Monday, December 31, 2007

Best of 2007: My Opinionated Takes

Blogging Rule #32: You have to give away Best of the Year awards on your blog.
Blogging Rule #32(a): The awards have to be opinionated.

I thought of having some gyaan on movies, books and food. But then, I realised I have been out too few times this year to make any sense.
So, here I am with my list of my favourite blog posts of 2007 - in no particular order.
They are here not only because they are from my favourite blogs but I need to compile them at one place so that I can go back quickly and read them whenever I feel like!

116 Moonlit Nights: Megha's take on my favourite song is almost as beautiful as the song itself. What more can I say?

And if you think that was the definitive Bollywood post, there is one even better from a banker who - when he is not pontificating about cigarettes and existentialist angst - is a closet Bollywood buff. For all the hyperbole, excuse me please.

The Calcutta Post is from a Bong, who is not too sure if she is a ghoti or a bangal. But then her Adventures of a Bengali Bride At Her First Pujo is loaded with acute observations and deadpan humour.

My friend, Anirban, and his wife, Sujata, started their blog this year and debuted with a post on Raag Darbari. To my mind, that was a stunner because writing on Hindustani classical music accessibly is as rare as it gets and this deserves a huge audience.
And then, a couple of weeks back, he wrote An Ode to New York. Essential reading for anybody who has been exiled from Calcutta.

Nandigram would easily be the Most Searched Google Keyword from Calcutta this year. So much has been written about it that it is very difficult to make sense of the whole sordid affair. One post makes eminent sense - with just the right blend of fact and opinion.

Amitabh Bachchan has competition. Not in acting but in comebacks.
In late 2006, an Indian cricketer turned logical reasoning on its head and decided some Australian jerk was not going to decide when he was going to quit playing cricket. And while he was playing the sublime shots on field, a lot of people wished they could say "I-told-you-so".
One guy could - and came up with a magical post on a magical comeback.

Most blogs are started on a whim and most posts are written in a hurry - in an attempt of get immediate thoughts 'on air'. In this situation, it is such a pleasure to have somebody taking pains to unearth rare gems for the interested.
Dipanjan translated a Ritwik Ghatak interview - definitely the longest I have come across - and put it up. Apart from the fact that it is a very well-done translation, it is a complete travelogue across Ritwik's turbulent life and times. Parts 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5.

And finally, it has to be a large dose of nostalgia. Though Nilendu took off the rose-tinted glasses I use to look at the past and came up with a deadly recap of our college days. He is brutally honest and has an elephantine memory so it is rip-roaringly funny. And to protect jobs and marriages, he is not taking names. Except mine. In one episode, he calls me Vinod Kambli and in another, he accuses me of “vile, dishonest, corrupt and blatant subversion of power” in another. All three parts are required reading, nevertheless!

And I just realized that all but one of the bloggers mentioned above are Bengalis. I don’t whether that can be attributed to my partisan behaviour or general superiority of my race!

On that controversial note, let me wish all a Gr8 2008!

Friday, December 28, 2007


In a major road of South Calcutta - Rashbehari Avenue - there is a very famous shop for Punjabis. Before any wrong ideas set in, let me hasten to clarify that Punjabi in Bengali is actually a kurta. The one you wear with a churidar or a dhoti. The answer as to why a kurta is called a Punjabi is hidden in etymological obscurity so I will not digress from the original objective of this post.

Well, the famous Punjabi shop is called Kimbadanti (meaning, The Phenomenon). And on the signboard, the by-line reads: Kimbadanti - Punjabi Jagater Ek Obishshoroniyo Kirti. And quite helpfully, the English translation is also noted - An Unforgettable Achievement in the Punjabi World.

Very close to Kimbadanti, one more shop has opened (presumably for quite some time now). And it calls itself Badshahi Kurta-r Opratidwandi Durbar. Literally, An Unparalleled Durbar of the Badshashi Kurta.

I was wondering that in other parts of the country, adjectives like Unparalleled and Unforgettable are usually used to describe things like Bhakra-Nangal Dam, Dhirubhai Ambani and Rohit Bal's Fall Collection.
Here, we accord the same respect to kurta boutiques!

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Baby Products I Endorse: Diligent Candy's Tag

This is a belated post on a tag given by Diligent Candy on the baby products I endorse.
Gah! Since She-Who-Cannot-Be-Named-On-This-Blog is the other taggee, I guess I have become an expert by the Halo Effect. On one hand, GreatBong and Nilendu exchange notes on 1980's Zee telefilms on my blog. On the other, I am supposed to talk about baby products I use and endorse... Whatay identity crisis, I say!

Anyway, here goes...

Pigeon Wet Wipes is a dad's best friend. Evidence of any mishap - intentional or otherwise - can be literally wiped out with this wonderful invention, which is surely the most time-saving item of daily use.

As for diapers, Pampers beats Huggies hands down for no other reason but the fact that they have velcro fasteners. So, you ask? Well, for butter-fingered dads (like me) and super-acrobatic kids (like my son), getting the fasteners to fit the diaper is a game of trial-and-error. So, having a reopen-able diaper fastener ranks right up there with mobile telephones as the most momentous invention of all times!

Clothes - anything goes. And goes fine. And goes a very long way. I have yet to see an item of baby clothing which has got torn before it was outgrown.
And also because, we never bought a single piece of baby clothing. We just have millions of thoughtful friends and relatives, who have flooded us with the best brands of the world. But frankly, I am a bit of a klutz and could never make out what constitutes great baby clothing. Baby Levi's is really cool and I find it hilariously funny to see the Red Tab on a baby bum!

For the educationally inclined, books NOT made out of paper are recommended. I find that kids below two years need to sit on a page to get to the edge and turn it. Paper just cannot withstand this tensile force! So - cloth books, plastic books, squeaky books, water-resistant books, titanium-coated books are all what the doctor ordered. Again, content is not king.

Baby Einstein books are something everybody seems to be impressed by for their very 'with-it' attempt to teach colours with Impressionist paintings. I am, however, not very sure how much the kids understand these subtleties. Their TV shows are again very well-produced but may just appeal to adults better!
My son, for example, likes any book which has lots of textures. And any TV show that has rapid changes of colours and lights. That includes Tom & Jerry cartoons (now being reviled for 'excessive violence' by New Age parenting gurus), Disney shows (now being questioned for 'lack of educational content') and Bollywood music videos.
I guess all the fun stuff is getting stamped out in the hurry to win the rat race!

But the magic of Bollywood and its greatest star is there in the air - and catches everyone.
On SET Max a few nights back, as Dock Labourer No. 786 fought Peter and his goons, my son stood mesmerised. He watched unblinkingly - with an occasional gasp! During the particularly thrilling parts, he turned to see if I was watching and pulled at his own hair. At the end of it, he went and sat on the AC stabiliser. Had there been a table to put his feet on, he would have done that too.

MM forbids TV watching for infants. DC feels children below two years should not watch films. But yenna rascala... what to do?

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Author Count: 2

I am slowly but surely edging into into the Celebrity Circuit.

About a month or two back, a friend published her first book of poems and that too, by the Sahitya Akademi - no less! When I met her after the Delhi launch, I was too tongue-tied to ask her even if it was the same Akademi, which awards Vikram Seth and Anita Desai every now and then. Considering that Mr Seth was also awarded for a book of poems, she is obviously in august company.

Now, another ex-colleague has published his first book. When he told me about this about a year back, I assumed that he is going the Chetan Bhagat route of lad lit and would come up with a tale of a MBA who sells soap in Bihar (which he did)! Evidently, I had underestimated him. He is actually going the Deepak Chopra way.
A self-help book for the 'Dil Chahta Hai' Generation (as he calls it) is fantastically priced and is likely to be available everywhere you would hope to find it. He is a FMCG marketer, after all!

So, I know two authors and very soon, I will be standing next to them at an art exhibition, holding a glass of white wine and talking about our long association.
Actually, I know one more celebrity who is big enough to have been attacked, her site vandalised and sent into hiding temporarily! But I cannot name her. As it is, more people come here looking for her than for me!

Where Else In the World...

… do they name lodges and eateries after famous novels and poems? (Saw Aranyak Bar & Restaurant and Hotel Ruposhi Bangla on VIP Road)

… do they question flight landing announcements with a philosophical detachment? (“Nemey ki hobey? Shei to ekgheye…”)

… do they make TV serials from hundred year old classic novels?

… do they have king size hoardings of the National Football League?

… do they play Bismillah Khan as piped music on Shatabdi Express?

Don't bother to answer. These are all rhetorical questions. I passed by The City.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Bollywood Ka Boss: Coming Soon!

Bollywood Ka Boss promos are on air right now - and the show starts on 6 Jan (every Sunday). Apparently, Boman Irani is a Bollywood trivia buff in real life and the promos play on that really well. If the questions of the promos are anything to go by, then we are actually looking at a Mastermind on Bollywood!

Typically, Bollywood questions (whenever they appear on game shows and assorted contests) are purely knowledge-based. If you have seen Roop Ki Rani Choron Ka Raja, then you know that the car which hit Akash Khurana was numbered 7396. If you haven't, then you don't have a hope in hell of answering this question.
Or, who was the first winner of the Filmfare Best Male Playback Singer award? Who knows? And who cares?

