Wednesday, February 25, 2009 2 reflections

An affection quite ‘daffatan'

For the uninitiated the word ‘daffatan’ means ‘suddenly’. And the reason I blog about this word is since it appears in one of the soundtracks of the Hindi movie ‘Delhi 6’ with lyrics by Prasoon Joshi and music by the Academy award winner AR Rahman. Now, I don’t normally get verbose about movies and/or music since well, I don’t get impressed by either of these too easily. Given the limited number of quality stuff that the Hindi film industry produces every week, it is not too hard to wonder why my affection towards its consistently inconsistent quality isn’t too intense. But then, there are the odd ones that appear like a swaying oasis in the middle of a mercilessly parched desert. The ones that make you smile. The ones that remind you that there are still those who understand the meaning of dreams and who know how to paint them in shades that can be innocently subtle yet extremely coherent. The ones that tug at your heart the moment you see them not just with their melody but with the context in which they are portrayed on the silver screen.

After watching the movie and making what I could make out of it, I couldn’t help but keep going back to this song’s choreographic elegance and simplistic beauty. Now, being from the land that is infamous for loud and colorful celebrations that pass off as 'songs' accompanied by numerous chorus dancers who gyrate in sync with the leading faces, I know only too well a sensitive peace of work when I see one. And this piece, ‘Dil gira daffatan…’ is definitely one of those. The only other time I remember appreciating such finesse in the vision of a movie maker was in Farhan Akhtar’s classic human drama of contemporary India – ‘Dil Chahta Hai’. The song ‘Kaisi hai yeh rut…’ was so wonderfully shot that it brought back a thousand dreams to life. Similarly, ‘Dil gira daffatan…’ brings to life not just dreams but a unique concoction of the protagonist’s past, present and possibly the future. A rare mix of emotions that make this presentation such a special one.

What struck me as amazing was the attention to detail given in the song's scenes. Everything from the jalebi-wallah’s deep fried sweetmeats to the scene where a bizarre matrix of Delhi-wallahs and foreigners gather to celebrate the birth of a calf with its well-adorned mother standing next to it in the middle of a street that looks like an interesting cross between New York and Old Delhi. Ah, I thought. Could there be a better metaphor for India? A meeting of such diverse cities as one common ground? Unlikely is it not? What also adds to this painting like creation is the fact that it stitches in everything the protagonist (Roshan) knows about himself and is in the process of discovering. From the generously gaudy Ram-leela mandali to the eloquently exuberant banyan tree with bells of a million prayers hung all around it. Everyone from the dubious monkey man to the ignored fakir with the mirror is showcased tastefully at the right spots during the sequence. A vision, as it seems, that proudly sticks out as overwhelmingly as the immaculate shot of the Statue of Liberty right in the heart of a dizzy looking Chandni Chowk! A photograph that combines the breathtaking scenes of a buzzing Times Square-like place with lazily moving cycle-rickshaws and make shift tea-stalls peppered all over it. Just one word – beautiful. If not for anything else I hope people will remember ‘Delhi 6’ for this extremely sensitive and well executed portrayal of a man and his mixed bag of unforgettable memories.

See below the video of the song ‘Dil gira daffatan…’

Monday, February 23, 2009 0 reflections

And the Oscar goes to...

A recognition long time in the waiting for our dear boy wonder AR Rahman has now found the light of day. And what a way to finally arrive! Two of those golden beauties are now Rahman's to keep for life! Here is wishing our desi lad the very best in all his current and future desi and videsi ventures and may the tones that he produces continue to stir our souls for several decades to come around the world. Well done AR!

H E A R T Y _C O N G R A T U L A T I O N S
F O R _H I S
A C A D E M Y _A W A R D _W I N!

Watch the soundtrack that got him his much deserved Oscar!

Saturday, February 21, 2009 0 reflections

Delhi 6 – A simple mirror of complex images

It was after ‘Rang De Basanti’(RDB) that I took note of Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra. I knew he had made another movie called ‘Aks’ but I never really got around to seeing it, although I am sure watching Bachchan and Bajpai in the same frame would have been a delight. Be that as it may, with the added amplification of Rahman’s soul stirring numbers and the fact that Bachchan Jr. was going to be featured in it, I was quite eager to check out ‘Dilli 6’. Despite what people say about him I think Abhishek is a fine talent and has proved his acting prowess time and again while working with the finest in the sub continent and hence I was quite certain he would deliver yet another clinical performance in this one too.

