Monday, November 30, 2009

Random Movies I Like: Agneepath

Agneepath released at a time (1990) when the media was convinced that Amitabh on his way out, right after two high-profile films by two Midas-touch film-making houses (Manmohan Desai and Prakash Mehra) that did badly (Toofan and Jaadugar). Prior to that, the jury was divided on how well Shahenshah actually did and Ganga Jamuna Saraswati was liked only by die-hard fans. He had an off-beat foray (Main Azaad Hoon) in between as well, which - despite a brilliant performance - did not do too well.
It released at a time when Amitabh was clearly ageing, when people wanted him to push the envelope a bit but rejected the one off-beat film he did.
In Agneepath, Amitabh did not just push the envelope but tried to tear it into little pieces and throw it away!

For starters, it was the first time a mainstream Hindi film had a hero whose age was declared to 36 years (9 months, 8 days and 16 hours - to be precise). After so many years of gasping, wheezing, potbellied heroes prancing around in college, this was quite a stunner.
And, it was the first time Amitabh Bachchan discarded his traditional baritone for a rasping sort of voice. This was like getting Sachin Tendulkar to start playing hockey. But like Sachin who would probably become the leading goal-scorer in hockey as well, Amitabh did an amazing job of doing the voice, which was said to be modeled on Mumbai don Varadarajan Mudaliar.

By the way, does anyone know how Amitabh's character got the rasping voice in the film? No?
Well, a pivotal scene in the film was when the young Amitabh had to single-handedly carry his father's dead body for cremation (as none of the villagers were willing to help the disgraced schoolmaster). And in the straining, the kid's vocal chords got damaged.
Okay - I am guessing because this is never said in the film but Manjunath's cute voice at the beginning of the film gets raspy right after the body-pulling scene.

The story was hardly anything novel - about a kid growing up to take revenge for this father's framing and murder.
The names - funnily enough - were.
Amitabh was Vijay Dinanath Chavan (which is pronounced as Chauhan through out the film), probably the Maratha scion protecting his city (or at least the underworld) from the foreign hand (Kancha Cheena, played by Danny Denzongpa), the South Indian encroacher (Anna Shetty, played by Dilip Shirke), the Muslim don (Usman, played by Avtar Gill) and the man of vague origins (Terylene, played by Sharat Saxena).

In between, there was a romantic-comic track helmed by Krishnan Iyer M.A (strangely, from Kerala University) - played by Mithun Chakraborty in a Filmfare Award winning role but I digress.

Why do I like Agneepath?
It had dynamite dialogue. Period. No other reason.
After Coolie and Sharaabi (both of which were in 1982/3) and to some extent, Mard, we hadn't seen an Amitabh film which had several blockbuster, hair-raising scenes with memorable, repeat-after-ten-years dialogue. Shahenshah had that one line ("Rishtey mein to main...") but otherwise, they had pretty much buried the dialogue-writer (not to mention, the screenplay guy)! Actually, very few Amitabh films have such a wealth of potent dialogues as Agneepath.

And the dialogues started even before Amitabh appeared on screen.
The eponymous poem is one written by Harivansh Rai Bachchan - which is the opening dialogue of the film - is a beautiful one and I remember only the last part it.
Yeh mahaan drishya hain, chal raha manushya hain / Ashwa shwet rakta se lakpath lakpath lakpath / Agneepath agneepath agneepath.
And the climax replicates these lines. Almost literally.

Also, the famous 'Naam Vijay Dinanath Chavan...' dialogue is actually started by the kid Vijay in front of Inspector Gaitonde and then as the inspector crosses over in front of the kid, the adult Amitabh is revealed in a rain of coins and thunder of whistles (at Menoka cinema of Calcutta).
And the scene ends with the even more explosive (or melodramatic, if you are not an Amitabh fan) "Aaj shaam chhe bajey maut ke saath mera appintment hain. Appintment - English bolta hain."

In a fantastic reprise of a dialogue, which Deepak Shirke says when Vijay is a kid, he barges into the slum area where the don stays and says, "Dekho. Socho. Samjho. Yeh ladka aaj chingaari. Kal bada hokar hum sab ko zinda jala diya toh kya karengey?"
And proceeds to burn him alive!

When Amitabh walks into his den after recovering from a near-fatal attack on him, the phone rings. The guy at the other end asks who he is and hearing the name, says - "Tumko toh ludkane ke waastey..."
Amitabh growls back, "Yeh chhe foot ka body ludkane ke liye char inch ka goli kum pad gaya. Maloom?"

To describe a police inspector's loose morals, he tells the Commissioner - "Pandrah sau rupiyah ki pagaar mein ghar nahin chalta toh imaan kaise chalega, Gaitonde saab?"

To explain the secret of his success - "Is duniya mein tarakki karne ke liye naa bolna bahut zaroori hain..."

There is one scene which has no great lines but he transforms with his personality.
He walks into his bosses' den (who were planning to kill him) and says, "Hum ko ludkane hain to ludkao. Hum khayega. Tumhara goli seene pe khayega. Hum mar gaya to yeh kursi bhi tumhara, yeh dhanda bhi tumhara. Lekin, main bach gaya toh..." He laughs ominously and turns to leave.
Just as his bosses sighed in relief, he turns around sharply, takes the gun out of his belt and throws it on the table. Then says, "Hamare tumhare ladai mein jeet iski nahin, iski (points to his forehead) hogi..."

