Monday, December 31, 2007

Ten Years I am Living Next Door - Part 4


In Bengali, all 'F' words that matter start with 'B'.

The transitive factor between comedy and tragedy, when one could masturbate and yet below 21, is solely the awareness of whether he is talking to a friend of same sex or someone he is trying to chase. Most Engineering male students have an indescribable urge to prove themselves cool perverts who could drink to the end of the world. I have been in hostel and the bit about guys always compare their you-know-what's size with roommates and in shower room is the biggest urban legend! Only two things could earn your real admiration for another fellow dude -
  • more foulmouth than the thinnest guy in the classroom. Somehow thin people, at least the ones I met in my life, are amazingly resourceful with cuss words. Hell, thin people can do cross words of cuss words at New York Times for 10 years without repeating themselves!

  • the amount of shit crazy stuff one did after drinking without throwing up. Not making this up - I've seen a guy taking out a nip of Rum somewhere from his jeans and gulping a sizable volume. If you need a cue, he was playing carom inside the Union room and was hitting for a red.

Bengali equivalent of 'f#$k' is a certain 5 lettered word that starts with B. Most of us used it in all sentences - sometimes both to start and end it. There were folks whose whole range of expression -- from extreme shock to exhilarating joy (usually at exam getting postponed) -- would be just a single, distinct utterance of the word with - may be - some facial muscle movement.

"B&*^a, birthday naki" (with a thud in the back. In case you were wearing a shirt that you had not worn the day before.)

It was used to convey best wishes.


It was used to appreciate at a good banter. Or a good shot at Cricket. Or to a friend who suddenly offered to pay for the 'Pepsi'.

"B&^%a, na korlei hoto"

It was also used to express fear and very distant, almost unbelievable remorse, after the exam hall invigilator caught the carefully prepared 'Harmonium' - a thin paper with useful things written the night before exam and having more than 18 folds that resembles a part of the isotopic musical instrument. Harmonium was JU's (one) inconvenient truth. With less papers used, it surely played a big part to reduce global warming.

Our classmate Venkatraman apparently had to prove his Bengali skills. Dipta, his neighbor, vows to have seen him mugging "Learn Tamil in 21 days" more than once. Aside, his adjectives seemed to have been inherited directly from Bankimchandra, but other parts of speech from Gariahat. Thus after getting a rare 39 out of 45, in mid 90s, he would say to me -

"Ki protaap er sathe pass korli re".

In another occassion, when Venkat's mother was saying something to him in Tamil, our friend Dipta was looking at Venkat's mom's feet. Hoping there would be a sub-title flowing. But after "Roja" and more P.K.Mishra 'translated' Hindi lyrics from Tamil, I knew it too well to replace any unintelligible Dravidian word with gems like "chinimini", "machindar" etc.

Every college has its brand words. B.E. College had a couple. "Cas" (for casual) and "daabi". So when I met them, usually to devour the cheapest beef on the other side of Hoogly river, I would liberally intersperse the conversation with those two words. Misguided that those two words have seeped into the JU territory they would even pay for my beef, special smoke and McDowells. "Daabi" has very interesting usage. If someone's girlfriend wants more time - it is - of course - onek daabi ache; sudden load shedding - 'daabi ta ki?' etc etc. Cas is pretty much same as cool, only tilting to the other side of legality. Like "Metro te ticket na kete cas dhuke porlam".

"Byatha" was another word that transcended the college boundaries. You might have been in Presi(dency), JU or R Ahmed Dental college -- but "byatha" (pain) meant a (often serious) crush, that perhaps was tangentially broached upon but met with a super-negative reaction from the girl. While watching Satya, I chanced upon a similar word - equally powerful in Marathi -- "Chaavi".

Once this habit of trying to adapt the latest college lingo almost put me into serious trouble. Dipta and I were coming down from the Nandan - upper level after watching Buddhadeb Dasgupta's "Uttara". Honestly, I found the imagery of a very Bengali-urbane-plump Tapas Pal playing a hindustani wrestler extremely funny. Still, I referred to the film as "biBhotsho" while talking to Dipta. Literally meaning more negative, the word could be colloquially used in both extreme senses - good or bad. At least so I thought. A very serious looking, spectacled, bearded, punjabi wearing folk -- who never ever farted outside Nandan-Academy quad -- charged at me. How dare I brand something from Dasgupta as "bibhotsHo". The irony is, I too was not sure whether he liked the movie or not! So I vaguely tried to defend myself. In front of scores of people about to line up at the Sulabh urinals, he lambasted me for wearing "jeans and sneakers" and yet try to fathom the depths of the mind of a bi-sexual, middle-aged railway signalman who perhaps wanted a threesome with his wife and his wrestling buddy.

I wanted to scream I too was a founder member of a "Film Club" and before some member impulsively rented "Nude Mujras in London" (a whole other story) for one screening we had been religiously watching flicks like "Citizen Kane", "King and I" (Yul Bryner) and likes of it.

Next - Vices

Monday, December 24, 2007

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Best wishes for the New Year.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Diwali Bumper Draw

I think Rohan Gavaskar, Abhishek Bachchan, Martin Luther King Jr II, Soha Ali Khan -- all had to endure it. No late cut from Gavaskar Jr could ever escape a comparison with his dad's. Abhishek's lack of dancing skills was always carefully analyzed with his dad's. Martin Luther King Jr II was surely asked whether he had a nice dream or nightmare the night before. Neighbors might even had watched Ishmael to see whether he, like his dad, would sacrifice his son too. A famous parent's offspring not only has to go through the comparison and the judgment, but also through expectations to emulate some of his / her parent's defining characteristics.

Thus, the first time I saw "Sawaariya" promo, the question I could not utter in front of a roomful viewers was not only whether Sonam Kapoor too is as hairy as her dad, but also - whether Ranbir Kapoor - just in case - has manboobs so big that there is no way he could zip of a leather jacket all the way up to his neck!

As I watched them in promo after promo, and in TV show after TV show, those two questions lingered in my mind like the thought of the great leftover food at your friend's place that you were offered to take home, but refused. Being brought up in a Bengali family that spends 13% of its lifetime in analyzing whether a newborn -- all crinkled, wrinkled - even on skull -- looks like his / her father or mother -- I also could not escape the thought that even if Neetu Kapoor had actually married Haji Mastan, Ranbir Kapoor could not have looked any different. He is a Neetu Singh that, against the wishes of the guy population this time, has exposed his derrière.

I will not watch Saawariya. I guess no one will. One last observation from having to watch so many promos - time has been really kind to Neetu Singh. In fact, what is going on with all the 70s actors? Jeetendra again started looking 37 years younger than he really is, Hema Malini has started corrupting dreams of an entirely different generation. Neetu Singh - let the comment be reserved for my close friends. Looks like 70s is suddenly back.

So OSO has a natural edge over the Kapoors.

Except, Shahrukh has started looking like Michael Jackson day by day. And that's so 80s. 80s with Robot Dance. 80s with wet Smita Patil, 80s with Bappida. I had a glimpse of what's been touted as a "six pack" at my local video store. To me that's a UNICEF or PETA looking poster. It looked like Madam Tussaud museum had a power breakdown on an unusually warm day in London, and its started affecting the statue.

Making a spoof is much more difficult than making a serious movie. Just like a circus clown has to do all the regular trapeze acts *and* make people laugh, a good spoof should do everything a good movie otherwise does, and yet make fun of everything it's doing. Tough. But I do know that Farah Khan did get some inputs from her brother.

On ending notes, no one has started judging Deepika Padukone. Badminton was a sport invented to help pregnant lady exercise - and as a vehicle of one of the most prominent songs filmed in history so lovingly described here. So not many know about Prakash, except the fact that he was almost as coveted as Imran Khan down south by the ladies.

My wife interrupted one of my most important meetings this week to let me know that Ranbir Kapoor apparently still gets a "pocket money" from his parents. My reaction to that was "Someone's luck is not changing. He has to continue to thrive on pocket money even after "Sawaariya"". Last month, she called in during my one-on-one with my director to pass on the critically important information that Farah Khan is pregnant with a triplet. I could not say it in front of my director, as he asked me "Is everything OK?" after I picked up the phone and did look surprised at this gem of info. But I did wish the triplets will be named Amar-Akbar-Anthony or Ganga-Jamuna-Saraswati as the case mandates.

Happy Diwali folks. Drink responsibly.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Ten Years I am Living Next Door - Part 3

The Teachers

Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach him how to fish and your profession as fisherman is at high risk!

