Saturday, 29 August 2009

Games people play

Power politics. In school, it was about who became the class monitor or who distributed the most expensive sweets on their birthday. In college, it was all about who could get out of assignments by hating ther eyelids or who was more popular with the opposite sex. Till now, we played power politics with our own peer group. We knew the rules of the game, the players, the strategies and the outcome. But once we became 'adults', the games changed, the politics got dirtier and the consequences far-reaching. We became a small fry in the big bad world, where more experienced players bent the rules, manipulated the strategies and ate us for breakfast.

I've always been an introvert, definitely not a people pleaser or a crowd-puller and nor do I intend to be one. When I think that anyone of authority might get offended with something I say or do, I shut up and swallow my pride, even though I'm right. So far, I've managed to remain in the good books of most people. I rationalise it by saying what good can come by pissing off people who are more important than me, whose word will always win against mine. When good can come by pissing off people who can determine whether I rise or fall, succeed or fail? I'd rather rise and succeed. Fortunately, many players are sporting and generous and they play fair.

I'm 17. I'm at the bottom of the food chain. I don't have the authority to make decisions, let alone tell others how to make them. But sometimes, and I think most 20-somethings will agree with me, I know I can make better decisions than some of the higher-ups. If I had the power to wield, I would use it sensibly. I wouldn't exploit it to make myself feel important or push my personal agenda over the greater good. Perhaps I would play politics with my own peers without it affecting those below me. Pick on someone my own size.

I'm finding it increasingly difficult to restrain myself from giving the power abusers a piece of my mind. Yet, I don't. I'm no coward. But we're told play safe. Act smart. Think with our heads, not our hearts, all that 'Dummies Guide to succeed in life' trash. And so I zip it. Absorbing the injustice of it all. Becoming the unwitting pawn in the games others play.

Maybe, just maybe, if I get there one day, I'd throw my weight around. Just because I can. Maybe people who have power to deserve to throw their weight around, because they earned that right on their way up. Maybe when I get there, I'll eat small fry for breakfast. Till that day comes, should I stand up or back down?

Monday, 24 August 2009

Go On, Live A Little

Have you noticed how all of us seem to live in fear all the time these days? We are scared of getting swine flu, we are frightened of getting into aeroplanes in case they fall into the oceans or crash, we are terrified of becoming old and decrepit. We are scared of becoming fat; getting wrinkles, or putting on too much weight if we eat desserts or sweets. We are terrified of failing at our jobs, at our relationships, or at our diets. We are frightened to death of being judged by those around us and found wanting. We are petrified of failing to meet our own-self imposed standards of perfection.

Hell, it's got so bad that we live in fear of everything you can think of: all the way from carbon emissions and UV ray exposure to carbohydrates or full-fat cheese. Well, you know what? We don't need to be like this. In fact, if we keep the big picture in mind, none of this should actually matter very much--and very little should matter at all.

It shouldn't matter of our homes are not spick and span or if they are not in the prescribed five shades of beige. Or that our clothes would never pass the scrutiny of the fashion police or even that we are at least five kilos overweight than our ideal weight. It shouldn't matter if our neighbours have a better car, a bigger house, or even well-behaved children. Or that they go off on vacation twice a year to various luxury hot-spots while you can barely manage a trip to Athirapally. Or even that they serve vintage champegne when they entertain while you can only afford rum punch.

Even if all or any of the above is true, you don't live in the fear of being judged. You don't need to be terrified of being perceived as inadequate. You certainly should not be scared that you can never measure up. It's more important to enjoy what life has to offer than to torment yourself with a size-zero body or a eight-pack abs or what it has withheld from you. It's much more empowering to live for the moment than live in the fear of what the future may bring. It's certainly much more fun to indulge yourself than a suffer a life of eternal self-deprivation.

So it's not a prescription for a perfect life. It will certainly be a happier one if one just learns to let go and live a little. In case you're game, here are some suggestions that might come in useful.

* Embrace your ordinariness instead of always hankering for being regarded as someone or something special. It doesn't matter if your drawing room sofa is a bit tatty and the carpet a little worse for wear. It doesn't matter if you can't afford to serve a three-course sit-down meal. You can still have your friends over for an earthy biryani washed down with Diet Coke (and some Baskin Robbins ice-cream to follow).

* Learn to accept failure just as you celebrate success. One is an inextricable part of the other and neither can exist in isolation. There is a real danger that fear of failure will prevent you from ever risking success.

