Thursday, March 25, 2010

5 Films That Changed My Life

Reviewing May I Hebb Your Attention Pliss now is like reviewing a Karan Johar film on Saturday. Half the world and their barbers have already seen/read it. In any case, I realised that my impartiality as a reviewer is under cloud for having gone to the same college as the author. When I tried to defend the book with a friend (who found it 'crass'! What did he expect? Om Jai Jagdish Hare?), he stopped me by saying, "You can hear no ill of your junior."
Stung by such advance criticism, I have decided not to do a review but a reprise of my favourite chapter from the book (with shades of my second fav chapter thrown in, for good measure). Arnab talks about the five films that made him who he is.
Well, these are mine...

Dharam Veer
The biggest disservice that one can do to the memory of Manmohan Desai is to call him a formula-driven entertainer. It can't get any further from truth. His films - under its veneer of entertainment and convoluted formulae - hid deep undertones of deviant sexuality.
And there can't be a better example than Dharam Veer.
Bondage. S&M. Cross-dressing. Trans-gender role-playing. You name it and you get it. A surprisingly advanced film for its times, it even lifted the veil off homosexuality at a time it was considered taboo.
The homosexuality has been described in considerable detail here. The hero tied up in a dungeon almost naked and the heroine whipping him is not something ordinary filmmakers have depicted easily. The second hero's frilly ribbon-laced satin shirt (that looks like a blouse), arousal of horses to perform beyond potential, taming of wild women - *shudder*
A few weeks back, my wife walked in when Dharam Veer was on. She took one disbelieving look at the screen and asked, "Dharmendra in mini skirt. Zeenat in pants. What kind of film is this?"
Yes, really - what kind of film is this?

Awwal Number
I have written about this film several times already. Once, as a sports film. Then, as an Aamir Khan film. But still, I cannot get over the stupendous campiness of the film that had Aamir Khan blowing kisses and hitting sixes intermittently.
It had Pariskhit Sahni as a national selector, wearing a sleeveless t-shirt. It had the fantastic "Yeh hain cricket! Howzzat!" song, performed on screen by Dev Anand and Aditya Pancholi - that made mincemeat of all rhymes and meters but is quite crappily memorable nevertheless. It had an Indian team, who looked like truck drivers and the eleven (or thereabouts) faces changed in every scene. It had Australian cricketers looking exactly like the Indian ones. It had terrorists. It had vamps. It had a helicopter flying over a stadium to bomb it while a cricket match was on.
It also had an ex-cricketer, a Chairman of selectors and a Police Commissioner. The last three named was actually one person, who was also the director and producer of the film. You will never know the meaning of multi-tasking if you don't watch Awwal Number.

Dalaal
Mithun Chakraborty is like Shakespeare. Millions of followers have intensely studied him for centuries (okay, okay - decades, you pedants!) but they are still finding newer and more interesting stuff. Like Shakespeare, obscure canons are being discovered.
In between the flourish of Kanti Shah and his ambitious tackling of global issues, there have been directors who have spread the gospel in a low-key yet effective manner. Dalaal - in Bengali - is one such effort. Directed by Partho Ghosh (of 100 Days fame), the film is a scathing indictment of flesh trade and human trafficking in present day India.
My memory fails me when I try to remember the circumstances in which I ended up seeing this film in my mother tongue but it remains crystal clear when it comes to the scenes. And iconic songs.
And of course, there is the gem of a dialogue - "Ami duto jinish shojjho kortey parina. Ek, amar gramer apamaan. Aar, amar gamchhar apamaan." (Two things of mine can't be defiled. My village. And my towel.)
Yes, yes, I know - a gamchha is not a towel. Just watch the film.

Aankhen
Rarely, very rarely do we come across a work of art that changes us physically. People have joked that lifting War and Peace (or for that matter, A Suitable Boy) has built muscles. But those were just jokes.
Aankhen is that kind of art for me. With three double-roles, three heroines, two Chief Ministers, two water-drenched songs, one monkey and one leather-clad vamp, it expanded my bladder capacity substantially - since I could not tear myself away from the film even for a leak!
With the voluminous Shilpa Shirodkar entreating Govinda to 'come to her home' since her 'doors' and 'backyards' were free and elaborate plastic surgeries being executed to create lookalikes of CMs, I almost stopped breathing. I think I watched this film after a drinking session at a cheap-and-cheerful joint called Green Palace and the intense pressure on my bladder and brain for 180 minutes has made me a better - and sturdier - person.

