Oct 29, 2009

Michael Caine on being an actor

Lovely quote by Sir Michael Caine (read here)
"I became a movie actor. The difference between a movie star and a movie actor is that a movie star looks at a script and says how can I change this to suit me and a movie actor says how can I change me to suit this."

Oct 21, 2009

A quizzing use case for Google Wave?

Got on to the surf board and lined up at the edge of the ocean, but not quite sure what to do - seems like a common Google Wave experience for people I know. Perhaps there's one thing we could do - remote quizzing.

It's never been easy to do a live/interactive quiz for people scattered across various locations. Setting up tele-conferences is not an option, which left conferencing on IM, never a stable and pleasant experience. Wave could well be the answer.

With a group of well-behaved participants (how hard will that be to find at a quiz :-)), a moderator should be able to conduct a quiz with people taking turns to answer. Media files can easily be shared, whether on Wave or elsewhere. Wave seems a natural environment to collaborate like this.

Oct 5, 2009

An interview in 'The Hindu' with Rekha Bhardwaj

Cross-posted on the Vishal blog

The amazingly talented Rekha Bhardwaj, who recently performed (riffed?) in the Rajasthan International Folk Festival, speaks of her singing, Vishal Bhardwaj's direction, singing "Namak", and how Vishal romanticises the fact that he took up music just to woo her in college. The full interview here.

An extract, in which she talks about singing "Namak" (from Omkara):

You know, I was not expected to sing the song. Vishal has this habit of singing his every composition to me. When ‘Namak’ was being composed he sang the first couple of lines to me. As always I insisted on some corrections and gave it a more folksy touch. As I sang to him, he said you are the right choice for the song. I agreed, but during the recording I realised what I had got into, because the antaras were too naughty for my comfort. Then Gulzar sahib came to my rescue, and I somehow sailed through.

Sep 19, 2009

From New York to New Guinea

Seems to me that, there are two ends to the spectrum of generating new ideas. In one, there's the cliched lone scientist messing about in a dingy underground lab under a bulb, trying to uncover the light. In the other, the innovator is in the middle of a teeming bazaar of smells and currents, a place full of distractions and opinions, where sometimes, there's just too much light.

It's like species evolving in New Guinea and New York. The former allows the relative isolation that allows nature to fork off into completely new directions in the presence of unconventional constraints . In the latter, species are constantly intermingling with each other, smashing into each other and producing new forms in response to more common constraints.

So the New Guinea innovation has more time to blossom, fewer people to nip it in the bud by being critical. But it could be less likely to survive when the more inhabited parts of Earth come visiting. New York innovations get brutally crushed down, but this happens early. The good ones sometimes cross-breed with other ideas from other people, and the ones that survive are hardy organisms, because they just have had to escape being crushed under so many feet.

However, New Guinean ideas are likely to be truly radical, while New Yorker ideas might just make a quick buck on the sidewalk to take advantage of the next flavour of the week. Ideas from New Guinea tend to remain unnoticed unless they are discovered by dashing explorers, while New Yorker ideas can be on TV and in your email.

Books on innovation suggest ideas from the melting pot of New York are more likely to succeed (or perhaps, more likely to fail early). That shouldn't mean there is no place for the life-forms of the remote island of New Guinea, but not everyone should be doing that, for the post-Victorian world has a lot less patience.

However, do most people expect innovations to come out of New Guinea, because it's so exotic? Most scientists would find it easier to live in New Guinea (as long as the pay cheque and the internet bandwidth is assured!), but fewer light bulbs have come out of New Guinea than New York. But if you are looking for a bird of paradise, head down to Oceania.

In the end, it could be comparing apples to oranges: scientists need New Guinea while innovators need New York. The first step to the right island would be to know who we really are.

Gandhi the sceptic

Suggested itself to me during today's BC session:
Why was M.K.Gandhi particularly sceptical during April 1930?
He insisted on taking everything with a pinch of salt.

Sep 12, 2009

Out of Balance

Out of Balance

The phone rang. Once again, she gave it her most cold-blooded stare. It continued to ring.

"Answer it, S, answer it - just so that you can give that bastard what he deserves."

This time she agreed with her mind, so she pressed "Accept".

"Hi". His voice didn't have its usual confidence, which was a good sign - he had better be terrified of her right now.

She said nothing.

"Sweetsie? are you there? hello?"

Let him roast, that dungball.

"Sups - are you there?", he asked anxiously. She was loving every second of it.

She spoke carefully: "you are a slimy liar, you know that?"

"Yes, I know."

"No, you don't. I waited and waited outside the wedding hall. Where everyone could ask me: your fiance has not come?"

"I was tied up." His voice seemed to quiver.

"With what? Rope? Piano wire? You get here, and I'll tie you up, you see."

Despite himself, he seemed to chuckle at that. That should have maddened her even more. But it didn't.

She began to giggle and felt the angry mood wash away in its wake.

"You idiot", she continued, "have you any idea how I felt there, standing alone in that crowd? And you couldn't even call and let me know."

He started to say something, but didn't.

"I felt so miserable. Where were you? Don't ever do that to me, hmm?"

"I'm sorry Sweets". His voice had gained some of its characteristic solidity. "I didn't mean to. Some people had come and I had to attend to them. Business stuff. You wouldn't know."

"That's what you keep saying. Everytime, business this and business that. When will you stop and begin paying some attention to me? When I'm a hundred?"

"I didn't mean to keep you waiting like that, Sweetsie."

"But that's all you do, all the time, you do."

A white silence signaled the beginning of a truce.

"Listen, Sups - I just have about 5 minutes left on this - I'm almost out of balance. I don't want to hear you cry. Or shout."

The anger rose again at this - again, he was ordering her about - it was always about him.

"Your stupid connection - can't you change..."

He cut her mid-way.

"Really, sweets - just talk. C'mon babes, don't cry. Don't yell at me."

He sounded sincere. And sweet. He hadn't been like that in a long while.

So she talked to him (she could shout at him tomorrow?) about the wedding, how the horse licked the wedding cake (he laughed), how over-dressed the bride was (her cousin, she never liked her much), how lovely the moon looked (how do we get it that way on our day?).

At that point, the call ended abruptly.

The last thing she heard could just have been static, but (she thought) it was a peck on the cheek.

"Dumbass", she couldn't help thinking. "Wait till he gets here". She smiled as she wiped a tear away with the edge of her new sari.

"Very touching", sniggered one of the three men standing over him, who took the phone away from his bleeding ear.

"I would have just smoked a final cigarette", laughed the big bearded man behind, who continued to point the gun at him.

"That's because you don't have a girlfriend", said the first man before ducking the bearded man's lunge.

"Enough!" shouted the third man at them. He beckoned to him with a knife.

"Pity - looks like the girl's going to miss you. Get up."

Just like the last three hours, he had no choice but to obey. He didn't notice that as he got up, the phone fell to the ground and knocked itself out.

Sep 5, 2009

Next in line of succession: The glint in the milkman's eye

India loves its dynasties, doesn't it? Monarch or Politician, it doesn't matter. What does is lineage and the 'name'. This state of affairs always reminds me of the Blackadder episode 'Dish and Dishonesty' from the third edition of that superb series. In this, Edmund Blackadder (a remarkably caustic Rowan Atkinson) is butler to the dippy Prince Regent George (a remarkably asinine Hugh Laurie).

William Pitt, The Younger has just became Prime Minister and is determined to bring legislation to provide "a right royal kick up the Prince's backside". Trouble is, the PM is a mere schoolboy elected in the middle of his exams. Soon, both Blackadder (E) & Pitt (P) find themselves plotting to win a Parliamentary seat, which provides the following scene and dialogues (the PM has come to meet the Prince Regent (G), and as usual Blackadder has to intervene in the interests of maintaining sanity):

At Prince's House

E: Your Highness; Pitt the Younger.
G: Why, hello there, young sabre, m'lad! I say, here's one: I've a shiny sixpence here and for the clever fellow who can tell me which hand it's in.
(Pitt just stares.)
G: Hmm? Oh, school, school! On half hols, is it? Yeah, I bet you can't wait to get back and get that bat in your hand and give those balls a good walloping, eh?
E: Mr. Pitt is the Prime Minister, sir.
G: Oh, go on! Is he? What, young Snotty here?
P: I'd rather have a runny nose than a runny brain.
G: Eh?
E: Umm, excuse me, Prime Minister, but we do have some lovely jelly in the pantry, I don't know if you'd be interested at all...?
P: Don't patronise me, you lower middle class yobbo! (aside) What flavour is it?
E: Blackcurrant.
P: eeeeuuuuuaaaghhhh!

Pleasantries aside, they get down to the dirty work of accusing each other:
P: You will regret this, gentlemen. You think you can thwart my plans to bank- rupt the Prince by fixing the Dunny-on-the-Wold bye-election, but you will be thrashed! I intend to put up my own brother as a candidate against you.

E: Oh, and which Pitt would this be: Pitt the Toddler? Pitt the Embryo? Pitt the Glint in the Milkman's Eye?
So, sometimes, to know who will be the next CM of a state, you just have to ask the milkman.

Script text from here.

Sep 4, 2009

Steam funk

Some weeks ago, I was sitting in the evening bus back home when it began to rain. The conditions were sufficiently heavy for condensation to appear on the window panes. As is inevitable when presented with a damp canvas, doodles began to materialise, literally out of thick air.

