Monday, December 31, 2012

2012: My Favourites

Wogay, enough of being depressed about life. I realised if I didn't start feeling happy, I will probably die of an imploded brain. And what better way to feel happy than to recap what is easily the second best year of movies in my lifetime. (The best year was 1975  but I don't recall seeing any movies that year.)
And not only did I recap my favourite movies this year, I went through my favourite songs, books and - for good measure - my favourite blog posts as well.

So, here are my 5 favourites in each category.

Obituaries
Don't think I am being morbid. These are some of my (and your) favourite people. When you read the obituaries of these cool people who moved on, you will realise they have left behind enough memories to last us a lifetime.

Sharmila Tagore wrote an affectionate tribute to her most successful co-star in Hindustan Times. Reminiscing about their famed pairing, she ended with a wonderfully apt allusion to his most iconic role. 
Read it here.  

My friend Abhishek (Mukherjee) wrote a beautiful tribute to Sunil Gangopadhyay, Bengali literature's enfant terrible (when he started off) and kind-of-Godfather (when he passed away). More than his literary output, it captured the emotions around Sunil really well. 
Read it here

Noted film critic Sukanya Verma wrote about the King of Romance, with a few deft personal touches. Lovely, it was. 
Read it here
While you are it, you might as well see this clip. If the world ended in 2012, this is how I would have liked to spend the last 2:25 minutes. 

Gursimranjit Khamba - a stand-up comic - remembered 'Bhatti-sir', a man whose humour inspired him. Most of us are all still able to sing the title song of Flop Show. That, I think, is our tribute to Jaspal Bhatti.
Read it here.

The last one is not a death in the literal sense. And yet for me, something died.
Yesterday when I saw India 20/4 on the TV screen, I squinted - out of reflex -to see if it was Sachin on the non-striker's end. Sachin Tendulkar retired from one-day cricket and my childhood died with that.
Two great tributes marked this end.
Arnab Ray (a.k.a. Greatbong) wrote "Sachin was us and we were Sachin", which pretty much summed up the emotions. (Here)
Siddhartha Vaidyanathan (a.k.a. Sidvee) wrote "He was, and will remain, your Model T", which pretty much summed up the memories. (Here)

Posts (Blogs et al)
Not all posts in this list - the most difficult to compile and most susceptible to misses - are on 'blogs'. They are on a variety of places and that makes them even more fun. Once you get to the blogs, do read everything else on offer there.

Jai Arjun Singh wrote about the Ten Trailblazers of Indian Cinema (for Vogue India) and to my mind, he did not include that one person who he couldn't have - himself.
Read it here.

Beth Watkins (who LovesBollywood) discovered Soumitra, Satyajit and Bengali cinema this year (though not necessarily in that order). Her review of Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne is representative of her 'study' this year.
Read it here.

Abhishek attempted to take The Legend to a larger audience. He. Started. Translating. The. Dialogues. Of. Gunda.
*Dramatic Pause*
Read. It. Here.

When The Best Hindi Movie is here, can the Best Hindi Movie Songs be far behind? Vaibhav Vishal selected ten of the best and the post went - what marketers call - viral.
Read it here.

At a time when Delhi was the most maligned city in the country, Diligent Candy declared herself to be a diwani and bared her soul about this magnificent yet maligned city. 
It was not a blogpost but a collection of tweets, storified here

Honourable Mention: I first thought I will not include her blog because she is my cousin. But then, I realised that neither am I Macmohan and nor is she Raveena Tandon vying for National Awards that I will do all this faux-objectivity. If you want to know what makes Bengalis tick, you have to have to HAVE TO read Parama's post on Bong-ness.

Movies
I had to spend several agonising hours to make this list of 5. I could have taken the easy way out and done top ten but that would have taken the fun out of it. What's the fun of making lists if you don't have to keep some good ones out? 

5. English Vinglish
Sridevi's comeback film beat Shanghai to reach the fifth spot because of one deft touch. (Yes, that's how close it was.) When Sridevi walked out of the movie hall, she passed by a poster of a Clark Gable-Ava Gardner movie. The movie was Mogambo. 

4. Vicky Donor
"Yeh tera Pishi jo hai... yeh cat hain ya dog?" 
Ayushman Khurana brought Lajpat Nagar right into my CR Park sensibilities and made me feel overly protective of Yami Gautam. But then, his uncle charmed me with the light-bulb dance at the Punju-Bong wedding. And his mother floored me with her evening drinking sessions.

3. Gangs of Wasseypur I & II
When Gangs of Wasseypur comes in at No. 3, it is indicative of the quality of the year's cinematic output. Juxtaposing the cultural icons of our childhood with a Godfather-like tale of passion and retribution,  Anurag Kashyap created the benchmark of 'cult' in Bollywood. As a trivia-buff, I can only smack my lips at the many nuggets that are sure to be unearthed during multiple viewings.
Easy Peasy Trivia Quiz: What connects Dil To Paagal Hai, Kasam Paida Karne Wale Ki and Kahaani Sharabi Aurat Ki? 

2. Bhooter Bhabishyat
After watching the film, my first reaction was "If Parasuram had written the script for Khosla Ka Ghosla, and Satyajit Ray had directed it, it would have been Bhooter Bhabishyat."
I stand by that.

1. Kahaani
I know it is probably not the best film of the year but this is not the National Awards. It is my list of favourites and I did not like anything this year more than the South Indian wife of a Bengali man who was lost in the most beautiful city in the world. If people can go through life without dining at Mocambo, I am sure they can get by without liking Kahaani also. Though, I can't do that.

Books
I planned to read 52 books in 2012. I ended up with about 30ish - which was not bad since I wasted inordinately large amounts of time on Twitter and Temple Run. The 2013 resolution is to reach very close to 52.

5. Dongri to Dubai: Six Decades of Mumbai Mafia (S Hussain Zaidi)
A brilliant retelling of the history of crime in Bombay from the 'honorable' days to the 1990s bloodbath to the present uneasy calm, told from the vantage point of the city's best-known crime journalist. Unputdownable.

4. Would You Like Some Bread With That Book? (Veena Venugopal)
I love books. I love people who love books. I love books by people who love books. I love stories about books in books by people who love books. This was a series of delightful anecdotes/observations about the author's reading life and has got to be the least known, most underrated book of the year.

3. The Mine (Arnab Ray)
I don't think I will be able to read this book again. The raw material with which the author created the horror was from our daily lives, giving it a jaggedness that was just too much for me to bear once more. I remember sitting in my dark bedroom after finishing the book and have a feeling of doom engulf me. I only came out of that abyss when I reminded myself I went to the same college as the author.

2. Deep Focus: Reflections on Cinema (Satyajit Ray)
Translations of Satyajit Ray's thoughts/writings/reflections on cinema makes for wonderful reading, even if you are not a cine-enthusiast. The man writes so lucidly and thinks so clearly that you can read them as lesson in English, if not lessons in cinema.

1. Kitnay Aadmi Thay: Completely Useless Bollywood Trivia
For obvious - and blatantly shameless - reasons, this has got to be my most favourite book of 2012. In fact, this is my most favourite book ever.
Known people, unknown people, relatives, friends, colleagues, critics just adopted this book - making it my happiest memory of 2012. I read somewhere "It's hard to do a really good job on anything you don't think about in the shower". Thank you all, for making me think about KAT again and again in the shower.