- Old Jungle Proverb

Once P K Banerjee came to our school's annual sports as the 'Chief Guest'. I was thirteen years old. After two long days of watching people who are bigger than me winning, we all attended the prize distribution ceremony. PK started his Chief Guest speech around 3:30. After two decades, I remember Platini was not just a footballer, he was Napoleon - his free kick was not just a kick at a ball but a try to salvage the pride of a hurt nation by taking its bravest people across an icy Alps during harsh winter. Lothar Mattheus was no less than representing Goethe, and Charlemagne too. There was a reference to Carpathian Mountains, as PK raised his hands to give us an idea of the heights of the range, and then to brush away beads of sweat from his unusually large forehead. I don't anymore remember why - but the hardships in the lives of Mongolian nomad; Mesozoic era formations; Altamira cave; Wright Brothers' first flight and the actual yardage it flew before crashing -- all were mentioned. After he finished, sun was well set. My blood was boiling - it was as if someone has put some Codeine in a very strong brew of fresh coffee and made a squirrel drink it. I did not know what, but as he finished all I wanted to go out and fight someone. I did not care why, I did not care who, I did not even care how. But I had to take all these energy away from my little synaptic joints as soon as I could. For next 2 minutes and half, I could even have taken Daley Thompson (whose breakfast menu -- and severe childhood struggle -- too was elaborately described by PK) in Decathlon.

But about three minutes after he finished, I felt dizzy and extremely weak, and a bit nauseous too. All that free adrenaline in my system - without finding any vent, and the fact that I had just an Orange, shared with 3 others, in the last 6 hours, made me almost sick. It was very hallucinogenic however. From that day till now, I carefully 'mute' the TV set as soon as PK shows up to analyze a football match -- and I try my best to avoid people who are otherwise known as good teachers.

If you are a hiring manager, and want to hire someone who can do "out of the box thinking" - just try to find out how many classes did he/she attend in his first year of Engineering. The lesser, the better. On the other hand, if you are running a perfectly running business and don't want to risk it -- get someone who not only attended all, but took copious notes even in tangential subjects like "Sociology".

When we were in second year though, and this is why I started off with PK, we had a teacher who shared the same initials with him. Even the loquaciousness was very comparable. For example, when he regularly showed up at least 2 hours late in those 4 hour long "Engineering Drawing" classes, he used to launch a tirade against our lazy ideas and lack of initiative as we were just waiting for him and did not "design" something in that free thinking time we had. Soon the talk will peep into the design "vault" of Maruti and how - like Coca Cola - formula, earth shattering designs for components like Maruti cam shafts and an industry unusual 3/32" bolts were kept secret from nosy competitors. Venkat, a gawky fellow like most of us those days, would get his face so far away from his neck hearing these and other conspiracy and Engineering espionage stories, we were scared that Prabhu Deva may soon come there and kick his only serious competitor's ass!

There was another teacher, one of the very few who used to wear a belt *and* tuck his shirts inside *and* shave regularly, who once tried to demonstrate the "welding" process.

"And as you start welding, you will hear ...a long gap to try to find the English equivalent of the sound ...phot phot phot".

The same teacher had an unusual tactic in Viva. He would get two of the students to appear at the same time and let one student ask another question. The question should not be easy (then the questioner loses points), but if it cannot be replied the answerer loses. Diptakirti and I were roll-joined twins. His was 93094 and mine was 93093. So, I had to ask Dipta a question on Metallography. One of the subjects I doubt he knew existed the day before!

No matter how good a friend he were, there were serious numbers at stake. Numbers that could make the huge difference between a D and a C at the end of the semester. But I could not have offended him either - he won't lend me his mother's collection of bound early 70's volumes of Stardust (till then only promised, not delivered) in that case! So I asked him "What are the axes defining Carbon Steel's strength on a two-dimensional Carbon-Temperature plane?"

He could answer. Plus cool phrases like "Carbon Steel", "axes", "two dimensional plane" were mentioned in front of this Anglophile at large - and I too got "Alpha Double Plus"!

I never understood why, but teachers' initials would always be Bangla-fied, i.e., the teacher would get the name as the Bengali word when the initials are pronounced together. Thus, GD would be "gada", MM would be "mama" , and TKS would be a kiddish "tokas". The one known as "konchee" (a thin stick) was an amazing example how even such a random stuff could often produce something so topically relevant! He was rumored to have amazing depth of knowledge, but we were not sure he could carry his umbrella. As it always happens with people whom you need to inflate 30 inches, at least, in every dimension to walk on the ramp -- he was amazingly brave, risk-taking and full of positive attitudes. Not a single student had the audacity of asking him to clarify something again.

There were non-departmental teachers in the first couple of years - trying to put sense to us on subjects as important as English, 3 papers of Physics, 5 of Maths, Electronics, Electrical, Sociology and Economics too! People were least bothered with "Fluid Mechanics" taught by 'baba' (whose son was our senior, incidentally) , so one can easily imagine the fate of these peripheral subjects.

However, one of the Maths papers was taught by an exchange professor (Indian) who used to teach in some US Engineering College. She once casually told her daughter was 16. That's it - not a word more, not a word less. Hearing that bit only, one guy - cannot name, currently married with kids - not only started attending her classes, but started seating in the front bench, take notes, ask stupid interrupting questions hoping one of it would impress her, and even asking her for as ridiculous advice as what book to 'consult' apart from the - he mentioned the 3 books he could find in departmental library in a hurried search! He was in deep love with the Maths Madam's 16 year old daughter. His first one.

The same guy, was a literal genius of copying in exams (a deservedly separate topic) and in one occasion actually shaved just one of his legs - all the way down from the right knee - so as to transcribe some formula and stuff on his shaved n' Borolene-d skin. He later clarified it was not that he did not have time to shave both the legs, but he just did not have enough material to copy on.

One teacher, however, we all loved and faux-feared at the same time. He remembered the roll numbers, class test results, and other important details like what brand of Cigarette one smoked for all students for the past 13 years he had been teaching there! He also was a genuinely nice person who always liked his students *but* never showed any of it. Each of his classes would start and possibly end with dire threats like "In this Semester, Executive Council has asked us to take real test of your grasp of Machine Design. Last time we did it 73 people flunked and they never ever got any job anywhere. Everyone from L&T to Sriram Motors had a list, and these guys would never get a job in their life"....The only hope, of course, was to attend his classes and take notes.

There were even more ridiculous threats from him, like "next class test will be a spot, undeclared test". Yeah, right. Last we knew, we got class tests postponed that were scheduled months ahead for reasons as strong as it's too warm outside, someone's bus was running late, the building's fuse has just failed, there were two other class tests that day that we need time to postpone and so cannot really take this test.

If there was one single cause in my life that I unequivocally supported over a reasonable period of time, it is - efficiency is more important than conforming to discipline. The second one was, postponing a class test is ALWAYS worth it.

Another teacher once visited Canada to attend some technical conference and evidently was quite proud of it. One of us, when failing to answer even the simplest of the questions in a Viva, randomly brought up the lack of scope of Engineering work in India, compared to, say, Canada. Next 17 people that day all got "A" and were pleasantly surprised!

Another one was rumored to have designed the nose-tip for the INSAT series of Rockets. As always, the nose-tip was the most important design element of the whole package and a Bengali could never stoop down so low to work on the lesser important stuff like the heat insulators bla bla.

Somewhere else, while teaching "Engineering Mechanics" to Electronics' folks, our Head of the Dept was apparently pissed off at the raucous they were trying to make, but failed miserably for lack of man-power. Having witnessed such a sad case of erectile dysfunction, he apparently mouthed some really nasty, choicest Bengali cuss words that every one in the class room could hear. There was a stunned silence in the royal, sophisticated fourth floor classroom of Electronics department hearing all these. Words, and behavior, like these were alien to them. Not to us. When other departments finished the only mandatory "fitting" lab - where one has to build a T-joint with cheap wood pieces, we still had 17 more left where temperatures of burning metals could often exceed 500 degrees. Only other "labs" from rest of the departments had either chemicals or computers with as much RAM as 8MB. The main mechanical lab had, and still do, a Wesson lathe machine - always reverently garlanded on the day of Viswakarma Puja. Try that with your jar of Sulphuric Acid, Chemical!

Every time we meet we also talk about the one who used to carry 9 ball point pents tucked to his pink shirt's pocket. He poked a lot of fun at the "10,000 Rs jobs in AC rooms" and tried ridiculing the idea of things like being able to speak English, or read business section in dailies. Last time I checked, no one among us was drilling lathe.

