Archive for the ‘Personalities’ Category

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

Check out Dingora at

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


People who make life worth living: Prem Panicker

This is a third post in my series of people who make life interesting or worth living. If you are wondering whether Prem Panicker belongs in the same league as Manohar Shyam Joshi and Gulzar, well, this is purely written from my perspective and Prem has had as big an influence on me as those two other personalities.  Again, I have never met Prem in real life but I am so immersed by his work, his views, his thoughts that sometimes I feel as if I know him like a close relative.

When did I first discover Prem Panicker? The answer is when I first seriously discovered internet or rather when internet became a part of my life as was television or radio before that. That was around 2000 after I moved to US. It appears very short period, isn’t it? But that also tells you how fast the world has changed and internet has changed it in last 10-15 years. 10 years back, when I was working in India for Infosys, getting high speed internet was a luxury, even in the office. The page would take forever to download, and this was the case in the world headquarters of the most admired tech company in India. So what changed in 2000. I moved to US and with that a lot of things changed. My life style changed. I could afford a computer, in fact multiple computers at home, all of a sudden. It was another year before high speed internet would become common place, but at least I had a dedicated dial up now which means 24 hours internet connection.

Another thing that changes was my need to stay connected to India, by every means I could and that’s where I discovered Rediff as a handy tool. But if I discovered Rediff by chance or through friends, what made it sticky for me and many others was their cricket writer with a name with 2 P’s in it. Soon I realized that I was spending 80% of my time on Rediff reading Prem and it was the same for many people in my demographic. I started looking forward to Prem’s match reports with as much curiosity as  people used to for the release of a new film back when cinema was the only form of entertainment.

To assess the real impact of Prem on my generation, we would have to take into account the prevailing conditions in the cricket world in and around 2000. We as fans had pretty much lost the faith in the cricket teams and the cricket world, after the match fixing scandal. All of sudden, everything looked fake and fixed. Couple that with my own situation of moving to a new country where cricket was known as just another insect, threatened the religious belief I had grown up with.

Enter Prem and he pulled us back into the cricket world. He made the cricket reports cool with his lucid and interesting style of reporting, almost playing the role that the good commentators did, back in the radio days. We couldn’t watch matches on TV, no problem, we would get to enjoy them even more in the next day’s reports on Rediff. In a single role, Prem revived the game for cricket for millions of lost fans like me, energized Rediff and made it the most popular internet destination for desis to hangout at and set the standards for cricket match reports. Cricinfo followed and soon took over the cricket market on internet due to their superior technology and ball by ball commentary, but even today their match reports seem to follow a pattern that Prem set, whether they acknowledge it or not.

Prem was applying good, old school writing skills to write describe the happenings on the field of a sport. He was telling us a story, with live believable characters in it. However, the problem was, here was a writer par excellence, who was soon discovering for himself and millions of his fans that he is probably doing injustice to himself by limiting to just cricket. He soon delved into writing about Movies. Those pieces were good, but nowhere as good as his take on cricket. Besides, Rediff had better writers on the cinema page, people like Dinesh Raheja who would write tribute pieces and Raja Sen who joined later for reviews. We were losing Prem as he appeared less and less on Rediff’s cricket pages. For a while, he managed a blog page for rediff about cricket but it was all confusing for the readers, we weren’t sure who was writing those pieces.

Then I discovered his blog, aptly titled Smoke Signals. That’s when we discovered the real Prem, the multi-dimensional one. He was writing on Politics, general current affairs, cinema, cricket and mythology and what was common all along was the sharp writing skills and his command over words. His re-writing (Prem likes to call it translation of M. Vijay’s work) of Mahabharata story from Bhim’s point of view was addictive, to understate it. I have the full Bhimsen in PDF format sitting on my latptop and every now and then I open it and start reading it from anywhere. I soon realized that I was commenting on Prem’s blog, very few blogs where I every commented, being the lazy reader, even though I read a lot of them.

Through his blog, Prem covered some of the details about his personal life. He reposted what he had written on Rediff about his dad when he passed away, an extremely sentimental and brave piece, brave because he was pouring out his heart, without losing his objectivity. If any of my kids wrote an obituary like that, I would be proud and willing to die multiple times just for that. Through his postings on his personal life, he shared information with us about his childhood, the lessons he learned while growing up, the influence of his parents on him, the dos and don’ts of parenting even though he himself doesn’t have kids.

I am not sure if Prem is aware of his impact he had on people like me and thousands of others in my generation. He seems to have a lot of fans on his blog and his posts are full of comments, some of them very insightful and Prem also actively participates in the debate. To me, Prem is one of those people who make life interesting by creating newer stuff every day through their God given skill that inspires ordinary mortals like me. Long live Prem Panicker!

