Friday, December 31, 2010

10 in '10

Its that time of the year when I scratch my head, toggle my brain lobes and come up with my list of favourite things from the year. This was difficult because - for various reasons - 2010 was not a very good year for me. My sister put it aptly when she likened the year to 'an ex-boyfriend whom you're happy to get rid off but can never forget'. 
This year's list is just a motley collection of 10 things that I loved in 2010 - in no particular order and in no particular category. Just some things I hope I never forget.

Do Dooni Chaar
The heart-warming tale about an idealistic school teacher's quest to double his wheels was also the year's most neglected film. I am yet to see it in any critic's list of the best of 2010. This is sad because it had a brilliant script, perfect art direction and wonderful acting.
And it had Neetu Singh.
In my book, it is better than Ishqiya, Peepli Live and Once Upon a Time in Mumbai (all of which are popping up in Best Film lists with amazing regularity). Watch it - if you haven't already. The film deserves it.

Love Sex Aur Dhokha
This is my Film of the Year. Period.
Written about it earlier. Watch the film. Buy the DVD (which has a lot of very cool bonus material). And wait for his next - Shanghai!

Sachin Tendulkar
In 2009's year-ender, I gushed about how Sachin gave me a birthday gift and knocked twenty years off my age. As I wrote that, I secretly wondered if he'd really pull his weight during 2010 and justify his foregone selection for the World Cup. With an ODI double-century, 2 Test double-centuries and 5 Test centuries, he is now our biggest hope to recreate Lord's 1983 in Mumbai 2011.
And in a longer tribute, he is a separate chapter in my book on the World Cup. I talk about Six (legends who have spoken about him), Seven (facts about him you probably didn't know), Eight (of his greatest innings), Nine (more records for him to break) and Ten dulkar.

Reality Shows 
Two reality shows - one old and one new (to India) - totally captured my imagination in 2010.
The old one was Indian Idol, the first version of which made me vote for a television programme for the first time and this time, the sheer quality of the participants made me hopelessly addicted to it all over again. The people who got eliminated in the initial rounds of Idol 5 are also doing playback for hit songs. The winner will probably be up for Filmfare Awards in a year or two. They were so good that I braved Anu Malik for 2 months for them!

Masterchef Australia showed us how interesting a food show can be. Without allowing us a taste, without allowing us to vote and without even happening anywhere near us, it had me drooling. As Adam and Callum competed with each other tonight trying to make 'Snow Eggs', I watched spellbound. And a little embarrassed at India's fascination with stars that made us put an ape-man as the cooking expert on Masterchef India just because he waited on tables in Bangkok.

This year, for me, was a revival of trivia. What I just loved during my growing-up years (and wrote about here) came back to me through a variety of channels - online and offline.
It started with Brainiac - the autobiography of a man who won 74 straight rounds of USA's toughest quiz show, Jeopardy! Instead of being a narrow account of his record-setting run, it was a wonderful re-telling of the history of American trivia. I was hooked.
Then, I became a fan of Uncle John's Bathroom Readers - books of trivia that are sectionalised into one, two and multi-page articles (depending on how long you spend - ahem - on the pot). 
Finally, I am now hooked on to Mental Floss - both their site and their Twitter feed. I have bought two of their books. What's the Difference, for example, tells you the difference between Monet and Manet. I have even taken an annual subscription to their iPad magazine.
And those who are exasperated at stuff like 'Peru is the only country which can be written using only one line of the keyboard', blame him!

I have always marveled at the wonderfully produced screenplays of Hollywood films, with beautiful production stills, director's notes and storyboard snippets. I own so many of them - and I always missed Indian films in the same format.
2010 saw a healthy debut of the Indian screenplay - with Vidhu Vinod Chopra releasing the scripts of two of his biggest hits. Munnabhai MBBS and 3 Idiots were beautifully designed, had many unseen production photographs (including one of Aamir Khan as Hanuman, trying to solve a Rubik's Cube!) and held together by detailed interviews with the director and writer.
With Anupama Chopra soliciting suggestions on the films we would like to read scripts of, I am hopeful of seeing some of the best screenplays of Indian cinema coming out in this series. Satya, Deewaar, Sholay - slurp!

May I have your attention, please? Thank you. Everybody knows I loved the book. So, I am repeating myself. Go and read the book.

It has been such a long time that I laughed out aloud reading a book. I did not expect usual suspects and standard targets like consultants, MBAs, television anchors would be made fun of in so many new ways as Sidin did in his first book. All the targets of his column & blog seemed to have become super-avatars in his novel.
And of course, Robin 'Einstein' Varghese is the super-superhero, who did not where to stop and I hope neither does the author. This is scheduled to be a trilogy  and I am looking forward to the Part 2 of Dork as much as I am looking forward to Part 2 of Ibis trilogy.

Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron
This is the most predictably likable book of the year.
Written by the unpretentiously erudite Jai Arjun Singh, one of India's best loved films came to life in the cracker of a book. Moving like a comic thriller - not unlike the film itself - the book would delight fans with a treasure trove of trivia on the who's who of Indian cinema, all of whom seemed to have something to do with the making of the film.
One of my favourite books of all times is Anupama Chopra's Sholay. This book is in that zone.

Delhi Metro
And my final homage is to the wonderful organisation, which brought public transport to Delhi and completely energised my reading habit. With 22 stations to go, I have got 2 hours of uninterrupted reading time almost every working day for the last 2 months or so. Thanks to the Metro, I have gone through about 2 books a week and as a colleague pointed out, I have now diverted my petrol savings into Flipkart.
Oh well - but as my father said, reading books is never a bad thing.

To end the year on a positive note, let me put down a few lines from a classmate who writes simple, evocative poetry. I understand what he says and identify with it. Maybe, so will you.

You have mulled over the past for too long;
Yesterday’s morbid shadows have haunted
Your dreams and tainted your life’s happy song,
Till you have felt unloved and unwanted.

Get out of the dark, cast out the past too,
Put on your face that old forgotten grin:
Set out for fresh lands and discoveries new,
While you can still, strive for life to begin.

Wishing you a very happy 2011.  

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Proud Father

I went to my son's school this week to get an end-term report of my son's progress.
Nowadays, schools insist parents land up once every term (that's at least twice a year) to know how the kids are doing in school. I spent 12 years trying to keep my parents away from school and was quite successful at it (since my parents never turned more than 2-3 times in that entire period and that too, once because I had to be almost physically carried because of an illness). So, this whole thing is very scary.
For the kid and the parent.

More for the parent, because I am very unsure of the politically correct terms used to describe children nowadays.
I was 'disobedient'. My son 'has a mind of his own'.
I was 'naughty'. My son is 'physically active'.
I was 'unsocial'. My son 'takes time to make friends'.

Anyway - while browsing through my son's workbooks, I spotted a few interesting things on the pages and took pictures. Here they are...
(Disclaimer: Interesting may only apply to certain individuals viz. the parents of the child.)

I think I am most proud of the last one... Mind of his own, indeed!

Friday, December 17, 2010

In Conversation

Imagine if we had a real talk show. 
Not one on which people are goaded to confess to affairs or throw barbs about accents but one where creative people could talk about their motivations and the constraints in which they delivered their best performances. A show that chooses its participants not on the basis of creative affairs and not amorous ones.

So here - ladies and gentlemen - are ten conversations I wish to hear. 
They are all in the context of an iconic film though their partnerships have gone way beyond just one. They are not the 'youth icons' of today. They don't have false accents (or even real ones). They don't wear torn jeans. As I said, they are part of my wish-list. In no particular order.

Rajesh Khanna and Sharmila Tagore - Aradhana
Rajesh Khanna acted in many more hits with Mumtaz. But no one film encapsulates his romantic stardom better than this one. And no heroine complements him better than Sharmila - going from the giggly belle to the wrinkled maa, who did so in Aradhana as well as Amar Prem. 
Questions to ask: How did the chemistry come alive? Did they work on mannerisms? How were the films shot - in one burst or with gaps? What were the other films they were shooting simultaneously? Did she feel intimidated by the superstar? Did he feel intimidated by her intellectual roots? How was the audience reaction? And of course, what book was Sharmila reading?

Rishi Kapoor and Tina Munim - Karz
It will be such a hoot to get the wife's of one of India's richest men to recount how she felt when she was 'solah baras ki' and the chubby gentleman sitting across the sofa from her was 'satrah baras ka'
Questions to ask: How did Karz happen? Yet another past life saga - did they think it would work? How old was he when sang 'mere umar ke naujawanon'? How did Rishi the star feel working with Tina the newcomer? Did Subhash Ghai want her name to be changed - to start with M? Did Anil Ambani like Karz? And how do her kids react when they see her in films like Karz?

Amitabh Bachchan and Vinod Khanna - Muqaddar ka Sikandar
It was widely believed that Amitabh Bachchan wouldn't have been such an undisputed superstar if Vinod Khanna hadn't left for the Osho ashram. And the pair had acted in a slew of monster hits - though few as big as the Prakash Mehra blockbuster. 
Questions to ask: How did Vinod Khanna feel that he was the second fiddle, given that it was AB who had the title role, the best songs and all the sympathy? How did they play their scenes - rehearsed or spontaneous? How did their partnership across so many other films - Amar Akbar Anthony, for example - work out? And why, oh why did AB (the bigger star) get beaten up by VK in AAA?