I personally feel a teacher's duty in the mid-level professional education is to evoke a subtle sense of fear and inculcate correct quantification of real tasks among the students. JU teachers failed at the former, but succeeded with "Alpha Double Plus" with the later. Now I realize those last minute hurriedly copied, but copied well in order to pass, lab sheets and the ability to precisely quantify that a solid stack of 33 pages, no more and no less, of both-sided photocopied notes is all I would have to cover at one night to pass tomorrow's exam - are all the skills from my college that I, or most, need for any job.

Fear is important some bozo could get seriously eff-ed up to try to draw hero worship from his peers. Precisely, and minimally, quantifying the "to do" list -- as much possibly done by others -- required to not fail at something is an absolute and primal skill. That's what pretty much 99% or more would do later to get an above average annual raise and a good bonus. For skeptics, this is nothing new. Most important invention of mankind could very well be the wheel, but the very fact that some wise guy in a cave had encouraged some beefed up stupids to fight Woolly Mammoths and Sabre-toothed Tigers actually made that invention possible. Not failing at anything is way more important than anything else, including getting straight A's throughout. Ask an Engineering student why.

Today, when confronted with tightest deadlines - I always can smile and say "Yeah, fine with me. It will easily be done!". In corporate, ALWAYS somewhere else, someone else is stupid enough to fail before others. One just has to find the weakest link in the chain and position oneself just a tad higher than that. Rest, as they say, is all about how you define the gap between yourself and Mr Weakest Link in the annual review. After the initial positioning, it's all about creating perceptions. Looking back, education at JU was perfectly successful in imparting all these supreme life-lessons. Totally unprepared, as slowly walking to the department building with a hangover *and* an empty stomach, with no money left to buy used copies of"Debonair", all but one of us knew that nothing that we are unprepared for would be done today. We were better than the worst, and in Engineering, as well as in real life, that very valuable position itself is sufficient to live well. That is assuming you write your annual reports with care.

Next - The Language

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Ten Years I am Living Next Door - Part 2

Second Round at The Game

There were three logical entrances to the Engineering Faculty. One was near the station - people who came in train or the ones who would return from 'that' shanty after buying funny things to smoke would enter from here. "8B" entrance - named after, like many other things, a state-run bus terminus opposite - that would take one in next to the slightly deserted Electrical building. Then there was the "middle" entrance - leading straight to the Main Library building and thus, used only during Sanskriti, TechFair or to go out to eat "Jhaal Muri" from the vendor just outside the gate. His Jhaal Muri had best of the breed stuff, but clearly, like most Bengalis, he severely lacked any business sense judging by his location.

Compare him to Rajinder, the phuchkawallah near Dakshinapon, and you will understand why. Rajinder is Calcutta's 3rd richest phuchkawallah. The guy who seats opposite to Hindustan Sweets in New Alipore is the Laxmi Mittal of the phuchkawallahs. I once saw (ok, heard! But from very reliable source) Sourav Ganguly rushing there with two commandos just the evening before his departure to World Cup in South Africa. The third entrance would also be used by folks who lived in Salt Lake. They would eat a thoNga of Jhaal Muri (Rs 4/-), catch the S-19 (that too would only brake in the least popular bus stands) and refuse to pay the regal fare of Rs 2.20/- to Salt Lake.

No one from Salt Lake ever paid full fare to any of the buses. They would shout, grease, protest, threaten, network and sometimes even plead lack of preparation for the day's exam to avoid paying fare. It not only worked, Salt Lake buses were - and are, till date - the best maintained and most punctually running buses in the entire city. The actual rate from Jadavpur to Salt Lake that our students used to pay "cash" to the conductor was about Rs 1, unless there is a class test or interview on the day. In the later cases, our folks would just refuse to talk to the conductor, be engulfed in photocopied class notes and could even shout at him if he comes and asks for the ticket twice. Folklore was, some of those bus conductors and drivers - who would get a hefty commission too - purchased land next to the New Alipore phuchkawalla.

The fourth entrance to the faculty was as revered as the fourth estate. It was the 'arts' gate'. No one would take that route within five days after a haircut. Otherwise, it was a long walk - but very pleasant, if one could time the entrance to the breaks in the first building. We detested the guys who were always there in front of that building - usually with a rundown guitar hidden behind thick pale of Charminar smoke - the same way Sreesanth detests Andrew Symonds these days.

No matter which entrance you choose to come in to Engineering Faculty, the big green ground will welcome you as the strategic center of the hexagonal shaped faculty. Mechanical Engineering real estates defined two arms of the shape! Electrical another - albeit much shorter; two smaller - but heavier in terms of score - departments Electronics and Comp Sc would define another; another arm was Chemical slightly pushed to the side by a "Staff Canteen" and a mysteriously named KMR building. The last arm would have Nathuda's canteen trying to balance between the SFI-dominated Science Club and blink-and-you-could-miss and very cutesy Metallurgy dept. Nathuda was a portly middle-aged man who never said a thing to anyone that did not have a cash word in it.

-How are you Nathuda?
- Good. But Pepsi is
dos taka. Be careful with the bottle if you are taking it out.

Nathuda's wife - boudi - was rather friendly, and just as much squint as it requires for teenagers to not be 'too cool' with her. In mid-90s, probably to curb on smoking, Reserve Bank of India was not printing any more 2 rupee bills. Gresham's law postulates how bad money drives good money out of circulation. What he missed was - bad money drives *everything* out. The poor Rs 2 bills mandated we were never lending money to our friends; not paying for anyone else's Thums Up even after his sincerest promise to pay back; we were even trying to buy full beer bottles with a stack of Rs 2. "Black Label" was Rs. 36. Still, the bad currency was probably good business for the waiters at Olypub since every patron was desperate to get rid of it. However, I remember once I left the elderly one with a few Rs 2 bills that even the populace at the nearby Park Street old cemetery would not accept anymore!

So, once someone was paying for the famous G-4 (burger named so in the canteen) with a couple of Rs 2/ notes. Boudi grudged, and gave the bills back saying -

- Eta cholbe na. (This is no good)

Our man, sorry I cannot name him at such a public forum, shot back -

- Boudi, Nathuda chole gelo aar ei du takar note cholbe na!?

This is as untranslatable as Kapil Dev's English- in his pre-Rapidex days, or the lyrics of "Coffee Houser Sei Adda ta aaj aar nei" - so I am not even trying!

Even though we had a somewhat nicely maintained green field, it was mostly enjoyed by satellite groups to gossip and watch other satellite groups sitting nearby. On the side farthest from Mechanical building one could even see some callows to have the audacity to sit with their 'girl friends'. But when the Auction Bridge mania engulfed us - me particularly - in the 2nd year, even those rarities were given a pass by. Like a true Bengali does with any sport, I turned a blind eye to the Skills and Stamina components and just focussed on the "strategy" bit. To a Bengali- any game, including outdoor ones, is always won by just strategy. Stamina, particularly, - like someone running around the entire field to score a goal - is highly looked down upon as a stupid imbecile element. Hey, he can always produce on nifty bicycle kick to score a goal, why waste energy running?

Thus, a few months ago when East Bengal arranged a benefit match for Parimal Dey (Jangla) footballers recounted his great days by regaling how Jangla-da used to recite Rabindranath just before the Santosh Trophy matches. No one mentioned a word about his training schedules - assuming he had one. However, Subhash Bhowmick mentioned how once Jangla-da replaced someone just a couple of minutes before the final whistle and produced a stunning equalizer against Iran's top club. The very fact that he had not originally taken the field for some stupid ego reason -feigning injury- was conveniently forgotten. We Bengalis do not necessarily look at a sport bi-focally - thus Gopal Bose has remained the opener Bombay lobby could not have afforded to let in lest Gavaskar had to carry drinks. Snehasis Ganguly had always had much more talent than his younger brother. Pele apparently touched Chuni Goswami's feet. Ambar Roy drank scotch for the entire night and then went out to score a century against Bombay. Krishanu Dey spent entire weekend eating luchis, and yet could produce a pass that would ashame a sudden lighting on an empty sky. To a Bengali, success is not as important as almost-success. Even better is a romantic failure that has a touch of art and absolutely no physical attribute to the cause. When I read Pankaj Roy's "Khelte Khelte" first time - I was convinced every West Indian fast bowler thinks first thing in the morning whether he will be Roy's breakfast that day. It was not the time he spent at crease that would be highlighted, it was always that shot that earned a pat. We were designed to live for a moment of glory, not necessarily followed a wild fest of stupid success.

