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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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Listen Up

Listen Up

My, what big ears you have, 2010! All the better to let all that awful Bollywood music escape, I bet.

Maybe I’m showing my age but this was the year when my head actively hurt almost everytime I loaded up a new soundtrack. I live across the road from a school with a marching band that insists upon practicing right under my window and at one point, I swear to God, I switched off the latest round of cacophony (Action Replayy, I think?) and basked in the blissful sound of an off-key tuba huffing along to an enthusiastic-if-sadly-untalented drum.

The good ones, therefore, were all the sweeter when they showed up. Here’re my favorite tracks from 2010. As with all lists, they’re highly subjective and I imposed a limit of one track per album because there were entire soundtracks that I would have happily included.

But first, these are the albums that missed the cut but took it easy on my ears all the same. In no particular order:

  • Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey
  • Rajneeti
  • Karthik Calling Karthik
  • Madholal Keep Walking
  • Tera Kya Hoga Johnny
  • Udaan
  • Dabangg
  • Jhootha Hi Sahi

10. Kya Hawa Kya Badal (Allah ke Banday) – Look, I would have found some way to include some mention of an album that features a track by the amazingness known as Ishq Bector (go on, click that link! You know you want to!). But I’m helped by this song.

09. Kanha (Veer) – The only good thing about Salman Khan’s golden barbarian fixation is this song. Intentionally, anyway. *snicker*

08. Des Mera (Peepli Live) – I’ve loved Indian Ocean since I was a kid so I’ll admit I was inclined to be kind but the best part about an album like this is that it doesn’t need your pity vote. It can stand up for itself, thanks.

07. Tujhe Bhula Diya (Anjaana Anjaani) – The best part of this song is Shruti Pathak’s bit at the beginning but Mohit Chauhan and Shekhar aren’t exactly slouches either. The movie might have left me cold, but the music was pretty great.

06. Ranjha Ranjha (Raavan) – My self-imposed limit of one track per album might keep me from giving Ab Mujhe Koi the love it deserves, but I thought this song was outstanding the moment I heard it and it was sheer poetry on screen.

05. Tera Zikr Hai (Guzaarish) – The star by far, as far as I’m concerned, in an album that’s a bit overproduced and labored, but quite lovely. Like everything else Sanjay Leela Bhansali does, I guess.

04. Lehrein (Aisha) – Honestly, I could have picked any song from this movie. Especially Sham, which is still on a loop on certain days. Amit Trivedi is on fire right now and long may it continue.

03. Cham Cham (Striker) – God only knows what happened to Sonu Nigam but here’s a track to remind you that he wasn’t always a greasy-haired fountain of bitter who judged reality shows. Somewhere, deep inside that mop, is an immensely talented voice.

02. Madhno Re (Lamhaa) – It’s like they asked me what I liked the most and then composed it to order. Mogambo khush hua!

01. Dil to Bachcha Hai Ji (Ishqiya) – How much do I love this song? Everything from Rahat Fateh Ali Khan’s voice to his enunciation of the amazing lyrics to the string bits in the middle. I could listen to this all day and never tire.

 
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Posted by on December 22, 2010 in Entertainment, Music, Video

 

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Keep Raising Hope

Keep <i>Raising Hope</i>

If they’d kept the original title of the show – Keep Hope Alive – I would have known immediately that Raising Hope is my kind of show. As it was, it took me a little while to get around to watching this sitcom from Greg Garcia (My Name is Earl) about a clueless young man battling the odds to raise his little baby girl.

The Chances, Burt (Garret Dillahunt) and Virginia (Martha Plimpton) have big dreams: lots of money, yachts, fancy fixtures, rich people’s toys. Someday they’re going to live in an enormous mansion with a pool. In the meantime, however, while waiting for that lottery to chime in the happy times, they clean enormous mansions and pools for a living wage. And they live with Virginia’s grandmother, known as Maw Maw (Cloris Leachman), whose dementia prevents her from kicking them all out of her home, which they’ve sort of unofficially occupied for years now.

Burt and Virginia have a son Jimmy (Lucas Neff), born when they were both in their teens, and one day in the middle of cleaning a pool, he has an epiphany. Which leads, in turn, to a fateful rescue mission where he saves a pretty young girl from an older man. Her name is Lucy (Bijou Phillips) and they promptly have mad, unprotected sex in the backseat of his gross van. Things are great! For a moment it looks like Jimmy was right – his life is meant for better things than cleaning a pool. Too bad Lucy’s a mad serial killer.

