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Banno Outtakes

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you

  1. are wondering what the hell happened to it
  2. know friend-of-the-blog Banno from Banno, Dhanno and Teja in Bumm-Bumm-Bhole-Land

And while you’ll have to keep wondering about the blog for a little longer, I’m happy to share that I interviewed Banno for Women’s Web and we discussed things like how awesome she is and how difficult it is to be an indie filmmaker in India. No, seriously, check it out! And once you’ve read it, come back to read the outtakes.

Yes, of course there are outtakes! The interview was done in my usual expansive style, after all. I have been away a long time if you can’t remember how I like to go on and on.

Thanks, Banno!

***

Amrita: Let’s talk about India Reborn.
Batul:
India Reborn was a series for Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. One of the episodes was on the Indian economy, and I worked on that as the Indian producer. An international documentary crew is typically very small, a director, a cameraman, a sound recordist, and a local producer like me. This one had a producer their end as well. My job usually is to help with finding stories, research, interviews, apart from the logistical co-ordination. I loved this job because after a long time, I worked with people who were still old-school journalists, we travelled through the country, and I learned so much about the Indian economy.

Amrita: I know from your blog that one of your British documentaries affected you deeply on a personal level.
Batul: The Slumdog Children of Mumbai came in the wake of Slumdog Millionaire‘s success. It was part of a year-long programming by Channel 4, UK. This was one of those jobs where we worked for long months, also the only job I did which was entirely during the monsoons. We had the tiniest crew: Nick Read, who was the producer, director, cameraman and sound recordist and me, working as an associate producer, conducting the interviews, etc.

It was physically grueling, the combination of rains and slums made things very, very difficult to bear at times, and I did come out of this experience traumatized.

Amrita: Any war stories?
Batul: I think the day I landed in Bhuj after the earthquake on Day 2, is the single most devastating day of my professional career. The dead bodies, the smell, the destruction of the entire city, people’s homes, and in the midst of it all trying to get a story. At that time, I was working as an associate for a cameraman who was shooting the International Rescue Corps.

I learned the gruesomeness of news in that one day, and in many ways, my own docu-feature 150 Seconds Ago was a back answer to that.

Amrita: Tell me about that experience.
Batul: 150 Seconds Ago was based on the lives of a few people in Bhuj, over the span of a year after the earthquake there in 2001. The people I followed included a rickshaw-wala, the erstwhile Maharajah of Bhuj, a doctor, a school teacher, and so on. It was very observational and exploratory, with no fixed narrative. The film travelled to many prestigious festivals including the Cinema du Reel, Paris, and the Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival, Japan. The Yamagata Festival curators then included the film in their traveling festival package and showed it around Japan for a year.

 
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Posted by on June 12, 2011 in Entertainment, Life, Movies, Newsmakers, Video

 

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Dogs, Whales and Men

My friend was outraged. The proud owner of two enthusiastic Great Danes, a mother-son duo, he’d looked forward to the male’s first official date. The breeder had shown up with an attractive female of acceptable pedigree in tow and they’d solemnly escorted the pair up to the terrace where the excited young male chased the puzzled female around for a bit.

Problem was, my friend’s dog was the runt of his litter. In fact, I think that’s why he got to stay behind with his mom – nobody wanted a Great Dane who was merely as tall as they were instead of one that towered over them. This made absolutely no difference to my friend and his family, of course. They loved him for who he was, not for a checklist of points in some breeder’s manual.

But when confronted with his new ladyfriend, certain truths had to be faced. He might have a delightful personality but he was simply too short for the job. The only way he was getting laid was if the girlfriend lay down out of pity… and she clearly wasn’t that kind of girl.

“We have another option,” said the breeder, conveying the sad news to my disappointed friend. “I could help him.”

What, get him a crate to stand on and hope she didn’t move?

“No, no,” said the breeder. “I can get a specimen from him. It’ll only take a minute.”

