Author Archives: Hriday Ranjan

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.

*****

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!’.

*****

Sudan Rhino Tinder

The Art of Guilting People into your Ideology

Last week, Sudan the last Northern White Rhino died in Kenya, signaling the end of a species.

His death raked up a social media storm, and animal lovers shared his pictures countless times across platforms. While the incident itself was tragic, it ruffled a few imaginary feathers in me.

Firstly, who is an ‘animal lover’? I like dogs and cats, and will stop my commute if an animal is in danger – does that qualify me as an animal lover? And even assuming I’m counted as an animal lover, what REALLY is my contribution to the cause – except for a personal gratification of feeding a needy stray puppy?

But more than the death of the animal, it was the tone of the social media posts that irked me. They all had this condescending tone to them – ‘Hey, while you were surfing through your feed, the last Northern White Rhino just died. Thanks a lot!’.

I find this preachy tone extremely toxic. And that is the reason why I do not jump on to social media campaigns. Most such campaigns exploit people’s anger against an imagined enemy – a nameless, immoral person who is responsible for all the problems in the world. The knack of burning the imagined enemy has been in vogue in the last decade.

Take for example the Anna Hazare anti-corruption campaign in 2011. I was never for the movement because I found it vague and dangerous. However, the campaign worked because the imagined enemy was a corrupt politician – a vague image of Danny Denzongpa in a Sunny Deol movie of the 90s.

Or take the run up to the 2014 elections. Media organisations started throwing out terms for Narendra Modi. Dangerous terms like ‘mass murderer’ and ‘Killer of Muslims’ were used by columnists and our nation’s intellectuals. Every single follower of Modi was called a ‘Bhakt’ – a highly insulting and generalising term that chastises someone for having basic expectations from politics. And how that backfired!

Modi swept to power, and his fans went on to give their own names to mainstream media – Presstitutes. Today, nobody on either side of the political spectrum trusts the other, and even a Facebook discussion on politics takes a few minutes to descend into anarchy.

The framing of an ‘imagined enemy’ is both dangerous and lazy. It is lazy because it gives journalists and social media influencers a low-hanging target. In the same way that Arundhati Roy paints the ‘establishment’ with broad, blood-red brush-strokes to draw attention to the problems of tribals, it is such lazy journalism that gives rise to hatred and mistrust. It is dangerous because there will always be a backlash. By pinning a villain to every problem, you are turning people away  from an otherwise noble cause.

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During my University days, I used to closely follow a political organisation that claimed to run on the lines of Ambedkar’s ideology. I attended a few meetings, and wanted to get to know the organisation better. I had just read Mr. Ambedkar’s Annihilation of Caste, and my head was ringing with the ideas the great man had propagated.

And yet, I was highly uncomfortable in the meetings. The rhetoric was filled with hatred and abuse, the enemy was this imagined Brahmin who was vehemently torturing lower castes physically, mentally and emotionally. And when I came out of the University, I found that most urban, general caste people have the same hackneyed opinion about reservations and the caste problem.

Or take my favourite pet peeve – vegetarians. Vegetarians walk about with an invisible halo, like they’re blessed children of god who have unlocked the truth. And everybody else is a moron who is yet to see the ultimate truth. As a pure vegetarian who saw through the hollowness of vegetarian argument and now eats all animals and birds – I fucking can’t stand it. The funny thing is, most Indian vegetarians will peddle PETA videos shot in the US to prove their point. The even funnier bit is that most of these guys are vegetarians not because they truly understood the issue – but because their family is vegetarian. That’s like trying to create a mathematical equation to explain the superiority of your family name – to win a fucking argument on Facebook!

 

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Social messages cannot be divisive. If you wish to bring about change, you need to be inclusive. By antagonising and chastising random people, nothing really is achieved. You have the same number of people who disagree with you, with a few more who hate you for being an insufferable prick

Targeting an ‘imaginary enemy’ alienates people, and gives rise to the classic Indian question – What did YOU do for the cause? It is lazy activism and makes your come across as a weirdo with a 11 inch rigid unicorn-hair wand stuck up your ass.

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I am sorry Sudan died, but I don’t know how else to say this – YOU DIDN’T DO SHIT!!

Your contribution to the cause was a grand total of NOTHING. You live in the same time as the other people you chastise, burn the same fuels, and consume as much toxic plastic and waste that your imaginary enemy does.

It’s sad that Sudan died, but making me feel guilty for it isn’t going to bring him back to life. So shut the fuck up!

*****

Of Hockey bats, tyres and torches

In spite of following politics keenly, I am usually ambivalent towards the Supreme Court.

For one, I do not understand the legal world too much. The closest I have come to legal matters is by dating a lawyer, and the only cool thing that came off that was juicy gossip about some venerable legal personalities in the country.

Then there is also the question of understanding. Can I, a Commerce graduate who studied journalism, and now tells jokes on stage for a living – fully understand and imbibe the workings of the highest court of the country? Can a B.Com (Hons.) comment on the Honourable Supreme Court?

