Wednesday, December 31, 2008

2008, Signing Off

Outlook is debating if it is India's worst year yet. NDTV is calling it a year best forgotten. India Today has put a splash of blood on its year-end special. On a lighter note, Radio Mirchi is calling it Do hazaar-Vaat!
Clearly, 2008 is a year every one is waiting for to end. And take the blood & gore with it.

I see 2008 as The Year Trust Died.
We thought Sensex can only go up. We thought Lehmann Brothers employed some of the smartest business minds of world. We thought the Taj lobby was the poshest and safest place in the entire country. We thought Citi never sleeps. We thought our employers will never fire us. Hell, we even thought Rahul Dravid will never fail.
And each one of our symbols of faith crumbled. And if they didn't, they looked suspiciously susceptible.

This year, I did some unexpected - but eagerly awaited - things.
I did not participate in one of the best quiz shows on television - Bollywood Ka Boss. But that's because I contributed questions to it!
I wrote the end-notes for the English translation of two Satyajit Ray books, published under the Puffin imprint. Do take a look if you spot the books.
I visited the homes of Shakespeare, Holmes and Cricket.
And I watched my son going from a cute one-year old to a devilish two-year old.

But to keep a two-year tradition (thank god, I did not call it heritage!) going, I will try to collate my favourites from the year... in no particular order, in no particular category. Just to remember them later.

The Blaft Anthology of Tamil Pulp Fiction had a picture of a gun-toting, cleavage-baring damsel on its cover. It totally lived up to its promise. Detective couples. Past lives. Corrupt politicians. Drug rackets in colleges. Office romance. If you liked 1970s Bollywood, you will love the book.
Jhumpa Lahiri wrote about the same stories yet again. But like the way we never tire of listening to the same stories about very good friends, I remained hooked on to Unaccustomed Earth till the very end.
We Are Like That Only (Rama Bijapurkar) and India After Gandhi (Ramachandra Guha) were two 'academic' books but totally readable! Actually, they were released earlier but I read them in '08.
Just added: The Tehalka Year-End Fiction Special is fantastic. Grab it at the next book stall.

Question of the Year: We are castigating a Punjabi girl for not being able to recognise her husband when he undergoes a makeover. But, even a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist fails to recognise her boyfriend when he takes off his glasses and wears his undies over his pants.

Did a lot of self-debating before awarding the Best Film award to Rock On! For a fabulous soundtrack on a totally satisfying film. Anybody doubting the power of the soundtrack should see my two-year old son go Na-na-na-na-na-na the moment Pichhle saat dinon mein comes on!
Coming in as joint second are two brilliant films, but unfortunately largely unseen.
A Wednesday deserved to get a large audience without the 26/11 baggage. One of the tautest thrillers, it had Naseeruddin Shah maintaining his usual standards and Anupam Kher rising beyond C Kompany.
Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye! is going to become - like Andaz Apna Apna - one of the highest selling DVDs in India. Once people realise what a sansani-khez movie they missed out on, they will have to come in droves and pick it up. The maker of Khosla Ka Ghosla deserves it!

Question of the Year: What is unusual about someone who loses his memory every 15 minutes? Wasn't it said that we will anyways be remembered for only 15 minutes?


Most of my favourite bloggers slowed down to almost a grinding halt (8, 7, 3) though some of the old favourites have kept up the good work.
Some wonderful posts happened in my other favourites. Some new blogs were discovered - though it is entirely my tragic slowness to blame that it took me so long.
* Bollywood's charm winds into the unlikeliest of places. And for strangest of reasons!
* Even the worst Hindi films have one memorable dialogue that stays with you for a long time. But when you forget, where do you go to relive them? Here.
* One-liners are really difficult to generate. But these have a series of them on the most obvious of comparisons, but...
* A short poem. Which 'touches the g-spot of the mind'.
* Everybody in Tinseltown blogs nowadays. But he manages to have point of view. Whether you agree or not.
* What is the correct etiquette for a public loo (male)? What Emily Post never touched upon, he did.

Before I end, I am putting together a series of clues to remind me of the posts that I must do in 2009. Something like a series of Ghajini tattoos...
9820189743. Naaz, Meenakshi, Mithila. 55 x 18 = 990.
Can you figure what they will be about?

Calcutta Chromosome wishes all its readers a fantastic 2009.
As a toast goes, "In the New Year, may your hand always be extended in friendship and never in want."

Friday, December 12, 2008

Timeo Danaos...


I have received something called a Premio Dardos Award from Goofy Mumma. This rewards bloggers for "their efforts to transmit cultural, ethical, literary and personal values every day".

Cultural values? Check.

Ethical values? Check.

Literary values? Check.

Personal values? Check.

Thank you, GM.

Why the title? Three reasons.
1. It sounds a bit like the award itself.
2. It is the name of Jeffrey Archer story and somehow, I wanted to use it for a post. Never got the chance.
3. Me - for a 'values' award? I am looking at GM with a lot of suspicion!

Monday, December 08, 2008

Teen Deviyaan

While doing my previous post on Hum, I reminisced about Kimi Katkar and her films.
A certified starlet in the late 80s, she was one of several (minor) deities worshiped at the altar of teenage hormones. She came in - like the others - with a bang and then did a series of indistinguishable movies before settling down into happy matrimony.
They were never contenders for the No. 1 position but made up the numbers that make India the largest film-producing nation of the world. But they drew huge applause and commanded a reasonable fan-following among teenagers who were suitably impressed by their ability to change and drop clothes at frequent intervals.
This is the first instalment (in a series, that will hopefully be taken up by Nilendu) of Teen Queens.

Kimi Katkar
Kimi made her debut in Tarzan opposite Hemant Birje - a man who gave new meanings to the words 'wooden' and 'guttural'. But as 'Jane', Kimi played her role to sultry and sexy perfection. Tarzan, my Tarzan / Aaja tujhe sikha doon pyar kaise ho was a rage then and it would be again if somebody just released the damn video with Kimi in it!
Kimi's voluptuous figure made her a shoo-in for all the bold-heroine parts in the 80-90s style cut-price multi-starrers (read more about them here). These films needed an asexual heroine (sub-plot of having seen murder / widowed at young age / domesticated) and a sexy in-your-face one (sub-plot of country liquor bar owner / dancer due to family compulsions or spoilt rich brat in 'modern' clothes). Kimi did the latter roles to perfection.
She ran a country bar in Kaala Baazar. She was the college shrew in Rama O Rama. In villain Ranjeet's directorial debut (Karnaama), she had a series of 'bold' scenes with Vinod Khanna. And in the last film (and biggest hit) of her career, she was Jummalina Gonsalves - a dancer in a dockyard beer bar. Only in Vardi do I remember her breaking the mould and appearing in a white lab coat as Dr Sonam.
Keeping with her image, she was usually called Bijli. She acted many times opposite Anil Kapoor, who was a shoo-in for tapori roles himself. Her boldness was quite well-known. In one interview, she claimed that a kissing scene with Shatrughan Sinha (I forget the name of the film) had to be scrapped because the actor chickened out!
Eventually, she fell in love with fashion photographer Shantanu Sheorey and left films to marry him. There were rumours of her return but they died down completely within a few months.
She is probably settled in the USA right now and occasionally, a mid-30s Indian techie would see her walking down a supermarket aisle and wonder where he had seen this good-looking housewife before.

Sonam
Sonam was the niece of Raza Murad (he of the Baritone Bigger than Big B!). Her real name is Bakhtawar (a name usually reserved for really cruel villains in Hindi cinema). Despite these two major shortcomings, she became synonymous with bikini roles in Hindi cinema between 1985 to 1995.
She kicked off with Yash Chopra's Vijay - in which she acted opposite Rishi Kapoor. Vijay was a sandwich between Yash's earlier Angry Young Man films (which gained him a formidable reputation) and his later Sweet Mushy Romantic films (which got him serious money). Nobody really remembers it. But aficionados would remember the petite Sonam in a yellow bikini being wooed by the voluminous Rishi.
Subsequently, Sonam flitted between a million skimpily-clad roles, which incorporated at least one swimming pool / sea-beach song each. In the notoriously prudish early 90s, she was not beyond a kiss or two (in the real sense of the act and not in the flower-touching style of Bollywood). In Ajooba, she even popped Rishi Kapoor down her blouse to hide him after he had shrunk to Liliputian dimensions, thanks to a magic potion.
I recall her screen-name being Sonam in more than one movie.
Her biggest hit was Tridev - which had our then national anthem Oye Oye - opposite Naseeruddin Shah, who did a fab job of acting really badly so that we are not distracted from Sonam's see-through harem pants! She also acted in the spiritual sequel - Vishwatma - again opposite Naseer in the most inconsequential role of the film, where she remained fully clothed while Divya Bharti stole the thunder with her thighs. This was probably because the director - Rajeev Rai - was in love with her by then and had no wish to expose his fiancee.
She married Rajeev Rai and eventually moved abroad (London?) because of Abu Salem's attempts to extort money and kill the director.

