Sunday, August 19, 2007

Watching Cyrus

Bollywood (a portmanteau of Bombay and Hollywood, typically used to describe the Indian/Hindi movie industry) is known for being the most prolific movie industry in the world. However, it also has the dubious distinction of churning out some of the fugliest (fugliest: greatest comparative form of the adjective “fugly”, itself a portmanteau of the adjectives “fucking” and “ugly”) on-screen wardrobes, the weirdest dances and unimaginably unoriginal and/or brain-dead (I’m told “fucktarded” would be politically incorrect) plots known to human-kind. Most boil down to some inane rehash of “Romeo and Juliet” with insipidity that would inspire Shakespeare to overdose on sleeping pills and hang himself while committing hara-kiri, just to escape the guilt and insult. Fortunately for him and us, he is simply relegated to turning in his grave. Maybe there is a God.

Ever so sporadically in Bollywood, a film maker or two will take courage, muster the funding and rally a cast and production around a script that is truly different. These incidents were often less frequent than sun-spots and more sporadic than solar flares. Things, however, seem to be changing. Maybe it is the innumerable, passionate, loud, and alcohol-infused debates around the world between admirers and decriers of “Andaz Apna Apna” that is making the movie industry realize that there truly is a market for Indian movies that aren’t formulaic, slapstick or otherwise brain-dead. It could be the unconscious guilt of espousing a movie industry that churns out sub-par fare, or a desire to prove to the world (and to itself) that Bollywood can make fare to match and compete with the world’s offerings. Perhaps it is simply the empowering of a new generation of artists and financiers with the conviction to tell a new story, the gall to experiment, the nerve to break tradition and the savvy to tap a bohemian market. Whatever the reasons, I am glad it is happening. It’s about damn time.

“Being Cyrus” is the latest offering from Bollywood to chart the unknown. Like “Hyderabad Blues” and “Monsoon Wedding” , it is shot mainly in Inglish (portmanteau of Indian and English ), with the characters flitting between Inglish and Parsi/Gujrati in a very Bombaiya (lingua-franca of Bombay) manner. I am thankful to the local cinema-plex for closing down at 10:45 p.m. on a Friday night, preventing us from watching “Rush Hour 3”. I am, however, more indebted to my friend for recommending “Being Cyrus” as the alternative.

Starring Saif Ali Khan, Naseerudding Shah, Dimple Kapadia, Boman Irani and Simone Singh as the main characters, this effort by Homi Adajania (based on a story by Homi Adjania and Kersi Khambatta) is a thrilling narrative of Cyrus Mistry’s (Saif’s character) interactions with the dysfunctional Sethna family. The movie features a very Guy Ritchie-isqe feel: it starts at the end and progress forward in flash-back mode, with Cyrus providing copious voiceovers. The slow narrative, interspersed with Cyrus’s musings that paint the broad strokes of the plot, develops the characters and their interplay sufficiently and remains engaging enough to keep the viewers guessing. The genius of the movie stems from bringing into sharp relief the pedestrian-ness of the personnalités principales; the murkiness of their characters and their physical imperfections are highlighted. The make-up, costumes, locations and situations depicted make for very earthy and réaliste characters.

The plot is set within the Parsi community in Bombay and plays on the associated clichés: the old-money parsimony of the Parsis (Parsi + money = parsimony?), their ownership of old large houses/ buildings in Bombay that are now worth millions, driving old cars even though they can afford the hippest, their de facto nobility and aloofness from the rest of society since the days of the British Raj etc. Confluent with the plot, the movie is vaguely reminiscent of Y Tu Mama Tambien in that it attempts to show, albeit very obliquely, the underlying socio-economic conditions: child abuse, maltreatment of senior citizens, uneven wealth distribution, corrupt and heavy-handed law-enforcement and the crumbling family structure.

The movie is truly notable for how far it deviates from the banal boy-meets-girl-from-inimical-family cliché, for the absence of any feel-good, goody-two-shoes characters and the total (and heaven-sent) lack of unrealistic, unwarranted 5-minute songs featuring sirens in fugly couture. A talented director/ story-teller at the helm, a very gifted cast and an engaging musical score enable Saif to carry this intriguing thriller on his shoulders.

Are any performances in here Oscar worthy? Probably not. Will this be a hit with the common Indian populace? Probably not. Is it enjoyable and entertaining? Most definitely so. Would I pay money to watch in a theater? Yes, definitely. Would I recommend renting it? Most definitely. Will you enjoy it? That’s up to you.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Lage raho Sanju baba (Carry on little Sanju)

After a 6 hour long plane flight where my entertainment was limited to the first few chapters of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows”, and the occasional conversation with the 23 year old pretty nursing school southern belle, I finally reached my hotel room.