I think of it this way. Inside my head, there’s a cynical monkey waiting to go ‘Bola tha; sab chutiyaap hai’ at the drop of a hat. Whenever there’s news of a hero of mine accused of a heinous act, or if the tiffin guy gives me less chutney to go with two idlis and a vada – the monkey gets into action.

This cynical monkey is waiting to go ‘Bola tha’ when I read about Supreme Court mishaps. But deep within, the existential question of ‘Are you smart enough to even understand what’s going on’ – a feeling that last arose while watching Humraaz – crops up at the same time.

But given my limited understanding of legal matters, the Supreme Court’s recent observation warmed by cold, cynical heart. While hearing a case against a Gorkha Janmukti Sangha leader for violence in the region, a bench of Supreme Court judges announced that destroying public property and indulging in violence is not a basic right, no matter how genuine the reason might be.

Read – Violent protests not a basic right: Supreme Court (The Hindu).

This is a phenomenon that we have taken for granted in India. The habit of political parties taking to the streets and burning vehicles, destroying property, and pelting stones. From Kashmir to Kanyakumari, political parties employ jobless youth in arson and loot – and we stay indoors and watch the news on television.

Nobody raises a word, nobody lodges a complaint. Sometimes, the threat of violence is used as a bargaining ploy. On other times, parties announce their presence by burning and breaking. This is a habit that unites all political parties in the wide spectrum of ideologies in this country – this is the common thread – the knowledge that havoc can be wrecked. On the contrary, when a teenager complained on Facebook about the mess due to the death of a political leader, an FIR was filed against her.

I wonder what gives us the absolute confidence to take to the roads. Perhaps it is the nature of our festivals – Holi and Diwali. Celebrated by everybody, out on the roads. And I don’t just mean Hindu festivals either. Muslim festivals are equally outdoorsy – whether it is Muharram processions or Christian carnivals. Our festivals are also celebrated along with other mobs.

A decade ago, one would hear of violence from the norther parts of India. North India, that discordant where the prettiest locations give birth to the ghastliest incidents. But of late, there are reports of vandalism and violence even in the North-east, arguably the most well-behaved part of the country. As if that wasn’t enough, this has become a common sight in south India too.

And what protests they have been! Who can forget that shady guru who had AK-47 wielding devotees protecting their guru. Or those bunch of morons who burnt cars to defend their godman – Ram Rahim Rapist. Or the demands for reservations, or for a separate state – the latter always baffles me. It’s like saying ‘Hey, give us our own state, or we’ll fuck up the one that we already have with us’. And what happens if you get the state, but you’ve broken all the infrastructure? Well, who gives a fuck?

Ironically, the most famous man from our country was famous for a non-violent protest. Like the Kamasutra, non-violent protest is another branch of knowledge that we rarely resort to in everyday life.

Another possible reason for the increase of public violence is the media spotlight that these incidents gain. Bajrang Dal wakes to life when Valentines’ Day is around the corner. Karni Sena has made a name for itself by protesting against Padmavat – inadvertently looking like a bunch of nincompoop morons due to the excessive praise and bravado dialogues in the movie. With 24-hour coverage, the violence has gotten louder, more destructive. And no political party will take real action because grassroot workers of every political party are involved in these incidents. From Congress to BJP to TMC – every political party in India has a history of public violence.

However, if we needed an example, we need to look no further than the farmer protests that happened last week in Maharashtra. These were not urban, English-educated folks; and yet, the dignity with which they handled themselves makes one question the purpose of literacy in our lives.

When the first strains of news about the protests began flowing in, the response from urban Indians was sickening. Log into any news site, and you saw youngsters putting up moronic statements like ‘These guys just want freebies. They are a waste of taxpayer money’.

I’m sick of hearing urban Indians complain about ‘taxpayer money’. What is the fuss about taxpayer money? The term is thrown around every time reservations, or subsidies are mentioned. Should urban India only enjoy the benefits of taxation? And you’re not doing anybody a favour by paying your taxes – it’s your fucking duty!

The farmers’ protest was exemplary when compared to the usual rowdy Indian standards. There was no violence, arson or looting. They came in huge numbers and arrived in the city early in the morning so as to avoid disrupting life of the average Mumbaikar. They put forth their issues, got an assurance from the Chief Minister, and silently went back to their lives.

For all the talk of ‘taxpayers’ money’, those farmers showed us that literacy and wisdom are two diverse concepts. That we might be a developing country, but we are far from being a civil state.

 

*****

Weird Nipples

Movie Review – Padmavat(i) – Kaafi Tatt(i)

I have refrained from talking about the Padmavat-Karni Sena issue because it is embarrassing to think of.

That a fictional character would be exalted to the status of a goddess, misplaced pride would lead to death threats being issued in the open.

I find the issue of pride laughable. How can you be proud of being a Rajput?

‘Pride’ is to be felt when you belong to a world champion sporting side, or if you discover a new metal, invent a new technology – that is pride. What the fuck is Rajput pride?

