Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Award - Shward!

And the award goes to "You scratch my back, I scratch yours."

What is this abysmal trend that began with the film world awards but is now seen everywhere, across industries?

It seems more than merit, sponsorship, making an appearance, being a host, performing free of charge are the real attributes that win you trophies now!!!

And there are so many award-giving events/agencies, that it appears to be a money-making racket.

Sign of our times! Sigh!!!!

Picture courtesy - Google Images

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

The handful of times, our Villains were really bad and menacing!

We Indians are, inherently, a loud, noisy, boisterous lot. And we like our forms of entertainment – circus, music, game zones, water parks, weddings – to be as raucous and rambunctious. Our movies are no different. More often than not, the actors are cardboard caricatures of characters they portray – the overly maudlin Mother who sheds such copious amounts of tears that could keep our summers protected from droughts, even in arid Rajasthan. The Father is always angry and authoritative and extremely controlling of his proximal environment in an ear-shattering, booming baritone. The Hero is crass and over-the-top and never composed, lacking a gentlemanly deportment. The Heroine is even more so, with the outlandish dance moves, excessively expressive face with enlarged eyes, twitching brows and contorted lips and mouth, each emotion that our heroines depict are almost always exaggerated.

But the cherry on this superfluously iced cake of comic-capered celluloid characterizations have been the villains. With ludicrous costumes, ridiculously placed eye patches and that faux, big, black mole, yellow, badly formed teeth perpetually painted with tobacco juices, the omnipresent scars displaying that the man showing it off had earned them in his rough tumble, and dialogues to match; our cine villains have been comic con artistes quite far removed from the villains in our real life.

Today, “Mogambo khush Hua,” “Sara shehar mujhe ‘LOIN’ ke naam se janta hai,”  “Bad Man,”  “Aankhen nikaal ke gotiyan kheloonga,” and so on are fodder for Stand-up comics. Even back then, they garnered whistles, toss of coins and laughter from the audience instead of scaring them off their pants.

What set me thinking of a handful of men and roles that really made us hate the actors and find them utterly despicable was chance viewing, recently, of two film characters – Gokul Pandit in Dushman and Rajveer Singh in Pink.

The very talented Ashutosh Rana, who played the diabolical Gokul Pandit in Dushman and the Satan incarnate Lajja Shankar Pandey in Sangharsh, wins hands down for playing characters so close to real life and with such conviction that even as a grown-up who was fully aware that I was watching only a film, I have been shit scared.

Pran, one of the finest actors our film industry has gifted to us, was a great actor who performed any role with such aplomb and mastery. When Pran was good, he was avuncular and endearing, but when he was bad, he was such a badass who sent a shiver up our collective spine with his deliberately low-key tone, the big, glaring eyes and upright moustache that stood out like sword ends. He brought a sense of worship to all his performances, including the real bad ones.

Then there was M B Shetty, with dark skin, a shiny bald pate, low hung face and eyes the size of mini pools, who beat up good people, raped nubile women, trampled upon things with monstrosity and created havoc, with such finesse that each time he appeared on the screen, our hearts beat faster and threatened to leap into our gaping mouths.  

Ranjeet built his reputation as a serial rapist and was palpably real. According to one film goss, Ranjeet had gone to a friend’s party and sauntered into the kitchen to get some ice. The maid of the house, upon seeing him, shrieked and ran for her life mortified that she was about to be molested by the dignified guest. 

In Parinda, Nana Patekar played a psychopath with the Macbethian syndrome with such verve. A normal looking gangster, he ordered kills and harboured a dark soul but kept his hands clean with constant rinsing. He appeared troubled but had burnt his family alive with no shade of remorse. Enough to make us dread the presence of such ‘normal’ people in our own lives!

I saw Insaaf ka Tarazu almost at the same age as Padmini Kolhapuri in the film. And Raj Babbar’s viciousness and his barbarity on the two sisters was unleashed with such prowess that as a little girl I trembled each time he called Padmini to his office.

We also had Gabbar strike like lightening across the Silver Screen. And for years, “Yahan se pachas pachas kos door gaon mein ... jab bachcha raat ko rota hai, toh maa kehti hai bete soo ja ... soo ja nahi toh 

Gabbar Singh aa jayega,” made even the naughtiest of kids find safety in sleep. Gabbar Singh, and his portrayal by the legendary Amjad Khan, was truly ‘badassest’ of all. He made villainy an art form and went about his heinous business – from chopping off Thakur’s arms to killing a young lad in cold blood to making Basanti dance barefoot on broken glass to shooting to kill Jai in the penultimate scene – with so much malicious glee complemented with his staccato laugh that it made our blood curl.

A large number of preposterously silly or labouredly sinister Reel rascals have ruled the roost; such as Ajeet (but his ‘Loin’, even if more funny than fearsome, will always remain a class act), Jeevan, Kanhaiya Kumar, Prem Chopra (who, amongst a lot of hashed up acting, scored a perfect lascivious, creepy, cringe-worthy Ten with his master stroke in Bobby and elicited unified public scorn each time he mouthed “Prem naam hai mera, Prem Chopra” with a lop-sided grin and lust-filled eyes),  Madan Puri, Om Shivpuri, Rehman, Sadashiv Amrapurkar (though he instilled disgust both as Rama Shetty in Ardh Satya and as Maharani in Sadak), and more. 