Have a great 2013.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

For My Two-Year Old Daughter

Dear Drishti, 

I woke up today to find that a 23-year old Indian girl has died in Singapore. 
The girl had been sent there for treatment for the injuries she had sustained a couple of weeks back when six people raped her in a bus while she was returning home from a movie. I really hoped she would pull through because she was sent to the best hospital for organ transplants in Asia but... 

When I read the headline on a website, I told your mother and she did what I was dreading. She switched on the TV. As I tried to shut out the newscaster solemnly giving out details of her death and reactions from Twitter filled up the bottom part of the screen, I was taken aback by how much I was affected by this news. I hugged your sleeping form tight and had to make a Herculean effort to blink back tears. 

And I wondered why? What triggered this response? 

As everyone knows, I am a cynic. And slightly unemotional. I don't believe I can change the world. And I am okay with that.    
Today, I was confronted by the thought - for the first time in my life - that my cynicism could be cowardice. In fact, it is cowardice. 
When I talk about protest marches being ineffective, I mean I am uneasy going where there is a risk of some crazy neta ordering a lathi charge. When I say how voting one party out would mean more of the same from another party, I am actually saying that I don't want to waste a holiday standing in queue. When I say death penalty for rapists is not the answer, the truth is I don't know what the answer is. And maybe I don't want to find out. 
And you know the bigger problem, Baby? I am in a majority. 
An overwhelming majority of us are exactly like this and we spend our outrage through a few jokes on Twitter. We don't vote. We don't go to protests. We don't fight. We don't want to change the world. Because it never happens to us. 

I don't know what made me react differently this time. 
Was it the fact the girl was returning from Select Citywalk, where we go so often? 
Was it because she watched Life Of Pi, that we have been meaning to watch for some time now? 
Or was it because of her first reaction when she regained consciousness - "I want to live"? 

Either way, I was gutted because I did not know the answer to the question I have to answer. 
In another twenty years, you will also be twenty-three. You will also go out in the evenings. You will go for movies. Hell, I want you to go for movies and plays and concerts. My fear, my terror, my gut-wrenching panic stems from the thought that if I am not able to change the world in these twenty years, what will happen to you? 
But the question really is - if I am not able to change myself in these twenty years, what will happen to you? 

Love -
Baba

Friday, December 28, 2012

Random Movies I Like: Maine Pyar Kiya

Today, Salman Khan turned 47. And despite his seven 100-crore movies, my favourite film of his is still the one that is no longer cool to admit to have seen multiple times. And if you had told me then that Salman would act in films that were more successful than his second feature film, I would have laughed. 
(Salman's first movie - Biwi Ho To Aisi - was an epochal study on the use of female authority in Indian households, also remembered for Bindu's clarion call 'Secretary, follow me'.) 

Just now, I realised one SM Ahale is credited for the 'story' of Maine Pyar Kiya which is surely the oldest formula in Bollywood cupboard. The screenplay and dialogue - two reasons why I loved the movie as a 14-year old - were by the true creative force behind the movie, director Sooraj Barjatya. (Though Farah Khan is of the belief that some credit for that belongs to one Omprakash Makhija!) For the teenagers that we were at the time MPK released, the then-smart-now-cheesy lines were the main draw of the movie. 
You could laugh at those now but I have attended a show of MPK where a bunch of boys distributed cake in the rear stalls when Bhagyashree's birthday was being celebrated on-screen. At that time, MPK was not merely a hit movie like Ek Tha Tiger or Dabangg. It was a social phenomenon, a cult, a way of life. 

It started with Laxmikant Berde ('first time in Hindi movie') whose absolutely juvenile lines rocked our life! 
Show me a guy who hasn't retorted with a 'same to you' when called 'stupid' and I will show you a guy who topped IIT, cooped up in his cage with algebra books. 
He sang "Bhutta mil gaya" (and then "mukka mil gaya" soon afterwards), giving a fresh lease of life to the hit from Sangam. 
His romance with milkmaid Gulabo (Huma Khan, in her only non-B movie) was a strange mix of pseudo-nyakaness and silly banter. 
His cigarette-stealing. His anchoring of the legendary antakshari. His tomfoolery. His goofy good nature.  
And of course, his description of life before iPod. "Aapka chalne wala aadmi - Walkman."

And then, there was Bhagyashree. 
When Pervin Dastur taunted Salman with "Bade old fashioned ho, Prem", the camera showed Bhagyashree cleaning glass broken by the shrew. She was homely enough to clean messes and yet she was smart enough to duck Salman's boxing gloves (hanging from the door, remember?). 
She was girl enough to get embarrassed when she caught Salman peeing. But she was boy enough to have a repartee ready. ("Madam, aajkal darwaza pe knock karne ka zamana nahin raha." / "Sir, aajkal darwaza lock karne ka zamana bhi nahin raha.")
She managed to beat Salman at table-tennis but seemed adequately embarrassed by that.   
She was a PETA member but was alarmingly adept at Satyanarayan pooja. 
She wanted to go on an evening excursion with her boyfriend but cancelled when her future mom-in-law called her for mehendis. 
She wore short (I mean, really short and shiny for good measure) dresses. But only for her fiancee. 
She kissed passionately but only with glass doors in between. 
She was the girl jo matar chhilegi, badon ka izzat karegi, hum umr se apnapan, chhoton se pyaar... sab karegi. 
In short, she wasn't just the girl you wanted to bring home to mother. The mother would have carried the home to her if you found someone like her.  

Despite my going on and on about all of them, I cannot think of MPK as anything other than a Salman movie. Salman was not just Prem. He was PREM - bold, italics, underline, font size 48. 
His stylised "abhi mood nahin hai" to his attempts at the dartboard, Salman was the most-imitated actor in the year MPK released. His "ulta shave karke raja coat pehenna" was much discussed as was his handling of Bollywood's most popular movie merchandise - the FRIEND cap. 
Even the wall full of his own B&W photographs found many admirers.
Of course, those admirers became devotees after The Party Scene.
The Party Scene had Mohnish Behl counterpointing what our man was saying about friendship between a boy and girl.
Okay. Pause. You know the lines. I know the lines. But I still have to say it. For inner peace. "Kya ek jawaan ladka aur jawaan ladki kabhi dost ban sakte hain? Yeh toh ek naatak hai, naatak. Kapkapaati raaton mein dhadakti hui dilon ki bhadakti hui aag bujhane ka."
There, Salman did not say those words but I had to. He was the reason why those words were said, okay?

And. And. And his fights.
He was as short as (if not shorter than) Aamir but his built body ensured that he was a power-packed dynamite  in the action scenes.
He did a very good boxing bout with Mohnish Behl at the Legendary Party. Despite his hair getting all spiky after the brawl, he exuded menace as he walked off with his then-subdued swagger.
The climax fight - with the truckers in the rain - had him getting all wet and bloody and I was quite scandalised to find that even girls fantasised about filmstars. On a bus ride back from school, I heard two excited college girls discussing Salman's hairy chest and how the vest clung to his chest during that fight. This was the first time I heard a filmi hero being discussed in terms different from taking home to mother.


And before I finish, I have to talk about the pre-climax showdown that was tweeted by noted film critic (and fellow 90s fan) Sukanya Verma today. The scene in which Salman wowed Alok Nath, the nation and its sister-in-law with a mix of sincerity, courage and broad chest. (And triggered this post, to some extent.) 

