Saturday, 25 December 2010

Reflections of life in cinema #1

This is the first part of a series I have conceived. The objective is to write of events and anecdotes from real life that recall bits and scenes from the world of cinema. The reasons for writing these pieces are many. In increasing order of importance: one, it provides an insight into the myriad workings in the mind of a cinephile. Two, it comments on the symbiotic relation between Cinema and Life. And three, it is an easy excuse for me to write about films. Easy because these pieces are meant to be short. I can therefore write about (and possibly invite some interest in) my favourite films without going through the grind of writing a completely detailed review.

How the camera makes us dance

My friend, Rhine, and I were walking around St. Paul's Cathedral on Christmas eve. Lots of shutterbugs stood around us. A group of youngsters were posing for a snap as we passed by them. Suddenly realising that we could be coming in the way of the photographer and his subject, Rhine took a detour and went round the group so as to avoid ruining their shot. This silent game amused me and I wondered with a laugh if he will forever be following his noble principle of not blocking shots. With the proliferation of cameras in modern life plus the inexhaustible urge to be clicked, Rhine's resolution might turn his trajectories of motion completely unplottable.

This suddenly reminded me of that master who understood the underlying humour in modern existence: Jacques Tati. All his films explored the comic possibilities of man trying to live in a world more interested in spectacle rather than comfort. In Playtime, an American tourist in Paris tries to photograph an old lady selling flowers at a street corner. With a lot of care to detail, Barbara (the tourist) arranges her subject - asking the lady to strike up a pose - but she just can't click a photo. Every time she is on the verge of pressing the button someone enters the frame, thus disturbing her composition. This gives rise to a series of amusing gags. Finally another American photographer interrupts them and now wants to photograph the old lady, the flowers and Barbara together!

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Sun of the Winter

She stood close to him,
Him – her Sun.
He touched her on the right cheek.
She looked up at him.
And let him touch the left cheek too.
Her face grew warm.
She closed her eyes and surrendered herself.
The Sun kissed her eyes, her brows, her forehead…
She untied her hair,
And looked up at him again.
He kissed her face, her mouth, her ears…
Her mouth fell open.
The Sun kissed her throat, her neck, her hands.
Behind her closed eyes,
The Sun was slowly becoming a havoc of orange.
She could breathe the warmth of his breath,
Feel him growing warm along with her.
Her lips trembled with happiness.
Her Being glowed with fulfillment.
She stood there taking his love.
The Sun of the winter went on pouring life into her,
Setting her ablaze.


Tuesday, 14 December 2010

How much can spoilers spoil?

Rohit's comment in the previous post prompted this, though I have long debated with myself and others on the topic.

I have written some reviews to have slightly experimented with the art of writing. My initial style was to completely describe the plot, including the smaller details I have noticed, and then intermittently add comments where I had any. This, of course, made reading easier. One could read without seeing the film at all and yet understand more or less everything I said. I abandoned that for chiefly two reasons: first, it took a lot of time to write, and second, it took away some of the reader's joy in discovering the details by himself/herself.

Next, I focussed more on technique (for example, my review of Kurosawa's High and Low commented at length on cinematography and blocking, and included screenshots on which I made comments now and then) while retaining a basic outline of the plot. I was more or less happy with this, except some of my oldest readers told me that they had trouble understanding where I was getting at. To put it more clearly: analysing the script (or story, as some would say) primarily, with little notes of cinematography, editing, music and mise-en-scene maybe, makes a review less cryptic to the general reader.

Now, some of my favourite writers on film take completely different approaches to provoking interest in the reader. For example, Baradwaj Rangan, in his section on foreign films (which is what I've read most on his blog), usually discusses the opening few minutes of the film in detail and leaves the reader to discover the rest for himself (Part of the Picture). This is, I think, a good enough approach though it cannot be applied when one wants to comment on the whole film.

The approach that I have now decided to use for reviewing a film (as opposed to, say, comment on the thematic connections within different films of a director) is one that combines elements of both approaches I spoke of in the second and third para. I write the plot in some detail, at least enough for me to make a few comments on the way characters develop in the course of the film. I leave out the tiny bits than delight me so that the reader can discover them on their own. I really don't want to deny anyone that joy!

I still assume that some people object to spoilers. So I'll briefly question the significance of plot in film. My own take is that, thrillers and mysteries excluded, the knowledge of the events on screen rarely diminishes the experience of watching. (How and why is more important than what.) If anything, it takes our attention off the framework and allows us to notice the details. You could of course complain if I spoil a Hitchcock film, but an S Ray? I don't think so.

P.S. - Specifically on Ray and my review of Kanchenjungha, I have gained confidence that two of the best writers on the director - Andrew Robinson and John H Wood - have followed an approach similar to mine in their books.

Monday, 13 December 2010

Beyond the Apu Trilogy: Kanchenjungha

Satyajit Ray crowds the discussion on serious Indian cinema to such an extent that it is almost useless to write again on his films. But then, few filmmakers have had such an impact on me as him. So this post is mainly an exercise in articulating my own reasons for admiring him. Bear me as such. In my defence, I may have a few good bits on what you already know.

