Sunday, April 29, 2007

MTV: Viva, Trivia and Beauties on Duty!

MTV - on its arrival in India - taught us two seminal things. One, it was possible to crack all your canteen jokes on television. Two, there are potentially infinite ways of depicting the letter M.
The second realisation stemmed from the pioneering MTV concept of inane fillers. Having been brought up on educational fillers like 'Mile Sur Mera Tumhara' and 'Ek Anek', the fact that a worm can eat up a green field in the shape of a M (and then have mushrooms in the shape of TV at the edge) was quite revolutionary.
The first one was even more so. After spending a lifetime of being looked down upon, many proponents of bad humour suddenly woke up to the fact that a profession awaits them as a Programming Manager at MTV. Or Channel V.
Armed with these two new-found pearls of wisdom, our generation gave up their reticence, talked long and loud, shook up television and started to be called the MTV generation. I am sure kids of today are being called YouTube Gen or something more cutting edge than Cyrus Broacha's humour!
In fact, Cyrus Broacha is a lot like Sachin Tendulkar. He was a boy genius and carried off several shows like no other, redefined VJing but is now a little tired and there are more interesting kids on the block. His namesake, among others!

It is an irony that MTV became the iconic name - while for most part of the last decade and a half, it was Channel [V] who out-MTVed MTV in inane jokes, crazy VJs and general derring do! Though nowadays, MTV is a reborn channel and is matching V wit for wit, twit for twit!

The earliest memory of inanity, I think, is Quick Gun Murugan who mixed Sergio Leone, Rajnikanth and Saravana Bhavan in a hilarious concoction as he ordered 'One Whisky, One Masala Dosa' and pioneered a genre called 'Sambhar Western'. The Tamil movies were spoofed like never before for their garish costumes, hyperbolic dialogue and obese heroes! And no jokes on that, mind it!
Even before the Northies had finished laughing at the joke, came Udham Singh. Supposedly, to do booth-capturing for some poll on V, he made the Haryanvi accent super-cool as he spewed earthy wisdom ('Jiski lathi, uski bhnais') as he lounged on his charpai with a - you guessed it - well-oiled lathi! He became popular enough to be retained as a VJ - beyond the promos of the poll!
And the man behind these monstrosities is Shashanka Ghosh - who extended his wackiness from 21 inches to 70 mm as he directed Waisa Bhi Hota Hain Part II, which was a brilliant mix of wackiness and music (Remember 'Allah ke bande'?).

Both MTV and V gave the Hindi film song a twist never seen before. Brought up on a diet of Chitrahaar (Wednesday - Hindi songs) and Chitramala (Thursday - regional songs), we just gasped when the twists came along.
For example - we were conditioned that in the week preceding Holi, Chitrahaar will play songs from Silsila and Namak Haram. I was quite tickled to find that MTV had a unique take on the festival. Instead of a Holi theme, they had a 'Oli theme! And they played songs about Koli (the Sailaab song), Goli (the climax song from Sholay), Doli (some sad wedding song) and Choli (from Khalnayak)! Mindblowing!

In the context of the Hindi film song on music channels, it would be criminal not to mention Jaaved Jaffrey. One of the most under-utilised comedians of our times, Jaaved combined his amazing talents as a mimic to his brilliant timing as a comic - in two shows.
One was Videocon Flashback, in which he took a music director every week and showed some of his best songs interspersed with hilarity.
The second was called Timex Timepass - which was compered by a host of alter egos, all played by Jaaved. Of the many characters, I can remember a Tamil psychiatrist (Analysis Anandan) and his sandalwood smuggler twin (Venegance Veerappan), a Sindhi rap artist (Hip Hop Hingorani), an Anglo-Indian fortune-teller (Future Furtado), a Nepali lyricist (Sherpa Sultanpuri) and a Parsi hitman (Sohrab Supari). Of course, my favourite was an Muslim coffee-shop owner - Cafe Azmi!

In between, was the first ever music reality show - Popstars. And the nation was hooked on to the fortunes of Viva, long before Silchar Assam ke Debojit and Sanjaya Malakar of Mohawk hair fame!

There was Masala Mix - a dubbing of Western music videos with Hindi songs of questionable quality. So, you had Madonna dancing to 'You are my Fish Fry, You are my Chicken Fry / Kabhi na kehna kudiye bye bye bye' - and they made it sound as if she sang it in the first place!

There was a Bakra - which made a cottage industry of making asses (goats?) of people. Two things stand out.
One, not letting any one get away - not even celebrities. In a famous episode, Cyrus got a 'crazed fan' to propose marriage to Rahul Dravid who promptly called in her father. To his horror, the father endorsed the proposal.
Two, they outsourced the lead players by soliciting applications from people who wanted to play a prank on someone in their friends' circle! Damn, I think I will write in...

And there was Cheeto Chat - which is the entire point of this post, thanks to this request. A desi version of Pop Up Video, it had a smart alec Cheeto running across the bottom of the screen feeding us apparently connected factoids.
Sample: They showed a song from Jaanbaaz (not THAT one!) with Anil Kapoor and Dimple Kapadia. And the factoid sequence went something like this :-
* The hero of this song is Anil Kapoor.
* He has two brothers - Boney and Sanjay.
* Boney is a producer. Sanjay is also an actor.
* Another set of brothers in Bollywood is Sunny & Bobby Deol.
* Dimple Kapadia's first film was Bobby. She had an affair with Sunny Deol.
* She is also the heroine of this song.

No wonder we loved each one of them... After all, we are like this only!
With Semi Girebaal and Lola Kutty, the wackiness continues 24 hours a day, 7 days a week - at a television screen near you. Enjoy!

PS: Mind it!

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Words from the Wonder Years

Words that are an intrinsic part of our growing up – and used every day – abdicate in favour of others, never to return again.
Some words I never use nowadays but lived with me for several years…

Gulti: Literally, a catapult.
But when I came across the word catapult in English, it came with pictures of huge contraptions with which the Romans threw boulders at the Gaulish village. Not the Y-shaped wooden pocket-weapon on which a rubber sling was tied for high-speed emission of pebbles for hitting targets (intentional) and breaking things (unintentional). The word, Gulti conjures up visions of adventurous afternoons, a band of friends and hell to pay when you get home!

Pittu: English-medium students call this game Seven Tiles.
The object of the ‘batting’ team is to break a mound of seven flat stones with a ball (rubber) and then try to reassemble the mound while the ‘bowling’ team tries to ‘out’ them by hitting them with the ball. The criticality (for the ‘batsmen’) was to scream out ‘PITTU’ when the tiles were back in place to stop the homicidal ‘bowlers’ from banging them (with the rubber ball).
The force with which the ball was hurled necessitated the clarification that the ball has to be rubber – or a lot of doctors, lawyers and software engineers would have never grown up to be what they are today!

