Monday, January 20, 2014

Deadline woes

जानता हूँ सवाब-ए-ता'त-ओ-ज़ोहद…

पर हाय रे तबीयत!

The temptation to blog in Hindi! But I will embarrass myself hugely if I do, since in a very South Indian manner I invariably get the streeling/pul'ling wrong. Much more dignified to quote now and then than venture out with full sentences of my own. जितनी लम्बी चादर हो, पैर उतने ही फैलाने चाहिये!

Saturday, January 18, 2014

A Few Good Men

A while ago, some of us sat down and put together a list. Of Bollywood directors who had made at least three successful films. The idea was to see if these creative persons could sustain good output – how much of it was accidental, how many became absurdly shaken by the success of their films and the attendant silliness that accompanies it in the film industry? How was it that (some) makers of interesting initial films churned out work that was shallower, more formulaic and more manipulative as they were now able to command bigger budgets?

We were clear to begin with that ‘successful’ was a subjective judgement – we didn’t take that to mean a hit necessarily, just a film that made sense to us, or appealed in some way, or showed some heart or integrity or coherence.

We had some ideas of our own, of course. I remember Javed Akhtar being asked once about the creative process and while I can’t quote him word for the word, the essence was this: while Salim and he were having fun with that they were doing, genuinely writing plots, scenarios and lines that they enjoyed, it worked. When they started second-guessing the audience, making assumptions about what would ‘work’ and what wouldn’t, they lost the magic. So basically a process where the creative person clears the board – clears away preconceptions (their own as well as other people’s), looks at a subject with some contemplation and serves it in the best manner possible... then it works. When they start worrying about how they are going to keep this good thing going, about doing justice to this bigger budget and big label expectations, put in a slick dance or two, devote more time to the publicity schedule than they do to the script and homework, they are less satisfying. This is commonsense, of course – I am saying nothing new but evidently, so difficult to do!

At the top of our list was Dibakar Banerjee and it was decided that this here was a good man in whom we could place our trust. Anything made by him, we would line up to watch. Yes, Shanghai fell short of being memorable but his short in Bombay Talkies held its own and what variety and assurance he brings to his subjects! And I for one am super excited that he will be making Detective Byomkesh Bakshi with the talented Sushant Singh Rajput.

I am also interested in Imtiaz Ali. I loved his Socha Na Tha – even a shade better than the more touted Jab We Met. He stuttered badly of course with Love Aaj Kal but recovered his poise with Rockstar. I am really looking forward to Highway; it has all the Imtiaz Ali trademarks: travel, self-discovery and I suspect that Alia Bhatt is going to make everyone sit up.

Shimit Amin has consistently put out quality and even in spite of his association with Yash Raj Films. We will keep an eye out for Zoya Akhtar too. I am not attracted myself to Anurag Kashyap, who is a bit affected in his approach but there is something there. 

Milan Lutharia is exciting if erratic; we would look forward to Sujoy Ghosh’s next, as well as Shriram Raghavan’s. So too for that matter Abhishek Kapoor’s next: Fitoor. Tigmanshu Dhulia has become trapped in communicating a certain badlands ethos but I really liked Bullet Raja (and going by the promos I have an inkling that I will prefer it to the forthcoming Gunday as far as Jai-Veeru tales go) and how about that Paan Singh Tomar! It haunts me still.

But so many disappointments we came across as we put this list together. Whatever happened to John Matthew Mathan who made Sarfarosh?! Why did Ashutosh Gowarikar go downhill in that step-wise descent? Will Farhan Akhtar ever make something approaching Dil Chahta Hai? Or if that is asking for too much – will he ever stop with the Don series, for our sakes, and to save consecutive dilutions of a powerful, iconic brand?

All said and done, though: thanks, guys, for many hours of joy. We love the movies and if it happens that we don’t like one, we at least love sniping at it. Hail Bollywood!

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Haath, Kangan aur Farsi

Sometimes I find English too unemotional a language for my needs; it is too easily embarrassed. I was thinking the other day about people who use language well and how I tend to become ‘nisar’ over them. I cannot of course translate this: ‘I am squandered... I am strewn over articulate, vivid speakers of native tongues...’ As you see, it sounds ridiculous.


