Sachin’s Retirement?

My response to GreatBong’s post on Sachin’s retirement and the comparison with Gandhiji.

Somewhere, most people are finding it fashionable to ask for Sachin’s retirement – legacy, quitting at the top of your game, etc. Well, sadly, most of us won’t even know what the top of our own respective game is. Maybe, that’s why, every text book on success asks you to keep challenging yourself for a higher goal. A goal higher than the one you’ve just achieved or you think you can achieve.

First up, I don’t want to pay heed to the comparison. It’s grossly unfair to compare the two. What Gandhi baba was affecting was the future of an entire nation and maybe his outliving his utility could be, well, a debate worthy point. What Sachin is affecting, and apparently adversely, is what a vocal part of the media is parading as ‘his legacy’. Well, first up, his legacy is his choice. Maybe he does not want the legacy that you think he should leave behind. Maybe its right now a joke, but probably true, that he wants to continue to be fit and performing enough to take the cricketing field alongside his son. Maybe after scoring 100 centuries etc, he still cares about that one more century, one more knock, one more extended stay at the crease facing the best of the bowlers. Remember what Punter said about old fashioned cricket meaning that he goes out and stays at the wicket for as long as someone else cannot get him out. More than he cares about his legacy. Maybe his love for the craft his bigger than his love for what you think of him. Just maybe. Remember Pancham? The great artist. The great musician. The one who’s revered. Remember his swan song – 1942 A Love Story. Remember how he got his “3rd and last” film fare after his death. And remember his failures in the last phase of his career. No? Should he have stopped playing music? Composing? To protect his legacy. And not given us Ijaazat? Or 1942? I believe that the world of Hindi music is richer by the coming together of those three geniuses for Ijaazat.

Pro-sport is an individual choice. Competing at the highest level requires many sacrificies that the average reader of any blog is not even capable of. Sachin’s actions may hurt your sentiments by having (apparently) caused a cricketing loss, but beyond that, there is nothing. To enter the game was his choice, to have treated his body with care (or not) in a way that he has outlasted his peer group (and you don’t see him walking out of the field or not fielding at the boundaries or not taking those cheeky singles yet), his love/economics embedded in the game – EVERYTHING is his decision. And hence the legacy that unfortunately exists in your head or mine is our respective problem. When he started, he started playing the name. What he is leaving behind is a legacy alright. BUT a legacy is not just the last chapter of a career that spanned more than two decades. His legacy is that a generation of cricket fans have survived, have not given up, and continue to debate Indian cricket. His legacy is a team that teams around the world don’t write off anymore. His legacy is the joy of watching great cricketing shots every time you pick a Sachin video. And the collective disappointment when he is dismissed. His legacy is the ability to convert the theoretical basics of cricket into geniusly creative implementation that you and I can debate for hours. And like a  corporate review system, if we’re constrained by the last patch to decide what the true legacy of this performer is going to be, that AGAIN is our respective problem.

The unfortunate truth somewhere here is that our selection committee has forgotten what they need to do when players are going through a bad patch. However, that’s true of us a nation. Gandhi parivaar should not be touched because they have a legacy. Everything Ambanis touch is corrupt because there’s is a legacy too. Don’t question your parents, because they are, after all, your parents. Asking Dravid, Ganguly or anyone else who was big enough a name to rest has always been a problem. Except Laxman! 🙂 A related unfortunate truth is that a player should give way to someone who can do the job better than him/her. In this case, we have had a serious dearth of options. If we had options, we would not have discovered the true genius of Laxman, btw. I could agree that Rahane and Mukund and co deserve extended blooding, but that could well be at the cost of a Dhoni, right? Is he performing with the bat? He does not even have a legacy. And worse still, he does not have a technique.

Whether or not there is a set of 11 players beyond this current lot that needs to be looked at is a question that should be asked, in all fairness. But, the debate cannot be about Sachin. Let the debate be about Indian Cricket. Let the debate be about what’s working and what’s not. What can be improved and what cannot be. Who needs to go out and who needs to come in. And if the answer is Sachin, the people in charge need to have the balls to say it.

