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

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Exercise thinking

Very depressing. Wore a tee shirt. Stood in a group photo. Looking most wide among all in the pic. Some four days have gone by since that offending pic has graced WhatsApp. But mind not moving from the obscene bulge on the side.

Sages have advised. Warm water intake. Earliest possible dinner. No rice or flour. Run. Walk. Crawl. Surya namaskar. Breathe in breathe out. Slow breathe out. Problem is, nothing is forever. Of course, only diamonds are, but that's a story I can't​ express. For that, one needs legacy. Aukaat. But why have I gone off to diamonds? Right, nothing is forever. Or I am the tail of a dog. I do. I wag. I wipe off targets and discipline and start over again.

I am the before guy in the before and after pictures that friends keep producing. A friend does plank for six minutes. I am lucky to do a minute. Another friend runs marathons regularly. And advises on running gear and music. I can't run. So I walk. Intermittent. I use gear too. Sometimes the music is so good that I amble to listen to the music more and my breath less. I mean, Hemant Kumar's breath intake would surely be more promising than my own, right! Friends rock. I like or wow them and leave it at that. I can't even discuss the niceties of bananas before morning exercise. That's Missus. She even has a banana box, shaped like a banana in her bag. Wonder who thinks like that?

Then there are the Yoga and gym guys. Everyone owns a mat these days. And they can stretch and touch their toes. Once in a while when other conversation flags, the yoga conversation is a life saver. I do conversations. I skip the yoga bit. Dhanurasan = Dhanu + Sivarasan. For me. I can talk more about the killers of Rajiv Gandhi. Possibly. But people want to show how good their arc is in Dhanurasan. I try to be amazed. My arc would more look like a sandbagged culvert. With no space below for water to flow. They are going the way of a trim Kapil Sharma. And I am going the Kapil Sibal way.

Many have personal trainers. The trainers enable discipline and fun while achieving the impossible. Some trainers are good looking too. I suppose that helps. The ladies may be able to tell more. What would a personal trainer do with me? Maybe use me as a reference in a classroom. This is not what you become. This is the opposite of where you need to go.

I love the men and women with washboard abs. I did the crunches too for a period when my back was good. I too stood in front of mirrors like they do. I too pulled up sweaty tees. They see etchings on walls. I saw Anil Kapoor hair. Their tees stayed up. My tee went down and was never brought up again.

But life does not cease to surprise. Maybe one of these days, I will do something.

Maybe, build a 56' chest. And point towards it with two hands. And talk into microphones.

Friday, June 16, 2017

The Asian invasion

I am Patrick. Short being Pat. Am an amiable Brit. I like Cricket on the weekends. I watch it. Don't play. Me and the missus get around to seeing a few games in the Midlands during the summer. We take our umbrellas. Brit weather, you know. We carry the sunglasses too. Brit weather, again. We rejoice if it is 11*C and the sun is over us. It used to be good back in the seventies. Snow, Botham and Willis. Gower, Gooch and Holding. Watch a game. Have a pint. Take the 9.32 home.

Then the Asians arrived.

Don't take me wrong. I am not the type to abuse them at the Ginger Pub with the mates over a beer. But it's impossible to watch and savour a Kohli drive if someone close is always dancing and falling over you without even registering the classicism of that drive. It looks like they've had a few even before they arrive in the morning. The Bangladeshis yell in Bengali and the Indians yell back in Hindi or the other many languages that they have. Their bad teeth aimed towards television cameras. They actually live for their cameras. The food drops off their laps when they find that the cameras are looking towards them.

Missus has got no interest in Cricket. She comes along because I go. She does the crossword during the matches. Last I looked at her crossword a few hours ago, she had drawn up quizzical lines emanating from the boxes. When asked, she said that the lines were because of the young men hitting her elbows as they kept jumping up every other minute. I felt sorry for her. How would DARWIN look if all the letters have spikes going all over? And she couldn't even glare at them as they kept muttering "Sorry" too.

The men who bring their Indian drums with those cymbals and one obese man who seems to wear a frightening contact lens and stare at the camera, were right there in front of us. When the cameras weren't looking their way, they ate. Or played the instruments. I could not hear the sweet thud of the bat on the ball all through the match. When the cameras looked their way, they became mini versions of Godzilla. Is being frightening a type of celebration in India? Need to research on that.

