On Gambling and Manipulation of Outcomes

For whatever reason, I have had very minimal consumption of IPL for last few seasons (perhaps after Sourav Ganguly got dropped by all the franchises). Of course it is difficult to avoid it completely. Every coffee shop, pub, quiz or anybody’s house you go to, the matches are going on in the wide flatscreens on the wall. Twitter and Facebook have nothing else on the time line.

When the news of the arrests of Sreesanth, Ankit Chavan and Ajit Chandila broke,  I suppose, there were a billion people who were betrayed (trust TOI to come with such a pompous headline).

(On the other hand, there were those self-righteous equally pompous folk who tried to shout they should be excluded from the billion people betrayed. Hey, the population of India is 1.21 billion as per the 2011 census. So consider yourself to be part of the 0.21 billion people whom TOI left out in the headline)

Anyway, to get back to the case of spot fixing. there has been a continuous feed of comments, views and recommendations on the issue. One such theme that is going around is the idea that legalising betting will reduce spot fixing. Nitin Pai explains this here. The logic used is that legitimising betting coupled with tougher enforcement reduces the incentive to cheat.

There is a fundamental flaw in this argument. Betting or gambling is one activity. Spot fixing (or match fixing or any related activities) is an act of manipulation. These are two separate acts and deal with different facets of human nature.

Gambling involves taking a chance on the likelihood of an event happening the way you want. In gambling, you are away from the actual event, an independent observer who cannot in anyway influence the outcome of the events. There are horses running and you bet which one will win, come second, etc. The outcomes are dependent on the horses and how they perform, you as a bettor have no influence on it. In a way, it does not matter whether it is called a game of skill or game of chance. As a gambler, your lack of control is the same. What separates a game of chance from a game of skill is the ability to make some informed guesses about the outcomes. Knowledge of the skills involved in a particular activity can at least give you an idea as to which one is more likely to win. If you are betting on a match between Roger Federer versus Rohan Bopanna, for example, a little knowledge about the abilities and previous records of either person as well as a general understanding of tennis as a sport will give you the insight that it might be a good idea to bet on Roger Federer to win.

(Of course, there is the other form of gambling – risk taking. People take risks with their careers, businesses, sporting performances, etc but here they directly influence their performance and success. We are not talking of that kind of gambling – where you gamble on yourself)

For the gambler, there is a basic expectation – that the events are made to happen within their existing known environments. Apart from force majeure, there is no out-of-the-ordinary actions which can influence the events. Whether the outcomes turn out the way the gambler wanted or not, as long as they happened within their internal logic, the gambler can live with it. In sport, the gambler expects that the contestants will apply their best skills / play their regular game and whatever happens in the end is a result of the fair contest.

Spot fixing / match fixing is different from gambling or betting. This is a case of manipulation. In order to achieve specific outcomes, external entities try to influence the events.

In the stock markets, investors can take a chance on a company and invest in it. They expect the company to operate in a fair manner in the market place and based on its performance, issue out appropriate returns. Now, if the someone decides to tamper with some aspects of the company to artificially boost the stock price, then that becomes a case of manipulation (the stock market version of fixing). The phenomenon of insider trading is a known evil in business. There are have been many cases of media publications (and journalists specifically) who have stakes in specific companies and publish unverified / false news reports that can drive up the stock prices. The media publication might issue a correction in the next issue but in the interim has already made the profits.

In cricket, what has happened has been specific individuals (bookmakers) influencing the game by paying cricketers to not play as per their best skills or natural game. This is an act of manipulation aimed at getting the desired outcomes.

In the IPL itself, this may be one of the many types (i.e. driven by betting) of manipulation that occurs. Since teams are run by businesses and many of these businesses use the teams to build their brand equity, often one sees players included in teams when cricketing logic would suggest that they should be dropped. Sachin Tendulkar, for example, according to cricket experts, should not be in the team. But he is a big draw – he pulls in people to the stadium in Mumbai, his numbered T-shirt sells more at all the outlets, its his face leading everyone on all the group photos used in the various endorsements. So he needs to be in the team, not for cricketing outcomes, but for more mundane business outcomes.

