31-Mar-2006

The Eyebrows

The first time I realised that eyebrows are key areas to be beautified on the facial map was when I read a Tinkle comic. The comic used to have one page on facts from around the world and described how women in ancient Egypt used to grind pearls to apply as eye shadow. Accompanying this fact was the drawing of an Egyptian queen with perfectly arched, thin and neat eyebrows. A quick check in the mirror revealed that my eyebrows did not meet any of these three features.
However, as the old jungle saying goes 'You become a woman when you are willing to undergo the pain of shaping your eyebrows'. So it was many years later that I emerged from a dingy beauty parlour, red-eyed from the tears that sprung unbidden when the beautician, with loving attention, plucked all eyebrow hair lying outside the magic shape she had planned for my brows. I was delighted by the new clarity in my face.
Shaping eyebrows is a regular part most women's lives. But I don't think many realise the absolute importance of this activity. The lady with the tweezers can decide what expression you will have for atleast two months of your life. I remember a professor from college who had two perfectly shaped eyebrows - one with a sharp arch and one more rounded. Both looked beautiful individually but together made her look like she had a squint. Numerous hours were spent in my Costing classes debating whether I should alert her to the fact. Eventually in the interest of retaining my scores, I decided not to offend her vanity.
My own experience has been none too great either. Once I looked inquisitive for two months thanks to extremely sharp arches. Another time, I looked sweet and gentle. My mother loved this look but I felt it lulled people dealing with me into a false sense of security. I may not be sweet and gentle but atleast I warn people adequately about what to expect. There have been days when I have had expressions of curiosity, eagerness and deep depression.
The best example I can give of someone's eyebrows changing their looks is Karishma Kapoor. Oh boy! If anyone needed to shape her eyebrows, it was she. Thick and bushy, they made her look exactly like her dad, Randhir Kapoor, and you kept wondering how she could see clearly with all the hair hanging over her eyes. Eventually she got them shaped and went on to act in several hit movies (If you thought it was the 'Sarkailo Katiya' song that launched her career you are quite mistaken).
If you have not shaped your eyebrows till date, do it. Opening your eyes after your beautician is done, looking into the mirror and figuring out what expression you are going to have for the next two months of your life is certainly an experience. As Calvin’s dad would say ‘It builds character’

Decisons, destiny, youth

Last week I managed to do something, which I had postponed for long - watch a foreign language film festival. To my absolute delight one of my favourite hypotheses was proved right again - A movie that is deemed to be the best in it's language will definitely be worth watching (Obvious exceptions being India's usual nominations to the Oscars).
On Sunday, the chosen movie was 'Hector', It is a Spanish movie centered on a boy whose mother died three years earlier and who has to choose between continuing to stay with his aunt and moving in with his long lost father who has reappeared. His aunt hates to let go of him but has to learn to. His father is desperate to make up for the lost time. In addition there are other characters like his cousin, Fany who has to choose between two suitors. One, a respectable rich older man who can offer her a comfortable home and her father a business partnership. The other, an unemployed youth who has spent his time in and out of prisons, and is devoted to her. Fany's father finds it difficult to prioritise Fany's wishes over the potential change in lifestyle her marriage to the richer man may bring. The movie traces the decisions these characters make and the lessons they all learn about life.
I will not dwell on the movie’s merits, save to say that it was very well-made and definitely worth a watch. The one song in the movie though caught my attention. It appears at the point in the movie where everyone is perplexed and scared about the decisions they have to take. The lyrics covered a range of situations where fear makes you do something and one of them was 'fear leads to indecision'. A very obvious point. But seen in the background of the movie, somehow it got me thinking about how many of us stick on to status quo just because deep down we are too frightened of what the change may bring. At the end of a long life, you suddenly realise that thanks to indecision you have spent many years doing none of the things that you dreamt about. The other interesting point was the visual of the song. While all the characters were racked by the fear of what will happen in their lives next, the younger ones had a spring in their step while the older ones wore a frown on their faces. Ironically the younger characters actually had the weight of the heaviest decisions on their shoulders. It was as though because they were young and had their lives ahead of them, no decision was irreversible, no tragedy carved in stone and there was nothing that could take their spirits away from them. The older ones though seemed to have accepted the fact that this was the way the world was and there was nothing to do about it but worry.
Perhaps one is related to the other. Perhaps if you decide not to decide your destiny when you are younger, you end up growing older thinking that your destiny is not yours to decide. Whatever the reason, the thought of reaching a stage when I think that this is where my control over my life ends and henceforth I have no choice is frightening.

