Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013: A Roundup

If you have a blog and you don't compile a Best of Year list, they revoke your account, report you to the nearest police station and send you a DVD of Neal 'n' Nikki. Now, much as I am a fan of Uday Chopra, I don't think I can do without a blog. Hence, here goes... 
My lists of some of my favourite things of the year. They are not the best. They are not the most popular. They are simply the ones I felt happiest after reading. 

Books
Last year (2012), I promised myself that I would read 48 books and ended up reading less than 30. This year, I took a GoodReads Challenge of 52 books and I am happy to report a 110% achievement. (All my ex-bosses are muttering under their breath, "Saale ne sales target toh kabhi kiya nahin tha...")
Okay, all you pedants - the GoodReads list shows only 51 books because six books (and some very good ones too!) are not listed on the site yet. 
From the many worthies, here are my favourite five books of the year. (Cheated a bit to sneak one extra one in.)
5. Behind The Silicon Mask - Eshwar Sundaresan 
A great thriller, set in Milwaukee where a serial killer is targeting immigrants while a group of Indian software engineers go about their daily life. Edge-of-the-seat tension and very real views of the techie life in USA merge seamlessly to create a very strong debut novel. And oh - the real life parallels of the software company and its founder are very amusing. 

5. Bongpen - Tanmay Mukherjee 
His blog, his Twitter feed are to my regular corporate life what a dab of Boroline is to the cheek after a rough shave. This book is a slim one - a collection of some of the best pieces from his blog, with some new material added on. It is a delightful, keep-on-the-bedside-table-read-when-you-feel-like book. I hope to read a lot more of Tanmay in the coming years, online and offline. 

4. Hatching Twitter - Nick Bilton 
Hatching Twitter is a thrilling read as well as an informative one. Midway through it, I realised that of the four founders, one was a lot like me. When I was almost through, I realised the founder I was rooting for was not the one who was similar to me. I have read (and hated) many business/self-improvement books but none of them pointed out my own shortcomings as well as this one did. 
Also, I got to know that two of my favourite websites - Blogger and Twitter - were incubated by the same person's company. Ev Williams, you are my hero.

3. Flashback - Avijit Ghosh, Srijana Mitra Das, Sharmistha Gooptu
A compilation of the various articles on cinema from The Times Of India, this book is a great archive with a great perspective. From Tanuja to Tanisha, from Rajinikanth to Uttam Kumar, from Raj Kapoor to Ranbir Kapoor, it has it all and it is luscious.  
(And compiled by three Bengalis, FTW!)

2. In the Company of a Poet - Nasreen Munni Kabir & Gulzar 
When Gulzar stars talking to a film historian on his life and times, you just pray the conversation never ends. Gulzar talks about his films, his lyrics, his life, his father, his daughter with the clarity and sensitivity we have become accustomed to. 

1. The Cuckoo's Calling - Robert Galbraith 
An one-legged detective, recovering from a bad relationship. An assistant whose fiance doesn't want her to waste her time with the detective. A supermodel dabbling in sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll. And the supermodel's dysfunctional family. One second, this is a detective novel - you said? Well, it is. And if you haven't read it already, you must do so right now. 

Cinema 
This was a relatively lean year for me at the movies though I liked pretty much everything I saw. I even enjoyed watching my son watching Chennai Express. But the films I just loved this year are: 

5. Raanjhanaa
Kill me, sue me, ex-communicate me. But I enjoyed this trivial tale of romance and retribution just too much. Maybe it was Banaras. Maybe it was the East UP panache. Maybe it was AR Rehman's soaring music. Maybe it was the heroine who was also the villain. Maybe it was Dhanush. 
Why I loved Raanjhanaa was illogical but then, that's what love is all about. 

4. Fukrey
This has got to be the most under-rated of 2013's films. I feel that Fukrey is going to be a cult film of the generation, for the oh-so-real people who populated its script. Four wastrels trying to leak exam papers and play roadside matka games touched a chord because I knew these guys. Unlike the lead characters of Raanjhana whom I didn't know, I had met each of the lead characters of Fukrey. Who knows, I might have been one of them even. 

3. Bombay Talkies
When four - okay, three - of my favourite filmmakers got together to make a film celebrating hundred years of cinema, I had mentally placed this at the number one slot anyway. It did not turn out to be as fantabulous as I hoped but it was a wonderful piece of memorabilia anyway. 
And Dibakar Banerjee's film is the best short film in the history of Hindi cinema. I will kill you if you disagree. 

2. The Lunchbox
If I told you in Jan 2013 that in a film starring Irrfan and Nawazuddin Siddiqui, the best performance will be by a newcomer, you would have laughed - right? But Nimrat Kaur - sigh. 
There are so many people punching logical holes in The Lunchbox and generally agreeing that it is not Oscar material. But fellow 90s fans, pause and tell me this - if the hero's name is Saajan and you are the director, what song would you choose for the soundtrack? Yes, correct
And Nimrat Kaur - sigh. 

