Category Archives: Television

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.

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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.

*****

All Star Cricket League

Take-homes from the All Stars Cricket League

 Watching the All Stars Cricket League was a strange experience.

Firstly, it wasn’t like I had made a slot in my schedule, marked the day, finished bath and food early, and sat down in front of the TV. Naah.

It was a memory at the back of my mind, something I could always get to, after two beers, and catch up on.

That was what it was about. Catching up.

Catching up with those guys I loved and adored and watched and imitated and cut pictures of and stuck to my scrap book. The guys were getting together once again, and it would be fun to see how they’ve aged.

Strangely, the Indian players didn’t seem to have changed a lot. Sachin played a slow, cautious innings, holding it together, the fear of losing early wickets perhaps too deeply embedded in his psyche.

Laxman swung and missed, and went back to the pavilion before you could say ‘Odomos’. Much like he has been doing for Kochi Tuskers, that team where everybody seemed to have elephantiasis. And Agarkar. Agarkar didn’t do much in the match.

Then there was Sehwag, doing what he has been doing all along. My only pang of regret was that McGrath wasn’t in the opposition. I’d have liked to watch Sehwag cart him across deep mid-wicket, all the way to Alaska.

The Indians were just going about the motions.

The Sri Lankans were at it too. Being efficient and productive, diving around and fielding well, and doing their bit for the team. The Australians were fit and effective. In many ways, it could have been the 90s and the players gotten together for a charity match.

Except for a few things.

Curtly Ambrose.

Curtly Ambrose in my memories was a fearsome, frightful bowler. One who took no bullshit, and gave back in good measure.

Over the years, something happened. I am guessing Ganja.

Curtly Ambrose Reggae Band

Curtly Ambrose has metamorphosed into a smiling, swinging guy who doesn’t give a fuck. There must be some greens involved there. Probably because he joined a reggae band after retirement. Probably because his favourite musicians are Bob Marley and Peter Tosh.

But here’s my biggest take-home from the league.

Indians love Pakistani cricketers.

No matter what the Shiv Sena wants you to believe, and no matter how many Pakistanis they ban from playing or performing, the roar you heard when Akhtar came on to bowl, proved that Indians like the guy. The applause that Wasim Akram got when he came on to bowl was further proof of that fact.

I assume if Sachin went to Pakistan, he’d receive the same kind of treatment. It is because we Indians love cricket.

We will play cricket outdoors and indoors. We love Tests, One Days, and T20s.

We will play cricket with cricket balls and tennis balls. When there are no balls, we’ll roll up papers and crunch them into balls.

When there are no papers to tear, we will play book cricket.

The All Stars league was just a way of letting people of my generation revisit their nostalgia once again.

It wasn’t really serious cricket. But who cares?

At least it wasn’t like the IPL, where there is a fake sense of seriousness over trumpets and painted faces.

This was like the cricket matches you play on a team outing with your office colleagues. Nobody cares. It is about playing the game. It is about revelling in it.

I can’t wait for the next two matches!

Rangabati Coke Studio

Thoughts on Rangabati Coke Studio Version

A few days ago, I saw my News Feed flooded with posts with Oriya people, about something that happened in Orissa.

Now, this is rare.

If I had to draw a venn diagram of my life, social networking and youtube and internet would be three coinciding circles. If I turn the page over, my home state Orissa would be sitting idle.

It’s like a double life I’m leading.

And it is something that I have felt right from childhood. Since I didn’t study in Orissa, I realised it is never mentioned anywhere. It was almost a Hogwarts-ish place that only appeared during Summer Holidays. Or if a teacher found two of us Oriya guys pinching each other during the prayer session and resorted to a lazy comment such as ‘Aye, you Oriya rowdies. Shut up and keep quiet!’.

However, the last two days have been different. Thanks to Sona Mohapatra’s rendition of ‘Rangabati O Rangabati’ on Coke Studio.

Rangabati

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Now, let me set a little context here.

Rangabati is not just another song. It has folk roots. But most of my generation in Orissa came across the song during drunken nights on a baaraat.

For someone who is very conscious of how he dances, Baaraats opened the floodgates into the world of wet streets and slithery naagins. Of a random stranger tapping me on the shoulder and communicating in that unique code that only another drunk can understand, the words ‘Kaho Na Pyar Hai’. And then, with gay abandon, I turn around and return the compliment with that step that the Bournvita-drinking superhero immortalised – ‘Kaha Na Pyar Hai’.

Baaraats made me realise that it is all OK.

It is OK to slip and fall. There’ll always be someone to lend you a hand to stand back up on your feet. (Else, you better do it quickly, or else those guys carrying tube lights on their heads will walk around you).

Baaraats taught me that there is no such thing as ‘I’ve had enough’. Even if your liver is overflowing, a little nudge from a friend settles everything in place.

Baaraats taught me that there was no point trying to act decent and Shareef when everybody around you was being Musharaff and Taliban. To let insanity take over.

Rangabati is one of the top Oriya baaraat songs.

Now, if you have any acquaintance with Baaraat songs, you’ll know that there is no scope for frivalities like Political Correctness in that particular genre.

Some of the other songs I remember from baaraats are – ‘Nabama sreni jhiata, chaati ku mo hot karuchi’. (That 9th standard girl, is making my chest hot).

Then, there’s the poetic trick that singers use – when you don’t know if he’s singing ‘hot’ or ‘hurt’ – since they both sound the same in the Oriya accent.

Then, there are philosophical musings – ‘Tu aagaru dekhila jenta, tu pachharu dekhile senta” (How you look from the front, the same you look from the back. A throwback to the ancient dual – Dwaita philosophy in Hinduism).

Then, there are those that cater to purely carnal needs. Those that invoke the importance of alcohol in a person’s life – Daaru daaru daaru daaru de daaru. Those that call out to people from other communities – Ekkada Ekkada Ra. Then, the completely surreal and abstract – Kau to bou ku nou (‘May the Crow Take Away Your Mother’).

In the beginning, I was conscious of what people might think. Worried that someone might take offence to such blatantly offensive songs being played at full blast outside people’s houses.

It was only later that I realised that people had developed internal antennae that helped them to tune out of the proceedings.

Since then, for me, there was no looking back (Unless the guy who was mixing the drinks was at the back of the baaraat!).

Among all these songs, Rangabati was one of the saner tunes. Just a folk song that people recognised and would raise their hands, and woot, and go back to dancing to.

*

The Rangabati Coke Studio version

When Sona Mohapatra released her Coke Studio version of the song, people lost their minds.

Some of them said she had corrupted the song. Some others said they preferred the older version of the song. Still others said they had problems with her pronunciation of the words (even though the lyrics are not mainstream Oriya, but a dialect called Sambalpuri).

I don’t get this.

