Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Wonder Years

A very long time ago, I studied in a management institute with a group of very eccentric and hugely entertaining people. They were - and still are - intelligent, fun and fantastically crazy.
Recently, we realised that many of us have figured out a way to handle boring meetings at office - Blackberry Messenger. We decided to relive some of those wonder years by group-chatting on BBM and WhatsApp. Since most of us in general - and one in specific - are not very system-friendly, this was not as easy as it just sounded. We had to navigate through crazy questions ("Yeh BBM kiss jaanwar ka naam hain?"), multiple chats in different app windows (and questions on how to see them all together) and crazy app rules (WhatsApp only allows group size of 11 - moderator + 10).
But between all this, we managed to bring alive the magic of banter. As I wrote some time earlier, the thing with good friends is that you manage to pick up the thread from where you left it last. Even if it was a decade back.

I am reproducing some of the exchanges we have had over the last couple of days. Imagine, we churned out this shit in just two days... and most of us managed to save our jobs as well!

- Why can't I upload this picture? It stops at 95%.
- Mantri ne paisa khaya, 3G poora nahin lagaya...

- Is Eid today or tomorrow?
- Tom.
- Uncle Tom.
- Tom Marvolo Riddle.
- Tom toh thehre pardesi...

- In a boring meeting. Please entertain. Off to Goa tomorrow.
- Baarish mein kya karega Goa mein?
- Baarish ke season mein hi toh mazaa hain, meri myna
Note: all the three participants in the above exchange are male.

- Good morning, bayz. Read last night that Napoleon's grandson created the FBI. Also, read a few months ago that a Prof Smith of New Jersey has Napoleon's penis locked up in a box under his bed. He sleeps soundly at night.
- J Edgar Hoover is Napoleon's grandson?
- F***, what dream did you have?
- He dreamt of Agent Scully chasing him with Napoleon's penis.
- Bhag bhag DK Bose...

- Did you guys know ***** (name of a group-mate) means 'golden semen'?

- You are worse than a child in a candy store. You are like an amputee in a prosthetic store.

- Your location cannot be determined bol raha hain (after attempting to share location with friends).
- Gurgaon has still not been mapped.
- Too many cowsheds confused mapmakers.

- I have a serious question. I don't have ****'s phone number or BB pin. Then how is his name appearing on my list?
- I am omnipresent.
- F***er, you are not omnipresent. You are Maruti Omni.

- I have not seen you for so long. Click a picture of yours and send.
- Ensure decent lighting.
- Will you fit in a regular camera phone or do you now need a wide-angle lens?
- F***ers, I now run on a treadmill at speed 9 for one hour daily. If any of you ponchies can beat me, I will hang myself upside down, take a photo and put it up on FB.
- How are you? Just came in and read running for an hour at 9... kisse bhaag raha tha?

Wow. No, really. Wow!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

My 10 Favourite Madhuri Songs

I follow only two stars on Twitter – the only two who still get me all excited when I watch them on-screen. One of them tweets religiously (@SrBachchan) while the other almost never (@MadhuriDixit1). The former is still all over the place playing sharpshooters, college principals and quiz masters in consecutive outings. The other is settled in happy domesticity in some corner of obscure Denver.

When I first saw Notting Hill – especially this scene – I remember wondering how fantastic it would be if someone remade the film in Hindi with Madhuri in the lead role. Who else has a smile more luminous than Julia Roberts’?

Since I don’t get to see her that often except for fleeting appearances in dance reality shows, I thought of going back in time and listing my favourite Madhuri Dixit songs. A classmate of mine asked me to post about our college days. This post – if you think about it – is about our college days only.
(Subtle plug: Another list ahead of The Book of Bollywood Lists. *nudge wink*) 

So, here is the list in increasing order of my passion…

It is a standard practice in all Subhash Ghai films that there is always at least one crowd-pulling song and at least one ‘melody’ song. This song probably falls in the second category and Madhuri lights it up – making up for the ugly visage of stubbled, eye-patched Sanjay Dutt and the portly Ghai.
As a village belle, she looked the kind that could make a million Swades-es happen!

This was another Sanjay Dutt (and Jeetendra in the film, for good measure) song that got totally redeemed by Madhuri. There was a lot of controversy about the originality of this song (which released just ahead of Jumma Chumma in Hum) but that just paled into the background as Madhuri made an appearance as a dancing silhouette to Bappi Lahiri’s tunes.

In a setting reminiscent of her earliest hit, Madhuri danced on a stage that went right into the audience, which – in turn – clapped as if Madhuri Dixit was dancing live in front of them. A Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan tune found new meaning with Madhuri’s signature mix of energy and grace. 

