February 08, 2013

August 20, 2009

Kaminey : Redefining Language of Cinema

It’s a tightly strung movie. Strung so tightly that if you start worrying that it might not snap, you would not be able to enjoy it.

This movie is to be enjoyed….In its entirety.

As for bits, there are many.

Playing a character that’s a xenophobic take on Thakerays, Amol Gupte, redefines acting in a villain’s role. He pulls off the role of menacing villain as convincingly as a Marathi chauvinist reduced to a farce when faced with his sister’s choice of a love-interest from Barabanki in UP.

Three Bengali brothers playing one set of villains is an unparalleled quirky feat. Tenzing Nima is another marvel of characterization as coke snorting Tashi.

Then there is Shahid Kapoor. Two of him, actually. A double role has seldom been this unselfconscious. A stammering Guddu and lisping Charlie is a masterstroke of a conceptualisation of a double role that only an able filmmaker like Vishal Bhardwaj could have pulled off. That Shahid, of that illustrious lineage, being Pankaj Kapoor’s son, does full justice to it, is to his credit.

Priyanka Chopra is another revelation. Playing a saucy Maharashtrian young girl to a hilt, she surpasses her image. Her’s is the rarest of the characters of Hindi cinema who takes things in her hand when the hero plays shy while making love.

Making love is as it is - making love without any explanations offered. There is no thunder and lightening that makes heroine cling to the hero as if she didn’t want to. No rain that requires the hero and heroine to get off their clothes ‘forcing’ them into a ‘situation’. They just do it as any boy and girl in real life would do it when they know they won’t get caught.

That’s as real as cinema can be, within its constraints of catering to lowest common denominator of cinema audience.

Vishal Bhardwaj does it with aplomb. The tightly strung movie does not snap. The filmmaker, who happens to be a dialogue writer, co-writer and music director of the film, walks a tightrope with a confidence of a master.

This is confident cinema of the new breed of filmmakers. This is a cinema that is in a contemporary medium, as contemporary as it can be, in a diverse country like ours, without resorting to any apologies. So you have characters speaking English, Marathi, Bangla and even an African language in a Hindustani film without taking anything away from it. To top it all you have Gulzar making a song out of that childhood war cry Dhan Te Nan inspired from background music of that period’s Hindi films.

Filmmakers like Vishal Bhardwaj are redefining the language of cinema. It’s heartening to note that people are lapping it up.

(This review was first published in the South Asian Observer)

December 01, 2008

May Sanity Prevail

Now that everyone has an opinion on what happened in Mumbai and how it could have been prevented and so on and so forth it would be instructive to look at the way the whole crisis was handled by the media, which incidentally is most opinionated of them.
I am afraid it is not helping people in making in any informed and considered opinions. That require calmness and equanimity that it doesn’t have and neither does it afford. In fact, the kind of media we have earned for ourselves, feeds on frenzy and passion, which at best of times, is misplaced.
The sheer magnitude of the event that struck us put all that in sharp relief again. Scurrying for information media had nothing but bits and pieces to form their stories. This can only be slightly better than a cooked up thing but what was served to us in these four-five days was a quite a dish.
The terror strike had people afraid, initially and as soon as they were assured that security forces were in place it gave way to anger. The way whole events unfolded anger became the leitmotif.
It is the job of the media to report all that is happening around them. So if it was anger out in the streets it was anger on the screen.
But to see anchors, editors, reporters and guests on TV was a shock. Now I am not easily shocked but I was to listen to Simi Grewal on ‘We the People’ with Barkha Dutt on NDTV. Overwhelmed by the response from the frenzied crowd in the programme, she went on to spout a thinly veiled suggestion to attack Pakistan.
It was sad to see the TV discussion, in which she was supposed to be one of the main speakers (what an expert to have on discussion on any sensible subject!). Is this the way we are going to respond to the grave crisis that we are facing. And this is the set of people who like to describe themselves as “educated”.
It would have been interesting if it was not this insensitive to see what she looks down upon from upper storey of some hotel. The slums below have Pakistani flags, she told the audience.
Now I would have lost all hope if a young man had not shot up and told her if she thinks Pakistan is our enemy then she is the real enemy.
Thank you very much young man for helping me retain some faith that sanity may prevail after all.

