Monday, 10 September 2012

The best of 2000s Bollywood

The 2000s saw the emergence of a generation of young filmmakers who, empowered by the arrival of a more discerning audience, found takers for a different and more intelligent cinema than had been the norm hitherto. There was no shortage of inane, mindless movies in that decade. Yet, amidst that thrash, Bollywood dished out several movies from a wide variety of genres that desere to be remembered as classics, out of which I have named just 12. This is my tribute to that era.

Dil Chahta Hai (2001): No discussion on Hindi cinema from the 2000s can ever be complete without a reference to Farhan Akhtar's 2001 classic. Dil Chahta Hai is the coming of age story of three young men Akash (Aamir Khan), Sameer (Saif Ali Khan) and Siddharth (Akshay Khanna) in the years immediately after they leave college and come to terms with the realities of the wider world.

DCH, as the movie is popularly known, was in many ways a pathbreaking film in terms of its restrained and highly realistic performances, its portrayal of the bonding between men in their late teens/ early 20s and its highly realistic depiction of characters. Steering clear of tired cliches which were the stock of Hindi movies in the preceding decades, the movie was the predecessor that paved the way for the urbane films that have become commonplace in recent years. Perhaps the most radical departure from tradition was one of the protagonists falling in love with a woman old enough to be his mother- unthinkable until then.

The very depiction of the coming of age of the generation that was born in the late 70s/ early 80s, DCH is easily one of the most popular movies from its era.

Gangaajal (2003): Gangaajal traces the journey of Superintendent of Police Amit Kumar (Ajay Devgan), newly posted to Tezpur district in Bihar. An honest and committed officer, Amit is shocked by the brazen corruption and extortionate methods of the police in his district and sets out to reform the policemen there, only to realise that the roots of the problems lie much deeper. This Prakash Jha film is the tale of an honest man who maintains his integrity and dignity despite battling impossible odds.

Inspired by the Bhagalpur blindings in 1980, Gangajal was a gritty and unsparing protrayal of life in provincial Bihar. I doubt if there have been too many movies which painted such an authentic portrait of 90s/ turn of the century Bihar. Nearly a decade after its release Gangaajal remains one of my favourite political films.

Paanch (2003): Paanch is the story of a group of youngsters in their 20s living a useless and hedonistic existence, who are out to enjoy an easy life without having to work for it. Their lives taken an unexpected turn when a harmless prank intended to provide a shortcut to easy money inadvertantly sends them sliding down a vicious spiral of murder and betrayal.

Paanch brilliantly explored the themes of alienation, greed and ambitions of youngsters in a metropolitan city. Inspired by the Joshi-Abhyankar murders, Paanch was a film noir with  morally bankrupt characters whose actions are motivated by pure greed, a bleak outlook and an unexpected, downbeat ending.

Its a shame that a movie that was revolutionary for its time lies unreleased to this day due to objections from the censor board. Given the kind of violence and profanities used in movies these days, its hard to understand why Paanch still remains stuck in the cans. Despite the passage of a decade since it was filmed, the movie still remains impactful and relevant. A copy of the movie is available on youtube.

Swades (2004): Like the two preceding entries, Swades too is a film inspired by a real life story. Directed by Ashutosh Gowariker, Swades narrates the journey of a non resident Indian Mohan Bhargav (Shah Rukh Khan), who comes to India in search of his nanny, whom he has not met or spoken to since several years now. Mohan traces her to an obscure village called Charanpur. His brush with the shocking realities of rural India during the course of his stay in the village leaves Mohan deeply shaken up, impelling him to quit his job and return to India where he believes he can make a difference.

Swades was a unprecedented in terms of its treatment of the subject of patriotism. Steering clear of age old cliches, director Ashutosh Gowariker brings the viewer face to face with the harsh realities of rural India without getting over dramatic or spilling over into melodrama. Most importantly, Gowariker managed to stay clear of the crass jingoism that passes for patriotism in Indian movies.

Eight years after its release, Swades is far more relevant today than it was in its own time with thousands of non-resident Indians returning home from the west. It is to my knowledge the only Indian movie to take up the topic of reverse brain drain (a term that did not even exist in 2004). Despite limited success at the box office, Swades remains an iconic film in popular culture.

Hazaron Khwaishein Aisi (2005): Although completed in 2003, Hazaron Khwaishein Aisi saw the light of day in 2005. Its a movie that would have remained just as relevant in 2050. Set in the backdrop of 70s India, this Sudhir Mishra magnum opus traces the journey of its protagonists from the time they pass out of college in 1969 to the late 70s, by which time youthful idealism crumbles in the face of brutal reality.

Siddharth (Kay Kay Menon) is an idealistic youngster drawn towards maoist philosophy, who dreams of being the catalyst  of a social revolution that will see the downtrodden overthrow their oppressors and claim their rightful place in society. Geeta (Chitrangada Singh) is deeply in love with Siddharth, a sentiment which is reciprocated by the later. Unfortunately, his commitment to the revolutionary cause outweighs his love for Geeta. Vikram Malhotra (Shiney Ahuja), a college mate loves Geeta but finds the sentiment unrecquited. Vikram uses

I would have no hesitation in describing Hazaron Khwaishein Aisi as an epic film, which showcases the ideals and aspirations of its protagonists in a period when India was undergoing a massive socio-political transformation. The rise of naxalism, the institutionalism of corruption and the Emergency are superbly interwoven into the narrative, affecting the lives of the protagonists. In many ways, this movie is the story of the generation that was born in the late 40s/ early 50s.