"Main paise phirse kamaunga babuji, main phirse paisa launga aur is baar main vaada karta hoon babuji, note bheegenge nahin."

My first reaction was to thank her profusely for the memory but then, "Dosti ka ek ussool hai, madam - No sorry, no thank you." 
How can I forget that line? How can I forget Salman for saying that line?

Happy birthday, Prem.  

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Telling God What To Do

Acknowledgements are due to Shivaramakrishnan K - whose knowledge of Amitabh Bachchan and everything associated with Amitabh Bachchan is quite legendary. His inputs pretty much made this post. 

In a few hours, Earth will stand still as the Universe starts celebrating the 62nd birthday of He Who Has Been Named as the modern incarnation of God himself.
A 3D version of an earlier hit is releasing. India's leading English publishing house is releasing his 'definitive biography'. Websites about him work without internet and urban legends sprout faster than he can put on his sunglasses. Many fans will be bathing his idol in milk and honey. In fact, I am sure some intern at Living Media is searching the 'net to provide dope for an editorial.

It was just the right time to go through some of his 'best of' lists and acquaint myself with his legend. And look what I found...

I started with Billa - the film (made in 1980) that spawned his legend as well as the legend of a next generation actor who remade the film. It turned out to be a faithful copy of a film named Don (1978). When I say copy, I don't mean a simpleton-posing-as-gangster story lift. I mean, a scene-by-scene copy - including some of the not-so-insignificant scenes like this one in a sauna.

And not only the insignificant scenes. Even the pattern on the coat - not to mention the cabaret dancer - were alarmingly similar.

Soon after Billa, came Thee (1981). Which came six years after a film called Deewaar (1975).
Both the films started with the pronouncement (from a benevolent dictator) about the long-term prospects of a shoe-shine boy.

The shoeshine boy, needless to say, lived up to the expectations.
Do note Bachchan's  subdued and Rajini's flamboyant delivery of the same punchline.

Again, Thee was a lock, stock and badge copy of Deewaar. No character seemed to have got missed. Including Rahim Chacha.

The legend of Rajinikanth spread far and wide. In Mr Bharath (1986), he locked horns with his illegitimate father to build colonies. Though not before he confronted a goon and his gang with a compassionate attitude. He got an ambulance before beating them up. Sounds familiar?

Amitabh Bachchan's monster hit of 1985 - Mard - was copied in Maveeran (1986). Though the famous display of the hero's chest ended up becoming bit of a chocolate icing in the Tamil version! See for yourself. Everything was exactly the same, including the way the titles appeared.

By the way, Maveeran coopted the services of one Mr Dara Singh to put that icing on the chest.

Amitabh Bachchan's famous Vijay Merchant-Vijay Hazare monologue from Namak Halaal (1982) was replicated word for word in Velaikkaran (1987), including the same objective (job in a hotel) and the same introduction (by a comic sidekick).

If you are thinking that these are the biggest hits of Amitabh Bachchan's careers and would spawn imitations, let me give you the example of Padikathavan (1985), which was a scene-by-scene copy of Khud-daar (1982). Khud-daar, though successful, was certainly not one of AB's iconic films but it became fodder for a Rajini film anyway. The whole gig about an ungrateful younger brother kicking the hero's ass while a beatific  elder brother looked on (unaware of the relationship).

And of course, the human taxi was there in the Tamil version as well!

Millions of fans across the world imitate Rajinikanth - a fact that has become something of an urban legend. He imitated Amitabh Bachchan - film by film, scene by scene, frame by frame - to reach where he is today. I don't know if these movies were official remakes (as in, rights bought from original makers) or unofficial inspirations. Either way, God owes his divinity to Amitabh Bachchan.
Never forget that. Okay? 

Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Homecoming

Many years ago, I went to a b-school in Jamshedpur. One of their traditions is to have a weekend  in November when all alumni are invited to visit the campus with friends and family. This is - quite beautifully - called The Homecoming. 
The Homecoming Weekend is on right now. The following piece was meant for the souvenir printed on this occasion. Some of the names may be a little personal but I am hoping many people who want to go back to their alma maters some time in the future will identify with this.

When the auto had turned the bend, you had tried to peep out and take a look at the tree-lined campus that had been your home for the past two years. Blame it on the three others who crammed into the same auto and their embarrassingly large backpacks, you couldn’t do it. Oh, what’s the big deal, you thought. You will be coming back every once in a while. Every time you come home to Calcutta for a holiday, you can squeeze in a day trip to Jamshedpur. The Bombay-Delhi guys will not be able to do this. But you can easily… 
You were not alone among the alumni who made these highly optimistic ‘return’ plans and failed miserably. Even the guilt gave way after the first three-four years.

Every once in a while on a business trip to Bombay (or Bangalore or Delhi), you postponed the evening flight out and landed up at a batchmate’s place. He would always have the dregs of an Old Monk bottle left. Chatting animatedly with the couple of other friends, you would again make elaborate plans. Hey, did you know Kingfisher flies to Ranchi now? It is even easier now. Just fly and drive down in three hours. All objections about the bad Jharkhand roads would get lost in the nostalgic high. For the Jubilee Batch (or Jalebi, as you call yourselves unselfconsciously), the campus had changed the maximum since your departure. It would be so cool to go back, you thought as you downed the Old Monk. 

These plans became more and more difficult to make as you grew older. Many of you have moved abroad. Some had multi-locational teams reporting into them. Some had started their own business. It was bloody difficult to get away from work for 4-5 days. On top of that, this recession was not making anybody’s work-life easier. (Yaar, yeh recession ko postpone karao koi. You postponed project submissions with impunity. How difficult can this be?)

Then you had children and their schools, class tests to contend with. As you grew even older, too many of your earlier generation seemed to be going in and out of hospitals. Planning with friends became nearly impossible. Instead of shacking up with a friend in a different city, it felt right that you came back hoping to catch your daughter about to fall asleep.

But you must plan again – right from scratch.
You now want to take your son along. He knows what colleges are. He has heard of these good colleges called IIM. He has to be shown the difference between the good and the best. He has to be shown those tree-lined paths. He has to be shown where the computer centre used to be (You used desktops, dad?). You had to tell him about Jesu, Gango and Sarin. You also need to prepare an answer for when he asks, “Mom, what are they shouting? What’s the next line after Ek do teen chaar?”
He has seen all his ancestral homes. It is time to show him this one as well.  

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Yash Chopra's Kaala Patthar


It has been exactly a month since Yash Chopra passed away and the avalanche of well-deserved tributes has now more or less subsided. I waited for this time when I would be able to look at his films a little objectively (though that has never been my forte) and talk about some aspect that has not been covered in all those tributes.
And after a lot of thought, I decided to write on that rough hewn solid rock of a film – Kaala Patthar.

It is quite strange that the tributes hardly mentioned Kaala Patthar because it is a perfect example of what Yash Chopra did really well for the first two-thirds of his career: superbly written, conflict-driven, emotion-driven multi-starrers. Waqt, Daag, Deewaar, Trishul, Kabhi Kabhie were all in this mould. 
Here I would also like to point out that it is a little unfair / inaccurate to label him as the King of Romance. Of the 20+ films he has directed, I can count only 8 that were out and out romances, which included his most mediocre films (Veer Zaara and Dil To Paagal Hai for example). He pretty much defined that Angry Young Man was. In any list of the 10 Greatest Hindi Films of all time, Deewaar would be a sure-shot entry. How can you dismiss such a filmmaker as a chiffon-and-snow sort of guy? 
Emperor of Emotion would be a more apt title.

