Thursday, July 16, 2015

Writing on Writing

A few months back, I compiled a few stories around Hindi film scripts for a very popular magazine. The material got used in bits and pieces for the cover story that they were doing. The cores of the stories were picked up from books, old issues of magazines, video interviews, memoirs of film personalities etc. Putting those stories here. 

Pyaasa
Writer Abrar Alvi was visited in Bombay by some of his rich friends from Hyderabad. With them, he ended up visiting prostitutes and met a woman called Gulabo. He never had a physical relationship with her but became very close friends, visiting her several times in the red-light district and having long conversations about her life. Later on, Alvi became very busy as a writer and could not remain in touch with Gulabo, who succumbed to tuberculosis. In fact, Alvi was passing by her locality when he decided to stop and meet her – only to see her funeral pass by. He recounted this story to Guru Dutt, who asked him to write a script out of it. That story became Pyaasa and Waheeda Rehman played the on-screen Gulabo.

Sholay (Mausi)
One of Sholay’s most memorable scenes – Jai’s ‘praise’ of Viru to Basanti’s mausi – had a real-life parallel because that was exactly how writer Salim Khan took his partner Javed Akhtar’s proposal to Honey Irani’s mother, Perin. Since Javed did not have a cordial relationship with his father, Salim was the ‘elder’ in his family but Salim’s ‘praise’ of Javed pretty much cooked the marriage’s goose. The proposal went something like this:
-          “Ladka kaisa hai?”
-          “We are partners and I wouldn’t work with anyone unless I approve of him. Lekin daaru bahut peeta hai.”
-          “Kya? Daaru bahut peeta hai!”
-          “Aaj kal bahut nahi peeta, bas ek do peg. Aur is mein aisi koi kharabi nahin hai. Lekin daaru peene ke baad red light area bhi jaata hai.”

Sholay (Tank)
While the entire screenplay of Sholay had been written right at the beginning, the exact nitty-gritties of individual scenes were discussed before the shooting schedule and modifications made to the dialogue. Viru’s most memorable scene – the drunken monologue atop the tank – was discussed several times and Javed Akhtar was supposed to write the final lines. He kept postponing it till it was time for him to return to Bombay from the shooting location near Bangalore. He started writing on his drive to the airport but Bangalore traffic then was nothing like what it is now and he reached the airport before he could complete the scene. An assistant went inside the airport to check him in while Javed kept the sheets of paper on the hood of his car and kept on writing right till boarding was announced. He just about managed to catch his flight and the lines he wrote went on to make box-office history.

Amar Akbar Anthony
Writer-director Prayag Raaj was a long-time associate of Manmohan Desai and came to Desai’s home one evening to pick up keys for a farmhouse where he wanted to spend a few days relaxing. When he arrived, Desai told him about a news item about a man who left his three sons at a park and committed suicide. What if he didn’t commit suicide and returned to find the three sons missing, he wondered. Prayag Raaj was intrigued enough by the idea to abandon his farmhouse plans and jam with Desai. What if the three boys were picked up by a Hindu, a Muslim and a Christian, he countered. They threw ideas around till late night with Manmohan Desai’s wife – Jeevanprabha – also contributing and by the end of it, the story showed enough promise to be developed into a full-fledged film.

Don
The cast of Don – Amitabh Bachchan, Zeenat Aman, Pran – had been assembled by the director Chandra Barot and producer Nariman Irani but they did not have a script. Nariman Irani’s wife, Salma was Waheeda Rehman’s hairdresser and through her, they got Waheeda Rehman to put in a word to her neighbour, Salim Khan.
Irani and Barot went to meet Salim-Javed and the writers did have a script to spare. But they warned the team of newcomers that the script had been rejected by pretty much the entire industry including stars like Dev Anand and Jeetendra. Salim Khan honestly asked them, “Humare paas ek breakfast script padi hai jo koi nahin le raha hai... Chalega?” And the team said, “Chalega”.
Salim then looked at Javed and said, “Toh phir woh Don wali script inhe de dete hain...

Satya
Anurag Kashyap was about twenty-five when he met Ram Gopal Varma and RGV asked him to write a script based on a one-line idea: “Let’s put Howard Roark of The Fountainhead in the Mumbai underworld.” Anurag started writing the script but RGV brought in Saurabh Shukla because he felt someone more mature should be involved. Anurag was not happy about this but nevertheless they went to RGV’s farmhouse in Hyderabad and wrote the first draft in about a week.
When they were discussing with RGV on how to name the characters – who had to look and sound real – RGV told his office boy, “Bhiku, teen coffee lana...” And the name stuck.
(After the first three days of shooting, Gulshan Kumar was shot dead and the underworld’s equation with Bollywood changed. Ram Gopal Verma trashed the script written so far and started afresh.) 

Rang De Basanti
Director Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra and writer Kamlesh Pandey were in Gujarat for researching a documentary when they met every evening and – with nothing to drink in the dry state – had anguished discussions about the state of the country’s affairs. This led to the idea of making a film on the armed freedom struggle of India and they wanted to call it The Young Guns of India. Kamlesh Pandey researched two years to write a first draft but when they bounced the idea off a group of Mumbai college students, they rejected it – unable to identify with the young revolutionaries of the 1920s. When Mehra wondered how to make this story relevant, he remembered a NDTV story on the faulty MiG aircrafts in the Indian Air Force and decided to rewrite the script with that as the focal point.  

Delhi Belly
The script of Delhi Belly was written by Akshat Verma and he pitched the concept to pretty much every big production house in Mumbai. Everyone made soft happy noises but eventually backed out. He tried getting in touch with Aamir Khan as well but could not reach the notoriously reclusive star. He left the script with Aamir’s maid and went back to LA (where he is based). The script was placed among a heap of unread scripts (yes, Aamir has one such heap at home!) and Kiran Rao happened to pick it out at random. She laughed so hard while reading the script that Aamir also read it and immediately called the writer on the number given on the first page of the script. 48 hours later, Akshat and his associate Jim Furgele were in Mumbai, narrating the script and figuring out shooting plans.

