Monday, 19 September 2011

An unmitigated disaster

The dust has not yet settled on India's tour of England- an outing that one can only describe as a disaster without parallel in the recent past. England proved the superior side in every department of the game, just walking all over the hapless Indians.

Admittedly injuries only contributed to the mayhem that ensued. The list of injured players (Zaheer Khan, Harbhajan Singh, Virender Sehwag, Gautham Gambhir, Munaf Patel, Ishant Sharma, Sachin Tendulkar, Praveen Kumar, Yuvraj Singh) threatened to become sufficient to constitute a whole eleven. That one single fact, if not the result, is itself a damning indictment of the manner in which the tour was (mis)managed.

Now England is one of the toughest places in the world to tour. England have consistently been a force to reckon with at home over the last decade, losing only 2 series. Those defeats since came against the Indians in 2007 (a 0-1 loss) and the Proteas in 2008 (a 1-2 loss in a hard fought series)- both of them sides with strong/ powerful attacks. Under the circumstances, it did not need a genius to know that a very tough challenge lay ahead.

So what did the BCCI do to get their players ready for the tour? They arranged one solitary warm up game for the team to acclimatise itself to conditions far removed from those in any other test playing country. That game itself came just 5 days after a tour of the west Indies. In other words, the BCCI arranged seven weeks of meaningless IPL games, coming close in the heels of an emotionally and physically draining world cup, followed that up with a tour of the West Indies and then left all of 5 days for the players to prepare themselves for one of the toughest tours in the contemporary game.

Was it any wonder that the players who took the field in the series were physically and mentally exhausted? The situation could have been salvaged had there been fresh replacements ready to take their place. What we got instead was the spectacle of an overweight, unfit R.P. Singh delivering a wide that symbolised India's surrender. Picking up a man who was in the middle of a vacation in Miami ahead of one who was in the reserves (Munaf Patel) is a decision that defies all sane logic. If Patel did not enjoy the confidence of his captain or the selectors, then why was he in the squad in the first place?

And just when you thought that they could not make a bigger hash of it, the selectors produced one last ace in the sleeve in Varun Aaron. When you pick a young man who is supposed to be the fastest bowler in the country for a series in which your side is struggling, you expect that the young man is going to be unleased on the opponents. But the selectors in their infinite widsom decided to have one of the most promising young fast bowlers in the country carry the drinks, even as his seniors were being belted to every corner of the park.

Then there was the small matter of Ravindra Jadeja. Personally I have nothing against Jadeja. Nevertheless, the brain freeze that cost 4 precious runs in a tied game was by no means the first instance of his temperament proving suspect in a pressure situation. Quite how a consistent matchloser (to coin a new term) like him gets to be a regular member of the team is a puzzle that could perhaps merit an episode in CID.

God forbid, this tour brought back memories from the 90s. As anyone who has followed Indian cricket long enough would tell you, the 1990s were by far the worst decade in India's cricketing history. Thanks to the gentlemen at the BCCI, India is now back to the mid table mediocrity that was its lot back then. Only, now they have a lot more money than their counterparts in those bad old days. India is now the new Upper Volta with rockets.

Footnote: As I wrote this article, the new Chairman of the BCCI announced the setting up of a committee to look into the causes of the debacle. Hopefully this could be the beginning of a return to sanity.

Friday, 2 September 2011

Popular movies I hated- Pardes

Pardes (1997) was an immensely popular movie in its time, directed by Subhash Ghai and staring Shah Rukh Khan and the debutant Mahima Chaudhary. Let me make an honest confession: I loved this movie as a teenager back then in the late 90s. I still love it, if only for the unintended laughs it provides when viewed today.

To summarise the plot of this movie: Kishorilal (Amrish Puri) is an NRI who has been living in the USA since gawd knows when who still remains determinedly Indian. When on a visit to his friend Suraj Dev (Alok Nath), he decides that his friend's daughter Ganga (Mahima Chaudhary) is the ideal wife for his son Rajiv (Apoorva Agnihotri). Unsure that Rajiv will be amenable to the idea, he asks his adopted son Arjun (Shah Rukh Khan) to play cupid. Like a dutiful young man, Arjun does his best to oblige his mentor but finds himself increasingly drawn towards Ganga.

Chicken soup for the Indo-American soul

What you have just read is but a very brief outline and let me tell you friends, like the scorecard of a cricket match, it captures not an iota of the sheer legend that's Pardes. Now the point this movie is trying to make is a pretty relevant one. At a time when Indians were increasingly obsessed with the west- as they still are- this is intended to be a warning that we, the people of India, should not forget our own values. Sadly, between intention and execution, there usually exists a massive chasm.

Its a world in which a young lady successfully persuades a snake that enters the bedroom of her guest to retreat by prostrating and praying to it in a deeply touching scene  and by touching, I mean to say that the scene touches your funny bone. After that profoundly touching gesture, she follows up with an equally epic dialogue: "hamaare desh mein saanp ko jaanwar nahi, devta mante hain..."

