Thursday, June 26, 2008

The 24-hour Picture Show

There are so many things that come to mind everyday, which I could write about, but by the time I get to my comp at home or at work, I forget, or find some more important work, or feel plain lazy.

It's like these ideas I keep having, one almost every day, very often in my dreams while sleeping, to base my bestseller on, but keep postponing every single day. At times I have even woken up at night to note down the idea that came to me while sleeping, but all pointless finally.

I have been thinking about writing about the various interesting scenes we come across in our daily lives that are worth capturing in a camera, but we don't. Or at least I don't. Partly because of this painful thing called laziness. Partly because these moments are too fleeting, and even if you did bother to focus a camera the moment would be past. But mainly because, I don't have a camera in my phone, and I can't carry my digicam, which anyway hasn't been charged in over a year, all the time.

I had phones with cameras for over two years, and had put them to occasional good use at times, but now the phone I am using doesn't have a camera. My office had given me a Blackberry Pearl, which did have a camera, but I managed to lose it within a week. Well, it got stolen, but the end result is the same. I was afraid that I would be asked to pay for it, or at least buy a Blackberry on my own, but they gave me an old one instead. I am hardly in a position to ask them for a better one now, and it's working well enough so don't need to buy one on my own either. Anyway, for a technologically challenged person like me, getting one phone configured to my Outlook account and getting other settings done was enough work for a lifetime. I am buying another phone like this only after I get a secretary.

Anyway, so coming back to my post, after that long digression, one of the most striking scenes I missed clicking a shot of took place about four years back on a cold Delhi morning. I had spent a night with a friend of mine at the boys' hostel of Ramjas College in DU North Campus and were coming back to Hauz Khas around 8-9am. We got slightly lost on our way to the metro station and ended up somewhere in the slums near Kashmere Gate. So there we were standing lost in front of a shanty, with a couple of kids answering calls (of the non-cell phone kind) in front of us, and a few metres behind them, at some height, there was this futuristic train rushing by. Cliched representation, but very very striking.

There are far too many such moments when I feel I could capture what I am seeing, and the way I am seeing it, for other people. Maybe even a blog is a non-pictorial attempt towards that same aim. Sometimes what I am seeing and find striking might appear very normal and mundane to anyone else.

For instance, the thing that inspired this post was a very innocuous incident. I walk for about 400m after getting down from the auto on my way back home from office. There's a very shady bar on the way (and my choosing to walk has got nothing to do with its being there), and a small shop that sells something to eat on the other side of the road from it. I haven't figured out, in two months, what it sells, but from the very strong smell and the number of dogs hovering about I can guess that it's some fried non-veg thing. Maybe some weird variety of fried chicken. Anyway, normally the people hanging around the shop to buy a plate of that weird fried chicken thing are men who have just come out of the bar or are going in to buy a bottle or two and move on. The other night I saw an old lady with a young girl and a slightly older boy there. The boy was quite fat, was sitting on the backseat of a parked scooter and the old lady, possibly a grandmom or something, was feeding him piece after piece of whatever she had just bought from there. It was very funny but endearing at the same time. And no, the girl wasn't being made to stare longingly while the boy, presumably her brother, hogged. She was eating as well, but not with the same speed.


On an unconnected note, I do read all comments made here. Even at posts made months back. I just don't reply all the time, because I don't see a point in replying with a dumb comment or a smiley just to show that I am interested. It's not that I am not, but not enough to insult intelligence, yours or mine. At the same time, just as a clarification, I don't judge comments on whether they are intelligent or profound. Fire away with whatever you feel like.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Why Knot?

I had had my suspicions for some time, but have got more than ample proof in the last few days. Probably because such situations arise more frequently in an office, especially over e-mails, than anywhere else.

A very efficient way to tackle questions that are expected to make you analyze an issue, for example - "Do you think we should make another trip to Chennai to meet that client who has too much money to throw at us, and who has some nice-looking receptionists hanging around (and of course bill him for the whole trip)?" - is to reply back with a "Why not!".

Note the exclamation mark. Two of them might be even better, though three would be over-doing it a bit. Exclamation marks make the response seem obvious, as against a question mark or a full-stop, which would indicate that you are not entirely sure and are raising a doubt.

One can save himself quite a bit of pointless thinking in an office with the right use of this brilliant phrase. Some more examples:

"Do you think we should schedule our next meeting with that PE firm at the coffee-shop at the ITC Grand? We have been doing too many meetings at the Leela." - "Why not!"

