Thursday, August 30, 2007

Of Stars and Actors

A star is a person who continues to be interesting even when he is not doing anything. An actor is a person who has to act (but of course!) to be interesting. To this age-old wisdom, I might as well add my two-penny bit - everybody admires an actor but everybody imitates a star.

Every era or region of Indian cinema has a star and actor pair. As their appeals are emotional or rational respectively, so are the fan followings. Bengali and Tamil cinema provide the best examples. The iconic pairs – of Uttam Kumar & Soumitra Chatterjee and Rajanikanth & Kamalahaasan – remain the subject of heated debates. The fans of the former try to prove that their hero is just as great an actor, only more commercially successful. The second group ridicules this claim by pointing out the laughability of the star’s hairstyle or cigarette-catching-techniques!
Basically, the fans of stars and actors are perennially involved in debates over whose talents are rarer or whose legacy more memorable.

In the Hindi space, pairs of film personalities can be easily clubbed together in a star-actor pair. Dilip Kumar was the actor while Dev Anand was the star. The former charmed audiences with dramatic pauses and natural tears while the latter’s puffy hair, scarves and 6:05 tilt held men and women in awe!
Subsequently, when Amitabh Bachchan strode the industry like a Colossus, the actors of his generation got completely overshadowed and ended up in parallel cinema. Om Puri and Naseeruddin Shah, for example.

Then came the Khan Triumvirate. Aamir – after some innocent forays like QSQT, Tum Mere Ho and Awwal Number – was snubbed royally at the Filmfare Awards and became the first major Indian actor to work on one film at a time and boycott film award functions. Also, he started to look stern and gave deadly boring interviews, mostly talking about Guru Dutt and the futility about awards, sometimes simultaneously – “Yeh duniya agar mil bhi jaaye to kya hain?
SRK – on the other hand – threw heroines off rooftops, fought climaxes with a mouthful of blood and went through entire films only in suits (that is, not anything under the suit). Of course, his interviews and award ceremony speeches were like his film dialogues – rip roaring stuff! In a memorable interview, when an India Today correspondent (now his biographer) accused him of repeating himself, he said – “So what? Even history repeats itself…” Lovely!

In the present crop, Hrithik Roshan seemed to be a star when he debuted but he veered towards the actor side by losing weight for some roles, building muscles for some and keeping tutors for flying off buildings. He developed a unique ‘get-up’ for each of his roles and is now starting to sound almost identical to Aamir in his interviews. Thankfully, he has not boycotted the award ceremonies yet but given the boring speeches he gives, he should!
Abhishek Bachchan, on the other hand, is fat! And he remains so, for almost all his roles. His stubble remains in place whether he plays a Bihari goon or a NRI millionaire. But he starts fashion trends at the rate of about one a week! He wore his watch over a wristband. Then he wore a hairband (much to everybody’s chagrin but the rest of the world – from the puppies of Delhi to the tourist guides of Agra – followed suit). Now, his blingy kurtas from the year’s biggest flop seems to be keeping the tailors busy from Mumbai to Moradabad. And off screen, he runs to the stage (uninvited) if his dad wins an award, cracks politically incorrect jokes on chat shows and takes a month long honeymoon!

So, what is the point? The point is what constitutes immortality? Are the stars there only for the money? If yes, what do they live for after signing a five-picture deal with Adlabs?
Fifteen years from now, when we are at the 75th anniversary of our Independence and India Today makes its list of 75 Indians Who Shaped Our Lives, who will get in? Will it be Shah Rukh or Aamir? Will it be Abhishek or Hrithik?
Or better still, will it be the other enfant terrible of Hindi cinema – Salman Khan?

This post started where Mad Momma expressed irritation and indignation at Salman’s faux Yankee accent in Partner. But hey – did you know people copy that? And more importantly, Salman does it all the time. As an urban date doctor, his American accent can still be claimed as a part of the character but how do you explain the same accent on small-town goon (Tere Naam) or a Mumbai police inspector (Garv)?
Well, the answer is in the stardom. It is not Prem or Radhey or Arjun Ranawat you are seeing in those films. You are seeing Salman Khan.
Just as, you see Shah Rukh Khan as the crazed lover in Darr or the college dude in KKHH. They are not playing the character. They are just showing off some cool stuff – mannerisms, clothes, muscles – for you to copy. There is no ‘Method’ in it – just madness!

