Thursday, 26 February 2009

Train Rides

In my childhood, it was almost a cliche listening to the fact that I must have been a motorman in my last birth. Hopefully, that explains my childhood obsession for trains. I don't remember how many evenings I must have spent seeing each train and waving goodbye to every motorman in the rear compartment of a local train.

The long metal caterpillars with their crown like pantographs and their fluorescent lights, the grinding noise of the wheels--all appealed to me so much that it continued all through the 1990s and today, the thought seems so stupid waiting at the railway stations to see trains passing by. I remember making the diagrams of trains with soap boxes, drawing them with pencils and I have even played with them in the form of toys.

In my childhood, there were only two things that I was really obsessed about: double decker buses that used to operate in and around Chembur back then in the 1990s and trains. On a particular Sunday in the late. 1990s, I got my ultimate thrill by travelling in a local train from Chembur to Mumbai CST. It was a Chembur local and I had the window seat for me. I still remember vividly how I was in awe when I noticed the confusion and there was an unbridled excitement when I saw the shiny serpent-like tracks. I still remember how I was taken aback by seeing its sheer size and swiftness. Back then in the excitement, I don't know how many times I must have surveyed the passage just to notice the wooden seats, the noise of the overhead fans and the metallic splinters.

Once I was inside the train, I learnt that a real train was very different from the colourful toy trains. I still remember the way I had cried when the train hooted and moved since I was enthralled by the sight then. I understand that it is a fascinating field but if an insane soul decides to honour me with a Nobel Prize in the field of Literature or Peace, I'll hopefully begin my speech with, "It all began in a railway platform in a suburb of the city of Mumbai in India in the mid 1990s.

Monday, 16 February 2009

Movie Review: The White Balloon

The films made in Iran are magnificient. These films are made by exceptionally talented filmmakers with each story, the editing, the cinematography tell so much about the lifestyles of people living in Iran. Recently, I had the opportunity to watch two back-to-back Iranian films on UTV World Movies. These films largely stand out because of their artistic superiority yet commercial viability.

Razieh wants a fat goldfish for the Iranian New Year celebrations instead of the skinny ones in her family's pond at home, because the fat fish looks like it's dancing when it swims. After several attempts, she and her brother convince their mother to give them her last bit of money. Between their home and the fish store, Razieh loses the money. She finds it, but it is temptingly just out of her reach. The money has fallen through the grate of the entrance to a store which has been closed for the New Year celebration. Razeih and her brother make several attempts to retrieve the money and receive assistance from many people.

These people are owners of the nearby shops and an Iranian soldier. The money, however, is always just out of reach. Finally, the siblings receive help from a street vendor selling balloons. He carries all of his balloons on a wooden stick, and has only one balloon left, a white one, left. The group then attaches a piece of chewing gum to one end of the balloon stick and with it, they reach down through the grate and pull the money up.

The White Balloon is the debut feature film of Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi, with an awesome screenplay by Iranian screenwriter and director Abbas Kiarostami. The movie is not very long with a running time of just 85 minutes. It is a film that will surely leave you delighted. Although the ending is debated, The White Balloon is well directed and I recommend you to watch it because it is a film that respects your intelligence. Films like these are very hard to find.

Friday, 13 February 2009

A Tribute To Smita Patil

Two long decades have passed but the tears just refuse to dry up. Despite this, Smita Patil seems to have an astonishing presence--that still keeps lingering on, refusing to vacate the minds and hearts of her fans. Undoubtedly, Smita did have a talent that has left a void left in the film industry that is yet to be filled..

Her death was as shocking and horrifying as Madhubala's death. Despite of her untimely demise, she has left behind a rich haul of work through her social and intellectual movies. Reality being the soul of Smita's films and hence, Smita's art is truly timeless. Today, when I see an art movie getting critically acclaimed and striking gold at the box office, I just cannot forget Smitaji's contribution towards Indian parallel cinema. It really seems a little funny to know specially when Smitaji lived in an era when the Indian parallel cinema was in its grass-roots level.

I happened to watch Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na nearly a year ago when there was nothing great to watch at the cinema halls. Without much expectation, I found a young, strapping teenager playing Amit Mahant in a special one-scene cameo whose face completely resembled Smitaji's face. Later on, as the movie ended, I realized that he was her son Prateik Babbar, who is a true reflection of his mother. He is as talented as his mom and as simple as her.

Although Smitaji is no longer alive, there is only one question that I want to ask someone, "Aakhir Kyon? Zindagi ne uska saath ek kacche mod par kyun chhod diya?" Is there anyone who can answer my question? I just hope Prateik gets his due as an actor with the right filmmakers like Ashutosh Gowariker or Madhur Bhandarkar to tap his talent. Just like Smitaji's mentor the veteran director Shyam Benegal says, "If Prateik has a daughter, I am sure that it will be Smita returning to us." My fingers are crossed and hopefully, Shyambabu's prophecy comes true.

