Sunday, December 13, 2009

The really tough Bollywood quiz - Answers

Here are the answers to the quiz which appeared a couple of posts ago -

1. 'Raja Harishchandra', India's first full length feature film.

2. She also suggested the names Jahangir and Vasudev.

3. V. Shantaram's 'Do Ankhen Barah Haath'.

4. 1950's 'Sangraam'.

5. Salil Chowdhury got Dilip Kumar to sing with Lata Mangeshkar in Hrishikesh Mukherjee's first film as director, 'Musafir'.


Sunday, December 06, 2009


Somewhere in Mahesh Bhatt's 1987 release, ‘Kaash’, Dimple Kapadia lets out a heart-rending scream when her teenage son passes away. She is joined in a similar show of grief by her husband played by Jackie Shroff. It was a high melodrama moment, and Bhatt pulled it off well enough, but in the end it was loud, a tad over the top and almost demanding of the audience’s sympathy. Refreshingly, for a similarly themed film, we are spared such moments in R.Balki’s ‘Paa’.

Nothing new about the story at all, but it’s the treatment that’s wonderfully disarming. Balki’s fascination with terminally ill children continues in this ‘dying-kid-reunites-the-parents’ plot and to mix things up, he uses a rare genetic condition (this is no ‘Taare Zameen Par’, so the disease is only incidental and we're spared lengthy sermonizing), Bachchan Sr. to play a small boy, sharply edited flashbacks and brilliant dialogue. And the final product is a warm, charming and heartwarming little film, almost a celluloid equivalent of the perfect cup of Darjeeling with an old friend, on a rainy day.

Amitabh Bachchan’s Auro is indeed the star of the film. With a new face, a new voice and a twinkling sense of humor, Bachchan’s Auro is as sensitive as he is precocious and the film’s writers leave all the best lines for him. And they work almost every time. Its Auro’s world that’s so enchanting, so much so that the film could have been entirely about his life, his school friends and his aspirations and worked just as well. But then they all say we need a plot.

So we have the parents Abhishek Bachchan and Vidya Balan, then both students, who find themselves at crossroads in their relationship, when they realize that they have a kid on the way. However, papa wants to be a cool politician and suggests abortion. Mama predictably tells papa not to preach and exits stage left from his life, saying, ‘I’m keeping my baby.’ Baby grows up to be Auro, and accidentally meets his father at a school function, thereby unwittingly paving the way for his long estranged parents to reunite. Weirdly enough, for a film advertised as a father son story, it’s actually the boy’s relationship with the ladies in his house, his mother and his grandmother that are more endearing to watch. Bachchan shares crackling chemistry with both Balan and Naag, as well as with the child actor who plays his best friend Vishnu.

But this isn't a perfect film by any stretch of the imagination. Abhishek Bachchan’s political machinations are distracting after a point and screen time devoted to his battle with the media is wholly unnecessary. An uneven Paresh Rawal, as Auro’s grandfather doesn’t add anything to the proceedings apart from a couple of funny one-liners. Maestro Ilaiyaraaja’s music, while soothing, could have been used to make more of an impact, the violin laden background score notwithstanding.

Cheerful, poignant, sensitive and intelligent, ‘Paa’ is great fun.




The really tough Bollywood quiz

Here is something for movie buffs to chew on -

1. The premiere of which famous Indian film was preceded by a novelty programme which included Miss Irene Del Mar performing a duet and dance movement, a comical sketch by the McClements, a juggler called Alexander the Wonderful Foot Juggler and some comic shorts advertised as Tip Top Comics?

2. When Devika Rani was mulling over giving Dilip Kumar his first break in 'Jwar Bhata', she made it clear that his original name of Yousef Khan would not work. So she suggested three names, one of them being Dilip Kumar. What were the other two?

3. Much before India (rightly or wrongly) took pride over 'Slumdog Millionaire' going on an award winning spree at the Golden Globes and the Oscars, which Indian film won the first Golden Globe for India?

4. Morarji Desai, then the CM of Bombay, told Ashok Kumar, "You have to do two things Mr, Ashok Kumar. First you have to withdraw your film from the cinemas and this you must do tomorrow. The second is my request to you - please play the role of an honest police officer." Desai then banned Ashok Kumar's film after its successful sixteen week run, the film's only apparent fault being the portrayal of a bad cop by the film's hero, Ashok Kumar. Which film was this?

5. Much before the fad of getting heroes like Amitabh Bachchan, Aamir Khan and Shahrukh Khan to sing songs in their films, Dilip Kumar, sang his own song for which of his early films?

Answers soon.


