Mode C is as much for Calvin as it is for Chaos, as much for Cool as it is for Cold, as much for Class as it is for Crass.

Mode C is a way of life, the Calvin way of life which I am so fascinated by as to keep trying to make it my own way of life. But what exactly is Calvin's way of life, you ask...and I say that there are no clear answers to this one.

I strongly believe, however, that almost all the seriously critical fundamental concepts of life, they are just the bogies under Calvin's bed that he is afraid of. Everyhting else...Miss Wormwood, Susie, Mom and Dad, and of course above all, Hobbes...aren't they all merely the means that he uses to attack these bogies?

It is nothing, therefore, but the perspective of each of these players on the stage of Calvin's dramatic life that helps him fight these bogies and move on in his own unique way...listening to all but doing only what finally makes sense to his own individuality. This is what comes closest, I guess, to the Calvin way of leading one's life...

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Falling in the ditch and other tales

It's not often that you find your wife yelling at you for getting into a 6 ft deep ditch to look for one of your slippers, especially when the truth is that merely a second ago, your head hit the ground and you have just started coming to terms with the fact that you have fallen in a ditch perfectly camouflaged with some shrubbery on your way to answer the nature's call.

Your efforts at finding that elusive slipper are only representative of the defense mechanism that has kicked in upon realization of the free fall and not knowing what to do next. You have no clue as to how to explain that though, not to your yelling yet concerned wife, and definitely not to her brother (and his fiance, for extra comfort) who can't make up his mind about what to do first...try to help you out of the ditch or feel amused about the entire situation.

It is also not often that you spend the new year's eve at one of the coolest hangouts in town, an open air club on a hill playing some absolutely fantastic music to an absolutely awesome crowd in a setting that's replete with fireworks, drunk people dancing in the swimming pool (and everywhere else), and absolute strangers wishing you a happy new year (and getting a back-handed push and shove in return).

So yes, you may come back to me and say that you have been there and done that but I am sure you won't have too much to say when I tell you that post this party, you may stand to lose keys to your little rented villa where you had planned to continue the celebrations with some good old Punjabi music and Maggi. Your tongue is likely to be tied even more as you realize that at 4 AM on January 1st, there is hardly any chance of encountering the stray key-maker roaming on the streets or expecting help from the otherwise lovely, nail-clawing, and suspiciously paranoid facilities manager of the villa society.

And God help your chances of speaking ever again as I tell you that not only were we not fortuitous enough for all this, we had to spend six hours sleeping on the villa's tiny little gym's floor, all dressed in our new year party finery...and oh yes, with the Villa's entirely unhelpful guard commenting on our bad luck on the first day of the year, if only to help us see the much obfuscated obvious.

I can almost smile benignly at your slow nodding of the head when you hear of the little spats we had with the local taxi mafia...I know, happens everywhere right, all these tourist places have gone to the dogs, you say! That they have, and spats we did have...some mildly irritating and others almost life-threatening but all part of the game.

It's just that these little spats assume those gigantic proportions in your mind, inching towards top of the mental billboard when they follow something even more interesting that happened just a couple of hours ago. What can be more interesting than a few North Indians getting potentially beaten up by locals, you ask? Well, not much...just that half of the shack we were sitting in got engulfed in fire within minutes and the doped staff and perennially semi-naked firang hut-dwellers started throwing water on open electric wires jutting out from all corners (thankfully, after the fire was doused by some by-standers throwing sand over it).

Well, that's Goa for you!

And oh, we had fun on the beaches too, the complete Christmas-New Year-Goa treatment with foot massages on sun beds, sun more bewitching than the other, waiting for hours for food, watching waves crash against your table laid out at the beach, guitar next to the roaring sea under the moon, and the occasional hijacking of the DJ at a beach shack party.

Monday, August 03, 2015

Mann kasturi re, Jag dasturi re...

There are movies that give you a route to escape the monotony of life and take you along on the journey to nothingness and larger-than-life experiences. However, there are others that have a meaningful story to relate, quite often and unfairly dubbed as the serious movies. Piracy and TV screens unfortunately make such movies fall short of ringing the cash registers. There are markets for both these varieties of cinema of course, just that appreciation may center on the moolah in one to the standing ovations in another.

