Friday, March 26, 2010

Roy's fan and an evening at JNU

Just the mention of the name, Arundhati Roy, is enough for people to start thinking about the speaker as a 'pseudo'. So, if you think the writer is going to write and speak about his 'pseudo leader', then log out right now. Maybe come back next time. Some other 'entertaining' post will be waiting for you. But if you are here, then let me tell you I am not going to talk about her views and trying to defend them. I am a fan of Roy's writings and take that: even without reading "The God of Small Things".

Probably, I will never read that book, I will never meet Rahel, Estha or Kochamma. Maybe because that book is fiction from Roy. (for her opponents, even her non-fiction appears like her fiction) I am told, she is working on another fiction. I dont know whether i will read that or not. But the first thing I read was "The Greater Common Good" and I was swept away with the kind of astounding facts and figures she had projected about the Sardar Sarovar Dam, the Gujarat Canal system, the height of dam and the actual water that may or may not reach at whatever distances promised. And then came the worst: the displacement and the idea of 'sacrifice' that the other India will have to make. Constantly pondering over the way our system works, I couldn't sleep that night. That essay and the book 'The Algebra of Infinite Justice' were a complete eye-opener for me. somewhere around 2004. I still read it, and have read it several times now.

But why, this collection of essays? The answer is in one word: Conviction, my dear! Its almost I could see in her eyes when she was writing. The conviction with which she wrote, she gave the numbers, quoting all government, UN, World Bank reports and three days later, just outside the place i used to work in Baroda was a congregation held by Congress Party: "Gujarat wont have water, if the dam is not built'. I felt like jumping out of my office window and beat up the f**ing politician - black and blue. Quote him all those mind numbing numbers and make him read before people in the sabha. But hell, I can only sit, feel bad, feel disgusted and write. The worthless us. No good use for the country. My joint family from the mother's side comprising of 3 mamas and 4 mausis and the whole zoo, decided to go for a picnic at the Sardar Sarovar Dam. I argued, shouted, quoted in front of every single arguing family member in that bus during the whole journey from Sardar Sarovar to Baroda. So much did i shout that my father felt that I must be disrespecting my elders. But hell, why dont they open their eyes. Abre los Ojos Amigos. Kis bhasha mei tumhe samjaun?

And I remember saying this to one of my uncles: "tumhare drawing room ke beech mei se jab canal niklega na, tab pata chalega. Aur uss canal mei paani nahi aaya toh?" (You would only understand, when a water canal will pierce through your drawing room and assume it without any water) Because he defended by saying that in the course of development, someone will have to sacrifice. "They wont understand" I concluded when my throat got parched and the driver of our bus increased the volume of the songs that were playing on the woofer-speakers. Thus, I had to subject myself in the corner of a bus. The younger cousins didnt talk to me for a few days, they thought how can someone talk like that to our parents.

I take this opportunity to recall an incident that happened to me during my Delhi days. On one of our regular JNU visits esp the Ganga Dhaba, I discovered a poster in the corner, stuck between the political poster collage:It had written on it:

Chandrashekhar Memorial Lecture (to know more about Chandrashekharji and why Roy came to support, read here
Place: Lohit Mess
Time: 10 30 pm
Guest: Arundhati Roy.

What! Like a fan I calculated what day it was going to be and I made a reminder on my cell phone. I thought I will take all her books that I own and will ask for a signature or something. On the day, I asked all of my friends, but for some or the other reason, no one turned up and there I was alone in the JNU campus, waiting for the writer whom I admire so much.

The atmosphere at Lohit Mess was like some underground movement that was about to happen and the leader will come and announce the assassination of a top bureaucrat or a politician. Now JNU like every campus has a lot of student unions and groups affiliated to political parties. One such student political party is ABVP, they too had got to know about Roy's guest lecture. Now, it was obvious that they would be nasty to her but how remained to be seen. And what I was more keen on, was how is she going to retaliate to them. And this is the most important part from a fan's perspective: that someone whom you look upto also has to defend and defend fiercely so that your idea of being a follower gathers more strength. And well defend, she just didnt defend, she came dancing down the wicket and lofted the question that was put to her out of the stadium.

