Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Social Network: Lonely Planet Guide to Facebook and the Beatles

So, Mark Zuckerburg is an outlier.

Picture a lad, with a simple, Jewish background, incredible enthusiasm, loads of computer programming talent, lost in the awe-inspiring Ivy League world of Harvard. He is trying hard to be somebody. He is trying hard to be cool. He wants a girlfriend. Erica Albright, to be precise.

He can only write code though, and his gauche excellence conceals the seething rage of rejection – or perhaps, a craving for acceptance.

Ah, look at all the lonely people.

Over across the Atlantic Ocean now to Liverpool, circa 1960. Working class youth in Lancashire gang up to emulate and excel in the legacy of a Tennessean Elvis Presley, a truck driver who twisted country-style jazz to father rock n roll. John, Paul and George have a friend called Pete Best, who is the drummer in a group they call The Silver Beetles, which in turn is raised from the ashes of an early teen group called The Quarrymen.

To be somebody in the Liverpoolian suburbs of the teenaged minds, perhaps, you had to strike it big in America. So, yonder the ocean they land in 1963, and Beatlemania happens. At New York, not, by global standards, far from Harvard. This after a journey through Hamburg’s nightclubs.

At Harvard, circa 2003, Mark wants to hold Erica’s hand. But he goofs in a burst of anger after a courtship-turned-altercation, and bitches about her in a blog, which has replaced the guitar as a geeky instrument of arrival and aspiration. He escapes into composing the code that offers succour from heartbreaks. His anger and social outcastness combine in an expression of outrageous enterprise in which the exhaustive might of the Internet becomes a toy for teenage dreams and rivalries. He gets by with a little help from his friends.

The timing is just right in a world where the old Web is giving way to Web 2.0, giving way to an ubiquitous interconnectedness of a world that seems to mock at the exalted isolation of Harvard's exclusive culture, and the discreet charms of the bourgeoisie. It takes the gutsy geekyness of a spurned lover to connect the ocean with the Noah's Ark of Ivy League snobbery.

Before we know what is going on, there is Facemash that helps students connect, an official Harvard Connection group, and intrigue and excitement as the young Jew finds a friend in Eduardo Saverin and then rivals in the silver-spooned Winklevoss brothers. Zuckerburg turns the gatecrashing of the outliers into the wannabe network of Harvardian mystique in a Web of relationships, rivalries and accusations and defence of intellectual property theft that explodes as fast as social media in the big bad world out there.

It takes a savvy Hollywood mind to capture that in "The Social Network" based on "The Accidental Billionaire"

While Zuckerburg faces a famous Harvard trial that smacks of the Spanish Inquisition, what we see is a tale of class conflict, youthful outrage and friendships turned partnerships.

Facebook happens, like an inexorable event history. The enterprise grows, and its popular might brings for Saverin a happening girlfriend, and Zuckerburg the prospect of becoming the next Bill Gates. Built on lines and lines of code written like musical notes on lonely evenings, over bottle-sipped beer and munched Hamburgers.

* * *

THE Silver Beatles, in fact, were Hamburgers, in a manner of speaking. They played in nightclubs, fooled around a little and cut a record called “Love Me Do” that got them going. It is a song that Mark would have loved to sing for Erica, had he only swapped a computer for a guitar. Back in the UK, John, Paul and George – and Pete Best – meet a man called Brian Epstein, a record-store owner who becomes their manager. He takes them to their historic success.

But somewhere along the way, in the hunt for quality in the quest for success, Pete Best is gone and replaced by a trendy drummer called Ringo Starr. They arrive big in the United States, where a post-war baby-boomer generation hangs on to every breath that John takes and back in their homeland, they become somebody.
And in the US – or Harvard, to be precise --- Zuckerburg is growing bigger. He is somebody now and he is fuelled now not just by the spunk and the talent but the outrageous style of Sean Parker.Remember Napster? He was one of its co-founders. The little boy who wrote code that helped teenagers share and swap music files, bringing the music industry to its knees. But there was a twist in the tale of that suffered lawsuits and combat from the world’s biggest music symbols. Napster’s MP3 manna was eventually turned into a workable business model by Steve Jobs as iTunes, owned by his company, Apple.

