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Archive for August, 2009

I saw Kaminey last night. And it didn’t appeal to me. And no, it wasn’t the burden of expectation because these days I leave all that behind. Whenever I find everyone raving about a film or a book, I immediately become cautious. So, I went in fully expecting to not like it. However, it wasn’t so much that I didn’t like it. It was more like I found it boring.

To begin with, the theme was boring. I find all gangsta movies boring, unless of course they’re Tarantino films. And in our case, with Ramu having ODed on them, I find I can without one more gangster film. The story is straight forward enough. It’s a classic story of identical twins – one good, one bad – and a mix-up. There it is. That’s the story.

Since the story is neo-noirish  (dealing with the corruption of the soul), predictably Vishal Bharadwaj’s treatment is the same – lots of dark shots, excessive use of the steadicam etc. The film is slow to build up. It takes up all of the first half (whatever happened to grip your audience in the first ten minutes?) and had me fidgeting within the first twenty minutes. While I understand the importance of a build-up, for me it was like get on with the story already. Why? I don’t know. I guess I didn’t find the characters funny, endearing or engaging.

For instance, I didn’t find the hotel scene at the beginning particularly cleverly written or shot. The characters of Francis and the two corrupt policemen were, well, yawn. In fact, most of what happens in that hotel is boring. What does Francis want, what does Tashi want, who are the twins, what do the policemen want…who cares?

At the outset it is clear that Bharadwaj’s inspiration is Tarantino. The story is straightforward enough but the telling lies in the treatment. It is all about random, ridiculous events altering the course of the story and allowing the underdog to emerge the victor. But while Tarantino’s random events are shock and awe (remember the scene in Pulp Fiction where John Travolta gets shot?) Bharadwaj’s are, what the F? The sidekick backing the car onto the senior policeman? Seriously?

And when Tarantino engages us in a long dialogue between John Travolta and Samuel L Jackson, we are riveted. The long, long, long pub scene in Death Proof has us hooked.  But when Bharadwaj does it (the whole episode with Bhope and his cronies in Charlie’s kholi), it induces fidgets. It does not flow naturally even though it does end with a vintage Tarantino shock incident. A case of trying too hard? Maybe.

The climax is long drawn out and seems to never end. The runtime is 150 minutes and I was fidgeting for 120 of them.

Having said that, I also say that Kaminey is the best Bollywood film I’ve seen this year. For one, at least the story is not the run-of-the-mill, boy-meets-girl romance or a ridiculous Neeraj Vora comedy. And two, the performances are good. The stars are playing the characters for the most part and not themselves, although Shahid does slip-up once in a while. Priyanka does a good job of the spunky Sweety.

Only Bharadwaj could have elicited such performances and goes to show that Vishal Bharadwaj is probably the best (commercial) director we have today. If only he could ignore that tag and not be compelled to ‘try too hard’ to live up to it.

And now I’m off on a holiday. See you guys on September 7.

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I recently signed up to perform at an amateur comedy night. And bombed. Big time.

I don’t know what possessed me to do it – boredom with the usual routine, mid-life crisis or latent masochism – but the moment Vir Das’ company announced their HAMateur night open mike, I dashed off an email asking them to include me in their list of performers. Silly, right? Wait, it gets sillier. And then I actually went ahead with it!

Of course, I had my usual panic attack in the morning where I went, “Omigod! Omigod! Omigod! I can’t do this.” And my friend said, “Why?” “Can’t you see, I’m having a bad hair day!” And she went, “Oh, and I thought it’s because you suck at delivering jokes.”

Of course, ‘you suck at delivering jokes’ turns what was essentially a mild performance anxiety into a full blown self esteem issue, in order to overcome which she insisted that I had to perform as originally planned. I had to face my fears in order to feel good about myself. “So,” I said, “let me get this straight. I have to stand on stage, with a spotlight fixed on me, bombing in front of a room full of people…yeah, I can see how that’ll make me feel good about myself!”

You know, I have an issue with this whole facing your fears business. Why do we always have to face our fears in order to overcome them? They should have a pill or something, which when you pop, miraculously cures your mind of all fears. Wait a minute, they do – amphetamines.

This, in case you missed the point of the rant, subtle as it was with all the italicizing, was the content.

Oh, and I almost forgot about the opening joke: Isn’t it stupid how 4-5 swine deaths have the whole city running in a panic, covering their faces with masks. And yet, a million people have died of AIDS and they’re still not wearing condoms.