Kaala Patthar – shorn of the fisticuffs and action – was essentially a tale of very complex emotions and all its characters had incredible depth. 
A disgraced naval officer. An escaped convict. An idealistic engineer. A lady doctor. A bangle seller. A cards shark. Not only the stars but even the bit parts (Macmohan as the cards shark, Parikshit Sahni as a garrulous truck driver) were portrayed with intricate detail.

It is easy to ascribe a large part of Yash Chopra’s success to Salim-Javed and indeed, their scripts for at least three of his biggest hits were superb. But if you see Kaala Patthar, you would realize the value a great director brings to a great script. Of course, the tension of the rivalries, the exploitation and the eventual climax were brilliantly structured but Yash Chopra filmed them only as he could.
He framed Amitabh’s shots in close-ups and low-angles to accentuate his brooding and heighten his already towering presence. He framed Shatrughan Sinha's swagger in wide-angle shots to bring about his ‘lord of all I survey’ attitude. The miners’ colony – while not reaching the realism levels of Wasseypur – was coated with grime. The movie had a distinctly brooding undertone and the mine (as well as the colony) was decidedly claustrophobic. 

Despite that, the pace of the film was breathtaking and he followed Manmohan Desai’s dictum of entertainment – “one item every nine minutes – to the tee. Look at the roster of events:
“Teesre badshah hum hain” – Shatru’s badass card trick.
A very underplayed but critical scene of labour rights (which had distinct shades his earlier hit, Deewaar).
Multiple scenes of Amitabh’s explosive dialogue delivery, including one in which he wrenched off a knife from a goon with bare hands.
A symphonic build up of the Amitabh-Shatru rivalry – using tea, beedi and tablets for fever – that eventually ended in a mind-blowing fight scene.
And of course, the final mine-flooding scene that was a mindboggling piece of cinema considering the primitive technology of Bollywood at that time.

Bollywood never believed in genres. Every hero – especially in the 1960s – did a little bit of everything to make a complete masala potboiler with action, emotion, music, romance, drama, comedy, tragedy thrown into one giant blender. Yash Chopra bucked this trend in the 1970s. 
Each one of his lead characters remained true to their mental makeup throughout the films. So, the fiery dockworker remained steadfastly anchored to his simmering rage while his happy-go-lucky brother sang a couple of songs with his fiancée. Even in his later films (though a little less so), the young Kunwar transformed into a sober bore while his bald friend remained resolutely hilarious.  
Kaala Patthar is one of the best examples of this where a disgraced naval officer took anonymous refuge in a mine. Amitabh Bachchan’s intensity reached unprecedented levels (even including Deewaar) as he seemed incapable of smiling for an overwhelming part of the film. His backstory came much later in the film and Yash Chopra added some subtle hints of his past (his picking up of an English paperback in the doctor’s chamber, for example).
When he burst out in Raakhee’s clinic with that iconic line – “Pain is my destiny and I cannot avoid it” – it hit you like a sledgehammer.

Kaala Patthar remains his most under-rated film and thanks to it being sandwiched between Trishul and Silsila, almost undiscussed. It is a blazing testimony of Yash Chopra's non-romantic talents and also a fine example of how serious can also be entertaining. 
Wish there were a few more like him... RIP, Yash-ji.

Do read my other eulogies of the man who is undoubtedly my favourite Bollywood director.
He was one of the great brands of Bollywood. He was a dream merchant. He has two films in my list of thirteen favourites. And I have seen one his movies 72 times.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Bond as Loser


*** SPOILER ALERT *** SPOILER ALERT *** SPOILER ALERT *** SPOILER ALERT ***

When Quantum of Solace had released, I had mourned the death of Bond. While some agreed with my contention that Bond needed to be a "sexist, misogynist dinosaur", people felt the more (physically) rugged, more sensitive, less articulate avatar of Bond was better suited (pun not intended) for the new age.  

According to my minuscule mind, a James Bond movie has to unfurl in the following way:
1. A context-free action sequence (mandatorily involving a chase in an exotic location) in which Bond saves day and ends with a punchy one-liner 
2. Revelation of nefarious plans of a megalomaniac seeking world domination 
3. Briefing, kitting up and arriving at exotic location ending with introduction of the 'Bond girl' and an initial skirmish with the villain's henchmen (where Bond wins on points, not a knockout)
4. Revelation of the end-game plans, enabled by active use of arms, ammunition and gadgets 
5. Final showdown at villain's lair, leading to its destruction and triumphant closing with Bond getting into a clinch with the girl 
(Oh, there is also the Bond song. That was done wonderfully this time.) 

In many ways, a Bond film is a Bollywood film. However, it needs to update itself with new technology, new issues and new contexts. When one sees the Sean Connery films now, the gadgetry is cringe-inducing and the politics of the villain (SMERSH, for example) is outdated. However, the character of Bond endures as does the OTT-ness of the villains.   

To bring in the audiences, the new-age additions have to be made. 
Make Q younger and more smart alecky. Mock the pen-bomb silliness. Update the politics. Bring in YouTube. Make Bond useless with a Walther PPK but great with a hunting rifle. But for God's sake, make him a hero and not a mere protagonist. 

In Skyfall, Segments 1, 2 and 3 happen somewhat satisfactorily though the opening sequence doesn't end with Bond's triumph but it kind of merges with Segment No 2 (where a crisis is precipitated). Segments 3 and 4 tick off all the boxes but Bond remains rather subdued in all of it. When all Bond does to catch a villain is to switch on a GPS locator and MI6 commandos do the rest, then you are not modernising him but changing him into a handsome Q. 

I loved the fact that the final showdown did not happen in the villain's lair but in Bond's own backyard. But I have a serious, serious issue with the climax. And that is the point of this post. 

Dear Mr Mendes and fans of Mr Mendes - 
You have gone on and on about Bond suddenly becoming real, the character becoming more contemporary and the overall series getting heft and depth. But have you considered the following? 
The villain's objective was to kill M. And he succeeded
Did you realise this? Did you even notice - in between your breathless celebration of Craig's hunk factor - that Bond actually failed in Skyfall? All his Home Alone antics came to a gigantic naught because the villain killed the woman who was Bond supposed to protect. Without getting into the need for the villains to have goals crazier than killing the MI6 boss, the bottomline was that Bond couldn't stop a toothless computer hacker. 
Is this the new Bond? A loser? 

By all means, modernise the series. Make Bond grapple with new things, new problems, a new world. 
But please, please, please don't turn him into a Lester Burnham. 

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Genius

Today is the 125th birth anniversary of Sukumar Ray.
I tried to write a post on this man, whose works are virtually unknown outside of Bengal and yet his books are part of every Bengali's DNA. I was hoping to acquaint the non-Bengali readers of this blog how great he was but I couldn't figure out where to start.
Instead of my trying to laboriously explain how important Sukumar Ray was, it would be better if you just saw this documentary on him, made by his son.


