Monday, February 25, 2008

Jodha Akbar.... now even the kids !!

We were standing in the queue for tickets to a marathi movie. The earlier show ended and crowd was streaming out. Two kids, about 12 year old, walked past our queue and really made our day. One of them remarked, "see that long line for Jodha Akbar." Barely had he finished saying this, the other one quipped - "they must all be raving mad !"
So this movie as a period story for history buffs is inaccurate (and funny at times), as a love story for adults it is cure for insomnia, and as a bedtime story for children it is boring !
I promise to myself that I won't waste any more of my valuable time writing about this movie. There are better things in this world for me to explore ...

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Jodha Akbar - Magnum oh-phut

If there is ever an award for 'Most over-rated movie of the year' then I am sure this movie will beat all other contenders hands down. I saw it three days ago and yet the headache has not subsided fully.
I am surprised why so many people are raving about the movie. Am even more surprised that 'learned' critics (Rajeev Masand on CNN-IBN is a case in point) have given it excellent rating like 4 out of 5 stars !! I honestly felt let down by the reviewers - but that's besides the point.
The film can at best be described as 'Saas bhi kabhi...' on big screen and with historical references. The plot itself is flimsy and I fail to understand why it takes FOUR hours to develop something to be left at the end in a half baked state anyway.
Before I go into overdrive with my angst about the movie, let me first give Hritik his due credit. He is the ONLY saving grace of the movie. Looks good, has acted well, but had no support whatsoever from either the story or the supporting cast or even the director. Ila Arun as Mahamanga is the only other character that appears 'live'. All others move in and out the frames as if in a trance.
The technical aspects of the movie are so pathetic that they should serve as an example for future movie makers as a lesson in "what mistakes to avoid while making a movie". Firstly, the editing. I can only presume that the editor went off to sleep in the studio and only woke up four hours later. So many sequences could have been crisp and to the point. Its so long winded that it appears like a TV soap. I almost thought one of the characters would turn around and say, "we will see you next week, same time, same channel. Till then goodbye." In the last few years, bollywood technicians have come out of stone age and are doing great value addition to make movies with excellent production qualities. Want to see an example? Go watch "Johnny Gaddar" - superb production. The cinematography of JA is so poor that one wonders how come the cameraman let go of such an opportunity to make a great period film. The lighting is often flat, no shadows, no depth to the field, several frames completely burnt out. I suppose the cameraman forgot to take his sunglasses off during the outdoor shoot so ended up with a wide aperture for all those shots !!! OK, much of it is in a desert but that does not mean you let the frames burn out like this.
There aren't much special effects in the movie but those that are there, are eminently avoidable. The elephant's leg stomping down inches away from the hapless man on the ground looks so painfully artificial that the elephant himself wont recognize it.
Costumes is another story. Neeta Lulla claims to have done much research and says that her choice to use primary colours is revolutionary. Ask any 4th standard student from India about which colours he/she associates with Rajasthan and the answer will be red and yellow. So what's so revolutionary in this? All other rajput women in the movie wear dresses that cover them from head to toe - not an inch of skin is visible. Absolutely authentic. But Jodha herself ? Thats another story. What did Neeta Lulla think ? That while all other women of those times had to completely cover themselves, the Mallika-e-Hindustan could display her cleavage to the entire population of the kingdom?
Whenever a period movie is made, there is much talk about its authenticity and accuracy. Some funny incidents come to mind - in Sippy's Mahabharat, some people claim to have spotted a soldier with his wristwatch on. Another forgot to take off his designer chappals ! But coming back to the point - JA has so many technical bloopers that they cannot be passed off as poetic license given to the director. Here's a look at some of them -
The cannons of those days were muzzle loading guns (breech loaders, where the projectile is loaded into the barrel from the rear were invented much later). So each cannon had to undergo a detailed and painfully lengthy procedure before firing. There are records that at the BEST efficient rates, these type of cannons could fire about 100 shots in a day. Given a 12 hour fighting period, that makes it one shot after every 7 minutes or so. In this movie, cannons are going off left, right and center like Diwali crackers. I think the oh-so-dramatic shot of the cannonball hurtling down the barrel is also rather inaccuate.
The royal palace has two macaws in a cage. Macaws? MACAWS? I thought they were only found in the Amazon rainforest. So how did they come from South America to Agra? I suppose Ashutosh Gowariker believes that they came flying beacuse they so much wanted to see Jodhabai! OK, lets concoct another story. S America was colonized by the Spanish. Portugal is next to Spain. The Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama landed in Calicut on 24th December, 1524. So da Gama must have sent the macaws to Akbar as a wedding gift....... There are also rabbits adding the delicate touch to the Queen's garden, but I am not really sure India had rabbits in the 15th century. Hares yes, rabbits probably no.
The dialogues left me perplexed at times. Throughout the movie, Akbar speaks in absolutely chaste Urdu. Suddenly, out of the blue, he turns around and uses the phrase 'Desh ki ekta ke liye'.....????? Come again, what was that? When the recording was going on, was there an election speech going on nearby and the audio tracks got mixed ?
I feel sad that the music appears to have come from an overworked AR Rehman. So many touches are from his own earlier brilliant compositions.....
I can go on and on, but will stop here. The people who are protesting against the movie curently are using a flawed argument for protest, but come on, they are at least saving people from watching a rank bad movie. Period.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Indian Masala Mix

