Movie review: Masaan is so real that it hurts.

A desolate Deepak is sitting with his friends. His friends are trying to console him. Deepak remembers Dushyant Kumar’s lines, his last conversastion with Shalu, and then screams – ee saala dard khatam kaahe nahi hota hai be. His friend says – chup ho ja be Deepak. Chup ho jao be… nahi to hum maar denge tumko, he stammers. And they all hold him close really hard. Deepak is crying hysterically. Another friend offers – abe tum humra bike lo be. Tum le ke jao… From Deepak’s silence, to his friends’ awkward cajoling, to the outburst, and to the friends again. His friends are in tears. But they are not crying. And they are crying – What. A. Scene. After a long time, I shed a tear drop during a movie scene. Not because the movie was gutwrenching. This particular scene was. It was so real that it hurt.

Masaan is so real that it hurts.

Deepak (Vicky Kaushal), a civil engineering final year student from a polytechnic college, finds his love in Shalu (Shweta Tripathy), a shayari lover, one who talks of Badr, Fazli and Ghalib. Shalu gifts him the lines from Dushyant Kumar – tu kisi rail si guzarti hai… Deepak gifts her an audio recording of their conversations along with a set of his favorite songs… gazab ka hai din dekho zara. Shalu is upper caste, whose entire family goes on annual pilgrimages like Badrinath, Kedarnath, and enjoys the food better if it is run by another Gupta ji – apne caste wale hain na, isliye. Deepak is a dom, who’s spent his entire life dealing with the dead bodies, crushing their skulls and wiping off the stench of their burning flesh from his face. Their love takes flight under the fear of the caste divide of a small town (Kashi), and finds closure on a boat ride at Allahabad.

Devi Pathak (Richa Chaddha) falls in love with Piyush at the coaching center where she teaches at. They decide to check into a hotel, only to be raided and harassed by cops shortly afterwards. Piyush commits suicide, and Devi and her father (Sanjay Mishra) finds themselves dealing with a ransom demand from the cop. Vidyadhar Pathak learns to deal with the financial and, more importantly, social setback of it, and Devi finds closure for something that her heart does not blame her for, through a railway job in the interim and a final ritual at the ghats of Allahabad.

The generational conflicts are everywhere, and so is the conflict between progressive and regressive thoughts. Vidyadhar finds her reconciliation with Devi after an initial outburst of anger. Devi closes the loop with Piyush’s parents, and then sends off Piyush in a touching moment, just as Deepak offers her “paani”. Devi wants to flee to Allahabad. Deepak wants to leave his masaan-ghat life behind. Most moments in Masaan exist without judgements. Exist like reality. Like the facebook friend request and the messages sent to Shalu before she accepts the friendship request. Or that balloon that floats through the air like a proclamation of love. Like Devi’s scroll through Piyush’s facebook photographs. Or the friends quipping – “Guptaji hain!” and reminding later on “wo upper caste hai. Jyada senti mat ho jaaana”. Like that carefully and painfully planned music player for Shalu. Like that guy in Devi’s office – seedhe pooch rahe hain. Degi kya? Or Deepak’s – wo last year strike ho gaya tha na, nahi to ab tak humara final ho chukka hota aur placement bhi. Like Sadhya ji’s – har college group mein ek intellectual gyaani type hota hai. Or Pathak ji’s “humko lag raha hai ki is mahine ho jayega”. Or Deepak’s father, in a moment of drunkenness, saying – “sab tu hi to hau”, and in that moment, summarizing the dreams and aspirations of many underprivileged who have pinned their hopes on their children’s education.

Interestingly, as the movie progresses, the concept of time is made irrelevant. When it ends, you have no idea how much time has gone by, but you can feel the amount of life that has gone by. That’s how time feels, right?

Perfect – Acting, Script, Dialogues, Cinematography,Editing and length!

Not too perfect – Ending – a little too good. I was glad that the movie was not a depressing end, but a positive fall forward. But a little too tied.

Gripe – the brother. It seemed to me that Neeraj Ghaywan (director) and Varun Grover (script) had some ideas about Deepak’s brother Sikander, but those ideas didn’t survive the editing table. Unfortunately, a conflict is shown for about a minute, and is not resolved any further. The only minute in the movie that didn’t seem to belong, as an after-thought.

