Saturday, September 26, 2015

The Trip to Kochi

Have you heard of Santa Cruz? There’s a Santa Cruz in California, USA, and there is a Santa Cruz in Bombay. It means “holy cross,” and true to this statement the inhabitants of Santa Cruz, Bombay, are Catholics. It’s an important suburb because Bombay’s domestic airport is situated here. It’s a small place accessed by the Western Express Highway, fronted by the Hotel Centaur. I am travelling to Santa Cruz to board a flight to Kerala, my home state.

On the way I pass the area of my childhood, where I grew up, Chembur. Chembur is also a small suburb on the east side of Bombay, where pollution is high level because of the smoke-belching fertiliser and petrochemical factories. The place I lived in Chembur is called Tilak Nagar, and in those days, it was called Township Colony, which was built to house low-income group migrants who worked mainly in factories in shifts.

Chembur was a violent neighbourhood in those days and is even now. Boys here banded together into gangs for protection. The people who gained notoriety were a twinkle-eyed mischievous boy who grew up to be a super star of the Hindi screen. Another, disreputable boy, grew up to be called the “don” of the city, the underworld lord. He has converted the area into high rises that grow dizzyingly like medieval castles in the sky. It was about these people about whom my mind was occupied with when I rode the taxi to my destination, as our thoughts generally dwell on those people who become talked about, or written about.

Among the children of my generation six have died among which two were suicides. I can’t explain here why pleasant and fun-filled friends of my youth took their own lives. But, when life deals a blow, we can’t do anything about it. The less resourceful end their life, rather than face realities, and make adjustments. The more resourceful – like me – carry on regardless of all the hurts and humiliations. Sigh!

A profusion of highways, flyovers, special lanes, later I am at the airport. I say good morning to the hostess at the airline counter and she smiles back brightly. Done! My day is made! See, after all, I am a man of simple pleasures, and I have a soft spot for ground/air hostesses after seeing this video. (We all want something like that happen to us in real life, don’t we?) But there is need for caution. There are huge Punjabi hunks in lehenga-kurtas lumbering around the departure lounge sharpening their upward-pointed handlebar moustaches. What if they say, “whai didju flirtu with my Punjabi kudi?” Almost, as if expecting this, I twiddle with my own upward-pointed handlebar above my upper lip, though I don’t succeed in showing the malevolence (huh?) of their “Punjab da putr (son of Punjab)” appearance. Never mind.

At Santa Cruz, note: my downturned mustache!
I remember a time when there were no security checks at airports. Can’t believe it? Better believe it. You breezed in collected your boarding pass and passed straight to the aircraft. The terminals were big vacuous places where a few chairs were placed, not many, and after a flight departed there was a gap of a few hours for the next to take off. Nowadays an airport terminal is frenzied place, there are flights landing every few minutes, when the other is ready to take off. And there are people of all types milling around, and, like in a Bombay local train, you consider yourself lucky if you get a place to sit down.

And almost every second person in the flight to Chandigarh is a young luscious lass, in tottering high heels, a curvaceous delight to watch. I know I shouldn’t say this because of the lumbering Punjabis blocking the exits by their show of macho scratching of private areas. The girls are all clutching copies of Vogue and Elle which contain articles such as “20 way to ditch your boyfriend,” “50 ways to remove blackheads,” and nothing more profound, at the very best, than, “10 ways to cook tiramisu.” Which is profound indeed at their age. Oh the vanity of it all, the mundaneness of it all.

Flashy mobile phones, tabs, computers, are everywhere. One girl sitting opposite me, drop-dead gorgeous, is tapping into her Apple MacAir laptop and hardly gazing up from it, even to see if her flight has taken off. It makes me wonder if she likes sitting in airport waiting rooms, doing this all day. I can’t understand this obsession with being connected, and, communicating nothing. I maybe in her friend group on Facebook, who knows? I click a few selfies, though (the wordprocessor suggests “selfish,” which, incidentally, is what it is.)

