Monday, April 30, 2012

Want to be a Bollywood scriptwriter? Here is your opportunity

I was thrilled when I heard a few days back that Anusha Rizvi and Mahmood Farooqui (I had loved their first film, Peepli Live) had written a screenplay (Opium) based on Amitav Ghosh's novel, Sea of Poppies and are going to direct the film. I look forward to movies by this talented duo who, I think, are still under-appreciated in India. 

When I read the full story, I found out that they are developing the screenplay with Mumbai Mantra/Sundance Institute Screenwriters Lab. The lab selected 8 feature films for development and Rizvi's Opium, is one of them.

Now, Mumbai Mantra is looking for new screenwriters for the Lab for 2013. If you have an idea for a screenplay, this is your opportunity. Don't miss it!

Here are the details:

The inaugural Mumbai Mantra | Sundance Institute Screenwriters Lab 2012 was an over whelming success. In a uniquely inspired Club Mahindra environment , 9 Indian screenwriters got an opportunity to engage in one-on-one meetings with 11 Creative Advisors from across the globe and get indispensable lessons in craft, a fresh perspective on their work and a platform to fully realize their material !

We are now inviting applications for the Mumbai Mantra | Sundance Institute Screenwriters Lab 2013. This is your chance to be one of the 6-8 fellows who shall be selected for a 5-day intensive workshop with Creative Advisors who are acclaimed Global Screenwriters and Directors.

Click for more info on the Lab >>

APPLY NOW for the Mumbai Mantra | Sundance Institute
Screenwriters Lab 2013

All you need is -

>>   A synopsis
>>   First five pages of your screenplay
>>   An artistic statement
>>   A cover letter

Last Date for Open Submission: June 2, 2012
Click here for the application process >>

If you have any more queries related to Mumbai Mantra| Sundance Institute Screenwriters Lab 2013, please email us at

Sunday, April 29, 2012

The doctor and the snake charmer

These days my mother is here and she tells us a story when she is in the mood.

One day we were talking about the common people, the little people—people that we label as the masses: labourers, farm hands, servants, and even snake charmers, and how they have become too powerful, dangerously powerful, in India these days.

In our native place, snake charmers are maybe a rank above beggars and mendicants. They go about, from village to village, with their boxes of snakes and a been (which is like a bagpipe), hold a little tamasha, a snake show, and then scare people into giving away some donations. People would throw little coins into the chaddar or sackcloth that the snake charmer would lay on the ground after the show. That’s all that they do for their livelihood.

Sometimes they are in demand when a snake enters a house. Then, they have to be called, like you would call a doctor for a house visit to see a patient who is too frail or in too serious a condition to be taken to a clinic.

So, this story is about one such snake charmer and about a doctor who works in a government-funded clinic. A government-funded clinic in Bihar most probably means a place where you might get a prescription from the doctor for free but no medicines. Either, there is no money for medicines for poor patients or the money has been eaten and digested by the hungry python called the bureaucracy on the way to the clinic.

One day, a snake charmer visited a government clinic with his sick wife. After a little wait, the government doctor gave the patient a consultation. The snake charmer expected free medicines but the doctor gave him only a prescription. “Buy the medicines from a pharmacy,” he told the poor snake charmer.

The snake charmer had no choice but to spend the money to save his wife’s life. It cost him 200 rupees and caused him a great deal of anger.

He thought—since this is a government clinic, I should get the medicines for free from here. Why do I have to pay?

He might have thought—this doctor must be corrupt. Maybe he is part of the system that thrives on drinking the blood of people.

“I should teach him a lesson,” he decided.

A few days later, the doctor came to his clinic one morning. He was out of his wits to see a snake lazily sitting on his desk. Seeing him, the snake raised its head and unfurled its hood. Shrieking, the doctor ran out of his room.

Soon, there was a hue and cry about the snake in the clinic. Some people tried to shoo the snake away from the room. It didn’t budge. Some tried to scare it away. It didn’t move an inch. Someone suggested a snake charmer should be called in. The doctor agreed.

The snake charmer was already there in the crowd—actually, all this was his handiwork. He had come earlier than the doctor that day and through the back window, had let the snake into the doctor’s room.

When no one could move the snake, he offered his services. Everyone was relieved, specially the doctor who had not been able to enter his chamber. The queue of patients was getting longer and longer and the doctor was getting worried.

But then came the surprise. The snake charmer demanded 1000 rupees for the job.

“This is not fair,” the doctor protested. “Yes, this is not fair. This is too exorbitant.” The people supported the doctor.

