Analysis of Team India’s paralysis

Back in 2007, when India won the world cup T20,

– Virendra Sehwag was recovering from loss of form and motivation under Greg Chappell. He was considered fat and unfit, almost like Yuvraj today. He was almost thrown out of test team and was struggling to hold spot in one day. His revival started with this tournament.

– Gautam Gambhir was in and out of the team, didn’t have a permanent place in the batting order. He had occasional good inning to his name but nobody took him seriously.

– Yusuf Pathan, who? That’s exactly what we all asked when we saw his name in the batting line up. It turned out he was Irfan Pathan’s brother and that’s how we knew him back then. It turned out he had a penchant for hitting sixes, was a useful off spinner and was cool under pressure.

-Among bowlers, Sreesanth and Irfan Pathan were recovering, were struggling for form and were desperate to regain their mojos and prove that they were long term prospects for India. Only RP Singh was in any kind of form, among the bowlers.

-We all know Joginder Sharma, who bowled the last over in the final was an unknown back then and still is an unknown.

– Above all, India had a new captain, the cool dude as he was known back then, Mahendra Singh Dhoni. He played the game, exactly the way it should be played- with passion and certain nonchalance and yet remained emotionally unaffected by it. That may sound normal, but we all forget that these were rare commodities in Indian captains of the great past.

What happened rest, is history we all know. Ever since then India has struggled in T20s, and particularly badly in the last two world cups. All sorts of experts have analyzed the causes, as they did last year and we see a pattern of probable causes and solutions that range from plain myopic to so long term that they would produce results only in 15 or 20 years. People have blamed IPL and their parties, fatigue and above all, the inability of our batsmen to handle short pitched bowling and our bowlers to bowl at 150KPH consistently for 4 overs.

But we are all forgetting that, none of this mattered in 2007. These were the exact same batsmen, a few changes here and there, very similar set of bowlers. None of our bowlers bowled above 150KPH for 4 overs in their entire life, forget about a single match. In fact, we had plain medium pacers back then, RP, Irfan and Sreesanth. And it’s not like WC 2007 was played on flat sub-continental pitches, it was played in South Africa.

We can argue that the format was new in 2007 and Australia weren’t taking it too seriously back then. Now flip the argument, and see the irony of it. It’s India who is not taking the format seriously now and that explains it all. In fact it’s not just T20, now a days India is not taking any ICC tournaments seriously. Our fearsome and obscenely rich board wants to organize its own tournaments, on pitches and conditions where India can win consistently or regularly enough and we well know about how they betted everything on IPL, a tournament fixed in many ways such as 4 foreign players per team and designed to produce thrilling entertainment, not necessarily cricket.

But it’s not just the board. In fact BCCI or its policies didn’t win us world cup 2007. Yes they took credit for it, organized a big shameless celebration through the streets of Mumbai and hogged all the front seats at the ceremony in Wankhede, but the fact remains that we won the WC not because of BCCI but despite it. In fact BCCI back then, took the game and format even less seriously than today. They sent a second rung team devoid of the then stars such as Tendulkar, Dravid and Ganguly and Zaheer Khan. It’s the rag tag bunch of players they sent to South Africa that surprised one and all. They enjoyed their cricket, showed will to win, many of them saw it as a lifetime opportunity to revive their careers or establish themselves in the international arena.

That’s what was the big missing piece in 2009 and now in 2010. The team lost the freshness, the bloody-mindedness, the strong desire to prove themselves individually and as a team. They lost the appetite to play the sport, enjoy their game and win it. There is a certain fatigue about this team and it’s certainly not physical, IPL parties and all. The fatigue is mental. It seems the team on both occasions wasn’t able to figure out why they are there, why they are playing this tournament, who they are playing against, what kind of preparation they need to make, who is supposed to play what role and stuff. In that the IPL being staged so close to the world up dates, second time in a row played a big role. The team barely had time to see their families for a day or two, get together or prepare as a team. They were all flown to Caribbean and probably met in the team bus or woke up in the dressing room and saw who else made it to the team this time. You can blame it on the greed of our players and their inability to take a stand or their own personal decisions about attending IPL parties etc. but the reality remains that their bodies and minds were struggling to understand why they are supposed to appear on the field of cricket again, after non-stop cricket for 60 days in a row, intermingled with parties, cheerleaders, models and Bollywood babes being thrown at them at random. After being asked to become mass entertainers by Mallya, SRK, Preity Zinta and Shilpa Shetty, they were being asked to be sportsmen again, within a span of 4-5 days.

