Saturday, December 19, 2009


after a Fish a la Jagat dinner on a terrace restaurant over Lake Pichola, all I can say, folks, is have a lovely Christmas.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Dug up a mountain, out came a mouse!

'Rocket Singh' moves as slowly as the rickshaw you always get by some law of the universe, when you are running late. Every 30 seconds, 11 vehicles zip by you on the highway, 7 amongst them other rickshaws. You come out of a soporific trance to make sure that you are moving. Yes, you are. But you have already forgotten where you were heading towards in the first place. You have reached a state of being. You just are. In a rickshaw. Inching along the highway.

The only reason you don't jump out of the rickshaw is that you are watching the incredibly talented Ranbir Kapoor. You wonder how strange it is for the makers of the film to try and squash the very charm that should have been the film's biggest asset! Harpreet Singh Bedi (Ranbir Kapoor) starts off as a goofy, happy-go-lucky character and transforms into a too sincere, boring one. Perhaps that is called growing up?

The film eschews melodrama and masala. But it also throws out of the rickshaw - romance, cinematic treatment and any sign of fun.

What it does revel in are painstaking details on the world of sales and marketing. I feel pain because it is a world I ran away from 20 years ago. I feel 20 again, trapped in a dreary sales office, where everyone expects me to sell washing machines, and I'm looking for the nearest exit. Try as I might, I cannot get excited about a battle being fought for computer assembly and servicing territory.

The pretence realism of the film is confused with filmi stereotypical characters, foul-mouthed 'item girl' receptionist, aggressive bully of a marketing manager, exploitative number-crunching boss, porn-addict techie, mean colleagues en masse who have nothing better to do than throw paper planes (rockets) at Harpeet, prescription-pretty, insipid girlfriend, doting grandfather. Thankfully, the actors competently redeem the over-the-top characterizations.

Honesty is the best policy is the simple premise, refreshing in an age that reveres cleverness and success. But the premise gets muddied because Harpreet Singh Bedi's means to the end are not above reproach. The narrative remains simplistic. The climax of the film is frankly unbelievable in concept and embarrassing in its execution. Characters turn around too easily and therefore implausibly.

There is a nebulous quality to the film. One is not quite sure what it is about, what it wants to say, or what one's own reaction to it is. It's not a film you can dislike vehemently, but not one to rave about. It's nice as mice, much as Harpreet Singh Bedi describes himself in a moment of anger against himself. But do I really want to pay to see mice?

You may be better off watching Hrishikesh Mukherjee's 'Anari' made 50 years ago with Ranbir's grandfather, Raj Kapoor!

 It's pretty hammy, but also has the beautiful Nutan, the redoubtable Mrs. D'Sa (Lalita Pawar), fabulous songs, even one Helen number (1959), and loads of Raj Kapoor crying.

Monday, December 07, 2009

pink slippers

Inspired by these, this:
"You haven't done it, have you? I knew you wouldn't do it. It's always the same with you. You just say you'll do it, and then forget all about it. This is the fourth time I've come. Each time you say, come in one hour, come tomorrow, come in the evening. As if I have no other work. You think?"

Madhukar's long, thin face remained impassive as hers puckered up more and more with her scowl. It was as if he heard her from a great distance, and from a great distance he replied, "Come back in an hour, my son will keep it ready."

The sharp quiver of his mustache could easily be mistaken for a smile, only an embarrassed one, but nevertheless a smile that only enraged the already infuriated woman. Bala glared at Madhukar and took one slipper in his hand, reluctantly. But before he could even turn the slipper in his hand, the angry woman bent down and snatched it. She didn't even see the faint tremor of fear on Bala's childish face. Bala picked up the other slipper beside him tentatively, and she grabbed that too from his hand. While she thrust the slippers into a humungous plastic bag, Bala stopped breathing, defying the tears to stay put in his eyes.

After she had stomped off, Madhukar shrugged slightly and looked at the three people standing before him. His mustache quivered more definitely in a mute plea for support from them. But none of them wanted to encourage him with the faintest of smiles. They were on the side of the shouting woman; each of them had made one round or two to get their footwear back from Madhukar.

Madhukar continued with his work silently. Bala rubbed a brown shoe vigorously with black polish. When the last of the three customers had gone, Bala exploded, "I am going to run away, Baba."

Madhukar said distractedly, "No, you are not, Balu child."

Bala said, "Yes, I am."

Bala was ready to jump up this very instant and leave. Though Madhukar didn’t know it, Bala was quite sure of how to get back home to Aai.

He suddenly remembered the smell that clung to Aai, the smell of her sweat mingled with the smoky smell of the wood in the clay stove, and one tear fell defiantly on his cheek.

But then he remembered Aai kissing him over and over again, even after Baba had already reached the gate of their house. She had whispered against Bala's cheek, "You will stay with Baba, won't you, Balu? Don't leave him alone, you know what he is like."

He couldn't go back home without Baba. Aai would only cry and worry about Baba, and not be happy that Bala was back. He was stuck here forever and forever in this tiny tin box in which he could barely stand, and Baba could only sit, on the corner of a busy road.

So he pleaded now, "Why can't we just go back home?"

Madhukar said, "We can't, Balu. We have a shop here now."

Bala said, "This is not a shop. It's only a tin box."

And that it was. They could lock up the broken slippers and shoes in it at night. But Madhukar would not leave his tools there, or the polish box. Those, they carried to the room in the slum everyday, the hot, smelly, cramped room they shared with 13 other men. Madhukar slept with his tool bag under his head, and Bala with the polish box near his feet.

But Madhukar said, "It is a shop. I pay 500 rupees rent for it every month."

Bala said, "Our shop in the village market is so big."

Madhukar's mustache went up a millimeter, and his nose swooped down to touch it, as he said sullenly, "You know very well, Balu, that is not my shop, but belongs to your Ajoba. And after Ajoba, it will be yours. I have no shop in the village. This is my shop here."

Bala knew that the shop in the village market would be Baba's after Ajoba. But who could argue with Baba's mustache or Baba's nose? Only Ajoba, who had a sharper mustache and a sharper nose.

Bala decided that he would never grow a mustache, and he would rub his nose for 10 minutes every day to flatten it a little. He looked around him morosely, rubbing his nose. The city was so crowded. The noise of the incessant traffic and people made his head throb. How different from the market at home.

That was crowded too, and got very dirty by the end of the day, garbage left by the stream of tourists walking through - cans, bottles, plastic bags, tetra-packs. Yet just beyond the market lane, there were the brown and blue hills, and tall trees, and a cold nipping air, and the lake down below. And Bala did not have to sit in the shop all day. He could run between home and market, shop and fields, school and hills, as fancy took him.

But Baba and Ajoba fought all the time. Each time, Ajoba's nose would quiver with rage and he would say, "This is still my shop, and you had better do as I say."

One day he said it once too often, and Baba took out a small suitcase from the loft, dusty and rusty with disuse, and put a few pairs of clothes in it. Aai cried and cried until he agreed to take Bala with him. And then she whispered on Bala's cheek, "You will stay with him, won't you, child? You know what he is like."

Bala seemed to feel again the wetness of her cheek against his and remembering her puffy eyes he was determined to hurt Baba today. He said, " We don't even make shoes here. Just repair them."

Madhukar remained silent. What could he say? He would not mind going back home himself; he missed his wife, and even his grumpy father, and the two little ones, Bala's brother and sister. But perhaps more than them he missed the hills and the sharp colors of the many flowers that grew in every nook and cranny of the winding streets of their village.

He had always loved those colors, they seemed to seep through his eyes and stream through his blood and wanted to burst through his fingertips into the shoes he made. Pink, green, blue, purple. But his father's eyes and blood and hands wanted to stick to the colors that their family had used for generations in their shoes, the colors of the earth in their village, brown, rust, red.

Each time Madhukar went to the city to buy materials, he would return to the village with stains of different hues. His father would fret and scold, "Why waste so much money on colors? If people want pink, or blue shoes they can buy them in the city." And Madhukar would say, "You are an old man now. You know nothing about how the world has changed. No one wants your dull brown shoes any more." And his father would say, "This is my shop. You better do as I say."

Well, this here, this tin box on the corner of a busy road in the city, was his shop now, and even if he did not make shoes here, only repaired them for a few rupees, it was his shop, and maybe one day, he would have enough money to buy some leather and some more tools and some color stains and start making his own shoes.

