OverPunjification Of Pop Media Is Why My Kolaveri, Di!

A kitschy Tanglish song has caught everyone’s fancy today. Kolaveri di has practically no Tamil words except those (translated to ‘desire to murder’). Everything else is English words in that characteristic Southern accent. The song isn’t any funnier or catchier than dozens of such that Kollywood and their bretheren have been spewing out in the past few years. Remember ‘Columbus, Columbus, vittachu leave’ from Jeans? Or ‘Mustafa, Mustafa, don’t worry Mustafa‘ from Kadhal Desam? And the iconic dance-atop-bus led by Prabhu Deva to Urvasi, Urvasi, take it easy Urvasi. Why then is this song gaining meme status? Why this kolaveri, indeed?

Bollywood has been the absolute last word on Indian pop culture for the past few years at least, and woefully inadequate in providing catchy references. I don’t see any reason a movie like Dabangg achieved such cult status, other than that the audience was fed to teeth with uber-urban metrosexual stories & 3-hr commercials for star kids & their brand affiliations. A good ol’ masala potboiler with a liberal dose of ‘leave your brains at home’ had to get lapped up by the masses starved of entertainment.

Dhanush at a function in chennai

In parallel, I think there’s also been an over-Punjification of popular media. Before hitting me with a barrage of protests (and abe teri to, paneer tikkasand open letters), consider this. Punjab is just one state in a diverse country. Its language and cultural references, only a certain proportion of a heterogeneous billion. Personally, I am a little sick of references to Kapoors, Khannas and Singhanias who celebrate karva chauth, whoop Balle balle or Chak de and dance the bhangda at every festive occasion. Bollywood is admittedly run by Punjabi film-makers but I think they’ve been very narrow in their creation, considering they represent the voice of an entire nation in pop culture.

For me, Singham stood out simply because it was refreshing to hear ‘Aai shapath‘ and ‘Saatakle majha‘. Similarly Kolaveri di tickles my fancy simply because it has a guy whose name can’t possibly be Vicky Malhotra and who references something other than khanakte chudi, parandas, goris and mahis.

And here’s the song now for your listening pleasure:

Rockstar Or Ra.One?

Starved for a good story. Please, Rockstar, please, be a rockstar and don’t turn into Ra.One.

Ra.ONE Style

Adicrazy said,

Someone made a robot with all the latest technology and design, and decided that it should look like SRK? Not convincing enough. #Ra1

I replied,

Or they put him in a steel-grey body suit. Botox did the rest. #Ra1

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MOVIE-Bubble Gum: A Fun Movie To Chew On!

I’ve written a guest-review for WOGMA on the movie Bubble Gum. If you just scoffed, please do read my review. I thought so too, when I read the title and I was pleasantly surprised. The movie was the best thing about my day.

Read the review on WOGMA.

Shit, DK Bose & Delhi Belly: Are Surprises Good For The Stomach?

Over-promising and underwhelming describes much of Bollywood in the past couple of years for me. But I still hang on, regardless. There have been a few nuggets after all, the films that slipped in when you were watching out for the high rollers parade. And then there is the mystery man. The only time I remember feeling let down by him was Ghajini. But then, if the figures are to be believed, most of the country doesn’t share my opinion.

Delhi Belly is probably the next most awaited movie, what with nephew Imran Khan’s makeover from sweet-boy-next-door to hellraiser. I can’t tell if the controversial DK Bose song is just a publicity gimmick or not since the lyrics don’t make any sense to me (Papa mujhse bola, tu galti hain meri, sabun ki shakal mein, beta tu toh diklake woh jhag???). Just in case you’re the last person in the world to *not* have caught the drift, try saying the name of this song over and over again as they do in the video.

The gossip section of today’s newspaper reports that ‘a bitchy actress’ has leaked the news that a shit sample meant for the doctor gets interchanged with a box of diamonds in the movie. That made me gag for all the usual reasons including what seems like an obviously paid-for-PR attempt.