I am not saying the technical issues such as inability to play fast bowling or quality of our own bowling are non-issues. But they matter far less in T20 than they are being made out of. And, for God sake, the solution is not to bring Tendulkar back and beg him to revive the fortunes of our T20 team. We should get used to the fact that very soon Sachin wouldn’t be around to save our ass in any form of the game. In T20 particularly, you need flamboyance of youth and dare devilry, you need 4 or 5 players who have the average talent but far bigger attitude and stronger spirit to make it in the international arena. Yes, you need solid backbone as well. But we have that in the form of Sehwag, Gambhir, Dhoni, Zaheer, Nehra and Harbhajan and Yuvaraj when he is in form. Around these people, we need new Pathans, new Rainas and new Utthappas, people still unexposed to the fear of Australian fast bowlers and willing to square cut them or even hook them and given full confidence by the captain to do so.  And players who feel like their lives have been fulfilled by IPL, they have actually achieved their self actualization in life, should be left in the backwaters of Bollywood to play extras on the film sets and occasionally appear in TV shows and play some more IPL games.  Life should go on without these souls!


Age of Innocence!

Original post, first published on Passionforcinema –

There is always a certain period in our lives that defines us, for the rest it.  For me, it was the 10 year period between 1984 and 1994.  I sometimes feel as if had lived my entire life during that 10 year period and now am i am living the same life again and again. The first 5 year period, i.e. the time between 1984 and 1989 was the time during which i lost my innocences. The second 5 year period, i honed my methods to deal with this world, as i had uncovered it by then. It still remember the day, Indira Gandhi was murdered and somehow i started becoming aware of the world around me. two years later, i found myself transplanted from  remote hilly village to a small town and thereby i started a journey that I am still continuing, a journey that took me to a larger and larger cities and finally beyond the frontiers of the country i was born in.

In the blog post below, that i wrote for Passionforcinema, i recapped the period of 1989-90. The post was mostly about cinema but in a way it was my tribute to my friends of that time, that i slowly lost touch with but i will never forget. Friends like Kamal Kishore Srivastawa, Rajesh Malpani, Vipin Pachori, Vivek, Tarun Maheshwari and many others. I still remember the special show of Maine Pyar Kiya that Kamal organized at his place, especially for me. These friends helped shape me, taught me many life lessons and helped prepare me for the longer term life battles. Whererevr you all are, i will forever be indebted to you.

Here’s the post as it was published on PFC…

The whole day, week, in fact month had gone by in a blurr. Whatever life was left in us after the brutal 3 weeks long board exams was sucked dry by the competitive exams, one after the other. REE, JEE, CEE, they came in all kind of acronyms and each one hit you harder than the previous one forcing you to question your will to live after spending 3 non-stop hours solving math, physics and chemistry problems that we would never see again in our lives. Finally, on one May afternoon, the nightmare ended and last of those exams got over. Luckily for the last exam, I had gone with my friends, not with someone from the family and we decided to have some fun after it. Our idea of a fun in those days as 116-17 year olds, was to be able to watch a film.

We all had a new crisp feeling of freedom in our minds and we could have watched any film we wanted, since we were in a different city. And we wanted to watch them all, because we were pretty deprived of film watching in those days. I was particularly deprived of films, except the Sunday evening film on DD and occasional visits to theater with the family, I hardly got the opportunity. But fascinated I was even in those days. I had had multiple bicycle accidents simply because I was too busy staring at film posters that used to be on every major wall on every street corner those days. I was particularly obsessed with film posters in those days, those large posters that used to show almost full scenes from the films on them. I would imagine myself sitting in theatres watching those scenes unfold on screen with all the sights and sound. It used to be a mayavi world for me that held a special attraction. For some reason, I don’t get that feeling anymore, visiting those air-conditioned multiplexes.

Back to the story, we decided to head out to the nearest theatre and watch one of those films that were tormenting me from the posters for past few months. A friend suggested Maine Pyar Kiya, running to houseful shows those days. I was’t very enthused because the film had two newcomers and a pigeon on the posters and didn’t seem to have any fight scenes. A good film in those days for me, meant lots of action, rona dhona, fights, emotions, songs in Oonty and everything else. I was suspect that I would like this weirdly named film. But my friends who were savvier than me were hell bent on watching MPK only. We went looking for the only theatre in this fairly large city that was running the film and after lot of dhakka mukki, we could get tickets, albeit for the front row only. By the time we settled down – Salmaan Khan was already back in the city and the first song was on – Tum Ladki ho…Main ladka hun. And everything looked so different, so fresh, the music, the cinematography, the sets, everything looked polished and well done and we weren’t used to it. This was a case for instant love at first sight for all of us. We fell in love with the film, but more importantly with the heroine of the film Bhagyashree. So madly we were in love that we didn’t mind that we were sitting on the first row. Despite the front row seat and sprain in my necks, this was the finest film viewing experience in my life. Yes, like other things, film viewing also has a time and place value. To us, Bhagyashree became Madhubala and Nargis and Nutan and every other name we knew combined. She was the epitome of beauty and more importantly innocence.