In the football fixing scandal, there was an out and out deliberate program to influence sporting encounters. An international operation spanning China, Philippines, Singapore betting on matches in Finland and Sudan does not come up randomly. There was tremendous planning and creative thinking in actually executing the whole operation. In fact, special football matches including international friendlies were organised simply for the purposes of betting (and the syndicate making money from the fixed outcomes).

So why are these bookmakers / syndicates manipulating the game? For the same reason that journalists manipulate news to promote the stocks that they own. They have a lot to lose / and a lot to win. And when you have a lot to lose, you want to control the events and make it go your way. You are uncomfortable and helpless otherwise. (According to some reports, Gurunath Meiyappan seems to have lost over Rs 1 crore in bets. That is a lot of money to lose. He needs to recover that money.)

There is also the thrill of being in control, having the power (money, position, authority) to drive things your way. Why would the head of an IPL franchise (the India Cements folks are desperately trying to wipe out all mention of Gurunath M on their site) try to go beyond his immediate functions and try to manipulate games? Because he can. He can order the captain to pick a particular player irrespective of cricketing logic. He can insist on certain formations. There’s a thrill to it.

To bring back Nitin’s point about the legality of gambling or betting, whether the bets were done through legal or illegal channels does not make a difference. People had too much going for them to remain silent spectators. They needed to influence the conduct of the matches. Even if betting was legalised and there were legitimate businesses running betting shops, the law still can’t do anything to stop the gambler / bettor from approaching the players and making attempts to get events happen their way.

The presence of the underworld is not so worrying. In fact, because it was the underworld who are under constant observation by the police (through phone taps), this whole saga was exposed. It is the explicitly legitimate personalities and organisations that one is more worried about.

Most cricket fans remember Dennis Lillee and Rodney Marsh betting against their own team in the Headingley test of 1981. England were in an impossible position and the bets were going at 500-1 for an England win. After England won, powered by Ian Botham and Bob Willis, there was a huge furore when it was revealed what Lillee and Marsh did. Did they manipulate their performances so that they could win the bet? Probably not. But you never know.

Manipulation of events cannot be reduced. As long as there are people who have a huge stake in the events, there will be attempts to control or make things go in their favour. But there can be a way out for the public to protect themselves. And the way out is transparency.

In the stock markets, one of the key roles of institutions like SEBI or SEC is to ensure there is transparency in the workings of all publicly listed companies. Every bit of news from personnel changes to purchases of new offices to mergers and acquisitions have to be made public. Specific advisories and guidance reports have to be given by the company management on what they are planning to do, their strategies, their thinking, etc. There are mandatory disclosures that have to be done. Investors benefit from this transparency. They can decide for themselves which companies are operating in a fair manner. They can pick companies where they can predict correctly. It also makes it difficult for individuals within companies to get away with rampant manipulation. A newspaper making a claim about a company has to be backed by a corresponding disclosure / public statement. Without the later, the SEBI can pull up the company for falsification and fraud.  They may not get caught immediately but whether it is Satyam or the LIBOR scandal, it comes a full circle in the end.

Sport, whether in India or abroad, is mired with opacity and obfuscation. Organisations like FIFA, IOC, IAAF, etc are known for all the stuff that is left unsaid. The selection of a host city for the Olympic Games (and what happens behind the scenes) is the subject of many investigative journalistic efforts including a book. The shenanigans of Indian sporting organisations are just a drop in the larger ocean.

What the public needs is more visibility. Even WWE publicly declared the nature of its wrestling contests (as part of some regulatory tax filing). In spite of the scripted contests (or maybe because of it), WWE still has its own cult and audiences. Sport will also have its audiences but the people who run it need to be (or forced to be) open about what they do.

For a team that is representing the country and carrying the India flag, it is expected that the nation knows how or on what basis the specific 11 individuals were selected. (In the case of Olympic sports, Indian athletes’ travel and allowances are paid for by the government, i.e. tax payers money. The case for right to information is stronger here.) It is expected that the selection committee select the team that can best deliver results. If there is any other motive to selecting a player leading to a sub-optimal team, then that is a break in the expectation of the nation.There are enough instances of people trying to figure out strange team selections. But selection committee meetings are never made public. And in the press conferences, the selectors are instructed by the BCCI to not say anything. By forcing the BCCI (and all other sports organisations) to be transparent and make public disclosures of what happens in every meeting, it makes it difficult for individuals within the BCCI to get away with many things.