How can you feel ‘pride’ about being born in a particular clan, when you have no choice in the matter? You did no work to be born in a particular clan. Your parents had sex, and sperms were transferred from the male organ to the female organ.

At that time, there was no viva voce conducted – Hello, Mr. Proud Sperm, which clan would you want to be born in? Aryan? Dravidian? IITian?? Nothing of that sort happened. So what the fuck is this pride that people keep harping about?

I have seen educated urban friends of mine put up statuses expressing pride in their clan, caste, religion, creed and blood group. I do not know what to make of it. After entering my 30s, I have reconciled to the fact that some things in life are twisted, and there’s nothing one can do about it.

But I digress.

This is about Padmavat, the movie.

Even though I have been panning Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s films for ten years now, I have a secret admiration for the guy. He has a vision of his own (even if they are hallucinogenic visions) and he goes ahead and executes his projects.

In spite of all his awards and recognition, Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s greatest achievement in cinema has been to get Salman Khan to emote, a task that amounts to getting a rabbit to attend a 21 day workshop on Hatha Yoga. But Bhansali’s films suffer from a key problem.

You always know the ending of a Bhansali film. Whether it is Rasleela, Devdas, Guzaarish, Bajirao Mastani. It is the same with this film too – you know exactly how the film will end. Especially since the director has clarified to Karni Sena morons that there is no dialogue between the two stars, that they do not share even a single scene, and there’s absolutely no interaction between them.

In fact, you get a sense of this when the many disclaimers come on, before the movie begins.

This is based on a poem from the 16th century poem – Padmavat. There is no intent to harm anybody’s feelings.

So you know there’s going to be masturbatory dialogues to glorify Rajputs.

The film does not intend to glorify Sati

So you know there’s going to be a ten minute, slow-mo, climactic shot of Sati, a money-shot involving yellow, gold and red – Bhansali’s own RGY colour format.

No animals were harmed in the making of this film.

So you know that all the animals shown will be whipped up by underpaid Indian animation artists. Which is why when Alauddin Khilji turns up with an exotic ostrich, it resembles a bird from Chhota Bheem.

After eight movies, the Indian viewer has gotten used to the opulence and grandeur. The viewer is looking for nuance and story, and Bhansali offers none of that. The film begin with Deepika Padukone, who is introduced as the warrior princess who lives in the kingdom of Bahubali Sets. She’s fierce and strong and independent and all that, but you know she’s going to end up as the second wife of the king, the noble Raja Moron Singh.

On the other side, there is Alauddin Khilji, essayed by an earnest performance by Ranveer Singh. A role so earnest that he does everything the director asks him to do. If this was a Muslim majority state, Bhansali would have been stoned to death for depicting Muslims in bad light. To uphold the fragile prestige of one group, Bhansali demonises the other.

His Alauddin Khilji does everything one can to appear evil.

Evil Ruler Things

Quite naturally, he hears of Padmavati, and decides to attack Chittor.

Which then brings us to the other king in the story:

Raja Ratan Sen.

King of Chittor,

Works at Pouter @Pouting.

Owner of weird nipples.

Weird Nipples

If he just ran to Khilji and showed him his nipples, Khilji would have given up the war and turned Buddhist.

Shahid Kapoor’s interpretation of an upright king is to play him stiff and uptight. Not only does Raja Dishaheen Singh look like Padmavati’s younger brother, their love scenes look like a kinky Rakshabandhan fetish video.

This is where Bhansali slips. To massage the fragile ego of Karni Sena, he makes Shahid’s character mouth absurd Rajput-praising lines every few minutes.

While wearing his clothes: Jo samundar paar karey, woh Rajput.

While eating food: Rajput ghee lagaake khate hain, Dalda nahi.

While bathing: Raput Nivia Mens Body Wash use karte hain, Lifebuoy nahi.

On and on and on, till you actually wish for Khilji to attack and fucking kill the guy. Drive a sword right through him and then get him trampled by elephants.

Ironically, after mouthing all the bravado, Raja Pout Singh goes on to commit the most moronic mistakes a 13th century ruler could.

He invites an oppressor who openly threatened to take his wife away (Khilji was a one man Karni Sena), and then has lunch and plays chess with him. As Khilji camps outside his fort and supplies have been cut off, he hides the fact from his people, instead choosing to celebrate a grand Diwali and Holi.  

He goes to Khilji’s camp all alone, without a weapon. What were you thinking? That is Alauddin Khilji, not Raju the Postman. If there were memes in the 13th century India, Raja Bawaal Singh would be one.

There are so many Rajput-appeasing dialogues in the movie, that you begin to laugh at the irony when Shahid Kapoor jumps from one faux pas to another. If anything, Karni Sena should be offended by how stupid Raja Wierd Nipple Singh is shown.

He escapes from Khilji’s captivity, only to walk up to him and mouth some garbage dialogues; resulting in the death of 800 soldiers, including the Chief Commander, who loses his head because his king never chose to use his own.

In analysing the movie, I may have inadvertently found the solution to the Karni Sena backlash. Bhansali needs to employ those jobless Karni Sena activists as interns in his Editing Department. He badly needs an editor of his movies – Padmavat lags and jags and drags and sags.

