The Reading List

The bed side has 5 books right now –


City Adrift (hardcover) by Naresh Fernandes–
I am halfway through the book, and it has been a dry but intriguing narrative about Mumbai, its past, its cultural evolution, and its people. I am learning a lot of things about the city that I have been a part of for the last seven years. For the content, the narrative could have been a little more fluid. But I am not exactly complaining.

Amar Akbar Anthony by Siddharth Bhatia

Harper Collins had started this series of books on some of the cult movies of Bollywood. They were supposed to be a behind the scenes insight on how those movies happened to be. Jai Arjun Singh’s Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron is probably the best of the lot. Deewar, probably the worst. AAA, so far, has been a disappointment, with a little over a chapter of a thin book wasted on telling us the story. Damn it, you’ve picked a cult movie, and the person interested in the behind-the-scenes is someone who already knows the story. Get it?

Mirza Ghalib by Gulzar (Hindi) 

For those who have seen the TV series many a times, the books is a parallel running compendium. For those who have not, and enjoy good old fashioned storytelling (albeit in Urdu heavy Hindustani), there is a lot of Mirza in this beautiful book.

The Kill List by Fredrick Forsyth

Starts off in the usual FF way. The narrative and context setting is going on. The intrigue is setting in. The context is a mysterious preacher who has a confounding effect on individuals turning them into murderous fanatics, before and after 9/11. I will come back with a more detailed review later on.


The Casual Vacancy – by J K Rowling

This one’s going to be a difficult one to finish. I am halfway through, but everytime I drop the book, going back to it is a challenge.


I recently finished reading Siddharth Tripathi’s The Virgins. Detailed reviews is pending, but for small-town-desis, its an extremely relatable book. The big positive – the easy narrative style. The big negative – the effort that has gone into developing the characters. However, works perfectly, if you want to pick something for an easy flight read or a quick weekend read.


What are you reading?

Theatre Review: Celebrating Gulzar’s Works:

Between last Thursday and Sunday, Prithvi Theatre was showcasing Essay Communication’s work, which is a set of collage woven around Gulzar’s works – Kharashein capturing communal riots and relationships around partition, Lakeerein capturing border/LoC stories, Atthaniyan capturing Mumbai snippets, and (apparently) Kacche Lamhe capturing man-woman relationships. The high point of the week, however, was the poetry reading session by Gulzar Sahab on Sunday morning.

My first distinct memory of Gulzar’s voice is an HMV tape “Fursat ke raat din” (not the two cassette/CD version which came later,  but the older single cassette version). I’ve always been a great fan of his nazms and poems ever since –

“तन्हाई खला नही होती, इसलिये खाली भी नही होती”

“tanhaaI khalaa nahI hotI, isaliye khaalI bhI nahI hotI”
<Solitude is not a bother, and hence, never empty>

“ईक रोज़ ज़िन्दगी ने हंस के कहा.. मुझ से यूं रूठा ना करो.. मैं तुम्हारि जुड्वा हूं”

“Ik roz zindagI ne haMs ke kahaa.. mujh se yUM rooThaa naa karo.. maiM tumhaari juDwaa hooM”
<Life once said to me.. don’t be so mad at me. I am your twin, after all>

In the 2 casette collection – Pancham- Gulzar Remembers RD Burman, Gulzar said –

“मैं क्या बताऊं कि ईक बेहता दरिया हूं… जब आ रहा था, तब जा रहा था”

“maiM kyaa bataaooM ki Ik behataa dariyaa hooM… jab aa rahaa thaa, tab jaa rahaa thaa”
<How do I tell you that I am a river, flowing in its stride… While I was coming hither, I was leaving too>

“तुम्हारे गम की दली उठा कर, जुबां पे रख ली है देखो मैने… वो कतरा कतरा पिघल रही है, मैं कतरा कतरा ही जी रहा हूं”

“tumhaare gam kI dalI uThaa kar, jubaaM pe rakh lI hai dekho maine… wo kataraa kataraa pighal rahI hai, maiM kataraa kataraa hI jI rahaa hooM”

<A lump of your pain, I’ve put on my tongue… it melts with every moment.. and I live with every moment>

And yesterday, he said,

“फिर किसी दर्द को सहला के सूजा लें आंखें, फिर किसी दुख्ती हुई रग से छुआ लें नश्तर”,

“आ के देख जाओ इक बार ज़रा, उस शाख पे एक फूल खिला है”

Anyways, coming back to the productions that I saw. I missed out on Kachche Lamhe. But saw, the other three.

