Saturday, December 31, 2011

Changing years, Unchanging life

Neglect this part: For the past few days, I’ve been encountering queries like “Any plan for New Year?” and “Will you be spending New Year’s night at home again?”. The ones asking me the former question don’t know me and the ones asking the latter wish they were asking the former. Na, I'm not blaming them. They are genuinely nice people but victims of curiosity. My boringness is beyond me for a reason. Even snails are more interesting. Most of my jokes prefer not to be laughed at. In the course of human evolution, I’m a f—ing downhill. Sometimes I ask myself why am I not a chimp yet. But then chimps aren't supposed to suffer from identity crisis. For reality's sake, humankind is way too sophisticated and directional. But then there are always aberrations and exceptions and vocabulary to lean back on. So I console my bruised ego with asthmatic arguments and breathe deeply. It beats me how it works every single time. If it hadn’t, I’d have killed myself by hanging on a noose made of noodles. The worst part is I’m not even depressed and am a thorough teetotaler. The only thing I’m addicted to is cinema. Earlier I was mistaken about an apparent addiction to social media. Turns out it was just a temporary delusion. I scribble so-called funny one-liners daily masquerading as philosourphy. Luckily, I fail to laugh at them. Unluckily, some poor kind-hearted souls do. At least that’s what their comments imply. I don’t reply. I stopped communicating via tweets long time back. I’m quite grown-up for that nonsense now – making fake conversations with imaginary friends while overlooking calls from the real world ones. By the way, this doesn’t mean that my friends and I are on winning terms. Speaking of age, I’m 25 now and the year we are going to step into will try its best to make it 26. I’m prepared as I’m not ready to die as of now. I haven’t accomplished anything, you see, except few sweet words every now and then. I haven’t done well on the financial side too. The friends I grew up with have. I don't even have a girlfriend. The friends I grew up with do. Presently, they must be busy enjoying some parties somewhere. A few of them want me to be there with them although they understand that I don’t enjoy people’s company. I like individuals. I’m not adept at presenting myself as a people’s guy either. Pretending is an art and I can't pretend to be an artist. I hope all of them have a memorable night. (On a second thought, considering the alcohol they’ll be ingesting, I hope they don’t.) Coming back to me, I’m better off in my own company watching movies the popcorn-hogging people usually don’t bother with, posting meaningless blogs and creating sense out of absolute rubbish. It’s a less than pathetic existence but still fulfilling in its own precarious way. All I’ve got to do is remind myself that I’m supposed to be glum and smug and sad and fallow. And like I mentioned earlier, it works every single time.

Don't neglect this part: Happy New Year for bearing with me through factual fiction and wasting your not-so-precious time on this page! May 2012 make y’all forget what you always wanted to be.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Passionate enough to go home?

There is a memorable scene at the end of The Hurt Locker where Jeremy Renner’s character walks with a military swagger with his back towards us on the street of Baghdad before credits roll on. That moment captures a person’s commitment to his dreams – almost bordering on acute selfishness – nonetheless, inspiring. To put things in perspective, the case in point is this ain’t a tourist destination. It’s Iraq aka Shithole, for lack of better aka, especially when the person in question is an American army guy. And that’s exactly what Renner is in that movie!
One can note that he’s very passionate about his job and perhaps it’s the only thing on earth he’s very good at. He probably understands that loneliness and solitude are two different factors better than anybody else. Whatever. He literally abandons his family including his little kid to go back to being a freaking expert in dismantling bombs. The bottomline here is he does what he has to, and more importantly, what he wants to. All prices paid, it doesn’t matter whether he dies as a miserable old man regretting the arrogance of his youth or not.
Likewise, Mickey Rourke's The Wrestler strolls on a familiar terrain. It's all about love in the end. Just like it was in the beginning. In this movie, he is abandoned by folks who were supposed to be loved by him, failing which, they are not loving him. As the climax bares itself, he chooses his fans who were always there for him over his daughter and new-found girlfriend. The catch here is he's prepared to put even his life up on line to entertain the crowd. Maybe he died. Maybe he didn't. We'll never know. The bloody credits were on a roll as usual.
On a similar note, a classic moment from The Secret in Their Eyes takes place when Sandoval explains to Espósito how everything changes for a person but not his passion. It could be for anything. A football club. Books. Cinema. Alcohol. Art. Music. You name it and you have it. That’s the beauty of emotions conspiring against the host in collusion with the host. The search carries on but the quench stays unfulfilled; for if it does, there’d be nothing left to neither grieve nor pursue.
People are sad not because they are not happy but also because they've found comfort in being sorrowful. You could be one of them. I am for sure. Humans just want to go home. It could be a temporary one too. Passion simply helps us get there. This so-called home could be anything. It doesn't always have to have walls. It could be an abstract art, if you will. The sound of music might go a step further and shelter your abysmal soul. A painting's fine shades shall somehow encapsulate you in a well-protected cocoon. The list is endless, not to forget the inebriating depression. Or I like I say, the real call of nature.
Everywhere we go or wish to go, we leave a piece of us in there and once we are back, we can't help but hope to return at least one more time. This urge explains the time we spent in our mother's womb. Moreover, nine months is not a short period of time. And then one day, all of a sudden, we're forced to abandon that safe abode to enter a harsh world. Naturally, a piece of us got left behind. After all, that's where passion took birth. The place we keep looking for, fully aware that it's long gone. But passion not only works in mysterious ways but also makes us do the same.

