Sunday, May 24, 2015

Piku - A Fun and an Emotional Journey


"First Look Poster" by Source. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:First_Look_Poster.jpg#/media/File:First_Look_Poster.jpg
Piku. I've been wanting to watch this film ever since it was announced and ever since I saw the first rushes on TV.

Then, suddenly I didn't want to watch it. The subject suddenly became too close to my life. Last week, I lost someone I've known for 20 years. Someone I've loved and respected dearly. Even from the rushes, I could guess the character played by Amitabh Bachchan was a lot like that person. Yet, I went.

Precisely 30 seconds into the movie, I found myself sobbing uncontrollably. With respect to my family and the stranger sitting next to me, I tried to collect myself. Again, in five minutes I was at it again. What I saw on the big screen was not just a resemblance but every movement of Amitabh Bachchan was 'Uncle' himself, my BFF's Baba-the language, the accent, the attitude, the thick glasses, health issues, every quirk, even the father-daughter relationship-every one bit was him. I wanted to leave the cinema hall. I then decided to brave it. Maybe I wanted catch another last glimpse of Uncle.

I guess this post is more about my experience while watching the film than a 'review'. So I am not going into a synopsis.

The story which is well known by now has been written by Juhi Chaturvedi. Hats off to her, I must say. How beautifully she has captured every fine nuance of all the characters-be it the house-help, the ever-available doctor, the charming aunt, the complaining aunt, the calm uncle, even the hapless taxi drivers that Piku manages to drive up the wall.
 
Each of the three principal characters, Piku (Deepika Padukone), Bhashkor Banerjee (Amitabh Bachchan) and Rana Chaudhary (Irrfan), is so real and not the demi-gods that we constantly get fed with. Juhi Chaturvedi treads uncharted waters to to make Piku's character every inch relatable. She is outspoken, is an independent architect, despite being extremely caring towards her father, she does lose her cool often. It is bound to happen in real life, doesn't it? An uncomplaining Florence Nightingale would have distanced herself from the audience completely. What's more, she doesn't flinch when she talks about her relationships, which she terms as "need based". I felt like standing up and clapping for the bravado.

Rana. Your heart goes out for this man who is a blend of practicality and sensitivity. He comes with his own set of problems that he's still dealing with. And at the end of the film, though not stated, I will not be surprised if he is shown  still dealing with his painful mother-sister combo. You know, some people's problems don't ever get sorted. They just work their life around their problems. Rana just drives coolly into Piku's life and we'd like to assume that he stays there for good. Nice to have someone like him around you to keep you grounded. Yes, that's the effect this 'non-Bengali Chaudhary' has on you. He is probably the first ever man on the big-screen to have told a woman that she should drive because "driving is liberating". Another applause-deserving moment, that.  

Bhashkor Banerjee is most of the time testing your patience but if you can manage  to sit and have a conversation with him, he can hand over some amazing nuggets of wisdom. Loved his views on marriage. especially his view that marriage is a 'low-IQ' business! Sometime during the 1500 km journey, does he secretly wish that Rana and Piku pair up? His twinkling eyes throw us a hint.

That's the beauty of the direction and the screenplay. Nothing is explicit, except of course the gastro/digestion issues. This is the kind of film that respects the intellect of the audience. These filmmakers seem to tell themselves, "The audience don't need to be explained everything.  Let them figure out some stuff on their own, the way they want to."

Coming to the cast: Deepika Padukone. She's completely out there! She just slips into Piku's character with total ease. I am so proud of her as an actor. She has gone ahead and captured her place quietly in the league of one of the most talented actors of today. The best part is that she makes no fuss about being part of art house cinema. She just does her job and how! Be it a brainless Chennai Express or a Piku, she gives her all. How wonderful it must be for filmmakers to work with someone like her. Her very smart yet, normal wardrobe in Piku deserves special mention.

Irrfan. Well, I've always been biased towards him. What can I say more than that he is just too good. His eyes convey so much. There's a particular scene where Piku casually mentions that her father won't let her get married. All that he does is in reaction is, turn towards her and raise his left eyebrow. How much he conveys through that one tiny gesture!

Amitabh Bachchan is an actor who cannot even be praised without sounding irreverent. There hasn't been an actor like him in Indian cinema - ever. Despite his 'star status' he is so willing to play any role. This speaks so much for his self-assurance. The lesser said of him, the better it is. Phew!

I do wish they make such films in Tamil. But greater than that, is a wish to see Rajinikant do such roles. I can bet my last rupee on the fact that he will do a great job.