November 20, 2006

Devils' Advocate

Some questioned the propriety of Ram Jethmalani accepting Manu Sharma’s brief in the Jessica Lal murder case since he was once asked for legal advice by the victim’s sister Sabrina. Actually, this is not the first time Jethmalani has shifted from one side to another in a controversial case, writes Coomi Kapoor in her weekly column Inside Track in The Indian Express.
The Akali Dal consulted Jethamalani in the cases against the Badal family for corruption and disproportionate assets. Subsequently, Jethmalani accepted a brief on behalf of the Punjab Government. He withdrew only after protests from the Akalis.
In the Bofors case, he assisted the prosecution by coming to the aid of interveners in both, the Delhi High Court and the Supreme Court. At a later stage, Jethmalani appeared as the defence counsel for the accused Hinduja bothers. In the hawala case, he drafted the PIL for the petitioners, Vineet Narayan and Rajinder Puri, demanding that all those named in Jain’s diaries be prosecuted.
Subsequently, he defended L K Advani, one of the accused named in the diary.

November 19, 2006

Memoirs of a Geisha

Do you remember the last time you enjoyed watching a movie and the feeling it left you with?
Well, I just saw Memoirs of a Geisha. I don’t remember last time a film touched me at so many levels. The movie is a visual treat with a spell-binding narrative and magical moments. What book could have painted such a montage of colours and ethereal frames!
Haunting score, splendid performances, exquisite costumes and exotic sets shot beautifully make for a sumptuous feast. The fairy-tale story of a girl from a village in the early nineteenth century Japan, who goes on to become a top geisha is woven together with top-notch production values, while managing to tug at your heart-strings.

The young girl sold off along with her sister has nothing to look forward to until a random act of kindness by a stranger gives her a meaning and vision. But for all her talent and inherent qualities it’s not a smooth ride. It’s a bitter contest with the incumbent top geisha. Assisted by a senior geisha and a game of will and wiles she manages to outsmart her. Her ascension to the top is marred by the American occupation of Japan and she has to flee to countryside. She manages to come back and meets her earlier benefactor ending in a sweet climax.
The Arthur Golden novel has been produced into a movie by Steven Spielberg and directed by Ron Howard.

November 09, 2006

Anybody Interested In This Story?

Desperate situation need desperate measures. This is being driven home in such a contrasting style at Barnala, where an industrialist, backed by formidable state machinery with a silent complicity of political parties, civil society and media, has been taken on by the farmers trying to save their land from him.
The men and women of Fatehgarh Chhanna and Dhaula, both young and old, are patiently facing the police repression in a Gandhian way. Even Gandhi seemed to have lesser formidable opposition in Britishers who did not arrest him before he had actually reached Dandi and broken the law on salt during the Dandi march. Here the district police led by ruthless SSP himself hounded the protesting farmers with a zeal not usually seen in Punjab police.
It was a disturbing experience to watch the police terror from close quarters at village Dhaula. So much for the democracy and independence. What could be different during British rule?
(Read an eye witness account at http://www.punjabpanorama.blogspot.com/)
It’s a lonely fight for the villagers led by one faction of many of the farmers’ unions in Punjab, BKU (Ekta). No political party has come to their aid. The media does not feel it fit enough to report. In an election year it should have been surprising. Why it is not can be gauged from the company the industrialist Rajinder Gupta keeps. He is known to be close to both Akali and Congress leaders.
Most glaring has been the role of the media so far. Whatever little coverage is done of the whole issue is relegated to inside pages of the newspapers. Much of it is biased in favour of the Trident or is mild on the industrial group with few exceptions. Almost all of the electronic media has not found it worth their bites so far.

It's a sad story no body seems to be interested in.

November 04, 2006

Jethmalani ko gussa kyoon aata hai?

Very angry Ram Jethmalani is lambasting media left and right. Jethmalani, who is defending Manu Sharma, the alleged killer of Jessica Lal in the mainstream's favourite case these days, was giving his piece of mind to Sagarika Ghose today on CNN IBN. What a tongue lashing he gave. The 'holier than thou' media takes things so much for granted that it needed some one like Jethmalani to take it on. Jethmalani has this sign board outside his gate proclaiming that he does not take any more cases. It seems he has taken this on just in reaction to the media trial of Manu Sharma. If media is to be believed, Manu Sharma has murdered Jessica Lal. It wants the courts just to attest this as a fact and hang Manu. For an average person following media on Jessica case, there is no argument. He 'knows' Manu has killed Jessica.
And now very asertive and forceful Jethmalani with a reputation as a a criminal lawyer makes him believe that he will prove it otherwise.
All said and done Jethmalani's anger at media is all very well but does he have to let it get channelised into something that suggests that nobody kiled Jessica.
It is yet to be seen.It would be interesting to see how he argues his case.
Now there is certainly no argument on that.