Absolutely gorgeous – the soundtrack. There are three songs in the movie. Look at their placement and how much they achieve in the movie.

 

Overall – Go watch it. Please go and watch it. Did I say please only once? Please please go and watch it. Please.

 

And as a parting off thought – here are a few links –

“”Main jise odhtaa bichaata hun,

Vo ghazal aapko sunaata hun.

Ek jungal hai teri aankhon me,

Main jahaan raah bhool jaata hoon.

Tu kisi rail si guzarti hai,

Main kisi pul sa thartharaata hun.

Ek baazu ukhad gaya jub se,

aur zyaada wajan uthaata hun.”

– Dushyant Kumar

The full version w/ annotations is here

 

“Ho chuki hai peer parbat si pighalni chahiye, is himalay se koi ganga nikalni chahiye”

The lines though I remember of him often – kaun kehta hai ki asmaan mein suraakh nahi ho sakta, ek pathar to tabiyat se uchaalo yaaro.

And a whole lot of other Dushyant Kumar poems

 

Can’t Put My Finger On It. But I Know Something’s Wrong.

Something has gone terribly wrong with the basic fiber.

Most people find it okay to jump traffic signals. There is a perverse delight even in being able to jump a light and jump the cop who tries to catch you shortly afterwards. Driving on the wrong side is fine. Incidentally, I live in this residential area, which, by conservative estimates, is higher middle class with a large proportion of educated (graduates and above) families. And yet, every morning, I find people driving the wrong way on a one way street in this residential area, just to avoid driving an extra 100–150 meters. Expensive fuel. I also see a lot of people whose driving license should be revoked given their parking skills.

Most people find it OK to not worry about their driving license, and let an extra 500 bucks to a grand take care of it. Most government offices and officials find it OK to take a bribe. Easier than having to check whether someone actually knows how to drive. The driving school guys also find it easier to get the license than to teach you how to drive.

Most service professionals find it perfectly alright to not deliver on their commitments. Most plumbers or carpenters mean one hour when they say they are 15 minutes away. Most technology companies find it OK to delay a project by a few months. Most hardware manufacturers find a 10–15% defect rate in their products OK.

In the most affluent city of this country, a metro rail project gets delayed by several years, and the city fails to buy the services of the best planners and builders, with all the money it has. In this process, every day, thousands of professionals who charge their clients and their organizations by the hour, spend several hours on the road just trying to get to their respective destinations. In the political power center of this country, a girl gets brutally raped and beaten and murdered, and it takes citizen rallies and candle light marches for the authorities to remember that this might need some attention.

Most people find it okay to be disrespectful towards a woman’s identity and her physicality. Teasing, groping, fondling, grabbing — they are all just fine. Somehow, a survey conducted on women suggests that more than 90% of them have been teased. Interesting, not more than 10% men commit to having participated or observed it.

In a certain state, men are married off without their consent and at gun-point, and in another, daughters are burnt or killed for expressing their desire to marry someone of their choice.

It has to be disturbing that a man often charged with abetting the murder of hundreds and thousands of people is the supreme political leader of this country, because a majority of constituencies felt that they had no other choice. It has to be unnerving that education minister of this country has had to refer to a certificate course of x days as her best credential for the job, only to be seriously undermined. It is even more disturbing that a politician universally acknowledged as the most corrupt ever has a gold plated Lanka of his own in a small Maharashtrian town that is now known for nothing else but this politician. It is also quite disturbing that the biggest democracy in the world has but one family owned business as the real political alternative.

The accident of having found a great president is almost immediately corrected by finding one that even hard fought despair could not have cared about. And a prime minister who could have done something is put on mute by a remote, ably handled by the buffoons of a family legacy.

The government actively bans harmful stuff — beef, porn. A college/ university even banned certain dresses. Harmful for the Indian culture. But religious, acidic and dividing speeches are not banned. Religious tolerance.

In broad public eye, 540 odd chosen people waste a nation’s precious time and money and do not let the office function, and nothing happens to them. In some companies, people are fired for showing dissent against their bosses.

Most are trained to respect our bosses. And not respect those who are not our bosses. Or peers. It is unacceptable to let your educated children work in a restaurant part time, and acceptable to laugh at the poor English of the unskilled service person. Most people want to have someone who could do their work. All the time. Maids, delivery boys, office boys… are, jara mera ye kaam kar dena… but find it rude if someone asks them to do something extra.

