Tuesday, March 03, 2009

2009

It’s quite unbelievable that we are already in the 3rd month of 2009. It seems as if it was yesterday only, that I returned to Mumbai after a couple of years in Sydney to settle here for good. But a closer examination reveals that it’s been almost 2 years since I have been living in this pothole a city, where we live in potholes, work in potholes and drive over potholes. Ok, too many potholes...

Somehow life has been an assimilation of 5-year cycles for me – where the first 2 years are damn good, the next 2 years are painful and the last year is moderate. Looking back, 1999 and 2000 were awesome years for me. I was in high school in what I look back fondly as the ‘wonder years’ of my life. Life had everything – no responsibilities, no tension, a close circle of friends, a buzzing high-school social circuit (read: girls, alcohol, parties, school fests, etc etc).

2001 and 2002 was when life took a drastic turn and everything that could go wrong went wrong. When I still look back, I can’t fathom how I could manage to pull myself such a tough phase of life. I prefer not to talk or even think about that period, but those were the 2 years that made me a man, at all of 20 years of age. 2003 was a period of transition – I moved to Bangalore for my post grad and into a completely new world.

Now onto the second cycle – 2004 and 2005 were spent on mostly on campus and partly on the beaches of Sydney. Campus time, as we all know, is the best time of our lives. It’s a time of youthful enthusiasm, of limitless alcohol, of night-long parties followed by day-long hard work (or vice versa), of everlasting friendships and of an overwhelming feeling of camaraderie and community. In short, it’s the last couple of years of youth before we fall prey to our mundane work lives, which spring us into old age before we even realize. Needless to say, for me too, it was the best period of my life.

2006 was when chaos started setting in on the work as well as personal front. 2006 was when I also made the decision to return to India and finally moved to Mumbai in 2007 into a completely new line of work. The first year at work was full of turmoil as I struggled to juggle multiple balls in the air, even without knowing how to juggle. 2008 was moderate – The bad part was that all was quiet on the work front, but the good thing was that it translated into new friendships and also into my first long holiday (Ladakh).

So that brings us to 2009. Going by the historical technical chart of my life, 2009 should be a super year. And yes – so far it has turned out to be just that. Suffice to say that I could not be happier with life (touchwood) at the moment, and I hope I can overturn the cyclicality of my life, and make this last longer than 2 years. Cheers to a happy 2009!

Afterthought: I realize that this is as personal a blog-post as I have ever written. Kind of breaks my rule of not making this a personal diary. But for once, I’ll let it be…

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

What can you and I do?

After feeling myriad emotions pass through my system, including fear, anxiety, anger, frustration, etc, the over-riding emotion that I am left with is that of helplessness. As a common man, I am powerless beyond a point, when it comes to contributing constructively in this time of crisis. And after I am done donating blood and donating money, all I am left to do is light candles, wear black armbands and indulge in mass-scale bashing of the politicians, the bureaucracy and the media.

Every place that I have been to in the last 3-4 days has had one common characteristic – a raging frustration, or rather fury, towards the government and towards politicians as a whole. Be it the office cafeteria, the dinner table at home, the conference room, the friend’s house or even the online world – everyone is indulging in a scathing criticism of the politicians.

Which reminds me that there is one more small thing that you and I can do, after we are finished lighting candles – We can vote.

Sounds lame, does it? But it’s not. Our vote is our only weapon and it can be a potent one, if used with reasonable rationality, and unity of purpose. Can my one vote make a difference? No, which is why I am appealing to you, and to everyone to join me in voting, and voting with a purpose. If we do that, we can make a difference, and I'll give you an example of how...

For years, the mystery behind the existence of ‘minority politics’ has baffled me. When I was quite young, I failed to understand how a community, which is minority by definition and existence, can be such a major cog in the political wheel? So much, that political parties give precedence to appeasing them, than to appeasing the majority.

The answer actually is quite simple. The so-called minority (with due respects) has 2 fundamental characteristics which the majority lack –
  1. They vote
  2. They vote with reasonable unity
Given this, it is always easier to target them for votes because they are going to vote in large numbers and they are going to vote (very simply) for the party which will have a more favourable stance towards them.

On the other hand, the so-called majority is completely fragmented. A large section of people do not vote, and the balance which do vote, have completely disjointed objectives. There has never been one common parameter among this group which is the driver for getting their votes. This has ensured that the community which we call the minority, is effectively the single-largest vote bank in our country. Ironically, they hold simple majority!

There is a lesson in this for all of us – on how we can influence policies by making our vote count. And now, this crisis has given us the perfect opportunity to unite in our objectives, and make our national security that one common issue which will decide the election outcome.

Let’s face it – there can be no end to bashing of the politicians and the system. After all, we live in an imperfect world. Our country is far from perfect, and the flaws will not cease to exist overnight. But we keep focusing our anguish on factors that are beyond our control, in the short run at least. So these will continue to exist in the immediate future, however much we might bash it.

Majority of our politicians will remain jokers, who will continue to be driven by their personal motives. Our electoral system will neither allow us to elect a national leader, nor will it allow us to register a material non-vote (please ignore all the 49-O mails that you have been getting). Multiple parties will co-exist and it will be coalitions, rather than public vote, which will decide the new leadership. Any change, however progressive it might be, will be met with obstacles. These are things we cannot change overnight.

However, there are certain things which we can change. We can change the percentage of the voter turnout. We can change the reasons which drive our decision to vote for a particular party. We can, in our own small way, attempt to introduce some form of meritocracy and accountability into the system. And the starting point is our decision to vote.

By threatening our existence and our right to life, the terrorists have pushed us towards a very binary decision. Very simply, my vote will go to the party which appears more capable of providing me with basic security. Through whatever means. Economic reforms, better education, lower taxes, better infrastructure, etc will not move the needle. It’s safety first for me.

It is in these times that our famed ‘resilience’ (read: nonchalance) scares me. I don’t want us to be resilient and move on. I want us to remember this incident firmly, so that our national security gets the prominence it deserves. If our politicians cannot give this issue the deserved significance, it is our duty as the public, to remind them of it. If we demand it with unity, the politicians have no choice but to make it their top-agenda. And signing online petitions and lighting candles won’t help. It’s time to make our vote count.

As I said earlier, a common man cannot do much. But the common man possibly can. Change will be sluggish, of course. It might take years, even decades for our system to change and reach the kind of efficiency we need. But let’s at least start the process.

PS: If you have not voted before, or are not on the electoral rolls, or are clueless about how to register yourself, please go to www.jaagore.com.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

The Death Wish

So, we are caught in the midst of another event, which conceptually has become quite regular in our lives, but is quite unique when you get into specifications. There are so many things that are running through my brains – so many thoughts, almost overflowing from my mind, but there’s no point in even trying to articulate them.

A few days back I saw a movie called Dasvidaniya, in which Vinay Pathak finds out that he is going to die in another 3 months and makes his final wish list of 10 things he wants to do before he dies. If ever I were in such a situation, and had ONE wish before I die, that wish would be as follows:

I would want to kill a terrorist with my bare hands.

I am serious – I would want to lay my hands on a f*cking terrorist (it would be a bonus if he were from across the border), slash off his balls, castrate him and strangle him with my bare hands till I would have killed not only his body but his spirit too. I am dead serious.

While we are talking about spirits, I am also bracing myself for the hail-the-spirit-of-Mumbai and kudos-to-Mumbai-resilience tirades. Each time I hear this, I feel like puking… Anyway, all the best and Godspeed!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The rise of Sun-Sunny

Have you guys noticed that suddenly, out of nowhere, Sunny Deol has sprung up and become the pin-up boy for comedians and mimicry artists? The guy is all over the place, be it TV, radio, stand-up comedy, advertisements, anything – and that too at the fag end of his career.

