Thursday, December 20, 2007

constructed reality

As if I needed another reason for my dislike of reality shows. My friend, A. called me to say that the winner of a reality show we had worked on a few years ago, was now in Kerala recuperating from a nervous breakdown and trying to lose weight of an abnormal kind. She had gone up to 30 stones, where she broke commodes when she sat on them, and could no longer walk. We knew her when she was set to win on a talent show for British Asian young people aspiring to be Bollywood actors, and she never understood what hit her after the television cameras capturing her every sniffle and smile, turned away. Bollywood did not beckon.

I worked briefly on a reality show last week, the fag-end. I found yet again, the atmosphere as vitiated as it had been on the earlier show. Producers huddled up all day, exasperated with the contributors, trying to drum up more interesting, more sensational stuff, as they wallowed in mindlessly mind-boggling numbing details about each and every moment and thought in the contributors' minds. The contributors', tired with the close inspection of their hearts and souls over weeks, were irritable and querulous as children, getting more and more spoilt with the unnatural attention. The rest of the crew gossiped in mildly superior tones about the producers and the contributors, believing they were intellectually beyond the work they were doing.

But the truth is, the nature of work one is doing, affects one's self-esteem, one's well-being. I did a more strenuous shoot for 4 months this year, but because it involved journalistic stories on the changing Indian economy, I felt inspired, buoyed by the amazing stories of ordinary and extraordinary people who make the country tick. I never had the inclination to be tired. Whereas, in 4 days of this shoot, I felt exhausted, close to falling ill, and cheapened and humiliated, questioning my own motives in taking up work that I did not believe in.

The best day for me was when the cameraman and I went off on our own, shooting GVs (general views) of the city. Running across streets following a religious procession on its way to Shirdi, weaving through cars with a man selling Santa hats, crossing roads with school children, wandering through clothes stalls on the streets, walking, walking all day, my bones ached but I was happy.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

reality tour

"Dharavi has a population of 1 million people living in an area of 1.75 sq. kms. The area generates 665 million US$ after taxed, and probably as much in undeclared income, from the thousands of industries that operate there", our tourist guide, courtesy Reality Tours and Travels rattled off.

Though I have shot several times in Dharavi, it's mainly been on the Dharavi-Sion Hospital 60 ft. road, and general shots. I've been into the tiny lanes a couple of times researching a character. So, I was up for the "Reality Tour" that my colleagues were going to take, prior to our shoot there next week.

The young boy who was taking us around lives in Mankhurd, New Bombay. His father saw the advertisement in the papers, and said he should check out an opening for tourist guides. I didn't get around to asking him why? Perhaps his father thought he needed a reality check, perhaps he thought it would be a good experience, perhaps this boy was not doing anything else. Whatever the reason, our 20 year old guide was as awestruck by his own experience of Dharavi as he was about showing it to us.

We were a little impatient, I confess. Being documentary film makers, we've seen a lot of "real India", and we had more questions than he had answers to. Two of us, who are women, also didn't take too kindly to his notion that his job would be too tough for a girl to handle. Or that we wouldn't be able to walk for 2 & 1/2 hours. We did a full 7 hours of walking yesterday (and me, once again on high heels. What's with me, and wrong shoes? I hadn't been stupid, just didn't know the agenda.)

I was inclined to be more lenient however, just because he was so young, 20. I've reached that age, when a 20 year old could be my kid. And I remember how incredibly silly I was at 20. I lived within the covers of a book, and I thought of my life as a novel. I just thought I had to turn a page, for something new to happen, and that if things got bad, all I needed to do was to close the covers. So when it did, reality hit me hard.

Anyway, it's a decent tour. It's not intrusive, they have a no-cameras policy in a lot of places, and the ease with which the young guide walked in and out of workshop premises, and his exchanges with the people there, reflected a good, friendly relationship between the tour company and the people living and working in Dharavi.

Of course, because since we two women were walking with a Western guy, everyone assumed that we were foreigners, though we look 100% Indian, and I was wearing a salwar kameez. It's only when we answered questions in Hindi, and I showed off my Marathi, that the kids believed that we were from Mumbai. Not many Indians take the tour.

And yes, though Dharavi is an unexpectedly safe place to be in, easier for a tourist to walk around in than Colaba with it's scores of beggars and vendors haranguing you, banks and credit card companies black-list Dharavi residents, and don't give them loans and credit cards that easily. It's the same with film people, so I'm not shocked, though I make appropriate noises of commiseration, when the local cable guy tells me what it's like to live in Mumbai-17.

The best part of the tour for me, was to climb up the asbestos roof of one plastic recycling unit, and see the asbestos rooftops of all the other units spread out, like another world altogether, people drying out plastic pellets, piles and piles of plastic stored for future use. I'd only seen these asbestos shacks with plastic piles on top from the road, but from the rooftop one couldn't see the road at all. I've always been fascinated by rooftop/terrace worlds.

The recycling industry is I think a model of Indian ingenuity. Everything from old drums to CPU backs to shaving creams past their expiry date (recycled into washing soap) is used up. It satisfied my Indian, middle-class soul.

Friday, December 07, 2007

wasting time

So, of course, spent the first free morning I had, fiddling around with my blog, labeling ALL my posts, so I could do away with the archives, and other such completely faltu stuff. Instead of some serious writing. I guess I deserved a morning off.

Why does Mumbai make us feel so anxious? I wake up in the morning, and by the time I'm through with the newspapers, I feel a sort of desperate, though quiet panic within me. Yesterday, Dhanno said, "There's so much to do, how am I going to have enough time?" I, of course felt guilty for all the lectures Teja and I have ever given her on how she should use her time well.

Today morning, the papers report the suicide of a IXth Std boy in Mumbai. His poor parents say he was a friendly, happy child. But having run into some trouble with Dhanno, earlier this year, I know how much children can hide from their parents. We've done enough of that ourselves, as kids.

And wasted more than enough time, too.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

money, money

My daily forecast today said, 'Your attitude towards money is the root of all evil".

While I am not sure how my attitude towards anything can be the root of ALL EVIL, I admit that my attitude towards money is not at all what it should be.