Neelam
Neelam Kothari was never known by her full name. Probably because in the late 80s, the surname Kothari brought images of Pan Parag and therefore, bad teeth.
Her debut film - Love 86 (released in 1986, for those who are interested) - opposite Govinda was a massive hit and set her towards stardom. In the next few years, she acted in quite a few films opposite Govinda - most notably Khudgarz (which had Jeetendra and Shatrughan Sinha fighting each other in a loose copy of Kane And Abel) and Hatya (which finally marked Govinda's emergence as star).
Neelam's USP was cuteness. She was always seen in a pony-tail, wearing dungarees and t-shirt in college scenes or salwar-kameezes in family scenes. She was usually the daughter (Tanuja in Love 86) or sister (Amitabh in Agneepath) of an authoritarian figure. Her boyfriend was usually a tapori kind and her primary duty would be to playfully frown and pout at his antics. She has popped it a couple of times for the authoritarian figures to avenge her death (Indrajeet). In multi-starrers, she was the perfect foil to Kimi Katkar-style boisterous exposure and was the docile heroine. Though - for the life of me - I cannot recall any films of them together.
Much later, Neelam played herself in the biggest hit of her career. Unfortunately, Kuch Kuch Hota Hain was not about her, even though she had an eponymous TV show in the film. Neither was Hum Saath Saath Hain, in which she was the sister to the main leads and had to make do with Mahesh Thakur (known for being the father in millions of toothpaste and insurance ads) as her husband.
I don't know much about her marriage except that she married an NRI and there was opposition from the boy's side on having an actress daughter-in-law.

No one can pretend that any of these starlets would be getting a Lifetime Achievement Award. Their movies were strictly forgettable and mostly identical. Their acting was limited, which they were probably aware of. They lasted in the industry for approximately a decade each, acting in about 50 movies or so. They were never credited for their hits and remained in the news for the flitting affair or the bold cover picture.
Despite that, teenagers loved them, fantasised about them and their pictures adorned several hostel walls across the country. Thanks to our billion-strong film-crazy population, they commanded a fan following - though fleetingly - that would be higher than most Hollywood actresses at their peaks.

Even in such depressing times, when you think about Kimi Katkar dropping a coin inside her bra and challenging Amitabh to take it out, it brings a smile to your lips. And this is about two decades after she had acted in her last film.
This also has a value. This is also a social contribution. Infinitely better than our holier-than-thou politicians, at any rate.

Other similar starlets - that I can think of - are Farah, Shilpa Shirodkar, Divya Bharti, Raveena Tandon, and Mamta Kulkarni. They also deserve to be written about. Watch this space.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Random Movies I Like: Hum

When Mad Momma proposes a motion, the entire blogosphere takes sides. And when the topic is the hottest movie of the 1990s, it is like Yuvraj against Chris Broad - mayhem!

Hum released on 1st February 1991 across 400+ screens across the country. For teenagers who don't get surprised at Singh is Kinng's 800 screens would do well to understand that 400 screens = 400 theatres of 1000+ seats each and not 80 piddly multiplexes of 5 screens each.
To the best of my memory, Hum was the first Bollywood movie to have tremendous pre-release publicity and hype.
About a year before its release, the 'item song' - Jumma Chumma De De - was previewed at a Filmfare awards telecast on TV. And since then, India could not talk of anything else. The budget. The pairing (a nearing-50 Amitabh with nearing-25 Kimi Katkar). The tune of the Jumma Chumma song being lifted from an English (a guy called Mory Kante or some such) number. Bappi Lahiri lifting the same tune for another film (Thanedaar) around the same time. Etc etc.
But these are not the reasons I like the film, actually love the film.

* It had Amitabh's best entry in years.
A union leader - known only by his surname, Gonsalves (producer Romesh Sharma) - tries to rise against Bhaktawar (main villain, Danny) but is hung from a chain and about to be dropped into an acid vat. As the pulley gradually unfurls and he goes down with a martyr-ish look on his face, a man runs over and manages to latch on to the chain that suspends him. I remember screaming and jumping up (along with the rest of the hall) on to my seat. The man proceeded to pull out a bottle of rum, open the cap with his teeth and take a swig. Then he fought off the army of goons, all the while hanging on to the chain. Stupendous!

* It had Rajnikanth and Govinda in delightfully comical action roles.
As Amitabh's two younger (step) brothers - the police-officer and the college loafer - they provided perfect foil to Amitabh's old-worldly stardom by doing all sorts of crazy stuff. Effortlessly. In the most famous scene, Rajni says, "Bey-te lal, yek se bhale do aur do se bhale teen..." as he and Govinda beat up an army of goons led by one Captain Zatack (whose signature line was 'mere paison pe attack?' - yes, I am coming to that!) to the tune of a Batman soundtrack.
In fact, I first realised Govinda's star power when in a particular scene, the hall lustily cheered one of his dialogues. Somebody else being cheered in an Amitabh film was a definite first for me.

* It had a whole army of villains. Literally.
There was Danny, who was the first villain. He ruled a dockyard with the help of his red-kerchiefed army, led by Pratap (Amitabh's father, played by Deepak Shirke).
He was double-crossed by corrupt police officer, Anupam Kher. After Anupam burned Danny's family alive, Danny became bit of a tragic villain.
Famous dialogue: Iss duniya mein teen tareeke ke log hote hain. Dusro ke upar zulm karne wala Atyassaari. (Shot of Danny, running away.) Uske zulm ke khilaf awaaz uthane wala Krantikaari. (Shot of Amitabh, chasing Danny.) Aur in dono ke jung ka faida uthane wala - mere jaisa - Vyappaari!
There was the aforementioned Captain Zatack (and his band of merry men), who were corrupt officers of the Indian army and were trying to get kickbacks by buying battle tanks.
In the massive climax, Amitabh, Rajni and Govinda fought off all these guys in a battle involving tanks, helicopters (Amitabh hanging from it), bazookas and blood-curdling cries.

* It had millions of sub-plots.
Amitabh and Kimi's unrequited love story. Amitabh's sacrifice to bring up his step-brothers. Govinda's love story with Shilpa Shirodkar, in the face of her General father's (Kader Khan) opposition. Anupam Kher trying to sell shady tanks to the aforementioned General. A nautanki artiste (Kader Khan in a double role) being brought in to replace the General. Danny trying to take revenge for his dead family, mistakenly believing Amitabh to be responsible.
I must have forgotten the rest!

* It had Amitabh in a drunken scene, after ages.
For several years after the film, I knew the entire monologue involving gandi naali ka keeda and samaj ke gandagi se nikalne wala keeda by heart.

* It had Jumma Chumma De De.
Long before Pappu, we all knew Amitabh can't dance. He had a few quaint steps involving careful placement of hands and feet, which were religiously copied. But in those days, people copied everything of Amitabh.
But in the Jumma song, Amitabh danced like Elvis on Energizer batteries. Kimi Katkar (playing Jummalina Gonsalves) was the object of his osculatory ambitions and she matched him step for step, getting sprayed with beer an screaming her lines in the high-pitched voice of Kavita Krishnamurthy.
And in an even better reprise (Jumma Chumma Le Le), Amitabh and Kimi try to reach each other wading through a sea of people (Jumma had become a film star) to the tune of the song and in the climax, they embrace.

Apart from all of the above, I love the film because I saw it on Day One of release in Priya cinema of Calcutta (I have preserved the ticket to prove it!) - along with some fifteen classmates. We danced. We screamed. We whistled. We cheered. We booed. We laughed. We cried. We embraced each other because it was as if we were part of the same religion.
And at the end of day, we are faster friends because of Hum.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Incognito

After hanging around in jungles for twelve years, the Famous Five and Droppy had to meet the final condition - stay undiscovered from Duryodhan's cronies for another year (Agyatobash). Getting discovered meant having to repeat the twelve years once again. Now, thanks to this, Yudi managed to wangle a boon from his foster father that they would remain unrecognised by everybody in that year even without disguise.
Once in the 12 years, Arjun had pushed off to the heavens to get hold of some special weapons... As you can see, the second and third Paandavs were using the 13 years of exile to prepare for what they thought was the inevitable war. While in the heavens, apsara Urvashi tried to seduce him and he refused. Not used to being spurned, Urvashi cursed Arjun that he since he behaved like a eunuch, he would be one for one year of his life!

