Monday, December 31, 2012

2012: My Favourites

Wogay, enough of being depressed about life. I realised if I didn't start feeling happy, I will probably die of an imploded brain. And what better way to feel happy than to recap what is easily the second best year of movies in my lifetime. (The best year was 1975  but I don't recall seeing any movies that year.)
And not only did I recap my favourite movies this year, I went through my favourite songs, books and - for good measure - my favourite blog posts as well.

So, here are my 5 favourites in each category.

Obituaries
Don't think I am being morbid. These are some of my (and your) favourite people. When you read the obituaries of these cool people who moved on, you will realise they have left behind enough memories to last us a lifetime.

Sharmila Tagore wrote an affectionate tribute to her most successful co-star in Hindustan Times. Reminiscing about their famed pairing, she ended with a wonderfully apt allusion to his most iconic role. 
Read it here.  

My friend Abhishek (Mukherjee) wrote a beautiful tribute to Sunil Gangopadhyay, Bengali literature's enfant terrible (when he started off) and kind-of-Godfather (when he passed away). More than his literary output, it captured the emotions around Sunil really well. 
Read it here

Noted film critic Sukanya Verma wrote about the King of Romance, with a few deft personal touches. Lovely, it was. 
Read it here
While you are it, you might as well see this clip. If the world ended in 2012, this is how I would have liked to spend the last 2:25 minutes. 

Gursimranjit Khamba - a stand-up comic - remembered 'Bhatti-sir', a man whose humour inspired him. Most of us are all still able to sing the title song of Flop Show. That, I think, is our tribute to Jaspal Bhatti.
Read it here.

The last one is not a death in the literal sense. And yet for me, something died.
Yesterday when I saw India 20/4 on the TV screen, I squinted - out of reflex -to see if it was Sachin on the non-striker's end. Sachin Tendulkar retired from one-day cricket and my childhood died with that.
Two great tributes marked this end.
Arnab Ray (a.k.a. Greatbong) wrote "Sachin was us and we were Sachin", which pretty much summed up the emotions. (Here)
Siddhartha Vaidyanathan (a.k.a. Sidvee) wrote "He was, and will remain, your Model T", which pretty much summed up the memories. (Here)

Posts (Blogs et al)
Not all posts in this list - the most difficult to compile and most susceptible to misses - are on 'blogs'. They are on a variety of places and that makes them even more fun. Once you get to the blogs, do read everything else on offer there.

Jai Arjun Singh wrote about the Ten Trailblazers of Indian Cinema (for Vogue India) and to my mind, he did not include that one person who he couldn't have - himself.
Read it here.

Beth Watkins (who LovesBollywood) discovered Soumitra, Satyajit and Bengali cinema this year (though not necessarily in that order). Her review of Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne is representative of her 'study' this year.
Read it here.

Abhishek attempted to take The Legend to a larger audience. He. Started. Translating. The. Dialogues. Of. Gunda.
*Dramatic Pause*
Read. It. Here.

When The Best Hindi Movie is here, can the Best Hindi Movie Songs be far behind? Vaibhav Vishal selected ten of the best and the post went - what marketers call - viral.
Read it here.

At a time when Delhi was the most maligned city in the country, Diligent Candy declared herself to be a diwani and bared her soul about this magnificent yet maligned city. 
It was not a blogpost but a collection of tweets, storified here

Honourable Mention: I first thought I will not include her blog because she is my cousin. But then, I realised that neither am I Macmohan and nor is she Raveena Tandon vying for National Awards that I will do all this faux-objectivity. If you want to know what makes Bengalis tick, you have to have to HAVE TO read Parama's post on Bong-ness.

Movies
I had to spend several agonising hours to make this list of 5. I could have taken the easy way out and done top ten but that would have taken the fun out of it. What's the fun of making lists if you don't have to keep some good ones out? 

5. English Vinglish
Sridevi's comeback film beat Shanghai to reach the fifth spot because of one deft touch. (Yes, that's how close it was.) When Sridevi walked out of the movie hall, she passed by a poster of a Clark Gable-Ava Gardner movie. The movie was Mogambo. 

4. Vicky Donor
"Yeh tera Pishi jo hai... yeh cat hain ya dog?" 
Ayushman Khurana brought Lajpat Nagar right into my CR Park sensibilities and made me feel overly protective of Yami Gautam. But then, his uncle charmed me with the light-bulb dance at the Punju-Bong wedding. And his mother floored me with her evening drinking sessions.

