Wednesday, August 27, 2008


Somewhere in our minds there is a disconnect between the blog world and real life. We read all these posts and are happy about how clever and wise and funny and incisive we are when talking about the world’s problems, but of course bloggers don’t have problems of their own.

Reality struck back yesterday.

Lalita Mukherjea died. She stayed her lovely self through a painful battle against cancer. On Monday, after weighing the balance between the time gained and the pain endured, she stopped her medication and went her way. On her own terms. As usual.

She was … well, she was a wonderful person. We only met three times, but every time I was aware of a personality that was stronger, wiser, kinder. I won’t presume so far as to say trite things about a person who had such innate strength and, really, goodness. Read her blog. Her character is evident in every line.

Rest in peace, Lali.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

7:48, and some heroes

A majority of my readers (that is, 5 or more) have said I’m pedantic. That I’m finicky. A few (i.e., 3 or less) have even said they spell-check their comments because I might point out errors. I am aghast. As a double drop-out, I don’t know enough to ped any ants. But I do hate bad spelling and bad punctuation. Which is why THESE guys are my current heroes. Go for it, Herson and Deck!

Another unlikely hero came into my life yesterday. Very Nice Colleague was in my office for a meeting. Received a call on his cell-phone. Spoke for a while. Tried to explain that he could help out the caller, but only if he were given a complaint in writing. Now VNC is a totally chilled person. Suddenly, he burst out in Hindi – Abbe b*****i ke, tu kar le jo karna hai! Haan record kar le, sun aisa kar, loudspeaker on kar aur poora Connaught Place ghoom le!

It was a little like seeing Federer spit at a line judge. Parallel universe. Turned out it was a call from a collection agency – some lady in his office had defaulted on a payment to ABN-Amro and they wanted him, as head of office, to Make Her Pay. After he’d pointed out politely (about 11 times) that her personal loan was her personal business and he really has no jurisdiction over it, the caller from the collection agency threatened HIM with dire consequences. At which point he lost his cool. (The caller hadn't realised that VNC is a Bihari, not a Bong)

We carried on with the meeting. The same guy kept calling. After the 15th call or so, I answered the phone. And thoroughly, oh so thoroughly, enjoyed myself. Sample exchanges (pardon the Pnjaab-bi and the lack of translation, but I thought the accent would make him feel at home)

§ O jee, aap ka naam kya ai jee? Kalra? Aap Pnjaab ke ai? Naeen? Jee ey to Pnjaab-bi naam ai jee. Ya to aap ke purkhon mein se koi Pnjaab se aaya owga, naeen toh koi Pnjaab gayee ogee, ai naa? Aap smajh rae ain naa?

§ (Later, when he had shouted at me thrice and used the familiar tu) Jee aap kee tehzeeb toh lajawaab ae – aap Lucknow ke ain jee? (Nahin be, main Ludhiana ka hoon!) O jee, aap ne mujhse jhoot bola jee? Aap ne toh kya tha aap Pnjaab ke ain naeen? O jee thays pauncha jee, aap mujhse jhoot boley? MUJH se?

§ Jee ae Archna kaun ae jee? Manne kahaan milegi? O jee baat sun lo, ladkee se gal karni ae toh himmat rakho, khud jaa ke gal kar lo jee, humein beech mein mat laao.

§ Baat bataao, aap ka is Archna se kya rishta ae? Darte kyun ae? Kya aap shaadi shuda ae? Nahin ae? Jee aap ke maa baap bhi shaadi shuda nahin the? Parampara ae kya?

§ Kya jee? Eddrass likh loon? O jee main kya likh paoonga, aap jaisa parha likha kahaan hoon, hota toh main bhi call centre mein na baith jaata?Kya? Meri naukri pyaari hai ki nahiin? Jee naukri toh bas naukri otee ae, aap mujhe doosree naukri dilwaogey kya? Main toh tyaar hoon.

§ O jee dil chhota na karo jee, maa-baap ne aap ki padhai adhoori rakh dee toh aap ka yeh haal, toh kya hua, aap bhi sattoo besan ke pakore bech ke trakki kar sakte ho jee.

§ Jee aap gussa thook do jee, aap ka blad prashur barh jaawe toh call centre mein toh madkel banfit nahin hogi, hai naa?

