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Monday, October 27, 2008

The Master At Work : A.R.Rahman's "Yuvvraaj"

Okay, so I am the laziest bum that ever walked the hallowed sands of cyberspace.......can't get down to type a new post, so in the meantime, here's my post on my other blog, at can catch the original page here)

There is a very good reason why I have titled this post A.R.Rahman’s Yuvvraaj……because considering Subhash Ghai’s track record of late, (the seeped-in-cliches “Black and White” and the-lesser-said-the-better “Kisna” )the odds are that “Yuvvraaj” will be another Ghai film which will flatter to deceive…..and that should not come in the way of the fact that A.R.Rahman has given us yet another masterpiece of a soundtrack, one that(dare I say it?) might be his best yet.

The last time Subhash Ghai and Rahman worked together was the ill-fated Kisna, where Rahman contributed two tracks and a few instrumentals before he dropped out in favour of other assignments. Before that, they had famously collaborated in “Taal” 10 years ago, resulting in the creation of a watershed soundtrack which is still considered to be a landmark in the history of Bollywood music. The onus was, thus firmly on the maestro ever since it was reported that he would work on “Yuvvraaj”. Like “Taal”, this too had been billed as a grand musical.

Rahman does not disappoint. The album starts off with “Main Yuvvraaj” which is basically Salman Khan introducing his character, as the familiar strains of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony play on. The next song, the one which we have been listening to in the promos, is “Tu Meri Dost Hain” marks the beginning of the fun……Rahman creates a simple yet immensely powerful melody, one based on a steady Western Classical Orchestra sound. On this template, Rahman brings on the refreshing Benny Dayal(Pappu Can’t Dance and Nazrein Churaana from Jaane Tu..) Shreya Ghoshal(and himself for good measure) to weave pure magic on a track which will have you hitting the replay button again and again. A note on Gulzar’s lyrics: The old stalwart delights again… sample this

“Awaaz ka dariya hoon, behta hoon main neeli raaton mein….

Main jaagta rehta hoon, neend bhari jheel si aankhon mein…”

Rahman’s prodigious skill with Western Classical music is on parade for much of this soundtrack, including the next song “Tu Muskura Le” which, in the spirit of reunions, has Alka Yagnik hitting the high notes ever-so-sweetly again. This is again a keyboard-based track, albeit one in which Rahman doesn’t quite let his hair down. However, the track has an amazingly haunting quality, and as with so many Rahman songs, gets better with every subsequent listen. We then merrily segue along to “Mastam Mastam” which is characteristic of the recent Rahman(Guru etc.) subtle melody combined with earthy sounds and a general sense of joie de vivre. The highly innovative and thematic nature of the lyrics as well as that of the song is a standout feature.

The same “thematic” concerns continue with “Manmohini Morey” which combines classical Hindustani vocals set to a simple techno arrangement with the signature Grand Orchestra violins and cellos of the film keeping company. I suspect that these songs will be all the more impressive, when they shall be seen and not just heard. Rahman decides to have a bit of fun with “Shano Shano” which is a very unsual disco track, one which may seem lightweight in comparison to the melodious riches strewn around the rest of the album, but a highly infectious track nonetheless.

Next up is “Zindagi” which is a typical Rahman-soft track, featuring Srinivas(remember the soulful “Kaisi Hai Yeh Rut” from DCH?) whose honest-to-God vocals lend a delightfully fragile edge to the track. Finally, Rahman signs off in style, with the nearly eight-minute long “Dil Ka Rishta” which has as many as nine singers, including Sonu Nigam, Roop Kumar Rathod, rapper Blaaze and Rahman himself. I strongly suspect this will be the final scene of the film, as the melody has that operatic sense of climax about it.

There is no doubt in my mind that for sheer brilliance, variety and originality, this is the best Bollywood soundtrack of this decade. Ghai has smartly emphasized the Rahman-Gulzar combo in the initial teasers of the film.

Rahman had already done more than enough to ensure that his would be the career that would define the past 15 or so years of Bollywood music, but with “Yuvvraaj” he just raised the bar higher….. The only question in my mind is, what will he do next? The man who has already notched up more accolades and kudos at 40 that most musicians do in a lifetime(including the slightly cheesy epithet “Mozart of Madras” given by TIME magazine) has only himself to beat……

Finally, a word about the film itself: “Yuvvraaj” seems very much to be from the classic Ghai stable, with all the allure of grandeur, and his characteristially “epic” storytelling. The film stars Salman Khan, Anil Kapoor, Katrina Kaif and Zayed Khan, among which Katrina is a cello player and the rest are singers.(From the teasers, it’s Kapoor’s character which intrigues me the most, and I suspect a solid performance from the veteran will go a long way if the film is to work….) I sincerely hope that the film is good, because I’m going to watch it first day first show anyway, just to watch Rahman’s gems unfold on the large screen, where perhaps they might sparkle brighter still.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

