Monthly Archives: July 2016

Naseeruddin Shah in Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara

Naseeruddin Shah and the Art of Not Giving a Fuck

The debate regarding Rajesh Khanna’s histrionic abilities has been as dramatic as a 70s potboiler. Twinkle Khanna responding in true Bharatiya Beti style, Naseeruddin Shah not giving a flying fuck, tons of comments on social media about the nature of the debate.

But as an actor, one can sympathise with Naseeruddin Shah’s frustration. Whether you admit it or not, most Bollywood films do not seem to follow any semblance of logic. Proof of this lies in the recent film Sultan where the hero undergoes a month of training and wins the Olympic Gold. Most of our films are more concerned with glorifying our stars than stay true to the reason a film is made – to tell a story.

But here one begs to ask the question – is the story really the motive? Most blockbusters seem to have made their very purpose the glorification of superstars, so one can’t really tell. Since Cinema is an art form, any opinion on it is subjective. It is not scientific research that can be held up to universally accepted standards. One can only have opinions, but I must admit I share Naseeruddin Shah’s opinion.

Bollywood has a knack of squeezing out success from its fraternity. If something works, you’ll do the same thing for decades at stretch. Rajesh Khanna broke through the scene as a charming man with a slightly awkward dancing style. And he did it till he looked seven months pregnant. Shah Rukh Khan played the sweet chocolate boy when he was in his early 30s, and was caught in his avatars of Rahul, Raj and Regina till a few years ago. Amitabh Bachchan played the Angry Young Man right up to the time he was an Angry Old Man.

And these are the biggest guys around. Look beyond them, and you’re left with cardboard caricatures. Shatrughan Sinha played an array of loud, embarrassing roles for much of his career, Sunil Dutt played Daaku Cringe Singh for more than 20 films. Many a talented actor have been sacrificed at this altar of Lakhsmi – Satish Shah, Kulbhushan Kharbanda, Navin Nischol and Asrani are a few that come to mind. The only mainstream hero who avoided being typecast in my opinion was Sanjeev Kumar. The man played a wide vista of diverse roles throughout his career, and yet is caricatured as Thakur.

So Naseeruddin Shah is not really off the mark. His autobiography And Then One Day is a brilliant, crackling account of his life and opinions of the industry. In an industry that is perennially bending over backwards to suck each other off, his opinions are refreshing, honest and unforgiving.

Like the time the whole nation was orgasming over Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, a completely mediocre piece of work. Shah, the eternal Thug Life, made a rather unflattering statement about how growing one’s hair and getting a sculpted body doesn’t make you an actor. Or the time he took Aamir Khan’s case for spreading fear psychosis among Muslims of the country. Or how he keeps needling Anupam Kher for his statements. Or when he called Sholay out as the greatest con job, for having directly lifted scenes and shots from Spaghetti Westerns (which is actually 100% true. Ramesh Sippy was a youngster who was exposed to Western cinema, and the characters, scenes, and shots of the film are basically a rip-off of Sergio Leone’s pathbreaking work. Sadly, we in India had no such knowledge and Sholay, which reads, looks and plays like a Spaghetti Western has become the most iconic film – it’s hilariously unfortunate). Or the time when Shah was asked what sort of a legacy he’d like to leave behind, and his answer quite simply was – I don’t give a shit.

Naseeruddin Shah is one actor who doesn’t suck up to the industry, or its so-called superstars. His opinions have been honest, cynical, and hilarious. In fact, if I could choose a personality that best speaks the language of my blog, I’d be choose Naseeruddin Shah.  And Jackie Shroff. Because Jackie.

But this is where things get a little queasy. For you see, Naseeruddin Shah hasn’t exactly been the epitome of versatility in his career spanning thirty years. I chanced upon this while talking to a roommate of mine, who happens to be a Masters in Theatre Arts. It was he who pointed out the fact that Naseeruddin Shah rarely steps out of his comfort zone. And it’s true!

Naseeruddin Shah’s career can be clearly demarcated into three distinct phases. The first phase was in the 70s and early 80s, the truly golden era of Hindi cinema. While India was discovering its first batch of superstars in Rajesh Khanna and Amitabh Bachchan, a motley crew of filmmakers was challenging notions of caste, religion, prejudice and conventions. Shyam Benegal, Saeed Akhtar Mirza, Basu Chatterjee, Govind Nihalani, Gulzar – directors who wrote and shot stories that sought not to merely entertain the audience, but to provoke, agitate, soothe, and calm. These filmmakers were supported by stellar performers like Shah himself, Om Puri, Smita Patil, Deepti Naval, Kulbhushan Kharbandha and Shabana Azmi. The fact that this second crop of films ran parallel to the Deewars and Sholays of the time prove that it was a diverse time, a good time to be alive (also, rock music, hippies, and LSD in general).

Such was the impact of this era that even mainstream actors like Hema Malini and Rekha worked with these filmmakers. Dharmendra, Amitabh Bachchan and Rajesh Khanna acted in movies by Hrishikesh Mukherjee. Probably because it was an era where every film wasn’t compared on collections, opening day earnings, total earnings, NRI box office and other statistical vagaries. The films of the time continue to be my second favourite decade of cinema (after the 90s, for purely biased, nostalgic reasons).

The second phase in Naseeruddin Shah’s career was when he dabbled in commercial cinema, from the late 80s to mid-90s. Naseeruddin Shah stepped down from his leading man status and played second, third and sometimes fourth fiddle to brawny stars with no brains. Films like Zulm Ko Jala Doonga, Vishwatma, Mohra, and Tridev are examples of this phase. The films were trashy, the plots always the same – a bunch of good guys gang up to uproot an evil dictator/drug lord.

