Monday, January 28, 2008

The KING amongst all shots

Of all the various shots in filmmaking, a tracking shot by far is the most adventurous and most difficult to shoot (personal opinion). A tracking shot is essentially an uninterrupted single fluid take. What this means is the camera moves with the subjects without a “cut” for a significant amount of time. A tracking shot needs precision of all the subjects and the props to work in utmost harmony. It lends a visual fluidity. Even without any firsthand knowledge of making films, watch these shots and then put yourself in the director’s and the cameraman’s shoes. There is a lot of choreography involved in these shots. Here are a few examples of some great tracking shots:

Touch of Evil
Director: Orson Welles
The now famous opening sequence which was almost deleted from the movie. BRILLIANT!

Director: Martin Scorsese

This is probably the most famous tracking shots of all times - its like a ballet. There is clear purpose for the use of the tracking shot here. The Ray Liotta character is taking his girlfriend to the exclusive Copa Cabana and wants to display his clout and power in a very unabashed manner. Lorraine Bracco who plays his girlfriend along with the audience gets to see the inner workings of the Copa Cabana, the kitchen, the butlers. The subjects are walking through the entire length of the shot, while the camera moves behind them through the narrow kitchen aisles and hallways. Every little detail adds to the overall experience.

Children of Men
Director: Alfonso Cuaron
This movie is so under-rated, it’s criminal. There are some amazing tracking shots in this movie. Here is a good explanation of what goes in shooting a tracking shot.

Now watch the output of the efforts. Of all the shots listed here, this one is my personal favorite. The shot lasts for 3 minutes and 57 seconds before the cut. Has no equals. Salud – Alfonso Cuaron.

Director: Joe Wright
I believe this one shot might just get this movie the “Best Picture” academy award. I personally felt that this shot did not carry the narration of the story anywhere, it seemed as a deliberate shot just for the heck of it. Nevertheless, the shot as a stand-alone is extremely well choreographed. Take a look.

In today's films, you will not see a lot of tracking shots anymore. Its all about quick jump cuts. Next time you find yourself flowing with a shot, you will realize you are watching a tracking shot. If you know of any other good ones, drop me a line.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Gulzar: Kuch khoye huye nagme - 1

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.
Movie: Pinjar (2003)
Music Director: Uttam Singh
Singer: Roop Kumar Rathod, Uttam Singh

This song is about the partition of British India into India and Pakistan. It brings the ethos, angst and pain of the suffering caused by the separation from one’s own land. Gulzar himself has been the witness of the horrifying events of the partition (he was born in the Jhelum district currently in Pakistan) and has penned many poems on this subject that had left many lives on both sides permanently scarred. I could not find the original video of the song. Here’s one for your listening:

vatna ve oh meriya vatna ve
vatna ve oh meriya vatna ve

batt gaye tere aangan, bujh gaye chhulhe saanjhe,
lut gayee teri heeren, marr gaye tere raanjhe

vatna ve oh meriya vatna ve!
vatna ve oh meriya vatna ve!

kaun tujhe paani poochega faslein seenchega?
kaun teri maati mein thandee chaoon beejega?
bairee kaat ke le gaye teriya thandiyan chawaan ve...

vatna ve oh meriya vatna ve
vatna ve oh meriya vatna ve

Hum na rahe toh kaun basayega tera viraana?
mud ke hum na dekhenge aur tu bhi yaad na aana
getee kanche baant ke kar lee kar lee kutti, vatna ve

vatna ve oh meriya vatna ve
vatna ve oh meriya vatna ve

This song is addressed to one’s country in first person singular - ‘Vatna ve’.

“Kaun tujhe paani poochega faslein seenchega”
- Who will ask you if you are thirsty and need water, who will water your crops
“Kaun teri maati mein thandee chaoon beejega”
- Who will sow the cool calming shades in your soil.

Gulzar (and most poets) personifies inanimate and abstract objects, in this case it’s the nation and its farmlands that he is directly addressing to. The consequence of the action is romanticized beautifully in the second and third line. He talks of sowing cool shades in the fertile soil, which is essentially the result of sowing a seed of a tree that provides it.
The third line is the one that comes as direct result of the devastation that the partition was:
“bairee kaant ke le gayee teriya thandiyaa chawaan ve, vatna ve”
- “Those wretched people slashed away your cool shades”
The “cool shades” represents a lot of things here: a home, the warmth of family and friends, and the peaceful life that’s now in the past.

This three line form of poetry is called “Triveni”. Gulzar makes extensive use of this format in his poems and songs.
In his own words: The Triveni sangam at Prayag (Benares) is of three rivers, Ganga, Jamuna and Saraswati. Ganga and Jamuna are the physical rivers and Saraswati is the mythological meta-physical river that makes the Sangam a “Triveni”. This third metaphysical presence adds a whole new dimension to the Sangam. Similarly, in the “Triveni” style of poetry the third line changes the perspective and adds a new dimension (ek naya pehloo) to the first two lines. The first two lines in itself make a complete poem (sher), but it’s the third line that changes the course of the poem and gives to way to possibilities and thoughts to the first two lines.