I do not know of any other language in which only one author occupies such a large part of the childhood memories of an entire population for several generations. Imagine 'Jack and Jill', 'Humpty Dumpty', 'Twinkle Twinkle' and about fifty more nursery rhymes to be about a hundred times more inventive. And then, imagine they were written by just one person. That, to my mind, is a fair estimation of Sukumar Ray's impact on Bengali childhood.
Sounds like an exaggeration, doesn't it? Believe me... I don't remember what I had for dinner tonight but I can recite most of his poems pretty much in their entirety, thirty years after I last read them. 

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Reading Pujo: The Nostalgia of Pujabarshikis

This piece was written on the request of the San Diego Bengali Association for their Durga Puja souvenir - Saikat.

* * * * *
For me, the best part of Durga Pujo was always the Pujabarshiki. It started with Anandamela and Sandesh with the occasional Shuktara thrown in. Desh was, of course, read for the Feluda

Before the schools shut down for the Puja holidays, there was always an ‘end-term’ examination to negotiate. Given my dependence on last minute completion of syllabus, the Pujabarshikis were a serious threat to my academic pursuits. As the advertisements tantalizingly promised spine-tingling adventures of heroes, I had to plod through time zone problems and Sher Shah’s myriad achievements before I could get my hands on them. But, oh – they were so worth the wait.

Needless to say, Satyajit Ray was the biggest draw with Professor Shonku in Anandamela and Feluda in Desh, with an additional story thrown in Sandesh. To reach the stories, however, there was a massive battle to be won to decide who would get to read which magazine first. A classmate (who stayed in a joint family) once got his reading slot between 2 – 4 AM and had to take a nap, set an alarm to wake up at 1:45 AM to read Professor Rondi-r Time Machine! Quite tragically, Ray’s quality (especially for Feluda) dropped a lot in the late 1980s due to his prolonged illness and some of his later novels were not satisfying. In fact, he gave a pretty lengthy explanation (in Nayan Rahasya) for the drop in quality and pledged to write only when he felt the plot was up to the mark (which was probably a subtle message to his publishers). Feluda and Professor Shonku continue to remain favourites as Anandamela Pujabarshiki still carries unfinished manuscripts, comic books and other avatars of these evergreen heroes.

Second to Feluda in popularity was, of course, Sunil Gangopadhyay’s Kakababu. Raja Raychaudhuri was a disabled archaeologist, who was always on the trail of priceless artefacts – assisted by his nephew Shontu. Shontu was a more active version of Topshe and was more useful in a fight (since he knew karate). He seemed to be a pretty normal chap till he stood fifth in the Higher Secondary examination in one story. To add a comic angle, a character called Jojo – a purveyor of tall tales – was introduced in the later stories. Some young girls flitted in and out of the stories as well though no overt romantic subplot was pursued. Kakababu continues to be around though he has become bit of a Metrosexual Hulk as he cries at the drop of a hat, fights off swordsmen with his crutches and burns himself in fire. In his early stories, Kakababu solved problems with his brain and overpowered villains with moner jor. That surely seems to have changed.  Srijit Mukherjee (of Autograph and Baishey Srabon fame) is directing a Kakababu film (with Prasenjit as the lead) and I hope it captures some of the old magic.

Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay never had a fixed hero. His stories – usually set in rural Bengal (fictional villages like Patashgarh, Hetamgarh, Aghorganj etc) – always had an ensemble of eccentric characters with offbeat names (Karalicharan, Prangopal, Jatadhar etc) and sometimes, strange abilities. One recurring feature of his story was an elderly character who always missed out on international glory (Olympic boxing medal, for example) due to a quirk of fate (a carbuncle on the back, for example). Two of my favourite stories – Hirer Angti and Gosai Baganer Bhoot – have been made into films and that may be a great way to get the old world charm of his stories to the younger generation.

Moti Nandi was one of the most underrated novelists of our times as his sports stories were brilliant in detail, tight in plotting and extremely satisfying in resolution. Kalabati – the woman cricketer of his stories – faced discrimination, fought indifference and rose over the lack of support to follow her passion. I remember his other cricket story – Jiban Ananta – in a Pujabarshiki (that I read repeatedly) for its goose-bump inducing description of an over in which the fast bowling hero took five wickets. (Yes, five wickets in six balls. And it was a brilliant Pujo!)

The other favourites were Buddhadeb Guha with his pipe-smoking hunter Riju-da, Syed Mustafa Siraj with his bearded Col. Niladri Sarkar, Samaresh Majumdar with his handsome young detective Arjun and Sanjib Chattopadhyay with his tragicomic stories.
It is a tribute to these authors that I still remember vignettes of their stories after so many years. For example, Sanjib Chattopadhyay wrote two back-to-back tragedies in Pujabarshikis – Iti Palash and Iti Tomar Ma – that were just heartbreaking. To lighten the mood and pay a tribute to the recently departed Syed Mustafa Siraj, I have to quote a non sequitur from one of his novels – Knatai knatai raat baarota / Begun bhaja aar parota / Kimba luchi ardho dawjon / Ichhe hoy kortey bhojon.    
All thanks to the Pujabarshiki, a treasure chest of memories.

When I was young, my father used to reminisce about his childhood Puja magazines. Many of them were not special issues of regular magazines but one annual number released during the Pujas. The erstwhile stalwarts of children’s literature (and no dearth of them, ever) contributed. I have read many of them and the thrill of reading Narayan Gangopadhyay, Premendra Mitra, Saradindu Bandopahyay, Shibram Chakraborty and Lila Majumdar in the same book is something else! Deb Sahitya Kutir was the most prolific publisher of these titles and my father used to constantly say, “Aajkal standard ekdum porey gechhey. Amader shomoi ki bhalo hoto…”
I am about to pick up this year’s quota of Pujabarshikis and the natural tendency would be to take refuge in nostalgia and say the same. But having read some of the newer authors and their characters, I’d say it wouldn’t be easy to dismiss them.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

The Goddess on Silver Screen: Durga Pujo in Cinema

Two Bengali associations of the USA reached me through different contacts and asked me to write a piece for their Durga Puja souvenirs. I wrote the following piece for the Bengali Association of St Louis, scheduled to appear in their souvenir - Punascha. 

* * * * * * *
This is a somewhat quirky and definitely incomplete list of the Goddess’ appearance in Hindi and Bengali cinema. As would be evident, my personal biases are very clear. The idea is to stir the readers’ memories and get them to think of their own favourites. And smile a bit.  

Durga Puja was probably most central to the plot of Joy Baba Felunath where our favourite crime-solving trio landed up in Benaras for a holiday during Pujo. As they went about finding a priceless Ganesh idol, well-loved vignettes of the probashi Pujo came alive. Display of body-building in a variety programme. The community play at Bengali Club. The idol makers who put their life into the pran of the protima. And of course, the King of Africa who took the Ganesh to Atlantis. The mystery unfolded and was solved in the few days of the festival as each element of the celebrations – from the construction of the idol to its immersion – played an important part in the plot, supplying vital clues to our favourite detective.
The community play during Pujo was a favourite motif of Ray’s. In Nayak, Arindam Mukherjee was acting in the lead of one such play under his mentor’s direction when he received a film offer. The turmoil that the offer brought about was resolved in a rather gruesome manner when his mentor collapsed while trying to lift the Durga idol for bisarjan. Arindam’s rise to stardom was kicked off by the Goddess herself.  