To develop bridge "strategy", I was running to British Council Library and finished at least 6 books on bridge. Very soon I was dispensing free advice to anyone who cared and started analyzing the world series matches that Harsh Bhogle could only dream of! Even after flunking the Engineering Mechanics - I, the second part of the subject was royally ignored. No one - in our group - even talked about the other papers.

When I failed to get into big Cricket teams earlier in school despite my weird - and confusing - bowling action where both hands rotate at the same time, I decided to become a left-hander batsman. Strategy again! How come a left-hander -- good or bad -- be kept outside the team! A left-right combo means - in a Bengali context - the opponent fielders have to switch places more! They would huff and puff after the 3rd ball. Even though my average dropped to lower single-digits, I garnered enough eyeballs. Once, one of my proudest moments on field, I managed to hook some bad delivery for a four. The guy who stood first in Higher Secondary in our batch, clapped and shouted "Good Shot". Getting recognized by the topper was always good, even in strictly non-academic matters.

I like Twenty20 cricket a lot these days. One of the common perceptions is Twenty20 requires much more fitness and agility -- and youth-- than the longer versions of the game. In JU, we proved 'Law of Diminishing Returns' by inventing 5-a-side cricket, that requires no physical stamina whatsoever! This was always played inside a basketball court, with most regular rules applied. Except, if the ball goes outside without a drop within the court - batsman gets out. Ohh, there were no runs if it goes behind -- Nathuda's utensils and dishes were lying nearby, waiting to get washed. Mechanical was undoubtedly the Campus' best 5-a-side team.

But we had two disadvantages.

1. We were like South Africa. There were too many talents around - and we always barfed at the tournament finals ostensibly to "Phy Ed" -- muscular people who were in some annual vocational training to qualify for PT teachers in middle-schools. These people hated to lose in any game, and once they physically beat some of us up after losing a particular mainline Cricket match, we were quite happy to concede a little match here and there to them.

2. I usually captained the side. In one Final I remember, we had to score just about 8 runs or so in last over. A cinch of a task within a basketball court. I looked into the Phy Ed bowler whom I could not see anything behind. I was at my defensive best and was rather looking toward watching "Muhafiz" that weekend with friends. We lost!

Oh! 5-a-side also had a 12 run shot. One had to hit the basket to get 12. To the best of my knowledge, only one member from our team could ever score that feat in the entire campus.

One of our major strengths was Diptakirti as our official umpire. I have never seen a more vile, dishonest, corrupt and blatant subversion of power than his umpiring in those five-a-side games.

Once Avik Roy, our Class Rep and an enormously responsible folk, took me aside and wanted to know why I did not show same level of passion (I clearly remember that word since "passion", to me, was something that's aroused after watching "Lake Consequence" late night at Star TV) in studies or something more useful than the stupid 5-a-side cricket. Again, to a Bengali nothing can be a bigger complement than "You could have done this. Only if you wanted!"

I was so proud that day. It's better to flunk by not studying than to admit you studied your ass hard, and did so! We all tried to be wilder the next day. Because everyone else has a story to tell - if one had no mentionable repartee or exchange with a teacher to recount, one could have seriously been depressed. But in reality, teachers enjoy tremendous power. More so since no one attended most of the classes and there was a significant percentage of total score calculated just from class attendance! This peer pressure made the uninterrupted flow of ridiculous "Viva" stories from Engineering students possible. Viva is mostly one-to-one situation and no one outside the room has a way to know what went on inside. So it's easy to be hero when you come out. People will believe anything from you that they think put the teacher in a tight spot. Thus, every year several Viva legends are born in every Engineering college. Ours was no exception.

Next - The Teachers

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Ten Years I am Living Next Door - Part 1

The First

While my dear friend Diptakirti takes almost a weekly dip into nostalgia, I try my best to avoid it by entirely denying that the past was any better. Thus, the request of a friend from Texas - who, after a couple of beers that he shared with seven others, once stripped in the middle of a certain road named after one Raja S C Mullick -to write about ten years of our passing out from Jadavpur University keeps getting postponed. It keeps getting postponed because I am either at phone with my car insurance agent to try to lower the next six-month premium, or I lobby my boss for getting that E-award that no one else deserves more, or I still hold my smile - and my anger - at the usual Saturday evening discussions comparing India and US, or, may be, like I was doing a while back around 3AM this Saturday, wander through the Orkut profiles of people I never saw after school and just feel a tad hungry, not depressed. Not yet! As I just said, living in denial is a wonderful thing for your heart, for the micro arteries in your brain and the moody gland that secretes insulin.

Dipta apparently saw "almost a hundred of us" as he walked into the Mechanical Engineering building, the first time. Well, I doubt it. Some folks, especially who would belong to "A" section, had already started studying and so, were absent. Some others were so eager to get ragged, especially about the bits where the seniors would ask them to propose to a random girl sometimes a senior herself, they kept prancing within 12 ft radius of the dreariest looking folks whose only privilege in life was they passed the Joint Entrance Exam a year ahead of us. Some others, like Dipta himself, would either run to Nandan or Elite, somewhat randomly, at the first hint of a loose day at college. So, there could not be hundreds walking into that building. But I don't blame Dipta. For us who came to JU after 12 years of "boys only" schools, counting - or other related number crunching - would only involve girls. At least on that very first day, we had only one dream. As soon as we enter through the "Arts gate", we would be mobbed so badly by the girls - especially those from English - that Beatles and Rajesh Khanna in early 70s would get into depression. Some, I heard, also carried an extra shirt and a couple of something else in their pockets the first day. Just in case.

Graduating in Mechanical Engineering was like being perpetually in a place that's a homogeneous mix of a crowded men's locker room and a sports bar that does not allow females. Hell, we did not even have a "Ladies" toilet in the 5 buildings that our department spanned. But we had a windmill next to our dept. According to Anindito, that windmill ran on electricity. I believed it.

The curriculum in the first semester in any Engineering course, at its best, has the same level of complexity as the mandatory seat-belt instruction 'training' prior to takeoff. Or, at least that's what we heard! So, rather than reading magazines in our seats, as the instructor - all Mechanical Engineers themselves, no long-legged commercial airline lasses there - kept whining, we got out. Every day we fled the department faster than a fire-alarm would evacuate Pentagon. We went to many more places than the first generation Aryans went to find newer pastures. However, the clear winner was an ambiguously named place called "AC Canteen". It was neither air-conditioned, nor really a canteen. I never saw anyone buying any food there. People used it for 3 purposes -
  • Generally measure the arts' chicks.
  • Chitchat in REAL large groups (more than 12). Smaller groups, or people above first two years, had other places to go.
  • Throwing up after an unusually long round of drinking, followed by smoking special things, on unusually warm days in August.
Thus the first semester seemed shorter than a lopsided Antakshari round between two mute groups. Diptakirti was our new star, as was Vinod Kambli in Indian Cricket team that time, who smashed all previous records in the 'optional' English paper and - thanks to his deep knowledge of angular inertia of motion - scored highest in a Physics exam too! Our "B Section" had 50 students. As the semester results started pouring in, more seating legislators lost than it happened after "India Shining". 37 of the 50 failed "Engineering Mechanics I" - the only real Engineering paper in that semester that covers the basic fundamentals which the next seven semesters would be built upon. It was a swift and it was a bloodbath. Out of the 13 or so who passed each subject would be one Manas Kr Das, possibly the handsomest operator who - according to Anindito again - could have 18 disheveled girls from English hons dancing around him if he just adjusts his glasses like he does anywhere near the Arts section. Folks formed a "study group" to pass the second attempt the University allows for a failed paper. I was very politely, but unequivocally, asked not to come anywhere near when the study groups convene. Manas advised us "to formulate a plan and just attack it". We nodded. On the other hand, Vinod Kambli gave an interview on how Sachin took an elevator to the top and he is taking stairs. He would reach there, just a bit late. "Baazigar" was a top hit. "Superhit Muqabla" - hosted by Baba Sehgal, and "MTV Grind" - often hosted by Cindy Crawford, lost a lot of viewer ship for next month and half. We still were not getting mobbed by anyone, but possibility of a serious thrashing down at home - if they had known about the going ons - showed up instead.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

"Kothay Jachhen,Tarapadababu?"

(Where are you going Tarapadababu?)