Gangs of Wasseypur
Zeishan Quadri had come from Dhanbad to Mumbai to become an actor. In between auditions, he hung around with other hopefuls and ended up watching the gangster classic City of God. He told his friends – Sachin Ladia and Akhilesh Jaiswal – this was nothing compared to the crime saga that unfolded in his hometown. This was met with disbelief till he came up with a flurry of stories and they made a treatment out of the stories. They managed to corner Anurag Kashyap inside the Prithvi Theatre complex. The director told all of them to write their own versions of the screenplay, which they did (including Zeishan, who had never written a script and wrote a novel instead). Anurag Kashyap took this voluminous material and went to Madrid, where Kalki Koechlin was shooting for Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara. In four days, he wrote the script for Part 1 and half of Part 2 (while staying in a hotel full of transsexuals). On his way back, the airline lost the bag which had the script. He stayed in the airport for two days till they found the bag.
(On his way back from Spain, he was supposed to come directly to Delhi where Hindustan Times had organised a screening of Udaan and he was supposed to introduce it.)

Screen writers have been a big obsession for a long time now and much of the last two years was devoted towards researching some of the best. This post is an appetiser for – hopefully – bigger stories.

Friday, July 10, 2015

55 Returns To Bollywood

Seven 55-word stories. On seven well-known and not-so-well-known Bollywood episodes. 


“Galti ho gayi, Anand-sahab.”
“Galti ke bachche, tu jaanta hai mera shirt kitne ka hain? Main tere paise se...”
“Nahin malik, wohi saamne wale sahab se adla-badli...”
“Tujhe sab pata hain to...”
“Haan sahab, Prabhat Studios mein kaam karte hain...”
“Prabhat..?”
“Jee... dance master hain.”
“Kya naam bataya?”
“Padukone sahab... woh doosre maale mein kholi...”


“Nahin yaar, jam nahin raha hain.”
“Omprakash-ji, aap ko chahiye kya lyrics mein?”
“Thoda mischief... thoda romance... thoda banter chahiye, yaar.”
“Aap ko maine kitne options diye lekin... aaj aur nahin soch sakta. Kal phir se sitting rakhte hain.”
He turned to the two composers.
“Achha, toh hum chalte hain.”
“Phir kab miloge?” asked Laxmikant.


“Sorry beta but we can produce your script only by closing this office.”
“But that would mean...”
“Haan, people will lose jobs...”
“No, no... I will rework the budget.”
“How...”
“We’ll make the film for less but the office should run.”
“Thanks, Sooraj.”
“Kya bol rahe ho? Aapke mere beech no sorry, no thank you...”


“Okay... so, you don’t know her address?”
“No.”
“You have not even a vague idea of the locality where she might be staying?”
“No.”
“And you came all the way from Delhi to find her?”
“Yes.”
“Here in Bombay... without an address?”
“Yes.”
“And what if you don’t find her?”
“I will become a superstar.”


“What if this show fails?”
“It won’t... it’s an international hit.”
“But I’ve never done TV.”
“Doesn’t matter. You are...”
“I am very nervous...”
“Sir, you’ll do fine.”
“I don’t think I can do this...”
“Sir, shoot is about to...”
“No, I can’t...”
......
“Deviyon aur sajjanon, aap sabka swagat hai iss adbhut khel mein...”


“Nahin yaar...  not one good reason to do your film... Now don’t start on it being hatke... all films are hatke... I’ll get lost in this multi-starrer, yaar...”
“You haven’t read the script?” the producer asked.
“No, yaar... what’s the...”
“So you don’t know who the killer is.”
“No... who is the killer?” Kajol asked.


“You can’t take a call at an Enrique concert, ya!” 
“I know, ya but...”
“Not from home, na?”
“No, some unknown number.”
“Dekh, it can’t be any producer.”
“No but...”
“Why you spoiling this outing???”
“Let me just take this.”
“Spoilsport, yaar!”
“It will take five seconds.”
....
“Hello?”
“Hello... Bidya? This is Prodeep Shorcar.”

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Know Your Censor Board Chief

As a Bollywood fan, the Chairman of the Central Board of Film Certification (aka Censor Board) is the administrative post you are most affected by. After all, he is the guy who is going to decide if you would get to watch MSG with Gurmeet Singh Ram Rahim Singh Insan's topless scene intact or we'd have to make do with his Love Charger instead.
Therefore, today's appointment of the CBFC Chief needs a bit of perspective. More so, since people have already dismissed Pahlaj Nihalani as someone who made some Modi promotional video and are ignoring the impressive line-up of films he produced in the 1980s and 1990s.

Pahlaj Nihalani's greatest contribution is not to Bollywood but to Bangladeshi cinema. Because. He. Is. The. Man. Who. Launched. Suyash Pandey.
Nihalani met (or spotted) Chunky Pandey in the loo of a five-star hotel and immediately signed him for a debut that would electrify Bollywood in the 1990s, energise the Bangladeshi film industry a decade later and provide fodder for jokes at awards functions two decades later.

Apart from that, Pahlaj Nihalani bankrolled many of the massive hit films that would establish Govinda-David Dhawan as the greatest combination to happen to Hindi cinema after Amitabh-Manmohan Desai. [I didn't say that. Anupama Chopra wrote about it in an India Today profile of the actor.]

Pahlaj Nihalani's first film as a producer was Hathkadi (not to be mistaken with the 1990s GTH/LML version starring Govinda and Shilpa Shetty). The film is famous for the Asha Bhosle classic - Disco Station - composed by the legendary Bappi Lahiri. Point to be noted is that the film was released in 1982 with Shatrughan Sinha and Rakesh Roshan playing sons to Sanjeev Kumar, giving it a slight 70s vibe with an 80s disco touch.