I just caught something rather unusual on the tube now. Aamir Khan walked into the middle of a blank white screen talking about the fact that his next project uses certain language (cue eyebrows raised, embarassed, shifty look). And I wondered if he was going to clarify that it wasn’t intended to offend or whether it was just referring to a certain Bengali name. Instead, the Khan proceeded to say that this film was not for children and *wait for it* people who…umm…are boring stick-in-the-muds! The three hellraisers in the video, including Imran Khan bounded into the frame, well…raising hell. The chaos ended with Aamir Khan telling them to shut the **** up.

‘SHIT HAPPENS’ flashes across the screen. Cut to a racy trailer of Delhi Belly. Gimmick or not, I am so looking forward to this movie.

Update: Suprateek tweets, correcting my impression of the lyrics, which he says are actually ‘Sabun ki shakal mein, tu toh nikla kewal jhag

MOVIE: I AM – Sensitive And Raw

I first heard of I AM from Harish Iyer (on whose life one of the stories is part-based). After that, I’ve watched this project grow from an idea into a social media venture into an honest-to-goodness film. One of (and it’s only one) I AM claims to fame is the fact that it is an entirely crowd-sourced film. The movie has over 500 producers from all over the world, people who caught the idea on their social fora/networks and decided to add their support to it.

(Please note this review has spoilers)

Another way I AM stands out is that it adds to the multiple story genre (only sporadically experimented with, by Bollywood with Dus Kahaniyan and Darna Mana Hain/Zaroori Hain). It’s not just comprised of four stories. These stories also have links to each other, no matter how tenuous in the vein of LSD (Love, Sex Aur Dhoka). The key characters in each story appear briefly in the other stories, as support characters. The format is an unusual one and itself bold, considering how the aforementioned films fared at the box office.

Which brings us to the question of whether the movie manages to retain any of that bold attitude when it comes to the subjects. That’s tricky to say, since there are after all four stories to be judged (each by a different director), not to mention a glittering star cast. Each of the four stories deals with a shift, even a crisis of identity through stories of child abuse, single motherhood, homosexuality and war refugees. As diverse as these situations may seem, they are held together by the human condition of dealing with love, loss, betrayal, death and rebirth.

The first story, I AM Afia features Nandita Das in the role of a recently deserted woman who decides to bring meaning back into her life on her own, through motherhood. While the acting was competent, I thought the story’s sensitivity came from the way the situation was laid out. Purab Kohli as the eager but awkward student donor was a refreshing surprise, being as one is used to seeing him in relatively superficial roles.

The second story, I AM Megha was what really caught my attention. After all, what’s a story about Kashmiri Pandits doing in a film about human relationship issues? To my pleasant surprise, it turned out to be the best story in the quartet. I was already impressed by Juhi Chawla’s second actress avatar in Teen Deewarein. I AM only cements my belief that a talented actress was wasted because she arrived in Bollywood about two decades too early for a role that showcased her talent. Juhi superbly brought out the tightly controlled angst, the suppressed anger of a war-displaced civilian as well as the awkward joy of an adult coming home to the place she knew as a child. Contrary to the style of her days in Bollywood, there were no histrionics, no OTT expressions or exclamations. All of this done with a tightened pair of lips and tearless, crying eyes. Manisha Koirala, (perhaps a little luckier with the roles she had a chance to essay in Bollywood) also held her own as the Muslim girl who stayed back in Kashmir even through the atrocities meted out to her family. This story underlined the idea that serious film-making need not be heavy or sluggish.

