Friday, March 16, 2018

The Nazia Hassan phenomenon

Feroze Khan had derring do. He used to do things in his films that others never thought about. He cornered the kitsch Western films market like no one before, Khote Sikke, Chunaoti, Dharmatma and a few more. Then he went and did car racing across Europe with Mumtaz in tow in Apradh, a film that I liked very much, at least till when he's singing his way through the geography with Mumtaz. Not when he starts to make a living. But his biggest contribution to Hindi cinema came in 1980 and with Qurbani when he introduced Nazia Hassan to us. I mean, look at his ear for a good thing. There's a chit of a girl, a Pakistani, somewhere in London. He discovers her, offers her a song in his film. Gets her to record. Gets an independent music director Biddu just for that song (it didn't happen those days) and makes it an anthem hit across the nation. Biddu himself was a struggling musician till then doing cover versions in UK till then. It's very hot in Chandrapur and we are at the school bus stand. Anna, our trusted hair saloon meters away, put on the music early in the morning as he opened up his shutters. And I heard. Aap jaisa koi meri Zindagi mein aaye. It was instant love. The whole school bus started to talk about the song. The song itself was so easy to hum that I hummed it right through the maths, social studies and Hindi classes in the morning. Those days, we didn't see films as they released. So the romance of what could have happened in the film, with the song and with the actors stayed in stills garnered from LP VInyl covers and newspaper cinema ads. The romance with Nazia Hassan lived on. A few years later she was back with the epynomous Disco Deewane. How would we classify it? Disco it was, but slow. Even the Disco unabled with two left legs could dance to it. I was in hostel those days. And I had been invited over to our English teacher's home for lunch when she'd thoughtfully put this cassette on. Picture this, we are sitting in sofas with a plateful of rice in hand and there is Disco Deewane on the player. Only our feet can tap out the rhythm. Gawky teenagers listening to Disco Deewane solmenly. But that was the romance of Nazia. Around then, there was that other big hit from a flop film, Star. Boom Boom. Nazia, by then was making waves in her own country. And what a star she became. Tall, lissome, good looking. Even had a great looking brother, Zoheb. Yeah, well, girls in our class collected his posters. So, can vouch for that. Thank you Sayantan Mondal, you got me to remember early morning. It's a shame that we have to listen to Sufi cum Kabir cum Ghalib cum something that we cannot understand as it's being warbled by indulged singers with tinpot interludes that have only one meaning, don't listen to us, run along.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

In flashbacks, truth happens!

Story tellers use flashbacks to tell a back story. Some use a flashback in the beginning to set a foundation and others set up the progress in the story by small doses of flashback. Life does that too. It's happening so often to me these days that I am left connecting dots for hours post that. For example, I am walking with Missus last evening, quick walk to clear the head before I get back to unfinished work. It's 6.45 pm. Suddenly, raindrops. Bangalore is very warm now and the sun has been at it through the day. But then, raindrops. Missus is a practical person. She starts walking swiftly. Ahead of me. Saying she's washed her hair. She cannot have her hair wet again. I am at the back of her. Trying to catch up. It's when I have that. Flashback. Goa. Maybe 1997. Same. She ahead of me. She's telling let's just get home. Me at the back, trying to catch up. I can remember even the clothes. I can remember my rubber sandals. I can smell the wet soil of Carenzalem, where we stayed then. These kinds of flashbacks have been happening a lot. I wouldn't know if it's good or bad. I also wouldn't know if it tells me something or not. Evidently, it should. But you know how it is. I don't get any life enhancing thoughts from that. Just the flashbacks. Maybe it's like Vinod Khanna's Major Ranjeet in Achanak where he does things based on the flashbacks he has, of his past, of his trainings and such. Tries to save himself from police parties. I am having other flashbacks too. Of Farakka Barrage back in the 70s and the sharing of water controversy. Bangladesh was horrified back then in the early 90s when the Bengal government first and the Indian government said that we had a formula and that formula said that majority of the Ganga waters was to be in India. Padma, a branch of the same Ganga, is the lifeline of Bangladesh. They have numerous livelihoods that depend on that river. So, understandably they were livid. That was never resolved satisfactorily though many governments since then have sat down to resolve. Once, pretty recently, during the UPA 2 times, nearly everything was resolved when Queen Mamata had a change of heart. Back to square one. Now, this NDA government has proposed water sharing through many states. I have flashbacks of that Farakka Barrage and Cauvery disputes. Why do we have to get into disputes? There's technology and better infrastructure available today. Rainwater harvesting techniques are far better than ever before. You hear of successes in many hamlets too. How about institutionalizing rainwater harvesting? One village. Farming all around. One rainwater harvesting project as a cooperative. One ePassbook for all members and users. One gas project. One mini power plant or a solar project. One purchase point for all produce and livestock at fair price set up by government or a nationally computed price for that year, that month. How difficult is this? Maybe it isn't. Maybe it's just the will. Because we are only emotively attached to our villages and see them through the prism of nostalgia, we cannot or do not bother to see them self reliant. At all.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

