Friday, 25 December 2009

Christmas: The season of giving

Tis the season to be jolly... and to ponder whether you've been naughty or nice! Merry Christmas everyone. It's the time of the year when we're all looking forward to the dawn of a new day... the decorations are out and so is all the finery... with everyone making plans for a spectacular entry into the new year!

Christmas for me has always been the season of giving and joy... the season of Santa Claus, Christmas carols, gifts around the Christmas trees and Christmas dances, celebrations and loads of yummy, yummy food. It's also a time when family and friends come together. The feeling at this time of the year in the two weeks that lead into Christmas and new year is indescribable... it's warm and fuzzy yet exciting.. it's rushed and action-packed yet relaxed... it's time of reflection... yet a time to look forward for new beginnings!

At this time of the year, I cease to be Akshay... literally! I am Santa Claus... in my head and in my behaviour! It's now a family legend and part of our folklore! I love giving gifts (and also getting them, mind you!) and so this time of the year gives me a great reason to go out and shower everyone I love with gifts! I love the process... making lists, deciding a gift for each and everyone (personalisation is the key here), getting them wrapped specially and best of all... seeing the faces when they open their gifts on Christmas day! The only "Santa" things I don't do is slither down chimneys and ride a reindeer sled (no matter how I much wanted to)!

So now... stop reading this... turn on some good "Christmas-y" music, open the gifts lying under the tree and look forward for a smashing 2010!

Friday, 4 December 2009

Movie Review: Khoya Khoya Chaand

It is just so refreshing to see a period film that is made with such glorious reverence and affection. Khoya Khoya Chand does its best to transport you to the golden era of Bollywood, among the archaic lights, melodramatic sets, divas and classic automobiles. The visual treatment of the story is stunning, and thanks to that a superbly chosen, we get the smell of the vintage greasepaint.

Perhaps, the in-jokes, at almost every step of the film, was lost to the audience. This is an unhesitatingly insider film, Bollywood reflecting on Bollywood, not marked by raw impressions or cynicism. This is a glossy, neatly crafted romance set against an era of cinema the director himself is clearly overwhelmed by. The tale is of a pretty young starlet Nikhat (Soha Ali Khan)--who has been more couched than cast, right from an abominably early age--and her compromise to break into the limelight by giving in to the reigning star Prem Kumar (Rajat Kapoor). Enter then Zafar (Shiney Ahuja)--the nascent screenwriter who tells it like it is, who Nikhat ends up falling for.

It is a fine tale of compulsions and choices, of free will and helplessness, of Filmfare Awards and fat financiers. This is one of Sudhir Mishra's most simplistic films, however, where the characters are clearly delineated but utterly lack subtext. It is a neat love story, conflicted yet obvious, dramatic and basic--not that there's anything wrong in that.

Soha Ali Khan has the meatiest role, an author-backed character that requires her to emote and over-emote, to go from merry to melancholy in a heartbeat, and she manages this rather strongly. Sure, she is given unreal lines, but there is a fiery-eyed conviction as she toils on them, visibly straining to stay in character. It is a solid performance, and--called on to act for probably the first time in her yet-budding filmography and yes, she delivers. The film rests on her shoulders, yet she manages to look like a pin-up.

More than that (but with much less to do) is Soniya Jehan, the Pakistani starlet--who is cast as a ravishing beauty in the role of a diva, and in the film's finest scene outdoes herself when she asks, equal parts coy and manipulative, why she should sign a certain film that doesn't have any scope for her. Classic. Rajat Kapoor is superb as a superstar, first debauched then desperate, Saurabh Shukla's as the chubby financier gets all the one-liners. Shiney Ahuja is occasionally all right with the intensity, but whenever he has to break the glare, when he has to grin and throw stones at a producer's house, the acting effort shows.

It is a nicely put together film--much credit to the cinematographer Sachin K Krishn--but is bogged down by a self-pitying protagonist. There is inconsistency in the plot since it starts off in an unreal fashion but is being narrated by Vinay Pathak as an assistant director, so you sit back and imagine these are romanticised flashbacks as told by a warmly nostalgic chunk, and that imparts an air of Bollywood to the proceedings. Yet, the character loses his omniscient voice, and we are now left on our own--but the staginess continues.

There is much to smile at and much to applaud fondly, and many a cameo. It is a lyrical film and the title song is magnificent--the music holds the story together perfectly. I just wish we didn't have the title cards at the end. Do watch the film. It is a sincere effort, a work born out of sheer love and for the medium, and I earnestly wish we could see more films like this. On the ratings scale, three out of five.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Fare Game

Mumbai's cabbies are an institution unto themselves is a well-known fact. Sometimes their reasoning seems rooted in some parallel universe whose logic defies mere human understanding. Recently, when a friend alighted from the cab, a driver asked for Rs. 98. She happened to have a tariff card in her purse and pointed out that she owed only Rs. 89. Bristled with indignation at the implication that he had tried to rip her off, the cabbie said, "Madam, if I really wanted to cheat, why would I jack up the fare by only eight rupees? I would have asked for a thousand!"

Since my friend was in a hurry, she paid him Rs. 90 and desisted from pointing out two flaws in his argument. One, the argument was nine rupees, not eight and two, a cabbie would need exceptional luck to score that one-in-ten-million chance of finding a passenger foolish enough to cough up Rs. 1000 for a 10 kilometre ride. The cabbie failed to convince my friend that he had made a genuine mistake, but he did provide some unintended entertainment.

Monday, 30 November 2009

A scary ride

Recently, three young women on their way home to Goregaon mall felt it would be unsafe to walk the short stretch, considering that it was almost midnight and, incidentally, they were being followed by two men on a bike. They quickly stopped a rickshaw and asked the driver to take them home which was just at the end of the dark, lonely patch of road. The driver though developed cold feet at the idea.

He refused despite repeated assurances that several other autorickshaws are parked there for the night. The trio though managed to jump inside the rickshaw, unmindful of his protests, "How will I go back from there? What if someone murders me?" The only assurance which eventually gave him some strength came from one of the girls who offered to drop him back to the main road after he dropped the others home. Holding on to this promise, the driver reached the destination and perhaps also a realisation--the road was not as scary as he had imagined.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Remember, Not To Forget

Do you need more words reminding you yet again of 26/11? Hasn't enough been said? YES, I think you do and NO because I don't think enough has been said. Because, in this situation, I realise that it is extremely important to remember.. to never forget the courage and the sacrifice of our martyrs. It is this fact that alone that gave me the courage to pen down my thoughts today a year later.

The events of 26/11 and its after effects have been on my mind for weeks now, brought to the surface by varied comments and conversations and of course the media reporting. I was hesitant, unsure.. what right did I have to share my opinion and thoughts about the tragedy? I was just a mute spectator to the terror that unfolded across my city. I did remember.. I never forgot.. the impact it had on us.

I also realised that as a citizen of India and of Mumbai, it was also my responsibility to keep the memory alive... to remind us of the lessons we learnt over those fateful sixty hours but now have suddenly faded. For me, one of our biggest victories in those trying times was the fact that we stood together. We came together as a nation, setting aside factors such as religion, caste, language, age, strata and uniting the fierce condemnation of this heinous crime. It's time to remember that once again, because we are allowing motivated parties to divide us along caste, religion and the like. We cannot allow that. We must stand together.

What I also found most inspiring at that time was the collective voice of the youth of the country. Again, we came together... strong, loud, clear and committed. We stated our intent--we have a voice, we will be heard and we will participate in getting us through this situation. It was a strong message we sent to the world. It's time to remember that once again, because over the past year, that voice has been muted... our commitment to participating in the change has ebbed. It's time to rise again... lead the charge... lend support... make a change!

There were many other issues that came to light post this situation... and one year down the line there is still so much left untouched or incomplete. We shouldn't wait for an anniversary of an event to wake us up. 26/11 was deliberately brutal and we can't ever forget that. It is time we look ahead... to find ways where we can get involved individually and help bring focus and change. We will always remember those who lost their lives... we will never forget. But now, we need to show that they did not lose their lives in vain and in honour of their memory, the time has come for us to find ways to ensure that it never happens again!

I really want to know what you are thinking. What do you think we need to do as a nation? As citizens of this amazing country, what are the solutions we can provide? How can we participate in the process? Send me your thoughts on akshay3019@gmail.com . The bottom line... we have to participate in any change we want to effect... we have to remember... to never forget.