Sunday, November 22, 2009

The perfect Calcutta meal?

Nondon Bagchi comes up with what he feels is the quintessential Bengali meal. Sample this article from The Telegraph -

"Apologies are a good way to begin just about anything. Having been asked to choose my favourite nine items from Calcutta’s food menu, I am sure there will be acts of commission and omission that will ruffle the feathers of many. There is every chance, given the amazing canvas of culinary bliss we enjoy without realising it, that this would happen even if I had to choose 99.

Before I begin, a few riders that have governed and limited the freedom of choice.

One. Even if I have enjoyed, for example, the most delicious Pan They Khowsuey, a Burmese-style gravy made of pork and with garnishings including shrimp powder, I have had it in someone’s home, so it can’t be on today’s hit parade. Just like so many other temptations not available at city outlets or even through caterers, and even if available, certainly not the best I’ve had.

Two. Despite having indulged in gluttony for decades, there are still delights I have not had the good fortune to have tried; there are some which I do not even know about, especially more recent add-ons to the city’s culinary scene. In a nutshell, today’s hit parade will have items that have been chosen from an extremely personal viewpoint, and they are also ones that have been around for decades. I am starting with starters and snacks, and, like a good Bengali, graduating from vegetarian dishes to non-veg ones and ending with desserts. With due respect for those who might grumble...

1. Phuchka

A symbol of Calcutta’s pride. Of course we think it is better than paani puri (Mumbai) or golgappa (Delhi) but so do many non-Calcuttans. My favourite vendor is Ramesh Pandit near Lake Kali Bari. Sublime is an understatement. Used to eat 33 of them for a rupee, and would even ask for one paise change. Some vendors sell humongous sized ones nowadays, but even the sacred phuchka has changed with the clientele. You can even find them on menus nowadays...

2. Prawn Cocktail

With the exit of Sky Room, the city also lost, arguably, the best prawn cocktail in the world. At least, as good as the best. Good enough to be flown to Delhi almost every week for Mrs Indira Gandhi. Sky Room’s secret must have been in the mayonnaise-based sauce. But One Step Up! on Park Street does a good job, and this piece of Calcutta nostalgia can still be a hit parade.

3. Paper Dosa

Named thus because the dosa is wafer thin and crisp, this is a humdinger with good sambhar and coconut chutney. Personally, I am easy whether there is a potato vegetable stuffing or not. Sadly, sambhar in Calcutta somehow just loses out to sambhar in Chennai, even though the cooks, ingredients and knowhow are from there. Must be the air and/or water. But Prema Vilas, Calcutta’s oldest south Indian place in Lake Market is my place for Paper Dosa.

4. Chop Cutlet platter

Not singling out one item here, because whether it is the mochar chop, deemer devil, fish roll, kabiraji cutlet or the moghlai paratha or any other item from this school of thought and taste, they all are winners. Created and invented by this city in a wave of inspiration, the egg-and-crumbed (or flour-batter-and-crumbed) thrillers can put you into orbit, especially with a good zingy mustard, courtesy Bubai Caterers of north Calcutta.

5. Chimney Soup

Takes me back to 1975 to Eau Chew Restaurant on Ganesh Chandra Avenue. Coal-fired chimney in the middle of a great trough filled with chicken stock, meat and fish balls, gizzard, kidney and other meat and other such goodies cooking in the bubbling stock. Break eggs and poach them in the stock, cook your noodles and greens in the stock, make your meal-in-a-dish and discover what life is all about. Eau Chew is still there, and so is their Hot Pot. Better to phone in and place an order.

6. Chitol Maachher Jhol

How come a Bengali has only one fish dish in the pop charts? Because we usually eat fish away from home with a bit of disdain. But this item, where chitol (featherback fish) is cut right across the mid-riff in one-inch thick steaks, rib-cage bones (almost as thick as chicken bones) and all, and cooked in a serious, thick, garlic-onion-ginger paste and tomato gravy, is almost never done in homes, and my first encounter was in a “pice hotel”. Today, you get a good version at Kewpie’s.

7. Kosha Mangsho

One can write an ode to this dish. My best is still from Shyambazar’s Golbari, which has had closures and reopenings, but is up and running right now and that should herald a winter of content. With their secret-formula chapattis which look as if they have only just been rolled out but not cooked, and yet are gossamer soft and done to perfection, Kosha Mangsho might even land you in a divorce case…

8. Gelato

With the advent of Mama Mia! and Italian-style ice creams (the real McCoy), there has been no looking back for ice cream lovers, even though the city has had a good track record with these, with some really good offerings. My top flavour is Forest Berries, with the gelato laced with a syrup containing mulberry, blackberry, raspberry and other potent fruits.

