Sunday, December 31, 2006

The Best of 2006

Not a bad year, after all. Added one line to my CV (professionally). And changed another. Marital status went from "Married" to "Married with a son".

Since everybody is doing it, I thought I might as well join in. Deciding the Best of 2006, that is. So, I will just take some of the topics I usually write about and arbitrarily choose the best that I came across in the last one year.
Since I was grounded for part of the year and prejudiced for all of it, any pretensions at objectivity are best avoided!

Cinema
* Lage Raho Munnabhai: For just one line, actually. "Gandhi to note ke upar aata hain, bhai. Lekin Jayanti kaun hain?"

* Khosla Ka Ghosla: For being the Most Real-Life Depiction of Daylli. "Khosla-saab, aap to South Delhi waale ban gaye..."

* Omkara: For Langda Tyagi.
(Disclaimer: I have not seen The Departed yet.)

Food
* Mutton Barra Kabab at Minar (GK I Market): In the city of kababs, this manages to come out right on top with exactly the right amount of crispness (but not burnt) at the edge of the bone and the right amount of juiciness (but not uncooked) in the meat.

* Gandharaj Bhetki at Oh Calcutta: Fish flavoured with a fragrant variety of lemon. With a smattering of ginger and green chillies. One second… let me wipe the drool off the keyboard.

* Page 3 Murders: Kalpana Swaminathan’s murder mystery starring a female detective (Lalli) with the backdrop of a sumptuous banquet was quite brilliant, if not for the detection but for the elaborate description of exceptional food, complete with history, recipes and reactions. Slurp!

Sports
* Zidane vs Brazil: Unfortunately, I am unable to forget that move in which he received the ball with his back towards Ronaldo. He turned and in one movement, tapped the ball over Ronaldo’s head with his left foot, trapped it with his right and moved ahead. I must have read some 100,000 words on Guardian’s website about Ronaldo’s weight problem. He proved it to me in 1.2 seconds.

* Sourav Ganguly vs Greg Chappell: Just when ESPN and Ten Sports were finalizing their contracts for getting the former captain into the commentary box, he came back. As India’s Great White Hope against pace bowling! And made a 51* which made more headlines than Sehwag’s 309. When last heard, Greg Chappell’s cronies were claiming that the dropping was intentional… apparently to increase Sourav’s hunger. Moral of the Story: Never mess with a Bengali! (Ask Ratan Tata!)

Humour
* The Great Indian Laughter Champions: I always consider Kingfisher as a travel option (despite being a lot more expensive) for the simple reason that they show recordings of Raju Srivastav, Naveen Prabhakar and gang on the in-flight TV. Specially recommended – Raju’s sketch on how an antacid tablet takes directions inside a tummy suffering from indigestion.

* Lo Kallo Baat: A desi version of Whose Line Is It Anyway? Anchored by Saurav Shukla, it had cameos by little known comic actors and after a few warm-up episodes, they came up with some really good extempore stuff. Specially recommended – Ad-libbed spoofs of popular songs when the end credits rolled.

Books
* John Wright's Indian Summers – The reticent former coach turned out to be a fabulous raconteur, an elephant as far memory is concerned and of course, a much better coach in hindsight! The biggest draw of the book probably is his steadfast refusal to name names so one is left trying to decipher the “a former Indian captain from Bombay”, “a selector from Eastern Zone” or “India’s biggest liquor baron”… Go figure!

* Sacred Games - Vikram Chandra's wrist-sprainer for being the most definitive, most representative, most imaginative guide book to India's Maximum City.

Blogs
Posts actually. The last few months was actually the first time I (along with the entire planet and their cousins) read, enjoyed and kept coming back for more blogs.

So here are my favourite posts of 2006! No explanations are given, none are needed either!

* Why I Love the Barjatyas – Dilnavaz
* Happy Birthday – Dipanjan
* Oh Bombay – Udayan
* Close Encounters of the Head-butting Kind – Suprio
* Balle Balle in Delhi – Sidin
* Project World Cup – GreatBong
* Mr and Mrs Arora - Issac
* Why I wanted a daughter? And why I am glad I had a son – Mad Momma
* Bor Ashbey Ekkhuni - Rimi
* The September 6 Kid - Yours Truly

The last (rather pompous) addition is out of a sense of wonder that I am having so much fun with a person who cannot speak, is bald and loves to stay naked. Blowing air into my son's face and watching him smile has been the most satisfying thing I have done last year.
If on Sept 6 '05, somebody had asked me whether I would ever give away my Calvin & Hobbes collection, I would have laughed. Exactly 365 days later, I had somebody to whom I would not only happily give my C&H albums to, but would throw in my Ray DVDs and Feluda novels as well.
I think 2006 will go down in my life as the year I left Bohemia to become a citizen of Utopia. The Year of Changing Priorities.

Wish you all a great 2007!

Friday, December 29, 2006

Riverdale High

When I was about nine/ten, my Dad and I used to across the street from our flat in Megha Mallar (a multi-storied apartment in South Calcutta) to a row of shacks, which were called 'lending libraries'. These were second-hand bookstalls, which circulated pulp fiction and comics in return for a small fee (and a refundable deposit). While my father browsed through his Ludlums and Sheldons, I ran through a huge list of titles starring the world's oldest teenager - Archie Andrews.

Archie's dilemma over Betty & Veronica, Reggie getting clobbered (this is one of the few words I learnt from the Archies) by Big Moose, Jughead's burger gluttony and Ethel allergy, Dilton's cerebral adventures, Mr Weatherbee & Miss Grundy's exasperation with the 'gang' were all devoured with great energy and only a whiff of comprehension.
What was a 'prom'? Why does an act of indiscipline lead to a 'detention' instead of a whack of the ruler? How can school students have a car? (Even if it is jalopy... BTW, what is a ‘jalopy’?) What happens on a 'date'? All of these were integral to the plots and characters of Archie Comics and as Indian kids in pre-cable Calcutta, they were completely alien to us. And yet, we went through volumes of these comics at feverish pace. Even Sabrina the Teenage Witch and Josey and the Pussycats were not spared!
A weekly dose of the series appeared in the Sunday magazine of The Telegraph – as a three–row panel.

There were standard formats for the entire series. It would either be a Digest or a Double Digest. Each Digest would have 4-6 ‘long stories’ punctuated by one-page funnies and ‘pin-ups’. The pin-ups were typically one single panel in which one funny thing was happening.
Example of a pin-up: Reggie and Midge necking under mistletoe. Big Moose rolling up his sleeves and going “GGGRRRR”!
Betty (holding a stocking): “Where do you want to hang your sock, Moose?”
Moose: “On Reggie’s jaw!”
Learning 1: Sock is what we called ‘boxing’ in India. (As in, “Aee shnarey, doo kya box?”)
Learning 2: You kiss under mistletoe!
Some of the Digests had titles, which seemed to suggest that they were Betty & Veronica Digests or Jughead Digests. But since almost all the stories featured the entire gang, this naming seemed a little redundant.
There was one more series, which was called “Archie, Archie Andrews… Where Are You?” These were typically stories of Archie’s stupidity. One cover being Archie and Veronica riding in his jalopy with an aeroplane in the background (obviously on a runway!) and Archie going “I am sure the freeway exit is just down the road!”

And in the pages of those Digests, you had membership forms to Archie Andrews Fan Clubs promising membership buttons, pens, note-pads – all for a $ 2.99 fee. This was around the time when the exchange rate to the dollar was about Rs 10-12, so the money did not look too prohibitive. What made it completely inaccessible were (1) the instructions on the form which asked to “Please Print” and (2) the almost racist caveat “Valid for US and Canada only”. For some time, the merchandise looked attractive enough for me to wonder if I can put my aunt’s address in Pittsburgh for the delivery. But the other instruction remained insurmountable.
A long time later when I was taking the TOEFL, I realized that “Print” simply meant writing in block letters! Hell… and there I was, looking for an offset machine to print my name and address on to that form!

In its entirety, the series provided a happy glimpse into an almost forbidden world of romance, pranks and curiosities. Boys and girls kissing. Not having to wear uniform to school. Supplementing allowances through part-time jobs at soda fountains. Using the swimming pool at your rich friend’s house. Driving down to the beach for a day-long picnic.
All these were really high-end aspirational stuff, which – I think – formed the core appeal of this series. Given the fact that the jokes were quite pedestrian (not to mention – predictable!), I wonder what the American teenagers found appealing in Archie. I guess what we found aspirational, they found identifiable!

So, for the last few decades, Archie has managed to hold attention without having to die and get resurrected, without starring in a movie franchise (At least, none that I know of!) and more importantly, without having to wear underpants over his trousers.
For the last thirty years or so, he is breaking Mr Lodge’s Ming vases while trying to polish them and still managing to be popular!
In the mid-80s, Veronica swiping her credit card and Riverdale High having its own radio station were indicative of great modernity. But given that the location is suburban America, these probably happened even earlier. I would imagine that I-pods and mobile phones have made an appearance in the comics by now but the books, which I have seen in recent times, are still happily in the mid-90s!

And the trivia buff that I am, I managed to find enough nuggets to tickle aficionados.
* Jughead’s real name is Forsythe P. Jones III (which means his father and grandfather was called the same!).
* Mr Lodge’s first name is Hiram. Miss Grundy’s is Geraldine. Mr Weatherbee is Waldo.
* The Riverdale High school newspaper is called Blue And Gold.
* Jughead has a cousin called Souphead.
* Jughead always wore a jersey / sweatshirt with a S emblazoned on to it. I had tried to spot any references to it but failed. I was quite amused to come across a Sunday magazine strip in which there is an elaborate play on this S and it is compared with the disappearance of Atlantis as one of the greatest mysteries of mankind!

At least two major Indian signposts seem to have been inspired by this comic – the college of Kuch Kuch Hota Hain (and also the characters, to some extent) is unabashedly Riverdale. And the Great Indian Puppy Love Machine – Archies Gallery – would have taken its name from this icon of teenage romance. All wannabe Archies of India have spent countless hours in Archies Galleries trying to choose Tom Cruise calendars, Aamir Khan posters, pink-ribbon-swathed teddy bears, mushy-poem-laden greeting cards for their Betties and Veronicas. In a perverse acknowledgement of their popularization of ‘Americana’, a few Archies Galleries get routinely vandalized by Shiv Sena / Bajrang Dal activists every Valentine’s Day! And to think, it all started with the freckled, red-haired American teenager!
One more teenybopper movie – Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar – had a love triangle, which was very close to the Archies. With a middle class Betty (Ayesha Jhulka) being completely besotted by a truant Archie (Aamir Khan) who is wooing Veronica (Pooja Bedi) beyond his means, that part of the movie was quite similar to the comic book! The similarity could probably be extended to a rich brattish Reggie (Deepak Tijori) and a paunchy Mr Andrews (Kulbhushan Kharbanda) but thankfully, the original Archie never tried to win inspirational cycle races!