Masaan does tell us a serious story and yet it is a saga of escape. Not escape from reality a la cinema, but what it seems to significantly tell us is that entrenched within reality is escape from it, sort of a catch 22. The movie talks about the ultimate escape though, the "KashiYatra" (final journey to death and salvation) and how even that is not enough to get free of the stranglehold that life and its customs have on you.

Set in the lanes and ghats of perhaps the oldest surviving city in the world, Varanasi, the story stays clear of stereotypes despite the strong allegory across the plot. Varanasi is not just another picture perfect image here of tourists, backpackers, and junkies smoking up their lives but is more of an important character in the movie, a confluence of life and death...of livewire ambitions and silencing destiny.

There are various sub-plots that make up the story and you watch spellbound as they keep coming together, each thread almost touching the other shyly before intermingling completely. Fire and water, the two elements that the Varanasi of Masaan is made of, are up and about throughout the story...the subtle yet simmering father-daughter relationship playing perfect foil to the fiery ambition followed by consuming sadness of the underdog. At the cost of appearing a bit muddled to the average cine-goer, this interplay between the tracks is effortless enough to actually add to the movie's narrative instead of taking anything away from it.

A professor in Sankrit at the local college has come upon bad days, selling trinkets and trivia at the ghats, that confluence of religion and spirituality that only a few cities are blessed with and Varanasi perhaps most well known of them. His daughter embodies the spirit of youth in India's small towns who is confident in her own skin, not ashamed of getting caught in the middle of a sex scandal except for the problems it is causing her father...cornered but defiant. Even the unlikely little hero who assists the Pandit at his shop is unafraid of diving deep and competing to win every gamble placed at his cost.

The other track, even more poignant, relays the story of the emancipation that every small town looks up to. Education is widely identified even in the darkest reaches of the society to carry hope and yet, it also makes a lot of promises, some kept and yet others totally lost in fires of the crematorium. The lower caste boy dreams to fall in love without drowning under the social stigmas and associated drag. Unlike in the small town India of old, he gets support from his friends and partner, the facebook generation having come up the curve. All he needs to do to make his dream come true is within his reach...or so he thinks. Plans to escape the reality go back to the earth from where we all come into being. Destiny strikes and strikes hard enough to break the skull that can’t be destroyed even by the holy fire.

The acting is top class and the sheer personalities that the protagonists bring to the table are outstanding. Richa Chadha's undefeated fight in slinging over her bag to Sanjay Mishra's hunched shoulders, the debutantes Vicky Kaushal and Shweta Tripathi with their joie de vivre and cute idiosyncrasies, the unambiguous and uncaring evil of Bhagwan Tiwari's blackmailing cop, and even the vulnerability shrouded in boastful swagger of the child artist Nikhil Sahni...the screen is brought alive by these artists and more.

Masaan, the local colloquial term used for Shamshaan (crematorium) is wonderfully titled and brilliantly executed. Generating and retaining its own brand of charm, the writer-director duo of Varun Grover and Neeraj Ghaywan give a local flavor to the movie. References to popular culture notwithstanding (even those meshed into the local milieu of a small town with cyber cafe owners glaring away at facebook explorations), the story keeps referring to poets from the Hindi and Urdu heartland. As the background tracks and songs take you on their unique Kashi Yatra, you can only wonder at the play with words.

Added to the story and its intricacies, what also impresses one about Varun Grover is the striking color he gives to the songs, perfectly creating bright and inviting cocktails which get you high once poured into the soulful music that only Indian Ocean is capable of. The director's debut is as mature and sensitive as it could have been and given the challenging non-linearity of narrative, his handling of his characters and the story are remarkable.