29-Mar-2006

What's in a name

By now most people are aware of the fact that an 11-year old boy named Hari has sued Naukri.com for releasing an advertisement where the name 'Hari' is expanded into 'Hitler, Arrogant, Rascal, Idiot'. Apparently our 11-year-old has been called 'Hitler' by his schoolmates and is going through intolerable grief. To make things better for Hari, his dad has helped him sue Naukri.com for Rs. 10 Million. I will not comment on obvious points like how his dad must have an excellent understanding of child psychology to realise that a 10 mn-lawsuit is just the method to handle teasing at school. Nor will I comment on how Hari, when he grows up will probably be sanctioned American citizenship immediately since when I last heard that was the only place where people filed lawsuits almost as ridiculous. Instead I will dwell upon this other loser kid who went through a similar trauma thanks to her name.
About fourteen years ago a Tamil movie was made on the theme of two stepbrothers. It was a major hit thanks to the excellent songs, avant garde lighting (atleast at that time), terse dialogues and great casting. It was watched by almost everybody who could speak the language. There was one minor scene, which escaped the attention of all but a little girl's classmates. It was the culmination of the comedy track, which involved a car driver helping his elderly employer to get laid. The duo manages to track down a call girl to do the job. And guess what the name of her character was? You are right. It was the same as the little girl's. Of course her classmates were too young to understand what exactly were the services expected from this hot looking lady who appeared in the scene. But they certainly knew that the homely heroine was not called by this name. (In a city like Chennai, every 9-year-old wants to be the homely heroine and not the sexy siren). So for a week the little girl had atleast one person chant out her name in the same tone of gleeful anticipation used in the movie.
The little girl was of course me (fairly obvious wasn't it?). If there is anyone to blame for my not having 10 mn in my bank account, it is me. I believe Hari was sent a box of chocolates as a token of apology by the company and the ad agency. Our little Hari has however rejected it by quickly using his mental arithmetic skills to figure out how many boxes of chocolates he can buy with so much money.
Sigh. I wish I had atleast got some chocolates.

28-Mar-2006

Review of 'Pride and Prejudice'

I assume most people who watch this movie have previously either read the book or watched the BBC version or atleast the horrible 'Bride and Prejudice'. (If you have not, you may not fully understand the movie. And this review.) I am sure there are other versions, perhaps in other languages (I know that a Hindi soap opera based on this story used to appear in DD many moons ago). So here we have one more movie and when you step into the hall, you wonder what does it have to offer?

The one stark difference from other versions I have seen is the scenes. The picturisation is absolutely enchanting to say the least. The green English countryside, the constant downpours, the stone buildings, the noise and colour in the parties, the houses in which the girls live...the list can go on. Everything is vivid and alive. Unlike the BBC series (a very good one, I would like to add) where you somehow have the impression of watching the proceedings as a third party, the camera in this version makes you feel like you are actually over there watching the story unfold. Some of the characterizations are also good. Mr. Bennett in this movie is kinder and more in sync with the family than he was in the original book. Charlotte Lucas is perfect as an aging spinster; aware of the compromises she has to make. Miss Bingley in the few scenes she has comes across as she ought to – a clever, perhaps slightly cynical woman who is probably in love with Mr. Darcy, but wants him more for the advantages that come with such a marriage. The casting is also appropriate in most cases. Keira Knightley’s liveliness has now been admired at almost all quarters. The gaggle of sisters looks just the way you would have imagined them to be.

The challenge in taking a fairly complicated book like this and making it into a three-hour movie is in figuring out which scenes to leave out and which scenes to retain. What characters are to be developed, and what side stories are to be forgotten. The central tale is that of Lizzie Bennet, the Gentleman’s daughter with no fortune and four sisters, falling in love with the rich and proud Mr. Darcy. Unfortunately the book has way too many characters that contribute to the tale of love between Lizzie and Darcy. Minor characters like Mr. and Mrs. Hurst are sacrificed. But the director still needs to retain Colonel Fitzwilliam and Anne De Bourgh. So at the end of the movie, the one overwhelming feeling you have is of having read a summary of the book. You can get what the movie is about, but you have not really had the time to cry and laugh with Lizzie. Lizzie and Darcy patching up makes you happy but does not make you wipe a tear, nod your head and say ‘these kids!’

There are some minor points to quibble on. Why does Mr. Bingley, instead of being a genial friend, come across as an ex-inmate of a mental asylum on rehabilitation in the countryside? He smiles like an imbecile every time he is on screen. Just when you are glad that he has stopped smiling, he opens his mouth and says some silly dialogues. Even his hair sticks out all over the place like he has had one too many electric shock treatments in the loony bin. Mr. Collins looks more sensible than he does. Also, did any woman say ‘Don’t judge me’ to her friends before Sex and the City? Why is Wickham barely there? And that’s not just because an eye-candy plays the role. As a fairly key character, the character should have been given atleast as much importance as Mr. Collins.