From the point-of-view of the Westerner, the Apu trilogy is supposedly Ray’s most significant contribution. While the merits of those three films are undeniable, I see little point in writing about them. I’ll write about some of the others that I consider great and have a personal affinity for.

The urchin in Kanchenjungha (1962).

An upper-class Calcutta family has come to the hill-station of Darjeeling to spend a vacation. The narrative encompasses the day before their planned departure. The patriarch is a relic of the Raj: educated, rich businessman with a title (presumably for co-operating with the British rulers, or making a sizeable donation to the coffers) and a vain, insensitive ego. He wants to have his younger daughter – Manisha, who is sensitive, soft-spoken and just 19 – married to a well-to-do engineer with some social status and security. This underlines the significance and urgency of the day. All events in the films ultimately center upon what decision Manisha makes. The suitor is an amiable man possibly in his 30s – Banerjee – a little too formal, somewhat pragmatic though overall likeable.

The patriarch, Indranath Roy, has a sensitive wife in Labanya. She has long turned spontaneity and self-esteem inwards, submissively putting on a façade of agreement with everything her husband says and does. She doesn’t seem to be too happy with the present situation Manisha has been forced into, yet she cannot bring herself to oppose her husband on his stand. Labanya’s brother, Jagadish, is a cheerful, philosophical man who likes to stay alone with his passion – bird-watching. The contrast between Jagadish and his brother-in-law is etched in a wonderful comic scene where he tries to arouse some ornithological interest in Indranath. “Can the bird be roasted?” Indranath asks. For a moment, Jagadish cannot fathom the question. When he says no, Indranath smugly says that the bird does not interest him in that case.

Manisha’s elder sister, Anima, has an unhappy marriage with Shankar. We come to know more things about them as the film progresses, but it is established in the first few minutes that Shankar is cynical about the family’s subservience to Indranath as well as his failed marriage. He also reveals shades of concern that Mani might be emotionally manipulated to accept Banerjee as her husband inspite of her true wishes. Anima and Shankar have a daughter of about eight, which is what anchors their relationship inspite of personal differences. Manisha’s other sibling is Anil, a somewhat stupid and happy-go-lucky fellow who chases pretty girls in Darjeeling’s famed Mall. Anil is incidentally the only character in the film whom Ray does not put under the scanner. He is a prototype for the spoilt rich-brat and has little function other than drawing a few easy laughs.

A key to understanding the film from the POV of a westerner is to recognize the typical Indian social mindset that craves security and social standing above all else. It might be slightly confounding to wonder why no one in the family has ever spoken against Indranath’s tyranny. Disagreement stains the façade of family integrity, which no one wants to jeopardize. The fear of breaking an accepted social structure – where the patriarch decides everything – also permeates their mind. No one enjoys this patriarchal supremacy, except Indranath of course, but everyone buries the frustration deep within. Kanchenjungha is, in a way, a search for someone who will have the courage to break the existing social structure.

As a counterpoint to the society-conscious Choudhury family, Ray introduces Ashok, a young graduate from the lower-middle class who earns a pittance by tutoring students. This profession he seems to have in common with a pushy uncle who forms the distant link between him and the Choudhury family. In Darjeeling accompanying his uncle, who is comically unimaginative in the manner of most middle-class babus, he comes across Indranath. The uncle is an old acquaintance of the Choudhurys and wants Indranath, chairman of five companies, to help his young nephew get a job. That Ashok is something of a rebel is already evident within moments of his arrival on screen. When introduced to the big man, he stands straight hesitantly, not doing the “done thing”: i.e. bowing down and paying obeisance (which is the standard Indian custom). It takes his over-eager uncle’s urging to do that.

The events of the day unfold as all these characters walk about the lonely streets of Darjeeling in pairs or alone, coming across one another by chance, then relapsing back into solitude. Ray employs a cyclical structure: he captures a bit of the conversation between Banerjee and Manisha, then switches over to Indranath and Labanya. Then he suddenly brings in a roaming Ashok face-to-face with Banerjee and Manisha, and so forth. The dialogue is written keeping this cycle in mind, so that when Labanya voices her concern that Manisha may have wishes of her own and may not be ideal for Banerjee, we have already seen hints of the clash between Manisha’s natural whimsical nature and Banerjee’s formal politeness.

The true genius of Kanchenjungha is, I think, how Ray pairs almost every principal character with some other at one point or the other, thereby contrasting and comparing their nature and the relationship they share. Also, nearly every character is given a distinct life of his or her own (they could be people we have met ourselves), which is somewhat unusual considering that the narrative is tightly controlled and organized (though that is not apparent on the surface).