The five brothers decided that they would spend the last year in the courts of King Viraat. Viraat had a son by the name of Uttar and a daughter named Uttara. He was a generally harmless, ineffective king whose kingdom was run by his brother-in-law - a rather dangerous sort of chap called Kichak.
They went to a forest near the kingdom, put all their weapons into a bundle made to look like a corpse and hung it onto a tree. After that, they separated and reached the kingdom from different directions.

Yudhisthir landed up at the court of the good king and declared that he was a brahmin by the name of Kanka. He claimed to be an expert at harmless gambling and expected to be employed by the king. And he was.
Within a couple of hours, Bheem landed up. He said he was an excellent cook by the name of Ballabh. He wanted to be tried out in the royal kitchens. By way of extra-currics, he claimed to be an amateur wrestler and offered to do an exhibition bout or two. Employed.
Nakul and Sahadev landed up at the royal stable and cowshed respectively, claiming knowledge of horses and cattle. As Granthik and Tantipal, they too were employed without much ado.
Mr Arjun, who - thanks to Urvashi's curse - was now Ms Arjun reached the royal court and introduced himself as Brihannala, a dancer par excellence. (S)he was immediately appointed as Princess Uttara's teacher. In an interesting piece of detail, it is noted that Arjun had scars on his forearms due to his bowstrings grazing him there and as Brihannala, he was able to hide them under bangles (s)he wore.
Mrs P landed up at the Queen's palace as Sairindhri and wanted to be taken into her entourage as a hairdresser / makeup-artist / eye-candy. Of course, the Queen got totally flustered at her beauty and said (I quote), "Your thighs are close to each other. Your navel, voice and behaviour are subdued. Your breasts, buttocks and nose are elevated. Yours hands, feet and lips are scarlet. You are as beautiful as a Kashmiri mare. You deserve to have an entourage of your own. I would be lucky if the King did not take a fancy for you." But she took her on nevertheless.

Interesting to note here that five strikingly handsome men and one excessively beautiful woman landed up at King Viraat's court on the same day (which also happens to be the day when the five Paandavs and Draupadi were supposed to start their agyatobash) and nobody connected the dots. Duryodhan was supposed to have spies all over the country and in any case, the entire country knew about the incognito thingie but this remained unnoticed.
Not really the sharpest knives in the kitchen...
So, the Bros. & Babe happily got initiated into the daily routine of the palace and hoped to spend this one year in relative boredom.
In addition to the names mentioned above, the five brothers had taken an additional set of code names (But why Sir? Generally!) - Jay, Jayanta, Vijay, Jayatsen, Jayatdal.

But then, the Queen's thoughts about the king taking a fancy for Sairindhri turned out to be prophetic in a different sort of way.
Her brother - Kichak - was the de facto ruler of the kingdom. He was a very capable warrior and protected the kingdom. Since the king depended on him, he did everything that caught his fancy and Sairindhri caught his fancy like Jonty Rhodes caught a cricket ball. He badgered his sis to set him up with this new babe. The Queen - having a bit of a soft corner for dear bro - tried to broker the (d)alliance but Sairindhri vehemently junked the idea.

Eventually, Horny Kichak could not take it any more and jumped the babe. The babe - having practiced the routine with Duhsashan earlier - ran into the king's court where all the five brothers were generally hanging about. They did nothing - having practiced earlier as well - so as not to give away their identities.
King Viraat managed to pull his bro-in-law off but he threatened the babe that if she did not come to him willingly, he would come back at her.
Bheem, who was gritting his teeth all this while, decided to do what he did best. Take matters in his own hands.

A plan was hatched. Sairindhri passed a mesage to Kichak that she could not accept him publicly (having done so much nakhra) but if he came to a secret meeting spot at night, she promised a lot of hanky panky. Kichak, who had a hard-on from here to Ludhiana, agreed. He would have ageed to anything!
At the appointed hour and spot, Kichak landed up and was overjoyed to see a figure covered in a saree. On more intimate inspection, the figure turned out to be the cook Ballabh, who had claimed to be a decent wrestler. The decent wrestler managed to tear Kichak limb to limb without raising a din and vanished without even leaving a fingerprint.
The next morning, of course, was chaos and mayhem at the discovery and the subsequent realisation that without the mighty Kichak, the kingdom was at considerable risk with a wimpy King and a teenaged Prince Uttar.

Duryodhan's spy network had drawn a nought till now about the Paandavs - but they did relay back the news of Kichak's death. So, the Kaurav clan thought while they are waiting for the Paandavs to surface, they might as well attack Viraat's kingdom and make off with his riches.
And in no time, there were a 100 bloodthirsty bandit brothers (assisted by their weapons prof) standing right outside the kingdom.
Viraat - who never lifted a finger himself - kinda shat in his dhoti when he heard the news of this invasion. Strangely, dance teacher Brihannala cleared his throat and revealed that (s)he was also a trained charioteer. If (s)he was given a chance to steer the valiant Prince Uttar into battle, the young Prince would mow down the Kauravs. Uttar was had neither a sense of warfare nor a sense of reality. He readily agreed and his parents - not far removed from fanstasy themselves - agreed too.

Jumpcut to the battle field.
Drunk on false praise, Uttar came to his senses when he heard the commotion created by the Kaurav army. When he realised that the entire horizon was obstructed by the army and he was in it all alone, he felt it wise to instruct Brihannala to turn the chariot around as he needed to use the latrine pronto! Brihannala - on the other hand - assured that only about one-tenth the army was visible and it was a Kshatriya's greatest honour to take an arrow on his chest and die a glorious death. Uttar - at this point - jumped off the chariot and ran in the direction of the forest. An exasperated Brihannala checked out the position of the sun and decided that it was time to make an entry...

He turned the chariot around, picked up the cowering prince, went to the tree in the nearby forest where a 'corpse' was tied and asked him to bring it down. The prince forgot about fearing for his life and feared for losing his religion by touching a 'corpse'. The eunuch - in the meanwhile - took off his bangles, adjusted his clothing to a more battle-friendly and handled the innards of the corpse with a large degree of confidence. When he learnt the true identity of the Dancing Queen, he was infused with a large degree of relief.
And then, Arjun asked Prince Uttar to become the charioteer, twanged the bowstring of Gandeev and sounded his conch.

Some distance away, Dronacharya was intrigued to hear the signature twang. Could his favourite student be in the vicinity? His happiness permeated manifold among the Kauravs because they felt that Arjun had revealed himself before the one year of agyatobash was up and that meant an encore.
Drona, who had far more faith in Arjun than anybody else, did a few astronomical calculations himself and quietened the clan. It was a few moments since the thirteen years being up. Arjun was not a fool to have made an appearance before that.

At this point, two arrows from Arjun came and landed in front of Drona's chariot. And two more whizzed past his ears.
Did Arjun miss? Not exactly.
With the first two arrows, he symbolically touched his guru's feet. And with the next two, he asked about his well-being having met him after 13 years.
These are the cute details which elevate Mahabharat from a great epic to the greatest epic!

Of course, a pitched battle ensued. Of course, Arjun beat the shit out of the Kauravs and sent them back. But of course, the Incognito Year ended on a victorious note.

And it queered the pitch for the Mother of All Battles - Kurukshetra!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Random Movies I Like: Dance Dance

I have done film posts in two different formats: one is a detailed analysis (!) of films of a certain period/genre/theme, usually running into several thousand words. And the second is a quick take on a film, remembering bits and pieces of it. This post started under the second format and somehow in the course of writing it, it sneaked into the first format.
Pointless - check. Rambling - check. Avoidable - check.

Story 1: A boy's parents are killed by an evil rajah. The boy grows up and takes revenge.
Story 2: An elder sister helps her little brother become successful. When she dies, the brother is shattered. However, he comes back to regain his success.
Story 3: An extremely talented musical group rises from rags to riches. In-fighting causes them to split. They eventually unite for one final hurrah.
These three stories have been repeated infinite times in the history of Bollywood. And really, there is no novelty in them anymore. The film in discussion - Dance Dance - stands out not because it used any of the above plots but because it used all three!

However, before we get into the detailed description of the plot and scenes, a brief background is necessary.

A lot of people worship Mithun nowadays as Prabhuji and his later films have found a cult following on the 'net. These films - which proliferated literally by the dozens in the mid-1990s - were darlings of the distributors because they were commercially super-successful and rewarded their investors manifold.

But the seeds of Mithun's divinity were sown much before these films. It started off somewhere in the early 80s, when B Subhash directed the movie Disco Dancer with Mithun Chakraborty in the lead and it became a monster hit. Bappi Lahiri’s music and Mithun’s sinewy dance moves became the toast of every Ganpati / Durga Puja pandal in the country and we had the country’s first male dancing star (not counting V Shantaram)!

