I, Dipankan

An Appeal to the Law’s Brooding Spirit

“A dissent in a court of last resort is an appeal to the brooding spirit of law, to the intelligence of a future day when a later decision may possibly correct the error into which the dissenting justice believes the court to have been betrayed.”

– Charles Evan Hughes

The great American Judge, Charles Evan Hughes, had made the above reference at a lecture on the workings of the American Supreme Court; he had highlighted the absolute importance of dissenting opinions and that of judicial civility in a functional democratic state. Hughes was perhaps prescient in his observations; for Chintan Chandrachud in his latest allocates considerable emphasis on erroneous decisions and dissenting opinions from handpicked cases, that had arrived at the doorstep of the Supreme Court. All these cases resonated with profound socio-cultural consequences, but true to the title of the book, were undeniably obliviated from the public memory.

Representational image

The Cases that India Forgot is a coalescence of ten such influential cases split into four sections for better understanding. Chandrachud divides the cases, albeit with an unequal smorgasbord for each bracket, into ‘Politics’, ‘Gender’, ‘Religion’ and ‘National Security’. He makes careful observations from each case, notes the cardinal considerations that went into the judgement, and refers to criticism and appreciation of the said decision. The pattern is predictable, almost like a convenient formula, yet the curious content of the cases makes the reader eager to dig deeper.

Who knew that a pamphlet distributed by a local politician would go on to assume catastrophic proportions, paralyse the administrative machinery, strain relations between state institutions and ultimately result in a constitutional crisis? Or for that matter, KPS Gill, a highly revered figure credited with eliminating Khalistani terror, would be convicted of outraging the modesty of a senior IAS officer from the Punjab cadre? Or, President APJ Abdul Kalam, by far India’s most popular, had kept a letter of resignation ready due to an implied censure of one of his decisions? The author makes a conscious attempt to awaken the reader’s inquisitiveness by regularly showering such shockers. An extensive endnotes section for further reading has also been provided for professionals, as is customary and expected of a book pertaining to the legal genre.

Written in an easy tone, the book makes for strong criticism of the Supreme Court’s failure to uphold the core principles of the Constitution over and over again. For example, the ghost of the Narasu Appa Mali case haunts the courts even today; even the far-reaching Triple Talaq decision simply skirted the question of whether uncodified personal law trumped the fundamental rights of the citizens. The court had also turned a blind eye towards the nefarious designs of the AFSPA, which gives a virtually unrestricted license to kill, arrest, search and destroy any place on the whims of an Army officer. There are countless many more examples, all of which have been picked up and evaluated in great detail.

In all, The Cases that India Forgot makes for a good read if one is interested in legalistic studies. The reader may find it slightly daunting if he has no background in Constitutional law, but Chandrachud provides for lucid explanations which fill up that void. Beyond that, it is also a step towards educating the masses on questions left open by the Supreme Court; in the hope that one day, they shall stand corrected and thereby rectify the long-standing errors made by the apex court. It minces no words in its criticism or appreciation, which makes it a solid advocate of neutral writing. Will the court take note? We can only hope and keep our fingers crossed.

A Memoir That Says It All

‘Son, I think you have made a mistake. You have written IPS five
times,’ said Mr Lal to me, looking at me with concern.
‘No, sir, it’s not a mistake,’ I said. ‘It is deliberate. Sir, give me IPS
or nothing.’

An extract.
Representational image: Rakesh Maria

As an avid reader who primarily loves to dwell on non-fiction, Rakesh Maria’s ‘Let Me Say it Now’ demonstrates an exemplary balance between the art of storytelling and the regular seasoning of facts. Tailored to be an introspective walk down the life of a decorated IPS officer, Maria does an excellent job at describing the highs and nays throughout his inspiring tenure spanning three decades as a Policeman.