These films followed the basic rules of 90s action hits. Like the rule that says,

‘The number of heroes must equal the number of heroines in the film, even if one of them has the screen time of a stray cow on a busy street’.

Or the other rule that states –

If there are more than two heroes in the film, they must sacrifice their lives in the final climax, or die valiantly in the end, as it is impossible to feature more than two pairs in the final ‘The End’ snapshot.

These films are trash-gold if you like watching trashy movies (May I kindly direct you to the wonderful Facebook page – I love trashy Hindi films), but if you aren’t, they are an eye, ear and soul sore.

Perhaps the experience of acting in these films hardened his soul so much, that with the 2000s, Naseeruddin Shah stepped into the third phase, the Don’t Giva Fuck phase.

For the last 15 years, Naseeruddin Shah don’t giva fuck. He has essentially been playing himself in every film.

He is always the old, wisened, wise-crack cracking smart alec. He employs a limited array of expressions, uses his gravelled voice to effect – not too much effort, just a miniscule amount that would make the Salman-crazy crowd to wet their pants.

I can’t remember a single film in the last fifteen years where Naseeruddin Shah didn’t play himself. Here’s a look at his roles in the last fifteen years.

Naseeruddin Shah in Mohra 1994
Naseeruddin Shah in Sarfarosh 1999

Naseeruddin Shah in Iqbal 2005

Naseeruddin Shah in A Wednesday 2011

Naseeruddin Shah in Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na

Naseeruddin Shah in Ishqiya 2010

Naseeruddin Shah in DIrty Picture 2011

Naseeruddin Shah in Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara

Naseeruddin Shah in tHE BLUEBERRY HUNT

The comedy show The Great Indian Laughter Challenge threw up a number of interesting comedians. Their impersonations of popular stars have become a trope, and one finds that the same mannerisms, actions, voices are still being used today to mimic that star.

The winner (albeit completely undeserving) of the show was Sunil Pal, whose set on Veerappan kidnapping Madhuri Dixit acquired a cult viewership. One of the voices in his set was Naseeruddin Shah’s.

Sunil Pal perfectly nails the Shah voice. The voice of Shah in the 90s – when he stepped into the murky world of bad 90s cinema. Unfortunately, that voice remained in the minds of the people. For all his diversity, all the stellar choices he has made as an actor, and the immense repertoire of skills that he possesses, that voice today is the trope that associates itself to Naseeruddin Shah.

For in a country like India, you know you’ve been doing something for far too long when a mimicry artist picks up your nuances.

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I watched Monsoon Wedding a few days back and was shocked by the Naseeruddin Shah in the film. He seemed to enjoy every single moment on screen. He was affectionate, and vulnerable, and clumsy, and when it mattered the most – strong as steel.

I remember going to sleep that night wondering what happened to that Naseeruddin Shah. And if that guy had been buried long ago.

Today, Naseeruddin Shah essentially plays himself. In that sense, he isn’t vastly different from Salman Khan who plays himself, or Rajesh Khanna who played himself for two straight decades.

And I’m still waiting to watch a film by Naseeruddin Shah in the theatres. Still waiting for him to blow my mind.

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Blond Rajinikanth

How much more are you going to milk Rajinikanth?

The madness of Kabali has rained down on the nation, and I’m yet to watch the film.

If you’ve been reading my blogs, you’ll know I’m not a fan of over-the-top masala potboilers. I was curious to see how critics would react to the film, as it is utterly futile to review a Rajinikanth film. Like asking Virat Kohli to deliver a speech in Sanskrit, or Salman Khan to solve a calculus problem.

I was curious to see how critics react to Kabali for two reasons – 1. Most of the critics are from up north, and have minimal exposure or understanding of the aesthetics of South Indian cinema. 2. No critic is going to outright bash the film, as they’d a Salman Khan or Sanjay Dutt film.

I watched the trailer of the film, and I’m sorry to say it evoked no interest in me to go watch it. If anything, the news of 50,000 litres of milk being poured over a stupid cardboard cut-out repulsed me.

The first time I came across the Rajinikanth phenomenon was during my school days. My friends from Tamil Nadu would rave about his films, narrate the stories, and enact the scenes. I heard the stories of most of his 90s hits – Padayappa, Baashha, Muthu, Arunachalam – before watching them on television.

In the beginning, I found it all too amusing. That such a man was the biggest star. I found it ridiculous that Kamal Haasan, who puts in so much into his films, is side-lined by a guy who flips cigarettes into the air and shoots them instead of asking for a lighter.

As I grew older and wiser, and studied Film Studies as part of my Masters and MPhil, I have realised that one man’s ridiculous is another man’s norm. That Rajinikanth is not too different from Tom Cruise who keeps saving the world and dating young girls every few years.

But if you remove the settings, every single Rajinikanth film is essentially the same – one man changing the scenario around him. A man without any weakness, flaw, or trait that would take away from the cult that he carries around like an aura.

I understand fan-worship. I understand devoutly devotion to the man, to an extent where the dynamics of the game don’t matter anymore. The 90s created two such superstars – Sachin Tendulkar and Rajinikanth – both demigods for their fans. The two of them are humble, successful, and polite – in short, they symbolise Indian values that have been revered over the ages.

And yet, like Sachin Tendulkar in his last few years, how good has Rajinikanth really been? Endhiran was a Shankar wet-dream, Sivaji was loud to the point of being funny, Lingaa and Kochadaiiyaan fell into the category of My Friend Ganesha and Bal Ganesh.