Om Puri and Naseeruddin Shah - Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron
Two of Indian cinema's greatest actors have seldom been seen together off-screen. Except for a delightfully quirky photo (in Om's biography) in which Naseer is seen wearing a kimono! Naseer's impatience with media and Om's genial charm would be an interesting balance to watch. 
Questions to ask: Do they feel threatened by each other? How did they manage roles in mainstream and parallel cinema - simultaneously? Which director brought out the best in them? And what would be that one script role that would bring them together again?

Aamir Khan and Juhi Chawla - Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak 
This is the fun part. A ponderous statesman for Indian cinema and a giggly aunty selling snacks  going back to where it all started. 
Questions to ask: Did Aamir read the script of QSQT (or for that matter, Love Love Love) before he signed on? Was Juhi embarrassed about her real debut - Sultanat - which tanked? What was the motivation - pocket money, super-stardom or stepping stone to production? How was the shoot? Were they bossed around? When did they first realise they had become stars?

Anil Kapoor and Sridevi - Mr India
They were Numbers One. Everybody in a 100-km radius of Bombay during the late 1980s knew Sridevi and Anil Kapoor were the stars. And nobody thought of getting them together for an interview? Why? Did Roop ki Rani Choron ka Raja scare them away? 
Questions to ask: How did Anil Kapoor reconcile to only being heard and seldom seen in his home production? How difficult was it for Sridevi to emote with an invisible hero? Did they anticipate how big the villain - of all the people - will become? What did Sridevi think of the producer? And how do they feel now when they see the Kaate nahin kaTte song?

Ramgopal Verma and Anurag Kashyap - Satya
Very few filmmakers have gone from the sublime to the stupid as rapidly as RGV. Very few directors have gone from arthouse to grindhouse as fast as Anurag Kashyap. And to think, they were a team for Satya. 
Questions to ask: Was it a bound script? Or a theme brought together by scenes? Was it a director's vision? Or a script that demanded to be made? Did Anurag find RGV bossy? Did RGV find Anurag too independent? Who thought of the name Bhikhu Mhatre? And Kallu mama? How did they do the research? Did they go to dons or encounter specialists? Or did they make it up? 
And please please please tell us who thought of those jokes Chander told us?

Gulzar and Vishal Bharadwaj
In the absence of RD Burman, this is the only combination that can talk about music. To the best of my knowledge, they haven't never conversed in detail on the magic that they create - almost unfailingly in each of their collaborations. 
Questions to ask: Who found whom? How does the director in each react to the other? How do the directors leave the composer and lyricist alone? Do the lyrics come first? Or the tunes? Or is it the script that comes first? Where do they have their 'sittings'? And does Gulzar still miss Pancham?

Rajinikanth and Kamalahaasan - Geraftaar
Two of Tamil - and Indian - cinema's super-icons (for whom icon sounds pretty pedestrian) seem to have an undercurrent of rivalry between them. I don't know if they are seen together off-screen or if they have acted in movies. So Geraftaar is the best that I've got!   
Questions to ask: How strong were their ambitions to become pan-Indian heroes? How did they reconcile becoming merely star from SUPERSTARS the moment their films crossed the Vindhyas? Did they take Hindi lessons? Having acted in many movies with Amitabh Bachchan, what did they think of him? Did Rajini plan his cool cigarette moves?

Salim Khan and Javed Akhtar
This one needs no explanation. The most successful pair of Hindi cinema is yet to appear together after they separated. 
But they have to, no?

Aur kya? Find an anchor. Find a sponsor. And let me know when the show starts.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Love and Longing in Bombay

In a deadly serious work meeting, a deadly serious senior manager - in a deadly serious voice - gave such a fantastically frivolous idea that I  had to turn it into a post.

India's city of dreams - being the seat and studio of Bollywood - has featured in a host of songs. Sometimes, the songs mention Bombay by name. Sometimes, they mention Bombay by scene. And sometimes, they mention Bombay by spirit. And I had to make up a list of my 10 favourite Bombay songs.
Probably no other city in the world has been paid such beautiful musical tributes.

Yeh hain Bombay meri jaan - CID
The irony of a pickpocket asking people to be careful in the city of satta-patta-chori-race gets heightened when the pickpocket has the expressive face of Johnny Walker. If I recall correctly, Majrooh Sultanpuri wrote the lyrics - which had the typical outsider's innocence though the female voice at the end brings out the fairness of the city as well.
Quite surprisingly, (what I think is) the best song of the film is not filmed on the (very handsome) hero but on a character actor. But then, this song has no heroes. Only a heroine - who wears a Queen's Necklace.

Bambai se aaya mera dost - Aap ki Khatir
A totally insignificant movie had this huge hit song, which may not be a 'Bombay song' for many. But Bappi Lahiri's vocals, Vinod Khanna's dancing and Macmohan's shadow-boxing give this song a brilliant arbitrariness that I can't get out of my mind thanks to the innumerable times I have watched this song on Chitrahaar.
Why should Bombay people eat, drink & make merry in the night only to sleep during the day? Why is the dost from Bombay tied up? Is he a thief? Are people from Bombay thieves? WHAT?
Who cares? And don't miss the buxom Rekha in the tight red top!

Bom bom bom Bombay meri hain - Rakhwala
Long before a Bombay slumdog played KBC with him, Anil Kapoor was hanging around with them on the streets. In Rakhwala, he was the standard-issue Bollywood tapori Robin Hood who spent his earnings from supari killings on street urchins by taking them to five-star hotels and claiming Bombay to be his.
I miss these kinds of songs in Hindi cinema nowadays... supporting dancers who don't have toned bodies, the bystanders crowding around the 'shooting' and of course, the location - which is Gateway of India and not Golden Gate. 

Rote hue aate hain sab - Muqaddar ka Sikandar
There is no Bombay in this song. And yet, it is only about Bombay.
The song stars a migrant from East Uttar Pradesh, who ruled the city of dreams. The star zips down some of the most beautiful locations of the city.
And if you listen to the lyrics, it talks about crying when you arrive but laughing on your way out. In the film, they talked about life. I am told it is also applicable to Bombay.

Bambai shehr haadson ka shehr hain - Haadsaa
The title song of the film has tons of zooms and pans across the Bombay landscape as innocent citizens get chopped down in a hail of bullets and avalanche of tomato ketchup. That Bombay is the hotbed of 'accidents' is well known. This song makes a virtue of it.
Even as the hero gets 'towed' away by a crane!

Tum ko jo dekhte hi pyaar hua - Patthar ke Phool
Teen sensations - Salman Khan and Raveena Tandon - burnt up the asphalt all over Bombay as they proclaimed their love on roller skates from Peddar Road to Cadell Road to Warden Road to Linking Road.
SP Balasubrahmanyam's lilting vocals, Salman's decent skating skills and Raveena's teeny-bopper charm could not save the film from sinking but the song - after many hours of Vividh Bharti - stays fresh and alive.

While on the topic of roller skates, it might be a good idea to quickly list down two very cool Songs-on-Skates: one from Seeta aur Geeta. And another from Aa Gale Lag Jaa

Ee hain Bambai nagariya tu dekh babua - Don
No song list about Bombay can be complete without pointing out the missing Church in Churchgate and the missing bandars in Bandra. Again, the UP migrant squats in front of Gateway and dances on Chowpatty, making Bombay his own, thus raising applause and hackles in equal measure.
And remember, what the film taught us. The simple, do-gooder belongs to Bombay. The international don belongs to 11 countries!

Ek akela is / Do deewane shehr mein - Gharonda
These two are twin songs - joined at the hip by the same film - which trace the life of a couple as they happily explore (1BHK!) flats to a lone protagonist who desultorily drags his feet through the same flats. The struggles of living in Bombay - whether you have a future to look forward to or not - is brought out in a tender, understated way as the couple "abo dana dhoondte hain, ashiana dhoondte hain..."

Mum-bhai - Bombay Boys
Three outsiders in Bombay being forcibly inducted to shoot a masala film for a don is not what your usual Bollywood fare is all about... but this film was all about that, very little Bombay. Except the song that played during the end credits. Performed with relish by one of Bollywood's most under-rated performers, it traces how life in Mumbai becomes easier when you add an extra 'h' to it!
So is this the last one? You wish! Forgotten what this song threatens? Its not over, bastard! Abhi khatam nahin hua, ch...

Thursday, December 09, 2010

My Oldest Book

BlogAdda has this wonderful contest going - about the book that has been on your bookshelf for the longest time - which I just got to know from this characteristically wry post on Ganga Mail
This is a contest from and of course, the last date is long gone. But I just couldn't let go of the topic. 

When I talk about my oldest book, I have to name two - one that I recall to be my first book and one that I don't.