This tell-all autobiography, published by Westland India and launched only in February, is a delightfully fresh take on the way we evaluate the netherworld of crime, and its allied offshoots. Taking the reader on a ride commencing right from the nascent years of him entering the Uniformed Service, and to egress the reader with a sense of accomplishment and relatability almost like that of his own, Maria has intrinsically woven out the plotlines to put in the minutest of details. From the 1993 Bombay serial blasts to the ensuing backdrop of gang wars in the Mumbai’s plethora of gullies, the book recounts all of his experiences as a top sleuth in the city ranks. He writes on how he, along with his team, confronted the Dawood gang, breached Arun Gawli’s supposedly impenetrable citadel, and made several efforts to dent their extortion calls and wanton scheme of murder. A host of other cases, including the Shakti Mills case, was discussed in detail.

Yet, the cherry lies towards the end, when he opens up on the horrid experience of 26/11. Rakesh Maria was then the Joint Commissioner of Police when the attack happened out of the blue. The book reveals that prior to the attack, the Force had received several intelligence inputs highlighting a possible threat to the security of the city at large; and these were acted upon timely. Yet, despite the passage of the predicted dates when the attack was to happen, the security was again normalised. On the cursed night, Maria was put at the helm of the Control Room, directing whatever scant manpower and resources existed to places that lay besieged at the hands of those external guerillas. The only rapscallion to be captured alive was Ajmal Amir Kasab, a Faridkot resident from Pakistan, who was highly indoctrinated and radicalised to view all Indians as his sworn enemy. And it was Maria, again, who had the task set to interrogate him despite all the pent-up anger naturally evolving from the untimely deaths of serving officers and constables. An explosive revelation concerning the plan to paint the attack as one bred by Hindus was also laid bare.

Maria concludes the book with the last case of his tenure as a Detection Officer when he was the CP, Mumbai. The Sheena Bora murder case had shaken the conscience of the nation. The murder of a daughter had been concealed by the powers that be for a whopping period of three years, with no one getting a whiff of the deceased. It was under his tenure that the case was detected and consequently, arrests were made. Despite his active involvement, the media painted Maria in a manner that depicted a conflict of interest on his end, and his marred image led to him being promptly shunted out as the Director General (Home Guards), which is normally viewed as a post that is an avenue for the near-retirement cadre. He features the text messages he exchanged with Devendra Fadnavis, the then Chief Minister of Maharashtra, and goes on to highlight the long battle to reclaim his identity as a true servant for the people, as someone who would never compromise on the integrity and ethics demanded of him.

Let Me Say It Now is a perfect read for those who take a keen interest in matters detailing contemporary security and challenges. The style of writing is kept so fluid that even the layman can enjoy it. Yet, it has enough for the professional to learn from; and despite the inherent tendency to gloat on one’s own achievements, Maria has avoided that temptation. He rather makes this a riveting read that intends to erase the fine line between the reel and real. A brutally honest account, his autobiography makes for a must-read, an unputdownable page-turner that should not be missed at any cost.

In a state of perpetual decay

https://images.indianexpress.com/2020/02/scindia.jpg
File Photo of Jyotiraditya Scindia (representational purposes)

Jyotiraditya’s loss was something that the Congress should have prognosticated long ago. His father, Madhavrao Scindia, was equally brilliant as him, and highly respected during his stint with the ministerial role. When a national party clings onto archaic leaders from the bygone era, instead of pumping in fresh blood throughout the veins of its organisation, such doom is only waiting to happen.

It is high time that Congress realizes that such rebellions are entirely avoidable; you cannot suppress the ebullience of the posterity to appease the torchbearers of the past. Kamal Nath was given the preference over Scindia in Madhya Pradesh when clearly it was Scindia’s charm that had the Congress sail in the assembly elections. Dissent was surely to brew. Will it be next in Rajasthan, where the influential Sachin Pilot was sidelined to give a chance to the aged Ashok Gehlot?

Thoughts on Flailing Foreign Investments

India is a land of wonders, or so have we been taught in our early years. How wondrously it might manifest itself, is being revealed now. Over the years, the political establishment has demolished regard for conventions and excavated loopholes in laws to bypass obligations. The Budget 2019 brought in radical changes to the competitive structure of the Indian business setup. But in chasing a populist dream, the government seems to have missed the train to globally competitive market economics. While the domestic market seemed euphoric with frenzy at the spread of schemes laid out for propping up investments back home, the foreigners haven’t responded in kind: instead, they are on a race to pack their baggage and fly out.