But if it is twisted a little bit and asked - Who is the first music director to win a Filmfare Playback award from his composed score - then the little grey cells come into play.
Think. Think. Think.
Who are the music directors who sang - RD, SD... Could it be SD for Mera saajan hain uss paar of Bandini... Could it be RD? Wait a sec, is Kishore Kumar a composer or a playback singer? Did he win any award for Door Gagan Ki Chhaon Mein? What the hell? Why are you going so far back? Isn't it Himesh Reshamaiyya who won it for Aashiq Banaya Aapne? Yes, it is.
And if you completed the above chain of thought in ten seconds or less, then you should have taken a stab at the show.

I was wondering on some interesting question possibilities, a lot of which cannot work out simply because there is no way to verify them.
For example, which was the Hindi movie to show the use of a mobile phone?
Haseena Maan Jayegi - which had Sunil Mittal's favourite song What is your mobile number? - did not show any use of the device, to the best of my recollection. And that film came around 1999. Of course, Deewana Mastana - with the legendary Pappu Pager and Munna Mobile - came even earlier around 1997. But no mobile usage, as far as I can recall.
Karan Johar, a director on the cutting edge of 'cool' in his movies, had no mobile phones in Kuch Kuch Hota Hain (1998) but had one in Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham (2001).
In 2000, Kaho Na Pyaar Hain launched not only Hrithik Roshan but also the humble green-backlit, black and clunky Motorola into stardom. The film actually used the mobile phone to further the plot! To my mind, this was definitely a first.
1999 also saw the release of Biwi No. 1 - which had Salman calling his home number from his mobile. I remember the movie released in June 1999, because it was the first movie I saw after joining work (in Chennai)!
So, I would put my money on Biwi No. 1 being th first movie showing use of a mobile phone - unless some one else can come up with a film released between Diwali 98 (that's when KKHH came out) and May 99.

Hai koi jawaab?

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Seek and Ye Shall Find...

The technologically-challenged-me (apart from being terribly busy) is terribly kicked with a 'search keyword' functionality added to my blog. Which tells me what people are searching for as they stumble on to this blog...

The highest keyword search is Mad Momma. How come people come here when they can go to the real thing?

A random selection of the other searched keywords:

* Boy Mukherjee (Joy Mukherjee's elder son. Elder brother of Toy Mukherjee. I swear on
my Sarkar DVD that I am not kidding!)

* Horniest race (:-o)

* All movies of Divya Bharti (Hang in there. I am putting this on my to-do list.)

* Films of Rehana Sultana (It is Rehana Sultan, actually. One day I will write about the missing A of Sultan.)

* Has Shahrukh Khan got a brain tumour? (Aaarrggghhh... I hope not! In any case, how do I know?)

* Ganja party Calcutta IIM (I haven't been to one. Not in IIM, at least.)

* Yeh zindagi hai ek jua kabhi jeet bhi (Nilendu, call for you...)

* Cases of malaria in Chembur Mumbai in the month of Nov 2007 (WHAT THE FFFF...)

And the final one, which brings tears to my eyes in deference to the inquisitive spirit of the seeker...
Rape scenes of sonam in govinda's movie

I will be back. I will have to be...

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Remember The Titans

WARNING: Self-indulgent, pointlessly nostalgic post coming up.
Too many of my posts start with this caveat. I think I will stop saying this because I figured from a recent exercise that an overwhelming majority of my readers are 30-something nostalgia-buffs in general and Calcutta-sympathisers in specific! My dad tries to take up the average age a bit but my cousin in the US balances it out.

Okay, so I was watching Humjoli on television yesterday. Humjoli is a film on the torrid relationship that blossomed between two top Hollywood stars, while they were shooting for an action thriller. The full name of the film is Hum Jolie Tum Brad but it is usually not referred to.
Sigh - how many of you believed that? Apart from my sister, that is...
Well, Humjoli stars Jeetendra, Leena Chandravarkar and Pran. I have talked about it before as well.
The scene I started watching yesterday was the famous badminton song after which the heroine bids goodbye and leaves. Hint in the song: "Jaane do / Jaana hain..." Jeetu spouts a stream of sweet nothings. Now a bunch of goons armed with badminton racquets, approach Jeetu and taunt him. Sure enough, he fights them, twists their ankles, pokes them with his racquet and finally throws them off a bridge, which conveniently appears right next to the baddy (pun!) court.
Contemplate this: The hero romances the heroine, plays badminton with her (including an under-the-leg shot), dances in the rain, fights goons, mouths stupendous dialogues - all in the space of about 7 minutes. In the course of the full movie, he eats gaajar ka halwa, doesn't put on a kilo, defies the heroine's father, matches Mehmood's comic routine, sheds copious tears and probably gets into IIT as well. Maybe, not the last one...
AND he was not even one of the more heroic heroes!

In Aradhana, Rajesh Khanna sings loud enough to be heard by the heroine on a train, sings magnificently, impresses his boss enough to take his lover on a fighter plane (Mile High Club?), impresses his father-in-law, keeps his cool while seeing Sharmila in an orange towel, impregnates her in Attempt One, dies, gets reborn as his own son, gets shot down in Pakistan and escapes immediately afterwards!

In Shahenshah, Amitabh accepts bribe as a police officer, pummels a Olympic wrestler-sized goon, wears a 16-kilo iron arm-guard, sings songs with Meenakshi Sheshadri in hot pants, goes up in a hot-air balloon, sings brotherly songs with Supriya Pathak, drives a car in a hail of machine gun bullets and hangs the arch-villain in a court-room.

Look at Shammi Kapoor in Junglee and you know the hero is a paragon of virtue, masculinity, sartorial elegance and clean underwear.
Till about the early 90s, you had these multi-purpose heroes. Salman Khan in Maine Pyaar Kiya. Aamir Khan in Baazi. Sunny Deol in Ghayal. Amitabh Bachchan in Hum. Song-dance, melodrama, yellow drama, fighting, kiting - all in one huge paisa vasool adventure.
I think SRK spoilt the party by playing the villain. There was a thin line between anti-hero and villain. He crossed it. After that, we only had flawed heroes.
Look at SRK in Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna. He is a cantankerous footballer, who gets hit by a car and the car doesn't get a dent. And then, he limps into an adulterous affair. Contrast this with Amitabh in Silsila - another adulterous man, who first gained sympathy by marrying to save his brother's fiancee's honour. When he restarted the affair with his old flame, he made it look almost like a catharsis.
Look at Aamir Khan in Rang De Basanti. Somebody as handsome as he is can shoot the Defence Minister by spitting bullets at him. Instead, he got beaten up by a nameless constable in front of India Gate. The last time Amitabh got beaten up was by Vinod Khanna in Amar Akbar Anthony. Kishore Kumar got beaten up by Ashok Kumar. And at the worst, Dilip Kumar was whipped by Pran - at least a Grade A Villain.
The amount of effort SRK puts in a lighting a bulb for Swades is what Mithun needs to fight off the Martians and win the National Disco Championship - on the same evening.
Sometimes, it gets worse. The heroic guys are the villains! Hrithik in Dhoom 2. Aamir Khan in Fanaa.

Where are those guys who will not miss a penalty against Pakistan?
When will gold smuggling be perfectly justifiable - as long as the hero refuses drug trafficking?
How can I get a guy to sing a song with his lady love and then beat up eve-teasers in the same breath?
And in these times of economic boom, will I ever hear those words - "Maa, main pass ho gaya" - just before the mom goes in front of the dad's portrait and breaks into a soliloquy?

Damn, I so miss Uttam Kumar.
In only one movie, he acted in Othello, dribbled barefoot past seven English footballers, romanced Suchitra Sen, passed Medical with flying colours, converted to Christianity and found a pothole-free road in Bengal to drive his bike on AND sing a song.

I know all her contemporaries are cringing at this senile rambling, but Nilendu - you agree with me, don't you?

Friday, November 23, 2007

Hum Toh Aise Hain: From the Ghats of Benares

Raand, saand, seendi, sanyasi
In se bache to sevey Kashi...

Every city has something famous. For Benares, I would avoid the traditional things associated with the city - sarees, paan, ghats, religion.
The most famous thing about Benares is Hyperbole. Maybe, I should generalise that to include the propensity for generating legends. They seem to have a fable / proverb / epigram / rejoinder for all seasons.
For example, the opening lines were quoted by one of the sales guys to explain the difficulties of being in Benares. In a slightly cruel manner, they are attributed to four things found in abundance there - widows, bulls, stairs and sadhus.

It seems that Kashi is exactly the place where Shiv-Parvati were standing when 'time started ticking'.
The name Varanasi came about because it stands in between two rivers - Varuna and Assi. Today, Assi Ghat stands where the river meets the Ganga and the tea-stalls on that ghat is said to be the source of all the tall tales in the city.

Benares is the origin of a few of my favourite images.
Some qualify as high art. Some don't. What the hell?

Feluda was a big fan of the rabri. He even imagined the murder of a famed halwai. "Imagine Kachauri Galli's Hanuman Halwai being stabbed at his kadhai... and his blood flows to give the rabri a pinkish colour..." The art director's work is done here!

Unfortunately, I do not have a liking for most of the things Benares has to offer. Not the rabri. Not the sarees. Not what they call Badshahi Chai.
The Benares team is devastated at this heresy.
Finally, they offered me a paan. I shook my head. They looked even more crestfallen.
This is one thing I have in common with an international gangster, wanted in 11 countries. "Don paan nahin khaata tha."
And the guy from Benares had a rejoinder - "Yeh bahut bura karta tha..."
As I said, people there are always ready with one!

