Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Reading, indecision and the struggle against reader's block

Words fail me here. I need to kick-start my reading once again.

Of late, a lot of my reading has come to revolve around film and music: technique, theory, critical appreciation, and the like. I also read a lot of articles about enterprise software development, articles about software engineering and code quality, introductory notes on new tools. I wouldn't mind this limited selection, except that I'm still rather inarticulate and inconsistent when I write about my movie viewing and music listening experiences. The less said about potential technical and professional development the better. I couldn't even get to the halfway point with Eli Goldratt's interesting The Goal.

I've never been good about reading non-fiction, so whatever I know about books like The World Is Flat, Freakonomics and Gödel, Escher, Bach comes from friends who've been reading them. This leaves me with my explorations in fiction and these have slimmed to a trickle; and I seem to be the unwilling cause of it all.

Most of my journeys with new fiction over the last several months have ended up sputtering out like Diwali rockets. Here's an example: Salman Rushdie's Shalimar The Clown started off with a lot of the things I like about his writing (puns, references to pop culture, long passages laced with delectable mixes of words), but I also wasn't hitting the groove with each passing page. The due date at the library was just a convenient way to give up trying. I managed a home run with the hilarious Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch.

Jessa Crispin has a few suggestions for dealing with reader's block.

Item #1 doesn't apply: If I'm sitting before the boob tube, it's because of a movie, not because of a TV show. If I end up watching Shark, or one of the CSI spin-offs, it's because they're flashy packages of fundae (e.g. pyramid schemes are illegal in the state of New York: now you know how to escape the QnA guys) and people who speak only in punchlines with an egregiously maximal sense of cool.

Item #2 worked wonders for a while. I was hooked on The Sandman (all thanks to Sudarshan) and ravenously devoured issues of The Amazing Spider-Man, The Spectacular Spider-Man, Frank Miller's legendary work on Daredevil and Batman (Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Batman: Year One), a few compilations of Mike Mignola's Hellboy, the first volume of The Amazing Adventures of the Escapist; I couldn't get enough of Powers or The Invisibles, or the few "alternate history" arcs in the Elseworlds universe. I'm not sure why I stopped, but this looks like a promising way to knock down a few hurdles.

Item #3 only guarantees that I will thumb through my Harlan Ellison collection (Dreams with Sharp Teeth, the 2001 edition of The Essential Ellison), or my brittle copy of Ray Bradbury's The Illustrated Man or one of the several early paperbacks from Philip K Dick.

Item #4 won't work. It's a little too romantic for me.

Item #5 is perfect: Cell, despite overtones of The Stand, was a welcome return to horror; And I still have to attack Lisey's Story, The Colorado Kid, and (I am ashamed to say) the entire Dark Tower series.

Item #6 is why this long post was born.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

stark bathing Red

aka: aao snaan kare.n

He unlawfully entered our viewing lives with Fareb. He ran railway track races like a raging bull on the waterfront with Ghulam. He dulled the jagged edge with Kasoor. He exposed the Raaz of what lay beneath (something that even Sir Paul McCartney was supposed to have enjoyed). He produced the acronymicomical AMALL. He went the whole nine yards with Awara Paagal Deewana. He transplanted a Mahesh Bhatt rip-off in a state of grace with Footpath into a film set that should have been named PepsiTown. He implemented yet another Mahesh Bhatt design featuring the pet themes of multi-offspring yielding bigamy (known, in some really uncomplimentary circles, as RSS, the Ravi Shankar Syndrome) with Inteha. He fearlessly notched up another filmographic entry for the Big B operating in "I will work with anyone now" mode with Aetbaar. He shattered your senses and revealed himself to be a closet Puru Raj Kumar fan when he scripted Girish Dhamija's directorial début Yakeen. The man who gave us one of Pritam's best soundtrack efforts with Ankahee now returns an incarnadine cure for insomniac B-movie watchers called Red: The Dark Side (I wonder if the sequel's going to be called Blue: The Backside). Aftab Shivdasani, the pallbearer of Bhatt's cinematic alter ego, decided that an attempt at a tonsure was the best way to convey the passionate intensity of his character. Since Bhatt's films are marked with a sense of ennui strong enough for them to qualify as novocaine commercials, he's employed lassies with boulderados to entice audiences. That he's employed not one but two sets of flopdoodles here must be a warning about how much the script competes with the Leaning Tower of Pisa. One of them is Celina Jaitley, who, since her début in Khel, is known best for her Vanessa Mae impersonation in Janasheen and the lifeless #me kiss-fest Jawani Diwani. The other is Amrita Arora, who, despite having a good thing going by trying to combat the cold of Delhi in Zameen, ventured into a lesbian laugh-a-thon called Girlfriend.