However, her execution next year leaves a surprise for him: Princess Beyonce, his daughter. Everyone advises him to give the baby up for adoption but Jimmy is adamant. He’s going to raise Princess Beyonce Hope himself. Well, himself with the help of his parents, his friends and whoever else he can rope into it.

Like that really cute, quirky girl Sabrina (Shannon Woodward) who works at the local supermarket while writing stories full of words he hasn’t ever heard before. She might have a boyfriend, a college boy whose father’s pool the Chances clean, and Jimmy did once date her cousin, the girl with one dead tooth, but hey! Things can happen, right?

Right.

In the wrong hands, Raising Hope could have dwindled into one long “Ha Ha, Look at These Fucking Ignorant Poor People” joke. Thankfully, it’s a long way from that. It is, however, a show that isn’t afraid to tackle uncomfortable subjects with the lightest of touches.

For instance, serial killer Lucy chooses to have Princess Beyonce because she’s pro-life – not the baby’s but her own. Since she’s pregnant, her execution is delayed till Hope is 6 months old. “Don’t worry, they’ll never execute the mother of a 6 month old baby,” she assures Jimmy. Oh, but they will. Sanctity of life only extends thus far and no further, you see.

Similarly, you see the family making choices – daycare for Hope or smokes for Grandma Virginia? – that seem tiny and ridiculous unless you’ve actually lived the experience of existing paycheck to paycheck. And that still doesn’t stop it from being hilarious. It’s also proved capable of handling the tricky subject of teen parenting, specifically its aftermath, as Virginia and Burt explain their horrifyingly bad decisions to their grown up son who is now a father himself.

The real heart of the show, as far as I’m concerned, are the moments in which Jimmy learns compassion and forgives his parents one bizarre action at a time as he slowly becomes more and more of a real father rather than a kid who decided fatherhood was his new mission in life. Martha Plimpton, in particular, just kills those scenes as she takes Jimmy’s childhood memories and reintroduces them to him in a newly adult context.

Baby Hope is cute but really just incidental to the whole process of what goes into raising a family.

 
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Posted by on November 5, 2010 in Entertainment, Review, Television, Video

 

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Before RED

Before <i>RED</i>

The best thing about the internet is that some amazing recommendations can come from the unlikeliest places, including random message boards. For instance, I recently found out that long before they made RED, which stands for Retired Extremely Dangerous in the 2010 movie of the graphic novel starring Bruce Willis, Helen Mirren, John Malkovich, Morgan Freeman and Brian Cox as a quintet of international intelligence old-timers who take on a high-level conspiracy that threatens their lives, there was Hopscotch (1980).

Adapted from the novel of the same name by Brian Garfield, Hopscotch is about CIA operative Miles Kendig (Walter Matthau) who is REPRetired Extremely Pissed.

It all starts in Berlin, where Kendig, one of those older men in grey whom nobody notices, walks into a beer garden and laconically points out young spies to West German intelligence officers while conducting what appears to be an aria in his head. He leaves the main man alone – that is Yaskov (Herbert Lom), head of the KGB, well-known to Kendig for the past 20 years – so he can confront him alone in the street, remind him gently of West Germany’s great dislike of Soviet spies, and retrieve the sensitive information before sending him on his way.

Yaskov tells Kendig that he could make a run for it. As the thought of the two of them chasing each other all over Berlin comes to Kendig’s mind, he shakes his head: “We’d look like Laurel and Hardy!” he says in disgust. Yaskov agrees, hands it over and lives to fight another day.

Unfortunately for Kendig, things don’t go over as smoothly Stateside where his new boss Myerson (Ned Beatty) is the result of a regrettable internal promotion from the “Department of Dirty Tricks”. Clearly, they frowned at showing civility to a Soviet agent at the DDT, because Myerson turns Kendig into a glorified file clerk awaiting retirement for letting Yaskov go instead of bringing him in.

Or rather, Myerson tries. Kendig walks out of Myerson’s office, proudly decorated with photos of him doing manly things like shoot and fish as well shaking hands with Nixon, and coolly destroys his CIA file, hops on a flight to Salzburg, and arrives just in time to take part in a mysterious, extended conversation about the intricacies of wine with a foreign lady. This is Isobel (Glenda Jackson), a sort-of-former lover and definitely-former agent  who quit to marry well and is now a well-off widow with a fearsome German Shepherd for a companion.