I still remember how I had to pull over and stop my car on one return journey from office, just so that I could control my laughter when I had first heard the hilarious “Sun-Sunny” snippet on Big 92.7 FM. This one has a tagline which has a Sunny Deol voice go – “Yeh sansani nahi, yeh sun-sunny hai”, and has a rather nervous Sunny talking to his dad about his insecurities. For example
Sunny – Papa, papa, maine suna hai ki Shiney Ahuja ek party me gaya tha aur use kisine pehchana nahi…
Dharmendra – (Sound of a bottle opening and a drink being poured)
Sunny – Papa, kahin mere saath aisa to nahi hoga na, papa? Ki mujhe party me log na pehchane?
Dharmendra – (Burps)
Sunny – Main isiliye daadhi-moochh waali filmen karne se darta tha papa… Batao na papa, batao na… kahin mere saath aisa nahi hoga na?
Dharmendra – (Snoring)
Sunny – Papa, papa?!?! Lagta hai fir se so gaye...
I know this sounds rather lame on paper, but has been done quite hilariously on air. At least it had the initial impact, before it became quite regular. Another channel, I think Red FM, came up with a counter, which was called “Fun-funny” and tried to portray a happier Sunny, and another channel came up with yet another Sunny Deol spoof!

Coming to television, do you remember the side-splitting image of Sunny portrayed by Suresh Menon in various spoof shows, esp Kaun Banega Champu, where he comes fully replete with a torn khakhi dress, black headband, and pointed finger that Sunny sported in the forgettable film Jeet, and did the unforgettable insect-killing jig on Yaara-O-Yaara with a not-so-feminine Karisma Kapoor?

Ages ago, when a little kid, I used to love mimicry artists. I was one of those people who would throw a tantrum for the Johnny-Lever audio cassette, and would religiously be glued to the telly on film awards nights, because some artist or the other would perform a mimicry show. I would intently listen to the impersonations and try to pick up the trick for each character.

The attempts at mimicry initially drew a lot of ridicule, primarily because at 12 years of age you have no voice to do an imitation. But at age 16, armed with a fully developed masculine voice, similar attempts drew applause. At the risk of sounding immodest, I will have to say that I was good at it.

In high school, we used to win the skits and impoofs at most school festivals – and apart from the fact that me, and another buddy possessed the perfect brains for churning out crass original humour (a talent that led me to consider a career in B-grade moviemaking), the fact that between 2-3 of us we could impersonate almost every artist worth his salt, made the difference.

I could do a good Amitabh, Dharmendra, Shatrughan Sinha, Raj Kumar, Shahrukh, Jagdeep, Asit Sen, Feroz Khan, Amjad Khan, and a strictly ok Dev Anand, Sanjeev Kumar, Sanjay Dutt, and Mithu Chakraborty. Another guy in the gang could do a great Mithun (complete with the dance jig), another did a good Sanjeev Kumar. Between us, we could enact the entire Sholay in almost real voices (even Basanti and Mausi!).

I learnt early that mimicking was not so much about copying a voice, as it was about copying a diction. More importantly if you could copy those one or two quirks well, it was more than half the job done. For example, the way Dharmendra used to say kutte, kameene and haraamzaade, the way Amitabh used to follow most sentences with a ‘Hain’, the way SRK used to quaver his voice, the way Feroz Khan said ‘Dad’ and the way Shatru said ‘Khamosh!’

Jaaved Jaffrey used to be my god – I still think he’s got the best sense of humour among the people who claim to have a comic streak. While most people would be cracking up at the imitations, I would be trying to analyze it and figure out how to do it, and then practice in the solitude of the toilet.

However, I firmly believe that some talents wear away with time. Having had no practice for almost 8-10 years, I was recently put into an embarassing spot in a public setting (albeit in a small group) with a - "He does really good impressions - you should have seen him in school" followed by "Show us at least one impersonation". The nervous AB gig that I reluctantly did sounded more like Tusshar Kapoor!

The point is, that I used to possess relative expertise in this field, compared to the every-day guy. And even with this ‘supposed’ expertise, I had never imagined that one day, Sunny Deol would become a guy people would imitate and mimic! His rise as the mimic-pin-up-boy has been completely unforeseen and mercurial. Here’s to the Sun-Sunny and wishing him luck in his latest avatar.

PS: On a slightly related note, a couple of days back we were discussing the acting capabilities (or the lack thereof) of Sunny-paaji –
A: Show me one good role or one good movie that he has done apart from Ghayal?
Me: Why don’t you show me one guy other than him, who could pull off a scene where he has to uproot a hand pump with his bare hands and f*ck the happiness of an entire nation with it?

Monday, November 03, 2008

Fashion - Kinda Disappointing

Some of my friends are of the opinion that I have changed over the last couple of months. They cannot believe that I have let movies like Drona, Karzzzzz, Kidnap, etc pass without a viewing. Its hard for them to come to terms with the fact that its been weeks since they received the dreaded phone call from me, pleading them to watch a lousy Hindi movie which they wouldn’t have dreamt of watching otherwise.

It’s true – Unwittingly, I have become choosier about the movies that I watch lately. Over the last couple of months, I have stayed away from most lousy flicks and haven’t had to plead or blackmail any of my friends to accompany me - till last week, when I did place the SOS to a few people for Heroes. (But that was only because it was a movie based on the armed forces!)

Anyway, the point is that Fashion was a flick that I watched after a reasonable drought of Hindi films, and with a lot of expectations. But, I was disappointed. I’m not saying that Fashion is not a good movie. It probably is. Like most Bhandarkar movies (unlike Corporate though) it is well-researched and has been carried through by excellent performances from most of the cast. Still, I stood disappointed.

We have all referred to Madhur Bhandarkar as a maker of ‘realistic’ films. However, this realism is not his USP. There are many such ‘realistic’ filmmakers in our country – Govind Nihalani, Prakash Jha, to name a couple. Madhur’s USP is his cynicism. He is someone who does not believe in happy endings and is quite content (maybe even delighted) to end his stories on the most pessimistic note possible.

This cynicism is what I liked most about Madhur Bhandarkar’s films, and it’s not only because I am a cynic myself. In times, when every film that you see tries to end on an optimistic or hopeful note (if not a happy note), he was the only one who had the courage to portray the harsh fact of life – that there may not always be light at the end of the tunnel.

Classic example of this cynicism was the protagonist in Chandni Bar - Mumtaz, who was subject to bar-dancing, violence, rape by her uncle, murder of her husband, and still saw no light at the end of the tunnel. She had to revert to bar-dancing and could not prevent her son from becoming a killer and her daughter from becoming a bar-girl. Even in Page 3, bad things keep happening to good people till the very end, and in Corporate too, good does not triumph over evil in the end.

So, when I saw Priyanka Chopra getting a hold over herself and strutting the ramp with full poise and élan in the final sequence in Fashion, my disappointment knew no bounds. Sadly, Bhandarkar falls prey to the typical feel-good mentality and ends the film on a very uncharacteristic note – optimism.

Madhur has oft been criticized for his narration capabilities, where he fails to seamlessly weave together sub-plots of various characters into a cohesive storyline. While he has tackled that weakness quite well in Fashion, it has come at a cost of making the film at least an hour too long.

Bottomline - I would recommend people to watch it, purely for the performances. But be armed with a lot of patience, because when the film reaches a point where you think you’ve had enough, you realize that it’s only the interval. Picture abhi baaki hai mere dost…

Thursday, October 16, 2008

From Bettor to Worse?

Close your eyes and try imagining a guy who had bet on Ganguly scoring a half century in the first innings at 1-3 odds (bugger missed it by 3 runs) and had bet on Tendulkar breaking Lara’s world record at 1-4 odds (dawg fell 15 runs short). What do you see? Maybe the hare from the Hare and Tortoise fable? Or maybe the stalking hunter from Bugs Bunny who invariably falls flat on his face at the last moment?

But I don’t see them cartoon characters, ya buggers. I see myself, and an angry, irked, frustrated version of myself! I can now relate to the agony that Tom in Tom & Jerry would be feeling, and the anguish that would be overwhelming Bluto in Popeye, after they see their nemesis turn the tables at the last minute and have the last laugh.

Anyway, coming back to the point of the post – over the last few days (my most recent failures notwithstanding), I have shown tremendous promise in the gambling/betting community through my performance and my grit and determination. So much, that the Syndicate has decided to honour me with a promotion.

