Thursday, 28 May 2009

The Greatest Blog Post Ever!!

I have been planning this blog post all week. To tell you the truth, I wasn't too happy with the last two blog posts I wrote. They felt pretty boring for me. So from last week, I started cooking up themes and ideas for this one. I wanted it to be really funny and really quirky. It was going to be an epic, like the Mahabharat, or the one like about the 'I am what I am' post!

Here I sit with writer's block. Honestly speaking, I wonder whether how I am writing this and secondly, I cannot think of what to write about and it is very frustrating. The manifestations of writer's block are unique. It feels like having an old world monkey perched on your shoulders, jabbing you in the center of your head everytime I lay my fingers on the keyboard. But I have decided to figuratively throw the metaphorical monkey and barge ahead. It is the only way to complete this.

The point I would like to make here is that you cannot plan greatness. It just turns out that way. Don't put the cart before the horse. Don't plan to do something epic and make history. Do what you want to do, but put everything you have into it. I believe that if you work hard, with honest intentions, the outcome will always be good. Maybe even great. I also believe that if your intentions are wrong, you will ultimately fail (yeah, I know it's the most cliched thing in the world, but I believe it, so please go and sue me for that).

That's where I went wrong last time. I set out planning greatness without having the slightest clue of how I would get there, and I learnt a sharp lesson. I've sat up till the middle of the night writing this on a piece of paper and missed the deadline of publishing this post by daybreak. It has been a long and a tough day. Undoubtedly, an enlightening one, though.

Sunday, 24 May 2009

Movie Review: Kadha Parayumbol

Kadha Parayumbol sees Srinivasan at his best not only as a writer but also as an actor. The story is like the modern day adaptation of the timeless Krishna--Sudama story. In the context of the film, it is about a superstar and a barber. He is not ashamed to stick to the old world terminology of 'barber' and not the fancy words like hairstylist or beautician that have replaced the word barber.

Balan (Srinivasan) is struggling to survive in his traditional profession, as he cannot find anyone who would give himma loan to upgrade his equipment without taking a bribe. Being a principled with acerbic tongue presents its own for this middle-aged barber who has the responsibility of bringing up three school-going kids.

Staying in a sleepy village in a house that has no basic amenities makes him a subject of ridicule among his own people as well as the public in general. All this changes after a film unit lands up at the village for a shoot. It is believed that the film superstar Ashok Raj (Mammootty) is an old acquaintance of Balan. This creates a sudden new found respect for the barber. Now the same people who ridicule him fawn over him so as to get closer to the superstar. But, Balan is reluctant to go ahead and refresh his friendship with Ashok Raj fearing that the superstar may not remember their acquaintance that happened twenty five years ago. The elation and the humiliation that Balan undergoes due to this forms the rest of the story.

The script is filled with observations and nuggets about the phenomenon of superstardom and the craze for chasing celebrities and what globalization is doing to people like Balan, who live in the lower strata of the society. Srinivasan hogs the limelight as Balan. He fills the character with life which is a rarity these days. Whether it is the sagging and wrinkled face of a person heading towards his fifties or imbibing the characteristics of a barber, he gives a flawless performance. Mammootty virtually plays himself as the superstar Ashok Raj in a role that bit lengthy to be termed as a guest appearance. Meena as Balan's wife is aptly cast though she doesn't appear in every frame and doesn't have much to do.

Kadha Parayumbol is a refreshing experience for the viewers. It is much more superior than its trashy remakes. It is a neat little film and a must watch for all those who love decent films that they can watch with their families.

Movie Review: Serendipity

I am not such a great fan of English movies but I do like certain movies. So when my friend told me about this John Cusack--Kate Beckinsale starrer "Serendipity", I was damn sure that I had to catch this movie come what may. Most of our Bollywood movies are blatantly copied from English movies, so I felt that this movie offers a lot of scope to be remade as an Indian movie.

On a bustling shopping day in winter, Jonathan Trager (John Cusack) bumps into Sara Thomas (Kate Beckinsale) when they both try to buy the same pair of gloves at a departmental store in Bloomingdale. Two strangers amid the masses in New York, their paths collide in the mad holiday rush as they feel a mutual attraction. Despite the fact that both are involved in a relationship, Jonathan and Sara spend the evening in Manhattan. The night reaches its inevitable end and the two are forced into determining some kind of next step. When the smitten Jonathan suggests an exchange of phone numbers, Sara balks and proposes an idea that will allow fate to take control of their future. Sara asks Jonathan to write his name and phone number on a $5 dollar bill, while she writes her name and number on the inside cover of a used copy of Love In The Time of Cholera. If they are meant to be together, she tells him, they will find their way back into one another's life.

