Friday, June 28, 2013

Why Karan Johar's "Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewaani" is a Bollywood masterpiece

I watched "Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewaani" today. Finally. It's been a month since the latest package from the Karan Johar assembly line of box-office hits opened in Indian cinemas. And it deserves every rupee of its billion-rupee (and still counting) earnings in ticket sales.

Call me schmaltzy. But I like my Bollywood platter to be full of young, good-looking and carefree people dancing in choreographed perfection to foot-tapping music on lavish, glitzy sets. And that's not a bad thing.

Don't get me wrong. I relish my dose of art house cinema as much as the next critic. Give me "Pather Panchali", "Cloud Atlas" or even the latest Julio Medem experiment. But don’t judge me for liking "Student of the Year".

Cinema is entertainment. And Karan Johar is the chef extraordinaire who expertly seasons his Bollywood desserts with just the right mix of pizzazz. (Too many food metaphors; I must be hungry).

"Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewaani" is directed by a still 20-something Ayan Mukerji, the guy who brought us "Wake Up Sid" some years ago. That coming-of-age film was also produced by Karan Johar but "Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewaani" bears the distinct imprint of the head of Dharma Productions.

If you've been living under a rock since the film released on May 31, here's the gist to bring you up to speed. "Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewaani" is the story of Bunny (Ranbir Kapoor, probably nicknamed so because his character at times resembles the proverbial rabbit caught in the headlights). Like other carefree young men, Bunny wants to enjoy life on his own terms. This includes among other things a trekking trip to the northern Indian hill station of Manali (NOTE: Some of the scenes were actually shot in picturesque Kashmir and state chief minister Omar Abdullah is seething over Manali getting the credit).

Joining Bunny on this life-altering vacation are bosom pals Aditi and Avi; joined at the last minute by the geeky, bespectacled Naina (Deepika Padukone) - a schoolmate Bunny barely remembers. Long story short: three songs and an action-packed chase sequence later, Naina gets over her inhibitions and falls hopelessly in love with our hero, only to learn her bunny rabbit is hopping it to the United States for a course in journalism. Another case of unrequited love haunts the quartet. Tomboy Aditi (Kalki Koechlin) pines for an Avi (Aditya Roy Kapur) oblivious to her charms.

Eight years later, Bunny has lost his dad. Naina has lost her glasses. Bunny is a continent-hopping video producer for a FOX travel show. Naina is a doctor. Avi's bar business has seen better days. Aditi is getting married to a nerdy engineer in a big fat Indian wedding hosted in stately Udaipur. And the Manali love quartet comes together again. What happens next? No spoilers here. Go watch this romantic comedy.

"Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewaani" is unabashedly escapist but I loved every minute of it. Must admit Madhuri Dixit's cameo as the ghagra-swishing Mohini in a faux brothel threatened to put a dampener on things early on. But Ranbir Kapoor and Deepika Padukone breathe life into their characters. And they look good together. Really good.

And the songs. Composer Pritam has struck gold, and I don't really care which cave of vintage treasures he plundered his musical notes from - this is undoubtedly the album of the year. If "Badtameez Dil" is the exquisitely choreographed number that gives the film its vitality, "Balam Pichkari" will entrance Holi revellers for years to come. "Dilliwaali Girlfriend" is the spicy item song that's going to reign at weddings this winter while lovers will seek solace in the soulful "Kabira".

What else was good? Witty dialogue. Brilliant art design. Good-looking young people in shimmering clothes. Talented actors (Farooq Shaikh and Dolly Ahluwalia) whose roles we wish could have been longer. Not to mention a second brother-in-law of Bollywood queen Vidya Balan stealing the thunder from his younger sibling. Enough starry fodder for audiences to actually enjoy the film's 159-minute running time.

Evidently, Karan Johar has taught his protégé well. Ayan Mukerji's filmmaking career is looking good.

Critics may carp about why his films can never win an Oscar but Johar should just ignore them and do what he wants. Here's what he should say. In the words of a certain teenage girl who brushed aside calorie-counting naysayers in a TV commercial for anti-pimple cream some years ago: "I don’t care".

Saturday, June 15, 2013

When Newton met Gabbar and the rest of us

Me: Welcome Sir Isaac, I've always wanted to speak to you about your great discovery.

Sir Isaac Newton: No great discovery was ever made without a bold guess.

Me: Yes, Sir Isaac, that's what you said about discovering gravity in the 17th century. How fortunate that the apple fell on your head.

Newton: An apple didn't fall on my head. It was an orange.

Me: But …

Newton: It was not an apple.

Me: That's what all the school books say.

