Sunday, August 28

the best of Nick Hornby

Allright, I picked up Nick's book " A long Way Down". He is kick ass. Totally. I mean have to give it to the guy for being so matter - of - fact about love , loss and life. Though you laugh with him, it hurts, and while you laugh out loud, you can hear your pain , distinct, suicidal and completely lunatic. You know that the tears that welled up in the corner of your eyes are not because you are tired laughing but because you wanted to cry. Instead you laughed.

Here's Nick Hornby quoted...straight from A Long Way Down, some matter- of -fact yet kick ass statements that made me laugh and weep in tandem.

1. Being owed an explanation is like being owed money, and not just a fiver, either. Five or six hundred quid minimum, more like.

2. Surely the coroner's inquest should read, " He took his own life away after sober and careful contemplation of the shambles it had become'?

3. The papers have been full of shit about me, and every word of that shit was true.

4. No, we were finished as serious people. We had sold our seriousity for twelve hundred and fifty of your English pounds.

5. She dumped me because I wasnt going to be a rock n roll star after all. "Shitiness, they name is Woman."

6.Most people have a ropethat ties them to someone, that rope can be short or it can be long.( Be long Belong. Get it?) You dont know how long though. Its not your choice.

7. Telling me I can do anything I want is like pulling the plug out of the bath and then telling the water it can go anywhere it wants. Try it, and see what happens.

8. The problem with our generation is we dont want to do something, make something, we want to be something.

9.One thing the last couple of years had taught me is there's nothing you can't fuck up if you try real hard.

10. You see? Ex wives: really everybody should have atleast one.

11. Hard is trying to rebuild yourself, piece by piece, with no instruction book, and no clue as to where all the important bits are supposed to go.'

Monday, August 15

Bombay : my soulmate

Mrinal Sen calls Kolkatta his El Dorado, I call Bombay my soulmate, the city that I so absolutely love.

Bombay understands me, loves me, spurns me and then draws me back , holds me and loves me all over again. Its with me. In my insanity. In my rationale world. In my triumphs and also my traumas.

We courted the first time I read Midnight Children by Salman Rushdie and then one day I came to Rushdie's Bombay.And thats when the love affair started. The City of dreams. The City of infinite limits. The City of untold possibility. The city that springs back almost as if nothing happened. Suketu's Maximum City. And my own soulmate.We share a secret.A truth never betrayed.

Its strange to come from the wild East ( dont get me wrong, i love my roots)and be part of this structured anarchy, view the glitterati and the urbane jungle in disdainful juxtaposition. In unique harmony.

A city of strong contrasts, a world with two opposites, Bombay at the end of financial year 2002-03, paid Rs 28,000 crore in taxes, 35% of India's collection of Rs 82,000 crore yet plays host to world's largest and most miserable slums.

With a literacy rate of 85.6% (female: 82.7%, male: 90%) compared with India's overall literacy of 65.4% it is the only City where you may bump into an average Bombaite at Phoenix Mills who would be oblivious of the mills history.And not ashamed of it.

Only in my Bombay can the suburban rail systems carry a total of 2.2 billion passengers every year.Incidentally, the world's population is 6 billion.Yet it has the highest number of Lone wolfs and grit Girls ( 30 something and single , a term coined by Times of India) living on their own terms without the marital bliss and joys of parenthood.

Only in a world of steel independence can such contrasts coexist.....the steel bombay.. the sponge bombay that absorbs differences.

I am losing my objectivity...

Meandering at Bandstand or staring into nothingness at Marine Drives, having the cutting chai or taking the locals, i love Bombay for all that it stands for and also all that it does not.

Needless to say my first digicam had me meandering in the city and trying to capture the life here.

Enjoy the pics.

Sunday, August 14

Rising fails, Ketan falls

Another sensitive film maker succumbs to the lure of mainstream Indian cinema. The man who gave us Holi, Mirch Masala & Patel brings to you Mangal Pandey: The Rising.

What is the Rising? It attempts to be a whole lot of things. Its wanna be Lagaan, it’s wanna be historical chronicle , its kaleidoscope India ( straight out of a glossy travel magazine) and therefore it ends up being nothing.

To start with Ketan’s India of 1857 lacks sincerity. India in 1857 was not about starched colorful turbans and salubrious men discussing British Rule casually. It was not about opulent ballrooms contrasted by idyllic pastoral settings. It was about a society that was being stripped of its religious rights, its age old beliefs, an army that was pitted against its own people, loosely held states reeling under British interests, the ignominy, and the starkness of an imperialist set up, none of which hit us in Ketan’s cinema.

