23-Oct-2006

Movie Review - Dor

Nagesh Kukoonoor is a fairly talented but not a consistent director. Sometimes he manages to pull off a perfect fairytale, like Iqbal. Sometimes he falls far short of the lofty idea he had so obviously constructed in his mind, as in the case of Teen Deewaren. Dor is an ambitious effort, trying to talk about a woman’s place in our society, about breaking free of that place in the society and how ultimately it is only women who can stand up for each other in a world where men make the rules. The tough part about taking such ambitious topics is that one can end up being merely preachy as in the case of Swades and lose focus easily. Dor manages to pull it off, but just about.

The movie talks about Zeenat (Gul Panag in a refreshingly non-Miss India avatar) and Meera (Ayesha Takia in a role that proves her worth as an actress). Zeenat is a battle-hardened woman who has made her own decisions all her life and for whom no situation is an insurmountable challenge. Meera, in sharp contrast, is a typical Rajput bahu caught in her small world defined by obedience to her parents-in-law and customs. Both women are deeply in love with their husbands. As the story progresses, their lives connect and Zeenat must go on a quest to ask Meera a great favour.

Full credit must be given to Kukoonoor for articulating what the life of a woman like Meera must be. She is clearly in an oppressive world, but has accepted it so well that she is absolutely unaware of it and her only concern is about missing her husband, Shankar, when he has to leave town. Even when the unforeseeable happens she accepts the fact that she is not a person who has individual rights and wants but is a cog in the great Rajput wheel. Ayesha Takia essays the role brilliantly, right down to flaring her nostrils before tears begin to role down her face. Zeenat, as the stronger woman, sometimes is not so convincing and seems a bit one-dimensional. Even towards the end when Zeenat finally faces a situation, which is beyond her control, and she is as vulnerable as she can be, the character still has some sharp edges. The greatest flaw of the movie lies in its dialogues. A lot of them come across as obvious and unnatural instead of being subtle and going with the flow of the movie – the statements on how society treats a widow and widower differently, the reconciliation between Meera and her grandmother-in-law, Zeenat’s entreaties to Meera to break free.

All the above is quibbling though. I guess when one watches a movie like K.A.N.K the temptation to point flaws never arises because there are far too many of them to even make a logical beginning. In a movie like Dor, which almost reaches perfection, the rough edges stand out starkly and you end up feeling like Farhan Aktar wanting to remake some parts.

In the ultimate analysis, Dor is a movie that has a heart. The scenes where Meera and gang spontaneously break into a dance, the scenes where Zeenat’s Man Friday imitates various movie stars and where Meera’s mother-in-law is reminded of the ephemeral nature of the privileges she enjoys in her society make you want to smile, laugh and applaud. And just for that, the movie is worth watching.

21-Oct-2006

Happy Diwali

This Diwali I have immersed myself completely in the pure and joyous commercialism of the season. I bought lots of new clothes, I collected plenty of money from unsuspecting relatives by falling at their feet for their blessings and I even undertook a project to paint our old mud lamps in delightful designer colours till my mom pointed out that South Indians light lamps for Karthigai Deepam not Diwali. In line with these activities, I decided to accompany a colleague to buy sweets from a popular sweet shop.

As expected the place was packed with last minute shoppers and we finally managed to make it to the billing counter. My colleague’s inventory was substantial and while she struggled to make payments I fell into overhearing a conversation between two people

Male 1: You will never guess my age.

Male 2 (in flattering voice): Don’t know. maybe early 30s…?

Male 1: (laughing in an embarrassed tone hiding a lot of glee): Actually I am 43.

At this point, curiosity got better of me and moving to Convenient Gaping Position #1, I casually took a look at the man. He looked 40, not 43 but definitely not early 30s. Since my work sometimes involves coming up with such white lies, I completely sympathized with Male 2. Coming back to Convenient Overhearing Position #1, I continued.

Male 2: (Who obviously had not stopped gushing during my subtle spy walks): I just can’t believe it. This is amazing

Male 1: (Still laughing)

Male 2: Infact no one would say you were single. You look like a normal, married man.

Hello!! Since when did normal = married. This was the point where I felt like moving to Convenient Bashing up Silly Goose Position #1.

Male 2: So are your parents looking out for you.

Welcome to Indian society where people actually hold your parents responsible for your singleton status even if you are 43

Male 1: Er..not really. Think if it happens, I will just find someone of my own.