Its a world in which men who have lived in the USA all their lives speak fluent Hindi without a trace of accent, which includes Rajiv, a totally Amercanised NRI who hates India and everything to do with it. Its a world in which a man who has lived pretty much all his life in the USA all his life is an expert player of Kabaddi (recommendations for the presidency of the American Kabaddi Association, anyone?).

Hamaari maange sindoor se bharo

Which brings us to my favourite scene in the movie: the game of Kabaddi which could only be described as a moment without parallel in the history of all cinema. Such is the Genius of this scene, that it is beyond the powers of ordinary mortals like me to describe it. Sample some of the dialogues from that scene:

"pehle sagaai todi ab mere bete ko tod rahe hain..."

"...Sitaji ko paane ke liye, Ramchandraji ko bhi dhanushya uthana pada. Toh aaj khel ke maidan mein jo jitega, wahi Ganga ka var hoga."

"Bataao, kaunsa dhanush hai tumhare paas? Main bhi dekhoonga tumhare bete ne kitna ghee piya hai..."

As you might have guessed, the young lady's future hangs by the outcome of that game. The people who decide to put her fate in her balance are respectively her suitors, her could-be fathers in law, the village head and a stranger who is not even related to the family. I may add that the enlightened gentlemen do not even bother to consult the girl or her father (doormats anyone?).  I kid you not dearies, when I say that you have never scene anything like this before. The epic scene culminates with Arjun predictably clinching the game for his mentor's side.

Mirroring the viewers expression

After that epic win, the young lady's family proceeds to send her to her would be sasural in the other end of the world. I use the word 'would-be' since Ganga is is not yet married to Rajiv. And so in a movie that is supposed to be a celebration of Indian values, we have the not so Indian practice of a young lady going abroad with a man who is not yet her husband,

Having flown to the other end of the world, Ganga soon discovers that Rajiv is a drunkard and a womaniser with few moral values. Apparently, that's how Americans are supposed to be and apparently, Indians neither drink nor womanise. Arjun, on the other hand, is the very epitome of Indian values. Before long (but not before one of Kishorilal's relatives refers to the young lady as gobar in another awesome scene) Ganga and Arjun are in love with each other.

What the **** am I doing in this movie?

And so Ganga, who did not even protest her fate being decided by the outcome of a game of kabaddi- by people who aren't even from her family- establishes her credentials beyond doubt as a doormat by falling in love with the guy who lied to her about her to be husband and did nothing to prevent her from being molested, knowing Rajiv's nature fully well. After the inevitable molestation, our protagonist heroically springs to action, taking the young doormat home and proceeding to sleep in the same room as her.

The next morning, Suraj Dev, who is infuriated at Arjun's betrayal attacks him with a sword. Ask not what he did the previous day, when his daughter turned up without a word of warning with this man in tow or for that matter, what he did when this man went into her bedroom at night to sleep. Ask not what caused him to suddenly feel concerned about the maan-maryaada of the daughter he sent to the other end of the world with a man she wasn't even married to. Ask not what the other family members too did my friends, for none of these are ever made clear.
Like Suraj Dev, Rajiv too is infuriated at the betrayal. The anger awakens the Indian within and Rajiv with his fist-happy friends decides to take revenge on Arjun for ruining his izzat. You might wonder why he should spend time and money to fly down to India merely to bash Arjun when he could have done in the USA itself upon his return. Come on folks, how else do you bring all the characters together in the  climax scene? 

And so after yet another cringeworthy scene of epic proportions, Kishorilal finally realises what was obvious all along: that his son represents the west and Ganga the East and the twain shall never meet. Needless to say, Arjun and Ganga lived together happily ever after. In short, after three hours of tomfoolerly, which could have been cut short to just one hour had someone bothered to ask Ganga what she wanted, aal iz well.

That's for watching the movie

Two things stand apart from the rest of this movie: the music of Nadeem Shravan and the understated brilliance of Shah Rukh Khan. I am no fan of SRK, but there's no denying that Pardes must count among his finest performances. As for Nadeem Shravan, this must count among their best works. They and they alone redeem this movie. 

Well, admittedly some of the songs were indeed terrible, but the composers cannot be held responsible for lyrics like sim sim pola or oh bloody/ oh blooda can they? After all, lyrics like that are pretty much in keeping with the flavour of the movie. By the way, let me give you one useful piece of advice to enhance the entertainment value of this movie: watch the song 'yeh duniya ek dulhan' with the volume off. It appears twice and its best viewed both occasions without sound- its an experiment you sure won't regret.

Incidentally, Apoorva Agnihotri (more accurately, his hair stylist) deserves special praise here. If he cleverly conceals his wooden acting, it is largely on account of that wierd hairstyle which successfully distracts you from his acting. Perhaps the script too could have done with some such hair rising stuff.

One last fact folks: the screenplay of this movie won a Filmfare Award. Perhaps someday we could make a mystery film on the subject.

Rotten Eggs Rating: 3/5.