And yet, every single film of his continues to revolve around him. Every single film expects him to fight goons, send them flying into the air, struggle with dance moves, romance women half his age – it’s all cringe-worthy, to be honest. The best action scenes in his films are laughable, the romantic scenes seem weird at four different levels – does he really need all this?

While it may pass off as devotion in today’s times, history will laugh at these films. The future generation will make jokes and memes about it, since the films are dishonest in their basic motive – to tell a story. Which is why I like to ask Rajinikanth fans – do you really love the man?

Or do you love what you like to see of him?

If you truly loved him, you’d let him age gracefully. You’d let him play his age, choose films where he has to utilise some of the acting chops that got him his fame in the first place. How long is he going to be dancing for you morons? He looks weak, washed out, and uncomfortable in the fight sequences. How long does he have to keep churning out stuff so you guys can put up a fuck-all update on Facebook and feel ‘proud’ about him?

I wonder what he thinks of his movies. I wonder if they get him excited in the first place. He never gives interviews or promotes his films. Even when he does, he is polite and humble, to the extent where he called Aishwarya Rai a tremendous actor. So one will never know!

Let him go, guys!

From a conductor of state-run buses, he has come this far on his own. He didn’t need you, or your stupid Facebook posts, or all those liters of precious milk poured over his cut-out.

The guy deserves a break. A retirement plan. The choice to choose a film where he doesn’t seem like the ambassador for calcium tablets.

Let go of Rajinikanth. He deserves a more benevolent look-back from history.

But mostly, he deserves a break from you guys!

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Mohenjo Daro Music Review

AR Rahman is generally at his best when in partnership with his friends.

His greatest works have come in collaborations with Mani Ratnam, Gautham Menon, Imtiaz Ali, Shankar and Ashutosh Gowariker. It’d be interesting to hypothesize about the success of these filmmakers without Rahman’s music, but that’s for another post.

Ashutosh Gowariker is back with his next film, and it looks like it took him six years to recover from the debacle of Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Se. He’d earlier taken a six year break after Baazi, coming back with Lagaan.

Gowariker’s earlier stints with Rahman were all major winners, and the two of them come back along with their third musketeer – Javed Akhtar. So does Mohenjo Daro live up to the filmmaker’s earlier collaborations with Rahman?

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Track 1: Mohenjo Mohenjo

The first track in the album begins with Rahman’s tribal sounds, a set of gibberish accompanied by Shivamani’s thumping beats. In a few seconds, you’re looking forward to what’s coming. You see, listening to a Rahman album for the first time is almost a spiritual experience.

If the songs are good, that is. If they’re not, like Blue or Yuvvraj, you begin to question the purpose of life in the first place. It’s alright to listen to Anu Malik make bad music, but for Rahman to do it, is tragic.

The first track sounds familiar, a bit from Behne De, a bit from Ghanan Ghanan. Arijit Singh croons to Javed Akhtar’s rather simplistic lyrics, a problem I faced throughout the album. Lines like Chand aur Suraj donon ne dekha, Mohenjo Daro mein Rangon ka Mela just don’t cut it anymore. They were in vogue in the early 90s, but the analogies sound rather stale now.

Rahman manages to make Arijit sound the most un-Arijit-like, and that’s what keeps you interested through the track, which ends in a crescendo by Shivamani. All in all, the song feels like a performance in a reality shows, where Rahman seems to half-heartedly smile, like he’s itching to get back to his studio and call Hariharan about a new song idea.

Mohenjo Mohenjo leaves you gasping for more, just as the second track, titled Sindhu Ma takes off.

 

Track 2: Sindhu Ma

Undoubtedly the track of the album, Sindhu Ma begins with Sanah Moidutty’s sensuous overtones, and truly kicks off when Rahman comes into the picture. This is the song that plays in the trailer (though that doesn’t seem like a very bright idea in hindsight!).

Rahman makes even gibberish sound magical, and performs a ‘scat-aalap’ that only he could have. Every Rahman album has that one song that gives you goosebumps, Sindhu Ma is that track in Mohenjo Daro.  

The sound doesn’t sound completely original. There are shades of ‘Tum Ho’ (Rockstar) and ‘Kaise Mujhe’ (Ghajini). The track doesn’t bother with staying true to the time period the film is set in, using violins and synthesisers, but all that’s forgiven since it’s Rahman.

Javed Akhtar’s lyrics continue to disappoint, with lines like Paas aake bhi maun hai tu, Yeh toh bata kaun hai tu. The kind of lyrics Sameer used to churn out in the 90s – Tu hai jeevan mera, Tu hai jaaneman mera.     

The song ends in classic 90s boy-band love-track manner, opting to shift to a higher scale at the end. I felt a tinge of sadness as the song came to an end, perhaps as a premonition about the rest of the album.

 

Track 3: Sarsariya

Crooned by newcomers Shashwat Singh and Shashaa Tirupati, Sarsariya begins on exotic footing – gibberish, flute, and drums. And yet, it has the half-hearted feel of the tracks of Asoka. I have a feeling this track will be used as the heroine’s entry song. Javed Akhtar continues to dish out lazy lyrics with lines that go – Sab hai mere sapne, rang hai sab apne.

Shashwat Singh has an interesting voice, but the track switches tracks too quickly for you to invest in it. In fact, the track is quite annoying and I couldn’t wait for it to end.

 

Track 4: Tu Hai

This is a rehash of Sindhu Ma, but a more sanitised version of the song. It lacks the magical beginning of the Sindhu Ma, and if the trailers are anything to go by, will be sung by the leads when they find love in each other.

There are traces of Rahman’s beauty in the track, but having heard the earlier version, this seems like yesterday’s Chicken Biriyani that’s been refrigerated and reheated. It’s Rahman nonetheless, and I gave it a full listen out of respect for the man.

