald Trump didn't work, despite a carefully-constructed narrative urging the people to bring down the media-annointed "wicked wazirs of right-wing hate-mongering", hence this "oh-how-intolerant-of-you-to-suppress-us" wail.

Wake up and smell the coffee, wolf-criers. The veneer of educated intellectualism has been stripped off your faces; your elitist snobbery and refusal to call out the grave injustices inflicted upon the long-suffering public have been exposed. So stop taking sides and start reporting things as they are. You will find that only flustered, angered politicians and criminals, unnerved by your courage and honesty, are blaming you and not the people. Put an end to dictating a country's --- and indeed, the individual's --- right to form its own political discourse, discard your slavish adherence to the diktats of those you consider your (political) masters, and you will find yourself sleeping the sleep of the righteous.