So ladies and gentlemen, I am no longer your regular-next-door-bettor (Hindi translation: Khiladi). From now on, I have been bestowed with the title of “Ze Punter” (Hindi translation: Sattori). If this sector was more corporatized, I would have got my own office and personal secretary too.

For people oblivious to the betting/punting world, let me explain the hierarchy to you, in ascending order:

1. The Once-in-a-blue-moon Bettor (Hindi: Chaman Khiladi)
Description: This variety generally does not bet. But they generally have a very strong view on the future turn of events (eg. Aaj to Dravid fifty maarega hi), but they wouldn’t put their money where their mouth is, unless their ego is challenged beyond a limit (eg. Mard hai to 100 Rs laga ke dikha)
Risk Appetite: Very low till tipping point, depends on ego-size post that

2. The Wannabe Bettor (Hindi: Chooza Khiladi)
Description: These are fence-sitters, who will keep a close eye on all betting incidents happening in the vicinity, but rarely do they make a transaction. They are knowledgeable about the market, but take only occasional and small punts. Maybe they are afraid that their wives/girlfriends will find out and will beat them up.
Risk Appetite: Very Low

3. The Occasional Bettor (Hindi: Chhota Khiladi)
Description: They go for value picks only. Usually do not take outlying scenarios and play safe. Are more likely to go for Obama winning the elections over Sarah Palin having a wardrobe malfunction. Always suspect to scouting for insider info – don’t be surprised if they have already checked Palin’s bra-straps before placing the bet.
Risk Appetite: Low - but can play huge amounts on safe bets

4. The Regular Bettor (Hindi: Khiladi)
Description: You can always count on them if you want to place a bet. Betting is one of their favourite pursuits and they get withdrawal symptoms if no betting activity occurs over an extended time period. Are like Rahul Dravid – consistent and reliable.
Risk Appetite: Decent – can bet their lunch money too

5. The Punter (Hindi: Sattori)
Description: Has all the characteristics of the Regular Bettor, with a higher risk appetite, a graver hunger for punting and the added skill of creativity. These are guys who can create exotic derivatives on regular betting products – Eg. No. of runouts in a match, whether a goal will be scored through a header, no. of songs in a movie before interval, etc
Risk Appetite: Good – can bet upto their daily wage

6. The Gambler (Hindi: Juari)
Description: Is a Punter with a difference – these guys are almost compulsive in their gambling instincts and can create new gambling products out of anything. Once, at a funeral, 2 gamblers bet whether the head of the body would go at the north end or the feet. So you can imagine…
Risk Appetite: Great – can bet their year-end bonus in one go

7. The Great Gambler (Hindi: Badka Juari)
Description: No, am not talking about the Amitabh movie, but about the gurus of gambling. These guys are like the CII or FICCI of the betting world and it is their responsibility to create and expand the market. These represent the senior leadership - very much like Chidambaram and Subbarao in the current crisis in financial markets.
Risk Appetite: Excellent – can take personal loans @ 22% to bet

8. The Desparado (Hindi: Despo Juari)
Description: This guy is like the Baba Ramdev of the betting world. If the gamblers/great gamblers are like the CEOs and senior management, this guy is like a Richard Fuld. He has reached what is called the self-actualization level in Maslow’s hierarchy, as far as gambling is concerned. Is compulsive beyond redemption.
Risk Appetite: Overwhelming – usually bet anything that belongs to him (or their neighbours) – furniture, car, house, wife, etc

My gambling instincts are no secret, but you must be wondering as to what achievements would have led to this promotion. Well, in the recent past, among others, I have placed bets on the following:
- No. of corners in a football match
- First goal being scored after 27 minutes
- Ronaldo diving
- No. of catches by a wicketkeeper in an inning
- No. of run-outs in a T20 match
- No. of aces by Federer
- Winner of US Presidential Elections (on Obama)
- Winner of Big Boss (on Monica Bedi – have just received a new lease of life!)
- No. of times a senior colleague would utter a particularly favourite phrase in the course of an hour-long meeting

I know, I know… you must be thinking that I’m a give-up case already, but let me assure you I’m not so bad and these are just outlying events. If you still don’t believe me, I am willing to bet and give you odds.

A friend of mine put it quite succinctly – “Tu Bettor to pehle tha… now you have gone from Better to Worse”

PS: On an unrelated note, please join me in wishing a happy birthday to Shri Chhagan Bhujbal, thanks to whose bday celebrations at Shivaji Park, I got stuck in one of the worst traffic jams ever, while his supporters ran amok with his smiling posters on cars and buses.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Thank you Mr. Ronaldo

The last few days saw me getting quite philosophical. I’d been wondering if the world is changing and if we are becoming too righteous as a society. The events of the last couple of days only smelled of virtues, without any stink of a vice.

The Indian police finally managed to grab a handful of terrorists and performed an act of utmost masculinity (mardon waali harkat) by killing them in their own homes. Raj Thackarey managed to keep his mouth shut for about a week. The capital markets continued in their reverie without waking up to the harsh alarm bells of reality. In spite of heavy peer pressure from the Lehmans and Merrills, the likes of Morgan Stanley and Goldman managed to survive a weekend.

While I am a proverbial good-guy myself, the whole essence of humanity is the virtue v/s vice battle, the good v/s evil fight. Without the evil, the good loses its significance. What would a Ramayana be without a Ravana, what would a Mahabharta be without a Shakuni, what would Ekta Kapoor soaps be without the vamps, and what importance will Jay-Veeru have if there was no Gabbar?

I was at Sports Bar, reflecting on this philosophy and wondering if the world is coming to an end. But just when my belief in the essence of humanity was about to be shaken, something happened which restored my faith. I saw something which told me that the essence of humanity still remains and that not everything in the world is virtuous.

I saw Cristiano Ronaldo dive.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, Cristiano dived (yet again) to put my concerns to rest. For readers not well-versed with football, a dive is when a player fakes a foul, i.e. he has not been fouled, but still falls to the ground to win a free kick. And what a dive!! It was so beautiful, executed with the elegance of a Birju Maharaj, with the artistry of a Van Gogh, the craftiness of a Michaelangelo and the theatrics of an Amitabh Bachchan in the Last Lear.

I have never seen something so beautiful in a long, long time, and in the context of my mindset, it was even more beautiful that Paul Scholes’ volleyball-smash-goal-attempt against Zenit.

It was the EPL game between Manchester United and Chelsea, and in the 55th minute or so, Sir Alex Fergusson decided that it was time to please the crowd with some acrobatic stunts – so he sent his trusted lieutenant on the pitch with very clear instructions to do what he does best.

For people unaware of the tacit deal between Sir Alex and Ronaldo, here are the broad contours: For every dive, Ronnie gets a candy; for every pull at an opponents T-shirt, he gets a toffee; for every free kick won unfairly, he’ll get a milky bar, and if he manages to distract the opponent by either winking or pulling his pants down, Sir Alex would buy him a beer.

The massive crowd reception that Ronnie received (even after spending the entire transfer season begging in front of Real Madrid to buy him out), almost gave an orgasm to all the orthopedic surgeons in the Manchester area – after all, they realized that they suddenly had hundreds of thousands of people in the vicinity, waiting to be treated for a new disease called “mancho-circoma of the spine”, medical term for lack of a spinal cord. (Hundreds of miles away, Baba Ramdev watched this as he burped in contentment after finishing his sumptuous dinner, tickled his itching beard and dialed his hotline number to Aastha TV.)

Anyways, almost as soon as he was on the pitch, Ronaldo felt a surging need to assure his fans that the operation on his ankles had not affected his core skill. So he dived – to prove that despite the surgery, he could still dive with similar elegance. And what a dive! Amazing, beautiful, class!

So here I am – with renewed enthusiasm and energy, having been reassured that the basic essence of humanity is still intact. Thanks to Cristiano Ronaldo for drawing me out of a potentially lethal depression.

