Wednesday, November 30, 2005

So I Married an Axe-Obsessed News Site

Both "heads" courtesy BBC's front-page today:

Headline #1: Youth guilty of racist axe murder
Headline #2: BA to axe one-third of managers

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Everything Looks Better in Black and White

I am crashed out on the couch. My legs, neck and back hurt. Even the imagined sound of the doorbell hurts my head. I figured I must have read about a possible alcohol famine in the Northeastern parts of the USA. Why else would I drink so much the night before?

Anyway, not wanting to punish ourselves with anything too heavy, we start playing a DVD of Dev Anand's songs. Turns out to be a wiser decision than opening that last bottle of Cognac.

The melodies of these songs - and these are some of the greatest songs out there - are lush, the rhythms gentle, the women honey-sweet and The Dev - always eccentric and funny.

Time has been far kinder to Navketan Studios' "song-videos" than to some of their films. It is easy to see why. The videos are shot very artistically, i.e., with a plan and passion. Attention is paid to details like camera movement and editing. It makes some of the songs look surprisingly modern. For e.g., that well-known song set inside the Qutub Minar - played on mute, it almost passes off as a sequence from a 1950s Neo-Realistic European film.

Many of the songs are shot outdoors. Even here, the artistry is obvious. (Pay attention to some of the newer songs shot in outdoors. The camera actually crops out the scenery from the frame because cleavage and butt demand top billing. The landscape barely even registers on our minds.) The lighting is mostly muted, except for close-ups, when the then aesthetic dictated a glowing soft-focus. Makes Madhubala's face glow like the moon and no complaints about that one.

The editing of these songs, very gentle and leisurely, makes the song so easy on the eye. Forget smashes and jump-cuts. Long-shots are common. Close-ups occur only for a Madhubala or a Sadhana and that too, to accentuate a lyric. The camera is not afraid to look away from the hero and the heroine.

It is true that Bollywood's only motivation is to produce song-videos with the main film as the filler. But why must it forget what it once knew? Why can't they make them appealing to the multiplex goer and the terribly hungover movie-lover?

Read this excellent technical analysis (opens a PDF, link to on some the key Indian cinematographers. The essay also tells us how the changing dynamics of the studio business and the growth of the advertising industry pushed Bollywood films into adopting their present look and feel.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Bullock-Cart Drivers Clarify They Are Not Balloonists

"This goes to show to the world that we are not bullock cart drivers."

This week's pat-on-the-back comes from Vijaypat Singhania, who reached a new "high" in aviation. (Link goes to the Independent UK.)

Hate to break this to you Mr. Singhania, but not many people outside India think of Indians as "bullock-cart drivers". Now, they do think of us as software engineers, doctors, convenience store owners, motel owners and maybe even think of us as nation of snake-charmers and blissed-out Gurus. But not once have I encountered the question "was your grandfather a bullock-cart driver"? (In case you are wondering, no, he wasn't. He was a doctor.)

Besides, what's wrong with being a bullock-cart driver? Last time I checked, it was an honest profession.

Pritty Pritty Pritty Pritty Peggy Sue

Even as I sit facing it directly, the heat from the 2PM winter sun can barely be felt on my skin and my eyelids. Still, it is something to be thankful for. And to show the sun my appreciation, I pump up the volume. It's Buddy Holly singing "Peggy Sue". (Yes, my tribe thanks the elements by turning up the volume on its CD players.)

I find it funny how my opinion of Buddy Holly's music has changed over the years. When I first discovered rock and roll, I thought early rock and roll was just great fun. Simple stuff, right? Then when I picked up the guitar and discovered 60s and 70s rock music, I began finding the music from the 50s too limiting. Too many ballads and filler on those albums. I was happy to lose my way in that dark jungle of blues, metal, classical, jazz blah blah. Then suddenly, all this 50s music began showing up again in my collection. I love how that happens. Great music just manifests itself without warning.

I again started paying attention to Buddy Holly's songs. What a revelation it has been. How the hell did he figure out that intro to Rave On? It's so damn modern in its feel (or has rock not grown up in 50 years?) The delicious groove on Peggy Sue. Or the guitar parts on "Words of Love" (George practically duplicated it note for note on "Beatles For Sale"). Or the vocal styling on "It Doesn't Matter Anymore". Or the evergreen "Not Fade Away", which was covered so beautifully by both the Stones and by the Dead in so many great shows. So much musical treasure is buried in those 2-minute songs.