With a flurry of quota reservations being carved out every other day in the hope of realizing political brownie points, the signal sent out to potential foreign investors is dampening. Jagan Reddy, Andhra Pradesh’s newly elected Chief Minister, announced a 75% reservation of jobs in industrial and infrastructure ventures for State natives. Kamal Nath, Madhya Pradesh’s CM from the Congress, also whipped up questions on crossing the fine line when he announced earlier this month that 70% of jobs would be reserved for locals even in private sector companies. The Modi government is no stranger to quota politics, as they introduced a 10% quota for economically backward people earlier. With the Supreme Court laying bare in Indra Sawnhey (1992) that total reservation cannot cross 50% of the workforce (to preserve merit for obvious reasons), and the Constitution explicitly stating that discrimination based on place of birth is forbidden, the rules seems to have been thrown for a toss.

While there are workarounds to policy tweaks, they are by their very nature an issue of contention. After Modi’s landslide victory in the General Elections of 2019, most expected him to undertake and implement radical economic reforms that would help smoothen the country’s business environment and pave the way for easier foreign investment. Instead, complications in domestic policymaking is only sending out a beeping alert to people who wish to invest in India: a clear no-go. The National Minimum Wage scheme, which overrides differing wages across a plethora of states, snatches away the incentive of investing in a backward state with lowly wage rates. While India touts itself as a competitor for foreign investment with other countries, it has already higher rates in land, loans, electricity, rail and air freight than its competitors. Further, the trend of introducing quotas and minimum wage levels are serving as a retarder to an increased flow of investments. Contracts, that are considered sacred in many successful markets, are being re-worked upon to favour domestic players. The recent changes in e-commerce policy that were doled out by the Ministry of Commerce last year, was specifically cut out to favour Reliance’s online arm over Amazon and Walmart. American firm Walmart, which opened base in India and purchased a $16 billion stake in Indian online retailing giant Flipkart, was taken aback by the developments. This lead to a diplomatic schism between India and the United States, which has developed into a point of difference between the two partners over several bilateral meetings.

As the government lacks the resources to invest in industries itself to revive a faltering economy, and depends increasingly on foreign and private investments to pick up, it cannot solely expect contributions from the sector unless sincere efforts are put in to effect such changes from the other end. The vehicular mode for such a metamorphosis is wise decision making from the highest rungs; after all, populism can never go hand in hand with credence.

Upping the Academic Ante

After the inconsolable demise of a promising tenth grader from GD Birla, it is imperative that we have a hard look at where we are going wrong. Several modern-day parents fail to recognize the fact that every individual has a saturation point. When a child is coerced to learn, his interest gradually declines until the point that he finds no incentive to advance himself academically.

Today’s kids have no liberty to enjoy, their leisure is being snatched away by ostentatious parents who would flaunt their child’s performance as a status symbol among their acquaintances and known ones. A study published in IOSR Journals (Sangma, Z.M et al, 2018) confirmed the assumptions. Out of a total of 954 students from classes nine and ten surveyed, 86% of the respondents blamed parental pressure as a retarder. 40% claimed that they were unable to enjoy life as a direct ramification of the disproportionate pressure on them, and 22% said that they found comfort in the harrowing walls of depression.

Some interesting conclusions obtained from the study are displayed below:

To bring a halt to more such preventable deaths, change needs to begin at home. Parents must understand that their wards are not commodities, who are branded as per their marks. Rather than raising expectations, and putting them under an obligation to perform in the top gear, it must be our initiative to commend them and encourage them to ‘learn’ further, and not ‘score’ more. I have long held that tuitions (particularly those in junior classes) do little good; it is self-learning and study that sharpens the brain.

