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Is This a Joke?

You know that scene from – what was it? Bones, I think? In which some guy too shy to put up his actual pic on the dating site he invented decides instead to photoshop the profile pics of several different men to create a brand new super datable person?

I feel like that’s what happened here. You’re looking at an experiment in Kapoor making! I can only hope he’s been programmed for etiquette, not destruction.

His name is Aditya Raj Kapoor, Shammi Kapoor is his dad, they call him Mickey at home, he does the salsa, built Appu Ghar, has a guru called Bhole Baba, directed a movie called Sambar Salsa starring Rishi Kapoor and now he’s acting in a Bollywood movie.

I’m so not making this up!

And yet! Come on! Right? Admittedly, I’m not up to speed on my Kapoor family tree (look, I have an insanely extended family of my own if I were interested in that kind of thing) but this seems… so out of the blue.

I thought my fever was over, but now I have second thoughts.

 
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Posted by on July 19, 2010 in Celebrity, Entertainment, News

 

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Die-For Duo

Die-For Duo

All pretenders kindly cease and desist. My favorite mystery couple will always be Madhubala and Ashok Kumar. Unlike other claimants like the baby-faced duo of Sadhana and Manoj Kumar, for example, who often exuded a slightly off-putting matched-set vibe, Ashok Kumar and Madhubala complemented each other.

He was rugged, gravelly voiced, tough, and alternated between a stern-faced authoritarian and a dashing man about town with a sense of humor. She was beautiful, full-figured, charming, and channeled  a mischievous sprite.  Together they were perfection.

Chalti ka Naam Gaadi (1958)

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my month of retina-scarring television, it’s that India loves its men strong and angry. Manly Men Be Aaaaangrryyyy! Rawr.

Much as I love to be contrary, that’s precisely why I love Ashok Kumar in this movie. Although he doesn’t star opposite Madhubala and younger brother Kishore walks around picking pieces of scenery from between his teeth when he’s not singing some of the most deliriously fun (and “inspired”) songs ever recorded for a Hindi film, Ashok is a big reason why I watch this movie over and over and over again.

The stern exterior hiding the battered heart, the marshmallow center of a hard candy – AIEEEEEE! If you’re lucky enough to find a clear(ish) print of this movie, you can gaze at his un-pretty but oh-so-charismatic visage and sigh that you’ll never find a man today who can bark out orders and forbid his brothers from associating with an entire gender the way he does.

What I seriously appreciate about his performance though is that he plays it straight. A lesser actor would have played the role for laughs and descended into caricature – something that happens distressingly often in a Hindi comedy where everyone is self consciously aware that they’re being !FuNnY! AK, on the other hand, let his brothers’ supreme hamming talents ricochet off his performance instead of trying to match them step for step. It’s a trick he would do in other movies, this metaphorical stepping back so that other more fiery stars could let the rockets fire out their bum while he quietly carried the scene in peace, but it’s never as perfect than in Chalti ka Naam Gaadi where all three of the Kumar brothers are so in tune.

In fact, given my druthers, I’d embed the whole movie here in lieu of a paltry clip or two. Although, I can’t imagine the madness that must have been the Ganguly household growing up.

Howrah Bridge (1958)

I have no idea why this movie gets so little love while Shakti Samanta’s other weepfests like Amanush and Amar Prem are still obsessed over. From the mid-60s on, Samanta was looking towards Europe but in his early days he had a bit of an Oriental fetish which you can see in movies like Howrah Bridge, Singapore and (the proto-Don) China Town.

Following the trajectory of Samanta’s less celebrated works, Howrah Bridge is a murder mystery featuring a stolen heirloom, shot in the noir style that (I assume) was then all the rage. It features Madhubala as a thoroughly believable femme-fatale-who-really-isn’t, Helen as the famous Ms. Chin Chin Choo, Madan Puri with slanted eye make-up, K.N. Singh as a sinister evildoer you can’t take your eyes off, and Ashok Kumar as the dashing out-of-towner with a game of his own to play.

This movie also brings up the question: was Ashok Kumar the last Indian actor who could wear a dinner jacket like he meant it? Some men can just wear it, you know? While most men look silly. And lordy, lordy, could AK wear it!

In conclusion: Look at them flirt! Well? What more do you need, cretin?