The majority of the film takes place five years later, and consists of largely repeated "almost coincidences" where the two romantic leads almost, but not quite, meet. One character is seen walking in to one door of a building at the exact same instant as the other character walks out of a different door in the same building. I wouldn't say it is a worth-watching movie but just watch it for the romantic and feel-good story.

Movie Review: Garbo

"One of the most celebrated people in the world, desperate not to be recognized...". This is how the latest documentary about the former actress Greta Garbo that was released in 2005, a week before her 100th birthday calls for viewers' attention to the personality of this great actress. I have myself not been such a great fan of documentary movies but being associated with the "Laadli" team, I have been forced to do my homework.

To understand her more profoundly, the director Kevin Brownlow aims at detailed exploration of Greta's life. Her wonderful but short screen career as well her later reclusive life. The whole movie is supplied with great instrumental music by Carl Davies. Having seen Steve Cole's version GRETA GARBO--THE LONE STAR and some of the other minor documentaries, I admit that GARBO is the best biographical film that captures the life and times of the Swedish beauty.

The documentary presents Greta as someone who is full of contradictions and melancholies. Among a lot of interviews with the people in the film, I particularly liked the one with Mimi Pollak, Greta's friend from youth, Gray Reisfield, Garbo's niece, Derek and Scott Reisfield, Greta's great-nephews and Sam Green, her companion during the later years of life. They delightfully manage to get the gist of who Greta Garbo really was--a Swede girl with a Swedish upbringing brought at the age of 20 to a totally different world named Hollywood. She was gentle, humorous, and very independent. Daniel Selznick, the grandson of Louis B. Mayer mentioned the fact that Greta was unhappy for most of the time unable to adapt to the life and manners promoted within MGM. Joseph Newman quoted that when she first arrived in Hollywood the difficulties she had to cope with. As a result, the documentary doesn't project "a glorified picture" of how well everything went but a very realistic look at Greta's experience abroad.

The documentary is also supplied with a wide range of original archives. From a number of Greta's private pictures taken in Sweden before 1925, one sees plenty of footages with Irving Thalberg, Mauritz Stiller, George Cukor as well clips from all the movies of Greta made in America and earlier in Europe. Clarence Brown appears with an interview and footage. The photographs and film clips speak for themselves, for Greta's tremendous beauty and unique acting ability. She was a totally intuitive actress.

It is a pity that, as she independent she was, that she took some bad advice, and a bigger pity that she never returned to the screen after 1941. A 1949 screen test shows her beauty untarnished, yet the producers were unable to raise money for the film they wanted to do, which devastated her. This is a wonderful documentary, highly recommended.

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Alone at last....almost

I'm back in Mumbai, in the chaos and hustle bustle of day-to-day life. The sheer number of people who call the city their home is mind-boggling. Every square inch is filled with crowds, noise, and more people. And yes in the midst of all the commotion, our mind seeks solace. It looks for some peace, a getaway. One could call it a secret spot. As a little kid, my biggest thrill was on discovering a secret spot. I assumed that no one knew about the place and then I would show it off to my friends. Kids have terrific imagination levels. The secret spot would fit easily with my imaginary friends (pixies and elves), and real ones too.

As I grew up, the city seemed to be shrinking more and more. It was difficult to even walk by myself in a fairly isolated part of Juhu beach, without someone stopping me to sell something, or an urchin begging for money. I would bump into intimate couple looking for privacy. Now, it seems as if this city of Bombay doesn't have those secret spots anymore. I need them for some peace and solitude. I enjoy 'me' time, during which I introspect or do nothing.

Now for my little secret---I talk to myself. At times, I'm unaware of this. If I'm looking for a solution to a problem, I weigh the options by talking to myself. I'm sure this would look very funny in public. So very often, my hideaway is the toilet. I often fancy myself sitting in a car and driving on a road without any destination. I enjoy such drives with the song, "Bawra Mann" playing on the car stereo. But the ever-increasing cars on roads and pollution..and of course, the escalating fuel prices, have killed the joy of those simple soul-searching drives.