There is something about Rays and Bengali literature - the only two authors whose entire work adore my bookshelves are Satyajit and Tarapada. For years, actually decades - years spent in wasting my college days; years where I tried to overcome the early workplace excitement and, subsequent frustration; single years where I tried to find meaning of everything in things like Beer and Kababs -- books like "Ko Kho Ga(w) Gho", "KandogYan", "Bidyabuddhi", "Sheshmesh" were a part of my bedtime routine. Heck, even my wife - who understands but cannot read Bengali - nagged me regularly to tell "funny stories from that mota boi" ("Golpo 365" - anthology of Ray's humorous writings). Tarapada seemed to have a life made of dreams - childhood spent in East Bengal in a big family that includes every unknowing neighbor; experimenting grandparents; weird relatives; youth dedicated to "Krittibaas Movement" - that was all about late nights in burning ghaats, drinking (and often smoking LSDs brought in by likes of Alen Ginsberg), and writing stuff that were never written before
-- and above all -- a solid, secure, executive level job with Govt of West Bengal that ended as soon as Buddhadeb Bhattacharya took over!

He claimed most of his jokes were "copied" from Joke books he bought used from Berkeley (where his son teaches) bookshops, but not all - not even most of it were lifted from foreign sources. I live in US for a decade and never seen an English joke book with ShilNora jokes! Most jokes were either on him, or on his brother (Sajal), his sons - Dodo and Tatai, his wife - Minoti, his East Bengal neighborhood, Calcutta offices, Shibram Chakraborty and late-night drunks (read - Shakti Chattopadhhay). He tried funny fictions too - namely the ones with a detective named 'Patal laal' (pronounced as one in Bengali) and an aging heroine 'Julekha'. Puja special numbers for daily "Aajkaal" usually carried this series. He wrote - and loved more than writing anything else - enormous number of poems, some excellent ones. Lately, he delved in some real auto-biographical stuff too -- the title of this blog being title of one such book (read - his jokes with actual character names on it). But like every other successful funny man, he carried a burden to prove himself to be "non serious". Thus poet Tarapada remained sidelined to the joke writer! To me, some of his poems would rank the same as early Nirendranath Chakraborty - same lucidity, similar Calcutta-East Bengal identity dilemma, and not overtly just about chasing skirts (actually, saris!) when drunk.

Tarapada Ray died yesterday. News of death - as we grow older - becomes more painful. But when a humorist dies, it becomes unbelievable. Like Tarapada, Art Buchwald - whom the former had tremendous respect for and had actually met in US - also died of kidney complications. Buchwald worked on a book titled "Too Soon to Say Goodbye" in his final days. This book contained eulogies prepared by his friends, family and media that were drafted earlier when a false news of his death was reported. After the day of his death New York Times posted a video obituary where Buchwald himself said "Hi, I am Art Buchwald and I just died". Knowing Tarapadababu, he would never do the video part, but probably would have done the book by all means. My eulogy on him would just be - "The first man in billions of years of Universe who wrote jokes on Moshari and Gamcha is no more. Airplane economy class travel would no longer be the same without his books unraveling why one bajaar never has more than one pagol and one shaaNd!"

Glossary -

Moshari - Mosquito Net. Discovered way before Rasagolla and perhaps a truer identity for every true Bengali.

Bajaar - Fish Market. Vegetables - namely, potatoes - can also be sold, but as long as there is no fish (not frozen, fresh) - it is not officially a 'bajaar' for Bengalis.

Pagol - A lazy folk -usually perfectly alright - who adorns a locality, a bajaar or the book store near a bus stop. Neighborhood gladly welcomes one pagol, but gets divided in their support when there is more than one. It usually ends in bitter physical fight between two pagols for territory. Bengali folks can pay money, or, more usually, misses work to witness such fights.

Gamcha - originally hand-woven cotton spread with different shades of red used to wipe water off Bengali body after a bath. There could be as many as 139 types of red color in one single gamcha. Best gamchas are usually available in Sealdah. Even though "towel" became a French sounding "towaale" in Bengal-land, true Bengalis stick to gamcha (or the gamcha colors stick to them).

Shaan(d) - Ox. As lazy as the pagol. Lives on the vegetables from bajaar that remain unsold.

ShilNora - A two-part stone tool used in Bengali Kitchen to ground spices. ShilNora's average life is about 145 years. In other words, no new shilNora has been made after Bidhan Roy had died. So, if you use one, thank your grand mother.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

My World This Week

(1) Yesterday (Aug 10) was "Lazy Day". I rapidly forwarded this valuable piece of information to my colleagues and to my manager. However, a question. How do lazy people celebrate such an occasion? My guess is they don't. Otherwise, they won't be lazy. I worked!

(2) Rediff has started a feature where you can send your experience of growing up with celebrities, along with picture. There are people who actually "studied" with educational luminaries like Kareena Kapoor, Twinkle Khanna etc. Cool.

"I was in the same school as Shahrukh Khan. Even then he was so much in love with himself that he never ever flushed his poop."

(3) Reading "Dhus(h)or Canvas" (Grey Canvas) by Tarun Kumar Bhaduri (Amitabh Bachchan's father-in-law). A lively take on Bhopal - old and contemporary (80s). Tarun Kumar was an esteemed journalist with "The Statesman" and had written a few interesting books like "BehaD Baagi Bandook". His "Bilkis Begum" once caused sufficient controversy in Calcutta drama circle . The book starts as the writer wakes up in Intensive Care Unit of a Bombay hospital. He died a couple of years later.

Originally published in "Desh", it has number of interesting anecdotes about Urdu poets, and other interesting characters from Bhopal. Like this one -- worried about his friend's drinking habits, who also was a devout Muslim, Tarun asked how he could drink when his religion is so against such vices. His friend, also a famous Urdu Poet, replied "Yaar, Islam mein peena haram nahin, nasHa haram hai". ("Drinking is not forbidden in Islam, getting drunk is!").

(4) Best movie quote of the week - Will Ferell to Jon Heder (Napoleon Dynamite guy) in "Blades of Glory" -- "I see you still look like a fifteen year old girl, but not hot".

(5) This feature on Bruce Willis -- just before his "Die Hard 4" --could be a great lesson for people who do Celebrity Profile / Interviews. I loved the part where Bruce Willis wants to change a part of the script and calls the studio. The studio boss was not very keen to make the change, and the call went like this --

He kept saying, 'Uh-huh, uh-huh.' And then he said, 'Let me ask you this: Who is your second choice to play John McClane? Thought so.' And then he hung up. It was just as cool as that."

(6) Finally watched Disturbia. Loved it. "Rear Window" has been remade so many times, it feels as regular as shaving to watch one. Anyone remembers "Pehla Nasha" - another remake in Bollywood with Deepak Tijori? One song went like -

"Main deewana, tu haseena.
Un hoon Un Hoon...
Aisi akeli raatooN meIn mujhe
Neend na aaye
To kya karoon"

Disturbia added a nifty teen romance (pretty hot at that ;)) to the base storyline. Thus the guy - about 17-18 year old here - was not only looking at murders, but also at the new next door hottie in her swimming pool. Nice Hollywood formula movie that entertained.

(7) Anil Kumble scored a century in Kensington Oval. Anyone knew this series is "Pataudi Trophy"? MAK Pataudi (who never played for England unlike Senior) apparently saw four balls coming from bowlers - after of his eye accident - and just chose the one that appeared less defused. Sweet! Anyhow, I was talking to a friend asking him whether Kumble's century was even more painful to watch than Ansuman Gaekwad's painstaking 201 against Pakistan. He said yes! Doesn't look like I missed much.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

"Bombaiyer Bombete" - A Late Review

Making a bad film is not necessarily an easy thing to do, especially from a popular piece of literature portraying a generational hero, unless the director (a) ignores the story and brings on his own, or (b) messes up with the casting, or (c) makes something of zero or no production value. Sandip Ray somehow managed to do all three - and much more - in this movie.

Agreed no top-notch criminal would use an airport pay-phone today, or anyone could be arrested in a long gone MISA (POTA, probably?). Heck, Tabasum's "Phool Khile Hai Gulshan Gulshan" was last telecast about two decades ago. In post-Satya age, it was a mockery of the hero to see Feluda 70-s style attacked by two funny-looking, skinny goons. Last I saw someone attacked like that and fight out so was Biswajeet in one of his eternal ending in speed-boat chase movies with Babita and Shetty! Also, why did Feluda not scan the address book from the mobile phone of the fallen goon? They were already being phone stalked before the attack ensued. Chances are he might have found more solid clue by just dialing the last 10 numbers or so!

