22 December, 2013

Dhoom 3 : Common Sense – “Teri Aisi Ki Taisi”

Two things stand out clearly in Dhooms 3, one that like New York , Chicago too has an impressive skyline and two it has lousy policing .

Then you know why they need the services of Lone Ranger Indian super cop Jay Dixit ( Abhishek Bacchan, looking very good at points and absolutely bored in the others ) and his Tonto, Ali ( Uday Chopra) who till two movies ago of the same franchise operated a tin shed garage outside a pipeline and culvert in Mumbai.

Obviously there is money in franchising is a given. It does allow for locations to shift from Bandra Mumbai ( Dhoom ) to Mumbai & Brazil (Dhoom 2) and now all of it happens in the windy city. It happens with such aplomb that one may be forgiven for almost wondering what the whites are doing there in the North-Indian city of Chicago where they even have a monument to an Indian entertainment enterprise carved in stone called The Great Indian Circus. TGIC for two scenes is owned by a trade magician and conjurer ( Jackie Shroff ) and later by the evil banker Anderson ,who is waiting to pounce on it after casting fish eyes on Shroff’s most awesome performance for a loan extension. Shroff shoots himself in front of the bankers and his son Sahir, who sees all of this in a flashback/dream sequence. The rest as they is history Dhoom style, the bank is the villain and has to be robbed at will till it collapses, by the son who has grown up to become Aamir Khan (in a bowler hat and his eight pack avatar from his Ghajini days - why was it required when there is hardly a fight is confounding ). The banker 20 years ago had requisitioned for a skimpy dressed girl to supplement the show as a song and dance item when he was curtly and dismissively told that this was the future. The son however heeds that advice and gets a grunge clad gorgeous beauty to sing in chaste Punjabi (The YRF map states that London , Chicago, Switzerland etc are but suburbs of Bhatinda ) . Two songs run to packed shows, which actually told me that the poor venture capitalist banker may not have been so wrong in his advice to Shroff after all. But his bank has to go and does albeit after several Motorcycle / Motorboat chases. As a bonus we also have the Indian super cop hanging on an extended ladder in windy Chicago firing a gun in the USA on a bonafide US citizen and they do nothing to him. Then again guns are allowed in the US and had they asked to see how much Uday Chopra was being paid then there was the larger possibility of a serious crime being registered and he being jailed and strip searched. After all if they could get Capone on tax evasion then they certainly could have got Jay Dixit on exploitation of a garage mechanic ( a la Devyani Khobragade ) who has to wear the same bandana in 3 movies of a franchise that is supposed to have garnered collections in excess 10 digits measured in any currency of the world.

Suspension of disbelief is a must. Once it is acquired then the movie becomes enjoyable and one can see why Aamir Khan is a superstar. His brandy eyes and acrid demeanour conveys an angst and power waiting to be unleashed, the ticking brain apparent from just his bearing. He is the soul of this movie. He is totally believable in the ridiculous one line plot which yet is a marked improvement on the earlier versions. In the first part John Abraham wrested the control of the franchise and put it firmly into the hands of the villain rendering Bacchhan – Chopra to furniture status. Whatever they do now or in the future has and will have no bearing on the outcome. The star is the villain for ever. Aamir Khan slam dunks it home and in imperious style too. 

Katrina is the other surprise, breathtakingly beautiful, the girl has come a long way from her Boom days with Kaizad Gustad for sure. There is serious promise in the Aamir Katrina pairing. Their chemistry is apparent as her eyes twinkle with mischief when she teases him. She is very easy under the skin of Aalia. 

The machines are the other heroes and while these films would never rank in the same league as the Fast and the Furious movies, the fact that BMW associated with them is an indication of its rising popularity. Franchise movies are like changing different photographs in one single photoframe and Vijay Krishna Acharya is no Christopher Nolan /Sam Mendes ( like with Batman or Bond respectively) to tweak this frame itself. With such directorial talent at its helm it will never become either spectacular or end up being completely boring. It will remain to be the standard cheerful nonsensical fare for our samosa & popcorn crowds to keep the Chopra till ringing. 

Suspend belief and you get a Dhoom, go expecting logic or sense (the 'h' immediately goes silent ) and you are Doomed ;-)

20 November, 2013

Ram Leela : Shakespeare raped somewhere in Gujarat

Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s (SLB) film Ram Leela has us going to the absolute first principles of the cinematic experience and questioning it.  What is Cinema ? 
  • Silk in the Dirty Picture defines it by saying Cinema is only three words “Entertainment, Entertainment, Entertainment”. Well SLB’s movie was not that...so we go to the next definition
  • Cinema should be meaningful: In this definition a feature film would have a certain story, a rhythm a flow in the dialogues or timelines.... Well SLB’s movie was not that either...so we go on to the next one
  • Cinema is about Realism: Like the art films of the 70’s .... SLB’s movie was also not that at all by a far stretch...so again we are pushed to the next definition
  • Cinema is/should/can be Artistic : Garish explosions of colour in various shades of Red, totally fantastic sets which even a showman like Raj Kapoor only put in a dream sequence make a part of everyday ethos...no its Arabian Nights meet Japanese advertising meet Kathiawad... good art does carry with it a coherence which is absent here ...SLB’s movie is not Art either are there any more categories whose definitions are left ?
  • Documentary Cinema, Short Film, Meaningful cinema, Good cinema, Bad cinema, Average cinema, which one exactly is this,  I asked myself and then it became apparent, truly apparent. 
This is "the revenge of the nerd". SLB is taking revenge on films, film making and film folk by taking their money and packaging it just so that it seems outwardly like a motion picture but instead is a mindless soul destroying experience. His greater crime, dragging William Shakespeare into this muck. Now William Shakespeare is the one author who has been most favoured by filmmakers, playwrights across the world for a story inspiration. His writing has been interpreted sometimes ordinarily, sometimes tolerably and sometimes superbly but it has always been his work. SLB in Ram Leela rapes Shakespeare himself. Coming out of the theatre, I was completely numbed...could see Billy the Bard otherwise a benign fellow who smiles in black and white from his frock collared photograph looking reproachfully at me...with hurt eyes, his self destroyed...why did he (SLB) do this to me? Have I ever done anything bad to this fellow?  I had no answer to give this impressive author. 