This reminded me of two movie sequences that used the drawing board of the window-pane (not considering shower doors or other glass panes merely providing 'steamy' vistas). One is in Kill Bill: Vol. 1, where a suddenly serious Hattori Hanzo, confronted by 'The Bride', writes the name of their arch-enemy. The condensation doesn't drip, perhaps suggesting a fog created by means other than water or just multiple takes. It's a little too perfectly etched, though.

The second, however, is more naturally crooked. This is the opening scene of a film. The first shot opens on a blurred background, bluish in colour. A dull noise accompanies the frame, which you realise is the sound of rain. The Bombay rain. A hand reaches out behind what turns out to be glass, and there is cackling.

The hand proceeds to draw a scraggly line to our left, and begins to fill out a rectangle. Followed by diagonals and two more. lines. It's a horoscope. Of Mumbai's. This a police van, and inside it are Sadik Chikna and the Inspectors Pandit & Purohit.

Thus brilliantly, in a haze of condensed air, in the jungle of Mumbai, does "Maqbool" unveil.

Aug 21, 2009

Flu Attack!

The world and its uncle, the uncle's extra-terrestrial abductor, the abductor's milkman have all seen Kaminey. Except for a little pocket in Pune and Bombay. But I'm used to waiting for Vishal Bhardwaj's music and movies to land up here. Especially the music, which I always have to hunt for days to find. So patience is something I have.

But Kaminey seems to have been extraordinarily well-distributed, which means the usual fist-shaking Bollyphiles in the USA have for once seen a Vishal film as early as any one else on the mainland.

Even a patient Vishal fan has his boundaries. Here's a paean to the wait:

with a million apologies to Gulzar-saab, Vishal, and to readers/listeners

Flu Attack!

ke kaminaa kaminaa aayaa re...
ke kaminaa kaminaa aayaa re... flu'tack

ke kaminaa kaminaa aayaa re... flu'tack
dhan te nan kartaa aayaa re... flu'tack

ke k-k-kaminaa aayaa re,
##gun##-van letaa aayaa re,
dhan dhan kartaa galiyo.n se,
ab tak yahaa.n na chaayaa re
flu'tack, flu'tack...

pikchar dikhe bareily mei.n,
par na saje hai pune mei.n (kaminaa aayaa re...)
dhai baje hai amroli mei.n,
par na saje kahin pune mei.n
kaan mei.n gulzaar ka gaanaa re

flu'tack, flu'tack,
flu'tack, dhan te nan on the ground
flu'tack, dhan te nan on the ground

ginti na karnaa din ke aane ka
awaraa ghume gaalii hoto.n ka
ye swine flu hamesha daraayegaa
na bhaagegaa, sab ko bhagaayegaa

##bore## hue hai.n khabro.n se
gilahari khaaye maTar, ke khaayaa, ke khaayaa,
ke khaayaa aur rulaayaa re,
flu'tack, flu'tack...

jitnaa bhi ruuTh-roye.n thoDaa hai
kiiDon ki mastii ka natiijaa hai
khaasi aur ##'tishoo## to aayegaa
zeharila hai ya sirf sardii aam-saa

darwaazon ko khulne do
dafaa karo ye aandhi
ye tuufan ke mausam ko
flu'tack, flu'tack...

ke k-k-kaminaa aayaa re,
##gun##-van letaa aayaa re,
dhan dhan kartaa galiyo.n se,
ab tak yahaa.n na chaayaa re

ye ishq nahi aasaa.n
aji flu ka khatraa hai
rumaal pehan jaanaa
yeh mask ka hauvvaa hai

ke pardaah uTh jaaye
kaminaa dikh jaaye
kaminaa dikh jaaye
ke pardaah uTh jaaye...


Sparked off while talking to George, whose personal Kaminey gush is up here (I'm yet to read it)
With no insensitivity implied to people affected by swine flu in the city :-)

Aug 3, 2009

"Questionable Intelligence" - a Quiz!

It's that time of the year when I do a quiz in full contravention of the Geneva Convention. But hopefully, it will be fun.

Anand will be doing a Literature Quiz, the first for a BCQC Open.

Read this link for all the details.

Jul 1, 2009

Monsoon Mania

This year, the monsoons in Pune have been part of a massive tease. It's not like those old films where the weary peasant looks up to see a sky reflect the barrenness of his unploughed field. Instead, the sky is full of dark clouds with just one catch: they aren't ready to spill the beans yet.

A set of more celibate clouds couldn't be glimpsed - they could easily trounce a bunch of champion-quality austere monks at being masters of their domain. While the Great Indian Monsoon has presumably touched Maharashtra (though in Bombay, it is as muted as Maria Sharapova with laryngitis), there's hardly been a drop in Pune. It is starting to get scary.

With the situation getting desparate, monsoon yagnas have broken out in parts of the country. Here's another idea, so madcap, it might just work. Most TV reality shows are unreal: for them, 'reality' occurs when people cry on screen while cameras zoom into their skin pores. Dunno if India has talent, but it sure has judges in packs-of-three in abundance. Reality is usually much more boring than all this, and TV is roundly criticised for denying its existence. But here's a chance for TV to be both meaningful and real, unlike the 'Rakhi' Picture Horror Show, which is quite the opposite. I refer, of course, to the Great Mian Tansen Manhunt.

The great Tansen, it is told, could bring water down in big coloured plastic buckets full of pet animals if he sung the raag Megh Malhar. If only a modern version could be unearthed? Is it not worth millions to find this person, even if s/he could only promise water every two days? (thus outperforming most municipal corporations.)

That my mind is functioning like an Indian TV executive can be blamed on the skies above. Out, out, damned spots. But it's not going to be hilarious in a couple of weeks. In fact, it'll be downright scary when I'm staring up the barrel, waiting for a drop.

Jun 30, 2009

What's in a name? Count for yourself

With the inauguration of yet another Rajiv Gandhi-named thingy, a look at the overall thingy leaderboard:

Rajiv Gandhi: 138
Chhatrapati Shivaji: 137
M.K.Gandhi: 68
Shakespeare: 1

With this, Rajiv Gandhi has taken a slender lead in the standings. With the Congress set to enjoy a full five year term at the Centre, he is likely to further strengthen his lead.

In the interest of keeping the drama in the race alive, certain people request you to vote for the Shiv Sena-BJP alliance in Maharashtra.

Suggested supplementary reading:
* A New Indian Express article on Gandhi, Gandhi everywhere,
* Atanu Dey on this practice: 1, 2

Given this, one wonders if Mayawati's double-handed backhand of playing 'statue' is just another variant of this game of iconography. If so, she seems to get greater flak for merely not mastering the nuances of the game.

Growing big in Kolkata

Prof. Soumen Chakrabarti is a faculty member at IIT Bombay's Computer Science department (and one of the top researchers in his field in the world). Like several professors in such institutes, he gets emails from wannabe interns/project seekers. Perhaps some are of the 'academic hunger' type, but a few are just looking for CV embellishments & recommendations for higher studies.

Prof. Chakrabarti's webpage carries a prominent notice stating:

At the moment I am not offering short-term projects to students not enrolled in a regular program at IIT Bombay.
Despite that, he seems to receive correspondence hoping for the opposite, some of which is painfully delightful. He has a sample on his blog (here), under the heading: "Can't read but will apply". Such as:
[...]I am an International Rifle Shooter of India and I was a member of an INDIAN AIR RIFLE SHOOTING TEAM FOR YEAR 2006. I am a presently studding in a 7th semester of B.E. Information Technology at LLLL DDDD Engineering College, AAAA, GGGG. [...] I am sending my Resume with this. I am sure that you would kindly cooperate and oblige.
Soumen Chakrabarti comments:
How could I possibly refuse from the wrong end of a Remington?
It gets even more interesting. Quoting from the entry:
Then there is in-your-face dishonesty:
"I have gone through your research activities given on your homepage. I am looking for a challenging opportunity for summer internship for the period of May-July 2007."

When I pointed out that anyone reading my homepage would notice my statement (that I do not take external students), I got a response like this:
"it's fine if u donot want to work with me ,but such words don't suit a proff of ur standards"

Clearly there is no dearth of entitlement, just good sense.

The exchanges seem to have become more hostile in recent times, with Soumen Chakrabarti receiving email that criticises him for either his hiring policy or for making these instances public (see end of the post).

He ends with this statement that really pinches:

It's hard to overstress the liability of a nation of a billion people out of which 700 million are functionally illiterate and the rest have no wish to follow instructions, even when they are asking for a favor.
These accounts are both hilarious and depressing. We need to satisfy the demand for higher-quality education, get more good professors teaching, have fewer people attempting to bull-doze their way into cosmetic achievements on paper, and for someone to tell these people that the simplest way to stand out is to use the bits of grey matter bestowed by nature on them in a fit of pure chance.

Link to the post here

Jun 23, 2009

I'm anal-ytical like that

Each morning, for the last couple of years, I have made a little health log in a journal about the previous day. This record comprises of any colds or niggles, exercise, weather, amount of sleep, medicines taken, and ends with a 'discomfort' & 'mood' rating (on a 1-5 scale).

(It sounds unbelievably anal-retentive, but I've always been a list maker: of normal things like books read & movies watched, and of stranger things like 'coincidences'.)

