Sunday, November 29, 2009

One Year Later

The Nov 26 anniversary carried all the accouterments of the "usual" sort of tragedy that happens in India. Some people held candle-lit vigils, some people released press statements and the news channels carried interviews, doubtless with such security experts as Simi Garewal and Shobha De or prominent Mumbai-residents such as Salman Rushdie or Suketu Mehta. The importance, or lack thereof is highlighted by the absence of the PM himself, who was out on diplomatic missions.

Did we really learn enough from Nov 26 to prevent a second attack? I don't think so, considering pieces like this one by Vir Sanghvi. We are as vulnerable and likely to lose our collective shit as we were last year. But here's the thing. Is there a choice?

Consider India without the specter of Islamic terrorism. Are things quiet and peaceful? Hell, are people safe? Not in the centre and east, with the threat of Maoist insurgency. Not in the North East, with that of regional insurgency. Not in Bombay, with the threat of Raj Thackeray carrying on his Hitler-loving uncle's work. Not in Bengal, with either Mamata or Buddha sending goons to enforce party diktat. Not in Gujarat, where being Muslim can get you killed. Not in UP, where not salaaming Maya Memsahib can get you killed. Not in Chennai, where the same would apply for the Kalaignar. And forget these regional threats (if you could). There is nowhere in India where you can rely on the protection of the law if your words, expressions or actions (otherwise legal) anger someone in power. The fear of reprisals is something people have to face every single day (and I'm just talking city folk). When you're used to living with fear like that, what's the threat of someone storming your city with guns and grenades? A bolt of lightning, which you simply hope will not strike the same spot twice.

This is the big difference again between India and the US. It isn't the thought of their army that makes Americans feel safe. It's the knowledge that their police, their courts and their lawmakers are with them ever single day that makes them feel safe, which is why America lost its collective shit on 9/11. Someone slipped through all those barriers and carried out such an act of terror. Every other in India is a 9/11 or a Nov 26 in miniature, considering the reasons people get killed. So it is shameful, but we have no real instant response that can be given to events like the night of Nov 26. All we can do is change, individual by individual, bit by bit, till we are strong enough to feel fear and demand not to have to live with it everyday.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Review: London Dreams

The Cast:
  1. Ajay Devgan as Arjun. A struggling “young” musician, Arjun is a London School of Music (??) graduate who forms a band and stocks it with the first two people he meets, a dancer he’s simply got the hots for and his childhood friend from Bhatinda. He’s then surprised when these decisions bite him on his clenched-throughout-the-movie ass.
  2. Salman Khan as Mannu: The love child of every over-exuberant Surd stereotype you came across, Sallu Bhai plays his man-child character with shades of Raja Babu and Coolie No.1 to boot. This is quite apt when you notice his puffed cheeks and sagging chin, causing him to resemble his Dhawan-partner of yore. He’s Arjun’s childhood friend. He joins the bend fresh off the flight from Bhatinda, walks through the movie wearing a kurta-sweater ensemble, and steals the lime light from Arjun till the latter “hooks him on drugs”, making you wonder what the hell he was on before joining the band.
  3. Asin(gam) Thottamkal as Priya: Like every Tamil girl who’s grown up in London, Priya’s been raised in a “caaunsuruwaytiew Iyer family” as a result of which she’s an amazing Bharatnatyam dancer, has a bald father who wears vaeshttis all the time, and secretly pines to grind away on something to tune of “Smack That”, “Promiscuous Girl” or something. Upon entering movie/band, her job is to recite dialogues with varying Tamil accents (She’s just-Mylapore-returned one scene, accent-less 5 minutes later and puts on some Palakkad at one point), sway her hips sinuously every five minutes, fall in love with Sallu Bhai (shudder) and get her heart broken through the most insidious scheme ever.
  4. Two Arbit guys as players for the band: That’s all you need to know
  5. Every gora in London: Hit hard by the recession, spare cash was doubtless why this mélange of extras dance spontaneously – if surprisingly well organized, almost… choreographed – to every song that plays in this movie. They also play the news people, who amazingly speak Bob Christo-accented Hindi, the band manager who threatens to walk out of the audition just to test their desperation, some women who come onto Devgan himself after his first performance at a Trafalgar Square corner (YUCK!!) and Sallu later on (DOUBLE YUCK!!) and the huge crowds gyrating at Wembley Stadium, and Paris, Florence and Amsterdam (which curiously all look the same, as though the director took one long shot and simply slapped on titles to tell you the city)
  6. Om Puri as the sort of chacha who, upon seeing a long-lost nephew who ran way 10 years ago, comes up, smiles and pats him on the arm. He then dispenses sage advice through the film.
The plot:

Arjun’s family has a special hatred of music, as much as he loves it. Apparently his granddad was hit with stage fright when performing at Wembley, and committed suicide afterwards. He prays for some way to be able to continue learning, and gets his chance when his dad drops dead of a heart attack. Flying to London (his uncle runs a kabab stand there), he runs away from his uncle right off customs, and somehow dodging every security officer in Heathrow, finds himself in the heart of London, which we all know is right next to the airport. He then plays the flute in street corners and makes enough to enroll himself at the London School of Music, which evidently does not look for any ID amidst its pupils. He then promises God he will never lose focus till he has avenged his granddad at Wembley in exchange for success. Growing up to resemble Ajay Devgan with his hair slicked back, the guy plays one fine afternoon at Trafalgar Square, drawing spontaneous dances that look oddly choreographed, the arbit guys to play in his band and the lecherous looks of a gori raand (apologies to any women reading) who, like all women there says “Your place or mine?” first.

When they have another audition, Arjun also ropes in Tamil stereotype mentioned above. There’s a cut to her life, with her Tamil Dad walking about with lit Tamil flames on a Tamil plate as she Tamil dances and he waves the Tamil smoke towards her Tamil saris and speaks 5 Tamil words. They all do amazingly well and hang out to some song. The girl hugs Arjun at one point, upon which he gets the sort of rapturous look an Engineering student would get if Asin hugged him. He louwes her. But, seeing as he’s promised God (No distractions) he has to relieve himself by – no joke – whipping himself with his belt. One wonders if V.A. Shah is making some sort of oblique point about maaring (click link if you don’t get it). If so, he seriously beats about the bush.

Anyway, enter Mannu, fresh off the flight from Bhatinda. He’s specially gifted at making an ass of himself. Joining the band as he’s Arjun’s friend, he proceeds to steal the spotlight from him, AND come on successfully to Asin, whom he fondly calls “Chennai Express”. All this causes Arjun to clench his face tighter and tighter till you want to point out to him:
  • Mannu’s about as talented as Rakhi Sawant, in that his singing’s nothing special. He’s just a thick-skinned media-friendly moron
  • There are very good Isabgols available on the market, some Ayurvedic even
When his prayers have no effect, Arjun then plots to ruin Mannu by hooking him on “marijuana, coke and methane” and positions Priya at the correct angle so that a fan touching Mannu’s feet looks like she’s about to (gasp) perform fellatio (un-gasp) on him. All this before a grand performance at Wembley where despite Arjun doing his darndest, the audience screams for Mannu. Seeing as about two hours have passed, you’d think Vipul Shah would end the film here, with a sort of Twilight Zone twist. But no, he has Arjun describe to the audience all he has done to perform (the hook and the crook, just in case there are cops in the audience) and walks off stage. An Om Puri lecture later, he repents and goes back to Bhatinda where Mannu is. They all come back to Wembley and perform. It being midnight, we all walk out of the theater and I curse heartily the absent boyfriend of a friend of mine who recommended this movie.

Verdict: What do you think?

Oh, and if the plot seems familiar to you, it’s because you either saw Milos Forman’s 1984 classic “Amadeus” or Suneel Darshan’s 2007 desecration of the same named Shakalaka Boom Boom (!!!) featuring Bobby Deol, Upen Patel and more Himesh music than you’d care to hear. Amadeus was about devout Vienna court composer (Salieri) who realizes upon the arrival of Mozart that his skills are nothing compared to Mozart’s, who is blessed with infinitely more talent despite his boorish behavior. Distraught at God seeming to favor the irreligious and libertine Mozart, Salieri vows to destroy him. The voice over narrating, the anguished close ups, the plotting and backstabbing and even a sort of God confrontation – in the original, Salieri burns a crucifix, here Devgan stares menacingly at a church altar (you’d think he’d be Hindu) – are all ripped off Forman’s movie. Even Sallu’s behavior is ever so slightly reminiscent of Tom Hulce’s Mozart in that film. Poor Forman, Schaffer, Hulce and Abraham.