Most people find it an extra and unrequited effort to hold the door for someone coming from behind. But they find it OK to jump a queue and get in front of someone who might be ahead. They do make the extra effort for that.

Speaking of time and effort, our judiciary is piling over with the number of cases it has to handle. And it still keeps a case running for decades. An actor gets a bail after running over many people. Several years after running them over. Being Human? A young drunk lawyer can’t get bail for running over one. Fair and Blind Justice. A certain politician is still in contention, and gets support from the torch bearers of “anti-corruption and fairness”, having siphoned of a little over a 1000 crores in the name of fodder. And people will still vote for him. National Blindness.

They either support, or they are against. People take sides too easily. More importantly, they want people to take sides. Or they choose people’s sides. If one says Aye, one never gets to say Nay. The walls of protest have become too easy to paint — a digital swish, or a 140 character momentary wish. Every debate is black or white, no shades of grey for this nation of mine. “Jo galat nahi hai, wo jaroori nahi ki sahi ho”, I had read somewhere long back.

Something is terribly wrong with the fiber. I just can’t put my finger on it.

p.s. This post deserves a lot of hyperlinks. I am not in the mood though.

Dilli, बड़ी रफ़्तार है

बड़ी रफ़्तार है तेरे शहर में

हर इक ठहराव पे गुस्सा निकलता है
बड़ी रफ़्तार से
हर इक तकरार पे चलते हैं खंजर
बड़ी रफ़्तार से

कभी गर भीड़ में रफ़्तार धीमी पड़ गयी तो
कोई चिल्लाता है फ़ौरन से,भइ
साइड को हो ले दिखाई को ना देता
पलट के आती है गाली बड़ी रफ़्तार से

कभी पीले से कपडों से दुप्पट्टा जैसे सरका
तभी झोंके से आई एक सीटी
बड़ी रफ़्तार से
चिपक के एक फब्ती कस दी किसने
मिली बेशर्म आँखें फिर
बड़ी रफ़्तार से

दिलाया याद सबको कौन हैं वो,नाम क्या है
दिया ठुल्ले को सौ का नोट
क्या रफ़्तार से
जो बच कर आँखों से छुपना हो मुमकिन
तो मारी केडी क्या रफ़्तार से

अगर भूले से आँखें मिल गयी तो
किया इनकार क्या रफ्तार से
जो उसने ज़ोर डाला सच का जालिम
दुहाई दी तो क्या रफ़्तार से

जो देखा सामने कमज़ोर कोई
दबाया उसको किस रफ़्तार से
जो देखा सामने भारी सा कोई
दबाया सच को भी रफ़्तार से

ये रफ़्तार तेरी है न मेरी
ये न सच है न कोई झूठ ही है
ये है रफ़्तार अब इस ज़िन्दगी की
ये है रफ़्तार तेरे इस शहर की

बड़ी रफ़्तार है तेरे शहर में
बहोत डर लगता ही तेरे शहर से

Book Review: The Girl On The Train by Paula Hawkins

I picked up Paula Hawkins’ “The Girl On The Train” for just one reason – for the last several weeks, I have seen the book perched on top of the NY Times Bestsellers list (Fiction). Lately, my reading has gone down significantly. Some of it can be attributed to paucity of time, but the bigger reason, I hypothesize, is a distracted head-space. Sometimes, I believe, reading fast paced fiction helps you get back in the groove. And TGOTT seemed to fit the bill. Also, I had seen a rather interesting promo image sometime back – of several ladies sitting side by side on a subway train reading ‘the girl on the train’.

TGOTT

Image Source: http://www.usatoday.com/story/life/books/2015/01/28/american-sniper-the-girl-on-the-train-usa-today-best-selling-books-list/22464365/

 

Rachel, the girl on the train, loves looking out of the window and weaving stories about what she sees. She gives names to people, imagines stories about stranded items like clothes or shoes, and obsesses over them. She is a divorced alcoholic with severe depression and confidence issues, who cannot seem to get over her broken marriage, and just cannot get her life back together. She is the central protagonist. Most of the chapters have been written from her perspective. The male characters in the book don’t get chapters of their own. The other two girls of the story are Anna – the new wife of Tom, and Jess/ Megan – a girl Rachel has seen many times from the train’s window. Tom is Rachel’s ex-husband. And Scott is Megan’s husband. Kamal Abdic is Megan’s therapist. With this much, here is a poll for you to consider – Column A is the murdered. And Column B is the murderer. Take a guess.