Antel: Derived from the French pronunciation of the word ‘intellectual’.
Despite the foreign origins, the word is 100% Bengali – as the state abounds with individuals who claim to have copious amounts of knowledge about Jacques Derrida, Jacques Cousteau as well as Jacques Kallis. The operative word is ‘claim’ – much like their Delhi University counterpart, the jholawala!

Kochupora / Knach-Kala: Literally, the first word means ‘burnt kochu’ (I don’t know if there is an English equivalent of this!) and the second means ‘raw banana’.
Both these words of vegetarian origin signify futility. An exclamatory description when you want to emphasise the negligibility of the results.
Similar to what the Bombay-walla means by ‘Ghantaa’ or the MBA-types by saying ‘Balls’. But the innocence is lost.

Bawaal: Yes, it is derived from Hindi. As in, “OBC Quotein par Parliament mein machi BAWAAL” – reported by the venerable Hindustan.
In Bengali, it signifies unrest of a high order usually precipitated by partial umpiring in inter-departmental matches, increase of annual tuition fees by Rupees 10, cinema screens going dark and out-of-syllabus questions. This list is far from exhaustive but a good ‘bawal’ involves breakage, press coverage, cancelled classes and unwanted female attention. The best specimens are also extensive (See Byapok Bawaal here!) and nobody - however unconnected - should watch from the sidelines. (Except the time when the Physical Education Department attacked the Mechanical Engineering Department with hockey sticks. That day, even Mech students watched from the sidelines!)

Another favourite word (number?) of mine – though – is hanging on.
420: The eponymous section of the IPC for cheaters, swindlers and other people of questionable integrity.
Though I am told, a new number is doing the rounds of college campuses now. 404 – for people generally missing in action.
Why? Type a wrong Internet address. What do you get? “Error 404: URL Not Found.”
(On a related note – a guy in a Calcutta office, who went on leave from the day after 9/11 was nicknamed Laden-da!)

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Jokes from Across the Vindhyas

My dear friend - Mr Arunkumar Balasubramaniam (boy, in Calcutta, they have addresses shorter than that!) - has requested me for a Tamil joke (just one, just one - he pleaded!) in this post.

Since, he is such a good friend, I will give him two! Three, if you count the one on his name!

Q: How do you start a South Indian race?
A: Reddy, Shetty, Po!

Q: Why are Tamils the horniest race?
A: Because, they greet you with 'Wanna Come'!

Har har! Hai koi jawaab?

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Dawaa Ya Dua? - Diseases in Bollywood

Taking a cue from this post, which lamented the lack of diseases in Bollywood, I was tempted to think of the various ailments produced by the Great Dream Factory.
I mean, a huge majority of the films have the doctor coming out of the OT (after a red bulb switches off), taking off his glasses and morosely pronouncing, “Inhe ab dawaon ki nahin, duaon ki zaroorat hain…” at which point the kin break for a kirtan (Asha Parekh) or a diatribe (Amitabh Bachchan).
But what are the diseases being prayed for? Apart from accidents and pregnancy (yes, it IS treated like a disease in Bollywood!), what are the other diseases?

CANCER
The Big C is undoubtedly the most popular disease for the absolute surety it brings to the death of the protagonist. Rajesh Khanna would have to be the brand ambassador of the disease, with deadly performances in two landmark films – Anand and Safar. They had everything an ideal cancer patient should exhibit – stoicism, joie de vivre and an ability to sacrifice everything on his way out. Anand even had a name for the illness – lymphocarcoma of the intestine! As he described it, “Jaise kisi Viceroy ki naam ho…”!
Jaya Bhaduri had it in Mili as AB played a reformed alcoholic, watching the love of his life die in front of his eyes. Probably the most touching film on the subject, made priceless by "Badi sooni sooni hain..." in Kishore's voice.
Amitabh Bachchan – tired of seeing people die around him – got the disease (lung cancer) himself in Waqt: The Race Against Time. And he got 9 months to make his son able to stand on his own foot after his death! My friend Udayan managed to mathematically prove that the time elapsed in the film is actually much more than 9 months! And in between all this, Annu Malik sang “Do me a favour, lets play Holi”… wonder nobody died of that!
Several movies have even used the threat of cancer – through wrong diagnosis or otherwise – as a catalyst to make the hero do what terminally ill patients do. Like, cleaning off a mafia cartel (Gambler) or swindling a top gangster (Bluff Master). Yeah, Hindi film directors have a perceptive view of life!

AIDS
One reason why AIDS is yet to catch on, as a life-ending disease in Indian cinema is because of the doubt it brings about the patient’s character.
Imagine Bhaskar Banerjee thinking about Anand, “Hmmm, the bugger was getting it on the sly… that’s how he got the disease…” Poof! All the poignancy and sympathy fly out of the window! Hence, it has been seen in only serious movies dealing specifically with the problems associated with the disease.
Phir Milenge (directed by Revathy) was the pioneer – which had Salman Khan giving Shilpa Shetty the virus after a one-night stand but thankfully, the movie was so sparsely watched nobody thought of burning their effigies for promiscuity and moral turpitude!
The second movie was My Brother Nikhil (directed by Onir). This is also probably the first Indian movie to show a gay relationship realistically, without either of the partners being a pansy or cracking any jokes about them. A little morbid, but the film was first-rate both thematically (not preachy) and cinematically (great performances all round).

HEART DISEASES
Usually, the extreme form of this is used to pop off the Daddy when the baraat goes back for want of dowry or when the daughter runs away to marry out of caste. Nazir Hussain (not the director-producer) specializes in rolling his eyes, stopping mid-sentence, clutching the left side of his chest and collapsing in a heap! There are way too many scenes like that to keep count!
The long drawn heart disease is used to keep the viewer in suspense over the fate of the patient. Cancer = sure shot dhichkao. Heart disease = Faint hope of Alok Nath donating his heart and saving the bloke. Far fetched, yes but still hanging in there by a narrow thread.
Shah Rukh Khan’s tragic act in Kal Ho Na Ho remains the beacon of all cardiac plotlines of all times. He cracked jokes with Saif, wooed Preity and generally acted like the Good Samaritan, but when your cardiologist Dr Sonali Bendre leaves you for Sanjay Kapoor, one should commit suicide if not dying of a terminal illness.
Sometimes kids get afflicted with these as well. Ajay Devgun's nephew in Pyar To Hona Hi Tha had a hole in his heart, for which Ajay went around stealing stuff.

