PG Wodehouse and Hrishikesh Mukherjee

A tribute to these great story tellers.

The twist and turns, the coincidences, the most extraordinary characters, the muddled up anti-climax and finally a happy ending, that is what characterizes a Wodehouse novel or a Mukherjee movie. Any given Sunday, start with any one of these and you will surely end up refreshed, far away from the week load of woes and worries.

Their plots usually have these ingredients (e.g. of Golmaal taken here): a love story to be saved (Amol Palekar and Bindiya Goswami), a narrator or story writer (Deven Verma, very explicitly in Rang Birangi), the gullible characters (Shubha Khote, the buaji), the lies and disguise (Dina Pathak), the tough quirky people (Utpal Dutt), the supporting members (David, mamaji; Manju Singh, sister) to bring in the complexities, the anticlimax mix up (Utpal Dutt in jail) and finally a happy ending.

In the latest Wodehouse I read ‘Uncle Fred in Springtime’, we could see exactly the same script. Love story of Polly & Ricky, Uncle Fred as chief narrator, plenty of gullible characters (almost everyone at Blanding’s Castle is gullible, especially those following Lord Emsworth’s bloodline!), lies and disguise at its best (honesty is the best policy only in the world which has no place for good humour), quirky people (Duke of Dunstable) and loads of supporting secretaries and butlers (Baxter, Beach et al). There is enough of disguise, imposers, pinching (British for stealing), gambling, hitting, detectives to weave a hilarious combination of events. However, what I like the best about Wodehouse is his language. These are the words from the book I read to my lanky husband the other night: Nature, stretching Horace Davenport out, had forgotten to stretch him sideways, and one could have pictured Euclid, had they met, nudging a friend and saying. ‘Don’t look now, but this chap coming along illustrates exactly what I was telling you about a straight line having length without breadth.’ 

There is some sort of message these incredible story tellers add in their stories. “World is full of snobs”, “lying is necessary evil” (a beautiful movie ‘Jhooti’ has a lead female character lying all the time!), men love to do manly stuff comprising of betting, losing money, cheating, beating up people, drinking, acting foolishly, on the other hand, women love to over-react and break-off marriages and need to be begged for pardon. There are also some deep lying messages. Khoobsoorat was all about understanding discipline in a different light. In words of Wodehouse “Marriage is a battlefield, not a bed of roses…. the only way of ensuring a happy married life is to get it thoroughly clear at the outset who is going to skipper the team.” These are pure words of wisdom.

Of course, one doesn’t read Wodehouse or watch Mukherjee to gain wisdom. The (lost) art created by these personalities was based around a kind of humour which is otherwise not seen anywhere else. Gulzar’s ‘khafiyas’ or poetry snippets in common man’s speech (Khubsoorat, 1980) can’t be found in any other motion picture. Only a few movies came after that era which could be considered to belong in the same league. Khosla ka Ghosla was one of them. I do wonder if we will see more writers like Wodehouse and more film makers like Mukherjee in years to come. I dearly wish, we do.

Ekta Kapoor, Aditya chopra & Karan Johor: The next generation will never forgive you

The generation which was born close to the year of India’s independence, in between 1945-55, saw a country struggling to stand on its feet. They saw many wars, much violence, extreme poverty, and inexistence of basic human rights, bore many responsibilities of large families, fought epidemics and fatal diseases. They had many national leaders to follow during their youth. That generation lived to serve, their families first and later their children. They lived to earn. To provide. Money for them was fruit of a hard earned labor to be saved and spent reasonably.

My generation, born after 30-40 years, found things to be very different. The basic human rights were now met, we were provided with good health care and good education. In middle class families, the concept of “merit” was deep-rooted, so that we work hard for good education and get good jobs. The only dream our parents had for us was of financial security. With the opening of financial markets in the 90ies, this dream came true. Money for us became a status symbol, a means to live a better lifestyle.

The lifestyle, any generation wants to lead, is very delicately linked to the culture of that society. For our parents, in the struggling years after independence, it meant providing enough for everyone, rising above the class levels, donating for religious activities/ceremonies. For our generation, in absence of strong national leaders to follow, Bollywood & television played a major role in shaping the culture. If there is a movie in which three friends drive to Goa, every college student would dream of going to Goa. If there is a movie in which three friends skydived in Spain, every working professional would dream of spending his spendable income in similar fashion.