I mean, Coke Studio has historically been a platform for songs to mate with other genres and styles. It’s not Folk Studio, for heaven’s sake. And yes, those two Tamil rappers seemed to have zapped in from nowhere, and were rather annoying, but hey, it’s just a song, man.

It’s somebody’s interpretation of the song. Something the person thought might sound good.

If you don’t like it, skip it. Watch something else on YouTube. Why spread venom and hate in the Comments section?

Also, in Syria, Islamic State is beheading men, women and children. In Pakistan, children are being shot while taking classes in school.

There is shit flying all over in the world.

It’s just a fucking YouTube video.

Let it be.

Or else, kau toh bou ku nou.

Seriously.

*******

The 2015 ICC Cricket Old Cup

The World Cup that begins today feels like a birthday that comes close on the heels of a wedding.

I do not feel the surge of excitement that I did for the earlier World Cups.

It’s strange how World Cups have acted as pegs to hang my memories on. Any particular year I think of, its association is deeply embedded with the nearest world cup. World Cups have acted as bookmarks in my mind, sorting things out, giving me a quick recap of what was what.

I began following cricket from the 1996 World Cup.

Before the Wills World Cup, memories of cricket are hazy. Cricketers dressed in white, playing cricket on a hot afternoon – Shastri and Kapil and Srikkanth. A few television ads for Dinesh Suitings and Palmolive Shaving Cream.

The Wills World Cup got me hooked to the game.

I was in Primary School, and didn’t watch a single match in the entire tournament. Yet I got my information from two sources – letters from home with updates about India’s matches. And a teacher named Shruti Raja.

She taught us Maths, and was one of those rare Maths teachers who didn’t try to pull out your appendix if you didn’t know 7 Table. She regaled us with stories of her trips to Paris, and bubble-baths that she enjoyed, and other colourful tales that caused mayhem in my mind.

During the World Cup, she would give us updates about the matches. It was the first time I heard the names Azhar, Tendulkar, Jadeja – my first heroes. The passing of information was very basic. She would walk into the class and announce – “Boys, India won the match”.

Yay!! An eruption of cheers followed, even if the only thing we knew about the situation was that we belonged to India.

She would then add some frugal details, like “Srinath took four wickets”, or “Jadeja scored a fifty”, which was followed by more cheers.

But I had no idea about the format, the counties that played in the tournament, or what the World Cup actually was. It was when I went home that year and found an Outlook 96 World Cup special that my interest in cricket was born.

It was a beautiful edition – pictures and articles and team profiles and opinion pieces. I remember going through each and every team profile, and I could tell you all the players from all the teams. It was like a magical Hogwarts book, a world I could dive into when I wanted.

I brought the magazine back with me to school. I began playing cricket, following it through The Hindu, and generally fantasising about sharing the dressing room with Sachin Tendulkar one day.

That time when Bengalis behaved like Khap Panchayats.

That time when Bengalis behaved like Khap Panchayats.

1999 World Cup : Teenage was arriving at the horizon. Along with pimples, sly thoughts of the sexual kind, and a generally more holistic knowledge of cricket, the 1999 world cup gave me a glimpse of what cricket meant to Indians.

It was the time of Indipop music. Of Come On India, Dikhado…duniya ko hilado. It was also the time when Britannia ran its extensive Britannia Khao World Cup Jao (Passport kya tera baap dega) Offer.

The company from Hungerford Street had decided to tempt gullible young cricket fanatics like me into gulping down packets after packets of biscuits and cakes with the hope of going to England to watch the world cup.

Like an idiot, I fell for it. Any money I saved was spent on Tiger biscuits. I’d eat those shitty biscuits, telling myself it would all be worth it when I meet Deba in London and discuss the nuances of cricket with him.

The 99 World Cup was also the first time I learnt that sports was not just about following a team playing a sport. It was about pain and anguish and hurt and disappointment. Shortly after the world cup, the match fixing scandal broke out. Azhar, my hero, was shamed in front of the entire world. I remember shedding a few tears in a particularly delicate moment. I remember feeling aghast, wondering what sort of a person would do something like that.

The 99 World Cup also taught me that we take cricket very seriously. But teenage was knocking on the door, and I pushed cricket out of my mind, and rushed to open the door.

A picture of the Australian team with the World Cup.

A picture of the Australian team with the World Cup.

2003 World Cup: This was my Angry Young Kid phase. I think the phase is called Intermediate because at that age, all of us are intermediaries between donkeys and real, thinking adolescents.

I had issues with people, ran away from home, and took up work and residence at a small PCO booth cum travel agency in the outskirts of Bhubaneswar. The PCO booth was located in front of a leprosy colony, and a shady basti called Prem Nagar where eloped love birds built their nests.

Which meant a strange motley crew of people who came in to watch the match on the tiny black and white television. Drunkards, children with fingers missing, teenage mothers holding children with permanently running noses, drunkards, alms-seekers, drivers, and drunkards.

I’d finish school, go back by the school bus, take off my uniform and sneak into my secret dual life. I watched each and every match of that tournament (except Scotland vs UAE sort of matches, for which the guy would never lend his TV).

During the final, I watched with horror as Ganguly chose to bowl after winning the toss. I looked away as tears welled up in my eyes when Sachin lofted a mishit shot off McGrath. I played fervently as rain poured in briefly in the middle overs. I went to bed that night, Sachin’s words ringing in my ears like gigantic cymbals – “I’m happy to receive this award, but I’d have been happier had we won the tournament.”

Another picture of the Australian team with the World Cup.

Another picture of the Australian team with the World Cup.

2007 World Cup: By this time, cynicism had creeped into my system like a virus that originates in Africa and spreads its tentacles to Switzerland. Hurt as I was from India’s disheartening show in the previous outing, I was too scared to invest any emotions into this edition.

Somehow, my feelings seemed to resonate with the Indian cricket team as well. Most of the stars seemed drugged, we lost matches to smaller teams, and didn’t even qualify for the India-Pakistan match in the second round.

Between shitty jobs and scabby relationships, I spent a few hours every day watching the matches, but my heart was looking forward to the sun sinking. And then, when the clock struck 6, I’d rush out to have Bhang. And as the hostel swam in a slow, steady motion, I sat on the cot and looked at the world and smiled.

The 2007 World Cup had nothing going for it. The matches seemed like they were being played in a local park. The commentary was drab, the matches seemed like friendly encounters, a coach was killed mysteriously in the middle of the tournament. It was almost as if the World Cup itself was embarrassed by what was going on.

I couldn’t care less.

2007

2011 World Cup: There has been enough said about the 2011 World Cup. Of how the stage was set to perfection. India matches on weekends, an India-Pakistan semi-final where 5 catches were dropped off a single batsman by the name of Sachin Tendulkar. A final at Mumbai, a six to finish the match.

