Monday, April 07, 2014

Who is your Andaz Apna Apna friend?

Popular comedian Aditi Mittal (aka @awryaditi on Twitter) has written a brilliant column on a brilliant film. Of the many joys she recounted, one incident stuck with me:
Suddenly, my brother liked a girl and no one was yelling at him about it. Instead, I was being made to put on a salwar kameez and meet her. She was very pretty, and I could tell my brother cared for her and she for him. But that did not quell my suspicions. As we walked out after lunch that day, I suddenly heard my mother say “Adu, your dupatta is dragging on the floor.” And, as I turned around, my to-be-bhabhi blurted, “Gogoji, apka ghaghra.”

This story reminded me of something as well.
Many years ago, I joined the Calcutta branch of a FMCG multinational to ‘take over’ a state as the Sales Manager. The guy I was supposed to take over from was a Tam Brahm, vegetarian and seemed unnecessarily combative in the fleeting occasions that I met him. I did not have a good feeling about him but started the process nevertheless. It was progressing without incident till we were about to leave the sales depot one evening. He suddenly said, “Arre, aaj kuch maal nahin becha? Khandaani ASM hoon. Aaya hoon, kuch to bechke jaoonga!”

The point of these two stories lies in the reaction to the film when it first released and my frustrations thereof.
When Andaz Apna Apna opened, there was considerable buzz in Calcutta because two chocolate box heroes were coming together for the first time. Or maybe there wasn’t and it was just my sister – an Aamir Khan fan – who ‘whipped up the buzz’. Anyway, a friend and I reached Priya one matinee show to watch what seemed like a romantic comedy. My friend read the works of Leon Trotsky in his spare time but was not averse to the occasional Bollywood flick. We were both unprepared for what unfolded next.
During the film, I laughed so hard that I was gasping for breath for most part of the movie and when Gogo did the Dhikki tikki dance towards the end, I felt I would pass out because I was not able to breathe. My friend remained stoic throughout.
When we were exiting the hall and I was planning to come back for a second show soon, my friend asked – “Did you really find the movie that funny or were you being sarcastic?” I was dumbfounded and suddenly realised that the movie had alienated me perfectly. Andaz Apna Apna had no takers in Culturally Conscious Calcutta.
Over the next few years, I remained cautiously positive about my views about AAA because I did not find a single person who even mildly enjoyed the movie, leave alone laugh uproariously. In fact, I came to believe that this was one of those freak cases where I would remain alone in my choice.

So when I met Ganesh – the aforementioned khandaani ASM – it was like discovering a twin after growing up. We were the only ones in the office who were Andaz Apna Apna fans and our colleagues shook their heads indulgently when we lapsed into our giggling discussions about Mohun Bagan, Rabbit and maiyat ka chanda. I found it very strange that our colleagues and friends – who shared many common likes and interests – were oblivious to the charms of Amar Prem. 

Before this beast called the internet came about, we never realised that on a planet of seven billion people, no one can be alone. And that’s when we realised there is a Cult of Gogo. We were all watching the reruns on Zee TV and laughing together – except we did not know it then.
As Google spread its tentacles, obscure blogs got discovered. As Bollywood chat forums became active, we found these soulmates. As Facebook allowed us to form the craziest groups, we sent friend requests to these spiritual siblings.
And that’s when Andaz Apna Apna found its following.

This is somewhat different from most films that are called ‘cult classics’.
Andaz Apna Apna had a decent opening and the appeal wasn’t niche. After all, it had two of India’s hottest stars in the lead. Karisma Kapoor and Raveena Tandon weren’t pushovers either.
Cult classics are usually films which don’t get noticed when they release but build up a fan following over the years. Andaz Apna Apna got noticed and then people just looked away. Unlike other cult classics (like, say, Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro), Andaz Apna Apna had and still has a large number of detractors. Many people still don’t ‘get’ the humour and that is where this classic is a little more cult than the others. 

And that brings the Andaz Apna Apna friend into play.
An AAA friend is the guy who was the first person you know who turned out to be a fan of the movie. He became a soulmate on this quality alone and you never regretted the friendship. He was the one who completed the lines you started to say. She is the one you SMS “AAA on Zee Cinema” even now. He is the guy who – after getting drunk – says “Bus ke backseat mein woh Shashi Tharoor hi tha, b******....”

It is my belief that everybody – and not only fans of the movie – has an Andaz Apna Apna friend.
If I broaden the definition a little bit, she is the one who shows you it is okay to be quirky, it is okay to like things nobody else likes, it is better to be happy than successful.

And that friend eventually helps you transform from a kachcha khiladi to a pakka khiladi.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Condition Serious Hai

Came across a contest organised by Cadbury 5 Star about people jinki #ConditionSeriousHai. So, here is my take on two friends discussing a love affair - either real or imagined.

At what point does one realize that you are in love with someone? Gaurav wondered as he walked up the stairs to their flat. Every time he left Rohini, the urge to ask her to stay back grew stronger. How long will it take my ego to actually say it to her, he wondered?
As he fumbled with the keys, he thought about the number of love stories that do not happen because the guy is trying too hard not to appear desperate to the girl.
He threw the keys in the bowl on the cabinet and kicked off his shoes. The TV was on. Dandy was watching a news channel at half past two?