I have often wondered that Archie Comics violates all the laws of Economics and probably a few of Physics as well. For the simple reason that I have NEVER known/seen anybody buy a comic. I always borrowed them from Gautam, who borrowed them from Jojo, who used to take them from his cousin Mamon, who found them in her school bus… ad infinitum.
My guess is that these comics would have a combined sales running into millions of copies of which a large percentage would be coming to India. God only knows how these copies wind their way from one friend to a relative to a neighbour to a lending library?

I think I will pick up an Archie comic today and try to find out the first name of Professor Flutesnoot or marvel at how Coach Clayton manages to get the Riverdale basketball team to an improbable victory over Central High. To test my own maturity, I would also try to see if I still feel that Archie is an idiot for not choosing Betty! For old time’s sake…
I could buy a comic from the Oxford Bookstore – but I think I will just borrow it from my niece. After all, it’s for old time’s sake!

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Love At First Sight: First Meetings of Bollywood

Hindi films are nothing if not for the legends surrounding most of them. All the stars, all the movies, all the locations would have come to a naught if you did not have that hanger-on who claimed to have been exactly there when it all happened.
I think one of the greatest heroes of Bollywood is the guy who stopped Amitabh from boarding that train to Allahabad after his 12th flop. For good measure, he also introduced him to Prakash Mehra who was looking for an actor to star in a film called Zanjeer.
There was no such guy?
What rubbish? In fact, that guy was featured in a scene of Rangeela, where he recounted this story.
That guy was Neeraj Vohra? That guy was played by Neeraj Vohra. He actually exists. No, really!

Of the billions of legends around the millions of stars, the most interesting ones are about the first meetings of stars. There is an element of suspense & drama around these meetings. Thanks to our congenital predisposition to astrology, there is something inherently attractive about a chance meeting between two Masters of the Universe.
The what-ifs are too scary... Imagine if Gulzar and R D had never met! Aaaarrrrgggghhhh...

Guru Dutt & Dev Anand
Dev Anand was this employee in the Indian Postal Services. During the war, he worked as a censor - where he read hundreds of letters daily to edit out passages that were unwanted by the government. He used to do this boring job by day, get completely taken by the fan letters the filmstars used to get, dreamt of getting some letters like that for himself and stayed in a chawl nearby.
One day, his dhobi returned his laundry in which there was a shirt which was not his. Same size but definitely not the same sartorial elegance Dev was used to. On enquiring, the dhobi speculated that the shirt could belong to this other fellow, who was working on odd jobs at Prabhat Talkies. To get a little dope on the film industry, Dev decided to take the shirt back to the owner himself. And became so thick with Gurudutt Shivshankar Padukone that very soon, the most famous pact of Hindi cinema was made... if Dev produced a film, Guru would direct it. If Guru produced one, Dev would star in it.
For the record - Dev kept his part of the bargain with Baazi. Guru reneged.
Now, we can only wish that he had not!

Balraj Sahni & Johnny Walker
Badruddin Jamaluddin Qazi was a conductor with the Dadar depot of BEST. His standard routine consisted of entertaining passengers while handing the tickets. A stammering lover proposing to his girlfriend for Mr Braganza. An out-of-tune singer doing a ghazal for Mrs Apte. A drunkard getting harangued by his wife for Mr Sahni. Balraj Sahni, that is.
(Those who are amazed by Arshad Warsi's Mercedes would be even more amazed to realise Balraj Sahni travelled to studios by bus. Taxi if it was the first week of the month. And police jeep when he had been arrested for his anti-establishment plays!)
Balraj Sahni was working on a script for a picture called Baazi (see above) - most parts of which were filled except for one of a comedian. He was impressed enough by Badru's antics to fix up an appointment for him with the director, Guru Dutt.
On the day of the meeting, Badru staggered in the room completely drunk, proceeded to fall over furniture and almost kissed the studio receptionist, Miss Lobo. Only when the director was about to call the police did he own up to the fact that he was acting. Over-acting, actually! Thanks to his drunken turn, when the time came to decide a screen name (B. J Qazi is not what screen legends are called!), Guru Dutt unilaterally decided to infringe on the copyright of world's most famous Scotch whisky brand.
And for generations after that, Indians thought that Johnny Walker does drunken roles so well that they named a whisky after him!

Raj Kapoor & Nargis
Baby Nargis had acted in a few films as a child artiste. She grew up to a raving beauty and acted in a few eminently forgettable ones as well.
During that time, Prithviraj Kapoor's eldest son was getting on everyone's nerves on the sets of a film where he was the clapper boy. (It is a common filmi family tradition to send the new generation kiddos as assistants to sets who could not refuse them. Nasir Hussain sent his nephew Aamir to do the same!) The story was that the clapper boy took more to get ready than the hero!
Anyways, Raj decided that there are better films to be made, cocked a snook at his bosses, used to his father's clout to get financing and even got a script written. To save some money, he decided to act in the lead role himself. By this time, he had screen tested hundreds of the girls for the lead role and did not like any. Just when he was getting really impatient, he happened to see some footage of Nargis and decided that the girl had some magic. An appointment was fixed and young Mr Kapoor went off to meet the girl.
Either Ms Nargis did not know the director's time of arrival or she could not care less, she was busy in the kitchen when the door was knocked. Actually, she was frying some stuff in besan - with her hands wrist-deep in the batter. With no servants around, she ran and opened the door herself. Tousled hair, hands in a mess... but she managed to get suitably impressed by the light-eyed, fair-skinned good looks of Mr Kapoor. And when she used the back of her hand to push back a few strands of hair from her forehead, she smeared a whole lot of besan on to her hair.
Of course I was not standing across the corridor watching the scene unfold. I just watched Bobby like everyone else!

Satyajit Ray & Sharmila Tagore
Ray developed a reputation for giving chances to newcomers right from his first film. He did not really have a choice during Pather Panchali as none of the actors of Bengali cinema then fitted the bill for any of the roles - and more importantly, he did not have the money to pay any of them!
But even his first film - being based on an all-time Bengali classic, attracted enough interest for people to land up with their children for the lead roles. In fact, one gentleman landed up with his daughter (for the role of Apu!) directly from the saloon after cutting the girl's hair to a boy cut! Even the powder and hair bits were there on the girl's neck!
When he was testing actresses for the role of Aparna in Apur Sansar, it turned out to be one long haul with none of the actresses matching the innocence, beauty and sensitivity for the role.
When he heard through a common friend of a fourteen-year old, who was distantly related to Tagore, he was at his wit's end and wanted to refuse but could not do so because of his 'bhadralok' upbringing! His worst fears were confirmed when the girl in question landed up in a short yellow frock and a fringe cut! But something must have come through the English diction, that Ray asked his wife to take the girl inside, tie her hair in a bun using a wig and dress her in a traditional saree.
And that's when Sharmila Tagore became Aparna. At the end of her journey, she went on to become the biggest star of Bollywood.

Ramesh Sippy & Amjad Khan
The offices of Sippy Films had a room - which was ostensibly for their story department. In the year 1972, the story department was all but disbanded as the scion of the company - Ramesh - was always closeted with two Muslim boys of the same age (which was very young, by filmi standards). Salim Khan and Javed Akhtar were given full use of the story room as they were working on a two-line story idea commissioned by Sippy Films. A police officer's family is massacred by a dacoit. To take revenge, the officer takes the help of two small-time crooks. Simple.
Of the four characters mentioned in the two lines, three had already been cast. And as the screen-writer duo worked towards the climax of the screenplay, they realised that the dacoit is turning out to be the most charismatic of the lot. And with two major stars of the day being asked to play the police officer and one of the crooks, the actor to play the dacoit had to match them in style and panache. All major villains of the day were evaluated and rejected for lack of menace. Danny Denzongpa was the front-runner for the role and he was even signed on.
At this point, Satyen Kappu recommended to Salim Khan a young actor, who was acting in a IPTA production with him. Salim saw the actor and asked him to come and meet Ramesh Sippy. And wished him luck in true filmi style... "Yeh role aap ka ho sakta hain. Aapke koshish se ya aapke kismat se."
When the actor walked into the dimly-lit story room, Ramesh Sippy was lying on a mattress on the ground with his back to the door. Hearing a voice, he turned around and looked upto a guy who was medium in build but because of Ramesh's perspective from the floor, looked like a menacing figure who loomed across the entire frame of the door. Ramesh Sippy turned around and met Amjad Khan for the first time.
After that first meeting, Amjad went back and returned in army fatigues, with blackened teeth and a grubby look. Now, Ramesh Sippy met Gabbar Singh for the first time.
The chemistry was strong enough to work around the constellations and the fates conspired to ensure that Danny Denzongpa had to pull out of the film and Amjad Khan stepped in. He walked over the ravines, oozed terror and asked "Kitne aadmi the?"
At last count, over a billion people gave attendance!

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Ni.shabd: 10 Silent Scenes of Amitabh Bachchan

One of the mandatories of any list of Hindi film trivia is the story how Amitabh Bachchan was rejected in an audition for All India Radio. And also that one of his earlier mentors (Sunil Dutt) did not find the legendary voice attractive enough to give him a speaking part in Reshma Aur Shera.
So, in honour of an Orkut community, here is my list of 10 scenes in which the baritone was missing. And said much more than what lesser mortals did with flared nostrils, flaring biceps and bare chests.

1. Deewaar
Vijay Verma rises to the top of the Bombay underworld. And his mentor - Daavar-saab - hands over his chair to the inheritor. As an envious colleague watches in awe, Vijay Verma slowly circles the coveted chair, sits down with an air of finality and then plonks his feet on the table. The lambi race ka ghoda had finally come good.

2. Main Azaad Hoon
Azaad tries to bring about a union of sugar-mill workers and sugar-cane farmers. Admittedly, a difficult task, it comes about after a long meeting. And when the farmers ask him to address a gathering, he is too overcome with emotion to speak. He fights back tears, chokes a little, smiles a little and raises his right fist in a well-known gesture of inquilaab! The crowd roars back in approval.

