Friday, November 30, 2012

Life of cinema

Talaash released today after innumerable delays making it the most-awaited Bollywood movie of the year but I'm still hangovering on the magnum opus that hit the marquee last week. Yeah, Life of Pi. This exceptional movie is so brilliantly made that you'd want to watch it over and over again at least 3.14 times. But you won't as it's in 3D and your wallet is basically cheap. In case you haven't watched it yet, there's not much i can do except one thing—ask you to do the needful before it's too late. You can't afford to witness the novel-turned-alive on a small screen and ruin the whole experience. Intriguingly, it's quite strange that this spiel is coming from a guy who shamelessly watches 9 out 10 movies illegally downloaded from internet in spite of being part of the media. Well, blame it on Ang Lee and his ambitious project for the change. After all, you don't make films like these (read: Avatar, Cloud Atlas) just like that. It takes years of meditation. In working class hero's words, hardcore labour makes all the difference. So many people coupled with equal number of minds bind together to come up with one coherent film. Isn't that magical enough? Count the number of people in your office team and then count the number of problems you face despite the relatively smaller group. Hmmm. Well, that's the undisputed beauty of cinema. Avatar pushed the cinematic boundaries. Cloud Atlas not only pushed those cinematic boundaries further but also screwed with our minds. Life of Pi did neither. What it does, however, is stand out on its own. There's no precedent to the kind of visual treat it offers. The sheer craziness of having a human, tiger, zebra, organ-tun and a hyena stranded on a cast away boat is more than what cinema is meant to gulp. Moreover, it's just the beginning. Things get more and more spectacular as the story proceeds. Speaking of which, there is no set plot. Everything is hazy and God is somewhere hidden within this gorgeous chaos. Speaking of chaos, Balasaheb would have related to Richard Parker. There were a few downsides too. Like in the early part, secularism is shown in a rather simplistic and seamless manner—something even Indians won't relate to. But by the time the credit rolls, you're in awe and don't want the movie to end. You literally find faith and your talaash ends.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Defending a dead noose

Dear oversensitive lesser mortals, this piece I'm about to write is basically an attempt at beginning a sentence with Kasab, pausing with mercy before ending it with killing. So please don't hold your moralistic breath and choke on it. Thanks in advance.
Last week, we got rid of Kasab. For good or bad, we're not sure yet. In all probability, we'll never be. Long live politics but more about it later. However, given the hype the whole secret hanging in Pune created, it seems like a major chunk of our populace is rather glad that the 25-year-old Punjabi (no, he didn't speak Urdu just in case you're one of those ignorant morons who think all Pakistanis are Urdu-speakers) is no more. According to them—and the obedient media in tow—his killing (yes, capital punishment is an euphemism for murder) provides an emotional closure to the grieving families of those who lost their lives on that fateful night of 26/11.
     First of all, it doesn't. People who lose their loved ones remain so till the end of the time. Nothing can possibly repair that damage. Nothing. As far as Kasab is concerned, the idiot visited our city with the sole intention of dying. He was on a suicide mission in case you've forgotten. Come to think of it, we were winning (if at all there was a contest) by keeping him alive. The diplomats who were fighting our case (terrorism is the word) at international forums would be better-equipped to explain the sheer delight of having a failed suicider locked in a high-security prison. But then, the public acts in a certain way. Let's call it the cowardly attitude. On witnessing a car accident, they go surround the car driver instead of helping the victim first. Something similar happened with Mumbai attacks. Nobody bothered to check on the 164 victims—forget the 308 wounded souls. We always look for the easy way out. We want action and it doesn't matter whether it fruition to a reasonable outcome. And in this particular scenario, what better effigy to burn than a warm-blooded young Pakistani? No wonder we gave into prejudice. For beginners, we merrily believed everything our newspapers spoonfed us about him. Not that it matters whether every little detail reeked of veracity or not but NOBODY questioned ANYTHING about him. There was way too little that ever came out of that little room he was interned in to start with. On the outside, it was cute how the otherwise cynical analysts readily convinced themselves that the government was diligently spending every single rupee of the alleged 29+ crore slotted to keep Kasab breathing. Just like we conveniently accepted that the deranged crook was being fed biryani on a daily basis. Yes, we may have taken our Atithi Devo Bhava crap way too seriously with him but then, he was also the only living proof of a Paki terrorist on Indian soil (Afzal Guru is one of us considering the possibility that Kashmiris are one of us). In any case, our scammed politicos have pushed numerical digits to such an extent that a few crore doesn't sound like a raw deal. Nonetheless, during the time he was in our jail, not a single Pakistan-sponsored terrorist attack took place in India. In the meantime, only a few over-smart local Muslims and over-stupid Hindus were involved in some recorded stray events, proving a point in how much we suck at terrorism!
     Going back to politicians, don't you think it's not a mere coincidence that they hanged the fall guy just a few days before the start of a turbulent winter Parliament session? For humour's sake, couldn't they have waited for five more days to coincide the hanging with the fourth anniversary of the dreaded day? Ahem. Just to be clear, I'm against death penalty. In my mind, eliminating one life in exchange of several lives doesn't add up well. We need to separate ourselves from our villain. Besides, for a nation of 1.22 billion, we've executed only two people in the last 15 years. Isn't that a shame? We are not even good at LEGALLY bumping off people. C'mon, don't tell me we don't have criminals who have committed deeds heinous enough to *deserve* death. Having mentioned that, i don't have a clue what we should have done with Kasab if he
were alive today. Maybe we should have given him the worst imaginable punishment... by sending him back to Pakistan! All things said and done, he was a misguided youth and the place where he comes from, there are dreamless kids raring to bask in his much-awaited martyrdom. Nothing can stop them from crossing an imaginary line, be it on water or on land. Anyway, I'm glad that Kasab was reportedly hanged. Since we've already lost Yashji to dengue, we couldn't have afforded to lose Kasab to mosquitoes. Image ka sawaal hai, boss. And as for the hanging part, it was just another day for Kasab.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