“Has Nigar Khan joined…” he stopped to take the scene in. A distinguished looking lady was sitting on the futon. She was twirling the remote and had The Authoritative Calvin & Hobbes open on her lap.
“Hi, you must be Gaurav.” She switched to Bengali and said, “My name is Rituparna. I am also a Bong, though not from Calcutta.”
“Hello.” Gaurav squeaked as he tried desperately to think of a polite way of asking what-the-fuck-are-you-doing-in-my-drawing-room.
“I was wondering why you were late.” Atul walked in. “You guys have met. She is the Head of HR at the bank.”
“Oh.” Gaurav’s confusion increased now.
“I think I will freshen up. The cab should be reaching.” Rituparna said and turned to leave the room. She stopped at the door. “I was noticing that you have all the eight albums that make up the complete Calvin & Hobbes series.”
“You are the second person to notice that.”
“Thankfully, you did not say that I was too old to figure that out.” She smiled brightly, turned on her heels and entered Dandy’s room.

“Who is she?” Gaurav whispered to Atul.
“I told you na… she is the HR Head of…”
“You jerk. I heard that. What is she doing in our flat at 2 AM? Don’t tell me you are screwing her…”
“Well, screw is not the word…”
“You were making lurve, maybe? And I thought you were finding some Ritu babe in your office hot.”
“She is Ritu.”
“Her name is Rituparna. Everybody calls her Ritu,”
“That Ritu is this Ritu? Mind-blowing. You are seeing the VP – HR of your company all this while and pretending as if you are…”
The curtain parted and Rituparna walked back in. She was pulling a strolley and had a bag on her shoulder.
“I am catching the first flight to Bangalore. So, instead of going back all the way to my pad, I thought I’ll just sack here.”
“Where do you stay?”
“Samudra Mahal. It’s an apartment block near the Worli…”
“Yes, I kind of know it.”
Her mobile rang. “Yes, I will just come down. My cab’s here. So, see you around – Gaurav. We must catch dinner together sometime.”
“Yeah, sure.”
“We had dinner at Mahesh. Atul was missing you very badly. Though that did not reduce his appetite one bit.”
“Yes, he is a bit of a hypocrite that way!”
“He is, isn’t he?” She ruffled Atul’s hair as she adjusted her bag, which had slipped down.
Atul walked her to the lift.

Gaurav attacked him the moment he walked back in. “You bastard, how come you don’t tell me anything nowadays?”
“Bugger off, you are sounding like Rajendra Kumar.”
“Screw you. Why did you keep her under wraps?”
“Bugger, I am not even sure if we are an item or not. Look, it’s not like a simple fling you have after meeting at an office party. She is like very like me, you know. And you, for that matter. She kind of relates.” Atul made quote gestures as he said ‘relates’.
“Which world are you living in? You are sleeping with a grown-up woman and you don’t know if you are seeing her?”
“We are not!”
“What? Seeing each other?”
“Yes, that. And sleeping too. We did not have sex today. Or ever.”
“But she looked very post-coital right now.”
“Tu bada jaanta hai coitus ke barey mein?”
“The girl ruffles your hair on her way out. She is relaxing on your futon while you come out adjusting trousers. If this is not coitus…”
“Bloody hell. If you are in Shikha’s drawing room at 2 AM, does it mean you are screwing her?”
“No, it means I am massaging my balls after she chewed them off in a pool session. Abbe, don’t be bloody pendantic. Shikha is like one of the guys. She is not some statuesque head of HR…”
“What is the meaning of statuesque?”
Gaurav started laughing.

“Why are you laughing, fucker?”
“Here, a lady lot older than you is sitting in your flat in the middle of the night and you are thinking of word meanings?”
“She is a friend, yaar!”
“But you have the hots for her…”
Atul was uncharacteristically shy. “Well, I do have a bit of a soft corner…”
“Soft corner? Bloody hell… you have a hard-on.”
Gaurav softened when he saw Dandy’s expression. And had to smile.
“So, how is she?”
“She’s very cool, yaar. She attended the Rolling Stones concert. She met them backstage and had a Licks t-shirt autographed and all.”
“Does she know the songs also or…”
“Boss, she is totally into it. She knows the Stones. She knows Calvin & Hobbes. She knows teen-patti. She is on first name terms with Abbas…”
“Who is Abbas?”
“The manager of Zenzi. He like escorted us in when we were there.”
“So, she is super cool. But if she is so cool, why is she working on a Sunday?”
“She just went on a tour, right?”
“Arre, she is going to Bangalore. To meet her daughter. She is at the NLS.”
“You are dating a woman with a grown up daughter?”
“Chuck this grown up woman bit. I am not dating… actually, I am dating her.”
“Dandy, you are priceless. You are dating a woman who is like a lot older, a lot lot richer and a lot lot lot sophisticated. Do you think you can handle it?”
“What is there to handle, yaar? Right now, I like being with her. I think she also likes being with me. So, we are trying dating. Let’s see how we both feel after a year or so?”
“Your mom will leave you in peace for a year? Without asking to get married?”
“Haan yaar, that’s not happening! But then, if I take Ritu and tell Ma that I want to marry her, then can you imagine the scene?”
They both doubled over in laughter at the thought. When they stopped, Gaurav had to say what had been their catchphrase since b-school days. 

“Dandy yaar, tera condition serious hai...” 

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

From the Modi Campaign Trail

As Narendra Modi cranks up the frequent flier miles on the campaign trail, his ecstatic fans are already sounding the victory bugle all over the internet. That they are doing it in their characteristic abrasive style is also the cause of much lamentation among the people who usually get to write newspaper columns. Thanks to some of Mr Modi’s more enthusiastic supporters, his campaign has got shots of (unintentional?) humour – much needed in these serious times.
Here are five examples of ‘fan-art’ from his supporters, gleaned from the wondrous, cavernous folds of the Internet.  
Needless to say, it can be convincingly argued that some of them may have actually been created by Mr Modi’s detractors. I – myself – believe that these are indeed made by his die-hard fans, probably because I see sincerity instead of cynicism in all of them. But hey, it could be just me!

