Why Farhan Akhtar is my idol- Ram Anand

He’s constantly tinkering, that unspectacular, creative kid on the block who’s part of everything good about Indian cinema but is never the superstar of anything.

Indian cinema moulded me to become who I have become today. Especially south indian cinema. No, that does not mean I’m this dude who queues up for first day first show tickets, who shouts “thalaivar” (leader) when the “hero” appears on the screen, and goes for repeated shows to ensure the success of the film in which my “favourite actor” appears.

It moulded my though process, my critical thinking, my passion for India, my passion to contribute to society. Because, we you are moulded by your consumption of Indian cinema, you realise very quickly how cinema is a powerful tool to convey messages, thoughts, and your causes to the society. This space is manipulated, time and again, by politicians of yore and present to peddle their agenda unabashedly, especially down south. But this also exploits a space that help with nation building if used rightly by the right kind of people (i.e. people with actual civic consciousness, who are not looking at self benefits alone).

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Achieving purpose in life is not about threading paths that are beaten to death, but forging paths where there is opportunities but very few examples set before you. Often people ask me, what do I want to become in life? The answer would be a filmmaker and a novelist.

What does that make me? A director? A writer? A lyricist (because I write poems, too)? A philosopher? A thinker? I don’t know, to be honest. I express myself in various forms, but always, I am telling a story. I’m expressing an emotion. I’m delivering myself with every work- bits and pieces of my own parched soul. I’m a creative soul. There isn’t a profession to define me. What I do for a living has very little consequence on who I am, internally. This is who I am- the soul writing this piece, at this materialistic time.

People like to define.

So, what kind of movies will you make?

Erm, any movies I feel is worth making.

What kind of genre, action or romance?

I don’t care, as long as there is a story to tell.

What do you emphasise on?

Purpose. Like life, stories must have purpose. I’m not talking about in-your-face, condescending messages like “we have to eradicate corruption”. Because people who make extravagant movies about eradicating corruption also live extravagant lives due to the money their movies make, but that’s a topic of debate for another day.

I’m talking about relativity, keeping up with social norms, evolving your thought process. It’s about putting forth a question or an idea, radical or not, that is worth exploring.

It’s about having purpose yet being non-judgemental. That’s where you thread the line. That’s where you make your audiences a participant of your story. Not children who are being fed with your holier than thou ideas.

So, who is your idol?

This question comes in very often. Of course, I can throw you a bunch of names at freewill. Maniratnam’s movies made me fall in love with cinema. Kamal Hassan’s nuances made me fall in love with the purpose and exploration of ideas behind cinema- about pushing boundaries. AR Rahman’s music was proof that you can use your talents to attract attention to not only your work, but towards the work of those around you. That you can alleviate your brothers and sisters if you put a work good enough out there for consumption.

I see a bit of myself and my inspirations in all these people. But there is a dude out there who is trailblazing India. Who’s everything I ever wanted to be like. No, I might not make movies like him, I might not sing like he does, I might not write poems in the same vein. I might not have a similar style. It’s not about being better or worse, but merely an expression of self. I have my own identity. He has his own. But this man has forged his various identities to become a “personality” that has found a perfect balance in expressing himself. And he is a man who has a voice, both literally and in context, to voice out on things that concerns him. He’s not here to achieve numbers or fame, he is here to express, for himself and for his country.

His name is Farhan Akhtar. He is 40 years old. He is a director, screenwriter, lyricist, singer, an actor, has a band, guitarist, poet, film producer, talk show host, a husband, a father, founder of Men Against Rape and Discrimination (MARD- Mard means men), where he sings, writes, and constantly makes a noise about need for gender equality in the country.

He is, well, creative. There is no confining him to one space or one description. He acts on instinct, he makes and participates in joyful movies, has a conscience, and uses all channels available to him to express himself. It does not matter if he’s on the radio, television or cinema, he’s talking with passion about things he passionate about.

Overall, I would say he’s pretty good inspiration for me, and pretty good, well, human, on all counts. He’s trying to do what he can. He might not be a Rajinikanth or a Kamal Haasan, or Amitabh Bachchan. He might not be “powerful”, because he is not using his lifelong knowledge of cinema to increase his image alone. He’s constantly tinkering, that unspectacular, creative kid on the block who’s part of everything good about Indian cinema but is never the superstar of anything.

Farhan first came to limelight when wrote and directed Dil Chahta Hai in 2001, at the age of only 27 years old. Of course, being the son of one of India’s most renowned poets and being a stepson for one the country’s most versatile actresses helps. But it takes gumptions, guts and quite frankly, balls, to portray a love affair between a man in his 20s with a widowed woman who is more than a decade older to him, at a time when Indian cinema was just beginning to branch out to wider audiences.

He did not judge his characters. He celebrated the heart and ambiguity of love. He gave passion, needs, and imperfection to his characters. He celebrated them in his own way. It was not the most spectacular effort, but the film has retained cult status and those who have followed his work would know that this man meant business in his own way since he entered the industry.

Over the years, he had branched out. He has made stylish money spinners too, like Shahrukh Khan’s Don series, but also transformed himself as an actor. He acted in movies that had atypical scripts- like his sister’s Luck By Chance and the timeless Zindagi Na Milegi Dorbara, where his voice recites some of the best poems describing the zeal of life.

He produced and acted in Rock On! back in 2008, a movie about friendships won and lost due to egos and chase for fame. The movie was about a band, so as his father wrote, he sang every song, apart from playing the guitars occasionally.

In 2013, he was opted to act as Milkha Singh, the legendary Indian sprinter, in a bopic about the Commonwealth Games gold medalist. Entertainment journalists questioned director Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra’s wisdom, arguing a more physically appealing actor like Hrithik Roshan should have played the role. Farhan was obviously not part of the A-list in the B-town.

But he showed up in cinemas with a body so chiselled even the established actors would have been blown out of water. He sported eight packs on his abdomen, and had even trained to sprint so well, that he literally scorched the screen with his runs. He cried, he laughed, he ran, and he toned like the real Milkha Singh. It was one of the best on-screen performance you would have ever seen in Indian cinema. And I’m not exaggerating, because even the level-headed film critics were blown away by his performance. He had nothing but 2 percent of body fat. That’s not easy to build nor maintain.

Physically and mentally, this man has been in top form. Months after the tremendous success of Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, he went out and started voicing out more social causes. He sang in live performances and recited poems promoting equality.

He’s not the most glamorous guy in town. He does not have the most glamorous marriage. His wife, Adhuna, has been married to him for 14 years and they have two kids. She is not the most glamorous star-wife in the industry either. She’s that independent woman with her own ideas loitering around allowing and helping him to express his ideas and his work. Their marriage is not the one the grapevine talks about, but like good wine, Farhan had only gotten better with age.

Farhan Akhtar is now 40 years old, has made a cult film, has acted in a different cult film, has created a movement that he had devotedly promoted and spoken about, and always has the words and the voice to say what he wanted to say in his own creative ways.

Not to forget, as he express himself creatively, he is also at peak physical form, the fittest I had ever seen an actor on screen.

No, Farhan is not the most talented director, poet, actor, or singer. Nor is he the best. But he espouses a form of balance, a harmony, a joy, that eludes so many of us in our lives.

He does not have the best of everything he does, but he does have more everything than his peers. He is not the most spectacular, but he will be remembered in the years gone by.

He’s a manifestation of the power and influence of Indian cinema. There are many ugly truths about Indian cinema, but there’s also few beauties in it.

Farhan Akhtar is one of them. I might not want to do exactly what he does, but I do want to find that balance, that harmony, that he finds. And like him, it does not matter how little or how much movies you directed or acted in. It’s about giving it your all and delivering the best in whatever you do. Farhan does exactly that. He’s not influenced by market demands. Probably driven by his heart, he does according to his “feel”.

This is why Farhan Akhtar is my idol. Not my directorial or acting idol. He’s my life idol.

And, a few days ago, his latest video was released, in which he collaborates and sings Chulein Aasman, a song about female emancipation.

He’s not the best talent, but he is a very rare talent. He’s ambiguous, and still undefined. Being the jack of all trades but master of none might make for a bad businessman and money-making scheme.

But when the money is not your primary aim, and when your success is not determined by balance sheets and pay cheques, being a jack in several trades is not a bad option to be plain, simple, successful yet good human being. It’s about keeping the soul alive.

 

A toast to Farhan.

Why there is no ethical capitalism

Morality and capitalism doesn’t, and cannot, co-exist.

AT some of you growing up, there would have been someone out there who would have told you that if you work hard enough, you can make it big enough in life, just like that uncle or aunt of yours (no matter how far their relations are) who are driving that BMW or Mercedes. All you got to do is to punch in some good marks to go along with your glittering degree (with honours), which should enable you to secure a high-paying, avant-garde job before you can even take a breather.

