Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014: A Roundup

Chalo, my yearly roundup is here. 

One of the things I loved about 2014 was the huge number of films that were led by a woman. Be it Mary Kom (which I found okayish) or Mardaani (which worked for me as an action film) or Finding Fanny (which I found to be a bit too quirky), 2014 was full of great women characters. Even a male-centric film like Haider had Tabu eating up pretty much everything around her.

My honourable mention for the year is Highway, an illogical story about illogical people doing illogical stuff but it managed to weave a spell around me. I think Alia Bhatt was a revelation in 2014, not only for Highway but also for Genius of the Year.
[Caveat: Highway did a business of about Rs 30 Cr while Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania did about Rs 75 Cr. Hence, do not expect Alia Bhatt to go on too many arthouse road trips.]

And my favourite five movies of the year are:
[Disclaimer: I haven't seen the following films, which I think I would have loved: Ugly, Happy Ending and Sulemani Keeda.]

5. Hasee Toh Phasee
Parineeti Chopra just rocked this film, which could have easily become a Karan Johar cliche. But she was marvelous as the science genius who would steal from her family to fund her high-tech research instead of buying a lehenga, as Hindi film heroines are always doing.

4. Queen 
We have been seeing single heroines going on European holidays for a 1000 weeks now but Queen managed to break every cliche we knew. Kangana Ranaut was the eponymous queen but the entire ensemble cast of the film also chipped in wonderfully. I especially liked Rajkumar Rao in what can be called the exact opposite of an author-backed role!

3. The World Before Her 
Director Nisha Pahuja pulled off an amazing coup as hers became the first film crew to shoot inside a Durga Vahini (women's wing of Bajrang Dal) camp and they followed 24-year old Prachi who trains young girls there. Pahuja also followed the fortunes of Ruhi Singh as she prepared and competed in the final rounds of Miss India 2011. Placing these two contrasting worlds alternately, she created a riveting film on the wildly different lives open to the modern Indian women.
As the film ended, I wanted to just go home and hug my daughter tight. Six months later, I feel the same when I think about the film. 

2. Jatiswar 
A Bengali woman who is super-snobbish about her language. A Gujarati man out to woo the woman. A Portuguese man who made nineteenth century Bengal his home. A Bengali man who seems to be the reincarnation of the foreigner. And a musician-Prophet who blew minds with the score. Srijit Mukherjee explained why he is the most interesting Bengali filmmaker today with a masterful exploration of some legendary characters of Bengali culture and cinema. 

1. Filmistaan 
A film-crazy Indian gets kidnapped and lands up in the only other country which loves Bollywood as much as - if not more than - we do. What followed was magical mayhem as Sharib Hashmi became the comic performer of the year in a film that was at once a great entertainer and a poignant comment about our relationship with our neigbour. For once, #IndiaWithPakistan was a happy memory.

0. Sholay 3D 
What can I say about the Greatest Film Ever Made? Watching Sholay in a multiplex with people around me clapping, cheering, joking, mouthing dialogues and blinking back tears was easily my best cinematic experience of the year. 
(And oh, I watched the film with Gabbar Singh. When Ahmed's dead body reached Ramgarh, he quipped "#ThankYouSachin".)

I read three great non-fiction books that were published earlier and therefore - strictly speaking - not part of the 2014 list.
Anita Raghavan's The Billionaire's Apprentice was a brilliant and tragic account of Rajat Gupta's fall from grace as an Indian icon to a convicted felon. While the book was really about the Galleon hedge fund scam, my abiding memory of the book was the devastating unfolding of Gupta's misfortune.
Rahul Pandita's Our Moon Has Blood Clots is a blow-by-blow account of the tragedy of the Kashmiri Pandits' exodus from the valley. This book looks at one side of the coin while Basharat Peer's Curfewed Night (which is on my to-read list) looks at the other.
Cathy Scott-Clerk and Adrian Levy's The Siege was a meticulous replaying of the 26/11 attack and it showed page-after-page, line-after-line how the Indian government's response made a bad situation worse. You always knew that but to be given proof-after-proof for nearly 300 pages is something that drains you out completely.

Two great books on Calcutta are being kept out of the ranking for sentimental reasons because I am never able to process Calcutta logically.
Indrajit Hazra's Grand Delusions is a 'personal biography' of the city. To start, any book on Calcutta with 'delusions' in the title has won half the accuracy battle. He does a fine job of identifying some of the key passions of the city - sweets, cinema, music, Pujo, politics, Park Street - and going back in time to the starting point. But the biggest triumph of the book is the 'mood'. The delusional Calcuttan, who sees change around him and is unsure whether he likes it or not, is captured just perfectly. 
[On a personal note, I was born in a nursing home run by one Dr Hazra in Beleghata. A few pages into the book, I realised Dr Hazra was Indrajit's grandfather and the book is dedicated to that nursing-home-cum-residence located at 203 CIT Road, Beleghata.]
In Longing, Belonging, Bishwanath Ghosh mixes the dispassionate outlook of an outsider (he is from Kanpur, now working in Chennai) with the erudition and charm of an insider (he is a Bengali, married to a Calcuttan). He looks at Calcutta's best known tropes - politics, football, literature, nostalgia, history, food - and takes a leisurely stroll around them. This is not a history book and the research is more context-setting than in-depth. The result is a beautiful mix of fact and opinion, past and present, happiness and melancholy, human and divine, modern and archaic, longing and belonging.

5. The Master & I - Soumitra Chatterjee / Arunava Sinha
Soumitra Chatterjee writing about his mentor and the greatest Indian filmmaker is now available in a flowing translation and a great, great read. One of the very few books in the world where a top actor goes into so much depth about his life and craft with one director.

5. And Then One Day - Naseeruddin Shah
The brutally honest, incorrigibly cynical, effortlessly funny autobiography of one of the greatest actors in the world has to be read to be believed. We are so used to sanitised memoirs that the book has to be read to be believed.

4. Korma, Kheer and Kismet - Pamela Timms 
When I read the couple of pages where the Amritsari Kulcha is described, my mouth started watering. This book is written like the way great chefs prepare food - with an eye for detail, a passion for the craft and the stomach to eat well.

3. The Silkworm - Robert Galbraith 
In what is becoming an annual tradition, Cormoran Strike is slowly building a web of familiar locations, memorable characters and likeable quirks that will eventually become a canon. The moody detective and his sleuthing have improved further from the first book and the ambience just makes it perfect. 