NaMo + Momo = National Intergration

To take on AAP and their cavalier treatment of Ugandan women and to highlight the death of a Mizo student in Delhi while AAP was in power, Narendra Modi met up with students from North East. And his PR cell promptly reduced the meeting into a popular Bollywood-style stereotype.
“Momo bechne walon ke saath NaMo hai...” was the rousing line with the message ended – banishing the articulate, erudite, good-looking population of North East to the roadside momo stall in one fell swoop.  
Oh – they also added Sushma Swaraj’s ‘flat-nose-sharp-nose’ sauce, just in case you thought the momo was too bland!

Tit For Tattoo
What you want written on the soul, you tattoo – Old Jungle Saying.
And so you have this young girl who has tattooed a gigantic face of Mr Modi on her entire back and his PR machinery clearly sees this as an example of her ‘deewangi’. I am hoping for the girl’s sake that this is Photoshopped. Can you imagine the plight of her fellow dandiya dancers if she is wearing a backless choli and Namo peeps out in ‘Big Brother is watching you’ style? And of course, slightly imaginative positions during coitus are a strict no-no!  
Am I the only one who thinks NaMo looks a bit like Osama in the tattoo, especially with the white t-shirt looking like an Afghan turban on him?

Let A Thousand Flowers Bloom
Meghna Patel threw caution (and her clothes) to the wind as she posed nude* (terms & conditions apply) on a carpet of lotuses – only with a poster of Mr Modi for company. Ever since Ms Poonam Pandey pioneered the concept of ‘stripping as reward’, several starlets have followed her on the disrobed path. But this was something new.
‘Nude for NaMo’ was announced as an incentive or reward. What was Ms Patel saying? Vote for NaMo and I will throw away the lotuses? I don’t want a Hand to touch me? What?
Either way, she was reprimanded by a BJP official for doing something that was – you guessed it – alien to Indian culture. 
[On his birthday, Mr Modi was wished by Mallika Sherawat on national television through what was clearly the most execrable performance of the ‘Happy Birthday’ song ever. I am not including that in my list since it was a promotion of Ms Sherawat’s forthcoming TV show and not a Modi campaign message. Masochists, click here.]

Monkey Shakti, Tan Ki Shakti
While monkeys are our ancestors in a distant sort of way, we always refer to them in a negative way. All through my childhood, the word “Bnador” – in Bengali – is always reserved for the naughtiest kids and other cultures are no different. Therefore, the mind boggled when his PR cell compared Mr Modi to a monkey. On closer inspection, one realised it was Hanuman who he was being compared with. Surely, a visage of Ramanand Sagar’s Hanuman would have been more apt?
But the sincerity, with which the message asks you to recount the similarities 'apne dil par haath rakh kar', is something else.  

NaMo NaMo PM Go!
This is my personal favourite. Primarily because they rhyme 'tea vendor' with 'the last air-bender'. How cool is THAT? 
Everything that NaMo does (or is going to do) finds place here. In three exciting minutes, this video manages to summarise the main qualities* (terms & conditions apply) of the PM candidate, that too in rhyme. Set to dance music. And with snazzy slide transition effects? As Saif Ali Khan says, WOW!
If this is not worth 272 seats, I don’t know what is? 

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Sorting Out Sid - Beer and Blogger Contest

After the bestselling success of Just Married Please Excuse, Yashodhara (Lal) has now taken it on herself to sort out a much-harried-not-so-married toilet cleaner salesman – Sid. And she has asked: why would I like to read the book? Because I liked JMPE, I ventured tentatively? Apparently, that was not the right answer. Why does Sid sound interesting to you, she asked.
And that’s what this post all about... I take a look at some of the famous Sids of Bollywood and see what makes them interesting.
Statutory Warning: There are very few prominent Sids in Bollywood. So, we will have to make do with a lot of Siddharths. 

The first Sid - naturally - has to be the wastrel who couldn’t pass exams or hold down even simple jobs (at his father’s company!). Wake Up Sid was the final nail in the larger-than-life Bollywood hero’s coffin. Fighting off goons, he didn’t do – but Sid was courageous enough to strike out on his own and become a photographer in a classy Bombay – sorry, Mumbai – magazine. You know the type whose retweets are higher than the copies sold. But Sid’s talent was evident in the manner in which he saw the city he loved and hey, anything is better than selling toilet fittings. (Yes, that’s what Sid’s family business was all about.)

Nearly forty years before Ranbir Kapoor became Sid, his grand-uncle also played Sid – who also renounced the path of riches.
Before he became Gautam (or frivolously, when Buddha was a chhokra), the original proponent of the middle path was Siddhartha. Herman Hesse wrote a philosophical treatise on him, which Conrad Rooks promptly made into a film. This firang-fest became full-on Bollywood when Shashi Kapoor was called in to play the title role. Many eyebrows (and other things) were raised when Simi Garewal appeared topless in what is pretty much the scene that defines the film in India. [Go and search for the scene yourself, you pervert. I am not linking it here.]
Additional Trivia: Hemanta Mukherjee composed the music and Shashi’s son – Kunal – played his son in the movie.