 

Tracks 5, 6, 7 : Whispers of the Wind, The Shimmer of Sindhu and Lakh Lakh Thora

What sets Rahman apart from his contemporaries are his stunning background tracks. While most music directors lazily employ pieces from songs in the film as background music, Rahman actually composes stunning pieces of music.

Listen to Slumdog Millionaire’s Latika’s Theme, or the haunting Bombay theme, and you’ll know what I’m talking about. Which is why I wanted to listen to the three tracks that come with the album.

However, these are mere rehashes of the songs on the album, and nothing to write home about. You might enjoy Whispers of the Wind if you’re smoking a joint alone in the night. The Shimmer of Sindhu is a rehash of Tu Hai, and Lakh Lakh Thora is the last track of the album.

 

VERDICT:

Mohenjo Daro fails to stir up the kind of emotions that Rahman is used to when collaborating with Ashutosh Gowariker.

If my theory – Rahman Knows – is anything to go by, the album and the impending film might be headed for a disaster. But one can never be sure about these things. The soundtrack of Mohenjo Daro is strictly ordinary, and only for die-hard Rahman fans (which is probably half the nation anyway!).

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(If you’re a Rahman fan, you should check out other articles on the man – Rahman on Coke Studio, and How I Knew Jab Tak Hai Jaan Would Be Crap)

MMTS Hyderabad - Heartranjan.com

The Weirdest MMTS trip of my life

I have been fascinated by trains and railway stations since my childhood.

My earliest imagination of trains was of large Rakshashas, billowing smoke from their mouths, carrying people on their back, crushing those in front of them. Since I studied in a hostel, much of my childhood was spent in travelling to and from home in trains.

I would fantasise about being a train engine driver, driving from place to place. When we were going back to my school, I’d imagine an elaborate drama where the train runs over a meditating Rishi on the tracks, who’d open his eyes and curse the train to never reach its destination.

Now that I live near a railway station and the MMTS is my primary mode of transportation, I keep taking pictures, observing people, noticing their quirks. The trains are where I do most of my writing – the humdrum, the honking, and the crowds provide a perfect platform for my mind to take flight. I take pictures, capture sounds, and mind-map my ideas for future writings.

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I have written about Hyderabad’s MMTS system earlier (Read the blog here).

It’s a fascinating network that runs on the basis of goodwill and good moods. The trains follow no particular timings, there is nobody to check tickets, and it’s a system that is running by God’s will. I have had many a fascinating trip on the MMTS trains, but none as weird as the one yesterday.

Before I begin, allow me to provide a disclaimer.

Every single word below is true. I have no way to prove it to you, and you have no way to cross-check, but allow me to say it nonetheless. I have always wondered how such things happen around me. A friend of mine chides me about this, wondering how such things always happen when I’m around. I have given it some thought.

Perhaps it is because I am obsessed with stories. I’m constantly on the prowl for interesting stories, funny incidents, and curious happenings. I walk up to people and begin conversations; I pick people’s brains about anything that intrigues me. Perhaps that’s the reason.

Or perhaps it’s because I’m a stoner. A stoner is constantly collecting material to narrate to his/her friends. As a stoner, life is a constant swing between premise and punch line, a marathon of funny and interesting incidents that could be narrated to friends the next time we get high together.

And yet, I wasn’t stoned yesterday. I’ve given up Pot, but more about that in another post.

Yesterday, I was as clear in the head as Sachin Tendulkar on the first day of a Lord’s Test. And yet, I hereby declare that every single word below is true to the best of my knowledge.

Place: Hyderabad

Date: 14th July, 2016

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I was to travel from Begumpet to Sitafalmandi, a distance of 15 minutes, with five intermediary stations along the way. The journey usually takes ten minutes, and I lay down on one of the platform benches with my book – Satyajit Ray’s Adventures of Feluda.

This particular story revolved around a theft in an old haveli, and the afternoon heat and my comfortable position slowly lulled me into a soft slumber. I woke up when a friend called, and realised my train was arriving in a minute. I rushed to buy myself a ticket, and hopped on to the train after inquiring if the train went to my destination (you can never be too sure with an MMTS train!). It was, and I hopped on to the train.

It was a typical evening on a local train. 4 PM is a time when corporate slaves haven’t been unleashed from their cages yet, so the commuters are mostly college students, or hawkers, or people travelling with bags to a suburb on the outskirts.

There was no space to sit, so I leaned against a seat and opened my book. Standing right next to me was a young chap in formal attire, a laptop bag slung across his shoulders. On his right wrist, the following words were tattooed – Roll, Camera, Action!

I began doing what I always do. Perhaps he was an aspiring director. Perhaps like me, he has lots of stories that never saw the light of day. He was immersed in his phone, and I looked away and dived back into my book.

Feluda was taking his time in catching the culprit, giving away unwanted clues to throw me off the tracks, leaving both me and Topshe rather frustrated. In a few minutes, my favourite hawker in the world stepped in.

He has five minutes to sell his wares, and an active clientele who have nothing to do but to listen to him. He puts up an elaborate show that would put the folks on Home Shop 18 to shame. This man sells unique products on the train, a new product every week. Sometimes it is a juicer, on other days a tiny weighing scale.  Today, it was a gold plated chain that a Delhi company had kindly agreed to sell for 20 rupees only.

My favourite hawker in the world is back!

A post shared by Hriday Ranjan (@heartranjan) on

 

The train reached Secunderabad, and I managed to get a seat for myself. I got back into the book, and Feluda was now quizzing the suspects. Which was when I heard a voice from the platform – ‘Excuse me?’.