Rituparno Ghosh’s Utsab traced the different branches of a dysfunctional family who had assembled at the family home to celebrate – rather unwillingly – Durga Pujo. Old affairs, financial messes and strained relationships were revealed in the six days of their stay. The ensemble cast delivered a stellar performance battling their inner demons as Maa Durga battled the more obvious one.
Rituparno also paid a tribute to two stalwarts of Bengali cinema when he referenced two iconic images of the Goddess. In one scene, it was mentioned that the traditional Puja vessels of the family had been requisitioned by Satyajit Ray for Debi. And in another, an aspiring filmmaker in the family reminded us that Aparna Sen’s Parama opened with the image of Durga’s face caught in a Nikon’s viewfinder.

The Goddess made two guest appearances in Shakti Samanta’s films – each with a different superstar.
Amar Prem closed with Vinod Mehra coming back to pick up his ‘mother’ (Sharmila Tagore) as Rajesh Khanna looked on with tears of joy. This homecoming of his mother coincided with Durga Puja and the film ended with the auspicious images of the Mother Goddess.
The other superstar paid a song length tribute to the Goddess in Barsaat Ki Ek Raat (also made in Bengali as Anusandhan) when he challenged villain Amjad Khan to a dhaak-playing competition. Amitabh Bachchan not only played the dhaak, he also did the arati and finally requested Maa Durga to polish off this villain too!

Bollywood’s best ode to Durga Puja happened in Kahaani.
A pregnant South Indian woman came to Calcutta looking for her Bengali husband as the city was preparing to welcome Maa Durga. The familiar sights and sounds of the festival formed a rich backdrop to the thriller as authentic locations and brilliant actors from the Bengali film industry made a lovely tapestry. The familiar lal-paar shari – traditionally worn by married women – became a symbol of the quest for Vidya Bagchi’s husband. The unexpected and thrilling climax played out in the crowded Dashami celebrations of Triangular Park. And the mystery of the missing husband as well as the horror of a terrorist attack just dissolved in the sea of lal-paar sharis, sindoor and blessings of the departing Goddess.

As a final aside, it would be interesting to mention an advertisement.
If we get past the culture shock of Soumitra Chatterjee holding a cola bottle, Thums Up paid an affectionate tribute to the slowly vanishing banedi barir pujo of Calcutta. A bunch of well-meaning, Thums Up-swigging youngsters revived their dadur pujo, putting lots of cola bottles and cans to good use. The story was far-fetched. The sentiment was not: Ebar jombe mawja!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Amitabh Bachchan Quiz

The good folks at Mad About Moviez (and my friend, Sethu in particular) have hosted an Amitabh Bachchan quiz that I have done. So, you could answer it here on the blog or hop across to their site. 

1. To start with an easy one: which is the first film in which Amitabh Bachchan received on-screen credit?

2. When was Amitabh Bachchan supposed to play the role of Judge Lawrence Wargrave and why did he end up not playing it?

3. What was Amitabh’s qualification in Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham? And from where did he get that qualification?

4. Explain the connection of this flower to AB.








5. What is common to Anand, Manzil, Kabhi Kabhie and Baghban?

6. Which stalwart presented the Filmfare Lifetime Achievement Award to Amitabh Bachchan?

7. In the early 1980s, Jaya Bachchan referred to someone as her ‘souten’. Who was this person?

8. Explain the connection of his precious gem to AB.











9. Orissa Minerals Development Company is currently listed on BSE at a price of approximately Rs 44500 per share (of Rs 10), which is among the highest share prices in the country. In 2011, Rashtriya Ispat Nigam bought a 51% stake in the holding company of OMDC. How is this linked to Amitabh Bachchan?



10. Name this character and explain the slight blooper.









ANSWERS
Okay, first the bad news... There were only 11 entries. The good news, however, is the answers were really detailed and well thought. Net net, only the people who knew everything (or could Google it *heh heh*) answered. Sigh... I was really hoping for some innocent entries!
Only two of them were on the blog and the rest were on mail. Mr Abhishek Mukherjee decided to take no risks and mailed his answer to all three of my email IDs he knew!

Without much ado, here are the answers.
1. Bhuvan Shome, it is. Universally correct. His first screen credit was 'Amitabh'.
2. He was supposed to play this pivotal character from Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None in his final year at Sherwood. He had won the Kendall Prize for acting in the previous year and if he won it again, it would have set a record. Unfortunately, he caught measles and was unable to perform. His father kept him company in the school infirmary and said a beautiful line to console him - "Man ka ho toh achha. Man ka na ho toh zyada achha..."
3. He was an MBA from King's College, London. Inferred from the line Hrithik Roshan spoke about doing an MBA from London was about following a family tradition.
4. That flower is from the Singapore Orchid Garden and is called Dendrobium Amitabh Bachchan.
5. These are names of books written by Amitabh Bachchan and NOT films in which he wrote books. The difference is because Manzil was the name of the book he wrote in Ek Nazar.
6. Sunil Gavaskar
7. Shashi Kapoor, who co-starred with AB in a million films
8. That diamond is called the Millennium Star (though not in honour of the Star of the Millennium)
9. The holding company of OMDC is Bird Group, where AB worked as a freight broker while in Calcutta
10. The name of the character - as Rajni says in the Hindi version of Shivaji: The Boss - was Abhiram Bachchan while all the ID proofs show AB Bachchan. You could argue this is fine and this fictitous Abhiram had a middle name starting with B but there's only one AB Senior in this world, okay?

And here are the contestants:
Anonymous                         4.0
Straight Cut, Subbu             5.0
Kaushik Ray, ABbaby         7.0
DS, VinBin, AKBose          8.0
Digant, Abhishek                 9.0
Kinjal Mandawat                 9.5 (given 0.5 points and declared topper for the super-detailed answers)

Digant, Abhishek and Kinjal - Congratulations! Mail me your postal addresses to send you a copy of the book. This promotional tactic seems to have backfired spectacularly because two of the three winners already have the book! Sigh... Gift the book to somebody who would love it and ask them to promote it mercilessly.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

My Life In Amitabh Bachchan

My (maternal) grandmother was the first Amitabh Bachchan fan in the family.
When India was infatuated with Rajesh Khanna, she saw Bachchan in a magazine and paid him the ultimate compliment in her book. "Wish I get a son-in-law like him", she said. This was around Anand and the angry police inspector of Zanjeer still 24 issues of Stardust away. Her daughters and nieces had laughed at her poor taste. 

A Quick Aside: Sometime in the late 80s, we were watching a TV serial called Circus and she perked up at the sight of the bushy-haired hero. "What a smart boy. Shonabhai (that's her name for me), you should get your trousers stitched like his." Yes, she would have been Yash Chopra if she had been in Bollywood. I am getting her to see a Ranbir Kapoor film soon enough.

My father was the family’s second Amitabh Bachchan fan. One Sunday afternoon in 1975, he gave up his siesta and asked my mother to accompany him to watch a new film called Deewaar. I never found out what prompted him to do so but for his entire life, the discussion of his favourite movies started and ended with only one line - "Main aaj bhi phneke hue paise nahin uthata..."

I was the Johnny-come-lately to the Amitabh Bachchan party. 
Born in 1974, Bachchan's best films happened and his phenomenon unfolded when I was a toddler. The famous India Today cover story that called him the 'One Man Industry' happened before I could read properly. When Manmohan Desai called him a 'Halley's Comet' and ranked him ‘Nos. 1 to 10’, it was before I could devour film magazines on my own.  