The third story, I AM Abhimanyu was the one that I really went to watch the movie for, based as it was partly on Harish’s life. I have to say I was rather disappointed. This time, it wasn’t the acting that fell short. Indeed Sanjay Suri as the tormented victim and Anurag Kashyap as his step-father portrayed their respective roles as best as could be expected. But I thought the story itself set out ambitiously, then got scared, tiptoed around the issue without ever facing it and withdrew rather ungracefully. The ending of the story was wrapped up a little too tidily, too quickly for it to seem real. Victims of child abuse struggle to face what has happened to them. Talking about it does not come easily, least of all to a parent on whom rests the expectation of protection. A death brings its own share of emotional upheaval, unwanted baggage and an entire layer of new, hard-to-deal-with feelings. Tying off that story with an emotional outburst in such a situation just seemed like a bad hat-tip to Bollywood at its worst. Possibly because of my high expectations riding on this one, I felt almost angry at the thought that I AM Abhimanyu seemed to parody rather than embody a very tangible, very horrific reality of families. In this one story, the actors saved the story from sinking into a seedy, dark mess. My most vivid memory is Sanjay Suri saying,

“He was looking for a widow. One with a small child.”

Maybe because of the emotional roller-coaster of the past three stories, I was worn out by the time we got to I AM Omar. In all fairness, I did not give it as much attention or patience as the other stories. I AM Omar must face the brunt of its placement at the very end of the movie which magnifies even the slightest of slips. Rahul Bose was probably the only one who could keep this story from bombing. My only real grouse with this story is that it was more about betrayal than gay rights. The narrative was more in the vein of a confidence trickster plot than a human interest story. Still, I guess the film-makers tried to depict something other than the standard familial opposition/ straight marriage/ childhood bullying aspects of homosexuality in India. Full marks for innovation then.

I saw the movie over two months before its release in the theater, courtesy their marketing team. At that time, I was told that some of the feedback could be used to make alterations. I haven’t seen the film in the theater after that so I don’t know if much has been changed. But I would think there wouldn’t be any modifications in major elements like plot and acting. One of the recommendations was to tone down the background music, since its volume and pace completely shattered the sensitivity and subtleness of the stories’ portrayal. I’ll hope that suggestion has been heeded since sound can really kill or create the right mood with the audience.

All in all, I’d say I AM is worth a watch, if only for how many restrictive norms it breaks. It’s hard to speak objectively about something that’s so close (based on a friend’s life), that at least tries to tackle issues most film-makers wouldn’t even talk about and does these by telling a genuine story instead of guilt-tripping the audience into watching because ‘it is about an important issue’. I’d say go watch it and judge for yourself.

I AM elsewhere on the social media: Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Wikipedia

Ideamarked Apr2011: Humour, Politics & Youtube

To make up for my brevity in the past two months, I’m back with a whole bouquet of links. I’ve been accused of too much seriousness so here’s me showing you my funny side (don’t blame me if it’s not to your taste, though!). I’ve been Youtube’ing and Wikipedia’ing a lot more – nothing like these two channels for pop culture. Take a look at some of the gems I unearthed:

  • A month-long writing exercise by Caferati called CaPoWriMo: Daily prompts, peer nudging and stringent deadlines to follow!
  • To Afridi, With Love” A Pakistani journalist welcomes their cricket team back after the World Cup 2011 performance, with a letter that touched hearts on both sides of the border. (via Maati.tv)
  • Why the knowledge of punctuation is really, really, really important!: “7 Unfortunately Named Websites” (via 10DailyThings)
  • Crime, cannibalism and New York – read on an empty stomach for your daily sick-up laugh. (via OverheardInNewYork)
  • Pun-pictures and whacky filmi quizzes with whackier prizes. (via TheQuark)
  • Big Brother’s watching you! Move over George Orwell, Google’s made your worst nightmare come true! (via Wulffmorgenthalter)
  • Everyone has an opinion, a fast or at least a signature on this. Here’s the Jan Lokpal bill 2.1 that everyone’s talking about. (via Scribd, link courtesy Supreeka)
  • What would it be like to have a rapper for a roommate? Thought Catalog gives you a ready primer about different rapper-types & their homing styles.
  • Conversations with the Kabras (especially the younger ones) are anything but boring. Here’s Navin and Meetu explaining Anna Hazare (and having the situation explained back to them with the kind of wisdom only human beings of a certain age can). (via Abu-Rabad)
  • The best comic books that you aren’t reading. (via Uread)
  • Sadhu beedi, nalla swadulu beedi” – old-school advertising for Sadhu beedi (via Youtube)
  • What would a desified Spiderman be like? No, not Pavitra Prabhakar but in asal Bollywood-ishtyle, complete with kitschy dance moves, here’s Spidey doing a Dharamendra dance (via Youtube)
  • Peggy-O, a haunting Simon & Garfunkle air with its own curious story was my first gift to Music Monday. (via Youtube).
  • Karishma Kapoor’s off-the-shoulder dress with understated make-up had me drooling! This is a not-so-subtle hint to anybody who feels like demonstrating their lurrve for me! ;-) (via HighHeelConfidential)
  • A new cultural collaborative called Social Mantra addresses social commentary to media & marketing to lifestyle. I’m one of its contributors. Do drop in!

