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Monday, 26 December 2016

# 33 - 17 things to do by 31st December, 2017, or before you die (whichever is earlier)



It’s that time of the year again folks, the time we look back at the year that was, and wonder, “what the hell just happened?”

And then we look ahead, hoping that the coming year will be better.

I had decided that new year resolutions weren’t my thing long back, and had focussed more on the outcome than the means, in fact, it was on the 26th of September, 2006 that I had decided (yes, decided) that 2016 was going to be my year.

I would own 2016.
I would be rich, famous, and most importantly, happy.

It was my 10-year plan, and as you might have guessed, things didn’t really turn out that way.
Never the one to give up (my PT teacher would disagree), I have decided to postpone joy for a year, and be a bit more detailed with what I want this time, and while at it, I have also decided to make your new year resolution for you, because all of us want more or less the same things from life, right?
So, here goes, in no particular order, the things you (and I) must do by 31st December 2017, or die trying.

1. Reasonably restrict vices. Don’t stop because people tell you to, stop because you want to.

2. Write more. All of us, no matter what profession we are into, need to write more. Be it personal diaries, letters, or legal notices. The tragedy of the 21st century is that the most writing we do is on WhatsApp – not a good idea. Writing is cathartic, liberating, and tells us a lot about ourselves. On a personal note, ‘the great Indian law college’ novel that I have been working on since 2013, needs to be finished, before memory fails and before it becomes totally out of sync with the times.

3. Get a six pack.
 It was fine when Salman, Shahrukh and Aamir sported those washboard abs that you could probably grate cheese on, but now with Bunty from my housing society flaunting it, six packs, like PayTM and online shopping, has truly turned mainstream.  So hop on the fitness bandwagon, before you’re left out.

4. Read at least 25 books this year.
Note: Femina, Filmfare, Cosmopolitan, Tinkle, Champak, Maxim, etc., do not count as books.

5. Accumulate enough knowledge on House of Cards, Game of Thrones, or whatever movie/book/TV show/flavour of the season that everyone is raving about, OR, improve acting abilities so that you can pretend to be ‘in with it’. Else, be prepared to listen to lines such as “WHAAAAT? YOU HAVEN’T SEEN ________?”, or the more disturbing “You should die already.”

6. Read more. Because saying it once isn’t enough.  

7. Accept the ageing process. Gracefully. YOLO/YODO are all fine, but we can’t still look 20 when we are on the wrong side of 40 (not speaking about myself here). We need to accept this fact and ignore commercials featuring movie stars who have gone under the knife and are paying for the botox sessions by endorsing creams that claim to reverse the 27 signs of ageing. Thirty signs that you’re bullshitting, I say.

8. See more sensible movies. Gunda, Deshdrohi and Snakes on a Plane are amusing once in a while, but the trouble with watching too many bad movies is, before you know it, you start enjoying them, like really enjoying them. You forget that you started out poking fun at these kinds of movies, and you know you’re in trouble when you actually start wondering how Mithun da is going to be able to match up against the formidable and ‘always open’ Bulla. Another sign that you’re in deep shit is when you unconsciously start humming ‘gutar gutar’.

9. Search for the extremely good looking singles in my area that pop-ups on my browser keep telling me about. Seriously, where are they?

10. Get more people to read my blog. If you’re reading this, spread the word. [Promoted point]

11. Chuck that smartphone away and go to sleep before 12 midnight, at least on weekdays.

12. Get better at writing, table tennis, and quizzing, in that order. <Insert your own non-work-related hobbies here>

Note: ‘Surfing the net / Watching TV’ DO NOT count as hobbies. How do you get better at browsing the internet, by getting a better broadband?

13.  DO NOT FORWARD RUMOURS BEING PASSED OFF AS NEWS ON WHATSAPP/FACEBOOK etc. There’s a reason why newspapers and websites dedicated to news exist. So quit the temptation to forward messages that talk about GPS embedded chips in Rs. 2000 notes, UFO sightings in Jhumri Telaiya, and 30 feet tall humanoid skeletons. And while at it, stop forwarding and sharing “if you do not pass this message to 20 people you will die” or “comment with Amen” posts.

14. Ignore Kamaal Rashid Khan (KRK). Like Deshdrohi, he was fun for a while, but now it’s just sad. Your time deserves better.

15. Learn something new. Remember the time you bought a guitar to impress your crush? And how you abandoned it the day you found out that it was your face that was the problem and not your lack of guitar playing skills? Well, it’s time to remember the guitar and forget the girl. Dust it off and learn how to play it. Studies show that learning new things keeps the brain young. And maybe, just maybe, your face might have gotten better since then.

16. Learn to let go. To hell with the past, there are other (hopefully better) things to come. Accept who you are and what you want to do with yourself. You are not your job, you are not who your parents/spouse/children want you to be. Stop bothering with what other people, no matter how close or important, think of you. You are the star of your movie, don’t let the secondary actors take away your screen time. Accept the fact that following latest trends, and forcible listening to the Billboard Top 20 do not make you cool. The traditional definition of being cool still holds true. Cool is not giving a damn about what others think of you, cool is about not pretending. So stop keeping a beard just because they seem to be in vogue. Okay, maybe I should cross out #3, I am still cool, baby! Okay, #5 too.   

17. #Abandon #Unnecessary #Hashtags #That #Serve #No #Purpose #Period

Don't be like Meena boy.
That’s it, boys and girls. I hope you have enjoyed reading this list. May we stick to our resolutions.
Happy new year in advance people, let’s own 2017.

Image from here.

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

# 32 - Why I write



Why do I write?

Why is it that I bother to write on topics ranging from Ra.One to Blackberry phones, knowing fully well that only a handful will be interested in these subjects?
Why do I bother to religiously paste the links to my latest post on Facebook and Twitter aware that only 15 percent of my Facebook friends and 1 percent of my Twitter followers will bother to click on the links? 

And no one, absolutely no one will ‘like’ them, unless they are feeling particularly generous, or of course, the finger slips. 