“He wanted to molest my dog!” my friend reported, aghast and ashen-faced. “The dirty motherfucker wanted to jerk my dog off! What kind of sick bastard suggests something like that? I threw him out of the house and told him never to come back!”

I don’t know what happened after that – for all I know, that particular dog now has a pack of half-breed puppies running around town, fathered on more convenient, shorter females. Or maybe they fixed it so he’s a lifelong bachelor. Who knows? But he certainly wasn’t depositing samples into some breeder’s test tube. Or whatever it is breeders use. (Silk handkerchiefs? Stockings? Flannel? Do I really want to know? No.)

I do remember thinking that it was a good thing my friend wasn’t born on a farm or a ranch with a breeding program because horses, cows and pigs get regularly touched in their no-no area by white-coated professionals in the faster, bigger, better business. But I guess knowing that artificial insemination exists is quite different from seeing it practiced on the pet you raised from its birth.

Like zoo animals. Let’s not forget zoo animals. Artificial insemination is the cornerstone of many a conservation effort carried out by modern zoos. It’s not always possible to satisfactorily matchmake between polar bears or giant pandas or komodo dragons… or orcas.

Tommy Lee’s letter about harvesting sperm from killer whales got my attention for the amount of time he spends obsessing about the method of extraction. Like, what did he expect? What would be a better way of getting sperm from a giant whale? They could:

  • Stand at the poolside and throw a big specimen jar into the water where the whale could deposit his business like a gentleman with opposable thumbs
  • Use a device made with synthetic fibers so the icky cross-species touching (of which neither is aware since the cow is dead, unless some unfortunate bovine is running around the United States without a vagina in which case, Jesus! forget the whale, let’s save that poor cow! or even worse, it’s a live cow with a cootchie full of hot water, and you know what? I’m going to stop right now. And the whale doesn’t know because… well, it’s a fucking whale. If it ever sees a cow*, it’ll eat it and ask questions later) doesn’t occur
  • Offer to pay $20, payable in Soylent Green or whatever it is that killer whales eat
  • Get them drunk
  • Advertise along the international killer whale route for volunteer orcas.

I don’t know if his problem is with Sea World keeping whales in a pool to perform tricks for children, or the whales being masturbated at all, or Tilikum in particular being treated as the “sperm bank”, or the method employed.

*Actually, the “cow” in question is, I think, a female orca. Which is fucked up in its own necrophiliac way but imagining a whale getting with the kind of cow that goes “Moo!” is even more screwy, so that’s what I’ll go for.

 
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Posted by on December 8, 2010 in Celebrity, Life, News, Newsmakers, Video

 

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Raunchy Haunch

You’ve heard of leg-men and ass-men and boob-men – but did you know Indians were thigh-men?

The first time I even knew this was a possibility was when Shilpa Shirodkar still had a career. It was way before my time so I have no idea how she suddenly ballooned several sizes over the course of a year (?) from a fairly unremarkable starlet to a big girl whom lecherous directors delighted in squeezing into rustic costumes much too small for her. (And then drenched her in more water than the annual rainfall of that area, of course.) What I do remember is that she immediately started appearing in the back-page gossip columns of Sunday supplements as the pin-up du jour for all “thunder thighs” enthusiasts.

Even that term makes no sense to me. I’m all for alliteration but that’s not even a sexy one. It beings to mind someone who’s so obese, the ground shakes when they walk. Except it’s clearly meant to be a compliment. The reason Shilpa Shirodkar sticks in my memory, for instance, is because the writer came off as extremely creepy even to my uncomprehending young eyes as he wrote about his vision filling with her supple thighs as he sat down to interview her and how all that weight gains had done wondrous things to her figure. Ew.

South Indian actresses get this a lot, I’ve noticed. In fact, that’s what brought it all back. It’s impossible to look for videos of Sridevi, for example, from her late 70s-Jeetendra 80s period without running into a legion of her devoted fans all busily drooling over publicity stills of her wearing shorts.