Harish, knowing of such heavy logging, pointed me to this Wired article about how many people seem to be doing this, and are using the Web to record & share such information. I began noting this info so as to better understand what influences my health and to spot & prepare for seasonal & other factors. I have a large mass of data now, but perhaps not a lot of insights.

Still, I continue to do so largely because I think I like recording information. Leading a trivia-monger's life smooths away any objections to pointlessness - why, someday, all of this may come in handy.

I'd really like to get my hands on some of the tools mentioned in the article - when, with each step I take, a bean counter wriggles in ecstacy.

Jun 21, 2009

Movie title mash-up

(alias ''मेरे pleasure gardenमें तुम्हारा क्या काम है?")
  1. The loneliness of the lambii race kaa ghodaa
  2. Phir wohi groundhog day laaya hoon
  3. Virginia Woolf ko gussa kyon aata hai
  4. Daag: The Towering Inferno
  5. Dilwale Private Ryan le jayenge
  6. Do aankhen 12 angry men
  7. Indian Jones and the dil ek mandir
  8. har kar jeetne walon ko Rocky kehte hain
  9. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Naam hai Shahenshah
  10. Madhumati, I shrunk the kids
  11. Suraj ka seventh seal
  12. DEEWAR-E-aam
  13. Terminator 2: Qayamat se Qayamat Tak
  14. Indiana Jones and the aakhrii raastaa
  15. Alien vs. Jaani Dushman
  16. The Curious Case of Tirchi Topiwale
  17. Star Wars: Episode V - The Mughal-e-Azam Strikes Back
  18. Rosemary's jigar ka tukdaa
  19. Reservoir Kaminey
  20. Close Encounters on the Teesri Manzil
  21. Choti si encounter
  22. Chandni Chowk to Chinatown
  23. Chalti ka naam Desire
  24. No Country for Shaukeens
  25. Mohan Joshi goes to Washington
  26. English babu American beauty
  27. Romancing the Patthar ke Sanam
  28. There will be khoon ki nadiyaan
  29. Butch Cassidy and the sabse bada khiladi
  30. Amelie Poulain ki Ajeeb Dastaan
  31. Lock, Stock, and Double Cross: ek dhokha
  32. Roop ki Raani The Lion King
  33. Snow White and the Saat Hindustani
  34. All quiet under the do gaz zameen
  35. The pati, the patni, the woh

Jun 19, 2009

Totalitarianism rules football

Doubtlessly an exaggeration, but it should make democrats peevish that a totalitarian state like North Korea (which we are told is constantly on the verge of starvation) qualifies for the World Cup (their second-ever qualification), and we are not even in the picture.

With recent T20 cups of sorrow running over, this might be the best time for a sport-minded dictator to throw in his hat and fire a few rounds en route to New Delhi. If he promises to whip into place a couple of World Cup victories & qualifications, he might find a supportive populace behind him.

The remaining 60% don't care any way.

Jun 18, 2009

Sanu ik pal chain na aave

Nineties vibrato Kumar Sanu pulls out the hamaare zamaane me.n rant in this interview:
I don't like the way music is treated today. I do not want to associate myself to any kind of music tampering. People don't know what music means these days. Singers only shout and then they become famous and their songs become hits.
I, for one, don't miss his voice and his arguments are easy to refute with Sturgeon's Law. But it underline how difficult the playback singing industry must be. Singers are at the mercy of music directors and usually, only one person is needed for a song. A significant Long Tail must exist, with "winners" i.e. popular singers or singers associated with current stars, taking the bulk of assignments. The 70s-80s were a prime example.

However, things seem to be different now. Many new singers (some from the endless carousel of TV 'talent hunts') have received prominence in the last few years, especially thanks to music directors like A.R.Rahman, S-E-L, and recently Amit Trivedi. The stranglehold of one-man-one-voice has dimmed with current singers unable to command the heights of the Kishore-Lata-Asha-Rafi era.

Not such a bad thing.

Jun 15, 2009

Have you recently met a four?

I'm a metaphor,
sort of like a simile,
only much subtler.

I get compared a lot,
usually to an analogy,
even when I'm not.

I've been a stubbled moon,
or a rarely travelled road,
and even a lead balloon.

I'm very quiet & awkward.
Mixing me badly leaves a taste
like chalk and two peas of a pod.

Like a stair descending nude,
I can make no sense.
I'm a misunderstood dude.

But I like who I am,
I'm so unlike anyone else,
Reminiscent of a lighthouse on an oasis in the shape of a desert palm.

Grind your language

It's a strange confluence of coincidences that sees two directors with fascinating filmographies have a release each in August with very similar kinds of titles. If Quentin Tarantino sends a shiver down Spelling Bee champions with Inglourious Basterds, Vishal Bhardwaj's Kaminey will strike a double blow on behalf of the verbally challenged.

Jun 14, 2009

Madame et Mademoiselle

"In addition to my other numerous acquaintances, I have one more intimate confidant. My depression is the most faithful mistress I have known - no wonder, then, that I return the love."
:: Soren Kierkegaard
Miss Happiness used to be called Paro, during a phase of your life. You want her - desperately. But does she want you? Sometimes, you think you're all that she thinks of. But at other times, she seems to be flirting with others. You could murder her for that. You consider hurting yourself to see if she'd bleed - but you're not sure. Then she grazes your arm, and you melt at her touch.

While Lady Depression's first name is Chandramukhi. You are always welcome to her arms, whether incinerating in drink or merely crumbling apart in discontentment. She makes no demands of you. Her lap is soothing and unconditional.

The lady keeps an open door to all - everyone knows that. The miss is very finicky and no one knows her mind. Do you pick the loyal lady or the mercurial missy?

Milady is never judgemental. She's seen your likes before. They come to her in all kinds of states, and some never leave. For your sake, she even tells you to swallow the astringent pill and seek the miss out. Go, she says, you deserve better than my shoulder. Her selflessness endears her further to you. She knows the folds of her saree are not just a gentle embrace, but a softly tightening noose.

Mademoiselle is demanding. You have to court her all the time."Will you treat me well?", she wants to know. "Will you change once you have me?" Even: "Tell me why should I come with you?". You thought it was your unchallenged right to hold her. "Why?" - what sort of a question was that? This blasphemous thought has never once entered your self-important head. You can't offer even a fragment of an answer, so you storm away in arrogance. "You think I can't live without you?", you sneer.

You couldn't. You can't even bear seeing others with girls like her.

So you went looking for the assured warmth of the Lady, one who never turned away a heart in need of sympathy. With her, you feel you spend a lot of time within yourself. She's become your best friend, the one that never stopped listening.

I don't know how this ends. Perhaps you listen to the Lady and go away looking for the miss, who could have grown up into a practical missus. Would you be able to convince your former flame to put out the burning inside?

Or perhaps, you lie in a corner of the Lady's house, and smoulder away, like yesterday's fire. She looks after you the best she can, but she has many knocking at the door, and too many like you to assuage.

My best guess? You'll end up in the middle: too chastened to go seek Miss Happiness; too scared of being another tick on the blamesheet of Lady Depression.

Once again, fittingly, the paralysis of choice.

Jun 11, 2009

Nonsense worth millions

The whole "Millionth word in English" nonsense finally came to an end with the rather boring 'choice' of "Web 2.0" as _the_ word. The friendly guys at the Language Log tear into the whole affair with gusto.

One can only shudder at the shrieking hype cycle in the Indian news media had "Jai Ho" been chosen. Joy Ho!

Jun 10, 2009

The CAT purrs online

About four-and-some years ago, I had hoped the Common Aptitude Test conducted by the IIMs would become a computer-based test. Finally, this year, the exam will be taken by applicants using a keyboard and mouse over a 10 day period.

This is a step in the right direction, but I would still like it to go all the way, like the GRE: no specific time periods for the exam, only a valid score needed at the time of applying to the IIMs. The reasons outlined in that old post still hold, I think.

Fellow BC quizzer Aniket doesn't believe this is such a good idea. I hope for the sake of participants like him that the organisers get the logistics right and don't end up falling between two stools.

Jun 9, 2009

A certain calming order has returned to the tennis world. One might even say some larks have rediscovered the wing, as did the snail the thorn, while God takes up the comfy armchair in heaven, and Browning may even be fooled into thinking the world's not such a bad place after all.

I refer, of course, to Roger Federer nailing his place on top of the mantelpiece with the win at Roland Garros. The win may even set his career carefree, with very little left to prove to himself.

He may even stop uncorking the tap of tears that has become such a feature of post-final presentations. Talk about climate change.

There remains the minor trifle of not having beaten Rafael Nadal at Paris, but I wouldn't be too unhappy if his career ended like that. It could be his 99.94, giving us something to debate for the rest of lives. No one should be that perfect.


Switching sports for second, I'm very happy that Rohit Sharma has moved to the top of the Indian batting order. He answers my prayer for a modern-day batsman who can oozes grace like an Arab oil pipeline from the 1960s. Batting first means his playing time is more predictable. Who else can you really watch?


Back to the clay. I had missed Fernando Gonzalez's astonishing backside play, and found a video online. It is simply the most crazy thing I have ever seen on a tennis court (or on its sidelines). Here is the human eraser:

Jun 5, 2009

Go on - surprise me

The entire basis of Miss Marple's detective-ity was that she had seen it all before. So one wonders: is the ability to be surprised one of the first casualties of age?