A New Innings: Kafkaesque at PFC

It's out in the open folks: I have a new blog! This is at PFC or and I was beyond thrilled when the Editors of the site invited me to be a part of the team.....especially as I had been following this website for some time now........and had submitted a few articles(like this one , and this) which they graciously published. And I am in very good company indeed: The authors on this site include many people directly associated with the film industry, directors like Anurag Kashyap, Sudhir Mishra, Navdeep Singh, Onir; as well as prominent movie journos like Pratim D. Gupta and Khalid Mohammad. I hope this is the beginning of a long innings!

Here's my first article as a PFC author(redirected from this page at

The Legend Of Johnny Depp

I was about 10 when I saw “Edward Scissorhands” for the first time.(It was also one of the first Hollywood movies I saw) The modern-day fairytale style of narration, I’m sure went a long way towards holding a child’s attention, and the novelty value of seeing a freakish guy with dozens of scissors dangling where his hands should have been…… all in all, it was a dazzling experience.However, even then, what really grabbed me, what really gave me shivers was the image of a chalk-faced, confused, vulnerable….. and so deeply child-like Johnny Depp. This performance would prove to be a turning point in what is already one of the most remarkable careers of his generation.

As my taste grew more evolved, I watched many more films featuring this amazingly versatile actor. The first among these, some three years ago, when I was in Class XI, was “Ed Wood”(not Pirates of The Caribbean, imagine!), Tim Burton’s marvellously funny and touching portrait of the maverick, flamboyant movie-maker of the 50’s(By then, I already had a retro fetish, for both Bollywood and Hollywood ). Depp’s performance in this film has to be seen to be believed. Talk about getting under the skin of the character…… from the moment he waltzs in on the screen, all you can do is sit and watch……and try to close your mouth. Depp’s chameleon-like ability to master, but not overdo, almost any accent(notice the finely-nuanced Scottish one he pulls off to perfection in “Finding Neverland”, almost a decade after Ed Wood) coupled with his manic energy and obvious emoting gifts are on display here.

After being completely swept off my feet by this film, I saw the infinitely more “mainstream” and “commercial” Pirates Of The Caribbean trilogy, in which Depp played the character for which he is perhaps best known now: the irrepressible, witty, swaggering and sometimes treacherous pirate Jack Sparrow. Now the POC trilogy very much falls into the big-budget Hollywood fare category. Consequently, it has all the pitfalls and cliches that one associates with said company. However, it is Johnny Depp, who steers the ship, so to speak, all the way along, especially in the first film “The Curse Of The Black Pearl”.(In fact, one of the principal criticisms of the later films in the franchise was that they had too little of Sparrow!) The overwhelming praise Depp generated culminated even got him an Oscar nomination, in which he eventually lost out to Sean Penn for “Mystic River” . (Perhaps it’s just my Depp bias speaking, but is this another example of an out-and-out comic role losing out in the Oscar stakes to a more quote-unquote serious role?)

In the last year or so, I have watched half-a-dozen more Johnny Depp movies, including “Sweeney Todd”, (my personal favourite among them), which was a departure of sorts for Depp. For the first time, he worked in a musical, and even though he has an untrained voice, did splendidly, garnering kudos from all over, and yet another Oscar nomination(NOT that it mattered). The cold fury in his eyes bring out the angst and the pent-up bile of a broken man to perfection…..and the songs were fun, too!

The other usual suspects included “Finding Neverland” a somewhat weary but genuinely touching and often brilliant take on Sir James Barrie, the man who created the immortal play “Peter Pan”. Once again Depp delivers in style as the shy genius who crafted amazing worlds through the sheer power of his imagination. “Charlie and The Chocolate Factory” was a joy-ride through and through, and Depp literally let his hair down as Willy Wonka, the wildly creative but reclusive chocolatier.

Some were more quirky(than usual, by Depp’s standards), like playing legendary Gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson’s fictional alter-ego Raoul Duke in the screen adaptation of “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas”. Then there was “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape” another gripping drama, in which Depp was overshadowed for once, by a 19-year old by the name of Leonardo Di Caprio……

Along the way, Depp has forged a highly productive partnership with director Tim Burton, one which has already given us films like Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood and Sweeney Todd. I am eagerly awaiting the upcoming projects like “Public Enemies”, from Michael Mann, the director of the majestic “Heat” and “Collateral”. Also on the anvil are “Shantaram” where we have the intriguing prospect of seeing Johnny Depp and Amitabh Bachchan share screen space. But the one to watch out for, in my opinion is, Tim Burton’s next film, “Alice in Wonderland” where Depp plays the Mad Hatter(who else?).