And yes. If, in there, somewhere, Sachin is still your best bet to go out, take on a quality opposition and make a game of it, then let him play with the peace of mind that he deserves.

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Life of Pi… is a visual masterpiece

I enjoy everything and anything incremental that a movie can offer. Apart from the duration of the movie. So, watching a moving at IMAX usually means that I come out a touch more satisfied than usual. But IMAX or no-IMAX, Life of Pi is a visually breathtaking film. Its a giant canvas of a goddamn brilliant painter who’s used colours and patterns to near-perfection. Also, like most good paintings, its a poetry. Except that its a touch too long.

As I sat through the 2 hour 7 minutes of Life of Pi, there were several moments of drifting in your thoughts as you spend a minute too much thinking about what you’ve just seen. 127 minutes isn’t a lot, but is long enough. I can compare it to that stoic test match innings where the batting and the bowling are intense and awesome, but because neither there are wickets falling or runs being scored, I may have a tendency to switch channels, just to take a break.

I have already said it- the movie works like a spell. It keeps you mesmerised with some awesome imagination. The zoom outs and camera angles that accentuate Pi’s state of mind, his loneliness, the vastness of his world, and the insignificance of his ordeal, all at the same time. The surreal transformation between real and imaginary, the choice of colours, the scene of the ocean, and the empathy you feel all through Pi’s journey. It’s digital wizardry at its best. It makes you forget that you’ve seen much better performances from Irfan Khan and Tabu. Tabu has a small role, but she has traditionally proven her strengths in 30-seconds scenes. Somewhere, the need to have an “accent” (Indian, Indianized, Americanized, whatever) restraints dialogue delivery. Think for a moment – These are Patels in Pondicherry. So, Gujarati accent is good. Tamil accent is good. Even a bit of French accent is good. But the accent is a mishmash of several fake american indian accents. One of the big drawbacks of the movie for me was that I didn’t connect much with Suraj Sharma (Pi). I think his performance is just about average. It does not spoil the movie, but it doesn’t elevate the movie either.

Richard Parker is awesome. While there are several frames where you wonder whether Mr. Parker is real enough (which probably was the point), the close-in expressions of Parker are  a wonder to behold. They seem to be a right balance of a zoo-ed animal who’s wild enough.

The background score is superb. I loved it.

Somewhere, I felt, that the last 15 minutes of the movie damage it a lot. There is a “believe in God” angle that’s overplayed, and a drone of a closure as the Japanese officials interview Pi. You are better off re-reading the book sections after the meerkats incident. That section of the book is of profound importance but does not come out as strongly in the movie.

In short, Ang Lee stays true to most of the book, and has delivered a spectacular movie. Its near-Avatar, visually/digitally speaking, and several luminescent-blue frames will keep reminding you of Avatar. It’s worth a watch. In a theatre.

Bollywood Titles: What’s In A Name!!!

Every time I hear about a bollywood movie launch, I try to imagine what the movie would be all about. Old hobby. Not one I’ve consciously thought about, but its there somewhere in the back of my head. And quite often, I am disappointed because the movie is nothing like the title. Or even related to the title. Worse still, there is a very low amount of creativity in this department. These days, we have resorted to making movie titles out of old hindi movie songs, for heaven’s sake. I mean the only thing that comes close to Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels is Love Shuv Tey Chicken Khurana or Matru ki Bijli Ka Mandola.

So, I thought I would pick 10 recent names and re-imagine their stories.