3. Anand
As Anand Sehgal sings the magical Kahin door jab din dhal jaaye, his host - Dr Bhaskar Banerjee - silently walks up the stairs, comes behind him and waits for the song to end. Despite the restraint and the measured body language, enough charisma seeped through for a nation to take note of the arrival of the next superstar. Not a very easy task considering that it all happened when Rajesh Khanna was singing a massive hit!

4. Don
What do you notice when Helen is in a thigh-high slit skirt, dancing away? A lot if the person she is trying to seduce is a smuggler wanted in 11 countries. The gangster does nothing - except getting dressed in a green shirt and green-and-white check blazer. The subdued lust, the arrogance, the imperious behaviour all shine through as he saunters around. SRK did the same scene 28 years later. Did he succeed? Well, as they said, "Don ko pakadna mushkil hi nahin..."

5. Kaala Patthar
Probably the angriest role of the Angry Young Man, this film had quite a few silent passages which spoke more than the entire filmography of Nana Patekar. One was a scene in which he is confronted with a knife - and he walks up to the goon and grips the knife at the blade. As the blood trickles through, the pain and the anger on his face is something only he can do.
The second one is a sequence of one-upmanship instigated by the garrulous Mr Sinha - who snatches away the light from his bidi. He calmly goes up to him, picks the bidi out of Shatrughan's mouth, lights his own, stubs it out and walks away. The embers in the eyes ma badi aag hain, bidi jalaile...

6. Yaarana
Emily Post comes to Gangaa-kinare. Kisanwa is being groomed into superstar Kishan by Ram Sethi (a regular of Prakash Mehra films). As Kishan fails spectacularly with the fork and knife in a comic mime sequence, he dares his teacher to do a physical equivalent of a tongue-twister.
Slap your knees with both the hands. Get your right hand to touch your left ear and left hand to touch the nose. Slap again. Get your left hand to touch your right ear and right hand to touch the nose. Repeat (till your nose turns red with ill-timed slaps). He did it so effortlessly... just as effortlessly, we rolled in helpless laughter!

7. Satte Pe Satta
A dreaded criminal comes out of jail and slowly shuffles towards a waiting car. He has salt-and-pepper hair, eerily light eyes, a gaunt face and the stoop of a burdened man. Also, he is supposed to be identical to a lively, happy man - seen in just the previous scene. Actors of today would probably starve themselves to achieve that lean and hungry look - while the man did it in alternate shifts of shooting with a little help from under-eye makeup, contact lenses and a whole lot of acting talent. And the menace that he exudes when he crouches out of the jail door is not something that comes out of rehearsals. It comes out of pure magic.

8. Sholay
The widow of the Thakur household goes around the balcony at sunset - lighting the lamps. A mercenary sits outside his cottage across the courtyard and plays a haunting tune on his mouth-organ. On-screen love has never been so understated, yet so eloquent. The legends abound... it was RD who played the mouth-organ. The lighting of dusk was so delicate that it took a fortnight to shoot the scene. And the players on screen were as much in love in real life. They still are.

9. Ek Ajnabee
A retired army-man tries to exorcise the demons of his past. He drinks as he tries to shut out the brutal scenes. The eternal Hindi film cliche of a troubled man drowning his sorrows was given a soundless dimension as the man drinks, cries, contemplates suicide, crumples up in agony and exhausts himself at the end of it all. One of the longest silent scenes in recent times, any lesser actor would have ended up making it a yawn. He keeps you on a gut-wrenching edge.

10. Sarkar
This film is an ensemble of his moods - angry, amused, frustrated, relaxed, tired, energetic, devastated, victorious, benevolent - almost like the nine rasas and of which Ramgopal Verma seems to have prepared a slideshow. Not one scene stands out. Not one scene is forgettable either. And it all adds up to become a text-book of acting.

At the end of it, we are all left speechless.

A Sobering Thought

Yesterday, a batchmate and I were having a conversation on blogging and bloggers. An excerpt from the conversation.

UC: Oh, I chatted with that guy on Google Talk the other day. He does not seem to have too much work. He is in the IAS. About 40 years old.
DC: 40? That old? I thought he was much younger.
UC: Younger?
DC: Ya, I thought he was a few years older than us.
UC: Well, if he is 40, then he IS a few years older than us.

Aack!

Father, Son and the Holy Post

This is deference to Mad Momma's request that I have not done a parenting post for a long time. Actually, I was rather disconcerted by the criticism after taking my son to see a movie. But then, if I had paid attention to feedback all these years, I would have been God!

Having met up with a couple who are expecting their first baby, I was quite amused that the to-be dad does not share my cavalier attitude towards fathering. While I was throwing Mad Momma's kid hither-tither, he very gingerly took him in his arms and seemed very scared of dropping the kid. So, I felt there is some need for easy-to-follow instructions for soon-to-be parents.
On that note, here is some DIY stuff on the most important thing a dad can do in a baby's early life. To remove all doubts, the dad's prime responsibility is Shit. Cleaning, Management and Disposal.

The Diaper SIP
What - do you think - constitutes the biggest chunk of expense in the first year of a baby? All of you who are pointing to the snazzy cot, Fisher-Price toys and Baby GAP clothing items (I did) would be amazed to find out the kind of moolah that goes into the coffers of M/s Pampers, Huggies, Wipro Baby Soft et al. Imagine 15 bucks every 3 hours for a year - and you are looking at two Delhi London return tickets on Virgin!

So, for all parents-in-making, I have the advice of small savings.
The moment the pregnancy is confirmed, buy one packet of 10's diaper every week. If you do this for nine months (36 weeks), you will end up with 360 diapers which will see you through the first 60 days of the baby, which is the most crucial period as that's when you are trying to grapple with hospital bills, office treats, soon-to-become useless toys (bought on a whim) and hijda extortion!

As you can see, the learnings from mutual funds and recurring deposits can be applied to varied fields!

Cleaning It Up
All references to feet (and the bottom half of the body) refer to the kid.
All references to the upper limbs refer to the cleaner.

1. Bend knees to put more pressure on his tummy. This is to ensure all the stuff gets squeezed out before you unravel.

2. Open the diaper stickers (Velcro for Pampers and adhesive for Huggies, the latter needing greater force to open!) and remove the front flap of the diaper. Now, the ‘job’ is visible in full glory.
All colour – except white – is normal and acceptable. If the baby is breast fed, the colour is rumoured to reflect the dietary patterns of the mother. However, this is purely psychological and has no scientific basis.

3. Quickly hold the two legs at the ankles in between (1) thumb and index and (2) index and middle finger.
The operative word here is ‘quickly’ – as the feet might land in the mess if you are not quick enough! Which means a greater mess to clean. Also, use hand which is not the strong hand. Greater dexterity is needed for the other job!
During the cleaning activity for male children, care is to be taken to avoid sprinkling of water to great heights and distances. This usually involves spreading an oil-cloth to cover expanses bigger than the state of Colorado or strategically placing pieces of cloth on the source itself. Female children pose no such immodest problems!
Some male children are known to do the sprinkling on themselves as well (you never know which way it turns!) – especially, their own faces – but Morarji Desai is living (actually, WAS living) proof of its good effects.

4. Holding the legs in the aforementioned way, use other hand to take the cleaning wipe.
Use it first to (firmly, but softly) wipe off stuff from the broad area generally known as the ‘bum’. Pay special attention to any smearing of stuff to areas not generally associated with excrement. A particularly squelchy job might extend downwards to the back of the thighs. Also, if the job is more than an hour old, the stuff tends to become rubbery and sticks on to the skin. This requires a little bit of rubbing to clean off.

5. Use a second wipe to pay special attention to the doorway as creases in the nether regions tend to hide stuff (which causes vehement rashes later on).
Wipes are generally of several kinds – wet wipes, perfumed wet wipes, cotton wool-soaked-in-water – choice of which depends on the comfort of the cleaner. Comfort of the cleanee comes a little later as the wet wipes may cause rash in some cases.
Horrendously expensive bum-creams (allegedly containing zinc and magnesium) are available if you want to convince yourself of your own success as a parent. Otherwise, good ol’ Boroline works just fine!

6. Now that the person in question is clean, dry and creamed, diapers/nappies have to be used to prevent the region from exhibiting its pristine glory. (Babies sometime use this period to do the ‘big job’ again or pee across long distances. It has been empirically proved that such devilish behaviour is inherited from parents and hence to be grinned and borne with!)
Putting the person on his tummy and air-drying the region is also recommended in daily intervals to ensure that there is enough contact with nature and more importantly, great photo-ops that can later be used to embarrass the person when he is older!

That's it, I guess. But useful? Hell, had such a laugh trying to write it, who cares about the rest?

Monday, December 04, 2006

Subtitles: How to make Indian Cricket more interesting!

The Gandhian display of non-violence by the Indian batsmen was made worse by the utterly predictable and soporific quotes our heroes dished out after each of the matches.
Only if there was a Subtitler which scrolls out the real feelings of the speaker when he is paying lip service! It would combine the virtue of honesty with top class entertainment...
Sample the real words behind the standard quotes given below!

RAHUL DRAVID
WHAT HE SAID: "I don't think its criticism which motivates cricketers into doing well. If the team did well in 2003 World Cup after initial days it was because they played well, not because there was criticism back home."
WHAT HE MEANT: "Look, Viru is deaf and will remain that way till he signs a contract with a hearing aid company. Kaif has had his house vandalized before so he has taken home insurance. Raina and Mongia have not been able to see the ball after landing here, so can’t pretend they are hearing the shouts even! Dhoni’s biggest strength is that he does not see the ball or hear the taunts and I am not sure we should change that! So back off guys and play the Hutch World Cup Contest instead of following our every move!"

SHARAD PAWAR
WHAT HE SAID: "There is no question of sacking him (Chappell). Till the contract is there, there is no need to interfere in it. I had a detailed discussion with the Chairman of Selection Committee. I requested him to go to South Africa immediately or as early as possible, discuss with the coach, captain and players and communicate the feelings of the countrymen."
WHAT HE MEANT: "The Aussie bastard was smart enough to have a penalty clause in his contract so we cannot sack him before the year is out. However, I have told Dilip to explain to the bugger that if we continue cutting the sorry state we are doing currently, NCP activists will chop his balls off even before his luggage comes off the conveyor belt in Bombay!"