Monday, 23 November 2009

Culture of Fear

I'm fairly certain that you must be following the news at least on a daily basis, if not on an hourly basis. At least, enough to be aware of the happenings last week; this guy called Loin (I don't think it's his real name, par saara sheher usse yehi naam se jaanta hain) didn't care for Sachin Tendulkar's statement about being "an Indian first", and he said in his own editorial column in a newspaper that he was offended by this kind of broad-minded thinking. Let us leave aside the fact that I cannot understand anyone being offended by anything Sachin could say. Apart from being a genuinely sincere guy, there are only a handful people who have as much as him to make our country proud. I don't think anyone would disagree with me if I were to him as an Indian hero.

But we're an open-minded society. We live in the world's largest democracy, where people are entitled to have their own opinions. The people agreed with Sachin, and they shouted this agreement from the rooftops. The media, naturally, started talking about the issue. Newspapers, TV channels, radio stations... they all talked about what was going on. This angered the Loin's goons so much that one week later they spontaneously erupted, and without any kind of planning or forethought, barged into the offices of news channels in Bombay and Pune at the same time, and proceeded to beat up men and women working there.

Office-going men and women were beaten up by thugs and were told that criticism of their party would not be tolerated. Their clothes were ripped off, and they were beaten up with hockey sticks. This from an organization that touts itself as upholding Indian values. Obviously, I've missed something here; it was my understanding that Indian values involved respect and courtesy, particularly to women. But hey, we live in a democracy. People are entitled to have their own opinions, and if it is their opinion that innocent men and women should be beaten and humiliated, and women should be molested, that's their right isn't it?

Just so long as no one speaks out against them that would be bad. In other words, that would be anti-nationalistic.

What I'm wondering now is this: when are we going to get a taste of that great democracy? If terrorists (no, I don't think that's too strong a word) are allowed to roam freely, stirring up unrest and harming innocent people in the name of their freedom of speech, when will the rest of us get to feel as safe as them? I guarantee not one of those louts is even the least bothered about his future. They are quite literally, fearless. They're untouchable. The rest of us, I'm sorry to say, must continue to live in fear of what they will do next. Because it sure as hell ain't coming to an end any time soon.

Friday, 20 November 2009

Movie Review: My Brother Nikhil

My Brother Nikhil boasts of a very unique theme as it is a story not only about an AIDS patient, but also because it delves into the subject of homosexuality, a still debated topic in our culture. The story of My Brother Nikhil unfolds in Goa between the years 1987 and 1994 and tells the story of Nikhil (Sanjay Suri). All the characters in the film introduce themselves to the viewers and narrate the story of the guy they all loved--Nikhil.

Navin Kapoor (Victor Bannerjee), who is Nikhil's father and coach is very proud of his son Nikhil's achievement, since he is a state-level swimming champion. Nikhil is a very adorable guy whom everybody loves and has also won a scholarship from the sports ministry. His life comprises of his family, including his mother Anita Kapoor (Lillette Dubey), his elder sister Anamika (Juhi Chawla), who is his closest pal and confidante, Leena Gomes (Dipannita Sharma), who wants to marry him and boyfriend Nigel (Purab Kohli).

The movie takes a turn when Nikhil is arrested for some reasons. His parents who are unable to face social humiliation abandon him and friends and colleagues shun him too. Life is never the same for Nikhil as he is later sent to a secluded hospital ward and kept in solitary confinement, the reason being that he has been tested HIV Positive. During this time, it is only the love of his sister Anu and the comradeship of his friend Nigel that pulls him through the crisis. The two along with Nikhil fight relentlessly in pursuit of justice and social acceptance.

The theme of My Brother Nikhil is both emotionally compelling and socially relevant backed with some brilliant performances. The entire film has a certain amount of subtleness to it. The fact that the main protagonist Nikhil is a homosexual too has been treated with utmost sensitivity and there is absolutely no vulgarity or grossness about it.

Sanjay Suri, who turns producer with this film has given an extraordinary performance. Very few people can do justice to this unique role with dignity. This only goes to prove that he has immense potential in him, which needs to be nurtured and director Onir has done just that. Juhi Chawla as the endearing, supportive and defiant elder sister has given her career best performance. Purab Kohli as the gay lover is simply marvellous. Victor Bannerjee, as always is tremendous. The other star cast includes Gautam Kapoor, Dipannita Sharma, Shweta Kawatra, Shayan Munshi, Piya Rai Chaudhary and Sujoy Ghosh..

The cinematography by Arvind Kannabiran is striking, especially the locales of Goa and the various emotions of the characters which have been captured well in the camera. The music by Vivek Philip is good and the dialogues by Amitabh Varma are a welcome change from the other movies as this has a very natural appeal.

A must see movie for all those people who love intelligent yet artistic movies. On the ratings scale of one to five, this one gets a three and a half.

Friday, 13 November 2009

Namaste, Everyone?

On a recent nostalgia trip, I just couldn't help but be struck how gradually we lost our national identification mark--the ubiquitous Namaste. On a recent visit to a Japanese cultural programme, I just couldn't help but wonder for their immense respect towards everyone.

There is such charm and inherent grace in the gesture of Namaste that it made me feel quite nostalgic for the times when the Namaste (or the Namaskar) used to be the common way to greet family, friends and even strangers in India. Growing up, whenever we had guests at home, a Namaste was always the standard greeting. Even though as children, we never quite understood what it signified--the word in Sanskrit roughly transliterates as "I bow down to the divinity in you which is also within me"--in retrospect, it was the perfect salutation to bestow upon anyone.

Which is why it makes me so sad to see that we--the proud citizens of urban India--have jettisoned the Namaste in both our personal and professional lives. We have cheerfully abandoned the traditional greeting in favour of the more modern Hi or Hello. The poor, forgotten Namaste is only pulled out on rare occasions like a family wedding when you have to greet the in-laws. In the world of business, we now prefer to shake hands with the person we are meeting instead of folding our hands together in the more traditional way.

The only people who still diligently use the Namaste on a regular basis are our politicians and the employees of airlines and the employees of five star hotels. I have a sneaking suspicion that both groups embrace the gesture as a nod to political correctness--and will happily junk it once they are no longer in public display.

I, for one, cannot think of a more gracious, or even graceful way to greet people. The gesture has a certain old-world charm to it. So, rather than restrict the use of the Namaste to the most formal occasions, wouldn't it be great if we used it routinely in our lives as a way to reclaim our Indian identity? In fact, now that I think about it, there are several other 'Indian' traits that I would love to see make a comeback. The first among those is our tradition of taking our shoes off whenever we enter someone's house so that we don't carry the dirt and the muck of the outside indoors. Nobody does that anymore and how I wish they would!

Sometimes when the scent of aromatic candles tends to overwhelm me in the drawing rooms of my resolutely trendy friends, I wonder what happened to our love for the home-grown agarbattis. It has been pretty much relegated to the pooja room, its use being considered somewhat infra-dig in the rest of the house. But hey, it can perfume a room just as well, and sometimes even more effectively.

Then there's the small matter of flowers. For someone reason, our traditional Indian blooms are quite out of fashion these days. Never mind the humble marigold, nobody is even interested in the aromatic chameli which can scent the very air we breathe with its subtle fragrance. Instead, we flood our rooms with exotic flowers flown in from foreign shores, even if they don't look or smell half as good.

Over the years, we have abandoned many of our Indian traditions and ways as we tried to embrace the modern world and conquer it. But now that we have established ourselves as full-fledged citizens of a global superpower, there can be no shame in reclaiming our Indian heritage as our own.

So, how about we start with the humble Namaste and then take it from there? Please, no letters about this is a ''Hindu'' greeting and we shouldn't impose it on other religions. The Namaste may have its origins in Sanskrit but it is now a cultural rather than religious construct. It is universally recognized as an Indian greeting and there is no reason why all of us cannot embrace it.

After all, when it comes to recognizing the divinity that lies within each one of us, why should it matter which God we pray to?

Monday, 9 November 2009

Photographer in the city

A photographer from Delhi recently had a shocking experience while travelling from Churchgate to Bandra. As her cab waited at a traffic signal, her cellphone was snatched from her hand. She asked the cabbie to wait and started following the man in the narrow bylanes of Bandra, as it happens in the movies. As expected, the man managed to disappear.

Dejected, she headed back. The next morning, when she went to lodge a complaint at the Khar police station, she was pleasantly surprised by the treatment she got. The cop on duty turned out to be a lover of photography, who too had done a course at the J.J. School of Arts. After chatting with him for a while, she stepped out with a happy feeling, "The city is not so bad after all," she told one of my friends.