His next notable was Ilzaam, featuring the song that would make Govinda the butt of jokes in the snooty English-language film press. I am a Street Dancer (again by Bappi Lahiri) was performed by Govinda with gusto on - well - the streets of Bombay while his cronies slipped into people's houses and stole stuff. This whole crime was being investigated by his brother, a police officer (Shatrughan Sinha) as his girlfriend Neelam confused him for someone else.

Then came Aag Hi Aag, which was the aforementioned Suyash's debut. In an interview to Stardust, Chunky said, "After Aag Hi Aag, it was bhaag hi bhaag for me" - indicating the ginormous number of films he signed after this first hit (!). Chunky was the son of Dharmendra, who was the enemy of Danny, who was the enemy of Shatrughan Sinha - in the typically complicated plot of the Bollywood of yore that needed 2:55 hours to uljhao and 0:05 hours to suljhao.

Shola Aur Shabnam was probably the first of the Govinda-David Dhawan partnership that would rule for the next several years. Govinda as army cadet Karan. Gulshan Grover as Kali. Mohnish Behl as his brother Bali. Anupam Kher as Col. Lathi. And Bindu as a girl's college hostel warden who had the hots for Anupam Kher. Any 90s connoisseur can imagine what an explosion the above chemicals can concoct and the film did not disappoint at all.
Add to that quite a few hit songs including the epic Aaaooooooaaaaa o o o o (x 3).

Immediately after SAS came Aankhen, a film that should have been in the Guinness Book for having a world record four double roles (two Kadar Khans, two Govindas, two Raj Babbars and one pair of Chunky-Monkey). It didn't get into the record books because Nihalani was too busy counting the money this film made. It was the biggest grosser of 1993 and I remember watching the film on cable one night, when I was not able to go for a leak because the events just did not let up!
A prankster duo. Their strict father. A gang of terrorists out to switch a CM with a lookalike. A stock-market scamster who had to be released from jail. Twin brothers of several people. And songs that were bloody catchy.
There was the Anthem of Eve-Teasing: O laal dupatte wali, tera naam toh bataa
There was Semi-Romantic Semi-Erotic Ditty: Ek tamanna jeevan ki (Feat. Govinda's Moobs)
There was the PETA Geet: Bade kaam ka bandar
There was the Ghar Khaali Gaana: Angana mein baba, duwaare pe maa - which probably started the debate around Double Meaning Songs much before Raja Babu, Dalaal and Dulara came into the picture.

The final name on this list - though not the final title on Nihalani's CV - is Andaz.
Anil Kapoor appeared as a bespectacled schoolteacher in this film, just in case everyone thought our favourite neighbourhood tapori was not intellectual enough to be associated with academia. But then, studies were strictly avoided as a love triangle between the teacher, his wife (Juhi Chawla) and a student (Karisma Kapoor—in the mandatory minis of a girl student) developed. In any case, Anil Kapoor’s erudition would have been terribly misplaced in a school—hilariously named Nalanda—which counted Shakti Kapoor among its students.

As is evident, Pahlaj Nihalani was (is) a visionary producer who has always been aware of the thin line between subtle humour and slapstick, between eroticism and porn, between body parts that can be exposed and body parts that can't. He has chosen never to walk that line but that does not make him any less qualified to be the person who decides which scenes stay in the movies we watch and which scenes don't.
After all, he knew that consent from the woman is essential for any romantic liaison (Khet gaye baba, bazaar gayi maa / Akeli hoon ghar mein, tu aaja balmaa said the woman in a song he produced). He also depicted empowered women (When asked her name, his heroine snapped back Pehli mulaqat mein ladki nahin khulti / Har ajnabi pe dil ki yeh khidki nahin khulti). And these modern women were also aware of old traditions of hospitality (Garam garam halwa aur puri khilaibe / Naram naram haathon se khaaja balma).
Overall, a man who blends the traditional and modern. Bring him on, I say. 

Friday, January 02, 2015

My Favourite (Blog)Posts of 2014

Before 2015 becomes more than a few days old, let me quickly upload a list of my favourite (blog) posts of 2014.

Arunava Sinha wrote on buying and reading books in 1980s Calcutta and Interstellar suddenly made sense. When he was pushing the shelves of Modern Book Emporium on Dover Lane, I was on Hindustan Road (the very next lane) at a roadside bookshop looking for nearly the same books and wondering why they were falling off the shelves and into my hands. 

One good Calcutta post deserves another. 
Parama Ghosh wrote on the Bengali New Year (Poila Boishakh) and her visit to College Street with her parents. She bought books, chatted with booksellers, ate at the traditional places, observed the not-so-traditional things and - for many of us - brought this beautiful place alive once again. 
Thought: If the post had been in English, more people would have been able to read it. But then, it wouldn't have been perfect.

Before you start complaining about posts in Bengali that everyone cannot enjoy, let me pacify you. 
Tanmay Mukherjee a.k.a. Bongpen started a parallel blog to assist people desirous conducting their romantic pursuits in the manner of the planet's most poetic, most thoughtful and most articulate people. Pickup lines in Bengali would turn every Kohli into a Kobi, every Ravi into a Robi. So, was it love at first sight or should I link the blog again? 
[Bonus Bengali Post: Tanmay wrote another post on 26th January last year and explained a diplomatic incident we have been trying to understand for the last seven decades.]

Kroswami is someone whose identity I don't know. But when (s)he talks about eating in Calcutta, falling in love while eating in Calcutta, breaking one's heart while falling in love by eating in Calcutta, the identity doesn't matter. There is a blog post about the less celebrated eateries of Calcutta that I cannot describe. And the good news is that I don't have to describe it. 
"Go there. Just go there. And live it."

After all that food, you have to wash it down with some alcohol. 
Amritorupa Kanjilal got that forward about '20 Alcoholic Puns for Booklovers' like all of us. What she did next will blow your mind. She came up with 80 (yes, eighty... eight zero!) more puns spanning both English and Bengali classics (and some not-so-classics). When Omar Khayyam said "A book... a jug of wine... and thou", I think he meant this post. 

