Monthly Archives: March 2009

Winners & Weepers


Now that summer is almost upon us, you know what’s coming: reality shows. And you know what’s coming front and center on the reality show bandwagon – Contestants Who Miss Their Kids. Argh!

If you’d told me ten years ago that I could sit through visuals of people weeping for their children and feel nothing more than mild (sometimes even extreme) annoyance, I would have called you a liar.I mean, what kind of monster do you think I am? (Don’t answer that!)

I don’t have any of my own – and God knows I’m not in any kind of rush to get some anytime soon – but if I chose to have a child, through either adoption or childbirth, and had to cut myself off from all or most contact from them while undergoing stressful amounts of competition… I would not be a happy person.

Reality show contestants are frequently unpleasant people and even if they’re normally nice people, the mind games they eventually play to win the game renders them hideous – if forced to share quarters with people from any of the shows (and that includes you, Amazing Race!) I’d either be crying into my pillow every night or manically strangling towels named after my housemates in the bathroom every few minutes. When you add the stress of living with these strangers to the stress of carrying out tasks (or performing for that matter) while being recorded all the time, it’s a wonder more people don’t snap.

Digression: Actually, I’m stunned we don’t get to hear more about the behind the scenes drama on American Idol. There must have been some fun times in the Idol house when that Norman guy was put through this year, for instance. It’s the only time I’ve ever felt it’s too bad they don’t have a confessional camera. And in the same vein, the only show where I totally buy the on-camera camaraderie is So You Think You Can Dance. I don’t know why but the top 12 couples always look like a truly supportive group, maybe because they’re divided up into couples who have to trust each other for the simple reason that their physical well being often depends on it.

But really, who looks at a contestant on Top Chef or Project Runway or whatever, sobbing because they can’t speak to their kids as often as they like or because they aren’t there to tuck them into bed at night the way they always do, and doesn’t roll their eyes – at least a little? Be honest! You’re a much better person than me if you don’t.

There’s a tinny quality to the whole thing, perfected in the Idol audition clips I think – “I’m singing for my daughter! This means so much to my two year old! That one, there on the rug. It’s all about her, not me! Yes, the one who’s fussing because she’d much rather be playing with her building blocks. But don’t worry, she’s really invested in Daddy’s success! Aren’t you sweetie? Don’t poke me in the eye, you little – erm. Ha ha, she’s such a little pistol, isn’t she? Daddy’s gonna win for you, baby!”

Meanwhile all baby wants is some mashed up banana and a Barbie doll to dismember. Oh, and a nap. That would be really awesome, thanks.

And if the “contesting for my child” nonsense isn’t enough, the kids come in handy for a passive aggressive goodbye too. “Yeah, I’m getting kicked out because the judges think I suck. I’m happy though because I’m going home to my baby. It’s been so hard for me to concentrate here because my head’s over there with my child. But it’s all good. At last I know where my place is – no. No sir, not at the bottom – it’s at home, see? With my child. But it’s hard, I won’t lie. I really wanted to do this for her. Now I’ve got to go home and tell her Daddy couldn’t do it. But I know she’ll understand that the reason I couldn’t was because I loved her too much. Yep, she’s still two. A very smart two.”

Maybe I’ve got it all wrong, maybe they really do feel that way about being separated from their kids. In which case I’ve got a tip: stay at home. Coz nothing in life comes without a price tag attached. I learned that from the teevee. Which cost a lot of money.


Posted by on March 28, 2009 in Life, Television


Tinkering in Progress


After spring fever comes spring cleaning. It’s time to tinker with the blog!

Changes continue all day.

PS – for some reason, that font is called “Girls are Weird”. Rude!


Posted by on March 27, 2009 in Life


Spring Fever


I’d roar but a yawn is a lot easier.

Have you ever been so lazy that you’re tired of being lazy but are still too lazy to do anything about it? That’s me.



Posted by on March 26, 2009 in Life


Anju of Bollywood


Her name was Anju and she was fabulous.