Victim Perpetrator
Rachel Rachel
Megan Megan
Anna Anna
Tom Tom
Scott Scott
Kamal Kamal
Some other person briefly mentioned Some other person briefly mentioned

TGOTT excels at its broader plot contours. It delivers a taut murder mystery. The book works well as a single session race to the finish. It uses the standard narrative of a shifting timeline and multiple vantage points to create a sense of darkness, foreboding, and suspense. More often than not, it succeeds. Paula has created a book which is ready to be adapted into a movie (and Emily Blunt will be starring as Rachel). All the right elements. But it is no “Gone Girl”. It neither has characters so grey or flawed, nor a suspense so riveting. Moreover, the central characters are not “that” smart. Megan is a bored seductress, Rachel is a broken alcoholic, Anna is an insecure home-maker and a new mother, Scott an overbearing masochistic husband, Kamal a flawed therapist, and Tom is the ex-husband who doesn’t like anyone touching his phone or laptop. The darkness that permeates that entire narrative of Gone Girl is missing here, save for the end where you see the untapped potential of some of these characters.

Let’s revisit the poll with the additional information I just threw at you. Has your opinion changed?

TGOTT’s problem for me was its predictability. The victim’s too obvious, and so is the perpetrator. The haste in introducing the suspects, and the choice of crime scene makes it a little too obvious. The decoys and breadcrumbs are not the most engaging. Yet, the storytelling is gripping. I envy (and respect) people who can write such engaging stuff.

TGOTT’s other problem is the long drawn moping of Rachel. The continuously repeating montage of her getting drunk, reprimanding herself, and the wine and the gin and the tonic stops serving its purpose beyond a point, unless you are too absorbed to notice the conflict that is established in each such cycle. In the end you might just say – oh yea! remember that?

All in all – It’s a middle of the road – 6 on 10 – kinda thriller. I enjoyed it. I would not, though, go out of my way to recommend it. I won’t diss it either.

In a world where “The Girl On The Train” by Paula Hawkins is a long standing NY Times Bestseller #1 (Fiction), I worry about the quality and quantity of what is being read at large. Am I being extremely critical of the book? No. I definitely do not want to. Do I think the book is an undeserving bestseller? Not at all. It probably is the best thing visible on the shelf right now. My problem – the #1 for weeks should have been a little less obvious.

The novel has quite a few loose ends, which I hope get resolved some day. Someone once told me that to be a good writer, the need to be a good storyteller is way higher than the need to have a good story. So there! More power to Paula, because I do believe that the survivors of this novel can come together for another twist in the tale.

Bajrangi Bhaijaan – The Jaan Is Shahida

bajrangiI think it has been forever that I got down to watch a movie on its release day. And that is not to say that I was so excited by the prospects of watching Bajrangi Bhaijaan on Day 1 that I broke the well-defined norms of parenthood. I went down to watch Baahubali (having heard people rave on and on about its scale and grandeur), and since there were no shows of Baahubali, or any other movie for that matter, I watched a significantly overpriced Bhaijaan. Overpriced has a definition here. Each ticket of PVR Gold Class was 800 bucks. Without any popcorn or cold-drink included in the ticket price. Why did I not turn back? Because I don’t do that. No, I don’t. And if I try to, the missus does not let me do that. Not when movie watching events with just the two of us have become so preciousssss.

Now, you know, I am a fan of Bhaisms. That mindless over the top drama with dialogues like “main dil mein aata hoon, samajh mein nahi” or “mujhpe ek ehsaan karna…”

The movie is about a mute girl from Pakistani who finds herself stranded in India, only to be rescued by Bajrangi Bhaijaan, urf Pavan Kumar Chaturvedi, a naïve lad from Pratapgarh, who lives in Delhi, but finds the girl in Kurukshetra. Bhaijaan promptly decides that it is his duty to take the girl back to Pakistan, against all odds, and help her unite with her parents.

