World Cup 1983 to 2011 – My Personal Journey

It’s hard not to react to this world cup in a very personal way. Most of the videos of player interviews that I have watched since are very personal, very emotional. Even the interview with Gary Kirsten, the South African coach sounds very emotional, almost in an Indian way. Most of the columns I have read since, blog posts I have browsed through seem to bring forth a personal, emotional aspect from the writer’s perspective. Here are some of the examples

http://greatbong.net/2011/04/03/the-day-we-won-the-cup-once-again/#more-21713

http://abhi-aaya.blogspot.com/2011/04/wide-angle-48-two-wins.html

http://unusualrant.wordpress.com/2011/04/04/the-lords-of-the-kings/

I am no different. This event made me re-start my blog again, which I wasn’t able to continue for a while now due to work pressure and simple laziness. But this time, I had to come out and express myself.

This was the first Monday in a long long time, when I was visibly happy. My non-Indian colleagues would ask in their casual American way, “How are you?” and would get astonished at a very strong “I am happy” response. The entire weekend was dedicated to the match. Friday night and Saturday morning for obvious reasons, but during the rest of the weekend all I did was catch some sleep, get up and stare at my lap top- soaking myself into the videos, the pictures, the player interviews, the match reports, the ball by ball commentaries ( yes, I watched the match live), everything and anything that was written about the match, I lapped it up. By Monday, day end, I must have seen more than 10 hours of videos, clicked on thousands of pictures, most of them for repeat viewing and must have read every major blog, every major Indian newspaper and Pakistani, thanks due to some drone named Shahid Afridi. The amazing thing was, I was still not done. That’s the impact this world cup win has had on me and it seems I am not alone.

I figured out many years later that we had won the world cup in 1983. No, I did exist back then, I am not that young. But I existed in a remote hilly place in the Kumaun region of Uttarakhand state, located in lower Himalayas, also known as Shivaliks. My remote village back then didn’t have access to newspaper or radio. I landed in a small UP town in 1986 and woke up to a whole new world beyond the snow covered Himalayan peaks. A world that had organized sports, cricket being one of them. Before that I thought cricket was what we played after school on the un-even staircase fields of Kumaun where if you hit the ball too hard, sometime it took up to 30 min to recover it.  I woke up to the fact that my country played cricket and were good at it. I heard that some guy named Ravi Shastri was a star player and had won a very expensive car called Audi, in one of the championships. I still remember seeing the pictures in one of the old copies of Cricket Star, I think that’s what the magazine was called back then. It took me few more years to realize that India had won the biggest prize in 1983 and to fully realize that it was a very big deal, particularly keeping India’s one day record in mind until then.

After that, it was an overdose of pictures, replays and stories of that 1983 story. Some of the stories were repeated so often that they had started to acquire the shape of Hindu mythologies where stuff gets added by the narrator himself. 1983 was forever etched in India’s pop culture memory, and Kapil’s Devils were made out to be heroic almost to the same extent as Jai and Veeru from Sholay. Sholay and 1983 were probably the only two threads required to connect any two Indians around the globe.

India hit the rock bottom in 80s before slowly climbing back up in 90s, the stories with cast of characters such as Rajeev Gandhi, Manmohan Singh, PVN are by now well documented and repeated often. India cricket had hit rock bottom in 1999-2000 after the match fixing scandal. That’s the time it lost many fans, some never to return, except may be now. In 2000 Saurav Ganguly began the  re-building and found and groomed Zaheer Khan, Harbhajan Singh, Yuvraj and Sehwag, the mainstays of the team ever since. By 2003, the confidence was back and we almost had our moment before we had the meltdown in finals. The team in 2003 was stronger in some ways, particularly the bowling department where Zaheer, Nehra were both in form, spearheaded by Jawagal Srinath. But it wasn’t destined to happen back then and it didn’t. After the shock of 2007, I had given up on world cup dream, simply because of how difficult it seemed. You had to win 6-7 matches on a trot, based on my 2003 memory and I don’t remember our team doing that in recent past, except the T20 world cup. But, was happy to be proven wrong and loved it.

I wouldn’t go into the match itself as we all experienced it. This was probably the most watched match by Indians. Every friend and friend of friend I meet every neighbor, every acquaintance, present, past and future colleagues, in India and abroad have seen this match. But would love to comment on the change in mind set that I notice in the youth brigade. May be I am getting old now, but people like Gautam Gambhir, Virat Kohli or Suresh Raina definitely don’t belong to the generation of Indians we knew. Even Harbhajan and Yovraj were considered young no so long ago and aggressive, were different. They had just learned to give it back and were sometimes too loud and brash. But the generation of Gambhir, Virat and Suresh is one step ahead. There is certain calmness, some maturity about their aggression, the way they handle pressure, the way they are confident about who they are as Indians on the global stage, in some sense our generation never was, even when the hugely talented Saurav, Rahul and Sachin were part of the team.

Seeing these people, watching them play gives me inspiration and confidence that there is something right about India, that there is hope. Beyond the cacophony of our overcrowded cities, the dust bowls of our perennially broken and under construction roads, beyond the abject poverty and suicide of the farmers, beyond the sheer enormity of the population explosion, beyond the stupidity of our media and Bollywood, beyond the massive corruption among our leaders, beyond the almost defunct local governing and civic system, there is hope. Call me a romantic, but I can see it almost feel it on my nerves that lead from the eye to the brain to the heart that the road gets better and smoother ahead for India and Indians.

 

 

People who make life worth living: A Wizard called Oz!!

