Tuesday, December 21, 2004
Just when I thought I could sample something on the cable channels in Pune. I have already given up on TV and cable in the US and restrict myself to planned uninterrupted movie sessions (no ads, no pan-and-scan). The state of the cable channels in Pune (point of reference: the cable channels my cablewaalaa offers) didn't fill me with any desire to kill the habit. The only things that I have managed to catch consistently are glimpses of B-movies (seen and unseen) and feeds from the different news channels (a good way to pass time is to catch errors in grammar and stylish gaffes in enunciation on the Hindi and English news channels). And I propose the addition of the phrase "Amitabh Bachchan" as a synonym for "commercial break". Every second commercial has him popping up spouting some catch phrases or breaking out into one of his classic poses. And all the "exclusive premieres" feature movies that have already received their share of viewing in the comfort of the living room abroad (Main Hoon Na, Kal Ho Naa Ho, Ab Tak Chhappan). Despite all the disappointment, there were a few silver streaks:
* Sajan starring Manoj Kumar and the irritating Asha Parekh with a slim-and-trim Shatrughan Sinha and a host of terrible familiars and unfamiliars. The plot is a classic Bollywood variant on the theme of Rashomon seasoned with the elements of a murder mystery. There's Om Prakash using shudh Hindi years before Chupke Chupke and a priceless couplet that goes: tum ho ##Queen##-a, mai.n huu.N ##King##-a, kyaa banogii ##Darling##.
* Mehndi, the other not-so-famous early Rani Mukherjee starrer, which features a host of loud screamers like Himani Shivpuri, a river of nameless zombie faces, and Joginder playing an inspector called Bheeshma, who seems destined to die at the hands of a hija.Daa. There are lots of ROTFL-friendly dialogue bits to brighten up the darkest hour.
* Anil Sharma's classic loud-fest Tehelka featuring a ton of famous actors indulging in unmentionable hamming excursions and greetings like "bom chik bom bom/long live Dong". Anu Malik deserves a pat on the back for creating the psychedelically hideous mess that is shom shom.
* Khalifa: The first RDB-scored forgotten flick in this list. All the pre- and post-commercial break slides on Star Gold insisted on calling the film kaafilaa (instead of Kalifaa). The premise and execution of this tale is sufficiently twisted to get it a few notches above the average dance/drama/action thriller involving separated twins. Randhir Kapoor plays the twins, one good, the other bad, and there's even a subtle counterpoint of upbringing and nature that presages the premise of Dharam Karam. The songs are fun, but (always IMHO) better heard than seen (except for the chuckles that Randhir's wild dancing[sic] can provide).
* Caught a shard of Basu Chatterjee's Dillagi starring Dharmendra and Hema Malini (hmm: Son Sunny was also involved in a film with the same name years later. Wonder how many other examples exist like this?)
* Kroadh: Early 90s angry-young-men-against-injustice flick most famous for the Amitabh Bachchan cameo singing na fanakaar tujh saa tere baad aayaa at ek shaam rafii ke naam. There are the usual low-on-accuracy-and-detail moments: Sanjay Dutt has a nightmare involving Sunny Deol's execution. Deol is dressed in prison garb (#145). Dutt wakes, screams in complaint, and then sets out running to the prison cell(note that there is no sign of any security anywhere) where Deol is taking a siesta dressed in the same outfit.
I marked my baptism at E-square with Sanjay Gupta's latest bright flash in the pan paean to Hollywood. This time around the most obvious source was only one (instead of the at-least-two approach), Oliver Stone's U-Turn based on John Ridley's moderately entertaining Stray Dogs. Sanjay Gupta indulges in his usual heady excessive trip on style and as was the case with Kaante, the style becomes irritating after a while (especially the variations in film speed). The downsides are several: the film visibly flounders about and inches painfully to the end thanks to the absence of a gripping coherent narrative; Koena Mitra looks bad and cheap, and has a terrible voice to match (need I even mention that the word "author-backed" would be completely inappropriate for her part?); Sameera Reddy's much-publicised bold role sadly joins the masses of Udita Goswami, Isha Koppikar, Amrita Arora, Neha Dhupia and the like (although mercifully SR is a bit more restrained). And her accent is more pronounced this time around. And why oh why are the cuss words censored after slapping the film with an A certificate? On the plus side, Sanjay Dutt is clearly having fun hamming it to the hilt. As is Mahesh Manjrekar. Anil Kapoor's sincerity soon moves to sticking out like a sore thumb in an enterprise that didn't ever intend to take itself seriously. Aditya Panscholi's tonsure is his only plus. There's a lot of harmless skin on display, and the film is just a mild exercise in family-rated soft porn. Dutt's knife is the coolest part of the film. And the soundtrack -- which I still dig -- doesn't measure up on the screen (the theatre's robust sound system was unfortunately fed a signal that was heavy on bass and little else). And pray who was the voice on the not-on-the-soundtrack female antaraas of duur se paas jo aaye? The theatre scored a minor plus by featuring all the end credits (note the typo in SHERYA GHOSHAL). And keen observers will note a lot amiss with the print in circulation, especially the second half: there's a small exchange between AK and MM about payment (reference: the preview) and another between AK and SR about an alternative plan for the night (reference: the preview; later on in the film when AK actually enters the house). Perhaps the good old VHS when I get back to the USA will come in handy.