One night, Neeraj and I accidentally discovered a spot to beat all hideouts. There is this road that leads to the Juhu beach, and comes to a dead-end after a while. One evening, we went for a walk to the beach and stumbled on this spot, which is hidden by shrubbery. It's at a slight elevation, so it opens to a view of the ocean and sand. No can see you easily there. On a full moon night, the reflection of the moon in the water is magnificient.

I experience this kind of peace when I went there in 2004. It was a place to cleanse my mind, do some soul-searching and talk to myself. At times, I could see the stars shining clearly in the dark open skies. Solitude in the midst of the city commotion seems like heaven. The last time I went with there with Neeraj, the shrubbery had been cut, the elevation had been flattened and it was exposed to the world. An ugly structure stood there now. The incident prompted to look out for new places to find solitude and thankfully, I found solitude in a quiet bylane of Chembur which was a one-way street without much traffic.

A poet once wrote, "I hide while being in plin sight...I hide in me, with all my the doing sometimes is the best hiding place."

I am what I am

A while ago, I was having a conversation with Neeraj and his wife Sejal. We discussed friendships, male bonding and so many other things. I sighed and told him that I have been unlucky in friendship. Somehow, long-standing friendship has always eluded me.

Neeraj smiled a little too widely and asked me if at times I wondered if I knew how to keep friendships? Was I unlucky with friendships or was I just not good at keeping friends? A casual statement perhaps but one that hit home. The inevitable introspection that followed, circled around my friendships and the friends I lost.

Did they lose me or did I lose them? What happened along the way? I think all friendships have a fallout somewhere. I think this not as an exception but as a rule. Small fights, expectations and ambitions all come in the way of what started out as the most innocent associations in the world. But one word that kept coming into my mind is the word "unforgiving". It is not how we deal with what happens after the fallout that decides the fate of our friendship but our personalities. There are two kinds of personalities I know of in the realm of hurt management--they are explosive and implosive, or so some people who cared to study the stuff tell me.

The explosive sort shouts out of their hurt and makes peace with the situation or not. depending on the case. The implosive kind are like me, who take the hurt to the private recesses of their minds, mull and brood over it, keep the pain close to the hearts and never let the person know about it. The implosive kind are unforgiving (I can forgive since I cannot remain angry with someone for very long), they just move away and abandon their friendships forever. Yes, I am forgiving, despite of coming into the implosive kind of people. I carry every little wound close to my heart like a medal which will never be taken off. Now I know that's the reason why I have lost so many friends.

Perhaps, if I another way of dealing with fallout in friendships, I would have been a 'friend-rich' guy. But I am what I am and I can't change that. What I am at home is what I am at school or college. I am what I am with my friends too. I love deeply and get hurt quickly. That's me. That is what makes me write this column. It makes me wonder about every aspect of life. This is what makes me, me. I am ready to be lonely all through my life because there is no friend in the world who will not hurt you and there is no friendship that wouldn't pass through rough phases.

That is the character of friendship and what friendship is all about. This piece is for all implosive and unforgiving people like me. This is to say that there's nothing wrong with our friendship...but there's something wrong with us. Don't ever say that you haven't been unlucky in friendship. But just be aware of the fact that you have a problem with healing.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Excess Baggage

I was reading something the other day. All the airlines are now planning to charge overweight people which means extra money for tickets. In fact, some of the airlines in the US have already started implementing this cheap practice to earn money. It seemed unbelievable...and in some other ways, pure injustice and discrimination of a new kind, based on one's fitness levels. Discrimination comes naturally to most of us and fat people have always been discriminated against in some form or the other.

Even kids who know no better will instinctively pick on fat kids and make fun of them or discriminate against in some way. Anyway, with the airlines in the US set to implement this new rule, I foresee lawsuits and a lot of headlines about this particular issue. So, are they justified in doing so? Recently on a flight back from Cochin to Mumbai, I was seated next to an obese person who was halfway spilling onto my seat.

I could not even lower my armrest. It was a terribly uncomfortable flight. I remember requesting the flight attendant to organize another seat for me. Unfortunately, it was a full flight and I had to bear the brunt of my neighbour's obesity literally. The point I am trying to raise is--is this decision based on increasing passengers' comfort or another fallout of the economic recession with the airlines finding another way to increase their revenue?