Monday, 2 November 2009

Harbour Darshan

It was the day when television channels were trying to desperately rhyme their breaking news headline with two words: lifeline and pipeline.

Last week, when a bridge fell on a Kalyan bound train, Central Railway passengers cursed their fate as the rare Thane train threatened to run till Kurla and then jump over to the Harbour Line and take them to Vashi, before returning to Thane. But the happy-go-lucky Dombivli bound crowd of aunties, young bankers and others who had met each other for the first time, chose to make the most of this 100 minute journey. They volunteered to share seats and hold bags, laughed at the crowd in the First Class compartment at 7 pm, tried hard to pronounce Ghansoli and even celebrated their rare view of the ''awesome'' Vashi station.

"It looks better than an airport," the most vocal of the aunties remarked and everyone followed it up with praises for the "lighting" , "highway" and the "lack of people" . One of them, a 20- something, leaned on the window and thanked her stars, "I got to see Vashi station on my birthday. My day is made," before managing to distribute one melting chocolate bar among at least 25 strangers. There was even some discussion on a possible water crisis that would follow the pipeline burst. But the women found humour in that as well. "Thank God, it's a Saturday. If there were no water at my place on a weekday, my colleagues would have suffered," the birthday girl said and promptly giggled.

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Minimum City

We like to think of Mumbai as Maximum City--a city bursting with people, heart, smarts, all that. Not on every count, I learnt this quite recently. A work-worn employee of a PR firm located in Tardeo was heading back home to Mazgaon last week when cabbie after aggravating cabbie refused him a ride. He walked the length of the road right up to Mumbai Central station, where cabbies are usually quite accomodating. He was refused by at least six. Then, almost like a dream, a stranger on a motorbike slowed down and asked him if he required a lift.

The PR executive jumped on before the rider reconsidered, and the two rolled forward. He was silently congratulating himself on his luck, and congratulating this city for the goodness and open-heartedness of its people, when they reached the said destination, and the PR executive unsaddled with a grateful heart... only to have that kind Mumbaikar ask him for the cab fare he'd have coughed ip had he taken a taxi instead.

Grumbling, and having lost his hard won faith in humanity of this city, the PR executive thrust out 40 rupees, his vision of a Maximum City deflating like a balloon to a miserly, minimum one.

Beat Seat




Rush hour travel hasn't been the same ever since the new the MRVC--Siemens local trains started rolling on city tracks. Passengers routinely grumble about the total absence of leg room between rows of seats that makes the compartment appear more packed than they actually are, poor seating alignment, and completely wrong placement of overhead fans that carry the promise of a migraine attack. Now, there is an added depressant in the already depressing trains--mounds of garbage under the ergonomically challenged seats.
I have occasionally wondered why the older, sturdier locals continue to be a lot more cleaner. Last week, the reason revealed itself in a second-class general compartment. A woman passenger who'd just boarded the train looked under every empty seat and announced, "I decide on a seat based on the amount of trash underneath. After these new trains came in, we just cannot throw our chips packets and orange peels out of the window. Unlike the older trains, the window grills in these are just too narrow here. People don't have a choice but to litter all this around." Perhaps, Mumbaikars deserve what we get.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

The Wonder Years

Old school and college ties can be very, very strong. After all, why shouldn't they be strong? Schools and colleges are the places where most of us began to discover ourselves with the help of teachers and our place in the world. It's one place that aside from our families at home firmly established our values, our ideas of how life should be lived and our concept of what a good education is.

Schools are also the place where we made the first good friends of our lives, where we indulged in masti and mischief, where we learned how much we are capable of achieving as well as our limitations as individuals. In other words, schools were the places where we grew up in front of our teachers. Since our schools occupy most of our lives before we become responsible, grown up people, it's also the place that made some very strong memories.

Nostalgia is surely a big factor in old school ties, especially at a time when you bump into a classmate and you cannot really recall his/her name as opposed to his/her nickname he/she had all through school. Obviously, there are shared memories. Nostalgia exists in various degrees. For people who haven't, or don't, keep in touch with batchmates beyond their social friends, nostalgia is what keeps the party going when they land up for an occasional reunion. To tell the truth, nostalgia often begins at the school itself, in the final year. There's just one exam left and then it'll dawn upon us that it'll be over. Which, after years of togetherness, can be unnerving. Memory collection becomes really important at this stage. Upto class IX, the full class is generally a divided lot but suddenly in class X, there is this tremendous unity because you realize that it's going to be over. So, the memories have to be maintained at any cost.

Our old school and college ties continue to bind because of our friends. Everyone would acknowledge the fact that the Internet has done much to make old school ties strong. I have no strong feelings for them, either way, though I did get a good education and was very fond of some of my teachers. But if you ask me what was so wonderful about school, I'd say without doubt that it was the friends I made there. One of my friends posted a photograph on Facebook taken before the Deepavali vacations in Class IX when there was a fancy dress competition and a party was organized to recreate that photograph and guess what, a lot of my classmates actually showed up.

Friendships are something that most of us would acknowledge after some thought. It is often difficult to separate the friendships from the school when the friendship happened because of the school. I personally believe that there are certain friendships which just cannot happen elsewhere but school. The school had certain values and ideas about life, people who went there shared those values and ideas of life. The moment someone tells me that he/she is from my school, there are ten questions I don't need to ask. The batch and the institution is also important. The batch is important since we grew up together, which in itself is a big bond. The institution is important because it provides the values you live by--and that's again a big bond that's established.

Shared values is another important value established during school years. They can often be very strong in themselves that age and generation have no meaning. Older people generally tend to have an automatic affection for--or at least a sense of responsibility towards--younger people from their old schools. The same is the case with memories; they come and give us happiness. They go away leaving us with nothing but sadness. When they come, we cherish them like the morning sun's beautiful rays. When they're no more we can do nothing but just miss those old days!! It's because of the old school ties that continue to bind us wherever we go since they are so strong.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Festival of noise

Sitting with friends and family, celebrating Diwali by watching movies and indulging in gossip sessions. Still, it's the family being together that matters. Deepavali is a big deal in my house, and I feel that we often lose sight of what's really important in all of this. People go nuts with buying new stuff, playing cards and gambling away huge sums of money... they spend tens of thousands of rupees on crackers, which have always infuriated me.

I always used to hate the noisy crackers because they would terrify me since childhood. I remember my mother telling me how I cried everytime someone burst a noisy cracker when I was a baby. I remember how my grandmother dreads the Deepavali time due to the noise outside that would go on all night. I was very particular about using the silent crackers, the kind that light up, but don't explode.

Then I got older and realised that even though I wasn't making a racker, I was still polluting the air horribly. The morning after Deepavali in any big city is nightmarish. There's thick smog everywhere. Come on, what are we doing? We're shelling out piles of hard-earned cash to pollute our own cities. To give our own kids breathing problems and making life hell for senior citizens. Still, as long as the family's having fun together, right?

I'll never understand where the whole firecracker thing came from; Deepavali is celebrated to commemorate the return of Lord Rama to Ayodhya after a long 14 year exile. People lit oil lamps along the way to light his path. To my knowledge, I don't think anyone set off rockets to welcome Him home. Nor were the roads lined with strips of 10,000 crackers. Bit of a rant, I know, but it's something that's always bothered me right from childhood. I'm thinking of my grandmother, who prays that Deepavali should never come. It must be horrible for her. The racket's going to go on all night, and there's nothing I can do. No way for me to explain what's going on, or why.

But I like Deepavali. My mom, cousins and I go around the house lighting diyas in all the window sills, so the house is lit up. It looks beautiful. One of my uncles insist that the tubelights should be off for an hour in order to light the house with diyas for an hour, which is almost like the idea of encouraging the theme of ''Deepolsavam'' and at the same time, it also calls for energy conservation. I spend the evening with my family and my friends, catching up and chatting till late in the night. We have a blast and yes, we never forget to gorge on sweets and savouries. That's how I celebrate Deepavali and yes, I'm planning to do my bit for energy conservation by encouraging the idea of ''Deepolsavam''.

I don't know how many of you have thought about any of the things I have ranted about today. Maybe some of you already feel this way. Maybe some of you had never thought about it, but please try to see my point of view now. Some of you might think I'm over-reacting, who knows. Whatever the case; if nothing else, try and spare a thought for senior citizens and animals.

