Friday, October 28, 2005

Plume! Plame!! Wilson!!!

I am a little dizzy. See, all these days, I thought the poor woman's name was Valerie PLAME. Then this afternoon, on CNN's scrolling thing, I read PLUME. A few seconds later, it read PLAME.

Google for "Valerie Plume" and "Valerie Plame". See how many sites and blogs mis-spell her name as PLUME (well, 788, if you must know.) It includes this listing on IMDB also.

It is PLAME, not PLUME. The letters A and U are not even that close on the QWERTY. So what gives?

Thursday, October 27, 2005

"Marooned in Iraq"

Bahman Ghobadi's "Marooned in Iraq" proves a couple of things. One, that people will seek out humor and music, inspite of (because of?) everyday tragedies and horrors. Two, the big-mustache look rocks. May the thought of a naked philtrum never cross my mind. If you don't know what "philtrum" means, look it up. It's a good word.

Great road-trip films affect us in ways that may not be obvious at first. Like "Easy Rider". (My first viewing of that film - at the age of 18, in college, under influence, naturally - was completely different from subsequent viewings.) And the bad road-trip films? We have met the "oil and water" road-trip partners, yawned through the montage set to an 80s-ballad and received the Grand Lesson in Love And Acceptance from dozens of road-trip movies. "Marooned in Iraq" gives us none of those.

Set in the early '90s and in the Iranian-Kurdistan region, it features two musician-brothers who accompany their musician-father on a trip into Iraq to find his wife, Hanareh, a name which means "anar" or pomegranate. Hanareh has left the old man for another musician. Why? To sing.

The film follows the Three (Kurdish) Stooges across borders, refugee camps, snow-laden mountains and even a village wedding. As it must happen in road-trip films and indeed, on any memorable road trip, mishaps occur. The weather makes for a formidable opponent, not to mention land-mines, Saddam's chemical warfare and highway robbers. So does the trio succeed in its mission? Yes and no. That is what separates a good road-trip film from a bad one. The film may have to end, but not the journey.

By the end of the film, I was thinking, how could there not be humor and music in the Kurds' world? How else could they hold a big, bold middle finger to Saddam and the weather Gods and poverty and mass graves? (and you dare not ask me my views on the current war in Iraq. I am more confused than ever. See the film and you will know why.)

The closing shot (a 6-hanky sequence) makes you realize how our definitions of hope are so limited and narrow. To me, dreaming of another set of circumstances is hope, imagining a better life is hope. But if I put myself in the trio's shoes (I DON'T have 3 pairs of feet), I realize my definition is more of a fantasy. To accept one's situation fully, to be unafraid to give up some dreams to fulfill others, to sing and to persist - that is something approaching these people's definition of hope.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Blog Quake Day

If the walls are shakin', the earth is quakin', your mind is achin', then we must blog about it, says the Pundit.

One of the great relief organizations working on the Quake '05 is Medecines Sans Frontieres, aka, "Brave Men in Scrubs Travelling to Really Far-off Places To Save Lives", aka, Doctors Without Borders, Nobel Prize winners for Peace in 1999.

As always, Due Diligence Must Precede Charity.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Guru Dutt's Yin, Bachchan's Yang

It's easy to see why Amitabh Bachchan was branded the "angry young man". He possessed a certain stature and could easily turn up the thunder in his voice. His hands were the hammer of the gods. He could smash a chair, throw punches, kick, swear and shoot. When AB got into a fight, God was in heaven and all was right with the world.

We were watching "Pyaasa" on DVD last night and while thinking of Guru Dutt's character, I was struck by how he and AB really are India's Yin and Yang of angry young men.

Most of us are familiar with Pyaasa (even those that have not seen it.) The neglected and suffering poet's story is probably as much a part of our film mythology as any of the popular AB films that came before the dreaded 80s. Though it seems almost fantastic now that back then, Indian audiences actually wanted to see Artists (and their Tortured Souls) up on the screen. (Or not - "Kaagaz Ke Phool" was a flop.)

