Friday, December 25, 2009

Best Movies of 2009

Hindi cinema saw breaking some more boundaries this year. From a dark crime dramedy to an insider look into the big bad and fantastic world of the Bombay film industry (sorry Raj "the" Thackeray - Mumbai film industry does not have the same zing to it). It is refreshing to see actors and producers taking their chances on risky subjects and the risks being paid off: Examples: Karan Johar producing Wake Up Sid with a debutante director and an unusual lead pair, Shahid Kapoor and Priyanka Chopra working for Vishal, Amitabh not being Amitabh in Paa, Dev D breaking all known boundaries of textbook romance and tragedy, Hrithik Roshan not afraid of displaying the vulnerability of a superstar (himself) in Luck By Chance etc. It's a wonderful time for Hindi cinema. That's not to say all was well - big money is still spent on tripe such as Blue, London Dreams, Aladin, Main Aur Mrs Khanna, Jail, Chandni Chowk to China, Wanted, De Dana Dan (Priyadarshan should be tried along with Ajmal Kasab), Dil Bole Hadippa and many more. However, along with the dimwitted stuff like the ones listed above, we were served with cinema that was entertaining and respectful of the fact that most of the moviegoers are completely sane and balanced individuals with reasonable intellect. It's also a welcome change that not only were these good movies, but made reasonable money for their producers.

Here's a quick rundown on this years favorites:

Director: Zoya Akhtar

Never before has a movie displayed the inner workings and the struggles of the people of the Hindi film world with such finesse, sensitivity and humor. Luck by Chance to me is the movie of the year. I am so thankful that Zoya got to this before Madhur Bhandarkar who would have positively made a pedestrian and a juvenile movie out of this subject. LBC is littered with many moments of true beauty and lyricism. It treats all its characters with real dimensions and shades of real people - each of them has his/her own axe to grind and the ensemble star-cast gives justice to even the smallest of the characters. Well played Zoya. This one, my friends will certainly age well.

Director: Vishal Bhardwaj

Twin brothers: check. One good the other not so: check. Mistaken identities: check. Bad guys and badder guys on the trail of the hero and heroine: check. Drugs and violence: check. Do not be fooled, this is not as you think an 80s masala flick, it is a bloody and a raucous dark comedy which runs faster than you can think. Vishal has created a pulp masterpiece (never mind the naysayers, in my books it is). Ohh, and did I mention it has one of the best climaxes of Hindi cinema.

Director: R Balki

A father who plays son to his real life son and the project involves the self-absorbed Bachchans. I had passed my judgment on the movie even before I saw it. Boy, was I proven wrong!! Crisp dialogs, straight from the heart performances and the right dose of emotions made this the feel good movie of the year. The central story delivers the goods so much so that I am willing to let go of the minor irritants (Paresh Rawal and the shtick about media's social responsibility). This is the only movie, yes, the only movie where Amitabh is not being Amitabh.

Wake Up Sid
Director: Ayan Mukherjee

Boy meets girl, girl likes boy, boy doesn't know what he wants, boy leaves girl, boy realizes he loves the girl and all is well - pretty pedestrian stuff. Ayan Mukherjee's debut film takes this plot , avoids most of the cliches of the rom-com genre and creates new ones but how adorably. The lead pair is so wrong on paper - Ranbeer Kapoor and Konkona Sen Sharma - yikes! Yet, on the screen they light up an entire neighborhood. Also watch out for the supporting actors, finally Hindi cinema is making more of them than just woodwork and frame fillers. Special mention to Supriya Pathak - we need more of her and her delightful sister Ratna Pathak who also by the way gave a memorable Maa in Jaane tu ya jaane na last year.

Director: Rakeysh Om Prakash Mehra

Yes, sue me, but this movie worked for me, if not in its entirety, in more places than it didn't. Agreed Mehra tried to cram as many issues about urban India as possible in a slightly confused screenplay, but the sincerity of his intentions were evident in every single frame. What further elevates the movie is its wonderful cast - Om Puri, Waheeda Rehman, Supriya Pathak, Pawan Malhotra, Divya Dutta (someone give this lady a decent role - she is a rockstar), Sonam Kapoor, Abhishek Bachchan, Prem Chopra, Rishi Kapoor (is it me or this man is a revelation in his older avatar), Deepak Dobriyal, Atul Kulkarni - all glorious. There was much joy in watching all of them perform. Mehra displayed tremendous eye for detail in numerous scenes in the movie and I am willing to forgive him for a hot-mess of a climax. This one will also age well. Talk to me after 15 years.

3 Idiots
Director: Raju Hirani

Raju Hirani knows how to infuse social messages into a completely formulaic yet enjoyable screenplay, he proved it with the Munnabhai franchise and with "3 idiots" he does it again. So what if there are some scenes which stay longer than their welcome, some of the character caricatures and names are juvenile (Examples: Viru Sahastrabuddhe : since when did a 50 something Konkanastha Brahmin had an official first name "Viru" but only to come up with the nickname VIRUS), sure the casting of 40 somethings as college kids proves that the director does not quite trust the material with the younger generation of actors, yet you leave the theater exhilarated and satisfied - why, I am still trying to figure it out. Although this one will not stand the test of time, but as a raucous entertainer it works. All is well!

Other notable mention goes to Anurag Kashyap's Dev D and Raj Kumar Santoshi's Ajab Prem ki Ghajab Kahani. Also, I have not seen Kashyap's Gulaal and Shimit Amin's Rocket Singh, but I am sure Rocket Singh would have made the list had I seen it.

2010 seems to be another promising year, notably: Ishqiya (Vishal produces and his assitant Abhishek Chaubey directs) and Rann (RGV directs and seems like he is back to his senses).

Monday, December 21, 2009

Best Songs of 2009

End of another year, which means its time for the annual list of songs that made me sing (to much annoyance of Aditi). 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: Emosanal Atyachaar
Movie: Dev.D
Singers: Rangeela, Raseela
Lyrics: Amitabh Bhattacharya
Music: Amit Trivedi
Amit Trivedi shined with Aamir last year and scored yet another winner with the soundtrack of Dev D in 2009. The Emosanal Atyachaar track is unique, rustic, crude and yet immensely hummable. The whole marriage band musical composition gives it an earthy feel (whilst the rock version is a trip in itself). Amitabh's words are to the point "Bol bol why did you ditch me whore?". An anthem for the loser lover types - there is a Devdas in most all of us and this one is for him).

Song: Pardesi
Movie: Dev.D
Singers: Tochi
Lyrics: Shellee
Music: Amit Trivedi
There are so many gems in the Dev D soundtrack that to choose a few is unfair. Right from the opening Sitaar sequence this song is a surefire winner. Amit shows a tremendous flair of combining the desi with the videsi (without the pseudo techno fusion feel) and Pardesi is one such number.

Song: Payaliya
Movie: Dev.D
Singers: Shruti Pathak
Lyrics: Shruti Pathak
Music: Amit Trivedi
What a trip this song is, the tender vocals of Shruti Pathak for this Hindustani classical inspired tune, a loopy beat of a windblower, the "by god" sound and incredible use of shehnai/sitar/tabla - all gel to form a trance like song which probably would take a whole new meaning when listened under the influence.

Song: Rehna Tu
Movie: Delhi 6
Singers: A R Rehman
Lyrics: Prasoon Joshi
Music: A.R.Rehman
A R Rehman had a rocking 2008 with an Oscar and some fantastic soundtracks in Yuvraaj, Ghajini and Jaane tu ya jaane na. 2009 opened with another ensemble soundtrack in Delhi-6. Each track saw ARR pushing the boundaries set by himself. Rehna Tu is sung by the man himself and the composition drips with luminosity - the tune and the poetry could light up the darkest of places. There is a simple mellifluous quality to this composition which grows on you with multiple listenings (note a subtle appearance of shehnai - or something that sounds like a shehnai).

