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Wednesday 29 March 2017

# 40 - Cool it, Kohli !

To call Kohli a fine cricketer would be an understatement. 

He is arguably an 'all time great' at the age of 28, and at the rate that he is going, he is quite likely to surpass Sachin Tendulkar's records, something we were convinced a couple of years back, were unbreakable.

He is also a marketing juggernaut, ubiquitous in a way that would make Amitabh Bachchan worry. The guy is everywhere, when he isn't collecting man of the match trophies or smiling for the cameras, he is wishing his own mother and Anushka Sharma on Women's Day on social media, thanking them for making him the man he is. 

Awwwww. Cho chweet.

Women's Day - 2016 - Apologizing for all the jerks, whistlers, cat callers, blank callers etc. [Cho Chweeet #2]

He owns a soccer team, is the highest paid sportsperson in India and the no. 1 Batsman in the world, has a clothing merchandise brand (called WROGN) and makes more than 130 crore rupees a year.

He is also, when his PR team isn’t there to give him directions, somewhat of a brat.

In his own words, he 'likes to give it back, as much as he gets'. If that means showing the finger to the crowd (Sydney, 2012) so be it.

"Because aggression is all about MC BC"

But maybe that's a part of his charm and why brands love him; here is a young, immensely successful man captaining his country's cricket team across all formats, assured of greatness, humble in an odd Delhi-esque way (bahar kuchh bhi karu, hu toh main mamma’s boy), has a movie star for a girlfriend, stands up to trolls as opposed to ignoring them, and of course, gives it back.

An Aussie cricketer had once remarked that Virat has an Aussie side to him, meaning that Kohli has aggression levels not usually associated with us Indians.

As this series has shown, not quite. 

Steven Smith, in spite of being Australia's captain, is never in the limelight like Kohli is, this has less to do with his cricketing abilities and more to do with the fact that Australians don't hero worship cricketers the way we do. 

It's probably due to the fact that Australia is pretty good at every sport, unlike India. We have a serious dearth of sporting icons here and Cricket is the one team sport where India enjoys an enviable level of dominance, at least when the games are played in the sub-continent.

Smith isn't considered to be a cricketing great, while he has been ranked no. 1 in tests, he lacks the flair of Kohli and isn't in possession of a technique that makes for good looking cricket. If anything, his shots are, more often than not, quite ugly. 

But compare his track record in Tests, vis-a-vis Kohli's, and you'll find that there's not much separating the two, in fact, arguably Smith is just marginally better - and that's why I was looking forward to the series.

Virat Kohli
Steven Smith

It was a foregone conclusion that India would clinch it, some, such as Dada even predicting a whitewash.

But it was the relishing prospect of the showdown between the captains had me excited, a battle between equals. Who would prevail over the other?

Turns out the series was more evenly contested than we ever thought, the Australians punched well above their weight, and while India did go on to win the series, the Australian team wouldn't be too unhappy with the way they performed.

Smith didn't disappoint, but Kohli sure did. 

He failed with the bat, scoring 46 runs in 5 innings; Smith, on the other hand, scored 499 in 8 innings (average of 71.28, 3 centuries), more importantly, he was probably the one man who stood between India and victory, more than once. Smith was, without a doubt the better performer in what turned out to be an anticlimax of a contest.

Of course, there was the brain fade moment, which was obviously, in Smith's words....'stupid'. Kohli was right to point it out to the umpire.

What happened next, however, was shocking [Sorry ScoopWhoop], Kohli stopped short of calling Smith a cheat, he made it pretty clear though what he really felt about Smith and the Australian team in general. 

There was the shoulder gesture by Maxwell, but too big a deal was made out of it, we have done similar things, remember Shikhar Dhawan mocking Shane Watson? Not really a classy move but nothing to get worked up about either.

There was some vague allegation regarding the Aussies insulting India's physio, which sounds far fetched unless Kohli meant that the shoulder gesture was indirectly insulting the team physio for his lack of competence (Eh?).