By the end, you want Khilji to get it done with, and Rani Padmavati to jump into the fire. You don’t even get that, because there’s a slow-mo, jerk-off Johar scene. For some reason, you are treated to a shot of women of all ages and sections of the society jump into a large flame. That this is a source of any pride is honestly revolting!

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Decades later, Padmavat will feature in a Bhansali Kalaeidoscope in film festivals around the world. While introducing the movie, it will be remembered as the film that raked up a storm because a bunch of morons decided to milk it for political mileage.

It will be remembered as the film for which he got death threats, a film that whipped up a frenzy in a nation already crippled with a number of other problems.

But as I walked out of the movie, stuffed with soft drinks and popcorn, and stepped out of the mall on to the cold, winter night, I was looking for bonfires to jump into, and end my life.

*****

India South africa test

An Angry Rant about the First Test vs South Africa

Before I begin,

If you do not follow cricket, this post might not be for you. I am sorry; I had resolved to write lesser about cricket, but who can explain to bawra mann? 

Also, if you’re the kind whose general reaction to everything in life is ‘Tu karke dikha’ – kindly stop reading. The only way to go from there is to bang one’s head against the wall.

I cannot play for India. I do not wish to play for India, and even if I did, the closest I could get to the pitch is the cheap tickets in Barabati Stadium. But that does not mean I cannot have an opinion on matters. We are human beings after all, and prone to anger and rants.

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If you looked at the scorecard decades from now, the picture you will get of the Test match is of India folding up in two and a half days to a ferocious South African line-up. However, unlike T20 cricket, Test cricket thrives in between the lines of the scorecard. The intervals between overs, an inspired bowling change that runs through line-ups.

What the scorecard will not show decades later, is that India actually had a chance to win the match. There were a few sessions where you’d assume India was going to win it. When I closed my eyes, I could see Kohli taking off his shirt and dancing to ‘Tenu suit suit karda’, as Shikhar Dhawan does the bhangra next to him (where, unlike while batting, his footwork is impeccable).

While we are on the topic, let us begin at the top of the order.

1. Shikhar Dhawan 

It’s baffling what he’s doing at the crease. He seems woefully out of touch, and to his credit, stuck to his natural game. However, a lot has been said about this ‘playing your natural game’ bullshit; what they don’t tell you is that greatness is about adapting. If playing one’s natural game was such a great trait, Venkatesh Prasad should be among the greatest batsman. The man played his natural game for 15 years – to hold the bat and swing it like a drunk Amazonian Shamans driving away spirits. He was picked over KL Rahul, a player with a decent overseas record, and the next few weeks seem difficult for Gabbar Singh.

 

2. Murali Vijay 

I actually quite like Vijay, simply for the reason that he has the ability to leave balls consistently. Anybody can hit the ball, but to watch the ball leave the bowler’s hand, follow the trajectory, track the lateral movement, judge the bounce, and then let it go – is an intricate skill that requires the practice of a shaolin master and the temperament of a monk.

In this Test however, Murali turned up as Vijay in Puli, slashing at everything outside Off Stump. Even though he will definitely be picked for the Second Test, Murali needs to stop being Vijay and start being Arjun Rampal – wooden.

 

3. Cheteshwar Pujara

Pujara is the last of a generation.

A breed of batsmen who play to save matches. Who will take everything you throw at him, and softly knock them down. Amidst gladiators and butchers, he’s a calligraphy artist sitting under the shade of a mosque. Pujara doesn’t rake in the moolah in T20 leagues, he isn’t seen in ads and interviews. He simply takes guard and leaves balls.

Pujara couldn’t build on solid starts in the first Test. And even when he does, he takes as much time as Shah Jahan took to build the Taj. Pujara needs to step up, as he’ll be our mainstay Test batsman in the grueling tours to England and Australia.

 

4. Virat Kohli 

Since becoming the Captain, Virat Kohli has been going through a beautiful, psychedelic purple patch. Centuries, double-centuries, interviews with Gaurav Kapur that show his softer side – it was all going smooth for Cheeku.

But being the captain of the Indian team is the most stressful job in the country. Virat Kohli has to juggle his impeccable form, a team that often turns up like it’s hungover from a Bacherlors’ Party the previous night, and alien conditions.

Kohli looked solid in both the innings. Unlike his other brethren, Kohli didn’t mistake batting for fishing. He was middling the ball well and even counter-attacked the ball in patches.

I know it is easy to comment in hindsight, but Kohli’s choices with the bowling department actually gave us whatever chances we had of winning the match. However, his choices in the batting department seemed like a friendly school captain picking his favorites.

 

5. Rohit Sharma

Mr. Talent.

Mr. Super Talent.

Mr. Super Duper Earth-shattering Orgasm-inducing Talent.

Never wins us matches in difficult conditions.

In spite of all his one-day heroics, I not a huge fan of the Hitman, because pressure gets the better off him. He’s great when the pitch is flat as a highway and India is batting first against West Indies in Haridwar.

