Sunday, April 30, 2006

Gangster - A Love Story

I was a bit skeptical about Gangster…even though Raja Sen and Taran Adarsh had given the movie great reviews! How far could I trust those reviews; after all Raja Sen liked Paheli and Taran Adarsh likes anything and everything that releases every Friday! And the last time I tried watching an Emraan Hashmi movie (Murder), I couldn’t stand the torture and left the theater sometime after the interval! But I decided to watch Gangster- A Love Story anyway…the soundtrack rocked and I was curious about Shiney Ahuja! And I’m happy to say, Taran Adarsh wasn’t kidding this time!

Gangster is a violent film and it’s a love triangle…well, almost! The subject is pretty complex, and as far as my knowledge of Hindi movies go, never been explored before. Kudos to Anurag Basu for attempting something totally different and not ruining the film by resorting to usual Hindi movie clich├ęs!

The main protagonist is Simran (newcomer Kangana Ranaut); it’s through her eyes we see the story unfold. She is a mysterious woman, living alone in Seoul, has a wardrobe of rather revealing outfits and is a hopeless alcoholic, desperately seeking out the last drops of whiskey from discarded bottles in a garbage bin! Her only friend in an alien city is Akash (Emraan Hashmi) who’s a crooner in an Indian restaurant (he calls it the “club”). Akash is clearly besotted with Simran, tries to protect her from self-destruction and in general keeping her out of trouble when she falls into the deep abyss of alcoholism and depression. On a particularly rough night, Simran lands up at Akash’s pad (which has a precarious terrace with incredible views) and confesses her story. A Mumbai bar dancer, she fell in love with Daya (Shiney Ahuja), a Chhota Rajan/Abu Salem’esque gangster. Her presence in his life softened Daya, a hardcore criminal who guns down people in cold blood everyday. Daya’s mentor Khan (Gulshan Grover, in a special appearance with the best dialogues) tries to warn him of the consequences, but he turns against his own gang in order to protect Simran. They even try to live like a regular family for a while, but Daya’s shadow catches up with him and after a tragic encounter with the cops, Daya has to flee the country. Simran ends up in far-away Seoul, safe but lonely, spending her day and night in an alcoholic haze waiting for Daya’s phone call. Akash’s gentle insistence and her own growing loneliness lead Simran into Akash’s arms where she finally finds the happiness and peace that has been eluding her. But her bliss is short-lived, because Daya shows up on her door-step and in a fit of jealous rage, beats the pulp out of Akash. Simran, now pregnant with Akash’s child has to make a choice between the two men in her life.

From here the story takes quite a few unexpected turns which leave you slack-jawed, and it ends in the most unpredictable but befitting way. Anurag Basu never loses control over his story telling, keeping the pace tight all through. I’d be nit-picking trying to criticize the film, but I wish the director had taken care in some areas. There are some glaring continuity glitches…Simran starts walking wearing black boots, which mysteriously becomes black stilettos! Also during a very crucial and poignant scene, a huge billboard flashing LG logo was extremely distracting! The dialogues sometime sound very forced.

Kangana Ranaut is a lucky girl to have gotten a chance to play a character as complex as Simran in her very first movie. She’s hauntingly beautiful, with unusual hair and sad eyes. Playing an alcoholic is not an easy job; even seasoned actors tend to over do the drunken mannerisms. Kangana adds subtle nuances to her character, never over-doing anything! I found her dialogue delivery slightly weak…getting an experienced voice-over artiste to dub for her may have added more zing to the role. But over all a very impressive debut, I must admit!

What do I say about Emraan Smooch-me, oops, Hashmi? Every time he opened his mouth, crowds in the theater broke into peals of laughter, even though what he was saying wasn’t even remotely funny!! He plays the lover-boy crooner with great panache; gets to kiss the girl, make out on a bed of brilliantly hued autumn leaves and lip-sync some really great songs. But when it came to dramatics, he fell really short…he made an ass off himself in the confrontation scene at the Indian Embassy! I read somewhere that this was his last smooching role…he’s tying the knot and won’t be kissing any other girl. Hmmm…wonder if people would pay money to watch his movies anymore?!