Thank God. Finally some sense.

My colleague had finished with her purchases by then and it was time to move on. However, I have suddenly realized what an entertaining experience overhearing can be.

18-Oct-2006

Mannavanur

Tired of being stuck at home on too many long weekends, I sent out a SMS one fine morning asking people if they would be interested in a trekking trip. About 6 were interested and I fished out an old newpaper article about a place called ‘Mannavanur’ which had been featured in The Hindu’s ‘Road Less Traveled’ series long ago. The picture that had featured in the article was worth a thousand words and was good enough for me to hold onto that page for more than a year and now it was time to actually go.


Mannavanur is not a very well known destination and when you call up the local coordinator in Chennai, you know why. Any avid P.G.Wodehouse reader would remember Robert Baxter, Lord Emsworth’s secretary. Baxter’s tagline used to be ‘Baxter suspects’. He did not suspect anyone about anything in specific but used it as a general worldview. The gentleman I spoke to was Baxter’s real world equivalent. He suspected. He suspected that we would be a bunch of yuppies waiting to get to Mannavanur to douse ourselves in alcohol (which some of us did in the cold), throw plastic papers all over the place (which we did not do) and generally change of the fabric of local people’s lives (ha ha. Why would anyone care about us!). So he reluctantly parted with the details of the stay and the cost. Then he came to interview me and I spent a good one-hour convincing him that we were worthy of staying in those cottages and being allowed to trek in restricted areas. The cost per head per day for stay and food came to a glorious INR 550 so it was well worth spending the time with him.

There are many treks one can do from Mannavanur. The one featured in the article was a long one (23 km round trip) to Berijam. This however required permission from the Forest Reserve and I simply did not have the time to get that organized. Later on I found out that if we had told the people in charge of the cottage the previous evening, they could have arranged it.

Day 0 – 1

Friday night, the bunch of us set off for Kodai Road by train. We had arranged for a Tata Sumo to take to our destination but the station had enough taxis. On the way we had breakfast at Kodaikanal and after a sum total of 3 hours we were there.

The place looked pretty basic, full of brick cottages set at different levels. There was one cottage for the dining room, with its wide array of curiously ugly, homemade masks made by the owner of the place and foisted on unsuspecting guests. There were levels for the squeaky clean common bathrooms and other cottages. The 30 step steep climb to our cottage got most of us panting and I was rather glad we were not doing the Berijam trek. Once we dumped our luggage though, we stepped out of our rooms and came across the most amazing view ever. The cottages were set just below the lips of those hills and hence afforded a panoramic view of the valley below. There was a lake in the middle of the valley, which changed colours as the day progressed. All around there was nothing but greenery. One could sit for hours and just gaze.

After a round of catching up on sleep, washing up et al, we arrived freshly scrubbed for lunch. Post lunch, was a 6km walk to the lake. The weather was pleasant and the walk went through pretty grasslands and hillocks and upon reaching the lake we did nothing more than plonk down and chat or doze. Clearly, this was not going to be one of those strenuous trekking holidays.

On the way back, all of us decided to take snaps against the grey-black rocks that appeared on one side of the road from time to time. A correct angle made you look like Spiderman effortlessly clambering up the mountains. If the public was expecting to see snaps in the trip of us climbing every mountain, fording every stream etc etc, they would not be disappointed.

The place had no electricity but the owners provided two hours of light thanks to a generator. After which there was nothing but candlelight for us to move about. SR decided that the atmosphere was perfect for describing his close encounters with ghosts (yes, he was serious) and told us more and more fantastic tales about ghosts sitting on this watchman’s chest, ghosts blocking gates and so on and so forth. Atleast it got couple of the group members wary about walking to the bathrooms by themselves.


Soon it was time for dinner and a good nap in the increasingly cold weather. I piled on three blankets and still shivered. Sometimes I wonder if I am just psychologically prone to feeling cold in really cold places or is it really cold.

Day 2

The jeeps, which were supposed to take us to the trekking point, had gone off on election duty. The caretaker suggested alternate trekking routes and transport plans. Finally we decided to take the local bus at noon to get to the trekking point. We were assured that the jeep would have returned by the time the trek got over and we could return in relative comfort.

