Sunday, December 31, 2006

The Best of 2006

Not a bad year, after all. Added one line to my CV (professionally). And changed another. Marital status went from "Married" to "Married with a son".

Since everybody is doing it, I thought I might as well join in. Deciding the Best of 2006, that is. So, I will just take some of the topics I usually write about and arbitrarily choose the best that I came across in the last one year.
Since I was grounded for part of the year and prejudiced for all of it, any pretensions at objectivity are best avoided!

Cinema
* Lage Raho Munnabhai: For just one line, actually. "Gandhi to note ke upar aata hain, bhai. Lekin Jayanti kaun hain?"

* Khosla Ka Ghosla: For being the Most Real-Life Depiction of Daylli. "Khosla-saab, aap to South Delhi waale ban gaye..."

* Omkara: For Langda Tyagi.
(Disclaimer: I have not seen The Departed yet.)

Food
* Mutton Barra Kabab at Minar (GK I Market): In the city of kababs, this manages to come out right on top with exactly the right amount of crispness (but not burnt) at the edge of the bone and the right amount of juiciness (but not uncooked) in the meat.

* Gandharaj Bhetki at Oh Calcutta: Fish flavoured with a fragrant variety of lemon. With a smattering of ginger and green chillies. One second… let me wipe the drool off the keyboard.

* Page 3 Murders: Kalpana Swaminathan’s murder mystery starring a female detective (Lalli) with the backdrop of a sumptuous banquet was quite brilliant, if not for the detection but for the elaborate description of exceptional food, complete with history, recipes and reactions. Slurp!

Sports
* Zidane vs Brazil: Unfortunately, I am unable to forget that move in which he received the ball with his back towards Ronaldo. He turned and in one movement, tapped the ball over Ronaldo’s head with his left foot, trapped it with his right and moved ahead. I must have read some 100,000 words on Guardian’s website about Ronaldo’s weight problem. He proved it to me in 1.2 seconds.

* Sourav Ganguly vs Greg Chappell: Just when ESPN and Ten Sports were finalizing their contracts for getting the former captain into the commentary box, he came back. As India’s Great White Hope against pace bowling! And made a 51* which made more headlines than Sehwag’s 309. When last heard, Greg Chappell’s cronies were claiming that the dropping was intentional… apparently to increase Sourav’s hunger. Moral of the Story: Never mess with a Bengali! (Ask Ratan Tata!)

Humour
* The Great Indian Laughter Champions: I always consider Kingfisher as a travel option (despite being a lot more expensive) for the simple reason that they show recordings of Raju Srivastav, Naveen Prabhakar and gang on the in-flight TV. Specially recommended – Raju’s sketch on how an antacid tablet takes directions inside a tummy suffering from indigestion.

* Lo Kallo Baat: A desi version of Whose Line Is It Anyway? Anchored by Saurav Shukla, it had cameos by little known comic actors and after a few warm-up episodes, they came up with some really good extempore stuff. Specially recommended – Ad-libbed spoofs of popular songs when the end credits rolled.

Books
* John Wright's Indian Summers – The reticent former coach turned out to be a fabulous raconteur, an elephant as far memory is concerned and of course, a much better coach in hindsight! The biggest draw of the book probably is his steadfast refusal to name names so one is left trying to decipher the “a former Indian captain from Bombay”, “a selector from Eastern Zone” or “India’s biggest liquor baron”… Go figure!

* Sacred Games - Vikram Chandra's wrist-sprainer for being the most definitive, most representative, most imaginative guide book to India's Maximum City.

Blogs
Posts actually. The last few months was actually the first time I (along with the entire planet and their cousins) read, enjoyed and kept coming back for more blogs.

So here are my favourite posts of 2006! No explanations are given, none are needed either!

* Why I Love the Barjatyas – Dilnavaz
* Happy Birthday – Dipanjan
* Oh Bombay – Udayan
* Close Encounters of the Head-butting Kind – Suprio
* Balle Balle in Delhi – Sidin
* Project World Cup – GreatBong
* Mr and Mrs Arora - Issac
* Why I wanted a daughter? And why I am glad I had a son – Mad Momma
* Bor Ashbey Ekkhuni - Rimi
* The September 6 Kid - Yours Truly

The last (rather pompous) addition is out of a sense of wonder that I am having so much fun with a person who cannot speak, is bald and loves to stay naked. Blowing air into my son's face and watching him smile has been the most satisfying thing I have done last year.
If on Sept 6 '05, somebody had asked me whether I would ever give away my Calvin & Hobbes collection, I would have laughed. Exactly 365 days later, I had somebody to whom I would not only happily give my C&H albums to, but would throw in my Ray DVDs and Feluda novels as well.
I think 2006 will go down in my life as the year I left Bohemia to become a citizen of Utopia. The Year of Changing Priorities.

Wish you all a great 2007!