Apple, incidentally, was the record label that the Beatles made famous. Sean Parker courts big money for Zuckerburg, the way Epstein pulled a rabbit out of the hat for the Beatles, putting him in touch with the likes of hedge fund managers that right big cheques. Rock N Roll parties happen.

But, in the Newtonian gravity of cultural mystique, strange things happen. The affable Saverin feels insecure in the presence of the more gutsy, ambitious Parker, who charms Zuckerburg in the Silicon Valley – which must be to Mark what America was to the Beatles.

Facebook is now bigger than the small dormitory dream of a Harvard student, the way the Beatles were much bigger than the Quarrrymen or The Silver Beatles. Facebook is now bigger than Facemash or the Harvard Connection.

Saverin is eased out. Much the way Pete Best was. The world has its youngest billionaire.

* * *

“THE Social Network,” in the end, is the story of outliers seeking name, fame and girlfriends. Much like that of the Beatles. If John Lennon famously taunted the British Queen in a concert (“Those in the cheap seats can clap. The rest of you can rattle your jewellery”), Zuckerburg is the latter-day anti-hero, poking fun at the Winklevoss clan’s awesome might of smart lawyers and their undefinable confidence that only inherited money and privilege can perhaps bring.

The Winklevoss brothers are Olympian rowers. The same game that forms part of the Oxford mystique.

If the Beatles wanted to be cheered where the Americans were screaming, the Winklevosses want to be accepted in the charmed air of the Thames. The water might look the same in Charles, but, laced with the mystique of social power, the mystery runs deeper than both the rivers.

The Winklevosses, historically, are outliers in their own right. They may have inherited with their money the same complexes their parental memories instill.

To row in Cambridge and to row in Harvard cannot be the same thing, right? Where, or when, does the valley become the hill?

* * *

DOWN in the Silicon Valley, Sean Parker gets into trouble for a drug party, and Zuckerburg makes a few enemies as the world toasts the latest technological tribute to friendship. Through the back-and-forth pastiche of a hidebound Harvardian traditions and manners (that so smack of a British influence), charmed student games, the mating rituals of geeks and the rites of passages of the code jocks, “The Social Network” tells a Freudian tale of children trying to find the success that eluded their fathers – and forefathers.

The Beatles fell apart, as they evolved from love songs to magical mystery tours and Oriental mysticism. Zuckerburg and friends chart much the similar way as fame and money take them to a world beyond girlfriend-hunting.

Friends fall out, albeit in a rich way as lawsuits and conflicts give way to settlements. The pangs of guilt linked to a friendship gone sour do hurt Mark, but such is life.

Saverin loses his trophy girlfriend.

Mark is still trying to find one.

A few feet from him at his Harvardian Inquisition, eyeing his spunk and zest is a comely assistant to the lawyers who are out to get him. She cares for him, and he does return the affection. But they are like Archie and Betty. She eats salad for the same reason he writes code.

Archie wants Veronica, whose name happens to be Erica Albright. He is last seen asking to add her on his Facebook friend list. Do not confuse his earnings with his yearnings.

It’s Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Hope you enjoy the show.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Endhiran: Kyunki Hollywood Bhi Kabhi Kodambakkam Thi

Endhiran: A wonderful effort.
I fell for the first half, but quite sure the money is being made from the second.
Freudian psychology and Darwinian perspective wrapped in post-Asimovian sci-fi narrative with special effects razzmatazz curated specially with Tamil Nadu's feudo-democratic sensibilities.
I am afraid the magic of Vairamthu's lyrics and Sujatha's dialogues must be wholly lost in translation for those who watch it as "Robot" --much like the humanoid without human emotions that is the heart of the movie.
Special mention for a satirical interlude, where Rangusky, a mosquito gangleader, demands National Bird status!
Watch out dear Hollywood, here comes Kodambakkam.