It has been a long time since I have taken a local bus. We got into the bus and instantly everyone pretended they were not looking at us while staring at us through the corner of their eyes. Given that the women in the group were all wearing pants and t-shirts, this was not entirely unexpected. At least people were being polite enough to not directly gape. The ride was quite interesting. The road fitted the bus the way clothes fit models – absolutely no extra space to provide a margin for error, an especially worrying fact at the never ending hairpin bends. The driver was however a veteran of the roads and did not blink an eye while pulling the bus back from sharp cliffs at the last second. The locals also treated the bus like their private vehicles – getting off every now and then to catch a quick drink if the bus was planning to loop its way and come back to the same point.

We reached the starting point and set off. The road was picturesque and a river ran by the side throughout. The scenery changed from green valleys, eucalyptus trees to pretty pines. After a while we stopped talking, instead just walked on and on. Eventually we reached our destination – Kilakarrai Falls. The real name of the falls is Vellai Tawalai (White Towel) but the area is called Kilakarrai and hence the misnomer.

The Falls was deserted and the water sparkled gently in the sun as it babbled down. We spread ourselves in convenient spots – S and self choosing to get an instant pedicure by dipping our feet in the cold running water while sitting on the warm rocks, the guys deciding to catch a nap in the shade nearby and the others chatting away on the grass. An hour flew by quickly and it was time for the return trip.

Our guide was quite keen that we also see the bottom of the Falls having come all the way. Five of us decided to trek down through a narrow path covered with dry vegetation hiding shallow pits. After some fumbling, we made it down and gazed at the pool for a while. It was colder though and we were happy to start climbing back up. The guide decided that we could use a short cut through the vegetation and we started following. After five minutes I spotted my worst nightmare – a colony of leeches waiting to spring onto unsuspecting trekkers. I immediately sounded the alert and before I could finish the rest had started scrambling back up. We reached the road and checked for leeches and realized the wily creatures had managed to climb onto our clothes in the space of those few seconds. With some quick action, all of us were rid of leeches. An hour later, we halted for a break and Cherie discovered that one leech had still managed to escape detection and had bulged so much with her blood that its eyes were practically popping out. Cherie screamed and pushed away the leech and tied a hanky to cover the wound, which, as expected bled for some more time.


It is paradoxical wanting to trek but not being happy with leeches. I have been mentally trying to prepare myself for a very long time to handle leeches. Before every trip I have a logical conversation with myself pointing out that leeches just look gross but are not dangerous. However when the moment arrives, I turn hysterical, leap about like a banshee and in general behave like a person who has had the pleasure of knowing what a 2000 V electric shock feels like.

After that brush with nature’s bounties, we started back. S and I had a long conversation reminiscing our hostel days and it felt very strange and pleasant to think that after eleven years we were trekking together through an unknown road, sharing stories which the other had failed to hear while in school and had moved on in life so much but could still bitch about our hostel warden with the same school-girlish intensity.

About half a kilometer before we reached the bus stop, we found the caretaker waiting for us. The jeep had been arranged and we were glad to be on the way back. By now we knew that hot tea and some calorie-heavy divine snack would be waiting us for on our return. The thumb rule of trekking is to figure out how many calories you are going to burn and then eat merrily. Invariably, I always overestimate the distance I am supposed to walk and underestimate the amount of food I will be consuming.

By now we had told the caretaker that we were quite happy to pay extra for non-veg food and the cook had prepared quite a spread. After a heavy dinner, it was time for the traditional bonfire. Possibly it was the absolute lack of any other source of light, or the mesmerizing effect of the bonfire, most of us managed to stay up till three in the morning sharing sad, happy, funny and weird personal stories. We could not have been more honest if we were devout Catholics at a Church confessional. An unspoken understanding not to spread the stories was also reached. This was not too tough to keep given that people were too sleepy or too high to actually remember the bare details.

Day 3

It was a destined to be a day of tension. The weather became hot and sticky as we descended to the plains. One of us had a bus ticket from Kodaikanal to Bangalore and hence had to get off halfway through and that signaled the end of the trip. The train tickets back for the rest were not confirmed. We figured out bus tickets would be a challenge in case the train did not work out and we may end up traveling in some third rate bus with wooden seats, if at all.


Luckily around five my parents called to say that four out of our six tickets had been confirmed. This improved everyone’s mood considerably and we made the last visit on our agenda in high spirits.