A couple of years after Disco Dancer, the same actor-director-composer trio came together for Dance Dance – which became an even bigger hit than the earlier movie. This was the late 80s when people were still unsure about the difference between ‘disco’ and ‘rock’ and teenagers believed that being able to ‘break dance’ is the ultimate sign of coolness!


The film opens with an impoverished family of four - musician parents and their son and daughter. The parents are about to leave for a musical show, which is supposed to bring in 'dher sara paisa' and solve their woes. The son - suffering from fever - is a halwa fan (hint - hit song ahead!) and in an attempt to divert his sorrow at the parting, a container of halwa is thrust in his hand. A heartless landlord appears magically to demand rent and on being told to wait, he promptly snatches the halwa from the kid and vanishes. Logic: rent defaulters don't get their just desserts.

Just before the parents hop on to an auto rickshaw (from the same set where the TV serial Nukkad was shot), the son hands over a letter to the mom and asks her to open it when she is on stage!


The parents and their dance troupe are supposed to perform in front of the Maharajah of Jalpaiguri (huh?) - a role essayed by Amrish Puri with a silver mane and his customary gusto. The son message turns out that he wants his mother to sing a song which starts with Zu Zu Zubi Zubi Zubi. (Double huh!)

Anyway, the mother promptly starts off on a ritzy ditty, which goes Mera dil gaye ja Zu Zu Zubi Zubi Zubi / Masti mein gaye ja Zu Zu Zubi Zubi Zubi... which is all fine except the Maharajah of Jalpaiguri has developed the hots for her! So, all through the song, he fantasises bumping his substantial cheeks on her voluminous hips with his usual eye-enlargement-as-lewdness trick. The mother tries to inject a bit of seriousness with words like masti mein chur ameeri, bebas majboor gareebi and patthar dil daulat waale but when a song ends with words like Zu Zu Zubi Zubi Zubi, Amrish Puri's hormones are bound to go into an overdrive.

The song ends. They leave for Bombay (presumably with the dher sara paisa). Their bus is hijacked by Rajasaheb's henchmen. They are made to perform in front of Rajah. Rajah tries to act out his fantasies. Father (on keyboards, hitherto unseen) behaves in true Bollywood fashion i.e. protests meekly and gets bumped off. Mother runs off into the Jungles of Jalpaiguri. Bus blown up and news of parents' demise spread through newspapers.

800 words... and we have just gone past the titles.


The heartless landlord (see above) returns this time with a copy of the newspaper and chucks out the siblings. To increase the HWS (Heart Wrench Score), the boy now has high fever and no halwa. The sister manages to carry him to Juhu beach, while he is mumbling for halwa. Only in Hindi cinema do we see orphans with high fever pining for gaajar ka halwa, boondi ke laddoo and such ghee-laden monstrosities.

In an attempt to show that the boy's twin passions are halwa and dance, the kid is made to totter through a couple of (presumably) disco steps. And a passerby is impressed enough to throw a coin. The sis picks up coin and...

Poignant Dialogue (by sis): Ramu (oh - did I mention that the bro's name is Ramu? No? Well, I just did!), halwa khane ke liye paisa kamaana padega. Aur paisa kamaane ke liye tujhe dance karna padega... Dance Dance.

Song Situation: Aa gaya, aa gaya halwa-wala aa gaya / Rang jamaane aa gaya / Dhoom machane aa gaya...


In between the song - exactly at a jazzy musical interlude - the small legs of the brother segues into the white-shoe-clad, white-trousers-encased snazzy legs of Mithun as he sings a disco-version of the Halwa-wala song, dressed up as Santa Claus!

This is also the time to introduce the 'heroine' of the film - who is not the love interest of the hero, but his sister. The posters proclaimed 'See dear Smita Patil in her last role' and people who remember the magnificent actress from Arth, Khandahar and Bhumika should see Dance Dance because she matched Mithun step for step, lip-synch for lip-synch in this film. Her awkwardness in filmy dancing (so visible in Namak Halal) was all gone.

During the course of this song and a couple of scenes, we are introduced to Mithun and his band. Mithun is the lead performer, Smita provides supporting vocalists and Shakti 'Casting Couch' Kapoor on drums. There may have been a few other assorted characters as well but there was no answer to the plaintive cries of 'who's the bassist?'


Smita - also the brain behind the band - decides that they needed to make some money pronto and they devise a plan to entertain a very exclusive and stiff-upper-lip club. Now, for some strange reason, the club seems to have only Parsi members.

Anyway, POA is Smita dresses up as a rich dowager and plants herself as a member. Mithun and Shakti sneak in and shake a mean leg. Club members are suitably impressed and tip them large amounts of money. Err... but why is Smita dressed up as a member? Offoh... so that she can start the tipping process as 'one of them' and the others can join in.

Song Situation: Everybody dance with pa.pa.pa / Everybody dance with maa.maa.

Highlight: When the ancient Parsi community stares at Mithun's steps bewildered, he says - "You don't know break dance? Okay - tequila!" And the famous tat.tara.tat.tara music starts off and the bawas join in enthusiastically.


Now, it dawns on the band (which either has no name or I have no memory) that the above money-earning tactic has achieved only one thing - add one more hit song to the film. So, they decide to enter a Disco Championship, which is the rough equivalent of Indian Idol in the 80s. Or so it looks like. Except that it has two hitches.

One, they band has to kow-tow to Dalip Tahil to enter the contest.

Two, a band led by a singer called Janita (not to be mistaken for Janitor) seems destined to win.

You can add a third to the list - Dalip Tahil has the hots for the aforementioned Janita, played with mini-skirted aplomb by Mandakini.


Obviously, in true filmi tradition, Mithun and gang sneak in from the service entrance and crash the show - right after a superb performance by Mandy and Co (of the only song in the film, which I have forgotten which means it can't be that good a performance). And whatay performance they give... man oh man, whatay performance!

Song Situation: Super Dancer (pronounced: Soup-ah Dyan-sah) nachenge nachenge / Super Dance gayenge gayenge

In the only song he sings in the film, composer Bappi Lahiri surpasses himself and comes up with a rendition that would occupy positions 1 to 100 in the Rock'n'Roll Hall of Fame. Only if they agreed to count this song as rock.

Important Info: All the songs of the film are sung by Vijay Benedict and Alisha Chinai, both in one of their earliest films. Vijay seems to have vanished into thin air but Ms Chinai is still going strong.


Post this Soup-ah performance, Ramu promptly becomes Romeo and the band becomes the hottest property in tinsel town. Having lost this all-important contest, the super-hot Janita vanishes into oblivion and Dalip Tahil eats tonnes of humble pie. Because Romeo now insists on taking pie pie ka hisaab. Har har...

1600 words and we are at around the interval now.

Romeo and sis move into swanky bungalow. Kaamyabi kiss their toes. Romeo learns to drink.
Poignant dialogue: Bachpan mein jab paani mangta tha, gaaliyan milti thi. Ab paani mangne se whiskey milti hain.
Drummer Shakti spotted getting fresh with sis. Romeo about to beat him to a pulp when sis guiltily confesses love for drummer. Undoubtedly, the lowest point of Smita's cinematic career, this is where indulgent Romeo agrees to the marriage. In standard filmi tradition, sis gives up showbiz and embraces happy matrimony. For some reason, drummer-husband also follows suit. Sneaking suspicion that Shakti Kapoor - hitherto heroic - might just live up to his image.

Romeo - after a drunken binge (Fast learner! See alcohol initiation, three lines above.) - walks into a shady bar. The cabaret artist is eminently recognisable and she professes her ambition to emulate Romeo one day.
Song Situation: Romeo oh Romeo. Jaaneman, tum number one ho / Har jawaan dil ki dhadkan ho / Hain sitarein tum par meherbaan / Tum ho tum to hum bhi hum hain / Hum nahin tum se kuch kam hain / Tum jahan jo jaane jana / Hum ko bhi aana hain kal wahaan...
Romeo may be drunk but he recognises thighs like that at two hundred paces. Janita - after her spectacular defeat - is reduced to being a Janitor (almost). She now dances at, well, dance bars.
Romeo feels guilty/horny enough to offer her a position in his band, a room in his house and a ventricle in his heart. Mandy moves in before we can say B Subhash.