In deference to Rimi's wishes, I have avoided any lengthy description of food. In any case, after the excesses of the previous day, I hardly managed more than six kachoris for breakfast.
And an Anonymous commenter on my previous post recommended Lomotils. There is a saying in Bengali that if you have space for a couple of digestive tablets, you might as well squeeze in one more rosogolla!

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Aur Thoda: UP Gastronomy

I just completed almost a cross-state run across Uttar Pradesh. Landed in the morning at Lucknow. Drove down to Kanpur. Then onto Varanasi via Allahabad.

And the food just kept on coming.

First, the Jet Lite breakfast. They managed to redeem the industrially produced omelette with a very good corn-and-potato salad. And just in case the non-veggies are dissatisfied, they managed to throw in a chunky chicken breast as well.

After reaching Kanpur, my bosses confessed that they had slept through the flight and needed food. I pretended likewise as we zoomed in on Tewary Sweets. Gulzar may not have written lyrics about his shop but he makes a mean motichur ke laddoo. Anyway, we avoided the laddoo and put down a couple of piping hot bedvis (a kind of poori made of suji and flour, with daal fillings) with aloo subji. And to put the UP icing on the cake, some jalebis were requisitioned. A snazzy halwai will always manage to make the rings of the jalebi thin (baarik, as they call it) and yet dripping.

While reviewing sales figures, there were some more jalebis available (to be had with dahi).
Dahi Jalebi is apparently a dish meant for the gods. Since I don't have dahi, I will have to take others' words for it.

Anyway, the lunch is always from Gyan Vaishnav, about which I have gushed before. I claimed at the lunch that it is far better to have lunch at the eatery itself because the rotis are served piping hot but this disappointment was not apparent from the number of rotis that disappeared with the baingan bharta and ghee-laded daal.

Thus fortified, we headed towards the city of Jawaharlal Nehru, Amitabh Bachchan and Mad Momma.
Allahabad has this wonderfully laid back and helpful culture, which reminds me of Calcutta from my childhood. But then as my wife says, everything reminds me of Calcutta from my childhood.
We reached the office and were promptly served masala cashew nuts. They also got some Balushahi - a sweet which is rather undescribably good (apparently). Since I don't have it, you will have to take the help of Google.
Just when I was about to drink some water and close for the day, they came across with an Allahabad specialty - mini samosas filled with masala instead of aloo. This should be banned because of its addictive and unhealthy nature. I - needless to say - popped them in at about 12 per minute, washing them down with some famous masala Thums Up from a shop in Civil Lines. When I was about to collapse, the Sales Manager put in a couple more on my plate.
"Mar jaoonga, Dikshit-ji", I squealed.
He contemplated this. And smiled. "Lekin woh maut bhi kya haseen hogi, Dipta..."
I felt like Bhagat Singh as I had about half-a-dozen more!

If I wake up alive tomorrow, I will talk about Benares.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Lyrical Thoughts

Javed Akhtar - who refuses to write obscene lyrics at all costs - recently professed being jealous of Gulzar for writing Beedi. He wished that he had written the song. And I felt that if Beedi was written by Indeevar, instead of Gulzar, it would have been the subject of a least a dozen Obscenity in Bollywood talk shows!
Na gilaaf, na lihaaf / No quilt, no sheets
Thandi hawa bhi khilaf - sasuri / In the cold weather
Itni sardi hain ki kisiki lihaf lei le / It's so cold that I could take someone's quilt
Ja padosi ke chulhe se aag lei le / Or go and take fire from the neighbour
Beedi jalai le jigar se piya / Light up your fire from my body
Jigar ma badi aag hain / My body is hot enough
'Padosi ke chulha' could have a lot of connotations - depending on your point of view. Of course, you could argue that what else would expect Billo Chaman Bahar to sing in front of a rustic crowd, but that's what Indeevar has been saying all this while as well!

Which brings me (finally, phew!) to what I set out to write in the first place... I really must stop this digressing I do for every post!
Anyway, I just wanted to jot down the lyrics of two of Javed Akhtar's lesser known songs and the zany words he has penned for them.

The first one was one of his earlier films as lyricist - Mr India.
He wrote a completely crazy song called Hawa Hawaii, which started with an operatic rendition of the following words... Chi Hua Hua, Honolulu, Hong Kong, King Kong, Mombasa, I see Lucy, Lassi Pisi...
Completely in sync with the over-the-top setting of the song and an apt prequel to an equally zany song in Roop Ki Rani, Choron Ka Raja - which included a song where Sridevi's lines were composed only of words starting with ch - and one line went Chandni Chowk mein chatey chutney...

The second one is Dard-E-Disco from the blockbuster of the year!
When SRK is thrusting his pelvis while showing off his six-packs, he is mouthing lyrics that veer between high-flying Urdu and the complete inane. I keep hearing words like gulposhiyon ka mausam, abr-e-karam, phoota khwabon ka goobbara. But then, the words he rhymes with Disco are amazing!
* Ab phirta hoon main London, Paris, New York, LA, San Francisco...
* Dil tod gaya, mujhe chhod gaya woh pichhle mahine ki chhabbis ko...

I am now wondering what other lines can be written to rhyme with Disco?
* Late hua jo party mein toh ab khao, piyo aur khisko...
* Irfan Pathan ne kiya out kiya Kiwi Scott Styris ko...
Any other bright ideas?

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Yes, DEAR!

My wife's school has a lovely programme called DEAR (Drop Everything And Read) - in which one period of the day, all the children have to put away their textbooks and read a 'story-book'.
The upshots of the programme are too many to name (and the person who started this deserves a Nobel Prize) but there is a downside as well.
Some of the more addicted kids have started pestering their teachers (including my wife) at all hours for more books to read! Since about a hundred of her students stay in the same building as us, the pestering literally goes on at all hours!
Since I am the certified bibliomaniac in the family, my wife promptly asked me to make a list of the books that are suitable for children in the age group of 8-12.

I immediately sat down with a pen and paper - and realised it is a lot more difficult than I thought. Simply because all the usual suspects (like Harry Potter, Artemis Fowl and even Feluda!) have already been read.
Of course, my other disadvantage is that I have done 90% of my childhood reading in Bengali. But at least, some of my childhood favourites are now available in translation.
So, I figured that there would still be an interesting list to be made - which would tickle the 12-year olds enough to give them a habit of a lifetime.
Better than cocaine, but just as addictive...

Okay, a caveat - some of these are not strictly children's books, which simply means they are far more interesting than Enid Blyton! But, they do not have risque content either.

Swami and Friends (R K Narayan) - Narayan's best known story about a gang of kids in Malgudi talks about friendship, adventure and patriotism in understated tones and a brilliant sense of humour. Even if a 10-year-old misses out on the subtleties, he can still identify with the angry headmasters, doting grandmothers and rag-tag cricket teams. Some things just don't change...

Haroun and the Sea of Stories (Salman Rushdie) - In my humble opinion, this is Rushdie's best novel, beating Midnight's Children narrowly. It is a fairy tale about a story-teller, who loses his gift of the gab when the Sea of Stories is polluted by Chupwalas. His son, Haroun, embarks on an adventure to reclaim the Sea. In this, he is assisted by the Guppees, Prince Bolo and Princess Batcheet. How they all challenge the king of Chupwalas - Bezubaan - in the Battle of Bat-Mat-Karo is a P2C2E (Process 2 Complicated 2 Explain)!

George's Secret Key to the Universe (Stephen & Lucy Hawking) - This is the only book in the list, which I have not read. But I have read the spiritual sequel of this book when I was a little older (about 16) and The Brief History of Time was one of the most interesting books I have ever read.
This time, Dr Hawking collaborates with his daughter to give a children's version of science of the universe. He has done it before and I am presuming that this one is going to be an apt primer for his more popular book.

Going Solo (Roald Dahl) - A wonderful book on the life of a fighter pilot in WWII, I am not sure if this book by Roald Dahl would be classified among his children's books (unlike the sure-shot entries like Charlie and The Chocolate Factory and Willy Wonka something). I read this when I was almost an adult but I remember being fascinated by the book, which manages to hold one's attention despite talking about a time of which today's children (as well as me!) have a very vague idea of. Having a fighter aircraft under your exclusive command is a thrill which translates very easily, I guess!

Fatikchand (Satyajit Ray) - Okay, this is a non-Shonku, non-Feluda book by Ray and is not one of his best-known works. It is about a boy who is kidnapped and loses his memory in an accident. He meets a juggler called Haround Al Rashid - and the two of them have a ball before the kidnappers return. And so does his memory.
Ray's understanding of children, their fears and joys has been much documented. This is one of the better examples.

Tales from Shakespeare (Charles & Mary Lamb) - Before Omkara and Maqbool, this is where I got my ideas about the bard from! Written in simple English and painless prose, this is a must-read for those who get impatient with slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. Actually, this is a must-read for everybody including film directors!
You only have to read The Tempest to see what a fantastic film it will make.

Idols (Sunil Gavaskar)
- Gavaskar writes exceptionally well and there has been no accusation of ghost-writing either. This is one of his better ones, which talks about his heroes and their most endearing traits and enduring performances. It is almost devoid of prejudices and sarcasm. It was also written in the earlier part of his career, where he did not have to justify his actions as a cricketer / batsman. Kids nowadays have cricketer heroes with life span of about a month. Here's one book which talks about more durable heroes.
The natural progression of this series would be Ramachandra Guha's series - Spin and Other Turns and Wickets in the East.