Saagar
You know you have started to grow up, when you start recognising heroines in films. And usually, there is a specific point which you can look back upon as your first childhood crush. For me, Saagar was that film and Dimple Kapadia that heroine.
Before people get scandalised completely, let me hasten to add that I saw the film some time after its release and not as the 11-year old I was when it came out.
Kamalhaasan's Tamil-infested Hindi, Rishi Kapoor's chubby goodness, RD Burman's scintillating score just paled into insignificance as Dimple took her early morning swim in the shimmering black swimsuit and emerged from the sea in her full glory. Add to that a song in a red chiffon saree that clung to her body then and to my mind ever since, you have hormonal dynamite.
There hasn't been a more impactful heroine in Hindi film history.
Ever.

So, those are my five films.
You have to read MIHYAP for the five films that turned a Computer Engineer called Arnab Ray into a Global Dementor called GreatBong. But, is that all that there is to the book?
Well, Arnab writes honestly and vividly. And he writes about topics that are very dear - and close - to me. But then, I have read several books like that.
What sets MIHYAP apart and what I am really grateful to Arnab for is the fact that he is unapologetic about growing up in Calcutta and in the 1990s. He has actually made my adolescent world cool. What more could I have asked for?

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Bollywood in polite company

I spent a very nice evening today at something called Penguin Spring Fever (sounds like flu!), which had a Bollywood Quiz.
Now, I am very scared about discussing Bollywood in polite company since my enthusiasm for the subject makes me feel a little plebeian in front of gentry. Quizzes on Bollywood is something I steer clear of (unless Nilendu is involved) because the average Bollywood knowledge is so poor that 'What is the full form of DDLJ' is a legitimate question in most of them.

This quiz was a lot better though still so easy that the winner was decided not on the basis of who answered the most but who missed the least!
Of the approx 55 questions asked (15 prelims + 40 finals), I did not know the answer to 7 questions. Usually in Calcutta quizzes, the equation was the exact reverse. I used to feel good if I managed to know/guess 4-5 answers in an 8-round quiz!

One great realisation of the evening was my Bollywood Reflex hadn't withered away in disuse. I answered at quite a few questions purely on instinct, without really remembering/knowing the answer. For example, a song from Har Dil Jo Pyar Karega (of which I was required to identify the hero) evoked a reflex action of imagining Salman's slightly-crouching-feet-steady-top-half-swaying dance movements.
You hear the opening strains of a song and a chain of thought starts. Marching song. Army film. Electronic orchestration. Not old film. Many voices. LOC: Kargil. People get happy over simple things in life. That I executed this kind of chain 2-3 times during the evening was quite satisfying.

Also, I realised that - exactly like 'a little knowledge' - too much knowledge is also a dangerous thing.
After playing the LOC: Kargil song, the quiz-master asked which world record this particular song held. I, immediately, went into the cast, crew and location of the film and felt pleased when I answered, "It has been filmed at the highest altitude". But realised soon after that I was being too ambitious and silly. There is no way on earth a world record can be made on the number of singers or location of shooting. It is too damn difficult. The LOC song held the simplest record. At 12 minutes, it is the longest song ever.

For the information of all well-wishers, I finished a joint second (among four finalists) and was awarded 1500 bucks worth of books and a crown (literally) by Bob Christo. I picked up Sea of Poppies (by Amitav Ghosh) and Memory's Gold (an anthology on Calcutta, edited by Amit Chaudhuri).

For the information of obsessive, compulsive trivia buffs, here are other five questions that I missed.

1. This one was such a sitter, because my brain froze and I stopped thinking. Apart from Baazigar, Kuch Kuch Hota Hain, Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge, Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham and My Name is Khan, which is the only other movie in which Kajol and Shahrukh have acted together (as the lead pair)?

2. To whom is the 'Ram' in Ram Teri Ganga Maili referring to?
Hint: Rajiv Kapoor's name in the film was Narendra / Naren.