In many cases, higher salaries tied to 'experience' are essentially paid out because your employee has a higher likelihood of having seen 'it' before than the green salad you hired last month. If life was highly random, this might not work. But established industries work on continuously reducing (if not eliminating) surprises, so the whole basis of certain 'career ladders' is based on the promise of तजुर्बा. In comparison, kids constantly meet new things, until someday, where this plateaus out and the 'surprise' value of events diminishes. Which is perhaps why creative thinking methods try to force surprise on people, through constraints or unexpected situations or trying to map analogies - to push you into unseen mental paths rather than the well-trodden path with enough engine oil on it.

So would a service that injected controlled amounts of surprise into your life be useful to you? Not of The Game proportions, but little things that you had never experienced before or never thought you would see, forcing you to do a double take once in a while? Calibrated, not fully random amounts.

Of course, an alternative argument could be that the older you get the more the intensity of the surprise, because 'I thought I had seen it all, but there you go'.

Jun 4, 2009

Shakespeare nil, Chennai Corporation one

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Karunanidhi's birthdays certainly have something for everyone. If last year it was the prospect of cheaper idli-vadai-dosai, this year it's free gold rings, courtesy of the Chennai Corporation (at tax-payers' cost, as Amit Varma points out).

However, all that glitters ain't aurum, for, as the Mayor says:

"We have formed a committee comprising of Tamil teachers to verify if the baby's name is really in Tamil and only those names certified by the teachers to be in pure Tamil will be given the gold rings."
Unlike Scrabble, there's no mention of an official dictionary that everyone can uniformly refer to. Perhaps a website to check the Tamil-ness of one's name?

One new mother takes the safe way out:

"I've selected the name Kanimozhi, the Chief Minister's daughter's name because she's a very progressive and educated woman," said Bharathi Rani.
But mothers of bonny boys beware: assuming the committee will abide by letter & spirit of the announcement, then they may well rule out a bunch of familiar names. So steer clear of Karunanidhi, Dayanidhi, and Kalanidhi, the words in whose names are clearly of Sanskrit derivation.

Jun 2, 2009

Number games

Let's assume India's voting percentages in its general elections is about 50%. Let there exist a country half of India's population such that its voters register almost 100% voting in its elections, i.e. greater than India's turnout.

Would that still make us the world's largest democracy?

Jun 1, 2009


That year the hogs will fly,
not just when the Black wins the White
but when the astonishing happens
and the Pink loses the Orange.

:: from Les Prophecies Retrospectif

When I got home last night to find out Rafael Nadal had lost at Roland Garros, I wanted to know why I hadn't felt the shock. Why didn't this register on the Richter Scale? No wonder North Korea's getting away with a bomb or two.

Though Nadal's form had been iffy and his retrieval under the weather, not even seers with 20/20 vision knew this was coming. It's a tribute to the man that he's taken it on the chin. To use Nadal's Tarzan-esque English, "he indeed play bad".

No one really knows what to do with a Nadal-less second week at the French. The pressure may just have doubled on Federer (if so, it is showing - as I write this, he's teetering 2 sets down to Tommy Haas despite not losing a single point on serve until the first set tiebreaker). I have a feeling a certain strange-haired Scotsman will open his Grand Slam score on a surface that has much in common with his hair.

If somehow Federer were to haul himself up to win this one, it would be worthy of a year in which porcine aviation made its mark. Federer holding the French, Nadal holding Wimbledon. What next? Cristiano Ronaldo elected Professor of Modesty at the University of Lisbon? Stan Laurel berating Oliver Hardy for getting them into a mess? Sherlock Holmes pleading Dr. Watson to "tell me, how did you do it"?

A.R.Rahman - Live in Pune

Despite the intimidating presence of Lata Mangeshkar (because of whom Rahman said everyone on stage was shivering and going off-tune!) in the audience, Pune's first ever Rahman concert met most expectations and exceeded some. The sequence was largely similar to the earlier (Kozhikode) concert in the "Jai Ho" tour. Asad Khan opened with his brilliant sitar piece from SDM's Mausam & Escape, backed by guitars from the likes of Rashid Ali. Rahman emerged next to sing the unheralded Jaage Hain (Guru). Interestingly, they went for Sivaji's Athiradi - a song many in this crowd understandably had not heard of, which was also true of Style a little later.

The newer movie releases in SDM, Delhi 6, & Jaane Tu... were best represented on the concert listing. But the classics got their share of voice too. Hariharan & Sadhna Sargam sang "Roja..." with the versatile Hariharan doing his bag of improvisational tricks. One of the two highlights of the evening was listening to Hariharan & Roopkumar Rathod sing Dheemi Dheemi, Tu Hi Re & Khaamosh Raat, with Rahman's superb piano playing. An album with alternative variations to such melodies would be a great idea. This semi-unplugged detour got better with them performing one of my personal favourites: Sarfaroshi ki Tamanna.

The other highlight was Neeti Mohan's Mayya Mayya. She sang, she danced, she blew everyone's mind. An astonishing performance, it's worth going a distance to watch. Phew.

A lady (very Puneri in her cynicism) kept saying Rahman's only going to sing three-four songs, oh, what a ripoff. Well, he's a music director who occasionally sings, doesn't he? Plus he isn't the best singer going around, but he can evoke sincerity & passion. Which is what he did with the likes of Khwaja mere Khwaja, Humma Humma, Dil Se, and Rehna Tu. Though I was mighty disappointed not to see the fingerboard out on show.

The female singers (Tanvi, Neeti Mohan, the lady who sung Dreams on Fire, and more) were good. Sadly, none of them were introduced, as was the case with the terrific instrumentalists. Was hoping for a Naveen solo, especially given his superb interludes. Stephan Devassy's playing for Masakalli was wonderful too. But the man on the harmonium and piano was terrific - would have loved to have seen more Rahman playing than Rahman singing.

The only blots on the evening were a couple of pestilential RJs from Radio Mirchi (the male one was in danger of being lynched, some unnecessary speech-making, and some poor camerawork & online editing. Hardly any instrumental close-ups or energy there. The show did feature local group The Wandering Souls during Aziim-o-shaan.

Great production values and with no unnecessary gimmicks, the show closed out with Jai Ho! and Vande Mataram (now the Rahman Bhairavi/mangalam, I suppose).

May 31, 2009

May, it be

* This blog finished seven years this month. Clearly, in the cyclical nature of things, the frequency of updates on this blog hit an all-time low in the last 12 months. In honour of all the silence, there's no annual strange post unlike these efforts in preceding years. Perhaps next year.

* Gems in the Backyard is a lovely article by Sudarshan, fresh after the release of his first book (a translation of a Hindi bestseller, which you should definitely give a shot if you're a 'pulp' fan).

* Attending A.R.Rahman's first performance in Pune later today. Trouble is: I've got a cold that promises to rival Idi Amin in its unpredictable nastiness. Will it rain on the parade? (hopefully not literally - seat neighbours had better bring an umbrella).

* May is the month of sporting finales & quizzing galas.

May 13, 2009

BCQC Open Quizzes this Sunday

The BCQC presents two open quizzes in Pune on this Sunday (17th May). Both are general quizzes this time. The afternoon quiz is by Niranjan, whose quizzes have always been top of my personal charts (no, saying otherwise will not affect my performance reviews) - they are a guaranteed riot. The morning quizmasters are not bad either, especially in the strange-things-happen-to-them department.

Looking forward to both of them. If you want to drop by, here're all the details.

Apr 26, 2009

The middle path

The most common election day talking point was how we pointed to our index finger just before pressing someone's button and they asked for our digitus impudicus instead. In addition to this digital revolution, the marking of our franchise status was a long vertical line as opposed to the heavy dot of the past. Why this change, I do not know, but it did make for interesting post-poll conversations.

"Did you vote?", they would ask. You could conveniently show them the middle finger in response. It was even better if they hadn't voted, for the gesture could serve as double entendre.

Given that polling percentage in Pune was reported to be 40%, perhaps it is time for a "say छी! or "Don't mess with Texas" kind of in-your-face campaign. In मराठी, we could say: "vote करा, बोट दाखवा".2

Notes 1: I am not a Simpson or Ekalavya; I do possess a fifth finger which also happens to be a thumb.
2: meaning "vote and show (the) finger"

Apr 20, 2009


I join in. I listen. The line's weak. They join in one by one. Crackle. Splutter. Beeps.
Then he talks.
I wait. It's coming.
'This is the agenda. This is why we are here.'
I cringe. I cower. I wince. But it is inevitable.
'The main reason', he says, 'is so that'
as I run for the bomb shelter
'we are all on the same page.'

I would not want to be on even the same book shelf.

Apr 19, 2009

Move over Susan Sarandon

Shouldn't the upcoming TV show Rakhi ka Swayamvar actually be titled "The Rakhi Horror Picture Show"?

The Social Cripple

The social cripple arrives with all the grace of a chair missing its fourth leg. His awkwardness is ugly but not remarkable enough. No one would bother putting him beside the Elephant Man's tent to earn a quick buck off his display. So the first act of the cripple is to vanish into the wallpaper, but in doing so, trips over one of his left feet.

At this point, he makes his first mistake: he attempts insouciant laughter. It comes out as the gurgle of a disgruntled cistern. Somewhere in the room, a distinguished looking lady briefly turns her head in his direction, but gets back to her companion's twinkling chatter. But that distant action is sufficient to tug the carpet from under our cripple's cowering toes. To his eyes (which are too scared to look up at reality), the entire room is staring at him, agape in horror. "Who is this leper?", they demand in silent scream. "Did *you* invite him?", they seem to accuse each other.