SLB says this movie is his interpretation of Romeo and Juliet. It sketchily creates that skeleton and then bends it, finally crushing it. Romeo Juliet by Shakespeare one line synopsis is 'a romantic tale of two star crossed lovers from opposing factions who die'. SLB’s sets are a confluence of the remnants of the Kendall Shakespeare company’s set pieces, all the stuff in Philip Antiques-Colaba, crowded into one frame thrown in with a peacock who is also killed in a bizarre invite. Shades are pastel when its romantic and red when guns, bullets and ghagras fly most of the other time. Houses in this mythical town can’t have roofs because for 500 years people have drawn out handmade guns and automatic weapons and fired in the air wherever they are standing or at each other. Millions of bullets fly and only 5 people get hit and die, just so you also know that bullets kill, else you would have gone out and wanted a gun for yourself. People here fire bullets randomly, make obscene pelvic thrusts, break into a song , fire more bullets, Ram and Leela are into each others mouths, we have extreme close ups of the lead actors till we see the pores on their noses, their waists, shadows on chiseled bodies in unspoken places, more songs & just quite as suddenly a few more bullets later the movie mercifully ends.

 So we have a Ram’eo and Leela’iet in Ranveer and Deepika who valiantly try and make this motion picture watchable for whatever it is worth, they certainly exude a raw sex appeal but it is not enough. The other star cast has Supriya Pathak, Gulshan Devaiyaah, Abhimanyu Singh, Richa Chaddha and small screen actors led by Sharad Kelkar & Barkha Bisht. Few film old actors & the TV stars may have been thrilled in the beginning at having a big budget film on their CV’s during its making, but how many would own it now is a question that begs answering. Individually, every single actor has done her job, it is the skipper who has screwed up big time. Music again by SLB himself (is there no end to this guy's megalomania, he inserts himself into almost every department for credit be it story, scripting , dialogues etc ) is a revisit to his earlier Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam but that had an accomplished composer at its helm in Ismail Darbar. Choreography is impressive if seen on TV, one song at a time but together it is a tad repetitive like the music.

As a conclusion I would recommend that SLB gets serious help , he has to visit a psychiatrist, or in the best case be institutionalized and not be let loose near a camera ever again. He is angry with films and film folks else a person in his right mind would never make this and have the audacity to call it cinema. 

Alternately if he has to make films they should come with a sovereign money back guarantee;  as a minimum  protection of the pockets of paying customers. We can't do much for the trauma they are subjected to by watching his work except only warn them. Instead of a disclaimer the film should have a statutory warning like they have on cigarette packs. 

This is a fan of cinema and a paying consumers frustration at seeing pretenders getting big budgets to play around with, to splurge and to lay it waste. While on the other hand many real filmmakers with good ideas, stories struggle to find finance and marketing or even a platform where they can contribute to the pantheon of Good Indian Cinema. 

Do not waste your money here folks. Eat Bhelpuri or if you want the promised experience or better yet  go eat a Gujarati Thali at Thacker Club - Girgaum, Mumbai or a Rajdhani-several branches in Mumbai, that will most certainly be immensely more fulfilling. 

25 October, 2013

Captain Phillips : Tension on the high seas

A Tom Hanks movie comes with its own level of expectation and he has rarely fallen short.

Here though more than Hanks the work belongs to Bill Ray’s book ( A Captains Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALS and Dangerous Days at Sea ) and the captain of the movie, its director Paul Greengrass( Bourne Supremacy, Bourne Ultimatum). Maersk Shipping Lines vessel Alabama being hijacked on the high seas by Somalian pirates is the one liner of this superb work on celluloid. 

The movie attracted controversy in Hanks portrayal of Phillips as being inaccurate, the original Merchant Master being arrogant, and is said to have had disregarded the crews safety by ignoring piracy warnings for those waters…that apart.

As a film it is an edge of the seat drama, and Greengrass makes it pacy and real. Barkhad Abdi as Abdullah Muse the pirate leader is chillingly matter of fact. The movie maintains the balance of underlining the bleak situation back home for the Somalian fisher folk; who were responsible for rejuvenating piracy as an industry on the world map. It’s just business between the have not’s and the have’s. What else could they do with the fishing gone to larger trawlers and the politics back there doing very little for their survival. Maritime laws prevent merchant ships from carrying arms. This has created a chink in the armour of the sea trade, making it ridiculously easy for smaller armed groups and vessels to board sailing vessels and hold them for ransom. It happens in the far-east Asian waters and on the African seas and though patrolled still remains a huge area to cover. As a tense hostage drama it ranks right up there and as a situation facing the world trade it creates uncomfortable questions in the mind; On different worlds on a collision course in the times of today. 