It had been nearly 8 hours and I was beginning to feel the withdrawal symptoms already. I know this is may be something of an addiction and vast swaths of population maybe under its influence and not even know it. I felt the itch, the burning need, the slow yet agonizingly increasing impatience and the overpowering need to reacquaint my body and mind with the familiar, pleasurably painful sensation. I wasn’t sure if the hotel would provide me with that or I would be forced to forage for it myself, or worse, do without it for days. Oh! The horror, the horror! For, I’m addicted to checking my email and reading the news on the web.

Fortunately, the hotel had wireless nternet and I was up and running on my laptop in no time. One of the first news stories that popped up on Google News was the sentencing of Bollywood actor Sanjay Dutt for his part in the 1993 Mumbai serial bombing and for possession of contraband weaponry.

Sanjay is the son of the famed actor-turned-politician Sunil Dutt and actress Nargis. (Ironically, Sunil played Nargis’ recalcitrant son in Mehboob Khan’s epic Mother India while in real life, they were married shortly after the release of the film)

Sanjay not content with the silver spoon in his mouth, was soon pumping narcotics in his veins. He had a few films as a neophyte (in large measure due to his father’s star influence), such as the plotted-on-toilet-paper-disaster “Reshma or Shera”, but his drug abuse seemed to be in the way, naturally. So Sanju baba disappeared to “America” for re-hab (anyone getting reminded of Rober Downey Jr, or more recently Lindsay “I’m bringing wasted back” Lohan, or Britney “Look Ma, no panties!” Spears?).

Cut to several years and about twice as many mind-fuck films (and a few hits like "Lage Raho Munna Bhai" where he plays a "benign gangster") later, Sanju baba (as he is "affectionately" called) was back in the spotlight living the “hapless victim in a government conspiracy”; for having close business dealings with well known and notorious underworld honchos (Dawood Ibrahim, and the Memon brothers, convicted for perhaps the worst terrorist serial bombings inflicted on Mumbai, India or perhaps the rest of the world). At one point, he was also being investigated for such charming fare as extortion, kidnapping, murder and money laundering (some cases may still be running).

Sanju baba was found guilty (though not of terrorism) and his sentencing happened only now. As soon as I read about this, I did a blog search to see what people were saying. In the 15 or so blogs I came across, almost everyone unequivocally praised Judge P.D. Kode. Knowing the media and my country, and the fact that Sanju baba is a celebrity, I felt the media campaign pleading for leniency was yet to happen. Sure enough, a day later, I read an article proclaiming that bloggers rally around Sanjay. And another one that talked about astrologers and shared birthdays with a reporter. Yet others attest to his benevolence and humane nature. Affidavits from politicians and glitterati aver to his nurturing spirit.

To all these people I say: REALLY?

I believe he is getting what he deserves. Judge P.D. Kode, kudos to you. To the Supreme Court of India, please move expeditiously to strike down his (other convicts’) appeals and uphold judge Kode’s decision.

Some pseudo-journalists, fans and bloggers may plead that Sanjay Dutt is being made an example of by the prosecution and judiciary; to cover up for their inaction and delays. They may point to scores of other cases where similar offenses and criminals are yet to be brought to justice or have been let go due to subversion of the law. They may argue that those offenders be served before Sanju baba.

To them, I say, this is a start. He is clearly guilty and this has been proven beyond doubt in a court of law through an open process. Why should he be awarded special treatment? Should he be excused because he is wealthy and popular enough to muster support while a comparable criminal sans wealth and connections be relegated to suffering the full wrath of the law? Do you want to send criminals the message that it is okay to harm society as long you are wealthy and influential?

I for one have staunchly refused to watch Sanju baba’s movies because I believed him to be undeserving. I refuse to contribute to his influence and wealth and instead pray that his conviction sends shudders down the spines of the one and all, to keep them on the path of good. For justice to work in this world of ours, we must make it economically and socially “unaffordable” to commit crime. We must not rely on wishy-washy, touchy-feely principles of morality and human-goodness. Our processes, judgments, awards and reprimands must be moral and humane, but equal, codified and absolute.

Sanju baba, lest it not be clear thus far, this blog celebrates your conviction and imprisonment. Judge P.D. Kode, I congratulate you on doing what is “right”. But to India’s legislature, judiciary, executive and media, much is yet to accomplish:

Dawood Ibrahim and Memon brothers are still at large
Salman Khan is still free
Umpteen corrupt politicians still win elections
And much much more.

But take heart, keep doing the right thing. We are here to support you. Do the right thing for “Mother India”.

You may find the following articles interesting:

List of accused

Sanjay’s hope Supreme Court

Bloggers rally around Dutt

Manu Sharma / Jessica Lal murder case

Salman Khan / car runover case

Weak law


Thackery praises Sanjay Dutt

Pray for me 29

Mother India

Sanju Baba


Reshma aur Shera