Kanchenjungha was Ray’s first film in colour. That Mani chooses a saffron sari to wear on this ‘important’ day already hints that she doesn’t wholly approve of her father’s choice – saffron being the colour of renunciation in Hinduism. We do not yet know if she will accept Banerjee’s proposal, but she wants to make her resignation clear. Darjeeling’s natural beauty is shrouded in mist, which adds a sense of gloom and confusion, thereby reflecting the mood of the characters. I’m not entirely sure the same effects could be achieved on black-and-white stock.

If the film is a document of an old social structure disintegrating, it also marks the birth of several relationships. It is revealed that Anima has an extra-marital affair that she has sustained from before her marriage (she could not marry her lover against her father’s wishes). Shankar has learnt of this, but typically stomachs the failure with his cynical resignation to fate. He has several vices – gambling and drinking among others – which he inherited from his zamindari heritage, but he shows signs of silent remorse. Husband and wife confront each other, break down and while the final reconciliation is far from cheerful, it shows signs of hope that each will try to become better partners. Their daughter – who in her innocence does not realize the tension between her parents and continually punctuates their tragic confrontation with cheerful cries – convinces them to start anew. Manisha and Ashok have only been introduced, but they find some common ground. This engenders not so much a romantic relationship, not quite a friendship, but curiosity enough to explore each other in future. Mani invites Ashok to her house in Calcutta.

The breaking of patriarchal supremacy happens in three separate blows to Indranath’s ego. The most poignant of these is his own wife’s. Left alone for some time, Labanya gives full voice to her pain and frustration in a melancholic song by Tagore. As her saddened voice echoes off the valley, her brother Jagadish silently walks up to her. When she finishes, he says with a smile that she has not sung like that for years. Labanya, like many Bengali girls, has a sweet voice (which is somewhat true even to this day) but her devotion to family has throttled any caprice she had. Somewhat ironically, this is the only defiance that Indranath does not learn of. Even in rebellion, Labanya has preserved family integrity.

Ashok delivers the most surprising of these blows. Though romantic and idealistic by nature, he also craves some of the security that his middle-class peers so desperately want. Forced by his uncle, he reluctantly tails Indranath in some hope of getting the promise of a job. He swallows the businessman’s condescension and patronizing attitude for some time, but ultimately summons enough courage to laugh at his face when he is handed a concrete offer. Of course he’ll have to slog off for some years more, but he much prefers to be self-made than be someone’s fool forever. Indranath cannot understand how someone with low social status can so easily defy him: the look of confusion on his face rivals Jagadish’s astonishment during the early bird-roasting episode.

Manisha’s refusal to cave in to familial pressure probably pains Indranath the most, because he never imagined his daughter having will of her own. It is commendable of Ray that the development of Mani’s character does not seem abrupt. She does not so much reject Banerjee as just keep him waiting. On his part, Banerjee reveals depths as the narrative progresses. While seemingly shallow at first, we gradually see that he is basically a honest and decent fellow. In one of my favourite exchanges, he gives Mani a rare flower she had been looking for. When she asks if he sought it out, he pretends for a moment to have made a painstaking search. Then he feels compelled to admit being helped by a botanist in his hotel. His final words are equally touching. “Maybe these romantic surroundings make you think that love is the most important thing in the world. But once you're back in Calcutta if you ever feel that security is better than love, or that love can grow out of security then let me know.” Banerjee is part of the traditional social structure, but he shows the best traits of it.

Ray ties the film together with a little native urchin who pesters passers-by for alms. The song accompanying the opening title credits is a folk tune sung by this boy. When Banerjee and Mani begin their walk, the boy tails them for a while before giving up. Banerjee had placed a bet with Mani that he would give her a chocolate bar if they did not get to see Kanchenjungha before leaving for the city. After Mani refuses his proposal, he makes his way back alone. The urchin tails him again. Banerjee had forgotten about the chocolate bar in all the confusion. He smilingly gives it to the boy. Magically, not long after, the mists clear and Kanchenjungha is seen. Ironically Indranath, who was most keen about the range, does not have the mood to enjoy the vista anymore. The film ends with the urchin singing the same song that played at the start, this time smiling as he relishes the bar of chocolate.

In its own way, Kanchenjungha also comments on the relationship between nature and man. Ashok says he had the courage to refuse the job only because he is in Darjeeling. In Calcutta, he most probably would have accepted the offer. Nature gives him the inspiration to be true to his conscience, just as it probably guided Mani in her defiance. Jagadish, of course, is the classic example of a man happy in his co-existence with nature. Indranath, with his superficial touristy enthusiasm about the Kanchenjungha peak, is the only disappointed person at the end.

Chhabi Biswas: Indranath Choudhury
Karuna Banerjee: Labanya, wife
Anil Chatterjee: Anil, son
Alaknanda Roy: Monisha, unmarried daughter
Anubha Gupta: Anima, elder daughter
Arun Mukherjee: Ashoke, young man from Calcutta
Subrata Sen: Shankar, Anima's husband
Sibani Singh: Tuklu, Shankar and Anima's daughter
Vidya Sinha: Anil's girlfriend
Pahari Sanyal: Jagadish, Labanya's brother
N. Viswanathan: Mr. Banerjee, Manisha's suitor
Guinye: street urchin

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Vatican condemns Facebook

The Vatican released a statement on Halloween this year to protest against the rising influence of Facebook on today's generation. The Church condemned the popular social networking site citing that the growing obsession with Facebook has derailed the attention devout Christians should be giving to God and Good.

