Friday, February 25, 2011

Mirror, Mirror on the wall, Who’s the fairest of us all?

Oh yes, this is one of the innumerable posts that lament the Indian obsession with all things white and pure or to put it more squarely – with “fair” skin!

It is chronic – this flaxen mania. From pregnant women forced saffron or kesar down their throats so that they give birth to vanilla babies, never mind the dark genes that run in the family – to nauseating matrimonial advertisements wherein a “fair” alliance is sought - gori is often written in brackets for most of these ads up north (of India) to explicitly state that they are not looking at any other kind of fairness in the wife-to-be.

Thanks to Fair and Lovely, white skin soon became the sure shot route to success in all aspects of life for a girl – career included. Recall the ads where a girl could become an air hostess, doctor, businessman, model, dancer etc. just by lightening her complexion (and as if that is possible)!
In this age of equality how could the double X chromosome warriors be left behind, and thus heralded the age of Fair and Handsome – brutally murdering the Mills & Boons romance of the tall, dark and handsome knight!

What irks me the most is the hypocrisy of the people advertising for these products. What about all the tall claims that beauty is not skin deep and dusky being in?
I was extremely disappointed when SRK, John Abraham and Shahid Kapoor signed endorsements for skin-whitening creams and lotions. If supposedly educated and influential people do not take any personal responsibility towards changing the dysfunctional social mindsets, how is a change in the positive direction to come about?
In this regard, the news article here about Ranbir Kapoor refusing to do a fairness ad campaign was heartening, even if I am not sure if he’s actually taking a stance or if this is just a publicity gimmick or if there is a time/price issue involved.

This is not just about endorsing colas or clothing, this is about endorsing biases, and irrespective of how indecent is the amount you are offered, "colorism" or racism/bias based on color of skin is something we need to stand against!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Darrrling…7th khoon kaunsa tha?

Yes, before I get into commenting on the movie, I really want to know which was the seventh murder or sin that is referred to in the title - the intermission (after 3 husbands) says “4 more to go” and yet the second half shows only 3 kills! I am not exactly dumb but a little confused here...
At the risk of spoiling the plot a wee bit for those yet to watch the movie – 6 husbands are murdered. The seventh husband is Christ but he is not a victim as such – so not Suzanna’s sin really – Then does she kill herself – is suicide the seventh sin she confesses to? Or is the director just trying to be a smart aleck leaving the audience with a talking point!

Those who have watched the movie, please care to explain and those who haven’t please care to watch and then care to explain :D. Why should I be the only one losing on my Sunday peace?

7 Khoon Maaf is sort of a black comedy that charts the lethal pursuit of love by the main protagonist – Suzanna. While she has the option to step out of the relationship in each of her marriages, she chooses the more macabre way to end her woes – murder of the husbands. Priyanka Chopra is compelling in her portrayal as the psychotic dame with blood on her lips – disillusioned in marriage, hopeful in her cheery optimism, and dexterous in the execution of the murders.

The director has been largely successful in making a film that is shrouded in macabre from the beginning to the end. The excellent camera work is a must-mention!

The dialogues bring out the shades of grey in each character fairly well and in a sense lead you to the fatalistic finality of the dark plot that Ruskin Bond has quite eerily put together. Having said that, the first half remains more engaging and racy than the second.

All the men have done a good job in giving Suzanna the key motives for murder – fine performances.

The background score fits well with the morbid theme providing the audience with that creepy anticipation; and the hugely popular Darrling is so apt and addictive! (I just can’t get over it. YouTube link here)

What of course is lacking in the movie is the fact that it remains hugely unconvincing as far as the story telling goes – the ready availability of accomplices, the all too obvious traps planted – and the whole logic that a single woman would be wedded to the choicest of scoundrels in one lifetime is a little skewed!
Thus, making the movie a could-be-super-engaging blood thriller - but nor does it fall to the depths of an insipid mediocre flick. This one’s quite deftly crafted and though is bone-chilling only in parts, it is watchable.

If this movie is not a crowd puller, blame the orthodox Indian masses. 7 Khoon Maaf does not cater to any of the regular expectations that the audience have from a Bollywood release. It does not try to engage the emotions of the viewers – it leaves you out in the cold – the horror unnerves you but there is no overt attempt at evocation of feelings of empathy or sympathy.
In that sense, there is no realism – there is an emotional disconnect, which lets you watch and appreciate the story at a creative, fictional distance.

(Image source: Google Images)

Friday, February 18, 2011

Destination India!

Here goes the context: Vish was asked by someone he knows to provide a few travel tips for a trip in February to India, Chennai specifically. This person is an American and this was his first expedition ever to India.

So when we got down to putting some tips together we decided to omit the most common ones that Google would throw up or any other site on India would provide.

