Monday, August 13, 2012

Independence Ahoy!!!

What a time to choose to write this piece - on the eve of India’s 65th Independence day, just when, the whole country seems to be embroiled and obsessed with the need for another freedom movement although this is not exactly for a new nation or maybe if I am to put it in literal terms – It is for a new nation. And who should be the crusaders – a Yoga guru, a pre independence ex-army jawan-socialist-octogenarian, a voluntary retired IAS officer, an ex reformist IPS officer, a retired Supreme court judge, a lawyer and close to a million (they will argue the whole nation but trust me I have been optimistic with my figures) Indians. Indeed with such noble leaders one can expect the struggle for the foundation of the new nation to be robust and authentic. So did I till I sniffed it to be another political movement bent upon change of guard of who rules the nation.
Let me confess that I am not much of a political person so I get away by being what a typical middle class citizen is good at – maintaining the vicious cycle of electing, discussing, criticising and re electing governments and representatives at every level. That actually does not make me a genuine commentator of the course of the present day events, yet being a creature of habit, I choose to present a point of view never-the-less.
When Shakespeare announced that “All the world’s a stage,” I believe we took this literally or maybe the bard just pronounced what we as human beings have always loved – a good spectacle. Leaders or the so called leaders love this trait and why not so – it takes courage to become or stage one such. However even this needs a cause and in this problem fraught world it would not be much to find one lying just next to you waiting to be hurled up and highlighted in bold Neon from the rooftops.  A fight against corruption was one of the easier and topical ones which have been floating around since our epic days. Come to think of it even our epics could not provide a solution to this except lamely announcing that with the death or exit of the good men a new era (yug) of malice and corruption will descend. So it did and rampantly spread across in every era and in each era people raised a voice against it. I am happy that in India and in this era this has been religiously upheld. However is this cause worthy or even the right cause because had it been so, the issue would have been resolved long time ago.
I have always thought that we are knocking at the wrong door for the remedy of this problem. Corruption cannot be eradicated because it is engrained in the human genes and unless we decide to identify the perfect pair of human being, have them reproduce and breed the perfect children and hope that this multiplies to the creation of the perfect nation and then the world, the thought of eradicating corruption is superficial and holistic. This is not my cynicism but an honest (sigh) belief and observation. Ironically when Plato suggested the above solution for the creation of the perfect Republic his study and philosophy became a term which itself meant ‘not of the physical (possible) realm.’ So if you think that in my opinion the perfect Republic minus the corruption and other vagaries associated with it is not possible, you are mistaken. I have no intention of propounding any nihilistic theory here. That would be blasphemy of my own ideology.
Change is required. Change is required in human behaviour. This does not imply that we go about trying to change the behaviour of every other person. Change begins within one’s own self. Leaders cannot or perhaps can catalyst this change. If they at all have to catalyst it then the call out should not be – “Give me this and then I will do this.” It rather should be “Be this and keep being this.” Social theory says that human beings have a tendency to adopt and adapt behaviours. Not surprising since our children learn to behave the way we behave. So where is the corruption stemming from? It is somewhere within us and yet superficially we want to oppose it and hence will raise a voice with the crowd. Honestly, I believe we are trying to exorcise our own ghosts in the garb of blaming someone else for our share of problems. A Ramdev baba, Anna Hazare, Arvind Kejriwal, Kiran Bedi are good leaders. They have what each one of us aspire to have and hence we will follow them blindly thinking that they are right. They might be or may not be, but the fear/question is that if they are not - Are we strong enough to accept the truth?
I have read books on our freedom movement and what I might now say will sound bizarre or perhaps even unbelievable to many but it is the truth. Gandhi or Nehru did not get us our independence. It was each man and woman of that period who wanted independence and believed in their own strength of character. Read Gandhi carefully – he never exhorted the people to raise their voices till he believed that they believed in what they were doing. In the Congress session of 1940 he announced this boldly from the podium saying that the country is not ready for independence. Many have connoted this term to their own convenience and theory but if one compares Gandhi’s ideology one will believe in what I have just proposed. In this present scenario I can state that – “Yes I believe that corruption should be eradicated,” but that is me saying it and yet not practising it for real. Eradicating corruption will begin with me saying ‘No’ to my own willingness to succumb to it.
There have been long drawn debates and comparisons to Anna’s or Ramdev’s movement as an Independence movement. This is foolish. Our independence movement was not a political movement – it was a movement of character and self belief in the truth. There were no political ambitions till the penultimate hours before the split of the nation. The IAC movement or the Ramdev movement is nothing but a political movement curtained by a socialist call. In a recent debate on a news television, which fortunately for them, such movements have given them enough fodder to keep the high paid political editors, anchors and script writers busy, I overheard some dignitary saying that post independence, if there has been any movement true to its character and cause; it has been the Jai Prakash Narayan Movement. I so whole heartedly agreed to this. If you are not aware of this movement do some search and you will understand and believe why I say so. A fight against corruption, I would argue is not even a socialist call. It is as termed earlier the easiest and most Platonic call.
If you ask me, and I have already indemnified myself and my opinion in the true blue middle class manner, on this independence day I will try and change myself and my character to establish myself as a person who befits the preamble and the oath of being an Indian. You can choose your own and there is no force on any, since our share of problems will not reduce by an opinion, or will it. Wishing you all a good day and good year.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Much Ado about Love –Ek Main aur Ekk Tu

We reached at least ten minutes early for the movie, which was a pleasant surprise considering Simmi and my propensity to arrive at the last minute for movies, almost always. For EMAET we could catch the promo trailers that were run before the screening of the movie – Housefull 2 and Tere Naal Love Ho Gaya. If I were to go by the trailers, then I would think twice, before buying exorbitant multiplex tickets to watch any of the two which seem to be nothing but run of the mill slapstick rom-coms. I had held a similar opinion for EMAET too. But let me get one thing straight – being a hard core Kareena fan, if anything could have dragged me to the movie hall, it had to be only her. Yet the movie turned out to be more than just her. It was a pleasant and refreshing surprise for its genre of romantic comedy. I would regard it as a good experiment as far as story and screen play is concerned. One also has to give it to debutant director Shakun Batra for managing to knit the so often told ‘loser-boy-meets-happening-girl-life-changes’ situation well by demanding balanced performances from each of his actors.