Monday, December 26, 2011

The Last Christmas

Merry Boxing Day to y’all. Or better still, Merry leftover Christmas to the poor. I love this time of the year, you see? In fact, I’m fond of every festival that offers delicious yet free food. Nevertheless, as one can guess, I’m going to be harsh from this point onwards. I waited nearly a week for Diwali bash(ing) but since I realize that my blog has got only a handful of unfortunate followers (thanks to my reluctance to unabashedly promote the way everyone is supposed to), there is no point in waiting to hurt people’s sentiments.

I abhor most practices associated with religion. It has more to do with my DNA than my parents’ as they are very God-fearing. But that doesn’t mean I don’t admire the festivity and the colorful decorations and whatnot. But then there is always something hidden behind religion that ain’t an expert with the concept of camouflage. Christmas too has its fallacious side.

"Maybe I’ll have to resurrect once again just to remind you idiots that it's not my birthday!" - Jesus Christ

We celebrate it as Jesus Christ’s birthday despite being fully aware that he wasn’t born on December 25th. He was a superb fella who had issues with his Father and all but that doesn’t mean we should distort his very date of birth. To add to his eternal woes, we haven’t tried hard enough to rectify this error. Accordingly, we should have been a little more sensitive and traced the exact night he was born.

The travelogues of the Three Wise Men who were on Maggi diet during their arduous travel could have helped. After all, we celebrate Buddha and Muhammad’s birthday every single year using lunar year calendar. So why befuddle ourselves with Georgian calendar and carry on this historical travesty?

One other aspect regarding Christ’s race bothers me. He was a brown-eyed, dark-haired Jew. There is no ambiguity in this reality. But thanks to Charlemagne and the eventual patenting of Christianity by ‘whites’, Christ miraculously turned into a blonde supermodel with blue eyes, golden-hair and an awe-inspiring set of abs. Would he be any less of a prophet (or God or whatever it is we look up to him for) were he a brunette?

Even the nativity scenes replicated by us during yuletide exhibit critical geographical and climatic flaws. We depict snowfalls in them when we know that Bethlehem had as much chance of a snowfall as Mumbai does. And it doesn’t stop there. We have this infatuation with the so-called Xmas tree when it has hardly anything to do with Jesus and his neighborhood. Those trees became a part of Christmas folklore way late into the 15th century or so in Eastern Europe.

Recently, Pope got all worked up and reminded Christendom the importance of inculcating deeper religious values instead of celebratory ones. He was slyly attacking Santa Claus I guess. After all, kids (and adults alike) seem so thrilled to greet that obese character from Finland who is hell bent on promoting Coca-Cola even today after decades of slipping through charred chimneys. I adore his reindeers though. Since my childhood days, all I’ve ever requested him to do is gracefully hand me over his mode of transport. Naturally, I haven’t heard from him yet. Either he doesn’t exist or he loves his reindeers way too much.

