Parzania – A response, not a review

I wasn’t feeling too good about my life that day. I felt dull, lazy and gloomy. We’d slept a little late the previous night, so I’d been yawning since morning and the yawns were getting embarrassingly frequent and loud by late afternoon. A whole cup of strong coffee did not help much either. This was not a good time to slack off since there was an important release coming up at work that Friday with lots of ground to be covered before then. And my sister-in-law and family were visiting us for a two-week vacation that weekend and I really needed to spruce up the house before their arrival.

Then there were some constant niggling worries – the feeble weight-loss efforts I’d been making for the past couple of months hadn’t yielded much results so far, I really needed to buck up on that front. It had also been quite a while since my parents had sounded cheerful on the phone and I had no idea what made them sound so dull and tired these days. The depressing headlines in the papers weren’t of much help either – US recession, stock market tumbles, rising oil prices, global warming… the list of woes was long and worrisome indeed. So yes, I wasn’t feeling too good about my life that day.

And then the husband and I watched a movie that night. Parzania. A movie about a simple family in Gujarat, loving parents, two adorable kids, not much money but lots of love and laughter, bedtime stories, banter at the dinner table, pranks at school and picnics in the garden. Then comes the horror of Godhra and the ‘revenge’ riots that followed and their happy world is broken apart, never to mend again.

Trapped in a predominantly Muslim neighborhood attacked by Hindu mobs, the hapless Parsi family loses its son Parzan to the mindless violence, perhaps forever. Women and children attacked with swords, a pious elderly man hacked to death, insinuations of state and police complicity in the riots – the horrors, as someone rightly pointed out in a review, would seem absurd if only we weren’t told at the outset that this was a true story.

The husband and I looked helplessly at each other after the movie ended. We were at a complete loss for words and barely able to get up and walk to bed. My knees felt weak. I jumped at the slightest sound and screamed at the headlights from our neighbor’s car streaming in from the kitchen window. ‘Who’s that outside?’, I asked, my heart beating wildly. ‘Ssshhh, it’s just our neighbor parking his car, doesn’t he come home at this hour every night?’, the husband tried to reassure me. We snuggled under the bed-covers, reaching out to each other for comfort.

I’m probably the textbook definition of a non-insomniac, falling asleep the minute my head touches the pillow. But not so that night. I tossed and turned for a long time, unable to comprehend the horror of what I’d just seen. The tears came much later. ‘Why? How? What for?’, I sobbed, but the husband had no answers for me either. Perhaps there is a reason, too complex for my comprehension, I tried to convince myself. The idea of such a thing happening without any reason was too horrific to contemplate otherwise.

Now I am no expert on history or religion and I understand very little of politics and its power games but deep down in my heart I feel convinced of one thing. Surely nothing – no religion, no ideology and certainly not anybody’s concept of revenge (An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind, remember!) – could justify what had happened to these innocent people and their idyllic world that fateful February day? (And never mind their religious affiliation, innocent is the key word here!)

The next morning dawned bright and cheerful and I woke up with a smile on my face. I felt blessed to wake up in the familiar warmth of my bed and within the comfortable cocoon of our home, safe and sound in the arms of my loved one, my parents but a phone call and a plane ride away. There was food in the refrigerator, money in our wallets and friends and interesting work awaiting us in the office! Some more diligent efforts and my extra weight would probably come off too! There were still some problems, yes, but the basics were nicely in place. Yes, I felt really good about my life that day!

Note: Parzania is a wonderful cinematic experience and a very well-crafted movie. The performances, especially Naseeruddin Shah’s, are simply outstanding. But it’s story and backdrop are so powerfully dramatic, that the other points pale in comparison. I put off watching this movie as much as I could, dreading the effect its depressing story would have on me. But now that I’ve seen it, I realize my mistake. This is a movie that every Indian must watch. It is dark and hard-hitting no doubt, but after the trauma that so many of our countrymen and women have gone through, shouldn’t the rest of us take out at least a few minutes to think and ask ourselves – WHY?

A second look at Lakshya

We saw a perfect movie last night – Farhan Akhtar’s second directorial venture, Lakshya. Now before folks start coming up with the numerous flaws they see in the film, let me clarify, when I say perfect, I mean it in the sense that it is the perfect example of my notions of a great movie. There! Does that sound better now?

