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Monday, 11 September 2017

# 52 - Confessions of a Serial Prank Caller - Part 3 (Conclusion) - Karma isn't a nice lady

Read Part - 1 here.

Read Part - 2 here.

I made my final comeback on 2nd July, 2005. How do I remember the date? Well, let’s just say that it was all over the news. 

While returning from college vacations, we got stuck at Surat on 2nd July, 2005.

Why?  You probably recall 26th July, 2005, the day when Mumbaikars were half expecting Noah's ark to show up somewhere in the city.  

Mumbai's distant cousin Surat was facing the same situation weeks earlier.  

Seven of us were stuck together, holed-up in a small room for three days - with little to do and even lesser to talk about, our only source of entertainment was All India Radio. 

Yes, it was bad. 

Luckily, we were getting cellular reception. 

I called up the customer care for my cellular service provider with respect to some issue, but me being me, I ended the call with, "bhaiya bahut bhookh laga hai, subaah se kuchh khaya nahin, ek pizza bhej dijiye na". O brother, I am starving and haven't had anything to eat since morning, please send a pizza".

There's apparently a Facebook group by that name (sans the ‘send pizza’ bit) that's immensely popular these days - some say it was started by the executive who had attended the call).  

The others found this quite hilarious and insisted that we do more calls. 

It was quite clever that way, calling up customer care people and pranking them. 

Sure, they had your phone number and knew your identity, but there's nothing wrong with asking questions of the moronic kind. I was already doing it in the classroom in any case.

What started with a random call in Surat continued well after we got back to college. 

And thus it began, all over again....


"Mujhe duniya bhar mein free mein call karna hai...wo wala recharge kara do." I want to make calls the world over for free. Please activate the scheme.

- I am sorry, sir, we don't have any such scheme at present.

- “Arre kya bakwas kar rahe ho, mera padosi ka beta Bablu ne uska papa ke liye yeh scheme laga diya hai...ab din bhar ISD karte rehta hai. Main kyun nahin kar sakta?" Don’t bullshit me, my neighbour’s son has done it for his dad. Now he makes international calls all day long. How come I can’t do it?  


"Sharam aata hai mujhe.” I feel ashamed.

- I am sorry Sir?

- “Every other brand has celebrities endorsing. Shahrukh Khan, Abhishek Bachchan, Kareena Kapoor. You have a dog. Please do something about it, people are making fun of you."


"Oye, score kya hai bata na." Oye, tell me the score.

- Sir, to know the cricket score please SMS CRI to -"

- "Par usme toh paisa lagta hai. Tere saamne toh compute khula hoga na...bata na baby...acha chal itna bas bata de Tendulkar khel raha hai ya out ho gaya". That takes money. You have a computer in front of you. Come on baby, just the score. Okay, fine, just tell me if Tendulkar is still playing or is he out.

And so on...

And just like that, I was back. 

Sure, the jokes were limited since I had only my cell-phone service provider's customer care number to call up and I was nowhere close to my former glory, but it didn't matter. The new audience lapped it all up and offered their cell-phones to have the same calls repeated for other networks.

Post dinner was prank call time every night. All I had to do was put the phone on loudspeaker and call the helpline, and the followers couldn't get enough. 

My fan following was growing and from a humble 'couple of guys' my sessions were now witnessed by 10-12 people at any given time, there were more who wanted to be involved but my roommate was never the accommodating sorts.

It didn't take long for it to stop though.

It was supposed to be a routine call. 

All I wanted to do was ask the customer care executive to tell me how to increase the brightness on my TV screen (the call, as usual, had been placed to my network service provider).

On being told that he wouldn't be able to help me out and I should instead call up the helpline of my TV company (I had told him that the brand was "Shaitan Danger" and no manual was given) I retorted that they were customer care, and since I was a customer and obviously needed care, he was supposed to help me - no matter what the query.

The guy at the other end stopped talking, even as I increased my decibel levels and complained about how in the 21st-century people had stopped helping others. 

"Shut up you idiot". He said all of a sudden.

The laughter in the room died instantly. Everyone looked at me, how would I respond to this? 

Trying my best to retain my composure, I said, "This was a test call to judge the efficiency and patience of the Customer Care Team. You have failed. You are required to submit your resignation tomorrow morning."

"Shut up", he said again. 

I hung up.

Everyone started laughing again but it wasn't at the prank. 

They were laughing AT me. 

"Boy, you had that coming."

"Serves you right"

"Prank-call king my ass."

As one by one they left my room, I realised that they had never been fans and I had never been their idol. These guys weren't my followers, I was just an average guy who was funny for a while. 

It's been around 12 years since my last prank call. It's pretty safe to say that I am not going back to that habit. 

But bear with me, there's still a wee bit left of my story.

Around four or five years ago. I got a call from my "bank".

I was told that my credit card points were expiring, and was asked if I would like to redeem them for cash or get gift vouchers.

"Show me the money", I said. 

I was asked to confirm my credit card number.

"Wait, isn't that confidential?"

The lovely voice at the other end laughed, and all seemed right with the world again. "Siiiir, that's public information. We need to verify that it's you."

"Of course, of course," I said, slightly embarrassed.

 My CVV number was next.

"Are you sure you need that?" I asked Aishwarya.