Captain Phillips boards the ship, MAERSK Alabama with a set course from Oman to Mombasa with her cargo. The course runs through the Indian Ocean on the Somalian waters that have a history of piracy. Cut frame back to Somalia and we have a fishing village at the edge of the sea being forced to shake butt and grab a ship. It’s the matter of fact manner in which arms are carried by fishermen of all ages that paints a scary picture of a hopeless situation within. A ship any ship and the one that they pirated last week was last week’s job, this week another one is needed to be hijacked. When the captured Captain screams “you are not fishermen”, Muse replies “After the ransom, I want to get to the USA, its different for you there, here I have bosses too”.

The chase, the piracy act on high seas, the hostage drama and the rescue is the stuff to be watched and experienced. Tom Hanks is excellent but the high strung presence of Barkhad Abdi grabs our attention from the time he steps into the first frame. Full marks to be awarded to Greengrass for touching upon a sensitive headlined subject and treating it with a balanced fairness. 

As to the inaccuracy claims they can remain as the subject of a debate like most of the worlds recorded history

22 September, 2013

The Lunchbox: Simply Delicious

There is magic in cinema, undeniably so. Everyone who goes to the movies knows this and experiences it. The most common item on the wish list of every individual sometime or the other has been the ‘want and ability’ to be invisible yet present in the lives of other people and watch them go about their motions. There is power in this simple voyeurism. We are treated to one such. Ritesh Batra, the director here takes us on a magical ride of watching three separate souls going about their lives at the mere price of a ticket. It is money well worth spent and how.

The Lunchbox is a simple tale very well told. As we remove the lid, with the separate tiers and compartments the tale opens out in its many layers and nuances. It’s a sensual movie, strictly not in the commonly understood meaning of the word, but in the manner in which it embraces your every sense.  It heightens the sensations, inadvertently tickles your funny bone and engages cerebrally with a feel last seen in the 70’s when Hrishikesh Mukherjee, and the two Basu's were making their movies. We have in Ritesh Batra , a genuine claimant to the large vacant spot left by these unassuming giants of middle cinema.

It is a Bombay story, a story of lives in constant motion. The lifeline of this city is effectively captured in two systems that transport men and material to their places of work and home. The local trains of Mumbai and the system of the dabbawala’s (the lunchbox couriers). The dabbawaala system is a widely known case study in Harvard University for its six sigma efficiency of a network of largely semi-literate people. They were feted by the Prince of Wales and invited for the Royal Wedding of his son. But that’s by the by, as one lunchbox sent by a young housewife in suburban Malad, Ila ( Nimrat Kaur ) falls outside this bell curve of efficiency and lands on the table of Saajan Fernandes (Irfaan Khan); a curmudgeonly claims clerk in some government department on the verge of retirement. And then unfolds a story of charming proportions. This honest mistake is perpetuated by the similar external wrappings of the box and a lonely housewife’s lovingly cooked food gets gobbled up clean by the widower subsisting on mass catered canteen fare. Both realize their mistake but persist in this culinary adventure and find comradeship. It highlights the plight of the lonely in large populated cities that are hungry for the simple things in life, a kind word, a shoulder, a person to talk to, to be understood and understand. Into this milieu steps in a third character Shaikh ( Nawazuddin Siddiqui) as an understudy to Saajan to take over after he retires. He is the pesky, sticky colleague who unnecessarily gets personal and familiar till one gets to know his story. It’s a tale of Ila & Saajan who unburden their inner thoughts to each other through notes in a dabba. The tale is also of Shaikh, an orphan making his way alone in his worklife; In his own way he too is hungry for acceptance and a camaraderie that he looks for from Saajan. In all of this the people seek and hope for happiness, in a crowded city where the closest can be very far and by a quirk of fate find that a mistake can actually turn out and make things come out right.

The performances are excellent. Irfaan is a superlative actor and can stand up to be counted in the pantheon of India’s finest. His eyes express in a manner best articulated by the Marathi poet Kavi Grace in these lines 
“Shabdatun Artha Umagava (From the word emerges a meaning)
Arthaatun Shabda Vagalata” (And then the meaning does not require the very word it emerged from)
He says it all and without many words too.

Nimrat Kaur is a find for cinema, her face is very familiar from the various commercials and stage shows she has done. As a performer she comes into the film honed, intelligent, beautiful and bringing to the character of Ila a rare honesty, integrity and balance that is a fitting footage share with an actor of the caliber of Irfaan. It’s no mean achievement for a first film. 

Nawazuddin Siddiqui is totally believable, and like a chameleon fits into every part he accepts colouring it with shades making Shaikh an important element of this story. A lesser actor would not have done. The other notable performance is of Bharati Acharekar, an actor who is not seen on screen we only hear her voice. It is through the crisp homilies, suggestions and interactions with Nimrat that she visually fleshes out her part and it’s a masterful angle in the script. Lilette Dubey comes in a part that could well have been edited out and really adds nothing to the interplay of the others; even the children around Irfaans house convey a lot more. About the technicians, the Food Designer who has created the Lunchboxes visually deserves a pat, even without Irfaan the food looks delicious onscreen to cause a rumble in my stomach. Niharika Khans apparel design is spot on and the dabbawala’s who were to be the primary subject of Ritesh’s documentary, become the system through which he conveys this tale. Yet as the promos said it is not a story of love (that was marketing), it is a story of communication, unlikely friendship and finding a confidante with whom you resonate.

