Soggy Old Cocktail

I wanted to go watch the movie Cocktail. It looked fun and was supposed to chilled out like Dil Chahta Hai, which was honestly the last good chilled out movie that Bollywood came up with.

And then the reviews started pouring in. The top review sites said the movie was awesome. That gave me a pause. And then Firstpost took the offensive and slammed the movie in 2-page long review.

I still haven’t seen the movie. But my trending list has been throwing up several articles, all similar in tone to, well, the FirstPost.

“Deepika Padukone’s character is portrayed the way vamps were in the 80s,” the article read. And then went to derail the entire movie. A friend who watched the movie said he would’ve rather spent an hour at home and watched one of the million teleserials and it would pretty much be the same thing.

Flash news, he claimed, you know the ending the minute you see Deepika Padukone come and screen and you can walk out the minute she runs into ‘the other girl’. Good girl. Bad girl. Roles defined.

I haven’t yet seen the movie, so I probably have no right to comment. But do we really want to see such a movie where the ‘bad’ girl gets kicked in her-too-late-sari-clad-ass everytime?

Every movie that has been touted as awesome has the same old cliched stuff. Somehow, Bipasha Basu’s Corporate comes to mind. So the woman’s a hot shot business executive, but then she pays the price by going to prison (almost).

Why can’t we make a movie without the moral judgement? Where a woman is a woman, regardless of what she wears or if she smokes or drinks, and the guy is a guy, regardless of how many buttons are open on his shirt. And the ending is not really decided by the fact the girl wears a salwar or a short skirt.

But then, I’m told this movie is a hit.

It is a little worrying.

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SpiderMan Reborn – Again

How many times has Spiderman been redone?

I went to the theatre expecting Part 4 of the Spiderman Series. It was not a planned movie outing… and we were quite surprised to get tickets to the movie 5 minutes before it was supposed to start.

It took us about 15 minutes to realise that we were watching the movie all over again. We know what happens, how it happens and that Spiderman will not die.

Sometimes, if done right, it can be fun to see a movie which you already have seen.

Andrew Garfield makes a much more interesting Spiderman than Tobey Maguire (sorry to all the Maguire fans but as brilliant an actor he is, as Spiderman, he was just plain annoying. Scaredy cat!)

The story makes a much stronger case for Spiderman’s background, positioning him right to be bitten, attacked and all that which follows. He looks young, acts young and feels young, without being too dorky, which feels fun.

Of course, there are always creative liberties taken with such movies. So traditional Spiderman fans will be disappointed with little changes – the lack of Osborne as the bad guy (yet), Green Goblin as a big lizard, MJ as Gwen etc.

Perhaps this is a reflection of the times we live in, but the director humanizes Spiderman but not in a bad way. Of course he gets super powers, but he can be injured and he does get injured quite often, quite badly. And a bad guy who can regenerates parts and is somehow still human is a lot more evil than the green goblin in the previous versions (who was quite chilling and cool too).

What’s so Amazing about this Spiderman? The feel of the movie… and a much more interesting cast (of course, that’s very personal – I hated both Kirsten Dunst and Tobey Maguire… weepy, sad and fit for an elizabethan morose movie)

Rafa

I finally finished reading ‘Rafa’ – the semi-autobiography of Rafael Nadal. This was a book I had expected to get through in one sitting, but it took me almost a week to get through it. And at the end of it, I get the feeling that there is something missing still.

Little history – I’m not a huge fan of tennis. I’ve probably watched a few matches but through the decades, there has always been one player that captured my imagination. This could be after they had retired or while they were just budding… but while the entire world around me was supporting Federer, I was rooting for Nadal. Was it just the underdog issue or just his playing style, I don’t know. As I said, I can’t really speak much about tennis and styles.

But I was curious about his autobio. Well, co-authored autobio. It struck me as a little arrogant to write your story when the story is still going on, professionally at least. And it went against everything that I did know about Rafa, which is he is intensely private etc.