After a small conversation, Roy told that she was here only to show her support for the cause Chandrashekharji was fighting for. The ABVP guys now were just waiting to pounce with their questions. One of the more aggressive guys straight away asked Roy:
"you say, you support the poor and want everyone to read your essays and books, but look at your books they cost so much, how will a common man who cannot support himself will think of buying your books? you get all the royalty from your publishers, so you can think and keep writing".

For a moment I too was stumped. Like I agree with him, how would one buy her books if a Listening to Grasshoppers today costs 600/- or 599/- to be precise. And as they say the revolution will never happen from those whose hands and pockets are full. Roy, in her style, calmly replied:

"My dear friend, who says that to read my books and to read those mind numbing facts and figures, you have to pay so much?. Stand at any traffic signal in Delhi and I will show you where you can buy my books for 75 rupees and if you or one cannot afford that I will also show you so many places where you will rent the book and read and then return back in not more than 15 rupees."

I thought of applauding. But then I was sitting in the front row, if she would hear, she would notice and I dont know, where would I look then. I dropped my idea of getting the book signed from her. It would look like a mockery of the lecture and the purpose that she was here for. Then, during my student days I made sure that I would buy books from traffic signals till the time I start earning and buying one book per month.

Reading her at times, makes me feel so worthless of being in the world of bombay films and trying to be in pursuit of 'entertaining' people. And entertain whom, those who will pay 200/- bucks for the first opening weekend.
"boss! pehla weekend ka collection 11 crores. Paisa recover ho jaayega! bull crap!
"yeh film nahi chalegi"
"yeh aisi film banate kyun hai?"
"oh the editing was so crisp"
"what dialogues yaar!"
"mindblowing camera"**

"Abhi jiska khoon na khaula woh paani hai
Jo desh ke kaam na aaye woh bekaar jawaani hai..."

See, am back to referring film dialogues. Thats the only thing I can do. Throwing out useless trivia.
But one day I will join you Roy. Till then, keep inspiring.

For people who are in mood to read what changed my course of thinking while being in Guajrat. Here's the essay: The Greater Common Good.

The image is courtesy

© Copyrights 2009 All Rights Reserved. Hardik Mehta

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The most cliched Hindi Film Background Music and my favourite LSD moment

There's something about the background music and sound effects used in hindi films that unites all of them in a certain way. Well, what unites them is they all use the same kind of background music in the same kind of situations.

Like suddenly the strings of sitar would go as soon as a piece of good news is being given by the hero to his mother - whether he introduces a new "to-be-wife" to his mother or brings the news of his passing the exams, getting the job or the best: the news of "my father is alive" else "mere pitaaji zinda hai!"

And since background score is something that cannot be written about, here I have tried a different interactive format. Hear the video and I am sure you must have heard these kind of background scores from B R Chopra's Mahabharata to Kanti Shah's Gunda.
That reminds me. Do not forget to vote for your favourite "Gunda" character on the right side of the blog.

What! you haven't seen Gunda?

And why is the post called my favourite LSD moment, you will have to hear the video.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Aadmi Ki Aurat aur Anya Kahaniyaan and some more chaste Hindi

I loved the title. It had something so endearing in it that it instantly attracted my attention.
“What? Phir se bol?” (what? come again?) would most likely be the response when such a title is suggested to someone, that too as a must watch. And I would again repeat – and repeat yet again:
“Watch Aadmi ki Aurat aur Anya Kahaaniyaan” Don’t miss it. Even if you have to pay a little more than what you pay at your nearest multiplex.