PS: On a more serious note, it’s a great feeling to see Arsenal at the top of the table, even though the league is just 5 matches old and they are yet to play any of the biggies. And even better to see the ugly c*nts at Man-U rotting at 15th place.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

A misunderstood man

I don’t know about you guys, but I think Raj Thackarey is a deeply misunderstood bloke. In my opinion, it’s quite wrong to put the blame squarely on Raj for whatever you see happening in Mumbai today. More than him, there are other people at fault, who need to be blamed first.

First on the blame-list is the kid who used to sit next to him in school for playing a prank on Raj and overturning (by 90 degrees) the India Map that Raj was working on in his Standard II Geography Class. Because of that incident, Raj still thinks that Bihar and Jharkhand are in North India.

Second on the blame-list is his local video-library-wala. When Raj, at a very tender age went to the local store to get a video of Tom & Jerry, the library-wala mistakenly gave him a copy of the hit Hollywood Western film “Deliverance”. Seeing the Southerners literally screw the asses of the Northerners in the cowboy flick, Raj was deeply inspired and vowed to replicate this in real life. Come on, would you blame a little kid if he got inspired by Herbert “The Cowboy” Coward? It’s the library guy’s fault.

Third on the list are his UP-friends in college, who sent him an invitation for Chhat-Pooja. For hours Raj waited on the terrace (chhat) for Pooja, but she never came. He vowed (again) to extract his vengeance. Hence his statement – “Chhatpooja is not just a religious festival, it is an akhada (wrestling ring) erected on Mumbai's chest by Bihari leaders to show their strength.”

Last on the blame-list is Rakesh Roshan. When Raj was in his formative years, he happened to see Roshan’s debut film as a director, Khudgarz, in the theatres. The plot where two chaddi-buddies Jeetendra and Shatrughan become bitter foes because an insult by the Bihari Shatrughan on Jeetu-ji stuck on in his mind.

Raj’s story was similar - He used to worship Amitabh Bachchan and kept his photo on his desk for inspiration. He used to invite AB as the chief guest at every function, and even named his son Amit, supposedly after his idol. But then, lightening struck their relationship.

Just like in the movie, Raj was insulted by Amitabh when he was not invited to the Abhi-Ash wedding. So, he decided to take the same route as Jeetu-ji took against his ‘North Indian’ friend in Khudgarz. Hell, even I was hurt at not being invited to the wedding, so how can I blame Raj-saheb?

Please note that my arguments are not based on frivolous logic like the one by a certain Saisuresh Sivaswamy on Rediff. But since he is a Westerner (as per Raj’s Class II India Map), and I have been told by his illustrious uncle that Western influence is the bane of modern Indian society, I will completely ignore those arbit arguments.

Now, having established the fact that Raj is misunderstood, let me show you two more hidden aspects of his personality – (1) his tolerance level and (2) his sense of humour.

In his article on expressindia.com, Raj says –
"Not even a single worker has offended - physically or verbally - any mediaperson so far."
I seriously think that is commendable. In the last few days, I have myself been tempted to physically as well as verbally abuse many mediapersons, especially the India TV staff when they air their fight-against-aliens campaign.

And read his Tehelka interview to get a taste of his sense of humour. Especially this piece –
Q: You are fond of Hitler. What do you like about him?
A: I like his organisational skills, the way he worked on development.
I wonder how he muffled a giggle while saying this. But then he could not hold back his laughter here:
Q: Ratan Tata is a non-Maharashtrian who has contributed so much to the state.
A: I am not against everyone — not even North Indians — I am only against those who come from UP and Bihar with an agenda. Why do these people come here and give exams for the seats in railways which should be alloted to the locals first?
Q: But should it not be competitive as in any other sector? Let whoever is better get the seat.
A: Better!! Better than Maharashtrians! I don’t want to continue with this interview. (leaves the room)
I’m sure he would have been found outside the door of the studio rolling on the floor with laughter.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Rock on - rocking

Even in the midst of a crazy weekend, I managed to catch a morning show of Rock On, and loved the film. Really loved it.

I cannot lay down a specific reason why I loved the film so much. Honestly, there’s no specific reason. The movie is nowhere near perfect, and has its own set of flaws if you want to nitpick about it. And of course, there have been movies in the past which have been technically superior, well-researched, flawless, and all that jazz. But, is spite of that I loved Rock On more than I loved these other excellent films.

The reason – Rock On managed to touch that raw nerve within me, which very, very few films can do. It’s not just the fact that this film is modeled on an urban lifestyle, in which one can find his/her own reflection and can relate to the characters within. But it’s much more than that.

If you belonged to a very close group of 3-4 friends in school/college who were inseparable and did crazy things together, you would have loved Dil Chahta Hai. If you had a deep-rooted passion for your country, you would have loved Swades. If you had a hidden desire to fight the system and become a hero, you would have loved Rang De Basanti.

Similarly, if you had a dream or passion in your hey-days, which eventually you had to shelve into the closet and wake up to the practicalities of life in your endeavour for success and stability, then there is no way that you would not love Rock On.

I can never forget the last term at IIMB, when after the release of Swades and multiple viewings of it, we kept discussing the movie in a semi-inebriated state on a block balcony, with Ye Jo Des Hai Tera blaring at full volume in the backdrop. The question invariably came up – What the f*ck are we doing with our lives? We should do something for our country, instead of becoming slaves of an MNC and then on an everyday basis complain about the state of affairs in the country. We should light our own bulbs!

Swades kept running in our heads for months, but the effect wore down sufficiently for all of us to take up MNC jobs in placement season, and half of us (including me) taking up offers overseas, with an assurance (more to self than to others) that it would be temporary. Even today the effect lingers on subtly and keeps rearing its head time and again, but does not generate enough adrenalin to trigger any action.

Rock On had a similar effect on me. The movie stayed with me through the last few nights, and I’m sure it is going to linger on for a while. The question popped up again – ‘What the f*ck am I doing with my life?’ And Prachi Desai’s dialogue rang out loud – “Mujhe aisa lagta hai ki tum sirf ek mechanical zindagi jee rahe ho.”

I think the words were meant for me – to make me sit up and think. I am increasingly beginning to feel that this film was a sign from God – for me to reevaluate my life and what I want to do, rather than sit up every now and then and ask myself – ‘What the f*ck am I doing with my life?’

But then, I don’t have the time. I have to make a presentation by evening, have an early morning meeting tomorrow, the car needs to go for repairs, I need to get a medical done for insurance, and so on and so forth. The mechanical life that I’m leading has subjected me to a state, where I think I’m just doomed to ask – ‘What the f*ck am I doing with my life?’ every now and then.

Thanks to the makers for Rock On – at least it opened the door of the closet slightly and at least it again triggered off the question. Maybe if the question keeps coming up again and again, one day I might just be compelled to answer it.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Big Boss, or Big Blobs?

Yesterday was a landmark day, when I managed to reach home by 9-30 PM! Not that my work keeps me occupied all 365 days a year, but whenever I get off early, I’m in no particular hurry to reach home – so invariably I end up meeting someone for dinner, going out for a couple of drinks, gate-crashing at some friend’s place or other. Normal home-reaching time is around 10-30 PM.

However, the last couple of weeks have been particularly crazy. So, having spent the entire weekend working (which I absolutely hate, btw), and having contracted a terrible cold recently, I decided to reward myself with an early night. So what do you do if you reach home earlier than usual? You switch on the TV.

I must say that the prime time content on television is downright lousy. Seriously. I mean, I cannot imagine anyone in his or her right mind looking forward to any of the prime time shows currently on TV. So, after spending all my energy to surf channels, in my endeavour to find at least mediocre quality entertainment, I got tired and decided to settle with Big Boss.

This was the first episode of Big Boss that I watched from the beginning. Most of the days, I reach home just in time to catch the last few seconds of the show. In any case, I get a lowdown from colleagues in office who’ve made it a betting product!