"Can we consider Mr '35-year experience as a senior manager in a PSU' for a director's position in our firm, to help us out with government contacts and stuff?" - "Why not!!"

"Should we bring out some more pointless research papers, compiled from the several already available in the market, with proper employment of our report beautification skills, so that we can strengthen our position at the forefront of research and analysis?" - "Well, why not!!"

And you survive another day of office to go back home to that much-needed can of beer.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

A Convert and Two Nice Films

I had heard some nasty stories about the availability of tickets in Bangalore multiplexes (there are just too many movie crazy people in this city, and it seems in the whole of South India) that I hadn't even tried to watch a movie in one of the many multiplexes here for a long time after I came here. Then there was one crazy week, when I saw two movies on consecutive days with two of my IIMC friends and had great fun. There's this multiplex that is at a walking distance from my home and it screens movies from 10am. Most of my Saturday mornings are going to be spent there. I saw Aamir there last week, and this week was reserved for The Happening (Dasavtharam tickets were sold out).

The Happening is definitely much better than the last few outings for Mr Shyamalan. There are some genuinely scary moments. The scene with men jumping off the top of the building is one of the scarier ones. The scene with the old lady banging her head on her cottage's windows is another. His movies in most cases require a giant leap in faith, and this one does too. And for all the adulation critics may heap on to Mark Wahlberg, I just can't find any greatness in his acting. A good watch in any case.

I am watching Gosford Park right now. Since I first saw it nominated at the Oscars, I have been looking for this movie - tried at the VCD parlors at Kathwaria Sarai and Ber Sarai in Delhi, tried to find torrents, nothing worked. I finally managed to download it recently, but it's a Spanish dubbed version. It's odd watching these Lords and Ladyships speaking in the rather uncouth language that Spanish is. But it's even better than I had expected it to be. It must have the highest density of cinema greats ever in a movie. I am two-thirds through the film and absolutely loving it.

Made my maiden trip to Chennai this week. It was rather hot, but a pretty nice city otherwise. As I was telling a friend of mine from Bangalore, who's had to move to Dubai for work, just now, I have been to three cities in the South - Bangalore, Chennai and Coimbatore - and have really liked all three. There is a certain degree of niceness about these places, a certain degree of respect that they accord to people within them, which is not to be found in most cities north of the Vindhyas. If there was such a thing possible, I would readily convert into a Maddu (which was my generic term for anyone belonging to the four southern states, until I started using the terms Gult, Kannadiga, Tam and Mallu)

Wednesday, June 11, 2008


Hint: My previous post.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Moving With The Flaw

I had a discussion, almost a debate, with a friend recently about why I read fiction. If you analyse it objectively, it is essentially a waste of precious time. I could have read a couple of McKinsey reports in the same time that I take to read a few pages of that pointless novel every night I go to sleep. Or maybe read some articles from Economist, which I only get a very selective dose of every day during lunch. And I would be a more knowledgable person if I did that. But what's the fun in that.

There was an argument that I made on my previous blog, borrowed from my one-time professor of literature from engineering college (it's quite ironic that two years after finishing off a Bachelor's and a Master's degree in engineering, what I remember most distinctly is my time spent in Humanities courses), about seeing world more clearly and understanding people better because litertaure, and films to a lesser extent, has opened me to experiences I would have never had, people I would have never met, had I chosen to just read those McKinsey reports or those Economist articles. I would not get into that again.

There is another thing that keeps pulling me back to books. It's the fact that I can see weak human beings without feeling embarrassed. It sounds voyeuristic, and it probably is. But in real life, how often does even your closest friend admit his insecurities to you, confess that he has weaknesses that he is not proud of? How often would you even want that to happen, without feeling irritated at him, without distancing yourself from a sentimental fool? Our lives are too complicated by hiding things from others and being politely uninterested in other people's secrets that the frankness, the honesty, that stripping a fictional character bare promises, is not possible in case of a real person. Unless the 'real' person is a compulsive blogger. I like the God's eye view that most books provide you.

Some of my favorite books, or even my favorite movies, are my favorites because I love their characters, and their flaws. The fact that you, the omniscient reader/viewer, knows that the character is being hurled down a path of doom, or at least a path of no-return, because of his flaws and the choices that he makes because of them, but the character himself does not, is very intriguing. And comforting.

Two characters I have thought about a lot are Ammu and Velutha from The God of Small Things. The last line - Naaley (Tomorrow) - of the book kills you. Because you know there is no tomorrow.