9. Mishti Doi

By Jadab Das. As I said, I am being personal. Mishti doi, available in thousands of outlets, has given rise to much debate, but Jadab Das near Triangular Park is my choice. Pure cows’ milk only, almost pure white in colour, a slight tang and so light and tasteful at the same time that I can put away 700g without batting an eyelid. Its non-rich texture also invites add-ons like warm gulab jamun.

A final note: Many, many dishes not included, including beef steak. Sad, because we have world-class beef in Calcutta shops. Maybe the steak I do myself?"



Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Book review: The Story Of My Assassins by Tarun J Tejpal

For inspiration, Tarun Tejpal’s second novel, ‘The Story Of My Assassins’, draws heavily from his own challenging days at Tehelka, the defense-deal sting operation, communalism, the Bhagawad Gita (which seems to be every contemporary Indian writer’s current fetish) and Bollywood and it shapes up to be one heck of a rollicking read. It is a huge challenge to the reader, as it is continually disheartening, depressing and gloomy; offering no hope at all in the end, but by golly, a story of so much misery and hopelessness has never been this heartfelt, passionate, engrossing and beautiful.

The nameless protagonist, a journalist, is informed by the police of a foiled plot to assassinate him. Five suspects are rounded up, jailed and put on trial. But the journalist’s firebrand ‘social-reformer’ mistress, Sara, smells a government conspiracy and thinks that the suspects are victims themselves, victims of their own pathetic and degrading circumstances as well as that of the corrupt collusion between selfish politicos in power and the entire state machinery, which is twisted and turned for profit by the self-conserving political class. She decides, with the help of a couple of smitten lawyers, to investigate the matter herself. The action then serializes to the back stories of the five suspected assassins before closing in on the truth about the attempted assassination.

As we are taken through the lives of the five assassins, we meet our own countrymen that we never meet in real life. People who, like many millions of Indians, are born on the fringes, and silently die there. People who suffer the worst forms of degradation, poverty and state apathy. People who therefore either lose the will to live altogether or murder, kill, rape and steal for the most flimsy and insubstantial causes. People who have absolutely no hope, from the moment they are born to the moment they succumb to their wretched circumstances. The five assassins, Chaku, Kabir M, Chini, Kaliya and Hathoda Tyagi are all such people, each a victim of the everyday violence and horror of an India that exists outside the realm of urban sensibilities. Unlike Balram Halwai, these are no ‘White Tigers’, and in that respect ‘The Story Of My Assassins’ is easily the more definitive ‘other’ India book, even more so than either Mr. Adiga’s, Mr. Chandra’s or Mr. Swaroop’s. At one point, Chaku’s father hopes that his son’s birth will somehow uplift him from penury, but as Tejpal poignantly points out, “in the end it is always just one more mouth to feed”. While structured as a mystery thriller, this is in fact a simultaneously disturbing and moving social and human drama that deserves serious attention.

But this is not where the list of qualities ends. Tejpal’s characterizations deserve special mention. Each character in the novel is well etched, distinct, real and memorable. The feisty mistress Sara, the self preserving elitist and Kafka-quoting Jai (the protagonists’ business partner), the well meaning policeman, Hathi Ram, the protagonist’s spiritual counselor, ‘Guruji’ (whose oblique wisdom is as the same time confusing and enlightening), the typically wily, but drunk on ‘money-sex-power’ Delhi power-broker, Kapoor Sahib and indeed the selfish, almost nihilistic protagonist himself are all spot on. They all have their indigenous and quirky wisdoms. Sample this – when the protagonist asks the journeyman police officer Hathi Ram if he would like another cup of tea, Hathi Ram responds thus – “One cup is friendship. Two is intimacy. And that is always reductive. As friends we talk about big things, philosophical things and national affairs. But in intimacy we will talk about wives and bosses and the price of milk and vegetables, and we will become small men obsessed with small things. So no more tea, my friend, no more.” It is also to Tejpal’s credit that he manages to infuse a sardonic sense of humor into the proceedings, a necessary trait while dealing with a stark subject such as this. Almost every page offers something genuinely funny, which makes the reader smile and wince at the same time. While taking us through the early years of Kaliya and Chini, boys who grow up on the platforms of Delhi, Tejpal, incredibly, even manages to make death a subject of much mirth.

What Maximum City was to Mumbai, ‘The Story of My Assassins’ is to Delhi specifically and the Hindi heartland in general. Delhi is cut open and all its veins and sinews are opened for viewing, resplendent in all its colors, particularly red, the color of power and blood, and exposed as a city where the nexus of politics, religion, goons, money, industry and power is at its strongest. Tejpal’s observant eye encompasses both grandeur and destitution alike and brings the city, its people and their idiosyncrasies alive amongst the pages like never before in recent memory.