Newton: For God's sake, it was not an apple. I know the difference between fruits, my dear sir. It was a fruit of the citrus species and it was the colour orange.

William O'Shaughnessy: Good morning, everyone.

Newton: Who’s this?

Me: Yes, Mr O'Shaughnessy, why are you here in our private WeChat group? I only invited the five people or characters I always wanted to chat with because they did something really interesting or led great lives or are fun to watch.

O'Shaughnessy: I did something interesting too.

Me: And what’s that?

O'Shaughnessy: I brought the telegraph to India.

Me: Really? Oh, I forgot I invited you over. Just didn’t know your name. I always wanted to meet the guy who started this telegram business over here.

O'Shaughnessy:  I don’t blame you. Everybody’s going to forget me now. I read that India is stopping the telegraph service on July 15. I’ve been trying to get hold of Communications Minister Kapil Sibal to stop this madness but he isn’t visible yet on WeChat.

Me: Well, I don’t blame you for being angry. But Mr O'Shaughnessy, seriously, now that instant messaging services like WeChat are here, why send telegrams at all?

Newton: Yes, O’Shaughny, go discover something meaningful like I did.

O'Shaughnessy: Oh! And you are the Apple guy.

Me: No, that’s Steve Jobs. This is Sir Newton. You know the story - a man, a tree, an apple, a headache and, hey presto, gravity.

Newton: Yes, you imbecile. I did come up with the Universal Law of Gravitation. But it wasn’t an apple that fell on my head. Let me set the record straight on this WeChat. It was an orange.

O'Shaughnessy: So it was definitely some fruit then.

Newton: It was an orange.

O'Shaughnessy: Who cares? I like apples better anyway.

Newton: I can calculate the motion of heavenly bodies, but not the madness of people.

Gabbar Singh: Kitne aadmi thay?

Newton: I beg your pardon.

Gabbar: Kitne aadmi thay?

Newton: Kit nay add me they?

Me: Sir Isaac, he’s speaking in Hindi. He means - how many men were there?

Newton: How many men were there where and who in Dante’s Inferno is this guy anyway?

Me: He wants to know how many people are talking on WeChat. He’s the famous Bollywood villain from the blockbuster film "Sholay", an Indian Western with a menacing dacoit, two amiable gunslingers and a retired policeman with no hands.

Newton: Indeed, the plot sounds more exciting than any of Shakespeare's works.

William Shakespeare: How dare you, Newton?

Newton: Sorry, didn't know the Bard of Avon was chatting here with us today.

Shakespeare: Hell is empty and all the devils are here.

Gabbar: Kitne aadmi thay?

Me: Gabbarji, we are still chatting so you should ask: kitne aadmi hain (how many men are there)?

Sushma Swaraj: How sexist? It should be: kitne log hain (how many people are there)? Why can’t women talk here?

Gabbar: Oye Sush, khamosh! Jaa, Narendra Modi ko bata Gabbar aaya hain. (Shut up Sush! Go tell Narendra Modi that Gabbar is here)

Swaraj: Go tell him yourself. How rude.

Newton: Who's this woman?

Me: Please, no fighting here. This is not parliament or a Bollywood movie or even a Shakespeare play.

Shakespeare: Come, gentlemen and Milady, I hope we shall drink down all unkindness.

Swaraj: Don’t talk of drinking. It’s you guys who have spoilt the youth of India and introduced all these Jack Daniel bottles. Angrezo, Bharat chodo! (Englishmen, quit India!)

Me: Umm, actually Mrs Swaraj, Jack Daniel was an American distiller so you can’t blame the English. I do have a colleague named Frank Jack Daniel though and he’s English.

Newton: I never liked Americans myself. But why is that woman politician blaming us? She’s just being silly.

Me: Sir Newton, Sushmaji is usually very eloquent in parliament. Her Hindi is so good that even Indians like me have trouble understanding her.

Shakespeare: Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them. Good luck, Milady. I think you will be prime minister one day. But remember, uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.

Swaraj: How sweet. Nice boy, this Shakes.

O'Shaughnessy: I see all of you have already forgotten me, like you did the telegram.

Me: No, we haven’t Mr O'Shaughnessy. We’ll WeChat with you again soon. I had a lovely time and hope all of you made some new friends.

Newton: Yes, I should get going too. I’ve to get back to Westminster chapel.

Gabbar: Apple?

Newton: Mr Gabbar, as I’ve explained before. It was an o-r-a-n-g-e, not an a-p-p-l-e. I even ate the orange and had indigestion because I swallowed the pips.

Gabbar: Kitne pip thay?

Me: He means how many pips were there in that orange, sir? Don’t worry, he’s just spouting dialogue from his film.