At the same time when our society teaches us that becoming rich is the equivalent of the word success, it also teaches us moral lessons- how to be honest at all times, how not to lie, and all the rest of the gibberish. I always thought, even while leaning it, that there is some kind of mismatch between these two school of thoughts.

So what you are looking at is a path where you can get that avant-garde job, drive a BMW (or maybe a Bentley if you are insecure about something in your life), climb up the ladder and be in a position where money could literally erase all your humane worries- doing all that without breaking any ethical or moral codes.

If Donald Trump told you that’s possible and you actually listened to that Republican smug, then you definitely have some growing up to do. Because I think the Everest of growing up is probably realising the fact that ethical capitalism doesn’t exist.

There’s no ethics in capitalism- there can never be- because capitalism by definition is an encouragement to multiply and capitalise- and you only have space to capitalise in a congested world via someone else’s mistake, bad luck, royal screw up, or worse, someone else’s lack of tact to claim what’s theirs.

You either commit the crime of perpetuating capitalism by choice or by merely closing one eye to the consequences of your actions. But there’s no denial that if you have decided to trail along this system which we have set for ourselves, you are bound to lose your ethical bearings.

If tomorrow you end up being a millionaire, at least ten homeless souls out there are in their current state because of you. The mathematics is simple. All the money you DON’T spend in a single month could feed some people for a year. Yet you keep that cash, and use it to make even more cash. You keep capitalising- until you fall on a heap on your grave- without ever having asked the tantalising question- capitalising for who?

So if your dream is a Mercedes, then you are ready to step on someone’s head in order to achieve your dream. You may want to deny that, but you might want to look at how you have been looking at your dreams all this while. Were you level-headed? Or were you too busy tilting your head towards the sky that you climbed on a platform without bothering to look who was holding the platform for you?

The biggest betrayal of capitalism is that it had taken up the definition of the word dreams as well. “I want to be a rich businessman,” some chap told me once when asked about his dream.

Ownership does not qualify as a ‘dream’. It’s just a desire, like you owning an iPhone or that branded car- it changes. Dreams are about identity- dreams define who you are. It has nothing to do with materialistic possession. It’s about what you do- with your every breath- not what you own.

And if you ever thought to yourself that ‘okay, I just want that car, after that I’ll say enough’- then, pardon my language- fuck you. You will never say enough. When you can afford a BMW, you will have a Porsche within your sights. When you have a Porsche, you can always aim for a Jaguar or a Bentley.

Capitalism is good in creating more and more products to keep raising the levels of luxury you’d want to attain. You can choose to spend RM 500,000 on a house up until RM 30 million. So you can dream all you want. You can waste a lifetime fulfilling your materialistic desires- and die before you can ask “what for?”

If you want to be rich in order to be comfortable- maybe you should ask yourself- how much excess of comfort exists in a RM1 million vehicle and a RM300,000 vehicle? Could it be just a perception?

If you want to be rich in order to prove some people wrong and have them admit that they are wrong- chances are the people whom you want to prove wrong about your prospects will die, go completely out of touch, or even forget the fact that they once underestimated you by the time you want to rub it in their face. Most of the times, when you are obsessed with something above you, you do tend to underestimate the significance of those around you.

Plus wearing a genuine smile on your face and being immune to all the emotional reactions of others around your life in order to stay positive is probably a better tool to rub it in for those who underestimated you rather than showing off your car or your house.

Being rich gives you security maybe- but does it protect you from the consequences of nature, or more importantly, protect you from your own ballooning desires and insecurities?

When you buy security, only insecurities increase. See, again, capitalism.

No-one wins this war- just greed. No humans win. We all perish, bar the few who regain their sanity about the whole affair.

The Dawn of Love- a Ram Anand short

Kumar always wondered why producers salivated at the prospect of seeing a milk-colored navel. Every single actress he’s been paired with, every single actress he has seen in and around the industry, donned the same color. Even the odd dark-colored actresses he happens to meet from time to time, have their heads dipped into a dung of make-up just to make them look fairer. He pitied them. And he never understood why being fair was considered as a part of being beautiful.

He walked down the plaza in Barcelona, conscious of every single step that he was taking. It’s impossible to be spotted somewhere around this town, he thought to himself ,as made his way towards Gaudi’s masterpiece.

He moved into the open road while making sure that his cap and his shades were well in place, and momentarily let his gaze flutter as hew saw a gold Maybach pass him by on the road. He had always liked the car, and never made a secret of his desire to own one.

But the irony is that he could now afford a Maybach, yet all he does is look at it and wish he could have it. He pretended like he didn’t have a pocket. Like he didn’t have a bank reserve that could easily dip his hands into.

To his utter horror, the Maybach suddenly reversed. Several cars that were tailing the luxury make stalled and started honking in sheer displeasure. Some bothered to stick their heads out of their windscreens, and admired the car.

It’s okay if a Maybach were to break the traffic rules, because it is, afterall, a Maybach. The traffic police wouldn’t make too much of a fuss about it. Not even in Barcelona. Not in London, Moscow, or even Beijing. It’s the same everywhere. And he knew the same treatment won’t be afforded to a Ford Fiesta should the driver be doing the same thing.

The car halted right in front of him, and for a moment he regretted for not having walked on. He shouldn’t have stayed put and starred at the car. The windscreen rolled down, albeit slowly, and he saw a dark figure with a mismatched shades and a brimming smile. He did not like what he saw.

“Kumar!”

He smiled and nodded back. There was no point in walking away now that he has been recognized. Bloody hell, Indians are all over the world. He looked around to see if he sees any other Indians around. There were none in sight. But nevermind the Indians, the Spaniards, Catalans, and Americans were already starring at him. When a Maybach stops for you, no matter where you are or how unknown you are, you immediately become a somebody, at least for that five minutes.

The politician and actor got wouldn’t get down from his car. That will be too much of a work for this 55-year-old man who still duets with actresses half his age. He was wearing a bright red color shirt. Kumar resisted his temptation to pass a comment on this matter. He was a junior and has been told to keep his mouth shut when it comes to criticizing the seniors. Even the costume designers in the industry won’t have much to say about the dressing choices that some of these senior, and even junior actors make. If they want pink, pink goes. And the audiences suffer.

Yet the audiences won’t ask questions, for when they exit the theater the actor’s default TV channel will be there to extract the best comments from them, and they need head straight to their ‘fan club’ and rally behind their favorite film start, someone whom they call as their ‘leader’.

“No, I’m fine, thanks sir,” he tried his best to match the man’s native Tamil- as he was invited into the Maybach.

“Just bought it, isn’t it nice?” the man asked. Kumar smiled and nodded. He was a soft-spoken person, at least in front of his seniors. Either he speaks in their favor and sucks up to everything they do, or he pretends to be a humble, soft-spoken star that respects his seniors. He chose the latter. After some brief enquiries, the man took off gliding in his Maybach again. Kumar sighed in relief. That was, of course, not the name he uses in his profession. The name Kumar would displease his director, producers, and everyone in his family. Kumar was nowhere near stylish enough to befit a film star. But he felt like he has never been any other person than this Kumar- a young man slightly lost in his tracks, someone who’s never been completely satisfied with his life.

He plugged in his earphones and switched on his iPod. At least this would distract him from the people around him, and he wouldn’t bother knowing even if some Indian dude was watching him curiously.

He walked towards Sagrada Familia and planted himself at a corner outside the building. He wasn’t there to visit Sagrada per se, but instead to ogle at the people who are visiting Barcelona’s international symbol. He has been to Sagrada many times before. Two of his directors have already found it appealing to shoot Kumar’s duets here in Barcelona. And being a Catholic himself, a fact many of his fans are unaware of, he has personally visited Sagrada two more times on his own.

Something caught his attention. The face that had caught his attention was lost somewhere in the crowd, but Kumar knew with an amount of certainty that he had laid his eyes on someone. Whether it was someone he knew or just someone whom he’s attracted to, he didn’t know. With the sunlight almost blinding, a svelte yet petite Indian woman emerged among the bustling crowd.

Kumar now knew why she had caught his eye. Because he had apparently caught hers. She seemed to abruptly halt in her steps and instinctively looked directly at Kumar. She seemed to be taking ages figuring out whether he is who she thinks he is.

“Don’t be a baboon, please,” he muttered under his breath, looking in the opposite direction.

She let loose a wry smile. In a manner similar to Kumar, she was dressed in all black, and was of dark complexion. A dark legging accompanied dark shoes, skirt and a top. She looked like she’s jumped straight out of the 12th floor of a corporate building.

But instead of an evening coffee, she was holding Barcelona’s travel brochure in her left hands. He could not figure out if she belongs in Barcelona at all or if she is a tourist who is not dressed like one. Compared to the hoards of other tourists who were wearing tops, loose T-shirts, and shorts that screamed relaxation, she seemed very much out of place.