The only trivial objection one can possibly have with the author is that he takes on a multitude of issues, trying to deal with practically everything that is wrong with the country. But the final product still manages to avoid being flippant or preachy.

This wonderfully textured tour-de-force is easily worthy of your bookshelf and it is bound to get better with every subsequent read. India has many realities and here is a chance to look at the more ‘real’ ones, the ones which don’t get played out in ‘chutterputter’ English, the ones which get no media air time, the ones which make our country what it is.



Saturday, November 07, 2009

Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahani

I always had a minor gripe with almost all of Rajkumar Santoshi's films. He could never do songs right. Less noble directors than Santoshi, arguably the pioneer of the Bollywood 'item' song, did songs much better. With the possible exceptions of Damini, China Gate and Andaz Apna Apna, Santoshi's treatment of the mood, placement and quality of his soundtrack on film was mostly mediocre, haphazard and random. With APKGK, he gets this bit of the piece mostly right. The effort is not visible with the rest of the film, sadly. He tries his hand at a pure comedy after a rather long hiatus after 1994's cult favorite, Andaz Apna Apna and the final product is sadly middling at best.
Prem (Ranbir Kapoor) is a well meaning no-hoper, scourge of the rather picturesque town he lives in and thorn in his father's life, who hopes the boy will make something of himself one day. One fine day, Jenny (Katrina Kaif) walks into his life and our hero is smitten. What follows is a cute-ish love story and some funny comic set pieces. But Jenny is in love with Rahul (Upen Patel), who's father doesn't want the Hindu Rahul to get anywhere close to Christian Jenny due to political compulsions. But our hero, much like Ajay Devgan's brooding Vanraj from 'Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam', gallantly decides to sacrifice his own feelings to make sure Jenny and Rahul can be together, with Jenny finally coming around to Prem's affections in the end. So you get it. Nothing original in there. It was always going to be about the treatment. And Santoshi appears a bit out of water and fails to create anything more than old wine in a, well sadly, old bottle. You are rarely interested in Prem's life and Jenny's many sufferings appear trivial and contrived, much like the copious amounts of glycerin-tears she sheds. Neither is mood for this intended comedy particularly even, oscillating between comic book caper and serious love story. The bright spot in the piece seems to be the music, Pritam's light and peppy score assuring repeat value.
The film's lead pair carry on as best they can, with Kapoor earnestly trying to make something of his bumbling nice-guy character and Kaif, well, just being herself again, anglicized, wooden and incapable of more than 3 expressions. The rest of the cast are insignificant and mere caricatures, with the exception of Prem's parents Darshan Jariwala and Smita Jaykar, who do well in the scope they get. And as for Upen Patel, he really should have given up 'acting' and returned to England a long time ago.
In the end, a forgettable film, but for a few genuinely funny gags. See it if you must.



Saturday, October 31, 2009

Need a holiday?

Here's an interesting article from Trent Hamm of the 'The Simple Dollar' on the importance of not making your work the most important thing in your life. There's a fair bit more to life than 9 to 5, and I whole-heartedly agree. So all you workaholics, go on, give this a go...

“One of the symptoms of approaching nervous breakdowns is the belief that one’s work is terribly important. If I were a medical man, I should prescribe a holiday to any patient who considered his work important.”
- Bertrand Russell,
The Autobiography of Bertrand Russell

When I worked at my previous job, I always felt like the things I was doing were vitally important to the success of the project. In one way, this was good – it kept me focused on making sure that things wouldn’t fail. Yet it created several additional problems.

For one, I was often really stressed out. I felt hugely responsible for everything that went on, even for things that I couldn’t actually control. Eventually, I became quite proficient at solving the technical crises that others were responsible for, often because they were completely oblivious to the disasters.

At the same time, I became afraid to push myself to try new things. Since I felt so strongly responsible for everything, I became deeply afraid of change. I already felt the stress of managing all of the things that were already in place – the idea of changing things or adding new things stressed me even more. As a result, I would often subtly resist such changes.

On top of that, the birth of my children caused my priorities to change, adding further stress. A big part of my job involved traveling to meetings and conferences and other such things. After my children were born, the travel responsibilities gradually went from an enjoyable part of the job to a burden. Instead of going out on the town with colleagues, I’d spend the evening calling home to see what my kids were up to and would often feel as though I was missing them grow up.