Sidin Vadukut - after he became bestselling author - neglected his blog like anything. He returned to it in the beginning of 2014 recounting an interesting bit of his daughter's growing up. When I first read this, I fell on my knees and wept. Partly out of recognition, but mostly out of relief. 
I guarantee all parents will feel the same way. Unless you have a toddler right now. Then you will want to strangle Sidin. 

Arnab Ray a.k.a. Greatbong - even after becoming a bestselling author - did not neglect his blog at all. But he started deconstructing politicians, reconstructing politics and instructing a lot of others. But he returned to form with an elegant post on Bollywood's Ice Bucket Challenge (Classic Era) that ranks among his very best. You expected every blogger to write an Ice Bucket post, right? So what's new? Well, as a (Classic Era) Bollywood punchline went: 'Expect the Unexpected'. 

How can you write a memorable post - one that stays with a reader for several months, if not years - on a single film? Well, I will show you. 

Imaan Sheikh ruined some of the best loved films from my college days with her 'accurate and honest summaries'. My favourite one was the Hum Saath Saath Hain one, where she brought in marijuana, casual sex, incestual undertones, minority bashing and all the political incorrectness that you can think of. And then some. 
I really hated HSSH so I loved this one. On the other hand, I had loved KKHH when I first saw it but I loved Imaan's post on that one too. WTF? Kuch kuch hota tha, Imaan. Tum nahin samjhoge...

Sukanya Verma has been revisiting some of the classics from the 1980s, concocting a brilliant mix of filmi nostalgia, critical analysis and oft-forgotten trivia around some of our lesser classics. I feel about fifty of these columns would be a wonderful book on Indian cinema and her piece on JJWS was one of the best. Primarily because it is one of my favourites. But also because I loved the way she changed to top gear at the very end. 

Beth Watkins had developed an (unhealthy?) obsession with Shashi and Soumitra till it took the Deol to family to shake her awake and ride into Fictitoustan. As she explored Sultanat (yet another of my childhood favourites), it was like watching the film once again - this time with subtitles, an expert commentary track and mental popcorn to munch on, 

So, those are my ten favourites from 2014. You wouldn't believe the agony I went through to reach this shortlist from the hundreds of posts I liked. What I do for you guys! 
Happy? Now, go buy my book. 

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014: A Roundup

Chalo, my yearly roundup is here. 

Films
One of the things I loved about 2014 was the huge number of films that were led by a woman. Be it Mary Kom (which I found okayish) or Mardaani (which worked for me as an action film) or Finding Fanny (which I found to be a bit too quirky), 2014 was full of great women characters. Even a male-centric film like Haider had Tabu eating up pretty much everything around her.

My honourable mention for the year is Highway, an illogical story about illogical people doing illogical stuff but it managed to weave a spell around me. I think Alia Bhatt was a revelation in 2014, not only for Highway but also for Genius of the Year.
[Caveat: Highway did a business of about Rs 30 Cr while Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania did about Rs 75 Cr. Hence, do not expect Alia Bhatt to go on too many arthouse road trips.]

And my favourite five movies of the year are:
[Disclaimer: I haven't seen the following films, which I think I would have loved: Ugly, Happy Ending and Sulemani Keeda.]

5. Hasee Toh Phasee
Parineeti Chopra just rocked this film, which could have easily become a Karan Johar cliche. But she was marvelous as the science genius who would steal from her family to fund her high-tech research instead of buying a lehenga, as Hindi film heroines are always doing.

4. Queen 
We have been seeing single heroines going on European holidays for a 1000 weeks now but Queen managed to break every cliche we knew. Kangana Ranaut was the eponymous queen but the entire ensemble cast of the film also chipped in wonderfully. I especially liked Rajkumar Rao in what can be called the exact opposite of an author-backed role!

3. The World Before Her 
Director Nisha Pahuja pulled off an amazing coup as hers became the first film crew to shoot inside a Durga Vahini (women's wing of Bajrang Dal) camp and they followed 24-year old Prachi who trains young girls there. Pahuja also followed the fortunes of Ruhi Singh as she prepared and competed in the final rounds of Miss India 2011. Placing these two contrasting worlds alternately, she created a riveting film on the wildly different lives open to the modern Indian women.
As the film ended, I wanted to just go home and hug my daughter tight. Six months later, I feel the same when I think about the film. 

2. Jatiswar 
A Bengali woman who is super-snobbish about her language. A Gujarati man out to woo the woman. A Portuguese man who made nineteenth century Bengal his home. A Bengali man who seems to be the reincarnation of the foreigner. And a musician-Prophet who blew minds with the score. Srijit Mukherjee explained why he is the most interesting Bengali filmmaker today with a masterful exploration of some legendary characters of Bengali culture and cinema. 

1. Filmistaan 
A film-crazy Indian gets kidnapped and lands up in the only other country which loves Bollywood as much as - if not more than - we do. What followed was magical mayhem as Sharib Hashmi became the comic performer of the year in a film that was at once a great entertainer and a poignant comment about our relationship with our neigbour. For once, #IndiaWithPakistan was a happy memory.

0. Sholay 3D 
What can I say about the Greatest Film Ever Made? Watching Sholay in a multiplex with people around me clapping, cheering, joking, mouthing dialogues and blinking back tears was easily my best cinematic experience of the year. 
(And oh, I watched the film with Gabbar Singh. When Ahmed's dead body reached Ramgarh, he quipped "#ThankYouSachin".)

