Raazi: A Movie Review

Saying the name of a perceived enemy leaves a sour taste in our mouth. However, we must learn to respect the individuals who are willing to sacrifice everything, including their lives for what they believe in, even if they’re our enemy. This is the biggest message that the movie “Raazi” gave me. Based on a true story of a young Indian girl, Sehmat, who marries into an important Pakistani family to spy on them, the film is in equal parts heart-wrenching and thrilling.

Alia Bhatt’s character development is perfect, from the naïve college girl just beginning her spy training to the skilful spy who kills people to avoid detection. Her acting, beautiful in its simplicity, makes one more involved in the realistic scenes in the movie than ever. The love blossoming between Sehmat and her husband is so genuine and sweet that you get invested in even their little story amidst all the subterfuge.

Perhaps the best part of the movie is that it’s refreshingly devoid of any frills and fancies, even though it’s a patriotic thriller about an Indian spy. The director Meghna Gulzar has done a brilliant job of showing us both sides of the story, instead of extolling India’s virtues and denouncing Pakistan like movies of this genre are prone to do. In fact, a viewer feels genuinely sad for the Pakistanis as well, which is no small a feat. The fact is that everyone in the movie is fighting for their own country, be it the spy Sehmat or her new family. There is an air of decency and mutual respect throughout the movie, shown clearly by Iqbal’s (Sehmat’s husband) fierce defence of his wife even after being betrayed by her. His deep understanding even in the face of betrayal is truly heart-breaking.

That said, the movie keeps you at the edge of your seat throughout, with its twists and turns, and some sweet moments thrown into the mix. The casting is nothing less than perfect. Alia Bhatt steals the show, of course, but the vulnerability of Vicky Kaushal as Iqbal, the staunch patriotism of both Rajit Kapur (Sehmat’s father) and Shishir Sharma (the father-in-law), and the no-nonsense attitude of her mentor Jaideep Ahlawat are played perfectly as well. The songs in the movie are also so beautiful and well-timed that they echo in the ears long after the movie is over. In fact, the song “Ae Watan”, is so apt in the sense that it applies to both the nations in the mix, as it doesn’t mention any particular country.

All in all, it’s an intelligent thriller that shows how people can survive with only their brains and no technology in a hostile environment, and which makes us understand the concept of honour and patriotism without excessive drama. The movie gets a 5/5 from me!

The Origin by Dan Brown : A Review

Where do we come from? Where are we going? These are the two profound questions scientists and religions alike have been trying to answer for millennia. From the stories of the Greek Gods to the major religions today, everyone has a different opinion on the matter, and science hasn’t been able to prove anything as yet. The book starts with a notorious atheist scientist Edmond Kirsch setting out to reveal answers to these questions, with definitive proof.

Dan Brown’s books are characterized by suspense and conspiracy, and this one is no different. Edmond Kirsch is murdered gruesomely in front of his audience of notable people from all parts of the world called to witness his big reveal. The audience includes his dear friend and former teacher, our protagonist Prof. Robert Langdon, and Ambra Vidal, the director of the museum in which the reveal was to take place. Fearing for their lives now, the two set out against all odds to finish their friend’s mission: to reveal the secret to the world.

Other notable characters include Bishop Valdespino, the King and Prince of Spain, the murderer Admiral Avila, a website conspiracy.net, and an AI, Winston. The AI is a major character throughout the book, who helps Langdon and Ambra in their journey. There are mini-plots, plot twists and conspiracy theories flying around throughout the book, centred on the abovementioned characters. However, the author has done an excellent job of tying up all the loose ends before the end, and getting all the mini-plots to culminate in one grand finale.

The book is based in Spain, and the author has described the different parts of the country so well that The Origin makes me want to actually go there. His attention to detail has ensured that the reader’s mind is engraved with a specific picture of what he wants to depict. If that’s not enough, the book includes illustrations, especially of the symbols our heroes see through their journey, so our picture is complete.

The best part about the book, though, is the way the author keeps us on the edge all through the story. At each turn, we are left wondering, “What next?” and all we want to do is keep reading. The suspense doesn’t wane until the very last page of the book, and that is commendable. The questions, “What was the secret?” and “Who ordered Edmond Kirsch murdered?” are answered only in the end, but the author gives us just enough hints to stop us from putting the book down, like serving tasty appetizers before the meal.