Friday, October 8, 2010

These Are A Few of My Favourite Things..the CWG version

(To be sung to the tune of These Are A Few Of My Favourite Things from "The Sound of Music" - inspired by Abhinav Dhar's comment)

Balloons and rubbers
Looters and scrubbers

Aerostat helium
Cheering the stadium
Medals and muddles

Faux-pas and thrills
These are a few of mah favourite things!

And we mess up and we excel
nd we cheer'em all
And we look at all these things

Oh what a Games we have heeeeeeeere.

Sheila and Suresh

Gagan and Bindra

Jamaicans and Scots
And tickets unbought
Thullas and aunties

Then volunteeeers
These are a few of mah CWG things

And we dress up and we go there,

We tell neighbours that we've done that
Simply being Indians we are
Oh what a Games we have heeeeeeeeeeere

Friday, September 24, 2010

Tam Brahm Blues -Verse

Tam Brahm Blues

Here is a verse I wrote some years ago - in what I call an expression of globalised parochialism

The Tam Brahm is an antique creature
Pompous thinking his fancy feature
Thinks too long, thinks too wide
Not more than curd-rice on his side
Likes to soar, over the worlds
Has a weakness to hear his own words
Frets on the future, of humanity
Has property rights on sanity!
Seeks power in ideals, ideals in wealth
Adores simplicity, loves some stealth
Three thousand years, upon his genes
Amuses oldies, annoys the teens
He still might change the new millennium
With the excess packed, in his cranium!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Is Gulzar a plagiarist? Or was he inspired by Jim Morrison?

I have often wondered if Gulzar is a plagiarist. Of course he is not.

Here is what he says in the lyrics of his much celebrated song in Kaminey:

aaja aaja dil nichode
raat ki matki tode
koi good luck nikaale
aaj gullak to phode

English translation:

Come, let us squeeze our hearts
Break the pot of the night
Let us take some good luck out
Let's break the piggybank pot!

Full lyrics here

And then, it invariably reminds me of the celebrated lines of The Doors in Moonlight Drive

Let's swim to the moon, uh huh
Let's climb through the tide
Penetrate the evenin' that the
City sleeps to hide
Let's swim out tonight, love
It's our turn to die
Parked beside the ocean
On our moonlight drive.

Here's the song

Oh, no! Jim Morrison was an inspired rockstar and Gulzar equally magical in a different way. The rest of the two songs meander in different senses. And take their own course.
The spiritually-inclined badboy rockstar who died young and wizened old man of Bollywood may be far apart, but their sensitivities speak the same visual imagination. Someone must ask Gulzar if he ever heard (perhaps inspired by his daughter), "Moonlight Drive."
But surely, "penetrating the evening" and "breaking a pot of (called) the night" have a striking resemblance.
Coincidence? Great men think alike?

Perhaps he was inspired. Only inspired. Only just.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Branding of Friendship