I looked out of the window and a man who’d been travelling with me was looking at my book. ‘I noticed that’s a Satyajit Ray book, which one is it?’ I showed him the cover and he nodded. ‘Are you a filmmaker?’ he asked me.

‘No, but I’m an aspiring writer’. ‘Oh! I am a filmmaker, can you give me your number? I’m travelling to Vizag right now, but I’ll be back in a few days’. I hurriedly noted down his number, he rushed away to catch a train to Vizag, and I got back into my book.

The train took its own sweet time at Secunderabad, choosing to bask in the sun for ten minutes. Since I had nowhere to rush to, I got back into my book. Feluda was now thinking about the crime. Topshe was as confused as I was, and I was gleefully getting into my favourite part of a crime – the unraveling of the mystery – when loose threads are tied up and the culprit is rounded up.

I looked up from my book and found an old man sitting by the door about ten metres away from me. He must have been about 65, there was a walking stick next to him, as he sat on the floor, his legs huddled up against his body. His beard was red – not orange – but blazing red. His chin protruded out, making him look like an older Muslim Suppandi. Next to him, a woman lay unconscious.

It is a common sight to find men and women drunk on MMTS trains. Most of them get on a train and lie down by the door, letting the train take them to their destination. The old man had a lost look on his face, looking up, and then down, and then from this side to the other. It was then that I noticed his hand.

Hidden behind his legs, his left hand had slipped into the woman’s blouse, and he was giving her breasts quick, frantic squeezes. On and on he went, changing his hands every now and then. I closed my book and stood up; three people rushed to take my seat.

I walked up to the man, and he quickly slipped his hand out of the unconscious woman’s blouse.

‘What are you doing?’ I asked him.

He turned to the woman, a look of pity and disgust on his face. ‘She got drunk and passed out’, he said. The woman continued to lie unconscious – she was in her late 30s, slightly stout – probably a hawker who had too many glasses of Gudumba – the locally brewed alcohol in Telugu speaking areas.

‘Yes, but what are YOU doing?’ I asked him. He looked into my eyes, and knew in a second I wasn’t fucking around with him.

‘What am I doing? I’m sitting here’.

‘Jhoot mat bol, buddhe. I saw your hand inside her blouse, you horny old fuck’, I said, putting forth my best Hyderabadi accent. The old man looked out of the door, but by now, a crowd had begun to gather.

The two of us were surrounded by a crowd of about ten people, most of them college students getting back to their homes. A few of them had seen him too, but had chosen to keep quiet about it. The crowd was getting bigger now, and the man stood up shakily on his walking stick.

The crowd parted to make way for him, as he spent the next few minutes walking from one end of the compartment to the other. Like nothing had ever happened, like he was an old man taking a morning walk.

The college kids spent the rest of the journey heckling the old man. And hell has no fury as a heckling Hyderabadi.

Kya re, buddhe. Nehru zoo ka bandar jaisa dikra tu, aisa kaamaan karta? one of them said. Arey dekh re, buddha khada ho gaya, lekin buddhe ka khada nahi hua’. On and on they went, till he walked up to the other door and stood by it.

My station arrived, and I got down. The train stopped for about 30 seconds, and chugged away.

I noticed the old man had gotten down from the other door. He hobbled away on his walking stick, the woman continued to lie unconscious by the door, the train slowly pulled out of the station.

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salman-khan-sultan-820

‘Sultan’ is Shawshank Redemption for poor people

While drafting this piece, I spent considerable time working on the title. Should I use the word ‘poor’?

I’d initially gone for ‘Dumb’, but that’s a broad generalisation. Who am I to determine if those watching the film are dumb? May be they’ve grown up with sad friends, or difficult circumstances. Maybe they got dragged along grudgingly with their friends.

I am not a rich man myself. It’s not Rober Vadra, typing away on a jet while three Congress Pradesh Committee members polish my shoes. But the word ‘poor’ is more encompassing than ‘dumb’. One be financially poor, or even aesthetically.

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In Sultan, we see Bhai as the Robin Hood of cinematic aesthetics. Stealing from the riches of the West, only to distribute it to the poor here in India. For, how can a youngster in India have access to cinematic gems like Shawshank Redemption?

How does one take time out from gymming to watch sporting wonders like Raging Bull? How can one expect them to watch Rocky – 4, when life throws you Zayed Khan’s Rocky – The Rebel?

Not for sale in Netherlands cos their govt. didn't want citizens to suffer brain damage en masse.

Not for sale in Netherlands cos their govt. didn’t want citizens to suffer brain damage en masse.

How does one take time out from shopping for Being Human T-shirts, when one is merely Lucky – No Time for Love – to survive in today’s times? One needs to carry one’s Garv – Pride and Honour – where’s the time or resources to watch Shawshank Redemption? Or even read the book by Stephen King? By the time one finishes shopping for blue bracelets, one has become Baaghi – A Rebel for Love.

Bhai understands all this.

Precisely why Bhai brought all those films, thrashed them to pulp, squeezed the metal handle of the juicer with his enormous arms, and handed it to his fans.

Which is why the film shows Bhai as a 30 year-old-vagabond who decides to learn wrestling to impress a girl. In a month, he has won the District Wrestling Championship. In a few months, he has won Gold at Asian Games, followed by the 2010 Delhi Commonwealth Games, and (please don’t hold your breath), the London 2012 Olympics. By this time, Bhai is so tired of winning Gold that he actually bites the medal and waves at his fans. I wonder how wrestlers feel about that.