The real message underlining all of this? I was so caught up in how important my job was that it was stressing me out, affecting my personal life, and keeping me from innovating and taking chances at work. That’s a terrible mix for success.

Looking back, a much more appropriate perspective would have been to realize what my role was – to develop data interfaces – and do that to the best of my ability, ignoring the other things that were going on. If the database went down… well, I shouldn’t have seen it as my responsibility. Instead, my responsibility should have been to simply push the envelope and find new and clever ways to get people the data they needed. It wasn’t “important” work – it was creative work, work that should have been purely fun.

What did I learn from this experience? The moment you begin to think of your job as “important,” you become more stressed and less innovative in your career. Your health and energy fail you due to the stress. Your job becomes less enjoyable because you’re focused on maintaining the status quo instead of doing the best job you can. In the end, you simply become less vital than you were before you began to see your job – and yourself – as “important.”

This is an issue I see popping up even now with my writing career. When I begin to view what I do as “important,” I begin to be less effective. I write less interesting pieces that essentially just reiterate core points. It becomes dull – and I can feel that just as much as you, the reader, can.

Instead, I try to remind myself that what I do really isn’t all that important at all. When I feel that way, I tend to write more from the heart, no matter the consequences. I often get attacked when I do things this way because I’ll express things that are different than what’s “expected” of me, but it’s more enjoyable.

Here’s the truth: your job is likely nowhere near as important as you think it is.Sometimes, employers will try to convince you that you’re more important than you actually are because it’ll scare you into being a good worker – but it will, at the same time, prevent you from being a great one. In the end, most managers – who also think of themselves as more important than they actually are – prefer a workplace full of good workers who are afraid to step outside the box than an office full of a mix of great workers and bad ones who are constantly trying to innovate. After all, that same sense of inflated importance guides them, too.

Here are three things I often do to keep my sense of importance at appropriately low levels.

First, I imagine worst case scenarios in terms of the greater world. For me, that would probably be a lack of ability to continue updating The Simple Dollar. What would happen to the greater world? For the most part, very little. The Simple Dollar often adds a little “positive” to people’s lives on a regular basis, but if it went away, their lives would continue. They might find another web site that provides a similar boost – or they might not. Either way, it’s not a major crisis for the world if the worst case scenario happens.

Most jobs, if you peel them back to their true impact on the world, have very little real impact. Yes, there are a few captains of industry and top political leaders who really can affect a lot of lives. Outside of them, though, the worst case scenario of most jobs has little impact.

Second, I imagine the positive impact of just not worrying about it. That type of scenario frees me to try new things. If I realize that the worst case scenario really isn’t that bad, it becomes a lot easier to imagine best case scenarios for taking pretty significant risks. What if I write articles that are seriously outside the box on The Simple Dollar? I might chase away a reader or two, sure. But I also have the potential to grab the imagination and attention of a lot of people by doing that.

Again, the same holds true for most jobs. When you consider the absolute worst case result of a certain choice, then compare that to the potential positive results of making that same choice, you’ll often find you’re better off just letting go of the status quo and trying new things. Completely re-do your filing system. Do a presentation that completely bucks the rules of what typically goes on in your workplace. Write some interesting utility code that helps everyone by making some common tasks faster.

Finally, I try things that are way outside the norm. Sometimes I’ll end up using these things that I create. Other times I won’t. In either case, I usually find something worthwhile.

What really makes this stand out, though, is that it’s fun. Trying something completely new and different adds an element of fun to my work that simply isn’t there if I’m overly careful and just follow the status quo. That sense of fun keeps my work in the area of things in my life that make me happy instead of things in my life that drain me.

In the end, my advice is simple: let go of the sense of importance you have about your work. It’ll be the best career move you’ll ever make.

One final note: if you have your financial ducks in a row, it’s even easier. Paying off your debts helps your career because it reduces the importance of your job. Your need for a salary is much less if you have your ducks in a row, which in turn opens the door to greater success because you’re no longer tied to such a sense of importance.



Sunday, October 25, 2009

All The Best

Puerile at its worst and mildly chuckle-inducing at its best, Rohit Shetty's 'All the best', starts where his earlier films, 'Golmal' and 'Golmal Returns' left off. A mad cap tale of mistaken identities, this juvenile piece of cinema deserves a watch only by the particularly optimistic, for whom the realization of three irrecoverable hours will not seem criminal.