I first discovered Oz around 2005-2006. And I discovered Desi Train the blog before I discovered the blogger. He used to simply go by the name Oz.  Desi Train to me, remains the best desi blog ever. If you have never heard of Desi Blog, don’t try looking for it. The site doesn’t exist anymore. For reasons only known to him, Oz stopped writing and took Desi Train off the web. I guess I understand some of the reasons, he probably gut too busy with his other ventures. Even jogis have limited time.

Yes, jogi is how I would define Oz, a ramta jogi. But before we get to the jogi himself, a few more words about Desi Train. I don’t exactly remember how I discovered Desi Train, but I do remember I got hooked immediately. The writing style was unique and very fresh, a whacky sense of humor combined with unique earthy metaphors entirely his own, gave Oz complete control over his narrative. If the writing style was superb, the content was always too close to my heart. That’s probably because Oz belonged to the same generation of Indians that I did, grew up with similar sensibilities, had similar insecurities and some of the same frustrations. This is the generation that was born in seventies, a decade which saw the evaporation of all the false hope that generation prior to us carried in its hearts, hopes of newly minted independent nation. If seventies were bad, eighties were simply the bottom. It was very depressing to be an Indian in eighties, with mediocrity all around you, reflected in big bold letters in Bollywood, which in a tragic way does seem to mirror the Indian society in general. Oz and I and the rest of our generation grew up with the worst period in Bollywood and yet we were all fascinated with this rotten masala style of film making. Oz particularly seemed to have eaten, drank, smoked and digested these films. And that’s what he expressed in his blog which was at its finest when he wrote about cine related topics. Not just the frustration with 80’s cinema but Oz also expressed the sheer joy and satisfaction that 70s cinema brought to our lives. Oz expressed in words, what our entire generation felt about stalwarts like Gulzar, Hrishikesh Mukherjee, Salim Javed, Amitabh Bachchan, Sholay and Sanjeev Kumar etc. If Oz’s writing about 80’s torture cinema (his phrase, not mine) was hilarious and laugh riot, his poignant take on the golden period of Hindi cinema could give you goose pimples.

Week after week, I would come back to Desi Train, first reading through the entire archive and then waiting for weekly or bi-weekly updates. Every once in a while, Oz’s posts would provide tidbits about his personal life. Oz shared everything except his name. He remained, simply Oz. He did introduce his readers to t!, his Caucasian, Hindi understanding, cinema loving girlfriend of those days, later wife, that he fondly calls biwiji. Not sure if t! was the way she was and therefore was with Oz, or she became that way because she met Oz. But, overall, what a ram milayee Jodi!! Some of his personal posts about “surviving as an independent consultant”, “Review of iPhone”, his takes on 26/11 tragedy in Mumbai, in the last few days of Desi train, would be forever etched in my memory.

I slowly started discovering that Oz has moved on to another initiatives. Passionforcinema started appearing in big and bold, on his blog, he would frequently write about Anurag Kashyap, a man he would be highly inspired by and who helped him create Passionforcinema, which started as a blog and became a movement. With PFC, Oz’s influences on my life and many lives like me became much broader. Through PFC, Oz opened a whole new world for people like me, a world where we could read opinions about cinema from many Ozs, not just one. Not only that, PFC represented an opportunity for anyone with an opinion to get out there and express it and develop a writing style, all in real time. This post today is possible solely because of PFC.

I got an opportunity to meet the great man, along with biwiji t!. He met me like a friend and put his arms around me like an older brother, but I was simply awed by his presence. In my mind he remained that superb blog writer who inspired and moved me and I remained a fanboy. 3 hours were too little to spend in Oz’s company, he had so much to give. His constant take on torture cinema alone can last for days, it’s amazing how well each and every scene from these god forsaken films are in his mind, films many of which I haven’t even heard the names of. But the best description of Oz himself in my mind is that of a Jogi. He seems like a ramta jogi was born to freely roam around the earth. The fact that he is married says a lot about how wonderful and what miracle worker t is. Oz invited me to go visit him in San Diego, at his abode. But for ordinary mortals like me, who are stuck in the daily rut of life, visits to jogis only happen by luck. His world is different from mine. Plus, I have to bring the jogi inside me to go meet a real jogi like him. And, I have to keep the jogi inside me suppressed to meet my responsibilities of a normal family person.

And that brings me to Dingora, the reason, I started writing this post. Great people don’t rest on laurels. PFC was humming and was full of buzz. Leading personalities from film world were writing on PFC. Cine houses in Mumbai knew who Oz was. Yet, Oz was still searching..His head was full of millions of ideas and he wanted to move forward with all of them. But finally the world of Venture Capital did listen to him and Dingora became a reality.

I experienced my first film on Dingora, the long awaited Urf Professor, a film that was on top of Oz’s mind when I met him and without any surprise the first film to go up on Dingora, he used to get so many requests from people about the film, which he considers in the same league as Jane Bhi Do Yaro and I fully agree with him. Urf Professor never released in theatres. That’s where Dingora came into the scene.  Dingora makes films like Urf Professor reach its audience like me, sitting right in our homes on our laptops.

Dingora just worked perfect. The quality of the streaming was perfect, the initialization was quick and smooth and somehow in my heart of hearts, I got a sense that history is being made. I understand in this fast changing world of technology, everything gets copied. But as of now, I don’t think there is anything out there. Dingora was waiting to happen. Dingora had to happen. There had to be a better way, particularly for people like me, the non-jogies, who cannot go to film festivals to experience our slice of this alternate universe of art cinema. But Dingora is not just for people like me. Its audience is a huge universe, as large as the mainstream cinema, but there are not always found at one single place in a large enough number. That’s the conundrum that Dingora solves. Dingora is off to a rocking start and it won’t be before long that the mainstream studios wake up to it and want a piece of what Dingora represents. Hope that day comes soon, the day when the wizard called Oz gets his due.  I would simply pray for that because I want him to be done with his entrepreneurial stints and return to what he is born for – i.e. writing. Long live the wizard!!