After 7 minutes and 48 seconds, spluttering incoherently, he hung up. With the promise to call again. And again. Sadly enough, he hasn’t kept his promise. I miss him. Come back, Sandeep Kalra who collects for ABN-Amro. I SO enjoyed our conversation. See, I could even introduce you to the nice people at ToI who swiped Twilight Fairy’s photo off her Flikr album, printed it in their paper and then offered her 1500 bucks “because they hadn’t asked her in advance”. Such nice people, no? And maybe they didn’t have the time to ask her because they were busy Leading India and Teaching India. Teaching ethics, presumably. Bloody hypocrites.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Line maaro!

Diamond Harbour, winter of ’91-’92. A lovely bungalow by the river, gentle breezes, a flowering garden and a huge verandah with rattan-seat armchairs (“easy chairs”) to sprawl in,. Yet my strongest memory of that idyll is … Tnuk-tu-tnu-tuk, tnuk-tu-tnu-tuk … dekha hai pahli baa-aa-aar / Saajan ke aankhon mein pyaar. The world may have forgotten Saajan - and Sanjay Dutt’s horrific mullet that claimed direct descent from Attila’s helmet - but it is seared into my memory. Thanks to the convoys of picnickers on every holiday, all of them playing that awful number as loud as they could. Strewth!

There should be a list of the Top 10 Bloody Awful Super Hits. How about Tu cheez badi hai mast mast from Mohra? Or more recently, Crazy kiya re, which is doubly loathsome because it is picturised on my Least Favourite Actress of All Time. In the dim and distant past, there was Jimmy Jimmy Jimmy and a series of ’80s atrocities by Bappi Lahiri and his clones (youngsters, think Anu Malik with fewer instruments). Nominations, anybody?

But this post was triggered by happier things. Bongo Pondit’s take on memorable Hindi film “dialogues”, which somehow appeared on my sitemeter this morning. Do Hindi films still have separate credits for “Dialogues”? The taali seeti line seems to be a thing of the past, it’s been replaced by camera angles and the heroine’s navel. Sad. I appreciate Shilpa Shetty’s .. errr… acting as much as the next man, but I’d trade in the entire crop (down to Sherlyn Chopra and Geeta Basra) for one line like “Dawar Sahab, main ab bhi phNeke huey paise nahin uthata hoon” Taaliyaan!

OK, before we start, let’s leave out Sholay. That was the film that started “dialogue karaoke”, with the entire audience murmuring the lines as they were spoken on-screen. Take a look at the others from the ’70s. Before the Amitabh era, there was Anand and Rajesh Khanna’s Zindagi aur maut toh upar waale ke haath mein hain jahanpanah. The repeat in the last scene (remember Maut, tum ek kavita ho ?), the sudden Babumoshaaaai as Dr. Bhaskar Banerjee sobs over Anand’s corpse, still sends chills down my spine. Another isspessul Kaka line was Pushpaa, Pushpaaa, I hate tears in Amar Prem, but that is remembered (and caricatured) more for his delivery than the line itself. How about “Understand? You better understand!” from Seeta aur Geeta? This line – recycled by Sridevi in Laadla (?) - was Salim-Javed writing for Ramesh Sippy before Deewaar happened and they became THE Salim-Javed.

After that, of course, the deluge. That great line from Deewaar quoted above. I prefer that to the jatra sequences of Jaao us aadmi se likhwake laao or Mere paas Maa hai. Zanjeer gave us Jab tak baithne ko kaha nahin jaaye, sharafat se khade raho. Special appeal because my SP once did something very similar with an MLA in the face of a 2000-strong mob. Amar Akbar Anthony had a couple of great exchanges between Vinod Khanna and Amitabh Bachchan, my favourite being Haan saab, bahut phemus hain … bade bade akhbaaron mein chhoti chhoti tasweerein chhapte hain. And that drunk scene in front of the mirror (lifted from Charlie Chaplin), Eeydiut lagta hai tu, pakka eeydiut … SRK has now made the Don lines his own, but pliss to remember that they originally gathered chauwannis in 1978. (The multiplex crowd have never seen sweepers fighting to be the first to clean up after a show. People really used to throw coins at the screen.).

