Friday, March 30, 2007


"What is really important to me is a sense of humor and a mischief about life. Life is just too boring otherwise."

- Mira Nair

Caveat emptor - Both 'sense of humor' and 'mischief about life' are badly missing from the latest movie from Mirabai films.

When should I go?

If you've just broken up, and suddenly got a Wednesday noon off from work - and it's too hot outside without any significant company - enter the movie-plex. This does remind you of some good old quality family time from past. After you come out, call your mom and speak for a while.

What it is about?

Ashoke Ganguli (Irrfan), who's just been gifted a collection of Nicolai Gogol short stories, meets with a train accident. His life takes a different course and he leaves Calcutta for a PhD in New York. He comes back to marry Ashima (Tabu) and they settle near New York. In the course of almost three long and eventful decades, their two kids grow up. Elder one Gogol / Nikhil (Kal Penn) faces many life challenges on identify, relationship, and marriage. The story spans over Calcutta and New York, Winter and Spring, Gogol and Nikhil, Moushumi and Maxine, Husband and Music, and two pairs of shoes. People - mostly the three central characters - are shown to make different choices - sometimes they repent, sometimes they wonder and at other times they just live with it. At it's best Namesake is an extended autobiographical soap opera involving a first-generation Bengali immigrant family in New Jersey suburbs and its travails. Ethnic subtleties, bright colors or complete lack of it in a stolid east coast winter and life decisions inspired only by either respecting or neglecting traditions - and not by any other choice - add some good cinematic moments to this movie.

The 'review' stuff

Dipta has compared Namesake with the last two movies of the Apu trilogy. I honestly don't know why. There is some superficial semblance - Apu's post-marriage Calcutta becomes New Jersey, there are trains in both, rain becomes snow in the later, and there is even a scene - added somewhat forcefully - where Ashoke's and Ashima's night clothes are tied when she wakes up next morning. But the parity stops just at that. If Apu's (movie version) strong and one-dimensional quest of happiness defines the trilogy, three hardly identifiable characters mostly lost in a distant land from their own makes Namesake a passable attempt at winning western audience over after the 'Monsoon Wedding' success.

Ashima is mostly cold till she is beaten by big shocking death of her closed ones. She is also surprisingly strong even after hearing her son's marriage (arranged by her) is fractured. One even wonders whether she was happier at the end with her old passion music, or all the while before with her family. She even recounts the fancy shoes -- and Ashoke's good financial standing -- as her reason to choose him.

Gogol is in cyclical battle between Gogol (the root) and Nick (Nikhil, the reality). India is shown as this vibrant, colorful place of love while the hackneyed east coast suburbia's color was expressed in offending graffiti (Ganguli becomes Gan-Grene) or something very temporal followed by an impassive winter.

While "Monsoon Wedding" was all about urban, Punjabi sub-culture, the later one from Nair is a concoction of (mostly) ambivalent Bengali psyche and (faintly) second-gen immigrant confusion. Namesake is a very run of the mill and, on occasions, just a very hurried commentary on life.

In the beginning Ashima steps into Ashoke's shoes and accepts him in her life. Towards the end, Gogol steps into another pair of Ashoke's and realizes how the relationship completed a full-circle. If that is your kind of flimsy poetry, go and watch it. You may not carry home a feeling, but you will not be disappointed while it lasts.

One more note on the technicalities. Irrfan and Tabu both did a bad job with whatever little Bengali they had to speak. The accent, especially Irrfan's, was clearly out of the place in most scenes.

  • Kal Penn was born Kalpenbhai Modi. He hollywood-ified his name. It seems to have worked!

  • Soonie Taraporewalla returns to script write Mira Nair's movie after a very long gap. Last she wrote "Mississippi Masala" for her.

  • Rani Mukherjee was offered the role of Ashima initially.

  • Jacinda Barrett is just way too cute for a 35 year old! If I were Gogol, I would not be confused in that one thing.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Heart attack watching Cricket !!!

We all have read it in that corner of the morning newspaper after a closely watched game, or a well-fought low scoring tie. It's about that small town man dying of a heart attack while watching the game. It's happened again. Raju "in his 30s" from Hyderabad died of heart attack during this India-Sri Lanka game in World Cup. It's sad, totally. Losing a 30-something is always sad especially when you realize you are in that age group yourself! But, dude, where exactly was the nerve-wrecking tension that can cause a heart attack? It's not as if India was fighting a great battle or was so close to the victory that Raju could not even get up to pee.