We all went our ways and I landed up in my engineering college. This love for Bhagyashree lasted several months for all of us. I just couldn’t like any other film for some time after that, so perfect was MPK, the film for me at that time. And I realized that, I wasn’t alone. Bhagyashree started a new trend of being on posters that adorned the walls of hostel rooms, fully dressed up, unlike other contestants on the walls. She was the one of the most popular faces on the posters that sold on footpath in those days that would end up on the walls of boys’ hostel rooms -only behind Samantha Fox, mostly without clothes and Madhubala in one of her classic back and white poses.

After these many years and after watching several hundred films since then and having lived through multiple growing up phases of Bollywood, it makes me chuckle how could we like Bhagyashree so much, with not beautiful enough and definitely not sexy face and that squeaky voice. But in those days, we were in love, head over heels. And, how did we explain our love for her – the innocence in her face. That’s what we called it – “Oh She has so much innocence on her face”, not even sure if that was correct English. May be we were trying to characterize her baby face, her squeaky voice, her cute smile, I have no idea, we called it “Innocence”.
Oh yes, for a brief interval in Bollywood, innocence was the defining characteristic of a Hindi film heroine. The phase was started by Juhi Chawla who appeared in Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak, a year before in 1988, a film that I saw after Maine Pyar Kiya. Compared to Bhagyashree’s character, Juhi’s character was more real. I have come across many such north Indian girls who grow up in highly protected joint family environment, totally oblivious to the world outside. I am, in fact, married to one such person. So the plot background and characterization made Juhi’s innocence much more believable. Combined with that her dialog delivery style, using ‘Hum’ instead of ‘Main’ for herself and her pristine beauty made her instantly popular.

But Bhagyashree’s popularity was something else. When you put it in perspective of her later performances and realize how little talent she had, it’s just amazing how much impact she had with one film. Her decision to retire with one film and settle down in a married life with the lover of her life, made her aura grow even larger.
So impactful were these two heroines that for a while, they overshadowed their more talented and equally great looking male counter parts in the films. Not that Aaamir and Salman didn’t become popular, in fact they were the rage of the generation, but the love shown by masses for the heroines was something else. Aaamir was immediately hailed as one of the great acting find, even though the comparisons with Kumar Gaurav and dangers of becoming a one film wonder remained with him until much later when he found his groove. Salman was ladies’ heartthrob. He was what every girl wanted to be with and what every buy wanted to be like. For the boys, who wouldn’t want to be like him- drop dead gorgeous looks, rich spoilt brat who car races with his dad on his phoren return trip from airport to a his big palatial house. Heck, you wouldn’t even mind tolerating a squeaky voiced heroine if you got everything that Salman’s character had going for him in the film.

Maine Pyar Kiya was Suraj Barjatya’s first film. After this super fresh approach he went on over drive and made Hum Aapke Hain Kaun and reached his peak after which a decline set in. Maine Pyar Kiya had some great dialogs, again a rage of the time, just like the heroine of the film and brilliantly spoofed in Om Shanti Om by Farah Khan. “Dosti Ki hai janab, nibhani to padeegi”, “No Sorry, no thank you” became catch phrases and equally popular was the thunderous dialog delivered by a boyish looking villain, Mohnish Behal in his debut film, “Ek Ladka aur ladki kabhi dost nahi ho sakte, yeh to ek bahana hai, tarapti hui ration mein, dhadakte huye dilon ki pyas bujhane kay”, yeah, something like that.

Anyway, back to innocence – as I said before, it became the single most important characteristic for heroines to have in those days. We saw several new faces debut but no one made the mark quite like Juhi or Bhagyashree. Ayesha Jhulka charmed us in Qurbaan and even more so in Jo Jeeta Wahi Sikander before sputtering out with films like Khiladi and eventually settling down into marriage. Divya Bharati seemed fully capable of carrying the innocence genre forward, but her journey got cut short by her suicide. Even Nagma made her debut as an innocent and fresh face in a Salman film, anyone remember “Kaisa Lagta Hai..” from Baaghi? I still remember that because I had two Butanese students as my neighbors in the hostel and they were fascinated by the tune so much that they would not just listen to it all the time, but would try to sing it too. Can you imagine, two chinki dudes, singing “Kaisa lagta hai” in their tone and with no idea of what the lyrics meant?

There were many more – Pooja Bhatt, Manish Koirala and some unknown Gulshan Kumar heroines. The biggest make over was achieved by Anu Agarwal who went from a almost lingerie model to an innocent face in Aashiqui. Aashiqui was probably one of the most anticipated films of our times. The music was so popular that our hostel mess manager played the album non-stop for three days during breakfast lunch and dinner for an entire week on the stereo player in full volume and no one complained. Immediately after Aashiqui came and became a runaway hit, posters of Anu Agarwal showing her midriff a little too much in a button open jeans appeared and made hysteria. It was almost like a Disney heroine, appearing in a porn video. In those days Mahesh Bhatt used to claim that he could make any even dead wood act. The way careers of Anu Agaral and Rahul Roy went after the super hit debut, proved him right.