Masaan burns in your mind for hours and even days after you have watched it, the pyres dying down to embers, and embers proving to be genesis for life as they power the cooking stove. It is so pretty, the way water, glorious in the afternoon sun enlivening one ghat ends up being just the background for death being consumed by fire on the other.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

In Fantasy Land

The six-legged dragon is spewing dark fire black as night, chilling your bones contrary to the heat you would expect to be seared with. As it flies across the hills of mist, light seems to fill the underdog and even his silhouette as he lifts his eyes towards the sky to see the dragon better and say a silent prayer. But is that simply a prayer or did he raise a wand in the air and say something more potent, one wonders as the dragon is shot down from the sky, hit by an invisible arrow. The Black Creature's hound's shrill cries envelop the air as he hits the ground along with the dead dragon. The dragon was vile but even viler was this hell's child for whom the beast was not just means of transport but something he had always used to spread terror, rooting fear deep into the minds of hapless humans.

Haven't we all read something like this at some point in our lives? Haven't we all lost ourselves in vivid imagery of this sort while watching some movie or the other? Haven't we all wondered? It may not have been...well this fantastic all the time. It could have simply been a story of boy meeting girl in a setup that you can only dream of and that of the events that follow, stuff that even nightmares are not made of...finally resulting in a climax that is so far fetched as to make you visibly cringe.  

Be what it may, fantasies often end up giving you that escape route you have always been looking for. The madness in this world notwithstanding, there is enough and more that goes on in our own minds for us to need some mechanism to forget everything. Driven into a different world, we laugh and cry with its inhabitants, barely managing to hold our sides at jokes that would otherwise have been outrageously bad, being free with that lump in the throat at events in their lives that seem equally preposterous. We forget our own worries somehow and even the most insurmountable of odds for us look like child's play for the characters that come alive in this fantasy world.

The characters are all etched so clearly, in black and in white with hardly any scope for the grey in between. There are silent characters and those who are hilariously loud...people too good and those who can't be any more of devil incarnates. Life goes on however, despite the extremes and you are swept along on the journey to fantasy land not wanting to come back...ever. Alice managed to lose herself, didn't she? And wasn't there a platform Nine and Three Quarters for Harry and his friends to escape to Hogwarts? Didn't the kids meet Aslan more than once on their journeys to Narnia? Didn't Peter Pan start living in Neverland?

And then you are back...back to the skulduggery that reality is. All the filth hits you as the unscrupulous ways of life take you away from the sweet and tangy fantasy, as you get mixed in the greys, not being able to decide the good and bad of it. How you wish things were as simple here, being able to call a spade a spade, being able to have no pain that can't be healed, no problem that can't be solved! 

As the mind wanders those lands today trying its best to break free of the monotony, I thank all those books and movies that have taken me to my own Narnia, my own Hogwarts, my own Seven Kingdoms of Westeros, my own Age of Legends where I am the Dragon Reborn, my own Gotham and Metropolis and Star City and Central City where I know all the superheroes on a first name basis.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

GoA - Go Away?

Goa has always been one of those vacation destinations that endear themselves to you not just for what the place has to offer in terms of visual treats but also for the overall experience. Experience, which each one of us looks at as per our own idiosyncrasies, may be composed of myriad facets, some emotional and some circumstantial. However, of all these facets, the local ecosystem plays a big role - the kind of food you can find, the character that the destination's cafes and restaurants hold, the kind of hospitality its hotels offer, and most importantly, the vibe that you get from the locals.

In numerous visits to Goa that most of us have had in the past, I am reasonably certain that its score card has always had a big tick mark on this one...but not any more perhaps? Over the last two years, I have been to this place some 5-6 times and have never had to think twice about the Goa experience - something that has always been taken for granted when it comes to this place. The sea has been the same and the nature still at its beauteous best but there are some things that seem to be changing, though and certainly not for the better.

Over the last two occasions that I have been to Goa, there clearly seems to be a certain negativity in the air. It seems as if Goa is tired of the people that keep coming to its shores, month after month and day after day, season or off-season. With travel having become affordable and something that is part of the middle class budget now, there are all sorts who do travel. At the cost of sounding snobbish and somewhat elitist, there are norms that you need to respect when you travel and which are often not preserved by the amateur traveler.

It is no wonder therefore, to see the discomfort and in some cases, even angst that the locals feel towards such tourists who are careless with how they treat Goa...those who throw garbage in the open, those who bring their road rage infested traffic sense to the place, those who get aggressive at the slightest provocation, those who do not believe in sharing Goa with its actual natives, thinking they own all the beaches and the greens because they have paid for it.