The pretty girl who invited him has breezed over in her delightful mien. "Glad you could come". All the cripple's blood vessels begin to smash against his cheeks. Aware that he would begin snorting blood if the social pressure wasn't instantly released, our man makes the next mistake. He produces his underplayed smile. Underplaying is cool. Controlled. Suave. In reality, the cripple's smile comes out like a glare from the Count Dracula school of etiquette.

He watches as his hostess immediately puts the distance of several guests between them, and sighs. Why must he suffer so? They have parking spaces for the physically handicapped; guide dogs that cheerfully escort their masters to bungee jumps; gesture-controlled systems for Dr. Strangelove. But what about the socially challenged? Who will give us a sympathetic pat on the head, he thinks. And yes, unlike the others, he does want your sympathy.

Lost in such thought, the cripple fails to recognise the obnoxious one arrive beside him. He often runs into the obnoxious one because social gatherings had a way of spacing light years between themselves and these two. The cripple has his dignity and would not simply fall into the clutches of the creep just because he was the last man in society. But the social invalid's hints of boredom are as much of a washout as a fresh shower in the Atacama. The parasite clings on until dinner is served. The cripple wonders: what did that interaction cost him? Does everyone at the other end of the room think we are best buddies?

In the buffet line, he finds himself just behind an old classmate. They used to be close but then the chap got married and the ties withered away. Largely because he has no idea how to talk to someone's wife. Do you talk about exhibition sales? about home loans? implications of quantum string theories on Dirac's equations? He feels resentful against the education system that leaves him so severely incapacitated. Shouldn't the universities of the land teach useful things instead of chartered accountancy or COBOL or triple integrals? Meanwhile, the friend greets him with exuberance, and demands his phone number. Another social neuron in the cripple's circuitry blows past the blood-brain barrier. In unconscious reaction, he pulls out his own phone for support and presses a few buttons. "You keep your number in there as well?" chortles the friend. The wife, a keen curator of the husband's social network, plops a chicken leg on her plate in response.

Sitting by himself in a soothingly unlit corner, the least comfortable man in a two-mile radius ponders on the many detonations on the social minefield. In future, his strategic defence would consist of lying without remorse, to build a protective moat of excuses to ward off any invitation to any gathering of more than one. The first step towards that glorious future would be to dispose of plate and tissue without running into any friendly fire, and melt away like the Invisible Man on a New Moon Day during a game of Blindman's Buff.

As he walks down out of the side gate, he congratulates himself on the only success of the evening: all due to his supreme skills in making himself scarce. That too before the dancing & party games began. Then a car honks and he finds himself staring into the headlights of a stylish automobile. The car sidles up. The rear window goes down and he sees her, nay Her, looking out with a pleasant smile. "Going home? C'mon, I'll give you a lift".

She steamrolls his protestations and assures him that his company was worth more than he imagined. His two left feet were trying to stamp each other out, but somehow, he hop-skip-and-jumps his way into the seat beside her.

As soon as he sinks into the plush upholstery, he is a man transformed. It may have been the sharing of her secret - "these dos are such a nuisance, aren't they? I always long to get away. Don't you?" or just the cool air unsullied by the presence of unwanted Homo Sapiens in natty outfits. Ah, he speaks as confidently as a ice-skater who had just landed on his feet despite three Axel Paulsen jumps in zero gravity. Whether it was Sartre or the Kabaddi World Series, the evolution of slang in 90s rap or the Raaga Shivaranjani, the now-socially valid soars and dives, like a seagull having discovered Richard Bach in a corner of the local library.

As they draw outside his house, she holds her hand out and thanks him for his 'cerebral company'; how she ought to keep going to parties if only to meet rare birds like him. The car speeds off doing an insignificant 100 kmph as he becomes aware of the need to sit down.

Well, that hadn't been so bad, had it? Perhaps, if he had the tutelage of those like his most recent (and undoubtedly admiring) companion, he might one day surf the societal waves with a nonchalant glass of wine in one hand and a nary a worry in the other.

At that point, I'd like to have reported that our man slept the sleep of content, with fair angels strumming golden harps in accompaniment to his honeyed dreams. It might have been so, had he not performed that routine task of undressing in preparing for bed. For, it comes to his notice that his trouser zip was already undone.

And then began that bottomless vortex of excoriating social autopsy - how long...? did they..., what did he...?, when did I...? and so on.

There, for now, pauses the boring adventure of the social cripple.

Apr 7, 2009

What's your excuse for writing badly?

Seth Godin (I began reading the world's most famous marketer thanks to a tribal named Harish) wrote a very interesting post titled Why aren't you (really) good at graphic design?. He argued that even non-designers could become reasonably good at designs because both the tools and the know-how are available at no charge and one could, with a modicum of effort, be good enough to put together things like better powerpoints and webpages (or quizzes, says this blogger).

I'd like to ask a far more basic question to people that I encounter: Why are you so awful at writing? This isn't a call for people to write like Wodehouse or Rushdie, but a plea for decent, everyday writing that helps communicate your thoughts without distraction. That's all. And this isn't very hard to achieve.

And this isn't the rant of a language-Nazi who wants to impose pedantic norms. Over-flowery text will be as annoying as 'disemvoweled' utterances. Language evolves and good for it. But when you write 'dat is gud- u r abslutly rite. i appreciate ur thot' in a public forum such as an email to many or a blog post, it tells me that you're too sloppy to make sure your message will be received with the optimal attention. That kind of text has its place and time. Casualness is not a substitute for informality.

If you're reading this, then you'd be a writer: of emails, of status reports, of tweets, of scraps. Do you not know that we judge you by the word-trail you leave behind? How can you not want to be better at something you do each hour?

Largely, I attribute this to an ignorance or even willful blindness to the possibilities of elegance. (This from a person who is genetically awkward.) What prevents people from attempting to be concise yet meaningful, sharp yet elegant, rapid yet thoughtful? What's your excuse then?

Godin points to a Squidoo page of resources for design. Writing is so well-studied that I wouldn't know where to begin - so the easiest reference for anyone to have a look at would be Strunk and White's little book. That's pretty much all that's needed, one thinks.

Apr 4, 2009

Suresh Kalmadi and the cylinders

A flier with Suresh Kalmadi's election promises for Pune landed up with the newspaper. Largely on expected lines (Kalmadi has always taken the sports-global city track) Two items caught my eye. The first states his intention to "get the Olympics to Pune in 2020" which made me wonder if it was not possible to develop Pune sensibly without linking it to ambitious sporting events. The second promised to "make Pune a 'cylinder-free' city".

Unless I'm really out of touch with local realities, I wonder where this issue came from. First, I couldn't understand what kind of cylinder menace was implied here. Was this to bring piped gas to Pune as has been implemented in Thane? Is this really a major issue in Pune, as opposed to the usual roads/pollution/traffic/housing tracks that are far from being solved problems?

Mar 29, 2009

Twilight झोन

It is after-afterhours, and the ever-deepening sponge of despair that is Dev.D is out looking for more spirit to swab his lesions. He runs into a Beelzebub-like Chunni, who beckons him into a limbo hidden to the world by steel shutters. While he sits at the table, lights go off except for a spotlight. Under which a man, dressed in a three-piece suit, stands in front of a wall with LOADING PLEASE WAIT splashed on it. He peels his coat off, then pauses, almost as if he was waiting for permission, but no, he's just waiting for the music to catch up.

When it does, this dancer begins to move, as if imbued with the ghosts of Marceau and Jackson. He is rooted, but his limbs move geometrically, tracing staccato phrases in the air. Inter-cut camera circling Dev and demon. Another man joins the spotlight, they cross, and like synchronised swimmers before the sync-point, take up their places. Then they go, cutting into each other's space with mesmerising finesse.

Danny Boyle's credit swirls and eddies round Dev at a lower frame rate, as the gravelly voice makes way for a sitar. Dev goes off to drown - literally - his blood and his tears, in a place no one would see. He re-surfaces. There are now three players, lithe and fluid.

As the beats turn urgent, Dev rises and has a Snorricam bursting out of his chest. As the world around him staggers to stay on its feet, he is the fulcrum of our vision. In two ticks, he has stumbled into yet another unfamiliar world. This one's pink.

Pardesi from Dev.D - a superbly psychedelic experience.

Mar 28, 2009

How to ask Vishal Bhardwaj a question

Why, you stand up abruptly and shout out in garbled English before he can get away!

Last week, I attended a seminar on Cinema and Literature jointly organised by the Film & Television Institute of India (FTII) in Pune and the Film Writers Association. Here's the precursor post about that.

Which brings us back to the titular figure of this post. The last time I'd seen Vishal, he was much less celebrated as a film-maker and chose to remain silent. Here, he began with expressing his trepidation at speaking in front of legends such as Mani Kaul and Prof. U.R.Ananthamurthy, and didn't even want to look in the direction of his 'gardener' Gulzar. He then proceeded to shake off his nervousness with a couple of 'shers' and spoke of how Maqbool came about. He began by describing the days before Maachis in the land where 'mediocrity is worshipped', and how he tried gaining producers' attention by trying to pass of his original songs as copies of Pakistani songs (incredulous laughter sweeps the auditorium).