On my eighth birthday, my aunt (Pishi) gifted me a slim hardcover book - the cover of which was dominated by the ruins of a golden fortress, framed against a blue sky. On the bottom left corner, you had a man with a revolver in his hand. The book was Shonar Kella (The Golden Fortress), my first Feluda book and one I still have (though in a different form).
I read this book so many times that the whole thing came apart and for some time, I had to keep the pages and cover together with a rubber-band around it. When I realised that was the same for all my Feluda novels, I had them bound together in sets of five or six. That's how the books exist on my Calcutta shelves.
When I moved out of the city - and I missed Feluda terribly, especially before the Sunday afternoon naps - I started buying the omnibus collections brought out by Ananda Publishers and I built back my (duplicate) Feluda collection.  So, today Shonar Kella occupies its rightful place on my shelf sandwiched between Badshahi Angti and Koilashey Kelenkari in the volume Feluda-r Shopto Kando (The Seven Feats of Feluda).
It is quite apt that Shonar Kella is the oldest book I have. It is the story of a little boy who remembers his previous births and the treasures thereof. When I read about Mukul, Mandar Bose and the amazing author of Honduras-ey Hahakar even now, it unearths a wonderful treasure trove from - what seems like - my previous birth.  

Probably the first book that I was exposed to is one I share with millions of Bengali children. Written by Satyajit Ray's father, Abol Tabol is one of the most brilliant, creative and anarchic works for children. In the world. Ever.
My parents read the rhymes out to me. My grandparents read them out to me. My aunt (aforementioned) read them out to me. Half the neighbourhood read them out to me. Till I remembered all of them by heart, could recite them in my sleep and laugh instinctively whenever I remembered - which was quite often!

There was Hnuko Mukho Hyangla (can be translated as the hookah-faced glutton), who had two tails but did not know how to swat flies who sat on his back. There was Kumro Potash, around whom there were strange protocols - when they laughed, cried, danced etc. There was Gangaraam, who failed his Matriculation exams 19 times but wanted to get married nevertheless. There were the Ahladis who just laughed and laughed.
And there was my favourite - Tnash Goru - who was not actually a goru (cow) but a pakhi (bird).
I still remember most of the poems. I even had a PDF version of the book. So, I wondered why I bought a fresh copy of the book about four years back. Now, as I see the four-year old in my house hogging the iPad and zipping through apps, I think somebody will have to bring out an Abol Tabol app sometime soon.
And the book will travel one more generation.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Book of Jobs

As some of you following me on Twitter and/or Facebook know, I have just become the proud owner of an iPad - my first Apple product, after more than a decade of admiring Steve Jobs from afar. The last few days have been spent in hectic downloading of nearly all the free apps on iTunes (no money left after paying for the damn thing!) and getting used to the three different keyboards.

The iPad is a really cool device for kids (among other people). In the last one week, Joy (my son) and I have drawn Christmas trees, coloured pictures of Buzz Lightyear, gazed at constellations and played jigsaw with famous works of art.
I (or any adult) have been exposed to the concept of a touchscreen and so find the actual product very interesting - but maybe not stunning. For a kid, it is almost magical. Touching a green pencil and then tracing the finger on a blank screen to draw a tree elicits a reaction that is so ecstatic that I am regretting not taking a photo!

And there are unintentionally hilarious moments as well. After colouring a picture, one has to shake the iPad to wipe it off. My son takes it in his hand and shakes his bum instead of the iPad. And then seeing me rolling in laughter, he says - "Baba, you have to help me..."
Yes, yes, of course ho ho ho ho....

This is  a very welcome bedtime activity for my wife who - now five months pregnant - falls asleep rather early. While Joy and I try out all these games, she is fast asleep and does not get to hear what Joy says trying to maneuver his iPad and his father ("Baba, Mamma tummy so big. I falling out of bed.").
Its great for me too... since most of the iBooks have a read-aloud feature and Winnie the Pooh gets read out while I only have to turn the pages.
And I am so looking forward to this suggestion.

Along with the iPad, another daily bedtime ritual has started.
That of, kissing the 'baby' goodnight. Joy - in his usual macho ways - jumps all over my wife before finally kissing her tummy. I have to act like the referee of a boxing match. Only my job is to ensure that the punches don't land.
One night, Joy became a little curious. He tried to peer in through his mom's belly button - to try and see the baby. Not getting a sight, he cupped his hands around his mouth and shouted down the belly button - "Hello, baby, hello..."
Sigh - when is a good age to explain the human anatomy to kids?

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Feluda Quiz

At the express request of @Sandeip, here is a Feluda Quiz. Wanted to do this for quite some time but escaped my mind. Better late than never...
Please leave answers as comments (which are moderated for the time being). The correct answers - and equally importantly, the highest scorers - will be revealed Monday evening (IST). 

Ladies and gentlemen - presenting 10 questions on my favourite detective!

1. Feluda stays on Rajani Sen Road. Where does Sidhu Jyatha stay?

2. a. What was the name of the film which was based on Jatayu's novel, Bombaiyer Bombetey?

2. b. In which Calcutta cinema did the film complete a silver jubilee run?

3. Captain Spark has a dwarf assistant. What's his name and nickname?

4. When (For what) did Feluda first come to Lucknow?

5. Who is the villain of the story - Feluda-r shongey Kashi-tey (In Kashi, with Feluda)?

6. Apart from Gupi Gayin Bagha Bayin, which is the only other Satyajit Ray film that is mentioned in a Feluda story?

7. Dungru. Joychand Boral. Rudrasekhar. What's common?

8. In Ghurghutiyar Ghatona, what was combination code for opening the safe?

9. In which US University did Nihar Ranjan Dutta conduct his researches in Biochemistry?
Bonus points if you can name the font used by the University for their stationery.

10. Despite being carnivorous, polar bears don't eat penguins. Why? And which Feluda story tells you the answer?

Yes, yes - I know. I wrote hajaar gyaan on what makes a good quiz question and I flouted every one of them in this one.
But then, this quiz is not really about knowledge as it is about nostalgia. No?

Caveat: Since the questions were set in one quick burst, it did not have too much (read: any) research. I realised later that it is bloody unfair towards those who read the books in translation. But then, going through life without knowing Bengali itself is a bit unfair.
So, here are the answers:

1. Sardar Shankar Road. Everybody seems to have got this one.

2. a. Jet Bahadur
2. b. Paradise. To celebrate, Jatayu bought his car - a second-hand Mark II Ambassador (green).

3. Khudiram Rakshit - who is called Khude (literally, small) Raxit or simple, Raxit. What a wonderful pun!

4. He came to play cricket, as a spinner for Calcutta University.

5. This is a bit of an unfair googly - though many spotted it. This is not really a Feluda story but Satyajit Ray's recounting of the incidents during the shooting of Joi Baba Felunath in Benaras.

6. Not answered by anybody. In Robertson-er Ruby, they discuss the rocky face of Western Bengal and mention it as the place where Abhijan is shot. Here's a poster (showing the place)!

7. They are the three narrators of portions that are unseen by Topshe - in Hatyapuri, Golapi Mukto Rahasya and Tintoretto-r Jishu respectively.

8. (is the Bengali version). But two people have the same answer (340910), which leads me to think that the code was probably changed in translation.

9. Michigan University. And the font is Garamond, which is a vital clue.

10. This is another cheap shot (typical of an erstwhile quizmaster, whose first name rhymes with that of GreatBong). Of course, polar bears don't eat penguins because they are 'poles apart'. That, penguins are found in the South Pole is revealed in Dr Munshi-r Diary. That story (or any other one) has no mention of polar bears!

Two Bongs - Indrayan and Abhishek - tie at 10 points each (out of a maximum possible of 13 since I had allocated 2 points each to Qs 9 and 10).

Happy reading once again!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


Some rough edges to be polished, some last-minute changes pending... but this - ladies and gentlemen - is the cover of THE book to have for yourselves and your favourite nephews & nieces during the World Cup. 
Please be as excited as I am. Or pretend do!

Saturday, November 06, 2010

36 Questions

It was such a lazy, foodie, happy day. Now I am watching Kati Patang on Zee Classic and have decided to pick this note from Rimi and churn out a post. There were 50 questions in her post but I have decided to choose only 36 questions. I told you it is a lazy day...

1. Favourite childhood book:
The Rays. 
Gupi Gayin, Bagha Bayin. Haw-Jaw-Baw-Raw-Law. Pagla Dashu. Professor Shonku. And Feluda.

2. What are you reading right now?
Turbulence - Samit Basu. 
Dawshti Uponyash (Ten Novels) - Moti Nandy.
Inverting the Pyramid: The History of Football Tactics - Jonathan Wilson.

3. Bad book habit?
Book habits are never bad. 
4. Do you prefer to read one book at a time or several at once? 
Usually, I am reading 2-3 books at once. So I guess that's what I prefer.

5.Favorite book you’ve read this year?
Jaya - Devdutt Patnaik. 
May I Hebb Your Attention Pliss - Arnab Ray. 
Mother Pious Lady - Santosh Desai.

6. Favorite place to read?
Anywhere. As long as the book is good. 
I have read books while driving (Using the phone is prohibited. Using a book is not.), in toilets, in bed, in lifts, in buses, on a Bihar highway (while a puncture was getting repaired).

7. What is your policy on book lending?
Please, please, please don't ask to borrow my books. I can't say no but inside, I am dying. 