Long live the legend of Johnny Depp!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Musings on Life and Love: "American Beauty"

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In one of many poignant moments in Sam Mendes’ “American Beauty”, Lester Burnham(Kevin Spacey) watches his new neighbour, teenaged drug-dealer and video enthusiast Ricky tell off his boss at his part-time catering job, saying “You don’t have to pay me.” Upon seeing the boss confused, he puts on a okay-here’s-how-it’s-done tone and says ” I quit. So you don’t have to pay me.”Seeing this Burnham, who is trapped in a highly mediocre, humdrum job and a stagnant, rotting marriage, says, in unashamed admiration “You’ve just become my hero….”

Emancipation from the clutches of an “ordinary” and “ordered” existence is one of the key themes addressed in this masterpiece of a film. Lester Burnham has nothing to look forward to in his life. He has an average job, he has a career-obesessed wife and he has the All-American Surly Teenage daughter. But this soon changes when he spots Angela, the quintessential blonde, a friend of his daughter’s, and starts to lust after her. In perhaps the most famous visual associated with the film, he envisages her lying naked in a pool of rose petals.

From then on he decides to do away with the banal repetitiveness of his life. He quits his job(blackmailing his boss for a fat severance package), starts to work out, and refuses to be pushed around by his wife.But Lester is not the only one with issues. His wife Carolyn(Annette Bening) is a real estate agent trying her best to succeed at her job, only to find her efforts are in vain. She tries to maintain the facade of normalcy and happiness at home. Their daughter Jane has serious self-esteem issues and has been saving her babysitting money since ten “for a boob job”.

She desperately wants to be “pretty like Angela”. Add to this the new neighbours across the street: An Ex-Marine Corps who is obesessive about discipline, a semingly demented wife and their son Ricky, who has a flourishing drug-dealing business and is fresh out of a mental facility.

The film is choc-a-bloc with moments of startling insight. Ricky explaining the reason why he films(seemingly)everyday stuff, Lester starting to feel good about himself after quitting his job, Jane betraying a shadow of a smile after she sees Ricky compulsively filming her, Carolyn’s pathetic efforts to sell a house…….. these scenes are all carried off with a deft touch. They are very much satirical, yet somehow remain deeply sympathetic towards the characters. The quality of Alan Ball’s writing has to be commended here just as much as the obvious quality of Mendes’ vision.

What really is “ordinary” ? How far would one go to escape an “ordinary” life? Can beauty be found in the seemingly plain things of our everyday life? These are just some of the questions raised here. Twice in the film Angela, who desperately wants to be a model, says “The worst thing in life is to be ordinary”. But then we witness later on how insecure and ordinary she really is. There is much irony on display here, as the superbly done climax shows. Without giving out further spoilers, I would just say that this film is highly recommended for everyone.

The acting is of the highest order. Kevin Spacey shows why he is so highly regarded with a virtuoso performance as Lester Burnham, while Annette Bening is pitch-perfect as Carolyn Burnham. The other supporting acts are terrific too, with Wes Bentley standing out as Ricky, the apparent whack-job next door. To think that this was the debut for both writer Alan Ball and director Sam Mendes…… I had previously written about Mendes’ second film “Road To Perdition”, which I had enjoyed immensely, and I must say that my respect for his work has just shot through the roof. Now I’m gonna try and get my hands on “Jarhead” which was his third and latest film, released in 2005. Mendes fans are eagerly waiting for the Christmas release of “Revolutionary Road” in which he reunites the Titanic troika of Leonardo Di Caprio, Kate Winslet and Kathy Bates.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Anita Desai's "In Custody"

I finished three books in the week: old favourite Philip Roth's "The Plot Against America", Anita Desai's "In Custody" and Patricia Highsmith's "Eleven" , a short story collection. More about the other two later, but first, I simply have to write about this luminous work by one of India's finest writers ever.

"In Custody" is about Deven, a lecturer at a Delhi college, whose obviously mediocre and banal existence is changed when he gets an assignment from his friend Murad, who runs an Urdu magazine: To interview Nur, the greatest living Urdu poet, now well past the peak of his powers, living the life of a recluse.

The trials and tribulations which Deven faces while trying to extract something useful from Nur, who is a shadow of the man he used to be; form the crux of the book. But it is really the beautiful exploration of the layers of everyday life that Desai revels in. During the course of this slim novel, there are several passages which make you gasp with recognition, such is the power and accuracy of her vision. Even when dealing with complex and nostalgia-ridden characters like Nur, Desai displays a deftness of touch and a unique, sensitive style which fleshes out the character like few others can do.