Isobel knows Kendig’s unexpected visit can’t be a good sign. But even she’s surprised when she finds out Meyerson, a little man with an unpleasant expression who decorates his office with pictures of him shaking hands with Nixon, catching fish, and shooting the camera while cautioning his wife against renting their vacation home out to filthy Democrats, is now his boss:

“See-you-next-Tuesday Meyerson?” she asks.

Kendig isn’t quite sure what he’s supposed to do now that he’s out of a job (other than listen to all the opera he wants) but a visit of commiseration from Yaskov gives him an idea – he’s going to write his memoirs! Detailing every last, horrifying, gut-wrenching, underhanded operation he’s been involved with over the past 20 years. Of course, this comes with a side effect of possible assassination as Isobel points out (which leads him to make this face), so he decides to send it out, one chapter at a time, to all the major intelligence agencies of the world.

Myerson is incensed enough to launch a manhunt. Especially since the book is mainly interested in exposing his shortcomings, in more ways than one. “Hello, you short person,” Kendig says cheerfully to a photo of Meyerson before he starts on another chapter. “Pay attention, shorty!”

As the CIA and the KGB (Kendig is spilling quite a bit about them as well and Yaskov is naturally interested in the CIA material, recognizing a valuable source of information if only he can get his hands on him) search for him, much to the amusement of the rest of the world, Kendig has found a nice little hideaway in Myerson’s Democrat-free vacation home. One hilarious (seriously!) bout of bad Southern accents later, the local chapter of the FBI is trying to shoot him out.

“I now know what the FBI stands for,” Myerson says bitterly as his beautiful, expensive house goes up in smoke along with his quarry. “Fucking Ballbusting Imbeciles!”

With Matthau singing The Barber of Seville at the Spanish border, a re-engineered Belgian Tiger Moth that glides in a graceful ballet around an infuriated Myerson, dumb sidekicks, loyal attack dogs, and the always-delightful Sam Waterston as Kendig’s protege-cum-replacement, it’s leagues removed from the kind of spy movies we see today. Myerson clearly won the war as far as pop culture is concerned.

But it’s also the reason why Hopscotch is absolutely ageless. And now available on Criterion. So you really have no excuse.

 
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Posted by on October 31, 2010 in Books, Entertainment, Movies, Review, Video

 

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Audrey Day

Audrey Day

All I want this weekend is some charmth to warm my soul. And few actors are as charming as Audrey Hepburn, so she’s my preferred company today. Just familiar stuff, so I can wallow in the details without worrying about surprises and other nasty things.  Plus, she must hold some kind of record for acting in the most number of movies set in Paris and I could definitely do with some Parisian romance this week.

A few favorites amongst some of her less-discussed movies:

1. How to Steal a Million

The movie that made me fall in love with Peter O’Toole despite my father’s best efforts to traumatize me as a child with repeated viewings of Lawrence of Arabia.

It’s really an amusing trifle but as a caper it hits just the right spot – O’Toole is adorable as the bemused would-be art thief shanghaied into helping a family of accomplished forgers thanks to the go-getter daughter of the house. It has the kind of 60s silliness that makes that whole era such fun: hi-tech gadgets and yummy fashion and amazing cars. And smoking hot chemistry that doesn’t require anyone to get naked.

Well, maybe a little naked but it takes place discreetly offscreen.

2. Robin and Marian

A look at the lives of glorious heroes long after the cheers have faded into memory, this m0vie was written by James Goldman who also wrote The Lion in Winter and They Might be Giants (all you Sherlock fans might want to check it out). For this reason alone, it has long been on my list but it took Flynn Week to bring it back up.

And it certainly doesn’t disappoint. It’s not really “Robin Hood” except in name but works really well as a movie about young men who dedicate their lives to a higher cause, the young women they leave behind, and what happens when life catches up with them.

3. Two for the Road

I’ll never forget the very first time I saw this movie thanks to that one scene in which Audrey and Albert Finney discuss the silence of married people at restaurants. It’s the kind of writing that comes back to you at unexpected moments; the simple honesty of little things that you never quite analyze until someone points it out to you and then it remains bound to your memory of that person forever.

This is not the movie for you if you’re looking for the “classic” Audrey Hepburn experience with the wide eyes, the chic clothes and the ladylike language – you’d have to choose director Stanley Donen’s two other, more famous, collaborations with Audrey for that fix (Funny Face, Charade).

An examination of a couple’s marriage over a decade as they go on various road trips, I often wonder how it would have played if Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton starred in it… and I mean that as a compliment.

