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."

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

The Passion of Eating Meat

Hey, I have found out a way to blog oftener! IN THE CAR! On the way to work, I read. At work, it is too hectic. At home, it is even more hectic! So, the best way is on the car back home! Short half-hour posts to keep myself busy!
Acknowledgements: IBM Thinkpad and Reliance Internet Card.

A friend landed up a few nights back – and we ended up discussing food. This is unavoidable when two Bengalis get together. (My father, for example, discusses lunch at the breakfast table, dinner at lunch ad infinitum. He finalized the menu for his children’s weddings long before my sister and I had found ourselves our respective spouses!)
We talked about the Hilsa festival at Oh Calcutta. Delectable – though less adventurous people would do well to order from the paturi and other boneless options.
We got emotional talking about Tunday Kababi – and decided the place should be declared a heritage site asap.
We talked about the possibility of finding him a Bengali maid in Bombay – and how that would make his already blissful life absolutely perfect.
We talked about how his vegetarian fiancée would have to teach the maid the intricacies of sambhar-rasam-thayir saadam because it would be impossible to teach a Tamil maid the Bong stuff!

Before we rounded the evening off with lots of rice and chingrir malai-curry, we came to the somewhat redundant conclusion that passion for food is restricted to non-vegetarians. This is not to say vegetarian cuisine is not capable of producing masterpieces. Dal Bukhara is one such creation. Its legend stays with people beyond generations and lives.
But, passion – as defined by the urge to kill human beings for the want of flesh (cooked!).
Passion – in which spicy, cholesterol-laden red meat is embraced with the same abandon that drives moth to flames.
That does not flow in the heated bowls of sambhar and rasam but in the trenchant gravies of mutton and pork!

When starving drunkards arrive at dhabas and coffee shops to smother the alcohol fumes with some food, it is the protein which inflames tempers and never the carbohydrates or fibres. The excess salt in the Mushroom Masala gets brushed under the carpet while it is the Kadhai Chicken which get slandered as crow and often crockery has to be smashed to make the other side see reason!

Vegetarian eateries (especially in South) have legendary fan followings. MTR in Bangalore, for example, has teeming masses collecting coupons for their meals and waiting in a disciplined manner for hours (literally). Vidyarthi Bhawan (also in Bangalore) has a similarly orderly army partaking the crisp dosas and never raising a murmur about anything.
Imagine the same length of queue in Moti Mahal or Kareem. Very ordinary eating-joints on Pandara Road continuously have minor battles over queue jumping and billing delays. The bloodshed over Moti Mahal’s Chicken Butter Masala and Kareem’s Mutton Barra Kababs would be far gorier!

Shahi Paneer is a lot like the average married woman. There are innumerable people who stay wedded to her and extol the virtues.
But the Chicken Tikka at Bade Miyan? That’s Helen of Troy for you. A thousand ships, gods and men destroy each other to get her.

Yeah, I better activate my contacts in Bombay to find a Bong maid for my friend. He might murder me otherwise!

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

1992: A Love Story

WARNING: Very long, self-indulgent post coming up. Strictly avoidable for those who cannot take Bollywood in large doses.

I dug out a mail from a very long time back (24 Dec 1999, to be precise), which had the list of all the Hindi movies released in 1992. In order to test my memory from 14 years back, I wrote down all the plots & details of the 68 movies I could recall! Took me some 6 days to complete this one post!
I am sure a large number of people are trying to find the number of a mental institution already. For them, skip!
The others who want to find out if they can remember the 14 that I missed, welcome to the party!

1. Angaar – There used to be a director called Shashilal Nair, who used to be in Jackie Shroff’s lobby (imagine, there used to be such a thing)! He made this movie – with a so-called ‘strong’ role for Jaggu-dada. However, Nana Patekar stole the show right under his nose with his deadpan-villain act. Dimple’s role in this movie is a nominee for the Most Irritating Roles Ever.

