Thursday, September 24, 2009

Culture Shock!

This is what Blogger's login page looks like, when you try from Oman!

If that was not enough to scare away a duo-cultural dehaati like me, an Arabic keyboard and the @ symbol hidden towards the right side of the keyboard (instead of the familiar 'above 2' - where the f*** is the double quotes key now? ) did the trick!

I guess a long post will happen only when I am back in any one of the two cultural cocoons I am familiar with.

Wishing everybody a great Pujo!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Face Off: Legendary Confrontations in Hindi Cinema

One beautiful thing I miss from the good ol' days of Hindi cinema is the Battle of the Middle Reels. In movies starring two leading characters (usually male), there used to be a fight to the finish (almost), post which the two leading characters discovered -
(a) mutual respect, since they beat the shit out of each other
(b) blood relations, because only sons brought on the same mother's milk could beat the shit out of each other
(c) change of heart, since the anti-heroic of the two usually got more shit beaten out of him.

Usually, this scene was a high-voltage, crackerjack one which laid down the expectations for the climax. When you watched this scene, you would be getting tense because two heroes would be at each other's throats but would also feel reassured that when these two would join forces in the climactic fight, whatay explosion it would be!
With metrosexuals spreading love, aaj kal there is hardly ever a proper fight at the climax - leave alone one in the middle. And this is can be so depressing at times.

So, in memory of this great Bollywood set-piece, here is my list of the my favourite Middle Reel Battles (in no particular order).

Hum Kissi Se Kum Nahin
The first one of the Battles has no fisticuffs!
It has Tariq Hussain and Rishi Kapoor facing off in a music competition with a series of totally brilliant songlets in a trademark Nasir Hussain scene. And what songs they were!
Chand mera dil, chandni ho tum. Tum kya jano mohabbat kya hain. Mil gaya, mujhko saathi mil gaya. Apart from a trumpet ditty at the beginning of the medley, played with gusto by Rishi. The two gladiators were ably supported by Kajal Kiran and an unknown busty babe with energetic gyrations.

Anil Kapoor and Sunny Deol starred in what was a true Western style action-revenge film shot in a very barren-rugged terrain, probably in Ladakh.
Originally supposed to be directed by Shekhar Kapur, this film had a laconic Anil and a garrulous Sunny fighting each other to catch an elusive bandit - Jogi Thakur (played with customary glee by Rajesh Vivek). As they constantly clash, leading to the bandit escaping repeatedly - they make a pact. They would start fighting each other at nightfall and the man who would remain standing at daybreak would get to nab Jogi Thakur.
Needless to say, after the night of bare-knuckled daredevilry, both managed to stagger to their feet when the sun rose.

In this 'very loose' remake of Kane and Abel, Jeetendra and Shatrughan play foes turned friends turned foes turned friends. (Wait! How many times did I write 'foes'? Yup, correct!)
And the first time they meet (as foes) is when they are both kids - Jeetu driven to school in his father's Mercedes which splashes mud on Shatru, who promptly shatters the windscreen with a stone! A very kiddish fight occurs, post which Sushma Seth (Shatru's mother) brokers a truce and they even more promptly become fast friends.
Of course, they grow up to face evil machinations of Kiran Kumar and become foes again. Only to kiss (not literally) and make up in the climax.
Trivia: Just in case you did not get Shatru's state from his accent, his name was Bihari!

A not-so-violent (actually, not-at-all violent) confrontation between Devdas' dames was invented by Sanjay Leela Bhansali for the film as Saratchandra Chattopadhyay did not imagine that his characters would - one day - be played by Bollywood's Reigning Queen On Her Way Out and the Crown Princess On Her Way In.
Madhuri Dixit and Aishwarya Rai pulled out all stops in this Saroj Khan choreographed number, whirling like dervishes and sparkling like diamonds - satisfying all Bollywood lovers with a smooth passing of baton.

Amitabh Bachchan is the acknowledged master of these Mid-film Mayhems as he has encountered countless villains, anti-heroes, side-heroes and brothers in breathless displays of dhishoom-dhishoom.