I said right in the beginning that I was really curious about Shiney Ahuja. I haven’t had a chance to watch any of his previous films. (Note to self: Rent Hazaron Khwahishen Aisi ASAP) He was simply amazing. His Daya is reticent, relying mainly on his eyes and facial expression to convey his rage, passion and pain, and does a superb job. Daya’s character is mostly bereft of dialogues, and when he has things to say, it comes out a bit shy and awkward…things that a cold-blooded murderer is not used to saying. He disgraces himself by bawling on his girl-friend’s lap and in the very next moment reverts back to his take-charge macho self while fleeing from the police. Shiney Ahuja is definitely one of the best actors to hit the marquee in recent times. Of course it helps to look like a dream boat too…wearing a beret and a scruffy work shirt, he looked more like Italian Mafioso straight out of Godfather!

The Gangster soundtrack totally rocks. Pritam has done a great job with the back-ground score too. The songs pop up at the right places in the film, taking the story forward. I’m particularly addicted to Bheegi Bheegi and Ya Ali, even though the latter’s choreography was a bit of a let down. There I go nit-picking again!!!

Over all Gangster- A Love Story is a good movie; different from the usual Bollywood fare. Go watch it!

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

How Kaavya Vishwanathan Stole Someone Else’s Lines, Got Caught And Got Sued

I picked up Kaavya Vishwanathan’s How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild and Got A Life last Sat’day at Mumbai airport. It wasn’t on my “must read” books list, yet I bought it, because a) I remembered reading rave reviews about it sometime back, b) the author, an Indian-American teenager studying in Harvard secured half-a-million dollar two-book contract with the publisher, and b) the blurb on the back cover was quite interesting. Sure enough, the book was quite a page turner; I finished it in 4 hours. The story had hardly anything new, except for the fact that the protagonist, Opal Mehta is a desi girl from New Jersey, whose parents’ sole aim in life is to send their daughter to Harvard. To achieve that they develop a program called HOWGIH or How Opal Will Get Into Harvard. In spite of her impeccable academic resume, Opal fails the Harvard interview. The Dean asks her “What do you do for fun?” and that’s one question Opal didn’t have an answer for! She’s given one more chance to interview five months later and asked to get a life in the meantime. Thus develops HOWGAL or How Opal Will Get A Life, which she follows to the T with disastrous results. Along with it she also learns some lessons in life.

The book had quite a few things going for it. It was sharp, witty and often quite funny. I quite liked Kaavya’s style; the prose was simple and straight-forward. In fact I recommended it to quite a few people for an easy read. Then came the shocker. Tuesday morning’s paper carried the story of how Harvard Crimson, the student news-letter of Kaavya’s alma mater has accused her of plagiarizing passages from Megan McCafferty’s teen bibles, Sloppy Firsts and Second Helpings. Apparently there are as many as 29 passages in Kaavya’s book which are identical to McCafferty’s books!

Here comes the funniest part. First, Kaavya denies any knowledge of similarity between Opal and McCafferty’s books. The next day she comes up with an apology through her publisher Little Brown. Apparently, she is a huge fan of McCafferty, has read all her books and “wasn’t aware of how much” she may have “internalized Ms McCafferty’s words”!! Well, 29 passages is definitely a lot to internalize! As Opal’s bitchy friends would say, HOWLAME is that!!

Now, we all get “inspired” every now and then by other people’s works…I mean look at Bollywood, it practically runs on inspiration! Vasu Bhagnani made a career out of producing movies which are inspired from B-grade Hollywood romantic comedies. Sanjay Leela Bhansali took truck-loads of awards by making Black which was inspired by The Miracle Worker. Even great composers like RD Burman, Bappi Lahiri and Anu Malik has succumbed to “inspiration” from western or regional music from time to time! It’s okay to get inspired…but do it smartly. In Bengali there’s a saying “Churi bidya maha bidya, jodi na poro dhora!” Loosely translated, it means “Stealing is a great art, till you get caught”!

Talking of Bappi Lahiri and his inspired works, reminds me of another Lahiri. I read Jhumpa Lahiri’s Interpreter of Maladies sometime in late 1999. It was an amazing book; completely unputdownable! A collection of short stories depicting lives of immigrant Bengalis in and around New England. The stories were simple yet distinct, that the characters so real that one can’t help but empathize with them. I was so proud when she got the Pulitzer Prize…she certainly deserved it!

A few years later I stumbled upon an article in an in-flight magazine about contemporary Sri Lankan literature. It also provided a list of authors and their works. I managed to get hold of a few of the titles and one of them was Monkfish Moon by Romesh Gunesekera, a Sri Lankan writer based in London. He made his debut with this collection of nine short stories in 1992. Written with great simplicity, the stories create a compelling picture of Sri Lanka, a country of teeming natural beauty and a society in turmoil. Each story haunts you long after you’ve finished reading it.

