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Skyfall: No. 23, after 50 years

Skyfall is the perfect way to commemorate 50 years of Bond on the silver screen. It is not only the best Bond movie to date, but also the best action movie of this year

Around 50 years ago, Sean Connery was chosen to play the lead in a movie, whose franchise would be the second highest grosser ever and probably the first after a couple more titles. Coming to the 21st century, James Bond movies have had their shares of highs and lows. Over 23 movies, six actors in the lead role and 12 and a half billion dollars grossed (inflation adjusted), the James Bond movie series is one of the most iconic ever.


Skyfall, the 23rd Bond film, Daniel Craig’s third outing as 007, is probably the most awaited film this year after The Dark Knight Rises. And after the rather mediocre Quantum of Solace, fans would certainly hope for a much better movie. Delayed by a year due to MGM’s financial woes, Skyfall may be late but is certainly worth the wait. Skyfall is the Bond movie that takes the character so wonderfully introduced in 2006’s Casino Royale to another level.


The plot of Skyfall is unlike that of any previous Bond movie. The 23rd time around, things are a lot more personal. MI6’s list of operatives in terrorist organizations is stolen and names are released publicly, five every week. M is haunted by a certain person from her past and it is up to an aging and slightly haggard Bond to clean things up. It all leads up to the climax, where one understands why the film is named so.


What happened with the reboot of the Bond franchise in 2006 was that grandiose action sequences aside, the movies became more connected to the real world than the times of pen grenades, watch embedded grappling hooks and the over-the-top Armageddon schemes. James Bond is much more human and quite fallible too. Long gone is the one-liner spewing, un-woundable super spy-cum-killing machine who never missteps.


Helmed by Sam Mendes (Road to Perdition, American Beauty), Skyfall is THE definitive Bond movie for the 21st century. The movie’s strengths are quite a few.


First and foremost, the cinematography. The man behind the lens is Roger Deakins, who adds Skyfall to his already reputable list that includes movies like The Shawshank Redemption and A Beautiful Mind. The camera work is excellent throughout and shines particularly in a dimly-lit fight sequence in Shanghai and the climax. A big plus is that Deakins consciously avoids the use of shaky-cam, which would certainly feel out of place in a Bond movie. The locales are all captured wonderfully, be it the stunning opening sequence in Turkey, the Macau Casino or the climax in the Scottish countryside. Lighting is pitch-perfect in all scenes too. Never unnecessarily dark or too bright, this movie deserves an Oscar nomination for the cinematography. It is probably the best shot movie of the year.


Next, the screenplay. With Neal Purvis and Robert Wade (Bond regulars) as the screenwriters, the screenplay’s missteps, if any are few and minor. A complaint could be made about the movie being too long but personally, I felt it was correctly paced. While the movie opens leisurely with the introduction of characters, the pace quickens and the tension is sustained very well. It goes to show that style and substance can co-exist in a Bond movie, which one certainly hasn’t seen in movies like Die Another Day or the immensely forgettable Living Daylights. Each character is well written and some characters given a new dimension too. The plot, while containing sufficient action, has a fair amount of emotional content too, something rarely seen in the Connery or Moore movies. While the movie has a serious undertone to it, there are some genuinely funny moments too.


Moving on to the cast. Daniel Craig as Bond is the closest anyone has come to Ian Fleming’s character so far. Craig portrays Bond as a flawed man who seems to be losing his edge, but has an unwavering sense of duty. His performance is immaculate and it is clear that he has given his all to the role. He breathes life into Bond. While Oscar considerations are unlikely, it is certainly a top-notch performance. Every Bond movie has two heroines, one a damsel in distress who is seduced by Bond and mostly dies somewhere in the movie. And then there’s one that carries on till the end. This time around, the second job is done by Judi Dench, as M. She is consistently excellent and brings an extra dimension to the character and is unlike cold-hearted decision maker she has portrayed in earlier Bond films. It’s nice to see M get her hands dirty for once.


Craig and Dench aside, the biggest strength of the movie is the antagonist Raoul Silva, played by a blond Javier Bardem. Javier Bardem is tremendous as the agent-turned-terrorist with unresolved mommy issues. There are moments where Silva is charming and humorous. There are some where is emotional. And some in which he’s downright menacing. Bardem pulls off all these scenes with consummate ease. One can safely say Silva is the best Bond villain ever. Bardem follows up his negative turn in No Country For Old Men with a completely different but nevertheless outstanding portrayal of Silva. His screen presence is outstanding. Oscar worthy performance, surely. Other cast members include Ralph Fiennes as Mallory, head of the British Intelligence Services, Naomie Harris—the inexperienced field agent and Ben Whishaw as the quartermaster.