8. What is your favorite language to read in?
English. No, Bengali. Um, actually English. On second thoughts, Bengali. Hell - both!

9. What makes you love a book?
If it makes me stop, put it aside and think for a moment. If it makes me go - "When will they make a film out of this?" If it makes me feel - "I wish I had written it."

10. Favorite genre?
Children's literature. Comics (not graphic novels). Cinema, screenplays. Trivia. 

11. Genre you rarely read (but wish you did?)
Science fiction. Graphic novels. You are not cool unless you read them a lot! 

12. Favorite biography?
Portrait of a Director - Marie Seton. 
The Inner Eye - Andrew Robinson. 

13. Have you ever read a self-help book? 
No. Should I?

14. Most inspirational book you’ve read this year (fiction or non-fiction)?
Brainiac - Ken Jennings. 

15. Favorite reading snack?
Hershey's Kisses. 

16. Name a case in which hype ruined your reading experience.
Harry Potter VII. I started expecting way too much.

17. If you could read in a foreign language, which language would you chose?  
Spanish or French, I suppose.

18. Most intimidating book you’ve ever read?
Problems in Physics by I.E. Irodov. I was scarred beyond belief by this book during +2. 

19. Most intimidating book you’re too nervous to begin?
Ulysses. The Clockwork Orange. 

20. Favorite Poet?
Sukumar Ray. Rabindranath Tagore. The only two poets I have read in reasonable quantities. 

21. Favorite fictional character?  
Andrew Eliot - The Class (Erich Segal). 
Pradosh C Mitter 
Florentyna Kane - The Prodigal Daughter (Jeffrey Archer).

22. Favorite fictional villain?
Maganlal Meghraj. 
Is Karna a villain? Is Indrajeet a villain?

23. Books I’m most likely to bring on vacation? 
Books that  have been bought the previous week. There is no 'vacation' genre that I can think of.

24. The longest I’ve gone without reading:
Unlikely to be longer than 12-odd hours. 

25. Name a book that you could/would not finish?
Several.  Some of the famous ones are listed here.

26. What distracts you easily when you’re reading?
Usually my son manages to distract me quite easily.

27. Favorite film adaptation of a novel?  
Apur Sansar.
Aranyer Dinratri.
The Name of the Rose.
The Namesake.
Umm, errr... 3 Idiots?

28. Most disappointing film adaptation?
Bombai-er Bombetey.

29. Do you like to keep your books organized?
Absolutely. Different shelves for different languages. Books arranged in decreasing order of height, from left to right. 

30. Do you prefer to keep books or give them away once you’ve read them? 
Could you repeat the question please? 
Actually, don't - my wife and mother might get strange ideas!

31. Name a book that made you angry.
White Tiger - Arvind Adiga. Because it pandered to the stereotypes rather shamelessly.
India After Gandhi - Ramachandra Guha. Because it made me realise we Indians don't solve anything. We wait for it to fester away, peter away.

32. A book you didn’t expect to like but did?
Five Point Someone. 

33. A book that you expected to like but didn’t?
The Big Sleep.
Many classics - most notably Saratchandra and Bankimchandra, Dickens among other.

34. Do you ever write in the margins of a book while you were reading?
Not counting textbooks (which had more of my scribbles than printed matter), the only books I have written in margins are some Satyajit Ray screenplays to make notes that were not there in the sceanrio description.

35. What's the most you have spent in a bookstore?
A couple of grand, I guess? If you count one year of the Calcutta Book Fair as one store and adjust for inflation, then 2000/2001 years would be quite a biggie!

36. Favorite guilt-free, pleasure reading? 
Why should reading ever be guilty? Oh - you mean that sometimes you sneakily read books before exams and that's guilty? But then, everything else is guilt-free, no? Or am I missing the point?

Monday, November 01, 2010

Father of the Groom

Fathers and girls have such affectionate chronicles of their relationships. Think Father of the Bride. Even, the Sony Handycam ad! Fathers and sons, on the other hand, have Shakti.

Back from a girl's birthday party, I realised that fathers and daughters are a different ball-game altogether!
My friend - father of two girls - was quite amused to see Joy's boy-giri. Eventually, he ended up dancing with Joy on his shoulders. Since he is a tall guy, Joy amused himself by plucking balloons off the ceiling. After this energetic routine, he said, "With two girls, you sometimes miss playing rough."
I kept quiet. I was just thankful that somebody was taking care of Joy while I sat down for the first time since my son woke up at 6:30 today.

Well, for me - colouring within the lines and cuddling are alien concepts. Of course, it doesn't help that if you had put all the boy-stereotypes in the blender and pressed the button, Joy would have come out.
He spits on his hands and takes a legs-apart-slightly-crouched whenever a football is in sight.
He beats up - or tries to - boys double his age (and three times his size).
He uses the banister instead of the stairs.
He likes vuvuzelas.
He is constantly perched perilously on ledges, edges, narrow railings, sharp objects and things usually associated with Alcatraz.

Now, let me tell you the scary part.
I was a terribly active kid myself. Despite being pot-bellied and totally unfit right now, the estimations required to jump from a bunk bed on to the bookshelf are still hard-coded in my brain. So when I see him plan the leap, I remain calm - which, my wife assures, is covered in IPC under 'aiding & abetment'. But I just know he'll be able to do it.
Having gone through a nerve-wracking accident (involving stitches on an open chin) last night, I also realised we do a lot of harm to him than he can do himself. 
And yes, he's fine now. He's telling everybody within earshot - "Blood came out like a volcano. But they stopped it with a rock."

All this leads to a mildly commiserating tone from everyone. When he is jumping from one table to another in a Pizza Hut (who have a red corner notice out against him), parents of girl children assure me it will get better.
What do they know?
My father - whose kid was similar - had assured me it won't.

And while on the subject, do take a look at this song. This is the best fathers and sons have got.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

What Makes a Bengali?

Bijoya Dashami, which is happy Dussehra for most parts of the country, is a day of some sadness for the Bengali. After the intense festivity, the Goddess goes back on Dashami and despite the social gatherings, there is always a bit of melancholy in the air.
I did not know – introspection, even.
Because this Bijoya, I pondered a lot on a question a Bengali friend asked me ‘what makes a Bong?’ And he locked out my penchant for vague, tangential answers with a stern brief – ‘what are the 5 defining things that are required to be a true blue Bong?’
I am inclined to list procrastination first since I promised to write nearly a week back!

Seriously, what defines a Bengali?

Is it parochialism? Not really. Pride about one’s region & race is a very common trait among Indians –where regional identities are often stronger than the national identity.
Is it fish? Or sweets? Cannot say that either. I know many Bengalis who abhor either or both.
Is it sports? Or more specifically, watching sports? But then, a great sporting spectacle unites the country and not only Bengal. And as Bangalore just showed us, packing cricket stadia on weekdays is no longer an Eden monopoly!

So, what are those Elusive Five? Let me try my theories… every one can jump in after that.

The Bengali cuisine is not about fish, biriyani or roshogolla. It is about investing deep thought and taking immense pains to eat well – and equally importantly – feed well.
Calcutta is a place where wedding menus are fixed long before the match. It is a place where people travel long distances early on Sunday mornings to capture the best cut of mutton. It is a place where people get violent discussing the relative merits of their favourite biriyani joints. And the smell of broiler chicken in a meal is a curse that requires seven baths in Ganga to expiate.
Anjan Chatterjee (of Mainland China and Oh Calcutta fame) once wrote about Chitol Machher Muittha (inadequately translated as fish balls made out a particularly fleshy fish) being prepared for special occasions and people considered it to be a scandal if a bone emerged out of any of the fish balls… That’s vintage Bangali for you!
Malayalis love eating fish. But only a Bengali would carry ilish in a cold case on a flight. And only in Calcutta airport, would they let you pass security with that. Hyderabadis invented the Paradise biriyani & haleem. But only a Bengali would know Gati does express delivery of those to Delhi. Every Bengali has at least one hole-in-the-wall joint which – he is convinced – serves the best Moglai Porota in the world and he is willing to defend it till death.
Such passion is, of course, a by-product of the wonderfully diverse Bengali cuisine that straddles a million tastes, uses a billion ingredients and engulfs the five senses.
Think about it, God gave South Indians curd and they made thayir saadam out of it. Bengalis made mishti doi.

Sense of Humour
Well, how many stand-up comedians do you know are Bengalis? Zero. No filmi comedians since Keshto Mukherjee either. Authors? Very few. Bloggers? A few, maybe. So?
Well, I should have said the ‘democratization of humour’. Because I don’t see any other state in India where the humour is so well spread out. The funniest Indians may not be Bengalis but the average Bengali is about a million times funnier.
Recently, I went to the local Bengali Society to pay the Durga Puja subscription. In the 7 minutes I spent there, two gentlemen (who – I am sure – hold very serious day jobs like database architecture and trade marketing) had me and my wife in splits. Allow me an example:
Gent 1: Kothai thaka hoi? (Where do you stay?)
Me: Sohna Road. Oboshsho road nei ekhon. (Sohna Road. Though, there’s no road left now.)
Gent 1: Kothaoi nei. Brishtir joley rasta porishkar hoye gechhey… (No road anywhere. The rains have cleaned the roads.)
Gent 2: Rasta nei. Ektu rustic. (Untranslatable.)
Okay, okay – one more.
Imagine an evening flight leaving for Delhi and turning back mid-way due to fog. And re-starting for Delhi, this time with a CAT-trained pilot. If the flight had originated from any other major city in India, there would have been aggression, raised voices and threats of legal action. I was fortunate enough to leave from Calcutta and overheard the following:
Gent 1: Bujhlen toh, aager pilot-ta CAT pash koreni. (The earlier pilot was not CAT qualified.)
Gent 2: CAT paini? Joint peyechhilo toh? (Didn’t clear CAT? What about JEE?)
This, at 2 AM!