In his editorial piece on the Vatican newspaper the Pope also insinuated that Facebook creates walls around people, drawing them away from each other. He condemned the absurdity sometimes evident in Facebook conversations - where people sitting in adjacent rooms often exchange messages to ask if they'd like to have coffee together.

The Pope further decried what he saw as covert promotion of bad habits - like writing on the wall and poking each other endlessly. He said, "Facebook poses a new problem to Christian parents. Now that every newborn is exposed to the harmful effects of Facebook from an early age, it may become difficult to control the vile habits of little children. That day is not far away when children will want a separate wall in their rooms in which they'll write and scribble - often inanities like 'lukin ht babes, muaaahzzz!' - and, to add insult to injury, which will also be liked by his/her friends. Also, the poke functionality irks me a lot. What will these children learn? For all I know, they may poke whoever is sitting in the front seat of the bus just to draw attention!"

The Vatican's chief exorcist, Father Gabriele Amorth (who indignantly clarified that he hated the band Amon Amarth), alleged in his supportive letter to the editor that he sensed an uncanny presence of one Robert Langdon in the viral surge in popularity of Facebook. He was quoted as saying, "Think about it! Both Mr. Langdon and Mr. Zuckerberg went to the same college, Harvard. I sense something wrong. Besides, if you connect the dots, you realise that both of them have a deep grudge against religion. Mr. Zuckerberg professes atheism, and I haven't yet forgiven Mr. Langdon for his painstaking adventure that revealed one Sophie Neveu to be a blood relative of Our Saviour. I hate them both!" Off the record, he professed that he thought Audrey Tatou was hot.

Acknowledgement: Avishek Basu Mallick for the idea.
Post-script: For more on Langdon and Facebook, head here.

Thursday, 7 October 2010


I had a dream today, I'll tell you about that.
I want to go up the hills again, I'm tired of lands flat.
The hills are high and clean and cold, and they are very nice.
In case you want a cooler drink, you have lots of ice.

The roads wind up and down the mountains in ways totally devious,
And flatland drivers sulk so much on wasted experience previous.
The hairpin bends are a real pain, especially in the morn.
When the air is foggy, the windscreen soggy, so please honk your horn.

In hills untraced, with roads braced, a hotel built at great height
Might prove lucrative in times unseen, but only with foresight.
The flow of travellers in the first few seasons might seem like a trickle,
But one might also turn successful, with help from chance fickle.

A good chef in the kitchen is one sure formula
To attract to the hotel guests, and to the cashbox moolah.
Keep a spacious terrace or two, and a nicely trimmed lawn,
Guests'll gather together there to watch sunrise at dawn.
Among other things, efficiency in service is a keeper.
(A small tip: People prefer hotels that are cheaper!)

Anyway, this dream of mine isn't castle-in-the-air.
After a prime well-spent, I'd like to sit idly in a chair -
Maybe read my favourites, or listen to a tune,
(I hope you'll pardon me for dreaming big so soon.)
Might even invite friends that I've gathered across years,
Sit together around a fire and share laughs and tears.
Y'see, life in the cities involves so many tricks,
I'd want to be left alone when I've had my fix.

On pleasant wintry evenings, I'll sometimes take a walk.
When there's languor in the hilly air, and also in the clock.
So if I ever meet you on one of those lonely routes,
You're welcome as ever to my place to warm your frozen boots.

Monday, 4 October 2010

Face/off: Prose and verse

If you consider them in their own places,
I think both of these have good cases.
In fact, a neutral observer should
See that both of them are good!

Poetry has its own norm,
Rhyme and rhythm are its form.
Prose, on the other hand,
Is easier to understand.

Consider for a while,
(No doubt with a wry smile)
A defendant standing before court,
And presenting in defence quote
After quote of lucid rhyme.
The judge loses sense of time,
And, next in line, logic.
(You see, the judge in question is a failed poet.
And the defendant seems to know it.)
Which only makes the verdict tragic -
The defendant did commit a crime,
He killed a poet past his prime.

Consider a surgeon removing a tumour.
He asks the nurse
In perfect verse
To pass the roll of bandage.
With the unfortunate disadvantage
That he laughs out in great humour,
Which makes his hands shake and swerve.
And the patient has a bruised nerve.

Also think of such a case.
A general in an army base
Briefing his men of their mission.
With great pride, he narrates his vision
Of defending his territory and doing his country proud.
Then he takes the fatal step, he lets emotions shroud
The driving energy of his speech, and the crowd
Follows suit. They cry out loud
As the general slips into lucid rhyme.
All the while, through mud and grime
Enemy soldiers reach the base.
Which now stands a desolate place.

