I’m Not A Real (Something Something)…

Do you know the number of times this sentence trips us up?

I was watching ‘Julie and Julia’ last night. It reminds me of the beginnings of Write Click. And it takes me back to why I do what I do, how much I love it and why I’m so blessed, privileged to have stumbled upon something that makes me feel that way.

This scene, like so many other resonates with me. I don’t know if other beginning bloggers feel this way. And if you do, let me say, I’ve been blogging for 9 years now and I still feel this way. We cripple our own flights of fancy, injure our fantasies and maim our desires with that sentence that starts with ‘I’m not a real (something something)..’.

I was lucky, so lucky, that I chanced upon blogs when blogging wasn’t a ‘thing’, when nobody was talking about it and feeding me their impressions of what it should or should not be, imposing their quality expectations on me. Blogging happened to me the way love happens – unexpectedly, suddenly and forcefully. And just like love, I don’t know how I lived without it before. Well, that’s probably more writing than blogging. But blogging took me down that adventure which led to the treasure chest of a love of writing. I am glad I had the opportunity to discover something without ‘I’m not a real (something something)’ standing in my way.

Then there are fulfilled dreams that get in the way of new dreams. Steve Jobs in his famous Stanford graduation address said,

“The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything.”

Every now and then I wonder if the chance that I took in the last 4 years has been a stupid one. Then, when I hear or read the above sentence, it makes me remember why I took it – I wanted an adventure. And I got one. The lightness of starting again gave me wings.

BATRetreat-63

BATRetreat-63 (Photo credit: MammaLoves)

And finally, there’s thwarted expectations. The movie Julie & Julia, is based on two real stories – the better known life of Julia Child, chef & cookbook writer and the lesser known Julie Powell. Julie Powell is a real person with an ordinary life and regular wishes. She wrote a blog, it turned into a book (how ironic that the movie starts with her lamenting about her not being a ‘real writer’ because no one wants to publish her), which turned into the movie. Along the way, the real Julia Child was asked to comment and her indifferent response disheartened Julie Powell (at least in the movie).

I find getting started on a new pursuit relatively easy but when people whose opinions matter, seem less than moved, where does that leave me? Passion but also validation and appreciation fuel my drive. I guess that’s when it’s time to remember another line from the movie.

“The Julia Child in your head is perfect.
The Julia Child who doesn’t understand what you’re doing, is not perfect.”

I guess what I’m trying to say is, ‘something something’ and everything else is just that. You are as real as your dreams.

Let’s Not Go Bollywood On Jiah Khan

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Image via BollywoodHungama

Last week Jiah Khan, a Bollywood starlet made headlines and front page news when she was found hanging in her apartment. The story continues to expound and unravel like a meticulously formulaic film, complete with villains and half-baked plot turns. The most current news is that her boyfriend has been arrested and held responsible for her death. This is based on a number of letters and his own admission of having beaten her months ago.

There is a lot of talk right now about why women put up with domestic violence. The whole story is skewing in the direction of a poor, hapless victim, preyed on by an evil force and battered to death. But that is not the truth. The evidence clearly points to suicide, not murder. Can we take a minute and think about this first? I want to think about something I’m not hearing or reading enough about.

A relationship is not a fairytale with a surefire recipe for love, happiness and eternal bliss. It’s a complex, shifting set of personal equations. It also includes secondary associations. In a society like India, other people play a great, sometimes larger role in a relationship than the two people itself. Just look around at the number of marriages that struggle under the weight of disapproving/hostile/uncooperative in-laws. Take a look at the number of engagements and romantic relationships that don’t even make it as far as marriage as a result of parental interference.

Moreover, even if it were possible to isolate the relationship from the impact of everyone other than the two people it is between, it’s impossible to predict a success formula. Between any two people, there’s bound to be friction and discord. All human relationships are rooted in power plays and that these aren’t necessarily good or bad; they just are. Power plays involve using all the tactics at your disposal. These include an ability to convince/coerce, strength (physical and emotional), force of personality, passive-aggression, emotional blackmail and manipulation of other people. We all do it. Every relationship is a combination of chess, war and a dance that uses all of these things, both ways.