The age of innocence in Hindi film industry didn’t last that long. The new queen B of tinsel town had arrived in 1988 , the same year Juhi had become the face of the new generation in QSQT. Madhuri had a quite start at box office during the peak of the torture era and went unnoticed until she stormed the box office in a bold new avatar in Tezaab. 1988-89 was a turning point in Bollywood in many ways. On one hand QSQT brought back the trend of musical love stories with fresh faces, on the other hand was Tezaab, the ultimate masala film and both were big hits. From then on, Madhuri made her own rules. In an age of innocence where most heroines were trying to play coy on screen, Madhuri gave us dum Dama Dum, Dhakdhak and Choli ke peechhe, a complete opposite of the innocent character. The innocent age beauties couldn’t stand the heat from Madhuri and wilted away. Juhi tried to repeat her innocent act in films like Tum Mere Ho and Love Love Love opposite Aamir, but it didn’t work because the films were simply bad but in many sense, times were also changing and audience were moving on to Madhuri. Juhi did prove her versatility later in Hum Hain Raahi Pyar Ke. Bhagyashree came back from retirement to deliver turkeys after turkeys on box office. Ayesha Jhulka and Nagma etc, disappeared without trace. There were few other faces in between, like the one in Sanam Bewafa and Manish Koirala who tried playing the innocence card but failed after their first films. Madhuri once and for all shattered the innocence image with films like Dil, Beta, Ram Lakhan, Khalnayak and many others. Even when she played the Barjayta heroine in Hum Aapke Hai Kaun, she played it in her unique style which was more sassy than cute.

The period from 88-89 to 1995 was coming of age period, not just for the people of my age and the Hindi film heroine, but also for the Hindi film industry and the nation as a whole. In the period of Dev D, it’s hard to understand but the seeds for most of the major changes we see today in our cinema were sown during that period. On screen the heroine changed from innocent baby face to sexy and a more rounded figure, literally and figuratively. The nation as a whole underwent the biggest transformation with the opening up of economy, opening up of media, mini-explosion of channels, and several other changes. With Rajeev Gandhi’s murder, our generation had lost the naïve dream of taking the country into 21st century and leading the world once again. But with the Manmohan Singh showing the way, we realized that we can dream again, even if it was a different dream. It’s not just the Hindi film heroine, but our society as a whole lost the innocence and matured overnight due to sudden exposure to the world outside.

It was a brief period, but it was a beautiful period and would always remain as great memories in the minds of all of us who grew up during the times.

My Issues with 3 Idiots

Previously published on Passionforcinema –

Recently I heard Raju Hirani, giving an acceptance speech after receiving either the Screen or Filmfare award. I can’t make out which one is which, now a days. In this quote-he dedicated his award “To the teachers who teach from heart”. Somehow I sensed a bit of self righteousness this time in one of my favorite directors. The kind of smugness you achieve when your flawed product achieves huge box office success. That’s when you tune yourself off from any murmurs of complaint from any corner and start believing every ounce (and some more) of the praise that comes your way. I think the best example I can think of for comparison was Sanjay Leela Bhansali after Devdas. Devdas was a highly flawed film, a fact well known by now, but was hugely successful when it released. In his interviews right after, SLB would smugly talk about how he went about creating the classic and would spit at all the critics who were pointing to the flaws in the film. The result of that attitude resulted in Saawariya. I hope that’s not the case here with Raju.

Somehow Raju Hirani stayed humble and true to his roots when he made one of the most difficult films in India cinema, that is Lage Raho Munna Bhai. I call that difficult because he brought up one of the most serious subjects with his audience, the subject that we in the audience keep hiding under the carpet, the kind of discussion we want to keep avoiding, the legend of Bapu that we want to keep pretending that never happened. He brought the subject up, thrust it right in our face and yet he did it in a very entertaining style, without being preachy even for one moment. Now, that was triumph! But no, back then, Raju Hirani stayed humble, not sure if it was the Bapu effect. But this time around, in a highly flawed story, with huge gaps and loopholes and if I may dare say, even a flawed message, he managed to deliver a far bigger hit, in fact if the marketing sources are to be believed, the biggest all-time hit of Indian cinema. I won’t blame Raju if he gets a bit smug and even arrogant.

I am writing this without denying that I got my full paisa wasool entertainment from the film, laughed out loud in some scenes and even may have cried in some. All kudos to the screen play writing, the dialog writing and the narrating style of Raju, he does know how to get the most out of a scene. But I cringe when I hear people, including my close friends, declaring it a masterpiece, a classic. Some of them are the friends that went to the same college that I went to, had similar experiences that I had. I am sorry I didn’t want to write another review on 3 Idiots when there were umpteen numbers of reviews and write-ups around the release of the film. But I did have something to say about the film, and couldn’t hold back any longer. So, bear with me, for another piece on 3 Idiots.