* Don't let healthy living become a fetish. It's a good idea to watch the calories and put in some exercise to stay fit, but don't let your fitness regime rule your life. Don't spend all your time on the treadmill in the fear of becoming fat. Understand the fact that not everyone is blessed with a bikini-fit body.. Don't become one of those classical bores who claim to have a wheat/dairy/glutten allergy and sticks to eating nuts at the office party.

* Keep a sense of perspective. Don't slip on your sneakers first thing in the morning and head out for a run. Just for once, linger in bed for a little bit, have a leisurely breakfast. It's probably better for your heart than that all-bran cereal breakfast or all that aerobic exercise.

* Slow down and savour the moment. That first sip of cappuccino, the smell of freshly-cut grass in the lawn, the smile on your mother's face when you remember her birthday, your sister's delight at her first pair of high heels. It's the small and tiny things that make the biggest difference.

* It doesn't hurt to get down and dirty once in a while. Tuck into those panipuris and papdi chaat at the neighbourhood market. Eat some aloo parathas with generous dollops of butter from the dhaba down the road. Savour the jalebis from the roadside vendor. Such occasional--and otherwise forbidden treats are the best way to build up immunity to all those super-bugs going around these days.

* Give yourself permission to be less that perfect. There is a reason why Demi Moore and Madonna look the way they do, even into their forties and fifties. They invest in a small fortune in cosmetic surgery, they spend hours everyday in the gym, and have personal trainers and live-in chefs to keep them trim and toned. You can't achieve a bikini-fit body or pump iron to achieve an eight-pack abs look. Understand the fact that not everyone is blessed with a metabolism that can work for six years continously. You cannot achieve that look of honed perfection unless you're some sort of genetic freak. So, don't kill yourself by trying to achieve a bikini-fit body.

* The next time you go out to a restaurant, go ahead shamelessly and order dessert without the fear of putting on weight. You know you want to.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Movie Review: Kaminey

When you go to watch Kaminey, which surely you must, make sure you are well on time. For Kaminey is that rare Bollywood film in which you cannot afford to miss even a minute. Kaminey speaks a fresh new international cinematic language, very dark and film noir, mean and sharp, yet firmly rooted in Mumbai.

True to its title, Kaminey is a film about ruthless bastards, escept that the treatment is pure thoroughbred much like the Quentin Tarantino movies, establishing Vishal Bharadwaj as the most complete auteur in Bollywood today. Vishal is the writer, the director, the music composer and in Kaminey he whips all the three skills into a gritty crescendo, churning out to mean broth that leaves you with a chilling high.

Coming to Shahid Kapoor, the boy has finally grown up. Shahid essays a challenging double role, with grit and finesse. In the character of Charlie, the small-time horse racing bookie with a lisp and a deadly dream, Shahid puts in a powerhouse performance filled with a reckless, smoldering intensity, like that of a lover scorned in real-life. Most remarkably, he manages to look and sound very different as his estranged twin brother, Guddu, the shy do-gooder with a hesitant stammer, who is about to get sucked into Charlie's life, a whirlpool of death and deceit.

Priyanka Chopra has deservedly emerged as the numero uno actress of the country, and in Kaminey she once again why she deserves to be where she is today. Playing the role of Sweety, a simple Maharashtrian girl in love with Guddu who also happens to be the sister of the dread Bhope Bhau (Amole Gupte), Priyanka is sassy, sparkling and incandescent in every scene. In a film which is full of choicest bastards belonging to the males, Sweety is spicy and chaalu enough to leave her own special chhaap. Most refreshingly, it's great to see a non-vamp woman character first lead in the bed, then con her way into marriage and finally grab a stengun and attack her own vile brother. Whoa, way to go, girl !

Like a classic caper film, Kaminey is a sharp, slickly plotted yarn filled with dark and shady characters, furious action, corrupt cops, destructive coincidences, dead bodies and double crossing deviants. The story is quite basic, but the telling of it is very inventive. The dialogue writing is razor sharp , the music beautifully scored with old hit songs weaved in clearly, the production design and action sequence well-detailed, the cinematography gives the film a Hollywood look, but its in editing wherein lies the real triumph of Kaminey.

If you're smart enough to understand that is good, else there's always Love Aajkal playing next door. Kaminey doesn't comprise in its telling, not for a minute, so you better keep up. Amazingly, the sharp edits holds the madly plotted action together. Kaminey is not the typical classic Indian family film. A majority of India is teeming with a restless youth. Well, this is it. Quentin Tarantino gave Hollywood Pulp Fiction, and now Vishal Bharadwaj gives Bollywood Kaminey. It's the new standard of cutting edge cinema, and it rocks all the way. Dhan Te Tan. Shucks, just can't seem to get the tune out of my head. On the rating meter of one to five, Kaminey gets a full five on five.