2. First Person - Rituparno Ghosh
This two-volume compilation of Rituparno Ghosh's weekly columns satisfies the low-brow voyeur and the serious film fan. Rituparno talks about his attending the Abhishek-Aishwarya wedding as well as the Cannes Film Festival with the same childlike enthusiasm that we saw in his talk shows. He talks about the difficulties of being gay in India and recounts silly anecdotes from his shooting, both casually and without any intellectual pretensions. He manages to convey a sense of wonder when he narrates his encounters with stars and displays a starry stubbornness as he holds on to some of his idiosyncrasies. Overall, a delightful read. 
The only disheartening thing is that there will never be a sequel. 

1. Rosebud Sled and Horses' Heads - Scott Jordan Harris
Fifty iconic items from world cinema. The severed head of Khartoum from The Godfather. The sled from Citizen Kane. Even the double-headed coin from Sholay. Scott Jordan Harris' book is a perfect blend of movie fandom and trivia geekery. Beautifully illustrated, this is a book that demands you to return again and again, savour the items like favourite snacks and silently rue that Indian cinema still doesn't have such luscious books. 
Oh... and there is one more item from Indian cinema that just took my breath away. Read the book to find out. 
[To get a flavour of the book, take a look at the website.]

But of course, I am lying when I say Rosebud Sleds was my favourite book of the year. My favourite book of the year and probably the favourite book of my entire life  is Bollybook
For a large part of the year, I was writing it, revising it and re-writing it till I realised I hadn't really read it! It was only in the last three-odd months that I started re-discovering some nuggets in the book (yes, I forgot stuff I wrote myself) and said a silent prayer that the book turned out to be something I enjoyed myself. 
And how cool is it that the year  is ending with Bollybook ahead of at least one book that it was inspired by.

Thank you for making Bollybook - and 2014 - so special for me! 
Wish you a great 2015. 

Friday, December 19, 2014


Penguin India is running a month-long campaign on Twitter, asking people to name their favourite books in various categories - one for each day.
I got lost in the many responses they got from a large number of readers. So I thought I will indulge myself in a bit of book-thinking here. (A good excuse to revive the blog as well!)

Ideal December read: WTF is a December read now? My favourite December reads are the annual round-up issues of magazines.

Most beautiful cover: Pretty much everything by Satyajit Ray. In recent times, I really liked the cover of The Blaft Anthology of Tamil Pulp Fiction.

A book you identify with: Eric Segal's The Class. Specifically with Andrew Eliot.

A book character you'd like to meet: Professor Shonku, I guess.

Wisest book you've ever read: Carl Sagan's Cosmos.

A book you keep going back to: Lila Majumdar's Din Dupurey.

First book you remember reading: Satyajit Ray's Shonar Kella (The Golden Fortress). Wrote a post about this.

A book that gives you the chills: Arnab Ray's The Mine.

Favourite mythological tale: Rajshekhar Basu's Mahabharat. Specifically the Agyatabash episode.

A book that makes you want to write: Anupama Chopra's Sholay: The Making of a Classic. I realised a book on cinema can be informative as well as enjoyable.

A book character that you want(ed) to marry: Florentyna Kane a.k.a. The Prodigal Daughter (Jeffrey Archer).

A book that you have pretended to read: Most of my textbooks.

Your curl-up read: Can I say Bollybook?

Your favourite book series: Feluda. Feluda. Feluda.

Your favourite Jane Austen character: Have to shamefacedly admit that I haven't read a single Jane Austen novel.

A book that makes you hungry: Pamela Timms' Korma, Kheer and Kismet. One of the better books I have read in 2014.

Favourite autobiography: Ken Jennings' Brainiac: Adventures in the Curious, Competitive, Compulsive World of Trivia Buffs. A brilliant memoir (along with a history of trivia in the USA) of a 75-time Jeopardy winner.

A book to read when homesick: Indrajit Hazra's Grand Delusions. One of two great Calcutta books of 2014, the other being Bishwanath Ghosh's Longing, Belonging.

Favourite fairy tale character: Aladdin. I could do with a lamp like his.

A book to gift around Christmas: Jai Arjun Singh's Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro: Seriously Funny Since 1983, a joyous book that would fit snugly in a stocking.

A book that makes you cry: Sanjib Chattopadhyay's Iti Tomar Ma, a not-so-well-known tear-jerker in Bengali.

Best book you ever received as a giftTen Bad Dates with De Niro: A Book of Alternative Movie Lists from my childhood friend, Nilendu. The idea of a 'book of lists' came after reading this book.

Favourite family read: When I was a kid, we used to read Sukumar Ray's Pagla Dashu together and laugh our guts out. 

Favourite Christmas book: Dr Seuss' How The Grinch Stole Christmas. What else could it be?

A book on your shelf you haven't read yet: Pranab Mukherjee's The Dramatic Decade. Downloaded on Kindle, to be read next.

A book you couldn't put down: Sidney Sheldon's Master of the Game. Actually most of Sheldon's early novels.

An author you discovered this year: Naseeruddin Shah.

Your best read of 2014: Scott Jordan Harris' Rosebud Sleds and Horses' Heads: 50 of Film's Most Evocative Objects - An Illustrated Journey. [This was probably the most agonising question to answer.]

Your favourite Rudyard Kipling character: Know only one, naming that one. Mowgli.

Most awaited book of 2015: A biography of Salim-Javed, to be published by Penguin India and being written by a Delhi-based author. 

Now you do the same list. 

Saturday, November 01, 2014

A LOT of Film Writing

In an effort to get noticed in a month when India's top novelist released 2 million copies of his latest offering, I ended up writing quite a few pieces on movies which are around the topic of Bollybook. That I didn't post them on the blog can be attributed to laziness and quite a bit of work at the workplace as well as on my next book, which is turning out to be trickier than I thought.

Anyway, here is a compilation of the pieces I have written in the last month and a half.

Yahoo! Originals
A piece on the obsessive, compulsive, disorderly world of Hindi movie trivia.
"Why do we know so little about stuff that goes on in Bollywood movies and why is the documentation so dodgy? Why do we like it anyway?"

Outlook - Books
In the aftermath of the Facebook '10 Books That Touched You', I looked at the books people read in Hindi movies... from Jaani Dushman to Kal Ho Naa Ho.