But you cannot select a player to an away Test series, based on his One-Day form in Vadodara. It defies all sorts of logic, even that of ‘current form’ that Kohli spoke about after the match. A lot has been said about Sharma’s ‘natural game’, but I think it is more about ‘natural conditions’.

Rahane might not hit the double-hundreds and blow kisses to his wife. He might not be the captain of the richest IPL side. He might not be the sort who appears in ads for children in supermarkets.

But he’s a better Test batsman.

 

6. Hardik Pandya

A dream Test debut, except for the fact that India lost the match in two and a half days.

It is difficult to expect Pandya to apply himself and play the waiting game. Some things just don’t work like that. Can you imagine asking Sehwag to sit with you through a game of Brainvita? He would break the plastic board and shove the marbles up your alimentary canal.

It is the same with Pandya. His contribution with the bat at the lower order is extremely important, and could change matches. In fact, the only time South Africa looked vulnerable in the match was when he was on song.

Sure call-in for the next Test.

 

7. Wriddhiman Saha 

Adbhut, adamya. Saahas ki pari-bhaasa hai
Ye mitati maanavta ki aasha hai
Foreign pitches pe, yeh magician hai
Ye insaan nahi nahi hai ye avtar hai
Wriddhiman…Wriddhiman…WRIDDHIMAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAANNNN

(Wriddhi Wriddhi Wriddhimaan…Wriddhi Wriddhi Wriddhimaan).

Wriddhiman is a strange creature. The face of a horse, the temperament of an elephant, the batting skills of an orangutan. Wriddhiman Saha displayed all the composure of a newly-married man in his in-laws house for the first time.

He flashed at balls that he thought he could smash. He blocked balls that turned their face away like a miffed girlfriend. He poked at balls that turned and zipped. He did whatever the fuck he wanted.

He is a good keeper, but his batting is the stuff of art. I wish he remains in the team just so I can see him bat. It’s cathartic and self-harming at the same time. Like Main Hoon Indra the Tiger on Zee Cinema at 11:30 in the night.

 

8. R. Ashwin 

Another bowler who is Aamir Khan on home pitches, but quickly transforms to Kamaal Khan on away pitches. R. Ashwin however, brings in a lot more than his bowling – his calm, zen-like batting. His technique seemed stronger than anybody else’s in the team. And it isn’t even his main skill.

In fact, I wonder what could be the main skill of a spinner on fast, bouncy South African pitches? Ashwin will continue to remain in the team, and should look to quickly go through the overs and remember that life is an interval between pain and pleasure. That he needs to grin and bear it and see out 2018, and Srini Mama will organise four tournaments with Zimbabwe and Gwalior.

 

9. Bhuvneshwar Kumar 

The only potential match-winner in the team, it is hard to dislike Bhuvi.

He bats like his life depends on it. He swings the ball both ways. And is probably the first Indian pacer to add a few yards of pace to his bowling without losing his ability to swing the ball.

Unlike the batsmen of the team who are all bravado and Chak De and moustache-twirling, thigh-slapping mushtande, I like how the bowlers in the Indian team carry themselves. They are quiet, unassuming, and go about their job without any hungama. In their company, even Pandya looks like he’s read a few Paulo Coelho books to keep up.

 

10. Mohammed Shami

I doubt there are any Shami fans in the country. The guy looks like a carpenter you’d call on Urban Clap, has no histrionics to offer, and runs in and bowls fast like a disciplined, hardworking IITian.

In fact, the only times Shami is in the news is when moronic Muslims troll him on Twitter. I wonder if it gets to him. A lackluster test for the man, but still a better bet than Ishant Sharma. Shami has never played for long stretches of time due to injuries, and once shudders at the thought of him being dropped for Ishant Sharma.

Ishant Sharma is only in the team because he doesn’t get injured. And Shami is absent from the team only when injured.

 

11. Jasprit Bumrah 

A surprise package that could be dropped for Umesh Yadav in the second Test, this is Bumrah’s first grueling tour. In the next few months, Jasprit will realise what it means to be an Indian fast bowler.

What it means to be clobbered around by opposition batsmen in spite of the conditions offering pace and bounce. What it means to look around the ground and find none of the other pacers want to have a go.

*

While the bowling unit over-performed throughout the Test, India’s batsmen look like they came on a family tour to South Africa that was sponsored by the State Bank of India. Half the batsmen through their wickets away. KL Rahul and Rahane were left out for two swashbuckling batsmen who didn’t really swash their buckles.

The second Test will be the real Test. Questions will be raised. Fingers will be pointed. Blood will be bayed for.

And oh, somebody pointed out that Kohli’s average after marriage is 16.5 !!

queen lisa haydon kangana ranaut

Rani Should Have Ended Up with Vijayalakshmi (And other stray thoughts on the movie ‘Queen)


On January 1st, I vowed not to be a slacker, and to go about doing my work in a timely, hardworking manner.

On January 2nd, I was lying like an endangered polar bear on the couch, watching Queen on television.