I love the idiom of cinema the way it is panning out with newer voices emerging telling tales that though rooted in India can be understood by a global film viewer with ease. Zoya Akhtar, Farhaan Akhtar, Kiran Rao, and now Ritesh Batra are directors who are world citizens and great storytellers. The variety of the 70’s is coming back into Hindi Cinema and augurs exciting times ahead. 

08 September, 2013

Shuddh Desi Romance : The Lilt of the Hinterland Hormonica

YRF : The Prelude

Yash Chopra in the decades of the 90’s and 2000’s majestically flew Bollywood to the ski slopes of the Alps ; introducing us the viewer to snow, the tulip’s, daffodils of Switzerland and then smoothly merging them with the mustard fields of Punjab. So much so that he was honoured with the Swiss Ambassadors award of promoting that country through his films. Then the software boom happened and Indians were stomping all around the world, going everywhere and seeing it all. Losing that novelty today the Yash Raj Films (YRF) banner has turned its attention to the Indian hinterland with a vengeance. The director Maneesh Sharma has been appointed their official tour guide to this mythical, mysterious place with its different language and evolving aspirations.

Present Day :  SDR, Purely a Film Review 

So here we find ourselves in Jaipur and straight away jump into the lives of three young souls that randomly collide with each other making the substance of the screenplay. There is also a fourth character, an elderly Rishi Kapoor ( competent as always ) representing the pragmatic voice of the experienced generation; an older India coming to terms with the newer one, doling out homilies in a quirky manner that only he can. Raghuram Sitaram or Raghu is a registered tour guide ( Sushant Singh Rajput, absolutely watchable) who also plays a part-time baraati in the wedding business of Rishi Kapoor.

On his way to getting married to Tara ( debutante, Vani Kapoor , very dishy and poised ) he meets a beautiful, saucy smoking Gayatri ( Parineeti Chopra, very comely and sparkling ) and falls in love ( tezzwala attraction ) and runs away from his own marriage. After this the movie is only a collection of scenarios, long introspections and abject confusion. The characterizations of Raghu, Gayatri and Tara are so exasperating, simplistic and silly that after a point the crammed up charm starts to grate. Now whether he gets the girl or not and if he does then which girl ? The viewer has reached a point where he would scream whatever the f**k happens, who gives a shit... 

Is it a bad film, the answer has to be, No. Is it watchable, yes again. Here is a serious attempt to capture the hypocrisy of the Indian society and its view of love, commitment, sexuality, womanhood and marriage through the voice and eyes of the youth. This voice today is crying out for expression and is in its own forcefully urgent manner claiming its space in the consciousness of Urban & Semi-Urban metropolises of India.

Maneesh Sharma has achieved the absolute impossible, he has made a film out of a brilliantly weaved screenplay that has no coherent story or characterization to back it up. 

It is a visual film. The camera loves its three young protagonists and the colourful locales of Rajasthan without a doubt. The camera sensuously caresses the young curves of Gayatri & Vani and captures the confused, immature charming Raghu and his commitment-phobia wonderfully well. But the character is wimpy and despite his good looks he doesn't elicit empathy. Hence the extremely verbose players manage to just skim a surface without diving any deeper. Music in Hindi cinema is an important ingredient for its success and the songs are hummable, energetic,  yet they look better in the promos than in the movie. Sachin & Jigar have done their job well but the integration was the director’s cut, he quite doesn't get it like he did in his first outing with Band Bajaa Baraat. We get a sense of flitting in and out of that first film BBB what with the marriage arrangers, the catering and the entire ensemble around it.

A good director and a solid production house can trip up despite having good ingredients in actors and technicians. Maneesh the only thing to do now is jump up quickly, shake off the dust and start a new project. This time do focus on a story idea first and believe me everything else will fall correctly into place. My promise to you, I shall come and watch your next effort too with some hope and expectations that you have learned something from the faux’pas from this time around. 

So finally what are we left with? Only raging hormones? Well, yes.
“Armaan khuley hai, Ziddi bulbuley hai”
a phrase in a song purely ( Shuddh )  encapsulates the essence of this Desi Romance. 

25 August, 2013

Madras Cafe : Scintillating Menu

If Vicky donor was the entre’ course, then Madras Cafe is a fitting main served by the master-chef Shoojit Sircar. 
His is the Cafe I shall like to visit again and again.

Hindi Cinema has the sole distinction of being largely just an entertaining medium, very rarely does it takes one down the thinking road with serious cinema and finally revisiting a chapter in history or the recent past has never been its forte ever.

It has been attempted earlier but consistently has degenerated into flamboyant fiction, jingoism or a plain twisting the facts exercise to suit the market. I won’t take names here as this is the crime one cannot accuse this director of. He has walked across one of the darkest chapters in the history of India and Sri Lanka ( one that unfolded for India in 1987 and climaxed on May 21, 1991 at Sri Perumbudur ) boldly and faithfully; without making any comment of his own, a judgement call or taking sides. It is masterfully done. The story is the star of the show. Somnath Dey and Shubhendu Bhattacharya can take a bow. This is the kind of cinema where it does not truly matter who plays the characters because the script is that powerful and written that way.