Apart from music, the other technical aspect that I loved was the photography (Kamaljit Negi). I particularly loved the dining-table scenes. I can't remember any Indian film that has captured food so beautifully ever (I haven't watched Lunch Box and I hang my head in shame). Being a fan of Bengali food, the close-up shots of Bengali Yellow Pulao, Begun Bhaja were enough to floor me, so did the shot of the Jalebis. And then the streets Kolkata. No effort has been taken to glorify them. Yet, giving you a feeling of familiarity, breaking free of cliches (I've never been to Kolkata).

The film is backed by some wonderful songs, thankfully all as just background scores. Excellent score, lyrics and singing by Anupam Roy.

Like how a well prepared dish leaves you with a great after-taste, even two days after the watching the film, I remember everything vividly.The intense dining table conversations (whatever be the topic), the discussions (or battle?) over the menu, Piku's touching the picture of Ramakrishna Paramahans just before leaving home...and so much more to gather the essence of the culture easily. So many warm-funny moments. The director makes you laugh without slapstick. Makes you feel without melodrama. Somehow the style of film-making reminds me of certain Italian and French films. Films that make you feel like a visitor in a home full of fun, yet quirky people, who make you feel warm and welcome. These are people who can laugh at life and laugh with life itself.

For those who can digest (pun intended) the recurring topic of the film, please do go ahead and watch it.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

What's with these 'Open Letters'?



A lot of things have happened in this country in the past one week.
Many of them unfair in from the point of view of the public. While a handful of people are happy, most of us are not.

However, I think if I have a problem, it should be with the system  and not with the people involved.

The questions is, do I dare?

A majority of us might have a gut feeling about a person being right or wrong. But the system decides to let that person go.
So, who does the fault lie with? The system or the persons involved?

I am quite disturbed at the lashing personal attacks on people who have recently been tried and let off.
That's the way the system works. Too bad.

I firmly believe that we should simply refrain from making personal attacks on people, however wrong we think they are. Because it is mean, hurtful and...there's no point.

I definitely don't mean to promote stoicism or fatalism. I only wish people refrain from making totally irrelevant personal attacks.

If you really want to make a change, I would suggest, introspect. Boycott the celebrity. Boycott the industry. Boycott elections. Dare the system. File a PIL if you will. There are provisions.

I am very sure the same system has provided ways to vent your frustration, legally and not through irrational messages/open letters/internet posts.

Think about it.

Friday, March 06, 2015

I feel. Therefore I am.

I am an emotional person. I am a sentimental person. Remove these qualities from me and I cease to be ME anymore.

I don't care for people who judge me based on these qualities. I don't care for people who click their tongues in sympathy, muttering to themselves "oh, she lives only in the past." "oh, she hasn't moved on" and such.

Everybody has a core personality. Why would anyone want to change that? I will never want to change anyone. So why would anyone ask me to change? This is how I am, feelings, sentiments and all. Take it or leave it. And please I don't want sympathy. I just need some solid understanding. Please remember, I might be sentimental but I am not a sad person. I might be self-absorbed but I am not a loner. No one likes to be sad. No one likes to be lonely.

If I am left to be myself, those who've labelled me 'Queen of Melancholy' will realise just how funny I can actually get. All I want is to be left to my own devices...to live life my way. If you try hard enough, you might perhaps be able to change me even. But you will be left with factory produced 100% nylon fibre. I don't have to tell you the qualities of nylon.

Thank You.

Sunday, February 01, 2015

Carpe Diem. Really.

Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Carpe diem (Sieze the day) is a concept that dates back to 23 BC and YOLO - You only live once. A concept that is fast catching up today.
People take up piano lessons. People go scuba diving or do bungee jumping. There are people who start travelling across the world. There are people who walk out of 'seemingly' perfect marriages.

Basically, people start living their dreams. They go and out do everything that they've been wanting to do all their lives because YOU ONLY LIVE ONCE.

Well, it has been a much debated philosophy. While some people accept it and appreciate people who follow it, there are some that don't. Salsa and Spanish lessons or a one-off trip to Tibet often gets a tap on the back. But travelling all alone leaving behind a family, walking out of marriages back into singledom is frowned upon and even openly criticised. Such people are tagged as 'selfish'. Two recent articles that I read, come to my mind:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/11/04/divorce-in-your-40s-_n_6058130.html?ir=India
This article is about a woman who left home because marriage made no sense to her anymore. She wanted breathing space. She went ahead and did all the things she always wanted to do. She claims she is at peace with herself now.

http://www.afar.com/magazine/the-wanderer-the-story-of-an-american-who-left-home-and-never-came-back
This article is about a man who just wants to wander. He wanted to leave America but his wife didn't want to. So he left his wife and daughter and went away...to wander.