The ’70s were also a great period for comedies. Golmaal, Chupke Chupke (Dharmendra wasn’t even nominated for an award for that superb performance!), Rang Birangi, Angoor –they all had their lines, but mostly in context. Utpal Dutt made the most of that late scene in Golmaal – Main tumhe Benaras ke pede khilaoonga, Kalkatte ka rasgulla khilaoonga, Dilli ke laddoo khilaoonga … nahin toh police ke dande kaise khaoge betaaa? He also had one of the best last lines in Indian cinema, when – as the sublimely named Inspector Dhurandhar Bhataodekar in Rang Birangi – he leaped from his chair roaring BR Chopra ko pakad ke laao! Some years later Chashme Buddoor took forward the self-referential humour. When Farooque Shaikh started a motorcycle (a Yezdi. How many of these kids have SEEN one?) that Rakesh Bedi and Ravi Vaswani couldn’t, they shrugged it off with Tu toh is film ka hero hai.

Slipping into the ’80s, there was the I can waak Ingliss I can taak Ingliss sequence in Namak Halaal, but that was really about The Amitabh Show rather than the script. And of course Rishtey se tera baap lagta hoon in the Second Coming crafted by Tinnu Anand, or the Vijay Deenanath Chauhan line from Agneepath (OK, that was 1990, so what?) Dammit, weren’t there any paisa wasool lines by any other actors during that period? Big B has wiped out an entire generation of leading men even in memory!

No no wait – there was ONE ’80s film that was a cult in itself. Who can forget the Mahabharat cheer haran sequence in Jaane bhi do yaaron! The gloriously misplaced Bhaiyya, main iska zubaan khNeech loon?! The plaintive refrain of Shaant, Gadadhari Bheem, shaant! And the sublime moment when Naseeruddin, having replaced the original Duryodhan, announces nonchalantly Humne cheer haran ka idea drop kar diya hai. JBDY deserves a post in itself, it’s still the acme of dark comedy in Hindi cinema and pretty much near the top 5 among all comedies (if not all Hindi films, but then what do I know).

The late ’80s also had Mogambo khush hua, something we oldies still trot out after a good meeting, but on the whole those years were a little arid in terms of GREAT lines. (What the ’80s had in trumps, really, was Names for Villains. Shakaal. Dang. Mogambo. Kanchha Cheena. I mean, what were they smoking?!)

I have some off-beat favourites from the ’90s onwards. Daud (1997) was a Ram Gopal Varma flop that I liked, especially for an exchange between Sanjay Dutt and Urmila Matondkar in the second half of the film (when they – and the audience - still don’t know each other’s names) –

SD – Toh teraa naam kya hai?

UM (after some Attitude) – Daya Shankar

SD (stunned look)

UM – Kyon? Kya kharaabi hai is naam mein?!

SD (hurriedly) – Nahin, koi nahin. Acchha naam hai.

UM – Toh teraa naam kya hai?

SD (deadpan, turning away) – Uma Parvati!

And Neeraj Vohra with Yeh mere shikaari the, jo bahaauuutt bade pitaji the. Silly to the point of perfection. Where have you gone Sanjay Chhel, a nation turns its lonely eyes to you (especially after horrors like Welcome). Chhel gave Sanjay Dutt another good throw-away in Khoobsurat, again opposite Urmila - Par tu toh maal hai naa Shivani?

There were some heavyweight moments in the ’90s, like Ye dhaai kilo kaa haath jab kisi pe uthtaa hai and Judge order order chillata rahega aur tu pit-taa rahega in Damini. The real line in that film, however, was Taareeqh pe taareeqh, which has echoes of “And the oranges must rot, must be forced to rot” from The Grapes of Wrath (the book – I don’t think it’s in the film).

Then there was Jhankaar Beats, with Shayan Munshi threatening Rahul Bose – Tumhe maloom nahin mera papa kaun hai? And getting his come-uppance with Nahin. Kyon, tumhe nahin maloom tumhara papa kaun hai? There were moments of divine inanity in some David Dhawan films, my favourite being Govinda’s obviously ad-libbed Hum toh bas underwyaar underwyaar khel rahe the in Jodi No. 1.

All in all, it’s the gags that stay in the mind these days. Cheat Update - Yes, I loved Rangeela, Aamir was superb, but the good lines were gags rather than the de taali high drama types. I vaguely remember Andaz Apna Apna and my surprise that Hindi cinema could come up with such throw-away gags, but I also had the impression that the lines were better than the Khans' timing could do justice to. Maybe I was wrong, I shall try and rent it over this long weekend. I like SRK’s line Kaun kambaqht bardaasht karne ko peeta hai, but this, like Don, is a direct lift from the earlier version. Where are the movie lines that resonate in the memory, that stay alive long after the movie has sunk? Is it because the scripts don’t value the big dramatic moments, or is it because actors try to Be Cool rather than heroic?