Moreover, if you actually look at the Goa landscape today and compare it with what it was a few years ago, you will also realize that the mainstay of the hospitality industry here, the foreign tourist is slowly doing the vanishing act. From finding foreigners lounging at sun-decks on the Baga beach 4-5 years ago to now seeing them only at off-course beaches either in extreme south (Palolem) or extreme north (Arambol), things have changed and so have the earning capacities of locals who used to cater to this segment of the tourist population and make big margins out of it.

While the locals do understand that such margins can not be made of the not-so-gullible Indian tourist, the grudge they have is not this alone. Once again at the cost of sounding elitist (this time on behalf of the locals), perhaps the Indian tourists are blamed by the Goans for exodus of their foreign counterparts. With cases of hooliganism coming to the fore once too often and things far worse such as lootings, murders, and even rapes forming the news headlines, Goa has not had it easy recently.

Many tourists (Indians and more so, foreigners) have, if not sworn off Goa, been easier with other destinations like the South of India (Kerala and even Sri Lanka) when they make their travel plans. As is true in cases like these, the cause and effect get lost somewhere over time and things that Goans believe have led to this downfall are the ones that they are indulging in themselves now. Out and about to teach a lesson to the boorish Indian tourists who have allegedly brought bad name to Goa, the locals are not sparing anything to use diamonds to cut diamonds.

For a state that depends on tourism for a major portion of its economy, it is an unfortunate set of circumstances, seeing things come to such a head. As the clouds gathered during the Goa Monsoon bring out the violent shades of the sea to the fore, one can only remember the blue and green waters when the weather was calmer. While this cycle will complete its course and once the Monsoon is over, Goa's beaches will again have the hues to calm and soothe rather than those to excite and awe, one wonders if the Goa experience will follow some cycle as well.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Motion, driven by emotions

It is but once in a while that a movie like Piku hits the screens and while there may be a lot of talk about the intended audience for Piku being already past its retirement age, the movie does take on the normal definition of a family movie and turns it around...completely.

The story, or its absence if you may so choose to call it, does not have much to offer but still makes you smilingly indulge in the whimsical ways in which Shoojit Sircar handles and portrays the relationship between Bhashkor Banerjee (played to a fault by Amitabh Bachchan) and his firebrand daughter Piku (Deepika Padukone in a career-defining role). Irrfan Khan's Rana Chaudhary adds to the story in a way that only he can. Rana's character is perfect foil to the intimacy in the father-daughter relationship, representing the audience and ensuring that they do not feel like the only outsiders to the family.

Amidst the existential drama that the family of two and their friends, colleagues and associates partake in, the omnipresent whim takes the father, daughter, loyal servant, and the outsider on a trip to Kolkata and down the memory lane. The journey is as much literal as it is metaphorical for all involved, the old man who realizes the meaning of life as against living, the young daughter who despite her fiery and outspoken nature, learns for the first time to come out of the shadows of her responsibilities. As the outsider falls in love with the titular character and yet holds his own logic and reason against the potential absurdness of family ties, he also undergoes a lesson in moderation and love.

From the old man exhibiting all traits of lovable senility comes the movie's theme of "motion se hi emotion". Obsessed with the movement of his bowels and convinced of being perennially sick, Amitabh's Bhashkor is as cute as he is irritating and annoying. Many in the audience would relate to having experienced some part or the other of Bhashkor in their lives, whether in the form of dealing with the old age and associated idiosyncrasies of their parents or with their own self in case of the senior generation who made that switch to appreciating life from just living it.

Piku's story is as much that of the modern, liberated woman as that of the generation caught between freedom of thought and responsibilities in action. Deepika is brilliant in her depiction of the anger, frustration, and ultimate helplessness of a woman who knows her mind when it comes to everything and everyone else except her father and her responsibilities towards him. While she can decide to spend a night with her colleague and her friend in her house, she is devastated to wake up to her father having suffered a minor heart attack during the night.