AMNESIA
The signature line of this disease is “Main kahan hoon? Main kaun hoon?” – usually accompanied by a take on the first question and a double take on the second!
Sadma had a concept of selective amnesia, where Sridevi forgot everything between age 5 and her current age (but still managed to reach Ooty from Madras). Evil reviewers commented that there was not too much of a gap between her mental age and 5 years, anyway! But her act as a 5-year old in a 21-year’s body was quite good though all people remember from that film are Yesudas’ songs!
The latest movie to star Amnesia – actually Retrograde Amnesia (whatever THAT means) – was Salaam-e-Ishq (a.k.a Salaam-E-Eeks!). Vidya Balan remembered everything in her life except John Abraham. And our dude had to do what he never did in his life… he tried to remind a girl of himself! Maybe Vidya had a secret affair with Hrithik so she wanted to forget him. Either that, or women generally forget their husbands two years after marriage! Gawd, its been 4 years since I got married!
The other and equally hilarious (though this time, its intended) amnesiac is Aamir Khan in Andaz Apna Apna. He pretended to lose his memory after Raveena Tandon hit him on the head with a stick, to gain entry into her house. Since he did not remember his name even, he was christened Teelu (because he was found on a teela!) and had to be treated by Dr Prem Khurana (“Iss dhande mein bahut purana!”).

BLINDNESS
It started off with “Chahoonga main tujhe shaam savere…” (Dosti) and has carried on till “Chand sifarish jo karta tumhari..” (Fanaa).
Most of the big daddies of Hindi cinema – Rajesh Khanna (Mere Jeevan Sathi), Sanjeev Kumar (Qatl), Amitabh Bachchan (in the unreleased Zamaanat), AK Hangal (Sholay), Mumtaz (Jheel Ke Us Paar), Kaajol (Fanaa), Naseeruddin Shah (Sparsh), Rani Mukherjee (Black), Akshay Kumar (Aanken) – have played blind and some of them have pretended as well (Amitabh Bachchan in Parvarish and Mehmood in Johar-Mehmood in Hong Kong)!
Nirupa Roy has turned blind on screen – when a tree descended on her – and regained her eyesight after she fervently prayed to Shirdi waale Sai Baba. In Amar Akbar Anthony, twin flames emerged out of the eyes of the Baba, traveled all the way to the back of the prayer hall and inserted themselves in her eyes. And she saw again!
Zor se bolo jai Baba ki! Phir se bolo jai Baba ki!!

OTHERS
Devdas is the poster boy of liver diseases (presumably cirrhosis), though I think he was said to have TB in the novel. But the consensus is that he drank himself to death.
Chhoti Bahu of Saheb Bibi Ghulam is, of course, the poster girl.
A lot of poets have contracted tuberculosis – usually attributed to their poor diet. And this gives opportunity to put on stubble, rub a whole lot of oil on one’s skin, wear dark circles under the eyes and cough uncontrollably!
Leprosy used to happen in the pre-Independence times and anorexia is quite prevalent among the extras in Karan Johar's movies. Sanjay Leela Bhansali was not happy with Rani's triple handicap so he gave Amitabh Alzheimer's (probably the only time in Hindi cinema).

Apart from these, is there anything else? Surely, not in the mainstream. Yeah, she was right. There are too few things ailing Bollywood. (Pun intended!)

Been There, Done That: A Sales Adventure

In the recent past, we have seen Indian versions of chick-lit and lad-lit coming of age, as a large number of IIT graduates, IIM graduates and even domestic help penning down their memoirs – occasionally disguised in fiction. Chetan Bhagat can be called the Rushdie (!) of this sub-genre (!!) as his capers at IIT Delhi have set the cash registers ringing and is threatening to get made into a movie as well!

Earning the Laundry Stripes is the latest addition to this genre.
I should be seriously angry with Manreet Sodhi Someshwar for taking away a book idea. But then, if the book has to be about a Management Trainee in a FMCG MNC, then she is undoubtedly more qualified – and more exotic. Not only did she train in Sales & Marketing (S&M) at the Holy Grail of FMCG distribution (HLL), she was one of the first women to do so! I did it in a location where nobody spoke the three languages I knew – but then, my Tamil jokes are no match for a kick-ass Sardarni selling Lifebuoy in Amravati!
The Woman in S&M genre was pioneered by Swati Kaushal in A Piece of Cake, which was a thinly disguised account of Nestle. The urban Indian female, pressures of a male-dominated workplace, matrimonial adventures, fleeting love interests and the problems of finding a ladies loo in a sales office – all these abound in both the books. Except ETLS is less fictionalized. Even the name of the company is not disguised. And it is more action packed. After all, it’s about sales!
The settings are exotic – upcountry Nagpur (non-Sales junta would argue even Nagpur is upcountry, but what do they know?), Etah, Bombay Metro and Gujarat. Crocodiles on roads, porn in office meetings, 45-degree temperatures, skewed gender ratios, Bipasha Banerji’s (sic) fat shoulders… you name it, she’s got it.
She merges personal adventures extremely well with the history of the times. Her observations on the intolerance between two communities plying the same trade (post the Bombay blasts) or her anguish at the condition of the girl child in rural India ring very true.
Also, the mix of her professional trials (rural stint in Etah) and personal tribulations (Sardar girl wanting to marry Kannadiga boy) is perfect. The description of her batchmates, the long-distance love story, the quirks of HLL bosses (including the Chairman), the madness of ad shoots – all add up to a page-turner you breeze through!
And hey, the book ends with the distinct possibility of a sequel. She sells soap in Gujarat. Does well. Moves to Bombay. Kya hoga next? I am waiting…

One crib about the book is that the chronology is messed up a bit. For example, the aftermath of the Bombay blasts (with Contessa still on the roads) did not have Kalpana Chawla as role model. And her Constable More episodes drag a bit.
But these are minor blips, which can be completely forgiven for her description of the Management Trainee culture in MNCs. She says it about female MTs but it can be generalized as well – "A MT passing through is like a flower-laden shikara over Dal Lake in times of terror - the novelty..." Bang-on!