First, I am always wanting more. It seems to me that I have spent an entire lifetime making ends meet, and whoever I've been with at a given time in life, has always been struggling to make ends meet, and making me struggle with them. So, I'm always awestruck at the copious amounts of money that other people seem to have.

Or at least, the copious amounts of money that other people seem to spend, even if they don't have any.

I swing between scrimping miserliness, saying no to Dhanno's ordering out pizza, or no to Teja buying yet another pair of shoes, and gently persuading Dhanno and Teja to take cold water baths, or fewer baths or no baths at all, if they can help it, and all that.

And if by some chance, I have a 6 month balance in my bank, I feel empowered enough to stop working, and start living it up, going to see the latest film on Saturday evening at the multiplex when the tickets are more expensive, buying clothes to go out, even though I hardly ever go out, persuading Teja that we cannot do without a new cell phone/TV/camera/car/or some such thing (depending on the exact amount in the bank) until the bank balance starts gasping for breath.

Even after years of managing my own accounts, I have learnt nothing about calculating interest. So I pay off my bills as soon as I receive them, losing vast amounts of interest, which would have accumulated in my account, if I had put off paying the bill until the last day, according to business friends. I keep paying roaming charges on my cellphone, even when I don't travel, when what I should be doing is activating and deactivating the facility as and when I need it, thus saving that precious 25 rupees a month, which builds an ocean of money, and so forth, again according to business friends. I buy things that will give my family and me pleasure, when I can afford it, instead of building up my capital, which is the worst thing I can do, according to the same business friends, who I can't help thinking, are rather gloating about my ineptitude for finances.

After 22 years of a working life, I still have no property, no savings, no shares or funds, no jewelry worth the name, and certainly no diamonds.

So, the day begins with a sinking feeling of impending disaster.

But the producer I worked with recently, ND said he had started work as a journalist, hashing and rehashing the astrological forecasts for the day, at a local newspaper. Maybe, my forecast today was the work of some such novice journalist hacking on her way to becoming a more serious reporter. And perhaps I can still avert ALL evil, at least for some more time, at least until the money from my last job runs out.

Monday, October 29, 2007

butterfly

The tiniest little orange-and-black butterfly is fluttering around my plants since morning. It's the first time I've seen one on my 13th floor window sill. The sparrows come everyday. And the crows too. I like the crows. The pigeons are fewer now since we have the grills and the net window, though they continue to infect the plants, and sometimes me, in their disgusting way. I almost gave up my plants to them last year, discouraged by their persistent droppings. I didn't do my annual re-potting too this year. But now that I've seen the butterfly, I think it's time to bring out the flowers again.

Didn't capture the butterfly. Got the pigeon, though.

Monday, October 22, 2007

how old is she

I ask a villager, what is the name of your son. He says, Dilip. How old is he? Well, he is in the 6th, so 7 plus 6, 11, maybe 12. Ok. Then, second. Daughter. What's her name? Startled look, pause, think. Hmmm, Mayuri. How old is she? 8, I think. And the third one? Daughter, Soni. How old is she? She's in the 2nd, so 2 plus 6, 8. But then, what about the second. No, she is second. Soni, pipes in, I'm not your second, Baba, I'm the third, I'm the third. But I'm in the second. Right. A friend says, let me see, she's 8, so the second one must be 10, and your son, he must be 12. Yes, 12, 10. 8, that sounds about right. I say yes, that sounds fine to me. But haven't you registered them at birth? Oh yes, of course, I have. Then? The friend says, We only need the registry when we have to take their school admissions, then who looks at that paper. So we forget.
Right.

It's not difficult to forget how many years have passed in this dusty village. It once belonged to Raja Bhosale, but when the princely states were dissolved, and the farmers got the ownership of their land, his house was taken away in bits and pieces, a stone here, a stone there, now nothing remains except a 2-3 foot wall. Time has passed, the houses have become more and more decrepit, everything is falling apart, even the lives of the farmers, as they battle debt, the unpredictable monsoons, a complete lack of health care facilities, poisonous snakes, and a hard, very hard laborious life. The school is fine, surprisingly, the teachers come to work, but it's hard to say what good an education in a village school will do them, in terms of real jobs, and lifting them out of their crippling poverty.

The faces and bodies too are ageless, with malnutrition, hard labour and the scorching sun, and who can say whether a man is 28 or 35 or 40. They go on, until the body collapses, and even then, the old man or woman lying on the cot outside the door, is like a guard for the children and the house, while the parents go to work.

I know we work hard too, making television documentaries, in the sun all day, working 15 hours a day, often eating only two meals a day, sometimes one. But the difference is, we can drive away in our SUVs, to a clean hotel 3 hours away, a good meal in a good restaurant, to a hot water bath, and our work pays us enough to give our families a decent life. We are not insensitive, or unintelligent, or unconcerned. But it's difficult to believe that what we do, helps anyone but ourselves.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

and time runs still

Villagers are exasperating if you are talking numerical facts. What is your name, gives you an accurate if reluctant answer, the person shying away, specially if you have whipped out a pen and notebook, as if the act of recording his or her name itself, is likely to see them in trouble.

But try asking, what is your age? 30, 35, 40, 18, 25, all by the same person, in a span of a few minutes.

What time is the puja? 7 pm, 11 am, 5 pm, 3 pm, 8.30 am, that was 5 different people with 5 different anwers at the same time, in the same room.

When is the feast? They are cooking for it now, today, now, it's happening, it's on Monday, it's tomorrow, it was yesterday. Again, 4 different people, same place, same time.

When will the electricity come back? In half-an-hour, after two days, at 10 am tomorrow morning, at 2.30 pm this afternoon, maybe never. You can't get irritated with them about this, though, because they really don't know themselves. Their power supply is apparently in the hands of an electrician, who turns the switch on or off, as he pleases. Sometimes, he goes home for lunch and an afternoon siesta, and takes the weekend off, forgetting that he has to go back and push the switch.

The farmers threaten to go and beat him up after the festival is over. Which festival is not clear, the one tomorrow, or the one week after, or the one in the next month, or the next year, or the one that was meant to be last month, but is being celebrated now, because the police permission for the procession and immersion has come in only last week.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

high, hai

Ok, so Teja's chest pains were due to forcible breathing in and out, kapalbharti

I don't know enough about yoga to comment on this, but the cardiac surgeon said, kapalbharti was causing many incidents of muscular pain in the chest, which came through as cardiac scares.