The book’s ending was my favourite part, because of the mind-blowing twist which must have shocked everyone. The identity of the murderer is so surprising that you won’t guess it, not even in your wildest dreams. This thrill of surprise is what we live for, and The Origin ends on the most surprising note possible. The only thing I didn’t like about the book was the shifting points of view. It makes the story seam distorted, somehow, though sometimes it’s necessary to move the plot ahead. Overall, I’d give the book a rating of 4/5, because I loved it except for the point of view shifts.

Humanity’s Triumph

In an age of fear, where people’s cruelty seems at its zenith, the kindness of Mumbaikars and the unity they showed during the flood on 28th August is a breath of fresh air. The flood was the worst in Mumbai after the disastrous 26th July flood in 2005, but there was one silver lining amidst all the disaster. The flood may have paralysed the city at its roots, but it couldn’t hinder the spirit of the lively Mumbaikars. Times like these, when help comes from unexpected sources and religion or petty rivalries are overpowered by the sheer goodness of humanity, are what restore my faith in the human race even as the newspaper overflows with news of a religious leader getting away with rape and sadistic “games” like the blue-whale challenge.

“A friend in need is a friend indeed”, but what about a complete stranger? Even as the entire city was filling up with water, people opened their homes to their fellow Mumbaikars who needed help. Social media was buzzing with tweets with specific hashtags (#RainHosts), inviting people to stay at their place if stranded in their area. Businesses opened their doors to everyone, offering everything from shelter to food, and of course, lots of love.

Religion took a backseat for kindness and compassion as Mosques, Gurdwaras and Temples welcomed everyone with open arms with no regard to their religion. The navy stepped in to ensure that the stranded didn’t go hungry. A lot of people, disregarding their own safety and comfort, volunteered with cars or bikes or whatever they had, to rescue the people on the streets.
Mumbai was faced with a huge challenge on 28thAugust, and it would have been a major disaster if not for the spirited citizens of the city, who proved that even a disaster can be turned into a beautiful message about unity in diversity. A city always ready to celebrate the festival of any religion, be it Christmas, Diwali or Ramzan, with the same fervour, Mumbaikars proved to the world that it’s possible for people of any community to unite in the time of need under the one bracket of HUMANITY.

Here are some of the Tweets on the day of the flood:

Stuck in Mumbai? We are offering free shelter at select hotels, call us on 9313931393 & we’ll guide you to the nearest shelter #MumbaiRains

— OYO (@oyorooms) August 29, 2017

@Mirchimumbai is opening doors to anyone in the Lower Parel area, we have tea, maggi and love waiting for those in need. #RainHosts pic.twitter.com/bbtruOinXU

— Mirchi Mumbai (@Mirchimumbai) August 29, 2017

Anyone stranded near bhandup/nahur will be welcomed for rest and food. Feel free to DM. #RainHosts #MumbaiRains

— Shwet 🔴🤙🏽 (@BossThaKlopp) August 29, 2017

Anyone around Mulund looking for a space to rest is welcomed. Netflix, Prime, Hotstar & Snacks. #RainHosts

— Shahrlock (@deepen_shah) August 29, 2017

Can I just say, you’re all wonderful people!

GST: An Opinion (To add to many)

            In the 2014 general election, as in every election (but maybe more so because of the increasing popularity of social media), the Indian voters went into the election booths with hope in their hearts – hope for change. We all wish for India to be able to compete economically with countries like China, and hope for a time when India earns the coveted “Developed” tag. The dreams of a developed India may be fulfilled in the far future (the generation after ours or the one after that may see the reality), but the changes that have occurred over the last three years have definitely taken India ahead by leaps and bounds in the economic sector. As with any government, some of the changes since 2014 have been positive, while some have been negative. The question to ponder over is, while trying to move one step forward, have we really moved two steps back? There are enough opinions on the social media about this, and I’m not going to add my own to it. What I would like to address instead, is the most recent major change: GST.

Disclaimer: This article is just an expression of my opinions, and I am aware that I may actually contribute to the confusion around GST instead of helping to understand the concept as is my aim. I am open to comments and constructive criticism.

            GST being such a major change impacting the entire country, has caused a lot of speculation and controversy, as does any major reform nowadays. The social media being what it is, every little bit of news is hyped so out of proportion that by the end of it all, we don’t even know what the news really was. In an age where a simple issue of a break-up (or a broken heart) can become viral if it’s interesting enough (ahem…ahem…Sonam Gupta bewafa hai), it is really no shock that a humongous change like GST has caused the rumour mill to churn out some ridiculous rumours. The problem in this case, however, is that every rumour stems from some truth, and so, however ridiculous they may be, we tend to believe them. The description of GST which follows is just an articulation of my own attempt to separate fact from fiction, and my opinions on what I found.