Oranges and Fishes

Vishakha was walking fast. She knew if she was late, he will be angry and would beat her up again. She had to get home before 7 PM. That will give her at least five minutes to freshen up and change. Diwakar usually came home between 7 and quarter after 7 PM. He did not like Vishakha to look weary and smelly. She considered taking a taxi, but then decided against it. Her financial situation had deteriorated drastically since she lost her weekend job at the massage parlor. The massage parlor was closed by the authorities when some neighbors filed complaints of solicitation and other nefarious activities on its premises. Vishakha was fortunate enough to not get arrested. It was getting dark and she was waiting for her turn to cross the busy SV road. The bus stop was on the other side of the road. A teenage girl was standing next to her. The girl smelled of sweat and cheap perfume. Vishakha wondered if she emitted a similar pungent smell. She thought about the amount of perfume and deodorant the entire city consumed to mask the smell of sweat, and body odor and yet how at the end of the day, the mix of the two smelled even more horrific.

The girl started crossing the street and Vishakha came out of her reverie. She saw the bus approaching the stop and started running. It took her twice the effort to run in her platform heels. Diwakar’s fits of fury kept flashing in front of her eyes and she ran harder. She was barely able to make it inside the bus. Fortunately there were a couple of empty seats. She was glad to sit after the long walk and a hard day’s work. She had to recuperate and be ready for the night. Diwakar might end up keeping her awake all night again. It was three nights in a row that Diwakar had been very demanding. He was relentless.

Vishakha opened her purse and pulled out an orange. The texture of the skin of the orange on her sweaty palms felt nice. She liked oranges; she had always wanted to own an orange orchard when she grew up. All her friends in school had made fun of her when her teacher had asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up. She had said “I want be the owner of an orange orchard”. She had a faint smile on her face as she held that juicy orange in her hand. She peeled off the skin of the orange with utmost dexterity and let the smell of the orange peel settle in her nostrils. She separated a slice of orange from the core and slowly placed it in her mouth. The sharp tanginess and the sweetness gradually engulfed her mouth as she closed her eyes and bit into the slice. She tried to savor the feeling. She loved this feeling of that surge of the orange juice from the first slice slide past her throat and settle in her stomach. It transported her to a vast orange orchard with the sun shining through the glistening green leaves and reflecting on the bright plum oranges hanging lazily from the branches. The breeze carried the fresh smell of oranges with it.

The ticket conductor brought her back into the bus by asking for her pass. She showed the pass to the ticket collector and cursed him inside for ruining her only moment of true happiness in the entire day. She finished the rest of the orange. She was holding the peels in her left hand. Diwakar disliked fruits and vegetables. He did not like the texture and the colors of fruits and vegetables. She remembered the last time she was eating a banana, one night. Diwakar had woken up and had thrown the entire bunch of bananas out of the window. Diwakar had asked her never to leave the bed when he was asleep.

It was dark and the street lights were reflecting their yellow light from the shiny tar roads. Vishakha got ready to get down from the bus, her stop was next. She got down, it was 6:50 PM. She still had a fifteen minutes walk from the bus stop to her home. She hoped Diwakar was late today. She was almost running now and weaving through the crowd. She realized she was still holding the orange peels in her left hand. She had no time to look for a trash can and threw the peels on the side of the road. She saw Ketaki with her mother-in-law walking towards the temple. She smiled at her. Ketaki did not smile back. Ketaki lived in the flat adjacent to Vishakha’s, they shared a wall. Vishakha knew that Ketaki and her family were disapproving of Diwakar’s antics and his late night screaming. Ketaki had even complained about it at the Society meeting last month. Vishakha could not defend herself. She knew that she was not welcome in the society. The Society members comprising of a largely senior citizen population, had issued warnings to her about Diwakar. Vishakha wished that if she had more money she could move out into a place where she and Diwakar would be accepted.

Mistry’s paan shop at the entrance of her Society building was blaring “Maula mere maula mere”. It was five minutes after seven; Vishakha was now at the staircase of her building. She was sweating profusely and was hoping Diwakar was not waiting at the door-step. She climbed the stairs as fast as she could. She was almost knocked down by Mr. Pathak from the 5th floor who was coming down the stairs. She apologized. She thought of how she was the one who was always apologetic to the entire world. She continued to climb; she was on the 4th floor. She got to the door of her flat, and there was no Diwakar. She let out a sigh of relief, just then her mobile buzzed in her purse. She fumbled with the keys in her hand and the zipper of the purse. It was Gajanan’s home number. She answered. She heard Gajanan’s wife, Sudha’s voice “Hello”. Vishakha liked Gajanan’s wife, she did not judge Vishakha. Vishakha said “Hello, Sudha”.