Our childhood favorite, W.H Davies’s ‘Leisure’, is turning out to be prophetic- not just for the strained adult workforce; but also for the youngsters who find their wings clipped amidst heavy competition. It would only be fitting to quote Davies, then:

WHAT is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare?

….
No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night:


A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

Chernobyl: Grim, Gore Realism at the forefront

HBO’s Chernobyl, a web mini-series that first premiered on 6th May this year, has finally had its season finale with the last episode being broadcast on 3rd June, almost a month after the leading episode captivated audiences across the globe. Web series are produced by the bulk today, and not many among them are worthy of commendation. Chernobyl, however, is different: it strikes an instant chord with its viewers not only for the accurate portrayal of the catastrophe that befell the Soviet State, but also for the gripping display of how the inter-warped lives of plant workers, their families, and several more innocent far and wide, were ripped apart in no time. Their fate, as they say, was sealed at the twenty-third minute past one in the jinxed night of April 26, 1986.

The backdrop of Chernobyl is set in Pripyat, located in modern-day Ukraine. The very first episode introduces the audience to the horrific disaster. The juxtaposition of pleasure and pain is painted brilliantly- while men at the plant are shedding their sweat to realize the gravity of the adversity, innocent adults and children outside marvel at the brilliant glow of blue light that emanates from the fourth reactor, which blew its roof off. Little did they know that their lives would be taken for a toss from the excessively high amounts of radiation that came alongwith. The story takes a steady turn from there over the span of the next three episodes, revealing the intricacies of the Soviet state, and the immense valour of the scientific community to reclaim and clean up as much as would be possible. Every episode is timed approximately to an hour worth of content, but leaves the mind with questions, hunting for more.

Chernobyl succeeds not only in encompassing the story of the man-made calamity of panoramic proportions but also bringing to light how Soviet politics made matters worse. Nationalist pride ensured harbouring a generation of flawed nuclear reactor designs, with attempts to publicize the glaring loopholes being censored by the State. Chernobyl is a raw tribute to those gallant few, who despite being pinned by severe adversities, fought for the justice, and more importantly safety, of people across the world today. Characters were not fictionalized, this added to the realism of the show. The primary challenge of any historical drama is to encapsulate the hordes of people involved, and Chernobyl succeeds by retaining viewer interest taut and straight through the characters of Ulana Khomyuk, Lyudmilla Ignatenko, and many more. Their personas were reflective of their community at that hour of gloom; while Ulana Khomyuk represents the case of several independent scientists, that of Ignatenko represents the hapless pain of the multitude- people who had to pay the price for sins so great that they had never committed in the first place.

Statistically, Chernobyl seems to have shattered all past records for a TV show, possibly going on to become the highest rated TV-show (IMDb) of all time! A weighted mean of the reviews obtained after each episode puts the overall rating at a stellar 9.7/10. What is more interesting is the fact that each episode of the series was rated by viewers above 9.5, a unique streak when it comes to such shows. The Economist calculates that the probability that any show would maintain a consistent 9.5+ rating over a stretch of four episodes is a meagre 0.4%. For reference purposes, only the final four episodes of Breaking Bad had matched the feat that is now in Chernobyl’s arsenal.

Viewing interest rates in India also grew exponentially during the period of broadcast, registering a steep hike in the Google search trends.

Contradicting sense: Taxation and Development

Is there a relationship between development and taxation rates imposed by a regime? The short answer is yes, and that is a curious case of a U-trend!

On plotting a dataset of 146 countries against their HDI Index (2018) with personal income tax rates, their parabolic relationship becomes clear: While those with lower and higher taxation rates did well on the HDI front, rates put in the median bracket fared poorly. India, too, is in the median bracket. There can be several reasons for such trends. One possible way is to see why regimes impose tax on the populace in the first place. A high tax rate converts into high revenue stock for the government to spend, and hence development need not wait. Countries that put a low tax rate (primarily Islamic countries in the Middle East) have carved out State funds for purpose of welfare spending instead of putting up high-interest rates. For example, Arab states depend heavily on their oil earnings, and taxation only accounts for a lowly percentage of the GDP (Arab states had 5% of their GDP in 2002 as tax collections).