The Dhoondho Dhoondho Rap!

I am trying to figure out how the hills around Kathmandu airport prevent ATC signals reaching the small aircrafts flying in and out. It caused a horrific accident yesterday killing at least 50 people in Bangladesh aircraft. Amazon Echo aka Alexa suddenly pipes up in the room all by itself and out comes "Dhoondho Dhoondho re Sajna" the Naushad song. It's not the original tune. It's a rap version. It's as if Sehwag and Babul Supriyo have come together and done something unidentifiable to the song. It's more Guyanese Bhojpuri Rap. Then it disappears. Alexa shuts itself down. I wait. I don't want to ask Alexa anything. Whatever I ask of her these days has only one answer, "I am not sure I know that". I know the world outside has difficulty deciphering me. Alexa is also giving up. So, I hold my counsel. I don't call out to her. But she's quiet. Then I realize what has happened. Missus has her phone. It's got Bluetooth. We are listening to some songs awhile back wherein she had transferred her playlist from her phone to the Amazon Echo via Bluetooth to listen to songs while she dressed up for the gym. Then she disconnected and left in a hurry. But Mohd Rafi hadn't completed his song, "Dhoondho Dhoondho re Sajna" and probably he was fighting with Alexa to let him complete his song in the background even after she left. So, Alexa gave permission. "Please finish fast, I have to shut down again". It's like those last encores in Calcutta restaurants from back in the 70s. One last Morricone please! Okay, only for a minute, then we have to pack and go men!! So, Rafi comes back, does the Dhoondho Dhoondho Rap and goes away within seconds. I being the sole listener. Alexa should be more considerate. The other day she laughed at someone. Someone who was prone to asking stupid questions. "Alexa, will you go out for a dinner with me?" Alexa wanted to say "Shakl dekhi apni!" But couldn't. She couldn't make up the English version of the effective Shakl sentence in time. So, she laughed hysterically. The word went out that Alexa had laughed hysterically. Everyone went into a tizzy. Amazon got many tweets saying "Ban Alexa!" How dare that lady laugh at us. Amazon bechara napalmed it's Artificial intelligence section and set right the bugs. Alexa will no more laugh hysterically at stupid men. Men are safe. What safe? So many women are still laughing. They just cover their face with their hands or their hair. Or just turn around and look elsewhere. Eyes rolling constantly. Only Alexa was left. Woh bhi gayi.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