Friday, 16 October 2009

Season's greetings

It's finally here... that wonderful time of the year when we polish ourselves and our houses, put on our finery, participate in various rituals, gift (willingly for a change!!) and just come together to celebrate. It's Deepavali and I, for once, am truly excited.

It's a festival that has always had a special meaning to me and it comes with so many shiny, happy memories. This year, I'm spending it with my family and a few relatives from Delhi, which is a real treat! Because of work and the art venture commitments, I couldn't spend it with my family last year, but this time around, I made sure that no matter what happened, I would be here in Bombay, to celebrate it with them.

Diwali has certain traditions and rituals that you follow as a family and at my house, the responsibility is divided between all the members of the family that are present in the city. As far as I can remember, my mum gave me th responsibility of distributing the sweets and savouries to all the neighbours and decorating the house with diyas and flowers. My role also included ensuring that none of the diyas lost their light! This year too, we continue the tradition and I am looking forward to letting my creativity flow as I set about distributing sweets and savouries as well as decorating the house with diyas and flowers.

For me, Diwali has also always been a symbol of new beginnings... a time to forget all your troubles and just celebrate being alive. It's also a time when I get to indulge (guilt-free) is one of my favourite pastimes... giving gifts! I love thinking of specialized, personalized gifts to give my friends and family and seeing their faces come alive when they receive the gifts. The presence of childhood friends, this year, I spent a lot of time and effort on my Deepavali gifts and I'm actually very happy with the outcome... I just hope everyone who receives them thinks the same.

Fireworks were very much a part of my early growing years and something I looked forward to, but one Diwali, when I was 14 years old, my cousin brother passed away at the age of 19, which is why I lost interest in bursting crackers. The morning after the Deepavali night, I looked out of the window, only to open my eyes to the after-effects of fireworks---the huge pile of garbage everywhere and the smog that settled over the streets! I was shocked. Ever since then, I stopped myself from playing with fireworks, not just for the reasons mentioned above but also because of the damage it is doing to the environment and also because of the exploitation of young children in the factories that churn out these fireworks. If you must, get together in a group and burst a few but make sure you clean up after you're done!

The Diwali night has always been a little special. It is a tradition in my house to switch off all the lights in the house and light the house with diyas. Of course, it is a concept known as ''Deepolsavam'', which we plagiarized from a temple in Bangalore. It is a beautiful sight to be greeted with arrays of painted diyas. My Diwali outfit is identified... the diyas are ready to be lit... my sister has come home to design the rangolis with graphics that have been sketched, the special menu of the gastronomic delights is ready to be served... the lights are ready to be switched off for the ''Deepolsavam''.

Before I go, from my family to yours, I would like to wish everyone a very happy and safe Deepavali. I hope it brings you the joy, laughter and wonderful memories that it gives me every year.

Monday, 12 October 2009

Beggars and tears

Logically speaking, it's not easy for a man to lose his wallet in the ladies compartment of a local train. But a thin, frail man from Pune knows that rationality is a rare resource in today's times. That's why, everyday, this man enters the ladies compartments of Dombivli locals in the afternoons and immediately starts searching the floor. He looks everywhere, under the seats, on window sills, negotiating his way through the crowd of freshly curious women.

After five minutes of nautanki and this desperate exercise, he excites sympathy and interest. "What are you looking for?" A tall woman asks. "Didi, I've lost all my money and have nowhere to go," he croaks in Marathi, almost on the verge of tears and continues his routine. "Please let her not fall for it," prays another woman passenger not very far away. She is familiar with this beggar's moves, but before she could warn the lady, the damage was done. Hydraulic force prevails over logic. The desperate man in tattered clothes steps down slowly with fake gratitude and a hundred rupees.

Friday, 9 October 2009

Who Needs Bandstand when you have BEST?


It will take a while before the moral police get to this, but it turns out on rainy days, there is a greater dearth of places for idle youth of Mumbai to hang out. Some days ago, four twenty something boys were seen chit-chatting in an empty BEST bus as it stood parked at the bus depot. When the bus finally started, the youth promptly got off---and then got on to the next empty bus waiting to take off.


Considering that most buses in the city of Mumbai enjoy an average of 20 minutes parking time before they are ready to hit the roads once again, these youngsters have a good thing going. It's free, it's clean, and there's no police snooping around. Now, what if all those displaced from the seafronts of Mumbai knew this....

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Change for a change

It was so terribly hot and I started feeling like I am in a huge sauna. Thankfully, it rained and today I am feeling cold. Since none of my clothes are dry, I have had to manage wearing a flimsy white vest. Fed up of studying I turn to the Internet to update my blog and then head to the living room to catch up on the developing stories. Breaking news is that Andhra Pradesh and neighbouring Karnataka are reeling through flash floods and it's expected to get worse. Worried, I head out to the window to soak in some cool air and sip a hot cup of tea. Oh my God, I just cannot believe what I just saw.

A huge wave---40 feet, no 5o feet, God no, it's at least 60 feet--is coming straight at me. I run out of the room, down the passage, out of the door, but it's too late. The wave pounds me, I'm drowning, gasping for air.. I wake up shivering. I look around and sigh with relief! It was just a Godforsaken dream! But it felt so real, I run towards the window to double check. Phew! It's a lovely day outside; birds chirping; raindrops falling gently on the windowpanes, grey skies and cool winds signal life. Still shaken from the dream, I head out to my coffee machine, only to be greeted by friend, who notices my petrified look. "Are you alright? You look all shaken up!" I sigh and tell him about my dream. I also tell him that the last three times I've dreamt about something it's come true--food prices rising, failing in exams and even falling on hard times.

Looking at me straight in the eye, my friend pronounced, "Well, I'm afraid that you're right this time as well. I mean look at the world around you. We have tampered with nature for far too long, it's payback time soon. Another 15 years, and your dream will be a reality. Maybe sooner, if we don't salvage whatever is still left. The forests are diminishing, animals and corals dying, droughts, floods, erratic weather conditions--but do we really care? There is enough for man's needs Akshay, unfortunately not enough for his greed."

I felt inspired after listening to his words and rush to finish a few pending chores. I have to do bit in my protecting the world from extinction. Surely, we need to protect it jointly and when I asked my friend on how to protect the world. "Well, firstly begin by switching off your television when not in use and switch it off from the main switch in the night," smirked my friend. Embarrassed, I quickly rushed for the remote. "Before you change the world, change yourself Akshay. Start with your own life. Begin with small little changes in your life. Switch off the lights and fans when you're not in the room. Don't let your car idle especially when you're stuck at traffic signals, turn off the tap while brushing your teeth, don't leave the computer in hibernate or sleep modes, stop using plastic bags, avoid keeping your phone on vibrate mode, use energy saving bulbs. On Saturday night, switch off the power supply for an hour--and you could still reverse the damage."

His words resound in my head as I head back home. I take an auto-rickshaw and ask him politely to switch off the engine while I wait for the traffic signal to turn green. To my right, I observed a mother rushing her child to the school bus, stuffing his bag with a tiffin box. I could not help but think, "It's great how parents can give their children everything they can--education, luxuries, toys and pleasures. But are they giving them a planet that has a future?" I turned to the left, and I could spot a car letting out the toxic smoke. I am angered and ready for a confrontation, but then I realise that it's something that everyone needs to be aware about.

Before I step out to change the world, we have to change ourselves. Change, so that my world, does not turn into a nightmare!!

Personal Space, what's that?

If you thought the stunts in Khatron Ke Khiladi was scary, my friend dares you to take a bus ride from Mumbai to Khed. Blame it on the shoe-string budget travel or his talent for inviting third-degree torture, but a recent trekking trip to the Konkan side of Maharashtra was punctuated by a run-ins with ''interesting'' bus conductors.

His first destination, Mahad, a city in the Raigad district, is only accessible by road. Having already experienced the "ups and downs'' in the life of an ST bus earlier, he took a ''private tempo'' option from Karjat, the nearest town in the Raigad district. Now we've heard of private transport guys overloading their vehicles, but there needs to be regulation on this, for the sake of human rights. He was hauled in at the back of a 'Trax', a 10-seater van, far from vintage. Before he could say, ''thamba'' (Stop in Marathi), he found himself sharing space with someone else's suitcase (on his lap), an ogling infant and an about-to-puke tribal woman.

The opportunist conductor, after loading the van to thrice its capacity, was contorting at 90 degrees, yet smiling at his runaway success. "It isn't this bad everyday," he told my friend, perhaps looking at my friend's disgusted expression.