Parallel Plot: Shakti Kapoor starts doing what he normally does in films and sometimes, even in real life.
He has affairs. Actually, he sleeps with his molls in his own bedroom while Smita Patil serves tea. You had heard of threesomes. Now, this is a tea-some. He beats up Smita when she meekly protests. He asks for money from Romeo. And if all that is not enough, he struts around in his underwear.
Smita covers up blackened eye and asks for money. Romeo threatens to beat up Shakti but pays up. Smita covers up bloodied nose and asks for money. Romeo threatens to beat up Shakti but pays up. Smita dabs at swollen lips... you get the picture, right?
Oh, if you are wondering why Romeo pays up, then you must be Bhishma Pitamaha. In modern Hindi cinema, nobody messes with
behen ka suhaag.
In between all this brutality, Smita announces pregnancy. Her real-life pregnancy was becoming a little too difficult to hide by now. Shakti is overjoyed and whips her with a belt.
Close up: Belt hitting Smita's stomach.
Predictable Scene: Smita dies in childbirth. Child is still born.
Shakti is flipping through a magazine at home. Blazing-eyed Mithun enters.
Shakti:
Tum kyon aaye ho?
Mithun (my favourite dialogue):
Doctor ne kaha kisi ne Smita ko bedardi se mara hain. Main tumhe bedardi ka matlab samjhane aaya hoon.

After the bedardi-ka-matlab-samjhane-wala-pitaai, Shakti becomes repentant. Mithun becomes alcoholic. Mandakini becomes maudlin. With Mithun downing Black Label straight from the tap, it is up to Mandy to do the shows and bring in the moolah. She does this a great show of sorrow and cleavage.
Song Situation: Yaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaar mera kho gaya / Pyaaaaaaaaaaaaaaar mera kho gaya
Important Plot Point: Romeo's liver has shrunk to the size of a raisin by now and any attempts at dancing (or so I remember) may aggravate the already naazuk haalaat.
Inter-cut with the above song (sung by Alisha in the trademark quivering-voice of Asha)
are scenes of Maharajah of Jalpaiguri. All of you who are still overcome at the thought of Smita's death, you would do well to go back to Para #2 and refresh your memories. Impressively enough, Maharajah (not to be confused with Maharaja of Behala) still has lascivious thoughts about nubile nymphets and wants to invite this specimen of feminity to Jalpaiguri!

Either Mandy has bad feelings about the Rajah or she has had enough of Romeo sitting on his ass and guzzling whisky, she inspires him to return to the stage... at Jalpaiguri! When Romeo stares at her balefully despite her flashing spirit, thighs and cleavage in sequence, she decides to move on. For the show. Not from the relationship, silly!
When her van is on the way to Jalpaiguri (which, incidentally, has a train and air station in real life but not used in this film), a hijack attempt is made. However, this time a spooky figure in a spotless white sari emerges from the jungles and AK-47s. They are the Maharaja's henchmen. They obviously had great respect for their 30-year old hijacking trick but had not bargained for Romeo's Mom hanging around the jungles for so long!
YES, Mom-Lovers, YES! The mom, whom we had given up for the dead, is not dead after all and is ready to shake a mean machine gun once again.
By this time, Romeo has also reached Jalpaiguri. He has regained his natural narrow-eyed, pointy-lipped coolness. He embraces his mother and promises to avenge her
be-izzati. And, he has decided to throw caution to the winds and dance like there's no tomorrow. Dance at the bloke's function who he has to kill to avenge his mother's misfortune. Don't fret... Hindi films' strength are its set pieces, not the bloody logic.

Song Situation: Zindagi mera dance dance (pronounced: dhnyanns dhnyanns)
Mithun dresses up in a zebra-striped costume with gloves upto his elbows. There is strobe lighting. There is repentant Shakti, singing in the aisles. There is doting mom doing the
nazar utaaro act in the wings.
And there is a purported cirrhosis of the liver. So, during the particularly tricky moves, Mithun supposedly has tremendous pain in his liver and holds on to his right flank!
Net net, all's well that ends well. People die of happiness seeing Romeo come back. Shakti dies catching a bullet intended for Romeo. Amrish dies because he needs to give his enlarged eyeballs some rest.
And the audience goes home in a state of ecstatic delirium.

I have seen this film just once. And despite that some twenty years later, I remember reasonably large chunks of the film in scene-by-scene detail. Quite amazing, this points out the pull of a seemingly hackneyed plot, charisma of the lead stars and the melody of Bappi Lahiri's music.
And even after writing reams, I still have not told you that Shakti Kapoor's name is Resham. Or, Mithun calls Dalip Tahil Banjo sahab. In one scene, Mithun mistakes a lightning bolt as a photo flash and poses. Mithun gets an agent called David (played by Om Shivpuri). Even in Disco Dancer, he had an agent called David (played by Om Puri). So on and so forth...
Such is the Mithun magentism. Hallelujah!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

James Bond, RIP

I saw a very good action film last Sunday. It was called Quantum of Solace.
Before the film, I was led to believe that this was the latest in the James Bond series but evidently that was not correct.

In the opening scenes, the hero (in an Aston Martin) evades three villainous cars behind him in a breathtaking display of vehicular stunts over a rugged terrain. At the end of the adrenaline pumping sequence, he opens the boot of the car to reveal an abducted man and says, "Time to get out".
In another scene, a beautiful Secret Service agent tells our hero that if he tries any funny business, she would have him chained and jailed. In response, the hero smiles and says, "we will see about that." His companion almost prods him - "Does she have handcuffs?" And our hero laboriously says, "I am banking on it."

FOR GOD'S SAKE, IS THIS WHAT JAMES BOND - THE JAMES BOND - SUPPOSED TO SAY AND DO?

Does anybody among the producers and directors even know what James Bond stands for? Is it only having gigantic sets, orchestrated car crashes and killing megalomaniacs intent on world domination?
If I wanted to total a desert hideout of a villain, I would employ Schwarzenegger and a machine gun. If I wanted to kill millions of enemy soldiers, one Stallone is more than enough. Jumping over buildings is something Vin Diesel does in his sleep. Hell, if I wanted to disintegrate Pakistan, there is always Sunny Deol and his hand pump.
But when James Bond kills a villain with a spear gun, I don't expect him to stop there and gasp for breath. I expect him to say, "I think he's got the point." And then, maybe adjust his tux.
Or when he electrocutes a villain, he finds it "Shocking, positively shocking."
This is why I go to see a Bond movie.

Bond is supposed to terminate mega-villains. Effortlessly. He is supposed to have a gun (a smart Walther PPK, not an ugly machine gun) in one hand and a stunning woman draped on the other. He is supposed to know about the finer things in life. And he has to - has to, has to - have a sense of humour.
Also, if the stunning lady has a stunning name, it will be kinda cute!

So you have Pussy Galore. Holly Goodhead. Plenty O'Toole. Xania Onatopp. May Day. Honey Rider.
And you have Dr Christmas Jones (in The World is Not Enough) about whom Bond famously remarked during an intimate encounter, "And I thought Christmas comes only once a year..."
In Quantum (probably for the first time in the history of Bond movies), the real name (Olga Kurlyenko) of the actress playing the Bond Girl was more exotic than her screen name (Camille). And in an act of supreme sacrilege, a second girl is steadfastly referred to as Agent Fields. Only in the titles is it mentioned that her full name is actually Strawberry Fields.
Bloody hell!
Of course, when Craig kisses her back in an allegedly passionate scene, he does it the way people taste pasta sauce off a very hot ladle. If he is supposed to be charming by just flashing his eight-pack (or is it sixteen-pack?) abs, then somebody has very wrong ideas about the series.

Bond is supposed to be a little heartless about women.
In Tomorrow Never Dies, he left Paris (the girl, not the city!) for several years after going out by saying, "I'll be right back." He had just one love story - when he married Teresa in On Her Majesty's Secret Service - and he is supposed to be a suave rake all through.
To show a person who is grieving for his dead girlfriend for two movies, you need to have Hugh Grant who can mumble and stutter through his non-existent one-liners.
For heaven's sake, Bond got over his wife's death in half a film.

Bond villains are supposed to be big enough.
They try to rob an entire country's gold reserves. They attempt to start wars between superpowers. They try to siphon off billions of barrels of oil. They make off with satellites and nuclear bombs.
And in Quantum, we have a villain who looks like our Engineering Mechanics professor from college and whose ambitions are not any higher. I am not divulging the apparent ambitions of Dominic Greene to avoid spoilers but either I misunderstood the plot or a self-respecting MLA from UP has larger designs than him.
Where is Goldfinger's son? Or Dr No's surviving henchman? Can they please come back and try to assassinate Barack Obama on January 20th?

Dear Producers of Bond Movies -
Do you even realise why we like to see Bond movies? Because he is a childhood hero. He does EVERYTHING that we can never do. Smart guns. Snazzy cars. State-of-the-art gadgets. Stupendous looking women. Unbelievably powerful villains. And he handles all of them so bloody well. We can never do any of this and therefore, we look forward to the escapism of two hours.
Maybe this Bond film (thanks to the absolutely brilliant marketing and PR) will just shovel in the dough by getting millions of women and Van Damme fans to see something they want to see. But for little boys in their mid-30s, it is the loss of yet another childhood hero.
As if that was not enough, even Sachin may retire in another couple of years...