1. Kai Po Che 
After a lot of deliberations, I realised this is the film I loved the most while watching and would love to watch the maximum times in the coming years. The setting was perfect. The friends were perfect. The soundtrack - oh, the soundtrack - was perfect. And as realists cribbed, even the ending was perfect. But what would you rather see? Rioters being given clean chits and Muslim boys getting slaughtered in riots? 

Overall, 2013 turned out to be decent for me. 
Apart from work, I managed to meet a lot of cool people, do a lot of cool stuff - much of which will hopefully be presented to you in the not-so-distant future. That means, 2014 is also looking quite good and hopeful too. And in these troubled times, that is never a bad thing. 

Wish all of you a great 2014! 

Monday, December 30, 2013

Filmi Fridays: The Coolest Bikes of Bollywood

My Yahoo! Movies column, first published here

As Bullett Raja kick-starts its ride across cinemas today, it is just the right time to look at the cool bikes of Bollywood. Two-wheels have always been the choice of cool people in Hindi cinema. Here are some of the best.

One of the most famous bikes of Bollywood doesn’t have two wheels. When small-time crooks Jai and Veeru escaped with someone’s bike, they got a side-car free. Riding the bike (licence plate MYB 3047), they zoomed across highways and sang a happy song. Within the song, they managed to steal a cap, lose the side-car, try to put line on a girl and convince us of their friendship.
Many years later, the real-life Jai and Veeru’s sons – Abhishek Bachchan and Bobby Deol – reprised the scene with yet another bike-with-a-sidecar, for a film called Jhoom Barabar Jhoom. Everyone agreed classics shouldn’t be messed with.

Reprises – especially with the same set of stars or their offspring – are loved by audiences and filmmakers alike.
Forty years ago, a young pair – Rishi Kapoor and Dimple Kapadia – acted in a teeny-bopper romance called Bobby in which the hero took his girl around in a cool new bike. While the bike looks a little clunky now, it was the cool thing at that time.
Thirty years later, the same pair acted as two oldies falling in love again and this time also, they left their sedans and convertibles in favour of a cruiser bike. They bike was way cooler than the original as were the leading pair.

The most exhilarating bike sequence in Bollywood is when a poor orphan is urged by a fakir to forget his sorrows and laugh out loud. As the sound of his laughter grew louder, the scene changed from his dark childhood to the bright seaside roads of Bombay. The music reached a crescendo when Sikandar zoomed on to Marine Drive on his bike, singing Rote hue aate hain sab, hasta hua jo jayega... Amitabh Bachchan was super-handsome and the peak of his stardom when Muqaddar Ka Sikandar released and this bike-song went up a few notches because of his charisma.

Bikes got a starring role when a ruffian tried to reform and got a job in a bike factory. The film was Hero and the ruffian was Jackie Shroff in his first leading role.
In an early form of product placement, Jackie dada worked in the Rajdoot factory and was inordinately proud of the ‘best bike in India’. He picked fights with NRIs who thought Indian bikes weren’t good enough and finally, participated in a bike race where the irresistible Jackie and Rajdoot combo beat the Jimmy Thapa (Shakti Kapoor) and Honda combo with panache.

You see, all bikes don’t win races and roar into life at the flick of a key. Sometimes, they have to kicked and cajoled to start. And sometimes, they don’t start at all. Especially if you are a poor Delhi University student, living from money order to money order.
Sai Paranjpye’s classic Chashme Buddoor had three friends – Siddharth, Jomo and Omi – and with Jomo’s recalcitrant bike, they formed an unlikely quartet. The bike was used to pick up girls at the drop of a hat though it stopped running, also at the drop of a hat. Except when the three friends had to sing a song, the bike worked just fine and the trio threw caution and helmets to the winds as they rode their steed with gay abandon in the open streets of 1980s Delhi.

As a famous two-wheeler ad asks, why should boys have all the fun?
In Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, Katrina Kaif picked up her friend’s motorcycle and helmet to race after the man she realised she was in love with. Hrithik Roshan got the most  pleasant surprise of his life when the devastatingly good-looking Kat came up to his car in a bike, took off the helmet nonchalantly and smooched the hell out of him.
In Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi, it was Anushka Sharma’s turn to snatch a super-bike from her wimpy companion and get into a duel with a biker gang. She looked super-cool as the salwar-kameez-wearing Punjabi kudi who blazed around on a super-bike. Her companion hung on for dear life.

When Anushka revved her bike, the background music was from another film from the same production house – Dhoom.
The Dhoom series is all about fast women, faster cars and fastest bikes. It started with the first film where the whole heist was dependent on nitrogen-fuelled super-bikes zooming down Mumbai’s Western Express highway. And in the forthcoming Dhoom 3, Aamir Khan is another super-thief who is about to zip off on a bike and even slipping an inch away from a mega-truck. It keeps getting bigger and faster.

In the recent past, action superstar Jean Claude Van Damme performed an amazing stunt in an ad for Volvo trucks that has gone ‘viral’ with vengeance.
What we tend to forget is that the origin of the stunt happened in our very own Bollywood. Nearly twenty years ago, Ajay Devgn made his debut in an action-romantic-thriller called Phool Aur Kaante where he made his appearance standing on two bikes and doing a split even more amazing than Van Damme’s.

You see, bikes and Bollywood are just made for each other!