But something bothered me while reading the book, specially the story "Captives"; a story about Mr Udaweera, the owner of a newly opened guest house near Sigiriya, and his first guests, an English couple. Udaweera assumes they are on their honeymoon, and goes out of his way to help them, eventually overstepping the thin line between hospitality and emotional involvement. There was a great similarity between Mr Udaweera and Mr Kapasi of "Interpreter of Maladies". Both are guides in exotic historical monuments and both are enchanted by a tourist woman with a secret of their own.

In the story 'Batik', Gunesekera depicts the disintegration of the interracial marriage between Tiru (Tamil) and Nalini (Sinhala) in their self-imposed exile in a nondescript London terraced house. They are able to physically escape the ethnic carnage of the 1983 riots, but not their emotional or psychological effects. In essence it was very close to the slow and unspoken death of a marriage in "A Temporary Matter".

In fact, the similarities were so glaring that I read both books back to back once again. Both had nine stories each, about an ethnic group (Bengalis and Sri Lankans) in different parts of the world. And several stories had the same essence. Yet nobody can accuse Jhumpa Lahiri of plagiarism, because she didn’t “lift” any passage, nor did she blatantly copy a story idea. Hers was an “inspired” bit of writing, which made her a lot more famous than Romesh Gunesekera, (and definitely a lot richer!) And she’s way smarter than Kaavya Vishwanathan, who should learn from Ms Lahiri how to "internalize" without getting caught!

Any way, coming back to Kaavya Vishwanathan…Little Brown, her publishers will have to do some serious thinking. They have shelled out half a million dollars for a two book deal and are saddled with a writer who apparently is a plagiarist. Apparently, Vishwanathan didn’t merely write the book. She collaborated with a “book development” company to ensure “proper positioning and marketing”. Perhaps that was where things went wrong. Maybe they “over-developed” the book just a tad.

Also heard that there are plans for a film on Opal Mehta. I wonder if the studio who bought the rights will back out because of this controversy. Probably not—after all, this fiasco gives the book the kind of publicity that money cannot buy.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Things To Do Before I Die

We were walking on a suspension bridge on Mt Mat Chinchang in Langkawi, about 2150 feet above sea level on a foggy, misty afternoon! I’m deathly scared of heights, as I am of closed spaces and water and creepy-crawlies among many other things! And I kept having premonitions of the bridge snapping under the collective puny weight of our little family (I can get really morbid at times, but the bridge WAS swaying a little!!) It occurred to me that if I were to fall to my death at that instance, I would miss out on so many experiences, there would be so many things left undone…it would be an unfinished life!

It made me think about the things I always wanted to do but never really got around doing. And I know I'm not the only one here. Most of the time we don't even realize our own desires, because we merely exist instead of living! Thus came the overwhelming need to write down the list of things to do before I die! There's also a wish list; wishes that I nurture in my heart and hope that they come true some day!

So, here’s my to-do list in random order:

  • Sail down the Nile, climb the pyramid on a moon-lit night, glimpse at the treasures of King Tut, marvel at the gigantic pillars of the temple of Luxor, wander through the maze like El Khallili bazaar…to cut a long story short, visit Egypt!
  • Learn to speak in French fluently…don’t ask me why…I’m obsessed about everything French :-)
  • Go Bungee jumping…vertigo notwithstanding!
  • Fly in a hot air balloon…hmmm…looks like I’m on a quest to conquer my fear of heights!
  • Learn to play the piano.
  • Learn Ballroom dancing.
  • Learn swimming.
  • Write a book that people will pay to read and then sell the movie rights for an undisclosed amount :-)
  • Start my own restaurant.
  • Ride a horse without being afraid of falling down!
  • Lay a rose on Kafka’s grave.
  • Paint more often.
  • Adopt a baby girl.
  • Lose weight and keep it off.
  • Create my website.
  • Ride a bicycle.
  • Read all the books on my “must read” list.
  • Travel, travel and travel more.
  • Learn to ski.
  • Live life as if I have only a month to live!
  • Stop procrastinating!!!!!

    And here’s my wish-list:
  • Happiness, peace and freedom in the lives of the two most important women in my life.
  • A very, very long and healthy life for the brightest kid I know.
  • Not move for at least 2 years :-)
  • See sonny boy get into Harvard…may be I should start drafting HAWGIH !
  • Get over my fear of confrontation.
  • Overcome my need for approval.
  • Be a better spouse, mother, daughter, sister and friend.
  • Have more people visit my blog and comment :-)

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Rock Hudson is smiling somewhere

Much has been written about Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain, its Oscar nomination and subsequent loss to Crash. I have been waiting for a long time for its release in Hyderabad. PVR Cinema tantalized us with trailers and posters during the pre-Oscar weeks, but suddenly and very quietly pulled back all publicity materials in what I assume, a classic case of “sorry-no-gay-movies-we’re-Indians-please!” Finally I got hold of a DVD of the movie with decent print in a mall in Kuala Lumpur. What a pity having to watch a movie on my laptop when the grand visuals were clearly meant to be enjoyed on the big screen!!