Yes, her name was Aishwarya, in my mind I saw Aishwarya Rai Bachchan on the phone with me. 

"Yes Sir, we need to know the CVV in order to verify that it is you." The mild irritation I sensed in her voice made me immensely unhappy, the last thing I wanted to do was bother Aishwarya. 

Funnily enough, I never did get the cash-back, stranger still my credit card was used for some purchases that I didn't remember making. 

Aishwarya's phone was always switched off. 

The bank told me that it was a scam and my card was blocked.  

It took me time but I realised that I had become a victim of a prank call of the worst kind. The hunter had now become the hunted.

Present day.
Once a week some scammer tries his/her luck with me, I curse, plead, and occasionally threaten them, but it doesn't stop.

That's just the scams, there are genuine calls that come every day, some bank offering credit cards, some offering personal loans, competing cellular networks trying to lure me away, my own cellular network tempting me with data plans and free SIM cards, recorded voices of girls telling me that they are lonely and need a friend like me, etc. etc.

Just the other day, I got a call from some life-insurance guy.

"I am slightly busy", I had said. 

"Why?" he had asked. The question threw me off-balance, but he deserved a reply, I reckoned.

"Well, for one, I am in office, and on my way to a very important meeting," I said, more to myself than him.

But this guy was no novice.

"Is this meeting as important as your life? Sir, this is exactly why you need life insurance." 

I was reminded of myself. This guy had an answer to everything. Which meant that I had only one option left. 

I cut the call. 

Sure, everyone gets calls like this. But, I seem to get the wackier ones.

It's not a coincidence. I attribute it to Karma. I have disturbed a lot of people over the years, done some crazy shit, and what goes around comes around.

Hamare kismat mein champagne nahin, sirf pain hai.

- Rekha in ‘Bachke Rehna re Baba’ (2005)

But it was the call that I got last night that finally got to me. 
It made me wonder if it really was fate, or some other conspiracy altogether.

The call was from some unknown number, I picked it up and immediately heard giggling.

Multiple voices.

And then I heard it....
It sent a chill down my spine; because I had heard the words before, plenty of times, except I had heard them coming out of my own mouth. 

"Bhaisaab, mujhe bachaiye, mere kaamre mein ek bhoot hai". Save me. There’s a ghost in my room.

 [Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. While certain institutions may have been mentioned, the characters and incidents are wholly imaginary.]

Monday, 4 September 2017

# 51 - Confessions of a serial prank caller - Part 2 - Rise of The Machines

Read Part - 1 here.

“Bhaisaab, mujhe bachaiye, mere kamre mein ek bhoot hai.”  Save me. There’s a ghost in my room.

The response to this line has varied tremendously. 

Even at 1 am which was the default time at which the prank calls were made, some asked who I was and why I was calling them, some simply hung up, and some were curious enough to ask about what the ghost looked like.

And there were a few who didn’t say anything, but simply waited.
Even as I screamed, pleaded, and eventually made gurgling sounds, they waited, and after I went quiet, they asked, finally unable to contain their curiosity.

“Are you still there, or are you dead?”

At this point I used to giggle and do my utmost best to mimic the voice of a 5-year-old girl, simply saying, “you’re next,” I  hung up.

I soon became a sort of celebrity in the hostel.

People expected new prank calls and encouraged by their response. I gave it to them.

There was the classic:- “I am getting bored. Chal baat kar na.

You would be surprised at how many lonely souls I encountered who were willing to talk. Yes, girls too. Especially, girls.

A friend had actually dialled the number of his girlfriend on my behalf to see how she would react to that kind of a line, and after 40 minutes of intense discussion that was veering to, well, topics that didn’t please the friend, he cut the line.    

As demand increased, we had to make calls during earthly hours, which wasn’t possible from the hostel, so we started visiting STD booths (the fans were always ready to bear the expenses). Calls to known people also increased.

This was the golden period of prank calls.

I would sometimes call a random number, and asked the recipient to guess who I was. They would make a few random guesses, and I would eventually declare that one of their guesses was correct. I would proceed to state that I had lost the number of one of the other persons they mentioned and asked for it.

I would then call up the said person, and claim to be the person who had actually given the number. This would be followed by...well, samples follow:


“Tu c**** tha, c***** hai, aur c***** rahega.” You were, are, and will always be a ********.

“Bahut himmat juta ke phone kar raha hu, bas yeh batana tha ke tujhse pyaar karta hu main. Haan, main ek ladka hu aur tu bhi. Par pyaar ka gender ke saath kya connection?” I have finally gathered up the courage to say this. All I wanted to convey was that I have always loved you. Yes, I am a man and so are you, but what does gender have to do with true love?

“Tu last time jab mere ghar pe aaya tha, tab toilet use karke flush nahin kiya tha. Wo daag aaj bhi hai. Aake saaf kar.” The last time you visited my place, you forgot to flush. The mark is still there, come and clean it.

And so on...

Of course, I would be lying if I claimed that all calls were successful. Sometimes people figured it out, and I had to listen to words that would make Virat Kohli proud (I attribute this to the then newly released TV show ‘Roadies’).

Sometimes people couldn’t figure it out and still abused me.

