Tag Archives: me

The world’s shortest love story

How romance began, blossomed and withered all in the space of an epic 98.

 

I first saw her at the Arts Centre. The University’s cricket-loving population was sprawled under a giant screen, a distinctly visible demarcation between hundreds in blue and an equal number in green. Actually, I had seen her before — even held the door open for her, thanked refreshingly by a ‘shukriya’ instead of the ubiquitous ‘cheers’ — but with her beaming and bouncing and cheering, looking drop-dead delicious in her Pakistan tee-shirt waving some rude-yet-clever slogan at us, 1st March 2003 was the first time I had actually stopped to look.

An enthused Pakistani fan cheers her team to victory against Canada.

Wasim Akram began with two dot balls. I, with shaggy hair much bluer than my team tee, kneeled next to a friend and watched Sachin Tendulkar cream the next ball to the ropes. Obviously, I stayed on that left knee for more than half the match, while Sachin layeth the smacketh down, but, every time He wasn’t on strike, I pivoted back. To auburn curls, light eyes, an electrifying smile and lots of flag-waving sass. Eye-contact was made over Shoaib getting spanked, and there was much playful slogan-warring; she even thumbed her nose once and irresistibly stuck out a sharp tongue. I decided that I would keep the post-match gloating to a minimum, and instead offer to take her out for a consolatory slice of pie or something.

Boundary. Six. Pivot. Boundary. Dot ball. Pivot. Pivot. Halfway down the 28th over, Tendulkar was out. On 98. We sighed and fretted, but we knew he’d already given us an innings more special than many of his tons, and that the match by now was won. We patted each other on the shoulder as if we’d been running those ones and twos, smiled and applauded. Pivot. She stood atop a table celebrating the master’s dismissal, her eyes gloriously, gorgeously aflame as she mouthed and gestured ‘get out of here.’ To Sachin. If my left knee wasn’t already ground into the carpet, it might have buckled. The friend amused by my Pakistani preoccupation clapped his arm around my shoulder. I’m not sure, but I think he might have offered me pie. Or something.

You get it, right? I’m all for a pretty girl vociferously egging her team on and willing ours to lose. That’s passion, and that’s sport. But doesn’t Sachin move beyond merely geographic boundaries? Doesn’t everyone just want to watch Him bat?

From opposing bowlers to infamously partisan Australian crowds, they all applaud and marvel and wistfully, briefly picture Him wearing their own colours. In the IPL, I used to support Kolkata Knight Riders, but when we faced Sachin all I wanted to see was that legendary drive straight past the bowler. Or an audaciously square cut. Or just a bullying six. We all want to watch Sachin bat — like Warne turn or Murali decieve or Wasim york or McGrath castle — because that is as good as cricket gets.

Many years ago, at an Eden Gardens game, my mother cheered Viv Richards on to hit a six. This was admittedly because she wanted to see the handsome Nawab of Pataudi, then fielding near the outfield, to get closer to her stands while retrieving the ball. Still, dubious motive aside, her aghast fellow-spectators had to concede that they all wanted to see the same piece of savagely sculpted poetry. Because magic is for everyone.

I don’t know where that girl from eight years ago is, or even her name. I just wish, by now, that she’s learnt to appreciate Tendulkar. Because just watching cricket is a darned sight less lyrical without Him. And Sachin belongs to us all.

~

First published Mumbai Mirror, April 6, 2011

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Not just another sideshow

In tribute to a foreigner who became one of the most endearing parts of our 80s cinema.


It’s one of those t-shirt ideas I had a long time ago and really should get made one of these days. All I’m looking at is a plain white tee with the words “Jai Bajrang Bali” in quotes. Attributed to, of course, Bob Christo. You’re welcome.

We lost that unforgettable gent earlier this week, and the outpouring of grief and genuine commiseration on the Internet has been heartening, triggering off a wave of nostalgia about that ruddy, beefy Australian man our cinema so enthusiastically cast as the face of foreign evil.