Check out Passion for cinema at www.passionforcinema.com

Check out Dingora at www.dingora.com.

The site is under beta. You may need a code to activate your account. Check out Oz’s last post about Dingora on Passion for cinema here

http://passionforcinema.com/dingora-com-guru-ho-ja-shuru/

Reminiscing…

Traveler’s Destiny

Monk to Asoka “You are not an ordinary human being. You seem to have a great destiny.” “What is my destiny? To rule? To be a great king?”, asks Asoka.  “No, even bigger than that”, says the Monk. “Whose destiny is bigger than even kings”, asks Asoka. Monk, “ A traveler’s destiny, when he completes his journey.”  – from the film Asoka.

We are travelers, moving away from the single source we originated from billions of years ago. While we have no or little control over the need to move away, from the one original source, we do have the innate need within us to go back, in our own different ways. The desire to go back to our roots, from the point we started our own min-journeys in this super journey of human kind and life itself, is something that defines us.  How we deal with this basic desire, defines in a great deal, what we make of this life span.

The year was 1985, Indira Gandhi had just died, one of her murderers still being tried in court. Rajeev Gandhi was still the hope of new India and still talked about taking India into 21st century. In the summer of 1985, I set foot on the border of my village catching a bus for the first time. Little I knew that the journey I was starting on, was to continue on and one to longer and longer distances, farther and farther away, to places I hadn’t even heard before. Every step I took, corner I turned, every place I left behind, I it got fainter and fainter but the hope always stayed in my heart with a wish to go back, some day.

I was well into my adult life until I kept seeing the first house I grew up in, in my dreams. The house would be there in very vivid colors and I would be able see and almost touch every bit of detail. The smell, the texture, the trunks, the trash everything would show up. Not only that, I could close my eyes any time and transport myself back inside the house, live there for a minute or two before returning back to present moment. Then suddenly one day, I realize that I was losing those brain cells on which the house of my early years was imprinted upon. I was finding it harder and harder to remember the details; it was slipping away from me. It was not the best house, I would live in bigger and better houses, but this was the house I was born in, this is where I came from and not being able to recall the source as clearly was disconcerting at first.

Now, I remember the house through this poetry of Gulzar sab. I have no idea what Gulzar sab is describing here, but it sounds to me as if he is describing my first house, the house I left far behind, whose sand print is almost gone.

<object width=”480″ height=”385″><param value=”http://www.youtube.com/v/3POGRbSUPtY&amp;hl=en_US&amp;fs=1″></param><param name=”allowFullScreen” value=”true”></param><param name=”allowscriptaccess” value=”always”></param></object>

To be continued…

Dibakar Banerjee and the rotten Indian Middle Class

Originally published on Passionforcinema.com

I am a big fan of Raag Darbaari by Srilal Shukla, perhaps the finest satire ever written in Hindi literature,  I would eve suggest in entire Indian literature.  I would rank it right alongside Joseph Heller’s Catch -22 in terms of sheer breadth and depth. The subject of Raag Darbari is Indian village life, the type portrayed by Shyam Benegal in Sajjanpur and Well Done Abba, except the tone is sharper and humor far more loopier.

I appreciate the genius involved in writing quality satire. But at least in the written form you have the luxury of enough words and space to build up situations and describe characters. Doing it on screen in a two hour film should require super human skills. That’s why it’s so uncommon to find good black comedy in Indian cinema. We had our Jane Bhi Do Yaaro in 1983 which remains unparalleled to this date but it had silly situations and mad cap comedy even though irony was fully alive throughout in the film.

However what Dibakar does through his films is completely beyond any comparison. He combines satire and realism with such devastating impact that you have no choice but salute the man’s brilliance. Dibakar’s films are well loved and celebrated on PFC  , all three of them almost developing a cult following, but I don’t think in our busy lives we have time to appreciate how difficult it is what Dibakar does in his films . His films portray a certain literary quality, with enough humor and masala at the surface, yet far more deeper and cutting edge in the satire when you look deeper. You can laugh at the situations or cry at the sad reality projected through the characters and situations, while the characters remain completely oblivious of it. His characters are too sure of themselves, too busy living their lives, unaware of the irony that surrounds them.

There was a subject called Machine Drawing in engineering college that used to bamboozle lots of good students, including the author of this post. It required some other type of quirky intelligence to ace the subject, asking you to see shapes and dimensions that were completely beyond some of us. What Dibakar does, cannot be taught or learned, it requires similar type of quirky genius, the domain of only rare human beings. The accuracy of his observations and their subsequent portrayals on screen without wasting reels after reels of screen space requires you to think in an unknown hidden dimension. It seems as if Dibakar was peeping through the gates, doors and windows into our lives holding his camera and just edited the film afterwards. Right from the first scene in Khosla Ka Ghosla, where his camera pans through the gate into a typical middle class home where Maruti 800 is parked and newspaper guy on bicycle throws morning newspaper, the tone is set, which he maintains relentlessly through all three films he has made, coolly upping the ante in OLLO and LSD, every time we think he is done startling us. In KKG, he enters through the gate and takes his seat right on the couch in our small drawing room, on a coffee table that serves as dining table and as a drinks table when we learn to make ‘on the rocks’ to befriend our grown up son who belongs to another generation and another class, out of the myriad subclasses existing within our class. KKG is not that severe on expose, and only focuses on the timidity of typical Indian middle class, shows us what a scared life we live afraid of everything and everybody around us. We are scared of the real estate agents, the police, the government, the real estate sharks and even our own kids. The film exposes the complete lack of backbone in us, chipped away piece by piece by the daily grind of life around us. Anupam Kher’s character could be any of us, is in all of us. He is the guy in checkered coat, in R K Laxman’s cartoons. But at the end of the day, KKG remains  a straightforward good versus evil tale, an underdog overcoming a goliath story. I think Jaideep Sahani was the major factor there. It was his script and he kept Dibakar under control.