Why do I spend time writing short stories (or for that matter, blog posts) even when I know that my odds of getting published are slimmer than the chances of Mithun Chakraborty’s onscreen sister surviving the length of a movie, or Nirupa Roy not getting widowed within the first half an hour of an Amitabh Bachchan film, or Shahrukh Khan not getting the girl, or an auto driver giving you the change for 2000 bucks?  

Okay, you get the drift.

As with all of life's questions, there's a short answer and a long answer.

The short one:

Because I need to matter, goddamnit. I need appreciation and recognition - be it for my writing, my work, or for my still intact hostel record for the longest number of days passed without having taken a shower – recognition which obviously I am yet to find.

The long and more specific answer….well, there is no one single answer. 

I write because I need to collect all the pent up anger, disgust, humour, regret, sadness, happiness, and other assorted feelings; and then mix them all up and smash it against a wall, watch the green, gooey stuff splatter and feel somewhat better....but that feeling is short lived.

Then with the audacity of a three-year-old who has been drawing his masterpiece on the interior walls, (or perhaps been collecting dog poo from the streets) I feel the need to show it off.

"Look what I did, Ma.” 

And that’s what writing does for me. 

Because, like that old saying about a tree falling in the forest with no one to hear it, the writing only makes sense if it’s out there, available for people to read. 
I honestly don’t really care for the facebook likes (okay, maybe a little), any cat picture or a post on politics could do that, but as long as you are clicking the link and reading what I have written, I am happy.

I am a big fan of Christopher Nolan’s earlier movies, and my favourite is ‘The Prestige’.
There’s a line in the movie, and I seek your permission to cite it, well not really, I am the one who’s writing, so buzz off or stay with me as I quote from the movie.

‘Every great magic trick consists of three parts or acts. 

The first part is called "The Pledge". The magician shows you something ordinary: a deck of cards, a bird or a man. He shows you this object. Perhaps he asks you to inspect it to see if it is indeed real, unaltered, normal. But of course...it probably isn't. 

The second act is called "The Turn". The magician takes the ordinary something and makes it do something extraordinary. Now you're looking for the secret... but you won't find it, because of course you're not really looking. You don't really want to know. You want to be fooled. But you wouldn't clap yet. Because making something disappear isn't enough; you have to bring it back. 

That's why every magic trick has a third act, the hardest part, the part we call "The Prestige".’

What a great line! And I think that the quote is appropriate not just for magic, but for all things creative. Be it a piece of music, a movie, or a story. 

The quintessential story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. 

The beginning is where you show your deck of cards, something ordinary, something or someone that you and I could probably identify with.

And then, enter the conflict -  an event, a person or even a decision, who or which comes in and turns the mundane into the unexpected. 

But life seeks balance, a kind of resolution, and we follow the story to find out what will happen, how will it all end – because everything that has a beginning must have an end.
But of course, not all stories end with a clear outcome, some leave the reader wondering about what actually happened, they aim to confuse, or leave the ending to the interpretation of the reader, think ‘Inception’, or the ‘Lady, or the Tiger?’.

The ending is important because this is what will stay on with the reader, this is what the story culminates to, and no matter how exciting your premise is, how real your characters are, or how pacy your writing is, if the ending doesn’t satisfy your reader, it will all come down to nothing.

Now I have been blabbering on for a while now, and while I had started off with why I write, I have gone on to discuss the elements of a short story, anyway, coming back to the reasons.

The motive for writing will, of course, be subjective, there are people who write and the nature and content of their writing are too personal to share, or they simply don’t feel like sharing. There are noble and talented beings who write because they simply love writing and it comes naturally to them. 

Unfortunately, I don’t belong to this category. 

Words don’t come easily to me, I am not one of those people who can form coherent plots from one line of prompt, grammar remains a concern, and I have a limited vocabulary and resort to right clicking a word and choosing ‘synonyms’ more often than I would like to admit. 

It is a painful, frustrating process that more often than not leaves me wondering, why am I doing this, what’s the point of it all?

But when I do manage to finish a piece, the effort seems to have been worth it, not only because I have expressed myself, but because I have managed to create something out of nothing. 

Almost godlike.

Dance, puppets, dance!

There is no one single answer to why I write, but unlike the other things which take up my time, be it games, movies, television, combing my hair etc. – I have never, ever, regretted the time I have spent in writing.

And, that’s a good enough reason for me.

P.S. In case you are wondering, the record for consecutive days spent without having a shower:-  50. What can I say, it was a really cold Delhi winter.

Image taken from here. 

Sunday, 4 December 2016

# 31 - The Curious Incident of the Boys in Noon-time

During my college years, I had intentionally done most of my internships in Mumbai; I loved the city from my first visit, and in spite of my limited travels, I was confident that Mumbai was the greatest city on earth - from the hustle and bustle of the streets to the affordable keema pav, anything and everything seemed fascinating.  

As a youngster in the city, I was always up for some adventure, in spite of the fact that I never had more than a couple of hundred rupee notes in my wallet (sadly nothing has changed on that front).
After work, our group of 3-4 guys, who mostly worked at offices near Nariman Point, would walk our way up to Marine Drive, and do nothing but sit and stare at the vast ocean stretching out in front of us.

This was our everyday routine. 

We didn’t talk much, and the term ‘selfie’ hadn’t made its way to the dictionary yet, so we just sat and enjoyed the view, for hours.

It was on one of those heady, hopeful days that one of us had remarked that if by chance we ever ended up working in Mumbai, we would visit Marine Drive every day after office.
  
And all of us had immediately agreed.

I have been living in Mumbai for a quite a few years now, and I can’t even remember when was the last time I visited Marine Drive. The fellow who had suggested the idea of meeting up every day at Marine drive, well, he is in Mumbai too, but we rarely speak, let alone meet, but that’s a story for another day.

I guess that’s life. With time, your priorities change, old habits and preferences wither away, but they don’t quite die - so long as you visit them once in a while in your memories.