Would some safety-conscious person do something about that spiral staircase we had to use when getting out of the hall at the end of the film?
I've just paid a visit to two of Crossword's few outlets in Pune. The second was the one I've been to before the first, and probably still the best of the lot, at Sohrab Hall. The second was the one next to the Deccan side of Gadgil Bridge. The places don't get any points for content on the books front. The International Book Service near Sambhaji Bridge has been the silent modest winner in this category for years. And let's not even begin comparisons involving chains in the US like Borders and Barnes and Noble. Pune is a city that (hopefully) hasn't lost its taste for reading and music. But Crossword unfortunately has spartan vibes that don't do this taste any justice.
The semblance of order and arrangement is a weak façade. The books have no order, and it was a special pain to sift through the Marathi section at the Deccan outlet not counting the time spent in determining the attributes used to arrange the books. And there was the painful sight of out-of-date labels (P. L. Deshpande) adorning shelves that bore no content by or about the late great writer. And, with reference to the Sohrab Hall branch, why does Shashi Tharoor's Riot pop up in both the Indian Fiction section in the middle and the Indian section against the wall?
And then we move to the music section. Dismal. Although I love spending time sifting patiently through items in this section in any store, the Crossword arrangement left me fuming. First exhibit: the rickety black supports used to restrain the items on each shelf. Second exhibit: the sardine-like stuffing approach adopted to place music on the shelves. Third exhibit: the now-familiar lack of classification. Fourth exhibit: what idiot thought it was cool to pack CDs face-to-the-customer-title_spine-to-the-left in blocks and then pack these blocks into the shelves leaving us with a total visibility equal to the number of blocks (the first CD in each) and the spines in the leftmost block. A quick analysis of space left me even more confused; all they had to do was flip the blocks over so that the spines would be on top (enabling readability and speeding up selection), while still retaining the same number of CDs (perhaps even more) on each shelf. And I was surprised that the number of tapes was much greater than the number of CDs.
A casual visitor might think I just found another horse to flog. But I hope there's someone at Crossword, who takes a hint from You Got Mail (clue: they're tending towards being the clueless big store instead of the caring small store).
Which brings me somehow to a revised more positive take on Bombay's Rhythm House. I remember visiting it a few years ago and not being too impressed by it (I'm still not sure why). But this time, several years later, and after being exposed to the largesse of the US, I went crazy in the store. I truly deserved the shopping bag they gave me. And the assistant (darn! I forgot to get his name) deserved kudos for being in the know on stuff. He even fished out some not-yet-catalogued CDs for me to peruse. It was a pleasure doing business there. Admittedly, most of my vim came from the $/Rupee conversion euphoria. But I'm glad there's something that makes it easier for me to spend a bit more on music. I've been second-guessing myself a lot. If only I could make another trip before the eventual flight back to the land of excess. But then there's always the next time. In the meantime, here's a resounding recommendation.
The biggest irony about the celebration of this birthday was that my undergraduate engineering college COEP (now regrettably TIFKAC � The Institute Formerly Known As COEP) no longer bears that name in the official sense of the word. It now has the bland-as-unsalted-cowdung moniker of PIET (Pune Institute of Engineering and Technology). The second thing that sent me into splits was the choice of this interesting English word to describe the birthday. Given the generally anaemic English vocabulary exercised in the place, I can see people stumbling over this phrase every time they had to use it. Mercifully, the festivities will be over soon.
The first time I had heard about this badly marketed blast was when I was googling about for something and ended up at the fakely impressive front for a website for COEP alumni. What does "Fakely impressive" mean? Well, the first thing that hits you on the front page is this massive flashy image and then as you click through the links, you are transported to pages that don't match up to all the zing. A pity, really.
A phone call and an old friend were enough motivation to be involved at the last minute (no surprise here!) in the cultural proceedings on Thursday, December 16, 2004. It was both a pleasure and honour to get a chance to perform along with past students whose Firodiya exploits I had only heard; alumni who had since made a mark for themselves � Vijay Koparkar and Ramdas Palsule (whom, coincidentally, I had met under different circumstances in Atlanta earlier this year). And then there was Milind Mulick, whose live painting done in tandem with a musical performance went up for auction and netted a good sum (I wonder who gets to pocket the cash though! � making a donation to the always-underfed cultural fund would be a good idea).