Vikram and Vetal / Vikramaditya's Thrones - The first one is better known (thanks to the serial and the Tortoise ad), where Vikramaditya solved a series of 25 puzzles put to him by a 'phantom' corpse. The second one is lesser known in which a shepherd demonstrates tremendous acumen whenever he sits on a hillock.
Both are phenomenal examples of ingenuous problem-solving (that too in succession), starring one of the most well-known characters of Indian history - Emperor Vikramaditya.

Raj Kahini (Abanindranath Tagore) - In another one of his novels, Aban Tagore described himself as "chhobi lekhey" (writes pictures). That description couldn't have been more apt.
In this book, he puts together a series of stories about the valiant warriors of Rajputana and their famous resistance against invaders. The forts of Mewar, Jodhpur and Chittor come alive in his pen-pictures of the unforgettable characters. History became my favourite subject for quite some time after I read this book.

Mountain of the Moon (Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay) - I have already written about this book some time back, which is one of the most breath-taking adventures ever written.

A Brief History of Everything (Bill Bryson) - This page-turner of a book is a humorous, racy renditions of the stories behind some of the apparently boring topics in school. Bryson reconstructs the stories behind the inventions of physics, chemistry, zoology and botany in a tongue-in-cheek manner - but without compromising on facts or undermining the achievements.
Wish our textbooks were written by him!

I have restricted myself to books that are easily available. Which brings me (oh no, not again!) to the tragedy of translations from Bengali (or the lack thereof).
I am sure I missed millions of books suitable for children - but after leaving aside the best-seller favourites, crying out loud over lost gems and accounting for holes in my memory - this is what I would recommend for 10-year olds.

So, tell me what I missed!

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Om is where the Heart Is

If you want to know the secret of how Govind Ahuja became Govinda and the secret formula behind Maine Pyar Kiya's dialogues, then you will have to go and meet the Forrest Gump of Bollywood - Om Prakash Makhija.

As a junior artiste in 70s Bollywood, he out-Gumps good ol' Forrest in meeting celebrities, shaping history, dispensing philosophy and being sweet natured. But unlike modern American history, Bollywood is not something you can squeeze in just one lifetime. So he makes a comeback as Om Kapoor (a.k.a OK!) and almost the entire current film industry assembles to pay homage. (BTW, there is a raging debate on whether 'that 31-star' song has 30 stars + SRK = 31 or 31 stars + SRK = 32.)

Way too much stuff has been written about the SRK's six-packs and Deepika's on-off affairs to leave any space for the avalanche of spoofs that just keep raining at you from the moment the lights dim and that continue till well after the lights come on. If you are interested in Bollywood, you can keep chuckling at the in-jokes of the film. If you are not, then you can just cheer Saif-Salman-Sanjay-SRK taking their clothes off on a bar counter.
But if you are a Bollywood trivia buff, then you would remember that in the Om Shanti Om song of Karz, Rishi Kapoor throws his jacket in the crowd and there is a scramble for it between a couple of junior artistes. After watching OSO, you know that those two artistes were actually Om Prakash Makhija and one Farah Khan - lovely!

And if all else fails, there is the one-liner of the decade.
Karan Johar comes on the Filmfare Awards stage and says, "Heere ka kadar sirf johri kar sakta hain. Aur hero ka kadar sirf Johar hi kar sakta hain..."

All Hot Girls and Cool Boys, raise your hands and sway when you watch Om Shanti Om!

Friday, November 09, 2007

Unlimited Buffet

The Great Kabab Factory has an interesting format - they have combined the good ol' buffet concept with the South Indian meal. So, they have a Kabab 'meal' which they keep on serving till - as they say in Sholay - "...jab tak tere saans chalenge..."
And after they start serving, they reverentially ask if the speed is fine or do we want it faster!
Galawati Kabab (with ulte tawe ka paratha).
Murg kali mirch tikka.
Barra kabab.
Murg tikka.
Machhi Amritsari.
At this point, a guy comes up with a solemn expression and says, "We have completed serving the starters. Do you want a repeat or should we start the main course?"
Assuming you are a faint-hearted non-Bong and ask them to start the main course, they ask if you want a break before they start.
After you politely decline and ask 'em to bring it on, they start coming with daal, roti and biriyani. Of course, you are allowed to ask for a repeat of the kababs to go with the biriyani.
At 900 bucks a head, you need some serious foodies to extract full benefit... it helps if the foodie has been starved at least one meal before this one!

This memory of 'eat as much as you can' brought back memories of several bottomless meals I have had over the last few years (actually 33, as The Mad Momma never tires of announcing)!

The most abiding memory of most Bengali children about meals is generally the wedding meal. Several times during each wedding season, there would be invitations on red and gold cards (embossed with butterflies and palkis) invoking the blessings of Lord Brahma and requesting our presence at the reception of Amaresh's wedding with Sushmita.
A mandatory line at the bottom of the card said "Pashchimbanga Sarkar-er Atithi Satkar Ayin Projojyo" (In accordance with the Guest Entertaining Act of WB Govt). This was to comply with some archaic law to regulate wasteful expenditure during social celebrations but that law got blown away from the collective burps of millions of 'live-to-eat' Bengalis.
I innocently thought that the government probably mandates the number of weddings that have to serve prawn cutlets and ensures that too many weddings do not serve mutton on the same day to maintain smooth supply in the markets!
Anyway, the Bengali wedding feast in those days never had buffet. Caterers had just started - and the menu followed a set pattern. Radhaballabi (poori with a filling) and chholar dal, right at the beginning. A fry - usually fish to avoid sacrilege. A vegetable dish - which most people avoided. A fish curry - a woefully inadequate description of the oily, spicy, chunky preparation. Mutton - though some 'modern' people served chicken also. In between came a pulao to go with the mutton and the meal was rounded off with lots of sweets.
Then with the advent of caterers came innovations. The most momentous one was the introduction of the menu - detailing out the flow of dishes on a small card, with the names of the wedded couple, pictures of swans with inter-twined necks and the contact details of the caterer. This was considered by all as an invention rivaling telephone and internet. I mean, the benefits of knowing that mutton was on the way and there is no point stuffing your face with paneer (or for that matter, the paneer dish is actually called Paneer Lababdar) was stupendous.
Anyway, long before they had supermodel girlfriends, convertibles or Google stock options, the Bengali male's machismo lay in the number of Fish Tandooris he consumed at wedding dinners. So, there was an undercurrent of oneupmanship at all these weddings - which got translated into an 'eat-till-you-drop' phenomenon.
That was the training ground where I honed my value-for-money eating skills.

Several years later, when I was in b-school and had made a trip to Bombay, I learnt of a new temple. This was in Tardeo - a restaurant called Only Fish, started by a Bengali restauranteur (called Anjan Chatterjee) whose contribution to popularising the Bengali way of life is second only to Sourav Ganguly.
In those days (admittedly a long time back since I was in college), Only Fish used to have a lunch buffet for 150 bucks. If the price is scandalous now, it was more than reasonable then and we decided to have a sampling. Accompanied by Bengali (one nos.) and Malayali (one nos.) batchmates, I landed up at Only Fish and lost consciousness immediately afterwards (probably at the scent of mustard oil and the sight of crabs). When I regained consciousness several hours later, I could not see the Malayali girl sitting opposite me - due to the mountain of crab shells on my plate (and hers too!). The Bengali boy had a clean plate but he admitted to changing the plate some five times. When we got into one of those dinky Fiat cabs, we realised what they mean when they say 'three is a crowd'.
Anyway, I later found out that the lunch buffet had been discontinued and Only Fish had shut down (to make way for Oh! Calcutta).

While on the subject of unlimited eats, it would not be out of context to mention the Happy Hours I have enjoyed at several institutions.
The most memorable has to be the one I had on the same trip to Bombay (yes, it was one hedonistic ride!) - and that was at the Lancer's Bar of the Oberoi. I don't know what the bar is called now - but I do remember it had one picture window almost the size of an entire wall. But when one summer intern and one fresh software engineer congregates for Happy Hours beer, a panoramic view of the Arabian Sea is not very high on the priority list.
A beer at Oberoi would be 110 bucks (including taxes!) and during the Happy Hours, the effective price would be at almost Gokul levels. To avoid a stampede, the Happy Hour ran from 4:30 in the afternoon to 5:30. It would have hardly made a difference to us even if it started at 4:30 am!
Anyway, coming from small villages from the eastern part of the country, we really had no idea how a Bombay 5-star hotel conducts a Happy Hour. We presumed (to be on the safe side) that only the liquor that one 'consumes' during the fateful hour counts as 1+1. Of course, urban sophisticates can guffaw at our callow behaviour but there was no expert we knew and even Google did not exist. On top of that, there was this small matter of Nilendu having to go back and 'punch out' as he had left office at 4:25, citing some urgent bank work.
Well, all I remember that we threw in some 4 beers each in a span of 1 hour and when I waited for Nilendu to 'punch out' and come back, I felt like I was standing at the centre of a giant turntable as Malabar Hills and Nariman Point rotated around me at 78 rpm.

My roommate from college - a true blue Kannadiga - had once taken me out to that Southern institution of delightful pleasures. Mavalli Tiffin Room, more popularly known as MTR, turned out to be a reasonably shattering anti-climax as not only did we have to queue for only 45 mins (my roomie promised 3 hrs!), the food was nowhere close to my Southern comfort - the Andhra thali. When I expressed this sentiment, my pragmatic roomie advised me to keep mum as the Bangalore police force was not equipped to handle riots larger than the Cauvery ones! Safely ensconced in Jat-land, I think I can commit the ultimate blasphemy and call MTR a load of crap!