GREG CHAPPELL
WHAT HE SAID: "Countries everywhere use a system. There are highs and lows in everything, you have to be patient about things and cannot afford to be too emotional, or it will lead you nowhere. In Australia, for instance, we started a process in the mid-eighties, and it took nearly nine years for things to come together. The England line-up that won them the Ashes last year was also the result of a process that took five years."
WHAT HE MEANT: "My system of weeding out all the rebels in the team ended up with all the old fogies out on their ass. Zaheer and Kumble are trying to make me eat their words but I will scrape through. All I need is 3 years of the half-a-million dollar coach’s salary to secure my retirement. Suggest you guys shut up till then and after I am off, you can bomb Rahul Dravid’s house for all I care."

SOURAV GANGULY
WHAT HE SAID: "I'm happy to be back. My job is to go and do well. I've been playing well for ten years. I've a lot of runs behind me and experience of playing on bouncy pitches in South Africa. I have played with the same group of players earlier. I hope I can continue in the same way."
WHAT HE MEANT: "With my record against South Africa, my job is to invoke all the blessings Ma Chandi can get for me. I just hope the gora jerk does not select me for any of the tests. Buddha-babu would ensure that there is a Bharat Bandh and others would keep the pot boiling. I can slink away into retirement after this, claiming not to have been given chances when I was in form!"

VIRENDRA SEHWAG
WHAT HE SAID: "Fans should keep the trust in us. We did well in the Test series in the West Indies earlier this year, and will try to turn things around here also. We will keep working on our basics. Tests are a different game altogether and the tour game in between will be useful to get some batting practice."
WHAT HE MEANT: "Please do not stone my house. I will start to go the nets in this break. I have promised to Rahul that I will not do the Boost, Dabur and Mayur ad shoots before the tests. I may not be able to avoid dubbing for the new Coke ad but I promise to read Boycott’s coaching manual in the breaks! But, please please please do not stone my house."

Hyuck hyuck... this is so much better!

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Tej Sapru Fan Club

In the idealistic days of college, when we used to watch Battleship Potemkin and The Bicycle Thieves in standing-room-only auditoria, we always wanted to do something to uplift the level of cinematic knowledge of the country. We - as in - yours truly and a gentleman whose roll number was just one before mine and has distinguished himself to the readers of this blog by his comments, which are at least as frequent as the posts!

So, Nilendu and I figured that the French New Wave, the avant garde makers from FTII and the Italian maestros were getting enough publicity from everybody (Satyajit Ray downwards). So, we needed to promote artistes from a much-neglected yet as influential ouevre - namely, Bollywood B-grade cinema.
With this lofty aim, we started the Tej Sapru Fan Club.
If this had been a speech, I know my next three sentences would have got drowned under the din of "WHO THE F*** IS TEJ SAPRU???" But since this isn't, I will now explain who he is, why we intended to be his fans and what was the broader aim of this club.

Okay, first things first, Tej Sapru is son of the character actor - Sapru. Oh damn, now you want to know who Sapru is? All right, all right... I will start again!

Well, in Hindi cinema, there are the stars. And there are the character artistes. We only remember the stars - and completely forget the rest. But these character artistes (having acted in hundreds of films) are sometimes as recognisable as the stars themselves. However, the tragedy is that nobody knows their real names - except for a few like Iftekhar, A K Hangal and Jagdish Raaj.
(Interesting aside: While Iftekhar and Jagdish Raaj made their millions from playing police officers in countless films, the biggest film they starred in – Deewaar – had both of them playing smugglers!)
For us, Tej Sapru was the symbol of all the nameless millions who worked day and night raping heroines, judging trials and getting beaten up - all for entertaining us! So, the mission of the Club was to identify these wonderful people (in general and Tej Sapru in specific!) and popularise them to the public by associating them with their most recognisable film role!
For example, we envisaged the following conversation:
X: My favourite actor is Robert De Niro. Whose work do you like?
DC: Tej Sapru.
X: (Pregnant pause) Umm... which picture did he last appear in?
DC: Last I don't know. But he was the crooked show manager in Tezaab who wants to marry Madhuri Dixit.
X: Ah... him!
So, you see Tej Sapru is not as vague as it sounded initially! In fact, he has an impressive body of work as Amrish Puri's son in Tridev, one of the rapists in Zakhmi Aurat and Pathans in several movies because of his fair complexion and light eyes!

Other artistes of such stature include:

Yunus Parvez - Rahim Chacha of Deewaar.
Though, Nilendu is inclined to believe that his most impactful role is that of the nose-hair-pulling clerk in Golmaal! He has also been seen as a poetry publisher in Saajan and Raveena Tandon's boss in Mohra. Incidentally, Mohra is the only film that we can remember where he died!

Sharat Saxena - Raunaq Singh a.k.a Ronnie of Ghulam.
He spent all of 1980's being the inaugural side-kick of the villain (who is the first goon to be beaten up, when the hero makes an appearance) to slowly work his way towards the climax. The crowning glory of his career being the bloody fist-fight he had with Aamir Khan in Vikram Bhatt's first hit.

Goga Kapoor - Juhi Chawla's dad in Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak.
He probably holds the world record of appearing in the maximum number of movies with his real name as his screen name! The rest of times he has been featured with very un-confusing names like Shaitan Singh (Toofan), Durjan Singh and Zaalim Singh.

Huma Khan - the doodh-waali of Maine Pyar Kiya.
Before she attained some amount of respectability as a staple side-piece (usually comic) in the Barjatya wedding videos, Huma was the undisputed queen of that genre of Hindi films, which specialised in lady dacoits and Tarzan romances. Though, considering that she was Shakti Kapoor's love interest in Hum Saath Saath Hain, how much more respectability she got out of Rajshri is debatable!

Satyen Kappu - Ramlal (the Thakur's servant) of Sholay.
He was the orginal do-gooder of Hindi cinema before Alok Nath came and usurped that position. A noted theatre actor (associated with IPTA), he had to supplement his earnings by playing munim-naukar-chacha to far lesser actors. It is rumoured that he was the one whose recommendation of Amjad Khan to Ramesh Sippy led to one more junior actor going past him!

Unfortunately, Bombay is the only place in the country where such artistes are recognized – and that too, in a perverse way... through the identification of their residences. But even within that, there is a rigid caste system as lesser actors have to anchor themselves on to bigger stars!
Sample this conversation between my aunt and her chauffeur, for example:
My Aunt (MA): Mahesh, yeh Kabab Mahal restaurant kahan hain?
Mahesh (Ma): Madam, Shefali Chhaya ke ghar ke paas! (:-o How does one go about finding out where Shefali Chhaya lives?)
MA: Matlab, Bipasha Basu jahan PG rehti thi? (Wow – this combines history with geography!)
Ma: Nahin madam, Sanjay Dutt ke purane flat ke baju wala galli! (Speechless!)
MA: Achha – Dilip Kumar ke ghar se aagey!
Ma: Haan madam!

Brilliant... more such people are required to take forward the ideals of TSFC!

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Calcutta: A Love Story

All cities should have their stories chronicled. In some medium or the other. And some of them already have.
Bombay, for example. The glamour capital's story is a Film. And quite aptly, it has been made by a South Indian.
Delhi is a Novel. A long-drawn saga about the political intrigue that has come to symbolise the city. And despite the city's purported cosmopolitanism as the national capital, it has been written by a Sardar - India's most famous one at that!
Chennai should be a Comedy - and only R K Narayan could have documented the quirky balance of modernity and tradition. Maybe the small town of Malgudi in some ways was touched with the flavour of the largest small town in the world!
In the same vein, Calcutta can only be a love story. For what is love if it is not passionate and blind? What else is it if it is not the stuff of folklores? What is it if it is not at first sight? And what is it if it is not unforgettable? And such love stories abound.

This is not to say Bombay does not have its share of lunatic lovers. It does. But to remain in Bombay for all your working life, there is no sacrifice involved. You can move up your career and life staying in the financial capital of the country - and romanticise the cosmopolitanism of the city.
Ditto for Delhi.
But Calcutta has more than its fair share of lovers, who have abandoned fame and fortune to be with their muse. And the ones who have left have created a body of tragic literature from their distant outpourings.

In cocktail parties, in job interviews, in college reunions, I have praised the youthful spirit of Bangalore, the ease of living in Hyderabad, the work ethic of Bombay and the beauty of Delhi. Logically, I have held forth on the living standards, the entertainment options, the career possibilities and other scientific parameters. At the end of it, I have chosen from among these wonderful cities, a place to go back to.
Very rational.
What is irrational is the gut-wrenching urge I inevitably feel when I walk out of Subhas Chandra Bose Airport into the humid air. Is it the Anandabazar billboard with a catchy headline? Is it the sea of Ambassador taxis? Is it the Bengali on the road-signs or is it the WB number plates? What is it that makes me want to chuck up everything and just move to this city? Surely, it cannot be the traffic jam at Baguihati.
There is not an iota of logical reasoning in this. And yet...

Urchins at traffic signals in Bombay peddle pirated copies of Shantaram and Opal Mehta. In Calcutta, it is Orhan Pamuk.
When out-of-towners return to Bangalore, they are dying to hit the latest pub. Ex-residents of Calcutta go back to Peter Cat for the157th time. (And needless to say, order Chello Kabab for the 156th time.)
The P3P of Delhi are dying to get photgraphed with Rohit Bal. Calcutta P3P are attending a book-reading session by Taslima Nasreen.

The more I expect Calcutta to lose itself in the brand-new maze of apartment blocks and swanky malls, the more it remains exactly like the seductress I left behind 10 years ago.
The first time I saw a live cricket match. The first Smoked Hilsa I had. The first time I saw the Apu Trilogy. The first time I went to the Book Fair. The first time I heard Hariprasad Chaurasia play Raag Malkaus. The first time I was told the Naxal ideology. The first time I boycotted class to protest against the unfair system.
All come back to me for the simple reason that neither the players nor the place seem to have changed. The genial uncle would still be seated at Light Horse Bar of Saturday Club, recounting the romance of his college days. If I walk down College Street, the screenplay of Meghey Dhaka Tara would be still be hidden under the pile of Time magazines. If I walk into my college, the grafitti against the ineffective system would still be as vivid.

As a Calcutta songster said,
"Ei shohor jaaney aamar prothom shob kichhu
Palatey chaii joto shey ashey amar pichhu pichhu..."
This city is privy to all my firsts. The more I try to escape, the more it engulfs me...