So what is GST?

The full-form, Goods and Services Tax, gives no indication whatsoever of what the Tax means, or of the impact its implementation would have on the country. The succinct expansion of the acronym that is going around in social media, Good and Simple Tax, also doesn’t really cover it (and faces a lot of mockery, because there are people who believe that GST is neither good nor simple). Before GST, there was a multi-stage tax system in which at every stage of manufacture of a product, the parties involved have to pay several taxes (for more information about this, I recommend you visit https://cleartax.in/s/gst-law-goods-and-services-tax…It gives an elaborate description of the production procedure and how the taxes are distributed). This system was complicated enough within a state, but if you think about the difference in taxation across the states, it just boggles the mind!

Say a soap manufacturer in Maharashtra transports his soap to Kerala, among other states. After he sells the soap to dealers in Kerala, suppose he realises that there was a problem in the entire shipment, and he decides to recall it. This is when the confusion would start. The taxes to be paid and refunds to be claimed (if at all) in this situation would be baffling, because one must consider not only the two states in question, but also every state the soap would have to pass through to get back. This would still seem manageable if not for the paperwork involved, demanding so much time and effort that in such situations, companies find it better to waste the entire thing than to go through the tiresome process of bringing back the shipment.

GST aims to remove the complications completely (if not the paperwork, but that should also become easier) by unifying all these taxes into just one tax, applicable throughout India. So basically, this new tax regime (which is what GST really is) introduces only marginal changes the taxes of most products. The only drastic change is in the method of taxation. Also, though the tax levied on certain products and services will increase under the new tax regime, there are many more which will see a decrease in taxes!

Concerns of the Common Man (an example)

All the noise created about how air fares and train ticket costs are increasing are only half-truths. In fact, the implementation of GST, at least in the regard of travel, may actually be a boon to the common public (by that I mean the people who fly Economy Class or non-AC trains), because taxes have actually been reduced. Here are some figures:

Service

Before GST

After GST

Lower or Higher

Train (AC)

4.5%

5%

Higher

Train (Non AC)

0%

0%

No Change

Metro/Local Train

0%

0%

No Change

Flight (Economy Class)

5.6%

5%

Lower

Flight (Business Class)

8.4%

12%

Higher

Ola/Uber Services

6%

5%

Lower

 

If you look at the above table carefully, you will notice that the services used by India’s majority population, is actually not affected by a very large margin. The tax is only increasing in AC train and business class flight tickets. 0.5% is a tiny ripple of a change in tax. Take the longest train route in India, Kanyakumari (Tamil Nadu) to Dibrugarh (Assam). The 2nd AC ticket for the journey costs ₹4031, 0.5% of which is about 20. Is having to pay an extra ₹20 over something that already costs ₹4031 really worth all the hue and cry about the train tickets? Because the other transport services used by common man are actually becoming cheaper or remaining unchanged! (For more information about the GST on various products and services, visit http://www.deccanchronicle.com/business/economy/010717/railways-to-movies-here-is-how-gst-will-change-services-from-today.html.)

GST: Good or Bad?

If we think short-term, GST may not be that good of a reform, because for now, it will cause inconvenience everywhere due to the long list of enforceable rules and regulations coming with it, including electronic records of inventory, purchase and sales transactions, and accounts related to it, as well as frequent checks to make sure the records tally with actual figures. This apparently increases the efforts of an unorganised and semi-professional establishment, and that, in turn, may result in the increase of the final amount the consumer would have to pay. The electronic records would not only reduce tax frauds, but also help to avoid wastage of money as discrepancies in raw materials or products can be checked easily. This is a lot of extra effort for industries and traders who do not already follow it, because keeping accurate records isn’t a walk in the park.

Such unprofessional organisations are unlikely to realise that the new, simplified tax regime benefits even them, even though the complications of the pre-GST system facilitated their tax evasion. What they haven’t yet grasped is that they might have been evading taxes, but the absence of proper records has many drawbacks. Consider, for example, inventory in a small-time shop. Since there is no track of inventory, they cannot judge which products are generating inventory losses. GST requires an electronic inventory record, which will help them judge the inventory loss of any product they sell, and hence contribute to profitability. That said, since they haven’t seen this benefit, they may think that they were evading tax before, and being forced to pay tax (no matter how much it has reduced or been simplified), would come across as a loss to them. Consumers should, therefore be wary of such sellers as they may randomly increase the prices of the products and/or services they provide, and blame GST for the increase, though the truth is different.