Much of the World Cup passed by in a drunken, smoky stupor. Old Monk from the local store (you could still find it in Hyderabad at the time), and top notch pot from Dhoolpet, friends with flats where you could drink like Ravana and pass out like Kumbhakarna.

This time, I fell for the blitz. I hummed the tournament’s catchy tune, created my Fantasy team and rooted for them. On the day of the semi-final, I had to drop off my ex-girlfriend at the airport. I was getting messages from friends about Sehwag taking on the Pakistani bowlers, and the trip to the airport and back would take a good two hours.

As she looked at me with her lovely doe eyes, I told her I couldn’t do it. I asked her to go to the airport by herself. I have often questioned myself if I did the right thing. If I was a selfish bastard. If things would have turned out otherwise…

But when I reached the room and saw Sehwag belt five fours off an Umar Gul over, I forgot about everything and settled in front of the television.

When Dhoni hit the final six, I felt a sense of calm. I felt vindicated for all the years I had invested in the sport. All the hours defending Sachin Tendulkar against morons who considered Ganguly to be the greatest Indian cricketer. The hours spent hunting for the score, the awkward hanging around paan shops to watch the match after buying a packet of Tiger biscuits for three rupees.

I had invested so much in the sport, and it all came together beautifully when Sachin was hoisted on top of his teammates’ shoulders. I ran downstairs to the streets and found people dancing. I joined them and danced, in spite of my two left Jeetendra feet.

I watched as a crazy fan waving an India flag jumped on to the back of an APSRTC bus. But time, tide, and APSRTC buses wait for none, and the man had to come walking back an hour later, the spring in his step lost somewhere near Jubilee Hills.

I drank myself to sleep and crashed some time in the night. Cricket had given me back everything I had given it.

2011 WC

Sreesanth be like ‘Eeeeee, now let me fix matches in the IPL heeheehee’. Gandu saala!

2015 World Cup: This time around, I am too old to do it.

I can’t take the glossy advertising campaigns, the stupid jingoism associated with every cricket world cup. I can’t take the Pakistan-bashing, the lame jokes, the waking up early and sleeping late to catch each and every match. I can’t take two nine-hour matches everyday, and the gigantic dhobi-bundle of statistics that every World Cup dumps on my head.

I am too old for that shit.

This year, I’ll be watching cricket for the sake of the game. I will pick and choose games that I like, irrespective of whether India is playing in them or not.

I love tournaments played in Australia. The commentary is better, the stadiums are beautiful, the ball bounces up to a good level. There are spectators lazing about, drinking beer, running to catch the ball, laughing heartily when it slips right through their hands.

I am going to watch the tournament like that pot-bellied Australian you see on the screen – sipping his beer, waving his hand, drunk out of his wits.

I am going to support South Africa and New Zealand. If India wins, good. If it doesn’t, too bad.

I remember this one particular man who would walk in to watch the matches in Munna Travels (where I watched the 2003 World Cup). He would sit at the back, stoic and composed, indulging in a smile every once in a while when he saw us go berserk. I would wonder how he could watch the match so passively.

I am that guy now. I will sit back and smile.

You are free to go crazy.

I have retired as a cricket fan. Let the youngsters have their fun.

***

Of Amul Surabhi and Kinetic Luna

Long long ago, before television became about quarreling women and fake reality stars, television was a much saner experience. Adding most of the sanity to the hallowed rectangular box was a programme called Amul Surabhi.

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From 1993 – 2001, Amul Surabhi acted as the window to the world for middle class Indians. Presented by Siddharth Kak and Renuka Sahane, the show presented well-researched segments on history, cultures, science, sports and music. It was a show that the elders of the house wouldn’t miss for anything in the world, and sitting down to watch the show would earn children some brownie points for the immediate future.

This was the age before SMS, call, like, share and subscribe. The only way to reach out to Surabhi was through post, by writing a letter to the show. There was a sense of belonging that Amul Surabhi brought in to television viewing. People would send in artefacts created by them. Sometimes, letters of appreciation would be read out, while at other times, errors pointed out by viewers would be graciously acknowledged.

I was watching one episode where a girl named Shazia writes to the show. So inspired was she by their section on underwater life, that she had decided to research on it. Renuka Sahane immediately announced that all the research material that the show had collected on underwater life, along with the footage, was being shipped to Shazia!

While such moments brought warmth to the heart, there was another reason for which I watched the show. Surabhi being among the most popular shows of the time, their weekly contest was much coveted for. And what prizes they were!

Trips aboard the Orient Express – the luxury on wheels train, stays at premium hotels in travel destinations from Rajasthan to Kerala, goodies worth 1000 rupees (in 1993, mind you) from Amul. And in case of the bumber prize, a fully paid trip to South Africa, Greece, and other such exotic locations!

You can imagine the dreams they triggered in us. Every week, someone in the family would be allotted the responsibility of noting down the question (‘No, you give it to her. She can write fast, na’). While there was general excitement about the question, I had been possessed by dreams of my own. My hopes were pinned on the one item –

Kinetic Luna.

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Kinetic Luna was generally the 3rd prize, but it had captured my mind in a way that the magnificient palaces of Rajasthan, or the lush backwaters of Kerala coudn’t.

I had seen advertisements for Luna on television, and had been suitably impressed. It didn’t seem intimidating (like the Rajdoot and Bullet), appealing to the slim and let’s just say, agile like me. I had also seen a number of Lunas on the road, and the humble moped had acquired decent street rep in quick time. It was supposed to give you good mileage, and it was easy to ride. It had pedals, so if you ran out of petrol, lalalala you could always cycle your way back home. And then, it was very handy for carrying luggage. In fact, if you loaded up a Luna to its maximum capacity, people might mistake you for Nadir Shah, returning home after ransacking Agra.

Also, I knew some relatives who had not one, but three-three Lunas at their home. What freedom, what joy! I envied them as they rode by themselves on Thursday evenings for bhajans – the wind in their hair, vibhuti applied over the forehead – coolness was made of stuff like this!

Having decided that it was the Luna that I aspired for, I had my task cut out. I had to find the answer to the weekly question. The only problem was that the questions weren’t dumb, like the contest questions of today: What do you need to score a girl? A: Axe Effect B: Tax Effect C: Wax Effect. Screw you.

Amul Surabhi’s questions were dug out from the deep pot of knowledge that appeared in the promos. Unearthed from this great treasure, was a question that required you to run around, to pursue its answer with passion and perseverance.

There was no Wikipedia, no internet. One had to remember the question, and spend the next few days hunting for the answer, a knicker-clad Indiana Jones bustling about in every home. One had to request to be taken to a library, or heckle a knowledgable relative, or go to a Book Fair in quest for the answer. You had one week to send in your answer, and parents were lending their support like typical 90s parents. “Arey, you can’t trust this postman-vostman fellows. You better send it in 2-3 days, what if there is a strike?”