It began at 9 a.m. on Sunday.
The student-friend who is getting some research help cancelled her appointment. "I kind of forgot its Friendship Day today and my best friend called up…alll of us are planning to hang out."
Aah, I said, fine. Have fun, and all that.
On Radio City, celebrating Kishore Kumar’s birth anniversary, the RJ played "Yeh dosti, hum nahin, chodhenge…." And said it was for Friendship Day, too.
On the way to M.G. Road later in the day, Naga movie theatre shows a huge hoarding of a new release: Hrithik Roshan, with flaring nostrils, shining skin, overflowing eyes and that grinny-grinny, goody-goody papa’s boy face. Wanna see "Mujhse Dosti Karoge.?"
Down at M.G. Road and nearabouts, Bangalore’s new coffee house culture is vying hard with pubbing, and there are lots and lots of friends hanging out this Sunday. House full everywhere.
Most of the pubs, noisy and beery, feature groups of men or 20-something guys and "gals" taking time out from writing software code on weekends. Its quite common to see trendy jeans, shampooed hair and Bareilly Hindi mixing in Bangalore’s excruciatingly pleasant monsoon air.
But we are on to coffee houses this Sunday. And suddenly the sociology of the new culture seems blurred.
The three new icons who have jostled to replace ole, grimy-looking Koshy’s have their own unique airs, and also not sooo crowded. But not today.
Usuallly, Java City is for sit-down-service and old-fashioned ambience…you can smoke amid the dim lights and friendly bearers, and the music can range from fusion, Bollywood chic and live jazz at Church Street on Sunday evenings.
Barista is well lit, pizza-boy type bar tenders and its plush, spacey, airy, steely self-service interiors is naturally for the yuppies and with-its, most of whom are usually well dressed in a see-and-be-seen ambience.
Café Coffee Day, with a bright red logo and glassy exteriors, is sort of crowded with teenagers, many of whom buy cheaper takeaway coffees and squat on the stairs outside or watch TV inside with some contemporary pop.
Today, the difference has gone for a six over mid-wicket.
There are lots of excited kids, college types and high-school types feeling like college, and all are collectively killing these brands to build that bigger brand: Friendship.
I walk past a crowded Java City in Church Street and a crowded Barista at St. Mark’s past yet another crowded, spanking new Coffee Day at Lavelle Road and just about grab the only table available at another Java City.
Through the looking glass of dark espresso, I see more teens. A girl who seems undernourished wears lipstick and offers a card, presumably the Friendship Day stuff, to a goateed, bulky, young man in a flowered shirt. I see flowers clutched in hands at Brigade Road.
On the way back home, I see two pairs of girlie-teenagers cheek-cheeking as they say their byes to each other from scooters.
On good old All India Radio, the RJ, stutteringly, dedicates "Careless whispers" ( "Shoulda known better to cheat a friend…..blah) for Friendship Day.

Does Anil Moolchandani know?
To think that some clever supply chain economics lies at the root of Friendship Day is both lilfting and depressing…
Aah, The Might of The Brand.
The tale of Dhirubhai Hirachand Ambani turning from a gas pump attendant to a cloth-meets-polyester-meets-petrochemical-meets-naphtha-meets-refinery-meets-petrol pump tale is part of the year’s folklore for the departed Gujubhai, but few would remember or know anything about the Clint Eastwood poster.
As a teenager selling his family’s cloth in Kamla Nagar, strategically next to Delhi University’s sprawling campus, Anil Moolchandani found a strange customer asking for a teenybop poster of Eastwood. (Is that for sale, the lady asked. It was really not).
The poster had been been acquired by Anil on one of his "phoren" trips in those Indira Gandhi days. One thing let to another, and Archies was born as a greeting card brand, growing from posters. Its tacky, unabashedly me-too brand is now a household name.
Its early rival, Giggles, must have stopped laughing while Anilji, working from his shed-like Naraina Industrial Estate factory in West Delhi thrived on the business of feelings and laughed all the way to his banks, listing on the Bombay Stock Exchange along the way.
Anil had cards for all the year around…or nearly.
From Raksha Bandhan to Ganesh Chaturthi to Dusshera to Id to Diwali to Christmas to Holi to what not, cards flow easily from Archies. But then, there was a supply chain and inventory issue. You see, August was not really card prone, unless you count August 15. You need to keep the distribution and card printing plants buzzing to make more business sense.
Uncle Moolchandani figured that youngsters loved the friendship-and-feeling thing, and invented the Friendship Day…like Uncle Sam’s Mother’s Day and Father’s Day.
This is for the same reason why Domino’s wanted to build pizza parlours at Ambala. (Don’t know if they actually did).
With a centralised kitchen near Chandigarh and a key market in Delhi, one way to make use of the route was to build pizza outlets all along the a Rath Yatra or something for the pre-whatevered pizzas before they get baked for the delivery boys and hungry-kya phoners.
Also a bit like Coca Cola, given free to school kids in early days so they could get used to the strange taste.
So Friendship Day was born…the first Sunday of August, he said…and so they all believed the Gospel of St Moolchandani.
You see, Moolchandani reasoned, August 6 was when the Yanks nuked the Japs…Hiroshima and all that. And Friendship being the first "chachera bhai" of Peace, what better day than Aug six. But you can’t hang out or make card journeys on working make that the first Sunday of August.