I’d love to get some feedback on this. Before I’m reduced to googling for “Great Lines By Harman Baweja” or “Mohit Ahlawat – the Director’s Cut”. And hey – how many women in Hindi cinema have had great lines? Forget Meena Kumari, leave out Basanti – what are we left with? Sharmila Tagore in Mausam with Yeh bilayati sharaab saala bahut haraami hai? C’mon, I’m an old MC. Show me the great lines from women.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Auric Goldfinger

His company's web-site doesn't say anything about world domination, but he's ended a 112 year drought. Not all Bindras are controversial.
His Wikipedia entry was updated within an hour of the news. Shows a certain amount of confidence, since it must have been ready in expectation of the medal.

Now to wait for the Colonel's showdown on 12th August.

Update: The Colonel blew up on the launch pad. And I was horrified that the ToI used "Goldfinger" in their headline. Rather than conclude that I have started thinking like them, I shall Assume They Read My Blog. (Now to identify the Other Six Readers. Stand up when I call your names ... )

Friday, August 08, 2008

.. trawling Atlantis / and I still have my hands on the wheel

My weekly trips from Stony Brook to New Jersey on the world’s slowest railroad, the LIRR, were leavened by one mundane activity. Changing trains in the town where he went to school. He finally graduated 25 years after he left – he’d had to leave school to work for a living, and it took them that long and a few platinum discs before they waived the requirement for some English credits. His English is all right, folks. He may hang on to his street-life accent (and serenades) but he writes pretty good. I never actually looked up the school he went to. I like to think that if the situations were reversed, he would have.

Because he is the kind of man I respect the most. An honest trier. Not that he makes a big deal of honesty. Just does his stuff straight up, no frills, no flaming guitars. Which may be one reason why it took so long for him to be accepted as a great. Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, 1999 (though he was inducted into the Songwriters’ Hall of Fame in ’92). He even griped about it in interviews ten years ago. That was right after they started using one of his songs to teach history in schools. Now he’s sixth on the all-time list of album sales. But it’s the minor details that touch me.

That he learnt classical music as a kid. And ballet. Which led to his taking up boxing, because of course the kid who dances in tights has to take on the bullies some time. Won 22 of 24 fights on the Golden Gloves circuit, finally pulling out when his nose was broken in his 24th fight (it’s still kind of blobby). Then he saw the Mop Tops on the Ed Sullivan show and decided that he wanted to be an entertainer. Came the hard years. Quick-dying singles with invisible bands. The first album - named after a working-man’s town near his childhood home - was a disaster, because it was mastered 1/16th too fast and he ended up “sounding like a chipmunk”. The hard years out west, the journeyman period on (how appropriate) Sunset Boulevard that provided the material for some of his biggest hits. The bitterness remained even after the album that had 3 numbers on the Billboard charts, even after the multiple Grammies, because he had signed away the rights to those first few songs. He once said that he must have earned about $7000 from the sale of all that material.

One of my other idols dissed him in an interview to Playboy. Said, in effect, that his songs hovered on the edge of greatness without ever breaking through because his lyrics didn’t “think it all the way through”. Basically, that he could have said more with fewer words. But then he isn’t Paul Simon, he doesn’t deny his early work because (paraphrase) it was so steeped in Eliot that it embarrassed him (which was what Paul said about the Songbook). And oh, his voice. From a purely selfish point of view, perhaps it’s a good thing he gave up classical music. Opera’s loss is our gain. I don’t understand opera anyway, and I feel triumphant – and a whole lot more – when I listen to his voice soaring across nearly 3 octaves in this song. Which is my favourite among his ballads, don’t ask me why. It fits that he should cite as an influence Gordon Lightfoot, another beat-up journeyman with a voice like velvet magic.

He hasn’t recorded a new album in 15 years. About 8 years ago, well before Mama Mia or even the Doors musical, his songs were woven into a Broadway show that turned out to be a major hit. It’s still running. And he still performs. Despite the broken marriages and the broken hopes that led to rehab, despite the broken bones from that motorcycle accident. Had to schedule a repeat of his performance for the farewell to New York’s Shea Stadium before they tore it down. The tickets for the first concert sold out in 45 minutes. (The second went slower. 48 minutes. Damn). These days, he’d rather build powerboats than go in the recording studio. Can’t argue with that, it’s his life. But one of my biggest regrets is that he performs at Stony Brook every other year and I had to choose the gap year to be there.