My phone beeped a message just now. It was someone texting me the very same joke! Damn, now I can see why I bombed.

Seriously, the content was fine. My delivery sucked. And that’s because I chose to gesticulate at the wrong time. As a result, I moved the mike away from my mouth and people missed the punch line.

 Still, I did what I have always dreaded – public speaking. The most difficult kind of public speaking. That ought to mean something, right? Wrong, it means nothing to me. I hate the fact that I bombed.

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I apologise if it appears I’m blowing my own trumpet (which I am), but when you read this, you’ll understand why. I came across this recently and it really made my day:

“This book was marketed as Indian chicklit, part of a new wave in Indian publishing. Well it does have a spunky, 20-something female as the lead character; but the reason I liked it (and no I’m not trying to be snotty about chicklit…for the record, I LOVE chicklit) was because it’s an intricate murder mystery too.

For Indian readers who grew up reading Agatha Christie and felt sorry for themselves because they believed they could never relish that pleasure in an Indian form…well…there’s hope. Now, now… Jain is no Christie. Judging from her glam author photo and bio, she might even take offence at being compared to a badly dressed tame dame, no matter how successful. But she sure possesses a talent for dragging you, protestingly at first, through a hundred twists and turns to finally catch the killer.

There are a bunch of interesting suspects who are all linked to each other and to the victim in rather complex ways. Jain keeps all these connections, cross-connections, and revelations moving along smoothly as she weaves her way to the climax. And she does all this without subverting any of your cherished beliefs such as: a) highly-placed murderers never get caught in India b) Mumbai traffic is BAD c)and Indian policemen are lazy and inefficient. They might be lazy and inefficient but they can solve murders when they want to…as long as they have a nutty TV writer and her hot squeeze of a serious author to help them.

Policeman Gaitonde is my favourite character in the book…I find myself saying ‘actuities’ and ‘hau’ every now and then…try it…your tongue twists interestedly around them…in a way it never will around ‘activities’ and ‘have’. Some of the characters are rather cliched but they help to build the atmosphere. I’m convinced it will be made into a movie soon…I had the feeling I was not reading a book so much as watching a fun thriller–a blend of Ram Gopal Varma and the Rajat Kapoor/Vinay Pathak stable.”

Read the original review here.

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As many of you may know, recently I had desperate need for a notary as I had to get an affidavit (and no, it wasn’t a name change) verified.

So I sent a flunky (basically the security guard at my building looking to earn an extra buck at the expense of his current job) to Andheri Station east to get a stamp paper of Rs 10 denomination from one of those little stalls that specialise in preparing legal documents. He gives me call from there and says it’s not available. “What do you mean it’s not available?” “The government has become so vigilant since the Telgi scam that blank stamp papers can only be bought from the court of something like that,” he says.

How ridiculous is that? What does the government think? I’m going to open a fake stamp paper racket from the cosy confines of my home? Besides, the scam involved creating fake stamp papers, an activity that typically takes place before buying one. What can I possibly do after I purchase one except type on it?

Of course, it’s perfectly legal to purchase one from the little stalls but then they lose out on the typing and printing charges, don’t they? So they’ve collectively figured out that the way to go is you can purchase a stamp paper, but only if you get the matter typed by us. Extortion? Ah no. If you must call it something, call it an acceptable form of enterprise, an oligarchy if you will.

But I didn’t know that. Then.

Anyone, I was left with no choice but to take a trip down to Bandra, to the small matters (or is it affairs?) court. As soon I arrived, a black-jacketed lawyer swooped down on me. “Want to get married?” “No,” I said. “I didn’t think so,” he said knowingly. And I’m like what’s that supposed to mean? Agreed I’m no spring chicken but I’m in my dotage either. Agreed I’m no Miss Universe but I’m reasonably pleasing to eye. And I don’t think I give out militant feminist vibes. So why couldn’t I get married?

Then another black jacket swoops down on me. And another. “Dowry case?” “420?” I could go on about that, but I digress.

I finally fought my way through the black sea, landed up at the window and asked the guy for a Rs. 10 stamp paper. “Discontinued,” he says. “Okay, 20 then.” “Discontinued.” “Fifty?” He takes a while, chews a bit on his paan, spits out the juice, wipes his mouth and says, “See, myadam, the cost of porducing a 10 rupee paper is 3 rupees. That means only 7 rupees profit. Gorment has no interest in making only 7 rupees profit. In 20 rupees, only 17 rupees profit, in 50 rupees…” “Yeah, yeah, yeah I get the picture. So what’s the minimum I can get?” “100.” “Okay, 100 then.” “Not available.” Yeesh.