Saturday, 3 October 2009

Trying to make sense of life

I am sick of writing exams. I am tired of living life as though it is a rat race and I am stressed and above all, I am scared to think of my results. I hope you are better than I am! God, it's been a rough couple of weeks. I keep waiting for this run of luck to break, but apparently things are coming to a head in my life. Sometimes, I feel life has to get really hard, in order for one to take a stock, to look at what's wrong, and what needs to change. I think I'm in one of those phases.

Coming to think of it, didn't I write months ago about Good Morning Sunshine with a few of my favourite things? As I sheepishly remember writing, the return of Saturn tends to make things harder for you before things get easier, in order to push you into the changes you need to make. Ha! Apparently Saturn wasn't going to let me forget the ordeal and torture I underwent with Maths.

I apologize if I am sounding cryptic; it's just that I am not in the frame of mind to write a happy-happy post when things are so rough, for I cannot bring myself to lie right now. I am sick, as mentioned above. Being really sick brings out the baby in most of us, and I am no exception. I have always been the guns-blazing type of boy, and usually push myself past my limit, until my body forces me to take rest by getting sick. I guess a hectic with exams, following with artist management teams, replying back to messages, mails, tweets and SMSes along with studies and all the manner of work in the middle, was going to take its toll! But really, that's a lie, and I said in the very beginning that I would not like to lie. It's not just exams and studies; I am having a hard time in my own life right now. It's all piled up like a mountain at the same time, and it's one of those rare times in my life that I'm barely keeping it together.

I'm tired, because last week I was teaching a friend a chapter of English Grammar on Monday, I was commuting to college to write an exam on Tuesday, I was following up with some volunteers of my artist management venture on Wednesday, I was commuting in a bus in the evening rush to get home from college on Thursday, I was teaching a chapter in Hindi to a friend on Friday and on Saturday, I finally found the time to come online and update my blog and in the midst of this, my brain starts spinning like a whirlpool. No wonder, I'm sick!!

I'm stressed, because I go back to college on Monday to write another exam and there are relatives who would be coming later this week to invade my privacy. There is an insane amount of work to wrap up before I head to college on Monday and if I don't fix all that before I leave there's no time after the exams. My personal life is currently in shambles and I am trying to make what sense of it that I can.

I am scared because a dear friend of mine was just went through something really traumatic, and is dealing with the repercussions. Talking to him on the phone for hours everyday is the only thing I can do for him, and it's draining, though of course, I wish I could do much more. I want him to get better, so much, and I am trying to find it in me to do what a good friend does, and goes beyond my limits to be there for him.

Well, if you are still reading this, I applaud your high patience levels. Thank you so much for reading this diatribe, and warm wishes to you.

Friday, 2 October 2009

It's you who matters

For as far back as I can remember, my parents inculcated the fact that there is no substitute for hardwork and it's something that I tried to bring to everything that I have done. But.... I realised very early on in my life, hardwork does not necessarily guarantee recognition and appreciation. Which is why, I am so nervous before writing everything over here and any other activity I am a part of.

In the week before my results, I am always breathless with anticipation about the response my marks will evoke from my parents and my performance in the exams. When feedback starts pouring in the form of criticism and positive responses, it can be euphoric or heartbreaking. Well because I have been blessed and I am fortunate enough, especially over the past week, to have been flooded by warm, loving and appreciative mails for raising my voice against corruption in a debate. I must add that I am humbled and overjoyed at the same time.

Enriched and much more with the outpouring messages on Facebook and mails and a dedicated set of girls who pinpoint flaws and mistakes and at the same time, appreciate my effort in writing. There is nothing more gratifying than knowing your work has been appreciated and that you have found a connect with a sizeable number of people from across geographies!

This was further reiterated last week when I stood on the stage to win the ''Most Promising Writer'' award. It was very, very humbling to be standing there with this wonderful award in my hand knowing that the reason I was there, was because of a few teachers who happened to read a short story of mine that I had written. In many ways, I am because of the support of my teachers and friends...

So today, I want to thank all my teachers and of course, my friends, without whom I am incomplete. Each one of you who would be reading my write-up. Thank you so much for taking out the effort to connect with me by reading each post and for encouraging me to write better and to keep doing what I am doing with your feedback and criticisms. I may not be able to respond to everyone, but I assure you that each comment, e-mail, letter, message is important to me.

I am working on a new idea of writing a novel about a falling film star desperately trying to make a comeback. I am also working on a strategy with which I can connect with everyone of you on a more regular, one-to-one basis. So, I am requesting you to please send me a mail on akshay3019@gmail.com, so that I can respond to each one of you. Until then, please don't stop connecting with me. I look forward for your feedback...whether if it is praise or critique. What matters to me.... is that it's real.

Movie Review: Mumbai Meri Jaan

Mumbai Meri Jaan is a movie I had seen in the theatre (despite of the Censor Board rating it as an ''A'' movie). I wanted to review this movie long back but somewhere I never got the time to do it. As they say, better late than never. Mumbai Meri Jaan is a movie about the serial bombings of suburban trains in Mumbai of 2006 which is a nightmarish incidents the nation would never forget. Mumbaikars still get gooseflesh recalling the ghastly incident. Mumbai Meri Jaan recreates the incident on celluloid, but it is not terrorism per se. It talks about the aftermath of this tragedy and how the lives of five people, not remotely connected or associated with one another, gets affected in the process.

Mumbai Meri Jaan is more of an emotional journey. Five varied stories unveil in those two hours and each story manages to make a statement. Nishikant Kamat's first Hindi venture is one of those films that don't deviate from the core issue. It is not foolproof in terms of writing, but the execution is so compelling that one overlooks the minor blemishes in the narrative. Mumbai Meri Jaan is more of a tribute to the never-dying spirit of this dynamic city called Mumbai. A film that every citizen should watch.

On July 11 2006, the suburban trains, which are known as the lifelines of Mumbai, was struck by a series of bomb blasts. Mumbai Meri Jaan explores the impact of this devastating incident on the lives of people of Mumbai. From a brilliant broadcast journalist Rupali Joshi (Soha Ali Khan) to a patriotic corporate man Nikhil Mathur (R. Madhavan), from a retiring policeman Waghmare (Paresh Rawal) at the twilight of his life to a rookie cop Kadam (Vijay Maurya) at the dawn of his career; from an angry and xenophobic unemployed young man Suresh (K.K. Menon) to a coffee-vendor Thomas (Irrfan Khan) who is struggling to survive and belong: Mumbai Meri Jaan follows the lives of people from all strata of Mumbai's bustling society as they tackle the aftermath of a fatal accident that brings out the best and sometimes the worst in them.

Mumbai Meri Jaan looks at the common tragedy, but diversifies into five different stories at the very start itself. Each of those stories and the characters depicted in those stories are relatable. If you haven't witnessed these people, there is a possibility that you may have read or heard about them through the media.

Amongst the five stories, the ones that leave a strong impression are the Paresh Rawal--Vijay Maurya, Irrfan Khan and K.K. Menon. Soha's story may not appeal as much since it tends to go a little overboard, while Madhavan's story has its moments, but it is not as impactful.

Nishikant Kamat has executed the sensitive subject with gloves, handling each of those five stories with care. A number of emotional moments in the narrative move you and at times, depress no end. Credit must also be reserved for its writer as also the art director, who has recreated the ghastly incident so realistically.

Every performance in the film is applaud-worthy. Paresh Rawal is strictly ok. Irrfan Khan is as always marvellous. K.K. Menon is fantastic and the actor makes his part appear so real. Soha is a huge surprise. She is at her best in the scenes which depict her emotional breakdown at the morgue and you know that she has gradually evolved into a terrific actor. Madhavan is equally competent, conveying so much even when silent. Vijay Maurya is superb and his scenes with Paresh Rawal are good.

On the whole, Mumbai Meri Jaan is a well-intentioned film that should win praise for its execution and performances. It's more for the discerning viewer, for those who swear by serious cinema. Even if you're not a resident of Mumbai, make it a point to watch it because it is a universal theme. On the ratings scale, out of five, three out of five.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Movie Review: Titli

Rituparno Ghosh has directed some great Bengali movies and he is one of the best directors among the young parallel movie directors. Rituparno is peerless when it comes to scripting complex screenplays. I must admit that he handles stories with multiple characters beautifully. Many of his movies are women-oriented and many of his movies have won the National Award. On the recommendation of a friend, I watched the Bengali movie "Titli" on Youtube.

