Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Al vida! Chitrangada

Hazaaron Khwaishe ki aisi ki taisi
Aye Ghalib, yeh insaaf hai kaisi
Apnay aarmano ka gala ghot kar
Chitrangada chali samhalne grihasti

I normally don’t do such things, write such execrable shers that is. But the news of Chitrangada Singh quitting films, has led me to bury my sorrows in shayri.
Chitrangda. Whose face, according to a film critic, “is a complex map of beauty, mystery and symmetry with the colours of the setting sun”.
Chitrangda. Who I thought was the best replacement for Shabana Azmi as “the thinking man’s actress”.
Chitrangada. Whose sexuality has the smoldering quality of an Emmanuelle Béart.
Chitrangada. Who has chosen to stay in golfer-husband Jyoti Randhawa’s shadow rather than step out into the arc lights.
Chitrangada. Who will just have Hazaaron Khwaishe Aisi and the yet-to-be-released Kal: Yesterday and Tomorrow to show for her obvious acting talents.
(Deep sigh!)

Monday, August 22, 2005

Man and Myth
The Rising may have left audiences cold and historians hot around their collars, but it has succeeded in sparking off debate on Mangal Pandey’s role in the historic events of 1857.
Shahid Amin, in his
review in the Outlook of Rudrangshu Mukherjee’s ‘Mangal Pandey: Brave Martyr or Accidental Hero?’ says: “It was 1857 that made Mangal Pandey, and not the other way round.”
In the same edition of the Outlook, Amaresh Mishra
writes: “Till Mangal’s act, the anti-British movement had no face—by loading his musket, shooting at British officers, he implanted a rallying banner.”
Mukherjee himself writes in his book:
“Mangal Pandey had no notion of patriotism or even India.... If love for his country drove him, he would not have become a sepoy in the first place.”
Mishra disagrees:
“The incident at Barrackpore, where Mangal pulled the trigger on a British officer, marked the culmination of his development from an angry young man to a politically conscious revolutionary.”
Two extremely divergent views, but one much overdue discourse.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Google’s googly?
Just noticed this in a Wall Street Journal article on Google’s plans to raise cash by selling more shares:
“The number of shares Google plans to sell is 14,159,265. Those are the first eight digits that follow the decimal in the value of pi (3.14159265), which is a number that represents the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter. It is a figure that Google's co-founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, who were both raised by college professors and studied computer science, no doubt are familiar with. Asked about the figure, a company spokesman replied, "the document speaks for itself."
Mr Dan Brown , are you reading this?

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Sex sells. Period.
This blog has been around since July 2002 and in this period I have made a total of 73 posts, holding forth on such weighty issues as Shaolin kung fu and swatting pesky mosquitoes. However, till Aug 16 I had just about .765 comments per post to show for my intellectual exertions. But yesterday, the unthinkable happened, within the first hour of posting “Rising ‘yes’, Rousing ‘no’” I received 2 comments, and by the end of the day it had reached double figures — a personal milestone! The post currently boasts an all-time high of 12 comments (and counting, hopefully)! The secret(s) of my “success”? Passion and hard work, obviously. A never-say-die attitude: Keep on writing even when you know in your heart that nobody gives a flying f**k about your impressions of the various authors you have met. Last but not the least, introduce words like “mammary”, “cleavage”, “bosom-heaving”, wherever and whenever possible. And see the eyeball-grabbing potential of your blog expand exponentially.
P.S. Ketanji, sorry for the rant against the “exposure” in your film. You have taught me an important truth, and for that sir I am eternally grateful!

