Friday, December 26, 2008

Best Hindi Songs of 2008

End of another year. Here's the list of songs (mostly Hindi films) that stood out for me (they are in no particular order of liking). Disclaimer: This in no way is an exhaustive, scientific list of all the music released this past year. It is purely based on my personal likes.

Song: Ek Lau
Movie: Aamir
Singers: Shilpa Rao, Amitabh Varma
Lyrics: Amitabh Varma
Music: Amit Trivedi

A soothing yet haunting composition by debutante music director Amit Trivedi in this independent small movie can definetely be called a theme song for a year marked by multiple incidents of terrorist induced violence in India. This one is to all those lives that ended abruptly for no particular fault of their's. Shilpa Rao's voice will be heard more and more in the coming years.

Song: Ha Raham
Movie: Aamir
Singers: Amit Trivedi, Amitabh Varma, Murtuza Qadir
Lyrics: Amitabh Varma
Music: Amit Trivedi
Another winner from Amit Trivedi. This time the lyricist and the music director contrinute towards the vocals. The use of instruments in the tune seems like a mix of Qawaali, street music, and cheap orchestras. The overall effect is spectacular.

Song: Kabhi Kabhi Aditi
Movie: Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na
Singers: Rashid Ali
Lyrics: Abbas Tyrewala
Music: A.R.Rehman

It was clearly another stellar year for ARR - JTYJN, Jodhaa Akbar, Yuvvraj, Ghajini and Slumdog Millionaire. All of the above have distinct sounds (have not heard Ghajini , hence does not feature in this list). I am not a sucker of the Gen Y genre of music but with 'Aditi', 'Pappu can't dance' and 'Nazare milaana' ARR has created anthems for this generation. Abbas Tyrewala's zany lyrics makes this one an instant hit, but not the kind which wears off after multiple listenings. This one has longevity written on it. Another reason to like this particular song is for Aditi. (uhm....yeah...mr. sappy...!)

Song: Kaahin To Hogee Woh
Movie: Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na
Singers: Rashid Ali, Vasundhara Das
Lyrics: Abbas Tyrewala
Music: A.R.Rehman

This one is one of those ARR melodies which grow on you on repeat hearings. The lyrics depict the angst and the confusion of adolescent love. It's sung soulfully by Rasheed Ali and Vasundhara Das (why do we not hear more of this girl's strong vocal chords? Remember - O Ri Chori?)

Song: Sindbad Sailor
Movie: Rock On
Singers: Farhan Akhtar, Raman Mahadevan
Lyrics: Javed Akhtar
Music: Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy
Farhan Akhtar as the lead actor - Maybe!! As a lead singer - NO WAY!!!! But, boy did he prove everyone wrong!! "Rock On!" is a winner as a soundtrack all the way. A lyricist who is 65 years old (and has pretty much written songs centered around LOVE) and a lead singer who is no singer at all. Isn't this what Rock is all about? Defying the norm or as the respected professor of Rock music, Sir Dewey Finn says "Rock is about Sticking It To The Man". Sindbad Sailor takes the cake amongst other songs from this album for it's energy, gusto and inspired lyrics. The transition from Farhan's husky voice to Raman Mahadevan's silky smooth "Tum ho To" is like eating the cream under the cracked top layer of a perfect Crème brûlée.

Song: Yeh Tumhaari Meri Baatein
Movie: Rock On
Singers: Dominique
Lyrics: Javed Akhtar
Music: Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy

Of the all the rock inspired songs from this album sung by male singers, this is one of the two songs with a female voice (the other being Phir Dekhiye by Caralisa). The guitar loop in the background in this song, has an "Indian Ocean"-esque feel to it.

Song: Jashn-e-bahaara
Movie: Jodhaa Akbar
Singer: Javed Ali
Lyrics: Javed Akhtar
Music: A R Rehman
Only ARR can deliver a Gen Y soundtrack like Jaane Tu and a soundtrack of a period film like Jodhaa Akbar. If I had to rank the songs in this list, Jashn-e-bahaara takes the crown for it's masterful composition, lilting and delicate poetry (Jaaved Akhtar) and silky smooth buttery rendition by Javed Ali. The instrumental version of this melody is to die for. Notable also is the instrumental version of Khwaja Mere Khwaja (how often do Indian composers make use of the Oboe?)

Song: Azeem-O-Shaan Shahenshah
Movie: Jodhaa Akbar
Singer: Mohammed Aslam, Bonnie Chakraborty and Chorus
Lyrics: Javed Akhtar
Music: A R Rehman

Two words to describe this: Grandeur and Opulence. This is probably one of those composition's where the movie director also is part of the creative process along with the music director. Too bad, the real Akbar never got to hear this - he would have had ARR amongst his Navratnas.

Song: Tu muskura
Movie: Yuvvraj
Singer: Alka Yagnik, Javed Ali
Lyrics: Gulzar
Music: A R Rehman
What a waste of brilliant music on this awful movie. The movie is worse than an overflowing gutter and the music is the polar opposite of that - a clear stream flowing through a valley amongst snowcapped mountains on a moonlit night. Alka Yagnik sounds like a completely different singer when she sings for ARR. Before Lagaan, her voice did not do a thing for me and then O ri chori and Mitwaa happened. She was outstanding in Taal se taal mila (Taal) and Ay Hairathe (Guru). With Tu Muskura she rightfully deserves her place as a master singer in the Hindi film music world.

Song: Jai Ho
Movie: Slumdog Millionaire
Singer: Sukhwinder Singh, Mahalaxmi Iyer
Lyrics: Gulzar
Music: A R Rehman
This is such a joyous song, you cannot help but smile and join the moves. A perfect composition for a movie that in my opinion is the Best of 2008. If you catch the movie in the cinemas (if you haven't yet....go NOW, it's the best use of your 10 dollars in this economy), the song bursts on the screen with the end credits and the entire audience sits their asses back in the seats or freeze wherever they were to get immersed in this ultimate rocker of a song. I had a gut feeling that the lyrics were Gulzar's - who else can write:
"Aaja aaja jind shaamiyaane ke tale aaja, zariwaale neele aasmaan ke tale aaja". Upon googling it, my gut feeling was confirmed. What a way to end the year!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Slumdog Millionaire


Watching Danny Boyle's Slumdog Millionaire is an experience you will not forget anytime soon. This is the same man who gave us the sticker-shock laden Trainspotting in 1996, a doomsday dystopian world thriller in 28 Days Later and then an about turn with a heartwarming Millions in 2004. With Slumdog he has once again proven himself to be a the unexpected film-maker. What I mean by that is one cannot put him in any "genre-director" bucket. Example: Hitchcock, Scorsese etc.

If I have to categorize Slumdog in some genre then I will call it an escapist-realistic-romantic-thriller-comedy movie. At the core, it's a simple story of the underdog emerging victorious in the end. The story is about a boy from the slums of Mumbai who ends up winning the "Who wants to be a millionaire?". No, I am not giving away the plot to you, believe me , I am not. It's how you arrive at this climax is what makes for a wholesome, satisfying journey. You know the feeling you get after eating a simple, delicious meal after being hungry for hours - watching Slumdog is the cinematic equivalent of that feeling. It's the brilliant screenplay of Simon Beaufoy (adapted from Vikas Swarup's novel Q & A), Anthony Dod Mantle's camerawork and AR Rehman's background score which takes the movie to the "good-just-got-AWESOME" level. They colelctively infuse tremendous energy right from the first frame of the movie which continues till the very last frame. They capture the images, colors and sounds of the underbelly of this city in a manner which has not been seen on the screen before (I can think of Meera Nair and Declan Quinn doing the same for Delhi in Monsoon Wedding). The movie offers a heady mix of sappy melodrama, realism, humor and those silly-courageous acts that you come to expect from the main protagonist.
Go watch Slumdog this winter, you will walk out with a wide smile and a full heart - despite the depiction of the grim lives of thousands of children living in these slums. Ohh, and did I mention the end credits: Spectacularly Groovy!!
Viewer Discretion : The movie is laden with profanities (Hindi and English) and some shockingly violent scenes involving children.
P.S.: To all those cynics who will say "the West only wants to see the ugly India to garner good reviews for movies set in the Indian Subcontinent", six words: Context and Honesty to the Medium.
P.P.S: I watched this movie when Mumbai was under siege by 10 terrorists in the last week of November 2008. The movie further cemented the fact that there is so much life in this city, it will take millions of terrorists with millions of guns and millions of bombs to take it away.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Friedman on Mumbai and Pakistan

I have already confessed my love for Friedman's op-ed in NY Times. His recent article on the Mumbai attacks "Calling all Pakistanis" is one of the very few logical viewpoints about the India-Pakistan situation, from the Western media. (For most part, the Western media has very little clue about the Geopolitics of that part of the world and tries to treat it as if it's curable using Advils and Tylenols. Exhibit A: Wolf "the" Blitzer).
Quoting Friedman:
"When Pakistanis and other Muslims are willing to take to the streets, even suffer death, to protest an insulting cartoon published in Denmark, is it fair to ask: Who in the Muslim world, who in Pakistan, is ready to take to the streets to protest the mass murders of real people, not cartoon characters, right next door in Mumbai?"

