Sunday Levity: Ten reasons why Bappi Lahiri is better than a thermonuclear bomb

A National Humour Rights Commission Report

At the sidelines of a G-20 summit, two bhais, one Hindi, one Chini, meet at an abandoned temple.

Mere Paas Bappi Hai
Mere Paas Bappi Hai

Chinibhai: “Look, we both rose from the same per-capita GDP rate. But see where you are now, and where I am now. Today I have tall buildings, Olympic stadiums, trade surpluses, Sovereign Wealth Funds, ICBMs and thermonuclear bombs. What do you have?”

Hindibhai: “Mere paas Bappi hai

Contrary to popular belief, the Indian interlocutor was not making a emotional argument. He was engaged in strategic signaling—sounding a subtle warning that even if the thermonuclear design didn’t deliver the expected bang, we have Bappi on our side. A keen scholar of Indian history and culture, the Indian diplomat was drawing attention to the ancient Reality Show in which the Kauravas might well have had the biggest army, but the Pandavas had The Charioteer. We all know how that war ended.

You don’t have to be a Bappitva fundamentalist to understand why Bappi Lahiri is better than a thermonuclear bomb. At the broadest strategic level, this is because while a nuclear weapon is merely an instrument of hard power, Bappida is that and more. For ten important reasons:

First, because a thermonuclear bomb has to be developed indigenously it is very hard and expensive to build one. On the other hand, not only do we already have Bappida, but he himself has never been moved by indigenousness, swadeshi and other forms of irrelevant parochialism. He’ll take whatever, from wherever and make it rock.

Second, even if you design a thermonuclear bomb, it is very difficult and very costly to test it. Bappida doesn’t suffer from similar constraints. He’ll just go ahead and test his designs—if you think it is successful, you’ll get on your feet and dance. If you don’t, then it cost you Rs 25 (in 1985 rupees) or less to figure out that you are on the sad side of the generation gap. No one will demand a ban on his tests.

Third, how easy do you think it is to increase the yield of a thermonuclear bomb? The correct answer is “not at all”. But to improve Bappida’s yield you just need to turn the knob (of the 1985 amplifier) clockwise, slowly. (Those who have done this will know that it will set-off explosions in the adjacent room, flat or town. In some localities in Tamil Nadu, it will even cause mass migrations radiating away from the said amplifier.)

Fourth, you can’t put dark glasses on a thermonuclear bomb.

Fifth, a thermonuclear bomb is useless as a store of wealth. But Bappida is India’s secret Sovereign Wealth Fund. All that gold jewelry can defend the rupee, the Indian government and the Indian film industry.

Sixth, the bomb doesn’t have a son called Bappa.

Seventh, nobody in Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Hollywood or South Bombay knows, or gives a damn about, India’s thermonuclear bomb. But they are passionate about Jimmy.

Eighth, try getting a thermonuclear bomb to sue Dr Dre for plagiarism. It can’t, and even if it did, no California jury will side with an ugly beast that doesn’t sport dark glasses indoors and wear heavy gold jewelry.

Ninth, a hydrogen bomb can’t judge a reality show.

And finally, the thermonuclear bomb can never—not in a million years—sing “Yaad aa raha hai, tera pyaar”. See for yourself:

Actually, astute as they are, the Chinibhais have known all this for some time. But they couldn’t do much about it. Not that they didn’t try—surely, you don’t think that it is a mere coincidence that that Dear Leader chap wears dark glasses—but not every charioteer is The Charioteer. Till that time, India is safe.

Those bloodstained DVDs

You can fight terrorists too—by refusing to buy pirated discs.

“If you buy pirated DVDs,” says RAND Corporation’s Greg Treverton, “there is a good chance that at least part of the money will go to organized crime and those proceeds fund more-dangerous criminal activities, possibly terrorism” (linkthanks Yossarin). Quite obviously, The Acorn agrees. The RAND study sheds more light on the links between content piracy and terrorism across the world. This link is specially relevant in our part of the world which has a major film and music industry, weakly enforced anti-piracy laws, expanding terrorist networks and nonchalant public mores when it comes to respect for intellectual property rights.

See this archived post how Indians unwittingly give money to the terrorists who kill their fellows when they purchase pirated DVDs.

Many a time in recent years, and especially after the November 2008 terrorist attack on Mumbai, ordinary citizens asked what they could do—as individuals—to fight the terrorists. Well, here’s something that could be pretty effective: stop buying pirated DVDs. Now can someone turn this into a popular campaign?

Sunday Levity: Yamma Yamma

Dancing for the Don

The venerable Times of India reports that with the heat turned on him after the 26th November terrorist attacks on Mumbai, Dawood Ibrahim is planning to…hold a grand birthday party. At an undisclosed location of course (duh!), but with the usual complement of cricketing and Bollywood celebrities, real estate magnates and international arms dealers. Why, this year a corrupt Indian politician is to come along to wish Mr Ibrahim many happy returns.

That’s just the scene for our heroes to enter as thinly disguised entertainers, do a memorable number before the climactic battle between the good and the evil. We present here a footage of an earlier operation by our band of heroes and heroines.

Intolerance insurance

Markets in everything*

If the Indian government is failing to clamp down on competitive intolerance, the film and insurance industries have devised their own solution:

Politics and public sentiment, Bollywood has learned the hard way, can wind it at the box-office. With community protest increasingly becoming part of the noise accompanying a film release, the industry has decided to hedge its bets. And what better way than buying insurance cover. Most new Bollywood films are insured against everything from bans to terrorism, says producer Punkej Kharbanda, who made the controversial Matrubhoomi (A Nation without Women).

“…producers buy cover on an approximate and not actual budget,” says a trade insider. Apart from traditional cover for cast/key members, props and equipment, raw stock, negatives and extra expenses, a film producer is also protected if a movie is hit by adverse weather or if there is an illness in the family.

“Another attractive policy,” says leading Bollywood lawyer Shekhar Menon, “is the Multimedia Liability Insurance (Errors and Omissions) which protects directors from a quiver of legal claims, including those arising from defamation, libel or slander; copyright infringement (such as in the Raakesh Roshan-Ram Sampat Krazzy 4 spat or the Manoj Kumar-Shah Rukh Khan Om Shanti Om encounter); trademark infringement; invasion of privacy, plagiarism; emotion distress; negligence and even imprisonment.” [TOI]

There you go: the insurance markets may now help define the practical limits of freedom of expression.

* With due regards to Tyler Cowen who loves finding markets in everything