And clearly, this was something the people involved appreciated because once you start looking at them without a giant frame of WTF dancing in front of your eyes, you notice that the photographs carefully focus on their thighs. The women are frequently wearing shirts buttoned up to the throat, but with their legs drawn up to present their thighs.

I’m aware there are women out there who are obsessed with their thighs and some people spend more time thinking about it than others – Jezebel’s Thighlights never did anything for me, but to each their own, right? – but when Google shows me headlines like “Shocking Thigh Show!” I have to wonder what the deal is.

 
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Posted by on December 5, 2010 in Celebrity, Entertainment, Life

 

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Break ke Baad: Dear John

<i>Break ke Baad</i>: Dear John

Dear Movie, we have got to break up. Wake up Sid, Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na, Anjaana Anjaani, I Hate Luv Storys, Bachna Ae Haseeno… and now Break ke Baad, directed by Danish Aslam. The title of which made me laugh because we’ve essentially been watching the same movie starring Ranbir Kapoor and Imran Khan in turn, over and over and over again.

If I see one more middling movie about a likable pair of youngsters (the male confused yet ultimately correct; the female focused yet ultimately proven wrong) who stumble around in the dark before finding each other without too much fuss… well, I guess I will be well-rested because I’ll just turn over and go back to sleep. It’s not like I’ll lose my temper because that would be an actual reaction which is more than these things aim for.

[Digression 1: That's not strictly true. The first couple of times I saw this plot, viz. Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na and Wake Up Sid as well as parts of Bachna Ae Haseeno, I was interested. With each subsequent installment, I quickly got over it.]

I’ve been wondering why this is, this utter lack of any response other than a shrug and a meh. Was it the careful result of much planning on the filmmakers’ part – did they deliver the innocuous movie they set out to make? Or was it inadvertent – an attempt to speak Gen Now gone terribly boring?

It finally struck me as I was watching Break ke Baad that (as a member of Gen 10 Minutes Past) the problem appears to be the romance. On their own, as angsty young people, all these movies feature interesting characters.

In Break ke Baad, for example, Abhay Gulati (Imran Khan) is that guy from college who kind of coasted along, uninterested in reaching for anything because he knew his (extremely unvillainous, terribly nice and supportive) father had an office all ready for him at home. And then once he got into that office, it began to pinch because he was like a balloon filled to bursting with all these half-formulated ideas and desires that had never been expressed because he hadn’t even tried to put them into words before. And yet, nothing short of a life-changing event can knock him out of his stupor and into experimenting a little with his idea of self.

Aaliya Khan (Deepika Padukone) is that girl you’re friends with because life is always so much more entertaining when she’s around to fuck things up. Your boyfriend hates her and thinks she’s a terrible influence on you, your other friends wonder what you see in her, and you shrug them off because your friendship is inexplicably based on giggly minutes spent fixing your makeup after throwing up in the restroom of a club or convincing a bartender to slip you free drinks. Everyone else got you really nice, safe, thoughtful gifts of books and knickknacks for your birthday but hers is the one you’ll always treasure – she made it herself, it serves absolutely no purpose (not even decorative because it’s fucking hideous), and is absolutely perfect to remember her by because you know and she knows that once these brief, few years are over, you’ll probably never meet her again although you’ll never forget her.

The difference between these two characters is that when they get to the big screen, Abhay is still sympathetic enough to be portrayed as he is while Aaliya turns into this monstrous vampire that feeds off the emotional energy of other people. In other words, you’ll see those exact scenes in Abhay’s portions of the movie, while the Aaliya I described above is crammed into a few scenes of pottery in a sunny courtyard and drunken revelry in inappropriate places. Even so, there’s a sense of drama lurking under the surface in her interactions with her mother, her frequent references to her adulterous absentee father, her determination to hack her own path and give no quarter.