I had found Farhan Akhtar’s first venture, Dil Chahta Hai, near perfect too. But Lakshya, with its grander canvas and more relevant coming-of-age theme, seems a step forward from DCH where the boys stay boys all through the movie. That kind of life might seem fun in the movies and it does make for some magical moments on-screen, but that’s not what real life is all about, is it? Karan, the protagonist of Lakshya, who initially seemed merely a carry forward of Akash and Sameer of DCH finally grows up in Lakshya and how!

One look at the credits and the mystery was explained. While both DCH and Lakshya showcase Farhan’s fresh approach and fine directorial sensibilities, DCH is written by the (relatively) young director while Lakshya is penned by his father, the master story-teller Javed Akhtar himself. Never mind all the speculation about who was the better writer among the Salim-Javed duo, to my mind Lakshya ranks right up there with Sholay, Deewar and their other classics.

The movie begins with Lieutenant Karan Shergill (a gasp-oh-so-handsome Hrithik Roshan in his crew cut, smart army uniform and ramrod straight bearing) reporting for his first posting at an army camp in the pristine mountains of Ladakh. (I read a review somewhere which credited a certain German gentleman with the beautiful cinematography and seemed to suggest that explained it all. Is this yet another example of our natural respect for anything ‘foreign’, or is it just my ignorance that’s being shown up here?)

A photograph of a well-known news anchor, Romi Dutta (Preity Zinta in a bizarre Burkha Dutt take), pops out of the young Lieutenant’s wallet and Karan seems visibly ill-at-ease with the good-natured ribbing that follows. Cut to the flashback, Karan, in his previous spoilt brat avatar is being cajoled to wake up by the family servant with a glass of juice in his hand. His first words on awakening? ‘Ramsingh, TV on kar de yaar!’ Karan has no idea of what he wants out of life, he scoots off when Romi’s father starts a serious monologue on ‘life’. Hilariously, he repeats the same monologue word-to-word (Ghaas kaatne wala bano, magar achchi ghaas kato!) when his own dad questions him on his plans.

The transformation from the confused but lovable brat to the idealistic and committed army officer, inspired by his lady love, Romi, abandoning him with the admonition, ‘Jo khud ki izzat nahi kar sakta, woh meri kya izzat rakhega? Tumhare jeevan mein lakshya ki kami hai!’, is the highlight of the movie. I can’t think of a single contemporary actor, barring perhaps Aamir Khan (But wouldn’t he look too old?), who could have done justice to this incredible transformation as Hrithik Roshan has.

Post-interval, the action shifts to the Kargil war. The Pakistanis have transgressed into Indian territory and Karan finally finds the ‘lakshya’ (goal) that he is looking for – a strategic mountain peak captured by the Pakistanis from where they are able to target the Ladakh-Kashmir highway at will. The Indian army is determined to recapture the peak at all costs and after several unsuccessful attempts, Karan decides to make it his personal goal, promising his commanding officer (Amitabh Bachchan in one of his inexplicable but now-routine bit roles), ‘Ya toh hum jeet jayenge ya fir mein wapas nahi aoonga!’

One of the reviews I read said something like, watch Lakshya as a sensitive portrayal of a coming-of-age story or a realistic depiction of a war movie, both ways you’ll find it paisa-vasool. How true! The war drama and Pakistan-bashing is confined to the bare minimum, the focus being on clever strategies rather than brawn and war rhetoric. The incredible rock climbing scene and the final scene where Karan’s commanding officer spots him jubilantly flying the Indian flag atop the much-sought-after peak are spine-tingling and a must-watch for any patriotic Indian.

There is a rousing war song, but it is thankfully used to establish the camaraderie and spirit of the soldiers without any weeping wives and girlfriends in the background. In fact, the entire stirring soundtrack adds immensely to the emotional quotient of the narrative. Barring Kitni Baatein, which is a beautiful track but still annoys since it slows down the movie just prior to the climax, the rest of the songs are nicely used to move the story forward.

The romance is a subtle but sensitive parallel track that never attempts to hijack the main storyline. It is the weakest link of the movie though. I couldn’t sympathize with Romi’s character as I did with Karan’s, despite all her activism and obvious strength of character. There was something forced about her that I’m not able to put a finger upon. (I found her mother’s character fascinating though, Lilette Dubey in the role of a ‘Darling, I am going to India International’ kind of socialite-cum-activist Delhi mum.)