For some convoluted reason understandable to only ladies and Ross Geller, Daniel Craig never says the signature line in the film. Before I saw the film, it was a bit disappointing to know that the iconic line would not be there.
Now, I feel it is a blessed relief. Because the handsome man in the tuxedo could have been anybody in the world but not Bond, James Bond.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Man Who Never Listened to Anybody

Twelve years ago, for the first time in my life, I delayed going to a dinner to watch a cricket match. I was trying to catch an Indian scoring a century. My interest was not because the player was a fellow Bengali but because he was being reviled all over India as a 'quota candidate'. I remembered wondering if he was aware of the caustic reactions back home as he went about his silken cover drives. Seeing his winning smiles after each boundary, I concluded that he couldn't have. Nobody can perform under that kind of pressure.
But then, I did not know anything about Sourav Ganguly.

The Chairman of Selectors makes a public comment that he would not pick Sourav as long as he was alive! And yet, he does.
A highly respected international cricketer calls him a liar, mentally and physically unfit to play in the Indian team, let alone lead it. And yet, he comes back.
Sourav's poor running between the wickets. His obvious weakness against the rising delivery. His (initially) non-existent on-side play. All these shortcomings came to a nought when balance against that one thing that is being advertised by Dhoni these days - Zidd!

Over the years, I have had many favourite Ganguly moments... his zero-follow-through fours during his debut Test. His languorous sixes during the monumental 183. The raising of the bat after the incredible century in Brisbane. His wry smile after his half-century in the comeback at South Africa. His shy wave after the Nagpur victory.
But my favourite moment is the one which happened a few minutes after the most famous Sourav moment.
Everybody remembers Sourav taking off his shirt in the Lord's balcony (My son was there!) and screaming expletives while twirling it. What people don't discuss is right after that, he charged into the playing field and leaped onto Kaif in an alomost-deadly embrace, pinning the lad to the ground in an obviously painful gesture!
And that's what Sourav was all about. He discovered, developed and trusted an impressive line-up of Indian cricketers with a ferocity that commanded undying loyalty. He abused them on-field, he pushed them to the limits, he crushed them with his demands - but they lived and died for him. When Sourav was in the wilderness and he was the official persona non grata of the BCCI, at least three of his proteges (Yuvraj, Harbhajan and Sehwag) were publicly reprimanded by the Board for speaking their minds.
Gavaskar, Tendulkar, Kapil Dev were great players but each one of them fell short of being great captains. While their leading from the front was undeniably good, they either lacked the vision (Kapil) or the objectivity (Gavaskar) required to build a long-lasting, high-performing team. Even the Great Sachin was guilty of carrying on with Bombay players of questionable quality (including childhood friend Vinod Kambli) in the team.

With close to 20000 runs in international cricket, Sourav can easily claim to be among the foremost batsmen of India but definitely not among the greatest, whose legacy carries on beyond their cricketing lifetime.
Only as a captain, he stands unparalleled for having taken over the reins at the darkest hour of the nation's sporting history and turning out the only team in the world which can beat Australia regularly. The same team lost to Bangladesh as well... but then, Sourav is nothing if he is not unpredictable!

As he rides into the sunset, a thought struck me. Sourav is Sourav because he never did what others expected him to do. His debut. His captaincy. His successes. His failures. Everything was contrary to the expectations at the time.
We expected him to cut a sorry figure in the swinging pitches of '96 England. As a 'quota-candidate' becoming the captain, we expected him to load the team with Bengal teammates.
We expected him to crumble at the 'mental disintegration' of the Aussies. We expected him to be hounded out in the wilderness by a foreign coach, partisan selectors and their cronies.
He did the exact opposite.
Even in his last match, we expected him to equal Greg Chappell by scoring a century. He equalled Sir Don Bradman instead!

Now, we are waiting for him to write books, start coaching schools, captain Kolkata Knight Riders and appear as commentator. If his past is any indication, Sourav is not stopping at any of those.
He is plotting a comeback for the Fab Five. Imagine Kumble as the Indian coach, with Dravid as the batting consultant. Sachin is the Chairman of selectors and Laxman the South Zone representative.
And who do you think will be the BCCI President then?

See you soon, Dada!

Sunday, November 02, 2008

India Shining

From a window overlooking the Marine Drive thirty years ago, a dock worker looked out and relived the miserable times when he and his family were poor and unfed on the streets of Bombay.

From the same window last week, a supermodel looked out and saw her own face on a billboard for India's premier fashion label.

How the country has changed!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Epics in 55

In response to a comment on this post, here are my 55-word takes on the two epics. Surprisingly, Ramayan was more difficult.
Now, making it infant-friendly in about 1000 words does not look all that daunting.Guess what? Mahabharat has 18 parvas. I will do each one in 55 words, bringing the total to 990!

Paandavs and Kauravs are paternal first cousins. Kauravs hate Paandavs, as they would inherit the throne. They defeat Paandavs in a rigged game of dice and have them exiled. When the Paandavs return, the Kauravs don’t return their rightful kingdom and a battle ensues. In the battle, the Paandavs vanquish Kauravs and ascend the throne.

Prince Ram’s stepmother forces King Dasarath to exile him, so that her son can become king. Ram leaves the kingdom with wife, Seeta, and younger brother, Laxman. In the exile, Rakshas King Raavan abducts Seeta. Ram goes to find her, assisted by an army of monkeys. Ram kills Raavan in a battle and reclaims Seeta.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Bas Yudi... A Dharma Productions Venture

Imagine never lying. NEVER. Never inflating your salary. Never deflating your weight. Never calling home from a pub to say you are working late. Yudhishthir did just that. Except for one - just one friggin' - time in his entire life, he never lied.
Of course, people completely lose sight of that because he lost his entire kingdom, brothers and wife in a game of dice - which he did not cheat in. But the moot point seems to be that he didn't stop either! He went all the way, ignoring all advice. And when Bheem wanted to pummel everybody present for - well - being present, he calmed him by saying "Shaant, Gada-dhari Bheem, shaant". So now you know where my knowledge of the epics are derived from!

BTW, he lost twice.
The first time was the famous episode - which ended with losing his entire kingdom, riches, brothers and wife. For good measure, Draupadi was almost stripped in full view of the court. But the elders managed to convince Dhritarashtra to give it all back to maintain peace, which was done.
Having done this, Duryodhan and Co. felt all their machinations have been in vain and convinced Dhritarashtra to call Yudi back for one final game. The loser would go on an exile for 12 years, followed by one year of incognito exile. If anybody identified them as the Paandavs during that final one year, they would have repeat the 12-year exile! Knowing fully well that he is going to be had (and really bad!), Mr Elder Bro came back and duly lost the game. All because his code of honour did not permit him to refuse an elder.

Despite all this monumentally stupid things, Yudhishthir's biggest strength - as the son of the Dharma - was the fairness in all his dealings and also his knowledge.
When the five brothers and Draupadi renounced the world and left for their mahaprasthaan, a dog followed them.
During the long walk to the heavens (!), each of the lead characters passed away as all of them had one fatal flaw which prevented their entry into the heavens in their mortal body. For every fall, Bheem asked Yudhishthir the reason and the eldest Paandav dispassionately listed them down.
Draupadi fell first. "She loved Arjun more than her other husbands."
Sahadev was next. "His good looks made him excessively vain."
Nakul after that. "He was so proud of his intelligence that he was dismissive of other people's knowledge."
Arjun. "He repeatedly claimed to be able to wipe off all his enemies in a day, which he was not capable of."
Bheem was the last to fall. "You were uncontrollably fond of food and did not think of others."
As everyone knows, the canine companion stuck on till the very end and Yudhishthir refused to enter heaven without him. The doggy manifested himself as Dharma himself and Yudi gained tonnes of brownie points for his honourable behaviour.
But frankly, this was nothing but common sense. When you see your ultra-virtuous family members popping it on the way to heaven and the doggy carrying on, you should logically conclude that it is no ordinary dog.

However, Yudi's crowning glory - in my book at least - came towards the fag end of their exile.
The tired brothers reached a resting place within the forest and were very thirsty. Sahadev went in search of water. He soon reached a beautiful lake of sparkling water. He was about to drink from it and take back some for his brothers when a stork called out to him. The stork warned that if Sahadev drank the water without answering his questions, he would die. Sahadev smirked at this claim, took a gulp of water and dropped dead. Nakul followed and met with the same fate. Ditto for Arjun and Bheem.

