Monday, January 30, 2006

Warning: Contains Rang De Basanti spoilers!

"SMS Generation - chaar line se zyaada koi bhi conversation, lecture lagne lagti hai". One of the many lines from Rang De Basanti which linger on, days after the movie. More than a diatribe on the lackadaisical approach of this very SMS generation, RDB comes across strongly as a piece of meaningful, target-oriented and impactful Hindi cinema. Eye caressing cinematography by Binod Pradhan, in one of his few non-Vidhu Chopra flicks - I particularly liked the bike sequence-lighting techniques and the aerial shots and of course, the sepia tinged flashback sequences.

Ok, coming to the movie - highly awaited Aamir "Pheonix" Khan flick - but that's the difference here. Its not a whole and soul Aamir Khan movie. No doubt, Aamir pulls off another living role, comfortably fitting into the jeans of a Delhi collegekid - the scene where he breaks down, sheer brilliance. When Aamir's on screen, especially in a Hindi movie, it really feels like that one soloist singing his heart out, deeply involved in the music, in a group of cacophonics. RDB's different with several performances coming out gangbusters - Soha Ali Khan, Kunal Kapoor, Atul Kulkarni, Sharman Joshi, Kirron Kher and the new kid, Siddharth.

Brilliant premise. Handling of the switch-element between pre-partition and today - mindblowing. RDB has dozens of USPs. Where does it fall short? Length - second half was unnecessarily stretched. And most importantly - believability. Yes, India is corrupt - but a group of college kids killing the Defence Minister, and then locking themselves up in the AIR building, only to be subsequently shot dead, doesn't seem to be a likely solution, nor a possible occurence. RDB had all the makings of a gripping, soul-touching classic - if only, the "Awakening of a Generation" could have been made a little more believable.

But it was great to see a MEANINGFUL movie. key stress on that word, because of the string of Neels and Nikkis that we have been subjected to, the past few months. Also, the combination of intricate and top notch dialogues, music, cinematography and performances. With a few touch-ups necessary in the screenplay and story department (the same that Rakeysh Mehra's previous movie, Aks needed as well), RDB meets, matches and, in many aspects, supercedes expectations, with a soundtrack and dialogues that remain in your zehen for a while. Sarfaroshi ki tamanna ........!
Statement of the Day!

On a discussion of whether Brokeback Mountain is a theatre movie or a DVD movie, Didi goes ... "but I want to see it on big screen, so you can see big gay love.... not chotu gay love"


Monday, January 23, 2006

So I was recently told that Manish Malhotra was rather pissed off that I referred to him as "Pretty in Pink" in print, and mildly insinuated that him and Karan Johar might have been gay. Have you heard of anything more ridiculous? Jeez, it wasn't even an insinuation. All I said was that Karan and Manish were spotted having coffee in New York, at a cafe that was rumored to have once been called "Gaylords". That's a pun more than anything!

And if he's still trying to be in the closet about things - he's not really doing it too well, is he? Sad that they silently listen to all that Stardust and Cine Blitz have to say - which is far more direct and controversy-worthy than my mild rants - and then they choose to pick on things like this to vent their anger on. Is this a homosexual thing or a homosapien thing?

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Still Looking!

"Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World". By far, one of the WORST scripted shams I have seen in recent time. Leads me to think - what the hell were they thinking? Especially Albert Brooks. The film should have been conclusively titled "The Futile Search for Comedy in the Muslim World", because evidently Albert was looking the wrong places. Except for a couple of dated jokes on Indian call centers, and a few pointless puns, the movie falls flat on its face. Sheetal Sheth delivers a convincing performance - decent concept, devastatingly executed, the film starts, proceeds and most of all, ends shabbily. Repetitively annoying dialogues and a tacky screenplay - the true comedy of this film is in the sheer misguided execution of this project. Clearly, these people have NOT done their research and continue to portray a bare, stark view of India - to further feed and engorge the pre-existing misconceptions of the Western world. One word - Pathetic!! Ughh!