  It begins with the Sri Lankan Tamils seeking their freedom under the aegis of Anna Bhaskaran (Ajay Rathnam, perfectly cast and on the ball) and his army of revolutionaries called the LTF. The India – Sri Lanka peace accord signed between the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and the wily Sri Lankan President Junius Jayewardene makes the backdrop for the Indian Peace Keeping Force to enter the scene and spoil the pudding further. Overt war fails and in steps the Indian RAW ( Research & Analysis Wing ) who have their men in place and to understand and exploit the situation better begin a covert operation under Major Vikram Singh ( John Abraham, understated and credible ). He lands in Jaffna the epicentre of the war and encounters a London based Indian journalist covering the war (Nargis Fakri, doing a Jennifer Connelly from Blood Diamond. and does a much better job than her previous film with Ranbir Kapoor). Siddarth Basu is the head of RAW and is a pleasure to watch, he deftly underplays his role to maximum impact. The movie moves at a brisk pace with plots within plots and hurtling towards an eventual end congruently. The actors depicting the men on the field, the Jaffna based RAW men or the Sri Lankan Tamils are all first rate and look completely believable in their roles. This movie enables one to see totally different realities that have credible frames of references when viewed from either side. John’s character mouths a terrible truth “One man’s revolutionary is another man’s terrorist”.

This movie has to be recognized for the path it charts and kudos to John Abraham the producer for the just use of star power. The whole behind the scenes team should feel proud for a job superbly executed be it Shantanu Moitra and the entire Sound Design team headed by Bishwadeep Chatterjee, or Kamaljeet Negi whose lens creates the depth in a frame that draws a viewer into the plot and location. Any cinema that blends the cerebral and the aesthetic becomes a thoroughly engrossing experience. The Indian audience may not yet be ready to handle history in a manner where the names don’t have to be changed and till that day dawns an over-laid “story over reality” format is the best employable golden mean to walk this route. 

22 July, 2013

Mumbai Dances...Again

July 16, 2013, The Supreme Court of India upholds the Bombay High Court 2006 verdict squashing the ban on dance bars in Maharashtra as per the Bombay Police (Amendment) Act 2005.

Dance Bar: Liquor Bar having girls & women dancing to film music encouraging patronage of customers who would shower & garland them with money in appreciation. Considered political opinion had it that these were the seedbeds of vice hence needed to be shutdown and they were in 2006, summarily.

Mulund : 20th June 2013, 2.00 pm

The fan above made a whirring sound and the rain beat furiously outside the dirty window pane, bouncing off thin metallic parapets, creating an incessant beat. The room just an hour ago had heard the bed creak to a more basic rhythm where the couple above had furiously started a battle that began with moans, continued with sweaty grunts and had ended in a whimper. Illicit acoustics never made for good music.

Strewn clothes indicate the man to be a member of the constabulary of the Bombay Police and the stars on the epaulet rank him as a senior Police Inspector. The other clothing is feminine, rather flashy not having seen the inside of a designer’s studio for sure. Just as we are reading this, they were being gathered and draped around a rather comely form of a young woman about 24 years of age. The face is beautiful but the expression in those dark eyes is resigned to that of a chore completed. The man is sleeping, tired from the bout and she completes her dressing up. Looks around for her sandals and purse, searches inside, finds & fishes out a comb to get her hair back into order. She is Roshni, a commercial sex worker, since the dance bars closed back in 2006. Originally from Jabalpur, Roshni had come into the city of dreams to join the movies but reality caught up with her rather quickly. Being good looking and able to dance very well proved to be an advantage. She found work as a second string dancer in Opal Bar. The money was good and there was no compulsion to go with a client who hit on her and they did. She retained her dream of getting into movies while the bar funded her stay in Mumbai. It was a kind city but showed its cruel side when one didn’t have money. Money made Mumbai move.

She sent some money back home to her parents regularly; never had they come to visit her here. She had been free and lived on her terms, life was good. Then the police had come and shut the bars down. The money she saved started to dwindle yet she did not go back. By then news had trickled back home on what she did. The family called her all kinds of names but still took her money, they didn’t have any issue with that. She bitterly recalled this while combing her hair in the cracked mirror. Having no skills, survival was indeed an issue. One of her kindly patrons had asked her out and she had gone with him, got paid. Sporadic work happened in the film industry but there were millions who came to the city in search of work willing to do anything and it was not long before she had hit the streets. She was caught soliciting and brought in front of the senior PSI Vishnu Kadam. He didn’t arrest her but brought her to this lodge for the first time a couple of years back and had his fill with her. Now once in a couple of months he would call her and she would have to come. She gave, he took; there was no commerce, only congress. The bars had opened again and this gave her hope. Amreek Singh the owner of Opal had called her and she had her old job back. She had been tried out and was frontline this time, she was happy there was respect there.  