Similarly, if there is a soap opera in which women sit at home all dressed up in jewelry and rich clothes, all day involved in gossiping, chattering, cooking, eating, attending kitty-parties, unfortunately, that is how housewives in real world have started visualizing themselves as. A woman is femininely beautiful only if she has long hair (Kajol before and after in kuch kuch hota hai), a woman fasts for her lover/husband (Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge) and this fast is the symbol of the strength of her love for him, husbands get beautiful gifts for their wives in return for her fasting (almost all Ekta kapoor’s sic serials), a womanhood is incomplete without her giving birth to a child (and not by adopting), and so on.

The reel-world has taken over the logical meaningful real world. Does fasting for someone actually represent your love for him/her? And if it really does, why would you expect any return from that person? Karva chauth is not about fasting or praying any more, it is only a symbol of commercialized materialistic manifestation of a tradition which has completely lost its meaning, its beauty.

The housewives of earlier generations were managers of a complex household system, with responsibilities as grand and challenging as those handled at the business front. From managing home budget, being resourceful at the time of scarcity, developing foolproof recycling system (for long-lasting goods or perishable eatables), administrating health and care, women of that age were managerial gurus. On the other hand, the housewives today find themselves victimized, their position being shrunk to heavy adorned dolls who can only gossip, eat and cook. Nowadays, the strong women are projected to be the ones who work outside of the boundaries of the home, who wear short clothes and break the rules (Rani Mukherjee smoking in No one killed Jessica). Thanks to the stereotyped, non-creative, banality in Bollywood and TV story theme, the housewives today are caught up in a miserable state of mind because of which they can’t even take control of their own lives or health issues, forget about becoming a leader at home front! (I will not count Lunchbox here. In terms of gross collection it did in India, it can’t be even considered in mainstream movies).

Our generation which had a stable financial platform already built for them to reach a much higher cultural space is now caught up in materialistic, cosmetic and commercialized version of festivals and traditions and is living in a value system which has no meaning, no logic, and no belief around it.

The next generation which will be born or is being born in this culture will grow up to curse the Bollywood and TV’s Big Boss(s) who killed whatever morally good there ever was.

From ‘roti, kapda aur makaan’ to ‘ladki, paisa aur aaraam’

Yes, thats the curve we are looking at.

At least as far as Bollywood cinema goes. Recall the movies of 70s, when AB would fight the bastard (?) dad for vengeance of his mother. Then in 80s, we saw a large family of 9-10 driven out of their small but lovely home and still found them singing “thoda hai thode ki zarorat hai.” 90s saw a young and dabaang Salman leaving home to literally break bricks n order to prove his love.

Then the inevitable happened. Thanks to Manmohan Singh and P Chidambaram.  Indian economy opened to foreign investment. The lower class became the lower-middle class. The middle class became higher-middle class. An elite middle class became higher class.

Now, Salman doesn’t have to labor physically to win love. Now ‘family values’ were stressed upon. To keep the dough under a roof ofcourse. So, Madhuri Dixit had to sacrifice her love for Salman to marry his elder brother when her sister who was also Salman’s sister-in-law died. (The junta had more expendable income!) Or, when SRK would not ‘run away’ with the girl of his dreams because ‘dad ka aashirwaad nahi mila’. Let the girl sacrifice each time.

Of course, there was an alternate, much less popular cinema, where there was a Godmother, a Rudaali, and a Damini. But we are more focused on the main stream Bollywood curve here.

Next came girls who would be willing to dance to ‘tu cheez badi hai mast mast’ and ‘Sexy sexy sexy mujhe log bolein’. Who would have thought at that time that 2 to 40 years olds would be shaking on ‘My name is Sheila’ in a decade’s time! Not to say about the change in sets. From Kashmir and Ooty, BW has moved across the globe. From small houses of the angry young man to plazas of investment bankers-cum-drummers of Rock On!