We have also heard of people giving up their cushy executive jobs to take up organic farming.

Back home many of us have heard atleast one story of a distant uncle who just left upped and left one fine morning to take up sanyas.

The society is quick to label these people selfish, irresponsible, foolish or just escapists. They say they have left their families to suffer, particularly the children. My question is weren't we all born individuals? Didn't marriage, kids and  top-jobs happen much later?

This is still a question I am thinking of and so I am not judging anyone or taking sides. (More than writing with an idea, I more often write to get ideas. :))

Right from childhood, a person is always told what to do. Right from when to eat, when to study, when to play, what to wear, right up to when to marry and when to have kids. Not just that, our decisions about most of these things are also influenced directly or indirectly by the people around us. We are raised with this fear of "take up the first and the best that comes your way." "Don't give up the present for an unknown future." So, all the time, people just jump into things - be it academics, marriage or career choices. Many of them somehow slip into their roles and settle in. But then there are a few who are never able to settle down in the paths chosen by them. So, what then?

While at this self-questioning juncture, they have nowhere to go because all they get as advice (solicited or unsolicited) is a shrug of the shoulders and an accusatory "You chose this path. You'd better stick to it." Or a philosophical "Its all destiny. Just go with the flow." That is where a person feels completely alone, with a numb-buzz around him.

While there is constant doubt about their own judgements, people also fear being judged. What will people say? Is it the right thing to do? I ask, who defines what is right and what is wrong? Each person has his own truth. What makes one happy might not make the other happy. For some, having two children might give the ultimate happiness even if it doesn't leave them any time to pursue their own interests. For some, owning a home might give the maximum joy, though they are trapped in the loan cycle for life. And for someone else, its not their definition of happiness.

Yes, it is a well-paying top executive job but what if a person is not happy doing it? What if his/her calling lies elsewhere? Yes, there are 15 years of marriage and 2 children behind them, abandoning isn't the intention but what if the person wants to travel, to explore the world and in the process do some self discovery? If living in a 'trapped' existence makes a person restless, what's the point in living as a family? Are you being fair to the family that way? Being there and yet not there is unfair in my opinion. I don't mean to stereotype but a man isn't an earning machine. Similarly a woman isn't a sacrificing angel. Beneath each person's adapted role, there is an individual still there, perhaps suppressed beyond the point of recognition, leaving both the body and the soul dull and grey.

I have heard and seen people throwing short time suggestions like, "You don't have to leave home to learn Jiu Jitsu. You just need to balance out your day." A woman who leaves her kids for a couple of hours every evening to go for classes is labelled irresponsible. A man who does the same is labelled selfish. What is a person to do? You are paid more than a  lakh of rupees each month but you don't even have the time to stand and admire the sunrise. So, we have already stressed men and women stressing themselves further with packing every minute of the day with some activity or the other. This leads to a conflict between the subtle body and the physical body.

We are all human. Many of us make certain decisions due to some or the other kind of pressure (directly or indirectly). After taking the decision, what if we realise we actually need something else? I definitely don't think that is immaturity or frivolousness Does one have to essentially be in  a bad-job scenario or an abusive relationship to want to break free? What about wanting growth?

There are possibly two things I can think of at this point. Put the decision off till a 'safe' time, perhaps when the children are settled or till you have saved up a decent amount of money for them? I don't know. Sometimes putting off decisions, give you time to come to grips to what your true calling is. Make a plan maybe, for 5 years, 10 years?

More than anything I wish for at least our next generation to grow up with a free mind. I wish them to have enough time and mental space to think for themselves and understand themselves better. Nobody should be pressurised, even emotionally threatened, to do anything. Many European countries have a practice wherein children, after high school, are allowed time to travel, to work and then decide what their true calling is. I wish for a time when 14-year olds are not forced to 'plan' and prepare for what  they should be doing when they are 30. I wish for a generation that is raised to have a calm conviction about their own dreams and desires, to have the self-confidence to stand up to their own decisions. I definitely don't hint at anything violent or hurtful or abusive. In fact, respecting every person for an individual that he/she is, I am sure, will clear a lot of confusion in our society. Thereby, bringing a lot of the much-needed peace and calmness to this world.

Edit/Footnote: As for me I would definitely like to stand up to my own dreams sometime in my life without worrying about responsibilities. And without having to answer anybody but MY conscience.

Friday, January 30, 2015

All ye Veerappans

Why on earth do some men use Sandalwood based perfumes?