Armed with the 200 buck stamp paper I came home and printed out the matter. Then I called the notary. “What are your charges?” I asked. “200.” I looked at him aghast. “But…but it costs only 45 bucks in Delhi!” I sputter. He shook his head sorrowfully. “This is a state subject and they can charge any amount. As for me, I have to put 25 bucks notarial stamps on the affidavit. So what does that leave for me?” “A healthy 175 bucks profit?” I said sarcastically. He wasn’t amused. “Who do you think pays the rent for this place?” I bought his argument. After all, I’m overpaying for my cubbyhole flat, aren’t I?

On the way back I got a rickshaw which had a faulty meter. I tried to argue with him but he wouldn’t admit to fraud. “Fine,” I said, “let’s go the havaldar and we’ll see who he believes.” So we went to the havaldar and I said, “This guy’s meter’s running fast.” The havaldar looked shocked. “Aisa kya?” and he boxed the rick driver behind the ears. Hard, like only they know how.

And just as I was starting to smirk, the rickshaw driver started snivelling. “I am so sorry, sahib, but the rates haven’t been changed in five years. And with everything getting so expensive how am I to survive?” This appeal obviously struck a chord with the havaldar and he turned to me. “Myadam, let it go, no. You know how expensiu everything is. Tur dal’s 90 bucks a kilo, potatoes 20 bucks… how is he to feed his children? How is he to survive?”

I don’t know, vasectomy maybe? Let’s see, I’m paying for the little stalls’ survival, I’m paying for the state government’s fiscal deficit (over and above the already vulturine taxes), I’m paying to feed the rick driver’s children, since when did everyone’s dearness allowance become my concern? And who’s paying mine?

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“(Watching Federer win everything)…is the same as having sex (while) wearing a condom. It feels okay, but (it’s) not even close to how you feel when you don’t”.

A very nice write-up on the mystique Nadal has for us…me for sure, no?

Actually mystique is the wrong word. It’s more like an X-factor…what the hell, just read the article :-). Enjoy!

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I was watching Spelling Champs on ESPN yesterday. As I was watching the Indian version of the Spelling Bee, one thing occurred to me. Actually two things. One, and that of philosophical, perhaps even ontogenetic  importance, just how bored does one have to be to watch that?

Yesterday was one of my busiest days and yet I managed to finished everything and still catch Spelling Champs. Contrast that with days when I only have to buy potatoes before the cook comes in and yet, I manage to mess that up. Has to be some sort of Murphy’s Law of Useless Pursuits or something.

The other thing that occurred to me was, boy, those kids are bright! Cochleae, Gingivitis, Acciaccatura, no matter what you throw at them, they get it right. And I need my computer to spell occasion and convenient! I used to be good at spelling but Word has made me lazy. Besides, I figure, who uses words like derailleur (French origin: mechanism for changing gears) and piccalilli (A kind of pickle)?

The only mistakes the kids made were because of poor pronunciation by the host, Rajat Kapoor. Man, they need a better host than him. The poor kids had to periodically keep looking at the ‘experts’ for verification. The experts being some gora named Andrew and one BBCD (as in the European counterpart of ABCD), Rana.

However, those kids need some serious phonetics lessons. All of them pronounced H as etch. All of them! The only exceptions being two south Indian kids who pronounced it as hetch. People, it is pronounced aitch.

On an aside, I found this joke and it’s hilarious. Like, seriously funny.

Welcome to the Psychiatric Hotline;

If you are obsessive-compulsive, please press 1 repeatedly.
If you are co-dependent, please ask someone to press 2.
If you have multiple personalities, please press 3, 4, 5, and 6.
If you are paranoid-delusional, we know who you are and what you want. Just stay on the line so we can trace the call.
If you are schizophrenic, listen carefully and a little voice will tell you which number to press.
If you are depressed, it doesn’t matter which number you press. No one will answer.
If you are delusional and occasionally hallucinate, please be aware that the thing you are holding on the side of your head is alive and about to bite off your ear.

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What makes a Dark Knight or a Transformers or a Star Trek work? Think about it. There are so many action flicks out there. What then makes a handful of them stand out? It is the underlying character story and the structure of the film.

Here, Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, two of Hollywood’s hottest writers share their screenwriting secrets.

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