Even the Bangladeshis weren't behind. They brought in huge tiger dolls and shoved the dolls under my nose to make me frightened. I was, for them and their sanities.

This game used to be about tweeds, hats, whites and patience not so long ago. Am wistful. On the pitch, even now, I like it when the strokes are classical and the ball seams away well. But in the stands, it is as though "Planet of the Apes with bad teeth" has been released.

Well, one can't complain. They bring the economy to the grounds.

And what's this Jai Mata di? Oh, religion, is it?

Holy cow, they have this overt thing about religion, don't they?

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

How does Bhutan stay so happy and Pawan Kalyan Chronicles

Bhutan is a happy country. It is highest in the Happiness Index ratings. You know why?

They watch "Indra the Tiger" on TV. Daily. On repeat.

I swear. Ma Kasam. Heard from very reliable source.

Telugu to Hindi films have their own charm. Real hero. Doing hero things. Like punching one person and escape velocity making five persons go flying through the air with buzzing fly background music accompanying their flight path. Sometimes in slo-mo. Mostly in slo-mo. He'll say some small Telugu word, effective word, but it will come out as "Khabardaar Launde" well beyond the time his mouth is shut. You will marvel at the art of ventriloquism. Kamalhaasan did it in one film long long ago and made it a hit. They are doing it now in hordes of T2H films and of course, they will be liked.

But I like the challenges to science more in their films and that truly makes me happy. Like those people in Bhutan.

Pawan Kalyan is not just a hero. He is the God of parched earth and red mangoes and small things. All together. He thumps the ground and people in Bullock carts topple and acquire escape velocity. Then, if the people are flying say to the right, the Bullock cart wheels come out and roll to the left. Your scientific temper will be tempted to ask, "How"? Precisely, that's where Pawan Kalyan challenges you. Maybe, it's his shoes or the magnetic quality of his soles that attract the iron rivets in the wheels and so the wheels are tempted to roll back to where Pawan Kalyan stands with his thumped heel in the ground. Pawan Kalyan reinvents the tenets of science.

Doesn't that make you happy?

That should. That's the idea of T2H films. To make you happy. It's why people in Bhutan are happy. It's why Zee Cinema and Star Gold are happy making so much money on those sublime films.

I came to know of another one the other day. Supreme Khiladi. I was denied a full dekko by certain other pressing assignments like IndiaPak rivalry. But since I am generally happy person I know given a remote and a good day, I will again receive the bounty. Why did Akshay not think of Supreme Khiladi? What spurs a Supreme Khiladi?

The little I saw was breathtaking. Turning head. People flying. Someday I will know the science behind that too. And there's red eye and cheek shake when the mother is attacked. Or sister.

That's true service to the sons of the soil. Zee Cinema does that.

NDTV did not carry out the service. No red eye. No cheek shake. Nothing. Look what happened.

Khabardaar Launde.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

The original startups and unicorns

Windows. The older versions. The ones that you looked out of. Not looked in through a computer.

Long ago, in my native village, they had these big four doored windows with iron bars, I used to sit at them. Two specifically nice ones, one overlooking a nice small mango orchard and another one overlooking a courtyard that had a "samadhi sthal" of our forefathers on one side and the Mandir on the other side and the clean middle area.

I watched a lot of things happen from these two windows. Summers they were. Lazy cows parked in the middle of the courtyard. Tied to tethers. Munching on what they had in their mouths. The mouths covered by a hay net so that they cannot eat more from the fodder stacks kept on one side of the courtyard. The floor of the courtyard made of clay. Everyday wiped with clay and dung mixture to keep it clean and cool. Trees as diverse as Jackfruit to neem to mango flanking the courtyard. The pond beyond the samadhi on the left. The ducks in the pond on the left. They quacked among themselves. On quite afternoons one could hear their entire conversations.

I discovered stories about my forefathers then. During those quiet afternoons.

It is the 1880s. Haripada Narayan Majumdar has just returned from Birsingha. Birsingha being the place where Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, the great Bengal Renaissance man and the revered teacher of Bengali grammar lives. Birsingha is about 18 miles away through the kuchcha roads from Shrirampur, our village.  Haripada wants to build a school in the village but he has no funds. He has taken with him some gold of his wife. She's okay with the idea. Vidyasagar does not take the gold. Tells him to show his determination by just starting a class in his courtyard. He gives him three copies of "Varna Parichay" the modern grammar book written by Vidyasagar himself. Haripada is overwhelmed as he recounts the incident and shows the books to his illiterate family. He is going to teach himself and then the others.