Rana as the businessman trying to hold his own amidst a dysfunctional family of an ever taunting mother and a complaining sister, is an interesting character in his own right that makes its presence felt despite the story revolving around Bhashkor and Piku. As he decides to drive a difficult yet important client (who he secretly admires) in Piku all the way from Delhi to Kolkata, Irrfan manages an excellent portrayal of disbelief followed by resigned acceptance at a family that seems normal but is as dysfunctional as his own.

Apart from the three central characters who are all brought alive amazingly well,equally brilliant is the supporting cast. As audience, it is difficult to decide on a favorite out of them: the loyal and seemingly dumb but astute servant Budhan (Balendra Singh), the silent friend and comfort buddy Syed (Jisshu Sengupta), the loving uncle and suspicious aunt living in old-world Kolkata (Sajal Bhattacharya and Swaroopa Ghosh), and of course the infectiously exuberant maternal aunt (Moushumi Chatterjee) who keeps chiding her brother-in-law Bhashkor and his craziness.

Some fabulous dialogues (often in the form of repartee) by Juhi Chaturvedi add chutzpah to the proceedings and the accomplished actors that Amitabh, Irrfan, and even Deepika are, they leverage this to the hilt. Shoojit Sircar's influence is evident throughout the movie, not just in the sensitive portrayal of the delicate relationships in an otherwise fragmented society but also in the loving depiction of the cities of Delhi and Kolkata. He keeps it simple and recounts a story of people more than that of events in their lives.

So you know that Bhashkor needs to get his motion right or that Piku loves her glass of wine and music. You are aware that Rana likes Piku and while he longs to be in her company, neither of them believe in giving a formal shape to their relationship. What you don't know however, is what happens in their lives before and after the few days of their lives that you get to see and which is just fine for the movie is about people and their nuances, enough to fill the two hours of its running time and more.    

Friday, November 14, 2014

To be or not to be, that is the question

Image Courtesy:
One viewing of Cinematograph's play Hamlet - The Clown Prince currently being screened in Delhi at the Kamani auditorium, and directed by the irrepressible Rajat Kapoor gives you an insight into the sheer quality of theater that it represents. This one is fresh and quirky, simple and complicated, interactive and filled with monologues, talks of The Lion King and of Shakespeare, buffoonery and murder, a tragedy and a comedy...all exhibited without a blemish, just as Soso the clown says in the opening statement of the play, "All this and much more can I truly deliver".

In line with the usage of clowns as a motif across some of his movies and other plays (C for Clowns, Nothing like Lear), Rajat Kapoor presents his own unique clown-ish take on the Shakespearean tragedy. A clown company that is bored of the regular stuff decides to perform Hamlet and perform it they do, in their own style, with a lot of gibberish (the official language of the play incidentally) and their own sidetracks, each more uproariously funny than the other.

The ensemble cast for this play is like none other too. Rajat Kapoor manages quite a coup by getting some of the finest actors play roles that seem to be written for them, the number of years the play has been running being a lot of help doubtlessly. The actors manage to bring out not only the laughs with some very good comic timing but also get into the serious and Hamlet-esque pathos in the very next sequence with amazing ease and brilliant effect. Some well thought of interactions with the audience (specifically the scene where Ophelia is about to die) make the cast stand out even more, making the audience remember them even much after the show is over.

The shows being screened in Delhi in November have Neil Bhoopalam playing Fido (who goes on to play the Ghost, King Claudius, and Horatio in the Hamlet staging that the clown company does), Namit Das playing Nemo (who initially fights with Soso over playing Hamlet but finally settles for Polonius), Sujay Saple playing Popo (the Bossy at the clown company who briefly appears as Laertes, Ophelia's brother in the play-within-the-play), and Puja Sarup playing Buzo (Queen Gertrude of Hamlet). Kalki Koechlin and Rachel D'souza take turns at different show screenings to play Phi-phi (who plays Ophelia in Hamlet) while Vinay Pathak and Atul Kumar take turns at playing the clown Soso (who plays the central character of Hamlet).