Friday, December 29, 2006

Riverdale High

When I was about nine/ten, my Dad and I used to across the street from our flat in Megha Mallar (a multi-storied apartment in South Calcutta) to a row of shacks, which were called 'lending libraries'. These were second-hand bookstalls, which circulated pulp fiction and comics in return for a small fee (and a refundable deposit). While my father browsed through his Ludlums and Sheldons, I ran through a huge list of titles starring the world's oldest teenager - Archie Andrews.

Archie's dilemma over Betty & Veronica, Reggie getting clobbered (this is one of the few words I learnt from the Archies) by Big Moose, Jughead's burger gluttony and Ethel allergy, Dilton's cerebral adventures, Mr Weatherbee & Miss Grundy's exasperation with the 'gang' were all devoured with great energy and only a whiff of comprehension.
What was a 'prom'? Why does an act of indiscipline lead to a 'detention' instead of a whack of the ruler? How can school students have a car? (Even if it is jalopy... BTW, what is a ‘jalopy’?) What happens on a 'date'? All of these were integral to the plots and characters of Archie Comics and as Indian kids in pre-cable Calcutta, they were completely alien to us. And yet, we went through volumes of these comics at feverish pace. Even Sabrina the Teenage Witch and Josey and the Pussycats were not spared!
A weekly dose of the series appeared in the Sunday magazine of The Telegraph – as a three–row panel.

There were standard formats for the entire series. It would either be a Digest or a Double Digest. Each Digest would have 4-6 ‘long stories’ punctuated by one-page funnies and ‘pin-ups’. The pin-ups were typically one single panel in which one funny thing was happening.
Example of a pin-up: Reggie and Midge necking under mistletoe. Big Moose rolling up his sleeves and going “GGGRRRR”!
Betty (holding a stocking): “Where do you want to hang your sock, Moose?”
Moose: “On Reggie’s jaw!”
Learning 1: Sock is what we called ‘boxing’ in India. (As in, “Aee shnarey, doo kya box?”)
Learning 2: You kiss under mistletoe!
Some of the Digests had titles, which seemed to suggest that they were Betty & Veronica Digests or Jughead Digests. But since almost all the stories featured the entire gang, this naming seemed a little redundant.
There was one more series, which was called “Archie, Archie Andrews… Where Are You?” These were typically stories of Archie’s stupidity. One cover being Archie and Veronica riding in his jalopy with an aeroplane in the background (obviously on a runway!) and Archie going “I am sure the freeway exit is just down the road!”

And in the pages of those Digests, you had membership forms to Archie Andrews Fan Clubs promising membership buttons, pens, note-pads – all for a $ 2.99 fee. This was around the time when the exchange rate to the dollar was about Rs 10-12, so the money did not look too prohibitive. What made it completely inaccessible were (1) the instructions on the form which asked to “Please Print” and (2) the almost racist caveat “Valid for US and Canada only”. For some time, the merchandise looked attractive enough for me to wonder if I can put my aunt’s address in Pittsburgh for the delivery. But the other instruction remained insurmountable.
A long time later when I was taking the TOEFL, I realized that “Print” simply meant writing in block letters! Hell… and there I was, looking for an offset machine to print my name and address on to that form!

In its entirety, the series provided a happy glimpse into an almost forbidden world of romance, pranks and curiosities. Boys and girls kissing. Not having to wear uniform to school. Supplementing allowances through part-time jobs at soda fountains. Using the swimming pool at your rich friend’s house. Driving down to the beach for a day-long picnic.
All these were really high-end aspirational stuff, which – I think – formed the core appeal of this series. Given the fact that the jokes were quite pedestrian (not to mention – predictable!), I wonder what the American teenagers found appealing in Archie. I guess what we found aspirational, they found identifiable!

So, for the last few decades, Archie has managed to hold attention without having to die and get resurrected, without starring in a movie franchise (At least, none that I know of!) and more importantly, without having to wear underpants over his trousers.
For the last thirty years or so, he is breaking Mr Lodge’s Ming vases while trying to polish them and still managing to be popular!
In the mid-80s, Veronica swiping her credit card and Riverdale High having its own radio station were indicative of great modernity. But given that the location is suburban America, these probably happened even earlier. I would imagine that I-pods and mobile phones have made an appearance in the comics by now but the books, which I have seen in recent times, are still happily in the mid-90s!

And the trivia buff that I am, I managed to find enough nuggets to tickle aficionados.
* Jughead’s real name is Forsythe P. Jones III (which means his father and grandfather was called the same!).
* Mr Lodge’s first name is Hiram. Miss Grundy’s is Geraldine. Mr Weatherbee is Waldo.
* The Riverdale High school newspaper is called Blue And Gold.
* Jughead has a cousin called Souphead.
* Jughead always wore a jersey / sweatshirt with a S emblazoned on to it. I had tried to spot any references to it but failed. I was quite amused to come across a Sunday magazine strip in which there is an elaborate play on this S and it is compared with the disappearance of Atlantis as one of the greatest mysteries of mankind!