After spending a few days finding the solution, one had to scribble down neatly write down the answer on the yellow Competition Post Card (sold at the nearest post office), and send it to Sawaal Jawaab, Amul Surabhi, Post Box No. 2453, New Delhi – 11.

Having gingerly dropped the post card in the shiny red box, the rest of the days were spent in flights of fantasy. My Luna!

My green, shiny Luna that I would ride on. Zipping through the streets like Jackie Shroff in his youth, charming one and all with my daredevilry. Riding on it into the sunset like Alexander the Great, my faithful Luna, that I would use to rescue people in distress. And sometimes, if my friends requested, I would even let them ride pillion behind me (but not all the time, for one doesn’t want them to get used to the luxury).

And then, in two weeks, it was time for the results to be declared!

The lights would be switched off, and the melancholic signature tune would float out of the magic box. Renuka Sahane and Siddharth Kak would smile, and inform us of all the wonderful things they would tell us about on today’s show. Interesting snippets from history, an exciting new excavation that sheds light on our glorious ancestors, and the beautiful apple gardens in Himachal Pradesh. And all the while, I’m fidgeting on the floor, thinking ‘Yeah yeah, India is a beautiful country, now let’s talk about the prizes’. And three rounds of advertisements, and a good number of nails on my fingers bitten off, Renuka Sahane would smile and say, ‘Now it is time for the weekly contest’. My back would stiffen.

Voiceover: This week, we received 48,986 letters in total (accompanied by footage of men carrying letters in suitcases). ‘Out of which, the number of correct replies were 4,756’ – shot of the letters being sorted out, cut to Siddharth Kak and Renuka Sahane sitting in front of a huge pile of yellow, 15 paise post cards, with names, addresses, and middle class dreams scrawled on the back.

‘We will choose four lucky winners for this week…’ and as Renuka Sahane slipped a delicate hand into the heap of letters, I handed over a quick mental prayer to all my favourite gods. My Luna was the third prize, so I waited with bated breath…

And the winner is, (Renuka Sahane would pick a post card, show it to the camera, the camera would zoom in…)

“…Random Kumar, from Nashik”.

My heart sank, but not for too long.

“…cos now it’s time for this week’s contest question…”

I would run to grab the notepad and Reynold 045 Fine Carbure. Another question, another expedition for knowledge, another date with the Luna.

*
I never won the Kinetic Luna.

In fact, I learnt to ride the bicycle quite late in life. In Class 3, while my classmates were zipping around in sleek, red BSA Mongoose bicycles for the annual cultural event, I was put in a dumb drill called ‘Horse and Stars’. Which involved running around with a plastic horse head attached to a stick, in between one’s legs (10/10 for symbolism), AND gigantic golden stars stuck on both of one’s palms.

Even today, when I see a Kinetic Luna zipping about carelessly on the road, laden with bags, vegetables, and fruits, I feel a tinge of pain. But then, I notice the cop whistling at the Luna and asking him to pull over, and I feel alright.
*
Amul Surabhi. Kinetic Luna. Simpler days with simpler daydreams.

Even now when I watch episodes of Amul Surabhi on YouTube, nostalgia often gives way to some pain, hidden in remote corners of the heart. I put my faith in you, Amul Surabhi, and you never returned my love.

You never chose my letter, Renuka Sahane. And Siddharth, you can suck my Kak.

*
(Crass jokes such as the above would never feature on Amul Surabhi. It was a classy show. Just saying)

cersei-and-margaery-cersei-lannister-35787582-4250-2820

Game of Bahus

We all have skeletons in our closets – big, small, heavy, or inconsequential.

I have a giant Smriti Irani-sized skeleton in mine. Why?

Because I used to watch saas-bahu serials as a kid.

Yeah, go ahead. Snigger.

*

Around the time when the saas-bahu genre was at its zenith (the late 90s, early 2000s), I was among its billions of consumers who stayed up waiting to watch what would happen the next day. I watched Kkusum, Kahaani Ghar Ghar Ki, and Kyunki Saas Bahu Thi (in that order, not as if I had a choice in the matter).

With the school’s subtle hints at avoiding TV and films during holidays, my folks ensured I was insulated from all sorts of bad in the world by locking up the TV in an almirah. But they couldn’t do the same with my relatives and so during summers, I stayed at their place and got a glimpse of the evil world that lay in store for me.

It began in a very inconsequential manner – I would be reading the newspaper in the same room, and look up every now and then to see what was going on. Gradually, they expect you to be there when the show starts. On a good day, they even call you into the room when the tunes of the title song begin playing.

On days when I had done something evil (like not going to a temple to attend bhajans), I did not have the license to watch the serials unabashedly. I would lie down on the cot and squint out of the corner of the eye. Or pretend to be asleep, my ears eagerly soaking in every word that the television offered.

And on a good day, I would sit bang in front of the television and gape right at it.

The stories affected me.

When Kkusum faced problems at work, I rooted for her success. If only that smug asshole boss of hers would appreciate the problems she faced back at home. And why were Om’s and Parvati’s children being such nutcases? Why couldn’t they see that their parents had their best wishes in mind? And poor Tulsi. Why wouldn’t Gomzee just see that his mother is only looking out for his best interests? That Ganga might not be as innocent as she plays herself out to be? Why do they not understand? Why? Why??

But cruel as life is, just when I was comfortable with the storylines and the characters – Bam! –summer holidays would end. Come June, and I had to return to the school. There was just one another guy in the class who watched TV serials (or at least admitted to it). I discussed as much as I could with him, informing him of my theories, and listening to his justifications.

In the next ten months, I would think of the shows fondly, wondering what was going on. I thought of the characters and their lives. The songs ran in my head every once in a while, and after carefully ensuring there was nobody around, I would hum the tunes under my breath.

There was simply no information about my favourite shows anywhere, it was like Azkaban in a way. Normally, newspapers have an entire page devoted to TV shows, some of them even venturing into broad summaries of the week’s proceedings. But The Hindu being The Hindu, it chose instead to regale us with the latest figures of buffalo vaccinations in the state, leaving banalities of TV shows to lesser newspapers.

But when you are a teenager, you have other things on your mind, you move on with life, stumbling through your obstacles. And just like that, the ten months of school would be over, and I would be back again, at home.

*

Now, going back to a TV show was tricky as hell.

Firstly, I couldn’t simply plop myself in front of the television and start watching the shows. I had to prove that I had better things to do, and was watching the shows only because I had no other option.