Humbert Humbert from Lolita is another character that I find extremely interesting. It's not right to care for a paedophile, who has ruined a young girl's life, but you still do.

I did not even intend to write all this because this, in essence, is just setting the stage for what this post was meant to be about. I was finally able to lay my hands on Patricia Highsmith's Tom Ripley trilogy recently, and have just got to Ripley Under Ground, the second book. Ripley's character, who could be an amazing case study in talent gone wrong or even the workings of human psychology, reminded me of another character, from a movie, that I had come across recently. That of Robert Ford, played by Casey Affleck, from the movie with that long name. There are enough dissimilarities of course for you to rebut my claim, if you have the time or the interest, but the similarities are starker. Both men, fairly competent on their own, fall in love with people, who happen to be men, better than themselves. Or at least better than them at what they want to be good at. They start off with worshipping the other person, looking at him all the time for that rare glance of understanding. Feel jealous when someone else gets to be closer to that person. Such obsession has to end badly of course. With the weaker man killing the better man. And blaming it on the dead man too all the way. Fascinating.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Another Award-worthy Aamir!

By now, you must have come across at least one glowing review of this movie that's come out of nowhere to be released on the same day as that over-hyped Bachchan family vehicle, and impressed almost everyone. I'll do my bit in inspiring you to go and watch it at one of the few shows available at the multiplex in your town.

Aamir, as you should know by now, is about this London-returned doctor, who finds his world completely turned over the day he lands in Mumbai to meet his family - mother, three sisters and a younger brother. The day starts off badly and goes downhill in the scariest of ways. All thanks to these instructions being given to him by a person we know nothing about, except that he has kidnapped Aamir's family and is a Muslim fundamentalist.

The movie is a little under one-and-a-half hours long, without any breaks for songs. There are three brilliantly executed songs that move along with the regular story though. Thankfully. Too many decent thrillers die a sad death when accompanied by speed-breaker songs.

Another thing that a fast-paced thriller can benefit tremendously from is a good background score. And Aamir has one of the most eclectic, and effective, mix of sounds I have heard in a Hindi movie for a long time. This soundtrack appears even more competent when compared to Sarkaar Raj, which I am told is only marginally better than the farce that was Sarkaar's score.

Apart from Rajeev Khandelwal, and a not-so-well-known actor called Gajraj Rao, I didn't see too many familiar faces in the film. I haven't seen much of Khandelwal's work on TV before this, except a couple of episodes of his game show and a part of an episode from Left-Right-Left. I know he was a big star on TV, and among the few good actors to have come out of Ekta Kapoor's empire, but not much beyond that. For about two-thirds of the movie, if not more, you will have Khandelwal's close-ups on the screen. One needs to be fairly competent to carry that off and still keep the film interesting. Khandelwal has oodles of this curious thing called 'screen presence' and yet at the same time appears to be this common man hit with this calamity one random day. There are two-three other actors with minor roles here who you might have seen in bit-roles on TV or in movies earlier, but this general lack of familiarity lends a greater degree of efficacy to the environs that the film is mostly set in.

Which brings me to the biggest asset that this film has. It stinks. Not quite in the same way as Tashan, or many other duds, did, but in a good way. Watching it from my comfortable seat in the air-conditioned, perfumed, audi at Fame's multiplex, I could still imagine Aamir's disgust when he was made to go into the 'sandaas' of a chawl to look for a clue. It was me bringing out my breakfast when he did. I don't know how the director - Raj Kumar Gupta, take a bow - did it, or maybe the credit goes to the cinematographer or the art-director, but the sweat, blood or aroma (in case of biryani and an oily mutton curry) permeates through the screen. Who needs Odorama when you have this?

The story got a little too dramatic towards the end, and I felt a little unhappy the way it ended. But, I tried coming up with a better ending, as I normally try to in such cases, and I realized that the alternative(s) would not have been suited to the kind of person Aamir had come across as for the entire movie.

But, of course, all these are just auxiliary elements aiding the fundamental idea behind the movie, which tries to compare two kinds of Muslims - one who is all-too convinced of the unfair hand dealt to all members of the community in India and believes that the only way to right this historic wrong is to kill innocent people, and the other who believes that no matter where you come from, our country, unlike many Islamic countries (this one's my addition), gives you the chance to move up and ahead in life only if you are willing to grab this chance and work hard. And how often the former minority overshadows the latter majority. Gupta does well by not dwelling too much on arguing for either character, and just shows things the way they are. Which, unfortunately, does prove to some extent that a large part of the Muslim community is living in inhuman conditions, without drawing any conclusions as to who is to blame for this.

