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.