As she stood up and clicked her purse shut, her hand brushed his trousers hanging on the chair and it fell to the ground spilling his wallet. She stooped to pick it up and saw Kadam’s family in a faded photo. As she was gathering up the money, the noise woke him up and seeing her with his wallet he reacted with a flash and screamed, “You bloody thieving whore”. She was no stranger to foul language but the words had the same impact of a hard slap delivered and something inside her snapped.
“I was going, your purse fell and I picked it up. She said calmly, very quietly with the anger and hurt seething in every word ‘I am a whore, yes...but not a thief. I have always paid a price for what I have taken and when somebody pays me, I give him his money’s worth. Ask yourself who is a thief in this room? Sahab, with you my duty is done, forever, never call me again and even if you do I shall not come, now. She walked out of the room without a backward glance. Roshni was free to dance again

Chembur : 20th June 2013, 4.00 pm

 The import of her words sank in and Kadam felt ashamed. He almost shouted after her to come back, but knowing that it would expose him to the lodge owner, he resisted. Dressing up he took a taxi to his police station at Chembur. Something in her words had hit the mark and he grew morose. He knew he had lost her and asked the Hawaldar Shirke to fetch him a chai. The Hawaldar came with the chai and dropped a fat envelope into Kadam’s drawer. Testing the envelope, he forgot about the girl and beamed, the collections are improving. Havaldar Shirke said Saheb, the bars have opened again na! A ha.

The last eight years had been tough on him and the rest of the police force. The Home Minister on one fine day had suddenly decided that the dance bars have to close and the police had little choice but to action the diktat. The Police Commissioner had tried to reason with the minister that the move was unwise but to little effect. As Kadam sipped his chai, he thought to himself that every large city requires its whore houses, its dance bars; in fact every civilized city should have them. The city was a conflux of people and people are a bundle of energy. This energy needs an outlet; it keeps the pressure under check. He firmly believed that the whorehouses and dance bars were the “Whistle (safety valve) to the city's pressure cooker, if the whistle does not blow periodically, the cooker could explode” & in the last 8 years it had. Crime had virtually spilled out onto the street. It had become more violent, more graphic and now there was no place to gather the information anymore. The paid informants who frequented these bars had melted away, that the collections had reduced was the other impact. It was pretty much tough to sustain living on a police mans salary. He for one was glad to know that the dance bars had opened again. He also fervently hoped that the jokers in power don’t go and do something as idiotic again and upset the apple cart. 

He bunched up the envelopes into a bag and had Shirke send it along where it would find its way through the upper echelons of power from the commissioner to the secretary who handled it for the ministry. Things were rolling again. Shirke had gone & forgotten his phone on Kadam’s table. It rang out quite loudly but he made no move to pick it up. The caller tune rang out the popular new release “Badtameez Dil”. Kadam’s mood lifted and his foot automatically started tapping in rhythm and kept on even after the tune had faded away.

Malabar Hill : 20th June 2013, 9.30 pm

In distant Malabar hill which was the bags final destination before it would be emptied and sent back, the same song played at a party organized by Kokilaben aka Kuku Patel. Kuku was the wife of the chief secretary in the home department. A leading socialite married to a bureaucrat, she came from a rich industrial family and the plush apartment was proof of her lineage, it had been her dowry. Kuku gave great charities ( NGO's if one were to insist on a correct nomenclature) and great parties. The party was a fundraiser to one of her charities which had been dormant over the last eight years; in aid & rehabilitation of bar girls forced into the trade. During the time. the bars were on, her page 3 contacts had ensured she got good press. She heroically fought for the bar girls across the lobbies and restaurants of many a five star hotel. She and her coterie had sampled the finest foreign liquor, food and condiments while giving ample sound bytes to the media on the great work being done by them for the bar girls. Then her party had been pooped as the dance bars were shut down. She had screamed at her husband to convince the minister to rescind the order. Three new Michelin starred restaurants were to open up. Without her NGO and an issue to make noise about she would now possibly have to pay. She was damned if she were ever to let it happen. Just imagine the gossip, Kuku Patel has to pick up a tab in her own town, the horror of it all, what would that do to her reputation as a powerhouse hostess ? 

Mangalbhai Patel had patiently heard his wives rant and ignored it. She who rarely got down from her high hillside set & making her way downtown to the dance bars was less than remote. She had never to his knowledge visited a single dance bar but had convincingly operated an NGO dealing with the subject. It was not an easy task and he admired her initiative & drive. He on the other hand was bored to death of her party crowd and was waiting for the bag to arrive such that he could leave. The fake conversation, the innuendo and the musical beds played by his wives friends and their toy boys they maintained was just about tolerated by him. Her family had important contacts and as much as he needed them, they too needed his services from inside the ministry, it was symbiotic. The men were more practical making allowance for the women who chose to turn up their noses at where their fount of champagne flowed from.
He saw Jamila Sircar pull a young man to his feet and sway to the song playing. The fellow an aspiring actor aped the moves of Ranbir Kapoor from the movie to a T. Then he grabbed her in a close hug and they swayed to the music barely conscious of the crowd around. They simply moved against each other.

