Sunday, January 30, 2005

a john frankenheimer christmas

How much irony can I deal with? The ice and snow are melting outside today (although the sun appears only after 3pm or thereabouts), and while I iron my shirts and khakis, the movie I have is em>Reindeer Games. John Frankenheimer had managed to impress me with his educated approach to making thrillers (The Manchurian Candidate, The Train, Seconds). But I've also seen him unable to pull things off (Black Sunday to a very small extent, and the embarassment called The Holcroft Covenant). I didn't know what to expect from Reindeer Games. Unfortunately, the film swung into the second category. The biggest problem lies in the screenplay (or whatever passes for it). All the twists and turns fail to explain meteorite-sized gaps in the screenplay. Gary Sinise is sinister enough and the nominal symbology is cute (Sinise's evil character is called Gabriel; Affleck's character is named Rudy [Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer!], and James Frain's character is named Nick [St. Nicholas]. There are a few nice moments, but overall as the twists unfold you begin to writhe in pain and mourn for the disarray that Frankenheimer left us with. On the trivia-monging front watch out for a nice cameo by Isaac Hayes ("monsters ... in the gelatin"); and also note that the screenwriter responsible for this mess (Ehren Kruger) was also a writer on Scream 3, the preview for which appears on this DVD!

Saturday, January 29, 2005

atlanta snow day 2005: january 29, 2005

Finally, the wait is over. Given the strange weather favouring the lower markings on the temperature scale over the last few days, it was no real surprise to wake up today to a grey sky mirrored by snow -- adorning cars, the road. And a generous mix of ice, sludge and all else in between. Cold, too.

Felt nice to sit on the couch with a warm cup of instant coffee and watch Concert for George (the complete version). Eric Clapton makes the most endearing honest host ever! And his humility is evident from the way he generously lets every performer have the stage without any need for one-upmanship. The concert began with a three-part Indian-tinged performance: the first piece composed by Pt Ravi Shankar was wonderfully performed by Anoushka Shankar accompanied by Tanmay Bose on tabalaa (unfortunately, the West hasn't seemed to have mastered the art of miking a tabalaa). The second act was Jeff Lynne performing The Inner Light. The final act was another Ravi Shankar composition -- as I had feared/expected it was a fragmented best-of mélange/hodge-podge of the East and the West. The performance had a few interesting moments, and Anoushka Shankar's conducting (unfortunately) provided a few laughs. Among the Indian instrumentalists were familiar faces like Pt Vishwa Mohan Bhatt (the mohan viiNaa gets billed as "slide guitar" on the DVD credits) and Snehashish Mazumdar. The post-intermission session was packed with Harrison songs (and one Carl Perkins number). All nicely done. And the calm finale gave the proceedings the perfect icing. All this was mixed with wonderful shots of the interior expanse of the Royal Albert Hall. Which leaves me with the extras-loaded Disc Two.

Thanks to A and S who undertook the task of de-icing a car, I was treated to some interesting sights around parts of the city. The beauty of the ice and snow counterpointed the dangerous driving spots. As we parked outside San Francisco Coffee in the Highlands, we indulged in a little childish exercise of shattering the ice on the car and inundating each other with crumbs. A knowledge of physics helped me appreciate the spread of cracks from the point of impact. And later in the evening, I discover a new use for a cantaloupe (hint: more crack patterns).

Friday, January 28, 2005

the music of Black Friday [official site]

While Anurag Kashyap seems on his way to being responsible for another candidate for the most-seen-unreleased-film (Paanch holds the post right now) thanks to a stupid stay order (when the censors have cleared it, what's with the law???), I chose today (the slated release date for the film) to inaugurate my CD of the soundtrack that I procured with great joy while in Pune. Despite being a favourite of mine, Indian Ocean also seems like the perfect choice to provide a soundtrack that would complement the tone and content of the film. Right from the evocative strains of ba.nde through raat hinDole (listed as Badshah in Jail) to bharam bhaa.Np ke (which bears echoes of bhor), the improvisatory approach of the band (complete with vocal overlays in both Indian and Western traditions, and a strong mix of jazz, rock and funk) gives Piyush Mishra's lyrics the edge they need. And the musical cues that fill the rest of the tracklist are to die for (no pun intended). And there are able turns from guest performers Raghav Sachar (Opening Pre-Blast, Memon House), Paresh Kamath (ba.nde) and Dishad (bharam bhaa.Np ke). Indian Ocean don't really have anything to prove (given their strong ouevre thus far), but let there be no doubt, this is a great splash in the realm of soundtracks. Here's hoping they find other films that will complement their immense talent.