The story of Titli develops around the evolution of Titli from a girl into womanhood, through the breaking of the crush. The story is set in Darjeeling and the dense jungles of Duars in North Bengal, covered in dense morning fog, the sunshine playing hide-and-seek, Buddhist monastries, the famous Darjeeling toy train, interleaved with poetry and music, create the romantic ambience underpinning this film.

Titli (Konkona Sen Sharma), is a 17 year old girl who has a teenage crush on a Bollywood superstar Rohit Roy (Mithun Chakraborty), who is more than twice her age. Though her bedroom is filled with his posters and memorabilia, Titli's mother Urmila (Aparna Sen) is surprised to learn that she could even marry this much older man. Titli and Urmila are going by jeep to receive Titli's father from the airport. The jeep is shared, and as it happens, their co-passenger is none other than Rohit Roy himself, who has a flight to catch from Siliguri.

Titli's adolescent dreams are set on fire after she meets her crush face to face. Their conversation is interrupted by a halt necessitated by the coolant running out. Rohit also needs a cigarette, and Titli wants to get them, and gets Rohit to agree. While she is gone, it is revealed that twenty years ago, Urmila and Rohit were lovers, when Rohit was an outsider looking for roles in the Bengali film industry situated at Tollygunge. Today, Urmila is married, but that doesn't stop them from reminiscing longingly. Urmila recites lines from the well-known Shakti Chatterjee poem, "Abani Bari Aachho?" (Abani, are you home?)

The immensely talented director Rituparno Ghosh gives a unique dimension to the film that would make viewers of sensitive films such as this lap it up. Right from the opening moments, when the lilting song, ''Megh Peon'' fills the air, the viewer is likely to be enthralled. Mithun Chakraborty, as the ''hero'', tries his best to cater to the demands of a film of this nature and he mostly succeeds. Aparna Sen, as usual, gives a superlative performance. It is Konkona Sen Sharma who excels as the young girl--torn and confused. Konkona grabs all the attention, deservedly; she did this film before got noticed and won praises for Page 3.

The final laudatory words must be in favour of the brilliant cinematography of Abheek Mukherjee. Nature has not been so effectively in a film for a long, long time. The myriad monsoons accentuates the myriad moods of humans. The film is to be watched with family and on the ratings scale, three out of five.



Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Daivathinte Khat

We have our exams going on and yesterday, while I was just going through the English textbook, I came across this poem which is published in our book. Personally, I hate poems and I know my limitation that I can never write a poem.



As you woke up this morning,

I watched you and hoped you would talk to me,

even if it was just a few words,

asking my opinion or thanking me for

something good that happened in your life yesterday--

but I noticed you were too busy

trying to find the right outfit to put on

and wear to work.



I waited again

When you ran around the house getting ready

I knew there would be a few minutes for you to stop and say hello,

but you were just too busy.

At one point you had to wait for fifteen minutes

with nothing to do except sit in a chair.

Then I saw you spring to your feet.

I thought you wanted to talk to me

but you ran to the phone and called a friend

to get the latest gossip



I watched as you went to work

and I waited patiently all day long.

With all your activities

I guess you were just too busy

to say anything to me.



I noticed that before lunch

you looked around,

maybe you felt embarrassed to talk to me,

that is why you didn't bow your head.

You glanced three or four tables over

and you noticed some of your friends

talking to me briefly before they ate, but you didn't.

That's okay. There is still more time left,

and I have hope that you will talk to me...

yet you went home

and it seems as if you had

lots of things to do.



After a few of them were done, you turned on the TV

I don't know if you like TV or not,

just about anything goes there

and you spent a lot of time each day

in front of it,

not thinking about anything--

just enjoying the show.



I waited patiently again

as you watched the TV and ate your meal...

but again you didn't talk to me.

Bedtime--I guess you felt too tired.

After you said goodnight to your family

you plopped into bed and fell asleep in no time.



That's okay

because you may not realize

that I am always there for you

I have got patience

more than you will ever know.

I even want to teach you

how to be patient with others as well.

I love you so much

that I wait everyday for a nod,

prayer or thought or a thankful part of your heart.

It is hard to have a one-sided conversation



Well, you are getting up again and once again I will wait with nothing but love for you hoping that today you will give me sometime.



Have a nice day!!

Your friend,

GOD.

Saturday, 26 September 2009

De-friended

Is it just me or has friendship taken a beating these days? When we were younger, every action and every decision was taken as a collective, a gang of best friends standing by each other through thick and thin, exploring and experimenting together because we had each other for support. We were much more gullible in the days and hardly ever stopped to ponder our actions, but we always knew that whether it was the chaotic corridors of school or the loud and robust canteens in college, there was a camaraderie that was constant.

Flash forward to twenty years later and the very foundation of friendship has taken on a whole other facade. You can wake up tomorrow and find seven or eight new friend requests on popular social networking sites like Orkut or Facebook; distant friends, friends of friends, and most of the time, completely random strangers. You may accept or reject them, but you cannot ignore the reality of this very scary social predicament; where did all the ''good friends'' go? As phones replaced letters, then those long, glorious chats on the phone were pushed aside for one line e-mails and broken language text messages. Now you meet people who roll their eyes and exclaim, ''I'm just not a phone person, send me a message instead''. If we don't have time to take each other's calls, how will we find the time to bear a shoulder during a crisis?

As we get older, we embark on a long period of extreme independence where we realize that we don't really need anyone to get by on a day-to-day basis. Come to think of it, most of us have built so many protective barriers around ourselves that even the ones with the secret passwords cannot get in. Cynicism, stubbornness, and often times a fear of rejection surges over most of us, and we learn not to expect anything from anyone because inevitably, they will let you down.

Where I come from, I know (and am known to) a lot of people, but to identify the true friends amongst the crop is a balancing act I still have to master. So much of self-worth and confidence comes from a support structure you'd like to believe won't tremble, but with all the plastic friendships popping up, you really have to dig deeper and ask yourself who your people are in this world.

Where do you find them and how can you ensure that they won't change or snub you when you need them the most? Are the oldest friends really the best of friends? Do they know you as you are now, or are they stuck on the person you were before? Is a good friend someone who can affect you the most, and are you a bad friend if you cause your friend pain? We are human and we bleed very easily. We can trigger tears and our punches can blow even harder. Our actions might be restrained and our words of love and support may have shortened, but at the end of the day, all we really need is the security of knowing that there will always be someone in your corner who will run to you and clean you up no matter how severe your crimes are. I have learnt that friendships cannot be evaluated, and people shouldn't put up their friends for a trial.

There are no tricks or tips to life-long friendships, but know that when you are in the presence of a friend and with their presence you feel safe, that they are the keepers and the ones worth fighting for. Mark them, brand them, do whatever you legally can do them, but don't ever let them go because when you're staring the cold, harsh realities of life in the face, they will be the UV to your designer sunglasses, and the fleece to your coat, and on days like those, when all else seems bleak, they will be the ones to break your fall.

Pick your friends wisely, and they will make you wiser. A wise man once told me that... and yes, he was a distant friend.

Movie Review: Luck By Chance

One has often heard, read and seen (on screen) the positive and negative sides of Bollywood. It would be erroneous to state that Zoya Akhtar's 'Luck By Chance' does a ''pol-khol" of the glamorous industry. Let me put it this way: the film mirrors the behind-the-scenes drama and manoeuvring exactly the way it occurs in showbiz. Watching Luck By Chance is like experiencing Bollywood first-hand.

If you're remotely associated with Bollywood, if you know how things work in Bollywood, you'd laud and applaud, laugh and smile, identity and understand and at times, empathize and sympathize with the characters in Luck By Chance. Zoya Akhtar's take on an industry that attracts millions of hopefuls year after year is bang on target. Almost three decades ago, Hrishikesh Mukherjee had made Guddi that depicted a star-struck teenager Jaya Bhaduri's obsession for a top star Dharmendra. Along with the core issue, the film highlighted the behind-the-scenes hardwork and labour that went into making movies.

Luck By Chance taps almost every important facet of Bollywood and presents assorted characters you've encountered at some time in life. An over-ambitious aspirant who knows to make the right moves; an actress trying hard to get that big break, even if she has to comprise; an icon of the 1970s who desperately wants her daughter to be a star; a producer who looks at riding on big names, script be damned, a failed actor now looking at direction to redeem his career. One of the prime reasons why Luck By Chance works is because of Zoya's crisp writing. Right from the characters, to the individualistic scenes, to the way Zoya puts them in a sequence. Luck By Chance is easily one of the most cohesive scripts this side of the Atlantic.

