Sunday, January 29, 2006

Tera naam kya hai... basanti?

Rang De Basanti seems to have captured the attention of the desi blogosphere and the Indian media like nothing else before it. Oh wait, a small correction. Before RDB, there was IIPM. But as Jerry would quip, not that there is anything wrong with it. At last notice, a simple search on Blogger Search for "Rang De Basanti" turns up 2,234 posts while a similar search on Technorati returns 1,257 results. In fact, Rang De Basanti has been in the top 15 list of searches on Technorati for the last couple of days and is in the top 10 currently.

What is in this movie that has captured our attention? From what I saw on Saturday, it is certainly not difficult to understand why. First reason - the whole movie has a young tone to it, even the parts that are in sepia. Second reason - the wonderful soundtrack, which some people say is out of place, but the majority has taken to. Personally I found the music refreshing with the director making, what has to be the most novel use, of the ubiquitous songs, in recent times. Having mentioned these reasons, I do have to add that there is one more, something that I find hard to justify and that is the whole business of patriotism.

Most people see Rang De Basanti as the Swadesh of 2006. While the latter deals with the pangs of remorse that first generation NRIs seem to harbor at the bottom of their heart - an almost guilty sense of helplessness at not being able to do their bit for the progress of their homeland, Rang De Basanti looks at a similar, but more cynical mindset through the eyes of the college educated 20 somethings.

It can be safely said that the kind of characters represented in RDB do exist in real life. The first half of the movie is as realistic as it gets in India's universities. Each one of us has known a DJ, Sukhi, Karan, Aslam and Sonia at one point in some form or the other. But as the second half progresses, it becomes increasingly difficult to envision a scenario where individuals would react the same way as these five (and Laxman) do. And that is where RDB moves from a potential Swadesh emulator to being just another celluloid fantasy. However any half baked student of cinema would tell you that celluloid fantasy is good too, for fantasies were the building blocks of cinema as we know it. So, Rakeysh Mehra should not be offended if one labels RDB thus. But one senses that there is an intention to convey a message here. What is this message? And so the confusion begins.

As mentioned earlier, the first half of the movie hints at a clean entertainer in the Dil Chatha Hai mold, a growing up movie of sorts. Make no mistake, RDB is a growing up movie. But what those youngsters grow up to be leaves a lot to be desired. One wonders if the ends aimed at by these young 20 somethings is a direct contradiction of the means adopted. The message sounds like one that a hardened pick pocket uses to justify his acts - as a deterrent for others seeking the same path. I don't want to say anything more lest it be viewed as a plot spoiler and one wouldn't want that. Sadly this "message" is viewed as a USP for this movie and that is a shame. For there are a lot of positives in this movie and the "message" is certainly not one of them.

But why should a movie proselytize at all? Why can't a movie be just for entertainment, as one half of this movie seems to be. Maybe it is the resident cynic in me talking, but I think that the longevity of any movie's message is going to be slightly longer than the time spent on the journey back home from the theatre. And one can safely bet that while crimes seem to be inspired by movie plots, there has never been an incident where a movie's plotline has inspired something positive. Wait, that is just what my mom told me 5 years ago when she found I had played hookey from class to watch Anaconda.

So next time I read some review of RDB (you'd think I'd stay away, but at the rate at which people seem to be churning reviews, I don't think I can escape without reading another one) that tells me how the movie brought a lump to the author's throat, I'd say "Ok. me too" (ya it did raise goosebumps too, but that was for the nod to Georgie boy's jaunt in a fighter plane). But if someone writes that this movie will make people raise up and do something, I'd ask the authors for a blood sample to check what they are high on. All those who you see on TV carping on patriotism are not going to give a crap about the same if and when you ask them an hour later. Ofcourse there are exceptions, as usual. But the exceptions are certainly in the miniscule minority.

As for me, I got home last evening and as I got thinking, I decided that I liked the other Basanti movie much better. It had a two leading men, one a brooding man who was "straight face" funny, and another who was a lovable goof. A motor mouth of a heroine and a charismatic villian contributed as well. And it was way funnier and it was not certainly not preachy. Personally, the whole "susaad", angrez ke zamaane" and "Kitne aadmi the" thing was funnier than the Westerner feigning ignorance of the local language and the chemistry of the lead characters certainly seemed to be much better and ergo much more entertaining.