Sigh! It would have been a pleasure to see Kay Kay Menon, Aditya Srivastava and (surprise! surprise!) Pawan Malhotra. Perhaps, good sense and luck will prevail ... Till then the film suffers the fate portended by its title.

incomplete filmography

Yet another self-congratulatory Bollywood awards fest (The 11th Star-Screen Weekly Awards) concluded recently. In related news, Screen is running a feature on Alka Yagnik celebrating 25 years in the business (of playback singing, that is) (even had a segment in the ceremony dedicated to this). The page boasts a piffle introduction followed by a filmography. Just when you thought they had got it right (what with managing to remember her song on Namkeen), you notice other RDB omissions: main aawara hoon (1983), dost (1989), jurrat (1989), jai shiv shankar (1992), professor ki padosan (1993), sautela bhai (1996).
from the personal vault III [being notes on music acquired during my recent trip home (Pune, Maharashtra, India)]

Raghu Romeo [Crescendo; CD-40522] Yeah! mai.n ##hero##. What a godsend! ##strawberry## huu.N mai.n seems like the genesis of the much more popular and overplayed dhuum machaa le. Don't remember this song in the film ... However, my other favourites (mai.n ##hero##, mai.n maamuulii aadamii) and the theme and cues are all there. Along with dialogue bits that the cues adorn. Interestingly, hubby-wife Kunal Ganjawala and Gayatri Iyer share vocal talents on mai.n kaise samajhaa_uu.N -- I remember reading an interview where either GI or KG noted that they had never sung together ... faux pas, perhaps. But trivia-mongers may take note.

Aside: The DVD includes a short "making of" backgrounder, which is much better than the one on the Maqbool DVD.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

from the personal vault II [being notes on music acquired during my recent trip home (Pune, Maharashtra, India)]

Ab Tak Chhappan [Crescendo; CD-40519] Imagine my surprise when I spotted this CD in the racks at Rhythm House. Hadn't heard a murmur about its release (even the release of my first Hindi film soundtrack album, Sandeep Chowta's cues for Satya, had merited a review!). Most of the cues (especially the title track) are familiar, but it's nice to hear the nuances imparted in the other cues that were superseded by the action on screen. Now if only someone had the gumption and leverage to get the other Salim-Sulaiman efforts out.

Piya Basanti [Sony; 498461-2] Sandesh Shandilya got his guru Ustad Sultan Khan to team up with Chitra for this non-filmi effort, which boasts a handful of tunes that are easy on the ear. The big surprise for me (since I had only heard of this album before without a chance to actually it!) was finding the Raag Maa.nD-based dhiimo re, which I had heard for the first time on Maqbool. Since the melody was familiar, I could now focus on the arrangement -- while Vishal Bhardwaj's take was in keeping with the dark mood of his film, Shandilya exercises the flexibility he enjoys to mix the sarangi and acoustic guitar fills (with bass runs) into a club crooner's backing setup of the ivories and some nice brass. Marvellous.