At last, my flight arrives and a few shoulder pushes and elbowing later, I am safely into my seat, a window seat. You know, we southies are a conservative lot, so no babes holding Vogue and Elle in our plane, just plain Janes wearing saris and sandalwood paste on their foreheads. Hm. I watch as the plane taxies and takes off, one of the most pleasant experiences in my life. The roofs of Bombay are all blue from the plastic stretched on roofs for protection from rain. Then the clouds take over, their shapes like rising hills, valleys, umbrellas, sails, whorls, petals, ghost towns, and stalactites. A sense of déjà vu strikes only then and I lean back for a short nap till I reach Kochi, my destination.

Thursday, September 10, 2015


 The shocking Sheena Bora murder case has familiarised us into the world of corporate femme fatales. You, of course, know who I am talking about. These are girls who come from less privileged homes, wanting to make it big in corporations, at whatever costs. I have had a few experiences about such types, meaning not personally, but to observe from close quarters what happens when sex enters plush corporate cabins, when power corrupts inhabitants of the rarefied realm. I won’t mention names here, for obvious reasons. But, believe me every organisation has a history of a string of dalliances, which have sometimes gone horribly wrong.

The protagonist in our case, an attractive young woman, comes to work in an organisation and soon the boss is besotted by her. She can’t do anything wrong, or, so the boss says. She slowly builds the relationship, goes out for lunches and dinners and attends corporate events with him. The boss maybe sexually frustrated in his marriage, which could be the golden opportunity the femme fatale knows and wants. She offers the clichéd shoulder to cry on and soon it’s the lap that is available. She thus blackmails her way up the hierarchical order, rather ruthlessly eliminating other contenders. Then it could be anything, a “girl friend” or a “wife” tag for her, even Chief Executive Officer (CEO). If she is very smart she becomes a wife, and if she is less talented she becomes a “girl friend,” of the top boss. This brings added power to her position. She becomes a femme fatale, ruthless with underlings, ruthless with the customers. Sometimes, in this way she crosses the line of propriety, but may be corrected by the boss at a high cost and loss of talent.

She takes advantage of the fact that her boss can’t reprimand her. She has manipulated him to such an extent. She can make all policies in the organisation, even if they are ill-advised. She can persuade people to do illegal acts which the employee does out of the need to keep the job. They would do anything to please her, even stand on their heads. She becomes a bit reckless seeing all the power that accrues to her with no great effort from her part. That’s when the downfall begins, the cookies start to crumble.

There is no way you can survive in an organisation if you are in her bad books. Sooner than later she will be at your throat and will see that you leave. It’s better to leave before she can hound you out. I myself was at the receiving side from such a femme fatale. She took huge amounts of the company’s money home, ill-treated her staff, fired many talented employees and made the boss (the managing director) into a puppet. Again no names.

When sex enters the boardroom, it’s a bad sign. My novel “Mr. Bandookwala, M.B.A., Harvard” deals with this aspect. The managing director of Pinnacle Constructions is in a relationship with the head of human resource, and, he can see no fault in what she does, which leads to disaster. Anyways can’t reveal much of the plot here, so have a look at the story outline here.

Thursday, September 03, 2015

Movie Review: Gour Hari Dastaan

Director: Ananth Narayan Mahadevan

I am writing this as a film aficionado, a lover of quality films. I haven’t written many film reviews, but am attempting this to bring here the experience of watching the movie, which, to my mind, was a significant experience. In my earlier days, I used to be a lover of good films and have seen the best film-makers from Fellini, Kurosawa, Ray, Irving Stone, Majid Majidi to Indian film-makers like Adoor Gopalakrishnan, Aravindan, Mrinal sen, Muzzafar Ali, and such like. As a person with literary aspirations these films and the subjects on which they were made triggered in me a hunger to know more about people, their lives. I used to go in search of good films when they were playing in the city. In those days there was the AIR auditorium which used to exhibit the best films culled from around the world and I used to be a constant presence in their shows.

But over the years I have become disillusioned by Hindi cinema and have stayed away completely from it. It’s loud, it’s badly sound engineered, the lighting is too harsh, the plots are hackneyed and the script lacks ingenuity. Even films that are hailed as art films haven’t risen above dramatic influences and never have scaled the rungs of cinematic medium.