Books
I read three great non-fiction books that were published earlier and therefore - strictly speaking - not part of the 2014 list.
Anita Raghavan's The Billionaire's Apprentice was a brilliant and tragic account of Rajat Gupta's fall from grace as an Indian icon to a convicted felon. While the book was really about the Galleon hedge fund scam, my abiding memory of the book was the devastating unfolding of Gupta's misfortune.
Rahul Pandita's Our Moon Has Blood Clots is a blow-by-blow account of the tragedy of the Kashmiri Pandits' exodus from the valley. This book looks at one side of the coin while Basharat Peer's Curfewed Night (which is on my to-read list) looks at the other.
Cathy Scott-Clerk and Adrian Levy's The Siege was a meticulous replaying of the 26/11 attack and it showed page-after-page, line-after-line how the Indian government's response made a bad situation worse. You always knew that but to be given proof-after-proof for nearly 300 pages is something that drains you out completely.

Two great books on Calcutta are being kept out of the ranking for sentimental reasons because I am never able to process Calcutta logically.
Indrajit Hazra's Grand Delusions is a 'personal biography' of the city. To start, any book on Calcutta with 'delusions' in the title has won half the accuracy battle. He does a fine job of identifying some of the key passions of the city - sweets, cinema, music, Pujo, politics, Park Street - and going back in time to the starting point. But the biggest triumph of the book is the 'mood'. The delusional Calcuttan, who sees change around him and is unsure whether he likes it or not, is captured just perfectly. 
[On a personal note, I was born in a nursing home run by one Dr Hazra in Beleghata. A few pages into the book, I realised Dr Hazra was Indrajit's grandfather and the book is dedicated to that nursing-home-cum-residence located at 203 CIT Road, Beleghata.]
In Longing, Belonging, Bishwanath Ghosh mixes the dispassionate outlook of an outsider (he is from Kanpur, now working in Chennai) with the erudition and charm of an insider (he is a Bengali, married to a Calcuttan). He looks at Calcutta's best known tropes - politics, football, literature, nostalgia, history, food - and takes a leisurely stroll around them. This is not a history book and the research is more context-setting than in-depth. The result is a beautiful mix of fact and opinion, past and present, happiness and melancholy, human and divine, modern and archaic, longing and belonging.

5. The Master & I - Soumitra Chatterjee / Arunava Sinha
Soumitra Chatterjee writing about his mentor and the greatest Indian filmmaker is now available in a flowing translation and a great, great read. One of the very few books in the world where a top actor goes into so much depth about his life and craft with one director.

5. And Then One Day - Naseeruddin Shah
The brutally honest, incorrigibly cynical, effortlessly funny autobiography of one of the greatest actors in the world has to be read to be believed. We are so used to sanitised memoirs that the book has to be read to be believed.

4. Korma, Kheer and Kismet - Pamela Timms 
When I read the couple of pages where the Amritsari Kulcha is described, my mouth started watering. This book is written like the way great chefs prepare food - with an eye for detail, a passion for the craft and the stomach to eat well.

3. The Silkworm - Robert Galbraith 
In what is becoming an annual tradition, Cormoran Strike is slowly building a web of familiar locations, memorable characters and likeable quirks that will eventually become a canon. The moody detective and his sleuthing have improved further from the first book and the ambience just makes it perfect. 

2. First Person - Rituparno Ghosh
This two-volume compilation of Rituparno Ghosh's weekly columns satisfies the low-brow voyeur and the serious film fan. Rituparno talks about his attending the Abhishek-Aishwarya wedding as well as the Cannes Film Festival with the same childlike enthusiasm that we saw in his talk shows. He talks about the difficulties of being gay in India and recounts silly anecdotes from his shooting, both casually and without any intellectual pretensions. He manages to convey a sense of wonder when he narrates his encounters with stars and displays a starry stubbornness as he holds on to some of his idiosyncrasies. Overall, a delightful read. 
The only disheartening thing is that there will never be a sequel. 

1. Rosebud Sled and Horses' Heads - Scott Jordan Harris
Fifty iconic items from world cinema. The severed head of Khartoum from The Godfather. The sled from Citizen Kane. Even the double-headed coin from Sholay. Scott Jordan Harris' book is a perfect blend of movie fandom and trivia geekery. Beautifully illustrated, this is a book that demands you to return again and again, savour the items like favourite snacks and silently rue that Indian cinema still doesn't have such luscious books. 
Oh... and there is one more item from Indian cinema that just took my breath away. Read the book to find out. 
[To get a flavour of the book, take a look at the website.]

But of course, I am lying when I say Rosebud Sleds was my favourite book of the year. My favourite book of the year and probably the favourite book of my entire life  is Bollybook
For a large part of the year, I was writing it, revising it and re-writing it till I realised I hadn't really read it! It was only in the last three-odd months that I started re-discovering some nuggets in the book (yes, I forgot stuff I wrote myself) and said a silent prayer that the book turned out to be something I enjoyed myself. 
And how cool is it that the year  is ending with Bollybook ahead of at least one book that it was inspired by.

Thank you for making Bollybook - and 2014 - so special for me! 
Wish you a great 2015. 

Friday, December 19, 2014

#BookADay

Penguin India is running a month-long campaign on Twitter, asking people to name their favourite books in various categories - one for each day.
I got lost in the many responses they got from a large number of readers. So I thought I will indulge myself in a bit of book-thinking here. (A good excuse to revive the blog as well!)

Ideal December read: WTF is a December read now? My favourite December reads are the annual round-up issues of magazines.

Most beautiful cover: Pretty much everything by Satyajit Ray. In recent times, I really liked the cover of The Blaft Anthology of Tamil Pulp Fiction.

A book you identify with: Eric Segal's The Class. Specifically with Andrew Eliot.

A book character you'd like to meet: Professor Shonku, I guess.

Wisest book you've ever read: Carl Sagan's Cosmos.

A book you keep going back to: Lila Majumdar's Din Dupurey.

First book you remember reading: Satyajit Ray's Shonar Kella (The Golden Fortress). Wrote a post about this.

A book that gives you the chills: Arnab Ray's The Mine.

Favourite mythological tale: Rajshekhar Basu's Mahabharat. Specifically the Agyatabash episode.