The RJ calls were very popular as well. It basically involved me pretending to be a radio jockey and asking the unsuspecting recipient to request a song. I would then ask him to sing it out. Some enthusiastic people needed no encouragement and immediately proceeded with the latest chartbuster, others were shy and had to be coaxed and cajoled to sing out a few stanzas.

I would then shut them up and called them terrible singers.
Oh, and I may have thrown in a few cuss words here and there as well.

Whenever I am asked how is it that I have been so successful as a prank caller, I always tell them the same thing - you have to love the process, be thoroughly prepared, and never lose your cool. You have to have a good sense of timing, and should be able to foresee possible responses.  

But sometime in 2003 when I was at the peak of my creative abilities, technological advances almost put an end to my career.

More and more people were using cellphones instead of landlines. This wasn’t directly a problem as such because we were aware that people using mobile phones could tell the number from which calls were made, and I, as a matter of policy never called on/from cell-phones.

However, caller-ids on landlines were proving to be troublesome. And one could never tell which landline devices had caller-id.

The risks increased, and STD booths were the only possibility now. And of course, Himanshu’s cell, the sole exception to my ‘no cell-phone’ rule.

But a brief background on Himanshu first.

Himanshu was a fellow boarder from a small town. His father was a doctor, his mother was a doctor, his brother was a doctor, his sister was a doctor, his grandfather was a doctor, I forget what his great-grandfather was, but for the time being let’s assume that he was also a doctor.

Now, Himanshu’s parents (and everyone else) wanted him to be a doctor, and he was forced to take up the biology stream in class 11.

There was just one problem, Himanshu had, without informing his parents, switched over to the Humanities stream.

You might think he did this because he didn’t want to become a doctor, you might laud him for his courage and self-respect to do his own thing, but the reason he switched from biology to humanities was far, far, more noble.

Humanities section had the highest girl to boy ratio, and being a teenager whose only interaction with a female till date, apart from his maa-bhen, had been his kaamwali bai, he jumped at the opportunity.

Long story short, whenever we had to make an urgent prank call (yes, there is such a thing), and for some reason we couldn’t access a phone, we rushed to Himanshu.

- "Hand over the phone, boy.”
“Please don’t do this....the SIM’s registered in my uncle’s name.” 
“Okay then...let’s see how your dad feels about your bright prospects in the humanities stream. You know that we have his address.”
“Here you go...balance pura khatam mat karna”.

But all good things come to an end.

It was supposed to be a routine prank call, dial a random number, ask politely if the receiver’s daughter was there, and see where it goes from there.

It was 11pm, and Himanshu handed over his phone without much fuss.

A man who picked up the phone on the third ring. He seemed fifty-ish.

- “Hello uncle. Zara apni beti ko phone dena.” Could you please hand over the phone to your daughter.
-        -   “Kisse baat karni hai?” Whom do you wish to talk to?
-          - Aapki beti..” Your daughter.

A slight pause, and then the said daughter said “hello?”.

Now as a veteran, I should have known this, the thing with female voices is, you can’t really tell the age.

- “Kaise ho?” How are you?
  “Aap kaun bol rahe ho?” Who is this? 
“Bhool gaye na? Bhool gaye wo beete hue pal...bhool gaye wo haseen mulaakatein”
Have you forgotten? Forgotten the past so easily...forgotten the beautiful time spent together.

She let go of the phone and told her father, “Papa, it’s him again.”

And before I could realise what was happening, the papa was on the line again.


Needless to say, I hung up immediately, went to Himanshu and handed over the phone. He looked pleased, having gotten the phone back so soon. His happiness was short lived though, he came running to my room within five minutes. His phone was ringing.

“What have you done? Who the fuck did you call? I am getting a call from this number, and the guy says he is gonna kill me.”

We didn’t pick up the phone.

But he kept calling, and calling and calling. 
Throughout the night, the next day, the day after that.
Himanshu finally switched off his phone and threw his SIM away.

We lived in terror, half-expecting cops to show up any minute and put us in jail; every time someone called out my name, I had a mini heart attack. Seventy-three percent of Himanshu’s hair turned grey overnight.  

All my disciples and associates abandoned me, lest they be dragged into what was being referred to as the “Call-gate scandal of 2003”.

Nothing actually happened though, but I had had enough with this prank call business.

School got over and I went to college.

No one knew about my past, I didn’t mention it. I had become just another guy; my gift - rusting for want of use.

In the meantime, cell-phones became ubiquitous and I told myself that this was it, I couldn’t prank call anyone even if I wanted to.

As you may have guessed, I was wrong.

I made my final comeback on 2nd July, 2005. How do I remember the date? 
Well, let’s just say that it was all over the news.

To be concluded in the next part....

[Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. While certain institutions may have been mentioned, the characters and incidents are wholly imaginary.]

Sunday, 27 August 2017

# 50 - Confessions of a serial prank caller - The Beginning

It all started when I was an attractive 11 year-old-boy.

Alone in the house and bored out of my wits, I picked up the good old trusty landline and dialled a random number. 

Not very random actually, it was our own number but for the last digit.

Now, until then, I was unaware of the concept of prank calls, I had nothing planned, and barely realised what I was about to do.  

All that was about to change.

But not that day.

As soon as the person at the other end received the call, I panicked and put the phone down, cursing myself for the pointless activity. I vowed never to do this again.