  1. 1. Ek Tha Tiger – A quality sports movie on a fictionalized version of Dhyan Chand’s story and the peak of Indian hockey.
  2. Jab Tak Hai Jaan – Just renaming Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna would do. But an alter version has six people signing a pact in blood in the opening sequence and this pact is given to a “protector”. Twenty years later, the world is divided into two. A self sufficient city run by these six families and a larger powerful adversary With the protector being the force that keeps utopia intact.
  3. Kaminey – An adaptation of 100 bullets for cinema. The families are easy to pick – Gandhis, Ambanis, Tatas, Kalaignars, etc. One thing I know is – Abhishek Bachchan will not be one of the minutemen. Nor Bobby Deol. Amitabh as Graves – that sounds right.
  4. Son of Sardar – A sequel to Sholay, where the son of the ultimate sardar – Gabbar comes back, kills Veeru and Basanti in the opening credits, and Radha plots the ultimate strategy to save the son of V-B. Jai is dead. Thakur is dead. Veeru is dead. Basanti is dead. Can Radha save the son? From the son of sardar. And yes. Sambha’s son will be there too.
  5. Student Of The Year – I’d get inspired from “The Great Debaters” for this. Show the legacy in the opening credits. And then, a quintessential underdog story.
  6. Talaash – Going in with the flavor of the season, this should be a sequel to Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron featuring the search for Dmello’s dead body. While Sudhir and Vinod are being convicted, they furnish the evidence (pictures, cufflinks), but the critical evidence is the dead body which Tarneja (thinks) has hidden somewhere. But this time, Anurag (Kashyap) and Imtiaz (Ali) are two small-time journos who decide to stand for their cause. And this time, we will have the twitter, facebook and blogworld involved too. Public opinion vs. Politics.
  7. Dabangg – The story of Vallabh Bhai Patel and the Bhoodan initiative. Fictionalized to some extent, but that should be interesting.
  8. Chakravyuh – I’d want someone to be able to tell a fictionalized but epic retelling of the Abhimanyu tale. Just that. I think the war strategies, what chakravyuh was, why it was so difficult for anyone but Arjun/Karna to be able to break it, why it required archery skills of the highest level, etc., will make for some amazing story-telling.
  9. Barfi! – The indian version of Chocolat. That brief should be sufficient 😉
  10. 20 Saal Baad (this is in lieu of 1920 Evil Returns – I have no opinion on that movie)– Art-house cinema about an aging couple. 20 years after they first met each other, are married, and apparently, happily settled.

Does it ever happen to you? I mean what emotion does a bloody title like Jab Tak Hai Jaan evoke?

 

Jab Tak Hai Jaan – Bachaa Ke Bhaago

I dont want to say that Jab Tak Hai Jaan is a bad movie. That would be too generous on the man who gave us Kabhi Kabhi and Silsila. I don’t want to pity him after his death. I do feel bad though. His last outing was Veer Zaara, which even at an indulgent pace, and with extreme hyperbole, had traces of Yash Chopra that made it tolerable. And it had a bunch of good actors playing their part, including the music department.

JTHJ is a finely crafted bouquet of mediocrity from one of the most resourceful production houses of the country. Yash Chopra can rope in exotic locales, big actors, expansive sets, color coordinated choreographed sequences, so his is not the story of someone having to make intellectual compromises because he ran out of resources. His is a case of either dying at the wrong time (which meant that he did not look at the last version of his product) or a case of blatant idiocy. Given the extremely emotional end-credits footage, I will go with the latter.

For those who prefer short reviews, summary reasons why I disliked the movie (detailed later)-
1. Bad Script
2. Horrible acting
3. Ridiculous pace
4. Painful set pieces
5. Murder of some good music
6. 45 year old SRK as a 28 year old street singer
7. End of debate about Anushka’s “potential”

The good thing was that there were some 7-8 trailers – Race2, Talaash, Dabangg 2, Mere Dad ki Maruti, Khiladi 786, Twilight, and a couple I am forgetting. Also, the 5-10 minutes of banter between SRK and his friend in the second half is better than the rest of the movie (its a pity that IMDB or several other sources do not identify his friend’s real name). And yeah, one stand out dialogue, which comes from Rishi Kapoor – “Har ishq ka ek waqt hota hai!”
I want to spare SRK a bit on this movie. He is the only one who holds this movie together, despite not being the best suited for the role.

