Chasing Rabbits

A place for my thoughts, important and unimportant. Just indulging myself. For my news blog, visit: http://bit.ly/1Xr1tgM

Month: May, 2016

On Whitewashing

I don’t see why people get their panties in a twist whenever a cinematic adaptation of any novel, anime or TV series is announced, where the makers of the novel do not want to stick with the “right” race or colour of a particular character or characters.

The context being a recent Indiewire article titled ‘Full Metal Alchemist: Iconic Anime Getting A Big Screen Adaptation, With No Whitewashing‘. The writers refer to the discontent of the fans at the “whitewashing” of the Ghost in the Shell movie and Tilda Swinton’s character in the upcoming Doctor Strange movie, that’s supposed to be Tibetian.

Now here’s the thing!

It’s a work of FICTION. The filmmaker has every right to make his own directorial choices, the way he sees fit, and if he decides that, say, an Asian character from a comic book will be white in his movie, because of creative reasons, or most likely because of market considerations, then well and good. For instance, if you are making GITS in Hollywood (US being the domestic market), it makes sense for the actors to be Anglo-American because 1. 78% of America is white. and 2. You need to have saleable, recognizable stars who can cut across markets worldwide, like Scarlett Johansson.

However, strangely enough, people do not seem to have a problem when white characters (James Bond) or characters (who have for long been presumed to be white, such as Hermione) are played by or are announced to be played by Black or Hispanic or any non-white actor. They look at it as Hollywood being inclusive. Okay, sure, Hollywood has to be inclusive — but is the only way to go about it is give off characters meant for white actors to non-white actors? Now, wait. I just said that if it’s a work of fiction, anything goes. By that logic, everyone has the right to play anything as long the casting choice is in spirit of the character in context of the director’s larger vision.

The thing is why are people so selective when outraging about “whitewashing” specifically and turning a blind eye and welcoming casting decisions like Idris Elba playing Roland Deschain in the Dark Tower adaptation (a terrific choice, by the way) or being all-welcoming to the all-female reboot of Ghostbusters (a totally unnecessary SJW-pleasing move)? Then we go into larger questions of “Is it a crime to be white?” and “white privilege”, topics too vast and beyond the scope of what I am trying to say here, which is that, filmmakers have complete freedom to do whatever they want with the source material and the only obligation that they have at the end of the day is to make a kickass movie…end of story.

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Thoughts #2 On fear and loathing in Writing.

I have serious doubts about my capability as a journalist. I know for a fact that I’m not equipped and well-versed in all the skills and tools needed to be a competent 21st century, digital age journalist. I have to keep reminding myself that my competition is not the people I work with or will go on to work with in the future. I have to be up-to-date with the latest in news production technology and that is no easy feat. Every time I look at a good story done by a senior ACJ-alumni or by someone who’s in his late twenties, I start getting doubts about my caliber. Will I be able to write something like that? Can I produce such a detailed, engrossing multimedia story?

I think it is of paramount importance to know exactly what your strengths and weaknesses are, especially your weaknesses, and the sense and grit to not get bogged down by your shortcomings. One should always try to identify exactly what the problems are and then work on them.

For example, every time, I begin typing a sentence, I’m worried that I’m going to produce a grammatically incorrect sentence. No, my grammar is not strong —  this is something I know. Even though, I have mostly been decent with my class assignments and my writing has been appreciated by my professors, I know the honest truth about myself — I suck. I suck in grammar. The question here is where do you set your standards. I read somewhere, in some ‘Top 10 Writers Tips’-like article that if nothing is coming off the pen when you start to write, then you are NOT a writer, because a true writer will always find something to write. Speaking for myself, I don’t think there has been an instant where I have not been able to write anything at all but more often than not, every once in a while, I get stuck while constructing a sentence. I don’t know how common this is with the best of writers in the world but I’m guessing not that common. To reach there, to reach that level of confidence and proficiency needs a lot of hard work, tenacity and patience.

One of my other big weaknesses is ‘editing’.

In J-School, in the first term, we were trained in editing raw news copy. An excellent news-editor during his time, Raghunathan, who had worked in The Hindu for years was our teacher. He was a brilliant teacher and during that term, I was a little better than mediocre in class assignments.