Our destiny is frequently met in the very paths we take to avoid it
- Jean de La Fontaine (1679)

Kismat choti si bachchi hai ... usse hide & seek khelna pasand hai
- Emran Hashmi in ‘Raja Natwarlal’ (2014)

I hadn’t uttered a word in my first ‘prank call’. But it was tough to get over the adrenaline spike, the mild kick associated with speaking to someone I had never met face to face.

Ah, the simple joys from the pre-internet era.

Forgetting my promise to myself, I searched for opportunities to make ‘one more call’. This time, I wanted to have a speaking role. 

A couple of weeks later, the chance presented itself. 

"Helloooo" said the lady at the other end. 

“Hello Madam, I am calling from Doordarshan”.

To this day, I don’t know why I said what I did.

The lady had not been expecting this call, and perhaps because the 90s were a spam free period or people back then were generally more gullible, she believed that the mighty Doordarshan had indeed called her.  With an equal measure of pride and nervousness, she asked what she could do for me.

“We are taking a survey. What is your favourite TV program?” the words simply flowed. Neither original nor funny....but convincing as hell. Why else would the television people call up at 3pm?

She mumbled some popular TV serial's name and after a curt ‘Thank you’, I hung up, my heart pounding against my chest.

It had begun.

For the next few months, I carried on this act – no punchlines, no wisecracks, no revelations or conclusion as such. But it became a hobby, a habit, an addiction.

Sometimes I tweaked my act, asking the receiver their favourite movie, which, I told them, could be screened next Sunday at 4 ‘o’ clock on DD1 if enough people voted for it.

Sometimes I became the radio station guy.

I imagined excited housewives telling their bored husbands about the calls. I still believe that at least sometimes I made their day.

But I was still learning the tricks of the trade.

One fine day I was told that this was the third time that week that this particular household had received a call from Doordarshan. Of course, there was nothing wrong with Doordarshan calling up the same home thrice in one week, Doordarshan had (and I assume it still has) a lot of love to give, and the person I was speaking to merely stated the fact, and didn’t seem to doubt my credentials. 

It was nothing, but I felt ashamed, it was a rookie mistake.

A brief sabbatical followed, and I stayed clean for a month.

Soon I was at it again, In my second innings as a prankster, I became the guy who had dialled a wrong number by mistake, but was convinced that he had gotten the number right.

“What do you mean this is not Naresh’s number. I spoke to him ten minutes back. Hand him the phone immediately!”

“Why won’t you let me talk to Abhishek? Has he forgotten that he owes me 12 bucks?”

But like all creative geniuses, I eventually got bored and stopped with the calls altogether.

Well, it was more because my parents sent me to boarding school.

Kismat Badi Kutti Cheez Hai
– Shahrukh Khan in ‘Happy new Year’ (2014)

The years rolled on, cable television became mainstream, Y2K bug threatened and fizzled out, Amitabh Bachchan started acting his age, the Khans stopped acting theirs......and I grew up, well almost.

While my boarding school wasn’t SRK’s school from ‘Kuch Kuch Hota Hai’, it was definitely no ‘Gurukul’ (pre-Raj Aryan era) either. It was probably then that I came to be aware of ‘prank calls’ as a concept.

And when I was in 11th standard, the hostel got its own landline. It was kept at the hostel reception and was meant only for receiving calls. Strictly from 6pm to 9pm, they said.

The phone was locked in a wooden box so that only the handle could be picked up and the buttons were unreachable.

We were informed that it was incapable of making outgoing calls in any case.

Again, that’s what "they said".

It was a lie we could spot half-a-mile away, and surely in a couple of days, we saw our seniors take the phone out of the box to make local calls to their girlfriends post midnight. 

A security guard had apparently been bribed and he had handed over a duplicate key to the box. 

I and a few of my other girlfriend-less friends awaited our turn to use the phone, we didn’t have anyone to call of course, but we possessed the mentality that unites us Indians.

If it’s free, take it, use it, own it.

A friend suggested the idea of making prank calls from the phone and proceeded with what was the most pathetic prank call in the history of telephony.

I took over and told the others to watch and learn.

Again, without any preparation, I picked up the phone, punched a series of random numbers, and proceeded to utter the words that made little sense then, but would go on to be a popular prank call theme. I am told that even now, 15 years later, boys from the hostel still talk about the legendary prank call.

As someone picked up the call, I said, with a quivering voice, “Bhaisaab, mujhe bachaiye, mere kamre mein ek bhoot hai.”  Save me. There’s a ghost in my room.

To be continued....

[Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. While certain institutions may have been mentioned, the characters and incidents are wholly imaginary.]

Image from here. 

Thursday, 17 August 2017

# 49 - Book Review - The Mahabharata Murders

The premise of a serial killer who believes himself to be a modern day Duryodhana is engaging enough, but an interesting premise alone is rarely good enough for a reader to stick through a 300-page novel. 

So. does Arnab Ray pull it off?

Yes, he does. Superbly. 

The antagonist fancies himself as Duryodhana’s reincarnation, and if you have read the Mahabharata you may have, at some point, wondered if Duryodhana deserved the treatment he received. Of course, he was greedy, vain, arrogant, and possibly, a megalomaniac – in other words, a true blue millennial.
And what does Duryodhana’s reincarnation do in the 21st century? He seeks out those who wronged him in his previous birth of course. Rather, seeks out their respective reincarnations.