In Oye Lucky Lucky Oye (OLLO) however, Dibakar’s camera doesn’t leave any corner unturned. He walks right into the by lanes of Delhi’s middle class life , places his tripod and zooms in through the attached walls of the multiple houses illegally constructed by violating all sorts of municipal laws and encroachment on the narrow gullies. He exposes the classes within classes that exist inside what is typically referred to as the Great Indian middle class. Very swiftly he shows that there is a different class on one side of the car’s windshield versus another. Dibakar shows complete lack of interest in the yuppistan typically portrayed by Ranbir Kappor in Yashraj or Karan Johar films, representing only 10 % of the India. The subject of Dibakar’s attention in OLLO is the bystander who watches yuppistan from the sidelines and belongs to the 50% in the middle. Remaining 30 % of Indians don’t count, not even among the bystanders. Dibakar is very cruel in exposing the complete hypocrisy and way of life of this bystander class.

ctvv bhi chaida mainu, lcd bhi chaida mainu
laal mercedes chaidi mainu, laal kila bhi chaida mainu
haa haa chaida ho ho chaida

mainu chaida chaida chaida chaida
(chaida chaida chaida chaida) – 3

Above lyrics from a song in OOLO sum up the film for me. The 50% class has been given a long shopping list by the top 10 %, the government and multinationals and their whole life they are busy filling up their small houses with crap from this list they don’t otherwise need. Dibakar is not interested in exploring a Deewar type heroic story of mother not accepting money earned by son’s paap ki kamai. He knows how we would go to any length to collect all this stuff we need or don’t need. He shows how we have problems with bad deeds of someone only until we don’t benefit from it ourselves.

Dibakar’s control on his medium is complete allowing him to zoom in any small yet complex aspect of his plot and say everything there is to be said about it within a scene or two. For example, Jagrata, a common nightly event in North India where bhajans are sung to the tune of vulgar filmi item numbers and scantily clad girls dance on the stage to keep the crowd going, blurring the lines between a jagrata and mujra. Ram Gopal Verma made an entire film in trying to get behind the breaking news channels. In one or two scenes in OLLO, Dibakar is able to say whatever he had to say and much more effectively than RGV. I can go on and on.

Just when you think Dibakar’s epic telling of the great Indian middle class has been done, he comes up with third part of his trilogy. This time he takes his hand held digital camera and plants the camera right ahead into the private moments of his characters. Even in KKG or OLLO, he seems to hold a hidden camera. Otherwise how do you explain the pitch perfect acting performance by each and every cast member?  It seems as if there wasn’t any camera visible to these people when they were performing, so damn natural they all are.

I would like to add this piece from Time magazine about the death of Indian dream.

http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1827371,00.html

The article talks about the class of people who work in malls and how they cannot afford pretty much anything from the glitzy shops they work in. It amazes me when I discuss this irony with my friends and they don’t seem concerned about the risk of instability this fact causes in the society. Their retort is there have always been class divide in India and people just accept it as a way of life. But the big difference to me is in the way the new found wealth of a small section of the society is not just dangled, but thrust from every direction in the face of the very people who cannot afford any of it. 30 years back, there were no civic amenities in the villages and life was pretty primitive compared to developed countries or even our own big cities. But back then, at least, there was no television with hundreds of channels each selling the illusion called India shining. I wonder how that villager feels today when his surroundings haven’t moved an inch in last 30 years, but he is told that somebody in the rest of India is catching with the rest of the world in terms of wealth and health. No wonder farmers commit suicide in villages that are not even 50 kilometers away from our big and successful cities.

It’s amazing how Bollywood chooses to completely ignore this class that looks through the glass doors of the multiplexes and shopping malls but cannot afford to go inside. Mumbai Meri Jan had one such character played by Irfan Khan. In Love Sex and Dhokha, Dibakar’s camera doesn’t spare anyone. From those who run the shops to those who work in them and the ones who do shopping in them, all of their worlds come alive and he shows their worlds collide. He wants to draw our attention to the fact that young India is not just the one existing in yuppistan, but also the one that makes and propagates MMS clips, the one that becomes the subject of it and the ones that dies in honor killing. The auteur himself maintains a completely neutral tone throughout. How cruel!

Which team are we talking about?

The following is from Rediff.com. Can you guess which national team are they reffering to…?

To me it sounded like Indian Cricket team wt World Cup T20 and the premier league sounded like IPL.

The clubs and their players have grown so rich that XXX’s national team and the structure that surrounds it could be in danger of becoming almost a symbol of decadence, at the heart of which is a fateful mix of celebrity, big money, player power and media manipulation.

The perceived arrogance that gave XXX a self-affirmed justification for running news conferences only for hand-picked television reporters, while ignoring questions from up to 250 accredited international journalists, was just one symptom of deeper problems.