Its so romantic to see a young woman from Kolkata getting settled in Mumbai in a studio apartment with a terrace-view near the sea! Its even more encouraging to find NASA astronauts to leave the pleasures of the developed world to work in a village. Or find school teachers working on innovations in remote places in the country. The new mantra is to follow your heart. Be it for a girl (read DevD, Yeh Saali Zindagi, etc etc), or money (read Company, Satya, etc etc) or lifestyle (Rang de Basanti, Wake up Sid, DevD again!).

Elements of a good sunday..

A good book – Yuganta (a must read)

An authentic movie – Ishqiya

Latest dancing track – uff teri adaa

Hot delicious food – sorry can’t share it as yet! (waiting for technology to transfer mass).

Friends to laugh with – :D plenty around everyone!


Two quick thoughts on the book and the flick –

Yuganta is an anthropologist’s collection of essays on her interpretations of the Mahabharata. At places she has also used her imagination to fill the missing links. Iravati Karve was one of the first members in the family of educationists and it turns out I have studied with her daughters’ daughter and been taught by one of her daughter! It is such a charming change to read one of the most powerful story in the world told in such an academic fashion. It is a must read who have slightest of interest in history and the art of story-telling! I know it is the next gift for my mom!

About Ishqiya – what is this new trend of captivating audience with all the abuses one can think of? How come this idea sells like hot cakes? After all the experience of hanging out with great intellectual thinkers, educationists, world-reformers I have developed extreme respect for people who can sell. Whatever the product may be. Yes, at the end of everything is money. I still have to see people who are happy without any of it. No matter what you do, you have to sell your idea, your philosophy, your art, your music to succeed. Three cheers to VB for devising the winner formula for selling flicks!

A Wednesday

A Bollywood movie which can keep you thrilled for 1.5 hrs – its a eighth/ninth wonder?! 

Last night only I was watching Peacemaker (2007) at HBO and initially found it thrilling, though later quite disappointing. But it was a long time since I had watched any action/thriller English movie and found it a nice break from Drama/Comedy genre. I was wondering then why we can’t have such movies in India. Which are original, fool-proof, little believeable. I mean if I am watching a James Bond movie, I am prepared to watch him come scratchless out of a no-man-came-alive-out-of-it scene. But if I watch say, Munich, I see the hot-shots getting hurt too. Here, Krrish is like Batman, Superman, Spiderman – all in one. Well, as a viewer, thats a little too much to take. I would rather watch a fantasy movie over it. And thats one of the best action thrillers bollywood has to offer. Why don’t action films made in India also fit into sub-genre so that I know what I am going for?! Sarfarosh was one of the films in which a policeman also got hurt, he was also hospitalised. In that sense it was a pathbreaking movie from Indian cinema. 

A Wednesday is also a fresh change from the typical Hindi movies. It keeps the audience stuck to their seats for 3/4th of the movie. Which is a major achievement I would say. Also, a very mature prespective is taken on the most-common-theme in Indian cinema currently. Junta ki aag. Junta ka halla. Humara kartavya. Many years back we had films about desh bhakti as a residual feeling from the freedom struggle movement. Now we can’t dance on the same tune. So we have movies like RDB, halla bol (some others whose names i have forgotten) and Rock On which talks about taking control of your life. RDB has a hint of desh prem, but it was the last sell. A Wednesday is so completely different because: 

  • thankfully, there are no youngsters with a rush of blood and little imagination in picture. The movie is about oldies. Infact, people who have high-on-adreline-youngsters for their children. Love to see them in action.
  • its fool-proof. you don’t find yourself wondering why the police inspector didn’t do this or that, or why this situation wasn’t handled in the obvious way. 
  • the script/plot is new and intelligent. It knows how the audience will react at what point and changes its course accordingly. 
I was quite impressed by the movie. However, a little disappointed in the end. Probably thats why it gets 4.5 stars and not 5. Don’t read ahead if you haven’t watched the flick, it contains spoilers. 
The speech on the state of helplessness of the stupid common ordinary man was over-done. The beautiful movie with as many words as action till now was suddenly spoiled by too many words. The interaction between Police-commissionar and No-name man became artifical and drill-like. You suddenly realise you are watching a movie. The movie also proved that the man could kill 3 people with just a spoof of bomb and little intelligence and police couldn’t even prevent it. What if those 3 people were innocent citizens of the country. Or important diplomats. Or CEOs of companies. What he had done was wrong in the face of law. If we harp so much about law-n-order, lets just follow it. Rule by rule. No exceptions. Even if it is for the larger good. Everyone has his/her reasons. Thats the problem. I was personally inclined to see those terrorists dead. I was hoping Arif would kill them. But, not like this. Police was simply shown to be helpless. I would have liked it if the no-name man would have now included the police (keeping politicians still excluded) in killing off the terrorists. After all, policeman do die during arrests of terrorists and in encounters.
Apart from that minor detail, the movie is superb. A must watch.  