Come on please.

There is a guy who smells of incense sticks and another who smells of Vicco Turmeric. And every time he passes by I hear the song "Vicco Turmeric nahin cosmetic..."

I am sure men wouldn't want to remind women of their Pooja Rooms or their Gokul sandal talc-using mothers or even the forest brigand Veerappan.

Try musk, there's amber, Try grass, or the ones with aquatic notes, why, even citrus (though that's a risky one in my opinion). If you want to go woody, try patchouli with a woody moss combination.

But save the forests and stop the sandalwood perfumes.


Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Bhima - Lone Warrior

Pic courtesy: Goodreads.com
Ever since I read a review of this book in The Hindu Literary Supplement, I have been wanting to read it.

Thanks to a friend, I finally got a chance to read this book originally written by the great Malayalam author, Shri M T Vasudevan Nair,with the title Randa Moozham. This is the story of the Mahabharata as told by Bhimasena, the second Pandava brother, fondly called Bhima.

The character of Bhima has always intrigued me, especially after reading a similar book by Chitra Banerjee Diwakarunni, Palace of Illusions. Was he just all brawn? Did he ever feel pain? What was the real person like?

These are the questions that Lone Warrior answers for you. It introduces you to the person that Bhima might have been. It traces the story right from Bhima's childhood to the end of his life. Just like how a warrior's perspective should be, Bhima mostly talks about his valour, the duels and the battles with various people and armies. The description of the Kurukshetra war is told in complete detail, keeping the logic completely intact. We, as readers of the Mahabharata know the story from many perspectives but Shri M T does not talk of things Bhima would not have possibly known.

The most endearing part is when Bhima talks about his feelings and emotions. The hurt he feels at being insulted by the Kauravas as a child, his love for food, his first love, Hidimbi, his feelings towards Draupadi and his lament for his dead sons, especially Ghatotkacha who, for being a tribal woman's son, does not only get his due credit but does not even get a decent funeral. One really feels sorry for Bhima when everyone keeps calling him 'blockhead' right into his adulthood. We, as readers know, he isn't. That fraction of a second when Bhima almost dreams of becoming King after the war is conveyed so beautifully.

For me the most striking part is his relationship with his brother, Yudhishtir, who is generally looked upon as a symbol of righteousness and high morals. Though he is always respectful towards his brother, Bhima is often miffed when Yudhishtir's virtuousness becomes more important than fairness. This makes Bhima think some very sarcastic, often irreverently funny things about Yudhishtir.

Interestingly, his equation with Krishna is also not great,  though there is immense outward respect. He adores Draupadi, though she seems to use him. Even Bhima doesn't know this but the writer secretly conveys it to the reader through his wonderful craft.

We've all grown up listening to the glorification of the Mahabharatha heroes, giving them an almost godly status. But Shri MT turns it all around and portrays everyone as normal human beings but much more strong - emotionally and physically than the average queen and king. The vastraharan scene is explained in detail but the most popular incident of the endless yards of saree is not even hinted at. Similarly the mayasabha event is not made a big deal out of. Even Bhishma's bed of arrows is not mentioned. Many such surprises. This kind of interpretation makes the story-telling so much more stunning.

There is an ample sprinkling of wry humour by the way of Bhima's thoughts and this brings us closer to him.

I had two wishes while I was reading this fantastic book. I wished I knew how to read Malayalam so that I can experience the joy of such brilliant writing, first hand. It would have sounded so poetic. Since that will not be, my second wish was that the translation could have been much better. Though the translator (Gita Krishnankutty) has captured much of the essence, a lot of emotion has been lost in translation, as the cliche goes. Also she has used many terms which seem inappropriate in a book like this. Though there are many instances, the one I am unable to forget is the use of the phrase "red light area", which I am sure wasn't used in Bhima's time or even Shri MT would not have used! The title however, is very apt to the story.

The narration sometimes seems a little too prosaic and monotonous, like the drone of a man talking without a pause in unending baritones. I need to check this with someone who has read the original.

Yet, I would definitely recommend this book to anyone interested in the human nature or the lives of celebrated people. Men and women readers will like this book equally. While Palace of Illusions uses every thread of emotion possible to weave its story, Lone Warrior makes use of a perfect blend of fabric to build a sturdy tale.

Thottal Thodarum - Sparking Off a Flying Start

Thottal Thodarum - a film that made its way quietly to the theatres, relying on no fanfare or hullabaloo but just the confidence of the makers.