She must have been in her late teens the first time we met, a dusky, sloe-eyed girl with a silver nosering she frequently paused to touch; I was four. Her mother was the woman my mother hired to sweep and mop the house – in class conscious Delhi, you didn’t just hire a maid and ask her to clean the house, you hired different people for different chores, usually when they showed up at the door the day after you moved in and informed you that they were did so-and-so task at all the houses in the near vicinity. Anju’s mother was in charge of keeping the floors tidy, of every room but the bathrooms which were the responsibility of a diffident young man (who my mother told me years later was a Dalit when we were discussing caste barriers in urban areas).

In another time and place, she would have owned her own cleaning service. She certainly had the chutzpah and the drive for it. She was a large, thickset woman with a high pitched reedy voice who didn’t bend very well, a distinct disadvantage for a woman who made her living bent over a broom, but she offset the inflexibility of her spine with the marvellous advantages of two young daughters whom she pressed into service as and where required. There wasn’t a house on the block where she didn’t work i.e. distribute between herself and her daughters. I don’t remember her name or much of her face but my lasting impression of her is that of a hulking, creaking bundle of cheap cotton, hauling itself painfully into our house to cursorily check upon her daughter and listen with a deaf ear to whatever complaint my mother had for her.

(Sweeping under the beds has been a lifelong struggle for Ma. She’s been trying to make other people do it all her life and failing spectacularly.)

Anju on the other hand had a sharply vulpine little face that always looked on the verge of a fit of the sulks and she liked the color pink. She would roll through the house on her haunches, wielding the broom and mop energetically yet cursorily, industriously taking her time with bits and pieces whenever she came into orbit around my mother, who was not fooled in the least but accepted that these were the little subterfuges that made the domestic world go around.

She was my very first friend in Delhi. I don’t know how it happened or when – we neither one of us spoke the other’s language and I knew exactly one phrase in Hindi as taught to me by my father: “Aapka naam kya hai?” And while “What is your name?” is a useful conversational starter when you’re in foreign climes, the conversation rather tends to stop there when you don’t know anything other than that. So I knew her name was Anju and she knew my name was “Baba” – the Hindi distortion of my nickname visited on my head my very first day in Delhi by the driver – and there matters ought to have stopped… except it didn’t.

Anju, it turned out, was a Bollywood addict. Every weekend, she and her family would rent videos or go to the theater and catch all the latest releases. And for some reason, she liked to tell me all about the movies she’d seen. I’d like to believe that if Anju had been a teen today and she’d stuck with the impromptu classes Ma liked to hold for all the kids who worked in our home (and there were many – I don’t know about these days but back in my day it frequently felt as though half the adolescent population of the Himalayas were working in the homes of Delhi) – she’d be a Bollywood Blogger today. And she would have kicked ass at it.

I can still remember her nasal tones as I followed her from room to room. She would duckwalk her way around the house, hauling a bucket and mop, not even pausing for breath as she told me the stories with the passion of a person recounting a deeply personal experience. To this day I can’t watch or read about an Amitabh Bachchan or Mithun Chakraborty movie without wondering if this is something I’ve seen with my own two eyes or whether it is a memory I’ve borrowed from Anju – she’d give me such detailed recaps of everything she’d seen.

Sometimes, by way of variety, she’d deviate and tell me the local legends – they almost always involved a virtuous village maiden whose home stood exactly where our home was right then. When she was abducted by a dacoit (South Delhi was apparently once infested with them) who wanted to loot her izzat in addition to her father’s wealth (or lack thereof), she jumped into the old well that sat most satisfactorily under an aged peepul tree a couple of blocks over. Not only did she die but her ghost, said Anju with great relish, was still known to walk.

Actually Anju was very concerned with issues of izzat and its looting. There is a scene from Khuda Gawah, an Amitabh Bachchan-Sridevi starrer set in a mythical Afghanistan, in which a minor character accuses his wife of being unfaithful – from the way she told it, he might as well have said it to her.