Ever since I saw Anil Kapoor give Mandakini a lift on his cycle, it was my teenage dream to do so with Madhuri Dixit. I sat around doing nothing about it (I learnt cycling, though) and when I saw Ayub Khan achieve that dream of mine, I was shattered. But I recovered from this trauma over time and started liking this lovely song where Madhuri brought a hitherto unseen rustic charm.

RD Burman’s dulcet melody was like a gossamer backdrop to a love story which was set in a film that called itself ‘the most powerful film ever made’. Madhuri and Anil Kapoor waltzed in the drawing room to the accompaniment of colour coordinated dupatta, t-shirt, soup and salt shaker. And the only thing brighter than the yellow was Madhuri’s smile.     

In one of her last roles, Madhuri signed off her Bollywood career in a blaze of glory as Chandramukhi and her best moment was the one invented for this film. Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s rather audacious departure from the classic deserve to be forgotten for this amazingly choreographed sequence – where two of Bollywood’s divas pulled out all the stops. 

This is my wild card entry. In Punkaj Parashar’s chaotic but good-looking Robin Hoodesque caper, Madhuri performed this song in a shimmering chiffon saree. Her svelte figure slithered around in what seemed to be a shipwreck as Anil Kapoor balefully looked on. Sensuality was never so subtle and yet so rampant.

If there has been one person who has managed to match Madhuri step for step in a dance sequence, it has been the India Rubber Man – Prabhu Deva. In a film where Anil Kapoor secured his place in the Ignoramus Hall of Fame by choosing Namrata Shirodkar over Madhuri, Prabhu Deva choreographed and danced in this sequence supposedly at an army get-together. If they advertised this more, Army entrance tests would see more rush than Indian Idol auditions!

- Namashkar!
- Namashkar!
- Kahiye, kya sunege aap?
- Pehle yeh kahiye kahan thi aap?
- Main? Main kar rahi thi kisi ka intezaar…
- Kaun hain woh?
- Woh jisse main karti hoon pyaar!
- Haiii…
- Aur jisse main karti hoon minnatein baar baar
- Kaise?
- Aise! Ring rong ring…

What can I say about this song in a disaster of a film in which an amnesiac hired gun is treated by his intended victim - Dr Dixit. You would be within your rights to ask what was the good doctor doing in that yellow, midriff-glorifying fisher-woman outfit? Well, would you rather have her dance in a white lab coat and stethoscope? (Actually, she was performing in a function of her hospital.)
BTW, all the size zero heroines should observe how her midriff moves in this song and die.

Yes, there’s no Dhak dhak in the list. I feel it was a very ordinary song. Don’t agree? Make your own list then…

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Mohnish Behl: An Illustrated History

I recently made the silly mistake of commenting on a Facebook post by The Mad Momma. Like her blog posts, her Facebook status updates also garner 857 comments (on an average). For three sleepless nights, my Blackberry beeped incessantly with notifications of “XYZ also commented on The Mad Momma’s status”. Though scarred for life, I have now regained some semblance of composure and can type out sentences without those red notification asterisks blinking in front of my eyes.
So, I thought I will do a post on the topic of the aforementioned status – “Perfect jawline, stunning good looks + deeply evil aura. Mohnish Behl, you're the only villain I'd happily follow down the primrose path to the everlasting bonfire.” And also the man who propounded the First Theorem of Bollywood Friendship ("Ladka ladki kabhi...")

Son of Nutan, nephew of Tanuja and cousin of Kajol, Mohnish Behl is the only male member of his family to have entered Bollywood. His ambitions – as is normal – were centered on becoming a hero.
I remembered that in his first film, he was paired opposite Ayesha (who later married Jackie Shroff and produced Boom). IMDb now helpfully informs that the name of the film was Teri Baahon Mein and Mohnish played ‘Jungle Boy’ in the film. A poster I have dug out seems to suggest a Tarzan-type plot and treatment!

Immediately afterwards, he played the lead in the Sholay of horror cinema – Purana Mandir. Produced by the Ramsay Brothers, Purana Mandir was made famous by the pretatma (or equivalent) called Saamri and Mohnish was reduced to saving his scantily-clad fiancée from his evil curses, bulbous noses and glowering eyes. 
As the poster design indicates, creative satisfaction couldn't have been very high on his agenda while choosing this film. A DVD which eventually sells for Rs 69 indicates massive popularity at the lower end of the scale though!

Towards the end of 1980s, Maine Pyar Kiya released and Mohnish found fame (and fortune) as Jeevan who had the most crackling dialogue in the film – “Ladka ladki kabhi dost nahin hote. Yeh to ek parda hain kapkapati raaton mein dhadakti hui dil ki bhadakti hui aag ko bujhane ka…
He was good-looking (some say even better than Salman), suave and decidedly evil. He tried to shoot helpless pigeons. He tried to rape Bhagyashree (even though she was wearing a dress that didn’t ask for it). He did everything else that a good bad Bollywood villain should do.And made the ‘Young Villain’ role his own.