I had read the novel about 3 years back, had liked it, had found it breezy reading. Not great, but likeable enough! While Chetan Bhagat, did create unrealistic situations to drive home the humor, the premise, the plot points and the characters remained real and believable. Besides, the book wasn’t trying to deliver a message, there was a suicide in the book too, but it appeared simply as a plot point. The film maintained that mood in the beginning few scenes, particularly until Aamir Khan appeared. Aamir didn’t get Ryan’s character at all. He clearly butchered it and at times almost made Ryan look like a retard, particularly with the use of his eyes and facial expressions. Aamir in one of his interviews bragged about how he conceived that character from one of his teenager nephew. The problem is Ryan wasn’t an immature teenager but someone mature beyond his age, someone with a devil may care attitude, someone blessed with extreme self-confidence. But that’s ok, the flaws in Rancho’s characterization and acting was compensated by superb, almost perfect portrayal of Madhavan’s and Sherman’s characters. They came across utterly believable, almost straight out of an engineering college type characters. Raju also got the lingo right, the saale, kamine style of addressing friends, I think they even brought up KLPD somewhere in the dialogs.

The problem started with the central premise of the film and the characterization of the two leading characters in the film. Apart from Aamir, the other character they got wrong was that of Boman’s. Virus’s character was made into a cartoon. And he is shown as Director of the institute and is yet omnipresent. He comes into boys hostel to lecture the students on competition, a very farcical scene that almost reminded me of Amitabh Bachchan in Mohabatten. I wonder if an IIT director has that kind of time to focus on one student. Ok, you want to make a point about following your heart and teachers being too academic and not promoting original thinking, but why make the prof into a cartoon for that. Why not give him also a voice and let him make his counterpoint.

But, to be fair, if you look beyond the cartoonish caricature, they were trying to allow Virus to make his counter-point, at least in couple of the scenes where he explains that it’s his job to push his students to work as hard as they can and in another place where he explains the income levels of the parents of the three students. But the scenes were killed without letting the impact come out.

I almost rose up on my seat to acknowledge the bravery of the scriptwriters when Virus starts explaining the income levels. I was thinking, ok now it gets interesting because that’s exactly the point. To have the kind of confidence and devil may care attitude that Ryan, sorry Rancho is supposed to have, you have to be a rich brat in real life, who doesn’t have to worry about finding a job as soon as you get out. I had many such students in my own class, who could afford to question the system, some of them very bright and original thinkers like Rancho. But then the film killed the point again and again in the film.

First they killed it, when Rancho started topping the class again and again. He then became a superhero at that moment, not a normal human being anymore. The fact is, no matter, how brilliant a mind you got, how original thinker you are, you still had to slog to get grades. Granted, you could still top a subject or two. There were some subjects such as Machine Drawing that you either get or you don’t, no matter what your IQ level is. But topping every subject, without any effort, while you are having fun drinking alcohol on the rooftop? I am sorry but that just doesn’t happen. No, I am not saying that you have to be Chatur to top the class. The reality is, the people who top the class are all very smart students, way different from Chatur, but they also have to slog harder than everyone else. I can say that, because I was a good student and slogged my ass off, still couldn’t top the class. Those who did, slogged harder than me and were brighter than me. It was never only one thing; you had to have both- IQ and the ability to work hard.

So, original thinkers like Ryan or Rancho would never top the class, but that’s the whole point. They didn’t need to. They didn’t care about grades, they didn’t need grades, they cared about something beyond that, and I can bet that some of the Ryans and Ranchos of my batch could be more successful today than the toppers, simply because they had more rounded set of skills to succeed in life outside the campus. If the message was, you should not follow grades, but gain and apply knowledge, and develop a broader set of skills that are needed in the real world, then it got killed by showing Rancho getting the best of the grades, all the time.

The character of Ranhco completely feel apart when he turned out to be a servant’s son. Why did they have to add that twist? To add to the drama? To increase the length of the film? I have no idea. He may have been smart, because you don’t need money to get the brains but where did he get the attitude of a rich brat, the confidence to take on the system, to be his own self? You don’t have this problem with Ryan’s character in the book.

My other issue with the plot was about following your heart. It’s easier said than done. Have you ever wondered what you knew and how aware of yourself you were at the age when you entered college? Did you have any clue what you wanted to do or what you liked to do at that age? I certainly didn’t and know that 95% of my class didn’t either. We probably had some idea about what would be cool but was that something we would love doing, we had no clue. In fact, there are very few people who are lucky enough to know what they want to do in life and even fewer who figure that out so early in their lives. To me, they are clearly Gods’ children. Even in the field of Sports or Show business which are full of stories of people who just followed their dreams, there are very few people like Sachin Tendulkar who knew at an early age what they wanted to do in life. Remember that dialog in the film Iqbal, where Naseer explains to the parents of Shreyas’s character, what a special thing it is to know what you want to do in life. That’s so true. I am in my late thirties and I still don’t know what makes me happy and what would have been an ideal thing or profession for me. I wish it were as easy as they show in films, click a few pictures of animals and voila you are a born wild life photographer! For most of us in real life, it’s a lifelong journey to know yourself, to figure out what works for you as an individual. And, some of us will never figure it out.