The book seemed clinical. The story is told in fits and starts and never gets a feel of a ‘story’. It reads like a scorecard and I saw more passion on court than in the story. The book, unfortunately ends just when the flow starts.

A biography of any sort takes you into the heart of a story. There is drama, there is comedy and there is honesty. I loved Andre Agassi book, even with all its references to tennis and the matches and the hate of the game.

I cannot put my finger on what exactly went wrong with Rafa’s book but I guess I’m not going to reading anything more about him anytime soon.

***

To continue on the same note about biographies, what makes one better than the other? Everyone has a story, some just tell it better than the others.

The first biography I ever read was about Katherine Hepburn. Not Audrey Hepburn. It read like a novel, rich in drama, flair and comedy. I was completely drawn in by the book, even though I had no idea who Katherine Hepburn was.

There have been very few books that have made such an impact since then.

Scar Tissue (RHCP); The Diary of Anne Frank (Which is in a genre of its own, actually); I know Why Caged Birds Sing (Maya Angelou) are some…

 

The Government is Watching You Watch Bad Programs

I was watching ‘American Pie’ on TV last night… the movie was the first movie I ever watched with a lot of cuss words and funny sex and all that. Of course, I watched it on my computer without my parents really knowing, because I wasn’t really sure if they would approve or not.

A few years later, I watched a rerun on TV happily, knowing my parents wouldn’t really fuss about it.

But watching it last night on TV was like the parents had already gotten to the movie and deleted not only every single swear word, but also words like ‘sex’, ‘dick’ and its synonyms that were used in the movie.

What is happening with Indian television? We still use vats of glycerin on TV, with women decked up more than an average Christmas tree boohooing about their in-laws, husbands who are having affairs or missing children. We have Hindi movies that swear like a local hooligan on the Delhi metro.

And they bother censoring words like ‘sex’? And not just censoring, they subtitle it as ‘making love’ every time, if they absolutely have to. And they do not dare subtitle the word ‘ass’ as ‘ass’. They say ‘buttocks’ or something even more stupid.

REALLY?!?!?!?!?!?!??!?!? That is supposed to clean up our language and save our culture? What exactly is the point of such censorship? And why has this gone unnoticed so long?

They sneaked up on us… They changed content. And then there was that horrible black line “If you have a problem with the content…” and then all the offending words just disappeared from TV.

In the age of cable, everyone has the freedom to watch what they want. Parents can install child locks on TV, they can give open access to only certain kinds of programs to their horny teenagers who will get sooooo worked up by even hearing the word sex or seeing people exchange a quick peck on TV. Who the hell is the government to censor what I want to watch?!

Cindrella in the 21th century

The second year of college we had literary criticism. Here is where you take a poem or a story or any piece of literary material written at least 50 years ago and then try to analyze why the author wrote what he/she did. We try to attribute reasons to the name of the character, the gesture and more.

Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness” has been permanently etched in my mind through these discussions.

Long before that though, someone gifted me a book (whose name eludes me right now) that had modern fairytales with strong women and critical analyses of some old fairytales, like Little Red Riding Hood.

When I read that story as a kid, I never questioned the male and female roles in it. I never felt offended as a girl because the girl got swallowed by a wolf. I read Cindrella and Snow White and enjoyed it and never thought of it as being demeaning to women. I still do not.

Perhaps our cultural roles are defined as children. But how far should we take the analyses of such fairy tales?

There was a lesson in one of my text books in third grade. It read “Kamala helped her mom in the kitchen. Raju helped his dad in the garden.” That was probably more defining of gender roles and had a subconscious effect, if any. Because these roles were enforced by the teachers teaching them. They used this as a prelude to a lecture about how girls and boys were supposed to behave.

But reading Cindrella, or its Indian equivalent of Suryakanthi, Snow White, Little Red Riding Hood or any of these classics had no role in defining gender roles for me.