Years later my mother shed some light on the issue when she remarked Anju’s employment at our house was the result of crafty planning on her mother’s side. A couple of days in, she knew Ma was not the kind of person who liked to dog her employees for every minute they spent in the house, nor did she like to accuse the household help of theft just to shake things up. But what really made her bring Anju to our house after trying out her married elder daughter out on us was that the only males in the house when she came to work included the cook who was not only ancient but also had very few teeth left in his head, and the houseboys who were teenaged boys from the hills who might soulfully lust after Anju all they liked but were invariably sent to the garden to loaf with their mid-morning glass of tea by Ma, who really didn’t want to stage any Romeo and Juliet nonsense in her household.

Her mother had already married off her elder sister to a young man who worked as a driver for a high-ranking bureaucrat who magnanimously let their entire family live in his garage and parked his car on the street. It was there that I found them one day when I was about ten – Anju, her mother, her father, her sister, her sister’s husband, and a couple of children my age who might have been her younger siblings. Anju’s father and brother-in-law were sitting outside, enjoying the late afternoon winter sun in government issue cane armchairs, while the women of the household fried pakoras and the kids played some game outside. The TV was on but the reception wasn’t all that great. It was such a ludicrously picture perfect moment of The Traditional Family on a Winter Evening, I’ve never been able to forget it.

If I’d ever thought about it, I vaguely imagined Anju to be living the kind of outsize life lived by women in her stories – full of dashing, occasionally cruel, handsome young men who mastered stallions and were complete boors in love. I knew she cleaned my house but this was Anju, after all. She lived a life of such emotional intensity! And for a clincher she even had a nosering – the epitome of cool for me as a child. Even today I’ve been known to make a few sounds now and then about getting my nose pierced – if only it didn’t involve bleeding wounds in places accustomed to the accumulation of mucus.

To see her frying pakoras was a bit of a shock. One look at her sullen face as she spooned them onto a plate, however, and all was right again – hidden under the domesticity was good ol’ Anju. The next day she came over and told me all about Lamhe. “He slapped her – thhad! – across the face and told her he could never love her!” she said, her eyes shining as she absentmindedly swung the mop in a wide arc.


Posted by on March 24, 2009 in Movies, Personal


Varun Gandhi: Hindu He-Man

My rose is deadlier than your sword

By the power of gladioli... I have the power!

“Whenever a hand rises against Hindus,” said Varun Gandhi, proud BJP candidate from mother Maneka Gandhi’s constituency (yes, some people will seriously vote anybody into office) of Pilibhit, “Varun Gandhi shall cut it off!”

Evildoers everywhere heard him speak and died laughing got real scared!

And then they realized his name is Varun Gandhi. So first he’ll tell Mummy all about it, then he’ll think really hard about it for a whole minute, cry, write about it in his private top secret diary (Do Not Read!), eat six of his favorite chocolate cupcakes, text his best friend, sigh, go out… and hire an army to do it, Gandhi-style. He’s got a family tradition to keep up after all.

You know what this means? Yellow yellow, lovely fellow!

Vajpayee Uncle says: Yeh lo yellow, lovely fellow!


Posted by on March 20, 2009 in News, Politics


Aamir & the Aunties

Now I see why Kiran was so happy to attend.

Now I see why Kiran was so happy to attend.

A “Rolex Concert” sounds like a posh time, until you reach the venue and realize the company obviously invited their customers… senior-citizen-palooza!

Auntie-in-blue is all hot and bothered. Chikna Aamir > Apna Uncle.

Glug! Tweetie Auntie is all hot and bothered. Chikna Aamir > Apna Uncle.

"Seriously, you don't want my wife to cut your hair."

"MiLte hain guL yahan. MiLke bichCHadne ko."

"Heh heh heh. You're my favorite auntie. Heh heh heh."

"What do you mean, there's something fishy about the way I'm holding my jacket? Heh heh heh."

"So, Aamir, why don't you ever smile like that at all the other aunties?"