And before you lynch me, you have to understand that I watch movies for entertainment. Don't get me wrong, RDB is certainly miles ahead of the borderline porno flicks churned out by the Bhatt camp and what not. And unlike others, I am not stupid enough to let the story within a story confuse me. Which is why I will gladly watch RDB again.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Waiting for the Mahatma - The Ramblings of the Confused and the Nervous

It is almost 1: 30 PM when I start putting fingertips to keyboard. Soon the doorbell sounds. I jump up in warm anticipation of correspondence from the Promised Land. But I am mostly disappointed, with the Mahatma in Burgundy (MiB) carrying in his hands, only a few letters from financial institutions. He nonchalantly wipes his nose and his sweaty forehead with the back of his palm and hands the letters to me. I take them with barely disguised disgust and gently slam the door on his face. Walking back dejectedly to my room, I continue replying to the day's e-mails.

There is not much to reply to, though. Most of the introductory emails sent to prospective graduate advisors have been ignored. But there is still hope. One gentleman from Ohio who tells me that, I have to apply for financial aid with the application that accompanies the application, the same one that I have already enclosed with the packet. That means two things, one positive and the other negative - the positive being that at least, I don't have to genuflect anymore to the professors at Ohio. The negative is that the uncertainty of aid at Ohio will last until I set foot on Athens, if I choose to do so.

The wait continues as I continue typing. Waiting for the Mahatma has never been more tedious. He is scheduled to visit my abode once again at 5:00 PM or thereabouts. But will I see some positive outcomes after this wait? The answer to that question, only the 200 odd minutes between now and then, shall tell. Like all Indians in recent times, I have only hope in my side. But then hope is the only thing that I can afford right now to keep the fire in my stomach burning.

I stop day-dreaming and go back to typing. I have to send a couple of mails (with my resume attached) to the companies in response to their ads in the "Opportunities" section of the day's "The Hindu". This is quite a change from the heady days in the months of October and November, when that particular section of the good old "Hindu paper" served as time-pass between 2:30 and 3:00 PM. But of late, uncertainty, Dubya and self doubt have combined to crash-land my soaring plane back to the runway from where it took off last June. And the people, whom I have asked to clarify this niggling "drop box" phenomenon have not been much forthcoming. Though I know its only two days since I asked them, it seems like an eternity. At this point, I take a break from regular programming to issue an appeal to all those people who are sailing in my own boat. If you are ever in distress or in doubt regarding anything and everything, please do not play "pass the parcel". As Edgar Hoover once said - "The buck stops here", so shall you say - "All my worries stop with me". Rather than flood mailing lists with the same plaintive emails, take the initiative and try to find answers yourself.

I know you are asking me - "So, why are you telling us this?" Well, I suggest you take a closer look at the title. Do you get it now? You should not have moved past that ominous title. But now that you have started and proceeded, I suggest you read on. So where were we? Yes, my self doubt! Don't worry. I think I might have overstayed my welcome here.

Wait, there rings that bell again. It's not the familiar MiB, but a Mahatma in "mufti". He brings warm or rather lukewarm tidings. Another I-20 and this time it is from a university in Michigan. So the situation gets rosier. But then the issue now is the visa, isn't it? Will I or will I not make it to the Promised Land? Did "Bungling Buffalo" Bill take time off from his dalliances and do something about the student visa just before he cleaned up his office prior to his departure? Or has Dubya removed student visas from the counter list just like he has done with H1Bs?

Well, the answer to all those questions is a tentative "I don't know!" So the next 100 days are definitely going to be crucial. In the meantime, every night I dream of spending New Year's Eve 2001 in the sun soaked beaches of Florida or in the midst of the teeming boisterous masses at Times Square.

Wow, it is almost 5 PM. As it happens every day, the Mahatma has disappointed me once more. I resign myself to watching a humorous take on life in The Promised Land as it unfolds on the "Friends" re-runs in Star World - just about the only bright spot in my otherwise dull existence on the 3rd rock from the Sun.

P.S: This is an edited/polished account of the afternoons, typically spent in biting my nails, waiting for the postman (the aforementioned MiB) deliver our mail for the day. This piece was born as an email to a list that I am part of and this is the first time that I am posting it on a blog or community. On hindsight, it is interesting to note that the MiB finally did bear good news one day and I actually ended up in Ohio for a Masters on a full scholarship.

(Cross-posted as an opinion peice in the Culture section on

Monday, January 23, 2006

Desicritics is live is now live. When asked for an introductory post, I scrambled to find something suitable to write about, but realized I was not going to make it at all. But then I chanced upon what is probably one of the earliest "bloggable" materials that I had written. It is probably even my first effort, but I seem to remember a round-up of the VB series (all that i can remember is that one BC Lara won the man of the series) that I wrote. Can't find that particular one anywhere.