I daresay Hazaron Khwaishein Aisi is a movie that will be remembered long long after its contemporaries will have faded away from memory. Watch it if you want to understand the evolution of north Indian society in the 70s.

Rang De Basanti (2006): Rang De Basanti, or RDB as it popularly referred to is well and truly the story of the awakening of a generation. A British documentary maker who is descended from McKinley, the jailer at Lahore when Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru were hanged, arrives in India to make a documentary on the legendary revolutionaries using material from her grandfather's diary. Her brush with contemporary India leaves her shocked as she comes across a cynical and apathetic generation that has long come to accept corruption and mediocrity as a way of life and given up all hopes of things ever changing.

The protagonists, a group of youngsters in their 20s, are rudely jolted out of their easy life when corruption claims the life of a dear friend Ajay (R. Madhavan), an air force pilot, who dies in an air crash which happened due to the use of defective parts in his MiG fighter jet. Taking inspiration from Bhagat Singh and co, the protagonists assasinate the defence minister and make a public broadcast of it by taking over a radio station on gun point, before they meet the same fate as their heroes.

Factual inaccuracies apart, Rang De Basanti was one of the most hardhitting movies to have explored the cynicism and decadance of contemporary India. Brilliantly juxtapositioning the stories of Bhagat Singh and company with that of their present day counterparts, RDB truly awakened a generation. Exaggerated and unrealistic as the ending was, it nonetheless anticipated the mass movement against corruption half a decade later.

Lage Raho Munnabhai (2006): Just a few months after RDB came Rajkumar Hirani's follow up to his debut film Munnabhai MBBS, itself a classic. Sanjay Dutt and Arshad Warsi reprised the roles of Munna and Circuit in this movie, which was not a sequel to Hirani's 2003 comedy.

Munnabhai falls in love with RJ Jahnavi (Vidya Balan) but lies to her about his real profession when they first meet. Jahnavi, who is living with her aged grandfather in their beach front house unexpectedly finds herself on the wrong side of the law when an unscrupulous builder Lucky Singh (Boman Irani) sets out to grab their property. Munna, who has delusions of meeting Mahatma Gandhi, sets out to get back Jahnavi's house using Gandhigiri.

Lage Raho is a movie that makes you laugh out loud, occasionally moistens the eye but ultimately, is a celebration of all that is good in human nature. In his now trademark style, Rajkumar Hirani highlighted several problems plaguing contemporary society such as neglect of aging parents, corruption, dishonesty and blind faith, without ever compromising on entertainment.

Lage Raho Munnabhai was easily the most influential movie of its era, explaining Gandhian values and their relevance to contemporary audiences in simple terms without ever getting preachy. Without exaggeration, Lage Raho revived the ideas and memories of a legend India had sadly forgotten.

Johnny Gaddar (2007): Sriram Raghavan's Asphalt Jungle inspired film noir must stand out as easily one of the finest thrillers in the history of Hindi cinema.

Vikram (Neil Nitin Mukesh on debut), the youngest member of a group of seemingly honest businessmen who carry out unspecified illegal activities behind the scenes, is in love with the wife of one of the senior group members. Desperate to raise quick money so that they can escape abroad to an easy life, Vikram hits upon a plan to double cross his partners and pocket the entire proceeds of a shady deal. The attempt at double cross goes horribly wrong, triggering of a chain of unintended consequences as Vikram sinks deeper and deeper into the morass of crime.

Johnny Gaddar was unprecedented in terms of its treatment of the subject, making the viewer privy to a fact none of the other actors in the drama are aware of. Importantly, it avoids spoonfeeding the audience, leaving much to the viewer's imagination. What makes Johnny Gaddar truly unique is the manner in which it inverts all cliches, making the normally decent Vikram the villain of the piece, while his morally bankrupt partners become innocent victims of his vicious machinations.

Johnny Gaddar can legitimately be described a film noir in terms of the use of lighting effects, plot devices and the downbeat ending. It hard to remember a more intelligent thriller to have emerged from the Hindi film industry.

Manorama Six Feet Under (2007): This movies is perhaps the least known movie in this list. The unconventionally titled MSFU Abhay Deol starrer marked the directorial debut of ad film maker Navdeep Singh. Loosely inspired by Roman Polanski's 1974 classic Chinatown (acknowledged in the course of the movie), Manorama Six Feet Under was a noir whodunit.

The protagonist Satyaveer Randhawa (Abhay Deol) is a junior engineer in the public works department based in a little known provincial town called Lakhot. An unsuccessful writer in his spare time, Satyaveer is approached by the wife of the local MLA to spy on her husband whom she suspects of being disloyal to her, only to discover after completing his assignment is completed, that she is not whom she claims to be. Satyaveer decided to investigate into the matter when his client dies in mysterious circumstances, only to discover that in Lakhot, nothing is what it seems.

Manorama  Six Feet under is one of the most bleak films noir I have ever seen. Its a world where nearly everyone has a dark secret, characters are without exception morally ambiguous, the poor and the weak are destined to be crushed by the weak and powerful. Liberally borrowing from Chinatown, MSFU is nonetheless a very Indian movie, superbly portraying life in a provincial city.