In the 1970s, Ranjeet was the archetypal Young Villain - son of main villain (usually Jeevan) or the foreign-returned debauch or the college bully who molests the hero’s sister. In the 1990s, it was Mohnish Behl.

In Pyaar ka Saaya (a remake of Ghost), he was the evil cousin who had Rahul Roy bumped off to usurp the property and his wife Sheeba.
In Shola aur Shabnam, he was Bali (oh, don’t ask) – Gulshan Grover’s son who was outdanced by Govinda to the tune of Aaaaoooooaaaa Ooooooo but not before some nifty moves with Divya Bharti.
In Deewana, he was Amrish Puri’s son posing clear and present danger to Rishi Kapoor and Divya Bharti (again).
See adjoining picture from Bol Radha Bol, yet another major hit!

He carried this villainy right through the 2000s. His durability is best demonstrated by his roles from Kaho Na Pyar Hain (Inspector Kadam) to Rann (Amrish Kakkar, the slimy boss of a news channel).
Like all dutiful semi-villains, he did things without logic (why would one lust after Sheeba?), without fear (why would anybody dance against Govinda?) and without hope of reward (why would one fight against Amitabh Bachchan or Hrithik Roshan?).

The other abiding character he has played in his career is the role of the sensitive soul – usually brother. This has gone from positive (most notably in Rajshree Films) to negative (when he played Sanjay Dutt’s wimpy brother in Vaastav, who disapproved his brother’s actions but depended on him to punish eve-teasers of his wife).   

In two films directed by Sooraj Barjatya, Mohnish was the archetypal Ram – playing the dutiful elder brother to stars like Salman and Saif Ali Khan.
In Hum Aapke Hain Koun, he had a mini romantic track with Renuka ‘Colgate’ Shahane and then magnanimously refused to marry Madhuri Dixit in favour of his younger brother.
In Hum Saath Saath Hain, he was literally Ram. For some strange reason, he was asked to play pocket billiard throughout the film, ostensibly due to a disfigured hand. He got to romance Tabu this time and did so with a mixture of solemn pronouncements and gleaming white teeth.  

Apart from these two tracks, I remember him in two more films.
In Kyunki Main Jhooth Nahin Bolta, he was an honest investigative TV reporter who went about doing sting operations and then hiding the incriminating videotapes in a bumbling lawyer’s shopping bag. Needless to say, he was killed for his troubles.
In Astitva, he was Tabu’s handsome music teacher whose mean moves on the vocal and carnal scales reduced the student to putty and an affair ensued. The resulting pregnancy and eventual child led to a passionate debate on a woman’s right to have children outside wedlock.

So, that’s Mr Behl for you. He’s coming again – soon – to a cinema screen near you in Khap.
Do read my other post on the other doyen of character roles - Tej Sapru.

Friday, August 05, 2011

10 Favourite Books on Cinema

Much encouragement has followed the announcement of the last post. Since the actual publication date is still several months (read: I am avoiding saying one year) away, I am thinking of new ways to pass time. And no better way than making some more lists. 
On the express request of @vicramb, I have put together a list of my favourite books on cinema. 

I have applied one arbitrary rule on this list and have excluded screenplays. I have some exceptional scripts produced by Seagull Books (including The Apu Trilogy and Satyajit Ray: A Film by Shyam Benegal), Om Books (including Pyaasa, 3 Idiots and Lage Raho Munnabhai) and New Market Shooting Scripts. Beautifully produced screenplays are a delight to read and can be a post in themselves. 
Also, I have only taken books in English.

So, here is the list of my favourite books in the order in which I read them.  

Our Films, Their Films - Satyajit Ray 
In 1992, I read Ray's seminal collection of essays and short pieces on cinema and it changed my life. I say this without any exaggeration because I understood - for the first time - why the director's name was the last and most prominent in the credits of a film. I had seen many of Ray's films earlier but in the months following his death, I saw them again and thanks to this book, I understood how an auteur stamps his authority on a film. Interestingly, none of the essays in this book are on his own films - at least, not in detail - and yet his vision shone through. His lucid writing, sense of humour and eye for detail made it even better.    

The Film Encyclopaedia - Ephraim Katz  
This book is a marvel. 
In the early years of cable TV, BBC critic Barry Norman recommended this (among others) as a Christmas gift and since he mentioned the phrase 'tuck into a stocking', I assumed this would be a pocket-sized paperback and requested my father to get it for me when he went to the UK. It was a 1500+ page behemoth that cost an astounding 20 pounds - which only got bought because my father never said no to books. Yup, never said no to books.  
That's not why this book is a marvel. Its because this was the work of one man who compiled this entire encyclopaedia single-handedly till his death. If you see the depth of information and the perceptiveness of the reviews, you would bow your head in respect. More so, because it is virtually impossible to lift this King-Kong book to touch your forehead!