Yoga should not really be done without a teacher, I think.

Isn't there enough bother in life, without bothering so much about the way we breathe too? What happened to 'as natural as breathing'.

Coincidentally, we were shooting with one of the top cardiac surgeons in Bangalore, and she said, the effect that deep breathing had was 'alcoholic' (Did she really say that, or was it another medical term? Do tell). It just made you feel high, and good for that moment, but your chest muscles are not meant for that much strain. So, of course you decide, what do you want, the muscular pain, or the brain high?

Well, Teja is going to give up that high, as well. Oh well.

Monday, October 15, 2007

and this too.....

There are times in your life when everything seems to unravel.

Your parent falls sick, you get mugged, your daughter has big-time teenage problems,

you lose your favourite earrings, your spouse complains of chest pains,

your parent has to be hospitalized, your brother is angry with you because you are not there to share the responsibility,

your parent develops complications, someone you care about lose their roadside garage and have to be relocated,

someone you care about needs help and money to keep a good cause going,

All this while you are shooting, travelling, taking care of other things, because that is your job.

The tongue in the cheek doesn't quite work then.

You just silently plod on.

And wonder what is in store for you next.

And hold yourself in.

And know that this too shall pass.

While you look at those million others scattered all over the country, who are worse off than you, and yet so generous and warm, and for whom the bad times may never pass.

And the tongue in the cheek doesn't quite work even then.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

of rickshaws and fate

There are two kinds of rickshaw-walas.

One is the slow rickshaw-wala. He goes through each pothole with love, letting his three wheels feel each and every bump with great delicacy, allowing you to savor every jolt of pain in the small of your back, and every rattle of your skeletal cage. He believes in the importance of the journey, and cares not about reaching. If you ask him to go faster, his eyes glaze over, his shoulders hunch fiercely over his handle bar, his knuckles jut out with grim determination, and his rickshaw makes loud noises, in an attempt to make you believe that he has speed-ed up.

When the hawker boy running beside you overtakes you, and you impatient say, 'Bhaiya, bhaiya, please hurry, I'm going to miss my plane/train/film/boyfriend', he does leap forward with uncharacteristic bravado, but at the first truck/bus/car/cycle that threatens to be left behind by his speed, he panics, brakes, your nose is into his back, which with anyone else, you would consider great intimacy, his rickshaw goes back to its soft rumble, and you make a call to your boss/mate/client/boyfriend to say you are going to be late.

Then, there is the fast rickshaw-wala. He hurtles across every fly-over, confident that he will land just between the bus and the truck, in the tiny space allocated to him by the god of moving things. He takes pride in overtaking the flashy cars, specially if they are being driven by women. He believes not in the journey, but in the ride. He doesn't care about whoever may be in the passenger seat, he is intent on watching how far he can go, how fast, without his rickshaw toppling over.

As your neck jerks from whiplash to whiplash, your hands go numb with clutching the seat, and the rest of your body has become a limp, raggedy doll, you ask him to slow down. At first, he pretends he has not heard you. When you hoarsely whisper again, 'Bhaiya, please, I don't want to die', he turns around without his rickshaw slowing down, looks at you contemptuously, slows down to an almost-halt, plods for a few meters, and as you just begin to straighten out the various parts of your body, comes the top of another fly-over, and there he goes flying again into space.

And you give up all pretense of being mistress of your own destiny, and pray silently for a mercifully swift end.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

of pain and loss and blue-and-orange earrings

My bag is snatched late evening in Bangalore, from a rickshaw. One way street. All that I have in the bag flashes before me, passport, PAN card, credit cards, bank cards, production money, two cell-phones, production diary. I yell.

Rickshaw wala turns and enters from the wrong side. We chase the thief. He crosses the road. Rickshaw wala stops the rickshaw, and runs out. I jump over the door bar and run behind.

Both of us are yelling on top of our voices. Bag-snatcher looks back. He has empty hands. I look back to see what has happened to my bag. Rickshaw wala is closing in on bag-snatcher.

He turns back towards me, grabs the bag from where he has thrown it. I run behind, yelling. He, scared, throws the bag. We yell some more, he throws the wallet and the diary he has in his hand. He escapes.

I rummage through the bag. Everything is intact. Except I have lost my production phone. I start trembling with shock.

Police van drives up. Can't make out how they got to know. They ask me questions, write things down, ask me whether I want to report. We are too late, too tired, too shocked. Can't quite face another hour of police station routine. Decide to go off to dinner instead.

Teja and Dhanno don't quite believe my story of me chasing the thief. But I think the thought of all that I would lose, and all the days of tedious work that would follow that loss, made me something I am usually not.

In my hotel room, can't find a pair of my favourite earrings. Blue and orange. Picked up from Goa. I used to wear them all the time. Were they stolen?? I go through all my things. I wonder if I should complain. Did I drop them in the room when I came back, shaken from the bag-snatcher incident?

Make a flight booking on the internet. The travel company swipes my credit card, then sends me a message that the ticket is not available, and the money will be refunded in due course. I spend a couple of hours making a complaint. Send e-mails, follow up. Don't know when I will get the money.

I try hard not to think of ill-luck. When we were kids, and fell down, and were howling, grown-ups said, "Don't cry, you've killed an ant." Though why that was meant to make us happy, I don't know. When we lost something precious, Mummy said, "It's OK, it's only a small token for your well-being." Thus, all loss and pain was meant to be taken with a pinch of happiness.

But I can't quite let go of my lovely earrings. I make drawings of what they looked like, in my notebook. And wonder who has them now.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

poetry and theosophy? in bumm-bumm-bhole-land? kidding, right?

Teja was taking a taxi to CST. Well, it always seems a shame to waste a free taxi ride into town. And my friend, Space Bar was having a poetry reading there. But as usual, I dawdled until the last moment.

Having spent years of being there for Dhanno in the evenings, unless I was working, I find it almost impossible to step out to do something on my own, unless it's work. Dhanno said, "You've got to learn to go out without me." Well, well, I guess that's only fair. Seems just a while ago, when I was saying the same to her.