2. Apradhi – Don’t recall this movie at all. Chances are that it never released in Cal.

3. Baaz – This is the movie which forced Karishma Kapoor’s magnum opus (tee hee!) to be subtitled. (See full story here!) It starred Govinda as a photographer, who inadvertently snaps a murder. Archana Puran Singh appeared in a swim-suit song in this one. Though, the heroine was Sonam, I think.

4. Balwaan – Sunil Shetty’s debut movie, in which he wore vests and snorted like no Deol had done before! I think, Divya Bharti was the female lead and I recall a climax song in the villain’s (Danny Denzongpa) den.

5. Bekhudi – Kajol’s debut movie. With a hackneyed ‘parental opposition to puppy love’ formula (which were getting made by the dozen in the aftermath of QSQT and MPK). I think this was also Kamal Saldanah’s debut movie – but why would that be remembered at all?

6. Beta – One of the biggest hits of the year. Sealed Madhuri Dixit’s claim to Sridevi’s throne – with the anthem ‘Dhak Dhak Karne Laga’. And people are still trying to figure out why it was called Beta? Probably because Anil Kapoor won the Filmfare Best Actor prize in one of the most blatantly rigged prizes in the history of film awards!

7. Bewaffa Se Waffa – One of Vivek Mushran’s last ditch attempts before he went down into oblivion. This one was some kind of a love triangle. (Who is Vivek Mushran? He is the guy who acted opposite Manisha Koirala in her and his own debut film – Subhas Ghai’s Saudagar!)

8. Bol Radha Bol – One of David Dhawan’s earlier hits – which actually had a decent storyline and a gripping screenplay. Rotund Rishi played a double role to Juhi Chawla’s bubbly Radha – and had Kader Khan in one of his funnier roles!

9. Chamatkar – Was this a copy of Ghost? Naseer plays a ghost whom only Shah Rukh can see – and together they help SRK win Urmila Matondakar’s heart, avenge Naseer’s murder and win a cricket match!
Trivia: Ashutosh Gowarikar played the rival cricket captain. Maybe he told SRK the plot of Swades in between shots!

10. Daulat Ki Jung – Aamir Khan and Juhi Chawla in a misguided attempt to repeat their QSQT success. Don’t recall anything else. Maybe my sister would remember!

11. Deedar –There is a huge amount of controversy on whether this was Akshay Kumar’s first movie, Karishma Kapoor’s first movie or both’s? Well, this is inarguably the first time Akki and Lolo acted together! Now, that settles the debate (if there was any in the first place!)

12. Deewana – One of Divya Bharti’s biggest hits with Rishi Kapoor – in a love triangle. But SRK stole the thunder with his football-pump act in the ‘Aisi Deewangi’ song!
Bollywood hint: If you want to know who gets the girl in the end, check out who sings the title song!

13. Dharavi – A bloody depressing but reasonably well-made movie starring Om Puri as a taxi driver staying in the largest slum of the world. Shabana Azmi played his wife – and Madhuri Dixit (guest) appeared in his dreams!

14. Ek Ladka Ek Ladki – Salman and Neelam. That’s all I can remember. And I think I will hazard a guess that there was Anupam Kher or Kader Khan too. That is like saying, you either like Pepsi or Coke!

15. Geet – Released after Divya Bharti’s death, this film tried to cash in on the sympathy wave quite shamelessly – but failed miserably. A large part of this film was completed after the actress’ death and several songs had the heroine covered in over-sized pallus etc.

16. Ghar Jamai – The more famous movie of this genre was Jamai Raja starring Anil Kapoor and Hema Malini. This one is a 404.

17. Humlaa – Mithun, must have been. Who else can launch a Humlaa? That too, with a double A!

18. Isi Ka Naam Zindagi – Aamir and Farah in an attempt to make a bad film and succeeding spectacularly. This was a time when Aamir Khan acted in some 5 movies in 1 year and not vice versa!

19. Jaan Se Pyaara – Govinda in a double role – as a cool dude and his retarded twin. No prizes for guessing that each was the other’s jaan se pyara. Aruna Irani played their exasperated mother. No recollection about the heroine.