Mangalbhai’s phone rang;the bag was here. He went to the door, collected it from the policeman who had come from the HQ and walked back into the bedroom. Pressing a button he released a catch and the wardrobe swung aside to reveal a large safe. He put most of the money in the safe, some fat covers from the bag he removed and put them into his coat, shut the safe, and returned the bag back to the courier. Mangalbhai was excited. His friend had phoned him about an old dance bar that had reopened with a great fanfare only for select high profile visitors. Unlike Kuku, Mangalbhai was no stranger to the dance bars. He found them more real than his wife’s parties. The dancing was certainly more sensuous, the promise in the eyes more ethereal, even the liquor tasted better and the dealings were cleaner as they had their roots firmly embedded in the earth-bed of commerce . Commerce to him justified everything. Did not the city danced to the tune of money? Their was power in it and he enjoyed wielding it. Against Kuku’s protestations he left the party at his house and got into the car. Leaning forward to his driver he just said ‘Opal' 

15 July, 2013

Sunday Rocks : Hunger Games, Chicken Liver Masala & Pancham

Pasha of the Remote

When does a man truly appreciate bachelorhood? The answer to this is simple... only after he is married. The understanding would never come otherwise. What if he finds himself into this state again...albeit briefly...when the superior half has gone out...wouldn't that time be savoured? Most definitely.  Am I an exception to this general caveat? It would be a lie if the answer was yes.

And where would men like these generally love to spend their time...at home of course, being the sole lord and master of the space; enjoying the rarest of rare experiences, the total and absolute control of the TV remote. Just imagine, you can get to any channel without any sounds emanating from the side that subtly direct you to the channel that has soaps and not sports or news that you wanted to catch. You can now watch all Sci-Fi, Horror, Crime or Action movies.

The Movie

And here I was doing exactly that...watching Hunger Games; a movie that we had missed seeing on the big screen. I was riveted by the actor playing Katniss Everdeen – Jennifer Lawrence. I had briefly caught her in one of the X-men movies but here was she being absolutely terrific in the part. The gravitas that is needed for the character was embodied by the young actor in such a sublime style that it is little wonder that the movie had such a huge opening weekend as it did. Now I certainly have to see her Oscar winning “Silver Linings Playbook” with Bradley Cooper.

But that’s by the by because after a leisurely morning and a late chai-biscuit session at 11.15 am had nothing to eat after. Hunger Games had begun at 1.00 pm and it was nearly 2.20 pm now. The good part the movie was on HBO, why good because the commercial breaks on this channel are endlessly long. Today they would help me explore the makings of my lunch without having to rush back and forth for the movie.

The freezer yielded a packet of frozen Chicken Liver about 300 gms, and the breadbox had half a sliced bread packet of Wibs in it. Bread and Liver it was. The other compartment of the refrigerator yielded fresh coriander, green chillies, curry leaves, ginger and garlic paste, tomatoes. In the kitchen cabinet found Maggi Vegetable stock cubes, a large sized onion – the last one in the basket and that completed my list of ingredients. 

Making Music and Chicken Liver Masala

After gathering all of these in one place, went back to Katniss trying out her whistle for the mocking jays. The movie proceeded and I looked at the ingredients once again.  

Chicken Liver : 300 gms
I large/medium size  onion
3 cloves of Garlic or alternately I/2 tsp of Garlic paste
¼ inch fresh ginger or ½ tsp of Ginger paste.
1 medium sized tomato
2 inch long green chilly
½ tsp red chilly powder or flakes
1 vegetable stock cube powder ( Maggi)
Curry Leaves 8-10
Fresh Coriander , a small bunch
Three tablespoons of vegetable oil ( groundnut, sesame works just as fine)
Salt to taste

Clean the fat and skin away from the liver. Wash it clean. Draining the water from it and keep aside.
Chop Onions, tomato, green chilly real fine.
If using fresh Ginger, cut them into thin slivers and crush the garlic cloves with the flat of the knife blade.
Separate out the curry leaves and set aside.
Clean the Coriander leaves on stalk and keep aside. I use the stalks chopped finely to garnish, they have as much and more flavour as the leaf

Preparation methodology

First and foremost came the music ;  R D Burman is my man for this.  Kishore Kumar started on ‘Hum Tum GumSum’ song from Humshakal and Asha bhosale raised the sensuality bar witha high note that had me swaying alongside the jhoom na sounds , the string and percussion started, lifted up and filled the kitchen . The energy level of the place rose up several notches and I felt RD Burmans presence as if he was peering over my shoulder laughing loudly...Ahaaaa Leeebhhhaaarr , the pronounced accent never having left him, and me nodding at him with a smile.

1.       Sprinkle some salt on the liver and add the ginger and garlic on to it and rub it gently together and set aside for ten minutes in a lidded container where the flavour remains trapped in. I didn’t want garlic on my breath till I had Jennifer Lawrence in the room with me, but to each his own
2.       Take a thick bottom pan and set it on a medium flame and pour 2/3rds of the oil on to it and as it heats up add the onions and chillies. Saute them till the chillies pop and the onions grow soft and golden brown on the edges.
3.       Add the tomatoes and sauté the mixture till the tomatoes blend in and with a wooden ladle puree them in the pan with the onion.
4.       Add the stock/tastemaker cube/ powder and blend it well into the puree
5.       The liver marinade is now poured into the mixture in the pan. The pan is well and truly hot and you can add the balance oil into the pan. Toss for about 1 or two minutes. Chicken liver should not take longer than that to cook. Be precise in this because the longer it stays on the pan the tougher it becomes and changes colour. You don’t want that. Remove pan from flame.
6.       Shred the curry leaves by hand and toss it into the hot pan. Cover and keep for a minute. The Liver lets go some juices and they keep the mixture and masala moist and fresh.
7.       Garnish liberally with coriander and if you are a greedy pig like me...Take the pan straight in front of the TV and eat it from the pan by soaking your bread into the juices. Tastes good with either Chappati or Pav...I prefer bread.