I tried making excuses,
which Teja was inclined to believe,
and Dhanno pooh-poohed,
and a few minutes after the very last minute,
with Teja and Dhanno yelling at me, I put myself together,
leaving odd bits behind,
and chose the highest heels in my shoe rack to venture out into the world.
Appropriate enough with my wonderful sense of imbalance.

The thing about Mumbai is that halfway through wherever you are bound to go, you tend to forget, under the assault of filth, noise, traffic, smells, heat, sweat, why you had set out in the first place. It seems the taxi forgot that too, just as we were about to reach the JJ flyover, and collapsed. Don't blame it, for I was feeling a bit like collapsing, myself.

It seemed to be getting later and later. Space Bar's reading was going to last only 45 minutes, and I was wondering if I was going to hear her at all, and whether I hadn't been foolhardy to make a 2 hour trip for something I was going to miss anyway. After dumping Teja and his luggage, unceremoniously on the main road, to make his way to the train station, I decided to get lost on my way to Theosophy Hall.

Leave taxi at the wrong point.
Totter, totter, totter on high heels all the way up Churchgate Street, right up to the end,
totter back,
ask directions of an incredulous woman, "Where on earth is the Theosophy Hall, and who on earth could possibly want to go there, on a weekday evening" kind of a look from her,
cut through the train station, without a ticket,
grab the first taxi for a half kilometer ride,
tumble up 3 flights of stairs,
and see Space Bar in pink.

Thank God, she's wearing pink. Because it seems, the rest of the place has worn down over hundreds of years to grey, grey, grey. I try hard to listen to Space Bar, but before I can catch my breath, she's done. I look admiringly at the people who seem so much at home at a poetry reading. I wouldn't be surprised to see such people in Pune, or Hyderabad, or Baroda, but here in Mumbai they seem superhuman beings. Madame Blavatsky stares at me searchingly with her grey eyes, and I smile back apologetically, knowing I fall far short of any such superhuman tendencies.

However, there's beer later, at Brabourne, an ancient Iranian cafe, where legends more than make up for it's comfortable shabbiness. Space Bar reads some more poetry, which makes it all worthwhile. Then a train ride home, pretending to the people I am with, that I always take the train. Always? When - since I never go out without a ride? But it seems to be a day for doing things I haven't done in a long time.

Late at night, crossing the bridge, striding along, comfortable now in my heels, the beer does cure my imbalance, not so hot anymore, I feel brave, as if I have done something grand. Ridiculous, after having seen all those women in the ladies' compartment, exhausted, at the end of a long day, doing this day in, day out.

Just as I finish writing this, Dhanno comes in with her friend, Shi. Shi's mother is in hospital again, she had a relapse after a surgery for appendicitis, because she couldn't rest enough, and had to take the train into town, everyday to work.

Thursday, August 16, 2007


So we were honored by a state visit from naughty, little Ms. Bald Head yesterday

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

one of those days

So, you have one of those days, in a strange city, when you've just had about enough of hotel food and hotel beds,

when the car you hired, comes in late, then has to go fill diesel, then it's a/c conks off, then the driver decides to change it for an ambassador, which is very romantic, but very slow, and creaks a lot, and it's raining outside, and the driver's shoes are not smelling that good,

and you have to run out in the rain to be on time for a meeting with a corporate honcho, and you walk into his office with your pants wet, and he is immaculate with a tie, and has a pretty girl sitting with him taking notes, and he offers you tomato soup, and talks of everything else but business, and you are meant to smile politely and be impressed,

and then, you go to a meeting at a government office, which is situated in three different blocks of the same building, and in the absence of any signboards, and the presence of receptionists, who are busy gossiping and giggling on the phone, you end up walking up all three office blocks, before you reach the right one,

which should have been new, but looks like government offices have done for the last sixty years, and already the computers are swamped by piles and piles of paper, and the peon offers you some water, which you take thoughtlessly then worry about it, and after an hour or so, the clerk says it's better to come another day, because saheb's conference will go on for some more time, and another clerk suggests that you go to another office, and meet someone else, who is at the other end of the town.

Finally, you decide to go to the airport an hour before you are scheduled to be there, and you still get caught in traffic, but you doze off, exhausted, and the driver wakes you up to ask you if you are going to give him more money than you had agreed on, and you get caught in an argument,

and then you go into the airport, and it's freezing, and as usual your clothes are not right, and hungry, you eat something which is cold and doesn't agree with you, and you just want to sleep, but can't

and the plane too which you get into after two hours is cold, and you can't sleep and your stomach doesn't feel that good, and it's a turbulent flight, and it needs to circle for 45 minutes before it can land,

and then you sit down in a rickshaw, and the guy drops the meter, and does not haggle for money, and drops you safely home, even though it's the middle of the night, and you are alone, and the air is warm, and smelly as Mumbai always is, and you remember for a few minutes that you do love the city, and you are home, even when you will be back to cursing it tomorrow.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Kinkies

Yesterday, S said that the fact he drinks 8 to 10 litres of water everyday, much to his doctor's horror, is his kink. Whenever he is at a loss for something to do or say, he drinks water.

P began to relate the kinkiness of a friend who had a fixed routine every time she left the house. First she switched the gas cylinder off, then lovingly traced the gas pipe's path to make doubly sure, then switched ON the fan for 'Bhagwanji', and then after locking up the house, banged the door and pulled the lock several times.

S wondered if 'Bhagwanji' would not be happier with the AC on. All of us began to conjecture, couldn't 'Bhagwanji' switch on the fan Himself if He wanted to do it, wouldn't He like to regulate the AC temperature Himself, wouldn't there be times when He felt cold, and wanted the damn AC or fan off?

Anyway, set me thinking about what my kinkiness was. Could be my endless making of lists - task lists, accounts lists, reminders lists, movies lists, books lists, lists about what happened, lists about the people I met, lists about the people I did not meet, lists about lists.