However, when second term came, our respective stream classes began. I was a New Media (Digital Media) student so I did not have Raghunathan as a teacher anymore. He was a Print Stream professor. With New Media’s singular focus on visual and interactive storytelling, where the “experience” is more important than the qualitative density of the text, our collective English writing skills deteriorated. New Media professors were good, definitely good, but they did not worry too much about our English writing. We did not have regular news-copy editing exercises in second and third time, like we used to have in first term, when all the streams would’ve common classes. At such, the Print students, in my opinion, are far ahead in the market than the average New Media student, when it comes to English writing and news editing. Individual talent notwithstanding, the average Print student is a better writer than the New Media student. Conversely, the average New Media student is more skilled in new media storytelling tools than the average Print student. So, one would say that the game is evenly balanced. But not, really.

There is a vast difference between learning to use an app and mastering a craft for which there is no shortcut. With an app, once you know the head and tail of it, all you need to do is put in data, and off the other end will come out info-graphics, charts, maps, and whatnot. When it comes to writing flawless news copy, or forget news copy, just plain, good ol’ English, you need practice. You need schooling. You need to get your ass handed to you when you make a mistake, brutally—something that used to happen with Print students—so that you don’t make that mistake again. You need hard fucking work!

So, for a New Media student, whose interest, and maybe even strength, lies in old-fashioned text-based journalism as against interactive new-media storytelling…such as myself…it is going to be a tough ride in the news business for him if he has to become a news writer worth his salt. I have no teacher now. My teacher is going to be the innumerable mistakes that I shall make in the newsroom while sub-editing. What scares me the most is that I’m joining a digital newsroom and if even there, there’s no one as good as Raghunathan to take my case whenever I fuck up, well…

Honestly speaking, I don’t know why good writing and visual storytelling have to be mutually exclusive. I think this notion goes back to Devadas Rajaram, one of our New Media professors.

Rajaram is an interesting cat. As HoD of New Media, he had revolutionized the stream with his cutting-edge ideas and his enthusiasm for the latest in storytelling technology. He was, in my opinion, a visionary and had he stayed in the college after first term, we—the New Media students—would have all benefited and we would, at least, I would perhaps be a little more confident today with my quality as a journalist. Rajaram was seen as radical by some, mad by some, and absolutely worthless by some, and the last “some” allegedly included a few professors of my college. Hearsay was that one of the reasons for him leaving was his animosity with a few Print professors. I hope that this animosity was entirely ideology-based and it is sad from a student’s point-of-view to think that talented people would secretly bicker among themselves. Anyway, I am digressing. One of the things Rajaram would regularly say with massive confidence was that “People have stopped reading! They don’t read anymore! The focus should be on visual storytelling, how to enrich your story. Text, you cut it down. Make it short. Enhance the story with multimedia” and so on.

Now, all that multimedia jazz is fine but “people have stopped reading” is an abominable reason, on the students’ part, to ignore his/her writing skills, and on the teachers’ part, to be relaxed on that aspect just because they are teaching New Media students.

Anyway, now I am out of J-School, and to look on the bright side, I have all the time and opportunity in the world to get better at what I want to do. I am not bound by curriculum anymore.

One more problem that I frequently face—also related to editing—is switching from being a news writer to a general prose writer and vice-versa depending on the situation. With news report writing, what you’re looking for is precision and brevity. You don’t use unnecessary adjectives or intensifiers. You can’t slyly squeeze in a wisecrack or an opinion in the news story. At least, that’s what we had been taught and that is also how I feel a news report should be — tight, hard and not an ounce of flab. However, when I am writing something, say, like this, I am often stuck at various points wondering what’s the right way to write it. Should I go for brevity or should I go for flourish? Mind you, brevity is also a symbol for good prose writing, not just news writing.

These are things that are going to perpetually haunt me, irritate me, drive me mad and make me insecure for as long as I am a student of the craft and I don’t think one ever stops being a student of the craft. That said, there’s obviously miles of difference between a 24-year old me who just graduated from J-school and a writer in his late twenties regularly publishing in ScrollThe Wire and Mountain Ink, when it comes to writing. Getting better at your game is a step-by-step process. I don’t know which step requires you to blog about it but since it’s writing, well…

Thoughts #1 On starting afresh as a blogger

For years, I have tried to be a consistent blogger. So far, I think I’ve had started and abandoned at least ten blogs, on various platforms including WordPress, Blogspot, Medium, and some other places my blogger friends would suggest as “really cool” and “much better than WordPress!”. The reasons behind switching platforms every time I started a new blog were mainly two:

1. Guilt — The feeling of starting a new blog on a platform where you already have one; one that you left high and dry, whose potential you overlooked selfishly before planning to write on all your new and exciting ideas in a fresh, better-looking blog, is unbearable.