Movie Review: Before The Rains

I've never appreciated many movies directed by cinematographers-turned-filmmakers considering most of them just work because of their picturesque frames, the camera angles and techniques, rather than the characters, doing most of the story-telling. Here too in Before The Rains, cinematographer and director Santosh Sivan captures the eternally romantic backwaters of Kerala with exquisite artistry and creates a period film that is set in 1937 and lives more through its visual opulence than its story.

Harry Moore (Linus Roache) has a dream. He wants to build a road in the undeveloped rural terrain of rural Kerala to help further the spice trade. Helping him fulfil his dream is his faithful servant T.K. (Rahul Bose) who forms the bridge between the Englishmen and the locals. T.K. has his motives clear. He wants to savour the best of both the worlds, be it the high culture of the burra sahib's world or the family linkages with his tribe. But life cannot be sailed in two boats; that's a truth T.K. is forced to realize when his Sahib's affair with the maid Sajni (Nandita Das) turns awry. With the freedom struggle building up and Sajni's drastic end to a soured love story threatening to boil over into us-versus-them confrontation, the English homestead becomes a seething cauldron. More importantly, T.K. gets a taste of his English master's true moral fibre.

Celebrate the feeling of Independence with this artistic celebration of Swaraj and nationalist awakening. On the rating meter from one to five, I would rate this movie for a three out of five.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

In The Tree He Lived On....

He couldn't believe that he was going to be a father. Swati had called him as soon as she had got the report. Positive.. it was incredible! For seven years, they'd tried for a baby. Then they gave up trying. Now, after a decade of hopelessness, the miracle had happened! He had to get her a gift. A diamond pendant? No, a rock seemed so cold. A bouquet of red roses? That was so trite! As he waited for the light turn to green, he spotted the nursery by the road. The line-up of green plants nodded to him. It was a moment of epiphany!

He went home with a sapling of a gulmohar tree. Swati loved it. Since it would soon get too big to pot, she found it a patch of good earth just below their balcony and planted it there. Over the next nine months, it grew along with the baby. Then, Shantanu tumbled into their lives. He brought with him chaos and cries, yet they cherished him and their tree too, that was now within handshaking distance. Five years later, they lost Shantanu. Who would have suspected that a lingering finger would turn out to be meningitis? It was only after he was gone that both Swati and he blamed each other and themselves for not taking him to the doctor sooner. Neither said a word though, only retreated into a world of their own that was cold, silent and seething with unvoiced feelings.

The tree continued to grow. Its slender branches reminded him of his son's outstretched arms. Its rain-spotted leaves of his tears. It's bright blooms of his workbooks splattered with paint. Suddenly, he could not bear it anymore. It's easy to plant a tree but really difficult to cut it down. But he managed to get special permission and one day left for work expecting it to be gone by the time he returned home.

The call late in the afternoon took him by surprise. It was Swati crying hysterically. She'd returned from a shopping spree to see a stranger hacking at her tree. "He's already cut off his head," she wailed. He quietly explained to her that it had been his decision. Her distress turned into icy rage, "How dare you? I've lost one child, now you're taking another one away from me too." He realised his mistake then. The tree that for him was a painful reminder of a child lost, was her consolation. He'd moved away from her when she needed him the most. Only the tree had stood steadfast, gently swaying to the rhythm of sweet memories.

Their tree was gone but its loss had opened his eyes to what he was in danger of losing. That night they didn't sleep on opposite sides of the bed. They stayed up, talking about their baby. By the time the sun rose, the seeds of a new beginning had been sown. That evening, on his way back from work, he stopped to buy his wife a gift. It was a gulmohar sapling. They planted it at the exact spot where the other one had stood. And together, they waited for it to grow.

Sunday, 16 August 2009

Waking Up !!

I was channel-surfing as usual and stumbled upon the promos of the Konkona Sen Sharma-- Ranbir Kapoor starrer 'Wake Up Sid'. The first thought that crossed my mind isn't Konkona a little old for Ranbir? Nevertheless, it's a fantastic pairing and not only that but the film too seems promising with a coming-of-age storyline. It took me to the time when I had to make some pretty challenging decisions for my future.

After school, inevitably, a majority of school teachers and friends asked me, "So, what are you going to do next in your life?" When life at the time is aimless, relatively free of responsibilities with no rigid routine to follow, no cut-throat pressure to earn money, and all the time in the world to waste, answering that question can be nothing less than a harrowing experience and when you think of it with closed eyes, it's even more tormenting. The lesser said the better.