There is not much that you all cannot guess of the story from the trailers and promos except perhaps the ending or the treatment. The story will revolve around Rahul Kapoor (Imran Khan), a 25 year old who is yet to find a foot hold of his own life on his own terms or even come off the shadow of his demanding socially elite parents played by the versatile pair of Boman Irani and Ratna Pathak Shah. The latter by the way plays mother to Imran for the second time post his debut in Jane Tu Ya Jane Na and if you have any hangover of her earlier character, rest assured this new character will exorcise it. So Mr. Loser and ‘uptight’ meets Ms. Carefree –Riana Braganza (Kareena Kapoor) and then one fine day on Christmas Eve they go out drinking. Well picture this, its Vegas, ‘uptight’ protagonist goes drinking with ‘coolest’ girl and then over a drunken stupor gets married. Shocked? Do not be – It is Vegas and then it is Bollywood. You should expect slap-stick. But it is from here onwards to the end that will convince you of the coming of age of bollywood directors in Dharma Productions like Malhotra (Agneepath) and now Shakun, who are treading the ground of intelligent cinema. To begin with they understand and work well with the limitations they are subjected to. If EMAET was treated as a Dil Toh Pagal Hai or Kal ho Na Ho way, then my review would have been much different. This movie is quintessentially sweet because at the end the two hours you feel the story was real. EMAET kind of story happens and it may have already or might happen to you.

In the acting department, I will begin with Kareena as the effervescent Riana Braganza, an unemployed hair dresser in Vegas nursing a sixth broken relationship. Interesting character but with all my biased feelings for her, I have to say that in this role she only reprises the role of ‘Geet’ from Jab We Met in a different setting. She is brilliant in this kind of a role, which is effortless for her to play, but being a terrific actress, that she is, she has to explore more meat in roles that do not typify her as the never forgettable ‘Geet.’

The surprise package is Imran Khan. Many have complained of his cold, emotion less acting in his last role in Mere Brother Ki Dulhan. (For heaven’s sake, Simmi expressed that Kat was a better actor than him in that movie. Gee!) But you will love Rahul Kapoor. Imran is convincing in the three avatars of the character – the confused, under confident loser who could not choose for himself which tie to wear, to a lad in love, to finally a confident individual who chooses life on his own terms. The best part is that he does not over do any part and thus when you walk out of the hall you may just feel that he exists in you.

The others, who surprisingly are not many except notable mentions for Boman Irani, Ratna Pathak and Ram Kapoor have limited screen space and rightly so. The movie demanded such a treatment that avoided unnecessary histrionics. So at the end of it all, it is Shakun Batra who in my humble opinion gets the feather for presenting us a pleasant modern romantic tale in the mushy month. The other winner of course is its music. Amit Trivedi and Amitabh Bhattacharya regale your ears with freshly brewed music which gels with the theme as well as the situations. My vote for the most hummable numbers - the haunting Aahetein and the inspiring Gubbare.  Well, what the heck even a metal head like me has a taste for mushy music in this month. ;)

So go ahead this Valentine and watch this movie with your friend or love. And if you do not want to spend precious money on the tickets and the overpriced popcorns, then you can actually wait for the movie to be screened in the local channels. My advice -Whenever it does, do watch it just for the pleasant refreshing experience.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Lathpath, Lathpath, Lathpath - Agneepath

I am a bad audience of dialogues in a movie. There have been very few which I remember or perhaps carry with me for a long period. I agree that dialogues are the real punch of the movie, but blame my love for the visual that precedes cinematography over words; bitter irony for someone like me, who otherwise prefers writing. Yet that is how it is.  But then again, there are scenes of movies that have had the twin effect of registering a commanding visual along with an equally powerful dialogue. Vijay Dinanath Chauhan introducing himself to the inspector in the earlier Agneepath is such an epochal memory. Discounting the number of times the dialogue has been spoofed and narrated across different mediums by different actors, it is one scene that will remain synonymous with Amitabh Bachan’s career. That is what made Agneepath special when Mukul Anand directed it. He took out careful time to etch out each character of the movie, so much so that long after the movie bombed at the box office, it got its due to become a classic and the characters became legends.

With such a history, Karan Malhotra had a daunting task in choosing to remake Agneepath. Obviously the story could not just be a screen adaptation of the earlier. In the present times one had to concentrate on a larger canvas, without failing to focus on the micro details of each colour that would go on to adorn the canvas. Thankfully, he does. Not in an epic manner but one can feel the genuineness in his attempt which makes up for everything else. Besides, like I said, I am biased towards the visual and Kiran Deohans and Ravi Chandran does not disappoint. Be it, the landscape of Mandwa before and after the entry of Kancha or the Chawl’s of Mumbai where Vijay Dinanath Chauhan will grow and plot the revenge of his father’s death, the film has unlimited shares of visual delights. One particular scene that I would mention to support my case is the panoramic shot across Mandwa when Kancha makes his entry. Along with a long shot of the dark clouds that occupy the sky, symbolically signalling the ominous that is to come, there is the towering presence of Sanjay Dutt, his menacing tattoos and his black ensemble of a dhoti and kurta, a stark departure from the suave suit clad Danny as Kancha in the earlier Agneepath. This is Karan’s Kancha and when I say that the canvas needed to be larger it also meant that the characters had to be larger and more striking. In this Agneepath Malhotra does manage to create such striking characters.

Hrithik Roshan as the brooding Vijay Dinanath Chauhan comes off almost as convincing as Amitabh was in his role. However, the pinch of salt will be that Amitabh played the role when he was in his mid forties and obviously was more seasoned as an actor than Hrithik is now. Amitabh created an identity of Vijay in the earlier Agneepath, whereas Hrithik only manages to give a splendid performance in the remake as much the role demanded. His Vijay Dinanath Chauhan will not be someone you will remember when someone takes the name. Having said so, one cannot take away anything from Hrithik who performs beautifully speaking with his eyes and expressions to the last shot – as a son, brother, friend, lover and even a devious scheming character.