The movie starts with a green ambassador - same as Lalmohanbabu owns - blown up. So, you cannot really be blamed for elevated expectations. In a few moments after the title though, the movie tries very hard to get the identity of a shaky, low-budget, made for TV film. "Satyajit Ray Presents" was actually a made for TV series too, and the difference between these two are just about the same as the difference between whatever little success Rohan Gavaskar has achieved today and whatever he could possibly have achieved had he not been a Gavaskar!

I generally love movies, and number of movies panned by me is perhaps less than the number of students flunked by your high school drawing teacher. Even by that scale, BB is so horrible that when the trio watch Pulakbabu's last movie "Tirandaaj" -- and award-winning snippets like Venkatesh fighting an evil woman inside a green airplane in turbulence, or Rambha shaking her ample behind are shown -- one may actually pray that the fantasy continues rather than the idiocy.

Some other questions -

(1) Why the hell was Feluda's and Lalmohanbabu's hotel rooms were raided? This did not plug in with the rest of the movie and was not mentioned ever again. This was a wasted sequence.

(2) Why Pulakbabu is senior to Jatayu? And what was with Pulakbabu's extremely irritating accent? If they were trying to ape north Calcutta (Gorpaar) accent - they just had to watch Mondar Bose in Sonar Kella. If they were trying to show how lame Bollywood directors are, they could have just watched any of Ramgopal Verma's movies instead - where he regularly copies likes of Johars and Chopras and Lahiris too!

(3) How come Jatayu never remembered the chit from Sanyal, but when Feluda asked for it -- he produced it in a jiffy? This actor should also remember that Jatayu is not at all about hand and neck movement - in opposite alternating directions - with every sentence. People comparing him with Santosh Dutta should just stop at the baldness gene and go no beyond.

(4) "The Life Divine" is a pretty thick book - with about 1000+ pages on hardcover. Jatayu's version of "Bombaiyer Bombete" is very much like Ray's - about 130 pages. Even for Jatayu it would have been hard to mix one package up with the other.

(5) Hopefully, the loud "shooting noise" in the climax train scene is planned - and not just because they ran out of cash before sound-editing that part. It did sound very distractive, dissipated any tension that may have built up near the end and perhaps one of the worst train scenes ever filmed after "Ramgarh Ke Sholay"!

I grew up in boarding school. One of my worst nightmares was using my roommate's toothbrush sleepy eyed. Worse than other dreaded teenage nightmares like feeling a bullet in your spine, or drowning in the fishpond as the fishes start eating you -- of course after de-boning carefully to get rid of the femur and likes; the tooth-brush bit used to wake me up with sweaty palms, dry throat and an immediate eekie-eewie current making my body shiver. Watching "Bombaiyer Bombete" just so nearly mimicked the experience of using someone else's toothbrush first thing in an otherwise fine morning. Satyajit's movie version was so noticeably distinguished that Sandip Ray should really have left Feluda alone.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Random Movies I Like - The Gentleman (1994)

(On Dipta's request)

(I received my movie review training from "
The Guy's Guide to Guys' Videos" - that even had a section on "how to convince your girlfriend to watch this movie", immediately after "babe factor" section- so do not expect to find comparative style analysis between Bunuel and Trauffaut; or the Freudian dissection of a scene between Nirupa Roy and Amitabh and stuff like that. So, please read at your own risk.)

Mahesh Bhatt did not at all copy everything from Shankar's first movie "Gentleman". The self-ascribed 'showman' added a very significant "The" before the original Tamil title, replaced Madhu with Juhi Chawla, called up Anu Malik to Hindi-fy the original music and - most importantly - replaced water with Honey to be poured upon the heroine's navel in one of the most erotic scenes portrayed in 1990s. Bollywood had more budget in the pre-"Sivaji" days than the south.

Shankar's movies (Mudulvan, Indian etc) typically show common man taking his fight to the corrupt system and winning. While the means is not at all important, and mostly consists of twisting all possible laws, the hero always wins full approval from the mass after a fiery end- speech that justifies the cause. In "The Gentleman", Chiranjeevi plays a Robinhood who robs rich people to build a school that will train Doctors, Engineers and every possible profession one could imagine. Apparently, his brother had killed himself unable to pay the "donation" (known those days as "capitation fees") to one medical college.

I was comfortably ensconced in the cool of a pretty good Government run Engineering college that time, and was paying about Rs 300 (less than $10 a year) for the tuition for the whole year -- most of which went to pay the examination registration fees that I usually had to take multiple times to pass! But we all were aware of the dreaded "Bangalore Colleges" that used to charge 'ridiculous' monies merely for registration. So, I guess Chiranjeevi indeed should have been the hero, rather than our own Tapas Pal (whose character once actually sold his kidney to get some money for his family - "Saheb").

Anyways, we were on the last of our teenage years and watched very carefully Juhi Chawla writhing as Chiranjeevi's erect, glistening sword almost pierced through her tucked-in navel. As they say, pain is indeed mightier than the sword!

Our moral leaders were just overloaded to protest against all Govinda-Karishma Kapoor "double meaning" numbers and overlooked this.

In retrospect, one hopes the shot to pour honey on the navel was chronologically *after* the shot above. As some claim, one hopes honey indeed reduces swelling and scarring, and heals the wound faster.

Just in case anyone suspects creativity and originality of Mahesh Bhatt, let's see how the shots above looked like in the original Tamil version. As said before, in the Tamil version, the actress was Madhu.

Oh! It looks like they also changed the actual sword across two versions. The Bombay one is surely more reflective, one hopes, of deep inner creativity that Mr. Bhatt had gracefully lent to this movie as "director".

Remember that you heard it first at Gasbelly. Director Shankar has a navel fetish. Like in "Gentleman", in his later film "Mudulvan" (where an ordinary folk becomes Chief Minister for a day and change a lot in the system; later remade as "Nayak" in Hindi, I guess they could not have named it "The Mudulvan" in Hindi anymore) Manisha Koirala and Arjun (wearing the yellow shirt) pay good attention to each other's belly button. Now, isn't that navel? Oops, I mean novel!

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Random Movies I Like

Ajooba (1991)

This one above, looking like a possible rival of Johnny Sokko's flying robot, is actually "fauladi shaitan" - awakened by devil Vazir Amrish Puri- that wants to take over the world. This movie is extremely cool as it shows magic carpet; Shehzada (Amitabh) initially raised by a dolphin; a Zorro like character called "Ajooba"; a full fledged fight scene between two big nations - Baharisthan and Hind - with barely 22 soldiers in each side; Amrish Puri humming "Shaitan Zindabad" in pretty much every scene he walks in; and Hasan (Rishi Kapoor) turning into a 2 inch creature after consuming a magic potion -- and -- eventually taking shelter inside Sonam's blouse.

"Ya Ali, ya Ali. Mera naam hai Ali" or "Aare tajoob hai, tune dil nahin diya?" (Followed by Bachchan's "NAHIN!") both are pretty good songs. There is also a very zany, middle-eastern theme group music - probably pictured on Sonam - that I have forgotten the lines of. I think it went something like "Shikdum shikdum" - very much like the one from Dhoom, that incidentally has copied from Turkish music too.

Even if there were many fantasy films made in Bollywood, "Ajooba" would totally have been a cult classic.

Guess who else is in this movie, and despite all great bloodshed, finished pretty much in shape? Yeah, Dilip Tahil! Man, even his lines are so simple. Like, as he enters Ajooba's den - "Hum yahan Ajooba ko dhoondne aaye hai". Duh! Thanks for telling dude. His next two lines to Amitabh are "Tujhse?" and "Kya!?". I totally envy this guy. His character, btw, is called "Shahrukh" in this movie.

I first watched this movie in 1991. I -- then about 16 years old --went to my cousin sister's wedding and was asked to greet the guests from the groom's side and have them seated well. However, around 5PM-ish -- as soon as I could manage Rs 8/- - I fled to the nearest theater and watched this movie wide-eyed. Back home, just when everyone was badly searching for yours truly, I surfaced from the side of the hall where they kept the food and gave some lame excuse like "Oh! You already got enough paan? But I was asked to go to Naran's shop and get some extra paan!!" It was a crowded wedding place and no one asked who gave such a stupid executive order especially when the caterers got more than 400 paan - of various types - along! Thankfully. Otherwise, I would have blabbered something like "Vazir-e-ala"!