Sudha started sobbing. “Vishakha, Gajanan, Gajanan, his auto….accident near Khar station, Vishakha..Vishakha”, she was now crying uncontrollably. Vishakha did not realize she was trembling, she was shaking, she gathered all the strength in her, took a deep breath. “Sudha, I am coming….keep talking, what happened?”

“All dead Vishakha….each one of them”

Vishakha, felt her legs weaken, she was at the entrance of the building now. She could hear Vishakha’s loud sobs and “Maula mere Maula mere…” from Mistry’s paan shop.

She was now running towards Sudha’s house. Her mind was a flood of questions and possibilties:
“Diwakar, what must have happened? Did Gajanan pick him up today from his school or was he on the way to Diwakar’s school? Its Thursday, he picks up Diwakar first and then goes to Khar to pick up Mohit and Paresh? No, Diwakar must be waiting at the door step, I should turn back….those rotten oranges…”

Her head was ringing with ‘Maula mere maula mere’ She was at Sudha’s doorstep. There were a dozen other people in the house. Two middle-aged women were holding Sudha. She was a wreck. Sudha hugged Vishakha and she let out a devastating cry. Vishakha did not realize she was crying too, she had wet Sudha’s shoulders with her tears and drool. The elderly women peeled Sudha from Vishakha’s embrace. Vishakha saw through the liquid hazy sight a police constable amongst the crowd. She walked towards him. The police constable said without making eye contact “The auto was hit by a speeding truck. Gajanan and three children died on the spot. The dead bodies are at the Jain Hospital in Khar.” Sudha’s legs gave up. She felt the room spin around her, the back of her throat felt acidic, her stomach was burning from inside, her mouth became dry and she felt she smelled a familiar perfume mixed with diesel exhaust and dust somewhere. Her eyes closed. She collapsed to the floor.

Vishakha was peeling an orange in the bus. The bus conductor asked her for her pass. She reluctantly opened her purse and took out the dusty, oily laminated plastic card and showed it to the conductor. On the back of the card was the photo of Diwakar, her fourteen year old dead son. Diwakar was pointing at a big sting ray. He looked happy. The photo was taken during Diwakar’s school trip to the Taraporewala Aquarium, three months ago. She felt a lump in her throat. Diwakar loved fishes and aquariums. She had promised him a goldfish for his next birthday. She wondered if fishes hated oranges too.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008


Almost all households in India - middle class and upwards have a maid for doing the dishes and washing clothes. This maid is typically called “Bai” in most of Maharashtra. My home in Nagpur is no different. Our bai’s name is Rupabai. She has been our “bai” for about 19 years now. I was only 13 years old when she started working at our place. She was hired as a result of some recommendations that came through word-of-mouth from some neighbors. Rupabai is from a lower caste (quite common for this profession); she is about 5 feet tall, broad and heavy-set. She wears a typical Maharashtrian nine-yard sari worn in the old fashion of tying it in the back from between the legs. She has a slow walk and wraps the loose end of sari on her head and holds it between her teeth when she walks from house to house, while working she tucks this loose end at her waist. She has the typical tattoos of women of this sect on her forehead and forearms. She wears a thick round red vermillion bindi on her forehead.

When I was growing up she would come to our house at about 10 AM. That was the time when everybody – grandmother, mother, father, grandfather, I and my brother would have finished their morning bath in that order. She would have a bucketful of laundry soaking in Nirma (as we grew older, this was replaced by Rin and eventually to Ariel) waiting for her. Mom would have also kept the used utensils from the previous day in a container made of wrought iron out on the porch of the kitchen.

Rupabai would open the compound gate of our house and walk to the back-yard at around 10 AM (she kept this time quite consistently). She had a singular style of opening the wrought iron gate – she would be very delicate in opening so as to make minimal noise. The faint ding of the gate was an indicator of her arrival. If either I or my brother had not bathed yet, mom would yell at us “Rupabai is here; you better take a bath and throw your clothes in the bucket on the porch”. There were only two free-passes to get out of this – either you were sick or it was Holi.

Rupabai would carry the bucket of clothes and the dirty utensils to the back side of the house to her “workplace” – a small cemented open water tank and a washing area with a stone in the middle for scrubbing clothes. Her tools were simple - a plastic bristled brush to scrub the clothes, a soggy cake of Rin soap, a roll of steel wool and some white powdery substance for scrubbing the utensils. For the next hour or so (depending on the quantity she had to clean) she could be heard scrubbing the utensils or beating a piece of clothing on the stone. She would then hang the clean wet clothes on the clothesline for drying. She would carry the container full of clean utensils back to the porch by the kitchen. So long as my grandmother (aaji) was alive she was not allowed inside the kitchen. So she would place the clean utensils on the porch and aaji would keep each utensil in its proper place – one by one. After aaji passed away, Rupabai started keeping the container in the kitchen and mom would arrange the utensils back in the shelves. Rupabai would say quietly from outside in the general direction of my mother inside the house “Bai, jaate” (“Madam, I am leaving now”). It’s strange how she addressed my mother also by “Bai”. The difference between the social statuses of the word “Bai” depends on which “Bai” says it to which “Bai”.

