Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Crossing Over - Movie Review

Watched 'Crossing Over' on television this afternoon. Harrison Ford plays a cop who has the job of finding illegal or out-of-status immigrants in the USA. He is a soft hearted cop and does his bit to help even going out of his way - and for the first time Ford looks old, but remains as charming as ever. The movie has six or seven tracks, all of which kind of meet at some point. There is Harrison Ford and his partner Hamid., an Irani by birth but a naturalised and proud American now. There is Ford and the illegal Mexican immigrant girl who is deported even though she tries to tell the authorities about her little child in day care. There is Hamid's father who is awaiting his citizenship and his brother, an arrogant attorney, and their ideas about family honour specially concerning their liberated sister. There is the Chinese immigrant family with a deviant son who are close to getting their citizenship they had all worked so hard for. There is the Australian actor who comes on a tourist visa but is seeking work in theatre and tv and gets trapped by a lusty immigration officer. There is the immigration attorney who is trying to find a home for a little African girl who has no home and no parents. There is her British/Irish? boyfriend who is a Jew, an atheist and a singer and there is a Bangladeshi/Indian family who is out of status but has a daughter who has rather radical ideas on 9/11. (Does that make it eight tracks?)

With so many stories of human drama moving simultaneously the movie has more than enough content to make it so gripping that you can't miss one scene. And since they are all stories of hope, of dreams that come true and of dreams that are dashed, there is more than enough drama, which the director chose not to milk. He instead tells the story dispassionately and you watch and absorb and comprehend. It's everyone's story at some level because it is basically about the hope of better life and what we are willing to do for it.

All the immigrants-to-be try to stick nay latch on to their big dream of being absorbed in the USA and living a life of comfort. And the cost they are willing to pay is simply stupendous. Families are torn apart, lives are lost, self-respect is lost, marriages are broken, honour is lost, freedom is lost - but still they cringe, beg, run and crawl. Obviously there are stories much more heart rending than the ones shown in the movie but it only underlines the madness that comes over one at the thought that somehow lives can get better for them and their families if they can cross over - somehow. There is a dialogue where the immigrant attorney shouts in anger at the authorities that they are sending back a young girl to a garbage dump in the third world or something to that effect as she tries to save her from being deported.

It may be a garbage dump but it is still their dump. It is still a place where one can live with self respect, dignity and honour just as millions of others are. It is still a place where you can make your life among the ones who you are born with. It has the same sky, the same air, the same water and one can make their paradise here - if only they wish to. It is all in their minds. One can understand going to a foreign country to get exposure, a better life even. But at what cost? Why go to any place where one is not welcome, where one is viewed with suspicion. Go there, when they welcome you openly, when they have no more fear, but only love to give. Go there so you can add to your dignity, to your self-respect and esteem. Not when you are treated like a rabid dog.

There are opportunities if one looks hard enough, wherever one is. 'Crossing Over' throws up several arguments and viewpoints and also presents everybody's case well. Definitely worth a watch for anyone who is contemplating crossing over or just for watching a good movie on the human struggle for betterment!

Things To Do Before I Die

I saw this mail from a lady called '103dreamscometrue' or something like that. It was so much like John Goddard's list and equally inspirational. So when we popped in at Mythily's house this evening we decided to use our time to put together our to-do lists. Here's the part of mine which I managed to write during that time:

  • Build the commune in a 25-40 acre area (draft plan made)

  • Build an eco-friendly house away from town, on a hill top overlooking a waterbody 
  • Do an India trip by road, meet friends as I go about, do some parts with pals
  • Write 50 books (2 down, 2 in the pipeline and 2 contributions in other books)

  • Visit Taj Mahal

  • Visit Pondicherry

  • Visit Madurai

  • Visit Kanyakumari

  • Visit Coorg
  • Tour Kerala

  • Explore Rajasthan

  • Visit Dehradun

  • Visit Khajuraho

  • Visit Kaziranga National park

  • Visit the Golden Temple at Amritsar

  • Buy a 50" flat screen

  • Buy a big car Innova types for the tour

  • Do 1000 motivational lectures

  • Do 500 workshops for students, cricketers

  • Build a school

  • Write 10 film scripts

  • Attend all rock concerts in Bangalore. Mumbai by big groups

  • Walk along the beaches of Goa

  • Do the Meghna-Aditya trail

  • Buy property in Karwar

  • Meditate everyday for 30 minutes at least

  • Exercise every day for an hour at least

  • Laugh, laugh, laugh

  • Go and watch a Soccer world cup

  • Go to Brazil

  • Go on a boat trip on the Godavari

  • Do a solo trip 7-10 days minimum, all alone

  • Visit Europe, Turkey

  • Own TT table, shuttle court

  • Spend a lazy morning on a boat in a lake reading a book

  • Stay on a boathouse for a week

  • Stay in a place where there is no cell, no tv and no power for a week
  • Buy cycle for Anjali
  • Compile library of comic books

  • Compile library of comic movies

  • Compile list of my top 500 songs

  • Lead my team to a win in next tournament

  • Set up publishing house and devise cutting edge distribution system

  • Be known as India's best writing talent

  • Regain total health

  • Stabilise weight at 90 kgs

  • Give 25 lectures a year in government schools for free

  • Write autobiography

  • Come up with one original idea that will change the world

  • Get literary agent for Misfit

  • Learn to swim

  • Donate organs
  • Come out with an idea for a cartoon strip
  • Do a day trip for a Hyderabad tour 
  • Grow vegetables
  • See the seven wonders of the world
  • Own assets worth over 100 crores 
  • Start and run one successful enterprise

    I will add to this list but I think I better start ticking them off one by one.

    Wet, Wet, Wet

    It's been the longest spell of wetness I have seen in Hyderabad. Each day we wake up to dark, grey skies that appear to be pregnant with tonnes of water to drench us any moment. And everyday the heavens do open up for a short while, pouring their hearts out, flooding roads, causing jams. The air is cold, everything is wet and green, the garden is out of control with all this extra attention and nutrition it is getting and the mood is just not cut out to work. Home seems to be the best place in the circumstances, and an even better place, under the covers.

    All this rain has done certain things externally of course. Hyderabad figures with the lowest temperatures (even Srinagar was higher yesterday). The roads have developed craters, I mean these are really craters about 6 feet dia and some almost a foot deep, rumblers i.e. a series of potholes that shake the bones out of their sockets and some man made routes for water to flow. These developments make driving extremely unpleasurable especially since my three year old takes a severe view of any unwarranted jerks and turns an angry eye at me.

    The post is invariably wet. The maid is late (which is not good) or early (which is not good either). Little worms, insects and stuff like that which I have not noticed before appears in some warm corners of the house. A permanent dampness occupies clothes, books, shelves and things tend to stick to one another.

    Most people I know are snifling, coughing or are bleary eyed. Few venture out to eat ice creams which was kind of fashionable last winter. In fact I think I have already had an overdose of coffee and tea as well. 
    I think I have had enough of these rains for the time being. Some sunshine might help.

    When I was in Mumbai and was contemplating a return to Hyderabad, I scheduled my return so i would not have to endure another monsoon there. It was so wet from June to September that we hardly saw the sun. The skies would open up suddenly and intensely giving you no scope of hiding, so everyone carried an umbrella and a pair of rainy  shoes for exclusive use in this season. Everything would be wet, wet and wet for days on end. I mean the rain would barely stop for those few months.

    And another peculiar monsoon I saw was that in Calcutta where the rains would be so sudden and so fast that everything would be drenched and filled up to the waist. Another place where the umbrella is a must. But its the fast and furious approach of these rains that is so different. It happens so quickly and you get so much water in that time that everything is flooded.

    Hyderabad, that way, lets you plan. The rain starts slowly, gently and gives enough warning to run to safety. Normally the rain does not last for longer than 10-15 minutes at a stretch. Only rarely longer. So one can do without an umbrella or rainy shoes here. This monsoon has been an exception of course.

    I never liked monsoon so much. It reminded me of school reopening, wet classrooms and unpleasant stuff like that. for all the talk of chai and bhajjis and stuff I'd prefer the summer or the winter anyday.

    Monday, August 30, 2010

    Benaam's song - Old Memories

    I suddenly remembered that we used to love belting out Narendra Chanchal's song in 'Benaam' by the same name in the OU Engineering College canteen and the hostels. I had seen the movie many years ago and quite liked the dashing Amitabh in the role of a corporate executive searching for his kidnapped son in the suspense thriller. It was a decent movie overall and I remember Moushumi Chatterjee and the cute scene where she sews a button on Amitabh's shirt standing on a bed, the car chase in the end and the Chanchal song.

    Ali used to sing the song. He had a great voice and could sing beautifully. He also had this wonderful collection of movie songs in his head and I'd help him along as we sang aloud in our spare time. By the time we progressed to the final year we had even named ourselves Shankar Jaikishen. Ali refreshed many songs that I had forgotten in those years. Benaam was one of them.