Leonard Maltin's Movie Guide
Funny, pithy and unbiased, Mr Maltin and his team have been churning out his trusty guide every year for a couple of decades now. I bought my first copy during my early college years and was hooked.
Every single entry has a review, rating, format & availability info, cast & crew data and - most importantly - trivia. That Kevin Costner's parents appeared in Tin Cup and the band Duran Duran took their name from the villain of Barbarella were things Mr Maltin told me.
And his guides continue to be as trustworthy and interesting. The only thing that changes is his photograph on the cover, where he's become much older now.

Hitchcock | Truffaut 
Before French New Wave director Francois Truffaut conducted a book-length interview of him, Alfred Hitchcock was a mere director of thrillers. After this, he was hailed as a master of the film craft. I still remember buying this book in Seagull Bookstore on a visit to Calcutta while I was studying in Jamshedpur.
Hitchcock did not speak French. Truffaut did not speak English. And yet they spoke cinema over a week in which this interview was done and it analysed each of Hitchcock's film threadbare. It also talked about his fleeting appearances in films, his considerable girth and most importantly, MacGuffins.
You don't know what a Macguffin is? You see, it is a device to shoot lions in Scotland. What, there are no lions in Scotland? Well...

Sholay: The Making of a Classic - Anupama Chopra
Anupama Chopra's 'biography' on the Greatest Film Ever Made reads like a thriller. 
I always prided myself on knowing every bit of trivia about Sholay but this book managed to dig out a million more. The stories behind the legends were delicious and did not sag even on multiple readings. The importance of Sholay in the history of Indian cinema was brought out with a mix of drama and objectivity. The stars went from humans to gods and back again.  
And most importantly, it made us thank our lucky stars. Imagine, if Shatrughan Sinha had played Jai and if Amitabh Bachchan had played Gabbar. 
But then when you think about it, they eventually did. 1, 2.

To be or not to be Amitabh Bachchan - Khalid Mohammed 
This book was released on the 60th birthday of Amitabh Bachchan (2002) and the cover price was Rs 3000. In early 2003, this book was available in the Bid 'n' Win programme of Sahara Airlines and a friend bought it for Rs 1000. I flew Sahara only to buy this book (and I bid Rs 1500 just to be sure that I got it). 
It is a luscious coffee table book with pictures from his childhood, his early days, films and life till then. What was meant to be an eulogy turned out to be an interesting appraisal of his life and works. Strictly speaking, this is not a book on film but on a film-star. But then, that star is the one who was an industry by himself.

Satyajit Ray: A Vision of Cinema - Nemai Ghosh and Andrew Robinson
For my birthday in 2005, my wife made a friend pick up this book (from a wonderful store called Walden) and lug  it all the way from Hyderabad to Mumbai so that she could gift it to me. 
It is a mind-bogglingly beautiful album of photographs by Nemai Ghosh on the sets of Ray's films, organised by films as well as by themes. The photographs - mostly B&W - were accompanied by a commentary from Ray's biographer, Andrew Robinson and contained many rare visuals from Ray's shooting scripts and sketchbooks. 
One of the most uplifting things in life is to watch a man who's in love with his work go about it. And when you have an acknowledged master of photography chronicling it, it becomes quite unforgettable.    

Movie Game Book - Pierre Murat and Michel Grisolia
Bollywood sorely needs a parlour game book like this. 
Apart from short profiles of stars, directors and film genres, the book has some really nifty games which had pull-outs, hidden puzzles, mix-and-match visuals and were really games and not merely trivia quizzes. Matching muses with directors, identifying heroines from their torsos, pulling out a poster design to reveal a film's names are too cool for description. 
A book on a visual medium should be visually delightful and this book fits the bill perfectly. I remember spotting it in a pile of on-sale books and getting hooked in a flash.      

10 Bad Dates with DeNiro - Richard T Kelly (ed)
The concept of this book is just unbelievably perfect. Eclectic lists on cool cigarette scenes, unusual murder weapons, severed heads, sex scenes and drunk scenes from world cinema are made in cine-heaven. Admittedly, some of the entries are from films I am not familiar with but the concept was, well, perfect. 
By the way, the list in the title refers to the 10 films in which Mr De Niro acted boorishly - even violently - with his on-screen women.
Sweet! Errr no, not sweet... basically, they are a few things we don't want to learn from him.

So, you want to add your own favourites?