Wednesday, October 26, 2011


As I am growing older, festivals are not so much about looking forward to something as they are about looking back. Being nostalgic and turning into an uncle who’s always remembering the past. Last month I was invited to inaugurate a Durga Puja. The organizers asked me to speak a few lines. They must have been expecting me to talk about the future. All I did with that mike in my hand was to dwell on the past. I talked about how Durga Puja was the grandest festival in the town of my childhood, Jamshedpur.

Today I went shopping for crackers because my son changed his mind at the last moment and decided he will burst a few. He didn’t want to and he tried very hard to stick to his resolution. But when you are 12 and all your friends in the building are excited about the phatakas, you can’t remain moralistic unless you want to grow up to be Anna Hazare. I am glad he is showing no such sign.

As I was shopping, I suddenly found myself being overwhelmed by nostalgia. The crackers of childhood came back to haunt me. Back then, there was something called ‘taal phataka’, a cracker wrapped in dried palm leaf with a tail. You were meant to burst that one in your hand, holding it away from your face. By the time you were ten years old you had to prove to your peers that your gender was masculine by accomplishing this feat. Of course girls too soon caught on to the ritual and they too would burst it in their hands so it was even worse for someone like me who was mortally scared of fire ever since as a four year old I fell on a chulha with a pot of boiling water and burnt my arm pit.

I could hear echoes of my older brothers’ friends telling them ‘Kya yeh pataka bhi nahin phod sakta. Woh Meena saat saal ki hai aur woh bhi haath mein phodti hai.’ Something that used to freeze me in those years with a mixture of shame and humiliation brought a smile to my lips today. I asked the Kannadiga shop keeper whether he had taal phatakas’ and he looked clueless. I also looked for Krishna Double Sound bombs and they too were missing. Just as well, because I ended up buying the noise less anaars, chakris, phooljadis and those strings that shoot up to the sky and light it up in different colours.

We went down for the fireworks and the rains came. While we were getting back with the bag of crackers in my hand, I remembered my father, now dead for over twenty one years. He would get his bonus before Durga Puga and between buying all five of us, six if you count mother, new clothes for the four days of the Puja and the pocket money he would give us for pandal hopping, he used to be broke by the time Diwali came. Being the youngest and the most pampered, I used to always kick up a fuss about him not buying me enough crackers. He was a patient man and at the last moment he would gather whatever little money he had left and indulge me. Thinking about all that made me sad but that despondence also had a tinge of happiness. I was lucky to have a father like mine.

We should have festivals. They take us back to spaces we think we left behind long ago.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

My 10 favourite Movie Moments

Movies are about magical moments that linger on for years afterwards either bringing a smile on an otherwise humdrum day or suffusing you with sorrow when you are taking a walk by a seaside. Here are my ten favourite moments from ten favourite films.

1. ‘Hey Jude’ moment from ‘Coming Home’- This is an anti Vietnam film with Jane Fonda, Bruce Dern and Jon Voight. Fonda plays a young woman and Dern is her Marine husband. While he is fighting the war, Fonda volunteers in a hospital and falls in love with Voight who has come back from Vietnam a paraplegic. The most haunting moment in the film is when Dern is making love to Fonda before leaving for the front. It is a top angle shot. We see Dern’s back moving and Fonda staring expressionlessly at the whirring fan and the Beatles song ‘Hey Jude’ plays in the background. Guaranteed to give you goose pimples!

2. ‘Poetry belongs to those who need it’ moment from Il Postino- This one is about a fictional relationship between the poet Pablo Neruda and a simple postman Mario Puoppolo while Neruda is serving his exile in a small village in Italy. Mario becomes fascinated by Neruda and uses his poems to woo his sweetheart. The incensed aunt of the girl confronts Neruda who in turn takes Mario for a walk on the beach and scolds him for using his poems without his permission. Mario wants to know why and Neruda tells him because he wrote the poems. Maria retorts by saying poetry does not belong to those who write it but to those who need it leaving Neruda confounded. The simplicity of the scene makes it immortal.

3. ‘Women’s Space’ moment from ‘All about my mother’- This one by Pedro Almadovar is too complex and complicated to be packed in a single line synopsis. It has themes ranging from faith and existentialism to Aids and transvestites. A mother seeks closure after the death of her young son and travels to Barcelona to meet the transvestite who had fathered her son and who didn’t know of his existence. In Barcelona she makes friends with a pregnant nun and the female actor who indirectly caused her son’s death. On a particular day, the grieving mother, the pregnant nun, the prima donna actress and a wise cracking transvestite get together accidently to bitch and giggle, giving the otherwise sombre film one of its few light moments. Brilliant!

4. ‘Mrs Robinson, you’re trying to seduce me. Aren’t you?’ moment from ‘The Graduate.’ Dustin Hoffman in his film debut is Benjamin Braddock, a confused young man not quite sure whether he wants to join Graduate School. Mrs Robinson is the wife of his father’s partner and a shocked Benjamin doesn’t quite know how to deal with the older woman hitting on him. They are both very good in the scene...Hoffman with his astounded expression and Ann Bancroft who brings a believable pathos to her character. Captivating!