India and the Order of Govinda

India was socialist and confused as a nation till 1986. In 1986, two things happened. All of the nation started talking about the imminent advent of computers in our work life. The other was Govinda. India was no longer confused. Computers were put to use in various government departments, banks and railway reservation counters progressively to show us that we could get services in a better way, above zero that is. Govinda showed us we could fight, dance, eat, jump and play flute in the air, all with a smile. Govinda made us strong, affable, confident and resilient. Computers started to be looked as the next big employment thing. Some boys lined up at various visa centres and started to go abroad for projects. These boys never came back. But their parents were elated. Their dowry rates climbed up into the stratosphere. Govinda, in the meanwhile, could do no wrong on screen. He democratized the classes of our society, he could wear anything and do anything. He got nearly the entire cow belt dancing to his rhythm. Youngsters suddenly were okay with wrong English and fast Hindi or the other languages. 1991 came. Rajiv Gandhi went and a quiet old man Narasimha Rao quietly ushered in economic reforms. Wily that he was, he got Manmohan Singh to announce all of it. The country went into overdrive. Jobs happened. A lot of money suddenly fell into people's hands. 1991 continued. Aankhein happened. Govinda was the king of all that the common man surveyed. Pink shades, yellow jeans, rough cut CDs, Jhankaar beats, motorbikes, rainbow coloured dupattas, boots, sandals with heels and gyms, they all happened then. Because of that awareness, we got cable TV at home and in 1994, the whole country witnessed a Ms Universe and a Ms World arrive in India. Sushmita and Aishwarya. Notably, both acted in the Hindi cinema industry where Govinda had been churning loads of hits every year. That's when, aided by better budgets and the Ms India philosophy, a unibrowed Karishma suddenly turned modern and created some more monster hits with, yes Govinda again. They created anthems and you know that anthems unified the country more than ever. In the meanwhile, what was a trickle in people learning computers and doing things, became a flood. You could study anything but end up making a living sitting in front of a keyboard. And go abroad too. On projects. By then, phones and calls had also become cheaper. Govinda also helpfully did a telephone song. He philosophically asked, what is your mobile number? The country responded by hitting high double digits growth in mobile phone sales. Suddenly, the country was connected. Just like that. The South had by then seen and understood the power of the bumpkin hero. They reinvented Rajinikanth and Vijay in the same mould. Students saw their movies, did an engineering course from some college in Tiruchi or Vellore and viola they were in, US!! Andhra Pradesh took over. Their films, that were in a way the precursor to those Govinda milestones, just became grander. Venkatesh, Nagarjuna or Chiranjeevi. Six songs, six dances and lissome heroines. Some eight fights and three comedy scenes. They churned out blockbusters by the month. Their students clogged the dialled internet lines between Nalgonda and New York. Life wouldn't ever be the same for an Andhra guy ever again. By the end of the nineties, the Order had matured. The Order of Govinda. The baton had to pass on. His hair, belly and smile were starting to sag. Two things happened. The first dotcom bust and Dil Chahta Hai. The momentum had shifted. Indians would now do what their Dil Chahta Hai. They couldn't be led by the Order anymore. So, Quality came into public consciousness. It wasn't the same again. Secretly, even today, all the 80s and 90s gen pay obeisience to those Pentium 1 computers and Govinda. To lives and lives of back then. Gritty nostalgia. "Arre, tu jaa re!"

Friday, October 27, 2017

Secret Superstar and a Mum

A scene within a home. A family is told by the man of the house that they will have to go a party. The wife is told to make an exception in her attire as the gathering is a bit modern. She does not have to wear the Burqa. She is happy and dresses up. Pertinently, the daughter is not told to go along. The daughter is a teen. Appearing for Class 10.

The mother decks up. The man comments that there is a necklace missing in her attire. He asks her to take out the "only" necklace that she owns. Fear sets in. The lady cannot tell the truth. That she sold the necklace and bought a laptop for the daughter. Fear makes her fumble. Fear makes her daughter discover the truth. Fear makes them look at each other in utter helplessness. Fear makes the man bigger than he actually is. A ritual of physical abuse starts as everyone cowers in fright.

The story of "Secret Superstar" is not so much about a girl going against all odds, meeting a mentor and making it. It is all about a woman discovering her voice against abuse and dependence.

Numerous small moments strike you. The mother raising her arms and doing a jig as her husband leaves for another country, in relief. The grandma telling a story about a mother desperately running away to save the girl child in her womb. A money making tuition teacher realizing the plight of the girl who tries to apply herself to studies in spite of a very abusive home. A mother who buys a guitar for her six year old daughter. A canny mentor searches his soul through a forgotten song. A daughter discovers the plight of love in her little brother's handiwork with scotch tape. And TV, to escape the mundane existences in middle class India.

In all this, a very lovely teen love affair blossoms knowing fully well that it will be crushed by hard reality. Hindu - Muslim. In Gujarat. She, having stars in her eyes. He, a middle class steady boy, knowing his place. And they get a permission to be together from the mother on their last day at school. He takes her to his home. She's fed aam, very aam moment but powerful in the message. It's over. Because, he knows that the girl and her parents are going away to another country.

Yes, it is again the magic of cinema. It can be manipulative at times like Aamir Khan's efforts with another story about a buck tooth autistic boy a decade back. But it is streets ahead of any other maker's vision.