If history remains silent about Mangal Pandey and the possible causes of his revolt the movie takes the confusion to a different level. Mangal Pandey in Ketan’s world looks at home, hobnobbing with a British official or making love to a nautch girl yet he shuns the untouchables and the greased cartridge.

Farrukh Dhondhy’s screenplay leaves room for more research. He has sourced enough stereotypes for the movie – white man beating up the black , Indian women nourishing white children ( courtesy Roots : Alex Hailey) the friendly British Officer, the great Indian Bazaar where women get auctioned , the white – black friend ship ( courtesy : Paul Scott, Lagaan , etc. etc.) so on and so forth. The roles are poorly essayed, the characters do not traverse a journey , they merely play a part and fade, stories are left midway –the tenuous relationship between Gordon and the widow Jwala ends up in a soft love making sequence by the candle light… a la Parineeta.

Ketan Mehta’s treatment of women in Mangal Pandey is reduced to pulling crowds through extremely highlighted curvatures. Rani heaves and sighs in her backless choli, her talents wasted in a male dominated story line while Amisha does what she is best at- the sacrificial lamb act.

The only exception to this fledging piece is A for Aamir. Yes, he is struck back and struck back with a vengeance. Aamir fills up the screen with his presence. He tries to find the real Mangal Pandey, a sepoy who shot his senior official prompted by probable religious reasons in this highly ambitious project. Aamir portrays the struggle of a man caught between the job and the duty with aplomb. His intense expressions and his conviction lend credibility to the character. Also noteworthy is Toby Stephens as the warm and affable Gordon – a desired balance to the conflict ridden Mangal.

The dialogues fail to strike a chord. The legend of Bhagat Singh had Ajay Devgan telling an Indian police officer: “ Tum namak ka farz ada karo mein mitti ka karz ada karta hoon.” It gave us goose pimples. Mangal Pandey tells his English counterpart: “Aapne hamaari dosti dekhi hein aab aap hamara krodh dekhenge”. Run off the mill.

A R Rehman fails to create magic in this movie. Ketan’s The Rising may do roaring collections thanks to its marketing efforts but its actually Ketan’s falling as a filmmaker.

This Independence Day one would rather watch “Patel’.

Sunday, August 7

Fillum fillum filla

Sunday was a delight. Two reasons.

# Saturday was a late night and we had actually managed to finish the presentation that seemed so inconclusive. Work didn’t expand to fill up the Sunday available. (Parkinson was wrong, his principle was wrong.)

# I had something interesting to do.

Mocha has an interesting movie club where they screen short movies.

Short Movie Making in India is not a commercially viable option. Indian entertainment is still about blockbusters. It is still about pulling crowds by the star, about sari in its minimal form and about glycerin smudged eyes.

Lot of talented filmmakers and wannabe filmmakers’ who dream of making a good movie do not find either the financial muscle or the creative patronage that is crucial to tell a good story without commercial compromises. In case they do, finding an audience within the country is difficult. To all such people Mocha film club is a welcome alternative.

This Sunday saw the screening of 6 short movies. The first of them was a French movie “Charlotte Et Veronique, Ou Tous Les Garcons S’ appelent Patrick (wonder what that means!!!) This was directed by Jean – Luc Godard.
An extremely tight script and screenplay. Two friends stumble into the same man. They succumb to his advances. They fall in love. Promise a date. They share their girlish experience. Both women see what they want to see. Only to discover the truth at the end of 21 minute movie. The movie had an old school charm to it. Haven’t seen too many movies of Godard to compare.

The second movie was Red (My Dream, My Curse) by some Dhruvesh Jhaveri. Jhaveri boy has got it all wrong. The gawky camera work kept flirting with some svelte who couldn’t paint in red color. We didn’t know why? Oh yes!! Jhaveri told us later. She had seen a chicken getting slaughtered in her childhood at the local butcher’s. Pleeeeaaasssse!!! Don’t know where Dhruvesh grew up but we all have seen chicken and more getting slaughtered. Unpleasant as it may be, it does not really leave a scar on our memories. Get real, guys, Indian childhoods have far more real problems you can pick up and make movies on. And more importantly, Research. Well, Red didn’t convince the eclectic crowd at Mocha, it won’t elsewhere as well.

“A matter of hair” – a 11 minute movie directed by Anna Torres Alvarez was a wonderful spoof on the urbane obsession with cosmetic centre culture. One could spare few laughs at the work.

The short cut section had the soft spoken film maker Ruchi Narain (of Hazaar Khwaishein Aisee fame) talking about her movie Kal- Yesterday and tomorrow. The talented cast of Hazaar … Chitrangada Singh and Shiney Ahuja will be seen on screen with Smriti Misra thrown in. I am going to watch the movie because I watch all Bollywood movies.