His mind started brimming with colors again, pink, blue, orange, purple. He came to because Bala was nudging him, his face flushed with excitement. A pair of pink slippers with brown flowers was right before his long nose. He took the slippers into his hands. He looked up at the woman who was looking at his dazed face with concern.

In a voice that would barely come out of his throat, he asked, "Where did you buy these?"

The woman said, "In the market at Mahableshwar."

Bala squealed loudly, "Was it a big shop? In the village market?"

The woman frowned and said, "Yes, I think so, a big shop."

Bala said, "Next to the shop where you get strawberry cream? Was there an old man there?"

The woman scrunching her nose in an effort to remember, said, "Strawberry cream? Yes, I think so, an old man."

Madhukar meanwhile turned the pink slippers round and round in his hand, looking at the seams, the brown flowers, the soles. He recognized his father's hand in the stitches. On each sole there was a small etching of an M and a T.

Madhukar Tambe. That was his name.

He smiled and handed the slippers back to the woman, "There is nothing wrong with these; they are perfect."

The woman said, "But the stitches have come out there, just there, you see?"

Madhukar shook his head, his face stretched in a beatific smile. The woman bemused walked away.

Madhukar smiled and said, "We'll go home then, shall we, Bala? You must be missing Aai, no?" Bala grinned and nodded his head. The brown shoe in his hand was now completely black.

© Batul Mukhtiar, December 7, 2009

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

taal se taal mila

If Gabbar Singh were to ever capture me, and Teja coming to the rescue was tied down hand and foot by Gabbar Singh's henchmen and put at gun-point, he would never ever have to flare his nostrils and shout at me, "Banno, in kutto ke saamne mat naachna." (Banno, don't dance before these dogs.)

For Gabbar Singh would himself clamber down from his high rock, put a shawl over my trembling body, untie Teja's bonds and tell Teja, "Teja-bhai, tum Banno-behn ko ghar le jaao. Hum ko koi naach-vaach nahin dekhna, Nahin dekhna naach-vaach hum ko." (Teja-brother, please take Banno-sister home. We don't want to see any dance. No dance we want to see.)

For a 10 second demonstration would have made it clear to him that Banno-style dancing goes like this: 1. Move right foot sideways. 2. Move torso to the right. 3. Lift right arm up. 4. Twist right hand. 5. Move left foot towards right foot. 6. Move torso to the left. 7. Lift left arm sideways. 8. Turn left hand round and round. 9. Stand still to listen to beat. 10. Catch it again and start motion in above sequence, now completely off-beat. Repeat ad-infinitum.

Is it any wonder then that anyone who can move arms, legs, shoulders, eyes, face, head, and other body parts in one continuous, rhythmic motion and stay with the beat, for any length of time mesmerizes me?

As if my own gracelessness were not enough, my ignorance about any form of classical Indian dance (or music) is shameful. So I am always hesitant to attend dance performances. But for once, I decided to diss the computer and the DVD player, and stretch my mind, if not my limbs a little.

The dance performances at the Bandra festival were meant for ignoramuses like me. The open air stage attracts a mixed crowd, street children, regular promenade walkers, young couples who've made their way up from the rocks by the sea after sun-down, friends and family supporting performers.

The performances by children from 2 NGO shelters, had me doing that thing I do to stop howling - gulp, gulp, close mouth, squeeze nostrils, stop breathing, face swelling up, getting red. Theirs was a dance I understood, because it was close to Banno-style dancing.

The three other presentations were Kathak, a duet of Bharatnatyam (performed by the male dancer) and Odissi (performed by his female partner), and a group of students performing Bharatnatyam. I was unable to capture the finer nuances of the performances, so I concentrated on watching the expressions, the costumes, the flowers in their hair, the sparkle of the jewellery.

And going on in my mind, "Why are they wearing black? It's showing the dirt. If she was wearing red and yellow, why is he wearing maroon? Her ghaghra is too stiff. It doesn't show me the play of her legs." And so on. Because of course, to me, commenting  is half the fun of watching anything.

What I also love doing during live performances is to watch the people who are watching. Some young boys  getting impatient. A little girl with dirty frock, matted hair and blond streaks. An old couple who really seemed to get it. Parents of the performers, whose eyes and cameras were focussed only on their kids.

There was also a school-principal type of MC who scolded all of us before and after the presentations.

Of course, going to Band Stand is never complete without shouting "Ee, ee, Shahrukh Khan's house." I almost never have to do that myself, because someone always gets in there before me. This time, it was Pu.

However, in my book, this is highly excusable, because just a few weeks ago, I met an old doctor who lives across Shahrukh Khan's house and he was pointing out of his window, going, "Ee, ee, Shahrukh Khan's house." And the old gentleman and his family have lived there for years before SRK.

After, a walk through Bandra, and then prawn curry-rice, fried surmai and fried bombil at Soul Fry.

Made me forget all my film woes, for sure. I was also quite pleased when I liked the same dances that Pu had liked, considering that she is studying dance since she was a child. Some hope for me, I say. And for Gabbar Singh.

Monday, November 23, 2009

the david and goliath of film making

The following exchange between karrvakarela and me on my post on 'Tum Mile' seemed too important to be hidden in the comments section. Some of my Film & Television Institute friends, filmmakers themselves, The Third Man, Irene Dhar Malik and I, review films regularly, and we are often accused of hating Bollywood.

At the risk of sounding silly, I actually feel physically sick when I trash a film. As a film maker I know how difficult it is to get a film off the ground, and to actually see it through to the end. 

So I take the liberty of speaking for all of us, and other film critic, film maker and film lover friends, in saying that the fact is that we love films, and therefore hate the sheer waste of money, effort, technical skills and star power expounded in an obviously lackadaisical manner, to make what can only be called 'products' and are definitely not films.

This displays a callousness in the film industry towards the audience and leads to a desensitization of both film makers and the audience. The Times of India today carries an interesting article 'Directors on the Fringe' which introduces us to a few of the film makers who are struggling against the system.

Anyway here is the exchange between karrvakarela and me, and I hope that all of you will add your own thoughts to this.

karrvakarela said...

Hi Banno,

This has nothing to do with your review, or the film, which I will assiduously avoid, but is it just me or is the recent urbanization of Hindi cinema starting to get stale? Granted a lot of the audience is concentrated in the cities so it makes sense to make movies they can relate to but as an industry whose job it is to tell stories I think most new filmmakers have been willfully negligent in ignoring the rest of the country. I was watching Prakash Jha's Hip Hip Hurray the other with its charming portrayal of small-town Ranchi and it hit me how little we've seen this kind of story-telling of late. Films like Gulzar's Namkeen and Mausam, Shyam Benegal's Manthan, Basu Bhattacharya's Teesri Kasam; stories with local flavor and character. Where are they now? Will they ever be made again? I think Vishal Bharadwaj may be the only one who is exploring those possibilities and transcripting them into his own private genre. Everyone else seems too obsessed with the urban grind.

Banno said...

Karrvakarela, true. The trouble is not that those stories are not being written, nor that those films are not being made in the face of severe odds, but that those films are not getting distributed, and don't even have a chance of reaching the audience. When they are picked up by a distributor, they are released in a few multiplexes, where the audience is not necessarily interested in these films, and the ticket prices are too high, thereby killing the film.

I've watched several small films which are in fact fresh, interesting stories, different from this no-man's land, which is not even truly representative of any urban concern. In the last year itself I have seen, Sushil Rajpal's 'Antardwand' (not released), Paresh Kamdar's 'Johny Johny, Yes Papa' (not released), Paresh Kamdar's 'Khargosh' (not released), Ranjit Kapoor's 'Chintuji' (didn't do even one week), Shyam Benegal's 'Welcome to Sajjanpur' (did reasonably well through word of mouth), Pravesh Bhardawaj's 'Niyati' (today he is celebrating 2 years since he finished the film) . These are just a few off the top of my head. A couple of days ago, I saw Bela Negi's film 'Daayen Baayein' (awaiting release, and all of us waiting with bated breath hoping that this lovely film gets its due viewership).

Often, I am unable to review those films because they are still in the process of being sold. :(
Which usually never happens.

A lot of us now feel that unless there are exhibition spaces for art-house cinema, where ticket prices are low, there is no hope for it.

Marathi cinema, in fact, has made a huge comeback because of government subsidies in the making, and also tax-free exhibition, made compulsory for cinema halls.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

a 'bad hair life'

A group of college students enters 10 minutes late. Of course they are chattering. Loudly. As they shuffle across me.  A girl who has actually (really?) seen the film earlier gives them a vague update on what has happened so far.