Outlook - Durga Pujo / Dussehra
'Twas the season of Durga Pujo when I held forth on the celebrations of the Mother Goddess in Bollywood, starting from Amar Prem and throwing in a dash of Dandiya as well.

Outlook - 25 Years of Shiva
Outlook did a story on the film that changed Telugu cinema and the director who nearly changed Hindi cinema, for which I was called on to provide some attendant trivia.

IBNLive: Half-Girlfriend
I interviewed Chetan Bhagat and came up with an article on his response to criticism against his books.

Anti-serious: Aunty Serious
For a new web-magazine that is about 'laughter in slow motion', I did a play on their name and wrote about the chachis and mausis of Bollywood.

Desimartini: History Lessons from Andaz Apna Apna
While celebrating #20YearsofAAA, I wrote about some of the antique pieces from the film for the benefit of younger viewers... things like Wah Wah Productions, Mohan Bagan and OP Nayyar.

For Desimartini, I also wrote piece on the urban legend about Shashi Tharoor being in AAA, which Shashi Tharoor tweeted. (Shows how badly trolled he has been!) 
Though, the biggest plus of the article was that we found the actor who was the lookalike! Here is how that happened.  

Apart from these, there were a few media mentions which I will upload the moment I shake off my lethargy.
In the meantime, please buy the book.

Links: Amazon | Flipkart 

Sunday, August 24, 2014

What is Bollybook?

Now that I have signed off all the proofs and sent Bollybook to the printers, this might be a good time to tell you what the book is all about.
A couple of years back, I wrote a book called Kitnay Aadmi Thay which was a compilation of Completely Useless Bollywood Trivia. Basically fifty lists about cool and/or oft-seen things in Hindi cinema – Bengalis, Miss Indias, newspapers, Amitabh Bachchan, The Godfather rip-offs, mother characters  and the like.  
The book ran its course. All my friends were thrilled. Readers of this blog were happy. The reviews weren’t too bad either.

So when KAT was in production and on shelves, I started writing a sequel – fifty more lists of similarly cool things. How many movies have blackboards in scenes and what for? How many heroines in bikinis? How many heroes in towels? What are the cool things that happen just before Intervals? Who made the coolest last-scene cameos?

When I pitched this sequel to an editor in Penguin, I saw it as a second KAT. But Udayan Mitra – he of encyclopaedic Bollywood knowledge – came up with the grand idea of combining KAT and the next fifty lists I had written to bring out one mega-book of Bollywood trivia.
Something like those Uncle John’s Bathroom Readers. A book that would be big enough to act as a weapon (or a shield) if the Salman and SRK fans got too carried away. A book that would be chock-a-block with juicy nuggets from our favourite films. And some from our not-so-favourite ones as well.
I decided to name it Bollybook, hopefully a happy mix of encyclopaedic authority and filmy quirkiness.

So Bollybook has 100 lists... a subtle tribute to Bollywood’s favourite number – be it in weeks or crores.
It also has a whole mess of trivia boxes, quizzes, photos, jokes and footnotes... pretty much every white space we could find in the 460 pages, we packed it with some stuff. (As evidence, I am attaching a shot of a part of Page 243 that is a chapter on the best towel scenes and ends with a trivia boxes on bathing scenes. See what I mean?)
KAT did not have contents pages or an index, which came across as a bit of a problem. This time, we have added both so that you can quickly figure out the page(s) where Jaani Dushman appears. (Pages 6 and 39, if you are interested.)    

My good friends and loyal readers who had bought/read KAT will find those fifty chapters again.
But I can assure you there will be many new entries in those lists, new trivia boxes, new photos added, clunky sentences written better and other updates made so that you don’t feel short-changed. Hopefully overwhelmed but surely not short-changed.  
We are marketing it as The Big Book of Hindi Movie Trivia. And when I say BIG, maa kasam I mean it.

So Bollybook will soon be at a bookstore near you. At the price of two movie tickets, I promise you it will be a longer lasting – well – kick than Akshay Kumar's adventures with a dog.

And you do want to know about Boney’s Law of Spatial Time-Space Coordinate, don’t you? 

Monday, July 28, 2014

Eid yani Biriyani!

I apologise at the outset for equating the holy festival of sacrifice and pilgrimage with rice and mutton but I am secularly hungry. You should see my glee while devouring roast turkeys and Kalipujo mutton.
Having ordered 2 kilos of haleem from Hyderabad's Pista House in the last one month, I thought of doing my bit for Eid-ul-fitr by listing down some of Bollywood's best biriyani scenes - thus combining the two most-loved things of my life.

Ladies - if you ever won a competition of something you really love doing, how would you celebrate? Wait, I know... You would go home and cook biriyani for your husband, right?
[Airtel, how the hell did you manage this brand placement?]
Well, that's what Anushka Sharma did in Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi. After getting selected for a dance competition, she went home and cooked a celebratory dinner for her husband.
Oh, she stopped on the way and had some chaat with her dancing partner.
Well, not just had but got into a golgappa-eating competition with him.
One second... then how did she eat the biriyani at home then?
You see, she didn't... she just lovingly fed her husband.
Ohkay... well, he was hungry I guess. After all, he didn't get to have chaat.
Sigh, it is a long story...

Three burly men named Jahangir, Majid and Farid sitting around a table and chomping down biriyani and kababs could be a sight that warms the cockles of foodies' hearts and also scares you shitless. Especially they are a Mafia don and his two ruthless son - who alternately rule and run roughshod over Mumbai. 
In Shashilal Nair's Angaar, Jackie Shroff took up arms against them but not before the trio had congregated around a low table and polished off (what seemed like) tons of biriyani and kabab. 

Community meals are actually the best settings for eating biriyani... sitting cross-legged and helping oneself to large scoops of biriyani from the central degchi!
Tabu was the Biriyani Masterchef in Maqbool where a don and a politician broke bread (rice) as their minions joined them and nefarious deals got discussed over rice and meat. 

Abhishek Bachchan's forgettable Run can be remembered for its kauwa biriyani. 
Vijay Raaz sat down at a roadside stall and wolfed down a plate of Chicken biriyani for Rs 5 only. As it was likely to be, the biriyani was not really chicken but crow - causing our man to crow like a crow for some time after the consumption of the biriyani. Certainly not stuff you can pass off at an iftar party! 