[Digression 2: Aslam joins his long line of fellow debutant directors in making a movie in which the parent-child relationship comes off as much more genuine and heartfelt. A trend that first came to my attention in Wake Up Sid.]

Drama. Which brings us back to my big problem with movies like Break ke Baad – these are the most comatose romances I’ve ever seen in my life. I appreciate that they’re trying to set a tone that isn’t as hysterical as your classic Bollywood romance can be, with cruel parents and promises to die with sweeping background music. But as much as things have changed, falling in love is same old hysterical business, I’m afraid. Lovers are still fighting over trifles, irritating and boring their friends in turn by assuring them that none of them know the true meaning of love, bursting into storms of tears and accusations and other sappy stuff.

Compare that to movies like Anjaana Anjaani, which turned even the concept of suicide for love’s sake into a drawn out yawn. I know a real life version of that story and it is so much more entertaining. Meanwhile, people in these movies are so articulate, so soft-spoken, so polite I imagine their sex life consists of strenuous cuddling. In Break ke Baad, when Aaliya flips out at Abhay in the midst of the most uneventful beach rave Australia has ever hosted, the best she can do is grit out that she’s on a break in a half-raised growl before throwing the phone on the soft sand of the beach. I mean, she doesn’t even destroy her phone! What kind of tantrum is that for a capricious, self-obsessed creative? And yet, not a single character in the movie misses an opportunity to inform us that Aaliya is indeed all those things.

[Digression 3: Apart from Dev D, which is really a beast of a different sort, and perhaps a bit of Jaane Tu... how come all these cool, hip young folk go to the most boring parties where nothing ever happens? No brawls, no skeevy middle-aged men scoping out the latest batch of teenage girls, no catfight in the restroom, no puddles of vomit in random corners, no idiot adolescent tripping out for the first time and nearly killing him/herself, no cops who've totally been paid off, no sleazy waiters who know all the shady gossip about all the patrons, no drug peddling kingpins recruiting fresh customers... Aaliya would have found much better parties in her hometown of Delhi instead of going all the way to Australia to play with a surfboard.]

I sat there, one part of my brain watching Break ke Baad while the other ran through all the lovelife drama I’ve witnessed over the past year alone and no contest – every one of my friends had a more eventful, drama-filled story to tell. And this includes the ones that aren’t even in a relationship! Hmmm. Maybe I need new friends! :P

Having said all that, if there are young kids out there who’re watching these movies and coming away with the lesson that it pays to treat each other with respect (which, to give these movies their due, is a statement they eventually deliver) in a relationship, I couldn’t be happier. I’d rather watch a million versions of Break Ke Baad than a single Kambakkht Ishq.

 
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Posted by on November 30, 2010 in Celebrity, Entertainment, Movies, Review, Video

 

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Masala Zindabad

Yup, it’s up and running.

We kick things off with a podcast featuring MemsaabStory – part one of a wide ranging discussion about the largely forgotten/ unknown/ nameless character actors of Hindi cinema. The feed is in the sidebar.

I swear we aren’t on meth. That’s just my poor editing skills at play. We did our best to follow the advice of all you lovely people who wrote in; I hope it worked.

Thanks for listening!

[pic]

 
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Posted by on November 23, 2010 in Entertainment, Movies, Personal

 

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What’s in a Name


6.40 for the good stuff (although it’s Rosie Perez – it’s all good stuff)

Ma: Who were you talking to?

Me: A friend.

Ma: Which one?

Me: Beth.

Silence.

Me: What?

Ma: Is that her real name? I mean, are you sure?

Me (thinking): Uh-oh, somebody’s been reading about the dangers of online predators again.

Me: Yes, of course that’s her name. Why?

Ma: Well, what kind of name is “Depth?”