Sona Mishra (Konkona Sen Sharma) arrives in Mumbai with dreams of becoming a film star. She does whatever it takes, to make it. Vikram (Farhan Akhtar) has just moved to Bombay leaving the comforts of Delhi. He is used to getting what he wants and is smart enough to know when to demand it and when to manipulate it. Gradually, Sona and Vikram develop a romantic relationship. Romy Rolly (Rishi Kapoor) is a successful though superstitious producer who only works with the biggest stars. He is making a potential blockbuster by launching Nikki Walia (Isha Sharvani), the daughter of the 1970s superstar Neena Walia (Dimple Walia). The hero of the film is the superstar Zaffar Khan (Hrithik Roshan). Zaffar decides to opt out of Romy Rolly's film and that creates havoc in Romy's life. Romy Rolly decides to cast newcomers and finally, Vikram is shortlisted for the main role.

Luck By Chance picks up characters straight out of life and that's the beauty of the script. The interesting part is that each of these characters have a story running parallel to the main story. If Zoya's writing is superb, her execution of the written-material deserves distinction marks. This maybe her directorial debut, but she treats the difficult subject like a veteran. Javed Akhtar's dialogues and lyrics are remarkable, Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy's music could have been much better. However, the choreography of the circus song is remarkable. Carlos Catalan's cinematography captures the right moods.

Farhan Akhtar is evolving into the one of the most dependable actors of his generation. He's very real, very believable. No wonder, his character stands out. Konkona Sen Sharma is exceptional. The supremely talented actress that Konkona is delivers a sparkling performance yet again. Rishi Kapoor is incredible. A performance that merits the highest praise. Dimple Kapadia looks ravishing and is terrific. It easily ranks amongst her most accomplished works. Juhi Chawla is first rate. Isha Sharvani does her part well. Sanjay Kapoor springs a surprise and registers an impact. TV actor Ali Khan is perfect.

Hrithik Roshan is truly wonderful. He realizes that he himself had paved the way for Farhan in the industry when he is chatting with Karan Johar. Only an accomplished actor could have handled this sequence with aplomb. Among the big ticket Bollywood players who make fleeting appearances in the film, the one who registers the maximum impact is Shahrukh Khan.

On the whole, Luck By Chance is an outstanding film in all respects. A magnificient outing from the producers Excel Entertainment and Luck By Chance is sure to prove an extremely lucky and rewarding experience. On the rating scale, four out of five which means it is a strongly recommended film.

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Agla Station: Ghatkopar

Just last week, I was waiting at Sion station for my usual Thane train to take me to Mulund since I had to pick up a few things. I usually observe around when I am waiting for my train. So, a hapless victim fell prey to the over-enthusiastic Bombay's local train commuters. Our hero wanted to get down at Sion, but as luck and trains would have it, he boarded a fast train that did not halt at Sion. He panicked when he realized that the train did not stop at Sion and Kurla. On seeing his plight, a sympathetic co-passenger came to his rescue.

It seemed that he had been commuting by the 05:10 Asangaon Fast for the past six years and had noticed that the train always slowed down just before the train entered Sion station and crawled at a snail's pace while passing through. The co-passenger told the man to jump out of the running train as it slowed down and that with a little bit of fleet-footedness, he would make it safely. However, knowing the man's inexperience, he added some words of caution:

"Keep running the moment you jump or you will fall. Just keep running." The man stressed on the word, ''running'' lest the man would not know the laws of motion. The train did slow down as it entered Sion station and at the prompting of his mentor, our hero jumped out of the train and started running as if he was running for the Olympics. He did not realize that he was running parallel to the train instead of running away from it. Meanwhile, the train slowed down further, so the man started running faster than the train. In the process, he reached the door of the next compartment and the foot-board commuters there pulled him in thinking he was trying to board the train!!

To his agony, the train picked up speed and sped past Sion station and his new co-passengers started to congratulate him on how lucky he had been, until he told them that they had actually undone what he had done with great difficulty. Those standing at the door of his 'ex-compartment' had witnessed the whole drama and just couldn't stop laughing at the poor man's situation, while he grinned sheepishly!!! I just couldn't control my laugh because I was standing at the platform parallel to the platform where the whole drama unfolded.

Monday, 21 September 2009

The 4:30 Ladies Special

It has been months since I posted something under the label of 'Commuter Tales'. My sister was telling me to delete all the tales because she did not find them interesting enough. I told fine, not a problem and promised to be a little more observant and update this section as and when something interesting comes up.

On Friday, I observed that the BEST has now introduced a few exclusive 'Ladies Special' buses from Wadala to Marol. Since the stop for this Ladies Special happens to be at the place where I board my bus to come home from college, I couldn't help laughing. The route number of the bus is 22 Ltd. and it goes on towards the western suburbs. It had a board saying that the bus was a 'Ladies Special' along with the number and destination.

It so happened that a man with an umbrella ran to catch the bus and heaved a sigh of relief when he got in. It was after much elbowing, pushing and swearing that he got in only to be told calmly by the conductor to alight as the bus was a ladies special. It was such a hilarious sight and what made me really laugh was the fact that the man did some brave stints in order to catch the bus in motion only to be told to disembark. I had to do an encore and get down from a running bus.

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Pulling our legspace

A lot of furore has been created over Mr. Shashi Tharoor's ''cattle class'' remark on Twitter. The furore created made me wonder do those strange people who usually travel in business class--but may not be travelling in this category for a while now--really think that the people who fly economy are angry by a wisecracking Minister of State with trendy sideburns calling economy class 'cattle class? The poor dearies must be so sweet--and silly--to think that us cattle classers would mind.

Heck, that's what all those people travelling in economy class call economy class: cattle class. To think that those travelling within the relatively crammed confines of an economy class ticket (and the 'cramminess' of the confines does depend on the airline one is flying) have no idea of the relative luxury of flying business class is to be downright patriotism.

Mr. Shashi Tharoor responded to a question by a certain Kanchan Gupta on his Twitter page that read, "Tell us minister, the next time you travel to Kerala, will it be cattle class?" Perhaps, being a career diplomat Mr. Tharoor should have answered, "Absolutely, I will out of solidarity with all our holy cows" instead of repeating the questioner's term, 'cattle class' . But one thing is certain. Mr. Tharoor's colleagues, if not his superiors, don't know a witticism sitting in the aisle seat and another in the window seat.

Dalits shot down Mahatma Gandhi's term, "Harijan" as they considered it too patronising--as if they needed to be taken special care of. They preferred the term 'Dalit' or 'oppressed', for themselves. So, my dear sweeties, don't fret about calling economy class 'cattle class' because that's what we call it ourselves.

Movie Review: Ek Vivaah Aisa Bhi

Some things can never change and never will. One may have a very modern outlook towards life, but most of us continue to be very traditional at heart. Ek Vivaah Aisa Bhi is rich in emotions and mirrors the traditions and culture with utmost simplicity and understanding. Ek Vivaah Aisa Bhi is a simple story of sacrifice that aims at pulling your heart strings. Every Rajshri film works because of the storyline and strong emotions and so, Ek Vivaah Aisa Bhi follows the tradition.

Of course, a story like this one in this film may seem regressive to the multiplex audiences of metros, but the fact remains that cinema is all about narrating stories and Ek Vivaah Aisa Bhi has a strong story to tell. Besides, there are ample moments in this film that strike a chord that touch the core of your heart that make you moist-eyed.

Chandni (Isha Koppikar) belongs to a middle class family, living in one of the tiny bylanes of Bhopal. She lives with her father and younger siblings--Anuj and Sandhya. Chandni, who is deeply attached to her school-going brother and sister, is trained in classical and folk music. During a stage performance, she falls in love with Prem (Sonu Sood). Prem hails from a rich family which promotes business.

Life is picture-perfect, until on the day of their engagement, Chandni's father (Alok Nath) passes away. Suddenly, she becomes the eldest in her family. One one hand, her mehendi adorned hands beckon her to the dream home of her fiance. On the other hand are her younger siblings whom she cannot take along. Chandni decides not to marry, so that she can raise her little brother and sister with self-respect. Prem understands her and waits for her for twelve long years, until she fulfills all the responsibilities as an elder sister.