The Pirates of Caribbean (Curse of Black Pearl)

It so happens that I am not watching movies these days. Or should I put it the way Jack Sparrow would: I will always remember this phase as the period when I didn’t watch many movies. So once in a while when I stumble to movies like The Pirates of Caribbean I am overwhelmed! I don’t recall the reason for not watching this movie 5 yrs back – when it was released and when I had very easy access to movies. Most likely I must have heard bad reviews. Or maybe I didn’t have a niche for adventures and fantasies then. Last night I watched it, and loved it so much that re-watched some of it right after finishing it the first time.

Its not so much of a story line, which by the way is also quite catchy and involving, its the presentation which I loved the best. I would give little credit to cinematography or action scenes, though full points go to Jack’s (Johnny Depp) appearance, I was carried away by his dialogues. They were simply too good! In fact they blew me over. Maybe due to my own situation. After doing total bullshit work in office for two days, I was suddenly enlightened while watching a pirate flick! Today my cabin has the following self-written note: “There lies a hidden opportunity in every situation. One just needs to find it. If you look hard enough, you would not be disappointed.” Only Jack Sparrow could have made such an effect!

Honestly, while watching the movie I couldn’t help this strong urge to become a pirate myself. Of course, pirates are no longer considered pirates in the modern society. The present world gives enough space to a person to explore and plunder the lands far far away legally! What more, an adventurer is very well respected! Thanks to the pirates and likes for this!

I can’t bear drama flicks anymore. Couldn’t bring myself to watch the Pursuit of Happiness or the Bucket List again. Maybe coz I am reading so much non-fiction these days, I am looking for fantasies (which are just a different version of non-fiction!) Next in line is the LOTR trilogy. I shall always remember POC as the movie which built my interest in fantasies. :) The best quote from the motion picture from here:

Jack Sparrow: Me? I’m dishonest, and a dishonest man you can always trust to be dishonest. Honestly. It’s the honest ones you want to watch out for, because you can never predict when they’re going to do something incredibly… stupid.

Savvy? ;)

Saawan ka mahina..

..can’t be enjoyed without the recent most romantic song. And Jaane Tu ya jaane Na brings us just the song. Have been listening to it from past one hour continuously. It fits appropriately with my current mood:

For those who haven’t watched the movie yet, do so. Loved it. Best movie after TZP. Aamir Khan rocks! And Imran is my greatest love so far in life! (I am not yet 25, can still have infatuations!) :)

Taare Zameen Pe – Interpretation (Not a review)

(Read it only after you have watched the flick)

It so happened that TZP was my first movie on a cinema hall alone. Although I tried to avoid that from happening, circumstances were against me. With the result that I was alone to watch a much-awaited movie with an already perturbed frame of mind. For the record, I am a huge fan of Aamir; he is my most favorite Indian personality from the glamour world. Before you read my criticisms, I would also like to tell you, I didn’t write this post two days back just after watching the movie because I wanted the movie hangover to die out – so that I could write sensibly!

TZP reminded me of RDB. Only it is filled with too many emotions and hence it is quite “heavy”. Apart from that there are many similarities with RDB. Both have a message. TZP is dealing with a more sensitive issue, so its message doesn’t come out starkly. But they managed to say one thing – don’t overburden/pressurize kids which terminates the individuality of every child. Both the movies are provoking. They leave an impact on the viewer; as in you get personally involved in the movie. TZP is so well made, that it even succeeded in reminding me of my childhood days. And I cried like a baby in the movie. It would be no wonder if TZP does good business and get good reviews, just like RDB.