On the whole, if you can, read the book. If you must watch this movie, reserve it for a rainy afternoon when the scenes in the movie matches the weather outside and you just may discover the spark of romance that makes the book one of the best romantic books ever written.

Disturbing Images

I have always been a fan of horror movies. Throw more blood and gore at me and I lap it all up happily on TV. However, real life horror is a different story and I can usually watch about ten minutes of live footage on any tragedy – 9/11, Iraqi war, Tsunami, Kashmir earthquake- before I start feeling depressed. I do however believe that a reasonable coverage of the horror experienced by people in such events is helpful . Sometimes it brings into sharp focus the human cost of man-made disasters and hopefully will influence people to stop the nonsense. At other times, in case of natural disasters, the ten minutes of footage probably made someone contribute to rebuilding and rehabilitation.

What about personal tragedies though? This morning, I was having breakfast and watching the news, when the reporter told the story of five college girls who drowned at Hoggenakkal Falls. Then suddenly there were the bloated faces of two of those girls floating underwater with their hair streaming around their faces. What was till then an impersonal story giving you some sound advice about being careful around water bodies, became a full-fledged invasion of privacy in a personal tragedy. Who benefits by watching this footage? The parents of the girls must be distraught enough without having the pictures being flashed on National TV. They certainly deserve privacy in their moment of grief. The viewer does not need these disturbing pictures thrown at them. For one, everyday someone is dying and the collective effect of watching all of this is not going to make anyone’s day better. For another, what does the viewer get out of this footage except some voyeuristic pleasure, if you are the type?

Can anyone else think of a reason to show such footage?

Review of 'Maine Pyar Kiya'

When this movie was released in the 80s, I was 13. I was beginning to watch movies which were not of the cartoon or kiddie variety. Bollywood was having a new start on romantic movies, with 20-year-old heroes, playing 20-year-old heroes. There was a lot of debate on which was a better movie – Qayamat se Qayamat tak or Maine Pyar Kiya? I always aligned with the latter. The main reason I guess was that the heroine Suman was my idea of a perfect romantic heroine. She looked sweet, stood her ground (watch her rescue the pigeon in the face of thick opposition) and was decent at repartee. Most of all, unlike Juhi in QSQT, she did not choose to go and cook in a forest to prove her love but sat at home comfortably waiting for the hero to do all the hard work. Salman Khan was also quite sweet in those days. No one knew then that he would grow up to be an irresponsible, steroid pumped, bare chested, pedestrian killing jerk. As for the movie itself…ah for those were the days of black and white, rich and poor, good and evil, everyone so loving, so naïve and so simple.

Recently I watched this movie again, and realised that it is not as simple as it was made out to be. Indeed, it is a very powerful lesson on human relationships, social settings, business moves and animal welfare. In case any of you missed watching this movie, here is my retelling of the tale.

The movie starts off with Suman (Bhagyashree) teaching her father and a bunch of students in her idyllic village. Having passed her school exams with excellent marks, she does not want to be a doctor or an engineer or any other such fancy things. Instead she chooses to improve her father’s English and cool her heels while her father earns enough money for her dowry. The one thing about Sooraj Barjatia’s movies is that they are social barometers of what is ‘acceptable’ education in an average North Indian family. Years later, Nisha in Hum Apke Hain Kaun would be doing ‘computers’. I would not have been surprised if she also went for baking classes in her free time. Still more years later, one of the female leads in that imbecile marriage fest, Hum Saath Saath Hain, would actually be a doctor. I jumped with joy. Women in India had finally arrived.

Coming back to Suman. Daddy dearest (a.k.a Karan) decides to go to Dubai to earn Suman’s dowry, and leaves Suman in the house of his old friends, Kishen and Bhabi. Kishen has made it big in life and is the owner of many factories and a good house. But like all rich men in Hindi movies, has forgotten his roots and is not too nice to Karan. A fact which naïve Karan luckily does not notice at that point, giving Suman ample time to start off her romance. Enter Manohar, an orphan being brought up by Kishen and Bhabi. One quick look at his average mug, boring personality and poverty and Suman promptly requests him to be her Bhaiya, thus eliminating any ideas Manohar may have had about romancing her. Enter Prem (Salman Khan), the heir of the house, back after getting his degree in the U.S. Suman does not broach the topic of brotherhood, instead promptly proceeds to fall in love. This is achieved by a general combination of

(a) looking vulnerable – weeping gently when her father’s letter arrives

(b) mocking him without making him look like a complete fool

(c) being the damsel in distress – oh man, who can resist falling in love with a girl whom you have snatched from the evil clutches of the villain trying to rape her; and