But the most interesting aspect of the evening was that not one soul used the new moniker to refer to the college. Apparently, even the alumni felicitated in the morning's events were critical of the change. I have no idea what the reasons behind the re-naming were, but the college has a 150-year old legacy with the name, and I contend that it's indelible enough to be worth fighting for.
In sharp counterpoint to the great celebration were the frugal and unimaginative lights adorning the old dusty buildings, a few forgotten metal boards bearing the old college name, and a landscape that hasn't changed over the years despite the insistence of the administration of measures to move forward (trifles like a uniform -� ugh!, autonomy [an argument similar to the one about India not being prepared to deal with the independence it had gained in 1947 comes to mind], revised syllabi) while continuing to ignore the most fundamental problem (a completely incompetent faculty).
Friday, December 17, 2004
JR draws first blood with most of the details. I remember the "sudden right" so JR probably lost his magic touch on directions by the time he got down to putting his thoughts to electrons.
And now for the minor detail at Sujata (a familiar haunt for Mastani fans). We enter and take our seats at a table. Nothing seems to have changed. I don't remember the prices, although JR and BVHK assure me that things haven't changed significantly (or at all!). Our server approaches with the no-nonsense i-don't-believe-in-all-that-sham-about-sycophantic-procedure silent sullen look. He dumps three glasses of water onto the table. We tell him what we want. He leaves. We chat. He returns to take away our glasses of water before trumping down three Mastanis. Yep. Stop right there and wonder why he did that. Also noted was the reduction in the amount of Mastani served. All gripes aside, this is still a great place to chill (purely for content; if you want ambience, try the Gadgil Bridge).
A short stop at Pankaj (now credit-card-aware) with my piece of sliced plastic in tow, and I walk out with a medium cache of musical goodies. The place displays a simple and no-frills organisation, which in retrospect I found the most appealing of the music stores I visited -- the clutter of the old stores, although a nice touch for the eventual joy of discovering something rare, is sometimes an annoyance, especially when you keep ending up with blackened fingers. The billing system needs to move to an electronic equivalent, and it would be good to get rid of pen-and-paper for the cataloguing. Still, this place manages to get a thumbs-up for overall appeal as a music store [the classical music section is a favourite among friends, I am told].
And the final stop of the evening was Sudarshan Hall ["suddenly" near the Ahilyabai Girls School] for a staging of Final Draft by Girish Joshi (a COEP expat, a great creative influence and good friend). I have had the pleasure of catching only one of GJ's previous plays, Abhinetri starring Vandana Gupte (a good ice-breaker when I walked up to speak to her after a performance in naandaa saukhyabhare in Atlanta in the summer of 2001). This one was not only scripted by Girish, but enjoyed his directorial and acting inputs as well with able support from the only other player, Mukta Barve. The control and projection in the performances was remarkable. The plot was nothing unfamiliar: a screenwriting teacher finds himself a saddled with the challenging task of motivating a student who seems to be grappling with a lot in life. The underlying threads that strengthen the plot hinge on the fundamental trade-off between art and commerce. Given Girish's current work, the play even seems to take on an autobiographical tone. There was lots of Yanni in the background cues. And I loved the terminal piece of lighting direction. All in all, a great way to begin the brief hiatus back home.
Monday, December 06, 2004
Of the numerous cheap DVD sets I dug out of the discount bins at Wal*Mart is a 2-DVD 4-movie set that has a Lee Van Cleef double bill. The first one is called Beyond the Law. Spaghetti to the core (complete with vertical-deviant aspect ratio conversions and bad dubbing), this one boasts a score by Riz Ortolani (one of the many spaghetti composers who got their share of mainstream-cult limelight thanks to QT's Bill duet). The second one, which was the reason I picked up this set, is another Lee Van Cleef starrer (duh! it's a double bill) called Death Rides a Horse. Famous for the infamous Morricone track that did not make it to the official KB Vol I soundtrack, this flick has other nuggets to boast:
* The strong similarities to the plot of Joshilay, that aborted Shekhar Kapur project that was helmed to the finish line by Sibte Hasan Rizvi
* Lee Van Cleef paraphrases the quote about revenge being a dish best served cold
* Small identifying marks for each of the dudes that John Philip Law's character is seeking out for revenge (a tattoo of four aces on a chest; a spur/earring; a facial scar)
* A piano player is asked to hit a note three times to count down to a shoot out
* A golden bit of dialogue from LVC: I have 5 words for you: fifteen thousand plus fifteen thousand