At least two major Indian signposts seem to have been inspired by this comic – the college of Kuch Kuch Hota Hain (and also the characters, to some extent) is unabashedly Riverdale. And the Great Indian Puppy Love Machine – Archies Gallery – would have taken its name from this icon of teenage romance. All wannabe Archies of India have spent countless hours in Archies Galleries trying to choose Tom Cruise calendars, Aamir Khan posters, pink-ribbon-swathed teddy bears, mushy-poem-laden greeting cards for their Betties and Veronicas. In a perverse acknowledgement of their popularization of ‘Americana’, a few Archies Galleries get routinely vandalized by Shiv Sena / Bajrang Dal activists every Valentine’s Day! And to think, it all started with the freckled, red-haired American teenager!
One more teenybopper movie – Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar – had a love triangle, which was very close to the Archies. With a middle class Betty (Ayesha Jhulka) being completely besotted by a truant Archie (Aamir Khan) who is wooing Veronica (Pooja Bedi) beyond his means, that part of the movie was quite similar to the comic book! The similarity could probably be extended to a rich brattish Reggie (Deepak Tijori) and a paunchy Mr Andrews (Kulbhushan Kharbanda) but thankfully, the original Archie never tried to win inspirational cycle races!

I have often wondered that Archie Comics violates all the laws of Economics and probably a few of Physics as well. For the simple reason that I have NEVER known/seen anybody buy a comic. I always borrowed them from Gautam, who borrowed them from Jojo, who used to take them from his cousin Mamon, who found them in her school bus… ad infinitum.
My guess is that these comics would have a combined sales running into millions of copies of which a large percentage would be coming to India. God only knows how these copies wind their way from one friend to a relative to a neighbour to a lending library?

I think I will pick up an Archie comic today and try to find out the first name of Professor Flutesnoot or marvel at how Coach Clayton manages to get the Riverdale basketball team to an improbable victory over Central High. To test my own maturity, I would also try to see if I still feel that Archie is an idiot for not choosing Betty! For old time’s sake…
I could buy a comic from the Oxford Bookstore – but I think I will just borrow it from my niece. After all, it’s for old time’s sake!

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Love At First Sight: First Meetings of Bollywood

Hindi films are nothing if not for the legends surrounding most of them. All the stars, all the movies, all the locations would have come to a naught if you did not have that hanger-on who claimed to have been exactly there when it all happened.
I think one of the greatest heroes of Bollywood is the guy who stopped Amitabh from boarding that train to Allahabad after his 12th flop. For good measure, he also introduced him to Prakash Mehra who was looking for an actor to star in a film called Zanjeer.
There was no such guy?
What rubbish? In fact, that guy was featured in a scene of Rangeela, where he recounted this story.
That guy was Neeraj Vohra? That guy was played by Neeraj Vohra. He actually exists. No, really!

Of the billions of legends around the millions of stars, the most interesting ones are about the first meetings of stars. There is an element of suspense & drama around these meetings. Thanks to our congenital predisposition to astrology, there is something inherently attractive about a chance meeting between two Masters of the Universe.
The what-ifs are too scary... Imagine if Gulzar and R D had never met! Aaaarrrrgggghhhh...

Guru Dutt & Dev Anand
Dev Anand was this employee in the Indian Postal Services. During the war, he worked as a censor - where he read hundreds of letters daily to edit out passages that were unwanted by the government. He used to do this boring job by day, get completely taken by the fan letters the filmstars used to get, dreamt of getting some letters like that for himself and stayed in a chawl nearby.
One day, his dhobi returned his laundry in which there was a shirt which was not his. Same size but definitely not the same sartorial elegance Dev was used to. On enquiring, the dhobi speculated that the shirt could belong to this other fellow, who was working on odd jobs at Prabhat Talkies. To get a little dope on the film industry, Dev decided to take the shirt back to the owner himself. And became so thick with Gurudutt Shivshankar Padukone that very soon, the most famous pact of Hindi cinema was made... if Dev produced a film, Guru would direct it. If Guru produced one, Dev would star in it.
For the record - Dev kept his part of the bargain with Baazi. Guru reneged.
Now, we can only wish that he had not!