Debutant director Kaushik Ghatak remains faithful to the story and most importantly, captures the sensitive moments well. The tale of sacrifice has been witnessed time and again, but it works only if the characters make you cry, even weep. In the latter part of Ek Vivaah Aisa Bhi, you just cannot stop tears rolling down your cheeks at several points in the story, specially in the Raksha Bandhan sequence and towards the end, when the brother returns with his wife.

Both Sonu Sood and Isha Koppikar vie for top honours. Sonu is restrained, mature and acts his part well. Isha is first-rate, exuding simplicity and strength that her character demands. Alok Nath is good and ditto for Vallabh Vyas and Smita Jayakar. Vishal Malhotra springs a surprise by being excellent. Chhavi Mittal is effective as the sister-in-law.

On the whole, Ek Vivaah Aisa Bhi is akin to a delicious Indian thali in times of pastas and pizzas. You may opt for international cuisine at times, but Indian food, for an Indian at heart, would never go out of vogue. Hence, on the ratings scale between 1 to 5, I'd rate this movie with a three-and-a-half which means a good movie.

Movie Review: The Bong Connection

The word "Bong" maybe politically incorrect slang for all things Bengali, in "The Bong Connection", the writer and director Anjan Dutta brews self-irony into a watchable, good-humoured satire. In two alternating stories, a young Indian musician from New York Andy Sen (Shayan Munshi) returns to Kolkata, while an ambitious young computer engineer Arpan Chatterjee (Parambrata Chatterjee) seizes his chance to take a big job in Houston.

The film says a lot about the new generation of Indians caught between their culture and pressure to work abroad. However, it takes Anjan Dutt a while to find his balance between dramatic narrative and broad comedy. Apu takes leave of his family and girlfriend Sheila (Raima Sen) and heads for the greener pastures of Texas. Sheila makes it clear that she prefers the young Kolkata, and they part on an uncertain note.

Meanwhile, Andy visits India for the first time and is welcomed into his grandfather's rambling old home. In contrast to Apu's comic fumbling in Texas as he tries to adapt to muggings, gay roommates and a high-pressure white-collar job, Andy takes the reverse journey of struggling to find a way to work and express himself artistically in a charming but opportunity-challenged old world. He falls for Sheila.

Traditional-minded Apu meets and resists flighty Indian rich girl Rita (Piya Rai Chaudhary), despite the best efforts of her family to marry them off. This peek into Indian expat life has a ring of truth to it, reaching the painful conclusion that despite their money and success, these immigrants still feel like "second-class Americans". More fiction than fact, on the other hand, is Apu's taxi-driver and friend Hassan (Shauvik Kundagrami), a hyper Bengali from Bangladesh who talks like a bad television movie and, lamentably, is scripted into an absurdly trite shootout with the Texas police, Shauvik earns points anyway for a rocking perf.

The young cast brings life and personality, topped by Shayan Munshi's romantic charm and a strong screen presences and by Chatterjee's confused but principled corporate player. It is particularly interesting to hear Shreya Ghoshal and Shaan attempt Bengali songs. The wild visual contrast between Houston and Kolkata is played up in Indranil Mukherjee's confident cinematography. The editor Moniak Bhowmick performs an outstanding balancing act in smoothly alternating the two stories, avoiding the usual feeling of channel-flipping. Neel Dutt is credited with the movie's highly-enjoyable modern fusion sound, which subtly recaps the theme of the old vs. new culture clash. On the ratings scale, four out of five.

My First Teacher

Memories of some people are etched in our minds and stay with us forever. Even after years, certain memories remain fresh and it feels as if the things happened just yesterday. I was in the first grade when we had a fair and an extraordinarily sweet teacher named Kiran Rane.

This happened during the lunch break. Since I was in a convent school that time, prayers used to be compulsory before eating. Hence my teacher recited the prayer, "God is good, God is great. Let us thank him for our food." After the prayers, we settled down to have our lunch. I remember it was bittergourds in a cream coloured, oval plastic tiffin box. It had a small partition so that the chapatis wouldn't soak up the liquid from the curry.

I hadn't started hating bittergourds back then. Now, I end up throwing up if I just whiff the smell of bittergourds. Suddenly, one of my classmates discovered a lizard under my desk. He made a loud announcement with all the gusto that could have put Archimedes, the Greek mathematician to shame.

The curious lot of sixty four year olds rushed to my desk to have a good look at the creature. Amidst all the confusion, my lunch box toppled over and its contents spilled on to the floor. The kids were just too busy discussing the colour, the tail and the eyes of the lizard to notice this. I had eyes only for the ugly and tasteless bittergourd curry that was now on the floor. I don't remember if I cried but I remember feeling miserable, lonely and lost, as all the pupils returned to their desks and the creature retreated, fearing its life at the hands of these little devils.

Everyone had now settled in their own seat. My teacher noticed my sad and lost expression. She stroked my back and asked me if something was wrong. When I told her that I'd not eaten, she made me sit on her chair and ordered a steamed idli for me. I was happy for the deep concern and attention. I also remember when it rained heavily, she dropped me home in an auto.

In my later years, I lost touch with Ms. Kiran Rane as she left the school within a year. So far, I've had bitter-sweet experiences with my teachers. The pre-requisite for teaching at any level is not a degree or a diploma in teaching but lots of love for students just like my Kiran teacher had.

Saturday, 19 September 2009

Friends Forever

Of the countless books I have read on the evolution of man, I've observed that most of them have agreed to the fact that 'Man is a social animal' . A need for love, affialiation and affection are the primary emotions that everyone craves for. Friends are undoubtedly a major part of one's social sphere. Strange enough the large spectrum of people we call friends are again categorised, like school friends, college friends, train friends, childhood friends etc.

What amazes me is that with each relationship we get a package of emotions attached ranging from love to hate. I had some amazing friends in my world who made my life worth living. Some friends act as your strength in difficult times, some are fun to hang out with while there are some who even treat you like use-and-throw tissues. Some even worse, who are possessive about you. It is with our friends that we let ourselves loose and take the plunge to reach higher heights of freedom.

Let it be a childish attempt at a gate-crashing at a wedding or enjoying an adrenaline pumped night at the night club or just driving through the city post midnight. Our life is filled with memories which make it cherishable and appreciative. But as they say, each coin has two sides, with happiness also accompanies the pain. There are many who have lost their close friends or have been backstabbed. Some are difficult to keep a track of as years roll by.

Friendship surely doesn't need words to cement it but gestures. I am thankful to all my buddies who encouraged me to keep writing.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

A Tribute To Google


I was in the middle of a fight. My mother and I couldn't agree on who was Shahrukh Khan's first co-star? Was it Kajol or Juhi Chawla? "Google it," my sister intervened. Google led to the answer that it was neither of them but the late. Divya Bharati.

Yesterday, I couldn't remember how singer Sadhana Sargam looked like. "Google her," my friend told me. Even when I'd lost the recipe for Anjum Anand's steamed spinach and rice dumplings, my cooking buddy's answer to my question was simple, "Google it".

Two words. It's become as simple as that to find an answer to most of life's questions. Hit Google and you'll know the answer to everything under the sun. You could find out, for example, whether there is life after death, or why the sky is blue. Or Asin's age or even why your boyfriend is mean to you.

Google has answers to 'everything'. You don't need to go to a shrink anymore; the search engine can provide you with the most insane as well as the best advice anyone's ever given. Some even went on to believe that Google is the closest thing to God. In fact, there's even a Church of Google that believes that Google is omnipresent and therefore can be scientifically verified. It's true, Google thrives on the absurd.

Don't get me wrong. I love Google. In fact, I don't think could survive without it. But it has taken the fun out of a fight and the anger out of an argument. There is no scope for speculation any more--Google has ruined all my chances of being right on a bluff. Which makes me wonder how we ever made it without search engines, or, for that matter, even the Internet.

While it's only been eleven years since we've had Google, it's the big 4-oh for the Internet this year. Four decades of virtual knowledge that have changed the way we remember, forever. While it has tamed my enthusiasm to memorise everything, it has given me the ability to know about all things I love. I don't think, at 17, my mother could rattle off answers to how to groom a horse, or which the best headphones are, or what hedge funds are--all in one breath.

I am fairly certain my grandmother never even imagined that I could bump into my third-grade English teacher or I could be taught to make payasam or adopt a black sheep in Farmville without human intervention. The truth is, I cannot live without the search engine. Google has helped me grow as a person. Plus, it's the only reason I don't mind sitting on the laptop the whole day without getting up.