    I don't remember hearing the original much. All I remember was Ali's rendition of the song. All the words I remembered were from Ali's version. But whenever I was given a chance I always liked singing this song because it is a nice full throated song, Of course all the lyrics and words were all mixed up in my version but I gave it 100% in passion.

    Years later I happily found that Jayant wrote the screenplay for 'Benaam' and when we had the bhavande get together in Bombay a few years ago I belted out the song full throatedly, mistakes and all. And only today after so many years I suddenly realised that I did not have this song in my playlist. And instantly downloaded it.
    'Yaara o yaara...,' goes Narendra Chanchal and I am transported all those years back into the dusty, dinghy Seth's canteen, the deep insides of which we inhabited and sang these songs to our heart's content.

    We lost touch with Ali after the college days. He was troubled badly by the accident that he and Sunil got into, the botched operations, the persistent infections over the years, and by the time he recovered, had gained much weight and one leg was shortened considerably. He visited me once and that was that. I made some enquiries about him but found no answer. But whenever the song plays it is as if the handsome Ali Mumtaz is sitting next to me, singing passionately, intensely for all his lady loves.

    Bobby a.k.a Sai Kiran a.k.a. Ashish - The Dreamer

    Bobby after a net session at Don Bosco
    Bobby, as he is popularly known, (or Sai Kiran) is the dreamer in the team. Bobby plays the role of Ashish the bookworm in the movie, th one with the single mother. Not that Bobby has those dreamy looks etc but you know he is there somewhere on the edge of reality even as he speaks to you. This was just a doubt in my mind until I spoke to him for this little interview the other day and I found that my suspicions were correct. Who else would aspire to be a doctor and an actor and also have his own rock band in his future plans?

    He is fine guy this Bobby, always coming over as a mature person with his own definite views on things. He is also very sociable, gregarious and one of the more popular guys among the lot. Must be because he is non-judgmental, takes things as they come and lets others be.

    All of 17, Bobby is a student of Sri Chaitanya Junior College, Dilsukhnagar, and is pursuing his BPC there. He has played a child artiste role in 'Andhrudu' with Gopichand in the lead. Another one from the non-filmi backgound, Bobby's father is an advocate. I ask him if he has had any training in acting and he emphatically says no. However, he would like to go to NSD, Pune and learn the tricks of the trade there. I ask him if there is an NSD in Pune and he is certain there is.

    His pet hobbies are hanging around on facebook where he leaves several comments in some typical language of his, playing with his PS3, playing basketball and hanging around with his close friends whom he calls 'homies' (one of those words). He listens to a wide range of music from rap to pop to hiphop to Hindi, likes to dance and is a student of the Shiamak Davar Institute of Performing Arts.

    Bobby loves watching Jim Carey, Hritik, Kamalahasan and Katrina Kaif. His favourite movies include Dumb and Dumber, Arya 2 and Salt. 'I would love to do the kind of roles that Gopichand does or Srihari does,' he says. 'And I liked the way Prabhas was in Billa.'

    Bobby is a free spirited young man who will try many things in his life I think. He has the intelligence and the curiosity to do many things, and also has the strength to recover when things do not always go his way. Not one to be given to wild mood swings, he is steady at all that he does and can be relied upon to deliver when it matters. Like for example when he has to take a difficult catch in the outfield or bowl his spinners with that pivoting movement that Baig saab wanted. I was also kind of concerned about getting his dismissal right in the final but he pulled it off with ease.

    There is another interesting side to Bobby. He is one of the first boys in this lot to read 'The Men Within'. Most others talk about it but I suspect they did not get down to reading it. And, sometime he actually made his way to my blog and left several comments there in his inimitable style. I have to reply to his comments of course. He is always a pleasure to meet at the ground, since he possesses a rather endearing trait of being respectful yet having the freedom to speak his mind and at the same time, the ability to take a joke upon himself.

    Lots of energy, lots of ideas, never scared of experimenting and someone who I think delivers more than he promises, Bobby will always keep himself happily engaged doing things he loves doing. Good luck Bobby and may the hero within you make all your dreams come true!

    Article in the Indian Express - August 29, 2010

    Introducing the Page 3 People's Party
    Harimohan Paruvu
    I am a die-hard fan of the P3Ps (the Page 3 People for dumbos). Every day I wake up and race to get the newspapers. What are the P3Ps up to today? There’s S smiling and showing of her new dress and old cleavage, and OMG, there is KS herself wearing that little cute red number. And YR, GH, and TR are holding their wine glasses and leching away as usual, and here are the aunties looking hep and young in their tight clothes (on second thoughts…hep surely). And there are the youngsters eager to make their debut on P3P. It is like meeting a whole bunch of happy, old friends at a party.
    I don’t know why they are called Page 3s (because they actually appear in page 23 or 33), but I know one thing, that they do make me happy. I’m sure they make a whole lot of people happy as well. And if anyone can make the people in our country happy, this was the lot, I figured.  Which is why I got this idea of floating a P3P party. A happiness party.
    I met one P3P type and proposed that we start a party. “Yes, sure,” he said whipping out his mobile. “Let’s call everybody over and have a blast.” “No blasts, a political party,” I clarified. “The P3Party. Winning would be a cake walk.” “Moon walk? That’s rather old fashioned isn’t it? We have some new moves you know,” he quipped. I ignored that. “What I like about you guys is your dedication to party causes,” I said. “Anything for a party is our motto,” he said. “That’s the spirit,” I yelled. “Where, where is the spirit?” he asked, raising his dark shades. I held him back. “Whoa, whoa, not those spirits my man, team spirit etc.” I said. He looked disappointed.
     “I am convinced you guys can hold your own,” I said. “Oh, yes,” he said confidently. “We can all hold our drinks well. But is that enough to get votes?” Good q. “You’re popular. Everyone knows you people well. In fact there are P3P games being developed to be played on PSPs, betting, fan clubs...” He looked surprised. “And you guys don’t even have criminal records,” I smiled. “No wait, I have one,” he confessed honestly. “Michael Jackson’s Smooth Criminal. Will that be a problem?” I said it might not be an issue.
    “What do we have to do if we get elected?” he asked tentatively. “To begin with, handle internal and external affairs,” I started. “Ah, now you’re talking,” he said. “We can handle affairs - internal and external - very well. That is our strong area,” he smiled enthusiastically. I was not sure. “Corruption is another problem,” I proposed. “We don’t tolerate corruption, forget it”, he said severely, “we like it neat.” “Defence, our neighbours are other issues,” I hinted. “Oh,” he said thoughtfully. “Our defences lower after a couple, but we generally have a policy of loving our neighbours.  So we should do okay huh.” I nodded. “And of course, all those terrorists and extremists involved in all those blasts need to be dealt with,” I added. “Oh, we can handle any kind of a blast,” he said smugly. “Leave it to us.”
    “Alright let‘s start the party then,” I said. “Where? When?” he started. Not that party I explained patiently. “We have work to do. Polls are round the corner. “Wow! Let me call the others,” he said excitedly, taking out his phone. “Come soon, pole dancers at party round the corner,” he sms’ed to all the primary members of the party.

    Suraj Gontla a.k.a. Vikas - Dancer, Performer and Charmer

    If there is someone in the GHS team who can carry the tag of a charmer, it has to be 17 year old Suraj Gontla. Blessed with a ready smile and a refined demeanour, this young actor who has acted in about 20 movies to date, is easily the face you won't forget in the crowd. And he will ensure that you won't forget him either, by walking up to you with that million dollar smile and wishing you.

    Suraj Gontla
    mmensely likeable for his pleasing manners, articulate and polite behavior, Suraj plays the complex role of Vikas, the ally of the even more complex Siddhanth, and a solid middle order batsman in the movie. His fractious relationship with his father is an emotional highpoint of the movie and I am certain this veteran child artiste would have delivered his emotional scenes well. He loves dancing and has performed over 700 stage shows with his brother (who also makes an appearance in the movie as the captain of the Everglades team). Suraj has appeared in dance shows like Dance Baby Dance and Dum Dum Diga Diga and acted in films like 'Mee Sreeyobhilashi', 'Anukokunda Oka Roju', 'Suryam', 'Swarabhishekam' etc. He has also acted in a telefilm with Bhanuchander.

    Studying his Inter second year with MPC as his chosen subjects at St. Mary's Junior College, Yousufguda, Suraj aspires to be an animator and has made his plans for that. 'I want to enrol in Space Multimedia at Begumpet,' he says firmly. What about acting as a career? 'I would also gun for lead roles,' he says, 'if I get a break in movies'. He figures he does not need any further training in acting. Though he comes from a non-filmi background - his father is a businessman and his mother has recently started acting in tv and movies - he receives full support from the home front. His favourite stars and role models are Chiranjeevi, Soundarya, Sharukh Khan and Madhuri Dixit.

    Suraj spends his spare time on facebook, drawing and painting and learning 2D and 3D animations.He is definitely not the sporting kind and one who can be spotted as the non-sportsman in the team from a distance. His body language is such - delicate and artistic. Of course we spotted this trait early on and relaised we had a challenge on our hands. Despite all the ribbing he took from us, Suraj never lost his composure or his smile and was always ready to put in that extra work to look good on camera. I remember putting his through basics and asking him to do the drills for an entire session and he would do it. I told him to do mirror practice and I am sure he would do it at home. His attitude is highly professional that way.