As I write this, 24 hours have passed since Independence Day and I can't help but think of personal independence and the ability to be liberated by your choices. Some people like me find their calling very early in life with ambitious dreams of being a journalist, pilot, lawyer, actor in their childhood, while others have to struggle a little longer before they can take the first step towards building a career path. But for the large majority of our population, their future, and their livelihood is chosen for them. In a rigid as well as flexible country like India, both typically and generally, you do what your father does. It's simple as that. But it is never that simple. I was fortunate to find my calling in life to become a crime-beat journalist (in the seventh grade, to be precise). Most of the time, it doesn't always work out as idealistically as that.

Here in India, a premium is put on sons; if you're blessed with a boy, then the boy will go on to make a fortune by making your name proud, whether you're a doctor, an engineer, a farmer or an architect. More often than not, there's very little choice in the matter for the child. Training, conditioning, and high expectations eventually result in the son following in the father's footsteps and the success of that depends entirely on how smart the person is, how much perseverance the person possesses, and how driven the individual is to build the foundations of his or her life. Yet sometimes, wedged in these traditions are the exceptional few who will support their children's choices, no matter what path it is that they choose.

My sister's doctor, Dr. Uma, is revered in the medical profession. She has a daughter who is trained in dance and music. Her daughter, Padmini, is a well-known dancer. One of the most remarkable things I found when in proximity with Dr. Uma was that within one family existed so many nurtured personalities. I'm sure every parent feels a certain level of anxiety when it comes to their child's future, and maybe it's easier to nudge (often impose) them towards a familiar territory, but what transpires out of that trust and support, out of that leap of faith that turned out well, is a risk every parent and every child must take.

This is India of today. As we stepped into our 62nd year of independence, this is one of the many things I ask you to be grateful for. Be grateful for the fact despite traditions and sentiments that can sometimes feel dated, we are never regimented. Despite parental and peer pressure, we are comparatively free than most of us claim to be. Freedom means choices, it means the successes and failures of your life are yours to make, and no one can strip either experience away from you. It means that you can educate yourself, and fight for your place on this bursting land of ours. It means you can make a mark, take a leap and solve your problem.

It means you can decide who you are and what your calling is. It just means nothing is unattainable, because everything is possible. There are two kinds of people in this world; leaders and followers, and today, the distinction has never been clearer. Setting goals is easy, and defiance as a stance is just not enough. What truly counts are the steps one takes, but before you can walk, first you'll have to wake up!!

P.S.: I just wanted to know whether if you would want me to share my short stories here on the blog. Whatever your answer is, please mail me on akshay3019@gmail.com and I'll surely think of publishing my short stories here.

Saturday, 15 August 2009

Use Independence wisely

On this Independence day, I'd like to discuss something else--interdependence. The concept has been on my mind since I began college last week. It's funny how important a concept it is yet, it's a word that we don't hear it very often. So, I wanted to use today as an opportunity to do just that.

If you think about it, interdependence is something that applies to our lives at every level. We are interdependent with nature--needing the oxygen trees provide while they thrive on the carbon dioxide we emit. We are interdependent with each other on all levels--from emotional to survival. We depend on animals to sustain the ecology as they on us not to destroy exactly that. We need each other, don't we? Take it to the national level. We need our farmers, our lawyers, our teachers, industry, our artists, our singers etc. We need each other. Let's go global. We live in a world where a stock market crash in one country can push the planet in the dark secret of economic recession. We depend on other countries to grow the food we need.. We need each other.

Rather than seeing ourselves as independent, let us see ourselves mutually dependent--inter-dependent. Of course, we are ultimately alone, the way we were born and the way we will die. But that's not that the happy existence we are all (every single one of us) driven towards. Let's be grateful for our freedom, let us remember how delicate the concept of freedom is, and not take it for granted. Let's think of how to protect and nourish it as it were the most delicate plants or child. As we celebrate India's independence, let's remember that there are so many in this independent nation who are not yet free, who don't have a choice. Who are bound to the slavery of an existence they cannot escape--some through poverty, gender, a physical handicap, our cities don't make allowances for. Others, through learning disabilities our schools do not counteract. It saddens me when I think not all my fellow citizens have the same freedom I do.