Of course I don't remember a word of what I've written in them, and that makes me all the more eager to come up with categories of lists I should make, so that I don't forget anything. Or find it transformed in my imagination into something else. Which is fine by me, but sometimes not fine at all by Dhanno and Teja whose version of things is more rooted in reality.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

monsoon fare

One of the important tasks I have each morning is to check out the Mumbai Times for the films we could possibly see that day. If at all we have to inveigle Teja into taking us to the mall which is not the nearest to us, but the one that Dhanno and I will deign to go to, because of its rating in terms of smell, sound, light, crowd, shops, food places, then we have to make sure there is a Hollywood offering.

Yesterday, when the Rain Goddess stopped dancing the tandav, and was only humming to herself for a bit, I found not one but two films we could see one after the other. If Teja sees the possibility of saving a car trip, he can be tempted to make one.

'Ocean's 13' is the perfect monsoon film. Crisp, hot, and with the tasty zing that food with no nutrition and lots of empty calories has. And if you have George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Matt Damon to look at, it's hot green chutney thrown in for good measure. The plot is laid out right from the beginning, you are told at each step what the con is, and how it is going to be executed, so you can concentrate on just having fun, and not wasting energy trying to figure out the details. What I also liked are the inane conversations between George Clooney and Brad Pitt, which have nothing at all to do with the plot. I believe strongly in inane conversations in a film, though they are actually very difficult to put into the narrative.

Then, Dhanno and I had a frenzied bout of shopping for "costemics" (Teja's word), in the break, before we went off for a round of hardcore action in 'Die Hard 4.0'. Couldn't help but think of Sunny Deol, as Bruce Willis refused to be stopped by fighter planes, collapsing bridges, gas explosions in a power plant, and all kinds of other mayhem, in his mission to save America.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Dhanno likes reading the girlie books by Meg Cabot, Jacqueline Wilson, Georgia Byng. Why deny it, I do, too. The other day, we had a big row because I read a new book before she did. What's the big deal, I thought, a book is a book, the older the better. I like old books, library books, stolen books, stinky-smelly musty books, falling-apart books, long-forgotten books, books that are liable to give me thousands of germs. But to Dhanno, the book was a shiny, new thing which I had somehow spoilt.

To get her back on me, she said, "You won't even remember the story in a week's time". I said, "Well, I can tell it to you now." She screeched. She said, "Tell me the story of the book you read last week - Avalon High". I said, "It's about a ... school." She rolled her eyes and said, "Tell me something that is not so obvious." I rolled my eyes and made funny faces to get out of a sticky situation, but she was not letting me go.

"Ok, tell me about that book you liked so much - Double Act". "It's about twins", I said facetiously. "Oh yeah, and what about that book - Molly Moon's Incredible Book of Hypnotism". "Oh, I remember that, it's about this girl, Molly who knows hypnotism, and becomes a model, and very rich, and there are all these other kids who are imprisoned, and she rescues them, and they all run away." She said, "NO ONE runs away in the book."

"Fine, so I confess I am a book-binge-r, and hardly ever remember what I've read. That's why I think it's really good you read so little, but read it well, and remember it," I said, to make peace.

At the FTII hostel, with Dhanno, a little infant, curled up beside me in bed, I'd be reading, lost somewhere, and then suddenly she would kick the book, and I'd look at her, and she'd look back with an angry scowl. No wonder it took her years to bother with reading a book, unless she was told to.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

When Banno And Teja met O, the French journalist

It's only when O, her eyes half-shut asked, "So is there anything at all that you like about Indian cinema?", did I realize that Teja and I had been ranting about what one of our seniors, KS, from the Film Institute calls the "Bandra school of film-making".

I immediately said, "Oh but, I grew up on Hindi films, and I still need my weekly fix of them." To cover my embarrassment I asked her, "And you, what do you think about it all?" She said, "Well, I see everything I can, and I like it all, from 'Devdas' to 'Mr. and Mrs. Iyer' to 'Kabhi Alvida na Kehna'. And I cannot be objective about it, even if I know what's good and bad, because it's all so different to me, so exotic. In fact, it's French cinema that I am fed up of."

I guess that's true of us as well. I'm ready to accept almost any kind of narrative form, pace, technical finesse, in a foreign film, but am much more critical when it comes to Indian films. Even when she asked, "Which are the films that have influenced you the most?", the names that come most easily to mind are the films of foreign directors, Fellini, Ozu, Truffaut, Zhang Yimou, etc, etc. But I suspect that is only a pat answer.

In truth, I am more influenced by the films that I've seen the most, and those that I do love, from Guru Dutt, V Shantaram, Bimal Roy,K Asif, Manmohan Desai, even at times David Dhawan. I like the films made by Sunil Dutt, Manoj Kumar, Chetan Anand, Vijay Anand, Nassir Husain, Mehmood, Hrishikesh Mukherjee, Shakti Samanta, BR Chopra. I don't instantly like Karan Johar's work, but I've watched 'Kuch Kuch Hota Hai' and 'Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gam' several times on TV, and I do love watching his TV show. The same goes for Sanjay Bhansali's 'Devdas' and 'Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam', even though I hate his retrogressive chauvinism. I liked Farhan Akhtar's 'Dil Chahta Hai' and his 'Don' with all it's glaring mistakes, more than the original one.

I love the old Muslim socials like 'Mere Mehboob', the mad hatter films like 'Padosan', 'Tere Ghar ke Saamne' and 'Chupke Chupke', and even some of the early Jeetendra films like 'Farz'.

And I am not even talking about Ray and Ghatak and some of Mrinal Sen, and Mani Kaul, and even some of the old Marathi black and white films I used to watch on Saturday evening Doordarshan, including some old Dada Kondke films.

This list-making could go on for another year, by which time I'll have seen many more films. Makes me wonder how much of my life I have actually spent watching films, as compared to doing other things.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

guava juice and pomegranates

Two private screenings of "Lilkee" last week. One to a small group of Gujarati women writers, Abhivyakti with a full farsan turnout, including lovely red guava juice from Bhavnagar. The second to a film club of 8 and 9 year olds at Shishuvan School in Matunga, organized by the Pomegranate Workshop.

I cannot yell if my life depends on it, so it was Dhanno who took over the noisy, excited children and their scores of questions.

"Did Lilkee really live in the village? Was that her real mother, her real sister? Where are they now? Where are her friends?"