Balraj Sahni & Johnny Walker
Badruddin Jamaluddin Qazi was a conductor with the Dadar depot of BEST. His standard routine consisted of entertaining passengers while handing the tickets. A stammering lover proposing to his girlfriend for Mr Braganza. An out-of-tune singer doing a ghazal for Mrs Apte. A drunkard getting harangued by his wife for Mr Sahni. Balraj Sahni, that is.
(Those who are amazed by Arshad Warsi's Mercedes would be even more amazed to realise Balraj Sahni travelled to studios by bus. Taxi if it was the first week of the month. And police jeep when he had been arrested for his anti-establishment plays!)
Balraj Sahni was working on a script for a picture called Baazi (see above) - most parts of which were filled except for one of a comedian. He was impressed enough by Badru's antics to fix up an appointment for him with the director, Guru Dutt.
On the day of the meeting, Badru staggered in the room completely drunk, proceeded to fall over furniture and almost kissed the studio receptionist, Miss Lobo. Only when the director was about to call the police did he own up to the fact that he was acting. Over-acting, actually! Thanks to his drunken turn, when the time came to decide a screen name (B. J Qazi is not what screen legends are called!), Guru Dutt unilaterally decided to infringe on the copyright of world's most famous Scotch whisky brand.
And for generations after that, Indians thought that Johnny Walker does drunken roles so well that they named a whisky after him!

Raj Kapoor & Nargis
Baby Nargis had acted in a few films as a child artiste. She grew up to a raving beauty and acted in a few eminently forgettable ones as well.
During that time, Prithviraj Kapoor's eldest son was getting on everyone's nerves on the sets of a film where he was the clapper boy. (It is a common filmi family tradition to send the new generation kiddos as assistants to sets who could not refuse them. Nasir Hussain sent his nephew Aamir to do the same!) The story was that the clapper boy took more to get ready than the hero!
Anyways, Raj decided that there are better films to be made, cocked a snook at his bosses, used to his father's clout to get financing and even got a script written. To save some money, he decided to act in the lead role himself. By this time, he had screen tested hundreds of the girls for the lead role and did not like any. Just when he was getting really impatient, he happened to see some footage of Nargis and decided that the girl had some magic. An appointment was fixed and young Mr Kapoor went off to meet the girl.
Either Ms Nargis did not know the director's time of arrival or she could not care less, she was busy in the kitchen when the door was knocked. Actually, she was frying some stuff in besan - with her hands wrist-deep in the batter. With no servants around, she ran and opened the door herself. Tousled hair, hands in a mess... but she managed to get suitably impressed by the light-eyed, fair-skinned good looks of Mr Kapoor. And when she used the back of her hand to push back a few strands of hair from her forehead, she smeared a whole lot of besan on to her hair.
Of course I was not standing across the corridor watching the scene unfold. I just watched Bobby like everyone else!

Satyajit Ray & Sharmila Tagore
Ray developed a reputation for giving chances to newcomers right from his first film. He did not really have a choice during Pather Panchali as none of the actors of Bengali cinema then fitted the bill for any of the roles - and more importantly, he did not have the money to pay any of them!
But even his first film - being based on an all-time Bengali classic, attracted enough interest for people to land up with their children for the lead roles. In fact, one gentleman landed up with his daughter (for the role of Apu!) directly from the saloon after cutting the girl's hair to a boy cut! Even the powder and hair bits were there on the girl's neck!
When he was testing actresses for the role of Aparna in Apur Sansar, it turned out to be one long haul with none of the actresses matching the innocence, beauty and sensitivity for the role.
When he heard through a common friend of a fourteen-year old, who was distantly related to Tagore, he was at his wit's end and wanted to refuse but could not do so because of his 'bhadralok' upbringing! His worst fears were confirmed when the girl in question landed up in a short yellow frock and a fringe cut! But something must have come through the English diction, that Ray asked his wife to take the girl inside, tie her hair in a bun using a wig and dress her in a traditional saree.
And that's when Sharmila Tagore became Aparna. At the end of her journey, she went on to become the biggest star of Bollywood.

Ramesh Sippy & Amjad Khan
The offices of Sippy Films had a room - which was ostensibly for their story department. In the year 1972, the story department was all but disbanded as the scion of the company - Ramesh - was always closeted with two Muslim boys of the same age (which was very young, by filmi standards). Salim Khan and Javed Akhtar were given full use of the story room as they were working on a two-line story idea commissioned by Sippy Films. A police officer's family is massacred by a dacoit. To take revenge, the officer takes the help of two small-time crooks. Simple.
Of the four characters mentioned in the two lines, three had already been cast. And as the screen-writer duo worked towards the climax of the screenplay, they realised that the dacoit is turning out to be the most charismatic of the lot. And with two major stars of the day being asked to play the police officer and one of the crooks, the actor to play the dacoit had to match them in style and panache. All major villains of the day were evaluated and rejected for lack of menace. Danny Denzongpa was the front-runner for the role and he was even signed on.
At this point, Satyen Kappu recommended to Salim Khan a young actor, who was acting in a IPTA production with him. Salim saw the actor and asked him to come and meet Ramesh Sippy. And wished him luck in true filmi style... "Yeh role aap ka ho sakta hain. Aapke koshish se ya aapke kismat se."
When the actor walked into the dimly-lit story room, Ramesh Sippy was lying on a mattress on the ground with his back to the door. Hearing a voice, he turned around and looked upto a guy who was medium in build but because of Ramesh's perspective from the floor, looked like a menacing figure who loomed across the entire frame of the door. Ramesh Sippy turned around and met Amjad Khan for the first time.
After that first meeting, Amjad went back and returned in army fatigues, with blackened teeth and a grubby look. Now, Ramesh Sippy met Gabbar Singh for the first time.
The chemistry was strong enough to work around the constellations and the fates conspired to ensure that Danny Denzongpa had to pull out of the film and Amjad Khan stepped in. He walked over the ravines, oozed terror and asked "Kitne aadmi the?"
At last count, over a billion people gave attendance!