Rather my uncle decided to give me a crisp Rs 20/ bill -- just in case they really needed more paan. I again went out and bought "Ajooba" audio cassette from T-series. Long live my superheroes! I was already a big, big fan of Sonam after watching her conspiratorial "Aakhri Adalat", epic "Vijay", social justice related "Na Insaafi", and a pretty good curry western type movie "Gola Barood" etc. After "Ajooba" I was totally in love with her. Especially thinking of the scene where she emerges from a bathtub and Shashi Kapoor pans the camera across, I think, 108 mirrors across the room. When 16, even a shadow of Sonam was good enough to like a movie (ahem!)and here she was in her fullest glory, in multiple disheveled avatars. That was almost near the quota for the entire year! However, the rumor started by a dear friend that she was in the buff was totally not true.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Location, Location, Location

Lancaster, California

"This summer I learned at a party that there is a small - but important - difference between peeing in the pool and peeing into the pool. Location, location, location."

-Demetri Martin

As a big fan of road movies, I loved "Breakdown". Kurt Russell is somewhat like our own Sunny Deol - short on acting, have extremely limited expressions so as to not confuse viewers, yet always delivers, provided it's an OK scripted action movie. "Natural Born Killers" is probably the most overrated road movie, especially if you have not seen Brat Pitt's less discussed "Kalifornia". Later two has Juliette Lewis, who would easily have won my vote for best actress for the Oscars in those two years.

"Breakdown" has a somewhat bizarre gang of truckers and wanna-be truckers kidnapping (and possibly killing) random auto drivers (mostly females) from a somewhat deserted freeway that looked like near scenic Moab, Utah. I am taking off for summer holidays to Moab, Utah - following a week spent in a (work related) conference in Las Vegas. So - to prepare, not for the conference - I did what I do best. I made a list of movies made in or around Moab and just finished watching as many as my local video store had in stock!

I also found "Mr Location" who actually takes off for several weeks every year to cover cool movie locations like ones in "Thelma and Louise", "Italian Job" to Spielberg's one and only road movie (but one of his best work ever!) "Duel". Mr. Location also maintains an album - duly organized and captioned - in webshots. Hats off dude! You are my hero.

This man's level of details is evident from the picture that I linked at the top of this post. In the movie "Breakdown" -- Kurt Russel's wife hitches with a trucker, leaving her husband with their new, broken down Jeep, to go to this diner to call a tow-truck. While the road was definitely in Utah, this diner - as Mr Location points out - is in Lancaster, California. Moab to Lancaster would be a painfully monolithic drive of 700+ miles. I am speechless and - at the same time - humbled by such a focussed individual who - as you will see - is an excellent photographer too.

Some other movies shot in or around Moab (famous for Canyonlands and Arches National Park)- Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Con Air, Hulk, Mission Impossible (1 and 2), Thelma and Louise (I will actually be visiting the location of the climax! Thanks to Google Maps!!), and also - Austin Powers (Goldmember). Now I just wish I had my own 'Mini Me' to send to places I could not possibly cover within 8 days!

Another recent awe-inspiring movie location was listed in my scrapbook as I was watching the opening scenes of "Arachnophobia" -- shot at Canaima National Park, Venezuela. If you ever get to grab this movie, do not let the first ten minutes pass. Especially the aerial shot of the falls -- as the entomologists helicopter is circling it -- is one true piece of art. Before watching this movie, my favorite waterfall scene -- other than the ones from RK Films -- was from Amitabh Bachchan-Manoj Vajpayee's "Aks", shot somewhere in Hungary.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Shorties - Three Other Movies

1) Ek Chalis Ki Last Local -

Let's start with a PJ.
Q. What would "Da Vinci Code" be called if Neha Dhupa and Abhay Deol act in it?
A. Last Local Chalice.

Jokes apart, this is a brilliant movie by a first-time director. A comparison with "Pulp Fiction" or Coen Brothers genre is probably unavoidable, but I found it more in line with "Get Shorty". The story, also written by the director, could easily be one penned by Elmore Leonard. Very few good "cult" movies are made in Bollywood, the last one I liked was "Waise Bhi Hota Hai Part 2" in 2003.

This movie does not have a single frame shot at daylight; has an array of strong, unknown character artistes; two rival South Indian dons (one played by Deepak Shirke - immoral for playing the "Hakla Seth") and a hilarious Nana Patekar mimic as an auto-driver who spends thousands after the bar girls. If any of these sounds interesting to you, do not give it a miss. If not, wait for Karan Johar's next!

2) Bheja Fry -
PJ - in Bengali, this movie would be called "Wet Bhaja". (Bheja = Wet in Bengali)

Yeah, it is lifted from a French movie. So what? One of the very few three-dimensional films ever made, it independently criss crosses (a) a story, (b) situational humor and (c) intentionally frustrating or annoying the audience. The best possible weekend stress-buster without inviting anyone for dinner!

3. Parzania -
This is one of the few films that, rather than let you escape from reality, drags you to face the bitter truth in all its minutiae. A must-watch movie if -
  • you hate Narendra Modi and the general bastardization of Indian politics by the so-called "Hindutva". You will find more reasons! Never before was one Indian film so unabashed in its portrayal of such an open secret.

  • you like Narendra Modi or Praveen Togadia. You will give the other side at least one chance to explain.

  • the last image of Sarika you recollect was from a certain frame of 'Vidhata'. Clearly, the ex Mrs Kamal Hasan is the best green eyed actress in India right now. Cannot wait to see her more in the coming days.

Eklavya - The Royal Guard

Eklavya - The Royal Guard

In "Maximum City", Suketu Mehta writes how Vidhu Vinod desperately wanted Amitabh Bachchan to play SSP Inayet Khan in "Mission Kashmir". Apparently, they landed up in Bachchan residence 2 am-ish to talk it over, to be told by a wide awake Abhishek that they are a family of insomniacs. The deal was almost clinched, but Amitabh preferred to focus more on "Mohabbatein" and apologized in a fax sent to Chopra wishing to work with him in future. Chopra kept waiting, meanwhile polishing a screenplay based on a lore - when a bodyguard of Yasser Arrafat was assassinated, his revolver was passed on to his ten year old son- narrated to him by a certain actor. Amitabh Bachchan.

If nothing, this movie is a great visual treat and one of Bachchan senior's finer achievements.

For trivia hunters, this is probably the first Bollywood movie to have its "official" blog. The site mentions that "The most problematic location proved to be a railway crossing - the scene of two pivotal action sequences in the film. Scouts travelled all across Rajasthan looking for a location where six hundred camels could run along side a moving train. The crew was preparing to shoot the sequence in Egypt. Thankfully at the last moment the perfect spot was found a hundred kilometers from Bikaner." Actually, Pradeep Sarkar should have told his mentor about the train route used in "Sonar Kella" - where camels did run along side a train. Ultimately Chopra and Co. chose the very same route anyways!

  • Original Eklavya put seven arrows in the mouth of a barking dog (hopefully it was not a Chihuahua).
  • Vidhu Vinod directed this movie after seven long years of hiatus.
  • Main movie poster of Eklavya has seven character close-ups.
  • Newly married Hindu couples walk around fire in seven full circles to ensure the bond between the couple lasts for seven lives.
  • Vidhu Vinod, however, married four times. Anupama Chopra, India Today film correspondent, is his present wife.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

"Delhii Heights" - Frustrating Aim at Mediocrity

I had my "Crap-o-meter" on as soon as I saw Shivaji Ganesan - of all - offering prayers to Tirupati and a batch of South Indian Deities at the front title of the movie. Was not this supposed to be a film on Delhi, where God takes a backseat unless He is driving a Bentley? Then, the narrator goes on (thankfully, not Amitabh Bachchan) - "Phir bhi meri Dilli meri shaan. Aur aaiye aab milte hai Delhi heights mein rehnewalon se.."

That's the last the city "Dilli" we would experience. Except a shot or two -- including one stock shot overwritten 'Bombay" -- all take place in cool comforts of the studio. One may have hoped this movie to continue the legacy of the foggily romantic Delhi winter (Ahista Ahista), or the Old Delhi cobweb of mystery (Dil Se). But finished watching, the biggest question that lingers on mind is not what exactly was Om Puri doing here, but why so many (I counted at least 7) travel agencies were thanked at the end title when the entire movie - barring may be 3 minutes - were shot within four walls!