Can you imagine the hand pump sized opportunities here? A Pakistan full of stereotypes, an army full of good for nothing soldiers, an occasional world-unifying-Muslim-with-a-heart-of-gold, and Bajrangi Bhaijaan going “Hulk Smash” on them? The number of grey haired preachy sermons being delivered to tikka and akshat wearing nincompoops?

It does not happen that way.

 

Read the rest of the review with the sarcasmometer aside.

The movie is fairly heart-warming. But for the last 15-20 minutes, its reasonably well-toned and not over the top. The kid-Bhaijaan equation is not full of melodrama. In fact, it’s lovably cute. In fact, it is this that makes the movie very very warm. It’s not a typical Salman movie. [Spoiler alert]: Salman does not bare it all this time. There is a total of 2 minutes of serious Salman kinda violence in the movie at the end of which one guy is found hanging by the electric wires of purani dilli, and a policeman in Chawra, Pakistan is seen nursing his neck and apologising for letting a jasoos escape. Few broken tables and a few broken glass doors. That’s all.

Salman tries to act this time, and not play Thalaivar. And for most of the movie, gets it right. By his sheer charm, not by his acting skills. There is something about his chemistry with Shahida (the kid, Harshaali). Their scenes together are almost perfect. Shahida, by the way, without a dialogue, is so awesomely perfect and cute in this movie that even before she is stranded in Pakistan, you start waiting for her to cheer for Pakistan Team. She is not just a cute prop. It is she who really elevates the movie to being a genuinely lovable movie. I can safely imagine quite a few tears being shed across the theatre, so heart-breaking her pain is in quite a few scenes. On second thoughts, it’s good that she does not have dialogues. Most adult script writers don’t get kiddy dialogues right. They make them either too cute or too preachy. Kareena Kapoor Khan  is an unrequired prop in the movie. She provides enough support to the emotions of the movie, and her eyes still light up the best in the industry.

Nawazuddin Siddiqui. You were waiting to hear about him, right? I think Nawaz confessed in an interview somewhere that commercial movies help pay the bills better than the movies with great scripts and direction. Nawaz is spot on. He more or less always is, these days. He pulls off that “Eid mein Karachi se andruni mulkon ki” video copy. Interestingly, his character is named Chand Nawab (just as it was in the original video here). I was so hoping that they allow him to swear freely, but I guess censor board would not have liked it. In a way, he owns the screens when he is there. And he may just have the problem that Irrfan Khan had some time back. He overshadows the “superstars” too easily. The only place where he falters a bit is that last passionate appeal of his exhorting people to come support Bhaijaan. But by then, it’s all over.

The others in support – Rajesh Sharma, Sharat Saxena, Om Puri, etc. are extremely well cast and right on the money.

For a change, Salman decided to start off with a script this time. Or, maybe, Kabir Khan decided not to throw away the script in his excitement of having signed Salman for a movie which was getting an Eid release.

One of the biggest positives of the movie – it’s neither preachy nor pedantic. Mostly.

The movie has its flaws, the biggest of which is its ending, and the long standing gripe I have against the “need to conclude”. I don’t think there was a need for Shahida to get her speech. I don’t think it was important to have the army general drama about forcefully trying to prove Bajrangi a spy. I don’t think there was a need to apologetically convert a staunch Hindu Bajrangi and make him do an Allah hafiz slow-mo. More importantly, I don’t think there was a need to stretch the movie too long to accommodate all this.

The music is not much to write about. Bhar de jholi meri + Adnan Sami is the high point. Selfie le re will always be the song that you don’t confess to liking, but are bound to hear on every radio channel 15 times a day, just because it’s so popular and catchy.

Camerawork / DOP deserves some mention too. The opening shots, and some of the shots of Pakistan part of the movie (the corn truck scenes/ the sunsets, etc.) are beautifully shot. For some reason, the last shot of the movie, between the two borders, reminded me of Henna.

The movie runs much longer than I would have liked. But the charisma of Bhai is such that directors always think more is better.

 

In short – it’s a very decent, un-Salman movie which has done well to encash his stardom. I do have my doubts about it being a 150Cr movie though. And – “pehle pata karo ye Boo Ali kaun hai”

 

Book Review: Teresa’s Man and Other Stories by Damodar Mauzo

Book Review of Teresa’s Man and Other Stories, written by Damodar Mauzo and translated by Xavier Cota now live on The Tales Pensieve 

A vibrant, yet subtle cover that matches the flavors in the book

Is it evil?