Manorama Six Feet Under is a slow paced, multi-layered movie that is meant more for connoisseurs of cinema. Nearly every frame in the movie can be analysed and discussed for days. Having viewed it six times so far, I can testify that I have developed a better appreciation of the movie with each viewing. There exists an official copy of this movie here on youtube.

A Wednesday (2008): What do you do as Commissioner of Police for Mumbai if you are asked to release deadly terrorists within a few hours, failing which hundreds of innocent people will lose their lives in a series of blasts? That's the dilemma confronting top cop Prakash Rathod (Anupam Kher), when an unknown man (Naseeruddin Shah) calls him up one not so fine morning, demanding the release of four deadly terrorists in return for information on the location of bombs.

A Wednesday was a taut, engaging thriller, brilliantly scripted and even better enacted by its ensemble cast. Anupam Kher was brilliant and highly credible as the beleaguered Commissioner, as were Jimmy Shergill and Aamir Bashir in their respective roles as police officers to whom the mission is entrusted. But the star of the show was veteran Naseeruddin Shah as the unknown caller, who conjured up a performance he can be proud of for the rest of his life.

Unfortunately, there is little else I can tell you about the movie without letting out a spoiler or two. Suffice it to say that the pace of the movie and the twist ending made it easily one of the best movies of the decade. Unlike most of the movies in this list, A Wednesday was a critical as well as commercial success.

Oye Lucky Lucky Oye! (2008): Dibakar Bannerjee's black comedy was a fitting follow up to his debut effort Khosla Ka Ghosla (2006), which I was sorely tempted to include in this list. Narrated in flashback, this Abhay Deol starrer covers the life story of the eponymous character from his childhood to the point where he is arrested for carrying out a series of daring robberies.

Lucky (Abhay Deol) is a young man who commits a series of daring robberies using his courage, confidence and raw wits. Lucky is motivated not so much by greed, as the desire to climb the social ladder. Along the way, he makes friends, falls in love and experiences humanity as well as treachery.

Its hard to describe a multi-layered movie like Oye Lucky. Despite its light tone, its actually a black comedy. Its one of the most scathing indictments of society that I've ever seen. At the end of it, the criminal Lucky emerges the good man while the seemingly normal and respectable people he comes in contact with turn out to be anything but. Watch this movie for incredible performances by Abhay Deol and veteran Paresh Rawal.

Gulaal (2009): Concluding our list is Anurag Kashyap's political thriller Gulaal, which was stuck in the cans for several years. As in the case of his other release from the decade, Black Friday (which I was sorely tempted to include in this list), it proved worth the wait.

Gulaal is the journey of a young man Dilip Singh (Raj Singh Chaudhary), who arrives in the fictional town of Rajpur to study law in the local university. Dilip shares his room with a young man called Rananjay (Abhimanyu Singh), a fellow student, and the only legitimate heir of the ex-ruler of the region. The two young men, whose temperaments are at opposite ends of the spectrum, forge an unusual friendship. Owing to association with Rananjay, Dilip finds himself trapped in the vicious machinations of local politics with Dukey Bana (Kay Kay Menon) on the one hand, who dreams of forming a breakaway state called Rajputana, and Karan Singh (Aditya Srivastav) on the other. The illegitimate son of the ex-ruler (and as such, a half brother of Rananjay), Karan covets a position at the head of the Rajputana movement purely for the sake of gaining legitimacy in society.

Dilip, who reluctantly agrees to contest for the role of General Secretary, finds himself inadvertantly trapped in the cross hairs between the deadly games being played out by Dukey Bana and Karan. He neither realises nor understands their sinister machinations, with tragic consequences.

Inspired by the song 'yeh duniya' from Guru Dutt's 1957 classic Pyaasa, Gulaal explores the themes of powerplays, quest for legitimacy, injustice and stagnation of society. Its a bleak world in which morality is a rare commodity and there exists no place for the good and the weak. Its a multilayered movie that can be analysed for days. Its a shame that such a magnificent piece of cinema tanked at the box office.

This is but a short list of outstanding movies from the 2000s, some known and some unknown, but all of which deserved to be remembered for ages to come. I would like to make a quick mention of Company (2002),  Haasil (2003), Teen Deewarein (2003), Sehar (2005), Dor (2006), Omkara (2006), Anwar (2007), Black Friday (2007) and Mithya (2007), all of which were inspired works that deserve an honorary mention here. If those movies did not make their way to this list, its only because I made a series of random picks.

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Towards another lost generation?

My father was born just a few days before Independence Day in 1951. He belongs to the first post-independence generation- the generation which drew its first breath in independent India, which grew up amidst the idealism and high hopes of the Nehruvian era. His was also the generation which started working in the 70s- the period when ill conceived socialist policies consigned India to two decades of economic stagnation, the effects of which are being felt to this day.

Tragically, my father and many of his generation were in their forties when the Indian economy went into a state of transition in 90s. The painful transition, coupled with the Asian crisis in the late 90s derailed the careers of countless people from that generation. Many of them lost the way in the new world, the rest survived but never managed to reach the heights they promised to. Now in retirement, thousands of them simply do not have the life savings to comfortably take them through the last leg of their lives because their savings have been reduced to peanuts in these hyperinflationary times.

Nehru- The embodiment of an age of idealism

To me, my father and people of his age represent a lost generation that got the worst of both worlds. They spent most of their working lives in pre-liberalisation India and were too old to reap the benefits of the economic developments in the new century. The current economic climate could do something similar for the generation born in late 80s to early-mid 90s.