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Ni.shabd: 10 Silent Scenes of Amitabh Bachchan

One of the mandatories of any list of Hindi film trivia is the story how Amitabh Bachchan was rejected in an audition for All India Radio. And also that one of his earlier mentors (Sunil Dutt) did not find the legendary voice attractive enough to give him a speaking part in Reshma Aur Shera.
So, in honour of an Orkut community, here is my list of 10 scenes in which the baritone was missing. And said much more than what lesser mortals did with flared nostrils, flaring biceps and bare chests.

1. Deewaar
Vijay Verma rises to the top of the Bombay underworld. And his mentor - Daavar-saab - hands over his chair to the inheritor. As an envious colleague watches in awe, Vijay Verma slowly circles the coveted chair, sits down with an air of finality and then plonks his feet on the table. The lambi race ka ghoda had finally come good.

2. Main Azaad Hoon
Azaad tries to bring about a union of sugar-mill workers and sugar-cane farmers. Admittedly, a difficult task, it comes about after a long meeting. And when the farmers ask him to address a gathering, he is too overcome with emotion to speak. He fights back tears, chokes a little, smiles a little and raises his right fist in a well-known gesture of inquilaab! The crowd roars back in approval.

3. Anand
As Anand Sehgal sings the magical Kahin door jab din dhal jaaye, his host - Dr Bhaskar Banerjee - silently walks up the stairs, comes behind him and waits for the song to end. Despite the restraint and the measured body language, enough charisma seeped through for a nation to take note of the arrival of the next superstar. Not a very easy task considering that it all happened when Rajesh Khanna was singing a massive hit!

4. Don
What do you notice when Helen is in a thigh-high slit skirt, dancing away? A lot if the person she is trying to seduce is a smuggler wanted in 11 countries. The gangster does nothing - except getting dressed in a green shirt and green-and-white check blazer. The subdued lust, the arrogance, the imperious behaviour all shine through as he saunters around. SRK did the same scene 28 years later. Did he succeed? Well, as they said, "Don ko pakadna mushkil hi nahin..."

5. Kaala Patthar
Probably the angriest role of the Angry Young Man, this film had quite a few silent passages which spoke more than the entire filmography of Nana Patekar. One was a scene in which he is confronted with a knife - and he walks up to the goon and grips the knife at the blade. As the blood trickles through, the pain and the anger on his face is something only he can do.
The second one is a sequence of one-upmanship instigated by the garrulous Mr Sinha - who snatches away the light from his bidi. He calmly goes up to him, picks the bidi out of Shatrughan's mouth, lights his own, stubs it out and walks away. The embers in the eyes ma badi aag hain, bidi jalaile...

6. Yaarana
Emily Post comes to Gangaa-kinare. Kisanwa is being groomed into superstar Kishan by Ram Sethi (a regular of Prakash Mehra films). As Kishan fails spectacularly with the fork and knife in a comic mime sequence, he dares his teacher to do a physical equivalent of a tongue-twister.
Slap your knees with both the hands. Get your right hand to touch your left ear and left hand to touch the nose. Slap again. Get your left hand to touch your right ear and right hand to touch the nose. Repeat (till your nose turns red with ill-timed slaps). He did it so effortlessly... just as effortlessly, we rolled in helpless laughter!

7. Satte Pe Satta
A dreaded criminal comes out of jail and slowly shuffles towards a waiting car. He has salt-and-pepper hair, eerily light eyes, a gaunt face and the stoop of a burdened man. Also, he is supposed to be identical to a lively, happy man - seen in just the previous scene. Actors of today would probably starve themselves to achieve that lean and hungry look - while the man did it in alternate shifts of shooting with a little help from under-eye makeup, contact lenses and a whole lot of acting talent. And the menace that he exudes when he crouches out of the jail door is not something that comes out of rehearsals. It comes out of pure magic.

8. Sholay
The widow of the Thakur household goes around the balcony at sunset - lighting the lamps. A mercenary sits outside his cottage across the courtyard and plays a haunting tune on his mouth-organ. On-screen love has never been so understated, yet so eloquent. The legends abound... it was RD who played the mouth-organ. The lighting of dusk was so delicate that it took a fortnight to shoot the scene. And the players on screen were as much in love in real life. They still are.

