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 karma...it'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.