Rajkumar Gupta's Aamir was set in a Muslim area, where seemingly a million eyes watched Rajeev Khandelwal while a rough voice tried to convince him to plant a bomb - in exchange for the life of his family. The claustrophobic atmosphere was partially lifted on the occasional appearance of a plate of biriyani. A colleague confessed that when he saw the scene on DVD, he paused it, went off to a nearby biriyani joint, had a plate, came back and resumed watching the film. 

My correspondents tell me that two biriyani scenes; one in My Wife's Murder (where Boman Irani is the eater) and and another in Traffic Signal are very good but I recall neither of them and stand shamefacedly before asking all of you to remember the scenes, hunt for YouTube clips and post them in the comments below. 

My favourite biriyani scene stars the voluminous Shashi Kapoor as poet Noor in Muhafiz. As his fan Deven (Om Puri) tried to squeeze out drops of shairi from him, he pontificated on the ingredients ("badhiya se badhiya gosht...") and accompaniment ("biriyani ke saath rum..."). Here, I present a few screenshots. 

Wish you all Eid Mubarak! 

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Bollywood's Damning Women Cliches

A guest-post for @genderlogindia, written on Prem Panicker's request, first published here.

Bollywood is usually the go-to guy for bashing. Anything evil in this country is, by and large, attributed to Bollywood’s zestful propagation of the same. Smoking – check. Dumbing down – check. Eve teasing – double check.

The meme goes that Bollywood has made stalking into an art form and otherwise respectable composers- choreographers-costumers have participated wholeheartedly to make this activity into a grand and enduring success.
The ‘stalking song’ is what stars and directors are most reviled for, but I am inclined to overlook it because it is never an end. If the villain does it, there is swift dispensation of justice by the hero. If the hero does it, he either reforms soon after or does something completely monumental (like strangling his Mafia don father’s pet anaconda to marry the girl) that underlines his true love.
My logic is simple: If a molester claims that he got his idea from Akshay Kumar, he should immediately be made to fight thirteen sword-wielding goons to save a girl. Because that’s what Akshay did – right after he teased the girl.

However, this is not to say Bollywood can hold its head high when gender is being discussed. What Bollywood kills us with are the stereotypes it silently perpetuates through stock characters or situations, either for convenience or through not wanting to take a risk. This is – in my opinion – far more damning than a raucous song. Because it is a subtle and, more critically, ongoing message that certain things are ‘wrong’.
Here is my quick list of six stereotypes Bollywood perpetrates. (Please feel free to add more. ):

Heroines don’t do regular work. Unless they are prostitutes or police officers.
Heroines don’t go to offices. (Yes, I know you will jump up and name five movies where they do but that’s exactly my point – those are exceptions.) They study. They are nice people, but they don’t ‘do’ anything.
In the two biggest hits of this year – Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani and Chennai Express – we are not sure what the heroine does. In the former, Deepika Padukone is shown preparing to become a doctor in the flashback but in the present day, she is quite happy looking gorgeous, and no mention of her medical practice is ever made. Ditto for Chennai Express.
In the Top 10 grossers in Bollywood history (all of which are from the last few years), only one heroine – Kareena Kapoor of 3 Idiots – uses her profession to make a contribution to the story. The rest just dance spectacularly.
And this has been a standard template in Bollywood. For example, Madhuri Dixit was supposed to be a ‘student of computers’ in Hum Aapke Hain Koun but she never goes even close to one in the film. In Maine Pyar Kiya, heroine Bhagyashree had excellent marks in ‘inter’ but she chose to be deposited in a family friend’s home instead of a working woman’s hostel.
Take the biggest hits (and the not so big ones, as well) and you will see the same trend. The only working girl I can think of in a major hit is Sholay’s Basanti. And she abandoned her promising career to get married.

Working mothers are bad. Actually, mothers are bad whenever they are not doing the act of ‘mothering’.
Basanti’s abandoned career brings us to the subtle messaging about mothers who work. In Taare Zameen Par, the working mother gave up her career to turn her sons into class-toppers. In Akele Hum Akele Tum, the career-focussed mother (who left her son for a promising singing career) almost became the vamp till she decided to return to domesticity.
Whenever a child is shown to be in physical danger (road accident, kidnapping etc), the mother is usually doing something frivolous (like shopping) and is meted out some hard-hitting advice (“Tum kaisi maa ho?”) by a bystander – advice that leads to terrible remorse.

Pre-marital sex is punishable by death or imprisonment (though, by and large, not both).
If rain, crackling fire, skimpy clothing and sensuous songs cause you to slip (‘behek jaana’) and taste the forbidden fruit before marriage, you will die. Because sex is done by bad girls.
Sometimes the man dies (Aradhana), leaving the woman to a lifetime of struggle (including some jail time).
Sometimes, the woman dies (Trishul), thus getting a version of ‘capital punishment’.
Even in a totally realistic film like Masoom, the woman dies leaving her son in the care of her married lover.
In recent times, the moment of passion is dealt a little less severely — but the non-virgin never gets the hero (Deepika Padukone in Cocktail, for example).

Only prostitutes initiate sex.
As per Bollywood logic, all sexually aggressive women are prostitutes (or similar), though all prostitutes are not sexually aggressive (if she is the heroine).
Traditionally, characters artistes like Helen and Aruna Irani have performed – with great aplomb – the cabaret that caused the hero to sway slightly off the straight and narrow path before he progressed on his way towards the virginal heroine. In recent times, the purpose of the ‘item number’ has been to introduce a guest star who can do the Fevicol-Zandu inspired gyrations while the heroine can dutifully avert her face when the hero zeroes in for a kiss.
[NB: The heroes can sow a few wild oats here and there. If you take the last five films of current heartthrob Ranbir Kapoor, he has been polygamous in three of them unlike his heroines who, without exception,  were steadfastly monogamous.]
Even in an explicit movie like Murder, it is the man who initiates the adulterous relationship. The heroine initially turns away and is about to leave,  when there is an excuse for her to come back (she left her purse behind, you see) and get sucked into the affair. (Maybe an adulterous relationship is not the right example to make a point about women in Bollywood not having a say in sexual activity, though).