Easy Riders
Bengalis love effortless people. And underdogs.
India admires Satyajit Ray – the legendary filmmaker who wrote his own scripts, designed sets & costumes, composed music, wrote books and was a certified genius. In Bengal, Ray’s charisma is matched by Ritwik Ghatak, who made only a few films and died in poverty of alcoholism. But oh - what films they were! And with what little effort!
In Bengal, the heroes are never the class toppers. They are the bloody swatters, who had no brains and slogged their bums off (gasp – how ghastly!). The heroes are the guys who spent the night before the exams at Dover Lane Music Conference and managed to answer only one question in the whole paper. But man, you should have read that answer. Isaac Newton himself would have sat at that boy’s feet to understand its gravity. Of course, he flunked the exam, the course and is now an accountant at a private tuition centre in Jalpaiguri but I am telling you that boy had the ‘potential’ to become a Head of Department at Harvard.
The word ‘potential’ is a big favourite in Bengal. It brings out all the unsung geniuses (heroes or otherwise) who could have but didn’t.
And even the workaholic Ray reveals a soft corner for the unsung genius, in the way he wrote Sidhu Jyatha (Feluda’s uncle, played brilliantly on screen by Harindranath Chattopadhyay). When complimented by Felu (“If you had been a detective, we would have been out of work”), Sidhu Jyatha responds – “If I had done a lot of things, a lot of people would have been out of work. So, I don’t do anything. I just sit here and keep the windows of my mind open…”
If Bengalis were as rich as Punjabis, they would have thrown coins when this line was first said on screen!

Every Bengali is a storyteller.
The ‘adda’ is a common phenomenon across India, where people get together for some chat & gossip. But in Bengal, it is an art form – ranging from the organized (where famous authors are invited to participate in addas) to the impromptu (while waiting for the next bus and continuing till the last bus has gone).
If you read Anandabazar Patrika (or The Telegraph), the journalistic style is very anecdotal. More often than not, the reports start with a story. Descriptions of how political leaders were dressed at rallies are again common. And first person accounts are almost de rigueur for most stories. For example, when a Metro snag happens – Delhi’s Hindustan Times runs a story like this (“Longer Metro ride, technical snag yet again”). The Telegraph leads with “Pride Derailed”.
Every mundane, day-to-day event of no consequence gets suffused with suspense and emotion when a Bengali narrates it. A simple interaction with a parking attendant who did not have change can assume the proportions of a Rushdie novel. A joke is not a joke. With a virtuoso performer, a joke can extend over an entire evening – not unlike a raag – interspersed with mimicry, leg-pulling, social comments, jokes within jokes (meta-jokes!) and requests for more whiskey. The stories are always long, never boring and sometimes true, even! But then, the truth is never allowed to spoil a good story.
A famous Bengali litterateur (Syed Mujtaba Ali) was once asked if the story he just recounted was true. He said, “A prince went hunting in a deep, dark jungle. There, he came across a big, bad tiger. The tiger said – Prince, I will now eat you up. This is a story. But tigers do eat humans, don’t they?”

This is the easiest one to propose and explain. Let’s face it – the stereotype is true. And everybody knows it.
The average Bengali has read more books than the average Indian. Hell, he may have even written more! He has certainly heard more music (not counting DJ music, where Punjabis beat him). He has learnt to play at least one musical instrument (male) or one dance form (female) as a child. He has written more Letters to the Editor. The aforementioned editors also had a higher-than-average proportion of Bengalis. And if they aren’t Bengalis, they will soon be claimed as one.
Only a Bengali will ask what defines a Bengali. And only a Bengali will oblige.
And yes, only in Calcutta can Ritwik compete with Hrithik.

These are – what I think – defines the Calcutta Chromosome.
And while on the topic, Delhi DNA or Mumbai Mitochondria just doesn’t sound so elegant – no?

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Seven Deadly Films: My Favourite Thrillers

Depending on where you are looking from, the number of movies in the thriller genre can be surprisingly high or depressingly low.
There are so many stories around the hero looking for a tell-tale sign that will reveal his parent’s killer. In fact, three of Ajit’s iconic films – Kalicharan, Zanjeer and Yaadon ki Baraat – had him identified as the elusive killer with a distinguishing mark right from th start and the only suspense was how the mark would be discovered by the hero.
There have also been several films that have a ‘detective’ in the lead role (title role, even) but his sleuthing is more-often-than-not obscured in tomfoolery and gadgetry. Try Do Jasoos and Badshah respectively.

My list consists of films that get as close to a true-blue murder mystery as possible. Barring some minor diversions – brilliant songs that need to be accommodated, star comedians who need to be given screen time and romantic sub-plots that need to be woven in – all of them have a gruesome crime, an interesting investigation and a gripping climax, which have thrown up a suitably ingenious criminal.

Without any further ado, here are my Seven Deadly Films…

Jewel Thief
There were no murders in this film… but then, the title told you that already. A police commissioner’s wastrel son is an expert in gems and his boss’ daughter. All is hunky dory till he gets mistaken as the notorious jewel thief. The two look identical – except for an extra toe – and a deadly game of mistaken identities start. To clear his name, the man decides to infiltrate the jewel thief’s den and all hell breaks loose.
The thriller format is embellished by the many red herrings, some cool locales, rocking cinematography and some very strong cameos. Songs are usually a hindrance in a thriller but here they actually manage to give the taut film some much-needed breathers. Of course, it helps that this is probably SD Burman’s strongest soundtrack.

Teesri Manzil
The film opens with a hysterical woman falling to her death from the teesri manzil of a hotel. Just before the fall, she was banging on the doors of the hotel’s handsome singer on whom she had a crush. Her sister suspects that she was driven to her death – murder? suicide? – by the singer and lands up to teach him a lesson. She meets a funny guy. The funny guy meets a prince. The prince meets a cabaret dancer. The dancer meets a reticent waiter. The waiter meets a detective. Nobody is what it seems. Not even the victim.
You will go crazy keeping track of the brilliant songs and the decoys the film throws up. That’s RD Burman and Vijay Anand on creative hyper-drive… Get out of their way and enjoy!

In the melodious world of Bollywood, a songless film is bit of a novelty. More so, when the entire cast consists of just two lead players and a few mysterious cameos. And when the protagonist is the chocolate-boy King of Hearts, playing a psycho convict – the film is unique by all standards. An escaped convict barges into the house of a lone woman and holds her hostage. There is a manhunt for the convict and sundry surprises keep happening as the two play a cat-and-mouse game. The twists keep piling up and nothing ends the way it started as.

Khel Khel Mein
The film starts off as a college romance with frothy songs and hockey matches. But then, there is an innocent prank to extort money that goes horribly wrong. There is crooked twist involving a dead jeweler, a typewriter with a crooked letter, lots of people with crooked ideas and the only thing straight is the moustache of the mysterious guy in the overcoat!
A couple of youngsters with guitars are usually enough to get RD all excited and composing great songs. That those youngsters have death staring them in the face is a minor blip geniuses don't bother with.

The classical whodunit features a dysfunctional group in a closed location, where people get murdered one by one. The best ones usually have the most nondescript or the most suspicious characters getting knocked off first. Imagine this group as a Bollywood film crew in a remote location. Add to that professional jealousy, sexual tensions and over-the-top psychosis usually associated with a Bollywood shoot, you wouldn’t have required a detective at all. But this film had that as well, not to mention a sleepwalker!
After Sazaye Maut, this was Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s second thriller and it totally rocked.

Two hunks married to two babes, vacationing in Mauritius is a perfect setting for the advertised plot of the movie – wife-swapping. But if mystery plots were given away in posters & promos, filmmakers deserve to die starving. One babe gets killed, the other hunk gets accused and you have a standard-issue Abbas-Mustan mystery thriller. Weaving its way through hit songs and headachey comedy tracks, the plot zips from India to Switzerland to Mauritius to Switzerland to a Singapore as alibis, lives and hearts get made and destroyed.
And by the way, there is a bit of wife-swapping in the movie. Go figure!

It started off as a love story, with the usual song-and-dance routines. It threatened to become a love triangle and nobody would have noticed it if it had ended like that. None of the three leading actors were of any consequence at the point of time anyway. But then, the suitor killed off his fiancee’s uncle in a fit of rage. He didn’t seem that sort but everybody else had watertight alibis. The court-case was about to end predictably when a strange twist emerged. The twist was cool enough to be replicated - with appropriate credits - in a film called Johnny Gaddar nearly three decades later.
One of the three leading actors went on to rule Bollywood in the coming decades. Seeing the film now, that twist is the easiest one to figure out.