The players, cocooned in a luxurious world of their own, failed on the pitch because of rigid tactics and bad preparation — clearly YYY’s area of responsibility — but also perhaps because of a lack of identity.

As individuals, each player seemed more synonymous with his club team than with XXX.

But the whole XXX hierarchy was responsible for the squad’s apparent air of conceit and disdain towards the wider spirit of the tournament.

Let’s celebrate top 5 item songs of all time!

Previously published on PFC…

http://passionforcinema.com/lets-celebrate-top-5-items-numbers-of-all-time/

This is not much of a blog post really. It’s more of a call out to all the fans of big bad khalish desi style vintage Bollywood cinema on PFC, particularly those of you who like item numbers. A well done item number is like daal main tadka or sambhar mein kari patta, whichever metaphor works better for you. A well done item number can not only increase the entertainment quotient of a film but can also take the narrative and overall quality of the film several notches higher. Like every other aspect of film making, item number also requires careful planning, creative writing and crisp execution by the choreographer, dancers or actors and the rest of the crew, in addition to the music director of course. But most important, just like you cannot separate a good film from a good director, a good item number also requires the stamp of the director. For the item number to work, it should not be done on the side and later added to the film. The director must be fully involved and should know what he wants from the item number. In the absence of that, the item number gets reduced to just a filler even if it has great music and catchy lyrics.

This is a list of what I consider top 5 item numbers of all time. To be precise, my definition of an item number is restricted to songs performed on screen by an artist, who does not have a role in the rest of the film, not even a guest role. The actor or actress must appear in the film for the item number only. So for all the ‘Bidi’ fans out there, the song doesn’t belong in the list as Bipasha Basu had a full fledged role in Omkara. Similarly many of the Helen’s songs of yore also get struck out, including the all time classic “Yeh mera dil”, because she had a small but well defined role in those films. With that, and before any further delay, let me get started with my list.

Number 1- Khallas from Company

If I can write in great Oz’s language, this one can really be called the ‘Baap of all the item numbers’. Item numbers don’t get spicier than this one. The fast paced music by Sandeep Chowta is top notch, the singing out of this world. Sapna Awasthi does a great job, Sudhesh Bhonsle reprises RD Burman in his yemma yemma style, with the deep throaty raw voice but what makes the song special is the use of Asha Bhonsle.  Oh man, does she deliver? Lyrics are superb with Khallas as the catch phrase but also with a two layered , almost anti-Sufiana narrative that allows the song to be interpreted either as a song about love or underworld, both being full of danger, the central theme of the song .

However, it’s the picturization that applies char chaand to the song and that’s where the genius of RGV shows. The set up is very realistic page three type party; the camera movement is fast, jerky but with a voyeuristic focus on key figures among the crowd. Isha Koppikar sizzles in her red outfit and does a perfect job of an item girl. There is not much skin show, yet Ms. Koppikar looks sensuous and hot.

One way to judge the item song is by its impact. This format of crowded dance floor, full of alcohol and smoke and an item girl dancing in skimpy clothes got copied over and over again in substandard films, never quite reaching the level that Khallas did. Khallas itself borrowed the format from Tezaab in which Madhuri dances on stage surrounded by a room full of people. RGV brought the item girl down into the crowd. Overall, a great song in audio and video and my choice to lead this super list.

Number 2 – Kajrare from Bunti aur Babli

If Khallas is the baap of all item songs, this one is clearly the ma. Item songs don’t get bigger than this one.  The music of this film was a hit before the film came out. The song already sounded well orchestrated and started being noticed even without the visuals. The Kawwali, almost pinjrae wali munia style of singing where some lines are sung or rather repeated in high pitch was great. Llyrics were extra ordinary by the great one and only Gulzar sab.

But, we had no idea what was coming until we watched the song in the film. God, this was mind blowing stuff. They had all the ingredients, the two Bachchans for the first time together in a song and Aishwarya Rai, great music by SAL and sensuous voice of Alisha Chinoy. Combinations don’t get hotter than that. But you may have all the ingredients, it still takes an expert chef to turn it into a mouth watering dish and that’s exactly what this one was. Aishwarya Rai simply rocked. I am not a big fan of her acting; at best it comes across as labored and well rehearsed. Her dancing is slightly better but the woodenness doesn’t quite go away. But in this song, she was in a completely different zone. Every body movement of her was out of this world, she was dressed right and looked equal amount a cheap item girl yet graceful, scorching hot and sexy yet beautiful like a dream.  Big B was, well, just Big B and Chhote B didn’t disappoint either, he just seemed to be having a good time, which is what he was supposed to be doing anyway.

This song has so much going for it, that it’s hard to pinpoint any one aspect. But if we don’t mention Gulzar sab’s lyrics, we missed the soul of the song. I mean, who inserts, Kali Kamli wale, a reference to Krishna and Ballimaran ki galiyan, a reference to Mirza Ghalib in the same song, and yet maintains the tempo of a typical item number. Yet, that’s exactly what Gulzar sab achieves. Hats off to him! This song would remain unsurpassable for some time. Great all time item song!

Number 3 – Mehbooba from Sholay

I promise you this will be my last ma-baap type metaphor. But this song has to be really the grandpa or grand ma of all item songs.    In a film from which million other stuff became part of the Indian folklore forever, the fact that this song survived the test of the times and is still unsurpassable is amazing. It’s a not a great song, not even the best song in the film, that has to be Yeh Dosti. In fact, watched in isolation, without the context, it even appears half baked and done in a hurry. Yet, there is something to this song. To me, it has to be the combination of Helen and RD Burman (both voice and music) and everything else such as Gabbar, dakus and stuff just add on the fun. Anyway, this song had to be on the list, otherwise my list would have been incomplete without the all time queen of item numbers, the great immortal Helen.