So I would spend the afternoons doing the stupid homework that the school gave, reading novels on the sly, or cycling like a maniac out on the roads. Afternoons seemed like molten wax flowing down a slide at an agonizing pace. Evenings sped past a little faster, and when it was night, the theme songs would waft into the room, I would pick up the newspaper, and walk into the TV room innocuously.

But that wasn’t the end of the complications. Half the characters from last year  would have simply vanished from the show. Some of them were dead, some had come back from the dead, others had gone through a plastic surgery, or leaped 20 years ahead in time.

And it wasn’t as if I could simply turn around and ask, ‘Mother dearest, what happened to Tulsi’s nephew, that Sahil fellow?’

So the first week back at home involved stock-taking. I had to deduce what was happening, grasping at strings of hints that the show offered me, drawing links and analyzing family relations. In the absence of a Wikia or the internet, I had to use my superb deduction skills to understand the characters.

And just when I got comfortable and involved in the lives of others – Bam! – back to school again.

*

And so the cycle went on and on.

But when you reach your late teens, you have other issues at hand. Pimples, shitty jobs, and a girlfriend.

I stopped watching home-grown TV shows, opting instead for F.R.I.E.N.D.S because a girl I had the hots for in college kept raving about it. A friend of mine had a ten DVD set of the series, and I simply had to slide the colourful chapathi into the machine and watch all the episodes one after the other.

The only TV show that I began watching earnestly on cable television was Kyle XY, which I later learnt had gotten horrible reviews and was stopped after two seasons.

Somehow, I did not have the same connection with angrez shows. Yes, they were funny, and moving, and stirred parts of my body that Tulsi and Parvati would not dare consider, but they weren’t my own. They belonged to a different culture, a different universe.

And then, came Game of Thrones.

cersei-and-margaery-cersei-lannister-35787582-4250-2820

Having first heard of it across a bonfire with Old Monk in my hand, I had stayed away from the show since I had never felt a connect with the fantasy genre. But the raves got too much to handle last year, and I finally decided to give the show a chance.

So hooked was I, that I began reading the books, and having finished all of them, am one of the legions of fans who prays for the long life of George RR Martin on a daily basis.

Even if I know what’s going to happen in the next episode, I wait for it with bated breath. In spite of torrents, I still whip up imaginary scenes in my head, wondering how this line will be said, and how that character will be slashed at the neck.

In spite of all the TV shows and films that are floating around in the clouds for me to pick off and enjoy, I still long for Monday, for the next episode of the show.

In a way, it is a revisiting of the days of saas-bahu shows. Of afternoons spent thinking of what had happened, of speculating what is going to happen. Of passing time doing inconsequential things, with a TV show running at the back of my mind.

*

I am seated across a friend, telling him of my thoughts.

‘But you do realise that this is true of every show, right?’

‘As in?’

‘As in, everybody who watches a show waits with baited breath for the next episode…?’

‘Yeah, but…’

‘It’s just that you haven’t watched a TV show in decades, and now that you have, you keep romanticising the fuck out of it.’

‘Ahem…do you have anything to eat?’

*****

24

*Tring Tring*

The woman walks up to the phone and picks up the receiver.

‘Hello?’

‘Hello, Tisca?’

‘Who’s this?’

‘Haha…jhakaaaas. It’s me.’

‘Hey! Anil. Long time.’

‘Hey, Tisca. You want to act in a serial? I’m also in it.’

‘Uhm…no, Anil. Ab woh din kahaan rahe?’

‘Hey come, no? It’ll be fun. Mandira is also there. And Anita Raj also. It’ll be like the old days..’

‘Oh…ok. But what about the producers and all…?’

‘Haha..I’m the producer…haha jhakaaaAASSSS !!!!’

 

*

 

For those who generally have lives, I would like to bring to your attention that the television show 24 recently concluded on Colors TV.

I have always maintained that it is impossible to watch Indian television for more than on hour. But since each episode of 24 is 45 minutes, I watched it.

24-Indian-Television-Show-Pardaphash-96609

Based on the American franchise of the same name, each season of the show has 24 episodes, depicting 24 hours in the life of a cop. Anil Kapoor, who acted in one of the seasons of the American version, brought the show to India.

I began watching the show, and interestingly, during the promotion, Anil Kapoor spoke about how the technicians on the show are from America and its all being done professionally and it will be something that hasn’t been seen on Indian televisions yet.

I was curious to see how the story would be adapted to an Indian context.

And boy, did they adapt!

 

*

 

Let me begin with a brief introduction of the characters in the show.

 

The show is about Anil Kapoor who plays an officer in the Anti Terrorist Unit, who has to protect the life of a young politician who’s to take oath the next day as the Prime Minister of the nation.

 

Aditya Singhania: A Prime Minister in waiting. This person belongs to a family that has been involved in politics for years, and looks like a 40 year old, moderately good looking person. He’s always dressed in khadi jackets and has a somber expression on his face, which could be due to the fact that his father was assassinated in a conspiracy.

Naina Singhania: Is Aditya’s mother. She controls the party and is a sharp, shrewd woman.

Divya Singhania: Is Aditya’s sister, who is married to a businessman. She is a wise person, and is often the voice of reason for Aditya.

Prithvi Singhania: Is Aditya’s cousin. He is a loudmouth, someone who schemes against Aditya.

Rahul Singh: Aditya’s brother in law, doesn’t do much on the show. Appears once in a while, but is generally shown as a useless guy with some shady deals.

Ravinder: Is an outlaw militant leader, who is dark, has a thick moustache, and speaks with a Tamil accent. He leads an outfit called LTFE, and they’re trying to assassinate the Prime Minister in waiting.

 

Well played, guys. Very subtle. Take a bow-wow.

 

 

*

 

But then, if they were going the whole hog, why couldn’t they go all the way? Why take half measures?

You know what would have hooked me on to the show?

If they had someone play Sanjay Gandhi.

‘Cos if they did, the show would have to be rechristened 48.

For Sanjay Gandhi was the most colourful personality in the most celebrated family of the most densely populated nation in the world.

 

*

 

While most in our generation wouldn’t know much about Sanjay Gandhi, reading up on him is a fascinating exercise. It’s a life that’s straight out of a Darren Arofonsky movie.

The eldest son of Indira Gandhi, Sanjay was very comfortable in his skin as the scion of the family.

Having an interest in automobiles, fast cars, and airplanes from childhood, Sanjay Gandhi was given a three year internship with Rolls Royce, without even a college degree. He decided to skip in the second year and returned to India.

 

In 1971, Sanjay Gandhi was allowed to found Maruti Udyog, the company which partnered with Suzuki to produce a ‘People’s Car’. The once ubiquitous Maruti 800 was born from the project, but while Sanjay was alive, not a single car was produced. The one singular car that was exhibited stopped running after a distance.