Song: Arziyaan
Movie: Delhi 6
Singers: Javed Ali, Kailash Kher
Lyrics: Prasoon Joshi
Music: A.R.Rehman
Ohh boy, did I die and reach "Jannat" when I heard this for the first time. A classic ARR Islamic devotional song sung in perfect unison by Kailash Kher and Javed Ali. The words of Prasoon Joshi are luminous to say the least, sample these:

"Ek khushbu aati thi, Main bhatakta jaata tha,
Reshmi si maaya thi,Aur main taktaa jaata tha,
Jab teri gali aaya, sach tabhi nazar aaya
Mujh mein hi woh khushbu thi, Jisse tune milwaya"

"Sar utha ke maine to kitni khwahishein ki thi,
Kitne khwab dekhe the, kitni koshishein ki thi,
Jab tu rubaroo aaya, nazre naa mila paaya,
Sar jhuka ke ek pal mein maine kya nahi paaya"

Ethereal! If there is any chance that this non-believer will cross on the other side, it would be because of such compositions by ARR.

Song: Genda Phool
Movie: Delhi 6
Singers: Rekha Bharadwaj
Lyrics: Prasoon Joshi
Music: A.R.Rehman
Rekha Bhardwaj is once again at the top of her game in this one. ARR, Rekha and Prasoon have created a natural, completely Indian song with Genda phool. The opening of the song belies the beat that soon follows and sucks you in before you know it. Rekha teases and flirts effortlessly. This woman is magic. Watching Waheeda Rehman dance on the funky beats was another delight in itself.

Song: Dhan te nan
Movie: Kaminey
Singers: Sukhwinder Singh, Vishal Dadlani
Lyrics: Gulzar
Music: Vishal Bharadwaj
Gulzar and Vishal come up with a song that is total "masti" and total "dhingaana". Vishal Dadlani (of composers Vishal-Shekhar) and Sukhwinder Singh go to town with this catchy number - a full on throaty rendition to some pulsating music and fantastic lyrics:
"kahin kabre hain, kahin khabarein hain
Jo bhi soye kabron mein unko jagaana nahi"

Here's an interesting bit of trivia. This composition aired first on a small tv show called Gubbare on Zee Tv in the early 90s. The song was composed by Vishal himself so plagiarism here.

Waiting for the duo's next outing with Ishqiya in 2010.

Song: Raat ke dhaai baje
Movie: Sukhwinder Singh, Sunidhi Chauhan, Suresh Wadkar, Rekha Bharadwaj, Earl
Singers: Dominique
Lyrics: Gulzar
Music: Vishal Bharadwaj
What a joyous song this is - Rekha Bharadwaj, Kunal Ganjawala, Suresh Wadkar, Earl and Sunidhi Chauhan seem to be having a ball of a time singing this dhinchak song. If Rekha teases and taunts, Suresh Wadkar's voice comes as a surprise and delivers a punch to Gulzar's lines.
Getting married in the middle of the night was never more fun.

Song: Gulon mein rang
Movie: Sikander
Singer: KK
Lyrics: Faiz Ahmed
Music: Sandesh Shandilya
A beautiful melody composed for a ghazal-esque song. The original is a Mehndi Hassan ghazal.
KK's vocals hit the right notes with this new take by Sandesh Shandilya on this oldie Ghazal. Mohit Chauhan renders the same song with a different tune, but does not match up to KK's version.

Song: Iktara
Movie: Wake Up Sid
Singer: Kavita Seth, Amitabh Bhattacharya
Lyrics: Javed Akhtar
Music: Amit Trivedi
In an soundtrack where most of the songs are by Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy with their rock-meets-trendy-desi-attitude style, this one song stands head and shoulders above the rest. When I first heard the song while watching the movie, it rung so different from the rest of the songs in the movie, that I almost thought this one has to be by some other composer and of course turns out this is composed by Amit Trivedi. The song is penned by Javed Akhtar and depicts the confusion of the two young urbanites who have fallen in love (but are unaware or unsure of it). Kavita Seth provides her rich deep throated vocals to this wonderful melody. The rest of the songs are good, but SEL cannot match up to this one.

Song: Mudi Mudi
Movie: Paa
Singer: Shilpa Rao
Lyrics: Swanand Kirkire
Music: Ilaiya Raja
The maestro returned back with a neat little soundtrack for this movie. This three minute track is the kind which will get in your head and stay there for a long time. You will find it playing in your head unconsciously while brushing your teeth or walking on the street. It is wonderfully orchestrated and Shilpa Rao sings this song with a lot of zing .

Song: Yeh Zindagi bhi
Movie: Luck By Chance
Lyrics: Javed Akhtar
Music: Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy
This song is an ode to the magical-ruthless-attractive world of movies. (Another such song that comes to mind is the wonderful forgotten gem by Gulzar from Sitara: "Yeh saayein hain"). Javed Akhtar's lyrics capture the hope in the hopelessness of the many dream-seekers who come to loose everything in this sinister world.

"Samjhaane se kab maana hain, dekho karta zid hain yeh dil
Choone hain taare isse, chahiye saare isse"
A mention must go to to Zoya Akhtar for a wonderful picturization of this song - possibly the best picturization of a song in 2009.
Overall a stellar year for Hindi film music - we heard some new voices, the veterans kept their promise and we the music lovers had a plate full of delicacies to devour. Hoping for a rocking 2010 - music-wise and other-wise.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Paa - A Review

I must admit upfront that I was very skeptical before watching this Bachchan family movie. I was on a short trip to India and the Indian television was replete with promos of this father-son-son-father gimmick of a movie on every channel, every FM radio station and on billboards all over town. I will be honest and admit that I have developed a new "allergy" towards the Bachchan clan. To me the Amitabh of the 70s or 80s is a different person (the kind of demi-God for which kids like Jamal Malik will jump into human excrement to catch a glimpse of) than the one who hosts inane TV shows, endorses everything from fine wool fabrics to cement and whose choice of cinema is that of "Ram Gopal Verma Ki Aag" - enough said.

So when the promos of "Paa" showed an almost unrecognizable Amitabh and a Rahul Gandhi'esque Abhishek I wanted to duck and hide. Memories of that Bhansali inflicted pain called "Black" came rushing back and I found myself shaking my head involuntarily trying to discard any remnants of that experience. However, my cousins wanted a movie date with me and so with as much reluctance as a dead man walking towards his execution, I gave in - 'tis my fate, I said.

As the screen came alive with adman R Balki's second directorial venture (Cheeni Kum was his first) and P.C. Sreeram's camerawork, I found myself getting involved with the proceedings. By the time the end credits rolled I realized that I just had a satisfying movie-going experience. The plot is essentially a gimmicky version of "The Parent Trap". Sr B plays a thirteen year old child - Auro -who is suffering from an extremely rare genetic condition called progeria - which causes rapid aging of the body and leads to eventual death of the patient at an early age (being fifteen years old is like being ninety years old).

Vidya Balan plays Vidya, a single mother to Auro who was a result of an accidental moment of passion from her student past at Cambridge. The "bloody sperm donor" (in Vidya's own words) is Amol Arte, played by a Jr B who seems to be channeling Rahul Gandhi as a daring outspoken and a cool young MP. Amol wants to pursue a political career and hence they separate with much bitterness. As predictable as such plot lines go, Auro and Amol cross paths and sparks fly. They like each other, spend much time together and eventually realize the blood relation and you know what happens.