In his first solo hit, Amitabh Bachchan took on Pran - the leading character actor of the times, who got almost equal billing in the posters because he was a bigger star when the film released. Pran and Amitabh met in the police station, where Police Inspector Vijay Verma pushed away the chair when Sher Khan tried to sit down. "Jab tak baithne ko na kaha jaye, sharafat se khade raho. Yeh police station hain, tumhare baap ka ghar nahin."
Sher Khan taunted him back, saying it was the uniform speaking these lofty lines.
To reply, Vijay Verma landed up at Sher Khan's den in plain clothes and had a fight so amazing that when the Pathan gangster said, "Pehli baar Sher Khan ka takkar kisi sher se hua hain", it almost seemed like an understatement.

Amar Akbar Anthony
Amar Khanna was the dutiful inspector, looking for a smuggler who almost killed his foster father. Anthony Gonsalves was the bootlegger in Bandra village, who helped the smuggler escape to make a quick buck.
And they met in front of Anthony's booze shop. And they played a game of verbal one-upmanship. And they decided to go at each other with fists, headbutts, chickens and goats. And after an unseen explosion inside a poultry shed, Vinod Khanna carried Amitabh Bachchan out on his shoulders - unconscious.
As a 7-year old Amitabh Bachchan fan, I remember being devastated by that scene as it was inconceivable for me to imagine my hero getting beaten. Even by his elder brother.

This is actually not a mid-scene fight but nearer to the climax but the situation is perfect.
The two people who could rub the British Empire's nose in the dust were not Mahatma Gandhi or Subhash Bose. They were Raja Azaad Singh (Dara Singh) and his long-lost son Raju (AB).
The devious British have imprisoned both of them and realise the only way they can be killed is by each other in a duel. But of course, the father and son would not fight each other. So, they convince each of them that the other one in the arena would be a masked impostor.
And this sets up the two titans for an epic battle - interspersed with oft-repeated dialogues like Jo mard hota hain, usse dard nahin hota - after which, they realise their blood relation and proceed to polish off the British empire.
Whose bright idea was it to let real father and son in the same arena, so that they can find out about each other? Bob Christo's.
As they say, blood is thicker than water but not as thick as Bob Christo!

Kaala Patthar
This very under-rated Yash Chopra classic about the Chasnala mining disaster had three superstars of the times - Shashi Kapoor, Shatrughan Sinha and Amitabh Bachchan.
This time, Amitabh played the silent and angry young man who was being constantly riled by escaped convict - Shatru. After a super sequence at a chai stall where Shatru's verbosity and Amitabh's silence cause sparks to fly, comes the fuse lighting. Shatru insults Rakhee, who is Amitabh's love interest.
And the two go at each other in a mining area. The simmering build-up is so fantastic that it is almost relieving when the fighting actually starts. And it almost kills the two before Shashi comes and separates them. And at the exact moment - Amitabh holding a spade, Shatru with a chain and Shashi pushing them apart using their collars - comes the Interval slide.
A more Middle Battle cannot be found!

Again, a film about two guys who oscillate between friends and foes - but concentrate on the latter to keep the dialogue writers and action directors well-fed.
Dilip Kumar and Raaj Kumar's pairing as Rajeshwar Singh and Veer Singh was massively publicised. What was not publicised was Kamlesh Pandey's outing as a dialogue writer, who gave at least three Middle Scene Battles, without a single fist being thrown or a single bullet being fired.
I will not go on and on about Saudagar since I have written about it earlier as I did about 100 Days, which explains why I was getting this strong sense of deja vu, writing my earlier post!
But I have to (just have to) write one more brilliant dialogue I remembered.
Some prissy sissy asks Rajeshwar Singh if he will ever make up with his old friend - Veer Singh. And he replies - "Rajeshwar jab dosti nibhaata hain, toh afsaane likkhe jaate hain. Rajeshwar jab dushmani karta hain, toh woh tareekh ban jata hain."
When I make friends, legends are written. When I make enemies, history is written.

That's nine from me. Do you have any to add?

Friday, September 18, 2009

Random Movies I Like: 100 Days

I just love when Hindi films give 'scientific' gyan!
For example, in Mr India, when Ashok Kumar is explaining the 'Theory of Invisibility' to his class, the blackboard behind says Boney's Law. What a cool tribute to the the producer of the film! Or in Ramsay Bros films when they explain the cause behind most chudails, the Theory of Unrequited Love almost sounds as scientific as Bernoulli's Theorem!