Here's an interesting coincidence: AB, in many of his films, was simply "Vijay". Guru Dutt's poet in "Pyaasa" is also a Vijay. It's a harmless, generic, everyday Joe kind of a name. Vijay also lacks a surname, so Vijay could be a Konkani, an Allahabadi, anyone really.

Dutt's Vijay does not fight with his fists. He does not even fight with his words, even though he plays a poet. Like any introverted passive-aggressive, he rejects. That which he cannot accept is rejected. He is very angry, but what can he do? What can anyone do? When it all becomes overwhelming, he simply turns his back to the world.

That is where Guru Dutt's angry young man is so different from AB's character (GD was 35 when Pyaasa was made; AB, a wet-behind-the-ears 33 in Deewar). One Vijay fights like a wildcat. The other Vijay could easily audition for Hamlet. The poet, the intellectual and the coolie, the dockyard worker. But they are not very different. If one Vijay will not pick up a shoeshine tip that was casually tossed, the other cannot stand to see his poetry in a trash-can. It moves their souls, it makes them mad.

The poet Vijay's rejection of the world make me uncomfortable even after so many viewings, but it is probably because I cannot help but watch his films in the context of his suicide. (In fact, watching some of those scenes reminded me of another artist and I could not figure out who it was. It is Kurt Cobain, of course - another famous passive-aggressive.)

Is it accurate to say that the poet's anger is really more representative of Indian anger, and AB's anger just a fantasy? After all, what do most of us do when we hear about corruption in the government - we turn on the TV, listen to music, refresh our browsers, discuss fine art, propose grand political and economic solutions - anything but confrontation. Confrontation is the younger Vijay's business.

Two such wonderfully complex and different "angry young men" prototypes have been available to Bollywood for 4 decades, yet anger is no longer a sellable emotion. Do the audiences not care? I thought summer's here and the time is right for fighting on the streets? There must be an angry lot somewhere in India. Where are their stories? Who is their Vijay?

A fine bunch of pussies is what we seem to have become now, fixated on weddings and receptions. Imagine that - weddings and receptions! "Domesticated Young Indian", isn't that the incredible new "us". How sad - my generation - the one raised on AB films, and the generations that followed - seem to be capable of neither walking away like one Vijay nor taking it outside like the other.

3 sidenotes:

October 10 was Guru Dutt's 41st death anniversay. Not one major online news outlet gave a rat's ass.

Are there words to describe SD's music?

I find Pyaasa to be a satisfying film, but not a great film. I know, genre conventions must be respected blah blah, but still...

Friday, October 21, 2005

That Marvellous, Long-Titled Korean Film

I'm talking about this.

The film blows your mind in so many ways (the background score isn't one of them, though), but what impressed me the most was its confidence. A film with about 5 minutes of dialogue needs that quality. A film with nameless lead characters needs tons of confidence. The director must know something that we, the viewers, do not and he must be brave enough to ask us to join him for 2 hours. Without such a brave director, there would be cheap epiphanies (which reminds me - why can't I find cheap epiphones?), morals, plots, character-arcs and climaxes.

Such confidence on the part of director Kim Ki-Duk is what gives us this beauty of a film. William Goldman once said screenplays are structure. I don't believe I had really understood that line till I saw - what the heck, might as well type the whole title now - "Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter...and Spring". It is just terrific.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

CrassOver Films

As jargons and catchphrases go, the term "crossover films" is the very bottom of the septic tank. I first heard the phrase in 2000, just about the time when those hyphenated films started popping up in multiplexes and (on DVD) in grocery stores. Indo-British, Indo-American (which prompts the question: why not an Indo-Indian film?) The idea is beguilingly simple and attractive: one stone, two birds. To put it even more bluntly, Indian costs, American revenues. The offshore model, in other words.

Every Indian film producer-type in America wants to make crossover films. They want to pick an Indian story that will appeal to two very different sensibilities. Two sensibilities and thus two revenues. So they go after the ever-reliable fish-out-of-water plot, or the Clash-of-the-Generations plot. It's as if these poor Indo-whatever people have no other stories in their lives.