Sri Lanka batted first. Scored lot of runs. Indians had really lousy body language. In the earlier world cup, you just had to look at Javagal Srinath's face to be sure of India losing.

This time you could just take a look at any of them. Even Ramki, the "computer analyst", was quite glum. When India started the chase, it never -- even for a single over -- looked like India was winning, or even going to give Sri Lanka a good fight.

So, what was Raju's excuse?

Also, I have a basic question to media people. How exactly do you differentiate between one dying from watching the game and one dying because, let's say, his time had come. Journalists surely don't cover these 30-somethings' home or club to keep an eye on their pulse rate. So how do they know about the attack and correlate with the cricket match? What's the process here?

Apparently, 2.5 million people die of heart attacks in India every year - that's 4.75 people dying of heart attacks a MINUTE! To get an idea how big the 4.75 number is - we don't even play 4.75 bowlers, we play 4! So, during a one-day international, on average 2200 people are expected to die, if you give or take the time Ravi Shastri and co. analyzes the pitch on or Mandira Bedi adjusts her noodle straps to prevent certain vertical rolling motions inflicted by age and overuse. If I take the TV infiltration rate and the viewers' rating into calculation - that's still about 500 people dying of heart attack in India while watching an average one-day international game. How come Raju alone gets the news space? Is it because his friends - whom he fought with - were busy calling the newspaper while poor Raju was having an attack. May be that's why he died. He needed an ambulance, people! It's not an India-Australia match in late 80s that should warrant a fatal heart attack. It's Sri Lanka for God's sake. And they're the best Asian team now! Dying of an attack watching this would be akin to have an attack watching a Maldives Vs Brazil soccer game. How dumb would that be? Your immunity, central nervous system must be totally out of whack to even have a palpitation at such occasions. I mean what would the Noradrenalin system of a normal human being be telling the cardiac one? I would presume something like -

"Chill dude. Come back during the 47th over of the semi-final. You're not so DUMB!"

What about the other 499 poor souls? Did they die during a boring ad? I understand nobody could have a heart attack *and* die - these days - in the extreme short span Sachin Tendulkar remains on the crease. But, still, someone should do the analysis. I need to know more about these people.

So, folks, get the cable out. There still would be about 500 fatal heart attacks during an Indian game. There still would be one unlucky guy who would get the headlines next day. If you are one truly unlucky one, and still get to say your last words if it does happen, please say something like - "I was actually watching a Balaji soap!" Or, may be "Was reading the gas belly blog!". It doesn't hurt to little soft-lie to avoid bigger public embarrassments.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

You're not that young if -

(11) Your relatives will gladly lend you money if they can. In fact, they want you ask for it.

(10) You remember your vitamins not just because there will be questions on it in school exams.

(9) It takes you a while to enter your age by hitting 'upward arrow' button on the treadmill.

(8) You suddenly feel like a friend of your's has "changed" and feel bad about it.

(7) You know exactly where you will find the antacid at home.

(6) People stop speaking till you're finished in meetings or, you carry bottled water to meetings.

(5) You start playing golf or worse, start watching it in the Golf Channel!

(4) Your brag about how low your car insurance premium is or worse, you had had no car issues (accidents , speeding tickets, traffic violations etc) in last three years.

(3) You start watching the weather report for tomorrow and make faces at whatever they say.

(2) You don't anymore watch random, arbitrary movie just because it has steamy scenes. Your favorite director is long dead or, your favorite actor's son is happily married or, your favorite actress hasn't been seen in a swimming costume or skimpier outfits for more than five years.

and above all,

(1) After reading this you're thinking I have way too much free time compared to you!

Corporate stuff I don't get - "Mixed Emotion"

If every weekday around 5PM you have the same feeling that you had at Sundays around 6PM when there were no Satellite TV and they would show only one single movie on local TV channel at Sunday 6:30PM -- you probably have a full time job.

If you do you must have gotten a memo like this I received yesterday -

Team –

It is with mixed emotion I share another important change in the senior leadership of our organization. Effective immediately, X will transition from his current duties as the lead executive for Y products to a special assignment . X will remain in this position through April 7, 2007, at which point he has elected to resign from company. I want to thank X for his leadership and contributions and once again congratulate him on his success over the past 15 years.

Fortunately, Z - who has been leading division C for last 7 years - will now be promoted to lead executive for Y products. Congratulations, Z!