Note 1
: The brothers always attempted stuff in reverse chronological order. See mahaprasthaan above.
Note 2: If the later brothers thought the stork was bluffing despite seeing dead bodies around the lake, they couldn't have been the brightest lights in the harbour.

Anyway, now our man - Yudi - arrives and realises this is no ordinary stork (doggy logic, see above). So, what follows is a wonderful Q&A between the stork and Yudhishthir as the eldest Paandav answered all the questions with a little bit of style and a lot of earthy common sense. Some excerpts...

Q: Why is a Brahmin respected? What is his strength? Why are they human? What is their failing?
A: He is respected for his knowledge of the Vedas. His strength is from his tapasya. Their death makes them human. Their failing is criticism of others.

Q: Why is a Kshatriya respected? What is his strength? Why are they human? What is their failing?
A: He is respected for his mastery over weapons. His strength is from his yagna. Their fear makes them human. Their failing is desertion of the weak.

Q: What is heavier than the earth?
A: Mother is heavier than the earth.

Q: What is higher than the heavens?
A: Father is higher than the heavens.

Q: What is faster than the wind?
A: The mind is faster than the wind.

Q: What's more numerous than grass?
A: Worries are more numerous than grass.

Q: Who sleeps with eyes open?
A: Fish sleeps with eyes open.

Q: Who remains static even after birth?
A: An egg is static after birth.

Q: Who grows by his own force?
A: A river grows by his own force.

Q: What's strange?
A: People are dying all around us. Despite that, we want to live till eternity. This is strange.

Q: What's news?
A: Using Sun as fire, day and night as fuel and seasons as ladle, Time cooks the entire living world... this is news!

Q: Who is happy?
A: Someone who manages to feed himself every evening without having to stay away from home or having to borrow is happy.

At the end of this gruelling session, the stork told Yudi that he was pleased enough to revive one of his four brothers.
Yudi asked for Nakul.
Yaake, Nakul drink????, asked the stork. Why not the valiant Arjun or the mighty Bheem?
Yudi replied that the Paandavs have two mothers - Kunti and Madri, whom they treated equally in all respects. His being alive meant that Kunti had one son left and Nakul's revival would mean even Madri would have one son left.
Taaliyaan... exclaimed the stork, promptly turned into Dharma and revived all the four brothers.
Now Yudi was nothing if he was not one to use up his brownie points. He remembered that the twelve years of exile was almost up and they needed to spend one more year incognito and Duryodhan would do everything in his power to find them in this one year. So, he asked Dharam Papa for a boon... and as per the boon, nobody would recognise the five brothers and Draupadi in the thirteenth year!

So, what happened in the thirteenth year? That's a story for another day.

I have just imported Rajshekhar Basu's translation of the Mahabharat from Calcutta. Bought on 19 August 1989, I have read this book countless times. It has to be the most lucid translation of the Epic - complete with a wonderful introduction by the translator, who has to be one of the most talented authors in Bengali.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Random Movies I Like: Loha

Chatting about the recent economic meltdown, a friend and I feared for our favourite business enterprise - the Indian film industry.
If in this suffocating atmosphere of layoffs and budget cuts, corporates spending godzillion rupees on Hindi cinema decide to cut down, what a mess it might be! All the multi-crore deals for the top stars would be out of the window... and Nilendu predicted that we may see a return of the 80's style cut-price multi-starrrers like Sultanat, Shaandaar, Mahasangram, Love 86, Ajooba, Vardi and the like.
These wonderful films had at least two sets of leading pairs, a leather-clad villain, at least one song in false rain, mechanical crocodiles, motorboat chases, jail-break from a place that looks not unlike Delhi Zoo, college functions starring 30-year old extras in skirts and item numbers in country liquor bars.
This kind of discussion always makes me nostalgic and it made me reminisce about one of my favourite films of that genre - Loha.

Dharmendra is a police officer, who gets suspended when he arrests a politician. Shatrughan Sinha is an ex-army officer who gambles for a living and is a part-time Robin Hood, who gives away his earnings to poor people needing to marry off their daughters. Karan Kapoor is a drug peddler, who is convinced that the drugs he peddles are 'harmless'. So when he sees a client drop dead because of an overdose, he kills his boss. Just the trio you need to escort a gang of death row convicts to freedom.
Why? Oh you bloody pedants - that's because dacoit Shera (Amrish Puri) has kidnapped a busload of tourists and is demanding the release of his arrested chums as ransom.
Of course, there are complications like Shatrughan's son (Jugal Hansraj) also getting kidnapped by Shera. A Police Commissioner's daughter being in the tourist bus. The government refusing to release the convicts so the trio doing a jailbreak. And of course, there is the matter of Shatrughan Sinha's name, which goes something like Nawab Qasim Ali Badruddin Ali Hassan Ali Jalaluddin Ahmed Jung Bahadur.

I liked this film because of many reasons.

* Firstly, the cast was loaded. Anybody who was registered under the Cine Artists' Association in late 80's was part of the film.
Apart from the three heroes, there were Mandakini, Madhavi, Amrish Puri, Jagdish Raaj, Raza Murad, Yunus Parvez and Kader Khan in speaking parts. In addition, almost each of the convicts was a known face - Macmohan, Tej Sapru, Joginder, Roopesh Kumar and Praveen Kumar (Bheem from the Mahabharat TV serial).

* The film was a mega-budget one by those day's standards. They actually went outdoors to shoot sequences in Shera's den and even one railway station where Karan was saved by Dharmendra and Shatru from the drug lord's henchmen.
The jail was however the same place where Shatru used some horses to save Raakhee in Shaan and Amitabh hijacked Amjad Khan's gold consignment in Kaalia.

* They used sex, violence and songs exactly the way they should be used - gratuitously.
When the depraved convicts are transferred from the jail to Shera's den, the heroines help out - by wearing hot pants and mini skirts. And when they are left all alone with the convicts, they divert their attention by singing and dancing.

* They made really absurd plot devices completely absorbing.
As part of his demand, Shera dictates that each one of his convict pals must reach him alive. So, when one of the convicts is shot in a crossfire, the three heroes desperately try to revive him - while Joginder is contorting his face (like only he can!) in the background. A kidnapped tourist is given a chance to escape by Amrish, but only because he wanted to check out the aim of his newly acquired telescopic-rifle and he shoots him as he goes beyond a certain distance.

* They had high-octane, super-charged action sequences.
In one scene, Shatru demolishes a gambling den to take his rightful winnings. In another, Dharmendra literally hammers a goon into the ground. Even the frail-and-firangi Karan Kapoor stuffs a packet of cocaine into a drug lord's mouth with such panache as if it was a doctor inserting a thermometer in a patient's mouth.

Nowadays - thanks to the astronomical star salaries - we have forgotten what multi-starrers look like. All the major films of the last few years have just about one lead pair and some assorted newcomers / character artistes. Of course, the other lament is that the concept of character artistes has evaporated.
Action directors are from Los Angeles. Locations are in Manila (for small budget films) and Miami (for big budget films). Choreographers are from Paris. Script sessions are in London. Stylists parade the 'look' of each film in Lakme Fashion Week. Even actresses are from Brazil.

Loha
was shot almost entirely in Filmistan, occassionally venturing out to Madh Island and Lonavla.
It did not have a bound script but the director knew the story by heart and so did we. The dialogue writer (Kader Khan) had a role, so that he could write the lines on the sets.
Even the fight-masters acted as the villain's sidekicks.
The heroines wore clothes they couldn't have worn anywhere in civil society, but they were probably used in several other films - all thanks to the monopoly of Maganlal Dresswallah.
And it was probably funded by the underworld, for all I know...

It is ironic that when these films were made, we used to crib that there is hardly any variety in Bollywood. Now, I am complaining of excessive variety!
Sigh... it has been such a long time since I saw a film with Sound Recording by Hitendra Ghosh (Rajkamal Kalamandir).

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Time waits for no one. True love waits forever.

The cheesy-for-some-romantic-for-most title line is actually a tagline for a Mel Gibson film, Forever Young. In the film, young Mel is in undying love with a girl, who has a 'fatal' accident. Heartbroken Mel gives himself up for a science project which has virtually no chances of success. Crazy bugger! For the project, he is cryogenically frozen and forgotten immediately afterwards. When he is accidentally revived some twenty years later, he is still a chirpy mid-twenty guy. And he comes across his old girlfriend, who had survived after all and is now married, dowdy and aghast at Mel's youthfulness.
There is no reason really for telling this story but then, there is no reason for most of the things on this blog... For example, why do I keep Udayan on the blogroll when he has not posted for the last millennium?

This post is an attempt to collate some wonderful, some arbitrary, some crappy taglines from movies. Some of them are obvious. Some of them are high philosophy. And some of them are simply better than the movies themselves!
I have a green diary from my college days, that is literally falling apart. Most of these quotes are from that vintage and I needed to preserve them before the diary disintegrated totally.
Readers are urged to add taglines from newer movies.