Time Travel

Channel-surfing. Wait. Stop. Backtrack.

The Time-Traveler’s Wife is on, just started on one of those channels that comes and goes. Just like the protagonist in the movie. Hmm.

Odd flashes of nostalgia. The book was a birthday gift from my parents in 2007. Birthday gifts are special. Books are special. A good book on a birthday is well…you know. It was a Friday the thirteenth (just like the day I was born) which curiously enough, always bodes well for me. My birthday (just like my boyfriend and other friends) had been hijacked by another closely-birthday’ed person whom I loathed. I spent the weekend following, curled up with the book, the rain pelting down outside the window behind me. I’ve received books for every birthday of my adult life but I think this was the most memorable one.

Flash forward two and a half years. The movie came out without much fanfare, at least in India. I spotted it in an ad, by pure chance. The only show I could find was at 11:30 p.m. Normally, I’d probably have watched this particular movie by myself. But given the timing and the opportunity that it presented, I did something different and asked a guy I’d met recently, out. It was the first of what I thought of as pleasant conversations. And this is how that story turned out. Well, then.

Snap. The screen’s gone blank. The channel’s vanished on another of the cable-operator’s mysterious whims. And just like that, The Time-Traveler vanished.

Movie: Dhobi Ghat – Mumbai Musings

Movies are a big part of weekend planning. Realistically, what else is there to do in Mumbai? Let’s not go into the notions of what a ‘happening’ city this is. I’ve been active on the cultural circuit for the past year and a half and gone to everything I could find. Poetry slams, Open mics, music gigs, stand-up comedy, workshops, book readings, board game meets…to my utter disgust, all I found was the same frenzied networking, the same desperate need to be cool, the same petty politicking and hard-nosed business dealings, in place of any real interest in the event/field or depth of thought. I’ve struggled with this but had to conclude that Mumbai lets you make a living, not a life.

Dhobi Ghat, Kiran Rao’s directorial debut was this weekend’s big feature. It started on a less-than-pleasant note. Considering that movies are the only standard entertainment available and the skyrocketing multiplex prices, I tend to frequent the second-tier theatres that are still ‘safe’ for a woman to go to alone but cheaper. Moviestar Goregaon was my pick. We entered about ten minutes before the start of the show, when the lights were still on, which is probably why the filthy seats caught our notice. I don’t mean a broken armrest or an undone stitch on the upholstery. I mean filthy, godaloneknows what black, smelly, gunky-goo streaked across all the seats that we could find. The manager was apologetic enough but there were no cleaner seats available and so we had our tickets refunded. While on this, I must add that the theater is now under BIG cinemas which to me, means that service levels can only plummet. My past experiences show that Fame Adlabs, also part of the same group, offers rude staff, smelly (and bedbug-infested) seats and stale food for its high prices. I bid goodbye to another of my budget alternatives. The boy was most appalled at the fact that the other theatergoers streamed in, blindly (and deafly) made their way around us and arranged themselves comfortably in those same filthy seats, even as we pointed them out to the staff. Mumbai, you could redefine the laws of robotics.