Over the last two years, the euphoria and optimism of the late 2000s have sudenly vanished. The vast majority of Indian companies have shelved new projects and put a freeze on recruitments, with the result that new jobs have suddenly dried up. The tragedy is that the current impasse is not due to a weakening economy, but on account of a paralysis of governance. Unable to build a consensus in its own ranks, much less with its coalition partners and hammered on all sides by charges of corruption of a magnitude unprecedented in Indian history, the Congress Government is tottering. Battling for mere survival, Dr. Manmohan Singh and co have failed to enact key reforms that India desperately needs if the high growth rates of recent years are to be sustained.

My greatest fear is that the current climate of political uncertainty could continue for a few more years to come. I see little possibility, if any, of the situation improving between now and 2014, when India goes to the polls. Should the Congress find itself unable to form a government then- a very real possibility- its hard to see who else can. The BJP at this point in time appears a pale shadow of the force it once was. Unless there is at least one party with no less than 120-150 members of parliament, chances of stability are nearly non-existent and its hard to see any party other than the Congress or BJP which can muster anything close to that number.

The epitome of a dysfunctional government

Should my worst fears come to pass, India could witness a period of political instability characterised by a succession of unstable coalitions, not unlike the late 90s. It will inevitable translate into an underperforming economy and a stagnant job market. In these ultra competitive times, a bad start to one's career could spell disaster. Thousands of people from the generation that was born in the late 80s and early 90s, who are at the beginning or will begin their careers in the coming years, are going to find it difficult to find good opportunities to start with.

A poor start to their careers will leave thousands of youngsters at a distinct disadvantage even after the economic scenario improves, with thousands of younger and fresher minds competing with them. Make no mistake, many of them might never recover from the wretched start to their careers, which will be through no fault of theirs.

The disaster can be averted if our political class can put the national cause ahead of narrow self interest. Sadly, history provides little cause for optimism.

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

The Forgotten Land

Before we kick off today's discussion, I would like to make one small request: please write down the names of any ten Indian states and then scroll down.

Now that that you have jotted down those names, please check whether Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Tripura, Nagaland or Sikkim appear anywhere on your list.

You can now imagine just how far the north-east region slips below the radar in the Indian mainland. It is and has always been a forgotten part of India. People from that region are invariably 'Chinky' or 'Chinese' for most Indians.  The fact that they look different from the rest of us and that their culture is completely different from ours pretty much marks them as foreigners for most of us. Its not as if most Indians are prejudiced against people from the north east, the problem is that we do not realise that region even exists.

North East India: The Forgotten Region

Under normal circumstances, would you ever imagine a group of people fleeing their livelihoods based on mere rumours? The fact that mere rumours of people from the north-east being targeted for violence triggered off a mass exodus shows just how deep the sense of discrimination and alienation runs among them, a fact that's hardly surprising given the extent of ignorance about the north east prevailing in India. A recent study by the North East India Image Managers showed that out of 600 professionals polled (from Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore), a staggering 87% could not even name all the states from the north east region.

In all fairness, I would hardly blame the people of India for their ignorance regarding the north east region. For whatever reason, news from the north east never makes its way to the mainstream media in India. Even an episode as colossal as the blockade of Manipur last year, which paralysed normal life and sent prices shooting through the roof in that state for a staggering 121 days, hardly received any serious coverage in the media. Imagine the uproar had something like that happened in say UP or Punjab.

The media is hardly alone in this respect. The north east is prominently missing even in popular culture. Apart from Dil Se (1998) and Tango Charlie (2006), I do not recollect a single Hindi movie which even featured the north east, unless you retreat more than four decades into the past to include Jewel Thief (1967). Why, I do not even recollect that region being mentioned in my history/ geography textbooks in school. It's almost as if the entire country is in a conspiracy of silence regarding that region. Is it any wonder that seperatist sentiment exists there?

The only way greater integration of the north east region with the rest of India  can be achieved is through greater awareness. For starters, the north east deserves a far more substantial space in our school syllabus, especially in subjects like Geography and History- I can hardly recollect reading anything beyond a passing mention about the region in my school days. It may also not be a bad idea to include folk tales from that region in the education syllabus- by no means a difficult or politically sensitive proposition.

Another means by which it can be achieved is by devoting greater space to the north east in popular culture. Given the number of Hindi movies that are filmed abroad, I don't see why a few of them are not filmed in that region. Surely, the beauty of that region will make for magnificent backdrops for scenes/ songs. It will not only gave the north east greater visibility, but also give a significant boost to tourism in that region. Its hard to think of a better or easier way to overcome the ignorance that exists in respect of that region in mainland India.

There is a need for greater cultural awareness regarding the north east. While my own knowledge is next to nothing, I do know for a fact that culturally it is an incredibly diverse region. A person from Shillong and a resident of Agartala have as much in common as person from Delhi has with someone in Stockholm. What's even worse is that most Indians regard women from the north east as being promiscuous, not realising that their culture is far more liberal than the conservative (not to mention repressive) mainland. I admittedly have little idea as to how this can be achieved, but someone ought to make our people understand that being from a different cultural milieu does not imply by any means that the woman is easily available.