*

Most films that I enjoy in theatres do not stand up to the challenge of a second viewing, but I found Queen to be utterly watchable. In fact, I enjoyed the film even more on second viewing. Since I knew the general direction of the plot, I started noticing smaller things in the film. Like the bit where Rani removes her sweater and appears to throw it into the crowd, only to stuff it back into her bag. And how, a few seconds later, she takes the waitresses’ fire-helmet, and then promptly puts it back on her head!

Queen was easily the movie of the year. The makers of the film had to tread a very fine line, as there were a number of traps that the films could have fallen into.

Firstly, it ran the risk of resemblance with English Vinglish, which was also about a conservative Indian woman moving to the West for a few days and discovering herself. English Vinglish also had the female lead developing feelings for a white man. Also, both the films featured music by Amit Trivedi too.

Queen also ran the risk of becoming a fluffy, female-transformation films. The ones where two girls – – one modern, the other conservative – meet and become friends. The modern one takes the conservative one shopping, to a parlour. And the conservative girl walks out leaving behind her complexion, upbringing, culture, personality, and older clothes.

The film could have also gone the ‘road movie where character does drugs and discovers her inner self’ sort of a movie. But it steers clear of all those plotholes, charting a course of its own.

The dialogues of the film are spot-on too, thanks largely to some fantastic acting by the others – Rajkumar Rao – who’s a goddamn chameleon – and the rest. Also, Queen will forever be Kangana Ranaut’s finest film. It’s like one of those Sachin innings from the late 90s. Right from the first ball, you know the guy’s in fine form today! Right from the first shot, Kangana knocks it out of the park. It’s the kind of role that, if essayed by a male star, would have been called ‘revolutionary’, and ‘genre-bending’.

*

Keeping pseudo-academic analyses aside, there was one lingering thought lurked in my head while I was watching the film.

Rani should have ended up with Vijayalakshmi.

I know it sounds like the rabid fantasy of a college-student, but if you dig deeper, you’ll find that there’s solid reasoning behind my argument.

The two share an oozing chemistry from the moment they set eyes on each other. In spite of being utter contrasts. Their clothes, the lives they lead, their moral compasses, even their acting skills – one actress is playing the role of her lifetime, the other is barely managing to walk across an ice-lake.

In fact, there’s even a moment where the filmmakers (probably) doff their hat to Before Sunrise. After the two get drunk, Rani is babbling about hiccups, when Vijayalakshmi stretches her hand out and touches her cheek.

I don’t mean an overt Haye rabba, Rani! Tune ladki se pyar kar liya sort of a moment. But even a subtle nod would have done. Like the glorious bit in Dedh Ishqiya where the two women express their love for each other using Vishal Bharadwaj’s beautiful brain.

But the modern world wouldn’t allow it. The idea would be bashed for fetishizing gender descriptions in popular culture, and a few debates would rage on the Internet for a few days, before we move on to Taimur Khan breaking the Internet in Papua New Guinea.

Rani and Vijayalakshmi should have ended up together, waving a gigantic Indo-French middle finger at the guy. The two of them would have been happy. Chintu would have been happy. The Universe would have been happy.

*****

Youtube ads

How I inadvertently solved YouTube’s Advertisements Problem

There’s an episode in the British futuristic, dystopian TV series Black Mirror, where people have to exercise to generate electricity and then get to enjoy the ‘merits’ they earn by consuming media.

I feel like that when I’m on YouTube, thanks to YouTube’s advertising policies, easily the worst aspect of Google’s earth-encompassing services. You can’t really get rid of YouTube Ads. Yes, I’ve heard the suggestions – AdBlocker, using a proxy/VPN/Aadhar Card – but there’s really no way out of them.

I had tried all the ghar ke nuskey – only to finally chuck them altogether. There was really no point, and I’d accepted that there will always be annoying ads before I watch a video of my choice.

Till last week.

*

I got myself a new laptop – HP Omen i7 because people invariably ask me what model it is – and was installing all the prerequisite apps on it.

I have shifted from Google Chrome to Opera Browser and when I was setting up the browser on my new system, it asked me to choose my Language Settings. I chose English – UK as my default language. The only problem? I was too stoned to realise that I’d chosen ‘Uk’ – ‘Ukraine’. The fine ladies and gentlemen working in Opera and Google took my word for it and since then, I’ve been flooded with ads from Ukraine!

At first, the ads were simply bizzarre. I thought it was a bug in the system, and that it was a one-time occurence. But the ads kept coming, and it took me a few days to realise what had happened.

I began to weave fantastical accounts of life in Ukraine. There were ads for children’s toys that showed a couple humping each other. The ad for an apple juice brand consisted of a zoom-in shot of a sweaty cleavage for ten seconds.

After the first few days, I began to enjoy the ads. They were a welcome change from the clingy Indian ads that beg you not to ‘Skip Ad’. Now, I look forward to seeing ads from Ukraine before my video plays on. It’s like a free upgrade on a service I didn’t even order in the first place.