Hiroshima, mon amour?
Just as well they didn’t make it on that very date.
I do not fancy holocaust memorials and teeny exchange of cards coinciding…though you never know these days.

P.S. Long after Moolchandani told me his tale and long after I wrote this piece, I heard that the Friendship Day was originally proposed in the US by some politician. Am still not sure.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Manohari Singh--The Man With the Sax Appeal

"Roop Tera Mastana"
A coy Sharmila, a besotted Rajesh Khanna, and what was then a sultry, sensual scene. The song from Aradhna was a milestone in Bollywood music, no less helped by the saxophone that sets the jazzy undertone of the scene.
Manohari Singh, the man who played that tune and many more, is no more. He died on July 13, 2010, aged 79.
I was hoping to meet him some day to catch up on R.D. Burman to whom he had served as an assistant.
Manohari has played with other music directors including Laxmikanth Pyarelal.
Samanth Subramaniam has written a fine obituary to the man in Mint but it omits an interesting development.
Towards the later part of his career, Manohari teamed up with Basu Chakraborty, another assistant of Rahul Dev Burman, to compose music for a couple of movies (perhaps more). The biggest of them was "Sabse Bada Rupaiya". Here is my favourite, "Wada karo janam"....
But I would remember Basu Manohari for the score in Yasmeen, a flop that perhaps never got released. The song goes, "Aa humsafar, pyar ki sej par, kuch kahen kuch sunen, jaag ke raat bar."
The songs have a definite Pancham (RDB) touch.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Paraguay vs Japan - The Fully Faltu Kavita

Paraguay, hara gaye. Hara kiri kara gaye

Duniya bhar mein tha tension
Tokyo ubharega ya Ascuncion?
Samurai ab kamar kasey
"Kami kaze, Kamikaze"

Mach raha tha khoob shor
Phir vuvuzela ka uspe zor
Par na idhar goal, na udhar goal
Bas, do shoonya dikehy gol-gol

Phir penalty ka woh silsila
Bas ho gaya ab zalzala
Idhar bhi paanch aur udhar bhi paanch
Japaniyon par laga aanch

Phir Japney saare tooth gaye.
Apney huey Paraguay

Paraguay, hara gaye, hara kiri kara gaye.

Japani mein kami nahin
Par ball woh thami nahin
Goal woh gira gaye
Kamikaze ghar aa gaye

Paraguay, hara gaye, hara kiri kara gaye

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Shourie vs Mani: The Shoe joke

I love this old, apocryphal tale about the late 1980s.
Mani Shankar Aiyar was then joint secretary in the Prime Minister's Office, and considered close to Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, whose lavish lifestyle was a matter of gossip.
Arun Shourie was executive editor at Indian Express, owned by media baron Ramnath Goenka, whose spartan looks are a matter of folklore.
The Congress government was at loggerheads with the Express over many things, including the Bofors scandal.
Shourie meets fellow ex-Stephanian Mani at a party.

Shourie says, "Mani, stop licking RG's shoes."
Mani says, "You too stop licking RG's shoes. At least mine are made by Gucci. Yours are made by mochi."

Monday, June 14, 2010

Five things you can do with a vuvuzela

1. Send them to Afghanistan and Waziristan. They can drive the Taliban out of their mountain caves

2. Gift them to your real estate agent before a purchase. He gets people to blow them. Prices fall. You buy.

3. Send it to your HR manager for use in office parties. You can report sick the next day, and they will understand.

4. Use it as a flower vase and offer it to sweetheart. Never has love and blackmail been combined so well.

5. Blow it in Lucknow. And hope like hell the statues will break

Monday, April 12, 2010

Private Dictionary of Shashi Tharoor

Twitter: A place where you first invite troubles, and where troubles later invite you

Pushkar: Brandname associated with the trading of cricketers like cattle

Cattle Class
: The class you acquire when you buy cricketers as described above

Rendezvous: A secret meeting to discuss things with partners.