3. Gangs of Wasseypur I & II
When Gangs of Wasseypur comes in at No. 3, it is indicative of the quality of the year's cinematic output. Juxtaposing the cultural icons of our childhood with a Godfather-like tale of passion and retribution,  Anurag Kashyap created the benchmark of 'cult' in Bollywood. As a trivia-buff, I can only smack my lips at the many nuggets that are sure to be unearthed during multiple viewings.
Easy Peasy Trivia Quiz: What connects Dil To Paagal Hai, Kasam Paida Karne Wale Ki and Kahaani Sharabi Aurat Ki? 

2. Bhooter Bhabishyat
After watching the film, my first reaction was "If Parasuram had written the script for Khosla Ka Ghosla, and Satyajit Ray had directed it, it would have been Bhooter Bhabishyat."
I stand by that.

1. Kahaani
I know it is probably not the best film of the year but this is not the National Awards. It is my list of favourites and I did not like anything this year more than the South Indian wife of a Bengali man who was lost in the most beautiful city in the world. If people can go through life without dining at Mocambo, I am sure they can get by without liking Kahaani also. Though, I can't do that.

Books
I planned to read 52 books in 2012. I ended up with about 30ish - which was not bad since I wasted inordinately large amounts of time on Twitter and Temple Run. The 2013 resolution is to reach very close to 52.

5. Dongri to Dubai: Six Decades of Mumbai Mafia (S Hussain Zaidi)
A brilliant retelling of the history of crime in Bombay from the 'honorable' days to the 1990s bloodbath to the present uneasy calm, told from the vantage point of the city's best-known crime journalist. Unputdownable.

4. Would You Like Some Bread With That Book? (Veena Venugopal)
I love books. I love people who love books. I love books by people who love books. I love stories about books in books by people who love books. This was a series of delightful anecdotes/observations about the author's reading life and has got to be the least known, most underrated book of the year.

3. The Mine (Arnab Ray)
I don't think I will be able to read this book again. The raw material with which the author created the horror was from our daily lives, giving it a jaggedness that was just too much for me to bear once more. I remember sitting in my dark bedroom after finishing the book and have a feeling of doom engulf me. I only came out of that abyss when I reminded myself I went to the same college as the author.

2. Deep Focus: Reflections on Cinema (Satyajit Ray)
Translations of Satyajit Ray's thoughts/writings/reflections on cinema makes for wonderful reading, even if you are not a cine-enthusiast. The man writes so lucidly and thinks so clearly that you can read them as lesson in English, if not lessons in cinema.

1. Kitnay Aadmi Thay: Completely Useless Bollywood Trivia
For obvious - and blatantly shameless - reasons, this has got to be my most favourite book of 2012. In fact, this is my most favourite book ever.
Known people, unknown people, relatives, friends, colleagues, critics just adopted this book - making it my happiest memory of 2012. I read somewhere "It's hard to do a really good job on anything you don't think about in the shower". Thank you all, for making me think about KAT again and again in the shower.

Have a great 2013.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

For My Two-Year Old Daughter

Dear Drishti, 

I woke up today to find that a 23-year old Indian girl has died in Singapore. 
The girl had been sent there for treatment for the injuries she had sustained a couple of weeks back when six people raped her in a bus while she was returning home from a movie. I really hoped she would pull through because she was sent to the best hospital for organ transplants in Asia but... 

When I read the headline on a website, I told your mother and she did what I was dreading. She switched on the TV. As I tried to shut out the newscaster solemnly giving out details of her death and reactions from Twitter filled up the bottom part of the screen, I was taken aback by how much I was affected by this news. I hugged your sleeping form tight and had to make a Herculean effort to blink back tears. 

And I wondered why? What triggered this response? 

As everyone knows, I am a cynic. And slightly unemotional. I don't believe I can change the world. And I am okay with that.    
Today, I was confronted by the thought - for the first time in my life - that my cynicism could be cowardice. In fact, it is cowardice. 
When I talk about protest marches being ineffective, I mean I am uneasy going where there is a risk of some crazy neta ordering a lathi charge. When I say how voting one party out would mean more of the same from another party, I am actually saying that I don't want to waste a holiday standing in queue. When I say death penalty for rapists is not the answer, the truth is I don't know what the answer is. And maybe I don't want to find out. 
And you know the bigger problem, Baby? I am in a majority. 
An overwhelming majority of us are exactly like this and we spend our outrage through a few jokes on Twitter. We don't vote. We don't go to protests. We don't fight. We don't want to change the world. Because it never happens to us. 

I don't know what made me react differently this time. 
Was it the fact the girl was returning from Select Citywalk, where we go so often? 
Was it because she watched Life Of Pi, that we have been meaning to watch for some time now? 
Or was it because of her first reaction when she regained consciousness - "I want to live"? 