What was fundamentally wrong in TZP? It succumbed to the pressure of providing a concrete ending. Pressure of giving an answer. Pressure of being accepted by the audience who would not like to go home with a sensitive issue such as schooling (which is the center point in the lives of children) being left unanswered, unjustified. Hence, the child becomes a hero – the best painter in the school – the public is happy and the movie ends. Unfortunately, the hidden message which passed on was the very message the movie is against of, the very message the movie is based on. Every child is special, hence no child should be forced to fulfill ‘unjustified’(?) expectations of parents, no child should be forced into the rat race of the competitive world and expected to ‘win’, and every child should be allowed that space which s/he needs to express her/his individuality. When Ishaan won the painting competition, he not only fulfilled his teacher’s ‘expectations’ by ‘winning’ a ‘competition’ he also strengthen the fact and sent the message: in the unavoidable rat race winning is essential!

Another aspect of the movie was: story of failure. Again, this issue is so complex that the failed child was shown to have a disability called Dyslexia in reading/writing; who nevertheless, had an above average intelligence. What about kids with average or below average intelligence? But of course, their story won’t be interesting enough to be shown in a movie!

The movie succeeded in showing two main issues: first, which was captured beautifully in the song Jame Raho, the act of bringing up a child who is innately unorganized in a highly regulated world we all live in. Second, to some extent, movie brought out the mystery behind failure: a teacher fails before a student does/can. I would take up both these issues separately and then together.

A child is raised by an adult who by definition would already be following a certain lifestyle, faces lot of trouble in getting accustomed to that lifestyle. This is the debate which is carried out in terms of Discipline Vs Freedom across the globe. Some rules and regulations are critical for all human beings to follow so as to sustain the community life. The questions here are: how is the discipline carried out? Does it suppress the freedom of an individual? Or can one create situations for developing self-discipline? What is self-discipline? In my understanding, a discipline which is authoritatively maintained not only kills the freedom of an individual, it dampens the chances of evolution of self-discipline. Hence, the problem is not of getting up early in the morning and following a routine, the problem is whose will is being followed when a routine is being followed. Is it yours or the world you live in?

Exactly one year back I wrote about failure after reading John Holt’s How Children Fail. Holt argues that children fail primarily because they are afraid, bored and confused. This combined with misguided teaching strategies and a school environment that is disconnected from reality and “real learning”, results in a school system that kills children’s innate desire to learn. This was evident in the movie. Though they hid behind Dyslexia, the reality is not so rosy. Even children with average level of intelligence fail, and suffer the same agonies which Ishaan faced. Yet, few adults among us ever talk about it or even acknowledge this as an issue.

I have talked to so many people in past few months while trying to explain them about my professional life and in return have been fortunate enough to hear what they think is the major problem with Indian education system. It is – children who can’t do math/science have no other options! Although, not untrue, this is still a very simplistic way of putting things. I would say the main problem with Indian education system is that it doesn’t give any skills to the young generation which are required to become independently thinking, rationalizing adults with basic values of equality, justice and freedom. Of course, when the education system itself doesn’t follow any of the above mentioned values, its no wonder the products of it would not possess any! A visit to any classroom in any of 99.9% schools of the country would prove my point.

It was not just to criticize or list the problems in education system that I started writing this post. Personally for me, movie succeeded in adding an aspect to my introspection. I live with a 4 year old child in my house. I see him being scolded a lot of times for speaking ill-words, for doing wrong deeds. This wrong/right is defined by an individual shaped by his perception of the world. What I don’t understand now is why do we try to enforce our definition of right/wrong on others, and unabashedly on our younger generation? Is it something we do because of our socialization process, that is the way we have been brought up, or is it innate psychologically? If it is latter I am both at peace (less work) and disturbed (can’t be done anything about). This enforcing habit is also directly related to our incapability of understanding other person. A child fails because he is not being understood by the adults or the system. In fact, nobody even cares to understand him/her. This is extreme in case of child because we don’t treat him as a thinking person who can have his own thoughts/understandings/beliefs. But, this is true even in one-to-one relationships among adults, as it was clear in Hum-Tum’s famous number – ladki kyon, na jaane kyon, ladkon si nahi hoti! I would attain my nirvana if I could stop enforcing my kind of lifestyle (which means – no pub, no club, no bowling, no expensive movies, no expensive plays…..) on people around me! :D