Coming back to where I started, I can’t make a difference nor do I wish to when religion is involved. But we’ve got to understand that almost all faith-based ideologies are replete with myths, lies, tales and unsubstantial claims. Unless and until we don’t realize this, there will always be a wall of discontent and intolerance between folks belonging to different religion and sects.

In any case, what’s the harm in creating fancy stories and fake snowfall? As long as humankind is kind enough to be happy and not baying for each other’s blood, we should be celebrating whatever comes up on the calendar even if the date is grossly mistaken.

One more thing. I don’t mean to be a doomsdayist but if the Mayans were right, this could well had been our last Christmas ever!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Once upon a year in Hollywood

2011 saw a mixed bag of releases. We take a look at how a few of them fared at the box office....
SEQUEL DUDS AND WINS: Like every year, 2011 too saw numerous sequels flooding the theaters. Almost all of them had one thing in common – the hype. However, very few managed to deliver the box office numbers as well as impress critics. The ones who accomplished this feat were X-Men: First Class, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, Fast and Furious: Fast Five and Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows: Part 2. Those who found themselves left out in the cold were Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, Hangover II, Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn and Transformers: Dark of the Moon.

THRILLAAAAA: The thrillers had a field year! A clear majority who hit the theatre came out with flying colors. The list included The Adjustment Bureau, Source Code, Contagion, The Whistleblower and The Ides of March.

SPECIAL EFFECTS: There was a slew of forgettables like Happy Feet Two, The Smurfs 2 and Cars 2. But the ones that left a mark were The Adventures of Tintin, Kung Fu Panda 2, Rango, The Puss in Boots, Winnie the Pooh and The Muppets.

MEANINGFUL CINEMA’S CAMEO: Unlike last year when art took a backseat, this year witnessed a moderate resurgence. The Tree of Life took the cake along with the violent yet stoic Drive. The racial drama The Help was noteworthy. And it’s a shame Melancholia never released!

UNDERRATED vs OVERRATED: Immortals, The Rum Diary, Warrior and Machine Gun Preacher got less than what they deserved – both commercially as well as critically. On the other hand, Super 8, Thor and Crazy, Stupid, Love. somehow received much more than expected.

PS: For the record, this piece appeared on MiD-Day and is my second byline ever!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Annus Mortabilis of 2011

Folks die. There’s nothing fancy or novel about it. Living organisms have been dying since era immemorial. The luckier ones die only once. Even the dinosaurs perished so as to make sure Steven Spielberg become the most powerful Jew in cinema. But 2011 seemed a bit too crowded with dead famous people. And in this piece, I’m going to drop a few names who have already dropped dead. Some of them were not only close to my heart (mainly because they are no more now) but also occupied a lot of space in my head (mainly because it’s empty).

The year kicked off with Kobayashi’s death. Yeah, the one from The Usual Suspects. For the record, no other British bloke could have gotten away with a Japanese name and an Indian accent in a movie. Well, Pete Postlethwaite did. One of my all-time favorite actors.

A few days later, a personality I used to mock on Twitter for his staunch anti-India tweets got killed by his own security guard. Salmaan Taseer turned out to be a true martyr in a nation obsessed with religion. After all, not many voices are heard in support of Pakistani minorities. Bullets silenced him but the message was out. A month later, Shahbaz Bhatti, the only Christian cabinet member, was gunned down for his outspoken stand against blasphemy laws.

Meanwhile, a 26 year-old Tunisian street vendor named Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire. This event eventually exploded in the form of Arab Spring. Years of resentment against elite [read: corrupt] ruling governments expressed itself on the very street this young man immolated.

In India, Bharat Ratna Bhimsen Joshi passed away leaving behind a legacy of music and humility. He was 88 so one can’t employ the word ‘unfair’ as was the case in the aforementioned deaths. But I have a deep grudge against our media who were hell-bent on using a mugshot of his during a performance where he appears to be suffering from asthma or something. Kindly don’t tell me they couldn’t find a better snap. And the worst part is almost ALL newspapers carried the same photograph! Hmmph.

Another famous Indian who taught me the pleasure of reading decided to call it a life. I owe to Uncle Pai inasmuch as I do to every teacher I came across in my otherwise miserable life.