Finally, to remain on the subject of unlimited meals, let me end here with a wish for Diwali.
Agle saal mein sirf aapka pet hi nahin, dil bhi bhara hona chahiye!

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Pujabarshiki 1414

Despite being in centre of Bong civilisation in last year's Pujo as well, I did not get around to buying my quota of the Pujo annual issues. (BTW, the centre of Bong civilisation is C R Park. Bengali civilisation is centred around Maddox Square.

This year, however, I have bought and been gifted a set of three Pujo annuals - Anandamela, Anandalok and Desh. But thanks to my hectic travelling and flight missing in all parts of the country, I have only managed to finish Anandamela and read a few pieces from Anandalok.
The reason for reading Anandamela first was simple - it is the first ever magazine I started reading and that habit is a little difficult to kick! Also, the famous novelists in Bengali are always in great touch when they are writing for children.

Sunil Gangopadhyay has contributed Kakababu-r Chokhey Jol (Kakababu Weeps) and it is a huge disappointment. His famous character, Kakababu, 'solves' the problem without any assistance from his teenage nephew-cum-assistant, Shontu.
Kakababu is a disabled archaeologist, who always solved problems with his brain and overpowered villains with 'moner jor' (mental strength). High quality of detection was never his forte but the settings and the ensemble characters (including the villains) were interesting and the stories eminently readable.
This time around, Kakababu appears as the Incredible Metrosexual Hulk. He weeps ('fnupiye fnupiye knadlen'), he fights swordsmen with his crutch and he burns himself in fire (literally) - all to save a precocious kid, who is so berey paka (smart alec) that he probably deserved to remain kidnapped anyway!
Also over the years, Sunil had introduced a plethora of walk-on characters in his various stories - almost all of whom have stayed back. So you have a large number of characters hanging around and not doing what they are expected to do.

Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay - the other stalwart - comes in with Aghorganj-er Ghoralo Byapar (The Mysterious Affair at Aghorganj) and is in fine form.
Shirshendu is the only children's author I can think of, who does not have a fixed hero. Like always, his story is set in rural Bengal and involves astrologers (Jateshwar Ghoshal), doctors (Karalicharan), ghost-catchers (Bagalapati Pretosiddha), local goons (Batu Parihar and Gopal Guchhait) and general hangers-on (Bipod Bhonjon and Shanka Haran). And, as per tradition, all the characters have quirks funnier than their names.
The astrologer's 100% inaccuracy rate makes him a highly respected man. The cantankerous doctor is not beyond curing patients by hitting them with Gray's Anatomy. There are ghosts who do not believe in ghosts. And there are aliens, who are chased by watch collectors! All in all, vintage Shirshendu!

A recent comment on my post on Bengali children's literature mentioned that there were very few girl characters in the novels we grew up on. This is very correct, considering Mr Ray himself was guilty of banishing females from all his novels.
I can only think of two Feludas, where females had a 'speaking part'. One was Ambar Sen Antardhan Rahashya (The Mysterious Disappearance of Ambar Sen) - where a smart little girl accused Topshe of lying - and that was merely a device for explaining a discrepancy between the early Feluda stories and the later ones. The second was Shakuntala-r Kanthahaar (Shakuntala's Necklace), which had an intelligent, young lady called Mary Sheila Biswas. She actually assisted Feluda in his detection (though the novel was probably the weakest Feluda) and there was a hint of romance (or maybe, I was imagining things) as she came to meet Feluda when Topshe and Jatayu were away.
Samaresh Majumdar and Sunil Gangopadhyay did introduce a few female characters - but they hardly did anything of significance. They remained on the sidelines, said a few 'girly' things and even the romantic angle was not explored.

This year, two of the novels had a central female character - the detective's assistant. Of course, I have come in a little late because both these characters seem to be around for some time.

Suchitra Bhattacharya (another accomplished author) has done a double whammy - her detective is also a lady (Mitin-mashi) whose niece (Tupur) is her assistant. She is married to a regular corporate executive and has a son (Boomboom - what kind of name is that?) but is a private detective.
The adventure - Chhokta Sudoku-r (The Sudoku Grid) - is set in Singapore as Mitin-mashi's husband wins a trip to Singapore in a Sudoku competition and a mystery erupts. While I found the plot a little too ambitious for the scope of the novel, the likeability of the characters and the research was spot on. Mitin-mashi is a techno-savvy, urbane woman - who thinks nothing of using Handycams to track quarries and chomping stir fried squid at road side joints. Nice.

The other novel - Hneyali-r Andhakarey (The Darkness of the Riddle) - is by Sukanto Gangopadhyay. It has a male detective - Dipankar - who solves maths puzzles in his spare time. His assistant is Jhinuk, a college going girl who knows a fair bit of karate and thinks nothing of diving full length to catch criminals escaping on motor-cycles. In the novel - about a family's lucky mascot being stolen - it is the detective who gets kidnapped and the assistant arrives in the nick of time to save him!
In a very interesting twist, Jhinuk gets jealous of a boy, who is a maths genius playing games with the detective. "He wears spectacles. Will he able to fight goons like the way I do?", she wonders as the boy solves a puzzle.
The day of the demure girl on the sidelines of adventure novels is over!

Monday, October 29, 2007

Where Are You From?

I recently installed a snazzy device in my sidebar, which tells me the locations of people who drop by at my blog and the pages they read. Then, they plot the visits on a map of the world with a dinky star – thus giving me an idea of the geographical spread of page hits. (Now, I know some of the engineers would be sniggering since there is nothing very technologically advanced about this but I am rather wonderstruck with technology!)

Predictably, India, North Western Europe, the British Isles and the university towns of the USA make up an overwhelming majority of my readership.
But there are a huge number of locations from which only one reader had come – presumably while researching chromosomal disorders or Amitav Ghosh – and hastily retreated.
But their locations are impressively esoteric. A random sample includes:
Arusha, United Republic of Tanzania
Lima, Peru
Buenos Aires, Argentina
Honolulu, Hawaii
Rimouski, Quebec, Canada
Mega, Papua, Indonesia
Daegu, Taegu-Jhikalasi, Korea (South)
Vilnius, Lithuania
Helsinki, Southern Finland
Istanbul, Turkey

Even stranger than these one-off visitors – easily explained by wrong search terms – is the location of multiple visitors.

My most populous readership base in Bombay with 190+ readers till now, followed by Delhi (110+), Calcutta (90+) and Chennai (60+). If I sit down and list the readers, I think I can come up with about 10 people from each city whom I know to be reading this.
What about the rest? Are they all trying to find out about Dharmendra’s acceptance speech at the Filmfare awards?
There are 30+ readers in London – of which I know about 5. 15 in Dubai, of which I think I know 1. There are 10 in Muscat, of which I know 2. And 13 in Singapore, of which I know 1.

Then come the smaller towns all over the place.
Some 13 people from ‘Nokia, Western Finland’ have come here.
15 from Durham and 7 from Charlotte (both in North Carolina), 8 from Salt Lake City (Utah, not Calcutta) and 7 from Lansing (Michigan). Another 15 are from Austin, Texas.
17 from San Jose (California) would probably be Nilendu checking in from behind multiple firewalls.
And these numbers keep on increasing!

In India, there are 16 readers from Krishna district in AP and 7 from Lamba in Rajasthan. Are the distributors from my FMCG days trying to see if I still remember them? Of course I do, Srinivasa Rao-garu!
In fact, right now, somebody from Nagar in Rajasthan is reading the Shilpa Shetty post...

Obviously, so many people from these smaller towns would not be coming due to search engine misdirection. So, am I to believe that they are coming here on purpose?
What is the real reason? Or, is it a sleight of hand performed by my ‘snazzy device’?

If the readers from the aforementioned towns do exist, would they please be kind enough to raise their hand and give attendance? I mean, how the hell did the 7 of you from Erie (Colorado) land up?
Actually, if any of you have come back to this blog, would you identify yourself?

Damn, I so hated to do this in college. And now, I am asking others to record attendance!

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Claps & Whistles: Dialogues from the latest Bengali Potboilers

Reading the annual Puja issues of a few Bengali magazines and came across this absolute gem of an article (in Anandalok) on the dialogues from Bengali potboilers (a large number of them starring Mithun), which have become popular in the last couple of years. It seems Mithun is doing to Bengali cinema today what he was doing to Hindi cinema in the mid-90s… adding commercial value with the touch of what is called B-grade masala!

I will not bother with a translation because nobody on earth can replicate the punch of a Mithun Chakraborty uttering… Hence, non-Bongs will have to excuse!

* In the bhog of Ma.

* Shaaper chhobol aar Cheetar khabol, jekhaney porbey arai kg manghso tuley nebey.

* Agnishwar Ray jekhaney paa rakhey, prothomey shey jaigata gorom hoi. Tarpor agun joley. Shesh hoi chhai diye.

* Marbo ekhaney, lash porbey shmoshaney.

* Fatakeshto khobor dekhena, khobor porena, khobor toiri korey. – both from MLA Fatakeshto (which is a Munnabhai look-alike, about a good-hearted goon becoming a MLA).

* Abhimanyu nag, jal-dhora noi. Jaat gokhro. Ek chhobolei chhobi.

* Public-er maar, Keoratala par.