A book that makes you want to write: Anupama Chopra's Sholay: The Making of a Classic. I realised a book on cinema can be informative as well as enjoyable.

A book character that you want(ed) to marry: Florentyna Kane a.k.a. The Prodigal Daughter (Jeffrey Archer).

A book that you have pretended to read: Most of my textbooks.

Your curl-up read: Can I say Bollybook?

Your favourite book series: Feluda. Feluda. Feluda.

Your favourite Jane Austen character: Have to shamefacedly admit that I haven't read a single Jane Austen novel.

A book that makes you hungry: Pamela Timms' Korma, Kheer and Kismet. One of the better books I have read in 2014.

Favourite autobiography: Ken Jennings' Brainiac: Adventures in the Curious, Competitive, Compulsive World of Trivia Buffs. A brilliant memoir (along with a history of trivia in the USA) of a 75-time Jeopardy winner.

A book to read when homesick: Indrajit Hazra's Grand Delusions. One of two great Calcutta books of 2014, the other being Bishwanath Ghosh's Longing, Belonging.

Favourite fairy tale character: Aladdin. I could do with a lamp like his.

A book to gift around Christmas: Jai Arjun Singh's Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro: Seriously Funny Since 1983, a joyous book that would fit snugly in a stocking.

A book that makes you cry: Sanjib Chattopadhyay's Iti Tomar Ma, a not-so-well-known tear-jerker in Bengali.

Best book you ever received as a giftTen Bad Dates with De Niro: A Book of Alternative Movie Lists from my childhood friend, Nilendu. The idea of a 'book of lists' came after reading this book.

Favourite family read: When I was a kid, we used to read Sukumar Ray's Pagla Dashu together and laugh our guts out. 

Favourite Christmas book: Dr Seuss' How The Grinch Stole Christmas. What else could it be?

A book on your shelf you haven't read yet: Pranab Mukherjee's The Dramatic Decade. Downloaded on Kindle, to be read next.

A book you couldn't put down: Sidney Sheldon's Master of the Game. Actually most of Sheldon's early novels.

An author you discovered this year: Naseeruddin Shah.

Your best read of 2014: Scott Jordan Harris' Rosebud Sleds and Horses' Heads: 50 of Film's Most Evocative Objects - An Illustrated Journey. [This was probably the most agonising question to answer.]

Your favourite Rudyard Kipling character: Know only one, naming that one. Mowgli.

Most awaited book of 2015: A biography of Salim-Javed, to be published by Penguin India and being written by a Delhi-based author. 

Done.
Now you do the same list. 

Saturday, November 01, 2014

A LOT of Film Writing

In an effort to get noticed in a month when India's top novelist released 2 million copies of his latest offering, I ended up writing quite a few pieces on movies which are around the topic of Bollybook. That I didn't post them on the blog can be attributed to laziness and quite a bit of work at the workplace as well as on my next book, which is turning out to be trickier than I thought.

Anyway, here is a compilation of the pieces I have written in the last month and a half.

Yahoo! Originals
A piece on the obsessive, compulsive, disorderly world of Hindi movie trivia.
"Why do we know so little about stuff that goes on in Bollywood movies and why is the documentation so dodgy? Why do we like it anyway?"

Outlook - Books
In the aftermath of the Facebook '10 Books That Touched You', I looked at the books people read in Hindi movies... from Jaani Dushman to Kal Ho Naa Ho.

Outlook - Durga Pujo / Dussehra
'Twas the season of Durga Pujo when I held forth on the celebrations of the Mother Goddess in Bollywood, starting from Amar Prem and throwing in a dash of Dandiya as well.

Outlook - 25 Years of Shiva
Outlook did a story on the film that changed Telugu cinema and the director who nearly changed Hindi cinema, for which I was called on to provide some attendant trivia.

IBNLive: Half-Girlfriend
I interviewed Chetan Bhagat and came up with an article on his response to criticism against his books.

Anti-serious: Aunty Serious
For a new web-magazine that is about 'laughter in slow motion', I did a play on their name and wrote about the chachis and mausis of Bollywood.

Desimartini: History Lessons from Andaz Apna Apna
While celebrating #20YearsofAAA, I wrote about some of the antique pieces from the film for the benefit of younger viewers... things like Wah Wah Productions, Mohan Bagan and OP Nayyar.

For Desimartini, I also wrote piece on the urban legend about Shashi Tharoor being in AAA, which Shashi Tharoor tweeted. (Shows how badly trolled he has been!) 
Though, the biggest plus of the article was that we found the actor who was the lookalike! Here is how that happened.  

Apart from these, there were a few media mentions which I will upload the moment I shake off my lethargy.
In the meantime, please buy the book.

Links: Amazon | Flipkart 

Sunday, August 24, 2014

What is Bollybook?


Now that I have signed off all the proofs and sent Bollybook to the printers, this might be a good time to tell you what the book is all about.
A couple of years back, I wrote a book called Kitnay Aadmi Thay which was a compilation of Completely Useless Bollywood Trivia. Basically fifty lists about cool and/or oft-seen things in Hindi cinema – Bengalis, Miss Indias, newspapers, Amitabh Bachchan, The Godfather rip-offs, mother characters  and the like.  
The book ran its course. All my friends were thrilled. Readers of this blog were happy. The reviews weren’t too bad either.

So when KAT was in production and on shelves, I started writing a sequel – fifty more lists of similarly cool things. How many movies have blackboards in scenes and what for? How many heroines in bikinis? How many heroes in towels? What are the cool things that happen just before Intervals? Who made the coolest last-scene cameos?

When I pitched this sequel to an editor in Penguin, I saw it as a second KAT. But Udayan Mitra – he of encyclopaedic Bollywood knowledge – came up with the grand idea of combining KAT and the next fifty lists I had written to bring out one mega-book of Bollywood trivia.
Something like those Uncle John’s Bathroom Readers. A book that would be big enough to act as a weapon (or a shield) if the Salman and SRK fans got too carried away. A book that would be chock-a-block with juicy nuggets from our favourite films. And some from our not-so-favourite ones as well.
I decided to name it Bollybook, hopefully a happy mix of encyclopaedic authority and filmy quirkiness.