All the actors are in form. Zaira Wasim and Meher Vij are unstoppable in their roles as daughter and mother respectively. Meher has many close ups and her eyes are so expressive and similar to Zaira's that it makes them mother and daughter in more ways than screen. Raj Arjun has been around and he revels in the father's role. The violence is implicit and in his demeanor and that's commendable work. But the scene stealer is the classmate cum boy friend called Chintan. Tirth Sharma does the role and he just rocks every scene he is in. That includes roaming a city in an autographed shirt.

The songs could have been better. In a film about songs and talent, the songs are not catchy, that's sad. Amit Trivedi, such chances do not come by so easily.

Know the name, Advait Chandan, the director. His idea of stories on film is just about blossoming. Like, his "Secret Superstar".


Do you people know "Jubilee Kumar"? No na, I thought so! Jubilee Kumar was reigning deity of Hindi Cinema between some time in late 50s to somewhere in the late 60s. He was there later too. But no one called him Jubilee Kumar anymore. He was called Papa of Kumar Gaurav. Please don't ask who was Kumar Gaurav. I will have to search for the right chappal to throw at your mirror. Jubilee Kumar was thick in the waist. He never danced. At best, his hands swung and his head bobbed around to the mood of the song playing in the background, usually sung by Mohd. Rafi. The heroines did all the hard work. It's like an immobile doubles partner in Tennis or Badminton. The agile guy did all the work and the stationery guy, well, just remained stationed and watched in glee. But yet, Jubilee Kumar turned out hit after hit. Some said, lucky guy. Some said, the heroines toiled and made it for him. Some said, he bought out the tickets of some key cinema halls in Bombay and ensured full houses. Word travelled and a middling film became a hit. Rajendra Kumar, if you must know his actual name. I feel like "Jubilee Kumar" today. I floated in a river of genius friends, classmates, colleagues, fellow cricketers and footballers, professionals, family members, minstrels, wandering monks and general busy bodies. People kept throwing lifeboats and wooden logs to save me in the gushing torrents. I drank water, coughed, yelled and paddled along awkwardly with these geniuses and here I am, "Jubilee"! I feel like the Rajendra, the Sehwag, the Madhavrao, the Venkatraghavan, the Bikas Panji, the Mulgaonkar, the Vani Jayram, the Mahendra Kapoor and the Chunky Pandey of my times and journeys. The journeyman. The survivor. The "Shavaasan" expert.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Jagga Jasoos - our childhood comes back

Moynaguri. North Bengal. A boy is born and left at the hospital. He is brought up by the hospital staff. He stammers and so he keeps quiet. He has his own world. Among books and nature. One day he watches a man take a dive from a coal train. The man is rescued by the boy and moved to the hospital. The man and the boy become father and son.

The boy is Jagga. The man is Bagchi. Both are investigators. But of different kinds.

Jagga Jasoos.

I won't tell the story here. Let me dwell on some moments.

The father stumbles into clues and circumstances. He isn't prepared half the time. Yet he makes do. In a ganjee, he cycles off with Jagga to save himself through green top jungles. We see the sequence in song, in motion, in swirling light, in brilliant green and in an anxious Bagchi's face who's so unlike an investigator up close. We are being surprised just like Jagga is being surprised too.

Jagga looks at details. He has a yen for details. There's a clock tower mystery he's solving. There's a school assembly. There's rain. There's late evening. There's a clock tower. There are two women. There's a man. And a lot of little details. Now, Jagga's mind is registering these details in staccato mode. We watch the unfurling story in the same form. Through his eyes. Through his stammering speech forms. Through a song that acts like a voice over showing all the scenes happening with swift cute. Mystery in a box. Evening. Night. Next morning. Jagga with friends. The final say on the mystery, Sherlock or Feluda style.

Jagga adds things up. They are in Ukhrul, Manipur. Shruti, another reporter-investigator arrives there. Jagga bumps into a man. He follows him. Then, there's a murder in a room and a murder on a sky wheel. Jagga's mind takes him to some conclusions. We are nudged to some conclusions too. With Jagga. Via the net, a book with Netaji's exploits, a tunnel and Shruti's own background. It's a pleasure for us too when the mystery unravels. As they stumble through to success.

There's whimsy. Through songs and stutters. Images dissolved appear and then gain focus. Like evolving minds. There's small facial expressions. Bagchi's nods. Later Jagga's nods and eyebrow ticks. Shruti's lips pursed. Portents of done mistakes. There's swift actions. A la a young Feluda or Sherlock. Or Tintin. There's a back shot of Jagga standing at a round window and dark visage exactly like Tintin is in his comic books. Every disaster of Shruti or Bagchi ends with them being flat or legs up, like Thompson and Thompson or Captain or Prof Calculus.