Heeding Gulzar's prophesy that Vishal would be a film-maker someday, he decided to try his hand at making films, partly with a view to employing himself as a music director (since his career seemed to be ending!). After Makdee (a story that was partly inspired from childhood memories of Enid Blyton), he wanted to make a film on the underworld ("because I like guns, crimes, and chases"), but felt most films ended in a gangwar, and lacked depth. Plus, what do you do that Ram Gopal Varma hadn't? Serendipitously, Anurag Kashyap had pointed him to Kurosawa's "Throne of Blood" and Alaap Mazgaonkar (who plays 'Mughal-e-Azam' in Makdee) had given him a book of stories containing Macbeth. Until then, he subscribed to the common view that 'literature' was high-brow and had no pulp or entertainment to offer. But here was a drama that gripped him.

He then read the full Macbeth ("Shakespeare language ek taraf, English duusri taraf") cover to cover. He and Abbas Tyrewala began to write, not encumbered by convention of what was allowed and what wasn't ("we were blessed with ignorance"). Making the witches into cops or turning Lady Macbeth into Abbaji's mistress happened. Naseeruddin Shah loved the script and gave him the confidence this would work, volunteering to play one of the cops instead of Abbaji as originally intended.

There was also a reference to an earlier FWA seminar where Javed Akhtar said: "In Maqbool, Shakespeare failed you; in Omkara, you failed Shakespeare" (according to this account, JA and others had torn into Omkara). Vishal ended by quoting Prof. U.R.Ananthamurthy's speech on the 1st day where the Jnanpith awardee talked about the difference in adapting just the 'structure' as opposed to 'texture'. Vishal said he had been paying more attention to structure than texture (though this blogger finds texture and ambience to be Vishal's key strength) and now had the confidence to write his own originals.

After reciting a parting couplet, he sat down. Govind Nihalani, chairing the session, said Vishal was off to catch a flight, so may be we had time for just one question. No one stirred (most sessions had gone question-less, a pity), so he was about to wish Vishal goodbye, when I decided to shoot my hand up.

There were many things to ask (that after disregarding Yasho's suggestion to yell "Kaminey!" out loud) but I settled for one on Vishal's other main writing source. "Could you tell us a little about your work with Ruskin Bond, and we've heard you're working with him again". Nihalani was about to brush me off for being a tad too late, but Vishal was kind enough to answer. He spoke of how he liked the story for The Blue Umbrella, but couldn't see how it would make a film of more than 30 minutes. He then hit upon the idea of the red umbrella, met Ruskin Bond who seemed to like the idea, and made the film. And yes, he was working on a few ideas with Bond (he mentioned a couple of names, but sadly, I couldn't quite figure them out - did he say "A Season of Ghosts"?).

And that was that.

A Times of India interview on the sidelines

Update: 5 Apr 2009
Ajay Bhramatmaj has a transcript of Vishal's speech here (the previous link is in Devanaagarii, here's a Roman script version).

Cross posted on our Vishal blog

Show and Tell: notes from a seminar on "Cinema and Literature"

Last week, I (along with a couple of fellow itinerants) attended a seminar on Cinema and Literature jointly organised by the Film & Television Institute of India (FTII) in Pune and the Film Writers Association (a trade union mainly of Bollywood writers). The idea was interesting: to explore the relationships between cinema and literature (sometimes symbiotic, sometimes parasitic). There was also the appealing prospect of watching (gawking?) and listening to people this blogger is quite a fan of.

The opening ceremony saw bodies spilling out of the little FTII auditorium (we had to uncomfortably stand/squat/sit for about 4 hours that day). The principal reason for the interest was perhaps the presence of both Gulzar and Javed Akhtar. True to perception, the former's speech contained the romance of wordplay as well as some pithy observations from film & lit history, while the latter made some strident points without mincing words. Akhtar spoke of the cinema-lit connection involving a love triangle: that of the audience, which affected what was adapted and how it was received. Refering to the ghastly 80s when mainstream Hindi films hit their nadir, he drew a connection between "sarkailo khaTiyaa" and "sarkailo masjid". Gulzar, on the other hand, asked whether it was necessary to be so aware of the audience all the time, and preferred films & literature to dance their duet. He asked an interesting question: how would cinema be if sound hadn't crept in? Would people still come looking to literature, now that words were not needed?

A common reference point throughout the two days was Saratchandra's Devdas, both in terms of number of adaptations, as well as its recency. Gulzar (or was it JA?) refered to it by pointing out that once upon a time Devdas would have been the lowest common denominator of its times! In the session on novel adaptations, Anurag Kashyap didn't bother trying to justify his choices too much - he described how he went about it. In general, there were two kinds of speakers: 'theorists' (usually writers, who spent a lot of time bemoaning adaptations and musing on its fickle nature) and 'practitioners' who seemed to be 'doing' things, trying them out, failing, learning, and moving on. It was the second category that produced the most engaging talks, and Kashyap was one of them.

A writer who spoke wonderfully, and had contrarian views to Kashyap, was Mamta Kalia. But in all, the sessions on novels, short stories and folklore were disappointing. A majority of panelists kept regressing to existential arguments (such as splitting hairs on words like 'inspiration' and 'adaptation', and didn't spend much time in discussing the nuts-and-bolts or challenges of these respective forms). Shama Zaidi tried to show some examples of how changes were made for Shatranj Ke Khiladi, but spoiled things by being too petulant and dismissive. Even the second day's session on mythology kept tracing issues of history and philosophy, but unlike the earlier sessions, it was considerably livened by a set of excellent speakers.

It helped that Kamalahassan was chairing the session. He didn't make a speech of his, but kept insisting the atheist in him was spoiling for a fight on the topic. Gollapudi Maruthi Rao, noted Telugu actor, spoke eloquently on the history of mythology in films (appropriately so; I think the Telugu film industry has made the best use of that material). Kamalahassan then made one his many clever sound-bite interjections: "According to me, mythology is spiritual cosmetic surgery for history; makes the truth more palatable". The man knows how to press all the right buttons on an audience!

Dr. Devdutt Patnaik was the next speaker, and he delivered a very interesting talk. Once a man of medicine, he's now a 'mythologist' and carries the rather exotic title of "Chief Belief Officer" at the Future Group. He spoke of mythology as the 'truth' of a culture, compared Western films about religion with Indian ones, and then plunged into an analysis of 'sanatan' vs social truths (which I found a little slippery to grapple with). At some points, it seemed he was about to invoke Hindu-glory-of-the-past (Kamal later quipped that he thought Patnaik was going to start distributing prasad on stage), but to his credit, he stayed on the side of sobreity throughout. I recommend a look at his presentation, which is available on his website here.

In response, Kamalahassan mentioned how he liked films that tried to be subversive about accepted wisdom, particularly mythology, and cited the example of (one of my favourite movies) The Life of Brian by Monty Python. He spoke of films like Hey! Ram into which elements of the Ramayana are interwoven. And did he blush ever so slightly when someone praised Dashavataram? The man is worth paying to go and listen to, I think.

The last session, the one on drama & plays, was the most well-rounded one: the speakers spoke both of theory and craft. Playwright Mahesh Elkunchwar spoke lucidly about his two experiences of writing his plays for film, as well as dealing with different constraints in the two media. Asghar Wajahat did the same later. Govind Nihalani, who directed Party from an Elkunchwar script, gave the view from the other side. Dr. Jabbar Patel spoke extensively of his collaborations with Vijay Tendulkar and Gulzar, and mentioned that in plays, it was the writer who ruled, while film was the director's medium.

Vishal Bhardwaj also spoke, but this is already such a long post that I've forked that encounter off into a separate post here.

In summary, it was a mixed set of talks. I liked something that Prof.U.R.Ananthamurthy said in his talk: that finally, all that really matters is how engaging the film (and I generalise it to all art) is for the individual viewer - whether you understand the content or crib about the fidelity of the film to the book is not all that important.

Times of India reports: Day 1, Day 2

Mar 27, 2009

Soft skills

Mulayam Singh Yadav has been in some lukewarm water with the Election Commission over a speech of his in which he was shown as saying, among others,:
"She (the District Magistrate of Mainpuri, his constituency) is a woman and that is why I am not making any comments on her. She should get her brain checked and should be aware of the fact that Mulayam is contesting from here (Mainpuri)", Singh was shown by local news channels as saying at the rally.

Among other improprieties, this comment has been found to be sexist because it makes references to the gender of the person involved. An observation here is that the comment is indeed sexist, but not misogynistic. In fact, the UP chief minister is kind enough to refrain from making further comments (untoward, we can guess) about the lady precisely because she is a lady. One would not like to imagine the fate of any male DM in her place.

One can see why Mr. Yadav opposes reservations for women in Parliament - it would severely cramp his style.

Mar 15, 2009

Glimpses of a genius: Buster Keaton

It's a pity that many of us ("even I") haven't seen much of 'Buster' Keaton's work. He does appear in quizzes, usually for the origin of his nickname, or as the name you'd guess in case the answer "Chaplin" was wrong.

Kamalahassan refers to Keaton quite often in some of his interviews. My first film viewing of Keaton was, ironically, in Chaplin's brilliant "Limelight", where the two giants of the erstwhile silent comedy era came together for a memorable duet (youtube link). The magic of this partnership is that both are playing out their own styles of comedy in tandem.