Disclosure: Ananth Narayan Mahadeven and I have worked in the same organisation, but we have never met. Later, I met him online and we became virtual friends on Facebook. At that time I was recruited as his replacement in a publishing organisation and, sadly, I turned out to be a poor replacement. My boss would praise him too much, proving his talents in from those formative years.
So I am all excited as I sit in the hall waiting for the ads to finish and the film to begin. This is the first film of Mahadevan that I am watching I don’t know if he, the director, would live up to my expectations. It has a dark foreboding opening. The sub titles in English were an advantage in that I could understand the film better. What followed, I confess, wasn’t disappointment but one of my truly good cinematic experiences, excelling in all aspects of film making like acting, sound, music, lighting, et al.

It is to Mahadevan’s credit that he has put together such a talented team and inspired them to perform. Sometimes directors can be control freaks who would psyche even good actors to give their worst performances. Mahadevan’s control over the narrative was apparent from the opening shot. Slumdog Millionaire won Oscars but was a hotch potch of a film. This one is many times better in that it deals with an epoch and in a way that is both sensitive and nostalgic. Towards the end, I was moved to tears. I don’t know if this is because I am sentimental these days or because what I saw in the movie moved me to tears.

The film deals with Das in his entirety, his fight for recognition as a freedom fighter, his approaching Alzheimer, his disappointments dragging him into a secluded chasm of his mind. The very act of visiting several government offices with their petty politics can be nerve wracking to any ordinary citizen. Perhaps, this according to detractors of the director could be the film’s flaw, but in dealing with the whole personality of Gour Hari this is integral to the plot. Gour Hari emerges as a hero. He even clings to his post as secretary of the housing society – despite criticism - to prove a point. To make a film on a living person’s life and not to fall prey to clichés is a wonderful achievement. Credit should also go to novelist and poet CP Surendran’s scripting skills, realistic portrayal of characters, which makes a big difference to the authenticity of the film.

It’s a mark of Indian society that we do not allow talented people to rise above petty feuding. That’s why even a Night Shyamalan would have remained a maker of corporate films and ad films in our society. So the bad press the film has received from some quarters is demeaning and is a shame on us. Elsewhere Mahadevan would have been praised and given his due among the greats of cinema. I am going as far as to suggest that it be sent to the Oscars.

Vinay Phatak shines as Gour Hari. He gives that extra feeling to the character with some under-stated acting. It’s obvious that he is giving the role everything and his talent holds a candle to and exceeds that of many other character actors in Hindi films. Matching his elegance is Ranvir Shorey as the newspaper journalist who champions his cause. Ranvir, hair carelessly tousled, lives the part of a journalist. I don’t know the dusky girl who plays his side-kick but she also does a commendable job. 

Sen’s role is deglamourised but she compensates with talent and involvement. She doesn’t use make-up and it’s towards the end when she lets it fly at the housing society members that the full power of her acting unleashes and the shakti in her as a woman is palpable. She is a remarkable presence throughout the film, acting vulnerable and strong as the situation demands.

Resul Pookutty displays his excellent skills as sound designer. The film is a sound and music aficionado’s delight, even each guitar chord can be delineated from the sound track. When Gour Hari’s son strums his long-neglected guitar, the string breaks, and the sound reverberates in the silent movie theatre. I have had some experience in this aspect. One night a string on my guitar broke and I was aroused in shock from deep sleep by the echoing sound, a loud twang in the night’s silence. Just the act of thinking about a guitar and building it into the plot is an act of genius, according to me.
The film has its light moments, too, in the form of the official (Satish Kaushik) asking if Orissa is in Bengal. When Gour Hari goes to meet the MLA the security man played by Bharat Dhabolkar asks his name and he says he is Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. Dabolkar’s character may not even know who Gandhi is, so with a dead pan expression on his face he announces Gour Hari as Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi.

I have heard it said in interviews with great icons of cinema that it is important to see that a “set should not look lit.” Hindi films just ignore this aspect of lighting sets. For them the set must dazzle with a hundred blazing lights with the result that the characters’ expressions are lost. In outdoor scenes there are a hundred reflectors and the eyes hurt to look at the screen. It’s a wonderful example of Mahadevan’s talent that he hasn’t resorted to over-lighting like other Hindi directors. I think other directors should learn from him.

All said and done, a finely crafted film, a beautifully construed and written film, a film that should go into the annals of Indian film making as another milestone. If I was a juror I would nominate it to go to the Oscars and would wish Vinay Phatak, or, Konkona Sen to win the award for best actor and Mahadevan for best director in the foreign films category.