Monthly Archives: April 2018

Imperfect Sanjay Manjrekar

Book Review: ‘Imperfect’ by Sanjay Manjrekar

I have always felt that great cricketers make poor writers.

Writing requires the discipline and sage-like patience of the first session of a Test match. And I believe most great players have run out of their patience and hence choose to either steal cheeky singles or go for the almighty slog while writing their books.

I had read Allan Donald’s White Lightning – but the book tells us a lot about the man, his thinking, and his motivations – but reveals little about apartheid, and the colourful days of South Africa’s return to cricket. Shoaib Akhtar’s Controversially Yours suffered from the author ‘performing’ too much. In his effort to present a colourful story, Shoaib sacrifices narrative for histrionics.

And then, the most boring book I’ve ever read in my life – Sachin Tendulkar’s Playing It My Way – written in collaboration with Bore-ya Mazumdar. Sachin’s book – like his track record in Rajya Sabha – is devoid of any excitement. It has been stripped of any human emotion like fear, envy or resentment.

Which brings me to Sanjay Manjrekar.

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My earliest memories of Sanjay Manjrekar are of confusing him with Sachin Tendulkar. They were both openers, and around the same height. They both batted with impeccable technique, but for a few key differences – Sanjay wore a white helmet and played a lot slower than Sachin did.

He was however, a terrific fielder – and has pulled off some amazing catches in his playing days. I also recall that he retired sometime around 1997 and then went on to sing songs, before finding his voice in the commentary box.

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Now, the problem with writing a book in India is the classic India question – Tune Kya Kiya Hai, bhai?

It is a problem people like Sanjay Manjrekar and Murali Karthik face in the commentary box. Every time they make a comment on a player’s game, the first thing trolls ask on social media is ‘What right do YOU have to talk about a player like Kohli’? Unfortunately, in our pea-brained understanding of critique, you have to achieve something equal or greater than the person you are critiquing to be able to say anything about the person.

Sanjay Manjrekar – a well read and erudite cricketer – knows the importance of an impactful first chapter. And he takes a leg stump guard from the very first ball. In fact, the very first line in the book talks about how the author has never touched a bat since the day he retired. That his idea of a perfect day is to sit in the darkness of a theater and watch a movie. That if his father wasn’t Vijay Manjrekar, he probably would have been something else in life.

Sanjay Manjrekar understands the importance that cynicism plays in the life of an Indian, and rests those fears from the first over. Having forced the reader to change his line and length, Sanjay Manjrekar goes on to play the steady, assured innings that he had built a reputation for.

What Manjrekar does differently – and thank god for that! – is refusing to rabble in numbers and statistics. I find most Indian autobiographies to be detailed statistical sheets. What he does instead, is to make it an engaging personal story. The name ‘Imperfect’ makes a lot of sense as you go on to read about the man, his obsession with technique, and the constant, looming fear of a perfectionist.

Instead of cramming the book with chronological numbers and statistics, Manjrekar takes a path of his own. The first chapter is dedicated to his father – the legendary Vijay Manjrekar – and yet, he does not adopt a reverential tone. Chucking a chronological narrative, the author has divided the chapters as ‘Pakistan’, ‘West Indies’, ‘Australia’ – and my favourite – Mumbai school of batting.

Shivaji Park in Mumbai.

Shivaji Park in Mumbai.

Having read Arvind Adiga’s Selection Day, I have been fascinated with Mumbai, and the constant churning out of batting geniuses who arrive from the jagged shorelines of Mumbai. In the chapter ‘Mumbai school of batting’, Manjrekar lays bare the grind, grime and grit that makes Mumbai kids bat for days at stretch. There are wonderful snippets – like the ‘mantra’ Mumbai kids tell themselves before every ball – ‘I am not going to get out this ball’.

The book also changed my opinion on a few characters – Ravi Shastri and Gavaskar, for example. I generally find the duo overbearing and omnipresent. But reading the book, I was able to see Shastri in new light. A man who could have chilled out, joined politics, run a business – and earned millions. But the fact that he has been involved with cricket since the day he retired – is proof of his love for the game. Similarly too, with Gavaskar. There are heart-warming stories of Gavaskar being Sanjay’s senior at Nirlep (cricketers in those days worked desk jobs during off-seasons), and how Gavaskar would give him advice to tackle bouncy pitches from his cabin.

There is also my personal favourite – the much-maligned Manoj Prabhakar. Stories of his humanity, his jest, and how he was the first Indian bowler to learn the art of reverse swing from the Pakistanis. One of my pet-goals in life is to redeem Manoj Prabhakar in Indian media, and Manjrekar’s book paints a warm picture of the man who bore the brunt for match-fixing.