Brokeback Mountain is at once the gayest and the least gay Hollywood film I’ve seen. If anything, the movie is an old-fashioned romantic weepy whose protagonists happen to be two men, boldly played by two of Hollywood’s hottest young (and hetero as far as I know) studs. Over the course of a long Wyoming summer in 1963, Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger), a freelance ranch hand, and Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal), a rodeo rider, are thrown together on a sheep herding gig. Behind them is space — the airy, lonely infinity of a Wyoming mountain, snowcapped and freezing even in August ­­— and long hours when nothing or anything can happen. To keep the coyotes away, Jack is assigned to sleep near the flock, but mostly the two men have hours, days, and weeks on their hands. They jump on horses to guide the sheep across meadows and rivers; they sit around a campfire, heating canned beans and swapping stories and a bottle of whiskey. Then, one night, when it's too cold for either one of them to sleep outside, they do something that the old movie cowboys never did: They get into a rough embrace and, without a hint of seduction, they have sex, an act that's as shocking to them as it is to us.

Ennis and Jack, who've been raised in a world where to be ''queer'' is not to be a man (and is therefore unthinkable), can't grasp the feeling that's come over them because they literally don't have the words for it. They call each other ‘‘friend” and they mean it, but their bond evolves into a delicate, suspended romance, and Brokeback Mountain becomes their Eden, the craggy cowboy paradise from which they are destined to fall.

The two grow so close in body and spirit that when the job ends and they have to part, the inexpressive Ennis slugs his lover without warning. It will be four years before Ennis and Jack meet again, and by then they have both married and fathered children — Ennis with his longtime sweetheart Alma (the amazingly subtle Michelle Williams) and Jack with rodeo queen Laureen, portrayed as best she can by a woefully miscast Anne Hathaway, who looks as if she just breezed in from tea with Julie Andrews! The two men reunite over the years, going on fishing trips where no fishing gets done, sharing, however fleetingly, the connection they can barely speak of.

Jack, a shade more comfortable with his nature, talks of getting a ranch together, but Ennis will have none of it. Stung by childhood memories of a rancher who lived with a man and got bashed for it, he fears that exposure could kill them. In the classic Westerns, the cowboys were often men of few words, but Heath Ledger speaks in tones so low and gruff and raspy his words just about scrape ground. Ennis says nothing he doesn't mean; he's incapable of guile, yet he erupts in tantrums — the anger of a man who can't be what he is and doesn't realize the dilemma is eating him alive. Ledger, with beady eyes and pursed lips, gives a performance of extraordinary, gnarled tenderness. Gyllenhaal is touching in a different way, his puppy eyes widening with hope, then turning inward and forlorn.

What deepens the tragedy of Jack and Ennis is that the obstacles to their love are only partly cultural. The romantic lesson of Brokeback Mountain is that the heart wants what it wants, and should have it regardless. In an age when the fight over gay marriage still rages, Brokeback Mountain, the tale of two men who are scarcely even allowed to imagine being together, asks, through the very purity with which it touches us: When it comes to love, what sort of world do we really want?

Saturday, April 08, 2006

To Pee Or Not To Pee

The Mayor of Hyderabad, Mr. T Krishna Reddy has come up with a simple program to discipline people who abuse roads. In an interview with TOI he said “If any one spits or attends to nature’s call on the road, the patrolling MCH vigilance squad will immediately pick them up and deport them at least 6km away from city limits!” He is ashamed and embarrassed by the disgusting habits of Indian men (yes, men…I’ve NEVER seen a woman doing that) relieving themselves everywhere possible. When he visited Singapore, he noticed that it was very clean. Hello?? Anybody caught peeing on the wall in Singapore would probably get a death sentence!!!

He adds: “It isn’t difficult to keep our dear city clean, but I have found that the amenities provided by the MCH are most often misused. And the only way is to punish those who flout the rules of civic decency. The punishment needs to be humane but lasting!” Hmmm, I wonder how lasting this punishment will be, unless of course the vigilance squad also confiscates their belongings and makes the offenders walk back home! Or how about confiscating the offender’s pants…of course, it won’t be a very pretty sight…a bunch of men walking around without their pants!!! *shudder*

On a brighter note, the vigilance squad is on alert 24/7 and has found many law-breakers, but has managed to deport only 70 to 100 people to the outskirts of the city so far.