While Bhatt insists (yet again) that the film comes from within him, the premise seems like a misguided revisionist take on elements in Clint Eastwood's Blood Work. There's also a TV movie called Donor Unknown that looks promising. Only time will tell.

The Capitulating Critic is markedly eloquent in his review of the cardinal catarrh for the film. The predictably catchy aafariin (whose video, he insists was picturised imaginatively in a volatile manner) features a downtempo ambient house rhythm and represents the strongest contribution to the album's 77.78% snot factor.

A motif ailing the film even before its release is one of colour. Consider the title itself. Red: The Dark Side, with its English-English scheme represents the new wave in Bollywood's experiments in titulation [1]. The last improvisation had moved on from the saprophytic allegiance to the Hindi-English scheme to a marginal improvement represented by a reversal of roles. The CD art (click on the second image here) indulges in a red and grey exercise confirming Amrita Arora's assertion about going grey for the film. The magnificent pontoons of love will be on display once again for those interested in the true merits of the film.

In a stunning sop for trivamongers, the filmmakers roped in former wimpy-weepy-faced Bollywood B-star Sumeet Saigal[2] to direct a promotional video for the film. The sensuous undertone of the song dil ne na jaanaa and the emotional element that The Nose had given it inspired Saigal to shoot a bathtub sequence featuring the three principals. One look at the video will confirm that it's all smoke and no fire; the usual family-friendly sniffing abounds; however, one must note that Aftab's efforts in the gym to tone his body have empowered him to offer some competition to Jaitley's jahoobies and Arora's amortisseurs. It would be facetious to say that a million petals were harmed during the making of this video. Lovers of Bollywood film physics will also relish the shots from the car/truck collision where the creative mind wins over trivial matter.

Any note on this erythraean would be incomplete without recognising the arid genius behind the movie's tagline:

somewhere a fear of love ...
somewhere a love of fear ...

Be afraid. Be very afraid. I love it. Give me red. I'm waiting.

[1] it must be noted that the word is merely a punny product of a film-viewing salacious mind

[2] perhaps best known for Bahaar Aane Tak, where he flirted with Rupa Ganguly in kaalii terii choTii hai, slipped her a mickey and made family-rated love to her in a car

Friday, February 23, 2007

announcing: RMIM puraskaar 2006

With the FilmUnfair nominations having inspired the usual rounds of bile and some inspired creativity, Vinay, creator/moderator of the Pancham group, owner of, father of giitaayan, long-time ISB contributor and initiator of the THGHT series, whose last offering was man-bol, dedicated to mondegreens in Hindi songs, returns with RMIM Puraskaar 2006. You can proceed to the awards home to cast your vote. Voting closes tentatively on March 03, 2007.

The announcement's also posted on the giitaayan blog.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Indibloggies 2006: vote for this blog (please)

image courtesy:

Zounds! This portal of Bollywooden bile, this altar of "no mush just slush," this podium for the adoration of all things celluloid has been nominated for "Best Entertainment Indiblog" at the Indibloggies 2006. I am more shocked than Salman Khan was when he won the Filmfare Award for Best Supporting Actor (kuchh bhii hotaa hai!). (Click here to vote)

This oryzivorous cinephage is thrilled and truly honoured to share space with some very fine bloggers. (Click here to vote)

image courtesy:

(Click here to vote)
If you cast your valuable vote for this space, I promise to contribute generously to the Lawrence D'Souza Creativity Trust, and say nice things about specious NRI-friendly movies, and walk about unshaven with an unwashed baseball cap wearing clippers on my nose ... No!!! I would do anything for votes, but I won't do that.

You can't do anything about your dysphagia about the nominations for (and eventual winners of) the Filmfare Awards, but you can make a difference with your vote.

eii! Please vote. (Click here to vote)

kaanuun sirf sazaa degaa; sazaa kaa mazaa nahii.n legaa. tum mujhe voT do; mai.n tumhe.n mazaa duu.Ngaa. (Click here to vote)

Thanking you sincerely,
100% aayuravedik ja.DiibuuTiyo.n se banaa sampuurN swadeshii

(Click here to vote)

update: [February 23, 2007]: Voting closed on February 20, 2007, and the electronic ink has dried on the results. This space has failed to achieve popular glory, despite the "you voting for me?" spiel. The dead rabbits be damned, it's time to be faithful and depart and return to the old mean streets of movie malarkey; as far back as I can remember I always wanted to be a blogger ... (we should feel lucky we even get to make cheap acerbic swipes anymore).