The action scenes are superb. No other word for them. Each action sequence has been choreographed painstakingly and the end result is amazing. Right from the opening chase in Istanbul to the pyrotechnics heavy climax, the scenes are uniformly stunning. In particular, a chase sequence in London followed by a shootout is exhilarating. The music, done by Thomas Newman who has worked with Mendes before, is top notch. Every scene has music that complements it. The opening track by Adele is also quite good.


While the film boasts of so many positives, it has a few minor faults. The character of Severine (previously mentioned victim-heroine) is rather weak and Berenice Marlohe is not very good in the role.  An argument could be made against pacing, as mentioned before, but these issues are few and far between. It is as close to the perfect Bond movie as one could hope for.


While this is Bond in the 21st century, Skyfall does pay enough reverence to the Bond of the sixties and seventies and should keep old Bond loyalists happy too. The addition of two new characters which I won’t reveal should bring a smile to the faces of Connery-Moore fanboys. And the way the movie plays out in the end, it ends up as a perfect mix of old and new.


Skyfall is not only the best Bond movie to date, but also the best action movie of this year and one can only hope the next Bond movie reaches the heights this does. It is the perfect way to commemorate 50 years of Bond on the silver screen. Bond certainly will be back, and I’m looking forward to it.


BBC Entertainment’s pull-out symbolises deep flaws in the TV channel business

BBC Entertainment could not survive due to extreme fragmentation of the advertising cake and high cost of operations. But then how are so many other Indian channels surviving? By a combination of paid news and endless supply of dubious funding? If so, we have created a system by which bad channels will drive out the good ones

BBC Worldwide has confirmed the closure of two of its channels, BBC Entertainment and CBeebies in India. In a statement it said, “BBC Entertainment and CBeebies are to be withdrawn and will no longer be available beyond the end of November 2012 for viewing from India.” The closure of these channels, which were providing quality entertainment, raises a key question over the means and methods of survival by other mediocre TV channels that continue to thrive in the country.


According to data from the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), as of March 2012, there were 831 registered private satellite TV channels in the country, out of which 184 are paid channels. Maximum number of TV channels including pay, free-to-air (FTA) and local being carried by any of the multi-system operators (MSOs) is 377, while the same for conventional analogue form is limited at 100 channels. Last year, the number of TV channels in India was 745, out of which 366 were in news and current affairs category while 379 were in non-news and current affairs category. That too when the government increased the net worth criteria for those seeking permission to run TV channels in the country in order to deter non-serous players from crowding the electronic media landscape.


This shows there is no dearth of new TV channels or rather there is ample funding available for running TV channels in India. What is the source of this money? Certainly not advertising because there is just not so much of advertisement available to support so many channels. It is also not subscription because most channels are bleeding losses paying carriage fee to cable and DTH companies just to be beamed. According to the research report, called Chrome Dii R2 (Distribution Investments Index - Round 2), the carriage fee paid was Rs28 crore per year, if you were new, or Rs22 crore if you were an existing one. So, how are hundreds of mediocre channels surviving and what does it say about the quality of news and information we can expect in future?


One source of revenue is paid news and long TV commercials which encourage you buy dubious products that slim you down or gold coins that bring you luck. But the main source of funding for TV channels, especially news channels, comes either directly from politicians or dubious businessmen running chain money schemes and who want to be close to politicians. From national parties to independent corporators, everybody is interested in controlling the TV screen.


In Kerala, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) or CPI-M, controls Malayalam Communications, which owns Kairali TV and People TV. The Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC), along with four businessmen own a combined stake of 26% in Jai Hind TV that is owned by Bharat Broadcasting Network. Former minister and KPCC spokesperson Ramesh Chennithala controls the operations of this channel. Some members of the KPCC had an investment of about Rs20 crore in Indiavision channels, which is controlled by MK Muneer, former minister and Muslim League leader.


Neighbouring Tamil Nadu is really a battlefield for TV channels. Here almost every political party or politician seems to either own or control a channel. The biggest name, of course is the Maran brothers, who are grand nephews of Karunanidhi. Besides significant presence in radio and newspapers, the Marans control Sun TV, Sun News, KTV, Sun Music, Chutti TV, Sumangali Cable, Adithya TV, Chintu TV, Kiran TV, Khushi TV, Udaya Comedy, Udaya Music, Gemini TV, Gemini Comedy and Gemini Movies.