Somewhere down the line, we are intertwined. The progress we are so (rightfully) proud of is finite if it does not accomodate such a large percentage of our large population. India is surely confident, growing, rising. But we are intertwined with those that do not rise, who are not confident, whose wealth and security don't grow. Independence is more than a date on a calendar. Are we really free? Remember, we have a choice, and we can make the choice to help others have that choice. Don't forget to use your independence wisely. Happy Independence Day!!

Monday, 3 August 2009

Movie Review: Bombay Talkie

I admit that I've gone mad to review such an old 1970 English movie. As I must have mentioned earlier that I choose to be a part of parallel cinema than the run-of-the-mill stuff. I was searching for good movies in the shopping cart and I finally picked up Ismail Merchant's Bombay Talkie. Bombay Talkie is a trip down memory lane with the young Shashi Kapoor, Jennifer Kendall-Kapoor, Aparna Sen, Jalal Agha and I was pleasantly surprised to see pop queen Usha Uthup in this movie. Now, Bombay Talkie was never meant to be an Indian movie considering it is a Merchant-Ivory production.

The movie begins with Lucia Lane (Jennifer Kendall), an English writer who's previous book was about Hollywood emerged as a bestseller. She has now come to check out Bollywood for inspiration for her next book. Lucia, a self-absorbed woman meets Hari (Zia Mohiuddin) and Vikram Kumar (Shashi Kapoor), an upcoming film star. Through her story, she makes fun of the film industry of those years. The movie gives a glimpse of the Hindi film industry of the 1970s to the western audiences. The film has a scene when a song is being shot on a big typewriter, with the group dancers dancing on the keys. The movie also shows us the spiritual part of India that fascinated the hippies. It takes a dig at the Swamiji (Pinchoo Kapoor) and the mad crowd that follows them. Pinchoo Kapoor comes as a funny swami in the film.

Watch the film not because you want to, but only if you wish to see the younger version of some famous stars. Technically, there is not much of a story in this film and in several places, songs are indeed filmed like trying to fill up the gaps. Ismail Merchant comes at the start for a few minutes.

Saturday, 1 August 2009

Movie Review: Love Aajkal

Love Aajkal has the effervescence and the adrenalin rush of impetous love of Shahid and Kareena has been replaced by a more serious, realistic and modern love story. Love Aajkal literally holds up a mirror to the commitment phobia of the young, professionals, film stars who keep changing their status from 'committed' to 'single' on social networking sites.

Love Aajkal instead of relying heavily on a three-hour long script, chooses to concentrate on crisp, concise and today's urban lingo dialogues. All of Jai's (Saif Ali Khan) babblings about love sans marriage and Meera's (Deepika Padukone) discourses on careers and cumbersome commitment are straight out of real life ramblings in coffee shops, discotheques, pubs. The characterisations literally set the screen on fire, with their highly individualistic streak coupled with their sad vulnerability.

Jai (Saif Ali Khan) dreams of building bridges like the Golden Gate and cannot see romance coming in the way of his career, Meera (Deepika Padukone) too feels long-distance relationships are a drag when she decides to move from London to repaint frescoes in Delhi. Refreshingly, Love Aajkal actually begins with a break and then goes through umpteen twists and turns, before the new age Jai realises that he ain't very different from the old fashioned Veer Prathap (Rishi Kapoor) who lived the Heer--Ranjha story in the less cluttered 1960s. Both Jai and Meera try to live out their lives independently, simply as 'good friends', pursuing their careers and different love interests. Ironically, they keep bumping into each other at odd junctures of their life, babbling incoherently (and funnily) to avoid the senty soulmate signals. Saif Ali Khan is absolutely delightful with his gibberish take on I'm okay, you are okay, we're okay, while the scene's actually yelling out something else.

Just like Jab We Met, this film too scores in the lush atmospherics that anchor the movie so exotically. London, San Fransisco are fine, but it's actually Delhi that once again sweeps you off your feet as it stands by as a sweet and vibrant witness to the wooing and shooing, both in the 1965 romance and the 2009 romance. Playing a major role in creating the ambience is music composer Pritam's foot-tapping music which boasts of a number of chartbusters.

I agree that the first half does ramble a bit and takes time to build up into a rivetting second half. The alluring performances by the lead pair do cover up for the langorous bits. Deepika is definitive as Meera, the modern girl who has an individuality of her own. Saif Ali Khan who renders so many shades to his character to make it seem so very real; confident, confused, career-oriented, homebody, fancy-free and foolishly in love.

How do Jai and Meera resolve their long-distance-relationships-don't-work dilemma? I'd like to believe that the bridge builder moves in with the restoration artist in Delhi. Go and watch it for it's GenNow feel and it's ekdum real yet modern feel.