What I saw shocked me completely. Boss, it’s a show full of demented people blabbering senselessly, with the sole aim of irritating the viewer to the point of no return. It’s seriously lousy, and don’t even get me started on the quality of contestants. Some of my observations:
  • The lady called Rakhi looks like she’s come straight from an audition for the Joker role in a batman movie. And I’m sure she got rejected there for using too much make up.
  • This Rahul Mahajan is bloody all over the place – the guy has got a serious talent for blabbering, and on any 5 minutes of the show you’ll hear his voice for at least 4. Bodes well for his political career, I guess.
  • Is Ketki Dave naturally so Gujju, or is she’s trying to fit into her reel image? If it’s the latter, she should know that fellow community members like myself don’t appreciate her giving others the opportunity to make fun of us :-)
  • Raja Choudhary perpetually wears a very weird facial expression – it could result from one of 2 things – (i) acute constipation, or (ii) deep-seated sexual frustration. Odds are equal for either of the two.

  • Sambhavna something (whatever her name might be) seems to have a serious attention disorder. If only our sportsmen had the same degree of hunger for victory as she has a hunger for footage, then we would win many more medals at Olympics.
  • Ehsaan Qureshi is not as irritating as he was in the Great Indian Laughter Challenge, but in spite of that, his irritation quotient does not fall within my tolerance level.
  • Ashutosh is using the same politics that won him Roadies. But he is forgetting that he was dealing with half-brained immature teenagers there, and is dealing with very seriously demented people here… On second thoughts, not much difference.
  • Payal Rohatgi seems to be suffering from PMS these days.
  • Zulfi Syed appears relatively sensible. But that could be because he has chosen to keep his mouth shut for most part, which in itself is a remarkably sensible thing to do. In that case, he’ll be voted out soon!
  • Lastly, Monica Bedi is the perfect recipe for a winner – she has all necessary ingredients. She’s not so irritating, appears very docile and amiable, and has not got onto the wrong side of anyone in the house so far. More importantly, she has 2 aces up her sleeve – (i) the potential to trigger a sympathy wave and (ii) the phone-a-friend lifeline to Arthur Road jail. Heh!
I might end up following this show full of retards, off and on, just for cheap thrills. Anyways, if anyone’s reading this, what odds are you willing to offer to me on Monica Bedi winning?

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Tell me your dreams

A few days back, a few of us from office had stopped over for a couple of drinks while on our way back home. Quite strangely, somehow the conversation veered to a new topic (apart from the usual work cribs, sports and Katrina Kaif). We started talking about dreams – no, not the APJ-Abdul-Kalam-type dreams, that keep you awake at night. Rather, the dreams that you get when you are asleep at night.

It all started when we were ridiculing a colleague for his folly of having taken an ambitious bet on Sachin Tendulkar scoring a century in the 2nd innings of the last India-Lanka Test . Given Sachin’s form and his track record in the last innings, it was always a far cry.

When he was asked as to what led to such a moment of weakness, he promptly responded – “I dreamt last night that he would score a century!” We were speechless. “Whats more” he added, “the dream even extended to how I was laughing at all of you in office for making fun of me taking such a bet”.

So, the conversation extended to the kind of dreams we all get and which is the one (or ones) which sticks in our memory for some time. One colleague narrated how he used to get dreams in his childhood about waking up late on exam-day and missing the test. Invariably, he would wake up in a cold sweat in the middle of the night!

Another colleague pledged full support that this was his most recallable dream too. Another one always used to dream about how he was falling off a tall building. One more used to get a strange dream that someone was sneaking behind him with a dagger to kill him and he wanted to scream but somehow his voice betrayed him.

After an energetic discussion dissecting everyone’s dreams, all eyes turned on me. I had been silently listening to this conversation with a steady nonchalance.

“What?” I said
“So tell us – which is your most recallable dream?”
“I don’t get dreams. Or at least I don’t remember them”
“WTF – That’s not possible”
“I’m serious. I seriously cannot recall any dream. I personally think, I don’t get dreams.”

They didn’t believe me. But I was assertive. They told me to check with my mom whether I used to wake up in the middle of the night in my childhood. I told them I had already done that long back, and she had confirmed that I used to sleep less, but peacefully. Still they didn’t believe me and I didn’t have much to say apart from giving a reassuring nod that I was being truthful.

But I have a confession to make – I was not being entirely truthful. Please don’t get me wrong, I actually cannot recall any dreams as such. However, there has been one dream, which I managed to recall, not once but twice in the space of a week.

It would have been 3 years back when I was in Sydney, and I got the same dream on 2 nights, 3-4 days apart. So novel was this whole getting-the-dream experience for me that I got nervous and jittery and called up my friends to share the incident. While they had no reaction to my excitement/nervousness on getting a dream, they did have a reaction to the content of my dream – laughter.

So here it is (in as much as I can remember at this date) –

There’s a vast mountainous land with a heavy undergrowth and I am running through it, panting heavily. I am dressed in army overalls and an army helmet and have a machine gun in my hand (probably an AK 47). The daylight is dwindling and a helicopter is following me – the chopper was the object from which I was running.

As the chopper catches up with me, there are multiple rounds of ammunition fired at me, but like a true-blue JP Dutta protagonist, I managed to avoid the barrage. I realized that I could not run away and so I turned, fell to the ground and fired a salvo of bullets at the chopper (which was bearing an enemy flag) letting out a Sunny-Deolish scream.

The chopper bursts into flames, but enemy bullets manage to find me. I lie prostrate on the ground – dead.

This is the point at which I wake up, and surprisingly could recall it distinctly. While it was an object of intrigue for me, it turned out to be an object of ridicule for my friends, and I thought it was wise to not mention it to work-friends and get similar reactions.

Even today, the thoughts of this dream keep haunting me. For a guy who does not get any dreams, or cannot recall any whatsoever, to get such a strange one as your ONLY recallable dream is indeed quite bizarre. I still keep waiting for the night when I’ll get it again, and maybe it will fill in some missing pieces. Has something like this happened to you? Is there an odd dream that has stayed with you?

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

"Paraíso en la Tierra" - Paradise on Earth

Warning - Slightly long

There are times when you feel woefully conscious of your shortcomings. This is one such time when I really, really feel conscious of the fact that I am not so good at expressing myself in words and letters, and how I wish I was more articulate.

Yesterday night, I decided to write a not-so-long post about my trip to Ladakh and ended up staring at a blank screen for a long, long time. While the truth remains that I am not very good at putting down thoughts on paper, the larger fact is that no words can do justice to the Ladakh experience; to the landscape and panorama that we witnessed.

Ever since I have returned, people have barraged me with curious “how was it?” and I have struggled to find the right answer. Beautiful, amazing, brilliant. These are some of the adjectives I used. But the truth is that you have to go there to understand, and that is precisely what I have started telling people.

Ever since I had the trip planned, people kept telling me to take pictures – millions of them. However, trying to capture the landscape in photographs is not only a futile exercise, at times it even seems insulting.

Honestly, it is impossible to write about the trip and do justice to it. Chandni, who also went for a Ladakh trip recently, has written about her here and I wish I could be as expressive or articulate. So here I am, not sure of what to write and what to say.

I could write about the itinerary – that we stayed in the remote Vashisht (4 kms from Manali) for 3 days, before leaving for Leh by road, covering it over 3 days (easily the best part of the trip), and then spent 8 days in and around Leh.

Or, I could write about the innumerable instances when we were awestruck and dumb-founded by the sheer beauty of the landscape in front of us, and the absolute disbelief that it triggered within us with respect to its existence.

Or, I could write about the number of hours that we spent just staring at the moon and the stars completely mesmerized by their proximity and charsima.

Or, I could talk about the numerous instances when we were humbled by the hospitality and warmth of the local people that we encountered through our journey.

Or, I could talk about the times when we were embarrassed by foreign tourists (who easily outnumbered their Indian counterparts 10 to 1) with their genuine curiosity about where we Indians go for holidays, if not here.

Or, I could talk about the things to do and places to visit, which is pretty much standard (but please, please definitely do the Manali-Leh route by road and also do the Army Hall of Fame museum in Leh)

I could write and write pages, perhaps even a book. But none, absolutely none of it would prove to be adequate in expressing my thoughts, feelings and experiences. The only alternative is for you to go there and find out. So, I have decided not to write the factual details about the trip at all.