Apart from that, there are several scenes in the film that takes the Amitabh myth to epic levels.
The best example is one where Amitabh reaches Mauritius to meet Kancha Cheena and his entire journey from the aircraft to the yacht is filmed very flatteringly (from low angles, making him look like a giant). Eventually, a grenade is lobbed on his yacht - which drops right at his foot. As Amitabh looks at it almost amused, the yacht blows up. Kancha Cheena pops a bottle of champagne to celebrate.
Amitabh emerges out of the azure sea. Walks on to the beach and says, "Waqt se pahuchne ka mera purana aadat hain. Aaj thoda late hone ke liye maafi chahta hain. Kissi ne mere upar keechad uchhalne ka koshish kiya. Isliye maine use pani se dho dala..."
Illogical. And exhilarating.
Oh - he, then, takes off his wet jacket and puts it on the bikini-clad Archana Puran Singh. "Andar chale jao. Sardi lag jayega." Bloody cool!

There is the scene, where he takes four bullets and collapses splendidly.
And the subsequent scenes where takes out his adversaries one by one and drops the bullets at their dead bodies.

And another scene, where he runs - with a sword in his hand - through a mile of slum lanes to save his sister. Incidentally, his chief henchman in the film is Pradeep Rawat (who eventually had the distinction being the only villain to have a film named after him)!

And, the final scene where he literally goes through a 'path of fire'.
The entire scene - which starts with his running form silhouetted against the setting sun and culminates in his running through fire, getting riddled by bullets to pulverize Kancha Cheena - should figure not in examples of great cinema but in the annals of devotional literature, since only God in his various avatars has been eulogised in such a manner.

Look, I could go on. But for how long?
Do me a favour. Buy the DVD and watch it. I promise it will be worth it. Every penny of it.
Think about it. What other option do you have? Watching De Dhana Dhan?

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

If Elected, I Promise To: Voting in Bollywood

In Anurag Kashyap's edgy Gulaal, a college election takes on epic importance. Hanging in balance is not just the lakhs that can be siphoned off from the college festival fund but how the winner would impact the separatist movement for Rajputana.
Pitting the volatile Ransa (Abhimanyu Singh in a short but brilliant role) against the steely Kiran (Ayesha Mohan), the entire build-up and conduct of the election is played at hurtling pace. The campaigning, the brutal - and abrupt - murder of a candidate, fishing out of a replacement and finally, the subtle rigging to swing the results. All these are paced breathtakingly and filmed in a jagged, realistic style.

Equally jagged are the edges of Omkara - where no election is actually shown but the undercurrent of power-broking politicians, their muscle-men, the boisterous celebrations, the sharp sloganeering are all represent the colours of UP elections like very few films in recent times.

To go back a few decades, Aandhi still remains an iconic film depicting Indian elections in a partly realistic, partly air-brushed glory. With the strand of white in her black hair, Suchitra Sen will always be the on-screen Indira Gandhi despite hectic clarifications that the character was based on Orissa Chief Minister, Nandini Satpathy.
An initially Bohemian daughter of an established and overbearing politician fell in love and married a hotelier. Unable to take the pressure of her father's political ambitions and being a wife, she walked out of the marriage and the town. She came back several years later to fight an election and rekindled her love for the estranged husband. All hell broke loose as her rivals started to dig up skeletons and scandals around this 'affair'.
People tend to remember this film, only for the absolutely stupendous soundtrack but the entire electoral process is reasonably well-sketched - including a satirical song on politicians returning to constituencies every five years. What a pity it was the weakest song of the album!

It may have been the elections for only a village cooperative, but Shyam Benegal infused it with the emotion that normally gets associated with elections in India. Manthan saw the upper-caste Sarpanch (Kulbhushan Kharbanda) getting pitted against lower-caste Naseeruddin Shah in an election to manage their milk cooperative. Such an unequal battle was catalysed by the modern-thinking Dr Rao (Girish Karnad, playing Dr Verghese Kurien's role) and given the social churning that was brought about, the Sarpanch lost this first election he contested (having won the previous ones uncontested).
I remember a beautiful scene after the results are declared where boisterous celebrations break out among the lower castes after the results are announced and Kulbhushan Kharbanda corners Girish Karnad in an ante-room. He pleads Karnad to go back and say that it was the Sarpanch who had won, immediately after which he would resign the post. He could do without the post, he said, but not live with the ignominy of losing to an Untouchable.

In recent times, one of the most politically charged films has been Yuva. Set in the volatile politics of Bengal, the only jarring note is one Bengali politician (Om Puri as Prosenjit Bhattacharya) speaking in a comic Bengali accent while the heroic activist (Ajay Devgan as Michael Mukherjee) and his cohorts spoke in perfect Hindi.
But the Bengal countryside, the rural elections, the strong-arm tactics of the ruling party and the idealism of college theories are brought about vividly. After a maze of depressing violence and machinations by the villains, when the three young men walked into the West Bengal assembly to become three spots of blue denim in a sea of white dhoti-kurta, one did feel a frisson of happiness at the obviously unrealistic situation.
When I first saw the film, I wondered why was it so obviously set in Calcutta? Then I realised, where else?