    Suraj is steady, amicable and fro someone so young, very aware of his strengths. He knows he can back himself with his acting skills and dancing skills anytime, and therefore holds his belief throughout the movie. Anybody with lesser belief in himself and his abilities would faded away by the end of the movie, both in terms of the role and emotionally as well since the other guys play way better cricket, but not Suraj. He smiles as brightly as he did on day one, maybe brighter, and holds on to his parts solidly and tenaciously. I am waiting to see his dramatic parts in the movie. Cricketing parts? He laughs and says - Sir, that is the only game I never played in my life. And I guess only he could carry that vital role off with that confidence of his.

    For his charming ways and his rootedness in his strengths and beliefs, Suraj is a sure winner for me in whatever he chooses to do. 'Except cricket,' as Baig saab says smiling. This is one student Baig saab  will never forget - for all the right reasons - he might have never encountered someone with such a bright smile, never-say-die spirit and pleasing personality yet.

    'Oh,' bounced back Suraj. 'And my favourite colour is sky blue.' So it is.

    Badmaash Company - Movie Review

    Watched Badmaash Company on video. It is the story of a guy who tops everything - studies, sports, women, luck, dumbness - and his friends. Just in case you don't get it they actually start a company called Friends and Co. Now these guys are from Mumbai where everyone (specially in the movies) seems to have a hardworking father who is old enough to be their grandad (remember Sunny Deol's father in Arjun, well Shahid's father here is Anupam Kher who was a grandad in Saaransh). Anyway Mr. Young, Intelligent and Talented wants to make some quick buck so he chooses the smartest way to do it which is - smuggle foreign currency in socks and underwear to Bangkok! Friends and company (includes drunkard Chang who is perpetually made fun of because he is a chini and another chap who wants to be a hero) find a new, glamourous addition to their company in Anushka Sharma (forget her movie name). Why is she going to Bangkok? God knows why but most likely she also wants to make money. Only thing interesting about her is that she carries a pair of scissors which we realise she uses to deadly effect by plunging into the thigh of the nearest male who makes a pass at her.

    After some small time jobs, father falls ill and Mom sells bangles. Son gets mad and his razor sharp mind gets a brain wave. Import foreign shoes, evade customs through a dumb scheme of getting all left shoes in one and all right shoes in one consignment (jhute aise cheez hain jise do rehne se full value milta hain nahin to zero darlings) and make money on the evaded customs. To me the scheme looked pretty dumb. For one you paid the supplier the money, then you transport the stuff, get it together from two corners of the country, repack the entire consignment and then sell it to a smuggler. If they did the math right they might have made a loss especially since they all went to Bangkok to meet the Reebok suppliers. But they end up with a profit of 10 lakhs, God knows how, unless they defaulted on payments to uncle from whom they got loan, or to supplier. But no body is doing the math since it is all unaccounted anyway and they go away singing songs. To me it did not look like a great scheme - for the risk they were taking they could very well smuggle the whole thing and make more money. But for some reason the film maker thinks its a great idea and drills it into our head a million times just in case we don't get it. Also that Shahid is an intelligent mind.

    Anyway nothing much happens for a while except serial disguise changing (they could have earned more money as disguise masters also), and left consignment and right consignment. Then liberalisation happens and customs goes low and their left right business goes out. In between Anushka and Shahid move in together after the mandatory ghar se nika jao scene from Kher saab and become an item. Next we move to America where uncle ji is waiting to give them guarantees and loans I guess because the moment they get off the plane they find people who buy million dollars worth of gloves from them - get it - left and right again. So this guy Charlie buys a million dollar consignment, gets only one side of the deal while these con men run away, sells it off at a low price to a chinky looking guy who deals in scrap, and then another Indian comes and sells the same consignment in full to the same guy - Charlie. Man, I could not get over that. Though, our stars make fun of all foreigners throughout the movie with liberal use of chal, chal chini or yeh gore log kind of derogatory stuff (and we'd get mighty offended if someone made fun of an Indian in a Hollywood movie - I am sure the Ministry would seek a ban and an apology from the makers if a Hollywood movie said something like these Indians are real dumb). Anyway Charlie lives up to that and buys it at a higher price!!!

    If you thought that was dumb you must meet a bank manager who lends out housing loans on the same house he has financed at double the value to four different buyers (he has been taken care of, guys behind a closed door). Well, all we do is get a loan form the bank, make money on each sale and leave the bank and the manager with the house. Simple huh! Only Mr. Intelligent can think of that. To cut a long story short they make lots of money and they all fight and they all split up. Mr. Intelligent suddenly finds himself lonely and calls home and cries into the phone (why a pay phone?). Cops catch him - wonder why they took so long and he is in jail for a few months. He comes out, turns over a new leaf, irons clothes in his uncle's garment business and is lonely and repentant when uncle's business gets a severe hit. An entire consignment of shirts get rejected! And because of one consignment being rejected the company's share price is down 30%!!

    Any word consignment requires Mr. Intelligent around. He walks in and saves the day by simply washing seven shirts. Each wash changes colour and by the seventh, its almost white. A new technology chaps where a person can wear a shirt for seven times and after that wear it as a white shirt. All buyers buy it instantly by placing massive orders of course (yeh gore log!) and then some super intelligent stuff happens which we don't understand like they go and buy all checked shirts in the market and then make Michael Jackson wear the shirt (don't ask how?) so that everyone in America buys that same shirt and the company shares increase. Haha, meanwhile we are buying up the company shares also pal!! So by the end of the day we are all rich legitimately except that we don't know why MJ would wear the shirt because his lead dancer is sleeping with one of these guys. If they had such access to MJ they could have made their money easier I guess.

    Anyway, all's well and that ends well with even Kher saab coming over to America to visit his son who has a mansion like the playboy mansion now. One notable feature of the second half is the tummy that a pregnant Anushka sports - it's like nothing I have seen before. Last notable pregnant tummy I saw was Priety Zinta's in Salaal Namaste, a highly notable film, in which she looks like she is going to deliver about fifty babies any moment.

    Anyway, if you have an intelligent mind, use it well and you could become rich is the moral of the story. Or, that's what I figured out.

    Sunday, August 29, 2010

    Dance Dance, Dance - Haruki Murakami

    I spent much of my waking hours in Nagpur hurtling down the crazy murder-mystery- adventure of Haruki Murakami's 'Dance Dance Dance'. The protagonist's name is never revealed in the novel (and even if it was, I never registered it), but everything else about the book hangs around me as vividly as it would have if you draped me with it. That I think, is great writing. I have not read a book like this so far, and though Murakami is considered a great novelist, never got my hands on his books. This time I did, thanks to Raja who is into Murakami a bit these days.

    One of my methods of classifying a book into great or mediocre is by testing whether the story sticks with me, the characters stick with me, the aura, some scenes etc after the read. And if something about it bothers me in a good way or a bad way then it definitely vaults over into the great writing. The first thing I thought after I finished the book was 'Hey, who killed them and what and how?'. I could not entirely piece the plot together (I can't piece too many things together so complicated plots are rather tough for me) and would have liked some help from the author, but then I really have no complaints apart from that. 'Dance, Dance, Dance' is a masterpiece in story telling.

    So we have the hero, a thirty four year old writer who 'shovels snow' (Murakami uses that phrase beautifully throughout the book), thinks of the Dolphin Hotel where he stayed some years ago with Kiki, his lover and a high class call girl, based on a intuitive call. He finds that the old descript Dolphin Hotel is gone and in its place a spanking new hotel has been constructed, many floors high. He checks in and meets the first of the many intriguing characters, the beautiful Yumiyoshi, a bespectacled receptionist at the hotel who is a reluctant girl friend. Despite his many attempts the hero does not find out what happened to the hotel or Kiki the call girl. Then, he meets at the very same hotel, the highly intriguing 13 year old daughter psychic daughter of the two famous parents, divorced of course, Ame the photographer and Makimura, the bestselling yesteryear writer. And in Murakami's hands, the 13 year old's petulance and irritability and bad manners are actually understood by the reader. Anyway, the hero discovers that the old owner of the Dolphin hotel seems to be haunting the building and has probably named it the same, since he knew that this writer chap would come along. Obviously the hotel has been taken from him in less than fair means by a large corporation. From murder to haunted sightings, business intrigue to personal relationships, the novel flits by easily, uneasily.

    'Dance as long as the music plays' advises the sheepman, the one who haunts the dark 16th floor. The one everyone is aware of and one that the hero, Yuki, Yumiyoshi have seen or felt. The 13 year old Yuki is escorted by the hero back to Tokyo or Kyoto and they become firm friends. And in one scene in a flop movie called Unrequited Love, the hero finds Kiki in a love scene with a chap he went to school with, the handsome, charming and famous Gotanda, a superstar in his own right. He tracks him down and they hit it off, just as the sheep man prophesises, that they are all connected together. And when the 13 year old sees the movie by chanc (or by design) she makes some stunning revelations that lead from one corpse to another, Kuki, Mei (another call girl) until the story resolves.