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Side story: Someone asked how do I end up watching these movies (SOTY, JTHJ, kinds) – and a conjecture is that biwi says we are going, and I say yes ma’m. However, as you know, life is more complicated than that. It will be unfair to blame the biwi completely. I should rather blame it on my undying optimism. That some day, that one day, that once in my lifetime, someone in this industry would actually spend money on a good script and then back it up with insane amount of funding to create an end product that I’d fall in love with. So much so that I would come out of the theater only to walk right back in for another show. Philosophical shite aside, this is how it happened –

Mom-and-dad (biwi’s parents) are in town for Diwali. As I was leaving for the station to pick them up, biwi casually mentioned – “before I forget, and in case I haven’t told you, we are watching JTHJ tomorrow. 11 AM. So, if you were making any plans…”.
I said – “OK. By the way, is the ticket for today or for tomorrow? Since today is a chutti as well.”
“Tomorrow.”
“OK”.
Next day morning 10AM. “Shit! The ticket was for yesterday”.
“Shit. I asked you to check”(laughing heartily inside my head).
“Shit Shit Shit!”.
“We can’t book online now. Less than an hour left. Lets go to the theater and check”.
“Hmm”.
“Hmm. I think we will get it. Morning show hai yaar.”(Wildly happy by now, in the hope that there are enough idiots out there who would want to watch this one, and the show would be sold out. And then, we would watch Son of Sardar) (NO! You cannot ask me why SOS would be any better!)
“Chalo.”
Happily drives for the next 20-25 minutes. Asks biwi to go get the ticket while parking, hoping to get a call announcing the inevitable. Call happens. Tickets have been procured.
“Ticket mil gayee. Kahaan ho?”, she says.
Sends a curse up the air. Parks, throws a few curses under his breath, and the house-band marches on to Screen 7 of PVR Cinemas, Phoenix MarketCity, Kurla (the one which announces – learn to say Kurla with an accent- yep- that one).

 

**********

 

Now then, the detailing –

1. Bad script. The number of loopholes being what they are, and historically, not a real problem for someone like me, the number of idiotic things that happen in the movie are mind boggling. A man with a case of retrograde amnesia walks into a cordoned off area because of a bomb scare starts saying something about the bomb and the Brit cops are more than happy to let him touch the bomb and go about detonating it. Obviously the fact that its a train station is not so important. And that guy is a brown guy in a white country isnt either. In a separate scene, a chick strips down to bare essentials and doesnt feel the sting of cold air in Leh. Another man is sitting in a t-shirt. And when she jumps into water, the cold water numbs the senses of a national level swimmer within 5 seconds to such an extent that she drowns. But the other man manages to get her out of water, and comfortably drive away in his wet suit. Well! The bomb diffusion scene (first one) seems like a straight lift from The Hurt Locker.
2. Horrible acting – Katrina Kaif, by herself, is usually good enough to take care of the acting problems. The others, by halo effect, look like good actors. In this movie, Anushka and Katrina are fiercely competitive. Katrina wins by one expression. That is, she has one, while Anushka has two. Expressions.
Katrina has an amazing happy expression, where she is romantically running around or dancing or whatever with some good or average music in the background. Her second expression is one of extreme disinterest. No expression at all. She mouths dialogues, but the face remains the same, and as the biwi points out – her eyebrows dont move at all. At all! Now, pan the camera (slowly and romantically) on Anushka. She is better. She has two expressions. One that classifies her as the true born of a Punjabi family. Everything is – O Teri kinds! And the second is when she is the true born Punjabi who is trying to hold her emotion back but a traitor tear finds its way out. You know the happy sad tragic kinds. There is no third expression really that comes to mind (or screen) when you think of her.
3. Ridiculous pace – The movie moves at a pace which is in line with the old age parable involving a hare and a tortoise where eventually the slow and the steady wins the race. Unfortunately, no one in that parable defined till what speed can it be considered “slow” and for what duration can it be called “steady”. The movie makes you check your watch so often that if you carry a set of dumb-bells to the movie and wear a watch on both your wrists, you will surely come out with Arnie – biceps.
4. Painful and inappropriate music set pieces – This one is a traditional strength of YR. Remember “Aaya tere dar pe deewana” from Veer Zaara. Ridiculous scene but music used well. Ends with Shahrukh wearing a black shawl and looking on with intense eyes. Yeah. This one, however, sets up a dance sequence where KK will dance to her hearts glory (on the streets, true Step Up style) and discover her inner peace. Way I see it, the sequence features some good dancers as extras/foils who are relegated to the background, to highlight an amazingly un-graceful dancer (KK) and an otherwise extremely energetic dancer (SRK) who has a broken back and who is well past his expiry date when it comes to dancing. So, it looks comical. And a wasted opportunity. Maybe, then, that was the idea. And it bloody goes on for close to ten minutes with the Ishq Dance followed by Ishq Shava. Phew! So much for a generation which is fed Jhalak Dikhla Ja and Dance India Dance and similar shows at least 4-5 days a week (and with multiple reruns across channels, including news channels)
5. Death of some good music – Heer is a brilliant track. I loved playing it on loop. Sadly, once you’ve seen Katrina emote that one on screen, it loses all emotions. She spoilt the song for me. Thankfully, not so much that I can’t listen to it anymore. Likewise, Challa is a good song where the chosen voice does not sound like it belongs to SRK. And once you see SRK on the screen jumping on the song, it becomes worse.
6. End of debate around Anushka’s potential – Now I am convinced that she is not good for anything else but playing the happy punjabi kudi. That, thankfully, she does quite well.
7. SRK as a 45 year old 28 year old guy – PLEASE GIVE ME A BREAK, will you? Wasn’t it enough that Aamir Khan was playing a gyaani 17 year old guy in 3-idiots? That guy at least tries to look more earnest about getting his walk,talk right.
8. The movie is a barrage of set pieces where the lead actors (or supporting cast) have the opportunity to deliver some amazing cheesebally suger coated syrupy inanities. The kinds that when spoken in real life, amongst good friends, especially when you’re young, are bound to draw guffaws. Imagine you talking to your girlfriend, and saying things like – “meri aur xyz ki kahaani us adhoori kitaab ki tarah hai jinke panne umr ke thapedon mein dhundhle se ho gaye hain. kuch harf nazar nahi aate, kuch sirf khayalon mein hain!” I mean, really, do you expect your friends to empathise with this profound statement. Most likely, they will hold silent for, exactly, maybe, 5 seconds. And then, hell shall break loose. But anyway, YR is known for getting away with those profound moments, making generations of women believe that true love happens when there are roses blooming, people standing on the alps in nothing but a t-shirt, and people narrating love poems in uber cool baritones – jab tak hai jaan, jab tak hai jaan.