And after a fluttering gaze and a familiar smile that seemed to linger forever, she continued her way into Sagrada. Kumar sighed- she was a civilized woman.

And he decided to do something that he logically shouldn’t do at that point in time. He stopped trying to hide himself. He unzipped his blazer, casually tucked it atop his sling bag, and walked into Sagrada. There was some sort of attraction that he had felt with this woman in black.

He walked casually, all the while keeping his eye on the woman, who was pretty much behaving like a tourist. She managed to steal a couple of glances at his direction. She knew that he was watching. And he knew she was watching. There was some sort of understanding- some sort of chemistry- some sort of innocence in this little game.

And then she halted as he was walking closer to her. With a feet as quick as a ballet dancer, she rotated around, readily wearing a warm smile on her face, and faced him eye to eye.

“The Junior Superstar,” she may have called him by his on-screen moniker, but the way she had opened her conversation with him could fool anyone into thinking she’s a long-lost friend of his. Her legs were still crossing each other, and her maneuvers told him something about her that made her choice of dress even more puzzling. This woman is a dancer.

He hesitated and felt an awkward moment hanging up in the air, but it disappeared soon after as her smile made him feel at home.

“I don’t know your name,” he said, returning her warm smile and summoning courage to take a step closer to her. As words came few and far between, he took time to notice her in better detail.

Kumar always wondered why producers salivated at the prospect of seeing a milk-colored navel. Every single actress he’s been paired with, every single actress he has seen in and around the industry, donned the same color. Even the odd dark-colored actresses he happens to meet from time to time, have their heads dipped into a dung of make-up just to make them look fairer. He pitied them. And he never understood why being fair was considered as a part of being beautiful.

What Kumar was seeing in front of him right now in Sagrada Familia in Barcelona on a hot summer evening- is what he considers to be real beauty. She was not hot, nor gorgeous, nor sensual. Yet she was beautiful, elegant, and above all, confident. He could still remember how fair-skinned North Indian girls would jump nuts and peanuts wherever they see him, and battle each other in a queue. When they do come close to him, all he could hear were squeals, shrieks, and excited voices. By the time the girls could calm down, their five-second date with the star will be long gone by.

“Parineeta,” she said. His eyes lit up. “Wow,” he said. “I know, that’s not a moniker though. You have to credit my parents for that.”

She offered a handshake. He took it without hesitation, though he knew sometime very soon, this day will end, and her participation in his life will also end.

“What does it mean?”

“Angel”

It came to the tip of his lips, but he stopped himself. She does look like an angel, but he doesn’t want to be mistaken for a flirt. Because he is not one.

“Nice,” he said instead.

She leaned against the lamppost and looked at him from hardly inches away. The manner with which she looked unsettled him. For the first time, he felt that the evening’s innocence was waning away. They had now spent two hours together. They had taken the TMB Metro around the city, and even paid a visit to the Camp Nou stadium.

“You don’t remember me, do you?” she asked. The question stripped off the entire freshness that he was feeling that evening. There’s something more to this woman in black.

He shook his head, perplexed. His summoned the deepest reserves of his memory but could find a grain of memory that made him remember her. It’s not entirely surprising that he forgets some of the women he meets because he meets way too many of them anyway to remember, but if he did actually meet Parineeta before, it would impossible to have forgotten her.

Either he was blind back then or she was not the same Parineeta that she is today.

“Of course, I expected a tad too much,” she said, sighing for the first time since he had met her. Her smile waned a little.

“I danced for you. With you actually. Three years ago, your debut film,” she said. A slow realization seeped into him.

“You didn’t know, but you changed my life. And I had to meet you today. Sometimes fate can be cruel.”

He felt like he was trapped in an accused’s cell without ever being guilty of anything. His only mistake here, as he could deduce, was the fact that he was such a huge star that he could notice all the details around him.

“We were shooting a song in Mauritius. I followed you almost everywhere. That was a habit. I worked with several leading choreographers back then. Whether it was you or any other actor, I just followed them around to get a peek into their personal life.”

“If you ever wished that there was a person who would notice the smallest, tiniest habits you had in your life, that person was me.”

He looked with a mixture of amazement and embarrassment.

“You had qualities, you know. And I’m not comparing you with other actors alone, I’m comparing you with all the guys I’ve met in my life. And you stand tall.”

He wanted to say thanks. But she is not saying this to compliment him. He knew that much. This time, he wasn’t about to miss anything.

“I fell in love with you.”

He knew this was about a romantic feeling, but still hearing those words shook him. God knows how many times he has heard women yell those words at him, even attempting to kiss him in some instances. There were even some nutcases who cried while professing their love for him, wanting him to accept them as a part of their lives. They were those who named their kids after him, and threatened to commit suicide under the name of their love for him. It all seemed fake.

But something was different about this confession. This was true. She was in love with him. He felt genuinely flattered.

“I was helplessly in love with you. We I returned to India I couldn’t concentrate on my job. It didn’t actually dawn on me that I love you until I started dancing with other actors. I was even promoted by my master to be a first-line dancer. But something was missing. Why should I fall for you when I had zero chances of being with you?”

“I didn’t want to be the typical girl who falls at your feet and drools over you. But no matter what I said, to my friends or to you, I was always going to be categorized as another one among those who are crazy over you.”

She chuckled.

“I don’t even drool over you. I always thought you are over-rated, both in terms of your star status and looks. But the person you are,” she stalled.

He didn’t need her to complete the sentence. He felt like he was the best person in the world. For a moment, he didn’t feel like a lost soul, like how he always did.

“I quit dancing. I never felt complete. Plus being in the industry meant that I came across you from time to time. But I always was, and will be, anonymous for you.”

He realized how much insecurity lay hidden beneath that exuding confidence.

“I just joined an accounting firm here in Pamplona. I have an aunt here. The next best thing for me in life after dancing is Mathematics,” there was a hint of regret in her voice.

“I came to Barcelona for a small day trip as my firm has a meeting here.”

Now he knew the full story.

“How long since you quit?”

“Two months,” she almost laughed.

“And I just had to meet you. And you just had to follow me.”

“Well..”

“What made you follow me? What made you spend this evening with me?”

He couldn’t answer that question.

“I think I know why. But I know it’s pointless.”

She knew that he knew, and vice versa. He was attracted to her. He didn’t need to tell her, but he felt like he owed her the verbal confession.

“I was attracted to you. Guess you caught my attention afterall,” he said, smiling. He was hoping his positive undertone would completely erase the negativity that is surrounding their conversation right now.

He looked at his watch. He had less than two hours left. He simply did not have enough time to console her, though he badly wishes he could be there for her. He felt like this woman definitely deserves better than this.

She needn’t be the girl who loves a guy that every other Indian girl is crazy about. She deserves better than that.

But life doesn’t work that way. Kumar knew that a long time ago.

She afforded a smile. “Now what?” she asked, looking him straight in his eyes. He felt unsettled again. It was a look that was expecting some sort of returns from him. Kumar had nothing to give Parineeta.

He shook his head. He had no idea what’s next. He knew what’s next for him. He in fact knew his whole itinerary for the rest of his stay in Barcelona, but telling that to Parineeta will resemble ignorance of the highest order.

She reached out for his hands. He gave in. She clenched his right hand in her palms.

“Stay with me. Let’s be together. Make it all worth it.”

He hated saying no. He liked her. He would have loved to have her as a friend, but now she has left him with no choice but to ensure that this evening will their last one together. He was very sure she would opt to stay away from him completely after his rejection, now that she has even proposed.

“Pari, you know that I’m married, right?” he asked.

She nodded. Of course she knew.

“Remember what you were busy doing in Mauritius?”

Now he remembered, and he realized why he probably never noticed Pari following him around. Back then, nothing mattered. Not even the director. Meera was everything for him.

“It was a getaway I had with Meera. I spent all my spare time with her. We were getting to know each other,” he said.

Meera was introduced to him by his father, and a few other family friends. After rejecting two other girls that were suggested by his parents, Kumar found Meera to be independent and appealing enough, and thus gave it a shot. Mauritius was where everything fell into place. Few months later, she became his wife in a grand Catholic ceremony. He glanced at his ring.

“One of the reasons why I fell in love with you. The way you treated her. I knew how tricky it was for you. But the way you would treat her in front of the crew, and the way you rejected all the extra attention she got but still treated her respectfully. I don’t know, I just haven’t seen it in a man.”

He felt flattered again.

“And yet you are asking me to be with you even though I’m a married man?”

“There’s no other man better than you out there. And you know, you got attracted to me. That means something I guess.”

For the first time during the conversation, his voice wasn’t muffled anymore. He knew what to say next.