So Bollybook has 100 lists... a subtle tribute to Bollywood’s favourite number – be it in weeks or crores.
It also has a whole mess of trivia boxes, quizzes, photos, jokes and footnotes... pretty much every white space we could find in the 460 pages, we packed it with some stuff. (As evidence, I am attaching a shot of a part of Page 243 that is a chapter on the best towel scenes and ends with a trivia boxes on bathing scenes. See what I mean?)
KAT did not have contents pages or an index, which came across as a bit of a problem. This time, we have added both so that you can quickly figure out the page(s) where Jaani Dushman appears. (Pages 6 and 39, if you are interested.)    

My good friends and loyal readers who had bought/read KAT will find those fifty chapters again.
But I can assure you there will be many new entries in those lists, new trivia boxes, new photos added, clunky sentences written better and other updates made so that you don’t feel short-changed. Hopefully overwhelmed but surely not short-changed.  
We are marketing it as The Big Book of Hindi Movie Trivia. And when I say BIG, maa kasam I mean it.

So Bollybook will soon be at a bookstore near you. At the price of two movie tickets, I promise you it will be a longer lasting – well – kick than Akshay Kumar's adventures with a dog.

And you do want to know about Boney’s Law of Spatial Time-Space Coordinate, don’t you? 

Monday, July 28, 2014

Eid yani Biriyani!

I apologise at the outset for equating the holy festival of sacrifice and pilgrimage with rice and mutton but I am secularly hungry. You should see my glee while devouring roast turkeys and Kalipujo mutton.
Having ordered 2 kilos of haleem from Hyderabad's Pista House in the last one month, I thought of doing my bit for Eid-ul-fitr by listing down some of Bollywood's best biriyani scenes - thus combining the two most-loved things of my life.

Ladies - if you ever won a competition of something you really love doing, how would you celebrate? Wait, I know... You would go home and cook biriyani for your husband, right?
[Airtel, how the hell did you manage this brand placement?]
Well, that's what Anushka Sharma did in Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi. After getting selected for a dance competition, she went home and cooked a celebratory dinner for her husband.
Oh, she stopped on the way and had some chaat with her dancing partner.
Well, not just had but got into a golgappa-eating competition with him.
One second... then how did she eat the biriyani at home then?
You see, she didn't... she just lovingly fed her husband.
Ohkay... well, he was hungry I guess. After all, he didn't get to have chaat.
Sigh, it is a long story...

Three burly men named Jahangir, Majid and Farid sitting around a table and chomping down biriyani and kababs could be a sight that warms the cockles of foodies' hearts and also scares you shitless. Especially they are a Mafia don and his two ruthless son - who alternately rule and run roughshod over Mumbai. 
In Shashilal Nair's Angaar, Jackie Shroff took up arms against them but not before the trio had congregated around a low table and polished off (what seemed like) tons of biriyani and kabab. 

Community meals are actually the best settings for eating biriyani... sitting cross-legged and helping oneself to large scoops of biriyani from the central degchi!
Tabu was the Biriyani Masterchef in Maqbool where a don and a politician broke bread (rice) as their minions joined them and nefarious deals got discussed over rice and meat. 


Abhishek Bachchan's forgettable Run can be remembered for its kauwa biriyani. 
Vijay Raaz sat down at a roadside stall and wolfed down a plate of Chicken biriyani for Rs 5 only. As it was likely to be, the biriyani was not really chicken but crow - causing our man to crow like a crow for some time after the consumption of the biriyani. Certainly not stuff you can pass off at an iftar party! 

Rajkumar Gupta's Aamir was set in a Muslim area, where seemingly a million eyes watched Rajeev Khandelwal while a rough voice tried to convince him to plant a bomb - in exchange for the life of his family. The claustrophobic atmosphere was partially lifted on the occasional appearance of a plate of biriyani. A colleague confessed that when he saw the scene on DVD, he paused it, went off to a nearby biriyani joint, had a plate, came back and resumed watching the film. 

My correspondents tell me that two biriyani scenes; one in My Wife's Murder (where Boman Irani is the eater) and and another in Traffic Signal are very good but I recall neither of them and stand shamefacedly before asking all of you to remember the scenes, hunt for YouTube clips and post them in the comments below. 

My favourite biriyani scene stars the voluminous Shashi Kapoor as poet Noor in Muhafiz. As his fan Deven (Om Puri) tried to squeeze out drops of shairi from him, he pontificated on the ingredients ("badhiya se badhiya gosht...") and accompaniment ("biriyani ke saath rum..."). Here, I present a few screenshots. 



Wish you all Eid Mubarak! 

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Bollywood's Damning Women Cliches

A guest-post for @genderlogindia, written on Prem Panicker's request, first published here.

Bollywood is usually the go-to guy for bashing. Anything evil in this country is, by and large, attributed to Bollywood’s zestful propagation of the same. Smoking – check. Dumbing down – check. Eve teasing – double check.

The meme goes that Bollywood has made stalking into an art form and otherwise respectable composers- choreographers-costumers have participated wholeheartedly to make this activity into a grand and enduring success.
The ‘stalking song’ is what stars and directors are most reviled for, but I am inclined to overlook it because it is never an end. If the villain does it, there is swift dispensation of justice by the hero. If the hero does it, he either reforms soon after or does something completely monumental (like strangling his Mafia don father’s pet anaconda to marry the girl) that underlines his true love.
My logic is simple: If a molester claims that he got his idea from Akshay Kumar, he should immediately be made to fight thirteen sword-wielding goons to save a girl. Because that’s what Akshay did – right after he teased the girl.