Last thought – Jab tak hai jaan… bachaa ke bhaag lo. OR, if there was a positive spin to it – “Dekh lo. iske baad sab kuch acha lagega, jab tak rahegi jaan”

Book Review: The Bankster

If we look around the crop of current surge of Indian authors, there are very few that will stand out as writing taut, gripping stuff. The so called best-sellers are dealing with what I’d carefully classify as “easy reading” aimed at an audience which is still coming to terms with one of three things – English as the predominant language of their life, the perception of life at or around IITs/IIMs or other such hallowed portals (replace educational institution with financial, advisory, advertising, manufacturing, or any other such workplace and it would be the same), and lastly, a critical/modern look at the Indian cultural ethos (re-interpreting the Mahabharata or Ramayana, or a subsection from the Epic Indian literature that the generation of currently 30+ were fed on). The better Indian literature transcends these categories – Premchand had the ability to look at a common indian’s life, and so did Tagore. An “Anaamdas Ka Potha” from Hazariprasad Dwivedi had the ability to merge the philosophy of Aham Brahmasmi with the quest of an individual, and lace it with heavy doses of dark satire.

In the realm of one and two – simplification of english as a language for the people curious to know about Banking (and its pitholes), Ravi Subramanian has written four books before this  one. The Bankster, is a “financial thriller”, trying to trace the common origins of three stories – that of the corrupt insides of a large multinational bank, a socio-political unrest against a nuclear plant and an international arms dealer network. However, at its heart, its a story about a financial institution, and how the internal people, processes and attitudes create and drive varying levels of corruptions which have a second, a third, or a fourth degree impact on people and their lives. And by simplifying a lot of retail banking operations, Ravi manages to keep the book interesting.