This routine continued with minimal changes for years. Rupabai’s presence was always there in the background in festivals, in our little family functions. My mother and she slowly developed a strange bond. My mother is not the “secular-all-creation-is-equal” types, but she was a little less stringent than aaji. Aaji never directly took anything from Rupabai. Rupabai would place the item on the floor and then aaji would pick it up. I and my brother would deliberately tease aaji by making direct contact with Rupabai. Rupabai would discourage us from doing so but we continued the game. Aaji would get furious but gradually ignored us. My mother, Aaji and Rupabai had a strange love-hate relationship. There were arguments and bickering on the pay, the quality of work quite regularly. It was all in the background of our growing up years. During religious festivals there would be a multitude of people eating at our place and consequently the number of utensils to be washed would go up during these times. Aaji and my mother would save food for Rupabai and would ask her to eat at our place on such occasions. She would probably spend 4-5 hours washing utensils on such days.

Then in the summer of 1992 I left my home for pursuing engineering in a far away town. As much as my family was sad when I left the house, Rupabai was also in the background saying her goodbyes to me as I left my home into the unknown. It was during my years staying in the hostel, that I truly realized the importance of Rupabai. This was the first time, I had to wash my own clothes - it was either spend money on laundry or beer, well I do not have to explain to you kind folks what my choice was. As the semester would come to an end, I would not wash any clothes and carry the whole stinking lot back to Nagpur and eventually to end up in Rupabai’s able and skillful hands. She would instantly know looking at the 4 buckets of laundry that, it’s the end of a semester at Shivaji University. And then all those nasty, smelly clothes would do emerge clean and would be dancing all happy and smelling of Rin on the clothesline.

After four years of this routine, I moved to Pune for a job, and eventually started earning enough to afford the luxury of giving my clothes in a laundry for cleaning. I would still be glad to see Rupabai on my occasional visits to Nagpur. She continued to lead her same routine, but now the numbers of clothes and utensils to clean were significantly lower. My grandfather (Dada) had passed away; I had moved out and my brother was also in Pune. Religions festivals were no more the huge gatherings of the extended family anymore. Rupabai was the silent spectator through all these years.

January of 2000, I moved to the United States. It was a different continent; it was a developed world – a world of common laundry rooms in apartments, a world of dates at the neighborhood laundromat. Guess what, memories of the hostel days came flooding back. That aching feeling of missing Rupabai resurfaced. No sir/madam - no matter how much you enjoy the feel of the fresh, warm and soft laundry out of the dryer or the smell of “Tide with a touch of downy”, give me Rupabai any day of the year and I will be in laundry Nirvana. In the meantime Rupabai kept serving the remains of the Kulkarni household. In 2001, Aaji passed away, and Rupabai was still very much there to witness it and to clean after the flood of relatives who stayed at our place. I guess, she was expressing her grief and paying her respects to Aaji by not crossing the kitchen line even in her death.

I got married to A in 2002. Rupabai was there assuming the role of the head-bai of the other bai’s that she had summoned to handle the extra load of the many relatives staying at our place. I must say her supervisory skills were a surprise to all of us as she managed the whole backstage operation with extreme efficiency and finesse. Mother bought Rupabai new clothes on occasion of the wedding. She gave her blessings to me and A. When me and A left for the USA, she said very earnestly to me “Shirpa” (she calls me that, I still don’t know why) “sunbai chi kalaji ghya baga”! – “take care of the daughter-in-law now”. And just like that I was gone again.

Last year when dad fell really sick, I had to fly back on a short notice. I reached home from Nagpur airport and there was nobody but Rupabai at home, everyone else was at the hospital attending to the situation. Rupabai was busy cleaning the utensils from the previous night. She said, “Shirpa, saahebala bara nahi haay. Bai gelyaat dawakhanyat. Baai mhanalya tumi aanghol karoon lawkar jaawa, me haay hitha,”. “Your dad is not doing so well, your mother is at the hospital, she said that you should take a shower and rush to the hospital. I will be here”. I did as she said, gave my clothes with the grime of three continents to her and rushed to the hospital. I looked at her while handing her the clothers and something about her had changed (other than her age). I could not put my finger on it but had too much on my mind to think about it.