I have also watched some parts of The General, perhaps the most famous Keaton film, and was able to watch all of that stupendously choreographed locomotive sequence. In fact, Keaton's films are like great magic shows or symphonies: exceptionally well-timed and intricately designed.

In an article on PFC, Shripriya writes about another Keaton stunner called "Sherlock Jr." and points to two astoundingly crafted sequences. Look very carefully at both of them: even after you know how they were put together, you will still be rubbing your eyes at the ingenuity of it all.

Mar 10, 2009

Once I could see, now I have been blinded

Those of us who grew up watching sterile DD newscasts could scarcely imagine news programmes would become so annoying in the 21st century. Progress was flying cars and teleportation, not a 24x7 itch.

My latest peeve concerns the tendency of news videos to come with bright red lassos or arrows that move in relation to the video. Originally used to point our attention in grainy videos, this visual annotation now appears in almost every other news report. It is very reminiscent of the times when a similar 'innovation was handed to cricket commentators to emphasise some vague point they wanted to make. Invariably, the pointer would slip resulting in some unholy scribbles that even parents of kindergarten kids would be loath to praise.

The problem arises when perfectly clear pictures are defaced by a circle or an arrow. The end result is like watching the victim of a laser pointer attack - the poor chap has no idea a red circle is following him all over the screen. Worse are animated arrows that repeatedly keep poking the object of its affection - reminds me of all those "fling a shoe at Bush" flash games that did the rounds a few weeks ago.

This last mentioned menace appeared in a Times Now news report this evening about Sachin Tendulkar's absence from the next cricket match thanks to injury. In addition to a caption saying Internal Bleeding, an arrow kept poking at Tendulkar's rib cage. Despite the fact that it's internal. That we can eventually see him grimacing and holding his stomach. Forget about leaving it to the imagination, I haven't lent my eyes to Crimemaster Gogo to play marbles with. Another prominent member of the sac-red circle has been Ramgopal Verma while touring the Taj.

These marks have the unpleasant side-effect of instantly bumping anyone inside the circle to the level of an alleged criminal. What other conclusion could any visiting alien (from however advanced a civilisation) come to about a person thus outlined, other than he was worse than a dreg of Plutonic moondust: why else would the red circle keenly keep him in its sights like a hunting dog? To illustrate my point, see this composite image of the best of Indian TV (I hope NDTV doesn't sue me for saying that!): fine, upstanding journalists, with intensity and intent to break news written all over. And then observe, milord, the same exhibits with outlines straight out of The Omen.

You begin to sense the malignant cursors compelling you to haul them in front of the Inquisition. Brr.

Mar 8, 2009

The importance of an allegation

In recent times, eagle-eyed readers of the Times of India would have observed a curious typographical phenomenon in that newspaper. In stories such as this one about a crime in Pune, the word allegedly is italicised. Thus, in print, the article looks like this:
"The Haveli police on Saturday arrested Shekhar Shettiyar (28) of Kurla and booked five others for allegedly murdering Nathibai Chaudhary..."

"On June 26, 2001, the gang allegedly entered the shop posing as customers and stole the jewellery by threatening employees."

The motivation behind this oddity is unclear, and in the absence of the ToI style manual (if there is such a thing) in the public domain, it is hard to guess why this would be so. What is so special about the word "allegedly" that it needs to be highlighted thus?

Making it curious-er is the fact that there are many occurrences of the word in other ToI articles where it does not get such a treatment. Strange! (but not unusual for a paper whose curious 'case' of the perpendicular pronoun was remarked upon by this blog here.)

Incidentally, the ToI epaper doesn't provide the Pune edition any more, so I can't check if this formatting shows up in that version. It doesn't in the plain vanilla web version linked above.
Another blogger has made the very same puzzling observation.

Mar 6, 2009


If you are a Vishal Bhardwaj fan but you haven't heard of Kaminey, you have got to read the Bardwatch here (or at George's).

Mar 1, 2009

Indian 'Word of the Year' - February updates

A note on the idea, words from Jan 2009, Feb 2009
February 2009's words

  1. Pink chaddis and other pinker-stinkers: February is the season of moralist protests in India, with forces for and against such manifestations of Western culture as Valentine's Day making headlines. This year took an unusual turn with a protest group launching a 'Pink Chaddi' campaign ('chaDDii'=='underwear') in reaction to an obscure radical group's actions. The coinage is clever and provocative, since it conjures up an instantly imaginable symbol and because 'chaDDii' is not always part of polite speech. From the point of view of this exercise, the phrase became even more interesting when counter-reactions applied the 'pink X' template to other apparel, including prophylactics. Is pink on its way to becoming the colour of Indian feminist action?

    Incidentally, the phrase moral police ought to be sent into some sort of Indian-ism 'Hall of Fame'. Though a phrase that is seen throughout the world, we seem to be the most fervent users of the phrase, as evidenced by a couple of anecdotal tests. 90% of the first three pages of Google search results for the word are India-related; this is also true of an archival news search.

  2. Jai Ho!: Remember Chak De? A phrase that sports crowds shouted lustily, a phrase that became synonymous with a coincidental and short-lived revival of Indian hockey, a phrase that hardly anyone uses. Does a similar fate await the aptly titled refrain from the Oscar winning song from Slumdog Millionaire (which also gave us another candidate last month)? The phrase, which is easy to utter and not unfamiliar to Indians, appeared in some newspaper headlines unrelated to the film . Just how much damage the constant drone of TV stories on the Oscar triumphs have done to us will be clear in a year's time.
A question to sign off: some of us have been using Slumdog as a sly euphemism to refer to scatalogical situations, usually to piss off our queasier colleagues. Tell me if you have noticed anything like this elsewhere.
January 2009's words

  1. Slumdog: a word that still has no entry in most dictionaries but shot into prominence after Danny Boyle's film and has even caused a lawsuit. Wow! An auspicious start for this list.
  2. 'Emosanal'/Emotional atyaachaar: A fertile phrase, coined by lyricist Amitabh Bhattacharyya director Anurag Kashyap, from the film Dev.D's soundtrack. I have seen several variants of this on some forums and music channels, using the phrase as X atyaachaar, which suggests a possible snowclone.
The fact that both of the above are connected to films says a lot about us Indians (or perhaps just me). We'll see how things evolve in the rest of this year.

The Whys
As a language and trivia enthusiast, I've always followed the American Dialect Society's Word of the Year. Why not an Indian Word of the Year?

Instead of trusting my cheese-like memory at the end of the year, it would be easier to record possible candidates along the way. This also opens up the possibility that some random observer will correct errors and add to the list.

What qualifies to be the Indian Word of the Year? I'm looking for interesting words or phrases that have been sufficiently interesting or news-worthy. This is not to be confused with a pure term-based 'Zeitgeist' - so Satyam will not be considered. Newly coined words will be invited. I'm also looking for words with 'potential' - that people mutate or mix with other words to form interesting variants. Perhaps even phrases that can become snowclones. So if people start making interesting things out of the word Satyam, then I'll include it. I admit I don't have it all figured out, but will do so as I do this.

Only English words? Not really. But limited by my own readings, my candidates are likely to be limited by language and geography. I'm hoping I'll be pointed to words by others.

For instance:
In Dec 2008, the relatively unknown phrase non-state actor would have been on the list.
In 2004, feel-good factor would have shone right in.
In addition, we would have take note of dard-e-disco last year - a strange phrase with some flexibility for reuse.

So to summarise: words that are interesting, not just news topics; words that have character; words that have newly entered our lexicon, and so on.

Feb 26, 2009

A Red Reading Room

"No weapons", he said.
I believed him.
I was a fool.

"We're gentlemen", he said.
I agreed.
He wasn't one.
(Don't believe that doctor.)

"By the ledge".
"Doesn't the spray make it slippery?".
He smiled and shook his head.

There I was, defenceless, staring into a Smith and Wesson.
"Jump", said Sherlock Holmes to me.

Feb 25, 2009

RMIM Puraskaar 2008 - the results

The soundtrack of Rock On emerged as the top Hindi film album of 2008 after a painstaking process of selection for the RMIM Puraskaar 2008. Academy Award winner (yay!) A.R.Rahman won Best Composer, while Javed Akhtar won Best Lyricist. The awards are a labour of love by Vinay Jain, who was kind enough to invite me to participate in the process as part of the jury (not that I have great music appreciation skills, but I am an enthusiastic listener :-)). I and 11 others spent about a month listening to the 70-plus shortlisted songs (see note on nomination process here), rating them on their individual components of music, lyrics, and singing, as well as the song as a whole.

Though lengthy, this was a highly enjoyable task and resulted in many fascinating questions on what I look for in a film song, and what kind of subliminal biases and preferences were in operation.

Vinay took our individual scores and comments, and compiled a list of winners in various categories. The results can be viewed here (the Hindi version here). The complete list of songs also contains comments made by various jury members. You'll spot that we were a varied bunch - mixed feelings were articulated and that is true of all listeners like us.

My picks for some of the categories were different, so even though these results show what the collective scores say, there is room for dissent. But I definitely agree with the decision not to award the Satish Kalra Sammaan to any 2008 film album. It was a relatively weak year for Hindi film music, despite its few bright spots. (In comparison, 2009 is already off to a smashing start with Dev.D and Delhi 6, with Vishal and others waiting in the wings).