Another Sid was artist Siddharth Sinha of Dil Chahta Hai.
Akshaye Khanna was the sensitive yet strong artist whose brushstrokes were as bold as his choices, his choice of career was as unconventional as his worldview. A single mother's son, he fell in love with a much older woman and did not mind taking on his best friend when he spoke of her disrespectfully. Farhan Akhtar redefined cool with his debut film and we suddenly found ourselves on big screen. And like in most friend circles, there was always one guy who was sketching the others on paper napkins. That guy was Sid.  

Dr Siddharth Sinha was a doctor who wanted to build a state-of-the-art hospital for children and passed on his Armaan to his son, Akash.
Amitabh Bachchan played the only Siddharth of his career as the silver-haired, golden-hearted doctor who died trying to save a child and then his son had to marry a shrew to fulfil his last wish. Amitabh Bachchan’s customary thoroughness was on display throughout the film as the lovable doctor in a good-natured film, which was a bit too slow.

After being a Siddharth’s son in Armaan, Anil Kapoor almost became a Siddharth’s father in Parinda.  
After Anil Kapoor and Madhuri Dixit completed their famous lovemaking scene (shrouded in white satin sheets, lit in blue) in the film, his post-coital pronouncement was his son’s name and his ambition for the unborn child: “Siddharth... woh iss duniya mein shanti layega...
For having such unrealistic ambitions for his child and putting undue pressure on what was theoretically not even a foetus, he was shot repeatedly by Nana Patekar. The bad news was that even Siddharth perished in the crossfire.

Q: Which three-word proposal did Siddharth Marathe make to Alisha Mafatlal in 1998?
Mr Marathe a.k.a. Sidhu was a neighbourhood-tough-wannabe-boxer who was Maharashtra Tourism’s most famous brand ambassador when he asked “Aati kya Khandala?
The only Sid(hu) in Aamir Khan’s career was in Vikram Bhatt’s Ghulam, a Bollywoodised version of On The Waterfront for which Aamir Khan did not bathe for the week when he was shooting the climax. Sidhu got into fisticuffs even outside the ring, thought nothing of climbing a skyscraper to meet his girlfriend, ran straight into incoming local trains and decided to become a hero when his father ceased to be one.

Which brings me to my favourite Siddharth – Siddharth Parashar of Chashme Buddoor.
Farooque Shaikh played the wonderful Economics student who put pictures of Gandhi on his wall and smoked only so that he could give it up when a pretty girl requested him. And a girl did request him soon enough and they had a delightfully real love story before his roommates messed it up. As the quintessential Delhi University student living on money orders, books borrowed from professors and cigarettes bought on his ‘khaata’, he remained endearing throughout the film. Even after he got a job in a company run by the aforesaid pretty girl’s father. Good guys don’t finish last, you see.

Relevant Trivia Alert: The SRK has never played a Siddharth yet though the other SRK (the one married to Vidya Balan) is a Siddharth.

So, the picture of Sid I have in my mind is someone who is quite sweet though a little tongue-tied and awkward with people (especially with girls). He is the type who would be a studious sort of chap in college but not averse to hanging out with some of the wastrels. In the corporate world, he would be the one trying to question conventional wisdom and could be taking a stand. He would also get frustrated with silly things happening around him and would want to quit the corporate rat race. And become a photographer, or something like that.
Sounds like an interesting sort of chap! 

So, what are you waiting for? Buy Sorting Out Sid and see if my predictions of Sid have come true. 

Thursday, January 02, 2014

Farooque Shaikh: The Gentle Young Man

Over the last few years, we seem to be losing many more of our cinema's stalwarts than normal. We have lost great directors, huge stars, superb craftsmen - brilliant talents all. But then, we RIP them on Twitter and move on. Hence, I was quite surprised at the sadness I felt when I heard about Farooque Shaikh's passing. Here was an actor who acted in very few films by Hindi cinema standards. Not even sixty films in forty years. That probably gives him one of the highest memorable/forgettable ratios among actors.

I wanted to write a tribute but then decided it is far better to just compile some of the best tributes that others have paid him. And just as I had imagined, he seemed to be exactly like his on-screen persona in real life as well.

First up is a wonderful illustration as tribute by Jayanto, the cartoonist for Hindustan Times.

The Indian Express reported how he had been funding the education of a 26/11 victim's children - anonymously. He simply called up the newspaper's office after reading a story and picked up the tab, just like that.

Jai Arjun Singh wrote about his short interaction with him, about his unfailing politeness and his charming self-deprecation.

Sukanya Verma confessed to being a fan-girl for never giving a bad performance and for being sweet even in queues for popcorn!

Shubra Gupta recounted the joys of his polite SMSes and brilliant filmography, thus giving a lovely picture of his reel and real lives being very similar.

Varun Grover remembered the life lesson Farooque Shaikh gave him - mangoes are not gold coins!

Shabana Azmi - his co-star, friend and college-mate - presented a beautiful picture of their careers together right from their days in St Xavier's Mumbai till the last performance of Tumhari Amrita.

His newest co-star - the very talented Swara Bhaskar - wrote about her stories during the filming of Listen Amaya and how the charm, the wit, the talent floored her.

And probably the best tribute to the man was written ten years back. It called him the 'Invisible Man' and described his roles quite brilliantly. Thus:
Where Shaikh differed from the Oms and the Naseers was that they had the unwashed, lean and hungry look, while Shaikh, at all times, looked like he had access to a good launderette and that, no matter how grave the crisis, he wasn’t going to skip lunch. 
Just the kind of person anyone would love to have as a friend.

The epithet of the title has been taken from a tweet by Greatbong. Most apt.  