I wonder what they will do next---charging people like me extra if they are unusually tall because they require extra legroom for their long legs? This thought really got me worried. I know that I would fit in perfectly along with Sushmita Sen since we are tall. What about pregnant women? But then I guess, the immediate thing to worry about while buying a ticket now would be one's weight. Perhaps, this will finally be a wake up for people like me to reduce weight...something that I desperately need, so that I could knock off those extra kilos.

As I read the reactions to this on the Internet, I gauge that a lot of people are extremely supportive of this decision (I am not, unfortunately). Perhaps, they suffered like me at sometime. But this new rule will open the Pandora's Box. Does this mean that people who are thin or underweight will have to pay less? The numerous questions that come up is mind-boggling in a strange way, because only charging fat people double is punitive.

I could go on this with this but I think I have made my point. An industry that is supposedly part of the hospitality industry is amazing at their measures to make profits. We see all these strange measures in place. First, the food and drinks being charged...and now this!! To put it in the lyrics of the famous song, "I wake up in the morning and I step outside...and take a deep breath and I get real high...and I scream at the top of my lungs, what's going on?" It is truly a mad, mad world.

Encounter with Reality: Passenger

With hardly any movie releasing in the multiplexes this summer in Bombay, I decided to watch a Malayalam film "Passenger" just to stay in touch with my roots. Since the release of this film coincided with my cousin's wedding in Cochin, I watched this film in Cochin since Malayalam movies hardly release in Bombay.

Passengers gives the ordinary filmgoer a hope that there are new filmmakers, who want to try something out of the ordinary. The film written and directed by Mr. Ranjith Shankar, stays away from the cliches as far as possible. The gist of the film is simple: a common man with the courage can take on the high and mighty and fight injustice.

The backdrop of this film is a train journey and a group of people who use the train daily to earn their livelihood. They become friends with fellow travellers and pass their time playing cards and gossiping. Sathyanathan (Srinivasan) is a member of one such group. His character is established as an activist with zeal; running a signature campaign for cleaner toilets in Indian trains and demanding more trains on busy routes. But this is looked down upon by his family and friends. Running parallel to this is the story of a couple Nandan Menon (Dilip) and his wife Anuradha (Mamta Mohandas), who is a television journalist. They are also social activists. They locked horns with no less than the Home Minister Thomas Chacko (Jagathy Srikumar) over an environmentally disastrous case of sandmining.

There are numerous things for watching the film apart from the basic story and structure: This maybe the first Malayalam movie where new age technology tools like 3G cell phones, webcams, laptops are shown in positive light. Thankfully, the story is not overly dialogue-driven. Srinivasan is the pivotal character around whom the whole story revolves. Thankfully, there is no overdose of self-deprecatory humour. Dilip happily plays that maybe termed as a parallel lead. Mamta Mohandas is restricted to a tiny role and her oomph quotient has also been confined, which is a rarity.

On the whole, Passenger is worth your time and money.

Saturday, 9 May 2009

Movie Review: Zindaggi Rocks

When is Indian cinema going to appreciate directors who experiment with stories, when are we going to come out of love triangles and the mushy stuff? Year after year, Shahrukh Khan gets a Filmfare Award for the worst movies he's ever acted in. On one side, we have talented filmmakers like Tanuja Chandra who is working hard to bring cinematic excellence by experimenting with storylines. "Zindaggi Rocks" is a movie that was hardly recognized in India.

This film is tailor-made for a person like Ms. Sushmita Sen. and she does full justice to her role. After all, she is the rockstar Kriya, a stage performer and a single mother. In every right, Sushmita is the only one who deserves the accolades for this movie. She has been a single mother by adopting a son named Dhruv when he was just two years. Now, Dhruv's family consists of Kriya, Kriya's mom and twin sister (Moushumi Chatterjee), a squeaky secretary Antara (Kim Sharma) and the assistant Shardul (Ravi Gossain) who believes Dhruv is a cowboy. In the next scene we are introduced to the maverick Dr. Suraj Rihan (Shiney Ahuja).

The Shiney--Sushmita relationship grows in full view of the hospital staff and the equally curious relatives of Kriya. Ms. Tanuja Chandra portrays the warmth at work, at play and within the defined comforts of domesticity with a deftness that you'd come across in the finest works of Hrishikesh Mukherjee. Ms. Tanuja has successfully constructed the story of a film where the emotional control of the powerful story is exceptional. The support provided by Mudassar Aziz is beyond substantial. The words, especially spoken by Shiney Ahuja convey deep home truths with a throwaway casualness.