Sounds mundane and been-there-seen-that, right? Wrong. Although the plot is trite and the progeria aspect of the main character is a plot trick (how else can you get a real life father to play the son to his real life son), the characters are very well-defined, the script deftly avoids mushy melodrama and manages to tug at your heart just enough. Amitabh's Auro is a delight, (the man is barely recognizable behind all the prosthetics ), never for once does the star take over the character. It's a major feat that you forget who is playing Auro (the make-up artist takes a lion's share in that) and begin to identify him for what he is and understand his motivations. The scenes with his grandmother and his school friends sparkle with humor and have a genuine quality to them.

Vidya Balan and Abhishek play the estranged couple with required efficiency (mercifully the production house did not make this an all family affair and cast Aishwarya Rai in place of Vidya- however Jaya Bachchan makes a cameo appearance). Vidya Balan looks like a doctor who can take care of a son with a rare disease without the support of a man. She does a good job when she has to emote silently with her eyes but comes off a little awkward when the script demands of her to display some histrionics in the form of sudden outbursts of angst and despair. Arundhati Naag as Auro's grandmother is a picture of grace. Ilaiya Raja returns to Hindi cinema after a long gap and the music lends well to the tone of the movie - the "Mudi Mudi" track is already a hit.

While the movie stays true and focused to the central theme of the plot for most of the time, two minor subplots about slum development and media bashing don't go too well (and when Abhishek's character quotes the line from Spiderman - with great power comes great responsibility - I found myself cringing uncomfortably).The character of Paresh Rawal as Amol Arte's politician father, comes off as too black or white and leaves a sour taste in an otherwise economical script.

Even with the above mentioned minor hichakis (sly me!) you leave feeling satisfied and smiling and there lies the success of Paa. Big B, you managed to restore some faith in this once-upon-a-fan of yours.

Friday, December 18, 2009

I Am A Stranger Here Myself

Bill Bryson is one of my favorite authors – primarily because his writing is totally non-pretentious, is not about any great philosophical. political or scientific thoughts, uses an English which does not need a frequent visit to and has a genuine frank quality as if that’s how he intended to write it in his first draft – ‘straight from the heart’. One such published works of his is “I am a stranger here myself”. Bryson was born in Iowa and spent a great deal of his lifetime (20 years) in Great Britain. This book is a collection of his memoirs after he returned from the Queen’s kingdom and started a new life in New Hampshire, USA. The essays in the book talk about his memories of life in America when he left and the difference in the life in America when he comes back. Of course, Bryson with his blunt and acidic style lends these essays a humorous and a candid tone. This post is not about this book, but just about how similar these experiences are for me personally when I visit India (moving back to my motherland might actually further broaden these experiences).

With every trip after the first 5 years of living in the United States, I find my own country, even my own town a bit stranger. I find myself trying to look for a sign of some semblance of that place I could relate to, of a place I was familiar with. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like there is nothing that I cannot relate to. There is plenty, as they say, you can never leave home. The home I grew up in, still feels like me, still responds to me and I to it. I know its secrets, and it mine. I know where the courtyard slopes slightly and a small puddle of water will form after it rains, I know which cabinet door needs a little play to open, I know which light switch needs to be pressed a little harder for the light to stay ON, I know that place underneath the window sill where a sparrow builds a nest in summer, I know how the light flows in the living room as the Sun struts from East to West, I know where my dad keeps the tools, I know where my mom keeps loose change, I know how it smells in every season, I know that the sink faucet drips - I know it, and it knows me. Sadly though, I can’t say the same about my neighborhood, about my city, about my country. I am loosing it, by each passing day, or it’s loosing me with each passing day. But to them three, the loss doesn’t mean much; to me however, it’s like losing a parent. It’s all but natural to have a neighborhood, city or a nation change after 10 years, after all I have. Some of this change is just a natural progression of things; most of it happened while I was away (totally my choice – to be away) and hence comes off as a shock when I experience it.

I don’t understand my neighborhood when I don’t see that little clearing where we played cricket after school (there is a temple there now – like we needed more of those), when some of my childhood friends (with whom I played cricket on that clearing) have become exactly the kind of people I keep myself far away from, when the lake near my house is now a garbage dump, when I hear the screams of a woman and find out that my neighbor is beating up his wife brutally (and the rest of the neighborhood says – it’s a regular thing). This whole neighborhood seems like a bizarre place – it bears no resemblance to the one I left 10 years ago - save for the flickering street light in front of my house – it still flickers as if along with me it’s trying desperately to hold on to a sweeter past.

I don’t understand my city when some of the streets I rode my bicycle (or moped) have disappeared, when old cinema halls have given way to new shopping malls, when my school building looks like a sad ware house, when I feel scared driving on a lonely street at night, when the evening Sun blankets a dense smog/haze on the city which lingers on late into the night rendering the night sky absolutely starless. There is a big cricket stadium, there are a few multiplexes, there are swanky new restaurants, but at the same time the slums have grown in size, the Thursday crowds at the Sai temple offer tens of thousands of rupees to the temple and the hundreds of kids begging for money outside the temple seem to be increasing in numbers each Thursday.

I don’t understand my country when I see people stand up dutifully to the national anthem before the start of a movie in the cinema hall and completely ignore their civic duties to the Nation, when everyone seems to be in an insane hurry on the roads but have all the time in the world for everything else, when people are running over young children and senior citizens on the roads as if it were a competitive sport, when people honk incessantly at nothing or no one in particular, when cell phone service is cheaper than sugar or pulses, when television oozes such gunk it stinks up the entire living room, when SMS and Orkut scraps is an effective way to communicate with the youth, when I see little kids wearing masks on school buses (supposed to protect them from the swine flu), where every village has cell phone coverage but little essential medical facilities, when vegetables are spray painted to make them look fresh, when you can pay your water bill online but there is little water in the taps, when you can pay your electric bill online but have to spend 4 hours a day (on a good day) without electricity, when I cannot tell how many exact states there are in the Nation.

I am sure, no I am positive, that if I spend sufficient time (cannot quantify this time just yet), when things will change in front of my eyes, I will become one with the change. But for now, every time I visit, I feel like I am walking in a dream, a bizarre dream, a dream that I wish I will wake up from any minute and will find myself back in a familiar place. Instead, the dream keeps becoming even more bizarre and incomprehensible. What is comforting though, is that after spending an entire day of living through this crazy unfamiliar dream, I can return back to my familiar bed in the room of my childhood home, a bed whose musky smell I remember and whose little quirky bumps my back knows of and automatically aligns itself to avoid them.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Amu - A Review

There are some stories that must be told. Shonali Bose's Amu is one such story. A story set in the backdrop of one of the many gruesome (politically instigated) communal riots that took place in modern India.

New Delhi - November 1-3 1984: Thousands of Sikhs were massacred in a methodical fashion at the behest of the then ruling Congress party leaders and their operatives. To this date, the people behind this pogrom have not been brought to justice. The so called protectors of the people had become the hunters. The riots started abruptly and ended suddenly making it quite evident that they were a part of a controlled massacre backed by the State. If the people were really motivated in conducting these massacres, then there would probably be no Sikh left in New Delhi after those 3 days. Many Hindu and Muslim families provided refuge to their Sikh friends in their houses to protect them from the State operated terrorism.