The protagonist, Rukhsana Ahmed, a homicide detective in the Kolkata Police has to apprehend the killer before he can get to his final target.

In Mahabharata Murders, Arnab Ray ticks all the right boxes, weaving a tale that is dark, sharp, and as cliched as it may sound - unputdownable.
From the first page you are warped into the first of many crime scenes and as you begin to progress through the book you realise that this not quite the Kolkata of Bhodroloks.

A lot of the characters are people we suspect may lurk in the fringes of society and you are more than glad to have been deprived of the pleasure of their company.  But in the novel, they come alive with all of their menace and quirks, and appear believable, and dare I say it, occasionally likable.
A protagonist that you end up rooting for, minor characters who leave a mark, and just the right amount of shock factor makes this book probably the best crime fiction I have read in years.
And there's, of course, the dialoguebaazi. A cross between lines from Salim-Javed and Quentin Tarantino films, the dialogues and conversations are impactful, even when discussions revolve around mundane topics.

Think the restaurant scene in Reservoir Dogs where the protagonists are discussing tipping, or analysing the meanings of songs.

Strictly, these portions are not designed to move the plot ahead but it is difficult to imagine ‘Pulp Fiction’ without ‘Quarter Pounder with Cheese’. 
A grouch that I have with the book, however, is that it is not strictly a whodunit. But that’s more of a personal preference. The writing and the plot hold on to you and does not let go until you are done.
Oh, and this is Arnab Ray’s finest work yet.

Arnab Ray’s ‘The Mahabharata Murders’ is now available on Amazon and the Juggernaut App in India. Outside the subcontinent, it is available on Kindle.

Saturday, 12 August 2017

# 48 - FICTIONAL interview with Pahlaj Nihalani.

The Sanskaari Chief has left the building. Appointed in 2015, the ex-Censor Board Chief didn’t get to complete his full term, but his tenure has been anything but unremarkable. Whether you loved him (?) or hated him, he made sure that ignoring him wasn’t an option. Born to create news, even his sacking makes for front page stuff.

Below is an excerpt from a fictional interview that he gave to me in my sleep. He was still the CBFC Chairperson back then, and on waking up I was disappointed that it had all been a dream. Nevertheless, I jotted it down. Remember, this was given when he was still the Chairperson, and rumours of his dismissal had been just that, rumours.

We met at his home, or it could have been the sets of a Sooraj Barjatya film.
Chop, chop. 

Kanishka: First thing first. Great job done - 

Pahlaj Nihalani: (interrupts) Thank you. A lot of people are unable to appreciate my efforts to cleanse the country of unethical, un-sanskaari, anti-national elements. But such is the path of the righteous man. I may be criticised, ridiculed, and even removed from my position, but I will continue to do my duty.

Uh, I was actually about to say, great job done on assuming the position of the de facto moral police Head of the country and forcing your opinions down the throats of movie goers. 

Thank you again. As I often tell everyone, it's a thankless job, but someone's got to do it. If nobody stands up, someone has to, no? What will the new generation grow up watching and learning? When we were young, we used to read books - stories, badly written, terrible print quality, couldn't tell if they were photos or drawings...often second hand and dirty. But look at the youth of today...they have videos, on tv, computer, phone. Accessible instantly. Is it fair? You tell me. You only tell me. 

I am not sure what you are talking about.

Never you mind that. The point is, our job is to keep things that are meant to stay inside the bedroom, inside the bedroom and off cinema screens.

You have also censored words from movies, perhaps going overboard.

Let me explain the rationale behind this. Once I do, you will agree how noble and farsighted I am. You see, the kids these days, they don't socialise much. Agreed? 


Now, back in my, or for that matter, your days, where did we learn cuss words from? 

Friends, I suppose. 

Exactly. But these little innocent flowers - the generation that we will pass on the torch of greatness to, they don't have any real friends! They are learning everything from the movies. You see, by blocking out the abuses and dirty words from the movies, we are forcing them to socialise, to go out, to figure out the words. This will in turn build friendships and unity, will galvanise them to stand together in times of need. I love children. They are the fuel for this nation. They need to, they need to-  


No. They need to step up and start mingling. Just not with the opposite gender of course.  

I see. But what about blocking words from movies that are A rated already? I mean, I watched 'Deadpool', and half the dialogues were muted out. I had to second-guess the jokes based on lip-reading.

Hmmm. That is indeed worrying, we will have to blur out the lips from now on then.
No, nooo. What did we adults do to deserve this?

You are adults. Why do you need to hear abuses? Mazaa aata hai gaali sunne mein ? 

Thoda bahut. But what about that 'intercourse' dispute? You asked for 1 lakh votes, and the channel got them. But you went back on your word...

[Moves to the corner of the room and refuses eye contact]

I guess we can't discuss that.

[Comes back]

You beep beep beep beep...I specifically told you not to bring that up.

Calm down sir, did you just say beep beep beep? Literally, beep beep beep beep?

Yes, I was exercising what they call in the west, self-censorship. You see, I practice what I preach.

Speaking of the west, you censored a kissing scene between Daniel Craig and Monica Bellucci from Spectre. Was it necessary, considering that the audience and Bollywood have matured to such kind of content?