I have been intently reading 'Being Indian' by Pavan Verma. Absolutely brilliant book, but more about that later. I noticed something on the road on which I been traveling twice a day for the past five years. Never noticed this in all these years. Maybe Pavan Verma has sensitized me about some things uniquely Indian in a way that I now notice these. Firstly, note the temple and the wine shop coexisting peacefully as neighbours. Next, note the nice arrangement made for crossing the road. Now, now, wait. What was the purpose of putting up the metal railing on the road divider? To ostensibly prevent the pedestrians from crossing the road which has pretty fast traffic (by Pune standards definitely). But then, wont the railing be such a great inconvenience to devout partrons of the shop? They would then have to walk about 300 mt. more and go in a roundabout way to get to their favourite daily dose. Hence this very convenient arrangement. The drivers would never mind (they are used to pedestrians suddenly appearing out of nowhere in front of their windscreens anyway!), the pedestrians are of course more than happy, the shopkeeper is smiling, and I am sure the Gods have no objection too. Pavan Varma is absolutely right when he speaks about the ambivalence of Indians and our ability to 'muddle our way to a critical equilibrium'.
I would simply like to quote Pavan Varma here
"A critical equilibrium combining several factors has to be in place for nations of the complexity and size of India to appraoch the take-off stage in the right direction for a journey that can be expected to be relatively stable." Well said.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

We the People

Recently CNN-IBN gave the 'Indian of the year' award. There were debates for about a month leading up to the actual award. In one of the debates, Ramachandra Guha made a point that India has such a variation of people and cultures, that it would be unfair to give any ONE person this award. In one of my recent training programs, I was working with the sales managers from a agro company. Sitting around a bonfire in bone chilling cold on the banks of Ganga, I heard intently to stories from their lives. I was amazed to hear one of them talk about the one instance in his life when he felt extraordinary. During college he used to go to an orphanage near his home and do whatever little work he could do with the volunteers there. The book fair in Kolkata was round the corner and this gave him an idea. He had about 25 painting ready. He gathered some friends and sat on the footpath all day trying to sell the painting. By the end of day, he had made Rs.450/- by selling all his paintings. He then proceeded to give this money to the orphanage. Over the years, now he has risen in his career to be a successful manager, and currently manages to donate several thousand rupees to the orphanage from his paycheque. But he still considers his first effort as the one which gave him the most satisfaction. I have withheld his name on his request. I am sure there are thousands of others who are similar selfless work across the length and breadth of our country. The CNN-IBN award for lifetime achievement award was given to RK Laxman, the legendary cartoonist who created the common man. Peeping from his glasses out of the pages of TOI, this character has brought a smile to our face every day for the last several decades. Maybe the Indian of the Year award could also be given to the 'common man of India', like my painter friend. This common man has loved his country and its people. When he is walking into a multiplex carrying a packet of popcorn for his little daughter who is following him, he stops to stands in attention as the tricolour comes on the screen to the tune of Jana Gana Mana.