4. Paris – When it Sizzles

Look at that trailer! Don’t you want to see it? It’s like this movie was made to make all writers of fanfic green with jealousy – will your insane (-ly sexy!) storylines ever be acted out by anyone even half as awesome as Audrey Hepburn and William Holden? I think not!

I have to say, analytically speaking, you end up wondering if this movie about a hard partyin’ screenwriter forced to submit the allegedly phenomenal script he’s been working on in gay Paree and the assistant he finds to help him crank it out in time was more of a docudrama than fiction. There’s a distinctly cobbled together feel to the whole enterprise. But who wants to speak analytically? It sounds like a painful medical condition! Talking about medical conditions, these two ought to do something about this fatal attraction their mouths have for each other.

5. Love in the Afternoon

This movie was an eye-roller even when it came out, but if you have a thing for Autumn-Spring romances – and much as it pains me, I must out myself here – then this absolutely charming. It’s not as sweet as Sabrina but Gary Cooper works much better than Humphrey Bogart.

And as hilarious (-ly sexist) as that whole “connoisseur of women” stuff sounds in the trailer, it’s even more funny in the movie as you watch Cooper drip charm in a tuxedo tailored for Cary Grant. But it kind of works too – you buy him as the great big, rough American millionaire who likes his dames with exotic accents. There’s a certain hard-living hint of sleaze about him that’s very unusual for roles of this kind. And Audrey is, of course, utterly delicious and extremely young.

It’s like chicken soup for my heart.

 
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Posted by on October 22, 2010 in Celebrity, Entertainment, Movies, Review, Video

 

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Cheese Pakora Begorrah

As Winter comes creeping up, I thought the time has come to share with the world the joy of cheese pakoras. Or, as my father likes to call them, “Not Really Pakoras” – a sentiment shared by the entire male sex according my very informal poll. Ingrates.

However, they’re delicious, hot, comforting, easy to make, very forgiving of adaptations, and quite filling for a snack. In short, they’re perfect!

Other than those pesky health issues they’re bound to give you, but who cares about a heart attack tomorrow when you can eat yummy pakoras today, right? Right!

Cheese Pakoras
(serves 2 – or 1 greedy person like myself)

Ingredients:

Cheese – a handful grated or two slices. (You can use any melty cheese although the more fancy ones are really wasted here. Just go for your usual cheddar or Velveeta or similar local variant for best results. And you can adjust the amount of cheese up or down as you prefer too)

Flour – three heaped tablespoons

Egg – one, beaten.

Onion – one half, chopped fine but not minced. (You could substitute one leek or four spring onions, less if you’d rather)

Chillies – One or more, according to taste, red or green, minced is good but not necessary. (You could substitute with jalapenos or even crushed black pepper. I prefer red chillies because those little flecks of red look great in the batter)

Milk – cold, three tablespoons or more, enough to bind without turning the batter into paste. (Substitute with cold water if you’d rather. Do not use hot water because it will melt the cheese and turn the batter runny)

Salt – a pinch. (Seriously, a pinch – because the cheese and egg will make it salty)

Oil – enough to deep fry

Method

First off, if you’re using cheese slices because you haven’t got anything better (ah, college! OR ah, laziness!) in the fridge, then go ahead and dice it up by running a fork lengthwise and widthwise. Use a knife if that works out better for you. If you’ve got grated cheese, then good for you, you’re ready to start.

Beat the egg till frothy with the salt, add the onions and chillies and beat till incorporated. Now add the flour and mix. Tumble in the cheese and give it a couple of turns so everything comes roughly together. Next add three tablespoons of milk to the mixture.

Use the same tablespoon for the flour and the milk if possible so that the measure is consistent. Add more milk if necessary. You don’t want the batter as runny as your usual pakora mix, but you don’t want it to be a sticky dough either. Too runny and the milk will overwhelm the egg and the pakoras will lie limp on the bottom of the pan like octopi suffering from ennui; too sticky and your pakoras will just taste of flour, a gluey warmth that sticks to the roof of your mouth in a decidedly uncomforting way. Your ideal batter should easily flow off the spoon but still roughly hold its shape for a few seconds when it plops back into the bowl.

Don’t stress if your first effort isn’t perfect though – the point of the cheese pakora is for you to relax, make stuff out of things that are already in your fridge and scarf it down (preferably with ginger chai) before you notice anything about it other than its guilty deliciousness. Once you’re hooked and experimenting with these once a week to your doctor’s horror, you’ll soon figure out your sweet spot.