Seeing Dhanno's cell phone peeping out of her pocket, one child asked, "Where was her cell phone in the film?"

One little girl wanted to know how we had got a shot of the beach from so high up. A little boy answered, "Oh, they must have done it from a helicopter." I said, "No, there was a hill, and a fort, and we took a shot from the top." To which he replied, "Oh, you could have done it from a helicopter".

An important scene in the film is when Bittu, the baby swallows a bead, and the children take him to the doctor, and Tutu comes home and does not find the kids at home. After endless queries about Bittu's welfare, and whether he had really swallowed the bead, and whether he was really crying, a couple of the kids wanted to know why in the film, we don't actually see the children going to the doctor. One of them piped up, "Because they did not find an actor to play the doctor." Another said, "They did not want to show the operation." A third said, "Because the children did not go to the doctor at all."

Each one of them had their own favorite moment in the film, for someone it was when Lilkee went to school, for someone else when the girls went to the beach, for a boy when they all played football, and for another boy when Dadaji told Anushka that you should always do what you think is right, even if no one else agrees with you.

Dhanno had to sign 50 autographs and give her cell number to all of them. She was feeling very pleased with herself, certainly. And she had her two best friends along to show off to.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

errant cells

At midnight, I started reading "Twelve Tissue Remedies of Schussler" which Teja had got off his table-tennis mate, and which I had promptly Xeroxed (yes, I know it should be photo-copied, but I'm pretty sure it was Xeroxed, or actually Modi-Xeroxed).

It was reassuring to learn that all my problems including my laziness, my inclination to procrastinate, my over-active paranoiac imagination, my crankiness, my reclusiveness, etc, etc, were due to the "disturbance of the molecular motion of one of the inorganic tissue salts", and the subsequent loss of cell equilibrium, in my body.

Later at night, unable to sleep because of my errant cells, I went blogging as usual. I've decided to buy myself some cell salts over the counter, but in the meanwhile, I did find some funny blogs, through my friends and friends' friends'. The usual route.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

a cup of tea

Since Teja is away foraging for food, and I'm left in charge of home and hearth, I promptly curl up with a book. Dhanno is at school, Teja is not around demanding lauki juice, and I have enough food to last Dhanno and me through the day, so I ask Tai to go back home. I emerge only when Dhanno does.

She thwarts all my attempts to get her to make my tea by looking through me stonily. I don't assert a mother's rights as I usually do, by stamping my foot, because Dhanno's shoulders are hurting with all the education she is getting.

As I boil the water, to make my own cup of tea, I miss Teja for the first time, in the day. But I don't call him immediately, for a glance at the clock, will tell him what it is all about. 4.30 pm, time for afternoon tea.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

The summer holidays are over

Very hot. But stomach-full of mangoes, and stomach-full of sleep, specially in the cool green-blue room.

Last night, I told Dhanno, "Your face has become quite round, like when you were a baby. Why don't you not go to school, stay home, and become nice and fat?" She said, "Hmm, this I must tell my friends. My mom wants me to stay home and become fa-at." I sighed, "Yes, but, you were so lovely then, so round, round, no?"

I'm always thinking of reasons why Dhanno should not go to school. And what's better than a break on the first day of term, itself?

But Dhanno, being more sensible than me, woke up today much before I did, and trotted off to Std. IX C

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

sugar free

It is a measure of my foolishness that I get lured again and again to spend precious resources - money and time - at the movie theaters. Coming back home at night, in a rickshaw, caught in the everyday traffic which if it was a nightmare, would have awoken me in a cold sweat in the middle of the night, I brood about the utter worthlessness of my life, that causes me to fritter it away so thoughtlessly. This time, the reason for my despair is "Cheeni Kum"

As if a 6-7 year old girl, called Sexy, who badgers her friendly neighbor, Buddha (Amitabh Bachchan) to bring her adult DVDs, and lectures him on women and sex, is not enough to make one cringe every time she appears on screen, she has to be dying of blood cancer (what else do children die of in India?). The combination of precocious, failing-to-be-cute and trying-to-be-heartbreaking, complete with dire, dark shadows under her eyes, is enough to make me puke even in retrospect. Do scriptwriters in commercial Hindi films even know any children in real life? Don't think so, because the only reasonably true-to-life children in commercial Hindi films that I can remember are the kids in "Masoom", "Makdee", "Anjali".

Then, we have Nina's (Tabu) father, Paresh Rawal, a Gandhian who eats only chicken for every meal, and uses Satyagraha as a personal blackmailing weapon. Was this even meant to be funny? When the lovely bhajan "Vaishno jan to tene kahiye" is used as a playback for his melodramatic fast-unto-death scene, where he is tempted by Nizamuddin's chicken kababs, I must confess, I did not feel very non-violent just then. The father is supported by a curiously immobile tableau of relatives, who sit in the same position and with the same expression, day after day, as the satyagraha plays out to the end.

It seems to me that Paresh Rawal has forgotten that he is a good actor, and functions only as a money-making machine, accepting and executing all roles that come his way.

Buddha's mother, a 90-and more year old Zohra Sehgal, for all her commendable energy comes across as slightly demented, particularly in the scene where she drags her son to Nina's house for a final confrontation, and then decides to sit in the car, and listen to the goings-on on the terrace of the house with a cocked ear, as does the rest of the crowd which has without an actual line of vision, or hearing managed to find out what's happening inside the house, and gathered around it inquisitively. Thankfully, there are no news reporters, and no media coverage, though one would have thought that today's news hounds with their task of pounding silk out of a sow's ear, should have found it a very interesting story.

An important and equally irritating character of the film is the umbrella which passes back and forth between Buddha and Nina, in the unpredictable rains of London. The bunch of buffoon chefs and waiters, working in Buddha's restaurant spend their time making jokes about the umbrella, which is also a term for the condom. The only scene worth anything at all in the film, is when Buddha goes to buy a condom, and the shopkeeper inadvertently tells his assistant, "Chacha (Uncle) wants a condom". Buddha's helpless rage, as he walks through the city towards his girlfriend's house, has to then be ruined by some black frame inter-cutting, ("mood-editing") which aims to reflect his state of mind, but only makes me slightly giddy.