In the last few weeks, I have come across three somewhat disturbing stories. All relate to start-ups in Mumbai.

 

In the first one, someone told me that a co-founder X of a successful start-up A was involved in a car accident. He was driving. There were three other people (employees of the start-up, I think) in the car. One died on the spot. Another one died couple of days later. The driver (X) was booked by police for rash and negligent driving. He was later released on bail. The start-up otherwise receives a fair bit of media attention these days. Except that this one news item did not get as much coverage. Interestingly, the “add-on” I heard was that X was trying to flee the scene after the accident, after the car apparently hit the divider and went towards the other side of the road. It was only after some passer-by saw what had happened and reported it to the police that X was booked for rash driving. Apparently. Last heard, X was out on bail. While it is not exactly clear why the accident happened, but “fleeing the scene” bit makes you wonder.

An important thing here – Those who are in the front seat typically have their seat-belts on. That explains why 2 of 4 survived the accident. Those in the back seat were the ones who did not make it through the accident. Remember that when you’re in the back-seat the next time. Accidents don’t happen with a lot of warning.

 

In the second incident,  a young, struggling but passionate group of individuals running a start-up (Startup A) have found it difficult to hit the big league. They work in a niche space. And in that niche space, they recently came up with a great proof of concept. This idea, they knew could work well for another company, a successful and well-funded startup (Startup B). So, A went shopping for their first customer B. A knew that sooner rather than later, B would want to have such a solution in their portfolio. One of the guys at A knew a senior guy at B. After showcasing the solution, which the big boys at B liked, the big boys at B decided to ask their in-house team to make it on their own and (additionally) try to poach the team-members of this struggling start-up. Individually, all the co-founders of A were approached for a job, so that they could build this idea inside B as part of their job, and for a better “salary” than what their struggling startup was making.  And lest I forget, B had only recently gone through a phase of screaming rats on another start-up a few months back for apparently stealing their idea. A is working on the idea, but has been reasonably scarred by the experience.

 

In a third incident, the CEO of a successful and well-funded startup run by a very young team sent a rude and profane letter to a VC big-shot calling the VC unethical, inhuman, etc. The context, at least, as explained by the VC later, revealed a “perceived” poaching of an employee from the start-up by the VC. The letter/email was apparently leaked by an insider on the internet (one can keep wondering about the reasons why it was done). Several questions emerge – Irrespective of the truth behind poaching, was the CEO right in sending that email to the VC? If he indeed did send that mail to the VC, what made him copy some of the other folks in his organization? Or, was it the VC who got someone else to put that letter on the internet? The VC by the way is not invested in this particular start-up. The world at large had a field day reading the shikwaa and jawaab-e-shikwaa. But in the process, a large majority agreed on a few things – the brashness/foolishness/ arrogance of the CEO, and the potential impact this action may have on some of the outcomes around that startup being not so favourable for the CEO.

 

 

All these stories are about young guys who have hit the big time very early in their life. One of the things that I remember from a Harsha Bhogle speech at IIM-A (search for the youtube video – its a gem) is that one should never grudge anyone their success.

Are they  idiots? Are they evil?

One can not help but feel that they have not been able to handle this huge success, this fame and this over-exposure. Or, maybe, these are just growing pains/ stretch marks that come when you grow too fast. That adrenaline rush of Virat Kohli? Or, maybe, they live a life which is infinitely more stressed than mine.

However, it raises another question – do these young high performance individuals need mentoring? To be under the wings of seasoned CEOs who can tell them all about weathering the lows that eventually do happen, or about grace under fire, while enjoying the highs that life has to offer, and without losing their sanity in this joy ride. There is no doubt that these are very very high performance/ high talent individuals.

 

At a personal level, the second incident bugged me the most. Accidents do happen, even when people are careful. There are moments when you fly off your handle. You can patch up some times, and some times, you can not do much move on. But nothing justifies why you should try to steal someone else’s idea. Not when you were in a similar boat a little while back. Not when you know what it means to be young and struggling. Not when you know what it means to get a fighting chance for your idea. That, to me, is evil.

 

 

 

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