There are no villains in modern cinema, only negative characters. In this Agneepath the audience will experience not one but two such characters, each played to perfection by two very seasoned actors – Sanjay Dutt and Rishi Kapoor. While Sanjay Dutt goes on to re-script Kancha Cheena (someone who will be remembered for the character, as Amitabh will be for Vijay) it is Rishi Kapoor as Rauf Lala, the local Mumbai don, drug lord, human trafficker and an arch business nemesis of Kancha who emerges as a pick among the actors for me. In this new character introduced by Karan, there is enough meat to make it a memorable one. Sinister, scheming and sentimental, his role is not just about the alliterations; his character is shaped to make up for the absence of one played by Mithun Chakravorty in the earlier version. He is nothing near to good but will be instrumental for Vijay to achieve the objective of killing Kancha and avenging his father’s murder. That Ranbir Kapoor has good genes of acting is evident in the ease with which Rishi Kapoor essays this role. He commands screen presence and regales you with the performance. A scene that you might pay special interest to is in the climax of conflict between Rauf and Vijay. I can easily see Rishi Kapoor in 2012’s nominations across movie awards as a best supporting actor or even in a negative role.

Kancha Cheena - Like I said earlier, the character will be remembered for Sanjay Dutt, even though there was nothing less that Danny had put in his performance earlier in the same role. It is just about how the character has been written and played that makes all the difference. Harbouring a bitter memory of his ugliness, Kancha in this movie believes that being ugly is synonymous with being evil and so leaves no stones unturned in his mission of becoming a producer of cocaine within the fortress that he creates out of Mandwa. The beauty of the characterisation is that like many other such characters, one such seen in Rakeysh Mehra’s Aks played by Manoj Bajpai, Kancha has a penchant of quoting from the Gita, of course tweaking the meaning to fulfil his own objective – “Kya leke aaye the, Kya leke jaoge” being one such quote, before murdering anyone. Taran Adarsh mentions in his critique of the movie, that Kancha has the influence of a Kurtz like character played by Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now. I will second that, only to add that Kancha is more sinister. The evil smile and brutality that Sanjay portrays is scary but convincing for the role. His look - massive, bald, tattooed body, soiled toe nails (watch carefully) and a black attire easily fits into someone that the character demanded. Agneepath 2012 is as much of Kancha as Vijay’s.

There is not much left for the woman characters in this Agneepath, though Priyanka Chopra does good a Kali, Vijay’s childhood friend and then eventually as his lover in the Chawl of Mumbai. She offers intensity to the emotional scenes but leaves you with nothing significant to carry back. Zarina Wahab as Suhasini Chauhan is a far cry from Rohini Hattangadi of the earlier version. In the earlier version the silence of Rohini Hattangadi was a powerful statement to the last shot, even when Amitabh dies in her arms. Not much justice is done to that role in the present characterisation with Suhasini Chauhan is left as a brooding wife and mother who disapproves of her son’s revengeful attitude. Om Puri as the commissioner of Mumbai Police recognises Vijay’s purpose albeit late but like the earlier Agneepath, in this also he remains as someone who tries to warn and pull out Vijay from the pulpit of revenge and evil that the latter engages with a single minded purpose.
One complain that I have of the present version is the song and dance routine which seems to be one too many, perhaps an extension of the Karan Johar effect as a producer. Though the music is good, it would have been more pleasant if some of the numbers, which occur almost immediately after one ends, were done away with or kept as promo items only. This applies also for the popular Chikni Chameli number, but one must accept this extravagance as this is a commercial and not parallel cinema.

Karan Malhotra has successfully carried the remake of Agneepath and you must watch it once at least. And all this began with a title immortalised by the late Harivansh Rai Bachan’s famous poem:

Vriksh hon bhale khade,
Hon bade, hon ghane,
Ek Patra chhah bhi,
Maang mat, Maang mat, Maang mat.
Agneepath! Agneepath! Agneepath!

Tu na jhukega kabhi,
Tu na mudega kabhi,
Tu na thamega kabhi,
Kar shapath, Kar shapath, Kar shapath.
Agneepath! Agneepath! Agneepath!

Ye Mahaan Drushya Hai,
Chal Raha Manushya Hai,
Ashru, Shwed, Rakta Se,
Lathpath, Lathpath, Lathpath.
Agneepath! Agneepath! Agneepath!

Monday, January 30, 2012

A pair of glasses

Ravi picked up his lunch box from the dining table. It was not the regular steel box, he had been using from the past couple of years. This was a taller variety with three polycarbonate boxes stacked one over the other inside a jacket. Most of his office colleagues carried one of these kinds that promise in flashy advertisements, to keep the food warm. He had earlier never thought of buying one for himself, simply because he never saw the need for one. His lunch was never more than two chapptis and some vegetables, sometimes paranthas and achhar or a humble sandwich which comfortably fit inside the steel box. But, of many things that would change in the years to come, marriage brought about this trivial change also, which honestly he was not much worried about. A taller lunch box could only mean a welcome change in his lunch menu; this brought a slight smile on his face, as he picked it up.

His was an arranged marriage. The eldest son of a Bihari middle class family, he did not have much of a choice. His father had called him two months prior to the wedding and announced the decision on him. As it always was, he had accepted it meekly, without saying much. The only time he had ever asserted his personal choice was in selecting a course during graduation. He was a Commerce graduate, the first in his family; though there were not many in the family tree that could either claim to be a graduate at all. His father was one. A science graduate of the early nineteen sixties and by that merit had also secured a position in one of the state government agricultural firms. This was no mean feat for his father or the family then, and along with a secure job it also helped his father to the top of the hierarchy of the family decision making matrix. “Offcer beta is never wrong,” the family would believe. His father still held to that axiom though Ravi would, sometimes, want to think otherwise. He had accepted the decision of his marriage and choice of bride with a pinch of salt. Not that he was in love with someone else, but he fathomed the idea. The years of being in Delhi had seeded the wish. His office was abuzz with love stories that he thought befitted the silver screen. There was Dubey and his love marriage, a story made of all ingredients that kept Ravi in rapture every time the former narrated it. More than the billet-doux of the story, Ravi would be fascinated with Dubey’s wife, Kriti’s bold and fearless nature. For someone who hailed from a native town in Uttar Pradesh, she had not thought twice before coming to Delhi in the sly to ask Dubey to marry her lest her father married her off to someone else. Ravi was a sucker for such a fearless and care-free spirit and would often dream of a wife like Kriti, sometimes blasphemously fantasising her as his own wife.