That’s it? Missed out some obvious ones, didn’t I?

UPDATED TO ADD: Though horror is not always mysterious - at least, definitely not in the Bollywood context but all of you MUST read Aditi Sen on Bollywood horror films (in all four parts). And like a true connoisseur, she not only talks about the Ramsays but Mohan Bhakhri as well!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

I, Robot? Ai ai yo, Robot!

Okay, let me get this out as fast as possible...
Enthiran (though, I watched the Hindi version) is I, Robot meets The Matrix meets Green Goblin meet Darth Vader meets ASSHOLE.
The films fails spectacularly at two levels. But on the moolah level, it is doing just fine thank you, so all you Rajini fans who have cut their wrists for not getting first day tickets would do well to ignore my rants and move on to queuing up for his 2014 release.

Epic Fail #1: Where is SUPERSTAR Rajni
I was led to believe that this movie starred Superstar Rajnikanth -a paean to the man, the machine, the Botox-box whose epithet and name can no longer be separated. Whose films are like maha-kumbh, where all purveyors of South Indian celluloid must dip to attain salvation. Whose films' runs are measured not in weeks but in years. Whose facial, oral and physical symbols are meant to be imprinted on body and soul. I was once told that it is a good thing that Baba flopped else we would all be typing only with our index and little finger extended! (Reference.)
But in Robot, where was Thalaivar? Except for the title sequence where SUPERSTAR RAJNI appeared in the ESPN font, size 4400 (causing a Tamil member of the audience to scream out loud), I could not find Rajnikanth.
Where was the entrance? Shankar - dude, watch a couple of Raj Kumar movies to see how a hero, a superstar enters a film.
Where was the elaborate putting on of sunglasses (which, this foreigner calls 'more elaborate than Vegas floorshows')? Here, somebody else put it on him.
Where was the swish of the angavastram? And the whiplash of the pointed finger?
Where are the punch diaogues?
And, who is this slightly dark, wrinkled guy with bad skin and strange wigs?
The only person who seemed to have got some Superstar out of the movie was director Shankar, who peddled Rajnikanth to get Sun Pictures to cough up Rs 150-crore for his techno-masturbation. The tragedy is that the rest of the fans were so busy doing aratis and screaming their vocal chords into chowmein that they did not notice either.  
All I got out of the movie was a feeling that tons of money were burnt to make needlessly complicated sets, costumes crazier than Mohan, outlandish locations (along with lyrics involving Mohenjodaro and Kilimanjaro), AR Rehman's worst score (Boom Boom Robot is much worse than the CWG anthem).
The only not-enough-to-be-saving grace was that Shankar has finally moved on from the vigilante-killing-traffic-inspectors-and-capitation-fee-purveyors-in-elaborately-choreographed-ancient-rituals theme.
That's a first step. Maybe he will write a script instead of cheques in his next venture.

Epic Fail #2: The Cultural Baggage of a Superstar
As I saw the film squirming and waiting for what I hoped would be a Supertar Entry, I realised that one needed a whole lot of cultural conditioning to enjoy movies of aging superstars.
For example, my generation never saw Amitabh Bachchan in his prime. We only hear stories from parents, uncles, elder brothers. The legends - wildly exaggerated when they reached us - spread like juicy rumours. His explosive earlier films. The lines of Salim Javed, which seemed to be there for every occasion. The hundreds of rupees in coins that were swept off cinema floors after first shows. The press ban, making him even more exclusive. The Allahabad election. The Amul hoardings. The corporation.
When I went to see Mohabbatein with a South Indian friend, I was seeing the professor of Kasme Vaade, the father of Adalat, the bearded hero of Shahenshah. And he was seeing a slightly caricaturish disciplinarian, who was getting trumped by SRK in almost every scene. I came out predicting his triumphant return to Bollywood and my friend came out wondering if dinner at Hotel Swagath would have been a better idea.
I am sure if Ganga Jamuna Saraswati's crocodile scene had been shown South of Vindhyas, it would have got booed. I got goose-bumps during the same scene.
All I know about Rajni is that he has counted to infinity, twice. And *hyuk hyuk* he knows Victoria's Secret.
I have no experience of Billa (a frame-by-frame copy of Don, incidentally), Basha, Muthu or Annamalai (love this scene, even if I don't understand a jot of it!). I was never lathi-charged in front of Matunga's Aurora Cinema. I never preserved the tickets for my show of Padayappa.
I have no connect with the huge history that holds up the cardboard cut-out when tons of garlands are put around it. I am untouched by the passion that causes aratis to be organised before shows. I never stressed over Rajni's entry into politics and therefore, I miss all the socio-political references (not that there were any in Robot). So, when fans are seeing 150-films-worth-of-ecstasy, I am just seeing a bad wig.
Fans would say this is the evolution of Rajni. He is now confident enough to eschew 'punch dialogues' and grand entries. He is willing to let new directors experiment with his image.
If that is true, then he should go the distance. He should get people in cinemas with his super-stardom and surprise them with some super-acting instead.
(And to know how its done, he can always look at recent references.)

After all, he probably remembers the lines of a forgotten superstar - I will do what I say. I will even do what I don't say.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Quiz Time (2): In Defence of Dadagiri

Having put down my thoughts on ‘good’ quiz questions, I realized that I had disguised my philistinism quite well since a commenter pointed out that Dadagiri (a Bengali TV quiz show, conducted by – who else – Sourav Ganguly) is the worst form of quizzing. Now, TV quiz shows form my favourite genre – not because the questions are tough (sometimes, they are) but because of the host’s charisma.
Also, I would like to distinguish between quiz shows and game shows. The former requires a spot of grey matter, a little bit of listening skills and a bit more of nerve (e.g. Kaun Banega Crorepati). The latter requires no grey matter, no hearing and a passion to demonstrate the lack of them to a million people (e.g. Dus ka Dum).

So, here is a quick recap of 5 quiz shows on Indian television. (BONUS QUESTION: Which film had the tagline – 50 million people watched. No one saw a thing?)

One of my earliest memories of Doordrashan involve Narottam Puri conducting a Sports Quiz (which was called the ‘longest running television quiz show in the world’ on the blurb of his book) where questions ranged from “Who won the gold in Men’s 400m in the Helsinki Olympics” to “Who was at the non-striker end when Bradman got out for a duck in his last innings”.
The questions were strictly in the rote-learning zone but Dr Puri’s genial charm and clipped accent made it quite watchable.
In any case, it was not as if MasterChef Australia was running on the other channel, then!

After a few years, we had Quiz Time and Indian television’s first non-fiction star was born – Siddharth Basu. While the first season succeeded purely because of the quality of questions and competition, Mr Basu’s smiling visage and Stephanian diction did a lot to improve the viewership from the second season onwards. The questions were not really ‘workoutable’ but the general appeal of ‘GK’ in India, the sight of pleasant youngsters from pitting their wits against each other and the Indian family trying to answer questions before the college dudes made the shows a huge success.
For me personally, this was the first time I was hooked to a TV show!

A couple of years back, we had Bollywood Ka Boss. It was a ‘tough’ quiz on Hindi cinema, made quite interesting by the anchor’s (Boman Irani) personal proficiency in trivia of this kind. It was quite obvious he was having a lot of fun himself when he asked questions like “From which film’s song does DDLJ take its title from?” and “Which pair of siblings sang the children’s version of Kitni hain pyaari pyaari dosti hamari from Parinda?”
The show suffered a bit on the production values because Indian TV audience had seen far swankier sets and fatter prize money than on BKB but for Bollywood trivia buffs, this was the best attempt to have something that made sense. (BONUS QUESTION: Which blogger could not take part in Bollywood Ka Boss because he contributed questions to it?)

There are quiz shows on television. Then, there are quiz shows on television. And finally, there is Kaun Banega Crorepati.
Starring India’s two biggest superstars, KBC transcended the boundaries of TV and became a part of its life – evolving its own lingo (“lock kiya jaye?”), own furniture (“hot seat”) and a cult following.
Here, the first host – Amitabh Bachchan – had a stellar role to play. Seen on the small screen for the first time, the Big B was the kind uncle, the humourous cousin, the flirtatious neighbor and sometimes even the superstar. The questions were completed only by his passive hints – the naughty smile when somebody answered wrongly, the quick ‘locking’ when somebody answered correctly and his mock consultations with Computer-ji. KBC was not about winning (then) the biggest prize money offered on TV, it was also once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to interact with Amitabh Bachchan.
My favourite KBC moment is not when Harshvardhan Navathe answered “Who among these does the Indian Constitution permit to take part in the proceedings of Parliament?” but when Amitabh asked a lady contestant, “You had won Rs x at the end of yesterday’s show. What were you thinking about last night?” and she said with a giggle, “Aap ke baare mein…” Sweet!