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013: A Roundup

If you have a blog and you don't compile a Best of Year list, they revoke your account, report you to the nearest police station and send you a DVD of Neal 'n' Nikki. Now, much as I am a fan of Uday Chopra, I don't think I can do without a blog. Hence, here goes... 
My lists of some of my favourite things of the year. They are not the best. They are not the most popular. They are simply the ones I felt happiest after reading. 

Last year (2012), I promised myself that I would read 48 books and ended up reading less than 30. This year, I took a GoodReads Challenge of 52 books and I am happy to report a 110% achievement. (All my ex-bosses are muttering under their breath, "Saale ne sales target toh kabhi kiya nahin tha...")
Okay, all you pedants - the GoodReads list shows only 51 books because six books (and some very good ones too!) are not listed on the site yet. 
From the many worthies, here are my favourite five books of the year. (Cheated a bit to sneak one extra one in.)
5. Behind The Silicon Mask - Eshwar Sundaresan 
A great thriller, set in Milwaukee where a serial killer is targeting immigrants while a group of Indian software engineers go about their daily life. Edge-of-the-seat tension and very real views of the techie life in USA merge seamlessly to create a very strong debut novel. And oh - the real life parallels of the software company and its founder are very amusing. 

5. Bongpen - Tanmay Mukherjee 
His blog, his Twitter feed are to my regular corporate life what a dab of Boroline is to the cheek after a rough shave. This book is a slim one - a collection of some of the best pieces from his blog, with some new material added on. It is a delightful, keep-on-the-bedside-table-read-when-you-feel-like book. I hope to read a lot more of Tanmay in the coming years, online and offline. 

4. Hatching Twitter - Nick Bilton 
Hatching Twitter is a thrilling read as well as an informative one. Midway through it, I realised that of the four founders, one was a lot like me. When I was almost through, I realised the founder I was rooting for was not the one who was similar to me. I have read (and hated) many business/self-improvement books but none of them pointed out my own shortcomings as well as this one did. 
Also, I got to know that two of my favourite websites - Blogger and Twitter - were incubated by the same person's company. Ev Williams, you are my hero.

3. Flashback - Avijit Ghosh, Srijana Mitra Das, Sharmistha Gooptu
A compilation of the various articles on cinema from The Times Of India, this book is a great archive with a great perspective. From Tanuja to Tanisha, from Rajinikanth to Uttam Kumar, from Raj Kapoor to Ranbir Kapoor, it has it all and it is luscious.  
(And compiled by three Bengalis, FTW!)

2. In the Company of a Poet - Nasreen Munni Kabir & Gulzar 
When Gulzar stars talking to a film historian on his life and times, you just pray the conversation never ends. Gulzar talks about his films, his lyrics, his life, his father, his daughter with the clarity and sensitivity we have become accustomed to. 

1. The Cuckoo's Calling - Robert Galbraith 
An one-legged detective, recovering from a bad relationship. An assistant whose fiance doesn't want her to waste her time with the detective. A supermodel dabbling in sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll. And the supermodel's dysfunctional family. One second, this is a detective novel - you said? Well, it is. And if you haven't read it already, you must do so right now. 

This was a relatively lean year for me at the movies though I liked pretty much everything I saw. I even enjoyed watching my son watching Chennai Express. But the films I just loved this year are: 

5. Raanjhanaa
Kill me, sue me, ex-communicate me. But I enjoyed this trivial tale of romance and retribution just too much. Maybe it was Banaras. Maybe it was the East UP panache. Maybe it was AR Rehman's soaring music. Maybe it was the heroine who was also the villain. Maybe it was Dhanush. 
Why I loved Raanjhanaa was illogical but then, that's what love is all about. 

4. Fukrey
This has got to be the most under-rated of 2013's films. I feel that Fukrey is going to be a cult film of the generation, for the oh-so-real people who populated its script. Four wastrels trying to leak exam papers and play roadside matka games touched a chord because I knew these guys. Unlike the lead characters of Raanjhana whom I didn't know, I had met each of the lead characters of Fukrey. Who knows, I might have been one of them even. 

3. Bombay Talkies
When four - okay, three - of my favourite filmmakers got together to make a film celebrating hundred years of cinema, I had mentally placed this at the number one slot anyway. It did not turn out to be as fantabulous as I hoped but it was a wonderful piece of memorabilia anyway. 
And Dibakar Banerjee's film is the best short film in the history of Hindi cinema. I will kill you if you disagree. 

2. The Lunchbox
If I told you in Jan 2013 that in a film starring Irrfan and Nawazuddin Siddiqui, the best performance will be by a newcomer, you would have laughed - right? But Nimrat Kaur - sigh. 
There are so many people punching logical holes in The Lunchbox and generally agreeing that it is not Oscar material. But fellow 90s fans, pause and tell me this - if the hero's name is Saajan and you are the director, what song would you choose for the soundtrack? Yes, correct
And Nimrat Kaur - sigh. 

1. Kai Po Che 
After a lot of deliberations, I realised this is the film I loved the most while watching and would love to watch the maximum times in the coming years. The setting was perfect. The friends were perfect. The soundtrack - oh, the soundtrack - was perfect. And as realists cribbed, even the ending was perfect. But what would you rather see? Rioters being given clean chits and Muslim boys getting slaughtered in riots? 

Overall, 2013 turned out to be decent for me. 
Apart from work, I managed to meet a lot of cool people, do a lot of cool stuff - much of which will hopefully be presented to you in the not-so-distant future. That means, 2014 is also looking quite good and hopeful too. And in these troubled times, that is never a bad thing. 

Wish all of you a great 2014! 