“Then how fair it was,” the snake charmer retorted, “to make me spend rupees 200 for my wife’s medicines?”

The doctor recognized the man. He understood the whole game. The ‘small man’ was exacting his revenge on a ‘respectable man’.

The doctor had no choice but to pay him the sum. The snake charmer promptly removed the snake from the room and went away. He had his revenge.

The day was ruined for the doctor.

My mother says small men in India have become too bold. They can’t be controlled any more. Respectable people have to be careful of such small men if they want to preserve their ‘respectability’.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The arrested development of Julian Assange

Cyberspace's most famous activist, Julian Assange, has been under house arrest for more than a year now. But he is not keeping quiet.

By Zafar Anjum

Is it retrogressive if a new media pioneer goes back to the traditional mainstream media to air his views?

Whatever you call it, this is exactly what Cyberspace’s most famous activist, Julian Assange, the editor in chief of WikiLeaks, is going to do today.

In January this year, WikiLeaks announced that Assange would launch "a series of in-depth conversations with key political players, thinkers and revolutionaries from around the world", titled The World Tomorrow.

Perhaps Assange had no choice but to try something traditional. One, he is under house arrest in the U.K, which means travelling is out for him. Two, his WikiLeaks has been denied the oxygen of money for about 500 days now. The website is facing a financial blockade imposed by U.S. banks.

It is noteworthy that as long as Assange did not touch the banks, he was tolerated by the system. The leaks of U.S. embassy cables damaged the reputation of many countries and their heads but Assange was still able to do his work. When he was about to leak some secret documents of a bank (reportedly it was Bank of America), all hell broke loose.

Assange might have learnt his lesson. It is fine to touch politicians. But never touch the bankers.

Or, has he? His show will reveal it.

The World Tomorrow

The first episode of Assange’s show is going to air today. He has chosen RT, an English-language international satellite news channel, headquartered in Russia. The programme will also be broadcast on other national channels.

This will be a weekly show and each episode will be 26 minutes long.

Assange, who is under house arrest, faces allegations of rape and sexual assault lodged by two women in Sweden. Britain's Supreme Court is to decide if Assange should be extradited to Sweden. Ironically, no charges have been officially filed against him.

RT has said that the programme, written and hosted by Assange, will focus on his favourite topic: controversy. The show will feature 10 "iconoclasts, visionaries and power insiders" – people Assange can clearly identify with, the channel said.

The show has been shot at the very location that Julian Assange has been under house arrest for the last year and a half.

In a recent interview with RT, Assange said that he chose RT because he found the channel’s penetration higher than Al Jazeera’s. “We’ve seen RT’s reportage on the attacks on WikiLeaks for a number of years, and that reportage has generally been quite supportive,” he said. “When we were looking what international broadcaster we wished to partner with as opposed to national broadcasters, we looked to see what was the penetration into the United States. And RT had higher penetration in the United States than Al Jazeera.”

“The BBC is the leading contestant but the BBC has been acting in a hostile manner towards us so we didn’t consider that the BBC would be an appropriate partner,” he said.

“RT is rallying a global audience of open-minded people who question what they see in mainstream media and we are proud to premiere Julian Assange’s new project,” editor-in-chief Margarita Simonyan said in a statement on the television network's website.

In the RT interview, Assange also talked about his experience of working with mainstream media companies like The Guardian and the New York Times. “Any organisation, once it grows to a sufficient size and has sufficient influence, starts having to make political compromises,” he said. “And media organisations, by their very nature, are engaged in the political sphere. So the editors and publishers of media organisations have to sit down at the table with power groups, and they start becoming captured by these power groups.”

“So, we have found that working with them, when we try to get out our material through organisations, say, such as The Guardian, or the New York Times, or the BBC, that these organisations self-censor in a tremendously frequent manner and in a way which is against their stated values. It is not just against our values.”

“It is against their stated values. And in some cases even against the contracts that we have made with those organisations,” he added.

Assange even predicted how mainstream media companies will react to his show. “Let’s imagine a sort of obvious one,” he said. “There’s Julian Assange, enemy combatant, traitor, getting into bed with the Kremlin and interviewing terrible radicals from around the world. But I think it’s a pretty trivial kind of attack on character. If they actually look at how the show is made: we make it, we have complete editorial control, we believe that all media organisations have an angle, all media organisations have an issue.”

This is what CNN had to say about the show: “Commentators outside Russia have questioned the apparent link the show creates between Assange and the Kremlin, given RT's government-funded status.”

Whatever the criticism, the world will pay attention to what Assange has to say about the world tomorrow. Bring it on, Assange. We are all ears.