Women are allowed to kill villains but only with help from new lover.
There was a time when all of Bollywood was gainfully employed in remaking the Julia Roberts hit. Sleeping With The EnemyAgnisakshiDaraar and Yaraana faithfully replicated every detail from the original and differed from their source code on only one major front – the hero rushed in to kill the obsessive husband. While the fragile Julia Roberts pulled the trigger herself in Hollywood, a chubby Rishi Kapoor (whose heroines were much fitter than him) and a hungover Jackie Shroff ambled into the last scene to perform the heroic honors in Bollywood.
At one point of time, when Rekha was acting in a series of films as a female vigilante, it was always the hero who rushed in to assist her in the climax. The most famous example is probably Khoon Bhari Maang where she was doing a mean job of chopping Kabir Bedi up till Shatrughan Sinha was made to intervene.

In a love triangle, only the men get to chose the ‘winner’.
A Bollywood woman is, at the risk of over-simplification, property. She doesn’t really have a say in matters of the heart.
From Sangam to Saajan, from Dostana to Dobara OUATIM, the woman is just a method of sacrificing for the sake of a friend (or proving one’s masculinity for the sake of the world).
The friends decide – depending on who saw the girl first, whose relative debts are higher, whose box office clout is bigger – who gets the girl. This often leads to death or the honorable exit of one participant while the surviving one, usually the docile girl, goes with the guy. Simple, no?
And when you see a rather cavalier tyaag by Ranbir Kapoor in favor of his elder brother in Raajneeti, you realize this is a tradition as old as the Mahabharat itself!

Often one wonders about the wasted charisma of Bollywood’s leading ladies, and if the system will ever change to portray them as true role models. Right now, there are lakhs of young girls copying Priyanka Chopra’s tattoo. What impact she would make if she is shown actually working hard to become – say – a boxer!
A Mary Kom biopic – starring Priyanka Chopra – is currently in production. So yes, there is hope.

Women-driven Bollywood Films

My guest post for UltraViolet (Indian Feminists Unplugged), first published here.
Written for Women's Day 2014.

Coincidentally or otherwise, too many of my Twitter conversations end up in a blog post. This post too, got kicked off by a tweet-discussion with Dilnavaz about ‘women-driven Bollywood movies’. Always grateful to people for giving me filmi things ponder about, I wondered what, if any, the difference between ‘woman-centric’ and ‘woman-driven’ was. 
My theory is that a ‘woman-driven’ film is one where a heroine, despite being handicapped by a short role or pairing against a bigger hero or a clichéd plot, has shaped the narrative. Now, this ‘shaping of narrative’ is subjective and disagreements are welcome. I have also tried to pick those movies that enjoyed commercial success for most part, since a woman driving commercial success is a bit of a rarity in Bollywood.

The pioneer in women-driven films was, of course, ‘Hunterwali’ Nadia. India’s first and only action heroine, she thought nothing of jumping over trains, cracking a mean whip and taking on muscular baddies in hand-to-hand combat. Unfortunately, these films have all but gone off public memory due to poor archiving. Here is my admittedly subjective list of recent and yesteryear Bollywood movies that are distinguished by virtue of being driven by women:

Sharmila Tagore in Aradhana
Sharmila Tagore played a grey-haired widow for nearly half the film, while her male lead , the reigning superstar, pranced around as her son. And yet, the story started with the hero getting besotted after seeing her on a train and ended with the hero accepting her as his mother at an Air Force honours function.
She fell in love, saw her lover die, had a son out of wedlock, tried to bring him up, saved her son by taking a murder rap upon herself, served a prison sentence and finally reunited with her son – her life being the focus of the story (“Saphal hogi teri aradhana…”). 
Rajesh Khanna was the reason people came to watch Aradhana but Sharmila Tagore was the reason they remembered it.

Hema Malini in Seeta Aur Geeta
It takes a lot of courage to take Bollywood’s favourite ‘brothers lost in childhood’ plot and give it a distaff twist. But then, you had a heroine like Hema Malini to pull it off.  
The biggest impact of Seeta Aur Geeta was not the film itself, where Hema Manlini stole Dharmendra and Sanjeev Kumar’s thunder with aplomb, but the aftermath. Amitabh Bachchan and Jeetendra remember the story of their film Gehri Chaal suddenly changing after the release of Seeta Aur Geeta and Hema Malini doing all the fighting. Because the distributors wanted it!

Waheeda Rehman in Trishul
Waheeda Rehman had about fifteen minutes of screen time in a film which had three of Bollywood’s biggest male stars and yet, she is the pivot on which the story of Trishul hinged.
Salim-Javed wrote a genre-bending tale where a son swore to destroy his father, in an industry where sons are always subservient to their parents. With his characteristic intensity, Amitabh Bachchan brilliantly channelized the pain of seeing his mother die a little every day (“Jisne pachchees baras apni maa ko har roz thoda thoda marte dekha ho, usse maut se kya dar lagega?”) and the film became an important piece in the document of the Angry Young Man.
In both Deewaar and Trishul, Bachchan’s anger was directed towards his missing father. In Deewaar, his mother tried to change his outlook. In Trishul, she extracted a promise that the son would take revenge on her behalf (“Main tujhe rehem ke saaye mein na palne doongi… Taaki tap tap ke tu faulaad bane, maa ki aulaad bane… main doodh na bakshungi tujhe yeh yaad rahe”).

Zeenat Aman in Insaaf Ka Tarazu
A model is brutally raped by a pervert, who is then acquitted by court on the ‘she-asked-for-it’ defence. This ‘reputation’ leads to her modelling career hitting a snag but when she is fighting back, the pervert (yes, the same guy) rapes her teenage sister. She kills him, emptying a revolver into the man.
Insaaf Ka Tarazu was notorious for its explicit rape scenes, which bordered on titillation. It suffered from over-dramatisation and very bad acting. But the plot, borrowed from Hollywood thriller Lipstick, centred on Zeenat Aman and she completely eclipsed the two male leads of the film. After this, Deepak Parashar – her lover in the film – became Bollywood’s Official Wimp and Raj Babbar became much celebrated for his villainous turn.
Moving away from the usual Bollywood tradition of hero avenging the female folks’ ‘dishonour’, here was a girl who pressed the trigger herself. 