Kharashein – was, sans the brilliant acting by Yashpal Sharma, Atul Kulkarni and Kishore Kadam, average fare. It is difficult to elevate yourself to the level of Gulzar’s poetry, and weave a narration that links them all together. Even more difficult is to portray the essence of those poems. And even more difficult it becomes, if you are obsessed with giving your incompetent relatives an important part in the narration. Salim Arif (Director) has a misplaced confidence in Lubna Salim (who happens to be the producer of the show as well). She, in a very harsh voice completely unbecoming of the curves and nuances of Urdu language, and with a deliberate desire to brutally murder the spirit of the poems, picks plum roles for herself. In certain acts, she even wants to be the narrator, taking on a responsibility which is so very dependent on understanding what is to be said, and then having the right voice modulation and expression to convey it. Alas, she has neither. That being said, the overall product was definitely watchable once. The three main guys were absolutely brilliant.

Lakeerein – I have already complained about Salim’s obsession with Lubna, OR, Lubna’s obsession with herself. Next, lets add a random lady (Seema Sehgal) who’d be walking in and out of the stage trying to give notes to the poetry, and in many cases, forgetting that poetry is more about expression, and less about aalaap. In between acts, a lady walking on to the stage with a full aalaap (which on many occasions, was not even in sur) is a huge distraction. And she seemed more inclined to prove her shastriya sangeet skills, then doing justice to the poetry. Add to that, a sub-standard starcast (today, the load was being carried by Yashpal alone), and you have a really really bad narration. A friend of mine, for whom I had booked tickets for the subsequent show of Atthaniyaan as well, refused to watch the other acts after seeing this one. That bad, yes. No more comments.

Atthaniyaan – Please take Lubna Salim out of the acting side of this troupe. Please add someone half as good as Yashpal, and you would have had a watchable play. Please work on the diction of the actors. Those who do not even understand what they are mouthing, and cannot feel the pain, the joy, the agony, the frustrations of the characters they are portraying, and the language they are using, can NEVER do justice to the character. You don’t need to become a method actor, but a certain level of understanding is expected. The narration/play had at least 5 people consuming limited stage space, who were not used for anything specific, but to sing in Chorus all the time. They even had a dimwit recite an English translation of a Gulzar poem, with a perfect deadpan expression. She wouldn’t have a standard four elocution competition, and you are putting her in front of 250 odd people in a play??? And why the translation, when you have an audience which is expecting to hear the original. And when the legend is sitting as part of the audience. Why?

So, the plays, in general, did not work for me. I would not recommend them to anyone.

This brings me to the last part. The part that worked – the poetry reading session with Gulzar Sahab. The first session was a Q&A with Bhawna Somaya, who is a pretty well known journalist herself. During the conversation, it seemed like  she wasn’t really prepared with a lot of research/questions on what to ask and expect. Javed Siddiqui, who was also on stage, and Gulzar took quite a trip on Mrs. Somaya.  It was fun, the conversation, that is. The audience got its chance to ask questions, and barring a couple, the average intelligence of the masses being below average was proved again, beyond doubt.

However, the moment, Gulzar Sahab took to the podium to recite some of his Nazms and Trivenis, it was like watching a sunset on bandstand. People found their corners in the rocky beaches of understanding, and settled down to let the beauty unfold. The imagery was perfect, the rendition flawless and the voice magical. If someone wants to learn what diction should be like, they should listen to Gulzar. The right weight, the right modulation, the exact emphasis, the perfect volume – there is absolutely nothing that he misses. Just listening to him talk is a tutorial by itself. The same poems that were massacred by Lubna Salim and co, were brought back to life by Gulzar. Such beauty.. In that one hour, there was no-one else, and nothing more important. If I had to imitate his style of poetry, I would say something like –

जाने कैसी बात थी
जब तुम्हारे लफ़्ज़ों ने मेरी आंखों पर
सफ़ेद इक पट्टी बांध के
आहिस्ता से मेरे कानों में कहा

ज़रा ठहरो, अभी शाम बाकी है…

गुलज़ार सहिब, हम एक बार फिर आप के कायल हो गये!