Bengali literature is exceptionally strong with stories that touch the lives of people -- of similar background, but with different problems -- living within the same compound. Jyotirindro Nandy's "Baro Ghar, Ek Uthan" (Twelve Homes. Same Backyard)comes to the mind as the prime work in this genre. In the visual media, a tele-serial called "Kolkata" -- based on residents of a certain 'Kolkata Apartments' -- was highly popular in mid-80s. Lately, "Pran Jaye Par Shaan Na Jaye" was cliched but was a relatively enjoyable film from Bollywood on the same premise, literally. Success of these stories mostly lie on two factors - (a) different story in each family - if one family deals with a teenage criminal, the other does with a pedophile who is next door neighbor to a high-class prostitute; and (b) complete lack of predictability.

In "Delhi Heights" two neighboring couples of similar age and background both deal with spousal issues! At no point during the movie one would not be able to tell what is going to happen fifteeen minutes since. Except that Jimmy Shergill would indeed be thanked for getting discount on soft drinks for Om Puri's daughter's wedding where premium scotch flows scot-free!

Back to the front-end narrator, on Delhi he says - "Dariyagunge mein dariya ki, aur PahaDgunj mein pahar ki ek photo tak najar nahin aati". Ironically, the same can be said about "Delhi Heights" and "Delhi".

To find Gaseous Belly - People Google These!

Real examples from my counter -- showing what people Google for to hit this page. Exact search strings follow, spelling and format unchanged. My comments, if any, are in small, bold, italics.

1. relation between kaberi basu and juhi chawla

2. after the chinese, south indians are the smartest people

3. fart of the day

4. vizag middleage females dateing search (ok. I have no idea why someone looking for such things should land up here, but apparently they do!)

5. mandakini is an indian actress known for doing bold scenes in hindi cinema (Why search. You already know everything!!)

6. shrek 3 fiona fart (I wrote on Shrek + this is gaseous belly. Haha, Google is smart.)

7. how long can it take for a medical transciptionist to type up reports

8. how to find a date of birth of a child who was born in behala vidyasagar hospital in 1989

9. vinod kambli's second wife (I knew he only had one!)

10. real father of sanjay gandhi

11. babul supriyo divorce

12. picturisation of sex in indian hotel on mms

13. moon moon sen's blue film (ahem!)

14. you're not the person i fell in love with lyrics (If not, why search for the lyric baby?)

15. rahul dravid, engineer

16. weather report for the month of march 2007(kolkata)

17. french exploitation movies

18. vasundhara raje kiss video (Even this has a market. Certainly so does this page!!)

19. things to do while watching cricket

20. pune infosys staff cleavage (Again, no idea how! O Almighty Google..)

(Will be continually updated)

Lessons Learnt from "Shakalaka Boom Boom"

1. IMDB has the following entry, and just the following entry, in "Memorable Quotes" section for the movie -


Before you count - "LAKA" appears seven times. Good for Himmesh. Using the same logic, what would be the memorable quote from "I Know What You Did Last Summer"?

2. Out of the four people whom "music will destroy" (according to their website) -- two went to the left, two went to the right and rest went with Govindrao Asrani.

I could understand why "music will connect them", but about destroying -- I do not see how music destroyed Celina Jaitley's character in this movie. If they are talking about destroying her career, hasn't it long been done already? Her dialogue delivery -- even for very steamy ones as "You are ALSO good on stage", after making love to Upen Patel -- is as monotonous as a train cruising at late night.

3. One may wonder why, despite at one point having both aggressive Celina and willing Kangana at his arms, Bobby Deol's (named AJ) den is splashed with Upen Patel posters!

4. "Main aapko kha nahin jaaoNga. I am a vegeterian" is a great pick-up line. Kangana Ranaut readily steps into an aging Bobby Deol's car hearing these immortal lines. Another nomination for "Memorable Quote" just submitted to IMDB.

Not to blame Suneel Darshan, this morning I watched promo of "Naqaab - Disguised Intentions" that starts with a frame of a woman cavorting in an inviting two-piece near swimming pool. "Naqaab" literally means "mask". (Thanks to Dipta for the correction.)

5. Viju Shah is reduced to "background scores" these days.

6. Vivek Vaswani has not lost much hair since "Kabhi Haan Kabhi Na" 15 years ago.

7. Kangana Ranaut does not only look like a certain East-European pornstar called Sandra Romain, but probably took her acting lessons from the same school.

8. Dilip Tahil has it really easy in movies. Despite playing the bad guy in movie after movie, he really never was engaged in the typical Bollywood end-movie fights, chased by a faster hero or delivered lengthy evil speeches after throwing a fellow baddie in the shark tank. The wardrobe - mostly three-piece suit - is consistent too. I guess we all have seen likes of his at our workplaces. People who are there for years, makes jolly good money, no one really knows what they do and - most importantly, no one even questions why they are there! We all aim to be that guy. Except, Dilip Tahil has been that guy from day one in movies.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Life is short, Watch a Billboard

Most days it was 9:25-ish, in the morning, when the mini-bus would stop in the infamous Beckbagan traffic. My head, already constrained by the neighboring angry and sweaty sardines, would have to finish a short, yet compulsive semi-circular motion - starting from the cheap, B-grade movie posters on left side walls of Gurusaday Dutt road and ending at the huge billboard blocking further views of La Martinere for Girls' school - in less than seventy three seconds. This would soon be followed by a leisurely, Cigarette-friendly walk diagonally bisecting Minto Park, leaving Bellevue Nursing Home on my right, and Hindi High too - till I would reach the green (back) doors of St Xavier's. At least one such walk was unusually gloomy for a 17 year old who still had enough money to buy three cigarettes, a couple of Samosas - and possibly even a movie ticket at Regal - that day. Calcutta Municipal Corporation had just buffed Lisa Ray's shiny back - on that huge billboard - to prevent any more corruption of Bengali morale. Ironically, it now looked like Lisa Ray would indeed need a lot of Camay to wash off that dirty, black, greasy paint from her crisp, inviting, smooth-as-a-lager-at-evening back.

Give or take another 15 years, several thousands of miles -- and it looks like nothing, absolutely nothing, has changed. It is that funny sense of Deja Vu all over again.

A week or so ago, they had to pull down a racy, controversial billboard from a busy intersection (aptly called "Viagara Triangle") of the city of Chicago. It was advertising a female-employee only local law firm -

Studies have shown that racy billboards can cause traffic accidents in busy sections. Mostly, the party at-fault would be a male driver, unless something actually falls down from the billboard itself like -

However, a self-conscious female star can stare at herself - magnified on the board - and can cause a car wreck too. 20 year old Scarlett Johanssen got shock of her life looking at "brotonsorous sized" you-know-what in this movie poster of "The Island" (great movie though!).

Who ever thought anyone who is not a blonde, is on wrong side of 36 (not age) - would ever feature on a beer ad? Call it a "shady" strategy but this billboard does demand attention at certain level -

Europeans, especially Parisians, always remain ahead on the race. A certain women's clothing with - err - untrimmed enthusiasm --

Ladies, it does not always target us (i.e., heterosexual males). Especially Calvin Klein and Abercrombies.

On the road, parting ways with convention - watch the crowd trying to fill in --

In some century, you are the bird. Some centuries later you may just be the statue. That's a Plugg jeans ad below -
The ad above reminds me of a photo from the last page of one "The Telegraph Weekend (Color) Magazine". Movie poster of "Kab tak choop rahoongi" was pasted right above a "Silence Please" sign near a hospital zone.

I was in UK in 2000s and this billboard featuring Anna Kournikova again provided enough in-the-bus entertainment -

Wall Street Journal described this Chinese billboard of McDonalds as -
"These are the messages McDonald's Corp. is sending Chinese consumers as it tries to seduce them into eating more hamburgers. One racy billboard ad features a close-up of a women's lips; on another ad on the door of restaurants, a woman runs her hand over a man's flexed biceps. "Flirt with your senses," signs say.

This one - though not exactly racy - conveys the message all too well. Anyone who has ever been in the vicinity of Tiffany's or her ilk would agree -

Underwear billboards have the highest ratio of double entendres. Even in that scale this one below literally stands out -

Back to India, this billboard in Chennai recently caused a lot of heartburn among Coke executives.

And, I am not sure if this was photoshopped like the one with Coke and Pepsi billboards in the same frame that circulated in email a few years ago, but if not - this one belowdefinitely deserves a mention.

Amul campaigns deserve a special place in any write up on Indian billboards. This one is my favorite one this year, so far -

Now, imagine you are driving a busy highway at an usual average speed of 60mph. Imagine there is a 50- ft brightly illuminated billboard that changes the display ad every 5 or so seconds, and they are showing all the ones above, and possibly more. Apparently, they are going to set up one such near where I stay. Time to call my car insurance agent!

(Special thanks to Adrants)