Prem Panicker has spent most of his life writing about cricket and has regularly written about the need for BCCI to be more transparent. As of now, Prem has given up on the sport.

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On English football

In 2000, Diego Maradona published his autobiography El Diego. The English translation came out in 2004 and Martin Amis reviewed it in the Guardian. A lovely read (the review) which, not only gives a deep view into the flavour of the book (I haven’t read it), but also illuminates the quixotic personality of one of the greatest footballers ever. Since it is written for the Guardian with its British audience, obviously Amis needs to write something about the two goals.

In South America it is sometimes said, or alleged, that the key to the character of the Argentinians can be found in their assessment of Maradona’s two goals in the 1986 World Cup. For the first goal, christened “the Hand of God” by its scorer, Maradona dramatically levitated for a ballooned cross and punched the ball home with a cleverly concealed left fist. But the second goal, which came minutes later, was the one that [England manager] Bobby Robson called the “bloody miracle”: collecting a pass from his own penalty area, Maradona, as if in expiation, put his head down and seemed to burrow his way through the entire England team before flooring Shilton with a dummy and stroking the ball into the net. Well, in Argentina, the first goal, and not the second, is the one they really like.

This post is not about South Americans and their style of football, however brilliant and entertaining they may. This is about the football of England, the exact opposite. But this opening piece on Maradona is important. It gives you the contrast. Gary Linekar scored a goal in that match in 1986. He ended the tournament with six goals and got the prize for being the top scorer. They are all hard working goals. Nowhere near as glamourous as the ones created by Maradona. But while the aesthetics may not have been there, one still respected it.

English football for a long time was one about good old guts and gore. There is a famous photograph of Terry Butcher coming off an international match (a WC qualifier against Sweden) in a shirt soaked in blood. When asked about it, he claimed  “Off the pitch I was always an ordinary, mild-mannered bloke. But put me in a football shirt, and it was tin hats and fixed bayonets.” 

Nick Hornby, who made football popular as a literary theme, in his essay for The Thinking Fan’s Guide to the World Cup reflects on his relationship with English football. He speaks of the ’80s when the “English disease” i.e. football hooliganism made him reflect on his nation’s sport

“In the mind’s eye now, England games during that decade were frequently only just visible through a cloud of tear gas.”

[…]

“And so, perhaps understandably, some football fans started to feel a little conflicted about the national team. In 1990, when England played Cameroon in the quarterfinals of the World Cup, it wasn’t hard to find people in England – middle-class, liberal people, admittedly, but people nonetheless – who wanted Cameroon to win.”

English football fans apart, the key trend that has happened in England has been the EPL. The emergence of club football has made spawned “professional, media-aware, occasionally petulant and very, very rich” footballers in complete contrast to the likes of Terry Butcher.

“The England fans who went to the friendly match against Argentina (played, as is the way of these things now, in Geneva, for reasons that remain obscure) were still singing their “No Surrender to the IRA” song, and there’s more than a suspicion that they’d rather watch Terry Butcher and his fixed bayonets than David Beckham, a man who, after all, has been photographed wearing a sarong. But then, that’s England all over at the moment. We’d still prefer to be bombing the Germans; but after sixty years, there’s a slowly dawning suspicion that those days aren’t coming back any time soon, and in the meantime, we must rely on sarong-wearing mutlimillionaire pretty boys to kick the Argies for us. We’re not happy about it, but what can we do?”

(note: this book was published in 2006, as a lead up to the WC then)

As a football fan since 1982, I had the same changes in my appreciation of the English. From a solid respect for the likes of Linekar, Butcher, Shilton and Gascoigne (in my mind, the last of the “tin hats and fixed bayonets” generation), it has become complete scorn and disgust for the likes of Lampard, Terry, Rooney and co. (Probably the only EPL player who I place in very high regard is Ryan Giggs. But he is Welsh.). Admittedly, they are good footballers. Beckham, even at his age, is still the best ball bender in the business and his accuracy with the overhead pass is, as yet, undiminished. Rooney still has the wherewithal to be a goal scoring playmaker in the lines of a Ronaldinho. Yet, there is still a scorn and schadenfreude when one sees England or an English club lose a game. The on-cue English quarterfinal exit via tie-breaker in 2006 was, if anything, an affirmation to Nick Hornby closing his essay with the words “Allez, Les Bleus.