You can read Prem at his blog here

People who make life worth living: Gulzar

Previously published on Passionforcinema –

It’s hard to explain  what a special place Gulzar saab has in my life. I have never met the man, not even attended any concert like event where I could see him from a distant, yet it feels as if I know him personally. Unlike my previous post on Manohar Shyam Joshi, (which you can read on my blog here ) Gulzar saab as a personality is much bigger and better known. He is a public personality and yet, very special for me just like his work. When did I start paying special attention to his work, I am not sure exactly. I think I was in my engineering college when I first heard of a song from Khamoshi that sounded special and different from the rest of the Hindi music, I had ever heard. The song was Humne Dekhi hai un aankhon ki mehakti khushbu. Soon, I realized that I was not alone in feeling touched and transformed every time I heard to lyrics like these that transcended the physical world and appealed to something deeper inside us, something pure and original within us. Then I started my journey into a new world, a world where Gulzar saab existed in flesh and blood, as a living being in and around my daily life, even though I have never met the man. I met friends who introduced me to more Gulzar songs, the songs from Aandhi and Mausam, the evergreen classics composed by RD Burman, sung by Kishore Kumar, Lata Mangeshkar and Bhupinder. Around that time I heard Dil Dhoondhta Hai, a song that has stayed with me and remained fresh even today. If I dare say in Gulzar sab’s words, “nazm kabhi budhi nahi hoti…”. It definitely applies to this nazm for me. I can listen to this song anytime, day or night, irrespective of what mood I am in and it takes me to those places he describes in the song, the terrace on a hot summer night, the valley on a cold foggy winter day, the sunny porch on a balmy winter morning, the song immediately takes me there and back and soothes and touches my heart.

With a friend of mine, I once listened to the song Kis Mod jate hain, almost 10 times non-stop just to understand the full meaning of what Gulzar saab was saying and it blew our minds. Imagine those days when you had to press a button and keep it pressed to rewind a song if you want to listen again, so smitten we were that we kept doing it and almost broke the head of the Panasonic stereo player my friend had in his hostel room. Eventually I would get to hear, watch and even read more of Gulzar sab’s work. I accidently picked up Pukhraaz, gulzar saab’s poetry collection from a book sale in Mumbai. The book just lived with me for some time, ignored in a corner and slowly started to come alive. This was for the very first time that I was not only reading a poetry book, but understanding it and re-reading it. It became an obsession over time and stayed an obsession for considerable amount of time. When I fell in love, I wanted to read the book to my girl friend, which I did and bored her to death many times. If there is only one poetry book you want to read in your life, I would recommend this one. For starters, you may already know some of the poetry – the song about death from the film Anand that Amitabh Bachchan recites to a dyeing Rajesh Khanna, the song Dil Dhoondhta Hai, with all the antaras and some more and of course Kis Mode Se Jate Hain, a completely different version, much deeper and full of many meanings. If you thought the song version of Kis Mode Se Jate hain was difficult, wait until you try this one. But every penny worth it! There is an audio version of the raw poem sung by Bhupinder that came out few years back and it’s a gem. He sings many non-liner unstructured nazms of Gulzar saab and does full justice to them, interspersed by lines in Gulzar saab’s baritone voice.  There are also the collections of Gulzar saab’s poetry, composed into beautiful music by Abhisek Ray.

The book Pukhraaz also contains portraits of many personalities such as Meena Kumari, Ghalib or Puncham, and Gulzar’s heartfelt poetry for his daughter bosky.

If millions like me worship Gulzar, Gulzar seems to have a special place in his heart for Ghalib. He has created songs out of two line shayaries that Ghalib wrote. The first two lines in Dil Dhoondta hai are by Ghalib and he also used Ghalib’s lines in a song from Dil Se. Gulzar saab has even written an autobiography of Ghalib in his own words, a book that I have looked all over but haven’t been able to get my hands on.

I think Gulzar saab also inserted Ghalib in his most famous item song i.e. Kajraare. Gulzar and item song! But the maestro has proven that there isn’t a type of song that he cannot write lyrics for. I first saw this form of Gulzar in  Chaiya Chaiya, a fast paced song. He brought grace and elegance to fast paced item numberish songs like Chaiya Chaiya, Kajraare and Bidi.

Gulzar saab has touched my life and made it more livable by appearing in his many avatars, song writer being just one of them. Even his films have been unique with real-life middle class characters and situations, similar to Hrishikesh Mukherjee school of film making, except more intense and with stronger emotional content. His most intense film was his best as far as I am concerned, i.e. Hu Tu Tu. It was vast in canvas, super strong in characterization and we saw a very cynical, almost angry side of Gulzar saab. Another aspect of Gulzar sab’s films was the almost novelish style of narration where it almost feels like as if you are reading a really good good book. This style is particularly evident in films like Namkeen, Mausam and Aandhi.

This was not meant to be a tribute to Gulzar saab, it cannot be, I don’t have the ‘aukaat’ to do justice to a powerhouse of talent like Gulzar saab. There is a dedicated website to his work at, the internet is full of footprint of his work in films and outside films, fans and fan clubs paying tribute to him in various manners. Type his name in youtube and you can spend hours living his poetry and immersed in his world of words, nazms and imaginations that are so profound and so startling at the same time.  This is just my acknowledgement and my way of saying thanks to him for making life that much more worth living for me.

Finally, I have been writing on PFC for more than a year now. After some chiding, a little ridiculing and a lot of encouragement from so many of you, I felt confident enough to start my own blog. Simply because there are times, when I do not have a full blown article to write yet yearn to share a quick thought with like minded individuals. Also, there are times when i do not have much to write on cinema but have something to say on other topics. As I have acknowledged many time before, I am not much of an expert on cinema unlike most of the other writers on PFC. I started writing about cinema simply to express the joy of an ordinary audience member, and will continue to do so as long as the editors at PFC allow me to do so.