3. In Mohabbatein, Amitabh is shown reciting the Gayatri mantra. This seemingly positive scene evoked the wrath of right-wing activists, who asked for a ban on the film. What was the fuss all about?

4. Which young exponent of classical and fusion music composed the music for Mujhse Dosti Karoge? (audio clue)

5. Two hit films have opened with a scene of playing cricket. One was K3G, where Hrithik Roshan hit a six off the last ball of the match. Which was the other film?

That's it, then. Will post the answers in a couple of days.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

My Favourite Music Videos

My sister and I spent many Thursday mornings (when our schools had the weekly off) recording movie trailers off All India Radio. "Oh Krishna, you are the greatest musician of this world / Bansuri se tune prem dhun sunaya, mohana" from Meera Ka Mohan or Harish Bhimani's dulcet voice saying, "Meet mere man ke, Tips cassette ban ke (pause) aap ke ghar aanewala hain" was something we looked forward to. For no other reason but lack of choice!
Apart from having to survive the T-Series holocaust, the other big problem was having to visualise the lead players as the songs anonymously played out and the musicians named. I remember my sister aggressively dissing the song, "Kash koi ladka mujhe pyar karta" and then realising that it starred her heartthrob Aamir Khan.

So, when cable TV came to India, we were one of the early adopters - welcoming it with a red carpet bigger than the IPL's and becoming ardent viewers of MTV from the word go. After years of audio, we just loved music videos!
Therefore, putting together a list of my favourite music videos is something I should have done long ago except that it never struck me.
A recent request on Twitter for the best videos of 2009 got me thinking and made me come up with the loveliest videos of all time.
Great music - check. Fantastic visuals - check. Lovely memories - check.
Here are 10 of my favourites. Where are yours?

I will start with an obscure one.
Sukhwinder Singh songs are nothing without a thumping beat and some lilting vocals. The song - Aa mujhe chhnoo le - was all of that and Malaika Arora looking like a million dollars. Shot as a crime caper, the video has a wooden-looking hero and Malaika escaping a mafia gang across some exotic locales. And if that was not enough (and it really wasn't!), you had Malaika in a sizzling dance as well. Don't take my word for it. Watch it!

Bombay Vikings came with their repertoire of English lyrics (simple ones, thankfully!) set to the tune of popular Hindi tunes and quickly became a rage. Their first - Kya soorat hain - was a superhit thanks to the catchy words, evergreen tune and Prabhudeva's brother!
My favorite, however, is Mona Re - set to the tune of O mere sona re sona re from Teesri Manzil, though at a slower tempo. It played to a hilarious video about a muscular Lothario, a fatso and a pedantic wimp stuck in the lift with a beauty. Their silent fanstasies and one-upmanship play out with crazy subtitles. And the song isn't too bad either!

Every time a classical musician sets foot in Bollywood or associated arenas, you can be reasonably sure of a magical period.
Sultan Khan debuted with Piya basanti and won our hearts. Chitra did the female vocals and was not left behind either. Set to a beautifully shot video in the hills and around a theme of terrorism, the song was just magical with his very unusual but magnetic voice. Encore, encore!

The first Pakistani to win our hearts was Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. And Lisa Ray deserves a lot of credit for bringing this about.
Aafreen aafreen is shot in the beautiful deserts of India and Nusrat-saab just lets himself loose as Ms Ray shimmers on the sands like a mirage. For two years of our b-school, every party HAD to play this song and we had to get on our knees and pay obeisance. It was mandatory.

Sometimes, an ordinary song just sticks to your mind for no apparent reason.
Aankhon mein tera chehra by Aryans is one such video. Is it the fresh combination of Shahid Kapur and Hrishita Bhatt? Is it the story of the underdog? Is it the soft-focus video? Or is it the slowly-growing-on-you melody? Don't know. Don't care.

Can I include a remix song in this list? Well - technically, I should not because this is supposed to be a list of non-fil music videos. Right?
But when I tell you that the song is Saame yeh kaun ayaa, you will have to give in because the video is totally removed from the milieu of the original song and yet it is so wonderfully grounded in Bollywood that you can't help but like it. After all, who doesn't want to see a long-haired hero win a disco competition and ride into the sunset with his beloved on a scooter?