Now as this involves melty cheese, I strongly recommend a nonstick pan. But go ahead and use the sticky kind if the nonstick is still in the wash. Pour tablespoons (yes, the same one with which you measured out your flour and milk) of the batter into the hot oil. Since these are made with egg, they’ll puff up to twice their size, so you’re not being mean with the portions.

Cook on medium-low heat. Stand back because these will spit and spatter as the cheese inevitably comes into contact with the oil. A minute on either side. Remember these are made with ordinary flour and contain cheese, so you don’t want them to turn that reddish brown of your usual pakoras. They’re cooked on one side when they puff up and are ready to be flipped over; take them out when they turn a gentle golden brown all over.

Yields about 10 pieces, crispy on the outside and melty on the inside. Drain and serve with your favorite sauce. I prefer Sriracha or Maggi Hot & Sweet. It goes great with leftover Taco Bell sauce too.

If you share my father’s exacting standards and would rather eat something more traditional, check out the video above. That looks crazy good.

 
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Posted by on October 13, 2010 in Life, Personal, Video

 

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Dabangg for the Buck

<i>Dabangg</i> for the Buck

10 minutes into Dabangg, written and directed by Abhinav Kashyap who previously wrote the dialogue for Manorama Six Feet Under, and you realize why Hindi has all but ceded this kind of territory to Telugu and Tamil cinema: it requires a very specific kind of movie star to work.

First, you need a Star. Somebody with a rabid fan base and the kind of charisma that can’t be manufactured, no matter how many years you spent assisting famous directors or learning to dance from master choreographers or who you call Pop.

Next, he must willing to embrace a dhishum-dhishum flick entirely unironically. He’s not trying to re-interpret, deconstruct or elevate it. He’s simply and methodically bashing in the heads of random people who get in his way in a manner that makes you feel like he’s doing it for you as a personal favor.

And the cherry on top is that he must do all of this with enough style to sell it. “It” being whatever it is he’s peddling. Explosions, murder in broad daylight, defenestration, stealing, drinking, hookers, you name it. You want to be him, your wife wants to do him – at no point do you think, “Who’s he kidding?” or “What a psycho!” even if it’s true. That kind of ruins the movie.

Even in South India where they like to keep in practice, this is a tall order. You might think your average gorilla in shades could pull it off, but watch Salman Khan prove you wrong. The man is absolutely in his element as he joyfully smashes up a small town, blows shit up, creatively murders various people, courts a girl by threatening to beat currency upon her… and still effectively convey the idea that at heart he’s just a sad little boy who wants someone to love him. Awww.

I can’t think of a single other actor in Hindi today who could have pulled this off. Salman’s Chulbul Pandey is a beast held barely leashed by a crisp white shirt, and his offscreen persona only feeds into the animal magnetism onscreen. Movies like these channel the fantasy of the exotic pet – the heady rush at the thought of taming such a potentially lethal creature through nothing more than love. But for it to work, you need a believably dangerous persona to fuel the character – and there’s nobody more enigmatic or unpredictable in today’s carefully manicured Bollywood than Salman Khan.

Is it “good” cinema? Well, it’s entertaining cinema. A more cohesive follow-up to Wanted, the only thing it aspires to is a good time and that it delivers with glee. Into every life a little popcorn must fall and Dabangg a.k.a. The Adventures of Chulbul “Robin Hood” Pandey is exactly that. What is it about, who goes where and why – it’s about watching Salman Khan beat the ever-lovin’ hell out of everything in sight, animate and inanimate. No false advertising here: it’s everything the trailer promised and then some.

Somewhere in this Salman-fest you’ll also find producer Arbaaz Khan perfectly cast as the dimwitted half-brother, the delectably Amazon-esque Sonakshi Sinha as the unexpectedly grim love interest who squares off with Khan the few times she’s allowed on screen, and Sonu Sood putting all the Villainy 101 lessons he learned down South to good use. Additionally, there’s a short but honorable list of character actors to give able support: Dimple Kapadia, Vinod Khanna, Mahesh Manjrekar, Om Puri, Tinnu Anand, Anupam Kher, Mahie Gill and Malaika Arora in an item number when she ought to have been off eating a sandwich.

With hardly any gore in spite of the hailstorm of violence that surrounds Chulbul Pandey, just a hint of sex, and a tragic mother who fails to make you weep even as her sainted memory turns her son into The Incredible Bulk, Dabangg is just what I needed this weekend.

 
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Posted by on September 11, 2010 in Entertainment, Movies, Review, Video

 

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