When a celebrity anchors a show, his personality becomes an intrinsic part of the package and even more so, when the show is named after him. Therefore, Dadagiri is nothing without Sourav Ganguly.
But as a new fan, I find the questions (at least some of them) and the way Sourav conducts the show very interesting. He handles the celebrities on the show with just the right amount of disdain that made him Maharaj and the commoners with just the right amount of chumminess that makes him Dada. He gives away hints as if they are going out of fashion but doesn’t forget to sneer (“Etao parlen na?”).
And the questions are nicely topical. For example, actress Locket Chatterjee was shown a clip from Kuch Kuch Hota Hain and asked “What was written on Shahrukh’s *crooked grin* locket *pause* in that scene?”. Another question featured a song from Gupi Bagha Phirey Elo and the singer had to be identified. The hint was “amader khub kachher manush” (Somebody very close to us). The correct answer turned out to be one of the other contestants on the show!

Hence, my humble submission is that TV quiz shows – especially celebrity ones – feed a lot from the host. And there is nothing wrong with it. The mannerisms, the turns of the phrases and the fan-boy reactions are all part of the package.
After all, it is not only a quiz. It is a show as well.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Quiz Time

The first question I ever answered in an ‘open’ quiz was when I was about ten.

To be honest, it was not a fully open quiz but among the clubs of Calcutta. Since Dalhousie Institute was one of the participants, let me assure you a club quiz in Calcutta is nothing like the vodka-drenched Tambola that typically constitutes intellectual pastimes in Delhi clubs.
I managed to answer the question, which even the venerable DI could not answer, simply because I was closest in age to the factoid – “What is the name of Aladdin’s father?”

Now that I have bragged a bit, let me accept that that was not a very good quiz question because it tests only your memory.
Either you remember your fairy tales or you don’t. There is no other way to answer that question.
On the other hand, a really good quiz question tests your memory (remembering at least two reasonably well-known pieces of information), logical reasoning (connecting the aforementioned pieces of information), psycho-analysis and social skills (because sometimes, you also need to know the state of the quiz-master’s mind from your interactions with him before and during the quiz).
And after all that, you need a wee bit of luck.

Enthused by the venerable JAP’s deconstruction of a good quiz and Arul Mani’s reminisces, I thought I will also put down some of my fondest memories of quizzing.

Consider this question for a moment.

How do we better know the friendly cricketer, who used to play for the MCC and was called the 'Tate of India' because he was thought to be as fast as the legendary English fast bowler?
Okay, what are the hints in the question? He is an Indian fast bowler, who played for the MCC. How many Indians have played for the MCC? Very few, right? The Senior Pataudi. Anybody else – because he wasn’t a fast bowler? Did either of Amar Singh or Mohammed Nissar play for MCC?
At this point, you want to buy some time and ask the quiz-master to repeat the question. He starts again and you suddenly hit upon “…know the friendly cricketer…”
Why friendly cricketer? He had a lot of friends? How do we know? Was there some story about him and his friends? Him and friends?
Oh god – wait a minute! That MCC is not in Marylebone. It is Malgudi Cricket Club. This is not about Nissar. This is about Swami and Friends!

Some concrete knowledge – preferably not too esoteric – with some circumstantial evidence and a little bit of joining-the-dots… that should be a good quiz question.
For example, Sholay had a phenomenal record for running for 5 years at a stretch in Minerva theatre of Bombay. Why was Sholay taken off from Minerva?
Okay, so Sholay released in 1975 and ran till 1980 – common knowledge. It couldn’t have been taken off for not packing it in – gut feel. There has to be a emotional reason, then – deduction. Who will Minerva do a favour to? Should be the guys who helped them rake in the moolah in the first place, right? What did Sippy Films do in 1980? Oh – of course, they released their next blockbuster, Shaan! And that’s why Sholay was taken off. It made way for the next film of its makers.

Nice, no?

As the venerable JAP has propounded, brevity is the soul of Twit (and blogs as well), I will stop here. Will be back with more soon.
In the interim, you might as well read my earlier posts – here, here, here.

Monday, September 20, 2010

10 Scenes from Satyajit Ray

To justify my favourite pastime - of trawling through YouTube for old movie & song clips - I end up writing posts on nostalgic themes, which is very satisfying for me to spend Sunday afternoons on. What it does for you, persevering reader, I am not too sure. 

While thinking about today's post, I tweeted for suggestions. Needless to say, several intelligent, perceptive and articulate individuals (read: Bengalis) jumped up with their suggestions - all of which were absolutely spot-on and pretty much covered the best sequences from Ray's works. However, I also realised that they are also quite obvious. In fact, I had many of them in my mind myself. And the number of scenes exceeded 10 by a factor of 1.5!
I also got a nice suggestion from @indrayanc on the selection criteria for the scenes - "intelligent humour on screen, restrained portrayal of human tragedies & wonderful acting by child actor". 

I have chosen for myself a different parameter.
For many decades, there have been controversies around Ray's cinematic adaptations of Bengali literary classics in which he deviated from or embellished the original plot. And my list of scenes are ones which did not figure in the original literary work the films are based on. They were devised as exclusively cinematic set-pieces and I believe the original stories became richer with these additions. (But then, what do I know?)

Aranyer Dinratri - Memory Game
There were many departures in the screenplay from the original novel (by Sunil Ganguly) in which four unemployed young men traveled ticket-less to the jungles of Palamau. In the film, they were four friends from the same background but of different affluence levels - creating interesting, new tensions. 
The most famous scene from the film - in which the four protagonists and their two lady friends play a memory game - was not in the novel. It is a masterly use of the cinematic medium to depict the mental conditioning, outlook towards life and the interplay between the six main characters. 

Gupi Gayin Bagha Bayin - The Morning After
The fable of the singer and drummer who get three boons from the King of Ghosts and change their lives totally was written by Ray's grandfather. Exuding great imagination, it was a very short story and Ray added several lovely scenes to take it up to feature film length. The most famous one is, of course, a Dance of Ghosts that experiments with different kinds of music and forms to create a magical sequence.
My favourite scene - though - is the one that occurs right after this one. When Gupi (the singer) wakes up in the morning, he is a little unsure if he really got the boons or if they were part of a dream. To test it out, he lets out an alaap (in the magical voice of Anup Ghoshal) and goes delirious with joy. The innocence, the ecstasy and the beautiful song that follows - oh, joy!
GuGaBaBa had an overdose of brilliant scenes including a demonstration of musicians from different schools - just before the two heroes burst on to the scene and save the king from boredom! 

Pratidwandi - The Vietnam Interview
Yet another novel by Sunil Ganguly takes a look at Calcutta of late 1960s, through the eyes of a young unemployed man - Siddhartha Chaudhuri - who tries his best not to leave his city or his dreams.
To establish the character & background of the articulate, intelligent and sensitive Siddhartha, Ray constructs an interview scene (right at the beginning of the film) in which he is asked to name the 'most significant event of the last decade'. After a considerable amount of thought, the protagonist comes up with 'the war in Vietnam' and 'the plain human courage' that the war brought out. Unfortunately for him, the correct answer had already been decided as had been the allegiances of those who thought highly of the Vietnamese people.
On popular demand, I also include the last scene of the film. For those who haven't seen Pratidwandi, I can explain the significance of the bird call, the funeral chant and the words that end the film. But it would be so much better if you just watched the film once.

Shonar Kella - Jatayu
Shonar Kella, based on Ray's own story, was the first Feluda film. But nobody caught the imagination of the viewers as Jatayu, played by the hyper-talented Santosh Dutta. In an unprecedented move, Ray changed the illustrations of Jatayu in the novels released after the film in a homage to the actor who made the role his own. 
My friend, Udayan (he of the defunct blog, Bandra Blues) recommends that all scenes of Shonar Kella that have Santosh Dutta in them deserve to be included. And he is right.
But for purposes of variety, I will just include the introduction scene (from 1:45 onwards in the clip) - where Jatayu enters the same train compartment as Feluda at Kanpur station and hangs on for the rest of the adventure.
In the book, Ray introduces the thriller writer in two lines which highlight the disparity between his diminutive physique and explosive plots. "Jerokom golpo lekhen, ami to bhabchhilam dekhtey hoben ekebarey James Bond-er baba..." In this sequence, he steals the thunder from Feluda like no one else can.

Apur Sansar - The end of the manuscript
The third and final part of the Apu Trilogy is based on the latter part of Bibhutibhushan's sequel to Pather Panchali - Aparajito. It also has the most deviations from the original among the three films. Maybe, it was a sign of the director's growing confidence.
In the book as well as the film, Apu is shown as a sensitive, talented person with a flair for writing. In fact, his friend Pulu praises his work-in-progress novel to the skies. In the book, Apu becomes a successful novelist after the publication of his semi-autobiographical novel.
The film, however, unfolds differently. Totally shattered after his beloved wife's death, Apu leads a nomadic life - devoid of any meaning. In the most poignant scene of this film, Apu takes out his wonderful manuscript and scatters it over a valley at sunrise. The tragedy of losing a fantastic book is juxtaposed with the beauty of the setting and for a moment, we forget the original tragedy of Aparna's death. As a part of the reader in us dies.
By popular demand, I will also include the last scene of the film - where Apu finally wins over his son, not as a father but as a friend.