In the month of March when Mumbai was preparing to swelter, Knut drowned and killed himself in Germany. He was to polar bears what Paul was to octopus. With his departure, humankind learned an essential lesson – polar bears belong to polar regions, not zoos.

Actress Elizabeth Taylor, who managed to bag an Oscar while walking the aisle eight times, left us an impossible beauty and unfortunate marriages to ponder. Following suit, another exceptional personality from Hollywood, director Sidney Lumet bid farewell.

Coming back to Pakistan, Syed Saleem Shahzad went missing only to be found dead in a canal with apparent signs of ISI-marked torture on him. Maybe journalism pays way too high a price for courage. Similarly, MiD-Day’s crime editor Jyotirmoy Dey was bumped off in road daylight by Mumbai underworld.

As monsoon started approaching India, news about Ilyas Kashmiri’s probable death amid US drone attacks in Waziristan caught world attention. He wasn’t just another two-bit Islamist militant. In fact, he was in line to replace Osama bin Laden – who got mauled by U.S. commandoes *vacationing* just a few kilometers away from Pakistani military HQs – as the head of Al-Qaeda. Conclusion: Jihad works in mysterious ways.

Talking of death, Jack “Dr. Death” Kevorkian expired, leaving Kim Kardashian the most famous Armenian-American I’m aware of. He made euthanasia cool and even served prison for his beliefs. Those who don’t know him should watch the movie You Don’t Know Jack starring Al Pacino.

MF. Husain, a born Maharashtrian, went away twice. Once when he left India. Secondly, when he left Qatar. We lost a great painter thanks to our intolerance and lack of gumption. He lost an ancient country thanks to his reluctance to appease Hindus by painting Prophet.

In the month of July, Amy Winehouse became the latest member of the infamous 27 Club. I felt bad for her. She had a unique voice and makeup. All things sung and OD-ed, she deserved to live more. Maybe we don’t want the entertainers to leave us. They are the ones who fill our psyche with hope and color. Likewise, Shammi Kapoor’s exit widened this popular sentimentality. Watching him play that shehnai in Rockstar with those deep eyes a la Ustad Bismillah Khan was soothing, to say the least.

No matter how disparaging it may sound, no death list is complete without a mention of a Parsi. Painter Jehangir Sabavala filled the spot this year. Jagmohan Mundhra who made Nandita Das in Bawandar and Aishwarya Rai in Provoked look vulnerable packed up.

Death winked at Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi so the latter had no choice but to close his eye. Wangari Maathai who won a Nobel for her contributions towards environmental conservatism returned to soil. In related news, I admired her a lot. I still do.

With Steve Jobs joining the Dead Club much to digital world’s utter grief, things speeded up. A few days later, Dennis Ritchie who spearheaded C Programming (and compelled me to give up engineering) gave up the ghost! But compared to Jobs, he made a bigger contribution to technology by not patenting C.

Though being a teetotaler sucks but Jagjit Singh’s poignant songs never do. He shall be remembered as long as sorrow is in this world. In simpler word, forever. The same is true about Bhupen Hazarika.

On the other hand, people won’t miss Gaddafi much. Even the ones who named that Lahore stadium after him. The only rue I hold is against the way he was treated during his final moments. They could have at least had the wisdom to not record it on a video. Sadistic morons.

A young man aged 24, Marco Simoncelli, got killed doing something he loved – motobiking on the race course. Perhaps he was too young and fast to live. In the same vein, an entire ice hockey team vanished in the form of Lokomotiv Yaroslavl. Too cold. Too bad. Too many.

As the year neared its curtain, some former sportsperson quit. Joe Frazier was one of them. I haven’t seen him box but I’ve watched him break down in a documentary while talking about his once archrival Muhammad Ali. The kind of respect he showed immediately struck a chord. Yes, cancer is more than just a bitch.

Being a former cricket fan, I must admit I always enjoyed reading Peter Roebuck’s articles. An English county cricketer who later became an Australian newspaper columnist chose South Africa to commit suicide. If this is not intriguing enough, then the fact that his Facebook account was involved in this suicide is.

In the non-sports arena, India’s most wanted Maoist (a softer term for terrorist) Kishenji was killed by CRPF in West Bengal. No one complained as such except the Mao-loving Communist gang.