9. Ek Ajnabee
A retired army-man tries to exorcise the demons of his past. He drinks as he tries to shut out the brutal scenes. The eternal Hindi film cliche of a troubled man drowning his sorrows was given a soundless dimension as the man drinks, cries, contemplates suicide, crumples up in agony and exhausts himself at the end of it all. One of the longest silent scenes in recent times, any lesser actor would have ended up making it a yawn. He keeps you on a gut-wrenching edge.

10. Sarkar
This film is an ensemble of his moods - angry, amused, frustrated, relaxed, tired, energetic, devastated, victorious, benevolent - almost like the nine rasas and of which Ramgopal Verma seems to have prepared a slideshow. Not one scene stands out. Not one scene is forgettable either. And it all adds up to become a text-book of acting.

At the end of it, we are all left speechless.

A Sobering Thought

Yesterday, a batchmate and I were having a conversation on blogging and bloggers. An excerpt from the conversation.

UC: Oh, I chatted with that guy on Google Talk the other day. He does not seem to have too much work. He is in the IAS. About 40 years old.
DC: 40? That old? I thought he was much younger.
UC: Younger?
DC: Ya, I thought he was a few years older than us.
UC: Well, if he is 40, then he IS a few years older than us.

Aack!

Father, Son and the Holy Post

This is deference to Mad Momma's request that I have not done a parenting post for a long time. Actually, I was rather disconcerted by the criticism after taking my son to see a movie. But then, if I had paid attention to feedback all these years, I would have been God!

Having met up with a couple who are expecting their first baby, I was quite amused that the to-be dad does not share my cavalier attitude towards fathering. While I was throwing Mad Momma's kid hither-tither, he very gingerly took him in his arms and seemed very scared of dropping the kid. So, I felt there is some need for easy-to-follow instructions for soon-to-be parents.
On that note, here is some DIY stuff on the most important thing a dad can do in a baby's early life. To remove all doubts, the dad's prime responsibility is Shit. Cleaning, Management and Disposal.

The Diaper SIP
What - do you think - constitutes the biggest chunk of expense in the first year of a baby? All of you who are pointing to the snazzy cot, Fisher-Price toys and Baby GAP clothing items (I did) would be amazed to find out the kind of moolah that goes into the coffers of M/s Pampers, Huggies, Wipro Baby Soft et al. Imagine 15 bucks every 3 hours for a year - and you are looking at two Delhi London return tickets on Virgin!

So, for all parents-in-making, I have the advice of small savings.
The moment the pregnancy is confirmed, buy one packet of 10's diaper every week. If you do this for nine months (36 weeks), you will end up with 360 diapers which will see you through the first 60 days of the baby, which is the most crucial period as that's when you are trying to grapple with hospital bills, office treats, soon-to-become useless toys (bought on a whim) and hijda extortion!

As you can see, the learnings from mutual funds and recurring deposits can be applied to varied fields!

Cleaning It Up
All references to feet (and the bottom half of the body) refer to the kid.
All references to the upper limbs refer to the cleaner.

1. Bend knees to put more pressure on his tummy. This is to ensure all the stuff gets squeezed out before you unravel.

2. Open the diaper stickers (Velcro for Pampers and adhesive for Huggies, the latter needing greater force to open!) and remove the front flap of the diaper. Now, the ‘job’ is visible in full glory.
All colour – except white – is normal and acceptable. If the baby is breast fed, the colour is rumoured to reflect the dietary patterns of the mother. However, this is purely psychological and has no scientific basis.

3. Quickly hold the two legs at the ankles in between (1) thumb and index and (2) index and middle finger.
The operative word here is ‘quickly’ – as the feet might land in the mess if you are not quick enough! Which means a greater mess to clean. Also, use hand which is not the strong hand. Greater dexterity is needed for the other job!
During the cleaning activity for male children, care is to be taken to avoid sprinkling of water to great heights and distances. This usually involves spreading an oil-cloth to cover expanses bigger than the state of Colorado or strategically placing pieces of cloth on the source itself. Female children pose no such immodest problems!
Some male children are known to do the sprinkling on themselves as well (you never know which way it turns!) – especially, their own faces – but Morarji Desai is living (actually, WAS living) proof of its good effects.

4. Holding the legs in the aforementioned way, use other hand to take the cleaning wipe.
Use it first to (firmly, but softly) wipe off stuff from the broad area generally known as the ‘bum’. Pay special attention to any smearing of stuff to areas not generally associated with excrement. A particularly squelchy job might extend downwards to the back of the thighs. Also, if the job is more than an hour old, the stuff tends to become rubbery and sticks on to the skin. This requires a little bit of rubbing to clean off.