Vivek Vaswani did some hard talk. About Cinema. And about the Industry .About how tickets sell, how money is raised in this world. How Cinema in India is a debt market. How Cinema in Hollywood is an equity Market. And why India hasn’t broken the vicious cycle of prostitution in Art. Why we still get movies where a middle class heroine living in a small town breaks into a dream sequence with Bombay at the backdrop wearing a see- through sari. Yes, Vivek Vaswani made sense. Aastha did hundred days in Patna not because a housewife succumbing to the crass commercial culture captured the town’s imagination but people wanted to watch explicit sex scenes between Rekha and her men. He made horse sense. Yet something in me still aligned with Saurabh Shukla when he said- “I don’t care whether my movies sell tickets, I would still make movies I want to make.” Thanks to this resolve we still see meaningful Cinema.

Sachin Kundalkar presented Bath. Bath told the story of a male prostitute in Mumbai. Sponsored by Sambhavana Trust, an NGO in Mumbai, the movie had a simple agenda- Male sex workers exist in our society. Men in our world are fathers, brothers, colleagues, friends, lovers and suitors. Yet male sex workers exist in thousands, fulfilling the carnal desires of a society caught in throes of a try –sexual phenomenon.

In Sachin’s film, a male sex worker goes to work, meets men, pawns himself and lives. He hates it, the waiting, the humiliation and everything else associated with transactional sex. He comes back to his chawl to wash off the filth. His meager bath under a municipality tap never washes off the smudge of his life. Yet somewhere in some tiny village there is a home to keep. A kitchen to run. Hopes to fuel. And thus life goes on.

And one day he meets a client who makes love to him and gives him a bath. An unusual experience for a hooker.

Sachin said he had no message to give. The movie was made after he & his actors met interacted and spent time with the Male CSWs. Don’t know if he was being modest or society’s deviant spoke through Sachin’s lens, or rather clamored for his share of human dignity, the movie was a cry for respect for the commercial sex workers.

Sensitive subject. Sensitive cinema.

The other movie was “With 500 rupees to heaven” made by a German director by Jan Gassmann & Thomas Jorg. The two filmmakers freaked out in autorikshaws in cheenai when they asked them to take them to destination heaven. The racy 9 min movie evoked laughter for its simplicity. Answers to “destination heaven” ranged from ridiculous to the sublime. They were charged 20 – 200 rupees, taken from Marina beach to red light areas to Spencer. Different heavens… all under the same sky.

The last movie was a Project work submitted by XIC students. Sanika Prabhu and others. Spurious development and Mills of Bombay City. A very laudable effort by students. A very nice combination of visuals. Yet the movie lacked research. It tried picking up where newspaper reports had left after the 1982 mill strike. It talked about mill workers being an integral part of Mumbai’s fabric & their alienation in the new development process. It failed to present a well researched, balanced view. And somewhere it ended up being a leaf stolen from Manoj Kumar’s film book. So you had somebody at Pheonix Mills saying – “Yes Mumbai would become a Shanghai” and the track dissolved to a mill worker asking “Where is my share of Shanghai?”. The lyrics were amazing, couldn’t catch the lyricist’s name though.

The crowd was forthright in its view, the atmosphere ripe for debates. There were filmmakers around. People who had ideas. Who had stories. Who wanted to be heard. I met a mechanical engineer who used to work in an organization. He kicked his job and joined a film school for a year. He wants to make movies. Born and bred in Bombay, his Nasik based parents are not aware of this. This 22 year old guy is looking out for a director under whom he can learn. His conviction in his calling was unnerving and endearing. May he realize his dreams. May he be the dream maker. Best of luck!

Wednesday, August 3

Drenched days

It’s raining in Bombay. Cats and dogs. I am stranded in the house, with my laptop and the need to write, to dry my drenched memories. NDTV telecasts are getting aggressive by the minute. Rain soaked news reporters are holding fort in various parts of the City reporting updates. Cameras, umbrellas, mikes trying to capture the elusive, evasive and currently washed off average Bambiya or Mumbaikar.

I watch the Police commissioner touring the flooded conscious of a city in a navy boat. There is also some debate on the state of submerge. A city under seize etc.

I like the deluge. I like the action. I like the debates its causing. I like the anger. I like that the city has stopped dead in its track.

Though I am glad that the city is not held to ransom by some underworld psychotic wanting to bomb its innards, or by some political jugglery driving it to ethnic genocide prompted by some vestigial lineage. Instead the spirit of Bombay is haunted by some thing more commonplace. Something that does not make news elsewhere because it happens everyday. Darbagha in Bihar is destined to be deluged for the rest of its existence, thanks to administrative apathy and defunct state mindset.