December arrived and carrying on. Bollywood is still reeling under the loss of its legend Dev Anand. For his credit, he was part of some of the finest cinema and much to his discredit, worst, too. I’ll remember him for unabashedly promoting smoking in the Har Fikr Ko Dhue Mein song. Cartoonist Mario Miranda, known for his honest caricatures of Goa (or the Goa that once was) sketched himself away a few days later.

Last week, one of my role models, Christopher Hitchens, gave into cancer. He didn’t believe in God but to most of his fans, he was THE God. One the very day, Gadzhimurat Kamalov became the 18th Russian journalist to be assassinated since 2000. This morning, the buzz about two totally contrasting personalities, Czech Republic’s first President Václav Havel and North Korea’s Kim Jong-il, departing, broke out.

As we speak and read, there are millions protesting against the authorities. A considerable nameless lot got killed in Tunisia, Syria, Yemen and other distressed regions on the planet. No wonder Time selected 'The Protester' as the person of the year.

We’ve got 12 more days to go for New Year's Eve. In the meantime, let’s see how many names squeeze in onto this list.

Friday, December 16, 2011

A melancholic cede to surrealism

Lars von Trier is the director of this movie. The reason why it’s specified at the very beginning is because of the kind of films he creates. Or perhaps, only he creates. Melancholia is one such piece of art. Having said that, it’s not for the everyday crowd. Those who are familiar with his work know this. Or perhaps, only they do.

Melancholia begins with graphic visuals that occupies considerable amount of time and mind. If one pays close attention, the entire storyline is depicted in these 3D sci-fi mélange. Almost every single act is a symbol layered in mystery that unravels itself as the screen moves forward. The real world cinema begins much later.

The drama basically revolves around Justine (Kirsten Dunst) who is getting married. The trouble is she’s hardly excited about it and is visibly losing her will to live. Later it turns out that she is not only depressed but also quite assertive of her delusions about the realities surrounding us. Anyway the marriage may not even last a night. Thankfully, her sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) plays stoic and cares for her. Likewise, her brother-in-law John (Kiefer Sutherland), though highly irritated with her incomprehensible behavior, chooses to stay hospitable.

Against this already disturbing background, the world is coming to an end.

A planet named Melancholia is about to crash with Earth. But unlike in most other movies, nobody does nothing about it – no one is saving no one! Everyone involved is just awaiting end in his or her unique ways. The purposelessness of life is effectively emphasized from the beginning till the credits roll.

All the lead actors did a remarkable job, especially Dunst who essayed a similar role in All Good Things. You almost get that uncomfortable taste on the tip of your tongue when she cries: "It tastes like ashes!" Charlotte Gainsbourg proved once again why she is von Trier's favourite.

Cinematography and the background score is the key here. As for some directors like Terrence Mallick, Jim Jarmusch and Lars von Trier, of course, an image carries more weightage than a dialogue. As expected, they are often accused of indulging too much, leaving the audience exasperated. But then we are not supposed to crib as they are the torchbearers, post-Bergman. No wonder one will always find restless long shots with shaking cameras and crisp optical illusions in movies like The Tree of Life and Melancholia. A lot.

This flick is worth every single minute of its 136 runtime but your patience shall be severely tested. Must watch for the cinephiles!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Help yourself with this one!

Calling The Help a ‘fair’ movie would be racist. At least in the 1960s of USA. More so in Mississippi where the movie is peculiarly set. But the notable part is it’s not only entertaining and educative but also inspiring and poignant at the same time. Adapted from a book titled the same, it deals with an era where the demarcation between the blacks and the whites in America was redoubtable. Mason-Dixon line was the norm. Despite all these not-so-modern day aberrations, one aspect was striking: almost all white kids in the town were nurtured by black maids.

Directed by Tate Taylor, who also happens to have written the screenplay, displayed intense sparks of genius in terms of storytelling. In this racial drama, Skeeter (Emma Stone) wishes to be a journalist-cum-writer. Running along this pursuit, she goes out of town only to return back and find her childhood maid Constantine (a powerful cameo by Cicely Tyson) sacked by her parents. This sets the tone for the movie. With the civil right movement gaining strength in the background, she decides to write a book so as to deliver the maids’ “side of stories”.