My curiosity led me to look up the country, and I found a number of mildly interesting facts. Like Ukraine has one of the oldest constitutions in the world. I also learnt that the nation is obsessed with booze and IT – a trait I could connect to as a foster Hyderabadi. I also learnt that Ukrainian women are considered the prettiest in the world, and *surprise surprise* there’s a place called Odessa that houses the prettiest people in the whole world.

I was clearly born in the wrong Odessa, for Odisha has no such history. We are a state that loves to cook food and eat food and sleep in the afternoon for a couple of hours. That’s literally every Odiya person, ever.

 

*

I might not have really ‘solved’ the YouTube problem – that might be stretching it. What I managed to do, however, was inadvertently shake off YouTube’s powerful analytics and personalisation tools.

Now, before looking for a YouTube video, I look at the ads that are being shown to me. I haven’t skipped an ad in weeks now, and gleefully watch every single ad that I’m shown. As we speak, I’m being shown an ad for a watch where a young couple (dressed in swimsuits, of course!) meet inside a swimming pool and say something to each other, softly.

I think when India becomes intolerable – as I’m sure it will; considering Aamir Khan has said it would. Aamir Khan can predict the future. During the promotions of Lagaan, he’d said ‘Yeh picture chalegi’, and the film did work. So there!).

So once India becomes too intolerable to live, I will move to Odessa in Ukraine.

And take a walk through their supermarkets too see where the steroids are stocked.

 

*****

Humans-of-Hindutva-Facebook-Image-for-InUth-2

Thank you and Goodbye, Humans of Hindutva

While you were browsing through adorable pictures of Taimur breaking the Internet, one bit of news slipped past the bullshit that we call news in our country.

‘Humans of Hindutva’- a spectacularly funny parody page – has been shut down after the owner received death threats from saffron dicks. It was a sad day for Indian Internet, as Humans of Hindutva was among the few genuinely funny pages on the web.

India achieved tremendous Internet penetration in the last two years, but good humour is hard to find. The most popular humour pages in India copy stuff from other pages (some, without even giving credit). In fact, one of the greatest bonuses of quitting Facebook is not having to deal with those fuck-all pages. All those pages that borrow each other’s content at low interest rates.

In India, nobody wishes to attempt political humour. It is either considered not mainstream enough, or runs the risk of inviting vitriol and anger from trolls on Twitter. AIB is probably the only organisation that indulges in political humour and satire, but it’s only a segment of what they do online.

Which is why it was a relief to find Humans of Hindutva.

As you might have guessed, it was a parody of the mind-bogglingly popular Humans of New York. HONY was a good page when I began following it, but I’ve found that all the goodness on the page makes me throw up a little. Just picture after picture of earnest, wise, honest people made me feel a little claustrophobic.

Like the Scary Movie series, I actually enjoyed the parodies of HONY more than the actual page. There’s Goats of Bangladesh – an absolute favourite – and Cows of Benares. And then, there was Humans of Hindutva.

Idiotic MPs, MLAs, and ministers, statements by journos and Twitter trolls, Narendra Modi to Rahul Gandhi – nobody was spared from the incendiary radar of the page.

humans of hindutva

Humans-of-Hindutva-Facebook-Image-for-InUth-2

The page addressed our new-found lunacy as a nation – where the life of a cow is more precious than a human being’s. The page took on right-wing morons with access to Internet, and showed a beautiful mirror to India, our quirks and many convoluted compulsions. And yet, there wasn’t anything visceral about his posts (I only assume it was a guy who ran the page, but I could be completely wrong, of course!).

The posts were smartly worded and humourous; not the work of a troll. The page wasn’t run to spread hatred, but to mirror the frustration of the daily life of an Indian, sane, youngster. It wasn’t hate that the page propagated, but a wry, dry variant of sarcasm.

Humans of Hindutva shut down its operations after receiving death threats from right-wing extremists. This was the message that he left, while announcing that he was shutting down the page:

I’m quitting out of my own accord. I’ve not been banned or mass reported. I have recently received some threats to my life which I can’t take lightly. I am outnumbered, live in a BJP state and come from a middle-class family with no political or police connections. I have no desire to end up like Gauri Lankesh or Afrazul Khan. Actually, more than myself, I worry for the safety of my family. I hope those who threatened me consider this as a victory and leave us alone. I have deleted the HOH page and will delete this website soon. Congratulations to Hindutva on winning this David vs Goliath fight. As for those who were kind enough to lend me their ears for the last eight months, I’d like to wish you all a Happy New Year. Cheers and alvida. Thanks for giving me some of your time.

 

*

This is deeply saddening on two levels.

One, my age-old grudge against a government that associates itself with a religion. It has never worked – in the USA, or Mid-west, or in Pakistan. Religion and governance are two ideas that cannot work together, no matter how special you think your nation is.

Secondly, it dispels the myth of Hindus being tolerant. In the last few years, we have become a clone of the very Islamists that the Hindutva brigade hates. To take down a parody page reflects the weak insecurities in the minds of the people.

