Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Read fast...

Busy busy busy...stuff to finish at work. Tight deadline. Also helping in recruitment at work this year, so extra hours. Also a small debt to pay. Drinks money so nothing emotional. Old friend down in Singapore for a week. Need to put in some quality time there. Setting up two friends from different worlds. Lets see how that goes. Cupid gets the heat from both ends if things turn ugly. Shopping pending for Kolkata trip. List lies untouched, except for some non essential items. Planning son, planning. Packing also gloriously uninitiated. Don't even know where suitcase is. Sigh...all before Friday 5 pm.
I shall be back soon with some pictures of the Durga Puja from Kolkata...hasta manana until then..


Saturday, September 16, 2006

Songs of a lifetime - 8 (is it?)

This post will again bring me back to my favorite muse, Kolkata. With the Durga Puja approaching in about two weeks time, both mind and heart are happy in a way they haven't been in a long time. I shall be in Kolkata to experience the Pujas after a gap of two years. About time.

I also happened to find this article on the web by Manojit Mitra... not specific to the Pujas or anything, (for that you can read this) but what the heck, I'm hoping you'll forgive me the over-enthusiasm and read it anyway...

"The more Kolkata changes, the more it remains the same. How do I justify a statement like that? I don't. You go and find out for yourself. As for myself, I am quite happy to be saying what I want to say about Kolkata. Because I belong here, own it and am proud of this wonderful hellhole. Don't believe there's a better one. However, if you are too insistent, I'll tell you that it's like one of those clowns in the plays of yesteryear -- looks funny, acts ludicrous but is a good chap at heart, wishing everyone well, accepting his own fate without batting an eyelid and carries on when everyone else has left. Do me a favour: don't take it away from me.You can't, because Kolkata's heart never changes. You have brought so many new-fangled things into it, but under the surface, it's heart goes on beating in the same old rhythm. It all started from the mid-seventies when its skyline began to change and high-rise apartments reared their heads. The television arrived, and the indolent Calcuttan (read Kolkatan) took to it gladly. For years, they messed up the entire place, building the second bridge and the metro. More buses, more cars. More and more people. The naxalites slit some throats and went into oblivion. The youth Congress stampeded about for sometime, and fell back. The marxist took over and have been bossing it over, but I am told their stars have dimmed too. It seemed people were desperate to change the Kolkata I knew. Enter globalisation, and new slogans were raised. Posh hotels, restaurants. Food -- continental, Japanese, Thai. Discoes -- all-night dancing. An entirely new vocabulary emerged -- investment, downstream units, infrastructure. Then computers, dotcom, toggling, nerds. The fragrance of millions in the air. Overnight prosperity. Fly-by-night operations. The whole works.In front of me lies a letter from my school buddy, Atin Bose, who's made it big out there in the pomised land, the US of A. What with one thing and another he hasn't been able to visit Kolkata in the last twenty years. "Tell me," writes the sick-at-heart Kolkatan, "has Kolkata changed? Does College Street look different? What about Basanta Cabin..." Rewind to the mid-fifties. The era of innocence. When we were young and the world was green. The buses were crowded even then, but other things were different. The walls bore political slogans. The revolution, we were told, was long overdue.Occasionally, they set fire to trams at the crossing of College Street and Mahatma Gandhi Road. Tear gas, lathi charge, shooting. Run for it. Get into the Coffee House. A haze of cigarette smoke. Endless talkathon in progress at tables. Wodehouse, Eliot, Satyajit, Kamal Majumdar. In a dark cubicle in the ground floor of the Presidency College, professor Tarak Nath Sen taught Hamlet. His thin, artistic fingers shaking in excitement as he explained the scene where Hamlet tells Ophelia, "Get thee to a nunnery -- why should'st thou be a breeder of sinner...". Across the street, Gauri Nath Shastri walked up and down the classroom, in Sanskrit College, lecturing on Ahhijnanshakuntalam. We fooled around. Kabiraji cutlet in Dilkhusa restaurant. Toasts and tea in Basanta Cabin. Radhaballavi and dal in Putiram. Off to Esplanade, for ten paise on the bus. Two aging Anglo-Indians stood at the entrance to Chung Wah restaurant, strumming a guitar and a mandolin. They sang, "When the swallows come back to Capistrano / That's the day, I pray you would, come back to me". Those were the days of of Pat Boone and Dean Martin, Elvis Presley and Harry Bellafonte, Hemanta, Sandhya and Lata. At the centre of New Market was a small coffee shop with a juke box. You could listen to Jailhouse Rock for 25 paise. On Chowringhee Road stood Firpo's. Rich couples relaxed with drinks on its sprawling first-floor balcony. Tangawallas fed their horses where the metro's Esplanade station stands now. Vans of the Tea Board and Coffee Board stood near the tram goomty in the evening, selling cups of fine tea and coffee for 25 paise a cup. Phoochakas? ofcourse, a dozen a rupee. And those glorious all-night jalsas of adhunik gaan. Hemanta, Sandhya, Shymal, Satinath, Manabendra, Utpala. Those fabulous Uttam-Suchitra starrers. We tried to emulate Uttam. Every girl believed she was Suchitra Sen. Those furtive meets in YMCA cabins, walks down the strand, hand in hand in dark cinema houses. Romance!I am told that young people these days have no time for such things. Too busy planning their career, savings pennies to pay for the computer course. That would be sad. But I still find young couples sauntering slowly down lonely streets, lost to the world around them. Can romance die? In Kolkata? I don't believe it. What about those chattering, bag-slinging boys and girls in the Rabindra Sadan complex? The lonely, bespectacled young fellow who goes about singing "Aaj jyotsna ratey shabai gachhey boney"? The blind harmonium player who threads through the jostling pavement walkers on Chowringhee? The frentic Addas at road intersections? Unemployment and insecurity? Closed factories and empty promises? Kolkata will survive it all. I am inviting Atin Bose to come and stay with me. We shall storm the city together, like we did forty years ago. Let the self-exiled brother come home and see. Home is still home."

