A scene in Vivek Agnihotri’s Buddha In A Traffic Jam goes thusly: a group of 20-somethings, students at a Hyderabad B-school, are hanging out at a pub. Over beer, cigarettes, and joints, they have banal discussions about ideologies and beliefs, peppered with good-natured jibes at each other.
A girl (Anchal Dwivedi), who has clearly been instructed to act like a vamp (but with a heart of gold), is now drunk and starts talking about the concept of souls in human beings and animals. After proclaiming that her ‘spirit animal’ is a ‘bitch’, she proceeds to sing a song called 'I'm A Bitch', during which she climbs up on the bar top and strips down to her bra. Meanwhile, everyone around her, instead of looking at her funnily, sings along with her like they’re all having a moment and she’s their messiah.
If the mere idea of this scene hasn’t left you with a dumbfounded, gaping expression then congratulations, you are a potential audience member for Agnihotri’s latest film, which releases in theatres this Friday following a firestorm of controversy that erupted after a screening at Kolkata's Jadavpur University last week was cancelled, reportedly over the film's political content.
The director of mediocre commercial fare such as Chocolate (2005), which blatantly borrowed from Hollywood classic The Usual Suspects (1995), and Dhan Dhana Dhan Goal (2007), attempts to tell a story about a group of students in a business school against the backdrop of Naxalism. It begins, in Kubrick-esque fashion, with a shot of an Adivasi man chopping firewood in Bastar, Chhatisgarh, in 2000 BC, followed by a similar shot in 2014 to shows us how time has stood still there. Right off the bat, we’re made aware that this film is Agnihotri’s magnum opus — a film he ‘wants to make’ as opposed to a film he ‘had to make’.
Vikram Pandit (Arunoday Singh) is a hunky, uber-articulate student at Hyderabad’s Indian School of Business (which is also interchangably called the Indian Institute of Business at certain points — perhaps I missed something). He is passionate and idealistic. His professor, Dr Ranjan Batki (Anupam Kher), is a great deal more cynical, delivering Gordon Gekko-style speeches during classes about how corruption is actually good for the Indian economy.
Already having made a mark as a social media activist by starting something called the ‘Pink Bra campaign’ (modeled on the ‘pink chaddi’ campaign), Batki challenges Vikram to do the same with a folder of assorted documents: a manifesto of socialist ideas that the professor has long abandoned for cynicism. Vikram, who has a habit of taking neat printouts of motivational messages as well as scribbling questions and notes on his bedroom wall, reads them all over one time-lapse montage.
An inspired Vikram, now rejuvenated with basic political ideas that he should ideally have internalised and understood way before he turned 27, calls for a student meeting, talking importantly about the failings of the Indian government while his friends sit around and light up smokes, roll joints, make cellphone videos, and occasionally interject with ‘Yeah man, I agree’ or something to that effect. It’s a shockingly lazy and condescending attempt at depicting the youth as carefree, rebellious, and ultimately clueless.
Agnihotri makes it all-too-evident that the film is a treatise on a clash of ideologies in this country, structuring his screenplay in chapters and an attempt to be balanced. However, by the time the film ends, it's very clear that it is meant to be a vehicle for the liberal variant of right-wing thought.
These do not seem like students at “one of the best B-schools in the world”, as mentioned in the film. They seem to have a lot of free time and just the one professor, Batki, whom they also socialise with. Vikram finds time to go on an impromptu date with the attractive, chain-smoking Sheetal (Pallavi Joshi), who turns out to be a married woman with a hobby: selling artisanal earthenware made by tribals in Bastar, more than 500 km away.
Agnihotri makes it all-too-evident that the film is a treatise on a clash of ideologies in this country, structuring his screenplay in chapters and an attempt to be balanced. However, by the time the film ends, it's very clear that it is meant to be a vehicle for the liberal variant of right-wing thought. Aesthetically speaking, Buddha In A Traffic Jam often resembles a very elaborate Powerpoint presentation, down to tacky font choices. The chapter titles reveal ‘easter eggs’ that basically tell you what the theme of the next portion will be (‘nationalism’, ‘capitalism’, and so on). At one point, an actual slideshow of photos showing contrasting images of modern India — evidently pulled from Google Images, as one can tell from the vastly differing resolutions of each picture — appears on screen. Accompanying such scenes is a terrible, terrible score, one that also uses a lazy blues guitar riff to convey everything from terror to titillation. Ugh.
I tried my best to find solace in a few scenes that feature Kher, Joshi, and Mahie Gill, who plays an NGO worker named Chaaru, with mixed results. A few — such as a dinner table conversation at Batki’s house, an inauguration party — are reasonably engaging, thanks to the natural, improvised feel brought in effectively by these actors.