At the end of it, I had two feelings:
1. Saala, bilkul aisa hi hota hain…
2. The girl has balls. (Before the feminists get angry, let me hasten to add that I am quoting the author herself.)
And these are serious compliments, a rarity in the sectarian & macho world of sales…

Finally, she quotes a Urdu couplet, which I wish I knew earlier. It would have been an invaluable tool while convincing my teams to take stretched targets!
Girte hain shehsawar hi maidan-e-jung mein
Woh tifl kya khak girega jo ghutnon ke bal chalte hain?
Sales Translation: Heroes who deliver 100% growth will go to Bangkok. The other bastards will fucking masturbate in Narkatiaganj!
Okay, maybe not exactly…

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

21 Years Ago

Sharjah, as an international venue, may have been a novelty, but it had one huge negative as far as Indian schoolboys were concerned. All the imporant matches were played on Fridays and that meant missing all the biggies. The saving grace should have been the fact that they were on 'Dubai time' so the matches continued till about 6 PM IST and one could have watched the final overs after hurrying back from school.
The flip side was - after 18.04.86 - nobody wanted to.

The cricketing equivalent of 9/11 happened to India on the 18th April of 1986.
It was a day which started off well. I remember coming back from school and my mother telling me, "Srikkanth khub pitiyechhey." (Srikkanth has hammered them.)
21 years back, a run-a-ball was something only Kapil could do on a good day though Srikkanth was catching up. 200 was a good score in one-dayers those days and Gavaskar played for draws (yes, even in ODIs)!
The Cricinfo scorecard informs me Srikkanth scored 75 (80 balls, 8x4, 2x6) and Gavaskar 92 (134 balls, 6x4). Everybody had pitched in (even one Chetan Sharma at a run-a-ball 10) and India had put on a score of 245 in 50 overs.
When I started watching the match, Pakistan was almost out of the game with most top guys back in the pavilion. So, we settled down to see an emphatic Indian win. After all, a required run rate of 6+ was something only the Gods can get.
Millions of words have been written about that final delivery. How Kapil stationed all the 9 fielders at the ropes. How Chetan Sharma delivered a waist-high full-toss. How Miandad's victory yell was audible on TV even without stump mikes. And most importantly, how that one six turned the one-day balance (especially in Sharjah) permanently in Pakistan's favour.

I - speaking for myself - remember the jerk of the camera as it tried unsuccessfully to follow the ball into the stands and Miandad's shriek as he broke into a run towards the pavilion.
If there has been a moment of complete silence in the entire subcontinent, it was at that exact point. And then Pakistan erupted into rifle shots in the air, flares across the border and signboards over thousands of shops - "Welcome Miandad. Please come in and pick up anything you want."
India's silence was broken by Raj Singh Dungarpur's famous quote at the press conference - "India did not lose the match. Javed Miandad won it."

The effect of that six was fully present till at least 10 years later, when during the 1996 World Cup Quarter Final in Bangalore, the entire nation prayed for that one man to get out. Despite a double digit running rate and a clearly aged Miandad, it was only when he was run out and walked off a cricket pitch for the last time did the country heave a sigh of relief. Even Aamir Sohail and Saeed Anwar on a rampage did not have the same effect of discomfort as Miandad did during his patchy innings.
That was also the day when the balance tilted somewhat towards India and thanks to a depleting Pakistan, we have managed to pull back some wins in high-profile matches.

Miandad has an extremely impressive record but he has never featured in discussions for the world's greatest batsman. Nobody has compared him favouarably to a Lara or a Tendulkar or even Ponting. But his spectre was so big that - as long as he played - his country inevitably held the upper hand over a more talented (on paper) India.
Bradman is unquestionably the greatest batsman of all time and a scourge of bowlers. But none of his innings (actually, just one shot) probably gave his opponents nightmares 21 years after he played them.
Javed Miandad achieved that.

Abbas Mustan: Bollywood's Hitchcock

Alfred Hitchcock was initially considered to be a lesser director – a maker of thrillers and potboilers with only murder, espionage and suchlike. Upliftment of humanity and universal brotherhood were not his scene. He never got an Oscar as director. (Rebecca won Best Film.)
It was only when the maverick critics of Cahiers Du Cinema – part of the French New Wave – started to lionize him as one of the auteurs for his distinctive style that Hollywood started to take notice. The French critics – especially Francois Truffaut, who conducted a book-length interview with him – felt that Hitchcock’s mastery of the medium was complete and his signature style was more clearly visible than any of the other Hollywood directors.
Despite Hitchcock’s elevation as one of the greats, the suspense and thriller genre of movies are rarely seen at the award functions. Their success is limited to the box-office and innumerable re-runs on afternoon television.
What Hitchcock was to Hollywood, Abbas Mustan is to Bollywood. Not a single movie of theirs has won an award but they have one of the best success ratios in Bollywood.

Abbas and Mustan are sons of one Alibhai Burmawalla and the only ‘director duo’ of Bollywood. They seem to have a third brother – Hussain Burmawalla – who is the editor in their films. They are primarily noticed for being dressed in white.
Their lack of a smart English accent and/or a good PR agency mean that nobody has actually sat them down and asked how they direct. There is no info on how are the various activities of direction divided between the two of them, while reams of newsprint are devoted to Aditya Chopra’s efforts for Karan Johar’s KANK. (The biggest help Aditya could have done was probably to burn the negatives.)

IMBD lists 14 films of the duo – of which the first three (Saajan Tara Sambharna, Moti Veerana Chowk and Agneekal) deserve the Bermuda Triangle Award. Nobody knows what went in, where, how and why!!

Their subsequent films became famous for a large number of their signature elements and for being huge box-office successes.

Khiladi: An oft-repeated story of a group of college kids’ prank going awry as one of them end up dead and all the fingers point at the rest. A cook from Bangkok, Rajeev Bhatia debuted to the accompaniment of other small time actors and music directors to make it an unqualified success.

Baazigar: This movie created two superstars out of the lead players – and none out of the directors. It only cemented their reputation as kickers of serious box-office ass!

Daraar: The duo continued to do their forte – take a Hollywood hit, put lots of masala, shake it with great music and serve piping hot. This was one of the seven Indian remakes of Sleeping With The Enemy – and very good. Rishi Kapoor (as the roly poly good guy) saved Juhi Chawla from a nostril-flaring, muscle-baring, dialogue-blaring and always-glaring Arbaaz Khan – and the audience cheered on!

Soldier: I am slightly unsure why this film was so named. Except for the title song (“Soldier, soldier, meethi baatein bol kar…”) and some stray dialogues (“Baatein Soldier ki aur kaam loafer ka?”), Bobby Deol went about his job as a mercenary in traditional Deol style. He killed everyone in sight, chewed their bones and drank their blood – all for a good reason. They tattooed some despicable things on his mother’s forehead! Grrr… remember what Vijay Verma did because they tattooed his arm? Yahaan toh maathe par likh diya!