Friday, November 28, 2008

Dark Days Ahead

Saare jahaan se acchaa Hindostan hamaara...
Hum bulbule hain iski yeh gulistan humaara...

The last 48 hours have been a living nightmare for many. Many lives have been lost, many more to be lost. This week in Novemeber 2008 could change the course of times to come in this land of a million mutinies and counting. Once the gunfire stops and the smoke dies down, mud slinging and exploitation of the incidents will begin (rather than introspection and a measured but necessary retaliation), parties will blame each other, certain elements in the media will downplay the role of our holier-than-thou neighbors and religious fundamentalists will only add fuel to the fire. The entire country is sitting on an ever ticking time bomb - nobody knows when the clock goes silent and the bomb explodes.
The Optimist in me is trying hard to imagine a scene when a leader emerges out of this crisis who guides my home to safety - not hoping for prosperity just yet, just a safe home....Too much to ask I suppose!
Dark days.......very dark days ahead.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Richmond Half Marathon

I had signed up for the Richmond Half Marathon right after I came home after finishing the Harrisburg Half Marathon. I was on a high of finishing my first half marathon and signed up in an adrenaline rush. Little did I know that I will have little time to continue with my practice from then until 11/15/2008. I was in India for the entire month of Ocotober and did not have many opportunities to run long distances.

Weather.com predicted a rainy, wet and windy day in downtown Richmond. Thankfully, the temperature hovered around the low 60s and the rain was reduced to a drizzle by 7 AM. Getting to the event was an ordeal, the traffic was backed up getting into downtown and we (me and friend A who was also running) abandoned the car and our respective wives in it on Interstate 95 and walked/light-jogged about a mile to the start line to arrive there within a minute of the starting gun going off. No stretching, no pre-race regimens, nothing - it was the last thing I had expected how I would start this race.

Anyway, the race started and so did Sindbad Sailor on my mp3 player. All through the race I was hoping to finish gracefully and within two hours fifteen minutes. Somewhere around mile 6, I saw my timing - it was only 57 minutes and I was pleasantly surprised -a two hour finish time seemed like a possibility. I swallowed a pack of Gu and decided to make a go for it. Somewhere around mile eleven my legs started giving up and keeping the pace was becoming increasingly difficult, I realized I was slowing down and eventually crossed the finish line at a chip time of 2:03:39.

It was still a good 20 seconds faster than my time in Harrisburg. I was slightly disappointed that I did not make the two hours time I aimed for at mile six, but then realized that without practice, the above time was still respectable. I was 1275 amongst a total of 3516 runners who finished, 760th amongst all the males and 112th amongst the 227 males in my age group. As always, it was an incredible feeling crossing that finish line amongst cheering crowds. Aiming for a sub 2 hours time next time. Until then - RUN.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Dwarka-Somnath: Part 1

In my recent trip to India I visited the coastal region of the Western Indian State of Gujarat. The primary reason of the trip was to take my parents to the religious sites of Dwarka and Somnath. Before I proceed with the travelogue, I will have to confess my religious beliefs to you all - I am a non-believer when it comes to any religion. If one has to put me in a conceptual religious bucket, yes I am a Hindu by the only coincidence that I was born to a Hindu set of parents. Do I identify myself with being a Hindu? NO. The primary reason probably is because religion was pretty much shoved down my throat (just like most of us who grew up in the middle class Indian families). Anytime when I asked the validity of the religious rituals that I was being asked to perform they were met with the same answer – “Because you should”. A seed of disdain was sown and watered by the continuous “you must” attitude by the religious folks around me. It was intensely frustrating that I should spend my valuable childhood fun-time doing unfathomable archaic pujas and other rituals. All my rebellions were squashed with alarming alacrity by all the adults around me. As far as I can remember many of the family trips we took were centered on a religious site. In most cases I was dragged along by force rather than by choice. So while some of my friends took trips to such exotic sites as Mount Abu, Goa and Kashmir I was visiting another temple in some nondescript village. Guess what - the seed that was sown above, started to get rich nutrients to sprout into a healthy sapling.

As I grew older, this sapling thrived into a gigantic, strong tree. During my teenage and college years my rebellion took the shape of complete non-participation as I preferred watching pimples form on my face and then dry out, than join my God-smitten family to these temples. Now that the hormones of youth have stopped messing with my brain I regret not going on these trips - not because I have accepted the religious part of it – but because I could have visited these places and kept myself away from the “religious” aspect of it and could have explored the town/city/village. So this time when opportunity knocked, I opened the “let me be an explorer” door of my mind and dove right in. Before I go any further I would like to warn my religiously inclined readers that some of my comments might offend you and your beliefs.
Day 1 - Bombay Central Station
In order to get to Dwarka from Bombay (MNS be damned – Mumbai just doesn’t do to me what Bombay does), we boarded the Saurashtra Mail from the Bombay Central station. Train stations in India open a floodgate of sensations which cause your mind and body to react in ways that are beyond your control. The Bombay Central station was lit up for the ongoing Durga festival. There was a local band setting up a mini-stage for some kind of a performance scheduled for later that night. People from all walks of life were scurrying around in all possible directions. A unique smell that can be felt only on large train stations crowded my nostrils as I was looking for the platform number of our train. We boarded the ‘Mail’ and settled in our assigned seats. The term ‘Mail’ for a train is a leftover legacy from the Colonial years. The English introduced the rail system to India (for which I am much thankful). Back in the days, certain trains were designated to carry postal mail across the length and breadth of the country. These trains were named as mails for obvious reasons. (Incidentally, the mail has its named carved in Hindi film music history via the chartbusting hit song of 1942 Toofan Mail sung by Kanan Devi.).

Once aboard the train, my father got in his element of what fathers of my generation do – check if the seats are really our own, adjust and readjust the luggage such that it is not easily visible to thieves, lock the luggage using long windy shiny steel chains with miniature padlocks which can be opened by a simple hairclip (these chains are then looped through many hooks and joints - it’s a sight to see him retrieve his bag out of that tangle when it’s time to deboard), ensure that we have enough water to last through the journey and the list goes on. It was a good refresher for me since I had not travelled with him in ages now. Anyway, the train got on its way and people started filling up the rest of the seats at Dadar and Borivali. Pleasantries were exchanged, utterly useless information was passed amongst all parties in the coupe, such as – “I will be getting down in Rajkot since my sister-in-law lives there. Its’ her son’s Pinku’s first birthday you see. Bahut shaana deekra che.” Needless to say, I was completely enjoying myself. This was an experience that I had completely taken for granted 12 years ago when train travel was quite regular for me. Today, it was immensely entertaining and on some level comforting. Comforting to see that at the core we are all still the same – still eager to share our lives with complete strangers, still sociable, still so naïve that we don’t know that some of this information could be used maliciously against us. I have yet to see a people who are as naïve and simple as the middle class Indians. I bow to you all. We found out about everyone’s sons and daughters and in laws, and schools and jobs.

Amusing as all of this was, hunger beckoned, it was 9 PM and nobody showed any signs of getting ready for dinner. My mother understood my restlessness (aren’t mothers just great – it’s like there is an unattached umbilical cord between a mother and her offspring) and unpacked the food that she had brought with her. The rest of the folks in the coupe took the inspiration and opened their respective food packets. A thought crossed my mind – these folks just boarded the train from Borivali at 8:00 PM, they could have had their dinner prior to getting on board – why go through the hassle of packing and unpacking and eating in the train? But then I answered my own question – right from the primitive Stone Age human beings, our race has been a fan of communal eating. So, puris, aloo bhajis, parathas, dhoklas, laddoos exchanged many hands and collectively ended up in many bellies. It was an immensely satisfying meal. Believe it or not I was mildly intoxicated by the tasty food touched by many unwashed hands, the rhythmic motion and sounds of the train and the collective odor of food and people. I had not slept for the last 48 hours at a stretch and I was about to crash. I set my berth, spread a clean white sheet, placed the pillow and wrapped myself in the blanket provided by Lalu’s people and slept like a 2 year old.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