99.9 FM [EMI/Virgin; 7243 473525 2 2] Just like HB2, here's another soundtrack album that relies on a compilation of tracks instead of getting a music director to churn out songs based on the moods in the film (or those of the director). The mix here is definitely eclectic. I'm sure the choice of tracks was also influenced in no small way by the fact that this is a Virgin Records release. We begin with Ustad Sultan Khan's kaTe naahii raat extracted from a Salim-Sulaiman electronica-meets-Indian-folk-traditions adventure called Bhoomi. There's Biddu's when-will-this-end single-groove track called Nirvana -- just the kind of track you can loop forever in the background of a noisy chat party. Zila Khan gives me yet another kesariyaa baalam for my personal collection. Shubha Mudgal (who clocks the highest number of tracks on this album) appears with the lounge-tinged i.ntazaar (from an album called Mann ke Manjeere, an attempt at presenting a musical idiom for the woman of the millennium) [review on], followed by Shaan's wonderfully-arranged tanhaa dil. It's always a pleasure to hear Usha Uthup, and especially since her recent appearances (Bhoot, Joggers Park) have been rare. sau fiisadii kuchh bhii nahii.n ("nothing is 100 percent", literally) is also the exclusive track on this album (that is to say, recorded for the film), with music by Piyush Kanojia and lyrics by Amitabh Verma (see also: Chhal). And we're back to another instrumental mix break with Sum's Raindance (from an album called Cultures of Rhythm -- not surprising given the presence of Taufiq Qureshi along with Ravindra Rajabhatt, Shridhar Parthasarthy and Rajesh Rajabhatt). Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan's famous saanuu ek pal is a welcome follow-up. The mellow tone of the performance is counterpointed by impassioned vocal taans throughout. The familiar comfortable melody of Zoheb Hassan's muskuraa_e jaa (time to bring out those old Hasan Jahangir tapes...). You may remember Zoheb as Nazia's brother, who also featured on Disco Deewane (another Biddu-produced watershed). Sum returns with Movement, which had me counting out a 7+7+7+5 beat cycle over the melody before the tabalaa took over. Nice! Shubha Mudgal's is pal from her mainstream hit album Ab ke Sawan is up next. Zia Mohyeddin reads some Faiz while a flute plays what sounds like Raag Kedaar in the background, before Shaan embarks on gum\-sum (another track from his hit album Tanha Dil), followed by the return of Zia. The legend called Pandit Bhimsen Joshi has a guaranteed salvo with jo bhaje harii ko sadaa in Raag Bhairavii. We end with the theme of the movie itself, which works in itself, but if only they had put it as track one and left the Bhairavii as the last track (thus making for some musical comfort).

Monday, January 24, 2005

from the personal vault I: maine tere liye [being notes on music acquired during my recent trip home (Pune, Maharashtra, India)]

Maine Tere Liye [saregama/hmv; CDF 132731 ADD] is one of those rarities that occasionally falls out of the indian toilet that is the Gramophone Company of India -- a compilation that actually includes rarities. This is a compilation of songs that Gulzar (lyrics) and the elite Salil Chowdhury (music) collaborated on. The palette ranges from the overplayed (the song from Anand that the compilation derives its name from), to the relatively less seen (Prem Patra, Anokha Daan) (NOTE: "less seen" represents my perspective -- and die-hard Salil/Gulzar fans are welcome to correct me). That this is an HMV compilation is clear given that despite the two having collaborated on more films than tracks on a single CD, this compilation features more than one song from the same film (and in the case of Swami Vivekananda, THREE!). Swami Vivekananda is available as a separate release CDF 110090 (obviously finding it would be a challenge!) or on Hamaracd

* ga.ngaa aaye kahaa.N se: A baauul beat and Hemant Kumar's ethereal voice. Just the right amount of echo, and you have a pleasant opening to this compilation.

* saavan kii raato.n me.n [Lyrics in ITrans]: The first Talat Mahmood song that I paid for, really (which only means that I have never consciously collected TM's gems -- all that fanfare has been reserved for RDB. It doesn't mean that I've been trolling the Internet for free TM MP3s!). The song itself also boasts Talat's spoken voice, and provides another example of Salil's forays into jhap taal. This is easily my favourite on this CD.

* mai.nne tere liye: Overplayed. All that needs to be said about this song has probably already been said.

* naa jiyaa laage naa: Another song from Anand. This one could have stayed, and the Mukesh song could have been ousted to a "Rare Gems of Mukesh" collection. A wonderful melody wonderfully sung by Lata, and embellished with trademark elan by SC.

* ko_ii hotaa jis ko apanaa: Very very famous song from Gulzar's directorial début. Kishore's singing makes for yet another listen. And the lyrics have their own merit.