The film's deeper thrusts on life and death emerge effortlessly from the rhythms of the routine. The film instills optimum conviction in the plot without losing its innate charm as stars of substantial longevity. Shiney Ahuja essays the character whose eyes are filled with the pain of a tragedy that paints his past and threatens to colour his future in fine and sharp strokes. Ms. Sushmita Sen. illuminates the screen in every scene struggling to remain motivated as life serves her a huge blow. Ms. Sen pours a volcanic intensity to a role that would work with no other actor in the country. In a year that was cluttered with boring movies, Tanuja Chandra emerged with a work that lodged her film in your heart.

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Cool Things to do this summer

I hated the summer leaves too much time with too little to do and the primary reason being the hate. The worst part this year is that there are no movies to watch in the multiplexes this year which adds to the woes of kids across the country. The troubles of these kids are just bound to soar exponentially. Before I sat down to write this column, I thought long and hard to come up with some interesting things to ensure your usually boring summer break isn't so boring this time around.

Of course, a lot of these things involve going out in the stifling heat we have been passing through so I'm ready to hear a host of complaints. But then, nothing good has ever come out of sitting at home and doing nothing..well, almost nothing. How about going to the golawalla and when he finishes scraping the ice, stop him from spiking it with syrup. Take the plain cold ice and rub it all over your face. Then try spreading it across your arms and along the decorous bits. Someone is sure to start staring at this moment. Offer the suggestion to rub him/her down too. In this way, the person will laugh and walk away with a sulking face. Take the rest of the gola and drop it down his back just to feel "cool". Now, run back to the golawalla and have a gola and sherbet. Chillax!!

A mail from a prominent theatre personality Ms. Shernaz Patel set me thinking. Her unparalleled energy at the age of forty five inspired me so much. I am feeling like standing on top of a TV tower and shouting that anyone with the slightest inclination towards theatre must consider taking it up. A mention of theatre doesn't go without mentioning social activism.

The other thing I strongly believe that is one should take up is standing up for a cause. I have always believed in using the medium of social work as an instrument to do our bit for the society. Film personalities like Nandita Das, Rahul Bose or John Abraham choosing up to do social work. It is a thing that is truly commendable and it is heartening to see a prominent personality taking up the initiative of being associated with a particular cause. So whether it is a big or small cause, if you feel for something, wake up and make your voice heard and you are sure to find a few like-minded people.

The next best way to cool off is to have a water fight. Get into the bathroom and choose an end. Arm yourself with a bucket. Arm yourself with a bucket. Splash the bucket water on each other. Scream loudly. Hide a bottle of cold water picked up from the refrigerator as a sneak attack when everyone thinks the fun s over, Come out laughing and act extremely tired and lie down on the floor, turn on the fan and let yourself dry away.

Spend an evening with the special someone in the sands of the beach. Of course, you are likely to find all sorts of people including the noisy kids, the bitchy aunties, poor and old dadimaas, couple cosying up and of course, the hawkers trying to sell food to binge on.

Lastly, I suggest something that has been on my mind thanks to the innumerable times I have heard this from experts. Relish the warmth of your body. Think of it, seriously. Corpses are cold. You are not. Chill, when you realize that you are not cold but warm which means you are alive. After all, it is summer.

Monday, 4 May 2009

What I need is some fun

This was supposed to be my first travelogue...but I abandoned the idea because I found it childish!! I thought I was much better by travelling in buses me...travelling by trains is tougher! I am in this rude shock of boarding a local train which is nothing less than a challenge for me.

Just to explain, I have always got cold feet when I see these jam-packed crowded local trains. It doesn't necessarily mean that I hate travelling by them but I really cannot picture myself boarding or alighting from a crowded train with sufficient air to breathe. I arrived in Mulund on 24th April 2009, ten minutes prior to the arrival of my 5:22 Kalyan local. As usual, I am all alone again without the support or encouragement that I need. I pray this train is not crowded since it is a Kurla-Kalyan train. No matter how old I am, I think I will have to keep commuting all by myself. Thankfully, there was enough place for me to assimilate into the crowd and enough room to stand.

Prior to the commuting session, you will not believe the lectures I got and all the advice I was given. So after considerable introspection, the verdict I got was AKSHAY IYER needs to have some more fun. The summer's here and I've got plenty of time with me. Fun is the is the plan! If you have any ideas, please send them across.