Most importantly, the Indian media needs to devote greater attention to the north east region.  If we Indians expect people from the north east to consider themselves as Indians, we also have a responsibility to make them feel as if this country is theirs. The Hindi speaking heartland is but a part of India, not India itself. It is both ignorant and unfair to expect the entire country to conform to the socio-cultural mores of central India. We, the residents of the mainland, have a responsibility to understand and respect the culture of that region.

Those 'chinkies' are as Indian as us. Its about time we realised it.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

The race for No.1

I am now counting down the hours to go before England and South Africa lock horns in what is surely the most widely anticipated test series in recent times. Put it down to the history between the two sides: out of the eight series since readmission, three have been tied and the remaining five have all seen a solitary win seperating the two sides. The 2008 series apart, the outcome of every other rubber was wide open going into the final test.

What makes the upcoming series an even more appetising prospect is the fact that the two best attacks in the world will be up against one another. Imagine Steyn-Morkel-Philander bowling at Cook-Pietersen-Bell or Anderson-Broad-Swann having a go at Smith-Amla-Kallis- De Villiers. Not since the 2005 Ashes has there been a clash between two sides of such extraordinary quality. Whereas Australia went into that series the favourites, not even the most die-hard supporters can make any such claims for either side.

It's virtually impossible to make any predictions on the outcome of this series and it would be either a very brave man or a very foolish one who would bet a huge amount on it. Nonetheless, I am attempting to do the impossible, mindful of the fact my previous predictions on this blog have both proved wrong (only in terms of the margin, admittedly).

Strauss and Smith

As I see it, South Africa clearly hold the edge in the pace department. Man for man, there's nothing to seperate the two attacks, but for Dale Steyn. In him, South Africa have a bowler who could make the difference between two well matched sides. None of the English bowlers can genuinely claim to be of his class. Besides, in Kallis South Africa also have the services of one of the greatest all rounder of all times.

Given the fact that the current summer is one of the wettest on record, its most likely the performance of the quicker bowlers which will decide the outcome of the series. Under the circumstances, the visitors clearly have the upper hand. Besides, their batsmen- Smith, Kallis, Amla and De Villiers- are all experienced hands with considerable exposure to English conditions. Its going to take something extraordinary from Anderson & Co to put that lot under the cosh.

The man with the golden arm

The only factor that could work againt the visitors could be the demons in their minds. While they have consistently been one of the best teams in the world, for some reason the South Africans have never managed the climb to the top baring a brief six-month period in 2008-09. Should they overcome those demons, there's little stopping the Proteas from toppling their hosts. Belief, on the other hand, is surely not a problem for the side that smashed the Australians in their own patch and walked all over the then No.1 side a year ago.

Nevertheless, my prediction for the series is 2-1 to South Africa.

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Ode to 90s Hindi Cinema

The 1990s was a remarkable period in the history of Hindi cinema. There have been good and bad movies in every era, but the 90s, when I grew up, was an extraordinary era which  saw an incredible number of unintentionally hilarious movies- movies that were meant to be serious but ended up tickling the funny bone of the audiences.

As an ode to that era, here is my famous five list from that era- movies to watch at least once in your lifetime.

Gunda (1998)
Any article on the worst of Hindi cinema would be incomplete without a reference to this Kanti Shah cult movie. So much has been said and written about this gem that I have little left to say. Suffice it to say that if you haven't already seen it, nothing can prepare you for this assault on your sensibilities.  A goon who walks around with a pet cheetah and a sexually challenged brother in tow, an impoverished hero who goes around in an esteem car and produces a bazooka seemingly at will, baddies whose most preferred method of settling scores is by raping the kith and kin of their enemies, corrupt officials/ politicians (the stock-in-trade of 90s Bollywood) got it all.

Apart from the sheer ludicrousness of what you see, the most incredible thing about Gunda is the dialogues. I doubt if there has ever been a movie where the vast majority of the dialogues rhyme. Imagine a guy saying "mera naam hai pote jo apne baap ke bhi nahi hote" or "main banaunga tumhe maut ka nivala, gadhkar teri chati mein bhala". Yes folks, I'm not joking. Those dialogues are real!

I promise you, you have never seen anything like this before. This movie stands all alone at the highest pinnacle in the Golden Kela hall of fame (or should it be hall of shame?). Kanti Shah, take a bow!

Sher-E-Hindustan (1998)
It must be said that nearly every Mithunda movie from the 90s could merit pride of place in this list. Sher-E-Hindustan is but a random pick. Released in the same year as Gunda, this movie showcased Mithunda at his worst or more accurately, second worst- Gunda takes the biscuit by a country mile.

The basic theme of this movie was supposed to be a bunch of honest policemen trying to clear the lawlessness prevailing in the village where they are posted- potentially an interesting theme. But when you add to this background a vicious, scheming local strongman with four perverted sons, a heroine whose clothes reveal more than they conceal, half a dozen songs that pop out without any context and a romantic track featuring the heroine and a clearly unfit and overage hero, you have all the ingredients of a really bad movie...except that this movie is so bad, it makes you laugh at the sheer stupidity of it.

The 'romantic' scenes are bad enough to make you laugh out loud, complemented by some ridiculous moves that pass for dancing- the kind of steps Jitendra routinely did in those 'Made in Chennai' movies of 80s vintage. But the action sequences at the end overshadow everything else, catapulting this movie from the also rans to the realm of legend. Sher-E-Hindustan features some of the most bizzare fights that I have ever seen. I kid you not when I say that I feel off my chair laughing at them. Not even Jitendra in his 80s avatar managed such hilarious action sequences.