This is where Aibileen (Viola Davis) and Minny (Octavia Spencer) enter the picture. Both are maids with emotional hardship to match as well as courageous enough to do what other maids aren’t prepared for – share their experiences with Skeeter. The former works for a somewhat indecisive Elizabeth (Ahna O'Reilly) whereas the latter, for a rather rude Hilly (Bryce Dallas Howard). The book starts writing itself here onwards with Aibileen’s soothing voice in narration. But only two stories won’t do. Skeeter needs more maids to volunteer but who will rise against the white neighborhood’s imminent fear? Well, as the movie proceeds, many do. Willingly.

The Help touches the sentiment’s chord with a measured restrain. And that’s what works for it. It doesn’t try to vilify one group against another. No doubt it exposes the nexus of disdain among blacks for their apparent subjugation in the form of separate toilet and such. But then it also includes cheerful white characters Celia (Jessica Chastain) and Hilly’s liberal mother (played to perfection by Sissy Spacek). Furthermore, the movie strikes a right balance between comedy and tragedy.

Emma Stone has been the biggest surprise here. Her act does to this movie what Sandra Bullock’s did to ‘The Blind Side’. On the hindsight, 2011 hasn’t been very American for Hollywood due to the lack of race-related screenplays. The Help considerably fills that gap. It’s worth a watch.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Falling in snow with Bombay

No one seems to get enough of this city. Everybody who’s here remains confined under its unrecoverable spell. They may not completely like it but they won’t quit either. Not all of them may turn out as winners but they don’t mind keeping up with the joneses. Meanwhile, there is a strong sense of aberration that never goes unnoticed though... the ever-expanding crowd and the asphyxiating smells are prime examples.

And at the end of the day, Mumbai is sinking. Metamorphically, at least. The huge rubble of filth that we are helping accumulate on its surface, on land, into sea and in air, would hopefully do the deed. Someday.

Until then, we’ll survive. Anyhow. For this, we’re prepared to come along as dehumanized primates in bursting trains or honking lunatics while surrounded by an inordinate traffic. Also, we’ll litter, hock a loogie, cut queues and stage civil disobedience at individual level wherever and however possible. Despite all of this, we still manage to avoid the much-deserved self-loathing – creating a not-so-smug city full of smugger inhabitants – one day at a time.

Over the past many years, our excuse has been the cliché: chaltha hai toh chalne doh! After all, expecting anything different from us would have been a bit preposterous too given the undermining circumstances a majority of the city-dwellers survive in. There is an utter disregard for law and order, yes. But there is failing governance, rumpled administration and crumbling infrastructure to balance the blame beam. It’s a unique case of two clenched fists shaking hands to make ends meet.

So here’s what I think will put an end to this miserable crap. Snowfall. Yup. Mumbai requires snowfall more than anything else. This city burns throughout summer but then which Indian city doesn’t! The only difference is the excruciating humidity. Expectedly, rain happens every monsoon that leaves us asking for less. Soon afterwards, winter takes place. Now, winter is supposed to be cold but Mumbai has a rather warm winter so basically what we get is a raw deal from Weather God. We are supposed to shiver and enjoy the whims of supercool wind (as long as no one’s homeless) but that’s not part of the ongoing reality.

A regular snowfall might change the whole scenario.

  • First of all, it will keep more people off the street and in their school, home and office.
  • Secondly, as the roads would be layered with snow, the chances of littering and defecating on them shall drop axiomatically.
  • Thirdly, and most importantly, unchecked immigration may take a belated pause, if not complete shutdown.
  • Fourthly, India as a nation will wake up and realize that Mumbai alone can’t carry the economical burden of the entire country.
  • Fifthly, global warming will turn out to be just another myth inspired by Iraqi WMD.
  • Sixthly, politics might suffer as an eventual byproduct.
  • Seventhly, Kashmiri snow could end up facing inferiority complex.
  • Eightly, miracles will be back in business.
  • Ninthly, Mumbai may not sink, as I SO want it to.
  • Tenthly, I might score better (read: sensible) topics to write on.

I’m sure there are more than ten reasons/outcomes why we should be having snowfall in Mumbai but I don’t know what.