Depending on what exactly you Google, you learn that Christo had quite the checkered past — involving CIA spy-ships and engineering and karate and terrorists in Rhodesia — before he came to India, became Sanjay Khan’s bodyguard, and apparently struck up a friendship with the gorgeous Parveen Babi. He then became Bollywood’s wicked-whiteman in residence for a quarter of a century. Fascinating stuff, and apparently, a memoir by the man is mercifully on its way. It’s just a shame that Bob won’t be around to see us lap it up.

For lap it up we doubtless will. Christo, frequently clad in either period costume as a British officer in pre-Independent India, or in Bollywood costume as a smuggler (read: gold-framed Aviator sunglasses), always entered the film all guns blazing, promising to be a formidable foe to the good guy till he inevitably received his comeuppance. Yet, incredibly enough, this firangi foil, this stock-character Caucasian cliché — a strongman with a bald head and french beard, like a caricatured wrestler — turned out to be a hugely popular actor with a genuinely warm screen-presence, likable even in folly: even, in fact, as he cowered at the feet of an invisible superhero trying desperately hard to pronounce a line of prayer right.

Rest In Peace, Bob. You were one of Bollywood’s blessed imports who gave the industry true character. We are an industry notoriously quick to latch on to foreigners showing an interest in our wares, but ruthlessly quick to drop them as soon as we find something more unique.

Yet there are names who become a part of us and whom we appropriate as our very own. The English-Greek Fearless Nadia is as much a part of Indian cinema as is, say, Madhubala. Katrina Kaif, the most successful actress in the country today, is as Indian as heroines can get. We have forced them into being ours, just as we did with Bob. And ours they shall remain.

So thanks, Mr Christo. Not just for taking the punches all those years, but for being such a sport about all our jingoistic idiocy. We’ve always appreciated it. May the force be with you. Or, as you said, Jai Bajrang Bali.

~

First published Mumbai Mirror, March 23, 2011

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Read a book with legs

A couple of days ago, I was forwarded a piece called ‘Date A Girl Who Reads,’ doing the usual rounds all over the Internet. Affectionate at first glance, this was a rather offensive piece of simplistic drivel that assumed women who read don’t do anything but live within paragraphs of their beloved books, books they keep mistaking for real life, presumably because they smell them too much.

Right.

So instead of dating a hypothetical woman who doesn’t do anything but read, I exhort you to go one better:

Read a book with legs.

It’ll come to you. Literally, that is. When you call it. When you lie in bed and wish you hadn’t left it in the other room, all you have to do is ask for it loudly, and you’ll hear its high-heeled feet coming your way.

Read a book with legs. Just imagine how much fun dog-earing would be now. And instead of buying it leather binding, you could give it fishnet stockings.

Of course, it will need more room than the average shelf. Perhaps even the guest bedroom. Yet this is but a small bargain; picture those legs casually straddling you when you lay the book face-down on your chest, to take a phone call, say. Gosh.

You can take your book to the park, and as it sits with long legs crossed, you can read in bright sunlight.

It’ll go wherever you go, which is lovely. You will have to buy two tickets, of course, so air travel might be rather exorbitant. Yet the book will walk alongside you, helpfully enough with pages open so you peek through it without having even to break your stride.

Occasionally, you can take it to the library. And sit back while the legs head off to find a familiar shelf, and squeeze enthusiastically in between a Dickens and a DeLillo. Give it a while, whistle and it’ll run back to you. You see that coating of dust on its jacket now? Well, that’s wisdom. Just keep the legs away from the Nabakov shelf and you’ll be fine.

Take care of the book with legs. Don’t leave it lying around under a pile of living room clutter, its feet foraging for space between old magazines, constantly endangered by empty beer cans. Or worse, lying unattended and cold in the bathroom, its shivering legs constantly coiled in fear of spiders.

Also, while obvious, it must be stated: don’t read two books with legs. If you must, keep them very, very far apart. In different neighbourhoods, ideally. The sort of ruckus two pairs of incensed legs can kick up has to be seen to be believed, and when it comes to your shins, all bets are off. Just because you read one first, long before the second came along, and it seems reasonable to switch from book to book, suffice it to say that the books don’t buy that one bit.