Kohli said something to the Australian media to the effect that they are the ones unnecessarily asking controversial questions, and questions that have nothing to do with the match.
Media, whether Indian or Australian or Italian, tend to do that, it's your call on how you answer those queries, Kohli had the opportunity to win brownie points with Australian media (and the Australian people) and much like his on-field shot selection, chose to play it the worst way possible. 

Smith may have called Murali Vijay a 'f****** cheat', but he manned up and admitted to his mistakes, being apologetic when you have made a spur-of-the-moment mistake (or a wilful one) makes you more human, with that he won a lot of us over (including Sunil Gavaskar) - Smith was gracious in defeat. 

Kohli on the other hand, in a move that can only be called childish, said that he wouldn't call the Australians his friends anymore. 


Exactly the kind of words I would expect from a playground bully who has just been bullied himself, or the response of a guy who has been dumped by his girlfriend and has been offered the chance to remain friends.

Why is the captain of the team that has just won a series, whining?  Certainly not expected from the man who is the best batsman in the world. Where did all the self-assuredness go?

The thing is, maybe the guys in the team are not as good with sledging as they think they are; the great sledgers know how to take it, how to give it back, and when to stop. 

We, on the other hand, pretend to be tough, abuse freely and consistently (particularly since the Ganguly era), but more often than not, fail to back it up with our performances. 

Think Glenn McGrath or Steve Waugh, they swore like sailors and you knew that they could take the game away from you.

Ishant Sharma can make faces all day, but very rarely does he produce something with the ball that is half as threatening (though he has been decent this series).   

No matter what Kohli says or how many times the camera catches him mouthing abuses of the incestuous kinds, it appears that he was been deeply affected by what was a very obvious attempt by the Australian cricket team (and support staff, and media, and former players) to target him.

And he couldn’t handle the pressure.

Unlike Smith.

The Indian media bayed for Smith’s blood; I have the feeling that the crowd who showed up to watch the games weren’t very friendly either, and while Smith has played in India before, I don’t imagine the conditions exactly suited him, yet he played on, and on, and on; making runs, not a treat for sore eyes, but playing test cricket as it is meant to be played. Displaying grit and character (most of the times). 

I am sure that Kohli will go on to have a fantastic season, and he will continue to break records, but in spite of everything, he won’t be half a decent ambassador for the sport in a way Tendulkar or Dravid ever was.

And sometimes, that is more important than everything else.

Image from here.

Sunday 19 March 2017

# 39 - Movie Review - Trapped (2017) - Uncomfortable, Claustrophobic, Brilliant!

Cast: Rajkummar Rao, Geetanjali Thapa.
Directed by: Vikramaditya Motwane.

A man gets trapped inside a flat in Mumbai with little means of communication with the outside world.

If the name of the movie doesn’t give the plot away, the trailer surely does.
What separates ‘Trapped’ from ‘Castaway’ and ‘127 Hours’ is the fact that unlike other survivor dramas, the protagonist here isn’t stuck in the middle of nowhere, he is very much in a metropolitan city, but oh-so-alone.

Rajkummar Rao plays Shaurya, a man who is desperate in more ways than one.
There isn’t much of a back-story shown but thanks to the clever writing, direction and performance, one can figure out the missing details. As things stand, in the beginning of the movie, Shaurya is a bachelor who stays in a shared rented apartment and like so many of us, manages to survive in the Maximum city, just barely.

He finds romance in office in the form of Noori (played by a very capable Geetanjali Thapa, who shines in spite of the limited screen-time) and chain of events lead to him shifting his residence to a flat in the yet to be occupied high-rise building ironically named ‘Swarg’.

And yes, all of this happens within the first 15 minutes of the film.

In a set of circumstances that seem scarily possible, he gets trapped inside his flat; what is somewhat far-fetched though is the happy combination of coincidences - no-one is aware of Shaurya's whereabouts, neither does anyone seem to note his disappearance from office, there’s no electricity, his cellphone is out of charge and his apartment has limited and unpredictable supply of water, these are of course explained in the plot, but the coming together of such chances are hard to overlook nevertheless.

