Friday, April 13, 2007

The Namesake

I know which book I’m going to read next – I haven’t read more than three in the last decade, succumbing to the more shallow pleasures of the audio-visual media (tv / movies) instead – but this one I will definitely read.

It’s a beautiful movie, very well made by Mira Nair. Its a simple, touching account of how Ashok Ganguli (Irfan Khan), meets his wife, Ashima (Tabu), takes her to New York and then, as their children, Gogol and Sonya grow up, how all of them cope with their dual identities (are they American or Indian ?). The tale is told very simply, almost like a salad without garnishing, but that only enhances the story, makes us more aware of the ripeness and flavour of the vegetables on offer.

It was very refreshing to watch this movie as opposed to the normal Bollywood potboiler. There are actual ‘pauses’, interludes when no one is doing anything dramatic, just living / being normal. It really helps us understand the central characters, but it does so effortlessly, almost without spending too much time with them. It moves quite seamlessly from one chapter to another in the lives of the Ganguli’s. It shows us a glimpse of what they are going through – whether its childbirth, the loss of a loved one or even a holiday to India - and then it moves on. It doesn’t try to dramatise the situations or try to force us to feel the emotions the characters are going through – however, the tears or laughter from those around me in the audience showed that they got through !

There are lovely little touches throughout the movie – when Tabu is in hospital to give birth (has recently shifted to USA and is still not used to their culture), she asks the nurse if she can have a longer hospital maternity dress as their standard issue is only knee length. There was the realistic depiction of the trauma that all NRI’s go through when we have to endlessly spell our names over the phone. There was the hilarious episode when a teen-aged Gogol, while on a holiday to Kolkatta, decides to go for a jog on the streets. And there was the authentic portryal of Kolkatta – complete with dilapidated buildings, the sea of eccentric humanity that infests it and its quirky highlights including the tram, the boats on the Hooghly, the brightly coloured sari’s hung to dry from the buildings, Durga Pooja etc. Also, I could easily relate to the ‘dinner with other Indian families’ where the conversation is all about India and after a few drinks, everyone starts singing (quite terribly, in most cases), very old songs.

Tabu and Irfan Khan were exceptional in the movie. Irfan makes for an extremely convincing Bengali academic, a bit lost / measured, living life his way / at his own pace and showing a remarkable ability to do or say the right thing at the right time. He may not always understand his children but he knows when to step in or let go. Tabu is the quintessential, good Bengali girl (very good-looking / she cooks / knits / is a trained classical singer etc) who maintains her own identity even while living in America. She is enigmatic (as in the above photo), yet very pragmatic. When asked by her prospective father in law, whether she won't mind moving to USA, being in the freezing / very cold winters of New York and whether she won't mind being lonely, her eyes at first betray her alarm / her fear of the unknown life ahead, but then she smiles and shyly says ‘Why, wont he be there ?’. Kal Penn, as Gogol, was very good as well, making us understand the dilemma’s that his character faced. And a special mention of Zuleikha Robinson, who as Moushumi Mazumdar, played an Americanised version of the stereotypical sultry Bengali siren with great aplomb !

I think this movie will bear several viewings quite easily – there will be new little details / many layers revealing themselves everytime we watch the movie. It raises several questions about life, the choices we make, our roots, how we bring up our kids. Yet quite amazingly, for a movie dealing in such heavy topics, it doesn’t feel ‘heavy’, it doesn’t burden you with the questions. And while it does tug at our heartstrings as we experience the Ganguli’s journey through life, it doesn’t try to take you through an emotional rollercoaster. You leave the cinema hall with a strange calm, a nice, warm, happy, peaceful feeling.

Saturday, April 07, 2007


In case you didn’t know, this is Ram Gopal Verma’s tribute to Godfather. Its gripping, its intense (no songs), it transfers quite masterfully the Italian tour-de-force to Indian (Mumbai’s) shores. Amitabh was good in the lead role, the supporting cast (specially KK Menon) were excellent, but for me Abhishek stole the show – he was outstanding in his rendition of Michael Coreleone, impish and relaxed on one hand and serious, very much the ‘its business, not personal’ kind of guy on the other.

However, unlike the book and to an extent even the English movie, somethings are not explained that well – for example the rise of Sarkar, how / why, his style of working and why he is a darling of the masses, Abhishek’s entry into the business / his thought process. And of course the end – in Godfather, there is a neatness about the end which is lacking here…its kind of there but not quite….The direction / cinematography is very good, the movie is a bit too dark though…its deliberate and I guess helps maintain the intensity of the movie, but it does also not make you feel you know any of the characters well enough, gives the movie a claustrophobic air. I also lamented how unrecognizable Supriya Pathak had become – from being the doe-eyed sultry siren of my adolescent years, she really does seem to have let go, I couldn’t believe it was her !

If you haven’t seen Godfather or read the book, you’re going to love it. If you have, you’ll probably just settle for ‘it’s a very good movie’.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Delhi Heights

This is a movie where, in corporate parlance, the product fails to meet expectations or deliver on the concept. The idea was nice – show a modern society, the type which are increasingly dotting the landscape of NCR, show the lives of a few of its inhabitants and how they interconnect (that actually still does happen in Delhi / Gurgaon / Noida, unlike in Mumbai where you can live for 10 years without really knowing your neighbours).