The median bracket is a paradox. Moderate rates should propel the nation towards development, but data proves otherwise- those with moderate tax rates have the lowest HDI scores on average. Perhaps, a stagnation in the tax rates for long has diverted State attention to other aspects of governance, leaving actual ‘vikas‘ behind. With #LokSabhaElections on the prowl, it would be interesting to see if the party that forms the next government will increase, albeit marginally, tax rates to help combat deficits that may arise- and in the process, push the marginalized out of their state of despair!

The Horrors of Hooch

PTI Photo: Victims hospitalised in Assam in the recent hooch tragedy

Illegal consumption of spurious alcohol is consistently on the rise. Barely a week after the UP Hooch tragedy that claimed 116 lives, this time around, it is Assam. These breweries operate hideously, often as a ‘side’ product on factory premises. As far as reports go, 110+ have been reported dead- a casualty every 10 minutes!

Governmental promises to eradicate the illicit liquor mafia look like blunt proposals nowadays. In 1992, the Parthasarathy Committee Report suggested a smorgasbord of actions to be taken in order to prevent hooch horrors. Besides laws to discourage unauthorised storage of methanol, it recommended the addition of a bitter substance to make it undrinkable. In all, 17 recommendations were put on paper. Till date, it remains to be effectively implemented.

Last year, the Uttar Pradesh government amended a section in the State Excise Act, slapping death penalty charges on those responsible for hooch deaths. Despite such a move, a week back, disaster struck. This points to glaring loopholes, and most of this is due to the khaki-clad men looking the other way in exchange for hefty fees.

Yesterday, it was Maharashtra, Bengal, Bihar, UP, and countless many. Today it is Assam. Tomorrow, it may strike terror in yet another province. How far can we tolerate this? Can surprise raids in shadowy factories not be conducted? Is it altogether impossible for the government to catch the sinister bootleggers who manufacture the concoction of death, red-handed? The answer is a clear yes. Only, the intent is missing.

Every single time.

A Year in Review

With just a day to go before we conclude 2018 on a positive note, there must be a list of unbelievable successes we have attained in the year; and a similar list of unchecked boxes that we would have liked to see crossed, but couldn’t for whatsoever reasons may be. In the span of the last 364 days, we lived out another year of our lives. Did we do something different?

Personal Joyride

2018 has been a rather eventful year for me, and one with surprises filled to the brim. Post the initial hectic months panning all the way from January to May, I earned a seat in KIIT’s Electronics department. Truth be told, shifting to Bhubaneswar wasn’t all that bad. The hostel rooms are decent enough, and mess food isn’t as pathetic as it is the case in many other institutions. Bhubaneswar is not just any smart city, it is the rank-one holder in the list of smart cities published by the Government of India. College life is easy provided you maintain the academic discipline and regularity. It indeed is difficult to keep your concentration together and channelise your energy in the right direction, especially with a number of distractions around. But once you get through, and determine that you have a target to achieve, the process becomes incredibly easy.

Furthermore, 2018 offered me a golden opportunity to restart my passion for writing columns and opinion articles, primarily based on politics, after an appreciable hiatus. This disruption in writing over the most part of late 2017 could be blamed on the strenuous nature of the higher secondary examinations in India. It has been an enjoyable time, writing a good number of columns and reading even more. It also happened to be the second anniversary of my main blog, Politics Now– which now  is a site with over 19,000 plus words of unbiased political opinion. Courtesy an extremely congenial professor, and a gem of a person in the institute for management studies (KSOM- Professor S.N. Misra), I have also been undergoing semi-formal training in macroeconomics. What a year has it been from the learning perspective, and with God’s blessings, I hope I can carry this momentum forward.