“Interesting title hai…” commented my good friend-flat mate, Tanmay. So it evokes something – something alike in all.
Certain titles really wring in the essence of the film, they stay with you, as whole, the entirety of the film, book or any work of art long after you have read, seen or interpreted the work. some such titles comes to my mind, like many am sure, “Suraj ka Saantva Ghoda”. And all the Saeed Mirza films.
Infact once when I did have a chance of meeting him, this question did come up:
“Sir, why such odd names for all your films, almost like the few titles of Fassbinder films?”
The reply was simple:
“If the people are going to watch the film they should be knowing what are they going to watch, beforehand, like if they come reading the title ‘Albert Pinto ko gussa kyun aata hai?’ they know that the film is about a guy called Albert Pinto and why does he get angry. Or the film is about Dr. Arvind Desai and his strange accounts. One such wonderful title Tanmay remembers till this day is “Bandh gully ka aakhri makaan”. But he doesn’t remember whether it was a short story, book or a film. Anyways that’s typical of Tanmay, err… or of the titles.
They transcend the medium they represent, cause they exist as an essence – a thought in its pure form.

But sometimes, mostly the way the Bombay film industry works, such titles are pushed away in archival storehouses or limited to the very select few who read hindi novels, because many many such wonderful titles do come from Hindi Novels and short stories - the amazing, undiscovered storehouse that Bombay films should turn to, from time to time.
On some instances, these kind of names will remind you of “Delhi theatre days”. Titles that are the oh-so chaste, oh-so pure or maybe oh-so Delhi that sometimes they deserve to remain there in the Mandi House veranda or the NSD campus itself. No, that’s just the malicious me. But will not get into the times/spaces of the Kamanis, the NSDs and the Mandi Houses as there will be a separate post on them.

Film titles in chaste hindi have their own brownie points-the edge of purpose, at least for people like us who these days are completely devoid of such titles. Watching all the wonderful movies of 80s, 90s where English titles were only given to either the ‘foreign hand villains’ (read: Bob Christo, Jeevan), ‘inebriated Christians’ (read: Kestho), or ‘the seductive vamps’ (read: Bindu, Helen) But that was what the Queen’s language was limited to in those days. These days the scenario is quite different. Every Friday you have an English titled Hindi film or if they have a Hindi title they have an amazing English tagline that would make the Queen nervous. Shabaash – you can do it! Is one such title or the evergreen Daag- the fire, to which Raja Sen would interpert it further as D-Aag – the fire. Tautology anyone?

Though I didn’t go to watch the last Friday release but the title was very interesting: “Atithi Tum Kab Jaoge?” Had never thought that words of by-gone era like “Atithi” would ever be used in the modern multiplex India. More so by the team that has either chosen to use dummy titles and dummier films like “All the Best” or raped, mutilated and destroyed one of those pleasant 70s film of Hrishida titled “Golmaal”. On innumerable circumstances I have met people who will tell you that ‘Golmaal’ is their favourite film and in the same breath they will add: “Woh poorani Amol Palekar waali”. Signs of relief. Well, thank you for confirming that.

Now going back to what actually prompted the post - a few days back had an opportunity to be at the Movielabs, Goregaon courtesy: Mr. Paresh Kamdar who invited us to watch the 35mm print of “Aadmi ki Aurat aur anya kahaaniyan” a film by Amit Dutta.

“Wow! What a title! Let me check it out”.
Mr. Dutta is a very interesting filmmaker, more on him later, but this film was actually made for the Acting Diploma students of the 2008 FTII batch. Before I start to write anything about the film: Here is a fact. It has won the Special Jury Mention honor at last year’s Venice Film Festival. A fact that our media missed or of course chose to miss. Now about the film: It is brilliant esp the first story among the three: "Ped Pe Kamra". The visual sense, the silences, the absurdity, the light humor, the beautiful lighting, the framing, the stories, the screen adaptation, the actors, their acting, their pauses! – aahh. Kitna bolun?. I feel like those reviewers who come every Friday and write about the same aspects of cinema with changing adjectives but never-changing perceptions.

All the actors of the film had come for the screening (some had literally stepped out of the Jammu train and had come with their luggage) After the screening through a Q & A session they revealed so many facts about the mysterious Mr. Dutta who hadn’t been able to come for the screening. They spoke at length, and with such reverie - the way he asked his actors to perform, their rehearsals, their location scouting, the importance of silences and silences at the right time, his omnipresent viewfinder etc. Some odd 40 to 50 but mighty lucky junta had graced the screening. After the screening, the junta had a wonderful cup of tea. It was one of the best cups of tea I had in a long time.