In their eagerness to cash in on the so-called trend, the producers overlook a very basic fact. "Bend it Like Beckham", arguably the Citizen Kane of crossover films, worked not because it is a crossover film. It "crossed over" because its protagonist's story worked. Producers, financers and marketers can be excused from this usage. After all, they have to promote the film.

But when scriptwriters start using the term "crossover film", it sounds ten times as repulsive. Aren't all films crossover crossover films? The story of Apu or the hapless Italian losing his bicycle or the wandering samurai warrior who gets hired as a bodyguard - they all crossed over from the personal to the universal. And if a film doesn't, what is the point?

Monday, October 17, 2005

Interpreting The Ass

Fear not, this is a family-friendly post.

Here's an eye-opening post about the Intergalactic Battle from a blog I found via the Mothership.

I am mostly clueless about law and its implementation. But now thanks to Mandar Nalvekar and his legal-eagle buddy Amod Paranjpe, I know a little better.

The good news? The now-infamous notarized e-mail is as serious as a Nigerian 419 mail. The bad news? Interpretation of the law is still the key. Read the paragraph concerning exceptions to freedom of speech (the one that ends with "However this right is subject to the following restrictions".)

Free speech ain't a free ride, but exception-items #1 through 8 are disturbing in the power they wield.

Anyone else find it ironic that a system that judges, a system that separates every situation into two neat halves (good/bad, right/wrong) must depend on interpretation?

Too Cool For School

The "lifestyle" dictates that all festivals and celebrations be observed on weekends, and so I found myself at a "dandiya night" at a local high school this past weekend. A lady (Gujarati) singer (accompanied by a band, of course) was at the mic who could easily put Robert Plant or Ian Gillian to shame. Her epic 30-minute jams would be interrupted by a screeching "HELLO!!!" to work up the crowd. This was the dandiya equivalent of "putchyerhandsupintheaiiir" or "IIICANTHEARYOU!". Whatever it was, it was working. The only unfortunate bit was that this rousing battle-cry was followed each time by a massive stab of feedback, making the whole affair very punk. Post-modern dandiya, I guess.

Here's something I learned: some kids will always be too cool for school and they WILL not dance. Instead, they sit in the sidelines, playing with their Gameboys or iPods, eyeing everyone in the crowd with contempt and pity. I bravely fought the urge to give them a poetic, poignant talk on one of life's great lessons (the kind that you receive in forwarded emails under the title 'Gabriel Garcia Marquez's last words' - idiots!), namely, "when in doubt, dance". Put aside your shyness and jump into the fire. Carpe Diem. The girls are not impressed with your aloofness. Speak softly and carry a dandiya stick.

Next time, maybe.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Ozu's "Early Summer"

Silence and space are such powerful tools in the hands of artists. Yet both are pushed out by over-busy film frames, over-busy musical arrangements, over-busy plots and stories. It seems to me that it's not the audiences that lack the attention-span, but the artists themselves. They are afraid to pause and breathe.

Yasujiro Ozu was not one of those artists. Watching his masterpiece "Early Summer" (1951), you cannot help but marvel at the extraordinary weight of silence and the use of space. The camera lingers on an empty chair or just a drawer long after the character has left the scene. Shots are composed at eye-level (a signature Ozu technique: the now-famous "tatami" shot) making the story, the story-world and the characters utterly intimate and believable. This could be anyone's house: a deaf grand-uncle, grandparents that no longer matter, parents with their own hidden agendas (and emotional needs) and of course, the big question. Is it right to let one's happiness be subsumed by the interests of the family?

There isn't much by way of action or plot in "Early Summer". Noriko has reached that age where she calls herself "an old maid", if a little facetiously. Her brother, a doctor who is emotionally absent from his own marriage (and from his children's lives), is all in favor of a match suggested by Noriko's boss. The family too is happy for Noriko. The groom is successful and a respected member of the community, just that he is pushing 40. Noriko does not see herself leading a happy life with this man and agrees to marry a neighbor, a divorced man with a kid.

That's all there is to "Early Summer". This minimal plot is used by the master to study the family and the heartbreak that accompanies transitions within a family. But this is not some melodramatic "family" film, but a very funny one.