So, here are some of the better ones. Which incorporate a significant element of the plot and inject as much curiosity as possible! 

Robinhood: Prince of Thieves - For the love of all men. And one woman. He fought to uphold justice. By breaking the law. 

Psycho - Please don't give away the ending. It's the only one we have. 

Mississippi Masala - Love is colour blind. 

Cape Fear - There's nothing in the dark that isn't in the light. Except fear. 

Mrs Doubtfire - She does floors. She cooks dinner. She reads bedtime stories. She is a blessing in disguise. 

Pulp Fiction - You will never know the facts until you know the fiction. 

Alien - In space, no one can hear you scream. 

Anaconda - When you can't breath, you can't scream. 

Sommersby (starring Jodie Foster and Richard Gere in a film about the latter returning home after being given up for dead and Jodie does not find him at all like the husband she knew) - She knew his face. His voice. His touch. She knew everything about him. Except the truth. 

Bollywood has been quite unimaginative in coining taglines. The best example of that is the line for Main Khiladi Tu Anari (starring Akshay Kumar and Saif) - The Brave and The Brat!
Otherwise, it is either hyperbole (The Most Powerful Film Ever Made - Parinda and A Love Story of Epic Dimensions - 1942 A Love Story, both Vidhu Vinod Chopra!), literal translation (Paths of Fire - Agneepath) or plain & simple un-imagination (A Violent Love Story - Tezaab and Darr. 
Very rarely do we have a simple line which sums up the film without giving away the plot. Dil Hain Ke Manta Nahin had one such - A Journey into a Woman's Heart. Considering that they did not have spend any time thinking of a story, they obviously spent time thinking of the tagline! 
And my favourite? Jugal Hansraj's adult debut with his Masoom co-star, Urmila, was a film called Aa Gale Lag Ja. It advertised itself by saying - Never before a Love Story with 7 Songs and 11 Murders... 
How can you not want to see a movie like this? 

Gladiators in the Arena

Pointless post, propagating violence, bad language and boorish behaviour. Only JU students, past and present, may be able to relate.

My alma-mater had three faculties - Arts, Science and Engineering.
Arts had beautiful girls (is there any other kind?), effeminate boys and the collective sighing of the frustrated Engineering guys (again, is there any other kind?) ensured a constant storm blew across the faculty.
Science was bit of an unknown quantity - of which I wouldn't even have aware of if my good friends Anirban & Sujata had not been students.
Engineering was the hotbed (pun not intended) of activity, being the home base of a few thousand technically-inclined, hormonally-charged, muscular people. Most of them were totally unable to comprehend how girls fell for wimps who recited Pablo Neruda and had no time for macho men who thought nothing of hammering a cast iron flange for three hours straight.

Our professors came from an even sterner stock and considered AC offices to be a sure sign of pansy occupants. Anybody who has not installed a cooling tower in peak summer at a Jamnagar construction site is obviously not fit to live, they thought. As I write these lines, I get a feeling that people must be wondering if Engineers are a modern version of Spartans.
For those of you who have, let me hasten to add that this is completely inaccurate. Only Mechanical Engineers fall in that haloed category.

For these modern-day Spartans to flex their sporting muscles, there was an aptly named tournament called Arena.
For outsiders, it was a cricket tournament. For the Electronics department, it was a time to hide. For Chemical, it was time to show off that they had the maximum girls in the department. For Electrical, it was time to show off that they had really good cricketers. And for Mechanical, it was a time to pulverise the rest of the Engineering faculty into dust, swallow them with a gulp of Thums Up and pee it out in the centre of the pitch.
And in the four years I was there, Mechanical Engineering never lost a match in Arena.
Before anybody tries to protest at what seems like an exaggeration, let me add that we never let anybody finish a match we had the remotest chance of losing.

Mechanical and Electrical were the two largest departments on campus - with about 100 students in each year, making it about 400 in all. Apart from the obvious advantage of having the largest talent pools, Mechanical had an advantage over Electrical and everyone else.
We had the most skewed gender ratio in the entire University. At any point during my four years of college, there were never more than four women in our department - and that included the two librarians!
So, when it came to a scrape or a shout, Mechanical males swamped the Electrical by about 3:2. And in terms of expletive-shouting males, we swamped them about 10:1 because any Electrical boy nurturing even the slightest hopes of having a girlfriend in the department would die before uttering anything that questions somebody else's parentage.

So, every single Arena followed a predictable path for Mechanical.

First Match
: vs Electronics. Mech scores 150 odd in 20 overs, which was quite monumental in those pre-T20 days. Bundles out Elec for 70 in about 15 overs. Match watched by about 350 Mechs and 20 (including the team) Electronics junta. Mech thoroughly demotivated by this unequal match.

Second Match: vs Metallurgy (or some other insignificant department). Mech batting mainstay attends class. Champion pacer drops out for reasons unknown. Umpire from Metallurgy. Match attended by 20 Mechs. Metallurgy squeezes through. Team captain known for his stupendously bad cricket and stupendously good luck at tosses blames lack of support and blatant cheating by umpire. Organising committee forced to take note of the latter. Department takes note of the former.

Third Match
: Must win vs Physical Education. (This was the department which turns avid sportsmen of Bengal into certified Physical Education teachers - and they were known for their exceptionally good sporting skills and terribly bad tempers.) Phy Ed bats first and scores 120 odd and complains of a few dodgy LBW decisions. Mech needs to score the runs in 15 overs to qualify on run rate. Star batsman starts off explosively with Mech reaching 90 odd in 10 overs. Phy Ed complains of nasty barracking by Mech supporters (of approx 500, including sympathetic neutrals). Mini collapse of Mech leads to 110/5 in 14 overs. Phy Ed long-on fielder makes obscene gesture at crowd and is pelted with pebbles. Fisticuffs breaks out. Match awarded to Mech on Duckworth-Lewis.

Semi-Final: vs Chemical. Match attended by 700 Mechanical sympathisers, including him (must-read description of Mech prowess). Great attendance from Chemical as well, nearly 250 (which is about their entire department). Rumours of Chem's tearaway fast bowler chucking in last match. Mech audience vows to replace cricket ball with similarly shaped parts of the bowler's anatomy. Vow lustily communicated to Chem audience, which depletes to 200 almost immediately. Mech bats first and Chem pacer called for chucking thrice in very first over. Whispers of partisan umpiring from Chem side, lost in full-throated Mech cheering. Pacer loses rhythm and is soundly thrashed. Mech scores 140 odd in 20 overs. Chem audience now reduced to about 75. Chem starts to bat. Loses one wicket and 15 members of the audience every 10 minutes. Match ends with Mech procession around entire campus, with slogans clearly explaining how Chem (and other departments) have certain orifices in their body that are larger than they should be.

Final: vs Electrical. As much a battle of equals as it could have possibly got. Mech audience of 700, slightly daunted by 3 sports quota players in Electrical team. But not apparently as banners, whistles, masks, bamboo sticks with vests as pennants cover the entire arena. Electrical makes steady start as no attention is paid to cricket. Verbal duels (soon to be part of University folklore) take centre-stage. Silently, Electrical compiles a competent 120 odd. Match declared as a cakewalk by Mech supporters. Mech star batsman again starts explosively as cheering reaches crescendo. At 70 in 7 overs, he falls to a close stumping decision. Deathly silence as Electrical seems too scared to cheer. As Mech considers brushing it off, Third Year student (who just came down from the second floor of the Mech building) claims to have seen the bat grounded. Murmurs of discontent starts. Mech loses second wicket. Out bowled but bowler's arm angle clearly doubtful. Very soon it is 90/6 and it is discovered that the organising committee Secretary is from Electrical. Mech decides to protest against this partisan behaviour. Millions of Mechanical supporters swamp the ground, uproot stumps and almost succeed in rolling back the matting wicket. Indeed, 'Mat gutiye shesh kor' is still used by JU Mech alumni as a call to end farcical situations. Intervention of Dean ensures half-hearted resumption. At the fall of the 7th wicket, Mech captain throws up his hands and claims continuation of rampant cheating. Mech supporters swarm field, slap umpires, apologise to Electrical players, roll back the matting wicket and take out procession to celebrate unbeaten record. Electrical handed trophy in secret, behind the toilets.

After the infamous 1996 World Cup semi-final at the Eden Gardens, Calcutta was ashamed at the spectator behaviour. JU students were only surprised that there were so many Mechanical alumni at the stadium that day...

Postscript: I wish I could reproduce some of the slogans. But I am told, all my cousins (even the sub-18 ones) read this blog nowadays.