External Affairs: Affairs you have while sojourning abroad

Ban Ki Moon: An endearing Korean term that sometimes sounds like a Punjabi abuse

Hat Trick: When you bowl a maiden over, three times in a row while having a ball

Trivandrum: A place in India connected with Dubai, with a mysterious Gulf in the middle

Kashmir Problem: Something that Lalit Modi creates when he tweets across my Line of Control

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Bizarre Chors, Motherly Whores: Ishqiya and the Underworld Chic

“Surrender,” the gangster moll tells her underworld lover, citing sections of the Indian Penal Code in which he cannot quite be convicted. She longs for the company of her fugitive mate, and the respect she must be planning for her child to be conceived some future day.
He says he plans to. He hopes his benefactors’ political party will come to power in three months. If not, he says, he will “cylinder.”
“Surrender,” she corrects him, “not cylinder.”
The mispronounced surrender becomes a teasing metaphor, turning a symbol of devotion into an explosive instrument, as Ishqiya winds through a tale of love, longing, sex, violence, competition and the eternal mysteries of life in the rugged gangster-land movie set in the rural zones of Uttar Pradesh. Here caste wars and crime meet the Freudian rivalries of men and women fighting over each other.
They are all lovers, or Ishqiya, in this hyper-realistic saga woven around the common attraction of a foster-father and young nephew duo (Naseeruddin Shah and Arshad Warsi) for the abandoned moll whose persona’s layers are as engaging as the thickening plot.
Look at Mushtaq, the caricatured gang leader who torments the duo, listening only to his wife who calls him on the cellphone that plays, “O meri zohra jabeen.”
Look at Iftikhar (Naseer), who plays a quiz mastermind on old Bollywood songs as he cuddles up with Krishnaji, the gangster widow that he tries to woo – and one who makes him peel garlic over musical banter.
Look at Babban (Warsi) who frequents whores but turns on his rugged, boyish charm to seduce the homely woman and anger his competitor-guardian.
Look at Krishnaji (Vidya Balan) who conspires for a crime, plays the tanpura, exchanges sublime musical notes and then gives in to the raw advances of a seductor.
Look at the woman who runs Mona beauty parlour as she plays the small-town mistress in cheap lingerie laced with promises of eternal love.
Look at her secret lover who stutters through industry, worship, prosperity and dubious devotion to mistress.
“So your love is love and my love is sex?” Babban asks his uncle of sorts, turning an unintended spokesman for the new sexuality of the Bollywood woman.
It is okay now for her straddle a troika of men, even as she craves for the social respect, mysteriously exhibited in a cocktail of wriggly filmsong shakes in jeans and shades on the one hand and the humming of a soulful classic as she flips phulkas in a seedha-pallu saree.
Is Krishnaji (played with surprising aplomb by Vidya Balan) for real?
In director Abhishek Chaubey’s saga schooled in producer Vishal Bhardwaj’s mentoring, the mother and the mistress dance in the same persona, surprising and shocking her menfolk as he does us.
This is a new idiom for Bollywood, mixing elements of Shyam Benegal, Quentin Tarantino and the eternal Shakespeare, who inspired Bhardwaj’s Omkara set in the same country.
Omkara, Kaminey and Ishqiya form an unintended triology of underworld chic of the Hindi belt, complementing and contrasting another uintended triology from the Karan Johar school – Kurbaan, New York and My Name Is Khan set in exotic overseas locations.
If the KJo school looks at the international terror that visits skyscrapers, the VB school peeps into the hearts and minds of the people that supply its raw version in the rural hinterland.
Ishqiya comes in the league that is spelling a new wave in alternative cinema--blending social realism with literary depth and yet somehow managing storylines and musical narratives that stay mainstream.
Pictured with a camera that makes a Cartier-Bresson or Raghu Rai photofeature come alive on celluloid, and musical motifs that blend with the mysterious motives of its multiple protagonists, Ishquia has elements of an epic narrative as characters plunge headlong into events that make them lose themselves in a labyrinth of violence, hatred and competitiveness – all in the elusive quest for love and acceptance.
This is not the message of love sent in a Page 3 half-page ad This is the focus on the human heart that is as capable of deceit as it is of sacrifice in its quest for love.
If you watch Ishqiya, the next time you chuckle at a Mayawati statue, you might connect it with a Dalit boy called Nandu, who takes the gun to defend his lot as they fight the Thakurs who dishonour their womenfolk.
If you watch Monica Bedi in a reality show, you might just spend an extra second spotting Krishnaji in her.
If you watch the Breaking News tag chronicling the heinous crime of a previously unheard-of Hindi belt gangster on AajTak, you might just pause and wonder if there is inside the gun-runner a Verma, going home in stealth to eat puffed phulkas burnt in the corners by a woman swathed in love unexplainable in editorial columns
You might just recall a woman called Phoolan Devi, who, long long before she became the Bandit Queen, was a gangster’s moll not far from Chambal river.
As the tale that weaves kidnapping and gangsters reaches its denouement, Ishqiya’s characters are lost, but not their quest for love.
As cylinders blow up in tall fires that burn a barnyard home with its beautiful-brown interiors in the tender village landscape, serene water flows in a canal over which the characters walk across a bamboo bridge.
The bamboo bridge is hard enough to walk over, but comes with an unmistakeable fragility. That bridge must be an Ishqiya torn between devotional surrenders and explosive cylinders.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