Badshah: SRK played a comic detective – with a surfeit of gadgets – surrounded by even more comical sidekicks as he tried to act blind, romance Twinkle Khanna and save little children who did not need saving. Just when the movie was going nowhere, the climax turned out to be vintage A&M as SRK had to save the Chief Minister (Raakhee), while pretending to kill her!

Chori Chori Chupke Chupke: This film is everything an Abbas Mustan film should not be. Sentimental socials are not their scene – but maybe they were threatened (along with the rest of the cast) to make this movie, supposedly financed by the underworld. Surrogate motherhood was never so cavalierly treated as the ‘womb-on-rent’ (Preity Zinta) was egged on to have sex by the ‘infertile-woman’ (Rani Mukherjee) with her husband (Salman Khan). Lots of gode-bharaai and glycerine later, a happy ending was put together.

Ajnabee: All the promos screamed ‘wife swapping’ while the film became famous for Bipasha and Kareena’s catfights on the sets. (Kaali billi was one of the epithets bandied around!) It turned out to have only a passing reference to the story. A tight thriller had two major stars turning villains – in true A&M style. Lots of loud humour (by their perennial favourite – Johnny Lever), decent suspense, super-bloody climax and family-audience titillation were all in attendance! And of course, chartbusting music… “Main sirf tera mehboob, tu teri mehbooba…” sang Adnan Sami and put on three more kilos!

Humraaz: Again, a hero turned villain in this remake of The Perfect Murder! Akshayee Khanna – bald pate turned into short hair style statement – sang “Bardaasht nahin kar sakta”, as Amisha simpered and Bobby Deol glowered.

Taarzan: The Wonder Car: This would be definitely their worst film, and nominated for the Worst Films Ever. Why they made this one about a car possessed by Ajay Devgan’s spirit is beyond me. Even the underworld angle does not seem to work!

Aitraaz: This is supposedly based on Disclosure but packed in a lot of pativrataa twists! The other woman thought her career was more important than having children. (Gasp!) The hero wanted to immediately marry his live-in girlfriend because he had impregnated her. And the wife believed in her husband, forgave him and eventually defended him in court. Taaliyaan! Feminists, please excuse!

36 China Town: Their latest is yet another murder mystery – with a whole lot of suspects, usual and otherwise! Kareena teams up with Shahid and gets embroiled in a murder of Madam Sonia in the eponymous address. A whole lot of people sing, dance and get spied upon in a pretty inane film!

A&M harks back to a slightly bygone era.
There is political incorrectness, lots of desi emotion and an apparent ignorance of the multiplex audience. While they drop in a few ‘modern’ themes here and there (wife swapping, sexual harassment, divorce on grounds of impotence etc), they are shown as ‘bad’ and people die by indulging in them! Something like this post here
But they have their fans. Actually, somebody asked when I left them out in an earlier post!

The White Knights live on!

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Shubho Nabobarsho

How does one celebrate the Bengali New Year's day?
Unlike English, a Bengali day 'astronomically' starts with sunrise so there is no rush to clog the networks at midnight and scream out loud over the music.

You wake up in the morning - a little later than usual - to the special New Year supplement with Anandabazar Patrika. A leisurely read is followed by an even leisurely breakfast. This has to consist of luchi and aloo bhaja with a spot of chutney. No going overboard with the breakfast, though, in anticipation of the lunch.
The breakfast is followed by a short nap and/or telephoning friends across the country (or globe) to wish them and tell them about the lunch menu.
Then you get ready - in a new set of pajama-panjabi. Why a Bengali wears a Punjabi is something that has intrigued many people! Panjabis are Bengali kurtas, usually embroidered with elaborate motifs or even lines from famous songs and poems.
The lunch is a get-together. The spread contains all of the following - prawns, fish, mutton, chicken - in different degrees of oil-treatment, permeated with different kinds of spices and had with the accompaniment of different kinds of cereals. The dessert trolley usually suffices for a full meal of less imaginative races and burps all over signal the success of the culinary extravaganza!
The lunch is punctuated with songs, poetry, political discources, filmi gossip, literary criticism and other topics requiring raised voices and passionate points of view!
Lunch over, the congregation disperses rapidly to their respective homes and proceed to digest the excesses with an extended siesta.
The evening sees a walk around the locality, a taste of phuchka and a halt at the para function - where somebody would inevitably be singing "Jibone ki pabona, bhulechhi shey bhabna / Shamney ja dekhi, janina sheki ashol ki nokol shona..."
As you come back home and turn in for the night, you have a hope that is all well with the world. And if it isn't, it will turn out just fine.

Calcutta Chromosome wishes everybody a very happy New Year. May all your dreams come true in 1414.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Take 5: Five Bits of Random Trivia

I read this really cool piece of trivia in the papers about how Brett Lee's nickname came to be Oswald. Apparently, Steve Waugh is the man behind it. He was calling out the batting order for the day - in which Shane Lee (Brett's elder brother) and Ian Harvey were supposed to be followed by Brett. So, Waugh called out "...Lee, Harvey...", paused and completed the last name of the most infamous person in modern American history, "...Oswald."
Lesson 1: Steve Waugh has a decent sense of humour (not seen when Sourav was making him wait for the toss)!
Lesson 2: Australians fix their batting line-up beforehand unlike Mr Chappell's experimentative processes.

So, I tried to put together some random bits of trivia I had collected over the last two decades, the first of which was spent in the periphery of the most competitive quiz circuit of the country. And Bangaloreans / Chennaiites - don't smirk, it's Calcutta.

These kind of arbit trivia questions violate the basic rule of quizzing - that one should be able to work out the answers even if you don't know the answer. But they are pardoned because of the sheer novelty of the answer! (For a fantastic series of Workoutable questions, take a look at this.)

Starting off with a series:
- Which is heavier - a horse's liver or its gall bladder?
- What is the first line of dialogue Amitabh spoke in Reshma Aur Shera?
- What is the filament of a neon light made of?
- How did Ashwatthama die in the Mahabharat?
- Who played the title role in Hitchcock's Rebecca?
These are all examples of a very aptly named weapon in quizzes called the Googly. Like its cricketing counterpart, it is a decoy and you have to spot it (either from the bowler's arm or the quizmaster's grin)!
Yup. All of the above are decoys.
- A horse does not have a gall bladder.
- AB played a mute person in R&S.
- A neon light does not have a filament.
- Ashwatthama (along with Balaram and Hanuman) are among the Immortals of Hindu mytholgy.
- And, we never see Rebecca on screen but only hear of her.