In about 3 weeks dad came back home. Rupabai did her best to keep the household running during those trying times. One fine morning as I was handing over a bucket of dirty clothes to Rupabai, I noticed the change in her. She had no “sindoor” in the parting in her hair, she had no red vermillion bindi on her forehead. I was shell-shocked. I ran inside and asked mother – she told me about the sudden death of her husband 2 months ago. I was ashamed at my own callousness and apathy towards her, towards a woman who had washed the dirty laundry of this family, who had been through births, deaths and marriages of this family. I somehow never thought of her as a person who had her own family and a life outside of serving us. I was disgusted of myself. I went back on the porch and saw her hobbling back with the same wrought iron container. I ran and took the container from her hands, she hesitated, and I looked at her. She had a distant look in her eyes but she knew what I meant. She let me carry the container from the cement tank to the kitchen.

Today, she still serves the Kulkarni household. She has gotten old and tired. I bought a washing machine for my mother and now the machine does the laundry. I could tell Rupabai was a little jealous of the new “Videocon-bai”, and was worried about the pay cut. I assured her that her pay will not go down. She smiled, that’s the least I could do for her.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

8 years ago

The air is thick with the upcoming Presidential elections and the ongoing Primaries. It was February 2000 and the atmosphere was similar. President Clinton was finishing his second term and Al Gore and Governer George W Bush were the contenders for the White House. I was a FOB (fresh of the boat) then, did not quite understand or care about the elections. By the time it was November 2000, I was actually living within 10 miles of the White House. The 2000 presidential elections became famous or infamous for a variety of reasons. After the bitter battle, George W was declared winner and the rest is history.

On December 13 2000, Al Gore conceded his defeat. I remember watching Al Gore's Concession Speech on CNN. This was my first experience to true "Americanism". Even today this speech resonates well and talks about the essence of a true Demoratic Nation.

Read it here.

The next day Thomas L. Friedman voiced his opinion with an incredible article. Cannot remember when was the last time so little words made so much sense.
Read it here.

"Which brings us back to Mr. Gore and his concession speech. It was the equivalent of taking a bullet for the country, because the rule of law is most reinforced when -- even though it may have been imposed wrongly or with bias -- the recipient of the judgment accepts it, and the system behind it, as final and legitimate. Only in that way -- only when we reaffirm our fidelity to the legal system, even though it rules against us -- can the system endure, improve and learn from its mistakes. And that was exactly what Mr. Gore understood, bowing out with grace because, as he put it, ''This is America, and we put country before party.''

If Chinese or Russian spies are looking for the most valuable secret they can steal in Washington, here's a free tip: Steal Al Gore's speech. For in a few brief pages it contains the real secret to America's sauce. That secret is not Wall Street, and it's not Silicon Valley, it's not the Air Force and it's not the Navy, it's not the free press and it's not the free market -- it is the enduring rule of law and institutions that underlie them all, and that allows each to flourish no matter who is in power. "

Whenever I leave this country for good, along with the material things I would take with me, its the exposure, understanding and seeing these values being put to use - is what would make the time I spent in this great nation worthwhile.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Best Hindi songs of 2007 - Part II

When I posted the "Best songs of 2007" I had not heard the music of Taare Zameen Par and hence this post.

Did I say that S-E-L are the most versatile composers around today? Well, the TZP songs only help prove that point further. These are the guys who had an out-an-out typical masala soundtrack for Salaam-e-Ishq, a very experimental soundtrack for Johnny Gaddar and now Taare Zameen Par!

Song: Jame Raho
Movie: Taare Zameen Par
Singers: Vishal Dadlani
Lyrics: Prasoon Joshi
Music: Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy

If “Hum to aise hain bhaiyaan” (by Shantanu Moitra and Swanand Kirkire) was a celebration of the wretchedness of an ordinary Indian’s life, “Jame Raho” is about the race of survival for a working class urban Indian family. The song is innovative in its composition, lyrics, singing – another evidence of “new sounds” in Hindi film music.
The song starts with an alarm clock ringing and then immediately gives a sense of the urgency of attending to ones duties for the day – the father going to work, the good kid to his school.
The lyrics aptly describe the daily acts of staying on track and focussed that are a part of the society today .
For the Father leaving for work: “Manzil ko chali sawaari, kandhon pe zimmedari”
For the Good Kid : “Aage rehne ki tension, mehnat inko pyaari hain, ekdum aagyakaari hain”

The song then switches moods to describe the world of the non-achiever kid in the family. The tune changes to a more dreamy pace:
“Har kaam ko taala karte hain, yeh sapne paala karte hain”
The song makes even more sense when you see it on the screen. Some of you might argue that “Maa” is a better number – and don’t get me wrong the song is great, but I found more creativity and innovation in this song.