However, in the long run, I think GST is something that will really help India as a developing economy to gain more professionalism in doing business. GST eliminates the confusion resulting from the previous complicated tax system, and once the difficulties of revamping an entire country’s revenue system are sorted out, the simplicity of GST will improve the life of consumers, industries and traders alike (both professional and unprofessional, though they may not realise it yet), by reducing the long-term efforts needed. Of course, the new taxation system has its own drawbacks, like the fact that the state governments are increasing the taxes on the few things out of GST’s purview (read more about this on http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/economy/policy/state-levies-and-new-inspector-raj-may-spoil-gst-party/articleshow/59519429.cms ). Hopefully, in due course, this will be worked out in a way that is beneficial to India.

Some Ridiculous Rumours

To conclude, I would like to put the lid on a few of the most absurd rumours that have cropped up surrounding GST (I am in no way covering all the myths; I just chose the ones I found preposterous).

 

SR NO.

MYTH

REALITY

1

There is an extra GST on online transactions

The only GST here is the one already applied. There is no GST for the transaction itself.

2

You have to pay GST twice for card payments

There is no additional GST if you pay by credit or debit card other than what is originally levied.

3

GST will be charged for ATM withdrawals

There will be an additional fee on ATM withdrawals (different banks have different thresholds) after a certain monthly limit, but this has nothing to do with GST

 

I am grateful to the authors of the articles I have referred to above, for making the daunting concept of GST easier for me to understand. The following articles also helped me in my endeavour.  

http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/wealth/spend/gst-myths-busted-a-reality-check/articleshow/59501148.cms

http://www.gstindia.com/about/

 

 

A Dog’s Purpose: Why It Is A Must-Watch

            Well, I know this is extremely late to post something akin to a movie review about A Dog’s Purpose, but I just watched it, and it made me really feel like singing praises for the must-watch movie. So here it is!
Movies, nowadays, rarely manage to make us emotional in every sense of the word. Some movies are romantic and just make you want to laugh and cry at the same time with all the mushiness, while some may be tragic, making you cry buckets. Dog movies, in particular, are usually pretty unrealistic, and more often than not, animated. Marley and Me was a movie which was very realistic, and also managed to capture all the emotions of a dog-owner and dog. But then again, it is a real-life story, first written as a book, then adapted into a movie. A Dog’s Purpose, however, truly captured my heart. It is the most relatable movie possible for every dog-lover (more so for dog-owners), and would even win the hearts of people who’re scared of them! It also manages to make you laugh at the cuteness, cry at the sad bits, and even grip your seat in suspense at some point.
            The movie, adapted from a book of the same name written by W. Bruce Cameron, is about a dog (obviously), exploring his purpose in life. Sounds pretty deep and philosophical, doesn’t it? But dogs are simple beings who don’t have the ability for deep thoughts (at least, that’s how we humans perceive them), and this dog’s story is full of ups and downs, with more happy thoughts (about food!) than deep, philosophical ones. Every dog-owner must have thought, at least at some point, “What is my dog thinking right now?” or, “If this little guy could talk, what would he tell me?” ‘A Dog’s Purpose’ captures the essence of what a dog’s thought process might be. It explores the various roles a dog could play in this world (not all dogs are pet dogs, right?), like a police-dog, a pet (of course), a stray, etc.
            It is a roller-coaster of emotions, signifying the ups and downs of a dog’s life. That of a pet dog is shown to revolve completely around its owner (adorable as dogs are, that’s probably the absolute truth) and the movie perfectly portrays the life of a normal person as seen from the dog’s eyes. So it is hilarious and happy one second, and then, all of a sudden, it’s sad! And then it’s happy again (see what I meant by ‘roller-coaster’?). We could say that dogs’ innocent interpretation of human emotions throughout the length of the movie is the highlight of the film, and the writer deserves appreciation for his unique ideas. Hats off to the director and other crew involved in making the movie, too, for such a satisfying show!
            The movie has managed to show, in its short 2 hours, more than three full lifespans of a dog, successfully capturing all the emotions involved (the dog’s emotions as well as the human’s). The hilarity of the typical “puppy dog” face and the possible emotions behind it (food!), its sadness, innocence, loyalty towards the owner…they have all been captured beautifully. There is not a single boring moment in the entire movie, and even though it is more relatable for dog-owners, the common public would enjoy it just as much, because of the sheer cuteness of the dogs!
In conclusion, it is my humble opinion that Hollywood, Bollywood and all the other ‘wood’s make more movies like this remarkably refreshing one.