What follows thereafter forms the movie, and it is as much as Shaurya’s journey as it is the viewers, the (luckily) semi-furnished apartment becomes our jail as much as it is his. We celebrate his little victories and suffer as he suffers, and this is where the Director and Rajkummar Rao triumph.

‘Trapped’ makes you feel for the protagonist, you wonder what you would have done if you were in his place, you squirm uncomfortably as his desperation grows and he almost descends into insanity. It is a film that grabs you by the collar and forces you to feel uncomfortable and claustrophobic.  

It reminds you that the most crowded places can, in the right circumstances, be the loneliest.  


The sounds play more than an active part in this, refer to the trailer to know what I mean.   
Rajkummar Rao is fantastic, it’s tough to imagine anyone else play this role with as much conviction as he does. Brilliant casting. His take on the small town guy (I assume) in the big city, who has grand plans but little means is as believable as it gets. Having said that, he has played somewhat similar characters in different circumstances before (CityLights, Queen).

Kudos to Vikramaditya Motwane for this film, he is now three films old, and they are as different as they can be. Also, because he hasn’t succumbed to directing typical potboilers yet, not that there’s anything wrong with that.  

Special mention of the scene at the Hospital - pulls at your heartstrings, despite the predictability.

There are loopholes of course, apart from the coincidences mentioned above, one wonders from where Shaurya manages the seemingly unending reservoir of matchsticks, how he becomes a champion slingshot marksman (perhaps because he grew up in a small town?), how he possesses the strength (of body and mind) to do what he does in the last 30 minutes of the movie, in spite of his limited food supply – but all that can be forgiven in the larger scheme of things.

I watched ‘Trapped’ on a lazy Sunday evening and was pleasantly surprised at the packed hall; the fact that an unconventional movie made on a shoestring budget and devoid of ‘stars’, item numbers, and buzz surrounding its release could pull in such a crowd is testament to the fact that Bollywood and viewers have come off age.

Now if only the rest of the stakeholders woke up to that fact.

RATING: 3.5/5

P.S. Read my short story about an odd building in the middle of the city here.

Image from here. 

Tuesday 7 March 2017

# 38 - Short Story - Kalu

It was the last class of the day, and Sauvik struggled to stay awake. He regretted picking the front row to sit on instead of his usual second last - he forced himself to focus on the whiteboard.

 “Kalu” - he thought he heard someone whisper from behind. He was about to turn around but better sense prevailed.

“Kaloooo, move your head.”

“Abey oye kalua, shift your desk naa slightly.”

This time he recognized Vivek’s voice.

He was wide awake now, and looked ahead at the Professor, trying his best to ignore the voices coming from behind.

“Acha okay sorry, Mr. Fair and Handsome, I said sorry na?! Now move your desk to the left.”

Muffled laughter from the back, few of the girls had now joined in.

Sauvik waited for a few seconds before moving his desk, hopefully, they would stop bothering him now.

He knew that he was dark, but to be told of the fact every minute was uncomfortable, it probably would have been alright if the words being used were as decent as “dark”, but people were coming up with new synonyms and prefixes and suffixes every day, ranging from Kauwa to Alkatra, and he was fed up, and these guys had shown no signs of stopping.

The jibes stopped for a while, and Sauvik had almost dozed off again when Manoj from the back whispered.

“Andhera, arre o andhera, thodasa right ho jaanaa, board dikh nahin raha hai.”

Manoj was loud enough for the professor to hear, but the old man let it go.

Encouraged, half the class laughed this time.

Sauvik silently swore, it wasn’t actually about looking at the board, it was about giving him a hard time, and trying to elicit a few giggles from the girls.

It wasn’t as if Sauvik hated these guys, in fact, most of them were his friends, but even during normal conversations, his ‘friends’ would find ways to bring up his complexion every now and then, he had become a laughing stock, the means for people to show off their creativity, how good they were at coming up with new names.   