But stay true to that one book with legs, and you’ll be fine. It’ll make you smile, it’ll make you think, it’ll make you weep and it’ll make you break into laughter so inappropriately loud those not in the know will think you’re smuggling some sort of tiny tickling woman in your overcoat. All that and it’s perfect for a late night snuggle. Read a book with legs and it’ll make you happy.

You could, of course, choose to instead go for a book with breasts. They’re just fiendishly hard to close.

~

First published Rediff, March 17, 2011

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The 2010 Groanie Awards

Formerly called The Golden Bananas, the Groanies celebrate the worst in Hindi cinema. Rewarded to the most painful work, the Groanies single out those exemplary underachievers who have stunned us with their mediocrity. And this is only sifting through the legitimate, big-ticket releases — who clearly sometimes outdo their B-grade counterparts.

These are the people and films responsible for many a migraine over the last year, and we feel justified singling them out — if only to point, glare and cackle at.

Yet there is something to be said for being the very bottom of the barrel, the dregs, the scum, the worst of the worst.  For this, Groanie winners, we salute you. And sincerely hope these awards are taken in the right spirit: revenge.

~

Worst Actress:

Aishwarya Rai, Robot

Like watching a feared fast bowler try vainly to bat, this was just sad. Ash, never the strongest of actresses, was purely embarrassing in SUPERSTAR’s latest smash. She rat-a-tatted eyelids, popped open mouth obscenely wide in astonishment and smirked exaggeratedly, punctuating the proceedings often with an overdone, childish pout. Just when we thought her worst was behind her, here’s a performance to make item-girls rejoice and Barbie-fetishists cringe.

Worst Debut:

Luv Sinha

In the same year that his sister Sonakshi had the year’s biggest hit, this Shatrughan-son popped up in a turkey called Sadiyaan, a dated, awfully acted spectacle showcasing a singularly uncharismatic leading man. Almost in tribute to another harebrained 2010 film, Sinha made us, well, hate Luv Storys.

Worst Casting Decision:

Abhishek Bachchan, Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Se / Neil Nitin Mukesh, Lafange Parinde

A tie, this one. Ashutosh Gowariker somehow decided to cast an increasingly annoying and significantly spineless cellphone-salesman as a revolutionary, a leader of men. Meanwhile, Pradeep Sarkar took the palest of our lads, a blue-eyed pretty boy who specialises in looking nervous, and made him a ghetto streetfighter. Not wise, no.

Worst Actor:

Salman Khan, Veer

Tremendous screen-presence be darned, Khan bellowed his way through this Anil Sharma monstrosity, making it hard to even look at him. Overcommitment to the part scarcely looks this ugly, as Khan — who also wrote this script, apparently taking several years to do so — played a period warrior in leather chaps, his kajal’d eyes frequently bloodshot. Just imagine Conan the Barbarian hitting the clubs on ladies night.

Worst Cameo:

Suhel Seth, Guzaarish

Any current film worth its salt features a celebrity or two popping in, either for a song or in a bit role, essentially showing their allegiance to the filmmaker. Mostly, these are fun or make sense, and it takes an alarming lack of grace to turn two minutes of screentime into a disaster.

Yet when Sanjay Leela Bhansali inexplicably cast the chubby columnist / TV talking-head as a humane doctor, something hadta give. It was impossible to stifle giggles whenever Seth started blubbering, and climactically, when he — tears trickling, porcine cheeks bouncing with emotion — hops aboard the hero’s bed, it marks the only time our heart really goes out to the film’s leading man.

Worst Line of Dialogue:

Raavan

Ram, having rescued Sita from Raavan’s lair, stands with her on a moving train. His enthusiasm at having her back by his side is dulled by the suspicion that her demonic kidnapper might have rocked the casbah with his wife at some point, and he scowlingly asks if anything happened. She, dignified even when played by a constantly-startled Aishwarya Rai, assures him that nothing has. He can’t believe that, says she was there for a long while. She smiles and reiterates her promise, and he comes up with a solution:

Toh phir polygraph test le lo,” he grunts, immediately, casually, devastatingly reducing the agni-pariksha of the Ramayana to one of the year’s most tasteless jokes. It is an unbelievably bad line, the nadir of a fatally flawed film.