We managed to finally catch the movie at 24 Karat, another theatre down the road and I was glad we’d persisted. After the kind of tortures that Bollywood has been visiting on our senses lately (Sheila Kejwani, anyone?), it was a real pleasure to not have to shield my eyes and ears.

A number of things stand out about the movie. Firstly, there isn’t one concrete plot. What there are, are a number of strong, well-etched characters and the little (and big) incidents that constitute their lives. Secondly, the absence of background music is noticeable. Most Bollywood films use music to cue the audience into the mood of the scene, sometimes excessively. Dhobi Ghat, in comparison, is understated, stark and disorienting because it doesn’t offer any such hints, preferring instead to let the audience figure it out for itself. It’s hard to tell whether you’re supposed to laugh at Zohaib’s poker-faced filmdom dreams or empathize with them. It’s tricky to deciding whether Shai’s pursuit of Arun (and parallel ignorance of Zohaib’s attention) is pathetic or natural. You’re not sure whether to dislike Arun or admire him. And thus we respond to the characters just the way we would to people in real life. With confusion, with warmth, with respect and then derision, with conflicting emotions.

It seems counter-intuitive but its not, that when the viewer is given so much to think about, even deeper levels make themselves visible. I liked how Dhobi Ghat effectively portrays that Mumbaikers blur the social order but don’t quite erase it. Economic classes, gender barriers, cultural divides are bridged and broken in mysterious ways. Most of us flit in and out of the periphery with a comfort that sometimes baffles outsiders. Interactions happen in that twilight zone as so relationships – odd, indefinable and yet deeply intimate ones like those of fellow train-passengers, bais & dhobis & house madams and people who occupy the same flat at different times.

Prateek Babbar (underutilized in Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na) steals the show with a poker face arranged around brooding-animated-wry-resigned-intense-pragmatic eyes. A hundred emotions flit across his face in a single look over a brun maska. And most impressively, his very silhouette seems to evolve over the course of the movie, starting with an awkward, blurred  look to a more resolute, defined profile at the end of the movie. I don’t know if that’s good acting or good cinematography; I’m willing to bet on both.

Kriti Malhotra comes in second in terms of her performance as the anonymous face in a series of video-letters. She’s spontaneous, realistic and her voice washes over you with as much familiarity as the neighbor’s.

I was the least impressed with Monica Dogra. Considering the footage she has in the movie, (the promos say it’s four people’s stories but she seems to be around the most), she doesn’t stand out much, except as a moderately pretty face. Interestingly, her act is what made me think that Dhobi Ghat may have made a good movie but it would be a great book. The characters are wonderfully created and the script is taut. Beyond that, it falls to the people who don the roles to bring them to life and I’m afraid Monica as Shai, just didn’t do it for me.

As always, I checked what Meetu had to say before watching the movie. This time, I don’t quite agree with her, when she says that the movie could have very well been set in New York or London or even Pune. Dhobi Ghat doesn’t just pay lip service to standard Mumbai iconography like trains and movies. It snaps up an accurate slice of Mumbai life, from its crowded chaos jostling with glitzy glamour to the near schizophrenic behavior that these contrasts seem to bring out in the city’s occupants.

I started this post talking about the robotic behaviour of Mumbaikers but I also speak for the tangible, prideful emotion that we carry collectively. A city is no more than a group of human beings, after all. And I’d like to think that the unique situations that this group finds itself in, day in and day out, makes us uniquely who we are. Dhobi Ghat seems to agree.

If you love Mumbai, this is definitely for you. If you’re appalled by it and there’s still room for an explanation, maybe this movie will give you one.