Mahal (1949)

I can’t remember the first time I saw Mahal, but I do remember that it scared the crap out of me. I was very young and the cable-wallah threw himself a little Scare Fest by showing us Bees Saal Baad (the one with Waheeda Rehman; he saved the Mithun Chakraborty one, which was scary for entirely different reasons, for a later date), the Rebecca-remake Kohraa, and Mahal.

I’ve never seen a quality print of this movie but, as you can imagine, any movie that saw the debut of Kamal Amrohi as director, gave Madhubala her first lead as an adult, and played a significant role in turning Lata Mangeshkar into a household name, is sufficiently awesome enough to battle crappy preservation and still shine through.

Although the camera faithfully follows AK’s extremely effective performance as a man faced with Very Weird Things that are totally destroying his mind, Madhubala left the greater impression on me. Not only because she was so amazingly lovely in this movie or because she managed to imbue a deep suspicion of all swings in me for a time, but because the big reveal was so incredible.

It was the first time I’d seen a true blue sociopath as a Hindi film heroine and they’re still pretty rare on the ground. And don’t tell me she wasn’t – girl be nuttier than a squirrel’s winter stash.

Ek Saal (1957)

The cutest ever. Seriously. This is a movie you watch curled up on your couch with the lights off, a big box of chocolates and a bottle of wine. The romance, the pretty, the Madhubala who is a light source on her own, the innocence of and the doomed struggle against true love, the heartbreak, the mocking AK who sings to the stricken AK as he realizes the value of what he’s lost, the penitence – I know it’s not technically a mystery but it’s all so satisfying!

Look at that poor sap on his flower-patterned couch. He actually thinks he has a chance! Ha! Ha, I say!

(And OMG, my mother totally has that necklace!)

 
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Posted by on June 30, 2010 in Entertainment, Movies, Review, Video

 

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On Raavan

On <i>Raavan</i>

Beera: “How do you kill someone who isn’t afraid to die?”

Ans: Show them Raavan.

Noooooooooooooooo. That’s not true. But it’s the lure of the low hanging fruit – I must reach. Here’s what I really think of the love story of Twinkle Toes McScreech and Scowly Caricatureson:

Mani Ratnam’s Raavan, evocatively shot by cinematographers Santosh Sivan and V. Manikandan, is an excellent bait-and-switch operation. You think you’re going in for an exciting Naxalite-ish Gangaajal  loosely based on the central conflict of the Ramayana, and you exit from a two hour meditation on what it means to be a human being.

This is a movie that will not be rushed. A magnificent bird of prey lands next to a beautiful woman on a boat, startling her. Ragini is being kidnapped by Beera, a man who seems determined to take his ongoing vendetta with the police shockingly personal. “Why should you kill me?” she asks him defiantly as he takes aim at her, choosing instead to dive off a cliff. It is an unexpected moment of bravery that leaves him spinning. “Will you stay here with me?” he asks. She does not know what to say, not when she knows he holds her captive by his mere presence. This was not the plan; he’d fully intended to kill her and she’d sworn to destroy him.

 
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Posted by on June 21, 2010 in Entertainment, Movies, Review

 

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Raajneeti: Epic Fail

<i>Raajneeti</i>: Epic Fail

What do you get if you boil the Mahabharata down to its bare bones? Going by Prakash Jha’s Raajneeti: nearly three hours of horrible people killing each other, that’s what.

The movie begins on the banks of the Ganga, much like the Mahabharata. Bharati (Nikhila Trikha), the daughter of pro-establishment politician Rajnath Rai (Darshan Jariwala), is praying for the illegitimate son she gave up to the river 30 years ago. The baby is the result of many a noble marchalong and a brief makeout scene in the rain with the middle-aged Leftist Bhaskar Sanyal (Naseeruddin Shah). The sex was apparently so good, he skedaddles from both Bharati’s life and the movie with a lame “Dear Jane” that says he’ll feel guilty forever. Fittingly, he’s making khichdi the day they tumble into bed together – because that’s exactly what Bharati’s life is about to become.

In very short order then, Bharati gives birth and her father’s right-hand man Brij Gopal (Nana Patekar) sails him down the river before marrying her off to Chandra Pratap, the younger brother and power-behind-the-throne of a rising politician, Bhanu Pratap. 30 years later, Bharati’s father Rajnath Rai has reached the end of his career and there is a palace coup of sorts led by the Prataps.