* aane de apane bhaiyaa ko: Only proves that SC also did situational songs that barely worked standalone.

* roz akelii aaye: The second Mere Apne song. Didn't feature in the film AFAIR. Again, given a choice I might pick this one for its lower airtime.

* madabharii ye hawaa_e.N: Had never heard this before (duh!). The a.ntaraas score on the melodic front. And Lata once again makes the song her own.

* chalo man: The first of the Swami Vivekananda tail-enders. I liked this song when I saw the film (although I only saw the "first part", and I wasn't too taken up by much beyond Mithun's performance). Nice to hear Yesudas. The accent's there, but the voice makes up for it.

* maa.Njhii re: Liked Antara Chowdhury's voice. And there's some nice counterpoint offered by the flute. The orchestration is interesting, and the song is a pleasant listen.

* sanyaasii has an interesting melody for the mukha.Daa, although Asha loses to Yesudas on vocal output (WARNING: personal and subjective).

shabd: my word: notes on the soundtrack

[Raaga page]

  • sholo.n sii begins with a Santana-esque electric guitar riff, before moving into a mood and milieu derived from Latin-American territory.
  • khoyaa khoyaa saa is another dollop of Vishal-Shekhar's patent-pending light candy, totally rendered egregious by Sanjay Dutt's spoken word passages
  • bolo to essentially picks up where khoyaa left off, knocks out Sunidhi Chauhan, adds some e-dholak beats, and proceeds painfully to completion.
  • chaahato.n kaa silasilaa is the first song on the soundtrack that looks like it might have had some promise. Uninspired rhythm mixing put paid to that possibility, though.
  • Sukhvinder Singh's mat jaa falls in the rock-sy element-infused song genre, and unfortunately sounds vaguely like bits and pieces of several familiar songs. This is enough to destroy the song itself.
  • Next up are lifeless remixes of sholo.n sii, mat jaa (no! no! ... don't let me go, babe!) and .
  • Another version of chaahato.n kaa silasilaa pops up. That the singer is Udit Narayan is enough for me to hit next.
  • We end with The theme of Shabd, which is only marginally interesting.

In summation, VS didn't elicit too much of a "cool" response from me on this soundtrack. The words cold and uninspiring come to mind. Hope this is only a temporary setback.

the smell of incompetence: the tale of the maqbool DVD

It was heartening to see the Maqbool DVD. Released, like the soundtrack, on Music Today, this was a welcome addition to my growing collection of movies destined to be forgotten and inaccessible in a few several years. The disappointments are telling, especially since my memories of the screening at the Indian Film Festival at the High Museum in 2004 are still fairly vivid. The print they chose for transfer has its flaws -- is this the fate that deserving films merit??? And there are some omissions -- the most obvious one is the montage backed by Sanjeev Abhyankar's ruukhe nainaa. Further investigation is called for, but I refuse to rest until I get to the bottom of this unfair business.

Elsewhere: my take on the film | short notes on the soundtrack

no quarter/rog

I had grabbed a copy of the No Quarter/UnLedded DVD in November 2004, but ended up watching it only in January 2005. The induced wait was worth it (sigh! if only I could have caught the one-day-only theatrical screening). No Quarter was an interesting album (besides marking the first album-length collaboration between Page and Plant). I still wonder why JPJ was excluded. Never understood that. The DVD is great not just for the not-so-unplugged concert moments but for the cross-country cross-cultural influences (both aurally and visually) that temper both the familiar LZ numbers (an interesting choice, no doubt) and the new tracks. Fans of instruments rarely used in rock music will relish the arrangements. I don't think I'd be at fault to have thought of Bernard Herrmann a couple of times. Priceless purchase, really. And now I have to get the extended CD release. Goodbye, $$$!