    Murakami listens to music all through the book. From groups to songs of the eighties western music, he is perpetually listening to music as he drives, as he drinks, cooks, meets people. It's a device that is exasperating but it plays in your head in the background all the time and makes it sound so real. His descriptions of people and places almost never leave you - including those of the cops Bookish and his pal. Numbers, places, names, descriptions will always stay with you as you read the book and so will the characters.

    There is nothing pretentious about Murakami's writing, a feature which I found in most other highly acclaimed writers. The language, though translated from Japanese, is simple and every thing keeps the story moving forward. His intelligence and skill at story telling is revealed in the way he drives the story forward, the way he makes the characters come alive, the way he draws the reader into that world - be it Hawaii, a superstar's house, he interior of a hotel - you leave your traces behind in that scene after you read the novel. I loved the way he used music, something I always dreamed of using, though differently.

    I noticed a couple of Murakami's books with Raja and I know where to lay my hands on a couple more - one with Vinod I am sure and another with Miskil. I am pretty sure that all his plots are different from the blurbs on them and I will certainly get through most of his works. Murakami is a must-read, one of the greatest story tellers of this time undoubtedly.

    Sreeraj Neelesh a.k.a. Nissar - Resolute, Dependable and Mature

    Meet Sreeraj Neelesh, who plays the character of the unpredictable, artistic, fast bowler, Nissar, in the movie based on 'The Men Within'. At first glance you'd think he was a reserved kind of chap who does not easily mingle with others. But after watching him for a while, you realise that he is someone who does not force himself upon others, and is actually shy and reticent, who is very respectful towards one and all, especially  seniors. In fact Sreeraj was not the first choice for Nissar because Pervez (who later made an appearance in the Everglades team) was chosen. But since Pervez could not take time off owing to his cricket, Sreeraj walked in and that I think was a great thing to happen to the team because this kid can act and can play cricket.

    Sreeraj and Gautam at the morning nets

    For one, Sreeraj is easily the most accomplished cricketer from the GHS lot. He has trained since school days when he was in MGM High School, Yousufguda, (under Khader sir and Ahmed sir, both coaches from the Arshad Ayub camp) and plays the local leagues for Ekalavya team, run by my old coach Prahalad. Sreeraj is well built, bowls sharp medium pace, bats well and fields well (a top score of 72 and best bowling figures of 4 for 16 against a top ranked team like MP Blues in the A2 division). All his cricket fundamentals are in place and many times I let him take over the drills etc because he has both the patience, kindness and  the knowledge to teach and coach others who have never been to a cricket camp.

    Sreeraj finding something amusing

    Currently studying second year MPC in Rohit Junior College, Sreeraj has acted in about 40 Telugu movies as a child artiste, acting since he was 8 years old. 'Anaganaga Oka Ammayi', 'Gauri', 'Donga Donga' are some of the movies he has acted in. He has been encouraged by his father who works for the Railways and his mother who is a housewife. His other sibling is a married sister.

    Sreeraj aspires to be a lead actor. His heroes are Pawan Kalyan, Hritik and Aamir Khan and likes Shriya and Deepika Padukone on the female actors side. He would like to train further in his acting skills in an institute like the FTII. Dance and drama are his forte though when it comes to acting. The other day I saw some pics of a young Sreeraj in the esteemed company of Sanjay Dutt and Suniel Shetty, both looking pretty young. Sreeraj was definitely not older than eight or nine in that pic.

    Sreeraj is someone you can like easily. He is someone you can learn to rely on easily as well. During the days when we played cricket before the shooting in summer, he would come to the ground by 6 in the morning everyday. Almost all of us would miss it once or twice but not he. The moment I drove my car in, he would materialise from wherever he was in the ground, and with a reluctant smile, pick up the kit bag from the boot and carry it to the nets. Not everyone in that team would do that I know, or even from the set, but Sreeraj has his basics in the correct place - he does it not to impress the right people, but because he believes in it.

    He has this unlikely friendship with Santosh (Gautam) and I do think thay complement each other well - Gautam with his gregarious, larger-than-life, and impetuous nature and Nissa with his reserved and understated yet strong presence. Some days it would be just the two of us at the nets and I would insist on bowling while Sreeraj batted. Nissar would always run for the balls that were hit far off in consideration for my effort and my age - again something not too many of the others would even be clued into. I mean they'd be so obsessed with themselves that they would not even think of it! Gautam apologised to me one day for coming late and I asked me why. 'Sreeraj tells me that you get very tired after bowing alone in the nets sir,' he told me. 'I'll try and come early from tomorrow sir.' That's something only someone who is sensitive to the other person would notice. And Sreeraj is a nice, caring human being who will be liked and who will have a loyal set of friends and supporters always. For that matter, he will definitely have me rooting for him and his success always and he can always turn to me for any help or advise.

    As a cricketer he says he would like to pursue a higher grade - maybe first class cricket and then higher up - alongside his acting. He certainly has the ability. The ball he bowled Rayan with in the practice game was a beauty, beating Rayan all ends up. And Rayan is no rookie - he is a Hyderabad and South Zone player of repute. Since Sreeraj brings so much cricket with him, it made our jobs simpler in terms of making the GHS team look good. I told him to train with Baig saab after the movie is done to sharpen his talent. Never one to back away from anything physical (he is not delicate as some of the other kids are) Sreeraj has certainly seen life from up close and has a steady head on his shoulders. There are a few similarities between him and Farooq that way, both rather withdrawn, both having deeper layers to them, both reliable and both talented. And yes, both superb athletes as well.

    Wishing you all the success you want Sreeraj, and waiting to see you make it big in both cricket and acting! You have what it takes and we all know that. Good luck and god bless!

    Saturday, August 28, 2010

    Guest Lecture At IMT, Nagpur

    IMT, Nagpur 

    Raja told me even before he came to Hyderabad that I was to do a guest lecture on 'Branding Yourself' to the second year students on the 26th. So On the 26th we drove down to the IMT campus outside Nagpur, its a good 25 kms away, along with Shobha and Anjali. Built over a 27 acre area the IMT campus is well designed and provides everything that the students need - large grounds, hostels, library, canteen etc.

    I looked around the campus for a while before my lecture which was scheduled at 12 pm. Dr. Kamble, an IIM, B, alumni, and the Professor in charge of Brand Management introduced me to the students in one of those tiered classrooms where th students loom over you. I could never get the hang of these rooms ever. What purpose do they serve save intimidate the poor speaker?

    Anyway I had a fun 90 minute session and I hope the students got a few things as well. I told them that they could all brand themselves into champion brands and mediocre brands. If they wanted to be champion brands they must understand that most champion brands they see exhibit qualities of - longevity, excellence, product superiority, achievement, constant improvisation, high quality performance, honesty and definitely show one great unique strength they have. To be a champion brand they needed to build these qualities as well and a good place to start was by applying the 4 Ps to themselves and answering some hard questions about themselves. I did prod and provoke them a bit by asking some uncomfortable questions about themselves but I think its better I ask now than them realising later.

    A couple of them came and shared what they got from the class at the end of it, at my insistence and from their sharing it appeared that some stuff did get transferred. I gifted their library both my novels, received a fine memento from the IMT, ate a lovely lunch, looked around at the lake behind the campus and returned home.

    A fine experience overall and maybe, if I get a chance, I will go again and spend more time there.

    Wednesday, August 25, 2010

    The Indian Railways Experience

    Last night Shobha, Anjali, Raja and I took the Dakshin Express (a.k.a Hazrat Nizamuddin Express) that travels from Hyderabad to Delhi, to travel to Nagpur. Since the tain was to leave at 2230 hrs, we left home by a cab at 2115 hrs, making room for any possible traffic jams. Of course there were none, and we landed up at the Nampally Railway station by 2140 hrs. The station was barricaded with sandbags and there was a small army of cops guarding it. We wheeled our luggage through a metal detector which beeped as usual which indicates God knows what, and we entered a crowded, smelly, sweating station full of passengers looking to get away somewhere. Of course, there was no place to sit and barely enough to stand.

    We waited and waited until there was an announcement that the train would leave at 2240 then 2245 and then 2250 and then in a dramatic change, the train's arrival itself become 2300 hrs. By now, we were all rather tired and were considering other options to travel. Just then, the train backed itself into the platform and we walked about a few kilometres before finding our compartment. We needed to board B2 but we found an A2 and then a compartment which was just 2. 2??? After some initial confusion we, experienced as we were, deduced that this must be the errant B2 and checked the lists to confirm. Our names were on it. Yes!

    Have the trains become small or what? Everything was crowded and cramped in this 3rd AC compartment. You move this way and something gets stuck into somebody, you move that way and someone might get poked in the eye. Spreading those sheets, the blankets and all that complicated a/c stuff is another huge well coordinated activity with everyone clearing the way as one person does it and then another. The helpful attendant came and told me that he would get the pillow covers for the stained pillows (some red stains, blood??) and leave them - we could get them on the pillows ourselves, or wait for him. I told him I'd wait for him.