Events of last week triggered me to write this post. Across the world, a number of football managers of various clubs retired from the profession, finished their contracts with one club & signed up for another club or were sacked from their jobs. A few of these manager events happened in England as well.  At the presentation at Old Trafford, the Mancunian announcer called upon Sir Alex Ferguson as “the greatest British football manager” – lots of achievements in the past but more importantly lots of football expertise left behind as a legacy for the future.

But if you saw the outburst of sentiment from Indian football fans, it was reminiscent of the anguish felt by fans at the passing of MGR, NTR and the like. It was the end of the world for them. End of football for sure. Subhash Bhowmick ending the season with yet another I-League title, this time with Churchill Brothers, was of no interest to them. If only these people had seen English football in the 1980s.

It is quite funny to see Indian football fans junk their own football in the country and tie their loyalties to England and English clubs while Englishmen like Hornby question their own loyalties and comfortably settle for the French partly due to the presence of Arsenal players in the team – Vieira, Petit, Henry, et al.

The Fall and Rise of German Football – according to me

As an 8 year old watching a football match live, late at night, with eyes drooping off to sleep every other minute, one can be excused to being short on one’s memory. With this disclaimer, I can state that the 1982 semi-final match stays in my head for just three things – Battiston lying immobile on the pitch, Bossis holding his head in anguish  after missing the last penalty and Platini walking dejected after playing a super game. Notice I remember only the French side of the game.  I became a fan of Les Bleus. The losers. (Later, via Sportstar, I read that Platini had moved to Juventus. So now, after East Bengal, my next favourite club on the list was Juventus.) Nothing about the Germans. On Youtube, the pixelated clips do not trigger any cues either. One simply did not bother to remember anything about the Germans. When Italy won, it was just right, one felt. How can a country which plays boring, easily forgettable football win a World Cup?

In the next World Cup, West Germany once again played France in the semi-final. And they won again, this time with goals in regulation time. I remember the ball spilling out of Bates’ hands into the goal. Lucky (for the Germans). Sloppy (for the French). Germany went through. In the final, me and the rest of world were clearly on the side of Maradona and his Argentinian compatriots. Argentina were 2-0 up and it seemed just right. The more delightful and beautiful football playing team was going to win.

2-2. The Germans came back. Shades of 1982. The boring team was making a match of it. Finally, yet another moment of brilliance from Diego – a clever pass to Valdano to put in the winning goal.

The initial perception of German football remained the same for me. Boring. And when I read essays and articles by  many people on German football, I am happy to say I am not the only one. However, over the years, there is another thing that one has built up over the years for Germany – respect. These guys may not be aesthetically interesting to watch but these guys are good – a workman ethic, precision thinking and reliable – just like their cars and music systems and agricultural equipment and boilers and other items of domestic and industrial use. This respect came from watching some of their matches from history – the 1954 campaign that ended with a final played in rain completely dampening Hungary’s free flowing play and allowing the Germans to work the ball to their advantage; the 1966 final where, for all practical purposes, Germany had the game. It took a bit of luck and some miscommunication amongst the referees to get them a goal; the 1970 campaign, first the comeback win over England with that unbelievable header goal by Uwe Seeler and then the slugfest against Italy with Bechenbauer playing with his hand on a sling; and finally the 1974 team with Berti Vogts assigned the task of marking Johann Cruyff, the best player in the world at that time – and Vogts did his job so well. After the initial scampering that led to the penalty almost as a next move to the kick off whistle, Cruyff was completely bottled up.  Today, with the rich television coverage available, one can imagine the same when one watches El-Sharawy mark Dani Alves (in the AC Milan – Barca first leg PQF game) or Bastian Schweinsteiger and Javi Martinez hold the midfield to deny any space to Messi.

There was respect for the German team but it was still boring. Oliver Kahn was a great goalkeeper and one should always be a little partial to great goalkeepers. But that team was still not attractive enough.