20. Jeevan Ek Sanghursh – Anil Kapoor and Madhuri Dixit in a moderate entertainer and hit. Had a hit song called “De de mera de de tu bees rupaiya” which is a sure sign of inflation from the days of “Paanch rupaiya barah aana”!

21. Jhooti Shaan – With a name like that, it has to be Mithun and nobody else. But who else? Whatiteez?

22. Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikander – The second outing of the Aamir Khan – Mansoor Khan combine and the most entertaining movie of the year. Lovely songs, brilliant choregraphy (including ‘Pehla Nasha’ shot entirely in slow-mo!), cool cast and a sermon without being preachy!

23. Junoon – Another one of Mahesh Bhatt’s ‘loose copies’. Rahul Roy transforms into a tiger on every full moon night after he gets bitten by one on a hunting trip. Undoubtedly, the lowest point of censorship battles of all times happened during this movie when there was debate on whether to show Rahul Roy in the buff! I mean, who wanted to in the first place?

24. Kal Ki Awaaz – Huh?

25. Kasak – Duh?

26. Khel – Rakesh Roshan’s venture before he discovered a superstar was sitting opposite him on the breakfast table! A pretty intelligent film about two rival cons (Anil and Madhuri) out to make a fast buck. Shades of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. But what took the cake was Anupam Kher’s continuous singing of topical old film hits for every situation!

27. Khuda Gawah – Amitabh as Pathan warrior Badshah Khan! The opening bouzkashi scene alone was worth the price of admission!

28. Kshatriya – Sunny Deol and Sunjay Dutt, in their bulky worked out bodies went topless and at each other with giant-sized cutlasses in this mindless ‘epic’ by J P Dutta.

29. Laat Saab – See no. 21.

30. Mashooq – Dilip Kumar’s nephew debuted. Ayub Khan finally found his place in the sun almost ten years later when he punched Akash Malhotra for flirting with his girlfriend!

31. Meera Ka Mohan – Musical extravaganza on T-series tapes, starring Avinash Wadhwan and Ashwini Bhave. I recall the hero playing a flute on the posters but not much else. Neither would anybody else!

32. Mere Sajna Saath Nibhana – See no. 24.

33. Mr Bond – This was one of the earlier movies of Akshay Kumar, before hit stardom with Khiladi. And before his comedy star days, Akki was an action star, trying to reprise the secret agent act. Of course, he had a mother who was used by the villain to blackmail him! So much for 007!

34. Muqabla – Govinda and Aditya Pancholi played hawaldaars in this action-packed, emotion-laden musical potboiler (I am quoting from the trailer!) by either of Drama Naidu or Trauma Rao. One of the earlier examples of Govinda and Karishma’s motorized pelvises and innuendo-stuffed lyrics.

35. Naach Govinda Naach – One of the last movies to have the star’s name in the title (in the tradition of Johar & Mehmood and Laurel & Hardy)! It was expected to seal the supremacy of Govinda on the no. 1 throne. Instead, it sank without a trace. And the Badshah who rose this year is ruling ever since!

36. Nagin Aur Lootere – This was later remade in Hollywood as Snakes on a Plane. Think about it… the name sounds exactly like the plot!

37. Parampara – The last time Yash Chopra directed for a non-Yashraj banner. And the result was a multi-starrer, multi-generational thakur saga. Sunil Dutt, Vinod Khanna, Aamir Khan, Saif Ali Khan, Raveena Tandon, Neelam, Ramya, Ashwini Bhave and many more stars and starlets acted in a story of love despite parental opposition. Only this time, the lover was Vinod Khanna and the parent was Sunil Dutt. Where does that leave Aamir & Saif? Go figure!

38. Payal – This (along with QMHB, no. 43) was Bhagyashree’s return to tinsel town, with her husband (Himalaya, lovingly called Himi) in tow. Yes, she got married after the supernova success of Maine Pyar Kiya and kept a condition for her producers intent on signing her that she would only act opposite her hubby. The poor producers hoped that her star power would make the audience overlook the abominable acting talents of her hero! It didn’t.
Moral of the story: If Salman had insisted on acting with Somy Ali after his MPK success, he would have been acting in Balaji soaps today!