When I was growing up, stories about Bachchan and his films were all around me. 
My father told me about the searing intensity of Deewaar. My mother told me how tickets to his movies sold 'in black' at astronomical prices. Elder friends told me about loose change swept off cinema floors. I remember hearing that he charged Rs 70 lakhs per film and trying to write the figure in numerals.

We spent our summer vacations at my grandparents’ place in Dibrugarh, a town in Assam. My theatre experiences of watching Amitabh Bachchan started there when I was an infant. A manservant used to take me to watch Sholay while pretending that he was taking me for an evening walk. We watched the film daily in Jyotsna theatre, where the usher benevolently allowed him and his Munna-babu inside day after day.

I was not taken for Muqaddar Ka Sikandar but I cried so much that my grandfather took pity on me and we entered the theatre when Zohra was dying in Sikandar's arms. Because I got scared by the first scenes of The Great Gambler and forced my mother to take me home half-way through the film, she ditched me for Shaan. And consoled me by saying it was really bad. 

Then, he died. 
My grandmother came back from her evening walk and flatly announced "Amitabh Bachchan mara gechhen". I was just beginning to like him. I hadn't watched too many films. I remember Yaraana and Barsaat Ki Ek Raat. An EP record of Mr Natwarlal was my staple afternoon entertainment. Any actor who could sing so nicely for children had to be a nice guy.  
And here, he was dead. 

A picture in Sunday magazine showed him slumped on a chair immediately after the accident. That magazine and many others recounted his many achievements, his dogged determination, his rise to stardom. They were all premature obituaries of India's biggest superstar. Or maybe that's when they coined a new term – Megastar. I became an avowed Bachchan fan because I got to see his entire life's magic capsuled into a few pages. 

I always feel Amitabh Bachchan the human being died in that accident and Big B the Superstar was born. Because the films that came just after that were really bad and would have got hooted out of the theatres if they starred anybody else. The objective of those films was to cash in on Bachchan (without script or novelty) but they raised his legend to the levels of our mythology. 

The shooting scene in Coolie, where he collapsed magnificently atop the minarets of Haji Ali. The meaningless triple role of Mahaan. The extended guest appearance of Andhaa Kaanoon. The trigger-happy Chief Minister in Inquilaab. These were epic roles that were like all the ten avatars of Vishnu rolled into one. He did action, emotion, comedy, romance, song, dance, preservation, destruction all in one go and almost not pausing for breath.  

By the time he did his first superhero film (where he wore a black leather costume, embellished by a salt-and-pepper beard and a strange arm-guard made of chains), his position in the pantheon of Indian gods was guaranteed. For a long time, the person I hated most in this world was a friend's innocent elder brother – whose only crime was to have watched Shahenshah on the first day, first show.

In 1984, Bachchan stood for election and defeated a former UP Chief Minister on his home turf. I remember his victory announcement during a soporific bulletin on Doordarshan. My interest in that election began when he announced his candidature and ended with that bulletin. HN Bahuguna – stung by this betrayal – famously told his constituency that they had abandoned him for a nach-gaana wala. You were up against a Superman, sir.

More accurately, Supremo.
A comic book series started with Bachchan having a super-hero alter-ego. The book I had was about a plane full of children getting hijacked. Amitabh Bachchan the actor dashed out of his makeup van, flew down to his island hideaway with his falcon Shaheen and dolphin Sona, morphed into Supremo and saved the day. I cannot think of too many film stars getting their own comic books.

Around then, an honest man called VP Singh started saying Amitabh Bachchan ‘ne paisa khaya hain’. The allegations were quite vague but every newspaper or magazine I picked up seemed to have some new 'angle' of his involvement. Everybody was convinced of his guilt. I was not. It is strange that without any fact to back me up, I was convinced of his innocence. How can Vijay do anything wrong?

Between 1987 and 1992, I put together a scrapbook of his pictures cut out from newspapers and magazines and lovingly pasted on multi-coloured pages. I remember thinking of that book as my shrine. I had accepted that my favourite actor would be hounded out of the industry and probably thrown into jail. When the Prime Minister decides a man is guilty, what chance does he have? That was my memento.

But I was used to seeing normal men. Superheroes did not give up. Just like he took bullets on his chest and still managed to throw villains off skyscrapers, he took on the press, the political system and the Prime Minister in a hugely unequal battle. I found it extremely touching that he had ignored the allegations and decided to fight back only when his father seemed shaken by it.

Around then, several new actors staked claim to the No. 1 spot and film magazines started putting them on covers. Jackie Shroff was the first contender but when Allah Rakha (originally planned with Bachchan) flopped, he receded. Anil Kapoor made a bid with a slew of successes like TezaabRam Lakhan and Parinda but when his bad films flopped, people realised he was an excellent actor but not the inheritor.

The true mark of Bachchan's talent that distinguished him from Jackie, Anil, Mithun, SRK, Aamir, Hrithik or just about anybody else was that none of these stars could ever salvage a bad film. Bachchan could. And Bachchan did.
The biggest contradiction of my fandom is that I dislike most of Bachchan's films. An overwhelming majority of his films are very bad and he is the only flawless thing in them. 

SRK delivered Baazigar and Darr but when the formula collapsed (Anjaam), so did he. Aamir Khan broke records with JJWS but couldn't prop up Mela. Hrithik reached an extreme where he cannot deliver with anyone other than his father. Post-Coolie, Amitabh Bachchan did SharaabiInquilaabAakhree RaastaMardGangaa Jamunaa Saraswathi and Shahenshah. Except for Aakhree Raasta, all of them were bad and yet broke every record that there was.

Amitabh Bachchan’s biggest success was that fact that he not only made utterly crappy movies bearable, he made them memorable. If you see films like Desh Premee today, it will be difficult not to cringe. But you cannot fault Bachchan's performances in any of those. He brought the right mix of drama and restraint to the roles to make you forget the remote when they play on TV even now.

I have done several crazy things to watch the films of Amitabh Bachchan. I have heard the dialogue cassette of Agneepath so many times that it tore. I was almost lathi-charged before Hum. I left an end-term exam unfinished to be on time for Indrajeet’s matinee show. I walked out of a meeting with a prospective bride to watch Aks. I watched two successive shows of Ek Ajnabee - alone. 

Though the craziest thing was to have done first day viewings of his post-1992 movies. MrityudaataInsaaniyatMajor SaabSuryavanshamKohraamLal Badshah. They were all stupendously bad. In Mrityudaata, there was a scene in which he kicked a villain off the third floor and he landed straight into an oven (tandoor?), thus burning to cinders. You should have seen how amazingly he performed the pre-fight diatribe in that scene.  

I started to underestimate him again and wished that 'father' roles be written for him (but not painful ones like Mohabbatein) when he changed the screen I was used to seeing him on. For the very first episode of KBC, I rushed over to a colleague's house since it was closer from office to watch Bachchan make a graceful turn and give away crores of rupees to simple, everyday people.

He – with KBC – became to TV what he was to the box-office all his life: the benchmark. Even today, when Salman does his spontaneous tomfoolery or Aamir does his orchestrated sentimentality, newspapers dig out the ratings of KBC and pronounce what I knew all along – the newer ones don't quite match up. In fact, he sometimes gets excited by this and rattles off the numbers himself (which is quite disconcerting). 