And 100 Days, which was about ESP - extra sensory perception - had lots of such gyan.
It was directed by one gentleman by the name of Partho Ghosh. True to his name, agey parto kintu ekhon parey na! Bongs, stop laughing! Rest of you, excuse the joke since it can't be translated.
He made landmark films like Agnisakshi (the n-th remake of Sleeping with the Enemy, starring Manisha Koirala, Nana Patekar and Jackie Shroff), Dalaal (one of Mithun's earliest super-duper successes of the 90s, which started the trend of double-meaning lyrics), Teesra Kaun (a murder mystery starring Mithun and Rituparna Sengupta) and Geet (Divya Bharti's last - and posthmous - release).

Anyway, to get back to 100 Days - it was about Madhuri Dixit who had ESP. She also had a sister by way of Moonmoon Sen but the opening sequence had Ms Sen killed, dragged and sealed in a brick wall. She, being the second person to meet this fate after Anarkali.
Madhuri Dixit gets visions of the door, the wall and the wall-hanging (where her sister was being sealed) in her ESP-fuelled stupor (much more hallucinatory than LSD-fuelled ones!) but pressing matters like singing songs with Javed Jafferi beckon and all is forgotten.
Very soon, Jackie Shroff - in floral shirts, with moustache-sealed dialogues - appears on the scene and after romantic interludes involving conches, hammocks and SP Balasubrahmanyam, they get married.
In the ensuing 3-months-10-days that pass, Madhuri realises that Jackie Shroff's moustache is not the only complicated thing in his life and gets flashes of ESP-powered hallucinations. Just when it was becoming apparent that Jackies may have been her sister's murderer, a convenient ESP-burst and a violent villain appear and all is settled in a suitably ceremonial ending.

Why do I like this movie? Several reasons.

* It had SP Bala singing in a Punjabi accent. After the super-success of Maine Pyar Kiya, SPB was the King of Bollywood and he aimed to please. The same Tamil twang which sounded so natural on a Goanese fisherman (as long as it was played by Kamal Haasan on screen) was now replaced by a Bhangra roll. Who can forget the song which ruled Superhit Muqabla in those days... Sun belliaaaaaaaaa, Shukkkhhhriyaa, Meherbaaaaaaannne / Thoo kahein toh naam they-rey, khar dhoon saari jawaaaaaaani...

* Moonmoon Sen had a 5-minute role, in which her (bare) legs were the only thing visible for 4 minutes. Her 'friendly appearance' had her blow-drying her hair in a camisole, get shot dead and then we only got to see her legs as the brutal killer dragged her away. Full timepass!

* Apart from ESP, Madhuri Dixit had bad skin, bad hair and super-jhataak sarees. But when she smiled, she made every paisa of the ticket worth it.
Damn, that reminds me... I must catch that dance show she is supposed to be judging.

* Jackie Shroff's moustache started looking like Hercule Poirot's and somehow in that, all the dialogues got lost. The strength of the screenplay was that nobody lost track of the story despite this audio loss.

* One of the most durable villains I have ever seen in Bollywood. He looked exactly like the main zombie from Michael Jackson's Thriller. He chewed up lit cigarettes, went from bearded to skin-headed, thrown off the top diving board of a swimming pool, was run over by a car, was stabbed, was shot at, was made to listen to the full soundtrack of Radio before he died.
Unfortunately, he did not last beyond that one film!

* And a song which - a brilliantly inspired non sequitur by the lyricist - made fun of people who get scared easily. Gabbar Singh yeh keh kar gaya / Jo dar gaya woh mar gaya / Nadaan bachcha hansi khel mein / Kaudi ghazab ki dekar gaya...

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Monkey in the Backyard

Waking me up - when I was a kid - was quite a task! Because (like my son now), I used to take a long time to fall asleep but when I did, a herd of bisons running over me wouldn't wake me up. And this posed a problem for my entire family in general and my early-riser father in specific.
You see, schools and other such death-zones started way too early in the morning.