39. Phool Aur Kaante – Ajay Devgan made an entry like no other atop two motorbikes, sang hit songs, fought armies of goons, wooed Madhu (of Roja fame) – and even mouthed English dialogues (“When you have to shoot, shoot. Don’t talk!”). Full timepass!

40. Pitambar – Besides God, very few people know about this movie.

41. Prem Deewane – Really crappy movie about teen-lovers (Vivek Mushran and Pooja Bhatt) who try to kidnap a mature-lover (Jackie Shroff) for a reason I don’t remember any more. Maybe I don’t remember it because there wasn’t any! BTW, Madhuri played Jackie’s love interest in the movie.

42. Purush – Ashwini Bhave and Nana Patekar in a remake of a Marathi film about a politician raping a woman and her fight for justice. These are the so-called ‘strong roles’, which lure starlets and they end up titillating audiences with graphic rape scenes!

43. Qaid Mein Hain Bulbul – See no. 38.

44. Radha Ka Sangam – Govinda’s home production was directed by his brother Kirti Kumar. (Yes, the same guy whose son is in jail right now!) Though, why it was named after the heroine (Juhi Chawla) continues to mystify those who think about it!

45. Raju Ban Gaya Gentleman – SRK’s first solo hit. Was said to be a remake of Shri 420, just as Bas Itna Sa Khwab Hain was said to be a remake of this. Whatever – after this, Shah Rukh Ban Gaya Superstar!

46. Raju Dada – Sounds suspiciously like the dubbed version of a Telugu hit. Probably starring Chiranjeevi or Venkatesh! No idea.

47. Ram Ke Naam – Raam Jaane!

48. Roja – Arvind Swamy, Madhu and lots of Southie stars were seen for the first time to the North of Vindhyas in this movie. Somehow, we only remember A R Rehman.

49. Roop Ki Rani Choron Ka Raja – Boney Kapoor’s magnum opus was also the most expensive movie of its time. Sridevi was supposed to have made a world record for the maximum costumes in a single movie. (She didn't.) There was a train robbery scene which is surely one of the best action sequences I have seen ever (including Hollywood)! And I must have been one of about a hundred people who have seen the movie in a theatre!

50. Saatwan Aasman – Pooja Bhatt, I recall. A tragic love story between two terminally ill patients. Yet another film (supposedly) by Mahesh Bhatt. And you thought Gangster was depressing!

51. Sangeet – Madhuri Dixit in a double role. One as a blind nautanki dancer and other as a culturally inclined dowager. I think, there was some plot about one being the illegitimate child of the other. Jackie Shroff played a village simpleton.

52. Sapne Sajan Ke – Rahul Roy and Karishma Kapoor play two poor slysters, who pretend to be rich to each other. And fall in love. And sing songs. Ho hum… what else?

53. Sarphira – See no. 59.

54. Shola Aur Shabnam – One of the first Govinda-David Dhawan combines to deliver a complete tapori-style entertainer. This was probably Divya Bharti’s debut film.

55. Siyasat – Somehow, it sounds like a multi-starrer. But probably, I am confusing it with Sultanat! No clue.

56. Suraj Ka Satwan Ghoda – One of Shyam Benegal’s understated gems. It had a web of lovely stories narrated by Rajat Kapoor to his cronies in small-town India. Amrish Puri won a National Award for his role as a lecherous landlord.

57. Tadipaar – One more from Mahesh Bhatt’s assembly line of directorial output. It was a loose copy of “Roman Holiday” with Mithun-da doing the Gregory Peck role opposite Pooja Bhatt.
Loose copy – in Bollywood parlance – is when you lift only the story. Exact copy is when you lift the movie scene by scene!

58. Tehalka – Featured one of the most under-rated villains of Hindi cinema: Amrish Puri as Dong (jo kabhi wrong nahin ho sakta)! It also featured Javed Jaffrey, Naseeruddin Shah and Chunky Pandey in drag. And a nice little pun – the villain’s den was called Dongri-La.