Charulata - Rabindrasangeet on a swing
The most criticism Ray had to endure for deviations from original novels was for his Tagore films. Needless to say, Bengalis - like rest of India - want their gods unblemished and untouched. And no upstart from Presidency College had the right to mess around with Tagore's songs and stories, even if he did spend some time at Shantiniketan.
The original short story had a very understated description of the relationship between a lonely wife and her brother-in-law while the film depicted it a little more openly. Two of the best scenes are wonderfully embellished with songs from Tagore.
My favourite scene is one in the garden, where the duo relaxes and Madhabi Mukherjee sings an unplugged version of Phuley phuley dholey dholey, while riding on a swing. The scene composition with POV shots, the camera movement and Madhabi's expressions are all perfect.
Again, on popular demand, I will include a full Rabindrasangeet by Kishore Kumar, which was recorded in Bombay to fit into the star singer's alarmingly busy schedule. As you will realise, it was totally worth it.Of course, the Tagore mafia screamed blue murder at the conversations in between the songs as well as the changed word at the end of it. Sigh! 

Joi Baba Felunath - The Climax
 This is the second Feluda film and by and large, follows the original plot.
Except for one major change in the climax. One of the amazing scenes earlier in the film is a knife-throwing incident where the mild-mannered Jatayu became the target of a wheezing knife-handler. This scene exuberantly performed on screen by Kamu Mukherjee was delightful to see but was not a deviation from the original.
The climax was. It paid back Maganlal Meghraj - Ray's most awesome adversary, played with great relish by Utpal Dutt - in his own coin. Watch it.

Mahapurush - The Roasted Hippo
The story of the god-man was taken from a much-loved novel by Parashuram. While the film added several jokes to establish the divinity of the Birinchibaba, the basic plot & scenes remained the same.
The novel had a passing speculation that the smooth-talking, name-dropping Baba might be receiving some assistance one his patron's shady relatives. In the film, this became a full-fledged scene (watch from 44:00 onwards) in which the connection and the monetary incentives thereof were clearly established. And this wasn't done simply. It had biting wit, a dash of slapstick and Robi Ghosh.
And of course, there was the tip on where to find a roasted hippo in Calcutta. "New Market-ey cheshta kora jetey parey... okhaney toh ajkaal shobi pawa jai." (We could try New Market. Nowadays, you get everything there.)

Seemabaddha - CTC and Nobel Prize
Based on Sankar's novel of the same name, Seembaddha traces the rise and rise of a corporate executive in a multinational company. What sets apart this film from many others in the same genre is the amazing detailing of the corporate life in 1970s Calcutta - the offices, the clubs, the race courses, the beauty parlours, the company flats.
In what I consider a fantastic scene, the executive's (trophy?) wife explains the many priorities of her life to her sister. Her son's stay in a boarding school, her husband's impending promotion... and his fat salary. Rs 1,20,000 per annum, she says. Her culturally inclined sister gasps in wonder - that's what Rabindranath Tagore got as cash award for his Nobel Prize!
Sorry, could not dig out a clip of this one. Will be much obliged if someone locates it for me.

Chiriakhana - What do you know of love?
Uttam Kumar played Byomkesh Bakshi in this adaptation of Saradindu Banerjee's novel of the same name, which is widely regarded as Ray's weakest film.
It was one of the first Ray films that I saw and therefore, I have a soft corner for the film. Actually, I like it a lot despite its obvious rough edges. Byomkesh was no longer the cerebral Bengali bhadralok and quite a handsome rake, not beyond forcibly entering homes of Anglo-Indian beauties!
A missing film actress forms a vital link in the story and what is presented merely as the interview of a film buff in the novel comes across as a full-blown song in the film (which I cannot locate a video of, and hence making do with an audio link). The song - apparently starring the elusive actress - is shot and sung in the typical heavy-handed style of old Bengali cinema. Ray has made fun of this genre quite often but when it came to shooting a romantic number of the same genre, he did a fab job of asking the nyaka question - Bhalobashar tumi ki jano?

So, those were my best scenes in my book that did not come out of the books. What are yours?

Friday, September 17, 2010

Real Estate: Places of Mahabharat

Writing about Mahabharat - I don't tire of!
So, here is a quick list of places one comes across in Mahabharat and where they exist the in present-day sub-continent. Unlike most of my posts (which have zero research), this is extensively researched and cross-checked (read: one afternoon of Wikipedia browsing!).

Hastinapuri - The original capital of Kurus, this is located in present-day Meerut district of Western Uttar Pradesh. As far as I can recall, it is about 30 kms out of Meerut town and that makes it about 100 kms out of Delhi.

Indraprastha - When Dhritarashtra realised his brother's sons and his own brood would get into a tussle over the throne of Hastinapuri, he offered Yudhishthir a huge forest called Khandav and asked him to set up his kingdom there. Obviously, Yudi was a Lokhandwala in disguise and he happily accepted this land about 70 kms away from the centre of the universe (as it was then). His two brothers and adviser Krishna immediately set about burning the entire forest down - including all the animals (Maneka-ji, wake up! It is just a story...) and built a city fit for the king of gods, which they called Indraprastha.
And the land prices in present-day Indraprastha is about 100 times that of present-day Hastinapur!
ASIDE: The west bank of Yamuna was a great favourite of the Kauravs to fob off people with. As I mentioned earlier, they gave a village on the outskirts of what would become Indraprastha to Dronacharya for his services in teaching the princes the art of warfare.

Kurukshetra - For the mother of battles, a massive tract of plain land was required. In addition, this land had to be barren because fertile land could not be wasted in trifling matters like the war to decide the future of the country. Lesson for Buddha-babu, no?
A district in present-day Haryana, about 150 kms from Delhi (Indraprastha, if you will) was the chosen location - which was blessed because millions of bravehearts died a valiant death here. And the rivers of blood that flowed, the land became fertile. I don't know what crops are grown here but Kurukshetra University churns out a large number of graduates every harvesting season!

Gandhar - Homeland of the eponymous Gandhari, this corresponds - as the name suggests - to modern day Kandahar. In a strange turn of events, the Afghans married their daughter off to the blind nephew of Bhishma (who was a bit of dude in those times) - without actually realising the handicap. When the lady did find out, she did something even more inexplicable. Instead of screaming blue murder, she blindfolded herself and remained like that for the rest of her life.

Madra - The second wife of Pandu - Madri - came from this principality in present-day Punjab, split across the border and spreading between the Ravi and Jhelum rivers, with its capital in what would be called Sialkot. 
The first wife - Kunti - was from the Yadava clan based out of Mathura. When she was unable to conceive, a second wife was procured in the typical macho manner because it did not occur to the good Hastinapurians that their king could also be impotent!
Anyway, they got a sexy Punjaban (historical evidence: BR Chopra's Mahabharat) to get their king all excited but we all know how the impregnations really happened, don't we? The sexy Punjaban lived up to her reputation when she was taught by Kunti on how to call the gods for the not-so-immaculate conception. She promptly called twin gods - Ashwini Kumars - and had a rocking threesome to produce Nakul and Sahadev.

Panchal - The heroine of the epic was the daughter of the Drupad and was also known as Panchali for the region she hailed from.
Panchal roughly corresponded to modern Badaun and Farrukhabad districts with its capital Kannauj located around 80 kms from Kanpur.

Incidentally, all the major female characters of the epics were identified by their region. And this is true for Seeta as well, who was called Maithili (after Mithila - the capital city of her father's kingdom) or Vaidehi (after Videha - the kingdom) which are locations in present-day North Bihar or Nepal. 

Anga - When Karna challenged Arjun to a duel and was rebuffed for not being a king, he was immediately made the king of Anga by Duryodhan.
Now, Anga was not really next door as it corresponded to the region of Bhagalpur and Muger in present-day Bihar. Magadh was the western part of Bihar while Anga was the eastern part. In fact, Anga-Banga-Kalinga was a triad of regions located adjacent to each other. 

Mathura / Vrindavan / Dwarka - The seat of Yadavs (who eventually founded a great univsersity and seat of learning in the Eastern parts of the country) was Mathura, which is still called that. It is the same with Vrindavan.
When Mathura was threatened by Jarasandha (king of Magadh and Kansa's father-in-law), the Yadav king - Krishna - moved the capital out to a distant town on India's west coast which came to be known as Dwarka. By this move, Krishna avoided any casualties and gave himself time to fight Jarasandha some other day.
Being on the coast,  Dwarka was damaged by the sea several times but its resilient citizens managed to rebuild it every time and the city stands to this day, considered as one of the oldest cities in the world.

Chedi - This was the kingdom of Sisupala, another sworn enemy of Krishna - who got a boon from Krishna himself that 100 of his sins would be forgiven. He did not pay heed and committed his 101st sin at Yudhishthir's coronation, leading to his death by chakralet (read: Sudarshan Chakra).
This kingdom corresponds to present-day Bundelkhand - which means this dude was also hovering around Mathura to teach Krishna a lesson!

This post was inspired by a fine retelling of Mahabharat (Jaya by Devdutt Patnaik), which I am reading currently. I was again reminded of how much I love the epic and never tire of it. Rajshekhar Basu's version (in Bengali) was a constant companion during my growing up years. Actually, it still is. Bought on 19 August 1989, the dog-eared red book is still at eye-level on my bookshelf!
I suspect (hope?) Jaya will be the same for my son.