"Ok, then why don't you ever smile like that at all the other aunties?"

And then Bindu leaned over, pinched his cheek and called him a naughty boy. After which Aamir couldn’t put his jacket down until he got home.

[ Pics from BH via Payal@HHC]


Posted by on March 19, 2009 in Celebrity


Gulaal: The Inner Gulag


After the delightfully subversive Dev D, director Anurag Kashyap’s second effort this year is Gulaal. I wish I could write about it in non-spoileriffic detail but that’s not going to happen today, so feel free to scroll down to the last line of this post is all you want is a snapshot. Otherwise, here goes:

Set in a fictional small town in Rajasthan, Gulaal is ostensibly a movie about a colorless young man who is thrown willy nilly into a whirlpool of politics, power and sex that he can barely begin to recognize, much less understand. But his story is merely the framework that holds together a larger tale of the many shades of personal loss, youth and tradition, modern India and its schizophrenic love affair with the past, all set in a land where every happy ending is tainted, every love story is a betrayal and success comes dripping blood.

The action starts with a bespectacled young law student (which is apparently the local slang for “loser who can’t land a job”) Dileep Singh (Raja Chaudhary) who ends up sharing living quarters with a mystery firebrand everybody calls Rannsa (Abhimanyu Singh) when his efforts to get into the college’s hostel only gets him humiliated, stripped, trussed up like a chicken and thrown into a handy bathroom for the night as part of the customary hazing.

Rannsa, a real live prince whose given name is Rananjay Singh, commands Dileep to be more of a man and less of a mouse and sets off with him to settle the score… by the time that ends in a second stint in the hostel bathroom, the two men are friends the same way a man and his dog are best friends. Towed along in Rannsa’s wake, Dileep soon finds himself enmeshed in the kind of life he knows nothing about – with royalty that longs for the days of fiefdom and denounces Indian democracy as a betrayal of the principles that it held dear through the ages and in the face of tremendous odds, the petty feuds of violence marred college politics, and fascinatingly mysterious women who are never what he expects.

In spite of his constant whining that he is a simple student who doesn’t want to get embroiled in whatever evil broth the others are cooking, Dileep gets drawn deeper and deeper into this world that he is expected to understand simply because he is a Rajput and a friend of Rannsa’s. “Are you a Rajput?” he is asked in accusatory tones every time he tries to think for himself. But as the movie shows us repeatedly, he really has no idea what they’re asking of him (Dileep’s stump speech, for example, is a classic for the ages: “I don’t know what I’m doing here,” he bleats pathetically, not to mention the laugh out loud exchange between him and Karan at his victory party).

All of which only heightens your enjoyment of the five Rajputs at the center of this story: each of them have a role to play in the power struggle that informs all the action in this movie, each of them towers head and shoulders above poor hapless Dileep-without-a-clue, and each of them is even more powerless in their own way than he is.

The first of them, Rannsa, on a better day, would have been the hero – he’s a real live prince, the heir to a fortune and a legacy that automatically gives him rights in this land that others have to work to achieve. For a man on top of the food chain, however, Rannsa’s options are severely limited because his secret is that he hates every moment of his life and would give it all up in a heartbeat but can’t so long as his father is alive thanks to his own obscure set of principles.

He doesn’t believe in the cause (any cause) and he has no hopes for the revolution; the only reason he even bothers to get involved with the college elections is a fit of devilry. He becomes the sacrifice demanded by his brother’s ambition.

Said brother is Karan (Aditya Shrivastava), the unacknowledged bastard of Rannsa’s His Royal Highness dad, a mustachioed old world rotter who is as quick with the cash as he is stingy with the longed-for public acknowledgment. Karan’s entire life revolves around getting into the charmed circle that Rannsa so casually disdains, forever barred to him because his father refuses to accept anything other than financial responsibility for his illegitimate children.

Karan is a figure straight out of Shakespeare, a still and largely silent man who patiently lays out his intricate web of intrigue with the delicacy of a spider, never forgetting, never hesitating, never letting go. He’s a man you know will always accomplish his goals, but the one person he truly needed to witness his success will never see it.