And while on memories and Mumbai, there’s one particular incident that I can’t help but recall every time I cross Bandstand.

Mumbai, 2007.

A Saturday morning (probably closer to noon). 

I woke up leisurely at the shabby lodge where I was putting up during my internship, only to find my friend from college (let us call him ‘P’) all dressed up and ready to go.
“Finish your breakfast and let’s go someplace.” He said, more charged up than he was on weekdays.

“Where are we going?” I asked, groggy-eyed.

He gave the smile of the sphinx and asked me to just make sure that my phone’s battery was fully charged.

My filmy friend didn’t give any more hints until we ended up at Bandstand sometime around 2 in the afternoon. The oxymoron that is “Mumbai winter” ensuring that we were drenched in sweat. 

I had had enough of the mystery by then and asked P point blank what the plan was. 

“Are you aware of the term pilgrimage my friend?”,  said P, and then pointed at the very ordinary looking complex in front of us. 

“Galaxy Apartments.” I said, and realized immediately what P was inferring. 


“Yes, you are standing in front of Bhai’s residence, and even as we speak, he is somewhere inside, not more than 200 feet away from us. This…this…road is all that stands between us and him. Apart from the entrance, his security guards and all, but you get the point.” 

For those who don’t follow Bollywood – Galaxy Apartments is where THE Salman Khan resides. 
Calling P filmy – would be the understatement of the century. He is not just filmy, he is stalker level filmy, he is an encyclopedia so far as Bollywood is concerned, he knows the schedules of the stars, whether they are on outdoor shoots, which phone they are using and some claimed that P could identify vehicles of stars by their license plates, including TV actors.

So when he said Salman Khan was 200 feet away, I knew Salman Khan WAS 200 feet away.

“So what’s the plan?” I asked him.

“Now we wait for him to show up.” He said, plonking himself on a cement bench that overlooked the apartment.

He explained that it was customary for stars to show up and wave to the gathering of fans on weekends, and that was P’s grand plan....we would wait, until he acknowledged our presence by waving at us.

“How long till he does that?” I asked. 

“Anything between half an hour to three hours as per my estimate.” P replied.

Truth be told, this ordeal wasn’t what I was expecting, but given the fact that I had nothing better to do, and I was a major Bhaitard/BhaiBhakt once, I made myself comfortable.

“Aap bhi bhai se milne aaye hai?” [You too have come to meet bhai?] said a voice from behind.

We turned around to see who else could be crazy enough to waste their Sunday in bhai-spotting, or for that matter confusing ‘celeb spotting’ with ‘celeb meeting’, but one look and we knew that this guy was serious. 

Dead serious. 

In terms fan level, on a scale of 1 to 10, this guy was obviously level infinity square.

His hairstyle was ‘Tere Naam’, he had the faux turquoise bracelet, the faded jeans with patchwork, and his shirt….well, the only way he could go more ‘Salman’ was if he went shirtless, but he wasn’t (perhaps because his physique was the one thing he couldn’t Salman-ize).  Instead, his preferred attire resembled the vomit of a chameleon that had eaten a rainbow and had peacock feathers for dessert - the kind of clothing that you get to see on Chiragh Din ads, and make you wonder who actually buy these. 

Judge not, lest thy be judged.

The three of us soon got talking, his name was Subodh and he was from some town in Uttar Pradesh, the sole purpose of his week-long visit to Mumbai was to ‘meet’ Salman Khan.

“I am bhai’s biggest fan”, he proclaimed, as I nodded, P had trouble accepting this fact, but he eventually reconciled himself to this, the fact that P had never thought of embracing the bracelet, hairstyle and more importantly the clothes was the crucial factor. 

“I have been loitering around here all week, and I have seen everyone from the family - Sohail, Arbaaz, Malaika. Salim Khan actually spoke to me one morning, he was going out for a walk. But I haven’t yet met Bhai.” He lamented.

We asked him what did he and Salim Khan talk about, and he admitted that he was sternly told to go back to his town and not waste his time. 

“But I must meet Salmanbhai….else my entire trip will be fruitless.” He was afraid to think of the consequences if he didn’t get to meet Salman. “I have promised my cousin that I will bring him Bhai’s autograph”, and just as we were about to ask him when he was supposed to be returning, he told us that his train was in the evening.

P tried to cheer him up, “it’s just 2pm, you have plenty of time.” and Subodh seemed to brighten up a bit at the thought.

We must have made a funny sight, the three of us sitting on a  bench, ignoring the heat and staring at a balcony of the flat opposite us, from where we expected Salman Khan to jump out any second, and call us by our first names.

But of course, he didn't. 

P formed a special connection with our companion by virtue of the fact that he hailed from the same state, and I too joined in on the conversation.

He worked as an electrician and was roughly the same age as us, and in spite of the superficial differences, we formed a bond thanks to our shared love of Salman Khan.

Hours rolled by, and P and I started getting impatient, we came to know from Subodh that Bhai being at home need not translate to him giving a darshan to his fans.

"Last Sunday also, I was here, he was here....so was the crowd...but he didn't come out."

"Wait, what crowd? Today there are just three of us." 

"Oh, you'll see..not too long now, they will start coming. All pretending to be his biggest fan." Subodh replied, with no attempt to hide the contempt for the pretenders.

I exchanged a glance with P, surely in a city like Mumbai where spotting celebrities was not too big a deal, there wouldn't be a crowd in front of Salman Khan 's house, just for his glimpse.

But as the day wore on and the sun started dipping into the Arabian sea behind us, a funny thing started to happen.

Just as Subodh had said, other people joined us in front of the apartment, we were no longer the only losers who had nothing better to do, there were plenty of us. Autos started slowing down while crossing the road, some stopped altogether, and curious folks alighted and joined the gathering. While a lot of them were casual fans, I noted that there were other die-hards not very much unlike Subodh.
Before long, it seemed like the whole of Bandstand was standing with us. There was pushing and shoving because the footpath could only take so much, and the crowd spilt over to the road, creating a traffic jam in the process. 