The vagueness of her story-telling makes them ask more questions and the chatter goes on for some more time. When they finally settle down, the girl who has seen the movie before dials a number and starts cooing into it. I stomp off and change seats. I can hear them sniggering.

Another group enters late and sits down to the left of me, thankfully a few seats away. Yet another group enters late and sits down to the right of me, giving me a wide berth. I am khush.

The people on the right tentatively deposits an infant in the seat nearest to me. But perhaps my scowl is fluorescent.  It makes them change their mind. They take the infant and place it in the aisle near their feet, presumably to be trampled upon by hovering popcorn vendors.

I look at them in horrified disgust. They ignore me. The man then spends the rest of the film talking to his clients. From the various instructions about a car in Mira Road, and a driver in Vasai, I gather he runs a transport company.

Suddenly, a man 2 rows behind starts yelling abuse. I turn around thinking that finally someone has lost their head in the way I've been wanting to for the last 40 minutes. But the man is raging with eyes in space. Ah, a hands-free phone. "Tell the bastard that we won't do anything till we get the money." He starts walking towards the exit, yelling all the way, his 'b******d's and 'f******'s lighting his way.

I burrow into my seat and think viciously that an audience like this deserves a film like 'Tum Mile'. We have become so desensitized as a society that we deserve to pay obscene amounts of money to watch complete shit about 2 people who make the most boring couple in the world.

Why write a script where two ex-lovers meet after 6 years on a day that is bound to give them bad hair?

Soha Ali Khan is gutsy. Her hair goes from wet rats tails to dried frizz. Perfectly natural when one has been pelted by the rain for hours. But since the 26 July 2005 deluge is only a pretext for the two ex-lovers, Sanjana (Soha) and Akshay (Emran Hashmi) discovering that they are after all, just right for each other, surely a background kinder to the heroine's hair could be chosen for this reconciliation of kindred boring souls?

Sanjana is rich and modern. She lives alone, then lives with her boyfriend. She enters a room and takes off her shirt and does the rest of the scene in her slip. She lounges around in teddy shorts. She displays a beautiful cleavage whenever she can. Soha is comfortable with her body. She does little things with her eyebrows and a flick of her hand that tell us she knows about acting. And yet, I spend the better part of the film wondering why she does not allure, why she remains an ordinary girl. Surely I should admire her for acting an ordinary girl, but I find myself resenting the total lack of glamour.

Even her supposedly rich father lacks glamour. Sachin Khedekar does not look like rich Sanjana's rich father, but in his black shiny coat, a lawyer soliciting clients for 100-200 rupees outside Bandra Court.

Emran Hashmi seems to have put a cap on his sleaziness. But that unfortunately just makes him flatter than a paper dosa. He's nothing without his torrid kisses. He plays an inexplicably bitter painter.

Inexplicable because in fact, he paints for the common man. Melting moons and beautiful sad women by windows, which in the real world, should sell like hot cakes to hotel lounges. Instead he is poor. Even though the 'common' electrician too loves his painting. There is much talk about the opinion of the common man. It's a message to all those out there, yes, the critics may bash our work, but the common man loves us.

Sadly, the 'common men' watching 'Tum Mile' did not seem too happy on the ride.

There is no point in even elaborating on the illogicalities in the plot. There are many but they float like dead rats in the dirty water. However, because this is a love story, and not a documentary, we do not see the dead rats.

What remains is a sense of terrible boredom. The two narrative threads, the past and the present, play like two different stories. The trouble is that Sanjana and Akshay are just not interesting enough a pair for us to be interested in their love, hate, love lives. You feel sad that Sanjana hasn't found anyone more worthy in all these years.

Akshay is given a chance to vindicate his earlier 'loser' status, someone who had to let his girlfriend pay the bills, by now flying business class, buying art galleries and going to Tokyo to pick up awards for his design company. He is also given several chances at displaying his manly heroics during the flood, while Sanjana is suitably, femininely helpless and afraid.

What is conveniently forgotten is that things went wrong in the past because Akshay didn't communicate. That Sanjana just got tired of dealing with someone who was so self-obsessed.  All doubts about compatibility are washed away in the deluge.

A shorter version of this review published here.

BTW, header photo by Teja.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

it's been a long haul

'Khargosh' won 3 awards at the Osian festival this year - the Special Mention and the Audience Award and shared the NETPAC-FIPRESCI award.

Trisha at Tehelka wrote this.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

in love

In our house, Ranbir Kapoor is mentioned several times a day.

One of our family members is madly in love with him.

I am meant to make it very clear to all and sundry that that family member is not me. I am not supposed to love Ranbir Kapoor, though I am allowed to like him, in a maternal sort of way.

One of our family members also hopes to be an actress, work with Ranbir Kapoor, have him fall madly in love with her, and marry her, one day.

I, meanwhile, am trying hard to imagine what it would mean to be the 'samdhan' of Neetu Kapoor. And I am glad for the temporary reprieve from worrying about all those next-door boys .

We have spent a fortune in movie tickets watching 'Wake Up Sid' 4 times, and 'Ajab Prem ki Ghazab Kahani' twice.

We don't like Deepika Padukone or Katrina Kaif much in this house. In fact, we hate them.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

for those on a diet,

if not candy floss, how about some balloons and glittery swords? No? Bows and arrows, then?

Photo by Dhanno.

If you don't like any of these, or even if you do, you could go read my post on Upperstall Blogs, 30 days in 58 years.

Monday, October 26, 2009

candy floss, anyone?

So I'm going to be traipsing the streets of Bumm-Bumm-Bhole-Land again for a fortnight, going darker and darker in the white glaring heat of October. Thought I'd leave you with a few photos by Dhanno, taken at Juhu beach, a couple of weeks ago.

The header photo is by her, as well.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

acid trip

Who, Max? Wherefore art thou, Romeo? JD, JD, is that JD? Hello, hello.

Do you know who I am? I don't know who I am. Do you know who you are?

Sultan, Om, Kaizad. Max, oh Max.

I've found a hat.

Boom-boom. Boom-boom.

I've found a gas mask.

I will kill you. I could have killed you. We will be killed. He will kill us. Should I kill you?

Oh, Max.

Gas. Pentane. Temporary amnesia.

Chinese, Japani, Korean? **&%$#*@#$%. Oh, Indian.

Car 1. Car 2. Car 3. Car 4. Boom, boom, boom. Car 5. Car 6. Car 7.
Boom, boom.

Fire, water, guns. Boom.

Acid factory. Grills. Doors. Locks.

Who are you? Who am I? I will kill you. You will kill me?

Man in Black 1. Man in Black 2. Man in Black 3. Man in Black 4. Boom, boom, boom.

Find Max. How will I know her? She's wearing black.

Mud tracks. Bikes. Helmet out. Long hair flying. Leer. Leer. No kiss.

Gun 1. Gun 2. Gun 3. Boom, boom.

Bad friend. Good friend. Good cop. Bad guy. Bad girl. Leer, kiss.

Boat. Bike. Car. Bigger car. Bigger, bigger car. Boom.

Max. Romeo. Om. Sultan. Kaizad. JD. Sarthak. Mrs. Sarthak.
What's in a name?

JD. Kaizad. Sarthak. Sultan. Romeo. Om.

The Pentane gas escaped from the screen into the theatre. All of 7 viewers and 13 food vendors reeled with temporary amnesia.

What are we doing here? Why are we here? Have we died and come to hell?

Am I going to be trapped in eternity with 13 popcorn, samosa and soft drink sellers who will come to me every 3 seconds asking me to stuff my mouth with junk food? What horrible sins have I committed in my past life to be subjected to this?

I am alone. The other 6 viewers are in couples. I feel so sad. So bad. So black. So blue.

OK, OK. Let me come to my senses. Make some sense of this. To make sense is to combat hell.

What have we here? South Africa. 25 cars we can blow up. A yellow Lamborghini. An acid factory. Lots of semi-naked women writhing in ecstasy. Good girl 1 trying hard to be bad in black leather, high heels and fierce scowl. 3 blocks of wood in black. 3 actors in black. 1 actor forgotten in black. Good girl 2 struggling to be good in black. Gas. Guns. Bikes. Boats. Cars. Boom. Boom. Boom. Leer, kiss.

Where is the script, mother-father? Where is the script?

Who am I? Do you know who I am? Why am I here? We could be killed.

A more coherent review of 'Acid Factory' will soon appear in Tehelka.