I find most dialogue about domestic violence and abuse perfunctory because it paints one party too starkly as a perperator (villain) and the other as a hapless victim. Admittedly there are relationships where one party (usually the woman) is bound, gagged and forced to do & be what the other wants. But I don’t think that constitutes the majority of such cases.

I know of a case where a couple’s fight escalated into a violent scuffle. The woman ended up more bruised because of her relative size. But she started it and kept at it, until the guy retaliated. It’s a murky, grey area about whether the guy’s actions constitute self-defense. But they do, don’t they? Just because you’re being attacked by someone smaller, does not diminish your instinct to protect yourself.

There’s another case, a marriage between two professionals, both equally qualified. The wife’s career trajectory soared faster and higher than the husband’s. Her family, high on the success of their overachiever daughter, often subjugated her husband publicly. His career suffered and so did his mental health. Three years later, they divorced. There are scars on her back that bear testimony to domestic battery. But he hasn’t been able to go back to work or resume a normal life since then, which I think indicate a different kind, perhaps less visible scarring. This had to have been a difficult pairing at best and it was shot to hell by overzealous and insensitive families.

Both cases above came down with a social gavel on the men based on the scars on the women’s bodies. Judgement was served but I don’t think justice was. I’m not saying that a violent crime within a relationship is the victim’s fault. Fault is different from responsibility. I’m saying it’s more complex than that.

A lot of such regrettable episodes stem from power plays gone awry in the heat of the moment. They are indicative of breaches that need to either be healed or made permanent with a breaking of the relationship. And I think any justice being served in a similarly heat-of-moment fashion is slapdash and irresponsible. Human relationships do not have a clear villain and a helpless victim. There really is more to a story than that.

To come back to Jiah Khan’s case, I think it is unfortunate for anybody to feel that they have no recourse but suicide. But the choice to hang oneself or not, is still a choice in one’s own hands. Everyone who takes on a goal and pursues it faces rejection, failure and pain at some point of time. Everyone who falls in love, endures these as well. Some people go through these at the same time. Not everyone decides to commit suicide.

What kind of a world was it for Jiah Khan that she felt that way? One where all the options available to her had been exhausted or shut down. She could have reached out for help, if she found it available. She could have run away from the situation (left town, quit Bollywood, changed her name or identity). She could have fought back (and dirty) if she believed it possible. If an admittedly young but still adult over 20 felt unable to do any of these, was she emotionally stable?

Her boyfriend Sooraj Panscholi admits to have beaten her. Why did she feel like ending her life would be easier than ending the relationship? What can one person possibly tell another that keeps them chained to them in this manner? No, that’s the job for a much larger universe. A possible abortion and perhaps getting dumped after that are definitely nerve-wracking experiences. But still, to feel so lonely and unloved after that to prefer death indicates a much deeper neglect.

Doesn’t her claimed support system bear any responsibility? Doting families that come forward at such a time, should they not be asked, why did your daughter feel unable to seek your help when she was in a difficult place? Maybe she did not listen. People certainly stay in bad situations, deaf to their well-wishers. But in the absolutely finality of death, there is room for every idea, any notion that could serve as a guiding light out. If she did not take it, perhaps she never had one at all?

Separately, I think the issue of domestic violence should be addressed because it is a violation, a crime, a wrongdoing. You can blame a relationship rotting on abuse. And you can pin murder on someone who has actively poisoned, slit a throat or in any other way forcibly ended the life of another human being. But how can you pin the blame of a person’s choice to take their own life on another person?

A suicide is the death of one person and the burdensome responsibility of many, many others. Let’s please stop expecting a Bollywood story out of it. It does a grave disservice to her life and to everyone else getting pulled up for it.

Bombay Talkies: 100 Years Well Worth Celebrating & Watching

If you’re a cricket-agnostic in India, then IPL season is slow torture. Every television in the world is hogged by cricket fanatics. Restaurants, malls, even shops are playing matches and everybody’s looking over your head to catch the score. Even the bloody internet bandwidth is clogged by those in office, desperate to know Sachin’s stats. And if you do manage to get online, Twitter is waiting for you, hashtags bared. A movie would be a nice place to lose oneself from this mania but the multiplexes and theatres all throw up their collective hands and screen the bottom-of-barrel movies only. I guess somebody up there took pity on the minority that is me and tossed me a tasty titbit in the form of Bombay Talkies.