The Burkha Dutt angle, which was obviously a ploy to unite the lovers against the backdrop of the war, seemed slightly incongruous, but was an interesting attempt nevertheless. Special mention must go to Boman Irani’s gut-wrenching portrayal of Karan’s father, the hard-working no-nonsense dad who is so wrapped up in creating a comfortable home for his family that he loses out on an emotional bond with them. Before Karan embarks on his final suicidal mission, he calls up his father to say, ‘I love you’, and both father and son break down in one of the most emotional scenes of the entire movie.

Lakshya is a fine attempt at sensitive story-telling, it tells a story relevant to the youth of our nation and gives them a far better message than the more acclaimed Rang De Basanti. (It reminds me of another beautiful movie of its genre, Vijeta.) I know this review comes a good three years after the movie’s release, but if you haven’t watched it yet, I’d suggest you don’t give this wonderful movie a miss! To all those who have seen it but didn’t like it as much, why not try an encore? I had watched it before too and let me confess I liked it much better on second viewing. As for the rest, welcome to the Lakshya fan club!

Folks like you and me

I chanced upon actress/artist Suchitra Krishnamoorthi’s blog yesterday. Going through her blog posts, I was struck by how ‘normal’ a person she came across as. By ‘normal’, I mean ‘not one of those typical celebrity types’, more like one of us, regular middle class folks like you (I assume) and me. She talks of struggling to cook for her husband and reacts to her young daughter’s witticisms like any ‘normal’ mother would. And we’d never have known this side of her were it not for her blog. Even now, a wicked voice inside me asks, are you sure she writes her own blog?

Come to think of it, a lot of our biggest celebrities come from modest backgrounds, but once they are successful, their lifestyles change dramatically. Shah Rukh Khan, Madhuri Dixit, Sachin Tendulkar, the Ambanis, at some point in their life all of them must have walked the streets of Mumbai without inviting a second glance from anybody. Today, they wouldn’t dare to roll down their car windows for fear of being mobbed.

Perhaps the change is only a facade, perhaps at heart they are the same simple folks they used to be. Madhuri Dixit claims to do the dishes in her home in the US. Having lived here, I am inclined to believe her claim. But wait, what about cleaning services? Surely when I can be tempted to try them once in a while, she, the former Queen of Bollywood, wouldn’t think twice about using them all the time? She must have one maid exclusively for the dishes, the evil voice inside me speaks up. Which is a grave injustice to the charming lady, if she is indeed being truthful in all her interviews!

That’s the problem really, our image of celebrities is shaped exclusively by the media, magazines, cynical movies like Page 3 and lately, chat shows like Koffee with Karan. And the media is almost always biased. Its either sycophantic, potraying the star as the latest avatar of Ram or Sita, the Raja Harishchandra of Kalyug and the new millenium’s Einstein, all rolled into one, or its bitter, lambasting every action, good/bad/sane/crazy, of the poor star. (Think Salman Khan!) How is the aam junta ever to know the truth?

On a side note, did all our stars get A+ grades in all their school essays? Notice how well they write whenever they moonlight as columnists? I won’t even go into how well-groomed, well-dressed, well-read, knowledgeable etc. they appear on chat shows. And so warm and friendly with each other, too. Sigh! There speaks the evil voice again.

I often fantasize about befriending a celebrity, finding out the real person behind the facade. I am sure many other star-struck folks like me do the same. Considering the chances of that happening are extremely remote, a celebrity blog is a practical way of realizing our dreams, I think. My favorite is of course my favorite contemporary movie star, Aamir Khan’s blog. Aamir comes across as a very down-to-earth, open-minded and intelligent person. I love the way he discusses his conceptualization of Bhuvan’s character, or explains how he chooses his movies. Amazing stuff.

If you are as star-struck as me, check it out for sure! Others, please to excuse!

Total Dhamaal!

The husband and I watched ‘Dhamaal’, a leave-your-brains-aside kind of movie last night. Bollywood reviewers often give this caveat before recommending the David Dhawan type of movies, but unfortunately, although I try hard to implement their well-meaning advice, it rarely works for me.

The last movie of this kind I really liked must have been ‘Andaz Apna Apna’. On second thoughts, AAA isn’t a no-brainer movie really. There are plenty of really intelligent spoofs in it, don’t you think?