He does so.

In a year there are 18 children in that very courtyard under the shade of the peepul that I don't see now doing Bengali grammar and basic maths.

Vidyasagar is on the board of the province school authority in two years. He is called to inspect. He does so. He is shown the three tattered copies of the books he lent. He asks students some questions. He also is happy with the answers. He signs then and there for a school in a neighborhood village as he wants more students to come to be taught by my forefather.

One child grows up to be a freedom fighter and true to the hot blooded Bengali fire in the belly, he takes up arms and becomes a comrade of Aurobindo Ghosh. You would know him more by the Aurobindo ashram of Pondicherry that he founded later when he again found peace within.

Haripada dies in the famine of early 1900s. His legacy lives on through more promising students in the oncoming decades.

Now, students and their families are all over the world. Some I know. Many I have no way of knowing.

Wouldn't you call that a unicorn startup? A startup that lasted beyond its life and still gives to the society?

Monday, May 15, 2017

Two men on a field, for the last time

Ten men crowd around the stumps. In white. Green caps askew on their heads. The ground quiet and silent. Just a ball and another over to go. The rain has come on. Washes the perspiration from the ten faces. But no one, absolutely no one in the field has his mind on the rain or the floodlights that have come on. Two old men. At the brink of history. Of retirement. Of moving into the annals of history. As the greatest Pakistan Cricketers of all time. Younis and Misbah. Ex-Captain and Captain. Men who had marshalled the dawn of the golden age of Pakistani Cricket.

Then, there are the two batsmen from the islands. West Indians, they call themselves. A pale shadow of the team that had muscled other national teams thirty years back. A batting that was being shepherded by a batsman who till the other day was known more for his bowling. Another, who was literally the number 11 in the team batting order. Whose idea of batting is a prod at any ball. Roston Chase and Shannon Gabriel. Cricketers who are barely known around the islands. No showmen, as the showmen were all away playing for gold and town houses in a league that has quixotic team names for cities. Chase and Gabriel. They could have been a bank, the way they have defended their citadel for the last ten minutes.

The premier Pakistan bowler, a leg spinner, crouches at his bowling mark. He has been beyond super through this test match. Bowling from wide of the stumps, lobbing the ball at the batsman from a height and angle where it causes much discomfort. In failing light, misty rain and inadequate floodlights, he is always going to be a handful. One last ball is left. One last ball to get to five wickets. One last ball to leave his superlative impact on a test that has swung like a yo yo between the two teams. Yasir Shah, a man who looks more like a footballer than the ace cricketer he is.

The hush descends as he comes in to bowl.

Gabriel is the batsman. He has been coached by Chase at the wicket. Defend, for your life depends on it. But he has ten world weary men crouching around him. Ten men from a country that has nothing going for it other than this game. Ten men who cannot play in flashy cricket leagues around the world. Or don't. Two among the ten are so old and weary that crouching for a catch is also task. But yet they are there, for the nation. For themselves, for history.

Yasir bowls. It is a wrong one. Gabriel has a brain seizure. He decides that the best way to defend would be a hoick over the in field. Get it over their heads. A milli second later he hears the sickening sound of the ball hitting his stumps. Inside edge. His face crumples. What's he done? Chase is shell shocked. One ball and he could have defended the final over. One ball and he could have carried the team into a memorable draw. But what's the young man done?

The Pakistanis are everywhere. Younis plucks the stumps. The substitutes arrive with the flag. Yasir is jumping around in footballer glee. Misbah is engulfed. He is looking towards his family. They are in the stands. He is 42 years old. The oldest captain in the last thirty years of modern Cricket. He knows what he has achieved. He runs towards his family. The inscrutable captain at last shows some emotion. Younis has a smile as wide as the Indus.

Maybe, just maybe, this is the most bittersweet hour for Cricket.

Two honorable gentlemen leaving the field for the last time, draped in their country flags, as winners.

Just know, their impact on the game has been much more than Dravid, Tendulkar, Miandad, Inzamam and Sangakkara. The other South Asian greats.

Old men. Victors. More than ever.