He had first met Richa on the day of their engagement which was a month before the actual marriage. She was selected and finalised by his father much before he had called Ravi to announce the decision and of the engagement date. His brother had shared her profile and photograph on mail. He remembers checking the mail long after the office hours lest others would catch him checking a girl’s photograph. He wanted to avoid all queries and discussions in the office regarding his marriage, more so because he had not met his bride to be till now. There were two photographs – one full length and the other, a close up. Obviously it was clicked for the occasion at a studio. She was wearing a saree and was decked up with light jewellery. Wheatish complexion, medium frame the full length photograph did not speak much, except that she was directed to appear coy and demure, as an Indian girl would required to be, especially if one is being clicked as a prospect for a marriage. The close up also came off more like a passport photograph, with her eyes trained direct towards the camera. They were kohled and deep brown as much he could make of reading a girl’s eyes. The nose seemed sharp and there was no smile on her lips. That was all he could make off the photographs and he did not spend much time on it then or even later. If he had an opinion, he either wise could not express. The decision was already taken by his father. The only consolation he drew from the profile was that she was doing her graduation in commerce from a local college. Not much ground for similarities, but he liked the subject. It was of his choice. Ravi had shut down his system and left. He would catch the 7.30 yellow line metro from IFFCO to Rajiv Chowk and then finally the Blue Line to Yamuna Bank. His life was a routine between the blue and yellow lines. Accommodation was cheap at Yamuna Bank and he was grateful to the Delhi Metro that made his travel easy to IFFCO Tokio, Gurgaon, where he worked as an accountant to make a living.

When he had first met her, Ravi could not exchange much conversation with Richa. It was anyway their engagement and though he would have liked some quiet moments with her, maybe speak to her a little and overcome his own shyness, none of all that happens in such an occasion. All one can manage are smiles and perhaps a word or two while the families are guffawing and exchanging greetings as if they have all known each other for generations. He had spoken to her a few times over the phone after the engagement but those could be written off as mere formalities of courtesy. Before long, they were married and Ravi was back to Delhi with his bride. Perhaps it was his hangover of Dubey’s love story and a mental image of a wife like Kriti that built an ice between him and Richa, so much so that even after they came back to Delhi, he would only have intermittent conversations with her. In the days from his engagement to marriage and then the week in Delhi, he had made an opinion of her – She was shy, not an excellent conversationalist and one of those kinds from his village who spent their whole life treating marriage and husband as a social responsibility. He had taken the extra week off without his father’s knowledge. He had planned it for a honey moon to Rajasthan, but had later settled it for a period of stay in Delhi taking Richa for a sight-seeing of the city. They visited all those places in Delhi synonymous for romantic getaways with a futile attempt to loosen up with each other. At the end of the week, after all the metro rides, eating at the stalls of Delhi Haat, ice-creams at India Gate, walks around Purana Qila, getting harassed by the Eunuchs at Lodhi Garden and shopping at various markets of Delhi, nothing had changed. The lunch box was purchased at one of these visits, at Lajpat Nagar and he would use it for the first time today.

He called out to her from the door, “Richa, I am leaving. Keep the doors locked and open only if necessary.” He paused, waiting for her to emerge from the kitchen, where she seemed to be perpetually locked since morning. She came out, wiping her hands against the pallu of her saree and stood in front of him. He looked at her once again, almost a nonchalant reassuring look, maybe expecting that she will change. Her coy nod was the last look he registered as he climbed down the stairs. It was 7:45 am and he had just fifteen minutes to catch the metro. He stopped a cycle rickshaw with a frantic call.

“Metro,” he ordered the rickshawalla.

Through the bumpy ride out of his lane, he began to take mental notes of a checklist of the things to do.

“Drinking water,” he heard himself. On the way he stopped the rickshaw in front of a kirana store and shouted to a boy at the counter, “Raju, please deliver two cans of water to my home.” He paused and thought for a moment and then almost shouted back immediately, “Forget it, I will take it myself in the evening.”

“Hurry,” he goaded the rickshawalla.

He made it in time. There was still two minutes before the metro reached the station. Ravi began to run through his check list again. It was almost after three weeks that he was visiting office and he wanted to be sure that everything was in place. He was in midst of his thoughts when the train entered the station.

He took a corner seat, once inside. He liked the corner seat. Sometimes he could catch a wink or two leaning against the fibre glass. Today, he began to run through his check list again.

“Mr. Gupta’s file,” he thought. He opened his bag and shuffled through the content. After a while he seemed satisfied. Two stations had passed; two more to go before he changed trains at Rajiv Chowk. Of the entire journey, he disliked this part the most. Rajiv Chowk during rush hours was nothing less than a Kumbh Mela. Even the most careful could get lost. He himself was disgusted and lost on the first day of his break journey. Over these three years he still found it difficult. He sighed as the train came to a halt and he made way towards the yellow line to Gurgaon.

He got a corner seat once again. “A lucky day,” he chuckled to himself. Once seated, he returned to his train of thoughts. He thought of his office colleagues and their reaction to his marriage. He was glad that none of them had attended his marriage though as a courtesy he had circulated an invitation a few days before leaving, fingers crossed that no one would want to attend the marriage in a far flung village of his state. Now that he was back they would ask him about his wife, his first night, tease him. He had seen all this happen with other colleagues never expecting that he would be subjected to the same situation some day. He could not talk much about Richa. He hardly knew her yet. Moreover, she would be nothing what he had thought he would have liked in his wife. Maybe, he could make it all up with imaginary stories about her. “That would not be right,” he heard himself saying almost simultaneously with the automated announcement system announcing that the next station is INA. Richa and he had visited INA market when they were at Delhi Haat. In fact it was also his first visit to the market in all these years in Delhi. They had bought some fruits from the market. He was appalled with the rates but had not expressed it to Richa. The same were available much cheaper in their local market.

“Market,” he thought to himself, recalling some items that he had to shop on the way back. She had told him last night that there were some kitchen items required. For a moment he had thought, he could ask her to get it herself, but then refrained from doing so after revisiting the mental image he had made of her.