A year in a tabloid

I completed a year in MiD DAY today. Having entered the IIT of Bollywood Journalism exactly one year ago, it's hard to believe that they haven't kicked me out yet! Time went by and all i could do was take printouts of my broken dreams. I don't know what i just said. Anyway, that's not important. What's worth noting, however, is the fact that i didn't do something I'm really good at: giving up easily. I stuck to this job even though I'm well aware that i lack the qualities of a typical journo. Pitched against the pace at which my colleagues churn out stories, I'm a snail but i console myself by convincing myself that I'm a better writer. Not that it matters. Also I'm damn honest and my integrity is an endangered species. Yes, it matters. And to top it all, i don't scream (out of agony) when i see my salary slip. On the brighter end, my editor—like my former editor who hired me in the first place—is one of the coolest people i know. The colleagues are wonderful too as they are kind enough to laugh at my silly jokes. But it would be a lie if i said that i knew where i was heading to when i joined this rag. It would be a bigger lie if i said that i know where I'm heading to as of now. Currently positioned as the entertainment reporter who covers movies along with music and books, i get in touch with people y'all usually read about. In all honesty, that's the only incentive of this otherwise unimaginative job. When you meet famous people in flesh, you realize how similar they are to us. Only the wall of fame separates us. I hope i keep hurdling this wall in the days/nights to come and more importantly, i get the raise i so deserve. Thank you, HR, for reading this exclusive piece of trite.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Hearing the unsaid

There's always something unsaid. That part of you dies with you. Lest that happens, we try to blurt it out and make those words survive a few more days. Perhaps verbal posterity matters in this ever-decreasing space. Don't believe me? Ask that guy who fell for this girl he saw on a railway platform. It was a bright day with mild wind teasing the otherwise humid climate. And like thousands others in the city, he was waiting for the local train. But before the serpentine stretch of boxes could arrive, somebody else did. This angel lookalike with her hair bouncing on her shoulders was walking towards him but not to greet him. The ladies section was a couple of steps behind the spot our hero was standing and this girl was sashaying at her own sweet pace to reach there. He just knew what to do. More importantly, he knew what to say. All he had to do was wait for the point when she's exactly linear to him. As soon as that happened, he leaned forward and whispered in her ears "You're beautiful!" while she brushed past him. Unfortunately, she didn't even look back or laugh or smile or wink or frown. Sometimes you don't hear the voice of emotions and sometimes you simply overlook. However, that afternoon, something else happened. Despite our hero's brave efforts, words remained unheard. Loud music on earphones often does that to humans.  

Monday, November 19, 2012

Who moved my squirrel?

Wagah border is a strange place to be on our independence day. And by our, I mean India's and Pakistan's. On those particular days—evenings to be precise—a lot of unrestrained jingoism displays itself on either side of the gate that divides us. The whole arena is crowded and full of noise. As the official flags get lowered, soldiers lift their feet to heights that would make Ibrahimovic second-guess his wowsomeness. And while they are cocking around trying to shatter the concrete ground beneath them with their leather shoes, crowd add their bit to the unrehearsed show. Loud nationalist slogans can be heard and it's hard to find anyone who can stay untouched by such exhibition of harmless yet provocative emotions. Even the foreign tourists join in with 'Bharat Mata Ki Jai' or 'Pakistan Zindabad' depending on which country stamped their passports! I was there to witness all these aforementioned theatrics three months ago. To be frank, I wasn't interested in what was going on in front of my eyes. I was more into the ones on the other side. Call me a Paki-lover but I'm unapologetically fond of them. Having never seen a Pakistani in flesh before (which is the case with most of the Indians I know who hate Pakistanis indiscriminately), I was overwhelmed to witness SO MANY OF THEM at once. Most seemed upbeat with the watanfaroshi naraas on their lips. But then, you can't blame them for being in the jingoistic mood. Just like it'd be unpatriotic of me to expect anything different from my compatriots.... Amid this annual chaos, I noticed a bushy squirrel get down from a tree on *their* end and cross the border to climb up a tree on *our* end. I bet the ignorant rodent didn't know to which country it belonged. 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Well played!