Friday, January 20, 2006

Big B on Broadway

Although evolution has preached ‘survival of the fittest’, in today’s celebrity world, it is clearly ‘survival of the biggest’. And although that does mysteriously sound like the opening to a Viagra commercial, I’m merely talking about the biggest and most spectacular Bollywood super-icon, the Big B himself and his recent, brief press appearance in the Big Apple.

More than the man, it’s the aura today. This is the most apt way in which one can sum up the legendary Amitabh Bachchan. In town for the US television launch of the popular game show, Kaun Banega Crorepati 2, he arrived punctually and barely spoke more than a few words but left the press sheerly stupefied by his presence. He smiled as he gave soundbytes of “Kaun Banega Crorepati … Dwithiya” and did the much-imitated finger twitch that goes with it, with an ostensible comprehension that he is one of the few stars who can make shuddh Hindi sound so cool. KBC2 airs on Star Plus which reaches out to hundreds of thousands of Indian households across the country through the DirecTV network.

Moreover, as hordes of commuters drive from the suburbs of New Jersey to the bustle of New York City to work in the morning, they have another surprise awaiting them. In a publicity spot that was once adorned by the likes of Donald Trump and Coco Chanel, a large outdoor billboard placed strategically at the gateway to Manhattan, the historic Lincoln Tunnel, one sees the magnanimous image of the Big B cheekily pointing out to the crowd, with the tagline “Are you ready for India’s biggest show?”. Although the Americans look at it quizzically as the graphics are replicas of Regis Philbin and Who Wants to be a Millionaire, this is the first time that an Indian celebrity has attained this manic maqaam of mainstream publicity. Outdoor ads of Star Plus and KBC2 are now seen at train and bus stations, and community shopping areas across the tri-state area, which is home to nearly 600,000 South Asians.

Talking of big, the man with the largest Gross National Ego, King Khan pulled up to the Nirvana restaurant in Los Angeles’ cream district of Beverly Hills, a few weeks ago, in a sleek white Bentley Arnage, to hobnob with the who’s-who of Hollywood. He was in town to promote (read:lobby) for Paheli, India’s official entry for best foreign film at the 2006 Oscars, which sadly Black-ed out Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s hopes of running the Academy circuit this year. Although the film tanked at the Indian box office, Paheli held strong collections in the US circuit and Shah Rukh was quoted to be surprised that Hollywood celebs found the film to be rather entertaining.

And if that wasn’t enough to stir up India’s annual (albeit:sinusoidal) Oscar frenzy, US distributors of the Mahesh Dattani flick, Morning Raaga, submitted the movie for (hold your breath) the Best Picture category at the Oscars. Submitted out of pique that the film wasn’t India’s entry for Best Foreign Film, the critically-acclaimed Shabana Azmi-Perizaad Zorabian starrer was submitted for the mainstream Oscars on the basis of its US release, and has been cleared of all the basic selection criteria. Being the first Indian film to be submitted and accepted in the mainstream category, the crew awaits the nomination announcements, slated for January 31st, with bated breath. For Morning Raga, isn’t that something to sing about?

With over 1000 films a year, and slated to be the largest film production industry in the world, does India really need to run the American Oscar circuit with such overzealousness. Although the chances of a nomination are rather nominal, as India has historically only had 2 runners for Best Foreign Film in the entire century of Academy history, Shah Rukh Khan continues his endeavors to promote Paheli, as he has traditionally been one celeb who aims to have his cake and the bakery, as well. Dugna Lagaan, kya?

So that last piece was pasted across the desi-internet, thanks to Manan and Tushar and a bunch of other Indo-fluenced listservs. More than the hatemail from the miffed Sikh community (aakhir kyun paaji kyun?), I got dozens of mails of appreciation for putting this simple thought across, in a lucid fashion. So after that long hiatus - I'm back. and I'm here to stay.

And hey, a majority of the credit for this return, goes to my buddy, Tamanna, whom I had the venerable honor of chatting with till 5:30 AM last night, for topics as varied as facial resemblances to celebrities, to sex on the Burj Helipad. Quite a night, Tamanna, thanks a million - was awesome to get to know you too .... (if you've read her blog entry of today - isn't that shweet, like two happy cats scratching each other's backs - heck, at least I don't give her a $300 bill ;-) jk!). Love n peace!