The story involves Veer (Fardeen Khan), a struggling musician, who needs extra pocket money from his stepbrother, Dharam (Sanjay Dutt), who lives abroad. Prem Chopra (Ajay 'I've changed my surname' Devgn), his best friend, married to Jhanvi (Bipasha Basu), schemes to inform Dharam that Veer is married, thereby making a case for an increased allowance. The incredibly wooden Mugdha Godse plays Veer's girlfriend, Vidya. Things meander along aimlessly for this motley crew until big brother Dharam decides to drop in and mistakes Jhanvi for Veer's wife. Much confusion ensues and the friends swap partners to keep the bluff going for as long as they can. In the mix is a mute don, played by a returning-to-form Johnny Lever, and a Pran-impersonating vagabond, played by Sanjay Mishra and a Malayali maid, Mary, played by the wonderfully talented Ashwini Kalsekar and a bizarre car race, something the director feels obligated to include in all his films.

It is actually this support cast that keeps the film from being a complete wash out and more screen time for these competent comic talents would have made for more pleasant viewing. The film's 'falling down/getting slapped' brand of slapstick comedy is repetitive and some times achingly unpleasant. Shetty tries hard, but fails to create a good comic experience for the viewer, even after ripping off an American play. His only redeeming effort comes in the form of the cinematic references to the classic 'mistaken identity' films of the 70s and 80s like 'Golmal' and 'Chupke Chupke'. Pity he doesn't learn from them.



Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Blue 2 in the offing???!!???

Be afraid, be very afraid... if this article from the Mumbai Mirror has even a shred of truth to it...

If you think that the latest release Blue was made on a lavish budget, think again. A sequel to the film is already in the offing and is being planned on a much bigger scale.

Blue actor Sanjay Dutt informs that they will be starting with the sequel immediately. "It was a thrilling experience shooting for Blue in the Bahamas. Tony (director) is ready with the idea for Blue 2 and he has promised that there will be more sharks and action in the sequel," says Sanjay.

Sanjay says that shooting for Blue wasn't a cakewalk. "For me, Blue was an extremely difficult film to shoot. The same goes for the director Anthony D'Souza. Hats off to the producer who believed in the film and invested so much money in it. I don't know about others but I had a tough time while shooting as I was scared when I saw 50 sharks around me."

Blue 2 will be shot in Australia and will have one more key male actor other than Akshay Kumar, Sanjay and Zayed Khan. While Blue has several sharks, its sequel will have deadlier sharks such as Great Whites and Bull Sharks.

Why would Anthony D'souza do this? And who's funding him this time? Obviously he feels that Blue - Mark I isn't bad enough, so looks like he's going to try and top it. Clearly our man's cracked the cinematic success mantra. Film dangerous aquatic life and Akshay Kumar together and the crowds will flock to the theatre. The recession is well and truly over folks - when you can spend another Rs. 100 crore on yet another monstrosity, things must be looking up. Should be interesting.


Saturday, October 17, 2009


I'll make this a short one. There's not much to write about anyway. One wonders what happened to the $20 million that the producers spent on this one? Perhaps if the bulk of the cash was used to hire a good scriptwriter, instead of paying the actors' stratospheric salaries, things would have been a little different. This 'titanic' deserves to rest peacefully, as the film's poster screams, '250 feet under the sea'.
The story involves a betrayal between two friends, a lost treasure, an errant younger brother in trouble, family honor and the most boring treasure hunt ever filmed, underwater or on land. If you find the description a tad loose, you need not worry. You won't care anyway. What should have been a tight action adventure film, involving a suspense-filled treasure hunt, is in the end reduced to a few well choreographed action set pieces with some slick camera work. The underwater scenes deserve mention, and there ends the very short merit list of this film. Unless you're a devout Kylie Minogue fan. Even AR Rahman's music is tired and unimpressive. The acting is bad, the dialogue worse and the drama quotient completely undermined by bad writing. Nothing quite works for director Anthony D'souza and this ship sinks pretty fast. Perhaps the saving grace is its tight sub 2-hour running time.
Avoid this one, unless your doctor has prescribed an antidote for excess celebration this Diwali.


Sunday, October 04, 2009

Wake up Sid

The first commandment of 'coming of age' films is well known to be - 'Thou shalt always be compared to 'Dil Chahta Hai''. This is no DCH. While Ayan Mukerji's directorial debut bears a certain resemblance to the Farhan Akhtar classic, both in terms of look and certain sub plots movements, the film on the whole is a fresh, simple and sugary take on the inner battles of today's youth.

Sid (Ranbir Kapoor) is a going-nowhere-and-loving-it rich kid, showing no signs of trying to make anything of himself, much to the chagrin of his parents, who want him to join the family business. Sid, having freshly failed his graduation exams, rebels and leaves home, only to crash with his new friend, the out-of-towner, independent-new-girl-about-town, Aisha (Konkona Sen) who's out to make it in the big bad city of Bombay, oops...Mumbai, and there starts both a heartwarming coming of age tale as well as a smartly told love story.