    A very unfriendly sort of TTE was around. A young girl asked him if he could help (not knowing that helping is not part of his job description of course, his job is to make life as difficult as he can for anyone with a request) since they have an elderly person travelling and there was no lower berth. He very rudely and loudly told her that there were no vacancies and there was nothing he could do. Only after much pleading did he concede enough to even tell her that maybe she could request someone else (what a solution!). One wants to intervene and tell these guys off but one does not, because that could do more harm than good to the girl and her elderly relative.

    The toilets had toilet paper rolls which was an improvement and one could see the attendant rushing around with new rolls. (Hopefully not bought at the Commonwealth prices.) However the loo doors were rusty and cranky and would not shut properly, the flush would not work (all which would not surprise any true blue railways traveller) and the attendants and the TTE behaved as if we were all intruding into their private heaven. I am 6 feet 2 in and since the berths are 6 ft in length, all night I had people banging into my feet and carrying them off with them. (Who asked you to grow so tall? We should charge you a tallness surcharge for inconveniencing others).

    Not to put the railways down or anything - just recording what goes on and how much we put up with. On the plus side was the air conditioning which was good, we did not freeze as we normally do and wake up with rigor mortis, our co-passengers were decent people (i.e. did not start drinking as soon as the train took off since they were both really old and only insisted on changing clothes right there), and, well nothing seriously untoward happened (like bumping into another train, dacoits, etc).

    We arrived at Nagpur right on time despite starting almost an hour behind schedule. How did we do that? At Nagpur I found no board indicating that it was Nagpur - or otherwise - not one. That is if one does not count the board of the Police Station, Nagpur or something like that on the platform. We assumed that it must be Nagpur, again using our experience as railway travellers (wonder how any new comer would make out that its the Nagpur station - the one clear board was outside the station!).

    Anyway, we hopped off. Here we come Nagpur, where we'll stay for the next few days!

    Tuesday, August 24, 2010

    Farooq – Intense, Graceful and Gifted

    One look at Farooq and you can sense the intensity around this boy. No wonder Mohan told me the very first day after he picked his team that there is this guy who fits Mikey's character to the T. You can see him loping around with a feline grace in the ground, often by himself and not with the rest of the other boys who play around like regular kids and then, when you know of what Mikey has gone through in his life, you understand. I always find him seeking me out when I enter the field, catching me, often at moments when I am alone, and asking me existential questions like - Sir, are you happy with your life?
    At the nets in Don Bosco after a long session

    Farooq says he does not know his real name. He ran away from his home in Hyderabad, someplace in Dilsukhnagar, when he was very young (because his mother scolded him) and he does not remember how young he was when he ran away with his younger brother. Somehow he remembers going to the Madarsa at Barkas where they said his name must be changed to Farooq (from Fardeen which was given to him at some other home and sounded like a movie star's). It's all a bit confusing there but enough to know that he took his younger brother along, cared for him, went hungry, looked for shelter, washed cars at hotels, stayed on railway stations, survived the bad stations of Vijayawada, Warangal, joined gangs, was gang leader until he got tired and hungry and joined the Don Bosco school in Secunderabad. 'Sir, the blade gangs of Vijayawada are dangerous sir,' he says matter of factly.

    His brother Feroze liked it there in Don Bosco, the security and the food and games (caroms specially) and he settled down, while Farooq had a couple more dalliances, running off here and there before coming back. One of the Fathers at Don Bosco noticed Farooq's inclination for acting, for cricket, for dancing, for mimicry etc and put him in the dance troupe. Farooq is one of those guys who can use his natural intelligence to be good at whatever he does. Even his cricket is not so much good at technique or style, it's just his natural survival instinct at play, and you know he will pull it off when you most need him. Anyway, he started performing, doing stage shows for his Boys Town troupe, playing Inter-school cricket (was made captain too). Of course he was not trained to do anything and learnt everything by himself. To date he thinks he might have done some 1800 shows.

    He recalls with pride his Assistant Director Kiran calling him to choreograph something for Kedi with Nagarjuna and Nagarjuna patting him on his back and telling him he liked what Farooq did. He would like to become an actor in the future certainly, but as someone who has seen the hardships of life, does not build his dreams in air. 'I would like to study and do my MBA. Studies are forever,' he says. 'I would also like to start an institute before I go full fledged into acting so there is some steady cash flow.' Supremely confident about what he does, Farooq, admires Amitabh, Kamalahasan, Soundarya and Kajol. He loves playing games, the natural athlete that he is, with cricket, kho kho being his favourite games.

    Farooq is fantastic to watch at the sets. He does his stuff quietly. For example, when all the junior artiste kids try to get in and bat and bowl while we practice, we shoo them away so they don't crowd around and disturb everybody else. Farooq understands that it is a big thing for them to hold the ball and the bat and quietly, when no one is around, bowls a few balls to them or makes them bat a few balls, a little distance away. He lopes around by himself, generally observing, thinking, improvising. When he faced Srikkanth Raju, Imran and Pervez in the friendly match, some of the fastest and most dangerous bowlers in the city and handled them extremely well, I knew he'd pull off anything with that survivor's bent of mind. And he played well mind you, cutting them, pulling and driving, on the merit of the ball. His acting is as fluid as his playing or the way he lives his life - with compassion, passion and awareness. Gautam aka Santosh says 'I am big fan of Mikey's sir. You should have seen that cafe scene. It was mind blowing.' I surely would like to see that on screen. His scene when he gets up after being felled by a bouncer made my hair stand on the edge - all aggression, defiance, all Mikey.

    Undoubtedly a character no one will forget, possibly an inspiration to many, Farooq is a real life hero. I like him immensely as a person, love talking to him and definitely would queue up to watch him perform.

    Good luck Farooq and here's to your success in advance.

    Monday, August 23, 2010

    Santosh Shobhan - Mercurial and Immensely Talented

    Meet Santosh Shobhan, the immensely talented, highly capricious and very likeable 15 year old from Sreenidhi International School who is playing Gautam's role in the movie. The first impression one gets of Santosh is that you can either like him or hate him, but you cannot ignore him. He is an enthusiastic boy, passionate and true to his soul, does what his mind tells him to honestly, which is why I think he will always be liked more. You can get angry with him for his stubborn ways, his highly frustrating methods, his complete belief in what he is doing  despite the fact that everything and everyone else seems to think differently but then; not for too long. You cannot help but like this guy with that ready grin on his attractive face.

    Santosh who plays Gautam, after a long net session
    Immensely fond of cricket and all games (and I think of all that he does) Santosh is currently studying in his tenth. He says he has always played theatre in school, right from the days in 'Shloka' a school where he studied until three years ago. He has played roles from many Shakesphearean plays (and typically forgets the name of the character he played in Midsummer Night's Dream). But I played Julius Caesar and Mark Anthony, he says, and also got a Special Jury Award for my performance in a Telugu play in 2008 (forgets the name of course). Grins.

    'I will be an actor when I grow up,' he says, without any doubt in his mind. 'Meanwhile I will play cricket for a league team after I finish my boards,' he ponders. 'I never realised I'd be acting in a movie so early because I never planned for this. I always thought I would launch myself as an actor when I grow up. But when Senthil uncle called my mom and told her about this role I was game. It was the cricket that got me.'

    Santosh loves playing cricket, X Box, Handball and throws a decent javelin he says. Knowing him you have to take that with a pinch of salt but again, knowing him, you can't be surprised if he turns out to be a champion at that. He loves watching movies and his all time favorites are Mackenna's Gold, Ace Ventura, Magnificent Seven to name a few. He loves the sci-fi, action and comedy genres and hates - romantic films. His favourite actors are Jim Carey, Bruce Willis, Amitabh, Chiranjeevi and Kamalahasan. In the female actors he likes Anjelina Jolie, Meryl Streep, Megan Fox and, as an after thought, Trisha.

    I would love to do challenging roles, he says. I would love to do the kind of roles that Chiranjeevi did or Buce Willis did. I will head off to the US after my twelfth and join an acting school. Pretty good focus.

    From Sagar to me, Mohan to Senthil, Baig saab to Prasad, Santosh meets everyone with the same openness and enthusiasm. And everyone pulls his leg, knowing he is a good sport and has the spirit to take it in the right sense. 'You don't play cricket,' says Baig saab with a big smile when Santosh asks him some complex questions about batting, 'You pursue acting. I will have to retire by the time I teach you.' One likes to think that Santosh mellowed down in these few months; he is not as impetuous as before and though as fiercely competitive, also allows room for the fact that others must have their days as well - something he would not accept in those early days. But whatever he does, he does it in his inimitable style and that is one reason why I would like to watch more of Santosh in all that he does. Undoubtedly talented at his acting as well as his cricket, he backs his talent with supreme confidence and an air of learning. Santosh is one of the stars of the movie and will leave an indelible impression on the viewers. And I do see a much brighter future for him, if he can get a grip on himself (which I think he will), and will continue to excel in whatever he does. Of course, Santosh like all the rest of the boys has access to me anytime - I have grown quite fond of the entire lot during these few months.

