Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Sach

A very long time back, I watched/listened to a cricket match against Pakistan in which one Anshuman Gaekwad scored 201. This was around 1983 but I forget when.
Discussing Gaekwad's feat with my uncle, I asked him if double-centuries happened only in Tests.
"Where else will it happen?", he asked rather incredulously.
"What about these one-day matches?"
He laughed and said, "How can that be? There are only 50 overs to bat. That means 300 balls. Even if a single batsman bats for 200 of those, he has to score a run every ball. Imagine, can't waste a single ball."
I did not give up.
"But Kapil scored 175 in one day, no?"
"But that was a 60-over match and usually one-day matches are all for 50 overs."

With no Google, no Cricinfo, no Wikipedia - I had no way of knowing how many balls my first cricketing hero took to score those 175 runs so I gave up on the debate. But for some reason, a double-century in cricket has been a huge fascination for me.
I wrote a story about an Indian cricketer, who plays truant after scoring a 200 in ODIs. Examining my tweets for the last few months, I realise that on three different occasions (apart from today), I egged on an Indian player (Sehwag twice among them) on towards that elusive Mt Everest.
About a decade back, another cricketing hero made a dash towards that milestone and lost out when one Mr Azharuddin hogged the strike towards the end of the innings.
Net net, it was a bit of a heartbreak all this while.

Which takes me back to the discussion with my uncle, who felt a bit sorry when he saw me a little deflated at the prospect of not seeing a double-century. (I must admit it was a rather silly thing to be thinking about in the early 1980s!) He cheered me up by saying, "But it may happen in the movies. You never know when Amitabh Bachchan will come and score a double century."
But that did not happen either. Kumar Gaurav, Aamir Khan under Dev Anand's stewardship, Aamir Khan under his own captaincy - all failed. But you can't blame them. If a filmi batsman scored 200 runs in limited overs cricket, we would have scoffed at the implausibility.

It had to happen in real life first. And it had to be by Him.
And that's the only truth. Sach.

I wonder if my uncle - who must have watched the match in Guwahati - remembers our conversation today.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Best Singles of 2009

One of those impulsive posts when the urge to make a list just becomes just too much too handle.
49 days into 2009, a 'very best of 2009' should be the last thing on everyone's mind but with sundry radio channels giving away awards to really bad songs by calling them Listeners' Choice, I needed to quickly convince myself that 2009 was actually one of the best years for music in recent times.
Mann ka radio notwithstanding.

My top 10 songs of last year. Feel free to disagree.

Arziyaan - Delhi 6
One of the most potent musical combinations of the times - Prasoon Joshi and AR Rehman - come together to create a song so helplessly beautiful that its almost incredible. A picture of a petitioner standing in front of a dargah and the innocence of his faith are brought out vividly. Daaarein daraarein maathe pe maula, marammat muqaddar ki kar do maula.
And we only remember Mohit Chauhan's Masakkali. Well, that deserves to be remembered too...

Iktara - Wake Up Sid
Dazzled by Ranbir Kapoor's multi-coloured socks, Konkona's performance almost gets forgotten in Wake Up Sid. (She did another lovely number in Luck By Chance, where Farhan Akhtar's lisp took centrestage.)
To come back to this song, a new lyricist and composer (Amit Trivedi) evoked some beautiful images of dripping dreams off closed eyelids (jo barse sapne boond boond, nainon ko moond moond). A new singer - Kavita Seth - added to the rough-edged beauty.
Don't miss the male version either (by another new voice, Amitabh Bhattacharya).

Aaj din chadheya - Love Aaj Kal
To my mind, this is the Song of the Year and Raahat Fateh Ali Khan single-handedly justified the brouhaha called Aman Ki Asha with this song. And Pritam wiped off his 'copy-cat' image with this album.
To Irshad Kamil's simple lyrics about a day blossoming like no other, a Sikh couple romanced each other. And the only thing beautiful than the song was the Calcutta of 1950s, where it is set!

Shukran Allah - Kurbaan
Any song shot in Delhi using soft focus gets an added fillip on the video. This song hardly needed that.
Prasoon Joshi wrote surprisingly cliched words - by his standards - as he talked about baahon mein jism khil gaya and saanson mein chain mil gaya but that did not take away from the soothing melody by Salim Suleiman.

Prem ki naiyya - Ajab Prem ki Ghazab Kahani
Unlike the previous entrant from his film, this song had a lot of contribution from Ranbir Kapoor as his boatman-step became the rage at all the sangeet parties of Delhi! I should know. My wife did it herself.
Pritam came up with another hit soundtrack as all the songs of the film were eminently hummable. This faux-Bhojpuri ditty (hum pe giraike bijuriya... apni naiya paar tu lagaile) was the best of the lot.