The Prataps have their own issues. Elder brother Bhanu Pratap’s son Virendra (Manoj Bajpai) considers himself the Crown Prince while Chandra Pratap’s elder son Prithvi (Arjun Rampal) is busy setting up his own power base within the party. But these are matters to be settled later – right now, the family is united behind Bhanu Pratap’s ambition. Until he’s unexpectedly felled by a paralytic stroke just as he announces that elections have been called. And thus begins the war.

Chandra Pratap and Prithvi take over the party as per Bhanu Pratap’s hospital-bed command. Virendra revolts and manages to wrest control, kicking his cousins out. Brij Gopal, his loyalty now switching from Rajnath Rai to his in-laws, allies himself with Prithvi alongside the ambivalent younger Pratap sibling, Samar (Ranbir Kapoor). Meanwhile, Virendra recruits a rising Dalit leader called Sooraj Kumar (Ajay Devgan) to his cause, mainly to piss off Prithvi who can’t stand the sight of him.

Somewhere in the middle of all this testosterone is the temperamental Indu Saxena (Katrina Kaif), the daughter of a wheeler dealer who auctions her off (along with his handy fortune) to whichever cousin, Virendra or Prithvi, can promise him the political cachet of the Pratap name. Samar, with a sweet blonde (Sarah Thompson) waiting for him in America, takes advantage of Indu’s love for him to marry her off to his brother, thus solving the party’s cash crunch and getting rid of her unwanted affections in one blow. Indu, for her part, comes to realize that her new husband might be a raving psycho, but he’s at least human unlike his reptilian brother.

As all these lovely people try to get the better of each other with increasing amounts of violence, truckloads of minor characters are steadily mowed down. The only interesting one of these is the ambitious sexpot (Shruti Seth), who shows up in an unintentionally hilarious yet horribly sad scene to sleep with Prithvi in order to get an election ticket as the female face of the party.

Raajneeti is a story told with authority, performed by a cast that’s well up to the job – including prophesied weak spots Kaif and Rampal. I was raring to go watch it, even if the kissy Ranbir-Katrina promos were giving me pause, and I can’t say I feel cheated when I walked out at the end. Why, then, is my overall reaction to the movie a resounding “meh”?

***SPOILERS AHEAD***
(or not, depending on whether you’ve read the Mahabharata)

Adaptations, especially when the source material is as sprawling as the Mahabharata, are a tricky business. If you don’t end the process by getting tarred and feathered, consider it a raging success. My own two favorites are Shyam Benegal’s elegant Shashi Kapoor-starrer Kalyug and Mani Ratnam’s much more feisty Thalapathi starring Rajnikanth. Both of them chose the murky waters of the Draupadi-Karna relationship as their emotional anchor with Karna-Kunti backstory playing support, while locating the main battle in a corporate boardroom and the underworld, respectively.

Jha chooses the pairing of Draupadi and Arjun to give it heft, and isolates the Karna-Kunti relationship as a thread that binds the whole together. It might have worked if:

A. Karna a.k.a. Sooraj, the only child of the Pratap family driver, ever showed the slightest sign of being conflicted about his choices. It’s true Ajay Devgan spends a great deal of time frowning (puzzlement? pain? attraction? bowel movement? it’s That Frown – you know the one!) at Manoj Bajpai, but he always follows it up by expressing concern for his friend’s well-being rather than his own actions. So when Bharati shows up for the big reveal, it’s possibly the most anti-climactic scene in the movie.

B. Arjuna a.k.a. Samar was anything other than a self-aware psychopath. The great moment of the battle comes before a single blow has been dealt, when Arjuna looks at the faces of his family arrayed against him and tells Krishna that he cannot take up arms against those he loves. In Raajneeti, when Samar notes dispassionately that his enemy is unarmed, you wonder why he’s being so nice all of a sudden.

The Mahabharata is so violent a tale that my religious mother and aunts fully subscribe to the superstition that merely keeping a copy of the epic in your house is bound to bring doom upon it. But it is a not a senseless, alienating violence. Each and every act of violence in the epic, from murder to rape and everything in between, performed by noble characters as well as vile, has an ethical and emotional resonance. The person who commits the crime pays a price just as much as the person who endures it. It is a cautionary tale.