As a nation, we do not understand the concepts of humour and sarcasm. For us, humour is the same as mazaak udaana – to humiliate, to insult, to show someone their place. This is probably why there’s no word for sarcasm in Indian languages. May be it is a Western import too, like the Beretta M 1934 Semi-automatic that killed Gandhi.

*

Dear admin of Humans of Hindutva, I hope you’re reading this.

It’s easy to preach about integrity and standing up for one’s beliefs. But who would want to go through the kind of fate that Gauri Lankesh went through? But there is a silver lining.

The Internet is a vast, open minefield. And I’m sure you’ll find other spaces to shine, and take on the powers that be.

Thank you for what you had chosen to do. It was a lot of fun following your page!

*****

Breakfast-in-Bed

Start Up Ideas that You Can Use (BUT PLEASE LAUNCH IN HYDERABAD)

Cigarette Delivery App – Paanwala

Cigarettes.

You can’t live with them. You can’t live without them.

The government has been doing its best to get smokers to quit. There are the annoying ads before movies, Rahul Dravid speaking Hindi and sounding like the evil rulers of Lagaan, there are warnings telling people that smoking could lead to cancer, impotency and death. And yet, a smoker will smoke.

However, buying cigarettes is a pain.

In India, we don’t have the culture of buying the entire pack of cigarettes, hence they’re sold loose. Most people who look to quit smoking refrain from buying an entire packet too.

From the seller’s point of view, there’s really no profit in cigarettes. It’s staggering how they even run their business, knowing that a single cigarette offers a margin of a rupee. Which means you have to sell a pack of 10 to make a profit of ten rupees.

How the App works:

There are millions of paan dabbas around the country, in every lane, every street, every locality. You connect the nearest paan dabba to the customer. There’s a minimum order of 100 rupees and every cigarette is sold at a margin of 5 rupees.

It doesn’t require a kitchen, or preparation – or even an outlet. It could be a service than runs 24×7, and the seller could make a profit of 50 rupees per pack – 5 times what he’d make from his shop.

Also, if the shop offers other goods (like cool drinks, glasses, paan, etc.), customers can order those too.

Cigarettes are a necessity in every party, and they always run out – I haven’t attended a single party in my life where there were too many cigarettes. This app will connect smokers to cigarettes and ensure a long and happy smoking relationship between the two.

PS: If you’re making an app for this, please give me credit. Also, please start operations in Hyderabad, in the Madhapur – Gachibowli – Kondapur area.

Thank you.

Jai Hind.

                                     HumsurferA Co-Travelling App

Travel.

Hyped by the rich, fantasised by the middle-class. Unheard of by the poor (except when they migrate for work – which is a beautiful common ground between Tourism and Labour Migration).

With rising disposable incomes, and a population that is mostly young – India will see a huge surge in local tourists travelling around the country (and abroad). While apps like Oyo and MakeMyTrip handle different specific aspects of travel such as hotels and travel – there is one unanswered question in travelling.

We in India do not have a culture of traveling. It is not till recently, when hashtags such as #WanderLust and #TravelIsLife became popular.

However, the biggest pain with traveling is making a plan.

Most often, your partner is busy. Or friends have plans. Or some of you did not get a leave from work. Which results in a million plans going to dust every year.

What the App does:

The app is targeted at people looking for other travellers.

When you register on the app, you get to choose your own requirements:

  1.   Number of people in the group (from 2 to 5)
  2.   Gender of the people (either same gender or the other gender – though I doubt Indian women are dying to invite stranger Indian men to travel with them. But you never know – this app could be revolutionary!)
  3.   Age group of the people you want to travel with
  4.   Destination and dates that you are comfortable traveling between.

The app verifies your profile using a number of profiles – Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn – and you get to choose the people you travel with. You can choose solo travellers, or groups – depending on how comfortable you are with strangers.

What’s in it for app users:

  1.   No jhijhak about traveling. Make a plan – find people travelling to the same place – pack your bags and leave.
  2.   Cost savings. Travelling in a group brings down your costs by half (or more!). This is ideal for youngsters/hitchhikers/budget travellers.
  3.   You get to meet new people along a journey and make friends.

I still don’t know how this can be monetised, as every aspect of the travel can be planned and customised according to the needs of the people traveling. But also, does every app need to be monetised? I mean, is earning money the sole purpose of every single endeavour in our lives?

I still haven’t been able to figure out the answer to this question!

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So there you have it, reader. Go ahead, make in India. Bake in India. Rake in India.

I am quit shit at running my own life, leave alone a start up. The only time I had tried one, we wound up in a month because we were both stoners who decided to get stoned with our customers and suppliers. Sometimes, at the same time.

But life is a constant stream of learnings, and through the experience I learnt that one must never get stoned with one’s customers and suppliers. However, the incident has kept me away from the Start Up Revolution, and hence I have decided to pass on the baton to the next generation.

Jai Hind. Jai Yugoslovakia. Jai Shree Allah.

*****

Suggested Reading: Why I Had to Shut Down my Start Up – By Hriday Ranjan. Start-Up Enthusiast. Venture Socialist. Devil Investor.