A Different Silent Deol

The Deol family, if not as high profile as the Chopras or the Bachchans, has been part of the Indian cinema for nearly 5 decades now - Dharamendra, Sunny, Bobby and most recently, Abhay Deol.
Dharamendra probably is one of the few actors who changed his on screen persona with the changing times - be it the socialist, thinker, soft-spoken gentleman of Anupama or the dashing and smart spy of Aankhen to the Jat Yamala Pagala Deewana of Aaye Din Bahaar Ke or the good hearted Raka of Seeta Aur Geeta or the extremely funny and witty Shudh Hindi speaking Parimal Tripathi of Chupke Chupke (the same year when he played Veeru in Sholay) or the terrible 80s phase of the 'Kutte-Kamine' spewing-corrupt system fighting-hero of such gems as Hukumat and Mardonwali Baat etc. I personally think his comedic skills have been criminally under-utilized by the industry.
Sunny Deol was the first of the Jr. Deols to arrive on the scene in the mid 80s with Betaab and carved his own place as the ultra-macho sleazy cop bashing (eventually Pakistani terrorists) bashing hero in Hindi Cinema with movies such as Ghayal, Damini and Gadar. He continues to cash on this very image even today and makes the producers of his movies a decent profit on the investments they make on his movies.
Bobby Deol, Sunny's younger brother was launched amongst a lot of fanfare with Barsaat and his career has never really seen a sunny day since. He is one actor who the Hindi film industry has never quite been able to figure out what to do with. He has done nothing of any significance in the last 15 years that he has been around.
The newest Deol to appear on the Hindi scene is the cousin brother of Sunny and Bobby Deol - Abhay Deol. The first time I saw this gawky, tall, unconventional looking actor in the promos of his first film 'Socha na tha', I went - Ohh no! here we go again, another product of a filmy family who has no talent and looks but has a big family name to promote him down the throats of the Indian audience (sample these - Kamal Sadanah, Akshaye Khanna, Armaan Kohli). Little did I expect this Deol to change my opinion about him altogether. He has shown an interesting and an unusual taste in the choice of roles. For a newcomer with a weighty last name he has done roles which are the polar opposites of what the Jr. Roshan, Jr. Bachchan and the rest of the filmy offspring gang has played. He plays the everyday guy in most of his movies, characters who you will meet at bus stops, shops, local trains or Government offices. He has shown incredible maturity in depicting these characters - check him out as the court-wedding-witness-for-hire in "Aahista Aashista" or the PWD engineer in "Manorama - Six Feet Under" (IMO - his best work so far). His portrayal of Satyaveer Singh in Manorama is a very careful observation of the daily life of an ordinary working man living in small town India (watch his body language, his dialogue delivery and his eyes). In his forthcoming film "Oye Lucky Lucky Oye", he plays the character of a charming swindler/con-man allegedly inspired by a real life character.
As Hindi cinema is gradually breaking new grounds in the type of movies that are made these days, Abhay Deol belongs in the very small list of actors who are branded as "thinking actors" but in my opinion are just silent heroes who do their jobs of playing everyday characters with a simple and straightforward honesty. Believe me, playing these characters is a lot harder than playing superheroes or the lovey-dovey Rahuls and Prems. Looking forward to more of this Deol's movies.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

POSSIBLE

What happened in the late hours of November 4th 2008 only cemented the fact that anything is possible in this country built on the philosophy of - "You will be given every opportunity to be whatever you want to be". More power to Democracy and People's Will and Faith in Dreams.

Friday, October 10, 2008

MIA for a while

Will be travelling to the some of the Westernmost parts of the country in the state of Gujarat. Will be visiting the holy city of Dwarka first - really looking forward to visiting the remnants of the city mentioned in the Hindu mythology. Will proceed to Somnath from there. This temple has been ravaged multiple times by many Muslim rulers/invaders. The current structure was created under the supervision of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. Detail travelogue and pictures to follow in a couple of weeks.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Happiness

I am currently in India on an official + personal trip. I am spending my first week in Mumbai at our office in Powai. I have been here for about 4 days now and there was something I noticed consistently - I look around me and I see smiling people everywhere - the young recruits in my office, the office boys, the cab drivers, the construction workers on the roadside, the mall crowd, the hotel waiters, the kids at the night school (ran in the parking lot of our office by some of the employees), the annoyingly chirpy teenagers flowing in and out of the numerous Pujo and Dandiya pandals strewn across the city, the security guards (you see them a lot in Mumbai - A LOT), the bus drivers etc. All this, despite the horrendous traffic jams, the constant communal tension and violence, the bomb-blasts, the hot and humid weather, the exhaust of a million vehicles, the power-cuts, the drinking water and food shortage, the floods of the monsoon, the plummeting sensex, the rising inflation, awful television shows, Himesh Reshamiya.....the list is endless. I keep poking myself to ensure that I am not dreaming or hallucinating.

I was washing my face to get rid of the grime that I collected from my recent rickshaw trip to a nearby restaurant and while I was shocked at the blackness of the water draining through the sink, I looked up in the mirror and saw a perma-smile plastered on my wet clean face. I guess, it's hard not to get infected by this undercurrent of joy you see on a million faces in this city.

Disclaimer: This is not meant to be a comparison of a Happiness quotient between two nations, neither is it denying the fact that there are probably a lot more unhappy faces around me. It's an observation and not an analysis.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Standing in the Bread Line


Me and A took this picture of us standing in the Bread Line at the FDR memorial in Washington, DC. This was meant to be just a fun photo opp, but with the current economic crisis, who knows this might be a reality for a lot of folks out there. Hoping that "This too shall pass"!

Sunday, September 07, 2008

A Personal Achievement


Today I finished my first half marathon (13.1 miles/21.1 KM) in 2 hrs, 3 minutes and 59 seconds. I had caught the "running" bug about a year and half ago, but I did not plan on running long distances then. I was just thrilled by the feeling when your feet hit the pavement and propels your body forward, there was something liberating about the act of running. I was hooked, then over the course I ran about four 5 K races and then decided to take the plunge of running a half marathon. About 4 months of training and waking up at 6 AM on Saturday mornings to run 10 miles finally paid off. I had set myself a goal of finishing the marathon in two hours and fifteen minutes, but I blew that target by about 11 minutes.


The feeling of crossing the finish line while being cheered by total strangers was incredible. I must say that I am addicted and plan to run many more half and full marathons (already signed up for the Richmond Half Marathon -November 15th).


P.S:- The post does sound self-adulatory and narcissistic, but I think a first Half Marathon gives me the bragging rights.


Sunday, August 31, 2008

Gulzar Kuch Khoye Huye Nagme - 7

Movie: Namkeen (1982)
Music Director: RD Burman
Singer: Kishore Kumar





I had planned to write about this song for a long long time now. I came across this post today and I think it describes all that I feel about this song and much more. I am not even going to try write anything more about it. Read it for yourself.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

The Third Election

The November 2008 Presidential election would be the third for me. Seeing yesterday’s resounding speech by Obama and talking to a friend of mine about the ongoing political games in the country made me think about my perception of these elections. As far as I can remember, I have never been overtly interested in politics and elections. In my teenage days I was quite callous to politics even though all the adult members in my joint family were quite opinionated politically and had different beliefs and loyalties to different political parties. I turned a deaf ear and a blind eye to all the discussions and debates around me. I wouldn’t say that over the years since then interest has increased, however I can now say that I understand (if only at a high level) the political leanings (left vs. right), the election process and the political machinery to a certain extent.
Year 2000: Bush Vs Gore
I was about 8 months old in the country and did not really care about anything other than slowly absorbing the new world around me. The entire primary season, the campaign leading up to the now infamous election results went by completely un-noticed. Only on the day that people started talking about the big Miami-Dade fiasco that I tuned my television from Seinfeld to CNN. I did not understand what the fuss was all about, but just by the looks of it, I liked Al Gore and wanted him to come out victorious. Anyway, we all know what happened and then I got to witness the Gore concession speech. Just because I was living in the Washington DC metro area, I and a couple of friends attended the inauguration of Dubya on a cold January afternoon. The only image that stayed with me from that day is a homeless man holding a huge banner on the National Mall which said “Grand Theft Election”. That was 8 years ago.
Year 2004: Bush Vs Kerry
This time around, I knew how the system worked – the primaries, the caucuses, the debates, the nominations, the conventions and all the other shenanigans. I was living in Harrisburg, PA that year which happened to be the capital of a swing state and hence was under the spotlight in the campaign. My parents were visiting during the primary season and I explained the process to my father. He was quite impressed by the debates, the process and the transparency of the whole thing. He got to see Kerry speak on the steps of the Pennsylvania Capitol when Kerry visited the burg. I was also intrigued by the process and was actually looking forward to the election results in November 2008. We all know what happened thereafter. That was 4 years ago.
Year 2008: McCain Vs Obama
I am back in Washington DC this year and I must say I have come a full circle. I have been chatting a lot with a friend about the elections and the candidates etc. Over these conversations I realized that I am back to being that teenager again. I have become apathetic and aloof to this election. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not because I am not entitled to vote, or it’s not my country. I am still contemplating on what is it that changed? I have simply stopped caring. No candidate or no speech (no matter how rousing or earnest and honest it is) seems to stir me. The outcome of the elections does not matter, how we get to the outcome does not matter and what happens after that does not matter. I am trying to tell myself that it should matter and that all this is not a farce, but every time I try to reason with myself, all I hear is – “What’s the point? What a waste of time!”. I only feel a tremendous hollowness in everything the candidates preach. The ads on TV make me cringe, the slogans and the promises bring an involuntary cynical expression on my face and my hands immediately reach out to the remote to search for any channel that plays “Seinfeld”.