Edited to add: And here it is, the Tehelka review.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

home, sweet home

When Basheer went home that evening, there was no home. His nephew, Faheem’s wife, Azra, had been arrested with 5 other women and 27 men from the basti, for scuffling with the bulldozers. Basheer hoped that his new blue shirt left to dry on the door had not gone under the rubble. And the small bag with his collection of second-hand tools was safe. But he was not too worried. Azra was a good housekeeper, even if she let her tongue run away with her most of the time.

He went and squatted beside Faheem and the other men on the road, a few metres away from the police station. The women too sat around, idle. Without their stoves or their utensils, they were free from the obligation to cook the next meal. A hawaldar walked past, carrying heavy plastic bags in both hands, and a danda under his armpit.

Basheer said, "Saab, what is the time?"

The hawaldar glared at him, unsure whether giving the time of the day would undermine his authority in any way, then muttered, "8.25" and walked on.

Basheer laughed, "Saala, he's taking Chinese for his saabs."

Lata, in a voice hoarse with screaming, said, "Basheer Bhai, this haraami was using his danda even against the women."

Basheer shrugged, "They are all like that."

Basheer's mouth felt dry and smelly with thirst. The sharp smell of the Chinese food in the hawaldar's bags had made him hungry. He asked Faheem, "Shall we go to the hotal and eat?"

Faheem refused, "Azra won't have eaten."

Basheer said, "We'll pack her something."

Lata shrieked, "Those haraamis won't allow us to take food inside unless we give them something."

Sawant grumbled, "If it was 500-600 we could have got it, but the b*nc**ds want 3000 for all of them."

The children forgotten by their preoccupied parents had played by the roadside through the evening. But as the headlights from the cars became fewer, the road darker, they came one by one, and huddled against their mothers.

Jayu and Pakya started whining, "We are hungry."

Their mother, Shaku said, "I'll go look for my stove and some rice. Lata, are you coming?"

Lata said, "The fire brigade drowned everything. The grain must all be spoilt."

Shaku said, "Let's go and look at least."

A few other women joined the two, and they drifted back towards the rubble, hoping to slip through the policemen keeping watch over the dying embers of the basti, hoping to scrounge together something for a meal.

Basheer said, "Was there a fire?"

Sawant said, "Lata says some municipaalty guy started it deliberately."

Faheem says, "Who knows? I don't think they would do that, would they? Gopal was saying someone's stove overturned when the bulldozers were working."

Sawant said, "We are going to the municipaalty with an arji tomorrow. Who will come?"

Faheem said, "Don't take the women to the municipaalty office. Let them go to the neta with all our ration cards."

Gopal said, "I have to go to the factory."

Sawant said, "As if your foreman will give you a place to stay in the factory!"

Gopal grimaced. As if. In the fifty odd years that the basti had been built, asbestos, tin, plastic, cardboard, sometimes a few bricks, it had been pulled down at least fifty odd times. In all that time, only one old woman, Yellamma had been given a home by her employer. Her story was told and heard like a fable again and again, amongst the people of the basti. But they were all clear in their minds that it was only a fable and held out no hope for them.

An old, old lady, Parvati piped up, "Yellamma was my friend, you know. She was from my village. We came here together."

Basheer grinned, "That is why you too should now be thinking of moving on, Kaki. Are you planning to take your taalpatri to the pyre?"

Sawant said, "Yes, we'll wrap you in it if you like."

Parvati grabbed some pebbles from the road and flung them across.

She cursed, "Saale dogs, I'll see both of you to the pyre before I go."

Basheer laughed, "That you will, Kaki."

Parvati grumbled, "Now we have to go buy new taalpatris. Each time those m**d**c**ds come and take away everything. As if we came here on our own. Those municipaalty-walas brought us from our villages when they needed to make the roads. Now the roads are made, the buildings are made, they don't want us."

Basheer's back was aching now, and he slid down to lie on the road. The tar was still warm, scorched by sun, fire and anger. Slowly, the others began to slide down too. Faheem remained sitting, keeping a vigil for his wife.

When Basheer woke up, the women were already at the water tap, with their pots and buckets. The few men who had regular jobs were washing up. Sawant, dressed and combed, a big file in his hands, was waiting for some supporters to go to the municipal corporation office with him.

He said, "Basheer Bhai, are you coming?"

Basheer shook his head, "I can't. I am finishing off a big job."

Sawant turned away resentful. Basheer would never miss a day's work.

Faheem knew it was useless to expect his uncle to sit around the whole day. Basheer always behaved as if his work was important, as if he was anything but a daily wage laborer like the rest of them? Yet, the sparkle in his eyes made it difficult for Faheem to hold a grudge against him.

Basheer said, "Faheem, why don't you go get Azra out of the station?"

Faheem said, "They'll leave them soon enough."

Basheer said, "Yes, they will. But if we give them some money, they won't make them wait around at the police station until noon."

Faheem said, "You know how she is, Chacha. She won't come out unless all the others are released too."

Basheer took out a 100-rupee note from his pocket. "Anyway, keep this. Both of you eat at the hotal. Don't make her cook as soon as she comes out."

As the bus rolled into the fishing village, Basheer took long deep breaths of the fishy stink, and felt as if, at last, he was breathing clean air. He got off at the bus stop near the bungalow and sunk his feet into the sand. The demolition of his basti was forgotten and he felt happy. He had been working here for almost six months, and the place felt like ‘almost home’. The gate of the bungalow was open, but the watchman Tiwari was probably at the back, washing up, still having his morning tea.

Basheer liked to be early here, and wander around the house before everyone else came in. As he entered, he bent down to bang gently with his fist, the marble slab under his feet. It sounded solid. Perhaps today, his kadiya boss, Bhuvan would say they must start polishing the floor. Basheer loved it when they did that; the white marble emerged shining, gleaming, under all the dust. How he longed to move with the stone grinder on the floor, but Bhuvan would not let him do anything but clean the floor after him.

Tiwari came in through the back door and said, "Want to have some tea?"

But before Basheer could say 'yes', they heard a car come into the gate.

The watchman said, "Saab has come", and ran towards the gate.

Prabhu, the contractor walked in with the couple that owned the bungalow. Basheer keeping a respectful distance followed the 3 important people around the house as they inspected it. He was hoping to impress Prabhu a little with his punctuality because he wanted to ask something of him later. Prabhu too hoped that this early bird appearance by Basheer would impress his clients and convince them that he was giving their work top priority.

The couple however, was determined not to be impressed. The job had been dragging on for months now, and so many things were not yet done, or not done to their satisfaction. The woman shifted her toe in the dust, and said petulantly, “ All the joints between the marble slabs are black. Is that how it’s going to look?”

The man scowled, "Prabhu, your work has no finish."

Prabhu turned to Basheer and scolded, “Ai Basheera, what about these joints? You haven’t cleaned them properly?”

Basheer knew that Prabhu was only scolding him to please his clients, so he did not feel bad about it. He looked at the man, and said patiently, “Saab, it’s looking dusty now, because we haven’t finished yet. When all the work is done, I promise the joints will be as clean as the marble.”

The woman noticed Basheer for the first time, and giving him an irritated look said to the contractor, “Prabhuji, you must ask these people not to use our toilets. There is a servant’s toilet outside.”

Prabhu too looked at Basheer with irritation.

Basheer wanted to say that in the 22 years he had worked as a laborer in the city, he had not once been tempted to use the English-style toilets to go. He was a man used to squatting on the roads. But yes, sometimes, he did run the hot and cold water from the shining taps, and wash his hair before he went home.

However, he did not answer the contractor. For a brief, very brief moment, he looked at the woman, then dropped his eyes again, and said, “Sorry, Memsaab”. She catching his bright smiling eyes in that brief glance, felt a bit ashamed of her complaints, and mumbled, “Oh don’t worry, it’s OK.”

Saab and Memsaab wandered off, talking about what still needed to be done. The man told the contractor, “This is our first holiday home. We want it to be perfect.”

Prabhu nodded, "It will be, Saab, but these things take time. If you want to do them perfectly." Saab groaned knowing Prabhu had adroitly bought more time for himself.

Basheer had wanted to take advantage of Bhuvan's absence and show Prabhu that he could use the stone grinder. But today perhaps was not the day.

One of these days he would talk to Prabhu and say, "I can be more than a cleaner." Now he slunk away, craving a cup of tea. He suddenly remembered that he had not had anything to eat since yesterday.

The watchman had a cup ready for him. Basheer said, "Tiwari, if Bhuvan-boss does the polishing today, we'll be late."

Tiwari said, "Then I'll go buy some chicken from the village."