Song: Taare Zameen Par
Movie: Taare Zameen Par
Singers: Shankar Mahadevan, Vivienne Pocha, Dominique Cerejo
Lyrics: Prasoon Joshi
Music: Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy

The title song is sung with a lot of sincerity by all the singers, the minimal and simple instruments of Tabla and Sitaar are a good choice for a song that describes “children”. The tune is also very simple and non-complicated. Shankar sings the “Mukhda” and Vivienne and Dominique do the “Antara”. The use of two singers for the “Antara” is unusual, but it works here.
Prasoon Joshi’s lyrics are the old tried method of similes. It works in most places
"Jaise rangon bhari pichkaari, jaise titliyaan phulon ki kyaari
Jaise bina matlab ka rishta koi"

but it seems deliberate in some places –

“Mohalle ki raunak galiyaan hain jaise
Khilane ki zid pe Kaliyaan hain jaise”

S-E-L, 2007 belongs to you three.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Hindi Movies of 2007 – The good, the bad & the ugly!

Hindi cinema has taken a gigantic leap in the past couple of years. It is slowly maturing, tackling newer subjects and experimenting with new narrative styles. (I refuse to use the term Bollywood for Indian cinema - especially the Hindi cinema, and I am not going to justify why). Of the very few Hindi movies I saw this year, here’s what I felt about them.

The Good:

Movie: Taare Zameen Par
Director: Aamir Khan

Aamir Khan’s first directorial venture. He chose a brave subject and managed to keep the focus on the subject and the little hero of the film. Inspite of the caricatured supporting characters (the teachers and the jarring father), the film manages to make an impact. The issue and the child are always in focus – Aamir Khan, “the star” takes a back seat. The subject is dealt with a lot of sensitivity and maturity. Darsheel Safary’s Ishaan is a performance of the year. All of the so called stars should carefully study this boy’s performance to understand what communicating with eyes and body language is all about.

Movie: The Blue Umbrella
Director: Vishal Bharadwaj

Vishal takes a simple fable (original novella by Ruskin Bond) and structures a heart-warming film around it. Punkaj Kapoor gives yet another stellar performance as NandKishore the tea stall owner. The Himachal Pradesh Tourism Board should use some frames of the film in its ad campaign. Sachin K Krishn’s camerawork captures the beauty of the region beautifully.

Movie: Manorama Six Feet Under
Director: Navdeep Singh

The movie starts with a beautiful tracking shot (the cinematography goes downhill there after). This is a multi-layered suspense whodunit set in a nowhere Rajasthani town in the desert. An excellent script and consistency of shot-taking, narration and pacing throughout the movie makes this a very entertaining movie. Debutante director Navdeep Singh must be lauded for his keen eye of the life in small towns. You will be wiping the sand from your brow by the end of the movie. Watch out for the clever nod to Roman Polanski’s Chinatown.

Movie: Johnny Gaddar
Director: Sriram Raghavan
This one is a homage to the 70s crime capers – Johnny Mera Naam, Jewel Thief, Parwana etc. It also takes a lot of inspiration from Pulp Fiction, Sin City and other Tarantiono/ Robert Rodriguez works. The movie lets the audience figure out the characters (no spoon feeding here), characters stay in “character”, one of the best death scenes I have seen in the recent past, one well picturized sequence in a train. Note the color schemes, the music, the innovative camera movements, lighting and the top notch sound design. Sriram Raghavan is a director to watch.

Movie: Chak De India
Director: Shimit Amin
A movie based on sports: you already know the outcome. Inspite of the clich├ęd and predictable script, the movie works largely due to the performances of the girls and SRK. The movie never looses focus from the subject and intelligently stays away from having SRK do the love and dance routine. The sore parts of the movie are the mohalla scenes – ugh. Read more about it in my review here.

The Bad

Movie: Aaja Nachle
Director: Anil Mehta

This was Madhuri Dixit’s comeback film. She deserved much better. Where should I begin - if the movies above indicate 10 steps ahead for Hindi cinema, this one was taking 20 steps back. It does not offer anything new - the fake and tacky village sets, the caricatured characters, the dead Guru, the cute daughter, the bad guys going good and weepy in a jiffy. Take M out of this movie and I would put this in the Ugly list.

The Ugly

Movie: Bhool Bhulaiyya
Director: Priyadarshan
I so wanted to run far away from this dud except I was trapped in a basement of a friend’s house. Amisha Patel and Shiney Ahuja cannot act – even monkeys would do better. But why am I blaming them, it’s the director who is at fault -. Priydarshan might have done some good work in Malayalam movies; he also had a decent run in Hindi , however I have always found his movies loud, over the top and unfunny. Someone needs to get Mr Priyadarshan a ticket on the Konkan Railway to be shipped back to the backwaters. Do what you are good at Priyan.

Movie: Salaam-e-Ishq
Director: Nikhil Advani
Replace the “Charmin” roll in your bathroom with a sandpaper and it would still be less painful than the monstrosity called Salaam-e-ishq. The movie had everything to be a good entertainer on paper : the director had made a good entertainer (Kal Ho Na Ho), had the who’s who of Hindi Cinema in it, popular music, a script idea that just needed to be translated from English to Hindi (its supposed to be inspired by Love Actually). What we end up with is a colossal mess. Definitely the worst of the lot I endured in 2007.