5. Use a second wipe to pay special attention to the doorway as creases in the nether regions tend to hide stuff (which causes vehement rashes later on).
Wipes are generally of several kinds – wet wipes, perfumed wet wipes, cotton wool-soaked-in-water – choice of which depends on the comfort of the cleaner. Comfort of the cleanee comes a little later as the wet wipes may cause rash in some cases.
Horrendously expensive bum-creams (allegedly containing zinc and magnesium) are available if you want to convince yourself of your own success as a parent. Otherwise, good ol’ Boroline works just fine!

6. Now that the person in question is clean, dry and creamed, diapers/nappies have to be used to prevent the region from exhibiting its pristine glory. (Babies sometime use this period to do the ‘big job’ again or pee across long distances. It has been empirically proved that such devilish behaviour is inherited from parents and hence to be grinned and borne with!)
Putting the person on his tummy and air-drying the region is also recommended in daily intervals to ensure that there is enough contact with nature and more importantly, great photo-ops that can later be used to embarrass the person when he is older!

That's it, I guess. But useful? Hell, had such a laugh trying to write it, who cares about the rest?

Monday, December 04, 2006

Subtitles: How to make Indian Cricket more interesting!

The Gandhian display of non-violence by the Indian batsmen was made worse by the utterly predictable and soporific quotes our heroes dished out after each of the matches.
Only if there was a Subtitler which scrolls out the real feelings of the speaker when he is paying lip service! It would combine the virtue of honesty with top class entertainment...
Sample the real words behind the standard quotes given below!

RAHUL DRAVID
WHAT HE SAID: "I don't think its criticism which motivates cricketers into doing well. If the team did well in 2003 World Cup after initial days it was because they played well, not because there was criticism back home."
WHAT HE MEANT: "Look, Viru is deaf and will remain that way till he signs a contract with a hearing aid company. Kaif has had his house vandalized before so he has taken home insurance. Raina and Mongia have not been able to see the ball after landing here, so can’t pretend they are hearing the shouts even! Dhoni’s biggest strength is that he does not see the ball or hear the taunts and I am not sure we should change that! So back off guys and play the Hutch World Cup Contest instead of following our every move!"

SHARAD PAWAR
WHAT HE SAID: "There is no question of sacking him (Chappell). Till the contract is there, there is no need to interfere in it. I had a detailed discussion with the Chairman of Selection Committee. I requested him to go to South Africa immediately or as early as possible, discuss with the coach, captain and players and communicate the feelings of the countrymen."
WHAT HE MEANT: "The Aussie bastard was smart enough to have a penalty clause in his contract so we cannot sack him before the year is out. However, I have told Dilip to explain to the bugger that if we continue cutting the sorry state we are doing currently, NCP activists will chop his balls off even before his luggage comes off the conveyor belt in Bombay!"

GREG CHAPPELL
WHAT HE SAID: "Countries everywhere use a system. There are highs and lows in everything, you have to be patient about things and cannot afford to be too emotional, or it will lead you nowhere. In Australia, for instance, we started a process in the mid-eighties, and it took nearly nine years for things to come together. The England line-up that won them the Ashes last year was also the result of a process that took five years."
WHAT HE MEANT: "My system of weeding out all the rebels in the team ended up with all the old fogies out on their ass. Zaheer and Kumble are trying to make me eat their words but I will scrape through. All I need is 3 years of the half-a-million dollar coach’s salary to secure my retirement. Suggest you guys shut up till then and after I am off, you can bomb Rahul Dravid’s house for all I care."

SOURAV GANGULY
WHAT HE SAID: "I'm happy to be back. My job is to go and do well. I've been playing well for ten years. I've a lot of runs behind me and experience of playing on bouncy pitches in South Africa. I have played with the same group of players earlier. I hope I can continue in the same way."
WHAT HE MEANT: "With my record against South Africa, my job is to invoke all the blessings Ma Chandi can get for me. I just hope the gora jerk does not select me for any of the tests. Buddha-babu would ensure that there is a Bharat Bandh and others would keep the pot boiling. I can slink away into retirement after this, claiming not to have been given chances when I was in form!"

VIRENDRA SEHWAG
WHAT HE SAID: "Fans should keep the trust in us. We did well in the Test series in the West Indies earlier this year, and will try to turn things around here also. We will keep working on our basics. Tests are a different game altogether and the tour game in between will be useful to get some batting practice."
WHAT HE MEANT: "Please do not stone my house. I will start to go the nets in this break. I have promised to Rahul that I will not do the Boost, Dabur and Mayur ad shoots before the tests. I may not be able to avoid dubbing for the new Coke ad but I promise to read Boycott’s coaching manual in the breaks! But, please please please do not stone my house."

Hyuck hyuck... this is so much better!

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Tej Sapru Fan Club

In the idealistic days of college, when we used to watch Battleship Potemkin and The Bicycle Thieves in standing-room-only auditoria, we always wanted to do something to uplift the level of cinematic knowledge of the country. We - as in - yours truly and a gentleman whose roll number was just one before mine and has distinguished himself to the readers of this blog by his comments, which are at least as frequent as the posts!