Amu tells the story of Kajori Roy (played with tremendous grace by Konkona Sensharma) who returns from Los Angeles to New Delhi to find out about her roots. Now we all know that this premise can easily fall in the "third world viewed from the first world lens" category. Instead, Bose's screenplay cleverly avoids these traps and succeeds in taking the viewers on Kajori's self-discovery of her past. This is Shonali Bose's first feature film and that inexperience is evident when she tries to deal with multiple themes in 98 minutes and the narrative falters in certain places. But it's very easy to avoid these shortfalls because her sincerity and earnesty is evident in the entire film. Watching the making of the film, I understand that she had to overcome many obstacles to get this film made. There were political threats, censorship objections and ultimately her producer backed out leaving the film without the backing of any major names. The censor board asked her to edit about 10 minutes of the film to remove any political undercurrents that they thought were objectionable. They even went so far as to give the movie the dreaded "A" certificate on the basis of "exposing the youth to events and themes which should be best forgotten". Such shame!

The events of 1984 have been carefully and meticulously covered up by the Indian Government and it continues to strive to erase them from the memories of its newer generations. They say history needs to be taught so that the newer generation learns from its mistakes and tries not to repeat them. For India's future generations it is very important that these horrific events from the recent history become a part of the curriculum : I say every history book should have a chapter on every single episode of communal violence that has occurred in contemporary India (lofty dreams). For now, I will do with movies like "Amu".

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Kaminey - A Review

"Life badi kutti cheez hain", says a character early on in the new Vishal Bharadwaj movie, Kaminey. This theme is the center of many events and sub-plots in this roller coaster ride of a movie. It twists and turns the fates of its characters inside out and upside down and downside up when you least expect them. It screams out loud that good actions and bad actions don't necessarily result in good karma and bad's more complicated and random than that. We are treated to many vignettes of the swine theme throughout the movie (random mongrels walking into the frame, characters bow-wowing etc.). As if to further prove the point of "Life's a bitch", the movie itself is suffering from collections due to the hit it took with the current swine flu situation in Western Maharashtra, which has caused the theatres to remain closed. Life is indeed a Bitch.

In the olden days when Dharam-paaji was the do-all superhero of Hindi movies, he masticated and spat out two words with tremendous regularity - "Kutte Kaminey"...this movie takes those words along with a generous serving of some saliva and blood and makes a pulpous concoction out of them and presents in a blood soaked, rain soaked, mud soaked fashion to it's audience. Having said that, Kaminey is not an easy to digest dish, it does not believe in spoon feeding it's audience with the characters and their intentions. This might cause much confusion and "yeh kya bakwaas hain" remarks from the casual movie-goer. Note: I am not saying that there is anything wrong with the usual movie-goer, it's just that they are not used to movies which demand active participation (and attention) from the audience to enjoy the proceedings. It demands you to join in the proceedings and experience it as "first-hand" as the medium will allow for it. If you let yourself do that, it promises to leave you all bloody and rain soaked at the end of it (and this I mean in a good way).

"Kaminey" is a director's movie, with the camera merely serving as the eyes through which Vishal conceived the concept - brilliant Tasadduq Hussain - check out the difference in the frames from his work in Omkara and here. The large ensemble cast of mostly unknown actors (save for the lead actors - Shahid Kapoor and Priyanka Chopra) helps in giving the required anonymity to the characters and how they react to the events that unfold. For example: Amole Gupte's Shekhar Bhope could have been played by Nana Patekar (and would have made a great Bhope too), but the audience would have immediately formed a bond with the character and painted Bhope in their own shades. Same with the Tashi character - Danny Denzogpa comes to mind immediately. Aside from the ensemble cast, the real surprises are Shahid Kapoor and Priyanka Chopra. Both these actors are in a completely unfamiliar territory and they successfully deliver the goods under Vishal's guidance. Shahid creates two very distinct characters of Charlie and Guddu, through his mannerisms and his eyes - Guddu has kindness in his eyes and Charlie has angry eyes. Priyanka Chopra goes to town with her Marathi Mulagi portrayal of Sweety Bhope. She is spot on in her Marathi dialogues and has managed to leave the glamorous starry aura about her at the coat-check. (I can only imagine what a young Madhuri Dixit would have done with this role - Thanks to A for pointing it out - Madhuri would have been a blast).

About the music, I have already written about in an earlier post. Vishal has a tremendous knack of filming songs in a huge crowd. They do not seem choreographed in a 1-2-3-4 fashion, and have a quality which makes the audience a part of the on-screen rollicking crowd: Just like Beedi from Omkara, Fatak and Raat ke Dhaai Baje here are brilliantly picturised.

The movie is littered with many nods to old Hindi movies and Hollywood movies: some are very obvious, some not so obvious. Sampling:
- The guitar case as an object of everyone's desire: Robert Rodriguez's El Mariachi and Desperado
- The finale is reminiscent of True Romance's climax or even Desperado
- The judwaa brothers is an old tried Hindi movie formula
- The dead father is IMO just short of "Mera baap chor hain" (BTW, this is the only bit of the flashback that did not work for me, it was a misfit)
- The use of RD's music : The Great Gambler's "Do lafzon kee hain" and Apna Desh's "Duniya mein logon ko" at strategic places
- Life's a bitch and the overarching dog theme: Alejandro González Iñárritu's Amores Perros (Love is a bitch)

There are other subtle nods, which I won't get into here, it's for an avid movie lover to figure them out. Will post them once the movie is out of the cinemas so as not to ruin it for those three people who read this. (For all you know, they might not be intentional on Vishal's part, but then that's what good cinema is all about: you inspire from others and still keep it original, and become a source of inspiration for the next wave.)

Having said that, Kaminey is not all perfect, here are a few things that did not work for me (mentioned about the dead father flashback above):
- The Dhan te nan song was completely unnecessary (but is a knock out composition) and did not do a bit in moving the story forward
- Charlie's end result was very cliche`
- The Charlie and Mikhail relationship was left questionably ambiguous, I think Vishal shied away from portraying them as true "partners" (and yes, the Dhan Te nan song might make more sense if they were "partners")

Without giving the movie away, the climax is the major high point of the movie: it's hard not to compare it with a grand finale of a symphony played by an ensemble orchestra, when all the instruments and musicians come together to a crescendo. One of the most memorable climax sequences in Hindi cinema. Go, get soaked.

Friday, August 14, 2009

This I Believe - The Cleaning Lady

It was a cold March night in Manchester, New Hampshire. I was working through some mundane piece of code trying to get it to work, my head buried deep into the program. The only sound around me was the faint humming of the computers and the HVAC on the 16th floor of that building which was my first office in the United States. It was the year 2000. It was the first time I was in the office past 7 PM and was determined to get the program working. That’s when I heard faint footsteps behind me. I knew there was nobody in the office at that hour and was a little nervous on realizing a possibility of another human being (hopefully) on the floor at that time – it was about 8:30 PM. I turned back and saw this stocky Hispanic woman of about 30 years walking into a cubicle next to mine and emptying the trash can. She lined the empty trash can with a new plastic bag and moved on to the next cubicle. It was for the first time that I found out who actually kept a clean trash can for me every morning when I walk into the office. She came into my cubicle and reached for the trash can under my desk without even acknowledging that there is a warm body sitting a couple of inches away. Her focus was on the trash can – she emptied the many candy wrappers, a coffee cup, some torn receipts and a half eaten apple. She lined the trash can with a new plastic bag in a mechanical motion which had the kind of efficiency which comes with experience. If she did not acknowledge me, I had the urge to do so, and mumbled a diffident ‘Thank you’ in the general direction of her. She lifted her gaze from the task at hand and gave me a faint smile. I smiled back and buried myself back in the program. She moved on to the next cubicle.