Monday, December 30, 2013

Filmi Fridays: The Coolest Bikes of Bollywood

My Yahoo! Movies column, first published here

As Bullett Raja kick-starts its ride across cinemas today, it is just the right time to look at the cool bikes of Bollywood. Two-wheels have always been the choice of cool people in Hindi cinema. Here are some of the best.

One of the most famous bikes of Bollywood doesn’t have two wheels. When small-time crooks Jai and Veeru escaped with someone’s bike, they got a side-car free. Riding the bike (licence plate MYB 3047), they zoomed across highways and sang a happy song. Within the song, they managed to steal a cap, lose the side-car, try to put line on a girl and convince us of their friendship.
Many years later, the real-life Jai and Veeru’s sons – Abhishek Bachchan and Bobby Deol – reprised the scene with yet another bike-with-a-sidecar, for a film called Jhoom Barabar Jhoom. Everyone agreed classics shouldn’t be messed with.

Reprises – especially with the same set of stars or their offspring – are loved by audiences and filmmakers alike.
Forty years ago, a young pair – Rishi Kapoor and Dimple Kapadia – acted in a teeny-bopper romance called Bobby in which the hero took his girl around in a cool new bike. While the bike looks a little clunky now, it was the cool thing at that time.
Thirty years later, the same pair acted as two oldies falling in love again and this time also, they left their sedans and convertibles in favour of a cruiser bike. They bike was way cooler than the original as were the leading pair.

The most exhilarating bike sequence in Bollywood is when a poor orphan is urged by a fakir to forget his sorrows and laugh out loud. As the sound of his laughter grew louder, the scene changed from his dark childhood to the bright seaside roads of Bombay. The music reached a crescendo when Sikandar zoomed on to Marine Drive on his bike, singing Rote hue aate hain sab, hasta hua jo jayega... Amitabh Bachchan was super-handsome and the peak of his stardom when Muqaddar Ka Sikandar released and this bike-song went up a few notches because of his charisma.

Bikes got a starring role when a ruffian tried to reform and got a job in a bike factory. The film was Hero and the ruffian was Jackie Shroff in his first leading role.
In an early form of product placement, Jackie dada worked in the Rajdoot factory and was inordinately proud of the ‘best bike in India’. He picked fights with NRIs who thought Indian bikes weren’t good enough and finally, participated in a bike race where the irresistible Jackie and Rajdoot combo beat the Jimmy Thapa (Shakti Kapoor) and Honda combo with panache.

You see, all bikes don’t win races and roar into life at the flick of a key. Sometimes, they have to kicked and cajoled to start. And sometimes, they don’t start at all. Especially if you are a poor Delhi University student, living from money order to money order.
Sai Paranjpye’s classic Chashme Buddoor had three friends – Siddharth, Jomo and Omi – and with Jomo’s recalcitrant bike, they formed an unlikely quartet. The bike was used to pick up girls at the drop of a hat though it stopped running, also at the drop of a hat. Except when the three friends had to sing a song, the bike worked just fine and the trio threw caution and helmets to the winds as they rode their steed with gay abandon in the open streets of 1980s Delhi.

As a famous two-wheeler ad asks, why should boys have all the fun?
In Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, Katrina Kaif picked up her friend’s motorcycle and helmet to race after the man she realised she was in love with. Hrithik Roshan got the most  pleasant surprise of his life when the devastatingly good-looking Kat came up to his car in a bike, took off the helmet nonchalantly and smooched the hell out of him.
In Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi, it was Anushka Sharma’s turn to snatch a super-bike from her wimpy companion and get into a duel with a biker gang. She looked super-cool as the salwar-kameez-wearing Punjabi kudi who blazed around on a super-bike. Her companion hung on for dear life.

When Anushka revved her bike, the background music was from another film from the same production house – Dhoom.
The Dhoom series is all about fast women, faster cars and fastest bikes. It started with the first film where the whole heist was dependent on nitrogen-fuelled super-bikes zooming down Mumbai’s Western Express highway. And in the forthcoming Dhoom 3, Aamir Khan is another super-thief who is about to zip off on a bike and even slipping an inch away from a mega-truck. It keeps getting bigger and faster.

In the recent past, action superstar Jean Claude Van Damme performed an amazing stunt in an ad for Volvo trucks that has gone ‘viral’ with vengeance.
What we tend to forget is that the origin of the stunt happened in our very own Bollywood. Nearly twenty years ago, Ajay Devgn made his debut in an action-romantic-thriller called Phool Aur Kaante where he made his appearance standing on two bikes and doing a split even more amazing than Van Damme’s.

You see, bikes and Bollywood are just made for each other! 

Friday, November 29, 2013

Film Fridays: KJo Ke Karnaame

My Yahoo! Movies column, first published here

Having looked at heroes, heroines and character actors of new films in this column, we change track this week and look at the producer. This is an easy thing to do since the producer is as articulate, good-looking and glamourous as some of the stars in Bollywood. And we look at just that… the times Karan Johar was in front of the camera instead of being behind it.

Karan Johar’s acting career started on television, in a series called Indradhanush. He used his chubby, goofy looks to great effect in a comic role among a bunch of teenagers. The TV series was a sci-fi story where a precocious youngster started out to build a computer and ended up with a time machine instead. Karan played a schoolboy who offered potato wafers when ‘chips’ were required for the computer and landed up in pre-independence India thanks to the time machine.