Now let’s examine that from parent’s perspective. I am sure, any loving parent would be happy to support their kids if they knew what would make their kids happy. But the problem is how do you figure out if the kid really knows what he or she wants? How do you figure out if it’s not an infatuation that will soon fade with the first brush of reality? Unfortunately, our system and society in general doesn’t give you a second chance. Even in USA, where youngsters take slightly longer to figure out what they want in life, people change their profession sometimes two or three times in the early part of their life, parents are extremely cautious and try to manage and guide their kids to focus on options they have in front of them, instead of chasing some wild dream. My ex manager, a white American recently described me how his entire family was completely stressed out for almost 3 months because one of his daughters suddenly declared that she wasn’t interested in joining college. Instead, she wanted to join Marine Corps. Where she could play in band and start making money as a musician from day one. Her logic was, “Why bother going through college when all I want to be is a musician and I am getting the opportunity to be one now instead of several years later”. I believe that parents also want their kids to chase their dreams, but they know from their own life experiences how hard it is know which dream to chase.

In the end, my objective wasn’t to trash the film, but just to raise few points that were going on in my mind and wanted to see if others feel the same way. As I said, I enjoyed the film a lot and have already watched it two or three times.

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

Radio, 1170 AM

1170  AM, Desi Radio in Bay Area

Back in 2000 when I was waiting for my H1 visa to arrive, I used to have long-distance conversations with the HR head of the company I was about to join (this is for you Sampath Sir). One of his key selling points to me used to be about the quality of life for a Desis living in California, particularly in San Francisco Bay Area. He used to talk about how everything that a Desi needs is now available in a nearby desi store. The example he gave that excited me the most was about Bidi. Not that I used to smoke Bidi when I was in India, but the idea that even bidi was available in the far away land called America, made me feel so excited at that time.

Despite all the reassurances from Sampath sir, we still brought dals, spices and Maggie packets in our suitcase when arrived. Wife was following her cousin’s prophetic advice who lived in Minneapolis, a land of primarily white people, very different from sunny California. A year or two later when we were returning from our second trip back home, the custom officer at San Francisco airport asked “Do you any jeera in your suitcase sir?” It was so creepy, I tell you.

Anyway, here we are, 10 years later, in the land of opportunity, with our hits and misses and still surviving. The latest addition to our desi life in bay area is a radio channel, our own radio mirchi. We first learned about it from our nanny and I dismissed it immediately as my previous experience with Desi radio wasn’t as exciting. There was a Hindi radio that used to run on weekends at 1450 am and it was pathetic. The quality of programming was really bad, the RJs were horrible and most of the programs were filled with ads of Naaz cinema. But I gave 1170 am a try anyway and was pleasantly surprised.

It was sweet to hear old Hindi songs on Radio again, kind of reminded me of those days when power used to go out and we used to listen to radio in the dark, Vividh Bharti and all. And, surprise, surprise, the quality of programming was quite good. So far, I have mostly listened to Morning Masti with some Mitra as the RJ and Sham ka safar with Seema Mahajan, both very good at RJ’ing. Both of them do a professional job, have good voice quality and their impromptu comments are very good.

It’s also quite interesting to hear real desis calling into the station and making random comments. The other day some old uncle called in and was telling stories of the day when they had to book a long distance call, once a month to call India and how the call used to go through trunk calls booked through New York-Bombay, Bombay Nagpur and all. He the ended the story with how he used to cry every time he used to make that call every month. It was quite heartfelt.

The only downside of the radio station 1170 am is the prominence of dentists as the advertisers. There is Pannu dental giving his comments on air (or Panny real estate, which I believe is the same guy, who changes profession depending on the day of the week).  There is Dr. Uppal on some days and Dr. Dhuppal on other days, all of them dentists, and they do take the liberty of connecting everything from heart disease and depression to teeth problems. I hope they will keep the ads limited and mainatain the quality of the programs.

If they even maintain the current quality of the programming and Mitraji and Seema Mahajan are kept on air, 1170 am is here to stay.

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.

People who make life worth living: Manohar Shyam Joshi

There are times when we find life extremely difficult to live. Vortex of life carries you away and churns you around so hard that you almost feel like giving up. These are the moments that make you wonder, is it even worth fighting for? You feel as if every ounce of strength has been drained out of you and you find it hard to even get up and stand straight. No, I am not one of those who feel suicidal at times, in fact far from it. In fact by God’s grace, I find a good reservoir of strength within myself and even in the darkest moments, the thought never crossed my mind. But I do understand and know people who took their own lives. There were two very close people in my family who took their own lives. One of them was my sister and the other was a niece. Both of them were amazing people, very strong, very loved and admired by all of us. They were definitely not the people whom you even wildly imagine that they would take their lives. But they must have found it hard, way harder than we can even imagine, that they decided to take their lives. I wasn’t big enough to fully understand it when my sister died, but even till date, I meet people who say she was the best among all of us siblings. Not sure, if they say it because it makes sense to talk good about people who are dead. But in case of my niece, I can definitely say it was true. She was one of the best kids I had met in my life, very beautiful, very charismatic, had an amazing grace and presence that made people feel good about themselves. We all had high hopes of her, until we heard one day…..people die all the time, but taking your life…that doesn’t happen every day. Dear N., for whatever reason you did it, I understand it, may God give you peace wherever you are.