Over the years, I changed cities and offices, graduated from a cubicle to an office of my own, along with growing responsibilities, my contribution to the trash bin also grew. I started spending more and more of my evenings sitting in my office. Stress levels rose, and so did the coffee intake and the empty coffee cups. It will be ten years since that chance encounter in Manchester in March 2010. I imagine the amount of junk I created each and every workday (and some weekends). It would have probably filled up a football field if it wasn’t for the cleaning lady who cared to empty it every night without fail. It’s this vast silent army of cleaners and janitors which make the civilized world a livable place for those of us who produce trash in copious amounts. In a society where over consumption, excess and non-re-usability is the norm, it takes a lot of work from a lot of people to dispose off this junk to make room for more. It is quite a thankless job – they show up at times when the “creators” of the very trash they are removing, aren’t around. So it’s obvious for the ones who create it, to think that the trash disappears magically and the receptacle is clean and ready for them to pile it up with more junk.

I am not trying portray them as saints, and we, who create trash as devils - we are each doing our bit in this world. However, in most cases we get our due recognition and acknowledgement for the jobs we do, and we forget to pass it on to these individuals who work behind the scenes so that we can do our jobs efficiently. Hence, I believe it’s an ennobling thing that these individuals do on a daily basis for a menial amount of money and no recognition. We as a society will always want someone to pick up after us; we need them more than we need traffic lights, social networking websites or sliced bread. Since that evening in Manchester, I make it a point to thank each and every one of the cleaners or janitors whenever I run into them. Most of the times, I get surprised looks from them, some times I see a faint appreciation in their faint smiles (or it could be my imagination). Regardless, what I want to convey to them is that if it wasn’t for them, the entire world would be a big stinking trash can. Thank your cleaning person, thank them with all the sincerity and the respect they deserve. This I believe.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Raj and Rashmi

There are movies that shape or define a generation. They have a large scale impact on an entire demographic and help create trends, slangs, dictate fashion, attitudes and the overall outlook of a generation. There are some that have made a mark during the formative years (late 1980s to late 1990s) of the generation that I belong to. Note that this post is not about the quality of these movies and is not about reviewing them, or categorizing them as good or bad. It's purely from a perspective about the impact they had during that era. One such movie was released in March 1988 : Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak

This was the quintessential love story that defined every teenage boy and girl who were in love and should not have been for a multitude of reasons - different cast, different socio-economic status, family feuds, reiligion, etc. Outwardly, it told a story of an innocent, careless and impractical love amongst two naive youths blinded by their love and passion. Aamir Khan and Juhi Chawla played the lead roles of Raj and Rashmi. They were mostly unknown before the release of this movie and exuded freshness, innocence and the audacity required for their characters. These are characters who know from the outset that their love is doomed and yet continue on a path which they know will eventually lead to destruction. They keep convincing each other that it will be otherwise - a song much later in the movie "Akele hain toh kya gham hain, chaahe toh humaare bass mein kya nahi" defines their blind conviction that they can lead a life of their own without the need of any other worldly possesions but their love for each other.

It was the late 1980s and the 15-20 year olds were slowly coming out of the clutches of the Socialist Indian State of the late 70s and early 80s. There was a growing restlessness of spreading their wings and curiosity of finding out what else is out there. India's youth was stirring. The middle-class youth wanted to define themselves as more than just doctors and engineers but did not know how to, as there weren't many avenues for them to explore as they exist today. They looked at their father's generation and wanted to desperately break out of the mould of working for governments or banks. When Aamir Khan sang (in Udit Narayan's voice) "Papa Kehte Hain", it instantly became the clarion call for this confused generation. Many a Papas at that time deplored the bravado of the song secretly and openly and hoped that their sons do not venture onto the path like Raj.

The story is about Raj and Rashmi who belong to two families who have a bloody history which leads them to being at a feud that last generations. Of course, Raj and Rashmi fall in love and both the families go at each other's throats over it. After some scenes of good on-screen chemistry between Aamir and Juhi, a few melodious songs (composed by Anand-Milind who never could deliver another score as refreshing as this one) and much melodrama the movie ends in the tragic death of the lead characters. This is where lies the irony, despite the brutal death of Raj and Rashmi which is not a typical end to a movie and is certainly not what an Indian moviegoer expects, this movie became a phenomenon. Conventional wisdom would say that such a tragic ending will serve as a moral lesson to the youth to not venture on such foolish missions as to conquer the love of your life against all odds (the "love" could be a girl or a not so conventional career-path or a life in a distant country or a business venture -anything that was supposed to be beyond their reach).

But the effect was exactly the opposite: This very generation became one of the first to break the norm and ventured to distant lands in hordes, started new businesses which were unthinkable in the India of the 70s, created massive wealth (and employment), helped shape some of the public policies and became the foundation of the "India Shining" generation. It was as if the entire generation was united to ensure that the Rajs and Rashmis in them do not meet a tragic end and in some fashion wanted to avenge their on-screen failure. (All this, of course could be a stretch of my imagination and might not carry much credibility. For some concrete proof, you will have to wait until my research paper titled " The Effect of Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak on the Indian Youth of 1980s and how it shaped the India of the 21st Century" gets published).

Besides this, the superficial impact of the movie was observed in -
- Girls tried to address themselves in plural, like Juhi does - "Tum Dilli Mein Hum Se Milo Ge Naa! Agar Na Milna Ho To Milne Ka Vaada Hi Kar Do, Kam Se Kam Hamein Tumhaara Intezar To Rahega"
- Girls yearned for the puppy faced Aamir Khan and searched for him in their boy-friends or prospective suitors
- Lover boys wanted a loyal confidante friend/cousin like Shyam (played by Raj Zutshi, a good actor in his own regard but got branded as the Hero's friend) and the girl wished for a friend like Kavita (played by Shehnaz - who was sparkling and continued to sparkle in Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar with her liberal use of the word "dear", a few years down the line)

The movie's impact on Hindi cinema was evident in -
- It opened the possibilities of casting largely unknown actors.
- Love stories came back in vogue after many years of an onslaught of multi-starrer social and violent dramas. Maine Pyar Kiya which was released in 1989, further cemented that young love means box office magic. This led to a flood of many mediocre movies starring newcomers and were lost in the pile, none could repeat the magic of this one.
- The trend of acronymizing (is this a word?) movies took firm hold from QSQT.

Even today, I sometimes pop the DVD of QSQT and spend my time with Raj and Rashmi to try and relive those years. I see them take the foolish step of running away from their feuding families only to die to the background of a sad version of "papa kehte hain". Each time, I wish that a miracle would happen and they somehow cheat death and succeed in getting whatever they desire. But then again I remind myself that their cruel and abrupt end is what made them the icons of my generation. A generation which sang along with them hoping for a dreamy, foolish world of young and frothy love:

ab ye naheen sapanaa, ye sab hain apanaa
ye jahaan pyaar kaa, chhotaan saa ye aashiyaan bahaar kaa
bas yek jaraa, saath ho teraa..
akele hai, to kyaa gam hai
chaahe to humaare bas mein kyaa nahee

Loosely translated:
all this is not a dream, all this is ours
this little home full of happiness..if our world of love..
all I need is your companionship..
you are me we are alone..but there are no qualms of being alone..
there is nothing that we cannot achieve ( if you are with me...)

Monday, August 03, 2009

Goodbye Dear Friend – You Served Well

On August 3rd 2009 after about 9 years and 107000 miles, I traded my VW Jetta for a brand new Infiniti EX 35. The Jetta was my first automobile – ever. Before her, I never really owned a vehicle of my own (other than bicycles). This post is a heartfelt goodbye to a good loyal friend.