In the unlikely event the you have it left over, one option is that you can always have it the next day . But you can change its form. Chicken Liver when cooked is soft and with the flat end of a spoon you can blend it into a rough paste. Not too fine.  Cover this mixture tight and refrigerate it. For a lazy day, just fish it out and with a butter knife spread it on your bread slice, make a cuppa chai and your snack is set.

The special ingredient is love...mah friends

I had R D Burman , Asha Bhosale, Kishore Kumar and Jenny Lawrence keeping me company. It is my belief that great things happen in the company of greatness and it did. The Liver turned out to be spectacular, people only pay attention to the ingredients while cooking forgetting the most important factor that makes for a great dish, is the Chef. Love and Energy come from her/him and find itself into the dish, sample it savour it and at the end of the meal do be sure to thank the cook if you are outside and hug her if she is your own :-)

24 March, 2013

Theatre: Piya Behroopiya – Even the bard must be in splits

Ignore warning
Staging a comedy is a genuinely tall order and when it happens to be written by William Shakespeare it becomes a hundred times as difficult. The world has read the great Bard over the centuries and knows his work inside out. Comedies have another issue ...its sustenance value, across the length of a performance and in a comic play right across its enactment. A minor slip up and it can degenerate into slapstick, a farce loose its fizz , fall flat or in its worse case...a tragedy. This is the tight rope a writer and director has to walk with their acting ensemble after they put together one.  

Twelfth Night or What You Will is one of the great bard’s most popular comedies and the writer Amitosh Nagpal who also plays Sebastian in the play brings it to us in the form of folk theatre, the nautanki and in Hindi. He and director Atul Kumar of “The Company Theatre” gives it a twist and bring forth all the elements of a nautanki,the folksy singing and the narrative and fun in such a crisp manner that one can’t help but marvel at the dexterity with which this play has been handled.

Without much ado (it’s natural to become Shakespearan , when writing about his plays)the actors plunge right into the plot on the kingdom of Illiriya. Nagpal retains original names of the central characters thus giving the audience a sense of continuity of not having disturbed the play. ‘Fans’ is but a shorter version of the word ‘Fanatics’, and the bard certainly has his hard core loyalists who under no circumstances can be alienated. 

Viola (Geetanjali Kulkarni) & Sebastian are twins, sister and brother, who are separated in a shipwreck each presuming the other dead. Viola lands in Illiriya and masquerades as a gent Cesario in the services of the Duke Orsino ( Sagar Deshmukh) an falls in love with the Duke. Orsino on his part is in love with the Lady Olivia ( Manasi Multani) who is in a seven year mourning for her brother who has died. She has her entourage around her, a steward Malvolio ( Saurabh Nayyar) her uncle Sir Toby ( Gagan Rial, absolutely superb ). Orsino sends Cesario with his message of love and instructs him not to be back till it is delivered to Olivia. The Lady Olivia is charmed by Cesario and falls in love with him and therein begins the momentum of the play which just takes off in all directions. Each character brings in his own mischief, his own desire and its own energy making this a rollicking journey. There are other characters like the fool Feste given the name Phoolsingh played by Neha Saraf who has the best lines but more so is her voice which soars over her diminutive self and she has such a delicious sense of the stage, she just grabs eyeballs with her song and dance and tomfoolery. The simple rejected suitor Sir Andrew is played by the RJ Mantra who does a credible job.

Despite the change in language the grammar and the idiom of a nautanki works for this play so well it’s amazing to have conceptualized and executed this.The Soul of the original is intact. The play is a musical and the leads have passable singing voices but maintain the tenor, tempo and mood in the musical renditions very well. Manasi Multani plays an Olivia who has an accent of a Punjabi Aunty and her comic timing is delicious so is her voice which reaches and maintains a high note wonderfully. The stand out performance apart from Neha Saraf is that of Gagan Rial playing Sir Toby as the perpetual drunk, his is an act of rare balance and he doesn’t falter. He is ably supported by Trupti Khamkar who plays the feisty maid Maria. Geetanjali Kulkarni as Viola has the most strenuous of parts and she is glorious in the lead. She looks a tad elder but matches well to Deshmukhs Orsino. Saurabh Nayyar's Malvolio has his hilarious moment when he is fooled into wearing tights and the occassional moment when he reverts to accented English. The shortest part in the play is Sebastian’s played by Amitosh Nagpal who has an electric stage presence and in his short appearances attracts the most laughter. The musical quartet led by Amod Bhatt – Harmonium, Rahul Sharma-Percussion, Rachel D’souza and Trisha Kale are splendid, it helps that they are good looking too as they are on the stage all the time in their live musical background role.

The viewer is grabbed on three separate fronts in this play...The stage which is divided into foreground where the main act is rendered, the background where the characters retire to after their part in the foreground. Here too it is not static but a support interlude happening which adds to the performance and raises it to another level and the musicians who are the dividing line. There are times when every single one is in the foreground in a quawwali which is hilarious. 

Hats off to The Theatre Company for pulling off the Twelfth night in such a style that had the bard himself watched this version he too would have been in splits.