Bollywood Weddings: Dating, engagement and marriage in Hindu America
by Kavita Ramdya
Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2010

This engaging book begins with Ramdya's own wedding, when she married a Muslim man from Trinidad. The ceremony was polycultural, drawing from a variety of heritages, but was grounded in the liturgy of Islam. Her friends asked her why she did not have a Hindu wedding. That question began a journey that led to interviews with twenty couples and – oh, so hard! – trips to many, many weddings. In so doing, Ramdya examines how the trap of 'authenticity' recreates the orthodoxy of gender, even as the young couples shudder at such practices as kanya-daan. The wedding is framed around the 'ethnic objects' that are essential to the ceremony, such as the saris and the fire, the horse and the food: this is cultural studies that examines culture as commodity, weddings as a key institution of modern capitalism. (Vijay Prashad)

Life in a Day
directed by Kevin MacDonald
produced by Ridley Scott
Scott Free/YouTube, 2011

Life in a Day begins at night, because that's when the new day begins. It then proceeds to offer the most ticklish ruminations on the human experience, whether a viewer wants to mull them over or not. Filmed over the course of last 24 July but formally released this 24 July, the film is the result of nearly 80,000 amateur-to-professional submissions from 140 countries documenting a single day in the lives of the filmmakers. These 4500 raw hours were posted on YouTube, leaving to the director and producer the onerous task of wading through, editing and reassembling into a coherent whole this mess of the trivial masquerading as the sublime.

Or is that the other way around? At times it certainly seems so. Through masterful use of the tricks of the trade – editing, music, pacing – but helped along by truly endearing, energising footage, MacDonald and Scott are able to imbue nearly every new scene (and there are many) with a halo of sorts, slowing down just long enough to place it in a context, surrounded by clips from others' films/lives, that just feels natural. From sun-up to sundown, we see hundreds of individuals awake, make food, go to work, come home and go back to sleep, all the while giving full priority to the minor joys and difficulties, comedies and black thoughts that tend to colour each day. Art, some suggest, is about making public the conversations that usually take place only in our head; here, the conversations are a symphony. (Carey L Biron)

The Big Society:
The anatomy of the new politics

by Jessy Norman
University of Buckingham Press, 2010

In November, big society was named the Oxford English Dictionary's phrase of the year in Britain. The official meaning of the expression is: 'A political concept whereby a significant amount of responsibility for the running of a society's services is devolved to local communities and volunteers.' The intent of the term, however, is to market conservatism. The phrase immediately charmed Anglophile Southasians, and the eponymous book soon became a trendy gift item for Rotaract, Leo and Junior Chamber types.

The witch called conservatism entices fresh fanatics by donning new-fangled phraseologies every few decades. At the dawn of the 21st century, the hegemony of private enterprise was so complete that differences between conservatism and progressivism reached the vanishing point. In the boom of war economies after the bust of Soviet Union, there were only two schools left competing in the field of political economy: passionate conservatism and progressive conservatism. And then came the subprime tsunami of 2008, which turned received wisdom upside down. Hence, Prime Minister David Cameron's Big Society – alas, a concept that remains transparently Thatcherist.

Norman, a Conservative MP, thus offers this work to convince the converted rather than clear the doubts of sceptics. So what are his prescriptions? Restrain excessive pay, and presumably keep intact the infrastructure of speculative investment. Tougher competition is preferable to more strident regulation. And guess what? It was not the market that failed during the financial crisis, but regulatory mechanism, institutions of oversight and the state! Clearly, the more things change, the more they become the same. Welcome back to unadulterated capitalism. (C K Lal)

The Truth That Wasn't There
directed by Guy Gunaratne
CODOC, 2011

In 2009, after the end of the ethnic war in Sri Lanka, the Colombo government had closed off all access to the areas where the last violence had raged – and the camps housing those displaced by those events. Clearly much to their own surprise, three young student filmmakers from the UK were granted unique access to the notorious Menik Farm camps a month after the war, at a time when the major media outfits were being kept strictly out. They received access, yes, but under strict supervision by the Sri Lanka Army – at all points the trio was accompanied by minders, who worked assiduously to create a positive impression of the camps and headed off any uncomfortable statement made by those in the camps.

The filmmakers are conscious throughout that much of the footage shot at the camps, and in the war zone of Kilinochchi, is the product of a guided tour, and that what they saw there was a very partial truth. They try to balance this by bringing in some counter-narratives, but this is almost sure to fall short due to lack of unfettered access to the area. The film helps us to develop an understanding of the limitations of war reportage amidst a propaganda barrage: unfortunately, the 'truth' the viewer is left with is, for the most part, the one that the Sri Lankan authorities and army wants the world to see. (Vidyadhar Gadgil)

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