The not so good but not so bad either

Movie: Om Shanti Om
Director: Farah Khan

Unabashed, shameless spoof on Hindi movies of the past and the present (the Manoj Kumar bit was hilarious). This one was a glossily packaged Diwali gift. The first half worked for me. In the second half, the movie goes on the path of all the things that it tried to mock in the first half.

Movie: Jab We Met
Director: Imtiaz Ali

A well written romantic comedy with good performances by Shahid Kapoor and Kareena Kapoor. The characters were well rounded and in tune with the current young generation. The dialogues were witty and quite unexpected in some situations. The music was soothing. If only it was a little shorter, this one would go in the “Good” list.

Movie: Guru
Director: Mani Ratnam
A Mani Ratnam movie is always an event. This one was no less, it had a everything: A larger than life protagonist (portrayed brilliantly by the Little B), great music, good supporting performances in Aishwarya Rai (yes, I am saying this), Mithun Chakraborty and Madhavan. Where it faltered a little bit was the narration, it felt like a string of incidents woven together. BTW, what was the need of the Vidya Balan character?

Sunday, January 06, 2008

The Fake Martyr

I was shocked when I first heard the news of the Benazir Bhutto assasination. However, I was shocked even more by the quick "Martyrdom" granted to her and by the Western media's portrayal of her as the only beacon of "Democracy" in Pakistan. Her regime was probably more anarchic and corrupt than Mushy's. These topics were quickly swept under the carpet and the TV channels were repeatedly beaming her Western accented English interviews with the likes of Wolf Blitzer.

It was very refreshing to see at least one reputed columnist write about her legacy as it was - with no embellishments and non-deserving adjectives. (William Dalrymple is an expert on the affairs of the Indian sub-continent.)

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Best Hindi songs of 2007 - Part I

Contemporary Hindi film music is exploring new sounds and showing a lot of promise. 2007 saw a list of new singers, music directors and lyricists create an impact of their own and make their presence felt. Here's my list of some songs that deserve a mention for their composition/singing and poetry. They are not listed in any particular order:
Song: Ay Hairathe
Movie: Guru
Singers: Alka Yagnik and Hariharan
Lyrics: Gulzar
Music: A.R.Rehman

The year started with another masterful composition by A.R.Rehman. Weaving Gulzar's words into a tune is no mean task - very few composers have done this right consistently : Pancham in the past and Vishal Bhardwaj and Rehman in the present are the only composers who have done complete justice to his ethereal poetry.
Alka Yagnik and Hariharan's voice are perfect for this romantic syrupy love song of two people completely immersed in each other. The "dum dara dum dara" chant adds an aura of mysticism to the composition. If there is one composer who uses "chorus" singing effectively, its Rehman. Towards the end of the song listen to how Alka's silky smooth voice emerges from the chorus.

Gulzar’s words are once again crafty and paradoxical to express that ever favorite topic of poets – Love. His use of repetition of words is always spot on:
“Ay hairathe aashiqui jagaa mat, pairon se zameen, zameen lagaa mat”
Listen to the subtle change in pitch the singers take when going from one “zameen” to the other.
This line also reminds of that gem of the 70s from “Ghar” - “Aajkal paon zameen par nahin padte mere”.

Song: Jaage hain der tak
Movie: Guru
Singers: A.R. Rehman, Chitra, Madras Chorale Group
Lyrics: Gulzar
Music: A.R.Rehman

A symphony in Hindi film music? This composition will knock your socks off and take you to a musical orgasm by the time its over. ARR’s earthy voice and the Madras Chorale Group take this composition to such a crescendo – the closest feeling I can describe in physicality is the feeling when your roller coaster cart slowly creeps to the top and stays there for a brief second before plummeting downwards.
The composition evokes feelings of desperation, hopelessness and the constant race to prove yourself to the world (personal opinion of course).
If I had to, had to give numbers to the songs of 2007, this one will be #1 through #5. This is perfect example of the words, singers and musicians becoming one whole being.

Song: Parbaton pe barfaan
Movie: The Blue Umbrella
Singer: Sukhwinder Singh
Lyrics: Gulzar
Music: Vishal Bharadwaj

“Parbaton pe barfaan barfaan barsan laagi re
Parbaton pe thandi barfaan barsan laagi re
Oh re beliya lautiyaan ghar aa re”

There’s that repetition of words again, it never becomes too much or too predictable. It is like salt in a recipe – must have it in the right quantity to bring all other flavors together.
This song is about that lost someone or something (not necessarily your lover – could be anyone or anything to each one – your childhood, your lost love, your mother, your youth, your favorite toy – aptly that’s what the Blue Umbrella stands for in the movie too).
Vishal’s use of instruments of Pahaadi Himachal and Sukhwinder’s earthy distant voice build an atmosphere of a cold snowy night in the mountains. Put this on a snowy night with your lights turned off and listen to the snow flakes illuminate with glimpses of the past.