October 18, 2006

Beauty of Simple Things

You won’t pick a book with a title like that if you don’t know anything else about it. Or you may pick the book precisely because of that. Then you read the jacket, the blurb, the introduction. It’s a story of a fifteen-year-old Christopher, who has a photographic memory. “He understands maths. He understands science. What he can’t understand are other human beings.” Is it good enough? It was for me.
Oh, and how good it was! I don’t remember last time I enjoyed a book this much. It’s one emotional roller-coaster journey with Christopher, who sets upon solving what he calls a murder mystery about who killed a neighbour’s dog. He uncovers lots of mysteries of his own family in the process.
What turns this plot out of ordinary is the fact that Christopher is a special child. Interestingly the writer Mark Haddon does not use the diagnosis once in the novel of the symptoms he describes in his central character, that are of a child with developmental and behavioral syndrome called autism spectrum.
It would be interesting to see how a person who is not familiar with disorder reads the novel. I, for one, am coloured with my perception of the character based on an autistic child close to me.
I identified with Christopher because of that. That was one reason.
The novel is ‘significant’ and ‘interesting’ for several other reasons. It’s one book which is about a character who has a disability but this is not a book about the disability. But through the story of that boy the ingenuous author manages to tell so much about the disability that any other book set upon to do that would have failed to do so, so effectively. It makes you sad. It makes you happy. It makes you run entire gamut of emotions in its 250 odd pages. There is one character who is not a rounded character and that doesn’t take anything away from the novel. That is because he is not meant to be one. He is one flat character that is so loveable. By the middle of the book a reader knows how he is going to respond to things. That is the way he is “made”. But all credit to Mark Haddon, who weaves a story around him that is so very unpredictable. You get to know who killed the dog half way but there crops up many more mysteries and it keeps you guessing right till the end.
Christopher reminded me how I ‘hated’ maths. In fact, that’s what I thought earlier. I think actually I didn’t hate maths. I just wished away maths because of the way we were taught maths. Just take the case of prime numbers. I had heard of that but I didn’t know what that is. Nor did I care. Christopher showed me it was not only very simple to figure out but very interesting too.
Maths can be fun. At least it’s not that dreadful as I thought.
This is one of the discoveries I made after I read the novel.
Another was that facial expressions mean different things. Like Christopher is told by his teacher that raising one eyebrow can mean lots of different things. It can mean "I want to do sex with you" and it can also mean "I think that what you just said was very stupid". Sounds simple? Sort of. Simple in a funny way or exasperating, if you like it.
Christopher makes you realise the beauty of simple things like nothing can.
Like reading a book lying on your bed with left leg up, foot on the book shelf besides the bed, face tilted towards right with the support of a pillow bent from a corner to give slight elevation to the head.
Try this.

October 13, 2006

Balraj Pandit No More

Maverick theatre personality Balraj Pandit is no more. A playwright, poet, painter and a popular teacher, Pandit jee, as he was fondly called, wrote Panchwan Sawaar, considered to be a significant play of Indian dramaturgy and Lok Udasi in Punjabi besides adaptation of Molière's School for Wives into Biwiyon Ka Madrasa among others. He breathed his last after a brief illness at Patiala, where he had been staying after retirement from Theatre and Television department of Punjabi University.An epitome of unconventionality, he refused to fit into moulds. Be it a script of a play or the life itself, he had his own way, full of mercurial passion. He came from the times when theatre meant theatre and art was meant to be for art’s sake. Those were exciting times to live an artist’s life while studying under such stalwarts as Alkazi at National School of Drama and then teaching students like Naseeruddin Shah and Om Puri. But he was not left with much choice after he settled in Patiala. Pandit jee got stuck in frustrating times. Teaching generations of students who came to see theater as nothing more than a precursor to a hero’s life in Mumbai and Pandit jee as some kind of an oddity, was not what he was made for. That’s what he believed in and gave voice to many times especially when he had his bouts of drinking. That’s what he was known for more. But he did everything with same passion be it painting, singing, directing a play or watching game of cricket on television. There was not much room for this tormented genius among people who did not give much space to passion. He was biding his time. He finally gave up this morning.