How many times must a man be deported before he stops peeing on the wall? In this case the answer my friend, is not the only thing blowing in the wind.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Of Antiques and Ghosts

I’ve always dreamt of being a collector of sorts…you know, antiques, arts, crystals…the good things in life. After spending years of putting up with cheap IKEA furniture, I have finally arrived! I have bought myself a few pieces of antique furniture.

I came to know the dealer Mr. Gupta about two years back. He has a small dusty shop full of goodies and does brisk business with people who know what they are looking for. Unfortunately the first time I walked in, I was totally clueless. Yet this man was very patient with me. He showed me around with great enthusiasm even after I told him that I was just looking! There were cupboards and four poster beds, easy chairs (that’s what they were called before the mechanical “recliners” came into the market) and chest of drawers, dowry chests with many hidden compartments, sofas upholstered in fraying brocades, dusty chandeliers, blackened silver tea-sets…it was a glimpse into an era gone by! I wanted every single piece in the store…only if I could afford them! Mr. Gupta also taught me to differentiate between real antiques and reproductions (he hates the word fake!) Each piece in his store was lovingly restored or faithfully reproduced!

Over last two years I have visited his store many times, some times to buy antiques for clients, sometimes to just browse…but never bought anything from there! Finally, I did it…I’m moving again and getting rid of ALL the IKEA furniture!! And I’m taking back some antique pieces with me. A entrance mirror cum hat and umbrella stand, a glass case which is at least half a century old, a wooden chest with beautiful brass inlay work and last but not the least, a beautiful rosewood desk at least 150 years old. All lovingly restored to its original glory.

I have heard about ghosts that stay with antique furniture. Why, just the other day I was reading about Robert of Spokane, WA who bought an antique roll-top desk and found a lock of hair and some hat pins in one of its secret compartments. In his own words:

One night I went into the den to catch up on some work. I turned on my desk lamp and on my desk were three rose petals. This rather confused me because I don't have any roses around the house and it was not the time of year roses would be in full bloom. No one else lives here besides me. I picked them up and put them in the waste basket next to my desk and started to do some work. About an hour later I had the strange feeling I was being watched and I am sure every one who has had that feeling know it is somewhat uncomfortable. I walked over to the window and closed the blinds and sat back down to do some more work. I was writing up some orders when I felt what I felt like a hand brush over my arm. I kind of jumped and just figured it was my nerves! I was tired and it has been a long day. So I stopped what I was doing and went on to bed. I read for a bit then turned the light off and went to sleep. I was awakend by what I thought was the smell of perfume in the room. It smelled like roses and was pungent.I turned the light on and did not see anything. But I did notice that the left side of the bead spread looked like some one was sitting on it. I moved to get out of bed and the indentation on the bedspread smoothed out as though what ever it was got up off the bed. Well I must say I was wide awake by now I was breaking out into a sweat at this point. I was not scared , but just could not understand what was going on.

The next day I was making a pot of coffee and some toast while reading the morning paper, when one of the hat pins that was in the roll top desk just all of a sudden fell on the table. The den is on the other side of the house how in the world did the hat pen get into the kitchen I thought. These events have been going on for a few years now. I have even seen the mystery ghost it is a young lady she stays in the den mainly. She has long hair down to the middle of her back I see here from time to time out of the corner of my eye. I have even started talking to her when in the den. I know this sounds crazy but I truly feel her spirit came with the Roll Top Desk. She is now a part of the house. She has never tried to scare me or hurt me but always makes things pleasant such as the perfume smells and trying to let me know she is around.

Just thought I would share this with people that there are more to antiques than just age. If it is an item that some one just loved and really liked, you never know that they may have a part of them embedded into it.

I’m hoping that there would be at least a ghost or two associated with my furniture, you know the bhatakti aatma types…at least with the desk; someone harmless of course…may be a writer, who can inspire me with words and expressions! I’m yet to sit at the desk and write, (I’m moving, remember? Everything is in transit!) But I’m so excited, that I even splurged on a bougainvillea pink raw silk covered chair to go with it! Can’t wait to set it up my new bedroom, in front of the window (that looks out to someone’s ugly backyard) and dream up intelligent blog posts and new plot lines for Ekta Kapoor’s serials!!