With the declaration of the Emergency, Sanjay Gandhi was touted to be the most powerful person in the nation. Without so much as an official position of power in the country, he transferred officers, set up offices, dismissed people – as and when it pleased him.

After a trip to Europe, he found the slums of Delhi too dirty for his taste, and had over 70,000 people evacuated to the other side of the Yamuna. In the protests, over 150 people died. When Kishore Kumar refused to perform at an event, his songs were banned from the All India Radio.

With desires like wanting to open casinos in the Himalayas, Sanjay Gandhi started a number of programmes and initiatives. Like the one thing that people associate with him even today – the Compulsory Sterelization programme. Since the population of the country was increasing at an astonishing rate, people were offered gifts to voluntarily sterilize themselves. When that didn’t work out, the programme turned into a bizarre scenario where government doctors were given targets to sterilize people. Thousands were sterilized, many of them involuntarily.

 

Sanjay Gandhi’s death was as eventful as his life. He was flying an aircraft, trying to perform a loop over his office. The plane crashed and an Air Force captain died with him.

 

*

 

Now, my dear writer brothers and sisters, if you are portraying the entire family anyway, why not go the whole hog?

It’d be so cool to have a total badass on the show.

A guy who does whatever he wants to do. And they should have cast Asrani to essay the role. Or Sanjay Kapoor.

The character should have gone batshit crazy on the show. Like getting Shweta Tiwari to do an item number in the middle of show. Just because.

Or show him shooting some cops, paragliding from the Parliament, and then becoming Monkey Man in the night to terrorise innocent residents.

Now that, would have gotten my attention.

 

*

 

Sadly, creative thoughts are seldom appreciated in our world.

So the show went about its motions. Anil Kapoor ran around and looked serious. And in the 24 most important hours in the life of the top ATU officer, his wife confronts his colleague about their past relationship.

You know, kyunki wife bhi kabhi girlfriend thi.

 

*

 

*Tring tring*

The man looks a little fat, but his good looks can melt wood and metal alike. He walks to the phone and answers it.

‘Hello? Kaun hai be?’

‘Haha. Kaisa hai boss?’

‘Oye, bidu. Bata, kaisa hai?’

‘Oye, Jackie. Acting karega? Mera show hai. Second season aa raha hai.’

‘Bidu…sahi bola. Lekin main hero banega.’

‘Haha. Hero toh apun hai…haha…jhakaaaAAASSS.’

 

*

 

 

 

 

 

 

Suggested Reading: The Sanjay Story by Vinod Mehta

Rahman on Coke Studio

It was inevitable that Indians would love Coke Studio.

The concept that began in Brazil, attempted to bring musicians of two genres together, as a fusion. It then moved to Pakistan, and thanks to YouTube, millions of Indians watched the Coke Studio productions.

Why would Indians lap up Coke Studio?

Because saar, we have no music industry only. Indipop is dead, and classical music and rock belong to very small segments. Most of the music we listen to is film music. In fact, everything is film music.

And till a few years back, all our film music would be the same set – lead singers, drums, some synthesiser, and chorus. Of course, the last few years have been slightly better, but essentially all the music we listen to is made for films. Which means that there is an image we have in mind, there is a context in which the songs appear. Which doesn’t make it music in the true sense. There is nothing to interpret or make out of it. It’s an accompaniment to some moronic film.

Coke Studio Pakistan, under the guidance of Rohail Hyatt as Producer, churned out one beauty after another. Whether it was the stranglehold on your senses by Rahat Fateh Ali Khan in Garaj Baras, or the rustic sound of Jugnoo, every song had it’s own personality. It told a story.

Also, I think, when something is nice in Pakistan, Indians immediately feel a certain connect. I mean, the guys look like us, we use the same words in our songs, and even the instruments are the same. They have Wasim Akram, and we have Sanjay Manjrekar. They are our brothers, only.

And when it was announced that MTV and Coca Cola were bringing Coke Studio to India, I was anticipating it eagerly.

**************************************

The first trailers of the Indian series appeared one evening on MTV. It had Kailash Kher and a woman singing together.

Even though it was a Friday, I sat in front of the TV at 7 PM to watch it. I was watching it for Kailash Kher, and the whole novelty of it. But after the song was over, it actually felt calm. The song was more noise than anything else.

One after the other, every Friday, MTV spat out one disappointing episode after another. The main problem was that we had heard all the artists earlier. And half of them were singing film songs. Film songs, for fuck’s sake!

In the Pakistan version, relatively unknown artists became heroes – Aik Alif, Alif Lohar, Noori to some extent. Here, the singers were KK, Shaan, Kailash Kher, Shankar Mahadevan.

And then, I realised who the producer was. Leslie Lewis.

Leslie Lewis: Hariharan's Worse Half

Leslie Lewis: Hariharan’s Worse Half

I liked his work in Colonial Cousins, and this time there wasn’t even Hariharan with his honey voice. Leslie Lewis was the guy who had started the Remix trend, ruining my teenage years, and in a way causing the death of Indipop.

Most of the songs were remakes of Hindi films songs. Some of them simply atrocious – like ‘Tum Jo Mil Gaye Ho’, where you start frantically looking for a chainsaw after the first two minutes. Why would you do that?

Why would you show us these guys who we have been listening to for decades? And how was this fusion of any sort?

I stopped watching after the first three episodes, I guess. The guys at Coke Studio even invited Shafqat Amanat Ali to sing for one of the episodes. Things must have been really bad.

The worst wars, of course, were fought on YouTube.

While earlier Indians would comment – “I’m frm India bt I luv Pakistani muziq. You guys rawks!’ on their videos, you now had Pakistani guys replying with “Hey, I’m from Pakistan. This is a good attempt, it is not so bad. I am sure in a few seasons, things will good. Love from Pakistan.”

It was humiliating, in a way. Stale music that should have been called Campa Cola Studio.

I forgot about the entire season till I saw the trailers for the second season on MTV again. I was as excited as a Kaurava soldier going to battle on the seventeenth day of war.

****************************************

The first trailer was a clip of Vishal Dadlani singing with a girl.

The guys at MTV must have realised what a shitfest they had created the last time, so the trailers clearly mentioned that the producers were different for every episode – from Clinton Cerejo to Hitesh Sonik.

I watched the first episode cursorily. But boy, was I pleased!

Clinton Cerejo brought his years of experience in Bollywood and thankfully used none of it on the episode. The episode contained a mix of genres. Nothing was epic, but it sounded good on the ears.

The second episode had Amit Trivedi. Having acquired a cult status for his films, I was a little skeptical. But Trivedi saab managed to surprise me all over again.

There was something different about this season. For one, the musicians seemed to be having fun doing what they were doing. I know all that is just camera work, but the sound was new, and fresh. It managed to surprise me in small, little ways.