Check out the poster of this movie (below)- if there were to be one single image that could be taken as a microcosm of this movie, this is it.

Bal Brahmachari (1996)
Bal Brahmachari could easily hold its own as one of the finest (unintentional) comedies ever made. The Hanuman worshipping protagonist, who's blessed with extraordinary physical strength, goes about carrying a blank expression throughout this film. As if to compensate for it, his adoptive father (played by the inimitable Mukesh Khanna) hams like there's no tomorrow. A series of hilarious capers featuring the baddies trying to upstage the hero provide ample entertainment of the unintended variety. Don't get me started on the wholly superflous track featuring the heroine who's head over heels with the protagonist for no apparent reason.

I've seen school level plays with a more coherent and logical script than Bal Brahmachari (insofar as there was one at all). If entertainment were to be the only parameter for evaluation, I would give unhesitatingly give two thumbs up to this movie, never mind that the entertainment was of the unintended variety. Very possibly this writer expended more effort in penning this review than the person who wrote the script of this pathetic excuse for a movie.

Guddu (1995)
Guddu featured an eponymous protagonist, whose sweetheart Salina loses her eyes in an accident that happened when the two were travelling together. Having discovered by chance that he has but a few months to live, Guddu wishes to donate his eyes so that Salina can see. Unfortunately he requires his father's approval to do so, as he still has not attained majority- which is not forthcoming. Guddu goes to court fighting for his right to donate his eyes.

Its hard to understand what went wrong...sorry, what went right with this movie. For sure, the lead pair of Shah Rukh Khan and Manisha Koirala conjured up performances that they would be embarassed to recollect today. Add to that Mukesh Khanna (who played Guddu's father) who effortlessly outdid the rest of the cast in the ham stakes. The scene where he makes his way to the court has to be seen to be believed. And yes, the ending deserves a special mention. To quote wikipedia:

Kavita (Guddu's mother) couldn't bear the trauma of ...her son's disease, so she decides to devote herself to god for five days without drinking a sip of water. Her prayers get answered and her ...son's operation is successful. She dies in the feet of god while praying and her eyes get donated to Salina. Salina and Guddu get married and are blessed with twins and they live happily ever after.

In other words, the son survives and his sweetheart's vision is restored, thanks to the mother, who staves to death for them. Tragic as this may sound, I assure you that the way it is presented, the ending will make you laugh out does nearly every supposedly touching scene in this movie. It beggars belief that Shah Rukh Khan and Manisha Koirala, both established stars at the time, agreed to do this movie.  

Karan Arjun (1995)
Rakesh Roshan's 1995 blockbuster is admittedly an unlikely candidate for this list, but this movie has earned its entry into this list. To sum up the story in a few simple words: baddie steals Karan-Arjun's property, baddy kills Karan Arjun and harasses their mother to his heart's content. K&A are reborn, K&A kill baddie and aal iz well ever after.

To this cliched story add a bumbling (obviously iniberated) mother who hams like there's no tomorrow, a bunch of sadistic villains who take pride in their viciousness, a hero who can propel a stone hard enough to not just shatter a windscreen but also kill the man behind using a catapult (I kid you not) and dialogues of the variety that make you cringe/ laugh, depending on your perspective.

It must be said, in all fairness, that the actors in this movie actually performed pretty competently, but what can even the best actor do when burdened with a script that had more holes than an anthill. The only exception is Rakhi Gulzar, the ever suffering mother, whose acting and dialogue delivery is so bad, its hard not to burst out laughing. Bad as this movie was, I must confess that she single-handedly took it to a different level.

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Ekk tha captain

Long long ago, when I was a college going teenager, I remember hearing about a promising young player from Bihar called Dhoni. The 20th century was in its last throes then, the state of Jharkand was not yet in existence. Five seasons later, I remembered that name when I saw this long-haired young fellow make his debut for India. Against Pakistan in Vishakapatnam (?), he smeared 148 or so in virtually no time at all, becoming an overnight sensation.

Let me confess here: I took an instant liking to this guy who was exactly two months younger than me. There was something fascinating about a youngster from a provincial city, the capital of a state normally known for backwardness and poverty, cementing his place in the national team. I was perhaps one of his earliest fans outside his native Jharkhand. Far too many people criticised his hairstyle and branded him a showpony. To me, there was something special about this fellow. There was this never say die spirit about him and more importantly, an extraordinary level of commitment in the way he played.

After a somewhat slow start, this guy had a meteoric rise. Within two years he was named captain, albeit for the inaugural version of a tournament called the T20 World Cup, featuring a form of the game that was virtually unknown in India. In two weeks, a young Indian team peopled by little known youngsters shocked everyone by lifting the trophy. Dhoni had suddenly become the heir apparent to the captaincy, a post then occupied by Anil Kumble in a caretaker capacity. Within a year, the heir apparent acceded to the throne with a landmark win against Australia.

It was the beginning of a fairytale, in the course of which Mahendra Singh Dhoni led India to dizzying heights. A historic away win against New Zealand, back from behind draws in Sri Lanka and South Africa and a series win in West Indies counted among his many achievements. Along the way, he took India to No.1 in the test rankings, something no Indian captain before him could claim to have done. The crowning glory came on 2nd April 2012, when Dhoni hammered that huge six to win the world cup before a delirious home crowd. Just approaching 30, Dhoni was the toast of the nation. The world was his for the taking.