There have been cartoon sketches and jokers like Kharbanda as Shakaal, Puri as Mogambo, Kher as Dr. Dang, Prem Nath as Sir Juda, Grover as Kesariya Vilayati, Mukesh Rishi, Goga Kapoor, Kader Khan, Raza Murad, Prakash Raj and a host of others who have tickled us more than terrified us.

Yet, there have been the likes of Iftekhar, K N Singh, Dev Kumar, Govind Namdeo (notably as the pure evil Sri Ram in Bandit Queen), Kiran Kumar (particularly as the very vile and immoral Lotiya Pathan in Tezaab), Ronit Roy (as a strict, unrelenting, controlling patriarch in Udaan and 2 States and as a dirty, scheming, killing politician in Kaabil) and Pankaj Kapoor (as Tarneja in Jaane bhi do Yaaron and Jahangir Khan in Maqbool) who have played their parts with such relish and craftsmanship that they came out looking as tall and sometimes more impressive than the protagonist.

Danny Denzongpa is another Indian film actor who has been dangerous, dark and devilish in his villainous portrayals. As the crippled Thakur Ranjit Singh in Dhund, Kancha Cheena in Agneepath, Bakhtawar in Hum, Jangoora in Dharmatma, Katya in Ghatak, Gajendra in Lajja, Danny has been so convincing and has enacted his roles with such flair that he has made ‘bad’ look good on 70 mm.

Two stellar actors who breathe life into any character they play – from positive to negative, hero to anti-hero, comic to serious, young to old – are Paresh Rawal and Manoj Bajpayee. Even in their negative roles, they have been measured and mean, venomously vicious and almost stoically savage that they have been an utter pleasure to watch, bringing out the far-out, far-removed from our lives, across the screen people and placing them next to us in our buildings, on our streets, in our living room with their realistic depictions. They could, as well, be an Uncle or a cousin or a vendor amidst us with bad intentions and a nefarious bent of mind. 

I would not do justice to my ode to villains if I did not mention in bold letters Saif Ali Khan as Langda Tyagi. Completely a shocker and an antithesis to his chic and suave real and reel life persona, Saif as the limping Tyagi was the enfant terrible extraordinaire. The spitting, scheming scoundrel turned into a turncoat with ease and élan, a trouble-making trickster given to ego and jealousy he did not flinch before planning to kill anyone around him, including his mentor or his own wife, only to be knifed by her for his wicked ways.

Finally, Rajveer Singh – the main antagonist in Pink - fed on patriarchal pomposity and old school machismo was so misogynistic, beastly brute, disdainful and ruthless that he made light of any big or small crime he committed. He could have been any number of men who walk our roads and live in our hoods committing all kinds of crime against women as a matter of right by birth. The actor performed his role with so much cool confidence and impressive impudence that I just had to find this New-kid-on-the-block’s name and background. Incidentally, he is Bishen Singh Bedi’s son and his name is Angad Bedi. 

They say that the female of the species is more dangerous and capable of more harm. Perhaps, a full piece on the Bad women of Bollywood is due in the next outing!


Note - This article first appeared on Daily O on 20th March 2018

Picture courtesy - Google Images

Friday, March 16, 2018

Who stole away my City? Who stripped it off all its charm?

When I was growing up in Lucky Manzil, ours was the only Farmhouse this side of the Cantonment or in the entire Clement Town; apart from the sole other but extremely badly kept plot and house right next to ours.

There were bungalows on Turner Road and in Subhash Nagar, several spooky colonial houses harking back to the British times, old-style, large Barrack houses in the Cantonment across the road from us. Then, there were some new houses too that came up almost overnight in portions of plots sold by original Doon residents and there were mud houses in the Village not too far away from us; but ours was the only Big House on the Farms and in the midst of farmland with trees and flowers and all other kinds of foliage. Back in the 70s, when Ma had not built the flats at the back of the land, Lucky Manzil looked even bigger and scarier, at least to a child’s eye.

We were so glad when Group Captain Talukdar, one of Daddy’s acquaintances, bought the land next to ours and were extremely unhappy when he didn’t build upon it for years and years; ruing about the fact that how under-developed this part of Clement Town was!

The farms around kept changing form with every season, as did their produce ranging from wheat to maize to cucumbers and potatoes and some rice too. The farmers sat on their mile-high perches to watch over their crop and shoo away the pestilent birds and other irritants that attempted to prey upon the richly growing grains.

The farmers would drop in at Dhir Memsahib’s place, armed with their produce of corn-on-the-cob, lush, green cucumbers, fresh peas and so on and scurry out before Ma could pay them for it. It was an onerous task to get them to take money for the gifts they came bearing and it was even more difficult to placate them as they took grave offense at being paid for what they brought from their heart. Only Ma’s kindness and sweet tongue managed to win them back.