Number Two.
General Charles Napier, in 1842, sent back a one-word message to his headquarters - PECCAVI after conquering Sindh province. Why?
Because, in Latin, this word means "I have sinned." And his message was a pun on the name!

Number Three. This one is taken from the Neil O'Brien quiz column which used to appear in The Telegraph main years ago. (Now his son, Derek, writes the column and the questions are about 360-times easier. Though, Derek looks much more handsome!)
Complete this WW II rhyme:
"Hitler with his Brown shirts, riding for a fall.
Mussollini with his Black shirts, back against the wall.
De Valera with his Green shirts, caring not at all..."
Which other hero can fit in the above scheme of rhyme? Well, the last line is:
"Three cheers for Mahatma Gandhi, with no shirt at all!"

Number Four.
There was a pub called The Eagle on City Road of London. This area had a lot of tailors, many of whom pawned their tailoring irons to get a drink there. Unfortunately, most of them could not pay off their debts in time and lost their irons. What is the nursery rhyme around this?
Hint: Colloquially, their irons were known as weasels. Now, that makes it easier!
Up and down the City Road
In and out The Eagle
That's where the money goes
Pop goes the weasel!

Which trivia chest can be complete if it does not touch Bollywood?
So, Number Five is...
The title song of Yaadon Ki Baraat - sung by the three brothers and their mom while their pop plays the banjo as if a mouth organ is stuck up his wrong end - is performed in playback by Lata Mangeshkar and two child artistes. They are Padmini and Shivangi Kolhapuri. Padmini gained fame by acting in an impressive body of films and Shivangi did her bit by marrying Shakti Kapoor.
On a related note, the kiddie version of the Parinda song - "Kitni hain pyaari yeh dosti hamari" - was performed by two siblings called Sagarika and Shantanu Mukherjee. The latter one has now dropped the Tanu from his name and gained fame first as the topper of Loveology, then as the feet-toucher of Sa Re Ga Ma and finally as the voice of Shah Rukh Khan!

Watch this space. I will be Back.

A long time ago, three of us had a quiz team which was aptly named Just Joking. All of the above are gleaned from a decrepit green diary I have from that age, where I used to jot down interesting questions during quizzes. Two of us are in Delhi now. But the third member is a bit too far away for having those quiz-jam sessions. Pity, because the diary still has a few pages left...

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

What is a Brand? Are Film-makers Brands?

If I remember anything from my marketing courses many summers ago, a brand is a promise. Colgate is not a white logo on a red background. It is a promise of gleaming, healthy teeth and fresh breath. And it is for this promise that we agree to pay a premium price. Roughly, this is what these MBA-types call 'brand equity'.

Going by this definition, we could try to examine which of our Bollywood directors can be called a brand - in terms of their 'promise'. Try to see what do our most famous directors stand for and how consistently they fulfill that promise.
Incidentally, one interesting article I read had postulated that Disney is the only 'brand' studio in Hollywood because they make a consistent kind of entertainment, identified by name. After all, we do say "I am going to see a Disney movie" but never "I am going for a Warner Bros movie".
So, here is a random list of 10 directors and an attempt to identify their brand promise.

Naseer Hussain: Multi-starrers. Romance/relationships as kids. Theme song sung as kids unites lost grown-ups. One sequence of music competition with back-to-back songlets. Villains in really bad wigs and/or goggles. Ravinder Kapoor as do-gooder side-kick.

Yash Chopra II: Heroine in chiffon saree. Hero in pullovers. Innumerable uses of the word 'tanhai'. Song sequences in virgin European locations (all of which will eventually be named Yash Chopra Lake/Valley/Hill/Chowk). Love triangle/quadrilateral eventually solved by civilised rendition of sher-o-shairi.

Yash Chopra I: Very angry young man. Either illegitimate or lacking father figure. Loosely based on real-life person/incident. One high-voltage dialogue scene between right and wrong. Death of the wrong-doer.

Manmohan Desai: At least two brothers separated at birth. Three religions. Shuddering Nirupa Roy. Doddering Pran. Amitabh Bachchan. One gibberish song. One trained dog/hawk/cow/Easter egg/heroine's bodyguard. One operating theatre scene. One natural calamity (not including Kader Khan's wig). Divine intervention to cure blindness/TB/AIDS/obesity. Fourteen coincidences, each having odds of 786,000,000 to 1.

Ramgopal Verma: Bollywood. Or Underworld. Or Both. Preferably both. Spoof of famous film star/director. Deadpan dialogue delivery by hero. Hyperbolic delivery by rest of the cast. Better background score than songs. Talented actors in bit roles (who will be seen in important roles in his next and be separated from him in the one after that).

Karan Johar: 215 minutes of viewing time, at least. New York. 330 dancers flown in from Scandinavia. Central character owning Fifth Avenue penthouse or private jet or both. Shah Rukh, Kajol, Rani and Aditya Chopra. At least one high-profile cast replacement. Gay jokes or a semi-clad SRK. Discussion about the film on 'We, The People'.

Mahesh Bhatt: Bastard (literally) hero. Bastard (figuratively) father. Long-suffering mother (Reema Lagoo). Making it in showbiz (or trying to). One alcoholic character. Phenomenally successful music. Avtar Gill, Akash Khurana, Mushtaq Khan and Anupam Kher. Ghost-directed by hero or spot boy.

Sanjay Leela Bhansali: Seven years in the making. Budget of Rs 75 crores. Death of at least 3 spot boys when most expensive set is burnt down in the finale. At least 2 law-suits on non-payment of dues, non-acknowledgment of artistes etc. Temperamental stars. At least one star couple on the verge of getting linked / breaking up. Taking mother on stage to collect Best Director Trophy.

Kamal Haasan: Kamal Haasan in at least 13 roles (including one leper, one dwarf, one set of triplets and one broom). Exploration of male existential angst. Tongue-kissing heroines half his age.

But if you really think about it, most of the above directors have deviated from their 'formula' a significant number of times. For every promise fulfilled, they have deviated from the script to deliver an 'unconventional' film - making it a little more difficult to put a finger on what a particular 'director brand' stand for. Except one.
So, the final name on the list is - what I feel - is the Strongest Film Brand in India.

Ramsay Brothers: Bhoot (a.k.a. Pretatma) produced by the killing of innocent man by zamindar's henchmen. Bhootni (a.k.a. Chudail a.k.a. Dayin) produced by the suicide of village belle escaping rape by zamindar (see above). Group of college students coming for picnic in haunted house. One doddering watchman. One bathing under the shower (wearing shimmering nightie). One 'bedroom' scene interrupted by killing. Lots of smoke, usually in graveyards. One Christian priest killed while trying to tame Hindu bhoot with rosary. Eventual victory with the help of Om locket. Close-ups of heroine's cleavage while hunting for locket (see above). Deepak Parashar and Huma Khan.