Truth is I have a crush on languages. Punjabi, Farsi, Sanskrit, Hindi, Urdu, Kannada, Telugu... they fascinate me all. My own ability to pick up a new tongue or dialect or accent is good but nowhere near where I would like it to be. I remember my sister saying once that if she could pick a superpower it would be the ability to understand every language in the world. I agree wholeheartedly. But alas, to acquire a true and imaginative mastery of a language needs exposure, it needs you to steep yourself in a culture – and for that you would need: a) an unadulterated petri dish of said culture and b) the time, space and adequate excuse to do the steeping. Situated as I am, it cannot be done on a whim.

So I pick up things – savour a phrase, wonder at the context of a particular way of expressing. It is unsatisfactory – I am ever aware that I am feeling a small wrinkle in the elephant’s skin – but there is nothing else.

In the latest season of Coke Studio, Sanam Marvi sings a mysterious snatch without giving us the backstory. The beloved has come across the river to meet but doesn’t spend too much time with the poet: “nah main majlis keeti, na mai raat rahaaya”. ‘I didn’t get the chance to sit together awhile, or spend with him a single night’, she laments. In fact: “onṭhi uṭh nah jhukaaya.” So fleeting a visit, he didn’t even lower the camel to the ground. How delicious is that phrasing – a mere half-sentence gives us glimpse of an entire way of living.


While on this subject, I have a fond ambition: to speak in fluid ‘ba-muhavra’ Hindustani. You know, have a ready proverb or a saying for every situation. This now is doable. I trying to learn them up from here and there – in spite of the apparent homogeneity that has set in to our national media, you can still sift some nuggets, I find. So, I found occasion to exclaim ‘Bheda garak!’ several times this week, and when a friend told me they had to let their (very inept) administrative man go, I was happy to be able to assuage his conscience with ‘Khus kam jahaan paak.’

I am looking for a reason to say ‘Oonth ke pair toh paalne mein hi dikh jaate hain’ and but quite despair of being able to tell anyone: ‘Arre, aam khaona, guTliyan kyon ginte ho?

Incidentally, I’m collecting these, so you if know any, do pass them on? After all, akela chana bhaad nahin phod sakta.

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Kastvam ko.aham kuta aayaatah*

A strange lassitude overcomes me this new year’s day. I did not seek out revelry last night, choosing pappannam over biryani, a webstreamed sathsang over an evening out and, all of today, I have chosen brazen indiscipline over customary good sense.
I am in a state of flux, with no plan in sight. On the other hand, I have found a super Raga Desi by Nazakat-Salamat Ali Khan. And also, in this past week, I learnt to appreciate Meera Bai. That is as it is.


Somehow, in the light of our brittle – perhaps even desperate – celebrations on occasions such as these, my mind tends to nihilism. Imagine the sea, if you will, in its depths. And then imagine the fish. And what, if from one instant to the next, the fish disappears? Does the sea notice? Is there consternation over this sudden vanishing? Or does it, in a blink, close up the gap and go on as before? Or does the size of the fish matter? Tsunamis after all are caused by such very shifts of mass. Then does the fish matter? That it once was, that it is no more?

Haiku poet Tom Rault makes an enigmatic assertion:
in the river
the footprints of a fish

Really? Do we, superior-evolved-fish, leave footprints behind? It is my understanding that we carry on much with us but what do we leave behind that the earth cares to treasure? A genius here or there, yes, we remember their words, their images, their legacy... but the bulk of us, swimming this way and that in vast shoals, what do we leave behind?
If we took a slice out of the earth under the much-lived Delhi, for instance, we would find layer upon layer of civilisation. The very rubble would tell us tales of many centuries worth. But of the fishes that swam here once? What of them? How do they matter?
How will it matter to the ageless sea in what manner I spent my eve of the New Year 2014?

*This is from Adi Shankara's Bhaja Govindam.
Verse 23 goes:
kastvaM ko.ahaM kuta aayaataH
kaa me jananii ko me taataH
iti paribhaavaya sarvamasaaram.h
vishvaM tyaktvaa svapna vichaaram.h

Who are you? Who am I? From where did I come?
Who is my mother? Who is my father?
Thus enquire, leaving aside the entire world-of-experience,
essenceless and a mere dreamland, born of imagination.

**The translation is from here.