Our friend had gotten separated from us, but we managed to track him amidst the chaos. 

“He isn’t going to show up, is he?” he asked, more to himself than us. 

P tried to sound hopeful, "Maybe he will, you know how Bhai is...always late."

"But I can't be late for my train, 10 more minutes, then I would better get going."

We didn't respond, nothing that we could have said would have probably helped...we had been here for only three hours, and were on the verge of giving up, for someone who had come to the city with this single aim, and was virtually spending his day and night waiting for a glimpse of the star, and failing, it must have been hard - accepting defeat. 

He drifted away from us once again, but remained in the crowd.

And then, after what could have been five minutes, or half an hour....Salman Khan showed up.

In an unreasonably tight pink tee, with his dishevelled hair falling on his face, looking every bit the cocky superstar that he is, he waved and smiled, and the crowd went crazy.

Chants of ‘Salman Salman’ filled the air, and I witnessed a level of mass hysteria that I have never seen before or since.  

And then he went back to wherever he had come from.

Almost immediately the gathering started to scatter. we looked around for Subodh, but we couldn't spot him. soon, it was again just the two of us.

"You think he was still there when Salman came?" I asked P on our way back.

"I don't think so, he said that he would be leaving in ten minutes, Salman came out at least 20 minutes after that." 

"Impossible, couldn't have been more than 5 minutes." I said.

"We couldn't say bye to him." P said.

And that was that, we couldn't tell for sure if Subodh did get to see Salman Khan that day.

Needless to say, neither of us ever met Subodh after that.

Unlike Marine drive, I do happen to visit Bandstand from time to time, I go past galaxy apartments too, and sometimes when it's a weekend, and I see a crowd gathered outside, I think of that afternoon from 9 years ago.

And the funny thing is that, it's not Salman Khan I yearn to see, but that man from the small town of UP with the Tere Naam hairstyle and the weird shirt.


Image Taken from here.

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

# 30 - The Great Indian TV Show(s)

Warning: Explicit Language or maybe I am just using clickbait tactics?

There are many general entertainment channels available for watching, some even under the guise of news channels, and on these channels there are great many programmes, but let us restrict ourselves to Indian channels, whether or not Mr. Rupert Murdoch owns a stake.

For the last decade or so, there have been quite a few TV shows that have captured the imagination of the nation, at least briefly.

But it's the 21st century, and much like my girlfriend from school days - the nation's love is fickle (I kid, I never had a girlfriend in school, but you, dear reader, would have probably guessed that already).

Kaun Banega Crorepati no longer has viewers glued, come to think of it, it's off the air.

Satyameva Jayate had viewers and Aamir Khan reaching for the hankies, and reminded us of Doordarshan programmes of yore, but it went off the air faster than you could spell 'i-n-t-o-l-e-r-a-n-c-e'.

 The list goes on and on.

In the TRP battleground, many have reached the top, but few have remained there, five names come to mind immediately.

Here they are, in no particular order:

Tarak Mehta Ka Ooltah Chasma
No, seriously. weird Ashleel talks to follow..

Why would anyone be interested in the upside down spectacles of Mr. Tarak Mehta?
Watch it to find out.
2000+ episodes and this desi sitcom shows no sign of slowing down.

IPL
Yes, it's a TV show.
Yes, even though we love test cricket and want it to survive, it is the Super Kings, Kings XI and Knightriders we actually want to see play. And please, the world needs more teams which have the word 'king' or a variation thereof in its name, and while at it, more cheerleaders too.

CID

CID may not have the episode count of TMKOC (before you get any ideas, that stands for Tarak Mehta Ka Ooltah Chasma, duh) but it's on the verge of completing 19 years.

Daya, darwaza aur record tod do.

The Newshour Debate with Arnab Goswami

'Nuff said.

Okay, here you go, a post on him by greatbong:- Goodbye Arnab Goswami (For Now).

.....and last but not the least, my personal favourite

(drumrolls)

BIGG BOSS
Bigg Boss is everything that is wrong with television.
Bigg Boss is the reason they call the TV - Idiot Box / Devil's glass.
Bigg Boss is the reason why superstar Armaan Kohli (of Jaani Dushman fame) and superstar Tanisha Chatterjee (of Kajol fame) hooked up and found eternal love, for four months.
Bigg Boss has also informed us that this man is a 'celebrity'. 

Every time I watch Bigg Boss, my IQ dips a little, and sometimes when I am not busy eating chalk, I wonder if I have any IQ left at all.

But I watch it nevertheless.

I watch it because it's a crappy show, I watch it because I am a man of strange tastes, but maybe so are you.

#1 Do you from time to time start humming "zeher hai ki pyaar hai tera chumma" for no rhyme or reason?
#2 Have you ever tried googling the name of the lead actress from 'MSG - Messenger of God'?
#3 Do you like to fart in elevators when you are alone, and before you get off, hope that the smell lingers long enough for the next occupant to detect it?
#4 Do you like comparing your hotdog against the other guy's when you are at the urinal?
#5 If you were offered a super power, would you choose invisibility, only so that you could do stuff...or people?
#6 Have you ever visited Desibaba?
#7 Ever used your roommate's toothbrush to clean the loo?

You get the drift.

Okay, so maybe you haven't actually done any of the above things (especially #5, but if you are denying #6, you are a fucking liar).

The point I am trying to make here is, we all go a little mad sometimes, and that's okay, you're not alone.

But what would it be like to live in a madhouse with nuts around 24 x 7, a sort of Arkham asylum if you will, where the only rules are there to promote further mayhem?

What would it be like to take off your mask of sanity and really dance like no one is watching?
 Except they are watching, millions of them.

Welcome to the world of Bigg Boss.

Sure, the show may be scripted, situations contrived, and the participants - a bunch of wannabes, pseudo-celebs and has-beens - but honestly, do you give a shit?

Do you really want to know how Minnisha Lamba looks without makeup? Or what Rakhi Sawant's mother likes to cook for her little angel?