Other than Helen, the song also deserves its place due to the sheer impact it has had. The format of villan’s adda and a girl dancing to racy music has become an iconic image in Hindi cinema and has been repeated and copied to the hilt. In fact, I have seen the format making it to non-cinema mediums such as Ramlila where typically they show a girl dancing in Raawan’s court.

Number 4 – Main Aaayi Hun UP Bihar Lootne

If songs were selected based on international popularity, this would come out on the top. This song has had a weird destiny in many ways. On one hand, this is quite a racy song in an otherwise serious film and actually provided good relief from Manoj Bajpayee’s extra serious acting in the film. But more than that, this song should always be remembered for resurrecting the career of an out of favor Bollywood actress Shilpa Shetty. For those of you who don’t read gossip magazines(God, what do you read then?), Ms Shetty used this song in her Big Brother appearance in UK and danced to victory, straight through the heart of the confused and guilty conscious Britons. They saw the innocence of our entire Bharat Mata in Shilpa Shetty and decided to repent for all the sins of their forefathers that they had incurred on poor Bharat Mata. Rest is history, the full details of her journey from Big Brother to IPL queen and big time celebrity can be read in the chronicles of Narnia. Sorry, for the bad humor, here’s the song

Number 5 – Sheher Ki Ladki – Rakshak

For many of you, this may be a surprise on the list. But once upon a time, we used to have a great action hero in our industry called Suneil Shetty, who we always believed financed his own films, being a rich hoteling industry tycoon in real life. We didn’t mind that, after all it was his money. But then, he wouldn’t stop at that. Borrowing inspiration from Sunny Deol, he would also insist on dancing. With his great dancing skills and ‘dhai kilo ke hathode jaise paer’ he would murder many otherwise decent songs. He almost murdered this one too, but it survived because of Raveena Tandon. With this song, Raveena started a trend of mainstream heroes and heroines appearing in item songs. This was also the time Hindi film heroines started to drop their loud, gaudy saris in favor of Manish Malhotra dresses and mini-skirts became permanent part of their wardrobe. If you don’t remember the song, I don’t blame you because the film was an utter flop, like most Suneil Shetty films. But you can still enjoy the song- for Raveena or for Suneil Shetty. Either way, it’s a classic.

Ok, so that completes my list of top 5 item songs of all time. There were many others that didn’t make it for one reason or the other.

–          Kaal Dhamaal – Kaal, what sounded like a great idea on paper came didn’t work in execution. That applies to the film as well as to this song.

–          Dilli ki sardi – don’t remember the name of the film- only the words were great. Amrita Arora sucked as item girl.

–          Koi  jaye to le aaye – Ghatak, Anyone remember Mamta Kulkarni? This film started her link up with Rajkumar Santoshi that lead to China Gate and finally to her ouster from the gate completely. But she was great in the song.

–          Chhamma – China Gate, Mamta’s loss became Urmila’s gain. After Santoshiji got upset with her for opening her mouth, her role got reduced to miniscule and this song was handed over to Urmila Martondkar. There was something missing in the song. It didn’t quite work for me.

–          Humma-Humma – Bombay. This one wasn’t bad. Manisha and Arvind Swami playing suhagrat-suhagrat in the background was picturized very nicely. Sonali Bendre did a great job. Somehow, the song didn’t make any impact outside the film and to me, it didn’t move the narrative forward either. So, looked like a song added just for the sake of it.

–          One Love – Rakt. This was a turnaround song for Chhote B. For the first time he looked comfortable in his skin and cool on screen. The song remains a nice watch, but no one noticed because the film was an utter flop.

Ok, so that’s my list. Hope you had fun reading it and at least found one of your songs in the list. Hope to hear back from you all soon! Enjoy the summer!

Book Review: The Next 100 Years

It’s been a while since I read a good book on geopolitics. Tom Friedman, my favorite writer and the leading geopolitical thinker of our times, disappointed me with his last two books. The brilliant author of ‘From Beirut to Jerusalem’ and ‘Lexus to Olive Tree’, gave in to his marketing impulses and dished out obvious banalities of our times on topics such as Globalization, outsourcing, Bengalore, India and software industry. The excessive focus on India and software industry smacked of the same marketing opportunism that made Sushmita Sen and Aishwarya Rai, Miss Universe and Miss World in the same year.

Fareed Zakaria, the other popular geopolitical thinker, is good, but not yet great. In his book, “Post American World”, he writes on the same topic and makes the same arguments about the rise of India, China and other BRICs countries that ordinary people like you and I can make.

So, with that as my mindset, when I picked up this book by George Freidman, I was really excited. The book opens all its cards in the very beginning. For a change, the author is not arguing that it’s going to be a century or China or India. He lays out his arguments very clearly and makes the case why the world would remain American centric for the rest of this century. You would say, ‘Okay so, what’s new about that?’, ‘Why write a book about that?’. Well, I had the same reaction and the author raises the same point. Then as if to make the book more interesting, he throws up new challengers that are likely to emerge such as Turkey, Japan and Mexico and introduces Poland as another likely world power in 21st century.

By now, you must have guesses; yes there is a world war three scenario in the book. An American centric book by an American writer about 21st century and there is no world war three, how is that possible.  So, no prize for guessing that one.  And also, no prize for guessing that Turkey is the one opposing America, having emerged as the new leader of the Islamic world, in the scenario laid out by the writer. However, it did take me some adjusting to understand other players such as Japan and Poland in world war three and which side they would come out on. But the writer does a decent job of making his case.