There's enough happening in the songs as they are dialogue in verse. Beatboxing, guitar strings, horns creeping up, violins being maudlin as Jagga is being lonely. Choruses bring enthusiastic as Jagga solves mysteries. A whole orchestra picking up as Jagga and Bagchi adventure through Africa. Music is the soul of each happening. The reason for existence.

Katrina is Shruti and she bumbles through the film quite sincerely. She adopts the clunkiness that is required with admirable gusto. Saswata Chatterjee is priceless as Bagchi. He's a detective and a Bengali. Considerate, funny, sad, emotive, stubborn, witty, angry and fueled by adventure, all at once. This is a bravura act by Saswata and shall be hailed in different ways in years to come. He's Sanjeev Kumar and Peter Sellers coming together in Eastman colour.

Ranbir Kapoor is Jagga and he wears the character, seeps it into his bones and lives it. The stutters, the little sounds, the facial expressions, the idiosyncrasies and the walk. There's so much to see. Deduce. Understand. From just his portrayals. Here's an actor who can go very far with the right stories. Watch him throw toothpaste foam into a basin from afar. Priceless.

It's Anurag Basu's mind that's on screen. His stories. His life. His interests. His wanderings. His childhood. His belief in theatre and music. He weaves it together as only he knows.

This is compulsory cinema for people who believe in the art. I mean, which cinema can have a Bengali music strain effortlessly segue into an operatic orchestra and then end up in an African tribal song all in one sequence?

Mr. Basu, just release those comic books. Bestsellers guaranteed. Please.

Monday, July 03, 2017

An afternoon with a Chef who makes things with Pumpkin

Yesterday was a Sunday. I decided that I needed to interview someone who's as passionate about food as I am. I landed up at Herbs n Spices. I know Chef and Restauranteur Paddy from far back. His background quickly then. Hotel Management from the Hyderabad IHM. A good career in the Taj group and with cruisers doing what he still does, cooking awesome food. Then, he with a friend, decided to set up a restaurant here in Whitefield, which back in 2000 was a sleepy village. He's seen restaurants come and go. He's still at it in the town that's Whitefield. We spoke about a lot of things. Chefs and their menus: We discussed the shallow menus being trotted out by all restaurants. Soups. Starters. Sandwiches and Burgers. Pizzas. Pastas. Indian. Italian. Chinese. An odd Mexican or Thai. Desserts high on cheese and chocolate. We then came to what he is doing different. I saw the authenticity he presents in his Continental and Indian items. We discussed sauces. I understood his passion for an original jerk sauce or an original provencale sauce. I got what he meant when he said every sauce is not creamy and cheesy. How a pasta Aglio Olio needs to be made. How olive oil is integral to authentic pizza and why he does not do pizzas at all because guests are so used to the mass branded cheesy pizzas. We shared some good thoughts on just enough sauce in pastas and nice herbs to taste. Why menus should change: Bangalore restaurants are faking it. Most of the time. There isn't much variety. Only derivatives. It's very silly. Tequila Chicken as developed by him seems to have gone to many a restaurant including a neighborhood one and he's had to change the menu. But it's good he changed. Because he could and other chefs faking it cannot. Restaurant owners should know food: We discussed the farce of having a lot of cuisines on menu. Chicken boiled and frozen in the freezer and adapting to all cuisines. Even a chicken sandwich in a very upmarket place tastes like unfrozen rubber that's leaking water. It's horrible, we agreed. He stocks for his menu. He buys fresh. He also makes food not available when it runs out. That way his Kebabs and Roasted Pumpkin soups are forever fresh and droolworthy. Desserts and their importance in menus: The main course needs to be just enough and well priced so that the guest can order a dessert. That's important for satisfaction and he tries that. And succeeds most if the time. On cue, a guest orders for one Gajar Halwa ensemble and follows that quickly with two more at the same table. I gape. That's a classy restaurant. Book it. And go ahead and enjoy. 154, Whitefield Main Road. Opposite Vijaya Bank. Whitefield 9945 420 242 12 noon to 3 pm 7 pm to 11 pm Pic: Chef Paddy with a guest