Then came the transformation – a slow one but when it came, it was simply un-German. Europe in the last twenty years has become the New World for people in Asia and Africa. Refugees, political and economic, white collar and blue collar, perforce  or by choice, have been slowly and slowly changing the demographics of the continent. The 1982 French team had Tigana from Mali and Tresor from Guadeloupe. But the 1998 World Cup of France was a geography lesson, especially a lesson on the French colonies. From France, racial integration moved north to Belgium, Netherlands, even Sweden with players like Martin Dahlin and Norway with John Carew.

Nobody would have expected the Germans to be like that.

Turkish, Tunisian, Spanish, Polish, Ghanaian. These are some of the nationalities of the regular players in the current German football team. These are all people born and grown in Germany. They are Germans. But when they play football, it is not the traditional German style. It is the more flamboyant style that you would associate with other countries around the world. There is an aesthetic value that they seem to have put to their game. Schweinsteiger combining with Ozil and Khedira in the middle and setting up goal scoring services to Muller, Reus and Klose has become a thing to watch.

But one can’t just blame racial integration and the natural flamboyant mental models of these players. They must also have the ability to put it to practice and deliver results. This is where the Bundesliga comes. The number of German players playing around Europe has always been low. At any given point of time, the number of key players, especially those who are first choice picks for the national teams, who play outside  Germany be counted on at the most two hands.  It means that the core nucleus of the team – the Lahms, the Neuers, the Mullers, the Gotzes, etc. – are all shaping and honing their skills at home.

Sometimes, this form of home schooling can be self-limiting.  You get stuck with a few hackneyed ideas with no one able to disrupt the status quo. The same coaches, the same players, the same strategies and tactics, the same …. – leading to a serious state of stagnation.

The events of the last two weeks show that the Bundesliga is not in any state of stagnation. As Wembley prepares for 90,000+ Germans who are going to party there on the 25th of May, one can safely say that this is a league of true class. It’s not just 18 teams who are filling up shopping baskets with players picked up from random footballer supermarkets. These are 18 clubs with a history, a set of values, an ethic for reliability and a willingness to move with the times as the society around the clubs change. Even bottom of the table Gruether Furth, who got promoted to the Bundesliga top draw for the first time in its history, has Nigerians, Koreans, Senegalese, Turkish, Tunisian and Croatian players in its squad.

I think both the legs of both the semi-final matches are unforgettable, not just for the goals but for the clever and beautiful style of play that overshadowed the Spanish prima donnas. Alaba’s measured aerial ball to Robben to moves in, taps the ball to his left foot and fires it past Victor Valdez. This is worth remembering. Weidenfeller charging out picking up the ball right off the forehead of Ronaldo even as the star was in position to head the ball into goal. This is worth remembering as well

Football

From The Thinking Fan’s Guide to the World Cup

That’s what you learn, as soon as you start to play and watch football: that football is difficult and beautiful, and that the two are related. Players kick the ball to one another, pass the into empty space which is suddenly filled by a player who wasn’t there two seconds ago and who is running at full pelt and who without looking or breaking stride knocks the ball back to a third player who he surely can’t have seen who then, also at full pelt and without breaking stride, crosses the ball at sixty miles an hour to land on the head of a fourth player who has run seventy meters to get there and who, again all in stride, jumps and heads the ball with, once you realise how hard this is, unbelievable power and accuracy toward a corner of the goal just exactly where the goalkeeper, executing some complex physics entirely without conscious thought and through muscle-memory, has expected it to be, so that all this grace and speed and muscle and athleticism and attention to detail and power and precision passion comes to nothing, will never appear on a score-sheet or match report and will likely be forgotten a day later by everybody who saw it or took part in it. This is the beauty and also the strange fragility, the evanescence of football.

John Lanchester, essay on Brazil

Remembering & Re-watching Pyaasa, 1957

While roaming around Mutton Street in Nagpada area (popularly called Chor Bazaar), I entered one of those small shops which stock old cinema posters. As I was scanning through the displayed specimens of Ganga Jamuna, Suraj, Patthar Ke Sanam, etc., I tentatively asked the fellow there for Pyaasa. He pulled out a huge 3 feet tall poster, the classic one which has become an icon in Indian pop culture. I bought it there and there, Rs 1500 for it. It is still rolled up and kept in my house and I am yet to find someone who I can trust for framing it so I can hang it on my walls.