I thought of sharing the tips here. We based most, in fact all of these, on what we have observed during our conversations with people from other countries and what we have personally experienced when travelling back and forth.

  • If this is your first trip to India, be warned - you shall be stared at with no particular intention to harm you or make you uncomfortable. Most Indians can get very inquisitive of "foreigners". So take all the attention with a pinch of salt. As far as regional security goes, it is extremely safe, so no worries on that front.
  • Mentally brace yourself for crowds. The population within the metro area of Chennai is over 6.5 million people (No. 32 in the world in terms of population in metro areas). So, you'll know exactly what I am talking about when you get out of the airport - people, people, and more people. Embrace yourself for a "noisy" welcome - most places, and more so the airport and outside are exceptionally noisy when compared to most American states. No solution for this one :). It might be a bit draining at first but you will get used to it.
  • Be careful with the food. Spicy means really spicy - Ensure that when you place the order, you specify your tolerance level for spice and chilies and any food allergies that you might have.
  • Most American brands, when it comes to daily food, clothes etc., are available here in the malls, so don't bother too much with stacking up too many stand by options from home.
  • If you plan to do a lot of sightseeing and traveling (which ideally you must if you have the time - there are some great historic and culturally significant places around and Feb is a reasonably okay time to explore the city), it would be a good idea to keep a mosquito repellent cream and disinfectant cleansing solution handy at all times. You can buy them locally in India if you are not too particular about a specific brand. I recommend Mahabalipuram, Dakshinchitra and Pondicherry if you get the time.
  • You have to take advantage of the numerous beach side resorts on the East Coast Road (ECR) if you get the time. Suggested resorts are Fisherman's Cove, GRT. Secluded beaches and a lot of amenities provided. The beaches in the city are way too crowded.
  • As with most developing economies, infrastructure is always the slowest to keep pace with the development, hence you will see construction everywhere - houses, roads, flyovers and metro rail. Therefore, the dust and pollution level in India in general and in Chennai, in particular, are very high - ensure you travel in a closed vehicle. You might experience watering and reddening of the eyes - It would be good to keep eye-irritation relief solution in hand all the time in addition to any anti-allergens that you take. Also traffic jams everywhere so you will have a lot of time to observe all the mayhem around you. ;)
  • Traffic rules are non-existent so watch it when you are walking around the streets. (Welcome to the civilized world!)
  • Sadly, the huge rich-poor divide ensures that there are always people out there to waiting to make a fast buck off tourists; the general impression being that anybody white has a lot of money to spare! Ensure that you know the general rates of autos (3- wheeled rides not advisable to take), taxis (call taxi service is readily available) before hand so that you can negotiate fares before the ride - it's good to go to fixed-rate shops, or take a local along for shopping when going to touristy small markets. Gratuity is NOT a must but if you feel you got good service its fine. Most people expect to be tipped from foreigners but you are under no obligation to pay.
  • The best places to get a drink are the numerous hotels in the city which have their own lounge bars. I recommend The Park, Zaras Tapas Bar, and Taj Connemara for a few. The Park especially is in the heart of the city (located close to the US consulate) and is the watering hole for a lot of expats.
  • Thankfully, in Chennai most people do understand English but not so much the American accent - It would be a good idea to speak slowly and loudly to get your point across.

That was our rather exhaustive list! Let me know your take. What would you add? What would you let go?

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Patiala House: Enter at your own risk!

So I didn’t go to Patiala House with any great expectations, especially after having been subjected to Tees Maar Khan - I was not even sure why I was in for gambling my Sunday morning. Aah, the remorse that hindsight brings!

Let me start this one objectively.

Music is an easy one to comment on - I loved the Punjabi feel to the songs with the title number being my favorite of course! However, not too much to write home about. Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy have done better stuff, haven’t they?

About the performances: Akshay tries hard but is a little unconvincing as the spineless Gattu who has brushed his dreams under the carpet to follow the diktats of his dad to the T. Anushka Sharma is wonderfully fresh as the gori Simran who brings in a ray of hope for change in the dictator’s set-up. Rishi Kapoor’s fantastic as the tyrannical man of the house, the biased Sikh who cannot erase from memory the racist attacks during his initial years in South Hall, the pind of England. The rest of the ensemble including Dimple Kapadia (who sadly for her caliber gets just one dialogue) has done a reasonably good job as the frustrated yet fiery lot of Patiala House. Kudos to them!

Ok, then, what exactly is wrong with Patiala House – The pace for sure is very sluggish, especially in the first half. Interval time and the story had not progressed at all!