Friday, August 08, 2008

OUTRAGEOUS - Part Deux

I ranted about the ridiculousness of American television broadcasts of international events here. Today the National Broadcast Company did it again. The Beijing Olympics opening ceremony is not being telecast live. Because the execs at GE (parent owner of NBC) in their peacock sized brains can think only about the moolah that will be generated by broadcasting the ceremony during primetime, so the North American audiences can watch it per their convenience at 7:30 PM with their TV dinners and beers and then run to the stores to buy all the fancy products advertised during the broadcast. So all of us peacock-pestered folks will have to wait to watch the spectacle which the 90% of the world population has already experienced. One of those instances when capitalism stinks.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Comfortably Numb



Hello?
Is there anybody in there?
Just nod if you can hear me.
Is there anyone at home?
Come on, now,
I hear you're feeling down.
Well I can ease your pain
Get you on your feet again.
Relax.
I'll need some information first.
Just the basic facts.
Can you show me where it hurts?

There is no pain you are receding
A distant ship, smoke on the horizon.
You are only coming through in waves.
Your lips move but I can't hear what you're saying.
When I was a child I had a fever
My hands felt just like two balloons.
Now I've got that feeling once again
I can't explain you would not understand
This is not how I am.
I have become comfortably numb.

O.K.
Just a little pinprick.
There'll be no more aaaaaaaaah!
But you may feel a little sick.
Can you stand up?
I do believe it's working, good.
That'll keep you going through the show
Come on it's time to go.

There is no pain you are receding
A distant ship, smoke on the horizon.
You are only coming through in waves.
Your lips move but I can't hear what you're saying.
When I was a child
I caught a fleeting glimpse
Out of the corner of my eye.
I turned to look but it was gone
I cannot put my finger on it now
The child is grown,
The dream is gone.
I have become comfortably numb.

Most of you who have ever listened to the music of Pink Floyd, the cult band of the 60s/70s, know this number from The Wall. I have my own distinct memories of when I first listened to this ballad. Why do you say, I am bringing up this song today?

Last week, two more Indian cities fell victim to the terror that has been hounding the country for decades now. More people die, more fingers are pointed, the media screams with made-up pathos, we “tch tch tch” the victims for a day or two and then the blood is hosed away, the pieces of flesh and bones are picked, the bombed vehicles impounded and we all move on. Have you noticed that lately this “Moving On” is happening with more and more alacrity?
This is not how we were – we used to have a passion for fighting for our rights – we consistently endured and drove away external invasions for centuries - from Alexander to the Queen. Today, we cannot beat the demons within ourselves, today our passions are reduced to IPL, the capitalist way of living, fast cars and voting for IDOLS – you get my drift. Not that there is anything wrong in nurturing a passion for these things, but where is our fighting spirit when it comes to fighting for the basic needs that a Government should provide its population – clean water, electricity, food, and above all SAFETY for its hardworking citizens. We take to the streets to oppose the scantily clad cheerleaders, to protest against a painting, to protest against a bridge in the ocean, against a book or even a Rakhi Sawant - but when it comes to bringing our rulers to task for the lack of basic needs we look the other way. Where has that fire gone? Where has that spirit disappeared? Have we all become “Comfortably Numb”?

(More information about the song here)

Monday, July 21, 2008

The Candidate


I was out on a walk after dinner today and found myself strolling in the National Mall. It was a hot and muggy evening - typical for DC in July. There was a huge crowd sitting on the lawn facing the US Capitol. A huge white screen was setup on the greens between 4th and 9th streets. It was getting dark and I found out that they were going to screen a movie on that giant white screen. I found a nice patch of green for myself and settled down.

The movie being showed tonight was the 1972 Robert Redford movie "The Candidate". I had not seen it and thought would stick around. There could not have been a better movie in that setting in this political climate. Here goes the plot - spoilers ahead.

The race for the Senator in California is dominated by a sixty something running Republican Senator Jarmon. There is no Democratic nominee who will run against him and his victory is almost certain. Luke, a campaign manager (played by Peter Boyle - the foul mouthed Frank Barone from Raymond) persuades a handsome, dashing, liberal activist -Bill McKay (a brilliant Redford) to join the race. McKay hates politics and politicians (he is the son of the ex-governor and has fallen out with his father for these very reasons). He is happy fighting for the issues that he believes in. Luke promises him that this race will give him an audience for his cause and he can say what he wants to say, after all he is going to loose anyway. McKay falls for it and announces his nomination. Things take a positive turn because of his outspoken and frank speeches, people see a "Change" in him and his numbers start catching up with Jarmons.

The rest of the plot is about how McKay falls prey to the media branding and his voice changes to to a political mush and hollow-speak that he despised to begin with. For example McKay brands himself with the cheesy campaign line "For a Better Way, Bill McKay"!! (it could very well have been "Change"). The movie just goes on to impress the fact that little has changed in 36 years.

The movie is a direct jab at the political machinery prior to any big election. It is all the more relevant today - there are obvious comparisons between Jarmon and Senator McCain : He is old, is experienced and is a Republican. On the other hand McKay is Obama: He is young, inexperienced, handsome, charming and a Democrat. But the movie is not about Republicans or Democrats it's about how individuals loose their individuality in this system of political campaigning. They become the puppets at the hand of the media and the campaigners that surround them.

McKay makes a brilliant inspiring speech in the movie, which has the crowd up on its feet cheering him - he is loving it...he is enjoying every bit of it...he is drunk on the adulation. The speech is played repeatedly on different occasions. On his way to one such campaign event he recites the speech in the car mocking at it...Redford is absolutely brilliant in this bit. Watch it to believe it. That one scene pretty much sums up the entire point of the movie.

In the end when Mckay is declared the winner he pulls Luke in a room and asks him bewildered - "Luke! What do we do now?".

A gibbous moon had risen behind the Capitol dome and the air was filled with the cheers from the crowd. Ironically, in the coming months on these very lawns we will probably witness a "Bill McKay" being sworn in as the Nation's first Black President. "Change" as they say is coming....or is it?

More information on the "Screen on the green" series here.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

God and Coca Cola?


SERIOUSLY?
(Open image in a new window)

Monday, July 07, 2008

Let’s Start Over

Caution: Long and extremely opinionated post.
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I am an optimist and have always been one and not just because I have lived in the USA for most the past decad (I have noticed that most of the imports from the third world nations to the USA are infected by hopeless optimism after spending a couple of years in this land of the “Free”). Even in situations as grim and hopeless as they can get, a tiny flickering flame of hope kept burning and pulled me out of most situations. OK, before you start thinking that I have had a horrible life full of miserable situations (the kinds you see the protagonist of the 80’s alternate wave of Indian cinema), let me tell it straight – I have had quite an uneventful life: my parents have raised me with care and have provided me well, have a loving and beautiful spouse, I did fairly well in my studies and secured better and better jobs at regular intervals, I own two properties on this planet, blessed with good health and enough wealth to live a comfortable life and have plenty of good friends strewn across the globe. So what then you say this post is all about? What is it that I want all of us to “start over”?

Let me go back in time. Summer 1993, I am in my first year of engineering and my first year of living outside of the protective enclave of my parents’ house. It’s a time when I am quite nervous of being so far away from home, excited about the new found freedom and scared witless of the ongoing hazing (ragging). One such evening I was hanging out with SI and CK who lived in the hostel room right opposite that of mine. We got to talking about – what else - the most important topic a couple of 19 year olds talk about – the future of Our World. The discussion was where the world is heading in the next 20 years – destruction or peace. Even though I was slapped about a 30 times just an hour ago at a hazing session and my cheeks were burning as if I had live ambers placed in my mouth, I had not had a decent home-made meal in about 20 days, did not know if I am cut out for Engineering, had no idea where my life was heading - the eternal optimist in me did not hesitate or even blink once to say “Duh! PEACE, of course”. SI and CK smirked at me and said in unison - “Destruction, of course”. Well, how does one settle such a matter of supreme discord between friends? How else, but with a wager! We decided to meet after 20 years in the summer of 2013 to see who is more right. (Yeah! that’s how corny and silly youth is, but I yearn for that corniness, silliness and the arrogant ignorance of that age now - fodder for another post).