Monday, November 20, 2006

And the Filmfare goes to...

Filmfare Awards continue to remain the Big Daddy of Indian film awards - probably because no other award has the might as big as that of Times of India behind it.

Starting from the 1950's, it was more of an exercise in bonhomie than any serious competition between actors. For the first quarter century or so, the awards were announced earlier and the ceremony was held to hand them over. And more often than not, one of the losing nominees landed up to hand over the trophy. For example, Amitabh Bachchan (Deewaar) handed over the trophy to Sanjeev Kumar (Aandhi).
Incidentally, Filmfare has a penchant for awarding the wrong ones... Sholay won one - just one - award as Deewaar swept away with everything except Best Actor! Anil Kapoor was given a prize for Beta, which was announced (by Dimple Kapadia) without opening the envelope! This angered Aamir Khan (in the running for Jo Jeet Wohi Sikandar) so much that he has boycotted the awards ever since!

But the legend continues - despite the predictability.
Every time, whenever Amitabh Bachchan wins a prize, there is a close up of Rekha. And vice versa. Salman dancing. Ergo, Katrina smiling. Whoever performs on stage HAS to be given an award. All things being equal, the bigger hit gets the award. Yash Chopra - if in the running - has to be given an award. If not, then Karan Johar needs to be given the award. Else, give a guy who will never get a nomination again!

The Oscar ceremony, I am told, has a time limit for acceptance speeches. Thankfully, the Indian 'guest is god' philosophy has resisted putting up any such norms - which is why the ceremony routinely overshoots the time limit of public functions in Bombay. Only the presence of the Chief Minister in the front row stops havaldaars from walking in and disconnecting the PA system!
Also, this has allowed some of the most hilarious, poignant and sometimes predictable moments of the awards.
Amitabh Bachchan, of course, should be given an award for accepting awards. All winners of the Best Playback Singer award obligingly sing a stanza from their winning song. The Best Villain trophy is always given out by the Police Commissioner and there is a charade about arresting the winner.
But the memorable ones far outweigh the predictable ones...
In 1969, Satyajit Ray turned up to give away the Best Actress prize to his protege - Sharmila Tagore for Aradhana.
Anupam Kher shared his Best Comedian trophy with Satish Kaushik - and Deven Varma (who was giving it away) asked for one of the backstage carpenters to come and carve up the trophy!
There is the slightly infamous incident when Shahrukh picked up his trophy and asked whom to pay for it!
Gulzar took a look at the envelope for Best Supporting Actress in 1989 (Rakhee - Ram Lakhan) and wistfully said, "Agar kuch saal pehle hota to pukar sakta tha - ajee sunti ho..."
In recent times, Abhishek Bachchan ran down the steps to the winner of the Best Supporting Actress. You can take liberties like that with your mother!
Ashok Kumar picked up his Lifetime Achievement award and quipped, "I have a new girl to sleep with tonight. I hope she comes alive..."
Dharmendra - after a Lifetime of no awards - gave a speech so long that he is probably still going on at the SNDT grounds!

Unlike Oscars, it has evolved into a full-blown ceremony only in the last decade thanks to burgeoning sponsor interest. Till the late-80s, it used to have awards in only about 10 categories.
It is, however, quite interesting to see that whenever there has been a 'landmark' performance, which has failed to make the cut in the standard categories, they have added a category to award it!
Aamir Khan (QSQT) was the first receipient of the Best Debut award.
Sadashiv Amrapurkar (Sadak) was the first Best Villain.
Shahrukh Khan (Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa) was the first Critic's Choice awardee.
Chinni Prakash (Jumma Chumma, Hum) was the first Best Choreographer.
A R Rehman (Roja) was the first winner of the RD Burman Award.
Sandeep Chowta (Satya) won the first award for Best Background Score.
And the funniest - Amitabh Bachchan was given the first Filmfare Lifetime Achievement the year his Agneepath lost out to Sunny Deol (Ghayal)! He has won more Filmfare awards AFTER the Lifetime Achievement trophy than before!

Saturday, November 18, 2006

10 Things About Bollywood You Didn't Know - And Did Not Want To Ask Anybody Either!

1. Famous Bollywood choreographer P.L. Raj's full (real?) name is Peter Lewis. He adopted the name Raj to avoid the minority tag. Remember, even Yusuf Khan had to adopt a more audience-friendly name! Also, P.L. Raj is the father of Leslie Lewis (Lezz of Colonial Cousins).

2. In the film Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron, the names of the two main protagonists are Sudhir Mishra and Vinod Chopra - after the two filmmakers. They were classmates with Kundan Shah at the FTII and the trio had a pact that whoever got the first break would name characters in his film after the other two!

3. Product placements have almost become the norm nowadays. But when the trend was still in its infancy, there came a movie called English Babu Desi Mem (1996) - starring Shahrukh Khan and Sonali Bendre. It had the most audacious product placement by Bhilwara Suitings. They sponsored the hero's name. Yes, Shahrukh's name was Mayur in the film. (He was also endorsing the brand at that time.) Pity, not more than a hundred people saw the film!

4. In the film Khoon Bhari Maang, Rekha is shown to have gone abroad for cosmetic surgery after a murder attempt invloving a crocodile! When she lands back in India, she takes a cab at the airport and gives her home address. The address is "10th North South Road Juhu". Incidentally, the most famous house on that road is named Prateeksha! Coincidence?

5. Amitabh Bachchan's voice over for the introduction scene of Shatranj Ke Khiladi is quite well-known. However, his first ever cinematic assignment was also a voice over... in Mrinal Sen's Bhuvan Shome (1969). And he is duly credited as 'Amitabh'. This was probably before he left his job in Calcutta.

6. Karz is the one film which has the highest number of song mukhdas that have been made into films. It had four - Main Solah Baras Ki (Dev Anand, though not in the title role!), Paisa Yeh Paisa (Jackie Shroff and Meenakshi, I think), Ek Haseena Thi (Urmila Matondkar, Saif Ali Khan) and Dard-e-Dil (no details known).
Now the fifth has been announced - Om Shanti Om (Farah Khan's next starring SRK as Om and Deepika Padukone as Shanti)!

7. All the major stars of the day have acted in their debut films as child artistes. Aamir Khan as the child Tarique Hussain in Yaadon ki Baaraat. Hrithik Roshan as a super precocious kid in Bhagwaan Dada. Bobby Deol as the young Dharmendra in Dharam Veer. Karan Johar in a TV serial called Indradhanush (which had a very interesting plot about a time machine) - as a goofy friend of the hero. And if you are going to let me go even deeper, then I can include Shweta Bachchan whose mother was pregnant with her during the filming of Sholay.

8. A common misconception is that Nargis was the first Indian actress to appear in a swimsuit on screen. Actually, the first ever swimsuit scene in Hindi cinema was in a film called Brahmachari (not to be confused with the Shammi Kapoor one) - and it was done by an actress called Meenakshi. Boldness clearly runs in the blood as she has two grand-daughters - Shilpa and Namrata Shirodkar!

9. MBAs are extremely under-represented in the professions of Hindi film heroes. Probably the earliest was Jeetendra - in a film called Sharda - where he joins a company and then marries his boss' daughter! The great Mithunda was asked to get a diploma from Ahmedabad (by his wife - Moonmoon Sen) before he landed a high paying job in the film Sheesha. He molested his secretary immediately afterwards. Incidentally, his secretary was Mallika Sarabhai - a real-life graduate of IIM-A! Atul Agnihotri (Veergati) and Anil Kapoor (Hum Aap ke Dil mein Rehte Hain) are other self-confessed MBAs. The last one I can think of is Hrithik Roshan (in Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Ghum) cons his dad to finance a MBA in London - but sings songs with Kareena at a thong-prom instead!

10. RD Burman probably has the highest number of uncredited hits - as per industry folklore. A large number of 'fast tracks' credited to SD Burman is rumoured to have been composed by RD, because of the elder Burman's distaste for western music. Starting from Sar jo tera chakraaye (Pyaasa) right down to Roop Tera Mastana (Aradhana), many of them are attributed to RD.
Another apocryphal story is of the first break he got. His friend, Mehmood was about to produce a film and RD assured that he would convince SD to compose the music. Buoyed by RD's confidence, Mehmood had already drawn up the contract (on stamp paper) when he landed up at the Burman residence. Hearing the 'modern' story, SD chucked both of them out. Mehmood did not have the money - neither to get another stamp paper nor for any other music director. So, he just crossed out the Sachin in the contract and wrote out Rahul instead!
I hate using this cliche - but, the rest is history!

Thursday, November 16, 2006

How Much Land Does A Man Need?

What is connection between Leo Tolstoy and Business India’s last cover story?
Well, not for everyone. Reading the cover story on India’s Highest Paid Executives, I was reminded of the famous Tolstoy short story.
About 850 managers in India earn a gross (pun intended) salary of Rs 50 lacs or above. And this is only for companies which have publicly available results. If you include the foreign banks, consultancies and other unlisted companies, the number is sure to top 3000 – and would probably include some of my batch mates as well! Actually, one of my batch mates’ father is in the list.

This, I found out by diligently going down the list and ticking all the people I know in this exclusive club. Know – defined as having conducted at least one two-way conversation (of 5+ minutes duration) with the person in question. So, my score is 7.
And of them, one had actually helped me organize my wife’s birthday (the first one after our marriage) and scolded me when I did not feed her a piece of the cake!
One recruited me for my summer internship.
I had taken another (the Chairman of my previous company) on multiple market visits – and heartily recommended the freshness of buns of a certain bakery on one occasion.
The aforementioned dad cajoled me to dance at his son’s (my batch mate!) wedding and I found myself telling him I could dance only when I was drunk! He was more than amused!
So, as you can see, I have hobnobbed with the rich and powerful. And if you include the banks, privately held soft-drinks companies and my current company in the game, then I can drop some more names!