    Good luck young man and from all that I have seen, well done, brilliant job and good luck!

    Article in the Indian Express - August 21, 2010

    This article appeared in my Sunday column Un Intended in the New Indian Express yesterday.

    Get More Condom Vending Machines Please

    I have been following the CWG with great interest. The preview organized by the administrators is very exciting. Firstly, the games have got unprecedented publicity. Everyone in the world now knows about CWG, The Queen’s Baton Relay, Kalmadi etc. Secondly, the administrators are inspiring our athletes to break new records since they have broken all records in prices of various items - no other country can beat us there. Thirdly, they have inspired a sense of patriotism in India. Just the other day we had a half page advertisement from a private business house asking us to stop looking at unfinished stadia and expensive toilet rolls and applaud the good work. This is the spirit that the games instill in all of us.
    But what caught my eye really are the condom vending machines. So the CWG was buying 200 condom vending machines (now reduced to 100 machines only). Which, I deduced quickly, means that people will use these machines to buy condoms. And since the games are not a couples-only affair we can safely assume that chaps will strike up random liaisons, buy condoms and get on with it. I mean, I am actually paying tax to buy one lakh condoms for athletes and administrators from the commonwealth countries so they can have sex with someone who is not their wife or girlfriend! No one can say that I did not do my bit for the country.
    But as a tax payer I’d like to know more about the partners? Who are they and where does one find them (just academic)? Am I also paying to find and fund them also? Is it because of them that CWG costs have escalated? Who uses these condoms most – sportsmen or staff or administrators (I refuse to finance condoms for administrators)? Are the condoms sponsored with logo etc to bring down the cost? Does CWG have police clearance for these activities, and more importantly, the go ahead from moral police (who might get the poor sportsmen married off to the object of their passions)? The CWG chaps could do well to prepare themselves s to answer these questions.
    These petty issues aside I also do not understand why the CWG is being stingy about condom vending machines while being so liberal about umbrellas and toilet papers. Why 100 machines and not 200 as originally planned ? What if there’s a shortage? It will show badly on our understanding of the use of condoms and will lower the prestige of the country in more ways than one. And though we may be able to handle athletes who do not have tracks to run on, water to swim in, stadia to compete in, loos to visit.. it would be difficult to hold back sportsmen used to 500 condom vending machines with 100 vending machines. Here, let me make it very clear, I don’t intend to pay a condom-shortage surcharge for the rest of my life on every purchase I make to fund a whole new population created by the stingy CWG.
    I urge the Ministry to take this issue seriously and sanction another 900 top class condom vending machines urgently, cost no matter. I have no problem with excess money being spent on all other things because it is a matter of our national prestige and we must show the world what we are. But I will not tolerate the CWG spending less on condoms. Even if each condom costs nothing less than a couple of thousand rupees. We must be able to stand erect, and hold our pride high after all.

    Saturday, August 21, 2010

    Women I Would Like To Meet

    This is a list of women I'd like to meet. It's been inspired by the list of book characters that I wrote and then realised that I had to cut out Hermione Granger because I did want to meet Emma Watson and not Ms. Granger. So here goes.

    • Mother Theresa who has been on the list for the longest time for having that incredible capacity to love
    • Meryl Streep who is simply awesome in whatever she does from 'Falling in Love' to 'Bridges of Madison County' to 'Mama Mia'
    • Mallika Sarabhai who does things so differently and does so many things
    • Ayn Rand for her firebrand, immensely original and powerful writing
    • Agatha Christie for creating a wonderful world of mystery books and Hercule Poirot
    • Arundhati Roy of the pre-activism days, the 'In which Annie gives it those ones' days
    • Merlene Ottey the famous Jamaican sprinter
    • Yelena Isinbayeva the pole vault champion for setting new bench marks and breaking her own records
    • Madonna for reinventing herself so often and in so many ways
    • Sue Townsend for creating Adrian Mole
    • Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace Prize winner
    • Winnie Mandela
    • Princess Diana
    • Kate Winslet who is simply superb and someone in the Meryl Streep mould
    • Emma Watson who plays Hermione Grange
    • Audrey Hepburn who was simply lovely in all the movies that I saw of hers
    • Enid Blyton who gave me so many hours of reading pleasure with her books
    • Gina Lollobrigida of Come September fame
    • Nadia Comaneci the Romanian gymnast
    • Priyanka Gandhi who seems to do things in her own manner, whether its political campaigning or meeting Nalini in jail
    • Serena Williams for her incredible capacity to fight herself out of deep holes in her matches
    • Louise Hay for making such a difference to the world with her simple philosophies
    • Konkona Sen for being such a brilliant actor
    • Billie Jean King for her famous 3 set victory in the battle of sexes match against Bobby Riggs
    • Tabu who does everything differently again and is a superb actor

    Anita Nair, the famous Indian novelist, would be on the list too but I met her. I will review the list of course and add some more.

    Friday, August 20, 2010

    Funniest Books and Authors I have Read

    Alright then, the funniest authors and books I have read.

    • P.G.Wodehouse heads the list for his ability to make you burst out laughing uncontrollably at his descriptions. Blandings series, Wooster and Jeeves, Ukridge, Picaddily Jim, Doctor Sally, Clicking of Cuthbert, If I were you...the whole lot. One of those crazy moments in my life was seeing a new book shelf at Sunil Jyoti's house completely filled with new Wodehouse's - probably the whole lot. Uncle was a great humour writer and loved his dose of humour. I guess I must have started reading Wodehouse because Dad had a whole bunch of them at home and I must have got on to it sometime.

    • Tom Sharpe and his bunch of books led by Wilt and the Wilt series, the Granchester Grind etc. Sunnie introduced me to Tom Sharpe with that first Wilt and I have been hooked on to it since.

    • Sue Townsend's Adrian Mole is an all time great character and I think I have his whole life history with me from his 13 and half years onwards, his love, his love for writing, his poverty, his losses. The entire Adrian Mole series is out of this word though I did not much relish her other books.

    • Ben Elton's Gasping is one play which is out of this world and one of my prize possessions. A must read for any humour lovers. I read a few more Ben Elton and enjoy his style very much. One of the books is about a reality show, forget the name of the book.

    • Dave Barry's first book that I read was 'Guide to Marriage and Sex' and could not stop laughing. He is so irreverent and so honest that it's incredibly funny. That bit about the bra is unbelievable. I read up almost all his books after that and own most of them. Seriously funny.
    • Woody Allen is so himself in all his books just like his movies. However I can't take home the characters, scenes though I found him very funny to read. Wonder why? Maybe another read is in order. I got hooked to Woody Allen by myself - wonder why and how.

    • Bill Bryson is funny as well but not in the Dave Barry style. Where Dave Barry doe snot make any sense at all and purely makes you laugh, Bill Bryson is actually telling you facts and his opinions upon them, as he traverses the world.

    • Gerald Durell is another funny writer though I ahve not read too many of his stories. The pleasantly smiling variety of stories.

    • Bill Cosby is another writer that I have read quite a few books of and liked them enough to buy some more. Again, the pleasantly smiling variety for me.

    • Magnus Mills's Restraint of Beasts is a classic for me and he will always figure in my list of top funny writers and the book in all my lists concerning books.
    • Stephen Fry was good but never lived up to the hype about him. I got his Liar with a lot of expectations and felt rather disappointed after I read it.

    • Among Indian writers I read, Srividya Natarajan's Onions and Garlic is one of the best comic novels I have read from an Indian Writer in English.
    • RK Rarayan for sure - Swami and Friends (thanks anon for reminding me) and the other stories of Malgudi Days. I am currently reading RK Narayan's autobiography and its quite a relief to know that he went through the same grind with publishers and agents.

    • Jug Suraiya is another writer who I find very funny when he is taking on topics he feels strongly about. His book compilation of his columns had some really funny pieces.

    Will add more later.

    Johnny Gone Down - Karan Bajaj, Book Review

    I raced through Karan Bajaj's second book 'Johnny Gone Down' (Harper Collins, Price Rs. 99, p 308) - simply because there is no other way to read it - the hero is running so fast that you have to race to catch up with him. The book has a fine cover (congratulations Bhautik Siddhapura) which conveys clearly that this book will take the reader through a roller coaster ride of the masala movie variety. Only thing is that too many things keep happening to the protagonist in a manner that it gets difficult to identify with him. He can make a success out of everything and screw it up immediately so you don't know what happens to him anyway. It does not seem to bother him so it does not bother you either.Unlike say, Shantaram, who is of the same variety but somehow you don't want him to get into trouble, you feel his pain, his honesty somewhere.