But this has happened to Bombay, the financial fulcrum of the country, the cinematic capital; it’s the blue eyed boy weeping. And thus the debate.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the City. The romance started way back in 99 when I packed my small town morality in a suitcase and came here. Still not over it, I love to flirt with the city, challenge its limits; get more out of it, every time. I love everything about Bombay. I have been a student here once and now I am the part of the human sea which braves the city everyday for the serious business of life. I will save that for another day, when I am more objective about my lover.

What irked me about that fateful Tuesday was Life felt challenged in a City which celebrates it unconditionally.

We heard stories.

Of people who reached home, to see those little things they painstakingly built to call a home their own cruelly floating around.

Of a man calling his wife to tell her he would be home in the next few hours. She continues to wait. His name flashed on the missing person list. For her the monsoon is for life.

Of friends who waded through knee, waist and neck deep concoction of filth and stench mingled with water to reach home after being stranded in office for the night.

I also saved a tear for the death of a tree on Turner Road…. Uprooted and crestfallen the gloom persists.

My own experiences were far more secured to make a 70 mm.

I left office at 8:00 p.m. because I couldn’t sit around anymore. I had also had a fill of omelet sandwiches with extra chillies at the friendly canteen. I had to feel the rain on my face and be on the road. Frankly the magnitude of the problem had not struck my cocooned world.

And I was wondering about non issues like should – I – carry – the – laptop –home or can-I –pick - up -some – CDs ?

Well, judgment or lack of it prevailed and I ventured into the rainy night. There wasn’t a single cab in sight.

Bombay was on the road, people walking all the way from town. And they had a long way to go. A lady had to reach Borivalli. She was coming from Lower Parel . Her cell was not working. Her children had not gotten in touch. Her husband was away. We waited by the roadside to get through the numbers. Bounded by nature’s fury, we shared worry and concern.

In her anxiety she chided me. For being alone. For being drenched. For venturing out. For being mad. I saw worry in the old eyes for myself. It strengthened my resolve to be safe. To be home.

One minute I was wading, another minute floating in the miasma. My sandals weren’t geared up. I was never so unsure. Never so brave also. Mumbai at Sddhi Vinayak rent the air with “Ganpati Bappa Morya.” When all else fails, Faith works.

I chose the less trodden Shivaji Park to reach Mahim. With clean and clear roads for the first time it struck how wet I was. Deserted Taxis and cars parked on both sides of the road. Darkness enveloped all around, rain kept washing the self confidence. A fitness enthusiast was exercising in the Park. For some life goes on…

I needed the comfort of crowd, the stench of human sweat. It made me feel better. I took the main road back.

I had barely walked down for another 10 minutes when a taxi driver popped his head out “ Sister where do you want to go” ? I half tore the door and said Bandra. He had another passenger, going to Santacruz. I didn’t care.

I was inside. The first thought was to call Old man and wife and tell them I am safe. Tell them their daughter has grown a little more. Learnt something. I knew news would be flooding the living room in my home hitting their carefully crafted facade. I knew the wife would have walked upto the phone the nth time to dial my cell. I know the old man would be looking the other way averting the answer to the question “where is she? Will she be safe?”

I could not get in touch with anyone until the next morning.

We were stuck in the jam for next 2 hrs. The taxi driver was from Lucknow. He was a Bombay Raodie for 10 years now but this was new for him as well.

He dropped me off at SV Road. Another 5 minutes and I would be home. Fortunately one could see the edges of the road. I got drenched again. A good Samaritan stopped his car and asked if I needed help. I smiled and said- “I did some time back”. Now I am home.

The sight of my house never felt so good. I stumbled into the darkness. No candles. No charge in cell. No food. No water. Yet nothing matter. I had just survived. And I felt grateful about it.

It all came back the next day. The electricity. The network. Old man was choked with emotion. He told me the death toll in Mumbai. He narrated the horror stories. He just made inane conversation. At some level, he was just relived to hear my voice. He was tolerant of my need to be on the road.The Wife was not. She was hysterical. Candles??? Do you have candles? And bread? And have you filled up the filter? I knew they had not slept the whole night. I wept and laughed…

We were marooned for another few days, but it was not so bad. Unexpected holidays ( would be compensated later but that’s ok) . We had survived and so had the City.

Bombay recovers fast. Its drying with the little sunshine that filters through the concrete rooftops in the urbane jungle and while news papers are counting the death and destruction we go back to normal life with our drenched memories.