Before I move on to reveal my personal picks, I would like to remind readers of that one of the principal aims of the puraskaar is "to have a review of the year's music and document it for posterity." (read this post for the whole premise). So, if you would like to record your opinions and disagreements, do send feedback to Vinay [giitaayan at gmail dot com] or leave a comment. Would love to hear them. The complete set of scoresheets is not available (I myself haven't seen any of the others) and is left to the discretion of the jury individual members to make available. I'd be happy to send my scores and comments to anyone who wants to have a dekko at them. Vinay's announcement on RMIM covers a few such details.

My own pick for top album was Jodhaa Akbar, which was a very tough choice to make out of my four candidates: Jodhaa Akbar, Jaane Tu..., Rock On!!, and Aamir. My summarised comments on these :

Aamir: had superb lyrics and very good music, especially for a debutant film music composer. It also had depth, with its lyrics forming a partnership with the music that was greater the sum of their parts. I thought it fell short on breadth, that's all.

Rock On!!: interesting concept, nice texture, loved the female solos; the lyrics and the singing (though acceptable for the film's concept) were where it went down a notch. Especially as in comparison to the others. I didn't give it the benefit of a 'rock' album, choosing to apply more conventional hindi film music parameters.

Jaane Tu...: like the film, the album went in familiar territory but managed to come out fresh. Full of pastel colours. But inherently, it didn't have the same depth for me. Perhaps it wasn't meant to.

Jodhaa Akbar: perhaps not everyone's choice of top album. IMHO, there was a lot of inventiveness in this particular album, especially in taking a period piece and applying modern touches to it - which needed some guts. As a result, this album sounds different from other Rahman 'period' soundtracks. The lyrics were competent, the arrangements superb, the melodies dulcet, and embellished the movie well.

Obviously, this is just a point of view. The exercise also illuminated the fact that despite what we hear on FM stations, a lot of decent Hindi film music gets made in one year, and sometimes there are quite a few minor gems that never get the attention they deserve. If a selection like this enables one to broaden one's mind just a touch, it'll have achieved some of its aims.
Previous results: 2006 and 2007
With thanks to friends who responded to a straw poll on Best Album

Feb 18, 2009

He's always on a tangent

The adventures of English in India have always been exciting to observe. Yet another reminder was served up today when a colleague received a rather innocuous email:
Dear [so-and-so],
Please find the attachment of resume. He is my cosine brother. He is in a software Eng.
One could not help but laugh (Harish had tears streaming down his face).

On reflection, this spelling makes a lot of phonetic sense. Initially, I thought this was a case of "when spell-checkers go wild". But thanks to the wisdom of "English is a very funny language" (a.k.a अंग्रेजी बड़ी अवैज्ञानिक भाषा है), I can see why there would be quite a few Indians making that mistake (as this Google search shows).

Thanks to Niranjan for inspiring the headline

Feb 17, 2009

Caliban's Sunrise

In Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit, that whiskered pill Percy Gorringe recites a poem about a man who, while watching the sun go down, comments:
"I say,
Doesn't that sunset remind you
Of a slice
Of underdone roast beef?"

Caliban at Sunset
I'm sure if Stilton Cheesewright, 'soulless clod' extraordinaire and muse for the poem, was to see this image of the morning sky from a few months ago, it would doubtlessly remind him of some scrambled eggs.

Feb 16, 2009

Tube Tales

In 1999, the London Magazine Time Out invited its readers to provide ideas for stories based on real life experiences in an around the metro's famous Tube. Eventually, this turned into Tube Tales (official link) - 9 little tales on the underground rail.

Most of the stories are brilliant, both in narration and content. Those rocking coffins have inspired a variety of minor sagas, differing in flavour and treatment. That famous names appear on-screen and behind the camera only enhances the appeal.

To choose from, there's the squirmingly funny H0rny (potentially uncomfortable if you have XY chromosomes!), the musically eloquent Bone (directed by Ewan McGrrreggorr), or the very clever Mr. Cool (Kelly Macdonald as the object of his attention) that opens the compilation. There are comic and dramatic twists, unexpected losses, the supernatural, and the poignant (like Jude Law's A Bird in the Hand). Add to them the pulsating background score.

Highly recommended (warning: NSFW at times). My viewing was courtesy the local British Library, but some of the segments may be available at online video shares.

Feb 15, 2009

The music of Delhi 6, mere yaar

Hardly a month into 2009 and there have been two outstanding Hindi film soundtracks already. While Dev.D burst into the room and grabbed us by the scruff of our necks, A.R.Rahman's latest, Delhi 6, fluttered in through the window with a fragrant breeze. Here's why.

A credits page to weep for
The album's credits has a power-packed batting order: Mohit Chauhan opens with a bang. Javed Ali & Kailash Kher at one down. The music director snatching a dreamy song in the middle. And then all the cameos: the uber-talented Rekha Bhardwaj. A blast from the past in the voice of Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan. Amitabh Bachchan rounding things off. There's even Rajat Dholakia in the background as well.

Unusual, unpredictable, and largely unmatchable.

Dove, oh dear
It takes but a few seconds into masak kali to know this one is up there in Rahman's all time best, which is an astonishing feat even for the man himself. A splendidly onomatopoeic avian paean (take a bow, Mr. Joshi), Mohit Chauhan and the now-trademark accordion (played by Rahman) vie for top honours here. If ever there was a modern song made for Kishore Kumar (something Salil also observed), it was this one. Adding to nostalgia is the old device of the violin-backed lead-ins. I always wish I could find an instrumental dissection of songs - this one in particular.

The best explanation as to the meaning of the term masak kali came from Vibhendu: masak is a term for the roof (a.k.a the chajjaa). Thus, the eponymous pigeon is literally the the bud/darling of the terrace.

Another Rahman trademark is that of the Sufi song. So remarkable has he been in this genre, that a Rahman sufi/qawwali/devotional top 10 is merited. arziyaa.n would comfortably fit into the top echelons of such a list. Many of the others showered praise; this qawwali pleads for succour. Prasoon Joshi's notes for this song in the inlay (a nice touch that) say it was almost a year before he finished writing the lyrics for this tune. With phrases such as marammat muqaddar ki kar do, the time spent was well worth it.

Like khwaaja mere khwaaja, these songs are all about 'feeling'. The singers nail it. The ending with the Bulleh Shah kaafi mora piyaa ghar aaya is neatly placed.

Electric guitars and the rhesus factor
The title song is as far removed from the previous two as one can get. The French lyrics and drawn out female vocals, the electronic modulations, the clever hooks in lyrics and music - very snazzy. kala bandar is interesting: one is prone to dismiss it on a superficial level: we are quite conditioned by the mindless use of rap in Hindi albums. But the lyrics, loaded with some kind of political metaphor, deflect that simple interpretation. This song comes closest to the "the journey within" sub-title of the film. This causes some disorientation in our story expectations: along with the 'ramleela' scenes and the film sub-species of the returning NRI, are we in for a revisitation of the Swades territory?

Continuous delight
dil giraa dafatan taught me a new Urdu word (dafatan means 'suddenly', my dictionary informs). Ash King sings, croons, touches the falsetto ceilings, returns and dwells. The string section breaks out in a lush Celtic melody. There is no full takeoff - the singers soar and swoop. I wrapped my head round this to make sense. Many have spoken of how Rahman and Vishal subvert the traditional grammar of Hindi film music. This song is part recital, not full-blooded Bollywood song. As was rehna tu

The obvious faults in Rahman's Hindi diction are always overshadowed by the sheer sincerity in his singing. That he turns rehanaa tuu into rainaa tuu hardly matters when there are so many interesting elements dotting the canvas. Such as the guitar riff in the background, or the way the singing begins in the middle of the beat cycle, or the lyrics themselves (liked the imagery of people right-hand-in-right-hand).

My big complaint of the album was the lack of an instrumental track. But the 2 minute piece at the end of this song assuages this. Rahman's interest in The Continuum has been noted on this blog earlier and he chose a spectacular way to introduce it to Hindi film music. From what I know, the continuum is after all just an electronic synthesizer whose resulting instrumental feel can be controlled - say, strings or woodwind or others. Here, he goes in for an ethereal flute-theremine sound, playing it with great élan over 2 minutes in a Carnatic classical vein. Goosepimply stuff.

Special appearances
I've yet to get over the disappointment of finding out that Rekha Bhardwaj did not have any Rahman originals to sing. She features in two traditional songs ('supervised' by Dholakia): a smartly mixed folk song gendaa phool (intriguingly, a 'courtesy' credit to Raghuvir Yadav) and a bhajan. A similar effort is Shreya Ghoshal 'jamming' (as the inlay notes put it) with the voice Bade Gulam Ali Khan - a very interesting concept. Wonder what shape it takes on screen.

There's just 50 seconds of Amitabh Bachchan reciting a short ghazal called Noor, but that was enough to make me smile in contentedly. In 17 years, A.R.Rahman has never composed music for an Amitabh Bachchan film (discounting such narrations as in Lagaan or Jodhaa Akbar), and this guest appearance (in film and voice) is the first.

And so...
Delhi 6 is easily a career highlight for the composer and the lyricist. The album is not just figuratively heavy, but literally so, with an actual mirror on the front side! An 'in-your-face' rendering of the introspection referred to in the movie sub-title. A satisfying musical effort that awaits a similar outcome on-screen this Friday.