Basheer said, "This time, I'll cook it."

A couple of months ago, Bhuvan and Basheer and the other workers had slept over at the house, and it had been lovely - the smell of the chicken cooking on Tiwari's kerosene stove, the smell of the sea, the smell of dust, cement, turpentine, wood-shavings and stone around them. The wind came sharp and cold from the open doors and they lay on the floor making lewd remarks about each other until the quiet of the house took over.

Basheer wanted so much to stay here, in the cool, big house, today and maybe for a couple more days. Then, when he went back to the basti, the ashes and rubble would have been cleared up, and the asbestos, tin, plastic, cardboard sheets would have come up again, and Azra would be back at her stove, with her sharp tongue and her hot food, and her smile as unpredictable as the municipaalty bulldozers.

**basti - habitation
hawaldar - constable
danda - stick
Saala - wife's brother, a term of mild abuse
Bhai - brother
haraami - bastard
arji - petition
neta - political leader
taalpatri - tarpaulin sheet
Kaki - Aunt
Chacha - Uncle, father's brother
kadiya - stonemason

 Batul Mukhtiar, Oct 2009

Friday, September 25, 2009

we all need to tighten our belts

Now all those who have been cribbing about 'Dil Bole Hadippa' do not know that it is a stalwart effort to pitch into the recent austerity drive undertaken by the government. How so, you say? Well, for instance:

1. Rani Mukherjee summoned Manish Malhotra to her bouidoir. The floor was covered in old costumes from 'Bunty and Babli', 'Chalte Chalte' and 'Laaga Chunari Mein Daag'. "Cut and trim these, Manishji, and make new out of old", she pleaded and Manishji did just that.

2. For most of the film, Rani dressed as a Sardar boy in dreary tracksuits and a white pagdi. She let her freckles show and saved tons of expensive MAC make-up.

3. Shahid Kapoor did not have a haircut throughout the shoot schedule. He is soon going to auction his mane on Farah Khan's show 'Tere Mere Beach Mein' to the highest equestrian bidder, and give the money to Rahul Gandhi to fund his next undercover foray into Uttar Pradesh.

4. Shahid also re-used the character and expressions from 'Jab we Met', i.e. a cold blank look, and minimal smiling. As all beauticians will tell you, this reduces wrinkling, thereby reducing the need for Botox and other surgical treatments necessary for actors at a later age.

5. Sherlyn Chopra and Rakhi Sawant as usual supported the cause with enthusiasm and loyalty by wearing just enough clothing to avoid nudity, thereby saving on fabric costs.

6. Pritam rehashed old tracks from 'Jab We Met', 'Singh is King' and several other films, thereby saving lots of creative energy and earning many carbon points. Julius Packiam saved on scoring background music tracks by reusing old tunes from old Yash Raj films.

7. Ditto for Jaideep Sahni, who worked with 50 words, scrambling them over and over again to create 7songs. This has also created a new game for the listener, called 'Unscramble' which will be launched soon by YRF in association with Big.

8. Ditto for Vaibhavi Merchant - same old, same old.

9. Jaya and Aparajita wrote dialogue for 30 mins of the film and then used it as a loop through the film. They also used Indira Gandhi, Jhansi Ki Rani and Kiran Bedi as references for the closing speech on women's emancipation. This has saved many forests. Also, since the actors needed to learn fewer lines, it meant shorter rehearsal time and shorter shooting schedules, saving on production cost and workers' wages.

10. The line producer Padam Bhushan saved on location manager fees, location recce costs and location hire costs as he decided that the mustard fields used in previous Yash Raj Films would continue to work their magic, especially since they are now given to Yash Raj Films at a phenomenal discount.

11. Wherever there are excesses, they are used to the maximum, since no waste is gain. For e.g 4 bowls of expensive dry fruit are quaffed by Anupam Kher and Dalip Tahil while they sit on drawing room sofas in the middle of nowhere, watching cricket matches. It should be made public knowledge that the 4 bowls were covered with cling film between takes and thus used throughout the shoot in various scenes. Also, takes were kept to a minimum to reduce the amounts of dry fruit quaffed by the veteran actors.

12. Similarly, Sudeep Chatterjee used all the camera equipment given to him to maximum limits. No track, crane, jimmy jib was left idle for even a single minute on set, the camera was kept moving throughout to ensure that money's worth was extracted.

13. Poonam Dhillon was taken off the shelf - what a beautiful example of recycling!

14. Through out the making of the film, the director Anurag Singh stayed away from the set. Thereby he not only abstained from his director's fees, but also accomodation, food and other perks. Yash Raj Films cannot show their gratitude to him enough.

15. Particularly since Anurag helped them in their endeavour to make a fabulous flop. The common masses stayed away from the film and the middle class and the poor of the nation learnt how not to spend their hard earned money on cinema tickets. A valuable lesson indeed!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

fashinista banno or an old horse with red reins

I had been eye-ing a red bag in Hidesign since months.

It was not always the same bag, but it was always red.

Once again, I went in to the store, and saw the perfect red messenger bag. I took it carefully off the lurching mannequin, and slid it over my shoulder. One hasty look at the mirror, one covert look, one over the shoulder look and I dropped the bag, and walked out. A few steps away, and I turned back to look at the store, wistfully. The bag was calling out to me.

I wanted Teja and Dhanno to convince me, either to buy the bag or forget it. They were tapping their feet, and clicking their fingers, and looking everywhere but at me.

I said: "It would look too much, no? Everyone would say, an old woman carrying a red bag."

Dhanno said: "But that's what you would be, isn't it? An old woman carrying a red bag. So how does it matter?"

What I had wanted her to say was: "But you are not old, Mama!"

There's not much to be said for dinning 'honesty is the best policy' into your child at a tender age. Because sooner or later, she hands it back to you. I let out a sigh and took a couple of steps towards the store again. Then sighed and turned back.

Teja, knowing well that the sighs if ignored, threatened to take over our domestic arrangements over the next few days, said: "Why don't you just get it?"

I said: "Yeah. I can probably use it for a few more years. Then I'll be older. And that will be just be too old for a red bag."

Teja said: "You'll never be too old for a red bag."

Dhanno said: "Yeah, as if. You are never going to give up your jhataak pink, are you? Or purple? Or yellow?"

I grinned.

This time, I ignored the swinging of the mannequin and grabbed my bag from its shoulder and marched with it to the cash counter. Anyone could see that the red bag was going to give me graces Nature had not conferred on me.

With flamingo-pink rainy sandals, and my tomato-red messenger bag, I made quite a fashion statement on my last documentary shoot. Specially when I teamed them with my lime-green capris and rose-pink lipstick.

Monday, September 14, 2009

whoever said old films were slow?

Bimal Roy's "Parakh" (1960) opens thus:

A postman is limping down a dusty road, from a great distance, with a heavy bag. He enters a yard. A little boy runs across him. He asks the little boy to call his sister.

The postman goes in, and puts down the bag. The postmaster says - You have a lot of mail today. The postman says - Yes, it is because people write too much. Job requests, love letters, letters of complaint.

A girl comes in. The postman asks her if he can have a cup of tea. She says yes, but there is no sugar.

He says, he will go get it. She is hesitant, how often can he get it? He says not to embarrass him, for it is God who gives, who is he? He goes out.

The postmaster asks the girl to take over for some time while he goes in to look at his ill wife. The girl starts stamping letters.

Outside at the counter, a man appears. He wants to make a money order.

When she replies, he is surprised, Oh it's you. She asks him to come in.

He comes in behind her, she keeps stamping the letters, not looking at him.

He asks her what she is doing there. She asks him why she cannot work. She is the postmaster's daughter. He says if she was the postmaster, he would make a money order everyday. She says with a schoolmaster's pay of 7 rupees, how would he manage to make a money order everyday. He is quiet. He looks at her from behind, and mutters, "That is why.."

She is apologetic for hurting him. She asks him where he has been.

He says he is so busy, there is so much to do. Since the elders of the village won't listen, the school boys and him have decided to clean the village on their own. She says why bother about doing good for others, when one is in such a bad shape one self. He says that if the country does well, all of us will do as well. And aren't you a part of the country too?

Someone calls from outside. Both shuffle guiltily.

Pandit enters. School master leaves hurriedly with an excuse.

Pandit asks for girl's father. Postman enters. Girl leaves to make tea. Postmaster enters.

Postman and Pandit get into verbal spat. Postmaster intervenes. Pandit leaves, insulting Postman as low-caste.

Postmaster scolds Postman for being rude.

