Sunday, May 30, 2010

Cricket or Nothing

As India crumbled to a loss against Zimbabwe last week, I almost felt something like relief. Children - brought up on the cool, calculating winning ways of MS Dhoni - would want to kill me for treason but mature readers would identify my feeling as one of nostalgia. I was just back in the 1990s.
When the best one could hope for was that Sachin would plunder a hundred or Kumble would get a five-for. Indian victory was strictly rationed and given out only when everybody had switched off the TV and gone to sleep.

My favourite cricket story from the 1990s happened in 1998, when I was doing an internship for a consumer goods company in Calcutta. Assigned to a sales manager for 'induction', I was thrown to various markets of the city in April. He had a healthy - and justified - disdain for MBA-types like me and I was too scared to speak up in the first paid assignment of my life.
One morning - 23rd April, 1998 to be precise - I reported for work with a fever. I was hoping to take the day off but my mumbles did not have any effect on him and we trudged off in the direction of Behala market for an honest day's work. I consoled myself that I could always pop a couple of Crocins (one of the company's products) if I felt worse.
After some time - probably half-an-hour, which felt like two - we took a tea-break and he lit a cigarette.
"Kaal khela kemon dekhley?" (How did you like the match yesterday?), he asked.
I mumbled that I had fever and had gone to bed without seeing the full match.
He chucked the cigarette and straightened as if something had hit him.
"Eto shorir kharap? Sheki, thik korey bolbey to? Jao jao, ekkhuni bari choley jao" (You never said you were so sick! Should have said so earlier. Go home right now.)
He immediately got me into a cab and sent me home. If I was sick enough not to watch one of the Greatest One-Day Innings of All Time, I had no business selling milk food to Behala shopkeepers.
More so, such things happened so rarely those days.

I keep saying this to younger colleagues. People like me - who had their most prolific movie-watching years in the 1990s - are bigger fans of cinema because we endured the worst to get to the best.
That's true for cricket as well.
To paraphrase Soumya Bhattacharya, we either had to endure an Indian loss or nothing. And nothing did not have Sachin scoring 143.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Visual Round

Here are some questions that I had done some time back as an online quiz and then never put it out anywhere. The quiz was visual to make Googling at least difficult, if not impossible.

Take a shot. And no Costa Coffee vouchers this time.

1. Who are these two people? And what is the connection?

2. What is the connection between these two blurbs?

3. An Amul topical from the mid-80s. What did the blacked out part say?

4. Name the other guy.

5. An ad. Which brand?

6. Name this alter ego of Calvin.

7. Who does this child grow up to be?

8. What was the original 'curious incident of the dog in the night-time'?

9. Spot the film. Easy.

10. Which company's price graph? Easier.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Stereotype. Its faster.

"I am like my mother. I stereotype. Its faster." - Ryan Bingham, Up in the Air.

I often have discussions with colleagues on how established stereotypes are not accurate, but a lot of fun! How the jokes about silly Sardars are completely fictitious as are the ones about lazy Bengalis. South Indians are no more hard-working than West Indians and Tam Brahm conservatism is a thing of the past.
A colleague asserts that stereotypes are a good generalising tool. My own point of view is that much as I want to believe that Bengalis are very intelligent people, it is not really possible for regions or races to share a few general traits.

This got brilliantly disproved when I subscribed to a new service on my phone - Radio Mirchi on Airtel. By calling 59830, you can hear any Radio Mirchi station on your phone. Needless to say, I opted for "Its hot" in a Kolkata sing-song instead of the Delhi bravado.
But how can two stations of the same radio channel be different - when they are playing almost the same songs, using the same jingles and even the same ads?
Simple. The contest questions, which have prizes like CDs, meal vouchers, discount coupons.
Typical questions in Delhi are like, "What is the name of the Akshay Kumar film, directed by Sajid Khan and starring Deepika Padukone?"
Yesterday's question in Mirchi Kolkata was "What is the chemical formula of Glucose?" OMFG! I was so tickled that I was laughing all by myself in the car.
And just in case, you thought Calcutta was full of geeky nerds who know the answer pat, they gave three choices to make it easier.
B. C6H12O6
C. C6H9O6

Come on, Delhi. Tell me the correct answer. One Costa Coffee voucher going.