H1B Visa Dipped in Desi Ghee: MNIK and the KJo Kool Aid

When you are Karan Johar, you have a magic wand.
You wave it, and financiers give you money.
You wave it, and Shah Rukh Khan stars for you.
You wave it, and characters morph away to defy their roots.
A single mother Muslim weaver woman in a Mumbai suburb steeped in poverty has a child who suddenly props up on a scholarship in the US and equally suddenly manages to bring his brother afflicted with autistic Asperger Syndrome to the streets of San Francisco after quick, hurried morbid shots of a little boy learning English from a Parsee and doing enough to send him to America, where a story awaits to be told.
Whose story?
Not that of the victim of riots in Gujarat, Bhiwandi, Thane, Mahim or Bandra which is closer home to the noisy streets where KJo has spent most of his young and well-groomed life.
Not even, really speaking, of the 26/11 victims in downtown Mumbai.
This one is for America, by America and of America.
Oscar wish? Fox money? NRI box office?
Whatever it is, My Name Is Khan is like an H1B visa dipped in desi ghee. Very alluring in an Indian American Pizza Mom and cute kid way, with the worldview of those who live in nice homes, cool offices and clean streets with fancy cars.
Oh, the story is about 9/11 and what it did to the average South Asian Muslim in America, with the universal, award-winning message thrown in.