Oh, I almost forgot the song in all of this...this one is by a Bengali band called Chandrabindoo, known for their satirical, colloquial and humorous (often 'nonsense') lyrics. Their tunes are generally heavily influenced by western music and finding an original tune in their repertoire can take more effort than getting me to wear anything other than white, black or blue, but the lyrics more than make up for it sometimes...ah..I forgive them. I'm not sure who this song was dedicated to when originally written, but I shall take the liberty of dedicating it to the phenomenon of the Durga Pujas...

"Eita tomar gaan
Tumi loadshedding er chander alor shor
Tumi jhorer sheshe shurjo dhowa ghor

Aaina bhora din
Rup shaior er jol
Aalga chhutir rod
Rokto jholomol
tomai dilam
Ei khatar bhaje gacher patar naam

Eita tomar gaan
Tumi norom thote shechcha bethar neel
Tumi onno mone ekla pakhir jhil

Aina bhora din
Rup shaior er jol
Alga chhutir rod
Rokto jholomol
tomai dilam
Ei mayar poshom haat debar araam

Eita tomar gaan
Oi anchol ghera brishti chhater gham,
Rege mege shishu giyeche bhashan"


Monday, September 11, 2006

Goppo... (Story)

The theatre hall was old, hallowed. Many a famous performance had been staged here. Today was another play. Of course, theatre was no longer the most favored art form and Tantu had reluctantly agreed to buy tickets for this event. He knew a few members of the cast, so he felt obliged to watch the show. Hmm...obligation...it never lay easy on the chest, did it? He made his way to the back rooms of the building, where the performing artistes were getting ready to stage a famous Tagore dance drama. He hadn't been to a play in a long while, so strangely, coming didn't feel like a complete waste of time. A re-acquaintance with a dying art form, so to speak, even if Tagore appreciation did not come naturally to him. The smell of the semi-lit corridor that winded up towards the green rooms hit his nostrils, and he smiled...Dettol. A few steps on and the corridor opened into a hall which had three doors. He knocked gently on the first before calling out, 'Babai da?' His peering eyes were met with stares from four men dressed up in bright green and golden kurtas. The room itself was littered with plastic swords, make up kits, trinkets and bright cloth. A box of black mustachios lay open in front of the large mirror that saddled the wall in front of them. A fifth man was was attempting to paste a rather large curly mustache onto the upper lip of one of brightly dressed men. On Tantu's entry the man standing immediately to his left, smiled and waved. "Tantu! You came!!" Tantu, smiled in return and waved back "Aah, Babai da, of course, I made it a point to come! I wouldn't miss this for the world!". This was of course only partially true. Tantu, in his head, winced.
Babai da, meanwhile, proceeded to introduce the others in the room. "This is Bhai, that one there is Buro, this is Babushona and the distinguished gentleman who is fixing Babushona's whiskers is Tito babu." Tantu folded his hands in the traditional Indian 'Namaste' and smiled. Babai da and the others had to be on stage for a sound check before the show, hence excused themselves and made their way out, leaving Tito Babu alone with him.
"Sit down, they will take a while", he said.
Tantu sat down on one of the wooden chairs, one on which Babushona had just been sitting. The seat felt warm and that was always a good thing.
"So you are a student?", Tito Babu asked.
"Not anymore, I was till a year ago, now I make short films, you know, like documentaries."
"Films...you are an artiste then, like all these people.", he carried on.
"Films yes, artiste I don't know. Just finished filming a documentary on wolves. Its not great money, but I like what I do." Tantu quipped.
"Money isn't everything. You need to do something that you enjoy. Something that marries passion and profession, you know?" Tito Babu was old, probably in his sixties. His faced was wrinkled and weather beaten. He looked sad. Maybe he couldn't marry passion and profession and wound up doing something he despised. Maybe not. Tantu chided himself for thinking too much. An awkward silence followed.
Suddenly, "Jana Gana Mana..." blared from the sound system, just outside the green room. The Indian national anthem was not a part of this Tagore dance drama, as far as Tantu knew, so he let a frown escape his brows. Tito Babu smiled and hummed the tune. Just then the song stopped as abruptly as it had started. Tito Babu stopped humming a second or two later. He seemed disappointed at its sudden end.
He looked at Tantu and asked, " You're a film wallah, correct?" Tell me, which popular Sachin Dev Burman tune is inspired from the Indian national anthem?"