I have received several memos like this in my almost a decade worth of professional career. But what I still don't get is "mixed emotion". What exactly does it mean? Does it mean that surreal state of mind where you're sad AND you're happy too? OK, then I want to know when does that happen in real life. Because, you know what, it never happens with me. I am either happy or working.

In this corporate memo, what they are saying is - one old guy is leaving after sitting tight for God-so-many years and another not-so-old guy is replacing him. Well, isn't that either a happy (we saved money. The guy was more playing golf than wasting time in meetings) or a sad (the dude who's leaving knew folks in Senate) thing?

I can understand how for a big group there could be a state of mind called "mixed emotion". US bombed the fuck out of poor Iraqi villages - US happy, humanists and still alive Iraqi villagers are sad. Whole earth - as an entity - has "mixed emotion".

But in individual sense, I refuse to believe there could be such a state. What? "My car has been totaled in a crash. *But* a completely hot chick did it. I finally got to speak with a character shaped like how I always been dreaming of". That will actually be happiness for most guys (unless the hot chick's car has suffered badly as well!), still not what they call "mixed emotion" in those lousy memos!

Goodbye Buladi!

This last one week has been horrible. After India's departure from the World Cup and someone else's from Bob Woolmar's room early in the morning, it's now turn for Buladi to bid adieu. Buladi, for unawares, was a major socio-cultural phenomenon in West Bengal. That means, people had discussed her in the local tea-shops after an ill-timed Sunday slumber along with other important topics like Nandigram, Kim Sharma, 'Yodha Akbar' etc. Officially, Buladi ("Sister Bula") was the official mascot for anti-AIDS social campaign in Bengal. Had she existed in reality (may be she does!) she would be about 35; 5'3" bengali housewife married for 13 years; 137 lbs mostly in her lower belly and derrière; with two kids - both studying in South Point and one that never gives "chaNda" (donation for DurgaPuja) at the first attempt. Now, there is a distinct difference being one like above and being the sole mascot for anti-AIDS campaign in a city where the intelligentsia refuses to believe that sex is an (perhaps the most) integral part of our life. In Calcutta, you don't talk about sex. If you do you must use really bad slangs to indicate you are now in your "Mr Hyde" mode and your saner, 86.4% in Higher Secondary Dr. Jeckyll would shiver to talk about it. Buladi had a very tough job to begin with.

So, what do you do when you are given such a job? Something like selling spare car parts to Amish. Probably one thing you would never offer would be a good explanation. Something like -

"You're a proud Amish. So am I. But if any of us wants to change oil, we call 2874561290!"

That way you create ample confusion by creating a mini-identity crisis. Buladi did the same. Buladi's message to city teenagers were -

"The urge may come anytime. Just carry a condom."

Apparently, a lot of teenagers kept a condom handy just in case they have a sudden "urge" to throw up after eating "fuchkas".

And for the very few students that got it right life could not have been more punishing. These poor souls who actually had an idea were thrown out of classes, often guardian called and looked down upon by the parents of the usual students who did not get it. As this report suggests -

"The Buladi billboards and promos on FM channels are quite objectionable. Students are asking questions about them," said Heritage School headmistress Meenakshi Atal.

Isn't that the whole purpose??!! To spread "awareness". Awareness begins with questioning - that's what we are told.

My observation about Buladi -

(1) Why do all mascots have to be fat? Anyone remembers Appu? I would presume AIDS affects thin people too!

(2) Buladi's "mobile number" - in case you needed it - was 1097. I would just change it to something like, 6969 - contextual and easier to remember. What do you remember 1097 for? The year the first crusade reached Constantinople??

(3) One of the campaigns had a message like -
""Looks, education, and character do not alone make for an ideal groom or bride..not until both undergo and HIV test." Well, that's politically correct. Only guys should not be 'tested', girls ought to be tested too. I am fine with that. Am just thinking of a typical Bengali matrimonial ad in Sunday Anandabazar -

"Besorkari software company te chakuritoro, 5'5", kolkatay nijosso bari (dee-tol), bhaiji bideshe pathorota, HIV porikhhate sosommane uttirno patrer jonne uchhosikhhito, forsha, sushree, asoborno / soborno patri chai. "

(Groom works in a private software company, 5'5", own home in Calcutta (2nd floor), Niece studying abroad, passed HIV test with distinction. Looking for highly educated, fair, good looking, same / different caste bride.)