The film, however has its set of niggles. Sid's story isn't as compelling as it should have been. He has no particular emotional anchor to hook you with, not his fight with his best friend, not his failing his exams, not his fights with his parents. We just hope and wait for things to get really bad for Sid, so his redemption can seem all the more heroic and satisfying, but nothing of the sort ever happens, and once we realise that the film is produced by the folks at Dharma Productions, it seems to make sense. Only the track with Sid's reconciliation with his mother packs any sort of emotional punch. Downplay and subtlety is welcome, but Mukerji clearly overdoes it. The pacing of the film is also a tad sluggish, the first hour of the film taking too long to set up the story.

A word on the acting - this is entirely Ranbir Kapoor's film. His consistent and believable portrayal of Sid is a great turn. He single handedly makes this film more watchable than it should have been. Konkona does a variation of her roles in Metro and Luck By Chance and if she wasn't such a fabulous actress, she would be starting to really get on the nerves of viewers with her lack of range in commercial cinema. The rest of the cast are pitched perfectly and are eminently every-day, with the exception of Rahul Khanna, who does yet another meaningless bit part. He seems to be making a career out of doing the handsome boss/other man cameo. Yawn!

Shankar Ehsan Loy's music is fine, suitably young and hip, but none of their tunes hit the peak that guest music director Amit Trivedi reaches with the beautiful 'Iktaara', which immeasurably enhances the film, both aurally and mood wise.

Its a well told, young and simple little story of coming to terms with ones own little problems, and overcoming ones own trials and tribulations, however trivial they may be. Hidden in there somewhere, is a slick, neat little love story and and some great music.



Saturday, September 12, 2009

Curfewed Night by Basharat Peer: Book review

There is something distinct and inherently powerful about the concept of identity, isn't there? Something that can cause a whole generation to sacrifice its future in its name? Basharat Peer's poignant 'Curfewed Night' is as much a chronicle of Kashmir's conflicted past and uncertain future as it is a love song to the paradise valley of his childhood. The book's relentless and breathless narrative is perhaps deliberate, maybe an attempt to drive home the urgency of the situation. After all, by most estimates, more than a hundred thousand lives have been lost since the inception of the conflict in the late 80s. Tragedy is...we are no more closer to a peaceful solution than we were at any point in the past.
Peer recounts his relatively peaceful childhood in the early 80s in the idyllic northern state. Then, with the peoples' growing discontent with Indian governance, arrived the militant freedom fighter with his Kalashnikov and things were never the same since. A vicious circle of violence was unleashed in the state, with the youth of the time idolising the freedom fighters. Peer himself makes no bones about the fact that he wanted to pick up the gun in the name of freedom and identity. His father's wisdom prevailed and Peer left the state to pursue his education. Much of the book's content is a result of conversations with people he returns to after the completion of his studies. These stories, all heart wrenching and tearful, have similar themes, about missing sons and fathers, massacred relatives, constant excesses of the Security forces, the loss of innocence and a pitfalls of being caught in the cross-fire, when all these people had wanted in the first place was to be left alone, wanting to be free to live in the way they were accustomed to. A particular observation of the author that I remember from the latter part of the book is about kids in Kashmir playing their own version of 'chor-police', called 'militant-army', with discarded weapons that the children found lying around.
If you are looking for objective analysis and intricate political dissection of the Kashmir issue, with possible solutions, this isn't the book for you. This is a deeply moving and personal tale of a home that no longer exists, of lives unnecessarily lost, of a colossal ongoing tragedy. This is clearly a human document, a book meant to be a Kashmiri voice, saying 'enough!'


Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Stranger to history by Aatish Taseer : Book review

Being born to an Indian mother and a Pakistani father, puts ex-Time magazine journo and first time author, Aatish Taseer in a unique situation. As Indians or Pakistanis, one normally assumes one clear identity, one culture and one kind of relatedness. Aatish, unenviably, needs to straddle two very different worlds and cultures, which were, ironically, the same at one point in history. Truly, midnight's chosen son.

When the author published an article on British Muslim, Hassan Butt, the suspected 7/7 bomber, his philosophy of a 'literal Islam' and his efforts to recruit other young Muslims to fight in Afghanistan, he received an angry letter from his father in Pakistan, politician and businessman Salmaan Taseer, about how he had failed to understand the 'the ethos of Islam and Pakistan'. Not wanting to meet his father without an understanding of 'being Muslim' and the current moods in the Islamic world, he sets out travelling in search of a grounding, right from fiercely secular Turkey through to Syria, Oman, Iran and Yemen, with the final port of call being his father's Pakistan. The deeper and more personal question being, how his father, a non-practising Muslim could feel so strongly about his article, without actually being a 'believer' in the conventional sense. The question I kept asking myself," Taseer writes, "was how my father, a professed disbeliever in Islam's founding tenets, was even a Muslim. What made him Muslim despite his lack of faith?"