The Metro was passing through the Qutub Minar station. He glanced out of the window to catch a quick glimpse of the Minar. In all these years he had never been inside the premises. Maybe, the coming weekend he would visit it along with Richa. A lady came and occupied the seat next to him. He squeezed himself little more to the glass fixing his eyes to the floor, stealing glances occasionally at her feet. She wore a red paint on her toes. He tried to recollect what colour Richa was wearing in the wedding. He could not. “Does she wear nail paint at all?” he thought.

Ravi’s thoughts began to numb as the train kept moving one station to the other. He caught a few winks, before he heard the announcement that the next station was IFFCO chowk. He rustled himself casting a quick glance around. The girl with the red nail paint was gone. There was actually no one beside him. The train was much emptier when it stopped at IFFCO chowk. Ravi got down and made way for the exit. It was 9:20 am. He would reach office on time, as usual.

IFFCO Tokio was huge building. An insurance company, the building housed over thousand employees. Ravi’s department was in the ninth floor. As the lift made its way up, he began a quick run through of his things to do at office. He was having a feeling he was forgetting something even as he came out of the lift and entered his office he could not figure out what. Lost in his thoughts he made way to his desk and was greeted by the peon.

“Welcome Sir,” the peon saluted him with a broad smile on his face. Ravi smiled back.

Once at his desk, his colleagues started to throng around him one after the other. 

“Congrats, bhai”, “So how was it?”, “Where was the honey-moon?” questions and greetings came in from one and all. He smiled and replied to a few, accepting the greetings warmly. It would be only a short while before everything would settle down. And so it did - fifteen minutes after the initial euphoria, office was back to normal. Ravi sighed. He had already begun to get uncomfortable. After a breather, he began to pull out the files from his bag. He meticulously pulled out his stationary, the keys to his cabinet and then rummaged inside the bag to fish out his glasses. He was long sighted and needed them to read almost anything but to his horror he could not find the pair in his bag. Frantically, he pulled the bag open wide and peered in, but they were not there. He thought for a moment and then struck him what was missing in his check list - his glasses. It must be lying beside their bed where he had left the night before. He cursed himself. No glasses meant no paper work but that is not how his Boss would look at it. In a complete confused state he began to think of excuses. After a moment he thought that it was really not a big issue and he could honestly speak about it to his Boss. “That will be a good idea,” he said to himself and began to walk towards his boss’s cabin. He thought he heard someone calling his name. He turned around to see the peon walking towards him.

“Ravi Sir, Ravi Sir – Is your mobile not working?” he asked.

“My mobile,” Ravi exclaimed, giving him a surprised look. Fearing that he had left the mobile too, he made a frantic check in his pant pockets. He was relieved to find it. It was on a silent mode and there were some six missed calls, the last being from his office itself a few minutes ago.

“Arey Sir, the guard was calling you from the reception,” the peon went on. “Madam is waiting for you at the reception.”

“Madam?” Ravi blurted taking it as a bolt from the blue. “Who, madam?” he asked the peon.

“Sir, your wife,” he replied with the same broad smile on his face.
Ravi had already started to walk towards the reception. “Surely it cannot be,” he thought to himself, unsure, confused. “Richa cannot come so far by herself,” he had already started to walk in a faster pace towards the reception.

At the reception he looked around. There were some sales agents with their clients but seated on the sofa, in a green salwar suit, it was Richa. She stood up and smiled on seeing him. He could not smile back. He was shocked beyond belief. She held out her hand with his glasses inside the case. “You had left it next to the bed and I knew you cannot read a word without it. So..” she trailed her words trying to register his dazed look  and an even more dazed smile at her.

He could not say it at that moment but he would do so, much later that he was in love with her and that he loved her pink nail paint. Much later he would also believe “Offcer beta is never wrong.”

Monday, January 23, 2012

Chronicle of a death foretold (and averted?)

On the day he thought they were going to kill him, Salman Rushdie, got up at some time in the morning to wait for the news-rooms in India to wake up. He’d dreamed that he was not going to a Literature festival in Jaipur, where he was much in demand, and for an instant he was happy in his dream, but when he awoke he felt completely spattered with bird (read – tweet) shit.
Hope Marquez forgives me for borrowing these opening lines (and more so for tweaking them) from one of his classics – Chronicle of a death foretold. But, with all the recent focus (and growing) on Salman Rushdie, I could not help draw a parallel between Marquez’s protagonist in the novel, Santiago Nassar and him. Rushdie, if not in any other way, certainly is a perfect alter ego of Nassar in being a victim of a collective social consciousness. What more, just like everyone in the town knew that Santiago is going to be murdered, each of the esteemed guest and writers in Jaipur Literary Festival knew that the storm was coming moment Rushdie was announced as one of the speakers. For a moment this also seemed like a great politically correct ploy to generate more eye balls for the event. (Is it?) Having said so, when I look at the course of event, from the announcement of the organisers, the immediate uproar, the debates (between the intellectuals/the heathens – almost similar), Rushdie’s regret of absence to the organised sometimes honest and mostly fame piggy-backing support for him and his book-that-shalth-not-be-named, (see footnotes if you have to J) the whole episode seemed to be a chronicle of events foretold with the name Rushdie associated in India – the ‘secular-social-democratic’ state. So, why was the episode not avoided at all by the organisers? Was there an expectation that in a country where religious and minority politics are evergreen agendas will suddenly become tolerant to an issue that was raised 24 years ago? Not if you ask me and not in another 24 years because it is a collective will of the people that refuses to change.
The Vicario brothers never wanted to kill Santiago. They wanted someone to stop them and it is why they pronounced their intention loud. Santiago was murdered by the collective will of the people who considered him guilty on the word of Angela Vicario – the woman who he allegedly ‘perpetuated’. The Fatwa against Rushdie by Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini was echoed in unison by many Muslim countries and nearer home by the hardliner Muslim bodies – but that was 1988. Over the years Iran has softened their stand on Rushdie but in India politics remain the same, perhaps even more dispersed and hence the chances of the author making a visit are even lesser. Yet, the esteemed organisers overlook this socio-political development of the country– so it was in the calling that this event makes news.
News it did make – in as well as out of the event allowing everyone and anyone who knew (or did not) anything about the author, Indian democracy and politics to make a statement or an argument, so much so that it also popped in after dinner conversations. If I were Rushdie, I would be careful, because this is what Santiago Nassar did not read into as the sign of his impending death. When people start making opinions based on a collective debate, the outcome could be fatal. There were only a select few who spoke for Nassar, most of others willed his death and so chose to be impotent spectators to the murder. The literary fraternity’s support for Rushdie is the select few and their voices cannot save the author from the slingshots of the bigger mass who in their impotency to such situations only can become willing participants to the attack. In this whole episode some have chosen to blame the government. (Chuckle) That is so easy – makes me feel that I could wake up tomorrow with malaria and blame that the government did not kill the mosquitoes. Seriously, this is lame because not all the security in the world can protect a man whose fate has been foretold by a socio-political history.
I do not suggest that Rushdie should be in hiding or that he should not come to India at all (for God’s sake he does not even need a Visa) but if he chooses to do so then he has to embrace the fate that he has sealed with his book and take a stand. Triggering a debate will only oil the rusty lamp. And if there should be a debate then it should not be whether Rushdie should come to India or not, rather it should be if the issue really affects the lives of the thirteen percent Muslim population in India. The ‘few-good-men-and-women’ who support the author will either wise continue to do so across the mediums. His coming to India or not really should not make the big difference. The real need which this event has actually catalysed is – Can we as Indian’s discard a religious socio-political history and come off as a truly democratic state, where art and its form are not licensed by petty sentiments? Not, if we do not begin to address this in our own social framework and practice democracy of thoughts towards religion and community. Till then we will continue to have these periodic debates that will die almost as soon as a four day festival comes to an end. (Or am I wrong?)