Instead, let me put down a few snippets, quotes and experiences from the journey, which might help in propelling you from your chair into forming your own travel plan for there.

*****

1. At Vashisht, we were having a late night conversation with Chris, a Swedish bloke, and the owner of the Bodh Niwas guest house, where we were staying. Chris was telling us about his love for mountains, and how we would definitely love Ladakh.

When we asked him about his return to Sweden, he said “You know, I have been traveling across the globe ever since I got onto my own 2 feet. Now, after 10 years and 46 countries, I have finally found my paradise. I am not going anywhere. Am staying put in the Himalayas here”

*****

2. Both Chotu (school pal and co-traveler) and I, suffer from a syndrome we call motion sleepiness. Basically, it is what we call our talent of being able to fall asleep in an instant in any moving vehicle– be it a flight, train, bus or car. So, we had a lengthy argument on which one of us should take the backseat on the Manali-Leh route, since the front seat taker is not supposed to sleep.

As it turned out, none of us could sleep a wink on the route, and at any point of time during the trip, we could have been spotted wide-eyed and open-mouthed, staring at the landscape and swearing in disbelief.

*****

3. On one particular spot on the Manali-Leh route, we ask Ustadji, our driver to stop so that we could take pictures. We get out of the car and sit on a rock by the side of the road. Minutes pass, and we stay motionless, staring at the scene.

After about 20 minutes, I am jolted by Ustadji’s hand on my shoulder. “Sirjee, chalein? Warna late ho jayenge…”. Shaken from our reverie, we reluctantly get into the car and Ustadji drives off. A few moments later, he remarks “Sir, aapne photu to liye hi nahi…”

*****

4. While rafting on the grade-3 rapids of Zanskar river, I am having a conversation with Phil, an Aussie who is now a school teacher in France, and is traveling with Liam, his super-enthu 12-year-old. We are talking about the places we both have been to in Australia and Europe.

“Have you seen the Swiss Alps?” he asked.
“No, not yet,” I said.
“Been to the Andes? To the Nile cruise? To the Rocky Mountains?”
“No, no and no,” I said, with a smile.
“Then you have got your planning all wrong, buddy. You should see everything else, and then come here, and then just stop traveling. Now, after this, you won’t enjoy the other places so much”

*****

5. “I went to Thailand and every 4th tourist I saw there was an Indian. And it’s almost shocking that you guys are not here at all”
- An anonymous Israeli tourist

*****

6. “Now I know why so much poetry and so many songs have been written about the moon”
– Me, in Keylong, after waking up from a hypnotic spell cast on me by the moon

*****

7. “Sir, aap hi batao - jo aadmi yahan reh leta hai, usko aur koi jagah bhayega kya?”
- Yung, our driver in Leh, when asked why he did not go to a warmer place during winters.

*****

8. “It almost seems like you are in an art exhibition, and with each step you take, God the artist, is showing off a new painting to you, each one different and better than the last one”
- An American, about the Manali-Leh route.

*****

Honestly, God has cracked it. He may have created vices, He may have created evil, He may have created poverty and disease. He may even have created people like Prakash Karat, Mayawati and George W Bush. But He has more than covered up with his artistry. Visit Ladakh, if you don’t believe me or don’t agree with me.

Now, I sincerely hope that the average Indian wakes up to the fact that there is a beanstalk which leads to heaven, right there in his own backyard.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Off to Ladakh

Finally, I've managed to take my first real holiday in my 3-year career! While I was in Sydney, all holidays used to be home-ward bound, and haven't taken any leave in the last year or so.

So, off I go for 2 weeks, to Ladakh. It's going to be one heck of a trip. Seriously, the feeling of being free from all work-related stress for 16 days, is indeed a europhic one!

I'm posting this from my phone on my way to Manali, and I still haven't gotten used to using the internet on the phone.. so more later..

Adios amigos!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Namesake

A fitting end to the “Happy Friday” was marked by a bunch of drunk friends calling me up at 2 a.m. after watching the night show of Jaane Tu, and following it up with a few (maybe a few too many) drinks.

Bunch of Drunk Friends: @#$&*#! (incoherent mumbling and shouting, which to me, resembled to be a feeble attempt at recreating the 90s hit Will Smith number ‘Getting Jiggy with it”)
Me: wtf?
[BODF continue with their cacophony]
Me: WTF?
BODF: Didn’t you see Jaane tu?
Me: No…
BODF: But you were supposed to go to the premiere?
Me: I couldn’t make it… I was in Bangalore. I’m planning to see it tomorrow
BODF (long pause): In that case we will call you tomorrow with the Jiggy shit!

I hang up, thinking on the lines of the taxi-wallah I had encountered earlier in the day – “Aaj saala din hi kharaab hai”

Come Saturday, I am awakened with an SMS (yes, on bad days, an SMS can wake me up, and on good ones a falling elephant can’t). A friend had written – “You sly dog, you didn’t tell me you were in jaane tu ya jaane na”

More bewilderment..

While on my way to the theatre in the evening, I narrated these incidents to the friends I was watching the movie with. They were of the unanimous opinion that the there would be some character in the movie which would be a sardonic, sadistic, cynical sonovabitch - in other words, a character who resembled me. Of course, they added that this character would also be handsome, intelligent and sensitive (Ok.. they didn’t, I did)

The mystery was unraveled in the first few seconds of the movie when the opening credits rolled. The main starcast had an actor named – what else – “Nirav Mehta”. Just as realization was dawning, friends broke out into an excited chatter with cries of “That’s him! That’s him!”.

For the next few seconds, I was the subject of curious glares from neighbours, trying to figure out if they had seen my face before. Some even came to me for autographs.
Ok… I added the last part, but you get the drift, right?

Watching a movie has not been so painful before (if you discount movies like RGV ki Aag, Boom, Yaadein, etc etc), as my friends decided to play the game – Guess which character is Nirav Mehta.

The opinions were divided into 2 distinct groups – one group decided that it was the Gujju guy with the peacock hair cut, very appropriately named Jigness and fondly referred to as Jiggy (now you know the connection to the Will Smith song), who gets thrown into the movie at all odd moments, for comic relief. [While we are on that, what’s with the latest fad of using Gujjus for comic relief in movies nowadays? Are all the sardars dead? But that’s the matter for a separate post…]

The other half zeroed down on the fat, balding Rotlu character who is never happy and who has an amazing capacity to hold Coke-shots without getting tipsy. I am discounting the solitary vote for the dead cat, by the way.

Anyways, this mystery was unraveled with the closing credits, when it did turn out that it was Jiggy-boy (who has done a good job, btw). But that is not the point of the post. The point of the post is to underline the quantum of pain that the Namesake has caused to me, through 2 means-

Firstly, he has subjected me to the Jiggy-jibes from almost everyone I know. I have a stinking suspicion that most of my friends became friends with me with the expectation that I would be this Gujju guy who would provide them with ample entertainment just by being, you know, Gujju. And their frustration knew no bounds when I disappointed them. Now they have a weapon to extract their vengeance.

But secondly and more importantly, the namesake has just destroyed my film career even before it could start. I don’t know if you have seen this movie called Superstar (starring Kunal Khemu in a double role). In that movie, Kunal Khemu is an aspiring actor who wants to be the next superstar, but his life goes into turmoil when a look-alike actor gets launched before he does. Obviously, his career is finished.

Same is the case with me… My potential movie career has been just killed in infancy. There cannot be 2 Nirav Mehtas in Bollywood. So now I have to either change my name to a different screen name (which is against my principles - please don’t ask me why, for I don’t know.. it just sounds good), or resign to what fate has subjected me to.