59. Teja – Either Sanjay Dutt or Mithun. Nobody else can carry off a name like that!

60. TirangaaJaani, jab Nana aur hummm (scratch neck stylishly) ek hi picture mein kaam kartein hainnnn (tap pipe on table top), toh bahut hi pakauuuu picture bante hain… bahut hi pakau! Haan…

61. Tyaagi – Starred Bhagyashree but it was Rajanikanth in the title role – about the elder brother of a family who sacrifices everything for his brothers.

62. Vansh – Exact copy (See definition above) of a Mani Ratnam film about a man, his family and his illegitimate family. Anupam Kher plays the father. Sudesh Berry and Siddharth play the two sons.

63. Vartmaan – Fraud film. I am sure this does not exist!

64. Virodhi – Produced by Rajkumar Kohli, this was his son Armaan’s debut film which sank without trace or grace! Whatever Armaan lacked in talent, he made up in perseverance as he must be the only producer-son to have acted in a series of launch vehicles all of which have bombed! The latest attempt was recent enough – Jaani Dushman, Ek Anokhi Kahani!

65. Waqt Ka Badshah – Sounds like a slugfest between Dharmendra and/or Shatrughan Sinha and/or Vinod Khanna. But honestly, I don’t know!

66. Yalgaar – Feroze Khan’s supposedly stylish film. Except for Nagma who wore a bikini for the first (and last?) time, there doesn’t seem to be any other USP!

67. Zindagi Ek Juaa – I think this is Prakash Mehra’s last movie and I know it is his worst! Starred the supposed box-office Midas pair of Anil Kapoor and Madhuri Dixit – but was such a bad film that it died because of the overdose of everything in it! Like Madhuri in the movie – who dies of a drug overdose!

68. Zulm Ki Hukumat – See no. 65.

Phew. Gasp. Pant. Pant.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

God is 64 Years Old

If you ask a guy born in 1974, “What were you doing on 1st of February 1991 in between 12 noon to 4 p.m.?”, there is very little chance that he would say that he was preparing for his Class X Board Exams.
If you ask the same guy, “Why did you watch Hello Brother?”, there is even lesser chance that he will profess a liking for the Khan brothers or Rani Mukherjee.
And if you ask this guy – now his age matches the number of teeth he has – “Which movie are you looking forward to this Diwali?”, there is absolutely no chance that he will mention Don – The Chase Begins Again.

My generation grew up worshipping The Big B. And for us, he was The Only B. There was nobody else who could match up to the Towering Inferno – and not that we missed it too!
The news of his 1982 accident was taken in more with a sense of disbelief than sadness. It was just that no one could reconcile that Vijay Verma could die in real life. Surely, Puneet Issar was the Anti-Christ everyone was looking for.
Long before the Filmfare nominations became the subject of nationwide debate and controversy, we heard rumours that in 1986, Amitabh was nominated twice in the Best Actor category – one for the father’s role in Aakhri Raasta and one for the son’s role! And there was no one to make us disbelieve this.

The birth of our generation coincided almost exactly with the birth of Amitabh’s stardom – and we lived through it like no other.
We were toddlers when we started hearing the stories of his legendary roles, we saw them on television, we hardly saw him in magazines, we were in our peak movie-watching phase when his worst films were running – and God knows, we defended the choice of those roles as our own personal crusades.
And when he turned around – walked right up to us and said, “Aap ke liye 15 sawaal. Jiske uttar dene ke baad shayed aap ke zindagi mein aur koi sawaal na rahe…” – it was not an answer to his critics. It was an answer to our prayers.

There are several theories on why he captures the public imagination like no other. In fact, at least one of these theories has been the subject of a Ph D thesis (and now, a book).
The most plausible one is that Amitabh is the only superstar who has extended his reel persona to the real life. The angry vigilante, the duty-bound son, the faithful friend, the modest poet, the affectionate father of celluloid lived beyond the 21 reels and walked the streets of Bombay, Allahabad and beyond.

He fought back to pay of his ABCL debts in the same way the novice industrialist of Trishul worked night and day to build his empire.