* Nursery-tey shuru, half pantey guru, full pantey maha guru. (To try and give a context, this is from a film called Mahaguru!)

* Na ticket, na passport, shoja oporey.

* Shuru batam diye, interval-ey hospital, climax-ey chulli – Om shanti. (I never realised that a word like batam would find its way in a mainstream film!)

* Tor chhitkini-tey jong dhorey gechhey. Langcha shukiye bnodey hoye gechhey! (I am not sure of the context but is it REALLY about what I think it is?)


What I found extremely irritating in the article was the supercilious tone of the author, who was trying to predict the downfall of the Bengali film industry due to the audience’s predilection for these ‘down market’ lines (while accepting that the films were huge successes purely on the basis of the dialogues).
Happily, in the same issue, he also did an in-depth profile on Rakhi Sawant complete with details of her implants and ‘glamourous’ photographs. I hope he realized the wonderful irony!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Saaransh: The Life and Times of Mahesh Bhatt

It has been such a long time since I did one of those 3000-word jaw-dropping, migraine-inducing compendium posts on Bollywood. So, while watching Hum Hain Raahi Pyaar Ke the other day, I decided to do one on Mahesh Bhatt, best known for having a cynical opinion on life, universe and everything. Might as well because the number of good films he has done is surprisingly low. (For me, good is usually a subset of original.) But even that number might be enough to get him a Lifetime Achievement Award.

Mahesh Bhatt films have three kinds of characters: (1) Illegitimate children of famous people, (2) People falling in love with psychotic characters and (3) Illegitimate children of famous people falling in love with psychotic characters.

There are some films that don’t have the above characters but they were either rumoured to be ghost-directed or a copy of a Hollywood movie. At the peak of his career, Mahesh Bhatt used to direct anything between three to six films a year so I guess all of the above could well be true! At one point of time, he never made a film without Mushtaq Khan, Avtar Gill and Akash Khurana. At approximately the same point, Pooja Bhatt never made a film without him either! I am certain Pooja Bhatt holds a couple of records like – Most Number of Films Under Daddy’s Directorship and Most Number of Films as Character Named Pooja.

Manzilein Aur Bhi Hain (1974) – I heard some vague rumours that this film was rejected by the Censor Board since it presented a depraved view of life involving a prostitute and two criminals. I have no clue whether this film actually released or what?

Arth (1982) – An art house classic, this was Mahesh Bhatt’s first claim to fame. Shabana Azmi and Smita Patil both turned in terrific performances while Kulbhushan Kharbanda continued to chew while delivering dialogues. From Shakaal to a photographer was a huge comedown but not as much as having to go back to your wife when your girlfriend turns psycho! This is generally hailed as a feminist favourite but I failed to see why. I mean, leaving your spouse because his/her lover is paying for your desserts is hardly a female monopoly. Anyway…

Saaransh (1984) – Mahesh Bhatt selected an unknown actor (in his late 20’s) for the lead role of B V Pradhan, a 65-year old retired headmaster. His production house wanted a bigger star so they forced him to take Sanjeev Kumar. The new actor came to his house and gave him hell, even calling him a cheat! When Bhatt saw the outburst, he realized he had got the man who can give his climax a completely new dimension. So he told his producers to bugger off and took the new actor in. Incidentally, the new actor’s full address was Anupam Kher, c/o Mrs Kaur, Khetwadi, Khar!

Janam (1985) – Illegitimate son of famous director. Makes first film despite severe odds. Father recognizes him at awards night. Yawn. Anupam Kher was the father and Kumar Gaurav the son.

Naam (1986) – This was produced by Kumar Gaurav (or Rajendra Kumar) thought it should have been produced by Sanjay (or Sunil) Dutt. As the misguided youth teetering on the brink of collapse, Sunju did his first role of consequence and became the toast of the industry. The even more famous feature of this film was the NRI anthem – “Watan se chitthi aayi hain” (sung on screen by Pankaj Udhas). Musically, it is one of the worst songs I have ever heard but when cute Sardars cry to a song, its hit status is the surest thing on this side of SRK’s abs!

Kaash (1987) – An interesting take on male chauvinism, this was about a declining Bollywood star (Jackie Shroff) who is averse to his wife working to support him but is even more averse to giving up his bottle and moving his arse a bit! Dimple was very good in the wife’s role and Jackie played the role in the only way he can – like a Teen Batti tapori!

Daddy (1989) – A teenager’s attempt to reform her alcoholic dad was a film made for television. Anupam Kher gave a lovely performance as the alcoholic. This was Pooja Bhatt’s debut film, I think - and she turned up in dad's films at unfailing regularity.

Awaargi (1990) – Govinda. Anil Kapoor. Meenakshi Sheshadri. Don’t even recall which film this was lifted from!

Aashiqui (1990) – Along with QSQT and MPK, this was the final nail of the action films’ coffin! Even hair as bad as Rahul Roy’s and acting talent as non-existent as Anu Agarwal’s could not stop this movie from becoming a runaway hit. T-Series, Nadeem-Shravan and Kumar Sanu tasted stardom for the first time and raked in the moolah! Sanu’s house in Bombay is apparently called Aashiqui! And before you ask, Rahul Roy’s mom was his father’s second wife.

Jurm (1990) – Vinod Khanna plays a cop and Meenakshi Sheshadri his wife. He has to protect Sangeeta Bijlani, who was a witness to the murder of Akash Khurana. The horny cop sleeps with his ward and his wife throws a fit. In between all this, the bad guys zoom in on the elusive ‘saboot’ (which, in typical Hindi fillum style, was hidden in a railway station locker) and you have a extra-marital crime thriller. This movie is primarily known for the song “Jab koi baat bigad jaaye…” – which, as you have rightly guessed, is a lift!

Junoon (1992) – Ever seen Cat People? Apparently, its an English flick about an ichhadhari tiger! I think the scriptwriter of this movie is the only person in India to have seen it. You see, Rahul Roy got bitten by a pregnant tigress whose hubby he killed. This made him turn into a tiger on every full moon night! He had no recollection of his murders and when he woke up every morning in the buff, he wondered why there was blood on his hands and mouth and news about his enemies getting killed.

Sadak (1991) – Okay, if the serious movie buffs promise not to dissolve in laughter, then I will tell you that the plot is loosely based on Taxi Driver! The original had none of the foot-tapping music by Nadeem Shravan. Imagine De Niro singing "Rehne ko ghar nahin / Sone ko bistar nahin" and you’ll realize what you missed! Pooja Bhatt played the golden-hearted virgin prostitute and Sanjay Dutt the Habib-styled, long-haired cabbie. The scene stealer, obviously, was the villain (vamp?) – an eunuch called Maharani, played with great relish by Sadashiv Amrapurkar. (Incidentally, Filmfare inaugurated its Best Villain award this year to honour Maharani.)

Dil Hai Ki Manta Nahin (1991) – Oh damn, this is a copy again. This time, Frank Capra got ripped as Aamir Khan did the suave Clark Gable act of It Happened One Night. He and Pooja went from Bombay to Bangalore by road while singing all their songs in Ooty! Tiku Talsania, as Aamir’s manic boss, was hilarious. As were the stories of Aamir’s perfectionism – which were recounted by Pooja Bhatt to anyone who cared to listen. Net result: Aamir never worked with her again.

Saathi (1991) – This was Mohsin Khan’s debut film. Who is Mohsin Khan, did you ask? Mohsin Khan was a Pakistani cricketer, who opened their innings along with Mudassar Nazar. He married Reena Roy and tried his hand at acting. The name suggests a story about friends but nobody knows too much about it anyways.

Saatwan Aasman (1992) – A love story between two terminally ill patients, played by Pooja Bhatt and Vivek Mushran or somebody equally insignificant. Why was it called Saatwan Aasman? Search me!

Tadipaar (1993) – What if Roman Holiday was remade and instead of a reporter, a roadside tapori became the hero? What if the ending was happy? What if the Gregory Peck role was played by Mithun? And the Audrey Hepburn role by Pooja Bhatt? Aaaarrrrrggggghhhhh – I died after the last possibility came true!

Gumrah (1993) – Copy of Bangkok Hilton. Dumb belle Sridevi gets conned by her boyfriend (Rahul Roy) into carrying drugs into an Oriental country (I forget, which), which has the death penalty for drug traffickers and Occidental jailers in their prisons. Her hunky boyfriend – Sanjay Dutt – followed her into the foreign country and the prison to get her out. Also, to elongate the storyline, a sentimental dad (needless to say, estranged) in the form of Anupam Kher was injected.

Hum Hain Rahi Pyar Ke (1993) – Everybody has seen this movie. Everybody has heard the Most Popular Bad Lyrics of the Century – “Bombay se gayee Puna / Pune se gayee Dilli / Dilli se gayee Patna / Phir bhi na mila sajna…” Everybody has also heard that this film was completely ghost-directed by Aamir Khan. It was his home-production anyway!

Sir (1993) – Chhappan Tikli! Long before Nana Patekar polished off 56 goons, Gulshan ‘Get-up’ Grover played a small-pox infected villain, who polished off his enemies on tennis courts. His nemesis was Paresh Rawal, whose daughter was Pooja Bhatt, whose boyfriend was Atul Agnihotri and all of whom were taught the lessons of love by Sir (Naseeruddin Shah)! Joke of the day: What do you call a Jurassic professor? Dino-sir! Thought of the day: Who counted the 56 spots on Gulshan’s face?

