Sunday, January 31, 2010 6 reflections

Harischandrachi Factory : The manufacturing of a legend

'Harischandrachi Factory' (HF) is my second Marathi movie (the first one being 'Shwaas' – another beautiful feature) thanks to my now freshly seeded Maratha associations. And, considering what I have witnessed thus far, I must say Marathi cinema makes some very refreshing and sensitively relevant movies. By sensitive I do not mean overly sentimental or high on drama – no. We get enough of that from Bollywood, thank you! I mean in the sense that there are certain humane subtleties that very few film makers can successfully capture on celluloid. Those infinite number of imperfections that are almost impossible to record in the confines of raging mediocrity that are only possible when features like HF come by. For this, I am eternally grateful to Mr. Paresh Mokashi – the director of HF, his debut feature.

Now, about HF. The story tracks the trials and tribulations of Dadasaheb Phalke as he prepared to make the first Indian movie in 1913 – 'Raja Harischandra'. What makes this movie unique is how humor is consistently used to portray a journey which I am certain was, in reality, strewn with a million challenges. Everything from prostitutes refusing to be on camera, to men reluctant to shave their mustaches since their fathers were still alive, brings a unique essence of authenticity to the times we lived in. There are men (dressed as women) working for Phalke who are unsure what to tell people about their dubious sounding profession of making 'moving photographs'. We even have mentions of how Phalke's previously owned photography business went bankrupt when rumors spread that the camera 'steals a person's soul' and was a machine made to perform black magic. As hilarious as all this might seem today, there is no denying that Dadasaheb must have undergone so much more in this Herculean dream of achieving the impossible specially at a time when theater and drama were the only forms of entertainment.

What makes HF a must see movie is not just the fact that it underlines India's first major milestone in the business of movie making, but also the subtle and lighthearted approach it takes to such an immensely important event in our history. A feat, I am sure, would have suffered with a 'Schindler's List'-like formula of movie making had it been given to film makers who do not believe that a serious story can be told in a joyful tone. For this singular achievement, I salute Mr. Mokashi.

Performances belong to everyone. Even though I did not know any of the actors, their conviction in what they were trying to convey went beyond the need for a familiar face. The film maker's vision is crystal clear, as he focuses entirely on those pivotal years when Phalke, realizing his purpose in life, embarks on such a risky, albeit exciting, venture with full fledged support from his wife Saraswati Bai and two young sons. It is in this essential vein of eternal optimism, that HF scores high points in my book. In a day and age where we see movie success constantly attached to vulgar language, deliberate sexual innuendos and violence of the extreme nature, HF exemplifies the word 'quality' just by following one mantra – keep it simple.

My verdict : Do yourself a favor and go watch HF. If not for anything else, then at least to acknowledge the efforts of the father of Indian cinema – Dadasaheb (Dhundiraj) Govind Phalke. A legendary name now only synonymous with debatable award recipients like Amrita Rao for mediocre performances to justify their achievement. Unfortunate.

Rating : 5/5

Thursday, January 28, 2010 2 reflections

This 'sur' is surely out of sync!

It begins with a cliché and ends with one. What makes it more tragic is that even if you choose to ignore the nauseatingly obvious presence of Bollywood peppered all over it, you still do not feel even an ounce of the jingoistic essence that resonated with the masterpiece that was the original. Welcome, reader, to the 'new' rendition of the Doordarshan classic – 'Mile Sur Mera Tumhara' (MSMT).

For those who have forgotten (and the uninitiated), MSMT remains one of the most celebrated hymns that spoke volumes about us as a nation. Now, with the 60th anniversary of our much adored 'Republican status' behind us, it is only apt that something similar to MSMT be produced that talks about us as a country which, despite the historic attempt at ensuring our medieval beginnings on the fateful night of 1947, has overcome a million hurdles and continues to deal with a billion struggles each day. Yes, we as Indians do understand the paradox we have become. Indeed, we are the first ones to acknowledge we might have more to grieve than to celebrate. But what the original MSMT had done when it used to be aired on DD, was make us proud that we represented that very geographic chunk on this planet which had been erstwhile labeled the 'eternally developing nation' or 'the land of fakirs' or 'rickshaw wallahs' by the elite and arrogant West. It re-affirmed our belief that we truly were a nation with so much more than just snake-charmers and devotees sticking rusty iron roads across their cheeks whilst parading a local deity. The musical rainbow it emanated was so unique, that no amount of bass or techno was needed to hum it any day of the year.