Up next is the screening of Paresh Kamdar’s ‘Khargosh’ (again, interesting title, uh?) it has won the Best Film at Osians Film Festival 2009. People in and around Bombay, stay in touch. Am sure there will be lots to discuss with Pareshji esp how to go about making an(our) independent film.

(P.S: am told his producer lives in mountains and does some organic farming)

More tea. More films. Cheers!

By the way: Aap logon ki kripa se Bhaandgroup ko 55th rank mila hai. dhanyavaad aur hardik shubhkaamnaye!

© Copyrights 2009 All Rights Reserved. Hardik Mehta

Saturday, March 13, 2010

The Men, The Mund and the stories from the Mallu Land.

Simply put the best of the journeys are the ones where you meet people. People with whom one can humanely identify and sometimes they do allow giving a sneak peak in their daily lives. At times me thinks that Indians have an amazing emotional quotient within themselves. A small train journey across the country, an afternoon bus ride, a casual conversation can lead an individual to unravel the most of his daily life to complete strangers like me. Meeting people can sometime change something within you, maybe it lets you loose the adamant inside you; maybe it leads to discovery of a world much bigger than one inhabits and many more such mysteries of life.

After graduating I had promised this to myself. Hell, if I ever make a film or not, whether I ever write a good story or not, whether I ever shoot a good picture or not, one thing that I would surely do and be honest with myself while doing that is – traveling and meeting people. Sometimes in the garb of film shoots, sometimes as a tourist, sometimes as a wanderer and sometimes till my pocket allows me to. To travel, to meet, to engage with people is an opportunity that a fiction writer would never let it go. It can give birth to his ‘characters’. Last month, my tryst in Kerala lead to meeting some such eccentric but everyday-life characters.

Warning: Some words are deliberately pronounced in the Mallu way.

A restaurant in Eddapally post 9 30 pm. Anyday of the week. A wiry man with a small bushy moustache, big eyes, semi-curly hair sitting outside the restaurant. Having a conversation in English in the Mallu land can lead to disastrous damage to the grammar and the sentence formation of an individual. The exchange would be sprinkled with amble amount of sign language thrown in and the most common words to be heard will be: OK, Esss (Yes) and Good. Infact, if it weren’t for the invention of the word ‘OK’, survival for a non-mallu in Kerala would be next to impossible.

Me: Dinner?
Man at Restaurant (gets up with a smile): Ess…

Me: What for Dinner?
Man at Restaurant: Ok...
He stares at me for a while, as if the sooner I utter the food item name, the faster the dish will appear. He gives an expression that says: “Hukum karo mere aakaa…!” I didnt know what is available post 9 30pm, so I look around.

Me (Sign of opening a book): Menu??
The Man at Restaurant smiles and keeps smiling for reason he alone knows.
Me: MENU???
Man at Restaurant (suddenly realizing): Esss…Only Chicken, Beef, Feesh, Prawns and Rice…
Me: Rice…Ok.
Man at Restaurant: OK…Egg Rice??
Me: OK
Man at Restaurant: (some sign language, which I cant comprehend and I choose to ignore)

A little later he brings as much Rice in a plate that could be eaten by half of Gujarat. I look at him and from underneath his bushy moustache comes his irritating smile.

Me: So much?
Man at Restaurant: Rice. Good for brain…OK
Me: But half of this will go down drain…OK?

Man at Restaurant: No problemb…! Give to the Temble people.

He smiles again. I look towards the intimidating rice plate and eat it for a while. I needed a camera there, thought of capturing his unique smile, but I didn’t have a camera then.

On another instance, when the auto rickshaw driver didn’t know English or Hindi, I had to bargain for money through typing the digits on my mobile.
I type: 100

Auto Driver looks at the numbers: “Ille, Ille, Ille..”

I type: 120

Auto Driver looks at the numbers: “Ille, Ille, Ille..”

