25-Jun-2008

Food and fun

Every now and then, offices come up with themed weeks to celebrate some cause. Mine is no different and this week we are in the midst of celebrating our brand colours. The week began with a competition. Employees were encouraged to bring food in our brand colours. For obvious reasons, there was no dearth of green coloured contributions. However, the blue coloured ones were a challenge. The most enterprising of the lot had made parathas with beetroot and jamuns that gave a rich blue tinge. I watched fascinated as the other dishes appeared – blue cakes, blue pancakes, blue sev puri. However, when it was time for the free food counters to be thrown upon to the audience, I did not judge. Filling my plate with all the delectable and weird stuff was the work of a moment. Then, engulfed in my personal reverie, I spent a good fifteen minutes stuffing my face and pondering upon the wisdom of telling the participants stuff like ‘thanks for lifting my Monday blues with these blues’.


The last time there was an office celebration, I had been a participant. We were all split into groups. Each group had to paint a pot, make an object with oil paper and create a rangoli with the materials available. I came back from a meeting to realize that I was captain of my team. My enterprising team members had spent the afternoon laughing at other teams’ inadequate efforts at creativity, clearly unbothered by the fact that we had nothing to show at all. I quickly passed on the oil paper work to a colleague who usually dressed well (after all, he must have a good sense of colours and designs). I took on the pot painting job myself. The rest of the boisterous, mostly mid-twenty guys were given the rangoli job. With twenty minutes to finish time, we all worked furiously, but independently and deposited our contributions just in time.

One team had an elaborate rangoli with bits of oil paper sticking to it and the decorated pot in the middle. Another had a uniform colour scheme throughout. I looked at my team’s contribution. A limp bit of oil paper was floating on the wall behind the rangoli. My brightly painted yellow pot, celebrating India’s independence was below it. And then there was the rangoli.

As my colleague pointed out, her five year old daughter did better in art class at school. There was a flower. A geometric design. Something that looked like a cricket bat. It could have been modern art. On the other hand there was a strong case for it to be classified as futuristic art. The kind of stuff that could feature in science fiction novels. At any rate, when the judges came by, they were not impressed by our theme of ‘lateral thinking’.

But we really couldn’t have cared less. The food stalls had opened up and some divine sandwiches, sev puris and chocolate milk shakes were being given out. As the other teams yelled loudly at having been declared winners, my own team bonded quietly over the noises of us chomping. We had realized that there was likely to be a shortfall in some of the dishes, and we wanted to gobble up as much as we possibly could.

Food was plentiful yesterday too during the arts and craft competition. It had been organised for children of employees but for some strange reason, the hall was filled with employees putting together handcrafted lamps, bags and even a robot (yeah, we are good at the sci-fi stuff). Only one colleague had brought her four year old son. Despite all her entreaties to him to draw a melting igloo to represent global warming, her son decided to follow his own plan of drawing a rocket. It was quite an elaborate rocket with grooves. There was also a ladder next to it. After much persuasion by his mother, he finally drew a tiny igloo that looked like it had melted from the blast of the rocket rather than macro issues. In the end, he spelt his name backwards in big bold letters ‘AYRA’. I love kids. Esp when they prove to hyper-competitive parents that drawing something that links up to a big world issue is just not fun. My colleague found it funny too and both of us laughed over the sandwiches while Arya’s head bobbed up and down as he coloured the rocket.

In the end, I must say that notwithstanding a healthy cynicism towards such themed week celebrations, I do enjoy the binging that comes with it. My own personal theme could probably be summed up as – free food? Bring it on!