Silence, pauses, space- all the great film-makers use them. Even a hyper-kinetic Tarantino employs them ("Jackie Brown" is filled with such stunning moments.) But one must watch "Early Summer" to see how Ozu takes it to a whole new level.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Light Bulbs, Anyone?

Q. How many IIPM Student Council members does it take to change a light-bulb?

A. 267. 255 to burn laptops, 10 to set up spam-blogs, 1 to send notarized e-mails to bloggers and 1 to...oh screw you, we will simply burn the bulb if you call this room dark.

Future's So Bright (They Gotta Wear Shades)

No summaries or analyses here, others have already done it.

With each passing day, L'Affaire IIPM rises to Everestian proportions of stupidity. Let's put it this way: if countering a magazine article was the toughest business challenge these guys have faced up until now and the best they could do was respond with aggression, pathetic verbal shots and intimidation, then their company is doomed. Kaput, khatam.

I don't care one way or the other about the institute, its alumni ("alum", as one of them referred to their institute, perhaps confusing it for "Alu Mutter") or even the veracity of JAM's reporting, though I hope it was a fair report. No one likes to read false claims - not the prospective (or current) students and certainly not IIPM's promoters and its faculty.

But it is the quality of response that disappoints me. This response is now practically a reflex action among mobs, Indian or otherwise. Don't like a film? Burn the theaters down! Don't like a book? Kill the writer!! Don't like the article? Harass the journalist!!!

Come on, MBA wizards of IIPM, should you not be just a wee bit, a teensy-weensy bit, an itty-bitty bit more articulate than threatening to set your own laptops on fire? What next, you will hurl your feeding bottles at the wall and soil your diapers in serious protest?

Are the heads of companies in India following this important thread? They should be. Because from this rather ludicrous episode one thing is clear: these graduates lack managerial talent, so hire them at your own risk. Not all of them, of course. Just the few who went around posting anonymously on blogs and the group that wanted to burn down things...

And one more thing: Gaurav Sabnis is a braver man than I. So is Rashmi Bansal, except that she is a woman and a tough one at that :)

Friday, October 07, 2005

Delhi HC: The Girls' Best Friend

15-year old girls in India must be squeaking with delight.

Does anyone know wtf is going on?

Since the courts are on such a roll, they should also take a fresh look at dowry, sati (or suttee, if the purists like it old-school), untouchability and just announce their merger with the freaking Taliban. Or maybe I have just not understood the nuances of this genius "nod on Child Marriage" ruling.

The Tourism Minister, Renuka Choudhury who is "baffled, upset and angry", gets it right: "you might as well allow them to drink, vote and drive".

Girls, remember to write that thank-you note to the Justices at Delhi High Court.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Sticking It To Them For 39 Years

Densmore strikes again.

So the "ex-Door" doesn't believe in getting his kicks before the shithouse goes up in flames. How refreshing.

(via BoingBoing)

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

"Frata Mon's Life Is Hard"

Bust a gut.

Speak, Memory

"wet, beneath the blue suburban skies I sit and meantime..."

It's a Yahoo Groups thing. We are about 180 members and what brings us together is Space and Time. You see, we all grew up and lived in this little town in Northern India. Many of us were born there and some moved there when their parents found work in our little town. We love this place dearly.

Everybody in the group is desperate to relive the past. Remember, remember, remember. We remember names of pets and dead friends and plaster of paris statues of women; we remember our teachers, our crimes and their punishments. It's like a never-ending school reunion party except there are no jokes about receding hairlines and no drunken confessions made to the ladies in the room.

"So", one of my friends writes in, "does this place even exist or am I imagining it?" He is talking about this park that he visited once as a child. It was high up on a hill, overlooking some river and there were picnics under a giant bargad-tree.

Some members post helpful suggestions but none seem to satisfy my friend. "Are you talking about this park by the dam?" No. "You mean this park and this tree?". No, that's not it either. Another person thinks my friend is indeed imagining things.