Which brings us back to our original question – how much money does a man need? What does Mukesh Ambani do with 24.5 crore rupees per year – that he can’t do with 23.5? This is, of course, in addition to the uncountable zillions that he has in shares of Reliance Industries.
A group of friends I have in Bangalore carried on this masochistic pastime of trying to estimate the salaries of the high-and-mighty (including but not restricted to one’s immediate superior!) and their outflows. Every time we marveled at the unfairness of it all and decided that restaurants should charge differential rates based on salary slips. “Oh you poor Area Sales Manager – here is a free Tequila shot for you.” Or, “Ah Mr Premji, that will be Rs 32500 for breathing our air.”
On hearing a particularly astronomical pay cheque of somebody we knew, we had drunkenly tried to estimate his living expenses, savings requirements and surpluses thereof. Either our arithmetic was dulled by the vodka or his salary was really huge, we really could not come up with a satisfactory breakup. So, we were unable to answer the question – “What will you do with a salary of Rs 8.5 crores?”. But like true hands-on managers, we said, “Give us that salary for a year and we will find out by the end of it!”
Sigh… nobody subsidises experiments in pure science!

So, the question remained unanswered – and I re-read the original short story and discovered Chekov’s response to Tolstoy’s theory. He said, “It is a common saying that a man needs only six feet of earth. But six feet is what a corpse needs, not a man…” Then he went off on a tangent about the space a man needs to prove his worth and confused the matter further.

This same philosophical question found its way in an email exchange with a friend of mine. (The same guy who shares my passionate views on food, as described here.) He wrote back with a line, which has settled the debate for me. At least till now.
All a man ever needs is the love of a woman and some Bhapa Ilish. Everything else is hogwash.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

In the Name of the Father... Part VI

Lage Raho...
Turnaround time: 66 days.

The Son, The Wife and I managed to tick off the first film on our to-watch list today as we hit PVR Spice for the 11:15 show of Lage Raho Munnabhai! I read that even the UN General Assembly watched it today.
The kid behaved admirably during the show as he snored through most of it, even chuckled (or so I thought) at one of Circuit's wisecracks and only got scared when the mother let out a loud whoop on Abhishek Bachchan's last scene appearance!
We are preserving the ticket for posterity... nobody remembers the first movie I watched in a theatre!

When the baby was on the way, our biggest worry was that we will be grounded for an inordinately long period of time, desisting from our passions of food and cinema! So, we diligently collected notes on what other couples had done. I must say we have done a great deal better than most of them!
We have already tried out Chinese (Mainland China - 25 days), Coffee (Barista - 38 days), Italian (Flavours - 45 days), South Indian (Saagar - 50 days), Mughlai (Minar - 52 days) and Classic (Bukhara - 60 days). Today, we managed to break the other barrier as well.
And as a good omen, the trailer of Ekalavya was on.
WE ARE COMING!!!

Shakti: The chase begins again!
But all that bonhomie will not take away from the fact that my son hates me!

Who's the guy without a food tap?
Who's the guy who is forever rubbing my bum with wet wipes?
Who's the guy who shoves the bitter colic medicine down my throat?
Who's the guy who pushed me down when that nurse poked me with TWO needles?
Who's the guy who tries to put me to sleep when I wanna party?
Who's the guy who will make me study architecture when I want to be a DJ?
Who's the guy who will shoot me when I am running down a tarmac?

Damn, and I thought these things happen only in the movies!

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Ja, Ball Leke Aa...

There is a major upheaval in the cricketing pantheon of the country. More and more reports are pointing out that the latest gods of Indian cricket do not come from the metros. The Brahminism of Bombay and Delhi in the Indian cricketing scene has been usurped.
Mohammed Kaif (Lucknow), Yuvraj Singh (Chandigarh), Virendra Sehwag (Najafgarh), Harbhajan Singh (Ludhiana), Irfan Pathan (Ahmedabad) and Mahendra Singh Dhoni (Ranchi) are the new torch-bearers of Indian cricket.
Ever wonder why?

It is said that the real-estate crisis in Bombay is the reason behind the pristine straight drive perfected by its legendary batsmen.
If you walk around Kala Nagar in Bandra East, you will realise how Sachin Tendulkar manages to punch the ball back past the bowler about an inch away from non-striker stumps. People who started playing in this suburb (or for that matter, anywhere in Bombay) played in narrow, long lanes squeezed between apartment blocks of varying heights. If you had to score runs here, you had no option but to hit it straight down the road.
Just as Sunil Gavaskar's legendary defence is attributed to his beginnings as a batsman on the balcony of their flat - to his mother's bowling. To keep the ball from falling off through the railings, he had to ensure that the ball dies on touching the bat. The only time he hit the ball hard, it hit his mother on her nose causing profuse bleeding. So, now you know why he scored 36 in 60 overs... every time he tried to hit the ball, his mother's blood blocked his view!

It is the availability of space which has indirectly - but surely - contributed to the fluctuating fortunes of cities and regions of Indian cricket.
Karnataka - specifically Bangalore - first rose to prominence in Indian cricket in the mid-1990s. Earlier to this, Bangalore had sent quite a few legendary cricketers to the national squad but it was only around 1995 that Kumble-Srinath-Prasad-Dravid-Sunil Joshi all burst on to the national scene - for the first time, at the cost of Bombay players.
If we go back to the time all these cricketers started playing cricket, it was around the early to mid 1980s, by which time the maidans and parks of Bombay had been gobbled up by the Lokhandwalas and Makers of the world. Bangalore, on the other hand, was still a green haven and there was space for cricket to flourish enough to create a glut at the highest level.

When DLF, Unitech and other assorted builders started constructing flats on grounds that would eventually be sealed by MCD in 2006, the empty spaces were only available in the edges of Delhi, namely Najafgarh.
Jai of Kalkaji tempered down his batting because he knew his lofted pull would break Khosla Uncle's window and ground him for a week. As it turned out, he was still grounded when India was looking for a batsman who is not afraid to lift the ball. Veeru of Najafgarh passed muster because all he had done in the last 15 years was to clear the green field and find the ball which got hidden in the trees behind.

Mahi of Ranchi did similar things in the huge empty spaces all around his house. And Kaifu ran like a rabbit all round the parks of Lucknow. All this while, the budding talent of the metros were still trying to find 7 bricks to make their stumps or look for a closed shutter to draw them on!
And chances are that there will be no one in Bangalore to carry forward the legacy of Dravid. I mean, how high can you go when you are stuck in a traffic jam on Airport Road for the two hours you were supposed to be at practice?

Even in Bombay - Andheri, Malad and Goregaon have been quite unable to provide any cricketers. All the Bombay stars seem to have sprung from the precincts between Dadar and Town, which is where all the greenery is concentrated.
Lokhandwala turned Bombay into a city of gold. DLF is all set to ignite the Indian bourses. But most probably, they also took away India’s chance to win the World Cup.
Because a match-winning batsman needs to think of things other than broken windowpanes. He needs a view of the boundary he must clear. He knows that if he hits the ball too far beyond, he will have to go and fetch it. He has the guts and the cunning to do it. Now, all he needs is the practice to time his skyscraping sixer on the last ball of the match! So that nobody can turn to him and say, “Ja, ball leke aa…
Far fetched?
Okay, tell me… how did Virendra Sehwag reach his triple-century at Multan?

Monday, November 06, 2006

An Evening at Guzzlers' Inn

Hey Mia, where are you? How much longer at the office? Where is Rakesh? Already on Brigade Road? Arre, there he is! Chal, come quick.
Hey Rakesh, plans kya hain? No yaar, cannot go to Ningu’s tonight. Aarti has come back from US… aaj ke liye akele chhod dete hain. Abbe, take off your tie na! You are looking like a bloody ch**** banker. Haan, woh to tu hain, but you don’t need to advertise. Karna kya hain? Mia’s gonna take 15 minutes more. Okay, lets sit at Guzzlers’. Mia can come there. We’ll decide then.

Ya, Guzzlers’ is pretty reasonable. Bacardi for bloody less than 100 bucks. Good music. What else do you want?
Boss, get us two Bacardis. Large. With Pepsi. Get us two. Abbe, you don’t get Coke here. This is a Pepsi joint. Kuch khayega? Haan, French Fries sound good. Anyways, Mia is coming right now. Will have dinner somewhere else.
Cheers! Achha, that Kaliyon ka Chaman babe is coming to Bangalore. I wish. She is performing at Hypnos. Next Saturday, I think. We can go. There will be a cover charge. Max 500 per head. Boss, entry fees ke din gaye. Hello, get us some ketchup please.

Hey, you through with the drink? What to do? Order another round? Mia is coming any minute. Call karte hain. Damn, she is not picking up. Must be driving. Oh fuck, you told him to get a repeat? Chal, theek hain. We need to finish the Pepsi anyway. Boss, get us two... oh fantastic, you have got a repeat of Bacardis. Brilliant! I tell you, the service rocks here!
Ruk, lemme try calling her again. Ringing. Boss, she must be on her way here! Jaldi kar, jaldi kar… chal, bottoms up maarte hain!
Aaahhh! Fuck man. We used to do this with Old Monk in college. There used to be a war cry called “Piyo Behn..” – arre, its Mia. She must be outside. Hello boss, get us the bill please. Haan Mia, bol – where are you? Fuck yaar, 15-20 minutes more? Kya ho gaya? Damn yaar. Tell that Mallu boss of yours to work for a change. Friday evening kharaab kar raha hain. Chal, you come quickly. Raka and I are at Guzzlers’.

Oh ho, you have got the bill. Arre yaar, do one thing. Hang on to this for a sec. And get us two more Bacardis. With Pepsi. And get the snacks menu as well. Mia, I tell you, should look for another job. Some crap MIS on Gold card usage she is collecting.
What snacks do you want? Lets get something light… so that we don’t screw up dinner. Waise chalna kahan hain? We can go to Bageecha – remember the open air restaurant on the highway to Whitefield? Of course it will stay open. In any case, we are not going to be too late. Kal office hain, yaar. Fish fingers fine with you?
Cheers again! Haan yaar, Dandiya mein mast mazaa ayaa. Arre – Mandy ka dost kya enthu mein tha! Look this is the good thing about Gujjus. They market their events really well. They will get solid music. Lots of babes. Ya, your right… in backless cholis that too. Lakdi leke dance like madman – and then stuff your face with dhokla and chhole bhature! Mmm… theesh fiwh fingersharr dullishush. Ek aur mangai?