“No, that means nothing. I grew up pretty much in a box. Do you know that this has never happened before in my life? This whole instant spark and attraction thing? I have acted out these scenes so many times but yet it never really happened to me. Yes, it happened with you, but that doesn’t mean I want to spend the rest of my life with you. I didn’t touch you. I didn’t want to even talk with you. If you hadn’t turned around, I would have just watched away and went back home.”

She looked disappointed, and he understood exactly how she felt.

“I don’t have a filmy love story with Meera, but we know each other. There are many things in my life that I wished would be slightly different. I do wish my father hadn’t decided almost every aspect of my life, but there’s one thing I’m very clear about- I do love Meera. That was never a mistake. I’m with her because I chose her.”

He turned away from her and looked intently at the crowd of people in front of him. He summoned a little courage, and placed his hands firmly against either side of her cheeks. It was his way of showing solidarity. She allowed herself to cry a little. He knew these tears were hiding in her.

“Pari.” She looked at him. He had her full attention. “You loved me for the guy I am all this while. If I take your hand right now, I’ll stop becoming the guy you have always loved. You will be just as unhappy with me around even if I hold your hands right now. I want to be selfish. I want you to love me the way you have always done.”

Slowly, she stopped crying. “You are wrong. There are guys like me, why, there are even those who are better than me. Just open your eyes. Love should not close your view of the world. Let it open your views wider. Let it be an instrument of more freedom. Dance again, you are good at it. I can tell just by looking at your mannerisms. Someday, you’ll find a worthy guy. And he’ll be all yours. But for that you need to open your heart. Stop saying I’m the best there is.”

“I might be the best so far, but you have not seen enough. I can tell. Because when you have seen enough, you will very well know who you want to be with. You want to be with me just because you think I’m the best. Be with someone in order to be with someone, including for their flaws. Not just because you think they are the best.”

“I have my insecurities too, but only Meera knows about these. And she’s there throughout my lapses.”

She proceeded to hug him. But she wasn’t crying. It was a warm, cordial hug.

It was later after dinner, and Kumar trotted slowly to bed. He wasn’t intending to tidy anything up. He just wants to drop dead on the bed. “Idiot!” Meera slapped his shoulders. “Ouch!”

She held his hands like an authoritarian and dragged him over to the dining table in their rented villa. She took the cross necklace from her neck and dangled it neatly on the stool.

“Kneel,” she pinched his hands. He was slightly sober. She never does this, she was hardly religious. This must have been a special occasion. “What’s special?”

“We are going to pray.” He kneeled lazily. “For whom?”

“Parineeta.” He eyes opened widely. His sleep was just stolen away by an invisible fairy deep into the stars hovering above the Barcelona sky.

“Why?”

“So that she finds love that makes her laugh next time.”

He smiled. Now he realized why he had always pretended not to have enough money for a Maybach. His Volkswagen was enough. That was all he needed.

“Let’s rent someother place for tomorrow?” he asked. “Maybe a smaller apartment?”

He had that small insecurity. She married a rising film star. He can’t blame her for wanting to go bigger, and not smaller. “I was about to tell you this is too bog for us,” she retorted in her stern note, before she began peeling her away her prayer for Parineeta.

But his thoughts were elsewhere. When he sleeps later, he will feel as if as he had lived this life well, so far. There’s no struggle that needs to wait until tomorrow. He didn’t need a Maybach. He had Meera. When it comes to her, he never felt like a lost soul.

And compared to the mismatched senior star that just bought a Maybach, his soul is still pretty much at the right place.

As for Parineeta, the sincere prayer of a woman who doesn’t know the definition of jealousy should take care of her.

The man for men- Rajinikanth

For once, lets be selfless- be happy that Shivaji Rao Gaekwad is still alive. And let Shivaji Rao be Shivajo Rao- at least for the twilight years of his life.

The year was 1950. Republic of India was three years old, and Malaysia was still under the British rule. Even classics like Singing in the Rain or 12 Angry Men were yet to be made, neither has the local Indian film industry evolved to any extent to have famous faces in it.

And somewhere in Bangalore towards the end of that very year, a certain Shivaji Rao Gaekwad was born. He was born a Maharashtrian. I, nor any of you whom will read this article, were alive when this had happened.

Sixty years later, an aging man masquerading as a well-groomed scientist and a steel-made robot indefinitely helped create Indian cinema history. That man, as that iconic introduction at the starting of that 180-minute movie would have told you- was known to the world at large as Rajnikanth, as to simply put- Super Star.

This particular Superstar epitomized everything about India’s ferocious passion for films that have kicked up since the post-independence days. If films have become lucrative business of sorts for the Americans, they have instead turned into a vehicle of social movement in the second largest country in the world.

Little did the two French brothers from Lyon know that their invention and creativity would open the floodgates for a medium that can change lives so drastically- a medium that can affect so many lives with a single wave of hand. If those two brothers were to ever turn up from their graves and ask for a proof of what cinema has achieved- don’t bother booking a flight ticket to Hollywood- go to Chennai, and get hold of this Superstar.

He is no Brad Pitt, or Hugh Jackman. Ask him to show his chests and you probably will see an aging body, with traces of the ribs beginning to show. Nerves would be apparent on his hands, and he would appear with only one quarter of hair left on the top of his head. His beard would have white patches everywhere, a broad serene smile from that face- you can already witness the marks of age all over the chins.

He wouldn’t wear a suit when he stands in front of you- he would be wearing a waving white kurta, and a pair of simple slippers. His chins perched against his hands, all this man loves to do is to watch. And smile. And give joy.

It is somewhat ironic to note that he never really knew how to pronounce ‘sandhosham’ (happiness) in Tamil. He only ever knew how to say ‘santhosham’. He may not know the pronunciation, but it was that ‘santhosham’ that he had given in such abundance to the people of Tamil Nadu.

He wasn’t born as a Tamilian. Yet every film of his will describe the Tamizh Mannu (Tamil land) as the land that gave him life. He had always portrayed a sense of gratitude for this land. It’s easy to understand why.

Shivaji Rao Gaekwad was never educated. He worked as a coolie in his small community. When he was young enough to develop into a handsome dark tall man, he wasn’t doing the most stylish jobs around. He was blowing the whistle as the conductor for a Bus Transport Company in Bangalore.

And then one day a friend called Raj Bahadur asked him to study at the Madras Film Academy, and even funded Shivaji’s studies. And while acting in a play, he caught the attention of a certain K Balachander. Shivaji later on became Rajinikanth, after he took up language lessons in order to learn Tamil.

Now, Super Star Rajinikanth is the second highest paid actor in Asia, and last year acted in the highest grossing Indian film of all time- as a handsome young scientist and a robot that was created by that handsome scientist. He was 59 years old when he did this film.

That is the story of his life- every one would say- the story of a man who went from nowhere to somewhere- that is why India worships him. That is why he is celebrated and placed on a pedestal.

That is a lie.

Shivaji Rao Gaekwad became Rajinikanth thanks to one quality that has defined his life- someone who did things in order to please others, and quench others’ satisfaction.

Raj Bahadur said study. He did. K Balachander said- I will change your name. He did. K Balachander said learn Tamil. He did. K Balachander said you are a villain. He was. K Balachander said you a hero. He became one, and how.

He worked as a coolie- for his family. He flipped the cigarattes- for the audiences. And he exerted himself at the age of 59 for an excuse he always loved to use- Tamil Nadu.

Rajinikanth has always been a people’s man. As he lies in the Intensive Care Unit of a hospital in Chennai, fighting for the breath of life and the life of his kidneys, there will be a moment when he will think of recovering and returning to the sets of his latest film Rana.

Again- for the people. For the underscored joy and jubilation of millions who will throng the theaters when the time comes for another Rajinikanth movie- another first day, first show. For those who want to see that style again- that acting again.

We never learn to say enough. Every single fan out there praying and doing homams and pujas for his health would, at the back of their minds, pray that he comes back stronger than ever and grace the silver screen.

But it is about time we pray without asking it for our own selfish reasons. Rajinikanth gracing the screen would be something that he would be doing for our sake, not his.

If the prayers are indeed, selflessly, for a certain Shivaji Rao Gaekwad, a 61-year-old human being rather than for an iconic superstar who has to wear an overhaul of cosmetics to look appealing on the screen, then exclude that prayer to have him come back.

Let’s learn to be grateful for what he has given. Learn to appreciate the 100 over films that he has done. Go ahead and watch him again and again. Admit that sooner or later, his era is bound to come to an end. And like the clean face of that robot in a museum which still affords to smile calmly, let him go with a bang. Be happy that he is still around- to walk, to smile, to laugh, to watch, to praise, and to play with his grandchildren. Or maybe to make that favorite Himalayan trip that he is so fond of.