Phir Teri Kahani Yaad Aayee (1993) – Yet another rehash of a filmmaker’s affair with a mentally unhinged girl. Rahul Roy and Pooja Bhatt starred in this film – which was made for the inaugural transmission of Zee Cinema or Zee TV. I have never seen a film on television with so many ads… and to think, this was more than a decade back. Just in case people missed the Mahesh Bhatt touch, he flicked the poster design from Basic Instinct!

The Gentleman (1994) – This was the remake of a Telugu hit called ‘Gentleman’. For a very enlightening discourse on the addition of The in the Hindi version, Juhi Chawla’s dance steps and Chiranjeevi’s reactions thereof, please read this.

Naaraaz (1994) – Mithun (in the title role) was the Untouchable friend of upper caste Atul Agnihotri. Their romantic duet (“Tere bin main kuch bhi nahin”) while looking dreamily into each other’s eyes was in the pioneering traditions of Dharam Veer described here.

Milan (1995) – The only film I know in which Akash Khurana (the most sincere looking guy on this planet!) plays a villain, a psychotic one at that. He tries to molest Manisha Koirala when Jackie Shroff is sent to jail. Why? Who the hell cares? BTW, Mahesh Bhatt got a little bored copying plots from films. So, for this completely original storyline, he flicked the ad line from the Mel Gibson starrer Forever Young. “Time waits for no one. True love waits forever.”

Criminal (1995) – Copy of The Fugitive with Nagarjuna essaying the Harrison Ford role. And to beef up the length, a love triangle was inserted with the help of South Indian belle – Ramya Krishnan. Manisha Koirala is the first angle. Some of the scenes were so identical to the original that I have this feeling that they went and shot on the sets of The Fugitive! Had one hit song (composed by the strangely named M M Kreem) – “Tu mil dil khile…

Naajayaz (1995) – Naajayaz means Illegitimate. Oh god – not again! Ajay Devgan played the title role, as a cop who is trying to come to terms with his step-dad (Naseer) ignoring his mother AND carrying on a thriving racket! Juhi Chawla was the comely police inspector in uniforms so tight that criminals would auto-ignite!

Papa Kehte Hain (1996) – Mayuri Kango turns out to be this really irritating babe with a really screechy voice. She goes on a hunt for her father – oh God, again? Yup! And she is helped in her pursuits by Jugal Hansraj, who looks as Masoom as ever. Wonderful songs, though.

Dastak (1996) - Sushmita Sen played the role of an Indian Miss Universe winner - finally, an original story! And she was stalked by a crazed lover and protected by a bodyguard. Oh damn - The Bodyguard! Sushmita was gangly, giggle and could not act to save her life. Sharad Kapoor played the crazed lover and I have not seen anybody flare his nostrils as much as he did in this movie. On the night before the release of the movie, a friend heard a Hindi news channel end its 9 o'clock news with "Yeh thi khabrein aaj tak. Intezar kijiye Dastak..."

Chaahat (1996) – SRK was the Hero. Pooja Bhatt played the Love Interest. Ramya was the Crazed Lover (though she replaced flaring nostrils with heaving bosoms). Naseeruddin Shah played the Crazed Lover’s Doting Brother & Mafia Don. Anupam Kher played the Hero’s Father and featured in the landmark parent-child bonding song – “Daddy cool cool cool / Mera beta fool fool fool…

Tamanna (1997) – An eunuch finds an abandoned girl child and raises her as his own. Paresh Rawal was fantastic in his role as the eunuch but Pooja Bhatt (in the title role) could not match up and the film collapsed in a heap of melodrama.

Duplicate (1998) – One of Yash Johar’s earlier productions (before his son wielded the baton and earned him a gold mine). If you hadn’t guessed already, the film had SRK in a double role (his only?) and excellent music. SRK continued his manic act from where he left it at Anjaam and Darr as he played the growling Mannu Dada with more ham than a sausage factory.

Angaaray (1998) – Akshay Kumar. Nagarjuna. Pooja Bhatt. Who else? Who cares?

Zakhm (1998) – In between the huge numbers of copies, Mahesh Bhatt occasionally came up with a film like this and redeemed himself. The story of a Muslim woman burnt by a Hindu mob in the Bombay riots and her son’s efforts to get treatment for her was poignant at one level and brutal at another. Ajay Devgan excelled in his role as the helpless son. A brilliant twist to the story was the other son – who was a fast rising Hindutva leader and denied his mother was a Muslim. Oh – and the mother was again the second wife of a film director!

Yeh Hai Mumbai Meri Jaan (1999) – Saif played a conman impersonating a rich NRI in a ho-hum story, also starring Twinkle Khanna.

Kartoos (1999) – A death row convict is released by the cops on the condition that he will kill a dreaded terrorist. He meets a grossly overweight Manisha Koirala and wants to reform! Blind duffer… and very soon, both the cops and the terrorist are out to kill him. Sanjay Dutt sleepwalked through the film, as did Mahesh Bhatt!

Did somebody count the number of films in which there is (a) Illegitimate children, (b) Psychotic lovers, (c) Pooja Bhatt and (d) All of the above?

No? Damn – there was a question worthy of Bollywood Ka Boss in there!

Apart from the above, Mahesh Bhatt’s filmography includes: Kabzaa (1988), Siyasat (1988), Thikana (1987), Abhimanyu (1980), Lahu Ke Do Rang (1979), Naya Daur (1978), and Vishwasghaat (1977). I have no clue about any of these. Would anyone care to enlighten?

Friday, October 19, 2007

Char Ka Chamatkar

Hey - I have not done a tag for a very long time! So, I will take one from my favourite fat blogger and do this tag. (Just in case you are wondering, Nilendu is my favourite thin blogger.)
I love lists and constantly make them in my mind - 10 places I have to visit, 7 books I have to buy, 5 things I have to teach my son, 11 roles Amitabh should do... this is just an extension of that.

Four Jobs I've Had in my Life
1. Maths Tutor (2-1/2 years) - When I was in college, I had expensive tastes in books and films. To fund that, I ended up teaching maths to little boys and girls on the verge of their Class X Board Exams. For 200 bucks a month, I used to teach them unitary method and quadratic equations - twice a week. I'd say that I did a rather good job of it since none of them flunked.
2. Food Critic (3 months) - For a little bit of money, I did reviews of a few restaurants in and around Delhi. I can't tell the name of the publication for which I did it because I am not supposed to.
3. Engineering Intern (2 months) - There is a general feeling among people (primarily myself) that I am a crappy engineer. That is 100% true but despite that, I did a two-month stint as an intern in a cooling tower company doing tests in a wind tunnel, calculating (I forgot what!) and even writing a computer program. They were impressed enough to offer me a job!
4. Salesman (8 years) - I have sold soap, toilet cleaner, shoe polish, soft drinks, hair oil, edible oil, instant noodles, newspaper, advertising space among other things in 9 different states of the country. In fact, the name of this post is actually the name of a sales promotion scheme I did!

Four TV shows I Love to Watch
1. F.R.I.E.N.D.S - I was a rather late convert to this no-brainer of a choice. When I did, I realised I was almost identical to Chandler - though I wanted to be like Joey when I grew up!
2. No Reservations - Anthony Bourdain is God. Actually, do they really pay him to go to all the exotic places in the world and stuff himself silly? Some people have all the fun, dammit!
3. Mastermind - The ultimate quiz show. No nonsense. No frills. Only the grey cells and a black chair.
Cannot think of any more. I liked most episodes of KBC (the Amitabh seasons) and looking forward to Bollywood Ka Boss.

Four Movies I Can Watch Over and Over Again
1. Sholay
2. Andaz Apna Apna
3. Deewaar
4. Gupi Gayin Bagha Bayin

Four Places I have Lived (in chronological order)
1. Calcutta
2. Jamshedpur
3. Chennai
4. Bangalore

Four Places I have been on a Holiday (in the last 3 years)
1. Nalagarh (Himachal)
2. Surajgarh (Rajasthan)
3. Thalassery (Kerala)
4. Calcutta

Four of my Favourite Dishes
1. Mutton Biriyani - Any one of Shamim's (Delhi) / Shiraz (Calcutta) / Paradise (Hyderabad) would do.
2. Shepherd's Pie
3. Macaroon Tart
4. Luchi - Aloobhaja

Four Websites I Visit Daily

Four Places I'd Rather Be Right Now
1. Venice
2. Kumarokam
3. Diva Restaurant (GK II - Delhi) - Suddenly, the memory of their Antipasti Platter...
4. Maddox Square (Calcutta) - Where else would a Ballygunge boy rather be on Ashtami evening, except the liveliest Pujo location in the world?

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Durga Pujo for Dummies

There is a general feeling of envy-tinged awe among non-Bengalis about the spectacle that goes by the name of Durga Pujo. I mean, four days off bang in the middle of October usually coupled with the nearest weekend - how did we manage that? And hey - it is a religious thingamajig so no government worth its red-lighted Ambassador would try to stop a god-fearing Bengali from taking the week off!
The closest an Indian festival comes to such a high level of shutdown is probably the Navratri in the West but even there, the Gujjus pack in a full day's trading at the stock market and tuck away a few millions before making a beeline for the Falguni Pathak show. No taking the day off for religious ceremonies.

So, in an unwanted effort to de-mystify Durga Pujo, here is a simple primer on the festival... in six easy-to-understand commandments.