I laid my eyes on you in July 2000 at a VW shop in Concord, New Hampshire. It was a hot day and your silver was shiny and clean. I must say I had not done much of research and analysis that usually goes into buying a new car at that time. With you, it was love at first sight. The world outside felt right when viewed from your windshield and the road ahead seemed inviting, and that was plenty for me to make you my own. From that day on, you became my only witness and companion in my discovery of America. We travelled to many exciting places together: the majestic White Mountains of New Hampshire, the beaches of Cape Cod, the great city of Boston , from the rocky Maine coastline, to the biggest of all cities - New York city. It was through you that I first saw the spectacular skyline of the Big Apple and the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center while driving on the New Jersey Turnpike. You were the one who drove me to my first US Open where I saw tennis legends like Pete Sampras and Martina Navratilova. It was you who took me to the Nation’s Capital for the first time, I still remember the thrill of seeing the great marble buildings and monuments of Washington DC driving on Constitution Avenue. You took me across the Allegheny Mountains to the Steel city and then further West into the vast open expanses of the Buckeye State. You were there when I received many a friends and family and you were there when I saw them off. You were there when I lost my job after that fateful Tuesday in September 2001. You took me to all the job interviews for the next three months and accepted me every single time when there was rejection all around.

You were the one who took me to the airport when I left for my wedding and you were there waiting eagerly when I brought A home for the first time. You were a little jealous I could see, but you welcomed her with warmth (your heated seats sure helped) in this cold country in January 2003. You helped A secure her driving permit and eventually, became her loyal friend.

You were the means to get to many happy occasions and a few sad ones. You were like a protective shell when you drove me to the airport when I had to leave for India for an extended time in early 2007 (when my mind was racing from bad thoughts to worse, you kept it sane on the road). You were there when I returned, you provided the much needed reassurance that not much has changed – “I am still here and ready for you”. You helped me assimilate back to my regular life after a long stressful hiatus.

You and me, we travelled thousands of miles, some good some bad, but mostly good. You got me where I am today safely and mostly on time. You did not ask for much attention and did not give up on me when I had given up on myself. You were true to your function and sometimes more. You have passed on but remember, dear friend, you will always be the “First”. Remember that. Drive in Peace. Adios.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Common Sense

Stumbled upon this shocking little piece of news on TOI. Students from a school were used for performing dangerous stunts to celebrate the birthday of some long dead ex-chief minister of the state of Tamil Nadu. There are so many things wrong with this scene that it's pointless understanding the "why" behind the purpose and the outcome of such a ghastly display. What is even more disturbing about this story is that the parents and teachers were in agreement with this inhumane act. All the claims of a society or a village or a town or a city or a nation of advances and progress it has made amount to a pile of junk when it shows such complete ignorance of the basic understanding of "human" rights.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

This I Believe - The Divine in the Book

The other day, I saw one of my colleagues use a pile of yellow pages as a stepping stool to reach to a cabinet which was beyond her reach. Words from my mother echoed within me:
"पुस्तकाला पाय लावायचा नाही. पुस्तकात विद्या असते, विद्येचा अपमान म्हणजे सरस्वतीचा अपमान. अणि पाय लागलाच तर पुस्तकाला नमस्कार करायचा".

Never touch a book with your feet, books have knowledge and by touching it with your feet you are insulting Saraswati (the goddess of knowledge)। If you accidentally happen to do so, you should bow to the book.

This was one of the earliest teachings received to me. It did not matter what the book was : a school text book, a notebook, a telephone directory, a weekly glossy, a comic book, a novel, a user manual, a Diwali ank (to the Marathi crowd - you know what I mean), etc. It did not matter, all you knew was you did not touch any published piece of work or any well bound stack of paper with your feet. There was no room for any "ifs" or "buts" there. It was firmly stamped in our psyche. If we accidentally did happen to even so much as carress a book with our feet, the immediate reflex action was to touch it with the right hand and do a little salutory action of then touching your forehead with the same hand. I am not a religious fella, but this one doctrine I have followed till date. Not for it's religious/cultural reasons anymore, but more for the spirtual reasons. In essence, I believe that the printed word in any book serves a purpose of rendering knowledge - no matter what knowledge - it could be about how to keep ones feet from smelling or building a bomb. Knowledge is power (and thus divine) - knowledge when used properly can lead to wisdom and wisdom when used wisely can lead to the betterment of the individual or a society or a nation or the planet.
So when I saw her using the yellow pages as a stepping stool, I felt the urge to share this belief with her and here on this blog. I do not expect or hope that she or anyone else follows this principle, afterall it's not about it being right or wrong, it's what you believe and what you don't. A book to me is sacred - regardless of its contents I would never,ever on purpose dare touch it with my feet - probably the two year old in me believes that there is a woman in white sitting on a swan playing her veena inside every book. This I Believe.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Kaminey - Music review

The last Vishal-Gulzar outing was with No Smoking, the stoner movie by Anurag Kashyap. The duo is back in Vishal's own directorial venture named "Kaminey". The trend of using swear words in songs has been around for a while and was popularized in the recent past by "Kambakht Ishq", a high energy number from the RGV flick "Pyaar tune kya kiya". It was sung with tremendous gusto by Sukhwinder and Asha Bhosale (Sonu Nigam also had some lines, but he fails miserably in comparison to Sukhi and Asha).
Fast forward to 2009 and we have reached a new high (or low, depending on how you look at it) - with a movie title called "Kaminey" (as in the wise words of wisdom from Dharam paji: "Kutte Kaminey, main tera khoon pee jaoonga").

Kaminey looks like a gangster comedy set in the ever fascinating underworld of Bombay. Gulzar once again deftly weaves English, Hindi, Urdu and street slang into his words and challenges the composer to weave melody around his sometimes unusual and complex poetry. Vishal does a fantastic job at it - RD would have been proud of this man.

Dhan tan nan
This one is what one calls a complete KNOCK-YOUR-SOCKS-OFF number. It's a heady concoction of a James Bond theme, 70s Hindi Cinema background score and RD Burman (somewhere I sensed the Pulp Fiction's theme in the background). Sukhwinder Singh and Vishal Dadlani (of Vishal-Shekhar) are in high gear and in a complete masti mood. This one will have you hit the repeat button on your mp3 player a number of times (and it also makes for a fantastic running track). There is a remix version of this, which is also groovy, but I am still hooked to the original one, and why not when it's so damn good. Sample these lines and you will notice how Gulzar weaves English words seamlessly:

Aaja ke one way hain yeh zindagi ki galee ek hi chance hain
Aage hawaa hi hawaa hain agar saans hain toh yeh romance hain

(Another brilliant usage was in 'Kajra re' of Bunty aur Babli:
Aankhen bhi kamaal karti hain, personal se sawaal karti hain)

Who else can weave this obnoxious word in a delicate verse other than Gulzar?

Meri aarzoo bhi kaminee
Mere khwaab bhi kaminey
Ek dil se dosti ki thi, yeh huzoor bhi kaminey!!

Maan gaye ustaad! Vishal Bharadwaj keeps this for himself and lends his voice for this number which is soaked in a beautiful symphony with interesting orchestration (notably - piano and trumpet). This is like a glass of good wine, will win you slowly, steadily but surely.

Listening to this one for the first time, it was hard to comprehend what the song was about, the occassional sound of a whiplash just added to the puzzle. And then there was the revelation in the end:
Yeh ishq nahin aasaan, AIDS ka khatraa hain
- the entire song fell into perspective. Yes, this is a song with a social message around safe sex and AIDS. This one could be an anthem for the AIDS awareness campaign. Kailash Kher and Sukhwinder Singh both have the throaty quality in their voice which lends well to such songs. Gulzar uses many similes and metaphors in the lyrics which are revealed to you once you know the underlying message in the song.

Raat ke dhaai baje
Rekha Bharadwaj can do no wrong. She teased in "Namak" in Omkara, she was melancholic and naughty in "Gendaa phool" of Dilli-6 and here she is back to rock our world. She is joined by Sunidhi Chauhan, Kunal Ganjawala and Suresh Wadkar. It's always a treat to hear Wadkar's voice, last heard in another Vishal composition - Jag ja from Omkara.