For once, lets be selfless- be happy that Shivaji Rao Gaekwad is still alive. And let Shivaji Rao be Shivajo Rao- at least for the twilight years of his life.

K Balachandar admitted recently that he never had the right to change his name. And all the same, we don’t have the right to demand more.

For you, with a prayer.

Shivaji Rao Gaekwad.

The tunnel- a short by Ram Anand

“But everyone goes to the waterfall. Hot spring is where you get the pleasure.”

“I’m about to enter the tunnel now, should I?” he asked, standing right outside the entrance. It was a hot summer day, and he was enjoying strolling along the bright road, until this came along.

He was on the phone, patiently waiting for a response. An eagle flew above him, soaring in the sky, eclipsing the sun’s ray for a mili-second. He looked up, the phone still hooked to his ears. “Hello?” He looked down. His heavy bagpack, in which he had stuffed all his hygienic necessities, laid lazily on the ground next to him. “Hello?”

“A…b…far…jhas…” that was the response he got. He took the phone off his ears, and noticed that the connection had begun to fluctuate. He let out a groan. “Fucking tunnel, and fucking signal,” he sighed. He typed a message and sent it in a jivvy, before tucking the phone into his bagpack. He felt lighter, and looked back the road on which he traveled.

Five minutes ago, at that very bend some hundred meters away from where he is standing right now, he told himself- ‘I don’t know what’s the big fuss all about’.

He understood the wry smile that flickered on the tribal villager’s face when he had asked for directions to where he is now headed to. “All this for a fucking hot spring?” he grumbled to himself.

“Are you sure you are not talking about the waterfall?” that villager asked before he begun his journey.

“No, I am talking about the hot spring.”

“The waterfall is way easier.”

The waterfall is way easier. He carried his bag, and mumbled that sentence to himself, before setting his pace back on the very road he trudged.

“But everyone goes to the waterfall. Hot spring is where you get the pleasure of doing something different.”

That was what he had told the villager two hours ago. He stopped on his tracks for a while as the thought returned to him.

“What’s the point Jeff? Everyone goes to the fucking waterfall.” Oh, how he loved talking to himself. But nobody would understand why he loves doing that. That is why no-one has ever seen Jeff talking to himself.

He stuck out his tongue, and gently ran it unto his dry lips. He could feel the cracks on his lips. “Oh, dear waterfall.” He needed the waterfall more than he needed the hot spring. It was necessity.

I’m thirsty. I wish you are here.

He did not receive a reply for his earlier message. He excused himself to sit on the ground for a little while. His phone beeped, and he had only one thought in his mind. He was going to roast his wife for replying so late while her husband is busy draining himself physically in the middle of nowhere.

“Seriously, woman.”

But the thoughts fluttered along with the heavy wind the moment he read the reply.

Babe, which thirst is greater, the throat’s or the heart’s? You know I love you, regardless.

“Seriously,” he told himself again.

I’ll come home with a story to tell.

He tucked the phone away in his bag again, dragged along the dusty earth before heaving it up his shoulders. The wind was blowing in the opposite direction to the tunnel. He tied his shoelaces, and tested their firmness. He felt the muscles in his chest, he looked at his muscular arms, and wore his goggles. A moment of vanity- and took off in a sprint heading straight into the dark tunnel.

“Ussain Bolt you motherfucker,” he shouted as he kept running. He should see a light at the end of the tunnel anytime soon. In his imagination, one Jamaican in running tracks is running along arrogantly, his ego slowing getting shattered because Jeff is running faster than him.

“Aah.”

The next thing he knew, he has lost control of his dash. He was now dashing with his whole body, tumbling through rocks and sands, not knowing when it will come to a halt. When it did halt, it felt like he has been tumbling forever.

It was pitch dark. All he knew was that it was pitch dark. There was no light at the end of the tunnel, at least could see nothing as such. He groped on the ground nearby him. “Oh shit.” His bag was nowhere to be found, not with his current eyesight at least.

There was burning pain in some parts of his body, but he could not see any of the wounds thanks to the darkness.

“Ouchhh,” he frowned as another searing pain hit him, this time straight in his eyes. He clenched his eyelids, shouting as loudly as he can. Gently he guided his index finger into his eyes, removing his blue contact lenses. It must have been debris either from the earth or from his now broken goggles, which had caused the pain.

In an instinctive reaction, he let go of the lenses from his fingers. He needed to mend his pain first; he did not have the hands to secure the lenses at the same time. This time, he knew his eyesight would be affected even more. He gently placed his other index finger on his right eye and removes the lenses from there as well.

“I can’t see as it is,” he told himself. He surprised himself by not grumbling. He did not have his phone, did not have his beg, his first-aid kit, his goggles, and how his lenses. All he had with him was he, a thirsty throat, a wounded body that possibly can still walk, and a pack of cigarettes in the left pocket of his cargo shorts.

He was on his knees, starring down at God knows what.

“Ah, this is where my heart brought me to,” he whispered. He somehow loved the darkness and the vague uncertainty. A calm feeling seeped through him, until, an ant stung him on his thighs.

“Shit!” he shifted in a hurry. Another bite. “Argh!”

He felt panic for the first time since he started the journey. He was now inside a very, very dark place, without an ounce of light to indicate which is the way out or which is the way in. There can be snakes, or other venomous animals beyond his wildest imaginations. There can be bats. He can be devoured and his body never be found.

“Stupid Jeff.”

His muscles melted. His confidence waned. Suddenly his soft heart seemed to have grown larger. A tugging pain on his chest. He cupped his face into his palms, and slowly, started sobbing.

“I love you babe.”

He would have never done that in front of his wife. His ego would have never allowed him to do so. Not a single drop of tear would have come out of his eyes. He wiped his tears off his eyes. “No, Jeff, you are getting emotional because you are helpless.”

He stared blankly into the darkness, and his whole life flashed in front him. No, he was wrong. He was crying for his wife. He doesn’t want to leave her, yet. He loves her too much.

He tasted his tears in order to wet his incredibly dry lips, when he heard the sound of water.

He jerked and turned around, still not being able to see anything. But something flickered in his eyes. He thought he had seen water drop from somewhere above him and travel all the way below where he is now seated. What is there?

“You don’t have your lenses, moron.” It might as well been his hallucination.

But he had no other way out of this quagmire that he had gotten himself into. He decided to finally stand up and walk in the direction of where he had seen ‘water’.

Something struck his eyes from behind, and he turned around. Far beyond, somewhere in the direction from where he came from, there was a flicker of light. “I’ve come that far?” he asked himself, noticing that the light seems to be quite a distance away. If he heads back towards the light, he would find his lost bag, and he would be home safe and sound. He doesn’t have to cry for his wife anymore.

But he had promised her a story. He looked towards the ‘water’ again. He only needed to walk another five meters in order to reach and inspect that area. As if struck by a blind logic, he walked in that pitch of darkness, trusting only his instincts and his feelings, towards the water spot.

His eyes were not deceiving him this time. He saw a mass of water, in fact, it was a pond at the bottom of the cave. “I’m in a cave.”

He turned around and looked at the entrance of the tunnel. He envisioned Ussain Bolt clumsily grabbing his shoes and running back to the entrance, out into the ground and back to the comfort of the running tracks around stadiums. He felt his muscles tighten again.

“Ah, fuck it.”

He splashed into the mass of water, and the coldness took by him by surprise. His wounds exarcebated. He struggled to get back up to the surface, and when he did, he shouted loudly, the loudest he had shouted yet in this ordeal. And he saw a light under the water.

He looked back up and realized he had absolutely no way of climbing back up to the interior of the cave.

Slowly, he gathered his increasing courage. “Be proud of me babe, no matter what happens.”

He swam towards that small opening, located a couple of feet under the water. He held his breath, forced himself through it, and swam back to the surface. Silence.

The villager was smiling at him, laughing almost. Jeff noticed has his bag was in the villager’s hands. “Thank goodness,” he said. He wanted to desperately to ask why, what and how. But those questions mattered not to him now. He stopped clutching the dry earth, and did not even bother to collect his bag. He let himself go again.

He hasn’t found answers. He has found the hot spring.

“Baby, where are you? I’m worried and I miss you. A lot,” the villager shouted in his hoarse English. Jeff swam back to surface. The villager was holding a phone in his hands, Jeff’s phone. Intrusion of privacy. But Jeff did not bother panicking. The hot spring was irresistible.

“Tell her I’m coming home with an incredible story.”

He could almost hear a faint smile from the villager’s face, a satisfied expression.

You never know the taste of true success till you have tasted the bitterness.

Dancing with the Sword- 7

The sound of a slingshot reverberated in the now silent, almost ambient desert. The sword was perched on the ground, next to the weak, giant body.