Worst Original Screenplay:

Siddharth Anand, Anjaana Anjaani

He wants to kill himself because he’s in debt. She wants to kill herself because… well, because she broke up with Zayed Khan, an occasion that should rightfully bring about champagne, not hara-kiri. A pair of inept suicidal losers, they throw their lot in together and journey through bad clichés, the worst of which is his being a virgin who now wants to fall in love and change that — then die. Moronic beyond belief, this.

Worst Unofficially Adapted Screenplay, ie Ripoff:

Action Replayy

I must confess I haven’t watched Priyadarshan’s Bum Bum Bole — where the filmmaker takes on Majid Majidi’s classic Children Of Heaven, turning the climax into a sneaker commercial — and have heartfelt sympathy for anyone who actually witnessed that piece of celluloid blasphemy, but what Vipul Shah did to Back To The Future was nothing short of rape.

A Lockhorn’d old couple, all leathery faces and greyed hair, has a son fed up with it all. One night, after a party where a family friend he’s never met starts sexually abusing his father, he goes off to his girlfriend’s uncle’s garage and hijacks his time machine. Back in the 70s, he befriends his geeky father, has horribly awkward birds-and-bees conversations, and tries to set up the square with the shrew. All the time-travel cleverness is sucked out of the script, and yet the film miraculously emerges much longer.

Fie, Vipul Shah. And to do this on BTTF’s 25th anniversary? Sick.

Worst Director

Mani Ratnam, Raavan

One of the country’s most respected filmmakers, Mani Sir showed off a disturbing lack of judgement with this film. Aimed at taking on the black and white good/evil dichotomy of The Ramayana, the film tried to humanise Ravan while showing Ram’s flaws. Except the script went too far, and just reversed the order of light-sabers: suddenly Ravan was valiant and misunderstood, while Ram was cold and monstrous. Add to that Abhishek Bachchan as a schizoid hero bordering on lunacy, making faces at the chaste Aishwarya Rai, generous with cleavage and tears in equal measure. Shudder. The only reason this isn’t Worst Film is Santosh Sivan’s luscious cinematography, but only that much can be said for prettiness in an epic attempt. Raavan is an overtly, childishly literal adaptation, one that shows a great director at his most amateurish.

Worst Film

Anjaana Anjaani

There is something very, very wrong when a film about suicide makes you desperately want the protagonists to succeed, as soon as possible. It is also most unforgivable to take two of the industry’s best A-listers and straddle them with a film so inert that their most valiant efforts –spontaneity from the boy and short shorts from the girl — aren’t enough to make you give a damn.

There have been numerous insensitive, offensive, clichéd, badly acted films this year: Anjaana Anjaani just happens to be far more boring. And even a silly film about suicide ought be anything but lifeless.

~

First published Man’s World, February 2010

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Let’s just call him Rukh Khan

The onetime Shah seems to be in the mood to abdicate.

 

Most people just buy a Ferrari. Shah Rukh Khan is now 45, and according to Western cliché, this is the right time for him to pick up a scarlet supercar and buy his lovely wife a bottle of peroxide. Yet Khan has always bucked tradition and gone about blazing his own trail, and so it is that he tackles even his mid-life crisis with both the zeal and the body of a younger man.

The result, however, is the same as felt by those witnessing the typical paunchy gent with convertible-mauled hair and the blonde on his arm: absolute embarrassment.

His hair dyed to an inky tackiness, Khan now stands before us on a nightly basis and demeans himself in a way his archenemies never could. He’s crass, humourless, hyper-energetic and just plain unnecessary, and — while any or all of those adjectives could perhaps be considered par for the course in gameshow-host country — Khan plumbs unfathomably low depths as he descends into hardcore vulgarity.

It is distasteful to list the obscenities doled out by this new, nightmarish SRK on a nightly basis — and not once will I recommend even a half-minute’s viewing of the programme so you can find out yourself — but the man is mouthing lines that would make Rakhi Sawant wince and Shakti Kapoor think twice. It isn’t innuendo if there’s only one possible meaning, and watching Khan make groin-puns and obsess over gigantic balls is simply shameful. Do not allow your children to watch this.