I watch KBC for the interactions. The warmth with which he treats contestants is wonderful beyond words. My favourite moment was when a lady returned for her second episode and Bachchan asked if she thought about the money she had won. I didn’t think about the money, she said. “Toh phir aapne kya socha?” “Aap ke baare mein…”, the lady giggled. A 60+ year old blushing on national television? Priceless.    

Post-KBC, he exploded his repertoire. After one decade of angry-young-man and two decades of angry-young-singing-dancing-romancing-joking-man, he started having fun. Boom, for example. Katrina Kaif's debut that drove Jackie to his maushi's you-know-what had Bachchan playing a Mafia don (romancing Bo Derek) with hysterical WTFness. His Babban act in Ram Gopal Verma Ki Aag is, of course, legendary. Bunty Aur BabliKANK, Aladin were all brilliant roles in decidedly mediocre films.  
Simultaneously, some films focused almost entirely on him. With those, he didn't just hit them out of the park but out of the colony as well. KhakeeDev, BlackSarkarThe Last LearNishabd all had such powerhouse performances that it is difficult to imagine all of them came so close together. After decades of being ridiculed as a nach-gaana wala, he showed what heights of acting he could scale. 

In the last decade, I have been least regular in watching his films. I watched most of them on TV or DVD with many interruptions. And yet, he manages to catch attention and does not let go. He manages to charm audiences and hard-nosed journalists alike. Arnab Goswami becomes a fawning wimp when he interviews Bachchan. Anupama Chopra giggles like a schoolgirl. Shekhar Gupta smiles indulgently when he is answering.

Funnily, it was never ‘cool’ to be a Bachchan fan. In the 1980s, everybody was one.  In the 1990s, nobody was one. In the 2000s, his sincerity seems to have a strange anachronistic tinge to it. His devotion to his online extended family is the antithesis to the use-and-throw policy most cool people adopt. His incessant retweets of praise for Abhishek’s films is deemed desperate. He is just not cool.

And of course, his performances – however legendary – never seem to attract the gushing newer actors get for their ‘method acting’. His effortless sign-language in Black is no match for Barfi. His Paa gets missed in front of a Guzaarish. But I guess I have grown used to having him for myself. Though – for the life of me – I cannot figure who these three million people crowding him on Twitter are!

For me, there are still so many things I want to see him do. 
He has to romance Madhuri Dixit.
He has to play Atticus Finch, directed by Anurag Kashyap.
He has to act in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels with Rajnikanth.
He has to act in Bridges of Madison County with Sridevi.  
He has to act in a film that will wow my son.

He is only seventy, for God's sake.

Inconsequential Trivia: Each paragraph in this post has 70 words. 

Saturday, October 06, 2012

Have we heard this before? (Updated)

Scroll down to read the additions.

Quiz question: Which legendary film-star said the line: "Hum jahan khade hote hain, line wohi se shuru hoti hain"?
Of course, not. If you have an iota of faith in my grey matter, you wouldn't say Amitabh Bachchan. Oh - you did? Well, you should buy yourself a good book on Bollywood trivia and mug it up. *end of commercial break*
You see, what Amitabh said in Kaalia was - "Hum bhi woh hain jo kabhi kissi ke peechhe nahin khade hote. Jahan khade ho jaate hain, line wohi se shuru hoti hain." This was a retort to the original line said by Bob Christo a minute before Amitabh stole his thunder. 
For ready reference, watch the scene here.

This got me thinking about other lines/sequences that have happened earlier but we remember only the later - more popular versions. 

Some time back, I had blogged about a father-son duo who gave the same advice three decades apart. 
Abhishek Bachchan, in an Idea advertisement, thought the best advice a doctor can give to a patient was to exercise and be healthy. His father - in the role of Dr Bhaskar Banerjee - told one of his hypochondriac patients the same thing. (Watch here, from 14:30 onwards.)
Like father, like son! 

In recent times, I have heard several debates about a particular sequence in Kahaani was a tribute or a lift. Knowing the popularity of the earlier sequence and Sujoy Ghosh's penchant for tributes, I'd like to believe it is the former. 
Well, you know about the 'running hot water' in Mona Lisa Guest House. Duh, of course you do! 
And now you do where the original came from. Watch here, from 12:30 onwards. Actually, watch the whole damn thing. Its too good! 

This whole thought got triggered when I saw a scene in Lakshya.
I remembered a scene in Chak De India where an Indian national cricketer thought an Indian national hockey player was wasting time by playing hockey. You could look at it from the POV that hockey gets bullied by cricket in India. Or you could look at it as a woman's career never being seen as important as the man's. 
A TV journalist (Preity Zinta) told her fiancee that she intended to cover the Kargil war. The hitherto liberal dude suddenly turned all possessive and defended his travels as "yeh mera kaam hain..." while refusing to acknowledge her work as anything serious. (Watch here, from 7:44 onwards).   

Which brings us to yet another legendary dialogue (5:00 onwards) about kapkapati raaton mein, dhadakti dilon ki bhadakti hui aag bujhane ka. As Jeevan told Prem, ladka ladki kabhi dost nahin hote...
About twenty years, yet another brilliant character actor (Asrani) told us the same thing in a different tone. Watch here, from 9:20 onwards.  

So, can you think of any more? 

UPDATED TO ADD TWO MORE:
"Main tumse aur sirf tumse pyaar karta hoon. Meri har saans, meri har dhadkan, mere har pal mein tum ho aur sirf tum ho. Mujhe yakeen hai ki main sirf is liye janma hoon ke tum se pyaar kar sakoo aur tum sirf is liye ke meri ban jao. Tum meri ho, Shalini, aur agar tum apni dil se poochhogi toh jaan logi ke main sach keh raha hoon."
In Dil Chahta Hai, Aamir Khan delivered exactly the same lines to the same person - Preity Zinta about two hours apart. But the tone, the emotion, the style was so radically different that it could have been from two different films altogether. (Watch here. From 23:00 and 2:44:00.)

And of course, the Greatest Film Ever Made had two counter-pointing, criss-crossing lines about the power of hands.
Inspector Baldev Singh arrested dreaded dacoit Gabbar Singh and ominously declared, "Yeh haath nahin, phaansi ka phanda hai..." Tragically, the tables were turned very soon enough and the Inspector stood helpless in Gabbar's den. Gabbar Singh taunted by repeating those lines, "...Yaad hain, Thakur, kya kahe tha tum? Yeh haath nahin, phaansi ka phanda hai. Dekh, phanda khul gaya.." 
And in a macabre act of vengeance, he said, "Yeh haath humko de de, Thakur..." In the climax, Thakur orchestrated such that he was face to face with Gabbar and soon, the dreaded dacoit was lying helpless at his feet. And this time, it was his turn to repeat Gabbar's lines before extracting revenge, "Bahut jaan hain in haathon mein... yeh haath mujhe de de, Gabbar...."
Goosebumps. Nearly forty years after the film, still.

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Do check out my publishers on Facebook and Twitter (both WestlandBooks). They are uploading some trivia and stuff from KAT* over the next couple of weeks. 
And psst... there seems to be some prizes and stuff for doing Bollywoody things.  

* Gentle Reminder: KAT = Kitnay Aadmi Thay = Kharido. Achha bolo. Tohfe mein do.