Just a kiss!? Let me make it clear, what Monica bhabhi and Mr Daniel did in the movie was unpardonable. Unimaginable. Un-


Listen you handsome devil#, don't try to act smart with me. I have said this before and I will say it again, this is India. What works outside doesn't work here, and what works here doesn't work outside. We are a lot like the ambassador car in that way.

Quite up-to-date I see. Anyway, you have mentioned earlier that you feel the content on television programs and the internet should also be subject to prior checks.

Yes. We are working on a proposal right now. You see - children are like, like, computers. They are impressionable. And the filth they show on the TV and internet are like viruses. And I am......Kaspersky.
[Looks pleased with himself].

Are you by any chance talking about Pehredaar Piya Ki?

No, but that sounds interesting. Who is Piya? Who is the Pehredaar? How do they meet? Tell me all about it.

Maybe later. Your appointment and some of your decisions have not gone down too well with the industry. Does that hurt?

Yes. But it's a meetha dard, it's a sign that I am doing my job well. My friends have always known that I am a man of strong principles; when you deal with PN in professional capacity, you forget that I am your friend.

Who are your friends from the industry? Let me guess, Alok Nath?

Very funny. But yes, he was a friend, but then he appeared in that ad, you know, the, the, anti smoking ad. And they showed Sunny Leone in it. So, I have stopped talking to him.  

You are aware, that films such as ‘La La Land’, ‘xXx : Return of Xander Cage’ and ‘Office Christmas Party’ have had portions removed.

Of course, I am aware, it is my job to be aware. See, if you use bad words, drink alcohol, or refer to things not acceptable in our society, be prepared for cuts and beeping.
I would just like to point out; in XXX you cut a scene where Vin Diesel is drinking Cranberry juice. His character in the film is a teetotaller –

See, there is a scope for confusion. Who knows, if it was actually cranberry juice or alcohol. If I can get confused, everyone can. Understanding?

Yes, in’ La La Land’, you censored the word ‘pitch’, I imagine that you misheard it as bit-

(Interrupts) Don’t say bad words. Again, if I misheard it, so can the others na?

What about ‘Office Christmas Party’?

No need. We celebrate Diwali. Last time we did celebrate Christmas, I became Secret Santa  to everyone in the department. I suspect it was all planned. Yeh sab nahin chalega. I will fire them.

No, no. I meant the movie, ‘Office Christmas Party’.

Oh, that one. Again, they were saying bad words. A word that rhymes with..(thinks) ‘Kill Do’, and another that rhymes with (thinks)(thinks) (thinks) Terminator.

[He proceeds to write in a notepad the words ‘Dildo’ and ‘Vibrator’ and shows me the same. He then tears the page off and sets it on fire].

But Sir, here is the thing.  In the film, the word ‘dildo’ is muted out, only to reappear later in the same conversation, less than 3 seconds later. In the same film, the phrase ‘one second’ was also muted, presumably by accident.*

^%$^ch##  %$^%$^&& . Tu $ ^^%$^%$

Siiiir! What happened to self-censorship?

Self-censorship gaya ***** ki *** *****. GET OUT.

Last question sir, last question. Please. There are rumours that you may be replaced very soon. Your opinion on the same.

Let them talk. Everybody knows the kind of work that I am doing here. The kind of work I have done in the last couple of years. I have even bigger plans, revised guidelines. I have faith in the government. It will take the right decision. So I have hope.

Us too, Sir, us too.
# - Come on it was a dream.

* - This really happened. Read the article

Image from here. Video from here

Monday, 31 July 2017

# 47 - EXCLUSIVE – Interview with Arnab Ray aka Greatbong

One of the most followed Indian bloggers, Arnab Ray (or Greatbong, his preferred online moniker) is a man of many talents. An expert on cyber-security and all things pop-culture, he also happens to be a best-selling novelist. His published novels are ‘May I Hebb Your Attention Pliss’, ‘The Mine’, ‘Yatrik’, ‘Sultan of Delhi : Ascension’, and the just released ‘The Mahabharata Murders’.

In this unedited email interview, we take a closer look at the man who, among other things, brought ‘Gunda’ to the masses.

 Kanishka: ‘The Mahabharata Murders’ is out on the Juggernaut App to very positive reviews. The print copy has just released. High expectations? 

Arnab Ray: Always. My expectations for my books are like those of a desi dad sitting in the audience of a Spelling Bee when his offspring is on stage. I live vicariously through my creations.

What particularly struck a chord with 'The Mahabharata Murders' is we get an insight into Duryodhana's (albeit modern day) point of view. Many of us have grown up wondering how fair and justifiable the Pandavas were, but it is Karna who is generally viewed as the tragic hero. Did you have a fascination with the character of Duryodhana?

Always. When the Pandavas were in the forest, they sent spies to find out how Duryodhana was doing as an emperor. What they found out was he was a just ruler and the subjects were pleased with him. He opened his arms for Karna, perhaps strategically, but even then, it was an opportunity no one else was willing to take.  

Chetan Bhagat waxed his legs so that he could understand the female psyche better, enabling him to write from the point of view of a woman (One Indian Girl). What did you have to do to write in the first person as Rukhsana, the protagonist of the Mahabharata Murders? 