We have seen several movies in the last few years about related issues, but I can't think of a better made one than this. Anurag Kashyap would be proud of his one-time assistant.

There's a scene where Rao's character is trying to make a toy monkey play the drum after keying it in. The monkey stops after every couple of movements, and he has to keep hitting its head to make it go again. After a while he gets irritated and just pushes it down on its face. Just as he has to keep pushing the conscientious doctor on the other side of the phone, who stops every once in a while, with a hit on his head by reminding him that his family's fate hangs in the balance. We just wait with bated breath when the final push comes. It does.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Remembrance of things past

I am a sucker for nostalgia. Almost everyday I come across something that triggers some fond memory from the past. Or maybe I have way too many fond memories.

A couple of days back I came across this video on youtube. Don 2 came out when I was in Iraq, in class II or III. We used to stay in these really small houses, with four houses joined in a row and really thin walls in between. If it was too hot outside and I was forbidden to go out in the heat, I would talk to my friends in the neighboring house through the wall of the living room. The sun used to set very late - sometime around 8:30-9 pm - and we used to play from around 4 in the afternoon till the time the sun set.

We used to get lots of video cassettes from India in the colony library and I would watch one Hindi movie almost everyday. The night we got our Sony TV from Kuwait - and it was the first time I had a color TV at my own home (we had a B&W Sonodyne TV in India before that) - I saw this movie called Avinash starring Mithun Chakraborty. It was too violent and my parents stopped the movie midway. For the next two days I saw three movies each day. I can't recall names of all of them but one of them was Mohabbat Ke Dushman starring Raj Kumar and Sanjay Dutt. The day I realized that the Iraqi channel also showed Hindi movies on weekends, I ran around the colony telling everyone to watch the movie. That movie was Aasha, with Jeetendra, Reena Roy and Rameshwari. I saw the trailer for Don 2 in one of the video cassettes. What is Jeet Upendra upto these days? I last remember him seeing in this serial by Danny Denzongpa called Ajnabi on DD Metro. And even as I write this, the beautiful theme song from the serial is playing in my mind. How one thought leads to another!

We had a small Philips two-in-one that was used to play songs from Maine Pyar Kiya, Dil and Aashiqui for the longest time. Hasan Jahangir was a rage then and we had one of his cassettes as well and this song reminds me of sitting on one of the couches in the living room, getting done fast with my home work, reading Hardy Boys, with the smell of my mom's sambhar (she makes some amazing sambhar) wafting in from the kitchen. Heavenly.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Bangalorean Psycho

For most of my life I have been cribbing about how fucked up my life is. I don't know why but in the last few days the thought that I have been immensely lucky has been the recurring theme in my thoughts. It's a rare feeling, because I am one of those people who manage to find the dark lining in the most silver of clouds. I have done a lot of things wrong, been more careless than most people I know, but have still ended up pretty decently. Not exactly 'ended up' yet, but doing better than so many more careful and earnest people I know.

There's this show on World Movies called The Screaming Room. I saw part of it for the first time last night, and it looks like one of the better shows on TV right now. Last night, the episode was comparing the two versions of Psycho - the Hitchcock one and the one starring Vince Vaughn. I have seen both, and I'll vote for the Hitchcock version anyday. There's no Hitchcock movie, till date, that I have found truly scary, but I love the attention to detail and the care given to scenario build-up in his movies. He was a brilliant chap.

The show also mentioned Ed Gein and his influence on American movies. I have been fascinated for a long time by such people. Probably enough to try something like it myself. I would actually not mind too much trying out human flesh/blood for once. And I am pretty sure I will kill someone some day. Unless I kill myself before that. I don't respect life all that much, and believe that there are a lot of people who don't deserve to live, or at least are eminently expendable.

There's a cousin of mine who I could truly call my only best friend. He has known me for the longest time, and tolerated me through the same period, which is commendable for any person. He is too nice a person, and I recently told him about some of my favorite gory/perverse movies. Though I talk about such movies with people who haven't generally seen them mostly for effect, and enjoy when they squirm or appear shocked, I was quite taken aback by his reaction. I didn't know there were people who actually weren't even aware of the existence of movies like Cannibal Holocaust or Pink Flamingos (two of my favorites movies). It bodes well for this world that people as sane as him, and as normal as him, exist.

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