When you hear Sunidhi Chauhan's voice coming from Katrina Kaif's body, you realise this is as close to female perfection you will ever get (with the sole exception of Asha Bhonsle's voice coming from Parveen Babi's body)! And that aare aare aare chorus in the remix version was just fantastic...
Who composed? Surprise, surprise - Pritam again, who should be given a Composer of the Year ahead of Oscar Rehman, just to ensure that he does not lift tunes in the future if not for anything else!

Ranaji - Gulaal
A mujra invoking 9/11, the US invasion of Iraq and mineral water (jaise Bisleri ki botal peeke ban gaye Englishman... WTF!) would be laughable at the best of times. But then, Piyush Mishra is no ordinary composer. Or lyricist. Or actor. A strange energy permeates this song. As a strange originality takes over this reprise of an iconic song from Pyaasa and this 'spoof' of an anthem from the freedom struggle.

Emosanal Atyachar - Dev D
Many people would have credited Iktara to Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy because they were the lead composers of the film and one of India's most famous composers. But the composer of Iktara - Amit Trivedi - churned out Dev D, a very inventive score going from a band-baaja-wala wedding song to a sort of a techno number.
And Emosanal Atyachar ruled the discos and even spawned a TV show at last count. Add to that an energetic dance by Mahi Gill and you have smoking smoking nikle re dhuan!

Dhan Te Nan - Kaminey
If there is one song which beat all others at the DJ consoles, it was the ultimate Bollywood sound effect resurrected by Gulzar and Vishal Bhardwaj and sung maniacally by Sukhwinder and Vishal Dadlani.
So, it 3 AM and the last song is coming up. You do a bottoms up of your Old Monk and ask that woman in the little black dress for a dance. Aaja ki one way hain yeh zindagi ki galli, aage ek hi chance hain. Aage hawa hi hawa hain, saans hain to romance hain...

Give me some sunshine - 3 Idiots
2009 was the year of the off-beat singer. And nothing better to demonstrate that than this song which is going to be the biggest college anthem for some time to come.
Suraj Jaggan, lead singer of rock band Chakraview, sang this simple song (almost like a ballad) written beautifully by Swanand Kirkire and sums the film wonderfully in its 4 minute span. Awesome.
Trivia: Suraj Jaggan not only sang the Zehreelay song in Rock On! last year, he was the on-screen performer as well. Yup, he's the guy who played the tattooed head honcho of Channel V in the film.

Trivia. Links to great music. My two-pennies. Happy? Now, go to sleep.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

What do you want to be when you grow up?

There are so many things you promise yourself as a kid or adolescent. Many of them are very transient, laughable even. I, for example, wanted to go for a dig in Mohen-jo-daro (Dil Bole Harappa!), which emerged as a combination of a history lesson and the lead male character of If Tomorrow Comes (a con-man who wanted to be an archaeologist). Of course, the element of fantasy is so strong in these dreams that you are almost sure that they will never happen. You feel a little relieved even!
Another fantasy involved Tintin, Prisoners of the Sun to be precise. Somehow, the llamas of South America looked even more alluring than the horses of the Wild West. But of course, no one could go there, right?
Well, when I heard that an ex-colleague is actually quitting her job and going off to Lat Am, my first thought was a very chauvinistic one - "Her husband must have got transferred". Apparently not.

Aparna Shekhar Roy was your friendly neighbourhood marketing executive - selling oil, hanging around in Bandra and attending Capoeira classes. One fine May morning, she put in her papers, served out her notice period and took off. Just like that.
These streaks of insanity intrigue me a lot. So when she was back and I met her professionally, I promised to ask her a lot of questions on why she did what she did. I mean, here I have my sister getting badgered by my mother to have a baby and there you have another woman zipping off to Brazil? Without her husband? Gasp!
This post is a result of a virtual interview with her to figure out why this Tam girl (married to a Bong) did what she did.
Writing about a South Indian girl in South America, I briefly toyed with the idea of calling this post 'Idli and Samba'. Hyuk Hyuk. Not only would it have been inaccurate, it would have scared my serious readers away as well. But, ho ho, what a title, hee hee!