The Prince, still considerably small compared to those of his age, looked up from his brazen balcony. He looked at his palms, which were smeared with dirt and wounds. “Aah,” he grumbled, as his glance stole away at the wieldy figure of that peasant’s son. He was well built, as soaring heat reflected the muscles that went along with the sweat.

A loincloth around his waist, that boy- one-year younger than the Prince- was flaunting his muscles. The boy wasn’t grumbling. There were scratches in and around his body; The Prince knew it. Because it was The Prince who minutes earlier had gotten into a brawl with the boy. The Prince knew he had no chance of winning that muscle-match, that boy was a giant compared to his own puny size. They fought at the far fields, beyond anyone’s eyesight. The Prince was trampled on the ground, well and truly beaten. He could still feel the taste of raw earth in his mouth. He should not have fell facedown. He fervently rubbed his nose, and sneezed, and he could almost see small particles of dust traveling in the thin air from his body as he did so.

And then he smiled. The memory that was coming to him now was the memory he wants to keep in his head for years to come. That boy was smiling, laughing actually. Laughing at the Prince for trying to beat him up, and not giving up after so many little shoves by the boy left the Prince on the ground helplessly.

And then it happened. The Prince tugged at those arm muscles, pulling him down. The boy threw a grain of sand straight into The Prince’s eyes in retaliation. The Prince was blinded. He could not recall nor envision what he did next. When The Prince finally managed to open his eyelids, the giant was defeated on the ground, and The Prince delivered one last kick straight into his chest.

The boy coughed out aloud, and crawled slowly, trying to protect his well-built body. The Prince took out his sword, which is now stands at half his height, and spun it around in the air.

The sound of a slingshot reverberated in the now silent, almost ambient desert. The sword was perched on the ground, next to the weak, giant body.

Minutes ago, the boy argued that size matters more than anything. The Prince said no, it does not. The Boy laughed.

“Size doesn’t matter,” The Prince said, realizing that his speech was slightly funny. His rolled his eyeballs down towards his lips, pouting his lips. They were swollen and bleeding. The Prince knew it was only the tip of the iceberg. They were countless of physical wounds on his body.

But it doesn’t matter. He hit the boy where it matters most- his ego.

The Prince’s moment though was almost ruined by the sword, which was perched so deep he could not pull out of the sand.

He almost sighed in utter relief as it came out in a gush, pushing The Prince a couple steps back and tumbling on the ground. He looked up carefully at the boy. He was still busy mending his ego on the ground. The Prince smiled. His enemy did not notice his moment of baboonery. He put the sword back into its place and walked off.

Ah, the feeling of glory, The Prince thought to himself.

The Queen stormed into the room. “What happened?” she screamed at the top of her voice. “I fell off trying to ride a horse,” the answer came out almost as naturally from his twisted lips.

He legs aren’t long enough to climb a horse without doing a summersault and falling at other side of the bewildered animal.

“Your legs aren’t even long enough to do that!” she said.

Yes, he knew that already. But he will not stop trying.

The Queen was forever on about playing safe and taking the safest route and taking the safest course of action. All he had to do in life, according to her, was to study well so that he could take over the administration when The King retires.

The Prince does not know what actually he wants to do, but he felt like doing anything but just study and take over from his father.

He looked out of his balcony again, as his mother desperately tried to make him look towards her.

“You are not going to ride a horse into a battlefield anytime soon, so stop trying,” she said, shaking his body as if to re-affirm her stand.

Oh, how he loved proving people wrong.

From Jessie to Priyas- Yearning for liberation

I have in the past championed the cause of more matured female portrayals in the film, and apart from VTV, no other film had the capacity of portraying a very real, next-door female character. But yet while Gautham was consciously trying to break those grounds in this film, he also seems to consciously have some convenient aspects of characterization.

Gautham Vasudev Menon’s Vinnaithaandi Varuvaaya has been showered with praises aplenty since the movie hit screens almost one year ago. The film particularly had a personal impact on me, just like how it did on thousands of other Indians who have watched this film the world over.

So I was pretty much unable to pass any in-depth comments when I first watched the film last year when it was fresh in theatres. It wasn’t until a television rerun recently that I chanced upon the movie and managed to watch it fully for a second time, and this time in a more detached manner.

But there was one thing that I agreed with a friend of mine (who is also a cinema connoisseur) when the film was fresh off the oven, and that is VTV (the abbreviation it goes by) is not a better film than Gautham’s previous film Vaaranam Aayiram.

It seemed though that for being more politically correct, VTV earned more approval from elite critics rather than Vaaranam. My friend somewhat unfavorably pointed out that the Indian audiences are so used to larger than life sentiments that they basically never find it appealing when a film tries to glorifies the subdued contribution of a father towards a son’s life. Both Abhiyum Naanum (though this film has a great problem of its own that I’m very critical of) and Vaaranam shared a similar fate in terms of its response from the audiences.

Believe it or not, many people’s grudge with Varanam is one major loophole in the film’s narration, whereby Surya travels to United States to meet his love even though it was well-documented prior that his family is struggling for complete financial liberty.

Vinnaithaandi Varuvaaya is, in its own right, a well-intentioned, perfectly suave, elegant movie that celebrated the beauty of love, even if the relationship couldn’t have a happy ending. In an industry where our audiences are so used either the fairytale triumph against all odds and barriers, or a rather morbid, blood shed, heartache ending, VTV treads in between both, it’s simply en ending that resonates life’s natural law and beauty.

It’s the kind of attempt that would please any Tamil cinema lover and critic like me, and be embraced with both hands by the same. The film also related greatly to many of the lovers outside there, and thus attained a cult film status.

This is probably owing to the fact that the film is a true story (according to some sources, it is the true story of one of Gautham’s assistants). It related greatly to real life situations, and it beautifully narrated how life sometimes doesn’t let two lovers unite. It is also arguable that Gautham drew inspiration from the cult Hollywood flick 500 days of Summer, which had a similar undertone and capacity of looking at life’s bad endings in beautiful way.

The film’s positives have been waxed lyrical about in the past, so I would not go there for a first. VTV has many positives, but also has its shares of shortcomings.

I have in the past championed the cause of more matured female portrayals in the film, and apart from VTV, no other film had the capacity of portraying a very real, next-door female character.  But yet while Gautham was consciously trying to break those grounds in this film, he also seems to consciously have some convenient aspects of characterization.

In 500 days of Summer for example, the female character isn’t your conventional one. She is deeply flawed, uncertain to a certain extent, very independent, and has been with men before prior to our hero here. In VTV, Trisha is yet another in the long line of heroines in the ‘naan entha ambalai kudayum palaganatha ille’ stereotype. We had had this kind of characterization countless of times in Tamil films, so much that it tires me.

We need to note that most ‘good’ films in this industry are set in rural backdrops, so it’s not often we get gems like VTV. In fact, like some point out, it’s probably the first film since Alaipayuthey to genuinely act as a story about two people. When some films charter the urban territory, filmmakers seem somewhat afraid of portraying the complexity of urban women and the history comes with it.

You have to admit that in the current urbane climate, even in Chennai, the ‘entha ambalai kudayum palaganatha ille’ types are hard to come by. Mani Ratnam’s Meera character from Aayitha Ezhuttu is probably the most in-depth female character in Tamil cinema, and yet it was short-lived.

And of course there is the whole love at first sight aspect. While the film presents itself as being so realistic, the way the two characters fall in love looks a tad out of place, though it can be forgiven thanks to a great song (Hosanna) and subsequent tempo.

Real love hardly happens in a similar way, and there is an element of disconnectedness about the movie there.

Probably I’m setting the bar too high, but it has been some ten years since Alaipayuthey hit the theatres, and we are somewhat at crossroads in terms of developing maturity in our films, and thus it is also a crucial time when our filmmakers can attempt to be a tad more bold. It’s time to push envelopes and test waters. If such hesitancy remains, it might take ten more years before we can take one more step forward, and thus wait ten more years for another genuine love story.

One of the best illustrations of female portrayal in regular Tamil films can be viewed through the films of one of the industry’s most recognized hit directors- Hari.

I had the chance of watching both Vel and Aaru in recent days and it dawned on me pretty quickly that the director’s perception of the female gender and his interpretation of ‘good’ to be as shallow as any.

In both films, one can witness countless of innuendos towards ‘skimpy dresses’ and interpretations that only girls who cover up as considered as ‘good’.

Vel flaunts most of this shallowness, where Surya’s character will charade with ‘pass marks’ for well-clad women while doing his supposedly ‘detective’ job. If that is the requirement in order to evaluate a girl’s ‘goodness’, one doesn’t need to be a detective in order to diagnose that fact. This mentality has already consumed our Indian culture like a vulture and any man with a half-baked brain would tend to make similar judgements when judging which is a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ girl.