5. ‘Vaada na Tod’ moment in ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’- I am sure most people who have watched the film are confused about what I am talking about. But follow the film carefully and you will find Kate Winslet listening to this song in one of the initial scenes. I have always wondered why this song from a Kumar Gaurav- Rati Agnihotri flop and rewind to watch the scene whenever I watch the film. Intriguing!

6. ‘Promise me you will never forget this walk,’ moment from ‘Namesake’- This one owes more to the writer Jhumpa Lahiri than Mira Nair. But full marks to Nair for including this scene in the film and at such a poignant moment. Gogal goes for a holiday with his parents. While the mother waits for them at the beach, father and son go for a long walk and Gogol’s father makes this request to his young uncomprehending son. Gogol recalls this conversation after his father’s death. I always cry whenever I read this bit in the book or watch the film. And yes I have read the book and watched the movie more than once.

7.‘Kanto ko murjhane ka khauf nahin hota’ moment from Mughal- e- Azam. Prince Salim organizes a contest between the two resident courtesans of the palace- Heroine Madhubala and Vamp Nigar Sultana. After the singing is over, he rewards Nigar Sultana with a rose for her optimistic take on love while handing thorns to Madhubala for her bleak outlook only to have Madhubala throwing this immortal punch line at him. Wah!

8. ‘Mein aaj bhi phenke hue paise nahin utatha’ from ‘Deewar.’ The protagonist Vijay refuses to accept the coin gang lord Iffteqar throws at him after getting his shoes shined by him. When Vijay grows up and turns into a smuggler, the same gang lord throws a bundle of note for him and an intense Bachchan throws this line at him. Full Paisa Vasool.

9. ‘Maula Salim Chishti’ moment from Garam Hawa. The best film on Partition. The scene unfolds in Fathehpur Sikri. Even talking about the moment may spoil things so just watch the film to relish the scene with the kabutar followed by the haunting song.

10. “Keh do tum mujhse pyaaar nahin karti’ moment from ‘Dil to Pagal Hai.’ I am not ashamed to admit this remains my favourite romantic film and Shahrukh and Madhuri have such crackling chemistry between them that they burn the screen in this one.

Drop in anytime and I will watch any of these movies with you again. Just for the moments.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Creating Frankenstein's Monster

Victor Frankenstein is the name of a fictional character created by Mary Shelley. He is the progenitor of a monster. Eventually the monster becomes much larger than its creator and destroys him. For some strange reason or maybe not so strange after all, the monster is often confused with the creator and referred to by his creator’s name.

Politicians all over the world are notorious for following Victor Frankenstein’s example. They create monsters and are in turn consumed by them. Indira Gandhi created a monster Bhindaranwale in the Golden Temple to teach the Akalis a lesson and this monster in turn was responsible for felling her with bullets. The US under George Bush created Osama Bin Laden to counter forces averse to it in Afghanistan and saw its invincibility being challenged when 9/11 happened.

The team of Arvind Kejriwal, Prashant Bhushan, Kiran Bedi and Manish Sesodia are not a group of politicians but they created a monster to take on a corrupt government. And there is no doubt in my mind Anna is eventually going to consume them all.

Prashant Bhushan is the most credible among all the Team Anna members. He and his father Shanti Bhushan have taken on the establishment on multiple fronts fighting battles for the common man. If he has an independent take on the Kashmir problem, isn’t he entitled to air them in a democracy? All he said is that he favours a plebiscite in Kashmir. How does it make him into a secessionist?

Successive Governments have not been able to do anything about Kashmiri Pandits being hounded out of their homes and being forced to live in refugee camps. If the government feels so strongly that Kashmir is an integral part of India, why don’t they ensure the homeless get back their homes and are provided with security and protection?

Not only was Bhushan badly mauled by a gang of ruffians for stating a rational view, he has also faced the ignominy of being threatened by Anna that he may lose his place in the team. This after the team used his services to draft the Jana Lokpal Bill. Anna has now grown big enough to condemn Bhushan for his comments and other team members have been quick to distance themselves from the lawyer and his views on Kashmir.

As for the Marwari boys, Arvind Kejriwal and Manish Sesodia, they may be beaming right now for TV cameras for the self goal they scored in Hisar but soon Anna is going to show them their place. He has already snubbed Kejriwal for making stupid statements like ‘Anna is above the parliament.’ Anna is all set to turn them into nothing more than his glorified secretaries.

Only Kiran Bedi need not despair. Even if Anna discards the entire team and Bedi along with it, she can always audition for the role of Surpanaka for the 2012 Ramlila to be held in the same grounds where Anna fasted.

After all, she has already displayed her acting chops with her ghungat act.