Calcutta - don't bother with this shit. Check this out, instead.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Love Santosh aur Dibakar

In the last couple of months or so, I came across two brilliant works around the Indian middle-class. Both works are understated, interesting to the point of becoming gripping and reveal a phenomenal amount of incisiveness about the two creators.Unfortunately, neither of them have received even a fraction of the attention they deserved. Coming from India's two leading producers in the respective fields, this is rather strange.
One is a book. The other is a film. And I have given both of them away in my title!   

Mother Pious Lady is a book on the Indian way of life, more specifically the middle-class Indian way. The title is taken from that Great Indian Institution of Matrimonial Classifieds, where it is commonplace to mention "father civil servant, mother pious lady" - to indicate that the family has a certain stature and the would-be mother-in-law is 'more inclined to burn incense sticks than daughters-in-law'!
Nothing is too trivial for Santosh Desai to expend his 800 words on. So, we have expositions on stainless steel, summer vacations, Chupke Chupke, scooters, competitive exams, Vividh Bharati, auto-rickshaws and even the humble nightie. He manages to manage the almost-impossible task of dwelling on each topic in detail but not spending so much time that it becomes monotonous.
As a planner of brand development & strategy, Santosh Desai had access to - or may have commissioned - some very interesting research. For example, one study of classified advertisements over three decades revealed we - as a society - have become more conscious about looks (as we now spend more words in a matrimonial ad describing appearances). The number of words spent on education has reduced while the importance of caste has remained constant.
Strongly recommended. Keep it on your bedside table and read one chapter a day. Any chapter. Just open at any page and read.

Very few films in recent times have received such unanimous praise from reviewers as Love, Sex aur Dhokha. The audience wasn't so united. But whether they liked it or not, the shock value was undeniable.
For me, the film was such a sharply  picture of the present-day middle India that it took my breath away.
The girl at supermarket who wears a t-shirt uniform and a taveez on her arm is just visible under the sleeve. The sting-hungry TV editor who decides only a sting-on-a-sting can get TVRs out of her jaded audience. The sleazy performer at the marble-dealer's family wedding. The boyfriend who shrinks away from his girlfirend when she tells him about her friend's honour killing.
All these and a million other details make it so living that the device of using 'real footage' almost seems secondary. With such strong images to show, the visual style - though fantastic - becomes just a strong support to the screenplay.
It is a crying shame that cut-price DVDs of the film were already available when the director was recording his commentary for the 'bonus features' section of the DVD and the film was still playing in some theatres. As it is, very few - if at all - Indian films have a 'Making of..' section, deleted scenes and director's commentary...
None of the online sites seems to have the enhanced version of the DVD yet. It is priced at Rs 199 (so, don't buy Rs 149 version yet). How did I know the price? Well, the only I saw the DVD till now was a road-side pirated-CD shop in Gurgaon.
I think Dibakar Banerjee would have liked this. 

Monday, May 03, 2010

New Things

Nearly two years ago, I wrote out eight previews of books I wanted to read - then. In the ensuing months, I have managed to tick off all eight. Except that, they were in reverse order of desire. I just finished the first book on that list and the one I wanted to read the most.And that book threatened to be an all-encompassing, mind-numbing saga that my favourite author is capable of.
Having finished it about 15 minutes back, I have to choke back the emotions and wipe the sweat (as I did not have the will to get up and switch on the fan for the last 20 or so pages). Bengali zamindars, Bihari untouchables, American sailors, French botanists and British merchants are some of the brilliantly etched characters in this whirlpool of a novel - which I can not recommend enough or await the sequels more.

Therefore, ladies and gentlemen - in keeping with the promise I made, the name of this blog changes to Sea of Poppies.
For the time being.  Let's say, till my next post - about a week or so?
Because the original name is too representative of me and my ranblings to be permanently removed.

It is also probably the right time to announce that I am writing a book.
The 'little brother' of Penguin - Puffin - has contracted me to write a book - strangely enough, on cricket! I can see some of my close friends slapping their foreheads since my cricketing knowledge is dependent way too much on Awwal Number and Lagaan.
Well, this book is a companion/handbook for next year's ODI World Cup and to quote my editor, "it is supposed to be a fun compilation for teenagers. not as much as a purist's view..."
And purist, I am not!

So, here I am - soliciting ideas for the book.Congratulations and encouragements are also in order.
But ideas are most critical.
Remember, I am watching Mujhse Shaadi Karogi on Zee Cinema right now. And it won't do anybody any good if I end up writing about Harbhajan, Kaif and Nehra appearing in the climax of the movie!

I promise to blog oftener as well. If not my thoughts on watching Deewaar for the 73rd time, book updates will provide the fodder.