He stood by his real-life friends in the same way Kishan of Yaarana mortgaged his career to save a friend.

His respect and pride for his father – in an understated way – is a replica of countless films he has acted in.
Like, the reason for him to start the fight to clear his name in the Bofors scandal. He took the entire set of allegations in his stride and decided to ignore it in the same imperious fashion that he ignored all the filmi gossip all through his career. He felt secure in the belief that he was innocent and also the fact that the people who really matter to him would treat this entire political conspiracy with the same disdain that they treated the filmi stories. But that changed.
He said in an interview that once he was very late in returning from shooting – but when he entered, Harivanshrai was waiting for him. And not without a purpose…
The father asked his son, “Beta, tu ne kuchh galat to nahin kiya hain?
Like so many films, in real life too – India’s most respected actor decided to fight a protracted battle not because it affected him but because his father’s honour was also at stake.

Or, the time India Today quizzed him on why he had started working out – so late in his life. (He goes to the Juhu Centaur gym every day at 5 a.m.) After he cracked a joke about how he wanted to shave off his chest and appear bare-chested in his next movie, he got serious and told the real reason.
He said that his father’s health had become quite fragile and he needed to be transferred to a hospital often. On one such occasion, he realized that he was unable to physically lift his father to put him in the car. The family had to wait for Abhishek to return and do the duty.
It was for this reason that India’s sexiest 65-year old decided to hit the gym. In an industry full of Botox-laden beauties, it feels so refreshingly different that the Emperor of them all has chosen to work out in order to be strong enough to lift his father.

And all these things added up to blur the boundary between the star and human being. And Amitabh Bachchan is no longer at the top of the Filmfare Power List. He has moved to the top of the India Today Power List.

And in the din of all the special supplements, book launches, TV programmes and film festivals, let me represent the Gen 1974 in wishing Amitabh many happy returns in the way he wants. Quietly.
Happy Birthday, Sarkar.
Hope to see more of you… after all, we now have children to show your movies to.

In case, some kids are wondering – we were all watching first day, first show of Hum on 01/02/91 (and yes, we have preserved the ticket!).
Hello Brother ended with a speech from God in you-know-whose voice (and it was duly credited as ‘Heavenly Voice’ in the titles!).
But on second thoughts, we might as well go and see Don… chances are that the trailers of Ekalavya will be on by then.

Saturday, October 07, 2006


When I go through the address books of my e-mail account or mobile, I come across so many nicknames that it sounds almost like a secret agent’s black book. The only difference is that instead of feeling intrigued, the reader would probably collapse in laughter. This is actually not different from anybody else who has been to a couple of educational institutions.
Incidentally, I recently heard that in Lawrence Sanawar, all the Gaurav-s have the same nickname – Bugs! Huh? I must have surely misheard… this lack of sleep is getting to me!

Sometimes wonderful names get coined and lost.
Doberman – a guy jo har waqt doobata tha. Never became popular.
Titanic – an even better one about a guy jo akele nahin doota tha, Titanic ke tarah sab ko le doobta tha. Again, got lost in transit.
On the other hand, some really silly ones stick on for the rest of lives.

Basically, there are three broad reasons behind the naming –
(a) Mutilation of name / surname
(b) Schoolboy cruelty towards physical attribute
(c) Tangential rendition of behavioural trait

All Bengalis and South Indians go through a shortening – but they are generally in the realm of logic. Shivaramakrishnan, Venkataraman and Tridibendranarayan get shortened to Shiva, Venky and 3D respectively. However, in a few recent cases, the Venkataraman got shortened to Chicken as well. (Venky’s Chicken – for those who are taking some time to charge their batteries!).
Some of my mates were not too thrilled with Dipta – and inexplicably enough, started calling me Deepa. But thankfully, the basic letters remained common.

As for surnames, lots of Chowdhurys have to live as Chow. All the Zachariahs of the world are rechristened Zac the moment they leave home. A Velankar has to make do with Velu. And Talapatra has to manage with Talu. (One Ms Talapatra I know was called Talumein because of the proximity of a Chinese joint near our college at that time. She never had a special liking for the soup!)