"Hurt"
Bigg Boss appeals to our animal, voyeuristic instincts, a part of us that enjoys the chaos when our best friends fight each other; the reason we slow down when we see an accident on the road, but don't actually stop and do anything about it, the same perverted part of us that make us forward those gory beheading videos, or instances of animal cruelty on WhatsApp in the name of spreading awareness.

Bigg Boss doesn't exist because its creators thought that it would be a neat idea to lock people up and treat them like lab rats for  three months.
It exists and more importantly, succeeds because it holds a mirror to the society. It tells us that it's okay to be loud, crass, annoying and selfish....in fact, it might even make you popular (well, hello Mr. Trump, err, I mean, Mr. President). Something that you always knew deep down.

Scripted or not, Bigg Boss is a microcosm of the world, minus the subtlety, and it would be funny if it wasn't so sad.

The beauty of this incredibly dense show is that it isn't pretentious, it doesn't patronize us in a way that Satyameva Jayate or the last season of KBC did.

Of course, there are many who (rightly) detest bigg boss and choose to avoid the programme, but I like to believe that they are getting their sadistic kicks elsewhere. Maybe from Comedy Nights with Kapil (oops, missed featuring it on the list) or its Sony avatar, or Splitsvilla, or Roadies, or Crime Patrol, etc.

If, however, god forbid, you are not into any of that garbage...it's highly likely that you are making up for it with your real life activities.

Think about it.

And now, if you'll excuse me, it's time for me to find out if Gaurav Chopra really has the hots for VJ Bani.

Images from here, here, here and here.

Saturday, 22 October 2016

# 29 - Movie Review - Jack Reacher : Never Go Back (2016) - pulls the punches

Cast: Tom Cruise, Cobie Smulders, Danika Yarosh, Patrick Heusinger.
Directed by: Edward Zwick

Visiting Washington to meet Major Susan Turner, Jack Reacher comes to know that she has been accused of espionage. Convinced of Susan's innocence, Reacher senses a bigger conspiracy. He also finds out that there's a case for child support filed against him by a woman he doesn't seem to recall.



Tom Cruise returns as Jack Reacher in this sequel to Jack Reacher (2012), the movie that introduced the titular character.

While not a blockbuster of Mission Impossible proportions, the original movie earned enough to merit a sequel, and of course there's enough material to have multiple movies (author Lee Child has penned multiple novels, novellas and short stories on the character).

Having gone to see the original movie with little expectations, I came out a fan; so when the sequel was announced, I was hoping that I would love this one too.

Unfortunately, Jack Reacher : Never Go Back falls short of the expectations.

The plot is wafer thin, which is understandable given the genre, but when the twists & turns and even the onscreen dialogues can be seen coming, you know that the makers should have been put in more effort.

A major reason why the 2012 movie worked was because of the raw action scenes and witty lines, for some unfathomable reason the sequel has these elements considerably toned down.

There's also an attempt to make Jack Reacher more human, forced to work with a partner and look after a teenager who may-or-may-not-be his daughter, Reacher is almost a family man in a 'We're the Millers' kind of way.

Not a good idea.

There is a scene where Reacher realises that he is being followed (so what's new?), and in a shady alley he comes face to face with four adversaries. The scene is highly reminiscent of the bar scene of the earlier movie and has as much potential, but the writing and the action make it very ordinary.

There's chemistry between Smulders and Cruise, and scope for potential romance, but it's not fully explored.

The movie does have its moments, but they are too few and far in between, and none of them makes the impact that you would expect.

Danika Yarosh is irritating and unconvincing, while Cobie 'Robin' Smulders keeps up with Tom Cruise in action scenes and in terms of screen time - Marvel has definitely underutilized her talent.

Tom Cruise does his bit; he has time and again pulled off characters without seemingly fitting the bill, and Jack Reacher is probably the best example.

The character, as described in the book possesses a large physique, is built like a tank, and towers at 6 feet 5 inches tall.

Needless to say, this description suits Dolph Lundgren more than Tom Cruise. Yet Cruise sinks his teeth into the role and makes it his own, he becomes Jack Reacher.

Jack Reacher : Never Go Back is not a bad movie, far from it, but it's not as good as it could have been.

RATING: 2.5/5

P.S.: Here's the bar scene from the first movie. This, in short, is who Jack Reacher is.


Image from here.

Sunday, 16 October 2016

# 28 - One Indian Author - Chetan Bhagat

It’s fashionable these days to dismiss Chetan Bhagat, as a writer, and a human being.

Screenshots from his latest book ‘One Indian Girl’ (page 56 to be specific) have gone viral, not for good reasons. As my Facebook Timeline informs me, he has been branded as a misogynist for certain portions of the book, he has been pulled up for one line in particular, mind you, he is writing in the first person this time, as a girl. The line goes “This is how we girls are. At times we want to be wanted, even when we deny it.

Yikes!

Of course, this line hasn’t yet acquired the status of ‘Deti hai toh de, varna kat le’ from ‘Half Girlfriend’ and I suspect it never will, being somewhat lacking in shock value. 

I guess this is the part that I let out that I kind of like Chetan Bhagat.
And yes, I loved ‘5 point someone’.

"Buy the book, watch the movie, see the TV show."

If you follow his articles in Times of India, (for the moment leave aside the content, let’s just talk about his style) you’ll probably agree that he is to the point, expresses his thoughts clearly, displays a greater vocabulary range and sophistication than what you’ll find in his novels, and arguably – the content is devoid of misogynistic ideas.

Love him or hate him, you definitely can’t ignore Mr. Chetan Bhagat.

As mentioned in the back-cover of his books, he is ‘the biggest – selling English-language novelist in India’s history.’

Take that Arundhati Roy, Arvind Adiga, Amitav Ghosh,  Salman Rushdie, Vikram Sheth, and yes, Shobha De, Durjoy Dutta, you too.

So what makes Chetan Bhagat surpass the people listed above? His work definitely lacks the literary merit of the above-listed writers (barring two).

The target audience, for one.

Our friend CB knows what works, and what doesn’t.