Pyaasa does that to you. The moment in the film is not in the film but immediately after. As the two lost souls walk away and The End splashes on the screen, your mind goes back to three things:

First, you are thinking:

Ye hanste hue phool / ye mehakan hua gulshan
ye rang mein aur noor mein duba hui raahen

Then you are thinking about the scene where a hungry coat-clad Vijay (Guru Dutt) helps a bhadralok load his suitcases into a taxi and gets a copper coin for it. The bhadralok mutters “what a state of affairs, educated people have turned to becoming coolies”, an ironical moment given that the copper coin he gives as payment turns out to be counterfeit.

This is immediately followed by a scene that forever puts that glimmer of hope into whatever dungeons of despair you may be in:  the scene where  Gulabo finally traces Vijay when she finds him in a lunch house trying to get a meal. (move to 28:52 in the video below)

There is nothing else one can write about this film which has not already been written. Just the thoughts that it evokes in you when you watch it. 55 years after the film, you notice the contemporaneity of the themes, themes which you can still see around you. Anurag Kashyap brought those themes out with Gulaal and for those who still didn’t get the message Piyush Mishra all but says it in the last song (and indeed the last bit) of the film.

har ek jism ghaayal, har ek ruh pyaasi
nigaho men ulajhan, dilon me udaasi

It is my personal opinion that Pyaasa is the greatest Indian film made – it is the Citizen Kane of Indian cinema. The emotional drain of Pyaasa and later Kaagaz ke Phool killed Guru Dutt but if he had survived, in my book, he would have become a greater film maker than Satyajit Ray, possibly the greatest. Where Ray was a master professional and used his craft to the fullest, Guru Dutt started with the core idea and worked backwards. He was happy to delegate all the craftsmanship duties to Abrar Alvi, VK Murthy, SD Burman and Sahir Ludhianvi. He focused on moving the audience. In hindsight, one can say that the audience walking out of the theatre in 1957 when the film was released was an indicator of Guru Dutt’s success. He evoked those emotions he wanted and those emotions frightened the audience who had innocently come to watch some song and dance extravaganza.

Sport is finished?

Football is f$%#ed.

Cycling is damned.

There is no wrestling at the Olympic Games.

Badminton players deliberately serve into the net to avoid meeting their higher ranked countrymen in the next round.

I learn via a quiz the other day of how the weightlifting system did a reboot of all records by changing the weight categories not once but twice.

So now what?

Now we go watch the Champions League.

The Motorcycle Diaries – Movies I Watched in 2013

Valparaiso, the Chilean port town, was for many years the home of Pablo Neruda. He called it a lunatic, crazy port like a man with disheveled hair in his Oda a Valpariaso. When Che Guevara and Alberto Granada, having disposed of their ill-fated motorbike, ride into Valparaiso sitting in the cabin of a truck, Che starts reciting this poem and is spontaneously joined by the truck driver. This, to me, was the reason to watch this film.

I had read The Motorcycle Diaries a few years followed by Che’s account of the Cuban Revolutionary War. I have his other works including the Bolivian Diaries and the African Dream (as yet unread). Having this background and with all that is written about Che, one must ask what is it that a movie can give that is not already known. The answer, as I said earlier, is best explained by the above passage.

One must see the film to experience South America. Stripped of the political messages, the film is a road trip movie without the crass American humour. The film lingers tenderly on the landscape of the continent as it moves from ranches of Argentina into the southern Andes of Chile then to the arid dry Atacama with its silver mines then climbing up to Machu Pichu and then coming back down to the Amazon rainforests. Every place has its uniqueness but there is a common thread throughout which the two travelers highlight – a continent where two diverse races struggling to create a co-existence.

There are many deviations from the book – one of the reasons being that Alberto Granada supplied half the material from his own memory. But this post is not a review or criticism of the film. It is a piece on the ideas being brought out by the film. In the book, one can easily discern the slow evolution in Che’s worldview. There are key moments – the miner couple who joins them in the Chilean desert, the leprosy hospital with the patients divided from the rest of the world by the river and so on. The film seems to exaggerate some of these scenes.