The other half of Karan’s coin is his sister Kiran (Ayesha Mohan). Kiran’s more voluble about her emotional needs than her brother but she is just as quick to channel her feelings into her brother’s political ambitions when it becomes clear for once and for all that she is never going to get the father she always wanted. Dileep likes to see her as the princess who needs rescuing from the dragon but that’s because he’s only ever seen the pretty girl who lets him make love to her. In truth, she is the product of a land where women come last on the totem pole and she knows the value of her body as a woman, as well as the value of a human body in general – it is only equal to the power it wields.

There is a scene early on in the movie where Anuja (Jesse Randhawa), a junior professor and fellow hazing victim, musters up her courage to come talk to Dileep in the college canteen. Everybody’s eyes are drawn to them because when Dileep was discovered naked in the boys’ bathroom, she was there with him in a similar state.

“Aren’t you afraid the boys will see you?” he asks, quickly ushering her out, feeling the lash of a hundred sly eyes.
“Even if they do, what will they see that they haven’t already?” she asks bitterly.

In that small conservative town, Kiran’s entire life is that one night Anuja spent in the bathroom. Deemed little better than a whore by the mere fact that she was born on the wrong side of the royal blanket as evidenced by the sneers directed her way by Jadhwal (Pankaj Jha) even as her brother sits just a couple of feet away, like Anuja, she too seeks to exert some control over her life by embracing who she is. And who she is, is her body because that’s all she got by way of inheritance.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is Prithvi Bana (Piyush Mishra). The Falstaff figure, Prithvi Bana is perhaps my favorite character. Unlike his younger brother, or indeed the rest of the cast, you never quite understand what makes Prithvi Bana tick – the first time you meet him, he is performing an updated version of Sarfaroshi ki Tamanna about a world in which revolution has bowed down to the joys of soft cotton underwear and independence equals sex while taking a subtle jab at himself and his audience, and you’re immediately flummoxed because this man appears to live in a reality of his own choosing.

It’s shocking because we don’t usually meet a lot of sane people who have that luxury and this man seems to have doubled that up with a window into our own world which he can see disastrously well in all its ugly glory. And he doesn’t hesitate to bring it up at the most inopportune moments either.

Fascinatingly, there is even a touch of Clown from the Harlequinade in Prithvi Bana’s character, which he appears to keep confined in a mute sidekick, painted in the bold colors of Krishna. “Shall we too fly away?” he asks his constant companion as they dance their way towards an open sky from the confines of a dungeon where they have just witnessed a murder; and yet Prithvi Bana chooses to stay in a world that he sees just as clearly and despises even more than Rannsa.

Which bring me to the last and the most interesting (and not just because he’s such a sexy beast) character Mrityunjay Singh a.k.a. Dukey Bana (Kay Kay Menon). Dukey Bana is just as easy to read as his brother is complex – from the moment we’re introduced to him making a speech at the beginning of the film, we know that for him all of this is deeply personal.

“We were betrayed!” he roars at every opportunity. And nothing will make it right again until blood flows in the streets and he is restored to his rightful place. His rightful place being his father’s rightful place as king of this land. Because if this land is hard on its women and those it looks down upon, it’s even harder on those who have it all – at the top of the heap lies the bitter knowledge that you’re nothing more than a cock crowing on top of a dunghill while the mountains mock you in the distance.

Dukey Bana is the man Rannsa does not wish to become, the man Karan has plotted his whole life to become; he is a man women understand at a glance because he is too much a creature of his rigid man-centric world to be more than dimly aware that women have thoughts too, and thus will always be at a disadvantage when it comes to them. Completing the circle, just as his father was done in by a woman, so is he in the end.

Gulaal is not a movie you will like – you’ll either hate it or love it. I fucking adored it and don’t know why it didn’t get a wider release.


Posted by on March 18, 2009 in Entertainment, Movies, Review, Video