He also knows that he can’t be a Vikram Sheth, no matter how much he tries.
But why would he try to be Vikram Sheth in the first place?

He plays to his strengths, and caters to the masses, and yes, he knows What Young India Wants.
Make no mistake, he isn’t entirely lacking in talent or sensibilities, ignore the badly written sex scenes [Again, Page No. 56 from One Indian Girl] or the stalker-type-lead-character in most of his novels.

There are two factors to be considered here.

Firstly, it’s fiction, goddamnit! When a character in his novel expresses his/her disgust for South Indians, or exhibits behaviour that is borderline psychopathic, it isn’t Chetan Bhagat letting off steam, it’s a character in a book. Deal with it.

How ridiculous is it when we play Sigmund Freud and attribute these character traits to him? I can imagine CB (when he is not partying with Bollywood stars, judging reality shows, or for that matter – writing) reading articles and comments disparaging him and shaking his head and thinking to himself: ‘Stephen King doesn’t have to deal with this shit.’

If we judge Chetan Bhagat for the way characters in his books talk and behave, we should also judge Mario Puzo, Martin Scorsese or Quentin Tarantino, right?

Secondly, what Chetan Bhagat writes, probably touches a chord somewhere. He identifies  and talks about things people identify with, popular issues - be it with respect to college life, call centre culture, or a desi munda having trouble pataoing a dilliwali.

‘Midnight’s  Children’ may be a fine, critically acclaimed book, but all I know is that I couldn’t go past page ten, my head hurt from the author’s obsession in describing a man’s nose.

I remember reading ‘Five Point Someone’ in the first year of my college, and I identified with a lot of the portions, the ragging, the GPA references, some of the other bits.
As far as my views were concerned, it was a funny, contemporary take on campus life penned by an insider, someone who had gone through the struggles, and managed to write an immensely readable book about it.

Mind you, contrary to popular perception about his readers, I was not a beginner to reading English novels at that point of time.

Think about it, with all of us busy dissing him and his writing, who are the ones reading his work?
For that matter, how are we able to criticise his novels without reading them in the first place?
I suspect it’s not just the tier II, tier III townies who are reading CB books, and I am pretty much sure that the appeal of his books is not restricted to people who are just ‘graduating’ from vernacular languages to English.

IT’S YOU.

Well if not you in particular, your son/daughter/ neighbour/neighbour’s wife who’s secretly having an affair with your son, etc.

I call it the Twilight effect.

Everyone you know seems to despise it, yet millions of copies have been sold and the movie series has made billions.

Chetan Bhagat is unashamedly masala. He is the roadside paanipuri wala (for example’s sake). You have doubts about the hygiene, but you visit him nevertheless, albeit slyly.  

People are reading Chetan Bhagat books, watching movies based on them, and they will continue to do so, there’s a market for it, and that market is growing, because there are INDEED people from Tier II/ Tier III cities as well who are reading his work, and of course those who are graduating to angrezi books.

And as stats show, they are loving him.

So, cringe.

Cringe, when you read an article about Chetan Bhagat waxing his legs as a part of his research on the female psyche.

Cringe, when you read lines like ‘This is how we girls are. At times we want to be wanted, even when we deny it’.


But, at the end of it all, padhna hai toh padh, nahin toh kat le. 

Image from here.

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

# 27 - Very Short Story - Piklu

As the rain lashed outside, 8 year old Piklu stared out of the window with his mouth wide open.
He recalled what his elder brother had told him a couple of years ago.

"That's not really a tree you know?" His brother had said matter-of-factly, pointing at the giant Sal tree that could be seen from the window. 

"Oh yeah? Then what is it?" Piklu had asked eagerly, sensing a story.

“It’s an old cursed monster”, replied his brother, with an air of theatricality.

Piklu belonged to that delicate age group when stories of knights and dragons from faraway lands had started losing their appeal, but he wasn’t yet old enough to completely disregard them.  After some thought, he said “You’re lying. I don’t believe you.”

His brother was a master storyteller who knew how principles of attention worked; with a shrug he said, “Fine. Don’t believe me. But what I was about to tell, would’ve helped you” and with that bit of mystery hanging in the air, he got up to leave.

- Okay, okay, tell me the story.

His brother sat down with a smile and started his narration.

-Many many years ago, there was a monster who used to terrorize people, eating them up. Eating up ten people at a time, sometimes even twenty.

“Why?” asked Piklu.

-What do you mean why? That's what monsters do, don't you know anything?

- Yes yes. I know. I was testing you. Go on.

-So the villagers went to a sage for help, because this monster was eating 30 people a day, and soon no one would be left.

-You said he ate 10-20 people.

-Yes, it was okay when he was eating 10-20 people a day, but he later started having 30...that's when the problem started. Interrupt me again, and I will slap. Now listen... So the old and powerful sage went up to the monster and asked him to stop eating people up...but the monster, full of arrogance, refused, so the sage and the monster had a great fight but –

-Don’t lie. Sages don't fight.

SMACK...retribution was swift and hard, and Piklu's cheeks turned a shade of red rather quickly. Pondering whether to cry and complain, Piklu realised that the story was unfinished, and didn't say a word.
-The next time you interrupt, I’ll slap you even harder. Some sages fight. Anyway, as I was saying, so the sage fought with the monster and finally defeated him. But, being a sage, he didn't kill him, he just made him sleep, chained him up and turned him into this tree so that he is rooted here and can't go anywhere else.

- That's it? What a stupid story. and why did you hit me? I am telling Maa.

As Piklu got up to run, his brother sensed that Piklu's complaint could lead to him receiving a thrashing of his own, so he grabbed Piklu's hand and said "Arre Piklu, the story may be finished, but the lesson isn't. I want to warn you, there's a particular time when the monster is awake, and if you don't tell Maa, I will tell you what that time is so that you can be safe."

Curious again, Piklu sat down. His brother thought for some time and then told him how every time it rained at night, the monster woke up, while still rooted and immobile, it was almost certain that anyone crossing the tree at such an ungodly  time would be eaten up, as the monster's hands were free and he could swoop up people.