On the other hand, Bhuvan is a mid-Western (Indian) villager of the nineteenth century. Rohit is a retarded child, stumbling upon an alien. There is no trace of Aamir Khan and Hrithik Roshan in them. So, we remember these two brilliantly etched characters of Hindi cinema and have no recollection of the fine actors who played them.

When the winner of Great Indian Laughter Challenge XVII performs to a packed audience in Kanpur, he will only mimic the stars. He will copy the no-pause-for-breath-bobbing-head style of Dev Anand, the passionate-baritone-interspersed-with-hnaaii of Amitabh Bachchan and the quivering-voice-lilting-exclamation of Shah Rukh Khan. His repertoire will also include Nana Patekar, Raaj Kumar and A K Hangal. He will not copy Aamir or Hrithik because he can’t.

Very occasionally, a star will encroach into the actor’s territory. An Amitabh Bachchan will do a Black and cause National Awards to stall because venerable critics will not be able to digest a frivolous star upstaging more conventional thespians. A Shah Rukh Khan will do a Swades and it will flop because the audience cannot find Raj Malhotra in it.

The actors will live on in the textbooks of cinema, in the corridors of National School of Drama.
The stars will live on in the Saturday evenings of Zee Cinema. Today, it is Shanivaar Ke Raat, Amitabh Ke Saath. Tomorrow, it will probably be Shah Rukh.
Whose fan are you? An actor or a star?

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Headlines from the Heartland

Terribly busy. Screwed up internet connection.

But had to applaud this wonderful headline which came after India's loss in the first one-dayer. After Alistair and Ian's heroics, Hindustan headlined - "Cook ne pakaya, Bell ne bajaya!"

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Copycat: Plagiarism in Bollywood

Heard Javed Akhtar recount a beautiful story on Mad Momma's least favourite TV show - Koffee With Karan.
Apparently, he went to this producer for his first ever script narration and the man listened to it without interruption. A nervous Javed Akhtar asked, "Sir, kaisa laga?"
The guy replied - "Darling, story to teri achhi hain. Lekin ek bada risk hain... Yeh kahani kisi bhi film mein aaya nahin ab tak!"

Thought the whole affair of plagiarism in Bollywood merits a post and came up with one.
Posted it here in a disgusting dispay of greed. You see, they are giving away 10000 bucks for the two best posts of the week!
So, read it there... But I am posting my next round of PJs right here. So, do come back!

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

What Am I Talking About?

MYB 3047.

Belapur - Rs 2.

Heera.

Ramanagaram.

Minerva.

Gulzarilal the postman.

Mausi ki devar ke saas...

Say You Love Me - Demi Roussos

M. S. Shinde

Sheroo.

Girija from Pimpri village.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Soul Curry

Even as we move around the country and trot around the globe tasting exotic cuisines and sampling expensive wines, somewhere we never manage to get over some very ordinary food - just because some of our fondest memories are associated with them.

One of my earliest memories of such soul food was the Club Sandwich at The Saturday Club of Calcutta. Sat C is one of those propah clubs from the British era who don't allow round-necked t-shirts in their bar and slippers anywhere in the club!
About one Saturday a month, my father would pick me up from school and we would go to Saturday Club where I would devour one Club Sandwich. Since I was in primary school then, the triple deck of egg, chicken and ham would need a huge effort for me to chomp on - and I would always be in fear of getting a lock jaw! I am not sure if the sandwich tasted that good because I was ravenous after a full day of school or because of the forbidden taste of ham - but it did. Washing it down with a chilled bottle of Thums Up, I would go up to their reading room and read hardbound Tintin comics till it was time to go home.
On the way home, I would marvel at the Club's stupidity because the number of pages in the paperback Tintin comics was exactly the same as the hardcover ones, despite the latter being almost double the price.

On what is known as Ballygunge Phnari (basically, a large crossing in South Calcutta) is a very old restaurant called The Dhaba. For a significant part of my childhood, it remained shut due to some labour union trouble and the red-flag-shutters-down-posters-all-over was a familiar sight.
However, prior to the restaurant shutting, I had already tasted their Chicken Bharta and Roomali Roti. It was my first taste of both - and I can still remember the wonder I felt when I unfurled a roti and saw its massive size!
Thanks to Dhaba's proximity to my school, a large number (if not all) of our 'treats' ended up being here. Dhaba's massive servings, terrace and an ability to overlook our teenage boisterousness added to their pluses.
I have had far better Chicken Bharta elsewhere. Indeed, I have had far better dishes than Chicken Bharta in the first place. But somehow, the place where you celebrate your eighteenth birthday just refuses to fade away!