Either way, I was gutted because I did not know the answer to the question I have to answer. 
In another twenty years, you will also be twenty-three. You will also go out in the evenings. You will go for movies. Hell, I want you to go for movies and plays and concerts. My fear, my terror, my gut-wrenching panic stems from the thought that if I am not able to change the world in these twenty years, what will happen to you? 
But the question really is - if I am not able to change myself in these twenty years, what will happen to you? 

Love -
Baba

Friday, December 28, 2012

Random Movies I Like: Maine Pyar Kiya

Today, Salman Khan turned 47. And despite his seven 100-crore movies, my favourite film of his is still the one that is no longer cool to admit to have seen multiple times. And if you had told me then that Salman would act in films that were more successful than his second feature film, I would have laughed. 
(Salman's first movie - Biwi Ho To Aisi - was an epochal study on the use of female authority in Indian households, also remembered for Bindu's clarion call 'Secretary, follow me'.) 

Just now, I realised one SM Ahale is credited for the 'story' of Maine Pyar Kiya which is surely the oldest formula in Bollywood cupboard. The screenplay and dialogue - two reasons why I loved the movie as a 14-year old - were by the true creative force behind the movie, director Sooraj Barjatya. (Though Farah Khan is of the belief that some credit for that belongs to one Omprakash Makhija!) For the teenagers that we were at the time MPK released, the then-smart-now-cheesy lines were the main draw of the movie. 
You could laugh at those now but I have attended a show of MPK where a bunch of boys distributed cake in the rear stalls when Bhagyashree's birthday was being celebrated on-screen. At that time, MPK was not merely a hit movie like Ek Tha Tiger or Dabangg. It was a social phenomenon, a cult, a way of life. 

It started with Laxmikant Berde ('first time in Hindi movie') whose absolutely juvenile lines rocked our life! 
Show me a guy who hasn't retorted with a 'same to you' when called 'stupid' and I will show you a guy who topped IIT, cooped up in his cage with algebra books. 
He sang "Bhutta mil gaya" (and then "mukka mil gaya" soon afterwards), giving a fresh lease of life to the hit from Sangam. 
His romance with milkmaid Gulabo (Huma Khan, in her only non-B movie) was a strange mix of pseudo-nyakaness and silly banter. 
His cigarette-stealing. His anchoring of the legendary antakshari. His tomfoolery. His goofy good nature.  
And of course, his description of life before iPod. "Aapka chalne wala aadmi - Walkman."

And then, there was Bhagyashree. 
When Pervin Dastur taunted Salman with "Bade old fashioned ho, Prem", the camera showed Bhagyashree cleaning glass broken by the shrew. She was homely enough to clean messes and yet she was smart enough to duck Salman's boxing gloves (hanging from the door, remember?). 
She was girl enough to get embarrassed when she caught Salman peeing. But she was boy enough to have a repartee ready. ("Madam, aajkal darwaza pe knock karne ka zamana nahin raha." / "Sir, aajkal darwaza lock karne ka zamana bhi nahin raha.")
She managed to beat Salman at table-tennis but seemed adequately embarrassed by that.   
She was a PETA member but was alarmingly adept at Satyanarayan pooja. 
She wanted to go on an evening excursion with her boyfriend but cancelled when her future mom-in-law called her for mehendis. 
She wore short (I mean, really short and shiny for good measure) dresses. But only for her fiancee. 
She kissed passionately but only with glass doors in between. 
She was the girl jo matar chhilegi, badon ka izzat karegi, hum umr se apnapan, chhoton se pyaar... sab karegi. 
In short, she wasn't just the girl you wanted to bring home to mother. The mother would have carried the home to her if you found someone like her.  

Despite my going on and on about all of them, I cannot think of MPK as anything other than a Salman movie. Salman was not just Prem. He was PREM - bold, italics, underline, font size 48. 
His stylised "abhi mood nahin hai" to his attempts at the dartboard, Salman was the most-imitated actor in the year MPK released. His "ulta shave karke raja coat pehenna" was much discussed as was his handling of Bollywood's most popular movie merchandise - the FRIEND cap. 
Even the wall full of his own B&W photographs found many admirers.
Of course, those admirers became devotees after The Party Scene.
The Party Scene had Mohnish Behl counterpointing what our man was saying about friendship between a boy and girl.
Okay. Pause. You know the lines. I know the lines. But I still have to say it. For inner peace. "Kya ek jawaan ladka aur jawaan ladki kabhi dost ban sakte hain? Yeh toh ek naatak hai, naatak. Kapkapaati raaton mein dhadakti hui dilon ki bhadakti hui aag bujhane ka."
There, Salman did not say those words but I had to. He was the reason why those words were said, okay?