October 09, 2006

"I belong to Ludhiana"

I stay in Ludhiana. I live in my family house here, which was constructed way back in late 80s. We shifted here in early 90s. Before that we were in Sudhar as I along with my two elder brothers studied at Central School, Halwara. Then I did my graduation from GHG Khalsa College, Gurusar Sudhar. While staying at Sudhar, Ludhiana was the nearest city and we kept coming here. I am driving at a point through this self introduction that I belong to Ludhiana, in a way. So how much do I know Ludhiana? Not much, as I discovered.
I rediscovered Ludhiana through Neel Kamal Puri, the author of 'The Patiala Quartet'. She was here to do some recce for her next novel that is going to be based in the city. Ludhiana, of all places! That is the usual reaction. That was mine too. There is nothing interesting about Ludhiana. She was born in Ludhiana, grew up in Patiala and now works and stays in Chandigarh. That partially explains the choice of the city as a setting for a novel. Actually Khushwant Singh suggested to her that she should write her next novel on Ludhiana. The historian in him might have smelt great potential here. Ludhiana has been an important city, as far as history goes. During the time of Lodhis in fifteenth century, a magnificent fort was built here. It’s in ruins totally eclipsed by bustling town around near Daresi ground. Ludhiana was the political agency of the British. Afghan king Shah Shuja after he took refuge in India was placed here. He was put up at a place where now stands the Post and telegraph office in front of Bhadaur House. No remnant of the old structure remains there. It was the last British army outpost before Maharaja Ranjit Singh's empire started from across Satluj. It was a major epicenter of Ghadar movement, though not much direct action took place here. It remained an important centre of Wahabi movement. A fatwa was issued from Maszid Do Manzili in 1888 strongly urging the Muslims to join the Congress, giving a severe blow to the progress of Sir Syed Ahmed Khan's movement in the Punjab and UP, who had urged the Muslims to boycott Congress. The mosque lies in tatters in a narrow lane of Mochpura bazaar, which has since turned into a wool market.

September 23, 2006

I have no religion

I was born in a Sikh family. For most people that make me a Sikh automatically. Don't we have a choice? I know I can convert to any religion. But would that mean I have a choice. Yes, in this context it certainly means I have a choice (Thank God I am not living in a BJP ruled state). But somehow, that, still does not give me right to declare that I don't have any religion. There are so many situations where I am required to tell my religion. That works on the premise that I have a religion for sure. That is one thing that, along with caste in India, is given.
The questions were rekindled after reading Khushwant Singh's weekly column in Hindustan Times today. "I don’t miss having any religion," says Khushwant Singh. That should be emphatic enough statement to those who insist on identifying him with the religion of the family he was born into. It’s interesting to see what makes people identify him as a Sikh, besides, of course, the fact of his being born into a Sikh family. Much of that would come in the realm of semiotics. Khushwant Singh points out to one sign that he enjoys listening to good kirtan. But that, he emphasises, is his "emotional legacy". So if Khushwant Singh comes across as a Sikh despite his assertion on many occasions that he is an agnostic, is because of his emotional legacy. No quarrel with that. But I am still left with a question do I get to be acknowledged as not belonging to any religion? For me it is a simple fact that I have no religion which, in effect, mean I am not a Sikh. Does that make me a lesser human being? Going by what people are doing in the name of different religions, that should be an ideal choice for, at least, some of the people. For me, it's not a matter of choice, by the way. 'No Religion' is something I was born with actually.

September 18, 2006

Gandhigiri Is In?

It must have taken some amount of gandhigiri for the 'Munnabhai MBBS' team to come up with this gem of a sequel. Hats off Rajkumar Hirani and Abhijat Joshi (and Vinod Chopra, in small print). The runaway success of 'Rang De Basanti' would have frightened lesser men to think of making a movie with this story line. What a stunning rejoinder to that didactic tragedy by Rakeysh Sharma. Just see the contrast in the use of radio in both movies. It could not have been said in a better way. What warmed my cockles more after watching 'Munna.. was the audience's reactions. The sombre and glum audiences coming out after watching 'Rang.. could not make out much of the film's climax. Long discussions followed on the justifiability of the progatonists resorting to violence. But the film's overall sheen and style ensured that film was a hit. In contrast there was a definite difference in the mood of the audiences coming out after watching this one of the ultimate feel-good movies I have seen.
After a long time we have a movie which remains with you long after you have seen it. We have people talking about a movie not just because the filmmaker has an effective PR company to ensure all TV chanels and newspapers are discussing it. It seems Gandhigiri is here to stay, at least as a term. By the way a new website by the name http://www.gandhigiri.org/ has been launched couple of days back. It has a discussion forum and a blog proclaiming "if Munnabhai can why can't we do Gandhigiri?" A milion dollar question!

September 17, 2006

Here I Go!

Amrita says I am a cynic. Zafar called me one the other day. Balram stops short of terming my ravings and rantings as cynicism. Yes, I do get upset and disturbed over so many things around me. But then there are so many things that keep me going. Let's talk about it all. Here I go!