One of the biggest reasons I had liked RDB was because of the way it showcased Delhi only a true ‘Dilli-wallah’ could have managed to do. Having spent some of the best days of my life there, I have a rather personal investment in that city. Be it those wide and serene roads of Lodhi Estate or the buzzing and snaking back alleys of Karol Bagh, Dilli will always be a part of me. Hence, ‘Dilli 6’ already had a small portion of my affection even before I had started viewing it.

As the credits roll by the movie starts off by coming to the point right away. We are told that an ailing old woman (Waheeda Rehman) has only a few months to live and sitting beside her in a quintessential American clinic somewhere in New York is her America-born confused desi grandson Roshan (Abhishek). Having become the bird of migration over the last few years, the old woman now wants to die in the arms of her biological mother – Delhi. The city that is a vital part of who she is. Thanks to her rightfully scorned son who has vowed never to return to that fateful and unfriendly place which threw him out because of his love affair with a Muslim girl (an always effervescent Tanvi Azmi), Roshan takes it upon himself to leave his grandmother back in her natural nest.

The two reach Delhi amid rampant reports of a bizarre ‘monkey man attack’ epidemic which is causing mass hysteria in the city. An amusing sighting, Roshan feels, as he dives head first into an ocean of notoriously friendly ‘jalebi-wallahs’, openly hostile policemen, overtly affectionate friends of his family and of course, the obliviously aloof love of his life. The life in Delhi-6, Chandni Chowk, engulfs him in one single sip. Surrounded by a mirage of characters who are so unpretentious Roshan finds himself wondering who is now family and who is not. Almost everyone seems more than ready to help when needed, regardless of caste, faith or gender. An observation I particularly found quite endearing in India’s context. Buried in the shower of elaborate Rama leelas and dried home made chillies, he begins his journey back to roots he never knew existed.

Time chugs along as Roshan easily blends into a version of India he has never known before. Notwithstanding his obvious adherence to his ‘American-ness’ or as Bittu (Sonam Kapoor) eloquently puts it ‘Burger-chaap’ness, Roshan begins to fall in love with that part of Dilli to such an extent that he no longer feels the need to return to the one nest he actually recognizes – New York.

The real beat of ‘Dilli 6’ picks up pace in the second half. What catches you unannounced is the rapidness with which the same friendly, affectionate and unashamedly well meaning ‘janta’ turns shockingly menacing overnight at the slightest hint that the famed ‘monkey man’ could be a Muslim and that what is now a proud Islamic establishment was probably a temple a couple of centuries ago. All this, at the saying of a nameless God man who comes to the place to ‘fix’ the menace but ends up becoming the cause for one. It is in this deep seeded hypocritical and culturally oversensitive vein of India, that Mehra explores real pain and suffering. The good old ‘Jalebi-wallah’ is beaten black and blue in broad daylight as communal violence spreads faster than the invisible shadows of the infamous ‘Monkey Man’. The epitome of Hindu faith, the old tree where people tie bells so that their wishes may come true is set afire one quiet night as several parallel subplots run amok as Roshan prepares for a final showdown.

‘Dilli 6’ attempts to do a lot of things in the limited frame it is given, which to some, might come across as a little hasty on Mehra’s part. The dozen subplots that run along with Roshan’s story do not necessarily harm the main narrative but do little to amplify the love story that he finds himself becoming a part of with Bittu. An angle that, I thought, could have used a few more sensitive and emotionally subtle scenes. After all, Dilli is the city of dil-wallahs is it not? So a little more attention to carefully woven ‘dil-wallah’ scenes between Roshan and Bittu would have served well. But looking past that, ‘Dilli 6’ is a wonderful attempt at capturing some complex human emotions against the backdrop of a fakir’s broken mirror. It is a tribute to the simmering pot of frustrations and endless grievances middle class India has to go through which is always ready to explode in the face at the slightest provocation – even if it is a fictitious one.