For decades, the sons of F U Ramsay - Tulsi, Shyam, Kiran, Keshu, Gangu, Arjun, Chandu - have presented to us exactly the same story, starting from Do Gaz Zameen Ke Neeche to The Zee Horror Show.
Purana Mandir, Purani Haveli, Veerana, Bandh Darwaza, Hotel and the like had such a strong brand association with the Ramsay Brothers that when Keshu branched out into mainstream production, he could not use his surname - lest his films get mistaken as coming from the horror genre. Which is why hit films like Khakee and the Khiladi films (of Akshay Kumar) are known only by the producer's first name!
Now, that's brand power। You have Amitabh Bachchan and Aishwarya Rai in the movie but even then, it can get recognised as a 'horror' film if you append the 'Ramsay' name to it!

This thought of Ramsay as an influential genre came to me after reading this review in what is my favourite blog right now!

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Podi-pishi, R.I.P.

Leela Mazumdar passed away last Thursday (April 5). For those who have not the good fortune of reading her, I think it would be appropriate to introduce her as Satyajit Ray's paternal aunt (pishi). She was a co-editor (along with Ray) of the children's magazine Sandesh (founded by Ray's father, Sukumar Ray).
She was a perceptive commentator on women's issues, wrote some extremely popular cookbooks and had a wonderful sense of humour. But what sets her apart in the pantheon of literary greats in Bengal is her calibre as a writer for children.

There are several criteria for writing successfully for children.
Probably, the most important one is a grasp on child psychology, by which one is able to understand what goes on in a child's mind.
How does a child perceive adults? How does he interpret mythology? Who are his heroes? And how does he justify being wrong? Each one of these questions were answered through her stories so many times and in such entertaining formats that they have stayed with readers.
In her stories, the adults - good or bad - are described in detail from some very interesting perspectives - shoes, toes, elbows. I had noticed that majority of her villains' have scruffy shoes, crinkled elbows and cracked nails. If you think about it, then you realise that the height from which children view the world is your waist and they form opinions basis what they see from that height!
Children - who are more modern than adults by at least a generation - would also take a sceptical view of the mythological heroes. In one of her hilarious plays, Bhim is actually a cry-baby who acts macho in front of outsiders. Everybody hates Yudisthir for his holier-than-thou ways. Kunti has regular tiffs with her daughters-in-law.
Only in Leela Mazumdar's stories have I found the narrator to have lost out completely, been completely villainous and yet justify all his actions plausibly. In Notun Chheley Notobor (A New Boy in Class), the narrator and his gang get completely outsmarted by a new boy in class and yet remain completely identifiable.

One more criterion for writing for children could be the believability.
Even as Harry Potter wields his wand and zips around on his Firebolt, there is an element of everyboy in him. He struggles in his Potions class. He misses Quidditch matches as punishment. His girlfriend leaves him.
Leela Mazumdar's heroes are boys from the neighbourhood, who sometimes perform feats without realising. And then accept the credit - without letting anybody on to the fact that they were scared out of their wits! This is oh-so-true of most of the 'brave' things we have done as children (or for that matter, as adults!) but it takes an author of uncommon perception to articulate it well.
Where does fantasy start and reality end? In one of her stories, a boy imagines his tutor to be a black magician who turns his students into goats. A perfectly normal conversation between the tutor and his wife acquires a twist like no other as it gets interpreted as a plan to turn the boy into a goat as well!

And finally, the most important test of children's literature is its readability by adults.
Generations of Bengali kids have grown up and continued to re-read, re-laugh and re-re-read the adventures of Gupi, Noga, Badyinath, Pnachu-da and my absolute favourite - Podi pishi!
Her two most famous books - Din-Dupurey (In Broad Daylight) and Podi-pishir Bormi Baksho (Aunt Podi's Burmese Box) remain the touchstone of children's imagination.
They have fired millions of imaginations and lit up lives - as children and adults go on a treasure hunt (yet again) to find where Podi-pishi's box really is! What they find is not a simple and happy ending to a lovely story, but a lifetime of romance with the written word.

Thank you, Podi-pishi.

Jhingalala


Long long ago in the land of Bollywood came a movie by the name of Shalimar. It was one of the first (if not the very first) bilingual films to have been made in India. It had – among other things – Rex Harrison in his first (and last) Hindi role. The Indian cast consisted of an over-the-hill Dharmendra (but looking dashing as ever) romancing a perennially young Zeenat Aman.

The story is about an eccentric billionaire thief (played by Harrison) who invites a group of famous thieves to his island and challenges them to steal Shalimar (a diamond worth some gadzillion rupees). The deal is that anybody who manages to steal it gets to keep it. But if they fail, they will be killed.
Of the invited thieves, there are Shammi Kapoor and O P Ralhan (a small-time producer of B grade films who acted in a few lascivious roles) from the Indian pantheon. There is a female gymnast thief and a few others as well, whom I have forgotten about!
Garam Dharam is a small-time con, who steals the invitation letter from somebody else who had come to his nightclub and impersonates that guy to land up at the island. His trick gets caught but he is allowed to stay on and gets a stab at stealing Shalimar. Obviously, he wins.
If you are wondering where Zeenat fits in all this, she is Rex Harrison’s moll and Dharam’s ex-girlfriend.
The music of Shalimar was vintage RD Burman, right from the title song ‘Mera pyaar Shalimar’ to Usha Uthup’s husky rendition of ‘One Two Cha Cha Cha’. The latter was a particular favourite of mine for the lines “O Mr Naidu, gir mat jaana / yahaan tumko kal bhi hain aana” which were sung to the visuals of a South Indian gentleman (evidently, Mr Naidu!) doing the Bharat Natyam in a nightclub! As you can see, the scene was made to appeal to five year olds!

Which finally brings us to third and most famous song, which is also the reason for the title of this post.
A maudlin Dharmendra sings this song, reminiscing about the good times he had with his ex-flame - “Hum bewafaa hargiz na the / par hum wafaa kar na sake…” and the song’s antaras are interspersed with a wonderfully popular tribal mating call - Jhingalala Hoom Jhingalala Hoom Jhingalala Hoom Hurrr Hurrr!!!
Everybody would remember that these lines have always been sung in college picnics with great gusto by the people who couldn’t sing to save their lives and also the signature line for tribal gibberish! But then again, it was always a cult favourite and I could not imagine that this ‘line’ from a flop movie has any of the charms of a Deewaar or Sholay dialogue!
Evidently, I was wrong.