Karan Johar’s big-screen debut was not only auspicious but explosive. His name is part of the acting credits of the longest-running film in Bollywood history. Unofficially, he was also an assistant to the director Aditya Chopra in Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge though he got noticed as SRK’s bumbling friend, Rocky. Wearing geek glasses and a mop of unruly hair, he did a fab job in that standard Bollywood role of ‘hero’s friend’. He did an even better job of convincing SRK to act in his directorial debut.   

The ‘Karan Johar film’ has become the new touchstone of success in Bollywood and having been in one assures sure-shot stardom and regular presence in Page 3 parties.
Vivek Oberoi played a newspaper columnist-cum-screenwriter in Sujoy Ghosh’s Home Delivery (Aapko… Ghar Tak), who was trying to write a script for a Karan Johar film – a Holy Grail that would take him to success and – maybe – happiness.
As Vivek Oberoi juggled his many priorities and whooshing deadlines, Karan kept popping up at regular intervals enquiring about the script (or not).

It went one step better in Salaam-e-Ishq.
Here Priyanka Chopra played ‘item girl’ Kamini who was looking to hit big-time with a role in a Karan Johar film. To do it, she did what starlets in Bollywood keep on doing… created a fictional affair. She claimed to be madly in love with a fictional character called Rahul, hoping the furore over her affair would cause the director to notice her. What she hadn’t bargained for a real Rahul landing up at her doorstep and proposing to her at the exact moment when she received a call from Karan Johar.
You could say this entry is a bit of a cheating since K Jo never ‘appeared’ but was only heard on the phone.

As time went by, the star aspiring for a role in a Karan Johar film became bigger and bigger.
In Luck By Chance, Hrithik Roshan played Zafar Khan – the star who wanted to become a superstar with a K Jo film. To do the role, Zafar did a series of shady moves to wriggle out of a film he was committed to do – leaving a producer (Rishi Kapoor) in the lurch. Towards the end of the film, Karan Johar appeared as himself – as something like the voice of conscience – and told how his machinations had left the door open for a young competitor (Farhan Akhtar) to come in.

After being the aspirational director in so many films, Karan Johar appeared on-screen as his other popular avatar – the awards show host.
In Farah Khan’s Om Shanti Om, he was the presenter at the Filmfare Awards ceremony and delivered a cool pun to kick off the proceedings: “Kehte hain heere ki kadar johri karta hai. Par hero ki kadar toh Johar hi karta hai.” As the laughter died away, he announced the nominees for the Best Actor category and then introduced Subhash Ghai and Rishi Kapoor to give away the prize. Just like real life.
And just like real life, his favourite actor won the prize!

It looks like his biggest role is going to be Anurag Kashyap’s Bombay Velvet. In this saga about how Bombay became Mumbai, Karan Johar is playing a Parsi tabloid editor said to be based on the flamboyant Rusi Karanjia of Blitz. The much-touted character supposedly has negative shades or is an out-and-out negative one, depending on which site you read about it. Having lost ten kilos and charged only eleven rupees for the role, Karan has completed one schedule of the film and fans are looking forward to the film’s December 2014 release. 

Friday, November 22, 2013

Filmi Fridays: O Ramji

My Yahoo! Movies column, first published here.

As Ranveer Singh proceeds to earn eternal hatred of Indian men by wrapping himself around Deepika Padukone in hundreds of cinemas this week, we look at some of his illustrious predecessors. Who are the most famous Rams of Bollywood?

Dilip Kumar was Ram. Dilip Kumar was also Shyam. Actually, Dilip Kumar was Ram Aur Shyam – the favourite Bollywood formula of twins growing up to be as differently as chalk and cheese. As Ram, Yusuf-saab was the docile brother whipped to a pulp by Pran while Shyam Rao was the flamboyant avatar where he was about to give back a few of the lashes.

After the comic brilliance of Chupke Chupke and the action extravaganza that was Sholay, Dharmendra and Amitabh Bachchan came together as Ram Balram (respectively). This was Deewaar with a twist as Ram became a smuggler’s henchman and Balram became a police officer – with none of the original intensity. Ram sang hit songs with Balram (Ek rasta do rahee) in traditions of Jai-Veeru. He fought with Balram in traditions of Vijay-Ravi. And then reunited with their mother in traditions of Amar Akbar Anthony.

Rajesh Khanna was not only Ram but his incarnation in Aaj Ka MLA Ram Avtar. A satire on the Indian political system, Ram Avtar was a politician’s barber who was made to stand in an election and who became the MLA despite all odds. Rajesh Khanna was the bemused barber who was everyone’s favourite till he won the election. Then, he became a corrupt bastard. Now, where have I heard this story before?

Amitabh Bachchan was Dr Ramprasad Ghayal in Mrityudaata – the surgeon who could only operate when he was stone drunk! In his comeback film produced by his own company, Amitabh acted in one of his worst written roles of his career. And just in case, we didn’t get the Ramayan connection, his wife (Dimple Kapadia) was called Janaki and his brother (Arbaaz Khan) was called Bharat.  

Following the footsteps of Dilip Kumar, Dharmendra and Amitabh Bachchan, SRK also became Ram. Ram Jaane, to be exact.
As a foundling orphan child, he asked a saintly soul what his name was. When he philosophically said, “Ram jaane” (God knows), he took that on as his name. As he went on to become a small-time criminal, he started wearing suits without shirts (ugh!), romancing Juhi Chawla and singing a ‘title song’ around his name (Kehte hain log mujhe Ram Jaane…).

While Anil Kapoor was the bigger draw in the Subhash Ghai blockbuster, Jackie Shroff was the opening name of Ram Lakhan – Inspector Ram Pratap Singh. While Anil Kapoor pranced around singing the hit My name is Lakhan, Jackie also had a (lesser known) song – O Ramji, bada dukh dina tere Lakhan ne – sung for him. And like to the original hero, he was the brave, virtuous one.