(SD Burman was one of the great music directors of Hindi films. Though he passed away in the 70s, after three decades of great music composition, his tunes remain popular to this day.)
Tantu was taken by surprise. He wasn't expecting a quiz at a theatre performance. Besides, he was a young man, brought up on techno-pop, electronica and heavy metal. SD Burman was something his grandfather and father listened to, on those vinyl records and obscenely large gramophones.
"Not sure really. Which one?" Tantu wasn't really bothered. His brows arched into a frown for the second time, only this one feigned interest. In his head he winced again.
Tito Babu smiled and carried on, and hummed "Punjab Sindhu Gujarata Maratha, Dravida Utkala Banga...", and then hummed again "Humne to jab kaliya mangi, kaaton ka haar milaaa...".
He stopped, smiled and said, "laste pench diye ghuriye diyeche...see? kaliyan maangi...SD Burman er churi gulon dhora khub mushkil!" (It is extremely difficult to catch SD Burman's tune lifts!)
Tantu smiled. There could be truth in the old man's words, but he wasn't sure. "Aah..we learn something new everyday, don't we?" he said. "Thanks for the interesting titbit. I think I should be moving on, the show is about to start."
Tantu wanted didn't want another quiz from him. What if he asked him what the capital of Burkina Fasso was or which Indian music director lifted Procol Harum's 'Whiter shade of Pale'? It would be too much to handle. Besides the show really was going to start.
"Oh its time already? Sure, carry on, I wont keep you...you will need time to find your seat."
"Right, Mr. Tito, hope to meet you again."
Tantu winced in his head for the third time. He didn't want to meet this melancholic quiz master cum part time make up man ever again. He turned around and started his walk back into the corridor, only to turn around after a few moments.
The last thing he saw before he turned around again was the image of a sad old man, standing in the corner, back stage, watching the dance drama from the side line, behind the scenes, with a smile on his face, thoroughly enjoying the Tagore song and dance extravaganza. He was engrossed. His hands were folded behind his back and and his lips moved along with the stage singer's songs. He seemed happy, enjoying something he really liked. Maybe passion and profession had finally tied the knot.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Lage Raho Munnabhai

First lets get the inevitable comparison with the first installment out of the way. 'Munnabhai MBBS' was a more complete, more intelligent film. 'Lage Raho' is more feel-good and commercial than the first part. It packs in more gags and laughs to play up to the gallery. So is the effect diluted? Not entirely. 'Lage Raho' still retains the goodness of the 'Munnabhai MBBS' film and builds a different message into the narrative without getting too preachy. I'd rate the first part marginally higher than the sequel.
However, the film is a great ride! Replete with fun, frolic and some Gandhian philosophy. The film doesn't start from where the first movie ends, but is a completely new episode in itself, easily holding its own. Sanjay Dutt and Arshad Warsi are back in their lovable avatars and this time are aided by Dilip Prabhawalkar, Boman Irani and Vidya Balan. The story involves Munna's experiences with Gandhi's teachings and his bid to live by the great man's ideals. He takes on a corrupt builder, Irani, in this episode and how he wins his lady love's (Balan) heart while helping distressed people along the way forms the meat of the story.
The gags in the film are good and this installment packs in more laughs than ever. In this regard, the duo of Dutt and Warsi do an exemplary job. Warsi especially deserves a pat on the back for his comic timing. His sudden lack of screen space in the second half is unfortunate. The film is sugar coated in its goodness. Of course if you have that man Gandhi woven around the story line it can't but be helped. Jimmy Shergill, Dia Mirza and Parikshit Sahni make appearances as beneficiaries of Munna's newfound mantra of 'Gandhi-giri'. This is the new catch phrase as against 'Jadoo ki jhappi' in part one.
The Munnabhai series is one of those rare comedies which live up to the great Mukherjee/Chatterjee tradition. They will be well remembered as classic comedies in years to come. Hirani's direction isn't too bad. Shantanu Moitra's music is tuneful but just about passable. Nowhere in the Parineeta or Yahaan league. He even lifts Cliff Richard's 'Theme for a dream'.
All in all a good movie to be enjoyed with friends and family and one which leaves you feeling good after the show. When was the last time you were able to do that?