In her memory, I can only think of four songs filmed on her from her films that I will want to dedicate to her:

1) Tumhare Bin Jee Na Lage Ghar Mein--Bhumika
2) Aapki Yaad Aati Rahi Raat Bhar--Gaman
3) Karoge Yaad Toh--Bazaar
4) Aankhon Mein Teri--Om Shanti Om (the perfect song for Smita that describes the beauty of her lovely and complex eyes).

Friday, 6 February 2009

Movie Review: Osama

A 12 year old Afghan girl and her mother lose their jobs when the Taliban closes the hospital where they work. The Taliban have also forbidden women to leave their houses without a male "legal companion". With her husband and uncle dead, having been killed in a skirmish during the Soviet Invasion and their civil wars, there are no men left to support the family.

Unable to leave the house without fear of arrest and torture, the mother is left with nowhere to turn. With no other choice, and inspired by a story her mother tells about a young boy who went under a rainbow and became a girl, she disguises her daughter as a boy named "Osama". Osama manages to secure a job at the local tea shop. "His" effeminate ways quickly arouse suspicion among the other boys.

Eventually, in a drive to collect soldiers, the local boys including Osama, are taken from their homes or workplaces by the Taliban to be trained as soldiers. At the training school, they are taught how to fight and conduct ablutions, and Osama realizes it can only be so long before she is found out. Several boys begin to pick on her, and eventually her secret is ousted. The scene forms the most distubing and vicious scene. Arrested, she is put on a trial, and as this case without precedent, her life is spared when she is married off to a man.

This man has delivered a videotape filmed by a western journalist who was also being tried. The new husband already has three wives, all of whom hate him and accuse him of having destroyed their lives, and they take pity on her. It is an Iranian film made in Afghanistan. I admire these movies because they address the viewer sternly, bereft of commercial skills. These films are also personal favourites because of their artistic superiority.

Sunday, 1 February 2009

Pubs or Culture?

For the first time, I am ashamed to admit that I am an Indian. As I was watching TV the other day, a curious mix of shock, horror and utter disbelief in how a bunch of stupid Sri Rama Sene "activists" took to the streets and shamelessly assaulted the innocent women chilling out in a pub in Mangalore.

It truly pains me when I hear our impotent politicians (who allegedly represent us) making regressive statements like, "We will fight against liquor and the pub culture promoted by the last government. We are against the malls where boys and girls go hand-in-hand". With the Mangalore incident coming into light, dating, PDA, even holding hands--pubs and clubbing join the long list of activities that are supposedly "Anti-Indian" according to our politicians. What is wrong if two people walk hand-in-hand? No one is imposing to hold hands and the people who shop in malls don't have problems then why should our politicians have so much problem?

It is truly ludicrous to see such a sad thing happening in the world's largest democracy! Mumbai has seen examples of "MORAL POLICING" of this sort when couples were getting arrested for cosying up at Marine Drive or Bandra Bandstand, the vandalism outside the veteran painter M.F. Hussain's house and the most important the trouble created every Valentine's Day. My question is how can the government be so lax and allow such things to happen in metros? Yes, I do understand that traditions are defined by the people and they modify according to the times but this is just an attempt to seek attention.

Most of our Indian politicians have indeed become laughing stocks and with every passing day, we are certainly losing faith in the judicial system of India. I personally think this is a kind of "cultural terrorism" that is being promoted by our impotent politicians and while I agree that it is also highly demeaning for an average Indian woman. On one hand, we talk about the liberation of a woman and have many of them like Usha, Saina, Sania, Beenamol who have done India proud at the international level and on the other hand, there is this ridiculous treatment meted out to ordinary citizens by some "political activists". Eight out of ten people work in India and we do end up hitting the nightclubs, a lounge bar to end the day and I see nothing nothing wrong in that "culture" as long as we behave responsibly.

Every government is expected to bring in changes with the changing times. When international tourists had just started looking at places like Jaipur and Bangalore as tourist destinations, Ashok Gehlot and Yeddyurappa's stands are set to ruin everything. A tourist cannot be expected to sit in a hotel room after a tiring day and he will definitely want to hang out in a nightclub or a mall but the enlightened youth also know their limitations. Indeed, the moral policing will definitely take the states backwards.

On a more personal level, the state government has no right to interfere in the private lives of the people. It has the responsibility to check the imposition of views by sticks and stones. Lifestyle activities like pubbing are only soft targets for political parties to score brownie points or by anointing themselves as the "guardians" of Indian culture. There is no dearth of problems that the state administration and our impotent netas need to take care of, and yes young people having fun is definitely not on their agenda and it is not a burning topic.