And then, the world war three happens and the writer cannot resist his temptation to describe a war scenario. That’s when the book descends into Science Fiction and that too straight from Star Wars. Basically, having made the case for a super powerful America and the huge gap between US and the rest of the world powers, the writer can’t figure out how and why the smaller powers would dare to challenge the only super power. And, the writer borrows straight from Star Wars. Yes, there is a battle star and once you strike the battle star, it is possible to challenge the empire. If it sounds ridiculous and farce in the review, it’s much worse in the book. The writer acknowledges that the inaccuracy of predictions increases by huge margin and goes right back to making that mistake.

Minus the science fiction, the book is a great read and does throw some nice curves at you. The rise of Mexico and the population imbalance as the basis for it is well thought out and well explained. Many people foresee a sense of natural justice in California being flooded my Mexicans, but the author extrapolates on it and builds a well thought out confrontation between US and Mexico towards the end of century.

Ek Hulchul Si

It’s rare that we get a perfect film soundtrack in Hindi film industry. Dev D is one such album. The problem with a perfect album is that there are so many gems in it, not every one of them gets its due. Ek Hulchul si, didn’t quite get the attention it deserves, because there were bigger catchier numbers in the album such as Emotional Atyachaar and Saali Khushi.

Try listening to this golden nugget, in high volume in your car, on a long drive.

Agar dil mein hulchul na jage de to kehna

Enjoy!

Kash Laga!

Zindagi ke kash laga

Hasrataron ke rakh udaa

….

Choodi hui bastuyan jata hun bar bar ghoom ghoom ke

Milte nahi hain nishan, chhode the dehleeze choom choom ke

Only Gulzar saab can write like that!

Only Vishal Bhardwaj can compose like that!

Only Daler Mehdi and Sukhwinder can sing like that!

You’ll have to watch the whole film, if you want to make sense of the video.

Business of Religion

Lord Tirupati opens an offsite campus, for its devotees in Bay Area, California. I couldn’t believe my ears when I first heard it. It exactly sounded like it is, an infomercial about a top tier business school opening a campus right in your neighborhood.  A gruffy man in thick telugu accent was explaining how on very bhaari demand from devotees, Lord Tirupati will make an appearance right here Bay Area where His thousands of less fortunate devotees (from spiritual perspective) will be able to darshanam and offer their prayers and hard earned money to the Lord.

I am always intrigued by the business of religion, but it never hit me in the nose until a few years back. It’s one of those transformations you undergo when you turn from an I into an NRI. Back in India, religion is everywhere, it’s in the air you breathe, the water you drink. The point is you don’t notice the organized business like structur around religion. You fool yourself that you are doing it all voluntarily, nobody is selling you anything. You visit the temple on Tuesday because you want to. You offer prasad simply because your parents always taught you and it gave you a good feeling, not because the temple on the main nukkad and the crowd in it on Tuesdays gave you a guilty feeling that you are not remembering your Gods. You do get a bit uneasy when you get hit by the nosy and obnoxious pandas at Haridwar or any other religious place, but you ignore them as exceptions. But, here in the land of the westerners, where you are trying to retain the last few traces of Hinduism in you, to be able to pass onto your off springs so that they remember who they are when you are long gone, the business aspect of the religion is very hard to ignore. You realize that in the world of super powerful capitalism, everything is business. The Panditji you hire for doing small puja at your place has a day job and tells you his rate list for various rituals you may want to perform. You can ignore the first panditji you meet and go around asking for a more authentic pujari who has slightly bigger portion of the day dedicated to the service of the God, instead of writing Java code, hoping that the puja will be more effective and more authentic Gods will show up. Then you realize that this new panditji who didn’t tell you his price in the first meeting and said, “de dena, jo apka man kare” (Give whatever you feel like) was only better and more suave at his business. You realize that you ended up paying more money to him than the one with the rate list. What more, you realize that he has a way to upsell you to get more money out of your pocket. I once went to one such panditji and asked for advice to calm some grihas (planets for Hinglish), as we were going through some tough time and parents from India advised that we visit a panditji. I was taken aback when I was offered 5 different types of pujas, depending on how much peace I was looking for. I thought I was the one looking for advice here, but it I soon came to terms with the fact that I am in America where there is a choice for everything.

I then met a panditji whose holy attire convinced me that this is the Godman I was looking for. He was always dressed up only in a white dhoti, any time of the day you meet him. And, his house in Sunnyvale spelled religion. The auspicious atmosphere, the smell of agarbatti burning all the time and the cleanliness made you conscious of even your own breadth. I invited panditji couple of times to my place and he was perfect, did everything per the procedure, sang shlokas in pure Sanskrita and he even sang Om Jai Jagdish Hare perfectly, which I was a bit surprised about as he was a typical South Indian Brahmin, with limited knowledge of Hindi. I thought, what the heck, may be  Om Jai Jagdish became popular in South India too, after Rani Mukherjee sang it in Kuch Kuch Hota Hai. My wife was a bit more skeptical; she thought he was adapting his marketing skills to be more appealing to his North Indian clientele.  I had one of those moments with wife, where you feel like saying, “Oh honey, you know nothing and I know what I am doing, so don’t worry”. Overtime pandtiji cajoled us for regular visit to the mini-temple in his house on Friday nights. On couple of the occasions I went, I was amazed to see the crowd in his small house and the garage that had been converted into a temple. There was puja, there was aarati and of course there was food. Before long, I learned that Panditji had now built his own full blown temple and was the defacto head of this new temple and wasn’t available for house calls as he was too busy. I used to keep getting chain emails and occasional cold calls from his devotees, after the full blown temple was set up. And then we had another one of those moments where wife says, “see, i told you in advance and i was right”.