 
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Posted by on November 20, 2010 in Personal, Video

 

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Action Replayy: Q & A

<i>Action Replayy</i>: Q & A

Q. What is Action Replay?
A. British for “instant replay”; mostly used in the context of sports.

Q. No, no, the movie starring Akshay Kumar and Aishwarya Rai.
A. Oh, you mean Action Replayy.

Q. Yes, excuse me: Action Replayy. Does that extra Y mean something?
A. They can’t spell?

Q. You’re going to be difficult about this, aren’t you? I can tell already.
A. Sorry. Action Replayy is a movie directed by Vipul Amrutlal Shah (Namastey London, London Dreams) about Bunty (Aditya Roy Kapur), a commitment-phobe, who hops a ride back in time to fix his parents’ non-existent love story so they don’t end up unhappily married years later.

Q. And this takes place in London?
A. No, Mumbai.

Q. Oh. Well, that sounds sweet.
A. Eh.

Q. Come on! The kid wants to save his parents’ marriage!
A. Right after he said he doesn’t believe in the institution and wished that his parents had never got together. Not that I blame him. If you had two miserable people like Kishen (Akshay Kumar) and Mala (Aishwarya Rai) as the shining example of the institution in front of you, you wouldn’t be all that eager either.

Q. Why do they hate each other?
A. She’s a bitch and he’s a loser.

Q. O.o
A. Fine. She wanted him to pay attention to her but he was too busy with his work, so she tried to fill in the emptiness by buying things. A lot of things. About 9 crore plus change worth of things that must be extremely dodgy going by one example he carries around in the car with him. As for him, he thinks she’s always hated him and never wanted to marry him, might even have been in love with another man, except they were forced into marriage by their parents.

Q. That’s terrible.
A. Right. But! Conveniently for Bunty, his girlfriend’s grandfather Anthony Gonsalves (Randhir Kapoor) just built a time machine in their drawing room -

Q. Excuse me?
A. Built a time machine in his drawing room. At least, I think it’s his drawing room. I’m pretty sure I noticed a table lamp. Don’t worry, though, it’s not important – it’s one of those science-y things that you note in the “Oh Yeah, And This Happened. Continuity!” column. So he hijacks the thing and runs off into the sky with it and lands in Bombay 30 years ago. Where he finds out the awful truth about his parents.

Q. Which is?
A. She’s a bitch and he’s a loser.

Q. o.O
A. It’s true! She’s the terror of the neighborhood because she has no father and she’s trying to be the man of the house while he’s the neighborhood punching bag because he has no mother and he’s trying to be the woman of the house.

Q. Is this funny?
A. Occasionally? It’s the monstrous love child of that other movie made by illiterates, Singh is Kinng, and one of the director’s earlier efforts, Waqt: The Race Against Time, except this one is more of a movie rather than a collection of comedy skits and doesn’t have extended death scenes surrounded by plush toys. It must have helped to have Back to the Future as their Plot Guide for Dummiez. Also, they swapped in The Original Salman Girlfriend instead of The Girlfriend Doll, so she comes equipped with extra features like Be Convincingly Mean and Dance in a Variety of Styles. Thus Mala is both in spades: truly unpleasant and very hot. And there are weird scenes in which Bunty, the son, encourages his future father to think of his future mother as a potential hate-fuck.

Q. Sounds like an interesting movie.
A. It has its moments and most of them are unintentional.

Q. But you’re not offended by it.
A. I suspect I would have been if it wasn’t a variation on a very well worn theme: For True Happiness in the Indian Home, A Woman Needs to Know Her Place and A Man is the Only One Who Can Show It to Her. I mean, Mala+Kishen v.1.0 might have been textbook examples right out of Psychology 101 but there was a sense of real drama there, which just got reduced to Bollywood Characterization 101 via time travel. At a certain point, you just shrug and move on.

Q. Blah blah blah. Does it bring the pretty?
A. Sure. Well, Aishwarya does. The way she does.

Q. Sold!
A. I thought so.

 
14 Comments

Posted by on November 8, 2010 in Entertainment, Movies, Review, Video

 

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