But the success of the film lies in the fact that it makes you one of them – you are going through the same experiences and in your mind, you are making the same arguments that Che is probably making. Whether you agree with his world view or not, you have the opportunity to broaden your mind and consider the development of that world view.

One must also remember that while Guevara is the more famous and by default central figure, one cannot ignore the contribution of Granada. After all it was his idea to travel around the continent. In the movie, he is made out to be a guy looking for the easy way out, making up stories to con people to letting them spend the night in the barn for free or getting a round of drinks on the house. But this aspect of the character is balanced by his regular acceptance of what is the right thing to do. The real Alberto Granada makes a cameo appearance in the final scene of the film – watching the plane taking off in Bogota with Guevara on board.

A great piece on looking at professional football as a means of production and how it shapes the way people play the game. The South American world view towards football is, indeed, very different from that of England. Further, in Europe itself, the English (and the Scottish and the Welsh and the Irish) way is radically different from that of the continent.

In South America, football combines both a means to a livelihood, a ticket to escape poverty as well as a means of human expression. Some of the greatest footballers of the continent have also been the most artistic and indeed influential footballers of all time – Pele, Garrincha, Maradona, Forlan… And most of them have come out of humble backgrounds playing football on the streets before finding opportunities for club and country.

Luis Suarez is, in that context, a journeyman from the continent.

One can also look at African and Asian football and footballers using the same lens.

A Pertinent Riot

I attended a Shakespeare lecture yesterday in which my lecturer gave a Marxist reading of The Tragedy ofJulius Caesar. According to Karl Marx, a German philosopher, individuals in society are shaped by their ‘mode of production‘, or the unity of the productive forces and the relations of production. Marx believes that this combination of labour, materials instruments etc. with the social structures which regulate the relations between humans in the production of goods affects how an individual exists with society: what they are depends on what they produce, and how they produce it.

Whilst I listened to this theory being applied to the play, I was reminded of an interview I saw on Goals on Sunday before the Liverpool v Manchester Unitedgame a couple of weeks ago. Gus Poyet, manager of Brighton FCand Uruguayan national appeared on the sofa on the show…

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Iconic Indian Films Revisited: Do Aankhen Barah Haath

2013 is going to be the year of the revisiting (and in some cases, watching for the first time) iconic films.  The Sight and Sound Top 250 and IMDB Top 250 take care of world cinema. For Indian films, specifically Hindi, I did a small list for myself – my own picks for iconic films right from Raja Harishchandra to whatever shit is getting released today. After watching each film, I thought of putting down some words – not a review, not a criticism, not an IMDB trivia bit. Rather, describe a key insight that I may have gathered from it. Being a person with a fondness for things related to the humanities, most of these insights deal with the ideas present in the films. Observations on the technical aspects of the films are avoided because a) I am not qualified and b) There is enough material by experts and film students on the same. Remember these are the greatest movies.

Do Aankhen Barah Haath which features in my top 10 Hindi film list (I haven’t made an all languages list but if I do, I am sure it will feature in the top 50).

The intriguing opening scene
Image Source: http://toddstadtman.com/lucha-ankhen.html

In the context of the current rage (or outrage) against rapists and the screeching demand for capital punishment, the subject of this film from 1958 might seem extremely utopian and almost unreal. However, present generation folks who think this a story of a lunatic need not be outraged. Even in the 1920s, the fellow who did this project was called a lunatic by his peers. In short, irrespective of the times, if someone tries to do something that deals with humane treatment of groups like criminals, he or she will be called a lunatic.

The greatness of Do Aankhen Barah Haath is not the idea itself. Neither is it the production value which one must know is of the highest order (given the available technology of that time). The greatness of this film is in the successful marriage of the two. This is best explained by describing this particular scene which has got imprinted into my consciousness.

6 roughneck, seemingly incorrigible death row convicts have just been told that they will be released from jail and will have to go live in a farm with jailer Adinath. The screen fades out and becomes pitch black. There is a cut here of course. This black screen suddenly gets split down the middle as you realise they are the gates of the jail and they are being opened. Six silhouettes are walking out. You see their lumpen massess trudging out. No faces. Each one as unidentifiable as the other. As they cross the gate, they come into the sunshine. You see their clothes – they have changed their clothes from prisoner stripes to their own clothes. Each person is wearing a different shade (this is black and white, so cannot say different colour). As they come into the sunshine, they turn back and look into the camera smiling partly at the joy of being free and partly because they are amused at this whole idea of living in a farm. Now you can see each one of them clearly. Each one has his own unique features and personalities – Tamanna, Keshav, Kishen, Shankar, Hiroo and Jalia Nai.