(d) being bashful – taking 15 minutes and one entire Antakshari sequence to say ‘I love you’. (It is ironical how in Hindi movies heroines take ages to hold hands but three months after the marriage they announce they are pregnant)

Meanwhile, the evil Ranjit is plotting to be..er…. the villain. Till the end, you are not quite sure what his end objective is. He is Kishen’s business partner. Kishen and Ranjit are setting up a joint venture. Ranjit, to create sympathy also cleverly pretends to be lame, when he actually is not. In line with her father’s evil plans, his career oriented, educated, productive-citizen-of-the-country daughter, Seema woos Prem. Prem, being an average Hindi hero, is however not going to marry a Class A bitch like Seema. Class A bitch defined by the fact she smokes, wears western clothes, has short hair and works as a manager, thus increasing the likelihood of making him look incompetent in the Boardroom. I must say one would not judge Prem so harshly if one considered Seema’s terrible perm. Evil Ranjit’s nephew, Jeevan, is also there – the chappie who tries to rape Suman. Prem does not quite let that incident get in the way of his being civil to Jeevan.

There is one more important character in the proceedings – The Pigeon (Huma Khan). Suman rescues the pigeon from being shot at Seema’s party. The pigeon does not forget this and becomes the couple’s Man Friday – delivering letters, rescuing the couple from the villains when they are hanging from a branch and so on and so forth. All the while with a glint in it’s eye which comes with having been at the brink of death. Maneka Gandhi would have been proud to endorse Sooraj Barjatya movies where an animal always plays a key role in the proceedings.

Suman and Prem realise they are in love and Bhabi endorses the scheme of things. But evil Ranjit brainwashes Kishen into believing that Suman’s intentions are not pure and she is in it for the money. So on Suman’s birthday, Kishen sends off Prem on some work and accuses her of being a gold digger. Ranjit joins this round of accusations. Karan arrives just then and not sensing the mood goes about distributing gifts to all in his naïve manner. When Kishen finally brings his attention to the discussion on hand, Karan erupts angrily and opens his suitcase to reveal bundles upon bundles of hard cash – his earnings from Dubai which he carries about with him for just such a moment. After throwing a few lousy bundles on Kishen as payment for the boarding and lodging provided to Suman, he leaves the house with Suman in tow.

Prem comes back home, learns the truth and sets off to find Suman. And then sings ‘Dil Deewana’ while doing the moonwalking step (Is it a coincidence that right after this Michael Jackson’s popularity reached its peak in India?). Suman joins in by hoping like a rabbit with him. Karan, unable to bear the dance, puts a stop by asking Prem to prove his worth by earning money on his own individual merit.

Now some of you may have heard of the fabulous salaries that educated kids with fancy degrees get today. Back in the 80s, well-educated people just did not have those opportunities. If you opted out of campus placements, then it better be because you had Papa warming the MD’s chair for you in the family business. If you decided to part ways with Papa, then the only option left to you was breaking rocks in a quarry. So Prem, decides to break rocks in the quarry while enterprisingly moonlighting as a truck driver. Within a month, he earns enough money. However, Jeevan realising things are going nowhere and the movie has to end, decides to kill Prem. Kishen, Bhabi, Manohar and Ranjit also land up since the official bugle to announce the beginning of the climax has been sounded. Prem, after being beaten to pulp by Jeevan, sees that an audience that has accumulated and decides to put up another good fight. Notwithstanding the constant interruptions from Suman running hither and thither, he still manages to do a decent job. Meanwhile, Ranjit reveals that he is not lame to Kishen. Kishen is stunned by the turn of events – How could he have selected so silly a business partner that the only thing he could think of was acting lame? At the very least, he should have carried the JV agreements with him and threatened to kill Prem if Kishen did not give him 100% control of the company. Disgusted, he also joins the fray by beating up Ranjit. Bhabi and Manohar handle the henchmen. Finally Jeevan falls down the quarry, thanks to the Pigeon (I would rather not reveal the exact sequence of events since it is best seen). Ranjit and Seema leave before they can follow Jeevan down the quarry. And end up in the hands of the waiting police (But of course) and are arrested for causing mental trauma – Ranjit for pretending to be lame and Seema for perming her hair.

Kishen sees the error of his ways and decides no more JVs, only sole control. Also, no smart daughter-in-law, only Suman, the diesel mechanic’s daughter. A lesson, which would have been very useful to T.P.G Nambiar, when he chose a smart husband for his daughter who would later fight for the Group’s shares.

Suman gets married to Prem. Manohar Bhaiya settles for the only woman who will marry him – the milkmaid. The Pigeon marries another pigeon. To clarify that our heroic Pigeon is not gay, its mate has a ladylike red ribbon tied to her neck.

All is well that ends well.