When you are making the 50th Monthly Operations Review presentation and the slides start looking exactly like the 49th's, that is as good a reason as any to spend 211 days in South America. Aparna did just that.
When she realised that her Capoeira classes every evening was what she was most looking forward to - almost like a mini visit to Brazil, she took the plunge, encashed her Provident Fund and left.
Well, it wasn't that easy. She had to scout for the cheapest air tickets, apply for visas (7 countries!), hunt for sponsorships (which yielded a laptop to blog from) and make friends on internet communities to shack up with in Lat Am. But those were the boring parts!
The funny part was how her pantheon of South Indian maamis advised her to carry tamarind paste, coconut chutney (slurp - good idea!), asked her to wear little diamond earrings (bad idea), enquired about her child-bearing plans (while on a back-packing trip? Well, why not? She could've named him Che!) and even offered to pack a coffee filter and some gunpowder.
Her husband assured that he would still be in the same house when she returned (another Maami fear allayed!) and her mom felt it was a neat idea as well. She herself needed a whole lot of convincing since leaving a comfortable job wasn't easy. But once she coined a cool acronym for herself (NINJA - No Income No Job Aparna), she was good to go.
Incidentally, her blog is called Backpacking Ninja.

The trip - in itself - could be a book or two.
Flights. Trains. Buses. Trains. Jeeps. Boats. And even a piggyback ride. Literally.
Some of it was partially planned. Like meeting a Capoeira maestro and trekking upto Machu Picchu. Some of it was meant to have a streak of madness - again literally, when she ran naked on the salt deserts of Bolivia feeling insignificant in the vast expanse of whiteness all around her.
Here was a girl who was going to South America all alone. And her biggest fear was not if she could get mugged or if guys would hit on her. Her biggest fear was that she may end up disliking travelling, having to do it for such a long time!
Armed with her Latina looks and martial arts training, she did the rounds of 7 countries and came back. And no, she did not miss India at all except for occasional bouts Butter Chicken craving. (Moti Mahal zindabaad!) It probably helped that her husband joined her for a short while but Aparna is not admitting any of that!

What I found completely mindblowing about the trip that it managed to put a million socio-cultural nuggets in one big hold-all experience. So many things I had only read in geography books, seen in the movies and wondered if they really existed suddenly started appearing in Aparna's Facebook albums (93 of them, at last count)!
A football match in Brazil. Lake Titicaca. Che Guevera's birthplace. Atacama Desert. Easter Island. The Rio Carnaval. Bolivian salt deserts. Copacabana beach. A sunrise at Machu Picchu.
When she mailed me her itinerary, I was most tickled to find names that I had only seen in Professor Shonku novels earlier!

168 cities in 23 countries and I would've curled up with my grandchildren to tell them stories to last a lifetime. Actually, with my 56 months of sales experience, I am ready even now.
But not Aparna. She seems to be planning a few more trails already. One through the Middle East covering Israel, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Iran. And maybe going back to the two extremes of South America (which she missed this time) covering the Amazonian and Patagonian regions. Whew!
Tintin fans will remember Captain Haddock calling the Inca costume a 'Patagonian Petticoat'!

One of the surest signs of middle age is when you stop dreaming for yourself. Watching 21 on HBO the other day, I was no longer interested in robbing a Vegas casino. I just hoped my son would do it some day.
If I had a few less greys in my hair, I would have toyed with the idea of doing a backpacking trip like Aparna. But I have taken too many cholesterol tests and paid too many insurance premiums to even dream of becoming like her when I grow up.
But I do hope my son becomes something like that.

Aparna returned from this trip 9 months back. I mailed her the questions some 6 months after that and she responded about a month ago. But this delayed piece seems to have coincided beautifully with a more public acknowledgment of her exploits.
Titan (as a part of their campaign called 'Be More Everyday') has identified Aparna and 5 other people, who have gone beyond their daily lives to do something 'more'. If you liked this post, do hop over to the Titan website and vote for her. It might just kindle her desire to see the Amazon.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Femme Feluda

Female characters in Feluda stories form a strange topic – almost non-existent yet heavily discussed. In an interview about the recently launched Feluda comics, the illustrator mentioned that the lack of women in the setting was so stark that he made sure that there was enough female presence in the surroundings. Passersby, diners in a restaurant, shoppers were all made female in the comic book.
This is in direct contrast to Ray’s films, where female characters not only held centrestage for many of them, they were uniformly strong and an antithesis to the often-dithering, often-weak male protagonists.
Think about it - Feluda lives with Topshe's parents and never in the 30-odd novels do we have any mention of the mother! There are passing mentions of the father - most notably, when he refused to let Feluda move into a flat of his own thus retaining Bengali literature's most iconic address (27, Rajani Sen Road)! In the film (Shonar Kella), however, we see the mother - a typical worrying Bong mom - who expresses concern that her son is missing too much school to accompany Feluda on his adventures (but is placated by her husband, who is confident that the school cannot possibly have teachers as good as Feluda).

Therefore, here is a quick update – from memory – of the female characters that I can remember from Feluda novels.
Additions solicited. Omissions apologized for!