Newton: Well, there were six pips, Gabbar.

Gabbar: Bahut naainsaafi hain yeh. Tera kya hoga, Newton? (This is grave injustice. Now what will happen to you, Newton?)

Newton: I can't make any sense of what this nitwit is saying.

Gabbar: Khamosh Newton, ab apple kha. (Shut up, Newton. Go eat an apple)

[As you might have guessed, this post was written for a WeChat contest on Indiblogger. Who are the five people (dead, alive or fictional) you want to connect with in a WeChat group?]

[Newton cartoon from Sunday Mercury here]

Connected HumTum - "Jodha Akbar" and "Punar Vivaah"

The evil mother-in-law in a 21st-century Indian TV household is describing her daughters-in-law -- the first one is a steel tumbler, the other is silver. The first storms off in a huff; the other gets ready to follow and console her when ... a town crier in medieval garb walks in accompanied by a drummer to herald his arrival. The newcomer reads from his scroll and announces the broadcast schedule of a new Zee TV soap opera featuring the exploits of 16th-century Mughal emperor Akbar and his queen Jodha. The excited members of the 21st-century Indian TV household start discussing the upcoming serial.

I'm impressed with product placement on Indian television. Even Superman using the Nokia Lumia 925 in "Man of Steel" wasn't in-your-face embedded advertising compared to this.

[For the record, I do not watch "Punar Vivaah" on @ZeeTV. I was merely flipping channels to see if the @AbhayDeol show Connected #HumTum had started]

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Save yourself before it’s too late

He was late again. She pushed the plate away with the rice untouched and went to the living room. The television was blaring in the background and she grabbed the remote to mute it. She needed to think.

He hardly ever came home before 10 at night. And it wasn't work. The woman from the flat upstairs had reported seeing him in the street. His arms had been flung around another woman and he was nuzzling her neck.

“You must be mistaken,” she told the housewife from 303. “It must have been someone else.”
“It was your husband. I am not blind.”
“It wasn't him,” she said. “He was at work.”
The two women stood and stared at each other.
“This is a warning sign,” said the upstairs neighbour. “Don’t ignore it.”
“Bitch!” she said and slammed the door in the woman’s face.

She shouldn't have done that. The woman from 303 was just trying to help. And it was true something was going on. She had called his office yesterday and was told he had left at 6 as usual. But he hadn’t reached home until midnight.

“Dinner?” she asked.
“Had it in office,” he replied. “Busy day.”
“You are drunk again,” she said, helping him undress.
“It helps me relax,” he said, pointing to his forehead. “I need to relax.”
She moved away as he grabbed her breasts.
“Please, not tonight,” she said.
“Why not?” he asked, slurring.
“Please,” she repeated and trembled violently when he slapped her.
“Bitch!” he shouted. “Can’t even satisfy your husband.”

He left for work in the morning, without as much as looking at her. She sat on her chair, stone-faced for several hours. It wasn't the first time he had hit her and she knew it wouldn't be the last. If only she had done something about it when it started several months ago. She had suffered a black eye then but he was like an animal that had tasted blood. She knew then the beatings would never stop. And yet she stayed on.

She should have never married him. But her parents had insisted. He had a steady job and didn't want much dowry. He drank a little. “Just a little,” her father had told her. “You’ll end up more drunk than your husband.” She had laughed then. Another warning sign ignored.

The romance lasted just a few days. She was nauseous and had told him she didn't want to have sex that night. “Bitch!” he shouted, pulling her towards him and tearing off her clothes. “You are mine,” he said as he assaulted her.

And yet she stayed on. What could she do? She had to make the marriage work. Her parents would turn her away. She was nothing without him. She couldn't run away. Or could she?

It was 10 when he returned.
“Listen, I’m sorry,” he said, offering her a box of sweets. “Take some.”
She didn't want to eat it but he cajoled her into taking a bite. Perhaps he had realized he was treating her badly. Was there hope for her after all?

But there was something wrong. She saw it in his eyes seconds before she fell to the ground. She had ignored yet another warning sign. He was gesturing to someone in the doorway.

She struggled to keep her eyes open and glanced at the woman who had come in with a sack. So this is the woman who is going to take her place. As her life ebbed away, she had a prayer on her lips. “Let her not make the mistakes I made.”

[Are you a victim of domestic violence? Do not ignore the warning signs. There’s help at every step. The latest National Family Health Survey says 34 percent of Indian women aged between 15 and 49 experienced physical violence at home. Nine percent suffered sexual violence. Save yourself before it’s too late. Make contact now]

(This post is an entry for the Colgate contest on IndiBlogger)

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