So, my family - never short of ingenuity - came up with crazy ideas daily.
Basically, the idea was to create a furore in the morning that would make me get up. It went something like this...
"Oh, gosh - is that Babu's father driving a train on the road?"
"Bappa has grown a beard - my god!"
"Careful - Jogu (the cook) is jumping off the roof right now."
"Hey, look - there is a monkey in the backyard."

Imagine coming up with something like that EVERY DAY. Impressed?
And imagine the kid falling for things like these. EVERY DAY. Disgusted?
But the kid - yours truly - started catching on and very soon, it was only the promise of something as big as a monkey in the backyard that got me impressed enough to get out of bed at 7 AM on a weekday morning.

One day, it was a different story.
My father shook me and looked happier than he normally did in the morning. He said, "Get up fast. You now have a baby sister."
I thought, "Yeah, right!" as I started to turn around and go back to sleep. "No monkey today?"
"Wait", he said. "I am just back from the nursing home. See, I am wearing trousers..."
This last piece of information caused me to squint through my sleep-deprived eyes. Indeed, he was in trousers.
"See? Quickly, get ready for school. And then we can go and see her in the evening."
And that started off yet another school day.

So, why this story today?
Because we are at exactly the same day and probably, the exact hour when that event happened several decades ago.
And days like these make me wonder what would have happened if it wasn't a sister but a monkey in the backyard?

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

On a Platter

A platter is defined as a full meal served at the table consisting of the best that the restaurant has to offer. Visual aesthetics preferable, but not essential.
With the above definition in mind, here is a platter of probably the best five platters in Delhi…

Kashmiri Tarami – Chor Bizarre

Chor Bizarre has another platter on its menu called the Non-Vegetarian Sampler, which is an excellent mix of their kababs. But there is nothing to beat their Kashmiri platter as a main course. Served on a bed of rice, the Tarami is a mix of traditional Kashmiri dishes, that so few restaurants make and even fewer make well. It starts off with pretty unusual vegetables (lotus stem, for example) and signs off with a phirni. Their Goshtaba is to die for while the other items are not too far behind either.
Presidential Platter – Bukhara
Ever since Bill Clinton came to India, he became Bukhara’s most famous brand ambassador. And the restaurant returned the compliments by making a platter of their choicest delicacies (which the President liked) and called it the Presidential Platter. Meant to be a meal for two, it has a selection of kababs of all hues (except prawns, unfortunately), their fabled Dal Bukhara, an assortment of breads and a dessert choice. Very fulfilling – and for the vegetarian, there is a Chelsea Platter as well! Presumably, the President’s daughter is a member of PETA.
Antipasti Platter – Diva
Diva’s reputation precedes itself so the expectations are sky-high to start with. They live up to the promise magnificently right from their starters of which the Antipasti Platter is a splendid example. Composed of fresh green vegetables, cheese slices and an ensemble of meats and fish, this platter sets the tone for the rest of the evening. The chicken is smooth, the ham is perfectly smoked and the salmon is divine… the only sad part is that you cannot order two. After all, there’s a lot more on the menu to choose from!
Vegetarian Thali – Andhra Bhavan
Visual appeal takes a backseat in the no-nonsense canteen of Andhra Bhavan. It serves fiery curries and piping hot sambars on mountains of steamed rice. Of course, the prerequisite for trying this one out is a high degree of spice-resistance since the Telugus believe in loading their dishes with lots of chilli. Non-vegetarian side dishes can be ordered as can be the butter-milk (essential to survive the spice)! And the service is super-fast, which is in keeping with the speed at which the food is devoured!
Gujarati Thali – Rajdhani
Where is Dipta? No, really – tell us where you have hidden Dipta? You impostor – he couldn’t have put TWO vegetarian thalis in his list. What do you mean the Rajdhani thali is really good? Okay, okay – it has a lot of ghee but… What did you say? There are 10 different side dishes? And is it unlimited? Only 225 bucks? What are you saying?
Well, stranger things have happened than my choosing a vegetarian platter in my fav list. So, don’t get hassled about this. Just try Rajdhani out and don’t plan for any other activity after the meal.
Actually, the best platter I have ever had is the Sunday lunch at my grandmother's - which was always simple and elegant. Starting with bitters, followed by daal and fried brinjal, followed by fish (hilsa in mustard, during the monsoons) and ending with mutton. And then, a long nap. Ah - bliss!