Performances wise everyone chips in their bit in this enterprise. Abhishek does a good job as Roshan who seems unsure about where he really belongs but slowly becomes more convinced with each altercation with something that opposes his belief system. Sonam is alright albeit she doesn’t get a lot of scope to display histrionics given the generous cast in the mix. Some extremely talented folks make an appearance in pivotal roles – the legendary Waheeda Rehman, the subtle yet tragically still in love Rishi Kapoor, the flawless Om Puri, the talented Vijay Raaz and Atul Kulkarni and of course the quite underrated Pavan Malhotra. There are also a host of new/recognizable faces who add more substance to the storyline. Music is the best part of the story, as it was with RDB too. Rehman excels with every composition but the one I loved the scenes for the most was ‘Dil gira dafatan…’ where Roshan gets up in a dream sequence and walks through a cloud of imaginary backdrops that mix Old Delhi and New York beautifully on a vibrant canvas with scenes from his past and present. Simply beautiful. Editing could have been a bit more natural in some vital places that I found a little hard to digest given the rather smooth flow of the narrative. Come to think of it, even RDB had its share of shoddily edited edges that somehow took the backseat with the performances.

On the whole ‘Dilli 6’ may seem a tad preachy and philosophical to some towards the end but it does not say anything out of the ordinary but simple reminds us of what we as Indians become when put to test at the stake of religion. A grim reflection of the kind of cultural bondages we are told we belong to whereas the only one that would eventually matter is humanity. Or as the crazed fakir puts it, ‘...look in the mirror for the answers…’

Go ahead and check out ‘Dilli 6’. You might find a mirror that fits you too.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009 0 reflections

Flaky thoughts

As a child I remember always badgering my father to take us to Kashmir. Reason? All the snow. In retrospect today I wonder where that inexplicable fixation to that white cotton volatility really stemmed from. It could have been the popcorn candy laced Yash Raj movies that celebrated snow as if it was some sort of divine ingredient that made love such a special experience. It could also have been the fact that most places that we lived in growing up – Chennai, Hyderabad, Pune and even New Delhi – never saw an inch of snow even in their own versions of ‘winter’. I still remember pelting tiny cubes of tasteless and watery ice from the refrigerator at my equally enthusiastic brother as we played the ‘snow game’ pretending we were flinging snowballs at each other as we ran around the living room in our vests while mom screamed at us from the kitchen. As juvenile as such episodes seem now I could not help revisit them today as I returned home from work after being generously sprayed with cold and fresh snow flakes falling lazily from the grey skies. It is winter in Copenhagen and so the heavens have now decided to flourish us with some intense snowfalls.

Anyway, the irony of it was this – I disliked it a little. In fact I couldn’t wait to get inside, get out of the moist woolen jacket and get into a warm pair of dry clothes. I couldn’t stand the constant landing of haphazardly vicious snow pellets that seemed determined to annoy me no end. It was somehow nostalgic and frustrating at the same time as I tried so desperately to think of why on God’s green earth we used to be so fascinated by snow back in the day. Was it because we had never really seen it? Was it because we had somehow put up a mantle for it that was so high and dramatic that it seemed unattainable? I don’t know for sure. But I couldn’t quite connect the dots that made kids like me crazy about snow in those days.

I still remember the sheer surge of adrenaline that had cut through our bodies when we had spotted the first genuine layers of hard snow mounds on our way to the holy shrine of Kedarnath in North India as we rode on the back of a tired pony. Despite our sore bottoms we had jumped off of its back and chased each other throwing generous lumps of white blissful snowballs at one another as dad clicked photographs from the distance wrapped in a bright red sweater and a grey colored ‘monkey cap’. Fun times indeed!

My next big connection with snow came when I visited the United States for the first time in 2000 for Xmas. All of the Washington and Baltimore area had been covered with heavy snowfall and I still remember feeling numb with emotion as I played mercilessly in it with my cousins. It was good while it lasted, I guess. But then somehow that fascination went away…until I moved to Europe in 2007. My first Xmas in 2007 brought with it a gracious serving of the white miracle one evening. I remember walking out of the apartment that day and standing mesmerized at my very first ‘resident snowfall’ – translation, my first snow fall in a place I actually lived in and wasn’t a tourist at. It was good for a day, maybe two, oh what the heck, three days! But then that fascination began to fade. I got sick with cold and couldn’t wait to experience the brazen heat that our good friend – the sun – used to provide. I craved for days where I could just walk to the supermarket wearing a T Shirt, jeans and sandals. I used to long for days when I didn’t have to get dressed in six different woolen accessories just to throw out the garbage. It was an interestingly different time as my attitude towards snow and everything about it seemed to have changed a bit.

But then there is also something else to it. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that I was still unattached back then and the sight of love-happy couples walking quietly amid snow laden streets made me look away. Maybe it was the fact that, much like the Yash Raj features, I didn’t have anyone to sing ‘dekha ek khwaab to yeh silsilay hue…’ like Bachchan Sr. as a lissome Rekha crooned from across the frozen lake in a turtle neck pull over. I am not sure. But luckily, with that aspect of my life taking a much appreciated turn, I am now hoping the next time winter comes along I should be a much happier man. Doesn’t that sound reasonable now?


Sunday, February 15, 2009 11 reflections

14 planned days, 4 planned flights and 1 unplanned love story

The rays of a lazy sun filtered through his silent room. He opened his eyes to the noise of a familiar buzz that radiated from his cellular phone lying next to him. He quickly flipped it open and realized she had sent him a message. ‘Her first message for me in India…’ he thought as an unconscious smile escaped his curious lips. He continued reading the contents before pressing ‘Reply’ and punching in his own matrix of quiet alphabet patterns. This was Day 1 at 5:30AM.

The bizarreness of the affair started becoming obvious quite soon. The fact that the two of them had somehow, given the very restrictive framework of an arranged matrimonial alliance, managed to go beyond formalities into a whole new world of trust and friendship was becoming too apparent. Their conversations took various shapes – SMS messages, text chats, voice chats, web-cam chats and of course, telephone calls. While all this was good enough to keep them waiting for the eventual face to face interaction, there was something else to it too – it didn’t seem to matter. His liking for her was seeded in her shockingly pure shades of genuine earthy innocence while her adulation for him stemmed from the creative attempts of sporadic star spangles he had managed to weave around himself over the years. A pair, one might say, truly unique in relation to one another.

After having exchanged over 200 messages, 100 phone calls and several telepathic signals by the end of day 5, there was little else remaining to be said or done. The meeting of the revered elders now seemed like a ritual that needed to be executed. The truth was he had fallen for her the day she had switched on her webcam for the first time and seen directly into his eyes not realizing she had scooped out his heart in one simple glance. She, on the other hand, had found a new lease of humanity in this stranger who, despite being the quintessential paradigm shifting prodigy-like symbol with an ‘NRI’ label attached, still had his feet firmly stuck to his roots regardless of where his life’s branches extended to. A match that was beginning to compliment each other with every interaction. A pair that was now officially in love but with neither the mental setup nor the physical parameters to confess it yet.

Day 6 brought some hopeful indications to that end as he prepared to take flight # 1 out of his city the following day to the place where he was convinced his soul mate stood waiting for him. Having been a lone wanderer for close to a decade, he wasn’t entirely sure what to expect in terms of companionship. One of the consequences of living alone was this – self reliance. An emotion so intense that many people never get married only for fear of ‘losing’ that space of island life. However, what he didn’t know then was that his much appreciated ‘island dwelling’ wasn’t complete without another shadow that could compliment his ragged presence. A fact that would dawn upon him like a thunderbolt on Day 7.

After the initial bugaboos of ‘arranged marriage’ idiosyncrasy, the two finally got some time to be by themselves. They walked around for a couple of hours exchanging pleasantries and trying to connect the dots about each other that had formed in their heads over the weeks. She spent her time narrating stories from her past and showing him the neighborhood, while he reacted with the utmost sense of sincerity and slapped away annoying mosquitoes that had started their rounds at dusk.

The families decided to eat out for the night, so they went to a delicious ethnic joint in the city. Over several steel tumblers of savory curries and endless supplies of interestingly small rotis he never missed an opportunity to look at her. What the 4-5 weeks of nonstop interactions had done was ignited this brazen craving in him to catch her in all her moods – surprised, thoughtful, serious, unattached, sober, mischievous…all of it. And try as he may, given the rather generously joyful occasion that day, he continued to silently etch her face into the interiors of his heart. She continued stealing glances from him and giggling away incessantly at jokes that only the two of them knew about. Over uncertain queries from her confused elders, she continued munching her limited meal as the evening came to a pleasant close.

Day 8 was going to be a big one. Quite possibly the ‘deal maker’ day for the two. Every exchange thus far had basically culminated up to this day that would go on to become one of the biggest milestones in both their lives. Over idle chat and the humdrum of the traffic whizzing by, he suddenly turned to her and asked her if she would marry him. A gasp of genuine surprise escaped her lips as she paused for a second, before continuing with a reasonable ‘Sure!’ and then they sat in silence for a few seconds before breaking into short giggles at how easily they had moved on to the next step. As the day drew to a close, sitting next to the waves that crashed into custom made rocks with subdued fury, they confessed their love for one another. It was a simple affair. No trumpets. No needless exaggerations. No cards. No music. No sonnets. Nothing. Just a quiet look into each other’s eyes and the magical words spilled forth. It was becoming quite apparent that their story wouldn’t be an ordinary one given that the proposal had preceded the confession, when usually it’s the other way around.

He flew out of her city in flight #2 as day 8 ended. It wasn’t easy, as he later realized sipping cold tea on the flight, to walk away from someone who had responded in the affirmative to the two major things in life – love and marriage.

Day 9 and 10 were a blur. More talk. More SMS exchange. More calls and yes, definitely more love. It wasn’t clear to either of them if what they had done was timed properly, but what they definitely knew was this – it was the most beautiful thing they had ever done in all their lives. Hence, the timing aspect of it just didn’t mean much.

Day 11 arrived with another packet of beautiful surprises. She took flight #3 into his city and brought to him the much needed sense of calm he was so desperately seeking. One look into her calm yet sparkly eyes and he knew – he would live out the rest of his days gazing into those pools of everlasting beauty. The elders met at his place under the blistering sun over cups of sugary coffee and equally sweet juice. After a few placid interactions, it was settled. They then shook hands, touched feet and received the blessings of the elders all the while aware that they were already blessed to have each other. She was now officially welcomed to his family.

She flew out of his city in flight #4 at the end of day 11. A capsule in time he so wanted to forget as he helplessly watched her walk away from him. Their eyes met just before she disappeared in an ocean of bags with hands attached to them. It was in those few seconds, that they had a dozen conversations. And that was enough – for now, he thought. As he drove back into his city constantly checking his messages to see if she had sent anything, he was sure that she was doing the same thing. He found himself instinctively letting out a prayer – ‘God…let this be the last time I see her walk away from me…’ and looked away into the dizzyingly maniacal traffic. A unique bond had been created that the event of ‘marriage’ would only solemnize in public since their celebrations of the heart had already begun.

Days 12 and 13 went by with equal temperaments. He would stay up till the wee hours of the morning as she would spend a good 3-4 hours after a 10 hour shift at work talking to him. This love story had to be the shortest and yet the most beautiful in his recollection since what he had known was that he would have to get married some day. But what he didn’t know was that he would fall in love with his future spouse with such intensity even before the families had properly met. A prospect that has him smiling in blissful wonder even today.

Day 14 came. The day when he would leave his city and head back to his second home in the west. He arrived at the airport almost four hours in advance so that he could speak to her contently for as long as he could. Luck, again, was on his side as he found an isolated phone booth and spent 45 minutes speaking to her and wishing her the best on their first Valentine’s Day. After being eyed suspiciously by a waiting co-passenger, he had to hang up, albeit with a very heavy heart.

He flew out at 3:30AM on the 14th day and slept like a baby for five straight hours on the flight. It was only after waking up and heading to the washroom did he realize why it was. He no longer struggled to sleep on long flights since he had now fallen in love with the most beautiful dream.