Haan yaar, Mia’s 15 minutes will mean half an hour only. Okay boss, get us one more round of the same. Soft drinks? Anything you want, yaar. And some French Fries with some Fish Fingers.
Oh bloody hell… this place plays awssum music yaar. Summer of 69 bloody does not lose its charm ever! Fuck yaar – there’s not a single place in Bangalore which plays good Bollywood music. My friend, that place plays Bollywood because it’s a chammia bar, yaar! Arre – lets put a request for Hotel California… oh hang on, Mia is calling. Haan bol? You are outside – oh fuck! Abbe jaldi khatam kar… maar maar bottoms up maar.
Oh teri! Phat gayi yaar! Ooooffff… that was fantastic! Brilliant maaan, brilliant. MIAAAAA – come here! Eh fuck man – why don’t you give us more notice? Tere kaam khatam kab hota hain you don’t have any idea or what? And that boss of yours bloody!

Kya piyega, bol? Hey waiter… take order from madam. Repeat for us. Mia, you tell the snacks. Abbe yaar – we cannot go to Ningu’s… Correct, because Arti has come! So till we decide where to have dinner, we can have one more drink… happy? Cheeeeerrrrrsss!!! Abbe, clink nahin hua… phirse kar, phirse kar! Do you know why people clink their glasses? Because you are supposed to enjoy your drink with all your five senses… you can taste a drink, you can touch a drink, you can see a drink, you can smell a drink. By clinking glasses, you also hear a drink. Thank you, thank you! Of course she has heard this before… she knows me bloody for the last 5 years bloody!
Aai Mia – what Tropicana shopicana you are having? Have a Bloody Mary bloody. You are on me! Main pilaoonga! Mere khoon ki kamai hain… Blood meri, Bloody Mary teri! Har har har… sach Raka, tu ek hi hain jo mere sachcha dost hain. Only you appreciate me! When you get married, I will personally go and tell my – sorry your – wife tu kitna achha hain! Damn you, Mia – who asked for your opinion? We are finishing our Bacardi faster than your mosambi piss juice. Okay – chal grape juice! Kya keepi keepi karta hain!

Okay boss, repeat… what are you saying? Kya boss, you call yourselves Pub Capital and close at 11:00? Boss, already last orders hone se kaise chelaga? Thoda to adjust karo? Okay okay, yaar – do one thing. Get us 4 Bacardis large. Arre – 2 for me. 2 for him. Fuck the snacks. Who has time to eat snacks if you are shutting down in 15 minutes.
Ehh Mia, relax! 15 minutes to the last order which means there’s at least half an hour to the closing. You think we cannot finish two drinks in half an hour? Yeah yeah Raka – well said! We will do it! Let the bugger return with the drinks. We will do one more bottoms up to that… we have done just one till now. What rubbish? We are NOT drunk!
Achha – chuck that. Tell me where will we have dinner? Some places stay open na? There’s Empire. There’s Bageecha. Ya – that’s a bit too far. Ningu ke yahaan chalte… oh good, the drinks are here. Boss, quickly get two Pepsis also! Haan haan relax… we can’t go to Ningu’s!
Fantastic, Pepsi is here… this is what you call quick service! Oh fuck – why have the lights come on? Don’t tell me? Police raiding this place? This is a brothel or what? Arre yaar, how would I know last order means closing time? Damn it… Boss Raka, agar mard ka bachcha hain to ek boond drink chhodke nahin jayenge!
Maar bottoms up – aur glass phnek ke maar police ke mooh pe! Maa ch** denge, chuna pot denge, g**** pe likh denge KRRRRAAAANTI! Yesssss, you can do it!!!!

Ehh Mia – where are we going? Why you bloody driving swaying driving swaying? Fuck, this whole car is swerving man. Hey – who paid the bill? Ehhhh Miu – tell no, who fucking paid the bill? Ehh Raka – who paid the bill? Whadyu mean you want to pee? Here? Abbe, pant mein mat kar yaar… Mia, stop stop the car!

Eh Mia – dekh, dekh! Raka has fallen into the gutter! Saala, tullee hoke gir gaya!

Whadyu mean I pushed you? I did not. I definitely did not. Why would I push him? Main sirf usse poocha jaake if he is through or not. Abbe – what crap? I just kept a hand on your shoulder and asked ke tu saala poora Bangalore doobayega kya susu mein? That is not pushing bloody… oh fuck, Raka is bleeding on his left arm yaar! Whadyu mean I did it? I DID NOT PUSH HIM!!! Raka, hans mat saaley… you are framing me!!!

Mia: Ningu? You awake? Raka has cut his arm – and he is bleeding. Can we come over? He needs some first aid urgently… huh? Arre, he had fallen into a gutter yaar! Oh don’t ask… its one long story. Raka, Dipta and I are coming over…

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitously. Any resemblance to any actual person - living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

32 Things To Do Before I Die

1. Meet Amitabh Bachchan.

2. Eat a full-course meal (with wine) at Zodiac Grill.

3. Teach my son to read Bengali.

4. Visit 221B Baker Street.

5. Buy The Complete New Yorker.

6. Write a paid piece for a mainstream newspaper or periodical.

7. Own the complete collection of Satyajit Ray movies on DVD.

8. Take my wife to see my school and college.

9. Attend the Calcutta Book Fair. Again.

10. Donate some of my books to a literacy foundation / library.

11. Deliver a lecture on sales & distribution at XLRI.

12. Watch a World Cup match starring Brazil live.

13. Visit Jaisalmer and see the Shonar Kella.

14. Party on one of the Bollywood Nights at Zero G in Bangalore.

15. Go on a holiday to Leh.

16. Stay in a houseboat. Either Kerala or Srinagar.

17. Drink myself silly at a party with all the VBs.

18. Watch both the Sholays back to back.

19. Meet Sourav Ganguly.

20. Walk back home after watching a movie at Nandan.

21. Solve a 5-Star difficulty Sudoku.

22. Be vegetarian for a week. Continuously.

23. Qualify for the finals of an open quiz. In Calcutta. With my original team from college.

24. Audition for Mastermind India.

25. Have a meal at Bukhara.

26. Attend a full night performance at the Dover Lane Music Conference.

27. Go back to Dibrugarh. Where my maternal grandparents used to stay.

28. Ride in a convertible. With the hood down.

29. Attend the month-long course on film appreciation conducted by the FTII Pune.

30. Take a history walk in Old Delhi.

31. Stay at the Amarvilas, Agra.

32. Update this list every year.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Ray at the Box Office

Browsing through my collection of old magazines, I came across an interview of Subhash Ghai. He was trying to explain the cross borne by the ‘commercial’ film-makers, who have to make films for the box-office. This, he pondered, took away the luxury of making films for international awards – which seemed to be available to directors like Satyajit Ray.

Satyajit Ray, it is generally felt, was an award-winning filmmaker who survived on the plaudits received at international film festivals and his films routinely sank at the domestic box office.
Quite interestingly, this is almost diametrically opposite of the reality – as Ray, the director, was completely focused on the box office returns of his films without transgressing the boundaries of the genre he chose to depict or compromising the realism of the depiction.
Admittedly, his films never broke collection records but the maker never lost sight of the audience while making them.
Actually, they did… and even today, Gupi Gayin Bagha Bayin (released in 1968) still holds the record for the longest first-release run for a Bengali film.

His focus on the commercial success of his films was necessary for no other reason except that there was no support of any state-sponsored film-financing institutions for the majority of his career and Ray had to depend on private producers for whom the box-office returns were of paramount importance. It was only towards the end of his career that Ray turned to state financing (NFDC, Doordarshan etc) and international backing (admirers like Gerard Depardieu).
Ray’s first film – Pather Panchali – was a runaway hit in Bengal and that was the sole reason why Ray managed to find financiers for his subsequent films.
Freshly buoyed by the success of Pather Panchali, Ray started work on his second film, Aparajito – which critics consider an even better piece of art than its prequel. However, Aparajito failed quite miserably at the box office – as the audiences failed to digest the ruthless depiction of a son’s apathy towards his mother. On the other hand, the critical appreciation took off from where Pather Panchali left and Aparajito was a resounding success on the festival circuit (winning, among others, the top prize at Venice).

Despite all the international recognition, Ray never lost sight of the fact that his home market was unmoved by the film and in order to restore his reputation as a commercially viable director, he started looking for subjects that would be acceptable to the film-going public.
He felt that music and comedy are two such elements and he chose stories for his next two films so that loads of both can be used – legitimately! Jalshaghar remains one of the greatest examples of situational use of music in cinema and Parash Pathar is one of the most sophisticated comedies to have been made.

Apart from choosing stories and themes of appeal, Ray has made several references in his memoirs to indicate his constant concern for a great experience for the viewer.
In a poignant scene of Pather Panchali, where Indir Thakurun is taken to the cremation grounds, he had Indir’s theme song sung in the background instead of using the death chants that normally accompany such a procession. He had noted that every time the first part of the Bengali death chant (“Bolo Hari…”) is heard on the screen, frivolous members of the audience can never resist completing it (“Hari Bol…”). In order to preserve the melancholy nature of the scene, he decided to do away with the chants and use the music instead.
Later on in his career, he tried to time his releases to happen in the winters of Calcutta so that the noisy fans in the theatres need not be on to disturb the delicate sound recordings of some of the key sequences.

With his multi-faceted genius, Ray engaged the viewer right from the beginning – with brilliantly designed posters to fuel curiosity and build up mood. Without leaving the publicity to his producers or distributors, Ray himself designed his posters and timed the pre-release campaigns with a lot of thought.
His advertising background came handy as all his films were preceded with a classical teaser and theme campaigns. In fact, Pather Panchali was definitely the first film and one of the earliest Indian advertising campaigns to have a teaser.
His design of posters, publicity material and credit titles deserves a separate post of its own!

Ray chose not to be a businessman and explore avenues of commerce that were open to him as a filmmaker of international repute. Otherwise, he could have minted money – for he had revenue options that have opened only recently to Bollywood.
The overseas market, for example. Pather Panchali is the highest foreign exchange earner for the West Bengal government ever and there was a heavy demand for his films in the international market post the release of his first few films. He chose not to work for that market and depended on irregular (and sometimes insufficient) funding in his home state to make his films on a shoestring budget. Offers from top Hollywood studios were rejected because they came with the attendant problems of interference from the studio bosses.

Another major revenue generator for Ray’s films has been the home video market – with his films being part of the staple shopping list of non-resident Bengalis and Indians alike. In fact, it is a constant scam that Ray films on video discs are priced at least 40% higher than standard titles – and they still manage to have a steady sale. On value sales of home videos, I wouldn’t be very surprised if Ray brushes shoulders with the Chopras and Johars in the highest selling Indian directors!