Yes. That, my dear reader, was the real essence of MSMT's magic.

And then comes the sequel. Actually it would be wrong to call this one a 'sequel' since its nowhere in the vicinity of the original. In fact it is nothing more than an awful juxtaposing of 'B-City hype' with 'B-City glitz manure'. Yes. It is true! Just notice how almost every Tom, Dick and Sally of B-Glitterati blaze the screen with their overused presence and you will know. Everyone from the inexplicably half-naked Deepika Padukone (tragic, considering her father was in such a dignified blink-and-miss role in the original mouthing a tongue his roots are in - Kannada!) to the clueless random Ranbeer Kapoor is in there. We have Priyanka Chopra crooning mindlessly with a bunch of grinning kids while the entire Bachchan clan makes an appearance without the slightest inkling of national pride in their eyes. As if getting a Twitter account and a blog wasn't enough, they have to monopolize the fond memories of our good old Doordarshan as well? Tch, tch.

The musical part of it is equally out of tune. To ensure proper demographic coverage, we have Oscar winning AR Rahman doing his 'thing' with the same expression of condescence he always seems to have. We have a good portion dedicated to Shankar, Ehsaan and Loy, who 'jazz' it up thus ensuring the 'hip crowd' is not forgotten. There is also a portion where the tune gets seriously out of sync when Aamir Khan decides to be 'cool' with more kids jumping and dancing around him. Did we miss out SRK? Oh not at all! There he is! With the same look he has had for about 3 movies thus far.

When Doordarshan was the only channel we had, everything it used to show automatically became unique. Contrary to what we think of it today, against the backdrop of a million other wealthier counterparts, the looming danger of something as great and profound actually still remains with DD. That said, it is, in my humble opinion, always a bad idea to try and 'pep up' classics like MSMT to make it 'connectable' with the new generation. Uh...excuse me? When did the old one seem irrelevant? But then no. Media folks just cannot let legends be so. They just have to get in there and hash it up in high hopes that it will recreate a similar aura as its much celebrated predecessor. What we end up with, as is obvious in this case, is a Bollywood heavy 'fashion parade' that leaves no room for the fundamental idea MSMT tried to convey – national harmony.

Of course, being a Kannadiga, I did have to look past the fact that despite big names like Girish Karnad, Girish Kasaravalli, TS Nagabharana, Anant Nag, Sudeep (heck even Ganesh and Upendra!) et al, they chose to use popular movie stars for all other local dialects whilst ensuring a nasal Kavita Krishnamurthy is used along with her husband for the Kannada bit of the song. Weird.

It is sad that people haven't learnt a thing from Ram Gopal Varma's 'Sholay'. Certain classics should never be attempted again. Sigh.

Monday, January 25, 2010 0 reflections

New hues of old parenting!

Danny, a friend of mine, was shocked out of his wits when he overheard his 7 year old daughter lash back at her 8 year old male friend over an innocent game of house play one day. It was one of those moments Danny had never imagined he would ever be required to confront. Sure – children being children, they always complain to one another, bully themselves into tears and eventually become friends again. But this was a ground so alien, that he had never expected to even see it, let alone being asked to tread upon it. And this made it extremely scary.

The backdrop was simple. The boy had managed to con the little girl into a false move during the game and needless to say, the clever girl had called him 'stupid head' for doing so. When the clueless fellow asked her what made her think he was a 'stupid head' – and reader, get ready for this one please – she had promptly responded without batting an eyelid– 'Cos that's what boys are! Cos boys got your G-spot up in your bum you know!'