Monday, February 12, 2007

sudhir mishra goes live on PFC

Oz strikes gold on Passion for Cinema as Sudhir Mishra comes on board with his own diary. The first post is a transcript of an interview where he talks about the influences on his work.

elsewhere on PFC: an extended post on his directorial début Yeh Woh Manzil To Nahin, a film that portended the finest film of 2005, Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi.

elsewhere hereabouts: A pointer to a bilious rant about the state of filmmaking in Bollywood.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

The songs of I See You

You find love in the strangest places is the tagline for I See You, a copy of Hollywood chick flick Just Like Heaven that Arjun Rampal decided to produce along with his wife and star in to boot. It's worth paraphrasing to describe my reaction to the Vishal-Shekhar soundtrack accompanying the film: you find goodies in the saddest places. The duo dig deep into their box of genres and dish out a wonderful aural mix.

There's the trance, dancefloor-friendly beat-heavy pop acorn kahanaa hai jo from Shekhar Ravjiani. The arrangements toss in enough echo and reverb for his voice to feed a nation as his voice bounces off into decay across each earpiece.

The other shake-it track haalo haalo[1] opens with frenzied quotes from latin and beach rhythms before a trance riff and a swirling male echo take over; a buoyant cry (dhumakaa?) later, the quotes continue with some funk guitar riffs before the rhythm and percussion return. Sunidhi Chauhan and Sukhwinder Singh lend their throaty best as they trade vocal histrionics with the rhythm, percussion and a cheeky bass line. Vishal Dadlani adds another texture with some vocalizing in the lower register. All this gets mixed without either the vocals or the music yielding to the other.

A host of electronic samples and percussion drenched in romantic echo embellish Sunidhi Chauhan's multi-tracked deliciously nuanced vocal on sach huii. This is the kind of song Sunidhi's done before for the duo[2]. There's a lot of mix-and-match on this track: a riff that mixes an electronic bass cascade and some acoustic guitar; a travelling male vocal accompanied by sympathetic strings in unison and complement. There's more than Tangerine Dream in the box that all this came from.

My pick, however, is the opening track of the album, subah subah, which has a lot of all this and more going for it. There's the balance between instruments and voice; there's the mix of genres (Jamaican music will find some strong fans in this duo -- they've done dancehall several times before[3]). The song opens with a 2-chord sequence strummed out vigorously on an acoustic guitar, before the composer duo pitch in a vocal onomatopoeaic refrain straight out of those old doo wop songs; the dancehall rhythm sets in and a light falsetto voice belting out lines before the immensely talented Zubeen Garg wraps his voice around the melodic alleys of the song. The electronic samples are at a minimum: a bouncing bass riff, the doo wop refrain and the dancehall rhythm dominate the backing sound mix. The tricks of echo and reverb splash his voice about the earphones. Garg indulges in vocal histrionics similar to those on yaa alii from Gangster, before the next musical layer pops in: a melody carried out on a whistle and backed by a nice chord progression on the acoustic guitar. The last third of the song sees the chord progression cross over to accompany the refrain and the rhythm. Fragments bounce back and forth until the song draws to a close on an electronic fade. It's a nice tight little nugget that begs replay.

In true Bollywood tradition, the song gets smashed on screen. Not just to smithereens but to sub-atomic grist. It adorns the opening credits[4], which would lead you to think that the filmmakers would've exploited as a good opportunity to let their imagination run wild and think of something interesting. You'd lose your house betting on that. The first nail comes from the fact that they've sped up the song. It's not chipmunk-fast, but it might as well get there instead of hanging in this limbo like the middle class. The camera tracks in to a figure standing against one of the pillars of the building that our hero is about to emerge from. If you've followed the gossip, you know who this figure is. But if you didn't there are several clues for you: the figure's too well-dressed to be in character; the figure's playing the wrong chords. Given that the camera's giving him so much attention, you can deduce that this is a star making a cameo. The camera tracks past to the glass door without rising up to catch his face. In a rather inspired little take, the camera turns about, as Rampal comes out and follows him as he passes the guitarist. We now see that it's our favourite Narcissus SRK himself. Now all this would've been a nice set-up (you have to excuse the bad chords; it's part of the Bollywood tradition[5]), if SRK hadn't decided to give you that silly aggravating smirk of his right near the end of this bit. The other nail comes when the filmmakers, in their joy at having achieved some glee with the cameo, decide to make sure that you don't forget whom you saw and keep returning to SRK. The cameo now becomes as rich as skimmed milk. As if to make up for the absence of narcissism once the cameo is done, Rampal seems to have issued a directive that subsequent footage focus on his presence. This turns out to be a really devastating experience, not in the least because the song gets promoted from its comfortable faux-diegetic role to the irritating suspension-of-disbelief avataar that has plagued our senses for years. Now every frigging foreigner on location is lip-synching to the damn song. To add to our misery, they decide to use variable film speeds and rhythm-assisted editing to augment our discombobulation. We also get more evidence that our filmmakers were trying to get drunk at a dry well when we see the common device of using shots to match lyrics: check out how the crowd gathers to follow Rampal's walk in the set of shots that ends with jahaan ke saath mai.n chal rahaa huu.N (translation: I'm walking with the world). Which brings us to star cameo #2. This one's a lot better: The camera switches its attention from Arjun Rampal to Hrithik Roshan, who walks by. He's whistling along with the song, of course. And he sets up to break into what might've been an interesting set of dance moves, but instead walks away after a teensy-weensy step. You wring your hands in grief at wasted opportunity. The song ends with the Crown of Narcissus passing from Rampal to the writer (read: filcher) and director Vivek Agarwal as his credit appears on the plasma TV screen at Rampal's home. This is when you throw in the towel and pray that you never ever have to watch this sorry-derriered flick.