Here’s a glimpse of the state of the World in 1993:
- The first Gulf war had ended
- India and Pak were fighting in their own ways over Kashmir
- Bombay had witnessed serial bomb blasts in March 1993
- Israel and Palestine were as always were at loggerheads
- The Soviet Union had collapsed giving birth to many small nations
- The USA was bombing Eastern European nations (The Bosnian conflict)
- North Korea was, well – North Korea
- The Rwanda situation was brewing slowly
- Afghanistan was looking forward to elections in 1994
- Terrorism was not a global phenomenon
- Global warming was an elitist term and was sneered upon

The situation was overall grim. My take was, well it can only get better, right? WRONG. It’s the summer of 2008 and this is how the world looks today:
- The second Iraq war has claimed thousands of soldier’s and civilians and there is no end in sight
- Afghanistan is a nation that has been gangraped by the world and continues heading towards more despair (if that’s at all possible)
- India and Pak have fought one small war in Kargil over Kashmir and the issue is still simmering with both nations coming oh so close to a nuclear fallout
- Bombay witnessed three more serial bomb blasts, many other Indian cities were bombed (Delhi, Hyderabad, Jaipur)
- Israel and Palestine continue to fight and again no end in sight,
- Israel & Lebanon have exchanged some fireworks
- North Korea: status quo (they claim they will declare their nuclear capabilities)
- The world meekly watched one of the largest genocides since the Holocaust in Rwanda
- Terrorism is now a global phenomenon: USA, Bali, Spain, London – countries and places where terrorism was only a foreign phenomenon has experienced their share of terrorist activities. Newer avenues of bio-terrorism are being used and explored
- Global warming is NOW and HERE

These are only a few examples, I am not even getting into the counts of nuclear war-heads, the other atrocities and wars perpetrated (and continue to) by the ex-Soviet nations and China (do not mean to single only these two nations out, there are many more, these two are just convenient). There is no point mentioning the natural calamities (earthquakes, tsumanis, volcanoes, tornadoes, hurricanes) since they are not in our control to a large extent (I am not getting into the debate of if Global Warming is causing a marked increase in the number of floods, famines, food shortages, etc.)

Now, if this was your dear son’s or daughter’s report card, what is the inference you would derive? You would not be sleeping a sound sleep anytime soon, knowing what you know and where your son/daughter is heading to – Failure. The world as we know today, my dear friends is also heading towards that inevitable DISASTER and it is getting there with reckless speed. You see, there is a reason I have become a pessimist in this matter. I understand that I should be looking at the efforts that are being made towards peace and such, but honestly, just based on numbers and statistics - no emotions and no subjective analysis - what would any educated person conclude? The efforts towards healing this world of ours are not nearly even close to the colossal magnitude of destruction that’s happening every minute.

I guess it’s nature’s way of telling us that we have crossed the peak in it’s cycle of creation and nearing the bottom of the arc. We have lived here long enough, long enough to have devoured every single available resource, long enough to have loved and hated each other enough, long enough to have not learnt from history and the natural cycle of creation and destruction. Its time, we will have to start over.
What then, you ask is my solution? I have none. Before you rule me out as a non-believer, a cynic and an eternal pessimist, let me stop you right there. I am an optimist when it comes to human beings and humanity and individual achievements, I just don’t trust Governments anymore. These Governments in the name of protecting the interests of its people, empower themselves and create this pseudo atmosphere of a free world while keeping its peoples even more oppressed and under the control of it’s iron fist (a not so obvious version of Big Brother from 1984?). It does not matter who makes up these Governments – Right wing or Left, Republicans or Democrats, Congress or BJP, Labor or Conservatives or Communists – they are all the same. Most of these Governments do not even acknowledge that there is a problem in the way the world functions today. The Governments of the under-developed world do not know anything about governing and hence start pillaging it’s people, the Governments of the developing world want to maintain the “developing” tag to keep filling it’s coffers with more aid money and last but not the least – the Government’s of the developed world want to keep the rest of the world from joining them. Do I need to explain why?

SI & CK – you win and I loose. Hunh! To think about it, is anyone really winning here?

Sunday, July 06, 2008

The Greatest Tennis Match in History

Rafael Nadal of Mallorca is the new Wimbledon Men's Champion. Today he defeated the five time champion and World number 1, Roger Federer in a 5 set emotionally charged roller coaster of a match. I am willing to go so far as to call this the greatest tennis match I have ever witnessed and feel extremely lucky to have seen such a great performance by tennis' two great players. The Rafa-Fed rivalry is one of Tennis' greatest rivalries (Bjorg-McEnroe, Sampras-Agassi, Evert-Navratilova, Graf-Navratilova are some others). These two champions are not only great tennis players but have deep respect and humility for each other's game. It could not have been more evident than today, amongst the million flash bulbs on a near dark Center Court of the All England Lawn Tennis Club. This is what Fed had to say after the trophy presentation:
"I tried everything, Rafa is a deserving champion. He just played fantastic. It was the worst opponent on the best court." He was emotional alright, he would have surpassed Bjorg's 5 consecutive victories today, he would have made history. His tennis coupled with his modesty is what makes him a true sporting legend and not just a statistical champion.
As for Nadal, he is truly the deserving champion, an aggressive player with nerves of steel and grounded feet. It was the longest Wimbledon Finals ever played - 4 hours 48 minutes of unscripted thriller tennis, two rain delays and all shots from the tennis book and more. Rafa had 4 Championship points before he eventually stopped the Federer Express (65 consecutive wins on grass).
He is not ready to call himself a great player yet - "He's still No. 1," Nadal said. "He's still the best. He's still five-time champion here and I only have one, so for me it is very, very important." More power to you Rafa.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Gulzar: Kuch khoye huye nagme - 6

Every Hindi film music aficionado knows about the greatness of this man named Sampooran Singh Kalra aka Gulzar. We have all heard his famous songs a thousand times now, such as: “Tere bina zindagi se” from Aandhi, “Hazaar Rahen” from Thodisi Bewafayee, “Mera kuch saaman” from Ijaazat, or “Kajra re” from Bunty aur Babli. This series is about those lesser known songs penned by this master poet.
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Movie: Omkara (2006)
Music Director: Vishal Bhardwaj
Singer: Suresh Wadkar


(part of the song from 3:40 onwards)

Jag ja ri gudiya
Misri ki pudiya
Meethe lage do naina
Nainon mein tere, hum hi base the
Hum hi base hain, hain na?
O ri rani, gudiya,
jag ja, ari jag ja, mari jag ja.

Halka sa kosa,
Subhon ka bosa,
Maan jaa ri, ab jaag ja.
Naak pe tere, kaatega bicchoo
Jaag ja, tu maan ja
Jo chahe le lo, dashrath ka vaada
Nainon se kholo ji raina
O ri rani, gudiya, jag ja
Ari jag ja, mari jag ja.

Kirnon ka sona,
Os ke moti,
Motiyon sa mogra.
Tera bicchauna, bhar bhar ke daroon,
Gulmohar ka tokra.
Aur jo bhi chaho, maango ji maango,
Bolo ji, meri maina.
O ri raani, gudiyaaaa,
Jag ja, ari jag ja, oye jag ja.

Jag ja ri gudiya
Misri ki pudiya
Meethe lage do naina
Nainon mein tere, hum hi base the
Hum hi base hain, hain na?


Vishal’s Omkara was an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Othello. For those who do not know the plot of Othello, here’s a brief background because it is essential in understanding the subtle possessiveness, anger and jealousy in the words of this song. Omkara (Othello), who is a dark skinned average looking guy, is deeply, madly and intensely in love with Dolly (Desdemona) who is a fair and a beautiful maiden. She loves him back equally, but Omkara is not quite sure about her love. His close aide Langda Tyagi (Iago) pollutes his mind further by hinting that she might have feelings for Kesu (Cassio). This leads to Omkara constantly questioning Dolly's love for him.

Now equipped with this background, go back and read the lyrics one more time. You will notice the insecurity in - “nainon mein tere hum hi base the, hum hi base hain, hain na?” – “I was the only one for you, I still am the only one, Am I?”

His intense possesiveness and desperation in owning her by every which way possible (despite the fact that she belongs to him already) is evident in –
“jo chahe le lo, Dashrath ka waada” – take what you want from me, I promise you just like the promise made by Dashrath.
Here, Gulzar has weaved in an analogy by measuring the integrity of Omkara’s promise with that of Dashrath’s – the king of Ayodhya who sent his dear sons to exile just to honor his promise that he made to his wife Kaikeyi. Many a poets have used different ways of comparing lover’s promises in their songs – my promise stands till the end of time, till the end of the universe, till the day I die - on and on and on. The Dashrath’s promise analogy however trumps all of the above - it feels more real, more understandable and more achievable.

Gulzar has a fascniation with the “gulmohar” flowers. These trees are found in the tropical countries and bloom in late spring/early summer. They bear non-fragrant,deep red colored flowers. Another song with the mention of these flowers is “Gulmohar gar tumhara naam hotaa” from “Devata”. Here, once again he mentions these flowers in the following line:

tera bichona bhar bhar ke daloo, gulmohar ka tokra
Aur jo bhi chaho, maango ji maango bolo ji meri maina

- I will spread basket full of gulmohar flowers on your bed.
More about this line later in the post.