Have you ever seen a better business strategy? Build early customer successes, convert them into references, spread through the word of mouth, leverage your early customers to scale up, grow and expand and before you know you are a large corporation, listed on Nasdaq.

When we came to Bay Area in 2000, there were two major Hindi temples. One was a church converted into temple and the other a brand new construction from scratch. Being the naïve, Hindu Indian, it made perfect sense to me and I felt like saying , “Amreeka is great”. After all, people need religion as a way of life and two temples made a lot of sense, keeping in mind the size of the Hindu population. Overtime, we saw new temples creeping up in every corner of Bay Area. If demand exists, supply would show up, says basic principle of market economics and in this case, we were seeing almost a glut of supply. And yet, every temple was doing thriving business. Even in the midst of the recession, when restaurants started going empty even on weekend nights, temples would always be full and of course their demands for extra donation wouldn’t slow down.  Gods are not easy to please and their service costs money. The temple in the church, ran a long running fund raising campaign for further construction and raised humongous amount of money. We paid our share too, it just felt good and all of a sudden we felt grown up and mature because we were contributing to a temple construction, first time in our lives. The temple committee ran hard to resist offers. For mere $11, you could offer a brick. Now isn’t that better than even the Godfather offer, the one that you can’t refuse. In fact if I remember, so impressed I was by the sincerity and commitment of the temple committee that I sold the plan to many of my friends and appealed to the guilt in their minds and forced them to donate.

Construction did take place, we got a new façade, that made the temple look more like temple and less like church. Of course, the original walls were kept intact, the carpet from church days stayed and so did the benches in the halls. The bathrooms also remained intact as they were too scared to be remodeled, after all they were blessed by Gods of two religions. But a lot of construction did take place in the back side of the temple, the side you cannot see and the side where the temple houses its priests and other staff. Some of the atheists may find faults with that, but hey people serving God also need places to live, don’t they? And, what’s your problem, you did get your receipt and claimed tax exemption it, didn’t you?

Hinduism is not the only religion run as an organized business. Christianity and Islam have been doing it for centuries. Even though Hinduism is supposed to be the oldest religion, Christianity developed most of the business principles that then got adopted by other religions over time. But unlike Hinduism, Chritianity is run like a monopolistic, all powerful business empire, with big money and strong lobbyists in every part of the world. Any slight bit of resistance is quashed easily by all means, mostly bought by money in this day and time. Hinduism is a little less control freak and anybody and everybody is allowed to set up a shop, associate themselves with any of the hundreds of big brands from Shiva, Vishnu and Lord Hanuman to countless others. Hinduism is like Indian democracy, anybody with slight bit of ambition and entrepreneurial skills can start a part or set up a temple and secure the future of the next 7 generations of his family.

There is a positive side to organized Hindusim too. Even big brands like Tirupati or Vaishnodevi have a big volunteer side to them. Big business houses or people who believe that the almighty has been generous to them, donate lot of money and offer services to young and old, rich and poor who visit the place from far and wide. On the positive side, they don’t try to control anyone or advertize to anyone to come and visit them. The brands exist and keep growing stronger every year because of the faith in people’s heart.

Coming back to Tirupati, I didn’t mean to disrespect or hurt the feelings of the believers. I visited Tirupati once and like any other big shrine in India, Tirupati was full of devotees from far and wide who had come there on their own, without anyone telling them or advertising to them. The temple is obviously very rich, keeping in mind how much money gets offered by rich and poor and the management does an excellent job of keeping order. When I went there, I stood in a line that took 4-5 hours after which I found myself locked inside a big hall. I enquired around after finding someone who could speak Hindi and was told I was in hall number 26. There were 25 halls before me, full of people in them and our turn would come after they were done. It was almost like going to a ball game or IPL game, whichever one you like. There were vendors selling idlis and other snacks. After waiting for another 2-3 hours, I panicked, climbed the netty wall and jumped on the other side of the hall way. Two security personnel came and I requested them to just escort me out as I was no longer interested in darshanam and had to get back to Chennai, then Madras for my job next day. The security personnel showed pity on me and I was asked to get in another line that took only 3 more hours to reach the deity. I got my 3 seconds in front of the deity before I got ushered away, politely yet forcefully. Later I learned that I could have completed the whole process if I had paid some extra money and got into a different line, instead of the line for common men.

My experience of going to Vaishnodevi, was equally full of heroic tales. The hero was my newly married wife back then, because of whom I was visiting the temple for the first time in my life. She was heroic for tolerating me for the entire duration of 14 mile hike while I cribbed and whined the whole way. There it was not the wait, probably because we had gone in off season, but the sheer length of the hike to get there that made me panic.

I do not have any personal problems with religions being run as organized business, as long as they don’t turn into an organized mafia like business or try to control or kill people. I try to stay conscious of the fact that I came to the temple for a specific purpose and should not get distracted by the rampant commercialism around me. After all, they are not forcing me. They are appealing to the guilt inside me, but making the whole act very dramatic so that you end up offering more than you came planned for. But hey, that’s still better than some religions that turn people into killing machines or try to overtake people’s daily lives. Besides, organized business nature of the religion makes it accountable to the clientale in some direct or indirect form. But still, the idea of bringing Tirupati maharaj to Bay Area is a bit too ludicrous. Leave Lord Tirupati alone, please! Let people come to Him, they way always have.