PS: Ladies, watch out for Bachchan Jr. in a cameo!



Saturday, September 02, 2006

Khamosh Paani - Silent Waters

I had heard about this small Pakistani-French production at the time of its release and since the film had a limited release, it had not moved up on my 'to see' list. I chanced upon its CD the other day and at first sight, pounced on it. And I wasn't disappointed.
'Khamosh Paani' is a great film. Easily one of the best films in the 1947 partition of India genre. It examines the issue from an entirely different perspective and reinforces the possibilities of this genre, which I had thought, till I saw this film, been done to death. Sahiba Sumar as the director sets the film in a remote village in Pakistan's Punjab. The visuals are breathtaking. Its little, desolate, crumbling minarets, white-walled houses and lakes create that wonderfully alienated but content atmosphere. The residents of this village are a happy, content bunch of people. Among them is Ayesha (Kirron Kher) and her son Saleem (Aamir Malik). Ayesha teaches the Quran to the children of the village, while her eighteen year old son Saleem is an aimless, dreamy, charming and simple young lad, who's only ambition is to woo the pretty Zubeidaa (Shilpa Shukla). Zubeidaa, loves Saleem, but is eager to study in the city and build a career for herself. The year is 1979 and General Zia is about to enforce the Martial Law. This leads to the rise in Islamic fundamentalism through out the state and a few workers from the city come to the village to recruit some young hands to work for their misguided and deluded cause of Islam. Saleem is easy prey. He starts to get drawn into the quagmire of Islamic politics and begins to share the fundamentalistic ideas of the party workers, believing that he is doing the country a great service. Needless to say, in the process, he begins to alienate his girlfriend, who tries to get him to find a job and settle down. Things get complicated, when a group Sikhs arrive to pay respects to a holy shrine, from across the border. One particular gentleman, Jaswant, arrives at Ayesha's door looking for his sister, who he had lost during the partition. Ayesha turns out to be his sister, much to the annoyance of her son, who's transformation from gentle young lover to hardened fundamentalist is now complete. He is now shameful of being her son, a Sikh's descendant.
The story is compelling from a number of aspects. First, the film explores, through flashbacks, Ayesha's (and many other women's) trauma during the Partition, where families from both sides of the border would kill their own mothers, sisters and daughters, lest they fall into the enemy's hands and shame the family honour. Ayesha was one such girl, who was left to die by her Sikh family, only to be adopted by a kind Pakistani Punjabi man. The film captures her pain beautifully from the point that Jaswant comes looking for his sister in the village. Ayesha's final outburst at her brother for abandoning her years earlier is a very well done scene. Her pain at being rewarded for staying a true Pakistani Muslim, with only hate from her son is again very evocatively brought out. The scars of Partition are many. We see another side in 'Khamosh Paani'.
Another great aspect in the film is the transformation of Saleem. Aamir Malik holds you with his performance as the young misguided youth. You love him at the beginning of the film and then start hating him towards the end. His disregard for both his love and his mother are astonishing, but made eminently believable by the actor.
Also, the sequences where the city fundamentalists clash with the simple villagers who do not understand politics, are noteworthy. The scene where Saleem heads a protest against the Sikhs from across the border, with the old village folk watching in dismay is mersemerising.
The screenplay is very good and builds the story steadily. Performances are very good, from both Kirron Kher and Aamir Malik. Shilpa Shulka is good as well, though she looks too old be a school girl. The flashbacks of Ayesha suffering abuse and trauma are not its best parts. Perhaps if Ayesha had herself confronted her son with her ordeal, it would have had greater impact. But a very good watch all the same. I would recommend this film to all.
It has got me looking forward to more good cinema from Pakistan.