Between Chuck Berry and Buddy Holly, I feel at least one of them deserves to share the title of the "King" with the - well - the King.

Sabrina, Or What Rhymes With Glass

I need a Billy Wilder fix every now and then. So, couple of days ago, I rented "Sabrina" (link goes to Turner Classic Movies.) Normally, I would pick "Sunset Blvd.", but it is the start of the holiday season and dead chimps make me sad.

I love "Sabrina" for the genuine moments of surprise in the screenplay (the great Ernest Lehman wrote it. The same Mr. Lehman who also wrote North By North-West.) I love "Sabrina" for Wilder's wit and his trademark directorial touches all through the film.

Sabrina is the reason God created Film. Sabrina is the perfect excuse to build your own little temple for Billy Wilder. People of Tamil Nadu, are you listening?

Just to counter the sweetness of Sabrina, I also rented the great F.W. Murnau's Nosferatu, Which explains the smell of garlic around the house.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

A Little Classic Rock Quiz

A question for fans of '60s rock:

(Challenge: no Googling or using the Wiki on these names. Feel free to browse through your CD or LP collection. Your MP3 collection won't save your souls.)

1. What is common to Mahatma Gandhi, Purna Das Baul, Yukteshwar Gigi, Sri Paramhamsa Yogananda, Sri Lahiri Mahasaya and Sri Mahavatara Babaji?

2. Why is Gandhi also the odd one out in this list?

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Death By Guitar

From the Scarier-Than-Death-Metal dept.:

A 16-year-old Chinese boy studying in Singapore fell to his death from a hostel room after jumping up and down on his bed while playing a guitar, a media report said on Thursday.

Yikes. For a guitar-playing kid to fly out of a window, either the window was wide enough (or else the guitar would have hit the window-frame first) or the kid flew out of the window sideways (so the fretboard was perpendicular to the plane of the window.) Look at it any which way, it is bizarre.

Read the story here. (link to Star of Mysore)

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

How to Win the Desi Pundit Slogan Contest and Influence People

First Blogger to Second Blogger (whispers):
"Dude, that's the blogger who won the Desi Pundit Slogan Contest"

Second Blogger (craning his neck to catch a better glimpse):
No way!

First Blogger:

Second Blogger:
But..but...he looks just like US!

Flash bulbs popping. Screams, catcalls, whistles. The two bloggers try to duck under the velvet rope.

A HUGE BALD BOUNCER stretches out his muscular, tattooed arms and grabs the two men by their necks.


A tuxedoed blogger (or an off-the-shoulder, Versace-gowned lady blogger..)
making the acceptance speech, then jumping into a black, shiny stretch-limo to get to a computer to blog about the awesome prize-giving ceremony, about the celebrity bloggers in attendance and why Amit Varma has finally decided to enable comments - in his real-life conversations (just kidding, pardner..)

Yeah, the Slogan Contest is that cool.

A glance at the comments section on that sticky indicates that janta has got off to a flying start. They are busy polishing their rhyming skills, replacing well-known product slogans with the words "Desi Pundit" and even suggesting design ideas.

Only one problem. There are way too many similar-sounding slogans out there. Differentiation can be your best friend.

So why not try something really different? Like an anti-marketing angle, the negative psychology trick. For instance, a slogan like

"Because Desi Baba Is No More"
"We Suck Less Than IIPM"
"ToI Thinks We Are Great!"
"#2 in a field of 1"

is sure to stick longer in the panelists' minds than just puns involving the words "Blog", "Desi", "Pundit" and "India".

Slogans like "Hamara Blogistan", "Hum Blog", "Blogz By Sand Niggaz" are all awfully obvious. As are word-plays involving India's population ("One Billion Served"), spoofs of Bollywood titles ("Kyonki Main Blog Nahin Karta") and plain lies ("DP: Serving Tasty Blogs Since 1857")

On the off-chance that you can't come up with anything catchy, try bribing. Cash, iPod Nanos, DSLR cameras or an Ivy league education for the panelists' children. Try it. You will be surprised by the response!

Should they turn down your kind offer, use threats and intimidation. Send them scary emails. Like the ones that begin: "Hi! I have a new blog with pictures of my cat"

If gifts, sticks and stones don't get you the coveted prize, then, my dear friend, you will just learn to live with the bitter taste of failure.