Sridevi in Chaalbaaz
At her prime in the late-1980s, Sridevi acted in several films that centred on her but nothing exemplified her ability to steal the limelight than Chaalbaaz, where she acted opposite two of India’s biggest superstars – Sunny Deol and Rajanikanth. The film could have been just another remake of Seeta Aur Geeta but Sridevi’s manic energy took it to just another plane. As the two sisters who were separated at birth and came together after a multitude of crises, Sridevi made the most of the footage that was given to her.
A lot of people had wondered what would have happened if Sunny Deol and Rajani came together in a North-South Death Match. Well, Sridevi won.
Honourable MentionMr India, a film produced by the hero’s brother, named after the hero and boasting of Hindi cinema’s second most popular villain. And we are still enamoured by Miss Hawa Hawaii.
Urmila Matondkar in Rangeela
Why is this standard-issue-Bollywood-love-triangle a woman-driven film? Because despite the presence of two major stars – Aamir Khan and Jackie Shroff – it was Urmila who decided whom she wanted to spend the rest of her life with. In Bollywood love triangles, it is always the two heroes who decide on who gets the girl and the girl is just expected to meekly agree. Rangeela was different.
The entire contour of the film was built around backup dancer Mili’s quest to become a filmstar and the two leading men – one a tapori and one a star – just adjusted their lives around her. And then finally when one of them decided to sacrifice and exit her life, she refused to accept his decision. She went out and brought him back in her life.
And yes, her film within the film was a monster hit too! 
Honourable mentionEk Hasina Thi, Urmila Matondkar, in a deglam avatar, sought revenge after being cheated in love by a slick con-man. And she got it, in the most gruesome manner possible. Ewwww… I get the creeps just thinking of it.
Bipasha Basu in Jism
With her bronzed back and never-ending legs dominating the posters and the most popular scenes of Jism, Bipasha Basu was the true blue femme fatale in the classic film noir style of Hollywood. Throughout the film, she literally toyed with John Abraham and got him to do her bidding, which would get her money and freedom. This was not a story in which the hero and heroine conspired to pull off a heist. This was a story where the more intelligent (and more ruthless) person manipulated the other to get what she wanted.
As the famous line goes, “Her body was the weapon, her body was the killer, her body was the scene of crime.”

Tabu in Maqbool
Tabu has acted in several women-centric films like Astitva and Chandni Bar but nowhere has she dictated the characters around her and controlled the circumstances as much as Maqbool.
As a desi version of the iconic Lady Macbeth, she was the Mafia don’s mistress – apparently living under his thumb, helpless and insecure. But her insecurity became a weapon when she used the don’s main henchman to fuel a rebellion and wrest control of the gang. It was Irrfan who pressed the trigger and ascended the throne but it was Tabu who spun the macabre web in which all her adversaries were caught.
She was not just the villain’s moll. She had blood on her hands. Literally.

Madhuri Dixit (and Huma Qureishi) in Dedh Ishqiya
The promos focused on Naseeruddin Shah and Arshad Warsi probably because they were the connecting link from the earlier film but there was no doubt that it was Begum Para and her associate who held all the puppet-strings. Soon, they had the two heroes and pretty much the entire cast eating of their hands – revealing a game bigger than what we had expected.
SPOILER ALERT: As the two rag-tag heroes ran into a wall of guns and goons in the climax, they realised the two damsels were stringing them along all through. And what completely broke all conventions was the distinctly romantic relationship between the two women, who rode into the sunset with each other as Naseer and Arshad looked on longingly.

Parineeti Chopra  in Hasee Toh Phasee
A PhD in Chemical Engineering. Works in Shanghai on high-density polymers. Is back in India to steal money to fund further research. A Bollywood heroine couldn’t get more anti-stereotypical than this in what is a very stereotypical movie. The same old ghisa-peeta theme of the hero realising his true love is not the one he is getting married to was given amazing twists throughout the movie as the heroine rescued the hero in distress, came up with the save-the-day ideas and then decided that happily-ever-after needed to be pushed back a bit… because there was a small matter to be settled with irate German debtors.
Honourable Mentions: Parineeti Chopra and Vaani Kapoor’s acts as the cool, sassy, sexually liberated, small-town girls in Shudh Desi Romance.
Kangana Ranaut’s crazed turn as the nearly-runaway bride in Tanu Weds Manu
The tragedy of actresses in Bollywood is that we have to think and make up a list of women-driven films. For each of the films I have named, there are a hundred mindless blockbusters where the heroine just wiggles her bottom and daintily waits to be rescued by her leading man.
With Dedh IshqiyaHasee Toh PhaseeGulaab Gang and Queen coming in quick succession, this is probably the thickest concentration of heroine-driven films in hero-driven Bollywood. One hopes and prays that all these films will make truckloads of money and Bollywood will start making more of these.
And Boss II will not star Salman Khan, but Katrina Kaif. *fingers crossed* 

This post was written before Queen. But I had this happy feeling that it was going to be the last name in this post!

Monday, April 07, 2014

Who is your Andaz Apna Apna friend?

Popular comedian Aditi Mittal (aka @awryaditi on Twitter) has written a brilliant column on a brilliant film. Of the many joys she recounted, one incident stuck with me:
Suddenly, my brother liked a girl and no one was yelling at him about it. Instead, I was being made to put on a salwar kameez and meet her. She was very pretty, and I could tell my brother cared for her and she for him. But that did not quell my suspicions. As we walked out after lunch that day, I suddenly heard my mother say “Adu, your dupatta is dragging on the floor.” And, as I turned around, my to-be-bhabhi blurted, “Gogoji, apka ghaghra.”

This story reminded me of something as well.
Many years ago, I joined the Calcutta branch of a FMCG multinational to ‘take over’ a state as the Sales Manager. The guy I was supposed to take over from was a Tam Brahm, vegetarian and seemed unnecessarily combative in the fleeting occasions that I met him. I did not have a good feeling about him but started the process nevertheless. It was progressing without incident till we were about to leave the sales depot one evening. He suddenly said, “Arre, aaj kuch maal nahin becha? Khandaani ASM hoon. Aaya hoon, kuch to bechke jaoonga!”