Outside of the poetry, the music and the singing of this song is completely in sync with the mood. Suresh Wadkar makes a rare appearance and his delicate rendition elevates Vishal’s composition. Minimal use of instruments and the tune of the song give it an easy hummable quality. Suresh Wadkar infuses a child-like innocence and a suggestion of violence at the same time in certain lines - “naak pe tere kaatega bichoo” - a scorpion will bite your nose - and “ari jag jaa…mari jag jaa..” - please wake up, wake up you dead one. A part of this song makes another appearance later in the movie and this one line takes a whole new meaning in that scene.

(Second version of the song from 3:20 onwards. Could not find better quality video links)
Rememeber the "Gulmohar" line that I mentioned above and said I will revisit it? Watch the video, Dolly is wearing red, Gulmohars are red. Get it? Bravo Vishal. (A very well-written review of Omkara here)

OUTRAGEOUS

OUTRAGED.....The Wimbledon men's semi-final between Safin and Federer is not being telecast live on any American TV channel. Shame on you ESPN, shame on you NBC. Some ridiculous contract arrangements has prevented ESPN to broadcast the match live and NBC cannot do without their Today's show. So here we are, following the match on wimbledon.com when there are 14,000 channels dedicated to sports in this country. Give me my State controlled Doordarshan any day, they would telecast even the Davis Cup matches live.
DAMN YOU ESPN, DAMN YOU NBC.

HAPPY INDEPENDENCE DAY.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

One down, One to go

There are two important days in your life, the day you are born and the day you know why.

Need to work on the "why"!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Pump More Oil Baby!!

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/22/opinion/22friedman.html?ex=1371787200&en=3c18c6b8b5bb4a3e&ei=5124&partner=permalink&exprod=permalink

YES...YES....YES!!! I am surprised only this one journalist is talking so loudly about this. With great power comes great responsiblity - cheesy as it may sounds, it's time this country leads by example. Pumping more oil and off-shore drilling ain't the way to go. Why should I be surprised? - short-sightedness and instant gratification is what this Govt stands for anyway. Stimulus checks, phone taps, bomb far-off countries and now - pump more oil.
On his recent trip to Europe Mr Bush was not greeted with many protestors like in his past visits, the reason - he is so unpopular and boring, people don't even want to come out to protest anymore. Leave already.
(Disclaimer - I am not a supporter of the Reps or the Dems, I generally do not believe in Govts, Right or Left, Dems or Reps, BJPs or Congs - more on this on a post I have been working on for a while now)

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Movies For a Lifetime - 2

The Apartment
Director
: Billy Wilder
Year: 1960

Countless movies of the ROMCOM genre (romantic comedies) owe it to this gem by Billy Wilder. It has it all - the boy-meets girl situations, the funny one liners, the smart coincidences and the “awwww” inspiring moments – the whole package.
The Apartment is a story of a single man CC Baxter (Jack Lemmon) who lives in a New York apartment and has a desk job at an insurance firm. He lends his apartment after work to his supervisors for their various extra marital liaisons. In return for these favors the bosses give favorable reviews for CC Baxter’s evaluation at work.
One such evening, Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine), the elevator girl, who is having an affair with Mr. Sheldrake (Fred MacMurray), the big boss at the firm has an argument in Baxter’s apartment and tries to commit suicide. Baxter and his doctor neighbor save Fran and hide the fact from the police and Fran’s family. Fran spends two days in Baxter’s apartment recovering and the predictable happens. Both Fran and Baxter end up loosing their jobs and Baxter eventually falling for Fran.
The Apartment won the best picture academy award that year. The movie is more than a romantic comedy, it shows the white collar working class struggle that was emerging in the United States of the 60s. Some of the scenes in the movie - like the opening sequence when Baxter steps out of his apartment, takes the elevator to his floor in the skyscraper where he works and settles at his desk is brilliant piece of cinema. It’s a wonderful satire on the miniscule existence of an individual in the daily grind of the corporate world. Look around, you will see many Baxters (you included?).
The dialogues are full of witty one-liners that seem effortless and appropriate. There are many instances of the play with words by adding “-wise” at the end of sentences or words. For example – “And that’s how it crumbles….cookie-wise”.
Shirley MacLaine’s portrayal of Fran Kubelik is a combination of the right portions of fragility, strength and a puppy-esque innocence. Jack Lemmon plays CC Baxter with tremendous nervous energy. His journey from an opportunistic single man struggling to make his mark in a vast organization using whatever means possible, to a self-confident person taking ownership of his acts and his life in general is a treat to watch.
Classics are movies which stand the test of time, 48 years later, “The Apartment” still makes you smile and feel the chemistry between Fran and Baxter. The screenplay of this movie should be (it might be) part of the syllabus of a film school. It has the right balance of comedy, satire and sadness.
Just when you think the script is headed towards the typical formula-esque direction, the movie ends in the famous scene of Baxter and Fran playing a game of rummy on New Year’s eve. Baxter says to Fran “You hear what I said, Miss Kubelik? I absolutely adore you”. A typical script would end with Fran looking at Baxter all teary eyed and then kissing him. Well not here, she hands him the deck of cards and says “Shut up and Deal!” Now that my dear friends is one reason why this movie is many Everests above the rest.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Bachpan ke din

In early 2007, while in India, I visited Sewagram, a small village near Nagpur. This place is famous for an Ashram of Mahatma Gandhi. It was a hot April afternoon and there were not many visitors at the Ashram. I had the whole premises to myself. It's a very peaceful, simple and a quiet place. Regardless of what your opinions are about Gandhi, it's quite a humbling experience to see the lifestyle of this man who shook the mighty English empire.

Anyway, as I was browsing through Ba Kuti (Kasturba Gandhi's hut), I came across a bunch of little kids who were also spending the afternoon at the Ashram. They were from a nearby school and their teacher had left them on their own in the Ashram for a little while. I started chatting with them and they were quite intrigued by the camera hanging around my neck. I happened to capture some photos using my less than amateurish photographic skills. I feel that their expressions conveyed a lack of any judgment, opinion and bias. Their smiling faces are simple and pure. If you look at pictures of adults, you can see a hint (sometimes more than a hint) of the corruption from our experiences while growing up. Adulthood robs all of us from this "simplicity". I guess this is what is called "The loss of innocence".






Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Sydney Pollack - R.I.P


He was no Spielberg, Hitchcock, Wilder, Welles or Scorsese when it came to making movies that were trendsetters or genre-benders, but he did make movies that made a distinct mark of their own. Sydney Pollack - the director, producer and actor died today at the age of 73.

I have seen some of the movies that he directed, which include his famous pairing with Robert Redford - Out of Africa (for which he received his only Academy award out of the three nominations), The Way we Were and Three Days of the Condor.

Out of Africa remains my personal favorite amongst the movies he directed. The movie had all the right ingredients of a classic - stellar actors in Redford and Streep, an epic tale, sweeping cinematography of the lush African landscape, a soul-stirring score and a great script . This movie is about a story of a married Danish Baroness, Karen(played with aching honesty by Meryl Streep) falling in love with a lonely, dashing and free-spirited hunter, Denys (who else but Redford could have played him) . If you have seen the movie you will realize the intensity of the following dialogue:

Denys:You've ruined it for me, you know.
Karen: Ruined what?
Denys: Being alone.

If you haven't seen it yet, go rent a copy today and experience it.

Sydney Pollack also appeared as an actor in movies such as Eyes Wide Shut , more recently in Michael Clayton (which he also co-produced) and had repeat appearances as Will Truman's dad on Will and Grace. He also formed the production house Mirage along with Anthony Minghella who passed away earlier this year. Together they produced movies such as Cold Mountain, The Talented Mr Ripley and Michael Clayton. Both of them will be missed.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Travel Idiots

“Travel Idiots” is a term I use for those who constantly whine/complain when visiting different destinations. To me, travel is experiencing a different place, a place that is unlike where you are from, a chance to soak up the food, sights, sounds and the little unpleasantness that comes packaged with unfamiliar surroundings. However, if I am traveling with people who are constantly whining about why the place is so different, I scream inside me – “WHY IN THE FIRST F’ing PLACE DID YOU LEAVE YOUR SAD LITTLE SACK TO COME ALL THE WAY TO ROME AND COMPLAIN ABOUT NOT FINDING TACO BELL OR NOT UNDERSTANDING THE SUBWAY SYSTEM?”