Last week, I tried watching ‘Partner’, the latest offering from the king of no-brainer movies, David Dhawan, but had to give up mid-way in despair. Sure, I did not look for a story, nor did I try to discern any kind of logic in the proceedings, yet the tomfoolery of a look-I-am-so-cool Salman Khan and a bumbling and visibly aging Govinda did absolutely nothing for me. There is such a thing as trying too hard, after all.

Which is why I was pleasantly surprised by this new movie, ‘Dhamaal’. To be frank, the only reason I chose it out of a dozen other options was the presence of Arshad Warsi, my new favorite after the Munnabhai series. (On a side note, don’t you think Circuit was the real ‘bhai’ of Munnabhai?) But surprisingly, two other actors, Javed Jaffrey and Ritesh Deshmukh completely overshadow Arshad bhai in this mad movie.

The story is nothing special, four crooks (Arshad Warsi, Javed Jaffrey, Ritesh Deshmukh and Ashish Chaudhary), staunch friends and lovable idiots, compete with a cop (Sanjay Dutt) for a pot of gold. The comedy is completely situational and Javed Jaffrey, in the role of a hilariously stupid simpleton, has some of the best lines in this laugh-riot.

Sample this, the pranksters are trying to collect money from a dead man’s son in exchange of a painting depicting a ghoda (horse) eating ghaas (grass) that the dead man apparently bought just before his death. Unfortunately, the painting in question turns out to be a blank canvas.

‘Arre, painting mein ghaas kahan hain?’, the frustrated son wants to know. (Where is the grass in the painting?)

‘Woh toh ghode ne kha liya na!’ (The horse ate the grass of course!)

‘Par fir ghoda kahan hain?’ (Then where is the horse?)

‘Ab ghaas khane ke baad ghoda kyon rukega? Who toh chala gaya!’ (Why should the horse be here after the grass is eaten? He’s wandered off somewhere!)

The real gem is the last line from Jaaved Jaffrey. ‘Aap chinta mat kijiye. Jab ghaas firse ugegi toh ghoda khud ba khud waapas aa jayega!’ (Don’t worry. Once the grass grows back, the horse will come back too!)

Some of the jokes are bawdy and repetitive, but there are enough of such gems scattered throughout the narrative to keep you laughing most of the the time. We could not watch the entire movie last night, so I can’t comment on the rest, but the first half definitely has a must-watch-once rating. And the usual caveat applies of course, leave your brains aside please!

Update: We watched the rest of the movie last night, and predictably, the second half did not live up to my expectations. The stauch friendships fell apart, the jokes become bawdier and even more repetitive and the humor seemed more and more forced. This has become routine for me now. I love a movie, then expect the world from the next one and always get disappointed. The next time, I steel myself not to expect anything and end up loving the movie again, so the next time I have high expectations again. And the cycle continues!

Simple cinema that entertained

I have never attempted a movie review before and I am not sure if I could write one. I don’t think I know enough of the art and craft of film-making to make a sound judgement. But what I can comment upon is how a film touches me as a viewer, if it stikes a chord in me somewhere and succeeds in entertaining me, transporting me to its own magical world while I watch it.

Yesteryear filmmakers like Hrishikesh Mukherjee, Basu Chatterjee and Sai Paranjape excelled at this brand of simple, realistic yet entertaining cinema. As I watch their stories unfold, the characters feel like long lost friends or family, or at the very least, people I wish I could meet. And I empathize with all that is happening to them on screen.

I share the excitement of the pranksters in Golmaal, Guddi, Chupke Chupke and Rang Birangi, agonize over the simple problems of the young couples in Piya Ka Ghar and Abhimaan and share the camaraderie of the friends in Chashmebadoor. I watch with bated breath the struggles of the protagonists in Swami and Apne Paraye, root for the underdog in Katha and Choti Si Baat and just can’t help the tears flowing down my face as I watch Ashok Kumar watch a piece of his heart fly away in Mili.

These are simple heart-warming stories of everyday life, gently poking fun at our foibles and finding humor in the most mundane of situations. They display a genuine insight into the common man, his problems and his triumphs, his middle-class values and his abiding spirit. And they are crafted with a great deal of thought and love, which is probably why they touch us so.

The characters in Apne Paraye bicker among themselves but the love they feel for each other is still evident. Recall the scene where Utpal Dutt tells his wife about how he signed away all the village property to Sheila to teach her husband a lesson? Or where he isn’t paying any attention when his wife is complaining about Sheila and absentmindedly rebukes one of his sons in the hope that it would stop his wife’s tirade?