Postman says Pandit is horrid. The other day when he entered his house with a letter, Pandit made a big show of cleaning the house with fresh cow dung. When he went the next day with a money order and asked Pandit if money would be acceptable from his lowcaste hands, Pandit threw him a shloka which justified his taking the money.

Postmaster says whatever it is, Postman is new here, and must respect elders. Now quieten down, and get to work.

So, in virtually one scene set in the post office, within the first 6-7 minutes of the film, we meet 6 characters and one off-screen character. We learn a little bit about each character, what they are like, what they believe in, and what their problems could be. We also get a glimpse of the village where the post office is, and the country where the village is, and the problems that beset it - unemployment, poverty, caste. Not only that, but the premise of the film is set down as well - money, and the greed for it.

Contrast this with what most Hindi films do these days. The exposition is reduced to a verbal introduction of each character, this is Bunty, he is blah blah blah. The voice-over has the air of being slapped on after the film is edited, and it's amply clear that the who? where? why? what? of the story are not clear to the audience.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

rush hour

Salaam says he is 11. He looks 6.

Salaam says he sniffs cloth only sometimes. How many times, I ask? He says once. A day, I ask? Or twice, he says.

But I don't like it, he says, as he wolfs down the pav bhaji I have bought him. It makes me want to sit in one place and not move, and I don't like that. But sometimes, he says, when there are too many thoughts in your head, and there is no money, and you are hungry, there is too much tension, then .. it makes you forget you are hungry, he says.

A little child, I think, should not be having so many thoughts, so much tension in his head, but what do I know?

Later in the train, I watch a woman fill up little boxes in a notebook with the name 'Ram'. It seems to work for her because in a compartment filled with tired women, her smile comes most easily. The woman sitting next to me fiddles with her cell phone, it goes beep, beep, beep, beep.

My mother sits before the TV almost all the time she is awake, sometimes even when there is only blank noise on it. Like all daughters, I wonder what will become of me when, if I become like my mother.

I think, perhaps it is the city. There is not enough space for any of us in it, leave alone our griefs, our tensions. There is not enough space to let our pain dry out naturally like sweat in cool air.

We all need to sniff a solvent of one kind or the other, I think, noise, music, films, more noise, books, more noise, to burn up our thoughts on the spot, for there's no space to let them go.

Whatever works, I think.

Sniffing cloth: A quick, cheap high, sniffing cloth dipped in thinner.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

two girls with hats

The worst thing you can do to a girl is saddle her with a sister early on in life. The sister is always going to be more beautiful or more intelligent or more virtuous or more cheerful or more obedient or wear better hats - none of which helps in the making of the confident, tough personality that one ought to be.

Because however rich or famous you become, one little bit of you always knows that your parents love your sister more than you do, which in my case, my mother pooh-poohs till date. And however old your sister becomes, she will always claim that she stuck to the safe and tested path because you were wild and rebellious enough for the entire family, which in my sister's case, I refuse to acknowledge now that we are both in our 40s. Though we took different paths to reach here, I find that we haven't wandered too far away from each other.

My sister and me, here we look happy enough in our hats.

But we spent all our growing up years fighting to the point of driving our mother to tears. It's only when we both got married and left home, that we came to realize what we mean to each other.

Sisters and hats feature largely in 'Holiday' (1938) by George Cukor. Read the rest of the review on Upperstall.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

let's learn how to kiss, please

What I'm wondering is what will happen to Jai (Saif Ali Khan) and Meera (Deepika Padukone) once they do get married?

Their 'Aaj' love is so bland, their kisses so like the Rubber-Duck raincoats of school days, dry in a squeaky, rubbery way, the smell of rubber obfuscating the smell of the rain.

Jai seems like a man with no practice in kissing, and if he has had practice, hasn't learned much on the job. Doesn't forebode well for their marital life. (Or is it just that he'd rather have been kissing his beautiful girl, Bebo?)

I liked Meera only in the last scene when she cried with relief once Jai did come back, and then drew away from a kiss, awkward after the long separation. At least, she stopped smiling.

For the rest of the film, I was wondering about her parents, wondering what they had done to her that she needed so much to be so nice, so understanding, so 'smiley' all the time?

She was no less mute than the 'Kal' girl from a small town, Veer's (Saif Ali Khan) love Harleen (Giselle Monteiro). The 'Kal' girl at least metamorphed into ***** ******, and had a reason to be mute (Brazilian playing Punjabi, cut all her dialogues, please!).

Anyway, to come back to kisses, my friend Tanmay Agarwal, who's been having a set-to with the Censor Board for a couple of kisses in his indie film 'Chal Chaliye' has devised a table of censor guidelines set for a kiss. Check that out and more on kisses at his site and don't forget to take the poll.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

it's called taking the piss

You've been doing a subtle version of the twist, jig and fox-trot for the last 13 & a 1/2 minutes. You've been loosening your facial muscles while contracting other ones in an effort to look normal. You finally manage to find a public toilet and then the gatekeeper demands that you pay up 2 rupees before you enter. You flap your hands wildly and nod your head vigorously and hiss, "I'll pay you later."

In the corridor, the gatekeeper's aunties and nieces in various stages of age, weight and nudity, are sprawled in large pools of water, washing themselves and their clothes. You leap and bound across all of them, in imminent danger of slipping into one of the pools, and adding the contents of your bladder to the soapy torrents of water rushing towards the drain.

Inside the toilet, there is no hook for your bag or your dupatta. Your sunglasses hooked on to the front of your kurta fall off, and you catch them just before they fall into the dodgy contents of the Indian style toilet, immensely relieved that you haven't had to face the moral dilemma of renouncing them or fishing with your hands to procure them back because they are so very, very expensive. Of course, the toilet door doesn't close, so you hold one stem of the glasses in your mouth, roll the dupatta round and round your neck, sling your bag across your shoulder, undo your pajamas, all with one hand, while keeping the other firmly on the door.

Then you semi-sit-squat-stand, and pee, grateful that you learned this trick long ago, much to the chagrin of your more conservative mother. 

And it feels more wonderful than anything else on earth. In your relief, you relax a little, and your hand falls off the door. You remember with a fond smile how your insouciant younger self regularly walked into a 5 star hotel in your hometown only to use the facilities. But the security checks at hotels now could be your undoing, you think. Someone pushes the toilet door from outside and jolted out of nostalgia, you push it back with a loud growl of proprietary anger.

Then you complete all the earlier manouvres in reverse, i.e tying up your pajamas, etc., with one hand and now with one leg thrust against the door as well. Ah, someone may say, "what about washing uhmm your uhmm or dabbing with toilet paper?", and you say "the least said the better, this is as far as things can go with one hand and one leg out of requisition".

You come outside, and your spine is a little straighter, and you could be humming if you didn't see the gatekeeper again signaling for the two rupee coin. "This is supposed to be a free urinal", you shout, pointing at the notice. The gatekeeper feigns a contemptuous ignorance of any written material. You fling a coin down and walk away, thinking well, you are going to be OK for a few more hours at least.

(Would love to see Paro's film 'Q2P')

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

gutter water and ajinomoto

I said to Hasan & Husein: "Why do you swim in the canal? The water is filthy."

Hasan said: "We find good stuff here. A plate, or a bowl. Sometimes a metal pipe. We can sell it for 100-200 rupees."

I said: "What do you do with the money?"

Hasan said: "We give it to our mother."

Husein said: "We play dhab."

Hasan said: "We hire a cycle to ride around."

Husein said: "I spend it on Chinese food. I like to eat fried rice everyday."

I said: "But don't you fall ill in that gutter water?"

Husein said: "No, we like it in there. I like being in the water all the time."

Hasan said: "We go and wash up with clean water at the Pump. We wash our clothes too."

Husein said: "Yes, we wash our own clothes."

* Dhab - A gambling game

Friday, July 17, 2009

the difference between plastic and tin

I said to Bai: "Do you know any other hut we can use, like the one we did for your interview?"

Bai said: "That was not a hut. That was a house. It had tin walls and a tin roof. You can't just pick it up and run. A hut is two plastic sheets that you can tie up anywhere. I can make you a hut anywhere you want in 10 minutes."

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

That's what it's come to, folks.

There we were, sauntering along, hand in hand, on our way to 'The Proposal'. We met a schoolmate of Dhanno's, exchanged 'hi's' and 'hello's' and carried on.

Dhanno said: "My friends always say, that we saw your mom and you walking around, hand in hand."

I said: "Oh!"

Dhanno said: "Yeah, they tease me, do you still need your mom to hold your hand to help you cross the road?"