A dear friend of mine – Dr Anirban Banerjee – had his name mangled in a slightly different manner as his surname first got changed to the colloquial version – Bnarujjey – and then got shortened to Bnaru. And that name has stuck so well that a lot of people take time to remember his real name (and my son will surely call him Bnaru Kaku!).

Sometimes, surnames are not changed. They are simply invented. It was once felt at a drinking session that our very handsome friend – Mr Vineet Singh – had too short a name to be impressive enough. So, we appended a Solanki to it. Why? Well, Vineet Singh Solanki does have a regal air about it. We affectionately called him Solu, though. (On a connected note, the 6’ tall Vineet’s family hailed from Bihar. So, we occasionally referred to him as A Tall Bihari!)

This theme typically has racism and sadism running simultaneously. But thankfully, the receipients of the names understood the affection behind the naming and have desisted from lawsuits!

Bhoot: He had a really toothy smile / laugh – which apparently had the scary qualities of a ghost.

Kala: What to do? He was really dark.

Mooli: He had protruding front teeth. And in the fairy tales we heard, we knew rakshasas had “moolor moton dnaat”.

Baba: This nickname is from my dad’s college – where a boy was felt to be tall enough to be the rest of the class’ father! (Trivia: Satyajit Ray was called Orient Longman by some of his British bosses!)

I could go on but would like to cut short the nastiness.

Typically, this is the most creative theme, for it tends to distill a boy’s entire life into one trait –
or worse, one (usually embarrassing) incident. And, most of the nicknames fall in this category!

Mama / Dadu: Almost every class in Bengal has one. (Not to be confused with the Mamu of tapori lingo!) Typically, an overly mature, genial, grandpa-ish or avuncular chap had to bear this cross.

Tenida: My friend from school had this curious habit of telling all jokes in the first person – which led to the belief that his entire family worked for Reader’s Digest since all that his father/uncle/cousin did appeared in the jokes sections of the magazine. So, he was crowned with the epithet (which is the name of a Bengali fictional character, known for his tall stories). It’s a different issue that he was the first person we knew who started behaving like his doppelganger after the name was given!

Topper: He was the archetypal intelligent, idealistic Bengali – and modest to a fault. He dug his own grave by topping the toughest course in B-school (which was a Quantitative Techniques course, taught by another intelligent, idealistic Bengali). And he became Topper. In fact, now some friends call him Topu. Talk about nickname of a nickname!

Chacha: My roommate from B-school. His full name was Gaurav Narasimhan, the latter of which was shortened to Nara and then anglicized to Narrow. The Narrow meandered between the correct pronunciation and Narroo – and one fine morning, he became Chacha Narrow (Narroo – Nehru, get the connection?). And eventually, only the Chacha was left! Of course, he was old beyond his years and that helped the name to stick!

Sloggy: This engineering college friend had this nickname. So why do you think it was so? He obviously batted like Dhoni in the slog overs, right? You wish! In one inter-department cricket competition, he gave away so many runs in the slog overs that his nickname came into being! Even now, he introduces himself to people as Sloggy. The “Nomoshkaar Mashima, aami Sloggy bolchhi…” in his distinctive baritone is quite well known.

Habol: Now, this goes back so many years that it is very difficult to trace origins of. It probably started as a derivation of Habla (the closest Hindi equivalent would probably be Lallu or Buddhu) and then had some even more tangential derivation as Half Oblique (Huh? Yes, I am as puzzled as you are!). This name started in his school days – and when he joined college, he requested all his schoolmates NOT to call him by that name. Needless to say, this strategy failed spectacularly. Now, we have to be careful enough not to call him that in front of his son!

Phantom: This one refers to the famous trait of the Ghost Who Walks – Nobody can contact Phantom. Only Phantom contacts you. So, this colleague of mine who does not answer his mobile, is seldom at his desk and is generally uncontactable is the worthy receipient of the title. But hey – it’s not that bad… like the Phantom himself, he lands up whenever you need him the most!

So that’s the lot I can fit in… anybody got more interesting stories?