However, the execution was flat, marred by a weak script and very ordinary acting. The jokes didn’t really make you laugh that loud, in some cases not even chuckle. There were too many stereotypes (the jovial sikh, the flirty advertising guy etc), too many predictable events (a Punjabi wedding, senti speeches) and nothing much really happens in the movie – the whole movie was basically one storm in a teacup after another. They touch on some very valid issues which most working couples will appreciate but then fail to tackle them / depict them realistically and end up resorting to ‘filmi’ dialogue, the “mujhe maaf kardo (sob sob…)” or even the “bas, mujhe ek mauka aur do” type, which is followed yet again by the (sob, sob !). Also, there are some movies where the supporting cast look natural, fit into their characters and it almost seems like you are watching everyone being who they really are (as in Omkara, for example). And there are some, like Delhi Heights, where every supporting cast member looks like he’s posing for the camera, is playing a prescribed part….

Jimmy Sheirgill – check out the extra ‘i’ in the name, I’m all ‘i’s for him now (sorry – couldn’t resist…) – plays the same old sensitive, good boy role (in Punjabi we say ‘biba munda’) that he’s played in all his successful movies so far (Munnabhai, Hum Tum etc). Its boring now, he needs to do something different, add a new dimension. Neha Dhupia was good – not excellent but good, maybe even very good – seriously, there is an actress in her behind that cleavage. Om Puri tried to do the best he could – there could possibly be two or three other honourable mentions but nothing really that stood out. Rabbi’s music was also a disappointment overall – one very nice song (tere bin, o soniya) but the others were quite forced and also, its true not just for this movie, but have Bollywood directors given up in general on trying to make the playback singers voice match the actors voice who are depicted doing the actual singing ?

It could have been so much better. In its current shape though, it was like drinking champagne without bubbles or a very flat beer. And trust me, neither is a very attractive proposition…

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Vir Sanghvi's ill-informed article

I read an article in HT, written by Vir Sanghvi, via cricinfo blog - which made my blood boil. its ill-informed, ill-intentioned and runs down my countrymen without rhyme nor reason...

you can read the article at

i was sufficiently moved to sit down and write a reply which is published in full below

"Rarely have I read an article which is so flawed as your article about cricket !!!!

All your points are incorrect and rubbish the very people who actually comprise your audience….

Let me take the easy idiocies you’re making first
a)the French example you gave about being magnanimous – the president inviting the team over despite their having lost in the finals. First, they had reached the finals so clearly had done well. The Indians were also treated very well – same presidential invites / awards when they came back having being creamed in the final in ’03. Second, the same French public had headlines like ‘Scandal’ / ‘Pardon’ when the French team (the defending champions) had crashed out in the group stage in the ’02 world cup in japan / korea. They were not at all so magnanimous then and there were wholesale calls for most of the team to be axed / fingers pointed at the system / the coach was sacked etc. Not too dissimilar to what is happening here, perhaps ?
b) We weren’t no-hopers in the cup : contrary to what you’re saying India was actually second-favourites for most of the last year and at the start of the tournament was joint second favourite with south Africa. The odds on India to be eliminated at group stage were 1:23 on bet365. So, the Indian audience wasn’t dreaming – the team did underperform spectacularly. Even to quote you – the base expectation was being a semi-finalist (even the chairman of selectors, Vengsarkar had said the same) – so to be eliminated at group stage is a huge come-down !
c) Indian gullibility : I hate pseudo-intellectuals like you who run down your own countrymen. Tarot cards / Faith healers / séances / God-men exist in the west. The very birth of religion is attributed to lack of knowledge – as our knowledge grows religion occupies a lesser role in life. For example- before there used to be a sun-god / a wind god, a god of the sea / the moon – almost anything that we could not understand. Now most such ‘elemental’ Gods have disappeared globally. As India’s literacy develops, Gods / religions will reduce… if you compare the metros and the rural villages, the point is proven as it is if you compare the west say 100 years ago when illiteracy was rampant there as well. So, to label Indians as gullible because of poverty / illiteracy betrays a lack of human nature / process of evolution
d) Western Gullibility : I have lived in UK / Holland for the last 7 years – come soccer world cup time, the same hysteria develops there. In Britain last few tournaments (the Euro ’04 and WC ’06 & ’02) they ran out of flags – every car / home was bedecked with 6-8, people were buying union jack underwear etc. And the odds on either country to lift the cup were significantly lower – they have a disastrous record in cups (have never gone beyond the semi’s apart fm ’66) but each time if you look at the papers / the ads its almost like they just have to turn up and win / the whole tournament is almost a formality. You’re welcome to browse through the archives – you wont find the hysteria / the ‘gullibility’ as you call it – any less than what we see with Indian cricket.
e) I don’t think there is anything wrong in blaming the players / coach for the debacle and not the BCCI : the team was pretty much what most people would’ve selected – most people (including ex-cricketers) till today feel the team was right – at most you can carp on 1 or 2 slots, not more. So why blame the BCCI ? at the end, net net, the players / coach did not perform. Simple. Yes – there are some over-reactions – however – if you look at the English press, you will see that it is not as extreme as you’re making it out to be. Right now their coach is under extreme pressure despite having won his last match against Andorra and drawn the previous two. When there was a referee (a swiss gentleman, I think his name was Merk) who was perceived by the English to have given a couple of decisions against them in Euro’04, his phone number was published in the newspapers and he received several calls full of abuse/ death threats etc and chose to retire immediately. In spain, for their club soccer matches – especially those involving Barcelona and Real Madrid – people have thrown a pigs head against people perceived to have wronged the club / burnt their uniforms etc. Again, this is not too far removed from indians

i'm not for one second condoning the destruction of dhoni's house / targetting the players or their kin physically but honestly, i'm not against the odd rotten egg or tomato being thrown at them when they arrive at their next PR event. And i'm definitely against an article like yours which blames the passionate indian public for showing their passion when the team fails !
You’re being unfair / unkind to your fellow countrymen and are sitting in an ivory tower…get real !!!!
You can read some of my other thoughts about cricket / movies at