I laughed.

Dhanno said: "I tell them, no, my mom needs to hold my hand to help her cross the road."

True enough.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Thursday, July 02, 2009

What, indeed!

Dhanno said: "Yeah, there's this guy in her coaching classes who likes Bijli."

I said: "And does Bijli like him?"

Dhanno said: "Naaah! He's ugly."

I said: "So if someone is ugly, you can't like him?"

Dhanno rolled her eyes and said: "So now you want us to look at the guy's internal beauty and all? Analyze whether he is marriage material? What, Mom?"

Mom effectively silenced.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

torture garden

Octave Mirbeau (1848-1917) was raped as a child by the Jesuit priests who were supposed to educate him.

He wrote, "The universe appears to me like an immense, inexorable torture garden. Passions, greed, hatred and lies; law, social institutions, justice, love, glory, heroism and religion; these are its monstrous flowers and its hideous instruments of eternal human suffering."

Not surprisingly, he embraced anarchism, which aimed to sweep away organized society, and replace it with a culture of equals. He did so, despite the fact that as a businessman, investor, journalist, novelist and dramatist, he was extremely rich.

Mirbeau claimed that he wrote 'The Diary of a Chambermaid' to expose the plight of French domestic servants,  preyed on by employment agencies and brutalized by their owners. He used his inside knowledge of the upper classes to attack them.

Celestine, the protagonist of the book, is a cheeky, voluptuous maid, exploited by men and women alike for their sexual fantasies. Celestine moves through various upper class homes, with barely concealed contempt and disgust for her employers. She sees it all - shoe fetishes, women with dildoes, a dying boy's sexual urges, sadomasochistic frenzy, pornography, bestiality, never losing her own perverse sense of humour.

In a scathingly cynical end, Celestine chooses to marry Joseph, a gamekeeper, a virulent anti-Semite, a sadist and probably a sexual murderer. Joseph steals their last employers' silver and uses the money to open a bar in a small, seaside town. Celestine and he settle down, become rich, and Celestine with 'upper class' fastidiousness, begins to complain of her "thieving, shameless" servants.

In 1900, the book was taken as erotica rather than crusading fiction. Celestine was too robust a heroine to be identified as a victim. She took too much pleasure in the cruelties perpetrated on her.

- Taken from John Baxter's introduction to the HarperCollins 2006 edition of 'The Diary of a Chambermaid'.

While I was reading the book, a daylight robbery occurred in our housing complex. Four men knocked on a door, entered the house by force, and holding up an old woman, went off with her jewellery and cash. The fact that they entered this particular house on a Sunday afternoon, indicates that they must have inside knowledge of it, they must have known that they would find only an old woman there, and plenty of loot.

Security was beefed up, the security agency got a stern warning, the lift-men and watchmen were scolded harshly for failing to provide adequate security. I am sure all the residents wondered at least once, secretly or openly, as to which one of the security personnel was party to the robbery.

What surprises me about Indian society today is not the amount of crime, and violence that exists, but the fact that there is not more. One only has to look at the inhuman conditions that the people who work for us live in, particularly in cities like Mumbai; their unfairly low wages which ensure that they will never get out of those living and work conditions; the day to day treatment meted out to them, usually rude indifference coupled with an expectation of gratuitous politeness or humility from them; a 365 days per year work schedule; to know that there is something skewered in our system, and sooner or later it has to collapse.

As for sexual exploitation and abuse, there is no dearth of that either in our society. Is there? Sexual needs in our employees, particularly those who live with us, make us uncomfortable. We actively discourage the girls working in our houses from having boyfriends and turn a blind eye to the measures taken by the male workers to fulfill their needs, most of whom live away from their families. However, our own sexual need of our servants is taken for granted. When found out, it could be understandable, forgiven as a momentary lapse or condemned, depending on the manner in which it comes out. The shame is in the nature of the proof, and not the deed itself.

The relentlessly unforgiving stance of Celestine in 'The Diary of a Chambermaid' makes for an effective critique of the bourgeoise, their grotesqueness hidden under a thin veneer of respectability. Perhaps in 1900, the book did shock French society out of its complacence.

But does Indian society today react any more to such expose´s? Has not the intrusion of the media in every aspect of our lives, made us more insensitive to any portrayal of stark reality? Does not every new expose´ make us more cynical, more thick-skinned, even abetting us in our own evasions of morality?

Each employer that Celestine works for, insist that they will call her 'Mary', as 'Celestine' is a name too fancy for a servant. What they of course seek to do, is stamp out any trace of her identity apart from being a maid. While in our society, we do not change our maids' names, a 'Sunita' is easily replaced by a 'Lalita'. Extreme poverty ensures that there will never be a shortage of servants in Indian society, at least in our lifetimes. The few days of hardship suffered by us while the turnover takes effect is to be grumbled about, a calamity rocking our domestic peace.

The hardship of our servants is perhaps pitied if we are sensitive souls, but usually dismissed as their 'karma' even by themselves. We all know that the poor are poor because they drink, because they are superstitious, illiterate, lazy, stupid. If only they had been clever enough to be born as us.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

hopelessly off-key

"You don't have to be a Bengali to resonate" - Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury, Observation 1 on making 'Anuranan' after years of ads for Britannia and the like.

"I'm not so sure about that." - Banno, Observation 1 on watching 'Anuranan', having relinquished the habit of ducking Britannia biscuits into tea since years, in a bid to count calories.

"There is a certain kind of film making that seems to be peculiar to Bengali cinema. Mystical talks about nature, emotions sublimated in abstractions, poetry posing as ordinary dialogue between people in the most humdrum situations. Visual elements include Kanchenjungha, intellectual women in spectacles and handloom saris, moonlight, old trees, old houses, a copy of 'Love in the time of Cholera', whisky being quaffed in every other scene, a living room party where everybody dances and people air kiss each other. While the protagonist looks at bookshelves." - Banno, Observation 1 continued.

'Anuranan' is meant to explore the resonance between two individuals, between man and nature, between freedom and marriage. An architect Rahul prone to spouting poetical observations into a dictaphone (Rahul Bose), a wife Nandita, who is loving but childless (Rituparno Sengupta), a cold, indifferent business man husband Amit (Rajat Kapoor), a romantic yearning wife Preeti (Raima Sen). The four meet each other in various drawing rooms, and the empty space outside marriage, between Rahul and Preeti begins to resonate. It takes them first to an old tree, that Rahul calls Kanchenjungha and then to Bagdogra where Rahul is designing a resort for Amit's company. Rahul is moved by the moonlight on the mountain, and Preeti follows him there in her quest to be a bird.

"But why does resonance happen only between two intellectual souls? Why can't Amit and Nandita resonate? Why does the businessman necessarily have to be unfeeling towards nature? Or relationships? Why can't the poetry spouting architect actually be cold and cruel to his wife, as in many instances of real life? Why must the wife suffer only because she cannot have a child? Why can't she be just fed up and bored of his philosophical allusions and his relationship with his dictaphone?" - Banno, Questions 1 to 7, Observation 2.

The film brings to mind Satyajit Ray's 'Kanchenjungha', perhaps is influenced by it. Of course, the master's touch is in the completely identifiable characters, dialogue that reveals the innermost workings of their minds without being facetious and unreal, the use of light, shade and mist to enhance the human drama, nature in fact colluding with man to create an unique narrative of a particular day in the lives of several people.

"Is there a single Bengali film made in the history of cinema without reference to Tagore or Satyajit Ray?" - Banno, Question 8, Observation 3.

"If so, can anyone please tell me about it?" - Banno, Question 9, Observation 3 contd.

"It is tough enough to sustain the interest of the viewer in a hyperlink film, as there is no one character or plot that one can identify with. To create a further disenchantment by making the characters unbelievable is to be deliberately yawn-inducing." - Banno, Observation 4, full and final, on 'Anuranan'.

Am racking my brains to remember what Rahul's full and final observation was, the night he died, before he reappeared as a ghost meditating before the Kanchenjunga. Rahul died with his dictaphone in his arms.

I cheered myself up with Anjan Dutt's 'The Bong Connection'. Raima Sen seemed more believable as the rich, young strong-headed girl, Sheela than she did as a bespectacled suffering wife.

Ray and Tagore did come up, but in a palatable way. Except when Apu's (yes, Apu!) boss says with grudging admiration of him, after a huge showdown between Apu and himself, "Aparajito".