     For an audience, the act of walking out in the middle of a play amounts to serious criticism. Both to the one who's leaving the room as well as the one who is witnessing the other leave the room. It's one of the factors that sets a play apart from a movie. In other words, it doesn't matter to anyone in a cinema hall—especially the actors on the big screen—if you feel like vacating your seat for nobody else. After all, you've bought the ticket so the damage is already done. But then, things work differently when it comes to theatre.
A still from the rehearsals
     I recently watched this play titled Mister Happy Maker and I must add that I totally loved the concept. Set in a home-cum-shop, the story focuses on the very idea behind happiness. What exactly is it? Who pays and to whom? How long will it last? Unanswered questions like these ring in the back of your head while almost a dozen characters perform in front of your eyes. Although ad/media seems to be at the receiving end, the message is conveyed in such a subtle way that it doesn't matter who the bad guy is.
    Speaking of actors, all of them did a likable job, especially Aseem Hattangady. He was incredibly convincing as an advertising executive. But for some reason Kaushal Anand, who played his son, seemed off the chart. Since he's essaying this pivotal yet highly disillusioned role who has everything against the world, I thought it was incumbent on him to go find a way out. Or at least get employed! But he doesn't intend to do any of that. Perhaps that's why the hollowness in his monologues were so dismally apparent. The only instance when a spark got noted in him was when he received a kiss from Divya Unny's sultry character! Perhaps it's not his fault. Blame the playwright.  
    The entire play could have done with a few more instances of genuine laughter. Absurdity is excusable but dullness isn't. There were moments of yawn because the novelty factor was lacking at moments.... crucial moments. Like an old sweeper is introduced in the later scenes but her dialogues betray her. Maybe it was the voice of hackneyed wisdom. Or maybe she was blatantly preachy. All in all, she failed to deliver the punch her character could have easily done because she represented the world outside the shop.
    However, thanks to beautiful lighting and props (the AV should have had better sound system), the play didn't come across as a wannabe. And quite memorably, the climactic chaos was the high point as it had the right mix of both tragedy as well as comedy. At that point, you thank yourself for staying back. But then, you can't stop those who want to leave in the middle of the act.

Monday, November 12, 2012

The real power of ink

Tattoos make skin speak for itself. And it has a lot to say given its status as the largest part of our body. It has seen way too much to keep quiet. However, it can't do anything on its own other than cry (perspire, if you like). We need to use our mind to make it our mouthpiece. So a tattoo artist becomes our partner-in-crime in this attempt to give voice to those who can't talk for themselves. But a tattooist doesn't see things this way. To him/her, your skin becomes a painful piece of canvas. They don't give a damn about how much the syringe hurts. After all, they have an advantage over God in this department. Birthmarks effectively prove that our Creator sucks at tattooing and hasn't got an inkling of design. What can possibly beat the joy of doing something to others that would, in a majority of cases, last a lifetime? Sadist much!

Friday, November 9, 2012

The bicycle theives

He was returning home early morning. The sun was still asleep and he was on his bicycle. Since his workplace was barely 1.5km away from his residence, he thought it was a wise decision to overlook public transport. However, this particular morning was going to make him revisit his intelligence. Such was his bad luck that two huge fellas forced him to abruptly apply brakes. They wanted him to hand over his phone but fortunately, his absent-mindedness came to his recuse. He had left it behind in his office. So they turned their attention towards cash—his cash, to be precise. Being someone who doesn't carry money, he assumed that they'd leave him alone. But being mistaken came naturally to him. They weren't going to give up so easily. They searched his bag for wallet but he didn't have any cash. You can't defeat a poor person, can you? In any case, he had to reveal in the end that he indeed had some Sodexo food coupons worth Rs340 on him which they might be interested in robbing. He handed over to them and the burly idiots let him go. While peddling towards home, he couldn't hide his smile because he couldn't understand how he managed to hide his bicycle which was clearly worth more than 340 bucks!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

There, there.