Raajneeti is not. People die because other people find it convenient for them to die. Women are used because that is their function. Violence is the answer because it is satisfying. Raajneeti is the Hum Saath Saath Hain of political drama; a reductive re-telling rather than an interesting interpretation.

*** END SPOILERS ***

Narrative issues aside, Jha steps up his game by loading the movie with visual symbols. From the moment of Sooraj’s birth, for example, Jha frames him against the rising and setting sun. At times, it can get a little awkwardly blatant, as in the confrontation between Bharati and Sooraj, wherein he leaves her in tears against a barren tree lit by a setting sun. Sadly, the image has more pathos than the conversation itself.

My personal favorite was of Bhanu Pratap, standing on the dais  in the golden spotlight just prior to his stroke and announcing his intention to be crowned king of all he surveys. Meanwhile his brother, his son and his nephew, all of them his heir-presumptives, stand in the shadows, directing the adulation of the crowds.

It’s that kind of touch that elevates Raajneeti from the soulless mess it repeatedly threatens to become. Jha has a gift for the political cameo, from the woman who will trade her body for a shot at power, to the aging Rajnath Rai truculently refusing to get out of his car so he can be peaceably deposed, to Virendra’s absolute certainty that Samar’s using his American voodoo to rob him of his birthright.

It’s a khichdi that doesn’t taste as good as it ought.

 
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Posted by on June 6, 2010 in Entertainment, Movies, Review, Video

 

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Amar Akbar Anthony

<i>Amar Akbar Anthony</i>

Balle! Balle! Bunny ears.

Vinod Khanna thinks Amar Akbar Anthony is prime remake material. I think: “Nahiiiiiiiiiin! Yeh paap hai!”.

But what if this were to happen? Retouched for the new generation?

Amar Akbar Anthony, the story of three upper middle class Mumbai stoners (just look at those mugs!) who like to dress up in drag and play in a band. Kind of like Hedwig and the Angry Inch but without the castration.

Balls! Balls! We'd like to keep 'em.

Amar is the sensitive one, who comes up with dreamy songs about girls in sundresses, cranberry Smirnoff kisses, the existential angst of 30-year-old teenagers, soulmates and other random shit that the other two think is absolutely fucking genius but only because they’ve never listened to his lyrics when they were sober. Someday they will and boy, are they gonna be mortified about their repertoire. And then Amar won’t have any friends.

Akbar is the angry one. He’s an artiste but the world won’t let him be great so in the meantime he rails about the system to all the groupies he bangs and then strums the shit out of his guitar, often in keys and to tunes that have very little to do with whatever it is that the rest of the band is playing. He doesn’t know it but his bandmates are secretly laughing about him behind his back. If they weren’t so high, they’d have been pissed and beaten him bloody but they’re way too mellow to care. He’s going to be very depressed when he finds out. He might say as many as two cruel things to his mom that day.

Anthony is the self-professed player who “knows people”. He often tells whoever didn’t ask that he’d have left these two losers a long time ago but that whiny kid Amar and that funny one Akbar really know how to draw in the chicks. He’s been there, he’s done that and one day soon he’ll go someplace and do something that’s going to get him kneecapped. And that’s if he’s lucky.

Baby boy Baabby, mole nahin to kuch nahin!

When the sinister Boom Box Bobby, an unsavory musician who hates Bollywood music, runs off with their demo tape and threatens to tell their mothers what really goes on in Akbar’s basement when his parents think he’s “practicing” unless they keep quiet, Amar, Akbar and Anthony must unite with their loved ones to fight his evil intentions.

Your butt is precious to me.

Hmm. I’d still rather have the old one, methinks.

Catch up on the all-new, all-awesome week of Khanna-0-Rama for more reasons why you shouldn’t mess with the original! Click on the badge to the right (thanks, VLoveMovies).

 
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Posted by on May 5, 2010 in Celebrity, Entertainment, Movies

 

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Agony Aunt for a Day

Agony Aunt for a Day

Well, this shouldn’t get me blocked or relentlessly spammed or anything.

If any of you are reading this on a public computer or in front of eagle-eyed colleagues or nosy children and are sensitive about written words, you might want to come back to it at a later date. Fair warning.