The only saving grace of the film is the father of Sexy, who limits his lines and appearances to giving medical reports about her - "She is dying, she is dying, she is dead". Wish everyone else in the film served some such purpose, and did it as briefly as he does.

I am not even going to talk about Amitabh Bachchan and Tabu. He is asked to be a sarcastic old man, she to be an enigmatically whimsical woman, and they go through the motions in their own way. The notion of a love story between a 64-year old man and a 34-year old woman is good, if it had not been so burdened by the director's urge to make a comedy, which means comic lines, comic protagonists, comic second cast, unhindered by any substance in the plot line, making the film too, too tiresome for words, particularly as none of it is very comic.

Sadly, the almost-full house laughed. The cackle of young girls behind me was particularly loud in their hoots of laughter, which sometimes came even before anything had been said or done. I cynically speculated whether they were being college interns, paid to laugh, and then felt a bit ashamed. I don't like the way Hindi films are darkening my soul.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Horí, má panenko (1967)

The Firemen's Ball and Lottery

Milos Forman in his interview tagged along with the film on the DVD, mentions that they went to this small town in Czechoslovakia to work on a script that was being hounded by distractions in Prague. Once settled there, the script would still not take off. One day they saw a poster in the village announcing the firemen's ball. They attended the ball, and from the next day, that's the film they were working on. They made friends with the firemen, used to play cards with them every evening, and when the script was written, Milos cast the firemen in the film.

That's how I believe stories are written, and films are made, when the real world takes over the ideas you are grappling with, and when your ideas start grappling with the real world.

The use of amateur actors does change the pace of a shot, the editing rhythm. Because they do not deliver their lines, or take their pauses, or give their reactions in a way which is dramatically most effective, the pace at times becomes awkward, not quite right, but that adds its own charm to the film.

The sub-context of the film of course like most East European films of the time is a critique of the Communist state, the resulting impoverishment of the people which in turn led to a general degeneration of moral and civic values. And yet, everyone struggles hard to keep up appearances, and what is the worst sin, is not stealing but being caught. It is worse to sully the good name of the fire brigade than to be dishonest. This line in the dialogue apparently offended the Communist top-guns the most.

This was the last film that was made in free Czechoslovakia before the Russians invaded it. So, even though the Politburo disliked it, they could not ban it, nor did they succeed in getting it criticized by the people of the village themselves, which would have allowed a polite suppression of the film. But after three weeks of running in the theatres, the Russian invasion finally brought about a "ban forever", on the film, in Czechoslovakia.

Carlo Ponti, the original financier of the film backed out of the deal because he thought the film showed the working class in a bad light. This in itself, could have meant ten years imprisonment for Milos Forman, under the rules of the Czech government. But Francois Truffaut bought the rights to the film, which proved lucky after the official ban, as the Czechoslovakia Socialist Republic had no option but to give over the negative and the prints to Truffaut and it could not stop the film's release in the West.

The film moves from one bizarrely funny sequence to another. The lottery prizes that slowly and surely disappear from the table, before they can be distributed fairly, the rounding off of unlikely beauty candidates for a beauty contest, the honorary prize that has to be given to the retired 86 year old chairman, which is forgotten until the end, and when given, is not there, but accepted stoically by him, with all the right words, the old man whose house is burnt down and who gets worthless raffle tickets as a gesture of kindness from the partygoers, and who ends up sharing his bed in the snow, with an old fireman who has been wrapped up in a woman's scarf by his wife to protect him from the cold.

Milos Forman ends his interview by saying that pressures exist everywhere, but given the choice between ideological pressure and commercial pressure, he prefers the latter, because that leaves him subject to the tastes of the audience, which is bound to throw up less or more people whose tastes coincide with his, but ideological pressure leaves the film maker at the mercy of one or two idiots who want him to conform to their ideas of right and wrong.

Yet strangely, so much work that we admire has come from countries that are coping with ideological pressures, and where film makers have been forced to subvert their content into a sub-context. Seeing how our country is slowly and surely moving from commercial pressures to ideological pressures in all the art forms, perhaps we will soon be learning the art of a more layered narrative.

Monday, April 09, 2007

the flute-seller

The notes reach out to me on the 13th floor, I wonder for a moment where they are coming from, and then going to the window, I see a flute-seller. He plays as he walks down our lane flanked by two high boundary walls, but his melodies are hardly going to entice anyone from the tall towers. Surely, the flute-seller is for smaller lanes, smaller houses, where people still hang out of their windows and sit near the doors, and the children play on the streets. With his fan of flutes behind his shoulder, he looks as strange as a peacock would here in Mumbai, and the sweet sounds he coerces out of his flute yearn for more open skies.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

For me, "Namesake" was about Irfan. Though he is barely 4-5 years older than me, he reminded me so much of my father. He had the same sad and loving look that a lot of fathers have, someone who has worked hard to provide for the family, someone who loves them, someone who has a hundred things to say to his children but somehow, can't. Of course, I cried buckets and buckets.

And for me the longing of the immigrant, was in the landscape shots. When you cut from Calcutta to the US, and back again, you don't even need to see Tabu's face, to know how much of an alien she feels, a creature taken out of its natural habitat. It's physical, the loneliness, the alienation.

The next day, I saw "Pursuit of Happyness" and cried again. I did want to see an out-and-out comedy after that. Not the romantic comedies that Hollywood makes nowadays, which are mostly vacuous fluff.

Saw "Bullets over Broadway" yesterday. It's Woody Allen doing what he does best, making fun of artistic pretensions, the artist. Of course, the hoodlum's girlfriend's bodyguard is a better writer than the protagonist - he knows more about life, death, sex, love. In the end, though, the hero gets the girl, and goes back to a happy, middle class life, and all's well. I did need that unadulterated dose of laughter. No tears.

And staying with Woody Allen, saw "Interiors" a couple of days ago. I found it tedious. I know it's his homage to Bergman, and it's well done, but I'd rather Bergman had done it. That's how directors get typecast by their audience. Please do what I want you to do, what makes me like you. Please don't try anything new.