The clock ticks five and the office-goers in Choti Si Baat, Katha and Rang Birangi close their account books and are ready to go take the bus home. (Bombay, with its then clean and green roads and relatively uncrowded buses is almost like another character in these movies.) Summer vacations in Guddi are spent visiting relatives in a distant town. Friends gather home for an impromtu chat-cum-music session in Golmaal and a young couple and their friends have time enough to enact an elaborately staged drama for the Jija’s benefit in Chupke Chupke.

All this might seem absurd in today’s fast and competitive times, but that’s the charm these movies hold for me. I do enjoy the variety of genres, the superior technique, the twists and the turns, the bold themes and the street-smart humor in today’s multiplex movies. But somewhere, something is missing. A touch of simplicity or perhaps the lure of a gentler, more affectionate time. Maybe I am a nostalgic old fool. But I think a touch of love is missing somewhere.

Why I never could take Akshay Kumar’s autograph

Blogging about my nani yesterday brought back a lot of bitter-sweet memories about her. I just can’t resist sharing the funniest one here. 

This is a story from my school days, sometime in the mid 90s. My two nanis (mother’s mom and mother’s chachi) were going saree-shopping at some exhibition in Churchgate and I tagged along with them. I was fond of sarees even then and I knew the route to the exhibition hall passed by Marine Drive which is one of my favorite places in Bombay.

We had just got out of the dusty bylanes of Girgaum (an old predominantly Maharashtrian locality in South Bombay, where my grandparents lived) and were crusing along the seashore when we suddenly noticed a large crowd on the footpath on Marine Drive.  There were a lot of camera lights and filmi vans parked around. Evidently, some kind of film shoot was in progrss. This was not unusual for a Sunday afternoon on Marine Drive, before Bollywood producers decided to boycott Indian locales in favor of exotic foreign ones. But which film was it, and more importantly, were there any big stars around?  

Naturally, both the nanis and I were very curious. ‘Driver, gadi roko’, they instructed the taxi driver and all three of us got down to investigate the mystery. The crowd on the footpath consisted mainly of men, young and old, most of them of the not-too-gentle type. There was a lot of jostling and shoving going on, and we had entered too late to get a good view of the proceedings.

But the crowd had not counted on the curiosity and determination of my nanis. I was ready to back off after a few feeble attempts, but the two old ladies were determined not to turn back.  They started making ‘shuk-shuk’ kind of noises, which is a common technique used by gentle Indian ladies to attract attention. In case some of the crowd did not understand these polite noises, they also tried to mildly push aside some of the youths.

Now, anybody who has tried to jostle around in an Indian crowd would know how dangerous it can be, unless you weigh two hundred pounds plus.  People started looking around, annoyed and slightly baffled, eager to spot the source of this new mild variety of shoves. Imagine their surprise to see two sixty plus old ladies, dressed in traditional Maharashtrian sarees in their midst! ‘Aaji bai ko aage jane do re’, the chant went around. (Let the two old ladies go ahead!)

Now that I look back, the scene reminds me very much of the market scene in Chachi 420 where Kamal Haasan disguised as an old lady in a similar traditional saree bashes up some goons. (Was Kamal Haasan present in the crowd that day? Was he ‘inspired’ by my nanis? I wonder!) 

To get back to the scene, we were soon able to get to the front from where we had a ring-side view of the shoot. The director was still arranging the dancers for the shot but we could spot a tall hefty man sitting under an umbrella nearby. When I took a closer look, I realized it was Akshay Kumar.

I was about to go and ask for his autograph when I was interrupted by my nanis’ talk.  ‘Kon ahe ga ha Sunila?’, the elder nani asked. (Who is this man Sunila?) ‘Akshay Kumar navacha toh naveen hero ahe vatta’, was the reply. (I think he is some new chap called Akshay Kumar.) ‘Haach ka to? Bara disto, nahi?’. (Oh, is he the same one? He looks kind of okay, doesn’t he?)

As I was about to shush my grannies, the man himself looked up with a large grin on his face. He seemed to have heard the entire conversation, and perhaps had understood some or all of it!  

I was mortified. Despite the big smile he gave us, I didn’t dare ask for his autograph after that. In fact, the nanis were in favor of waiting until the actual shooting started, but I hurried them along giving the excuse of the rapidly ticking taxi meter. I was furious with them, but the sweet old ladies never could understand what the fuss was all about.