You see… I have found a previously unexplored, terrific corner of my favoritest rag ever: The Mumbai Mirror. A tabloid so awful, they give Ekta Mata a run for her money (so fabulous, I actually cared about the IPL for the quick minute it took me to read that!). Home to journalism so scurrilously yellow, they provoked a Bachchan blackout (never mind, ToI, you can read his blog instead). Joy!

So what is this new section of the newspaper? The Sexpert, of course! They say every publication finds the readers it deserves (note: I don’t think they say that, whoever ‘they’ might be), and going by the letters The Sexpert has the, um, honor to answer, The Mumbai Mirror is certainly a strong case in point.

Now The Sexpert probably knows what he’s doing – it certainly sounds like it. But that doesn’t mean, I can’t butt in and offer some plain speaking, does it? Welcome to the internet. Here’s The Sexpert Alternative at work for you:

I am a 20-year-old man. I want to know the importance of pubic hair. I have lots of pubic hair all over my body and I want to remove them temporarily. How will it affect my body if I remove all the pubic hair?

Awww, I’m sure the girlfriend didn’t mean it when she said you were a giant dick. As for the importance of it – well, I’m sorry to be the one to tell you this but if you take it off, you’ll fall apart. Pubic hair acts like duct tape for your skin. Truth.

I am 37 years old. For one-and-a-half months, I have noticed that my foreskin does not pull back due to dryness. I have also noticed a white-ish-cream layer below the foreskin, which is dry. When I pull back the foreskin, I feel extreme pain and cracks appear on the ring. They hurt when I bathe. I find it difficult to have sex. What medicine should I apply?

Dude! Your peepee has been broken for a month and a half and your solution is to write letters to the paper? When you go to the hospital, ask them for a psych consult.

I am 50 years old and my partner is 58. We are on the foreplay level, but recently, by accident I inserted my penis briefly into her vagina. I experienced a mild burning sensation for one day, all over the penis. Could this be because she is diabetic?

“By accident”? Are you 15 or 50? And what do you mean, is it because she’s diabetic? Like a sugar burn? Look up STD, definition of. And invest in condoms.

I am 34 years old and have been married for nine years. Even though I am slim and attractive, my husband does not prioritise our sex life. Right from the beginning of the marriage, we’ve been doing it only once every two or three months. Then too, it’s very routine. He has never performed oral sex on me or masturbated me with his fingers, etc. Do we need to see a marriage counsellor or a sex therapist I don’t want to cause him discomfort.

Darling. He’s gay.

 
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Posted by on April 24, 2010 in Entertainment, Fiction, Life

 

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The Spanish Bride and I

One of the great joys of reading books set around real life events and/or people, is that the story doesn’t have to end when the book does. You can always look it up, read more, perhaps discover little connections that you take in other directions, sometimes to other great books. My love for Jane Eyre, for example, led me to Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South, which made me revisit my old copies of Charles Dickens with renewed or rather newfound appreciation (really – so much better to read as an adult! I don’t know why poor little kiddies have it thrust upon them).

However it is a much more common practice to find a book that you like, and then read every single book written by that author. It was in this manner that I first read Georgette Heyer’s The Spanish Bride a great many years ago (well, okay, fifteen or so years ago) and although I enjoyed it, I immediately set it aside and went searching for more of what Heyer described as her lighter work: her historical romances, and her Regency ones in particular. In fact, she pretty much invented the Regency sub-genre.

These were, to put it simply, fabulous. They were smart, funny, feminist but in an entirely period appropriate fashion, and meticulously well-researched romances that concentrated more on the romance than on sticky-out body parts. According to her biography, she really wanted to write historical biographies more than historical romances and in a way, she trained for it all through her writing career. Indeed, so meticulous and well-crafted was her work, she was in such command of the period and its events, that one of her novels set at the Battle of Waterloo, An Infamous Army, was actually made required reading at Sandhurst.

Digression: I must say, however, that if My Lord John, the first and only finished volume of her long cherished House of Lancaster series is an example of what was in store for her reading public, I’m very glad she found it necessary to write her bread-and-butter romances and historicals because I found that book incredibly dull. And I enjoy that period of English history! Even Royal Escape, which I dislike on principle because I really can’t stand anybody from that period (they’re all awful!), was better than this.