Two of the most satisfying election films - for me, at least - are Coolie and Inquilaab. Needless to say, they were also the most unrealistic. But then, if you want realism, you might as well go and watch Bigg Boss. Also, the elections were only a small part of the overall package of the two films in true tradition of all Amitabh films of the early-80s (where everything, except Amitabh himself, was a small part of the overall package).
Coolie released in 1982, when Amitabh Bachchan had no stated ambitions of entering politics. Inquilaab released in 1984/5, when he was already in politics or at least, had announced his intentions. But in both films, he metamorphoses into a Messiah for the Masses who wins in a landslide (but, of course!) and promises salvation for the unwashed millions. I have often wondered that the political entries of Amitabh in both films are so unconnected to the initial storylines, they may well have been written half-way through the shooting. Or maybe, on the morning of the shoot!
In Coolie, Iqbal goes from a porter to a trade unionist (for other porters) to organiser of strikes to an election candidate - who then gets blackmailed to almost withdraw by villains (who have kidnapped his mother).
In Inquilaab, the transformation is even more dramatic. Amarnath starts off as a blackmarketer of tickets. He becomes a police officer. He is promoted to ACP in 3 minutes. He kills a dreaded smuggler - Khoya Khoya Attachi - after which he is made the leader of Garibon Ka Party. He wins the elections in a landslide to become the Chief Minister. Whew!
What he does at his first Cabinet meeting is something I dare not repeat.

As an aside, it would be cute to mention a film called Chatpat Chunmun - which I saw one afternoon several years ago on Doordarshan. It was the story of a little girl, Chunmun, who was constantly being ignored - and bullied - by four boys in the neighbourhood. When they boys decide to hold an election to choose their leader, Chunmun is expected to cast the deciding vote (since each of the four boys would vote for himself). How Chunmun converts this voting into a coup for herself forms the basis of a very enjoyable film (at least for the kid that I was then).
Produced by the National Centre of Films for Young People, the film was narrated as a flashback of a lady and the voice-over was done by the body's then-Chairperson, Jaya Bachchan.

One recent film I missed was Chintuji. Rishi Kapoor played a movie star, who arrived at his ancestral village to contest the elections and got embroiled in many complications. By all accounts, it was a cute film that poked fun at two of India's holiest cows - film stars and politicians.

Also, two very interesting films on contemporary politics are coming up - Prakash Jha's Rajniti and Ramgopal Verma's Rann.
The first one has Katrina Kaif playing the young widow of the scion of a political family. She has gone hoarse trying to explain that the role is not based on the life of Sonia Gandhi but her point would have been a little easier to digest if she hadn't worn those cotton saris and styled her hair a little differently.
In what could be his redemption from the debacle of Agyaat, Darling and Aag, RGV has crafted a film on how media changes the equation in present-day politics. Starring Amitabh Bachchan as the idealistic media baron and Paresh Rawal as the unscrupulous PM-in-waiting, the acidic anthem and the fantastic ensemble cast has me waiting for it, quite breathlessly.

The election scene is sure hotting up!

* * * * * * * * * *

So, why this sudden voting-related post?
That is - dear reader - to entice you to go to this page and politely ask you to vote. Given the quality of the other nominees, I cannot possibly ask you to vote for me. But indeed, you should vote.
Already, there has been a promise of a National Bloggers Employment Guarantee Scheme. Also, of a Rum Rajya. Not to mention, promises of a stray television for votes!
Coming from the eastern part of the country, all I can offer - in established traditions of my state - is a B2B day (Bandh to Blog), where the Monday or Friday contiguous to the Republic Day weekend will be declared a national holiday for everyone to stay at home and blog! And next year, we will have a billion nominees for Indibloggies.

Till then, vote for me!
There, I said it. I was lying about voting for the more worthy nominees!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Bhelpuri: Musical Medleys from Bollywood

With no mutton and no Youtube, there would have been no need for Sundays. And of course, that I have a hyper-active son means that I need a Saturday as well!
All of Sunday, I searched a million things on Youtube and decided to compile some of the best medley songs in Bollywood. You know, the ones in which there is either a college competition or a family problem that can only be solved with the help of songs - either original or parodies of Bollywood classics!
As I had mentioned briefly here, I have a great weakness for such medley items and felt compiling all my favourite songs in one post is a very constructive way of spending this Sunday. My wife feels that I should have taken my trousers for alteration but don't listen to her! I didn't.

Maine Pyar Kiya Antakshari
Q: How do you say 'I love you' to the man you love?
A: You open your mouth and...
Q: No, I mean if he is sitting in a crowd?
A: You still have to open your mouth, you know...
Well, one of the biggest problems of staying in a joint family and having a Satyanarayan pooja at home (which is attended by about 840 women in ghagra-cholis) is that you can't say 'I love you' to your boyfriend. However, that problem can be easily solved. All you need is a resourceful Manohar bhaiyya and a encyclopaedic knowledge of Hindi film songs.
The biggest draw of this medley is it is actually framed like a conversation - for most part. So, when Bhagyashree sings Jahan main jaati hoon, wahin chale aate ho / yeh toh batao ke tum mere kaun ho?, Salman replies by singing, Hum toh tere aashiq hain sadiyon purane...
And it covers the whole gamut of Hindi music from Jewel Thief to Himmatwala, from Dus Numbri to Sharaabi, from Prince to Mr India.
To my mind, this song was the biggest draw of the film and it was a very satisfying mix of nostalgia, topicality and Huma Khan (in what was her - probably - only non-B-grade role)!

Hum Saath Saath Hain Family Intro Song
Buoyed by the tremendous success of MPK and the horrendous success of Hum Aapke Hain Koun, Sooraj Barjatya made Hum Saath Saath Hain, which gave millions of viewers diabetes and hundreds of distributors bankruptcy!
The only bright spot of this film is the point where Tabu (can't believe she also did The Namesake!) enters Saccharine household and she is introduced to the entire clan through a series of songlets performed by Saif & Karishma and introduced by Ajit Vachani & Himani Shivpuri. And in a completely immodest gesture, there are at least two songs that are drawn from MPK and HAHK!
HSSH is the most re-run movie on Indian television, having made - by now - several times in television royalties than theatrical receipts. And by some cosmic twist, every single time I surf through Zee Cinema where it is usually running, this is exactly the sequence that is on. Which makes it my single-highest watched sequence in Hindi film history. Gosh- what hyperbole!