I: Durga Pujo is everywhere. I mean, EVERYWHERE.
Thanks to our race's geographically divergent successes, probably the only place not to have a Durga Pujo now is Guantanamo Bay.
If there are no Bengalis, there are enough Calcutta-lovers who decide that they simply cannot live without the mayhem of those four days. So, they commission an idol, cook some khichdi and potato mishmash, get a Brahmin to perform the rituals and even hire a Bong Indian Idol finalist to make a DIY Pujo.

II: Durga Pujo is like amoeba. It multiplies within its environment.
In Year 1, there is one Pujo. From Year 2 onwards, the number of Pujos = n where n is an integer (greater than that of the previous year) dependent on the number of original organisers, their wives, their origins (East or West Bengal), their blood pressure levels and a million other variables thereof.
Squabbles arise out of momentous things like the haughty behaviour of the Treasurer's wife, blatant nepotism to give the sit-and-draw prize to the President's nephew while the Secretary's own daughter is the reincarnation of Van Gogh and suspected corruption in awarding the catering contract.
And the law of the land states when in squabble, split.

III: Durga Pujo is an outlet for the latent creativity of the Bongs.
In olden days, creative Bongs used to write novels and make films. After Asian Paints started their Pujo contest, the award for the Best Idol / Pandal was valued slightly higher than an Oscar and slightly lower than a Nobel Prize. Consequently, 95% of Bong creativity got channelised into designing Pujo paraphrenalia. The remaining 5% started getting used for judging the creative output for the aforementioned contest (and their clones).
So, we have Greg Chappell, Hogwarts, WTC Towers Collapse, Capitol Hill, Rashtrapati Bhavan, idols made of ice-cream sticks and pandals made of condoms in a misdirected frenzy of 'creative' chest-thumping!
(I made up the last one.)

IV: Durga Pujo is culture. Or, an interpretation of it.
Again, to reinforce the perception of the Bong monopoly on culture, they show off at every public gathering (and Pujo is the largest one). And the result is that Rabindra Sangeet is generally considered to be a fate worse than death.
Kids barely able to walk are made to perform elaborate dance dramas. 85 year olds are given long soliloquys to recite. The Treasurer's wife gets to sing. And the show stealer turns out to be the Indian Idol wannabe, who gets whistles and claps when she sings Kajra Re! And Bongs talk proudly for the rest of the year about the upliftment in the appreciation of art in this country, brought about by having Udit Narayan sing at the 'cultural night'.

V: Durga Pujo is money, honey!
It is by and large an accepted belief among marketers that about 24% of Bengal's GDP is directly or indirectly influenced by this one week. This is due to 103 million people who are caught on CCTV at the Ekdalia Evergreen Club Pujo, trying to catch a glimpse of Moonmoon Sen (who has come to inaugurate it). Of course, whether these multitudes choose to purchase prepaid plans basis the pictures of Moonmoon Sen's daughter on the entry arch is debatable.
But since the public is grateful that there IS an entry arch and the marketers are grateful that the arch is branded, nobody really cares beyond a point. And till then, you have Hindi newspapers sponsoring the Elocution Contest and all is well with the world!

VI: Durga Pujo is Food (with a capital F).
Bongs lose the use of most of the lobes of their voluminous brains at the sight of any concoction that involves fish, mustard oil and batter. Nothing demonstrates this fact better than the stampeding crowd that assembles in front of the fish fry counter at the pandal while the Goddess and her four children twiddle thumbs.
No kidding - Pujos in C R Park are identified as the 'Karim's Pujo', 'Nathu's Pujo', 'Bijoli Grill Pujo' and so on! Within a couple of weeks of the event ending, the purported innovation in the idol design would become a hazy memory while the delectable Mutton Pasanda Kabab would remain clear & present, thanks to the home delivery menu helpfully distributed at the counter.
Maybe, I should have called this post Durga Pujo for Tummies!

Season's Greetings to all! Burrp!

Monday, October 15, 2007

Joker In The Pack: My Kind of Humour

I have a lot of favourite authors.
Favourite, as in, Deserted Island Books. Which are the 10 Books would you be okay with reading millions of times for the rest of your life?
Tarapada Ray – yet another Bengali author, unknown outside Bengal – would be the third on my list of Deserted Island authors (right after Satyajit Ray and Jeffrey Archer). He passed away recently and Nilendu wrote a very affectionate tribute about him and I thought I should write one too (though, a couple of months late).
His best-known works were his collection of joke books, which he apparently lifted from others. But the fun of a good joke lies in the telling and in that, he added an absolutely new dimension to standard drunkard / husband-wife / lunatic jokes that abound as magazine fillers.
So in my tribute to Tarapada Ray, I compiled my favourite kind of jokes.

Three men were walking down the road…
This is the Mine is Bigger Than Yours (metaphorically speaking) joke.
Three men. One says, “I can make a needle which is thinner than the thinnest human hair.” The second says, “That’s nothing. I can make a hole through the needle.” And third – who has to be an Indian – says, “And I can print MADE IN INDIA on it!”
Now, depending on your nationality and ethnicity, you can change the characters in the play, as long as they conform to the stereotypes and your own guy comes in last with the punch line.
The Gujarati has sharp business sense. The Punjabi is brave. The South Indian is hard working. The Bihari is lazy but witty. And the Bengali is God’s gift to mankind. Sorry for the generalization but that’s how I heard each one of these.
Even internationally, the stereotypes are brilliantly well defined. The Englishman is a gentleman. The Italian is flamboyant. The Scotsman is thrifty. The American is a garrulous millionaire. And the Irish is an idiot.
No wonder, the Irishmen started blowing up bridges and towns. Anybody would. I was quite convinced that the Sikhs started their demand for a separate country when they heard what disgusting jokes their Bengali brethren were concocting!

The husband told the wife…
This is the Battle of the Sexes joke.
The basic premise of this category is that marriage is a misfortune very few of us can avoid and hence, it is better to make fun of it. You know, how we used to mimic the ghastly teachers at school? It’s a lot like that. Since we could not bomb the school, we made fun of them. Husband-wife jokes are exactly like that. (Ummm... not in my case specifically, but generally speaking!)
The jokes try to demonstrate that the boyfriends / husbands are a lazy, flirtatious, remote-hogging, beer-drinking, commitment-phobic bunch while the wives / girlfriends are shopaholics, poor drivers, neurotic about cleanliness and excessively dainty. Also, the husband wants it all the time while the wife has to get in the mood.
My favourite one? Well, a wife did not return home one night so her husband asked where she had been. She mentioned being at a friend’s place. He called up ten of her best friends but none of them said she was there the previous night. Now, the husband did not return home one night the next week and his wife asked him where he had been. He said he was at a friend’s place. So, she called up ten of his best friends and every single one of them confirmed that he had been at their place the night before!

Doctor, doctor…
This is the Bermuda Triangle joke.
There are certain classes of people who make a lot of money out of our ignorance. Doctors lead the pack but mechanics, electricians and plumbers fall in the broad category as well. This category of jokes pokes fun at these people whose talents we cannot have and whose bills we must pay.
The doctor jokes are most common – thanks to the Readers’ Digest column (Laughter – The Best Medicine) which has now lent its name to countless anthologies of doctor jokes brought out by pharmaceutical companies and gifted to doctors (presumably to become reading material for their clinics’ waiting rooms!)
The most common doctor jokes are the ones in which the patient’s purported illness is (1) presented in exaggerated form or (2) misunderstood by the doctor.
Sample 1: “Doctor, my problem is that I keep forgetting. / “Tell me about your problem in detail.” / “What problem?”
Sample 2: “Doctor, my problem is that people keep ignoring me.” / “Next patient.”
Lawyers, of course, are a different breed altogether – as they seem to be the butt of all jokes that look to portray the most despicable of humanity!

Kiddie Favourites
Basically, all Knock-Knock / Good-News-Bad-News jokes come under this head as their chief audience consists of individuals with mental age less than 84 months. The operative word here is ‘mental’ as physical age has nothing to do with the comprehension and enjoyment of humour that typically goes:
- Knock! Knock!
- Who’s there?
- Alex.
- Alex who?
- Alexplain later. Now, open the door!

This brings us to my last category – which is clearly the most misunderstood of all kinds of jokes in the universe.
PJ or Poor Jokes is what philistines call subtle puns – in one of the most unfair of all nomenclature. A pun – when executed with panache – can reach the highest forms of humour but erudition and intelligence of the listener is critical to the success of the joke. Since the sophistication is out of the grasp of most, they usually screech out "Aaaiii, kya ganda wala mara!" to puns as a kind of defence mechanism.
For example, not too many people can appreciate the tale about the Greek guy going to a tailor with a torn coat. The tailor asked, “Euripedis?” and he replied “Eumenides?”
Or for that matter, few can follow Oscar Wilde (recently voted the most humourous man of Britain - ever) when he said, “Immanuel doesn’t pun. He Kant.”
British tabloids – apparently meant for lowbrow audiences – specialize in fantastic puns. You need to have a perspective of opera as well as cricket when they headlined about Shane Warne – “Ain’t Over Till The Fat Laddie Spins!”
There’s one even better – which talked about the Caledonian team’s victory over the Celtics in the Scottish League – Super Caley Go Ballistic, Celtics are Atrocious!
The slight extension of the ‘word pun’ is the ‘phrase pun’ which leads to the paranoid question – “Who is General Failure and why is he reading my hard disk?”

I could go on and on trying to prove my point. If not anything, I can tell you ten puns to make you laugh. But what if no pun in ten did?