Incidentally, eye candy in the film (the raison d'être for most Bollywood films) is provided by debutante Vipasha Agarwal.

[1] was the Filipino dessert a muse for this?

[2] consider wo kaun hai in Shaadi ka Laddoo

[3] the title track for Golmaal: Fun Unlimited, right here right now from BluffMaster!

[4] The video on YouTube

[5] Vishal Bhardwaj broke this tradition recently when Vivek Oberoi took the time to get the chords right for a sequence in Omkara; Bhardwaj paid for his transgression: the film was declared a flop and turned out to be more of a hit with the critics than with the masses.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

memories from the making of Black Friday

As the real black friday draws close and Anurag Kashyap is all set to make his marquee, posts have begun on PFC dedicated to the making of the film. The latest edition offers a wealth of sound clips comprising an interview with Anurag Kashyap about the film and its various aspects. Hear all about the long Dostoevskyian baadashaah khaan sequence and the importance of the music, the points of view chosen and abandoned, the chase sequence that links this film to the never-begun Allwyn Kalicharan (and connections to Takeshi Kitano and Andrei Tarkovsky), the importance of the choice of language, the impact of economics (probably the most expensive non-star-cast film made in India) and a tad more detail on why Naseeruddin Shah and Ir(r)fan Khan backing out. There's also a very interesting bit from the trial: after the film was actually screened at the hearing, the accused party wanted to change their stance!

A lot of what unfolds in the interview might make more sense for those lucky enough to have caught a bootleg or a film festival screening, but the interview with its very engrossing questions and answers is highly recommended. The PFC post also has links to the other items in the Black Friday series.

Come February 09, 2007, you can watch the film and then judge the film. YT sincerely hopes that you rule in AK's favour.

Some interesting asides: Super 35 (which is the choice for AK's No Smoking) was not available in this country until Sarkar; the first film on Panavision is being shot by N Chandra (the film's called Breaking News).

It would be amiss of me not to mention that the interview also touches on some interesting aspects of the still-unfinished Gulaal.

There's also a very important thought that AK labels as his "theory of relativity of cinema" -- he uses my favourite example (Citizen Kane) when he notes "the importance of [the film] ... why it is the greatest film can be best defined by people who saw it in '46/'50 [1941]"; it also anticipates the reaction of people to Paanch (when it's eventually released, grossly out of sequence in his ouevre).

The bellyaching moment arrives in the form of an answer to the question about problems with the censors this time around. It echoes some of the charming reasons dished out by the censors for banning Paanch):

is baar censors ne kuchh nahii.n kaaTaa ... chaar gaaliyaa.N kaaTii.n; do m**darch*d kaaTe ek b*hench*d kaaTaa; ek aur gaalii kaaTii; aur jab usake liye hamane argument kiyaa ki sir ye aap kyo.n kaaT rahe ho Black Friday me.n se ... aise hii ye log baat karate the ... wo actually jab Tiger Memom kaa ghar jalataa hai puuraa maahiim jalaa duu.Ngaa m**darch*d kar ke ... wahaa.N beep aataa hai ... to chaar jagah beep aataa hai ... wo chaar gaaliyaa.N kaaTii hai.n ... aur jab hamane unako puuchhaa ki aapane ye kyo.n kaaTaa ... censor-waalo.n ne ... unakaa argument ye thaa ... counter-argument ... ki aap ko aThaarah ch**tye diye the na is baar?

And some peeks into Vishal Bhardwaj's soundtrack of No Smoking: two qawwaaliis, one by Daler Mehndi and Sukhwinder; a Sufi song by Kailash Kher and Swanand Kirkire.

And there's an appreciation of Mani Ratnam, and especially RGV (only an outsider can make Satya), who manage to objectively deal with their own work.

And now, thanks to Anurag Kashyap, I have something interesting to feast my ears on -- the Brooks Qawwali Party.

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