Each of us a have a male and a female side, and for the Mahabharata Murders I just got in touch with my female side. It does not require removal of body hair from any portion of the body to make that happen.

Your thoughts on the still nascent category of ebooks in India? Given the monopoly of the Kindle, do you think apps like Juggernaut have potential for growth? 

The competition of Juggernaut-like apps with Kindle is not on the UX (that is easily replicated), but on the pricing. If you can optimize the delivery and thus undercut Amazon's markup, these apps have a good business case. Consumers are likely to find books available for much lower on these kind of publisher apps than they would on Amazon, and the Indian book consumer is extremely price conscious when it comes to "desi" authors like us. Rs 20 here and there makes a difference.

Humour, horror, drama, thriller, crime-fiction. You haven't repeated a genre yet. We know that Sultan Of Delhi's sequel is coming out some time next year. How is it progressing so far? And what after that? 

In 2019 most likely. Haven’t been writing SOD2 for some time. After that, I am going to return to horror, but traditional Indian horror, with a book called Shakchunni, set in 1930s Bengal.

 Your novels have had passing elements of romance. Any plans of doing an out and out romance fiction? A very popular genre that you haven't fully explored yet.

Sultan of Delhi has strong elements of romance, as you possibly alluded to. I do want to out and out romance fiction, but herein lies a problem. I am the wrong gender, wrong age, and wrong BMI to write romance. For the Indian market, a successful romance book is as much as about the author as much as it is about the story. Also when I say I want to write out and out romance, it will not be conventional (I do not like writing conventions) but twisted, and combined with who I am and how I look in a high resolution photo, I hesitate.

You have a 9 to 5 job, you write novels, you tweet regularly, you blog (unfortunately no longer as frequently). How difficult or easy has it been so far? 

It gets increasingly difficult---fatherhood, increased responsibility at work. Which is why I do not blog as frequently, and the books will become more and more infrequent as we go on.

You come across as quite opinionated on social media and aren't really afraid to call a spade a spade. Do you think that this may alienate some of your readers?

Of course it does. It screws up my media coverage, leads to awkward dinner-time conversations at lit fests, and makes me persona non grata in some venues. But the thing is, I cannot be not me. You know what I am scared of? That the person who becomes a big author will not be me, but a person who looks like me but does not share my opinions, and I would feel jealous all over again.

 You are an unabashed fan of the 90s movies. But, Mithun da, Kanti Shah and the Ramsay Brothers are no longer the forces they used to be. Where are you getting your "so-bad-that-it's-good" fixes from these days?  

Ashutosh tweets.

What was your "oh, so I am kind of famous" moment?

It is usually being recognized. In airports, in malls. "Excuse me, are you Greatbong?". I won't pretend it does not feel good, though I make suitably embarrassed gestures.
5 books down. Great reviews. But you haven't really matched the kind of popularity levels that one would expect from a writer of your calibre. Any regrets? Any plans to do things differently in the future?

Many regrets. I wish I had started writing sooner. I wish I had been born a bit later. I know they are contradictory, but that is the thing with regrets. And no plans to do things differently, as I said before, if I reach my destination and it is not me, who it is then at the finish line?

What are you reading right now?

Book 2 of the Expanse Series

We have to ask you about your thoughts on the 'nepotism' incident and the events that followed.

Don't see the problem seriously. Nepotism is only a factor when the opportunity is supposed to be available to all. Like a government job. Like a job in a publicly traded company. The presidency of Congress is not supposed to be available to all, it is a family business. Similarly, Karan Johar has no obligation to not cast the son of a friend as hero.  If he is really that bad, then the market will throw him out. Rahul Gandhi, Puru Rajkumar....

Last question: Your take on the proposed 'Gupt' sequel

Compensates for global warming. The future is something to look forward to, after all.

[Arnab Ray’s latest book, The Mahabharata Murders is currently available in India on the Juggernaut App and on Kindle outside of the subcontinent. The print version is available in stores and can be ordered from Amazon.  He blogs at and tweets at @greatbong.] 

Friday, 21 July 2017

# 46 - Movie Review - Dunkirk - Thankfully, no Ta-Da moment

Cast: Fionn Whitehead, Tom Glynn-Carney, Jack Lowden, Harry Styles, Aneurin Barnard, James D'Arcy, Barry Keoghan, Kenneth Branagh, Cillian Murphy, Mark Rylance, Tom Hardy.

Directed by: Christopher Nolan.

A retelling of the Dunkirk evacuation - a crucial episode in the early years of the World War II. Allied soldiers fight for survival against seemingly insurmountable odds as German forces close in. 

Dunkirk has been touted to be the movie of the year, not without reason of course, it's not every day that a Christopher Nolan movie hits the screens. Some have already hailed it as the greatest war film ever.

Coming three Years after Interstellar and seven years after Inception, expectations are rather lofty and I for one am glad for the subject, mostly because Dunkirk isn't the third of the "mindf*ck trilogy". I had to watch Inception twice in order to ‘get’ it, and with Interstellar, I stopped trying.

Thankfully, Dunkirk follows a far more conventional plot, and even though we are shown the story from three separate timelines that sometimes criss-cross but truly converge towards the end, it is not very difficult to follow after a while.