Now, there are hardly any villagers that I know personally or get greeted by. For one; a lot of them have grown and flown the nest; but largely because I do not have the aura that their Dhir Memsahib had about her!

All through my school years I hated using the narrow footpath – pagdandi – in the middle of the farms at the back of our house to get to No. 3 Bharuwala – the first sign of Civilization – to catch, first the Blue Bus to St. Mary’s and then the 3-ton Army Truck to CJM in the City. I loathed it when Ma would run after me with my glass of milk that I would have conveniently “forgotten” on the Breakfast Table.

I hated it when I had to breast past the tall, green maize plants that grew way above me. I detested that they stooped over the tiny footpath making it difficult for me to maneuver my way out. I was disgusted that some leaves tended to stick to my white skirt or the roughness of the maize roughed up the skin on my elbows. I abhorred it that moving through them scared me a little, sometimes a lot as the maize towered over me.

It was simply wretched when I had to traverse through cut wheat. Any of you who may have done that would know how badly the cut, dried vestiges of the wheat plant prick and hurt. I hated the plants when they grew to their full bloom in the monsoons as they came in my way. I hated it when the crop had been cut and the farmlands lay barren. And in between the two came the dreadful time when the dried wheat plant was cut at the farm, causing deafening noise and so much of husk and dust to fly around.

In short, I did not like living in Lucky Manzil much in those young years. To our mind, we lived in the boondocks, in the languorous, laidback backyard of the slowly modernizing City.

The only time our chests puffed up with pride was when we would step onto Ma’s soft, carpeted Front Lawn to walk barefoot on the morning-dew covered grass. Or when friends came over and insisted on being served tea and snacks in the Lawns and gasped at the sight of Mussoorie Hills that could be clearly seen “from your garden,” as they would exclaim with sheer excitement. Oh! in those moments, hubris would have felt small in the face of our pride in our House.

We also loved it when post Dinner, we would step out, off the large Verandah, for fresh air and try to count the twinkling stars that we felt were at our arms length; after all, the Queen of Hills is only 45 minutes from where we live and those stars were actually life lit up in the hill houses.

Back then I would cycle down the Cantonment roads up to and beyond the point where a Dakota Plane had crash-landed and was permanently installed as a touristy sight, pick a wildflower here or a toadstool there, race to Golden Keys – the Army Club – for a game of Table Tennis, or for Dance, zip down a sloping road peddle-free to get to a picket-fenced house or two. Fed to the gills on Enid Blyton and her Famous Five, I had devised a game of ringing doorbells and scampering out amidst peals of laughter before the lady of the house opened the door.

Now, some barracks have been grazed in one area to build a huge Army warehouse, obviously populated but devoid of any ‘life and living.’ Strange things like rope drawn barriers have come upon our childhood’s freeways asking for identity and proofs. And ringing doorbells will get strange looks and angry exchanges in place of mirth and merriment.

Lucky Manzil itself has been dwarfed by buildings all around. Barring one large field, all other farms have lost their life to concrete and construction.

With roadblocks, traffic and population, and shops spilling onto the roads, it takes much longer to get to Mussoorie, which has lost its sheen and shine too.
Once I left home for the greener pastures of Delhi, I would return every month for a weekend stay. With each visit back I found the love and pride for Lucky Manzil and Doon Valley growing in leaps and bounds; having witnessed how the city folk lived and strived. I soon became aware of how privileged we were, to be in the lap of nature and how much premium others put on what we found to be just a part of our everyday existence.

Now, even more so, when luxury is defined by the views, the quietude and calmness of the surroundings, the lushness of nature, pristine quality of faraway places that take us as away from the chaos and clutter of the City as possible; we look at Lucky Manzil with renewed love, interest and respect.

When I see people from metro cities plan out village home-stays, book holidays for themselves in far-flung places that promise no connectivity to both the wired world and rest of the population, and when I note that the professionals are chucking up plum jobs to live on the outskirts and engage in an organic life of farming, I miss what we had served to us on a platter. I am angered by how we all have squandered it away. And I regretfully acknowledge that we will never get it back. 

A lot has been taken away from the blissful beauty of my hometown. There are more shops, branded stores, malls and eateries in the City than people who would shop and eat in those places. Yet, each day a tree is cut to widen a street which, very soon, will not be able to accommodate another vehicle. Almost every day a restaurant comes up only to boast more staff than guests.

Weather is always a great ice-breaker, conversation starter, and filler of empty time. Today, even in Doon we talk about increasing temperatures that threaten to touch the Delhi levels. Rampant, ruthless cutting of trees in the name of development has ensured that we have more dust and less denseness of shrubbery that was like a green cape that Doon wore.

Our greed for so-called growth and mindless development has led to more noise and air pollution and less regard and respect for flora and fauna and all other beings, including other human beings.

Some of us still feel bad that our selfishness has made us acutely short-sighted while the rest of us merrily go on chopping more trees and building haphazardly in every direction.

We simply called it our home then. It is sad that we did not realize its importance back then. It is worth pondering what all we are prepared to give up now to get back to how we were and just how we lived!


Note - The article first appeared on Daily O on 16th March 2018