Instead of talking down to the reader, Sanjay peppers the book with wonderful anecdotes

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But more than anything, the book is an honest portrayal of the man himself. For someone who sounds unabashedly biased towards India in the commentary box, Sanjay Manjrekar displays tremendous maturity as a writer. He is comfortable talking about his slide, his lack of form, or the need for fame.

He has no qualms admitting that he wanted the ‘fame’ that came with Indian cricket. He admits to shouting at Mumbai bowlers while he was the state captain. He also admits that he was not the most talented and used hard-work and OCD-levels of preparation in his technique. He bares his heart out in the portions where he was dropped from the national side, and on playing in the domestic league after tasting the giddying heights of being a national player.

Sanjay Manjrekar comes across as a logical, rational, disciplined man. A man obsessed with his craft, a man who clamoured for fame, but also realised when he saw Rahul Dravid, ‘that his time was up’.

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The last cricket book I read – Sachin’s Playing it my way – reads like a Sanjay Manjrekar innings of the 90s – slow, safe, steady. Sanjay’s book reads like a Sachin Tendulkar innings in the late 2000s. He starts a little shakily, takes time to settle in, and then pulls out glorious drives, completely at ease.

Sanjay Manjrekar’s Imperfect could not have been better named. It is humane, witty, and a thoroughly satisfying read. I’d go so far as to say it’s the best cricket-based book that I’ve read.

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Why Indians cannot connect to Shape of Water

Why Indians Cannot Connect to ‘The Shape of Water’

Directed by Guillermo del Toro, The Shape of Water swept away the Academy Awards, winning Best Picture, Director, Original Score, and Production Design. The story of a mute woman who rescues and falls in love with an amphibian god had swept the world away.

I have never been a fan of the Oscars and hate the way they are looked at as the gold standard for cinema. Nonetheless, I walked into the hall and took my seat amidst a fully packed hall. In spite of the Indian government’s best efforts to make you squirm in your seat before the movie begins, there was a sense of excitement as the movie began.

Around half an hour later, I found that the audience wasn’t really enraptured by the film.

You can always tell when the audience is blown away by the film. There are stray giggles that escape in the darkness, gasps and groans that dance in the silent darkness. There was none of that in this movie. It didn’t take me to long to figure out why.

As Indians, we have seen this premise over and over again. Picture this – what comes to your mind when I tell you the following premise?

The underdog protagonist is going about life, when an otherworldly creature enters their life. The protagonist can’t help falling in love with the creature, as they see themselves in new light for the first time. After changing the protagonist’s life, the creature has to go back to its world in a heartbreaking climax.

What image does this description flash in your mind?

If you are an Indian who grew up on local cinema, there are high chances you can name at least three movies with a similar theme. The most obvious answer would be Koi Mil Gaya. Not only did it have a blue creature, it also used halogen lights that lit up when Jadoo was happy or excited.

I also remember watching a film called Sahasa Veerudu Sagara Kanya, where a young Venkatesh rescues a mermaid who acts like Shilpa Shetty. Indian cinema has an obsession with otherworldly creatures – apsaras and fairies and angels. We also have movies with dogs, horses and elephants as lead characters. Not to mention our obsession with snake-women!

(ALSO READ: The Greatest Bollywood Snake Movies of all time)

 

The most horrifying ‘outerworld’ movie I’ve seen though, is an Odiya film called Keun Duniyaru Asila Bandhu (Which world have you come from, friend?). The filmmakers wanted to capitalise on the success of Koi Mil Gaya, so they hired a midget, painted him brown, gave him a little space suit and made him dance around. The result was a creature who would give Odiya kids sleepless nights for years!

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Indians have watched the story play out screens over and over. To an extent where the story isn’t gripping enough anymore. Admittedly, Guillermo del Toro is a visionary – a unique filmmaker amidst factories that churn out wholesome packages. But how can a delicate love story compare to the excitement of Moti the dog killing Amrish Puri to avenge Jackie Shroff’s death in Teri Meherbaniyan?

 

How can Indians be moved by the Amphibian God leaving to his world, when they’ve already seen Ramu the elephant sacrifice his life for Rajesh Khanna? Which emotion in the world can compare to Rohit Mehra getting dissed by the computer teacher for being unable to copy a folder?

You see, Indians cannot be excited about the shape of water – we have songs called Paani ka rang vekhke. We are quite familiar with the shape, colour, and shape of water. To make a film a hit in India, you need to have Salman Khan blasting his way to Mars, and then convincing three aliens to be nice to three other aliens.

Guillermo del Toro is a visionary and a modern great. The Shape of Water has been garnering accolades around the world. But sorry, Mr. del Toro, we are used to more. We are used to extraterrestrial beings talking to us and praying to Krishna. The film is great, but it did not have any songs, and there was no post-interval twist.

So good luck with your next movie, Mr. del Toro! Or as Jadoo would say-

‘Dhooooooop!’.

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