But while many of her books make glancing references to the Napoleonic Wars (people are always returning from them or going off to join them), the most intriguing of them all, in my opinion, was The Spanish Bride.

While An Infamous Army and other novels were works of fiction where real life provided context and background, The Spanish Bride is a true story, featuring real people taking part in real events. And unlike, say, The Conqueror, it features no fictitious sideplot and relies heavily (exclusively? She doesn’t provide a full list of sources, just the major ones) on written accounts left behind by the people who appear in the novel.

Its chief source, as Heyer acknowledges in the book, is the Autobiography of Sir Harry Smith, the protagonist of the story. She called it excellent – and having read my share of dull military autobiographies, not to mention nineteenth century puff pieces, I agree: it is excellent and shockingly close to The Spanish Bride. Not that I’d expect less from a woman who once bought a letter written by the Duke of Wellington so she could model her dialogue on what he actually sounded like.

Unlike Smith’s Autobiography, however, Heyer’s work only spans three years: from the second and brutal seige of the Spanish town of Badajoz to Waterloo. In those three years, we follow the lives, adventures, and most of all the romance of Juana Maria de los Delores de Leon, whom we first meet as 14-year-old refugee from Badajoz, and the English officer she marries within a few days of their meeting, Harry Smith.

The very fact that Heyer manages to make the marriage of a 14-year-old to a 25-year-old sound romantic and destined to be, rather than creepy and gross should tell you that you’re in the hands of a master character artist. And as the book progresses, you forget how young Juana is because of that touch of “old soul” she has about her in spite of being a completely believable overdramatic teenager, and how absolutely awesome she is, in a way that girls her age today are simply not portrayed to be. When, towards the end of the book, she announces herself to be seventeen, it comes as a bit of a surprise.

Stirring as this story is, especially if you’re a military enthusiast interested in Britain’s campaigns against Napoleon and America, there is so much more to it when you place the man and his story within a larger context of Empire and English society.

Even as a child, for example, I couldn’t help but notice that the English in The Spanish Bride didn’t really like any of their allies. Sometimes, individuals are singled out for praise but in general the Prussians, the Dutch, the Portuguese, the Spaniards and the French seem like bumbling idiots or pompous assholes. In fact, the French, in spite of being the enemy, come off a bit better than the rest of them although the Portuguese are treated with a rather condescending affection. There is also the odd mention of “beetle-browed Scots” and brogue-laden Irishmen. (I guess the Welsh weren’t too interested in fighting for the King?) All of which reminded me about this post by Apu.

Even more interestingly, further reading tells you strange little factoids about the people who appear in the book. The Colonel Colborne, for example, that Harry and Juana love so much turns out to be a jolly gent who endeared himself (not) to Canadians by setting fire to as many villages as he could find. So famous was he for this charming custom that the Quebecoises dubbed him “le vieux brûlot” i.e. “the old firebreather”. It’s doubly ironic given Harry’s disdain for what happened at Washington and his mania for the “compassionate” warfare methods employed by Wellington (which sounds silly now but when you think about it in 19th century warfare terms, it’s largely true).

And then there’s Harry’s India connection. I’d never heard of the Battle of Aliwal but it was apparently a “turning point of the First Anglo-Sikh War” and Harry Smith was the man who engineered the victory for the British (fun fact! the Governor General of the time was Henry Hardinge whose grandson Charles Hardinge was a Viceroy and is remembered in India today due to his foresight in naming a college in Delhi after his wife. Yeah, I got nothing. End fun fact.). In fact, his celebrity in defeating the (till then) feared Sikhs pretty much earned him a free pass through scandal and disapproval for the rest of his life.

Digression 2: There is apparently a Sikh version of the Battle of Aliwal, which Wiki says they lost because they couldn’t get their act together long enough to fight like a unit after the death of Ranjit Singh. But the link appears to be dead. If anyone has a link or suggested reading or any other info they’d like to share, it’d be most welcome.