Aamir Khan was a Ram – Ram Shankar Nikumbh – in his directorial debut, Taare Zameen Par. As the Art teacher who had a special knack for understanding children and their weaknesses – not to mention their strengths – he was an unusual character with an unusual name. His first name did not feature too much in the film as his colleagues and students called him by his surname.

Arguably, the funniest Ram in Hindi cinema is Ram Prasad Sharma of Gol Maal. His father was also Dasrath Prasad Sharma, as he never failed to remind us. He also had a brother called Laxman Prasad Sharma, who fell in love with a girl whose name was (mythologically appropriate) Urmila.
One second, he had a brother? Well yes, a happy-go-lucky chap who went by his nickname Lucky.
Are you sure about the brother? Well, it is a long story then…

Ram Prasad Sharma and Laxman Prasad Sharma reappeared recently as Major Ram and Lucky (pronounced Luck-hey!) in Farah Khan’s Main Hoon Na. Paying a tribute to the Hrishikesh Mukherjee original, the director borrowed the classic names and gave them a modern twist.

Not all Rams of the titles are present in the film.
Ram Teri Ganga Maili borrowed its title from the plaintive cry of a saint who cried out to Ramakrishna Paramhans about the Ganga that flowed by his ashram. The Ram in the title was not physically there in the film but by naming the hero Naren (Rajeev Kapoor), the director ensured a spiritual presence. Ramakrishna’s most famous disciple was Swami Vivekanand, who birth name was Naren.

And the final name in the list is not a Ram.
In Andaz Apna Apna, Amar (Aamir Khan) consoled Prem (Salman Khan) with a quart of rum and said it was the best companion for a broken heart. “Gham ka saathi rum”, he said. Devout people would say, “Gham ka saathi Ram” is also true!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Why the best Google ad is not the one you saw

I have never written about advertising and marketing on this blog. Since my day job involves an overdose of both, I try not to delve on those topics outside office. But the excitement over the new Google ad became so much that I am now scared they will revoke my diploma if I don’t write on it.
For the benefit of Mr Van Winkle, here is the ad.

This ad got 5 million views in the week since it launched. To give you a perspective, the official Ram-Leela trailer got 7.7 million views in two months. The ad was also the subject of hectic discussions on authenticity of the Lahori accent of the characters and #AlternateGoogleAd was a hilarious rage on Twitter. In terms of emotional impact, it was a triumph. 

My interest in the ad was somewhat academic (and prosaic). Like any real-life Marketing Manager, my first question is usually: “Objective kya hain?” That is, what did the ad set out to do?
You see, whatever I recall from my Marketing classes from fifteen years back is that advertising is supposed to bring about a change. A change in action (“go out and buy Axe”) or thought (“Hitting women is a bad idea”).
I am unclear as to what the objective of this ad is. Get people to use (more) Google? Get them to check flight timings and weather on Google? Think Google is a cool brand? Love Google?
There was an outpouring of love for Google after the ad but the love was always there. This ad just provided an occasion to demonstrate it. Purely from a business point of view (and that should be done because Google’s business in India is still fledgling compared to, say, Unilever’s), is just a show-your-love ad justified?  

People who are on the ‘net use Google. This is not restricted to young people only. Working professionals of a wide age group – because they have access – use and are now familiar with the ‘net and Google.
The only group of people who are somewhat less familiar with Google are older people and women. For the former, it is a question of familiarity since they spent a large part of their lives without knowing about computers. For women in a male-dominated society, it is a matter of access.

This begs the question why did the ad not show the old grandpas doing on Google what their grandchildren were doing. Grandfather remembers childhood friend in Lahore, goes on Google, locates him, calls his grandson and gets him over. I am sure O&M would have figured out a way to keep some surprise element for the emotional high at the end.
Incidentally, a Vodafone ad showed how their 3G internet services are ‘made for the young’.

Just showing two youngsters using lots of Google services was somewhat obvious, I thought. Of course, the huge positive outburst was a great win for the brand but I doubt if people started using Google more after this ad.
Even the shorter follow-up ads showed the grandfathers as helpless Luddites who depended on someone else using Google to answer their questions. Again, a wasted opportunity – in my humble opinion.

Google has always focused on increasing the penetration of internet usage. For example, it organises an annual shopping festival – Great Online Shopping Festival (GOSF) – where the stated aim is to get people to start shopping online. Google is not into e-commerce but it does GOSF because it has figured out that if people spend more time (and money) online, they are more likely to click on ads and if they click on more ads, Google will make more money.
Wonder why they didn't follow the same principle for their 'brand campaign'? 

Which brings me to a brilliant Google initiative that – I hope – you will hear a lot of.
Helping Women Go Online (HWGO) is a guide for women to start using the ‘net. It starts from using a computer and goes on email, chatting, watching videos and all sorts of things we take for granted but our mothers are in need of. They even have a helpline number, for those who feel comfortable talking.
And how will they promote HWGO?
Through ads – which will actually help people change what they think (“Internet has tons of useful stuff and is very easy to use”) and do (“Let me log on”). These ads, I believe, will actually go some way in changing the internet landscape of India. 
And that is something I expect Google to do and leave Partition stories to MS Sathyu. (Oh wait...)

Watch the ads here, here and here

These ads don’t have the emotional kick of an India-Pakistan reunion but I recognised my mother in one of them. Didn’t you?