I confess I have not been one of those diehard fans of visiting Tamil Nadu’s temples and it was only when the Madurai Meeanakshi temple got into the list of potential wonders of the world, I decided to go and see it. The trip lasted just an hour but was well worth it. The temple complex was massive to say the least and in spite of all the tinsel and lights that been hung all over to mark Vijayadasami, the place looked glorious. We had also arrived on the day the 108- Veena concert was in progress and in the midst of the rushed schedule managed to drink in the sound waves that reflected off the stone walls, pure and clear.


Reluctantly (atleast for me as I had managed to buy a cheap book on the temple’s background and wanted to explore the place further), we left for dinner. The place, Royal Court, was just opposite the railway station and for a reasonable price you could sit at the rooftop restaurant, which had a view of the temple. Everyone was subjected to a quick summary of the temple’s history, mythology and architecture, courtesy my book.


Finally it was time to board the train and we got in and found to our delight the TT from the onward journey was TTing again. We explained that two of us were still on waiting list and he agreed to turn a blind eye if we managed to share our berths. A complicated process to stuff four people into two berths began. I think that must have been the first time in my life I must have slept sideways continuously for eight hours.

And the next morning, it was back to the grind. Albeit with a slightly aching side and some lovely photographs in the digital camera waiting to be downloaded.

11-Oct-2006

Khosla ka Ghosla - Movie review

When I went to watch this movie I knew it was supposed to be light, charming and funny. At the end of it, that is exactly how it turned out.

The movie starts off a bit slowly, establishing the principal characters. Kamal Kishore Khosla (Anupam Kher) is a Punjabi man approaching retirement who has spent his entire life being in ‘service’ and epitomizes the classic middle class man who by virtue of having slogged it out for years in a respectable job has accumulated enough money by way of Provident Fund. His first son Chiraunjilal a.k.a Cherry (Parvin Dabbas) looks the typical MNC software engineer, complete with Allen Solly trousers, rimless glasses and in a ‘she-is-just-a-good-friend’ relationship with Meghna (Tara Sharma). Kamal Kishore and Cherry don’t see eye to eye and the older man makes some awkward attempts at bonding with his son before his typical middle class father’s ego comes in the way. Balwant a.k.a. Bunty (Ranvir Shorey), the second son is the standard Delhi wheeler-dealer who is frittering away his time. Kiran Juneja supports as the mother and there is a boyish teenage daughter to complete the family.

Kamal Kishore invests his entire lifetime’s savings into buying a plot only to find that a land shark, Kishan Khurana (Boman Irani) has grabbed it and he is expected to pay a hefty sum to get his own land back. This alters Kamal’s entire worldview and throws him into the unfair world, which he probably knew existed but had never encountered so far. Trying to appeal to the authorities and other agencies does not help him. Meanwhile, Cherry is busy trying to get a work visa for the U.S., unmindful of his father’s trauma. Bunty tries to help his father but cannot. Just when things seem bleak, Cherry steps in and the whole family hatches a plot for beating Kishan Khurana at his own game and setting things right. Do they succeed forms the rest of the story.

The storyline is fairly simple and the conflicts in it are familiar everyday situations. The charm lies in the characterization of each person. No one is black or white but comes across, as your average person whose faults can be understood when you walk in that person’s shoes. Cherry seems insensitive but is nothing more than someone who has moved away mentally from his family into another wavelength. Bunty is the Man Friday but he is limited by the experience of someone young and competence of someone not too bright. Kamal reigns in the familiar world of his family but cannot handle a new order where his son Cherry is drifting away and people like Kishan Khurana exist.

The story is of course one of those feel-good ones and while you know that the second half may never exist in the real world, you are still happy to let it play out.

The finest performances come from the land shark team lead by Boman Irani. The man is in his element playing a ruthless Goonda who cloaks his slimy interior with an even slimier exterior. His lawyer Munjal, complete with pockmarks on his face, looks the part. The Delhi flavour of the movie lingers strongly right through the movie and with its authentic Punjabi accent and mannerisms provides a welcome relief from typical Bollywood. First time director Dibakar Banerjee can pat himself on his back for this decent debut. The production values are however none too great and in some scenes you can picturise the cameraman having walked heaving the camera. But hey, it is a low budget movie.

Watch it not expecting greatness but believable ordinariness.

08-Oct-2006

Cricket Match

In yet another example of team building, my office decided to hold a cricket match. The match was between the front office and back office. I belong to the front office. The team had been hobbled together from the list of people who had applied from various locations across the country. Consequently they had had very little practice.