On Politics and Economy

In the political world, protectionist trends seem to be on the rise, fuelled by agressive nationalism in several nations of the world. The US-China trade feud could have snowballed into a major headache for people around the world; but luckily sense seemed to have prevailed and retaliatory sanctions have been kept to the minimal. The US-North Korea talks also seemed to have failed now after initial hype; and North Korea has reportedly not shut down on its nuclear facilities yet (any rational state would never). In Europe, political turmoil, especially emanating from Britain has taken the toll. There are concerns that the EU may let Britain out without the latter framing a proper exit deal with the European union. Theresa May has been on the receiving end of critics for long. Finally, around mid-December, the POTUS announced the withdrawal of security forces in the Middle East and Afghanistan- sparking genuine concerns of heightened terrorist attacks and a re-run of chaos and destability. In South Asian politics, too, there has been significant activity. Former Maldives strongman Abdul Yameen lost out on the elections and his contemporary, Ibrahim Mohammed Solih, was elected president. The Indian government provided a $1.4billion grant to the Maldives, a number which accurately matches the debt that Maldives owes China. Sri Lanka showed the world its strength in democracy when even after an attempted political coup, President Sirisena had to appoint (courtesy the Supreme Court and the Sri Lankan Parliament) Ranil Wackremsinghe as the Prime Minister after deposing him to put his adversary, Mahinda Rajapakse in charge.

In the domestic circuit too, things appear very charged. The 2019 General Elections are only a few months away now- and parties are all revving up their campaigns to make the most of the seat-fest. Electrification drives have been a success and the Modi government achieved 100% electrification of rural India in April. This does not mean that every household has access to electricity, however- a village is said to be electrified if at least 10% of the households have access to electricity. Yet, the feat cannot be downplayed and the government must be lauded. However, it has mostly been a year of duds for the government. The RBI-Centre spat took an ugly turn after the Centre battled for access to the RBI’s vault, ultimately ending with the resignation of Urjit Patel and the appointment of career bureaucrat Shaktikanta Das. Earlier this year on Valentine’s Day, the Punjab National Bank reported a $1.77 billion fraud by diamantaire Nirav Modi and his uncle, Mehul Choksi, who fled the country.  In Kerala, the Sabarimala judgement rendered by the Supreme Court was not acceptable to the localites and they staged massive protests, which continues to the day. Politicians have jumped onto bandwagons that suite their opportunist nature, with hardly anyone batting for an actual solution to end the crisis.

 

Economic trends from the past year haven’t been all too well. While the Indian economy is making a comeback of sorts, the strength of the recovery is doubtful. While there has been a growth in GVA figures and a corresponding rise in GDP, a closer look at the finer details would help. The services sector has performed exceedingly well, but the industrial sector has been a laggard. The RBI has changed its monetary policy stance to “calibrated tightening”, meaning that a rate cut is off the radars for now. The RBI was hawkish over the first two quarters of 2018, chasing a target of 4% inflation. A rate cut could put back some money in the economy and that the RBI could have some leeway as regards a slight deviation from CPI inflation rate is concerned. Current Account Deficit, a difference between the net import and exports for a country, is projected to widen for FY2019 at 2.6%. The recent e-commerce policy doled out by the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, although favourable for small-scale local traders, have dealt a significant blow to the promising FDI sector for online retail. The law effectively mandates any move which offers customers a significant advantage free of cost, to be an instance of discriminatory pricing- so it is probably time to shell out extra bucks for delivery. In 2019, airline fares are also set to ricochet, with fresh taxes being levied on airline fuel and associated costs.

Positives and Hopes for the New Year

As we welcome a new year, it is important to remember and thank God for the gifts we all have received during the past year. If possible, go around and personally meet, or call up your loved ones, to thank them for their time and companionship. Life in the twenty-first century moves at a fast pace, a pace quick enough to blur out faint memories of people who might have impacted our lives at any point.

My 2019 vision for India would be principally centred on political stability. I hope for a stable government at the Centre that delivers on solid governance, and upholds fundamental rights including the much cherished freedom of creative expression. For long enough, there has been suppression of voices and dissenting opinions have become increasingly rare (apart from those in the judiciary). A key concern from the past year, that of institutional independence, needs to be protected with utmost priority. Compromising on the autonomy of crucial operators to attain short-term goals can severely hamper prospects down the line, as biased decision making and corruption would pave their way into the system.