I am sorry, this post is not about suicide or darker side of life, but shinier, more beautiful aspects of life. It’s about the book you love to read again and again, the song you like to hear again and again, the shayari or composition that you hang on to every word of. It’s about people who create those moments, those words, those compositions that touch not only you, but countless others. You know that they didn’t just did it for you, you are part of the masses they touched through their creations, yet you feel special, you feel happy being a part of the masses.

My first such tribute is to Late Shri Manohar Shyam Joshi.  Even though Joshi ji touched almost every life in India through his two legendary pieces of work Hum Log and Buniyaad, I feel a special connection to him because of one novel of his – Kasap, a novel that I have read 45 times, cover to cover, the most I have read any book in my life. I was a bit young and didn’t have access to TV when Hum Log was on but did watch every episode in a rerun and was amazed at the grasp Joshiji had on the psyche of middle class Indians. Hum Log didn’t become a big hit because it was the first fully Indian soap opera , it deserved to be a big hit because of the quality of writing. The characterization, the situations that resembled our day to day life a bit too much and the straight slice of life style of presentation connected it to people. I was old enough to understand and watch Buniyaad, but didn’t get to see much of it because of lack of access to TV. Kakkaji Kahin was another serial that was very popular, but again never got the opportunity to watch it. I watched some episodes of Humrahi and Mungeri Lal ke haseen sapne. The Ekta Kapoor generation may not understand it but Joshiji was the pioneer of the great Indian soap opera, making TV programs that could run for ages, yet he never resorted to cheap gimmicks, maintained quality of writing, situations and characters remained real.

But the reason I worship Joshiji is not because of Hum Log or Buniyad, but because of Kasap, the best Hindi novel that I ever read. I first came across Kasap in one of the roadside bookstalls in Delhi in around 1995 and got so enamored by it that I couldn’t pick up another book for nearly six months. There was something about this Hindi novella, something Devdasian that touched my heart. The novel is essentially a love story of an orphan boy brought up by relatives and a rich girl named baby who is the youngest sister of 4 brothers and a learned man named Shastriji and belongs to a rich family. Through this poor boy, rich girl love story, Joshiji weaves a tale that moves from remote villages of Kumaun to the campus of Berkeley and the studios of Hollywood and the by the time the book ends, you realize you have read a sweeping tale of coming to age, generational love story that has depth of philosophy and breadth of science and technology and rooted in centuries old superstitious society that can still be found in any part of India.

Imagine a book in which the climax of the story is set on a cliff in some remote sleepy hill station, near some dank bunglow where the hero is sitting with legs dangling and just crying. The last 8-10 pages of the book analyzes why the character may be crying and  makes you feel sad and happy at the same time, of course assuming that you have read the entire novel by then.

I have read all kinds of book and I used to re-read many of them, particularly when I ran out of new titles to read. But I never got so crazy for any book before or after Kasap. The only other book that even came remotely close was Catch 22, that I just loved simply because  I could pick it up and start reading from any page. But my fixation with Kasap was something different. At times I wondered if my crazy fixation with his book was in part because of the parallels with my own story. Like the lead protagonist of the book, I was brought up by relatives and just like him, I made my journey from a remote village of Uttaranchal to California and may be because I do know some of the pahadi rivers, the temples, the customs  and places in Uttaranchal that the author has used as metaphors.  But that’s where the similarities end. I wasn’t an orphan and wasn’t brought up in abject poverty as the hero was, in fact the relatives who brought me up were very nice to me and I owe them a lot. And I am not a Hollywood celebrity like the character in his novel, just an ordinary software industry worker, like thousand of us here in Bay Area.

But then I shared the book with two friends of mine, from totally different backgrounds, but big book worms and they loved the book almost as much as I did. Baby is the best heroine character I ever read, so modern, so ahead of its time, keeping in mind the fact that the story starts in 1955 and ends in 1985.

So, who is Manohar Shyam Joshi. His biography states he was born in Ajmer, even though he must have been a Uttaranchali , reflected by his grasp and command over Kumauni cultural milieu. But then, he displayed an amazing grasp of Punjabi sensibilities in Buniyaad, not the Yash Chopra style Punjabi, but the more earthy, real, Punjabiyat, particularly of the generation that came over from Pakistan and got known as refugees in India, where they now make the most affluent class. Joshi ji did try to make forays into films and I even watched Papa Kahte Hai, simply by seeing his name as writer, but he was probably not good enough for the high writing standards displayed in our films. He seems to have received fair amount of breaks in Hindi cinema, even with great Ramesh Sippy in Bhrashtachar, but not sure what went wrong because none of the films he worked made a mark. But then, even the greatest ever Hindi writer  Premchand was supposed to have failed in Hindi cinema.