As you see, even as I admire
Verse, consequences dire
Might result from the victory
Of rhymed and rhythmic poetry.

Written as a riposte to K-da's note.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Rhymes: For a few dimes more...

On the Uncommon Wealth Games:
What happened: I posted a BBC link containing embarrassing photos of the games village. Sudhang posted that conditions have improved since then, that inspite of mismanagement and corruption Delhi has drastically improved after many years. What might have been a debate got heated, and Sudhang said that he didn't want to continue the argument anymore. What follows is the poetic conclusion.

I bade thee adieu.
And though you're mistaken
I remain unshaken;
I shan't start the conversation anew.
Since you insist so much,
I'll admit it as such.
Whatever I say
Doesn't change shit.
Why not call it a day,
And from this argument quit?

Why annoy a friend,
As I chase till the end
What has already been said?!
(Besides) For this, I'm not even paid.

You might be true.
And then I might rue
That I lost a good pal.
Can we meet up when you next come to Cal?

(The last line is, of course, my signature way of ending a rhyme on an irrelevant note.)

Double class: viewed through a looking glass
What happened: I was sitting in a double-period, a continuous drawl that went on for two hours. The experience of it.

Juggling words in weariness,
Trying to escape the dreariness
Of listening to a boorish teacher.
Grown tired of this babbling creature.
Time moves in a slow, languid manner,
Which, needless to say, throws a spanner
To my plans of having a good day,
And, while the sun shines, make hay.
All of that, I think, now goes haywire
As this man tries his best to tire
Each and everyone of us out.
Well, that's what this poem is about!

Among the various replies accumulated in the Facebook note, K-da was the only one pitching in with rhyme.

The world of verse,
Whether pompous or terse,
Would be my forte.
'Twas a settlement reached out of court!

A small patch of grass,
Where I’ll lamely graze like the lethargic ass,
No shepherd to lord over me.
A quiet day after a full tummy!

Ambling across the lakes and leas,
A smug smile to wear,
Churning the rhymes in perfect bliss,
Ouch! the smile droops to a fear!

Who’s he? ah! no one, a small boy,
Want to learn something, ahoy!
Pithy verses, laced with wit.
Come-on, I’ll stand that little bit!

But oh! The boy or an angel coming to age,
With words and rhythm, rivaling the sage,
The good old days of the ruminant, gone!
Now it specializes in “chorbito chorbon”!

The last two words in Bengali roughly translate to "chewing what has been chewed" (I'm ignoring the implication that I might be a cow). Now I had to reply in verse, of course. Otherwise the whole fun would've gone. Came up with two.

In matters of wordplay and wit,
There are few who can quite hit
The levels of mastery you show.
That's something all of us know!

With words, you have a flair
(That) I'd be too happy to share.
But, of course, that's a wild dream!
Poetry comes slow, as ream upon ream
Of virtual paper is wasted.
And then some sort of success tasted.

So cheer up, and have a beer.
You're still the pioneer!
(Oh, assuming you like to drink!
If not, take it with a wink.)

Your verses still shine,
They're better than mine.
And if one is just short of divine,
Add a little polish and refine.
I'm sure that'll make it fine.
Oh damn, I can't write one more rhyming line!

Me, again:
An angel? Oh dear!
With every praise you gear
Towards hyperbole.
My insignificant role
Of a humourous prole
You send down the greatness-hole!

I much prefer to be the boy,
Who with his humour-sarcasm alloy,
Tears things down to bits:
From boring teachers to pop-hermits!
(I mean the celeb Guru of Yoga,
The one with stone-eye and saffron toga.)

Amusement is the only aim
And if, by chance, a little fame
Does stride up to me,
Who'm I to set it free?
And if someone does learn a slice
Wouldn't it be very nice?

But don't mourn the ruminant gone.
From its ashes, a cynic born
Shares his lop-sided worldview.
He sees the world with eyes anew.

To be honest, the ruminant was boring.
As he talked you could hear the snoring
Of those around him.
So he'd turn grim
And morose.
But then, he chose
To abandon prose.
(A chapter-close.)

What happened: This was spurred by the verbal portrait of me that Basu-da drew, while in conversation. I started with the intention of exaggerating his words. But in place of the archetypal hardboiled cynic, I ended up with the man I was modelling the poem on.
On his forehead, a deep frown.
A compulsive loner in tinseltown.
His utterances bitter, sardonic,
While he gulps down a gin and tonic.
Cool, steely, suave and smart,
Who's he but Humphrey Bogart?

First Crush:
Somebody wrote, "Experiencing my first crush".
Dude, I just hope you're not having your first brush
With compressive load!
#Joking civil-engg. mode

Random wisecrack on seeing someone's facebook status. Contains mild geek-humour, and complete irreverence for emotions. Be warned! Also, hashtags are wonderful, aren't they?