On the other hand, Karunanidhi, the patriarch of Dravida Munnettra Kazhagam (DMK), controls Kalaignar TV. His close associate M Raajhendran owns 11.3% stake in Raj Television Network, which runs Raj TV and Raj Digital Plus. Kalaignar TV allegedly received funding from the 2G spectrum deals, courtesy Andimuthu Raja, the then telecom minister.


Karunanidhi’s arch rival and Tamil Nadu chief minister Jayalalitha controls Jaya TV, Jaya Max, Jaya Plus and J Movie through a company called Mavis Satcom. Congress, which does not have a significant presence in the state, however, figures on the TV screen. H Vasanthkumar, MLA and president of Tamil Nadu commerce wing of Congress, controls Vasanth TV, while former Union minister and MP KV Thangbalu run Mega TV. S Ramadoss, chief of Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) and father of former union minister for health, Ambumani Ramadoss, controls Makkal TV


In Andhra Pradesh the oldest and biggest media empire is owned by T Venkataram Reddy (TVR), who is nephew of T Subbirami Reddy, a Congress MP. TVR owns a 21% stake in Deccan Chronicle Holdings, which has four newspapers, Andhra Bhoomi, Deccan Chronicle, Asian Age and Financial Chronicle. The TV space in Andhra Pradesh, however, is influenced by Jagan Mohan Reddy, son of the late chief minister Y Rajasekhara Reddy (YSR). While the YSR family owns Sakshi TV, NTV and TV-5, a channel called T-News is controlled by K Chandrasekhara Rao, the chief of Telangana Rashtra Samiti. N Chandrababu Naidu indirectly influences Studio N, owned by his close associate N Srinivasa Rao. Telugu Desam Party MP YS Choudhary has significant stake in Maha TV.


Surprisingly, despite having ample funding, the politically well connected Ramoji Rao could not save his Eenadu TV channels. In 2007, when Blackstone group wanted to sell its 26% stake in Ushodaya Enterprises, the holding company of ETV, investment banker Nimesh Kampani stepped in as Mukesh Ambani wanted to help Ramoji Rao at that time. Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL) had admitted that the company and its group companies invested Rs2,600 crore in Ushodaya.

Following a deal with Raghv Bahl of TV18 group, the Mukesh Ambani group later divested its 100% interest in ETV news channels, 50% in entertainment channels and 24.5% in Telugu channels to TV18.

Read: Indian media: Mukesh Ambani's growing media empire


Karnataka does not seem to have the political connections like Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh, as far as TV space is concerned. Anita Kumaraswamy, wife of former chief minister HD Kumaraswamy owns Kannada Kasturi. Rajeev Chandrasekhar, an independent MP from Karnataka, controls number of language channels. He controls Asianet and Asianet Plus (Malayalam), Suvarna (Kannada), Vijay (Tamil) and Sitara (Telugu). The Reddy brothers from Bellary own Janashri and Kannada daily Ee Namma Kannada Nadu.


In Maharashtra, several politicians control the print media. The Darda family, which controls IBN-Lokmat and also Lokmat, one of the most read Marathi newspapers from the state. Shiv Sena chief Balasaheb Thackeray is the editor of party mouthpiece Saamna, while the Sharad Pawar family controls Marathi daily Sakaal and also owns Sam TV. Former chief minister Narayan Rane own’s Prahaar, a Marathi daily and has plans to start a TV channel.


In Punjab, Sukhbir Singh Badal of the Shiromani Akali Dal owns or controls PTC, PTC News, PTC Punjabi and PTC Chak De. In neighbouring Haryana, Venod Sharma, former minister and father of infamous Manu Sharma, owns India News and Aaj Samaj.


The CPI-M’s media empire in West Bengal is controlled by Avik Dutta through the Ganashakti newspaper and TV-24 Ghanta. Dutta also controls Aakash Bangla. Interestingly, TV-24 Ghanta is a joint venture between Dutta’s Aakash Bangla and Zee group. Trinamool Congress, also have a significant presence in the media. The Mamata Banerjee-led party controls Kolkata TV and Channel 10.


Minister of state for parliamentary affairs Rajiv Shukla and his wife Anuradha Prasad control News24 TV channels through BAG Films. Anuradha Prasad is sister of BJP leader and former Union minister for information and broadcasting (I&B) Ravi Shankar Prasad.


Even when we talk about local level presence, one can easily find the political connection behind a cablewala. Several corporators and even MLAs not only own, control and operate local cable networks. Some of the biggest operators even aspire to own a satellite TV channel through partnership with either their ‘godfather’ or other prominent politician or a minister.