Beyond being bereft of excuse, this bawdy behaviour is simply inexplicable. Why, Shah Rukh, why? Disheartened loyalists will point to the alleged Rs 2.5 crores he’s making per episode, but while that may well be reason enough to prostrate himself on the show, it doesn’t explain away the tone, the locker-room language and the sleaze Khan pours over it all.

When Akshay Kumar dons a chef’s hat or Priyanka Chopra scissors her shorts to the size of a belt, they still have last call on what they say and how they say it. They are the Talent, and they can and do dictate the direction the show takes. If you think Khan is being forced to say what he is, you have another think coming. More alarmingly, in fact, he seems to actually be enjoying himself, showing off an obscene alter ego we were never aware of.

Lasciviousness aside, his presence seems completely extraneous to the production. Contestants fall off slides and trampolines in Argentina, while he commentates in a Mumbai studio. It is somewhat like what Jaaved Jaffery did with the ingeniously dubbed Japanese smash hit Takeshi’s Castle, except Khan is much worse at it. His once rapier-sharp wit couldn’t cut open an envelope now, and he revels in accent stereotypes and crude gags. Why the biggest movie star in the world is needed to do this show is anybody’s guess.

And yet he persists. Abhishek Bachchan was his guest a few nights ago, and as he insisted on the younger actor doing a pelvic thrust just like he himself does every time he takes the show’s name — Zor Ka Jhatka — it seemed like even Bachchan was having trouble not feeling sorry for Khan. For we have all seen him soar, and it hurts to watch him scuttle.

Sunday night, as the preposterous Filmfare Award telecast came to a merciful end, Khan and Madhuri Dixit were the finale. They were perfect together, and as Khan held Dixit tight, the camera leapt close into his face, as if drawn there inexorably. His eyes aflame with an animal intensity, his lips pre-pucker tight, his nose aquiver with passion: all you need to do is smoulder, Mr Khan, because nobody does it better.

And if you really must act out, buy that Ferrari.

~

First published Mumbai Mirror, February 9, 2011

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My Republic

The Ideal State as dreamed up by the film critic

 

I went down yesterday to the local theatre and watched an incandescent, energetic new film, packed with the visceral sort of entertainment that justifies our existence: by which here I mean both us as humans, as being capable of crafting and being awed by art so dizzyingly high, as well as our rather more limited existence as film critics, me and my brethren trudging routinely through several feet of celluloid quicksand to find rejuvenation through rare gems.

And so it is on this day, countrymen, that I choose not to speak of the fine film I watched but instead to decry the fact that they don’t come our way more often. These, then, are some disjointed thoughts about utopia as craved by the lowly critic:

# The Blacklist: Directors of irredeemably bad films shall be put on a Blacklist following three cinematic disasters in a row. Critics are rarely unanimous except when merciless, ergo only those monstrosities — Aag, Love Story 2050, Anjaana Anjaani —  savaged by all and sundry will count. Directors striking out thrice will face a two-year sanction — from filmmaking or giving interviews — during which they will be forcefed a diet of films chosen by FTII graduates.

# The censoring of the Censors: With enough whimsy to make Terry Gilliam envious, our censor board routinely, inconsistently removes sex from adult films and bleeps out swearwords, while conversely remaining stubbornly pro-raunch. Despite the potential fear of all cigarettes being replaced by reefers, actors stopping shaving, and significant focus on deprivation, I hereby propose that iconoclast Anurag Kashyap chair the censor board. Ideally with a shotgun in hand.

# The Actor Project Electorate: Often is a fine actor wasted on an unworthy film. There needs to be a voting process in order to safeguard the squandering of, say, an Aamir Khan on a Ghajini, or an Irrfan Khan on a Knockout. This look at the film’s casting should be monitored on the Internet by vitriolic, vehement fanboys and film bloggers, who spend lifetimes perfecting wishlists and petitions almost exclusively read by themselves. A supplement of the Actor Project Electorate is the actor-director ban, used to keep a Paresh Rawal away from a Priyadarshan, for example.