The story left a lasting impression on Piklu, and he believed it - indeed every time it rained at night, the three storeys high tree appeared no less than a monster. The howling of the wind seemed like a growling demon. The dark outlines of the tree clearly betrayed the shape of a monster trembling in rage, flailing its arms wildly to catch passers-by, it was sheer luck that no one ventured close to the tree at these times, Piklu thought.

Then one day, the unthinkable happened, after a particularly stormy night, in the morning Piklu saw that the tree had been uprooted, it had been struck by lightning, and was mostly burnt - the monster had fallen lifeless.

Piklu felt relieved, the monster was finally dead. Now everyone could cross the area, even when it was dark and raining.

Soon thereafter, in the vacant area where the tree had once been, construction work began, finally, they would have a neighbour. A house was built, and much to Piklu's disappointment, the family that moved in didn't have a child.

It was a young couple, the husband had long hair, which he tied neatly in a bun, he wore round glasses, and fashioned a beard almost long enough to rival Tagore’s, whose framed picture hung in Piklu’s study room .
 They seemed nice enough but hardly interacted with anyone.

It was that time of the year again, the dreaded kalboishakhi, the monsoons.

One rainy evening, Piklu, out of habit, stared out of his window.

Where the Monster had once been, stood the newly constructed house. The windows were open, and the light from the bedroom spilled over to the drawing room where the man was standing.

His hair was no longer tied, it was all frizzy and falling over his forehead, he held a bottle in one hand and was trembling, his wife was kneeling beside him, crying for some reason, and with his free arm, he took a swing at the woman, knocking her out, yet he kept hitting her, laughing as he did, Piklu couldn't hear his laughter over the wind, or perhaps his laughter was the sound of the wind.

Standing by his window, Piklu started shivering -  the monster was back.

***
Note: One of my earlier short stories, in fact still pretty proud of this piece. Not sure if that's a good thing or bad.

Monday, 5 September 2016

# 26 - Excerpt from a short story

Here is an excerpt from a short story I am currently writing. I have no idea when I am going to be finishing this, but it won't, in all likelihood be published in this blog, but nevertheless, have a look:

***
There was nothing particularly interesting about New Shakti Tower in Andheri East, at least during the day time it was as ordinary as a middle class residential premise could be in a locality bustling with commercial activity.

Thousands of people crossed the seven storey building without bothering to take a second look. Not that they were supposed to, in a city where the age old adage about time being money held particular importance, New Shakti Tower didn’t merit a second glance.

No one took notice of the building simply because it didn’t appear any different from the tens and thousands of other structures that lined the city; people of all ages, sizes and shapes came out in the mornings and heading out somewhere, presumably to their respective places of work; in the noons the building wore a deserted look, nothing unusual about that as well, and in the evenings, just before sunset, if someone would have bothered to cross-check, the same group of people who had left earlier in the day - returned.

Day in and day out, the same chain of events repeated itself, nothing unusual at all.

Except of course the fact that there were never any lights on in the building, not even after the entire batch of people re-entered their homes – that bit was odd.

In a city that never slept, the fact that there existed a tower, seemingly occupied, the residents of which were used to living in complete and utter darkness once the sun went down was anything but normal.

It wasn’t as if no one noticed this, but being situated in a commercial part of the locality, the office goers in proximity had little inclination to wonder about the oddity of New Shakti Tower.
Occasionally the passers-by did look at the building and talk about it, they sometimes wondered if it was an abandoned place; while travelling in groups in the evenings, it wasn’t rare for an individual to comment that the place looked haunted, but that was about it, their curiosity about the dark building never lasted too long. The fact that there were no reported incidents of criminal or paranormal activity in the area definitely helped, and New Shakti Tower continued being unremarkable, at least to the discernible eye.

***
Feedback is welcome. I know, I know, I am no greatbong, and this blog ain't Random Thoughts of a Demented Mind, but hey, can't blame a guy for trying, right?

P.S. Horror is the new romance.  

Friday, 5 August 2016

# 25 - Short Story - The Village

"Don't leave the village at night", Poonni di told me, waving her index finger in front of my face.

When a 90 something-year-old woman says a thing like that, you are bound to get a little jumpy, except I wasn't scared. Who could get scared of Poonni di?

I laughed, joining the other men-folk.

There was nothing remotely scary about the atmosphere at Tarapur, the sun touched the horizon, melting into a pond big enough to be called a lake, the unpolluted air brushed against my face, and I watched the birds rushing  to settle down to their nests as they sensed the impending dusk,

I realised that it was almost time for me to leave.

I was born in this village, Tarapur had been my home for the first eight years of my life before my family relocated to Kolkata, and it was only now, after twenty-four years, that I was visiting my place of birth.

I had planned this trip many times, but something or the other had always come up. It had finally taken a transfer to Cuttack, which was a five-hour drive from here, for the long unfulfilled dream to come true, even if the stay was only for a day.

Most of my memories of Tarapur had faded with time, but of the few that hadn't, Poonni di's was the most prominent. She was a distant relative of ours and until my family left the village for good, she, along with her grandson Janardan, stayed with us.

My world had once revolved around Poonni di, and I suspected that her's did too, for Janardan, who was about my age, frequently complained about the lack of attention he received from her. I remembered us having frequent fights for this reason, always ending with Poonni di separating the two of us and slapping Janardan. When we did leave Tarapur, we couldn't take Poonni di and Janardan along with us, and it had broken my heart,

Though we hadn't met in all these years, I never quite forgot her, she was the reason I wanted to visit Tarapur in the first place, taking a chance that she would still be alive and be able to recognize me, the gamble had paid off. I even met Janardan, and he seemed to have forgotten all about our animosity.

"Don't worry Poonni di, from now on, I will be coming to visit you at least once a month", I told her, trying to assure the old lady as well as myself.

She didn't seem to fully comprehend my words, and blinked a couple of times before looking away.