However, this is not to say Bollywood can hold its head high when gender is being discussed. What Bollywood kills us with are the stereotypes it silently perpetuates through stock characters or situations, either for convenience or through not wanting to take a risk. This is – in my opinion – far more damning than a raucous song. Because it is a subtle and, more critically, ongoing message that certain things are ‘wrong’.
Here is my quick list of six stereotypes Bollywood perpetrates. (Please feel free to add more. ):

Heroines don’t do regular work. Unless they are prostitutes or police officers.
Heroines don’t go to offices. (Yes, I know you will jump up and name five movies where they do but that’s exactly my point – those are exceptions.) They study. They are nice people, but they don’t ‘do’ anything.
In the two biggest hits of this year – Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani and Chennai Express – we are not sure what the heroine does. In the former, Deepika Padukone is shown preparing to become a doctor in the flashback but in the present day, she is quite happy looking gorgeous, and no mention of her medical practice is ever made. Ditto for Chennai Express.
In the Top 10 grossers in Bollywood history (all of which are from the last few years), only one heroine – Kareena Kapoor of 3 Idiots – uses her profession to make a contribution to the story. The rest just dance spectacularly.
And this has been a standard template in Bollywood. For example, Madhuri Dixit was supposed to be a ‘student of computers’ in Hum Aapke Hain Koun but she never goes even close to one in the film. In Maine Pyar Kiya, heroine Bhagyashree had excellent marks in ‘inter’ but she chose to be deposited in a family friend’s home instead of a working woman’s hostel.
Take the biggest hits (and the not so big ones, as well) and you will see the same trend. The only working girl I can think of in a major hit is Sholay’s Basanti. And she abandoned her promising career to get married.

Working mothers are bad. Actually, mothers are bad whenever they are not doing the act of ‘mothering’.
Basanti’s abandoned career brings us to the subtle messaging about mothers who work. In Taare Zameen Par, the working mother gave up her career to turn her sons into class-toppers. In Akele Hum Akele Tum, the career-focussed mother (who left her son for a promising singing career) almost became the vamp till she decided to return to domesticity.
Whenever a child is shown to be in physical danger (road accident, kidnapping etc), the mother is usually doing something frivolous (like shopping) and is meted out some hard-hitting advice (“Tum kaisi maa ho?”) by a bystander – advice that leads to terrible remorse.

Pre-marital sex is punishable by death or imprisonment (though, by and large, not both).
If rain, crackling fire, skimpy clothing and sensuous songs cause you to slip (‘behek jaana’) and taste the forbidden fruit before marriage, you will die. Because sex is done by bad girls.
Sometimes the man dies (Aradhana), leaving the woman to a lifetime of struggle (including some jail time).
Sometimes, the woman dies (Trishul), thus getting a version of ‘capital punishment’.
Even in a totally realistic film like Masoom, the woman dies leaving her son in the care of her married lover.
In recent times, the moment of passion is dealt a little less severely — but the non-virgin never gets the hero (Deepika Padukone in Cocktail, for example).

Only prostitutes initiate sex.
As per Bollywood logic, all sexually aggressive women are prostitutes (or similar), though all prostitutes are not sexually aggressive (if she is the heroine).
Traditionally, characters artistes like Helen and Aruna Irani have performed – with great aplomb – the cabaret that caused the hero to sway slightly off the straight and narrow path before he progressed on his way towards the virginal heroine. In recent times, the purpose of the ‘item number’ has been to introduce a guest star who can do the Fevicol-Zandu inspired gyrations while the heroine can dutifully avert her face when the hero zeroes in for a kiss.
[NB: The heroes can sow a few wild oats here and there. If you take the last five films of current heartthrob Ranbir Kapoor, he has been polygamous in three of them unlike his heroines who, without exception,  were steadfastly monogamous.]
Even in an explicit movie like Murder, it is the man who initiates the adulterous relationship. The heroine initially turns away and is about to leave,  when there is an excuse for her to come back (she left her purse behind, you see) and get sucked into the affair. (Maybe an adulterous relationship is not the right example to make a point about women in Bollywood not having a say in sexual activity, though).

Women are allowed to kill villains but only with help from new lover.
There was a time when all of Bollywood was gainfully employed in remaking the Julia Roberts hit. Sleeping With The EnemyAgnisakshiDaraar and Yaraana faithfully replicated every detail from the original and differed from their source code on only one major front – the hero rushed in to kill the obsessive husband. While the fragile Julia Roberts pulled the trigger herself in Hollywood, a chubby Rishi Kapoor (whose heroines were much fitter than him) and a hungover Jackie Shroff ambled into the last scene to perform the heroic honors in Bollywood.
At one point of time, when Rekha was acting in a series of films as a female vigilante, it was always the hero who rushed in to assist her in the climax. The most famous example is probably Khoon Bhari Maang where she was doing a mean job of chopping Kabir Bedi up till Shatrughan Sinha was made to intervene.

In a love triangle, only the men get to chose the ‘winner’.
A Bollywood woman is, at the risk of over-simplification, property. She doesn’t really have a say in matters of the heart.
From Sangam to Saajan, from Dostana to Dobara OUATIM, the woman is just a method of sacrificing for the sake of a friend (or proving one’s masculinity for the sake of the world).
The friends decide – depending on who saw the girl first, whose relative debts are higher, whose box office clout is bigger – who gets the girl. This often leads to death or the honorable exit of one participant while the surviving one, usually the docile girl, goes with the guy. Simple, no?
And when you see a rather cavalier tyaag by Ranbir Kapoor in favor of his elder brother in Raajneeti, you realize this is a tradition as old as the Mahabharat itself!

Often one wonders about the wasted charisma of Bollywood’s leading ladies, and if the system will ever change to portray them as true role models. Right now, there are lakhs of young girls copying Priyanka Chopra’s tattoo. What impact she would make if she is shown actually working hard to become – say – a boxer!
A Mary Kom biopic – starring Priyanka Chopra – is currently in production. So yes, there is hope.