So, Nilendu and I figured that the French New Wave, the avant garde makers from FTII and the Italian maestros were getting enough publicity from everybody (Satyajit Ray downwards). So, we needed to promote artistes from a much-neglected yet as influential ouevre - namely, Bollywood B-grade cinema.
With this lofty aim, we started the Tej Sapru Fan Club.
If this had been a speech, I know my next three sentences would have got drowned under the din of "WHO THE F*** IS TEJ SAPRU???" But since this isn't, I will now explain who he is, why we intended to be his fans and what was the broader aim of this club.

Okay, first things first, Tej Sapru is son of the character actor - Sapru. Oh damn, now you want to know who Sapru is? All right, all right... I will start again!

Well, in Hindi cinema, there are the stars. And there are the character artistes. We only remember the stars - and completely forget the rest. But these character artistes (having acted in hundreds of films) are sometimes as recognisable as the stars themselves. However, the tragedy is that nobody knows their real names - except for a few like Iftekhar, A K Hangal and Jagdish Raaj.
(Interesting aside: While Iftekhar and Jagdish Raaj made their millions from playing police officers in countless films, the biggest film they starred in – Deewaar – had both of them playing smugglers!)
For us, Tej Sapru was the symbol of all the nameless millions who worked day and night raping heroines, judging trials and getting beaten up - all for entertaining us! So, the mission of the Club was to identify these wonderful people (in general and Tej Sapru in specific!) and popularise them to the public by associating them with their most recognisable film role!
For example, we envisaged the following conversation:
X: My favourite actor is Robert De Niro. Whose work do you like?
DC: Tej Sapru.
X: (Pregnant pause) Umm... which picture did he last appear in?
DC: Last I don't know. But he was the crooked show manager in Tezaab who wants to marry Madhuri Dixit.
X: Ah... him!
So, you see Tej Sapru is not as vague as it sounded initially! In fact, he has an impressive body of work as Amrish Puri's son in Tridev, one of the rapists in Zakhmi Aurat and Pathans in several movies because of his fair complexion and light eyes!

Other artistes of such stature include:

Yunus Parvez - Rahim Chacha of Deewaar.
Though, Nilendu is inclined to believe that his most impactful role is that of the nose-hair-pulling clerk in Golmaal! He has also been seen as a poetry publisher in Saajan and Raveena Tandon's boss in Mohra. Incidentally, Mohra is the only film that we can remember where he died!

Sharat Saxena - Raunaq Singh a.k.a Ronnie of Ghulam.
He spent all of 1980's being the inaugural side-kick of the villain (who is the first goon to be beaten up, when the hero makes an appearance) to slowly work his way towards the climax. The crowning glory of his career being the bloody fist-fight he had with Aamir Khan in Vikram Bhatt's first hit.

Goga Kapoor - Juhi Chawla's dad in Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak.
He probably holds the world record of appearing in the maximum number of movies with his real name as his screen name! The rest of times he has been featured with very un-confusing names like Shaitan Singh (Toofan), Durjan Singh and Zaalim Singh.

Huma Khan - the doodh-waali of Maine Pyar Kiya.
Before she attained some amount of respectability as a staple side-piece (usually comic) in the Barjatya wedding videos, Huma was the undisputed queen of that genre of Hindi films, which specialised in lady dacoits and Tarzan romances. Though, considering that she was Shakti Kapoor's love interest in Hum Saath Saath Hain, how much more respectability she got out of Rajshri is debatable!

Satyen Kappu - Ramlal (the Thakur's servant) of Sholay.
He was the orginal do-gooder of Hindi cinema before Alok Nath came and usurped that position. A noted theatre actor (associated with IPTA), he had to supplement his earnings by playing munim-naukar-chacha to far lesser actors. It is rumoured that he was the one whose recommendation of Amjad Khan to Ramesh Sippy led to one more junior actor going past him!

Unfortunately, Bombay is the only place in the country where such artistes are recognized – and that too, in a perverse way... through the identification of their residences. But even within that, there is a rigid caste system as lesser actors have to anchor themselves on to bigger stars!
Sample this conversation between my aunt and her chauffeur, for example:
My Aunt (MA): Mahesh, yeh Kabab Mahal restaurant kahan hain?
Mahesh (Ma): Madam, Shefali Chhaya ke ghar ke paas! (:-o How does one go about finding out where Shefali Chhaya lives?)
MA: Matlab, Bipasha Basu jahan PG rehti thi? (Wow – this combines history with geography!)
Ma: Nahin madam, Sanjay Dutt ke purane flat ke baju wala galli! (Speechless!)
MA: Achha – Dilip Kumar ke ghar se aagey!
Ma: Haan madam!

Brilliant... more such people are required to take forward the ideals of TSFC!