As I watched the scenes and heard the hoots and applause, I felt strangely benevolent. Let them enjoy this, the poor people, I thought, feeling like a kurta-wearing History major from Jadavpur University. Let them enjoy the monsoons, I thought, for they have no access to hot showers and jacuzzis.

*

Irrespective of what I think of the film, Sultan firmly establishes the fact that Salman Khan is truly the biggest superstar in Hindi cinema. When every scene, every line, every shot is created to elicit whistles and applause, it is futile to analyse the film.

We’ve seen this earlier with Rajini Kanth and Chiranjeevi films, but never in Hindi cinema. Bhai is present in each and every scene, his star-status towering over the story, script, director, and the whole point of the film. This can only mean two things.

1. The next few years will be a golden run for Bhai as the biggest superstar. His films will mock film critics to the faces, and run to packed houses irrespective of cinematic techniques.

2. Every film, however, will truly suck. There’s no other way to put it. If one looks at Rajinikanth’s films, they’re all huge hits, but when observed objectively, they’re well and truly shitty films, that do nothing but further elevate a god-man into a god.

Salman Khan is the Dharmendra of our generation. Many years down the line, our children will watch Salman Khan’s films on Zee Cinema, which I have no doubt, will continue to exist. Zee Cinema is the cockroach among Indian TV channels.

Our next generation will wait for us to leave the house, light up joints, watch Sultan win the Olympic Gold, and giggle.

***

wun wun thumbnail

Wun Wun Didn’t Need to Die

Now that another season of Game of Thrones has come to an end, life is a bleak ten months of waiting, thinking, speculating, theorising, and cursing George R.R. Martin.

I know what you’re thinking – every show has fans waiting for an entire year. But no, it’s deeper than that. You see, I assume you have a job, a social life; or perhaps you go to college, have exams and stuff to take care of. I belong to the occult cult called Research Scholars. We are the White-Walkers of the academic world, meandering about in the harsh winter, without hope, happiness or warmth.

Our lives are not determined by targets, success, or failures. Life is but one endless pasture, and we are buffaloes cursed to graze till the end of time. The grass isn’t greener anywhere, the grass is a dank, dark brown and the peddler charges 500 bucks for amounts that would make you cough blood in disgust.

In such circumstances, it is only George RR Martin who brings us something to cheer. For you see, Research Scholars are a twisted lot. You’ll never find a Research Scholar bingeing on Friends. Or How I Met Your Mother, or any of that fluffy stuff. You’ll find them hooked on crooked TV shows – from Breaking Bad for starters, to Hannibal for those in their final year of research. And Game of Thrones is the proverbial mango (what the hell is a ‘proverbial mango’ – you see what an academic life does to you?).

But perhaps the biggest reason why Research Scholars love The Song of Ice and Fire series is the fact that George RR Martin is a bit like us. He promises earnestly to submit his work by the end of the year, and then turns in absolutely nothing. He then asks for another year of extension, knowing fully well that there isn’t much hope.

And perhaps for the first time, a book series and TV series are taking two different paths. With earlier works of fantasy, be it The Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter, the films were merely an extension of the written word – if you read the books, you knew how they would pan out. But with The Song of Ice and Fire, fantasy has become a reality show. More than the storylines, the characters, the overarching story arcs, what keeps me riveted from a writer’s perspective is how the old man is going to tie all the threads together.

The point of my rather weak argument above was that I have to spend another ten months in penance, thinking about imaginary kings, their wives, and their imaginary kids.

*

Season Six wasn’t the favourite for a lot of people. But so high are the standards set by the TV show, that a mediocre season still far outshines the other tripe that passes off as television around the world.

True, there weren’t shocking moments like The Red Wedding, or sharp twists and turns like the earlier seasons, but perhaps this is the middle phase of the series. May be the series is taking a breather, just running slow in the penultimate lap, saving up energy for the flaming final burst that’s coming at the end.

The Battle of the Bastards was a visual spectacle, and a genius bit of filmmaking. But it was expected to be epic. GRRM has reached a stage where people would be disappointed if their minds weren’t blown away.

And yet, I hold a few grudges, primarily against Jon Snow and Davos Seaworth. For a quick rewind, Jon Snow has collected his forces to face off against the Boltons. Snow’s army consists of the Mormonts led by a young Uma Bharati, and a few other houses. There are also the Wildlings, who have no real skill or experience in the battlefield, as their armies were mostly cobbled together by relatively less-evolved forms of battle.

They were being led by Jon Snow, the Sri Ram of the show. The man who can do no wrong, the Maryada Purushottam, the most predictable character on the show. While Jon is known to be a terrific fighter, and has witnessed more gruesome gore than all the Northern bastards put together, I’m not a fan of his leadership skills. But even Jon Snow can be overlooked. The guy died and came back to life; it must take a while to recover from that kind of an experience.

My real grudge is pinned against Ser Davos Seaworth. The Onion Knight, as he’s referred to by acquaintances, is known to be a master planner, an uncanny strategist. He was given the title after smuggling onions to help Stannis Barthomley survive a war. He also regularly gives Melisandre Swami Vivekananda-esque lectures on morality, goodness and the right thing. However, in the Battle of the Bastards, Davos Seaworth’s contribution was equal to that of Shatrughana, the useless brother of Lord Ram.

While the Battle of Bastards was heavily skewed against them both in terms of numbers and tact, their deployment of Wun Wun, the absolutely callous nature of it – has given me sleepless nights.

Wun Wun, whose full name is Wun Wun Weg Wun Dar Wun, was your strongest bet in an army that comprised carpenters, butchers and blacksmiths. What were you thinking, making him rush into the battle with his bare hands?