It certainly doesn’t help that our film condone rather than trying to clamp down on this dangerously consuming mentality.

I don’t need to go very far aback in order to name two films that best epitomize the mentality that clearly exists within the film industry itself when it comes to the male-female dynamism.

As recent as last year, we saw Vishal play a Casanova in Theeratha Vilayattu Pillai. Only in our industry will we witness films desperately trying to glorify a Casanova act as being forgivable, and at the same time the heroine who gets the guy at the end of the film will be well-clad, well-covered homely girl who will forgive and accept because of the genuineness of the Casanova.

If this bias doesn’t convince you, then Manmadhan will. The 2004 film was a runaway hit. The film tries so hard to justify a man’s Casanova murder acts because the girls whom he beds and subsequently kills are ‘bad’ girls who ‘cheat’ on guys.

Let me ask this question- what about the very lead character? He too beds multiple women in order to murder them, what makes his supposed goal and ambition more ‘pure’ than the woman who cheats?

What then about the countless amount of guys (and obviously larger amount) who cheat on their women?

Could a female Casanova a-la Sharon Stone’s Basic Instinct come on the screen, strip, bed, kiss them and later kill this men. Would she be celebrated a-la a hero and have a guy genuinely love her because she is contributing to a pure cause?

Would our audiences make such a film as big a hit a Manmadhan-, which is an immature, shallow, one-sided film, made by a 21-year-old young adult (Simbhu’s age back in 2004) who is probably just bitter about one past failed relationship?

Unless a day comes when we have the maturity to reject an entertaining film because of its blatant chauvinistic attitude, our industry will linger with the same biasness that has haunted us for years.

7 Khoon Maaf- Music Review

On the whole, this is the Vishal Bharadwaj show, and that’s all I’d say.

Vishal Bharadwaj. Oh, that name sends chills down my spine. I remember watching Omkara with the haunting ‘Naina’ song so many years ago. It was a combination of both- of the haunting music, the Shakespearean aura (the movie was an adaptation of Othello) and also the picturization. The mood and the tempo of his films are unmistakable. He tells a tragedy and yet I come out of the theatre every time feeling I have got my money’s worth.

Kaminey saw him depart to slightly ‘brighter’ territories, but heck, he doesn’t always have to please the ‘intellectuals’ don’t he? That movie was a blast for its genre. You’d think the concept of twin brothers at different ends of righteousness would be a bygone concept, but he redefined it.

Of course, ‘Dhan Te Nan’ and the criminally-good ‘Pehli Baar Mohabbat’ numbers helped them a great deal, but well, he is going to take all the credit will he not? For both music and film belonged to him. What this multi-talented storyteller can’t do?

So now, he is trying something so sinister- a story about a woman who marries (and presumably murders) all seven (!) of her husbands. I haven’t got my hands on Ruskin Bond’s novel (of which the film is based on) so I’m quite curious. I know he’s going back to Omkara days.

This is no adrenalin-rush ala Kaminey. This will be darker, and I love that fact.

So, here’s the music review, for a start:

The album starts with Darling, which by now should have been famous because it appears in the trailer. This song pretty much sums the whole film up- unconventional. Usha Uthup (yes, Madhavan’s mother in Manmadhan Ambu) shows her true potential here with great crooning. It sounds like a song a woman who sing just before she pulls a trigger mercilessly on a man. Well, we have seen male villains do this on women on screen and become classic psychopaths in the hall of fame, but here we have a woman doing it. Listen to it again, watch the trailer, and slowly when the images stick you’ll like this song.

If you will like that song, you’ll definitely love Doosri Darling. It literally means the ‘other’ Darling. It means another version of course. This song is based on a Russian ballad (Kalinka is the name if I’m not mistaken) and this number stays loyal to the original by including Russian lyrics at the beginning. But once again, Usha Uthup takes over and the result is phenomenal. This number is higher on tempo and sounds like an orchestra that would fervently play when the woman is choking her husband to death (is my imagination going too graphic?)

In every Vishal album, there is that one cult song (Beedi Jalaile, Dhan Te Nan), but there is also one antithesis slow one (Pehli Baar Mohabbat, O Saathi Re), so we have our antithesis here in the form of Bekaara. Oh, I’m jealous. Not content with composing, directing, producing and what not, he sings this number as well. I personally think only ARR and Vishal understand the importance of using minimal instruments and natural sounds to make a romantic song really hook a listener while and transport them to another world. Here, you hear slight sounds of running water, and the whole song seems like one you would listen on a rainy day while watching the rain. Fall in love, that’s all I’d say.

Vishal knows how to rock as well, if Dhan Te Nan hasn’t already proved that to you. So he goes on to rock with Oh Mama. But the effects are quite different. This isn’t a club number, this is yet another moody number which tries to give the haunting effect in quite a different way, and it suceeds. Kay Kay returns after a long time, paired with Clinton Cerejo, and they both, well, just rock. Good.

If you think he hasn’t rocked well enough with Oh Mama, then you got your boon with Dil Dil Hai. Suraj Jagan just explodes in front of the mike and this one song will pump in so much adrenaline in comparison to the whole album put together. Rock it! To bad its just 3 odd minutes long though.

Yeshu is quite a sinister number. It’s slow and much more situational compared to the rest of the album yet its mood fits the whole album’s tempo. Nothing special here, but still good.

If one romantic ballad in the form of Bekaara isn’t enough, Vishal applies a more traditional touch with Tere Liye. This is yet another close-your-eyes-and-listen number, and Suresh Wadkar does an exceptional job by crooning with subtlety. Great.

Awaara has a sufi touch to it, and is yet another very good number (Vishal is one of a few composers who hardly ever churn out a Bad number). Master Saleem is in his forte here, and the song leaves the kind of impact it should leave for its genre. It’s a sufi number but to add Vishal’s touch, this too is haunting.

The album concludes with a different mix of Oh Mama, and here Vishal is a criminal. He takes out the rock element and the song now turns into a love ballad, wonderfully sung by Suraj Jagan. And then it ends, after just a minute or so. Talk about travesty.

On the whole, this is the Vishal Bharadwaj show, and that’s all I’d say.

Album rating: 7.5/10

I’ll add the trailer too: (a trailer I rate 10/10)

The Malaysian Tom, Dick and Harry

I have been blamed and crucified for purportedly not giving our local film industry a chance to impress. Truth is when the approach itself doesn’t impress me, nothing else will.

“This is a locally made movie. I hope the audience have the will to support the local film industry.”

How many times have you heard the above quote uttered by some local filmmaker? Understandably you probably hear it more times when you visit Batu Caves for Thaipusam annually than anywhere else, but then again, have you ever been made to feel you are not ‘supportive’ enough of the local industry?

I have. I have been blamed and crucified for purportedly not giving our local film industry a chance to impress. Truth is when the approach itself doesn’t impress me, nothing else will.

Firstly, those harping on about ‘Malaysian’ movies should quit using that term. The most blatant fact of our industry is that there are no ‘Malaysian’ movies. Senario is a predominantly Malay movie, Ethirkaalam is a predominantly Tamil movie, and Great Day is a predominantly Chinese movie. Where is the Malaysian movie in this? Not content with our divide and rule political system (one MIC, one MCA, one UMNO), we seem to having a similar divide into three different categories. And then filmmakers, especially the Indian ones, grumble about lack of support.

It’s simple Mathematics, if I could enlighten the industry’s ‘greats’. We are a tiny little puny country, we are so puny that even a state in the US or India is bigger than us, and definitely one of the smallest secular country in the world. So, dividing your target audiences isn’t a smart idea. Those Indian filmmakers are targeting only the Indian population with the way they make movies, so are the Chinese and Malay. So what kind of windfall hit are you folks expecting? Oscar?

If you really think overseas folks are going to appreciate our locally made movies, then I’d hang myself. The only reason great films have great international acceptance is because they carry a nation’s flavor. Slumdog Millionaire and Dilwalia Dulhania Le Jayenge, though both belonging to different genres, are not only quality products, but they are films that brought home the essence of a country- ‘India’. Item numbers, masala elements, Switzerland song locations- these were the cultural innuendos of the Indian film industry- in India. If something from Malaysia is going to make people sit up and take note, it has to blend the Malaysian flavor- not by aping an already successful Indian film industry in another country.

How is the world going to accept you when you don’t have an identity for yourself? When you target is so shallow, you deserve what you get. Period.

Of course, there are those rare good breeds of Malaysian (note) filmmakers. The most consistent one of them was Yasmin Ahmad. She’s no more with us. You take a long look and see if there is someone to make our films earn respect globally. You’ll realize there is no one after her. There were a couple of talented filmmakers, but they too become a passing memory and have not appeared since.