P.S.: Second roundup of facebook verses. Part 1 here.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

A quick roundup

If you are on my Facebook friend-list and log in periodically, you might have seen some of my attempts at lighthearted, humorous poetry. Most of these are hastily typed down in a minute or two, and therefore exhibit awkward structure and meter.

Still, I'm fond of them. Lightheartedness is a good excuse for laziness - I can get away with the excuse of parodying wannabe poets.

Penny-a-word poets:
Sudipto Basu wants to create rhythm but rhyme,
but can't find a word more fitting than slime.
Boy, these rhymes for a dime 
are just not worth his time.

On falling down from a bicycle:
Sudipto Basu is having much fun.
As much as can be done
with a painful hurt arm;
A silly book's done the harm!

Footnote - a book in a big bag hanging from the handle got stuck in the wheel. Hence, a bad fall.

To this, K-da added:
And with raging fever
It’s more than a shiver
that keeps you off
from FB and all the cine blokes you dare to scoff!

But which is the buck
You’d like to pass;
That created this fuss,
the book, tyre, muck
or a little less than luck ?

So get better soon.
You can’t set for a greater boon.
A half-way spoonerism this, it’s then a spoon!
For want of an apt ender,
I’ll rather take this bender
And settle for my LB’s lampoon!
Footnote - LB is for little brother, which is how K-da often calls me. The fall was soon accompanied by high fever.

On writing infrequently:
Sudipto Basu needs to write more often,
His writing skills mustn't soften.
Sayantani added:
Love your couplets,
Nice mind-outlets.

To which I rejoined:
Writing a couplet ain't hard.
For an easy going two-line bard.

Self-referential fun:
The other day I wrote
something of eminent note:
"Writing couplets ain't hard
for an easy-going two-line bard."
A couple more I want to fix,
In place of four, now I have six.
Two lines more I want to frame.
But can't, oh what a shame!

The Basics of a Trivial Art:
A writer of lighthearted verse
Must make his lines terse.
Succumb to the prolix curse
and your rhymes become worse.
Hold your tongue tight, and your words tighter.
That adds to the humour, makes the verse lighter.

(Lines three and four contributed by Sudhang Shankar. The in-joke is that I've often been susceptible to the prolix curse. Sudhang's couplet might also be a word of warning to me.)

Bad mess food:
"How does it feel?, how does it feel?"
Well how should I feel without a meal!
The mess serves gooey broth.
Good reason for fume and froth.
The first line is of course lifted from a famous Dylan song. This is one of my laziest rhymes, which prompted Karn Kaul to announce that I'm going mad.

The Humourless:
A man who's serious and sombre
is almost as deadly as a mad bomber.
The self-serious man refuses to understand humour,
His earnest unfunny-ness keeps growing like a tumour.
In case you're wondering, this is exaggerated verse.
Don't sulk so much, it could have been worse.
Inspired by a post on Jabberwock's blog which goes by the same name. Funny thing he responded to this facebook status! Reason for writing: professors earnestly asking students to make movies with social relevance at a screening of short-films. This, when some of the films being chided were excellent parody/mockumentary stuff. And a "socially-relevant" film scripted by one of the professors in question prone to turgid seriousness. As you can see, I also did a good job of plagiarising two rhyming words from 'The Basics of a Trivial Art'.

The last one in this post is a playoff started due to a friend who called K-da "a great cine buff". Anyway, here goes Film Conversations.

Beginning with K-da:
"A great cine buff?!"
If that isn't a bluff,
I'd have to leave the place in a huff!
Lest Mr Sudipto Basu chortles
With a violent sneeze and a non-phlegmatic cough!

To which I said:
It isn't very tough
to be recognised as a cine buff.
Some acquaintance
with films of great importance
should be enough
to make you a cine buff.

And K-da replied:
Now, it's a piquant call,
when K-da's having a pit-less fall,
to try and give him a prop,
and in the process go for a crop,
of all those virtues that a buff so deserves,
Insight, vision and the mental reserves,
And, Mr Basu at this age,
Matches a feat that envies the sage,
And this is the fact without any toss
needs to be driven sure across,
to all those friends, don't be cross!

My sagacious rejoinder:
A film buff requires vision and insight
to be able to look into the plight
of fellow men and women.
All that is accepted, but then
(here to your assumption i'll say no
a true cineaste mustn't be so)
mental reserves are a dent
to a film buff's temperament.

To those confounded with this playful reverence, K-da has unusually high opinions of people he likes. Don't be fooled!

Some explanation owed for the "mental reserves" bit. A friend of K-da opined that once someone starts appreciating the masters of world cinema, locally acclaimed film-makers start looking pale in comparison. So much so that one doesn't even want to watch Indian films anymore. (Personal opinion: untrue.)