Mr India Football Medley
What did you do as a kid when an irate neighbour confiscated your football? You pleaded with her. You asked your parents to buy you another. You pooled money to get another. You played badminton instead. Right? Well, that's why movies were never made on you and you did not have an uncle who went invisible! And - most importantly - your neighbour did not work for The Crimes of India.
Whenever I hear this sequence now, I can almost imagine the twinkle in Javed Akhtar's eyes as he wrote Na maangoo sona chandi, hum mange maafi didi or Topiwaale, ball dila. Everybody - on-screen and off-screen - was clearly having a ball as Laxmikant Pyarelal's old albums were rummaged to string together a sequence in which a gang of precocious kids (including Aftab Shivdasani and Ahmed Khan), Anil Kapoor and Satish Kaushik pleaded with Sridevi to return their football. The southern siren - about to become Hawa Hawaii in the film - returned their entreaties with high dose of creativity and energy!

Lamhe Bollywood Medley
A medley must have a theme - be it an antakshari, introduction or begging (see above). And it must serve a purpose - be it saying 'I Love you', getting diabetes or a football (see above).
The medley in Lamhe - Yash Chopra's best film that did the worst at the box-office - did not have a theme but had a vague motive. Sridevi and Anupam Kher were trying to make the ultra-serious Anil Kapoor laugh and they did so by singing Hindi film songs because the NRI was apparently fond of them (as are half the world and their landlords).
So, you had Pamela Chopra and Sudesh Bhonsle doing the female and male voices, the former doing an okay job while the latter brought the house down with his mimicry of Hemanta, Mukesh, Rafi and most notably - SD Burman. I remember laughing my guts out as Sudesh Bhonsle sang O majhi, mere saajan hain uss paar and Anupam Kher floated around in a swimming pool.
Towards the end of the medley, the duo was joined by Waheeda Rehman doing a brilliant reprise of her Guide dance (Kaanton se khnichke yeh aanchal) and it ended reasonably satisfactorily. Only if Sridevi danced to the Ta thaiya ta thaiya song!

Chashme Buddoor Courtship Medley
How do you brag to your friends on how great a time you had with a babe? If you are DU student? If your father is a small-time producer of Hindi films? And if you never really had a great time but only had to make things up?
Ravi Baswani shows you how.
Rather violently ejected from Deepti Naval's house by her karate-expert brother, he passed three hours in a cinema hall after getting bandaged at a clinic. And then, went back home to tell his room-mates the beautiful songs they sang from Dev Anand to Feroze Khan, from Meena Kumari to Asha Parekh. The hilarity gets compounded manifold as you see Ravi Baswani doing the Dev Anand swagger (Chhod do aanchal zamana kya kahega), the Dilip Kumar scowl (Pyar kiya to darna kya), the Feroze Khan shrug (Aap jaisa koi) and the Sunil Dutt sway in front of a piano! Helpfully enough, the screens changed from colour to B&W to sepia as the songs merged from one to the other.
Oh - but how did he explain the bandages? Simple. He got injured fighting goons while his lady love sang Logon, na maaron isse, yeh to mera mehboob hain!

Hum Kisise Kum Nahin Competition Medley
In medleys, boys do spoofs. Men do real songs.
Naseer Hussain never did teeny-bopper romances without at least one musical face-off between the two leads. And for that, he needed a rockstar composer. He had Anand-Milind in Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak, which did not have a medley. He got Jatin-Lalit for Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar and colleges jived to the medley. But I am getting ahead of myself.
Manjeet (Rishi Kapoor) - who came all the way from London - out-sang and out-danced several sissy competitors as his girlfriend (Kaajal Kiran) simpered coyly in the first row. Just when the judges gave just 15 seconds for the next competitor to turn up, Tariq Hussain strummed his way on to the stage and sang Chaand mera dil, chandni ho tum. And what a contest it turned out to be!
An unknown female in tight and sleeveless clothing ran on to the stage to give Tariq (musical) support. Kaajal Kiran commandeered her bevy of bimbette friends behind Rishi. Guitars, trumpets, white shoes, bandannas, RD Burman's voice were all called into action as the two maharathis sang to our heart's content and the whole thing stopped only because a heartbroken Tariq conceded the contest.
Why? See the sequence, no?

Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar Competition Medley
When Rajput and Queen's combine forces to participate in a college musical competition, can pajama chhap Model School ever hope to defeat them? Never. Not even if Model's star performer is one Sanjay Lal Sharma.
Probably one of the best college films ever made, JJWS just rocked the scene with amazing music, brilliant acting performances and an achey-breaky-love-story borrowed from Archie Comics. And to build momentum for the climax, the first set-piece was the inter-college music competition featuring three separate songs performed by the three main colleges.
Xavier's + Anne's performed a peppy youthy number, Hum se hain saara jahan. Rajput + Queen's performed a hip, pseudo-Goa number - Naam hain mera Fonseca. And the underdog Model came up with Jawaan ho yaaron, yeh tumko hua kya? Naturally, the best song was the last (but only just!) and even more naturally, the snooty judges gave the winning scores to the snootier Rajput. I still remember the gasp my sister gave when one judge reduced his score for Model School.
And if you think this was exciting, then you haven't seen the climax!
Tragic Update: I could not find the complete medley anywhere on Youtube. So, linking only the Aamir Khan song. Would be grateful if someone locates the full thingie.