I type: 140

He looks at the numbers and smiles, starts the auto rickshaw and there we go.
Between him, and me there was only one word that we knew: “Allepey”. Which is where the auto driver was taking me from Muhamma. There again I didn’t have a camera, thus from the next day, I promised that come what may, I would have to keep a camera with me.
Below are the few characters I met subsequently, when I had a camera with me.

The Dreamseller

The lotterywallah. Perched outside a public place in a small town or hanging near the busy market would be this dreamseller. Just 10Rs for a ticket. Buy one in the morning and results will be out in the evening. The lottery is sponsored by the Royal king of Bhutan. The prize money, well it ranges from 2000 to a princely 5 lakhs. Needless to say, he attracts a lot of attention in the wee hours of morning. From shopkeepers to drunkards, from fisherwomen to housewives – all try their luck here. He has a bicycle for himself. Thus the mobile lotterywala goes to its patrons and not the other way round. To pass the good luck around, he himself puts vermillion on his head for Cod’s blessings.

The Pandit-Purohit of a local Polish Station

Fans of Maqbool will remember the incredible duo of Pandit-Purohit played by Om Puri and Naseeruddin Shah. Asked by their senior inspector to be on a duty on a movie set, their day was made. Free tea, free biscuid and free enderdainment. Since they are told in the morning that they would be going to a movie set, they come in their crisp uniforms and trimmed moustaches. They are permanently found near the beverages stall, as if the Producer told them:
‘Gendlemen the bar is open’

The Naavi

The one who lives, sings, eats and drinks in his naav (boat). One can easily locate Mr. Naavi during the sunrise and sunset times, as if the Department of meteorology sends him daily to note the sunrise and sunset timings at the backwaters. The arrival of Mr. Naavi is signaled with a murmur-like Malayalam song that he sings for himself. With his fishing gear inside his naav and a song on his lips, he appears to be in sync with nature. Looking at him, I remember Ernest Hemingway’s ‘The Old Man and the Sea’.

The Shop of the Town

Believe it or not, I haven’t seen alcohol being sold like this ever before. It’s as if after a major drought, the government has sent a water tanker to the town for its thirsty people. Patience, outside the alcohol shop gets a new definition in Kerala. There is amazing discipline when it comes to buying alcohol. The lungi brigade is always found in hundreds but always in a single queue. Some shops also have iron-made small pillars outside for the queue to remain straight, the way Bus stands are in Bombay. By the time the clock strikes 10 pm, one can see some of the men who were in the queue now lying on the footpath or sleeping completely inebriated, hardly knowing which part of the world they are until the harsh morning sun wakes them up. So the next time one fights the election from Kerala, you know how to lure the men there. One of my graduation colleagues who now lives in Aluva told me to catch up around 4 pm and I thought that’s quite an odd time to meet friends looking at the heat in Kerala. She later told me that post 6 pm, once the wiry, lungi-clad brigade start lining up at the alcohol shops; the scenario for a girl changes from bad to worse. For more click on this BBC article passed by a friend.

The Men and their Munds.

What is a Mallu without his Mund? Pass through a village and you would find the men in their small little groups staring at you. Maybe waiting for the next Rally, a Union Congregation, a Minister, a Road Show or a Film Hero to pass. By the way, if a Mallu finds himself besides a non-Mallu in the Mallu land than one topic that they both would invariably come across is Mohanlal. Whether you have seen his movies or not, the Mallu will have hundred and one things to say about his ‘Supersdaar’: The latest I heard is: Priyadarshan and Mohanalal are buying a new IPL team!

The Best Character I met in the Mallu land.

Rafey. But I call him Scientist. His story is long enough to be a separate entry on the blog.

P.S: My favourite thing in kerala for the whole month was: Chud Vellum before lunch. For non-mallus, please find it out for yourself. ☺

Do not forget to vote for your genuinely favourite Bappida song.

© Copyrights 2009 All Rights Reserved. Hardik Mehta

Sunday, March 7, 2010

The ways of Water and Waterways in Kerala.

Click on the image to view large.

The tickets for a boat ride

© Copyrights 2009 All Rights Reserved. Hardik Mehta