Oddly enough, Harry Smith never intended his Autobiography to be published as it was. He considered it a little too explosive and sensitive as it was as frank as it could be in recording his opinions about his fellow and commanding officers. He thought that perhaps someone might fictionalize it, change the names and details and present it as a story set during the Wars. He never pursued it however, and it wasn’t until 1901 that a great-nephew found them by chance and had them published with minimal editing, all people mentioned in the book being dead and safe from hurt feelings. And 39 years later, Heyer wrote her version of his story. The Spanish Bride is, in fact, a strange sort of autobiography: one man’s words couched in another woman’s narrative.

I love it.

 
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Posted by on September 18, 2008 in Books, Entertainment, Review

 

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Romancing with Life

Nothing can quite prepare you for Romancing with Life, Dev Anand’s autobiography. All the reviews, the excerpts, the interviews, the soundbytes – all of it, including this post, becomes ultimately comparable to describing a rainbow for a blind man.

Consider this: At the very outset of this rather blog-style narrative, he tells you that his ultimate aim in writing his memoirs is to reduce the reader to a state of complete adoration for him, The Star. Anything else, he informs us, wouldn’t be worth his time and effort or befit his status as the beloved of millions. He then proceeds to dole out (sometimes graphic) anecdotes about his sexual exploits with married women, his own adulterous affairs, his jealousies, his despondencies, his vague spiritual flights of fancy (if you’ve seen Guide, you know what it is), and a laundry list of people he’s met in all the places he’s been. All of which make it increasingly difficult for you to feel anything even resembling the blatant adoration that he feels is his due.

Occasionally he writes of little incidents that have could possibly have been heartwarming in the right hands like the time his daughter cut her hand and he took her to the doctor in tears – once the trauma is over and the screaming little baby is all stitched up and soothed, she automatically sticks her thumb in her mouth. But after informing us in great detail about his suffering over her pain, he ends the little tale with the information that he later made Zeenat Aman (or rather the child who played the younger Zeenie) suck her thumb in Hare Rama Hare Krishna. The audience quite liked it, he assures us.

There are quite a few anecdotes like this one – the one in which he begins Navketan Films for the sake of his brother Chetan Anand is another one that sticks in my mind – but they all wind up making you grateful that you weren’t the recipient of his magnanimity. For instance, by the time we learn, rather early on, that Chetan repaid his younger brother’s magnanimity by eventually looking at him as the problem not the solution, you can’t help but feel there must have been something to it for Dev is already beginning to sound like a man you would rather not be indebted to – not because he’s a monster but because he wouldn’t understand that his idea of a kindness and yours might be considerably different.

But these are secondary things, as are his memories of his various colleagues and the films he made. The main theme of this book is Dev Anand’s love life, forever chased by a horde of panty-flinging women everywhere he goes.

It starts early on, as we meet a young, shy, and beautiful Dev, much cosseted by his family, a bit of a Peeping Tom and tortured by his unrequited love for the prettiest and smartest girl in his class who doesn’t even know he’s alive. Instead, he’s relentlessly pursued by another girl for whom he has no use – she’s “dark-skinned” and “smell[ed] of sex” and likes to chase him into secluded corners where she can plant one on his unwilling lips. I might have felt bad for him if he hadn’t all but drawn a diagram of a boner on the page with a neon arrow pointing to it.

The older Dev, according to his autobiography, is still shy and beautiful. However, we don’t see any of that shyness once he starts fooling around with (mostly married) women. The more successful he becomes, the greater the frenzy amongst women for a little taste of him. They throng around him, demand to act opposite him, kiss him, giggle at his jokes, exchange a great deal of tedious (and tediously recorded) banter and occasionally sleep with him until pesky things like husbands and children interfere.

I felt uncomfortable precisely twice – once when he described his first extended sexual encounter up to and including oral sex (my eyes!! my eyes!!) and secondly when he described his “courtship” of his wife Kalpana Karthik a.k.a. Mona. The way he describes the latter leaves the impression that Mona, dazzled by all the shiny toys he owned, pretty much begged him to marry her while he used her to get out a deep funk that was interfering with his work and life, getting stuck in the relationship before he could figure out a graceful way to end things in the absence of a waiting husband and pitiful children wailing for mommy at home.