The concept of the film sits in this scene – the transformation of the non-human criminal identified by serial number and his crime into a unique personality with a name, a swagger and a mind of his own. The story carries on of course and there are many events that occur. But this use of black and white photography, the screenplay and, shall I say, bindaas performance of the six actors playing the convicts make this scene extremely powerful. There are other powerful scenes too but this one, at the cost of repeating myself, is outstanding.

There are flaws in this film. The female lead character in the film is extremely strong. There is the obvious attraction to a woman for six convicts who have been living away from society. But instead of playing the victim, she stands up to them. But, she is the second person after the jailer to treat them as normal human beings. When one of the convicts gets his kids over, she is the one who teaches them how to take care of children and in the process kindling in them the hope that they are good people and they can lead normal lives. A half decent actress would have brought out the power of this character and the top actresses would have truly explored the many nuances of it. But V Shantaram had to choose his wife. Sandhya, the lead actress, is by far one of the worst actresses ever. Of course, being the wife of a producer-director helps getting acting jobs. But she does know how to dance which she had to learn before working on Jhanak Jhanak Payal Baje.

In the end, does this film mean anything in this day and age? As a student of human nature (and one who has been using it in his trade for quite some time now), I can say that the premise of the film is not untrue. People do change – given the right environment, impetus and encouragement. And what was an experiment in the film can very well be made into a large project. But in the process of making it into a large project, there is a key element that usually gets lost out and therefore leads to failure. In the entire film, Adinath’s only weapon is his trust on the convicts and the faith he has on his theory that his good intentions will thaw the cold criminal mind. He does not carry any firearms, he does not lock the doors or fence the farm, etc. I am not sure whether in a large project, where many Adinaths are required to manage, coordinate and execute the plans, how many of them will be able to sustain that same level of faith and trust. That very few people follow Gandhism is not a reflection on the quality of the thought, rather it is the reflection on the strength required in the individual to live a Gandhian way.

Useful links:

Aye Malik Tere Bandhe Hum (SLYT)

A piece by Raghu Krishna from 2003 “The Eyes Have It” where he writes of the tugging of his heart by by the film.

6-7 – Krishna Poonia and Vikas Gowda

The newspaper headlines reported that both Krishna Poonia and Vikas Gowda “disappointed” by finishing 7th and 8th respectively in the women’s and men’s discus throw at the Olympics. What they missed out was that these two athletes reached the finals – the top 8 in the world in their respective event.

Krishna, who had won the gold at the Commonwealth Games in 2010 and a bronze at the Guangzhou Asian Games in 2010, had her best throw at 63.62, about 5.5 metres short of the gold winning performance of Sandra Perkovic who threw 69.11. Under all circumstances, this was a world class performance.

For Vikas Gowda, it might have been a personal disappointment. His personal best was 66.28m but in London, he finished with a best throw of 64.79, 4 metres short of the German Robert Harting’s gold winning performance of 68.27. The competition was slightly under par on a rainy, cold London evening. The top three in the event finished within 25 centimetres of each other. For Gowda, this was his first Olympics and given his age, it is not going to be his last. He is by far the best discus thrower in the country (though he is based in the United States).

Personally, the level of expectations that most people have are, in my opinion, highly unrealistic. Given that athletics is not exactly a very popular sport in India and the level of hard work, fitness training and sheer commitment to discipline, diets, etc. completely missing amongst Indians, one can’t really expect Indians to compete in this sport at the highest level. So when the exception does happen,  as happened in the case of Krishna or Vikas, instead of going overboard with expressions like “damp squib”, “crashed out”, “failed to deliver”, etc., one needs to acknowledge the effort put in despite the sports environment in the country.

The average Indian sportsperson not only has to compete against world class competitors, he or she also has to deal with a completely hostile environment – poor training, poor economic conditions, lack of support, etc.

So, these two, despite not winning any medals, get my vote for best performers in 2012.