Just like its title does, the film builds up a good air of mystery around it right from the start. The story line is so tightly packed that putting together a synopsis becomes difficult without giving away at least some of the suspense. So, the central idea of the film is how a small incident can take you to the most unexpected and dangerous corners in life. A thriller weaved into a sweet love story is Thottal Thodarum for you.

To my surprise and to the I am sure to many others as well, the story revolves around the female lead. And this is such a welcome relief amidst all the misogynistic 'hero' glorification happening in our films today. What happens in Thottal Thodaurm is kind of a heartwarming 'team work' between the male lead and the female lead, played by Thaman Kumar and Arundhathi. 

The film is a debut directorial venture of Sankarnarayan, known by his friends and fans as Cable Sankar. 

That he is a lover of quality cinema comes across clearly in the way Cable Sankar has envisioned, written and executed the film. He seems to have put in everything that he had ever wished for in a film. Oodles of sugary-sweet romance, some good music, extra-ordinary events that can take the love story forward and some good comic moments. It normally happens that when you are dreaming of something for a long time, there is a baggage that gives away the start date of the dream. However, nothing of that shows and the film has a young, breezy air about it. There is the internet, there are the apps, there are the gadgets..things that youngsters can easily relate to.

Running to just about 2 hours, the film comes with a taut screenplay with interesting twists and turns. The love story does, at a point make you impatient. Perhaps it was deliberately done to make you root for the new lovers. One is almost goading them to meet and kick start their love story at a point. And this is exactly the point when the story takes a sudden twist.

There are a lot of small touches that the director has put in to show the depth of his involvement. Like the ring tone of the hero's phone that in a way establishes an endearing feeling towards him (who can forget the sweet but naughty music from Geethanjali/Idhayathai Thirudaathey?), the heroine, someone from a middle-class background repeating her normal-looking, realistic costumes in more than one scene, the hero actually clicking open his car lock each and every time he has to open the door (I've only seen people directly getting into their cars, no matter where they are parked). I particularly liked the way the heroine looks up to the hero for moral support at a moment of crisis. This is the first natural thing likely to happen in a relationship built on trust. There are many more such small things. These are touches that speak about the director's efforts. 
Coming to the casting, Thaman Kumar and Arundhathi have given their all to portray their roles to the maximum perfection. Thaman Kumar is sure to get noticed for his confidence, looks and voice. Unusually for Tamil films, be it the way he carries himself or his comfort with both Tamil and English, he looks every inch a city slicker. Tamil films have a distance to cover where girls still need to be shown with a bindi, saree, half-saree. The heroine in fact doesn't have as many lines in English as the hero has. I wonder why? Just because he is from a better financial/educational background? But with due credit to the director, though albeit coy in appearance, the protagonist Madhu is no way demure or weak.

The hero and heroine are not under any pressure to showcase their dancing prowess or rib-crunching action shots. They come across as just normal people who face just one abnormal incident that they deal with cleverness.

Balaji plays the role of the ubiquitous side-kick with a funny streak. He has done his best and has given some really funny lines. But I really wish these side-kicks (everyone starting from Santhanam) stop making know-it-all sweeping statements about women and matters of the heart. The "dei ponnungaley ippidithaan" theories can get your goat after a point. 
Thankfully this film has no place for the ever so common TASMAC (and its aftermath purgatory) scenes. There are in fact no scenes depicting either smoking or drinking. 

Talking about dialogues, they have general been written very well - crisp, contemporary and clear.

The music by P C Sivan is quite catchy. The background score is worth paying attention to. Two songs are particularly nice - Penney-penney and Poo pola-poo pola. The latter in fact, even when I heard it before watching the film, imagined it to be a road-song and I am not disappointed. The way Penney-penney has been filmed is very pleasant, just like the song itself. The famous Bossu Bossu serves as a montage for the very interesting opening credits. Again a first in a long time, there are no 'kuthu songs' in the film. In fact, the director has broken away from the heavily choreographed-100 dancers-exotic locales-weird costumes routine completely. 

The cinematography is noteworthy especially the aerial highway shots. 

The writer of the film has cleverly given his debut film an auspicious title of sorts (Thottal Thodarum, loosely translated to "just get it started and it goes on forever") because the film has certainly paved a way for not just the director but also for Thaman Kumar, Arundhathi, P C Sivan and the entire young crew that is raring to go.

Photos Courtesy: https://www.facebook.com/ThottalThodarum/timeline

Friday, January 23, 2015

Loving my Levis



Just like good leather (though I don't use leather), good jeans age well. Jeans of a good quality look better with more use.
















Pic courtesy: zazzle.com