All this makes no sense for me to segue to my first VHS-in-the-US movie of 2005, Rog. Irrfan (aka Irfan Khan, before he chose to change his name) seems to be capable of doing no wrong as he waltzes through his performance as Uday Rathore. His reading of the character almost surpasses the complete absence of a coherent rational mind behind the camera and the script. The script is credited to the usual culprit: Mahesh Bhatt. To lament the loss of one of Indian cinema's promising directors to this new avataar of foreign-film-filcher (Rog owes a debt and lots of apologies to Otto Preminger's stellar classic Laura) is a waste of time. Bhatt made a conscious decision to succumb (in a most post-modern fashion) to the "needs" of a stupid mainstream audience. 'Tis a pity. If only he had managed to find a middle ground. Pooja Bhatt was never great shakes (no pun intended) in the acting department, and, as a producer, she has only chosen to inflict upon us her twisted view of bold cinema -- hiring unknowns both local and foreign that were willing to bare as much as permitted in a family-oriented soft-core porn flick. And then she chooses unknowns to direct these sorry flicks. If Paap was an unbearable scatalogical mess, Rog takes the cake for making us wade through a morass of gobs of inanity (referred to as "scenes" in popular terminology) and exchanges of dialogue that have absolutely nothing to do with the film. A gaggle of worthless never-should-have-beens battles it out for the crown of His/Her Highness Ham under the pretext of "acting": beefcake Himanshu Malik, Suhel Seth (the man deserves an award for comedy), the ugly Shyamoli Varma. Pooja Bhatt even manages to use her clout as producer to squeeze in hubby Munish "Udham Singh" Makhija to bring his laaThii sensibilities to a role that means as much as used toilet paper. On the musical front, M M Kreem goes into retro-Jism mode to provide songs that occur at suitable FF-friendly intervals. The soundtrack is better heard than seen (and you'll like it more if you never ever get to see it on screen). And now for Ilene Hamann, the South African (never famous locally, went on to be famous abroad) steatomammate zombie, who looks like a cross between Payal Rohatgi and a ghaaT. She has little else to do in the film except offer eyecandy to the skin-hungry classes who can claim this cheap excuse to ogle as an excursion to watch a "quality" film. IH's biggest (no pun intended, really) problem is that she offers inconsistent photographic angles. The photograph that adorns the wall of the house is the best she ever looked (or even perhaps the side pose on a little-seen poster). Everywhere else she is like a bad shoe. If only this annoying mess of film was the end. Unfortunately, I can already seen the Bhatt camp busy with another adaptation. Looks like there's no end to mainstream skin flicks. Perhaps Bhatt will get his comeuppance when he receives accolades for inventing a new subtle sub-genre of film.

collateral [IMDB page]

Michael Mann's ode to nighttime LA opens with the usual corporate logos drained of all colour. And then(sans credits) unfolds the narrative from night till dawn -- cab driver Max(Foxx) finds himself driving Vincent (Cruise), a hired killer from one hit to another, as he tries to grapple for a way to extricate himself from this unfortunate assignment. This is the kind of plot that works well as an assignment to see how different filmmakers would adapt and present the material. If you've seen previous Mann films like Manhunter and Heat (or even The Insider), you won't be too surprised at the rewards from his approach. The dramatically coloured lighting, the framing, the cutting, and the mix of a background score and diegetic music collaborate to elevate "L.A. at night" to the status of an organic component of the film. You could sit back and try and think of other ways to make this movie, but Mann gets it just right most of the time. The third act predictably suffers from the role it is expected to play in any film, but the closure is not too disappointing. Ultimately, everything else that has transpired, visually, aurally and narratively, makes this one movie I really wish I had seen in the theatres. Imagine that! I wanted to watch a Tom Cruise movie in the hall. From my POV, that's saying a lot.

Now if only I could get my hands on Crime Story (viewers of the old Star Plus may recall this TV show starring Dennis Farina that featured Del Shannon's addictive Runaway) and Miami Vice.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

PIFF rant [january 20, 2005] [such-a-long-url aka the home page]

disclaimer: This has nothing to do with the fact that I was unable to catch Black Friday.