Rekha has the unique quality of giving an impression of just fleetingly touching the words, like hovering over words without actually saying them. Right from the opening notes this one keeps you wanting for more and more. A great ensemble song.

Pehli baar mohabbat ki hain
This is a lazy love ballad sung by Mohit Chauhan who delivers on every note, staying and lingering on sounds and words just enough for creating the right effect. Once again Gulzar's words are dripping with many emotions:

Khwaab ke bojh se kapkapaati huyee halki palkein teri,
yaad aata hain sab, tujhe gudgudaana sataana yunhi sote huye,
gaal pe teepna meechna bewajah besabab,
yaad hain peepal ke jiske ghane saaye the,
humne gilharee ke jhoothe matar khaaye the!

Classic Gulzar - hits all the right spots.

Overall a knock-out soundtrack. More power to the Gulzaar/Vishal teaming.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009


I was standing in line to order my lunch at a neighborhood restaurant. Two 50 something white guys were behind me, the line was quite long and slow. One of the guys was checking his blackberry and all of a sudden he burst into a loud laughter. The other guy asks "What's the matter?" The blackberry guy goes "This friend of mine from South Carolina, he is too funny, listen to this one". He goes on to read an email from his phone "On June 25th 2009, Farah Fawcett died after a long battle with cancer. On reaching the Pearly gates she was asked what she wishes? She responded - All I want is all the children on Planet Earth to be safe and healthy. After 4 hours Michael Jackson was declared dead". Both of them started laughing out loud with intermittent remarks of "brilliant", "hilarious", "too funny"!!
Funny? You decide!

Sunday, July 05, 2009


Records are made only to be broken. Roger Federer broke Pete Sampras' record of 14 grand slam wins at the age of 27 by defeating Andy Roddick in an epic final at Wimbledon on July 5th 2009. He had to play 77 games and hit 50 aces against an equally tenacious Andy Roddick. The last set alone had 30 games and lasted 95 minutes. Federer was broken twice by Andy, and Andy was broken only once in the final set and that was enough for Roger to emerge as the champion. Final score:
Andy Vs Roger
7-5, 6-7,6-7,6-3,14-16
To Andy's credit, he was playing superlative tennis - probably the best he has ever played. What kept him away from winning was not bad play but some ungodly superlative play from Roger: In the second set tie-breaker, Andy had 4 set points on 6-2 and Roger dug himself out of it to win the set. Before Andy could realize that the set was slipping out his hands, Roger had equalized the scores to one set all. Roger made it look so very simple, to the ones watching, it looked like it was second nature to him. It was at such critical points in the match that Roger summoned the Tennis-Gods in his arms and the racket and his feet - oh those feet - watch his feet and only his feet for a few games and one knows why that man has 15 slams on his mantelpiece.
The match was being watched by such legends as Rod Laver, Bjorn Borg and the second most grand slam winner - Pete Sampras (Yes, Pete is now "second" - bitter-sweet). Tennis-pundits, sports analysts and the Internet will be once again buzz with that ever-annoying question: "Is Roger the best tennis player to have lived on the planet?" If greatness was to be measured by numbers and numbers alone then the answer is simple - yes, he is:
- has won 15 grand slams
- has been ranked number 1 for 237 consecutive weeks
- has won all the four major slams
- has reached semi-finals or better in the last 21 slams
- has been physically fit to have not missed out on the major events on the tour (this is no mean feat given the current high-power, high-energy requirements in tennis. Exhibit A: Rafa Nadal who had to sit out due to an injury)

So the numbers are very well stacked in his favor. However, every era is different and thus every era has its own "great" players. If Sampras and Becker were contemporaries to Federer, where would they rank? That's a question that tennis fans can never answer with complete confidence, and hence no single player will be the "greatest ever". But for now, Roger you are alone at the top: How's the view?

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Did anyone ever consider?

This scene has become a regular staple since the war in Iraq started in 2003. I am all for bringing the soldiers back and reuniting them with their loved ones. What I do not get is the overtly public display in a classroom full of kids. Did the media or whoever stages these reunions ever consider what impact it must have on the other kids in that classroom whose a) fathers are still serving in the war or b) who never had a father or c) who lost a father or d) who live with a divorced parent?
Is it fair for those kids to have to experience this? Are they mature enough to partake in the joy of their classmate or does it make them long for their own father that much more?

Friday, June 05, 2009

Outraged - AGAIN

The American television did it again. The French Open men's semis are not being telecast live on any channels - NONE!! Why? I do not know - a) Days of our lives , Dr. Phil and Ellen are more important , b) no American is left in the French Open draw, c) the Americans don't care about the French d) all of the above. In this day and age in a country like the United States, I had to rely on searching on the net for a live feed. More such outrageousness of the past here and here. Wonder, if I will ever get to see international sporting events live before I die or leave the United States?

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Gulzar Kuch Huye Nagme - 8

Movie: Kabuliwala (1966)
Music Director: Salil Choudhury
Singer: Hemant Kumar

In 1966 Bimal Roy Productions adapted the short novella of Rabindranath Tagore Kabuliwala” to the silver screen. Salil Chaudhury composed the music to Gulzar’s poetry. Manna Dey’s soulful rendition of “Aye mere pyaare watan” still evokes emotions in all those who have left their homelands in search of a better life in a distant foreign nation. The song that got overshadowed by the popularity of the above song was the one sung by Hemant Kumar – “Ganga aaye kahaan se”.

The composition purely relies on the vocals and makes minimal use of musical instruments - the most prominent being a one string instrument and a small percussion instrument (called – duff or duggi) used in rural eastern India. Gulzar uses Ganga as a larger being to drive home the point: “Equality amongst religion, color, race, social status, languages and caste”. Gulzar shies away from using Urdu or difficult Hindi words, instead chooses light rural slang, sample these: Maati instead of Mitti, Ujiyaaraa instead of Ujiyaalaa, Kaari instead of Kaali.

Gangaa aaye kahaan se, Gangaa jaaye kahaan re aaye kahaan se,
jaaye kahaan re laharaaye paani mein jaise dhuup-chhaanv re

raat kaari din ujiyaaraa mil gaye donon saaye
raat kaari din ujiyaaraa mil gaye donon saaye
saanjh ne dekho rang roop ke kaise bhed mitaaye re
laharaaye paani mein jaise dhuup-chhaanv re
Gangaa aaye kahaan se, Gangaa jaaye kahaan re
laharaaye paani mein jaise dhuup-chhaanv re

Here, Gulzar masterfully uses the metaphor of evening (saanjh) to convey the message about how it eliminates (or mixes) the difference in the brightness of the day and the darkness of the night – the former being a reference to fairness/beauty and the latter being the dark skinned/ugly (could also be referenced to the caste system which was much more prevalent in the sixties).

kaanch koyi maatii koyi rang-birange pyaale
kaanch koyi maatii koyi rang-birange pyaale
pyaas lage to ek baraabar jis mein paani daale re
laharaaye paani mein jaise dhuup-chhaanv re
Gangaa aaye kahaan se, Gangaa jaaye kahaan re
laharaaye paani mein jaise dhuup-chhaanv re

This one is my personal favorite of the three couplets. Translating this literally, he is saying that when one is thirsty it doesn’t matter how one drinks the water (of the Ganga) - through a cup made from clay or made from colorful glass. I leave the underlying meaning for you to figure out. Other than the meaning, what I really like about this couplet is the structure. He starts with describing the different types of cups in the first line, and then gets to saying that if you are thirsty, they are all the same when you fill them with water. It’s hard to structure it in English the same way, but if you listen to the song for the first time without knowing the subsequent line, it enhances the effect a thousand times than if it was structured linearly.

naam koyi boli koyi laakhon roop aur chehre
naam koyi boli koyi laakhon roop aur chehre
khol ke dekho pyar ki aankhen sab tere sab mere
laharaaye paani mein jaise dhuup-chhaanv re
Gangaa aaye kahaan se, Gangaa jaaye kahaan re
laharaaye paani mein jaise dhuup-chhaanv re
Gangaa aaye kahaan se, Gangaa jaaye kahaan re

This one is straight: He is talking about how God has many names, forms, faces, but when viewed through the eyes of love, they are all the same – your (Gods) and my (Gods). Each couplet begins and ends with the reference to Gangaa which seems to be flowing for no purpose and from no particular place to no place in particular. Get it?