And. And. And his fights.
He was as short as (if not shorter than) Aamir but his built body ensured that he was a power-packed dynamite  in the action scenes.
He did a very good boxing bout with Mohnish Behl at the Legendary Party. Despite his hair getting all spiky after the brawl, he exuded menace as he walked off with his then-subdued swagger.
The climax fight - with the truckers in the rain - had him getting all wet and bloody and I was quite scandalised to find that even girls fantasised about filmstars. On a bus ride back from school, I heard two excited college girls discussing Salman's hairy chest and how the vest clung to his chest during that fight. This was the first time I heard a filmi hero being discussed in terms different from taking home to mother.


And before I finish, I have to talk about the pre-climax showdown that was tweeted by noted film critic (and fellow 90s fan) Sukanya Verma today. The scene in which Salman wowed Alok Nath, the nation and its sister-in-law with a mix of sincerity, courage and broad chest. (And triggered this post, to some extent.) 

"Main paise phirse kamaunga babuji, main phirse paisa launga aur is baar main vaada karta hoon babuji, note bheegenge nahin."

My first reaction was to thank her profusely for the memory but then, "Dosti ka ek ussool hai, madam - No sorry, no thank you." 
How can I forget that line? How can I forget Salman for saying that line?

Happy birthday, Prem.  

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Telling God What To Do

Acknowledgements are due to Shivaramakrishnan K - whose knowledge of Amitabh Bachchan and everything associated with Amitabh Bachchan is quite legendary. His inputs pretty much made this post. 

In a few hours, Earth will stand still as the Universe starts celebrating the 62nd birthday of He Who Has Been Named as the modern incarnation of God himself.
A 3D version of an earlier hit is releasing. India's leading English publishing house is releasing his 'definitive biography'. Websites about him work without internet and urban legends sprout faster than he can put on his sunglasses. Many fans will be bathing his idol in milk and honey. In fact, I am sure some intern at Living Media is searching the 'net to provide dope for an editorial.

It was just the right time to go through some of his 'best of' lists and acquaint myself with his legend. And look what I found...

I started with Billa - the film (made in 1980) that spawned his legend as well as the legend of a next generation actor who remade the film. It turned out to be a faithful copy of a film named Don (1978). When I say copy, I don't mean a simpleton-posing-as-gangster story lift. I mean, a scene-by-scene copy - including some of the not-so-insignificant scenes like this one in a sauna.
video
video

And not only the insignificant scenes. Even the pattern on the coat - not to mention the cabaret dancer - were alarmingly similar.
video
video

Soon after Billa, came Thee (1981). Which came six years after a film called Deewaar (1975).
Both the films started with the pronouncement (from a benevolent dictator) about the long-term prospects of a shoe-shine boy.
video
video

The shoeshine boy, needless to say, lived up to the expectations.
Do note Bachchan's  subdued and Rajini's flamboyant delivery of the same punchline.
video
video

Again, Thee was a lock, stock and badge copy of Deewaar. No character seemed to have got missed. Including Rahim Chacha.
video
video

The legend of Rajinikanth spread far and wide. In Mr Bharath (1986), he locked horns with his illegitimate father to build colonies. Though not before he confronted a goon and his gang with a compassionate attitude. He got an ambulance before beating them up. Sounds familiar?
video
video

Amitabh Bachchan's monster hit of 1985 - Mard - was copied in Maveeran (1986). Though the famous display of the hero's chest ended up becoming bit of a chocolate icing in the Tamil version! See for yourself. Everything was exactly the same, including the way the titles appeared.
video
video

By the way, Maveeran coopted the services of one Mr Dara Singh to put that icing on the chest.
video

Amitabh Bachchan's famous Vijay Merchant-Vijay Hazare monologue from Namak Halaal (1982) was replicated word for word in Velaikkaran (1987), including the same objective (job in a hotel) and the same introduction (by a comic sidekick).
video
video

If you are thinking that these are the biggest hits of Amitabh Bachchan's careers and would spawn imitations, let me give you the example of Padikathavan (1985), which was a scene-by-scene copy of Khud-daar (1982). Khud-daar, though successful, was certainly not one of AB's iconic films but it became fodder for a Rajini film anyway. The whole gig about an ungrateful younger brother kicking the hero's ass while a beatific  elder brother looked on (unaware of the relationship).
video
video

And of course, the human taxi was there in the Tamil version as well!
video
video

Millions of fans across the world imitate Rajinikanth - a fact that has become something of an urban legend. He imitated Amitabh Bachchan - film by film, scene by scene, frame by frame - to reach where he is today. I don't know if these movies were official remakes (as in, rights bought from original makers) or unofficial inspirations. Either way, God owes his divinity to Amitabh Bachchan.
Never forget that. Okay?