* Goa did a much better job with its maiden attempt at hosting a film festival, while PIFF in its third year still can't understand that a film festival is about films and not star meets for Kalmadi's friends

* The "brochure" (or schedule) has more TBA slots than anything I've ever seen -- the schedule was also unavailable until the first day (by which time you were expected to have registered) so a lot of friends couldn't decide if they wanted to go or not

* The "brochure" is a set of cheap printouts of a table created in Microsoft Word and then stapled together

* White Noise was directed by Vinta Nanda and not Shonali Bose (the director of Amu)

* It's Throne of Blood not Thorn of Blood

* Also noted was the complete lack of film lover-centric marketing. The Indian film festival last year at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta (despite its imbalance in the languages of the films) was an excellent event in comparison (and in general), although movies like DDLJ and WBH2P2 have been easily available locally for a long time.

BTW, Googling for PIFF returns results dominated by Suresh Kalmadi -- talk about statistically sound politics.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

pathfinder: another beacon in the storm that destroyed Pune's reading culture

The problem I see with true bookstores like The International Book Service and Manneys is that they can't appeal to the nouveau crowd (yuppies with more moolah to spend than brains to spare and with nary a trace of an informed reading habit -- "let's read about the monk who sold his ferrari because it's cool to read it!"). Stores like Crossword manage to implement the sad clichéd formula of pulling the crowd in -- superficially arrange all media (books, music, toys [for kids], DVDs/VCDs) and put in some chairs and tables and a place for coffee, along with a listening station. I hoped and prayed that there was some place that struck the middle-ground. Friends told me about the Pathfinder bookstore near Neelayam, and one fine evening, BVHK and I headed out to find the place. I didn't have a visual picture of Neelayam in my mental archives (and surprisingly, I still don't! never saw the cinema hall while at Pathfinder). But we managed to find our way there. The first vibes were good. It was exclusively books inside. Nice lighting. And there on the wall was a mosaic of photographs of Indian writers. Admittedly, my needs were biased -- I was trying to get my fat share of Indian writing in English (Strangely hard to find!). We got in and made our way through the tables in the centre and the shelves along the walls. First impressions were great. I had soon picked a few books. And kudos to these guys for picking a fairly mixed approach to arranging the books -- there is no strict categorization. This means that you have to pass by all the shelves and take a look. Which is a good thing. Who knows what you might find that you hadn't planned to buy? The upper level had a medium Marathi section and a welcome sight: lots of Indian writers. Walked away with a heavy bag and a smiling face. The people there were helpful, too. Now if only they had a copy of All About H. Hatterr. Honestly, take some time out, dear book lover, and pay this place a visit. And give it all the word-of-mouth you can. They deserve every breath.

Related posts about why Crossword deserves your bile and the goodness of The International Book Service and Manneys

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

slumming as an innovative approach to improving power supply in pune

Everyone in Pune has been unanimous in their acceptance of the Christmas gift from the civic adminstration for 2004 -- the new official load shedding schedule which throws you, your home and your business into powerless limbo for 15 hours a week. And it also gives you the chance to practise some real-life scheduling (so, there's no power at home this afternoon, which means I can't watch that Mithun movie. I could go and pay a visit to my dentist. But I'm not sure if he has power. Which means, I'll have to go in the evening. But that's the only time we can visit this family friend...). The civic administration could have earned some points by limiting the load shedding to more bearable hours -- when you lose power at your office in the afternoon, it puts paid to the rest of the day. And creating a market for UPSs and generators only serves to raise the already obscene levels of pollution in the city. To top this all, we are still not free from the random power cuts that occur (more often than not at extremely inconvenient moments).

Which brings us to the moment of revelation for me. Evening time. Past 7pm. We have already received our three-hour dose of the "good old days", when suddenly it's darkness. I step out onto the balcony. And lo and behold. The Rajiv Gandhi slum across the railway tracks is gleaming with power. That place has always enjoyed the kind of uninterrupted power that Bombay boasts about. And it seems to be so damn important, they now have a paved mini-road leading from the main road to the entrance of the establishment. And an archway too! Seeing the slum this time around gave me a super idea. Since slums have been known to enjoy this constant power and no red tape, why don't we just displace the slums and replace them (in a jiffy!) with an office base of equal square-foot area. Or even a residential place. That way the small businesses will enjoy the constant power and not have to worry about load shedding.