Note: I have only read the following of Rushdie – Haroun and the sea of stories, Midnight’s Children, The Moor’s Last Sigh, Shalimar the Clown, East, West, Fury and hence may have a limited outlook to the debate that all of us are so engrossed in. I could not get hold of the Satanic Verses yet, but I believe someone from JLF might just have smuggled a copy. Pity if after all this, someone has not managed to. J

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Conquering fear in the time of love

Fear springs at the oddest hour and place. The least one would expect is it to be associated with love, yet it goes hand in hand with the latter. If one is or was in love then fear is an association they cannot deny. Love conditions the mind to create an illusory world of expectations, which then becomes the raison-d’etre of love itself; losing it would be losing love in all, being the belief. Now, not that the axiom unconditional love is redundant for such a proposition but that, such a thought hinges on the hypothesis  – Nothing is unconditional and love is not an exception.

In the Gita, Lord Krishna makes a reference to maya in Chapter VII, Verse fourteen. He tells Arjun,

Hard it is
To pierce that veil divine of various shows
Which hideth Me; yet they who worship Me
Pierce it and pass beyond.”

The world is much fascinated by the reference to Maya or a state of illusion, because it is seen as a matrix designed to keep one rooted to the very fragment of being a regular human being. So, to be emotive is to being human, the regular kinds which breathe, live and walk among us - our fellow members of the matrix with no present consciousness to leave the mesh either. Being in or out of love is therefore just another state where we will be subjected to the myriad of emotions binding or separating us from another. Of them all, it is fear that is the most unavoidable. One cannot do with or without it.

As an emotion fear will not willingly be expressed. It is not an emotion credited with the state of being a social being. So, even worse it will lurk inside and metamorphose into more devious emotions. Take an example – A person in love will never willing express if he/she fears that they may lose the one they love. It is a thought unpronounced, lurking inside and making stealthy appearances in the form of doubt, envy, rage and even hatred. Contrary to popular sentiments and belief that love begets such allied emotions it is actually the suppression of fear that stems them. It will be therefore much easier if one expresses the relevant fear rather than letting it be a dormant resident.

It is ok to fear. Our religious mythologies are full of stories of even the Gods expressing fear. In the Christian story, Jesus is supposed to have expressed and conquered fear at the eleventh hour before the day He was crucified. It is only by the expression of fear that one can learn to conquer it and move towards a more unconditional state of love. Expressing the fear that seeds and grow inside your head will allow one to be more forthcoming with the other person. If the fear is of losing the person one loves then one should express it. It immediately arrests the unrest inside the head and paves way for a solution in coming to terms with the fear. In love we keep mulling over such a thought, letting it reside and grow slowly till the time it becomes too overbearing and we pronounce it out in any possible thoughtless way. The condition is worse when one is out of love because then the fear, which has unfortunately manifested itself as true, becomes a physical reality that one may make the mistake (and they do, all the time) of referring to as a recurrent example, jeopardising any chance of being in love again, at all.

Having stated the condition what will be the easy way to conquer fear when in love? The answer is simple and I repeat it again – by admittance. It will not steal away a gallantry award or make you less human. In fact it will make you more so and also (perhaps) becomes one of the catalysts to transcend you to a better state of ‘unconditional love.’ In my own condition, I admit there are many fears lurking inside me but of them all, the fear of being out of love of the one I love is certainly not a case. I have always pronounced it being an expressive person that I am.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Getting Dirty

In one of the introductory scenes of The Dirty Picture, Vidya Balan in her role as Reshma a.ka. Silk, says to Emran Hashmi playing Abraham, a reticent I-hate-Silk director “Filmein sirf teen cheezon ke wajeh se chalti hai. Entertainment, entertainment, entertainment. Aur main entertainment hoon.” If the dialogue was not a punch enough, the poise with which Vidya delivers it, is a coup-de-grace for the audience. The wink, which I have always felt, no actor had done enough justice to post Madhuri Dixit gets a fresh patronage under Vidya. Throughout the movie Vidya as Silk would enthral the viewers with this signature gesture post delivery of any key dialogue. The wink imparts a new meaning to the dialogues, almost as if it never meant what it was supposed to mean; more often establishing Silk’s symbolic pun at her two faced fans, friends or foes.

In Ishqiya, if a feisty Vidya was a revelation, in this movie, she goes on to establish herself as an unparalleled actor beyond the league of any of her contemporaries. And how - not just by choosing a role that already had character written all over it, not by deciding to get into the skin of the character through a methodist school of acting - putting on weight, smoking or wearing what the character was needed to, but the real achievement lay in the ability to confidently carry the role of a sultry southern seductress who got a raw deal from the industry that created her, adulated her and then let her slip into an oblivion death, ironically only to reprise her much later in this story. Milan Luthria’s choice of subject is a winner and there are no second thoughts about it. What would have been a pity is if this fine script, camera work and cinematography had met incompetent acting - the movie would have met doomsday instantaneously. The real winner therefore is the casting director followed by the actors themselves. Each role have had a glove like fit in its respective actors. Naseruddin Shah as the never ageing, womanising, super-star who has no qualms of ‘tuning’ with every co-actress during the night and then avoiding them with equal nonchalance in the day, does what he does best - act. It is a treat that we are present in an era to see fine actors like Shah present their craft over and over again tirelessly. Bravo.