People have fears of all sorts of things - monsters, darkness, rapists, serial-killers, earthquakes, heart-disease, fire etc., what I fear the most is being stuck with these Travel Idiots on one of my travels. And when I say travel, I don’t mean that I have to be in an exotic destination, it could be the town in the next state 100 miles from where I live or it could be the North Pole. This creed of whiners will complain about everything:
Parking whiners:
- They are visiting New York City or any other big city and complain that parking is hard to find or is expensive. My answer to them “Did you not know this beforehand? If you did, why did you not leave your gas guzzling butt ugly mini-van in your fancy suburban house, or if you intend to bring it because of your lazy ass babies then be ready to shell out a hundred bucks for parking or go around blocks a thousand times looking for a spot on the street.”
Public transportation whiners:
- They are visiting San Francisco and complain that the pubic transport system is hard to follow, “It’s so much easier and intuitive in New York City, this is just old fashioned and plain retarded”. To them I say “Can you get to Fisherman’s wharf from where you are standing in your Subway from New York City? So you are stuck with this for now, so while you sit there and criticize to your heart’s content, I am hopping on this slow and rickety cable car, buh-bye!”
Weather whiners:
- They are visiting Rome in July and are whining about the heat and humidity, I say to them “of all the beauty that is around you, of all the centuries of history residing next to each other or on top of each other, of all the sensual pleasures the city has to offer, you are complaining about the heat? You deserve to be butchered in the Coliseum at the hands of a Gladiator”
Food whiners:
- They are visting Asheville or Austin (or some such place that prides itself in allowing only local restaurants to run businesses within its city limits), and are craving for Applebee’s or Pizza Hut and will go to the world’s end in looking for one (yes, there is this group of folks who actually consider Applebee’s as a gold standard in dining experience. More power to them). To them I say – “you should have never left your strip-mall heaven Suburbia, United States”.
Language whiners:
- They are visiting Switzerland and complain that they cannot follow directions or restaurant menus – “Is it French? Is it German? How do I know what I am ordering?” To them I say “why come all the way to this Alpine heaven and then want the menus and the food to sound and taste the same as wherever you came from?”

The list goes on and on, you get my drift.

To me the very essence of traveling is experiencing a different place and everything that comes with it – the good, the bad, the ugly; opening myself up to the idea that it will be different; it will not be like whatever I am used to. It could be dirty, it could be clean, I could have a horrendous lunch or a great dinner, you enjoy it regardless – you say “well that was something new…hmmm didn’t know artichokes could be made to taste like feet”. You get lost on a random street 20 blocks away from the museum you wanted to be at, you say “ohh well, let me check this neighborhood out now that I am here”. You see that the only restaurant in the village is serving whatever they cooked that day, you say “let me try this, I am not going to be in rural Greece again, am I?” You want to sleep so bad after a day of exploring Rio, and you come across a street festival on your way to your hotel and decide to stop by and end up spending the night reveling with the locals. Whatever it is, remember you will not be at that place again ever (in most cases)!! You have plenty of time to sleep when you die, I say. For now, travel and wherever you go - be a sponge, soak it up and bring it back with you, it will enrich you in more ways than you can imagine.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Juno - A re-review

Someone once said that "Each one of us is born to play at least one role in our lifetime". This applies to Ellen Page's performance as Juno. She was born (or "borned" like a character in the movie says) to play Juno. Watched this little miracle of a movie again today on pay-per-view.
Juno is written by first time writer Diablo Cody and second time director Jason Reitman (impressive directorial debut with Thank you for smoking) . The movie is a comedy about a mid-western teenage girl who finds herself unexpectedly pregnant and the events that follow. The movie deals with a very serious subject with quirky wit and non sappy sensitivity.

The movie might make some viewers cringe with its outward callousness towards the issue of teenage pregnancy. However, underneath that outward appearance is a fact that once it happens, there are only two ways to go about it - just as Juno says - "nip it in the bud" (there it is - an example of the callousness....) or "have the baby". If the girl decides to have the baby, it's the family and friends or any other support system that she might have that will be elementary in making the girl's life easier after she has committed this ghastly mistake. Juno is essentially about that. It's about family and friends accepting you no matter what mistakes you commit (you get pregnant or you are caught cheating at a test...not the same ballpark, but you get my drift).

Coming back to the movie - the script and the dialogues are extremely witty and funny. I have not met any teenager who talks like Juno does. She is way too smart for her age, but then she is one of a kind. She uses a hamburger phone and wears flannel but still uses lip-stick. She seems strong and mature for her age, yet she is confused when it comes to grown-up decisions and about the choices life has to offer.

Other than the main character of Juno, the supporting cast has been written with great care and detail - Michael Cera as Paulie Bleeker plays a typical geeky diffident teenager with his now characteristic subdued and awkward demeanour.

Alison Janney as Juno's stepmom Brenda is fiesty and very much the under-educated lower middle class middle-aged woman who does not necessarily like her step-daughter's haughty nature, yet feels protective and instictvively motherly when towards her when the situation demands of it. Watch out for her in the scene in the clinic with the radiologist.

J.K.Simmons who plays the character of Juno's father, Mac Mcguff, is a far cry from his cigar chewing editor of the Daily News in the Spiderman movies. His character is obviously upset by his daughter's situation - he says after knowing that Juno is pregnant "I thought you were the kind of girl who knew when to say when". But he also understands his daughter and the choices she has made and gets to accepting them and tries to make the best of the situation.

Jason Bateman (of Arrested Development) and Jennifer Garner play the couple Mark and Vanessa, who will adopt Juno's baby - "They looked pretty even in black & white", says Juno after seeing their picture in the local newspaper. Their relationship and characters are very well-defined even in the littel screen time they have. She is the prim-proper soft spoken rich wife, he - a boy trapped in a man's body and a ill-fit marriage. Their fights are also very quiet just like the pastel colors of the walls of their house and furnishings.

Olivia Thirlby plays Juno's air-headed best-friend Leah who is the exact opposite of Juno - she is pretty and comes out as a very shallow person compared to Juno. After my first viewing of the movie, I thought a girl like Juno can never be a friends with a girl like Leah, but then I realized that when you are young you do not choose your friends, you become friends with whoever stays next door or whoever sits next to you at school.

Rainn Wilson (Dwight Schrute from The Office) plays a miniscule role of the drugstore clerk and has some of the movie's funnies lines.


There are scenes of incredible strength in the movie, to name a few:

- When Juno finds out that she is pregnant there is a scene where she makes a noose out of rope-candy and pretends to hang herself from a tree, and then ends up eating the candy in frustration. The scene speaks of a lot of things (IMO), she wishing that killing herself would be easier than facing the situation, but then comes to terms with herself and eats the candy signifying her strength and her innocence at the same time

- The scene where she breaks down in the minivan on the side of a road after realizing that Vanessa and Mark are breaking up and that her dream of giving her unborn baby a dream home is not going to happen. Her facial expressions show the emotions she is going through, her naivety that she believed that there is a perfect family somewhere out there (unlike her own), her realization that Vanessa is probably good enough to single-handedly raise her baby, her breaking down under the pressure (note her quivering lip) of knowing that she has to make a deicision about the life of the thing growing in her yet again and then the eventual making of the decision

- The scene when she comes back home after having made the decision in the above scene where she plucks a flower from the yard of her house and gently rubs it on her pregnany belly - "Sometimes you don't realize how much you love your own home unless you have been some place different". This is where IMO she comes to terms that other houses and families might look pretty and cool but her own family or home is not that bad at all.

- The scene where Juno's dad is caressing his daughter after she has delivered the baby and says "You will be back here honey someday, on your terms". What a scene and what a line!!


There are many funny and witty lines in the movie that draw a chuckle even after the movie is over. Few examples:

Juno to her dad - I'm losing my faith in humanity.
Juno's dad - Think you can narrow it down for me?

Rainn wilson the drugstore clerk seeing Juno shake the pregnany test stick with a positive result - That ain't no etch-a-sketch. This is one doodle that can't be un-did, homeskillet.

Leah after Juno tells her on the phone that she is pregnant - It's probably just a food baby, did you have a big lunch?\
Juno screaming with labor pains asking for the spinal block (epidural) - You mean I have to wait for it to get worse? Why can't they just give it to me now?
Brenda - Well, honey, doctors are sadists who like to play God and watch lesser people scream...

Juno to Paulie looking at his running shorts - Wow your shorts are like especially gold today.
Paulie - My mom uses color safe bleach.
Juno - Go Carol.

Vanessa asking if Juno will accept them as the parents for her baby : You think you're really going to do this?
Juno MacGuff: Yea, if I could just have the thing and give it to you now, I totally would. But I'm guessing it looks probably like a sea monkey right now and we should let it get a little cuter.

More quotes here.