A large cloud of extremely ghoulish clouds of questions and confusion immediately exploded over Danny's otherwise calm head. Two instant reactions followed – a) he promptly asked the boy to leave as he came up with some flimsy excuse and b) he quietly walked into the kitchen to share the story with his wife and hopefully come up with a proper course of action (if there was one!) to what the girl had just said.

As I heard poor old Danny share this episode with us, I couldn't help think about how extremely critical it has become today for parents to be one step ahead of their kids. There is a revolutionary paradigm shift that is happening with kids these days and with each passing day it is becoming impossible to ignore. Just look around you, anywhere, and you see kids embracing technology (nay, knowledge!) in a way that has redefined the expression 'information is wealth'. It now seems that every kid barely into his/her teens has an account on FaceBook, a video blog on YouTube, an iPhone hooked onto a Twitter account, a MySpace profile and at least a dozen email addresses. Why, Stuti, my wife's niece who is barely 2 years old knows how to use the DVD player on her father's laptop! She knows how to operate the remote control for the TV and heck, she even knows what to do if the computer says 'Low on Battery'. It is seriously amazing how much today's children are absorbing each passing day. If anything, this is also a wake up call to those of us who still believe in the 'traditional methods of parenting' that we were subjected to as children.

Now, as much as all this sounds like an alarming situation, the truth of it is we cannot really stop it. In fact, we should not. A kid who has the privilege of formal education today also is entitled to all the opportunities out there to enhance their young minds. It is an era where children, just by sheer association, are able to distinguish what works and what does not. One look at the talents showcased on TV and it becomes clear that kids are at least 10 times more smarter and braver than we were at their age. It is only natural of course, given that each generation evolves into a better species. But then there lies the challenges for us – current and future parents – that will create benchmarks through which our kids will grow. This is where a mature discussion, an open platform for transparent conversations, a clear understanding of how to approach such an open-source and readily available universe of data – all this takes automatic priority. Gone are the days when a father would just shout at the child or beat it and the kid would succumb to sheer physical strength. Today's kids speak with so much more maturity that it is extremely important that our response to them are equally sane. Snapping back at them with a 'Shut Up! You don't need to know that!' will, I am sorry to say, not suffice. This shutting off method will not only distance you quickly from your little one but also manage to undermine your authority as a parental figure. If you are asked a mature question, answering it responsibly seems to be the new mantra. Of course, anyone who has seen 'Taare Zameen Per' hopefully knows what I mean.

Today's kids understand logic, they question meaningless radical behavior, they speak their minds without fear – as Danny's kid ended up doing. Yes, there are threats there too. Questions like 'Where did she hear the word G-Spot?' and 'How does she know where men have it?' and 'Why does she connect that to being stupid?' - and a dozen more will arise. But that is where we, as parents, will either take the route of conversation or ostracize the child for using the word 'bum'. A change, I am sure, won't be easy for most of us who were brought up in knee deep orthodoxy. But if not attempted, might end up ruining the life of our kid's future.

As technology continues to open doors, it has now become essential that parents follow suit. The fine line between loving your child rotten by buying him/her all the latest gadgets and educating him/her well enough to know how to use them, has to be walked upon with care. One mistake could prove to be fatal. The hues of parenting are changing shades fast. We just need to be sure we know which colors to show our kids and when.

As for my friend Danny, he did have an impromptu talk with his daughter who told him she had heard her school mates chatting about it. Apparently some kid who was being bullied at school in the US had posted a video of himself on YouTube where he was venting his frustration and had inadvertently mentioned that '...I am not stupid 'cos my G-Spot is in me bum...!'

That was when Danny decided he needed to pick up some new books on today's parenting. He is currently going through his third book.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010 0 reflections

DH Blog : A Holy land for mediocrity

Wrote a piece on some simple yet shameful truths that continues to plague our nation's (land's) treatment of the veteran cine actors. Check it out!