The point of these two stories lies in the reaction to the film when it first released and my frustrations thereof.
When Andaz Apna Apna opened, there was considerable buzz in Calcutta because two chocolate box heroes were coming together for the first time. Or maybe there wasn’t and it was just my sister – an Aamir Khan fan – who ‘whipped up the buzz’. Anyway, a friend and I reached Priya one matinee show to watch what seemed like a romantic comedy. My friend read the works of Leon Trotsky in his spare time but was not averse to the occasional Bollywood flick. We were both unprepared for what unfolded next.
During the film, I laughed so hard that I was gasping for breath for most part of the movie and when Gogo did the Dhikki tikki dance towards the end, I felt I would pass out because I was not able to breathe. My friend remained stoic throughout.
When we were exiting the hall and I was planning to come back for a second show soon, my friend asked – “Did you really find the movie that funny or were you being sarcastic?” I was dumbfounded and suddenly realised that the movie had alienated me perfectly. Andaz Apna Apna had no takers in Culturally Conscious Calcutta.
Over the next few years, I remained cautiously positive about my views about AAA because I did not find a single person who even mildly enjoyed the movie, leave alone laugh uproariously. In fact, I came to believe that this was one of those freak cases where I would remain alone in my choice.

So when I met Ganesh – the aforementioned khandaani ASM – it was like discovering a twin after growing up. We were the only ones in the office who were Andaz Apna Apna fans and our colleagues shook their heads indulgently when we lapsed into our giggling discussions about Mohun Bagan, Rabbit and maiyat ka chanda. I found it very strange that our colleagues and friends – who shared many common likes and interests – were oblivious to the charms of Amar Prem. 

Before this beast called the internet came about, we never realised that on a planet of seven billion people, no one can be alone. And that’s when we realised there is a Cult of Gogo. We were all watching the reruns on Zee TV and laughing together – except we did not know it then.
As Google spread its tentacles, obscure blogs got discovered. As Bollywood chat forums became active, we found these soulmates. As Facebook allowed us to form the craziest groups, we sent friend requests to these spiritual siblings.
And that’s when Andaz Apna Apna found its following.

This is somewhat different from most films that are called ‘cult classics’.
Andaz Apna Apna had a decent opening and the appeal wasn’t niche. After all, it had two of India’s hottest stars in the lead. Karisma Kapoor and Raveena Tandon weren’t pushovers either.
Cult classics are usually films which don’t get noticed when they release but build up a fan following over the years. Andaz Apna Apna got noticed and then people just looked away. Unlike other cult classics (like, say, Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro), Andaz Apna Apna had and still has a large number of detractors. Many people still don’t ‘get’ the humour and that is where this classic is a little more cult than the others. 

And that brings the Andaz Apna Apna friend into play.
An AAA friend is the guy who was the first person you know who turned out to be a fan of the movie. He became a soulmate on this quality alone and you never regretted the friendship. He was the one who completed the lines you started to say. She is the one you SMS “AAA on Zee Cinema” even now. He is the guy who – after getting drunk – says “Bus ke backseat mein woh Shashi Tharoor hi tha, b******....”

It is my belief that everybody – and not only fans of the movie – has an Andaz Apna Apna friend.
If I broaden the definition a little bit, she is the one who shows you it is okay to be quirky, it is okay to like things nobody else likes, it is better to be happy than successful.

And that friend eventually helps you transform from a kachcha khiladi to a pakka khiladi.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Condition Serious Hai

Came across a contest organised by Cadbury 5 Star about people jinki #ConditionSeriousHai. So, here is my take on two friends discussing a love affair - either real or imagined.

At what point does one realize that you are in love with someone? Gaurav wondered as he walked up the stairs to their flat. Every time he left Rohini, the urge to ask her to stay back grew stronger. How long will it take my ego to actually say it to her, he wondered?
As he fumbled with the keys, he thought about the number of love stories that do not happen because the guy is trying too hard not to appear desperate to the girl.
He threw the keys in the bowl on the cabinet and kicked off his shoes. The TV was on. Dandy was watching a news channel at half past two?

“Has Nigar Khan joined…” he stopped to take the scene in. A distinguished looking lady was sitting on the futon. She was twirling the remote and had The Authoritative Calvin & Hobbes open on her lap.
“Hi, you must be Gaurav.” She switched to Bengali and said, “My name is Rituparna. I am also a Bong, though not from Calcutta.”
“Hello.” Gaurav squeaked as he tried desperately to think of a polite way of asking what-the-fuck-are-you-doing-in-my-drawing-room.
“I was wondering why you were late.” Atul walked in. “You guys have met. She is the Head of HR at the bank.”
“Oh.” Gaurav’s confusion increased now.
“I think I will freshen up. The cab should be reaching.” Rituparna said and turned to leave the room. She stopped at the door. “I was noticing that you have all the eight albums that make up the complete Calvin & Hobbes series.”
“You are the second person to notice that.”
“Thankfully, you did not say that I was too old to figure that out.” She smiled brightly, turned on her heels and entered Dandy’s room.

“Who is she?” Gaurav whispered to Atul.
“I told you na… she is the HR Head of…”
“You jerk. I heard that. What is she doing in our flat at 2 AM? Don’t tell me you are screwing her…”
“Well, screw is not the word…”
“You were making lurve, maybe? And I thought you were finding some Ritu babe in your office hot.”
“She is Ritu.”
“Her name is Rituparna. Everybody calls her Ritu,”
“That Ritu is this Ritu? Mind-blowing. You are seeing the VP – HR of your company all this while and pretending as if you are…”
The curtain parted and Rituparna walked back in. She was pulling a strolley and had a bag on her shoulder.
“I am catching the first flight to Bangalore. So, instead of going back all the way to my pad, I thought I’ll just sack here.”
“Where do you stay?”
“Samudra Mahal. It’s an apartment block near the Worli…”
“Yes, I kind of know it.”
Her mobile rang. “Yes, I will just come down. My cab’s here. So, see you around – Gaurav. We must catch dinner together sometime.”
“Yeah, sure.”
“We had dinner at Mahesh. Atul was missing you very badly. Though that did not reduce his appetite one bit.”
“Yes, he is a bit of a hypocrite that way!”
“He is, isn’t he?” She ruffled Atul’s hair as she adjusted her bag, which had slipped down.
Atul walked her to the lift.

Gaurav attacked him the moment he walked back in. “You bastard, how come you don’t tell me anything nowadays?”
“Bugger off, you are sounding like Rajendra Kumar.”
“Screw you. Why did you keep her under wraps?”
“Bugger, I am not even sure if we are an item or not. Look, it’s not like a simple fling you have after meeting at an office party. She is like very like me, you know. And you, for that matter. She kind of relates.” Atul made quote gestures as he said ‘relates’.
“Which world are you living in? You are sleeping with a grown-up woman and you don’t know if you are seeing her?”
“We are not!”
“What? Seeing each other?”
“Yes, that. And sleeping too. We did not have sex today. Or ever.”
“But she looked very post-coital right now.”
“Tu bada jaanta hai coitus ke barey mein?”
“The girl ruffles your hair on her way out. She is relaxing on your futon while you come out adjusting trousers. If this is not coitus…”
“Bloody hell. If you are in Shikha’s drawing room at 2 AM, does it mean you are screwing her?”
“No, it means I am massaging my balls after she chewed them off in a pool session. Abbe, don’t be bloody pendantic. Shikha is like one of the guys. She is not some statuesque head of HR…”
“What is the meaning of statuesque?”
Gaurav started laughing.