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Rising 'yes', Rousing 'no'
“Rising was like a case of erectile dysfunction. Ketan Mehta got it to rise, but failed to keep it up,” a friend quipped.
Mehta also managed to raise quite a few eyebrows, thanks to the gratuitous display of skin in the film. It seems Mehta has a mammary fixation. When he got wife Deepa Sahi to go topless in Maya Memsaab, one thought he was bowing to the dictates of the script, but what made him pack in such a lot of titillation in a “historical” film like Rising?
Early in the film he gets in a scene where an Indian ayah is shown breast-feeding her English charge a la Mandakini in Ram Teri Ganga Maili. Then he gets Kirron Kher (that’s how she is spelling her name nowadays) to let it all hang out. Okay, one could argue that she was a kothewali, but then what about the “item” number complete with bosom-heaving banjaras later in the film?
Rising has all the elements of a good movie, but Mehta fails to get it all together. So you have impressive art direction (a Raj-era officer’s bungalow is reproduced with an immaculate eye for detail) but a faulty script (amid rising tension as Indian sepoys plan the mutiny everybody suddenly bursts into a Holi song). Excellent acting (not considering Amisha Patel) is marred by the fact that the Hindi spoken by the English actors is so heavily accented that half of it is incomprehensible. Also, while Rising is not jingoistic like Gadar neither is it rousing like Lagaan. Which is why, Shyam Benegal’s Junoon still remains, in my opinion, the best film ever made on India’s First War of Independence.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Of Tridib, Tarantino and Shaolin Kung Fu
The most amazing thing happened today. I was Googling for stuff on Kill Bill: Volume 1, which I watched for the nth time this morning, and guess what I found out? Gordon Liu aka Chia Hui Liu, who plays the Crazy 88 gang leader Johnny Mo, was the guy who played the lead role in the 36th Chamber of Shaolin.
So what? 36th Chamber of Shaolin is one of my favourite kung fu movies of all time. 36th Chamber was a cult hit — it was to our generation what Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is probably to today’s karate kids. Ask any guy, who grew up watching Johnny Sokko And His Flying Robot on Doordarshan, to name their favourite martial arts movie, chances are they will name 36th Chamber. I remember watching it at Calcutta’s New Empire, or was it Globe, and emerging a big fan of martial arts flicks. Bruce Lee and Golden Harvest also played a big part, but I will save that for a separate post.
The film had apparently been released as Shaolin Master Killer in the US and made Gordon Liu a popular martial arts star in the West. Interestingly, 36th Chamber was directed by Gordon’s adopted brother Liu Chia Liang, considered an ‘auteur’ in the world of kung fu cinema.
Gordon also plays the role of the Deadly Vipers Assassination Squad’s kung fu instructor Pai Mei in Volume 2, which has a scene showing Uma Thurman carrying buckets of water up the stairs — straight out of a memorable training sequence in 36th Chamber.
He also starred in Shaolin Drunken Monk. Made in 1982, which was another great watch.
Kill Bill cinematographer Robert Richardson said 36th Chamber was among the 200 films that he watched for visual research prior to shooting the film.
It is common knowledge that Volume 1 is Tarantino’s homage to “old school” martial arts films, especially the kind directed by Chang Cheh. Now, Chang Cheh directed a film called Shaolin Temple in 1976, which was produced under the Shaw Brothers banner in Hong Kong. Incidentally, there was another Shaolin Temple made in mainland China in 1982. It was Jet Li’s debut film, and I remember watching it open-mouthed as a kid.
Here’s one Kill Bill trivia that you won’t find even at IMDB. At the end of the House Of Blue Leaves massacre of the Crazy 88, just one — the youngest of the yakuzas — survives. Though the young boy was originally supposed to die, Tarantino changed his mind because he thought sparing the innocent kid’s life would add a sympathetic layer to The Bride's ruthless character. "I thought, 'There's no way she'd off a kid with a mug like this,'" Tarantino reportedly told a Time magazine correspondent. So he devised a new ending for the scene — The Bride gives the boy a good spanking and he is shown running out of the House Of Blue Leaves.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Space May Be The Final Frontier, But It's Made In A Hollywood Basement*
The Discovery drama got me thinking about Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, which I happened to see a few days ago. (Incidentally, the spacecraft in the film was also named Discovery!) Somehow, 2001 was very different from what I had imagined it would be. I was probably expecting something on the lines of Star Trek or Apollo 13 (God knows why!), which might explain why I initially found the pace of the film to be “slow”. But, then I realised that it was deliberate. Kubrick was trying to depict the tedium, the eeriness, the sense of dislocation that space travel entails. It is palpable in the laboured breathing of an astronaut out on a space walk, the deafening silence that descends the moment the action moves outside the spacecraft, the shots of the astronauts in “hibernation”, the sequence where an astronaut endlessly jogs and shadow-boxes around the interior treadmill in the spacecraft. In fact in the 139-minute film, there's less than 40 minutes of dialogue. It reminded me of the surreal Solaris, directed by Andrei Tarkovsy. In the film, a psychologist goes to replace a dead scientist at a base on a remote planet, which is bizarrely sentient and can exert its influence on the minds of the humans present.
What I found startling was that the images of the space drama that had been hogging the front pages of our newspapers for the last few days were strangely reminiscent of the stills from 2001, a film which was made way back in 1968!
* Copyright: Red Hot Chilli Papers (from Californication)

Friday, August 05, 2005

In August Company
Prufrock Two's post on an article by novelist Adam Langer in The Book Standard, where he divides authors he's interviewed into categories, got me thinking.