Better still, open that bottle of Chivas you got for your imaginary Thanksgiving dinner, take 6 fast shots and blog about your hangover. You know whom to tip-off about that fine post, right?

Monday, November 21, 2005

The Brave Mr. Shanmugham

A sad story involving the usual immiscible elements: ethics, politics, money and oil. (via DesiPundit)

Practically a replay of the Satyendra Dubey murder. (link to

Rhymes with Ice Cream

Driving up to work this morning, I noticed a truck with a red logo painted on its back: "Jack and Jill Ice Cream".

Jack and Jill? They of the broken crown and the after-tumbling fame? I can understand Jack and Jill bandages, adhesives and buckets. But ice cream?

Guilty Pleaures

Driving around at night, listening to Carpenters' "Singles (1969-1973)".

Never have I felt such strong urges to both sing along and trash the CD. No point fighting either one, is what I have learned.

A great singer, and Karen Carpenter is a darn good one, makes you want to sing along. So I sang along on every chorus and verse, tried singing harmonies and even played air-piano to "Close to you".

But I am proud to say I made no attempt to fight the second urge either. As soon as the New York city skyline appeared in front of me on the turnpike, I switched to a monstrously beautiful Sabbath gold: "War Pigs". Devil signs were flashed (at myself), re-assurances given that I was not a hopeless case yet and teenage years were desperately relived as the volume was raised to near-deafening levels for the scary-good outro of that song.

So, how was your weekend?

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Revolution 10

I was googling* for some analyses of Beatles' chords and song structures when I stumbled upon a page containing these shocking words: "During their years together, the Beatles released roughly 10 hours of music with scarcely a loser in the lot." (link goes to a page)

Did I read that sentence right?

I did. It does say "10 hours".

That's an average, typical working day for most of us. Or say, the time it would take to watch 3 or 4 films. Or less than half the time it takes to reach Mumbai from New York.

How will they measure our life's work? In fractions of picoseconds?

*I also realized that I really miss some of these fanboy geocities sites containing really good analysis, like this one (link to a geocities page, thankfully with a non-blinding background and text color.) Check out the chapter titled "Theory". Also recommended is the superb analysis of Revolution 9.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Bruce Springsteen on "Fresh Air"

No show has more interesting guests than "Fresh Air" and few hosts have the interviewing skills of Terry Gross (link to Wikipedia.) Her interview (link to NPR's site) with Bruce Springsteen this evening was just so damn cool.

A very insightful quote from the Boss about the structure of his songs (and I am being a fearless and a shameless paraphraser here): "...the details of the characters and their stories are all in my verses. But my choruses are about hope..." (wish I could remember the exact words.)

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Countering the Counterculture

Yesterday, I saw this punk with a spectacular mohawk. I know punks can't live on anarchy, three chords and safety pins alone, but watching this thin, white figure covered in black leather and metal shopping in the cereal aisle at the supermarket and then ducking into the organic foods section was more than just a little funny. Did I mention there was Elton John playing on the PA system? Fuckin' A for Irony.

Standby for the segue, please.

Saw this post by the chart-bustin' toppermost of the poppermost, aka Amitbhai, who points us to a post by Prufrock The Second. They both wonder why there isn't a counterculture in India. Prufrock does list some important Indian counterculture movements (like the one led by this uber-punk or that other one), but that doesn't quite feel like a counterculture movement, does it?

Really, why don't we have a counterculture? Answers like "we are like this only" and "but that's Hinduism, stupid" sound glib (and sometimes, true.) As far as I remember, Indian teenagers also feel disenchanted, angry and helpless like teenagers do, all over the world. But only a tiny fraction of them get to sublimate that energy through rock music, blogging, film, literature and humor. What do the rest of them do? Does anyone know?

There is another level of difficulty to this debate. When we say India lacks a counterculture, are we really complaining about the absence of a western-style counterculture? Did that sound like western-style toilets? OK, so we never had Greenwich Village poets, no Mods and Rockers, no mohawk-sporting punks and no fists-in-the-air-Hell-no-we-won't-go marches. But what is India if not paradoxes. After all, are we not a nation of laid-back counterculturists who learnt learned learnt to chant Mr. Leary's mantra way, way before the Summer of Love. And wasn't India the destination of choice for these rebels once? Woah, counterculture for the counterculturists!