Friday, April 06, 2007

i don't want to share my chocolates

Just saw "Bob and Carol, Ted and Alice" (Paul Mazursky, 1969). What does free love really mean, and when it comes down to it, can one really take part in an orgy, have intercourse with a friend, swap wives and husbands? "It's all love, it's all beautiful, let it all hang out"- the film takes the 60's creed to it's most bizarre, funniest limits.

But can we really let all be love, without jealousy? I know I couldn't. Ever since my sister was born when I was two, I have been consumed by jealousy, and to date, I haven't really learnt to share, not deep down inside, whatever politeness, and social norms may demand. And whatever I may teach my kid. Being an only child, she's more secure and giving than me however, so I don't get put to the test that often.

I love the sixties hippie look though, the girls look like little dolls, everyone is so well dressed. You hardly see that in Hollywood movies anymore, people dressed up glamorously, unless it's a Bond film or period. Was fast forwarding through "Rear Window", and drooling over Grace Kelly's dresses.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

brats

The little monster we met at three, has become a "little big monster" in its adolescent years. Earlier, it used to stomp, scream and wail. Now, it grunts, growls and snaps. It's parents smile helplessly as if to say, " We didn't know how this happened". I smile back, politely and lie, "Yes, couldn't see that coming."

Though Newton's law of action and reaction was first published in 1687, and the general principle of it has concerned religions and philosophies down the ages, it is strange that parents continue to think that little brats will transform into angels as they grow up without any interference or attempt to discipline them on the parents' part.

I must be old-fashioned, but I think it's important for a parent to be a parent first, and then even pretend to be a friend.

Saturday, March 31, 2007

microfinance and me

It seems that the word "micro finance" was playing the trick. In meeting after meeting with women's NGOs across Mumbai, Bhopal and Delhi, morning, afternoon, or evening, the word "micro finance" would send my brain a signal it could not resist.

Don't get me wrong. I have enormous faith in micro finance. I've seen the wonders it has worked with the women in Latur after the earthquake, transforming illiterate women who had never stepped out of their homes into small entrepreneurs. And didn't Prof. Mohammed Yunus from Bangladesh win a Nobel prize for it?

And yet, the moment the magic word was mentioned, my eyes would glaze over, my neck would start lolling, and I'd be off to sleep in a way I couldn't seem to control. K, my colleague, would get more animated in a desperate attempt to make our interviewee feel less insulted by my dozing. I'd wake up with a snap when another magic word "tea" was mentioned, and smile foolishly. Later K and I would go off into hysteric laughter.

In my defense I can only say, I was overworked, sleepy and a little ill. Yet, the next day, I thought it only fair that I should not leave the burden of "micro finance" and other related aspects of women's struggle in India, on K's shoulder. So, from the beginning I hogged the conversation, talking about myself, what I thought, what I felt, what I saw, to evade all possibility of any mention of the word "micro finance". I did get some strange looks from the people who we interviewed that day, wondering why we had come there in the first place, since we did not ask them any questions, only spoke about ourselves.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

foliage

The paint companies have enticing names for their shades. not that i need to be enticed. I can go berserk with colors.

The painters said gujaratis go for whites, creams, bohri muslims like darker, more gaudy colors. Of course, they did not know I was a bohri muslim.

Teja, amused, listened to these comments 3-4 times. The 5th time, I said, well, he is a gujarati and I am a bohri muslim, so what color do you suggest we paint our bedroom? They were suitably embarrassed. though they are not sure whether we are teasing them.

I don't look like a bohri muslim to them. anyway, in defiance, I decide to get our bedroom painted an emerald green. Berger paints calls it "foliage". After the first coat, we are all reeling, frankly. I wonder if I should accept defeat.

The next morning, Teja says, let's go ahead. otherwise, we'll wonder all our lives whether or not we could have lived with the green. We can always change after six months.

The painters come back the next morning, sure that we'll have changed our minds. But they politely agree when we say, we'll stick to our decision.

So, any of you who do land up home, in the near future, please be sure to admire the "foliage".

Monday, February 26, 2007

Stories at the Coffee Table

Edited by Peter Griffin, Manisha Lakhe and Annie Zaidi
With a foreword by Nilanjana S Roy
Design and cover photograph by Hemant Suthar
A Caferati Publication

A wonderful effort, and I'm so proud to have one of my stories published here.

Friday, February 23, 2007

about hair and friendship

Saw Milos Forman's "Hair" the other day on Sony Pix. Late night. Well, for me 10 pm is late night. Usually, when the opening credits are coming on, I decide I can't take it right now, and slink off to my bed with a book. But maybe because I was too tired to even get off the beanbag that night, I stayed on.

For the first few minutes, I wondered where the film was going to go. The music was full on, there were troupes and groups dancing in and out, everyone was singing, dancing at the same time, women were flying by on horses - of course, the chaos was wonderful, and I love chaos, but when something starts at that high a pitch, it is a formidable task to move it ahead.

But the film continues to surprise, leading you on from one crazy event to another, the sincere-looking out-of-towner, suddenly catching a runaway horse, and proving to be a cowboy, the hippies crashing a very posh debutante party, the midnight nude dip into the river, and of course, going off to war, and the hippy boy's grave in the soldier's memorial, dead for something he did not believe in.

The film is anti-war of course, based around the hippie protestors of the Vietnam war in the US, but more than that it is one of the most brilliant expositions of friendship, the unpredictability of why and how people become friends, (specially young people), why and how they fight, argue and make up, and how they stick together for no apparent reason. The thing is, that the organic nature of friendship is mimiced in the film, with an apparent lack of interference from the director, and that is the most wonderful thing about the film for me.

I tried to do that, specially in one scene in "Lilkee" and I know how tough it was for me to convince everyone around me, that the girls become friends again for no apparent reason, and in a non-dramatic way.

I'm not sure I succeeded in putting across that elusive quality of friendship, and so of course, I was floored by what Milos Forman has done in "Hair".

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

At home, I am surrounded by 15 odd men, banging, breaking, scouring, scraping, raising up a dust storm. I take refuge in my bedroom, which will be battered soon enough, and Sudoku. At the cyber cafe, I am surrounded by 15 odd young people, talking as they do projects, make resumes, take phone calls as they work. No wonder I haven't been blogging!