The stories run in parallel till they converge, and quite seamlessly (even if a little too simplistically), except that the arms dealer track seems a little too subsidised while the banker track is overemphasised. This could be a function of Ravi’s professional background and focus on the financial institution story. The build up of the bank story, benaami accounts, fraud prevention, internal manipulations, corrupt practices, and several such small day to day things are captured quite well. Ravi manages to create a large number of interesting characters, but loses them somewhere in the grand scheme of things. Right from Vikram, Indrani, Tanuja, Nikhil, etc. to the Menon’s and their back stories, the Jaishankars, and so on. So much so that the end seems trivialised a great deal, and the nexus too simple. The faceless Joseph Braganza seems a little too puny in the end. The language, mannerisms and styles of different characters get muddled up along the way, with probably the exception of Tanuja.

Its the bank story where Ravi has got most of the detailing close and interesting. The arms track is the weakest, and has one of the biggest loopholes in the story. The way the third track starts building up, around an old man’s protest against the establishment, keeps you intrigued for a bit and shows a lot of promise. But then again, it collapses towards the end.

The book maintains a breezy pace, and is loaded with large number of small and interesting events to keep your mind busy. The Vikram-Tanuja banter could have been better. An interesting strength or weakness, depending on how you see it, is that there isn’t really anyone who occupies too much of space in the book. So, you are never too bothered about who the pivot of the story is.

I’d still give a thumbs up for this book and go with a 5 on 10. We as a breed of “english authors” are evolving and hopefully, the next one from Ravi will be continue to become better (I couldnt finish his previous one – If God Was A Banker).

Afterthought: I am very happy to note the kind of forum/audience a lot of budding Indian authors are getting now. Several people around me have published. Unfortunately, somewhere on this highway, our Hindi/ Urdu/ regional language literature is losing its way.

This review is a part of the Book Reviews Program at BlogAdda.com . Participate now to get free books!

Culture of Whites

As a young kid, impressionable, ambitious, and a little crazy as I might have been back then, there was a little thing that was sacrosanct. That someone who was really serious about his Cricket, wore the “whites”. The other colors were for fun. Like the Benson & Hedges tournament down under. The cherry was supposed to be red. For it to be menacing and serious. You get the point.

So, when I went for my first cricket camp, since I could not really have a separate set of appropriate whites for playing cricket only, it boiled down to my white school shirt, and that white school trouser that you were supposed to wear on a specific weekday, for example, a saturday. I had white canvas shoes as well. But this time, thankfully, big brother came to my rescue. He had played school league already, and much as it would have affected the monthly budgets, my parents had bought him a pair of cricketing shoes with spikes and everything. He had outgrown them, and they were available for me. A little worn out, but a matter of pride, because not everyone had them. And you had to go to “Main Road” to buy them in Ranchi.

But, in short, the whites were sacred. Once you donned the whites, you played seriously. The stakes became higher. The intensity, that much stronger.

And the players wore those white V-neck sweaters in winters. The ones which had a combination color rim around the neck. The colors representing your country colors. Indians had blue. Aussies had yellow and baggy green. Me and my brother had pleaded with mom to get her to knit one of those sweaters for us. And she did. And we wore them, and felt let like the real deal. Nothing could go wrong after that. Yet it did. You did gt thwacked around the park. Or bowled out for a duck. But that could happen to Kapil. OR Kris Srikant as well. It’s just that you felt that you were giving your 100%.

And you imitated. That wonderful Kapil pose. Or the long Kumble run up. Or, that menacing Akram yorker. Or, even Gladstone Small. Or, that Shashtri defend and take a few false steps trick. Or that Kris Srikanth twitch, walk to the leg umpire, stretch your feet apart much more than any other batsman would, and try to take on the Akrams and the Ambroses of the world.

And much as the game was called a gentlemen’s game, complain like rowdies whenever you felt that a decision was unfair against India. Be ridiculous about supporting Sunny’s walking out. Be kiddishly gleefuk about that akram yorker that brought some ofthe finest to the ground. And discuss the match for several hours after it ended. That hit and that miss. Quite different from the post-match package by Sony Entertainment.

And just as the day would be coming to an end, with a little bit of light still left before sunset, run to the ground to get a five over game in. You and your band of fellow gentlemen. Whites or no-whites.

Such was the culture of whites. As I remember it.

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