There was another interesting thought that this painter turned sales manager spoke about. He wondered whether old age homes could be combined with orphanages in some way, whereby the children would have so many grandparents to tell them stories about the world, and the old people will have the next generation bringing some cheer to them in the twilight of their lives. Any takers?

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

The forests are lit up !

Amongst all the flowering trees of peninsular India, the Palas (Flame of the Forest - Butea monosperma) deserves a special mention. Come spring, and the tree bursts into a stunning display of colour. Driving down from Garudmaachi to Mumbai last week, I saw these trees provide a stark contrast to the dry arid landscape dominated by other trees of mixed deciduous type. Just off the road, this tree caught my attention and I could not just drive past, I just HAD to get down with my camera. Sun going down, nice warm side lighting - any photographer's dream. After what I had thought was a fairly good collection of shots, I planned to hurry on to Mumbai. Barely had I driven a few km. when another Palas halted me in my tracks. Even more resplendent than the first one, it invited me to come and take a closer look. The great poet Kalidas once compared the Palas flowers to a parrot's beak. Going by his simile, this tree would have to be overloaded with parrots !
Kalidas says
--> --> --> -->
plaaSakusauma Ba`aM%yaa SauktuMDo pt%yaila:
saao|ip jambauflama\ Ba`aM%yaa tmailanao Qat-uimacCit

- a group of parrots sitting on the tree were mistaken to be Palas flowers by a some bumblebees. On the other hand, the parrots mistook the bees to be jamun fruits !!

Palas flowers are called Kinshuk in Sanskrit. The name's origin is said to be a question - kim shuka ? Is it a parrot?

Driving down the countryside in the months of Feb-March, it is not difficult to understand why this tree is popularly known as 'Flame of the Forest'। (Some people believe that the Coral tree (Pangara - Erythrina indica) is Flame of the Forest. I have even seen a reference where the Red Silk Cotton (Semul - Bombax ceiba) was given this name. Is there some way to end this argument and give the Palas what is due to it? There can be no other tree that deserves to be called Flame of the Forest. The tree is sacred to Hindus, a fact highlighted by the belief that its set of three leaves represent Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. They together form the trinity of Gods, who maintain balance in the universe by creating, preserving and destroying. A popular marathi proverb emphatically states - Palasaala paane teen (a palas tree always has three leaves). A rather obvious statement, one would think - but then the proverb simply means just that. "Some things will never change." These trees look rather ungainly in winter, but get completely transformed in months approaching spring. However, the last winter of 2007, I have seen them flowering prematurely, some in December, some even as earlier in late November. Anyone else has seen this? Anyone has an explanation? In a few weeks from now, winter will be on its way out and Vasant rutu will bring rejoice and cheer to the Indian subcontinent. Coral tree, Silk cotton, Amaltas (Indian Laburnum - Cassia fistula) and Tabebuia will all vie with each other for importance. But I will be waiting till the next year, to rejoice yet again sitting under the most glorious of them all - a Flame of the Forest. And yes, the picture would only be complete by listening to the genius of Kumar Gandharva. His Tesul ban phoole is an apt musical tribute to this wonder of nature. Yes, I agree - palasaala paane teen. Some things will never change. I am sure Kalidas would have nodded in agreement.

P.S. I must thank Prof. Leela Arjunwadkar (and my mother too!) for helping me with the Sanskrit references.