I personally felt the story had potential – the tried and tested formula of the Indian family saga tied with the most popular game of the country (Cricket), along with the Patiala peg and Punjabi festive fervor thrown in… But that spark, the fire, the natural flow was missing – The course of the film is highly erratic - The supposed focus on the father-son relationship is hardly traceable – one minute Rishi Kapoor is dying of a heart attack because his son’s playing for England and the other minute he is cheering for him at the stadium – Ditto for the love equation between Akshay and Anushka – it seems way too forced and bouncy – suddenly she is shouting I love you and I swear to god, Akshay Kumar seemed as shocked as the audience who were like – Already? When did that happen?
The screenplay does not give enough time for the characters and relationships to evolve – the end result being very sketchy with no depth at all! And this is the greatest weakness of the movie.

The striking and the brightest moments are largely towards the end – the showdown between the father and son – between the patriarchal commander and his family, between the tyrant and his wife – the second half is when you can feel a faint tug at your heart (even though Rishi Kapoor steals the show from Akshay).

As for the inspirational angle to the movie – the one about pursuing your dreams no matter what - it is lost in the big fat Punjabi wedding, complete with 1576 (if I remember the number correctly) guests, half of whom are the family members, that forms the backdrop to the unfolding of the story.

The verdict – Not worth your time and money unless you are a die-hard Akki fan. Try catching it on DVD if you will, and put the Fast Forward button to judicious use.

(Image source: Google Images)

Friday, February 11, 2011

Celebrating the month of love…

Come February, and it is the time for falling hearts and striking cupids … the overkill of red and pink everywhere … mushy puppy love spilling over the Valentine week … It is also the time for the self proclaimed custodians of the Indian culture to resort to bullying tactics, and then the pink chaddi campaigns in protest!

My take on St. Valentine celebrations is simple – I love the gifts and attention from my significant other – and I don’t mind if Valentine’s Day is the excuse. I quite enjoy the paraphernalia – though mostly commercial – that mark the alleged “love month” - and as long as there’s no serious ill-will on any side, nobody’s heart minds a little fluttering, does it? More details in my post here.

However, the best part of February is the fact that it rains saccharine sweet romances on the idiot box all month long. The sucker for such sickeningly sweet nothings that I am, I love cozying up to my favorite love stories on TV, watching them all over again, for the nth time!

Here are my top picks (in the order in which I recall them :)):

The mother of all romance films. True love can endure anything.

The name of the movie is as beautiful as the movie it self! The concept of fortune discoveries is so romantic…

Based on Eric Segal’s novel by the same name, is one of the most romantic tragedies ever.

Set in London, with predominantly British actors, the interwoven 10 tales in the five week countdown to Christmas is an all-season treat!

There’s something irresistible about British romances! The movie has a magnificent dream like quality to it. And Hugh Grant is a treat, always!

The epic romance on the ill-fated ship…

I have said this before – this movie reinstills your belief in love but breaks your heart.

This stylish musical is a love anthem all the way!

The poetically serene story of a couple in love, separated by class, joined in marriage, estranged by dementia and then finally reunited for ever in death. A classic.

The Hawaiian romance with Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore along with the unique memory problem thrown in makes for an “awwww…” experience!

The different perspectives on relationships and yet the binding force remains the same – love!

This one only for the suave Gere and his fantastic chemistry with Julia Roberts.

(Image source for all pictures: Wikipedia)

Friday, February 4, 2011

An old piece...

Was sifting through my inbox for some mail, when I chanced upon this short film review I had written for a contest last year somewhere around the Independence Day. Just realized that I hadn't shared it on this space. So here goes...



Fettered Freedom
A nation that is free of foreign rule yet chained by internal ogres - a whole people who no longer serve an imperial power but are slaves to circumstances of poverty, destitution and illiteracy – a freedom that is fettered – the 1-minute movie, Independence, by Neeraj Ghaywan is about the economically and politically liberated India that continues to bleed…

Through the character of a girl trying to make money by selling Indian flags, Neeraj walks us through the paradoxes that our country is torn between. The clich├ęd gap between the haves and have-nots is a stark reality that many of us try to forget in order to keep our conscience clear.

Though the imagery in the movie is hard hitting, and therefore, deeply unsettling and disturbing, the free entrepreneurial spirit of the girl whose eyes twinkle with hope and steps bounce with the urge to dance forward make me cross my fingers in faith that hers will be a more optimistic flight in life.

And, thus, Neeraj leaves his audience with conflicting emotions of despairing reality and desperate prayers for change.
A powerful and moving one-minute saga, Independence is not a one time must-watch. It is a must keep for a lifetime – a must-watch every time you curse your fate because your long list of wishes could not be fulfilled, every time you think you do not have enough, every time you are blinded by the neon lights of cushioned living, every time you are lost in the maze of money and the rat race, every time your soul feels smug with the camouflaging cob webs you have weaved around your self, every time the calendar reads 15th August and you plan your “holiday”.

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