Rajat Kapoor's concept and direction is top-notch and the take on Shakespeare that he presents is, though all messed up, quite representative of the original. While the clowns on the stage do away with complete sequences of the play and shuttle from one part to the other without much heed to chronology or logic, you still do get to see Hamlet the story that Shakespeare once told. The bonus is that you also get a peek into the lives of Sarup's Buzo, the alcoholic, sex-starved flirt, Bhoopalam's dance loving Fido who has a mind of his own, Das's Nemo who wants to be the hero but is shunned once too often, and of course Pathak/Kumar's Soso who is as morose and sulky as Hamlet was in the play.

There are several sequences that make the audience hold their sides while laughing their lungs out. Especially noteworthy are the dumb charades scene enacted by Fido the Ghost, as also Fido's frequent breaking away into dance the moment he gets a chance. Nemo's gagging and moments just after his Polonius gets killed are hilarious and so are Buzo and Soso's interactions with the audience. At the same time, this being a staging of Hamlet, you also get to shed a tear or two at Ophelia's death, Hamlet's confession of his love for her and his inability to act, whether to take revenge or take his own life (to be or not to be).

The only negative, if it may be called that, is the length of the screening and considering that there is no interval, things do get a little stretched towards the end and the audience starts getting visibly fidgety. While the play does not bore you at any point, some of the sequences do come out as possibly self-indulgent and can either be shortened or the play can at the least do with an interval.

In a nutshell, this is one play that deserves all the accolades and the long stay at the theater scene that is is getting. With some brilliant production values and very smooth and seamless management of the venue, stage, sound and effects (at least in Delhi), this is an experience that is perfect not just for the avid theater enthusiast but even for a first-timer. 

Saturday, October 05, 2013

The one with the hole: Dunkin' Donuts, CP

It is one of those weekday mornings when you haven't had any food hitting the belly and in addition, have that extra hour you can squeeze in before the next meeting. As we walk through the doors of Dunkin' Donuts and I notice the name extension in the form of "& more", I smile to myself, recollecting the various ad campaigns around their new food additions, especially the "Heaven Can Wait" burgers. The place is buzzing and the ground floor of this refurbished CP outlet is almost full.

People here are cheerful for a weekday morning, smiling and talking to each other, reminiscent of a typical European or American cafe with the right mix of teenagers, middle aged couples and a few senior citizens adding to the melee. All of them seem to be reasonably satisfied with what they have had of the Dunkin' experience so far. As the ambiance sinks in and we make our way towards the ordering counter, we can see some really tantalizing pictures of food and for once, I feel happy to see that there are almost an equal number of vegetarian as the non-vegetarian options on the menu (not to mention the egg containing food).

The display cabinet is full of colorful and inviting doughnuts which by themselves can complete a menu and make you drool. As we are busy taking all this in and deciding our order, we are greeted by the server behind the counter with that cheerful yet professional smile, something that tells you that she is going to be nice and yet quick and effective, something which we take to immediately. She helps us through our order of one Heaven can wait burger, one veg chef's special burger, a snacky cupwich and a couple of doughnuts (classic glazed and death by chocolate). We are informed that if we order beverages (which we were about to, anyway), we will get the doughnuts free and we readily accept the suggestion, ordering a couple of iced teas.

As we find a place for ourselves on the crowded floor, we can't help but overhear some of the conversations around us. We see the teenager on the table next to us drooling over the dripping chocolate from her doughnut as she feeds some of it to her friend sitting next to her. The early-thirties couple next to us is busy digging into the burgers with a pretty satisfied smile playing on their faces. We are talking about the origin of Dunkin' as the server comes over with our food, a big smile, and a sincere sounding "what else can I do for you".

The food, in one word, is delicious. The burgers are juicy and cheesy (pun unintended) and the beverages potent (some may not like it but the distinct tea flavor in the iced tea does it for me)...and the doughnuts... Just a moment ago, I was benignly smiling at the foolishness of today's yuppie generation and the way they exaggerate when it comes to anything, even a simple doughnut...and there I was, sucking the last drop of molten chocolate dripping from mine...simply divine.

If there could have been a more cheerful start to the day, I haven't been fortunate enough to witness many of those. A buzzing ambiance, some really genuine (apparently at least) staff, and some finger-licking food, Dunkin' has it all to make it big in the Indian market.