    Nikhil Arya, the hero, has graduated from MIT and has gone to Cambodia with his pal Sameer where they descend straight into a genocide. Several heroics later, Nikhil finds himself minus an arm and an accomplice (which we are always reminded of, throughout the book, too many times in fact, editors to blame). Then Nikhil heads off to Thailand and becomes a one armed Buddhist monk who has some realisations about life, and then to Brazil to set up a monastery or a meditation centre. He meets a beautiful model on the airplane, Lara. Somehow women seem to want to talk to and bed Nikhil all the time, perhaps due to his famous silent technique which makes several readers envious of him (me for one). In fact, everything he does makes people admire him, and everything he does not, also makes people admire him (which again made me envious of him again). (What kind of a man would evoke loyalty like that, is the general feeling about his band of fiercely loyal friends and it is sentences like that without much to substantiate his greatness that again put me off)

    Anyways after a philosophical discussion on the plane, the model and the monk separate, and Nikhil promptly saves a local druglord from his enemies in a shootout, becomes his right hand (oops sorry, whatever hand) and grows his business several fold, makes a maze of illegal investments and another maze of legal investments and no one knows whether they are legal or illegal, screws several hot, olive skinned Brazilian women named Lucia, Maria etc and is much admired by all and sundry. Oh, and he is a crack shot with whatever gun he wields which every one finds amazing. In fact he is good at everything. Lovemaking, gun shooting, getting women, saving drug lords, making money, meditating, spouting philosophy etc etc etc. Obviously that makes me envious of him again. (If I were half the man you were, my life would be fulfilled - again too big a statement with too little to go by for me)

    In Brazil, Nikhil and Marco the druglord love each other like brothers do and make tons of money. One day Marco asks Nikhil if he was ever in love and Nikhil confesses to being besotted by Lara, the model. A meeting is set up, Lara falls in love, ends up making love, since Nick is irresistible to all women. Anyway true love leads to marriage and then kids. Normally it leads to disasters and now, before his son is yet to be born, Nikhil Arya is facing a supari that no one, not even the great Marco can stop. So Nikhil has to flee to a jail while his wife is in delivery, and then to America without seeing his wife and child.

    In America (to cut a long story short) Nikhil progresses from a homeless home where toothless people are giving blowjobs to get drugs (some interesting stuff about injecting drugs into eyeballs to get the kick faster), to inventing the greatest computer game of all. The owner of his company, Alfred or something, an MIT grad who is a loser once again, cannot help but admire Nikhil for being such a brilliant guy who has picked up stuff overnight and developed stuff in two days that no one else had done before. Nikhil builds a site which sounded to me like a site I had heard about called 'Second Life' but whatever. Anyway millions are to be made but Nikhil is tired of everything - Cambodia, Brazil, Meditation, Love, Sex, Money, Success, Failure and repeats it often enough. For some reason, I forget which (maybe the drug cartels of Brazil have found out the outsider and want to kill him), he has to evacuate America and get to India to participate in a Russian roulette game in Delhi which is where it all starts.

    Anyway, as usual Nikhil plays all his cards right, explains the nuances of how to choose the gun and shoot in a very condescending way, and the other guy is about to be blown off when Nikhil decides to save him, attend his daughter's marriage and as luck would have it, find his old friend from MIT whom he saved in Cambodia. Sameer, that's the guy, has his house full of Nikhil's pictures because he believes that if he can ever be half the man Nikhil has been, his life is fulfilled. His wife also feels the same (they have named their son also Nikhil and probably named all the people they know also as Nikhil) just as everybody on the planet seems to be saying that same thing. Which is when it became a little nauseating for me. If the book continued a little while longer Nikhil would have ended up with all the awards on the planet (what kind of a man would refuse the Nobel and instead give it away to a small kid who always wanted to own a Nobel). Thankfully, Nikhil only does a few things in this book. Maybe in the next.

    Okay, but who's Johnny? Johnny is another name that Nikhil takes up to get himself another life while in Delhi but soon after gives up and decides that he is fine as Nikhil. So when Nikhil rises, Johnny gone down pal. His wife and son join him in Delhi by which time you don't care whether it is Delhi or Timbuctu anyway.And if the Brazilian mafia can find him in America I am sure they can find him in India as well.

    It's fast and easy to read. Karan is obviously well travelled, can write and thinks up a nice story as well. I liked the general idea. I only wish that Nikhil Arya was a little less perfect at everything including screwing up things - and instead was a bit more likeable and identifiable. As a thriller it works, save for the fact that you don't root for your protagonist because there is really nothing to root for.

    But there are more books to come from Karan and his best is surely yet to come.

    Thursday, August 19, 2010

    Funniest Movies That I Have Seen

    This is a list of the funniest movies that I have seen in my life:

    • Mr. Boo, for no other reason other than the fact that it made me fall off the chair.
    • Angoor, an all time favourite with me and one that I can watch any number of times
    • Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron is a classic, Naseer, Ravi Baswani and Satish Shah..everyone was brilliant
    • Chupke Chupke, another all time favourite that I can watch any number of times
    • Ashta Chamma, Ram's Telugu flick written and directed by Mohana Krishna brilliantly and supported by wonderful acting, music. It still comes across with fresh jokes though I have seen it 7 times 
    • Space Balls, by Mel Brooks is a hilarious spoof on sci-fi flicks like Star Wars etc
    • History of the World, by Mel Brooks  is refreshingly funny
    • Silent Movie by Mel Brooks is another classic
    • Amar Akbar Anthony was funny especially in the parts that Amitabh was in 
    • Bheja Fry was funny and I remember walking off with a smile on my face
    • Padosan is an all time great
    • Khosla ka Ghosla was good fun, Boman Irani was brilliant
    • Gol Maal with Amol Palekar and Utpal Dutt was superb 
    • Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, with Michael Caine and Steve Martin
    • The Gods Must be Crazy, was one hell of a funny movie 
    • A Fish Called Wanda, with Kevin Kline, sublime 
    • Andaz Apna Apna, with Aamir Khan and Salman Khan, Karisma and Raveena was hilarious and an all time favorite
    • It's a mad, mad world was another funny movie from the old days
    • Duplicate with Shahrukh was kind of funny too
    • Maya Bazaar of the SV Ranga Rao fame
    • Hera Pheri with Akshay, Sunil Shetty and Paresh Rawal
    • Chasme Buddoor with Farooq Sheikh, Ravi Baswani and Rakesh Bedi
    • Father of the Bride with Steve Martin
    • The Party with Peter Sellers
    • Kabhi Haan Kabhi Na had its moments

    Wednesday, August 18, 2010

    Characters From Books That I Would Like to Meet

    Some great characters I met in books. I can imagine how it would be like if all these characters met under one roof: Wow!

    • Fatty of the Enid Blyton days, Ern and his pomes, Uncle Goon, the cop on his bicycle  - Really funny
    • Dick of the Famous Five - He appeared kind of sensible.
    • Darrel, Alicia, Irene from Mallory  Towers - The first peep into the minds of girls, into a girls school
    • Lord Emsworth, Galahad and the Empress of Blandings from Wodehouse -  Unbelievably funny
    • Ukridge is by far the greatest character I have met, another one of Wodehouse's superb creations
    • Wooster and Jeeves - An incredibly funny combination
    • Tam and Richie of Magnus Mill's incredible work 'The Restraint of the Beasts' - Unforgettable
    • Hercule Poirot undoubtedly - One of the best characters of all time
    • Perry Mason and Della street - True blue American action
    • Don Corleone, Sonny Corleone, Luca Brasi in the Godfather - Evoke violence, power
    • Joe Hardy of the Hardy boys - No particular reason
    • Holden Caulfield in The Catcher in the Rye - Honest
    • Robert Kincaid and Francesca Johnson of the Bridges of Madison County - Great yearning, love
    • Karna, Bheeshma, Arjuna, Duryodhana, Abhimanyu from the Mahabharatha - Heroes, Friends
    • Hanuman, Vali, Lakshmana  from the Ramayana - Heroes all
    • Sherlock Holmes and Watson - Inseparable and great fun
    • Tom Brown from Tom Brown's School days - One of the first people I met
    • Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn - Fabulous duo
    • Achilles, Hector from the Iliad - Warriors
    • Byomkesh Bakshi from Sharadindhu Bandopadhyay - Super sleuth from India
    • Adrian Mole of Sue Townsend - Incredibly funny especially his novel 'Lo, the Flatlands...'
    • Wilt of Tom Sharpe - Completely demented
    • Jennifer Cavilleri of Love Story - First girl I met with such razor sharp wit
    •  Margaret Shanti from the Ladies Coupe by Anita Nair - Ingenious
    • Yossarian, Orr, Doc Daneeka from Catch 22 - Mad bunch
    • Gatsby from the Great Gatsby - I don't know why, but I like him
    I shall stop this list for now.

    Prasad Nimmakayala - Epitomising Resourcefulness

    Prasad on location at Don Bosco at 630 am
    Since I have written about Mohana Krishna Indraganti and Senthil elsewhere in this blog I will now move on to the other people I meet on the sets. Chief among them of course is the Executive Producer, Prasad Nimmakayala, a person who epitomizes resourcefulness in every way. Whatever the situation, this is one guy you want on your side. Give him any scrap and he will pour oil over it, or, will wrest the initiative for you if he sees a chink. There is a way he approaches people that they immediately listen to him. He moves into their space slowly, eases himself in, understands them and the situation, and adds value instantly. It is a task that requires great awareness, people-orientation and the ability to think a few steps ahead. No wonder then that Ram chose Prasad to be his associate right from the first movie they made together 'Ashta Chamma' where Prasad was the Executive Director. And no wonder that the movie was a huge hit.