And then the dream suddenly went sour. The tour of England proved an unmitigated disaster, as India lurched from one thrashing to the other, returning without a single win in th course of the tour. A series win against a resolute, but inexperienced West Indies papered over the cracks. The tour of Australia however, saw India come a cropper yet again. The nightmare of England, hitherto dismissed as an aberration, was relived again, as India lost yet another series 0-4. The numero uno ranking was long since lost. Forget winning, this team suddenly looked a side that would struggle to draw against a second division outfit.

Dhoni's own captaincy has been the biggest casualty of the recent events. Something has changed in the recent past. The man who kept a deep cover for the new batsman was hardly recognisable as the man who got Greame Smith out, caught at second slip in a T20 game four sesons ago. The captain who seemed able to turn around any situation, has proved incapable of snatching opportunities that presented itself aplenty.  His teammates hardly seem to be reading from the same page. Most significantly however, beneath that calm facade, a different man seems to be lurking in place of the once imperturbable man.

True, ups and downs are part of a sportperson's life. Nevertheless, its hard not to see a pattern in Dhoni's sudden slide. Perhaps its the outcome of the unending grind of international cricket, IPL and Champions Trophy. I doubt if Dhoni has had anything resembling a serious break since two years now. Imagine going to work nearly every single day for two years on the trot. I lived a 'constantly on the move' life for nearly 18 months and I promise you, the mind and body were both crying for a break by the end of it- and I did not have to endure extended periods away from home, nor did I have to suffer 24X7 media attention and the pressure of a billion expectations during that period. From first hand experience, I can only imagine the plight of a man in Mahi's position.

Perhaps its time for Dhoni to take a break. An extended period away from the spotlight, in the midst of the people who matter most, would give him the opportunity to sit back and put things in perspective. Sometimes all that it takes to revive oneself is to remember where it all started: the love for the game that impelled him to travel countless hours in over crowded buses and trains, those countless hours out in the field with one's mates, the leg-pulling, the hours Mahi spent on the longest railway platform in the world in his capacity as TTE with the railways. It only needs a look back into the past to realise how far he has come and realise the sheer enormity of what he has achieved.

No one can take away Mahi's achievements. Two world cup wins, taking India to No.1 in the test rankings, a drawn series in South Africa and ending a 41 year drought in New Zealand- all of them are achievements no other Indian captain can boast of. That he managed all that with an average attack at best, is extraordinary. Many other have achieved far less with much greater resources. Whatever his current situation and irrespective of what he goes on to do, nothing can take away the smiles he put on the faces of millions of Indians. For that alone, he deserves to be remembered as a champion.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Premature optimism?

Over the last few weeks, Australia have shown a remarkable resurgence with three thumping wins over the touring Indians- a side that was rated the world's No.1 just six months ago. Their utter dominance shows beyond doubt that the Kangaroos are a vastly improved team from the one that was flogged 3-1 at home last season. The remarkable performance by Clarke's men, reminiscent of the predecessors a generation ago, has prompted the Aussies to state to target numero uno status before the next Ashes series in 2013.

The newly rediscovered optimism has got me worried. Admittedly I may be reading too much into it, but it seems to me that the people who matter most in Australian cricket have already started fancying that everything is well in Australian cricket and that their team is well on its way to regaining the crown it held for the best part of two decades. Such optimism comes across as unduly ambitious at best or plain complacent at worst when you take into account the fact that the team in question was shot out for 47 barely two months ago and was at the receiving end of its first ever defeat at the hands of New Zealand in nearly two decades just over a month ago.

There's no denying that Australia have walked all over India in this series but its equally true that results against India are no longer an indication of the strength of a side. England, who were even more dominant against the Indians at home a few months ago, have just had their shortcomings in Asian conditions brutally exposed by a Pakistan side that is excellent and even efficient, but by no means world beating. Australia's last series win before this one was against a side that has won just one test in the last 18 months- hardly the kind of opposition to give anyone sleepless nights.

Which is not to say that Australia have been filling their boots with easy wins against mediocre opposition, far from it. The manner in which they have exerted pressure on their opponents in the present series has been outstanding, but it must be kept in mind that the Indian batsmen have far from imposed themselves on the opposition. Will the likes of Hilfenhaus, Siddle and Cummins manage to exert the same kind of pressure on opponents who try to unsettle them?

An even greater concern is that most of the members of this attack have very limited experience of bowling in unhelpful conditions. The likes of Cummins and Starc have never once been to Asia and none of the current lot have ever been to the carribean. Can they replicate their dominance at home in unfamiliar conditions?

Only time will tell.
The question marks are not confined to the bowling alone. Not unlike their opponents, Australia have an aging middle order. Ponting and Hussey, who are both in their late 30s now, are surely not going to be around much longer. Add to it the fact that Haddin's batting and keeping alike have shown a marked deterioration in recent months. At 34, his future too looks precarious, which means that Australia have the challenge of getting at two to three youngsters ready to take over within the next 12 to 18 months and right now the likes of Marsh and Khwaja look far from ready to take over from their seniors.