Pradeep Sarkar made ad films to start with. But when he started making music videos, people started asking about him. And there is a distinct point in his career when the Euphoria boiled over!
The debut song of Euphoria - Dhoom pichuk dhoom - was one of the earliest pieces to have popularised the ghats of Benares in Bollywood and retained all the freshness of the Holy City. An amazingly catchy tune - along with a brilliant Bhatiali riff (by Shobha Mudgal?) - was the perfect soundtrack. And the lady on whom the video was shot - who was she?

How often do you have songs shot underwater? If you say Blue, I will kill you.
Silk Route first song was about drowing in your beloved's eyes - Dooba dooba rehta hoon aankhon mein teri - and the video had the entire band submerged in a picturesque lake. From a musical point of view, the song did not break any new ground.
Except that it gave us Mohit Chauhan. And that cannot be a bad thing!

Nor am I in the Vedas, Nor am I in Intoxicants / Nor am I the carefree deviant / Nor am I fire nor air / I know not what I am"
Rabbi Shergill sang the words of Bulla Shah, set to mesmerising music in which he asked who he was - Bulla ka jaana - and the entire nation was hooked. The words were difficult to understand but the video had the translations scribbled over the frames of everyday Bombay - which was one more beautiful touch to this beautiful song.

And finally - the last entry on this list is everybody's favourite song.
It wasn't in a film. Never on an album either. It was never commercially released and yet all of us remember the tunes, words and visuals almost exactly.
We did not realise how good it was, till we were shown how bad it could have been. Mile sur mera tumhara...

Friday, March 05, 2010

Random Thoughts of a Fermented Mind

Just came back from the book launch of May I Hebb Your Attention Pliss.
Buy it NOW! I was reading it at the traffic lights on the drive back and chuckling to myself.

Probably for the first time in the elite portals of India Habitat Centre, names of films like Zalzala (Kimi Katkar, Shatrughan Sinha), Zehreelay (Chunky Pandey, Juhi Chawla), Loha and - but, of course - Gunda were bandied about and the audience lapped it up.
Nilanjana Roy moderated a lively conversation between three of India's best read bloggers - Jai Arjun Singh, Sidin Vadukut and the book's author - Arnab Ray. Jai Arjun talked about how a reader (hopefully infrequent) of his blog claimed that his son was the proof of a rocking sex life. Sidin explained how he has been suspected of being a North Indian and has been asked to do unspeakable things to dogs. And Arnab held forth on how only Mithun Chakraborty can be a coolie in an airport.
My only regret of the evening was that none of the panelists - including the author - pronounced the name of the book as it has been spelt out!

Ahem... and now for a bit of self promotion.
After a really bad day at work yesterday, I was hoping that I will make up by wrestling with my son once I got home. I did not realise my day would get made so brilliantly till I stumbled upon this interview with GreatBong. By all metrics and standards, Random Thoughts of a Demented Mind is the most popular Indian blog. Therefore, GB counting Calcutta Chromosome as one of his five favourite blogs was so gratifying that I had to re-read it to believe it. I was reminded of a Gavaskar interview in India Today, in which he praised Atul Bedade to the skies!

A thought: Is Random the most often used word in blog titles? Is there a scientific way of finding out?

Going on to another random subject - of things getting lost & found in translation.
A friend SMSed me a while back – “How would you translate the spirit of this line in English – Rishtey mein toh hum tumhare baap hote hain. Naam hain Shahehshah.” I invoked the combined spirits of Chuck Norris and the dubbed Kung-fu films to come up with – “I f***ed your mom, you a**hole. Call me Dad. Or call me Shahenshah.” Any better suggestions?

Talking of subtitles, I flew Air India (Indian Airlines of my childhood and still retaining most of the hostesses from my childhood days) and was rewarded with a subtitled version of Love Aaj Kal as the in-flight movie. The subtitles were evocative (“The day has blossomed like a flower” for Ajj din chadheya), to say the least and I was quite enjoying matching them to the lyrics. But nothing had prepared me for Chor Bazaari. The black marketing of stolen glances is a habit I have now given up… Now hear the real words!

Now, that's the subject for Arnab's next book!