Released as a centennial tribute to the 100 years of cinema, Bombay Talkies is Bombay_Talkies_2013_Filma collection of four short films, one each by a prominent Bollywood director. The shorts-format has always intrigued me and I wonder why Bollywood doesn’t do more of these. The only short film collections I’ve seen Bollywood release into mainstream are Darna Mana Hain, Darna Zaroori Hain and Dus Kahaniyan. Considering the burgeoning costs and risks in making a film, might it not be a better idea businesswise and creatively speaking, to spread that across multiple smaller buckets? I do hope the powers-that-be are considering this and that the brilliance of Bombay Talkies paves the way for more.

The first story, directed by Karan Johar, brings the expected star value by way of Rani Mukherjee and Randeep Hooda. This film is really more about gay angst than about cinema. It’s not too bad, all things considered. Unfortunately, as part of a bouquet that has the other offerings, this one is the weakest, both in terms of interpretation of the theme and the story delivery. Randeep Hooda is his versatile self but Rani (doing a Vidya Balan a la The Dirty Picture, if Silk were an affluent South Bombayite) come through the way HD made the raving beauties of the last decade look – plastic and grotesque. The one and only sweet note in this film – and it’s a beauty at that – is the street urchin’s rendition of Ajeeb daastan hain yeh. The child’s voice brings all the mood and has that component of art that reaches out from its canvas/celluloid/paper and wrings the audience’s heart.

Story two, by Dibakar Banerjee, takes us through the mundane day of a chawl-dweller and the one special event of his day. Nawazuddin Siddiqui is nothing short of superlative in his depiction of a nondescript everyday man turned magician, full of wonder and glory and big dreams, if only in his own mind. This one showed real class in such subtleties as Purandhar’s monologue with his alter ego and a surreal emu walking around in disparate scenes.

Post interval, the film didn’t disappoint either. The next story, by Zoya Akhtar dips into the LGBT bucket again, but this time with finer strokes and the rawer talent of a child. A little boy dreams of shiny baubles and dancing, instead of football and cricket. Mostly alone in a world of ambitious and gender-role rigid parents, he takes comfort and inspiration from Katrina Kaif. The climax of this film made me want to stand up and clap and just keep on clapping. Naman Jain shows talent beyond his years as he manages to depict a cross-dressing child without parody. He makes you want to laugh with him, rush to protect him from judgements that will destroy his innocence and applaud him for the star he is. This was my favorite film in the entire movie.

The last story is by Anurag Kashyap and to my surprise, not dark or gritty. It’s a fairly standard story of the God-level idolization of filmstars across India. A young man comes to Mumbai with just one burning purpose – to meet Amitabh Bachchan and ask him to bite into his mother’s homemade murabba so his ailing father can eat the other half, having felt like he shared a meal with the superstar. But the story carries you through Vijay (Vineet Kumar Singh)’s adventures and right through the twist in the end. Maybe I’d have enjoyed this film more if it had been number two or three. Placed last, it felt slightly predictable, probably because the two preceding it were so unexpected and diverse. At the start, I also had a The Terminal flashback with Tom Hanks soldiering on to get an autograph of his father’s favorite jazz player. Still, this was a very good film with the unmistakably Kashyap style of extreme highs and lows.

The movie ends with a song that fails to impress in any way. The medley through the years has been done so often in Bollywood recently, you already know how the music and even the backup dancers hips will swing. And it closes in a tacky family-photograph style ensemble of all the current actors. I was glad to walk out by this time.

In all, I’d have thought this would be a ‘festival’ kind of film, meant only for niche audiences that lived and breathed the technical language of cinema. What I found instead was a damn fine movie, that even I, a regular member of the audience, could relate to and enjoy.