The oppression of women and their often "trapped" existence is a peripheral theme in the novel. Whether it is Sarla, Deven's wife or Nur's wives, the female characters in the story act as a sort of a barometer. Sample this simply-told yet devastatingly effective passage

"When he did get home, Sarla was standing in the doorway with her arms and her sari wrapped about her shoulders and her face bent under the thin straggling hair as she talked to a neighbour outside: the picture of an abandoned wife......"

Reading Anita Desai, we are reminded constantly that this could be any of us: the remarkable amount of details she provides; little things really, are sure to provoke a trip down memory lane. Although she has been criticised often on the grounds that plot takes a backseat in most of her books, my view is two-fold:
1) Plot movement is not always manifested in the form of actual, tangible and relevant events. The psychological evolution of a character is equally fascinating, and in the hands of a master(like Desai) perhaps even more so.
2) I couldn't care less either way: If Anita Desai decides to describe her impression of the first fellow she sees on any given day on the street; over the course of a few hundred pages, I would happily devour it.

Perhaps the best way to describe the book is a tragic comedy: seeing the pathetic Deven's futile attempts at relevance, his one shot at glory, one laughs and cries at the same time.My favourite Desai book remains "Baumgartner's Bombay" which is actually not one of her more fancied novels, like "Clear Light Of Day" and "Fasting, Feasting" both of which were shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize(like "In Custody"). But after reading this one, I have to place it a very close second. Am now looking to get my hands on the 1993 Merchant-Ivory film "In Custody"..... it starred Shashi Kapoor, Om Puri and Shabana Azmi......more than enough reasons already!

RIP: David Foster Wallace

Amidst the hustle-bustle of my exams, I skipped past a lot of news...... especially from the literary world. Among them was the suicide of David Foster Wallace, one of my favourite contamporary writers. Wallace's exuberant, massive, immensely erudite postmodern tome"Infinite Jest" remains a one-of-a-kind , a bona fide original in the truest sense of the word.Time Magazine included "Infinite Jest" in its list of the 100 best novels of the 20th century.

Wallace burst on to the literary scene as a precocious 25 year-old with his debut novel "Broom of the System" in 1987 which got him attention as one for the future, but it was with "Infinite Jest" that he became the rockstar of the literary world. With his characteristic flowing hair and his bandana, he cut a very popular figure among young lit-enthusiasts in America and elsewhere.
Writing on such diverse topics as tennis(he was a regional level junior player) , the food and hospitality industry, mathematics and philosophy, his writing is characterized by a quirky, offbeat style, frequent usage of footnotes and esoteric words, and a compulsive, ironic sense of humour. Many of his articles can be found online ; one of my favourite ones is this one about Roger Federer.
You can also check out this interview with Charlie Rose

Wallace suffered from depression for over two decades, and in fact had stopped taking his medication due to severe side effects. David Foster Wallace was 46, an absurdly young age to die. With his death, the literary world has lost one of its most original and brilliant voices.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Abhi Dilli Door Hai!

In the wake of the Sowmya Vishwanathan murder case, I was watching a television interview of Sheila Dikshit, the Chief Minister of Delhi. On being asked her opinion on the whole business, she promptly put on a granny-knows-best expression on her face and replied, "It was pretty late-night,no? Hmmm.... you know these companies who hire young girls, even boys also, they should be responsible for their safety.... after 9-10 in the night(the murder took place after 3!)...they are morally responsible for this.....", and buttoned this with "Especially in a city....which people find to be know...." , and her expression did the rest.

Jaw-droppingly tactless and irresponsible as this statement is, what surprised me was the last part, where she seemed to indicate, "Hey, you and I both know that Delhi is crazy-crap dangerous.....of course you have to look out after yourselves....who do you think will do that for you- the police!?"

Now, I know that crime rates in Delhi have been consistently appalling throughout the past decade, and it has been home to several high-profile murder cases. While talking to my friend Abhishek, a true-blue Delhi guy in every way, I found out that the actual ground reality is much worse than the rest of India perceives it to be. I appreciate that guys like us, spending most of the year at a place like Kharagpur, basically insulated from serious crime, cannot possibly imagine what it feels like to work and live under conditions where you feel perpetually threatened.

But this sort of defeatism, and that too from the Chief Minister, is just not on. When the government starts to shrug and move on, you know you are in trouble. The image of a weary-looking Dikshit, with deadened eyes, facing the media, is not likely to boost the morale of the young professionals working in the capital. One is reminded of these lines from Yeats, through which he indicated the imminent end of Europe's then-ruling class..... they sound eerily relevant.....

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.