Movie: Turning Thirty

I saw the movie yesterday, five days after it was released and at the unlikely time of 3:30 p.m. It felt sort of appropriate considering that the movie seemed to showcase the absolute freedom of the urban Indian woman.

The movie was strictly okay. The songs made me cringe, especially the one just following the opening scene with its done-over-to-the-point-of-nausea ‘couple in a convertible’ picturisation. It also felt a little too Sex and the City in a desi setting. And yet, I didn’t walk out of the theatre. I guess, it’s not the kind of movie I’d take someone on a date to, not one that I’d want to watch with my parents and not one I’d arrange a weekend plan around. But it is the kind of movie that I wouldn’t mind catching on an unexpected free weekday afternoon, by myself just like I did.

I don’t think the problem was the story itself, even if I did overhear a guy tell another, “It should have had a board saying Only For High Profile Women”. That just strikes me as typical Indian male horse-blinkeredness. We do drink and cuss. We are ambitious, ruthless, confused and non-comittal. And yes, casual sex, sex-without-feelings, revenge sex, premarital sex, illicit sex, gay sex…all of these things and more are a realistic part of our lives. Maybe this describes only one kind of Indian woman but that kind definitely exists, and not just in the high society pages.

But I thought the dialogues and the acting left much to be desired. It wasn’t like anybody was wooden. But the theme was fairly complex and new in the purview of Indian cinema. None of the actors really seemed convincing. They just looked…awkward. Except for Tilottama Shome (remember Alice from Monsoon Wedding?) who I thought carried every moment of even her very limited footage with ease.

Something struck me only towards the end and I don’t know if the makers even intended this. Naina, the protagonist faces the standard issues that one would expect from this movie – break-up, heartbreak, parental pressure to get married, societal perceptions towards ageing. But the one subtle issue that underlies the story and the only one that really satisfactorily reaches resolution, both in the situation and in her mind, is her career.

It got me thinking. The world has always struggled with integrating women and ambition. The generation before ours had jobs and within overwhelming barriers like lower pay, stereotyped roles and automatic prioritizing of family over career. My generation has careers but still within standard norms of what will impress the marriage market, what will be conducive to the partner’s own career and eventually, motherhood. Even today, it’s hard for us to admit that we worry about our jobs, employability and career path as much as, if not more than the way our relationships are going.

The boy often points out how hard and cynical I am about many things about my past. It stands out that he seems a tad more understanding about my bitterness over failed relationships than he does about my dashed hopes at the workplace. But maybe that’s not the typical male dismissal of my ambition, as I’d like to think. It is possible, just a wee bit at least, that I’m more bothered by the lows of my career than my love life.

This is not to say that I’ve loved any less or that my relationships mattered less to me than my career. But when I look back, I’ve more or less made my peace with the relationship failures, even the ones that were disasters. I’ve been able to do so by finally accepting that people, emotions and relationships are uncontrollable and that there’s no logic or rules or framework to follow. They happen and if they happen well, I count myself as lucky.

Career on the other hand, seems a lot more logical and structured, which means my expectations are nearly higher. Pettiness, politicking, theft, sabotage are each more difficult to forgive (and impossible to forget) when it comes to my workplace. And whether this is actually true or not, my expectations are still that I’d be able to right such wrongs or seek justice in some manner, when it pertains to work-related issues.

The same obviously doesn’t hold for relationships. Leading someone on, cheating, stealing another woman’s boyfriend and lying are not crimes punishable by law. And hence, my only hope for resolution is to accept and move on.

I’m heartened to note that popular culture (even it if is a somewhat offbeat movie like this one) portraying such issues. Pop culture does reflect how we are, how we think and how we behave, after all.

My favorite words in the movie were in the very last scene.

“Turning thirty is something I learnt to accept and appreciate only after I turned thirty-one.”

That means a helluva lot more than I can say. I’m tiptoeing towards the end of my 31 and I’m still learning to articulate what the big three-O has brought into my life.

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