Of course, now that I think of it, if the slum enjoys this privilege by way of being itself, its privilege will travel with it to the new location leaving behind a residential area/small business in pitch dark gloom. Is there a way out? Or do we need super heroes wearing their underwear over tight pants to fly down with a solution?

Monday, January 10, 2005

another Pune constant, and a few annoyances

[January 09, 2005]

You know the big block housing a Dorabjee and Sons shop/mall entrance at the bottom and a Planet M on top. You know where the old Venkys used to be. You know Dastur Meher Road, the road that these two monuments flank. Start walking down Dastur Meher Road all the way until you get to Technical Book Stall. All about you are vestiges of an older Pune. And don't let this worry you a bit. A few footfalls ahead of TBS, to your left, is the old original Dorabjee and Sons, famous for its biryani. Aside from a few interior renovations, the place remains, like Burger King, untouched by most of the "progress" the city has seen. The waiter was very courteous, the chicken biryani was slightly oilier, and the special for the day (patra fish) was overpriced. The no-frills custard, however, made all the amends. Given the rising prices everywhere else in the city, this place might soon feature in a "Cheap Eats" column (another recent favourite, Radhika at the S B Road chowpatti, was recently featured in a local rag). Here's hoping it survives the erosion of progress.

To tail-end a post like this with annoyances seems unfair. Yet, the culprits in question are located in the vicinity. Music World, the more guilty party, should be taken to court for obscene levels of ambient music in the store (somehow, this makes the Café Coffee Day appendage a perfect fit). Planet M suffers from the same problem, but the sound levels are a bit lower. And I can never figure out what the dude/dudette on the pathetic PA system is trying to say -- it's ok to be cool, but that doesn't excuse the complete lack of lucidity. It was also interesting to read an article in the day's rag about how chains like these missed out on customer relations. Unfortunately, I can only see homogeneous vacuous monoliths like these (with unfamiliar, clueless, only-in-it-for-the-money store attendants) surviving the wave of progress. Your friendly neighbourhood music stores (Audio Palace, Empire Music House, Thakkar's Music Bank, Alurkar Music House) will either die fighting for the cause of the sensible customer, or sacrifice their ideals at the altar of commerce.

Saturday, January 08, 2005

a literary family experience, fate and music, and how a burger remains part of the cornerstone of a dying city experience

So Saturday, 08 January 2005 dawns on the family, and we're all ready and out at the bus stop. It's a holiday for all, and we've decided to take a trip to the Deccan Gymkhana side of town. First miracle: Bus #96 shows up, albeit at the next terminal in the bus stand. Second miracle: we get to Deccan Corner in reasonable time. First stop: The International Book Service, one of a very small dying breed of bookstores in this "cultural" city. There aren't too many changes inside, although a familiar mix of feelings hits me: the place seems to have more room (which means that there are fewer books), and there aren't as many people as I'd like to see. That the place is celebrating 75 years deserves more than a few articles in local dailies. On the plus side, it's a pleasure to see a wider variety of books on the shelves. And Mr Dixit recognises Dad, and even recognises me. As I make my selections from the shelf, I think of my favourite quip about the rash of Crosswords across the city -- a quip that (apparently) was used by the owner of The Strand in Bombay when asked about the first Crossword set up there ("I have heard that they also sell books"). Unfortunately, at the end of the shopping session, there are still a few books unaccounted for. But the responses to my queries were more educated -- they had heard of the books, and even told if the books could be expected in a later import of stock. Places like this deserve more from all the Puneites who are patrons of good reading. And raddi stores, of course (given that the lack of taste exhibited by the publishing industry has forced so many meritorious works to go out of print and stock). And I hope places like Crossword don't become the first choice when you want to get some books.