To all my dear readers and visitors alike, I wish you an abundance of grace as you step into the new year. New year resolutions, for the most part of it, are ignored- but if you have a hunch on making one, do make it. If you have had regrets because you were unable to do them last year, make sure you own 2019 and make it your way!

 

Why Zero is nothing more than a pathetic eyesore

WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD

Before I even start with describing how bad the film Zero was, I believe it would be prudent to admit that I am a die-hard Shah Rukh addict; someone who always hoped that the Badshah of Bollywood could perhaps give his acting career post his fifties a major rejig. After watching Zero, I am not so certain anymore.

Shah Rukh Khan’s filmography after the onset of 2010 has been that on a hit-loss-hit track. I, however, am not a personal fan of judging films by their Box office collections- by that record, every Salman Khan film would probably go on to become top-rated films. I watch films to ascertain the quality of content the film provides; the originality it bears, and how the film possibly integrates its core theme into the motion picture that we pay for at the end, though not being the run-of-the-mill critic who wears the glasses of a cynic. In short, I like films that I can enjoy. Chennai Express, Dilwale and Jab Harry Met Sejal were absolute disasters, but provided on their core theme of comedy and a doses of SRKian romance. Fan was a major uplift, the dual characters of Gaurav and Aryan were donned brilliantly. VFX work was commendable, too. Raaes, in my frank opinion, was a lovely treat- injecting compassion for an otherwise villainous character among the audience. Dear Zindagi was an out-of-the-box experiment that turned out very well, both in terms of critical accolades and success. The success was because it was relatable, and most of Gen Z could find an instant connect that Bollywood films typically do not provide for.

But those were chronicles before Zero.

With Zero, Shah Rukh Khan hit a new low. Right from the start to the end, the film remained a mess. Many commentators have reviewed that the ensemble featured the doomed trio of Anuskha-Katrina-Shah Rukh from Jab Tak Hai Jaan. You could take all the greatest actors of the world and engage them in a circus of a plot- and the film would still sink- simply because, there is no meaning attached to it! Films are supposed to be a form of escapade. They take our creative selves on a tour, tossing around with the ideas we can harbour. The principal fault with Zero is that the plot is an absolute zero.  Aanand Rai probably tried to stitch together three stories within one; and the sew ended up in tatters. Make no mistake, individual characters portrayed by Shah Rukh- that of a dwarf, or bauna (Bauua Singh)-Anushka with that of a disabled, but inspiring astronomer who has paved the way for the Man on Mars mission (Aafia)- and that of Katrina with a role which suited her usual arrogant self (Babita Kumari)- were brilliant to say the least. Bauua Singh’s character is an extremely difficult role to carry, the gaudy vanity of the character being a particular highlight. But somewhere, the overall connect goes missing, and with that, the film loses its way, too.

Who on earth otherwise can imagine of a plot which encompasses a groom running from the bride, attempting to romance a star beyond the ordinary, getting the boot and finally ending up as a man exiled to Mars, all for love? Is that even love? Zero looks to make its way around by introducing forced humour, and drags the second half rather unnecessarily. In fact, almost the entirety of the second half features Bauua’s preparation to leave for Mars. Heck, there is even a scene where in zero-gravity (aka, vacuum), Bauua and Aafia converse, can exist without an oxygen mask in tow. For science graduates like me, and well for everybody else, too- that is indigestible content. Forget breathing, staying in vacuum without adequate pressurised gear can prove lethal.

Zero might be a big-budgeted film, but honestly, has failed to do justice to the investment poured in it. It would have been made so much better if only a botched up ending could possibly be restructured and re-worked on. The first half is the only enjoyable portion from the entire film, wherein we are introduced to the characters and their nuances. The climax is hasty, at best- and there’s no denouement to it. The ride we hoped for Zero never took off, and that is the reality.

In the end, the verdict is clear: Stay clear of Zero, and save both your money and time. You would not regret it.