He hadn’t minded it initially, after all, most people had a nickname, he had even thought that it was a sign of his growing popularity, that he was going through an initiation process of some kind, painful…yes, but temporary.

But years had passed, and it was only getting worse.

Sauvik recalled the initial semesters when he was just ‘Sauvik’; not ‘Kalu’, not ‘Alkatra’, and definitely not ‘Invisible man’. 
And of course, he thought of that fateful day when Yash had called out to him as ‘Kalu’, that day had changed everything.  

How can I put an end to this? Sauvik thought.

Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, the bell rang and the professor, almost as relieved as Sauvik at the classes being over, quickly departed.

Sauvik was about to leave too, when he heard Pankaj, who was staring out the window and talking to no one in particular, “look at the clouds, almost as dark as Sauvik.”

Unlike the others, Pankaj wasn’t a friend, they had rarely spoken in all these years, and that too because Arnab used to invited him to their room.

Something snapped.   


The classroom went quiet immediately, everyone stared at Sauvik with their mouths open, some possibly entertained the thought of a fight.

In a flash Sauvik was standing before Pankaj, his hands rolled into fists. Pankaj managed to lift his own hands defensively, painfully aware that no one would come to his help if Sauvik was in a mood to get violent.

 “I..I…just said your name.”


Sauvik had never sworn like this in college, being especially mindful of his language in front of girls.
But he didn’t care now.

Pankaj adjusted his glasses, and with the resignation of a man prepared to get beat up, provided the best possible response.

“But everyone calls you far worse things. Especially your friends, you don’t react like this. All I said was your name.”

The bastard was right.

Arnab meanwhile tried to take Sauvik away from Pankaj, “Cool down bhai, people are staring.”
Sauvik pushed Arnab away, “I am not doing anything. Besides, he is right, when your own friends treat you like shit, how can I blame a guy I don’t care about.”

Arnab stood embarrassed, unsure of how to react. Pankaj breathed a sigh of relief, happy that Sauvik’s attention had been diverted. Vivek whispered something to Sauvik, hoping to calm him down, but Sauvik wasn’t in a mood to shut up.

“I am making a scene? What were you doing when you called me Blackie in front of everyone? Oh, I am sorry, you were trying to be funny, weren’t you? So I am trying to be funny as well, I don’t see you laughing.”

Sauvik paused for a second. Suddenly becoming aware that none of the students had left the class. He felt his rage subside, replaced by a wave of sadness.

“Leave it yaar. It’s not your fault. Maybe I am an easy target. I can’t threaten or force people to stop calling me names, that’s not in my control. But there’s one thing I can do. I can stop being friends with people who get a kick out of making fun of me in public. I thought being friends meant being accepted for who you are, and things like complexion don’t get in the way. But – “

Vivek tried to interrupt but Sauvik wasn’t done.

“Shut up and let me finish. Maybe I’m stupid, but I thought friends are supposed to be there for each other, to support each other during the tough times, but you guys, my so called friends are the ones who have been giving me a bad time, all these years. You know what? Fuck you, I am proud of my complexion, I don’t care what you think of it, but calling me names and making fun of me to make the girls laugh is not something that friends do. I didn’t have a say in choosing my complexion, not that I would change it anyway, but I do have a say in choosing who I am friends with.“

He took a deep breath and picked up his bag, on the verge of leaving, he turned around to look back at Vivek and Arnab, and spoke loud enough for the class to hear.

“Think about it guys, I mean it. If you make one more inappropriate comment about my skin colour or call me names, I am not going to talk to you anymore.”

With this he was finally done, he stormed out of the class and hurried back to his hostel room. Slamming the door shut, he bolted it, knowing that his roommates would soon be there.

He headed for the loo and stood in front of the mirror, he took a good, long look at the face staring back at him.

A face that was angry, hurt, and betrayed….but more importantly, dark.

He took out the fairness cream he had bought a week back and carefully started applying the cream to his face.

The damn thing was supposed to show results in two weeks time. 

Image from here.