    I have known Prasad for many years now, as he used to come home to meet Ram during their Suresh Productions days, and later on to do some design work for Sheila. He is a man with many dimensions - a creative director, designer, people manager, event manager, marketing manager and to cap it all, has considerable work experience in the ad and movie fields.

    When I went to Delhi to launch my second novel 'If You Love Someone...' this year, he accompanied me. In a short discussion, he got the general idea of how the publishing industry works and soon after meeting my publisher the phlegmatic Basant Pandey, he had him eating out of his hand. How they must market the books, the difference between the Indialog books and the other publishers books, design, marketing strategy etc. Basant was actually asking him for advise by the end of the day. Or, the way he quickly handled the media people before the event started by using some quick thinking. He hired one of those professional photographers who loiter with their cameras to hand around the place for a few minutes, thereby causing a bit of a hustle and bustle which the media guys picked up. This was completely on the fly but worked very well since we got a decent crowd in before the Chief Guest arrived. Of course, Prasad handled all the arrangements for my first book launch, incidentally that of 'The Men Within', from dealing with the bookstore, the media, the backdrop design and pretty much everything and made it a huge success.

    On the set Prasad is totally clued in to all that is happening. He is there at 630 a.m., keeping a hawk eye on he happenings so that nothing is delayed. Nothing should stop the shooting he says, and it is only after the first shot is taken, that he checks his watch, nods appreciatively, and then settles down into the background. Whether it is the local goons wanting some money, the APTDC wanting to stop the shooting because of some misunderstanding with the Archeology Dept, or any other situation that crops up - with Prasad around, we can be pretty sure that oil will be poured over the waters pretty soon. When the junior artistes get out of line he yells at them, looks out for any trouble brewing, looks out for elderly people like Baig saab who are lost in the melee sometime, keeps all parties in the loop all the time and when he has the time, adds to the creative side with some valuable opinions as well. Prasad gets really agitated when he feels that things are not going as per plan, even if it is because of rain or something external like that. He takes full ownership for his role which is why he is an asset for any team.

    For keeping his wits around him, his die-hard professional ethic, his pleasant nature, his witticisms on every situation, his constant value addition to whatever he is doing, be it designing, playing cricket, managing the set, planning etc, Prasad is great to have around. I must recall a small incident where Prasad's presence of mind made a difference. We were playing a match, Just Yellow and Suresh productions. SP got off to a great start ad piled some 170 runs in 20 overs. We started rather disastrously losing 4 wickets with hardly anything on the board. I looked at the bowling, settled in, and then started attacking at the opportune moment. We had made it to about 130 by the 16th over and were well in striking distance of the target when Prasad, who played for SP that match, noticed that I was stepping out to almost every ball. Also that I was tiring perhaps. He came up to the stumps and, noticing that I was favouring the midwicket area, asked the bowler to bowl wide of the off stump. I missed and was stumped for some 90 runs and that ended our chase.

    If there is one thing anyone can learn from Prasad, apart from all these other wonderful qualities, it is how to maximise one's potential and make a difference by constantly adding value to oneself, by being aware and  by being a thorough professional.Good luck then Prasad and hoping that we are on the same successful team for many years to come!

    Tuesday, August 17, 2010

    Suraj Randiv's No Ball

    There is much talk gong on about the Suraj Randiv no ball that prevented Sehwag from reaching his century. Should he have bowled a normal ball and allowed Sehwag to get his well deserved hundred? Or hsould he have denied his opponent the pleasure of getting a hundred by bowling a no ball?

    Another match, another time.

    Pragyan Ojha and Ishant Sharma defy Muralitharan who is one wicket shy of getting a stupendous 800 wickets before his retirement - one that he had already announced. Should they have got out to ensure that Murali gets his 800th scalp? Or should they battle out a hopeless situation? Interesting posers that lead to much debate.

    To me its simple. The first principle of a competitor is to fight till the last ball. By looking to fight till the end, the sportsman may just open a glimmer of a chance that could lead to a miracle. And that is the only duty of the sportsman - to give his best even at the last ball.

    In Suraj Randiv's case, he not only flouted the first principle through his misguided action, but he actually, deliberately, ensured that India won by bowling that no ball i.e. he did his team a disservice by bowling that ball. In the end analysis, a miracle where Sri Lanka could have drawn the match with India if 6 wickets fell at the same score, was denied by their own bowler. So we have a case of a bowler who won the game for India deliberately. In my opinion, this is against the first principle of trying till the last ball and instead, focusing on depriving an opponent's personal milestone. Suraj Randiv needs to be reprieved under the laws of cricket for bringing disrepute to the game.

    On the other hand, I support the two youngsters, Ishant and Pragyan Ojha, for sticking out against not just Murali, but also the temptation to be his 800th wicket and thereby enter the record books in a rather dubious way. Temptation also since its a great milestone and Murali is a nice guy and another soft hearted batsman might just have played loosely at a delivery to cap a deserving career of a great cricketer. Keeping the first principles of the game in mind, I'd give full points for the lads for playing in the right spirit of the game and ensuring that Murali goes to bed a proud man, having 'earned' his wicket.

    There rests my case.

    Monday, August 16, 2010

    Lessons in Forgetting - Anita Nair - Book Review

    I am a big fan of Anita Nair's writing. I think she writes very well and can draw you into the story by the sheer artistry and richness of her writing. So I am always looking out for her new books and was happy to lay my hands on her latest 'Lessons In Forgetting'. I got a hard bound version, something I buy rarely.

    'Lessons in Forgetting' (published by Harper Collins, priced at Rs. 399, 329 pages) begins with Meera, a cookbook writer, seemingly living the life of her dreams, in a fine party with the page 3 types. A successful corporate honcho for a husband, daughter in the IIT, an adorable son, a lovely old house in Bangalore, in which she and her family live with her mother and her grandmother. However, as the party progresses and she has a couple of glasses of wine and flirts that wee bit, she finds that her husband is missing and she has to hitch a ride back home with a complete stranger. Soon she finds out that he husband has left her for good, feeling stifled (she cannot understand why), more likely driven by his inability to make the women sell that house and give it for development. Meera suddenly finds herself shaken out of her dream life and wakes up to the fact that there is no source of money to run the household. Looking for a job, she lands one as a research assistant to a Professor of Cyclones from the University of Florida, Jak or Kichu, who is here on his own mission.

    Jak's story is vastly more interesting. A divorce from his wife in America, a rebellious teenaged girl who comes to India, and something dreadful that happens to her which a guilty Jak sets out to find out more about. Though Meera herself is an interesting character and one you can easily identify, especially in that single woman's role, where men hit on her and she wonders if she should allow them to, I was really drawn into the Professor's story with his daughter. In fact I would not have minded if the story began and ended with them.

    Anita Nair once again leaves me gaping at the richness of her writing, the use of the most appropriate words, the ease with which she shifts from one mood to another, the ease with which she describes sex (no writer in India comes even close to her there), the depth of her understanding of her characters and what drives them. For example, Nikhil, her son, is the one who discovers all the sordid events in her life and absorbs some of the shock for her. And each act of guilt is followed almost immediately by an act of severe punishment in all cases - Meera, Kichu, Nina, Smriti, even Chinnathayi. When you are done with the book, you certainly feel like you know them all well, you want to meet them and share their joys and sorrows with them.

    I am glad that it ended with hope. However, as I always say, Anita Nair's best book is yet to come.

    Eat, Pray Love - Elizabeth Gilbert

    I had heard much about this book and was naturally wary of it. Liz Gilbert's book however, is certainly worth a read as she honestly tells all, from the low point of her lows after a break up, her clinging to her faith and moving on despite all the pain, fear and doubt and finally resurfacing in a brighter, happier world. I took a long time to complete the story because it is not an easy, flippant read and also because at times it is rather slow as Elizabeth delves into her thoughts and picks the ones that made her act in a certain way. She is funny, self-deprecating, brutally honest and has obviously seen and traveled a bit in her life - which translates into an enormous amount of knowledge, research and experience that is very evident in her writing.

    I flitted through the Italy parts - less with the Italy and more with her and her eating, enjoyed and suffered her stay in the ashram at India and was rooting for her when she finally resurfaces in Indonesia. The last part was the best for me in terms of identifying with her while in the other parts you feel like telling her exactly what the guy from Texas tells her. "Groceries, pick yourself up and now!"
    I loved one bit from the book though when she says that her guru tells her that even happiness does not come by chance and it must be worked upon and acquired carefully, bit by bit. I liked that perspective and it really made sense to me.
    I am sure to watch the movie just to see how it all plays out on the screen, to see the characters actually take shape and come to life.

    An mostly I am glad for Elizabeth Gilbert for having the courage to write this book. I think, like Julia Roberts says, it is the perfect gift for all women.