It's hard to believe that you actually smile at the end of a movie about teenage pregnancy. The issue is definetely not something to smile about, it's a hard fact of the society we live in today. Not all girls are fortunate enough to be like Juno, majority of them end up messing up their own lives and their babies' lives, but we can only hope that at least some of them have an ending like Juno had.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Mere Piya Gaye Rangoon

The world is trying to help the devastated Irrawady delta as a result of the Cyclone Nargis. The military junta in Burma has been much criticized for its method of dealing with the tragedy. India shares a sizeable border with Burma and has had close ties with the country in the colonial days. There was a large Indian population in Burma in the early 20th century. Indians had businesses, jobs and owned a lot real estate in this city. Rangoon, in those days was a thriving centre of commerce and a beautiful city. It was also a vacation destination for the rich Indians from cities such as Calcutta and Bombay. One such mention of Burma and Rangoon in the Indian pop-culture of that era can be found in a song from a movie named Patanga made in 1949. The song was sung by Shamshad Begum (I do not know the male voice). The song is a playful melody and must have been a smash-hit in those days.



The military junta drove out most of the Indian population from Burma. Today, India is nothing but a silent observer to the tragedies that unfold in this once close neighbor of hers. Hopefully a hundred years from now, Burma will be a democracy and will re-establish its relations with India and the Indian people. Until then hoping for quick recovery for those affected by this tragedy. Click here if you would like to do your bit to help in this tragedy.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

How to PIMP a Sunday afternoon

Back in the days when I was living in Pune, one of the default things to do on a Sunday afternoon was to head down to a street food hawker on Aundh Road at around 3:30 PM and enjoy a freshly made wada-paav, two cups of extra sweet chai - one to wash the wada pav and the other to savour with the Gold Flake. This was a routine which went undisturbed if we were in town - rain or shine.


Wada-paav is extremely popular in the Western part of Maharashtra - esp in Bombay and Pune. It evolved and became popular as the working man's food. It is usually sold on small thelas - a make-shift table on wheels: the kind like hot dog stands. These thelas can be spotted at busy street corners, railway stations, bus stops, parks, outside cinema halls, outside Government office buildings - they have become a part of the street decor. A popular wada-paav seller sells his stock within a couple of hours of opening and making the wadas (it usually coincides with the time people leave offices but its not the rule). The working class lines up for their daily hit of the deep fried oily wada-paavs. The wada is made of a mixture of cooked potatoes mashed in fried onions with salt and other spices. This mixture is then dipped in a paste of gram flour which is mixed with water and made into burger style patties. These patties are then deep fried in peanut oil until dark brown. The wada is then placed on an open paav (a paav is like a hamburger bun except much smaller) with garlic chutney sprinkled on one side of the paav and the cilantro-green chutney on the other (these chutneys vary from city to city, street corner to street corner). Usually the paper plates on which this is served is nothing but a 8 inch by inch torn piece of an old newspaper (makes for some interesting reading after you have finished eating the wada-paav). One important accompaniement which is served on the side is lightly fried green chillies, which leave oily stains on the newspaper plates - sometimes in very strategic places, ensuing hilarity.
The most common beverage with the wada-paav is hot chai. Yes, even in 100F temperatures, you will see people eating the hot and spicy wada-paav and sipping on hot chai.

Today "A" decided to take me back and help me experience that mildly spicy, warm, oily flavor of deeply fried potato and gram flour wada. The result was 8/10. The wada paav came out perfect taste wise - mildly tangy because of the green chutney of cilantro and green chillies, the occassional sharp taste of garlic from the slight dash of the garlic chutney, the warm mildly spicy wada with the crisp slightly burnt onions and the side of sauted green chilly. The chai on the side was also perfect, sweet and milky. The ensemble was perfect.


As soon as I bit into the warm wada-paav, and the fried-lightly-salted green chilly, I was there on Aundh Road. The wada was hot enough to be chewed comfortably without burning my mouth and spicy enough to feel the heat when it settled in my stomach. The hot sweet tea was only accentuating the many flavors. "A" brought the house down on this one. Wada-paav can be hardly considered cuisine - but it takes just the right amount of everything to make it taste the way it does on those thelas.

Why then you would ask, I gave "A" 8 out of 10? One point was deducted for the absence of the Gold Flake cigarette and the other point was deducted for the lack of the smell of the fumes from the exhausts of the hundreds of vehicles passing by while you enjoy this unique dish. I must say the cigarette smoke combined with the exhaust fumes complete the experience. For this Sunday, I will have to do without them.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Movies for a Lifetime - 1

This is a series about movies that have truly, deeply moved me: made me happy, horrified me, or made me sad – essentially movies that have left a mark forever. Some of them are universally acknowledged as timeless classics some of them not. It’s my list, not necessarily in any particular order of liking. They are all near and dear to me. The idea is not to review these movies, but to try and explain why I felt a certain way about them and why they are so dear to me. One thing is common for all these movies, at the end of each one, I found myself with a contented expression and a feeling of fullness in my heart. It’s kind of a feeling of eating a delicious meal after being hungry for a long time, or after drinking a cold glass of water after being thirsty for a long time. A word in Hindi/Marathi describes that feeling aptly – “Santosh” or “Trupti”.
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Psycho
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Year: 1960

Psycho is known as the most well crafted movie in the Horror/Thriller genre. Personally, yes it was scary and creepy; however, I was more saddened at the end of the movie than scared. When I first watched Psycho (the Hitch version not the Gus Van Sant one), I knew it was a horror movie but my knowledge about the movie ended there. As soon as the movie started, I was eating out of Hitch’s hands. By the end of it, I was shivering with excitement and yet was weighed down by the tragedy, by the loss of youth – of Marion’s as well as Norman Bates’. There will be folks who would call me sick or judge me for feeling sad for the Norman Bates character, but to them I say – “To each his own”!

The movie succeeds in every aspect of film-making –pacing, editing, camera-work, just the right combination of suspense, humor and anticipation. In the performance department, the Norman Bates character was immortalized by Anthony Perkins. This role was his claim to fame, and sadly became him for the rest of his acting career. Tony Perkins did many a good roles in films and theater but he could never get rid of the “Norman Bates” character from himself – just like the “Mother” had become “Norman Bates”.

One small quirky genius of a moment comes in the last few seconds of the movie. Pause the scene at 1:17 seconds, then pause it again at 1:18 seconds: do you see the skull of the mother super-imposed on Norman’s face? It might just be me, but if it truly is what it I think it is, then I bow to Hitch for keeping it so subtle, so so subtle!!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Gulzar: Kuch khoye huye nagme - 5

Every Hindi film music aficionado knows about the greatness of this man named Sampooran Singh Kalra aka Gulzar. We have all heard his famous songs a thousand times now, such as: “Tere bina zindagi se” from Aandhi, “Hazaar Rahen” from Thodisi Bewafayee, “Mera kuch saaman” from Ijaazat, or “Kajra re” from Bunty aur Babli. This series is about those lesser known songs penned by this master poet.
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Movie: Kinara (1977)
Music Director: Rahul Dev Burman
Singer: Bhupinder, Hema Malini


Ek hi khwab kai baar dekha hai maine
tune saari main uras lee hai meri chabiyan ghar ki
Aur chali aayi hai
bus yoon hi mera haath pakad kar
ek hi khwab kai baar


Mej par phool sajate hue
dekha hai kai baar
aur bistar se kai baar
jagaya hai tujhko
chalte phirte tere kadmon ki vo
aahat bhi suni hai

Gungunati hui nikli hai naha kar jab bhi
Apne bheege hue baalon se tapakta paani
mere chahre pe chhitak deti hai tu, tiku ki bachhi

Taash ke patton pe ladti hai
kabhi kabhi khel main mujhse
aur ladti bhi hai aise ki bus
khel rahi hai mujhse
aur aagosh ko nanhe ko liye

aur jaanti ho tiku,
jab tumhara yeh khwab dekha tha,
apne bistar pe main us waqt pada
jaag raha tha…


In the romantic songs from nineties onwards, you have seen the hero and the heroine in designer wear frolicking in the Alpine valleys, the meadows of Baden-Baden,the tulip fields of Holland or with the background of the skyline of some of the most famous cities of the world. If this is your idea of a romantic song, look another way. This simple song (more like humming than a traditional song), tops in my list of the most romantic song ever shot on the screen. The glorious seventies, there was more creativity in Hindi cinema than it exists today (there were no jump cuts….thank God for that). Gulzar directed and wrote the screenplay for Kinara. It’s a simple story about relationships which happens to be Gulzar’s favorite topic, about adults and told for adults with due respect to the intelligence of both the characters and the audience.

The poetry in this song is not laden with heavy words or emotions, it’s about a husband and wife doing everyday things and the husband romaticizing about these very things that make life with your loved one special. Dharmendra and Hema were a real life couple and their chemistry shows on the screen - they seem to be completely oblivious to the camera.

Bhupinder’s voice is perfect for this composition which is casual, lazy and relaxed. Hema Malini’s voice - not a big fan of her when she talks with the “unnhhaa” at the end of every statement - is dripping with tender sensuality in this song.
Simplicity and minimalism – clear winners.