So anyways, I put it up on the site, though it does not exactly go with the composition of the community and the its aims. The editors were kind enough to ignore this aspect and post it as it is. Anyways, this first post is up here now. And I am cross-posting here (at least a small excerpt) too.

Coming soon..., a new community aspiring to be a leading source of online news and opinion with a South Asian focus. I was invited to contribute and I ardently hope that I can meet expectations with a post every now and then. I am still deciding upon the nature of my contribution, but it does promise to be a challenge that I hope to be match up to, adequately .

What the FUCK!

Yes, I used that four letter word - Fuck... Fuck, I used it again. Fuck..AGAIN! I hope you are sane enough to exclaim FUCK and hopefully much more when you read the headline that I have underlined (in red) in the screenshot above.

And then as you click that headline and go here to read what promises to be an overhelming verdict, you find that the headline is nowhere on the page. Instead all you find is reader responses to this peice. I hope you cause a few ears to bleed and point this out to all those poor souls whose ear drums you punched out with your language.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Cricket's biggest rivalry

Screenshot courtesy: ESPN

Wow! And to think that I always thought that the Ashes was cricket's best known rivalry ;)

(P.S: Guess the significance of the post was not very clear. My bad. I posted it not because of the headline, but because of the location of the headline. This was on ESPN's US homepage and finding cricket mentioned there was a pleasant surprise. In the time I have been here, only once before have I seen this first hand. That was a couple of years ago, when Sportscenter's Top 10 Plays of the Day featured Chaminda Vass plucking a catch out of nowhere on the ropes, a shot that would have gone for six otherwise. However, I have to mention here that with the amount of TV access that I have had in the past few years, it is possible that I have missed some other references, though I never fail to watch Sportscenter when possible.)

Opening for India

Jaime Alter's piece on India's sorry trend of making the most unlikely of batsmen open, kinda set me off. A couple of weeks ago, when the Indian team to Pakistan was to be announced, I wondered whether the possible exclusion of Gambhir from the squad was going to be another notch in the "drop them like a hot brick" attitude that seems to have plagued the Indian selectors. And using Cricinfo's Statsguru as a reference, I came up with this analysis.

I considered the career averages of the seven regular openers (including Sehwag) and the number of tests they played before being dropped for good (Wasim Jaffer has not technically made a comeback). The inference I hoped to make was that any struggling batsman was bound to succeed given a long run, something that openers in India haven't been having for a long time now. I certainly could make that reference, as you can see, with Sehwag having the best record. And then Multan '04 came to mind and then I realised that Sehwag's 55 plus average is also the result of a few huge scores, something that he has not had in sometime now (well I certainly hope that this 96 at Lahore is built up to something more substantial, since India needs it). Which is when I decided to take Sehwag out of the equation and look at the career progression of the rest of the six regular openers that India has had in the recent past. And what I came up with, was this.

So we see that every single opener had been the middle of a lean run when they were dropped like hot coal, as the drop in their averages shows. So is their dropping justified? Well, I still don't think so. And that is because I believe in the inference that I made when I started this analysis.

And if my inference was true, then what else would justify this trend? I suspect that that dreaded word - technique, might be used. Ramesh for one was said to possess a less than perfect technique. And recently Gambhir has been talked about in similar breath. But then Sehwag is the best proof to debunk the technique theories. So is it hand to eye co-ordination that's the clinching factor? That Sehwag has and IMHO Ramesh had more than a fair bit of that as well. So, is it that other quality that has been thrown about, i.e., attitude? Chopra seems to be a level headed guy (his writing demonstrates that) , so that may not be the only reason.

So, I am unable to pinpoint a reason for this trend. But wait, let us see. I can probably see one more reason. We have a long history of accommodating people just because we have to. Most of our cricketers do not have proper exit strategies chalked out. So we end up accommodating them on the team way past their expiry date, sometimes to enable them reach personal milestones and in others, just because we think we should let them take that decision when they feel like. And in some other cases, the reasons are more political.

Speaking of politics, I think Ganguly missed an important play in what seems to be his endgame, a play that could have earned him a few brownie points from everyone concerned. I feel that Ganguly could have backed himself on this pitch and put his name forward for the opening slot. Or maybe he did and Dravid did the unthinkable, i.e., refuse Ganguly's request. But regardless of what happened. I hope we DON'T lean about what transpired, at least not until the kingpins of the Indian top order call it a day. For, regardless of our posturing, intrigue and deceit are never an Indian's strong point. The truth (or something like that) always leaks out.