17-Jun-2008

Overdosing on Bollywood

One surprising consequence of moving to Mumbai has been the closer contact I seem to have developed with Bollywood. No, I don’t get invited to Page 3 parties. Infact, the only celebrities I have seen so far are so minor, I am embarrassed to flaunt the ‘sightings’. It’s just that I get this feeling that suddenly there is too much information on Bollywood and related stuff around me.
The main culprit behind this is the city’s leading newspaper Times of India. TOI takes its role as the chronicler of Bollywood stories very seriously. I get updated stories on what the Bachchan clan is upto almost every other day. On the occasion of the Junior Bachchan’s first wedding anniversary, the media went into raptures trying to capture the topics discussed on the teleconference that Bachchan family had. Apparently the Juniors were vacationing in Miami whereas the Senior Bachchans were in Mumbai. The technologically savvy family (Sr Bachchan even has a blog!) decided to hold a teleconference in an intimate gathering of just fifty newspersons so there could be a very intercontinental (and very public) transfer of love and affection. TOI, I am sure, must have been at the head table. It is bad enough that an entire family is daft enough to do this. But it is worse to see it covered in such loving detail.
Last month, I finally decided that just because I was not going to get The Hindu in the mornings, there was no reason to torture myself with TOI. I changed my paper to Hindustan Times in a bid to read about politics, the nation, inflation, U.S. elections, local Mumbai rains and so on and so forth. While the quality of news is better, I am still up-to-date on the whole ‘Is Ash pregnant’ debate (At last count, she wasn’t). You just can’t escape Bollywood in Bombay papers.
The cumulative effect of all this is that Bollywood has permeated into other aspects of life too. The conscientious CEOs, bankers, ad men and sundry denizens of the city get their morning dose of Bollywood and before you know it, authorize ad campaigns with Amitabh advertising chocolates and Shah Rukh advertising powder. When the companies can’t afford the A list actors, they make do with the C list ones. I watched with amusement as primetime TV and the local newspaper covered a split between Arbaaz Khan and Malaika Arora (a third rate actor and his wife, an actress popular for her item numbers). It turned out to be a ‘hoax’ and a ‘well-done’ advertisement for some beauty product. The next day, the newspaper carried indulgent write-ups by various columnists on how it was a great gag. Seriously, do these people believe that anyone outside of Mumbai know who Arbaaz and Malaika are? Or even care whether they are splitting up?
With the IPL wave riding high, there has only been more of it. The game shows all seem to be populated with them. The quizmasters and judges are actors. The participants are often actors too. The FM channels hold Bollywood quizzes. The bill boards throw their faces at you.
I like Hindi movies. Infact, I am capable of watching even the terrible ones from the 90s where Karishma Kapoor had caterpillar eyebrows or Akshay Kumar used to wear baggy pants. Yet with an increasing awareness of and exposure to Bollywood, the good old romance of watching near-strangers play make-believe characters in make-believe movies fades rapidly. I hate having to watch out for the on-screen chemistry of Saif Ali Khan and Kareena Kapoor or wonder if Preity Zinta’s role was edited in order to give Rani Mukherji greater screen space. Shah Rukh’s cute prattle has turned into an annoying background noise now that it is heard in large doses. If only all of them would disappear and just fill the screen for three solid hours where it would be easy for me to pretend they are the girl next-door or the maniac murderer or the doting father-of-two or the evil scheming mother-in-law. After all, that was the purpose for which they were originally given an identity.

15-Jun-2008

Dasavatharam – The ten horrors or I want my money back

The problem with being Kamal Hassan is you eventually get consumed by your own ‘thinking man’ image. Kamal Hassan is undoubtedly a good actor. Some of his movies have you crying your heart out, like Mahanadhi. Or laughing your guts out like Michael Madana Kama Rajan. But then, he comes up with these grandiose plans to make an ‘intelligent’ movie and you are crushed by the collapsing reels of his ambition – Guna, Alavandan, Hey Ram. Dasavataram is as ambitious as he gets. And unfortunately, it falls as badly as it can get.

I can only think of one reason for this tendency of his to make such bloopers – a mega ego which probably tells him that he is up there in the list of the world’s intellectuals. Sure, he is intelligent. He has some very well thought-out views on a lot of topics. He probably reads much more than ninety percent of the Tamil film industry. Sadly, being a good actor or an intelligent person is not adequate criteria to write a good script or screenplay. Kamal fails to realise this. Like a third year, precocious, graduate student, eagerly grabbing his chance to voice his rapidly forming world views, Kamal throws idea upon idea at the audience, more to impress than to explore. One minute he hints at the dangers of biotechnology. Another minute he is urging us to live in harmony with the environment. The third he questions the existence of God. He talks about untouchables and about historical religious wars between Shaivaites and Vaishanvites. Also in the mire is a reference to Muslims being typecast as terrorists (Oh Boy! and he is the one to talk about typecasting. Watch out for a Japanese character called Yuka who is from Hiroshima, is a Kung fu goddess and has a brother who runs something like a Shaolin school)

It is not just the ideas that swing wildly. It is also the mood of the movie. The first fifteen minutes try to establish a serious tone. Then presumably, the director realises that the audience would probably find the whole thing too intense and the track switches to comedy. You grin uneasily when funny lines follow gruesome killings, wondering what to make of it. The movie can’t quite make up its mind till the end on whether it is supposed to be serious with funny thrown in or the other way around.