A walk through Hong Kong Lane, another aspect of local heritage, rewarded me (via a chance glance) with the sight of a new soundtrack tape. Black jacket. With the words "Black Friday" leaping out at me in white. And I almost slapped myself for forgetting about this ("Indian Ocean performs the soundtrack of Black Friday"). There's a promo running on MTV. And it looks like Anurag Kashyap will *finally* make his directorial début officially (you can't live with the responsibility of having made "the most widely seen unreleased movie in India"!). A visit to Thakkar's Music Bank a block away rewarded me with a twin RD soundtrack release from BMG Crescendo (damn! It's such an effort to get stuff like this), and a note that the CD for Black Friday would be available in the evening.

It was nice to mix my first visit to Kamat's (a place I only knew as one of "Demolition Man" Bhatia's victims) and a desire to have some local paav bhaajii.

Plans to pay a visit to Sambhaji Park went to dust when we discovered that even the city park had begun to enjoy a lunch break ... "ba.ndh aahe" said the watchman complementing a cheap "Park is closed" sign nearby. Great! You would think that the afternoon would be a nice place to sit in the park (if you didn't have anything else to do -- like working a high-stress white-collar job for earning ephemeral rupaiyaa). So much for that.

A short break home, and we were back out at the bus stop. A different bus this time, and the destination was the crowded inaccessible West End bus station (narrow road subjected to divider action, along with illegal rows of rickshaws reducing driving space to a mathematical impossibility). The first destination was Manney's. Another place that hadn't changed (and there were good indications that this place was doing much better than IBS -- and it deserved to do well, IMHO, thanks to its good selection). On a very territorial note, it was nice to see more Malayalis managing the place (even the cashiers are Malayalis and Mr Nair has a new helper, Bhaskar). This doesn't mean that I get special discounts after spouting Malayalam and behaving regionally. It's just a little rarity. The people were helpful (as is the case with good bookstores), and my hit rate was higher too. Walked out with more plastic losses (even with the $-rupee conversion) to pay a short visit to Planet M. First mini-stop: the new releases display. Yippee! Waiting for me was the CD of Black Friday. Did a mental mini-dance, and then proceeded to indulge in another exercise to prove that the floor assistants were just human mannequins and the best way to search for music in the store was shelf-by-shelf-do-it-yourself. No other hits this time. Alas! Damn music companies, and especially damn the ones that had some favourite albums and went out of business (Archies Music, Plus Music, Magnasound -- some of their catalogue has since resurfaced on Bayshore Records).

The final stop: Burger King, the most unchanged place I've seen in Pune this time around. The same ambience, the same 4 Beatles posters, 1 Dylan poster, 1 Elvis poster. The same hubbub. The same prices! And a jumbo chicken burger that still rocks. A burp of satisfaction was followed by excellent timing involving the bus home at the traffic light below. This was one of the newer models that was equipped with a very useful[sic] feature: a radio/speaker system blasting radio mirchi feeds. A few minutes into the Death-Race ride home, the speakers began streaming a band singing a song called "ba.nde". The band was clearly Indian Ocean. And even before the DJ announced it, I was doing another mental jig. Talk about extended perfect timing. I remember the soundtrack, I manage to get it, and then I hear the radio promo for it. That's way I like it. Uh-huh, uh-huh!

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

the hoover of india [the perspective of a nostalgic expat] [with a special emphasis on Pune]

Building malls, expensive theatres, overpriced Starbucks clones that make you believe that that dark-brown foul-tasting liquid called coffee is as precious as gold and dividers that reduce the usable space of narrow roads is a great way to fool a ton of overpaid overspending dung-heads that the city is heading for progress. Flyovers are yet another great example of destroying your Achilles heel with a bazooka. After getting this big mask up, we flounder on the basics: our overhyped multitudinous award festivals still reek of jhopa.DapaTTii origins (recent case-in-point: the MTV Immies). And we don't have any suitable implementation of traffic laws. This is where the USA actually scores: it's not that people are law-abiding there. It's just that (a) you specify heavy fines (what's Rs. 300 for driving without a license eh?) for offenses (b) you actually have cops who would rather collect the fines and thus enforce the law than accept bribes. This minor capitalist gesture will do wonders for traffic. As I thought of ways to improve traffic, one of the thoughts that hit me was "knock out those large slow polluting dying PMT buses" ... must be the smoke!
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