I know this is a little late in the day, but I present below my Top 5 songs from the second season:

5. Nimohiya (Amit Trivedi feat. Devender Singh, Harshdeep Kaur)

Punjabi meets jazz in this number that packs a neat little surprise with Shankar Tucker blowing away on his clarinet. Easy tunes accompanied by Trivedi’s trademark backing vocals and sublime interludes. This one was a surprise after Harshdeep Kaur fucked up Tum Jo Mil Gaye Ho last year.

4. Mauje Naina Laage (Clinton Cerejo feat. Bianca Gomes, Shadab and Altamash)

This one is dark and brooding. The slicing voice of the female lead only made the cuts, and when Shadab sprinkled some vintage Indian angst into the song, it was a frothing, bubbling song of anger. This one made the list for the mood it creates on the listener.

3. Chaudhary (Amit Trivedi feat. Meme Khan)

The last time I heard the two collaborate, it was on ‘Aitbaar‘ on ‘No one Killed Jessica’, with explosive results. This time, Meme Khan sings to words written by Shelley. A song that talks about a hapless middle aged zamindar of the village who is smitten by a young girl. I could imagine Khap Panchayats enjoying this song a lot.

But that tasteless joke aside, this song leaves a sweet aftertaste long after it is over.

 

 

2. Madari (Clinton Cerejo feat. Vishal Dadlani and Neha Kakkar)

This was the first song I heard of the season and it remains my favourite. Vishal Dadlani would be the last person I would approach to sing a song that has classical touches in it, but the gamble paid off, and how!

Along with Dadlani, was this diminutive singer I had never seen, but definitely heard. A Google search led me to her page. It’s sad that someone as gifted as her should be known as the singer of ‘Babuji Zara Dheere Chalo’.

The song shifts gears when you least expect it, reaching a crescendo in the final lap, a song that is not brazenly clear in the mood it is creating. You could make whatever you wanted of it, and it is this aspect that makes this my favourite among the songs of the second season.

1. Husna (Hitesh Sonik feat. Piyush Mishra)

Having worked under Vishal Bharadwaj for years, Hitesh Sonik is the guy who has produced the music for films like No Smoking, Gulaal, and Omkara. Apart from composing fantastic background scores, Hitesh Sonik also happens to be married to Sunidhi Chauhan.

In this song, the sublime Piyush Mishra – actor, singer, composer, sidekick to Sardar Khan in the GoW movies – performs Husna, a heart-wrenching song about partition. His magical vocals, combined with the subtle but powerful music of the house band, ranks on top of my favourites of the season.

Interestingly,  all these guys – Trivedi, Cerejo, Sonik, were all people who had worked in Bollywood for years. And yet, nothing of what they made sounded like it was from a film. For once, I felt happy that there was Indian music that I could listen to when I was high.

Ghar ki murgi tasted better than pardesi daal.

******************************************

But the good things didn’t just end there.

A few days back, Rahman’s first song for Coke Studio Season 3 premiered on YouTube.

If his MTV Unplugged episode was anything to go by, Rahman established that he could give goosebumps to the average Indian once every five minutes. Even better, while the concept of Unplugged is not to use electric instruments, Coke Studio is a compilation of original scores.

I can’t wait for the third season, but I have only one worry.

I have written earlier about my theory – ‘Rahman Knows‘. He always does.

He knows if what you are producing is sincere and from the heart, or you’re just whoring out and signing him for his fame. Anu Malik fusion. Himesh Nose. Rahman Knows.

And I sincerely hope he watched the Second Season of Coke Studio India, and not the first.

Else, we are all doomed!

movers-and-shakers-shekhar-suman

Movers and Shakers

If you grew up in the era of Doordarshan, ‘Surabhi’, ‘Subah Savere’ and ‘Good Morning India’ will ring gigantic, creaky bells in your head.

I remember watching everything on television – from the time the transmission began at 5 in the morning, to the time it ended at 11 pm. From the friendly aunty giving out the deaf and dumb news, the ascetic professor teaching physics formulae in Gyan darshan, to the middle aged scientist giving agricultural tips in Krishi Darshan. If there was something on TV, I was standing in front of it – watching in awe the shapes and colours, the sounds that sprang out of the box.

A few years down the line, the cable television revolution happened. I clearly remember how I heard about it. I used to play cricket in front of our house. One such day, a kid came up to me and said, “How many channels do you get on your TV?”

I looked at him as if he had asked me how many  kidneys I had. “Two”.

“We get more than 20 channels”, he said. I am generally a skeptic, so I had my doubts. I later went to his house, and was amazed to witness the miracle – in bright, shiny colours. He explained to me that there were channels that showed films all day. Only films. All day. I was shocked.

What about the Sunday evening 4.30 slot? If they showed films all day, how did the family do any work? Didn’t they all just sit and watch films day in and day out? And what about the channels that showed news all day? Who watched that channel? Who would watch a channel that showed news all day when there was a channel that was showing films all day? I felt lost, amidst the choices the remote offered, and the questions my brain posed.

In a few years, I was comfortable with cable television. Of course, we had only Doordarshan at home, but my friends at school spoke to me about the marvels of cable television. About Zee Horror show episodes, of MTV albums, of Cartoon Network shows. Eventually, we jumped on to the cable television bandwagon too.

And since I used to watch Subah Savere and Krishi Darshan, when I watched Movers and Shakers for the first time, I was charmed.

I had seen Shekhar Suman in Dekh Bhai Dekh and other shows on DD. Amidst the loud, caricaturish shows on television, his show came as a breath of fresh air.

Firstly, he openly took potshots at ministers, cricketers, and film stars – the holy trinity of our country. I marveled at the balls of the guy who could mimic Vajpayee, Laloo, Javagal Srinath on national television and get away with it.

The choice of guests – from artists, to sportsmen, writers, musicians, ad-men, to poets. For the first time, I felt that we had more than just film stars in our country. And Shekhar Suman had this way of bringing out the best from the guest.

He was cheeky with the younger ones, but reverential to the older ones. I remember watching Pandit Jasraj’s episode. Who would have thought that the man was utterly hilarious? That the man who could churn out sargams like a cursing rishi, could also be a chivalrous flirt with a pretty woman? Or the episode with Ratna Pathak Shah, or the one with Laloo himself?

Switching between Hindi and English, cheeky and inquisitive, Shekhar Suman managed a certain freshness into the show that kept me glued.

Even though Movers and Shakers was the Indian version of Letterman and Leno, it gave the younger ones something to connect to. We were too young for Shanti and Buniyaad, and slightly older for Mowgli and Captain Vyom. I was beginning to figure out news and personalities, and the show made me feel like an adult, laughing with the older ones. Shekhar Suman mixed Indian cynicism with a certain Atithi Devo Bhava respect that was perfect for the audience.