If Kamal the scriptwriter has bombed, what about Kamal the actor? After all, the movie is supposed to be a vehicle for his impressive range of emoting. This is probably where the plot could have been structured better. The ten roles that Kamal plays do not seem integral to the plot line. Some of them are totally irrelevant and seem to be there just to showcase Kamal the actor. Why did you need the Grandma or Avatar Singh (dancing with an aged Jayaprada, reminding you that it is not just the movies that are going to the dogs and you may as well take a moment to worry about politics)? The other roles could have been played by other actors. Kamal as George Bush looks as silly as Hrithik Roshan as the queen in Dhoom 2. Kamal as the villain, Christian Fletcher looks strangely out of proportion, with a large android head and a punier body. All that money spent on make-up would have been so much better spent on special effects. The scenes of the sea surging and cars and trees being tossed around look like the work of someone who has just completed the first level of Arena Multimedia’s courses.

The protagonist Govind is a role Kamal can sleepwalk through and he does exactly that. Balram Naidu, the RAW officer is the most impressive of them all, actually bringing a few chuckles. The dalit environmentalist also manages to convince us that it is not Kamal playing the role. Fundamentally though, a lack of clarity in the plot renders most of the characters superfluous and hence lessens your ability to admire the disguises or the voice modulations or even a surprising leap from the usual put-on accent Kamal uses when he speaks English. Govind is supposed to be a scientist, trying to prevent a deadly virus from falling into the wrong hands. Christian Fletcher is supposed to be working for the wrong hands. So, are the characters played by Kamal supposed to be aiding the destruction of the virus? Or are they proof of the fact that there is good and bad everywhere?

With even the characters played by Kamal floundering, there has been little focus on other roles. Leading to some downright annoying ones like that of Asin. Towards the end of the movie, you want to grab the bronze statue she holds for most part of the movie and hit her on the head to get her to shut up. Peripheral characters like Sethu, the greedy head of the biotech firm selling out to foreign hands are laughable. Why does the evil dealmaker run around for 15 minutes lugging a VIP-like suitcase straight from the 80s?

The bottomline is that Kamal, the scriptwriter has bitten off more than he can chew leading to Kamal, the actor getting a raw deal.

07-Jun-2008

Movie time

And I joined the list of women who watch the movie, Sex and the City on the first day of its release. It was unplanned and unintentional and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Not the movie itself. It was the same as the series – full of awesome clothes, shoes, bags and a thin storyline in there somewhere. But the crowd!

SoBo dresses up for its weekend movies. And if it is a movie about dressing up, then it is the closest to a religious experience they are likely to have. Being responsible for the tickets, I was the first to reach the foyer and I had to wait for a good fifteen minutes while various friends parked their cars. I watched women of every age and size parade in lovely heels, big bags and fancy clothes. Thin, young ones in pretty dresses and ballet flats. Plumper ones in scarves and silver stilettos (think they were supposed to make the fat calves look thinner). Bags large enough to conceal another person. Clutches too small to conceal anything.

Also, most of the audience was women. So they unabashedly clapped when Sam’s sexy neighbour made his appearance, oohed and aahed as Carrie paraded the wedding gowns of the movie’s key on-screen advertisements, cooed when Charlotte’s baby appeared and sighed when Miranda broke up with Steve (Yeah, all spoilers, but get perspective on what movie it is).

It was a trip down sorority house and vanity land, bundled into one.

While we are at movies, may as well add the other movie I watched, which I thoroughly did enjoy for the movie. Be Kind Rewind, was released surreptitiously in a few theatres in the suburbs. There was no fanfare about it, lest people actually saw it. Being one of the people who looked it up on rotten tomatoes and who liked its silly storyline and the fact it was made by Michel Gondry, the director of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, I decided to go for it and dragged a friend along.