P.S. and N.B:
1.) A few of the verses begin awkwardly with Sudipto Basu because facebook statuses, as you may know, begin with the poster's name.
2.) Some lines have been modified here and there. Still there is minimum editorial interference.
3.) Prosaic explanations ironically required.
4.) Due acknowledgement to all the greats: Ogden Nash, Edward Lear, Piet Hein, Carroll and Sukumar Ray.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Dulaali's Tale

(Translated from a poem by Joy Goswami.)
Which land were we headed to
What land were we leaving behind
Crossing hills and hollows
Dew-wet trees and barbed wire
Down we went through the plains
On we went through the rice fields
My little sister, Ma, Baba
And all the village folk.
Walking beside them was I
Or Priyobala?
Parents called Dulaali at home,
Priyobala was the name at school.
I had only recently begun to go to school.
Someone from the village said,
“Flee this place, ho, flee!”
So we fled.
With the entire village.
Ma, Baba, two sisters,
We fled.
Making our way through bushes and wild weeds,
Making our way through brooks and creeks,
Made our way sleepy hauling
Our sleepy thatched-roof,
Our sleepy bamboo fencing,
The sleepy bottle gourd,
Laid on the yard the sleepy cart-wheel,
The sleepy plougher.
The shiuli plant on the portico,
The moon hidden half by the limp neem tree.
We moved on without making a sound.
A twig touched down the forehead and the head,
Cold in dew, wet and calloused,
The folio of a tree is so like the folio of a hand.
After crossing so many many fields,
We rested under the shade of the trees.
Each of us unpacked our sacks,
For jaggery and puffed rice.
Eyes drooping down from slog.
There was a sudden scuttle,
Fire had broken out in villages.
“O Aaduri!”, “O Dulaali!”, “Where are you two?”
Ma, Baba called for us.
I was found.
But Aaduri was lost.
Nobody knows where she has ended up.
We all crossed the barbed wire boundary,
We all.
Heads down, necks down.
We also passed through the book.
The book of Immigration.
We travelled on the steamer,
On the train.
The path was torn into bits.
Where was the land we’re headed to,
In past?
In future?
What an age we left behind!
“Dulaali, Dulaali!” “Priyobala, Priyobala!”
The name is lost on the road.
Some part of the name is lost in the rice meadows.
Some part is lost in the waters of the streams.
Some part the school has taken away.
Some part is lost in the riots along the way.
The trees under which we rested,
Some part of the name is lost to those trees.
Some part of the name the dew-drops of the fields took away.
Some part has gone to the neighbours of the night.
Some part got caught in the bamboo fencing.
Some part is hidden away beneath the thatch-leaves.
Some part is stuck in the barbed wires.
Some part is gone to the Immigration book.

One age I left in that country,
One age was taken by my man,
One age passed by to raise my son,
It is by my son’s name that I’m known today.
I was a part-time maid,
Now full-time.
Meals and clothes I get here as part of pay,
Son has separated after marriage.
I stay here only.
Sitting here, I, Nanda’s Ma,
Don’t think of my son.
Neither of my man.
I just remember,
We were going
To some land.
We all were fleeing.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Down the memory hole...

I look on a little aghast
As I erase a bit of my past.
The tyranny of small minds,
In its devious way grinds
The sweetness of yesteryears.
Blood ties confirm fears
Of being misunderstood.
On this, let's not brood
Anymore. Laugh a little
At the pettiness of moronic piffle.

Saturday, 18 September 2010

A cut-out case

This report thrilled me. Not only did the eight Congress workers get themselves photographed with a cardboard cut-out of Rahul Gandhi, they also “apprised him of the problems of Agra, particularly of those dealing in leather business”. I think this is a giant step for mankind, even though it must've been a small one for the concerned eight. As the ad-line goes, let me show you how!

How often do we hear complaints from film reviewers that characters seem like cardboard cut-outs with the sole intention of mouthing a few lines, shaking a few legs and populating the frame? Often, very often. I propose future directors to take the criticism literally. Think about this: won't a well-designed cutout of Aishwarya Rai be enough for her part? One, the beauty is there. Two, so is the wooden acting. Three, the deadpan dialogue delivery is "naturalistic" (I mean, get the voice dubbed or something - learn something from Rituparno!). And it's cheap. This could well be the next big step in low-budget film-making after the invention of digital photography. What more, the director can take a cue from the Egregious Eight, and release the following statement in his press conference:

It was a very challenging role for Ash. Her role required restraint. A lack of emotion was the very key of her character. During the shoots, she'd often consult with me if she should underplay her expressions even more. For example, in the climactic showdown, we required seven takes to get her passive expression right.

At the preview screening, there may a few doubts regarding why there were no profile shots of Aishwarya, but the director can dispel them with his explanation.

The role demanded that we see only one 'side' of her character. With my extra-ordinary ability to be literal-minded, I formulated a plan to do this. I would take shots only from the front.

Once some behind-the-scenes footage is accidentally released, the media will go into a tizzy reporting this latest development in the world of entertainment. There will possibly be several critics of this extreme step, but noted film-academician Roger Abhert will defend it. In his words:

At one point in Godard's History of Cinema, he anticipates the death of cinema (He apparently asked Henri Langlois to burn the archives). Death, so that it can rise again from the ashes. “Art is like fire. Born from what it burns.” says Godard and that is precisely what he desires – Cinema to go down with all its exploitations and restrictions and rise in its purest form. Back to infancy, so that it can learn everything out of free will, without rules and without vanity.”