Electric Girl

For best results, paste on electric box. This month’s blockbuster promises to be quite electrifying:

Current maare goriya

Current Maare Goriya

Ideamarked Mar2013: The Language & Poetry of Everyday Life

I’ve been zealous through March and done a lot of reading, listening and viewing. Earlier in the year (yes, a quarter has gone by and it’s fine to say that now!) I initiated a social media clean-up across my feed-reader, twitter following, pinboards and Quora following. I was looking for great content rather than multiple connections to the same people. This may be what has caused this outpouring of great reads, viewing & listening. I’m considering making this a weekly feature from the month of April. Also, The Idea-smithy’s Facebook Page is a community and not just one person’s broadcast. I’ll be happy to take on suggestions for posts and even guest posts. Let me know what you think of all this in the comments. Here’s what glorious March was like:

The one time I’m willing to say that…

If Bollywood made ‘The Avengers’

I caught the movie that’s been big on comicbook fans’s minds for over two years now and that everyone on my timeline is talking about – The Avengers. I’m a borderline viewer, which is to say that I enjoy the comics medium and know a bit about the characters, but I’m not a fangirl. This means I get to enjoy a good summer blockbuster movie but I’m not so tied in to it that I can’t let my mind stray.

During the fight sequences (admittedly awesome, especially at the Imax former dome theatre), here’s what ran through my head. The Hulk was SMASSSSHING his fists on the ground before launching into his attack and I murmured,

Yeh dhaai kilo ka haath!

That launched me off into a curious daydream of a Bollywood Avengers movie, which kept me sufficiently occupied during the more extended action sequences. The Hindi dubbed version of The Avengers is called ‘Vinashak‘, which translates to The Destroyers, not the Avengers. I’m yet to think up a good name for the film since ‘Badlewaale‘ doesn’t pack the same punch as Avengers. More on that later.

What’s the cast to be?

The Hulk/ Bruce Banner

With the 2.5kilo reference, the big, green ‘other guy’ Hulk cannot be anybody but Sunny Deol. Sunny paaji also has an equally sunny smile but it’s also accompanied by a raw, earthy force. I rather liked Mark Ruffalo in this role, even over Edward Norton because he essays the mild, affable, slightly hesitant character of Bruce Banner much better. Norton, in comparison looks too collected and in control, a look that suited Fight Club but not the ‘I’m a wreck inside’ alter ego of The Hulk. To come back to Bollywood, Bruce Batten needs a subtler, milder look so how about the more polished, ‘civilised’ member of the same family? He even looks a little like Mark Ruffalo. I’m thinking Abhay Deol in his wry, slightly sardonic avatar as the mild-mannered scientist turning into a roaring Sunny Deol (remember Gadar?) when he’s angry and well, green. Hee, that ought to satisfy the intellectuals and the salt-of-the-earth alike!

Iron Man/ Tony Stark

Genius, billionaire, philanthropic playboy. Read flashy, irreverent, flirtatious showman? That can’t be anybody but Salman Khan. Nuff’ said. Well, he might have something to say about the metallic armour that covers up the torso. For a desi version, he could have the electromagnet embedded in his bare chest and flashing cool lights. (If this were the 80s, that electromagnet would be in the shape of an ‘Om’ or perhaps ‘Ma’).

Thor

This Viking demigod wasn’t too hard to place either. Maybe it’s because I’m a fan of the mythology that inspired the character and the comic/film version doesn’t seem to do justice. But I’m convinced that Thor is the token pretty boy of this group, the oldest but curiously enough the winner of ‘Most Likely To Go Metrosexual’ award. Golden flowing locks, not too quick on the uptake (especiall with Batten & Stark around)…give it up for Hrithik Roshan!

Now, let me explain. Like any female Indian who was at a hormonal stage when Kaho Na Pyaar Hain was released, I greatly enjoyed the Golden God on the silver screen. But Agneepath put that to paid when I found every man in the movie laughing at being beaten up, except the hero who took the opportunity to bawl. These muscles are for flexing, not wielding and the God is for show only. Besides, he’s the only one who can carry off that bare-chested/skirted warrior suit.

Nick Fury

This gets tricky since according to my informed sources, this character was drawn keeping in mind Samuel L. Jackson (who plays him in the movie). How do you compete with THAT? The clichedness of it pains me but it’s time to call in the senior Bachchan.