(Cross-posted on Different Strokes, Cricinfo's group blog that I contribute to. Please do visit me there too and read posts by more people and I think this post pales in comparison to any other post on Different Strokes.)

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Indian cricket's Mexican stand-off

This is an old story, a story that started almost five years ago and will make some people see red, for it seems to paint a picture of colonialism perhaps. But I see more to it, a sorry story soaked in media callousness and irresponsibility. Half way through reading what I am about to say, I anticipate that you will ask me the standard "Why now?" question. Well, I guess I have more unsuspecting victims who can silently suffer my ranting, more than the one or two that used to read earlier. Also I believe strongly in what I have to say.

Anyways, fresh out of engineering college, I was then waiting everyday with sweaty palms, waiting for the Mahatma in maroon to bring in warm tidings about the various applications that I had put in. With nothing to do and having won at both the Knock-out and the Tournament modes in Need For Speed II (Special Edition), I found myself reading more about cricket than I had in the past. And that was when Australia landed in India for what is now considered a turning point in Indian cricket.

Soon, I started reading more and more about the Australian team's preparation. So much that I started expecting to see babes in bikinis and surfer dudes off the surf at Beasant Nagar. At one point of time, the sidebar in the cricket section of a major Indian website sported links to columns by at least three (then current) Aussie cricketers not to mention regular interviews and columns from former Aussie cricketers who, as expected turned on the heat against the Indians. Of course, that was to be expected, given that the Australians were then in the midst of a record run of victories (before flying out of Kolkata with their tails between their legs). In contrast, the Indian repartees (if you want to call them that) came from the likes of the current manager of the team who sought to raise the Aussie captain on a high pedestal that others had not put him on. But then Laxman (and Dravid) happened. Soon after that, Harbhajan decided to join in the fun. And the world turned on its head, in spite of the negativity thrown at the Indian team by its own media outlets (by the opposition in proxy).

Well, that was in 2001. So this is where you get to ask the one question that I have allowed you to ask. The answer is perhaps Indian media’s worst kept secret. Since the Indian media talks very little sports other than cricket, it is definitely fair to pin the blame on the whole media than just the cricket specific outlets only. You see, I don’t think any media outlet in India cares about the game. Otherwise why would they go and talk to a Pakistani about India’s chances. And why would they highlight a Aussie cricketer’s visit to a slum while simultaneously claim (quite illogically, I should add) that Indian cricketers don’t do something similar (or raise money for the Tsunami victims!)? So finally I come to the point of this rant.

From the time Australia landed in 2001, till this day, a couple of hours before Dravid and Inzy go out to toss at the Qaddafi Stadium, Indian media seems to get the most explosive of statements from every Sarfaraz, Javed and Khan. That’s not to say that the Singhs, the Lele’s and the More’s have been spared from an opportunity to insert a footwear less appendage into their mouths, though in his defense, I should say that Mr. Lele became a star performer in this category much earlier.

So, why am I riled what a lot of people (outside the media) term minor? Because I think it is not minor. If it was minor, then you would see the likes of Sidhu write columns in papers such as the Dawn and we would hear Kapil Dev speak about how strange it is that Shoaib Akhtar has had only one series when he has bowled more than 100 overs (a stat that I read somewhere). I think the Indian media is being disloyal and irresponsible by repeating comments by washed out ex-cricketers who are not Indian. And they seem to do more disservice by pushing the mics in front of our own men and forcing them to react to words that they rather ignore.

If I were to play Devil’s Advocate, I’d argue that one of the key qualities that international cricketers should possess would be the ability to get into a zone and push distractions like the media out of their mind once they step onto the turf. But my defense would go along these lines - Is it too much to ask of the media to get behind their own team and support them? Why should the media take perverse interest out of making a cricketer’s job any more difficult than it is? Why would a Mid Day or a Hindustan Times go to a Sarfaraz Nawaz for quotes every time India lands in Pakistan? Do we expect cricketers and officials from other countries to turn against their own just like we do?

Oh, I get it. It’s the money. Bold text sells newsprint, just like breasts sell Bollywood movies these days. All through these past few years, I see this same vicious cycle unfolding – the media opens up a Pandora Box by breaking news about something and carping about it like nobody’s business. Then the Indian public jumps on the cricketer concerned. The cricketer loses whatever sanity he must have had and goes on the defensive. Then the public slowly start losing interest. The next thing you know, the media turns all preachy and starts hoping that in the best interests of Indian cricket, the events of the preceding days could be avoided in the future. But wait! Didn’t the media fuel the flames with the inflammatory commentary? All that is conveniently forgotten. So at the end of it all, the poor cricketer (who, by then has started feeling that the worst indiscretion that he ever committed was to start playing cricket in the first place) is in the dumps. The public, by now has lost interest and the media has earned its few cents.