The payoff for it, as far as I’m concerned, comes in an incredibly funny sequence towards the end of the book when Mona finds an injured Dev lying in bed studying some “sexy” blow ups of Richa Sharma, the future Mrs. Sanjay Dutt (although none of them knew it at the time) whom he first meets as a winsome 13 year old wannabe actress whom he invites into his hotel room in New York. Glaring at him without a word, Mona gathers up the photos and spitefully puts them where he can’t reach them with his broken ribs in a cast. Which makes him mutter to himself, “Why you gotta do me like this woman? Didn’t I always come home at the end of the day and sleep in my own bed?” I paraphrase. And then he painfully drags himself out of his bed, gets the pictures, triumphantly pores over them and hides them away in his bedside drawer where no one else could get at them.

Thus, it’s perhaps predictable that the only two times he ever actively pursues a woman (we’ll skate over his man-crush on Jawaharlal Nehru), it’s both tragic and unintentionally hilarious.

They’re falling in love right there!

The first is Suraiya, who wins his heart at the first meeting by carefully refraining from disturbing his puff (that thing on the front of his head? It’s known as the puff. So now you know). He rewards her by bestowing a fond nickname on her – “Nosey” because her only “defect” is her long nose – and soon he’s channeling Barbara Cartland. I’m not kidding. If you ever read Cartland’s description of an orgasm, then you’ll know how Dev Anand thinks of cuddling his chaste beloved. However, Suraiyya’s grandmother, whom he hilariously calls “granny” throughout the episode, wasn’t about to let her little baby marry some Hindu with a puff in his hair and Suraiyya was convinced to throw her feelings for him along with his very expensive ring into the sea. She never married and he rebounded with Mona. The (miserable) end.

Where are the rustic boobies?

The second was Zeenat Aman whom he impressed by bumming a cigarette from her so he could blow smoke in her face. Once she was dazed by it, he dragged her off to Nepal to watch Mumtaz act so she’d know what to do in front of the camera and hey presto! Hare Krishna Hare Rama was made. Once that got over, he took her to South India, stuck her in a bikini, posed her in a hammock, rescued his fly away cap from the “bulging breasts” of some village belle surprised to see what a freak dust storm had blown her way… and just when he was about to declare his love for her, went to a party and found a bloated, drunken Raj Kapoor discreetly feeling her up. “Humiliated”, he went back home and tried to think happy thoughts.

I think I’m supposed to feel bad for him but I couldn’t really concentrate with my skin crawling at the thought of that scene – the young sexy woman and the two old men jousting over her. It’s nothing I didn’t know before, but it’s still creepy as all hell.

And yet… in the middle of all this there is a note of sincerity and honesty. He has nothing but praise for his contemporaries, especially Dilip Kumar and Ashok Kumar, the man he calls his idol. It’s true he gives them about as much space in the book as some random pretty girl who blows him a kiss on the street but I believe him when he says he cared/cares for them, as well as Kishore Kumar and Guru Dutt, a great deal.

Generally speaking, Indian movie stars simply don’t do things of this sort (for good reason it turns out) but not only do I think Dev Anand wrote this book on his own but I think he made a conscious effort to be as frank as he could be.

The oddities of this book emanate from its author, for it becomes increasingly clear that over the past sixty years or so Dev Anand has devoted himself to his image as a movie star to such an extent that it’s managed to completely imprison him. There is always an unconscious whiff of a man who has spent a great deal of his time in front of a mirror trying to divine what it is that others see in him, and not being able to spot it himself, has arrived at his own (inaccurate) conclusions.

He wears a hat and dangles his “goggles” because he thinks of them as a sort of calling card, a part of his silhouette that announces to the world “Here Stands Dev Anand, Movie Star”; he nods his head and smiles a special smile for special people that he’s convinced is his “most charming smile”; he believes in the infallibility of his cinematic taste where every failure at the box office is the fault of the little people who lag behind his own exquisite sensibility; and lacking any real demons to fight, he gives a splendid speech highlighting his unique position in the film industry to a flummoxed set of film association people who didn’t appreciate his sticking up for the media at a time when they’d all decided to boycott what they called its yellow journalism.

As I reached the end of the book, I was about as far away from adoration as you could get. But what I did want to do, was take him by the hand and tell him it’s okay – he’ll always be Dev Anand even if he loses the scarf and the goggles and doesn’t nod his head… or chat up women young enough to be his granddaughter.

 
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Posted by on August 21, 2008 in Books, Celebrity, Entertainment, Review

 

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