Wun Wun wasn’t just a giant with brawns, he was more intuitive than that. When he is first introduced at Hardhome, he is seen keeping the Dragonglass for himself, refusing to return it to Dolorous Edd. Wun Wun was also the first Wildling to stand by Snow when he asked for their help in fighting the Boltons. When the White Walkers attacked Hardhome, Wun Wun was the only one who put up a fight, ripping their skeletal bodies to bits. He also wielded a huge log of burning wood, which proves he wasn’t really what Ravi Shastri would call ‘a bunny with the bat’.

Wun Wun was the only saving grace in a battle that seemed to have been planned not by a master strategist, but a five year old boy high on Butterbeer. For one, why wouldn’t you give him a shield of sorts?

Protective armour made of metal to keep away the arrows and spears, which would seem like mere toothpicks to him anyway. It couldn’t have been the weight, obviously. One could argue that the giant didn’t want to don protective armour, but Wun Wun was certainly not the unreasonable kind. He might not be able to sing a Frank Sinatra ballad, but as Sunil Gavaskar would say, ‘the boy had a firm head on his shoulders’. Surely he could have been coaxed into wearing protective armour if it made him near invincible.

And secondly, why would you send him to battle unarmed? He is your (only) trump card, and you send him running in empty-handed? Are you kidding me, Jon Snow? How do you think Eddard Stark would feel about this? He would’ve given you a nice little shave with his longsword ‘Ice’.

Just think of the options available before Jon Snow and Ser Davos Seaworth.

1. Wun Wun wielding a giant axe.

Not only was Wun Wun blessed with gigantism, he also had immense strength, as witnessed by earlier incidents when he expressed his fascination for popping people to their death. If Wun Wun had been given a giant axe, one swipe could lead to the death of twenty Boltons. It would have neutralised the military formation that the Boltons used to screw Jon Snow’s army over.

 

 

wun wun large axe

 

2. A burning log of wood.

If the Boltons chose their sigil (The Flayed Man) to intimidate Jon Snow’s army, why does he always need to play by the book? They should have combated fire by fire, using Wun Wun to strike fear in the hearts of the opponents. Imagine Wun Wun running wild with a burning log of wood, swatting and roasting Boltons wun by wun.

wun wun fire

 

3. A swinging mace of fire.

This would have made for spectacular viewing. Wun Wun swinging a giant mace of fire at the end of a huge chain. This not only intimidates those watching from a distance, it also ensure that the enemy cannot match forward, as they’ll have to beat the centrifugal force of a rotating ball of fire. Come in touch with it, and you’re roasted. Try to breach the force, and the metal chains send you flying off into the distance. Jon Snow had 2,400 men in total, and Ramsay Bolton was leading an army of 6,000 men. Assuming one swing of the ball eliminates 20 enemies, Wun Wun could have made mincemeat of the enemy army, sweeping away thousands in an hour. But, no! Jon Fucking Snow has to charge in and save his brother himself!

wun wun ball of fire

 

4. Intimidatory tactics:

It is known that Ramsay Snow is a master intimidator. He feeds off fear, flashes it around and drives it deep into his enemy’s hearts. He began the Battle of the Bastards in stellar fashion, stumping one and all with his innovative tactics of shooting a teenage boy from the back. Jon Snow, unfortunately had no such tactic. He has grown up watching Sunny Deol’s Gadar on Zee Cinema and wants to enter Pakistan and uproot handpumps by himself. Imagine before everything began, Jon Snow positioned Wun Wun at the back, holding a giant placard, just to show Ramsay who’s the boss.

wun wun intimidatory tactics

 

But no, Jon Snow and Davos Seaworth had to use Wun Wun like TCS uses an MBA from Wharton University. Underutilised, undervalued, and left to die a sad death in the hands of a cruel man. Is this what he deserved, Ser Davos Seaworth?

I have spent considerable time with you in the books, and you were one person I had immense respect for. You stood up for what is right, risking your life and your neck for it. You held deep resentment for the Lady in Red and rightfully took her to task. Your heart bled for little Shireen when no one else seemed to care. Why did you have to do this, Ser Davos?

Wun Wun didn’t need to die such a ghastly death. He should have lived, that gentle giant. He should have been frolicking in Winterfell right now, feasting on fresh fruits, lying down on a warm bed, planning the future endeavours for The King of the North.

He died because you and Jon Snow can’t stop thinking about your own selves. Your trips, your moods, your dumb-ass ideas. He deserved better, Ser Davos. 

And Ygritte was right. You know nothing, Jon Snow.

*****

anil kumble

What sort of a coach would Anil Kumble make?

When I heard that the war for India’s next coach had boiled down to a battle between Anil Kumble and Ravi Shastri, I knew Kumble would win hands down.

Especially since the panel consisted of Saurav Ganguly, VVS Laxman, and Sachin Tendulkar.

You see, these guys have worked with Kumble. They have travelled and played and lived with the man. They know what he’s all about.

*

For those who began watching cricket in the 2000s, allow me to give you a short introduction to Anil Kumble.

Anil Kumble is the greatest bowler India has ever produced.

Yes, there are those who will mention Kapil Dev – but his value to the team was mainly as a bowling all-rounder. There is my favourite – Javagal Srinath – the fastest vegetarian bowler in the world at one point. The older ones might mention the spin quartet of Bedi, Prasanna, Venkataraghavan and Chandrashekar.

But my nomination will go to Anil Kumble. There aren’t many ‘heroic’ stories around the man. Most cricketers leave ‘moments’ that epitomise the player. Venkatesh Prasad went out of character and immortalised himself with the Aamir Sohail moment. Sachin Tendulkar’s Sharjah was an exhibition of a man at his peak, against the best. Dhoni will always be the man who struck the shot that won us the World Cup. Anil Kumble doesn’t have many such.