29 years after the movie disappeared from the theatres, this word – Jhingalala – has returned to become the signature line of one of the most telecast advertisements in recent history. Tata Sky which started its dubious marketing campaign with a whole lot of televisions, music systems and spectacles being shot putted out of windows followed it up with the devastating campaign – Isko laga dala, toh life Jhingalala!
Kids in Einstein wigs, cricket enthusiasts and a cretin in a grass suit unanimously proclaimed the above and all I could to dull the pain was to SMS successful brand managers if they knew what kind of intellience levels and sadistic tendencies produces ad lines like this one!
And just when I thought the worst is over, the grass suited cretin (now christened Pappe!) was stopped on his way to the West Indies by none other than Hrithik Roshan with the promise of watching (apparently) an India-Pakistan final in his private theatre. And all this while, a pseudo-classical Oye Pappe tune plays in the background. Ghastly!
This is such a bad execution of such a bad concept that even the ever-dependable Hrithik Roshan looks positively ill-at-ease... I mean, there's only so much sincerity you can bring if you have to say ILDTL Jhingalala, with your arm around a grass-suited cretin!

A classic example of what a friend used to call GRE advertising... you run out of expletive synonyms to call it!

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

1, 2, 3... Infinity

I was just going through some old newspapers, in one of which there was an article about the fear children have for mathematics. In a survey, an overwhelming majority of the children indicated that mathematics is their most hated subject. The article then happily concludes this to be the reason why so few students get into the IITs and IIMs. Idiots!

Well firstly – the reason very few people get into the IITs is because there are very few seats! If the IITs had a billion seats, all of us would have been engineering graduates. Except my friend Anirban, who would have still studied Chemistry at JU!
Secondly, a love for mathematics does not make you good at it. It just helps you appreciate it better. Best example – ME! I loved all branches of Mathematics all through school and did spectacularly badly in most of them. It is a lot like my love for music. I love music but can’t sing to save my life!
Thirdly, mathematics does not require a higher level of intelligence than say, history. It is just that success in solving a calculus problem can be demonstrated more charismatically than writing an equally successful treatise on history. “Pythagoras, come to the blackboard and prove what you said about triangles.” This is so much easier to execute while Herodotus and Aristotle are slogging it out on tablets about their theories of history and philosophy.

I think if kids do math problems in a non-threatening environment with no apparent ‘stake’, then they don’t develop any fear for the subject, approach it with a bit of fun and end up learning quite a bit! Otherwise you end up like my aunt (pishi – father’s sister) who refuses to come anywhere near anything that has numbers written on it and blithely blames my father for not being able to teach her!

Ironically, the reason why I never developed a fear for numbers was a steady stream of games my father (the same guy as described above!) taught me. A little beyond me initially, I learnt them with a bit of effort but once I did, they were not only a source of entertainment but very effective to counter Math test fears!
The most common one is a factorization of car numbers. That is, finding out the numbers that can exactly divide the four digit car numbers. Most of them are easy enough and you can easily find their factors but once in a while you come across a 2021 and it takes a while to realize it is actually 43 x 47.
Our first car – a vintage model Ambassador Mark II – was number 1419. That is, 3 x 11 x 43. Still remember that!

An off-shoot of this was the methods to found out if a particular number can be divided by another. The easy ones are –
(1) If a number ends with an even number, then it can be divided by 2.
(2) If a number ends with 5, then it can be divided by 5.
(3) If the digits of a number add up to a number divisible by 3/9, then the number can be divided by 3/9.

Then there are a couple of slightly tricky ones.
How do you find out if a number is divisible by 11? You add up the digits in the odd-places and then add the digits in the even-places, if the difference between the two sums is 0 or 11, then the number is divisible by 11. That is, for 259246779 – you add up 2+9+4+7+9 (odd places) = 31. Then you add up 5+2+6+7 (even places) = 20. The difference is 11, so the number can be divided by 11.

How do you find out if a number is divisible by 7? There is a method to this as well but it is so complicated that it is probably easier to divide the damn number by 7. I remember the method vaguely – having read it in a Russian book (by Y. Perelman) - but would not hazard it without checking.
Oh-kay. I just found the method here. Read it and explain to me if you can!

A trick my apparently math-phobic wife taught me was how to remember 9-times table. I had haughtily told her that I knew the 89-times table as well but she pointed out the trick was intended for pre-schoolers and not people with 18 years of formal education.
The trick is – you hold up your ten fingers in front of you and start from the left.
For 9 x 1, you hide the first left finger (little finger on your left hand). You get 0 fingers to the left of it and 9 fingers to its right. So, 9 x 1 = 09. For 9 x 2, you hide your second left finger (ring finger of your left hand). You have 1 finger to the left of it and 8 fingers to its right. So, 9 x 2 = 18.
You carry on hiding the relevant finger and you have 0/9, 1/8, 2/7, 3/6… 8/1 and 9/0 fingers to the left and right of the hidden finger. And that is the 9 times table!

One of the first math games I learnt went something like this.
Take any three-digit number. Write the same number next to it, making it a six-digit number. For example, 372372.
Do you think 7 can exactly divide this number (that is, without leaving any remainders)? Unlikely, but you may feel that it is possible since I am playing this game with you! It is. In the example, it becomes 53196.
Do you think 11 can exactly divide this number you have got now? Feeling similar to above! Again, it is! It becomes 4836.
Now, what are the chances this number is divisible by 13? Even unlikelier, right? But as you would have guessed by now, it is divisible by 13 as well – and the final result is 372, the original result you started off with.
The explanation is quite simple, actually. Writing a three-digit number side-by-side produces the same result if you multiply it by 1001. That is, 372 x 1001 = 372372. And 1001 = 7 x 11 x 13. Which explains why the six-digit number can be exactly divided by 7, 11 and 13. We effectively multiplied a number by 7, 11 and 13 and divided it by the same.

That’s the beauty of mathematics. There are so many cool ‘parlour tricks’ to play with kids, its quite a wonder that so many of them don’t start liking it. Maybe they would, if they are taken through it in a non-CBSE kind of way.
But then, I am probably speaking a bit sooner than I should. For all you know, my son will be throwing up on his Geometry paper in a few years time!

I took the title from a lovely book on popular science by George Gamow, covering theory of numbers, structure of atoms, theory of relativity and other pretty deep scientific topics explained really well.