“Why are you laughing, fucker?”
“Here, a lady lot older than you is sitting in your flat in the middle of the night and you are thinking of word meanings?”
“She is a friend, yaar!”
“But you have the hots for her…”
Atul was uncharacteristically shy. “Well, I do have a bit of a soft corner…”
“Soft corner? Bloody hell… you have a hard-on.”
Gaurav softened when he saw Dandy’s expression. And had to smile.
“So, how is she?”
“She’s very cool, yaar. She attended the Rolling Stones concert. She met them backstage and had a Licks t-shirt autographed and all.”
“Does she know the songs also or…”
“Boss, she is totally into it. She knows the Stones. She knows Calvin & Hobbes. She knows teen-patti. She is on first name terms with Abbas…”
“Who is Abbas?”
“The manager of Zenzi. He like escorted us in when we were there.”
“So, she is super cool. But if she is so cool, why is she working on a Sunday?”
“She just went on a tour, right?”
“Arre, she is going to Bangalore. To meet her daughter. She is at the NLS.”
“You are dating a woman with a grown up daughter?”
“Chuck this grown up woman bit. I am not dating… actually, I am dating her.”
“Dandy, you are priceless. You are dating a woman who is like a lot older, a lot lot richer and a lot lot lot sophisticated. Do you think you can handle it?”
“What is there to handle, yaar? Right now, I like being with her. I think she also likes being with me. So, we are trying dating. Let’s see how we both feel after a year or so?”
“Your mom will leave you in peace for a year? Without asking to get married?”
“Haan yaar, that’s not happening! But then, if I take Ritu and tell Ma that I want to marry her, then can you imagine the scene?”
They both doubled over in laughter at the thought. When they stopped, Gaurav had to say what had been their catchphrase since b-school days. 

“Dandy yaar, tera condition serious hai...” 

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

From the Modi Campaign Trail

As Narendra Modi cranks up the frequent flier miles on the campaign trail, his ecstatic fans are already sounding the victory bugle all over the internet. That they are doing it in their characteristic abrasive style is also the cause of much lamentation among the people who usually get to write newspaper columns. Thanks to some of Mr Modi’s more enthusiastic supporters, his campaign has got shots of (unintentional?) humour – much needed in these serious times.
Here are five examples of ‘fan-art’ from his supporters, gleaned from the wondrous, cavernous folds of the Internet.  
Needless to say, it can be convincingly argued that some of them may have actually been created by Mr Modi’s detractors. I – myself – believe that these are indeed made by his die-hard fans, probably because I see sincerity instead of cynicism in all of them. But hey, it could be just me!

NaMo + Momo = National Intergration

To take on AAP and their cavalier treatment of Ugandan women and to highlight the death of a Mizo student in Delhi while AAP was in power, Narendra Modi met up with students from North East. And his PR cell promptly reduced the meeting into a popular Bollywood-style stereotype.
“Momo bechne walon ke saath NaMo hai...” was the rousing line with the message ended – banishing the articulate, erudite, good-looking population of North East to the roadside momo stall in one fell swoop.  
Oh – they also added Sushma Swaraj’s ‘flat-nose-sharp-nose’ sauce, just in case you thought the momo was too bland!

Tit For Tattoo
What you want written on the soul, you tattoo – Old Jungle Saying.
And so you have this young girl who has tattooed a gigantic face of Mr Modi on her entire back and his PR machinery clearly sees this as an example of her ‘deewangi’. I am hoping for the girl’s sake that this is Photoshopped. Can you imagine the plight of her fellow dandiya dancers if she is wearing a backless choli and Namo peeps out in ‘Big Brother is watching you’ style? And of course, slightly imaginative positions during coitus are a strict no-no!  
Am I the only one who thinks NaMo looks a bit like Osama in the tattoo, especially with the white t-shirt looking like an Afghan turban on him?

Let A Thousand Flowers Bloom
Meghna Patel threw caution (and her clothes) to the wind as she posed nude* (terms & conditions apply) on a carpet of lotuses – only with a poster of Mr Modi for company. Ever since Ms Poonam Pandey pioneered the concept of ‘stripping as reward’, several starlets have followed her on the disrobed path. But this was something new.
‘Nude for NaMo’ was announced as an incentive or reward. What was Ms Patel saying? Vote for NaMo and I will throw away the lotuses? I don’t want a Hand to touch me? What?
Either way, she was reprimanded by a BJP official for doing something that was – you guessed it – alien to Indian culture. 
[On his birthday, Mr Modi was wished by Mallika Sherawat on national television through what was clearly the most execrable performance of the ‘Happy Birthday’ song ever. I am not including that in my list since it was a promotion of Ms Sherawat’s forthcoming TV show and not a Modi campaign message. Masochists, click here.]

Monkey Shakti, Tan Ki Shakti
While monkeys are our ancestors in a distant sort of way, we always refer to them in a negative way. All through my childhood, the word “Bnador” – in Bengali – is always reserved for the naughtiest kids and other cultures are no different. Therefore, the mind boggled when his PR cell compared Mr Modi to a monkey. On closer inspection, one realised it was Hanuman who he was being compared with. Surely, a visage of Ramanand Sagar’s Hanuman would have been more apt?
But the sincerity, with which the message asks you to recount the similarities 'apne dil par haath rakh kar', is something else.  

NaMo NaMo PM Go!
This is my personal favourite. Primarily because they rhyme 'tea vendor' with 'the last air-bender'. How cool is THAT? 
Everything that NaMo does (or is going to do) finds place here. In three exciting minutes, this video manages to summarise the main qualities* (terms & conditions apply) of the PM candidate, that too in rhyme. Set to dance music. And with snazzy slide transition effects? As Saif Ali Khan says, WOW!
If this is not worth 272 seats, I don’t know what is?