No twists, no Ta-Da or a-ha moments, but all through its 106 minutes, you can’t help but be at the edge of your seat thanks to the tight screenplay, taut editing, and brilliant visuals and sounds.

There is no background story or introduction here, the movie starts off by dropping us in the midst of a war-zone, and we barely get time to dust ourselves off as the almost nameless and always faceless enemy strikes, regularly and unflinchingly.

This is Nolan's most ‘different’ film yet and credit to the director for pulling it off superbly.

What is his biggest achievement is the fact that in this age of excessive CGI and visual effects where we have gotten used to watching buildings and planets being destroyed by aliens and cowboys, how amazingly real and painful the sequences appear. The sound of a single bullet hitting metal is enough to jolt us and make us panic for the unnamed soldiers whose lives are in danger. 

There is no single protagonist here, and very little dialogue is spoken during the length of the film, and this adds to the effectiveness of the plot. Almost all the actors are flawless in their performances and the emotions are subtle and not shoved down our throats; Bollywood would do well to take a leaf out of Nolan's page and abandon the jingoism we reserve for our war films (Lakshya being a rare exception).

Is the movie perfect? Not really, Nolan being Nolan, some questions, while not left unanswered, kept me bugging well into the second half of the movie, and that felt a bit unnecessary, given the larger context. Also, the separate timelines, while they contribute positively to the film, take some time to get used to, particularly because of the abrupt cut-scenes. 

But this is nitpicking of the connoisseur kind.

Watch Dunkirk, not because of the 'Kids watch Game of Thrones, and legends watch Dunkirk' memes, not because of Harry Styles (fine performer and at par with the rest of the cast except for the train scene), watch it for the horrors and the little victories of war, watch it to realise how good film-making can sometimes transcend the boundaries of the medium, and become something else altogether.

And yes, watch it because you don't have to see it more than once to figure it out. 

RATING: 4/5.

Image taken from here.

Saturday, 8 July 2017

# 45 - Movie Review - Spider-Man : Homecoming (2017)

Cast: Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Robert Downey Jr., Marisa Tomei, Jon Favreau
Directed by: Jon Watts.

Another reboot of the Spiderman saga, sans the origin story. Peter Parker is already Spiderman, but crime fighting isn't as easy as he thought it would be. 

What's common amongst Barney Stinson, Ironman, and Spiderman?
They are pretty much useless without their respective suits, well, almost.

Tom Holland is the third Spiderman to be portrayed on the big screen and the youngest. He is neither the lovable loser Tobey Maguire portrayed, nor is he the bratty, angst-ridden, Andrew Garfield (the videshi Ranveer Singh) - Tom's Spiderman is the somewhat middle path treading, more relatable 15-year old who all of us were at one point in time.

He isn't out to avenge Uncle Ben here, his priority lies in becoming a part of the Avengers team by impressing Tony Stark (extended cameo from Robert Downey jr., delightful as always). Of course, his big spider heart is at the right place, and he makes sacrifices - like missing a party or foregoing a chance to represent his school in a competition.

There is no sob story here, Peter Parker is a regular kid who, while ambitious, barely gets the chance to punch above his weight, and he doesn’t have to, this is a rare Marvel movie where the world or the universe isn’t facing imminent destruction. Spiderman’s heroics are, for the most part, restricted to his neighbourhood. This is your friendly neighbourhood protector alright, and it's mighty fun that way.

So we have a very attractive Aunt May (Marisa Tomei in a role that's closer to ‘My Cousin Vinny’ than any of the previous Spiderman movies), a loyal sidekick (Jacob Batalon, more irritating than amusing), Captain America (the brief appearances of Chris  Evans are seriously funny), an all new love interest (Laura Harrier is competent), a very interesting Michelle Jones aka MJ  (Zendaya) and  Flash Thompson re-imagined as a flashy nerd (Tony Revolori ).

And lest I forget, there's Adrian Toomes played by Michael Keaton. Think of him as an evil version of Uncle Ben.
Keaton is obviously no stranger to superhero movies, but he is on the other side this time around, and he is mighty fine, oozing menace with or without his combat suit and justifying his villainy with panache. He is absolutely a treat to watch, we hope we haven’t seen the last of his character.

It's not all positive though, the film isn't really about Spiderman, and it isn’t about Peter Parker either.

It’s the suit.

The spider sense has been laid to rest and has been taken over by a Siri/J.A.R.V.I.S.

And *Spoiler Alert* the Spiderman suit has enough bells and whistles to rival the Ironman suit, which is no coincidence because it's been designed by Tony Stark himself.  A big part of the movie is about the suit and gadgets that go all shiny in the night. While that doesn't take away from the plot itself, for some of us older viewers that is a let-down, because 'Spiderman' was never about the suit as much as it was about the person wearing it, and this one departs from that aspect a tad too much for my liking.

Go watch the movie.  It helps if you have followed the Marvel cinematic universe, but even if you haven't, it isn't a big deal.

You will get more than a few decent laughs, and more pop-culture references and inside-allusions than you may have expected; also the fact that it isn't a dark, brooding, coming of age tale without being all-out-campy definitely helps.

Oh, and there's Tony Stark attending what appears to be..naah, can't give that away.

Spidey may be 15, but he is definitely all grown up and in sync with the times here. 

RATING: 3/5.

Image taken from here.