Monday, January 19, 2009

A Movie You Must Watch

Only dimwits won't like Chandni Chowk To China. They will go the theatre expecting to watch a Bourne Ultimatum or a Casino Royale, and be greatly disappointed by the buffoonery of Akshay Kumar and come out of the theatre to write bad reviews or spread bad things about the movie. I hope Chandni Chowk To China does not fall victim to negative word-of-mouth publicity, and I don't think it will.

It is a movie that gives you a statutory warning at the very outset: "Take it seriously only at your peril." So if you fail to have fun and come out of the theatre grumbling, it is entirely your fault. The 'serious' viewers and reviewers might also fail to notice that the movie actually makes fun of the standard formulas that have been adopted by Bollywood in the past -- man reuniting with his children after 20 years, a mad man regaining his lost memory after seeing a photograph from his past, the hero seeking revenge, two lost sisters separated by fate being reunited and so on. So much so that the movie is actually a combination of these cliched formulas, yet it is so refreshing. You know what's going to happen next but you are still watching it eagerly, curious about what's going to happen next. That's the magic of Chandni Chow To China.

Go watch it. You won't regret it. Let me put it this way: if you were planning to watch it, go ahead. Don't let the reviews bother you. Most reviewers know zilch, except for my friend Baradwaj Rangan. This morning I was greatly relieved to see him giving three stars to Chandni Chowk To China. Well, it is not for nothing that he won the National Award last year for being the best film critic.

For me, the piece de resistance was the resurrection of Bombay se aaya mera dost, the 1970's song from Aap Ki Khaatir sung by Bappi Lahiri. I got goosebumps when I saw a drunk Akshay Kumar singing, to adrenalin-pumping beats, "India se aaya tera dost..." I think the remixed version is also sung by Bappi Lahiri, though I didn't see his name among the list of singers when the credits started rolling. Maybe he got a special mention and I might have been out of the theatre by then.

I beg you to listen to this energising song. I promise you that it will be great company especially when you are dancing or working out. It will also instantly lift your spirits when you are brooding about bygone days -- that's when the song will hit you like a blast -- literally! -- from the past. It will assure you that when it comes to Bollywood music, three people will never die -- Kishore Kumar, R.D. Burman and Bappi Lahiri. Their genius will be appreciated -- instinctively -- by generation after generation.

Bappi and genius? Did I hear you saying that? Well, in my opinion, he might be a clown, he might be a copycat. But he also gave some damn good original music which cannot find a parallel. The song Chalte chalte is a monument by itself. It is like the India Gate or the Gateway of India, where thousands flock every morning and evening to relive history.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Bob Dylan

And then she said:

"Why don't you pay some attention to the other one as well? Look at it, it is feeling ignored. I treat them equally. I call this Bob, and this is Dylan."

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Eight Years In Chennai

Today, I complete eight years of living in Chennai. Should I be glad at the milestone? Or sad that eight years have passed ever since I set foot on this city on Pongal day in 2001? There is no harm in being a bit of both.

I came here as a 'young man' who had just turned 30 and who, during his visits to online chatrooms in order to make girlfriends, would still cling to the 29-year-old tag, and today, I am preparing myself to cling on to the 39-year-old tag because 40 is approaching fast. Almost a decade has passed! That really makes me sad. But that also makes me glad, because I happened to spend the most decisive decade of my life in Chennai.

This city has given me almost everything that I had dreamt of in life. But then, my dreams were pretty simple: to have a home that is filled with books and music, and enough supply of booze so that I could savour the two. And also a woman who would pander to my ego and make me feel extremely proud of my collection of books and music apart from my virility. Chennai has given me all that and much more, and even though dreams have this nasty habit of expanding their boundaries from time to time, I am pretty much happy with what I have and what I have had.

Chennai also brought me closer to god. When I say god, I mean the conversation you have with yourself when you are sitting in front of the image of Shiva or Krishna. In my case Shiva works. No other city lets you have this conversation. Chennai gives you the time to ponder: maybe that is why they call it a "laid-back" city. It gives you ample time and scope to seek.

Chennai gave me yoga, it gave me Somerset Maugham as well as the Beat writers, it gave me R.D. Burman and Kishore Kumar, it gave me Illayaraja and Rahman (and also Harris Jayaraj), it gave me the art of travelling, it gave Kerala, it gave me ambition, it gave me a wife and, in short, a life. I gave me everything I loved but did not have the time to love.

And what did Delhi, where I also lived for eight years before I came here, give me? Zilch. My entire day would revolve around the happenings at 11, Ashoka Road, the headquarters of the BJP. It was my job to report on BJP for the paper I worked for. Afternoon after afternoon, I would be breaking my head to find an exclusive story. My boss, the hard-to-please M.J. Akbar, would not consider copies made out of press briefings or press notes as worthwhile contributions from a reporter. He was a terrorist-editor. I knew if I could survive his temper, I could survive anywhere.

Chennai was a cakewalk. I no longer had to chase politicians or sit through Parliament sessions to ensure my bread and butter. I gladly discarded the false sense of importance that a Delhi reporter tends to assume because of the so-called proximity to ministers and politicians and chose to be reborn as the 'new journalist' -- the one who wanted to be recognised by his wordsmithery and his ability to reach out to the readers. That reminds me: Chennai also gave me a blog. Had I remained in Delhi, I would have been one of the rats in the race, constantly needled by the prosperity of my colleague or neighbour. I would have been wrestling with my finances to pay EMI for a house and a car instead of wrestling with words to think of titles of unwritten books dancing inside my head.

Nothing wrong in being materialistic. But there is a special quality about Chennai: it's simplicity. This is the only city where a Rs-500 pair of Bata chappals finds as much respect as a pair of Bally shoes costing Rs 25,000. So every time you get worked up about not doing well enough in life, the city nudges you and tells you: "Relax, there is more to life than you think there is. Go, explore those things."