# The Background Score Bureau: The continuing abuse of background score in our cinema is an issue this writer and his ears personally take umbrage to. I therefore suggest that a two-person team be set up to monitor background score and provide expert analysis: they declare when a scene needs a screeching violin, for example, and when it can’t possibly stay silent. The two men here should be, of course, Ram Gopal Varma and Dharmesh Darshan, and after they give in their esteemed feedback, filmmakers should be instructed to do the exact opposite.

There is much more to be emphasised and suggested — Prohibition on Pretention, The Cliché Committee, The Ministry Of Silly Scripts, for example — but let us for now consider this missive a first evocation of the way things ought to be.

I am more than aware that this is a juvenile utopia, yet one we must reach out towards. We must at least start. For the beginning is the most important part of the work.

~

First published Mumbai Mirror, January 26, 2011

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Is Aamir a star only because we’re too dumb?

This week we kick things off with a direct quote, from the occasionally great Aamir Khan:

Mujhe yeh dar lagta hai ki Dhobi Ghaat shaayad audiences ko — matlab jo masses hai — unko pasand nahin aayegi. Kyonki yeh bahut hi fine film hai. Matlab jin logon ko cinema ki samajh hai, jo log sensitive hai, dil se jo jazbaati log hain, unke liye ye film hai.

“I fear that maybe audiences — the masses — won’t like Dhobi Ghaat. Because it’s a very fine film. I mean people who have knowledge of cinema, who are sensitive, who think from the heart and are emotional, this film is for them.”

Really, Mr Khan?

Do please put a sock in it, sir.

Suddenly your new film is too good for your audience? And your audience, the reason you are who you are, perceived as cerebral even while hawking low-fat snacks, is suddenly not sensitive enough, not emotional enough — and not well enough versed in film theory — for you? Bah, humbug.

The sheer level of condescension in that quote is alarming. For one, calling the Indian audience short of sensitivity or emotion is a stretch in any book. We’ve always been suckers for high drama, even in comic scenes. You know, the kind of films where vacuum cleaners birth infants just so caricatured fathers can have changes of heart? Yeah, those wouldn’t work if the audience didn’t react with its heart and forgive all the farce.

Said at the Peepli Live DVD launch last week, the lines are also particularly jarring coming from Aamir, an actor whose biggest hits — Raja Hindustani, Fanaa, Ghajini — are widely considered the weakest of his films. Does it then imply that the perfectionist knows his audience so well that he confidently feeds them tripe? And in that vein, is it an admission, an inadvertently candid confession of mediocrity, saying that while the other films are ‘simple’ enough for masses to get, this one — produced by Aamir and directed by wife Kiran Rao, currently nabbing killer reviews on the festival circuit — is the sole exception? That Khan himself is frighteningly aware that everything else he serves up is not, um, ‘fine’?

And since when did you need to be cine-literate to appreciate a good film? A masterpiece is a masterpiece is a masterpiece, and hits you right between the eyes — and shoves you in the heart with the force of a roundhouse right — no matter what you know about the craft of cinema. A good film is a visceral experience, and you do not need to be aware of technique or predecessors to be overwhelmed by it. Sure, film theorists and critics and their mothers all have different ways of consuming a film, but a solid film — which could be personally smashing for any single one of us — doesn’t need cinematic education to show off its chops. At all.

Then again, as a friend suggests, perhaps this too is strategy on the part of the masterful marketing maestro. Berate the masses, and dare them to come see a film in defiance of the claim that they won’t get it. For all you and I know — and Aamir’s track record suggests he knows better than anyone else — it’ll work, and Dhobi Ghaat will be an unquestioned success. Maybe just because of those reactionary words.

Yet that isn’t the point. As a member of your audience, Mr Khan, that quote just hurts. It is thoughtless, callous, dismissive and most uncalled for. Suggesting that you are smarter than the people who make you a star betrays a hint of smugness that, when heightened, invariably culminates in increasingly sloppy, manipulative cinema. Coming from you, one we have tremendous expectations from, a barb like that stings and disappoints in equal measure.

And a plea for sensitivity from the audience could certainly have used some of its own.

~

Originally published Mumbai Mirror, November 17, 2010

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