During my stint in Bangalore, a colleague introduced me to Lazeez. It is a non-descript joint serving Mughlai food on the busy Commercial Street and they are spectacularly unknown among even the residents of the Garden City.
I was lured there for just one reason - they had potatoes in their Mutton Biriyani. Did I mention that the colleague who took me there was a Bengali? No? Well, you must have guessed by now!
As it turned out, their entire serving and half the cooking staff was imported from Calcutta and in a moment of extravagance, their owner even claimed to be a partner in Calcutta's Shiraz restaurant.
For weeks on end, our standard Sunday lunch would be Mutton Biriyani and Chicken Chnap washed down with Pepsi and topped off with a phirni. After a point, the waiters stopped taking orders and just plonked the food on the table minutes after we walked in.
Their biriyani was good but nothing brilliant. But it was unavoidably addictive. Biriyani at home meant a festive occasion and for a homesick Calcuttan, this small restaurant unerringly brought back those happy memories.

Just as a small hole in the wall near Paradise Circle of Hyderabad called itself Calcutta Chat Centre and served phuchkas (along with other assorted chaat items).
My boss took me there, promising to treat me to authentic phuchkas - as opposed to golgappas or panipuris or whatever other monstrosity that tries to masquerade as Calcutta's roadside passion! The taste was bang on.
The crunch of the phuchka, the viscosity of the potato mixture, the tang of the tamarind water were all perfect. It is said that the main taste of the phuchka (or any roadside chaat) is due to the under-nail dirt of the chaat-wallah. Even that must have perfect!
I remember this guy because in a strange sort of way, it opened my mind a bit. Probably for the first time in life, I accepted that perfection exists outside Calcutta as well.

No description of soul food would be complete without a mention of Chelo Kabab at the Peter Cat. This now-slightly-run-down restaurant in Calcutta would probably be getting 75% of its turnover from that one dish on its menu. And believe me, their kababs as well as their sizzlers are pretty good.
As far as the Chelo goes, it is a skewer of kababs served on a bed rice with a dollop of butter. Neither the kabab is terribly succulent nor the rice suitably warm to melt and absorb the butter. And yet...
My theory is that Peter Cat holds an enduring allure because for innumerable Calcuttans, it is the place where they start to go after their first jobs - and THAT brings on a huge sentimental value. And when you go back, you do so either with old friends or to savour the nostalgia. Either way, you do not want to waste time poring over their cat-shaped menu and see what the chef "passionately recommends". You just order what you had ordered the first time round. And every time, it tastes just as good as whatever you had eaten with your first salary!

To round off the whole affair with a little sweetness, let me confess the kinds of sweets I do like. I like chocolate. Mostly I am satisfied with chocolate bars (and even Eclairs) but once in a while I get such a tremendous craving for chocolate pastries, that I fear that I may have to be sent for rehab! And this entire addiction started with a small shop near Theatre Road (again, in Calcutta) called Kookie Jar.
Since I eat only chocolate pastries, I am partial towards their Macaroon Tart - which is closest you can get to heaven without abstinence! I have been repeatedly told that the true test of a bakery is when you taste their stuff after keeping them in the fridge for a night. The good ones still have their crusts crunchy and the centres soft and the bad ones have their crusts soft and centres hard. The problem with Kookie Jar products is that they don't survive a night!
The other examples of soul food I had given were not the best but the favourites. Kookie Jar is a favourite and also the best pastry shop ever!

There is a profusion of Calcutta eateries in the above list. What to do? The bloody city continues to be the breeding grounds of nostalgia, great food and most of the finer things in life.
And it is programmed into my DNA.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Introducing: Low Profile Debuts of Bollywood

Ever since DDLJ became a monster hit, hazaar trivia about the film surfaced, the most famous of which is undoubtedly the casting of the two blokes who played SRK’s friends in the film. The less famous one was Robby, which was played by Arjun Sablok (later going on to direct Na Tum Jano Na Hum and - arrgghh - Neal ‘n’ Nikki). The more famous one was – as everyone knows – Rocky, played by Karan of Koffee fame!
While this bit of trivia is reasonably well spread, equally well spread is the belief that this was Karan’s acting debut as well. Actually, it is not!
Karan Johar’s first acting assignment was in a TV serial of the 1980's called Indradhanush – in which a gang of schoolboys inadvertently builds a time machine. He played a bumbling friend of the hero. In one scene, when the hero was wondering how to make a computer chip, he good-naturedly offered his bag of potato wafers!

A lot of stars from film families have either stood in for others or have been pushed into an insignificant scene to fulfill their desire of being a ‘star’. This is obviously before their ‘launches’ – which, presumably, are better planned and better publicised!

For example, Sanjay Dutt had a brief screen appearance before he made his ‘formal’ debut in Rocky. He appeared in Reshma and Shera (produced by Sunil Dutt) as a sidekick to the main singer in a qawwali. He is seen (with his goofy smile) clapping in the standard qawwali style (open-palms-wide-rotate-palms-in-opposite-directions-clap-delicately).

Aamir Khan’s first movie role was the child version of his youngest uncle (Tariq Hussein) in their home production, Yaadon ki Baraat. He appears in the title song, in which he excuses himself to take a leak. Apparently, the entire family teased him about that for a long time.
At one point of time (when Aamir gave a little more interesting interviews than he does currently), this story cropped up in every single one!

Raj Kapoor’s three children appeared in the song “Pyar Hua Ikrar Hua" song of Shree 420, looking tremendously cute in their raincoats and umbrellas – just as the lyrics momentously declared “Hum na rahenge, tum na rahoge / Phir bhi rahegi yeh nishaniyaan…”.

Of course, Hrithik Roshan’s dancing skills were evident from a very early age as he danced along side Sri Devi and Rajanikanth (wow!) in Bhagwan Dada (and one more movie, whose name I have forgotten).

Even when it is not a home production, if a star-child is present on the location and looks cute enough, the temptation is great for the producer to (a) save money by pushing the kid in and (b) thereby, earn brownie points with daddy!
This is probably what happened when Bobby Deol was requisitioned to play the junior Dharmendra in Manmohan Desai’s Dharam Veer.
Or for that matter, Aryan Khan was recruited to play his daddy’s kiddie version in Kabhi Khushi Khabhie Gham.
This is not restricted to Bollywood only. Sandip Ray made a brief appearance in his father’s classic Kanchenjungha as a little boy on a swing, while the actors (Anubha Gupta and Anil Mukherjee) talk.

It is easy for kids on the periphery of cinema to get these walk-on parts, which eventually get lost in the din of their high-voltage launches and serve no other purpose except to provide grist for the trivia mill!
Surprisingly, a lot of film stars start off by playing a few kiddy roles without any thought of a career but get lured back into tinsel town subsequently.

The super-cute Masoom duo of Jugal Hansraj and Urmila Matondkar went to star in Aa Gale Lag Jaa together – which was Jugal’s adult debut. Masoom was his child debut though I think Urmila had already appeared as a boy (!) in Shyam Benegal’s Kalyug as Parikshit (Rekha and Raj Babbar’s son).

The Mr India gang comprised of at least two later day stars – Aftab Shivdasani (who had earlier been seen as the Farex baby) and Ahmed Khan (who is a choreographer and has directed Fool N Final in recent times). Ahmed showed his promise right at the beginning when he break-danced through his role in Mr India!

Before he achieved fame as yodeling gypsy of Mehbooba, Jalal Agha made a regal debut in one of the greatest epics of Indian cinema as one of the most famous characters of Indian history. He was the young Shahzada Salim in Mughal-e-Azam!

Just as surprising is the kid who played the role of the young Ashok Kumar of the landmark hit of the 1940’s – Kismat. Mehmood debuted and later came back to become one of the most famous comedians of Hindi cinema.

While on the subject of debuts, Rishi Kapoor (thanks to his huge career as a leading man) is credited with presiding over the debuts of 23 heroines, no less! He started with Dimple and expressed regret at not having acted with Twinkle before his roles dried up. This statistic of 23 is unquestionably a record – as Akshay Kumar is probably the only star to have come close.
However, with Chak De India, Shah Rukh just launched 16 heroines ‘opposite’ him. He already has Suchitra Krishnamurthy, Shilpa Shetty, Mahima Chaudhary, Preity Zinta and Gayatri Joshi on his list and Deepika Padukone is coming up.
So, is this an acceptable breaking of Rishi's record?

Coming Soon: Directors in acting roles... in their own movies and others'!

6 Unconnected Thoughts

Apart from mental calculations to figure out how many 2' x 2' tiles are required for tiling 590 sq.ft of floor space (with 4" skirting), I had the following thoughts over the last weekend...

1. Which other cricket team in the world do you have four batsmen who are considered the best of their generation, two who are considered the most promising and the leg spinner scores the only century of the series?

2. Why does Outlook – which is clearly the better newsmagazine on a weekly basis – screw up so spectacularly in its special issues? India Today special issues (year end, milestones, whatever) are just SO much better!

3. There is a movie set in Bombay in which the hero is called, well, Hero, the heroine Ghungroo, and the villain is called Babban. Why is this movie being compared to The Greatest Film Ever Made? Because both of them have a character called Sambha?

4. A friend of mine told me that in Golcha cinema hall located in Dariyaganj of Old Delhi, if you buy a balcony ticket, you have the option of getting a barber in for a haircut and massage. Is this correct?

5. Is 'Random' the most common word to be found in blog titles or the descriptions?

6. In cororate offices, a common refrain is heard to underline the simplicity of a problem – “Arre – its not rocket science, yaar!” What do they say for a similar situation in NASA?

Any answers?

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

BME 93094

I walked into the massive building for the first time while it rained, shielding myself with a hopelessly flimsy yellow file. It was a really long procession – as there were almost a hundred of us.
I don’t remember when was the last time I walked out – four years later. It must have been after collecting my rather depressing mark sheets for the last semester that eventually formalized my entrance into a higher-level educational institution.
It has been exactly a decade since I have ceased to be a student of Mechanical Engineering. A batchmate pointed out in May this year that the ten years were up. I waited for a couple of months because I was not sure of that till the results were actually out!

Academically, it was probably the worst decision of my life to study Engineering and I realized that in the first thirty minutes of the first Engineering Mechanics class I attended.
Socially, it was probably the best because in those four years, I met some of the most intelligent and entertaining people I have had the privilege of knowing.
Intelligent because these guys scored excruciatingly high marks despite watching films with me all the time. Entertaining because how many people – after all – can look at a windmill and say in a deadpan voice, “This must be running on electricity…”

What did I learn in four years of college? Well, I learnt about the giants of World Cinema. I learnt about Hindustani classical music. I learnt about quizzing and acquitting oneself honourably in the toughest quiz circuit of the country. I learnt about the theoretical basis for certain political ideologies. And I learnt all these in the best possible way – from exceptionally bright people who did not mind silly questions.

And what a crowd it was!
My quiz team was always more intent on having a good time than winning quizzes and we called ourselves – quite aptly – Just Joking. My section – denoted as B-2-2 as we were the last half of the last half of the last half of the batch – was always intent on devising elaborate laboratory pranks than finishing experiments. My department was cursed with the most adverse gender ratio for any academic institution in the world and we turned this curse into a murderous weapon by stopping every single cricket match we had the remotest chance of losing!

And the antics we indulged in… from demonstrating Juhi Chawla dance steps in the Engineering Drawing class to mastering a timesaving technique called Light Tracing. From getting the workshop assistants to do your jobs to switching off the mains to bunk the Physics lab. From getting drunk on the hostel roof to telling the Vice Chancellor that the University is not exactly his ancestral property.
The number of crazy things that spring to my mind even a decade after graduation is quite amazing.

Of course, ten years after graduating from a college, the memories become very hazy and nostalgia imparts a rosy tint to them. This is true for my entire batch because all our memories seem to be the ones in how we scraped through in extremely tough class tests, how we gave witty repartees in vivas and how all the movies we saw were on the day before exams!
Apart from the hilarity of all those incidents, I think there is an element of bravado as well. It is as if we are trying to tell the University that we are doing fine despite dire predictions to the contrary!

Somehow, despite my best efforts in the opposite direction, the University’s academic credentials – to which some of our worthy batchmates have now started to contribute – are quite impeccable. In a recent survey by Outlook magazine, our engineering faculty was ranked 12th in the country. Right after the IITs and a few stray RECs (who must have rigged the bloody results anyway)!
To my mind, this is not a reflection of lesser intelligence and/or diligence of our students. It is more indicative of the fact that our Engineering faculty has not produced cross-disciplinary geniuses. Yet.
Somebody only has to write a JU version of Five Point Someone for us to break into the IIT monopoly. And believe me, it would be a more interesting story…

The set of characters in the title - which sounds ominously like an Ambassador car belonging to the Bihar PWD - was actually my roll number during those four eventful years.