So while the world goes about its normal life, I will sit and drown myself in sorrow, and mourn the death of the next superstar. And while I am at it, let me try to shrug Mr. Murphy off my back.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Murphy strikes on a 'Happy Friday'

Murphy was a sadistic bastard. And I don’t know why he has a special liking towards me, and keeps striking in my territory. Take this for a Friday:

- I had to reach office early, which means I had to wake up early

- While I left home on time, as luck (or rather Murphy) would have it, a truck had overturned on the highway and there was a huge traffic jam

- I reached office later that I would have liked to only to realize that… (hold your breath) I had taken my brother’s laptop instead of mine (aaaargh)

- As Murphy-boy would have it, my bro had a late night the previous day and was happily snoring away, in no hurry to leave home

- Somehow, I managed to get Bhrata-shri out of bed and on his way to office, while I embarked on the 40-min peak-hour journey to his office, cursing myself every minute at the stupid blunder

- Remember the overturned truck? Well, in our country, it is considered to be inauspicious to clear an overturned truck till it has spent at least half-a-day in nirvana

- This meant that Bhrata-shri took 1.5 hours to cover an otherwise 20-min distance

- While I was waiting outside bro’s office for what seemed like an eternity, but was closer to an hour, I was confronted by 3 traffic policemen at different times asking me to take my car out of the no-parking zone…

- I almost gave them a piece of my mind – that they should be trying to overturn the overturned truck back in position… Well, didn’t I say ‘almost’.

- Just when I thought things could not get worse, I get a call from my Super-boss’ secretary telling me that my meeting with the Super-boss, which was at 12-30 was being advanced… to NOW.

- I had to tell her that I couldn’t come down – no, no, it’s not that I couldn’t come down 2 floors to his office, but that I couldn’t come down to office itself.. A suspicious secretary and a busy and impatient super-boss make a deadly combo, btw.

- Finally, bro turns up at noon, and we exchange laptops through moving cars the way smugglers used to exchange briefcases in the 70s in bollywood

- And now the icing on the cake – while on my way back, a taxi scratches the side of my car, and stops… the driver turns back and says “Aaj saala din hi kharab hai” – for once I was speechless.

Damn you Murphy

Friday, June 27, 2008

About offbeat cinema... Via Darjeeling

Before I get into the movie, I have a question – does the fact that a movie is ‘off-beat’ or ‘non-mainstream’, make it a sexier movie? Does the fact that a movie is made not for the masses but for the intellectual world-cinema-watching people, make you build a hypothesis that it will most likely be a good movie?

The reason I am asking this is that the reviews and the public opinion of the so-called intellectual watchers of cinema towards a couple of recent ‘offbeat’ movies has left me a little puzzled. I’m talking about Khuda Kay Liye and Aamir. While the world has gone ga-ga over these films, honestly, I found them to be mediocre at best.

I know that this could make me be perceived as someone who is not an intellectual movie-goer and is therefore, not the right target audience for these kind of movies. But, I beg to differ. Over the years I have loved and advocated movies of all kinds, in all languages, for all genres. Plus, I have an unusually high tolerance towards Hindi movies (the fact that I have watched Aag, Tashan, etc is ample testimony), and am not one to form a hypothesis about a movie before viewing it.

Whenever I have asked people about why they liked KKL, they’ve come up with answers like ‘It’s a bold movie, it’s unusually courageous for a Pakistani to make this movie, it’s so different from other movies, etc etc’. For Aamir, the reasons vary from ‘very good for a debut movie, a different idea, etc etc’

Now, I agree with all of these, but are they enough to make them into a good movie? I am not sure. The reasons given herein justify only the ideation of the movie, which I agree wholeheartedly with. I think both KKL and Aamir get full marks from me for intent (and so does Via Darjeeling), but not for execution. A great idea may not necessarily make a great film. So KKL and Aamir, in my opinion, do not score, where a Taare Zameen Par or a Namesake scores – execution of an idea into a movie.

Plus, I think that every movie should be viewed on a standalone basis, and not with a bias of it being from a Pakistani or from a debutante director. Any movie should have enough meat to stand the test without such handicaps. Afterall, we never went ga-ga over Suresh Raina when he scored 27 runs in his first series, just because he looked like he had talent.

Anyway, in the backdrop of this argument, let’s talk about Via Darjeeling. So, I had the privilege of getting an invitation to the premiere of ‘Via-Darjeeling’ at PVR Juhu on Wednesday. The movie was advertised as a thriller, a mystery, etc and was supposed to be about a couple who go on a honeymoon and on the last day the husband disappears. Obviously, quite intriguing.

Actually, this was not the main premise of the movie. The premise consisted of a bunch of friends talking about this incident and giving their interpretations of what could have happened. Intriguing, nonetheless! But with an intriguing premise, came a poorly executed movie.

Again, I’ll give full marks to Arindam Nandy for experimenting with a style of storytelling which is very uncommon in our movies. I’ll also give him full points for subtlety. I’ve always believed that Hindi movies should not try to handhold and spoon-feed the viewers, and Via Darjeeling incorporates this subtlety into the storyline and leaves a lot to interpretation. But apart from these 2 points, I don’t have much praise for the the film-maker.

I thought Kay Kay did well to transition from one character to another within the same storyline, but Sonali Kulkarni was wooden in her expressions and delivery. All other characters, who are excellent actors otherwise, managed to put in an average-ish performance.

Overall, I wouldn’t mind watching this movie over some chai at home on a rainy day, but it was definitely not worth spending money on (not that I had to, but as they say – time is money). Obviously, the fashionable offbeat cinema loving people will still manage to find a reason to like the movie!

Monday, June 23, 2008

Under fire

While last week was quite mundane in terms of work, there was one event that added some 'fire' to the monotony. This happened right behind my office, and I could actually see the initial glares from the glass panes in front of my workstation.

It was a regular Thursday, and I was struggling to finish my work by eight-ish so that I would not be ‘too late’ for a party, and for the umpteenth time face the ‘we knew you would be the last to arrive’ and ‘this is still is early by your regular standards’ quips.

I was on a call, when people in office raised an alarm that there was a fire in the building behind us. I didn’t pay much heed and continued on the phone, when a colleague came to my cubicle and gave me the ‘what-the-f*$k are-you-doing’ stare and pointed towards the glass pane in front of us.

One look at it and I knew it was not one of those ‘oh-I-forgot-to-put-out-my-beedi’ kind of fires. Within seconds, the building (alongwith all other adjoining buildings) was vacated. I made a grab for my laptop, my passport, my car keys and my phone, even as the security guards were frantically whistling at people, asking them to move out.

On reaching downstairs, the first reaction was that of shock – at the sheer quantity of black smoke in the air. Thankfully, the fire had broken in an under-construction site, which had few residents and very few combustible substances. Just as the question, ‘has someone called the fire brigade?’ came to my mind, 2 red fire wagons had already swerved into action. (On that point, do people know which number to call from a cell phone in case of a fire emergency?)

It was quite commendable to see the speed with which both the police and the fire brigade had swung into action, and the professionalism with which they operated. But it was quite disturbing to see hordes of people descend from all over, equipped with digicams, handycams, video recorders and of course millions of cell phone cameras, treating this event as if it was a sight-seeing attraction.

Thankfully, there were no casualties and no major injuries. It is said that something good always emerges out of a mishap. A forced departure from office at 6-30 PM meant that I was the lucky recipient of the punctuality-at-parties award for the first, and possibly the only time in my life.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Sarkar fights back

An email forward from a friend landed me on Ram Gopal Varma's blog. I strongly recommend reading it. Especially RGV's Review of Reviews for Sarkar Raj. What's special about this blog is that unlike other celebrity blogs, RGV also responds to all the comments!

In his post, RGV has just taken on all critics, and one-by-one just torn them apart.
Khalid Mohammed has made such horrendous films like Fiza, Tehzeeb, Silsilay etc. If he or anybody thinks otherwise, the whole industry knows how many actors and investors are queuing up in front of his house fighting each other to get his films made...

...Madam Deepa Gahlot has been going around with scripts to be made as films for years and most Producers get turned off in the first 10 minutes when she starts narrating and that’s the reason they never got made...

...Raja something of rediff.com is an aspiring director who literally hounds film Producers who refuse to touch him. These are just a few examples of the kind of critics we have.
While it's evident that RGV has an ego, he also has an amazing sense of humour. He may have made some of the lousiest movies in recent times, but the guy surely has some wit. Some of his responses to comments had me in splits. Here's a sample:
Comment: AAG is my favourite film.
RGV: Can you please send your picture so that I can frame it and keep it at home.
P.S: Don’t tell anybody but AAG is my favorite film too.