Before the movie began, there was a short film called ‘Rewind’, shown as some sort of a platform for aspiring movie artistes. It was neat, well-told and held the thrill it was meant to.

That put the twenty-odd people in the theatre in a mood for a slightly off-beat movie. Be Kind Rewind was definitely that. The plotline revolves around a couple of guys (Jack Black, Mos Def) in a video rental store erasing all the tapes by mistake. They try to shoot their own versions of the movies to retain a faithful customer. From the time Jack Black conceives elaborate costumes for their plans to sabotage a power plant to the time they finish shooting the last of their ‘home’ videos, it is a laugh. If you are the type who can enjoy odd-ball humour, suspend logic and go with the flow, then this movie is definitely recommended. If it helps, seventeen of the twenty people in the theatre laughed out loud. I assume two were busy using the environs of the dark theatre. One is always the grouchy kind. Not a statistically valid sample size, but something!

05-Jun-2008

Domestic woes and silver linings

The last month has been a relentless attack from the patron saint of household work. It started of with the tube light in my bedroom conking off. The regular electrician was away on vacation, leading to dark nights, lit only by the gentle, soft glow of the bedside lamp. Pretty, but not enough to do anything other than reading. Then I finally decided to tackle the problem of the wood insects in my clothes cupboard and called in the pestbusters. Who sold me a can of some potent spray and assured me that in under an hour, I would have the cupboard rid of pests. A week later, I had established the schedule. I would spray the magic potion every morning. Every night, I would wonder if it had had any effect, as there wasn’t enough light to investigate. The next morning, I would be disappointed and go back to step one. In the process, my clothes lay bundled on the bed all day and I lay bundled in the sofa all night.

The washing machine’s outlet pipe also began to spring a gorgeous leak, with a torrential stream of water, soaking the passage carpet as it flowed gently upon the tiles. The refrigerator has had issues from day one, as the temperature control does not work. Usually once every fifteen days there is enough ice build up in the freezer to replace melting polar ice caps. Saturday went in defrosting the fridge by the imperfect, but definitely quick method of using a hammer to break down the ice from the freezer walls. However, patron saint had his revenge for using shortcuts. The ice that had remained in the freezer had all melted and soaked everything in and outside the fridge since the fridge door did not close properly on Sunday night.

Monday morning went in wiping clean every single bottle in the fridge and most things outside on the floor. Lunch break on Monday went in having the washing machine repairman fix the leak with a generous application of fevibond. The next Saturday, the neighbourhood electrician fixed the bedroom light, and the hall light which had died out by then.

The pest control problem however looks serious. The remaining insects in the cupboard seem to have developed immunity to the spray. I suspect a genetically modified second generation has already developed. I, on the other hand, am being slowly poisoned from repeated exposure to the spray. Tracking down the pestbuster for a second round of consultation took several, progressively angry calls. Predictably the service man has informed me that the wood is damaged and I have to pay lots to set things right.

The funny thing is when I first began life as a sole householder; I was worried grocery shopping and washing clothes would take over my weekends. Reality had largely been put at bay on account of my parents moving in with me for two long stretches, where they went about fixing all appliances, taking delivery of furniture, getting most electrical and plumbing work done and establishing a routine. How I laugh at my naïve self from then.

This Saturday is the day when I empty every single wooden cupboard, shelf and bedside table of its contents and let the professionals take over. I am not looking forward to it at all, but hopefully if things work out, I should get some respite from domestic work. I am going to ignore the fact that the light in my refrigerator stopped working last week.

I am just tired and I want to spend a Saturday morning either shopping for shoes or going on a long drive somewhere.

On a happier note, the patron saint of books has been kind to me. After many years of unsuccessfully struggling to read Pico Iyer’s ‘Videonights in Kathmandu ’, a friend lent me Iyer’s ‘Falling off the map’. Suddenly I could get his wit, sarcasm and unfailing ability to spot the soul of a place. I also began on the list of must-read sci-fi books a friend had recommended. Deep into Ender’s game, which is a fairly frightening book given that its protagonist starts as a six year old becoming a soldier. In between these, I flipped through Chetan Bhagat’s latest, a Commando comic and Sarnath Banerjee’s Corridor (Decent, Good and Decent). And managed to buy the Thirukural (finally!) and a translation of contemporary Tamil poetry published by Katha Poet’s Cafe (pretty good).