There isn't the least doubt that there are several promising youngsters waiting to be picked, but the people in charge of Australian cricket need to ensure that those youngsters are given the opportunity to find their feet at the highest level before their seniors retire. The worst thing that can happen at this stage is a bunch of talented youngsters having to learn the nuances of life at the highest level all by themselves. Australia have already paid a heavy price of poor succession planning. It is imperative that they avoid repeating the mistake.
The Australians have every reason to take heart from their recent showing against the Indians. Nonetheless, there remains much work to be done before they dream of becoming the number one side. Rising up the ranks will require hard work, determination and an acceptance of the fact that they are going to face several failures along the way. they need to caution against undue optimism, for one series win does not a great team make. Its good to be ambitious, even better to be realistic.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

A misadventure in the offing

As I write, a proposal to impose fresh sanction on Iran by the western powers is doing the rounds. Iran has already threatened to blockade the strait of Hormuz, which would effectively cut off oil supply from the Gulf (except Saudi Arabia). The current state of affairs is raising fresh fears of a military confrontation between the USA and Iran.

The entire disagreement centres on the nuclear programme, which Iran insists is for civilian purposes. The western powers, especially the USA have been continuously raising fears that Iran has been developing nuclear weapons in the guise of a civilian nuclear programme, although no credible evidence has emerged to support such claims hitherto.

To be honest, I fail to see what the entire fuss is about. As I recollect, Iran has not expressed  bellicose intentions against any of those countries anytime in the recent past, much less that of using nuclear weapons. Under the circumstances, it seems to me that the western powers are raising concerns about weapons which, given their recent track record, could prove just as potent as Saddam Hussain's WMDs.

If anything, the entire episode reeks of a neo-imperialistic attitude. Admittedly my views could be biased, coming as I do from a former colony. Nonetheless, it seems rather strange that countries, some of whom have developed nuclear weapons of their own, are now trying everything within their powers to develop another from doing so. To my knowledge, no objections were ever raised when those western nations were developing their own nuclear facilities. Given that background, its hard to understand why they should be raising the alarm, even if their fears prove to be true.

If one were to argue that there is a possibility of Iran not handling their nuclear weapons in a responsible manner, there arises the question, just who decides whether or not it is safe for a particular country to have them?  To me it sounds incredibly arrogant for a handful of countries to decide who should have nuclear weapons and who should not, especially when they are led by the only country to have ever used them in a war.

A Nuclear Explosion

Remarkably, another middle eastern state- Israel- is reported to have nuclear weapons of its own, although there is no official information on the subject. There is much less evidence of Iran having any such weapons till date and official sources have vehemently denied any intentions of using their nuclear programme for military purposes. Whereas Iran has not been involved in any major military confrontation in the recent past, Israel's track record in this regard is far from encouraging. Given that background, it seems a case of different measures for different people.

The USA has already burnt its fingers in Iraq and Afghanistan in the recent past. With an economy in the grips of the worst financial crisis in living memory and a burgeoning fiscal deficit, one only hopes that Uncle Sam has learnt its lesson. If not, the whole world will pay a heavy price.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

A terminal decline

A few days ago, I predicted a 3-1 win to Australia in the on-going test series against India. Just two days into the second test of the series, I'm beginning to feel that the prediction was wildly optimistic. On current performance, India will need nothing short of a miracle to escape yet another 0-4 flogging.

To be honest, I had my apprehensions well before the action kicked off. I never had the least doubt in my mind that the debacle in England was not an aberration, but the sign of a much deeper malaise. A middle order that boasts of Dravid, Tendulkar and Laxman- man who have over 35000 test runs between them collectively- should not be imploding with such regularity.

The statistics speak for themselves: in the last 11 innings abroad, India have not crossed 300 even once while opposition sides have raked up scores of 474/8d, 544, 710/7d and 591/6d. As I write, Australia are well poised to score well in excess of 600, which establishes beyond doubt that the pitches have nothing to do with the paucity of runs. The fact that India's openers have struggled to see off the new ball has hardly helped matters. That, however, is no excuse for such a consistently dismal performance from a top5 in which the most inexperienced batsman is currently playing his 46th test.

The bowlers have not exactly covered themselves with glory either. However, there exist mitigating circumstances, as its a largely inexperienced lineup. A group of under 25 bowlers can hardly be expected to flourish when they are perpetually under pressure due to the lack of runs from their batsmen (for the record, legends like McGrath, Ambrose, Muralitharan and Donald were well into their 20s when they finally came of age).

I have long been advocating the need to phase in younger batsmen like Kohli, (Rohit) Sharma, Pujara and Mukund and give them the opportunity to do their apprenticeship under the mentorship of the legends. Perhaps the best way forward could be to play any two out of the three on a rotational basis, thereby allowing at least two youngsters to play in their company at any given point in time. Moreover, having a newcomer at the pivotal no.6 position seems ridiculous to me. It would be much better to push him up a slot and have one of the experienced hand play that role.

If anything, India have a golden opportunity on their hands to manage the transition. They are not touring outside the sub-continent until their back to back tours of South Africa and New Zealand in 2013-14, by which time the trio of legends will almost certainly have retired. That gives a good two years to phase in youngsters and help them find their feet at the highest level in familiar conditions before tougher challenges beckon.

The lineup of youngsters waiting to grab their chance is a pretty long one. Its about time the Indian selectors gave the youthful claimants a chance. In the company of legends like Tendulkar, Dravid and Laxman, they can learn and develop much faster than they would if left to their own devices. Out of every adversity arises opportunity and right now, opportunity is knocking hard at India's doorstep. How the selectors react could determine the future of Indian cricket.