Ar from my office had volunteered to be the wicket keeper notwithstanding the fact that his last brush with cricket had been in his previous job 3 years ago and his last brush with exercising had been at his gym a couple of weeks prior to the match when he had gone to get as much value out of a three month membership as he could in one single day. S from my office had also volunteered. Thanks to a concerted effort at diversification (We are an equal opportunities employer) there was also one woman in the team.

On the day of the match, we all landed up at the stadium. Front office was fielding and back office was batting. Ar was standing behind the wicket wedged tightly in his wicket keeper’s gear making any kind of movement almost impossible. The rest of the team was scattered all over the field (though I am sure to the trained eye it denoted strategic positions).

The match began. Within the first over it became rather clear that back office would be a bigger challenge than what we envisaged. There was fanfare all around as they hit 4s consecutively. Front office decided that some quick strategizing was in order and grouped up, discussed stuff and then split up again. The result of the next over was the same. Within sometime, we were just happy if back office scored anything less than 36 runs in one over. Our guys were rather down on stamina and refused to chase the ball unless it came within 1 foot of them. Given that the field was large, that seldom happened. At halftime the score was 105 runs at 10 overs with 2 wickets down. Someone cruelly shouted out for Ar’s benefit ‘there is a difference between the umpire and wicket keeper. Get moving’. S who had bowled the worst over in the match was much disconcerted.

A change in strategy was required. P, the woman member, was called to bowl. Man, all I can say is there has never been so much suppressed sniggering in an audience. The opposing team’s supporter began to scream out her name in an effort to intimidate her. P also got intimidated and bowled pretty badly for two balls. And then she suddenly got into shape. We finished the over with lesser runs than what had been scored in any of the previous overs. Within another two overs she was back to bowling. One of the guys from the front office smirked ‘At this rate she will the ‘man’ of the match’. Har har har. Another guy from the opposite side screamed back ‘But we still have not played. The lady from our team could be the ‘man’ of the match too’. More har har har.

All I can say is what followed must have been one of the finest moments in our office’s cricketing history. P got a player out. And then again bowled more efficiently than any of the others and ended up breaking her previous record. The commentor announced that it was not surprising since she had played state level cricket at one point. More than what most people in the match had played. What a brilliant moment for proving women can be better than men in an obviously all-male situation! At least it got the guys cracking those silly jokes to shut up.

On that high note, I decided to leave as it was evident we would lose. As it turned out, we did not lose but the match came to a draw. The heavens, taking pity upon us, let loose a barrage of rain. The back office guys honourably offered to draw the match. And everyone went home, happy and contented.

Car story

Several weeks ago, one evening I was returning from a client meeting. I was quite ravenous and requested the office car driver to stop at a nearby bakery so I could pick up some snacks. I went in and made some selections and feeling quite pleased with myself for buying the last patty before another customer could, came out, got into the car and closed the door.
At this point, things went wrong. Instead of our sweet and meek car driver, a perfect stranger turned around and boomed in an irritated and inquisitive voice 'Excuse me'. That was when I realized I had gotten into the wrong car. Both cars were golden coloured Ford Ikons and the cars were parked in a haphazard way that precluded any checking of number (Not that otherwise it would have occurred to me to check the number).The stranger was on his mobile phone and presumably that explained his less-than-articulate dialogue. Not to mention, one is usually not geared up to handle situations where strangers begin popping into your car, complete with fresh food, and make themselves at home. I could not have gotten out of the car faster if I had discovered my co-passenger was a hungry Anaconda. The office driver was meanwhile was running to me to inform me that was not our car, a fact which I had gathered with first hand evidence by then.
Well, I was mortified to say the least and kept hoping the car driver would not tell anybody this story. The most striking thing about the whole situation when I thought about it later was that it was not too good on my ego. I have been watching Indian movies since the age of 1 and Indian movies are usually of the sugary syrupy kind where when the pretty heroine enters a stranger’s car by mistake, the stranger usually mutters a ‘wow’ in a this-is-my-lucky-day tone. The heroines usually (a) react by simpering equally if the driver is the Hero (b) proudly getting out if the driver is the Hero and it is one of those hate-turns-to-love movies or (c) beating a hasty retreat if the driver is a Goonda thus providing ample chances for the Hero to come to the rescue. While I would not have liked the story to continue on the lines of a, b or c, in my heart of hearts I was always hoping that when a situation like this happened to me, the driver would turn and say ‘wow’ in a this-is-my-lucky-day tone.
Sigh. Another reality check.