2. Somehow, I used to feel that changing platforms would have some positive effect on my writing and determination to be consistent blogger. I have done this with diaries and notebooks too. There was a time, I’d take the excess diaries that my father would get during New Year, to “write”, and after writing some nonsense or doodling on the first ten pages, I’d move on to another diary/notebook ’cause the previous one was now contaminated — a glaring example of my inability to use a brand new hardbound diary for carefully penning down interesting ideas that’d eventually come together as fodder for the literary masterpiece I’d publish at 24, which’d get me a modest 20,000 likes (more than that means I’m too popular and a popular 24-year-old writer in India means “shit”) on my Facebook page, while intelligent girls from academia in DU and JNU would write me fan letters asking if I’m single.

Now, I cannot say for sure what this trait says about me. But I’m willing to  guess — and I’m willing because I have thought about this more than I should have — that it probably means I am fickle and/or an escapist. Throughout my years from school to college, my parents, along with my close friends, have always said that I am fickle and restless and unless I settle down in my head with what I want to do in life, I’ll never succeed.

Which is actually true. Now, as I write about this, I’m reminded of other examples, of being myself.

Since as far back as middle school, up till college, at the start of every session in every year, for the first month, I’d be super-diligent. I’d study every day; sometimes, even complete the next two chapters all by myself. I’d show off in class. I think after a point, my classmates realized that iska toh aisahi chalta hai and stopped giving me bhao, and without fail, within the end of first month or middle of second month, I’d be back to being my casual, slacker self. At times, for no apparent reason, I’d get excited by something that’d catch my fancy and I’d totally make up my mind to become a behemoth genius in that field, and that’d last for a month or two, tops. On that note, since the age of five, I’ve had plans to be — off the top of my head — (chronologically) painter, actor, scientist, singer, cricketer (preferably all-rounder, and a fast bowling one, because I liked Flintoff, Cairns and Kallis, and later when I realized I can’t run so much all the time, I chose to be a left-arm orthodox bowler), cricket commentator (when I realized I’m too fat, lazy and incompetent to play professional cricket), a WWE superstar (yes, judge me), a WWE commentator (Guess why?), a rockstar (preferably, singer-songwriter-guitarist-keyboard player-mixer-arranger-and-producer. Oh and I’d write all lyrics too), a filmmaker (this is something that I’m still interested in and I always will be — more on this in later posts), a screenwriter, a copywriter (I was a copywriter professionally for a while), study MBA (I don’t know why I thought of that), a civil servant, and then finally, a journalist.

I think the only reason I stopped at “journalist” and actually stuck to it is because I’m too old to fool around with my career and my father’s money. Besides, it’s something, I feel, that comes easily to me. I like this trade and contrary to how I’d grumble in J-school regarding journalism being not my “thing”, now, I feel I can be good at this if I just focus and not jump around from one thing to another.

Which brings me to “blogging”. As you can see, I did blog here, at least thrice a month, on an average, in early 2015. If you notice, as the months progressed, the frequency of posts decreased and after April, I think, there has been no post. I think that should tell you a lot.

However, I plan to restart/reboot this blog. I already have a blog for my news pieces. That is something I have plans about. Or at least, I intend to have a plan about it ’cause if I don’t, there goes my career down the drain. As for this blog, I have no plans this time, honestly. No grand plans to win an Indiblogger award. As someone interested in wanting to improve his writing, the craft of it, to discover new, fresh ways to express myself through language, I’m going to use this blog as a writing exercise. So expect lots of nonsense and meaninglessness, if you come across this. There are chances you won’t because I will pass this blog’s URL to someone only when I want that person to read it. So here’s my first post in a long time. Hope, I’ll return here soon and write.

If not, this shall stand as a testament to my singular consistency in being, like my father says, boddo phickel minded!

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