How expensive is it to start a TV channel? It’s not small amount for businessmen who have to make money but its peanuts for top politicians who can make a few hundred crores in one irrigation scam—enough to support the channel for years.

KPCC’s initial (indirect) investment in its news and entertainment channel Jai Hind TV, for a 51% stake was just Rs33 crore in 2007. Actually obtaining a licence for starting a TV channel in India is not that expensive. One just needs to have a net worth of Rs5 crore for up-linking of non-news and current affairs channels and down-linking of foreign channels. For up-linking of “news and current affairs” channels the required net worth is Rs20 crore for the first channel and Rs5 crore for each additional channel. While there is no official figure available as cost of starting a TV channel, according to unconfirmed sources, the cost is around Rs100 crore. The cost of operating, however, depends on the content and salaries of anchors, reporters and the cost of operating OB vans used for ‘live’ reporting, if it is a news channel.


However, when it comes to earning a profit, it is a different story altogether. None of the new media companies are have registered a profit on continuous basis. Surprisingly, many of the loss-making TV companies have time and again found new sources of funding either from overseas or by hiving off some business.


Read - Media: NDTV continues to find buyers


While poor quality channels continue to thrive with dubious funding, the better quality channels too have to resort to paid programmes. Real quality channels that do not have endless black money are bound to shut the shop like the BBC channels. And there is no immediate solution to this Gresham’s Law in action here in media, under which bad channels drive away the good ones.


Curbs on women at Haji Ali shrine in Mumbai evoke protests

The management of theHaji Ali Dargah, which is visited by tens of thousands of devotees every year, however, said women are allowed within the dargah's large and open premises

Mumbai: The city's iconic and religious shrine Haji Ali Dargah has barred women from entering the sanctum sanctorum housing the tomb of the 15th century Sufi saint, a decision that has sparked condemnation, reports PTI.
The management of the Sufi shrine, which is visited by tens of thousands of devotees every year, however, said on Tuesday women are allowed within the dargah's large and open premises.
"Women are not allowed inside the sanctum sanctorum of the Dargah," said Rizwan Merchant, trustee of the Haji Ali Dargah Trust and also a noted criminal lawyer.
"If Islamic scholars have issued a fatwa, in accordance with the Islamic law of Sharia, and have demanded that women not be allowed in dargahs, we have only made a correction," said Merchant, defending the decision.
Merchant claimed there are no restrictions as such for women devotees.
"They can read their prayers, do namaz and offer shawls and flowers. All that we are requesting to our sisters is not to enter inside the dargah," he said.
"The Sharia law claims that no woman can visit a cemetery or a grave," said Suhail Khandwani, the trustee of the Haji Ali dargah and managing trustee of Mahim's Makhdoom Shah Baba's dargah.
"We allow women in dargah sharif but not at the astana (sanctum sanctorum where a saint is buried)" Khandwani told PTI. The tomb is in essence the grave of Pir Haji Ali Shah Bukhari.
"Most of the women, almost 80% of them, agree with the decision (to impose curbs)," he claimed.
But the decision to restrict women from entering the innermost part of the shrine has not gone down plan with a women's group Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan (BMMA).
The group said it will be raising the issue with the Maharashtra government.
The decision came to light when some members of the Andolan had visited the shrine in August. After noticing that women's entry into the sanctum sanctorum was disallowed, they surveyed 20 dargahs in the city.
"The shrine trustees told us the restrictions were imposed after a woman came inappropriately dressed last year," said Noorjehan Safia Niaz, founder, BMMA, calling the decision unislamic.
Erected on a bed of rocks, about 450 metres into the Arabian Sea and off the coast of Worli in south central Mumbai, the dargah has been immortalised by Bollywood in several movies.
Sufi shrines are known for an inclusive approach to devotees, but some have started segregating men and women visitors and seven dargahs in Mumbai have banned women from entering the astana, Noorjehan said.
"We are writing to Maharashtra minorities minister Arif Naseem Khan, the state minorities commission and the trustees of Haji Ali shrine seeking steps to curb the practice," she added.
Asked what steps are the trustees taking to clear their stance, Khandwani said, "We are in the process of organising lectures to explain what Islamic laws mean."
Congress leader Digvijay Singh said he is not in favour of the decision and urged Muslim liberals in the country to oppose it.
Echoing Singh's sentiments, BJP's Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said discriminating people on the basis of caste, creed and sex when into comes to entry into a place is not right.
The decision should be reconsidered and reversed, he added.


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