Apart from Sonu Nigam’s Sa Re Ga Ma, this was the only show I would watch religiously.

And then I grew up.

*

A few days back, I heard that the show was being rebooted.

Shekhar Suman was still there, the format was the same, even the band – Rubber Band – was the same. The man looked strangely prosthetic, like a Hindi remake of Curious Case of Benjamin Button produced by K.C. Bokadia.

The Curious Case of Shekar Suman.

Shekar Suman ki Anokhi Kahaani

The jokes remained the same, but criticizing a politician didn’t seem so sacrilegious anymore. ‘Rubber Band’ sounded like the tacky PJs I put up on Facebook. (I always wanted to have a band. Today, I only have rubber band).

After 15 minutes, I changed the channel. Probably because I knew there was a hundred other things I could watch. Or because he didn’t seem like the genuine, cheeky Shekhar Suman anymore. By then, Raju Srivastav had taken over my imagination. I would watch his sets over and over, I knew most of them by heart. In comparison, it was sad to see Shekar Suman mimic Vajpayee and Laloo, that those were the only voices he could do.

Or probably because I knew that I could always log into the internet, I could watch a film, play a game, talk to a friend, or stalk someone on Facebook. I don’t know what it was, but I just couldn’t connect to the show this time around.

Or may be some feelings are meant for a particular era, not meant to be felt again.

*

The Amazing Shaktimaan

It was a lazy evening. The sun was setting, and we were sitting on the rocks, and two of my friends were debating on who was the greatest superhero – Superman or Batman?

I just sat back and smiled at their ignorance. These fellows were lightyears away from the truth. The greatest Superhero of all time was not some Marvel of the West. DC ki AC ki taisi.

The greatest superhero was right here. Homegrown, and our very own.


Now wait, all you snobs who read this and sniggered, just you wait. In the next ten minutes, I am going to wipe that smirk off your face.

Here are some of the reasons why Shaktimaan can beat any of the others with his left hand (he is right handed):

Powers: What differentiates a Superhero from a hero? Quite simply the superpowers they have.

The conventional superheroes have a limited set of powers that they exercise when they get an opportunity. Most of these powers are related to strength, speed, agility, or a special weapon. And here is where Shaktimaan beats the others hollow.

HE HAS GOT INFINITE POWERS.

Being a wise man, Gandalf never shows his backside to Shaktimaan.

Every episode of Shaktimaan revealed a new power. He could fly, burn metal with his gaze, crush rocks with his bare hands, among many other awesome things. Now, suppose Superman is flying to Canada to save someone. You construct a huge wall in middle. What does the Man of Steel do? Turn around and risk flying over the Bermuda Triangle. What does Shaktimaan do? He just appears there!

AWESOMENESS TEST #1: DIFFUSE A NUCLEAR MISSILE

How Iron Man does it: Check for speed, velocity, trajectory, impact, and target.

How Shaktimaan does it: Bicycle kick

You see, in the 21st century, you cannot fall back on your limited set of powers. You have to innovate and use your mind to work out of problems. And Shaktimaan? Unlimited powers, mofos! Eat that!!

Shaktimaan propogates Indian culture:

As your parents, elders, neighbours, their elders, politicians, TV shows, films, and anyone else will tell you, what makes us the greatest nation in the world in spite of our poverty, illiteracy, unemployment, and corruption, is our culture.

Now, Shaktimaan upholds Indian culture. He never does vulgar stuff (like that Superman fellow flying around in his inners) or He-Man (whose costume and bob-cut blond hair make you wonder – “Is He Man?”)

Shaktimaan was born out of the rays that came out of the foreheads of seven rishis, and hence Indian culture is inherently there inside him. He regularly chants Gayatri mantra, Om, and other such prayers on the show.

Shaktimaan does not have sidekicks and lady loves:

Even though Superman has been around for more than 50 years, the charms of a woman still make him go weak in the knees. Spiderman fellow toh is a big pansy fuck, peeping into a girl’s window in the night. Which superhero does that, man?

A superhero’s life may be awesome, but the one curse they share is that they cannot marry, start a family, and go shopping – maximum they get to kiss the girl in the end of the film, that’s all. Even though they know this, all the superheroes cannot resist the charms of a woman.

Shaktimaan? Hah! He has resisted Geeta’s charms for more than a decade now. He doesn’t indulge in love-shove bullshit (also it’s not Indian culture, ya).

Another thing superheroes suffer is sidekicks. Now tell me, if you are a superhero, why do you need a sidekick? Why not create an army then? Losers! No wonder Batman’s sidekick is called Dick! Shaktimaan is enough by himself, ok? He doesn’t need these daisydicks sidekicks and other distractions.

Shaktimaan has a paunch:

In India, everyone has a paunch. We are a country of extremes when it comes to body shapes – an Indian will either be stick thin, or have a paunch. Shaktimaan, who understands market dynamics (plus the whole rishi forehead – centre of knowledge thing), has a paunch, and has no qualms showing it off.

Shaktimaan packing a paunch

In this way, he gives hope to millions of Indians to aspire to become better, super versions of themselves. And what is this need to have abs and all, man? If you are a superhero, you anyway have superpowers. Why do you need to wake up in the morning and do pushups and crunches? Dumb fellows!

Shaktimaan is concerned about the future of the country:

Shaktimaan has a humane side. After every episode, he advices children on different subjects – like switching off fans and lights before leaving the room. His sole purpose of existence is not just victory of good over evil. He is not avenging his father’s death. He is concerned in creating good citizens for the country.

Also, in the 21st century, one cannot go about breaking bridges and buildings. One needs to think about the environment, sustainable superheroism, and limited resources. This is where Shaktimaan scores over others by a large distance.

Sl. No. Superman Spiderman Batman Ironman Shaktimaan
Can fly Yes No No Yes Yes
X- Ray vision Yes No No Yes Yes
Concerned about Society Yes No No No Yes
Free from female distraction No No No No Yes
Can you walk around in his costume? No No Yes No Yes
Can deal with nuclear attacks Yes No No Yes Yes
Loves kids Yes Yes No NA Yes
Emit Fire, Water, and use other elements? No No No No Yes

Yeah, fuckers! Who is laughing now?

Unfortunately, for all his awesomeness, Shaktimaan was given a raw deal. If it was aired on BBC, we would have had aliens sitting in a dharna demanding him for themselves. Unfortunately, he was on Doordarshan.

And the world forgot about him – the Messiah of the Good, the hero with a heart, fists of steel, and at the same time a khata-peeta khaandan ka ladka.

You were not meant for this age. Your time did not respect you. On behalf of the world, the era, and all the homo sapiens of the earth, all I can say is: