Monday, December 06, 2010 2 reflections

Mukhaputa - A movie review

As is usually the case, most watchable Kannada movies go unrecognized unless they get some non-local award. As sad and tragic as it is, it continues to be one of the banes of a once flourishing and creatively vibrant film industry that now reeks in the ruins ruled by mediocre-heavy jingoism. Fortunately, 'Mukhaputa' avoided that inevitable fate into oblivion as it bagged an award at the Ireland Film Festival and the Silver Sierra Best feature film award at the California Film festival.

The story revolves around 7 year old Bhavati (quite an unusual and striking name) who is adopted by a social activist/PhD student/Bharatanatyam dancer Gauri (Roopa Iyer in her first debut venture as film maker) after the kid's parents commit suicide. Gauri is an orphan too, so the relevance of her understanding the kid's emotional distress at a deeper level than most comes as no surprise. The two bond quite naturally and soon she signs papers to become her official caretaker. Also in the loop are Gauri's foster father (Shashidhar Kote) and also her teacher/guide/philosopher. She turns to him for all sorts of guidance on both her career and life. With his untimely death Gauri's world is shattered more than that of his wife and unemployed son Shankar (a neat cinematic liberty naming his character that to ensure we are told that the he and Gauri would end up together at some point). The bereaved family takes care of little Bhavati as one of their own and time moves on.

One day Bhavati falls ill. On further investigation it is revealed that the child is HIV-positive which could possibly explain her parents' sudden deaths. Gauri is caught in a pool of dilemma on this discovery. On the one hand she definitely wants to ensure that Bhavati has as normal a childhood as she can get, but she also isn't sure how to go about it. On a chance encounter with an aged guru at a spiritual center, she gets some sane advise. An advise that is possibly the only deciding factor in how things are made and broken in today's world. That, of knowledge. She seeks out to know everything there is to know about the disease so that she may plan the best route to the future possible for Bhavati. Shankar, in the meanwhile, is shown to be an out of work IT guy who isn't really keen on doing anything special in life. Since he harbors romantic feeling towards Gauri (no points for seeing that coming) he decides to join forces with her in bringing warmth, love, affection and most importantly a sense of normalcy in little Bhavati's young life.

What struck me most about the movie was its optimistic take on something as dire as AIDS and its associated taboos in India. It is obvious that Roopa Iyer is personally vested in both the awareness and education of the disease given her commitment in making this feature come alive. Though her prowess as an actress could have been sharper, it doesn't really interfere much with the bigger picture/message the movie tries to send across. The supporting cast lend apt support including the little girl playing Bhavati. A few scenes are placed just to get a popular face into the mix but I guess it is only such marketing strategies that helped her get the movie across to these festivals. A slightly stronger screenplay was needed specially in the scenes where Gauri confronts Bhavati's teachers for isolating the child due to her illness. A grand opportunity to highlight the irony of an educator practicing blatant discrimination purely based on ignorance is woefully lost by Iyer. She chooses, instead, to smear the scene with a background score whilst making the goings on inaudible. The gist is clear of course, but a concrete vocalized version would have made the audience root more firmly for Gauri. It is in these inadequacies that Iyer's lack of experience in film making becomes apparent and makes her character more impersonal.

All said and done, 'Mukhaputa' is eventually about the bigger picture which is killing the social stigma associated with AIDS and the millions of innocent kids who are targeted each day around the world for absolutely no fault of their own. If even a few hearts are forced to reflect on their beliefs after watching this movie, then I'd think Iyer's efforts have found success.

Sunday, December 05, 2010 2 reflections

Momentary pathways

The city's been getting a rather generous amount of snowfall over the past few weeks. Today, being a Sunday and all, we decided to take a stroll around the neighborhood to enjoy some of the scenes of pre-Xmas shopping. Jaya snapped a quick one of me as we walked out and I, feeling a tad inspired by the photograph, penned a few words that came to me. And here it is now.

Clicking on the image will open the larger version.

Saturday, December 04, 2010 0 reflections

Phas gaye re, Obama! - A movie review

One of the biggest troubles Hindi movies (both commercial masala wallah types and the 'off beat' non-profit sort of ventures) have had is to dish out genuine comedies. Either they end up trying too hard using 'inspired laughs' from popular streams or they go over the top and plug in superhuman antiques lacing it with inane slapstick. Having, unfortunately, seen Golmaal 3, Dabangg and its kind recently, I was quite skeptical about 'Phas gaye re Obama' (PGRO) purely because of its blatant effort to somehow link the story to Barrack Obama. And of course, also that it had Neha Dhupia. She is certainly one of the best eye candies out there but I've never associated her with the concept of humor. But nevertheless, being the optimistic that I tend to be at times, I decided to give it a look-see.

The story unfolds in two separate tracks. One, that of an NRI (Rajat Kapoor) who has settled well with a wife and kids in the United States for the last 15 years and is shown to have been a successful businessman. Now, with global recession making its way into every possible financial crack, he is on the brink of bankruptcy and sees no other option than to sell off an ancestral home in his hometown in rural India. The second track, is that of a motley assortment of low budget gangsters who live in the same town. These men are traditionally into kidnapping and extortion but are facing immensely tough times with no money to even buy bullets. The two protagonists, hence, are brought together by fate. The kidnappers, not realizing the NRI's money situation, kidnap him and dream that his family in the United States will shell out a good amount of dollars to get him back. It takes an actual conversation with his wife in America for them to realize that he is as broken as they are. It is then, that the businessman's money minded brain and the ambitiousness of one of the gangsters starts mushrooming into a series of events where they come up with a nearly fool-proof scheme where everyone wins. It is in this merry go around of changing hands, that the hilarity of the movie becomes evident.

The premise is quite original. Showcasing the organized crime that takes place in the inner towns of India while juxtaposing it against a more global concept like recession is indeed a feat one should congratulate director Subhash Kapoor for. Add to it the simplicity of the small town India where people link everything American automatically to Obama and the FBI and the circle is complete. It is in such naivete and blissful ignorance that a crime as serious as kidnapping takes a more comic turn. If there is one reason why I'd recommend a definite one-time watch of this movie, it would be for such an accomplishment.

Performances belong to pretty much everyone with, again, Neha Dhupia standing out slightly as the odd woman out. I say woman because of her hate-all-men mantra as Gabbar Singh inspired Munni gangster(minus the Zhandu Balm,thankfully) avatar in the film. Sanjay Mishra is quite convincing as the aging and broke kidnapper kingpin who nurtures dreams of making it as a politician and breaking chairs in the Parliament. Manu Rishi (from Oye Lucky!) is back with his genuine dialog delivery and sincere yet effortless Dilliwallah style acting. Rajat Kapoor, however, takes the cake in this mixed bag of cronies playing the calm and collected NRI who is always a step ahead of the rest of the gang despite having had no prior experience with scheming kidnapping agendas. Just goes to show why an educated crook is much more dangerous than an illiterate one.

The film is devoid of needless songs (except a refreshingly welcome one as the credits roll) and stays focused on the plot the whole time. The pace tends to be a tad inconsistent at times but that could've been avoided with a tighter screenplay. The oscillating drama is stripped off of 'keep your brains at home' sort of humor and yet isn't a 'dark comedy' either. It runs a fine line between these two extremes by keeping itself simple and sane. A task most movies these days have absolutely no idea how to achieve without coming off as nonsensical. It is the subtleties that save PGRO from becoming contrived in its execution. A lesson, perhaps, for folks attempting comic reliefs in the future.

Recommendation: Go watch it. Yes, you can.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010 1 reflections

New perspectives from a neighbor

Found this via a retweet on Twitter and just had to post a blog on the same. So many great points about this video.

1. A reporter in Pakistan (a country we Indians have possibly lost all reasons to appreciate) takes time to acknowledge India's second PM Mr. Shastri for no particular reason but to highlight what is important in a true leader. Something we Indians only do either when his birthday comes or when the day he demised approaches or some other cliched national integration reason emerges.

2. The reporter highlights the honesty with which Mr. Shastri led his life both as a politician and the Prime Minister. A life's lessons in those 3 minutes for every minister who zips around today in imported cars and has a million unnamed properties to his credit.

3. It highlights the fact that a minister is accountable to the goings on his state to such an extent, that the slightest weakness in it or maligning of it will make him take it on an extremely personal level.

Oh I could go on and on. Such videos are quite rare in the media hungry world today that survives on celebrating the mediocre. Go take a look at this one to hopefully gain some new, much needed, perspective from the most unlikely of sources.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010 0 reflections

Life as a Caraceño

There is something about Deepavali that always brings back memories. I remember writing about it from a previous life in South America a few years ago. Now, in Denmark, where there are thousands of Indians, hundreds of Indian restaurants and a million reasons not to miss the festival of lights, I still found myself, for no particular reason, missing my first home away from home – Caracas – this festival season .

As a bachelor I used to wonder what life would be like once marriage takes me over and now, as an extremely well settled family man, I look back at my days of detachment as if I were looking at a box of chocolates. In it, so many different flavors I find – cookie cream, mint, strawberry, dark, nutty, hazel... And through them I see ways to acknowledge the blissful nature of my days en la tierra de los caraceños – the land of the caraceños (people in Caracas).

I remember those evenings of whimsical outings as me and a few fellow colleagues would venture out into the neighborhood in search of dinner. We'd walk down Calle la Cinta and stand at the red light near the Texaco gas station. From there, we'd make an absolutely spontaneous decision as to which way to go. Straight ahead to get cheesed up Arepas and Empanadas, left to get spicy Perricos or vegetarian Caraotas Negras, right towards either the Chinese place or the Italian for pizza or just walk into Subway for a simple foot long delight with coke. Then there was Papa Johns, with their pickled chilli and thick garlic sauce. Ah brother – paradise!

I narrated these stories out of the blue to my wife the other evening as we made festival dinner and I couldn't believe that I had actually survived 7 years in a place that had pretty much no Indian presence whatsoever. Except for the few handful Indian families that gathered to celebrate major festivities in a strictly limited way, there was never such a thing as an 'Indian grocery' or 'Indian restaurant'. And yet, I guess I just got used to it. Of course I knew I had to but I certainly don't remember ever disliking it.

I still recall letting out an extremely subdued shriek when I walked into the Indian grocery here in Copenhagen for the first time in August 2007. The exhaustive bounty of products that I saw there made me feel like pinching myself once to ensure I wasn't hallucinating. That I had actually left good old mostly-desi-less Caracas behind and entered this desi-rich land in Scandinavia. That I could now buy tur daal without rationing it to last an entire year; that I no longer needed MTR's 'ready to eat' packs to make Paalak Paneer; that I could actually buy both Paneer and fresh spinach leaves separately and prepare it from scratch...all this took some time to sink in. As I've already made it quite obvious, 'unbelievable' was the only word I could think of in those moments.

Today, having spent more than three glorious years in this wonderful country, I still look back at my old nest in the main land of America del Sur, and miss it. I miss it for the warmth it fed me with each time I returned back to it after 20 something hours of nauseating flights from India. I miss it for the comfort that those weekend walks to my supermarkets Cada and Supermercado Veracruz used to give me. I miss being fascinated when I would spot extremely rare short green chillies in the frozen section. I miss talking politics with the friendly cab-wallah who always dropped me home for a generous 2000 Bolivares. I miss walking into Pedro's hair salon and getting a wonderful haircut whilst updating his knowledge about the Indian continent. Oh, I just miss being a good old Caraceño.

Such is the endless cycle of life, I feel. We crave what we don't have and when we have it, we think about the days we didn't have it through such memory pools. This Deepavali, I dedicate my new found successes and joy to my good friend for life – Caracas.

Hasta luego, mi querida. Hasta luego. I hope our paths cross again.

Saturday, November 06, 2010 0 reflections

Happy Deepavali!

|| sarve janaha sukhino bhavantu ||

Wishing all my readers and everyone else around the world a wonderful Deepavali festival!

Sunday, October 24, 2010 8 reflections

Rakta Charitra - A movie review

RGV seems to have made what Shakespeare said in Macbeth, 'It will have blood, they say; blood will have blood', his guiding light in his latest offering 'Rakta Charitra' (RC). Now, historically we've always seen an excess of blood and gore in RGV flicks (Satya, Company, the Sarkar series et al). But with RC, he officially stops pretending that his fixation with capturing blood on screen goes beyond semantic needs. Here, blood isn't just a inevitable necessity; it's the actual lead protagonist.

RC traces the life of Pratap Ravi (Vivek Oberoi) who goes from being a college going lad to a gang leader competent enough to control the entire goonda network. After the brutal murders of his father and brother, Pratap submits himself to the vendetta that needs the avenging of their deaths with his rivals Narsimha Reddy and Nagamani Reddy. As he continues the campaign of red soaked mayhem, Nagamani Reddy's son – Bokka Reddy (Abhimanyu Singh) gets into the frame as the sexed up, irreverent, extremely violent nemesis who Pratap has to vanquish. As the two men get ready with their plots to outdo one another, enter Shivaji Rao (Shatrughan Sinha), the famous actor turned politician (no points for guessing who this character was based upon) who sees a useful ally in Pratap. The movie is infused with some temporary respite from the blood bath as Shivaji Rao starts to groom Pratap into a prim, moustachioed, quintessential politico who you can tell has had a violent past just from the size and shape of his mustache. As Pratap's power grows, so does the demonic rage in Bokka who is put behind bars for killing a woman cop (Ashwini Kalsekar in a curiously miscast role) with aplomb. The first installment of RC ends with the quick introduction of Suri (South star Surya in his first Hindi appearance) who seems to have an agenda of his own to get rid of Pratap. A deliciously poised tale indeed.

What holds our attention through the severed limbs, the mounds of gore and the fountains of blood are the well designed performances of the main cast. Vivek is back in his 'Company' avatar as the brooding, scowling, smoking chap who's been wronged. It is his consistent act that becomes the coherent spine in a world that is otherwise engulfed in sheer chaos. Abhimanyu Singh needs special mention here as the sex-crazy womanizer who makes no exceptions in how to deal with his rivals. I had admired him immensely in 'Gulaal' and his role as Bokka here only confirms my feeling that he is an actor who can go a long way if he continues to make his choices carefully. The rest of the cast lend support as appropriate including Radhika Apte who plays Pratap's wife and Shatrughan Sinha who appears in a refreshingly new clean-shaven version as the father-figure politico supreme. As mentioned earlier it was Ashwini Kalsekar who couldn't convince me that she was a police officer stationed in what is clearly an extremely violent region. Had her role been a bit more meatier I'd have totally recommended Seema Biswas in it as she'd always make the perfect cop to be placed amongst rural evil.

Despite it all, RGV still hasn't reached the same affluence as, say, Quentin Tarantino or even Martin Scorsese in documenting violence as a human emotion. He got nearer to it with Satya but I can't say I've seen anything since which can seriously send a chill down your spine when blood is spilled. I would disagree that this movie has anything spectacularly different in action choreography than what we've already seen in his earlier flicks. So, to avoid the movie fearing this would seem unnecessary. Also, he repeats his classic act of smearing important verbal exchange with shlokas and mantras in Sanskrit to give it a more sinister feel. I think its about time he goes easy on those and puts in a few more lines of coherent dialog. I am tempted to say that its the lack of anything creative there which makes him plug in scathing background scores to avoid coming off as cheesy. Camerawork is consistently RGV as usual with his large frame zoom outs and up close and personal zoom ins. The film has the same texture and feel as the Sarkar series so it could be that RGV hasn't yet exhausted himself of that hue palette.

Bottom line? Watch RC if you are the kind who needs a break from pop corn romances and feel good family dramas. I for one certainly look forward to the next edition as Surya takes the driver's seat.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010 2 reflections

Vigeland Sculpture Park

As we entered the Vigeland Sculpture Park in the heart of Oslo on the cold Tuesday morning, the day was clothed in gray. Our guide for the day, Sylvia something, was busy being the mildly cocky Norwegian who had a rather difficult time subduing her blatantly obvious love for her wealthy European country. Amid the shower of her exorbitant narratives, we walked past the bright yellow autumn leaves that lay strewn all over the park and shot a quick glance at the self portrait of the man himself – the very talented, very creative and certainly, very human – Gustav Vigeland, the main architect behind the sculpture park.

One of the first magnificent views to welcome your sight is the 100 meter long bridge which is beautifully decorated with 58 of Gustav's signature sculptures. The entire collection is a naked representation of the 'Human Condition' which happens to be the singular theme of the park. Each sculpture in this collection, if I may say so, is nothing short of an absolute masterpiece. The attention to detail about the inaccuracies, the shortcomings, the many layered flaws and above all, the unique imperfections of being a human is breathe taking. At one spot, we have the depiction of a man holding two infants, one in each of his arms, and displaying that uncanny smile that only a parent can effectively master. Then we have at another spot, a woman with a newborn in her arms, unsmiling, as the infant she holds, but still radiating a quiet optimistic feel to both their existences. Then of course, is the famous sculpture aptly labeled 'Sinnataggen' or 'Angry Boy' which is sheer juvenile fury and the very definition of vexation in a little boy who has been denied something his heart was definitely set upon. The presence of children in various poses with adults is a clear representation of Gustav's own life both as a parent and also as an artist who knew life could never be depicted without including the past, the present, and children, the future.

Then we passed the flower garden, feverishly clad in mute anticipation of a possibly merciless winter ahead, to come to the fountain which happens to be yet another outstanding piece of work from the master sculptor himself. In this model of six burly men holding what appears to be a giant tray, we were told, is a representation of the six working days in a week and the toil that is needed to pick up the weight of such a week. This degree of energy, needless to say, can be a human effort after all. Beneath this iconic depiction is a square shaped pedestal which is dotted with children, adults and skeletons in the arms of trees. Below these, etched onto the wall that runs along the base of the fountain, are engaging depictions of the undeniable cycle of life and death in this world. Yet another variation of the consistent theme of human condition the park is aimed at being a messenger of.

Once we had walked past the fountain, we ascended a flight of stairs to arrive at what is without contest the highlight of the park – the majestic Monolith tower that rises slowly into the sky. Situated at the highest point of the park, this soaring, twisting, ascending depiction of humankind was a sight for sore eyes! Sculpted from a single piece of stone, the Monolith tower includes 121 humans embroidered together in various postures in a brilliant ascent towards the heavens. We were told such a depiction was an attempt to capture the human need to come together in the endless quest to become one with the spiritual and to, hopefully, attain salvation. A rich and deservedly reverential end to what is by far one of the most engaging parks I have been fortunate to be in.

The sun might have decided to take the day off from the Norwegian sky that day, but nothing, as was apparent in more ways than one, could take the shine off the superior artwork of Gustav that sits at the Vigeland Sculpture Park in Oslo. A must see for anyone touring Scandinavia.

Saturday, October 16, 2010 2 reflections

Krishna'n Love Story (2010) - a review

Ever since the golden age where movies like 'Nagarahavu' were made in the Kannada film industry, the theme of young love has been explored to a great extent. Now almost every week we have a movie that invariably claims to have found a new way to depict that same funny emotion – love. In that aspect, the publicity material I saw of 'Krishnana Love Story'(KLS) in Bangalore earlier this year weren't any different. What did catch my attention though was the director Shashank's statement that the movie was based on a real story. Now being a huge aficionado of stories that reflect some degree of reality, I actually was quite eager to watch KLS after hearing over the grapevine that Shashank's previous venture 'Moggina Manasu' was also a successful venture. From the posters of the flick I had seen around the city, I was expecting it to be a clever, amusing, sarcastic even witty take on modern love among young adults and how friendship plays a critical role in enhancing the same. In short, a very mature love story seemed at hand.

The movie started off on a promising note. We have a college dropout Krishna (Ajay) who is involved in the clothing business along with four of his close friends. He also, on occasion, helps out in his father's kiosk selling biscuits and cigarettes. He comes from a middle class family that depends largely on numbers and statistics to make their month find some coherence. He rides his father's gift to him, an aging motorbike christened 'Hombegowdru' after his late grandfather. A bike that is shown in the publicity material as being an integral part to the plot. So far, the backdrop is refreshingly interesting and pretty relatable.

Then we move on to Geeta (Radhika). Yet another middle class girl who is finishing her graduation and is quite conscientious about her studies and is shown to have neither the time nor the patience to find a boyfriend and roam the city streets aimlessly. Her older brother, uncharacteristically somehow, is a local rowdy who makes his moolah by slashing off people's cheeks. There is also the mandatory inclusion of their husband-less mother(Umashree) who works as a tailor and of course has a weak lung. Slightly cliché for my taste but well, I waited on hoping the main plot wouldn't be so.

Then the obvious happens. Krishna sees Geeta and falls in love immediately. But Geeta makes it clear to him that she isn't the kind who has the mental faculty for such silliness and that she has other priorities that need taking care of. She also conveys that it's not even his middle-class status that is stopping her from reciprocating his initiatives by clearly declining similar motives by a more wealthier and much well established rival of Krishna. This characterization of hers made sense and certainly set up the platform on which the movie could've been potentially narrated in a meaningful and consistent fashion.

But near the intermission portion is where things start going on a familiar, almost bizarre, curve. Suddenly one day, after having confessed her love to Krishna since he helped out during a family crisis once, Geeta decides to elope with the rich fella. Reason? Mysterious. On her way to their secret wedding in Dharmasthala, Geeta and her beau are involved in what appears to be a pretty intense car accident and miraculously, but not surprisingly, Geeta escapes with minor injuries while the rich fellow dies. Geeta returns home but refuses to show any emotion to anyone around her, including Krishna who in the meanwhile is shown to have forgotten all about her and started moving on with his life. Now that she is back, with great effort Krishna re-enters her life trying every trick in the book to get her to share her hidden feelings with him. In fact, both the families also agree that Krishna should take her away from the hubbub of the city to try and get her to open up about two things – a) why she took off with that rich guy so randomly and b) why her personality has changed so much since she returned.

This is where I was most hopeful about the story. At this juncture, I thought, was where the plot would give us that much needed surprising twist that would justify the entire premise of Geeta's insane behavior after returning from her escapade.

Reader, sadly, that moment never comes. The only justification, if we can call it that, we get is that she had realized that Krishna's love came with budget limits. That her life had been spent so much already in woeful financial misery that she wanted to get rid of her middle-class status and finally live life the way she truly wanted to. This is where the whole story turns on its head and becomes an absolute farce. One of the biggest loopholes in the plot is right here given that she had been so averse to the concept of wealth and living big that she had declined every motive from the rich chap initially. If we argue that it was indeed the desperate need for funds that drove her over the cliff eventually then why couldn't she share this with Krishna whom she trusted so much? Did she not genuinely see a future with him?After all, when things got bad with her mother, was he not the one who was taking care of both of them? So why on earth would a rational seeming girl like her reject his love and choose to go with someone with a lot of money? Whats worse is that she then goes on to blame him for accepting her back! She goes on to accuse his unconditional love for her as being the reason she cannot put her guilt behind her! I am sorry, in the real world, where meaningful things tend to take place, a girl in her situation would have thanked the guy who is so large hearted and genuinely good, that he is willing to give her a second chance. Heck, even if we assume she eloped under stressful conditions, all she had to do was tell him this was the reason she did what she did instead of sticking her head into a pot full of self pity and extreme insecurity about her own decisions. Very, very bizarre turn of events, I thought. A serious, obvious and painful hole in the plot. The story ends on a needlessly tragic note where you don't really feel any compassion for either of the lead characters since their actions post intermission have been so contradictory to their initial shades.

Speaking of technical stuff, sure, the camera work is pretty good and the songs are well choreographed. A couple of hummable tunes are also included with 'Santeyalli Nintaroonu' being the pick of the lot. But as is the case mostly, the songs do not help the story move forward and act merely as place holders for people to get a breather from the intensifying plot. For that, I thank Shashank. Performances are stable but all limelight is on Radhika Pandit in the post intermission parts where she seems inspired by Kalpana's Kaveri in 'Sharapanjara'. Her mood swings are overacted in some places and she ends up falling seriously short of justifying what could have been a milestone role in her still budding career. Ajay is alright but he doesn't seem to have a wide range of emotions to display like Radhika does. The only time he does display some variation in his performance is during the final scene, but its too late for anyone to care.

The bottom line though, remains this. In a time when Kannada movies are so desperately seeking some decent plots, some challenging characters for the female leads, some coherence in the narrative, KLS comes across as a contrived effort in its eventual execution. It becomes blatantly obvious that the director could not think of a creative way to justify Geeta's whimsical decisions and so decided to smear her wonderfully crafted character with juvenile reasons of self-doubt and self-apathy. KLS eventually turns out to be a colossal waste of good talent, great opportunities and most importantly, our precious time.

Thursday, October 14, 2010 11 reflections

Unintentionally Insipid :: Manasaare

Dear reader,

This seems to be a month to get after the esteemed Kannada film maker Mr. Yograj Bhat. I had already posted a blog taking a shot at the man for dishing out a plate like 'Pancharangi' but this time, after watching what I was told was a very popular 2009 movie - 'Manasaare' - last night, I just had to use a different way to explain myself. Its an experiment, I know, but I still hope it is entertaining. :)

Please feel free to click on the strip below (might take a little time to load!) to view the entire enlarged version of the comic strip. It is in English for purposes of a wider audience. If for some reason it does not load according to your liking then you can always go to the direct link here.

Also, if you've seen the movie and have a different take on it than I do, you know there is a comments box right below. ;)


Friday, October 08, 2010 12 reflections

An open letter to Yograj Bhat

Dear Mr. Bhat,

I hope this message finds you in good health and spirits. I also hope that this message I am trying to convey, despite the openness of its nature, finds its way to your eyes in some form.

Sir, my decision to embark upon this possibly futile venture of trying to write to you was one that did not originate from me but was rather made for me. By whom, you ask me? Well, by you of course. Indeed – it was after watching your latest directorial venture “Pancharangi” last night that I found myself at this inevitable state where writing to you directly seemed the only way forward. But before I embark upon my thoughts on your movie, let me make one thing clear to you. Like most of the Kannadigas I know, I heard of you only after your hugely successful venture “Mungaru Male”. I am sure you will agree that the success that movie found was something even you possibly couldn’t have anticipated. In a time when Kannada movies had become meaningless concoctions of hackneyed scripts and a reeking haven of mediocrity, you brought to it the sound of music. You brought to it the green and blue and red that spreads majestically across her beautiful self. You brought to it, for the lack of another word, true “Kannada”ness. We all were genuinely proud, sir, that a man from our midst had the tenacity and the vision to look at the same things as we were but from a completely refreshing angle. For that, you shall always have my respect.

But post “Mungaru Male” the rains of creativity seemed to have stopped their relentless downpour in the forests of your mysterious psyche. Notwithstanding the huge expectations people had from your follow up “Gaalipata”, I must confess I felt seriously shortchanged at the way the story ended. I am not sure what world you consider yourself a citizen of, but the one I come from where real events take place, women do not change their mindsets as easily as your female protagonists do. Yes, as shocking as it may seem to you, even if it means abandoning your beloved poster boy Golden Star Ganesh for a life partner. I am sure you are no stranger to the works of Kanagal Puttanna. If ever there was a bible of a man who truly understood the complexities of a feminine mind, it was he. So to paint your stories with whimsical twists concerning the female leads (and this includes Nandini’s laughable reaction to Preetam’s deceit in “Mungaru Male”) would be the first thing I’d stop doing if I were you. You work so hard on your locations, your background score, your dialogs and even the lyrics. Then I fail to see what stops you from writing robust, realistic and reasonable female characters. I do not know if this unrealistic bent in your thought process about the feminine nature of things is a result of your personal experiences or the fact that you do not trust your audience to value women in your films. Sir, we are Kannadigas. We loved Puttanna’s movies because they highlighted the feminine component in masculine equations. So to mistrust us on that account is insulting us beyond mortal comprehension.

Now, coming to “Pancharangi”. So many questions! Firstly, what does the title of the movie have anything to do with the content of it? Speaking of which, what was the content of it? And what is so fascinating about motor mouths that you always make them talk themselves to drive us crazy! It was new in “Mungaru Male”, fine. It was tolerable in “Gaalipata” but in this one? I had to fight with myself from walking out of the cinema after the first 20 minutes! Adding an annoying “galu” next to every damn word the hero utters is neither creative nor amusing (that is if I choose to ignore the glaring loophole that he abandons his already asinine philosophy on life within minutes of stating it to the girl!). We know you are a master in the nuances of the language and have probably read more Kannada books than most of us have books. But could you please stop hammering us mere mortals with it so mercilessly? It is not that we don’t appreciate the language. Heck, isn’t that why we are even seeing your movies? Then why on God’s green earth do you push our patience by writing absolutely nonsensical, irrelevant and extremely obnoxious Kannada (even in its purest form!) to add that integral “namma naadu nudi” angle to your movies? All this is what we call in decent English, “steaming horse manure”. This is only apparent when there is absolutely no story to tell. Sir, this is the kind of stuff that first time film makers and amateurs do to fill in the blatant voids in their work. Not you, sir. Not the man who has finally embarked on the mission to showcase Karnataka in a whole new spectrum back to us wayward Kannadigas in a bid to help us find our way home.

We live in tough times, sir. We are not the once prosperous and healthy film industry we used to be. What is tragic is that instead of making cinema that people will enjoy, our producers are fighting the wrong battle. How does reducing cinemas for non Kannada movies help the Kannada film industry? Does that not mean that because of this limitation these movies will run for longer duration in those small theaters? Please excuse me as I am no expert in the field you are clearly more adept at, but this logic seriously needs reconsideration. In such dark times of peril, we look towards film makers like you, sir. You are among the few distinguished bunch that have redefined our industry in the past few years and given us some glimmer of hope that we too can call ourselves a creative house of rational intellectuals. So please do not make cinema that will blow out even that last atom of faith we have in you by churning out half baked, insipid, whimsical and absolutely meaningless cinema such as “Pancharangi”. What’s worse is the shocking misuse of genuine talents such as Anant Nag, Padmaja Rao and Sudha Belavadi. These are theater personalities who are starving for some challenges in their roles. By smearing them with gigantic clichés you are not only doing them huge disservice, but also slapping away any possible interest we, your fellow Kannadigas, might have in your genre of film making.

I realize I have rambled on much, sir. All I want as a Kannadiga who is longing to see the day our films too make consistent headlines across the nation and the world the way other language films make, is that film makers like yourself realize what a huge responsibility you have on your shoulders. This phase we are going through in our industry is quite possibly the worst one yet what with remakes galore and flops inevitable. At such a time, please do not dishearten us further by being reluctant to make some bold and path breaking cinema. Do not undermine your female protagonists by making them mouth juvenile nothings. Do not overload your films with unrealistic love stories that have been shown a million times already. Please return to Kannada literature, sir. I am convinced that if you choose something inspired from them that hits your heart, you have the faculty to execute it to become one of this century’s greatest cinematic milestones. That much, I can assure you.

On this ambitious tone, I take your leave.

Yours sincerely,

Thursday, October 07, 2010 21 reflections

Endhiran, the Robot - A movie review

Alfred Lord Tennyson's poem 'The Brook' ends with the words 'For men may come and men may go, But I go on for ever.' This was the first thing I thought of when the end credits rolled on Shankar's latest magnum opus – Endhiran, The Robot. The reason these words seemed extremely apt was because it applied both to the robot on screen and the human – Rajnikanth – off screen. With Endhiran, Rajni has proved as clear as daylight, that he is still a Herculean force to reckon with. Rajni's image as an actor has grown so immense now, considering the colossal height it was at earlier anyway, that he has gone beyond reviews and critique. Nevertheless, despite my dwarfed mortality in the presence of Rajni's divinity, I shall still attempt this one.

With Endhiran, Rajni the actor makes a conscious comeback. There are no lines or superhuman antics here constructed specifically to get wolf calls from the audience. No. The scientist in Dr. Vaseegaran is just a regular guy who is a major robotics geek and despite having a girlfriend who looks like Aishwarya Rai (this time literally of course), the good doctor chooses to spend more time on his first major creation – Chitti, the humanoid and the real reason the audience will go wild in the cinemas.

Chitti pretty much has everything that is human. In a tongue in cheek attempt at capturing the essence of this 'everything', a hilarious exception is mentioned – feelings. Yes, Chitti is devoid of any feelings since he is a machine. Despite the overwhelming wealth of knowledge Chitti has been fed with, if there is one thing he doesn't comprehend then it is those fundamental units that form the rudimentary human pattern that go beyond a DNA model or a genetic theory. Feelings of shame, hurt, anger, lust, love, regret, jealousy, greed – a wide spectrum of colorful modes that Chitti hasn't been introduced to yet. At one point in the movie, having enraged the doctor after making a huge erroneous judgment call, Chitti accuses his creator of being flawed. This, he reasons, is why the logic in his machinery is flawed too. In another brilliant scene when asked if God exists, Chitti shoots back – 'Who is God?'. On being told it is someone who created us, he responds point blank – 'This is Dr. Vaseegaran. He created me. So he is my God.' It is in moments like this that Shankar's brilliance as an individual who recognizes the importance of a human element in a divine spectrum becomes refreshingly apparent.

With things looking this simple – something complicated happens. Chitti falls in love. With whom? Why the good doctor's girl of course! What bigger challenge than to pit Rajni against Rajni, right? A perfect and, quite possibly, penultimate gauntlet that is thrown down masterfully by Shankar in the pit. Wronged, Chitti makes a return in a whole new avatar as Endhiran – the evil robot – in the second half for sweet redemption. And what a return that is! If ever there was a Rajni movie with the most beautifully choreographed special effects in its final hour, it is hands down Endhiran. The ruthless confidence that Chitti/Endhiran brings to the screen lights up the climactic portions. It is here that Rajni the actor gets to bloom in full. The special effects team, as already heralded by millions as being the best, definitely deserves accolades for having converted a beautiful vision into an equally well choreographed outcome. In all my years of watching Indian cinema, I have never seen such amazing display of sequences built solely on mathematical and scientific models. The way Endhiran organizes his army of clones to fight off Vaseegaran's onslaught is certainly a cinematic milestone.

The visuals complement the story as does the music. Rahman gives us a pleasant set of tunes but none that will stay in your memory for long since the movie was, is and will be about Rajni's performance in the dual role. Everything and everyone else is critical but short lived gravy. This includes the leading lady who, as always, thinks she is acting if she rolls her eyes or flicks her brows here and there. For once I'd like Aishwarya to get rid of all the cosmetics and shallow attitude and play a role where she, well, performs! But I guess that's asking for too much. If she wants to play Barbie all the time that's her call. Fortunately, unlike 'Ravan', we don't have anyone else from her family to put up with in this one. So the harm done is minimal. Plus, Rajni's radiance is so bright here that no amount of glossy desktop wallpaper Photoshop effect can make one remember Aishwarya as the end credits roll.

Final word – go watch Endhiran. If there ever was an Indian movie that will be looked at as the perfect way to juxtapose today's ever changing technology against the carnal and still rather medieval human factor, Endhiran is that film. A movie that provokes you to answer the question – 'Technology is/was definitely ready for us all the time. But are we really ready for it?'

And as for Rajni? Well, he is just getting started. Endhiran will prove to be the movie where Rajni, much like his character Vaseegaran the scientist, ends up recreating himself in a whole new version (Version 2.0!). There is a lot more yet to come from this 60 year old teenager and I for one eagerly await it all. For actors may come and actors may go, But Rajni shall go on for ever.

Sunday, October 03, 2010 5 reflections

Revisiting 'Beladingala Baale'

I happened to watch 'Beladingala Baale' ('Lady of the moonlight' in Kannada) last night, a 1995 classic by Sunil Kumar Desai, about the hero – a famous chess player and his emotional liaison with an elusive female caller who claims to be his biggest fan. During the course of their month long interaction, she gives him several hints and clues that are aimed at challenging him to deduce who she is and where she lives thus putting his skills as a 'grandmaster' to test. A very well written story, in my opinion. Something Kannada movies are rarely famous for. As a way to try and capture the essence of the emotional roller coaster the male protagonist goes through, I ended up penning this piece of poetry. I have absolutely no idea if I was successful or not even remotely close, but these were the images that came to me as I tried to get into the hero's shoes.

Ablaze, with the sanctity in your voice effervescent,
Simmers my soul now;Rising each moment
Like a phoenix from the smoldering remains
Of self-pity that is mine. O Lady of the moonlight!
In the bubbling depths of your optimistic timber
Lies awake a sliver of hope, of love, of friendship,
That echoes back to me a mirror so tender
I fear for its death as despair confronts me to slip.
In my mind reside a million puzzles, while I,
The cautious farmer guarding his fruiting crops,
Water them with the words you radiate tonight,
Looking up at you, my moon, my stars, my sight.
Embrace me, love, for I have the game of life to win,
Erase my fears away from coherence, gently,
Caress, with the tenderness in a victorious spin,
The seed of our bond that is yet fragile, deep yet thin.
Bring to me the image so immaculate, of yourself,
Wrapped in the cocoon of an insane man's reveries,
And speak on – spill forth the words that deconstuct me,
For I dread the silence that ensues between your melodies.
Sing to me, love, the song of a precious rose,
That surge through my veins screaming 'Now! Or never!',
Eager, anxious, snaking its way to your eternal prose,
My lady of our moonlight, tonight I am yours forever.

I am amazed how some movies redefine themselves in both context and philosophy when I see them at different points in my life. The last time I remember seeing this movie was about 5, maybe more, years ago. Back then I cannot recall looking at the story as a way to explore platonic relationships by juxtaposing them against a physical framework. Back then, the fact that the hero finds himself in a relationship with this anonymous caller merely based on the powerful auditory element in their emotions, did not seem like a fascinating aspect of being able to find true love. But now that I am married and in a real relationship, this theme suddenly jumped up like a rogue wave smashing itself against a boulder and splashed me all over. There were so many metaphorical references I could find this time that I am now convinced that if I wait a few more years and see 'Beladingala Baale' again, I am sure I will find more relevance in its essence that now might seem rather unlikely. For that, I cannot wait.

Thursday, September 30, 2010 8 reflections

In memory of a genius

Some people appear like a bright flash in the black of the night sky. We, wandering commons, look up in awe and wonder, watching them unfurl into various fascinating shapes, textures and patterns. A genuine smile of unabridged enthusiasm floods our hearts as we soak in each and every moment of their presence in our humble midst. After a minute of such dazzling display, the light vanishes. Boom! As if it never existed in the first place. Its pitch dark again - except, this time its darker than before. Such was his presence in our lives.

It has been two long decades today - September 30 - since Kannada film maker, actor, maverick and genius beyond mortal comprehension - Shankar Nag – passed away suddenly one day in a tragic road accident. I was 12 years old then and the only memory I have as a reaction to hearing the news was that of absolute shock. That emotion lasted a good minute. Once that minute passed by, two extremely juvenile and excruciatingly immature questions crossed my mind – One, does this mean no more Malgudi Days? And two, does this mean there is no school tomorrow?

Today, 32 years old and still in desperate need for some critical wisdom, I can't help but feel pity for that ridiculous version of myself who couldn't think beyond a stupid holiday. As the entire nation drives itself insane with meaningless speculation about the verdict on the Ayodhya issue, I am sure around the world there also exists a good group of folks like me who are silently paying their humble respects to Shankar today. This, as I see it, is the true loss for a nation which has come such a long way in trying to gain a foothold of its own in a world where nothing seems good enough. As the courts decide the fate of a piece of land everyone is claiming to be so divine that mortals are now judging its future, the true context of a loss as huge as Shankar's certainly needs to be acknowledged. We build our bridges today, we sing our songs, we send our movies to the Oscars and we dance in front of huge posters of our regional stars. Yet, what makes me cringe with disdain is how we might never really know the answer to that all illusive question – 'What if Shankar had still been around?' A man who hadn't even turned 35 had set afire so many brilliant milestones both on and off screen, that one is forced to wonder what miracles that talented gentleman would have whipped out had his presence still been in our stink pool of misplaced jingoism and nauseating hero worship called the 'Kannada Film Industry'.

Can you imagine the ferocity of projects had Nag and the likes of Kasaravalli or Karnad joined forces? Phew! It gives me goosebumps just thinking about the possibilities. The range of extremely well crafted, smart, sensitive and most importantly, relevant cinema that would have flourished all over the place seems to transcend all limits. No room for nonsensical 'macchu' movies directed by folks who cant think of an original script even if their life depended on it. No place for semi-literate film makers who still stick to the age old formula from the 80s by packaging it with Bollywood-like wrappers and imported damsels. Good bye remake movies that only amplify the fact that Kannada film makers and audience are both beings beyond hope of ever managing to shine in the light from the fires in their bellies! Ah – the possibilities. Endless. Literally, endless. I won't even begin to discuss what might have been had Nag (who had already managed a national presence with Malgudi Days) stepped in to start making collaborative projects which could have included the likes of Naseeruddin Shah, Anupam Kher, Om Puri, Nana Patekar et al. Breathe-taking options emerge.

So long, Shankar. Wherever you are, whatever you became, know this – we will never forget you. We will forever keep you alive in our thoughts, actions and inspirations. You will live in our homes through your movies, your words, your productions and your vision. Thank you for coming into our lives, even if it was for such a brief moment. And if you ever decide to be born again as a Kannadiga, please come back as a film maker. I am sure we will need you desperately even then.


PS: A website dedicated to Shankar:
Saturday, September 18, 2010 4 reflections

Still no country for Ekalavya

A picture, it is said, is usually worth a thousand words. I sometimes feel if that were literally true how much time and effort would have been saved for mankind by just displaying pictures to one another all the time instead of writing multiple paragraph emails explaining something. I recently read an article on Twitter that discussed the possibility of limiting any email to up to 3 sentences to avoid email overload. Not a bad idea, I felt. Except if the writer decides to get creative with where the full stop would go. Give Salman Rushdie this challenge and he might write an entire short story with just those 3 sentences! No wonder that verbose gentleman is not on Twitter.

But I digress. So the reason I mentioned pictures was because of the photo you see attached with this blog post. Yes, it is my thumb and yes, it is hurt. The cause for this injury, given the popularity of the spot, is a culinary incident involving a tricky knife. Whys and hows of the accident are quite irrelevant here. No sooner had a band-aid been placed to remedy the cut than it struck me of how invaluable the thumb was, is and shall remain. The only difference being, back in the days of royalty it was used to demonstrate mastery at shooting arrows while now we use it to, well, do pretty much everything from punch in the keys on our mobiles, game controllers and iPods to spacebars, gameboys and remote controls. Yes, the king of the human finger collection (with the middle finger being an interesting exception) seems to be the thumb.

The accident also reminded me of that popular tale from the Mahabharata where a lowly tribesman named Ekalavya gets so good at archery that he almost defeats the pampered poster boy of the Pandavas – Arjuna. Sly maharishi Drona then, having seen how invaluable the thumb would be for a million more generations, decides to ask Ekalavya to sacrifice just that as part of his guru dakshina – the thumb. This, of course, is a tale from another world but it made me wonder if something similar could take place in today's day and age. A dedicated student might definitely end up submitting his beloved mobile or mp3 player to honor his teacher but would never follow Ekalavya's example and slice off what appears to be the real trigger to all comfort in the world – the thumb (or any other finger for that matter).

This cross referencing of a thumb's critical role from the days of the Hindu epic till this day seemed like an interesting thing to explore. Now that I have done that, my next attempt would be to actually try and attempt the 3 sentence formula for an email the aforementioned article was recommending. Would be tricky at first, I am sure. But hey, I bet everyone were equally alarmed when Twitter said it was only going to allow 140 characters for a message! That is going pretty well so why shouldn't this catch on as well, isn't it? A definite thumbs up from me!


Thursday, September 16, 2010 2 reflections

Whistles of a lifetime

I remember it like it was just yesterday. As I stepped out of the comfortable shelter of my home in India back in 2000 to explore alien waters, there was no prophet in the world who could have possibly predicted the milestones that’d end up dotting my rather multi-layered life since. As reminders of my beloved roots, I took with me a dozen things – a few Hindi and Kannada audio cassettes (this was an age when a tape based Walkman was still around), good old rasam and sambar powders for the kitchen, a photograph of Lord Balaji and of course, my first Butterfly pressure cooker.

This rather eventful memory came back to me as I read a piece in OPEN recently (‘The Final Whistle’) as to how there is a chance Indians might finally abandon the pressure cooker in due course. With the advent of a wide range of cooking options, I suppose that is still possible. But I just can’t imagine the plateau I belong to – South India – getting rid of this modest whistle blowing miracle for the next century at the least. Given its inherent versatility, I doubt Indian kitchens will ever really call it quits when it comes to this ‘chote kitchen ka bada kamaal’, as it were.

One of the initial memories of using my first cooker was an immense feeling of absolute elation when it went off on that rainy evening in my apartment in Caracas. Yes – I had successfully made a bowl of rice! That I later managed to have it with some chutney powder and oil is another story. It took me almost a month to get my lentils to cook well. Something about the water levels I wasn’t quite sure about. But rice? With my friendly cooker friend it was a non issue. I still remember my neighbor knocking on my door with wide eyes and enquiring if I had set off the fire extinguisher! I had to show her my miracle from India and explain to her that this was how rice was cooked back home. She suggested I use parboiled rice instead which only needed to be boiled and didn’t need equipments that sounded like an army tank to prepare. Nevertheless, she got used to the ‘Pssh..pssh…pssssshhhhhh!’ noise a few days later as she realized I wasn’t going to compromise on how I made my rice. Her parboiled rice didn’t have a face in front of my reliable jasmine rice.

Since then my cooker renewal cycle has been a standard 3 years. Considering the carefree lifestyle of a bachelor, by the time the third year of a cooker’s life came around, it actually did look like something that had been involved in a major war. When I got married last year, the one thing my wife asked me specifically was if the cooker I had was, well, ‘decent enough’ for the two of us. I wasn’t sure what she meant by that then but one look at it when she arrived in Copenhagen, and she shook her head in disapproval. ‘This should be interesting…’ she said examining the colorful exterior of the hero who had the word ‘Prestige’ embossed proudly on his weathered shell. He certainly was prestigious indeed for having prepared wonderful hot rice and vegetables and daal for me on many a sub zero winter night! As the entire city ran for shelter from the heavy snowfall, I’d be sitting cozily in my 5th floor studio apartment watching ‘Malgudi Days’ and enjoying soft tamarind rice with potato onion sambar. Ah! What wonderful moments they were.

But all things do have an expiration date. This summer while vacationing in India, I found myself right in the middle of a pressure cooker shop with my wife. Before I knew it, I had selected a new and obviously larger version with bigger containers and a much steadier grip. On the way out I turned to her and asked ‘We can still use the old one for emergency purposes, right?’ She, having been familiar with my bizarre affection for the old fella, smiled and nodded her head in approval.

So that’s pretty much it. We now make lip smacking dishes with the new fellow who has been quite consistent thus far. But I do occasionally open the kitchen closet and throw a quick glance at my old buddy who saved me with just one whistle on many an occasion. In search for all the larger things in life sometimes we tend to forget the small things that helped us out at critical times. In my life as a self-taught cook, I can never forget the role a cooker has played. For that, I join those who pray it never vanishes from Indian kitchens.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010 2 reflections

The con of man

I have started re-reading Narayan sir’s classic “The Guide”. Despite having read the tale almost half a dozen times, I always find each renewed attempt a fresh encounter. Over dinner, last night, my wife and I were discussing Narayan sir’s life and works and how, in a bizarre twist of fate, Dev Anand and co. ‘misguided’ the novel’s original content in their Hindi adaptation which went on to become Navketan productions’ biggest milestone. As I continued going through the days of a hero with shades of humble villainy (or vice versa?) called Raju today, I was taken back to the time my family and I, back home in India, had visited our community’s matha.

Now, for the uninitiated in the Brahmin ways, a ‘matha’ essentially is a religious establishment which has, as all good ashrams do, a guruji and a very strict code of protocols to adhere to. That these protocols sometimes can be flexible, despite what the house might claim, is another issue. But nevertheless, my thoughts ran back to that day when I was taken there by my parents to submit our respects to the aged guru.

I had never really been to many mathas before. Considering I don’t really think of myself as an extremely religious person, I hadn’t found the need to periodically go to a place where I had to fall at the feet of another man. As ‘Railway Raju’ puts it (I mentioned I am quite into ‘The Guide’ these days didn’t I?) only the Almighty deserves such reverence and no human. If I ever were to add the only exceptions to that thought, it would be a teacher and a mother; the only two extraordinary humans who always give more than they receive. For them, I shall forever bow.

Apart from these exceptions, I don’t see myself intentionally getting down on the ground and saluting the feet of another mortal. But given the fact that respect in India as I know it is more out of fear than anything else, I decided to follow suit and stood in line to accept the holy water from the 90+ year old gentleman who had taken a bath for the 15th time that morning. His conviction to such rigorous rituals, I thought, was truly worth commending even if I still don’t technically understand the scientific concept behind it, if there is one. When mom’s turn came to accept the holy offering she chose to cleanse her hands with what she thought was the first serving of the water. Seeing his ‘gift’ disrespected thus, the aged guru immediately snapped. He mumbled a few words of rage and yelled at my 65+ year old mother for not knowing how to accept offerings of such divinity. He, of course, did go on to give her a second serving, but with a lot of obvious and visible rage and contempt.

As I reflected on the sermons that Raju comes up with in the book, I couldn’t help think back to that day. This was probably why once I reached the ‘age of reason’ (as George Carlin would say) I had decided never to consciously go to any matha and try to please a complete stranger into blessing me with a miracle I probably didn’t deserve in the first place. For one thing, such blessings are meaningless since the swami doesn’t really know who I am. And for another, they usually don’t work. What really bothered me though was how my mother was treated by that ill tempered swami who was more worried about the water than the faith mom was bringing to his presence. This suddenly made the whole thing seem like one giant void. A farce. A namesake. A street play.

I read each day of fake gurus getting caught with either a woman or a wonder of another kind. Yet I see people continue to seek their blessings and sit through their hymns and endless speeches. Up until recently I was convinced it was the gurus who were the real conmen in such scenarios. Those wile cunning creatures who had somehow figured out the right formula to combine worthless philosophy with homebody ingredients to serve up a new dish each day. But now that I think about it, maybe it’s not them after all. It is our faith, as humans and as creatures capable of basic empathy, which is the real con. It is here, that faithful followers have possibly managed to cheat their beliefs into thinking that they are inferior creatures who need the divine light held bright by the enlightened men in saffron robes (and a few dozen BMWs and Mercs parked outside his ashram for divine interventions and such).

I find all of this very confusing. ‘The Guide’ was written back in 1958 by Narayan sir. At such an early age in our land’s post British history we had already been given a brilliant example of how faith can be such a lethal potion if served in the right cups. But I guess even after 52 years we still aren’t done being conned. I do not deny that there are indeed spiritual leaders in India who are doing some excellent work in the societies they live in, but I somehow suspect the ratio of our Nityanandas and Chandra Swamis is definitely an overwhelming majority. Nothing else can explain why in a land of such ‘overwhelming wisdom’, we are still talking about illiteracy and poverty as being our immediate concerns. Maybe our ‘Railway Rajus’ were the only ones who managed to read Narayan sir’s book. If so, then somewhere up in heaven, Narayan sir is shaking his head in great disappointment.

Saturday, September 11, 2010 2 reflections

Ganapati bappa morya!

The soft fumes of the black chandan stick perk up the festive atmosphere almost instantly. The twangs and pauses in the priest's nasal assistance for the ceremony on the mp3 file only validate the already pious seeming environment. As the background score progresses, so does my appreciation of the first Hindu festival I have celebrated since I moved overseas. A time that, I am sure, will remain as one of my fond memories.

I can still recall my time in India when I used to celebrate this festival with my family. We would begin by carefully picking up the best possible Ganesha idol from the local market and walk back home, barefoot, with the idol placed cozily on a silver plate peppered with mantrākshata. A special wooden enclosure would be reserved for the event as we'd then cautiously place the idol in the designated spot and get busy with the minutest details of the necessities for the prayer rituals. Draped in a silk sari, mom would spend the day making a several mouth-watering delicacies while we, draped in equally shiny silk dhotis, would help dad with the prayer procedure. The fragrance of incense sticks and the short lived camphor on the mangalārati would fill the air as coconuts would be broken and offerings would be made to Lord Ganesha.

After what would seem like an extremely long wait, lunch would be served. A fresh green banana leaf would be decorated with a dozen different culinary items by mom as we'd be instructed to always begin our meal with the payasam, daal tovve and the koshumbari dishes. Attempting anything otherwise was strictly forbidden. As we'd spend the next half an hour requesting repeated servings of amma's signature dishes, dad would spend the time explaining to us how festivals in India hadn't changed at all since his days as a boy. 'Just another excuse for Brahmins to get fatter bellies!' he would joke as he would help himself to another serving of amma's excellent tamarind rice.

All this, and more, came back to me as I took over the role of priest today. It was a rather interesting experience as, despite not being too religious myself, I did manage to find the same peace and satisfaction as I remember from my days in India. With the timely assistance by my lovely wife (and her various delicious dishes - images below - that spruced up this festive occasion!) we managed to pull off a pretty decent debut of a festival as a married couple in our warm Danish nest away from home. Hopefully this start will usher in further events that we can continue to celebrate so that our familiarity with our roots is maintained as our lives as international citizens continuous to explore new horizons. We certainly look forward to all of them.

[(L-R): Drumstick Sambar, Eggplant kadi, Green chana vegetable, Badam kheer, Cucumber Raita and Vegetable Pitla. There was also carrot koshumbari and coconut-jaggery payasam!]

Wishing everyone a wonderful Gauri Ganesha festival! May Lord Ganesha, in His infinite grace, kindness and wisdom, grant all of us the pink of health and consistent rainbows of success.