(4) If I were Buladi, I would be merchandising stuff like Buladi drinking glass (come on. Most 'infections' happen when one is drunk), Buladi candles (and when it's dark!), Buladi matchbox (reminding you to go for a test after you light that post-orgasmic cigerette) -- all cheap and easy ones to market. I would also aim places like Olypub, areas around Metro cinema hall, Central Calcutta metro stations and South Point High School!

I don't think Bengal's teenagers get much sex to demand a motherly, good natured sexual guide to keep them away from HIV infection. Real mothers have been playing the role pretty well for years by turning a blind eye to the stack of Debonair magazines the 9th grader has hidden in his bookshelf!!

Buladi please turn your attention to truckers. That's where the real problem is alongside G.T. Road and National Highways of Bengal. But most truckers are from Punjab and I doubt they will like their libido to be restrained by a female like Buladi. What if Ogilvy and Mather creates a character called Pappu for it?

Black Friday - Mar 23, 2007

So India is out of the world cup. Let's try to paint the picture of what happens now -

(1) First of all, Greg Chappell's contract renewal won't happen. India starts shopping for a new coach. It looks like Mohinder Amarnath would get the hot seat. And oh, from now on none of Chappell's fingers will be wounded so easily ;)

Boy, Bob Woolmar may have been killed, but in reality Greg is the one who died!

(2) Rahul Dravid is sacked ignominiously before Bangladesh series. Whoever (probably Sourav) gets the captaincy wins big time in Bangladesh and ensures a solid job stability for next two years.

Guess who would be fielding in deep thirdman now? Sad, but I think a lot of members in this team totally hate him and whoever becomes the captain would avenge for all of them.

(3) Kumble retires from one-day cricket. How humiliating it is when you're 37 and still not considered in big important matches. Remember how our parents used to say "Get older, and you too can play". It's really difficult to say the same to a 37 year old and have him convinced.

(4) VVS comes back to one day team. If Sourav is captain, he asks VVS to keep wickets, may be just behind Dhoni. Just in case. D Karthik continues to be the 3rd keeper in team. Just in case. We still keep playing four bowlers. Only two of them in 20-20s.

(5) Sachin Tendulkar gets "hurt" during some low-key practice match. He gets a "six-month rest advised" by Ananth Joshi (or his now-practicing son). That way his contracts etc remain intact, he still earns Rs 3 crores a year guaranteed as a "Grade A" player. His reputation will mostly be salvaged by big media. Outlook and India Today both place him in the list of "Top 10 Influential Indians".

Someone does a PhD from Trichie proving Tendulkar's lack of -- err -- height was totally caused by the heavy bats he's been using.

He will stage a big comeback in the next domestic tour of New Zealand by scoring 11, 113 and 3 in a three match series. His interview next day will be titled "I never cared about critics" in Mid-day Mumbai.

(6) M S Dhoni's decline accelerates. His woeful wicket-keeping and more- than-what's-due batting acclaim subsides. Lack of technique in cricket is like terminal lung cancer. None survives more than few months. OK, may be a year at the most.

Second ring of wicket-keepers start hovering in and out like between 2002 and 2005. Parthiv Patel re-enters the team at some point. As one of the "senior" members this time. This is better than last time since now he can legally enter any bar - with Yuvaraj and Kim Sharma as company. No one cares about his birthday anymore though.

(7) Virendar Sehwag's life goes on. He puts on a pound every 2 month, becomes 30 with 3 hair on his head that he calls a "shaved" one. Scores a 289 in a drawn to yawn test against Sri Lanka in Chinnaswamy Stadium and a total of 347 runs in the whole year.

(8) Zaheer Khan continues eating the Ranji and Dulleep batsmen for breakfast, dinner and munchies. In the tri-series final with England and Australia he loses the match for India in first 3 overs and 2 balls.

(9) Ranadeb Basu gets a chance. Fails because he's too old for international level fast bowling now.

(10) Kaif makes a comeback. Publicly wants to know from selectors why he was included in the team. Some people anyway get mad and paints his home black. Asian Paints stock shoots up on a desperately down BSE day.

(11) About 4 years later, Indian junta lines up signing the gigantic bat travelling between cities, a 'fake' world cup replica gets broken in Chandigarh display, Kapil Dev reminisces about June 25 and finally accepts he did lick the champagne not tasted it - Clinton congratulates him, Sunil Gavaskar attacks Australia for winning everything for last 3 year and hopes Indian team the best. Sponsors this time spends 97.5% of the entire worlds cricket marketing after "Team India". And then, it's deja vu all over again...