But Joshiji seemed to fully understand the medium of television, up until the media explosion happened and Ekta Kapoor arrived.

Back in 1995 I learned that Joshiji was living in an apartment complex in Delhi where my then brother in law had bought an apartment. It was my dream to meet Joshiji face to face, but remained a dream forever after I read about Joshiji passing away in 2006.

Thank you Joshiji for being who you were and creating the work you did and touching my life and fulfilling it in a unique way. You definitely made my life a little bit more worth living.

I hope some day, some courageous director picks up the book, and adapts it into a sweeping love story. I bet if done well, the film will connect with masses and classes alike and could become a great classic by itself.

Dil-e-nadaan, Ghalib and Mehdi Hasan!

It’s amazing how many times and how many variations of this ghazal i have heard before yet right now I am listening to Mehdi Hasan sing it and he has taken it to entirely different level. Mehdi Hasan is probably unique in this aspect as he sings the same ghazal in many different ways, a shorter version, a longer classical version, an in-between version depending on which concert he was singing in and what kind of mood he was in. No one else comes close to him in this command and control, not even Ghulam Ali. Hats off, sir! You are Allah’s gift to the us all ghazal shaukeens.

Weird title to start a new blog with. But that’s what i started this blog for, for sharing my views, my opinions, my feelings with like minded people, without any inhibitions, without any pretensions, just like we share with friends. Hope this style works and i would soon see readers who are interested in topics, thoughts and views that I am interested in. Even if i am able to reach a tiny subsegment of the readers in the big, huge blogosphere, it would make the rest of the life more worth living. Of course, if this blog doesn’t take off and i do not find adequate readership, it will be a failure of my writing skills and my effort to promote the blog.

Back to Ghalib! At times i wonder what makes Ghalib so great. I have read many other Urdu poets who seem equally prophetic such as Mir, Zauk, Firaq and others, yet there is something unique about Ghalib that makes him so relevant for every generation. I have some biographies of Ghalib many times and in most of them he comes across as a very selfish, self centered type of person, who didn’t get along or care much for his wife, didn’t care much for the society at large, wasn’t patriotic in the times of intense patriotism i.e. 1857, didn’t even consider himself a Hindustani at heart, prided himself on being a Persian by blood. Yet, here is, immortal and still alive in the imagination of the entire subcontinent after more than 250 years. Ghalib is more famous than Bahadur Shah Zafar, the emperor who patronage he was fighting his entire life for, amazing how history judges peoples.

As for Mehid Hasan sab, i don’t know much except through his voice. I recently read somewhere that he is languishing in utter poverty, somewhere in Pakistan. Imagine, king of ghazal, a legend who was worshiped across Pakistan, India and Desis living everywhere across the world. The album that I am listening to is recorded in a concert somewhere in New York.  And the same legend doesn’t even have money to get proper treatment when he became too old to sing.

But for now, I enjoy listening to Mehdi Hasan sab, sing Ghalib in his unique style and bring out some additional nuances of the famous Dil-e-nadaan that Talat Mahmood, Begum Akhtar, Suraiya or Chitra Singh before him couldn’t express.

Hope whoever reads, finds something worth reading in my rambling, I will try to be more coherent in my next post.

Dil\-e\-naadaa.n tujhe huaa kyaa hai
Aakhir is dard kii davaa kyaa hai

Ham hai.n mushtaaq aur vo bezaar
Yaa ilaahii, ye maajaraa kyaa hai

Mai.n bhii muh me.n zubaan rakhataa huu.n
Kaash puuchho kii mudda kyaa hai

Jabaki tujh bin nahii.n koi maujuud
Phir ye ha.ngaamaa ai khudaa kyaa hai

Ye parii\-cheharaa log kaise hai.n
Gamazaa\-o\-ush{}vaa\-o\-adaa kyaa hai

Shikane\-zulafe\-amabarii kyaa hai
Nigaahe\-chashme\-surama saa kyaa hai

Sabz\-o\-gul kahaa.n se aaye hai.n
Abr kyaa chiiz hai, havaa kyaa hai

Hamako unase vafaa ki hai ummiid
Jo nahii.n jaanate vafaa kyaa hai

Haa.n bhalaa kar, teraa bhalaa hogaa
Aur daravesh kii sadaa kyaa hai

Jaan tum par nisaar karataa huu.n
Mai.n nahii.n jaanataa duaa kyaa hai

Maine maanaa ki kuchh nahiin gaalib
Muft haath aaye, to buraa kyaa hai