So has Indian cricket gained anything from all this? From where I am looking, it doesn’t seem so. It just seems like every time Indian cricket is on the verge of something big, we find that the media, cricketers and the public participating in their own version of the Mexican standoff. And in few of these occasions, one of the nervous parties pulls the trigger and then we have mayhem. So who is to blame? All three, I would say. But the party who has the best chance of defusing the situation and guarding against history repeating itself would be the media. But does the media realize this? More importantly, does the media want to do something to change this status quo? Sadly its seems that this will continue forever and that, my friends is a shame. Because for all that we Indians talk about patriotism, we seem to forget that while cheering for the opposition is defined as sportsmanship, dissing the home team is not exactly in sync with the concept of patriotism in a country that wants you to respect your national colors so much that till recently, you were forbidden by law to fly your own flag without “official permission”.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Yum Yum - a Murder by Music (A four act celluloid experiment)

Act I

Time: The afternoon of 18th of December, 2005
Location: An apartment in Jersey City
Key Protagonist: The hero
Background prop: Abhishek Bachchan grooving in that wannabe "Right here, Right now" video in some random desi cable channel playing on the 30" Sony Vega
Scene: The hero watches the video with interest, and suddenly notices the gorgeous Pri'nka Chops and the funky rhythm from those hip hop fakers, Vishal and Shekhar.


Act II

: The next two weeks
(*1st note to cameraman: Do rapid cuts to show passage of time. This unit cannot afford an editor*)
Location: Everywhere - in a car, in the office, in the living room, in the kitchen, in the bedroom and in the shower
(* 2nd note to cameraman: Please focus on upper torso face only. This is a family picture and will not be available in MMS video format*)

Scene: The hero is listening to both versions of the "Right here Right now" number everyday on car stereo, lap top and on his desktop. One particular instance the song is played 6 times in a row before the hero figures out that that in the groovy hip hop version, Abi Jr. throws "heys" at "playah" Ritesh D, Big Pop (Big B???) Pri'nka Chops and Chuckmaster Sippy too. The hero is afflicted with a bad attack of ear worms in the process.

(*1st note to sound guy: Add jarring background noise at this point*)
(*2nd note to cameraman: Alternate the camera between focus and out of focus modes*)



: Late morning on the 3rd of January 2006
Location: The comments section of a well known blog
Scene: Still affected by the earworm, the hero leaves a Season's Greeting in response to the aforementioned blogger's New Year post.

Seasons Greetings....
*windy windy one time*
Have a wonderful year ahead!!
*windy windy two times*


Act IV
Time: Late night on the 4th of January 2006
Location: The comments section of the same blog

Scene 1: The blogger replies to the comment from our hero enquiring if his was a PJ and if so, could he please explain.


Scene 2: Hero replies thus:
[*Insert random blogger here, preferably played by someone capable of being the high priestess of templates and the kookiest character in the known blogosphere and beyond*]:

Right here right now,
hai kushi ka sama;
(Windy windy one time)
Right here right now,
ho gayi swarg jahaan,
(Windy windy two times)


Scene 3: Above mentioned blogger while "holding tummy and laughing away to glory" corrects our hero thus,

Right here right now
Hai khushi ka samaa
(Wind your body one time ..)
Right here right now
Hum hai is pal jahaan
(Wind your body two time ..)
Bhool jaao, muskuraao
Reh na jaaye baat baaki


Scene 4: Flashback to three years previously..... Hero sitting in front of a desktop (in his erstwhile role as a researcher in the intense field of production planning) doing his best imitation of Alka Yagnik (??) in a crowded research lab.

Mujhse mohabat ka ikrar karta,

kash koi ladka mujhe pyaar karta...
kash koi ladka mujhe pyaar karta;

(*Insert canned laughter as screen fades*)

(*Insert handwritten note that reads "The beginning....")

*Shoot Wrap*

[Disclaimer: Names, characters, places, and incidents featured in/on this post are either the product of the blogger's imagination (well somewhat) or used fictitiously (somewhat again). Any resemblence to actual persons (living or dead), events, institutions, or locales, without satiric intent, is coincidental (God promise!).]

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