While Bollywood made its first sequel in 2006, Ray did so with his very second film (way back in 1957) and made it into a Trilogy (which is probably the most famous ever).
In his lifetime, he extended three different ‘properties’ into sequels and left behind enough material for two of them (Feluda and Gupi-Bagha) to be extended into series of great popularity. Each one of these films – made by him or later – has enjoyed tremendous box-office runs. In fact, after the stupendous success of the last Feluda film (Bombaiyer Bombetey), the makers have been enthused enough to finance the next one, which is being filmed in Hong Kong for a major part and is being eagerly awaited by the audience and distributors alike.

India’s most famous director continues to make money – 14 years after he passed away. Not a commercial success replicated that have been replicated by the so-called Box-Office Badshahs!

Note: Very frivolous. Knocked off 1000 words because I felt angry with Subhash Ghai. Ray deserves far more in-depth research than this!

Monday, October 23, 2006

List Poori Filmy Hain!!!

Sahara Filmy is turning out to be the dark horse in the race of Hindi movie channels. With a whole lot of 'value-added' film programming - though the 'value' is debatable in the minds of some people!
I spent the better part of last evening watching a programme on Top 99 Hindi Film Characters. The ranking can be endlessly debated (I think that is the point of these exercises!) but list and the short intros (mimicked in the voice of stars) were spot on.
The Top 10 (in ascending order of merit) are 10. Santoshi Maa 9. Dhanno 8. Munna Bhai 7. Mogambo 6. Ravi Verma (Shashi Kapoor in Deewaar) 5. Vijay (of Zanjeer) 4. Basanti 3. Jai-Veeru 2. Thakur Baldeo Singh 1. Gabbar Singh.
Sholay cornered the top 4 spots - and the rest of its cast found their places in the full list.

Watching the show, I was trying to figure out a list of characters which have outgrown their main (title) characters in the movies. This underlines the unpredictability of Hindi cinema, where top stars get together to make a movie in which the protagonist is so important that the film is named after him - and then comes a Lone Ranger, which steals not only the thunder of the hero but all the memories associated with the film as well!
So, here goes a subjective list of 5 films - where the most famous character was NOT the title character...

Loin - Kalicharan
Long before Maggi spiced up its sauces with whacky lines, Ajit became a deadly smuggler as Lion a.k.a Loin. The Punjabisation of Lion became a catch-phrase of the MTV generation as copywriters, VJs, screenwriters and magazine editors jumped on to the bandwagon of Ajit jokes.
In the movie, a bombastic Shatrughan Sinha was relegated to the sidelines as Ajit threw his lines with aplomb in Subhas Ghai's earliest hit. It had a pretty interesting plot (not unlike Don!) - with Loin killing off a police officer (Shatru I) on his trail and the officer's superior replacing him with a look-alike criminal (Shatru II).
Spoiler Alert: On his death-bed, Shatru I leaves behind a note for his boss which gets mis-read as No. 17. Only at the climax, when there is a rotating disc with LION written on it is seen, does the dumb-ass boss realise that NO17 is nothing but LION written upside down. But he can be forgiven... after all, he was looking for Loin!
On behalf of the marketing fraternity, which benefited from Loin's lines (invented and real), Amul paid an affectionate tribute to Ajit when he passed away.

Babumoshai - Anand
Raj Kapoor's term of endearment for buddy Hrishikesh Mukherjee was immortalised by the latter in a film dedicated to Raj Kapoor and the city of Bombay. Apparently, the characters of the two protagonists were modelled after their real-life parallels as well.
What was supposed to be an out-and-out Rajesh Khanna film turned out to be the first step to stardom for Amitabh Bachchan as his understated yet intense potrayal of the Bengali doctor. (He chewed up Rajesh Khanna in yet another film - Namak Haram - before the erstwhile superstar refused to act in any further movies with the upstart!)
Amitabh was more than a little unhappy with the script as he believed that the dying characters always got all the sympathy but nevertheless his character came out real like no other. Anand's lilting call of 'Babumoshai' added to the role - and the title became something of an epithet for Bongs (till of course, Sourav Ganguly became the 'Dada' to the nation)!

Bhiku Mhatre - Satya
The poker-faced Chakravarthy did nothing to deserve the title role of Satya - the rootless, moral-less guy who rises to the top of the Bombay underworld. Manoj Bajpai, after a string of obscure bit parts in Ramgopal Verma films, hit pay dirt with the unkempt, unapologetic Bhiku Mhatre. His violence, his love, his grunting grin, his hysteric sobs, his domestic squabbles, his crazy gang went promptly into cinematic lore as Ramu pulled off what he does best - gang flicks.
This one role was enough to get him into starring (Shool) as well as negative (Aks) roles but he was never able to repeat the manic energy he pulled off with the "Mumbai ka King kaun?" line.
Even now, the character rules mindspace with a Wikipedia entry, nickames on Yahoo, Orkut & MSN, 9300 results on Google and Isha Koppikar's next role (in yet another RGV gang flick) where she wants to be a 'female Bhiku Mhatre'.

Mogambo - Mr India
What was a Clark Gable-Ava Gardner starrer became the name of the second-most famous villain in the history of Hindi cinema. One of the last few films of Salim-Javed as duo, Anil Kapoor has the dubious distinction of being a hero where both the villain AND the heroine completely overshadowed him.
An interesting story of the making comes when Shekhar Kapur asked Javed Akhtar to explain the character of Mogambo to him and Akhtar replied with "Mogambo khush hua". The explanation being that it was the line of a megalomaniac who used verbal approval to reward his gang. To convince a very incredulous Shekhar, Javed Akhtar told him, "Ab se jab taash mein teen ikke aayenge, log kahengey Mogambo Khush Hua. Jab India cricket mein sixer maarega, tab log kahengey Mogambo khush hua. Iss film ke baad log khushi ke mauke ka talaash isliye karenge ki woh bol sake Mogambo khush hua..."
Mogambo became the newest icon as his signature line - performed by Amrish Puri with almost an orgasmic relish in the film - rivalled the best lines of Gabbar, with as much repeat value. It stayed with Amrish Puri till the very end as Amul mourned his death with a take-off on the line.

Did I say 5 characters? Oh well - I was thinking of the characters of Sholay! It just struck me that Sholay is not a title role for anybody... but nevertheless, it was a film where every single character has lived beyond generations.
And it is not only the pivotal characters. Gabbar Singh. Thakur. Jai. Veeru. Basanti. Kaalia.
Even a completely peripheral villager's name - Kashinath - seems to have lived on, simply due to the number of times the entire country has seen the film!
You hardly ever get a film where a character (Saambha) who speaks just three words ("Poore pachaas hazaar") becomes immortal!
So, how many people from the film can you name? As they asked in the film, "Kitne aadmi the?"

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Iss Kahani mein Drama hain, Emotion hain, Tragedy hain...


That's how my bedside table looked for the last 21 days - as I plodded through the book @ 42.9 pages per day. Oh - but that has nothing to do with the pace of the book! Diapers and colic medicine kept me from clocking 300 pages a day! (Yes, a reader has reported completion in 3 days. But the book is not that good either.)
It is a murder mystery, love story, gossip magazine, political thriller, partition saga, bomb chase, social history of India and a Hitchhikers' Guide to Bombay - all at the price of Rs 650 minus 25% Fabmall Book Club discount minus Rs 150 Gift Vouchers minus 82 Reward Points plus Rs 25 delivery charges.
Criminalisation of religion and religionisation of crime are chronicled through the first person account of Ganesh Gaitonde's feud with Suleiman Isa and the third person of Sartaj Singh's trek within the corrupt system.

Without getting into the review which has the risk of having spoilers, let me instead list down the things I liked about the book.

No Italics or Glossary
Apradhi. Bhai. Encounter. MC. BC. G**ndu. Thoko. Bajao. Item. Kholi. Goli. All blend seamlessly into the lingo of the narrative with no apologies to the non-Indian (or for that matter, non-Hindi speaking and non-Bambaiyya) reader.
BTW, how many of you thought goli means bullet? Heh heh...

Film-songs as mood-builders
Kishore. Mukesh. Rafi. All pop up in car stereos, filmy parties, dance bars, in the background, in flashback, in nostalgia and even as examples for bhais trying to tell their shooters on how to woo women!
Gaata rahe mera dil, for example, serves as a leit motif for Sartaj Singh whenever he is happy. Now that I mention it, the film songs and film names are the only italics in the book.

Family Ties
During the story, Vikram Chandra makes passing references to his illustrious extended family. Brother-in-law Vinod Chopra's Parinda is hailed by the dons as 'best police-gangster film ever made'.
When Ganesh Gaitonde makes a film and it is universally panned by the critics, the don soundly abuses all of them - publication by publication. Interestingly, only the India Today critic is identified by female expletives. Apt, considering the film critic for the magazine at that point of time was Vikram's sister, Anupama Chopra! And, she is Vidhu Vinod's wife as well!

Reality + Fiction = Total Masala
Fictional bhais idolise real-life dons. Ganesh Gaitonde is moved by the life-story of Varadarajan Mudaliar. Imaginary locations merge with fictional landscape. Goregaon & Chembur segue into Kailashpada and Gopalmath. Filmi tales abound with directors of both kinds. Vidhu Vinod Chopra and Mahesh Bhatt inspire Manu Tiwari and Johnny Singh.
Vikram Chandra is completely impartial to having set-pieces in his narrative. When he does not have a real-life example, he invents one. And vice versa.

Peekaboo into Glamour Central
What must a Hindi film have to succeed? How do starlets go about organising cosmetic surgery? Do contestants of beauty pageants have to sleep with judges to win? How do dons influence stories of films they finance? Can Hindi cinema do without the mother figure?
Questions of such staggering importance are answered with scholarly research and seriousness. Oh - and the answer to the first question is found on page 643 - "The emotion of Mother India, the scale of Sholay, the speed of Amar Akbar Anthony. That's what we want." Simple, no?

A Requiem for Bombay
The book starts with a Dramatis Personae - but that misses out on the most important character in the novel. The City of Bombay.
Like other players, the city too wins, loses, gets abused, gets raped, fights back, mouths obscenities, kills some of it enemies, gets injured by others - and at the end of it, you don't know whether to feel sorry for them or to feel proud.
Bombay has a natural association with money, glamour and success, to win which it has had to cope with violence, overcrowding and dilapidation - and the entire country is trying to understand whether it is a fair barter or not.
As the blurb says, "To win is to lose everything. And the Game always wins."