I think the discussion is pointless without us asking this question: is there a monolithic entity called "Indian culture" and can there possibly be a single counterculture in response to it? This title by Mr. Naipaul comes to mind.

There are as many Indian countercultures as there are Indian cultures. You hate the culture of conspicuous consumption? There's a counterculture for that. You hate the counterculturists opposed to the flashy, material consumers? There's a contra-counterculture for that one. Loathe the mixing of politics and religion? Welcome to the counterculture of secularism. Can't stand the yellow-bellied, English-speaking, fence-sitting secularists? Join the orange fringe. And so on.

It may or may not match the romantic picture of the western counterculture that we carry around in our heads, so what, it's still a culture.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

The Indian-Politician Trifecta of Death Is On

First it was K.R. Narayanan, now Madhu Dandavate. Both rarae aves, these were politicians who cared about the nation. RIP.

Who will be the third one?

Sidenote: Not even a wiki stub on Prof. Dandavate?

The One In Which Nothing Happens

This story has such Zen-ness about it. Almost as if it is saying, you keep your big, loud stories about explosions and hurricanes and economic miracles to yourself, we have some real urgent issues at hand. Like correct change.

Seriously, bus conductors without change are like bicycles without religion.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

"Won't Get Fooled Again"

Great song to drag one's ass back to work after lunch.

It is also a great song to hear Keith Moon's artistry.

Observe how he skips one beat after another till he's so far behind the rest of the band that to catch up with them during the chorus, he has no choice but to grind out this super-condensed, furious roll-pattern. It is classic Keith Moon, a style that is used on several Who songs and it is one that sounds very "satisfying" (to me.) I suspect it is because unlike a drummer playing in a 2-guitar band, he doesn't play mere rhythm. Instead, he plays it like a "lead" instrument, as if he is playing a melody. So much so that anytime I hear a Who song now, I find myself mesmerized by Moon's rhythmic mathematics. There is always a dangerous moment in some of the Who's songs that suggest a loss of control (even if it occurs for a tiny fraction of a second.) Somehow, Moon the Loon ties it all together.

Why am I, a guitar lover, talking about drummers?

**Temperature/Pulse check**

Monday, November 07, 2005

Great Brainfart Moments in History

Passing on a perfectly good copy of Sam Cooke's "Live at the Harlem Square Club, 1963" costing just 3 bucks. THREE dollars. Shame on me. (BTW, rock critic Peter Guralnick has a new bio on Sam Cooke. Link goes to, whose Site Pass thing never seems to work for me.)

I hope finding a Fritz Lang DVD - "Woman in the Moon" - for 3 bucks! - makes up for my ghastly blunder. Yes, I promise to view it again and again and again to make up for my unforgivable error. It will be a steep price to pay, but it has to be done to balance my karma.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

"Mighty Rearranger"

Robert Plant's highly-rated "Mighty Rearranger" is not just the best album Zeppelin never recorded after IV and Houses of the Holy, it is a terrific new album. Judge it by any standards and the album delivers, song after song.

How refreshing it is to hear a musician avoid the very genre and sound he practically created, and yet not be confused for anyone else. Plant's band (Strange Sensation) doesn't completely discard the Gibson-into-Marshall sound of Zeppelin, but re-imagines it. This is the new soundscape of bendirs, tehardants, sample loops, Moog bass-lines and of course, cock-rock wall-of-sound guitars. So what we are seeing now is that the new (and young) guitar-based bands are once again digging the late-60s proto-rock/garage sound from England and a 56 year-old rock God is exploring musical frontiers way, way outside Europe.

In case you have any doubts, just one bar of "Brother Ray" will tell you this album comes from the same mind that wrote that super-bizarre tribute* to Roy Harper on III. (And one heart-pounding drum phrase in the album will remind you of the Incomparable One. But that's not the point here.)

*described by one British critic as "suitably impenetrable"

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

The Indian Literary Trifecta of Death Is Complete

Celebrity Death Trifecta was obviously in play when writer Nirmal Verma died and Amrita Pritam followed. And now V. K. Madhavan Kutty's joined them at the Great Writing Desk in the Sky.

Damn you, Trifecta, damn you!!!

Bad Headline Wednesday

From the Tasteless-But-Probably-Unintended -Pun Department: "Bangaloreans all set to have a blast"

From the WTF Department: "Shah Rukh turns 40, plans to quit smoking"

From the "It's-Diwali-So-No-News-For-You" Department: "NO UPDATES"