I am rather tired of seeing him play the ‘I’m older but kicking more ass than you’ role but who else? Irrfan Khan? Nah, that’s a good actor but not one who owns the screen the way Jackson does. This role needs the kind of screen charisma that doesn’t rely on good looks or acting talent. I’m drawing a blank. If you think of an alternative to Amitabh Bachchan, say it in the comments.

Black Widow/ Natasha Romanoff

This one had me stumped for awhile. It’s appalling how cookie cutter, the current crop of Bollywood actresses are. No Kareena or Katrina for me. Rani has the sensuality but not the menace of Black Widow. Deepika Padukone has the perfect body type but her face conveys no more emotion (never mind menace or guile) than the Iron Man costume. Anushka Sharma was a contender. My only problem is that she seems too sunny, too chirpy to essay a dark character like Black Widow. If she were one of Charlie’s Angels, she’d be Drew Barrymore whereas we’re looking for Lucy Liu. I don’t think Scarlette Johansson is a very good actress but she has just the right look for Black Widow. The body is right on of course but the face really nails it. When she looks at you (or into the camera), you get the feeling you don’t know all there is to know and that you should be uneasy around her. Who then, can essay that?

The boy thought Mahi Gill would be a good choice. But personally I think she’s too earthy, too ‘heavy’ (not in a body mass way but in a body language way). This Black Widow needs a certain lightness of the sort that makes words like ‘lithe’ and ‘sinous’ make sense.

Much thought & discussion flowed before the image of another very beautiful and slit-eyed lady popped into my head. Remember the striking Chitrangada Singh (from Hazaaron Khwaishen Aisi)? Perfect.

Captain America/ Steve Rogers

Capt. America is a squeaky clean, whitewashed character. Who is the squeakiest clean man in Bollywood (umm, to the point of boring? Imran Khan. But a superhero? Noooo. His uncle wasn’t bad at all balancing chocolate boy looks with tough machismo. So Aamir Khan it is.

Hawkeye/ Clint Barton

This one didn’t have a major role in the film but since he is an important character (and because I could think of someone who fit), he’s on this list. A sleek, lithe guy who starts off loyal, goes over to the dark side and then switches back again? It’s all in the eyes and that’s for Bollywood’s master brooder, Ajay Devgan.

Agent Phil Coulson

That covers the superheros, leaving just one notable good guy who was also responsible for some comic relief (in a wry way). I think Irrfan Khan wouldn’t be wasted on the role of Agent Phil Coulson.

Loki

Who’s left? Just a manic, boyish, seedy villian who is also a Viking demigod-gone-wrong. Loki, like all villians is an interesting character, both in folklore and the movie. I’d really like to see Ranbir Kapoor in this role. He’s got the looks (chocolate boy-turned-menacing), the talent and the body structure to carry it off.

* Images via Wikipedia, Funrocker & Entertainment Wallpaper

If you liked this post, drop me a comment telling me which other pop culture reference you’d like ‘Bollywoodized’. And do read this post about iconic Bollywood characters blogging.

Urban Angst

Don’t you hate it when you tune into a channel you never watch and the last ten minutes of a movie you love are on?

Juno on Sony Pix right now. Gaaaah!

Film poster for Juno - Copyright 2007, Fox Sea...

Film poster for Juno - Copyright 2007, Fox Searchlight Pictures (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Bollywood Formula

Bollywood has been formulaic for more than a decade now. X number of songs, one superstar, rumours of a romantic linkup between co-stars, controversy…all of these have enjoyed the honour of prime ingredient. I think I’ve hit on the current favorite:

Indian actor Shah Rukh Khan, arrival for press...

Indian actor Shah Rukh Khan, arrival for press conference of "Om Shanti Om" at the Hyatt Hotel, Potsdamer Platz, Berlin (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ageing actor + Badly behaved Khan = SUCCESS!

It worked well for Salmonella Can as it has in recent times for another Khan with a penchant for megalomaniac descriptions (King Khan! Don! Badshah!)

Indian actor Salman Khan

Indian actor Salman Khan (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If my Twitter timeline is anything to go by, it seems to be working well for Agent Vinod. For a safety measure, there’s also the star kid ingredient (in double) that’s been the base of every formulaic Bollywood film since the 90s.