What I liked about Ishqiya: Not as much a movie review

I watched Ishqiya last night, comfortable sprawled in the king sofa sets of Maxus, Sakinaka. I loved the movie immensely.
We (most movie bloggers) often like the movie first, and intellectualize our emotions later. Many a times, in the process of intellectualizing the emotion, we kill the real emotion. Mind over heart, as they say. That being said, there are a lot of things that clicked with me for this movie, and hence I will talk only about the most important things (for me). Acting, Music, and Dialogues are the more obvious positives. Characters and their portrayal is the less obvious one. The fact that I do not credit the story as much is the other less obvious thing.
Characters / Portrayal- The reason I am separating it from acting is because it’s a director/story-teller’s vision, that the actors convincingly or unconvincingly portrays on the screen, and that’s where debutant director Abhishek scores a maiden ton. Extremely human in their thinking and mannerisms, Arshad Warsi (Babban), Vidya Balan (Krishna) and Naseeruddin Shah (Iftikhar/Khalu jaan) are exceptional in the movie. And for once, I think Arshad and Vidya come across a notch better than Naseer, which by itself should be to the director’s credit.
Khalu’s body language when he is trying to steal a car, or during the song “dil to bachcha hai”, or when he is acting coy with Krishna telling her about Jayadev being the music director of the song she is singing, are all of the same man, and the same small time thief who is on his toes that he will get caught any minute. His anger at seeing Babban and Krishna together, completely over-ruling the thought that he himself had the same desires, given a chance, and subsequently hurting his best friend with the most heart wrenching comments in that anger – these are all extremely human scenarios, enacted perfectly by Naseer. But by now, I expect that from Naseer.
Babban, on the other hand, is the standard roadside goon that we all must have seen so many of in real life. Especially those who have spent some time in the central belt of India. The mannerisms, open shirt button, unshaved stubbled look, the walk with a forced air of rudeness, the “rolling over words” language are all so typical. Babban’s language is far more bhopali, and he has pulled it off with consummate ease. “Tumhara pyaar pyaar, aur humara pyaar sex” might be a dialogue that many people will quote in their respective gali mohallas. Almost every scene where Arshad is present, he takes the center stage.
The pick of the lot for me is Krishna’s character. Extremely manipulative, flirtatious with her husband, refined with Khalu, and in your face with Babban, her transition from one league to another is seamless. What is extremely impressive is that in that one intimate moment with Babban, Krishna comes across as someone who wants to keep the “sulphate” at bay, but her carnal desires being unmet for ages, she gives in to the emotion. And in that one moment, her carnal desires take over her plan of keeping both the men at bay. It comes across as a moment that she was not planning for, and my reading is that it was exactly that, more than a mere manipulation. Also, the scene where she realizes that beyond manipulations, the two men actually do love here, there is an expression on her face that should not be missed. It’s a beautiful transition, the way a cloud passes over your expressions every once in a while, when you hear an uncomfortable truth. I have believed Vidya Balan to be a good actress, but never realized she has come so far. Especially after Hey Babyy, my confidence had gone low. After Paa and Ishqiya, however, I think she should groom herself to be the next Smita Patil/Shabana Azmi cadre actress.

The other aspect that really stood out for me was the music, and by that I don’t mean just the 4 key songs from Vishal and Gulzar. Even the occasional picks in the movie like “kuch dil ne kaha… kuch bhi nahi” are amazingly well placed. The music arrangement for Ab mujhe koi intezaar nahi and Badi dheere jali are exquisite. Put them on your iPod and close your eyes, you are sure to transcend to another world of yearning. Even though Dil to bachcha hai and Ibn-e-batuta are the running favorites, my loyalty is shifting to “badi dheere jali raina, dhuan dhuan naina”.

Unlike pure blooded critics, I will not want to quote flaws “as well”, because overall, the movie worked for me. Those 2 hours were a breeze, and I came out satisfied.

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