- "Is Janardan back? Would like to say goodbye to him before I leave."

Poonni di continued to avoid my gaze; one of the men who had heard my query shook his head, "you better get going, it will be quite late by the time he gets back."

I took the leave of my newly made acquaintances and came back to Poonni di; her excitement at meeting me had all but evaporated. Maybe she wasn't doing as well as I had thought earlier, physically she was still quite fit, but perhaps senility had been setting in.

 "I will be back soon. Tell Janardan to come and visit me sometime." I said, hoping for a response, seeing none I touched her feet and got up to leave, but in a swift motion she grabbed my hand, and with a look of terror, she spoke "Don't leave. Not tonight. It's not safe."

"What's not safe Pooni di? The highways are quite safe, they have lights and everything, it's only a few hours drive. I will be home by 11."

She shook her head vigorously, "There are things, not safe. Stay for the night, you can leave early tomorrow."

I looked at her face, criss-cross with wrinkles, yes, she was old, but her eyes didn't show any signs of mental incapacity,

"What are these things?" I insisted on asking, but she wouldn't elaborate any further.

"I must get back by tonight, I can't afford to miss office tomorrow; but don't you worry, I'll be safe, if any of you had a cellphone, I would have called to confirm."

It seemed as if she wanted to say something, so I asked her to walk me to my car, which I had parked near the only pucca building in the vicinity, which was Pooni Di's house, or rather Janardan's. A few of the others also insisted on accompanying me.

"So what does Janardan exactly do for a living?" I asked Poonni Di during our brief walk.

"He has some business. He goes to a nearby town, he has a cellphone, but there's no network here." answered a man on Poonni Di's behalf.

Janardan was clearly a respected man in the village, not only did he have a house, he had a cellphone too, so what if there was no network, and I had seen that he had owned a bike as well; in a village caught almost in a time warp, people were impressed easily, the fact that I owned a car had them calling me 'sir'.

I waved everyone goodbye, and just as I was about to start the engine, Poonni Di leaned near the window and whispered carefully, as if she was afraid that some entity would hear what she was about to say.

"If you see anything strange on your way, don't stop, don't get down from the car," she said, and stepped away.

As I drove along the dirt road, I got more and more convinced that Poonni Di wasn't very healthy.

A few boys ran alongside the car, leaving muddy handprints all over the body.

I didn't mind.

The small conveniences of an urban location aside, there was nothing strange about Tarapur; it had felt like home.
The kindness and simplicity of complete strangers, the slow paced life, the lack of stress, what was not to love about this place?

Maybe someday, I would come back to this place for good, join Janardan in his business or whatever. Make up for the folly that my father had committed in leaving by coming back.

The dirt road made way for an asphalt highway in half an hour or so; it was a lonely stretch and barring the road itself, very little signs of civilization appeared; an occasional horn from an unseen truck, a makeshift tent on the side of the road, sometimes an abandoned tire hanging from a tree.

I enjoyed the calmness, whistling to an old Kishore Kumar song, I forgot all about my worries.

Darkness descended all of a sudden without warning, and the silence was replaced by a steady chirping of crickets and croaking of frogs. I even saw foxes crossing the road a couple of times. The trees on either side formed a series of arches over the road by the meeting of their branches and thick foliage. The headlamps pierced the darkness as I moved along; sections of the road momentarily visible only to be enveloped by gloom after my crossing.

Street lights now began to appear, but they were few and far in between, and only half of them worked, doing precious little to justify their presence.

Up way ahead, at a bend in the road, something caught my attention and I slowed down my car as I approached the point.

An accident.

A matador truck and a bike had seemingly collided, and the bike lay down sideways, the matador stood slightly ahead with its hazard lights blinking, almost blocking the entire road.

Right next to the bike, a human figure lay unmoving, with his hands twisted at an angle they wouldn't ordinarily make.

I had seen plenty of accidents, had encountered much worse scenes, but out here in the woods, almost running into a dying, or already dead, man, I began to shake uncontrollably.

 Taking a moment to gather myself, I wondered what I should do. Do I take the man into my car and go to the nearest hospital as soon as I could find one, or do I call the police or hospital and hope that they arrive at the scene as soon as possible? But, of course, there was still no reception on my phone.

I got out of the car, still panicked, but having decided that I would help out the victim. Carrying him to a hospital was the least I could do.

I had barely walked a couple of steps in the direction of the man when Poonni Di's words came back to me, and as soon as it did, I realised that the peace and calm of Tarapur had long been gone, replaced by a sense of terror.

Here I was, in the middle of nowhere, untraceable to anyone, trying to save a man who was probably already dead; for all practical purposes I was alone, except, I didn't feel so.

It wasn't just the frogs and the crickets, something told me that my presence was being closely monitored, that each and every movement of mine away from the car was anticipated and awaited. I was being stalked by a presence that I couldn't see, but of whose existence I felt certain.

My rational mind tried feebly to convince me otherwise, but ended up only asking more questions.

How come there was no visible damage to the bike or the truck? Where had the man driving the matador gone? Why did he leave his vehicle behind? If the severity of the accident was so great, why was there no blood flowing from the man lying face down ahead of me?

In spite of my wobbling knees, with every bit of strength that I could muster, I turned around and jumped right back in my car, locked the doors and started the engine, driving away from the scene, I narrowly managed to avoid hitting the truck myself.

Looking at the rear-view mirror, I felt my blood freeze.

The street lights were dim, but they revealed enough; the man lying down, the man who I was almost about to carry into my car, was getting up.

Showing no signs of injury, he dusted off his clothes and looked in the direction of my car, and emerging from behind the trees, five or six men joined him.

I could have been wrong, the mind does play tricks from time to time, and I had hardly seen his face for a second or two before the increasing distance made it impossible to discern any features. but I could have sworn that it was Janardan.

A long lost memory, tucked away in some corner of my brain re-surfaced - the reason why my family had left Tarapur in the first place.

Increasing crimes.
The repeated failure of the crops had made thugs out of farmers.