The book is clearly divided into two parts, which run parallel to each other, merging at the end. One part is the travelogue through 'Islamic lands' as the larger title of the book suggests, and the second is the author's telling of his estranged relationship with his father. And it is here that Taseer's writing really shines through. Elegant and mature, his prose allows us an embarrassingly front-row view of a poignant tale of a home broken by the redrawing of a map. While father and son never do make their peace, there is hope that they at least understand each others' motivations and purposes.

The journey itself is unremarkable and provides no deeper insight into already existing notions or knowledge of the countries he visits. There is the secular Turkey, where a more traditional and literal expression of Islam is almost abhorred . Then comes Syria, the current hot bed of radical Islamic thought, where interestingly he witnesses the burning of the Danish assembly on the Prophet-cartoon issue. He then travels to Iran, where trivialities of the Holy Book and its arbitrary interpretations are used to police the State into an almost schizophrenic straight-jacket. His journey remains a personal one, and while we wait for something fantastic to happen, our hopes built up in the initial pages, nothing really does. We will him on to meet some fascinating characters, but sadly, all we have to make do with is a bunch of Iranian Hare-Krishnas, a telling result of the hardline Islamic stance of the State and its corrupt and powerful moral police.
Things tend to get a bit of a move-on in Pakistan, and Taseer is back to what he writes best about, the subcontinent and the pain of partition. He makes an interesting observation in Pakistan - as the nations get younger, he says, they drift more and more apart, as the younger generation shares none of the hybridity that the older generation had about them. This was an interesting takeaway, as I would have thought that the baggage of old would have stopped weighing down the populations of today. Taseer gets a feeling that this is not the case with the youths of both countries charting entirely different paths, making them even more difficult to find common ground. It is in Pakistan where we meet another interesting character, the wealthy and feudal mango exporter, whose life is the telling of another kind of dichotomy in Pakistan.

Overall, a fine first book, heartfelt and poignant. It might not go down well with his father nor indeed in the Islamic world as well, but every attempt is made to be genuinely objective and his effort is praiseworthy. It challenges notions of identity, belonging and cultural roots. I would be very keen to see him write about India as well, in all its white, black and grey. I hear he's working on it.

In the meanwhile, 'Stranger to history' will do just fine.


Sunday, August 16, 2009

Having a money philosophy

What is your money philosophy? What is that, you ask? Well, according to Alla Sheptun, "The philosophy of money is the mode of the intellectual inquiry of the essence of money as a social phenomenon and its influence on the world of things, the world of people and the inner world of the individual."

To put it simply, having a money philosophy is to know the 'how' (much money is enough), the 'why' (is money important to you) and the 'where' (will you spend it). It should ideally work like this. We all have our goals, both short term and long term, and in most cases, we need money to realise them. In that sense, money is just a means to an end and not the end itself as a lot of us make it out to be. Money, according to well known personal finance writer, Dave Ramsey, is only good for 3 things - creating wealth, having fun with and giving away. I'd largely agree with him. Therefore all we need to do is figure out what our goals are, and then allocate our spending patterns accordingly in the 3 categories above mentioned, the composite result being our money philosophy.

For example, my long term goals involve retiring from active corporate life latest by 50 to pursue interests in the arts, a house in the suburbs of Kolkata and a small independent business of my own. To achieve this over the next 20 years or so, I would therefore need to use most of my disposable income to create as much wealth as possible to take care of my family's future needs as well as to invest in my business idea. Using my money to have fun would therefore sadly have to occupy a much smaller piece of the pie. How this pans out is, of course, open to conjecture and only time will tell of its success or failure.

But having a philosophy of money, and importantly, internalising it, egenders a clear thinking and an internal peace. It helps to filter out all the money noise we hear all around us everyday. " Too many people spend money they haven't earned, to buy things they don't want, to impress people they don't like" said Will Smith, very sagaciously, I might add. Having a philosophy in place helps us take a step back from spending money in unproductive areas, areas that will get us no further to our goals, and help to keep us grounded.

Its hard not keeping up with the Banerjees, but the philosophy of money can make a certain contribution to educating us all and helping us remember that the measure of all things must always be human values and not 'stuff'.