A book I was reading today said Enid Blyton was racist. Because his books do not talk about brown or black people. They are all about blond and blue-eyed children and their adventure.

When I read The Famous Five, I wasn’t thinking about White or Black. I was thinking ‘o I wish I could have a similar club and be a detective’. The concept of discrimination comes from adults. Blyton’s books were written in the 19th century when immigration and intermingling was not as widely spread as today. She wrote about people around her. It becomes racist only if we make it so.

And if you can make anything racist that way… take Harry Potter for instance. The Indian characters there are shown as gaudy and frivolous with their pink fluffy gowns and ribbons. Should I be offended because of that? Should I be offended that a brown man is shown as a joker in most movies? Or when a Hollywood movie says the world will be destroyed, they usually show only New York or sometimes, Chicago?

Literature does have a role in shaping ideas. But how much does children’s literature shape one’s gender roles? Do children really think about it or do we plant these ideas into their heads as adults? Do we plant these ideas in children by quoting these fictional characters as examples for some thing? And did you believe that Prince Charming existed by reading Cindrella or by reading Mills&Boons novels?

Why can’t we let children’s books be just that?

Dirty Picture

Every now and then comes a movie that changes your perspective of someone who was alive, replacing that actual person in your head with the person who played the character. The movie makes you think, even as it makes you laugh.

Dirty Picture is one such movie. In the case of Vidya Balan, the second such movie. After Ishqiya, I cannot recall any other movie that has such an impact.

Did Silk Smitha live her life with the same careless attitude and rush that Vidya Balan portrayed? Did she score her roles through the casting couch? Did so many men influence her life or did she really forge the path she wanted by using whatever means was available to her?

My memories of Silk Smitha are vague. Not being a horny teenage boy in need for material, my interactions with her were restricted to recollections of adults discussing her latest movie. Then cable came and there were far more interesting, frothy Hindi movies to look forward to and the dusky actress never really made it into my living room.

Balan wears so many faces that it is hard to keep track of who she really is. The innocence of her face belies the sexiness of her body. The movie literally takes us through the years, as Balan puts on more weight, gains the look of someone depressed and addicted to alcohol and we never realise who the old Silk was till the movie gives us a quick and ruthless flashback.

Silk is perhaps the story of many women in the entertainment industry. Even if they were telling just the story of a single woman, there are so many truths through the movie.

Sex sells like nothing else does. (Else Katrina Kaif wouldn’t be a ‘star’ today, among others). Movies have one reason only – entertainment. True, there are intelligent movies, arty movies and all that. But majority of the movies are made to entertain. To make people forget what’s outside. To create a fantasy. And who better to create a fantasy than a woman with luscious curves?

Was she a victim or a champion? Even through her tantrums and diva-like attitude, Balan manages to keep you charmed and rooting for her through the movie. She changes so many faces… every nuance is calculated and poised for impact. Here is an actress who sinks into the role so deep that it is hard to differentiate the character from the actress.

The supporting cast seems rather demure and faded, even Naseruddin Shah. Or maybe Balan just overshadows them all. Surprisingly, it is Emraan Hashmi who has the most dignified role and carries it off with more elan than Tussar Kapoor in his polo neck shirts. Of course, it guess it would be bad PR for him if he didn’t manage to get a role even in his sister’s movie.

The questions in the movie are haunting… was Silk a true feminist? Or just a depressed female trying to live her life the best way possible. Of course, as the movie says, today’s shame is tomorrow’s hero. But the movie seems to portray her more of a hero.

It brings to mind a line I’d read in a book. “She was given three minutes onscreen and told to sell sex. She sold buckets of it.”

***

A friend wondered if Balan can actually make a comeback after this movie. Her weight gain, all the exposure and such.

Indian audiences are still quite hypocritical. They have grown to accept lead actress stripping for an item number but are they mature enough to see so much skin and then see her covered up and in another role again? Or will this be her defining moment?

We pretend to be respectable and honest, while what we really like to see is the other side. Is there more space for true actresses like Vidya Balan in our generation? The intelligent actress?