Comment: I believe that you can make a better comedy film than anyone
RGV: What did you think Aag was?

Comment: I kept my two month old son at home and went to see your movie
RGV: I too like movies better than I like kids.

Comment: Celeste is your biggest fan and she is a beautiful Italian damsel.
RGV: I am on my way to the airport.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Sarkar Raj over Aamir - Better RoE

Note: Spoiler Free

After many weeks, came by a weekend when I saw 2 movies in the theatres. While the IPL was on, cricket always got precedence over movies, but now it’s back to multiple-movie weekends. So, which out of the 2 movies did I enjoy more? At the risk of sounding unfashionable and non-intellectual, I’ll say it was Sarkar Raj which worked for me, over the much critically acclaimed Aamir – the reason for this was that Sarkar Raj provided a much better return on expectations (RoE).

Sarkar Raj

Sequels are always tricky. There’s a lot of baggage from the prequel that one carries into the sequel, and invariably there will be comparisons with the predecessor. Come to think of it, there’s a very simple method to making sequels work – make them better than the first movie. But very few Bollywood directors (Raju Hirani being an exception) have the maturity to focus on creating a better product.

Most of the sequels in India are not born out of a strong idea or storyline, rather they are born out of the mere success of the first movie. Honestly, I hate Hindi movie sequels, because they invariably turn out to be inferior products. So, my expectations from sequels, unless it is a Munnabhai, will always be rock bottom.

The other factor was that given Ramu’s recent track record of blockbusters (Aag, Nishabd and Go) it is very difficult for a sane man to attach any expectations with an RGV movie anymore, and this is where Sarkar Raj scores – it surprises you by being far superior to the average 2007 RGV flick!

Let me clarify one thing – Sarkar Raj fails comprehensively when it comes to surpassing, or even meeting the mark created by its predecessor. Overall it is a weak and somewhat patchy movie – but it’s still a watchable flick. Personally, I thought the performances were brilliant. Not only did the 3 main stars do justice to their price tags, even the support cast rose to the occasion. Whether it was Ravi Kale, Dilip Prabhavalkar or Supriya Pathak – their performances were excellent.

However, I have a major problem with Ramu trying to do a Tarantino, and experimenting (again) with camera angles and close ups. The fortunate ones who did not see ‘RGV ki Aag’ (ok… I confess that I was not one of them) probably do not know about this new-found fetish of his.

Critics of cinema might appreciate his experimentations, but as viewer, I cannot fathom why a director would want to cut off half the face of his protagonist from the frame, especially when he is the only guy in the shot. Again, why would a director want to defocus the face of the lead actor in a scene, when there is nothing else to focus on?

Ramu might be thinking that he is doing something cutting edge, but either he is way ahead of his times, or maybe I am too naïve a viewer to appreciate his techniques. The only shots where his experimentation did work for me was the bomb-blast shot, and the climax shot when Rao Sahib comes to visit Sarkar.

After RGV Ki Aag, I had vowed never to watch a Ramu film on the first day, and rather let someone else be the martyr. Come Friday, I could not resist the chance. But since Mr. RGV had so cleverly managed to ensure that you went to the movie expecting another dud, there was no way one could have been disappointed.

Aamir

Every movie critic worth his salt (and even others like Taran Adarsh and Khaled Mohammed) gave Aamir rave reviews. A friend of mine, who works in the field of cinema, had the privilege to watch the preview on Thursday. He called me excitedly after the show to tell me how good it was. He proclaimed Aamir to be a sure-shot success and an award winning movie, at least in the critics’ category.

When we went to see the movie, we met someone else had just come out of an Aamir show. She went gaga about the movie and told us how everyone stood up and applauded the movie at the end of the show. It was the best debut film ever, she said. So, we went in expecting to see something which would at least put an ‘Ek Hasina Thi’ to shame, as far as debut movies were concerned.

Given such Herculean expectations, I was bound to be disappointed. While, it was a commendable effort from a debutant director, and an excellent performance from a debutant actor, the movie somehow left you with a feeling that something is amiss.

Once the movie begins, you are immediately gripped by the intensity and the suspense of the plot, but it starts wearing down as it progresses. At the halfway stage, you wonder if the entire chase is going somewhere. You keep eagerly waiting for the moment when (a) you will get the answer to the numerous ‘whys’ in your head and (b) when things would turn around – but these moments never arrive.

Instead, the movie continues to run on its single-track path right through to the end (except for one small twist). At certain moments you see vague familiarities with ‘Nick of Time’ and ‘Phonebooth’, but what’s different is that unlike those movies, ‘Aamir’ could not sustain the intensity throughout. I have now decided to hunt for the Philipino flick from which Aamir has been lifted (so I have heard) to see if the original was any better.

If I had watched Aamir without having heard anything about it, I might have been praising it too. But let’s just say that for a critically acclaimed film, it has just too many ‘WTF’ moments. That said, both Raj Kumar Gupta and Rajeev Khandelwal should be applauded for brilliant debuts.

Post Script: The worst part is that I had to convince a group of friends to watch Aamir. In my eagerness to get people on board, I even agreed to one friend’s demand to watch Sex and the City next up, if she had to see Aamir then. Damn all the critics, for creating expectations from Aamir which the movie could not live up to, and hence not making it worth the pain to watch SATC now…

Friday, May 30, 2008

Women and the art of trivialization

Have you ever noticed that women have an amazing talent of trivializing things that they cannot do? I think it’s an infallible strategy, and having burnt my fingers multiple times trying to reason it out, I have finally given up.

Take driving, for instance. Those women who do not know how to drive, or rather, those women who have spent a good amount of time and effort on driving lessons, but do not have the confidence to drive on busy city roads, will never admit that they can’t drive. They will never ever say that it’s beyond their means…

Rather they will make driving appear like it’s a menial, thoughtless task which is only appropriate for the brainless, low-down species – i.e. men. Ask a woman if she drives her car, and you’ll get a reply like “You know, I love driving, but who would want to drive on these crazy roads? Only people out of their mind would want to do that… so my husband does the driving”

And ask the husband (post a couple of drinks and when he’s out of his wife’s earshot), and you’ll know that the last time she tried to take the car out for a drive, she got into a major accident… in the parking lot… while taking the car out… Well, not her fault, ‘if the car decides to act funny when she’s at the wheel’. Much as he tried, he couldn’t convince her that the car cannot be termed as acting funny, if it does not stop by itself when reversing.

So, it will never be “I can’t”. Rather, it will always be “I don’t want to”, followed by a “who in his/her right mind would want to?”

A woman who doesn’t know how to cook, will always say “Why would I want to spend 2 hours in the kitchen after a day’s hard work, when we already have a cook”. If you get the husband/boyfriend drunk, he’ll confide in you that it the last time she cooked, they had to order in … and of course, all because of the stupid microwave which didn’t work properly and burnt everything.

In contrast, men are straightforward and don’t employ such elaborate strategies to conceal their shortcomings. We always shoot straight from the hip… We have no qualms in saying that “we can’t be tidy”, or “we can’t remember birthdays and anniversaries”. Have you ever heard a man say “I remember all anniversaries, but I make it a point to not express it, because it trivializes the love, etc etc”

The interesting bit is that, when the hour of need arrives, the woman smoothly transitions from the “I don’t want to” to the “I can’t” syndrome without even letting out a whiff. She’ll lure you into doing what she should have been doing, through a clever projection of helplessness or flattery.

When it’s that time of the year to do tax planning, you’ll hear “Please do mine too na… you know I am not good with numbers (sad face)”. And when her net connection goes down, she’ll go “You are a genius with these things – can you please fix it (fluttering eyelids)”

What’s not surprising is that we always fall for it, even when we know that it’s a con-job. As they say, men will always be men.

Post Script: This post has been written in good humour, and I hope it's not construed as an open invitation for all the feminists of the world to descend here and curse me