Tushar Kapoor plays the second fiddle brother to the super star, a role he must have by now gained an excellence over considering the number of such roles he so convincingly plays. I have always argued that he is a fine actor, if only he knew to select his roles. As Ramakant, Tushar does not disappoint - he is the weakling who despite all his good intentions for Silk can never muster the courage to side step society and wed her.

The other male lead - Emran Hashmi is an actor who has really come of age from the only kiss-and-kiss days. One could not miss his stellar performance in Once upon a time in Mumbai (again a Milan Luthria movie). And once again in this movie he does poetic justice to the role of Abraham, Silk’s arch detractor from the beginning and yet ironically perhaps the only one who empathised in the true sense with her predicament. As a character of a director who lives in the arrogance of his film making abilities not believing that cheap ‘sex’ (read – Silk) can actually ever sell movies Emran is more than convincing. The bitter sweet irony is that by the end of it all when Abraham finally meets a commercial success he admits that movies sell only because of three things - ‘entertainment, entertainment and entertainment,’ thereby coming a full circle by quoting the woman he so loved to hate - Silk.

The movie however unabashedly belongs to the character and actor- Silk and Vidya Balan respectively. I have mentioned earlier that the real winner is the casting director and the cherry in the pie of casting is Vidya Balan. It is not my biased interest in Vidya speaking in this section, but if you have watched the movie, you will agree that reprising the role of a character who moves from rags to riches to rags in her own terms, compromising with morality and satiating the hunger for success, she is utterly fantastic from the first to the last shot. A good director can only do as much as set the plot to a perspective but a good actor can take a perspective to new heights. Vidya does exactly this. She defines the role Silk in a quintessential manner leaving an indelible impression on the viewers. People have written about her ability to confidently feature a more than voluptuous character with ease. I shall regard that second to her ability to impart a unique trademark to the character, which will remain with you as a viewer long after you have come out of the cinema halls. Hence, I began talking about the wink. The manner how Vidya delivers it, almost makes me feel as if it’s aimed as a symbolic pun at her critics and detractors who may have written her off for not being the quintessential size zero, hour glass heroine. Oh - she is not all of that and I thank God for this. She is, well, she is ‘entertainment’ ;)

The Dirty Picture certainly qualifies as one of the hundred-movies-to-watch-before-you-die. Don’t Miss it.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

The Jalebi Theory

Come winters and our capital’s streets and markets come alive with the aroma of delectable warm,oily, spicy (or sweet) snacks. And mind you, keeping in sync with the sentiment of the so-large ‘total vageetarian’ community, the ubiquitous and your nearby Aggarawal (both single and double ‘g,’clans) or Nathu halwaiwala, will perforate the evening air with aromatic and definitely mouth watering dishes like the Aloo Tikki (No, Mashed Potato patty is not a close English cousin or synonym), Samosas, Kachori, Moong-Dal-Halwa, Gajar-Ka-halwa, Paneer Tikka, Gulab Jamun and a host of others. If in these evenings you loiter or pass around the market and not caring whether you have a flat six pack tummy or one of those half-globe ones, you cannot deny the temptation to have feasted on these delicacies once or every possible time. It’s just so in our Delhism to not deny these beauties from adorning our big mouths. Top all this with a plate of piping hot jalebis and you are set to feel like a king/queen. If you ask me, in my humble opinion, this sweet twisted dish (hardly actually, if you consider a fermented dough of flour with some essence a dish) is the queen (assuming it to be feminine) of all winter desserts or street snacks. Well, to my assumption's favour, the Jalebi is certainly royal in her appearance and not one of those all-round-or-fluid’ desserts. The saffron colour adds an edge to the royalty and finally there is always a struggle to get your self a plate of her. (Kind of makes it elitist) Besides, like a benevolent royal, the Jalebi, creates a joyous atmosphere for the people consuming it. Don’t believe me - Observe a group or even yourself when you bite into a piece. There is a sense of immense joy, almost as if all your problems have been taken care of as the deep fried and sweetened dough melts in your mouth and the sweet syrup rushes down the gullet ; then you bite into another and another, till the feeling infiltrates your senses like a drug. That is the royal Jalebi for you.

If that was not enough, then one can feel her elitism when one tries to get an audience with her. Like suitors for a marriage, you are given numbers of when will she grace you. The attendant (the sales-boy) will nonchalantly scribble a number on your token slip and call it out almost as nonchalantly. No one messes with the high priestess and if you want her grace, then you weather the wait. In our friendly Agarwal store, I have not seen many refuse the number even though that would sometimes mean an hour long wait. In my own case I would not wait that long for a doctor, but Ms. Jalebi has her own charm and I succumb to it.

In the numerous plates of Jalebi I have consumed all this long, there was this epiphany today. This simple Indian dessert in many ways is also a philosophy of life itself. No, seriously. The ingredients, the shape, the cooking process and then finally tills its consumed, the Jalebi is life incarnate and if you are connoisseur of the dessert as much as I am , then you will agree. Let me elucidate.