Even if high visibility doesn’t translate to high sales (in most other sectors), in Bollywood it means a big Friday night rush at the box office. I’m told that can recover a massive chunk of the film’s costs and all else is bonus.

There’s something off-putting about this formula, for me at least. Agent Vinod was not high on my list of movies-to-watch. With this last incident, it’s just gone into never-will-watch, along with every single SRK movie after the Kunder-slapping episode. Then again, I’m probably not the target audience for these ‘marketing tactics’ and hence the products they’re selling. But since I am the target audience for the fluffy romances, the metrosexual froth and NRI movies that at least 2 of the Khans specialize in, aren’t they losing out a sizable captive audience in the long run?

But I suppose Bollywood only thinks as far as the next Friday.

Indian actor Saif Ali Khan at the 2011 Cannes ...

Indian actor Saif Ali Khan at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The BarCamp Mumbai 8 Round-Up

I spent yesterday at Barcamp Mumbai 8. This has been my first unconference in nearly 2 years. My last Barcamp was over 4years ago, overrun by techie discussions and only drew me because it had a teensy segment for bloggers. BlogCamp evolved as an offshoot of that.

Yesterday was a pleasant return. For one, the event that usually struggles on time, breezed through the multiple sessions, speakers and classrooms easily. There were 4 classrooms in the ultra-posh Mukesh Patel ….. The wiki was flowing with colourful post-its even at 10:15 a.m., which is when I got there. And most delightfully, the subjects spanned a diverse range of intellectual tools, hobbies & interests & scientific applications in fun real life ways. One had to be truly ruthless to pick sessions to attend since there were so many good ones, several happening simultaneously.

Off the top of my head, these are the ones I attended:

Interesting titbits from the day:

I entered Rehab’s session late, having misread the wiki schedule. It was interesting and fun, though occasionally highjacked by someone who claimed that genocide made him happy. Quick tip – if you’re demonstrating or talking without a powerpoint, avoid the big conference room. The larger crowd is harder to maintain & engage. Rehab did a great job though and showed off a mind technique that will help anyone from an artist to an executive stuck in a business dilemma.

Harrish is always entertaining and touching in equal parts. His first talk was about the film AMEN being denied a certificate by the censor board and he did a superb job of bringing out the inconsistencies in their policies. His second talk though, was the one that really had people talking. He was speaking of how gay people are treated in India, when partway through, he was interrupted by a very fervent member of the audience who insisted that,

“According to Hinduism, you can only have sex with your wife, inside a closed room. Only after marriage and only for procreation, not for fun.”

The uproar that followed had to be taken out into the corridor to make way for the next speaker. The episode illustrated one of the reasons that unconferences are a great way to seed ideas, bring out thoughts and get people talking, sometimes about controversial and difficult topics.

My session on ‘Social Content’ happened on the fly. It’s been years since I spoke completely extempore, as I did yesterday and it was a great experience. I was actually hoping to create interest for my upcoming series of blogging workshops, beginning with ‘Unboggle The Blog‘. But instead, I found myself naturally touching on several related but disjointed thoughts about this space. My 20 minute, stream-of-consciousness ramble imitated the way we consume and add to social content, on our Facebook Walls, our Twitter timelines and all out other channels of social media. I touched on the artificiality of traditional media, social media as an extension of normal, human behaviour, how trolls are mirror daily social miscreants experimenting in their own ways and that we’re all creators & consumers of social content. Here’s the talk:

I missed the #TWSS talk by Aditya Sengupta since the room was so packed that even the door couldn’t be opened. From what I hear, it was a tongue-in-geek demonstration of an algorithm used to generate and viral #TWSS (That’s what she said). But the geek in me found a corner in Anubha Bhat’s talk on diagnosing bipolar disorders using algorithms.

I’m not going to dwell on how great it was to catch up with old friends again, since that’s a given in any gathering. Yesterday was more than just friends catching up and people networking. It really was a meeting of minds, a true sharing of ideas. A big thank you to the Barcamp team for pulling off such a great day!

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