Otherwise, Gill, who seems to have disappeared from movies, puts on a questionable Hyderabadi accent and is shockingly ineffective (to be fair, Agnihotri uses her character terribly, as a tool of narrative convenience rather than a flesh-and-blood human being). Kher, who plays his cynical, guarded professor with commendable restraint throughout, nearly undoes it all in a final scene where he amps it up a tad too much. Singh is good in scenes that depict casual Hinglish conversations, and terrible in those that require him to show internal conflict or emotional depth.
His — and the film’s — lowest point comes during an unintentionally hilarious scene towards the end, where he dramatically imagines he’s surrounded by Naxalites. If that moment had ended there, the harm done by it could’ve been contained. However, Agnihotri, eager to show off his directorial skills, uses the old ‘camera attached to body’ trick and attempts to make a surreal sequence out of it. It’s like watching something made by a Higher Second Class graduate of the Anurag Kashyap School of Filmmaking.
It’s also emblematic of everything that’s wrong with Buddha In A Traffic Jam, which, aside from being a right-wing propaganda piece (although much less in-your-face than I expected it to be), is also a film trying desperately to be edgy, youthful, and thought-provoking — but in vain.
When was the last time you saw a sea this clear? If not recently, consider visiting Andaman and Nicobar. The islands are the first to welcome the monsoon, before it hits Kerala (there is also some rainfall during November). Thanks to the efforts of the government, Havelock island is now a popular eco-tourism destination. One can head to Radha Nagar beach and swim with Rajan the elephant in the limpid blue-green waters or, to Elephant Beach for snorkeling. Fishing, scuba diving and jungle treks and kayaking trips are also popular activities here. Here’s how to get to Andaman and Nicobar.
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A popular holiday destination during the winter, Kovalam is at its quietest during the monsoon season, but no less beautiful. Aside from witnessing its rain-washed beaches, one can indulge in Ayurveda therapies: several Ayurveda facilities in Kerala tout the monsoon as the best time to visit. According to them, Ayurveda’s benefits, such as the cleansing of the body, are best realised during this season. Kovalam experiences mid to heavy rainfall, so it is best to carry an umbrella at all times. The usual sporting activities are not available during this time, so instead focus your energies on some excellent local food. Try Curry Leaf on Samudra Beach or Malabar Café on Lighthouse Beach road. Here are some other excellent restaurants to visit.
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An umbrella, a camera, and a cup of hot masala chai are your best friends on a trip to the scenic hill station of Munnar. If you’re not on a romantic sojourn, that is. Munnar is also known for its Ayurveda treatments. It is advisable to book a room with an excellent view to really enjoy the misty panoramas that the monsoon brings with it. Go see the Atukkad and Lakkom waterfalls – all of Kerala’s waterbodies are a beautiful watch during this season, or trek across to Anamudi Peak and Hill View Park (keep an eye out for leeches). The tea museum, Eravikulam National Park, and Top Station are must-visits. Here's how to get there, and get around.
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Approximately an hour-and-a-half by road from Trivandrum, Varkala (a Hindu pilgrimage centre dating back to the 12th century) is a shopper’s and beach lover’s haven. It is not advisable to venture too close to the sea during the monsoons, but Varkala’s long stretch of cliffs offer spectacular views of the rain-swept sea. There are plenty of eateries and the toddy shops near Velliyazhchakkavu are a must-visit for their variety of fresh produce. The natural springs near the beach traditionally known for their medicinal benefits are also frequented regularly.
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The monsoon doesn't settle in Kerala, but moves on to Goa by the first week of June. While beach shacks are generally closed around this time, there are other interesting activities in the city to explore. The well-known Sao Joao festival takes place at this time of the year: it involves several men jumping into wells, and ponds to retrieve bottles of Feni and other presents.
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After hitting Goa, the monsoon makes a beeline for Karnataka. The well-recognised hill station of Coorg is one of the best places in the state to experience the rains along with a steaming cup of coffee. Tadiyandamol and Brahmagiri are ideal options for trekkers and campers, although one should be vigilant about small snakes and slippery paths. River rafting also picks up during the monsoon here at the rivers Barapole and Kaveri. Coorg also has many waterfalls that swell to the peak and are a delight to watch – Chingara, Irpu, Mallalli and Cheluvara are a few one can visit.