Overall, a song with an underlying message (without being too obviously preachy),a haunting melody and a distant quality in the voice of Hemant Kumar makes this a timeless classic.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

This I Believe - An Open Door

While reading some of the essays from the compilation of NPR's series "This I Believe", it was natural that I was stirred to think about my own beliefs. It does sound easy to know what you believe in and write about it in 300 words or less, however, it is quite a task. Peeling layers and layers of emotions, prejudices, experiences and thoughts is a daunting task. It's almost the equivalent of being naked...stark naked, mentally and identify those basic convictions which shapes one as a person. I was struggling to find at least one basic "belief" but was always optimistic that I will find it. I accidentally stumbled upon one such belief, this morning and thus my first essay for "This I Believe".

I believe in keeping the door of my home open, open to anyone who wants to come inside, anytime of the day or night. This, I attribute to my mother, to my father and the rest of my family - my grandparents, my two paternal uncles and aunts. I grew up in a joint family and real estate was always scarce. My grandfather would open the front door of our house at about 5 AM in the morning. From that early hour of the morning till about 11 PM or midnight, that door stayed open, it was always OPEN. Many guests, visitors, neighbors would stop by on a regular basis - some would have tea, breakfast, lunch, supper, dinner with us depending on the time of the day, completely uninvited. Some of them spent the night with us. Some out of town guests, relatives, friends would show at midnight, un-announced and they would be welcome with equal zest and complete openness. Someone from the family would fashion a quick meal from whatever was left-over and would make sure that the guest was well-fed and had a clean bed to sleep on.

There was never even a behind-the-door "Ohh why did they stop by now? I am so tired, I wish they won't stay until dinner!" reaction from anyone. I remember many nights when my mother would wake me and my brother up from deep sleep because some distant relative had arrived in the middle of the night with the entire family and planned to spend a week at our place (they always had some obscure wedding to attend ). Me and my brother would be tasked with ensuring that the kids were comfortable in our room, we would have to join our beds so that all of us could sleep together. There are many such incidents, my college friends have stayed in my house even when I wasn't around just because they were in town and wanted a place to crash, long lost ex-colleagues of my father have showed up after years of no contact and have spent a week with us, relatives of our neighbors have stayed with us because there was no room in our neighbor's house, neighbors from our past residences in other cities have showed up and stayed with us etc. I will have to agree that there were times when we (me and my brother) found this quite irksome and have expressed that in more than one ways to our parents. However, they continued and still continue with the "open door" policy. As a growing child and an adolescent, this physical and metaphorical "open door", sub-consciously had opened doors within me.

Today, after many years of leaving my house (seventeen to be precise), the only real thing that has left within me from that house is that "open door". This door is open to all, at all times - it is only natural, there is no other way I know of. This I Believe.

Monday, May 11, 2009

8 Countries in 5 hours

On Saturday, May 9th 2009, embassies of the European Union in Washington DC opened their doors for the public. I was looking forward to the day and was planning to visit as many of them as I possibly could. A could not accompany me and the thought of walking around on Mass Ave by myself on a hot muggy day wasn't quite appealing. Thankfully, E and E joined me and saved the day for me.
The entire experience was a lot more fun and rewarding than I had anticipated - the art work and furniture in the residence of the Dutch ambassador, the exquisite wood panelled walls of the embassy of Luxembourg, a walk in the manicured gardens of the British Embassy, learning more about Slovenia and Latvia while sampling their baked goods etc. However, the two highlights of the entire tour were the visit to the Italian embassy and the embassy of Portugal.

At the Italian embassy, I had randomly picked up a tourism brochure of the region of Veneto and was browsing through the many photos of the landmarks of that region, when E pointed to a picture of a beautiful sun-soaked piazza of a small Italian town, Marostica and said that she and E got married right there. Now for someone who comes from a nondescript plains of Central India, this is a whole different level of cool. I do not know of anyone else who can claim being married at a place featured in a tourism brochure. Bellissimo!!
The second highlight was the visit to the embassy of Portugal. After waiting for about an hour in the line outside the embassy in the hot Sun, we were let inside and while we were whispering under our breath that this better be worth the wait and the sunburns, the usher informed us that the Ambassador himself will be addressing us. We were escorted inside his office and he spoke to us for a good 20 minutes, patiently explaining us the glorious history of Portugal (mostly the sea explorations), his functions as the Ambassador and the relations of Portugal with the United States. He was gracious, witty and patient in answering our questions - even after a lady from our group almost offended him by asking if the Dutch colonized Portugal! Later on, he stopped me and had a one on one conversation about his friendship with the previous Indian Ambassador to the US and his fondness towards the Indian culture. The Port wine we sampled after that brief rendezvous tasted sweeter than it actually was.
If you ever find yourself in DC in the month of May, watch out for the events calendar for this once in a year opportunity. Not only will you be glad you did it, but you can boast that you visited a handful of countries in a span of hours - we did 8 in 5 hours. Anyone keeping records?

Friday, May 01, 2009

Well, up yours too, Ghai!!

After inflicting the world with such atrocities like Yuvvraj, Yaadein, Kisna and Trimurti and many more; this alleged "show"-man has the nerve to show the world his middle-finger.
(P.S.: This picture was taken after he cast his vote at the recent general elections. I remember, the index finger was used to mark the little holy dot of ink, but guess the middle finger makes a lot of sense. You can now stick it to the proverbial man every time you vote!)

Monday, April 06, 2009

Ek Do Teen...

It was 1988 and one particular song was blaring from every corner of the country and every man (straight or gay, 10 years old or 60 years old) in the country was screaming "Mohini, Mohini". Mother's of young boys were disgusted by the utter shamelessness and brashness of the song (at least kids were learning to count, they consoled each other secretly). The song was "Ek Do Teen" from Tezaab. A loud, cacophonous composition by Laxmikant-Pyarelal with their trademark style of cramming as many musical instruments in a composition and straining the wind pipes and other organs of the musicians. Alka Yagnik sings in a nasal tone, Javed Akhtar's lyrics are kitschy, the set is tacky, the entire backdrop screams everything that was wrong with the 80s. But as soon as Madhuri Dixit walked on that stage and yelled "Namaskaar"....we all knew a "star" was born. Her outfits in the song are what nightmares are made of, the screen is filled with a hundred extras on and off stage, the editor goes mental with many intermittent cuts of the crowds, Anupam Kher in the backstage, Kiran Kumar and his gang and yet what stays with you after the song is over is - Madhuri. She changed the game, she had arrived with this silly counting song and made a million hearts flutter with her signature step of "aaja piya aayee bahaar" (due credit goes to Saroj Khan's choreography too). Madhuri brings a perfect mix of grace, innocence and just the required dose of coquettishness in this extremely garish song. 21 years after the song was first seen --- YES, TWENTY ONE YEARS -- I still find myself mesmerized by Mohini.