The problem definitely lies with the people of the industry. The sad fact is that in our industry, especially the Indian ones are people who treat being in films as part of a business. It is just a day job with certain amount of profit and liberty. Films made in India boasts the likes of AR Rahman, Kamal Haasan, Aamir Khan, and many more. We hardly have one standout personality whom we can say is on par with international standards.

Art is an intricate business, first of all in order to be involved you need people who are creative, talented, and above all, sincere to the art itself. There are people who dedicate their lives to make a batter form of art, a better form of creativity, yet here we can’t boast to have any individual who shows any amount of dedication to art, or is creative or talented. When the majority of people who are involved in our industry are people who don’t belong here, how will the industry prosper?

The actors spend most time wearing gold chains, trying to ape one Indian actor after another, speaking every dialogue in a melodramatic fashion, speaking every pedestrian dialogue as if it is a punch dialogue. The music directors do nothing but compose what sounds like sub-standard Indian cinema songs. Our whole Malaysian Tamil industry is nothing but a poor man’s Indian cinema. How then would you expect people to support our industry, when our movies are not even financially cheaper (RM 15 per CD? I’d rather have Briyani. RM 5 is better for that quality) than those Indian films while at the same time being so inferior in quality?

Some would complaint about limited budget, why wouldn’t it be? When your target audiences are so shallow (remember we are less than 10 per cent of the population in this country), what do you expect, RM 10 million of budget? We have so often associated budget with quality and I’m not the only one who will say that’s wrong. Aamir Khan’s Dhobi Ghat is on theatres now as I speak; Shot entirely in one location using four actors and a guerilla shooting technique. Yet you feel the quality of the film is superior than most CGI aided films- while it was made on a shoestring budget. Then there was Yasmin Ahmad’s Sepet to talk about. Did that film cost a fortune to make? Nothing works like authenticity, and making an authentic film doesn’t cost you so much of money.

A majority of our filmmakers attempt ala Hollywood thrillers and CGI animated movies without ever getting the basics right. India had its time under the likes of Satyajit Ray and Shyam Benegal before they slowly, and recently, began pushing boundaries for CGI aided films. Apart from Yasmin Ahmad and a couple of other films here and there, what have these other filmmakers did to capture authenticity? Without authenticity in the first place, every CGI aided film will just look, in one word, fake. That’s how almost all the films in our industry looks and feels. You have no connection with the characters nor with the storyline. They don’t tug at your heart. You feel detached from the films. Because they all lack souls.

Our filmmakers have begun harping on pushing boundaries without ever discovering a common soul to their films. It’s back to basics. The Malaysian industry needs some soul searching, and they need to do it from the scratch.

There are some great individuals who have pioneered the arena of films prior, even in Asia. Our filmmakers can take some time to bother learning more from them. Wouldn’t it be beneficiary for them to go overseas and serve as an assistant at least to some of the great filmmakers before they make movies here? Wouldn’t that earn respect and look good on their CV?

On a lighter note, nobody will be impressed if your special press release (during a film’s premiere) is typed out in plain A4 paper from Microsoft Word’s most bland fonts, and that too with the world’s most sacrilegious grammar punctuation. And by the way, no Tom, Dick or Harry would ever type out his or her whole story (yes, till the end) in the synopsis. You should always know where to stop in order to make people feel intrigued.  That’s just, turning off.

You should also learn to use full names if you are delivering a press release. Don’t put in funky names (Amigoz Appu, seriously?) because it really doesn’t impress. The real, proper name, something as lame as Sreenivasan, sounds way better. Pseudonyms are intended for filmy purposes, which could be used in credits, but not in detailed press releases that are supposed to be fully informative.

How can I end this article without mentioning our wonderful 1Malaysia concept, where we must have 70 per cent Malay content in order to have a film funded by FINAS (what a joke of an organization)? I have nothing to say about that though.

With such guidelines, the FINAS folks can go fly kites with the RM 200 million I-want-to-help-our-film-industry-become-better allocations. Or even flush it down the toilet. Please, don’t forget to flush your brains along with them, politely.

All I would say, resoundingly, is, what is NOT wrong with our film industry?

Dhobi Ghat (Mumbai Diaries)- Movie Review

I am pretty sure there will be many Aamir Khan fans who will wrestle for tickets of this movie when it got released a couple of days ago in Malaysia, but many of them will return home not feeling any kind of satisfaction of watching it. But the unique thing about Dhobi Ghat is that Kiran Rao (yes, the director) knows this fact too.

“I know this film won’t appeal to the general audience,” this was what she bluntly put forth when interviewed recently. She already knew the target audience would be connoisseurs of art-house cinema, and that’s why the film has been doing rounds in film festivals ever since its debut in the Toronto Film Festival (TIFF) back in September.

Running at less than 2 hours, Dhobi Ghat is like a chapter from a thick, epic observatory novel called Mumbai Diaries (the film’s alternate English title). Dhobi Ghat isn’t about the entirety of those diaries, but instead just showcases a chapter of the lives of individuals involved in it.

The film is the story of four people: Arun, Shai, Munna, and Yasmin.

Arun (Aamir Khan) is a divorced, lonely introvert painter who had just shifted apartments. At his art exhibition he meets Shai (Monica Dogra), an American investment banker who is on a sabbatical in Mumbai, and has a one-night stand with her. He subsequently explains to her that he has no intention to take the relationship further, and though she concurs, she is smitten by his charm and begins stalking him.

At the same time Shai meets Munna (Prateik Babbar), a dhobi cleaner who does odd jobs to make his ends meet while at the same time aspiring to be an actor. Munna requests Shai to do a portfolio photo shoot for him and she does. He begins to get attracted to her.

At the same time, Arun, in his new apartment, finds some random tapes of a young woman named Yasmin (Kriti Malhotra), a Muslim woman who has just arrived in Mumbai after her marriage to her city-dwelling husband, who was also the previous tenant in the apartment Arun currently rents. Arun watches every tape that she records in her videocam and later starts to attempt finding her whereabouts.

So, as you can see, this is not a love triangle, instead it’s a square. But here there no rejected proposals, every character has there own fears, their own hesitancy and so on. This is probably the subtlest film you will ever see in the history of Bollywood.

There is also the character of the neighboring aunt of Arun’s , who simply observes and says absolutely nothing- just like Mumbai. To add to that, the story starts when Arun shifts into his new apartment and ends when he shifts out of the apartment to a new place. That’s the thread of the story. It simply tells you what happens in between his shifting from one place to another.

Prateik Babbar, almost a Siddharth look-alike, is brilliant as Munna. He debuted as Genelia’s brother in Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na, and with this performance, he proves beyond doubt that he is an actor for the future. It’s almost a certainty that producers will line up at his door having been exposed to both his good looks and considerable emoting skills as a slum dweller.

Monica Dogra and Kriti Malhotra are both great finds by Kiran Rao, as they fit their characters seamlessly. Aamir Khan, the ever-reliable actor, once again shows his selection prowess. He hardly speaks in the film (due to his introvert nature), but he leaves behind a telling impact and the only point that triggers you to shed tears in the film is also due to his brilliant emoting when he finds out about Yasmin.

Do not expect to be immersed too much in the film, as the film is as detached as it could get. It simply observes without interfering into the characters, more like documentary. And the only engaging moment arrives when Arun finds out about Yasmin, and the film ends soon after. Kiran Rao has written a script specifically for that purpose and she does exactly that.

For a debutant, she shows abstract maturity that is not seen in many present day directors, and although the financial cinema world would expect her to be more engaging and aggressive with her next attempt, being passive and detached in the way she arranges her sequences requires a craft, a talent of its own, and that is something she definitely has.

Sometimes it’s easier to make a film aggressively and have the characters laugh, smile, shout and cry to tell their emotions rather than making a film using a character’s long stare into an empty space, their hopes, their dismay, their loneliness, their insecurity, their selfishness, the tragedy of being wretched from the inside.

Kiran Rao captures loneliness in a way no-one has ever done prior to her.

If you accept Dhobi Ghat for what it offers, then it is indeed a masterpiece.

For those who could not comprehend these genres of films, there is no disappointment to be taken home with this film.

As confessed by the filmmakers themselves, the film was made on a puny budget by the filmmakers themselves. They did not run the financial risk either. The film was shot entirely in Mumbai- there are no stunt scenes, no song sequences, no expensive studio sets- just Mumbai- and all about it.

The film did not even use huge tripods set up to shoot on location, as it was shot using the guerilla technique (real time, support-off, hands-on shooting on the go).

The question is- what have you got to lose? Open your minds towards a different cinema experience, watch it at least once, and if you don’t like it, just accept that this particular genre is not yours.

There’s nothing to like or dislike about the film, just whether you accept or don’t accept.

As for me, all I would say is I would go to Kiran Rao’s next movie.

Rating: 7.5/10