Sunday, December 14, 2008

Ay, there's the rab!

In which I react to Rab ne bana di jodi. So SPOILER ALERT.


When I was a child, I was given a book called Thumbelina. The story of a thumb-sized girl and her adventures. There is a mole in the story: big, fat, ugly. Also rich and wanting to marry her. Hemmed in, Thumbelina is forced to contemplate marriage with him, till she escapes and meets a prince whom she falls in love with.

I hated the mole. Not for being ugly or rich or cruel, but for wanting to marry a girl against her will, in spite of her will. Inarticulately, even as a child, I was disgusted with such coercion that is not quite rape but something a little more insidious, equally vile.

Shahrukh Khan’s character Surinder in Rab ne bana di jodi is that mole. A small ‘ordinary’ man, a mofussil babu, oiled, slicked-back hair, ghonchu clothes and a very unbecoming moustache. He marries pretty, vivacious ‘Taaniji’ in emergency circumstances – she must, as her fiancé and father have died in quick succession; he wants to.

Taani tries rather gallantly to come to terms with her new circumstances. Her new husband is nice – leaves her alone for the most part and demands very little from her. He then senses she needs a little more excitement and deceives her by playing another man, ‘Raj’ – a younger, more vibrant man, more audacious, more fashionable, more expressive, more acceptable. But even as he plays this other role, he runs into a contradiction within himself. He wants her to love Surinder not Raj. Mind, he will do nothing to win her love – not throw in sparkling conversation, not dress less dowdily, not be more loving; he will merely sit mutely, chewing his food across the table from her every night, loving her in a smug, self-righteous way, willing her to choose him.

She does eventually – for a reason more stupid and facile than many that Bollywood routinely uses to advance its plots. She does because she wants to see ‘rab’ in someone, sends up a prayer and opens her eyes to see her husband walking towards her in out-of-focus, slow-motion. And presumably because heroines in Bollywood movies do not normally leave husbands who don’t attract them for men that do. Or perhaps because all a woman ever wants (as Taani says, speaking for all of us) is a man to love her ‘beintehaa’. By this illumination, what I am to do with my ever-growing scroll of ‘What-I-Want-In-A-Man,’ I don’t know. Or maybe, just maybe, because Aditya Chopra thought he had a title he liked and thought up a silly story to fit it.

The most perturbing aspect came with the end credits. A series of snapshots of the couple’s honeymoon in Japan – Taaniji (she is still Taaniji) is with Surinder, and there is no sign of Raj. She is smiling hugely, affectionate, clinging to her bashful, mustachioed and badly-dressed husband, and, Suri’s voiceover hints coyly, there is sex involved. In short, she is broken in.

I find myself puzzled at Aditya Chopra. Why de-sex, so de-glamourise your hero? To what end? Why hold the mundane over the exciting? Why root for blah? Was this or was this not the man who tortured Esha Deol and Aishwarya Rai into skeletal forms, so they could enhance movies from his stable? Why speak then for the sort of middle class Indian man who won’t step up to his wife, but expects her to step down to him?

To add insult to injury, Chopra makes a bad masala movie. The songs are horribly treated, all the basics of ‘build-up’ lie by the side, there is no chemistry, no attempt at chemistry. Very weak and so annoying.

Monday, December 01, 2008


More on Pushkar...


Pushkar came with a lot of hype. The biggest camel fair in the world, untold lakhs of visitors, the colour, the dust, the melee... I was not going to the mela, which took place 5-13 November, but my visit would overlap the last day and some of the excitement rubbed off.

On the road, even several kilometres short of my destination, the fair made itself felt. Long trains of camels blocked traffic, bought for no doubt handsome sums of money and being led to their new homes. As we neared the town, the madness started to show. Buses, jeeps and cars roared by us, raising dust and chock-a-block with people—turbaned men sat on the roofs, adventurous lads perilously hanging on to a foothold, and only slightly more safely seated, women wearing colourful saris, ghoonghats and huge smiles, clearly having the time of their lives. Road after road into the town was shut, or converted temporarily into oneways. As we stopped to seek new directions, now that the old ones had fallen through, we were yelled at by policemen: “Chalo, chalte raho! Hamari vyavastha kharaab hoti hai.

Hungry, tired, grumpy and rather grimy, we reached the resort eventually. It took a vigorous wash, lunch and a cup of tea to brace us for another dive into the crowd. But we were on foot now and, as we walked to the centre, very much mainstreamed. Some parties were leaving—bearing bags of many shapes and sizes, invariably chomping on a last-minute purchase of ganna. I also found very quickly what the single most-bought item of the fair must have been: a handmade garden rake with long handle and smooth stylishly curved bamboo fingers. I also discovered what the colour of the season was for turbans—a nice striking fluorescent green.

The mela grounds were now slightly depleted, for the camel trading is most frenetic during the first three days. But dromedaries still stood tethered, as well as horses. Campfires had kettles on and men sat in the huddles so evocative of Rajasthan. A camel is judged on many parameters, I discovered. The eyes must be large, but the face small. Big teeth but small face. Long, thick neck, short tail. Small genitals. One at this fair would’ve cost on average Rs 18,000-20,000. The quality camels of Jaisalmer cost up to Rs 60,000.

Hawkers, food, milling crowds—it was a first-rate mela. But distressing too, because police loudspeakers were incessant in their announcements of missing children. One in particular came across over and over, the policeman sounding increasingly harried—an unclaimed child of three or four who’d been in the makeshift chowk for over five hours, crying, his heart fit to break.

The real action, however, was at the lake this day. The Karthik Poornima is when the moon turns into amrit and descends into the lake. In the best tradition, a dip washes your sins away. About two lakh people were there, we were told later.

The next day, the people had magically disappeared. Hung-over, bleary-eyed and anti-climaxed, Pushkar was left to clean up after the party.