In a world of boring 3D cinema like Avatar, it is worth considering going back to basics. From 2D to 1D. I congratulate whoever thought of using cutouts as actors.

And why only films? Soap serials can also consider taking the step. In fact, they can have several cutouts having different stock expressions - angry, sad, shocked, evil-smiling, sweet-baby-like-smiling, thoughtfully romantic, etc. And all the budget saved from actor salaries can go to more grandiose sets and designer apparel (for the cutouts, of course).

Consider also the tremendous impact this may have on politics. Mamata Banerjee calls a hunger strike - you do or I die - opposing an industrial project and sends a cutout to her dharna. A careful angle of exposure to mediapersons along with an army of aam-janata guarding the cutout can keep her tummy filled; and the project stalled forever.

I think this may also prevent a lot of warfare. Countries can keep their borders lined with cutouts of soldiers. On both sides of the divide. No one fires a shell (since it is difficult to figure out if it's a real soldier or a fake from great distances). Both countries stay "on the alert for enemy-action". Forever.

A last proposition: the Egregious Eight must be given the Idea Cellular "What an idea, sirjee!" award for excellence in brainstorming. Also, I wait for the day when a Dalit feeds a humble Rahul Gandhi cutout in his house.

(NB: Part of the Roger Abhert quote taken from this excellent review of Inglourious Basterds.)

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Notes from a public pulpit

Pre-script: The translations in English are mine. Those offered by the Telegraph were too literal and bland.

Lokey pachchhe naa aaloo
CPM-er durnitio chalu

People can't buy potatoes
That's how CPM's anarchy goes.

Thus spake Mamata. Her latest Shahid Minar rally drew an audience of 2 million, for which a police force of 3 lakh had to be deployed. Now my post is not to criticise the vast wastage of law-keeping resources. Neither the blockage of one of the busiest transport and commercial centres in the heart of Kolkata. It is to ponder upon Mamata Banerjee's nonpareil poetic acumen. Too much of which we just can't have. And it's not just the never-done-before rhyming of "aaloo" with "chalu". There's a bit of nearly every major Bengali poet in her.

Fiery espousal of the common man's aspirations, a cause once championed by Sukanta Bhattacharya:
Aamader shopno, aamade pon
dhongsho noi unnayan.

Our dream, our promise to redress
No destruction, a path towards progress.

Not to forget Madhusudan Dutt's brand of unrhymed verse:
Shobaar pete bhaat,
shobaar jonyo kaaj chai.

Food in every stomach,
jobs for all.

Also a bit of Nazrul (who spoke for a society inclusive of people across the socio-economic spectrum):
Chhatra, jubak, krishak, shramik
tomra aamader unnayan-er sharik.

Worker, youth, farmer, student
All of you are reapers of development.

For those not on her side after the recent train mishaps, she has a stern word of warning:
Aamar podotyag chaichho,
bondhu tomai dehotyag korte hobe!

You ask me to resign from my post
Before that happens, you'll have to turn into a ghost!

If you think she is too Bong-centric, with only local influences, think twice. She throws in a bit of Dali-esque surrealism:
Aajke chan kortey gechhilam, paye ki jeno shur-shuri dichchhilo... dekhlam ekta kankra bichhe.

I had gone to take a shower today when something tickled me... It was a scorpion.

Scorpions usually sting. But this one didn't. It tickled her. Some CPM stooge must have planted it in her bathroom. Even scorpions can't resist Didi's animal magnetism.

And the best of all:
Shudhu Mamata Banerjee-te allergy?
(This one is immune to good translation. One cannot retain her otherworldly alliteration.)

Such valiant attempts at poetry should inspire some amount of optimism in me. What it does, however, is instigate the naughty cells in my brain. So let me make up a few slogans, in the best Mamata tradition, for her next rally.

Kalchar Kolkata-r hrid-spondon
Buddha babu aar jachchhen naa Nondon.

Culture is Calcutta's lifeline
(But) For that Buddha babu has no more time.

Lal durgo bhengechhi aamra
tai toh uriye dichchhe train-er kamra.

We've breached the Red Battlement
That's why they blew up a train compartment.

Jyoti babu chhilen maanusher trata
kobe dhuye diyechhilam aamar-onar hisheber khata.

Jyoti babu was the common man's life-support.
Between us, we shared an amicable rapport.

Mamata-di should draft me to her culture brigade or advising body. I'll keep supplying her such wonderful lines. And she can keep me perpetually fed and cared for. Plus, lots of celebs from film, theatre and art there. August company, and better chances for me to make my first film! Whatsayall?

Disclaimer: This is just to parody what I consider unintentionally hilarious public-speaking. No other intentions exist.