You know whom I’m talking about, right? If you listen to his stuff, what’s your favourite? Or favourites? And thanks to fellow enthusiasts Partho and Bombay Addict for setting me off on this ramble.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

God knows

Saturday night, after some total chilling by the river near Bhadreswar (there was beer, peace and quiet, great home-cooked food), we started the drive back to Calcutta. GT Road should be clear at 10 p.m.

Except that it wasn’t. First swarms, then hordes, then bloody phalanxes of men tramped in the opposite direction. Gamchhas round waists and sometimes round their heads as well, poles over their shoulders with a pot slung on each end. Some of them carried extra-large poles and pots – we’re talking humongous here, with those things they needed the turning circle of a 16-wheel trailer truck - for extra credit with the gods. All on their way to Tarakeswar to offer libations there. A million able-bodied males wasting days of their lives to pour water over a divine dick.

Then there were the papier-mache monstrosities carried by 4 men at a time. Comic to the point of horror. The Shivas were recognizable, but that hairy thing? Hanuman? What did he have to do with Shiva? (Would somebody enlighten me?) And those goats? On closer examination, they were goats-with-humps, so perhaps they were meant to be bulls. You know, Nandi, Bhringi.

It was just about tolerable at first. But as the night wore on, we found we’d already spent 2 hours traversing half the distance that had taken us 75 minutes in the morning. Through traffic. Very Small Person was sporting, but there are limits to a 4-yr-old’s endurance. She was sick. I was livid.

Near Uttarpara, the road was totally blocked by the human flood. It was past midnight, VSP was curled up in my lap desperately tired but unable to sleep because of the din. (One group was playing the well-known devotional song Tootak tootak tootiyan) We were stuck at a roundabout with traffic trying to come in from the right, a bus trying to back into a side-lane and (suddenly) the first traffic in the opposite direction that we’d seen in 2 hours.

Then it got ugly.

The flood poured through between the stalled vehicles. And expressed their displeasure at finding CARS blocking their route of march. CARS? On a ROAD? What the f*** do they think they’re doing here? Kick them! Thump them! Call ‘em names! Which was what they did. My tolerance was low because VSP was terrified, but I couldn’t even open the door because of the crush of bodies. At the same time, I was sick to my stomach with fear. I’ve seen cars – with people inside – that have been overturned in similar situations. And set on fire.

I can see the other guy’s point of view up to a point. These blokes were tired, footsore, thirsty, aching. A large number of them were also blind drunk. Lumpens. Fortunately, the fit passed. We were left alone. Eventually, the cars moved. We reached home at a quarter to 2.

The point to note was that, for 2 hours and 30 kilometres, there was not a single policeman in sight. No barricades. No markers. Nobody to control traffic. So in that frightening moment at midnight, I called up the District Magistrate. The DM had taken charge about a day before, but she reacted quickly. When I next called from the safety of the Calcutta side of the river, she said that police had “been dispatched”. Normally I wouldn’t presume so far as to advise another officer (no matter how junior) on their job, but (a) I’d been in the middle of it with my family and (b) I’ve worked in that district in two stints and I know that there is a police station and two outposts within 15 minutes’ walk from there. So I suggested that she should tell her SP to do something about this jamboree, which will be repeated every Saturday night for a month. Otherwise there could be a stampede, people might die. The press will bay for her head.

Bad ch’i.

Next day the Naina Devi temple was in the news. Auspicious day my ass.146 dead bodies. Women and children. If this God exists, s/he makes Heath Ledger’s Joker look like a goody two-shoes.

And the day after, they posted personnel along the route. I’m so disgusted I don’t even want to say “I told you so”.

I think the moral of the story is, God might try to kill people in nasty ways, but people should be smart enough to plan against it.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Minor technical problem

See, I had it all planned. Put up a blog. Dazzle Netizens with the brilliance of your prose style. Be trenchant. Acute.

Then wait for the book advance. I tell yer, they’ll be a-beggin’ of me.

Didn’t quite happen that way. What can I do, these chaps didn’t bother to read my script. I’ve been quite devastatingly dissed. (“Pompous but endearing” – yeah right, somebody’s stupid fat great-uncle).Trenchant? Ha! Trencherman at best. Obtuse rather than acute. And not so many Netizens either.

But wonders, the offers did come in. It took some years, but they did. Only the odd article so far, no book deal, but still and all, it’s a start. So all is gas and gaiters, not to mention joy and jollity. Except for one thing.

I still have to write the damn things. The agony.