There is the legendary ‘bowling with broken jaw’ incident, the 10 wickets against Pakistan; but nothing else about the man lent itself to folklore. Back then, the Indian dressing room was a jamboree of sorts.  There was Sachin, the Lord Ram of everything – pure, unblemished, righteous and supreme. Ganguly, the angry young Bong-man who had arrived on the scene. Azharuddin, the man loved by commentators, gossip columns, and Harsha Bhogle. Jadeja – the ladies man who featured with petite models in Close-Up ads.

Then there were the representatives from below the Vindhyas, South Indian Gentlemen bowlers Javagal Srinath, Venkatesh Prasad, Venkatpathy Raju, and Sunil Joshi. The South Indian Brotherhood had a few principles – they’d never abuse a batsman, they’d walk back silently if provoked, they’d clap if a batsman reached a personal milestone. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi would have been proud.

Venkatpathy Raju trying to act cool by holding a bottle of champagne. We all know they didn't drink any of it.

Venkatpathy Raju trying to act cool by holding a bottle of champagne. We all know they didn’t drink any of it.

It is difficult to slot Anil Kumble in either of the categories.

He was educated, like the other South Indian brothers in the team, and yet he wasn’t calm and affable like his brethren. He rarely made the news, nothing was known of his life off the field, except for his passion for photography. He featured in no advertisements, except for NIIT. The only business venture he made was a video game with his brother, which Sidin Vadukut reviewed as being ‘marginally more interesting than picking one’s nose’.

He broke into the team as a wiry, wily, leg-spinner who bowled with spectacles and a wrist watch. Long before Daniel Vettori, Anil Kumble donned large, Dawood-style glasses and silently devoured sides with his bouncy leg-breaks.

anil kumble young

But it would be wrong to label Anil Kumble as a docile man. He was hardly docile, the man. On the field, his face resembled a Kathakali dancer’s – emotions running wild, eyes glaring, sighs of disappointment, hands raised in frustration at a sloppy fielder (which, honestly was more than half the team).

Kumble wasn’t a very large spinner of the ball. He bowled quick, with very little turn, choosing to surprise the batsman with pace, bounce, and just the slightest turn. That’s the standard description of the man. Read any essay, any commentator talking about him, and that’s what they say about what he did.

But what he truly did was wipe out sides. Kumble would wait for the moment. About three wickets down, a big score to chase, or a hot, sweaty day in Vadodara, when he’d bring out his bag of tricks. The one that moved in quickly and didn’t turn one bit. The one that turned just a little bit after pitching at driving length. The one that turned the other way. Or the faster one, where his pace was comparable to Venkatesh Prasad’s.

Anil Kumble wiped out oppositions, choosing his best for the tail. Many a tailender have poked and prodded, and left completely bamboozled. It helped that he consistently had the world’s best slip-fielders at his service. Mohammad Azharuddin who could pluck catches out of thin air. Or Rahul Dravid, who displayed zen-like concentration for days on a trot. All Kumble needed was one mistake. One mistake, a momentary lapse in concentration, and someone would be running away with a red ball in hand. Anil Kumble wiped out sides like a determined aayah in a boys’ school.

But that wasn’t all Anil Kumble did, he also got pissed off. A lot.

anil kumble

The persistent image of Anil Kumble is of a man who would glare at you such that you could feel your insides burn. Drop a catch off his bowling, and he’d give you the look of an urchin pickpocket, of a low-life imbecile.

I remember a match where Saba Karim dropped a few catches, Anil Kumble glared at him for a few seconds, like a Maths teacher before the Pre-boards exam. He stared at him while taking his cap and handkerchief (there was always a handkerchief), and probably all through the next over from Third Man.

Nobody was spared Kumble’s wrath, not even the umpire. His bowling required immense concentration on the umpire’s part, a veritable nightmare. A poor decision, and Kumble would turn around and dish out a sigh, and a look of utter disappointment. Like a son who just caught his father drinking away his pocket money savings.

You could do a lot of things in the Indian dressing room in the 90s. You could date supermodels, throw away matches, and feature in advertisements for cigarette companies. But you couldn’t fuck with Anil Kumble.

No, sir.

*

So what sort of a coach would Anil Kumble make?

It’s been a decade since he has left the Indian dressing room, and much has changed. India is no more another Asian competitor; it has risen in ranks, like Petr Baelish, right up to the top. The game is different, and so are the players of today.

Saba Karim comes across as a calm water buffalo when compared to the beasts in the Indian dressing room today. A generation of players spoken about 24*7, one that’s ready to whip out a quote for the ages, participate in a reality show, launch businesses, and spew obscenities at the opposition.

How is Kumble going to deal with such a team?

Is he going to fling away Rohit Sharma’s phone every time he pouts for a selfie? Is he going to make Suresh Raina spend the entire night in the nets, dodging short balls? Is he going to make Jadeja write an imposition – ‘I will work on my batting more than a beard’ a thousand times? Is he going to advise Parthiv Patel to buy a plot in Mumbai and plan for the future?

The choice might have been made, but I doubt the Indian cricket team has a true grasp over what they called upon themselves. Anil Kumble is a suave gentleman on good days. But I doubt you’d want to spend a bus ride in Harare with him after a batting collapse.

kumble ishant sharma

News reports have already begun to flow in. Reports of the team being whisked away to an undisclosed location for a ‘One Hour Challenge’. There is surely more to come. Practising running between the wickets by wading through an army of charging buffaloes. Field practice by plucking fruits while dangling from a delicate tree.

You brought this upon yourself, Indian Cricket Team.