Anyway, this is what I get up to while Dhanno has a posh dinner with her friends, and Teja earns a living. Watch films that no one will ever watch with me. I remember as a young woman emotionally blackmailing my boyfriend to go to a re-release of 'Jhanak Jhanak Payal Baje' with me. My mother, usually indulgent, refused to go see this one. She as a rule, disliked actresses with flamboyant facial expressions and heavy duty 'ada's. I, on the other hand, loved flamboyance in all its forms, and sulked and sulked until I did get the requisite company for the film.

"With the years, I've become kinder to my loved ones and don't expect them to prove their love for me by seeing all the films I would like to inflict on them." - Banno, Observation 5, in vain attempt to resonate.

* ada - accomplished, beauty, blandishment, charm, coquetry, fulfilled, grace, paid, performed, posture

Monday, June 15, 2009

a memo to old people

Old people should age gracefully.

If we are expected to sacrifice part of our busy, important lives to taking care of them, then the least they can do is not be miserable, cranky, bad-tempered, depressed, moody or ill.

Under no circumstances should they emit embarrassing smells, fluids, vapors or other substances from their bodies.

If they had any sense of decency, old people would pass away quietly in their sleep before they actually became dependent on anyone for their physical or emotional needs.

Unless of course, they have the money to take care of themselves. On the other hand, even that money is actually going down the drain.

If they have to go in a few days, the earlier the better, so that the nest egg they leave us is all that more substantial.

Of course, we are justified in expecting this much of old people.

After all, when we were little, did they not teach us always to behave in a particular way, not to be naughty, or selfish, or violent, or lazy?

Did they not scold and beat us till we learnt to control the flow of our bodily emissions in a socially acceptable way?

Did they not push and prod us to spend the better part of our days in institutions?

Did they not make us aware of the money they were spending on us, and how we ought to repay them?

Oh, old people are cunning. They'd like to forget those days when they stood over us with a controlling hand, and appeal now for pity.

But how can we forget that we need to pay them back?

(I'd written this a while ago, when I found myself irritated at the demands an old friend was making on me. Or angry at the unreasonable behaviour of my depressed mother. It came back to me when I read this a couple of days ago. And added the following footnote.)

And as for old people seeking sex, love or companionship, even the thought is reprehensible. And punishable. For didn't they teach us to repress our sexual feelings when we were young? And didn't they punish us for loving inconveniently?

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

that old parenting trick

So, in the middle of shooting a rugby match,

and untangling spools and spools of red tape for a shoot at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus,

previously called Victoria Terminus,

and the hot hot sun which tanned even me,

and gave me a black nose,

(bad sun!),

there was a shower of fresh water on my head.

Dhanno scored 91% in her ICSE Std. X Board exams.

with a 95% in Maths.

Inspite of us.

We did all we could to make things difficult for her.

Refused to send her for coaching classes.

Tempted her with movies every day.

Dragged her off on shopping trips,

railroading her carefully worked out timetable.

Packed her off to sleep early.

Shut off the early morning alarm she had set, once she was asleep.

Told her that marks were not everything.

Rebelling against parents takes strange forms.

Hers was to do well.

And all of us old-timers,

rebels of the first order in our youth,

are secretly pleased with her performance,

despite our professed disgust.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

real life dharamji

Dhanno has pasted on her cupboard doors -

6 posters of Drake Bell,

4 of Hillary Duff,

3 of Avril Lavigne,

1 of Ranbir Kapoor,

1 of a bulldog in a blue denim jacket,

1 of a poodle in a pink jacket,

1 photo-shopped picture of her with Drake Bell,

A school group photo of me in Std VIII A, in St. Anne's School, Pune, 1977,


A school group photo of her in Std. VIII A, in Bumm-Bumm-Bhole-Land, 2007.

So that I don't feel left out, Teja found me this. It was flying around on his studio floor.


My crankiness after a 3 hour drive back from town disappeared instantly.

Teja said: "Happy?" 

I said to Teja: "He's just like you."

In fact, Teja is a real life Dharamji. No, no, not looks. Lest all my friends gasp at my blindness. But in his sweetness.

Thankfully, minus the excess boozing and womanizing.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

i'm not letting go

While Dhanno gets ready to climb the Chandrasheela peak,

Banno thumps her way around the 333 metre 'murmur'  mud track, good for the joints,

in the BMC garden in T-Village.

Banno's soul however hovers over Surat station,

waiting for the Delhi-bound August Kranti

that will take Dhanno, her cousins and her friends away on their 12-day trek,

and Banno's soul wants to lie down on the floor of Platform no. 2 or 1,

and trash its hands and feet,

and cry hysterically, "Dhanno, don't go, don't go."

All these years, Banno didn't mind,

almost welcomed Dhanno's holidays with her aunts or cousins,

it gave her some relief from Mummy-dom.

But now, Banno's soul cannot care less about being a wise, kind mother,

letting her little bird fly and all that.

All it wants to do is cling, and cling.

And cling.

Monday, April 27, 2009

litmus tests

At various times, I've been convinced I have TB, a weak heart, eczema, skin cancer, AIDS, a bad liver, deafness, the beginnings of Alzheimers' and so on. I only have to read the Mumbai Mirror in the morning to be convinced that I am perishing of something quite serious.

Though this warrants several checks in the bathroom mirror between midnight and 3 am, it still takes a lot of nagging from Teja for me to go and see the doctor. Maybe because my doctor usually puts my niggling doubts to a definite rest.

In the last few months, 3-4 friends had been talking to me about their thyroid problems, and with my usual empathy, I checked off all the symptoms they mentioned on my own list of 'yes, I have that' - dry skin, dry, thinning hair, fatigue, unexplained weight gain. (the unexplained part being that I never explain my weight gain to anybody, the fact that I don't diet and don't exercise, yes, that's unexplained.)

Anyway, after weeks of anxiety over my supposed hypothyroidism, I thought I'd be smart and prescribe a thyroid test for myself. The lab was smarter and gave me back a report that made no sense to me and which I would need to take to my doctor to decode.

Me: "Dr. M, first I must apologize because I took a test without you asking me to."

He raises his eyebrows.

Me stumbling on my words: "It's just that I feel so tired these days."

Dr. M: "Everyone is tired these days."

I raise my eyebrows.

Dr. M: "It's the heat. And our diet. The fruits and vegetables we eat are so full of pesticides. The water we drink is unhealthy. The pollution. The stress. Also, you know, there are no movies being released these days."

I don't take too kindly to these generalities.

Me: "No, no. It's not just that. I don't get sleep. I feel my skin burning. My throat hurts. There's a humming in my ears. I sweat all the time. My nose feels cold ..."

He has heard several variations of this litany from me over the years he has known me, so he just takes the papers and looks at them intently. He turns them around, and looks at them upside down. He looks at the back of the papers. He looks at the front of them once again and then hands them back to me.

Dr. M: "The T4, T3, TSH counts are normal."

I look disappointed. He feels sorry for me.

Dr. M: "Maybe you should take some more tests. Check your cholesterol, sugar, haemoglobin. Maybe you are not getting enough calcium. Look, let me prescribe some vitamins for you. Take them for a month. And if you still don't feel well, come back, and I'll write you some tests."

I nod happily. I pay him his fees and come away clutching the precious prescription in my hand.

I feel quite alright that evening. Until the next morning, I read of Cushings' disease and am convinced that my body is reeling under an excess of cortisol. However when I read up Cushings' disease on the internet, the tests sound way too complicated and expensive to undertake. I decide this time, I will suffer quietly.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

what do bullet holes say?

Dhanno has her hair streaked purple to match her purple cell phone, both gifts for working incredibly hard all year, giving her Std. X exams.

Teja gets ready to board the 'Ladies Special' local train. No, he is not abandoning me, not just yet. Only prepping for a TV show.

I, meanwhile, try to make sense out of bullets.

Bakery Wall, opp Nariman House, Colaba
          Bakery Door, opp. Nariman House, Colaba
Lift door, 6th Floor, Cama Hospital, Azad Maidan
The bullet holes make pretty patterns, but no, they don't make sense at all. 

Sunday, April 12, 2009


I find the best way to work in the sun is to accept the heat and the sweat pouring down every inch of your body. Of course, it doesn't hurt if you can grab a few winks every now and then in a little bit of shade.

Western Express Highway, Santa Cruz, April 2009

Paper shredder unit, Colaba, April 2009 
Cats in an alley, Colaba, April 2009

banno at wordpress

I'm moving to wordpress. I'll miss blogger, especially the fab blogroll feature. But my blog has been virtually impossible to open o...