Far away from where you are right now, there is a place that doesn't entertain sadness. Grief is like water on a duck's wing there. It's full of delight and unexpected joy. This particular piece of land ain't aware of the void that fills us at the end of an interesting conversation. In other words, it is unique and priceless. Speaking of which, money is an alien concept there. Nobody is greedy nor excessively horny. Happiness is the common currency. Jealousy is something that is best left to the leaves—to turn green with envy and all. People don't fall in love. They rise. Politics and racism are mocked. Animosity doesn't occur because despair over things that don't exist in the first place is neither despised nor encouraged. Beauty, like magazines, is redundant and newspapers are banned. Media is to that paradise what dinosaurs is to ours. Everybody is alike the way birds and animals are on the rest of the planet. People there don't walk using the crutches made of lies. Truth prevails with absolute certainty. Corruption and poverty, akin to Harappan civilization, is lost in era. But names like Furhan and Gauri survive the test of time. There are so many more things that is simply exceptional about that place but nobody knows for sure where exactly it is. Got to be somewhere out there. We just have to discover it.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

A week full of names to drop

   Though incredibly busy, it had been one heck of a week. In the meanwhile, I met some interesting people from the film industry who didn't fail to impress despite my constant attempt at asking silly questions.
   It all began on Monday night when I had a chance interaction with SRK at Mannat. I was made to wait for 3 1/2 hours but it was worth the wait. This guy is phenomenal as I must have noted before but this time around, he was doubly fun because my interview lasted 56:53 minutes—more than double the time allotted—all thanks to his generous "Let him finish!" to his manager. He is such an awesome raconteur and has so much to say, with his trademark pinch of humour. I still feel that his early movies were his finest in terms of acting but I believe that he's an enlightened soul now. I might be wrong here... but he was right about chasing dreams without worrying too much about consequences. Well, he tried and look where he's now.
  The following morning, I went to meet Ang Lee at Marriott. I was supposed to wrap up the interview in 15 minutes. And there I was sitting next to the most humblest person (given the scale of individual achievements, of course) I've ever met in my life. It's hard to accept that this saintly guy made such bazooka films! The more occupying thing I heard from him was about God. He said something to the effect of filling the void in us by creating His/Her image outside us. The first and last celeb I took a picture with was Shashi Tharoor. I so wanted to click one with dao-yan (meaning director/master in Mandarin and that's what the lucky debutant Suraj Sharma calls him) but then I decided against it. Related: I'M SO F—ING REGRETTING MY IMPULSE RIGHT NOW!
   Later that day, I also got in touch with Tabu and Irrfan. The former was very funny, quashing the serious image media has so far created out of her. The latter was quite absorbing and diplomatic. Since Life of Pi has a strong dose of spirituality induced, I asked him about it. His question to me was eye-opening: "What do you mean by spirituality?" This was a startling response because at that point, I fully acknowledged the ambiguity of words. My spirituality could be different from yours just like your ignorance could be better than mine. Everything differs.
   On Wednesday, I met Reema Kagti. She directed Talaash and is waiting for its release, just like Aamir's fans are. I wish I could say that she was boring because if you look at her picture, that's the image that your mind tends to paint. At least my mind did. Anyway, Reema was on a blitzkrieg and barely allowed me to ask my usual foolish queries. The no-nonsense interview got over in 11:34 minutes, a new record!
   Thursday was spent doing what I generally do: waiting for the kind of weekdays I just mentioned to occur.
   On Friday night, I went to Tata Theatre and met Naseer saab backstage. I was warned beforehand by my Editor that he's a difficult person to talk to and if my questions don't interest him, he won't hesitate to let me know. Fortunately, he spoke for more than 15 minutes and even cracked a few quips while he was at it. To me, he's one of India's few complete actors. Before leaving the green room, he re-asked my name and said, "Write whatever you want!" In all probability, I must have posed engaging questions for him to say that.
   On Saturday, Katrina Kaif called at 12:46pm when she was supposed to pick up my call at 11:30am sharp. Talking on phone is a pain because I'm not really good at it. One-on-one is comparatively easier. Also, stardom and punctuality aren't meant for each other in Bollywood; especially when it comes to phoner. But her heavily-Brit accent was certainly meant for my screwed-by-transcription ears. To top that, she battled all my tabloidish questions with panache. She is no dumb girl as the ads in which features suggest. I'm not saying this because she was nice to me and said "Babu, please speak a bit louder... I can't hear you" but because she was nice to me and said "Babu, please speak a bit louder... I can't hear you".
   On Sunday afternoon, I saw Astad Deboo at NCPA. I can't dance but I admire dancers. More so, I admire Astad for all the good work he has been doing with the street kids and hearing-impaired ones. I feel he's under-appreciated given the change he has brought to modern Indian dance form by his fusion. He's as old as my dad but it's hard to believe. I liked him.
   This field of art and artistes are full of such unbelievable people whom you come to believe once you sit down for a chat. They are very much like us: flawed and humane. Sorry for being pompous but being underpaid never felt so compensated!