I think there is some anxiety in his question. Our childhood memories are a huge mash-up of sounds, smells, textures, photographs, paintings, films, pictures from story-books and descriptions that we have only heard from other people. So how the hell does anyone know anything for sure? We are so convinced of our past. After all, we lived it once, didn't we? So why can't one of you tell me where this goddamn park is!

Every community grows closer with memories. Be they memories of songs, films, books, TV shows or even news stories. For example, if you too remember the Ranga-Billa case, you and I have something in common. Culture is memory, tradition is memory, even nationality is memory. But how much of our memory "really exists" and how much is imagined? If everyone remembers the past differently, how is it still a shared past?

Still more worrisome is the fact that if a sufficiently large number of people challenge your memory, it becomes (at best) a product of one's imagination, something insubstantial. Truth is heavy. Imagination, being lighter than light, floats on the surface of our memories.

I carefully read the responses to my friend's question. Every new response convinces me it is the correct answer, but sadly, everyone is wrong. I am disappointed but I am also delighted to read about all those places. And even though we all remember it completely differently, this is a community. By some fantastic coincidence, we travelled through the same Space at the same Time! How do the details matter, there is something much more important than just names, locations and street addresses - all mere facts.

At every such intersection of truth and imagination probably sits a beautiful park (with an infinite number of empty swingsets and see-saws) high up on a tree-covered hill, overlooking a sparkling river and on the tiny island in the middle of the river stands an old bargad-tree with millions of inseparable branches and roots, and under that tree stand our mothers with their battered Milton water-coolers and casseroles and badminton rackets.

And somewhere in a battered old temple sit three men on a rainy afternoon, swapping stories, each insisting what they saw was the truth.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Eight Hundred and Eighty Five

When XPN carried the "885 Greatest Songs" last year, it was beyond cool to see some really unusual songs popping up. Like so many music lovers, I was sick and tired of the stranglehold of those classic rock tunes. So when they announced the "885 All Time Greatest Albums", I knew this would be fun.

The list cannot be matched for its sheer variety of styles and sounds: Lou Reed, At The Drive-In, Zap Mama, Frank Zappa, Sly & The Family Stone, Modest Mouse...

You think you know rock music? Well, check out the list as it unfolds (they'd reached 560 or so today) and see how many you have in your collection.

This, my dear friends, is why we need Public Radio.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Songs I Don't Want To Hear

Bruce Springsteen's Townbound Drain: A haunting, melancholic song about a man whose life is going down the toilet.

The Beatles' Lee Shoves You: An infectious, high-energy song about a brawl in a 13th century Chinese bar.

The Doors' Fight My Lire: An epic-jam about foreign currency fluctuations and Italian nationalism.

Led Zeppelin's Hairway To Steven: Zeppelin's mysterious song about - who cares, I just like to make the devil-sign. (btw, that is a real title of a GREAT album by The Butthole Surfers)

Johnny Cash's I Lock The Wine: The Man in Black keeps his woman away from the boozin'.

Prince's When Coves Dry: The irrepressible funkster's lament on the devastating climactic changes along the lakes of Minnesota.

Elvis's Railhouse Jock: And finally, the King's unforgettable ballad about life in the railhouse as he fights the resident Jock over a girl they both love.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

So What Did You Watch Last Night?

"Kurosawa's 'Yojimbo'"

"Liked it?"


"So you liked it"

"Pass me the butter"

"So why does this guy on IMDB message board say that the Whitney Houston version is better?"

"He WHAT?"

"He said the WHITNEY Houston version was better"

"Promise you won't ever say that aloud in public?"

Supremo Stalks Nightingale; "He creeps me out", Diva Complains

You know something's up when a guy sends a girl flowers. But to send an eight-foot tall bouquet? To be fair, we don't know, he may have promised her a rose garden, but an eight-foot tall bouquet is just too much.

It was her birthday. Her phone was off the hook, she says out of exasperation, and the very first calls she received were from these two two men.

She moaned some more: "Ideally I'd have liked to keep it completely low-key. But there are people to whom you can't say no."

You mean guys who send girls 8-foot tall bouquets, no?