Fine wheat flour mixed with butter milk is fermented as the dough for jalebi. Wheat flour is life, butter milk the experience of life and the fermentation is time. (This is not heavy, trust me) One can add saffron and essence to this batter, just as life has its share of emotions, good friends and other elements which ferment along with it. Now, after an overnight of fermentation (not excessive) comes the real cooking. The batter is placed in small quantities inside a muslin pouch which has a small hole. The cook will then artistically make concentric circles of the batter dropping out of the hole into heated oil, where its fried. The boiling oil if you consider can be the trials and tribulations that one’s life is fried in. The shape of the Jalebi is how one’s life is - never a straight line but layers of concentric circles, sometime touching each other and sometimes much dispersed. One can never escape this part regardless of who you are. This is the precedence to the best part, yet to begin. Only after the Jalebi is fried just enough to turn golden brown, that its immersed in a syrup of sugar for a short while, though long enough for it to absorb the sweetness before its served piping on your plate. The same way, life will fry us only enough and give us an opportunity to be dipped in the sweet experiences, which in the long run will be all that matters. And one cannot claim that there are no sweet experiences in one’s life - that will be saying one did not live at all. Better still, look at this way that despite all the fermentation and frying, its the taste of the Jalebi that lingers in your mouth, the joy that it brings in consuming it. So, if one can treat life as an experience through which we can bring joy to others and remain as a sweet memory, one has just Jalebied oneself. Profound - Not exactly, but what the heck, it was a thought and I take the pride of coining this as the Jalebi theory - something I wish 2012 to live by. Next time you gorge on a Jalebi, do not think of the calories; think of it as a learning of life, a bodhta. If that is heavy duty, then just consume it for the sake that it sweetens your taste buds.

Wishing all you readers a Jalebi of time in 2012. Share this with all and spread the Jalebi theory. :)

Note: Photo courtesy -

Friday, December 30, 2011

The Rabbit Hole

The year is 364 days old. Without wanting to sound very philosophical, come to think of it, even I am older by the same number of calendar days. It has been quiet a year - 2011. Like most of the years since I have started working, the days seem to have passed away quicker. Then again, I know this well, its not time that has picked up pace but my lifestyle. I do not know if this is a boon or a bane - an introspection left for my forties; no careless pondering on this for now.

2011 was the Chinese year of the rabbit. (2010 was the year of tiger, ironically) Rabbits, for me have always been far from being a romantic, furry, timid animal. The earliest fictional imagery, I can recollect of a rabbit, is that of the Mad Hatter from Alice in Wonderland, always in a paucity of time, running late, incoherent yet wise. This perhaps is a perfect analogy for my ‘year of the rabbit’ -(read the mad hatter) Take a dive into a few thought provoking milestones of my journey into the rabbit hole this year.

Friends: This is has been a discovery this year. Well, isn’t this always in a year, you may wonder? Yes, it is, but live my life and age and you will understand why the impulse to write about this topic at the beginning. This year, I earned friends. In the past years I have made and lost friends, but have earned few. Earning friendship is a difficult and patient process. Every individual is different and the bond of friendship recognises this subtle thread that actually binds us together. The ‘rabbit year’ nourished such individuals in my life and I am grateful. It will be futile to talk about them, but if they choose to read (few even complain of my ‘exorbitantly expensive’ english) they well know who they are. My sincere wish that all of you get such friends in years to come and in case you all consider me one such, I will be much honoured and be willing to traverse the journey of life with you as far as possible.

Wife: Simmi and I are now a whole one year and nine months married. It has been a very fulfilling journey till now. Not that we did not or do not have our share of problems. We have had some bitter arguments and fights regarding the most trivial of issues. Yet, we are thankful that we did pick up those arguments and will perhaps continue to do so, because it helps cleanse the system of its unending list of daily frustrations of life, which we often tend to unleash on the easiest prey available to us - the one we love the most. In the course of our some very childish whims and arguments, I have come to realise that none but her would have ever tolerated such temperament of mine. She has over this period of togetherness, helped me to be myself, san pretensions and what more, loved me more for being so. I cannot be more grateful for that and maybe will smile next time we pick up a fight. The year also helped me realise her resoluteness and commitment to my family, when she decided to quit her job and be with my mom to take care of her. I was and still am amazed at her sacrifice, so just saying that ‘I am proud of her’ would be an understatement. Here is secret - Husbands/Men harbour an ambition of having model wife/girlfriends. If you ask me, the rabbit fulfilled my ambition this year.

Writing: This year, I re-discovered this passion. I always wanted to be a writer. It has been an undefeated passion for a long time since, I first wrote a verse in school, followed by some unlimited skits, short stories, essays and then came the years of the blank canvas. To write, I needed to read, to read I needed to discuss, debate, understand, observe and all this while the wheel was often missing some spoke or the other to complete a cycle. The year gifted me with a surreal mentor who completed the picture, dawning a new phase in me. With soulful mentor-ship, I also owe it to the social media revolution, which opened a new direct relationship between the writer and the reader. Factoring all these conditions the journey is well begun and I cross my fingers that I scurry to my destination steadily and not in a race with the tortoise.

Travel: I cannot claim to be a traveller, even though it is a passion. Or, lets put it this way I have not given into the real passion of being a traveller though there were some adventurous steps taken towards it. For the first time (quiet an achievement) I traveled abroad, albeit to only a neigbouring country - Sri Lanka. This was with friends and for cricket, so most of it gets censored in description. However, Lanka was fun - the highlight of the journey - I lost my camera on the first day.

Closer home, there was this road trip to Amritsar, again with friends. Great experience and place - the highlight of the journey - I bought a high end point-and-shoot camera. Then there was an office trip to Naukuchiataal, my holiday with Simmi down south to Bangalore, Hoggenakal and Coorg. In between all this there were two annual trips to home at Shillong or Guwahati, where most of the time, I was either busy repairing or having something repaired among the other lists of things that a dutiful-twelve-day-a-year-visiting son has to fulfill. Home can never be a travel destination, if you wear my shoes, that is.

Cricket: How could I miss this. I lived through all possible superstitions watching the India-Sri Lanka World Cup final in my own living room. The rabbit had a mixed bag for the Indian kookaburras. Winning the world cup is definitely a high point for a long long time, but the England series had exorcised my feeling for Cricket completely. I am now a far less passionate follower of Indian cricket, but deep inside, the heart beats, still race faster, every time a match is positioned on the razor’s edge. Like today, I was cursing and cussing the Indian team all over twitter when the buggers conceded the first test to Australia. Did, I say I was ‘less passionate?’

I guess, this is too small a list of events to summarise my 364 days, but like the mad hatter, I too am running late for the bed. Few milestones like Sleep, Movies, Reading, Cooking remain and should find place duly but only after I finish doing what I want to do now.

So where did the rabbit hole lead me to? Think, did I not answer that already. ;)

You will see more of me this year but before that gear yourself for 2012 - to ‘train a dragon’. You need skill and faith. Wishing you all ample of it, Happy New Year.