One of Langer's categories is "The Genuinely Decent Human Being". My nomination for this category is Amitav Ghosh. I had the privilege of talking to the man during the launch of his latest novel, The Hungry Tide, at the Park Hotel, New Delhi, last year. I had been looking forward to the encounter and had made sure that I arrived half-an-hour early for the event. When he arrived, I was introduced to him by The Significant Other, who had interviewed him a couple of days ago for a story she was doing for her publication. Ghosh, dressed in a simple kurta-pajama, gave me a warm handshake. But before I could strike up a conversation, he was whisked away by his PR handlers. Inside Agni, the Park's resto-bar, he was immediately surrounded by mediapersons and P3P types. I hung around, waiting for an opportunity to speak to him. My repeated attempts to get his attention were being thwarted and I was losing all hope of getting to do a one-on-one with him. It was then that the crowd around him thinned and he called out to me. My mind was racing, I wanted to talk to him about so many
things: about his days in Delhi University's North Campus, his memories of Kolkata's Gol Park and Jodhpur Park, his PhD in Arabic at the University of Alexandria, how after reading the "Calcutta Chromosome", I had visited the SSKM Hospital to look at the plaque honouring Sir Ronald Ross fro his work on malaria there. But there was so little time. And then I remembered an essay of his, "The Testimony Of My Grandfather's Bookcase", in which he talked about his grandfather's collection of books and how it had been the biggest attraction of his visits to his house in Calcutta. Coincidentally, my best childhood memories are those spent at my grandpa's place browsing through his three big bookcases. And it so happened, that there was this book, "The Bridge Over The Drina" by Ivo Andric, which Ghosh had mentioned in his essay. We got talking about it. There was not a trace of any foreign accent in his Bangla, and his English was perfect. But then, time was running out. After all, he was not there to chat with a starry-eyed fan, he was there to launch a book. I barely had time to get him to autograph a copy of "The Calcutta Chromosome", which he gladly did. Ghosh again got caught up in the hubbub of the event. I stood there, a hundred little things unsaid, but euphoric. My day was made.
"He/She Who Does Not Suffer Fools Gladly" is Langer's next category. And my nominee is Khushwant Singh. I remember approaching him once for a quote at the World Book Fair in Delhi's Pragati Maidan. He dismissed me with a curt: "Let me take a look at the book fair first!"
"The Unself-conscious Subject", in my opinion, has to be Arun Shourie (before his brush with politics). This incident again happened at the World Book Fair. Arundhati Roy was signing copies of her just-launched God Of Small Things (this was long before she had become The Activist For Big Issues). In a deep-blue polo neck , she looked stunning. People flocked to her, entranced by her smile and her sparkling nose stud. I suddenly noticed a dapper-looking gentleman pass by, casting a sideways look at the adulation being showered on the New Author On the Block. He looked familiar. It took me a few minutes to realise that it was Shourie. I walked up to him and asked if he too was here for a book-signing event. The man was so overjoyed at having been recognised that he almost embraced me and with a broad smile said, "No, I don't do such things." And with that he melted in the crowd.
“The Real Person And Image Don’t Match Individual” is a category I just created for Upamanyu Chatterjee. When I met him, he looked like a typical St Stephen’s-educated career diplomat rather than the creator of the pot-smoking, Establishment-bashing Agastya Sen.
And, finally, "The Consummate Storyteller" has to be Samit Basu. This guy is a raconteur par excellence.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Deft Definitions
salubrious: pronounced (shall-you-bree-ush)
adjective FORMAL
How a Kolkata-bred Bong will describe Bangalore after spending most of his life in the sultry climes of the former and a part of it in tarapti-garmi-aur-tez-sardi-wali Delhi.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Is India Smoldering?
Last week, when Gurgaon exploded after striking Honda employees clashed with the police, I told a colleague that the violence was symptomatic of the tension simmering between the haves and the have-nots. The widening gulf between the rich and the poor, to use a cliché, is no more evident than in Gurgaon, where swank glass-and-chrome offices and glitzy malls mushroom a stone’s throw away from urban ghettos that lack even the basic amenities. I remember looking out of the seventh floor balcony of a friend’s house in Surya Vihar, a posh apartment complex at Kapashera, at the adjoining kutcha houses, the residents of which were still using the adjoining field for their daily ablutions. The difference couldn’t be starker.
But my knowledgable colleague was unimpressed. He had lived in Gurgaon for two years and hastened to tell me how the locals had made a lot of money by selling the land to property developers. I did not try to convince him. But my views were vindicated by MJ Akbar, who dissected the issue beautifully in this week’s Byline.
He writes:
“The story of the police onslaught on workers in Gurgaon, Haryana, is a little deeper than swinging lathis, however dramatic that might have been, or the failure of the Japanese management system…”
“…It is bad news in a country that lives across centuries: those blow the poverty line are in the worst phase of the 19th century; the urban poor lives in the early part of the 20th century; the middle class live in the middle of the 20th century; a miniscule few have entered the 21st century. There is too much anger at the base volcanic level, waiting for a chance to turn into lava.”
Akbar hits the nail on the head, when he says:
“Aspirations are a problem in an uneven economy, for while they comfort 20 percent at the top (the creamy layer, to use a quaintly Indian economic formulation), they create great resentments in the thick slabs below…”
He then goes on to talk of how Naxalites are gaining more and more converts through a network that “crawls through village and jungle between Andhra Pradesh and Nepal, extending to Orissa and Bihar in the east and Maharashtra in the west.”
And he ends his piece with this dire warning:
“The masses of the 19th century are at war with the elitists of the 21st century in India. The latter are armed. The former are angry. Don’t take the outcome for granted.”

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