Ahem... don't miss very cool nominee list of Indibloggies 2008. Thanks to the very gracious offices of Priya Venkateshan, Calcutta Chromosome has been nominated in two categories - Most Humourous Indiblog and Best Entertainment Indiblog.
Just looking at the other nominees is enough to make me feel delirious!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Pages from the Past

In Calcutta, I was doing what I usually do when I come home. I was settling my book shelves that are now spread over some 4 cabinets and 3 walls in 3 different rooms.
And during this settling, I came across a whole lot of books that I had forgotten I had (Hitchcock, Francois Truffaut's book-length interview of the director), I wish I had preserved better (Indrajal Comics) and a few I wished I did not have (The Great Indian Dream by Arindam Chaudhuri).

Also, I found quite a few books that I enjoyed tremendously, read most of them several times but somehow, they never got the widespread acclaim they deserved. So, here is a list of nine books from the mid-90s to the early-2000s - that should have got a far bigger audience that they eventually got.


The Last Post - Narendra Pani

A small town newspaper, which reports more gossip than real news, is a phenomenon I have seen firsthand in many East and North Indian towns. I read this book much before that happened and was a hilarious account – from the editor’s perspective – of the strange goings-on of Narasimhapur (I think, that’s the name of the town).
Sleazy politicians, their goons, gossip-mongering elderly sitting in the chowk, hapless journalists out to make a fast buck, rusting government machinery and pseudo-sympathetic social workers from the city – all of them combine to form a very sharp satire on the Indian small town.
Not really in the league of Malgudi but then, what is?

E=mc2: A Biography of World's Most Famous Equation – David Boudanis
In the foreword to A Brief History of Time, Stephen Hawking says that his publisher had threatened him that for any book on science, every equation halves sales. Dr Hawking kept his book as non-math as possible but had to incorporate one equation, E = mc2, and hoped that it would not scare half his potential readers!
This ‘biography’ traces the ‘life’ of the famous equation, its ‘birth’ in a German patent office, the initial years of disbelief, gradual acceptance, corrections & additions to the theory, its role in the development of the atomic bomb and further. It stopped only before the Mariah Carey album named after Einstein’s most famous (and quotable) theory!

Show Business - Shashi Tharoor
In between all the Twitter and the cattle class, we tend to forget that Shashi Tharoor is probably a much better author than a politician. And even those agree would probably give the example of The Great Indian Novel.
We tend to forget the story of Ashok Banjara, Bollywood’s biggest superstar who went from rags to riches, from cinema to politics, from happy marriage to extra-marital affairs in a span of some rapidly turning 400 pages. It had all the clichés that we love to read about Bollywood – some of them existing more in our minds than in actual films!
And it had the standard disclaimer as well. “Any resemblance to any person, living or dead…”

Love in a Dead Language - Lee Siegel
A professor in an American University is killed, while in the middle of a sexual harassment suit and translating Kama Sutra. His research assistant goes through his diaries, books, notes and even some of his students’ test papers to piece together a weirdly adventurous love story about an American obsessed with Vatsyana’s most famous work and his Indian-American student.
The book – apart from being hilarious – is very inventively produced with different kinds of fonts, illustrations, alignments since various sections are supposed to be reproduced from different books, notebooks, dossiers and whatnot. One interesting twist is that there is a portion of flashback which is printed in the opposite direction and you have to turn the book around to read that part, which eventually merges with what you were originally reading. Very cool!

The Moor's Last Sigh - Salman Rushdie
After Satanic Verses, Rushdie wrote Haroun and the Sea of Stories, a fairy tale that counts among his best works. After that, he wrote about Moraes Zogoiby a.k.a Moor, who was the last surviving member of a spice trading family from Cochin. He and his adventures from Bombay to Andalusia form the book.
The most memorable character in the book – for me, at least – was Raman Fielding, leader of a Hindu fundamentalist organization and a thinly disguised version of Bal Thackeray. I remember wondering that after Islamic fundamentalists, it was Rushdie’s turn to be attacked by Hindu ones.
Certainly not one of Rushdie’s most well-known books, Moor had a sweep that was quite fantastic and I loved the construction too. The entire book was written in flashback as Moor wrote the story of his life, while imprisoned by a rival. Borrowing from the Arabian Nights, he was allowed to live as long as his story continued.


Autobiography of an Unknown Cricketer - Sujit Mukherjee
Sujit Mukherjee – as his biggest fan, Ramachandra Guha puts it – is one of those rare writers on cricket who have played the game with some degree of success. He appreciates the giants of the game that much better but is mature enough not to be bitter about other people’s successes.
He represented Bihar in the Ranji Trophy and writes affectionately about the college matches, English priests who taught him the game, scarcity of good-quality kits and Patna in the 1950s. Such idyllic things are usually not the subjects of riveting prose but the book turns out to be an unlikely page-turner as Mukherjee breezes through his cricketing career, before he left it to become an academician.
It reminds us of a time when cricket matches took 5 days to play and 5 years to discuss.

Pundits from Pakistan - Rahul Bhattacharya
The brief author bio states that Rahul Bhattacharya represented St Xavier’s College, Bombay and managed to break the brilliant cricketing traditions set by Sunil Gavaskar and Ashok Mankad. While he has not played Test cricket, Bhattacharya has certainly overtaken his illustrious college-mates in cricket writing.
As a journalist trailing the Indian cricket team in their historic tour of Pakistan in 2004, Rahul Bhattacharya wrote this book as a part-travelogue, part-social history, part-sports journalism with a wonderful mix of observation, sensitivity and humour.
And a sense of history. Sehwag’s battering of Saqlain probably led to the latter’s career getting derailed as had Prasanna’s career in the hands of Zaheer Abbas. It takes more than just a cricket lover to say this.

Follywood Flashback - Bunny Reuben
As a publicist, movie reviewer and movie buff, Bunny Reuben was the quintessential Bollywood insider. Except that, he did not agree with the name. He called it Follywood, named after the quirks and foibles of its stars. And of this wondrous town, he gave a fabulous flashback. The anecdotal history covers the ‘golden era’ of the industry and the whole roster of stars – from Dilip Kumar to Janki Dass. From Kishore Kumar to IS Johar.
I have been accused of finding even the post boxes in Bombay high-rises interesting! But I suspect that even non-enthusiasts would fine these stories not without appeal. After all, who wouldn’t be interested in the tussle between reigning showman Raj Kapoor and upstart producer Gulshan Rai over their similar sounding magnum opii – Mera Naam Joker and Johnny Mera Naam – releasing approximately at the same time.
And when all else fails, there is the story where Dev Anand takes Frank Capra swimming nude at Juhu beach.

In which Annie Gives it those ones - Arundhati RoyThis is the screenplay for the best film I never saw. But neither did the rest of the world, apparently.
The film ran in a late-night slot on Doordarshan. I am simply amazed that the government-run channel actually let something so anarchic run! Based in a school of architecture somewhere in Delhi, the film is set in the last few days before the final year exam - one which has been repeatedly flunked by the eponymous Annie. Written by Arundhati Roy, it is brilliant and hilarious screenplay starring most of the DD and NSD regulars. Including one Mr Shah Rukh Khan in a bit part!
Pity Ms Roy is only interested in the algebra of infinite justice nowadays.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

35

A few random feel-good things about cinema that I thought of. No particular order. No particular reason either.
Many of them have appeared in some form or the other on this blog. But then, how has that ever deterred me? Some of them are dialogues. Some are jokes. Some are songs. Some simply unclassifiable.
Why 35? Just.

1. Bewakoof aur ***tiye mein dhaage bhar ka pharaq hota hain... Saif Ali Khan rasps through the opening lines of Omkara. A nervous titter breaks across the theatre, hearing the C word. Arguably, the most explosive opening lines of any Hindi film.

2. Maaf? Hu ha ha ha... Maaf nahin, main toh tumhe saaf kar doonga... Utpal Dutt pulls out his would-be son-in-law's moustache and a gun!

3. Kanoon ke haath itne lambe hote hain ki kabh kabhi vardi bhi chhota pad jata hain... After years of playing 'real' police officers, AB plays a naqli one in Toofan.

4. Tere bina zindagi se koi shiqva toh nahin / Tere bina zindagi bhi lekin zindagi toh nahin... Lata Mangeshkar and Kishore Kumar explain the futility of life without each other.

5. In Calcutta, when you say - "Ami Satyajit Ray-er chhobita dekhechhi" (I have seen Ray's latest movie), the retort is supposed to be "Kintu Satyajit Ray-er chhobi ki apnake dekhechhey?" (But has Ray's film seen you?)

6. Tumhara naam kya hain, Basanti?

7. D se hota hain Dancer. I se hota hain Item. S se hota hain Singer. C se hota hain Chorus. O se hota hain Orchestra... For those who came in late, the title song of Disco Dancer clearly explains what the jazz is all about!

8. Allah ke bande hans de... Kailash Kher bursts on to the scene in a film about advertising executives, hit men and MTV.

9. Jibone ki pabona, bhulechhi she bhabona / Shamney ja dekhi janina sheki ashol ki nokol shona... Soumitra Chatterjee breaks out of his intellectual image with a Manna Dey song and the Twist. Robi Ghosh fans - don't miss it!

10. Ai la, Govinda! Mai la, tu kaun? Aamir Khan wanders on to a shooting set in Andaz Apna Apna and meets Govinda. Govinda is less impressed than he is.

11. Ek palde mein napunsakta. Doosre palde mein pourush. Aur tarazu ke kaante par ardh satya... Om Puri brings alive the frustration of police officer Anant Velankar in the corrupt, sleazy world of Mumbai law enforcement.

12. Bawra mann dekhne chala ek sapna... A thousand wishes worth dying for. And a song.

13. Rahul, naam toh suna hoga? Director of musicals, Pepsi drinker, resident of massive studio apartment in Bombay with New York skyline - Rahul is rather confident of his fame.

14. Boss kaun hain maloom hain kya? Two advertising execs ask their boss' son. And tell him the answer in tune. While making an ad for condoms. And practising for a music competition called Jhankaar Beats.

15. Monicaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa, oh my darling...

16. Bhai, tum sign karoge ya nahin? A police officer expects his elder brother to sign a confession. The elder brother refuses to sign first. He refuses to sign alone.

17. Yahhhhhooooooooooooooooooooooo... On the snowy slopes of Kashmir, Shammi Kapoor lets out a primordial scream. And the genteel Hindi film hero died.

18. Gogo-ji, aapka ghagra... Two boys - Amar & Prem - assist a legendary crook with his gown/cloak.

19. Bhooter raja dilo bor, jobor jobor teen bor... Two village boys meet the King of Ghosts in a jungle. And get three boons. And what boons they were!

20. Kya tum Communist ho? Ji nahin, cartoonist hoon. A stern matriarch asks Mr 55 if he has leftist leanings. Mr 55 replies he is a Laxmanist.

21. Shudhu tumi noi, Abalakanto. Onekeri bolar shomoi kheyal thakena. Professor Higgins comes to Calcutta. And on the sidelines of teaching a Bengali Eliza Doolittle, he gives musical lessons to his assistant as well.

22. Tum pass ho jab apne, duniya ko dikha denge / Hum maut ko jeene ki andaz sikha denge... Gangster with a heart of gold, Kaalia sings a song for his fiancee at the engagement party.

23. Lokey boley Cruci-fiction. Ami boli Cruci-fact. Amar je nijer chokhey dyakha! Legendary god-man Birinchibaba underlines his being an eye-witness at the seminal events of world history.

24. Gaadi toh aapki videshi hain, sahab, lekin haath zara Hindustani pad gaya... Jackie Shroff in Hero does a solid jingoistic number as the Rajdoot employee who takes on imported cars of upstarts.

25. Era ki knaata bechhey khai? When told about the diet of camels, adventure novelist Jatayu asks a simple question to his friend, Pradosh Mitter, while in search for the Golden Fortress - Shonar Kella.

26. Neechey aa ha, beti. Upar aa ja, moti. The belligerent half of Seeta Aur Geeta throws back a stinging repartee at her evil aunt. From atop a ceiling fan in a police station!

27. Pyaar humein kis mod pe le aaya hain... The anthem at every men's hostel in India, from Satte Pe Satta, before the seven brothers decide to do something about the women they love.

28. Bade bade desh mein aisi chhoti chhoti baat hoti rehti hain, Senorita... Shahrukh Khan graciously accepts Kajol's apology in Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge. People in Bombay can catch him saying these words yet again, in Marath Mandir at 12 noon today. Balcony tickets going for Rs 22 only.

29. Tu election se withdraw karega ya nahin? Mere baap ne time pe withdraw kar liya hota toh tu haraamzadgi se bach jaata. Two maharathis face off in Anurag Kashyap's Gulaal, set in the backdrop of college politics and regional separatism.

30. Dosti ka ek usool hain, madam. No sorry, No thank you. Prem said this to Suman in Maine Pyar Kiya but some people say Sooraj Barjatya picked the line from Om Prakash Makhija!

31. Ei path jodi na shesh hoi, tobey kemon hoto tumi bolo toh? The world's most romantic pair - Uttam Kumar and Suchitra Sen ride a bike, singing a song in their most iconic film - Saptapadi.

32. Ek haseena thi. Ek deewana tha. Ravi Verma comes back as Monty Oberoi and explains the Karz of his past life.

33. Bhai bhai ka pyar beech mein aa jaye toh dono ko goli maar de... Mafia don, Anna, brings a new dimension to the scariness of a Hindi film villain.

34. Jeene ke liye socha hi nahin dard sambhalne honge / Muskuraye toh muskurane ke karz utarne honge / Muskuraye jab bhi toh lagta hain jaise honthon pe karz rakkha hain... A father and son tell Life that they are not angry with it, simply baffled.

35. Itna sannata kyun hain, bhai?

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Nicknames

Lambooji. Amit. Big B.
Bebo. Lolo.
Dabboo. Chintoo. Chimpoo.
SRK. KJo.
Chichi. Sallu. Akki. Baba.
Guddu. Duggu.
VD. Chhote Nawab.
Bosky.
Kaka. Shotgun. Yusuf saab.
Joy. Boy. Toy. Oh damn! These are real names.
Bumba. Bunty.
Pancham. Sachin katta.
Rinku-di. Rina-di. Koko.
Bonnie. Piggy Chops. Tito. Gullu.
Dadamoni. Paaji.
Tiger (Updated to add). Manikda.

A really random post. Some forty nicknames of famous personalities from Indian cinema. How many can you identify? How many can you add?

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Gulzar and Javed Akhtar

My 100th post on Cinema. * Applause (forced) *

Over the last few years, some very good books on Hindi film music have come out of which two brilliant ones are on Gulzar and Javed Akhtar. Apart from some warm reminisces about the creative processes of their most famous songs, both these books have a large number (100 and 60, respectively) of lyrics along with their English translations.
Gulzar quotes Sting in the preface, music and lyrics are dependent on each other like a mannequin and a pile of clothes. They shouldn't make sense separately but when you do separate the two, you often manage to decipher an additional layer or two.
Reading the lyrics - I realised - was fantastic because not only did I appreciate some of the vaguely understood lines (patthar ki haveli ko sheeshe ke gharondo mein / tinko ke nasheman tak is mod se jaate hain), it also made me imagine the scenes on-screen quite vividly.

Egged on by those books and this post from what is my favourite blog right now, I thought of sticking my neck out and listing down my favourite 5 albums of my two favourite lyricists. That is, like, 3 favourites in one sentence!
I know a tidal wave of resentment is already getting built up since I have eliminated Shailendra, Sahir Ludhianvi and Anand Bakshi (not to mention Indivaar ;-) but gentlemen and gentler ladies should do well to remember that is only my 'favourite' (mentioned thrice in the earlier paragraph) and not the 'best'. Therefore, feel free to add on.

Javed Akhtar
Javed Akhtar started writing lyrics with Silsila but hit prominence and consistency from the mid-90s onwards, specifically with 1942: A Love Story. RD's swan-song hit a new level altogether with lyrics that were an ode to a fleeting glimpse of a woman (Ek ladki ko dekha), a haunting ballad (Kuch na kaho), an inspiring anthem (Yeh safar bahut hain kathin magar), a dulcet rain-song (Rimjhim rimjhim rumjhum rumjhum) and a romantic song that has a nursery rhyme-like simplicity (Rooth na jana tumse kahoon to).

Swades has several beautiful numbers though the one I find most intriguing is the Ramlila number. Written and composed by two Muslims, this is yet another of those Bollywood signposts that are raised to signify the great national integration brought about by tinseltown.
Actually, I read about the way this song was composed and was quite stumped. Javed Akhtar was out of Bombay when Ashutosh Gowariker called and asked him for this number immediately. AR Rehman was required to leave India for a long trip rather urgently and he needed to finish the recording before he left. With no texts or references to fall back on, he wrote the intricate (and very lengthy!) lyrics of this entire episode literally overnight, locked up in a hotel room.
Of course, the other songs - especially Yeh jo des hain tera - were mind-blowing too.

Dil Chahta Hain was cool. DCH was hip. DCH was super-smart. Even for people who did not go to Goa in Mercedes convertibles. And again, it had a fantastic range but cocked a snook at the Hindi film cliche.
The flagship song - Jaane kyun log pyaar karte hain? - is actually a banter between a romantic and a cynic. The so-called 'sad song' Tanhayee (the only word Javed saab uses a little too often!) uses some lovely imagery - Toote huye sapnon ke sheeshe chubhte hain ab aankhon mein. As does the title song, about which director Farhan Akhtar said that it reminded him of a detergent ad (Kabhi na beete chamkile din). The best ode to the film cliche is the Saif-Sonali song Woh ladki hain kahaan, both visually and verbally.
And then there is the line which is still being used in advertising campaigns to attract young people - Hum hain naye, andaaz kyon ho purana?

Lagaan had a marching song. Lagaan had a hoping-for-rain song. A romantic ballad. An aarti. And it even had English lyrics strewn within Awadhi words.
After Gulzar and RD Burman, Javed Akhtar and AR Rehman is the only other lyricist-composer combination whose usually high standards get surpassed many times over when they work together. Jodha Akbar, Sapnay, Zubeidaa - and their best is yet to come.

Javed Akhtar's best work (IMHO) is his latest - Rock On! After a lot of tanhai, mohabbat and reshmi zulfein (though he is one of least cliched lyricists), he experimented with a completely new idiom - rock music. Pichhle saat dinon mein is a very cool example of the genre and captures the fleeting attention of today's youngster quite vividly with its apparently scattered words. The other number, Zehreelay - in terms of both lyrics and music - is probably as close to heavy metal a Hindi film song can go. The film's opening number - Socha hain - leaves a simple message with its words touching war and borders as does the closing act - Sindbad the Sailor.
And after all these comes Zindagi mein koi aarzoo kijiye - which really makes one want to close the Excel sheet on the laptop and open a Word document instead.
Brilliant range, amazing thoughts, fantastic craft!

Gulzar
Actually, when you start listing down the films with Gulzar's best lyrics do you realise how good he really is. Its a bloody tough call to whittle down the list to 5 - and after that, the only way to escape mass-lynching is to beg for forgiveness on folded knees!

The first name on the list is a controversial choice - Aks. Manoj Bajpai's maniacal laughter in a more-than-convoluted plot did nothing for the film but Gulzar conjured trick after trick in this under-rated (for once!) Anu Malik score. The piece de resistance is a 'cabaret' which talks about a slimy, slithering night (written about here). There is a Ramlila number with Amitabh and Nandita Das doing the singing. A faux-operatic number - Aaja gufaon mein aa, aaja gunaah kar le. A wonderfully peppy dance number - Banda yeh bindaas hain.
And in the only instance of Amitabh Bachchan reciting a Gulzar lyric is Bhala Bura - a deliciously wicked take on good, bad and (as the Youtube video says) ugly!

Rehman's compositions, Malaika's midriff and Shahrukh's dance did nothing to take Gulzar's lyrics for Dil Se. Written almost entirely in a Sufi style, Gulzar (in his own words) 'got an opportunity to cross a threshold' with Rehman. The energy of Chhaiyya chhaiyya, the passion of Satrangi re and Jiya jale, the pathos of Ae ajnabi were all vintage Gulzar. The title song - a trademark Rehman composition of elaborate orchestration and high-quality vocals - actually had rather tragic lyrics about two souls trying to get together.

Is Ijaazat Gulzar's best album? Certainly, his most experimental but probably not his best. But then, what do I know? The songs pushed the boundaries of poetry sometimes with open verse, sometimes with unusual words and sometimes with a different kind of romanticism than what we usually see in Hindi cinema.
I (and others) have gone on and on about the 116 moonlit nights but the other songs are terrific too. I remember hearing Katra katra for the first time with Anirban and can vividly recollect our open-mouthed reaction to pyaasi hoon main, pyaasi rehne do...

Golmaal is one of those rare films whose music (despite being exceptional) tends to get overlooked in the overall package. In between Utpal Dutt's maniacal moustache mania and Amol Palekar's double identity, we almost ignore what has been called the 'best Hindi film song ever'. For that one song only, Golmaal could get into the list. But to make it worth our while, it had a cool mix of quirky (Golmaal hain bhai, sab golmaal hain) and romantic songs as well.

This is the best. Aandhi. The HMV double-film cassette which I had contained Aandhi and Mausam. And had to glue together the tape in several places where it tore due to the million hearings. All it had was three songs (not counting the title music and a satirical song on truant politicians). And those three songs - with RD, Kishore, Lata AND Gulzar at their peaks - just took your breath away. Interspersed in the songs were conversations between Sanjeev Kumar and Suchitra Sen. At one point of time, I knew all of it by heart.
If this soundtrack did not exist, would it have been a big deal? I mean, there are so many other beautiful soundtracks as well. But as Gulzar puts it beautifully - Tere bina zindagi se koi shikwa toh nahin. Tere bina zindagi bhi lekin zindagi toh nahin.

PS: Will you see the number of times I have used fantastic, brilliant and mind blowing? Shameful. I must buy a Roget's Thesarus. Or do Shift F7 oftener!