Didn’t you know what happened after 9/11 in the US? Fairytale capitalism gave way to neighbourhood racism because of terrorism.
And some Indians, who had never seen the homegrown variety, described in boring editorial page articles as communalism, suddenly discovered this whole Hindu-Muslim thingie.
Between the tandoori Western teen flick and the post-modern girlfriend angst, KJo discovered that the topic that bothers neocons in Washington and the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses in New Delhi could be his muse too.
Oh well, history is like the flu. You never know when it hits you.
KJo is burdened not by history, of Islam, India or Pakistan or Palestine. Everybody is a chocolate boy from South Mumbai with a loving mom, or is converted into one.
Love is a nice message, and multiplexes are nice places to sell it. Add a dash of Koran here and there. Like oregano. Pizza Moms love them. Get the formula: Only love, silly. No analysis paralysis.
And so, Rizwan Khan, the hamming, hamstrung protagonist, lives through the experiences of the Wounded South Asian, stuttering and stammering his way through a love affair with a Pizza Mom hairstylist whose baddie husband left her with a son and little else. To the strains of Martin Luther King’s we-shall-overcome-and its Hindi honge-kamyab, the movie stutters through its steps with the uneasy but persuasive discourse that would do the Indo-US nuclear deal proud.
“My Name Is Khan,” the King of Bollywood announces. “And I am not a terrorist.”
Ingredients for this message: Some Koran. Some metropolitan cosmo-liberalism. Some leave-us-alone-we-love-everybody logic.
As the story unfolds, nice kids fall apart. Neighbours become uneasy adversaries.
Of course, we have heard that before. In tales of 1947.
But this one is for a generation for which Partition happened on 9/11 in the tall, aspirational buildings of New York.
There is enough of America in this film to think that terrorism did not even come to KJo’s Bombay, who survived enough riots in his hometown before making a subject out of the same theme in faraway US. Stunning landscapes flow from a delectable camera: San Francisco, New Mexico and then Georgia, where Hurricane Katrina and suffering blacks suddenly find themselves in a South Asian plot.
Like Mira Nair, KJo badly wants a place in Obama’s sun. So you have to become the endearing, enduring South Asian with chocolate syrup political correctness surrounding the Original Identity. This is McSouthAsia.
KJo wields the story-teller’s tool. He counters a stereotype with an archetype.
Rizwan Khan is one: nice kid, bright engineer type, loves mom and everybody, is productive. Oh yes, namaz-reading Muslim. If this is not enough, there is his Asperger Syndrome with Forrest Gump memories for the Hollywood-bred. Makes you laugh. Tugs at your hearstrings. Makes you reach out for hankies when you are done with that sticky caramel popcorn.
And moms. Lots of.
Nevertheless, the freshness of a story set in the American South and the chirpily warmth of a glowing Kajol make it all worth it. A disjointed script is redeemed by the occasionally punchy dialogue and an amusing sort of storyline, if you survive the first half.
Why didn’t anyone hype the music by Shankar Ehsaan Loy? It is actually a great feature, complementing the beautify of the American South and West Coast. You have Bush and Obama in the plot. You have Iraq and Afghanistan and innocents dying. You have a message. If you have come thus far and still don’t get it, this is the one about all religions being good and love conquering all.
This is Bollywood trying to be Hollywood.
This is crossover trying to play the world movie.
This is KJo thinking he is Spielberg.
Like Spielberg, he is making a movie on aliens he loves. Only, they are from the other side of the same planet and feel like they are from a different one.
When KJo was busy making tandoori Westerns, McDonald’s invented the aloo-tikki burger. Like the Mumbai riots, that too, escaped KJo’s Kool Aid.
He was busy peering through the telescope at aliens he identifies with.
If Bunty and Babli at the local multiplex like it, it is because the loop is complete. We are all ETs now.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Thackeray vs Thackeray: A sneak preview

Now that Bal Thackeray wants to ban Australians from cricket matches in Mumbai, the war with his nephew Raj has intensified. Here is a sneak preview on what will happen in the coming days.

Raj will demand that the Mumbai Marathon be renamed the Mumbai Marathion

Bal will demand that Kylie Minogue be renamed Kylibai Minoghe

Raj will say Shane Warne will not be allowed unless he changes name to Shanivarna Legspinotkar

Bal will declare Gregory David Roberts as Mumbai Ratna for his work "Shantaram"

Raj will demand Hugh Jackman speak Marathi in all his movies

Bal will want Foster's beer be served with paav-bhaji instead of the usual nuts

Raj will ask jazz bands in South Bombay to play the tutari instead of the saxophone

Bal will say that in line with the railway station, Victoria's Secret should be renamed Shivaji's secret. He will withdraw his idea after hearing that it might benefit the Sri Rama Sene, whose members are known to enjoy receiving lingerie.

The crisis will be resolved by Amar Singh, who will now try to make peace between the two Thackerays. He will call Bal his "bada bhai" and Raj his "chota bhai"

But after the patch-up he will be ignored. Amar will now go to Fiji, from where he will declare he is loyal to both the Thackerays, who will reject his call because he did not speak in Marathi.