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Also nestled in the Western Ghats, Agumbe, which is often referred to as the Cherrapunji of south India, receives its heaviest rainfall between the months of June to September. It’s mist-covered forests come alive during this season: waterfalls and rivers transform from tiny streams to gushing bodies of water, and a motley of crabs, insects and amphibians are suddenly visible everywhere. The Onake Abbi Falls, Kunchikal Falls and Barkana Falls are breath-taking, and one can also visit the ARRS- Agumbe Rainforest Research Station. One can also visit Dodda Mane, where the famous sitcom Malgudi Days was shot, where visitors are at leisure to pay what they feel the trip and fare is worth.
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Famous for its flamingoes and other types of fauna that flock around, Malshej Ghat can prove a fun and comfortable monsoon trip, given its smattering of private resorts as well as campsites. Head to Darkoba Peak for some rock climbing or trekking, or simply admire the many waterfalls that seemingly sprout out of nowhere in this area.
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Situated near Satara, Kaas Plateau is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The monsoon season is the best time to visit this belt, hosting as it does over 850 different species of flowers. The endless variety of flowers blossoming underneath an overcast sky make it the perfect romantic getaway. The drive from Satara to Kaas is also beautiful with many interesting stops such as Sajjangad fort that houses the samadhi of saint Ramdas Swami, Shivsagar lake and Pateshwar, an old Shiva temple.
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There are a series of waterfalls located near the village of Thoseghar, ranging from 20 - 500 metres in height. The best time to visit these falls is during the monsoon, when there is a heavier flow of water. Even if it can get slightly crowded at the waterfalls, the area offers quiet respite from the busy city of Mumbai.
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One of the many islands dotting southern Bengal, this quiet seaside resort offers a beautiful view of the monsoon rolling in from the Bay of Bengal. A short walk through the mangroves will bring you to a seven-kilometre long beach with hard sand that makes it ideal to walk or cycle across its length. Aside from this and the rich variety of seafood there is not much to do here, making it ideal for a quick weekend getaway. Make sure you carry a flashlight and enough cash as there are no ATMs here.
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Bad roads notwithstanding, the pristine Jim Corbett National Park can be a beautiful destination to take in the monsoons as they make their way across the sub-continent. The park is partly closed during this season, effectively slowing down the rush of tourists, which can be a blessing if you are looking for some peace and quiet. While the weather can get quite humid, the forests here take on brilliant shades of green and are dotted with brimming lakes and ponds that are visited by frolicking animals and a plethora of birds.
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It rains in Cherrapunji when moisture-laden clouds approaching from the Bay of Bengal hit the Khasi hills. Most of the rain here occurs in the mornings. The city is also famous for its ‘living root bridges’ which are shaped by manipulating the aerial roots of Banyan tress across rivers streams over many years so that they can be used as bridges by people.
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Though not frequented often during the monsoon months, Shillong is at its most beautiful during the season. The sight of the rolling Khasi hills enveloped by misty clouds, stunning wild flowers and swelling waterfalls makes it worth getting drenched in the rain. The biggest advantage of the off-season, is good bargains for hotels and food. A trip to the All Saints Cathedral, and the Don Bosco Museum of Indigneous Cultures is a must-do. Shillong's golf course during this time is best avoided.
Valley Of Flowers
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Possibly one of the most beautiful treks in India, the Valley of Flowers is transformed into a kaleidoscope of wild flowers such as zinnias, petunias and poppies, between June and September. It also hosts several species of butterflies and endangered animals such as the mountain leopard and the blue sheep. A moderately challenging climb (the entire trek can take a week), the 10-kilometre valley is situated at a height of 3,600 metres above the sea level.
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Zanskar Valley, a popular trekking route during the month of January, also offers some excellent trekking trails and an opportunity to go white-water rafting during the monsoon months. One can sample some excellent food, and witness the region's colourful cultural dances at the many festivals that occur during this time (June to September).
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Often referred to as the Spa of Southern India, on account of the numerous health and wellness resorts it hosts, Courtallam witnesses heavier rains during the months of October to December, and lighter showers from June to September. It is frequented more often during the latter months for its waterfalls (Thenaruvi, Aintharuvi and Peraruvi) and scenic temples (Thirukutralanaadhar Temple and Thirumalai Kovil).
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Kodaikanal takes on a greener hue in October, during the monsoon season. It is preferable to cycle or walk around the lake instead of trekking across its slippery hills. Visitors must leave with several bottles of eucalyptus oil, which is available in ample quantity.
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The best time to visit Kanyakumari is during October, which is just before the monsoons set in.
The famous Vivekananda memorial (set amidst the sea) attracts larger crowds during this time. One can also participate in the Cape Festival, a three-day affair (celebrated around this time).