There are very few women in the industry who can carry off an entire movie by themselves. And she is one of them. Actually, I cannot recall another actress of this generation who can do that. Nope, not the Katrina Kaifs and Kareena Kapoors of this world. Nor Priyanka Chopra. But for most part, this is still a  male-dominated industry.

Female leads ‘retire’ after marriage. 44 year old men continue to play young boys. Comebacks of 40 year old women are scorned as leads, while men can make a comeback as a lead at any time. Movies are written for the men at any age, while the women are relegated to the background.

Even Hema Malini, who was supposed to be the queen, hasn’t managed a comeback. Or Sridevi. Or Madhuri Dixit, though I personally loved Aaja Nachle.

I certainly hope Balan can reinvent herself yet again. Would definitely want to see more interesting cinema.

Reading Lolita in Tehran

Today’s post was supposed to be about Steve Jobs and how the internet has hurried up the speed of everything, including the time period it took for the eulogies to move onto the bad parts of the person.

But then I got hooked into reading Reading Lolita in Tehran. I’d long avoided the book… I’d never read Lolita, because I picked up soon after I read a book by Marquez and was a little tired of old men and young girls. (Yes, horrible conceptions, I know!)

I like most of my books to have happy endings or a vaguely happy ending, like To Kill A Mockingbird or even Catcher In The Rye. And Reading Lolita… did not seem to have any of those aspects.

But the book just draws you in with the mere quality of its writing. Phrases that continue to haunt you long after you’ve turned the page that you are just compelled to go back to savor the statement and try to imagine it in various ways.

It gets more disturbing… more compelling halfway through the book. Images of Iran’s revolution, bloody universities and imposing a veil over the country – an act that be interpreted as a literal act of throwing a black cloth over the culture and the beauty of the entire region.

My first brush with the Iranian revolution was when I was 15. I was reading a book – the title I barely remember now – about a love story set in the backdrop of the revolution in Tehran. It was in an university, as they are the hotbeds of both revolution and romance, and it was forbidden. The book was more of a political commentary about two individual viewpoints that are supposed to co-exist but actually end up hating each other.

Of course, at the age of 15, I heard only the burning buildings and the murders and the gore.

I met a number of Iranians in college, all of whom seemed to be so affluent and absolutely removed from the trouble ‘back home’. They proclaimed themselves to be non-religious… infact, the only sign of turmoil was a caption signed on a peace campaign – Save Iran! Stop the fighting!

I was not even aware that there were Iranians and all that political turmoil was something that was ongoing. The world was focussed more on Iraq and its fight with the U.S.

Every country has a bloody history and I guess Iran is undergoing that now. But as I read RLT, what disturbs me is the volte-face the country has taken in terms of its stand on Islam. The radical interpretations of Islam, imposing the veil on women and… does it only get worse from there? Is it wear the veil today and stop driving and voting tomorrow?

The world has ways to go to really accept women as equals… as people who are capable of things more than cooking and raising a child – two REALLY difficult acts, btw.

But what would one do if the liberties we take for granted are taken away? The liberty to wear what I choose, when I choose and walk down the street without being hassled by ‘moral police’. That every little act is interpreted as a possible disturbance to peace, as the author says.

Do we women really have so much power that just by the image of a strand of hair or exposing a partial wrist we can incite people to wars and furies? Are these the same people that are thought capable of not having the intelligence to do anything more than cook and bear kids? 

These statements seem funny… and yet hold a particular kind of horror. Horror that there are people – both men and women – who believe in this.

Mr.Bahri is a particularly interesting character in the book. I wonder how often one has heard his statement – ‘there are better issues to focus on right now than a woman being mistreated.’

What is a better issue? Wars? The environment? Perhaps. But how can we win battles with one whole segment of the population locked away, without having a say? Particularly in a place like Iran, where every person’s voice in important, if women are not allowed to come out, to have a say, where is the revolution?