The most common type of female character in a Feluda novel – surprisingly and yet unsurprisingly – is a film actress! Three novels that I can remember (which had film shooting as part of the plot) had them.
The first one came in the first book which had a film shooting as part of it – Bombaiyer Bombetey (The Buccaneer of Bombay). Shooting for Jet Bahadur based on Jatayu’s novel was attended by the problem-solving trio in Lonavla which was the climax sequence and involved a train, dacoits on horseback and the hero in a convertible. The heroine (along with her uncle!) was supposed to have been imprisoned by the villain is the train compartment. The hero (Arjun Mehrotra) and villain (Mickey) had some peripheral things to do (like Mickey taking Feluda's autograph, for instance) but the heroine (whose name I cannot remember, for the life of me!) was not even present at the shooting as her scenes were to be shot at the studio.

In Koilashey Kelenkari (The Murder in Kailash), the shooting is totally peripheral to the plot, serving no other purpose but stopping Feluda from conducting his investigations in the temples of Aurangabad. But the details of the film are plentiful and intriguing. The name of the film being shot is Crorepati. The hero is Arjun Mehrotra (from Bombetey), the villain Balwant Chopra (who has apparently attacked the heroine in one of the temples) and the heroine Roopa, who becomes least peripheral to the plot by discovering a dead body.

In Darjeeling Jomjomat, the heroine in the film version of Jatayu is a Bollywood addition and in one scene, Jatayu gets totally deflated when he hears the villain is going use the heroine as a human shield and verbally lash the hero! The heroine (Suchandra) gets a cursory mention when the trio first meet the film crew at Bagdogra airport and she is dismissed by Topshe with a 'dekhtey bhalo kintu makeup ta ektu beshi korechhen' (good-looking but too much make up).

Dr Munshi-r Diary - one of the later Feluda novels, had a very strong female character as the eponymous Doctor's wife. The plot was about Dr Munshi's - a psychiatrist and a hunter - autobiography, which was supposed to be published by Penguin. In the book, he damns several of his relatives and partially names some of his client's issues. This causes severe heartburn among these people and the good doctor is murdered (and the manuscript stolen). Without giving the plot away, let me just say that Mrs Dolly Munshi plays a stellar role in the mystery, holding her own against Feluda when he interrogates her.

In Jahangir-er Swarna Mudra (Jahangir's Gold Coins), the trio lands up at a haveli trying to solve the mystery of an antique gold coin stolen a year back. The coins were stolen either at a birthday party for Feluda's host or from a safe, which was in the host's octogenarian aunt's room. Her insomnia made her an inadvertently good guard for the precious items though the thief managed to get away with the stuff. The old lady was complete with senile idiosyncrasies, one of which was to wake up in the middle of the night and prepare mashed paan for herself. And there lay a clue!

Chhinnamastaar Abhishaap (The Curse of the Goddess) is my favourite Feluda novel, complete with an escaped tiger, a missing son, word puzzles and a murder. The daughter-in-law of the victim was Neelima Chaudhuri, who was supposed to be quite good-looking (along with the rest of the family). Not only that, she was also intelligent (participated successfully in a parlour game with Feluda & Co), mentally strong (looked after guests even when there had been a mishap) and eventually honest (handed over her husband's tape-recorder to Feluda, as a vital clue).
Her six-year old daughter, Bibi, seemed to have inherited the mother's genes since she had started playing word puzzles with the grandfather already!

Ambar Sen Antardhaan Rahasya (The Disappearance of Ambar Sen) had two very interesting ladies.
The sister-in-law (brother's wife) of the missing Ambar Sen was not identified by name but as Mrs Sen and Topshe is gushingly descriptive (?) of her beauty. She called her 'quite beautiful' (ritimoto shundori), bright and did not look she was over forty! And as if that was not enough, she even came up with an important memory from long back to aid the detection process.
Her daughter - Runa (I think) - was a fan of Feluda but had caught on to a discrepancy in the early Feluda novels. In the earlier novels, Topshe described Feluda as his maternal cousin (mashtuto) but changed it to paternal (jyathtuto) later on. Ray probably got thousands of letters from fans and used Runa to slip in an apology from Feluda, who defended his cousin's slip-up quite smartly.

Shakuntala-r Kantha-haar (The Necklace of Shakuntala) had two firsts in terms of female characters of Feluda novels. For the first time, Feluda spent some time alone with a female character (Mary Sheila Biswas) - who was also instrumental in the solving of the puzzle. Also, a description of the character's clothing (salwar kameez with no jewelry) was provided. Even her career interest (a suitably girlie 'interior decoration') was duly noted. Grand-daughter of a major film star of silent cinema, Mary Sheila left a very positive impression on Feluda. She could have well been the Irene Adler of the series, had this novel not been one of the weakest of Feluda stories.