Confessions of an American Desi

I curl my Rs and roll my Ls, depending on whom I wish to impress or flatter. My accent changes as I switch calls between my paternal grandparents and my boss. Ever since I convinced immigration authorities that I don’t intend to reside here, and walked through their portals for the first time on my seemingly-solitary quest for the cherished GC, I choose what to like and dislike about my home country, as I am not obliged to deal with it anymore. To a curious-about-our-heritage American, I will be a thoroughbred son of the soil, dripping with awe-inspiring facts about our locales, our spices, our culture and our monuments. But beyond that, I will practice selective affection for my homeland. I watch ESPN to stock up on conversation pieces, and follow American politics to stay informed, with zeal far greater than my basic perception of homeland affairs. I roll my eyes when singled out at security checkpoints, probably because I wasn’t the one running away from mammoth grey clouds of smoke and dust. I come up with clever Hindi sobriquets for African-Americans and Chinese people in order to poke fun at them, oblivious to the fact that they’re probably doing the same thing.

I am the American Desi of today. Not as confused as the ones born here, as I choose to switch between like and dislike of my culture by will, not by birth. But I still shop at Indian stores, attend all-nighter parties for India-Pakistan matches and scroll through credits of mainstream American flicks to look for a Chandrashekhar or a Vaidyanathan, and smile with a glimmer of sporadic pride in my ‘people’, before I hail a cab home for my American neighbour, Greg and me. And as the heavily-bearded turbaned cabdriver asks, “Where to?”, I give him my address. I ignored his initial greetings, because I didn’t want to engage in another “Where-are-you-from-Do-you-miss-home” taxicab conversation. As far as I’m concerned, I am just another passenger. I brush off the initial pangs of guilt probably inspired by the hours and hours of moral talk that my mom dedicated to me. Am I wrong to switch identities so steadfastly? Everyone does it here. Most of the white people I know want to be black most of the time. It’s a global syndrome.

I cringe as I hear the desi cabdriver belch loudly, as if I am embarrassed on his behalf. A part of me feels like apologizing to Greg, but I choose to segregate – distance myself from the cabdriver – in every way possible. At that point, the divider between our seats is a border between my wavering ex-culture and my present, and potentially future fancy. As the cabdriver laughs loudly on his headset and curses ‘affectionately’ in one of the few languages in which that is possible, Punjabi, supposedly to another taxi cabdriver, my discomfiture grows to the point that I curtly request him to “keep it down”. The cabbie turns off his phone and apologizes profusely to me in Hindi, while I refuse to reciprocate. I ignore him and smile uncomfortably at Greg, continuing our conversation about the Republican Party as if nothing happened, hoping that he hasn’t created a mental association between the ill-mannered cabbie and me, because of our so-called “common heritage”. To me, people like the cabdriver are the reason people still think of India as a third-world nation. Him and modern-day directors who still portray the rural and rustic portions of India while ignoring the burgeoning infrastructure. Although I am personally oblivious to India’s growth in the last decade, I selfishly hope someone says something magnanimous about it so that I don’t have to hide behind a fa├žade anymore. To me, India isn’t “cool” enough to be from, unlike Australia or Italy.

As we disembark the cab, I pay the cabbie and realize that I am a whole two dollars short. Greg is busy flirting with his girlfriend on the phone, and I find it petty and demeaning to be asking him for a petty sum. I look at the cabdriver, who seems to understand my predicament simply by my facial expressions. He smiles and in unfussy Hindi, responds “Chalega”, a word that has no clear translation in the English language. A word that tells me that we aren’t different at all. A word that creates an instant albeit fleeting unique bond between our worlds. He greets me with a smile and drives away without waiting for me to thank him. I find it strange that someone whom I have never known - someone whom I would have probably walked right past on the streets of my hometown – would do me a simple yet meaningful favor purely because we are two of over a billion people, who share a historic, meaningful past. I feel that the very identity that I have been escaping from has boomeranged at me in a karmic sort of way, to help me see things in a new light. And although I am steps away from my New York City apartment, home suddenly seems so far, far away.