Song: Khoya Khoya Chaand
Movie: Khoya Khoya Chaand
Singers: Swanand Kirkire, Abhay Jhingaran
Lyrics: Swanand Kirkire
Music: Shantanu Moitra

The Shantanu Moitra and Swanand Kirkire team (referred to as S&S henceforth) is slowly becoming the “RD-Gulzar” of the 21st century (for those of who would guillotine me for making this comparison – note the “becoming” – there is still a long way to go for them). Their music and poetry compliment each others work – noteworthy compositions – “Piya bole” and “Kastho mazaa hain” from Parineeta; “Baawra Mann” from Hazaron Khwaishein Aisee.

This Jazz+Qawaali composition is a new sound and the two singers are in perfect harmony. They are in perfect unison even in the high notes which I think is probably a very difficult feat to achieve. (I am no singer and this in no way is a critical review). The reason I say this is because some lines from this song make a brief appearance in another song from the same movie, this time Sonu Nigam crooning them. He falters big time in the high notes, he shrieks and gasps and tries hard to keep up.

Special mention to Swanand Kirkire’s poetry:
“Dil ko samjhana kehdo kya aasan kaam hain
Dil toh fitrat se sun lo na beimaan hain
Yeh khush nahin hain jo mila, bass mangta hi hain chala
Jaanta hain har lagee ka dard hi hain bass ek silaa”

Perfect words for today’s “Consume Sucka Consume” and “I want more and more and more” society.

Song: Hum toh Aise hain bhaiyaa
Movie: Laaga Chunari Mein Daag
Singers: Shreya Ghoshal, Sunidhi Chauhan, Swanand Kirkire
Lyrics: Swanand Kirkire
Music: Shantanu Moitra

Another composition by the S&S team. This song is all about Benares and eventually the essence of Indian-ness. True blue ode to “We are like this only!”. Shreya and Sunidhi are in sync all through the song. The words and tune are completely rooted in the North Indian rural setting.
The song touches a lot of themes:
- celebrating Benares and the Ganga:
“Aaja Benares ka rass chakh le aa, Ganga mein jaake tu dubki lagaa
Rabdi ke sang sang chaba le na ungali, maathe pe bhang ka rang chadha”

“Ek galee mein bum bum bole, dooji gali mein Allah-miyaa”

“Subki ragon mein lahoo bahein hain, humari ragon mein Ganga Maiyaa”

- how the Ganga takes all humanity in her with equal measure:
“Patna se aayibe Paris se aayibe, Gangaji mein har koi nanga nahai be”

- the middle class struggles of an Indian household aspiring of a richer life:
“Amma bechari pisne hain aayee, raat din such-dukh ki chukki chalayee
Aur ghar baithe baithe Babuji humaare lottery mein dhoondate hain kismet ke taare”

Finally despite of how miserable, nonsensical and wretched life is for a lot of Indians it celebrates the fact that this wretchedness and disorder itself identifies us in this world:
“Jeb mein humari doohi rupaiyaa, duniya ko rakkhe thenge pe bhaiyaa
Sukh dukh ko khoonti pe taange aur paap punya choti se baandhe”

“Majhdhaar mein humri naiyaan, fir bhi dekho mast hain hum bhaiyaa
Hum toh aise hain bhaiyaa”!

That my friend is an ordinary Indian’s attitude to life and its miseries.
This is not an exhaustive list in any sense. It is just a mention of some songs that stood out for me in 2007.

Special mention must go to the following:

- “Ya Rabba” sung by Kailash Kher for Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy from Salaam-e-ishq
A broken heart’s pangs – not new for Hindi film music – this one falls in that category but has you humming and makes you want to have a broken heart just to sing this one out loud.

- “Johnny Gaddar” sung by Akriti Kakkar and Suraj Jagan for S-E-L from Johnny Gaddar
This one is a very unconventional song for a Hindi film music album. But then the movie itself was unconventional. The lyrics of Jaideep Sahni are in line for this crime caper. S-E-L are truly the most versatile composers around today.

- All songs from “Black Friday” by Indian Ocean.
The rock ballads of Indian Ocean are in perfect mood for this movie based on the 1993 Bombay Blasts. Special mention to “”Bharam bhaap ke”.

- “Jab bhi cigarette jalti hain” by Adnan Sami from “No Smoking”
This is a Gulzar and Vishal combination - a philosophical song about smoking. Interesting poetry here.

Care to pen down your favorites of 2007?

Friday, January 04, 2008

Its SACHIN again!

Just when everyone had written him off, he starts the new year by scoring an unbeaten 154 against the best test playing team on their home ground.
Indeed its a "Happy" New Year! More to you Sachin.